Tuesday, November 9, 2010


In theory, if your home was too cold, there would be two primary ways to create a warmer temperature.  The first would be to shore up the cracks.  You'd walk around the house making sure the windows were tightly closed; you'd check the weather-stripping, the insulations in the attic, and any cracks in the walls, around the edges of doors, and so forth.  In doing so, you'd keep additional outside cold air from entering the house.  The other, more direct (and more quicker) approach would be to simply turn up the heat.  BINGO - in a matter of a few minutes, your home would be warm and cozy - irrespective of any tiny cracks.

You can easily extend this metaphor to your relationship.  You can attempt to create warmth and closeness by fixing everything that's wrong.  Theoretically, if you were able to mend each issue and repair every imperfection, you'd have one terrific relationship filled with warmth and love.

But like heating a home, a more direcct (and more effective) approach would be to (metaphorically) turn up the heat.  In a practical sense, this means that you ignite every warmth indicator you can possibly think of.  You become kinder and more generous, and you start dishing out more compliments.  You become less critical, stubborn, and judgmental.  Instead of being irritated, you practice patience and forgiveness.  You begin to use more eye contact and better listening skills.  You choose being kind over being right, and you put the needs of your partner before your own.  You say and do the things that you used to say and do when you first met.  In short, you do anything and everything that is associated with loving behavior.  If you turn up the heat in this way, your relationship will blossom despite the fact that there are tiny flaws.  In fact, with enough warmth, most flaws and imperfections will work themselves out without much involvement or efffort.

As obvious as this is (when you actually sit down and think about it), it's almost never done.  Most of the time the other approach is taken - trying to fix deficiencies.  Frequently, people will say, "I can't turn up the heat until certain conditions are met, until he or she begins to change."  The problem is, the type of change you're looking for is almost impossible in the absence of enough heat.  It's putting the cart before the horse.

Monday, November 8, 2010


One day I was driving in the car, listening to a radio call-in talk show.  In less than half an hour, three people called in to complain about something their spouse had done, or in one case "may have done."  In all three cases, the so-called issued had happened at least a year prior to the call.  One woman's issue was that her husband "may have flirted" with another woman some two years ago.  She was absolutely consumed with this, unable to let it go, and was wondering what to do.  Another complained that, in years past, her husband had seemed distant and had become a poor listener.  She was trying to figure out what she had done wrong.  It was as if she were playing Ping-Pong in her mind, saying things like, "It could have been this or it may have been that."  Finally, a man called to share his frustration that in their first year of marriage, his new wife had rached up some hefty credit card bills.  He couldn't sleep nights because he was caught up in the fear that she might, at some point, repeat this behavior, despite the fact that she seemed to have curbed her habit and learned her lesson.  He was still angry with her for "what she had done to their future security."

I felt like yelling, "Let it go already!"  But that was hardly the advice the hostess was offering.  To the contrary, she encouraged them to get even more caught up and analytical about the events and issues, and to fill their heads with doubts, fears, and additional concerns.  She would say things like, "Have you considered that there may be a pattern here?"  and "I've heard this before.  Be careful."

Before I go on, let me assure you that I'm not making a case for flirting outside of marriage, poor listening skills, or overspending.  All three issues can, and often do, contribute to problems in marriages, as well as other relationshops.  However, most people seem to completely igore the negative  impact of hanging on to such issues to a point of diminishing returns -- and the impact this unwillingness to let things go has on our relationships.  We forget what a drag it is to be around people who can't let go of things and who hold onto past issues.  We fail to realize how difficult it is to remain loving to someone who holds us to unrealistic expectations, and who makes no room in their heart for the fact that we are human.  There's an old saying that applies not only to these three callers, but to most of the rest of us as well:  "Enough is enough."

Relationships can be challenging enough without the added burden of keeping past issues alive and vibrant in your mind.  It's helpful to remind yourself of what happens to your own capacity to love, forgive, and grown when you are consumed with something that is over and done with.  Usually, when your head is filled with fear, suspicion, and frustration -- practically anything but love.  Your frustrations will usually spill over into other areas as well, and you'll probably end up being upset about all sorts of "small stuff."

We're not talking about buring your head in the sand.  The truth is, we all make mistakes, act less than perfect, and have at least occasional errors in judgment.  The ideal environment to get through these things, however,  is an environment of forgiveness and nonjudgment.  In other words, if someone you love has made any type of mistake, the best you can do is remain loving and supportive yourself, and not turn the issue into a gigantic event.  That way, your rapport will remain intact and your partner will feel comfortable discussing the issues between you and will feel supported in your growth as a couple.

So, if you're carrying around or still holding on to issues from your past, it may be time to simply let them go.  Instead of harboring negative feelings and staying uptight, make the decision to forgive, forget, and more on.  You'll be rewarded with a richer, more open and honest, and far more loving and nourishing relationship.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Almost nothing immunizes us from the every day frustrations more than a healthy sense of humor -- particularly the ability to laugh at ourselves.  Every long-term relationship gets to a point where your spouse knows you almost as well as you know yourself.  He or she will see your quirks, anticipate your unhealthy responses, and know the ways that you sometimes get in your own way.  Even if you tried, it would be difficult to hide your true self from your partner.

If you are unable to laugh at yourself, you're in for a long, bumpy ride.  You will struggle in your relationships because, as your spouse teases you, notices your flaws, and occasionally points them out, you will feel and probably act a bit defensive.  This, in turn, will exacerbate and highlight your weaknesses, making them seem far more significant.  What's more, your reactions to your spouse's comments will create additional issues for the two of you to deal with, and your "small stuff" will start to seem like big stuff.

If you look around at the happiest and most loving relationships, you'll almost always notice that both people have an ability to laugh at themselves.  Both partners will have the perspecitve necessary to stay lighthearted as their own imperfections come to the surface.  This creates an environment where occasional teasing or kidding around is okay, and where one feels safe in making observations or suggestions.  Your relationship has the chance to deepen and grow because both parties feel safe.