By Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
While the coronavirus pandemic is impacting our daily routines around the globe, we need to take a moment to understand the nature of our partnerships better, especially as we learn to adapt to our new normal. Indeed, much of what we knew as being normal has drastically changed. Much of what we took for granted is no more. Things are undeniably different. Work, roles, school, worship, community, family, friends, marriage, the way we shop, the way we walk, the way we chat… like it or not- our familiarity with people and places has changed a lot. We now find ourselves thrown off balance and disconnected from the life we once knew. Much of our day has been gripped by tension, fear, worry and grief. Round-the-clock news about the virus makes things far worse. The intensity of the unknown takes us into anxious sleepless nights and awakens us to the daily mantra of wash your hands, rinse and repeat. And, with all of that, we wonder ad nauseam: When will things ever get back to normal?
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
Come what may, the stress of the pandemic is now our new normal. With no return to routine in sight just yet, we all find ourselves somehow struggling to adjust. When faced with the unknown, this is normal! As humans, we all have a deep-seated desire for certainty and control. For the most part, it’s actually quite healthy and a necessary part of life. On the contrary, illness gives us a terrible sense of being out of control. We become anxious and we worry. What’s more is this sweeping new virus only reminds us how little control we have over what’s forthcoming, or more specifically, the future of our lives. Keeping our marriages and relationships predictably healthy and happy during these stressful times also signals a concern.
If truth be told, even the strongest of partnerships are feeling challenged by this crisis right now. As we make major adjustments to our lives, we also feel powerless to make changes. In the fog of uncertainty, powerlessness can feel intolerable but is also a healthy response to our current reality. When it comes to couple connection, however, it can blunt our sensitivity to each other’s feelings. Instead, frustrations flow freely and misunderstandings abound. Sometimes so much so that there go our communication skills down the proverbial drain. Disagreements set off control issues and alas we clash: my way versus your way, and these days, imposed sanctions finds no one really being able to take the high-way. Buttons get pushed. Needs are not met. Personal space is sacrificed. Boundaries are blurred and unintentionally broken. Mutual support is lost in the shuffle. For some, too much confiding feels too confining. For others, not enough feels like total deprivation. In sum, our emotions take us hostage and we tire each other out. All around the world, relationships with loved ones are taking a hit. Even more literally for some people, where home feels like hell behind closed doors. With the fear of the unknown, time stretches on, and hope seems to falter. We are reminded 24/7 that these are psychologically and emotionally, physically and economically unprecedented times. We are worn out! And, even in the best of relationships, for many couples the stress of this lockdown has put love to the test: learning how to be wholly together through our distinct separateness, while navigating this crisis under the same roof. Welcome to the bond of shared solitude: although a natural -and essential- part of intimacy and love, it is also now our unrelenting new normal.
Let there be spaces in your togetherness~Kahlil Gibran
One of the basic human life processes is maintaining a strong sense of exactly who we are individually while staying connected to others. It’s part of maturity and growth. An inherent paradox to human nature is that each of us needs closeness with others as well as a nurturing relationship with oneself. Whether paired up or not, to survive and thrive through a pandemic altogether demands much resilience and resolve. Moreover, struggling through these tough times while coping as a couple does not necessarily indicate that we love each other less. Relationships in general can be challenging every now and then. That’s because as human beings, we all have character flaws, idiosyncrasies, vulnerabilities and even neurotic tendencies. Normal! Warts’n all, it’s part of what makes us whole! In loving relationships, not only do we face our imperfections, sometimes we struggle with someone who has needs very different from our own, and with whom we can also feel like we are losing ourselves, most significantly our sense of security and happiness. So, it likely goes without saying that we often cope with stress by taking it out on those nearest and dearest to us. This almost always has more to do with the way we manage anxiety than it does with a lack of love or concern. To each other, our different coping styles can feel irrational and intolerable, especially these days when found sheltering in place outside our ordinary time and space. That’s why we react or rebel by demanding more closeness or desperately seek out a breathing room of our own. To be cooped up together for this long is definitely not normal! The truth of the matter is few of us really understand why we do certain things, how we feel about them or whether we could behave differently, unless we look beyond our emotional hang ups and injuries, and choose to connect and discover a better version of ourselves. Pitted against the polarities of our intimate partnerships, we perhaps fail to notice that out of our separateness we can still find closeness; out of our humanness we can still embrace our imperfections and most importantly, learn to grow together, rather than apart.
In Good Times and In Bad
The entire phenomenal universe exists because of the tension between the opposites. Hot and cold, growth and decay, gain and loss, success and failure, the polarities that are part of existence, and of course part of every relationship~ Eckhart Tolle
Life is about change. Everything is constantly moving and growing and adapting to change. Seeing each other through the current challenge requires not only that we try to tolerate our own frustrations, but that we develop a healthy balance between separateness and togetherness, too. This duality has always existed and is part of every intimate relationship.The same goes for: like and dislike, agreement and disagreement, accept and refuse, give and take, yes and no, yin and yang, and so on. Too much or too little, depending on each person’s needs, will always influence and determine the harmony of the relationship. Rarely does a couple have the same needs at any given moment.This is not a bad thing. Distinctions are quite normal but the trick in intimate relationships is to hold and guard space for each other. It’s about allowing each other to feel what they are feeling and say what needs to be said without judgement, but also about stretching oneself to be present for what each needs the other to be. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. For it may mean the difference between believing your partner is selfish or too self-absorbed and learning that taking space is their way of self-soothing and something they presently need in order to help assuage their own fears of the unknown. Or, it may be the difference between getting annoyed with your partner’s constant reminders to put on a mask when out in public and realizing just how much you are genuinely cared for and loved. Whenever we look at life from a more bifurcated perspective, we fail to express ourselves in a more balanced way. Being awakened through contrast and having compassion for each other’s differences, however, allows us to surrender to the idea that the very nature of our loving relationships demands that we both learn, grow and evolve.
With the renewal of spring upon us, we are still dealing with a chronic world health crisis. So, as we reassemble together in the hope of reclaiming some agency over our own lives soon, let us not forget that we need to care for and count on each other not only as couples, but that we must also responsibly carry the same compassion in our hearts for one another as citizens of this planet. Above all, it is imperative we all understand that we each need to do all we can and look out for one another as a global community of people; individually and ultimately, we are all stronger in this together! For now, for better or worse, we must vow to uphold and cultivate our new normal- indeed a shared struggle, yet perhaps at the same time a solemn promise for a healthier and happier future for both ourselves, and for the entire human race .
In the end, it is always in our best interest to strive for the greater good!
by Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
As the coronavirus casualty numbers rise worldwide, life as we once knew it now feels completely upended. Millions of us find ourselves braving a new normal these days, having no choice but to adjust to imposed lifestyle restrictions while we try to allay our fears of isolation and the unknown. Shops and schools have closed. Travel and public gatherings are basically banned. Restaurants and theatres are empty. More and more people are being asked to work from home. Some have been laid off. Some continue to work for the greater good (thank you front-line workers!) while the less fortunate have lost their jobs. Routines have been disrupted. Plans have been cancelled. Words like quarantine and lockdown have become part of our daily lexicon. So, too, has “wash your hands!” And, peculiarly enough, toilet paper is now the Holy Grail. This is uncharted territory for most of us and for the first time in modern democracy, there is a moral imperative to sidestep our individual freedom and collaborate together so that we may flatten the curve of this pandemic-level virus and eliminate community spread.
Welcome to the altruism of social distancing
This is a new period in our history and it's difficult on many levels. In the medical midst, while we hold anxious vigil until a vaccine is found, we also find ourselves fighting a social recession. This is a big deal because human beings are social creatures at heart. We are relationally-oriented and networked to community. In fact, studies show that our lives depend on it. In the 21st century, loneliness is often referred to as the “modern-day epidemic”….the most common ailment of the modern world. Hard to believe we live in lonely times given the quick access we have to television, internet and social media these days. Why, one would say there are all sorts of possibilities for human interaction in the digital age! Not so fast… Studies continue to remind us those who substitute online relationships for real relationships increase their levels of loneliness. The truth of the matter is that people can feel even more disconnected when habitually found retreating to their screens. Virtual relationships may fill a gap, but, for many, they often feel more superficial, leaving less room for genuine belonging and community connectedness. Solace on the internet is minimal at best.
With less and less face time, there’s no better time for FaceTime
As social distancing reshapes how we connect, we now need to not only rethink how the human element has been hijacked by online technology, but much of how we are using our present technology, and to use it well. Yes, especially now with social distancing being sanctioned upon us, never has social media become more important to our lives. Because now we really need each other. We need more than just respond to our online notifications. We need to address our fears. Our loneliness. This time social media needs to be our intimate friend. Our source of news. Our information. Our place for conversation and connection. Our village of social and emotional support. Our bridge to collective community. Our home. It needs to serve a purpose, rather than just an escape from reality. To help check in on our loved ones, our family and friends. To engage authentically with what is going on for others. To finally reach out to those we’ve been meaning to touch base with but somehow “never got around to doing so”. To offer comfort, some laughter or just a bit of distraction from all the stress and uncertainty; to share our thoughts, feelings, ideas and especially our hope to emerge from this calamity soon. Ramping up our virtual communication and reaching out intentionally -and compassionately - can help replace some of the physical proximity and contact we now find losing with one another. Be it via Facetime, Skype or even chats on Facebook Messenger….no matter. Just, this time, let’s make it matter. This crisis can be our invitation to transformation: to look out for each other and to pull together and maybe finally begin using technology in a more mindful and meaningful way.
Ironically, the most socially responsible thing to do right now is to avoid mass gatherings and to keep our 6-foot distance when out and about, to preferably stay at home, to isolate, to bide our time because we cannot risk harming someone by the simple act of reaching out for acknowledgement- be it through a shake or squeeze of a hand, a touch, a kiss or a hug. As we all take part in slowing the spread of the coronavirus, let’s not panic, rather take to heart, that the love, respect and kindness we demonstrate to others- may actually leave us feeling even more connected than ever before, just with the way we choose to communicate today while we stay apart.
"Cupid, draw back your bow and let your arrow go straight to my lover’s heart for me.”
(Sam Cooke, 1961)
In classical mythology, Cupid, -or more aptly Eros- is considered to be the god of desire and love. The story goes that by piercing hearts with his bow and arrow, he caused mortals to swoon and fall deeply and passionately in love. And, he rarely missed his mark. When it comes to modern day relationships however, many couples fail to intuit their partner’s wishes and often fall flat, facing disappointment in each other’s unmet expectations, instead.
Expectations play a significant role in the health and happiness of our relationships. After all, who doesn’t want to be treated with kindness, love, loyalty and respect? Who doesn’t want to feel loved, yearned for, desired and needed? Consequently, said expectations can also run us into trouble, especially on Valentine’s Day and especially if they don’t meet our exact criteria as to what we hope for in our head. Moreover, this heart-filled holiday usually reminds us how we already love and also feel loved by our significant other. So, for those of us who feel genuinely good about our relationships, maybe the day doesn’t leave us feeling any more pressured to be any more romantic or any more loving. Maybe everything is on target. Maybe everybody walks away satiated and happy. On the other hand, for those of us who feel like we fall short somehow, the dreaded Feb 14th may seem like yet another ignored or missed connection, and not really cracked up to be what it’s supposed to be, leaving us feeling more lonely and wanting, perhaps further eroding our feelings of love for one another, too.
It’s Not Always Roses and Chocolates
For many, Valentine’s Day is considered to be a Hallmark holiday, with candy, flowers and romantic dinners as the expected way of celebrating the day. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these gestures or gifts, but if we want our partner to feel the love we are trying to communicate, perhaps it’s best we learn to express it in their primary love language, and not ours. As the author of The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman says, “Everyone experiences love differently, and it’s easy to miss the mark when it comes to showing you care, but with a little bit of help, you can learn to identify the root of your conflicts, give and receive love in more meaningful ways, and grow even closer than ever.”
Chapman explains that there are five primary ways we express love in relationships: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving and giving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. What’s fun about knowing our love language is that it can help highlight the basic way we communicate in a relationship as well as help us recognize what we need to do to give and receive pleasure in a way that’s more meaningful, too. By considering the needs and wants of the other person first, and then adjusting our own behaviour -and not the other way around- is what really makes love work. And, this can be a surefire way to finding the key to your partner’s heart.
So, which example of expression of love -or desire- from your partner would make you feel most loved today? And, how about your partner from you?
Words of affirmation: A general or sexy compliment
Acts of Service: A home-cooked meal or satisfying a sexual desire
Gift giving or receiving: Chocolate or sexy underwear
Quality time: Talking together or mindful love-making
Physical touch: A kiss or a sexy massage
Knowing what we want or long for is crucial before knowing how to move forward. Knowing what it takes for your partner to feel loved -even more so! Communicating this with each other helps you not only understand if your expressions of love are different or similar, but it allows you to see whether you are loving your partner in your way or in the way they would like to be loved. At the heart of it, you can also learn to appreciate when your partner is sending you love, even if it’s not what you expect or are used to. You never know…perhaps paying attention to your partner’s love language- to the gestures of affection he or she appreciates- will ultimately help you both hit the bullseye this Valentine’s Day!
If you would like to know more about your love language, take the quiz here https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/
by Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
A new year offers all of us a fresh start, a blank canvas upon which to draw on our own life experiences . Taking stock of how the last year went -as in what went well and what didn’t go so well- allows us another chance at getting it right…once again. Yes, for most of us, the challenge is mainly in making change stick. It takes a whole lot more than just flipping the calendar. In other words, it takes self-awareness, know-how and the right attitude.
Staying committed to your goals is the first step in getting yourself to where you want to be. In fact, breaking down your resolution into smaller, attainable goals can prove more helpful in staying the course. Too many people give up before they even begin because their ideas are either exaggerated or not well thought-out. This is an important point. A plan of action is definitely required if you are going to go the distance. Focus determines direction. Likewise, considering how you are working toward that special something can make it more tangible. Re-evaluation is often necessary. Going back to the drawing board can help restore faith and sketch the way forward to make a better go of things . Knowing this is key! And also the fact that changing one’s behaviour -especially bad habits- rarely happens overnight. Unhealthy behaviours develop over the course of time, so replacing them with healthier ones requires time. We can only really get better at what we do when we become what we repeat. So, go easy with yourself. You will have occasional lapses. Normal. To err is to be human, after all:-)
And probably nowhere more so than when making changes in your own relationships.
RESOLVE TO BECOME THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE
Most people don’t associate making resolutions with relationships. It’s an interesting oversight given the fact that research consistently reveals that the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our relationships. Oh sure, most people will talk about wanting to find love, or the perfect partner, but rarely does one approach it from the perspective of first looking within- as in improving the relationship one has with oneself. Or, to put it another way: by learning more about how to “become” the right partner, as in self-improvement (to work on oneself for the betterment of the couple), instead. All I can tell you is from where I sit, how you show up for your relationship matters. It matters a lot. Asking yourself, “How Am I Being a Loving Partner? What Am I Giving in Relationship? How Am I Sharing Myself? How Am I Making it More Meaningful? can help you not only take stock of -but also transform- your life in the direction you desire. It’s not just about being more accountable but about getting more authentic with yourself, even risking your true self- “warts-’n-all” so that you may be more aligned to also recognize the same in your partner. It’s easy to expect (even demand) that someone else be attentive, compassionate, faithful, loving, understanding and vulnerable. However, it has an even greater chance at manifesting when first modelled and reflected back. What’s that old saying, “We teach others how to treat us?” So, if you want your partner to be more romantic with you, be more romantic with them. If you want your partner to be more present and listen to you when you speak, focus your full attention on your partner as you listen to them. When all is said and done, we teach people what we will accept or tolerate from them. We set the standards. Hence, in order to change a relationship, you must be willing to change. Resolving to become more of the person you want your partner to be can definitely lead your relationship to a better place. It can also allow you to grow into the best version of yourself.
Below is a Self-Awareness exercise to help you take stock of your own values and ideal relationship.
The Perfect Partner Exercise
Suppose a miracle happened and your partner suddenly turned into your perfect “soul mate”: no faults at all, no annoying habits, always there for you, able to meet your every need, want, and desire .... If that happened, then how would you change? Please take your time to seriously consider this and write your answers below.
What would you stop, start, do more of and less of?
What sort of partner would you try to become? What sort of personal qualities would you develop?
What attitude would you cultivate toward your partner?
How would you speak to him/her when you wanted something?
How would you respond to him/her when they were in pain?
How would you treat him/her when they made a mistake or screwed up?
Is there a gap between the way you’d ideally like to behave as a partner – the values you’d like to live by -- and the way that you actually are behaving?
What is stopping you from living by your values right now?
What do you fear might happen if you did start to live more by your values?
What do you think needs to happen first before you can start living more by your values?
Do you believe your partner should change before you do?
adapted from: © Russ Harris 2009 www.act-with-love.com
For more information as to how to effect change for your own relationships, please visit www.letstalkaboutlove.ca . Effective goal-setting is a skill. Getting the right help to change helps. And whichever area of relationship resolution you choose, remember that commitment paves the way, even if you find yourself starting all over again. Celebrate the small successes and go easy on your setbacks. Resolve to do better. Again and again. Happy 2020 to you!
And that's why we need more than just time to heal all wounds
by Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
No matter how much our past remains behind us, it still has a way of slipping into our present. It’s normal that we carry our personal perception of our past experiences with us, especially when it comes to our love relationships. However, sometimes the weight of certain memories can be downright debilitating and feel more like emotional quicksand. When this happens, it usually means you probably avoided or underestimated the significance of the pain you suffered in the past. Unpacking your hurt, fears and triggers while assessing your needs for healing becomes essential in order to be able to move forward more freely and feel like you can take back your life again. Once vulnerabilities are identified and old energy is released, not only are you inspired to move forward or enter relationships with more confidence, it encourages you to grow more authentically, too. Ignored, it remains a surefire way of keeping you stuck in your status quo, blocking the flow of change, and allowing familiarity to repeat in the future.
“How frightening is the past that awaits us”. Antoni Słonimski
Our emotional health is a critical part of well-being. Our feelings are important, whether we think of them as good or bad. In fact, we really need to understand that our feelings provide us with the stories we tell ourselves and what we bring into our intimate relationships. Because we often make assumptions based on our emotional history, we often unconsciously transfer onto our partners what we experienced or felt we were dealt in the past. Too often what happens is we blame each other for what goes wrong in the relationship and fail to see the link between our personal lifelong conflicts and the conflicts in our relationships- between the pain or hurt we carry within ourselves and the pain or hurt we experience as a couple. Emotions are like that: every time we have an experience in the present, we are also experiencing it in the past.
This is why gaining a better awareness of the way relationships and emotions were handled in our family of origin is always a good idea. After all, our family of origin is the first place we learned about love. So, too, our expectations around love. This is where we learned about communication and also about what troubled us about our family dynamics -especially around core issues involving anger, fear and hurt. Exploring our personal history can help us understand what from our painful past may be trickling into the present. Ultimately, through shared conversation, we can stay connected to ourselves while we try to stay connected to each other, and not feel like we are collapsing under some enormous emotional weight whenever we try to communicate. Living in the moment in this way not only helps foster awareness and facilitate choice, it also teaches you what may no longer serve you and, most importantly, the (new) direction you need to take.
Letting go of the past is a process & learning to let go takes practice
All of us are capable of having a loving relationship, but it does take some effort, especially the willingness to be uncomfortable with our feelings. Our vulnerabilities are the fragile feelings usually left over from our painful past, particularly the stuff which keeps us up in the middle of the night and that very few people, if any at all, really know about. However, the only real way of dealing with these type of feelings is to feel them, identify and open up with them. In a relationship, it can mean the difference between being fully heard and seen -and staying grounded in the present in response to your partner- or remaining wounded and walled-off, continuing to be plagued by -and react to events of- your past. It can mean lightening the emotional load by finally realizing that perhaps it’s not the load that breaks us down, rather it’s the way we carry it.
The following is an exercise couples explore in my workshop called Family Matters. Asking each other these questions can help us listen to and acknowledge one another -especially our unique emotional history- creating a bridge between the past and present, between the self and other- and profoundly discover a new truth together… in present time.
My Story+Your Story=Our Story
One of my favourite poems or literary works about love and marriage comes from a prophet by the name of Kahlil Gibran. He writes about the importance of couples coming together in love but not losing sight of who they are individually, and especially their own unique purpose: That people can come together in love and not lay all their expectations at each other’s feet, waiting for them to be fulfilled by the other. In my field we call this differentiation. If truth be known, in our society, we valourize phrases like "I found my soul-mate" or “you complete me” and “my better half” much more than “stand together yet not too near together”. Yet, the latter is a much more healthy option. Why? When we know who we are, and are able to stand on our own two feet, own our own thoughts and feelings and clearly express them to one another- without expressly resorting to hurting each other- not only do we muster up the skill of authenticity, we also pave the road for living a life with more curiosity, meaning and compassion. I believe KG really understood what it meant to be able to add to someone's life and to grow in marriage.
Hi, I'm Lydia- a modern-day warrior of the heart with a mission to reconcile the mystery and mastery of Love.