Give Your Relationship the Perfect Gift: A Dose of Holiday Cheer

By Suzanne Zook-Johnston, DMFT
Clinical Director and Counsellor for the Niagara Relationship Health Centre (NRHC)

The holidays can bring a mixture of emotions, and often we find ourselves reflecting on the past as our minds go into a state of rewind. Rewinding past relationship hardships can stir up feelings such as anger, sadness, resentment, and regret.

Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist who wrote the book Hardwiring Happiness (2013) , suggests our brains have a negativity bias that is programmed to remember and accentuate the negative. Similarly, Dr. David Olson, a couple researcher who wrote the book The Couple Checkup (2008), has collected data on more than 50,000 couples and discovered married couples or couples in long-term relationships tend to focus on negative aspects of their partner.

What does this mean? Overtime,a buildup of disturbing thoughts, and feelings about our partners and our relationships can takeover and create a toxic emotional cesspool. What is a toxic emotional cesspool? It is a toxic environment where negative emotional energy is stored and can act as fuel to increase distressing relations and overtime destroy our most cherished, intimate relationships.

How do you clean up your emotional cesspool?

Alfred Adler, one of the founding fathers of psychology, created a technique called “act as if” that suggests acting a certain way can make you feel a certain way. Comparably, Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), created a psychoeducational skill called “opposite action” that suggests we can actually trick our brains by doing the opposite of what we feel like doing.

This holiday season give your relationship a dose of holiday cheer by following the 10 steps outlined below. If you find this process too difficult to follow or have any questions, I will be happy to help.

Give Your Relationship A Dose of Holiday Cheer-10 step Process:

  1. ACT HAPPY to see your partner, put a SMILE on your face.
  2. NOTICE something you appreciate about your partner
  3. TELL him or her how much you appreciate that attribute.
  4. Then become AWARE of your feelings and notice positive feelings, hold onto those feelings for 5 to 10 seconds.
  5. STILL (Stop Toxicity and ILLness from entering) the mind.
  6. Say POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS to yourself “I am changing this negative cycle.”
  7. Communicate with your partner. LEAN into your partner, and really LISTEN to what he or she has to say. Get rid of defensiveness, and start paraphrasing (repeating what you think your partner said) to make sure that you understand.
  8. TELL your partner that you APPRECIATE his or her point of view
  9. SHARE your point of view. Use “I statements” to share your point of view.
  10. GIVE your partner a hug, a kiss, or a touch, and thank him or her for talking and listening.

Congratulate yourself! You just took the first step toward cleaning your emotional cesspool. How do you feel?

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Terry Real’s “The New Rules of Marriage:” Great Is What You Deserve

Terry Real in “The New Rules of Marriage” Terry says in his book that ” people may tell you what you’re looking for is unrealistic. I don’t think so. Well meaning friends and family may focus on your need to compromise. I don’t want you to. Your relationship is too important for compromise. Your work may be rewarding, your kids great, and your friends wonderful, but in the end, your bond with the person you live out your life with- the one you grow up and grow old with- is the single most important connection you will ever have. I want you to go after what it is you want-with skill and with love- and get it.”

As a therapist I want to turn your bad relationship into a good one, and a good relationship into a great one. How do you get one like this? You build it day by day with thoughtfulness and skill. I teach these skills. It is truly my passion at this point in my career.

Read his book, see a therapist trained in relational methods, give yourselves this chance to have the relationship of a lifetime!

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Courage To Love After Divorce

The word courage comes from the French word for heart coeur.  It is the spirit, heart, and desire for life. In order to experience courage you’ve got to break out of shells in which you’ve been hiding …

Courage makes love, passion, and intimacy possible. Without it the flowers do not bloom and the tree does not bear fruit. The sweet treasures of caring for and cherishing of your lover never materialize and the initial exciting contact turns into boredom, routine, and feels stale and devoid of life.

You’ve got to learn to communicate in a way that INSPIRES someone to be your devoted lover and partner. You have to be trustworthy. You have to mean what you say and express your truth and find your voice. You have to show up.

You have had to dig into your own wells of courage to emerge from the depressed, hopeless post-divorced man or woman that you are. Fill yourself with courage and desire!

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For Better For Worse

In spite of everything we hear more marriages are successful than ever before but people in the twenty first century expect more from marriage than a stable economic unit. The stakes are particularly high in a marriage based on love, equality, and shared values. As a result sustaining marriage takes more time, more energy, honesty and emotional investment than previous generations and that is why a good marriage can feel like a struggle at times. All couples struggle and it can feel lonely at times.

Sex is a common issue that couples struggle with. Many husbands want to have sex more frequently than their wives. Wives say they would have more sex if husbands helped with housework and kids more and give love and affection as more than quick foreplay to sex. Husbands say that without sex they get frustrated and demotivated to help or be romantic and sex helps them feel more connected to their wives. It’s a cyclical problem and circles endlessly in some less happy marriages. In general, the more sex a couple has, the happier the marriage. Sustaining the chemistry and re-igniting passion is the challenge for many couples. There are things that help but honesty must be the first order of business to deal with the issue and it takes courage.

When dishonesty enters….passion dies. A relationship requires some edge, some risk, and some truth to keep sexual interest alive. In Mating in Captivity Esther Perel talks about reconciling the erotic with the domestic in life and says it is a paradoxical union where the political correctness of the North American bedroom can feel like a sexual cage. Bringing lust back requires us to embrace a less egalitarian approach and enchantment, liberation, and play between the distance between us. A good marriage is fine but a truly sexual marriage is better. Viva la difference!

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