How To Have A More Fulfilling And Dynamic Relationship Part 2

By Posted in - Blog & Relationships April 14th, 2015 0 Comments

Four weeks ago, I published Seven Reasons Why Relationship Feels So Hard Sometimes. While one of our essential needs is to love and be loved, we can easily feel confused and perplexed at how to cultivate a lasting and loving relationship. Unfortunately, it is all too common to feel challenged, uncomfortable, and pained within the dynamics of our relationships. Two weeks ago, I wrote How To Have A More Fulfilling And Dynamic Relationship (part one), which addresses what we can do about the first two challenges discussed in Seven Reasons Why Relationship Feels So Hard Sometimes. In this article, I will continue to discuss what we can do to help combat these seven areas of difficulty, addressing point three and four. While these points might seem super simple, there is a tremendous amount of depth to be understood, explored, and integrated in the process of applying them into your life and relationship. This is part two to a three-part series.

3. Learning to tolerate the discomfort that comes along with growing and developing within relationship.

As I mentioned in my previous article, we can feel our deepest and most intense emotions in relationship. We may feel deep joy and love, alongside intense insecurity and fear. Young Couple in the kitchenWhen we love another, we have the opportunity to open deeply and reveal ourselves more fully. This level of transparency can feel very vulnerable and scary, especially if we have felt any previous relationship pain or loss. If you would like to learn more about what and why this happens, please refer to point #3 here. Love is filled with uncertainties and risks, and it is normal to feel some level of exposure and vulnerability when loving deeply and fully.

Knowing The Value of Openness. Even though openness and transparency might feel scary and vulnerable at times, it is essential for cultivating and fostering intimacy. If we are afraid to speak what is true and honest, then we are cutting off the opportunity for our partner to know us. And thus cutting off the opportunity for connection, closeness, and intimacy. Many times we don’t even know that we are withholding or not sharing what is true for us because we don’t even know what we are feeling. In this is happening for you, then it will be important for you to gain more clarity about what is going on and try to understand your feelings. Here is a good reference tool to help in getting clear and setting-up a time to talk with your partner (I wrote this a while ago, but I still think it has value.). This article is a good follow-up  A Step-by-Step Guide To Turn Any Argument Into Effective Communication.

Seeing Emotions As Useful. Another valuable key to tolerating discomfort in relationship is seeing emotions as useful and helpful. Couple Embrace RiversideMany of us are afraid of our emotions, especially difficult emotions, like anger, fear, anxiety, and sadness. We label and judge them as bad or wrong, and we want them to go away. We try to conceal and deny them. However, emotions have valuable information to communicate. They are cueing you and alerting you to something worth paying attention to. For example, anger often lets us know when a boundary has been crossed, an injustice has occurred, or there are hurt feelings. In this example, if we ignore our anger, we are also ignoring the valuable lessons that will help us recognize when we need to take a stand or advocate for our needs.

To learn more about the valuable role emotions play in your life, here are a couple good tools:

Being Really Honest. When we can be honest and real about our experience, we usually will feel a sense of freedom. We release the need to been seen in a particular way and let go of the efforts to defend, deflect, and deny. When we are so busy trying to hide or avoid the way we feel with our partner, we are really trying to avoid the possibility of being rejected by them. However, by doing this, we are essentially rejecting our own experience. When we are honest and open, we are accepting and validating our experience, as well as giving our partner a chance to know us and love us more fully.

Happy Couple Outside NeighborhoodBeing honest and open about our experience includes checking out assumptions and fears with our partner. If you jump to conclusions and automatically assume what your partner is thinking or feeling, then you will be contributing to misunderstandings and unnecessary difficulty. If you state your worry or fear transparently, then you will have an opportunity to discuss it openly and honestly with your partner. Your partner will be more willing to share why they said or did something, if you state your experience and get curious about their experience. It will be the more vulnerable thing to do, to state your fear or worry, rather than jump to a conclusion. 

If you take a chance and state the very thing you might be embarrassed, ashamed, or insecure about, you might be greatly relieved and surprised. Relieved because it is refreshing to cut through the self-protection and be super honest and real, which can feel liberating and freeing. Surprised because as much as you probably didn’t want your partner to know your truth (i.e. the thing that you were not proud of), it is the very thing that brings you closer together and feeling more emotionally connected.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

~ Viktor E. Frankl

Regulating Our Emotional Reactions. Knowing when to disengage can be a powerful tool. When you recognize you are having a strong reaction, learning how to tactfully and respectful disengage will prevent a lot of difficulty and perhaps damage control. In my previous article, I talked about the fight, flight, or freeze response, and how our nervous system and body respond to perceived threats. It is very difficult to respond skillfully when we are in a triggered place. The key to regulating this triggered response is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. One of the quickest ways to do this is through diaphramic breathing or abdominal breathing.

Another helpful tool in regulating your emotional reaction is by the use of the “traffic light” analogy.

  • “Green” represents “I am good. My muscles are relaxed. I am calm. There are no threats. I can think clearly.”Traffic light
  • “Yellow” represents: “I feel a bit activated. I can feel my muscles tighten. I feel a little protective. I am on guard as I feel a potential threat. I am on the defense.”
  • “Red” represents: “I feel upset and angry. My heart is pounding. I am ready to fight. All I can think about is how to stay on top.”
  • “Red” also represents: “I feel completely shut down. My body is collapsed. I feel frozen. I can’t think clearly at all.”
  • “Red” also represents: “I am looking for the quickest way out. I feel antsy, and I am crawling out of my skin to leave. I feel trapped. I do not want to be here. All I can think about is how to get out of here.”

Many people try to move forward in a conversation when they are in the “yellow.” They think more resolution will come from trying to rush through the issue. However, it is more likely for the conversation to escalate into the “red” because as we get triggered we lose our ability to be attentive, mindful, and skillful. Very little good is going to come from trying to interact or relate when in the “red.” If anything, we are more likely to say or do things that we will regret later. Many of the these Nine Destructive Behaviors to Avoid During Relationship Conflict come out of being in the “red” zone. The important practice here is to recognize when you are starting to get activated, being in the “yellow. ” If you are in the “yellow,” you want to ask yourself, “what will help me get back into the “green” (rather than trying to push onward in the conversation)?

Couples can use this traffic light tool together. One might say, “I am starting to get upset. I don’t want to get into the “red” zone, so I would like to stop the conversation now. Let’s check back in later, when I have had a chance to calm down.” Another person might say to their partner, “I feel like I am in the “yellow.” Where are you?”

Redefining Vulnerability. When we can redefine vulnerability as a part of the growth process, we are more willing to tolerate the emotional discomfort. We recognize that feeling some challenge is part of the developmental process in relationship and intimacy. We can begin to see how vulnerability within an intimate relationship is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of real courage. Over the last several years, Brené Brown has gained great popularity discussing the benefit and value of vulnerability. I highly recommend reading Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.

Here are two of Brené Brown’s Ted Talks:

Gaining Trust & Security. Path through treesOver time, as you practice being open and regulating your emotions, you will gain a sense of trust in yourself and your partner. Hopefully, you and your partner can feel some progress in this area. It is not an easy practice, and it is not something you arrive at. It is called a “practice” for a reason, as it is something that you will need to continue to work at. With time and consistency, you will gain more confidence in the process. The goal is lay the groundwork and foundation for lasting intimacy and authenticity with your partner.

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?”

~ Mevlana Rumi Quotes from Rumi Daylight

4. Being willing to do your inner work.

In my previous article, I referenced “work” as personal growth and improvement. We all have aspects and parts of ourselves that we are not aware of. A good model to explain this is Johari’s window. You can learn more about this model, in my previous article (see #4).

There is a difference between not being aware of your personal growth opportunities and choosing to not look or ignore your areas of growth. When you notice feelings of upset or emotionally difficulty (see previous point in the article – #3), how can you be curious and learn from your experience? What can you learn about yourself?

Oftentimes, we will choose a partner that will activate the sensitive spots in us just perfectly.  One classic example of this is the frustrating dynamic between the “distancer” and the “pursuer.” The pursuer seeks intimacy when stressed and the distancer seeks distance when stressed. The pursuer has a preference for closeness and is not always as aware of the benefit of autonomy. Whereas, the distancer has a preference for autonomy and is not always as aware of the benefit of closeness. If you are stuck in this pattern, it will be important to shift this dynamic. Many people find great value in seeking support in overcoming this challenging dynamic. Please contact me, if you have any questions or feel I might be able to offer some support. These difficult dynamics often help us work through and heal these parts of ourselves, as well as help us grow in our emotional strength and maturity.

Woman freedom beachMore often than not, your partner is going to be a great feedback source. They will offer reflections and input about how you can improve. Yes, you will want your partner to express this feedback constructively and kindly. Otherwise, it will be natural to feel hurt, attacked, and get defensive, if their feedback is too critical and judgmental. If they can communicate tactfully and kindly, and you are receptive, you will have a great opportunity to learn and grow.

Your challenge will be to look for the grain of truth in your partner’s feedback:

  • Do you see their point?
  • Do you resonate with anything they are telling you?
  • How do you decide what is useful and what is not, as some of their feedback will be their stuff (i.e. their projection)?

To learn more about your “hidden parts” (see #4), you may solicit feedback from people you love and trust. You will want to be ready to hear their honest feedback.

Here are some questions that you may consider to learn more about yourself:

  • TreeHow do you see me deal with stress?
  • What are ways do you feel manipulated by me? (This question came from a teacher of mine. She recommended asking two or three people you really love and trust.)
  • When I have issue about something, how do I bring it up or deal with it with you?
  • How do I seek connection from you?
  • If I have moments of insecurity, how do you see me deal with them?

These questions can be a helpful start to the ever evolving process of self-understanding and knowledge. The more you grow individually, the more you help foster the growth and development of your love and relationship.

“To say ‘I love you’ one must know first how to say the ‘I’.”

~ Ayn Rand Quotes

The next article will discuss the last three points from Seven Reasons Why Relationship Feels So Hard Sometimes, Thank you for taking the time to learn and contemplate new ways of relating to improve the quality of your relationship. Please Click Here to Subscribe, if you would like to be up-to-date on the latest posts.

What do you think about these suggestions? Please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. Thank you. ❤

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Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication.

Stop the criticism loop, learn new ways to communicate
and strengthen the connection with your partner.


Dr. Jessica Higgins ~ Relationship and Transformational Coaching