Is Your Relationship Working?

Keep a daily tally of both positive and negative occurrences.

One of the most common questions that people ask when they are entering or are about to enter a long term, committed relationship is, “How do I know it will work?” At some point, every couple with whom I have worked has asked this question, or some variation of it. Well, at least one of the people involved would ask. In the spirit of full disclosure, that used to be me. The short answer to that question is, YOU DON’T!

The reality that most people don’t want to hear is that there is no way of predicting how one will feel tomorrow, let alone 20 years down the road. “I will ALWAYS love you” is a sweet sentiment and in truth, is an exclamation that can be made without running the risk of giving false hope – if the statement is taking literally and without assumption. “I will always love you”, does not mean “I will always be with you.” What it means is that, for what ever reason, there is something between the two of you that holds significant value to the proprietor of that statement. A value that will never diminish in his or her eyes. While there is no way to guarantee the outcome of the relationship, that value is something that can be used to determine if the relationship is working for you right now.

To sum it up, you need to see more positive than you do negative within the relationship. In other words:

NET POSITIVE > NET NEGATIVE

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as it may seem. Reason being that each person holds a different point system for the values that mean the most to them. You can refer to the article on core values by reading an article on arguing. It’s not enough to make a pros and cons list and simply list the things about your relationship into their respective category. This is a part of it, but first, you have to sit down and assign a point value to the issues in your relationship, be them positive or negative. For example, I firmly believe in the love language philosophy. Simply put, the book by Gary Chapman explains that every person has their own language which depicts the manner in which they give and receive love. For me, physical contact and terms of endearment are my top two languages. These are the most common ways that I express that I love someone and the best way for me to feel loved by someone. Therefore, I place a higher value on these occurrences within my relationship than someone who likes to give and receive gifts as one of their primary languages.

To help determine if the current status of the relationship works for me, I use a five point scale, ranging from (+2) – (-2). It is easy for me to sit back and think about the daily interactions that I have in my current relationship. Actually, my girlfriend makes it pretty easy for me because we happen to speak the same two languages. She is never shy with telling me how much she loves me and she is not stingy with walking up and giving me a hug and kiss for no reason at all. I’m a lucky guy! But getting back to the point, I realize that most couples do not speak the same language. More importantly, even if they do, it is a scientific fact that negative occurrences far outweigh positive occurrences. It takes (on average) five positive occurrences to equal one negative occurrence. Looking at things in an objective manner is difficult for anyone to do.

The suggestion I give is to carry a pocket sized notebook with you at all times. Write down each occurrence with your partner and tally the results at the end of the week. By occurrence, I am saying refer to the list that you make yourself of the things that hold the most and least value to you. Below is a sample list of positive and negative occurrences.

POSITIVE

  • Tells me she loves me – +2

  • Physical contact – +2

  • Gifts – +1

  • Honesty – +2

  • Spend time together – +2

  • Wants Kids +1

NEGATIVE

  • Lies -2

  • More time at work -1

  • More time with friends -1

  • Abusive (any kind) -2

  • Cleanliness -1

NEUTRAL

  • Politics -0

  • Religion -0

  • Similar family structure -0

Notice how some of the list is generalized and won’t change, (eg Wants Kids). Others are ever changing and the number of occurrences can greatly impact the results. This list is just an example of some things that can go toward your own list of the overall determination if the relationship is working for you. For the sake of the exercise, keep track of things that can fluctuate, such as physical contact. You can be as detailed about some of the list as you want. For example, in your notes about contact, you can put that you spent 20 minutes sitting on the couch holding hands or you can simply put a check mark indicating that there was physical contact in a positive way.

You can also determine how long you keep track of these occurrences, however I suggest that you spend at least a month doing so. Every couple goes through ups and downs, so observing things under a microscope will need to occur for a length of time for an accurate picture. Here’s the other thing to keep in mind; if you end up with results that yield more of a net negative than a net positive, that does not mean that you should end the relationship right then and there. If you want to see the relationship work, then share your results with your partner. Put the ball in their court, but do so tactfully. I strongly caution against giving ultimatums unless it is absolutely necessary. Saying “If you don’t change this, then I will leave,” is an extreme step to take and in most cases, will result in you having to enforce your statement.

Instead try eliminating finger pointing words when addressing occurrences that hold negative values. Only spend a little time addressing the negative aspects of the relationship by mentioning it once, then following up with positive occurrences, giving praise where praise is due. Begin the next item with something positive again before addressing something negative, followed by another positive. In other words, two positives for every negative.

This brings me to the issue of honesty. I have been told on more than one occasion that I am “too honest” at times. I believe in sharing everything with my partner, even when I know it will be difficult or even cause tension. But I forge ahead regardless to show her that I have the utmost faith in our ability to work through anything and come out the other side stronger than ever. I am curious to hear your thoughts about the level of honesty you feel should be present in your relationship and why. Please leave a comment on here or you can contact me at Always Opening Doors.

Finger Pointing Words

I’ve been to counseling as an individual and counseling as a couple. One of the things that has been repeated over and again, almost like a mantra, is using “I” statements to express how I feel. Maybe I’m just slow. Alright, I know that I’m slow at times. I don’t think that I’m the only one, though, when it comes to understanding what exactly that entails. I have worked with a number of clients that have repeated the same thing; “I know how to communicate. I used “I” statements.”

Good for you. I’ve said the same thing. It wasn’t until I went to a workshop at Sandler Training in Wexford, PA, that I finally grasped the absolute right way to use “I” statements. They put us through an exercise that really opened my eyes to the application of this useful tool. I modified the exercise to be applicable to a situation in which I found myself. I used the same tactic with one of my client couples. At the end of the exercise, both of them just sat there looking at one another. Their communication had reached a new level; the likes of which neither of them had, until that moment, yet experienced.

So what was this mind blowing revelation?

The exercise at Sandler put us in a mock networking event. The rules were simple. Go around the room, talking to people as you would in a real networking event. The only stipulation was that we couldn’t use I, we, us, our or any derivative of those words. We had to talk about ourselves and what we did in an extremely abbreviated fashion. The person who slipped up first had to sit down and was out of the game.

For those of you who know me on a personal level know that I love the sound of my own voice. In other words, I love to talk. As a coach, I am constantly having to remind myself that I have two ears and only one mouth; I should use both proportionately. It should come as no big surprise that I was one of two people left standing when the exercise came to an end. My approach was very simple.

Jeremy Cid. Professional relationship coach and founder of Always Opening Doors.”

Then I would fire off one question after another as they answered the preceding one, always including the word “you”.

What do you do?” “Where did you go to school?” “How long have you been with company Y?”

Having those restrictions placed on my vocabulary that is against everything I have ever learned about communication was, again, one of the most eye opening experiences of my life. Not only on a professional level, but on a personal level as well. Stay with me, I promise I’m getting to the point.

What I learned is that when it comes to communicating with another person about how we feel, it simply is not enough to use “I” statements. The secret, that is so hard to accomplish, is to eliminate common words from our vocabulary. Words like she, you, he, him, her, our and any derivative of the like. This allows for all of the focus to be put on us (the speaker) and our feelings, without placing any focus on the other person, what so ever. We have to refer to the situation itself, excluding any reference to the person who “wronged” us.

When I’m yelled at, it makes me feel like I’m a child being scolded. I don’t feel like I am an equal part of this relationship.”

Apply any situation and any feelings to this and the result is the same; a way of expressing ourselves that allows our partner to see what we’re feeling without having to try and look over that defensive wall that is built as soon as the word you escapes our lips. Even if neither person is in the wrong for anything, eliminating “finger pointing words” opens the door to begin to see how the other person really feels.

As a coach, it is not my responsibility to give my clients the answers. It is my responsibility to ask the questions that will lead the people I am trying to help to find the answers for themselves. I ask the questions that will lead them to setting attainable goals so that they can move forward and achieve the type of relationship they desire. I have challenged myself to stripping the word you, and any of it’s derivatives that places the focus on the other person, from my vocabulary.

While working with a client couple after the workshop, I did the same thing. They were addressing a situation that had occurred a couple of days prior in which neither of them were happy with how they had handled things. When I asked them to recount what happened, both individuals used finger pointing words when talking to me and you when addressing each other. Both of them started getting worked up again and I could see those defensive walls getting higher with every use of she, he or you. Once both of them had finished their sides of the story, I asked them to tell me what happened again, this time, avoiding the use of those finger pointing words. Instead, referring specifically to the situation.

When I’m called a b@#$%, I get angry”

And so the questioning began. I guided them to expressing what they felt and what the results would be if that continued to happen through a series of open ended questions. If either person slipped, I stopped them and asked them to try again. Upon reaching the point of expression where person A had expressed, “When this happens, I feel ___. When I feel ____, I want to ____. If I keep feeling ____, then ___ will happen.”, I would ask the other person how they felt about what they heard.

The result was that one person was able to express that they were scared of being left, so they reacted on that fear. The other person felt as if they weren’t really a part of the relationship, like they were one of the children. I wish that I could express the change in the air around us as the couple heard how the other person really felt. Like I said, they had never experienced that before and both of them sat in stunned silence. A silence that was broken by one of them asking me, “Where were you when I was in therapy?” We all laughed and hugged at their break through. We then had the discussion about what goals they could set for themselves for the week to help keep them moving forward.

I want to close this out by stating that I am not bashing therapy or counseling in any way. I think that it can be extremely beneficial for those who have that specific goal in mind. The goal of dealing with the past. The goal of coaching is not to delve into the past. The goal is to determine how a person can get to where they want to be. It’s about looking forward.

If you would like to learn more about eliminating finger pointing words from your vocabulary, please feel free to contact me at Always Opening Doors. All consultations are free to help you determine if I can be of any assistance to you and/or your partner.

Your Worst Enemy

There are many ways in which a person may define a relationship. There are many types of relationships. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a relationship as:

A kinship

or

A state of affairs existing between those having interactions or dealings

One thing that people often forget to consider is that within any relationship involving two people, there are actually three relationships at work. There is the interaction between the two parties, but there is also the interactions between each party within themselves. To add some illustration, I have come up with the following formula:

He with her + Her with herself + He with himself = Relationship

The previous analogy that I used to describe relationships was that we are all kids playing in a big sandbox with Lego’s. Our lives are the blocks (Lego’s) with which our relationships are built. We have the ability to create any life we want, and have it be complete and satisfying all by itself. In order to obtain something greater than that which we can create ourselves, we build relationships with those around us by sharing our Lego’s. The sum of those Lego’s together is what generates a functional relationship.

So what happens when we don’t have the blocks necessary to build something on our own? If you apply the lack of blocks in a mathematical formula to match the one above, you will be left with an incomplete equation. One that must be solved for X before the relationship (read: equation) works.

He with her + Her with herself + X = Relationship

But even the equation above doesn’t really depict the entirety of the equation. It is much more complex than what is indicated above. Obviously, the sum is affected by the incomplete “he with himself” part of the equation. Because that part of the equation isn’t available, the “he with her” part of the equation is also affected.

Now this is where I am going to piss some people off. I’m sure of it. With the demonstration above as proof, I say that we are our own worst enemy within any relationship. Even relationships in which we are a legitimate victim.

I understand that people who stay in abusive relationships do so because it is a situation in which they feel the most comfortable. That’s not to say that they enjoy the situation or that they deserve any kind of abuse. I am simply saying that, for whatever reason, it is too terrifying to step outside of their comfort zone to remove themselves from a situation that they certainly don’t deserve. They would rather continue to suffer the abuse than to risk something which might be worse.

Now forget the rest of the equation for a moment and focus on the “he with himself” and “her with herself” part of things. To put it even more broadly, “we with ourselves”. That is the focus of this post. Each individual and the relationship that we each have with ourselves. It is the only relationship in our lives that allows us to have 100% control of the outcome of any situation. You can apply any circumstance or situation for the sum of the equation.

Me + myself = Career, or Me + myself = personal life (just to name a couple)

The more focus we put on nurturing the relationship with ourselves, the greater the sum of our lives will be. The more Lego blocks we will have, all to ourselves, with which to build whatever we desire. The more we neglect the relationship with ourselves, we will find that things just don’t add up as we wish.

Below is my Top 15 list of questions that can be modified to fit any situation. Answer these questions, and you will find the tools required to perform the maintenance on the relationship with yourself to keep things running in prime condition. The more work you do on this relationship, the bigger your sum will be.

  • What is it that you love to do?
  • What do you feel that you were born to do?
  • What do you do best?
  • What can you do well, with little effort?
  • In what areas are you naturally strong?
  • What would motivate you to tap into those strengths more often?
  • What skills can help you get to where you want to be in the future?
  • What is something at which you always wanted to be extraordinary?
  • When you die, what is something about which you will feel better knowing you have accomplished?
  • What would you like to do more of in your life?
  • What is about what you already have that is not satisfying?
  • What motivators are missing?
  • What makes you smile?
  • In the areas of your life with which you are satisfied, what has helped you accomplish that satisfaction?
  • Who would you be if you had nothing to prove?

The love that we show ourselves by constantly working on that relationship to obtain our desired results is the single most important aspect of any relationship with another person. The most functional relationships consist of two individuals who are complete and satisfied by themselves who have chosen to share their lives (Lego blocks) with one another to build something bigger. Any dissatisfaction in the relationship with ourselves will affect our relationships with others.

Pittsburgh Couples on TV

This morning at 7:00 am.

Today is a very special day for me, my company and some very dear friends who have stuck with me through thick and thin. We begin shooting the pilot for our new reality series, It’s Not Over.

The show is going to focus on local couples (for now) who have lost the spark in their relationships or who just want to find a way to bring back that spark that brought them together in the first place. I have teamed up with a few other local companies to really bring something special to these real life couples who are opening up their hearts and homes in order to keep their love alive.

The show is a celebration of those who realize that love alone is not enough to keep a couple together. It takes work. So I am offering my services as a relationship coach to them, then sending them off to celebrate the new beginning in their relationship.

Vague, I know. But I don’t want to spoil all of the details just yet. We have been shooting footage for the past couple of days, getting some beautiful footage for the opening and closing credits. So if any of you local yinzers want to be a part of this, come on out and share your story with us.

You can email me at alwaysopeningdoors.aod.com for the address or for more information.

It’s NOT Always The Thought That Counts

Thoughts do not generate results; actions do.

Growing up as a child, and even now as an adult, I hear people say, “It’s the thought that counts.” Cynics will usually follow up with something that is equally cliché such as, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

I will agree that there is some truth to the first statement. I am more inclined to agree more with the second statement. Of course, that is relevant based solely on your individual belief on what constitutes an eternity surrounded by fire and brimstone. I do not want to instigate a debate on Heaven or Hell, their existence and how one might acquire access into either place. Rather, I am going to focus more on the first statement and why I believe it is NOT always the thought that counts.

If you are driving down the road during a horrendous storm and you pass someone who is broken down on the side of the road, emergency lights flashing, do you stop to offer assistance? Do you even think about it?

I believe in the genuine ‘good nature’ of people and will assume that you at least think about it. But thinking about it does absolutely nothing to help the individual that is stranded.

Does it?

I will go even further out on a limb and speculate that you (we) will often think about our partner in a given situation. Maybe they are running late for work. Perhaps we think about offering to help or even go so far as to actually offer. If you pay attention to your partner and know them in the way that couples who cohabitate do, you will have likely learned some of their patterns and rituals when getting ready in the mornings. Maybe she likes to take a cup of coffee with her to work. If you know this about her (or him), instead of asking if you can do anything to help or think about asking – just get up and fix her coffee for her. Better still, redevelop your own pattern so that you can do this each morning.

If you are in the middle of an argument, you may think about being the bigger person by taking action to change the course of the conversation, even if you are not in the wrong, but decid against it because of pride. Swallow your pride and take action. The thought alone does nothing to improve the situation.

The next time you think about someone – TELL THEM.

The next time you see a stranger stranded on the side of the road, take the time to stop and at least offer assistance. Even if you don’t know the first thing about fixing a car. Who knows, maybe their son or daughter was in a terrible car accident and they were on their way to the hospital when their car decided to crap the bed. Worse still, in their haste to get to their beloved child, they left their cell phone sitting on the kitchen counter and have no way to call anyone for help.

What ever the situation or with whomever you are engaged (or could be engaged), take action on those random acts of kindness. Take action on those thoughts. Thoughts alone do not generate results. Action does.

 

Distance of the Hearts

We yell b/c there is a distance of the hearts.

In light of the fact that the majority of hits I have gotten on my musings from search engines have been from “arguments”, or some variation of the word, I have decided to break down some of the various aspects of arguing. I do this more as an evaluation of myself than to give the impression that I “know it all.” But, if something I say here is applicable to you – USE IT.

One of the most detrimental actions a person can take in communication with another person is to yell. I, myself, have been guilty of this disrespectful act. I have also been one to research and spout numerous theories about why we yell. I recently read something that, while it may not be 100% accurate, did give me pause.

Why do we yell at a person that is sitting right next to us? Why do we yell when we are angry?

Because we lose our composure – perhaps. Because we feel that we can’t be heard by speaking in a regular tone – sometimes.

How about distance? Definitely. The distance to which I refer has nothing to do with how physically far we are from the person with whom we are speaking. It is a distance of the hearts. In order to try and recover that distance, we yell to be heard. As we get angrier, greater is the distance felt by our hearts.

When a couple is in the throes of seduction, they whisper. Be it the sweet nothings that fill the pit of our stomachs with butterflies or nothing more than a moan, covering our flesh with bumps of geese. Love is best heard in the form of a whisper. Our hearts feel close. There is no distance to cover. As the love continues to grow, the distance becomes even less until both hearts seem to occupy the same space. At last, we do not have to speak. We simply look at each other. We understand. We accept.

The next time you feel like yelling, stop. Take a breath. Clamp your hand over your mouth if need be. Before you say a single word, remind yourself that you love the person in front of you. Then tell them. Just saying the words can have a magnificent change in what you are about to say. More importantly, how you are about to say it. If this proves inadequate, walk away. Take some time to quell the storm raging inside of you.

The purpose of a serious discussion is to make our respective points and to find a resolution. Even if the only resolution to be found is that we are heard. There is no resolution to be found through yelling. It is disrespectful to the person you love. More importantly, it is indicative of the lack of respect that you have for yourself. We all have the capacity to keep our heart close to the one we love. By yelling, we are saying that we lack the capacity, or the desire to do just that.

If speaking in a manner that reduces distance is something that will require practice, write your thoughts down. Let your partner assign your whispering voice to you as they read your words. Whatever it takes, do not yell. It only increases the distance between you.

I will see you back here on Friday. Until then…

How To Argue

Last week, I covered the real reasons that people argue and some of the things that people tend to do during arguments. As I said, arguments are going to happen. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. While they are indicative of our difficulty in simply accepting another person’s right to have a differing point of view (without the need to project our beliefs on them), arguments are also indicative of the beauty of the human spirit to fight for that in which in believes.

The key, is to learn how to argue effectively. One of THE MOST important things to remember when arguing with your partner is that, at best, you have 50% control over the outcome. But you have 100% control over how YOU react. More than anything else, I want my partner to know that I love her, even when we don’t agree.

Especially when we don’t agree.

So I tell her. Be it as soon as you realize that you are about to enter a discussion in which you do not see eye to eye or in the middle of a conversation that has gone off track, stop and tell your partner that you love them. DO NOT SAY ANYTHING ELSE. Let the words hang in the air and do not expect the sentiment to be expressed in return. Focus on what you can control in the situation; her (or his) response is not a part of that.

Something else to do as you’re saying this is to sit within arm’s reach of your partner, and touch them. Hold their hand. Rest yours on their lap. Hug them. Anything that creates a physical closeness between the two of you to help compensate for the emotional gap. If one, or both, of you are opposed to being intimate during an argument, sit close enough so that it is still an option.

One thing that I’ve spent a lot of time laughing about is how couples try to “understand” why the other feels they way feel. Realizing that I may be inviting angry responses about how insensitive I am, I’m going to say that this is one of the most ridiculous notions that I have ever heard. Forget about the differences in how men and women think. Focus more on the life aspect of how we all think. Our emotions are generated by a set of core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Those core beliefs are built over a life time of every single, individual experience to which we are all exposed.

The only way to really understand why a person believes or feels they way they do, is to have shared every single experience with the other person, without having had any of your own. Instead of spending all of your time in trying to understand why your partner feels a certain way, spend more time in trying to understand exactly what it is that your partner is feeling.

Just because he or she is angry and yelling does not have to mean that they are angry at you. It could mean that they are angry at their boss that dumped a lot of work on them for the weekend. It could mean that they are mad at themselves about any number of things. The only thing you know for sure, until you ask what they are really feeling, is that you are the recipient of their anger – justified or not.

As a word of caution, don’t assume that you are not the reason for their anger. Simply, take the time to ask, in an active and polite voice, to explain everything that is on their mind. Don’t interrupt. If you must, place your hand over your mouth until they are finished. Then summarize what you heard back to them.

By “active” voice, I mean that you should be clear and direct in what you are saying. “I feel (blank)”. There is no benefit to holding things in. This is especially important once you realize that you will not share the same point of view. It is far better to say, “I understand that you feel this way. You are entitled to how you feel and I appreciate that you shared this with me. This is how I feel, and that is okay.”

Taking a cool off period can help keep emotions in check.

One other tactic that I am a huge fan of. is time outs. I am a very passionate person, and there are times where that passion spills over during an argument and the volume of my voice starts wanting to increase. Yelling, though it may feel good on occasion and may even be necessary, should never be directed at your partner. It is disrespectful. To avoid this, you have to be aware of your own warning signs, just as I do. Once you feel things welling up inside to where you feel that you have to yell in order to be heard, stop the conversation. Take 15 minutes, 30 minutes, a day – whatever it is that you need to regain control of the emotional reaction. Then come back and discuss things in a respectful manner.

Again, people argue and fight because of the human spirit to fight for that in which it believes. You will never be able to make another person change their mind and you will never be able to truly understand everything that contributes to what a person feels. Emotions are generated from a life time of experiences that all determine what one believes about themselves and the world around them. Respect the beauty of the fact that you have someone in front of you who is willing to make themselves so vulnerable by expressing their inner most thoughts.