ERP 124: How To Improve The Climate Of Your Relationship [Transcript]

ERP 124: How To Improve The Climate Of Your Relationship

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 124 – How To Improve The Climate Of Your Relationship. I so appreciate spending this time with you. I know time is valuable, and for you to share in these conversations on the Empowered Relationship Podcast, I honor the investment that you’re putting into developing your relationship.

On this show, my goal, my biggest intention is to support you in the best way possible, and the ways that I do that on this show are to cover topics that cover the full spectrum of relationship experience to the best of my ability. I have experts on the show that I interview, I give you my information, my tips, my tools; I also answer your questions, and I occasionally, for those brave souls that wanna get laser coaching with me, are guests on the show and basically we do a piece of work together, and you get to hear that on the show.

The full spectrum – in my mind, that is attending to growing the positive end of the spectrum, which could be our happiness, our capacity for love, our capacity for joy, intimacy, passion, the things that we typically long for and yearn for in relationship.

The other end of the spectrum is places where we will feel afraid, feel triggered, feel protective, insecure and upset. Negotiating that territory is critical, how to negotiate that well is critical. And attending to the stability, the security and the foundation of the relationship. I’m gonna talk a little bit more about that today.

Before we get started, I wanna remind you that I have a special promotion going on right now, only for a couple more days, and that is for the Connected Couple program, which is to support you in deepening your learning, your understanding, your practice and integration of these relationship principles, to essentially help you to navigate the tricky terrain of relationship, and establishing and cultivating happy, lasting love.

If you wanna check out the information page, you can check that out at EmpoweredRelationship.com The special discount code that I’m giving you – I’ll give it to you now, it’s “fall2017”, and that’s for 20% off the Connected Couple program. And again, this is only for a couple more days.

If you have any questions or would like to speak for me to decide if this is a good fit for you, please contact me at jessica@drjessicahiggins.com You can also find my website at DrJessicaHiggins.com.

The show notes for today’s episode, as well as other episodes, are also on that website, DrJessicaHiggins.com, and click on Podcast and you’ll find all the episodes there.

Today’s episode again is 124, How To Improve The Climate Of Your Relationship. In my last two episodes I interviewed two experts in the field of relationship. Arielle Ford was one of them, and she talked with us about how to turn your mate into your soulmate. She talks a lot about the law of attraction and the principles of cultivating lasting love.

One of the questions I asked her was how to use the law of attraction in your relationship. Her response focused more on how to attract a partner. As I thought about this more, I actually truly believe that in relationship when one person raises their vibration, it attracts a completely interaction. You might be thinking “What does raising the vibration mean?”

In the law of attraction terms – and again, I’m not an expert in this field; my field is psychology and coaching, but the law of attraction in its basic terms is essentially what you focus your attention on, you attract. If you focus on the experience of love, you will attract more love. If you focus on the experience of happiness, you will attract more joy. If you focus on gratitude, you will attract the experience of more abundance.

In relationship, where do you pay the majority of your attention? If you will, what’s your internal thermostat set to? What are your habitual thought patterns about your partner and your relationship? Again, this will take a bit of a pause to evaluate where you spend a lot of time thinking and feeling. How do you think about your partner when they’re not around? What do you say to yourself even when they are around? What’s your internal dialogue? What’s your feeling tone?

As I’m asking you to think about where you spend the majority of your attention, is it thinking favorably about your partner, or is it thinking critically, or having some complaint or issue?

As we proceed in this conversation, I want on a side note to say all I’m gonna be suggesting is not to bypass or avoid any concern. If I’m talking about focusing on love so that you can experience more love, some of you may be saying “Well, what if I have an issue? Am I gonna just bypass that and act like everything’s fine?” I can’t tell you how many clients, when I’m inviting them to talk in more kind words with one another, be more vulnerable — some people have the fear “Am I losing the authentic experience of being angry?” and absolutely not. I do believe that you can be adamantly connected and authentically communicating the frustration and the anger, but also simultaneously being respectful and tactful about how the delivery is communicated.

I’m not gonna go into depth about those communication pieces, but just to answer the question if it’s coming up for you around “What do I do with those concerns?” If I’m asking you think about your overall climate, do you have a positive tone or do you have a negative tone in your relationship?
If if it is negative and you’re thinking to yourself “Well, I have some major concerns…”, absolutely I would want you to value that. My recommendation would be to take a clear and conscientious look at what you feel challenged with and troubled by, and really take note of that.

Once that’s identified, having the commitment to address the issue with your partner in a constructive way, and if you need help with that, I encourage you to check the resources on my website. Again, that’s DrJessicaHiggins.com. Also, feel free to consider getting coaching, whether or not it’s with me or someone else, but to really invest in developing these skills, because then you have your own back, that you know you’re going to address the things that are not working for you, advocating for yourself.

Once you can address this with your partner, it gives your partner an opportunity to understand you, how you feel and what your experience is, and it gives them a chance to help you get your needs met. If they don’t know what’s not working for you, it’s very difficult for them to assist and offer support.

Additionally, if you do not address your issue, it’s likely that resentment will build, and it will affect the way you experience your partner and your relationship. When issues begin to cloud the overall weather of your relationship, and over time this cloudy weather and its frequency can drastically affect the climate of your relationship.

Weather is more temporary, climate is more lasting. In the actual weather terms, weather is like a day-to-day, climate is over a period of time, often 30 years. I’m not exactly talking 30 years, but if there’s a norm or a status quo of the quality of the relationship, that can be conceived as the climate. Is it negative or is it positive?

Unfortunately, what can happen in relationship is when we have a concern or we have an issue, it begins to globalize, meaning we start to see them through that lens. If there’s the worry that she doesn’t care, “She doesn’t really care about my needs, she doesn’t really value me, she doesn’t really consider me”, then if that particular issue in a certain instance they had an interaction where perhaps he had that feeling, and that’s a worry or a pain point of his, over time if that doesn’t get resolved, then it starts to shadow the whole relationship, and that’s the lens of which he sees her, so everything is being filtered through that perception.

What if we were to see our concerns as issues that are in process of being resolved? When they initially happen, the instance happens and it feels like “It doesn’t work for us and it hurts, but we don’t know how to resolve it” – what if we held the framework that this is still getting resolved…? “It’s not resolved, I’m not totally happy with the current state of things, yet we’re in process. It’s a work in progress.” The understanding that you and your partner are still working to get to the resolution, to get to a creative solution, but that it does exist. There’s a whole different energy about that. That framework of holding those questions of “We’re still in process. We haven’t gotten to our creative solution yet.”

There’s a few assumptions happening there. a) You will get there. It is possible. That’s a key assumption, that we’re still in process. We haven’t arrived to a favorable outcome yet. Also, the assumption that you and your partner care about each other, that you’re in it together, and there’s an equity there, that you want to work together. While it might be challenging at times, the commitment is there.

And that you and your partner are doing the best you can. You’re both limited. You both perhaps don’t have the experience of dealing with conflict well, or that you both have certain things that make it difficult and painful to approach some of these topics, but you’re doing the best you can, you’re both learning, and you’re both trying to grow and heal… And that there’s goodness. Not only is the intention good, but you both have valuable assets to bring to the relationship that you can both contribute in a positive way.

It’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong. You might have differences, your styles are different, and they might not seem compatible, but you both have something to bring that there’s positive aspects. And possibly you can learn from each other, right? Again, the goal here would be to work to both get your needs met in a way that works for both of you, and when that’s not happening, if we were to hold the question that we’re still in process and that’s the goal, for me it feels like a very, very different quality; the energy about it is very different.

Because as humans, when we get triggered we tend to perceive things from a protective stance, a negative stance. We’re trying to mitigate any chances of energy injury. Our attempts, while it might be understandable, are often protective strategies to feel safe; we’re protesting, we’re saying “I don’t like that”, but really underneath there’s maybe some pain – we got our foot stepped on, or toe stepped on… But the strategies often do not bring connection. It’s almost like the army is out, the wall is up, and we’re ready to fight; that’s our flight or freeze response that’s just human, natural, and usually not a very constructive problem solver. It’s more protective. I’ll post a link to a show note that talks about this a little bit more in depth, so I’m not gonna go into great detail here.

These same strategies, these protective strategies put our partner in the position of being the adversary. They’re not on our side, they’re the ones that could possibly hurt us. So when we’re protecting ourselves, we’re protecting ourselves sometimes from our partner, because we’re anticipating and protecting preemptively sometimes from the capacity to get hurt. They have the power to hurt us, and the very nature of them having that power puts them in a position of sometimes being the adversary, especially when we’re not getting what we want.

If we see our partner as an adversary for any length of time over and over, it can be very difficult to contextualize those feelings of protection, control and fear to just the issue at hand. Over time, it starts to globalize to the overall climate or the quality of the relationship. It’s not just about “In these particular issues I have this come up for me.” That awareness isn’t as specific, it generalizes, it globalizes to the whole relationship. “I don’t feel like my needs are getting met. I’m not happy, I’m dissatisfied. I don’t feel loved, I don’t feel cared about. He might leave me, I’m not good enough.” It goes to a very deep place, but it affects the whole relationship.

The other thing that is at play is when we start to generally see our partner in a negative light, what’s happening there is we’re focusing on their negative attributes. We’re overlooking their positive attributes. We doubt, we question their ability to meet our needs, and we don’t look at where they do meet our needs. We wonder and worry if the relationship will work, again, overlooking where it is working. So the general theme there is it’s weighted to the negative, there’s a bias towards the negativity.

In the field of psychology there’s a tremendous amount of research that explores how our thinking and our beliefs impact our experience, and that’s the cognitive psychology field.

There are countless examples of when we have a negative belief or perception, we will see through that lens and it might be distorted; we might see things inaccurately.

For example a husband and a wife – the husband makes a lot of effort to give to the relationship, to please his wife; however, he’s really quiet about it. He doesn’t communicate that he’s done X, Y or Z, and often she doesn’t even know how he’s contributing to their life together, because he’s so quiet about it. And one of his places of insecurity and fear is that he’s not seen, appreciated, valued and loved; he hopes that she will recognize his efforts and appreciate him, love him and acknowledge him and celebrate him. Yet, when she is unaware and not knowing of his contributions, she misses the opportunities. These missed opportunities hurt and validate the fear that she doesn’t really care or value him. He distances and pulls away, and she has an even harder time understanding him and acknowledging him.

This can be a tragic, vicious cycle, because in this example, while he longs to feel that love and appreciation and acknowledgment, he’s not trusting of it, and she’s missing the opportunities, even though she does love him and would want nothing more than to celebrate and acknowledge and appreciate him. But there’s a gap, there’s a hesitancy of showing and revealing, and then also not knowing that it’s important to him and not knowing how to reach him; there’s a disconnect.

Our fears, our insecurities and protective strategies greatly impact the way we perceive our partner and the way we interact with them. What if we recognized this, that this is the tendency, this is the common pattern? What if we saw our significant other as an ally?

In last week’s episode I interviewed Dr. Fred Luskin on the topic of forgive for love. He emphasized that in relationship we often protest against others, and even in life, when we do not get what we want. While this initial reaction of protest is natural and understandable, we often get trapped there. We tend to resist the honest emotional work, which is to acknowledge life and love are risky, and we are truly vulnerable. The real work is in facing these realities with gentleness, compassion, acceptance and preemptive forgiveness… Yet unfortunately, many of us do not know how to trust this. We don’t believe that it’s possible that these qualities can change the climate of our relationship. Instead, we fight each other, we protest, engaging in all sorts of strategies to attempt to get what we want and to feel safe. Yet again, those various strategies make it incredibly difficult to be allies.

In 2004, during my deep personal dive of exploring relationship dynamics I was reading so many different books on relationship and love… I can’t remember which one sparked this awareness, but I remember thinking “Oh wow, how different would it be if in relationship we saw each other as kin on this path of life?” What if we acknowledged that we’re all working through pain, hurt and injury? What if we recognized that we’re all fighting inner daemons at times? What if we could have this understanding in relationship? Would we be able to be a little more patient with each other? Would we have a little more grace in these matters?

In a committed relationship we have the opportunity to hold a very sacred space for each other. With love and intimacy we tend to let our guard down; we open up our heart, and at the same time we get in touch with insecurities and fear and vulnerability. What if we accepted that we are both going to have fear, pain and protection emerge and we give each other the space to work it out?

What would it be like if we held a place of love and belief for one another? This space would be safe, a sacred container allowing for profound personal work to occur, where there’s permission to explore without the threat of losing love and relationship.

In my experience, this takes commitment… Ideally, commitment where both people are participating, but yet the practice is personal. We are the only ones that can do this work. We can’t hold our partner to the fire, their feet to the fire; we can only hold our own feet to the fire.

For example, one of the challenges I sometimes have with my husband is when I feel his judgment and criticism. On the Myers Briggs personality assessment tool there is a scale that looks at structure, how we deal with the outside world… And it’s either judging or perceiving. Judging is people who prefer to be decided; they categorize and they wanna be clear and defined, where perceivers tend to stay open to new information and options.

There are positive aspects to this judging quality, and at times I have felt in certain situations where he is critical or judgmental, and that has definitely been a challenge from time to time. I remember when we were probably a few years into our relationship and he was asking me what I thought of this critical aspect of himself. I can’t remember entirely what I said – I think it was a rather in-depth response, but it was something to the effect of looking at how the criticism actually affects him. I remember saying “I think it affects you more than it affects other people. Yes, I’m sure people don’t enjoy it, but the bigger impact is on you, and how you are with yourself and how you actually get your needs met in relationship.”

At this moment in time I felt very grounded and I had perspective and I was able to love him in this quality that I find difficult, and I can tell you there are many, many, many other times when I have felt reactive, defensive, hurt, and even angry at him when I feel his criticalness towards me and judgment towards me… So sometimes I have to set boundaries around like “I don’t wanna do this with you; I wanna hear what you’re feeling, but I don’t wanna hear a lot of criticism about me. And I also don’t wanna be reacting to you. I don’t think I can actually really hear you and empathize with you like I’d like to.”

The humanness is there, and in my experience it’s going from the humanness and then recalibrating to that touchstone of “We in our relationship have a sacred space that we are both human and fallible, and working through our stuff on this path in life, and how do we become allies? How do we hold that space of generosity, forgiveness and patience?”, which essentially is this sacred container in relationship.

So then the goal becomes “How do we continue to support and nurture this container?” Because we are human, we will fall off, guaranteed. So the goal is less about being all benevolent, but how to recalibrate, remind ourselves, reconnect. So then the question is how do we nurture this proverbial container? How do we remember that we’re human and wounded and fallible? How do we reconnect with compassion, kindness and patience?

Often times people’s religious or spiritual practices help tremendously in this arena. Some people pray for strength and guidance, others meditate to get perspective and detach from being overly identified with their pain. Some people reconnect with their essence of love, joy and piece, so that they can reorient, they can come from a different place – that place of love, that place of piece and joy.

Also, religious and spiritual communities can give people a sense of that support, that bondedness and inspiration to weather the storm, to tolerate some of the emotional discomfort of disconnect. So what if you’re not spiritual, what if you’re not religious, or don’t have these practices? I wanna encourage you to develop a practice to strengthen the container of your relationship, so you’re participating in that strength, so that the climate of your relationship can have positivity, support and health.

If you don’t know what to do, I would just suggest start experimenting. Positive psychology focuses on topics such as happiness, love, gratitude, kindness, compassion and peace. So if you just did a simple internet search, I’m sure you’ll get many ideas. The key here is that it’s something you resonate with, that brings benefit and inspires you or gives you perspective, or helps you reconnect with love and compassion, or gives you strength and inspiration… Whatever it is that fills your cup essentially, that allows you to show up with this intention and this reminder of what the priority is in your relationship and the climate of your relationship.

To help with this, next week I’m gonna be talking about the power of kindness in relationship. In this episode I’ll give you some specific ideas about how to cultivate more kindness and generosity in your relationship. Stay tuned, I look forward to sharing in that episode with you.

If you have a relationship question or topic that you would like me to create an episode on, again, e-mail me at jessica@drjessicahiggins.com. Or if you have just a general comment or feedback, I would love to hear from you. Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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