There’s an old proverb that says: “Don’t chase the butterfly, mend your garden and let the butterfly come”.
by Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
When couples fight they often don’t realize that they have set up a pattern between them. The pursuer-distancer pattern is the most common conflict or power struggle couples find themselves in. Here’s what it looks like:
Jane: “Why do you always do that?”
John: “Do what?”
Jane: “You ignore me. Everything is more important to you than me.”
John: “No, it’s not.”
Jane: “We need to talk about this. You’re doing it now.”
John: “I don’t see the problem. You’re over-reacting.”
Jane: “No, I’m not!”
John: “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”(S.Horsmon)
In this example Jane is the pursuer and John is the distancer. Jane feels anxious about the distance she feels in her relationship and aims for connection while John feels the pressure, and tries to distract himself from his own anxiety- by pulling away. Although neither one is inherently right or wrong, it’s still a lose-lose situation.
And the worst part is that it can destroy a relationship. Unless both parties see-and understand- the pattern. In order to change your part in the pursuer-distancer dance, you need to first understand the characteristics of each style.
Pursuers tend to:
Distancers tend to:
The Problem is not so much the People- as it is the Pattern
Even in healthy relationships, couples fail to see how entrenched they can become with each other when dealing with relationship stress. And, this is usually because they are too caught up in their own perspectives to even notice each other’s different styles and underlying needs. Many do not recognize their unhealthy relationship habits. Couples often assume the conflict has more to do with their partner, and not the pattern. Likewise, they fail to see how this very belief can lead to even more sabotage in their connection: while both partners attempt to control the interaction to manage their own anxiety (fears of being too separate vs. too close) decreased affection and emotional responsiveness now hems them in even deeper. In fact, feeling vulnerable and alone becomes the very thing fuelling their interactional pattern: pursuing partners feel controlled -and unloved- by their withholding partner while distancing partners feel controlled -and unloved- by their nagging mate. Each person’s position and reaction reinforces the position of the other. A Catch 22.
Knowing Me is Knowing You…aha!
Relationship connection begins by each partner claiming their own moves of the pattern. Discovering who you are in all of your own unique history and extending the same to your partner is the place to begin. So, instead of focusing on what your partner is doing to you, figure out what’s going on inside of you. Mend your own garden. For example, having conversations with the following questions in mind can help you cultivate more compassion and understanding about how your earlier life experiences or upbringing may have affected your current attachment style or pattern with each other:
What was my experience of love and trust as a child? Could I trust my parents were always there for me? Or, did I mostly feel like I had to take care of them? Did I turn to them for protection? Or, did I fear them in some way? Did I feel rejected? Neglected? Abandoned? Smothered with attention? How did my parents show me they loved me? Could I count on them for affection? Hugs? Attention? Did they comfort or soothe me when I needed it? Or did I mostly count on myself, having learned not to expect too much? What was this experience for me like? What, if anything, does this reveal about myself and the way I can get triggered up with you, today?
Emotions or History Reveal the Pattern…and change the course!
We all want a partner who can serve as a source of comfort and security. But shaming or blaming our partner into it rarely works. Wanting change is about making the choice to become a better partner. Goodwill: a win-win situation. Showing up as a supportive partner for each other requires each person examine their own emotional needs first. Pointing the finger at our partner just allows us to get more embroiled in our one-sidedness, pushing us further and further emotionally apart. Finding the source of our pain or suffering, however, may get us more of a conscious response that connects and reassures, ultimately helping us recognize the impact this has on our partner, and the necessity of working toward satisfying both needs: a balance between solitude and connection. Just as with a butterfly, it’s about the power of personal transformation.
When you think about it, our lives are made up of stories. We all walk around with personal narratives related to our experiences with people, places and events. Some stories are happy, some are sad, some are incredible, some are just plain ordinary. Some stories we share, others we store privately. Regardless, stories give us meaning and identity and even help organize and understand our lives.
Some of the best stories -and life lessons- come from our family of origin. Our family of origin is the place we grew up in- the people largely responsible for shaping our beliefs, values, roles and rules as well as guiding our own relationship choices. For better or for worse, it is here where we first learned about love and trust through communication and emotional expression. Sharing our childhood memories, including the painful ones, not only affords us self-reflection but can actually provide us with a sharper lens through which to view love and relationships and even help us evolve to tell a different story, if need be. In marriage and other close relationships, sharing ourselves with each other can nourish the experience of authenticity and intimacy, even help locate the missing pieces to the puzzle of our lives . Healing.
Sometimes the hardest story to tell may be your own but it can also help someone else find their voice
To tell our personal stories requires vulnerability. This is not always easy as genuine vulnerability requires risking disappointment and hurt. Sharing the negative narratives of our lives means entrusting those we invite to listen with our unique fears, insecurities, struggles, and pain. But the payoff can be great! It can mean the difference between sharing what’s happening in your life versus inviting someone into your life. It can reveal the difference between making it known that one is grappling with certain issues and knowing one is supported by someone really wanting to be there for both the struggle and story. And when the story is unique to one but also speaks to the other, you receive the gift of resonance: meaningful connection.
Willingness to stand within our own story -warts and all- takes guts. Allowing our partner to become the steward of our intimate thoughts even more-so. Taking risks on an emotional level helps bring about raw conversations about the things that really matter, enabling us to open to our truth within and to new possibilities, too. Empowerment. And, whenever love speaks and listens vulnerably, you already know you have a true love story.
Breaking Up is Always Hard to Do But in the End It’s Important To Behave in Ways Which Won’t Come Back To Haunt You
Navigating high school romance is never easy. Adolescence is that developmental -and experimental- stage where crushes and romantic love can often seem sporadic or not even last very long. And, while break-ups and broken hearts are difficult at any age when it comes to love, they can be particularly devastating during the turbulent teenage years. After all, there are many intense emotions (and surging hormones) involved as teens try to figure out life for themselves, especially while dating. Feelings can even be more distressing for teenagers because of how they process and handle failed romantic relationships. Knowing how to do so with integrity, however, allows adolescents not only to mature but also to build many important interpersonal skills they will eventually carry into adulthood. It’s part of developing healthy self-esteem and self-worth, and a sexual identity, too.
A problematic trend in the present dating world is called ghosting. And, for the record, not only teenagers do it. Ghosting happens when the person you thought you were dating suddenly stops responding to your calls, emails and texts (or blocks you completely) with no apparent explanation or warning, unilaterally ending the relationship and disappearing into thin air. Poof! Gone! Deleted! The cutoff just happens and the person being ghosted is often left in shock, literally haunted by what happened. Not only is it disrespectful, but also heartless and a cowardly way of ending a relationship and, sadly, becoming more and more commonplace in the digital age.
The only thing worse than saying “I don’t feel the same way”, is not saying anything at all.
Aside from abruptly cutting yourself off from someone who is a threat to your well-being, ending a relationship by ignoring a human being is just plain wrong. Providing a reason and establishing closure is fair and should always be done face-to-face. Accountability. A relationship, no matter how long it lasted, somehow mattered. People matter. And, if you don’t believe that, you are also setting yourself up for failure. How? The very same screen you use to hide behind as an easy way out, (even if you convince yourself it’s more about not hurting someone’s feelings) impedes the social skills required for relationship success: maturity and conversation. Avoiding life’s challenges, conflict or confusion, disappointment, pain and loss only exacerbates uncomfortable situations and the vicissitudes of life that much more. Acknowledging them actually helps build empathy. What many ghosters fail to see is that much of the relationship anxiety they also feel is actually perpetuated by the false sense of security and control they think their device offers. Running away from situations or problems is never a healthy coping skill.
Often the harder thing to do and the right thing to do are the same.
To hear more tips and techniques about good communication skills please go to Love On the Run with Lydia -a relationships podcast at www.letstalkaboutlove.ca
originally written for YA Magazine
Have you or your partner ever experienced infidelity? Did it feel like the ultimate betrayal? Were you able to heal through it? If not, perhaps you were unaware as to how to even begin to navigate all of the complexities inherent to understanding infidelity, nor ever had the opportunity to have the right conversations and guidance in order to be able to do so. One thing for sure, understanding affairs and betrayal beyond the perpetrator-victim perspective is essential, if true healing is ever to take place.
I often meet with couples who are dealing with the aftermath or crisis of an affair. My priority is to provide them with a safe and gentle restorative setting. My objective is to help them discover the reason behind the affair. Often the difficulty lies in discerning -and accepting- the duality of the meaning, as in “what the affair did to you and what it meant to me”. It’s never easy but these are important conversations to be had, nevertheless.
Following are some essential points to consider whenever choosing to rebuild trust, healing and getting past an affair:
2. The partner who had the affair needs to want to learn what to do in order to
rebuild and restore trust, which includes “putting up” with their partner’s in-
cessant pain. To be sure, there are no quick fixes here, and only the passage of
caring acts and compassionate experiences will help make peace with the
past. Accountability, remorse, responsibility and sensitivity are key! Hard as
it may be, the hurt partner also needs to focus back on the relationship and
learn how to steer away from their obsession with the lover. Both need to
choose the relationship, even if one feels totally not responsible for the affair.
3. Making meanings out of the motives will only come about from those couple
conversations which consist of integrating the infidelity or transgression into
the narrative of the couple relationship. To do so requires knowing how to
move the conversation from an investigative quest-such as rifling through emails and
text messages- to one of exploration- embarking upon a quest to understand the meaning
of fear and loss, separateness and togetherness, love and desire, longing
and loneliness…all important discussion themes when unpacking the meaning of an
affair, but also part of a much needed awakening, especially if deciding to forge a brand new
meaning of your couple connection and life together.
Understanding infidelity is often a complicated state of affairs.
“People stray for many reasons - tainted love, revenge, unfulfilled longings, and plain old lust. At times, an affair is a quest for intensity, a rebellion against the confines of matrimony. An illicit liaison can be catastrophic, but it can also be liberating, a source of strength, a healing. And frequently it's all these things at once. Some affairs are acts of resistance; others happen when we offer no resistance at all. Straying can sound an alarm for the marriage, signalling an urgent need to pay attention to what ails it. Or it can be the death knell that follows a relationship's last gasping breath. I tell my patients that most of us in the West today will have two or three marriages or committed relationships in our lifetimes. For those daring enough to try, they may find themselves having all of them with the same person. An affair may spell the end of a first marriage, as well as the beginning of a new one.” (Esther Perel, 2017)
The Invitation By Oriah Mountain Dreamer
It doesn't interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart's longing.
It doesn't interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn't interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life's betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.
It doesn't interest me
if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn't interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn't interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn't interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments.
One of my favourite poems about authenticity and intimacy. Happy reading!
It’s baaaaaack! Valentine’s Day is upon us! Love is in the air again!
I don’t know about you but my inbox has been replete with cupids, candy, flowers and sexy lingerie ads ever since Xmas ended…‘tis yet another season for the urge to splurge, I believe- another opportunity to demonstrate our feelings for each other! However, this time the stakes seem higher as the spotlight shines on romance, love, and desire.
And, although joyfully anticipated by many couples as the official romantic holiday of the year, for many others February 14 is frowned upon as the commercialization of love or worse- the dreaded, socially-imposed scheduled day of pressure and disappointment- even heartbreak, loneliness and rejection. Either way, whether we celebrate it or denounce it, Valentine’s Day indelibly reminds us of love, relationships, passion, and, if partnered… our connection.
Or lack of.
Personally, I think few things in life are more important than enriching our relationships. I also think V-day can serve as a good reminder to re-evaluate -even remedy- our love partnerships, as in give our relationships a critical thinking over. Why? Because happy and healthy relationships are not self-sustaining and require continued effort. How? Mostly through gratitude and good communication, as in conversation.
Roses are Red,
Violets are Blue,
True Love Begins With
Sharing What’s Important to YOU!
Conversations can actually help us stay on track, navigate challenges and reconnect with each other more consciously. In fact, when put to regular practice, holding conversations can pull us out of routine, ruts and complacency and even help refine and bring back creativity and curiosity to our couple life.
Heartened by a new way of being
I often encourage my couples to begin their conversations by taking a sentimental snapshot of their relationship…you know, as in reflecting on the good times of our past. “Remember when…” is a great segue into a loving conversation. Or, if feeling stuck in your relationship, taking a look at how your relationship has changed by contemplating with your partner, “We’ve been stuck. I’ve noticed it and I think you have, too. We’re in a rut and I’m wondering how we got here”. The fact is that we all do have a history together, and if we take the time to remind ourselves of the journey, especially the happy times, we stand to increase our intimacy and work on our weak spots together, too. Intimacy is like a true knowing of both self and other. I think most of us want to experience this type of bond with our loved one.
So this year, instead of following the crowd, how about you skip the roses and chocolate, and make the day about your couple connection, as in talking and listening kindly to each other in conversation. It can be a sweet start to a rich dialogue and can lead to a whole new discovery about who you each are, what you long for and even help you make a heart-felt connection.
Perhaps this Valentine’s day, follow your heart, and get reacquainted instead.
*a romantic dinner for two becomes dinner for four, with feelings of closeness snuffed out by accompanying smartphone buzzes, chimes and check-ins on social media
*an overworked professional -and parent- is made to be available at all times, tethered to their digital gadgets, often bringing work home and on vacation, much to their own detriment and family life
*a teenager breaks up over a text message, avoiding taking proper responsibility for the relationship: removed from coping with heartache which is an essential part of being human and healthy communication
*a mother interrupts her playing children just to take a family selfie in hope of getting several ‘likes” from her Facebook friends
*a husband habitually turns himself “off” from his wife in bed by turning “on” his tablet instead
There’s a term for these type of encounters and it’s called: technoference. Moreover, these concerns add to the growing body of psychological research exploring the overuse and reliance on technology, especially how it is interfering with our daily lives and relationships. In my line of work, it’s one of the hot-button issues facing couples today. In fact, phubbing -or the repeated act of ignoring or snubbing someone by looking at your phone instead of paying attention to the person you’re with- has become the latest phenomenon in couple conflict and communication.
Message Communicated- Message Received
It seems everyone is staring at some kind of screen these days...and believe me the irony isn’t lost on me as I write this article. However, happy relationships- whether romantic or platonic- are all about authentic face-to-face connection. Fundamentally, we are social creatures whose lives depend on our connections to one another. Most of us are not aware that it’s the history of our meaningful interactions with one another which takes a hit each time we ask more from technology and less from each other. Nor do we realize that we starve our capacity for empathy...quite literally, as our brain becomes neurologically famished, no longer receiving signals required for relational responses and bonding. Human connection brings meaning and purpose into our lives. Significant relationships are not self-sustaining. They require uninterrupted time, shared experiences, affectionate touch, attention -as in the human “look them in the eyes” kind. Consistently choosing your phone over your partner sends the implicit message about what you value most. Do the math: the more time we spend with our gadgets, the less time we make for each other. Digital communications do not build deeper connections...people do.
So, it is in our best interest to set aside time where we unplug and connect with what really matters. It’s not about being anti-technology, it’s about being pro- conversation. Today, world-wide, we are webbed in technology, let’s just make sure we don’t feel like we’re worlds apart when it comes to our loving relationships.
originally published in Ya Magazine (Vol. 2, Issue 3)
For me, Christmastime heralds in a spirit of Joy, Hope and Togetherness. It's that time of the season where I just want to make everyone feel loved with homemade Mrs. Field's cookies and loads of Lindt chocolate, great gourmet-get-togethers and especially, sipping and sharing my new favourite wine. Not exactly a Rockwell-esque picture but let's just say that should a snow-storm arise in the forecast, I will be the first person to try and organize an old-fashioned, horse-drawn sleigh ride. Yeeha! "Oh what fun it is to ride..."
Family and friends are very important to me and reconnecting during the holidays even more so. But, I do things differently now. I used to stress by trying to find the imagination and time to pull off a decadent and festive celebration- usually à la Martha Stewart style. Yes, my nickname used to be Martha:-). Gratefully, those times are soooooo long gone! Today, the emphasis is less on the stress of the event-especially sweating about the small stuff- and more on the time we simply spend together. And, mercifully, we no longer exchange gifts. Do you know how hard it was to live up to making and outdoing oneself year after year with MS's handmade gifts? LOL! Today, I'd rather give the gift of "presence" and donate money and time to charity and good causes- especially to animal shelters or rescue groups- than exchange gifts. "All I Really Want For Christmas..."
Maybe I'm getting old and cynical. A true-blue bah humbug! But then again, maybe I'm just becoming more mindful and kinder to myself. I really don't know. What I do know is that I'm looking forward to the comforting rituals of taking nice long wooded-walks with Lotti, going x-country skiing, chatting up conversations by the fireplace with my husband and perhaps taking in a couple of films or playing a board game or two with family and friends. Simple Abundance. "It's the Most wonderful time of the Year..."
And, as we approach the new year, I know I will be spending some time in quiet gratitude and reflection, reviewing my challenges, difficulties, inspirations and successes, actively working on releasing resentments and any residues of negative emotions, in Hope of creating a life filled with even more Joy, purpose and passion...to go deep with all that I love and especially continue to teach about love, compassion and building stronger relationships ...so that we may all somehow aspire and aim to build even a better world Together.
Happy Holidays everyone ...wishing you the best of health and much love, always
Among other great skills required for life and love, I often teach my couples about the art of empathy. Empathy is a condition and skill of all functional interpersonal relationships. And, no, empathy is not about feeling sorry for someone. Rather, it is more about feeling with someone. Many of us frequently confuse empathy with sympathy. Think of it this way: empathy is about trying to step into someone else’s shoes, whereas sympathy is more about feeling sorry for someone else’s shoes:-). Ok, so maybe it’s not the best example, but I think you get the gist: empathy says, “I hear you and I want you to know that you aren’t alone….you can open up with me…I won’t judge you because even if I don’t know what you are going through, I am willing to show up”. Empathy is like the fundamental skillset for bringing compassion into life.
Empathy by Proxy
Empathy can be an equation between two but often seem like an interaction of one. That’s because empathy can be both a state of mind and a character trait. Nonetheless, empathy needs to be genuine: it cannot be faked. We need to first be aware and understand our own feelings so that we may truly tune into our partner’s feelings. Empathy has no room for judgement, and always makes space for humility…..especially during difficult times. Yes, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable with our own sense of brokenness (or what I call emotional raw spots) before we can ever genuinely begin to turn toward our partner and learn to appreciate their own so-called humanness. As I often say to my couples, “Empathy -like marriage- is never for the faint of heart”. :-)
“Empathy is a choice. And it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” Brené Brown
Empathy requires exposure of our private world of fears, failures, anxieties and uncertainties. It’s risky business. But, putting yourself “out there” is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it’s like building a foundation of support for your partner: so that they, too, can open up when life becomes messy and imperfect…and still feel like they are home or on solid ground-with you. In the end, it’s about being able to see a little of yourself in each other.
An Effort of Give & Take
I think it’s important to know that Empathy (and what you are attempting to achieve between the both of you) has as much to do with understanding as with dialogue. Giving or showing empathy is the effort made toward understanding another’s circumstances, even though we cannot fathom exactly what they may be feeling or going through. It has more to do with knowing the vulnerable experience of offering connection and presence, as in, “You’re not alone, I have also struggled”…even if you do not share the exact same point of reference. On the receiving end of empathy, we are offered the experience of acceptance and the knowledge of empowerment, or the courage and strength it takes to be vulnerable and feel less alone in our experiences when we choose to reach out. As you can see, there can be no empathy without vulnerability.
Here are some examples of how to show empathy:
And here are some other helpful tips for improving your skills:
Lastly, here is a beautifully animated short video that really sends the message home!
Hi, I'm Lydia- a modern-day warrior of the heart with a mission to reconcile the mystery and mastery of Love.