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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

How to Get to Forgiveness

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

mad girls

None of us is perfect. We make mistakes and hurt those we love. So, to have a long term, emotionally close relationship, it is essential that we find ways to move through these difficult times. When you are the one who’s done the hurting, it’s important that you learn to apologize, which I addressed in my previous blog, “How to Apologize”. In addition, it is equally important to be able to forgive.

Forgiving is often difficult to do. We feel hurt and often harbor anger. It can feel like forgiving someone is “letting them off the hook” for what they’ve done. However, the reality is that you are, instead, choosing to accept that what has happened has happened, and that you want to move forward. In my book, Insecure in Love, I offer a number of exercises to assist you in offering forgiveness. One suggestion is that you “Apply Understanding and Compassion,” which involves doing the following:

Nurture awareness of your emotions. Sit in a quiet place and pay attention to the emotions that arise as you think about the hurtful situation. You will likely feel a number of different emotions, so label each of them. If you tend to get overwhelmed with a mass of negativity, make a conscious effort to pay attention to the sensations you feel in your body. Allow yourself to take this process slowly. Acknowledge and label an emotion. Then ask yourself what else you might be feeling.

Befriend your emotions. Practice “sitting with” your emotions. Comfort yourself with kind words of understanding if you feel distressed. You might say something like, “I know this hurts a lot. And it makes sense that what she did would hurt you. So, it’s okay that you feel this way.”

Develop an understanding of what motivated the other person’s actions. Try to understand the state of mind of the other person when they acted as they did. What were they experiencing in their lives that might have influenced their actions? What were they thinking and feeling? Can you understand their actions as a reflection of their limitations or weaknesses as a person – just as we all have limitations and weaknesses? Again, the purpose of doing this is not to “let them off the hook,” but rather to make sense of what they did – even though it was problematic and hurtful.

Practice compassion. You will want to have compassion for your own pain, as well as empathizing with and having compassion for the experiences of the other person.  People frequently remain stuck in one perspective, or alternate between having compassion for themselves and for the other person. As you practice feeling each of the perspectives, attempt to hold onto to the other perspective. Eventually, you can feel compassion for the two of you at the same time.

Choose to forgive. When you feel compassion for both of your experiences, you will find it easier to forgive. By forgiving, I mean that the part of you that feels hurt lets go of wrestling with what happened (but does not forget it) and refocuses on healing.

Continuing the relationship is another story. You might or might not choose to do that. Even if you choose to maintain the relationship, you might decide to place more distance in it. These decisions rest with how the other person responds to you and the situation. But no matter what happens with your relationship, you can always choose to forgive and release yourself from the pain of your hurt or anger.

 

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 2:05 pm

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Relationships That Heal

older man and woman hugging

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Emotionally close relationships are as important to psychological health as food and water are to physical health. You can survive on food with low nutrition and with little water, but you will not be as physically strong and healthy as if you were well fed and hydrated. Similarly, you can live without emotionally close relationships, but you will not be as psychologically and emotionally strong, happy, and resilient.

Emotionally intimate, healthy relationships help you feel accepted for who you are and encourage you to pursue what is important to you. They also offer you solace when life feels difficult. They affirming and also healing. They are helpful in two basic ways:

Healthy relationships offer a sense that you can rely on others. When you know you can turn to others for emotional or practical support, even the most difficult circumstances are made lighter.

If you tend to be self-reliant and are hesitant to ask for help, you may feel alone, particularly during difficult times. Some people find it helpful to remind themselves that not only would they be there for friends and family, but also they want to help because they care. Similarly, their friends and family would want to be there for them. It’s true that asking for – and accepting – help can make you feel vulnerable. However, leaning on others can also offer a sense of connection that can give you strength.

Healthy relationships offer a sense of acceptance and belonging. They are your connection to human kind. Feeling like you belong to the human race provides a sense that just as others have value despite being imperfect, you also have value despite your imperfections. You, like other people, are worthy of love. You can feel more accepting of yourself and more compassionate toward your struggles.

It is not unusual for people to question their worth and fear rejection based on being flawed or inadequate. If you feel like you are inferior, this can leave you in despair. Some people find it helpful to remind themselves of others who do care – even if they aren’t “feeling the love” right at that moment. They remind themselves of how friends or family phone or text and of social outings that they’ve enjoyed. These thoughts can challenge their negative self-perceptions.

When relationships can provide you both with a sense that you can rely on others and that you are a worthy human being, you will carry a fundamental feeling of happiness. These supportive, accepting relationships can also help you to heal from emotional pain. You will find that you have the inner resources and outer support to truly follow your heart and inner inspiration on a path of your choosing.

If would like to learn more about this topic, you can sign up to listen to my interview tonight, April 9, at 8 pm ET.  My interview is part of the Emotional Healing Conference for the general public. The program is free to listen to at the time of airing.

 

The Art of Relationship blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 11:58 am

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

How to Apologize

hands

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

We all make mistakes. Unfortunately, this often means that we hurt those we care about.  When we do, it is important to make a sincere apology to maintain close relationships. If you are unsure how to apologize, here’s some advice:

Acknowledge your mistake to yourself.  You must first own your mistake. Be honest with yourself about what you’ve done. Don’t allow yourself to make excuses

Understand the harm done. Don’t minimize the damage you may have caused. You cannot fully understand the consequences of your actions unless you take the time to do so. Make an effort to empathize with those you’ve hurt and acknowledge their feelings. If you have done this a number of times, the damage might be cumulative.

Acknowledge to yourself that you are human. While admitting your error is important, it is equally important to put this in context. Self-flagellation – or damning yourself to emotional exile from all other people – won’t help those you’ve hurt and won’t fix a thing. Instead, remember that you are human, and humans make mistakes. Although you cannot turn back time, you can move forward.

Apologize. Acknowledge  responsibility for what you’ve said or done and for the effects your behavior has had.

If a person approaches you with their grievances, hold still (in body and mind) and listen. Don’t interrupt. When they are done, acknowledge your mistakes and the harm it’s caused. Ask if there is something you can do to make amends. If the person does not approach you, then you will need to approach them. State your mistake, your understanding of the harm it’s caused, and your regret. Then listen. When they are done, validate their thoughts and feelings.

Sometimes people cannot let go of a hurt. If the other person cannot let go despite your best efforts, then you might need to find a way to move on. A sincere apology means being open to really hearing the other person’s feelings, but it does not mean that you need to allow yourself to be attacked or to be treated disrespectfully.

If you can do something to make amends, do so. This might mean fixing damage done to the person you hurt; or helping others who are being hurt in similar ways. For instance, if you’ve bullied others in the past, you might now choose to be particularly conscientious about stopping nasty gossip or cruel behaviors toward others. Making amends might also simply mean making a real, conscious effort not to repeat the offense.

Making an earnest apology is not easy. But given that we are all flawed, it is an essential skill in healthy, caring relationships.

The Art of Relationship blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 12:27 pm

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to Ruin Your Marriage…or Save It

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

thinking woman

Disagreements are a part of every long-term relationship. So, they are not what ruin a marriage. Rather, it’s how couples disagree that can lead to its demise. And, unfortunately, some couples are living examples of this. They view each other as  adversaries when conflicts arise. As if they were playing an important game, they each look for ways to win points for their side and artfully dodge points scored against them. The problem with this approach is that winning the game means losing the relationship – or, at least, the emotional closeness that it can provide.

If this describes your marriage, you have an extremely important decision to make. You can choose to stay in “the game,” or you can choose to nurture a mutually supportive and loving relationship. Couples who are at actively at odds (in big and small ways) tend to get caught in an emotional spiral – their negative emotions become increasingly intense and destructive. This can happen quickly in explosive arguments or be drawn out over time in a pattern of subtle, hostile interchanges. To alter the trajectory of your relationship, you must change your rules of engagement.

Some ways to turn your spouse from an adversary into a true partner are:

Prioritize your relationship: Everyday life can wear us all down, leaving us with just enough energy to deal with our own struggles and issues. We can become self-centered in our thinking and fail to care enough about our partner. To counter this, remind yourself regularly that your spouse and your marriage are a priority in your life, and make decisions accordingly.

Frequently remind yourself what you love about your partner: Let yourself really feel your love for your spouse, and make note of all the things they do that you appreciate. You might even want to share these observations with them!

During disagreements, try to genuinely understand your spouse’s position: Doing this involves intellectually understanding their position and having empathy for their emotional experience. It can be difficult to put your own experience temporarily aside to “get” your partner, but it will likely pay off in more productive conversations.

When your anger flares, take a break: Science tells us that the thinking part of your brain turns off when the emotional part of it explodes with activity. So, it is often best to walk away when your anger gets the better of you. Take time to cool off and then return to the discussion when you are calmer.

When you mess up, take responsibility: It is usually best to take responsibility for your mistakes or your part of the problem. That frees your partner from having to prove this to you and opens them up to being able to express appreciation and forgiveness.

Forgive: Just as you want to be forgiven for your mistakes, find it in your heart to understand and forgive your partner when they express true regret.

Though these suggestions are simple, they are far from easy to do. However, they can be highly effective in nurturing a happy marriage. Of course, there are times when the differences between spouses are too great for such simple advice. In these situations, couples will need to work harder at reaching out to each other. They might even need some couple therapy to help them get back on track. If this is the case for you, again, you have a choice. You can let your relationship slip away (or explode), or you can acknowledge the problem and make a conscious decision together to save your marriage.

 

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 8:53 am

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What His Actions Might Really Mean

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

couple

Most of us would agree that the way many guys communicate in relationships is different from the way most women communicate. It’s usually indirect, succinct, and often involves behavior rather than words. That said, it’s important to be aware plenty of women express themselves in this style, too. If you are in a relationship with someone who uses this “language,” below is a guide to what his (or her) behaviors might mean.

Action: Changing the subject
Translation: “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Yes, he is changing the subject because he’d rather not discuss the topic. And it might occasionally work, but mostly it aggravates you. So, what can you do about it? First, try to understand the issue from his perspective. Once you’re about to imagine yourself in his shoes, you can call him out on changing the subject by addressing his reasoning for doing it. This might mean asking him why he does it. “I noticed that every time I mention _____, you change the subject. I’m wondering why.” Or, you might be able to address the reason more directly. “I notice that every time I mention going out with Kathy and Bob, you change the subject. I’m guessing that you do this because you’re not crazy about spending time with Bob. I get it. He can be a pain. But can we talk about how we can make it work because I’d really like us to get together again?”

Action: Agreeing, but with no follow through
Translation: “I disagree.”

Same problem. He doesn’t want to discuss the topic, and mostly wants to avoid an argument. The best way to address this is to find a way for the two of you to disagree without drawing blood. Acknowledge that he might have a different perspective. Explain that you want to find a way for you both to feel heard and respected. This might mean finding a compromise or one of you being willing to “give” in this situation.

Action: Avoidance; crankiness; indirectly expressed anger
Translation: “I am angry.”

Again, having a fight is no fun. So, rather than directly saying that he’s angry with you, he might stomp around, toss some verbal daggers under his breath, or be particularly persnickety. When this happens, let him know that you get that he’s upset. Say that you care about how he feels and want him to tell you more directly about what’s wrong. Then be prepared to talk maturely about the situation.

Action: Puts air in your car tires; shovels the walkway
Translation: “I care.”

He might not have the eloquence of Shakespeare: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Nor might he be the type to simply say, “I love you.” But pay attention. He might show you his love by directing his attention and energy into making your life better in some ordinary ways. Take the time to appreciate actions; they are true gifts. And, if you really want some other special effort – like an evening out at a particular concert – simply ask.

Action: Says, “You can solve this by…”    
Translation: “I want to take away your pain.”

Sometimes you just want a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. Instead, he focuses on solving your problem. It’s frustrating. But remember that this is his way of saying that seeing you struggle hurts him. So, be happy that he wants to take your pain away. But, to get the response you want, ask for it. Before you vent, explain that what you want is for him to just listen. Reassure him that this really will help; and then let it flow.

No matter what language people speak, they want to love and be loved. You just have to know how to bridge the language gap.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 8:52 am

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

All You Need Is Love…and Sex

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

couple

You can have a good relationship with your partner and still suffer from a lack of sexual desire. So, for all the talk about the importance of good communication for a healthy relationship, it is also important to apply this communication to the bedroom; and then do something about it. I recently heard Barry McCarthy, author of Rekindling Desire, give a talk, sharing some important concepts for revitalizing your libido. These are:

The “goal” of sex is pleasurable touch, not orgasm. Sex is more than intercourse. It includes sensually arousing touch that is best to enjoy for its own sake. It does not need to lead to intercourse.

Regular sexual experiences are essential in keeping your desire alive. The lack of sexual touch can lead to accepting (even if unhappily) an asexual relationship. Also, when couples have a sexually arousing experience less often than approximately every other week, they might experience a cycle of anticipatory anxiety, tension, failed orgasm and sexual dissatisfaction – all leading to an avoidance of sex and sensual touch.

Sex must be given freely as a gift, not forced or used as a reward or punishment. Once it becomes a tool for exerting power, it cannot be fully shared and enjoyed.

It is essential to respect your partner’s style of arousal. While men are often aroused and then pursue sex, women often need a sense of emotional intimacy before feeling aroused and ultimately pursuing sexual intimacy. It’s important to understand these differences if they exist in your relationship so that the two of you can bridge that difference together.

Both partners are responsible for sexual satisfaction in their relationship. Each partner is responsible for seeking to create their own sexual satisfaction, but they are also responsible for helping each other do this.

As with all other aspects of a relationship, good communication is essential to sexual satisfaction. It is important to talk about what turns you on and what turns you off. Share desires and fantasies, as well as sexual hangups. Consider, talk about, and use props from candles and romantic movies to vibrators or other sex toys. There is no crime in modesty or boldness. What’s important is to be comfortable with how you connect sexually and the frequency you do so; and that you connect in a way that leaves you sexually satisfied.

If your desire is low, talking about sex can feel threatening. You might fear that your partner will feel hurt, or you might feel inadequate. But by acknowledging the problem, you are taking the first step toward addressing it and improving your relationship.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 1:29 pm

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Makes a Relationship “Good Enough”?

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

couple

People begin their lifelong need for others as infants. At that time, not only do their caretakers (mostly mothers and fathers) keep them safe, they also comfort, soothe and nurture them. Renowned psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott stated it well when he said that mothers don’t need to be perfect in order for their children to be emotionally healthy; they only need to be “good enough.” Similarly, adults don’t need perfect friends and partners; they only need “good enough” relationships. These connections accept, honor, and support each person – imperfections, mistakes and all.

It’s important to understand that having a “good enough” relationship isn’t about settling (having low standards). Rather, it’s about acknowledging that perfection does not exist. So, instead of getting caught in a search for the perfect partner, you will be happiest when you focus on nurturing a relationship that works well for you. It’s equally important to understand that part of what can be so affirming about relationships is that we are able to be our imperfect selves and still meet each other’s need.

“Good enough” relationship partners (either friends or romantic interests) offer you the following:

Care about you. Anyone you would call friend should, at a minimum, care about what happens to you. They should be happy for you when good things happen and feel sad about the pains and difficulties you endure. In fact, it is hard to imagine how any relationship can be “good enough” in being an emotional support without both people being empathic and sympathetic to each other.

Respect and listen to you. Your partner or friend may have different interests and even think differently about important topics. For instance, you might be interested in foreign films and discussing literature while your friend refuses to see any movie with subtitles and doesn’t even like to read. However, you can both still be caring, supportive people in each other’s lives— this is what makes good friends.

Can take responsibility for mistakes, particularly ones that affect you. Understanding the affect of behavior on someone you care about is an essential first step in nurturing a healthy relationship. When partners recognize that their behaviors have hurt you in some way, it is important that they express concern. This is a sign of respect and caring.

Have the interest and skills to work through relationship problems. “Good enough” partners or friends (unlike a “perfect” ones) may misunderstand you, say something hurtful to you, or betray you in some way. However, they would want to know how they affected you and would work with you to talk through the problem. They would respect your thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

These elements are important in any relationship that evolves past acquaintance. You might not do as many things with a casual friend, or share as much of your deeply intimate thoughts and feelings. Similarly, they might limit how much they include you in their lives. However, to be called a friend, that person – along with your closest loved ones – must show at least the above levels of basic respect and caring.

 

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 8:28 am

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Staying Positive in Adversity

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

woman

Positive psychology has become all the rage. Ways to stay positive and happy are the topic of innumerable blogs and articles. It’s like a media extravaganza. And it undoubtedly helps many people. However, it also often triggers the reverse reaction. The advice can seem trite and lack compassion for very real suffering. Many feel that they are supposed to “fake it.” As with so much in life, there is truth in both reactions.

When someone is suffering, the suggestion to focus on the positive can cause further hurt. It leaves many feeling like their pain is being invalidated and is unimportant, which can feel the same as being told that they are unimportant. Before people who are suffering can begin to reach for some help out of their pain, they often need validation for their experience. They need to get the message that their pain is understood; it is a very human experience; and it is worthy of compassion. Once they receive this message, they are often able to gain the comfort and soothing they need. This is a positive experience, which sometimes enables them to reach for more positive experiences. This domino effect of feeling good is not just a hopeful idea, but rather has been supported by common wisdom and experience and scientific studies (such as in the work of Barbara Fredrickson).

On the other hand, when people can initially meet difficult circumstances with a truly positive attitude, their resilience is amazing. This approach to life was best exemplified by the life and person of Alice Herz-Sommer.  She passed away at the age of 110. In 1943, she was sent from her home in Prague to the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp. Because she was a talented concert pianist, she was frequently starred in concerts and used for Nazi propaganda. Not only was she able to survive, but she also kept her son with her and worked to stay positive with him. In an interview by Bernard Hiller, she said, “Wherever you look is beauty.” She added, “I know about the bad things, but I look [to the good things].”

Science has taught us that people are born with temperaments that may be more or less happy and optimistic. Not everyone can naturally be like Ms. Herz-Sommer. However, science has also taught us that temperament is not everything (for instance, see the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky). What you do affects your outlook. So, after acknowledging your difficulties, you may find it helpful to make choices that will enable you to appreciate more of the beauty in the world. For instance, you might:

  • Nurture loving relationships
  • Smile at people through your day
  • Look for the positive in all circumstances (this does not mean you have to deny the negative)
  • Keep a gratitude journal (write 1-3 things that you were grateful for during the day)
  • Do something you enjoy each day
  • Be mindful of your experiences (e.g. Appreciate the taste and texture of your food.)

These suggestions are all about using a positive perspective in approaching your relationships (including relationships with yourself, other people, and the world around you). Alice Herz-Sommer found beauty in music and art. Importantly, she was also a devoted mother, who was determined to take care of her son in body and spirit. So, if you need help seeing the positive in life, remember Ms. Herz-Sommer and her perspective that “life is beautiful.”

 

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 10:53 am

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Recovering from Loss

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

loss

Losses are a painful part of life, whether this means the death of loved one (a friend, spouse or pet), the breakup of a relationship, or becoming disabled in some way through injury. At its core, loss is about losing relationships. Even the loss of a job, whether through retirement or being fired, is about losing relationships – in this case, it includes the loss of your relationships with co-workers and with your identity as a working person. As with most other difficulties in life, coping effectively with loss means having to find peace within yourself.

Achieving such peace involves becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can learn what you need in order to soothe your pain. You can do this by:

Accepting your loss. It is natural to want to deny the loss or push it out of your consciousness. Undoubtedly, though, you know in your heart that change, including loss, is part of life. Accepting your loss, grieving, and coming to terms with it is the only path to truly finding inner peace and to once again embracing life.

Accepting your need for comfort and love. Despite how it might feel, you are not alone. When you open yourself up to the caring offered by others, you will find that accepting this gift is healing. While people might offer caring or comfort in big ways, such as by checking in regularly or suggesting that you spend time together, they might also offer it in small ways, such as by simply saying they are sorry for your loss. In either case, it can be helpful to fully absorb that others are sympathetic.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for support in whatever form you need it. Similarly, offering help to others – whether giving to friends or volunteering – can also buoy you up.

Being grateful for the positives still in your life. While nothing will make the pain of your loss disappear, being grateful can help to ease that pain by offering a balanced perspective. It enables you to see your loss within the larger picture of what life has to offer, and even what your relationship (now in the past) has given to you. With gratitude in mind, consider how the future can appear even just a little better.

Open yourself up to personal growth. While sitting in your grief or gently urging yourself forward, remain open to insights about yourself and life. This can help you build inner strength and resilience. For instance, you might gain a new perspective about what your relationship has meant to you or about how you connect with others in your life. Many people who wrestle with loss find that their other relationships improve, their sense of spirituality and appreciation for life are enhanced, and they feel emotionally stronger despite their sad feelings and sense of vulnerability.

Take care of yourself. Most of us know that it’s important to take care of our emotional and physical well-being. The problem is that we often don’t do it. So, prioritize this even when you don’t feel like it. Exercise regularly. Eat healthily. Do what you can to get enough sleep. Make time for those activities that you enjoy and that tend to rejuvenate you. Consider incorporating prayer, meditation, or other spiritual practices into your daily life.

There is no getting around the fact that loss is painful. However, you can move through this pain, and even be better for it in some ways, by being aware of your needs and working to address them.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 12:29 pm

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

How to Give the Perfect Gift for Valentine’s Day

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

heart gift

Remember the movie Field of Dreams? Kevin Costner’s character heard a voice say, “If you build it, they will come.” Similarly good advice for anyone who wants to romance their partner or wants to know what to get their partner for Valentine’s Day is: If you listen, they will tell you.

When I say listen, I mean listen to all the ways that your partner communicates: what they say, how they act, how they choose to spend their time, what’s important to them, etc. So, for instance, if your partner loves skiing, mother nature has recently given you the perfect opportunity to treat your loved one to a day (or weekend) on the slopes. You might also focus on what you love about your partner and give a gift that pays homage to that. So, if you are enamored of your partner’s creative sense in photography, you might frame some of their pictures.

By choosing to think about Valentine’s Day as a day to honor your love (rather than as a challenge for you to prove your love), it will be a day that can bring you great joy and deep gratification. It is your chance to share your emotions, offering your partner the warmth of being loved as well as adding to your own good feelings by doing this. So, stop paying so much attention to those jewelry commercials. Don’t worry about the high cost of roses. Instead, turn your attention to your partner and to your own heart. Reminisce about happy times. Smile as you absorb his or her presence in the moment. And, as you do this, allow your mind to wander to all the ways you’d like to bring happiness to him or her.

What you will likely find is that ideas for gifts will come to you. If your partner has been particularly stressed recently, you might wrap a coupon for a massage. Or, your artistic partner might love a day together at a museum followed by a romantic dinner. Limited by a tight budget? You can simply offer your appreciation in a poem, song, or letter right from your heart (no fancy words needed).

By opening yourself up to all that’s wonderful about your partner, you are giving yourself the gift of savoring those experiences. And by sharing your appreciation in whatever form it takes, you will also be giving your partner the best gift possible… your love.

The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 11:09 am

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