Healthy relationships are so important; love and belonging are critical for resilience and recovery. The folks at the Gottman Institute are amazing at helping people be their best relationships. Check out this summary of harsh vs. soft arguments.
Lately, I have been on a journey to learn as much as I can about trauma. I recently went through a series on trauma presented by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine. It was mind-blowing – and often beyond my brain power – but fantastic nonetheless.
Another topic that interests me is nurturing healthy relationships. Love and belonging are critical to our wholeheartedness – our capacity to deal with the junk that smashes into us on a regular basis.
Anyway, here’s how those two come together. Those who had childhood trauma typically struggle more than others in their romantic relationships. That’s not big news as most of us are aware how our past affects our present. But the key question is why – why does trauma create these difficulties?
Apparently, childhood trauma produces a great deal of self-criticism and it’s the self-criticism that hurts the relationship. To be clear, the studies that have noted this weren’t saying it’s a definitive cause and effect. I’m sure there is more to this story and many subtle differences between people. It’s just a link we need to be aware of.
The good news is, there is help, hope and healing. We can reduce self-criticism and improve our relationships. Talk with a counsellor, check out online resources, pick up a book or two (Dr. Guy Winch’s book “Emotional First Aid” covers this topic fairly well I think.) Explore the options and find what works for you.
Are you overly self-critical? If so, can you see how it’s negatively impacting your relationships? What do you do to reduce self-criticism?
I like to talk about relationships. I’ve done pre-marriage counselling, I’ve done a multi-part workshop on developing a marvellous marriage, and sadly, I’ve sat with a friend having a breakdown because her husband cheated on her. As such, I keep my eyes open for perspectives on helping relationships be stronger.
“The Conversations We Should Really Be Having With Our Partners If We Want Our Relationships To Last” is an article I believe can be really helpful if you want to have a deeper, stronger, relationship with your partner. Here are some highlights, I recommend you check out the whole article.
Conversations you and your partner need to have (consider the following to be quotes from the article):
I want you to tell me what to do because I can’t read your mind – If I truly love my partner, I want to pay attention to their needs. In order for me to do that, I need to know what those needs are. There is a faulty belief that occurs, and we’re all guilty of it: No one can read your mind. If you need something, it’s on you to ask for it.
I want you to tell me how to love you because I take that responsibility seriously – a lot of us are existing in relationships where we feel unloved, neglected, or unimportant. We can make small changes that can create a huge, positive ripple effect.
I want you to tell me how you feel because it helps me understand who you are – What if we give the other person the space and time to open up, and know that we want them to because we want to know what they are feeling and why.
I want you to tell me how to talk to you because communication will make or break us – if you’re having trouble communicating, try focusing on listening rather than trying to get your point across. Ask more questions.
I want you to tell me what you want to do to me because I want to be the one you share your erotic self with – it’s scary to communicate what we want for fear of judgment, criticism, or rejection. Intimate desires, just like emotions, can be really difficult for people to express.
I want you to tell me how to touch you because I care about our intimate connection – when we show interest in meeting our partner’s intimate needs, it’s a way of communicating that they are important.
I want to know what makes you happy. I can’t do it for you, but I can support your journey – the only person responsible for your happiness is YOU. However, we can absolutely support our significant other in trying to achieve, accomplish, or realize anything they identify that might make them happy.
What do you think about these conversations? Could you have them with your partner?
I recently discovered the folks over at Time to Change. They have some excellent videos and resources on mental health. Here’s a few highlights from one of their articles, 5 Simple Ways to Support a Mate with a Mental Health Problem.
Meet for Coffee – “The amazing thing about meeting for a coffee or asking someone if they’d like to drop in for a cup of tea is that you can do it almost anywhere, anytime.” Just being present with a friend who is struggling provides comfort, empathy, and courage to face the world. Remember that it’s important to listen without judgment.
Asking how they are – slowing down long enough to ask how’s it going and then patiently listening opens the door for your mate to open up to you.
Find safe places to talk – “Walking together or sitting driving are both amazing, because the experience of talking to someone whilst you’re side by side can be so much more freeing and less daunting than face to face.”
Post power – If you can’t connect in person, send a letter or a little parcel if you can. It’s retro which is why it’s also meaningful.
Little gestures – you don’t have to be extravagant (I am and it’s a blessing and a curse) but little things can communicate your care and support for your mate.
Check out the whole article for the full story but it all comes down to being mindful of your mates, slowing down to really listen, and just bring present in their life.
How do you support your mates?
“Conjunction junction, what’s my function?” Anybody remember that catchy Schoolhouse Rock Song?
That’s not what this post is about but wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a catchy song about the manipulation junk that toxic people pull on those around them so their tactics would be easy to remember?
Recently, I found an article about some key manipulation tactics that are good to be aware of. I encourage you to check out the whole article but here are the highlights.
Monitoring – when the toxic person wants to be in constant contact. It’s kind of low level stalking. Watch out, when you are slow to respond, if you get an angry reaction.
Object constancy – on the positive side, this is the ability to still love the person you are annoyed with. A toxic person tends to lack this so when they rage, they lose their affection. Think Jekyll and Hyde. Watch out if you find yourself modifying your words and behaviours to avoid the rages.
Flipping the script – this is when a toxic person tries to continuously wind you up. In the process they may accuse you of the things they themselves do. The point is to confuse and make their victim emotional.
Gaslighting – “Manipulators lie, make things up that never happened, but say things in such a convincing way and with such conviction, that their victims end up believing it is the truth.”
Perspecticide – think gaslighting+. “When the manipulative person has made someone believe so many things that aren’t true, they no longer know what is real.” Watch out if you are compromising your boundaries, your values, faith or family to appease the toxic person.
Trauma bonding – this is conditioning. The toxic person, who is often hostile or even violent, then basks their victim in love and affection. These highs and lows ” can create an addiction in the victim. Watch out for only nice behaviour when you’ve been “good” contrasted with the hurtful words and actions when you’ve been “bad.” (Good and bad being arbitrarily assigned by the toxic person.)
Do you like year-end top ten lists? You know: top ten movies, top ten songs, top ten sports moments, top ten fails, and so on. I think they appeal to us because we like to reminisce and because we like having life compartmentalized into ranked lists. The thing about all these things we list is, they are fleeting; enjoyable but typically inconsequential.
Recently, I had a few days of blahness which often leads me to be introspective which in turn leads to depression. One of the ways I care for myself when that happens is practicing gratitude. That led me to think about a personal top ten list – who and what have been transformational in my life? So… here’s my list, but instead of ranking my top ten I went sequentially – when the impact was made in my life.
Mom – in a time when being a single mother was unacceptable, when there were few supports, when employment opportunities were limited, my mom, single, 25, trying to go
to school, chose to have me and keep me. My mom was all about adventures and experiences. Before I started school, the two of us went on a huge camping adventure across western Canada. She stood up for me against abusive teachers and she let me fend for myself when she saw me struggle but not overcome by situations. She was a good mom. The weekend she passed away, I was with her right up until the end. It still hurts that she’s gone.
Adopted – I never knew my bio dad. For several years, it was just me and my mom. I used to make up stories about my “dad” and the adventures we would have. Eventually, my mom met a good man and they decided to get married. I was seven years old. It wasn’t until a handful of years later that I found out he adopted me. It’s significant to be accepted!
Sisters – after my mom and dad got married, I was tremendously blessed with two
sisters. I can say that now because I am looking back on this with an attitude of gratitude which colours my memories. (Ha ha) Honestly, there were some challenging moments – I had to change diapers and still haven’t recovered from that trauma. I suspect my sisters can also testify that I wasn’t the best brother. Even so, I love my sisters. Even though I am the oldest and the favourite, I look up to them because they are talented and brilliant women.
Marriage – I could write two or three blogs about how I became married. In a nutshell, I met this wonderful woman, we became good friends, she took advantage of me with her feminine charms, I loved her anyway, we became married. We have been given the gift of three children and now we have three grand babies. She remains my best friend, my partner in crime (the legal kind) and the person I enjoy going on adventures with. When she really laughs my heart swells with joy. The beauty of her singing can move me to tears. It’s really cool how creative she is. These days she’s making soap and lip balm.
Children – we have been blessed with three children. I was present for the delivery of each child which was both terrifying and so filled with love and joy. They are all out of the house now. Two are in post-secondary and one is a fantastic mom. All three are very talented – they get that from their mom. Our oldest boy is taking a fine arts program. He can work in several mediums and puts all his effort into making something unique. Our daughter has her hands full with babies but she sings like her mom and recently she has begun song writing. Our baby boy just started college. He’s a writer and story creator. I’m very proud of them.
Baptism and Ministry – after the babies came, I was soul searching. I was essentially an atheist but various small steps happened that eventually led me to accept God’s acceptance of me. I committed my life to the Way, the Truth, and the Life and was baptized. It’s been a wonderful journey thus far and there’s so much more on the horizon.
Not long after I made my choice to be a Christian, I experienced a call into ministry. I was
happily working in the computer systems arena and good at it. One sabbath during worship, the sermon was on Paul and his work spreading the Good News. We were sitting in the noisy section but suddenly, everything went quiet like someone pressed the mute button, and I heard a voice say, “That’s what I want you to do.” Then the noise came back. That began my journey into ministry, a return to university and now full-time pastoral ministry.
Grandchildren – The highlight of my week is when I get to spend time with our GBs. Each one is delightful in their unique way. A huge, life-changing, event with our grandchildren was shortly after GB1 was born. I have already told the story of our miracle grandson. Check it out.
Velveteen Rabbit – two years ago this very day, a young adult came into our lives and we were changed forever. For various reasons, I can’t say much about her but she gave me
permission to share her picture. At first, she was just someone we walked with in her pain. Along the way, she took a part of our hearts. I hope she always remembers who she is to us. Our prayer for her is that she will continue to experience healing and will allow herself to be loved into all she was created to be. The blue comfy chair is always there; the door is always open.
Noreen M – when she was in grade 11, Noreen came to our lives and said that more needed to be done for youth mental health. We agreed and together we developed The Butterfly Effect, a youth emotional health workshop. Since then, we’ve transitioned into COME2LIFE. Noreen challenges me and she helps me be even more cool and unconventional! One day I hope to learn from her how to take a decent selfie.
Honourable Mentions – Yes, this is a little cheat – like using your third wish to ask for more wishes – but I just want to give a nod to the many people who have been big in my life. Good friends, men and women who helped me in my faith journey, people whose presence was and often is an oasis of grace and acceptance. I hope that as I am in your life, you know who you are, how you are valued, and what you mean to me.
How about you? Do you have a personal top ten list; people, achievements, favourite movies, best experiences? Who or what are at the top of your list?
How would you feel if I told you something about yourself that you didn’t want to hear? Maybe it’s a complaint about something you said. Maybe I am angry or hurt about something you did. What would you do?
When this happens to me, I listen attentively and respond with appreciation for the feedback. If it’s appropriate, I try to own it, apologize and seek to make amends.
Ha ha, just kidding. I usually get a little, sometimes a lot, defensive. I try not to. I honestly strive for the ideal response. There’s just that part of me that says, “Shields up! Load torpedoes!”
The thing is, defensiveness is really damaging to relationships. Dr. John Gottman has noted that it’s one of the four relationship killers. If you want to have a healthy thriving relationship, how do you get out of the defensiveness trap?
I found a short article from his group on Listening Without Getting Defensive. I recommend you check it out. Here are a few snippets…
“While it’s important for the speaker to complain without blame and state a positive need to prevent the listener from flooding or responding defensively, it’s also vital for the listener to learn to self-soothe.”
“Dr. Gottman suggests using a notepad to write down everything your partner says, which is especially helpful when you’re feeling defensive. This also helps you remember what was said when you reflect back what you hear or it’s your turn to speak.”
“During tough conversations it’s helpful to focus on your affection and respect for your partner.”
“Remember to postpone your agenda and focus on understanding your partner.”
“Look inward and see what you are telling yourself about what this conflict means and how it may impact you.”
“Ask yourself, Why am I getting defensive? What am I trying to protect? Your partner’s complaint is about their needs, not yours, so soothe your defensiveness so you can be there for them.”
“If your partner is saying something that is triggering, ask them to say it in a different way.”
“Long-lasting love requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable and to listen non-defensively, even in the heat of conflict. Especially when we are hurt and angry.”
Have you ever really blown it? I mean you did or said something that so damaged a relationship that it still hasn’t recovered? Maybe you messed up so bad you’ve lost your connection in your family or community?
Yeah, me too.
If you are familiar with the apostles in the Good News, you might now about Peter. He was loud and brash; quick to speak and slow to listen. He seems to have been a leader in that he tends to get listed first among Jesus closest friends. Like the other disciples, he was given the ability to heal people and set people free from possession. He preached boldly and hundreds committed their lives to God. Eventually he would be imprisoned for his faith.
And yet, he blew it. Big time.
After Jesus had been captured and his trials had begun, Peter was being questioned about his relationship with Jesus. After denying he knows Jesus a couple times, he gets asked one more time and we’re told, “Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!””
Can you picture it? Peter spewing out cuss words and swearing on God’s name (super serious back then) that he doesn’t know his best friend Jesus, who is the Christ, the Son of God. You just know that word of this spread like wildfire among the other apostles. Can you imagine how he felt? Do you remember how you felt when you did something so bad you felt disqualified from everything?
But here’s the thing.
After the cross, on resurrection morning, the women coming to finish embalming Jesus, discover he has risen and they encounter an angel and the story goes like this:
“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Mark 16:6-7 New International Version (NIV)
At a time when the disciples thought the hope of Jesus had ended in disaster, when they were scattered and afraid, they discover Jesus isn’t dead, the mission is still on, they are called to press forward and stay hopeful.
But did you catch it? The Good News in just two words?
To the one who had blown it, ran scared, and denied his best friend with angry curses, is still welcome at the table, still invited to be a part of the movement, and will still be used to turn the world upside with Good News; the Good News that despite his failures he was still loved and accepted, still valued and worthy.
And so are you.