Tag Archives | relationships

The #1 Secret to a Successful Relationship

Photo courtesy of Pedro Simoes

The custom of the bridal shower originated in 16th or 17th century Netherlands, and began in the United States in the 1890s. Since that time, brides-to-be across the nation have been receiving advice from their shower guests about just what makes a marriage last. Ranging from silly suggestions and recipe recommendations to counsel about cooperating and helpful hints in the bedroom, there has never been a lack of advice for the soon-to-be wed.

What follows is a compilation of some of the best advice that most successful (and happy) couples have taken to heart:

  • Overlook imperfections, flaws and shortcomings - In three words: Pick your battles.
  • Have an active sex life – Sex, cuddling, kissing, holding hands – all of these are a definite ‘must have’ in a healthy relationship.  Don’t feel like having sex but your partner does? Do it anyway. It’s worth it, trust me.  Physical intimacy brings emotional intimacy and a deeper closeness.
  • Listen. Healthy relationships include a lot of conversation.  Not much is more empowering than feeling listened to. By taking the time to listen intently to your partner, you validate what he or she has to say and you show that you are willing to accept another point of view without attacking or interrupting. After you listen carefully, make sure to talk openly yourself!
  • Take care of eachother – Find out what your significant other finds nurturing and do it regularly.  Maybe he or she loves to have back rubs after a long day at work.  An easy way to discover the best ways to nurture eachother is to make lists and then exchange them. Small, simple expressions of love like doing the chore that he/she hates the most can go a long way in a long-term relationship!
  • Fight fair – While you need to be honest and open about what bothers you about your partner, it is of the utmost importance that you learn to control your anger while expressing yourself.  Never resort to name calling, accusations, or generalizations, and don’t dig up past mistakes.  Being mad at your significant other can be normal at times, but to express your anger by yelling, storming out, or being direspectful can do permanent damage to any relationship. (SEE BELOW)
  • R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  It’s more than just a song, you know. Being in a relationship guarantees that conflict will arise. It comes with the territory when two people begin interacting so closely every day. From day-to-day annoyances to child discipline strategies, conflict is a necessary element of being in a relationship. When that conflict arises, a successful couple will find ways to talk it out as calmly as possible. Happy couples never disrespect eachother.
  • Forgive eachother – If one of you slips up and doesn’t follow one of the above relationship rules, the other must find a way to forgive (relatively) quickly so that less significant mistakes aren’t the cause of relationship demise.

With all of that being said, the number one secret to a successful relationship is actually quite simple: there is no secret. Although there are some general guidelines to follow that will definitely lead you and your partner in the right direction, every couple is different and will have slightly different needs. What’s important is that you take the time to find out what your relationship requires to stay happy and healthy, for as long as you both shall live.

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When the Words Get in the Way: How to Talk Less and Say More

Photo courtesy of Val Pearl

Foot in mouth disease can plague even the best of us on occasion. I personally have been a victim of not knowing when to shut my mouth in the past; in fact, it used to be quite a problem for me. Along my journey toward becoming a better person, I wanted to learn how to stop myself from saying things I always end up regretting later.

I started out by focusing on when I was having the most problems with putting my foot in my mouth. It always seemed to be at the most inopportune times!  As it turns out, research shows that people actually do tend to let things slip when the pressure is on to behave well, and this has a scientific basis.

Known as one of the brain’s ‘ironic processes’, when we are specifically trying to keep unwanted thoughts from exploding out of our mouths, it becomes even harder to do so.  This is because the human brain is constantly working arduously to keep unwanted thoughts at bay, but when it becomes overloaded, such as in times of stress like an interview or first date, undersirable tidbits end up getting past the gates.

Much like wanting to ‘stop being nervous’ or get into a better mood on command, we’d all love to have complete control over our thoughts, and especially, when and when not to share them. How can we keep our feet out of our mouths when it matters most?

The answer seems to be related to creating effectual habits. Just like in many other areas of our lives, like exercise, eating, and being productive, making keeping mum habitual gets us the most regular and reliable results.  The key is how and when to train your brain to keep quiet.

Don’t begin the process while you’re immersed in a stressful situation, for one.  In order to teach yourself to babble less and say more of the right things, you’ll need to take a gentle, nurturing approach. Think of your brain as a very complex network, and it’s important that the whole thing’s not lit up when you start rewiring a few of the grids. Otherwise, you might end up shorting everything out, negating all of your efforts.

Try this: when you’re in low-pressure situations, practice keeping negative thoughts to yourself by forcing yourself to think about (but not speak about) the things you really don’t want to say.  You’ll have to do this regularly, because after all, improving your prowess at any skill won’t happen without practice.

Just like any desired behavior, the best way to control what you say is to make it an unconscious action. By familiarizing your gray matter with saying the right things instead of making innapropriate comments, your brain will eventually become more comfortable with minding its manners instead of making your most mortifying musings public knowledge.

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The Biggest Surprise About Hitting Rock Bottom

Photo courtesy of Vincent Desjardins

On my journey to live the life I really want, a multitude of very important changes are occurring within me, but they are changes that I worked toward; they were goals that I clearly set out to reach. Today I want to talk about something remarkable that has happened to me along the way that I never expected.

Up until a year ago, I spent approximately 18 months fighting and clawing against the gravity that was inevitably pulling me toward rock bottom. I wanted nothing to do with hitting the bottom, because I knew I would have to admit some harsh realities after the impact.

After the collision, I remained curled into the fetal position with my eyes squeezed firmly shut in denial. A few weeks later, when I finally managed to open my eyes, it was with the sudden realization that I had exactly two choices: get busy living, or get busy dying.  And if I planned to stay alive, well, I had better get up and get moving, because I had some real work to do.

Thus began my exploration of self-empowerment and taking back control over my own happiness. Divorce, illness, unemployment, depression, low self-esteem, abuse, toxic relationships, obesity, lack of direction, and drug and alcohol addiction are just some of the reasons that have put many of us on the path toward self-love and acceptance.

As we all make strides toward living the life we really want to live, most of us have seen and felt a number of changes happen within us, like increased self-confidence, better self-image, and more effective life skills, all of which have led us to accomplish many personal achievements and overcome hurdles that we never thought we’d conquer.

As we accomplish more and come closer to our ultimate happiness, the image we project to others begins to shift. They can see us more clearly now that our walls of self-loathing, destruction, or denial are crumbling. Liking yourself makes you infinintely more likeable to others, which is something that most of us have known all along.

I am thoroughly enjoying how the positive changes are affecting my life, but I have to say that there was something that took me totally and completely by surprise in all of this, and it wasn’t mentioned as one of the most common side effects of self-improvement.

It is also something that is rather hard for me to admit, because in doing so, I will be making a confession about who I used to be. Ok. Here goes:

(I like helping people now.)

What many of us don’t realize as we’re spiraling downward (in some cases completely obliviously), is that we really don’t even like other people all that much, let alone want to help them. Only upon reaching the summit of self-love and appreciation can we begin to really care that other people are suffering too.  Going through the motions of helping others is one thing, but really, genuinely wanting to help someone simply for the sake of making his or her life better?  Well, that’s another beast entirely, and frankly, it’s something that makes hitting rock bottom 150% worth it.

Karl Reiland said, “In about the same degree as you are helpful, you will be happy,” and although we most definitely must focus on helping ourselves first, the level of our satisfaction in life can most accurately be measured by how much joy we feel when we reach out a helping hand.

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Self-Awareness 101: Introduction to Yourself

Photo courtesy of Alaskan Dude

The other day an acquaintance of mine exclaimed, “You know me! I don’t even know how to be mean!”

I shook my head, eyes wide with wonder at her profound misjudgement of her own personality. I believe that she probably doesn’t want to be mean, but I can also tell you that everyone is more than slightly afraid of her.

Afterward, I began to ponder the complexities of self-awareness, and how some people are really out of touch with their own inner-selves.

Most people will insist that they are self-aware without having any idea what it really means to be truly aware of one’s thoughts, emotions, behavior and personality. According to Dr. Travis Bradberry, author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, “a lack of self-awareness will actually hold you back from developing self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills,” which are quite necessary in building the life you really want.  So, how do you know if you really are self-aware or if you’re in the dark?

- Frequent interactions with honest friends and family members.  Most people find it very difficult to tell others the truth about their short-comings, but if you specifically ask for feedback, you might be surprised at what you can learn about how you’re perceived.

- Watch and keep track of your actions and their results.  Just like the person above who insisted she has a hard time being ‘mean’, it’s quite possible for anyone to be totally unaware of how their behaviors are affecting their lives and those around them. “Watch” yourself by keeping a journal of your important actions and your prediction for the effect they will have on a certain situation.  Check back regularly to see how things really play out, and make changes to your behaviors accordingly.

- Take a self-awareness inventory.  How well do you really know what your strengths and weaknesses are?  Can you identify your habits, likes and dislikes? What motivates you? Do you have a set of internal values that you life your life by? Self-awareness begins by knowing all of the details that make up who you are as a person.

- Raise your EQ.  Your Emotional Intelligence, or your EQ, is your ability to identify and effectively manage all of the emotions that you experience every day.  A high EQ means that you recognize and understand the cause and effect nature of your emotions, as well as the emotions of others. People who are struggling with self-awareness are often unable to accurately understand the social cues that are given to them through other people’s emotions.

- Watch your words. In today’s society, strong opinions are encouraged, but if you lack self-awareness it may appear to others that you feel your opinion is the only one that matters.  Even with strong opinions, being self-aware means being mindful of every word that you think or speak in order to foster good relationships that are built on respect.

- Step outside yourself. In a twist of irony, one of the best ways to get in touch with your inner self is to step outside of it. Viewing yourself as you would a character in a movie, without judgement or harsh criticism, will allow you to get some perspective on your personality.

By taking a close look at your inner-self, you will be able to make the necessary changes to stop having emotional reactions, improve your understanding of others (and their perceptions of you), develop effective communication strategies in your relationships, and live a happier and more successful life.

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Just How Far Will Flattery Get You?

Photo courtesy of lover-of-life
Just when I thought the art of flattery was dead, I got a gushing e-mail from a client complimenting some work I recently completed on a project for him. When I realized that he took actual time out of his work day to deliberately write me an email for the sole reason of giving me a virtual high five, I was so moved that it made me stop and think: did kudos go out of style when Myspace did?

If you think about it, in our daily lives, whether at work or at home, compliments are kind of hard to come by these days. Bosses, clients, coworkers and sometimes even family members are quick to point out our flaws and shortcomings, but seem less likely to let us know when we’re rocking it. According to a recent survey that I just found, one out of eight women said that they had not received a compliment in the past three months. Not one single compliment in ninety days! Things are dire, dear readers.

As human beings, we need to be told that we’re doing a good job. Sure, we get a paycheck every week, but sometimes we aren’t sure if that means we’re a stellar employee or because they HAVE to pay us. We all need to hear that we are appreciated, and that what we do makes someone else’s life easier, right? Hearing that we are appreciated and needed encourages us to perform even better, and gives us the motivation to hone our skills even further.

The problem may be that some adults are uncomfortable with receiving compliments, which tends to give others less inclination to praise them. However, even if someone repeatedly brushes off your flattery, rest assured that they are secretly internalizing those positive comments and their self-esteem is getting a boost. You can make someone’s entire week with just a few small words. Imagine that! You have the power to change someone’s WEEK from bad to good with one sentence and a smile!

Naturally, sometimes in the garden of life we encounter a few thorns that need to be tamed or pruned a bit so that they do more good than harm. But when life gives us roses, be sure to point out how lovely they are, and how sweetly fragrant they smell. You might see them bloom even bigger, right before your eyes.

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Talk Might be Cheap, But it’s Still in Demand

Photo courtesy of LifeSupercharger
“The biggest mistake is believing there is one right way to listen, to talk, to have a conversation…”
~Deborah Tannen

I’ve been married twice now, and although it is true that it’s markedly easier the second time around, any relationship requires attention and tune-ups in order to thrive.  You know when they show those clips at the end of romantic movies where they ask old couples, “What is the most important part of a happy marriage?”  Nine couples out of ten enthusiastically say, “Good communication!” Sometimes one of the old men will give a sly grin and say something about a good sex life, but we know (and he knows) that without communication, everything else just falls apart.

My husband and I have been married for just under a year now and are refining our relationship brilliantly. We work extremely well as a team, and we continue to grow stronger and happier the more we each listen to each other. What we have realized is that, since we met and married in our 30s, our communication skills have already matured quite a bit, as have we. Since we have both been previously married and engaged in professional careers, we have become quite adept at communicating with a variety of different people in our lives: spouses, children, parents, bosses, coworkers, friends in need, neighbors, in-laws and even people we don’t really like.  We’ve learned how to adjust our interactions with others based on each individual person’s personality.

What my husband and I recently discovered, however, is that some key aspects of communicating are actually quite universal and will be effective whether used with a spouse, a child, a stoic neighbor, or a boss.  In fact, my husband actually inspired me to write this blog post when he found himself in a difficult situation professionally.  He relayed to me that he ended up referring back to something he had learned by communicating with me, applied it to his work situation, and voila! Instant success!

We spend most of our time communicating with our spouses and children because we view them as the most important relationships in our lives. Why not apply bits and pieces of what we learn through making our most meaningful relationships successful to other relationships as well? Newsflash: If your wife likes hearing that you’re sorry, chances are good that your boss does too.

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Girls Gone Mild: Why it is Important to Raise Confident Daughters

Photo courtesy of familymwr
I have a handful (maybe two) of women in my life that I thoroughly enjoy spending time with. A few years ago I began selectively reducing my female friendships because I simply wasn’t getting anything out of them other than added stress and annoyance. Recently, after an unnecissarily complicated interaction with someone, I became curious about the psychology behind female friendships. Everyone knows that women’s friendships can be fraught with difficulties, but what I wanted to know was: why? I have spent most of my life engaged in extremely deep and meaningful friendships that gave me immense satisfaction. However, those friendships were usually with men.

As I did a little research and discussed this phenomenon with some of my friends, I learned a few interesting things about women that explain many of my experiences over the years. Typically, boys are raised to be confident and competitive, while girls, on the other hand, are taught to be caring and empathetic without a hard competitive edge.  These girls slowly grow into women who have stifled their aggressions and self-confidence in order to meet society’s expectations. The result is dismal: instead of expressing their competitive natures openly, these women have developed a hidden desire for other women to fail, thus making them look better in comparison.

Once I fully grasped this concept, I did an inventory of my current list of close female friends. As I was raised to have a strong competitive edge and determined personality, I naturally connect with women with similar upbringings. I realized that the female friendships I have chosen to walk away from were all with someone who had low self-confidence, little sense of healthy competition, and a general aura of resentment. The women I have in my life now are all highly motivated, accomplished, competitive and can take what they dish out because they are extremely self-confident. Most of my girlfriends will tell you that they have been referred to as “one of the guys,” which just goes to show that society only expects men to be openly aggressive.

My ultimate opinion is that many of these women have become uncomfortable with their own feelings of aggression and power, and when they sense it in other women, they feel threatened. Stifling their own desire for success or satisfaction can lead to feelings of unworthiness, envy and depression. I have two sons who society has already gotten its grips into – they’re very competitive, determined, outspoken young men.  Social cues are very strong, so I am also busy instilling them with good communication skills, empathy and an ability to express their emotions, hoping for well-rounded men in approximately 12 years.

If you have a daughter, help her pave the way to her future happiness by teaching her that it’s okay to win. And, not only is it okay to win, but it’s also okay to want to win. Celebrate her as a strong female now so that she will be comfortable expressing her full competitive edge as she moves through life, giving her an excellent chance at overall success.

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