Part One: Tech & Relationships

Technology to find a relationship: Why not!?! (Part One) Technology and the pursuit of finding the one in the modern age

The next two posts are based on the topic I was asked to talk about on a radio station recently. https://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/the-health-hub/tony-jones-is-netflix-affecting-your-marriage/

The loudest part of the question that hit me first was what on earth is going on with ‘the one’. Perhaps the definition of the one has changed… by perhaps I mean I believe it has changed and massively. We want everything and we want it yesterday!

The problem is, perhaps some looking are positioned on a lofty platform to their potential partner and with such a high bar it is not unlike a knitted jumper from your gran at Christmas! Well-intentioned but plain disappointing. A phrase that comes up a lot with all lines of clients is you get what you look for, well what happens if you are looking for the impossible! Can’t be overly surprised that you don’t find it and folk keeping falling short of perfection, if you achieved it how could they not, right?

Dr. Letamendi says in Time magazine, “Now that we can interact with hundreds – no thousands – of people simultaneously, we’ve strengthened the impact that others have on our self-value.”

Everyone and thing is so accessible, and along with a disposable mentality are we denying ourselves the opportunity to experience anything other than a swipe left or right for a quick hook up? Heck, for some I could imagine the glow of a mobile screen lights up a room whilst your having sex, fed by the driver that you deserve and are entitled to something better and now, well a couple of minutes from now.

Technology to find a relationship: Why not! Online now all the initial tick lists have been done, looks, hobbies, interests, profession, outlook etc. By the time you meet your date for the first time you know what their friends and family look like and more than likely with some careful examination of multiple Instagram photo angles you can see where they live, what they eat and at the very least inside leg measurement.

We have all become busier, society and individuals within it pride themselves on busyness. It used to be mundane chat about the weather but now its peacocking about how busy we are. We are busy some of the time and spend the other half of the time telling other folk how busy we are. Only the other day I was in a ‘meeting’ at a café with an agent sharing how busy he was for the first 20 mins. This was quickly followed by summarising a luxurious and indulgent weekend ahead and suggesting we meet for coffee the next day. Societal shifts and demands are nothing new. Folk are genuinely time restricted, unfortunately mainly due to being unfiltered in access to their employers and others. Holiday clubs, before and after school clubs are doing bloody outstanding business at the moment as parents put in the hours. Family systems and general lifestyles are informed by tech and then monitored accordingly.

The reality is technology opens massive potential and access to heaps and damned quickly. Technology isn’t the problem any more than the bygone fear that TV was taking us all to hell but at the very least taking our souls through the glass screen. It’s how we as humans utilise and interact with it, and ensure it is a tool to facilitate our lives as opposed to it being front and centre.

A recent article I read was holding Netflix to account for a sex famine in western marriages

https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/love-sex/111094985/netflix-is-driving-a-sex-famine-in-western-marriages . Easy sentence? quite possibly, but does it stand alone in terms of what other factors need to be considered and blamed, heck no! It is a real issue in all avenues of relationships, whether romantic, family, work colleagues, kids and everyone else before, after and in between. We celebrate an increase in connectivity, but we are talking solely about tech connect not a wonderful human chapter in chirpy good conversation, banter, interaction or heaven forbid physical touch. The waters in all relationships are muddied, especially in terms of having an understanding of our sense of self and identity. We certainly know who we should strive to be like and how far we are away from a Kardashian or Ryan Reynolds. The benchmark for ‘normal’ has shifted. This disconnect has also perhaps seen a demise in any sort of rhyme, reason or any dose of reality to an accurate reflection of self. A culture of me, myself and I is rife and when you are fully immersed in that limited scope of cast members then that leaves sweet bugger all space and time for others. Do we have a hyperinflated view of ourselves and hyper critical view of others, especially partners? This in part again taps into a whole different world of social media etc. and the impact on relationships. Heck, just google modern dating. The first few pages before you get bored are ‘the rules’. Check them out, they are shocking, me, myself and I and absolute inflated sales pitch of entitlement without any need to give or try. If you ditch the rules you may just have a chance.

Sticking to Netflix and Sex. The article does elude to a raft of other factors that are worthy of a mention just as much as blaming Netflix or YouTube for diminishing sex lives. Increase connectivity equals unlimited access to you and your loved one. You’ll be hard stretched to find anyone that isn’t within inches of their mobile device when they go to bed, even if it’s to use as an alarm. Our attention is misdirected away from the very person or people we often love the most and it is shared openly and willingly with acquaintances, colleagues and bosses in their place. How sexy and connected to your partner beside you when your boss has just added another ‘small’ task to your already overwhelming workload.

There are a lot of distractions and really important things that people must fit in to an ever-decreasing window of time. Work, errands, jobs. Then there are the parents out there. I’d suggest kids would trump Netflix as the antidote to sex. The loving embrace at the end of the day isn’t always a precursor to magical sex, but an embrace of utter relief that you survived another day and nervous anticipation of the morning routine peering from around the corner.

I did see some words far from wisdom from a social influencer who was also giving advice which included, dating others and taking a break. Well everybody has a right to make their own decisions but for what its worth…don’t follow these, no, no a thousand times no!

Smart Phones function like a relationship wish list (for some). It gives you everything you need and want, and you just have to plug it in for an hour a day. It’ll show you pretty much whatever you want no matter how out there it may seem. You are just left to sit in surprised judgement of yourself as a ‘random’ inappropriate advertisement pops up thanks to the millions of cookies running in the background of every click. It’ll turn you on when you want it too and you can turn it on at the swipe of a finger. It can give you directions in pretty much any language you want, tell you the time or answer a question without being a smart ass. It won’t talk back or out of turn unless Siri is bugging out. There is not much it can’t do and again straight away.

Are we stuck in a game that many would scoff at the very idea of? With every bleep of the phone a big shot of dopamine rushing through the body, a feel-good buzz and validation, even if it is from an absolute stranger. I’m not sure anybody hasn’t at some point heard, behind a false smile suggesting no direct intent, “but I noticed you didn’t like it”. It matters! and the chemical blasts of the neurological system maintain the game and it is oh so very real.

If we pause for a second, are we losing something beautiful, exciting and organic in the shape of the development of love? Has it been dehumanised and transformed into something that is a tad cold and artificial, and for who, surely not everyone? Is it a cognitive process rather than one of the heart? The pursuit of convenience over anything else. A problem-solving approach is adopted rather than one of innocent and open enquiry into who is out there and how they may compliment you warts n’all. You should never stop learning something new or being open to being blown away and in awe of your partner. It doesn’t stop and/or start at the first hurdle, but a relationship grows in time and blossoms. What is our capacity or even willingness to see the highs but navigate relationship challenges.

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/


Relationships: Threes a Crowd!

I wrote this last year for a national paper during a time when I was involved with a TV show as a relationship ‘expert’. It still holds true for me so I have taken a few bits out and put it out there again as a post.

When we enter a relationship we have this blissful connection with our partners, then there is the small print. The stuff that nobody reads. If we did, would it influence our decisions and relationships anyway? Does it really matter if your in laws make it clear to you how handy they are with a fire arm, or that your step child has made it clear, you are not welcome now and never will be? Of course it does, so in the small print of relationships, that is as immense as the apple contract we tick frantically without reading, we need to explore the influence of family and significant others on our own relationships.

Here is some food for thought on how to approach this very topic of managing ourselves around extended family and significant others.

Celebrate difference. I do harp on about this a lot but it’s only because it’s so important. Get your head around the reality that you have married somebody else, not a carbon copy of you. Acknowledge that the family you have united with is also different to your own, not a carbon copy.  Make it your priority to find out who the movers and shakers are in your partners family, and not to identify your enemy and their potential soft spots, but to develop a deeper understanding of your partners family dynamic and how it operates. First impressions count and never is it so important than when we get to meet our partners family for the first time.  For some there aren’t any second chances and it’s like falling flat on your face at the first hurdle, for the lucky few you can get back up and find your stride, for others, you just keep hitting those hurdles until your pulled from the race. In the early stages of a relationship, such as meeting your partner and their family at first sight, go for the top 5 family and top 3 friends. Be curious and show genuine interest when you ask, how important is x to you? What is your happiest memory of them and perhaps their saddest and just keep going, but mean it.

They are not a threat. Be confident in the relationship you have with your partner. Anybody that loves the person you feel so deeply about anywhere near as much as you do is somebody worth investing in. Your arrival does not mean the dismissal of your partners family and friends. You get what you look for, and if you go in smiling rather than swinging, they will return the favour.

Back your partner. When you know it’s right stand beside your partner to show your support, not in front or from behind but alongside, and let it be heard and seen. If you are going to navigate through the many years ahead together then it’s important to know your partner has your back. So, when your mum has a dig at your husband for being a crap cook, then point out that he may not have Michelin stars in the kitchen but he’s outstanding…. If you have an experience where you feel you were left fending for yourself whilst your partner stood silently by and it made you feel angry, sad, let down, alone then let your partner know and better still how you would like them to show their support in the future and how this would make you feel.

Do the tough times. When any issue comes up address it as soon as you can. If you don’t, frustration and resentment builds. When you think you are hiding it beautifully, you are in fact not, and eventually it will explode at the wrong time and place, like the Mall on a Saturday morning with all the kids in tow telling you how hungry they are.  

Communicate your wants, needs and expectations. Now, this doesn’t mean you sit down and pen your list of rules that you then impose on those around you, or worst still your partner. You need to have an honest and open conversation around family values and expectations. It’s important to actually listen and digest the family values that each partner brings and how they are both similar and different. Afterwards your well positioned to then start exploring what your own shared family or relationship values look and sound like. There is of course also a need to work out the practical side of family life, how often are you going to visit and who and how often are family members going to visit you. Talk, but most importantly listen and accept that with relationships comes a need to compromise, and it can’t always be the same person doing the moving.

Pace yourself. I am specifically referring to families coming together with children from previous relationships. Don’t be overly eager to jest about or assign relationship tags such as step mum/dad, mum or dad. Just, take your time and depending on the age of the children have a conversation with them about how they would like to refer to you, after you have spoken to your partner of course. Be the adult here and get over your own wants and needs and take a breath to consider the feelings and experiences of the children.

Promote and nourish positivity. We all need to offload but be really mindful of how much and to whom you are having that ‘bit of a vent’ to. Share some of the good things your partner is doing and how they make you feel. Those that love you want to know your safe and cared for and will be all too eager to go into protect and defend mode if they think you aren’t, conversely, they will support and welcome those that do into their pride.

Communication: Disconnect the Lips and Engage the Ears!

I wrote this last year and it still holds true for me so I have taken a few bits out and put it out there again. Putting this in context I write weekly articles reflecting on a TV show I was involved with as a relationship ‘expert’ in New Zealand.

What is the secret to a successful relationship? It feels like a complete cop out and pretty unoriginal when communication tops the list. Increasingly people on the receiving end are just as disappointed, mainly because they are hoping for a quick and long lasting fix. If I was to say, ‘skip twice on your right foot, once on your left, tap your head and rub your gut anticlockwise, whilst singing wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends (spice girls…I think)’. People would race away in delight, and hopefully a tad confused, because it required minimal effort and investment, and professed immediate results. Better still if I was to tell them they were perfect in every way. The challenges they speak of are solely the problem held by their partner, and this wee exercise is one for their partner to complete and the other to watch. The go to line for breaking up, ‘its not you it’s me’ has long gone, it’s now, ‘ I’m flawless and you’re not’ via Instagram of course.

When I talk about communication I’m not referring to what we say, more how good we are at shutting up and actually listening. We have all become really good at monologues, which means to deliver our message our way. Emotional vocabulary has also increased, but perhaps we get to hear it a lot and even in everyday life, but we don’t get to see it in action. I got to hear a lot how committed, genuine, honest, modest folk were, but I didn’t get to see it as much as I would have liked. Some struggle, however with entering into a dialogue. This is where we listen just as much as we speak and are open to change but also to be changed. The hard thing now is telling the difference between the two, as people have become pretty good at making all the right noises. We hear from most of the individuals stuff along the lines of, ‘when you…, I feel…’ It then becomes a rally of the same exchange, with both feeling they have delivered themselves clearly but the other person is plain ignoring them. Then it becomes a case of winning and losing, which is never going to bode well. We see then someone going for the smash, but not for the point, but to take their opponent out and humiliate them in the process.

You combine a shift from the mouth to the ears with being prepared to open your eyes, then folk may well be pleasantly surprised with what they get to see and hear. On the same note you may even make a more informed decision on who is right or wrong.

I wrote this last year and it still holds true for me so I have taken a few bits out and put it out there again. Putting this in context I write weekly articles reflecting on a TV show I was involved with as a relationship ‘expert’ in New Zealand.

What is the secret to a successful relationship? It feels like a complete cop out and pretty unoriginal when communication tops the list. Increasingly people on the receiving end are just as disappointed, mainly because they are hoping for a quick and long lasting fix. If I was to say, ‘skip twice on your right foot, once on your left, tap your head and rub your gut anticlockwise, whilst singing wanna be my lover, you gotta get with my friends (spice girls…I think)’. People would race away in delight, and hopefully a tad confused, because it required minimal effort and investment, and professed immediate results. Better still if I was to tell them they were perfect in every way. The challenges they speak of are solely the problem held by their partner, and this wee exercise is one for their partner to complete and the other to watch. The go to line for breaking up, ‘its not you it’s me’ has long gone, it’s now, ‘ I’m flawless and you’re not’ via Instagram of course.

When I talk about communication I’m not referring to what we say, more how good we are at shutting up and actually listening. We have all become really good at monologues, which means to deliver our message our way. Emotional vocabulary has also increased, but perhaps we get to hear it a lot and even in everyday life, but we don’t get to see it in action. I got to hear a lot how committed, genuine, honest, modest folk were, but I didn’t get to see it as much as I would have liked. Some struggle, however with entering into a dialogue. This is where we listen just as much as we speak and are open to change but also to be changed. The hard thing now is telling the difference between the two, as people have become pretty good at making all the right noises. We hear from most of the individuals stuff along the lines of, ‘when you…, I feel…’ It then becomes a rally of the same exchange, with both feeling they have delivered themselves clearly but the other person is plain ignoring them. Then it becomes a case of winning and losing, which is never going to bode well. We see then someone going for the smash, but not for the point, but to take their opponent out and humiliate them in the process.

You combine a shift from the mouth to the ears with being prepared to open your eyes, then folk may well be pleasantly surprised with what they get to see and hear. On the same note you may even make a more informed decision on who is right or wrong.

I Know Whats Best for You!?

There is this American Fella who pops up on my Facebook feed each now and again. I’ve never met him but I have taken a wee look at what he has to say. The latest was asking me how I’d spend $84,500 each day. Well, first off, I’d be going for upsizing to a large coffee with an outrageously extravagant shot of hazelnut, because now I’m cashed up. This quickly moved to paying off daily chunks of my mortgage and a local charity and so on… Turns out it was making reference to the amount of potential time I have each day to reach the dizzying heights of personal and professional success. This use of time points to the success behind Steve Jobs, Michelle Obama and a couple of big hitters who get up at 4am and 5am to embrace the day. Why is this the secret to success?.. Well the video was impressively professional and he has tens and thousands of followers, and they all were in awe at his insight.

Well, this morning was much like any other in my household starting with a hiss and a roar at 4.30am. My 11 months old was in hysterics as he beat on my peaceful brow like a drum that could not be broken. The laughter (his, not mine), then like a firelighter was enough to raise our 6 year old from his slumber. The hearing and sense required to sense such activity from his room at the other side of the house is the gift that is blessed between all siblings (based on no science other than my experience). With an absolute fear of missing out on the magical family moments and picture perfect scene that was unfolding in my bedroom, my eldest raced into the room and proved that with enough force and momentum you could take all the wind out of their barely awake father. My wife was already in the kitchen putting the kettle on resigned to greeting this new day slightly ahead of schedule. So, given this early start, and having read the article, I have checked my bank balance and I’m nowhere near the big leagues, or even over 40’s social league level to be fair. I’m certainly putting in the serious awake minutes suggested.

This got me thinking, as this gentleman’s posts directed me to an unimaginable number of other bloggers and ‘influencers’ that were keen to share how I too could reach my true potential. We are being bombarded by folk telling us what to think, feel and all are offering the gifts of success and happiness. Who are these people and why on earth should we listen. I am a tad sensitive to this very question as I have found myself in a position where I am employed to take on such a role. Even thought it is in an area that I am highly qualified and experienced in, it still doesn’t sit particularly easy with me. I’ve now done two series of a show with the awesome Warner Brothers in sunny New Zealand as a host/ relationship expert. This was certainly a different path for me but it continues to be a heck of an adventure and experience. It is what has been generated from this experience that has been at times random. One such request that I found most disturbing was during the most recent NZ national elections. What we had was a coalition government going against the majority party who couldn’t quite make the cut on their lonesome. The two primary leaders joining forces, were from the outside, an unlikely match. Anyway, I was asked to go on a national breakfast show and the evening talk show, along with writing in the national paper about the potential of these two individuals, and therefore political parties, to work together based on relationships and body language. Well, I kindly declined such an opportunity based on the fact I didn’t have a clue, I’d never met them and I didn’t particularly have a robust political understanding of what was going on. Beside this, I therefore had no right nor place to publicly speak on such an issue. Especially as if its said in print or on screen, then it must be fact.. far from it!

In this era of social media and information overload its best to take the words of others with a pinch of salt and to prompt further questions rather them being taken as tried and tested. I tend to only follow and enjoy following those that are reflecting on their lived experience of something, that does tend to be tried, tested and informative. Kmelerine and his blog (Squeeze the Space Mans Taco) for example, offers an honest and open insight into his experience of raising his son with autism.

The slightly disjointed point of this post. Well, I’ll put a bit of it down to being away from social media and posting for a wee while. The main point is as with most of my posts a dose of self reflection. When reading posts, especially by folk with amazing energy and personalities, that have a lot to say about how you can be better.. if you just like, then listen to their podcasts. Keep being curious and never stop asking questions. Take a look at who the person or group of people may be that is delivering these inputs. I wouldn’t take advice from a plumber on how to fix my car, neither would I take parenting advice, mental health guidance or tips towards success from a 23 year old philosophy student, without kids. I don’t care how fancy the podcasts are.

My goal when I write for papers or magazines and especially this blog space (which is my little secret indulgence to reflect) is to make sure that whoever takes the time to read any of my pieces leaves with something positive to take away and consider. As a counsellor the right answer is in posing the right question, that way the reader or listener can add their own flavour as only they can know how.

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.