Christmas-proof your relationship

“Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace.” – Edward Hays

xmasdisasterTomorrow is the start of December, and it’s so easy at this very special time of year to get caught up with the chores of Christmas: the cards, the gifts, the cooking .. and put our couple relationship on the back burner until the New Year.

Christmas is a wonderful time, but sometimes the stress can take its toll on our relationships, with many couples seeking counselling from me after the holiday season, when stress, the family, disappointed expectations (and one too many Baileys) have resulted in relationship melt-down.

December is a great time to take stock of our relationships, and to make sure loving each other is part of the run up to Christmas. Those of you who read my posts regularly will know I’m a firm believer in the power of small sustained actions to build and sustain loving relationships.

So for the third year in a row I invite you to follow my new and improved Relationship Advent Calendar Challenge, a great way to build acts of love into each day from December 1st, as my seasonal gift to you.

And if you haven’t met your sweetie yet ..  you’re still warmly invited to take part .. use this time to practise the actions I suggest on your friends and family.

So, what’s a “Relationship Advent Calendar?

A lot of advent calendars are about getting, but this one’s all about giving, because in a relationship we give to receive. Every day in December until Christmas, I’ll reveal a new action to build and sustain your couple relationship.

Subscribe to the blog, follow me on Twitter or Facebook and & get 25 acts of love delivered to your inbox each day, starting tomorrow December 1!

I’ll be doing all of these right along with you .. I’d love to hear how you get on ..

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Are you excited about this advent project? Do get in touch using the Comments box below or my Contacts details to the right of your screen .. happy adventing!

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Driving Meditation

Traffic in Newcastle upon Tyne and North Tyneside has been terrible this last week. I’ve had a number of clients turn up late and flustered and this morning it took an hour for me to make what should have been a half hour journey. So when I was sitting in stationary traffic with nowhere to go and no way of knowing when it would start moving again I decided to let go of worrying and use my time productively instead.

I usually arrive early enough at work to prepare for the day ahead and I knew I’d be jumping straight in so today my prep was done in the car (if not on the move) using a simple sense meditation and I found it so useful I thought I’d share how to practise mindful driving.

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First, switch the radio off so you can HEAR and LISTEN FOR the noises made by your engine, maybe the fan whirring, noises outside, windscreen wipers .. Ask yourself, are there any sounds you didn’t notice before? What are they? Are they loud or soft? Do they continue or stop? What else do you hear?

Slow your BREATHING and take the breath in a little deeper than before. Feel the cold air hit your nose as it enters your body and the warm breath as it leaves. Count to 3 on the in breath and again on the out breath, how does it feel?

Then turn your awareness to what you can SEE .. Cars, cars and more I expect, and what else? How does the sky look today? Are there clouds? What shapes are they making today? Remember you will never see this particular sky again, drink it in, be grateful for the opportunity to appreciate it in this moment.

Use your sense of SMELL to be fully aware of the space you find yourself in .. What can you smell? If you find your mind wandering to memories triggered by what you’re experiencing in the here and now just be aware and gently come back to the present.

As a driver you’ll be looking at passers by as potential hazards, but while you’re not moving look at them again and see them as people, wonder where they’ve come from today and where they’re heading. FEEL your connection with your fellow humans and with all the humans in our world who are travelling (or stuck) in this moment.

And when you do finally arrive, wherever that is, lock your mindful self inside as long as you can. I hope these words are useful to you, and may you journey well.

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I love to read your comments, or if you prefer contact me direct to discuss counselling with a mindfulness perspective.

Gratitude

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”

William Arthur Ward

Something often missing with couples who are experiencing difficulties is gratitude. It’s easy to take for granted all the little things our partners do for us every day and focus on the things they do wrong, the dishes in the sink, the unmended cupboard door .. but what if we take a moment to think about all the things they are doing right?

Since 2000 scientists have been finding that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
More joy, optimism, and happiness
Feeling less lonely and isolated

Gratitude has two key components: firstly it reminds us that there are gifts and benefits we’re consistently receiving from our partner and those around us.

Robert Emmons, perhaps the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude, writes “I see it as a relationship-strengthening emotion, because it requires us to see how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people.”

The second part of practising gratitude is to express it, to acknowledge the other people who give us so many gifts, big and small, to help us achieve the goodness in our lives each day.

November is Gratitude Month, and I will be marking each day of this month by keeping a gratitude journal, noting down something different each day and meditating on it.

To start your gratitude practise, take just a few minutes each day to think of at least one thing you’re grateful to your partner for .. take note, some days this will be easier than others! ;-D

Once you’ve got this down find creative ways to let your partner know how much you appreciate what they do .. a hug and a thank you, or a note left in their lunch box to find at work?

This can also be a good exercise when you’re frustrated with your spouse and about to explode! Take some time out to remember what they do for you, and when you’re ready to face them start off by reminding them how much they do, before letting them know that broken cupboard door is driving you crazy!

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I love to hear what you think about the topics raised in my blog, and how you apply these in your life. Do leave Comments below or get in touch using my Contact details.

 

So .. When Should I Have Sex?

“Making love” is based on the feminine principle of a relationship; the relationship is built on friendship and expressed through sex. “Getting laid” is based on the masculine principle of sharing sexual gratification with a friendly partner.”

– Dr. Patricia Allen

How to have the BEST SEX of your life

Sex. A topic that humans have been interested in since  the beginning of time. Something that happens each and every day.

And yet there is so much confusion about sex. Who to have sex with, when to have sex, am I getting enough sex? And if you get this right the answers will lead to the best sex of your life.

You deserve to have a soulmate whom you love and who loves you. A relationship with passion, and where there’s a real connection.

Oxytocin addict

Oxytocin is a hormone that is released by the pituitary gland when women make love which encourages you to bond to your partner. Oxytocin also helps you relax, reduce blood pressure and lower cortisol levels.

So far so good .. but if you’re tempted to take this shortcut before you’re sure that your partner is worthy of your trust, beware the consequences of feeling bonded to the wrong person, it can literally feel like being addicted! And the pain of splitting up after bonding with the wrong person is horrendous.

Protect yourself from unnecessary pain

Don’t forget, you don’t need sex to stimulate oxytocin. Actions that convey emotional messages of kindness, caring and love also help to release the oxytocin hormone and make you feel good. John Gray writes at length about how women can take responsibility for their own oxytocin levels and avoid feeling the temptation to sleep with someone just to get a quick ‘fix’

How to tell it’s time for the best sex of your life

Great sex is about connection at a deep level with someone who shares your values and cherishes you as a human being. In order to find out if this is the right person to take this step with you can ask yourself the following questions:

What are my fundamental values – what qualities am I looking for in a relationship and a potential life partner? What 5 qualities are absolutely non-negotiable and what am I willing to overlook if these are present?

How long have I known this person? Do I really know and accept them – their good and not so good qualities, their values and foibles?

Can we have honest conversations about making love – past experiences, what we know we like, what we know we don’t like, our sexual aspirations in this relationship, our sexual health?

Do I trust them – have I experienced them being truthful, willing to be vulnerable and taking responsibility in this relationship?

Will making love with this person nourish and sustain me over time, not just for tonight?

Am I truly ready to take this step?

Here is the key to your happiness

We all have different values and opinions when it comes to when is the right time to make love – some people feel this is only after marriage, some feel otherwise. The danger of waiting until after marriage is that people sometimes make the mistake of getting married so they can have sex and become ‘grown up’, when actually this behaviour betrays their immaturity.

The only guide I can give to save you heartache is to take as much time as you need to look within yourself and ask the questions above. To be honest with your partner about what you are doing and to hear their response with acceptance and understanding.

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I love to get your feedback and would be delighted to hear your views on sex and when the right time is for you .. get in touch using the Comments box below or have a look at my Contact details.

 

Does Your Life Have a Soundtrack?

Whenever I used to break up with a guy it always seemed like every song on the radio was about US! I’d drive in my car listening to tune after tune about heartbreak, and when I got home I was so miserable it seemed like everyone was splitting up and that it was the most terrible thing that could happen to a person EVER!

But one day I got sick of being manipulated like this and decided to take back control. I started playing music that was about good times, that made me feel good, that strengthened me instead of diminishing me.

After a couple of years I was ready for the next step .. I sat down with my music collection (I used to DJ and had been buying music since I was 12 so there was a LOT to go through) and sifted out all the ‘misery music’ as I like to call it.

Not only did I make a friend very happy when he found himself the new owner of 6 boxes of prime vinyl but I could actually see what music I did have on my cluttered shelves, and I’ve never regretted it. When I choose to buy music now I do a quick mental scan about whether it will bring me up, calm me or bum me out.

We can’t change a lot of things in our environment but we do have a choice about the music we listen to, the television programmes we watch and the people we spend time with. What would you like to choose?

Savouring ..

Our Brilliant Holiday

Our Brilliant Holiday

Have you ever had a really great day then ended up talking about the terrible items on the evening news once you got home to your partner?

On average, we tend to have three times as many positive experiences during a day compared to negative experiences, but in spite of this our natural ‘negativity bias’  causes more bad news to feature in our everyday conversations. This tendency was vital to our survival as cave dwellers but research has shown that .. “an enthusiastic or supportive response correlates with commitment, satisfaction, intimacy and trust.

A recent study looked at the benefits of sharing good news. Lambert and his colleagues (2013) proposed, “…that the sharing of positive experience will uniquely contribute to positive affect.” Across four separate studies findings indicate that the sharing of a positive interaction not only is related to a momentary increase in positive mood but is also correlated with higher life satisfaction when it is practiced long-term.

This differs from simply attempting to savor an experience or write down things you for which you are grateful. To put it another way, we sometimes make the mistake of treating happiness as if it is a personal, individualistic pursuit. It is important to remember that humans are social creatures and that happiness can often be found in our interactions. In this case social savoring by sharing positive experiences can pay happiness dividends. The people in your life have the potential to increase your happiness and you theirs. This idea-that we are “co-responsible” for one another’s happiness-can seem radical to those who believe that happiness is related to “self-help.”

We could all be just a little bit more satisfied if we shared what’s going well in our lives!”

(Newsletter 01/10/2013 http://positiveacorn.com)

Savouring in your relationships can be as simple as:

Sharing with others
– Seek out others to share your experiences and tell them how much you value the moments you share.
Memory building
– Take mental and photographic snapshots, as well as physical souvenirs from events in your life, and reminisce later with your loved ones.
Congratulate yourselves
– Don’t be afraid to tell yourself how great you are for getting this far, and remember how much work got you here.
Sharpen your perception
– Focus on certain senses and block out others: try closing your eyes when listening to music.
Absorption
– Allow yourself to become totally immersed in your experiences, or in your partner, and try not to think .. just feel ..

What moments would you like to savour?
I’d love to read your Comments on this page, or let me know at www.facebook.com/apcounselling