Everyday is Valentine’s Day

IMG_7082This article is written by Heather Edwards, LMHC, NCC, BCC Psychotherapist, Life Coach, and Blog Editor in Chief of Couplewise.  It is originally posted on her blog at NewYorkPsychotherapyandLifeCoaching.com .  In this piece she suggests ways to celebrate your love everyday.

Valentine’s Day is the day of love notes, red roses, and heart shaped chocolates. Romance is awakened and we feel reconnected.  For centuries, it’s celebrated as a day to declare and honor our one true love.

Some love it.  Some hate it.  Some just follow the relationship protocol.  There are those who yearn for a special day of gifts, romance, and kindness. There are those who loathe the “Hallmark Holiday”, deeming it contrived and corporate.  There are those who choose not to rock the “love boat” and dutifully follow tradition.  Whether you love it, hate it, or are apathetic to it, it happens every year – and this year its happening 3 days from now.  What’s one to do?

Imagine removing the pressure of finding the perfect gift or expression of love on that one day each year.  Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a single day of celebration fraught with gift giving, spending money, and the materialization of love.  What if instead, we mindfully loved more generously and openly in our everyday lives and relationships? Everyday.   Stop wasting your time and energy searching for differences, problems, and sources of anxiety – they’re way to easy to find and obsess about!  Shift your focus to what is positive, good, and loving.

Let’s take a moment to consider the ways we celebrate and acknowledge our love and relationships on this not-so-subtle reminder called Valentines Day.  There are pretty predictable ways we conform to social expectations, but as you continue reading, imagine incorporating these ideas into each day. Yes, 365 days per year.

Acts of Kindness –

Whether you’re the gift giving type or the favor offering kind, remember the ways you reached out to your partner when your relationship was new.  What were you eager to do for that person, simply for the sake of making him/her feel good?  How did you express tenderness, infatuation, and desire?  Take time to plan a meal, give a massage, or connect through sharing ideas, dreams, and plans.

“I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame.” – W.B. Yeats

Seek Adventure –

When your relationship was new, everything you did together was adventurous simply because YOU were new to each other.  Some of those activities may have gotten lost in the shuffle of responsibility, boredom,  or routine.  Keep novelty alive!  If you are not new to each other anymore, find activities that are unique.  Get outside your comfort zone, together.  After all, getting to know each other was exciting and challenging when there was uncertainty. Recreate that excitement.

“What we find in a soulmate is not something wild to tame but something wild to run with.”  – Robert Brault

Greater Intimacy –

Some confuse intimacy with sex.  Although they can be mutually exclusive, they are far better when shaken and stirred together in a loving cocktail of sensuality.  Touch frequently.  Express gratitude.  Speak warm sentiments.  Be vulnerable.  Ask for what you need.  Confide your fears and exert your power (in a loving way, not threatening).  Don’t assume.  Take risks.  Share your innermost self.

“Warm me like sunlight and soothe me like rain. Burn me with passion and steal away the pain.” – Tyler Knott Gregson

If you’re lucky enough to be in a loving relationship, nurture it everyday.  Keep your feet on the ground, your head on your shoulders, and notice the life partner sharing this journey with you.  When you keep that in mind, everyday can be Valentine’s Day!

Motivate My Partner Twitter Contest!

cw_withbg_250x250GRAND  WINNER!

  1. $100 now and $100 after our first 1000 couples join CoupleWise!
  2. Two one year memberships to CoupleWise!  One for you and one for a couple you adore (perfect anniversary gift), $360-$400 value.

WEEKLY WINNERS!

  • Weekly winner gets one hour free counseling session from CoupleWise founder, Gary Krane PhD or a licensed therapists on our board of therapist advisers.
  • The next 6 runners up will each get a free 6-month subscription to CoupleWise (estimated $59 value). You can use it yourself or give it as a gift to someone else, for example to a friend on their anniversary or to a parent on Mother’s / Father’s Day. A CoupleWise subscription would make a great gift to a couple any time.

EVERY USABLE IDEA!

TO ENTER: Tweet or write your ideas and tell us, in 140 characters or less,  “How you motivated (or could motivate) your partner to devote more time, attention, and effort toward improving your relationship.”  

Tweet your Motivational Ideas to @couplewise with the hashtag #CWMMP (CoupleWise Motivate My Partner) beginning NOW until Friday, February 14th, 2014.  If you’re not on Twitter, you can email your Motivational Ideas to MotivatePartners@RelationshipTechnologies.com.

All entries must be submitted by February 14, 2014, Valentine’s Day! The winner will be announced on March 14, 2014 and the top 10 suggestions will be viewable at CoupleWise.com.  Your name and email address will be kept strictly CONFIDENTIAL, unless you request otherwise.

Please also include your first name, age, and state and country of residence.

Criteria for entries:

– Creative and Original; the more creative, the higher the rating (10 points being the highest)

– Cost under $10; must be affordable to most people  &  not difficult for most people to do.

– Proven: show us evidence you actually did it and it worked! You can send us a video testimonial that we can post on  our site or a written testimonial from your mate as to how he or she got motivated. We will send him or her an email to verify this.  NOTE: You can still win without this proof!

About CoupleWise:

CoupleWise.com will be offering  before Mother’s Day a robust, highly interactive, individualizable web and mobile app to empower couples to create stronger, happier relationships. The CoupleWise technology

  • Enables couples to quickly clarify their problems without criticism or arguments.
  • Skills to listen empathically to each other and to make and keep agreements, and much more.
  • Ways to motivate an unmotivated partner to work on improving  the relationship.
  • CoupleWise is gay friendly.

Credit Where Credit is Due:

The best ideas will be posted in CoupleWise. Entries will be kept strictly anonymous, unless you want credit. Let us know if you would like to be credited for your idea and how? For example we could list your first name and city, but it is up to you.

Rules:

1. All federal, state, and local taxes on prize are the sole responsibility of the winner. No purchases are necessary; void where prohibited by law.

2. Participants agree to abide by all decisions of CoupleWise, contest co-sponsors, and judges, which shall be final and binding with respect to all issues relating to this contest.

3. Prize is not transferable and no cash alternative or prize substitution is available. CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors reserve the right to substitute a similar prize of equal or greater value if the prize listed is unavailable for any reason. All potential winners are subject to verification at the discretion of CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors.

4. Winner agrees that prizes are being provided “as is”, and CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors make no warranty, representation or guarantee regarding the prize, including but not limited to its quality, condition, merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

5. CoupleWise and contest co-sponsors are not responsible for problems including (but not limited to) damaged, incorrect, inaccurate, lost, delayed, or defective entries, or for injury or damage to any computer resulting from participation in this contest. Entries that have been tampered with or altered are void.

6. CoupleWise reserves the right to modify, cancel, postpone or end the contest at any time as necessary, at its sole discretion, or to disqualify any participant or winner, at its sole discretion, deemed to have cheated, destroyed, obstructed, or otherwise acted illegally or in bad faith in relation to this contest.

7. CoupleWise reserves the right, at its sole discretion, to disqualify any individual it finds, in its sole discretion, to be in violation of the Terms of Service; to be acting in violation of these Official Rules; to be acting in a unethical or disruptive manner, or with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass any other person.

8. By submitting an entry and entering this contest, you represent and warrant that: you are over the age of 18, or entering with the knowledge and permission of your parent or guardian (subject to verification), and that the entry does not contain or incorporate the intellectual property and/or confidential information of any third party.

9. By submitting an entry and entering this contest, you hereby grant CoupleWise a perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable, worldwide, royalty free right to publish and distribute your entry for their promotional purposes.

10. Governing Law: All issues and questions concerning the construction, validity, interpretation and enforceability of the official rules, or the rights of entrants, shall be governed by and construed in accordance with, the substance laws of the State of New York and any applicable laws and regulations of the United States.

Got a New Years Resolution to Revitalize Your Relationship?

cw_withbg_250x250Try These 7 Tips for a Happier Marriage/Committed Relationship:

We all know sustaining strong, healthy relationships can be challenging.  What most of us really want to know is how to stop arguing, nagging, or getting bored and annoyed with each other. How can we get our relationship back to where it was when it started? How can we make it fun and romantic again?  Use these 7 tips to revitalize your relationship, and at the end, discover the easy to use web app “tool chest” that actually enables you to integrate these great ideas into your real life – way more than a blog post, book, or video can do!

1) People that play together, stay together.   

Play more together in ways that are easy to do, require no scheduling, and are even free.  Be silly. If you are saying to yourself, you can’t find the time to play and have fun, fret no more. Here are two of 333 games you can do that transform the ordinary situations of everyday life into extraordinary fun:

*Be Each Other Game:  At Dinner: Everyone writes their names on slips of paper, folds them up, puts them in a cup, shakes them and who ever you get, you talk and eat like that person. You ”Be each other!”  This is where you might find out that you talk with your mouthful, play with your  mustache, or interrupt others.  Be sure that you use the tool we mention at the end, however for an important warning.

*The Kvetch Game: While in the Car or Shopping:  If you need to complain – Go through the alphabet in turns, complaining about whatever you can dream up, real or imagined, that starts with the letter you get on your turn. For example, if it’s your turn and your letter is B, you might have the following kvetch: “I wish I had more bucks in my pocket today,” or “Old Bill at work sure gave me a hard time.”  The idea is to not only have fun with complaints, but to give vent to real gripes and frustrations in a way that’s fun and easier to hear. Chances are, just being heard in a spirit of good fun will allow everyone to feel safe and ready to consider adjusting their behavior.

2) Use arguments as opportunities to create a stronger connection with your mate instead of a weaker one, and learn more about yourself and your partner in the process.

Start by asking yourself this heart and mind expanding and possibly life changing question, “Am I more committed to winning this argument, or to the quality of our relationship?” Learn a tried and proven 4 step technique called, “Non-violent Communication”.  Replace arguing with compassion, empathy, discovery of unmet needs, and simple doable requests.  Walk in the other person’s shoes, practice validation, and move toward positive change rather than stonewalling.

3) Make resolving unmet relationship needs a priority.  

You may be wondering what unmet needs negatively affect relationships.  Respect, compassion, finances, & understanding are a few. Learn the eight needs that are most predictive of long lasting happy marriages. Empathize with the other person so that you can feel their pain in not getting their needs met.  Establish one mutually agreed upon action that will better satisfy this intention. Get automatic reminders to help you keep that agreement.  

4) Be mindful and accountable.  

Trust depends on behavior that is consistent and reliable.  Any kind of relationship that doesn’t have trust, isn’t a safe, healthy, nor authentic one.  Find out daily or weekly – or as often as you want- exactly how well you are doing in meeting the other’s most important relationship needs by spending 5 minutes checking into a certain web app on your computer.  Take the action recommended to continue building strength and resiliency in your relationship.

5) Restore the other’s faith that you can and will be a better partner.

How?  By using a tool called “Motivate My Partner”.  Consider the sources of the other person’s reluctance to engage in efforts to restore and/or strengthen your relationship.  Get suggestions on how to gently address those concerns.  Saying something like this could help, “We have some problems that need fixing. Let’s tackle the small problems we have now, before they turn into big problems later.”

6) Be more constructively honest with the other person and help him/her to be more constructively honest with you.

Sounds tough? There’s soon to be a software tool that will help you do this. It is fittingly called, “Sleeping Dogs”.   People that want to avoid facing difficult truths often prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. Using this simple and effective tool, you can take your relationship to the next level of understanding and connection.  

7) Get a helpful reminder with tips to maintain five positive interactions for every negative one. 

Show your admiration, respect, understanding, and appreciation to those most important to you.  John Gottman’s Five to One Ratio demonstrates that couples who have five positive interactions for every negative one have a more successful marriage. When one person demonstrates positive sentiments, it’s typically reciprocated and becomes a natural element of the relationship.  Just like laughter is contagious, so is kindness and warmth.  

So what is this wonderful tool chest that enables you to integrate this advice into your daily life? It’s a web app (not yet mobile) called CoupleWise.com.  Its new version is just launched and they are anxious to get their first 2000 users a.s.a.p. It’s free until your partner joins, and then for 30 more days. If you sign up now it’s only $4.95 per month after the 30 day free period (soon to jump to 19.95).  It’s not yet mobile, so you’ll need a desktop or laptop.  If you want the tips, tools, reminders (and soon rewards!) required to accomplish this relationship revival, stop wasting time.  Activate your New Years Resolution this month.  What are you waiting for?  

*For more ideas on games to play that make the ordinary situations of everyday life extraordinary, no matter how busy you are, check out Simple Fun for Busy People: 333 Ways to Enjoy Your Loved Ones More in the Time You Have, whose author is the cofounder of CoupleWise.com.  After all, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing!” -Ashley Montagu

P.S. In case your partner isn’t as motivated as you are by these tips and the Couplewise app, follow us on twitter @Couplewise to get our upcoming “Motivate My Partner” contest invite. In the meantime, Couplewise has a neat tool that does just that.  It provides great ideas from motivated wives and husbands that proved effective for them in motivating their partners.  You can get a free one year subscription to CoupleWise for sending in a great idea yourself.

Please send us your suggestions and questions. Suggestions for improving Couplewise.com can get you one year for free. Gary@couplewise.com or Heather@couplewise.com

5 Pro-Sexual Scripts to Improve Your Sex Life

Assessing your sexual scripts It’s all too easy to function on auto-pilot.  Richard Nicastro, Ph.D., a Psychologist and a Marriage/Couples Counselor in Las Cruces, New Mexico talks about the mental scripts that influence our thought and behavior patterns on a conscious and unconscious level.  Whether we realize it or not, they are our constant companion – we even take them into the bedroom.  How do your mental scripts effect your sexual attitudes and relationships?  Consider the ways they can help or hurt your sex life.  Evaluate and adjust them if doing so can improve your relationship.  – Intro by Heather Edwards, LMHC, NCC, BCC

A mental script is a set of rules and expectations learned early in life (it can be conscious and/or unconscious) that guide and influence your perceptions, feelings and behaviors. When an actor first learns a movie script, s/he must memorize lines of dialogue, but the actor must also learn what it feels like to be a particular character and how this person is likely to behave. After rehearsing the script many times, it becomes internalized by the actor (the actor takes on the attitudes, feelings, motivation and behaviors of the character), and this new persona becomes more natural and automatic and less consciously rehearsed or forced.

Childhood learning is similar to learning a script. Your parents/caregivers, siblings and peers were the directors and/or co-stars of the early unfolding of your life. By observing others and by direct experience (being told how to behave, being praised and reprimanded for certain things you said and did), your character was gradually shaped. Ideally, your parents/guardians were the kind of directors that allowed you to experiment with different scripts and personae that felt most natural to you—allowing your authentic self to emerge and take root. But unfortunately, the parent-director can set overly rigid rules and constraints on a child so that little in the way of spontaneity and authenticity is encouraged. When this occurs, you can end up feeling lost or not fully alive within the constraints of your overly-scripted self.

Relationship Help: Are Your Sexual-Scripts Hurting Your Sex Life?

Over the course of your life, you developed scripts to help you navigate family life, social relationships, work environment, and romantic relationships. Within the arena of love, you are guided by scripts for intimacy, how to communicate, how to express feelings and emotions, as well as using your body as a means for connecting with your partner.

Your sexual-scripts are your attitudes and feelings about sex—these are often unspoken, and linger behind the scenes of your conscious mind where they exert a powerful influence over your experience of physical intimacy.

Here are some sexual scripts that people often hold:

Pro-sexual scripts:

  • Sex is an important expression of love, affection and intimacy
  • It’s healthy and perfectly acceptable to have physical and sexual needs
  • I enjoy receiving pleasure and giving my partner physical pleasure
  • I’m open to experimenting sexually with my spouse/partner
  • Being a sexual being is an important part of being human

Note how each script has a particular feeling and motivation associated with it, as well as an action/behavior that will likely result from the script. Inherent to these pro-sexual scripts is an attitude of acceptance and openness.

Anti-sexual scripts:

  • It’s wrong to have physical/sexual needs and desires
  • I should be ashamed for wanting to have sex
  • I should not find others attractive
  • My partner should not ask me to give her/him physical pleasure
  • I’m too old to feel passion and sexual arousal

Note the constricting, judgmental nature of these negative sexual-scripts. As you might imagine, they can rob you of the joy, pleasure and vitality inherent to healthy sexual expression.

Assessing Your Sexual-Scripts

Take a moment to reflect on your sexual history (how you learned about sex; your first sexual experiences; your parents’/role models’ attitudes about sex) and see how these formative experiences shaped your attitudes about sexuality, sexual pleasure and sexual expression.

Are your sexual-scripts allowing for a fulfilling sex life? Or are they blocking you from the gifts of sexual intimacy?

Love as an Action Word

What it meaLisa Firestone, PhD Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association, teaches us that when we challenge our internal self critic, we enhance our self worth and open ourselves to the people we love.  She offers several behavioral measures of loving gestures and secrets to happiness according to a recent Harvard study.  Read further to determine if you act in ways that allow love to flow freely or if you push love away. Introduction by Heather Edwards, LMHC, NCC, BCC

While many of us may have sensed it intuitively, there is now science behind the statement that “love is all you need.” A 75-year longitudinal study by Harvard researchers recently revealed that love itself is the one true key to a happy and fulfilling life.

While love seems to be a universally valued attribute, defining love in behavioral terms can be a challenging undertaking. As the Harvard study’s lead researcher, Dr. George Vaillant, wrote of his team’s findings, there are two essential ingredients proven to correlate with a happy existence: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.” While many of us believe we would like to be in love, we face many hurdles in taking the actions that allow love to flow freely throughout our lives and relationships. We have many ways of defending ourselves against love, and struggle to give and receive love with ease, openness and vulnerability.

With love being so closely connected to meaning and fulfillment, it’s valuable for each of us to define love as a verb, an action or series of actions we can take to bring us closer to the people we value. In a romantic context, some essential characteristics that fit the description of a loving relationship include:

  •  Expressions of affection, both physical and emotional
  •  A wish to offer pleasure and satisfaction to another
  •  Tenderness, compassion and sensitivity to the needs of the other
  •  A desire for shared activities and pursuits
  •  An appropriate level of sharing of one’s possessions
  •  An ongoing, honest exchange of personal feelings
  •  The process of offering concern, comfort and outward assistance for the loved one’s aspirations

Love includes feeling for the other that goes beyond any selfishness or self-interest on the part of the loved one. As such, love nurtures and has a positive effect on each person’s self-esteem and sense of well-being. Love is being truthful and never involves deception, because misleading another person fractures his or her sense of reality and is, therefore, an actual human rights violation that adversely affects mental health.

So how well do we meet these standards for being loving? When we think about a relationship that is meaningful to us, we have to ask: Do we both behave in ways that nurture each other? Do we take actions to make the other person feel good? Do we consider what lights the person up, separate from our own interests?

Too often, we think of love as an almost passive state of being, as opposed to a conscious choice we make. When we regard love as something we fall into, we can easily slip into routines with the person we value or lose a sense of separateness and respect. Instead, we view that person as a part of us. We then run the risk of creating a “Fantasy Bond,” an illusion of fusion in which real feelings of fondness and attraction are replaced by the form of being in a relationship. In other words, we come to see ourselves and our partner as a single unit. We then fall into roles rather than appreciating each other as individuals and experiencing the exciting, loving feelings that result.

Even though a Fantasy Bond replaces real relating with another person, it offers a false sense of security, the illusion that we are no longer alone. However, when we connect to someone in this way, we lose our sense of vitality, and we give up significant aspects of our relationship. The behavioral operations of love are replaced with a fantasy of being in love, which does not nurture either partner.

Relationships tend to go south when we stop taking actions that our partner would perceive as loving, and instead, start looking to our partner solely to meet our own needs. It’s important to distinguish emotional hunger from real love. For example, have you ever witnessed a parent hugging a child and wondered whether the hug was intended to comfort the child, offering reassurance and care, or to soothe the parent, taking something from the child? When we are reaching out to our partner, it can be valuable to examine whether our behaviors are for them or for ourselves. Are we looking to them to fulfill us in some way that is unfair to them? Are we hoping they will make up for an emptiness or hurt from our past?

A couple I’ve worked with recently recognized an example of this dynamic. The wife would often compliment her husband, but he rarely felt acknowledged by her words. When she recounted some of the recent comments she made, she noticed that they were less of a reflection of him and more a reflection on her. Statements like, “Aren’t I married to such a handsome, well-put-together man?” Or, “Haven’t I picked a winner?” didn’t capture qualities that were important to him. Rather, they were traits she valued in a partner that reconfirmed her own self-esteem and sense of worth.

Love should never be an act of manipulation. It is not a mark of ownership over another person, but rather the exact opposite: a genuine appreciation of a person as a separate individual. When we see a person this way, we allow ourselves to fully value them for who they are and for the happiness they bring to our lives. We are driven to be generous toward this person, to show compassion and kindness in a way that both they and the outside world would view as loving.

Of course, there are many barriers we put in place that not only keep us from finding this type of relationship but from achieving it with the person we love. One of the reasons we wind up in less-than-loving relationships is due to ways we were treated in our past. We may have become familiar with family dynamics in which we were rejected or intruded on, in which case we tend to seek out or recreate these same dynamics in our adult relationships. To become more loving thus means recognizing ways we self-sabotage. How are we recreating past hurts in our current relationships?

As we reflect on these behaviors, we learn a lot, not only about how we interfere with our naturally loving feelings for others but about the negative ways we feel about ourselves. It’s difficult to express love outwardly when we don’t feel our own sense of self-worth. One of the biggest reasons we shut out love is because we feel unworthy or self-denying. Therefore, to have a loving relationship, we must challenge our negative self-concept, or our “critical inner voice.” When we do this and take the loving actions that contradict our critical self-image, we enhance our own sense of worth and are able to get closer to the people we love.

Read more of Lisa Firestone’s blogs at PsychAlive.org.