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!

4 Tips For Making a Good Marriage Better

IMG_8708We’re easily swept up in the activities of our everyday lives.  Often, we find comfort and safety in the predictability of the status quo.  We establish routine, a flow to each day, and somewhat mindlessly move from one thing to the next.  In this article Phyllis Goldberg, Phd, MFT , Therapist, Relationship Coach, and one of Couplewise’s renowned therapist advisers, offers tips for keeping your marriage fresh and engaging.  Try out more ideas that will  bring joy and spontaneity into your relationship with the “play and fun” module of CoupleWise.  This module is based on Gary Krane, PhD’s book, Simple Fun for Busy People.  The playful activities are designed for couples who feel overwhelmed or overworked with no time for fun.  It provides easy ways to make the ordinary situations of everyday life exciting.  – Intro by Gary Krane, PhD and Heather Edwards, LMHC

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How to Make a Good Marriage Better by Phyllis Goldberg, Phd, MFT , Therapist, Relationship Coach, and one of Couplewise’s renowned therapist advisers.

You know what they say if something is moving along without any major hurdles – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But your marriage may not yet have reached its full potential. Believe it or not, you can change boring routines and improve your relationship.

According to the field of interpersonal neurobiology, our brains are constantly changing. And that is impacted by how we interact daily. Loving relationships can alter the brain circuits that shape memories and emotions.

Think about the immediate attraction when you first fell in love. This alchemy continues throughout life, and how we treat each other matters. In a loving relationship we can change neural functions when we decide to be more compassionate. And holding hands is enough to reduce stress and minimize physical pain. So whether you want to release euphoria-inducing chemicals like dopamine or change the wiring in your brain, here are some ideas to consider:

Invest emotionally. Make time for each other and keep romance alive. A gentle touch or quick hug releases oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding. When you’re tense, an affectionate moment can help you feel relaxed and more loved. Studies show that celebrating positive events predict greater relationship satisfaction than complaining about negative ones. Just like with any valuable asset, the efforts you make will be returned in multiples.

Eliminate boredom. Lightheartedness is often a casualty of hectic family life and then, when the kids leave home, there’s an even greater void. Talk to your partner about this without being critical. Plan adventures and discover activities you both enjoy. Take on a physical challenge together and train to make it happen. Have fun and laugh – being playful can lead to greater intimacy.

Ask for what you need. No one is a mind reader. Sometimes couples can get frustrated and stop talking. Try to understand each other’s disappointment or resentment. Meet halfway and get more of what you want.  If you invest in your own happiness, your partner won’t have to be responsible for your wellbeing. By taking action, you’ll feel more confident and your relationship will reap the dividends.

Express gratitude often. Compliments serve as positive reinforcement at the very times when you may be taking each other for granted. If you feel distant, try to see your partner in a different light. Look for the qualities you love about each other. And when you’re having positive thoughts, say them out loud. Being satisfied with small changes can make a good marriage better.  Click this link for a lovely video on experiencing gratitude daily.

© HerMentorCenter, 2012. All rights reserved.

10 Tips for Fair Fighting

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10 easy tips for fair fighting will simplify and calm the way you respond to conflict.  Having a few ready-made tools can improve your success in navigating those dreaded heated moments with your partner.  Being mindful, factual, and empathic are just a few of the basic skills that deescalate potentially problematic interactions. It’s never too late to change bad habits – as long as you’re willing to try a new approach.  Conflict in relationships is a fact of life.  It doesn’t have to be deal breaker.  –Intro by Gary Krane, PhD and Heather Edwards, LMHC

-Originally written and posted by Heather Edwards, LMHC in NewYorkPsychotherapyandLifeCoaching.com

In my Coaching and Psychotherapy work with individuals, couples, families, and business partners I’ve found a few simple & effective tools for de-escalating arguments and resolving conflict as tensions rise. People often seek coaching or therapy once they’ve found themselves in repeated unhealthy or unproductive patterns. This can be a frustrating and seemingly hopeless situation without the intervention of a helper or the resources needed to get out of the mire. We can all attest to the fact that feeling stuck stinks, so try these simple tips to enlighten the way you debate.

1. Use “I” messages instead of “You” messages.
Recognize how conflict affects you. Give your feelings words. Unless your partner is clairvoyant, there is no way for him/her to truly know your experience. Brush up on your feelings-words vocabulary. Be specific about your experience. Notice where you feel your feelings. Physical symptoms are cues to recognizing your emotional responses, such as anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, or joy. Don’t be afraid to make yourself vulnerable by sharing your feelings. It can open the conversation to a genuine course of understanding and problem solving.

2. Own your feelings, actions, and wishes. State them clearly.
Use concrete, behavioral terms to describe what you want to say. Keep it short and sweet. Take responsibility for what you see, what you want, and how things need to change. Avoid accusations and blame.

3. Eliminate the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary.
Very few things occur 100% of the time. Instead, think in terms of percentages on a scale of 1-100. Ask yourself, “What percentage of the time does this problem occur?”. Chances are it is not nearly as often as it seems. This can help gain a more accurate and realistic view of the problem which will help you address it more effectively.

4. Stick to the facts.
Resist making generalizations, interpretations or blaming statements. These will only put the other person on the defensive and derail the purpose of the argument. Stating facts rather than personal attacks keeps the conversation moving forward in a proactive way.

5. Stay focused on the goal of resolution, rather than “winning” the argument.
Once you get caught up in who’s right and who’s wrong the original problem becomes moot. When voices are raised and tempers are heated, the anger is what’s heard instead of the message. The conflict is now a power struggle that nobody really wins.

6. Avoid name calling, and physical violence.
This sabotages problem solving, mutual understanding, and conflict resolution. It damages the foundation of your relationship, threatens safety, and is more difficult to heal than the original dispute. Keep your anger and triggers in check. Be assertive, not aggressive.

7. Leave past issues in the past.
Focus on resolving the disagreement that exists in the here and now. When ancient history is exhumed, the current problem gets lost, becomes ambiguous, and takes a whole new shape. If there are unresolved issues from the past, come back to them in a dedicated discussion at another time when both parties are cool.

8. Be an active listener.
Hear what the other has to say. It’s only fair to offer the kind of listening you want and deserve in return! Repeat out loud what you heard the speaker say and check it out with him/her to be sure you got it right. Give him/her an opportunity to clarify, tweak, or restate his/her message.

9. Practice empathy.
Consider the other’s feelings and perspective of the problem with an open mind. Ask for their ideas. Don’t assume you already know them. We are all individuals with our own history, experience, and frame of reference that shade the way we think, perceive, and interact with others. Honor each other’s unique self.

10. Keep calm.
Take deep breaths or a five-minute-time-out to stay cool. Recognize when your barometer is rising. Once anger wins, the argument is lost. As stated by Thomas Paine, “The greatest remedy for anger is delay.”.

5 Easy Tips to Strengthen Your Marriage

136048-136019In this blog written by Heather Edwards, LMHC and Mark Banschick, MD originally published in Psychology Today, five simple tips are offered to breathe new energy into your marriage.

It’s Time to Kick-Start Your Marriage:

It’s easy to get caught up in work, childcare, managing your home, and keeping up with bills. The day to day realities of adult life can be draining, and under these pressures, any relationship can atrophy.

Marriage Has Positive & Negative Cycles:

Most couples go through it. Communication breaks down, sexual intimacy becomes an after-thought, fun is infrequent, and empathy is a strain. Sometimes conflict and arguing escalates, or for others, the marriage starts failing as the couple resorts to living parallel lives. Either way, the negative cycle has replaced the life enhancing positive cycle that couples find when they turn love into an action verb.
Find a Therapist

Since the “D” word was not in your vocabulary when you got married, how can you flex and rebuild that svelte marriage muscle?

In this guest blog, Heather Edwards, a New York based therapist and life coach, lays out five ways to build positive energy back into your relationship.

Have Fun:

It sounds like the easy answer, but it’s always a good place to start.

Consider the ways you used to enjoy each other’s company. You used to play together. What did you enjoy doing most? Was it going to a concert, park, or favorite restaurant? Maybe it was taking a bike ride, getting a massage together, or walking on the beach. Whatever the activity, make a commitment to one new action that brings energy into your relationship. If being together feels stifling for you, it probably feels the same way for your spouse or partner. Any activity that doesn’t have some level of enjoyment in it will eventually be one you want to rid from your life. The same applies to your marriage. So start breathing fresh air into it!

Self Awareness:

Be aware of your needs.

What needs are not being met by your partner? Respect, encouragement, acceptance, and trust are a few needs that can feel compromised when marriages break down. These higher-level needs are sometimes masked by the day to day gripes, nagging or avoidant behavior that can become commonplace. Recognize your own negative behaviors as destructive, not constructive, and question what need is suffering underneath it. That’s probably what’s motivating your bad behavior, not just the dirty socks on the floor. Consider ways to constructively express yourself.

Ending a negative cycle begins when you see what you are doing to each other.

Communicate:

Your partner is not a mind reader, nor does he or she have a crystal ball that will enlighten him or her.

That means it is up to you to say what you mean, and mean what you say. If you want your message to be heard in a non-defensive way, then you need to verbalize your thoughts and feelings in a way that is not blaming, judging, nor critical. Blaming and judging can lead to defensiveness and stonewalling. Criticism can lead to contempt and resentment—and that’s the negative cycle.

If what you want to build is openness, strength, and mutual support, then change the way you communicate. Rather than focusing your attention on your partners actions, focus on your experience of it. Own your feelings. Simply state what you feel when certain behaviors occur. Clearly and calmly ask for what you want. State, “I feel ___, because ___, and I want ___”.

Empathy:

Now that you’re aware of your true feelings, needs, and wants, consider your spouse’s experience of this problem.

All relationships experience power struggles. And, you know you are in one if either you or your partner needs to win at all costs. You may not always agree, but you need not make him or her feel stupid or crazy. When it’s about winning an argument, you both lose.

Hear the feelings words he or she is using. Notice the body language and requests made. Imagine how it feels to express oneself in the manner he or she is using. Practice walking in their shoes. Check it out. It’s okay to let your spouse know that you recognize their struggle and that it’s real and valid. After all, you’re in this together, trying to find a way to live your lives better.

Intimacy:

Intimacy can be the barometer, or measure of pressure and change, in a relationship. Have you noticed your intimacy changing as stress, conflict, and detachment rise? Well, it’s an easy indicator that something is suffering badly and needs your attention. Identify the troubled areas in your marriage and apply all of the above interventions to them. Make improving your sex life with your spouse a priority.

Oxytocin, a bonding hormone that is released during sex, will bring you closer and increase warm, loving feelings toward each other. Just do it! Set aside time to nurture yourselves in this way.

Have fun reconnecting with each other!

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Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:

http://newyorkpsychotherapyandlifecoaching.com/

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For more on The Intelligent Divorce and Other Relationship Advice see:

Twitter: twitter.com/MarkBanschickMD

Website: http://www.TheIntelligentDivorce.com

Online Parenting Course: http://www.FamilyStabilizationCourse.com

Radio Show: http://www.divorcesourceradio.com/category/audio-podcast/the-intelligent-divorce

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFE0-LfUKgA

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