Month of June – RELATIONAL SELF-CARE

With glistening eyes and a pristine voice, actor Ewan McGregor wooed Nicole Kidman with the song,

Love is a many splendored thing
   Love lifts us up where we belong
All you need is love.”

Love is many-splendoured, uplifting and definitely needful in our relationships to give us the most happiness and highest well-being.  It’s great happiness to enjoy connection and chemistry with the people around us. Together, people make magic – love is shared,  ideas are sprouted, feelings flourish, lives are liberated, wounds are healed. Only in a loving community are all these possible.  People tend to be more generous and open when they sense the spirit of the community is a loving one.

That being the case, our relational self care plan is to learn how to love better so that we can create a sense of community and enjoy interpersonal harmony.

How do we go about relating harmoniously? Start telling yourself:

  1. “I love people”

           CAMARADERIE

Image result for Kelly Rowland with SamKelly Rowland in The Voice Australia was saying how camaraderie was formed among the contestants and her colleagues when they were working together to harness the singing talents of Australia.  Camaraderie, the mutual trust and friendship among people, is so needed in our social lives.

To be a friend, show yourself friendly (The Bible, Prov 18:24). When you are friendly, you send signals that you are ready and willing to befriend and develop the relationship. Scientists claimed that we have mirror neurons that help us connect. When someone speaks with a certain accent, we mirror back with a similar accent.  In so doing, we will appear friendlier and seek some form of connection for the relationship to take off. Mirroring can also come in the form of actions.  When our neighbour gives us home-made bread, we give them blueberry tarts.  The more people can mirror accurately and appropriately, the more social exchange can happen.  Love blossoms as a result.

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  1. “I love to help”

           COMPASSION

One trait that distinguishes us from robots is compassion, said Mr Jack Sim, the Founder of World Toilet organisation.  He is the right person to say that because his compassion for people who are not as privileged is admirable.  He raised funds and awareness to build toilets for developing countries.  Compassion is gut-wrenching but Mr Jack Sim goes about doing his charity work with humour and lightheartedness.

Image result for Mr Jack Sim founder of World ToiletWe may not have compassion that reached the United Nations level as Mr Jack Sim has achieved.  But we can show compassion in our own sphere. Doing acts of kindness not only benefit others, it strengthens our immune system, elevates our moods and makes us  likeable.

Ask ourselves frequently, “Who can I show love today?”  Start with small gestures of love.  Ask, ‘What do people around me need?’ I became a psychologist because I realised that people needed a listening ear.  And I couldn’t do much listening when I was a school teacher.  I resigned from the teaching service and started the counselling career in my 40s. My cousin in her 60s, a nursing director, said, ‘  People need help.  And I can still contribute.’  That’s compassion at work and that’s inspiring!

  1. “I love ideas”

           COLLABORATION 

Networking is a buzz word these days. People spend time and efforts to see how they can best come together to produce greater works and better effects. From business to religion to families, it is necessary to collaborate.  Why collaborate? Exponential effect is achieved when there is collaboration.   “One pursues a thousand, two puts ten thousand to flight.” (The Bible, Deut 32:30)  One  Belgian horse can carry 8000 pounds;  two can carry 24000 pounds.  And Belgian horses raised from 2-3 years old can carry 30000 pounds together.

Whatever capacity or opportunity you are given to collaborate, use it. It greatly benefits you and your social world:

  • Change your way of doing things and make it more effective. Writing a blog was as a result of collaboration with my husband.  I write and he teaches me how to publish it on the various media.  I changed the way I do things and it’s making it more fun and far-reaching.
  • Complement others and enhance the work outcomes. I have a friend who is very good at making dumplings.  She wants to raise funds for a project in Cambodia.  To get a substantial amount, she needs to make 500 dumplings.  But she couldn’t make that many on her own.  She rallied a team to complement her cooking skills.  It was all win that weekend – they got their target amount, both in dumplings and in money.
  • Capitalise your strengths as you get the opportunity to keep using your abilities.  People will seek you out when you are good in a skill.  That skill may even be regarded as your signature skill.  What are you good at doing?  Keep capitalising it.  It will bring much happiness to the people around you.

 

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                                                                                                 “I love ideas”

           Ideas sprout via collaboration

 

 

 

Month of June – PHYSICAL SELF-CARE

Image result for achieving and healthy peopleMulti-tasking, achieving and excelling, pushing to the limits are all very exciting activities in our lives.  The human body is designed to be the best it can be.   You can move faster, think faster, accelerate more. Perhaps your job or your role in life at this time requires you to be a greater achiever.  Life in the fast lane can be enjoyable and fulfilling.  But there is a need to balance it with lifestyle choices to enhance the energy and to increase positive affect.

Definitely it is more flattering to be enthusiastic, energetic, confident and active than to be alert, fatigued, hurried and devitalised.   As we clocked in time to be involved in work, we also need to have time- out for rest and recovery.  Physical self-care is like the pause between music notes. French poet-philosopher, Paul Valery, wrote, “the pauses between the notes (of a piano piece), ah, that is where the art resides!”  The art of practising good physical self-care will bring great harmony to your life.

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In this blog, I will focus on 2 aspects and 2 activities of physical self-care. One is active and the other is passive.  Active self-care is setting aside time for exercise and movement; passive self-care is taking time to sleep.

ACTIVE SELF-CARE

A large group of people running in a marathon in the middle of a street in Brussels

Recently my friends gave me a Fitbit, a watch that monitors my physical fitness by counting the number of steps I take in a day.  The ideal number of steps is 10000 and the reward of that is fireworks on the watch screen to celebrate the success of a well-moved body.  A small gesture as it is, it has huge motivation for me.  Knowing that I have done the 10000 steps or more makes me feel healthy and lively.

Psychiatrist and author  John Ratey writes that exercise and movement release neurotransmitters into the brain and body that are like a dose of the most important psychiatric medicines. That’s a money saver and a great mental health benefit!  Exercise is indeed good medicine just as laughter is (Proverbs 17:22, the Bible).  It would be interesting to see how exercise can be combined with laughter to give you double potency!

Exercise and movement is beneficial for just about everything – from elevating mood and enhancing energy to recovering from stress and reducing the risk of sicknesses. The emphasis on health has resulted in the popping up of  many fitness clubs and health centres, some of which are 24/7 to cater for people of varying needs. These are great facilities to sign up with, especially with the changing seasons or the preference of specific exercises.  Otherwise, the free parks and walking and cycling tracks are great avenues.  The key is to find one suitable and more accessible facility or activity to be involved in.

Start small, like me, to encourage yourself into the active regime of physical self-care. I started with taking a walk around my neighbourhood and then I went further to the neighbourhood park.  Now I am able to walk up to 3 rounds of the park itself, 7000 steps in all.  Physically I am exercising more and psychologically, I would regard myself as an active person and I definitely feel better.  See how interrelated exercise is to other aspects of yourselves!

Take steps in being active and you will experience changes in your body, mind and emotions.

PASSIVE SELF-CARE

We are programmed to sleep in order to have  optimum well-being.  Each time we hosted people from overseas in our house, the first question I would ask each morning is, ‘Did you sleep well?’  Most times, I get a beaming smile and a positive answer.  In fact, most of them would like to get  even longer sleep if not for the fact that the planned itinerary beckons.

Dr Archibald Hart would recommend a hearty 9 hour sleep if possible.  If that’s not possible (as it is a luxury or an impossibility for many to sleep 9 hours), 7 ½ hours is great. I was in his class in Pasadena and he explained that sleep comes in 1 ½ hour cycles.  With 7 ½ hours, you would have gone through 5 cycles.

Each 1 ½ cycle has restorative and recreating functions.  There’s deep sleep where the fatigued body literally drops into a state of quiet and non-movement and the body does its repairs.  Then there’s the REM sleep where the brain creates dreams and consolidates and files the memories.  This is when the brain is most creative and active, sometimes even solving problems that you don’t have solutions earlier in the day. A healthy 7 ½ hour sleep pattern ensures that you have 5 chances of deep and REM sleep each night.

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This is interesting trivia – crocodiles don’t sleep fully because they have half a brain that sleeps and half a brain that doesn’t. They don’t need safety because they are predators. As predators they need to be alert for survival.  Hopefully as humans, we don’t need to be alert even in our sleep.  God doesn’t sleep, we are told in Psalm 121:4 , the Bible, and perhaps it’s best to let God take care of all your cares whilst you sleep.

Do consult with the professionals if you have a sleeping problem so that you can identify what is keeping you from a good night’s sleep. Good sleep is non-negotiable.  You don’t want to be tired all the time, irritable and grouchy, forgetful and not nice to be around.

Surround yourself with quiet and restful cues to help you get to sleep.  Laptops and TV need to be stowed away, just like when the plane is landing.  When you want to descend to sleep, you need to wind down. All artificial lights need to be switched off so that your brain doesn’t have to light up at every trigger.  Take a warm bath, have a mug of warm beverage; put on your diffuser of lavender essential oil.  Oh yes, if your spouse has a snoring problem, sleep before he or she does! Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbug bite 🙂

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Month of May – MENTAL SELF-CARE

I once gave a talk entitled, ‘Unlock the possibilities – open the front door of your thinking’ and thought the title is a good start to this mental blog.

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The brain is like a house with doors that need keys for access.  Thinking begins in the front part of the brain. When you let yourself in to good and logical reasoning, you enjoy growth and progress.  The world of possibilities open up to you.  This includes the ability to be inventive – to fix something that isn’t working properly.

The trouble with the brain is, like a house, it can be threatened by break-ins.  With any break-ins, the peace is threatened and the property can be destroyed.  It takes time and effort to restore the place to its original order and to be reminded that the place is safe again.  Negative experiences, a lack of support, overwhelming challenges and losses in life are unwelcome intruders but the reality is they do happen in one’s life.  The key is not to let them have unbarred entry into our space.

“The most important things in life

are the thoughts you choose to frame.”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor.

“The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness;

But of everyone that is hasty only to want.”

Proverbs 21:5, the Bible

Two things the diligent can do to take care of and thrive in their thoughts:

  1. Tapping therapeutic thoughts

Person in a red shirt and blue hat relaxing in grass near mountainsThoughts that are therapeutic make you feel healthy and hopeful. The more you tap into them, the more dendrites your brain will grow and the more you can think new and therapeutic thoughts.  A penny for your thought – it’s important to know what thoughts you are tapping into!

It’s good practice to think of truthful things and being truthful yourself. Your mind gets nourished when you reflect on promises that are made and kept in good faith. “Considered done when I shake your hands,” someone said the other day.  People like this make you think well of this world especially when the handshake really result in a done deal.  It inspires me to be the person who wants to stay true to my promise, my words, my character. When my motives are pure, my thoughts will be clear and my relationship with people will be sincere.

Think of lovely and admirable things, things that bring good reports.  You can train your mind to attend to things that are worthy of your thought. Therapeutic  thoughts spring from the study of good things. Do tap into therapeutic thoughts and occupy your brain with an exhaustive catalogue of good things.

Image result for think of good thoughtsSpeak and think well of events and people, not gossipping and ruminating. Remind yourself of dwelling on the strengths and goodness of people and the joy of hanging out with them.  Remember the times of hospitality where you have been well-treated, not the rude and obnoxious service.  And talk about the excellence of the multiple good treatment you received, not repeat and repeat the old story of how your food didn’t come on time.  Reflect on lovable, pleasing, auspicious things and people often.  Read affirming and life-changing books like autobiographies, sacred writings etc. Your brain needs such input to thrive.

Think therapeutically consistently. New healthy thoughts can be cultivated.  You will grow to like your thoughts and enjoy life better.

  1. Terminating toxic thoughts

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Any thought is toxic when it sabotages you from experiencing peace and happiness.  Especially destructive are thought patterns that are conditioned because of your past or by choice and habit. They break in to your mind and cause you to be discouraged.

Be aware of the break-ins toxic thought patterns can cost you in your quality of life. Imagine yourself predicting the scenarios to come to these conclusions:

“ People are staring at me.” “I feel inadequate.” “I feel the pressure to perform.”

 “I am going to get fired.” “  I am a bad worker.” “I will never get a job.”

You will be insecure in your job and personal life if you let these thoughts run wild and form negative associations.

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‘Take no thought’ (TNT) is a good way to terminate toxic thinking. The more weight you give to toxic thinking, the more they will affect you negatively.

Toxic thinking sometimes amplify the effect to make you worried and exasperated.  Bring it down to size or give it a reality check so that the thought doesn’t overwhelm you:

“People stare at me. They mean no harm; they are curious, not cruel; they are interested, not judgemental.”

“I am not fired yet!”

“But if I do get fired,  there may be other reasons besides I being a bad worker. I can find that out.”
“ It doesn’t mean I will not get another job.  That’s overgeneralising.  It’s not the most pleasant feeling to be out of job but it’s not the end of the world.”

After having rationalised the situation and seeing realistic perspectives, take no thought (TNT) about it. Terminate it! Change the way you think about toxic situations. “ It’s too hard,” you may say.  But what are the advantages of hanging on to  gloom and doom thinking? Probably none.  It’s better to postpone the worry till the actual situation happens and then deal with it.  Sometimes the imagined situation doesn’t even come!

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When it’s time for caterpillars to spin a chrysalis, some of them would resist and try and cling on to their larval life.  As a result, they won’t spin a cocoon till the following year.  This state of clinging is called diapause, a period of suspended development.  Holding on to what is familiar  deprives the caterpillar of the potential of reproduction.

Responses to toxic thoughts can be very automatic conditioned by many years of repetition.  Clinging on to the old patterns seems easier to do but it can result in a delay of possibilities.  For your optimum mental self-care — Unlock all possibilities – open the front door of your thinking!

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Month of May – EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE

Good emotional self-care brings about what I call ‘The Hydrangea Effect.’  Hydrangeas change their colours when you change their soil.  Pink blossoms become blue when you put aluminium sulfate in the soil. The acidity of the soil dramatically changes the colour of the hydrangeas.

Violet and pink hydrangea flowers in two white vases

When you put the right ingredients into the soil of your heart, you change the colour of your world of emotions.  You can be the emotionally healthy and intelligent person.  You don’t have to alienate yourself and you don’t have to be an emotional wreck.

Emotions are beautiful like the blues and pinks of the hydrangeas.  It’s great to feel happy, loved and surprised!  To be in touch with your emotions is to be human.  But perhaps you have been taught that feelings are unreliable and therefore not to be trusted.  And you disallow yourself to feel deeply and miss out on the greater meaning of life. You can change the way you approach emotions particularly those of anger, sadness and fear; you can bring colour to your world.

  1. READ YOUR EMOTIONS

All emotions have a message.  An event or certain people could have evoked that emotion.  You can read your emotions by describing the event.

Emotions            Describing the event

Happy                  I am happy that you came and spent time with us.

Love                     I cook a good meal for my children.

Surprise               I am surprised that I enjoyed that movie.

Emotions in your thoughts

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Your emotion has a thought attached to it. Your thoughts determine the quality of your emotion.

Thinking well of the guest that visited you makes you happy. Thoughts of cooking a nutritious meal for your children make you feel like a loving parent. The idea that you can be touched by a movie that you are open to gives you a greater thrill.  These thoughts give rise to the emotions of happiness, love and surprise.

However if you think badly of events in your life, you can feel badly towards them. These are like scripts in your head for example,  “The guest was all out to take advantage of my hospitality”, “the children are so demanding and want to be fed often”, “ I never like true story movies and will definitely not enjoy them.”  Thinking like this might make you feel angry, resentful and closed up.

Imagine your emotional world if you allow negative thoughts to occupy it most of the time:

“I am a mistake and a burden.”

“I am worthless and only feel Ok when I am approved by some people.”

“I don’t have the right to enjoy myself or to say what I think.”

“My value is based on my intelligence and education and not for who I am.”

Emotions on your face

Image result for face expressionsYour face is the quickest place to reflect your emotions.  The Bible in Proverbs 15:13 writes, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” If you want news of the heart, ask the face. Happy heart, happy face!

When you are happy, your happy hormones or endorphins are activated and your face lights up.  When you smile or laugh, others will join you as you mirror one another’s behaviour.  Behaviour is contagious! And your face is the most accessible mirror of your emotions.

Sometimes a confusing signal is sent in the face.  You are happy but you don’t want to show it evidently for a myriad of reasons.  The recent Volkswagen advertisement showed a boy who had an ecstatic experience in a Volkswagen but he wanted to be cool and didn’t want to reveal his true feelings.  He put on an ‘It’s ok’ face. In a sense, this is not being honest in your emotions.  Emotional dishonesty can have low risk, medium risk and high risk effects.

A public speaker said something I found amusing, “My face is not so loving.  Don’t worry.  It’s only a face.  I am still working at it.”  Work we must at our face, at our thoughts – not just reading the emotions but also in REGULATING them.

  1. REGULATE YOUR EMOTIONS

Your emotions need to be regulated so that they can operate properly.  When emotions are well-regulated, you sleep deeper, you socialise better, you think and feel fresher.

Change your thoughts

You can change your thoughts about events and people so that your emotions are more controlled.

You may be angry at a person because of your angry thoughts about him for example,  “ I am so angry that the husband behaves so badly towards his wife.” Rather than letting your blood pressure go up by this observation, get another perspective. Tell yourself that you don’t have the full picture of this couple;  you don’t know them enough to get so uptight.  Many things in life can trigger anger in you.  You need to get better in seeing new and peaceful perspectives

When you felt embarrassed about your skiing skills, rather than keep comparing yourself with others and feeling miserable, think of more constructive ways to improve yourself – take up skiing lessons, tell yourself you are only having fun and you are not taking skiing as a serious sport, stop looking at others and downplaying yourself etc.

A big part of the brain is designed to deal with the regulation of emotions. The limbic system releases hormones to stimulate or inhibit your emotions; it draws from your long term memory to help you deal with the present emotion and then form new memories with it.

Change your input

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Download good scripts into your brain so that your limbic system can churn out good feelings and store positive memories.  Affirm yourself,

“I regard myself highly and respectfully despite my imperfections.”

“It’s good that I exist”

“ God loves me and has an unique plan for me”

“I can be confident, secure and joyful.”

Say it as you believe it.  You are putting good nutrients in the soil of your heart. And look out for the Hydrangea Effect!

 

 

 

 

MONTH OF MAY — SELF-CARE

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You are a creation of God (Psalm 139, the Bible).  Like a 3-star Michelin creation, you are given a dollop of value, a dash of the meaning of life, a drip of respect and a drizzle of dignity.  You are a delightful masterpiece.  Your job is to take care of yourself throughout the seasons of your life. 

Circumstances and people can add to your value, they can also devalue you.  It’s great to feel respected and dignified for the contributions you have made, but if you let accomplishments and people define you, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. While others are important in our lives to boost our zest for life, there is a great need to have self-care. Jack Kornfield is right when he writes, “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”

A healthy picture of someone who practises self-care is one who is an all-rounder.  Perhaps to flow with the pun is to illustrate such a person with a circle.

Image result for circles - relationally, mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually

 

The circle is divided into 5 significant ways we approach life – emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally and spiritually. Each aspect is important and related to one another.  It is an interesting interaction of our body, mind and soul with the internal and external environment that we arrive at a balance.

In any given day, the human body can cope with 50 stresses. Weaving through the morning and evening traffic can be a huge stress factor; the demands at work can take up huge amounts of energy; home duties can tire us out easily.  

Cortisol which is a stress hormone is specially designed to deal with these challenges of life.  It is a great action hormone giving us the buzz in our daily activities.  But when it is overused, it can cause burnout and anxiety.   When this arises, the body needs to undergo repair.

Self care pumps energy and motivation into the body system causing you to be ready for life again.  Dopamine, a pleasure hormone, gives you the desire and motivation to enjoy your life, your work, your family.

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When you eat, pray, love, think and feel with self-care in mind, you are taking positive steps forward in promoting optimal care physically, spiritually, relationally, mentally and emotionally.  In the month of May, I will blog on each of these aspects.

Takeaways on self-care:

S      tart appreciating yourself.  You have value, meaning, respect and dignity.

E    xamine your drainers and boosters. If ‘others’ drain you or boost you in most things           you do, it’s time to have self-care. People can be fickle and inconsistent. Energy that           comes merely from other people is not sustainable.

L    ive a balanced life – be healthy emotionally, mentally, physically, relationally and              spiritually. 

F    uel yourself daily with self-care activities. “An empty lantern provides no light. Self-          care is the fuel that allows it to shine vibrantly, lighting the way for others.”                          (Anonymous)

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C   hemicals in the form of hormones are God’s gifts to help us regulate and achieve a              healthy balance when confronted with the stresses of life.

A    ctively engage yourself in eating wholesome meals, praying regularly, loving                       unconditionally, thinking and feeling well.

R   eplenish your energy daily and 

E    njoy life fully!

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The month of April – MARRIAGE

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In the month of April, I have blogged on 4 topics on MARRIAGE:

  1.  Cultivating compatibility
  2. Communicate constructively
  3. Read my signals
  4. Take charge of your atmosphere

I like to invite you to ask questions on the topics above or on other matters relating to marriage.  All answers will be published in the next blog.

In the month of May, I will blog on SELF-CARE and will also have a question and answer blog at the end of the month.

Thank you very much for reading and responding.

Enjoy,

Cara 

 

 

MARRIAGE Take charge of your atmosphere

Atmosphere is palpable. When your spouse is happy, you know it – the dinner is sumptuous; fresh sunflowers are in the vase; there’s singing in the kitchen.  It is safe to be home.  But when your spouse is not happy, you can feel the deafening silence or hear the banging and clanging at the sink.  You need to wait for the storm to blow over before you ask if you could your dream motorcycle jacket.

Atmosphere is also dynamic – it can change so easily.  All it takes it is a small action or a careless word.  “Why do your chicken look so miserable?” is enough to take all the joy of cooking away. Or coming home expecting to be served and complaining that your shirts are not ironed well will certainly not promise you a good restful evening.

The study by Olson and Olson 2000 showed that when couples take charge of their atmosphere and resolve conflict better, they are happier and better adjusted.

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How do we take charge of the atmosphere?

  1. Decrease PUSH communication

You are pushy if you use a lot of push communication. You will push away your partner if you continue to use this style of asserting yourself and making your partner feel unimportant.

Your spouse came home with the news that she was given a new role in the office.  She was enthusiastic about it as the new role is an indication that the company was happy with her performance.  She would expect to be praised and encouraged.

But if she hears remarks like “There’s no money to it” or “let me know only when there is a real promotion”, she will feel hurt and unsupported. Rather than sharing more about the new role and the possibility of a strong career path in the company, she would take that push away comments as the end of the communication.

The atmosphere is fragile with push communication.  Wrong buttons can be pushed and the atmosphere will become hostile and unconducive for meaningful family time.

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Avoid pushing away your partner using statements that are:

  • Threatening

“If you are so smart, why don’t you walk out now?

  • Vague

“You’re so lazy!  You are horrible, awful, ugly, useless…”

  • Overly demanding and unsympathetic

“I don’t care if you’re tired.  You should know that you are supposed to get that job done today.”

  • Bottled in anger

“I have had enough of you.  You’ve not moved an inch since I asked you to vacuum the floor 6 hours ago.”

It is easy to be destructive in the way you communicate. Criticism, blame, unfair requests or rejection can kill the strength of your marriage.  Dave Willis, a pastor in Augusta says,  “A strong marriage requires 2 people who choose to love each other even on days when they struggle to like each other.”  Loving each other requires you to be respectful even though you may be upset. Rather than spitting out sarcasm and insults, you can use PULL communication to confront the issue and to engage your spouse.

  1. Increase PULL communication

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You are a more appealing communicator when you strive to learn and understand the situation and your spouse as much as possible before offering an opinion.  Peter Scazzero, author of Emotional Spirituality,  has this to offer – use the phrase ‘I notice … and I prefer’ to get a complaint across and to get a solution.

I notice you have been keeping late hours to do your assignment and it’s hard for you to be on time for work the next morning.  I prefer you to be on time so that I won’t go to work late. I don’t want to set a bad example to my subordinates.”

  • Express

You say clearly the behaviour that needs to be changed.  You want your spouse to go to work earlier in the morning. The changing is not within your control but you can lead the change by your request.  Your request sounds more reasonable if you put up a good case and you express it in an even and peaceful tone.

  • Empathise

You understand that the reason for not being on time the next morning is because of the assignment.  You acknowledge that your spouse is working hard the night before.  Your empathy will cause your spouse to listen up.

  • Explain

You point out the consequences of the behaviour. Providing a reason is always more convincing. An experiment was conducted to see how important giving a reason is.

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A man asked if he could get a photocopy of his document done.   He approached the first man and asked, ‘I need to get a photocopy. Can  I go before you?’

With the second man, he said, ‘I need to get a photocopy because I need to get a photocopy. Can I go before you?’

He said to the third man, “I need to get a photocopy because I need it for my next class. Can I go before you?”

The largest group that allowed him to get a photocopy is the third group.  This is obvious because he has a valid reason.

The second largest group is the second group.  Though the reason sounded ridiculous, it is still a reason.

Your spouse needs to know how his/her action affects you, in this case causing you to be late and therefore not setting a good example. That is the reason for him/her to make decisions to solve the problem or to change the behaviour – get another form of transport, sleep earlier, be more disciplined in doing assignments etc.

You can take charge of the atmosphere of your marriage. The Bible in Proverbs 12:18 writes, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” You can either be the one who makes cutting remarks or the one that uses healing words.  Words and actions that push your spouse to a corner will fracture the relationship and cause wounding. But strategies that pull your spouse towards you will build a conducive atmosphere for growth and love.

Indeed you can build the atmosphere of your marriage or you can bring it down.  The choice is yours!  Your marriage depends on it!

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MARRIAGE – READ MY SIGNALS

   

Do you know how to read your spouse’s body language?  By looking at his face or her eyes, can you tell whether you should crack a joke or leave the room for a while?

Are you sending the right signals?  Sending the right signals can make your spouse tick.  It can improve and enrich everyday communication. Sending the wrong ones can repulse and create a hostile and unhappy atmosphere in the home.

Your body language tells you a lot about how you are feeling inside.  Knowing how to respond to the emotions expressed by your spouse’s body language can impact your marriage. According to Dr. John Gottman and colleagues, marriages are more prone to fail when one spouse responds to the other’s happy face with an expression of contempt.  Therefore it is great to learn how to reflect body language accurately.

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How do we become better non-verbal communicators?

  1. Read signals
  2. Respond to signals
  3. Recalibrate
  4. Re-establish communication

You succeed in reading signals when what you think your spouse feels is how he/she actually feels. The accuracy in reading signals will contribute to the well-being of the relationship.  Your spouse will feel being understood and that will cause him/her to want to reciprocate that feeling.  Couples that feel more understood are relatively happier and more well-adjusted.

When spouses keep making errors in reading signals, it will create misunderstanding.   This will cause unhappiness in the relationship.  Whatever the reasons for this inability to read signals accurately, improving it will help you and your spouse towards better health and harmony.

Signals are most commonly expressed in

  • the face
  • the eyes
  • gestures
  • tone of voice

Let’s apply the four processes mentioned earlier (read, respond, recalibrate, re-establish) to these four signals.

Image result for a red face

The face

Read: A red face could mean a few things – your spouse is in a hurry, or in a fury, or the  weather is just too hot. All indicate that your spouse is highly aroused.

Respond: Doing something or saying something to calm her/him down will be a step to    better communication. “Can I get you a glass of water?” “I am concerned that                you are stressing yourself out with this hurry. Tell me what I can do.”

Recalibrate: Your spouse would have said or done something to what you are                    suggesting. “Yes, please get me a glass of very cold water.  This heat is                               unbearable.”  It’s time to recalibrate and to gather your thoughts for the                                 next move.

Re-establish: “Sure will get you a glass of very cold water.”  The words and the gesture   of getting that glass of water will change the atmosphere at that moment                               to one that’s supportive and caring.

The eyes

Eyes that look away give the woman the message that the husband is not interested.  Women generally like to maintain regular eye contact.  Men are less able to look eye to eye. They don’t like talking about feelings and eye contact tends to increase such conversation.  Perhaps that’s the reason why men can read the newspapers and watch TV and still carry on conversation. That can frustrate women if they interprete no eye contact as a lack of interest in the conversation.

Read:  (husband is watching the news on TV with newspapers  in his hands) So you are not interested in me?

Respond: (silence)

Communication is at a standstill if it all stopped here.  The wife is wanting the husband to pay attention to her and the husband is insensitive to the wife’s request and did not respond to her constructively.  The wife is reading the signal wrongly.  She associates preoccupation of her husband to his neglect of her.  The husband is wrong in his response – by being silent, he hopes to shut her off but he is not meeting her need emotionally.

Alternative way of communication:

Read: (husband is watching the news on TV with newspapers  in his hands) I have got something to discuss with you.  Can we talk after you finished the news?

Respond: (looking at the wife’s eagerness to talk) OK.

Recalibrate: You have a space after the news to discuss the matter with him.  It’s a win- win situation – he gets to watch the news still and you get to have that talk.

Re-establish:  When that time arrives to discuss that matter, focus on that matter and don’t use that time to talk about his TV and newspaper habits. Give- and- take is a good skill to cultivate.  A marriage that is involved in meeting the other person’s needs will yield positive outcomes.

Gestures and tone of voice

Image result for gestures and tone of voice

You can practise reading, responding, recalibrating and re-establishing with gestures and tone of voice.

Non verbals are windows to the emotional world of your spouse.  Sometimes these windows are blurry and there’s a need to clarify verbally so that you can best understand what is happening and take steps to re-establish the relationship.

Peter Scazzero in his emotional thermometer suggested using words like , ‘I am worried that…” “I am puzzled that …”  to indicate your unclear position and to ask for clarity.

If your spouse is using an angry tone and you read it as an angry signal, you can clarify by saying, “I am puzzled that you came home very happy and then, after 1 hour, you are angry.”  This is an invitation for your spouse to express himself/herself.

When your spouse is in the garden/shed for a long time, and you read it as a signal of withdrawal and you are feeling insecure, you can find an opportunity to clarify, “I am worried that you are spending a lot of time alone in the garden/shed, is everything ok?”  Hopefully your inquisitiveness and care will lead to you to recalibrate and re-establish the relationship.

Couples are given the most precious ability to read each other. I have heard comments like “I can even tell what she/he is thinking before she/he says it,”  “That was exactly how I felt” “How did you know?  Are you psychic?” etc. The Bible in Proverbs 27:19 writes,

                  “As water reflects the face, so one’s life reflects the heart.”

The eyes, the face, the gestures and the tone of voice reflect the heart. Couples have the keys to each other’s hearts.  Be sure to use the keys to unlock each other to better express yourselves and communicate well.

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MARRIAGE – Communicate Constructively

Marriage is to be lifelong. This will already spark off all kinds of wisecracks:

                     “‘I am’ is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English Language.                                   Could it be that ‘I do’ is the longest sentence?”

                      “Marriage is not a word. It is a sentence–a life sentence.”

                      “By all means marry; if you get a good wife, you’ll be happy.  If you get a                          bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.” Socrates

But marriage can be lifelong and lively.

                        “A first-rate marriage is like a first-rate hotel:  expensive, but worth                                 it.” Mignon McLaughlin

A first- rate marriage is enjoyed by a couple who make daily choices to communicate constructively. A communicative culture is a great gift in a marriage. No one walks on eggshells; both feel relaxed and speak respectfully to each other. “Culture has longevity,” Ps Benny Ho, Senior Pastor of FCC Perth, said.  Once that communicative culture is created, your children will follow suit.

What kind of communicative culture do we want to create?

GIVE -AND -TAKE

An article in PREPARE (pre-marital program) writes that GIVE- AND -TAKE relationships make enriched marriages. If you have an encouraging word, say it; if you are the receiver of that encouraging word, return the word with an encouraging word.  That way, life flows like the waves that roll back and forth in the sea.

This ebb and flow is the result of mirror neurons in your brain. A mirror neuron is a brain cell that fires when one person acts and the other follows. Couples mirror each other frequently.  It’s God’s way of helping couples to enjoy mutual harmony and involvement. When adequately mirrored, you develop well in your self image and social image.  You discover yourself through the eyes of your spouse.

Be the proactive one in constructive communication:

                    “The report you wrote for the company was great!  So glad you got your                          promotion because of that.  What did your boss say?”

You target your compliment to a specific act (eg the report); you express your feeling of happiness (eg so glad) and you ask an open question for the other person to respond.  You are the GIVER.  As the TAKER, you encourage the communication by responding to the compliment and to the open question.

Make time for this sort of give- and- take communication.  For some couples, mealtimes are good opportunities; for others, car rides are great conversation openers.  There is no hard and fast rules. Make it easy for each other to be involved in such conversation – be inquisitive and be genuinely interested to add to the conversation.

Conversation topics may vary.  You can even turn a gloomy statement into a possibly encouraging one:

                  “  I am so tired today after that long meeting with the boss.  I may need to                          rest for an hour.  Could you fetch the kids from school?”

                  “ Yes, don’t worry about it.  I will fetch the kids and you rest well.  You had                       a long day.”

This is a request for help and when met with an encouraging response, it will bring comfort and a willingness to do something in return in the future. 

An enriching conversation can also be one that you air your hopes and dreams.  Not everything we talk about needs a resolution as not everything is a problem.  In Peter Scazzero’s emotional thermometer, you can  share your world of imagination by talking about your hopes and wishes.

Image result for thermometer    Hopes and wishes (“I hope that.. I wish that…)

“ When I was younger, I hope that I could own a  …..”

“I wish I am an eagle and I could …..”

“ I wish I can turn you into Spiderman and you could then …..”

Play is  important in a marriage.  Don’t forget to play. Loosen up and enjoy each other’s company.

GIVE- AND -GIVE

The same article in PREPARE (pre-marital program) also wrote that a GIVE-AND-GIVE relationship, where one gives without expecting to receive immediately, enhances the marriage.

There are times when such  communication is needed for eg in illnesses, in crisis, in challenging stages of the marriage etc.  The giver needs to dig deep into internal resources built up for these moments and to “talk only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph 4:29, the Bible). In the month of MAY, I will blog on SELF CARE which will help you  harness inner strength to cope with the challenges of life.

Woman pushing a stroller passes mural that reads "The best gift is you"

The hope of give-and-give communication is that there will be a turnaround on the part of your spouse and you will be rewarded for your fine effort of giving without expecting instant results.

Peter Scazzero’s emotional thermometer again is a great help in increasing constructive communication.

   Image result for thermometer     New information (My new information is …)

Make it a habit to share NEW INFORMATION. The good thing about it is there’s no need for an exchange if your spouse doesn’t want to contribute at that time.  You can narrate and describe your new information as long as you see that your spouse is interested in your sharing. 

I was once in a car with a friend and her husband.  She read the news of the day aloud to him while he was driving.  That’s great communication! Another man I know  would gather all kinds of new information when he was overseas.  He would then return home to his wife with new stories to tell.  I must say that through my 36 years of marriage, I got a lot of local and international news through my husband who is an avid reader and listener of news. 

Be generous in your communication.  Sometimes you give and take; at other times you give and give.

“Give, but give until it hurts.” Mother Teresa

“The most truly generous persons are those who give silently without hope of praise or reward.” Carol Ryrie Brink

Of course communication is not just verbal.  It’s non -verbal as well.  Look out for my next blog on constructive non-verbal communication in your marriage.