Research shows that rituals of connection, things that we do on a regular basis that demonstrate our caring and affection, help us feel loved. In times of stress, when life becomes overwhelming, we sometimes lose track of these rituals that play an important role in demonstrating our emotional commitment to each other. If your relationship needs a lift, try adding a new ritual or expanding on one that already exists.
Here are some ideas:
Do you normally hug and kiss good night? Do you say I love you? Try adding some cuddle time or spooning. You can do this even if you go to bed at different times by cuddling on the sofa or laying down together for a few minutes before happily parting--knowing that you've had your snuggle time.
The Morning may be hectic, but starting the day with a firm hug or a kiss before beginning work, can be grounding and make everyone feel good. A German study showed that men who kiss their wives for six seconds before leaving for work, live an average of ten years longer than men who don't. Want to live longer? Try giving your partner a nice long kiss every morning!
Morning Cup of Joe:
Taking a few minutes each morning to sip some coffee or tea together and discuss the day can be a wonderful practice. Not a morning person? Try touching base midday in person or by phone.
Family Dinner with No Screens:
Make dinner a special time to connect with each other by putting away the screens and talking. If your schedules don't align, try making this happen at least once or twice a week.
No matter how busy you are, finding twenty minutes a day to talk, just the two of you, should be doable. If your work shifts conflict on certain days, then it's important to make sure you get in your couple time on whenever possible.
Cuddle-Up and Watch Your Show:
If you have a show that you watch with your partner, see if you can hold hands or cuddle for part of the time. these small gestures strengthen connection.
Any day that it's not raining or freezing is a great day to get moving together. Walking together has become a favorite activities of couples during Covid.
Even during Covid, you can have date night once a week. Put the kids to bed and sit by the fire pit together or light some candles and have a glass of wine or picnic on the living-room floor with your favorite cheese & crackers or dessert. Try taking out a board game or do an art project together. Cook an exotic meal together (or order it in), and pair it with a beverage from that country. Try giving each other massages, take a shower together, feed each other....be creative. Remember, the activity isn't as important as letting your partner know they are a priority and that you want to spend time together.
Anything you do regularly with your partner can be a ritual of connection if you do it with intention. As John Gottman says, "Small things often," make the difference.
Most of us really enjoy time with our family, but what happens when there seems to be too much of a good thing? If you are in this situation here are today’s tips:
Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule Even if you don’t have to leave the house at the crack of dawn, going to sleep at a reasonable time and setting an alarm to wake up is advisable. Getting sufficient sleep will not only help you feel more rested, it will enable you to deal effectively with stress. Stress these days comes in all forms: news about the virus and its spread, the economic downturn, and even too much time spent cooped up with family. Most importantly, getting adequate sleep will strengthen your immune system! All the more reason to put sleep near the top of your priority list these days.
Give Your Day Structure Whether you are working from home, spending time with the kids, or just trying to get through each day without falling apart, make sure to create a daily schedule. Your plan should include time for: meals, exercise, household and job tasks, speaking with family and friends, hobbies, and disconnecting from all media.
Discuss Your Plan with Others in Your Household Nothing is more upsetting than walking into the only room in the house that has strong internet reception and privacy, only to find that your partner has set up her office there and is in the middle of a teleconference. Likewise, she may have an important call at 3 pm, but if you’re on a work deadline and neither one of you has communicated your needs, there may be no one to watch the kids from 3-4 pm. Having a daily discussion can help you both have your professional and childcare needs met.
Be Flexible Your goal should be to have your core needs met—but also have your partner’s core needs met. If both of you can try to make be accommodating to all requests that don’t conflict with your core needs, then you’ll both feel important, you’ll both feel that you are a priority to your partner, and you’ll both get all of your core needs met. (For more information about how we define a core need, stay tuned for the next Daily Tips).
Physical affection is soooooo important to human beings that without it, babies can't survive, and yet, many of us will go weeks, months, or even years, with little or no caring touch. If you're in a relationship where this has gone missing or is in short supply, you're probably wondering how you got here. Juggling the demands of careers, kids, and other responsibilities, can sometimes cause us to forget to make our relationships a priority. If this has happened to you, fear not! The following steps will help get you back on track and cuddling in no time.
Establish Daily Physical Rituals of Connection
A ritual of connection is something you and your partner do on a regular basis that keeps the two of you emotionally and physically connected. When you have time on the weekend and you are both calm and relaxed, try discussing these rituals with your partner. Bedtime Ritual: How do the two of you say goodnight? Do you hug, kiss, spoon, say, "I love you?" Why not discuss adding or expanding this? Even if you don't go to bed at the same time, you can still perform your ritual before the first person goes to sleep. Morning and Goodbye Ritual: How do you great each other in the morning? If you don't usually hug, why not adding this to your repertoire? How do you say goodbye to each other? A German study discovered that Men who kissed their wives goodbye each morning lived an average of ten years longer than men who didn't! Give that goodbye kiss a try, and while your at it, make it a six-second kiss rather than a peck on the cheek. Researcher, John Gottman, says that a six-second kiss is a kiss "worth coming home to." Adding that as a daily ritual can make a huge difference to your relationship. The Daily Stress-Reducing Conversation:At the end of each day, have a twenty minute conversation about what went well that day and what was stressful. Offer support and empathy to each other, but don't give advice. This conversation is to support your partner emotionally, not fix the problem. If the other person wants advice, they can ask for it. You may be thinking, "How will this help create more physical affection?" The answer is that by strengthening the emotional connection, you are increasing the desire for touch, for snuggles, for sex.
Plan a Date Night Regularly
Couples need couple time. Even if you both work full time and long hours, you still need to have time together without the kids or other family members or friends. Don't let your guilt make you skip this. By taking time to strengthen your relationship, you'll be better and happier parents to your kids and more responsive to other family members that may need your assistance. Date nights needn't be expensive, but they do need to be exclusively for the two of you. Try to make this happen weekly or every other week. Swap babysitting with another couple if needed.
Take a Couples Vacation
Get away for a weekend. You'll all benefit. It may be hard to leave responsibilities (especially kids) behind, but find a way to do it! Most couples find a short vacation to be a total recharge that injects new life into the relationship.
Sex doesn't need to be spontaneous to be exciting. For a great many of us, If we leave sexual intimacy to happen naturally when we are both well rested, stress free, and feeling amorous, chances are...well...it's not likely to happen often. That's why discussing when it would fit well with the schedule is often important. Equally important is having a gentle way to ask for sex and kindly refuse sex, so that no one's feelings are hurt. While you're at it, why not ask each other what turns you on? If you do this, you're both likely to be motivated to make your next sexual encounter special.
Uncertainty about whether or not your partner is cheating can feel awful. Beyond worry and anxiety about the relationship, you may feel bad about yourself—fearing that you aren’t enough for your partner. If your relationship has been struggling for a while, you might fear that this will cause a breakup, and that can create a storm of concerns and fears about everything from finances to family to housing.
So how does one know? Research has shown that most affairs are prompted by loneliness. Ironically, when life feels overwhelming, the union that serves as the foundation of our lives, can sometimes ends up on the bottom of the priority list. When this happens, we stop carving out time to connect each day, we forget to show affection and caring, express fondness or plan ahead to have date-nights, romance, and playtime. Perhaps we’ve begun to blame each other for whatever goes wrong or started comparing our partner to others and finding our partner lacking. Inevitably, partners no long feel important to each other and their needs aren’t heard. Compromise becomes difficult, so partners come to lead parallel lives. What happens next? You guessed it: Individuals may then look outside the relationship to have their needs met.
If you and your partner are emotionally close, are comfortable sharing your feelings, and make time for passion and fun, then discussing your fears about cheating should be relatively easy and straight forward. Simply share your worry and ask for clarification about any time spent apart that seems unusual. Asked in a caring way, and framed in fear about losing your partner, these questions are usually well received.
If you and your partner have been struggling, and communication has been difficult, finding out the truth may be more challenging. The first thing to know is that infidelity does not have to mean the end of the relationship. There is a path toward healing if it has occurred. Having questions about whether your partner is cheating can often signal the need to devote more time to the relationship since couples who feel secure and well-loved, usually don’t worry about these issues.
So, how do you learn the truth? Try to check in with your partner each day about how they’re doing. Try to ask open-ended questions that can lead to discussion and show interest and empathy. Try to also share a bit about your own feelings, both positive and negative. Next, choose a low-stress time of the week and begin to have some discussions about how each of you is feeling in the relationship itself and what each of you need to make things better. Try to share your own feelings and don’t describe your partner. Rather than sharing what your partner has done wrong, focus on your positive needs. What could your partner do to make you feel good. Once you have had a few of these meetings, go ahead and share your worst fears about the infidelity and in a very calm voice, ask your partner if there is something that needs to be shared. Explain that the relationship needs to be based on truth, so even if it will hurt, you need to know the truth.
If your partner admits to an affair, emotional or physical, or if your partner refuses to discuss the situation, you will most likely need the help of a competent couples therapist who uses an evidence-based approach (a therapy model based on research). Even if multiple affairs have occurred, relationships can be saved if both parties are committed to the process. To learn more, visit https://www.gottman.com.
“Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.”
This is the conclusion of Dr. John Gottman co-founder of the Gottman Institute and author/co-author of 40 books, including the bestseller, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. His statement is based on the research of Chrisanna Northrup, Pepper Schwartz, and James Witte, who studied 70,000 people in 24 countries, and his own research with 3,000 couples over a span of four decades.
Here is Gottman’s list of the 13 things that couples with amazing sex lives do on a regular basis. Looking to improve sex and intimacy in your relationship? Try discussing this list with your partner and implementing these practices. You’ll likely discover improvement in not only your sex life, but in every aspect of your relationship. Do you know what else will probably increase? Your level of level of overall happiness!
1. They say “I love you” every day and mean it Saying, “I love you” to your partner as part of a daily ritual before leaving for the day, or before ending a phone call, or before going to sleep at night, or for any reason at all, strengthens the relationship. It affirms your fondness and admiration as well as your commitment to each other. It also reinforces the system of valuing each other. When you cherish each other, you are looking for what your partner is doing right, rather than focusing on their shortcomings.
2. They kiss one another passionately for no reason John M. Gottman is fond of suggesting couples give each other a six-second kiss before parting or at least once a day. He describes this as, “a kiss worth coming home to.” Try it out for yourself.
3. They give surprise romantic gifts A surprise romantic gift needn’t be something related to sex, but it should signal that you were thinking of your partner in a good way and that his or her needs and happiness are important to you. Anything that makes your partner feel special, valued, or loved can be romantic.
4. They know what turns their partners on and off erotically These couples have taken the time to discuss eroticism and are interested in learning how to please each other. Feeling shy? There’s an app for that! Download the Gottman Cards Deck App (it’s free) and go to the deck: Sex Questions to Ask a Man or Sex Questions to Ask a Woman. You’ll also discover card decks to help you improve many other aspects of your relationship.
5. They are physically affectionate, even in public Here is an area in which Americans sometimes struggle. Touching, gently stroking, holding hands, are all ways to affirm your ever present caring, attraction, partnership, and love. When you limit your physical touch to the bedroom on the nights when you aren’t too exhausted to have intercourse, you're missing out on so many opportunities to physically connect. It also means that if things like illness or stress are getting in the way of your love-making, your emotional connection will likely suffer. This can leave room for negative emotions such as loneliness and resentment to creep in.
6. They keep playing and having fun together Given the juggling act that many of us do to manage our demanding jobs and the needs of our partners, our children and/or our aging parents, it’s no surprise that playing and having fun may be left to the bottom of the priority list, if it even makes it to the list at all. Play, however, is a crucial component of healthy relationships and can be the antidote to stress, just as laughter can be the antidote to feeling overwhelmed. We play with those we love, so make sure to carve out time for some couple fun.
7. They cuddle This builds on the need for physical closeness. Expressing love through touch even while watching a show, listening to music, or reading books on the sofa can work wonders for every aspect of a relationship.
8. They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list Given how busy most of us are, if we wait until the right moment for sex to magically happen, we may find it missing from our lives all together. That’s why making sex a priority is so important. Sex needs to be viewed as a valuable means of maintaining a healthy relationship. It needs to be nurtured and, dare I say it, sometimes planned! Sex needn’t be spontaneous to be amazing.
9. They stay good friends Friendship is the foundation of any sound relationship. Knowing each other’s dreams and feelings, showing caring, and creating a positive perspective in the relationship, all lead to feelings safety and emotional closeness, which sets the stage for.…you guessed it: passion, romance, and a great sex life!
10. They can talk comfortably about their sex life Studies have shown that whether or not people are comfortable talking about sex varies from country to country. We in the U.S. tend to shy away from the subject. Coming up with rituals for initiating as well as gently refusing sex is necessary. If this has been a struggle for the two of you, go to www.Gottsex.com for a wide range of tools and exercises to facilitate sharing your feelings around sex and intimacy.
11. They take romantic vacations Investing in couples only experiences can reignite the spark of passion and fan the flames of attraction. It also sends the message to your partner that they are important in your life. If you have children and both work full-time outside the home, try not to let guilt stand in your way. Having your kids spend a few days with grandparents or other family and friends can be healthy for everyone.
12. They have weekly dates Investing time in each other on a regular basis can do wonders for relationships. It’s another way to affirm that you value each other. These dates needn’t be expensive, but they should be exclusive: just the two of you.
13. They are mindful about turning toward John Gottman defines turning toward as responding positively to your partners “bids” or attempts at connection. A bid for connection can be anything from a conversation starter, to a gentle touch or suggestion of an activity. If you ignore your partner’s bid, then you are turning away, if you dismiss the bid using criticism or contempt, then you are turning against. Only turning toward, by responding with interest or curiosity, brings you two closer and improves your sex life.
Here’s to creating an amazing sex life with your partner—enjoy!
Change is scary. Change is stressful. Change is difficult.
We may not like where we’re at, but there’s something comforting about being in a rut. We’re familiar with the rut and know the texture of the dirt, we’ve made friends with the worms and are used to the smell of decaying leaves, decomposing wood, dying dreams. Why bother changing?
Often, we don’t make major changes in our selves our work or our relationships unless we’re truly unhappy or can see no other options. What keeps our feet glued to the ground even when we know we’re on the wrong path?
Fear. Fear cloaked in uncertainty or insecurity or anxiety may just be the culprit. Change has inherent risks, so fear is completely understandable. It makes sense to fear the unknown, question if we’re good enough, wonder if we have what it takes to succeed. If we’ve spent years in a rut, we might worry about the fitness of our brains and bodies. Can this old dog learn new tricks? Crazy as it may sound, if we’ve never felt accomplished, we might even fear success!
Here is why change is worth all the time and effort it takes to be courageous:
Change is necessary for personal growth, and personal growth is key to living a meaningful and happy life.
Humans are wired to be curious, to learn, to evolve. This is most evident in children, but it’s also true for grownups (unless bad experiences have quashed curiosity). Every time we gain knowledge or learn a skill, we are morphing into new and improved versions of ourselves. Unfortunately, as adults, it’s easy to look past this truth. We may expect to get to a certain place in life and then just coast along, content. But then—surprise! We’re not done. We’re still growing and changing!
Each time we put ourselves in a situation that’s outside our comfort zone, we gift ourselves an opportunity. That’s right, it’s an opportunity, and we should try to frame it as such. Even better, as we successfully push the boundaries of the comfort zone, that zone actually expands! How cool is that!
Now if learning, growth, and change are so good for us, and we need to do it all of our lives, why does our society not emphasize this? Why are we raised to think that once we reach certain goals; career, life-partner and whatever else, we can cease changing and “live happily ever after”?
One explanation can be found in our educational system. Research on kids and sports has shown that as kids age, they usually stop participating in sports, not because they no longer enjoy it, but because the game has become too competitive. Simply put, they don’t feel good enough. It seems we’re socialized to believe that if we can’t be really good at something, we shouldn’t do it at all. But when it comes to new challenges, how many of us are really good or even exhibit promise right from the start? More importantly, unless we want this activity to pay our bills, does it really matter how good we are?
I have a friend who recently retired and began studying violin. He had always loved string instruments and decided to devote the beginning of his retirement years to the project. He found a teacher, enrolled in community college classes to learn music theory (even though he already has a PhD in another field), and hopes to one day be good enough to play in a community orchestra. He readily admits that the screeching sound he made during his first several months of lessons was awful. Still, he persisted, and now he’s thrilled with his own music. It’s amazing! If something adds fulfillment or fun to life, let go of judgment and go for it.
I love to dance, I love Zumba. I’ve been doing it for years despite crunchy knees and shoulder surgery, and it is the only form of exercise that can slap a smile on my face every single time I do it. In the course of discussions with friends and clients about fitness, I’ll often suggest they try classes, and maybe even, dare I say it, Zumba! People usually respond with either, “I like to dance, maybe I should try it—standing at the back,” or “I have 2 left feet, I can’t dance.” Here’s the thing, one needn’t be a salsa deva to enjoy moving to music. I’ve seen plenty of people in Zumba happily doing their own thing. In fact, sometimes I’m so wrapped up in the beat, I also do go rogue with the steps! Life should be about finding our joys and pursuing them. Own your joy! Get your groove on!
Of course, taking on a new hobby is not the same as making a career change. When we change careers, we are risking our livelihood and stability, leaving behind co-workers and all that is familiar. That said,if we’re unhappy at work, that’s a lot of hours of unhappiness. And unless retirement is imminent, we may have many miserable years ahead of us if we don’t change things.
Mental illness continues to be the leading reason that workers file for social security disability and is often triggered by work stress. When I speak with people who feel trapped in a job, I always begin with strengths. Once strengths are identified, possible changes usually become evident. For those considering career changes, here are just a few quick suggestions:
It’s a great website to help you research various careers. It has a plethora of information about most every career on the planet and is highly recommended by career counselors.
Jewish Vocational Service, NJ
Locally, you can make an appointment at Jewish Vocation Service https://www.jvsnj.org, a not-for-profit organization that for a very low fee, can help you sort through your options and possibly even send you on a few job interviews.
Join a networking or meetup group to connect with other job seekers and get tips on the job search process (this is especially important if you haven’t looked for a job in a while).
Go on Linked In and start connecting with people. Do some informational interviews to learn more about the field you’re considering.
Perhaps the most difficult area of life to make changes in is our relationships. There are many reasons for this including the following:
Unlike work and parenting, there are few deadlines when it comes to relationships, so they’re often put on the back burner while we work on other more time-sensitive problems.
Difficulties in relationships are often triggered or exacerbated by our early life experiences. These ingrained messages and patterns can be hard to recognize, let alone change.
For those of us who were raised with familial dysfunction, dysfunction becomes our set point. We may not even realize that something is amiss or that we should expect to have anything different.
When we feel hurt by a partner, it becomes difficult to accept thatwe too have to change.But when a relationship suffers, both parties need to alter behavior.
Developing strong relationships is actually the surest way to improve our physical and emotional lives. Thanks to the 75-year Harvard Grant and Glueck Study, we now know that having good close relationships is the most accurate predictor of health and happiness in old age. This was true for both men and women.
Are you Convinced? Let’s get started! Change can be a long road, but once you step on the right path, you’re as good as there!Here are three tips to help get you moving.
Don’t Strive for Perfection
Striving for perfection insures that you’ll ALWAYS be disappointed. When we seek perfection, we spend all our time searching for the tiny things we did wrong, the minute mistakes that must be corrected. All that searching for the negative not only fills our heads with put downs, it also leaves little room for feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, or even self-worth. It’s hard to feel worthy when we are busy telling ourselves that whatever we did wasn’t good enough and needs improvement.
Life is messy and imperfect, and so are we. We come into life destined to make mistakes and even sometimes fail. It is through our mistakes that we learn and grow, and through our failures that we develop not only resilience, but compassion and empathy.Mistakes mean learning. Perfection means never ending neuroses and “crazy making.” Don’t make yourself crazy!
Try writing down three things each day that you did well or that you felt good about.
When something goes well, or if you reach a goal, take a moment to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.
If things do go wrong, try speaking to yourself as you would to a close friend—hopefully with kind encouragement.
For more on this, pick up a copy of Kristin Neff’s fabulous book, SELF-COMPASSION, or visit her website: www.self-compassion.org.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
We all come into the world with our own unique personality, strengths and talents. Measuring ourselves against others leads to unhappiness for several reasons:
No matter how good we become at something, there will always be someone better, if not now, then soon. That means that comparisons equal disappointment.
People who make a lot of comparisons often become judgmental of not only themselves, but others. They fill themselves with all sorts of negative thoughts that clutter their minds. Focus on critical thinking, not criticism.
Wanting to be as good as someone else or have what they have may motivate you briefly, but to make changes and succeed over time, look to your passions, your interests, your deepest desires. In the long run, these things will prove to be most important motivating factors.
Set Realistic Goals and Celebrate Small Victories
The best way to get moving is to set meaningful, realistic goals. Keep them handy in a place you’ll easily see them and don’t be afraid to modify them whenever necessary. Then, once they’re achieved, make sure you’ve got new ones. Visualize achieving your goals. If something is important, it deserves time and energy.
Celebrate your victories. I grew up in a family that was chock full of depression and anxiety. But as time passed and my parents grew older, there was a philosophical shift toward celebration. The difference was profound. It was life changing. My parents, now in their eighties are focused on celebrating life, and you should be too. Celebrate your victories and achievements, find reasons to be happy, count your blessings and share love with others. Appreciating the positive brings more than just momentary joy, it can actually help sustain us during darker times.
One more bonus tip: If you need it, ask for help.Don’t be afraid to phone a family member, meet with a friend, or reach out to a professional.
Here’s to Courage! Here’s to Change! Here’s to a New You!
It’s January 1st, a day when many of us begin the often-difficult task of keeping our New Year’s Resolutions. Since I’m always an advocate of positive change in life, below are a few tips to help you be successful.
1) Limit the number of resolutions. Change is difficult. If we take on too much, we’re more likely to throw our hands up in defeat. The solution? Choose only one or two things to work on at any given time, and then really focus your energy on making that happen.
2) Be specific. Vague goals are more likely to be forgotten or watered-down until they become meaningless. Try to be very specific. Rather than saying, “I’m going to start exercising,” try saying something like, “I’m going to get to the gym 2-3 times a week and spend at least 30 minutes working out.”
3) Be realistic. Setting unachievable goals leads to disappointment and frustration, which easily triggers abandonment of our resolutions. Setting smaller, long-range goals is more likely to breed success. Want to lose weight? Think how great you’ll feel if you lose two pounds in a week when your goal was only a pound. On the other hand, if you lose two pounds, but your goal was four, you’ve set yourself up for failure by being overly optimistic (yes, in this instance, too much optimism is a detriment).
4) Find a buddy. Everything is easier when we have support. Try finding someone who has a similar goal and buddy up. Perhaps you can speak once a week by phone, meet periodically, or text each other with the day’s accomplishments and challenges. If you’re having trouble finding someone, try an online group or meetup. Having a friend with whom you’ll share your accomplishments (as well as occasional missteps) can lead to accountability. Accountability often creates change.
5) Include others in your motivation. If we aren’t motivated to make changes for ourselves, considering others may help. It might be easier to get to the gym if you remember that your partner is counting on you to try and remain healthy. Need motivation for controlling angry outburst? Consider the behavior you’re modelling for your kids. Are you acting in a way you’d want them to emulate? If not, that’s more motivation for change.
6) Use self-compassion and begin again. Mistakes and setbacks are a part of life for all of us and should be expected. If you fail to meet your goals, that’s okay. Use self-compassion to forgive yourself (welcome to the human condition!), but then get right back on your path toward change. The quicker you begin again, the easier it will be to meet your goals.
7) Embrace grit. Angela Duckworth’s book, GRIT: THE POWER OF PASSION AND PERSEVERENCE, brings to light an array of research proving that perseverance, not intelligence, is the main ingredient to success. If you want to achieve something, find a way to keep your goal front and center in your mind. Try different tools: reminders, calendars, daily journaling, tracking apps, daily/weekly check-ins with a buddy, or some other means. Recognize that anything worth accomplishing takes time, effort, endurance, commitment, and belief in yourself (or at least belief in your ability to embark on the path of change). Try to think of grit as a muscle that must be worked regularly and strengthened. If you don’t have much grit right now, that’s okay. Use it regularly and it will naturally become a part of you.
8) Once you begin, you’re as good as there. It sounds crazy, but it’s true! Once you’re on the path, all you need to do is stay the course and put one foot in front of the other. Rather than always looking at the miles that remain between you and your end-goal, try to focus on the tasks-at-hand each day. Remain moving forward on your path, and soon enough, you’ll reach your goal. And do you know what you’ll do then (after patting yourself on the back of course)? You’ll set another goal!
There’s an old lightbulb joke that goes something like this: “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?” The answer: “One. But the lightbulb has to want to change.”
Before wanting, comes belief. All change begins with a simple belief: Change is possible.
Belief: Sometimes I sit with couples and hear things like, “She’ll never change, she’s been this way forever,” or “He’s so stuck, it’ll always be this way.” To these negative statements I respond, if two people believe that change is possible, and are willing to work toward it, then…well…change is possible!
Work: Change takes work. Whether we’re talking about making changes in ourselves or making changes in our pattern of interaction with others, change takes time, effort, and dedication. If you’ve ever taken a long absence from the gym or your favorite sport, and then gone back and tried to work-out, you might remember how foreign it seemed at first, and how weak you felt. But if you kept at it, you probably saw progress; comfort in your routine, noticeable improvements in your endurance, muscle tone, and mood. The same is true for other skills that we work to acquire, and it is certainly true for emotions and relationships. It takes a lot of effort, but it is so worth it!
Act and You Shall Become: Sometimes people are hesitant to change their thoughts and behaviors because it doesn’t feel “authentic,” or in a relationship people sometimes think that change should happen “organically.” With regard to authenticity, I’d say that if you’ve been stuck in an unhealthy thought or behavioral pattern, then yes, this change will not feel authentic—not at first. But, after a while it will become authentic! After a while you will be able to embrace self-love and self-compassion and offer these feelings to others. You needn’t alter your personality, for within every temperament, there is room for positivity and validation. When it comes to relationships, we can’t rely on getting all of our needs met “organically,” any more than we can expect our partners to be able to read our minds and know how best to support us. What comes organically to one person, based on their family of origin and life experience, can be very different from what comes organically to someone else from a different background. Altering our usual practices may feel foreign, but out of that discomfort a beautiful, fulfilling relationship with yourself and others can blossom.