Myth: Nothing Good Can Come From Conflict

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Angry Man WomanConflict, especially in relationships, has gotten a pretty bad rap over the years and for good reason. Unresolved differences are the source of an awful lot of physical, mental and emotional distress. Many couples have concluded that arguing and fighting is painful that it’s better to avoid acknowledging differences at all, and have co-created agreements (sometimes unspoken or even unconscious) to ignore or deny the presence of differences that could potentially activate hard or hurt feelings.

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Myth: All You Need is Love

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr - Vladimir Pustovit

Flickr – Vladimir Pustovit

The Beatles were on the money with almost all of their songs, but on this one, I’m afraid that they got it wrong. Unfortunately millions of Beatle fans that took their word as the holy truth found themselves deeply disappointed when they found out that love was not, in fact all that they needed. Nor despite the reassurance that “It’s eeeeasy” that also didn’t prove to be the case. I realize that there may still be many diehard Beatles fans out there that still believe that love is easy and that it’s all you need. From my experience, however, neither of those claims is true.

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Myth: Good Relationships Require More Effort Than They’re Worth

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Loving coupleWhen NASA launches a space vehicle, it uses about 90% of its fuel getting beyond the earth’s atmosphere. After it clears the pull of this gravitational force, considerably less fuel is required, allowing it to travel great distances expending much less energy. This principle also applies to relationships. The early stages (after you pass the delirium of infatuation) are where the real work begins. That work is about committed listening, letting go of control, practicing vulnerability, overcoming resistance to change, being honest, even in the face of fear, and focusing on your own work rather than trying to change your partner. Like mastering any other new skill, it takes a lot to hang in there and muddle through the demanding times. The effort required is often great and the challenge can be daunting, so much so that many conclude that it’s not worth it or that they don’t have the stamina and perseverance to work forever at this level.

Relationships, we think, should not have to be this hard. Well, that’s true. They shouldn’t be relentlessly difficult, at least not on a permanent basis, otherwise who, other than a masochist would consciously choose to live in a state of perpetual struggle. The bad news is that some degree of effort and agony is inevitable in most relationships. The good news is that it doesn’t have to last forever and it is generally a temporary, not a permanent condition.

As we found out in researching our book, Secrets of Great Marriages, while most couples have experienced varying degrees of difficulty in their relationships, after they make it “over the hump”, the downward pull of gravity diminishes greatly and the amount of effort and energy required to sustain and nurture the relationship is greatly reduced. Furthermore, the experience of nurturing the relationship no longer feels like effort or work, but rather, literally becomes a labor of love that feels instead like a gift, a joyful opportunity for which we feel grateful and blessed.

This characterization may seem impossibly unrealistic or Pollyanna-ish to those still in the more challenging stages of the process, but from the perspective of anyone who has successfully transitioned to the more advanced stages of partnership, it is not only realistic, but absolutely attainable. In addition to the willingness to do the afore-mentioned work, the qualities needed to hang in there long enough to get to the “gold” that committed partnerships offer are trust and perseverance.

Perseverance has to do with the willingness to continue to make the necessary effort to confront the challenges that are inherent in the process, particularly in the face of discouragement, fear, and distress, and trust has to do with the confidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel, whether we can currently see it or not, and the understanding that persevering is worth the effort.

Cultivating any new skill, such as playing a musical instrument, learning a foreign language, mastering a particular sport or game, requires knowledge, diligence and practice. Developing the skill of effective relating is no different, even though it’s easy to forget that most of us are, to varying degrees, inexperienced and unschooled in this arena.

Because we may not think of relationships as something that you need to develop skills for, it’s easy to forget that this process is no different than the development of other competencies. We tend to think that if the feeling is there, then the relationship should just “naturally” thrive. While it may be natural, most of us have developed some pretty unskillful practices in our attempts to fulfill needs that were not getting met in our relationship. Yet while loving another person isn’t enough to insure a blissful future together, what is true is that we do have the ability to participate in our relationships in a ways that strongly influence the degree to which they do thrive.

The amount of time that we spend in the early stages of this process and the slope of the learning curve has to do with our willingness and ability to learn the lessons that relationships are continually providing us with. These lessons are about honesty, letting go, non-judgment, responsibility, commitment, compassion, risk, and openness, for starters. The more dedicated we are to mastering these learning opportunities, the faster we will internalize the skills and competencies that good relationships require.

As we integrate these abilities, replacing old defensive habits with new, more effective practices, the work becomes more natural and easier. We automatically begin doing the things that work and let go of habituated responses that no longer serve us. Sure this takes time, and the process is gradual, but if you can stick with it, the result is not only worth the effort, it’s beyond what most of us ever thought possible!

Myth: It’s Too Late to Bring It Up Now

By Linda & Charlie Bloom
Flickr- Pedro Ribeiro Simões

Flickr- Pedro Ribeiro Simões

There’s a commonly held belief shared by many couples that after a certain point at which the time to bring up or continue an unfinished conversation (particularly one in which there is disagreement) is passed. That is, any attempt by one partner to revisit an issue that he or she felt incomplete with will be met with a refusal to re-engage with the subject. “That’s history”, “We already discussed this”, “You should have said this yesterday when we were having the conversation”, and “It’s too late to bring it up now”. These are some examples of responses that couples hear from each other when one of them doesn’t want to reopen a matter that they would rather not discuss. One of the things that couples with great relationships have in common is a shared commitment to talk about any issue that feels incomplete or unfinished with either of them, regardless of whether or when it may have previously been addressed.

Refusing to revisit unfinished business denies us the opportunity to become free from the heavy feelings that often accompany unresolved issues. Sidestepping potentially painful subjects can sometimes be a convenient justification to avoid risking emotional upsets. The problem is, of course that in doing so, we create a potentially greater risk; that is, the possibility of diminishing the qualities of trust, respect, and good will in our relationship.

We often hear people say that they don’t have enough time to talk anymore. A more honest response would be something like: “The last thing that I want to talk about is my feelings or hear about yours.”

Another factor in being resistant to dealing with unfinished business can be a fear that it is being brought up to criticized, shamed, blamed or punished by one’s partner. There may have been a good reason for things being stashed in the deep freeze, particularly if there was a painful disconnect in the first place. It’s always a good idea to examine one’s intention in bringing an issue up, especially one that has already been addressed. If the intention is to learn from the experience and create greater mutual understanding for the purpose of finally laying it to rest, it’s more likely that revisiting the concern will bring about a more satisfying outcome than an intention to coerce or punish one’s partner. Communicating your intention aloud to your partner will help to reassure him or her that your purpose is trustworthy.

Janet hit an impasse with her husband Wendell when she tried to revisit a painful (and common) issue: in-laws. By clarifying her intention and stating her feelings without blame or judgment, Janet was able to express her desire for Wendell’s involvement in a way that he could join her in her concerns.

Janet: Your parents called to invite us to come to visit. I want to talk about the last visit to their house when they were rude to me.

Wendell: What are you bringing up such old news for. That was a long time ago. If you had something to say bout it, you should have said it at the time. It’s too late to bring it up now at this late date. Nothing can be done about it now. We just need to be looking forward to the future.

Janet: I am looking ahead to the future, and that’s what I want to talk with you about, but I can’t just forget about the past. It’s still bothering me. I was hurt about how they ignored me. They devoted all of their attention to you and never even acknowledged me.
Wendell: Why do you insist on bringing up this old news? You mustn’t live in the past. Just let it go.

Janet: You’re right; it would have been better if I had done something about including myself into the conversations, or taken you aside to tell you privately how upset I was so you could help somehow, and I didn’t. That’s why I want us to get clear about what will work for me, how we can both set things up so that we don’t have a repeat of what happened then. I have some ideas about how we can prevent a similar situation from reoccurring and I think that it will be a win-win for us all. I’d really appreciate your willingness to hear what I have in mind and to work with me on this. Can you do that?

Wendell: Well, I guess so. Yes.

Janet: Thanks. It really means a lot to me that we’re on the same page, and if we work together on this I know that things will turn out very differently than they did last time!

The incident that is bothering Janet may be old. Sometimes people carry pain from incidents many years in the past. But the discomfort is present in their current experience. Wendell’s insistence that she “just let it go” is his attempt to avoid talking about an issue that is already costing him a deeper level of intimacy with Janet, and is likely to drive that wedge to a more severe degree if he doesn’t change his belief that it’s too late to discuss it. Covering over the issue doesn’t make it go away. Until Janet feels heard and understood and both of them learn how to make the visits to the in-laws work for them, the issue will be a chronic irritant.
With a large number of issues left unaddressed and incomplete, the well being and trust in the relationship falls. In this case Wendell did finally change his mind because Janet persisted and wouldn’t give up. Fortunately for them both, Wendell was open and wise enough to hear her distress. He pledged to make a committed effort to include her in conversations with his parents during their visits. Once Janet had a chance to be heard, she was able to relax enough to schedule another visit to Wendell’s family. The visit went well due to their pre-planning and cooperation around making it a success.

When there is a painful emotional charge on something that has happened, no matter how long ago. Speaking about a situation in a responsible way, with an openness to hear each other’s feelings and concerns can set the stage for inconceivable possibilities to occur.

There is no statue of limitations on past issues and it’s never too late to bring up a previously discussed subject. As long as our commitment is to heal the damage and restore trust and harmony, it’s likely that the results of our efforts will be deeply and mutually fulfilling!

Myth: Marriage Is A Fifty-Fifty Proposition

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

The Conversion from Me-ish to We-ish

Flickr- Mo Riza

Flickr- Mo Riza

Mira: In the beginning of our relationship I was a very efficient scorekeeper and kept careful track of who did what for whom. Fairness has always been a big deal for me. My stance was often, “If you give me this, I’ll give you that.” It drove Joel nuts.

Joel:  I let Mira know, in no uncertain terms, how offensive this was to me.

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Myth: Little Things Aren’t Worth Getting Upset About

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

oeDIWT8“Take it easy. Chill out. Relax. Cool down. Don’t stress out. Lighten up. You’re making a mountain out of a molehill. It’s not a big deal.”

These are some of the things that I used to say back in the day when I didn’t want to hear Linda’s complaints when I failed to keep my word regarding something that I had told her that I was going to do. And back in the day there were quite a few of those things. Like being ready to leave at a certain time to go to the airport to catch a flight or pick up some groceries that she needed for dinner on my way home, or remember not to make any other commitments that might interfere with our date night or well, you get the picture.

These instances were, unfortunately not infrequent and as much as Linda hated to be disappointed and upset with me, I hated hearing her feelings that were provoked by my negligence; partly because it felt like I was being scolded for doing something wrong, but mostly because I knew that she had a right to feel the way she did and that I was guilty of dropping the ball again. Hearing Linda’s disappointment also put me more directly in touch with her feelings and reminded me that I had something to do with them and that didn’t feel good. Rather than acknowledging my guilt and the legitimacy of her feelings, which might have strengthened my motivation to make amends and break this painful cycle in our relationship, I instead often chose to make excuses to explain or justify my actions (or inactions) and become defensive in an effort to make Linda wrong by telling her that she was making a big deal out of nothing.

I was a great believer in the notion that the best defense is a good offense and I did my best to be offensive, which unfortunately I succeeded at being. Linda was always quite offended by my efforts to turn the tables on her so that I didn’t have to deal with or admit to the consequences of my own irresponsibility. The trouble was, as I learned the hard way, that although this strategy might work in football and other contact sports, it fails miserably in the game of relationship.

It took longer that I would like to admit for me to finally get it, but although I tend to be a slow learner, I did eventually learn. The “it” that I finally got was that it’s not just some agreements that are important and need to be kept, but all agreements. It’s not because it means that you’re a bad person if you fail to honor your word, but that there are consequences to doing so; consequences that show up whether it seems like the agreement isn’t all that important, like handling the cat box by the end of the day or whether it’s a truly big deal, like picking up the kids after school.

The consequences to failing to keep agreements go far beyond the results that ensue from this failure in regard to the immediate situation, but extend into the foundation of the relationship with the person with whom we’ve made the agreement. When there is a pattern of unfulfilled promises and broken agreements in a relationship the trust level inevitably goes down, as does the sense of being held in esteem and respect of the person who is one the receiving end of the broken agreement. It’s hard not to feel that “I must not be that important to you if you prioritized something else over me and the agreement that we made”.

The situation is compounded when there is an unwillingness to accept the feelings of upset or disappointment that inevitably arise when agreements are not kept. This isn’t to suggest that there is or should be zero tolerance for any broken promise. The point that I finally got wasn’t that I need to make sure that I never ever drop that ball and that I maintain a perfect record in the agreement department. My lesson was to take my word seriously when I gave it, and to accept the feedback that I received from Linda or anyone else. I realized that they were speaking up because she cared enough about our relationship to be honest with me when she felt let down or disappointed if I did screw up.

My offensive strategy had another unpleasant aspect to it, which was to discourage Linda’s (and others’) willingness to express their feelings to me out of a fear that in doing so they would be subject to a defensive or offensive reaction from me. Why would they want that? It would be easier just to stuff their feelings and tell me “it’s okay, I understand.” The problem is that stuffed feelings have a way of turning into resentment, particularly if they are cumulative, and un-dealt with resentment has a was of turning into nit-picking, criticism, judgment, and passive-aggressiveness. Taking what might look like the path of least resistance in order to avoid upset can in the end turn out to be the path of greatest resistance.

Breaking the habit of being late, being defensive, denying responsibility, or neglecting to keep our word can seem like a daunting prospect, particularly if we’ve been rationalizing our justifications for years, but take it from one whose been there, it’s very doable once you get committed to doing it. And if you can keep that commitment to yourself, you’ll be much more likely to keep those that you make to everyone else!

Myth: If You Don’t Have Something Nice To Say To Someone, Don’t Say Anything At All

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Couple“A failure to confront is a failure to love.” Scott Peck    

No one likes to be confronted, even in a nice way, for failing to keep an agreement. And many of us have come up with some very effective ways to discourage others from giving us feedback that we’d rather not hear. The problem with keeping the messenger from giving us the message is that we may be denying ourselves valuable information that could come in handy in the event that we might want to enhance the level of integrity, respect and trust in our life and in our relationships. One of the most popular ways of discouraging others from giving unwanted feedback is to invalidate or deny the legitimacy of any responses to our words or behavior that another person is providing. Saying, for example, “I was disappointed when you didn’t keep your agreement to follow up on the project that we’ve been working on” or When you didn’t show when you said you would for our meeting, I became worried that something had happened to you and I thought that perhaps I had written the wrong time in my appointment book”, or “I’m noticing that I’m feeling less trust for you to keep your word since the last four times that you’ve promised me that you would do something, you haven’t done it”.

It’s hard to hear that someone, whose opinion of us matters, is feeling mistrust, disappointment, anger or other negative emotions. When we minimize or diminish the legitimacy of their feelings by rationalizing, justifying our behavior, or simply telling them that they are making a bigger deal of something than it is, and that they shouldn’t get so upset over nothing. Not only does such invalidation fail to convince most people that they are wrong in feeling what they do, but it further undermines the level of trust and respect in the relationship. The intention is to invalidate another’s feeling of, for example anger, disappointment, distrust or anxiety, by trying to convince someone that they them that they shouldn’t feel that way because:

a) “I had a good reason for doing what I did.”

b) “You shouldn’t take things so personally.”

c) “You’re making a mountain our of a molehill. You need to chill out. You’re making a big deal out of nothing. You were late for an appointment with me last week/month/ year. Can’t you just get over it? Move on dude,” etc.

If you’re like most of us, you’ve probably been on both the receiving or giving end of dialogues like these from time to time in your life. And if so, you probably are aware that these responses generally ARE very ineffective strategies for getting the job done. The job, in most cases, being to discredit the other person’s feelings in order to avoid accepting responsibility for having broken an agreement (however small it may have been) and the guilt or distress that may ensue.

These attempts to silence our confronter or accuser when we are reminded of a transgression serve to defend us, or actually our public image, from being tarnished by an act that reveals our underlying humanness including it’s imperfections, deficiencies, and flaws. The bottom line is that we don’t want to look bad, to ourselves and /or others. And bad is how we think we will look if we’re caught in the act of being unreliable, insensitive, or overly self-centered. When our actions reveal unattractive aspects of our personality through angry or disrespectful words, hurtful behaviors (either actively or passively expressed) or violations of trust it’s natural to want to explain or justify ourselves in order to avoid the discomfort of the shame or embarrassment that often accompanies exposure of such a situation, since such information.

“Shooting the messenger” isn’t necessarily the best way to deal with someone who is bringing news, however difficult to accept it may be since such information may be worth listening to. After all, sometimes we may not be aware of our transgressions, and even if we are, we may not want to know how it has impacted the other person. When our defensive strategies succeed in screening out any feedback that we don’t want to hear, we deprive ourselves of the very information that we need in order to interrupt unskillful patterns and diminish the frequency of future occurrences.

Reacting defensively with anger, hostility or judgment when confronted with someone’s feelings over having been on the receiving end of a broken agreement, may intimidate that person into shutting up or retracting their words. Unfortunately there is a problem with winning that game. These feelings don’t go away, they go underground, and they will, from time to time, arise in various subtle forms that directly or indirectly express themselves.

Consequently, couples often find themselves arguing over topics like money, sex, kids, and in-laws; these subjects tend to be cover-ups of the real issue. The actual issues have to do with things like power, control, respect, trust, freedom, and acceptance, although the are generally buried beneath layers of ignored, invalidated and denied feelings that have been accumulating and neglected for quite a long time, sometimes as long as decades. When the build-up of unacknowledged feelings reaches a point at which it becomes intolerable to bear and there is no capacity left in our emotional holding tank, our emotional circuit breaker shuts off a power line when the circuit gets overloaded. However in this case, you can’t just re-set the breaker. The system needs major repair, or worse, it may be beyond repair.

When it comes to dealing with broken agreements or with emotions that arise between people that need attention and understanding, there is no such thing as “no big deal.” Any disturbance that is unacknowledged or unattended is a big deal and it quickly becomes a bigger one if it is denied or invalidated.

Managing the emotions that arise in us when we really listen to another’s distress that our own actions have contributed to requires tolerance, restraint, intentionality, and vulnerability, as well as a range of other personal qualities. Few of us come into adulthood with these qualities fully developed. It is in the crucible of relationships that the motivation to strengthen these traits and the opportunity to practice their development occurs. When we embrace the challenge of using our relationship as a means of self-development we open the possibility of shifting the trajectory not only of our relationship, but also of our life itself. And that is a big deal!

When It Comes To Togetherness In Relationships, More Isn’t Always Better

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

CoupleParkbenchPondThere’s not much question that an awful lot of relationships suffer from a deficiency of quality time together, a condition that greatly diminishes the experience
of connection shared by the couple. Other responsibilities and commitments have a way of winning the competition for our time, leaving us feeling resentful, frustrated, tired, lonely, or some combination of the above. While insufficient connection time is unquestionably a common phenomenon that afflicts many relationships, it is by no means a universal condition; in fact some relationships have the opposite problem.

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True Lovers Feel Their Love All The Time

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

Linda: Years ago when our kids were small there was a recurring scenario that got played out a lot between Charlie and me. It had to do with my wanting connection and Charlie being distracted or preoccupied and unavailable to be present with me. These situations would often deteriorate into conflict since neither of us was particularly skilled at handling our differences very consciously. This situation would usually occur when Charlie would return from one of his frequent work-related trips, which often took him away from home for a week at a time. By the end of the week I would be hanging on by my fingertips, barely able to keep it together, and counting every moment until he walked through the door.

Unfortunately, when Charlie finally did walk in the door he was often so emotionally and physically burned out that the last thing that he wanted to do was to have a deep, meaningful, sustained connection with me. He had just spent the past week working fourteen hour days in intense interactions with dozens of people, and he had been barely holding it together until he was able to make it home and recover in what would sometimes be as little as 24 hours before his next trip.

Having been with people all week, Charlie’s need for some quiet time and solitude ran directly counter to my need for connection. Now, having him finally home, but being unable to really be with him was almost more painful than being separated. The lack of connection felt unbearable, and his lack of availability seemed a confirmation of my suspicion that he didn’t really love me. By my reasoning, if he did, he would feel like I did and would want to rush into my arms and melt into me.

This pattern of re-entry was a source of great suffering for both of us and we struggled with it for a long time. We came to fear and dread our reunions, but neither of us saw any hope that things could substantively change, at least as long as Charlie continued to keep his job, and he was clear that leaving it wasn’t something that at this point he was willing to consider.

The problem of course wasn’t just the re-entry process, but it was our inability to get beyond the frustration and anguish that we both felt and reinvigorate our emotional connection which was in need of replenishment after several days of neglect. We needed to get caught up, but we never seemed to get there.

Charlie: The pattern was always the same: I’d come home and get rushed by the kids who would hug my legs and wrestle me to the floor where we would all roll around and laugh until I broke free and went over to Linda, who had patiently and graciously stepped back to allow them to have their piece of me first.

Linda: I knew that they hadn’t seen Charlie for a week either and that they weren’t as able to defer their desire to play with him as well as I was. But still, a voice inside my head asked me “When is it going to be my turn” and “Why do I always have to be last?”. But it didn’t seem right to get mad at three small children so I was very conflicted within myself, and that inner conflict always ended up playing itself out between me and Charlie.

Charlie: I was in a quandary too. I really did want to be with Linda and hated to see her unhappy, but I knew that if I didn’t get some cool down time alone in my study that I wasn’t going to be much fun for anyone to be with. I felt guilty for not being able to be there with Linda and angry with myself for not being a “bigger” person. That didn’t really help very much.

Linda: Both of us were bringing conflicted feelings into the mix that was obscuring the love that was underneath them. To me the scariest thing in the world would be when I felt disconnected from Charlie’s love. At those times I would go into a panic and get demanding, anxious, and angry, which are feelings that Charlie (understandably) wouldn’t find particularly attractive.

Charlie: And I would respond accordingly, by getting angry and shoot back pretty ugly words that were designed to get Linda to back off and shut up. It wasn’t a pretty picture.

Until one day we had an interaction that changed things, permanently.  The interaction went like this:

Charlie (immediately after walking into the house): Hi Honey. Hi kids. Daddy’s home. (Kids run to me and wrestle me to the floor).

Linda: Where were you? Your plane got in almost three hours ago.

Charlie: (Defensively) It took a long time to get my baggage and the traffic out of the airport was horrendous. You wouldn’t believe it. Oh yeah, I stopped by the office to file my expense report since if I didn’t I wouldn’t be able to do it for two weeks.

Linda: You’ve got time for the kids, time for your expense reports, time for everything and everyone but me! Don’t you know that I’ve been handling everything here alone all week and we have barely even spoken on the phone since Tuesday! Sometimes I wonder why you ever got married! You don’t even love me, do you? (Crying)

Charlie: “uhhh….”

Linda: “See! You can’t even tell me that you love me. That proves that you don’t.” (Now crying really hard).

Charlie: “Wait a minute. Can I answer your question?”

Linda: “What question?”

Charlie: “About whether I love you.”

Linda: “I know the answer. Your silence spoke volumes!”

Charlie: “Please give me a chance.”

Linda: “Okay… what?”

Charlie: I do love you. Really. But, and I’m being honest here, I hate it when we have these fights. I hate it because when we fight I don’t feel loving towards you. I feel hurt, I feel angry, I feel scared, I feel frustrated, and those feelings obscure the love that I have for you that is always underneath them. So do I love you? Absolutely. I want us to be together always and I have no plans to ever go anywhere. And do I always feel that love at a deep level? Not always. Sometime I don’t. And when you ask me for reassurance of my love at a time that I’m feeling any of those things that I just mentioned in that moment I can’t tell you what you want to hear and mean it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there. Sometimes I just have trouble accessing certain feelings because I’m distracted or preoccupied, or possessed by other feelings like fear, anger, or exhaustion and I’m in survival. But the love is still there and I can usually reconnect with it if I can just get myself centered and disconnect from those other distractions. Can you understand what I’m saying? Do you believe me?”

Linda: (long pause, then quietly) Yes. I believe you.

Charlie (Becoming emotional) Thank you. (Long pause). I hate it when we fight. I hate being out of touch with my love for you and I hate knowing that it’s not just you. I play a big part in these breakdowns that are so painful. I get angry at myself whenever you are disappointed in me because I feel like I’ve failed you and let you down and then I get mad at you for “making me feel bad”. Crazy isn’t it?

Linda: “Thanks for clarifying things. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who hates our fighting and that you don’t see me as the problem because I get so distraught when there’s a disconnect between us. Maybe I’m kind of crazy myself, but I can’t help it. Our relationship is the most important thing in my life and when we’re not in sync, it’s hell. And when we’re connected, it’s heaven.”

It’s not only possible to love someone and not always feel that love to the same extent, but it’s inevitable that we will. A myriad of factors influence the degree to which we are in contact with loving feelings. Being understanding of that fact can enable us to find the understanding, patience, trust, and acceptance to forgive ourselves and/or our partner when those feelings aren’t present in our current experience.

Paradoxically, accepting an absence of loving feelings in this moment can often have the effect of reawakening those feelings in our partner or ourselves. Feelings like hurt, fear, anger, loneliness, or jealousy can override our softer, more vulnerable emotions, often causing us to doubt our partner or ourselves. There’s a big difference between the experience of love and the experience of loving feelings. The former can come and go; the latter doesn’t. The more true to ourselves and each other and the accepting of each other’s experience we can be, the more present those loving feelings will be between us. When we trust the truth of our own love, the truth of our partner’s love, and that we are worthy and deserving of that love, the doubts and fears dissolve and disappear. And it just doesn’t get much better than that.




The Crucial Factor in Making Real Change in Your Life

By Linda & Charlie Bloom

“People don’t change.” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that sentence, I’d be rich. And it is a sentence, not just grammatically-speaking, but those words sentence the speaker and anyone who has a close relationship with him or her to a future in which substantive life changes are impossible. The problem with this sentence is that it’s not true. Another problem is that I used to not only believe this, but I was a primary perpetrator of what I now see as a widely accepted cultural myth. It’s been a while since I’ve stopped making that claim but now I’m on a roll about clarifying that people can and DO change.

Change however, doesn’t necessarily come about as a result of what we think will precipitate it and when it doesn’t, it’s easy to conclude that it can’t happen. There’s something attractive, even compelling about believing that making substantive changes in our lives is unrealistic or even impossible. For one thing, if I can’t change, then it can’t be my fault that I act the way I act, do the things I do, or am the person I am. After all, I can’t be responsible for doing something that I don’t have the power to do differently. If I have no control over my predispositions and I can’t be held responsible for my actions, and I can’t be blamed for anything that has caused distress to anyone else. And if it’s not my fault, then I can’t be punished. Believing that people can’t change enables me to not only avoid responsibility for my current and future actions, but it relieves me of the obligation to put the time and energy into making an effort to try to become a better person. Why bother trying to accomplish something that can’t be achieved?

While it may be technically true that we can’t change certain aspects of who we are and some intrinsic characteristics or internalized personality traits, such as being introverted or extroverted or preferring solitude to socializing or vice-versa, we all have a great deal of power to influence what we do with those predispositions and which impulses we choose to strengthen and reinforce and which ones we choose to weaken.

Changing conditioned patterns is not easy, but it is possible. Trusting that change is possible is the first step, which means that we have to be willing to give up our excuses for being the way we are and take on a commitment to make the effort to develop the qualities and traits that will promote the kinds of behaviors and practices that we wish to integrate more fully into our lives. This is what most people are talking about when they use the term “doing your own work”. It is also a prerequisite to finding the motivation to “be the change” that you wish to experience in your life. Motivation, or “intense desire” is a determining factor in this process. When it is strong, the likelihood of a positive outcome is great. When it is weak, the prognosis for success is slim to none.

In addition to these factors, it’s necessary to clearly recognize the benefits of putting the necessary time and energy into the process. Since it’s natural to want and expect desirable results from our efforts, we need to be able to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question in a way that makes it seem worthwhile for us to invest our life energies in the process of change. Self-interest has to do with getting my needs met and my desires fulfilled. When we recognize that not only are the needs of those in my circle of care fulfilled when I behave in ways that enhance their lives, but in doing so, my quality of life is also enriched. And in so doing, they become more inclined to want to reciprocate by participating in our relationship in ways that are mutually fulfilling to us both. When his cycle is in place in a relationship, self-interest becomes enlightened self-interest, which not only changes the dynamics of the relationship but also instigates change within both partners.

Researchers at Duke University in 2006 found that “more than 40% of the actions people perform each day aren’t actual decisions, but habits.” People who have poor relationships are frequently acting out their fears and anxieties. How that manifests in their behavior runs along two major lines. The avoidant style is characterized by acting out a craving to feel safe, and in control by withdrawing from the relationship and having minimal involvement. The controlling style is characterized by manipulation with anger, aggression, threats, and ultimatums.

Motivation to change can be strengthened by recognizing the effect negative behavioral patterns have on the quality of our lives. When this recognition provokes an interruption of the automatic patterns of avoidance and aggressiveness, there is a greater likelihood that communication that is driven by a desire for greater authenticity and vulnerability will be brought forth in the relationship.

Disrupting just one unskillful behavior, for instance using silence to punish, or making critical, judgmental remarks, or being bossy by giving commands, can lead to a whole series of positive shifts. Instituting date night or an evening a week at home designated for discussion and connection can break the habit of avoidance. A conscious and mutually shared commitment to new practices can, if successfully implemented, transform even those relationships that have been deeply entrenched in negative patterns.

In addition to creating an agreement with our partner, collaboration with others can give us new ideas of regarding specific practices that may support the changes we wish to bring about. This kind of support can help us to trust that real change is an actual possibility. The key to victory is creating the right routines. Each success brings with it a feeling of accomplishment that strengthens our motivation to keep up the good work. These wins accumulate over time to eventually create the Big Win: a relationship worth protecting and treasuring, where both partners’ needs are fulfilled and what had previously been resentment, tension, and despair has been transformed into harmony, gratitude and appreciation. All in all, that sounds like a pretty decent trade-off.



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Linda & Charlie Bloom are authors of 101 Things I Wish I Knew When I Got Married & Secrets of Great Marriages.
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