Apr 27

POWER COUPLES ON THE RISE

A recent article from the New York Times reported that marriages of equals is quickly rising. These are couples with similar education levels, career interests, shared passions, and similar goals for the kids.  Multiple reasons can explain this change including people marrying later, geographic flexibility, and advanced technology. In the past, in general, men sought homemakers and women sought breadwinners, but today high achievers seek those with the same aspirations.  Interestingly, couples today are focused more on companionship and tend to be with people more like themselves.  Ironically, when women earn more than their husbands they tend to compensate by building up their husband’s career or minimizing their own.

In spite of these egalitarian views, conflicts still arise in relationships where couples share in financial contributions, child care, and division of housework.  The conflicts may be over differences in perception, lack of appreciation or devaluing certain tasks over others.  In fact, although the power couple may both be driven to achieve, one may value relationships more than the other.  For example, working late on a project and missing time with the family may be more acceptable to one person than the other.  We all have our priorities but sometimes they aren’t aligned with our spouse which can create conflict.  Power couples may be aligned with their desire to achieve, excel, and succeed, but relationally there may be a disconnect.

In today’s hectic and rushed life we have such limited time to spend on our relationships and we need to figure out ways to maximize our time.  For instance, traveling to and from activities can be an opportunity to connect either face-to-face or via phone and share experiences.  Some couples prefer texting over phone calls, but recognize the limits of this and avoid deep or conflictual interactions.  One of the best ways to connect occurs when you shut down all electronics and intentionally disconnect from the outside world to be solely focused on each other.  Take turns planning dates and build the friendship part of your relationship by selecting activities that you know your partner will enjoy.  Spontaneity and surprises can also add some excitement and fun to the relationship as long as the objective is not selfish or self-indulgent.  Even individually spending time with same-sexed friends can help marriages since it takes the pressure off one person to meet all of our needs. Whether we’re similar or different matters less than how we adapt and assimilate into each other’s world.  You have to be a teammate first to be a team.

Apr 20

CAN YOU HANDLE THE TRUTH?

We say that we want to know what our spouse feels or thinks, but do we really?  The infamous line by Jack Nicholson from the movie “A Few Good Men” captures it best, “You can’t handle the truth!”  Sharing our feelings openly, honestly, and directly is often the best approach, but we have to be sensitive to our delivery and approach.  If we express ourselves with kindness and respect then the hope is that the recipient will respond appropriately.  Unfortunately it doesn’t always go that smoothly.  Sometimes when we’re expressing our disappointment, frustration, or hurt, the person reacts defensively and may lash back or shut down.

The best way to resolve negative emotions is to share them constructively and ultimately release them. The intention is not to hurt or harm, but instead to let go of the negative feelings instead of hanging onto them. However, if your partner often gets defensive, angry, and attacks back when you’re trying to share your feelings, it doesn’t motivate you to talk openly about your emotions.  We don’t have to agree or even fully understand each other’s emotions every time, but we need to acknowledge and accept them.  That’s what validation is all about, allowing our partner to express themselves without defending or justifying our position.  Many couples struggle with the implementation of this strategy, but it’s effectiveness is significant.

Opening up and sharing feelings can be very difficult for anyone, especially if the information is used against us at a later point. Remember that trusting others with our emotions can build greater connection, but how it is received is crucial.  Ideally we can talk through conflict, share emotions openly, validate each others feelings, and let go of the emotional pain.  It sounds so simple and easy, but it’s obviously more complicated and difficult.  The hope is that this framework will provide you with a guide to express and resolve your emotions rather than hold them in or constantly lash out.  It is normal for people to be hurt, angry, and upset with each other, but our job is to be able to accept feedback without feeling compelled to justify or defend ourselves and validate each other’s feelings before responding to the content.  When we can respond rather than react, the results are often more favorable.  As already mentioned, we can experience greater connection and intimacy when we successfully work through conflict and resolve negative feelings.  Believe it because it is true.

Apr 13

WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?

Where does your motivation come from?  Are you motivated by money, power, control, success, pleasing others, or altruism?  Often people are motivated at their core by either fear or guilt.  Our past experiences with parents, teachers, coaches, bosses and peers may reinforce these motivators.  Although fear and guilt motivators may provide an initial push to take action, in the long run they won’t help you finish the race.  Both fear and guilt are external motivators meaning they come from outside of us instead of being internally driven.  When we change a behavior for someone else (external motivation) it usually doesn’t stick. We need to have an emotional investment and ownership in the change process.  Consider choosing internal motivators like self-respect or self-love. For example, giving up smoking will be more successful if we do it for ourselves instead of based on the guilt others place on us.

Fear and guilt are powerful emotions which is why we often rely on them to change our behaviors.  The problem with these emotions is that not only does the change seldom last, but that we may resent the external source (or person) after a while because we never bought into the need for change.  When we focus our attention on ways to build ourselves up we ignite the internal motivators.  We need to be cognizant of our positive attributes and forgive ourselves for failures instead of perpetually punishing ourselves when we make mistakes.  Our perception of ourselves is tied into our motivation.

How do we get started? The first step is setting goals and ways to measure your progress. In many instances it takes action and impetus to get the ball rolling.  Remember it takes 30-66 days of a consistent behavior for it to become a habit.  We also need to have the right attitude and believe in ourselves even if we are “faking it till we make it”.  Like the little engine that could, we need to repeat “I think I can, I think I can.”  This positive and encouraging self-talk helps as does rewarding our efforts along the way.  We also can choose to focus on the process and journey rather than looking ahead to the outcome.  Adopt the AA mantra, “one day at a time.”  When we focus on our positive attributes and recognize our value it makes it easier to keep the momentum going.  Create the catalyst and recognize the benefits of change.  Motivation is an inside job and you can make it happen when you decide that you desire a different life.

Apr 06

NEVER DISCONNECTED

Do you or someone you love find it difficult to separate from work?  And do you find that your work personality doesn’t change when you arrive home?  Transitioning from work to home can be difficult with some people preferring to maintain their work identity because it is more comfortable.  Maybe it’s more comfortable because their skill set at work fits better than the one at home.  Often work relationships are limited, unemotional, and impersonal which some prefer.  For those in positions of authority, work allows them greater power, control, and independence.  And unfortunately with the technology of today leaving the physical environment of work doesn’t imply that work is over.  Many of us are required to respond to emails, texts, and phone calls even after hours.  This makes it even more difficult to separate our work lives from our personal lives.

So which is it, do you choose not to disconnect or do you not know how to turn your work life off?  Is your lack of awareness and your fixation on work destroying your relationships?  When we are preoccupied with work issues or tasks, we have difficulties listening to others. Our work stress can impact every aspect of our lives.

Not only can work consume us, if we allow it, but the work persona can follow us home.  At work, we’re expected to take charge, problem solve, motivate others, and lead the team. Changing to a more loving, give and take mentality upon pulling into the driveway is no easy task.  Some of us have a long commute and can use that time to decompress and transition into a different person upon arriving home.  Others have to make the switch while walking through the door and have very little transition time.  For me, changing into comfortable clothes and having a little bit of alone time before jumping into home life helps.  Being consciously aware of my role and expectations of both myself and spouse also helps reset my mindset to be more home focused.  Going for a walk, having one drink, or watching the evening news can be another way to establish a routine that reorients a person to being in home-mode.  Some couples limit the amount of time they spend talking about work.  Think about the person you portray at work versus home and ask whether they are or should be different.  In this case different may actually be a good thing. While treating both your staff and family with respect and kindness, recognize the value of interacting differently  depending on your environment.

Mar 30

WHAT MAKES A GREAT LEADER?

What are the characteristics of a great leader?  How do leaders influence work performance and productivity?  A recent study from the University of Texas at San Antonio found that great leaders communicate clearly, cultivate creativity, and foster good interpersonal relationships.  While ineffective leaders are abusive and humiliate staff in front of others, confident and effective leaders inject the power of positive thinking and build trust based upon mutual respect.  Ultimately, when the relationships are positive, confidence and creativity grow in both leaders and their staff.  What kind of leader are you?

Clearly the way we relate and interact with others impacts our ability to lead and influence others.  Using our power and authority in a controlling and aggressive way only creates stress and conflict in our work environment.  Leaders should be humble, acknowledge their mistakes, and commit to changing negative behaviors.  Treating people as equals regardless of their position imbues tremendous respect and loyalty from everyone on the team.  People respond well when they feel appreciated, valued, and have their contribution to the success of the business acknowledged.

Our relationships continue to pave the way for our success as a leader both at work and home.  When we deal effectively with conflict, communicate constructively, and accept alternative ways of doing things, we position ourselves for success.  Great leaders listen well and accept constructive feedback.  They ask questions, wait for the answers, and implement suggestions made by others.  We learn nothing by defending our position, but grow tremendously when we recognize the benefit of a different perspective or a new approach.  Effective leaders treat people with respect and encourage creativity and thinking outside the box.  Lastly, great leaders are consistent in their words and actions which builds trust and loyalty.  They genuinely care about the well-being of their people and are capable of being compassionate at times of hardship.  The bottom line is that great leaders focus first on the people and then on the task at hand.

 

Mar 23

EMOTIONAL POLITICS

Have you ever made an emotional decision?  Can you recall how you felt the day you purchased your first car?  Or made a decision to fire a staff person based purely on emotion?  We all have made decisions and choices based on emotion, but sometimes it backfires on us.  Our emotions, positive or negative, can drive us to make an impulsive choice without much thought or contemplation. Emotion motivated choices often come from fear, guilt, or anger.  Unfortunately, sometimes these choices lack adequate reflection, knowledge, and/or analysis.  We react rather than respond to a situation without taking the time to consider the consequences of our decision.  Do Americans have significant emotions related to government, politics, and the direction our country is headed?  You better believe it!

Emotions are running high during this presidential election and people are reacting with intense feelings.  These are often fueled by the media reporting sensationalized news to boost ratings.  Some politicians are very skillful at playing off of our emotions and convincing the public that these emotions require a drastic change and they are the one to make it happen.  Unfortunately these emotions not only can drive our decision-making, but can also create more conflict and division within a political party, a state and a nation.  While passion/emotion can emphasize a point and position, it can also alienate others.  Most of us are angry about the country’s state of affairs, but may I suggest looking for a leader who can constructively and effectively work  to unite people and find constructive solutions to the issues reflected by our collective anger.

How can we decide who is the best candidate without our emotions consuming our decision?  Hopefully, we spend time analyzing each candidate’s record, experience, and attributes.  We gather information about their plans for the country and attempt to discern their trustworthiness and genuineness.  Ideally we make an informed decision that takes into consideration their character, integrity, and leadership skills.  I recognize that all of the candidates have flaws and weaknesses, but consider the best choice based on knowledge, not emotions.  Our emotions matter, but not when selecting our next president.  Vote with your head, not your heart.

Mar 16

CONFLICT DESTRUCTION VS CONFLICT INTIMACY

Every relationship has conflict and stress, but how you handle them can determine the outcome and effect.  What do you do with your negative feelings?  Do you bottle them up or lash out without much thought?  Many of the couples I work with struggle to find constructive and healthy ways to work through their conflicts.  Unfortunately, conflict doesn’t go away on its own over time, but instead it tends to accumulate and allows feelings to fester when it’s not addressed.  Over the years I’ve identified a pattern of behaviors that many couples experience when confronted with conflict.

The couples first experience frustration which is normal and this frustration often leads to anger.  Although all couples experience some anger in their relationship, not all couples know how to constructively express and resolve anger.  If the anger is not expressed, it lingers and then can turn into resentment.  Resentment is anger with a history.  As time progresses and unresolved resentment grows, detachment begins to occur.  Couples will disengage and detach from each other when they have been unable or unwilling to work through their conflicts.  The final phase of this vicious cycle is self-destructive behaviors either by one or both parties.  People self-destruct in many different ways including infidelity, viewing pornography, misusing alcohol/drugs, overeating, overspending, and gambling.  Some ways of self-destruction can have the appearance of being positive like work, volunteering, and/or exercise.  But the intention behind the behaviors is to avoid the conflict, detach from the person, and give up on the relationship.

Are there any other options?  Of course there are many other choices that one can make, but they first require an acknowledgment of responsibility for the problem and awareness of areas to change. Working through conflict and negative emotions requires an acceptance of each other’s perspective and feelings even when you don’t agree.  If you communicate with respect and kindness then the other person is more likely to listen without defensiveness or blame.  Sometimes getting the conflict off your chest is all that was needed to let it go, while other times an apology is in order.  The key to dealing with marital distress is taking action sooner rather than later.  Be sure to have the conversations when all distractions are eliminated and you can give each other your undivided attention.  Conflicts can either pull you apart or deepen your relationship.  Believe it or not there is such a thing as conflict intimacy which occurs when you successfully confront, manage, and even resolve conflict.  Don’t let unresolved conflict destroy your marriage; take action today.

Mar 09

APOLOGY WITHOUT CHANGE IS NOT ENOUGH

Do you know someone who says they’re sorry, but never changes?  Or maybe a person apologizes, but always has a justification for their actions.  Some people don’t apologize or apologize incorrectly, while others freely acknowledge their mistakes without any desire or intention of changing.  It is not easy to admit our mistakes and flaws openly, but it is even harder to make changes in our behaviors.  Maybe pride, fear, or insecurity get in the way of an apology, but what prevents change?  It may those same emotions or it may have more to do with procrastination, letting go of control, and learning new skills and habits.  Sometimes we haven’t fully committed to change and apologize only to appease the other person.

Regardless of our reasons for avoiding an apology, we need to recognize the importance of a change in behavior.  Actions do speak louder than words and a commitment to behave differently can make all the difference.  A comprehensive apology that includes acceptance of responsibility, acknowledgement of harm, request of forgiveness, an effort to change, and a desire to repair the relationship will likely be well received.  And remember that we can apologize when we’ve hurt another person even if we don’t fully understand their feelings.  We all own our feelings and we can’t tell others what to feel or not feel.  Avoid using the line “I didn’t intend to hurt your feelings.”  Most of the time this statement is true, but it doesn’t negate the hurt feelings or absolve us of personal responsibility.

We hurt people verbally and emotionally all the time.  We are human!  Hopefully when someone acknowledges their hurt we can handle it constructively without defensiveness or justification.  Instead we can accept blame, show remorse, apologize genuinely, and offer to make changes for the future.  Two tips to remember when apologizing:  avoid following the apology with the word “but” since that negates your apology, and don’t say “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt,” since that implies that the other person is too sensitive.  Stay focused on the situation at hand and don’t bring up any slights made by the person who was hurt.  Often we are better at apologizing to strangers than our own family.  The people who need it the most are the ones you are closest to and have the greatest connection with.  An apology and acknowledgment of wrongdoing, along with a sincere desire to change can take courage, but it can also grow and deepen your relationships.

Mar 02

ENVY IS CONTENTMENT’S ENEMY

Why do we tend to be envious of others’ success?  What prevents us from celebrating with them?  A few weeks back when a Florida couple claimed their powerball lottery winnings, there was a flood of judgement and criticism about the winners on various social media sites.  Facebook can be a wonderful way to stay connected with family and friends but it can also trigger envy.  A recent study at the University of Missouri-Columbia found that if Facebook is used to compare how well you’re doing in life relative to others then envy can develop which in some cases can lead to depression.  While Facebook can be a positive resource for some, other users feel that their lives are unfulfilling in comparison to their friends/family and feel compelled to create posts that portray their best selves.

A recent study published in the Journal of Personality from Iowa State University found a connection between narcissism and envy.  Many people don’t realize that there are different types of narcissism.  Whereas the grandiose narcissist would be less likely to feel envy, the vulnerable narcissist would exhibit strong feelings of envy.  The authors concluded that vulnerable narcissists still feel special and entitled, but struggle with self-esteem and are more passive, shy, and introverted.  They may experience festering anger and can lash out when their envy and narcissism create the perfect storm.

Everyone experiences envy at some point in time and it’s normal to compare ourselves with others.  After all, there will always be someone with a nicer car, better marriage, bigger house, and more money than us. What’s important is how much time, thought, and negative energy we spend on our feelings of envy. How can we be happy for others when they have good luck, succeed in their careers, or are blessed with something positive?  We need to start by being content and happy with what we have, what we’ve accomplished and who we are as individuals.  I’ve shared before that emotions connect people, well that applies to positive emotion too.  If we don’t celebrate the good news in our friends’ or family’s lives than we create a disconnect.  We need to work on being happy for those who are experiencing good fortune and not get down on ourselves because we haven’t achieved at their level.  Happiness comes from positive relationships, not wealth, status, or material possessions.  Acknowledge the good things happening in the lives of people around you and avoid resenting them for their success or feeling compelled to rain on their parade.  Celebrate other’s victories and you’ll find that it strengthens your connection and distracts from your own self-absorption.

Feb 24

SPEAK UP!

Do you know anyone who has a hard time being direct?  Many people would rather avoid conflict and keep things inside than communicate directly.  They are worried about hurting the other person’s feelings or fear the reaction they might receive.  Two ways people communicate indirectly are through being passive and holding everything inside, and being passive-aggressive and getting back in a subtle and covert way.  Neither communication style is healthy or effective. Then there are those individuals who choose passivity for a period of time until the anger, resentment, and hurt accumulates to a boiling point causing them to lash out aggressively.  What prevents people from speaking up and sharing their feelings openly, honestly, and directly?

Recently we took a long car trip and I was reminded of one of my pet peeves, “not using your turn signal.”  Driving on the highway and watching people change lanes left and right without putting their signal on drives me nuts.  Some people also choose not to use their signal when driving around town.  What makes them decide not to inform other drivers where they plan on going?  Maybe they don’t think that communicating their intentions is that important or they really don’t care.  Or maybe they choose not to take responsibility for their actions, are too busy, or assume others can figure it out themselves.  Who knows what the logic is, but I’m correlating this behavior with people’s lack of communication in general.  Have you ever thought to yourself, “what were they thinking when they decided this?”  We can only assume because people don’t communicate directly.

Whatever your reason for not communicating directly, consider how difficult it is for others to know what you are thinking or feeling.  Especially those that are close to us deserve a better understanding and explanation of your emotions and thoughts.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a close and intimate relationship with someone if you can’t share your thoughts and feelings with them, even if they are negative.  Hopefully we can communicate assertively, kindly, and lovingly so that others can receive it and not be offended by what was said.  If you have a problem with someone, let them know since that increases the likelihood of resolution and is also beneficial for your own emotional health.  If you can’t share it face-to-face then try writing it out and either reading it or sending it to them.  Remember conflict that remains in your head will never be resolved; it needs to reach your lips.  Speak your mind, get if off your chest, and communicate it respectfully.  Pay attention to your tone of voice when communicating, but don’t let it fester inside because the emotion grows and when it’s eventually shared it won’t be pretty. Whether it is a personal or working relationship, thoughts and feelings need to be expressed otherwise that relationship will result in detachment and eventual death.

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