#EmbraceTheMess

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There's so much chatter about how to be a good parent. How to nurture the best in your children.

All the advice.

Truth is, adulting can be hard.

Parenting can be harder still.

You may have run out of energy to devote to yourself and the relationship that got you here in the first place.

That's where the #MessyParenthoodCommunity comes in.

We get it.

We're not here to judge you, just to hold space for you.

Years ago, when I entered the tribe of motherhood a wise mamma said to me "the nicest thing you can do for another mom, is invite her over to your messy house."

Too often we see what we think others lives really are and we judge ourselves in comparison. But these things we think are others truths, aren't the whole picture.

They don't include the messes. Internal or external.

WE ARE NOW FORMING, a group for moms and dads.

A space where you can be seen, heard and understood.

Building community - in person mixers and a professionally facilitated facebook group.

We're a professionally moderated community that meets both online AND in person (presently in NY and CO with hopes to expand our reach). We offer mommas and poppas a space to dive in, get real and connect.

 

The Somehow Theory

The Somehow Theory is a story that holds me. I hope it offers you some holding and hope too....

The first time I remember asking, I'm five years old and we're sitting in a flower print swivel club chair in the mirrored living room. It's the early 80s.

I sit on grandpa’s lap, cuddle into him and trace the green tattooed numbers on his left forearm with my index finger, over and over just the same as I locate each freckle on his arm. These are his markings. I know them by heart. Perhaps what I know even more than anything is the love I feel sitting on his lap as I trace. This is my safe space. “Grandpa, what do these numbers mean?”

The Somehow Theory

“These numbers,” he tells me, this time and countless times to come, “are my story. And you, are my reason for living.” These are big words to land on the shoulders and in the heart of a child still small and innocent enough to nestle into grandpa’s lap for a journey into the stories that follow all the “why’s” I so naturally provoke him with.

He tells me he has so many stories in him but he’s promised himself not to share most of them with me. “You don’t need to know it all,” he says gently. He can’t bear for me to. After all, I'm his reason for living.

Over the years he tells me his stories in small bursts; about how the family was separated immediately after getting off the cattle cars at Aushwitz. One of my grandfather's brothers was carrying their invalid father, a WW1 hero, followed by his mother and two sisters. When they arrived, they were all sent to the left. My grandfather, on his own, was sent to the right. He survived. Later that day, he asked another prisoner when he'd see his family again. The prisoner responded by shouting to him, “Look up, you see that smoke," he said. "There they are." And so he knew. Not even twenty fours hours after entering the camp, he knew what was in store for them all.

He also shared so many stories about liberation. My grandfather and his two buddies, whom he’d bonded together and survived with in camp, went looking for a sister who they had heard survived at Bergen Belsen. They didn’t find her. Instead they met three women, among them my grandmother. The women were still living in the camp when they met. The men told them they’d be back when they had a place for them to live, then they'd marry them. The women laughed. Who were these men? These three newly liberated men used their moxie and somehow managed to obtain new suits from a local shopkeeper and then came back to woo the women. Again and again. Each time in new suits. And in no time the three couples married.

Girls my age had princesses but I had liberation as my love story.

I hold onto this love story, passed down from my grandparents, two holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives on The Somehow Theory.

That somehow, if you believe enough, if you hope enough, it will work out.

No matter how hard it is.

As we watched the results of our presidential election roll in, my husband looked me in the eye and said, "We have to live each day. That's it. Don't succumb to fear. Live. Love." And that's what I'm planning on. Living and loving as much as I can every damn day. It's exactly the medicine my grandparents would have recommended. I invite you to join me.

The remedy for "not enoughness"

The Remedy for "Not Enoughness" - photo credit Rebecca Wong

I couldn’t sleep. I was feeling frustrated and unable to express my thoughts clearly on the written page. I’ve been observing processes and patterns in my clinical work with clients, consultations with colleagues, and in my personal life.

I’ve felt called to share these patterns with you, my community. But I was stuck and unable to find words to express my observations. I know that this too is a common thread, a through line between all of us who are experiencing and seeing great transformation but just can’t find the words to describe it all.

The thing is, when you are stuck, when you are in the messy murky ick of feeling not good enough, you can’t go around it. You can’t distract yourself away from it. You must go through it.

And, until you do move through your “not good enough” territory, you’re going to keep stumbling every time you try to skip over a certain line in your story. It’s a pattern that will keep showing up like a constant shadow until you find a way to heal.

So here I was, up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, quiet literally afraid of the shadow, of my own shadow. I couldn’t even turn off the Himalayan salt lamp that sits next to my bed. Its soft warm glow soothed me. And when my husband awoke and looked at me and asked me to turn off the lamp and cuddle in with him, I did and then I gave myself permission to cry.

This mess, this ick...this was me finding my through line. I had to feel my way into the shadow while I was wrapped in the darkness of an October night.

But after the darkest night, there’s always a morning

The next morning my friend and I met for a walk at Gatehouse Road. Hudson Valley locals will surely know this path with its canopy of trees and the tremendous views of the Mohonk tower that sits atop the Ridge. I parked my car at the head of the trail and as my dog Tova and I waited for my friend and her daughter to arrive, magic unfolded.

I have to back up a bit. The process of training Tova has become a touchstone for me,  I’m still quite a novice. She’s an amazing teacher but it’s taking awhile to understand what she needs of me. I’m learning, for example, that part of my role is to anticipate the approach of other dogs and read her body language well enough to step between them when needed. Some dogs will stop her in her tracks from 100 feet away. She’ll nose right up to some dogs in hopes of getting a good sniff. She drops directly into a play bow for some. And others will make her toss her ears back and raises her hackles. I’m learning what her body language means. I’m a good but slow study. That’s how I learn.

As Tova and I were waiting we came in contact with a few other dogs in a range of temperaments and it was good practice for us to rehearse our roles. We started to get good at her stepping behind and I in front. And during our dance rehearsal we happened to meet Joseph.

I say happened, but it’s quite literally like he was planted there for us to meet.

 

Joseph and I shared a connection. At first, it was over his painting and my dog, over the beauty of the day and the history of the gatehouse, and then, it went deeper. We talked about creativity and making and how he’d been a painter forever. We talked about my nearly forgotten art school background. He gave me permission to photograph his work and asked me to snap a few shots with his camera as well.

I thought I was just killing some time while waiting for a friend, but, something magical had just transpired. And I was so in the moment that I hadn’t noticed. A sleeping piece of me was waking up.

Waking up your flow, getting unstuck

I’ve been experiencing a lot of waking up lately. This seems to be how my creativity works: I don’t even realize I’d been sleeping until I experience a rather painful awakening. First I feel stuck and I stumble, I trip over the through line of feeling that shows me there’s something I need to learn, I need to pay attention to. As part of this cycle, I can see that “stuckness” is actually a natural ebb, a space for integration.

I didn’t know it yet, but Joseph was standing at the portal of my next awakening.

My friend and her daughter arrive. It’s time to say goodbye to the man with the brushes and the canvas. It’s time to pass through to something new.

My friend is a writer, a storyteller, a truth seeker. We cut through the fluff and dives fully into the infinite enoughness as we walk and talk and process together. We pause according to the needs of my dog and her toddler. Little mirrors, they take turns reflecting our energy in their antics.

We’re talking about a piece she’s editing for me. It’s the piece that haunted my sleepless night. All the feelings rush back: I’m stuck again. I’m not enough. I can’t write like she does and I can’t find my story. I’m just sharing my raw, unfiltered process and we know that the process alone won’t be enough to draw you in. And though the piece isn’t in front of us as we walk, we can still discuss it because it isn’t about anything I’ve written. It’s about this moment we’re having. It’s us feeling our way into something greater.

And then we step out of the shadows of the trees and into the pasture with the pigs dressed as cows --that’s what her daughter decided they were-- and the tears that shadowed the day dissolve into laughter.  We get it. We live in this AWE-FULL place with these god AWE-FULL views and this AWE-FULL company  and… We’re seeing the joke and the light in the midst of the negativity loop and we --no me-- this is my process. My friend has kindly stepped on board to keep me company, keep it flowing now simply to exaggerate it and make it more laughable. More of a punctuation mark on this moment.

In this moment I’m waking up. I’m seeing my friend as a companion who helps me see myself and Joseph as a magical mentor whose presence helped initiate a space for me to think and see a new way of being.

My friend is holding space, as if she too knows we are standing at this important juncture, she’s watching me wake up and she knows that what I need more than anything in this moment in time is to really show up and connect. And she knows that as I am feeling my connection to all these less secure parts of me, her presence grounds me. That's what relationships do. They allow us opportunities to see our own reflection --mess and all-- in another’s eyes. They hold us when we need holding.

As we return to our cars, Joseph is no longer there. I recognize how our brief interaction helped me slow down and tune in, to find my connection point. I had been so busy trying to write that I stopped feeling the message I was trying to share.

And here’s the magical turn of this story, you know that piece that kept me up at night, the one I couldn’t find the words for? It was exactly this: when we slow down and drop into the feelings and share our experiences with our trusted and dearest, the magic unfolds. The story reshapes itself.

You have to slow down and sit with yourself to feel.

Slowing down is what feeling the feelings is all about. Slowing down. Sitting with. Simply being. I know this, but I too get stuck. This process can’t be rushed or swept away in the flood of all the things you have to do.

Feelings aren’t something you do. They are what you are.

You have to make space to hold and feel. It will take time and attention. It’s a multi layered sensory experience. It’s all about seeing yourself. As you are. About accepting yourself and loving yourself. It’s about attending to and holding yourself. And in all that tending to, you uncover the medicine you need. Because without this self directed layer of attention you can’t take in love and attention from another.

You too can create a practice of slowing down, tuning in, sitting with and simply observing being you. And from the cultivation of that practice over time you create an inner dynamic that ripples out and creates an influx of Connectfulness in your life and relationships.

This topic is my emerging focus and it’s what we’re exploring on The Practice of Being Seen podcast that we are launching later this year.  I hope you’ll tune in and keep the discussion going with us!

Indifference and Love

Elie Wiesel quote

I found myself contemplating this quote following the recent death of Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor, noble peace prize winner, author, and witness of suffering.  

When I look at my own relationships, and when I peer into the relationships my clients entrust me with, what I see is that every single one of us wants to feel that we matter. 

Really matter.

The kind of mattering that makes you feel like you are worthy. That you are enough. That you are seen, heard and understood. That you are desired.

This is what I have come to know as a relationship therapist. And also as human being.

I too want to feel desired, enough, worthy, seen, heard & understood. I want to know that my existence matters to the people I care most about.

Countless couples and adults come into my office every week and tell me the same. This is the stuff couples fight about. This is what children act out about. This is the essence of human relational connection.

This is the big secret.

If you want to live into powerful relationships that transform you into your best self, you must show up. Fully. But it’s not simply about your showing up, it’s also about really conveying to the others in your life that you're there for them.

This doesn’t mean that you always agree or that there is no conflict in your life. In fact, I might even suggest that conflict —in and of itself— is not a bad thing. That is, once you get comfortable managing it.

It's no secret that unmanaged conflict destroys relationships, but so too does indifference.

Indifference is what makes you (or your partner, child, friend, stranger, everyone) feel unworthy. That you aren't enough. That you're invisible, misunderstood, unheard and not desired. 

Chances are that if you are struggling in a relationship, then feeling like you matter, like your voice really matters, would mean the world to you. It would matter to the strength of your relationship.

Your struggle is a reminder to love.

Love is an act. A verb. A thing you do and experience. It's about seeing, hearing and understanding another and experiencing the reciprocity of feeling that returned towards yourself. 

Everyone wants to feel like they matter. 

Indifference is the opposite of love.

A note from the editors: if Rebecca's perspective on indifference and love resonated with you, please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

Part 6 | Play is Relationship Glue

Play is Relationship Glue

A note on the Reconnecting Parent Couples Series: These eight posts present  perspectives and advice from respected colleagues and experts from across the world. I’ll also weave in my personal and professional discoveries and introduce you to aspects of my evolving relationship practice: Connectfulness.   

>> PART 5 | WHAT IS PLAY? <<

When you’re deeply engaged in doing something you love, you experience a sense of flow and ease. You get lost in the moment and time feels fluid. You aren’t sure if things are moving faster or slower; you just simply loose track of time all together.

When I am in that state of flow with another person I tend to find myself feeling really groovy about our connection. And when that someone is my husband, well, that takes me back to where it all began.

My husband and I met on a rock climbing day trip with mutual friends. We slowly developed our relationship through lots of playtime. Rock climbing and snowboarding trips were our jam and it was on these trips that our interest in one another was piqued.

Now that we’ve been together for more than a decade, we still need to play. In fact, we probably need it even more. Because without play, all we have left is the busy work, the messy moments, and the juggling act of our daily life. We need play as individuals and we need playtime together as a couple.

Play is Relationship Glue

When your relationship is out of balance, when you feel unsafe, or when you struggle to be vulnerable with your partner, you probably feel less playful.

And, when play is denied over the long term, your mood darkens. You get depressed, irritable, your attempts to connect with the people you love may become more of a struggle, or worse, you stop trying to connect all together.

Play helps you find your way to security. When you feel more secure in your relationships, you have the strength to evolve in all aspects of your life.

You could say there’s a fascinating “chicken or the egg” scenario at work here. When you feel safe, you’re more available to play. The more you play, the easier it is to deepen intimacy.

When did play come more easily to you?

Remember when you were dating? Remember how it felt to simply be together in the days before you became parents?

It's hard to play and get back to those 'when we first met' moments. In fact, 70% of parenting couples report a decline in relationship satisfaction after the birth of their first child. Why is that? Here’s my hypothesis:

As a society, we take parenting too seriously. (We also take “adulting” too seriously. And childhood too for that matter).

You want to be the best parent you can be. You are biologically driven to tune into your child. You’re conditioned to put your own needs, and the needs of your partner on the back burner. And in doing so, you lose track of what it means to play and be playful.

“The defining factor among couples who were able to find romance again, and even to find new fields of emotional intimacy previously unexplored, was that they were able to find ways to play together. Those who played together, stayed together. Those who didn’t either split or, worse yet, simply endured an unhappy and dysfunctional relationship.

What has become clear to me now is how play can become the cornerstone of all personal relationships, from everyday interactions to long-term love. In fact, I would claim that sustained emotional intimacy is impossible without play.”

Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play

You evolve - or do not - through the success of your relationships

When relationships are playful, it feels safer to pause, lean in, and regroup when things feel rough.  In playful relationships, it feels a whole heck of a lot easier to lead with curiosity rather than defensiveness.

In the post, What is Play? we discussed how your relationship can be reshaped by simply playing with your attitude. Recent findings show that play actually creates new neural connections that are essential to the way information gets organized in your brain. During play, ideas and actions can be formed and tested safely because your survival is not at stake (I'm so grateful to Dr. Stuart Brown and his book, Play, for giving us these concepts).

It can be hard to imagine what that means. Do you remember the game RedRover, RedRover from grade school?

A brief review: it begins with two teams of equal size, each team holding hands, facing one another in two lines. One team starts by calling over a member of the other team “Red Rover, Red Rover, let __ come over!”

The team member who gets called out makes a rush for the other team’s line attempting to break through their linked hands. If he doesn’t break through, he joins their team, if he does, he selects one of their team member to join his team. Each team continues to call someone over until all the players are on the winning team.

This is play. Play is what happens when everyday rules are exchanged for a new set of rules that guide your interaction. But play is about more than switching up the rules. The profound shift takes place in each participant’s mindset.  

Play is what happens when you sit down with Jenga, a game of cards, Red Rover, a crossword puzzle, or whatever it is that connects you to your flow. Ultimately, however, play is about  how you approach situations, not the activity you’re engaged in.

Boost your pleasure, enjoyment & connection

Throughout your life, play helps to sculpt your brain and helps you enter into relationships more fully and freely. These playful relationships offer you a safe haven of security and can be a launching pad that enables you to go out and explore the world.

In play, it’s easier to stay connected and keep your attention on the people and things that matter most.

This makes sense when you think about your own children and what they need to learn and grow, right? You are wired in just the same way they are. Play, after all, has a purpose, it’s about connection and growth. Being willing to play is about being able to connect and fail together.

Sometimes it’s hard to play, it’s hard to be vulnerable. And that’s exactly when we need to really slow things down.

Slow down

Moments that challenge you to move out of your comfort zone also allow you to pause and learn something about how far you can go, what it means to regroup, and how you and the people you care about can carry on.

In play, it’s safe to fail and try again. This is the nature of play, experimentation and exploration. You don’t have to get it all right all the time, you just need to be willing to keep trying.

Play can become a safe space to pay attention to and test how safe you feel in your relationship. Where else do you have this kind of  access to see what does and doesn’t work and adapt accordingly?

While it can be challenging, healthy play stretches you to grow and mature. By its very nature this growth will be uncomfortable. That’s often where couples get caught up -  in the discomfort. To truly grow, and to grow together as a couple, you need to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. You need to challenge your partner and let them challenge you - playfully. .This the the stuff that makes for passion and desire. This is the stuff that pushes you outside your comfort zone, just so enough that you don’t stagnant. This is the powerful, beautiful part of pushing boundaries.

How to Rediscover Play

In small, slow doses, try playing with your awareness of how you tune into and sense connection between you and your partner (you can also try this with your kids and other loved ones, but I find that when partners deepen and develop these skills together it transforms everything in the family’s life).

Let’s start by playing with a simple meditation. Take a few breaths,in and out.

Focus on the direction of your breath. Pay attention to the sensation of your breath. Keep your awareness on your breathing. You can probably keep your attention on the direction of your breath for three breaths. But the longer you keep at it, somewhere between 3 breaths and 300, you’ll likely lose focus. Your mind will wander.

Every time your mind wanders, it’s a new opportunity for you to bring your awareness back to your breath. This is where the practice of meditation is honed; in the noticing of when your attention has strayed and in flexing the awareness muscle to come back. Every time you do this, your brain gets better at doing it again. You develop new pathways in your brain. That re-attention to your breath, if you do it gently, without criticism: that’s play.

Your relationship needs a similar sort of framework and mindset for play too. The willingness to notice and to bring your awareness and attention into coming back into balance and cultivating that safe, playful space. This is the Connectfulness Practice that is at the heart of what I offer my client and my community.

Over time, you’ll be able to observe how you stay connected and develop an awareness of where your disconnects occur. Eventually, when you notice these connections and disconnections, you’ll be able to practice pulling yourselves back into balance - and back into your relationship.

You can begin to develop your own Connectfulness Practice. Make it a game of relationship mindfulness in which you both explore your expectations and boundaries. Notice how you feel, deepen your awareness of your partner and practice the art of helping each other feel more secure and connected.

Have I inspired you to delve a teensy bit deeper into exploring your relational mindset and rediscovering play?

Sign up for the invite list for Respark, my upcoming audio course, to help couples rediscover your playful spark.  In this audio course you’ll have a chance to dive into these ideas in a dynamic, experiential way.

 

communication & the art of getting to know your partner

 

So many couples don't know how to talk to one another!

It's my mission, to help couples respark relationships by talking about stuff, all the stuff, the good stuff, the bad stuff the difficult stuff. The person you are married to is not the same person you married nor will they be the same person when you are 80 years old, nor are you. You have to keep the conversation flowing, that's the only way to really know one another.

To do that, you have to know yourself, your partner has to know themselves and then you can both open the discussion and keep learning one another. The most important part, is that at the end of the day you both feel seen, heard & understood. This is the stuff that creates deeply connected couples.

I'd love to hear one thing you choose to do today to open up and get to know your partner.

And if you can use a helpful little nudge, I may have just the thing for you...

[button type="default" text="the {Re}Spark e-course for couples" url="https://connectfulness.com/respark-ecourse-invite-list" open_new_tab="true"]

[button type="default" text="Reboot Your Relationship: a free 21-day series" url="https://connectfulness.com/relationship-reboot-free-21-day-series" open_new_tab="true"]

PLAY & CONNECTION | Episode 45 of The Couples Expert Podcast

HONEYMOON

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed (again) by Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW on The Couples Expert Podcast. We had a great conversation about how play is essential for connection and growth.

Play has a purpose. It helps us sustain healthy relationships. As I mentioned in the recent what is play post, play is a state of mind.  

In this episode Stuart and I talk about what play means and the purpose it holds, how playfulness can help you reconnect with your partner, how you can use play and a playful mindset to reset your relationship and how play can help you repair hurts and avoid common relationship pitfalls.

[button type="default" text="Listen to the Podcast Now" url="http://www.thecouplesexpertscottsdale.com/?powerpress_pinw=4867-podcast" open_new_tab="true"]

I'd love to hear your feedback!

Now that you’re inspired to play, make a date for it. Join my Valentine’s Day mid-day couples retreat in Accord, New York. Or sign up for the early interest list for the {Re}Spark e-course to help parenting couples rediscover their playful spark (I’ll be releasing it soon).

PART 5 | WHAT IS PLAY?

What is Play?

An 8-part blog series, helping parent couples reconnect.

A note on the Reconnecting Parent Couples Series: These eight posts present  perspectives and advice from respected colleagues and experts from across the world. I’ll also weave in my personal and professional discoveries and introduce you to aspects of my evolving relationship practice: Connectfulness.   

>> Part 4 | DISCONNECTION HAPPENS, OR, YES, HAPPY COUPLES FIGHT TOO! <<

When it is incorporated into your daily rhythm, play can fundamentally shift everything about how you and the people you love relate to one another...I find that’s especially important for parenting couples to keep in mind.

So what gives? Why does the word and concept of play totally stress people out? Perhaps you are unsure about what play looks like.

“Play's a little like pornography in that you know it when you see it.” Jill Vialet, the CEO of Playworks

Well, duh!  But that doesn’t exactly help you start adding more play into the connections that fuel your daily life, does it?

So, what is play?

Play is a state of mind rather than an activity.

When at play you’re in a state of enjoyment. Your sense of  self-consciousness and sense of time are both suspended. Whatever you are engaged in, you want to do it again and again. Though you may feel  like it’s  purposeless activity, something important and healing is happening…

Play can be hard to define. It can include  so much. Humor, flirtation, games, roughhousing, storytelling, fantasizing, collecting, movement, exploring, competing, directing, creating.

Play looks like different things to different people, but here is what we know:

Play is a natural and biologically driven social exploration. It helps you learn about, and experience your world and your relationships by encouraging discovery.and feeding curiosity.

Play is inhibited and shuts down when you don’t feel safe (In my practice, when my clients can’t or aren’t playing in  their relationships I want to know more about what doesn’t feel safe. And we slowly begin our exploration there).

Play allows you to practice essential life and relational skills. It is full of triumphs and failures and everything in between.

Play is magical, integrative, and healing. It allows you to process, digest, and gain understanding about your life and your relationships. 

And perhaps most importantly, play happens in your mind. In fact, recent findings in neuroscience are showing that nothing lights up our brains like play does.

Why do we need to play?

We adult humans keep forgetting about the purpose of play, or we simply don’t value play. I get that, it’s so easy to do. When you are in the flow of play, it feels totally purposeless. And part of being a grown up is to have a clear sense of purpose, right?

We push children of all ages to play less & sit more. We are placing value on decoding and recall rather than comprehension and collaboration. Children are missing out on the experiential learning that they can only absorb through the process of play.

But then, it’s no wonder that we’ve taken the play out of children’s education - adults have eliminated play from their busy lives. they don’t know how to model or pass on something as purposeless as “just playing.”

We often think that as adults we shouldn't play, that we should stay serious and focused all of the time and that couldn't be farther from the truth. When couples are really stuck in the thick of stress, I suggest bringing in some kind of play. It can allow partners to connect in a light hearted way. It can also be a great way to reminisce and re-live the earlier days of the relationship when things were less stressful and more fun. Dr. Lily A. Zehner

We are designed to play throughout our whole lifetime

Play is very much a pre-programed social mammalian skill. Watch a pack of puppies, or a litter of kittens. How do they interact with one another and learn appropriate social behaviors?

They play!

They wrestle with one another, they push and pull on boundaries and they either get redirected by one another or mamma when they’ve gone too far or they tire out in a happy exhausted pile, content with one another.

And it’s not different for us humans. We learn how to connect in play.

Your sense of safety and trust in relationship are established through play signals such as eye-contact, facial expression, voice tone, posture, gesturing, timing and intensity of response.

In play, it's safe to fail, to fall get up and try again.  Play makes it easier to adapt and stay connected.  

If you want to keep growing, you must keep playing

Stuart Brown, MD author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul and the founder of the National Institute for Play says that when we stop playing, “our behaviour becomes fixed. We are not interested in new and different things. We find fewer opportunities to take pleasure in the world around us.

If you want to do more than merely survive in your relationships, you need to play. Couples who thrive know how to play.

Play reminds us not to take life too seriously. Couples often get stuck on recycling the "bad stuff" in their relationships and stop making new, fun memories. An analogy I like to use is that people have two rooms where they keep their memories of their relationships. One room has all the "good" memories and the other room has all the "bad" ones. How we feel about our relationship is how much time we spend in each room. By playing together couples spend more time in the "good" room and also develop new, happy memories. Mark Vaughan MAMFT, AMFT

When you start to make play your mindset — the attitude you use to approach life situations — you get to practice how you perceive and respond to other's emotional states in a safe, no pressure way.

Play is the glue that connects people to one another. In my next post we’ll dive deeper into how you can rediscover play if you’ve lost it, stay tuned!

>> Part 6 | Play Is Relationship Glue <<

 

 

 

Part 4 | DISCONNECTION HAPPENS, OR, YES, HAPPY COUPLES FIGHT TOO!

An 8-part blog series, helping parent couples reconnect.

A note on the Reconnecting Parent Couples Series: These eight posts present  perspectives and advice from respected colleagues and experts from across the world. I’ll also weave in my personal and professional discoveries and introduce you to aspects of my evolving theory: Connectfulness.   

>> PART 3 | Intimacy Begins With You: 7 Ways To Reconnect With Yourself (And The People You Love) <<

You and your partner get caught  in a cycle of connection and disconnection. You know this cycle of “Withdrawal and Repair” all too well. (Though you may not call it that yet. Stay with me.)

It’s been three and half weeks since you had sex. Or three months. Or maybe you don't even remember the last time. How did that happen?  

You’re barely talking to your partner over dinner because you disagreed about...oh gosh, what was that fight about? Nevermind, the point is that you didn’t feel heard and understood. You didn't feel like you mattered.

You clashed over your parenting styles and now you are wondering how you could have ever thought raising a family together was a good idea in the first place.

We all like to think that we can avoid the mess of disconnection in relationships. But we can’t. The simple truth is that relationships are messy and disconnects happen.

You know this about relationships - after all, you watched your own parents (or caregivers) go through all of their own ups and downs.  They did their best, but perhaps they fell short on modeling healthy fights and disconnects for you. But if they couldn’t show you how to do the partnership dance in a healthy way, who was going to teach you this stuff?

Now that you’re a parent, you are more keenly aware of your struggle to ride these ups and downs, and you want to handle it all in a more graceful way. You know those little humans you are raising together are watching you and taking note...

All relationships go through cycles of connection and disconnection

Relationships don’t stagnate (that would be another kind of awful, but not the one we are talking about today). Relationships have an ebb and flow, moving through periods of connection and disconnection. In order to stay connected, you have to embrace these cycles.

As you and your partner seek a deeper, more sustainable connection, you must also allow often necessary and powerful times of disconnect - even when that’s horribly uncomfortable to do.

And you need to hold space for the discomfort in a mindful way. Otherwise, it will take hold of you and, with it, your relationship.

It can be painful to sustain the energy it takes to stay attuned and connected to your best friend and lover - particularly when your own tank is on empty.

Keep in mind, pain is information. When it hurts to stay attuned to your partner’s needs, it’s likely a sign that it’s ok to let go - at least for a little while.

You need to disconnect sometimes — make room for this healthy habit

Your need to connect co-exists with your need for separateness. These needs are inextricably linked.

To stay healthy, you need space to disconnect from all the distractions - even the people you love. You need this time to tune into you.

In the previous installment of this series, Intimacy begins with you, we talked about how sharing mutual growth offers tremendous opportunities for healing. We also explored how the greatest lessons are often concealed in a relationship’s pressure points.

(If you haven’t already read part 3, go do that now and then come back here, because it’s going to be nearly impossible to start to learn how to make these repairs and reconnect if you haven’t started with yourself.)

The not-so-secret secret about fighting with your sweetie

First, you have to be open to creating and holding space for that disconnects that inevitably going to happen. Then, you start to tune into when and how to initiate a reconnect. Relationship therapists call these reconnects “repairs.”

You and your loved one will start to see that there’s no conflict in noticing when either of you need space.

There's conflict when you don't notice.

Crazy thought, right?

Sometimes we need to fight.

Yes. Really. Sometimes conflict is exactly what you and your beloved need to refocus your attention on one another’s needs.

Say it out loud. Sometimes I'll say, "Howdy Stranger," when I realize my partner and I have been disconnected. This is a playful way of letting him know that I realize it and want it to be different.

I also let couples' know that fighting can be a really juicy way of reconnecting.

With disconnection we can get lost in the vacuum of our own thoughts and create resentments about our partners. Often, “turning toward” happens when that resentment has reached a limit and someone initiates a fight. If you see this as a positive development you can take it from there and start again from a place of more connection. Dr. Jessica Michaelson

If there is one thing you take away from reading this today, let this be it: happy couples fight. They just do a better job of it than unhappy couples. And a big part of that “better” lies in their repair skills.

You may need to fight, but only because you need the repairs that follow

When you both acknowledge and take responsibility for the disconnect you can also make a mindful effort to repair it.

You need to use your “relationship repair skills” when you’re not being mindful of taking your space for yourself. Or life gets in the way. Or the kids get sick. Or when one of you takes needed space and the other feels abandoned and resentful.

And, it’s in this repair process that we grow.

Repairs are messy and hard, but in the grand scheme of the relationship they teach us more about how we handle conflict and how we connect with each other - and they're necessary for moving forward! Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, Parent Coach

It’s in these moments when we reach out - beyond our autopilot reactions and responses - that real, relational healing happens.

It’s in the moments that come after the ick and the pain. And after the pause and regrouping.

This is the gold.

And even when you come to embrace disconnects as necessary and hone your repair skills, there will be moments when  disconnects just don’t feel good. This is  your humanness is shining through - and that’s going to happen, and that’s going to be ok.

So, what does repair look like?

Repair looks like taking responsibility - even if just for a small nugget of something that triggered your partner. In this repair conversation, you share what you need and feel.

If you can be honest and gentle in your communication with your partner, it can help get to the heart of the message that you want to communicate: you really miss your sweetie and you want to connect again.  

Being gentle is key, no one wants to be on the receiving end of a hurtful or nasty exchange. If talking about it causes you to be flooded with emotions, consider writing it down and share it with them. It also may be helpful to see a couples therapist.Dr. Lily Zehner MFT-C

A repair conversation isn’t about pointing your finger and telling your partner what you need them to do differently. It’s about taking personal responsibility for creating a safer relationship by keeping the focus on what you have influence over: you. And you also take responsibility for soothing yourself.

Self soothing is essential. It can also be simple. Consider taking a moment to pause. A deep inhale and cleansing exhale. Repeat if necessary. The benefits are profound.Dr. Lily Zehner MFT-C

When you shift your focus away from feeling disconnected and instead look at how you can reconnect and repair, it makes you feel safer - even in moments of disconnect. It makes being together, even in conflict, more tolerable.

Feeling safe with your partner gives you the freedom to say "I'm sorry, I messed up"' with the confidence that they will accept you and your apology. Dr. Agnes Wainman, Registered Psychologist

And while apologizing is a key repair tool, it’s not the only one.  The ability to step into your vulnerability is essential too.

From a place of vulnerability, for example, you’re able to share the awareness that the relationship is bigger than one particular conflict.

One of the most powerful moments in a relationship is when you can stop mid-argument, take a deep breath, (possibly eyes filled with tears) and just say 'What are we doing? We're on the same team. I love you. This hurts, this sucks and I don't want either of us to feel like this. Can we try this again?' Because it takes more love for your relationship (and less love for your ego) to do this. And that facilitates repairs tremendously. Robyn D'Angelo, LMFT, The Happy Couple Expert

The good news! Sixty-Nine Percent (69%) of the time, all our your relationship conflicts are going to be perpetually unresolvable.

They say that 78% of all statistics are made up on the spot, but this one is real - it comes out of decades of research by The Gottman Institute.

Seriously, when almost ¾ of all your your conflicts are unresolvable you need to shift the focus.

When you focus on disconnects, you live in a world of complaints, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Gottman’s research shows us that, over time, those habits kill relationships.

In order to really trust the stability of your relationship, you will need to be able to tolerate at least occasional disconnects from one another. It's in these disconnects that you’ll often find an opportunity to listen to yourself --tune in to your needs and feelings, soothe yourself-- and then come back together.

Relationship magic - and lasting repairs - happen when you embrace vulnerability

Relationships require constant work. Mindfulness. Attunement. The hardest part about living in relationship is managing the fear that comes with being intimately vulnerable with another human.  

Managing to stay in this space - in spite of the anxieties you and your partner both bring to your relationship - ultimately leads to compassionate love.

When we hide our hurt or sadness from our partner, we create a barrier between us. It takes a great deal of courage to reach out and share our deeper self with them, but when we do, we deepen the bond between us – and in seeking their comfort, invite them to do the same. Elly Taylor, Author of Becoming Us: 8 Steps to Grow a Family that Thrives

In order to really connect, you need to slow down

True connection depends on the quiet, intimate relationship magic that happens when nothing in particular is happening - except being together.

But in our “do it all/ there’s never enough” world it’s hard to slow down to make room for such moments. Making time to connect isn’t necessarily “productive” and it can be challenging.

There’s an app for everything, but there’s no tech solution that will strengthen intimate connections. The single best way to really connect is simple.

Just be together.

We're mammals, after all, and wired to connect, sync up with each other, and sleep in puppy piles.

When we're somatically aware, or tracking the subtle sensations of our bodies, we're more aware of the shifting tides of our emotions. Ours and our partners. We're more able to feel where our emotional blocks to connection are and to push past them in the most simple and heartfelt ways.

Firm supportive touch is one such way. Just laying a hand on your partner’s shoulder, or brushing their hair aside and creating a couple culture that allows for physical holding without the expectation of sexual contact (which is great when you're both there, but can feel like pressure and obligation when things are momentarily difficult).

Simple firm touch is something we're wired for as mammals. It both calms and heals our nervous systems and communicates connectivity without the need for words.

Simple, consistent, intentional touching keeps those important bonding hormones flowing and can form the backbone of moving forward together in a more and more connected manner. Victoria Wallace Schlicht, LMFT, SEP

Want to feel more connected to your partner? Develop a ritual of connection

As you start to tune in to your feelings and needs more often, you will also begin to notice when you need to consciously come together again.

It only takes a small gesture to start a ripple of connection. The problem most couples have: when one person attempts a reconnect, the partner may not notice.

It’s common for you or your partner to miss a “we need to connect” moment simply because you didn’t realize the other desired some extra support and attention. Now and then, it’s understandable, but when “little moments” repeatedly get missed, negative sentiment builds up.

You or your partner may wonder how the person you entrust with your deepest vulnerabilities can be so unavailable or unresponsive. Over time, one or both of you may begin to feel angry, panicked, and alone. This is not the space that healthy relationships live in.

The Gottmans talk a lot about this in their work. They calls these moments “bids for attention” and they reminds couples that not all bids are spoken or obvious. And missed bids are most often missed out of mindlessness (not malice).

A “ritual of connection” is just a shared moment

Remember those little moments we discussed in part 2? These are the things couples fight about most. That is to say, nothing in particular, just missed opportunities to connect are the heart of most arguments. That’s why making a mindful effort to connect is so powerful.

So, with that in mind, and in the spirit of connecting and being mindful of catching one another’s “bids,” I encourage you to pick something that feels good for both of you.

It could be something that you do when you’re walking by each other, like touching each other on the shoulder. It could be pinching each other on the behind. It could be ruffling each other’s hair. It could be what my husband and I like to do - a six-second kiss. It could be a deep hug until you relax or a simple firm touch.

Get creative. Yes, it may feel forced at first, that’s ok. The point is to make this a regular practice that can become a safe, playful and meaningful way to tune back into one another in the midst of your disconnects.

Release the need to stay in connection at every moment. Understand that you can manage the anxiety that arises when you fall out of connection. Practice the art of reestablishing your connection.

Trust that you can find your way back.

>> PART 5 | WHAT IS PLAY? <<

I'd love for you to share your ritual of connection (or what you might try to make into one) with me via email or post in the comments below.

 

slow the f*ck down

// art print by Lizzy Spohr Russinko at thisunscriptedlife.com, click to visit Etsy print shop //

// art print by Lizzy Spohr Russinko at thisunscriptedlife.com, click to visit Etsy print shop //

It was a Thursday morning. I was in my sweaty yoga clothes, finishing up some business at my bank and heading home to walk the dog and get into my work.

It was one of those days —I was holding back tears. Emotion was welling up inside, but I was pushing through because so often that’s just what you do — or what I do. Chug through.

As I reflect now, I had been chugging for a bit too long. Not slowing down to listen within and feel all the feelings. Just chugging.

I teach my clients to pause and reflect and sit with their feelings — and yet here I was (again I’m seeing this only in retrospect) chugging through my feelings and keeping a tad too busy. The “too busy” allowed  me to avoid tuning in.

I had lots of big stuff bubbling up inside, but rather than giving all my feelings their space, I was stuck in a loop of pushing those feelings aside.

Ouch!

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As I was unlocking my car door, the universe conspired to help me become aware - painfully aware - of my feelings.

There was a bumblebee. It stung me.

It. Stung. My. Right. Middle. Finger.

Thank you.

No, really. I needed that. I needed the reminder that it’s OK to get angry as all hell and show it - sometimes. As my middle finger swelled into a unbendable extended position, this was my cue to let go and laugh.  Essentially, I was forced to give the world a throbbing F*ck You.

It stung. But, man, it felt good too!

Instead of tying a string around my finger to remember to slow down and take care of what matters, the universe took a much more direct route. 

Funny thing about pain. Sometimes experiencing pain —I’m talking really allowing ourselves to feel it rather than run from it, or push it aside, or chug through— can feel right.

Feeling the pain can inspire the movement you need to take to get unstuck.

It also reminded me to appreciate the irony and humor that lurks beneath all the stress and madness of typical modern life. The forced ‘F*ck You’ felt kinda grand —like my life needed a big old “screw that” reality check so I could check back in and meet my real priorities.

This rebellious middle finger liberated me to just be honest about the stuff I needed to address. I needed to release things or hold more space for them — no more chugging and ignoring and holding back tears.

The pain helped me to tune back into me. I was running on empty. I needed to slow down and refocus.

Sometimes the universe conspires to help you feel. When it does, let it.

All those feelings, as uncomfortable as they may be, are really steps towards healing. All that feeling, that's your humanity.

This is Connectfulness. Listening to the universe and responding by slowing down. Slowing down and letting yourself simply feel.

I’m taking my own advice and I’m heeding the message and I’m slowing the f*ck down!

When you need to slow the f*ck down... How do you know? And what do you do? Post below and share the love by sharing this post.

The best sexual education your kids could have

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” You’ve heard that  Jim Rohn quote, haven’t you? This summer, I feel like I’m boosting my average in a profound and fabulous way. At the end of May, I attended The Most Awesome Conference for Therapists, seriously...that's what it was called and it totally lived up to it's name! The caliber of therapists and consultants that I met there was so far beyond any professional experience I've ever before had. Simple put, it was awesome - truly. At this conference I found myself immersed within a tribe of therapists who’ll be collaborators and wonderful co-conspirators. Who know’s what we’ll mix up? So many awesome things have already sprung from those connections!

Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW is one example. I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Stuart following the conference for his THE COUPLES EXPERT PODCAST.

Stuart and I  talked about the connections that make everyday count and, how parent partners are the central core of creating security for a family. We delved into how couples can hone those connections to stay focused on maintaining the security that keeps relationships and families feeling safe. You’ll learn how couples can shift away from the primal panic that triggers conflicts. We also explored the special needs of stepfamilies.

If you want to raise children who are are connected and know how to have healthy relationships (and I do - that’s Connectfulness!) then, as a parent, you need to enjoy a healthy, connected relationship with your partner. Your kids learn from you and the environment that the two of you create together.

Thing is, most of us (myself included) didn’t necessarily absorb all this yummy connection in our own childhoods so we may need support as we fill in the gaps we want to teach our own kids.

The podcast is a great place to start.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/thecouplesexpert/Parent_Couple_Relationships_Are_Reflections_Of_Ourselves.mp3

Children soak up connection

Children  are built to be connected beings. They’re born to attach to us and attach us to them.  As parents, our role is to teach these little humans how to relate human to human. And to do this, we have to help them understand intimacy and boundaries in a way that feels safe and secure.

In other words, the relationships we have with our parents as children, and the relationships we have with our children as parents...this stuff matters.

Watching your parents be a couple together IS sexual education.

Babble.com recently featured What the Dutch Can Teach Us About Sex Ed by MICHELLE HORTON - and it includes a pretty extensive interview with me. It’s all about why it’s so important to delve into these intimate conversations. Have a look and discover why talking about pleasure is something we all must become more comfortable doing. (I promise you’ll like it!)

“I find it so important to talk about how parents enjoy one another. I suspect we often forget to teach this important piece beyond the mechanics [of sex]. Our little ones deserve to know that relating and being intimate with others can feel good, emotionally and physically. Pleasure is, after all, what drives us.”

Bringing sexual education home is about getting comfortable with pleasure and intimacy — and that’s often the dilemma, isn’t it? Have you forgotten how to connect to and enjoy your partner? Parenthood has this way of distancing mates.  So many little things (and people) popping up with demands. So little time left for one another. And if your partner doesn't boost you up everyday, then who does?!

More ways to connect

If you are a Hudson Valley neighbor, consider joining me for The Art of Connectfulness: A workshop for Parenting Couples. We’ll address this dilemma while we ALSO make connecting happen in a fun tangible way.

Local or not, I encourage you to sign up for the global virtual summit on #couplesconflicts with Dr. Carlos Todd. The summit is packed with sage advice and wisdom from couples experts around the world. It includes an interview with me that will interest you if you want to learn more about  the mindset of play and how it can help couples to manage conflict (if you’re following my work, I bet you do!).

Sign up for free at www.couplesconflicts.com!

The #couplesconflicts summit also features three of my awesome conference colleagues: Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW, Robyn D'Angelo, LMFT & Michelle Farris, LMFT!