Article #1: Going the Distance (In Long-Term Relationships)
A long-term relationship (LTR) is a tricky business. The LTR is uniquely personal and intimate while at the same time must be run like a small business with all the necessities; such as, money management, organization, teamwork, and effective lines of communication. A lot of people who have been in an LTR for 10, 20, 30, etc. years find it challenging. It starts out dreamy and everyone has heard it doesn’t stay that way, yet droves of people still get together and vow they will love each other until death parts them. Well, there’s a 50-50 chance that will happen and the odds are worse for second, etc. marriages. So, why do we still run to the altar to promise our life-long devotion to another? Either we’re in denial that LTR’s don’t always last or no one is teaching us how to shift when the relationship does; how to dance with the changes. In the “Going the Distance” class, we will explore the speed bumps (and pot holes) that some of us have encountered and discuss ways to get over them, around them, or blast right through. We all know the many relationship challenges that we faced in our 20’s, 30’s and 40’s and these often have to do with supporting a family at the same time, finding our individual niche in the world. Some of us were (and may still be) also supporting the older generation at the same time, aka, the sandwich generation. So, to get us through those years we were continually finding new ways to keep the energy flowing with our partner so we could move from one situation to the next without burning out. We’ve all seen young couples blaming each other instead of finding new ways to keep their relationship and/or parental team working cohesively. Life presents us with complicated situations and many couples have benefited from a referee in the form of a life coach, therapist, spiritual or religious counselor, or wise friend. But in this class we are looking at the long-standing couples in their 50’s and 60’s, etc., whose kids are grown and out on their own. These middle years still have external pressure; hopefully less from offspring, but pressure on the LTR may also come more from inside the relationship. As the years go by, we may see our LTR partner differently; someone who doesn’t look or act the same as the person with whom we first got together. We may have been so busy for so many years with all the working and family care giving, that we might have barely noticed each other changing. But, we did change and we still are. Here are some of the changes in the 50’s and beyond that can put a strain on an LTR. Of course, this list is not exhaustive and I’m sure you will be able to add many of your personal speed bumps. There are also some suggestions included to help make the LTR continue to be fulfilling which we can discuss in class. Possible Speed Bumps Communication We can forgive a lot when we are in a new relationship as far as how someone communicates. Communication can almost seem a trivial difference in the beginning but can become a huge speed bump as we go through the years. Communication problems can be exacerbated by aging, illness, loss of hearing or speech problems. Being on the same page becomes monumental when making bigger and bigger decisions throughout life. What causes us to wander off the page? One reason is we differ in our ideas of how to approach life situations and trials. Before things get too off-track, couples must learn good communication skills; such as, listening with 100% attention and being present when the other is talking, being conscious of being supportive and non-judgmental, following the other’s energy by asking questions while not trying to grab the spotlight, and most important, I think, presenting ourselves through our Soul (the best we can be) and less through self or ego. Presenting ourselves through our Soul includes being willing to compromise and stop sacrificing harmony for a need to be right which is the ego’s turf. Worldviews Many new couples get together without a great deal of thought about similar belief systems, politics, or religion, compared to a few generations ago when these aspects were much more important and could make or break a relationship. Having beliefs in common probably attracts people to each other but that may not be the only deciding factor for a relationship to form these days. Through the years, we may become more set in our belief systems, become more mellow, or choose to dump them altogether for a more personally meaningful spiritual path. Identifying with strong worldviews and belief systems; e.g., I’m Catholic, you’re Republican; I’m English, you’re African-American, can cause chasms in the LTR over the years. Stress cracks may appear that might not have been present in the beginning years of the relationship. When we stay conscious of the cracks and talk about them as we move through life we can choose a smoother path. Keeping our opinions to ourselves solves nothing and our silence may cause the other person to think we agree when s/he hunkers down into a particular worldview. Aging Aging is not always a popular topic. Some want to deny its existence and others choose to “not give into it”. Why does aging scare some and free others? Why does aging become a health problem in some minds? In an LTR when one partner has found new ways to thrive and the other seems to be wilting, a chasm can form. Besides aging being inevitable, we can find both pros and cons. Granted, our horizons are broader, especially for women, and we know more about a healthy lifestyle than our parents and grandparents, but as we age, our confidence in who we prided ourselves to be most of our lives may decrease. For example, if a woman was interested in a youthful appearance most of her life, her expectations will have to shift as she ages in order for her to be satisfied with life changes. A man who was always considered to be the “go-to guy” for advice may have to learn to take a more cooperative position, especially when his adult children become more knowledgeable about changing trends in business, technology, or society in general. This doesn’t mean what we value is becoming obsolete, but rather we may have to let go of a life-long belief of what we can contribute. Aging gracefully, e.g., learning to accept rather than resist that we’re changing, body, mind and spirit, must become a conscious practice or else we can cause ourselves and the LTR, as well as, our family relationships, unnecessary stress and strain. Ageism No one wants to think our views and beliefs are obsolete as we age, so some of us fight ageism (prejudice against aging people) by letting the younger ones know how valuable we still are. But, at times, we can get caught up in the prejudice ourselves. If we focus on the cons and not the pros of aging, we can lose respect for ourselves and/or our LTR partners. Not to show my age, but the best musical lyric to emphasize this concept is from Aretha Franklin: “ R-E-S-P-E-CT, find out what it means to me. “ It is imperative that we stay present in our respect of our partner. We became a couple a long time ago partly because of what we respected about that person, and we must try to remember those respectable aspects of him/her. When we lose respect for him/her, we no longer have “each other’s backs”. At that point, we might as well be living with a roommate, not a long-term friend and loved one. Ego As we age, ego (little self) can take a strong lead over our Soul (the best we can be) especially if we fear aging. The good news is that we can control this. We can practice affirming that we are grateful for the abundance around us in our LTR, our families, and our friends and then make our thoughts and actions speak for themselves. Those around us, including our partner, will respond with like energy eventually and our inner beauty will shine through. Aging can bring wisdom and enlightenment with our Soul in the lead. Old, Moldy Resentments When a couple argues, the negative energy can eat away at the relationship. Both knee-jerk emotional reactions to negative energy or squashing down anger can lead to a prevailing resentment. This negative energy can seep out as disrespect. But, when one person makes a conscious decision to stop arguing, without becoming silent and internalizing the anger, this action can end the argument sooner. It takes only a moment to stop and make a better choice. I would rather have harmony at no one’s expense, including my own, than to be right. Competitive “Nature” The word “Nature” is in quotes because the word implies we don’t have a choice how we interact with others. I believe we do have a choice. We decide, sometimes when we’re children, what our identity is. Some of us decide we will be a “tough boy”, or a “smart girl”, or that popularity is most important, and we may act these roles out for a lifetime. Identifying with roles is often not helpful, especially if that identity causes us to take a stand, over and over again, against our partner in adulthood. Releasing the identity and focusing on what is really important for an LTR, such as, teamwork, partnership, and having each other’s backs will help us go the distance. Illness When one partner becomes ill, not necessarily life-threatening but it can feel like it, this can affect the LTR. The other becomes a caregiver, which may shift the balance in the LTR. Of course, we feel gratitude toward the caregiver but resentment can arise, especially if the ill partner prided him/herself in being the strong one or the “fixer”. This partner must now, hopefully temporarily, acquiesce while sick or in recovery. Certain illnesses can cause communication problems. Speech can be impaired and cause embarrassment and shake confidence, as can hearing loss or cognitive issues. Illnesses, as well as, aging can cause bodies to look different. We all know a body looks a lot different at 60 than it did at 20. Of course, society loves to put natural physical changes in a bad light and push them in our faces on a daily basis. However, when both parties in an LTR age together, a conscious appreciation of outside beauty blending with inside beauty and wisdom can be achieved gracefully. I believe it is best to stay present with how we’re feeling and thinking about our LTR partner when illness strikes. If we take a moment every day to choose to move forward in love, not fear, we can better remain present during a scary health situation. For example, when one partner feels more power after the illness strikes than they did before, a major speed bump can be in the making. Ego can take the lead. The truth is, we do not have more power than we had before the illness. We did not instantly become a mother or a father to our loved one due to the illness. Instead, we are being called upon to be a caregiver, no more, no less. Care giving is hard enough work without adding other roles, such as, parenting. Care giving is a brand new role and an extremely honorable one if done well, in its own right. The preferred outcome of the new dynamic is to be closer to and more trusting of each other, not more controlling. Complaining Can Be Contagious Have you ever heard a close relative or friend complaining about their spouse or partner and you found yourself agreeing; nodding along? Even though you may understand a problem someone else is having in his or her LTR and you may want to empathize, come back to the moment on the way home. If you see a similar problem in your LTR, make a choice about whether you want to let your mind fester on it or even address it with your partner. The close friend or relative may want to choose the problem as a battleground in their LTR, but you must think twice before you do the same. Complaining can be contagious. Always come back to the things you are grateful for in your LTR and decide to choose your battles and not someone else’s. Spiritual Practice Through Conscious Living Many spiritual teachers, for example, my favorite, Eckhart Tolle, encourage us to adopt daily spiritual practices. Often people will ask Eckhart how they can find their spiritual path. He reminds them to stop seeking it but rather look around at what’s happening in their lives right now. The situation we are in will show us what we are supposed to be doing, in other words, our daily spiritual practice. If we find ourselves in a difficult relationship, we can work to accept, not resist, it. We do this by leading a conscious life. In a difficult situation with another, we can either react with an emotion or take a moment and act with a better-thought out response. True, this practice is easier said than done, but if we want the situation to be better and the relationship more peaceful, we will have to do the work. In that millisecond we consciously take to respond rather than react, we can ask ourselves, do I (aka, my Soul), want to respond? Is it so important that I must respond? Or, we can ask ourselves if our ego (aka, me or self) is taking over for the sake of being right, competitive, defensive, or jealous? Do we want more practice letting our Soul (through love, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, gratitude, etc.) lead the way? People often say they need fairness in their LTR and/or they want to be right, but these desires can lead to resisting the relationship rather than finding a way to have more peace. If our goal is to live in acceptance, enjoyment or enthusiasm, we must do the work. Anything else is suffering and we can change that when we give up resisting what is happening and decide we want our lives to flow more smoothly. Deb Brown, Life Coach http://lifechangescoach.weebly.com/ 12/15
Article # 2: Friend and Family Support Using the "Coach Approach"
by Deborah Brown Life Changes Coach, LLC
Table of Contents
Part One: Self Care 1. Ego (little self) and higher self (authentic self). 2. How to accept a “non-friend”.
Part Two: Listening With the heart 3. Being present. 4. Curiosity rather than judgment leads to learning.
Part Three: Asking Powerful Questions 5. Discovery of where the other one is and where she wants to go. 6. The potential exists for a better relationship or situation.
Part Four: Deepak Chopra's Flow Chart of Life 7. Potential, intention, and results.
Part Five: Creating the Life You Want 8. A daily practice of meditation. 9. Self care balanced with reaching out to others. Introduction
We all know of married couples who don’t get along or teens and their parents who can’t find common ground. We see marriages break apart after 10 or 20 years, not only leaving the couple alone to find their separate identities, but also burdening the children with guilt and utter confusion. We hear about older siblings fighting over inheritance, thereby, causing family members to become enemies just when they need each other most. We know of the anxiety and stress caused by miscommunications or no communications at all. We can’t blame all problematic situations on a lack of communication but it definitely plays a part. Unfortunately, being in an age of communication hyper-connectivity has not necessarily helped us find the right perspective and words before we speak. When called upon by a friend for help, our words might have little impact or make a situation worse. However, if we stop a moment to find a helpful perspective and stay present with our thoughts and words, we often have a better chance of being supportive to a loved one in need. We can all benefit from using life coaching principles and tools to aid our personal communications.
Part One: Self-Care
Soul needs ego to be its hands and feet in our physical world experience, and ego needs soul for its big-picture view. Alan Seale, Create a World That Works
1. Ego (little self) and Higher Self (authentic self or soul, or spirit).
We start with a discussion of self-care because this is often where our self-awareness and self-acceptance begins. Somewhere along our journey of life we may start to look at how we show up in the world. Self-awareness may begin by thinking about how good we feel, how healthy we are, or how we support our loved ones. We may start eating healthier or exercising, reduce our bad habits, spend more time with our family. We may wonder about the meaning of our lives. Opening our eyes to our purpose is one step toward good self-care.
We all have egos that get us through our daily lives, and higher selves that, if we listen closely, guide us toward the right direction and along the paths we choose. I first heard of the ego being compared to a service dog on a leash in 2011 by Sonia Choquette, a spiritual presenter. Ego helps us get up in the morning on time, dress for the day, do our jobs or attend school, and generally maneuver through each day. But sometimes people let their ego off the leash, becoming unbalanced. Everyone knows someone whose ego has become a pit bull, barking and chewing her way through life or, conversely, laying down putting forth no effort at all. Being aware of how we are showing up in the world is partially about noticing if our ego is still on the leash. When our ego is balanced and in service to us, instead of dragging us along or down, our higher self can shine through, and we are in touch with our inner guidance, aka, intuition showing us the best path forward. We get along better with others. The potential for our self-care is that we are more self-accepting and our intentions have a higher purpose to better support ourselves and our loved ones.
Here's another analogy: Picture yourself as a house; a cottage by the sea, a nice, sturdy cape cod or rambler, or a mansion on a hill - any picture is fine. Ego builds this house. Ego takes visitors on tours to see what it did in the house and what it owns. Very good - people like that . . . one or two times. But, if ego keeps giving the same tour which is all it's capable of, visitors tend to stop coming. Visitors know what ego did and has and now they want to know who she is. That's where we need to choose to let Spirit lead us. We make a house into a home when we allow our Spirit to shine through. We bake cookies so the fragrance wafts throughout our home instead of just spraying air freshener. . . . we're deeper than that. We make nice meals and entertain our visitors, tell stories of our lives, make them laugh, and ask for their stories while we listen with our hearts. We reach out to them, make them comfortable, and invite them back. We build community - that's the work of our Spirit.
So, in addition to taking care of ourselves by eating well, exercising, being fiscally responsible, and the other things that make life easier, we must be aware that our higher self wants to lead the way.
2. How to accept a “non-friend”.
A good friendship is two-way; I support you and you support me. But, what about someone I don’t care for, or who has made it clear we are not friends? Is it my responsibility to care about his potential in life or have the intention to support him? Ego will often tell us, “No, it is not our business!” But, our higher self might have a different viewpoint. Friends, “non-friends”, and even enemies are in our life for a reason. We can learn from or teach them something when we allow our higher self to understand the lessons. When we are attacked, we can choose to attack back, run, or hide. These options often don’t feel right and don’t serve us at all when we are thrown together with a co-worker or family member we find difficult. So, can we get help from the “coach approach”? Yes, we can choose to use coaching skills. In addition, we must stay open to the potential of the lesson we are supposed to teach or learn from them.
Part Two: Listening With the Heart
3. Being Present.
When it comes to the ratio of listening to talking, a life coach uses the 80/20 rule, 80% listening and 20% talking; the talking is mostly in the form of questions and feedback. One of the greatest gifts we can give to another is our rapt attention. Being fully present says we care, we want to hear the other person, and we want to help. Staying present is not always easy. We have our opinions, our own troubles, memories, and plans for the future intruding on our thoughts. We’ve probably all met up with an acquaintance at a party who seems to be talking to us, but whose eyes are all over the room searching for others. We might wonder if she will be present with us if and when she stops talking and we start. Conversely, a co-worker who was in training to do part of my job made excellent eye contact the whole time, but when she sat down to do the work, she became very confused about the sequence of the duties. Eye contact is not necessarily a prerequisite for being present.
4. Curiosity rather than judgment leads to learning.
We are all good at making judgments when we hear about another’s situation; it’s very common for us humans. We quickly figure out how we would do things differently and hunker down in our opinion foxhole. We make our judgments, give our advice, and afterwards tell ourselves, “We did good, we’re done”. Sometimes when we’re trying to be a good friend, our ego takes over and starts to compare or compete, in other words, makes judgments. Judgments can put people in a position of defense and we can lose the moment when we are distracted by comparing or competing. For a refreshing change, let’s consider using the coach approach instead.
One important path to good communication is to tell ourselves not to get attached to a certain idea about the other person. Let’s, instead, keep an open mind. An attempt to understand, empathize, and accept the other’s view is a better way to be a good friend or support person to a family member. Isn’t that our ultimate goal anyway when we decide to listen? We may not agree with the person’s opinions, but we can choose to accept that their history, experience, beliefs, values, and life views have led them to this place. The best place for our loved one to be in is a place of discovery. When we appear curious and accepting and not judgmental, we allow the person to freely explore his feelings, thoughts, and the truth, values and beliefs in his heart.
Staying conscious of how present we are at any moment, and whether our intentions are pure, in other words, more curious than judgmental, will result in being more helpful. But, if our minds wander, we can gently pull ourselves back to the moment by asking a clarifying question, repeating the last few words we heard. This technique can help bring us back to be with our friend or loved one.
Acceptance vs. judgment is hard work. It involves putting our emotions and views on hold in order to listen and be present. We can become vulnerable to others by empathizing with them and showing our love. Vulnerability can reward us by shining light on the ideal that if we accept instead of judge, we give positive energy to our loved one through our words and actions, thereby, possibly changing our corner of the world for the better.
Part Three: Asking Powerful Questions
5. Discovery of where the other one is and where she wants to go:
The reward for our efforts as a supportive friend is that our loved one develops a positive goal or plan and action steps to solve a problem. Asking good questions can open up a space for her to move into in order to do the work of discovery. It is tempting to give advice based on our stories or those of someone we know. Our ego likes to teach or hear itself pontificate. But we know, when we are on the receiving end, that advice is not always helpful. Also, for our troubled friend, it may be hard to follow someone else’s story. When we give advice, we have taken the spotlight away from our loved one; the light she needs to discover her next steps.
What makes a question powerful? Following the energy of the person's words gives clues to asking good questions. After a friend relates her situation, first ask what her thoughts are about the story. Allow her time to explore by asking clarifying questions. Second, ask what she feels. If she says she is upset, follow her energy by asking if by upset, she means sad, angry, disappointed, or some other emotion. Take more time to explore the dominant emotion. Third, ask what the truth or values are within her heart and invite her to discover any misalignment among her thoughts, emotions and truth. Ask what she would like to do differently, or if she has ever had this happen before and what she did about it then. Ask what choices she can make to change things. Ask how her thoughts about an answer or solution will serve her or others. Wherever she leads, follow with a pertinent, clarifying question. Acknowledge her and give positive feedback. When, and if, she discovers a possible path forward, one she has thought of and developed herself, she will own the path and, therefore, will be more apt to follow-through. Celebrate with her.
6. The potential exists for a better relationship or situation.
Many people need to spend some time telling their story, maybe more than once. If, however, the story is repeated too many times it can become a drama. It can take on a life of its own, distract us, or warp reality. For our friend, gently invite her away from repeating the story too many times by acknowledging that the days may seem dark right now, but if she looks closer, she may see possibilities for a brighter future with different choices. Help her move from the drama and toward thinking about choices for a new reality by asking how her story serves her. Help her explore what the new reality’s opportunities and potential might look like.
Part Four: Deepak Chopra's Flow Chart of Life
7. Potential, intention, and results.
Soul carries the potential. Mind carries the intention. Brain produces the result.
Deepak Chopra, Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting The Soul
We have an intention when we listen to loved ones in their time of need. We want to help, be a good friend or supportive family member. This intention is pure and positive at the start. We listen and try to comfort and support. And when we part company, we might feel a satisfaction that we supported our friend, but what did our loved one take away? Was the interaction positive for him? Does he feel better? Does he have a way forward out of his confusion and into the light? What’s the potential for his situation? Does it even matter? What if we found out later that we weren’t helpful, that the person feels lonelier, unsupported, more confused, or darker than before our conversation? This is not the potential we thought might happen for our loved one after our attempt to support. The potential of what will happen after our interaction does matter if our intention is to help. We want him to be closer to his answer or at least feel lighter or supported. When the potential for the person going forward and our intention are both positive, we can consider our intervention a healthy, helpful communication. We want to be more aware of not only being present, and that our words align with our positive intention to help, but also of how the other person perceives what happened.
Deepak Chopra’s flow chart above shows us that before offering our help, our goal is to keep in mind the possible potential that our loved one will find more answers within because of the support we gave. This powerful combination of his positive potential and our positive intention will help produce positive results.
We’ve looked at how to be the best support to your friends and loved ones. Now, it’s time to ask, what about you? What is the potential for your life? What intentions do you have? If we look at the results of your efforts in life we can work backward to your intentions and the potential. Let’s say the results of your efforts are a feeling of contentment and peace, living in a comfortable home in a safe, pleasant and supportive community, a close-knit family, and few worries about money or health. Your intentions, whether conscious or not, directed you down that path. What was meant to manifest in your life, in other words, your potential, is unfolding nicely. But can a positive potential still exist when positive intentions and results are not present? Many self-development teachers would say that your potential exists no matter what your intentions and results are; the potential remains an idea ready and waiting to become reality. In other words, you have a choice of how your reality looks. It is possible that if you explore your potential and intend to have positive thoughts, words, and deeds, the results you want will follow.
One way to start each day is to focus 100% on a wish to discover and realize your potential, and a reminder to keep your intentions positive.
Part Five: Creating the Life You Want
8. A daily practice of meditation.
Focusing 100%, aka, meditation, is becoming a more mainstream practice every day. People claim that it can reduce stress and calm the mind and body. Meditation can also be used to find next steps for issues or situations posing troubles or confusion. It can also help to open our minds to our potential; what wants to happen in our lives. For the beginner, meditation is not always easy. Try clearing your mind for even 30 seconds of all thoughts about the past and future. This clearing is essential for your inner guidance to help you see the direction or path you want and are meant to follow in the present.
In order to meditate effectively, it is important to relax. To help you relax, find a quiet space, breathe slowly and naturally, and imagine you are in a beautiful, serene environment. Tell your body to relax in this quiet space. This is your point of stillness and, with practice, can be conjured up any time you need it. When your mind drifts, try not to judge but rather gently pull it back to your quiet, still place. Bring into your mind a question from your life. Create a specific, positive intention from the question. For example, the question may be, “How can I get rid of the disharmony in my relationships?” The specific, positive intention is: “I am open to reacting to criticism with a curiosity of whether it can help me rather than with hurt or anger.” The practice may take some time to bear fruit, but eventually you will become more in touch with your inner guidance. Patience and sticking with it every day is important.
9. Self care balanced with reaching out to others.
Self-care by eating well, exercising, and meditating on your potential and the questions in your life can help bring you more peace, and add to your ability to be effective when your loved ones reach out to you. Dr. Wayne Dyer, considered by some to be the 3rd most spiritual person living, tells us that we actually have everything we need to live a fulfilling life - it’s all within us.
Resources: International Coach Academy (ICoachAcademy.com) Transformational Presence Coaching.org Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting The Soul, Deepak Chopra Create A World That Works, Alan Seale Dr. Wayne Dyer Sonia Choquette