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,
How can I be more loving to you,
How can I be more kind?”
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 Neff, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind
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:
- 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.
- Catch up on past friendships. Go out with a friend of your choice, commiserate, eat, drink, and do whatever you want.
- This year, you get to dress for yourself. Wear your most outrageous or most casual outfit.
- Have a party with other singles or look for community gatherings. There are many activities listed in the newspaper and online.
- 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.
- Honor your own feelings in ways others may not have. Let yourself feel however you do and not have to justify them to anyone.
- Stay home and watch a great DVD of your choice without having to check to see if someone else likes or has seen it.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I 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.
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
See Dr. Siegel’s website for a guided experience through this reflective process.
Dr. Siegel also shares an audio clip on the Wheel of Awareness Practice.
Open and Honest Communication
- 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…”
Take Time to Talk Intimately with Your Partner
Relationship Satisfaction Inventory
Fill 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