Thursday, November 13, 2008

Love and Money and Compassion ..... and Growing Up!!!

In these times of economic anxiety, couples can begin to worry about their financial security, and may even start to blame one another for their earning or spending habits. Many of us find it difficult to talk about money without becoming emotional and defensive. By learning to talk about money, we begin to grow up.

Trust and security are the foundations of a healthy relationship. Financial stability is one brick in this foundation and every couple will need to figure out a way to communicate about their feelings around money. Communication is the keystone when it comes to financial management between couples. So how do you develop the skills to talk about money…..

Be brutally honest with yourself and compassionately honest with your spouse. If you spend more then you make, keep your spending habits a secret, or fail to follow a budget, you need to admit this to yourself and to your spouse. Honesty about finances is the first step to developing an adult relationship with money. As you take responsibility for your own spending habits you want to avoid blaming or shaming your spouse for his or her monetary habits. The blame game only serves to build up those defenses that inhibit grown-up communication.

Know yourself and your partner. Because money is the number one reason couples fight, it will become important for you to explore your own beliefs and expectations around money. How was money handled in your family of origin, what does it mean to you, do you see money as power, as evil, and a means to an end? Once you identify your beliefs, you can choose to accept them or challenge them – but own them, they are yours. Share these beliefs with one another so that you know where you stand. Be just as curious about your partners’ beliefs as your own and use the conversation to demonstrate compassion for one another.

Accept Responsibility. Responsibility for your financial health belongs to both individuals, even when only one partner makes most of the money or pays the bills. Decisions about who manages the money can depend on who is best suited to the job, who has the most time available, or who is most interested in this particular task. Maybe in your situation, the tasks will be divided and spread between you. Either way, both parties need to be aware of what the other is doing. You need to know and understand your budget and you need to accept responsibility for it.

Compromise. Because you will have differing beliefs about money, you will likely want to spend it in different ways. This is normal, it’s natural, in fact, it’s desirable. We really don’t want to be married to someone who is exactly like us. We need the balance, the yin, the yang! We each bring different thoughts, ideas, and gifts to the relationship. Use these gifts to develop a strong and realistic budget.

Learn and accept the basics of money management. A few basic things hold true when it comes to money. Once we accept them, our lives can become simple, our finances can align, and we can find the security we long for in our relationship. The basics are: don’t spend more then you earn, stick to your budget, save a little for emergencies and for the future, spend a little on things that make you happy, develop compassion for yourself and your spouse when things don’t go as you expected.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Five Steps to Loving Your Partner As They Are……..and provide Grace

Most of us put an incredible amount of energy into trying to get our partner to change. How many times have you argued with your spouse, blaming them and/or defending yourself for some small, yet bothersome trait? We may hold onto a belief that, “if only he/she would change, I would be happy.” This common pattern leads us to feel disappointed and disillusioned.

But what if your partner is perfect the way they are. In fact, what if they are who they are supposed to be. Let’s suppose you would like to take on this, more positive, view of your partner. How would you go about doing just that?

1. Stop looking for the ideal partner or the ideal relationship. We usually enter into a love relationship with the idea that our partner will “complete us.” We expect that they will make us feel special or better. Although you may have this ideal firmly planted in your mind, it is often incompatible with reality. It may be more about how you expect things to be, how you want them to be, rather then what they really are. Neither your partner nor your relationship is perfect. It never will be. When you stop looking for the ideal partner or the ideal relationship, you can start to be grateful for what you do have and realize that what is in front of you is what should be there.

2. Be observant. Instead of hoping for the ideal partner or perfect relationship, look at what you really have in front of you. What is your relationship really like? What is your partner really like? The only way to know this is to be observant.

3. Understand your partner’s intention. Think about what you observe in your partner and start wondering. Why is she the way she is? Why did he do what he did? Why does this problem we have exist? What did they really mean when they said that? Don’t stop at the first answers you come up with — dig deeper, and deeper, until you really understand the intention of your partner. As Steven Covey said, “Seek first to understand.” You may need to stay calm and ask questions of your spouse to fully understand. Assume the best in your spouse, even when they are acting poorly. When you do understand their intentions, give them grace for how they expressed themselves.

The definition of Grace: The exercise of love, kindness, mercy, favor;
disposition to benefit or serve another; favor bestowed or privilege conferred.

“To understand everything is to forgive everything.”—Buddha

4. Acceptance. Once you’ve observed and begun to understand your partners’ intentions, accept them as they are. Accept the relationship as it is. Accept this as fact. There is freedom in accepting things as they truly are. You can let go of fantasy and the anxiety that holding onto the ideal brings.

“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” —George Orwell

5. Love and compassion. Once you’ve accepted your partner for who he or she is, learn to love them, as they are. Look for the good in them, in what they do, and in their intentions. When you absolutely cannot find the good, understand that this is because of their own suffering and have compassion.

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy,
practice compassion.” —Dalai Lama

Wednesday, March 12, 2008



Almost all couples come into counseling and report poor communication with their loved one. They are usually not looking for someone to just hear their words or listen absently, but to share their experience, their view of world. This sharing of experience validates their existence and their value. “The first duty of love is to listen” (Paul Tillich). When we feel truly listened to, validated, our spirit soars and we can relax or grow or change or be.

A lack of true and intimate communication can lead to loneliness, a sense of isolation and ultimately anger at the person we hold dearest. It cuts to our core need for connection, to be known as we are.

“Deep listening is miraculous for both listener and speaker. When someone receives us with open-hearted, non-judging, intensely interested listening, our spirits expand.”
Sue Patton Thoele

However, we don’t converse in ways that allow this to happen. We are trained to converse from an adversarial position. Many things get in the way. Our own thoughts and agenda, assumptions and preconceived ideas, and our own emotional reactivity to what our partner is saying can block our ability to truly hear what is being said.

Here are some tips to improve your ability to listen to your partner. What you get in return will be a more satisfying and open relationship.

Make eye contact. The words we use to express our views are only a small percentage of communication. To send a message to your partner that you are truly paying attention, make eye contact. Lean into them, soften your facial expression, and keep your body stance open and non-judgmental.

Focus on what is being said and its underlying meaning. Good listeners do not spend their listening time preparing their defense or trying to correct what is being said. Good listeners first attempt to hear the words and then the underlying meaning of what is being said, even when they may disagree with the content. Steven Covey says, “seek first to understand” what your partner is saying. This is easier said than done because it calls for you to suspend your own needs and focus on the needs of your partner. It calls for you to temporarily put your need to correct the facts, defend yourself, or judge your partner’s statements aside while you focus on understanding.

Mirror and validate what is being expressed. Mirroring your partner’s facial expressions, body language, and words is part of the reciprocal nature of a conversation. It is almost a dance that lets your partner know you understand what is being said. The ultimate in mirroring occurs when a healthy parent is responding to an infant. They mimic the child’s facial expressions, noises, and emotions, letting the child know he or she is not alone. Through this process, the infant can grow and develop. It is the same with your partner. You can each grow and develop through the process of providing an empathic ear to one another. When you validate you respect what is being said and ultimately felt, even if you may not agree with the content.

Manage your reactions. Strong reactions to your partner usually result from a disagreement in what is being stated. You may become emotionally reactive because they said something that you experienced as hurtful, fearful, or shameful. However, understanding, compromise, and resolution cannot result until each party is heard and understood. This goes back to a temporary suspension of your own needs and if only for a few moments, existing only for your partner. Your turn will come, but if that is your primary focus, you will not extend an empathic ear and will ultimately not “get” your partner.

Avoid making assumptions. Even couples that are just learning to communicate often make assumptions about what the other will say. Maybe this is a result of earlier hurtful experiences, but making assumptions cuts your partner off and does not allow them to fully express themselves. Even if you do know what your partner will say, he or she needs to say it.

Empathy, empathy, empathy. Empathy is the ability to experience the emotional content of another human being. Ron Shaffer describes empathy as “the inner experience of sharing in and comprehending the momentary psychological state of another person. By accepting your partner’s feelings in a nonjudgmental manner, you will create an open and safe environment. For true intimacy to occur, a safe environment in which to be heard must exist engaged between couples. Empathy is the basis for growth and change. It is what a mother provides her infant daughter; it is what a therapist provides his client; and it is the element that allows us to grow and change. Empathy is transformative.

Be polite and kind. Rather then shining light on your partner’s weaknesses, focus on his or her strengths. Be gentle with weaknesses, and sometimes they melt away. Focusing on weaknesses strengthens them and leads to bitterness and anger. Avoid interruptions, negative facial expressions, and giving only partial attention. Treat your partner in the ways you would like to be treated – with respect and dignity.

The transformative nature of good listening can be an amazing aspect of a healthy relationship. We are drawn to and keep people close who make us feel worthy, valuable, and understood. These skills will enhance not only your primary relationship, but also your relationship with your children and co-workers.