Train Your Partner

In my previous post Why Do We Argue?, I explored the very basics of why people argue. To summarize briefly, it is because we all have our own set of experiences from which our core values and our views of the world are created. Because of that, we also each have our own way by which we feel and show love. I mentioned before that I love “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Other influential books that I have read are “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie and “Why Men Love Bitches” by Shari Argov.

It was the combination of these three books that helped me write the third in my series of couples events, which is a lecture series that allows couples to interact with one another and other attendees while they learn how to improve their own relationships. As a quick aside, the thing I love most about being a relationship coach is how the focus of coaching isn’t to understand the “why’s” of the things that are happening. That requires too much focus on the past. While it is beneficial in specific cases, for couples looking to improve the level of fulfillment in their relationships, looking at the present and how to move forward is much more productive. That is what coaching is all about – looking at the present and at what needs to change in the future to meet your vision of a happy life.

To attain that satisfaction in your relationships – ANY relationship – we are each responsible for educating those with whom we are interacting of what we desire in the relationship to find that fulfillment. In other words, we have to train them. Some people get offended at the mention of being trained. I, for one, happen to like the idea of being trained. Maybe it’s because of my military background. Or perhaps it’s because of my seemingly insatiable thirst for knowledge. Whatever the case, I enjoy being educated, especially when it comes to the woman I love.

Men can be dogs, so train us like one.

Men are often stereotyped as being dogs. I agree with this stereotype, so I will use the comparison to explain how you can train your partner to reach a higher level of satisfaction in the relationship, and how your partner can train you.

A dog, by nature, is not inclined to sit and shake your hand on command. In most cases, the dogs are taught how to do so through positive reinforcement and repetition. You tell Sparky to “sit” while you are pushing his hindquarters down. You do this, each time giving him praise when he stays sitting and reward him with a treat. After a few more times, Sparky has learned that when you say “sit”, you want him to put his butt on the ground with his forepaws extended downward, putting himself in a sitting position. When he does that, you make all this fuss and give him some Yummy-Goodness of the type that will put a smile on your doggie’s snout.

You managed to teach a member of your family the behavior you want him to display in specific situations. Men and women can be trained the same way. It requires time and a lot of effort, but the results it will yield are well worth it. It is hard, at times, to ignore less than desirable behavior. Like a dog taking a poop in the middle of your living room floor, some negative behavior has to be addressed. But also like Sparky dropping his load onto your floor, it has to be done at the time of the incident. Otherwise, the lesson is lost and he (read: we) will not fully comprehend what was done wrong. But the next time Sparky goes potty outside, clap your hands, give him a lot of lovin’ and maybe even a little doggie treat.

I don’t need to provide a detailed list of incentives to get your partner to display the desired actions. Use your imagination, based on what you know (or learn) about what motivates them. Dogs are motivated by attention and treats. A man may be motivated by a new sexy lingerie, where as a woman may be motivated by flowers delivered to her office once a month. That brings me to one more crucial point. This technique only works if both people have the desire to please the other person. As heartbreaking as it might be, if your partner does not show any indication of doing what it takes to show you the behavior you need for fulfillment, it may be time to consider finding a partner who does have that desire. You can only train a dog, or human, who has the desire to be trained. But the responsibility is yours and yours alone to let your partner, friend, colleague or whomever what it is that you want and need. If you have a hard time answering that question, begin by asking yourself what makes you smile. If that doesn’t start providing some answers, take the love language test in Mr. Chapman’s book to give you some ideas.

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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.

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…

happ-I-ness

WOW! I cannot believe the attention and feedback that I’ve received from the last couple of posts about arguments. I cannot begin to thank you enough for taking time out of your busy lives and first, reading – then responding to my thoughts. Knowing that there is at least a few of you out there who took something away from my ideas, makes me happy.

And that is the topic of this week’s post – happiness. I remember having a discussion with a very dear friend several years ago on the subject of happiness. At the time, she wasn’t happy with her husband. She became unhappy with me when I told her that her happiness wasn’t his responsibility and that she had to own what was hers.

That DID NOT go over well. As I said, this conversation took place years ago and my ears are still ringing.

I am older and have considerably more life experience now. My views on that topic are not what they once were. What really prompted me to write about happiness this week is another post I read a few days ago by, what appeared to be, a teenager. To summarize, his thoughts were this:

-True happiness doesn’t exist because it can only be obtained by taking something away from someone else.

-Anyone who pursues happiness is a fool.

-There is limited happiness in the world and it gets passed around from person to person, based on one’s actions.

REALLY!?!?

In my post about arguments, I explained why people really argue – because of the differences in core beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. In the following post, I explained that we only had 50% control in any situation that involved another human being.

Both of those theories work for happiness too. I have come to realize how much a person risks when they dedicate themselves to a committed relationship. We do allow another person’s actions and words to have power over us and affect our level of happiness.

Why?

Because we love ourselves. Own what is yours and let the rest go. Let me explain this a different way. When I plan an extravagant date for Tina, I’m doing it just as much for myself as I am for her. Yes, I want to make her happy. Making her happy makes me happy. So really, I’m making the effort to make myself happy.

What I failed to consider when I had that conversation years ago was that by trying to make myself happy, I am giving up some of my control and making that happiness dependent upon Tina’s reaction. So…to the friend with whom I had that discussion years ago – I’m sorry. I was wrong. I’ve realized that at least part of our happiness is dependent upon another person. We always have control over how we react to the control that we relinquish. We may not be able to control our emotions. We can control how we react to those emotions. If you love someone, tell them. Show them. Never stop doing whatever you can to show that you appreciate the vulnerability they display by trying to give themselves happiness through you.

In the spirit of the pursuit of happiness, I have to share some exciting news before I close. Always Opening Doors has teamed up with Designing Love, Inc for a new reality series about the struggles of relationships. We are shooting the first episode in Pittsburgh at the end of April. If you, or anyone you know is married and would be interested in being on the show, please contact me by clicking here.

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.

Why do we argue?

Knowing why you're really arguing can save your relationship

Arguments happen in every relationship. When I say “argument”, I don’t necessarily mean that there is yelling or even that anger is involved. This seems to be the case in a lot of instances, but what I’m referring to is a conversation wherein the people involved have a difference of opinion.

Sometimes things get heated and feelings get hurt. Sometimes it’s all too easy to overlook the times you both have been on cloud nine and all seemed right with the world.

I would, first, like to cover some theories about arguments and why so many marriages end due to “irreconcilable differences”. After giving you a week to process what I’m sharing, I would like to share some tips, tricks and suggestions on how to argue effectively with your partner. This is a step away from the traditional date ideas that I have presented so far, but it is an essential part of the overall goal – to create and maintain a loving relationship with open communication and everlasting courtship.

Arguments occur because of the trait that every human being shares. It’s not exclusive to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual preference, age, or race. That trait is the cause of divorce, fights and even war. It is the difficulty we all have in simply accepting and respecting another person’s right to a different opinion and to accept them as they are.

Think about it. All throughout history are examples of one person holding a certain belief and trying to force that belief on a group of people. Other parts of the world disagree so they jump to the aide (desired or not) of those deemed to be less fortunate or incapable of helping themselves. I am not, even slightly, suggesting that there aren’t circumstances where this isn’t necessary in order to maintain balance and discipline. I am merely pointing out the very basis for why things get heated in the first place.

Relationships are no different. There are two individuals who have each been raised with a certain set of beliefs and other beliefs that have been learned due to life experience. Here’s what a lot of people seem to forget – you fight because you care.

Even if you think the other person is completely off their rocker (and they may be), remind yourself that they are standing their ground, not to be disrespectful or because they don’t care. It is just the opposite. They care a great deal and are standing their ground because of a deeply routed belief system that cannot be changed by anyone except for them. Take a step back and marvel at the human spirit to fight for that in which it believes. Focus on the vulnerability the person in front of you is displaying.

Be you a man or a woman, expressing yourself and standing your ground makes you vulnerable to the person in front of you. You are saying, “Hey, this is me. I’m opening up and making myself available to ridicule and judgment.”

People often associate compatibility with another person by how much (or little) they argue. I disagree. Compatibility is simply the ability of both people in the relationship respecting the others right to a differing opinion and, at the very least, tolerating those differences. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to have anything in common or have to see eye to eye on certain issues. But that is an entirely different discussion.

This is all about realizing why you’re really arguing with one another and how you can see the truth as a means to strengthen your relationship. Come back next week to learn some tricks to effective arguing that could bring you closer together.