Saturday, November 28, 2009

Am I a Support or a Burden?

How we cope when our partner is having a rough day is important. Are we a person who helps make the difficulties lighter? Or are we someone who drags our partner down even more when times are hard for them?

We may not always have a choice about what happens in a day, but we have a choice in how we respond to the presenting challenge. We can meet challenges with gratefulness, realizing that we are learning a necessary lesson for our or our partners growth. Or, we can meet it with angst and hostility, feeling resentment that our plans have been altered against our wishes.

How we respond when our partner is wrestling with an issue is vital. If we maintain our composure, keep our response appropriate yet positive and try to see the benefit, we can enhance our partners surroundings.

If we succumb to the temptation to wallow in self pity and regret we may add fuel to our partners fire, possibly helping to derail their attempt to maintain composure. Or, worse yet, we may become an additional challenge in their day.

The last thing we want to do is to make our partners day more difficult when they are already stressed out about a challenge they are facing. One of the purposes of a relationship is to be a support to one another when difficulties arise. Our role of supporter is never more vital than at a time when our partner is in crisis.

We use our tools to remain centered, exercise patience, exhibit compassion and offer our assistance when appropriate. In this way we allow our partner the space and time necessary to solve their own challenges, while remaining available, should the need arise for our help to be requested. In this way we give our partner the gift of support.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pity, Compassion, Trust and Selfishness

What is the difference between compassion and pity?

Compassion is based on a belief that both parties in a relationship are equals... that each of their points of view are worthy of regard. Pity includes a feeling of intellectual superiority. We pity our partner who is suffering and see them as being inferior, inept, incompetent or unable to function in some important way. Pity then leads to contempt if our partner is unable to resolve their issue within our time frame. Compassion leads us to offer whatever assistance is appropriate, then allowing our partner the opportunity to solve their issue within their own time frame.

What is the difference between compassion and excusing irresponsible or selfish behavior?

Compassion includes us behaving in accordance with our own values. This does not mean we excuse the irresponsible or selfish behavior of our partner when they have done something that does not agree with their own inner values. We have the responsibility to respect our own and others boundaries. We can feel compassion for the poor choices our partner has made without allowing them to continue to hurt us. We own our power in our relationship and reinforce our boundaries with our partner, telling them what we will and will not accept in a gentle loving manner.

What is the difference between compassion and discerning when it is safe to trust?

When we are compassionate we are able to see our partner as they really are without pretense. We see them with all their vulnerabilities and flaws and can discern accurately what we can realistically expect. If our expectations are on track and we are accurately discerning what is and is not possible, we are less likely to trust inappropriately. Many times we are hurt in relationships because we refuse to acknowledge the flaws of either our partner or ourselves. Our ability to discern when it is safe to trust relies upon our acceptance of reality. Our ability to accept reality relies upon our level of compassion in our relationship. When we feel compassion toward our partner we are able to view them in truth thereby assessing accurately when it is and is not safe to trust.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Make NOW the Most Precious Time

'CoverCover of The Precious Present

I read a story a while back called The Precious Present. When I picked up the book in the store I thought it was a Christmas story. It was around that time. It caught my attention so I began to read. I do that often... read in the book store... I was drawn in by the story and it was fast reading so I sat down with the book.

About thirty minutes went by and suddenly I came to the end. It was not at all a Christmas story. I recall sitting very still in that moment and realizing that I had never actually noticed the passage of time in quite the same way. The message of the book was astounding... and I realized for the first time in my life that the most precious commodity I had was time.

Those thirty minutes changed by perception permanently. I had a new goal... a new view of what mattered to me.

Later on that evening I was watching television... a drama that I enjoyed and one of the characters said, "Make now the most precious time. Now will never come again." I was stunned. I was getting the message again.

The next day I was chatting with several other folks and someone said, "If one is using one's time fretting about the past or worrying about the future, no energy is left for the present." Again... the same message. This was more than mere coincidence.

This time I gave the concept serious thought. Was I wasting my energies fretting over the past? I thought I had moved on from that place... had I some remaining strings still holding me captive? What about the future? Was I worrying about outcomes... not having faith in the path my Higher Power had placed before me? Was I trying to exert control where I had none?

The answers eluded me but I made a decision to redouble my efforts at letting go. I would work harder on my recovery... make every moment count. Suddenly I burst out laughing. That was exactly the message... living the moment... making each moment count... not working harder at recovery or letting go, but actually being present... emotionally and spiritually present in each wonderful moment.

I realized that if I put my energy into being fully alive in each moment that I would no longer make time available for fretting or worry. It was a choice... a choice I could make each moment of my life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Volunteering - A Path to Better Self Esteem

How can we feel better about our own life? What can we do to improve our self esteem?

In addition to the recovery work that we practice in our daily lives we have another avenue open to us for increasing our self esteem. Volunteering. When we avail ourselves of the opportunity to help others we leave our own issues and difficulties behind and focus outside ourselves for a time. We become immersed in the problems of others and in the process may gain some perspective on our own issues.

One of the most wonderful ways we can accomplish this task during the holidays is a creation of the United States Postal Service called Operation Santa Claus. The movement had its beginnings in the 1920's when postal workers took letters from the dead letter office address to Santa and chipped in some of their own funds to buy gift for needy children. Since that time the New York City postal workers at the post office located at 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue, behind Madison Square Garden, have collected the letters and set them aside for folks to read over and choose each year, beginning in December. These postal workers do this on their own time without pay each year. It is estimated that this year there may be up to 200,000 letters due to the economic down turn.

Let us each take a moment this year and choose to give a child who will receive nothing a gift. If your own economic circumstances don't permit the expense of any funds, making something creative will fill the void nicely.

I have participated in Operation Santa Claus and have found it made my holidays the most fulfilling of all. Here is a link to an article about Operation Santa Claus.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The God Box

The hardest part about splitting up isn't leaving the person... it's saying goodbye to all the hopes and dreams we had when we met.

One of the exercises we are given is to take a pretty box... whether we buy one at a $1 store or make one ourseves, it doesn't matter. We can use a favorite urn, vase or any covered dish if we like. I use a ginger jar with a cover that I made in a ceramics class. Some folks use a family heirloom that has meaning to them. Whatever you choose will work for you.

We hand write all our hopes and dreams we had for our relationship on a couple of sheets of our favorite note paper. The more we cherish the note paper the better. If you aren't into pretty note paper, that's okay. Any paper will do. It is important that we write this exercise ourself. We absorb more of what we are doing when we use multiple senses, sight, touch and hearing.

We read over what we have written aloud. It should be a comprehensive list of all the dreams we had for our relationship and the future we thought we would have together. We say a prayer to let go of them all. We listen to our heart. If our feelings begin to come to the surface, we allow ourselves the time to feel whatever is within. We let ourself grieve as fully as we need.

We empty the trash bin underneath our shredder. We put the sheets through our shredder then collect them from the trash bin and put the shredded sheets in the God box. What ever we place within is what we are giving over to our Higher Power.

This is an exercise in letting go. We shred the sheets as a symbol of the fact that once we give them to our Higher Power we won't take them back. We place the sheets in the box and say a brief prayer, finally giving these hopes and dreams to our Higher Power.

When we enter into a new relationship we create new hopes and dreams, we don't revive the old ones... but first we have to let go of the ones we already created to make room for new ones.

We make a God box for ourself and use it frequently, whenever we have to let go of something. One of my favorite authors, Melody Beattie, once said... "I never let go of anything that didn't have claw marks on it."

Me too...

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Am I Enhancing My Relationship?

What makes one relationship work while another falters? What steps can we take to preserve our partnership?

There are habits that we can create in our relationship that may help us feel more connected with one another. These are simple choices we make each day that can make the difference between happiness and emptiness.

Going to bed at the same time each night where possible gives partners the chance to snuggle and reconnect in a physical way after a long day of being apart. Our skin responds to touch by releasing chemicals that help us relax. Snuggling may help us fall asleep more easily and feel connected in a positive way.

Having shared interests is important for us to flourish in a partnership. We bring ourselves to the relationship as a gift. If the gift we bring is filled with interests and fun we add a great deal of positive energy to our relationship. Cultivating our own lives as well as common interests is paramount to a healthy balanced partnership.

Letting our partner know that we are proud to be seen with them is vital. We show our pride in our relationship by encouraging touch when we are with others. We may hold hands, or rest our arm in theirs. We may walk with fingers entwined or lean against one another while sitting. All these gestures allow our partner to feel the sense of pride we share in our partnership.

Assume the best. When we are in a committed relationship we are bound to make mistakes as is our partner. When we begin by assuming the best we are giving our partner the benefit of the doubt. We allow ourselves to make our first priority trust and faith in our partner, that they did not intend to cause harm. If harm was caused, we display forgiveness as we would want to be forgiven when we falter.

The old saying, accentuate the positive... eliminate the negative... applies well in relationships. We tend to see the glass as either half full or half empty. If we have learned to see the world through an optimistic view we are more likely to have positive outcomes. We learn to overlook the tiny annoyances that all relationships endure and focus on the areas we enjoy in our partner. We too have annoying attributes and wish our irritations to be overlooked.

Make it a habit to check in with one another during the day. We offer our partner support, love, encouragement and allow ourselves to get a glimpse of how our partners day is progressing. This is an invaluable tool in assessing how our partner may be feeling later on in the evening. If we are aware of the stresses they have dealt with during the day we can be more prepared for their energy level later on and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Make your first encounter after a long absence, such as a day at work, positive. A smile and hug or kiss at first reunion paves the way for positive feelings they may last well into the remainder of the day. Showing our partner how pleased we are to see them again is well worth the effort.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Questions and Answers on Relationships

We worked through a lot of issues... Please explain... what issues have you worked through? Were they the same issues you have now? If that is so, then maybe you haven't worked through these issues.

We have no intimacy... What does intimacy mean to you? Intimacy doesn't mean sexual or physical gratification. Intimacy means allowing another person to get to know you without all the masks, roles and pretense most of us use to protect ourselves. Has your partner tried to get to know you? Have you allowed them in?

There's no passion... What is lacking here, sexual passion? Was there ever any? Is this a problem of different libidos or a problem of sexual attraction?

I'm just so worried I'm making a mistake... Maybe we are making a mistake. We have tried couples counseling for some time with little to show for it. Have we considered going to individual counseling first to sort out our own issues before we try to fix our partner? One of the first things we all learn is that if we expect our relationship to get better we have to stop trying to fix and change our partner and work on changing ourselves. Once we have worked through our own issues then we are ready to try couples work and improve our relationship. The cart before the horse rarely produces results.

I'm so bitter from the lack of love being shown me and the way I'm made to feel, like I have to beg for love... Once we become embittered and lose our ability to be compassionate toward our partner we are doing to them exactly what we feel they are doing to us. It becomes a self fulfilling cycle of victimization and punishment. We move from being the victim (such a comfy role) to being the punisher (the angry role) and build walls keeping each other out.

Nothing changes and I'm tired of hoping it will - when it seems apparent it won't... even if we could make each other happy it seems it would be both of us somehow being something were not, it would always be fake...This is the saddest comment of all... anticipating that even if our partner does change, we would still be unhappy because it wouldn't be spontaneous. The best relationships are those where both partners make a conscious decision to do the work necessary to make intimacy and passion happen. They often don't happen on their own when partners are tuckered out from working so hard and helping around the house. Partners may begin to get lazy. Instead of trying to make things better with action and effort they may resort to the lazy way of fixing things... complaining... pointing fingers... blaming... It is much harder to do the work of making the effort than it is to blame our partner. Sadly when our partner makes an effort, often we are so angry and bitter that we don't give our partner the appreciation they need to feed that effort. So, after a couple of weeks of trying and not really getting the feedback they need... they give up. No relationship stays static. It is always changing, hopefully growing, and always needs maintenance and care or it dies. How would you feel if you failed and your partner didn't give you another chance to make it right?

I love my partner, but I cant take the pain... Love isn't a feeling. Love is an action verb... it is a word that indicates a willingness to put the person we love before ourselves. Love is patient, kind, gentle, appreciative, humble, giving... when we love we allow them to fail and try again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Can I Learn to Let Go & Forgive?

What does it mean to let go? Why is it important? What does it have to do with forgiveness?

Letting go doesn't mean letting things go. Letting go means not trying to control other people or outcomes in situations. It means letting the universe unfold naturally. When we try to control anything we cannot, that thing ends up controlling us. Letting go means... Let go and let God. It means we stop trying to do our Higher Power's job and let our Higher Power handle it.

Forgiveness doesn't mean that we believe that our partners unkind actions are acceptable. Forgiveness means that we have let go of the anger, the need for revenge, the need to punish and allowed ourselves to get out of the way so that the our partner can experience the natural consequences of their actions... without our interference. Consequences happen in their own time... not in ours... so patience is a part of the process as well.

Forgiveness is a part of letting go. When we forgive we decide we are no longer going to allow the actions of our partner to continue to control us. It does not mean that we believe their behavior is acceptable or that we necessarily tell them they are forgiven. It is something we do within our own heart that we share with our Higher Power. Forgiveness is internal, just like letting go and compassion. It is not something we advertise, just a decision we make within our hearts and with the guidance of our Higher Power.

These two recovery concepts may seem to go against everything that feels natural and normal. It may feel reasonable to remain angry, punish or exact revenge. The reality of the situation is that the angry feelings and all that accompany them, them are a toxin for our emotional health. Keeping ourselves in a state of agitation due to a lack of forgiveness, is akin to taking poison and waiting for our partner to die.

In time the wisdom of the words of these recovery principles will become understandable to us. It's okay to not be ready to hear them initially. Each of us becomes ready in our own time. We learn that if we have patience, all will become clear to us. Someday we will be a shining example to everyone we meet of the benefits of recovery work.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Why Be Compassionate?

What is compassion? Why do we need to feel compassion toward our partner? What happens to us when we are not compassionate?

Compassion is something we feel inside. It is an emotion. It is what it feels like to look at our partner, who has behaved in an uncaring manner, and feel for the loss of self esteem they experience as a result, rather than reacting to the perceived hurt. It means that we give our partner the benefit of the doubt when they behave in ways that may give us pause.

When we are in a committed relationship there will be times when we become irritated with our partner. If we do not deal with these minor irritations in productive ways... effective communication... dialogue... compromise... over time we may become angry and resentful. When we move toward anger we move away from compassion. We begin to see the world in a myopic manner, viewing our own emotions and excluding all else. We may forget that our partner has feelings. When our anger takes over and we focus exclusively on our own feelings we lose our ability to feel compassion. We forget that there are two viewpoints to every situation.

Should we lose our ability to feel compassion, we appear calloused and insensitive toward our partner. This adds nothing but fuel to the fire. Our partner interprets our actions as justification for their own behavior. We have allowed our reaction to create an itch scratch scenario. It no longer matters who instigated the problem, we are now involved in a circular pattern of reactions that continues to feed off itself.

When experiencing strong emotions, as a result of the uncaring behavior of our partner, we may be triggered due to unresolved issues related to our family of origin. These strong emotions may be exaggerated due to our childhood issues. This may lead us to employ defense mechanisms designed to protect us from feeling the fear generated by our early childhood experiences. Although these defenses worked well to ensure our survival during our interactions with our family of origin, they may be hampering our adult interactions with our partner.

We choose to respond rather than react. We realize that our partner may be feeling virtually the same emotions. They too have feelings and may be hurt or upset. We take a deep breath, center ourselves and consider how we appear from their point of view. We then respond with compassion, letting go of our need to defend ourselves against our fear.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Compassion, the Key to Joy

Sometimes there are posts written by those in the recovery field that are excellent and worth repeating. Here is one such post by noted author and blogger, Steven Stosny.

Anger in Marriage: Failure of Compassion and the Rise of Contempt

Most marriages end in a whimper, not a bang. The final rupture is not caused by too much anger or abuse or infidelity. Rather, most marriages die a slow, agonizing death from too little compassion.

Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another. At heart it is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.

Compassion is necessary for the formation of emotional bonds. Think of when you were dating someone you eventually came to love. Suppose you had to call that person and report that your parents had died. If your date responded with, "Well, that's tough, call me when you get over it," would you have fallen in love with that person? Chances are, you fell in love with someone who cared about how you felt, especially when you felt bad.

Most of what you fight about now is not money or sex or in-laws or raising the kids. Those are common problems that seem insurmountable only when you're hurt. What causes the hurt, i.e., what you really fight about, is the impression that your partner doesn't care how you feel. When someone you love is not compassionate, it feels like abuse.

As compassion decreases, resentment automatically rises, making common problems insoluble. If unfettered by the better angels of our nature, resentment inevitably turns into contempt.

Contempt is disdain for the hurt of others, due to their lower moral standing, character defects, mental instability, ignorance, or general unworthiness. Contempt is powered by a low but steady dose of adrenalin. So long as the adrenalin lasts, you feel more confident and self-righteous in blaming your bad feelings on some defect of your partner. But you also feel less humane. And when the adrenalin wears off, you feel depressed.

Both compassion and contempt are extremely contagious and highly influenced by projection. If you're around a compassionate person, you're likely to become more compassionate. If you're around a contemptuous person, you're likely to become more contemptuous, unless you make a determined effort to remain true to your deepest values. If you project onto others that they're compassionate, they are likely to become more considerate. If you project contemptuous characterizations, such as, "loser, abuser, selfish, lazy, narcissistic, irrational, devious, etc.," they are likely to become more so.

By the time couples come to our boot camps for chronic resentment, anger, or emotional abuse, they have developed entrenched habits of protecting their respective vulnerabilities by devaluing each other. They try to justify their contempt with "evidence" that the partner is selfish, lazy, narcissistic, crazy, abusive, etc. Mutual contempt makes them both feel chronically criticized and attacked, although neither really wants to attack the other. They feel like victims and rationalize their bad behavior as mere reactions to the awful behavior of the other. Their defenses so automatically justify their resentment and contempt that they cannot possibly see each other.

Neither can they see that their resentment and contempt have cut them off from their deeper values and made them into someone they are not.

Once defenses become habits, they run on automatic pilot and resist change through insight. They will likely recur in any future relationship that stirs guilt, shame, and anxiety, that is to say, any close relationship.

The only way out, whether the couple stays in the relationship or not, is to focus on compassion - not to manipulate change in the other - but to feel more humane and to reconnect with their deepest values.

The problem is that most couples are afraid to embrace compassion once they've been hurt.

How we cope with our feelings is vital. We work hard during our recovery to embrace all our emotions and learn to give our partner the space to do the same. Our recovery emboldens us to be compassionate partners as we walk our chosen path.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Am I Practicing Self Care or Being Selfish?

Can self care become selfishness? How do we keep ourselves in balance?

Self care is an important part of our recovery effort. We learn to care for ourselves. We set effective boundaries, avoid the drama of others, stay balanced and keep ourselves from becoming overwhelmed in the face of lifes challenges. We practice discernment, use our tools to cope effectively, and in the process increase our self esteem.

As we begin to practice self care and learn to set effective boundaries we change. That change brings discomfort to our partner. We are no longer willing to do things that our partner can and should do for themselves. As a result, we begin to receive change back messages from our partner. This is their response to the stress our changes bring into their life. We exercise patience, showing our partner our committment to our recovery and allowing them the time to catch up. We use discernment to detect when we are being drawn into the drama of others, keeping ourselves in balance. When we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed as a result of the strength of our emotions, we use our tools to bring ourselves back into balance, recognizing that we cannot effectively help our partner to cope when we ourselves are overwhelmed.

As long as our self care is focused on achieving balance for the purpose of being able to be emotionally present in our relationship with our partner, as well as for our overall health, we will be practicing self care and not selfishness. When we allow our defense mechanisms and fear to control us, we lose sight of healthy boundaries and begin to focus too much on ourselves and our issues. When that happens too often, we may fail to be emotionally present for our partner and our relationship. We cannot be centered at all times, but we can strive for balance in a consistent manner.

During our growth and change our partner may feel unsure of our relationship. We take the initiative, reaffirming our love and devotion to both our partner and our relationship, allowing our partner to take these new patterns of interacting in stride. We recall that change creates discomfort and unease and give our partner plenty of time and the space necessary to adapt.

As we walk our path of recovery we find that we take three steps forward and two back testing our resolve and misstepping frequently. We will learn slowly, carefully, in our own time, how to maintain balance without seeming insensitive or too self involved. Recovery may not be easy, but we find that the rewards are well worth the effort as we feel our self esteem grow stronger day by day.