Category Archives: Couples

Best Tips for Making Your Relationship More Secure

When we feel safe in our relationships, we can have more closeness and trust

Learning how to calm yourself can help build security in your couple relationship.

When we feel safe in our relationships, we can have more closeness and trust.

Often, we come into our relationships expecting that OUR PARTNERS are the ones who will make us feel safe and secure. We have the fantasy or wish that THEY will respond to our needs in positive ways, and THEY will be trustworthy, and THEY will be supportive no matter what we’re going through; that THEY will communicate clearly and understand us when we don’t.

It might come as a difficult realization to find out that our partners have the same wishes from us: that WE will be able to control our reactions so they can feel comfortable; that WE will be able to communicate our needs in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them; that WE will be available and supportive and affectionate in just the right ways whenever they are feeling stressed; that WE will read their minds and know just what they need, when; and WE’LL be able to prioritize their needs over our own.

We might forget that a relationship really is the creation of two people 100% and it’s never just one partner who should take on the lion’s share of the responsibility or who is the only one needing to make changes. Both people in a relationship contribute to the sense of safety (or discomfort) that is felt by themselves internally, and that felt by the partner.

I talk to so many couples who get caught in a terrible cycle of reactions that don’t feel good to either one of them, and that seems to lock them into some repeated pattern of poor communication, or who immediately feel the need to defend themselves or react intensely from what has hurt them. Many of these couples are needing a sense of safety in the relationship but have been ineffective in bringing that about.

Usually, when we are in a reactionary mode it doesn’t bode well for how the rest of the communication can go. When we feel unsafe or threatened we are reactionary and not thoughtfully responsive. We try desperately to get safe from the feeling of being rejected or hurt or pulled away from, or having somebody be angry with us. We do whatever it takes to protect ourselves, and unfortunately, this is often hurtful or aggressive toward or withdrawing from our partners.

What we often don’t remember is that our actions and reactions to our partner contribute as much as their actions and reactions do, to the wellbeing and feeling in these important relationships. We may be making our partner feel unsafe and anxious by the way that we express our emotions, or react to something they’ve opened up about, or when we pull away or come in too close in a demanding or critical way. We think that’s the way we should be because they have come at us in bad ways also, and we don’t want to be hurt again ( or taken advantage of, or dismissed, etc).

The good news is we can also impact the cycles of communication in a positive way and we can actually be creative and resourceful about bringing safety into the relationship. There are things that we can do that can create more an environment of comfort and security, that will contribute to our partner feeling safer in a relationship with us, and therefore not being so reactive with us, and so we can feel safer with them. We can take responsibility for the tone of our interactions, and actually enhance the connection that we have with our partner.

Here are a few suggestions for how to create a sense of safety within yourself, and a safe space for your partner and the relationship, and it goes without saying, it will be better for the both of you.

Don’t threaten that you will leave or that you can’t take it anymore. It is very stressful and not enhancing of a relationship to live with the uncertainty of wondering if your partner will stick around. Commit instead to not leaving, and to being there while you work on things. Even when things get hard and you think the only way to get through this is to leave. Greater willingness to stay present actually brings about more freedom and allows one to live with more security and safety.

Do the ‘Welcome Home’ exercise whenever you’re reconnecting or one person is coming home or you’re seeing each other after being apart. This rebalances a sense of safety with each other to deal with the stress, demands or distractions that do come up. To do the ‘Welcome Home exercise’, whenever somebody enters the door, stop what you’re doing and give a full body embrace or hug and hold onto each other for a few seconds, until you feel your partner physically relaxing. This re-stimulates the connected warm secure feeling we had as babies with our caretakers and restores our sense of security in the world.

Take a few moments to gaze into each other’s eyes at least once a week. This also resets the body and sense of safety that you feel. Really look at and notice whatever you see in each other‘s eyes. Hold a warm gaze and convey your appreciation or love for your partner through your eyes only. Again, this repeats important bonding that occurred when we were babies and helps us to feel loved and safe, from the inside out… If you didn’t experience this as a child, it’s not too late to begin experiencing the secure feeling this provides as an adult, and the healing that can come from this.

Be present with each other. You don’t have to discuss anything but be fully present together. Notice mentally and then out loud what you’re experiencing in your senses, emotions, body sensations, thoughts. Listen to sounds together. Maybe do a walking meditation together where you are both attentive to the experience of walking each step, and of doing that together.

Try to get to know your partner from a new perspective. Notice his or her mannerisms, body posture, reactions, facial expressions, signs of hunger or anger or tiredness or other emotion. Approach your partner with curiosity while trying to become an expert on their behavior by noticing subtleties and nuances about them. Especially look at the things you think you know so well about your partner, with new eyes. Approach your partner with curiosity in order to understand more what it feels like to be them, not through your lens as much as from their perspective.

New experiences can help to build attraction for someone. Even in your long-term relationship, you might be able to have increased experiences of novelty and share that excitement with each other. You might walk in a new neighborhood, or try out a new activity. When you do something you enjoy, tap into the good feeling that comes up in those new situations to spark enthusiasm for each other – acknowledge how happy, excited, interested, blessed you feel being with each other. Call your partner when you’re thinking of him or her in an exciting way. Tap into those feelings of excitement when you try novel experiences and direct a similar level of enthusiasm to your partner.

Do a writing exercise meant to clear the clutter before having a discussion about something potentially difficult. Both of you take a moment to acknowledge and write down your immediate stressors, your distracting thoughts, what you notice about your breath, and what you notice about any body sensations. Taking 5 minutes to write this down will help clear away the “noise” allowing for a clearer and more present conversation to be had with your partner.

In order to calm yourself and make yourself safely available (before things get too heated, or even in the moment of noticing that stress is still present) try some diaphragmatic breathing where you take slow deep breaths in and intentionally fill up the lower half of your lungs, and hold your breath a few seconds before exhaling even more slowly. A calm breath leads to a calm heart and better performance in the art of relating. Diaphragmatic breathing slows the heartbeat, helps to disengage from distracting thoughts and sensations, and promotes internal quieting and relaxation. This creates a safe space for each of you.

Another calming breath: Try breathing in through your nose to the count to five. Then hold for a count of five. Then breathe out through your nose for a count of five. And repeat five times. This kind of breathing is always available to you in whatever your circumstances are. You have the power to create calm and safety within you and to impact the sense of security that both of you have in your relationship.

So I’d love to hear from you. What do you notice brings security and trust to your relationship? What are things that you are aware of that can make the level of safety better or worse?

If you or someone you care about is having difficulty finding or bringing safety into your relationships, please call me for a couples therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
www.cindiriveratherapy.com
criveramft@gmail.com
(510) 482-4445

Best Tips for Being a Good Father

In appreciation of Fathers

how to be a good father; positive parenting

Father’s Day has just passed, and I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge some of the many acts of fatherhood that I have been honored to witness lately.

In this time of unrest, where the images that we are bombarded with seem to be filled with hurtful, harmful actions of thoughtlessness and hate – often committed by men in power, I wanted to offer some other examples of strong men – particularly Dad‘s – who demonstrate care, consideration, inclusion, stability, kindness. I believe there are more good men in this world who really want to do right by their families and communities, than the ugly actions of a few would have us believe.

In my family, and my community and in who I work with, there are many more men who are unsung heroes; who plugin, are hands-on and deeply caring in everyday life as fathers.

This then is a simple but profound thank you to you who are actively creating a culture of care and presence and are mindful about fathering. Your contributions are important and not unseen. (My auto-fill first put the word ‘insane’ there – which in this day and age is appropriate also!)

First, to my own father – thank you for your steadiness; your endless offers to help; for your patience and mostly for your kindness. Thank you for working so hard so I could be OK. I know from my work that many people have not been as lucky as I in terms of having a present and generous father. Thank you for not letting the hardship of your life be destructive toward mine.

Thank you to my male relatives – grandfathers, uncles, and cousins – who have acted in a fatherly way toward me and my family, and been generous with time, attention, kindness, and hard work.

Deep appreciation to the father of my children who has been a blessing in their lives – instilling confidence and much love; sharing strength and tenderness – and who has been in a true parenting partnership with me.

Warmest regard to the dads I know through work and life who:

  • Are not afraid to shop for their teenage daughter or who take pride in teaching them how to wash a car the right way.
  • Who tear up when they make a wedding day toast to their kids.
  • Who raise their sons with love and tenderness after that son’s mom has died.
  • Who leave a legacy of doing good in the world, who continue to teach their children even after they (the dads) have died.
  • Who teach their kids practical skills like painting, construction, car maintenance.
  • Who delight in playing with their kids.
  • Who delight in being with and playing with their grandkids.
  • Who listen to their daughter’s feelings and even bear their tears.
  • Who teach their sons to be beautiful, strong, capable, contributing adult men of color.
  • Who can be loving and attentive to another man’s child and treat them as his own.
  • Who is excited about the upcoming birth of his child.
  • Who takes pride in his ethnicity and culture and imparts that to his children.
  • Who works on his own mental health issues, while trying to create a better life for his kids.
  • Who acknowledges his own privilege, racism, sexism and makes amends for ways he has been insensitive or been at fault.
  • Who are working on maintaining sobriety because that means a better future for their kids.
  • Who intentionally try to treat their kids in better ways than what they grew up with.
  • Who works a second job around children’s schedule.
  • Who care about giving children different opportunities than what was available to them.
  • Who want to protect their daughters from getting into abusive relationships.
  • Who accept their daughters and sons when they come out, and continue to love them fully.
  • Who love to laugh, play music or dance with their kids.
  • Who through it all, try to maintain respectful communication with their children’s mom.
  • Who aren’t afraid to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you” or “I’m afraid”.

These are just a few of the admirable behaviors I have witnessed, done by good fathers. How about you? What are you thinking and feeling about the fathers in your life – present or passed? How would you add to this list? I’d love to hear.

If you or someone you love is mourning the father you had, or never had; or struggling in your relationships with fathers in your life, and need help to come to more peace, please contact me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
www.cindiriveratherapy.com
criveramft@gmail.com
(510) 482-4445

How “Weakness” makes you Stronger

The thing about vulnerability…resilience and intimacy through vulnerability; how vulnerability improves intimacy and connection in relationships; vulnerability in couples communication

 

Today I’m talking about the dreaded V-word – not violence, but vulnerability. Well, I’m not sure if it really is dreaded, but I do know that when I mention it to (many of) my clients, I see a flicker of a look in their eyes that looks like dread or horror to me.

For many people, the idea of vulnerability signifies weakness or a pathetic state of being. Most of us do not want to show that we are, or are feeling vulnerable. Especially not at work when we’re trying to be at the top of our game; or in social situations where others might see us and ridicule us; or with the kids when we’re trying to be in charge; or with our partners who might take advantage of or criticize us, in our revealed and defenseless vulnerability.

Being vulnerable feels like complete exposure, stripped raw and naked to the world, with nothing left to protect us. People tend to run from, or at least secretly back away from, what we feel most vulnerable about, not wanting others to see this weak link of ours. Surely if that one tender spot is touched, our thin layer of protective armor will unravel and expose everything else about us that we feel shame about. To be in touch with our vulnerability can feel like we are completely undefended, little, ready for attack, exposed and – well – vulnerable.

Usually the experience of being vulnerable triggers intense emotions of fear, helplessness, shame, overwhelm – feelings that as human beings, we naturally want to move away from and avoid with every cell in our bodies. Our early ancestors would run from perceived danger; or fight back when they felt vulnerable to an attack; or freeze and mimic death, hoping to avoid oncoming harm.

Even though biologically we have evolved, our brains are still pretty primitive when our vulnerability is stimulated. We often engage in fight, flight or freeze in efforts to protect ourselves from revealing our vulnerability – our perceived “weakness”. The reality is that the more we resist or avoid any of our feelings, especially those as uncomfortable as vulnerability, the more those emotions persist. The more we want to get rid of them, the more we feel them in troublesome ways.

I looked up the word vulnerability and found the following definitions:

  • Being capable of, or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon
  • Being open to assault and difficult to defend
  • The quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed – either physically or emotionally
  • An emotional state – most dreadful to us, to which we develop many defenses in reaction to.

None of these definitions indicate the possibility for courage and connection that can come about from feeling and recognizing one’s own vulnerability – and sharing it with others.

Dr. Brene Brown has a popular TED talk about vulnerability that she defines as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure – that when embraced can help one to connect to the courage needed to be oneself.

Even though showing our vulnerability is so scary and makes us want to run; and even though there are definite body sensations we experience when we’re close to our vulnerability (maybe a wish to cry, a pit in the stomach, flushed cheeks, quickened breath, heart racing, sweating, a knot in the throat, maybe feeling like we have to heave, or literally run…), if we can hang in there with those uncomfortable feelings; take a deep breath; notice, allow for, and be with those most uncomfortable feelings; and then find some words to speak – this can be our strongest moment. Surprising strength, resilience, and compassion can come from within, and from those around us.

In expressing our feelings, especially the tenderest or most vulnerable ones, we give others a chance to see us and treat us with compassion. By acknowledging that we feel scared or wounded, or jealous, or hurt, or vulnerable…, And by doing so without blaming or being angry at our person for making us feel this way, we actually are providing a bridge and making an invitation to the other to connect with us. Treating our vulnerability with care and respect allows others to do the same, and increases the possibility of actually not being hurt when we’re sharing our “weakest“ side.

I’ve seen it over and over in my couples’ sessions, when one partner or the other can talk from their place of vulnerability, they are heard, listened to, understood more, and feel more intimacy with their partner. Moments of closeness and connection come when each person can tolerate their own emotional discomfort and have self-compassion for those feelings; and then speak them to the person they care about (and usually who they have felt hurt by).

And of course, when the person receiving or bearing witness to another’s vulnerability can lay aside their own hurts for a moment, find compassion for themselves and for their partner who is sharing a deeper part of themselves, and not simply react with fight, flight or freeze actions, they can respond better to the vulnerable one. This works to not trigger defensiveness and actually contributes to a closer connection or sense of intimacy shared between the two.

The thing about vulnerability is that the more open and accepting you are to it in yourself, the stronger and more connected will be your important relationships and sense of self. Funny how it works that way.

I’d love to hear from you…how comfortable are you with your own vulnerability? How do you notice it ebbing and flowing in your life? Do you tend to fight, flee, freeze or befriend it when vulnerability comes up?

If you or someone you love is struggling with how to handle your sense of vulnerability, please call me for a therapy appointment.

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
www.cindiriveratherapy.com
criveramft@gmail.com
(510) 482-4445