Ideas and strategies for managing the delicate world of relationships by Psychologist Lorri Craig.

Beat Technology Addiction: Develop Your Inner Parent

Gamer

If you are reading this, then there is a good chance that you spend a fair bit of time on the internet; perhaps a bit too much time?

Time has become one of our most precious personal resources. It’s up there with health, love, intelligence, and beauty, and at least on par with money and possessions for many of us.  It is a limited resource, but it can be budgeted in a way that is best for each individual. The way we like to spend our time is different for each of us and changes over our life cycle.

Technology Sucks Time

Technology has given us more time in some ways, by taking away the need to spend our days doing basic tasks. But technology equally eats up our time. How often do you find yourself staring at a screen, be it on a television, computer or mobile phone?  Sure we are sometimes learning stuff, and sure it sometimes helps us to relax, but most of us do a bit too much screen watching and this can have a detrimental effect on our lives, relationships and health.

Balance Your Passion

Having a passion, something that you really love doing regularly, is a positive thing. Research shows that a having a passion tends to increase positive responses across a whole lot of parameters, including mental health and sense of well-being, physical health, cognitive ability, and success in work and relationships. BUT [and this bit is crucial] this is so only if the person engages in the passion in a balanced way.

If the passion is taking up excessive time and energy in the person’s life, then the indicators will tend to go totally the other way. By that I mean, if somebody has an obsessive passion that they engage in to the detriment of relationships, sleep, exercise or work, then they will tend to score low on parameters like mental health, happiness, cognitive functioning and physical health; not just lower than those with a balanced passion, but much lower than people with no passion. And that goes for people who are obsessively addicted to technology.

 No Off-Switch

An adolescent client of mine recently and wisely pointed out that “kids don’t have an off-switch”; meaning that they can find it difficult to stop whatever they enjoying doing: be it playing computer games, watching TV, texting, talking with friends, social networking, listening to music, taking drugs and alcohol, or, of course, sleeping in. And because they demand more independence, and because their parents usually want to treat them in age appropriate ways, they often end up spending too much time staying up late at night, doing the stuff they enjoy doing.

The problem is that most adolescents have not yet adequately internalised their inner parent. They are very good at focusing on the moment, and unbothered in that moment by future negative consequences, such as feeling tired the next day. Their inner child wants to rebel against the restraints of their childhood and do what they have never been allowed to do in the past: stay up late and play.

But teenagers are not the only people who have not properly integrated their inner parent. Our society full of adults who are ruled by their inner child; who are obsessively addicted to staying up late, watching television, internet surfing, pornography searching, social networking, gambling, and gaming.

Addicted to Computer Games

Addiction to games is one of the significant growing problems of this century, and, like most behaviour addictions or compulsive behaviours, it indicates an ineffectual inner parent. Compulsive gamers can become focused on the instant gratification of the game. It feels good in that moment, and takes them away from the everyday stresses of life, but, ironically, their behaviour can actually increase the stresses they experience in other aspects of their lives.  Addicted gamers might spend several hours a day [or night] playing online games, leaving little time for adequate work, study, exercise, sleep, nutrition, social interaction [outside the game, that is] and family. Their inner child is having fun, so does not want to stop.

The Effect on Relationships

Internet forums are full of complaints and cries for help from the frustrated partners [usually girlfriends and wives] of Gamers, and I have seen quite a few in my clinic over the years.

Partners frequently complain that the more they ask or demand that the Gamer stop playing, come to bed with them, spend more time with them, spend more time with the children, or simply get out in the sun, eat a proper meal or have a shower, the more likely the Gamer is to dig their heals in and refuse.  Eventually partners leave, children are damaged, friends give up, bosses lose patience, and bodies turn to blubber.

How to Develop Your Inner Parent

The first step to getting your life in balance is to want to.

The next step is to develop your inner parent; the part of you who says, “I’m off to bed now, so that I can be  really with it in the meeting tomorrow,” and who actually turns the computer off and goes to the bathroom and bed.  Or, when the alarm goes in the morning, jumps out of bed an hour earlier than usual to meditate and exercise.   The inner parent is much better at coping with delayed gratification than the inner child.

Remember that the inner parent and inner child are not enemies; they are batting for the same team. Try to get them to communicate, understand, and compromise, which means have fun and be a little naughty and light sometimes, but remember the adult needs to be in charge and have the final say.

The inner parent can use praise and even small rewards to encourage mature, balanced behaviour.

Like all children, our inner child thrives on structure and routine. A no-nonsense routine, with named time slots, can reduce the chances of the inner child trying to negotiate and bargain their way out of doing what’s good for them, provided that the routine and task goals are comfortably achievable.

Rebelling is Giving Away Your Power

Rebellion is another sign that your inner child is dominating. When you get the urge to rebel against the wishes of your partner or other loved one when they ask you to stop your behaviour, remember that they are truly concerned about you, and/or worried about the impact on them or others; they not just trying to wield their power for the sake of it.  Also, every time you rebel, you are actually giving your personal power away, because you are limiting your choices and actions to those that contradict the person you are rebelling against.

Therapy Can Help

If you are really struggling to control your technology addictive behaviour, it might be helpful to book an appointment with a therapist. A bit of psychological tweaking can hlep you to strengthen your strategies and resolve, as well as clear any underlying problems that might be unconsciously fuelling your behaviour.

Balance

Remember, balance and moderation is the key. For many people this can mean breaking routine rules now and then for a treat, but for others any lapse in rules can lead to a major relapse in their addictive behaviour, so rules need to incorporate fun and balance.  Each of us must determine the best way to manage our inner child, while keeping our inner parent firmly, but lovingly, in charge.

On Off Relationships

On-again-off-again, push-pull, hot-cold, Yo-yo relationships can be incredibly painful and confusing. I think most people have either experienced this kind of relationship directly, or else know someone who has, so we all know how soul destroying they can be. But why can they be so difficult to let go of?

From the Beginning

The hot-cold pattern can sometimes start at the very beginning of a relationship. You meet him or her, feel a mutual instant attraction, and seem to really click in the personality department. You text or email each other; you talk on the phone; and you might have another date or two. You may even sleep together at some stage. But then somewhere along this timeline things suddenly go very cold. Your new lover stops answering your texts or phone calls, or when they do, it’s in a cool detached way. Dates get called off with thin excuses.  All the warmth, and unspoken promises of things to come, suddenly disappear. You send a ‘What’s going on?’ message and get nothing back.

This can lead to huge hurt and confusion. Unanswered questions tend to create worst case responses in your mind. She doesn’t like me any more. I was just a sexual conquest. He has girlfriend. There is something really wrong with me.

You just start to face the realisation that the whole thing was a farce, when suddenly, out of the blue, your lover contacts you, says ‘I am so sorry’, with great conviction, and explains that she has been going through a bad patch and got caught up in some life drama that she didn’t want you to have to deal with. Or perhaps he says that he was overcome with strong feelings for you, so got scared, but now he’s realised he really does want to be with you. She is warm and passionate and adoring once again, so, of course, you take her back. Who wouldn’t? And once the bruising starts to heal, you relax and the relationship begins to flow freely again.

That is until a week or two later, when history repeats itself and once again the trail suddenly goes cold.  Back into the depths of confusion and despair you go, until he contacts you again….

Why We Get Hooked

One of the reasons hot-cold relationships are so difficult to let go of is because they provide what’s called ‘intermittent reinforcement’. This is a term coined by a research psychologist named Alfred Skinner who studied the behaviour of animals in a ‘Skinner Box’. This was a simple box with a lever, water, and a small shoot. If the animal accidentally hit the lever, a food pellet would fly down the shoot, into the box. The animal quickly learned to press the lever to get the reward of food.

If the pellets suddenly stopped coming, the animal learned that the lever was no longer useful and stopped pressing it. The prior association and learning were extinguished, usually pretty quickly.

However, if the food stopped coming for a few presses of the lever, then started up again, and if this cycle happened a repeatedly, with the food pellets stopping and starting up again intermittently, the animal would find it very difficult to stop hitting that lever, even long after the pellets stopped coming. Skinner realised that this ‘intermittent reinforcement’ created behaviour that was very difficult to extinguish. This is partly the reason that people on the end of yo-yo strings find it so difficult to let go of their dysfunctional hot and cold relationships. They repeatedly forgive in order to get that juicy love reward; then keep hoping and trying to reconnect, even long after the romance is dead.

When the Roots Go Deeper

Sometimes this on-off pattern can emerge later in a relationship, when it’s even harder to let go. Maybe at the beginning of the relationship she was consistently adoring, and the future looked rosy; but after a few months, or even years, he starts to withdraw, or becomes hypercritical. Your sensitive, opened heart begins to crumple, and you withdraw or attack, or simply cry and cling, in reaction to your pain and confusion. The next thing you know you are alone, with the sound of a slammed door ringing in your ears. Your rosy world has become dark and unbearable.

Then suddenly your beloved is back: apologetic, regretful, and desperately wanting to be with you again. Of course you say yes. Of course you let her return. Of course you believe his excuses. Because you want to, and because all relationships have their ups and downs, don’t they? That was the little wobble that had to happen, but now it’s passed and you can move together into an even deeper, warmer, more secure place. And for a while you do.

Then zap, it happens again, this time with even more vengeance and finality, and you are left feeling completely distraught, distressed and heart-broken…. until he returns and the whole cycle of starts again, with the intermittent reinforcement keeping you firmly hooked.

Listen to Alarm Bells

Humans are not as simple animals as rats and pigeons, so sometimes our intelligent minds can override our primitive brains, and, when appropriate, ring loud ‘get out’ alarm bells in our heads . If you are smart enough, strong enough, have adequate self worth, and are not in too deep, you might listen to those bells, end the relationship, delete her number, and escape gasping to lick your wounds, and get on with life.

Generally though, the longer the relationship, the deeper the heart roots, so the harder it is to let go. Once you have fallen deeply in love, you will be more desperate to hold on, rationalising and justifying, to stifle the alarm bells and force your head to believe that the painful stuff won’t keep happening. And, to be fair, sometimes it doesn’t, so it really is often worth hanging in there, moving through the crisis and forgiving and forgetting.  Of course, when there are children, or even property or pets involved, it is more important to try to fix it, so that too can be a good thing.

But if it this on-off  pattern has happened repeatedly, and you realise that the Skinner effect might be taking hold, making you obsessively cling to the source of your pleasure and pain, then your sensible alarm bells really need to be turned up a notch and heeded.

Take Action

That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that you leave the relationship, but you need to become very conscious of the dynamic of the relationship, and the part you play in it. You might choose to address the overall problem with your partner directly; but if the problem is deeply entrenched, or it is difficult to regain trust, I suggest that you call on the help of a competent therapist to help you work through it together; or failing that, to help you to explore your issues independently.

Warm wishes

Lorri

 

 

Image courtesy of photostock and freedigitalphotos.net

How to Create an Awesome Relationship

Do you long to return to the honeymoon phase of your relationship? Have you and your partner drifted into an unsatisfying union? Do your interactions frequently turn into arguments? Have you even started to consider separation?

Imagine if you were able to turn your relationship around to create the happy, long lasting and loving relationship that you dream of. No arguments. Great communication. Great sex. Deep love and respect. The solution is very very near. Read on….

Of Wet Towels and Things

Many couples feel hopelessly trapped in conflictual relationships. Tension and arguments sometimes arise from serious issues, such as money problems, addictions, or children, however often relationship conflict is triggered by more trivial issues, such as whether or not it is acceptable to leave a wet towel on the bedroom floor.

One person in the relationship might believe that a wet towel on the floor is not an issue: “I didn’t put it there, gravity did! Besides, there are far more important things to worry about in life!”

The other person, on the other hand, might believe that wet towels on floors are unbearable in multiple ways: “They breed mould and germs which are unhealthy and make them smell bad, they never dry, they wreck the carpet, and they create a messy, visual eyesore! I can’t stand them! ”

Of course, this same person might extrapolate further to convince his or her self that a dropped towel is a sign that the other does not care about or respect them, or, perhaps, doesn’t even love them.  Their hurt and angry reaction to the towel on the floor can then lead to the other feeling unfairly attacked and unloved, and then angry too. And so it escalates.

In an Ideal World

The real issue in this example is that the individuals in the relationship have differing beliefs that they are locked into, and these beliefs clash. In an ideal world each person would be able to calmly and effectively talk about their beliefs, and gain better understanding of the other person’s viewpoints.

Rather than jumping straight into anger and frustration, the ‘ideal world couple’ would also be able to recognise, share and accept their own and their partner’s underlying vulnerable feelings. They would also be able to reduce the volume and rigidity of their own belief.

But most of us do not live in an ideal world, and this is all much more easily said than done when we get habitually caught up in relating with our partners in dysfunctional ways.

How to Transform Your Relationship

Relationship therapy can be a very effective way to turn your relationship around. But you have to find a good therapist, and the process can be expensive and time consuming, particularly if you have to arrange childcare.

The good news is that I have just stumbled across a wonderful alternative solution.

Drs Gay and Katie Hendricks are a successful and highly experienced relationship-coaching couple who practice what they preach. They have learned how to knock conflict and other relationship problems on the head to transform their own 30-odd year marriage into almost sickenly ideal relationship. Up until now they have been passing their wisdom onto the masses through their numerous best selling books [you might have seen them on Oprah]. They have also offered individual relationship coaching sessions to some lucky couples.

As you might expect, an individual session with these relationship gurus would be pretty pricey, but now Gay and Katie have released an online training package, which apparently includes weekly coaching calls. To give you a taste of what they can do,  they have released some free introductory videos. The freebies alone can be very powerful catalysts for positive change.

Now, as you have probably guessed, I’m pretty fussy about where I refer my readers, but I really think these folk give truly helpful ideas about how to get relationships on track. You can ‘meet’ the Hendricks and access their first free introductory video at LASTING LOVE MADE EASY.

The Hendricks’ program tackles practically every relationship issue, from how to stop arguing, to how to create a loving and exciting sex life. They can even help singles find a new dream relationship.  So check them out and begin to get your relationship sorted ASAP. You really do deserve to be happy.

Here’s the link……

CLICK HERE TO GO TO LASTING LOVE MADE EASY

Enjoy.

Relationships: How to Stop Arguing with Your Partner

Partners can be incredibly annoying. They are very skilled at pressing our buttons and engaging us in arguments over nothing, but it is possible to change this pattern.

Most of us can’t stand to be told by our spouse that we are wrong and they are right, especially when we know [or are pretty sure] that they are wrong and we are right.

We can become particularly annoyed if they contest us using smug, patronising body language; while a condescending, know-it-all tone of voice can send us right over the edge.

When affronted with all that, we try to hold on to our dignity and defend our stance by hitting back with equally defensive words, body language, and tone. Well, equal-ish,  and certainly deserved.

Our partner, however, interprets our reaction as over the top, and then accuses us of being patronising and aggressive, whilst denying  that they ever were.

So they up the anti, and then we up the anti, and before we know it, we’re engaged in a full scale, emotionally shattering argument.

Sound Familiar?

What is Really Going on Deep Down

It’s important to remember that almost all anger is triggered by underlying vulnerable feelings.

The ‘we’ person in this scenario is reacting to his or her perception of being criticised or put down by the other. This interpretation leads to them feeling hurt and humiliated. Those vulnerable feelings in turn trigger their anger, and create an urge to prove that they are right by insisting that the other is wrong. Because they are feeling vulnerable and abused, they tend to do this in a slightly aggressive way.

The second person, who might have been unaware of the patronising tone of their message, then feels unfairly attacked and criticised. This perception triggers their feelings of hurt and humiliation, so they react with anger in an attempt to balance the power in their favour.

This leads to the first person feeling more hurt and angry, and so it goes on.

Let Your Mature Adult Take Charge

The vulnerable and angry feelings and reactions come from our inner child. This emotional part of our psyche developed when we were babies and toddlers, so it is a very young part of us and sometimes reacts in an immature way.

Although it is important to listen to, support and care for our inner child, it is important that we do not let it take over and rule our actions and reactions.

Similarly, the critical parent within us all, which is the part that developed after the inner child, and sometimes jumps to its defence, should not be given free rein to rule.

Instead, our mature ‘adult’ part is the one that should be making decisions and managing our behaviour and reactions.  This is the calm assertive part of us that developed later in childhood. It understands us and others, and reacts in a calm, mature, conciliatory way. Our ‘adult’ respects us and our needs, but is also respectful of the other person, and accepts that it is human and okay to make mistakes.

Bow Out Gracefully

It takes two to tango, so you can stop an argument at any time, simply by bowing out of it.

Remind yourself that you are reacting from your emotional child and critical parent.  Try to identify the vulnerable feelings under your anger and use your internal nurturing parent to calm and support your hurt child. Be gentle with yourself.

Remind yourself, also, that your partner is probably feeling hurt and vulnerable and unfairly treated too, so be gentle with them.  Remember if you react by putting your partner down in any way, they are likely to feel worse and this will lead to more pain for you both.

Try to stop the argument by reacting from your calm adult. But be careful that your patronising critical parent does not sneakily grab hold of the reins. Your language, both verbal and non-verbal, should be assertive, inclusive, respectful and forgiving of yourself and the other for your humanness.

Apologise if You Can

If you have riled your partner, and can bear to apologise in a clear, open way, then do so. An apology is a great argument stopper.  I admit it takes a lot of strength to apologise to someone when you feel that they are more wrong than you, but hold on to the fact that most of us get it a little bit wrong, so your apology can be genuine in terms of the part you played.  “I’m sorry that we argued,” is a powerful diffuser that can usually be said with honesty and conviction.

Make sure you are communicating from your clear, calm, forgiving adult when you apologise. Avoid the urge to add a ‘but’ to the end of your apology.

It is up to the other person to own their role in any argument, and it is not critical that they do, so don’t look for your apology to be reciprocated.

Time Out Can Help

If you can’t, or don’t want to, apologise in a positive way, you could simply stop talking, but try to stay strong and relaxed, and let go your anger, so that you don’t come across as passive-agressive or petulant.  You could try to calmly say something inclusive and conciliatory, like, “Let’s not argue,” or change the subject, or you might need to take some time out until you calm down. If so, ideally let the other person know what you are doing so they don’t feel too abandoned, as that feeling can add to their vulnerability and, therefore, anger.

You might feel brave enough to apologise when you return, or at least suggest that you hug and make up. Go to them for the contact, rather than waiting for them to come to you. If they are not ready, respect their need for time, and let it go.

Feel Good About the Changes You Make

There is no guarantee that your partner will follow suit and become the humble, mature person that you are learning to be. But it is true that when one person changes in a dynamic system, the other is forced to shift, even if that shift is subtle and slow.

The important thing is that by accessing your strength and maturity, you are creating a more positive relationship and a more peaceful life for you and your family.

Winning arguments by convincing your partner that you are right and they are wrong, will not make you happier. But learning to diffuse arguments will.

Lorri

Note: These strategies are for dealing with arguments in ‘normal’ relationships, where the balance of power is roughly even.  If you are in a violent or abusive relationship, please seek help from competent professionals as soon as possible.

RELATIONSHIPS: THE LONELY WARRIOR AND THE FEARFUL REFUGEE

Negotiating intimate relationships is one of the hardest challenges most of us face in our lifetime. When they are working, they are amazing, but when they are not, they can be tricky and traumatic. We can get into dysfunctional patterns of relating to anyone in our lives, but the closer and more intimate the relationship, the more our deepest dysfunctions rear their ugly heads.

One of the most common patterns I have seen in dealing with couples in the traumatic-tricky stages of their relationships is what I call ‘The Lonely Warrior and the Fearful Refugee’. This is when one partner feels neglected or unheard, and the other feels constantly attacked.

Whenever couples talk of this pattern I get the image of an old walled palace in a remote desert. The Fearful Refugee is huddled, shaking behind the wall, while the Lonely Warrior is standing tearfully on the outside, bow and arrow in hand, feeling abandoned. The Lonely Warrior shoots arrows at the wall in a desperate attempt to communicate and be close to the person behind the wall, but in doing so hurts and scares the Refugee more. So the Fearful Refugee builds a bigger wall to huddle behind.

The Lonely Warrior then feels more shut out and desperate, so brings out the canons to try to break down the wall. The Fearful Refugee, in response to the assault, builds an even bigger and thicker wall, which adds to the Lonely Warrior’s hurt and desperation. And so the pattern goes on, with both sides feeling more and more desperate and powerless. Both get stuck in trying to cope with the problem in the same habitual way, so it continues to escalate.

It is usually, although not always, the male partner in a heterosexual relationship who plays the part of the Fearful Refugee, while the female partner is typically the Lonely Warrior.  Women traditionally cope with problems by expressing and communicating, while men often find it comforting to withdraw and have space when they are upset.

HOW TO BREAK THE CYCLE

The first step breaking this cycle, as with any dysfunctional relationship cycle, is awareness. It is not easy to stay mindful of our habitual thoughts and responses, especially when we feel emotional, but it is important to learn this skill. Catch yourself as soon as you can. Before you start engaging in the behaviour is the best time, but failing that, at any time during the cycle is a good start.

Try to relax your body in that moment to let go the growing anger. Breathing out can help to calm the mind. Remind yourself that this is a habitual and dysfunctional way of reacting to your partner, and what you are doing is making things worse for both of you and the relationship. Remind yourself that the relationship is worth changing for, that the other person is reacting like that out of vulnerable feelings, like hurt and fear. Both of you are.

If you typically cower behind a wall, try to open up, listen, and calmly reflect back what the other has said to show them that you heard them. Look into their eyes and touch them if you comfortably [and safely!] can. If you, on the other hand, typically bombard the other with questions, demands and accusations, then stop and be quiet to give them the psychological space to calm down. If they physically leave, then remind yourself that this is merely their way of coping.  Try not to take it too personally. In both cases, try to keep your heart open and connected with theirs, to sooth their pain and fear.

THE POWER OF THE APOLOGY

A simple apology for your part in the dysfunctional cycle can be a powerful diffuser, and can reduce the power of future incidents by helping you both become more aware. If you miss the opportunity during the cycle, find a time soon after the event, when both of you are calm, and apologise for your contribution.  Even if you think it was more their fault than yours, try to make a sincere apology for the part you played. For instance, you could say, “ I’m really sorry we argued, and I’m sorry that I withdrew from you. It’s my way of coping when I’m upset, but I realise that it upsets you, so I want to learn to respond in a different way.”  Obviously you would replace ‘withdrew from you’ with ‘bombarded you’, or similar, if you were the Lonely Warrior, rather than the Fearful Refugee.

It’s not easy to apologise; particularly if you have been taught that it is weak, or that it’s not OK to admit any human error in life. It’s important to remember that mistakes are part of being human; particularly the mistakes we make in human relationships. And there is almost never anyone who is one hundred percent right or one hundred percent wrong in any relationship issue. So there is nothing wrong with admitting that you can improve.

Remember to keep your tone level and free of sarcasm, and avoid any attempts to shift the blame away from you with ‘But’ statements, such as, “But I wouldn’t need to do that if you would stop blah blah blahing.”

Try to apologise with an open heart from a place of gentle assertive power.  Feel the mature strength in yourself as you tame and soothe your immature human ego that desperately wants to say, “But it wasn’t my fault.”

BE PATIENT

Now don’t, and this is very important, expect an apology back from the other side.  They might not yet have your level of strength and self awareness, and might not be as good as you at taming their ego. Give them time to learn and develop. We all have different levels of abilities in different areas of life at different times.

It can be frustrating when you change and your partner doesn’t.  But if you change your part in the cycle, your old dysfunctional cycle can’t exist, so your partner will learn they have to respond to you from a different place in a different way.  The best way of helping them on the path to self awareness and change is to practice it yourself.

Remember to be gentle with yourself and your partner. It usually takes a while to get this stuff right. If the dysfunction continues, seek help from a professional, experienced relationship counsellor.

I would love your feedback on your progress. You can leave a comment in the box, or email me privately at Lorri@lorricraig.com.

Happy relating.

Lorri Craig