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10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence

10 Ways to Practice Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence has been a buzzword term for a while now, but many people still struggle to understand what it looks like in daily practice.  In general, emotional intelligence (EI) refers to your ability to understand and regulate your own emotions.  In practice, this means that you allow yourself to feel your emotions, but you don’t allow them to rule over all your decisions or behaviors.

Emotional intelligence also means that you have the ability to understand the emotions of others and respond to people in a way that reflects your understanding of and respect for how they feel. While some people do have a more innate ability to understand the emotions of themselves and others, people also can practice and strengthen these skills.

People who have emotionally intelligent traits tend to communicate better with other people, resolve conflict in a more healthy way, and have better emotional regulation overall. You can practice developing your emotional intelligence by working to understand and regulate your own emotional life in a way that allows you to have control over your emotions, instead of the other way around. This post will be the first in a new series about emotional intelligence where I will expand more on how to cultivate and practice this important skill in your own life.

How to Practice Emotional Intelligence

Here are 10 ways that you can practice strengthening your emotional intelligence so that you can feel confident in your ability to handle your emotions and the emotions of others.

  1. Understand your own feelings

Learn to identify how you feel by practicing distinguishing your thoughts from your feelings. For example, you may be thinking “he is such a jerk!”, but the feeling associated with this thought is “I feel hurt and disrespected when he speaks to me in that way”. When you focus on understanding how you feel in a given situation, you will be better equipped to approach the situation in a productive way.

  1. Take ownership of your own feelings

When you know how you feel, the next step is to own that feeling and recognize that you have control over that emotion.  Practice doing this by catching yourself the next time you say “You are making me feel…(angry, jealous, insecure)”, and replacing that with “I feel (angry, jealous, insecure) when you do that.”  This way of framing your emotions allows you to take control of that emotion instead of feeling powerless over it.

  1. Use your feelings to help you make decisions

Before you make decisions, ask yourself “how will I feel if I do this? How will I feel if I don’t do this? How are my emotions affecting this decision?” Work on using this insight to help you make decisions that you will be proud of and happy with later on.

  1. Respect other peoples’ feelings

You don’t have to agree with everyone on everything, but you can have better relationships with all people if you learn how to respect things from their perspective. If you want others to respect your feelings, then you can model how you want them to treat you. Even though other people will not always return the courtesy, you still want to represent yourself well by treating others as you would like to be treated.

  1. Avoid people who do not respect your feelings

Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean they are disrespecting you, but when someone truly doesn’t respect you or your feelings, you can respect yourself by avoiding them. You won’t always be able to avoid everyone who disrespects you, but you can minimize your contact with them and set boundaries when necessary. For example, if you have a supervisor at work that doesn’t respect you, you can try to make the best of things by minimizing your contact as much as possible and disconnecting emotionally from the situation. Ultimately, though, you are going to need to assess whether you should look for another job if the situation is not going to improve.  This includes setting boundaries with people when necessary.

  1. Manage your reactions to your emotions

You can have an emotion without acting on it in the same way that just because you think something doesn’t mean you have to say it out loud. You are going to feel angry, depressed, frustrated, and distressed at times in your life. These feelings are all okay to have and you don’t have to deny that you feel these things. Yet being angry doesn’t mean you have to be aggressive, being depressed doesn’t mean you have to hurt yourself, being frustrated doesn’t mean you have to lash out, and being distressed doesn’t mean you have to hurt others. Learning to build strong coping skills so that you can face these feelings without reacting in an unhealthy way to them is a key part of emotional intelligence.

  1. Label your feelings instead of labeling people or situations

This is also part of owning your emotions, because you can talk about your feelings instead of talking about other people.  For example, try saying “I feel frustrated and impatient because of how slow things are happening” instead of “This is taking too long! These people are so incompetent!” Even when you are just saying these things in your head and not out loud, it makes a difference.  You can be sitting there stewing with frustration thinking nasty things even if you never open your mouth. Recognizing that this helps nothing and you feel terrible in the meantime will help you change your thoughts, which will change your emotions.

  1. Use your emotions to energize your actions

People who use their emotions to motivate them towards positive action can do amazing things. If you get angry about an issue you care about, it can motivate you to go take action to address that issue. Use the energy you feel from strong emotions to propel you to take action in a positive way. If you think a situation is unfair, speak out about it and let your voice be heard. If you have something bad happen to you, use the power behind your emotions to help prevent the same thing from happening to others if you can.

  1. Practice taking positivity from negative situations

Negative situations are inevitably going to come up. It’s important to allow yourself the time and space to process how you feel when bad things happen and allow yourself to heal when needed. Negative situations can also be a trigger for growth as well, though. This is a practice that you can start small with. For example, if you have been practicing building patience but you end up next to a road raging driver, use the situation as an opportunity to practice your frustration tolerance skills.

  1. Learn how to effectively deal with difficult people

Not everyone is going to be in the same place as you are right now in your life. Some people may have their own issues to sort out and you will end up crossing paths with them, resulting in difficult interactions. Part of being an emotionally intelligent person is deciding that you are going to be the kind of person you want to be, regardless of the kind of person someone else is. If you intend to be a kind, considerate, emotionally mature and secure person, then don’t let what other people do have an effect on your own choices and behaviors. It’s hard not to snap back at someone who has been rude to you, or disrespected you in some way. You never have to be a doormat for others or allow others to abuse you. However, when you have the confidence to address situations gracefully you will feel better able to stand up for yourself when needed and let petty things go when it’s not worth your time and energy.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Practicing emotional intelligence can help you feel more confident and in control of your life. We all have emotions, and emotional intelligence is not about suppressing those emotions. It is actually about understanding and using your emotions to help you handle situations and people in a way that produces positive results in all your relationships and interactions instead of escalating situations until they feel out of control.

All of these practices will help you understand yourself and feelings more, and help you to focus on what is important instead of getting caught up in a habit of just reacting to your emotions. While some people may find that these practices come more naturally to the, other people may really struggle, and that is okay too.  Struggling with these things doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, it just means that you might need to practice more before these habits become comfortable. Even people with strong emotional intelligence traits can struggle with this kind of practice. No one is perfect, and emotionally intelligent people understand and respect that!

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Sex is an important part of any relationship, so it’s worth talking about it because there are so many ways that sex can become a source of frustration, conflict, and discouragement.  It doesn’t have to be that way, but there does need to be a clear understanding about what the  sexual boundaries are and whether or not sex is a boost to your relationship, or a burden.

Ideally, you want to find a partner who shares the same sexual interests, drive, and desires as you do, but that’s easier said than done. There’s a few common problems related to sex that I see come up with many of my clients, so let’s talk about what some of the common issues are and how we resolve them in counseling.

  1. Sex Drive

I’ve seen this happen time and time again with couples in counseling.  One person has a strong sex drive and the other person is just not that into it anymore.  It’s not that one partner doesn’t want sex, but life just saps their energy and drive. This causes friction because sex starts to feel like an obligation to one partner, while the person with a stronger drive feels frustrated and rejected.  This becomes a source of conflict and the person with a lower drive feels guilty for not “fulfilling their partner’s needs”.

When we examine this problem more closely, it’s a lot more complicated than just a sex drive problem.  For both men and women, there are hormonal changes that happen throughout the life cycle that can impact sex drive.  Women’s libido tends to drop as they start to age out of their childbearing years, while men may still feel a strong sex drive.  Add to that work, kids, life, and chores, and it’s not surprising that turning into a sex bomb when the clock strikes midnight is not high on the priority list when your hormones are against you and you have to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Stress relief is an important factor to incorporate when this happens. The latest studies on sex, chores, and partnership show that heterosexual couples who share household chores have more sex than in relationships where the woman does the bulk of the housework. These findings have changed over the years, but so have relationships. These days, egalitarian partnerships where both partners feel that duties overall are shared pretty fairly had the highest frequency of sex each month.

  1. Sexual Experimentation

Let’s be really clear about sexual experimentations: the # 1 priority is CONSENT. No one is entitled to sex acts from their partner that the other person doesn’t want to participate in. This includes swinging, the use of any toys, voyeurism, or any other kinky fantasy you can come up with.  Adults in consensual relationships have wide latitude to do whatever they want in the bedroom, but it must always come with clear and enthusiastic consent from both partners.

I have seen couples where one person was trying to please their partner and so they agreed to engage in sexual activities they were not truly comfortable with. This leads to distrust, shame, resentment, and loss of respect between partners.

It can be confusing to know what to do in a culture that makes sure sex is ever-present in the media.  The explosion of availability of porn on the internet means that children are getting access to sexual content at ever-younger ages, and so both young adults and older couples have seen a shift in the expectations of what goes on in the bedroom.

This can affect relationships when there are differences in what each person is comfortable with or interested in.  There’s no need to shame people for being interested in sexual experimentation, but there’s also no place for shaming your partner for NOT wanting to participate in certain acts. With time and trust, a couple may become more comfortable with certain sexual experimentation, but there shouldn’t be hard and fast expectations about what your partner “should do for you” just because you want it.

  1. Intimacy

There’s physical intimacy, and then there’s emotional intimacy.  Some people need emotional intimacy to get to physical intimacy.  Some people need physical intimacy (sex) to feel emotionally close with their partners.  I’ve seen this present in all different ways, too. I’ve seen men that have struggled with sex because they needed to feel emotionally secure with their partners. I’ve seem women who felt rejected and hurt when there wasn’t enough sex going on the in relationship. I’ve seen all genders display all ranges of needs in these areas of physical and emotional intimacy.

The important thing to know is how your emotional and physical intimacy are connected to each other and how important this is to you as a couple. Talking about your emotional and physical intimacy is key to building a better sex life if you’re struggling. You might be a little more open to sex if you know that it will help your partner feel emotionally connected and close to you.  You might feel more compelled to put some effort into connecting emotionally with your partner and spending some time together if you know they will be more open to having sex when you make that effort.

Talk to each other about the role of emotional and physical intimacy and how that affects your sex life in terms of quality AND frequency.

  1. Infidelity

This is a tough one for many couples because infidelity is a betrayal. Many people blame their infidelity on the fact that things were not going well in their relationship or marriage and so they sought out attention elsewhere. Sometimes the victim gets blamed for not providing enough sex or attention to the partner who cheated.  The truth is always more complicated than that.

People’s sex life is often affected when infidelity happens because of the violation of trust. The person who has been betrayed may want to punish their partner by withholding sex, or they may feel disgusted by their partner’s behavior and not want to be physically intimate for a while. There are all kinds of emotional reactions to infidelity, and it is normal to need a period of healing if you decide to stay together.

This is a situation in which the person who cheated needs to be especially attentive to their partner’s emotional needs.  But there are things can become unhelpful to the healing process, and sometimes it’s important to have ongoing conversations about what is or is not going to help heal the relationship.  It’s important to understand what fair expectations are, and what is going to actually be helpful to the future of the relationship versus what will just continue to damage the relationship. For more on healing after infidelity, read this post: Rebuilding Trust After Infidelity

  1. Attraction

Most people will say that they were attracted to their partner when they first met them or at least by the time they first started dating. However, sometimes attraction fades and your partner doesn’t seem so shiny and new.  Sometimes the sex in the relationship is affected because one person may not be attracted to their partner anymore, or sometimes because one person doesn’t feel that sexy anymore and so they don’t want to have sex.

This is why it is important for couples to be attracted to each other AND to themselves beyond just their physical attributes.  There are lots of qualities that people have that can be very sexy: confidence, charisma, loyalty, dedication, personality, humor, kindness, and generosity.  Attractive qualities can be found in abundance. If physical attractiveness is the main thing keeping two people together, there’s bound to be some problems later on.

If you plan on staying together, you can expect that your bodies and your looks will change over time. Sexual attraction doesn’t have to change, though, just because your appearance does. When you understand that being sexy has just has much to do with enthusiasm and personality as it does with lingerie and a hot body then you’ll maintain attraction to each other into your golden years.

  1. Pressure and Guilt

Putting pressure on your partner can backfire when it comes to sex.  If you try to make your partner feel guilty or ashamed when they don’t want sex when you do or if they don’t want to participate in certain sexual acts, you’re going to damage the intimacy and trust in your relationship. No one is owed sex by anyone else, even if you’re in a committed partnership.

If you want more sex from your partner try instead to work on creating the conditions that will get your partner in the mood. Doing things that help your partner feel relaxed and sexy are more likely going to get your partner interested and engaged in sex than if you pressure them by saying hurtful things like they’re “not holding up their end of the deal” or that you “will go find it elsewhere” if you don’t get your way. Saying hurtful and shaming statements will make your partner less likely to want to get in the mood because they’re not going to feel sexy or confident.

The Bottom Line

Sex can and should be a fun and integral part of your relationship or marriage. It’s also one of the main reasons people break up and it’s a big source of conflict for some couples. Sexual compatibility is about so much more than just if you enjoy having sex with each other. Sex is a two-way street, so both people deserve to feel good about it and feel happy in their sex lives with their partner.

Yet sex is just like every other issue in a relationship in that it means having to compromise sometimes. When you are in a relationship with someone, both of you have to compromise on lots of different issues, but you do so because you care about each other and want to figure out a way to make each other happy. Just as with other areas of conflict, communication is the key.

If you’re not comfortable talking a with your partner about sex in an open and respectful way, then you might benefit from seeing a therapist, either individually or as a couple. It doesn’t have to be a specialized sex therapist. Most counselors are fine with talking about sex with couples, especially if they do a lot of marriage or relationship counseling.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

 

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series:   When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Personality differences can complicate relationships. You may start out feeling like opposites attract and really fall in love with some of the things that are different about your partner. Over time though, personality differences can impact your relationship and cause conflict, especially when there is a lack of understanding about your different needs and how you think about the world around you.

Does Personality Matter in Relationships?

Sometimes. The research on the topic is complicated. Studies have found that people tend to pursue relationships with people that are similar to them in some areas such as age, religion, education, and political orientation.  However, when it comes to fixed personality traits, some traits are more predictive of relationship satisfaction than others.

Some couples have different personalities but similar interests, so they find lots of ways to have fun together and bond as a couple. Other couples really don’t share a lot of interests, but they love each other and so the other strengths they have in their relationship help them to establish and maintain emotional intimacy.

How To Manage Personality Differences in Relationships

Couples may differ in their traits of introversion vs extroversion, their style of thinking, their openness to new experiences, their empathic tendencies, and other traits.  Here is how some of these differences manifest in relationships and how couples can manage these differences as they build their partnership.

  1. Introversion vs. Extroversion

These traits exist on a scale, so some people will be highly extroverted and some people may be very introverted, and many people fall somewhere in between.  When you are a couple in a relationship where you’re very far apart on this scale, you will need to understand that you have different needs and work together to make sure both of you are getting your needs met for social connections and personal time.

This means understanding that sometimes your partner might need more time spent out with their friends because they thrive on the energy they get from social relationships. The other partner may need time spent alone to recharge and renew their energy, because too much time around a lot of people drains them of their energy. As a couple, you need to find a balance and understand that your partner isn’t rejecting you if they need either of these things. Making sure you dedicate couple time together will help both partner feel more connected to each other.

  1. Engineers vs. Artists (Left or Right Brain Thinking Style)

This has to do with thinking style. People who think like an engineer are very logical, solutions-oriented, and not always very emotionally perceptive.  People who think like an artist are not rigid, they focus on beauty as much as function, and they like to use creativity to solve problems or come up with new solutions. This traits are both valuable in different situations, so partner who differ in these traits need to find ways to utilize the strengths of both people.  This might come down to who does what things better, and learning to allow the strengths of each person to shine in different areas.  This may mean one person always does the taxes, and the other person decorates the home or plans time spent together in ways that express their creativity. These couples can thrive together if they learn how to use each person’s strengths to make them stronger as a couple.

  1. Adventurers vs. Homebodies

This has to do with people’s individual comfort level with new experiences.  Some people love new adventures and crave the thrill they get from trying something new.  This doesn’t have to mean they’re out cliff-hanging every weekend, but they are more likely to want to try new things, go new places, and experience things that excite the. Other people love the safety and comfort of their routine, their home, and their normal activities.  This doesn’t make them boring, it just means they know what they like and they prefer to stick to what they know.

When these two different personalities get together in a relationship, it’s not uncommon to have some conflict over what to do and when.  This is where compromise is a key strength to develop. The more adventurous of the couple will need to respect their partner’s discomfort with certain activities, and recognize that they may have to plan some activities with other people who share similar interests.  The homebody folks also need to recognize that stepping out of their comfort zone can be a great way to bond, but it’s okay to set limits when needed and know how to communicate those limits.

  1. Empaths vs. Psychopaths

Okay so getting involved with a psychopath is not recommended. But seriously, empathy exists on a scale too. Some people are very empathic, meaning they are highly perceptive of other’s feelings and are emotionally affected by the people they meet and the situations they experience and witness.  Psychopaths are the opposite end of the spectrum, with no empathy for others and an inability to understand or care about other people’s feelings. As with introversion and extroversion, though, there are many people who fall somewhere in between, and that doesn’t make them bad people. Many people empathize and care about other people, but it doesn’t affect them or their mood as much as it does with very empathic people.

In a relationship, empaths may be sensitive to their partner’s needs and moods, but someone less empathic may have a hard time understanding why their very empathic partner always gets so upset or affected by things. They may be less likely to perceive when or why their partner is upset, which makes conflict resolution hard sometimes. In this situation, empaths need to understand that a difference in sensitivity doesn’t mean your partner doesn’t care about you, they just might need more direct communication to understand how you’re feeling. The people who are partner with a very empathic person need to understand that their partner’s personality makes them more sensitive, and they don’t need to grow a thicker skin or be different. Empaths feel things deeply, so talking to them and validating their expression of feelings is a key way to connect with them.

  1. Organizers vs. Free Rangers

Similar to engineers and artists, organizers and free thinkers both have strengths, but they thrive on different things. The highly organized person needs structure and tidiness to feel in control and able to handle all of life’s craziness. When the home or their personal space is in disarray, they feel out of control and this causes anxiety. Free-rangers are people who feel overwhelmed with the prospect of having to keep everything looking perfect all the time. These are people who know exactly where to find something, but it might be in a place that doesn’t make sense to an organized person. They don’t necessarily prefer symmetry, and they don’t feel bothered when everything is not in it’s perfect place. This doesn’t mean they have to be messy or cluttered, they just have a different tolerance for disarray that might cause a highly organized person to feel anxious.

These people can be in a relationship together, but there needs to be some understanding about this personality difference. If you are a highly organized person who needs the structure and stability that good organization provides, but your partner is not similarly oriented, you may need to accept that you will be doing more of the organizational  tasks, because it matters more to you. Likewise, if you are a free-ranger, you need to understand the anxiety that disarray can cause in your partner, and be prepared to respect your mutual space by participating in keeping things maintained. It’s always a good idea as well, to both have even a small space of your own that can organized, or not, according to personal preferences.

Why It Is Important To Understand Personality Differences in Relationships

Personality differences do not have to mean constant conflict and struggles.  It is worthwhile, however, to talk about the personality differences you do have, and what they mean to how you function as a couple. Understanding each other’s needs and respecting the personality traits that you each have can help you as couple learn how to use your strengths to build a great partnership.

Compromise and understanding are part of all healthy relationships, but you can’t change your personality. Of course people grow and change over time, but there are some personality traits and preferences, like the ones listed above, that remain pretty constant over a lifetime. Couples can absolutely function and thrive with these personality differences, but it does take some communication and respect for those differences.

If you have identified some of the traits about where you think that there are some significant personality difference that impact your relationship, talk about these differences with your partner! Think about how your personality impacts what you need from your partner and where there are some areas for compromise. Talk about how the different personality traits can be a strength at different times and who is better at what when it comes to shared responsibilities.

When you understand your partner’s personality and how it affects their needs, you will be able to be a better partner as well. Communication and respect for your differences will help you use those personality traits to your advantage and build a stronger partnership along the way.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For more posts in this series, please see:

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Emotional intimacy is the feeling that brings us closer to one another and allows us to be vulnerable and build trust with our partner.  Yet this is often the most difficult part of building a relationship for many people, precisely because of the vulnerability that building emotional intimacy requires.

Building emotional intimacy in your relationship is something that happens over time, but it can wax and wane over time during the course of a long-term partnership. Sometimes a couple may feel very close to one another in the early stages of a relationship, only to find that the intimacy is drained over time as life’s responsibilities take precedence and tensions heighten due to conflicts. Other times, there may be conflicts that arise in the course of building a partnership that have roots in a fear of vulnerability and an unwillingness to open up and be vulnerable with your partner.

Establishing and nurturing the emotional intimacy in your relationship is a key part of having healthy communication, healthy conflict resolutions skills, and restoring trust in times of turmoil.  Building emotional intimacy requires a few things though, including:

  1. Facing the fear of vulnerability
  2. Understanding your feelings
  3. Taking responsibility for your own feelings
  4. Knowing your own value
  5. Being willing to take risks

Understanding the power of vulnerability and the work that you need to do as an individual to be ready for emotional intimacy can help you strengthen your bonds as a couple and build trust and partnership.

Facing Your Fears: Why Is Vulnerability So Hard?

Vulnerability is very difficult for us as human beings because we have an innate need to protect ourselves, which includes protecting ourselves from emotional pain.  None of us want to risk being emotionally vulnerable with someone only to have them violate your trust and hurt you in some way.  We protect our emotional vulnerability because it hurts so bad when someone rejects or mocks or exploits that vulnerability. This can make it hard to build trust in our relationships, especially if you have been hurt by someone in the past, which is true for many of us.

I always like to take a look at the sociological reasons behind many of our behaviors, problems, and needs.  In this case, the fear of vulnerability can be trace to our deepest instincts for survival.  As humankind evolved over the millennia, being vulnerable or too trusting could be dangerous.  If you put misplaced trust in someone, it could mean death.  We have evolved to look for threats and make calculations about when we should trust someone and when it could be too dangerous.

This translates into our relationships now in many different ways. You may not want to tell your partner about something in your past because you fear being judged harshly. You may also fear that they will look at you differently or treat you differently.  You may not want to talk to your partner about your insecurities, because you worry they will see you as weak, or perhaps violate your trust by using your insecurities against you.

There are many ways that our fear of vulnerability factors into our relationships, but ultimately the cost is that emotional intimacy is not as strong as it could be and this could cause conflicts.  Facing the fear of vulnerability and recognizing how important being vulnerable with your partner is will help move you forwards to building stronger bonds as a couple.

Understanding Your Feelings

If you don’t understand your own feelings, it will be impossible to communicate them to your partner.  Learning to identify how you feel and communicate that feeling is a key step in building emotional intimacy. This may involve you really looking deeper into your own emotional life to examine and express your feelings to your partner.

This is where it becomes important to distinguish between a thought and a feeling. “You’re being an asshole” is not a feeling. This statement is a thought or an opinion, not a feeling.  So when you say “I feel like you’re being an asshole” you are actually not expressing your feelings at all. Try to examine how you actually feel before you communicate those feelings to your partner.  “I feel disrespected when you speak to me in that way” is a better way to communicate and express what you’re really feeling.

You need to know how you are feeling when conflicts arise so that you can actually say what that feeling is.  Many conflicts can be resolved not by deciding who is right or wrong, but by listening to how an event or statement impacted both partners on an emotional level.

Taking Responsibility for Your Feelings

Part of building a strong emotional bond with your partner is taking responsibility for your own feelings, as well as understanding the limits of your partner’s impact on you.  This means that while your partner’s words and behaviors certainly have an impact on your emotional life, you are ultimately responsible for how you handle your own feelings.

Your partner cannot be responsible for making you happy. You have to take responsibility for your own happiness, because if you leave it up to anyone else, you will always be disappointed.  Of course our relationships impact our mood and our general life satisfaction. Relationships with others in general are arguably the # 1 most important factor in how happy people are. You can have all the money in the world but if your relationships with other people are terrible, you will still be lonely and unhappy.

However, it is not your partner’s responsibility to fill you up and make you happy. I have seen some couples where one person is bending over backwards to make their partner happy and yet there is still conflict and tension because the other person is ultimately not happy with themselves.  You have to own your feelings and take responsibility for your own emotional health rather than requiring your partner to always say or do the exact thing you need in order to feel happy.

Sometimes this means expressing your needs rather than expecting your partner to know what your needs are. You may have to be really clear about what your needs are, because your partner may sincerely not know. If you want more verbal reassurance from your partner, you need to be able to say “Sometimes I just need you to listen and tell me it’s going to be okay because we’ll get through things together”.  Expecting them to know exactly what you need to hear to feel better is not always a fair expectation.

Knowing Your Own Value

Another important building block of emotional intimacy is knowing your own value.  Sometimes, those feelings of insecurity and fear of vulnerability brings conflicts into our relationships when we don’t know our own value and want others to show us that we are valuable.

Certainly you want a partner that values you and expresses that to you.  However, just as with owning your own feelings, you ultimately have to know your value and be able to feed yourself the confidence you crave rather than expecting your partner to fill that void. Being confident in yourself allows you to create emotional intimacy because it helps mitigate the risk you take when you open yourself up to be vulnerable. When you know that you can be vulnerable because no matter what you still love and value yourself, then it is easier to open up to others, especially your partner.

Willingness To Take Risks

Once you understand and own your feelings and feel confident in your own value, then you need to be prepared to take risks with your partner to create that emotional intimacy you want.  This means actually doing the work of facing your fear of vulnerability to let someone know when you feel hurt or devalued in reaction to something that has happened.

Opening up to your partner to be vulnerable is a risk, because it is always risky to let your guard down and let someone else into your emotional space. Yet it is precisely this act of being vulnerable and open with your partner, even when it hurts and you fear they may not give you what you need, that the deep emotional bonds are created. The beauty of this risk is that sometimes you will take that risk and be vulnerable, which allows you to find out that your partner not only validates your feelings, but also opens up in return.

This shared expression of vulnerability is the process by which emotional intimacy is built and strengthened. When you have more of these intimate moments together, you will create a stronger bond together as couple and will feel safer with each other because you understand each other on a deeper level.  That is what most couples are seeking when they are looking for someone to share their life with, and that is what the power of vulnerability will bring you.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For more posts in the Relationship Series, check out:

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

 

Relationship Series: Shared Values

Relationship Series: Shared Values

This is the second post in my Relationship Series and will cover the importance of shared values in your relationship.  Values are important in your partnership because values are going to help define what is important to you as individuals and as a couple.  This doesn’t mean that you have to agree on everything, but it is important that you agree on the issues that you define as most important.

We get our values from many different places.  Our parents, our communities, our beliefs, and our broader culture all help to shape our value systems. The great thing about values though, is that as you grow and learn more about yourself and the world we live in you will get to decide what your own most important values are.

When you enter into a relationship with another person, you might find that you share a lot of common values and beliefs, or you may find that you clash on some issues.  However, learning to refine and validate your own value systems will help clarify for you as a couple what is most important for your future together.

When I work with couples in therapy, we often spend time defining those shared values and learning how to use those values to strengthen the relationship and find common ground to work through conflicts. We do this by going through a few steps to explore and clarify those values. You can also work on clarifying values with your partner by processing what your most important values are, exploring how you developed those values, and deciding how important your individual values are to your relationship as a couple.

Clarifying Values

Look over the following values and number them 1 through 10 as to what is most important to you. You should do this individually, and then talk together about your responses and see if you both have similar priorities.

  • Love
  • Financial Wealth
  • Respect
  • Career Success
  • Education
  • Family
  • Power
  • Friends
  • Freedom
  • Independence
  • Spirituality
  • Religion
  • Political beliefs
  • Peace
  • Fun
  • Beauty
  • Free time
  • Morals
  • Honesty
  • Humor
  • Stability
  • Fairness
  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Nature
  • Wisdom
  • Relaxation
  • Safety
  • Popularity
  • Intimacy
  • Trust
  • Adventure
  • Loyalty
  • Reason
  • Variety
  • Discipline
  • Self-expression
  • _________
  • _________
  • _________

 

If you share a lot of these values and rank them similarly, this means that you have a great strength in your relationship that you can use to guide you when you have conflicts.  If you find that your answers are extremely divergent, then this tells you that as a couple you may often have clashes over significant value differences, and it may be difficult to reconcile those divergent values.

How To Know What Is Important

Clarifying your own values can help you figure out if there are conflicts that you have been having as a couple that are not really in line with what your most important values are.  For example, if Peace is a really important value to you, but you find that you are having a lot of arguments over things that are less important to you than peace, then this tells you that perhaps you have been placing too much emphasis and wasting too much energy on those conflicts.

Alternatively, if you are having significant conflict over perhaps the division of chores in the home, you may discover that Fairness is really important to one or both of you. While arguing over chores may seem petty from afar, if this is a value that is not being upheld in the home, this presents an opportunity to talk as a couple about how that value can be better incorporated into your relationship so that there are fewer conflicts in this area.

The good news is that you as a couple get to decide what is most important to both of you.  Understanding what is most important to your partner as well can help you to find common ground and understand each other better, which will lead to better conflict resolution.

Where Do Your Values Come From?

Another important step in understand your shared values is to understand where your values came from.  You may have learned to value certain things because of your parent’s values, or because of certain experiences you have had in your life.

For example, if you have ever experienced poverty or economic instability in your life, this could be an important part of why financial stability is important to you. While some people may say or believe that money is not important to the relationship, you may find that your individual experiences shape why your values may be different in some areas.

You may also discover that your own values do not necessarily line up with the values that society imparts on all of us, or you might discover that while your parents may have upheld certain values when you were growing up but you no longer share all their beliefs or values.

Ask yourself what values are important for you to live by, and then ask yourself if you are actually living by those values.  If you find that you value respect, but you know that you have not always been respectful to your partner, then this is an area that you can start to work on so that you are more closely living by your own values.

Using Shared Values to Resolve Conflict

Once you have talked as a couple about what your individual and shared values are, then you can move on to discussing how to apply those values to the conflicts that you are having. Have a discussion about how any conflicts that you have had related to the values that you have decided are most important to you.

This may also mean that you recognize that a conflict you’ve had actually doesn’t reflect your values, which means that you can use that information to change how you resolve conflict in the future.

For example, let’s say an argument occurs because one partner brought home some friends late at night that their partner didn’t know or feel comfortable around.  One partner may rationalize that they should be able to bring home whomever they want to their home, and feel irritated at their partner for getting upset. However, if through a discussion they can recognize that this act didn’t live up to their shared values of safety and respect, then they may be able to better understand their partner’s discomfort at the situation. Understanding the importance of shared values and the role they play in the strength of your relationship can help you both make decisions that are a good reflection of the values you want to uphold.

No one feels good when they fall short of their own values.  We can often feel shame, embarrassment, or defensiveness when our actions do not match our own values.  Recognizing that your values are an important part of who you are and making conscious attempts with your partner to center your shared values in your relationship will help strengthen your partnership and resolve conflict in a healthier way.

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For more information about relationships and building a strong partnership, check out my author page for a link to my book for couples “Work It Out: A Survival Guide to the Modern Relationship”  and if you want more resources for building a healthy relationship, subscribe here and I’ll send you the free Couples Communication Toolkit that I designed to get you on the right track with your relationship communication.

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For other posts in this series, check out:

Relationship Series: Couples’ Communication

Relationship Series: Emotional Intimacy

Relationship Series: Personal Confidence and Your Partnership

Relationship Series: How to Stop Past Pain from Damaging Your Relationship

Relationship Series: When Opposites Attract- How to Manage Personality Differences

Relationship Series: Sexual Compatibility and Your Partnership

Un-Resolving in the New Year

Un-Resolving in the New Year

New Year’s resolutions can be a great way to set goals for the upcoming months and assess your progress from the past year, but many people have become exhausted and cynical about new year’s resolutions, and it’s not hard to see why.

“New Year, New You!” messages bombard us in the media, imploring us to better ourselves and stop using excuses for not achieving our goals. It’s tempting to jump into the latest weight loss challenge or resolve to magically change your life by tidying up.  But maybe you didn’t follow through with last year’s resolutions, so this year you don’t even want to try. Or perhaps you just don’t like the pressure of having to declare victory or failure at the end of the year and announce your determination to try again.

I’ve seen many people saying they don’t like new year’s resolutions because they don’t follow through or because it feels like a competition, but they still have goals that they are striving towards. For some, it seems like there’s just a semantics issue that doesn’t change the spirit of practicing reflection and striving for new goals. I think all of us, however, can agree that setting goals and letting go of past mistakes is a good thing.

Personally, I love New Year’s resolutions, despite the fact that I’ve fallen short of many of mine. Sometimes I don’t even remember what it was by March. That doesn’t stop me from continuing to work on my goals every year, I just seem to decide to put the ones I won’t really get to under the title of “New Year’s Resolution”. Maybe that makes it seem less impactful when I don’t accomplish it. Because sure, I fell short of my New Year’s Resolution, but doesn’t everybody? If I put it on my goals list, though, I won’t put it on the back burner.

That being said, I still love the whole spirit of the New Year because it is a chance to step back and reflect on the past year and see how things have changed, and set your sights to making the next year an improvement in one way or another.

It can be hard to reflect on your year and see that you’ve fallen behind in your goals, or realize that your life has changed in a profound way, perhaps not by your own choosing, such as when you lose a loved one. But reflection doesn’t have to be about measuring progress or failures.  It can also be about recognizing your strengths and acknowledging your weaknesses.  Not because you want to overcome every flaw and become a more perfect version of yourself, but because recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses is part of being your own authentic self.

So for those of you out there who are ready to set your resolutions and smash them this year- resolve away! I will always encourage you to set high goals for yourself and go for them. Just make sure that your goals are centered around what you really want, and not what you think you should be doing to present a picture perfect version of yourself to the world. You’ll be more likely to follow through if you set goals for yourself.

For those of you who can’t stand the idea of making another failed New Year’s Resolution, keep pressing forward with your otherwise named goals and create plans to accomplish them year-round.  You don’t need pomp and circumstance and a Facebook announcement or a new challenge to sign up for to keep plugging away at your career/life/family/health goals.

I want to think our culture has broadly shifted away from the high pressure, high stakes, dogged commitment to presenting perfection as the ultimate goal and solution to all your problems in the New Year.  I have a tendency to think that’s true, but then I realize that the reason I don’t see those kinds of messages that much anymore is because I choose not to. I have, myself, shifted away from those kinds of high stakes pressures to be practically perfect in every way, so therefore I surround myself with like-minded social accounts and steer clear of any media, businesses, or product lines that cater to a self-critical mentality. Yet I realize that those kinds of messages are still glaringly present for many people, and we are all still susceptible to absorbing negative messages wrapped in a self-care package, particularly young people.

I’m choosing to UnResolve this year.  This just means that I’m planning to continue to work on all of the goals and plans that I have and I’m going to continue to value myself, my family, and my community this year.  I’m going to reflect on my past year with gratitude for everything I got to experience and accomplish, and I’m going to look forward to everything still to come and make concrete plans to make progress on my goals.  But I’m not going to set another arbitrary resolution that sits on the shelf and does nothing but stare at me, only for me to realize mid-June that I’ve been busy working on my goals.

My life continues to flow year in and year out. My goals will never be truly finished, because I will always look for new ways to move forward, and I constantly resolve to try something over again that I haven’t accomplished to my satisfaction, no matter what time of year it is. By the way, I haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book, but I did start watching her Netflix show “Tidying Up” and I find her totally adorable and I’m not sure why she gets so much flack for being tidy. I should probably go fold up my laundry now, though. Happy New Year everyone!