Life Lessons from a Dribbling Mess!

Life Lessons from a Dribbling Mess!

Slightly harsh, but quite accurate in that the dribbling mess is in fact my 15 month old son. I stand by my description, quite literally as i am stood beside him with a snotty nose, spaghetti in his hair holding a spotlessly clean bib…go figure. Today, I kept him home from day care so we could hang out whilst his big brother was with friends, and his mum hard at work.

I like many others have studied long and hard to establish professions in the field of wellbeing, children, family, counselling and really striving to best understand humans and what makes them tick and blow. Turns out, that we perhaps knew all along, and can save ourselves years and tens of thousands of dollars in student fees by just reconnecting with the 15 month dribbling mess versions of ourselves.

Here is what I was shown and reminded of today:

  1. Be you and nothing and nobody else. You rock that epic wobble with your belly out and keep putting your hands in the air like you rightly don’t care!
  2. Get shit done that needs to be done. No lists, no procrastinating just get it done then crack on. Quite literally! Obviously nappies help, but those things that just need to be done without any deep and meaningful process simply get done and then you move on to the trickier stuff.
  3. Get Outdoors. Tears inside, big smiles outside. Fresh air, nature, space, exercise…
  4. Look and listen before you talk and do
  5. Importance of good connections. Keep your family and friends close and strangers at a distance, not daft advice at all. Perhaps as grownups we invest in relative strangers a tad more than close family and good friends.
  6. Listen to your body. Sleep, eat and play. I know it gets a tad greyer when you get older in more ways than one, but everything starts from strong foundations.
  7. Spontaneity. Be open to new experiences and challenges.
  8. Smile, for no other reason but you can and want to.
  9. Express yourself – Quit controlling the uncontrollable. When it tickles you pink then laugh out loud, if it makes you sad then shed a few tears.
  10. Give it a go first and then know when to ask for help.
  11. Be open to new learning / things.
  12. Move on. When it is done, then get over it and get living.
  13. Listen to those that care about you. Really take notice and act on advice from those you love, oh and a big massive dose of unconditional love, hugs and snotty kisses.
  14. Give without expectation of it being returned now or later. Altruism at its best.
  15. It’s okay to climb and push your limits – but to test our upper limits rather than reach a set goal. Yes, I know developmentally the body, including brain have been fast tracked. However, perhaps it’s their boundless commitment to exploring their own limits and not those placed upon them that has a big hand in such exponential growth. No sign of a glass ceiling with these guys.
  16. Play! Wow, do these guys give a master class in how to have fun. Doing fun things and actually having fun are two very different things.
  17. Mindfulness. Being absolutely in the moment. The bugs, dogs, people, food deserve every bit of your focus and attention. No one of the senses gets left out.
  18. If you fall, have a quick look at the closest loved one to you, and if they smile then take that as a vote of confidence in your resilience, and a nod to all your limbs being present and correct. Then carry on being epic.
  19. Listen to your gut and pick your team wisely. Ever noticed how the kids tend to make a confident b’line for some kids and not others. Be cautious of the negative and go climb trees with the positive.

So, tomorrow I intend to let my pasty belly hang out and stride down my hallway with my hands in the air like I just don’t care and then take it from there. Fingers crossed!

Knowing When to Hold on Tight or Let Go?

An earlier post ‘let it rip’ gave a bit of an insight into where this one may be heading.

I had the good fortune to be in a lovely MRI machine yesterday. Oh, it is a sweet pleasure indeed…maybe not, but it got me ‘pondering’, again.

There was the awkward moment where I misheard the radiologist say “everything except for your boxer shorts”, what I heard was “everything but especially your boxer shorts need to be jettisoned from your fine physique”. Fortunately the radiology gown, some quick movement from me and a lazy eye from the operator saved any embarrassment. Well, until the damn gown kept getting stuck and I was lying with my legs spread directly in the viewing line of the radiographers.

What could I possibly have been pondering at such a magical time I hear you ask?

As a counsellor or with self development, is it best to ‘go to town’, which means really invest in the situation, problem or challenge? Or… look elsewhere to clearer paths and brighter skies in the hope the crap stays in the past if we race forward faster enough?

I was lying in this machine that was about 10 inches from my face. In support of this confined space I was then placed in this helmet thing that offered about an inch of space from my face. I was in this tight space for over an hour with this god awful banging and buzzing throughout the whole thing – and that was just the radio station that they were playing, but the machine made a far louder and definitely more intense acoustic version. All of this had been preceded by lots of information and questions about being claustrophobic. Well, I wasn’t until they asked that many times that I was soon feeling less than happy, as to be asked that many times could only mean that I should be freaking out so therefore perhaps I should oblige.

As a disclaimer my approach is solution focused, CBT, Mindfulness on a firm base of person centered counselling. When I work with trauma I do work along a narrative approach to explore unhelpful or inaccurate scripts before explore where clients need and want to go. There is a very strong emphasis and understanding in counselling that you rock up for a session and keep rehashing the crapness of what is going on and then it will eventually become less crap. An image that keeps coming to mind which possibly offers an insight into the weird and wonderful world of my mind is someone sitting in a bath of shite. So, would I ask that person to sit, savour, smell and taste the brutal and quite disgusting texture and reality that you are sat in a bath of your own shit. If you are made to sit in that bath for an extended period of time then you will continue to add to the mess that you are sat in. This then reinforces a sense of guilt, shame, frustration, anger etc. in yourself. Or, would it be useful for the person to take a moment to acknowledge that, yes they are in fact sat in a pile of shite, before exploring a preference of whether to step out and clean up or to commit further to the exploration of the situation. It’s a timing thing, I believe anyway.

Back to the MRI machine. How I dealt with it is perhaps one strong contender of how to approach ‘stuff’ or being ‘in a bath of shite’. That is, I acknowledged where I was, but I also clarified the whens, whys and hows etc. to reduce anxiousness through eliminating the unknowns. I then reassured myself that there was an end in sight, I simply had to get in and on with it and tap into my coping toolkit. I took my mind elsewhere, it in no part meant that I was running away or in denial of where I was or what I was experiencing. It was investing my energy and effort into where I wanted to go rather than amplifying the crapness and claustrophobia of where I was.

To summarise. This is again the pondering of a lifelong learner and curious mind of a counsellor. Primarily it is the ramblings of someone in pursuit of wellness and what this looks and sounds like for me but also those I interact with professionally and personally.

Like ‘letting it rip’ I do wonder if we absolutely acknowledge where we are and the challenges which we are faced with. I am leaning towards an increased investment in time and energy in exploring where we want to be, and then ‘going to town’ on how we get there, and stay there through developing resilience and an ability to cope along the long journey of life, not just one step at a time. That is not for every person and every challenge, but would certainly relate to a massive majority of my own challenges and the clients I work with.

How? It’s taking a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle with wellbeing at the front, middle and end. Connectedness with self, with others and our environment. It’s diet, exercise, mental health and a positive excitement and optimism about your potential and what that may look and sound like and how it would positively ripple in to the lives of those you care about and anybody else that comes in to contact with your contagious awesomeness.

Strong Relationships Include These!

10 Steps to a Happy Relationship

 (Part Two) … and then keeping them?

Food for thought for any relationship, whether you are starting out or you are living it up a fair few years down the track. Without being cryptic or confusing, I believe what underpins all of these is acknowledging that you are married, or in a relationship with somebody else! Celebrate difference and if you have someone that extends you rather than reflects you then heck you are on an exciting path for sure.

This isn’t a 10 step programme, that if followed to the letter, will guarantee love, laughter and eternal companionship. Everybody, and the journey’s they travel, are so awesomely unique that some will connect and others not. I would expect nothing more or less. Each aims to pose a question and reflection for us individually but also as a couple. It’s based on my experience as a counsellor that backs up or challenges what text books or training has told me. When I have seen or heard these points in action the relationships have been on a stronger footing.

  1. Feel Safe (Honest Communication) – You have got to feel safe in a relationship to get anywhere close to feeling like you want to be intimate, physically and emotionally but also in terms of relational stability. This is through open and honest conversations.  Folk are generally outstanding at the talking part, but god awful at listening. Listening means really taking it on board, not simply waiting for your next opportunity to speak. By listening properly, you will hear clearly and therefore have a fighting chance of discovering and understanding your partners wants, needs and expectations. Think dialogue not monologue!
  2. Drop the perfectionism. Everybody is perfectly imperfect, but certainly not perfect so give yourself and your partner a break. Tone down the ‘all or nothing’ philosophy of relationships. “You didn’t ask me about my presentation today, so you have fallen out of love with me”. Accept who they are as you would hope they do for you, within reason that is.
  3. Getting Physical: Physical touch is key to a significant relationship. Yep, this does include sex, but so much more. Giving a hug, holding hands, a genuine kiss. Oxytocin is released which has heaps of benefits such as feeling closer and even a stronger immune system. That doesn’t mean an early morning taser like attack with your ‘morning glory’ whilst sniggering both childishly and blindly optimistic. Check out the short post I put on for securing a good sex life.
  4. This ties into Love Languages, which I highly recommend you and your partner identify and use on a daily basis. Time, Words, Gifts, Touch, Acts. Look them up and explore yours and your partners, together. What does it look and sound like? I use this for all my significant relationships with my kids, family and wife. When I have taken a breath I turbo load this and do all 5 in a day.
  5. Your partner can’t be your everything and all the time. Respect your and their own interests. I asked a colleague at his retirement what was the secret to a long and happy marriage given he was passing his 50th year. He simply said, he salmon fishes and she loves her drama group. It made perfect sense and yes, I am sure they were understating how they nurtured so many years, of what I would describe as a beautiful relationship, but that was front and centre and he didn’t pause for a second with his answer.
  6. Do fun stuff. If a Kmart dash is the most exotic thing you tend to do on weekends, it’s time for a change. And you don’t need a ton of cash or vacation days. Choose to do something fun together. This could be watching a movie, going for a stroll, trying a new restaurant, date night, anything. Anything new and positive can help boost the happiness in your own relationship. For parents in particular, it’s oh so important to be more than mum and dad. Invest in you time, friend time, lover time and partner time. It’s tough but I see a large number of couples who have teenage kids and state ‘they have drifted apart’. Don’t make excuses, it’ll come back and bite you.
  7. Check and Connect – Reunited and it feels so good. When you and your partner reunite—at the end of a day, when one of you comes back from a trip, or even when you wake up—do something to show your love. When your partner comes home, for example, stop what you are doing (within reason) and devote just a few seconds to being completely present. Give them a hug or kiss, look in their eyes, and ask how they are. Not, all at the same time… it would be weird and awkward. Put down your phone, pause the TV…do whatever you need to focus even just a short amount of time on your partner. You both will feel much more connected.
  8. Be respectful. John Gottman is a pioneer on research about the longevity of marriages. In fact, in a longitudinal study, he was able to predict with 93 percent accuracy which couples would eventually get divorced. He has identified what he refers to as the four horsemen, which are predictors of relationship problems—criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The quick antidote for these is to simply be respectful. Rather than criticize, openly communicate without criticism. Instead of contempt, express disappointment without eye rolls or passive-aggressive comments. Ditch the defensiveness; it is important to take feedback so you and your relationship can improve. And rather than stonewall, listen to your partner and have a constructive conversation when things are not going as smoothly as you would like. Learn to communicate even your disappointments with respect.
  9. Just ask and LET IT LAND!. This one takes an open mind. Ask your partner, “What is one thing I can do this week to be a better partner to you?” The response may be surprising.  The goal is not to be defensive— “I already do that anyway!” or “Yay, I wish you would do that, too!” Instead, simply absorb what you hear and take steps to implement your partner’s desire (as long as it is within your moral boundaries). This is a great way to meet needs that you may not have even realized your partner had.
  10. Abide by the 5-to-1 rule. While you may think giving your partner a compliment will counter some negative “feedback” you provide, think again. The “magic ratio” is not 1:1, but rather 5:1. This means that in order to have an overall positive feel about your relationship, you need to have at least five positive encounters (actions, statements) for every negative one. The take home? Spend more time telling and showing your partner what you love and appreciate about them, laugh more, and spend more fun time together. When you do, the tough times are easier to get through.

Above all, be hopeful. Relationships, like life, have ups and downs. If you are in a downward slope right now, have faith: Things can get better. Put some time, energy, and love into your relationship. Focus on being the best partner you can be. Get help if you need it. And see the positive in your partner and your relationship.

You’ll have a better sex life if…

You’ll have a better sex life if… Taking the guesswork out of it

Now this came up in a recent conversation and is never too far away when talking about relationships. There are a few practice methods or modalities that practitioners use, not that you would be able to hear or see any real difference between them. I have always been fascinated by all and pick what connects with me and utilise with clients when I think the fit is right. Anyway, then there is cold, hard research that can join so many dots and even better challenge ‘old’ thinking towards ‘new’ ways, based on fact rather than assumption. John Gottman is a legend in that he didn’t settle for guesswork and that he really has done his homework (along with his team). He trawled through 1000’s of research papers and articles. He also observed relationships in real time as they played out in an apartment and they are just for starters. I certainly use elements of The Gottman Method having been though the training, but I find it a tad prescriptive as a one stop shop therapeutic process. I am however hoping to challenge my own view by continuing to learn more about this method, as anything so backed up by fact and best practice can’t be dismissed too quickly.

So, in summary (from The Normal Bar Study):

Fact: Couples who have a great sex life everywhere on the planet are doing the same set of things.

  1. They say “I love you” every day and mean it
  2. They kiss one another passionately for no reason
  3. They give surprise romantic gifts
  4. They know what turns their partners on and off erotically
  5. They are physically affectionate, even in public
  6. They keep playing and having fun together
  7. They cuddle
  8. They make sex a priority, not the last item of a long to-do list
  9. They stay good friends
  10. They can talk comfortably about their sex life
  11. They have weekly dates
  12. They take romantic breaks
  13. They are mindful about turning toward

Fact: Couples have a bad sex life everywhere on the planet.

Not local but… The Sloan Center at UCLA studied 30 dual-career heterosexual couples in Los Angeles. These couples had young children. The researchers were like anthropologists – observing, tape-recording, and interviewing these couples. They discovered that most of these young couples:

  1. Spend very little time together during a typical week
  2. Become job-centered (him) and child-centered (her)
  3. Talk mostly about their huge to-do lists
  4. Seem to make everything else a priority other than their relationship
  5. Drift apart and lead parallel lives
  6. Are unintentional about turning toward one another

The Gottman Institute certainly doesn’t leave you flapping in a place of , “now what?”. Check their resources out for either professionals and/or couples. https://www.gottman.com/couples/


Hitting a Moving Target, Blindfolded!

Getting the relationship you want, need and deserve.

Normal, what on earth does that even mean? In so many contexts, it’s not only a flawed baseline, but clumsy and quite misleading.

This post could branch off in any direction, ‘normal’ behaviour, ‘normal’ levels of mood, ‘normal’ job and ‘normal family’. Normal and average are interchangeable and very beige. I am reigning this in to talk about ‘normal’ relationships, in terms of the work I do with families and individuals, but primarily couples and relationship challenges.

The ‘normal’ benchmark of relationships is so distorted within society that when reality kicks in we panic and react. The only normal in relationships is there isn’t any such thing, and the sooner we acknowledge the difference and celebrate what diversity brings to our relationships, the sooner we get to experience a deeper and more fulfilling relationship. Many academics and seasoned therapists past and present suggest 3 phases to a couple’s relationship. This contrasts a fair bit to the romantic notion of love and how that is what love looks like from the very start to our passing days.

relationships2The Romantic phase. You can’t help but love this phase. Colours are brighter, the bird song serenades your effortless skipping through each moment and day. Time apart is unimaginable, thanks to endorphins flying around your body. That feel good sensation is fuelled by the brains ‘high 5’ of approval through the release of dopamine and norepinephrine. An awesome duo of neurotransmitters that bathe the body in a sense of wellbeing. This is a period, both conscious and unconscious, where we put our best foot forward…we wear aftershave and everything! Now, this phase can last for seconds to a couple of years, and has to come to a transition point at some stage. It’s at this point we navigate towards the second phase, being the power struggle. This is usually around the time of a definite commitment, such as getting engaged or moving in with our partners. Now, this is like enjoying life as a fun runner, in dress up and face paint to leaping into an Olympic event. They certainly don’t hand out Speights (beer) and a sausage at the end of these big shows (I imagine this is something quite unique to Kiwi events).

Harville Hendrix, suggests ‘it’s like the wounded child takes over. I’ve been good long enough to ensure this person is going to stick around, now lets see the payoff’. The expectations of each partner well and truly step up a gear and the performance each is giving steps down. Being attractive, clever and fun-loving aren’t enough. Partners are now expected to satisfy unmet childhood needs, complement lost self parts, nurture and be forever available.

“Seldom or never does a marriage develop into an individual relationship smoothly without crisis. There is no birth of consciousness without pain” C G Jung. The power struggle sets the stage for growth and the third stage, conscious love. Here the how, why and when’s can’t be done justice within a few sentences, so if this flicks a switch for you check out one of the many texts by Harville Hendrix.  At this stage we-ideally- move from, ‘what can I get from this relationship?’ to ‘what does the relationship need from me?’ It’s a bitter pill to swallow, as holding on for dear life to the romantic phase of the relationship, sits far more comfortably in the sphere consumed by the me, myself and I. Rather than being a hindrance, it is only after you pass the romantic phase do you start to explore and nurture a deeper, longer lasting relationship and love. The key is to send the mantle of relationship expectations based on a perceived social norm on its sweet merry way. It is essential that we embrace, not fear difference and begin celebrating each others uniqueness. As it is this uniqueness that has been unconsciously hand picked to continue your personal growth and emotional maturity, through a relationship. Many folk search tirelessly for a mirror reflection of themselves. Time is better spent looking for someone that extends our strengths and reduces our weakness and vice versa. Much of which is informed by past scripts and our experiences of our own caregivers. Some refer to this as an Imago match. I learnt this lesson over a decade ago in my second year of counselling. Whilst at a colleagues retirement dinner I was genuinely fascinated when I found out he had been happily married for 42 years to his first love. Fresh to life as a married man myself I wanted to know the secret. Straight off the bat his response to my question was ‘we have similar interests but very different hobbies’. I’m sure he undersold the ingredients fully to his impressive marriage, but he didn’t harp on about how they finish each others sentences and have been tennis partners since school, as this was far from the case, it was they acknowledge and support each others differences but their values and beliefs bring them back to a central point of connection.

I scribbled this down recently when talking to folk about identifying potential relationship matches. The first image being what many of us think is a good match and the second is quite often the best match.

There is no secret as far as I know, some folk are making a pretty penny from what amounts to little more and a short lasting pep talk. However, what I would say is that it can offer a huge shift to simply acknowledge difference in your relationship and ignore any thoughts of pursuing ‘normal’. Celebrate the wonderful uniqueness each person brings to the party. Know that difference isn’t as alarming as it may feel or incompatibility, but in fact the foundations for growth, personal and relational. Unsettling at times, but you will do well to embrace it with open arms. I must add that, just in case it may not be obvious, i am in no way including abusive relationships, and I hope this is a context that will not be diffused or associated within this post.

I don’t see these three phases as lineal, but cyclical as we navigate through life and all the highs and crappy bits. There will be conflict, whether overt or covert, it’s making a conscious commitment to the relationship and developing communication that continues to strengthen relationships and enable growth.