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Love Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, Part 7: Your Core Beliefs About Marriage

In recent weeks, I’ve written of the common communication problems encountered by couples. When conflicts arise, we can find fault in one another or believe something is wrong in the relationship itself.

But often the roots of recurrent marital conflict lie outside of the current relationship itself; the source may lie in your past. Each person has core beliefs about themselves, relationships and marriage. They shape our expectations and shade how we see our current relationships.

Like our core beliefs about ourselves and others, these are largely subconscious and unquestioned. When couples find themselves in recurrent conflict, it may be helpful for to reflect on these deep beliefs.

Our biases and expectations are not unlike baggage and old furniture that we move into our new home together. We will continue to trip over and walk around them until we look at them clearly and judge their value today.

Next: Looking into your past and seeing how it influences your relationships today.

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Emotions Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, Part 6: Common Communication Traps – Emotional Arguments

In my last two posts, I wrote of two common communication traps we may all encounter: inaccurate mindreading  – mistaking the motivation behind our partners’ words and actions – and all-or-nothing language that limits our conception and perception of them.

Today, consider how you relate to your partner. How do you each manage your emotions particularly anger? How often have you had a positive outcome when one or both of you have been angry?

3. Emotional Arguments We’ve all heard the advice about never going to bed angry, but when one or both partners is very angry, a time out is better than an escalating argument. When we’re emotionally aroused, we’re not as rational. In a tantrum, a five-year-old will act like a toddler and an adult like a child.

In anger, we can say and do things we will regret and cause greater harm to one another and our relationships.

Each partner in an adult relationship has to take responsibility for his or her own emotions and disengage long enough to control anger as soon as it starts to simmer. A couple should agree on their rules of engagement and disengagement. When is it okay to take a time out and when is it okay to resume a discussion in a calm environment?

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Love Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, part 5: Common Communication Traps – Inaccurate Mindreading

We are each unique.  So it’s no surprise that each couple is unique – in how we relate to one another, how we get along and how we don’t. The strengths and problems of each couple are not generic, but there are common communication traps through which we all may stumble.

In my last post, we looked at the problem of all or nothing language and the way it negatively shapes how we interpret the qualities, words and actions of others and prevents us from seeing the whole person with whom we had fallen in love.

Here is another common communication trap.

2. Inaccurate Mindreading It’s great when we’re so used to our habits and preferences that we know just what the other wants. It makes meal planning and gift buying much easier.

Mindreading can push us apart when it’s not so accurate and it leads to anger and resentment towards one another. We can make incorrect assumptions about our partners’ motivation behind acts of commission and omission.

If our partners’ forget an important date, we might assume that they don’t really care about us though this probably isn’t the case. If one person doesn’t give a hug, a kiss or another expected expression of affection, the other might conclude they’ve fallen out of love.

Sometimes we assume that our partners know what we want and how we feel even if we don’t express this in words. Some people decide to leave a relationship when their needs have not been met. Too often they make this decision having never expressed those needs.

Hurt or angry feelings can fester and brew in our own minds. If we don’t check out our assumptions and express how we feel early on, we can grow further apart while our negative feelings simmer and eventually boil over.

Bringing the First Two Communication Traps Back Home: Take some time to reflect on your most important relationship. Can you see any examples of all or nothing thinking in yourself? How did you see your partner when you first met? How do you see your partner now?

If there’s a big difference in how we see our partners, we have to ask if they have really changed that much. How much of the difference is in the way we have come to see them today? What good qualities are we minimizing or ignoring?

Most of us are guilty of mindreading – making assumptions about someone else’s motivations, most frequently in a negative way, and then reacting to those assumed motivations.

The next time your partner does or says something that is hurtful, express how you feel and check out the intent. Often we don’t realize the effect of our actions on one another. We all need some feedback especially if it comes with the goal of improving our relationship. This is better than blaming the other for how you feel.

If there is something that you need that you are not getting in your relationship, express that need. Don’t assume that your partner is intentionally holding back on you.  Ask for what you need.

Next: Emotional arguments or when it might be better to go to bed angry.

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Love Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, Part 4: Common Communication Traps – All or Nothing Language

Each of us is unique.

We are a complex mix of the strengths and weaknesses of our parents, and to this mix, we have our own idiosyncracies.  Our beliefs and behaviours are shaped by our experiences.

So each couple is unique – in how two unique individuals relate – how we get along and how we don’t. The strengths and problems of each couple are not generic, but there are common communication traps through which we may all stumble.

1. All or Nothing Language

In real life, I’ve never met any cartoon characters, but when things aren’t going well, we can talk about the people we live with as they were. None of us is so black and white. None of us is all good or all bad.

When we start off statements about our partners with, “You always . . .” or “You never . . .”, we perpetuate in our own minds skewed and biased caricatures of them. The more we reinforce an ever-narrowing view of them, the less likely we are to see evidence to the contrary. We only see what we let ourselves see.

This is one of the ways we can slide into ever more negative views of one another.

We can only get off this slippery slope by stepping to the side, taking a better look and gaining a wider view of both our partners and our relationships. It can start by resolving never to say “never” . . . or “always”.  Really, none of us is that consistent.

Next: Inaccurate Mindreading.

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Love Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, Part 3 – How Love Changes Over Time

Love changes over time.

Though we each have a fairly stable concept of who we are and often an even more rigid conception of our partners, we continue to grow as individuals. We can grow together, or we can grow apart.

This catches us by surprise.

When we’re caught up in our daily activities – work, school, raising a family and managing a household – or distracted by crisis after crisis, we may fail to attend to our primary relationship.

We take it – and one another – for granted.

In the early romantic phase of relationships, we can succumb to infatuation. Falling in love is like a psychosis. We can do bold and silly things we would not otherwise consider. We are focused on the positive aspects of the person we love, and if we see any negatives at all, they may appear insignificant or even cute and endearing.

Eventually, reality prevails.

We get used to each other – how we look when we’re tired and sick, how we act when we’re grumpy or down. We see each other blend into the backdrop of our mundane lives – disheveled and groggy in bed, sitting on the toilet seat, lounging on the couch. We see each other at our plainest, and we see each other at our worst.

When conflicts arise, we see even more negatives.

This can happen gradually and insidiously over time, and we can develop negative conceptions of our partners and these shade our interpretation of the reality of what they say and what they do.

It can happen dramatically and abruptly when they behave badly and reveal their worst natures. How we see them is forever changed.

We can develop a negative approach to our relationship.

Rather than seeing ourselves as two individuals united, we can think of our selves as two separate people with competing needs and desires. We track what we do, what we give and what we give up. We remember how we’ve been hurt, slighted or insulted.

We might even imagine being happier apart.

At these times, we have to take a step back – remember how we once felt (and thought about our partners) and look at the reality of the present from that perspective.

We also need to accept our part of the responsibility for caring for our relationship, communicating our feelings and needs, and asking and listening for our partners’ deepest thoughts.

Next: rebalancing how we see one another and reconceptualizing your relationship.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Positive Potential Medicine radio show is at pwrnradio.com.

Categories
Love Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, Part 2

The principles of cognitive therapy are not only helpful in counseling couples; they can guide us in the preventive and proactive care of our relationships – before we fall out of love.

Our feelings, thoughts and actions interact and influence one another. Our feelings filter how we see one another. Our thoughts influence our emotional reactions. Our behaviour is motivated by both our thoughts and feelings. We interpret the behaviour of others with assumptions that may or may not be accurate, and our interpretations shape how we feel about them.

To simplify our lives, we naturally and unconsciously develop assumptions about one another. We develop fairly rigid schema or cognitive frameworks in our minds that are in short simplified ways of thinking about one another.

This is helpful in many ways. You don’t have to reintroduce yourself to the person waking up next to you in bed or have a deep conversation with the one sitting across from you at the breakfast table each morning.

On the other hand, our rigid conceptions can keep us from seeing the whole person – one who is complex, growing and evolving. We make assumptions about one another and we may fail to talk, listen and understand how we really feel and think.

Many couples tend to caricature one another and we tend to do this in a negative way. “She always does this.” “He never does that.” In reality, few of us are that consistent.

In upcoming posts, I’ll explore the common communication traps we fall into and how we can keep the flower of love alive.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Positive Potential Medicine radio show is at pwrnradio.com.

Categories
Love Relationships

The Care & Maintenance of Love, Part 1

Recently, I wrote that love is a choice.

Yet in my office, I spend hours counseling men and women whose partners have told them that they no longer love them. The news is devastating and perplexing, and with a sense of hopelessness, they feel distraught.

We often talk of falling in and out of love as if love is something magical and mysterious and out of our control. It’s much like how we think of happiness; some see it as a matter of luck.

In my series, A Hundred Days to Happiness (davidicuswong.wordpress.com), I’ve shown how much of our happiness is within our control. In spite of the challenges of life, many have discovered enduring happiness – through intention, attitude and action.

Love is a flower that requires daily care, but because it is shared by two, it requires both to stay alive, thrive and bloom.

When we begin a relationship, love is in full bloom. Most of us don’t realize what we have to do to keep it that way. We never learned that regular maintenance required. We didn’t get any instruction manual.

Next Post: Cognitive Therapy for Couples

Categories
Love Relationships

It’s All About Love

When my daughter was eight, we would sing along to Beatles CDs as we drove to her Saturday morning dance classes.

“Why are they always singing about love?” she once asked.

“Everything’s about love,” I answered.

Recently, I’ve written of the fulfillment that comes from walking your own path and discovering your positive potential in life. Yet achievement no matter how glorious is ultimately incomplete without the essential ingredient of human life – love.

In Eden Ahbez’s song, “Nature Boy”, Nat King Cole sang, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

Love may be the universal language, but it is also one of the most misunderstood words. In those intimate moments when one person says, “I love you” and the other responds, “I love you, too”, there’s a good chance they don’t mean quite the same thing.

When people think of love they may mean infatuation, physical attraction, lust, or a desire to possess and control another. They may mean feelings of excitement, euphoria and irrationality; your heart in love can simulate your brain on drugs.

So many irrational and criminal acts have been committed in the name of love that we could consider banning this emotion all together, but that would be like dumping on religion as a major source of human conflict. We may also be misunderstanding love. This was not the love that Nat was singing about.

In my family practice, I have seen people fall in and out of love. Once happy couples can change their hearts and minds about each other. Usually, one partner suddenly sees the other in a different light and no longer likes what is seen. Everything the other says and does is shaded in a negative light and the partner falls out of love. One partner is ready for a new life; the other is dumbfounded and heartbroken.

I have seen other couples with long and happy relationships. They share mutual positive regard, respect and caring. There is nothing they cannot forgive.

I have seen mothers still loving their not so perfect sons to the consternation of stepfathers. I have seen parents suffering but loving their defiant, angry teenagers, and I have seen adult children devotedly caring for their aging, dependent parents who may no longer recognize or appreciate them.

The love that makes life fulfilling, connects us to others and renders meaning to our days is abiding and unconditional. It is as much spiritual as emotional. It requires the uncensored affection of a child and the patient maturity of an elder.

Unconditional, it accepts others as they are – not as they should be. It is not dependent on youth, good looks, good behaviour, success or wealth. As in the parable of the Prodigal Son, it is the father’s love of the wayward son – always present at home and waiting.

As a physician, I care for my patients unconditionally. They may make mistakes, not do as they’re told, fall off the wagon and do things they are ashamed of, yet I don’t judge and they are welcomed back. I remain at their service, ready to listen and to help.

I am blessed with some great friends. We have a long history of loving and accepting each other just as we are, with the changes our lives bring us, and in spite of our bad habits. In fact, it is our imperfections that make us human and lovable, and we continue to grow together.

What are the essential features of real love? It is unconditional (like a parent’s love for an infant), respectful, and demonstrated in what we do and how we do it. Appreciation is at the core of this love – a recognition of the other’s uniqueness, of strengths as well as needs.

To feel this love is to recognize the beauty in another person, to be inspired to be and do your best, to see beyond your own concerns, and to see the world as a better, brighter place with that person in it.

To be loved in this way is to feel recognized and understood, to feel appreciated for who you are and just as you are, and to feel at home wherever you may be in the world.

The greatest tragedy is not that we don’t achieve all our goals in life. It is the sad fact that we live and die not knowing how much we were loved.

My model for real love was of course my mother. She devoted her life so much to others I worried that she would become exhausted. Yet love is an inexhaustible resource. The more we give the more we have to give. It is also contagious.

When I tuck my daughter into bed, I remind her that our lives are all about love, and that the love that grandma gave to us and others, we must share with others – through thoughtfulness, gentle words and kind actions great and small.

Upcoming post: Falling in Love and Staying in Love – Cognitive Couples Therapy.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper, and his blog can be found at davidicuswong.wordpress.com, twitter.com/drdavidicuswong and facebook.com/davidicus.wong. His Positive Potential Medicine radio show is at pwrnradio.com.


Categories
Grace Happiness Love

Choosing to Love and Choosing to be Happy (Part 2 of 2)

Though life is imperfect, we can still be happy; though we are imperfect, we are each worthy of love.

The key is in grace, and grace can be manifested in two ways: in attitude and in action.

In my last post, I wrote of grace in attitude – in appreciation, in acceptance and in acknowledging the call for action.

We can express grace in seeing our lives as they are – and accepting the conditions we cannot change. We can express grace in our relationships by accepting the people we love just as they are, not seeking to change them and forgiving them when they disappoint us.

GRACE IN ACTION  Happiness is a choice. Love is a choice.

Though we need an attitude of grace to accept the things we cannot change in life, grace in action moves us to see what we can and ought to do. This is the recognition of our own responsibility for our happiness.

Though we don’t choose the circumstances of our lives and cannot have total control of the outcome of our actions, we can still choose to act with grace: to make our best choices and to follow through with making life better for ourselves and others.

Happiness is not a drug or a drink, a place or a situation, something we buy or another person. It is an attitude and a choice. It is in action.

Though our family and our partners are imperfect and though we make mistakes and hurt each other, we can express grace in our relationships by seeing the best in one another, loving those qualities and bringing out the best in them.

Love isn’t just a feeling that strikes us, an emotion that is there or not there. Love is a choice. Love is an attitude. Love is an action.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Healthwise column appears regularly in this paper, and his blog can be found at davidicuswong.wordpress.com, twitter.com/drdavidicuswong and facebook.com/davidicus.wong. His Positive Potential Medicine radio show is at pwrnradio.com.

Categories
Grace Happiness Love Relationships

Choosing to Love and Choosing to be Happy (Part 1 of 2)

A great goal in parenting is teaching our kids about life and love: how to live good lives and how to love. In spite of our best efforts – our greatest lectures and bedtime stories, and the examples of our own actions good and bad, our children must travel their own unique journeys in life and love.

I don’t want to damper their dreams or ideals while I prepare them for the realities of life. The world is not perfect but we can still be happy. None of us is perfect but each of us is worthy of love.

People talk about finding happiness and imagining it as a place where everything is perfect. They dream also of the perfect partner and falling in love. In the living of life, we will discover that it is seldom perfect and if it ever is, it won’t stay that way. Each of us is imperfect, we all make mistakes, and everyone will disappoint us sooner or later. We will disappoint ourselves.

But we can still be happy in an imperfect world, and we can still love one another imperfect as we are.

The key is in grace, and grace can be manifested in two ways: in attitude and in action.

GRACE IN ATTITUDE  How you see your world, other people and your self filters your vision, shades your feelings and shapes your actions. If you think of yourself as entitled, you will be continually disappointed. If you see yourself as a victim, you will feel angry and defeated.

If you look to what you want and don’t have, you will feel incomplete and wanting, but if you count the good you’ve been given, you will feel blessed and content. If you are not feeling happy today, take a break from what you are doing.

For a moment, put out of your mind your preoccupations, the injustice and the bad breaks in your life. Make a list of the good given to you in life so far – not just what you have this day but what you’ve received in the past through luck or the grace of others. Think most of the things done for you and given to you that you cannot pay back.

If you still struggle to appreciate the good in your life, seek out a friend with a positive attitude not tainted with cynicism. The negative words of friends can cast shadows on our own vision while our positive friends can shine greater light on our circumstances and illuminate our lives.

We can express grace in seeing our lives as they are – and accepting the conditions we cannot change. We can express grace in our relationships by accepting the people we love just as they are, not seeking to change them and forgiving them when they disappoint us.

Next Post:  Grace in Action

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a physician and writer. His Positive Potential Medicine radio show is at pwrnradio.com.