Holding Hands photo
Top Ten Tips for Healing
The single biggest issue I come across in relationship challenges with clients is a person’s inability to focus on self. It seems so obvious but few people know how to do this well. For many people, focusing on another person – or persons – means they can avoid dealing with their own issues.
In any form of therapy or counselling, the client needs to learn to focus inward and get into a ‘right relationship’ with self. This is often so challenging and uncomfortable that the resulting anxiety is unbearable and they give up – choosing to end the relationship or distance from a partner as a (mal-adaptive) coping mechanism.
Sadly, if a divorce ensues and children are involved this can be a very painful – and expensive – outcome for everyone.
Fortunately, this need not be so!
There are many ways people avoid relationship with self but if you want happiness and peace in your life and relationships, you have to come to know what those avoidant coping mechanisms are and become willing to let them go.
This sounds simple and it is simple, but it’s not always easy!
Below are 10 tips to help get you started on the journey to a healthy relationship with yourself and your partner – whether they have shown up in your life yet, or not.
1. Focus on what you can change and control – YOU!
When relationships hurt more than they heal, you have to stop focusing on the other person and take care of yourself. You cannot control or change anyone else, only yourself; so it makes more sense to focus on the things you can change about yourself, which will automatically change how you leave yourself open to relationship hurt.
Ways you can begin to do this are:
- Notice when you are thinking about another person instead of yourself and stop that thinking. Tell yourself that you are worth thinking about and focus back on self and what you need – from you – in that moment; and give it to yourself!
- Reflect on activities or friendships you might have put aside or given up ‘for a relationship and start doing them again. We are not supposed to ‘sacrifice’ our individual joy for anyone or anything. This only creates resentment and blame.
- Ask yourself what behaviours you have been doing that contribute to the relationship hurt and resolve to stop doing them. This might mean getting individual counselling to identify those behaviours and for support in making changes in yourself first before making decisions about your relationship.
2. Learn to communicate about YOU!
Many people think that they are communicating about themselves when they share with someone about a relationship problem. But often they are focusing on what the person they are upset with is doing or not doing.
If relationship issues arise, conflicts continue and resolution is not being reached about differences in your relationships, chances are that one of you is talking about the other person instead of sharing about self.
Communicating in an accountable, healthy way means learning to speak in the first person singular using ‘I’ statements. Sharing how you think and feel about an issue means sharing like this:
“I want time to myself every day, which means I cannot spend as much time with you as you tell me you want.”
“You’re so demanding!”
Or another example is learning to declare one’s wants clearly:
“I would like to have sushi for supper tonight.’
“What do you feel like eating tonight?” (Avoidance of declaring one’s own preferences by focusing on the other’s wants).
Communication is vague and other-focused when we don’t know what we want; or when we do know what we want but are afraid to declare it for fear of appearing selfish. When driven by fear of not getting our wants met, communication can be avoidant and/or controlling.
Learning to communicate from an ‘I’ position eliminates vagueness, mind-reading and people-pleasing. Once your wants are clear they can be met – either by your partner or by yourself!
3. Work on recognizing YOUR anxiety.
Often we are very, very good indeed at pointing out someone else’s anxiety, stress, edginess, frustration or upset. We tend to be way less able – or willing – to apply these keen powers of observation to ourselves.
Many of us are unaware of our anxiety – I’ve heard people say “I don’t have ANY anxiety!” Of course this can’t be true. If you’re human, then you have anxiety.
Anxiety is the internal alarm bell that tells us when some thing, some one or some situation feels unsafe for us. (And what feels unsafe for one person might not feel unsafe for someone else, so don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Again keep the focus on self.)
There are many situations where it makes sense for us to feel some anxiety; overwhelm at work or home, financial challenges, a new job, moving, etc.) This kind of anxiety is helpful because it can keep us alert to physical or emotional danger or breaking points and allow us to take care of ourselves in the situation.
Problems arise when there is more or less constant anxiety that goes unnoticed and unchecked. Gradually, because it is suppressed, it grows and has to come out somehow – usually suddenly and sideways and often unintentionally directed at someone we love.
So we need to be aware of our anxiety. We need to learn to:
- Recognize our individual signals of anxiety (physical, emotional, mental indicators)
- Learn to know where it’s coming from (often it is connected to traumas from the past that need to be processed and healed)
- Develop healthy self-soothing techniques to manage anxiety well and with awareness
- Acquire the communication skills necessary to share vulnerably with our loved ones about it
Some behaviours that might indicate you are suffering from anxiety are:
- Abuse or mis-use of a substance (alcohol, drugs, food)
- Lack of adequate self-care (food, exercise, rest)
- Persistent anger, frustration, upset or depression
- Attempting to control people, places and things (bossing, nagging, unsolicited advice-giving, over-helping, fixing, people-pleasing)
- Speaking for others when they are capable of speaking for themselves
- Making assumptions without doing a reality check
- Focusing on others to the detriment of self (over-functioning, obsessing about another person, doing for others what they can and ought to do for themselves).
What you can do instead:
- Accept that if you are doing any of the above you are probably feeling anxious
- Commit to not doing those behaviours and learning to acknowledge and admit to your anxiety
- Try out new, healthy ways to soothe your anxiety – walking, meditating, group support
- Resolve to get help to manage your anxiety if you cannot do it by yourself
- Tell a friend or relationship partner that you are triggered by something and feeling anxious. Ask them to just listen while you share about it.
Knowing when you are anxious and resisting the urge to act out on it will drastically improve your life and relationship health.
4. Know your defenses and become willing to let them go
Defenses are ways of coping in the world that were necessary for you as a child, to make sure your physical and emotional survival needs were met. These coping mechanisms propel us through the sometimes challenging developmental years of childhood, separating out from the family, stepping into adulthood and finding our way in the world. As long as we are able to choose how to cope with a given situation, these mechanisms can be considered helpful or ‘adaptive’.
If however they are reactive and occur without our conscious choosing they have become ‘mal-adaptive’ and can be a barrier to emotional intimacy with self or other.
Some defenses we use in relationships are:
- Minimizing – “I’m not yelling, you’re just too sensitive!”
- Rationalizing – “I’m only angry because you made me angry.”
- People-pleasing – “I don’t care what we do as long as you’re happy.”
- Projecting – “You don’t love me.”
- Denial – “I never did/said that.”
- Regression – “It’s not fair; you always get your own way.”
These are some of the primary defenses. Observe yourself to notice which ones you use and become committed to letting them go. Try instead to be honest about how you are really feeling in that moment. Own your feelings and communicate appropriately and responsibly about them.
Here are some examples of the vulnerability that might be hiding underneath your defenses above:
- I am feeling really angry right now and have a hard time admitting it.
- I am angry because I feel hurt. This is just like when I was a kid and my Mom/Dad would…
- I am afraid to declare my wants in case you get angry and accuse me of being selfish.
- I am so scared that I am not worth loving.
- I am ashamed that I said/did that and want to deny it ever happened.
- I have a hard time saying what I want because I don’t feel I deserve it.
5. Stop Blaming your Partner for how you Feel, Think and Act
We all often wish we could just lay the blame for how we think, feel and act on our partners – and we often do! But this only creates resentment, anger, distance and hostility which will not go away if we continue to blame others. In fact, resentments grow when they are not resolved. This has to stop if you want to change your relationship patterns.
A starting point is to realize that if you’re thinking, feeling and acting a certain way, (e.g. feeling angry) then those processes are happening in YOUR body and mind – not in someone else’s. No one ‘makes’ you angry.
My rule of thumb is this: If it’s happening in my mind and body, it’s mine to process and manage. In other words if I’m feeling angry about something, the feeling of anger is mine – no one else’s – so I need to own it, get clear about why I’m feeling that way, and communicate it responsibly and appropriately to the person involved.
How you behave, think and feel is no one else’s responsibility except yours. Accepting this responsibility helps you to grow up and develop into the emotionally mature adult you know you are supposed to be in your life and relationships.
Learning to be radically responsible for how you are in the world increases your self-esteem, self-worth and self-respect. You will feel empowered because you will be true to who you really are. You will be authentic, transparent and honest and from that place, you will be successful in ALL your relationships.
Some ways to begin being accountable in your relationship are:
- Learn how to control your reactive impulses (stop interrupting, yelling, name-calling and being right)
- Learn how to identify and label your feelings accurately and own them without making it someone else’s fault that you feel them. (I feel mad, sad, glad etc.)
- Recognize the core beliefs you hold that cause you to react instead of responding. (E.g. I don’t feel important enough to tell you what my wants are so I want to blame you for not reading my mind.)
6. Become skilled at listening without acting out
It’s almost impossible for anyone to be open, honest and vulnerable in communications if they anticipate being interrupted, interrogated, or dismissed. Taking turns at sharing is very important in the early stages of relationship recovery. If necessary, set aside time every week to take turns sharing with and
listening to each other. You can use a timer setting it for 5, 10 or 15 minutes each. The speaker speaks and the listener listens. There is no interrupting, questioning or arguing during the sharer’s time.
In practicing this relationship skill talk only about yourself using “I” statements. This means not talking about your partner, your relationship, the kids, finances, work, other people etc. You want to learn and practice communication that keeps the focus on yourself. You will become skilled at being unafraid to share yourself with your partner. Sharing might sound like this:
“I am feeling anxious about doing this exercise. Now that I feel safe to share without being interrupted, I notice I am anxious about the process. I want it to be over quickly so that I don’t have to worry about what to share. It feels odd to have fought all these years about wanting to be heard and to now balk at sharing because I have the opportunity to do so.
I think I feel very vulnerable now. I am not used to focusing on myself and not worrying about what you might say or do about what I am sharing… (silence perhaps)… I want so badly to talk about anyone or anything except myself and now that I say that I feel sad… like maybe I don’t think I am worth talking about…
I guess my self-worth is low and that feels sad. I don’t know how to change that but I am hoping that taking this risk to share about myself so openly is going to make me feel more empowered and like I am worth something.
I am glad that I am no longer fighting with you and that through this exercise I am taking responsibility for making time for myself to share how I feel…
I have some dreams for my life that I recently remembered and feel sad about not pursuing… etc.”
Share about your dreams, losses, goals, wants; but let there be no blaming, criticizing or dumping on your partner; and no attacking in any way.
This exercise alone can turn your relationship around very quickly.
7. Develop non-negotiable values for yourself
Values are a set of principles developed over time that each person uses as their guide to love, life and relationships. Most of us ‘inherit’ beliefs from our families, cultures, religious or spiritual practices or educational environments. Often we accept these early life values as fact and rarely question them until we encounter a conflict in our lives. We then need to make conscious the values we have been living by and do a Values Inventory to see what we will keep and what we will let go of.
This values list should be reviewed and revised as we go through major life changes such as committing to a relationship, having children, finding a new home, growing older etc. Some examples of relationship values are:
- Personal development/growth
- Emotional transparency
- Physical touch/affection
- Life-work balance
- Practicing good physical self-care and maintenance
- Belonging to a support group
- A spiritual practice to promote inner peace
- Having hobbies, interests, goals and dreams
- Being financially self-supporting
Having strong conscious values of your own means that you will attract others with similar values and all your relationships will be healthier as a result.
8. Cultivate and demonstrate extreme self-respect
Many people complain that their relationship partners do not respect them and they demand to be treated better. On closer investigation however, it is often found that the complainant doesn’t respect themselves very much at all!
Often we expect that others treat us better than we are willing to treat ourselves and we mistakenly believe that exacting this kind of ‘respect’ is the duty of a relationship partner. In fact, it is no one’s duty to do for us what we can – and ought to – do for ourselves.
Layla believed that her husband thought very little of her and that he was disrespectful of her any chance he could get. On closer examination, it was found that Layla secretly thinks very lowly of herself and was constantly berating herself for not being smarter, thinner, better-looking or more successful.
Instead of acknowledging that these beliefs were her own, she projected them out onto her husband and blamed him for being disrespectful to her – because he didn’t constantly bolster her self-esteem with compliments.
By projecting those negative core beliefs onto her partner and then accusing him of thinking them, Layla provoked many fights in which she found lots of evidence to ‘prove’ that she was ‘right’ about her husband’s lack of respect for her.
What she learned in counselling however was that she was very disrespectful to herself in her own mind but was unaware (unconscious) of these negative core beliefs. Once she was helped to correct her beliefs about herself, Layla’s husband never again seemed to disrespect her!
Layla respected herself enough to dig deep, examine her core beliefs and get help to turn them around. It was not her husband’s job to do this for her by ‘complying’ with her demands that he respect her when she was not respecting herself.
9. Accept responsibility for your present circumstances
In every relationship there are 2 willing co-conspirators. (You KNOW this is true even if you don’t want to believe it!) Each person is 100% responsible for their 50% of the relationship. There is just no getting around this one. Accepting this fact is literally ‘half the battle’ in solving relationship dilemmas.
Before you try to blame the other person for the ‘state of your union’, take your own inventory without judgment – but with curiosity and compassion. Ask yourself what you have been doing or not doing that has contributed to your current relationship situation.
Are you responsible for:
- Arguing and finding fault
- Avoiding sharing honestly
- Withdrawing emotionally
- Withholding or demanding sex
- Avoiding confronting difficult issues
- Demanding instead of requesting
- Talking to others about your relationship instead of with your partner (triangling or gossiping)
Acknowledging what your part in the relationship dynamic has been helps to re-build trust and foster emotional intimacy.
10. Become willing to go to any lengths to change your life and be happy
Making your own personal development a priority in your life is the greatest gift you can give to yourself, your relationships and your life. Knowing yourself from the inside-out gives you domain over your thinking, feeling and behaviour.
Instead of being controlled by your anxiety, fears and reactions, you can choose who and how you want to be in any given situation, no matter what anyone else is doing, thinking or feeling around you.
And THAT is true inner peace, which is priceless!
Some ways you can grow your self are:
- Book a course of counselling to begin your relationship recovery program
- Heal your past wounds and traumas so they don’t control your life
- Increase your awareness of the things that trigger you
- Learn new coping skills to manage your anxiety in healthy ways that promote growth
- Nurture your soul through radical self-care
- Learn to love yourself unconditionally
After all, you’re worth it!
Wishing you love, life and happiness from Love Done Well Counselling…
T: 604 628 8553
©Edel Walsh 2012
Love Done Well
Relationship Counselling for Couples and Singles