Author Archive for Jennifer Downs

It Happens All the Time in Heaven

One of the things that hap­pens in rela­tion­ships that cre­ates dis­con­nec­tion from each oth­er is too much focus on what is irri­tat­ing us about the oth­er per­son — and let­ting them know. It’s impor­tant to feel safe enough and take the time to talk about what’s both­er­ing us. It’s also impor­tant to let the oth­er know what you appre­ci­ate. Having an atti­tude of look­ing for ways to be kind and appre­ci­at­ing the ways your part­ner is being kind can help shift the focus to a more pos­i­tive one.

A poem by Hafiz about kind­ness, “As It Is in Heaven” touch­es me deeply. I occa­sion­al­ly share it with cou­ples as some­thing to remem­ber and aspire to. I think if we woke up every day and thought about this as an inten­tion­al way to be with our part­ners — or with every­one real­ly — our rela­tion­ships would be more meaningful.

It hap­pens all the time in Heaven,
And some day it will begin to happen
Again on Earth –

That men and women
Who give each oth­er light,
Often will get down on their knees

And, with tears in their eyes,
Will sin­cere­ly speak, saying,

My dear,
How can I be more lov­ing to you,
How can I be more kind?”


What’s Preventing You and Your Partner from Connecting More Deeply with Each Other?

If you rec­og­nize that you tend to be self-critical (as most of us are), chang­ing that can address neg­a­tive pat­terns in your rela­tion­ship. It is easy to feel dis­ap­point­ed and dis­con­nect­ed with our part­ners and as a result become crit­i­cal of our part­ners and con­se­quent­ly of our­selves. Kristen Neff describes why that happens:

Because self-critics often come from unsup­port­ive fam­i­ly back­grounds, they tend not to trust oth­ers and assume that those they care about will even­tu­al­ly try to hurt them. This cre­ates a steady state of fear that caus­es prob­lems in inter­per­son­al inter­ac­tions. For instance, research shows that high­ly self-critical peo­ple tend to be dis­sat­is­fied in their roman­tic rela­tion­ships because they assume their part­ners are judg­ing them as harsh­ly as they judge them­selves. The mis­per­cep­tion of even fair­ly neu­tral state­ments as dis­parag­ing often leads to over­sen­si­tive reac­tions and unnec­es­sary con­flicts. This means that self-critics often under­mine the close­ness and sup­port­ive­ness in rela­tion­ships that they so des­per­ate­ly seek.” ― Kristin NeffSelf-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind

10 Hot Tips for Surviving (and Enjoying) Being Single on Valentine’s Day

Pink rose in the shape of a heart to represent Keeping Love Alive relationship workshop

If you are recent­ly divorced, not in a sig­nif­i­cant love rela­tion­ship, or have been sin­gle for a while, Valentine’s Day may bring up feel­ings of lone­li­ness, empti­ness, and feel­ings of self-doubt.

If this is your expe­ri­ence, you are cer­tain­ly not alone. Honoring these feel­ings and avoid­ing activ­i­ties that trig­ger them is impor­tant. The good news is there is anoth­er way to look at this day ded­i­cat­ed to love that can give you a whole new perspective.

Here are some tips for enjoying Valentine’s Day as a single person:

  1. Don’t com­pare your­self to oth­ers who are cou­pled up. Just because a cou­ple is out cel­e­brat­ing doesn’t mean they are expe­ri­enc­ing the “bliss” of romance on Valentine’s Day. They may be expe­ri­enc­ing as much dis­ap­point­ment as you for dif­fer­ent reasons.
  1. Catch up on past friend­ships. Go out with a friend of your choice, com­mis­er­ate, eat, drink, and do what­ev­er you want.
  1. This year, you get to dress for your­self. Wear your most out­ra­geous or most casu­al outfit.
  1. Have a par­ty with oth­er sin­gles or look for com­mu­ni­ty gath­er­ings. There are many activ­i­ties list­ed in the news­pa­per and online.
  1. Take a dance les­son or go danc­ing. It’s a great way to meet oth­ers, revive your mind and body, get in touch with your sen­su­al­i­ty, and just have fun.
  1. Honor your own feel­ings in ways oth­ers may not have. Let your­self feel how­ev­er you do and not have to jus­ti­fy them to anyone.
  1. Stay home and watch a great DVD of your choice with­out hav­ing to check to see if some­one else likes or has seen it.
  1. Get out of your head and into your heart by vol­un­teer­ing. There is a huge drop off in vol­un­teers, but not of those in need, after the hol­i­days. Soup kitchens and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions still need your help.
  1. Devote the time, car­ing, and mon­ey you might oth­er­wise spend on some­one else on your­self. Buy your­self gourmet choco­lates of your choice, get a mas­sage, take a bub­ble bath, go for a walk in nature, or go to the coast alone or with a friend, whichev­er makes you feel good.
  1. Rediscover and spend the day with the hottest, smartest, and most inter­est­ing per­son you know — you!

See Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends for details on my sup­port group.

Attachment Theory

Attachment TheoryI want­ed to share this arti­cle on Attachment Theory and its sig­nif­i­cance to adult rela­tion­ships. It’s impor­tant to under­stand how the rela­tion­ship you have with your par­ents as a child affects your abil­i­ty to be in a healthy rela­tion­ship later.

A secure attach­ment changes the way a baby sees the world because they learn that they’re not alone,” author Sue Johnson says. “Adults are the same. A sense of con­nec­tion changes one of the most basic ele­ments of the brain, which is how you per­ceive threat. It changes the world into a safer world.”

Clinical Psychologist Sue Johnson is the author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships.

Check out Relationships First for more arti­cles on build­ing healthy relationships.

The Physiology of Belly Breathing

Physiology of Belly Breathing

How Diaphragmatic Breathing Activates Our Relaxation System

Why “belly” breathing calms us down and keeps our brain from being emotionally reactive:

Research has shown that just 20 min­utes of diaphrag­mat­ic breath­ing is all that’s need­ed to acti­vate and oxy­genate the mind­ful and think­ing part of the brain (the pre­frontal cortex).

  1. A bel­ly breath caus­es the lungs to press on the diaphrag­mat­ic wall.
  1. The diaphrag­mat­ic wall push­es down on the abdom­i­nal cav­i­ty (like a bal­loon being squeezed).
  1. The squeezed abdomen spreads out­ward in the front of the abdomen and the back where it press­es on the spine.
  1. This caus­es the abdom­i­nal cav­i­ty to put pres­sure on the longest cra­nial nerve, the vagus nerve, which runs all the way downs from the brain stem and the spine.
  1. When pressed on, the vagus nerve qui­ets down and turns on the body’s relax­ation sys­tem and reg­u­lates the parasym­pa­thet­ic ner­vous sys­tem (in con­trast to the instant grat­i­fi­ca­tion nerve).

What happens when the vagus nerve gets quieted down:

  1. Blood pres­sure, pulse rate, and res­pi­ra­tion become lower.
  1. Lactate (which increas­es feel­ings of anx­i­ety) gets cleansed from the blood.
  1. Alpha brain waves (calm and alert) are increased.
  1. The neu­ro­trans­mit­ter sero­tonin is released, gets into the blood­stream and up to the brain in about 20 – 30 sec­onds. About 95 per­cent of this feel-good neu­ro­trans­mit­ter is stored in the stom­ach lin­ing and intestines (our gut). 

No wonder breathing blocks reactivity and unhealthy emotions, helps you feel better, and think more clearly!

Thanks to Donald Altman, author of The Mindfulness Toolbook for these tools.

Everyday Mindfulness and Brain Integration

I think it’s impor­tant that my clients under­stand the phys­i­ol­o­gy of rela­tion­ships and the sig­nif­i­cance of an inte­grat­ed brain in build­ing healthy rela­tion­ships. Dr. Dan Siegel is at the fore­front of the lat­est neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gy research on how brain inte­gra­tion shapes rela­tion­ships and rela­tion­ships shape the brain. One of the ways you can cul­ti­vate a more inte­grat­ed brain is through mind­ful­ness techniques.

Here are some tools to help foster this symbiotic process:

Dr. Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain

Breath Awareness

See Dr. Siegel’s web­site for a guid­ed expe­ri­ence through this reflec­tive process.

Breath Discussion

Dr. Siegel also shares an audio clip on the Wheel of Awareness Practice.

What Couples Who Stay Together Do Differently from Couples Who Don’t

Open and Honest Communication

What Couples Who Stay Together Do Differently

  • Talk and con­nect every day
  • Practice lis­ten­ing with the intent to understand
  • Work at under­stand­ing their partner’s world
  • Show respect rather than contempt
  • Assume their part­ner has a legit­i­mate point of view
  • Ask them­selves, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to happy?”

Everyday Demonstration of Caring Behaviors

Find out their partner’s “love lan­guage” and which of the fol­low­ing he/she needs to feel loved, then prac­tice doing them.

  • Words of affirmation
  • Spending qual­i­ty time
  • Doing acts of service
  • Giving phys­i­cal touch
  • Giving gifts

Ask their partner: 

What is one thing I could do dif­fer­ent­ly that would make the biggest dif­fer­ence to you?”

Tell their partner:

Something that would make me hap­py is…”

Moving on After the Loss of a Relationship

Moving on After the Loss of a RelationshipI had no idea how pow­er­ful the grief and loss of going through a divorce can be and how debil­i­tat­ing it is to try to put your life back togeth­er again after such a pro­found loss,” says Richard after his recent divorce.

Who am I now? What went wrong? What will my life be like now with­out my part­ner? These are com­mon­ly felt ques­tions that arise as a result of the con­fu­sion and uncer­tain­ty of a rela­tion­ship loss.

Almost half of all mar­riages end in divorce, and whether you are mar­ried or not, the end­ing of a love rela­tion­ship can be one of the most stress­ful and dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ences you’ll ever have. Many peo­ple enter into mar­riage or a rela­tion­ship with the idea that their life will be bet­ter as a result. The dis­ap­point­ment of it not turn­ing out this way can feel dev­as­tat­ing. It launch­es us into unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry and deep emo­tion­al feel­ings of despair, lone­li­ness, grief, revenge, hope­less­ness, and help­less­ness — to name a few.

Recovering from the end of a rela­tion­ship is always dif­fi­cult and takes time. You will, how­ev­er, move on and can even use this stress­ful time to gain in com­pas­sion, wis­dom, and strength.

Suggestions to help you adjust to and cope with your changed circumstances:

Allow Yourself to Grieve. The loss is more than just of the rela­tion­ship but of shared dreams, com­pan­ion­ship, and sup­port: finan­cial, social, and emo­tion­al. Grief is a nat­ur­al human reac­tion to loss, and it won’t last for­ev­er. Allowing your­self to feel grief will help you begin to move on. You should also real­ize it can take time — from sev­er­al months to sev­er­al years.

If You Can Feel It, You Can Heal It. Identify and acknowl­edge all your feel­ings and know that they all are okay. It’s nor­mal to have many con­flict­ing emo­tions and lots of ups and downs. Even though your emo­tions may be painful, try­ing to sup­press them may actu­al­ly pro­long the griev­ing process. Give your­self some breaks — you don’t always have to be on task the way you were before and should allow your­self some downtime.

Share Your Feelings with Others. Do not try to go through this expe­ri­ence alone. Let oth­ers know how you feel. Surround your­self with peo­ple who sup­port and val­ue you. Join a sup­port group such as Mindful Transitions to get the sup­port and friend­ship from oth­ers in the same sit­u­a­tion who real­ly understand.

Learn to Take Care of Yourself. Make time every­day to nur­ture your­self. Schedule time for heal­ing or sooth­ing activ­i­ties. Honor your own needs.

Develop a Routine. Divorce can dis­rupt almost every area of your life. Creating struc­ture can be com­fort­ing and pro­vide a sense of normalcy.

Deal with Your Feelings of Being Overwhelmed. This is a time of enhanced stress. There is often an extra­or­di­nar­i­ly long list of tasks that you need to do dur­ing this tran­si­tion. Make a list, pri­or­i­tize, and break down what needs to be done, then check things off. Only do what is rea­son­able and be gen­tle with yourself.

Chose to Begin to Move Forward

Even though grief can be immo­bi­liz­ing, after a while, you will feel like begin­ning to move on with your life. This can hap­pen even while con­tin­u­ing to grieve. Know that you can use this painful sit­u­a­tion to learn and grow.

Some sug­ges­tions for mov­ing for­ward after the end of a relationship:

Learn from Your Mistakes. Separate what was and wasn’t your respon­si­bil­i­ty in the prob­lems of the rela­tion­ship. Be hon­est with your­self with­out beat­ing your­self up. Begin to look at the part the choic­es you made played and then how you can avoid repeat­ing the same mis­takes and make bet­ter choic­es in the future. This is a help­ful time to con­sid­er ther­a­py or find­ing some­one who can be an objec­tive sup­port for you.

Connect with Others. When you’re ready, begin to explore new inter­ests and activ­i­ties. Most impor­tant­ly, cul­ti­vate new friend­ships of sup­port­ive peo­ple with whom you can talk and spend time and try new things. Keep your rela­tion­ships on a friend­ship, not roman­tic, basis.

Clean out Reminders of Your Former Life. Put old pic­tures away and begin to han­dle the tasks your spouse used to do. Limit your con­tact with your spouse. As you do, you will find your­self becom­ing more inde­pen­dent and self-sufficient.

As you allow your­self day by day to have the free­dom to grieve, learn from your mis­takes, and begin to explore new parts of your­self, you will dis­cov­er that you can move on. You’ll see that you are stronger than you pre­vi­ous­ly thought and new hopes and dreams begin to take the place of those you lost.

Support Program: Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends

Jennifer Downs, a licensed pro­fes­sion­al coun­selor, facil­i­tates a trans­for­ma­tion­al pro­gram that can help you adjust to the end of a love relationship.

Call 541 – 488-4872 or con­tact me for more information.

Normal Grief Symptoms

When you have experienced the loss of a loved one, you may experience:

Normal Grief Symptoms

  • Tightness in throat or heav­i­ness in chest.
  • Loss of appetite and emp­ty feel­ing in stomach.
  • Restlessness or dif­fi­cul­ty concentrating.
  • Wandering aim­less­ly.
  • Forgetfulness, inabil­i­ty to fin­ish things.
  • A need to take care of oth­ers’ dis­com­fort by not talk­ing about feel­ings of loss.
  • Mood changes over slight­est things.
  • Crying at unex­pect­ed times.
  • Feelings like loss didn’t real­ly hap­pen, that it is surreal.
  • Difficulty sleep­ing.
  • Dreams of loved one.
  • Assuming man­ner­isms of loved one.
  • The need to tell and retell your expe­ri­ence of loved one’s death and things about that person.
  • Feelings of anger at loved one for leav­ing or at others.

Helpful Ways to Support Those Who Are Grieving

Statements that show you care:

Helpful Ways to Support Those Who Are Grieving

  • I’m sor­ry for your loss.
  • Is there any spe­cif­ic way I can help right now?
  • I can’t even imag­ine how much you are hurting.
  • Can I call you and check in with you every so often?
  • I promise you I won’t go away.
  • Would you like to talk about it? I want to hear your story.
  • It’s OK with me if you cry.

It is normal to feel awkward around pain or suffering. Here are some ways to show support:

  • Be there in silence and let them have their feel­ings. Sometimes just sit­ting with some­one with­out hav­ing to say any­thing is the great­est gift you can give them.
  • Don’t stop mak­ing con­tact over the months (unless asked to). They will appre­ci­ate your care even if they can’t take you up on it yet. Sometimes it takes weeks or months before a griev­ing per­son is able to reach out for help. They may need your calls more after the first cou­ple of months.
  • Realize that although they may seem to be doing well, they have a lot of grief to work though.
  • Remember them dur­ing their “down times,” espe­cial­ly evenings and week­ends. Suggest a spe­cif­ic date to get together.
  • Feel free to use the name of the loved one who died. Encourage them to talk about it when they are ready.
  • Bring food or invite them to din­ner. Remember it may be hard for them to cook.
  • Go for walks togeth­er. Walking is good for depres­sion, and it helps to “walk off” feelings.
  • A hug or a hand squeeze can mean more than a few well-meaning words.
  • Let them know you val­ue them by spend­ing time togeth­er just being.

Positive Parenting Messages

Father and Child

As a child, we learn what oth­ers think of us by the things they say and do. We inter­pret these mes­sages to mean some­thing and apply these mean­ings to our­selves. They then become a part of our self-concept.

Positive Mother Messages

  • I want you.
  • I love you.
  • I’ll take care of you.
  • You can trust me.
  • It’s not what you do but who you are that I love.
  • You are spe­cial to me.
  • I love you, and I give you per­mis­sion to be dif­fer­ent from me.
  • Sometimes I tell you “no,” and that’s because I love you.
  • You can trust your inner voice.
  • You don’t have to be afraid anymore.

Positive Father Messages

  • I love you.
  • I have con­fi­dence in you.
  • I will set lim­its and enforce them.
  • If you fall down, I will pick you up.
  • You are spe­cial to me. I am proud of you.
  • (For girls) You are beau­ti­ful, and I give you per­mis­sion to be a sex­u­al being.
  • (For boys) I give you per­mis­sion to be the same as I am, to be more than I am, and to be less than I am.

Relationship Inventory

Take Time to Talk Intimately with Your Partner

Relationship Satisfaction Inventory

Happy CoupleFill out this inven­to­ry and give it to your part­ner to do the same. Then set aside some time to com­pare and talk about how each of you has rat­ed each cat­e­go­ry. Look for the strengths in your rela­tion­ship as well as iden­ti­fy the areas that could be enhanced, to make this the kind of rela­tion­ship you would like it to be. Set a goal togeth­er to make this happen.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being very unsat­is­fied and 10 being very sat­is­fied, rate each of the following:

  • Communication skills
  • Creative use of conflict/crisis
  • Common goals and val­ues … what are they?
  • Agreement on gen­der roles
  • Cooperation and teamwork
  • Sexual ful­fill­ment
  • Money man­age­ment
  • Commitment to growth, yours and the relationship
  • Giving and receiv­ing appre­ci­a­tion and affection
  • Time togeth­er
  • Family mat­ters … par­ents, in-laws, children
  • Decision mak­ing skills