Acceptance

The Difference Between Love and Limerence



A Therapist Explains

In 1979, before we knew about "the love drug," psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term "limerence" to describe the chemical reactions that happen in the brain when we fall head over heels for someone — "crazy in love," so to speak. Regardless of whether the person is a good match for us, the overwhelming download of chemicals into the brain can overpower sanity.

diamond
We find ourselves justifying relationships that are unrequited, toxic, or just lacking in fulfillment of basic needs. Over the next four decades of research, Tennov joined poets, playwrights, and pop songs in the conversation about the madness of love.

Here's what being
love-crazy looks like:
  1. Obsessive thinking about the limerent (that's the object of affection/fixation), which can become intrusive to daily functioning.
  2. Irrationally positive evaluations of their attributes and denial of red flags (e.g., "She is a serial murderer, but that's OK. My love will overcome that.")
  3. Longing for reciprocation, and when it doesn't happen, fantasizing about it until it becomes reality in your mind.
  4. Feelings of ecstasy in the presence of the loved one, even if they are barely aware of you.
  5. Deep, wild mood swings, from delight to agony and back again.
  6. Total anguish when the relationship ends: not ordinary grief, which accompanies the termination of all relationships, but the feeling that you actually cannot go on living without the person.
  7. Unsettling shyness in the limerent object's presence.
  8. Extreme exaggeration of any response from the limerent to be interpreted as "a sign" your feelings are requited regardless of actual evidence.
Irrational love — love based on "just a feeling" — can wreak havoc in the lives of people who are otherwise sane and functional. Unfortunately, our culture often promotes these unhealthy behaviors, with songs that are so popular people sing along without really hearing the lyrics.

For example, when Percy Sledge recorded the popular "When a Man Loves a Woman," I wonder how many people actually considered the words he was singing. Here are just a few of the things he refers to:

Can't keep his mind on "nothing else," can't see it, if she's bad, would spend his last dime, would turn his back on his best friend, and would sleep out in the rain.
Yikes.

What about "Every Breath You Take" by The Police? The refrain actually says, "I'll be watching you" — every move, every word, every night because, after all, "you belong to me." That's not what healthy, reciprocal love sounds like to me.

Thus, we understand that limerence can refer to an obsessive relationship in which one will behave in ways that might be harmful to him or herself for love's sake (in Sledge's case) or observe and analyze the limerent relentlessly and unwelcomely (much like stalking) as with The Police's protagonist.

Here's some advice to consider if you think you might be under the influence of limerence:

Remember that the strength of your obsessive feelings does not relate to how deeply in love you are. It simply relates to the strength of your limerence.

If you have a pattern of falling in love with the fantasy of a person rather than the reality, you're probably suffering from this state of mind.
  1. Keep an honest journal of all of your relationship events — including the disappointing and painful ones, which will give you something with which to challenge your fantasies.
  2. If the majority of your friends and family see red flags in your partner that you don't, it could be a sign that what you think is love is actually limerence.
  3. Make an objective list of the qualities of a partner who would always be able to support you, even when you don't give him/her what he/she wants, and holds strength in living his/her own life. Do not include feelings. Do not try to make your list match the personality of someone you want to be in a relationship with. Make the list independently of other influences. Then, when you meet new potential partners, you can check your list to see if this person actually has the qualities you know you need in a partner.
  4. If your feelings of unrequited love are affecting your daily life and normal functioning, consider speaking with a counselor.
Dorothy Tennov once said, "Limerence is a distinct state that creates that 'feeling of being in love' — that state which Hollywood loves to portray as 'love' ... but limerence is really as far from the genuine article as a zircon is from a true diamond."

A zircon love affair is doomed to break your heart. You are worthy of a diamond.


This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

5 Factors to Evaluate Before Choosing a Life Partner




On my book tour for
Love Cycles, three of the most common questions I was asked were these: "How do I know this person is right for me?" "How can I tell if they will make a good life partner?" "What is the most important thing I can ask them?"

Linda Carroll's Blog
None of these questions has a simple answer. When we're under love's spell, most of us are willing to do anything, say anything, and be anything. Anyone who has watched Oprah can give the right answers; it's how we live that holds the key to really knowing us. The way we feel when we fall in love doesn't necessarily mean that we are with the right person. This is why we call it "falling" in love. It doesn't mean that we are compatible — only that we are human and have body chemistry.

It's better to look for clues using the logical part of our brain to determine whether the other person has the right "stuff" to make a suitable long-term partner than to feel our way to this decision. Our course, what we feel is essential, and someone may be a great fit with all the important qualities that we are looking for, but if our body doesn't react to them — no attraction, no chemistry, no "wow" — it's just as important information on which to base our decision. We need both heart and head to decide.

Here are five clues that will help you find out whether or not someone has the qualities to go the distance:

1. Family history
Here we're concerned with how connected a potential partner is to their family members and the quality of these relationships. I look for two red flags when I'm talking with a client about their family history. One is when they indicate that everything is or was terrible; the other is when they say that everything is or was perfect. Try to determine how much they are able to accept, forgive, and have family members' backs.

Look for how much they blame or make trouble for others. A good sign of balance is, for example, the following description of a family member: "Well, my dad's an interesting guy. He's so loving and generous. He had a hard struggle with depression. He's a glass-half-empty sort of guy, yet he tries hard to be more upbeat. The problem is he's very reluctant to seek help and kind of stuck in his ways. But, growing up, I remember how, most of all, he always loved and supported me. Although he didn't often show up for my activities, I always knew that it wasn't because he didn't care." This is balanced; he tells it like it is.

2. Past relationships
It is important to discover what kinds of friendships someone has had or currently have. The best sign is that they still keep a few of their oldest friends. See if they've been able to take some responsibility for their failed relationships. Do they speaking of past lovers in derogatory terms, such as "She's a total narcissist" or "What a borderline he is"? Occasionally, it might be true, but most of us look pretty unappealing to the other at the end of a relationship, and it's not usually the whole truth. Ask whether your potential partner tries to be fair-minded.

3. Handling anger
This involves your observing rather than asking. Watch how they behave when they don't get their own way, are disappointed, or feel angry. In life, we have to manage not getting our own way as well as hurt and disappointment. How people act with others under these circumstances says a lot about how they will one day act with you.

4. Generosity
Since this is considered the No. 1 key to a good relationship (according to a long-term study at the University of Virginia), watching how generous your potential partner is in their treatment and discussion of others is extremely important. When we are love-struck, we are all generous and loving, but you need to look for indications of how generous someone will be when the love potion wears off.

5. A full life
Determine whether they have meaning in their life that doesn't relate to you — interests, passions, a history of expanding themselves. Do they have big dreams or a history of making those dreams come true? Paradoxically, the key to intimacy is the ability to be separate. Until you know yourself and feel whole and clear in what you want for your life, you'll never be able to be the best partner you can be. It's counterintuitive, but we really only get the most intimacy out of a relationship when we have done the most work on ourselves.

The Interview
Imagine there are two parts to an "interview" with a potential partner (like with a job applicant). In part one, trust your heart, the chemistry, and your intuition.

If only things were so simple. This is clearly not enough. I bet 99 percent of you have felt that someone was "the one," only to be shocked and disappointed when, later in the relationship, you find out a whole lot of things that you totally missed. In part two of the interview, look at their abilities, their references, their experience, and all the other objective data that points to whether they are a good fit.

We have two parts to our brain, both of which are essential to use in the interview. The "feeling" part is an important indicator, but the part where rational and reasonable decisions are made must be an equal partner.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

I'm A Life Coach & I Have Panic Attacks



Here's What I Wish More People Knew


As a practicing psychotherapist and a life coach, I'd helped many people cope with panic attacks but never had one myself. That is, until about three years ago, when I was having lunch with a friend and suddenly felt something akin to a 400-pound bear jumping up and down on my chest.

Linda Carroll on Panic Attacks
Making vague excuses to my friend, I found my way to a nearby urgent care center. After one look at my blood pressure, the staff sent me to a hospital, where I spent the next 24 hours hooked up to machines, being tested for every possible illness.

Eventually, the hospital set me loose with the explanation that the symptoms I’d experienced had just been “a panic attack.” Relieved and bewildered, I was given a lot of sympathy but few instructions.

The following week, I went to see a psychiatrist, who suggested I might be conflicted about publishing my book, Love Cycles, and sent me off with medication. Her explanation didn’t hit home for me, however, so I tried something different. I went to see a Reiki master, who did energy work to rebalance my chakras.

Nothing helped. The attacks kept coming. I read everything I could about them and got blood tests from my family doctor, who looked for obscure tumors and hidden troubles. Everything was normal.

I took meditation classes, began to walk every day, and went to a hypnotist. I became gluten-free and dairy-free and looked for hidden conflicts, childhood traumas, and unresolved tensions in my life.

Finally, I went to see my regular therapist, who suggested the cause could be nothing more than some misfired adrenaline. We might never learn anything more about the panic attacks, he said, but there were several adjustments I could make to help make a difference, should I experience them again. This time the explanation felt true.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder affects close to 7 million people a year (women are twice as likely to be affected), and 6 million people have panic attacks every year. In other words, even if your panic attack feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, it's quite common.

We know very little about panic attacks, and many of the theories about them are only myths. Let's look at some of the most common myths and their countervailing truths.

Myth: A panic attack is about something: you just have to find the cause.

Truth: Panic attacks are a biological response, which may or may not have psychological components.

Most experts believe a panic attack is brought on by a combination of genetics, biology, environmental, and psychological factors. The cause for one person’s individual panic attacks, however, may never be known.

Myth: Panic attacks are a sign that you’re going crazy.

Truth: An inability to predict when a panic attack is going to happen might make you feel crazy, but you’re not.

runner
The average panic attack usually lasts less than 10 minutes, but the fallout can continue longer. First comes the actual attack — the trouble breathing, the pounding heart, the alarmingly high blood pressure, and the tingling in your hands and feet, all of which might make you feel like you’re going to die.

You’re neither dying nor going crazy: Your body is experiencing a chemical rush, which you can learn to manage. Biology doesn't have to win.

Myth: Panic attacks cause extreme harm to your body.

Many of the symptoms associated with panic attacks are indeed frightening: Your body trembles and shakes and you feel shortness of breath. Some people hyperventilate and fear fainting. Your heart rate might go as high as 200 beats per minute, and you might feel like you’re having a heart attack.

Truth: When you go for a long run, it’s common for the heart rate to rise just as high. Because we expect this high heart rate when we’re running, it isn’t frightening. With a panic attack, of course, the fear comes from having a high heart rate for a reason you're not accustomed to.

Myth: Deep breathing can always stop a panic attack.

Truth: Holding your breath causes hyperventilation and an increase in carbon dioxide, which contributes to dizziness and numbness, which then raises your panic levels.

The one thing we must do, which can help immediately, is to breathe more slowly than usual. Learn about belly breathing exercises, but know that they might not always be enough on their own.

Myth: Nothing will help.

Truth: There are many tools in the arsenal to use for dealing with future panic attacks. Here are a few:
  1. If you’re a coffee drinker, switch to decaf, and once your body adjusts, try to switch to green tea. Even with decaf, you will put less stress on your nervous system.
  2. Sleep. The connection between sleep and well-being is more and more firmly established every day. To improve your sleep quality, never look at a computer or check your iPhone right before you go to sleep. And if you wake up during the night, use yoga breathing (deep belly breaths) to calm yourself back into rest.
  3. Exercise. Exercise is a natural anti-anxiety medicine. When I feel butterflies in my belly, I take a walk. Ninety percent of the time, the panic recedes. The exercise stops the panic from escalating into a full-blown attack.
  4. Take precautions. I carry a list of all the tools in my toolbox, in case I lose the ability to focus when an attack hits. I also carry a low dose of anxiety medication as a last resort. Three years after my first panic attack, I have learned to head them off quickly and have never yet felt the need to use the meds.
One good thing that came out of my experiences with panic attacks has been my improved ability to help other people manage their attacks and to sidestep the many myths associated with them.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

So Your Partner Betrayed You: Here's How NOT To Let It End Your Relationship




Linda on Betrayal
Betrayal can take many forms — from a garden-variety lapse in judgment to a genuine heartbreaker or marriage ender. Many of these moments could be avoided if we took the time to pay attention to what our partner’s world really feels like. What does your partner need to feel comfortable and safe? What he or she needs may be very different from what you need.

But, if not avoided, betrayal can be dealt with and resolved. It is possible. It just requires total honesty, vulnerability, and commitment from both partners. A betrayal doesn't have to be an end of your relationship. It can be a new beginning. Here are three of the most common types of betrayals and their sources:

1. Disregarding needs because they are different from your own.

George, who owns a restaurant, is a raconteur and an open book. He excels at sharing personal anecdotes and recounts whatever is going on in his life with everyone — friends, employees, gas station and parking lot attendants, the tellers at the local bank, even fellow riders in the elevator.

George’s wife, Sarah, is reserved and private. A poet, she is serious, contemplative, and needs of a great deal of solitude. These needs complement his own. After long, hard hours at the restaurant, George is glad to go home to Sarah’s tranquil oasis.

Sarah admires and relies on George’s zest and wit. George makes her laugh and allows her to take life less seriously. Still, Sarah wants him to respect her privacy. Countless times she’s told him, “Just leave me out of your stories.”

Recently, Sarah learned that she was a finalist for a prestigious national prize for poetry. Thrilled and excited, she called George at the restaurant as soon as she opened the envelope.

“That’s fantastic, Sarah. I’ll bring home Champagne.”

“Oh, don’t bother,” she demurred. “It’s not like I’ve won anything.”

“Sure it is. It’s a huge honor to be a finalist. We’ll celebrate!”

“All right,” Sarah relented. “You know I love Champagne.”

No sooner did George get off the phone than he shared the news with the staff in the kitchen and patrons out in the dining room. “Looks like my wife just won a big prize for poetry,” he crowed. “Well, she’s in the running, anyway.”

Late that night at home, George poured two flutes of Champagne. “Here’s to my clever wife, the poet.”

“Thank you, but I haven’t actually won anything,” Sarah reminded him again.

“Yes, you have! It’s the recognition you deserve. The kitchen staff is all excited. They’re going to bake you a congratulations cake.”

After a small silence, Sarah whispered, “You
told them?”

“Of course. Why not?”

“Because I asked you not to, that’s why.” Sarah was livid. “You’d think I’d know better by now! You’re the last person on earth I should tell anything. There’s no censor in your mind; you don’t think before you speak. You’re just thoughtless.”

George was bewildered. In his view, Sarah’s being a finalist for the prize was an honor. If she didn’t win, there was no shame in it. But that wasn’t how she saw it. She dreaded the thought that all these people would find out that she was an also-ran.

George just shook his head. How could his wife be angry with him about something he’d done out of love and pride? Clearly, he was the victim here.

In fact, George
was guilty of something. He saw the extent of his wife’s need for privacy as unreasonable, so he simply disregarded it. “Why aren’t you me?” That was the question at the heart of this conflict.

The simple yet incredibly difficult solution to this conflict is for each partner to recognize the other as equal and separate, and acknowledge their needs as such. Like anything, it takes practice. But the positive evolution of your relationship will inevitably be worth it.

2. Invasions of privacy or lies of omission that are "justified" by their intent.

Anything from financial deception to the invasion of privacy can fit into this category — whether it's snooping on a computer or reading a private journal. When the breach of faith is exposed, the betrayed person may come to question everything about his/her partner and the relationship itself. Beyond the inevitable shock, anger, and hurt, betrayal often leaves its victims with a grievous loss of self-worth.

Those who betray their partners tend to rely on “reasonable” explanations to justify themselves. The reason they were unfaithful? Not enough sex in their marriage. The reason they maxed out the credit cards? Simple generosity — they wanted to take their partner on a first-class vacation.

In truth, however, an act of betrayal is an act against the self, which harms a person’s sense of integrity and self-respect. After betrayers digest what they’ve done and the pain they’ve caused, their shame and guilt can be all-consuming.

Avoiding this kind of betrayal requires a deep faith in your partner's ability and willingness to forgive, and the strength to be truly vulnerable. Recovering from it requires the same commitment to truth, openness, and each other.

3. Sexual betrayal.

No matter the reason, without your partner's knowledge or consent, sexual betrayal is never justified. Because of its powerful reverberations for both partners, sexual betrayal is an especially difficult marital problem to cope with and resolve.

Most of the time, the only way to reconcile is for both partners to clean their respective psychological closets of all baggage and to reach down into the depths of those emotional storage vaults to find the courage, honesty, and love to repair and forgive. I recommend you do this only with the help of a SEASONED therapist. It’s extremely hard work and it does not happen quickly. I have seen it take 1 year for some; 2 to 3 years for others.

Most of the reasons for the betrayal must be understood, especially by the person who had an affair. Perhaps the length and depth of this process explains why some of the strongest marriages I know have arisen from extremely serious betrayals.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

4 Surprising Truths About Keeping Love Alive



All relationships go through hard seasons. Especially if you and your partner have been together a long time, you have probably felt the cyclical nature of these “seasons”: there have been some storms, hard chills and times of foggy uncertainty, along with times of sun and cool breezes.

Linda on Love
There's no doubt that it's easy to get caught up in worrying about how long the hard seasons will last, and when the more blissful times will return. But rather than panic, become defensive or start to think about leaving, it can help to remember there four truths about our connections with people we love:

1. Relationships are an inside job.
All change begins within you and is maintained by you. Once you shift your focus from your partner to yourself, you gain enormous power to affect both your relationship and your own well-being.

Too often, we
blame issues in our relationships on our partners. But the truth is that the change begins with you and you alone. You can always change the way you react to what the other person says and does, even if your partner doesn’t do anything differently. That is where the dynamic shift begins.

During tough conversations, I have said to myself
If I were a loving person, what would I do now? which helps me respond mindfully and intentionally, rather than react defensively.

2. Communication isn’t an issue when things are going well.
I've been a couples therapist for more than 30 years, so I've worked with
a lot of couples. One of the most common things I hear from couples during their first session is the following complaint: “We don’t communicate well.” You may have even said this yourself.

When I hear this complaint, I realize that I'm sitting with two people who are doing a great job of articulating how they’re not articulate. When things are going well in a relationship (or even going along as usual), communication is never the problem. Of course, things get a little more complicated when we’re under stress, or feel angry, sad or afraid.

When we are in the midst of a tough situation with our partner, we tend to react in one of three ways: we fight, freeze, or flee. In one of these reactive modes, we will of course look very different to our partner than when we’re breezing along, relaxed and open. That's why we need to be mindful of our triggers, and notice when they are being set off. From there, we can set an intention to slow down, and
respond to a conflict rather than react.

3. Most troubles in relationship happen because of fear — the fear of lost connection.
I sat in my office with Jeff and Cindy on the verge of a breakup. It wasn’t the complaints about each other that startled me. It was the moment that Cindy put her head in her hands and sobbed, “I’m losing my best friend.” Suddenly it became clear: the depth of her agony arose from the
threat she felt her grievances posed to their existence as a couple.

We’re wired in our brains and hearts to be connected with others.
Numerous studies show that touching, hugging, and being a part of loving relationships help us to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. So how can we manage the anger and conflict that are part of all relationships, and avoid the loss of life-enhancing connection?

The secret to keeping our relationship strong under duress is to manage our love account just as we manage our bank account: by keeping the deposits higher than the withdrawals. Listen, support, touch, apologize, appreciate, and surprise. We need to practice these behaviors often enough to amass the goodwill to cover those times when the relationship is “overdrawn.”

We can be angry, hurt, outraged. It doesn’t mean we cut off connection. It doesn’t mean we fail to see the merit of our partner’s main strengths. Although it may feel like the last thing we want to do, if we keep the bridge open between us, we’ll find the way forward in the most difficult times.

4. Just about any two people can get along, if they really want to.
I’ve sat with people that were similar in most ways with very few complaints between them, and yet they didn’t have the willingness to reach out to one another in ways that would’ve deepened their love and connection and they parted.

I’ve sat with people who couldn’t be more different, who were recovering from the biggest messes you could imagine: multiple betrayals, misunderstandings, years of hurt and anger. Yet they felt a compelling connection and commitment to one another, which they didn’t want to lose. Diligently they adopted new rules and practices to regain connection. They managed to forgive each other and to do the inner work to stop whatever behavior had caused the trouble.

If two people are willing to do the work, make the changes, and learn the skills, they can have a relationship better than anything they ever imagined.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

What To Do When You Want to End Your Relationship



You’ve been struggling with disillusion in your relationship for some time. The thrill is long-gone. So is the joy. The stress is high, the pain is deep. You’re worn out, and you feel like things will never change. You’ve reached the point where you think, Things just can’t go on like this.

So you ask yourself,
Should I leave? Is that the answer? Is this the end of a love that once seemed so right?

My answer? Don’t decide, at least not yet.

naut2
Ironically, the times when you feel the most intense uncertainty and pain, when you’re at low ebb and in misery, are not the times to make a major decision.

Instead of reacting to the pain, respond with these three essential actions (or non-actions) from a longtime marital therapist:

1. Slow down, and don't let the knee-jerk reaction rule you.
When you feel the intense urge to react in a moment of pain, it’s important to just be still and rest for a while. If you take it easy and go slow, your needs and desires will have time to register within you, and you will be in a better place to recognize and understand them.

For example, sometimes we think we want to leave a person when what we really want is to escape from the pain in a stuck dynamic in the relationship. If we can comfort and soothe ourselves long enough to regain some sense of calm on our own terms, we can begin to assess if there’s something to salvage from the wreckage of what we’ve built together.

Sometimes we know that, above all, we want out of
the feeling of being stuck or uninspired. And from there, of course it's easy to attribute our misery to the relationship when it may be much more about ourselves. But taking the time to gain clarity and space from volatile emotions will help understand what is really making you unhappy.

2. Educate yourself.
Don’t seek advice (and definitely don’t take advice) from friends and family. Often, the people who love you the most will see only your side of things, which may make you feel good and righteous but won’t shed new light on where you are now in life and what you need to do next.

Find a trustworthy mentor figure — whether it be a therapist, or a coach, minister, priest, or rabbi, instead. Talk to them about the dilemma and decision you’re struggling with. If your partner is willing to join you in a counseling session, you must find a counselor that you BOTH trust. Sometimes
the most impossible relationships can transform into something wonderful, given support and insight from the right source.

Particularly if you are married, or you and your partner have made a serious commitment, seek out a financial adviser, a couples’ counselor, or another trusted third party that can inform you of the legal and financial ramifications of your options: separation, divorce, or even a sabbatical from marriage.

Sometimes we learn more from a knowledgeable person that offers no advice but reflects our words back to us. What we hear may surprise us, as if the words and thoughts were brand-new. For the first time in a long time, we may feel our more vulnerable selves emerge from beneath the defensive scar tissue. That’s when we will begin to see who we are, where we are, and what we need to do next.

3. Move your focus away from avoiding discomfort or being "nice.”
If you do decide that ending the relationship is the right decision acknowledge that you will need to confront discomfort directly. You will ultimately need to go through the breakup in the most courageous way, which is face-to-face, and it won't be comfortable.

Don’t use text or email (or worse, social media!) to give your lover the news, and stay away from Breakup Butler, who gives the message to your partner “nice” and “not so nice.”

Even though the conversation may be awkward and uncomfortable, you will feel a surge in self-respect once you finish what you came to say, because you had the courage and the consideration to meet in person. When you talk, acknowledge what you valued in your relationship, even as you say the connection between you doesn’t work anymore. Take time to be absolutely clear. Don’t give your partner false hope with expressions like, “for the moment I feel,” or “maybe in time it will change.”

Afterward,
give yourself time to grieve but don’t look back. Don’t torment each other with prolonged goodbyes and false, mixed messages. Don’t call, don’t write, and don’t toy with them on social media. Definitely don’t drive by your ex’s house to try and figure out if they’re with someone else. That kind of behavior feeds the drama but will only end in more misery, whatever you discover. If they’re with someone else, you feel bad. If they’re all alone, you feel guilty.

Put the past away and begin to rebuild your life around new people, places, and things. Give yourself a chance to feel like “you again,” as a single person. What you choose should make this breakup easier on you, not more difficult.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

Why You Always Have the Same Old Fight


mowing away

Do you notice that you and your partner always end up having “the same old argument”? It's as if it doesn’t matter at all where the conversation or conflict started ... it just always ends in the familiar sinkhole.

After a while you may understand that the issue isn’t really about the housework, the weekend plans or money. It's something else something you can’t put your finger on. You just know the sinking feeling when you see “the look,” hear the sound in their voice or feel your own feeling of sinking inside, that voice telling you, “Here we go again.” This ongoing familiar fight can feel like an endless loop with a dead-end and no way out. But why?

Well, the reason it feels like it's a loop, is because it IS a loop. Without learning how to notice the patterns as they arise, there's no way to stop a vicious cycle in its tracks. That's why I am telling you that there is a way through it. The only place to start is to recognize the barriers each person must overcome, and then developing strategies to manage these barriers productively.

To begin, let's look at what I like to think of as the four common causes of these cyclical, repetitive arguments:

1. History
Most repeated fights are not really about what they seem to be about. In fact, they tend to happen because something in our past is
being triggered by a present experience, even if it’s minor. Our partner might do something that evokes memories of feeling bullied, betrayed or falsely accused in the past and we are actually reacting to our history rather than to what is actually happening now.

The first step here is awareness of these triggers. But read on, as I will elaborate on "exit strategies" in the next section below!

2. Core Issues
The vulnerabilities and reactivity we bring to repeated fights may include core values and questions like “Who’s in charge of my life?” “Am I valued and accepted for who I am” and “How much can I trust you to have my back”?

Again, take stock of what emotional triggers make you feel particularly vulnerable, and experiment with being accountable to those things when you communicate with your partner.

3. “The Other Side Of Attraction”
Characteristics that attracted us to our partners in the beginning may become sources of annoyance later. I call this “the other side of attraction.” In other words, we may fall in love with someone because they seem predictable and reliable. When the
“love drug” wears off and the honeymoon phase is over, the same behavior may seem rigid and lacking imagination, and we’ll probably argue about that.

4. The Loop
Repetitive fights breed further iterations of the same argument, period. One person's idiosyncrasies create vulnerable patterns in another person's behavior, which may, in turn, aggravate first person further. And so on . . . this is the definition of a vicious cycle.

But let's take this one a little further.

For most women, the number one concern is disconnection, while for men it is feeling unjustly criticized or being seen as incompetent. So let's take a heterosexual couple, Jake and Meg. Say Jake makes weekend plans to go hiking with his friends and Meg feels abandoned. This can trigger a “fight” response from her in the form of anger or sarcasm. Jake sees this as criticism, triggering a “flight” instinct, so he withdraws which intensifies Meg’s fears of disconnection. The loop builds up steam, and continues.

So, now that we've looked at some of the main causes for these repetitive fights, let's consider some strategies to change the dynamic.

1. Build your “exit strategy” toolkit.
No matter how hard you try you cannot change your partners behavior, only your own. Find an exit strategy to the loop. This begins by recognizing when you are in it, and soothing yourself out of your normal reaction. Mantras, breathing slowly, images of your dog, garden or favorite hike can all act as agents to stop your own inner loop of reactivity. Often if one person can break out of it, the other will also become more centered and it can stop.

2. Look inward.
In the middle of the “same old-same old,” we are looking out and see our partner. Their uninviting body language, their mean looking mouth, their unfriendly eyes. The challenge here is to look within, ask yourself, “Would I want to take a selfie of my facial expression RIGHT NOW and post it on social media?” I have taught myself to think of one of the things I appreciate the most about my partner in the middle of the hardest loops, and more and more often it backs me off of my
defensive strategy. It doesn’t eliminate the problem but it often helps reframe the fight to be more productive.

3. Let go of your need to be right.
When you KNOW you are right and your partner is wrong, you know you are in trouble! (Of course there are certain things that ARE wrong, lying, hitting, breaking commitments. But most often we are feeling self-righteous about our point of view rather than an actual transgression.) It may feel justified, but it will usually fuel even greater conflict and distance.

4. Agree not to discuss the problem until the storm has passed.
When we are in the middle of the trouble we are bombarded by neurochemicals that are while arguing, most of us are “flooded” — bombarded by neurochemicals that make it hard for us to relate constructively. We are
reacting, not responding.

Taking time out, going for a walk, agreeing to come back to it within 24 hours may help you each become calm and reasonable enough to find a resolution. And of course, if there’s an ongoing
issue (and no, not just a habitual, unproductive communication dynamic), you may sometimes feel like you can’t make progress. In those cases, consider seeking the help of a skilled counselor or coach.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

5 Signs You're An Emotionally Intelligent Person



Linda Carroll EQ

Emotional intelligence (also known as “EQ”) is the Queen of all intelligence, reflecting the strength of our connection to other people, in public or in private, at work or in love. This kind of intelligence helps us to deal with “difficult people” successfully, to use humor appropriately (even to laugh at ourselves), and to respond in a compassionate and skilled way to people when they’re upset.

The root of emotional intelligence is self-awareness, sometimes called mindfulness, which takes us deep beneath the surface of our identities as “doers” and the roles we play. When Socrates advised “know thyself,” he didn’t mean it in terms of what we do for a living, either, or how we want others to see us. To know thyself includes being aware of your core longings and values, as well as your wounds and the ways you protect yourself.

To know yourself also means to acknowledge that in some ways you don’t know yourself — there is always more to discover. True self-knowledge involves embracing everything about ourselves, even those parts we avoid or don't understand.

Wonder how your EQ rates? Well, you can start by checking out the following five signs of great emotional intelligence skills, and do your own self-assessment as to how well you score. Keep in mind, of course, that you can build on your skills. As human beings, each of us has the innate ability to become savvy in our EQ.

1. You have the ability to self-regulate.
“I just had to say it.”
“I sent that e-mail before I thought about it.”

Each of these statements reveals someone whose emotions rule their behavior and actions, often with disastrous outcomes. By contrast, people with a high EQ register their feelings as information and make an informed decision about how to act in a way that’s productive.

Ultimately, all of our emotions are useful. Each feeling is like one of the strings of a musical instrument: each gives us a unique vibration, and provides us valuable information about ourselves. It’s how we interpret the emotion, and then how we choose to act, that determines whether we’re going to create havoc or enhance our lives.

2. You respond rather than react.
Sometimes, we blame our rash reactions to people or situations by saying we just “needed” to express ourselves. But the truth is that we don’t need to react out of raw feeling. When we give ourselves time to explore the feeling, we realize that the feeling has a job to inform us about what's up.

The skill that grows through the practice of any form of mindfulness is the ability to witness our internal process before we do anything about it. Then we can respond with a mixture of feeling and logic. To take the time simply to observe the emotion as it arises decreases the sense of urgency to act.

Strong positive and negative emotions may cause us to express ourselves inappropriately if we’re overwhelmed by them. When emotions run strong, it’s hard to know what’s really going on until the body has settled. That’s why meditation and deep breathing are helpful. They give us space and time to settle, and then to decide how to express what it is we feel.

3. You know your triggers.
Each of us has particular triggers that set off certain emotions. Some of these triggers ricochet back to an earlier stress or trauma. To know your triggers is a critically useful piece of awareness to have, just as it’s essential to know how you typically react once one of your triggers is pulled.

None of us likes to be told what to do, but my inner teenager really can’t stand it when I’m in the kitchen. Give me a suggestion when I’m cooking (which for most people usually is a 1 or 2 on the irritation scale of 10), and it can feel off the charts to me. My first instinct is to retort with an ungracious remark like “Why don’t you take over and make it yourself?” But this kind of defensive, temperamental reaction is never helpful.

But because I’ve come to see that I tend to behave like a diva in the kitchen, I’m usually prepared to make a counter-instinctive move: I take a deep breath and observe myself with compassion and amusement. Nowadays, I may even be able to give a suggestion serious consideration. After all, it’s my trigger that’s the problem here, not the tip to add more mustard to the salad dressing.

4. You really listen.
To hear the spoken word with our auditory system is a passive, mechanical process. To listen, however, is an active process, one in which we engage with another person, which requires us to interpret and read the nonverbal cues that accompany what they say and what we hear.
There’s no room in this encounter for you, the listener, to dismiss, to argue, or to assume that you already know where things are headed as a person tells you their story.

5. You are a good communicator.
Although many books on communication skills emphasize the importance of directly expressing our emotions, there’s a lot more to being a smart communicator than simply saying what we feel as we are feeling it.

The ability to give and receive tenderness and to express and respond to upset feelings are skills that require time, patience, and the discernment to know what is and isn’t appropriate in terms of how much to share.Good communicators know that to talk about what’s going on inside us is a prerequisite, but this inner examination needs to be done with patience and practice.

The commitment is well worth the effort, though. The improvement in our relations with other people everywhere in our lives can be tremendous. An advance in your EQ can indeed change your life.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

Why There's No Such Thing As Closure



My friend
Phyllis Pilgrim is a yoga and meditation teacher at Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico. Students from around the world, young and old, men and women, find her work inspirational and life-changing.
linda carroll phyllis pilgrim

But things haven't been so easy for Phyllis. As a child during WWII, she was held captive with her mother and brother in Japanese internment camps in Java. Much later in life, her mother told her that she had survived those years in the camp because she had made it a practice to say thank you every day when she could “see something beautiful, hear something beautiful, and say something beautiful to someone.” Phyllis has made her mother’s practice the foundation of how she leads her life.

I thought of Phyllis recently as I listened to my client Cathy lament about how lonely she was. No wonder. Long ago, Cathy had come to the conclusion that no one
could be trusted enough to share true love and affection.

“Everyone betrays you in the end,” she murmured in my office one afternoon. She learned this early on: when she was 13, her father had left her mother. So at 38 years old, she continued to view this bitter experience as the essence of what could be expected of another human being, and as a reminder of why it was better not to trust others.


Neither Cathy nor Pilgrim will ever “get over” their painful experiences. Sure, one of them (Cathy) has made her experience a blueprint to keep recreating the loss, while the other Phyllis) has found a way forward to embrace the best of life. But neither have aimed to forget about or de-emphasize the profound impact of their past.

And odds are that all of us have experienced traumatizing experiences in the past, varying in degrees of intensity and impact. So for all of us, it helps to remember that there are some basic truths about human experience that are universal.

We can find ways to incorporate these truths into how we live our lives, rather than pretend things could’ve been different. With that, here are seven foundational truths about human suffering and resilience:

1. Closure doesn’t exist.
How often do we hear a friend say of an ex-lover, “I just need to see her one more time so we can have closure”? Or listen to the survivor of a tragic story interviewed say, “When find out
why the accident happened, I will get closure.”

The answer is often. But one of the hard truths about this life is that there is really no such thing as closure. We hold onto the myth of it as a comfort mechanism, but that mechanism is
ultimately a defense.

The pain we have experienced may be reduced and even fade. But the memory is in us forever. And the scar doesn’t just go away, but rather becomes a part of us in the present.

Many of the great teachers and philosophers believe our wounds are the openings to compassion, consciousness, and wisdom. We can honor our wounds if we can recognize their purpose rather than deny them, which gives them power over us.

2. What we do with “unfinished pieces” is up to us.
No ceremony, no “big talk,” or goodbye ritual will change what has happened. Experiences happen, and it is our
choice to figure out how to respond. To be an adult is to accept our wounds as a part of our past and to know our choice lies in how we move forward, which includes acceptance that life gives us pain and loss. Of course, it also offers new beginnings and joy, if we’re open to them.

3. Time doesn’t heal the wound; it changes how we see it.
The happiness in our lives doesn’t erase the pain and the pain doesn’t eliminate the gifts and the new beginnings if we allow them to come into us.

4. Everything is transient.
One of my granddaughters lives in New York. We’ve had a special bond practically since she was born. It’s always a delight for me to visit her.

But the last time I went to see her, there was a shift. She had just turned seven, and I noticed a difference in our dynamic. When I went to pick her up at school, she, like always, ran up to me and gave me a big, heartfelt hug. But then she turned away to rejoin her friends. It was totally right and age appropriate that she was far more interested in her classmates than in me. Still, I felt sad, even as I accepted this sign of the natural passage of time, from the seasons to the cycles of love. The only real stability we have is within ourselves.

5. Life isn’t always fair.
Vicki was the first person I ever knew who was into health food and fitness. I met her when she was 20. She died before she was 22, of an illness no one saw coming nor knew how to treat. Meanwhile, her mother Sue weighed at least 300 pounds, and spent her days watching television and reading Harlequin romances. She’s still alive at 94, and all her organs function perfectly.

How can this be? Life is unfair. Finding a way to do all we can to make our life turn out as we want it to, and then letting the outcome be what it is going to be is the only path to inner well-being.

6. Our real power lies in how we react to what happens to us.
We can’t erase our past as though it didn’t exist, and I don’t believe we’re meant to get over our losses. As the poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen has written, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” If we see our sorrows as a passage or a way station, they can inspire us to use the incredible gift of our life.

7. Finally, we don’t “get over” anything.
Each day we create our future by
choice and with the gifts of the lessons we’ve learned.

Especially the hardest ones.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

Why It's Unhealthy To Obsess Over Your First Love



As a couples’ therapist, I often give talks about love. And I often start by asking audience members to describe the sensations and feelings they felt the first time they fell in love. I get similar answers every time, and most people respond instantly, without even having to think or remember. “Racing heart,” says one. “Insanity and obsession,” says another. “Sweaty palms,” says a third.

Linda on Obsessions
Typically, I will respond to these answers by describing how certain chemicals flood our bodies when we fall in love. Dopamine triggers the reward center of the brain and causes us to feel that we don’t need to eat or sleep (which may be why someone once said that to fall in love is the best diet there is). I describe the adrenaline flow, which puts us on high alert the rush of endorphins, and the oxytocin, which causes a deep longing to connect through all five of our senses to this other person, who attracts us so intensely.

It's because of these chemical reactions that we remember our first love so vividly…even if it turned out poorly, even if we’re currently in a great relationship, even if we know it never would’ve worked.


Because we first felt that chemical rush when falling in love for the first time, it’s natural to associate that experience generally with your first love. But unfortunately, just because you fell in love with that person doesn't mean that he or she still would be the object of your desire in the present. With that, here are five hard truths about those times when you find yourself thinking of your first lover.


1. Looking for your first love can create havoc in your life.

Especially if you are married or in a committed relationship. It's OK to engage with the memories and the fantasy of your first love. It might even teach you about what you're looking for in love in the present. But thought and action are different. Try to sit with the discomfort.

2. The imprinting on our hearts and head may have little to do with the person we first fell in love with.

And it may have everything to do with the feeling we felt — the romance, the nostalgia.

3. Those pure-hearted, deep, and tender feelings of first love may never leave you.

The longing is most often the amazing awakening to love, rather than the actual human being you are thinking about.

4. An ongoing relationship with an imperfect person can't hold a candle to the fantasy of your first love.

Your current partner may be annoying and sometimes even impossible. But no matter who they are or what they're like, know that your first love will always be your first love, plain and simple. You will always have intense associations with that person, but those don't mean your current partner isn't worth it.

5. The Internet is filled with stories about people reuniting after 50 years apart.

That doesn't mean you should try this out for yourself. In fact, these stories most often do NOT turn out well.

I remember my first love. I was a thirteen-year old girl over at a friend’s house after school one day when a boy appeared from next door and offered to carry in the groceries for my friend’s mother. He glanced at the group of us, but his look lingered on me, and he smiled with his eyes, which seemed to drill into my very soul (this expression alone makes me feel thirteen again).

I was struck by a pining, a craving, and a craziness that are still with me almost sixty years later. The boy asked me my name, but I wasn’t able to answer, or even to say hello. I can conjure this experience on demand, along with the dry mouth, the racing heart, and the shock that left me mute and blank.


This first romance contained much more misery than joy. The boy was funny, smart, and incredibly charming, but he also was deceptive. Ten years ago, I went to his funeral, grieving, but also grateful that we’d parted ways. I’ve been deeply committed and happily married to another man for almost three decades, and yet still my ardent first feelings remain. I still harbor a desire for the boy I met that day, which defies logic, time, and reality.


These feelings for a long-ago lover aren't necessarily
a matter of brain chemicals only. We protect the moment when we first felt the magic, because we awakened to the mystery of love, which, for all the pain and confusion it may bring, is also a gateway to life’s true wonders.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

How To Drastically Improve Your Relationship In 30 Days



Good relationships thrive when our ratio of positive to negative interactions is something like 5:1. And it’s not just your relationship that will flourish; you will feel the benefits on a personal level.

klimtkiss2
In the very initial stage of a relationship (aka the "honeymoon phase,” or what I call the “merge” cycle), our hormones are flowing madly, and we see our partner as a source of wonder. We appreciate everything and can’t find enough ways to let them know it. We gaze, gift, surprise, touch and praise lavishly.

But when we cycle out of euphoria into ordinary daily life together that our elation is no longer there to fuel an active practice of mutual appreciation. More often than not, we start to find our partner irritating, annoying, even disappointing.


Is the solution to suck up grievances, shove any frustrations we feel under the rug, and slap on a happy face? Of course not. That kind of self-suppression and phoniness just creates another set of problems in a relationship. The approach to take is twofold:


1. Make sure that the lion’s share of your communication is positive.

If you’re a numbers person, you might think in terms of a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative exchanges. This might include sharing your day-to-day experiences, engaging in conversations about common hobbies or things you both enjoy, and taking an interest in what’s going on in your partner’s life. We can show appreciation not just in words, but also in a show of body language, touch and making love.

2. And when it's not, learn how to deliver a complaint skillfully and sensitively.
Because let me tell you: much of the time, the blame game underlies most common relationship challenges. The key is to communicate your needs in terms of you, not by finger pointing.

When our partner is quick to criticize (and does so frequently), we may experience a sense of destructive fallout. You may find yourself reacting in some of the following ways:

  • You detach and pull away: If you assume you’re going to hear a litany of all the things wrong with you when you spend time with your partner, you’re likely to find ways to withdraw and shut down. This can have detrimental effects on your sex life: if you’re feeling constantly castigated by your partner, the last thing you want is to be more exposed to them, or to give them pleasure.
  • You counterpunch: When you feel like you’re always wrong in your partner’s eyes, you build up a wall of resentment. You’re also likely to feel the need to defend yourself, so you start to take note of all the things they’re doing wrong. You develop your own list, and you have it at the ready to call out your partner’s own flaws and shortcomings.
lcback2
Over the years that I’ve worked with couples, I’d say the most common "problem" I've diagnosed is that one or both members of the couple doesn't feel valued by their partner. And that's why I invite you to take what I'll call the 30-Day Relationship challenge, a simple practice to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for your partner.

The Rules Of The Game:

Given that it takes practice to form a new habit, consider the following "rules" ...
  1. Once a day, ask yourself this: What is it about my partner’s actions, words, or behavior that makes me feel grateful?
  2. Then once a day, ask yourself this second question: What can I do to show my appreciation?
Now do this every day, for 30 days. Try asking these questions as if through your partner's eyes. For example, if my partner were going to please me, he’d take me to dinner. If I wanted to do something for him, I’d cook something wonderful. What you give, in other words, should be something your partner would actually appreciate, because the gift is for them, not you.

The Benefits:

Although we focus on our partner during this practice, we benefit too. In 2009, researchers at the National Institutes of Health looked at blood flow in different regions of the brain while the subjects of their study were expressing gratitude. The researchers noticed higher levels of activity in the hypothalamus, which controls body functions but also has a significant influence on metabolism and stress level. They also found that the neurotransmitter dopamine (the feel-good chemical) increased when the study participants expressed gratitude.

For some of us, criticism seems to come more naturally. We see what doesn’t work more readily than what does. But you can train yourself away from this seemingly automatic way of being. I did it: For years, my husband would spend an afternoon at work in our garden. At the end of the day, I didn’t see the planted veggies, the new flowerbeds, or the pruned trees. I saw the hose he hadn’t put away. Finally, I realized how skewed my vision was and was able to celebrate all the work he’d done, not the one thing he’d overlooked.


The good news is this: we can teach ourselves to notice what’s good and working well in our connection with other people. When we express our appreciation for those good qualities, we can even bring back some of those delicious feelings of amazement and luckiness that
we felt when we first fell in love.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

Is Your Ex REALLY A Narcissist?

“My boyfriend is a narcissist. That’s why we broke up,” says Amy, case closed.

“My ex-wife has a borderline personality. That’s why we aren’t together,” says Jake, and no one asks if he had any part in the demise of the marriage.

“My brother is a sociopath,” says Todd. “That’s why our joint business venture was doomed.” End of discussion.

Linda on Narcissism

More and more, I hear people sum up failed relationships by using clinical terms like the ones above. I’ve noticed, too, a myriad articles in blogs and magazines that advise us to get out of relationships if our partner fits one of these tags.


It’s true that some people are deeply affected by what are called “personality disorders.” That being said, it remains highly unlikely that your ex can legitimately be labeled as a narcissist, a borderline personality, or a sociopath, even at his or her worst.


That’s because the way we act when we’re in the middle of a difficult time in a relationship is never the basis of such a diagnosis. Our emotional and psychological makeup consists of a continuum: at one end lies aspects of our personality which surface under stress. At the other end is our underlying
condition, that is, the organizing principle of our personality both in good times and bad, during periods of calm and under stress, whether we’re in a state of well-being or trauma.

It takes a long time to observe the complex series of symptoms that constitute a psychological condition and arrive at a legitimate diagnosis. So why has it become the vogue for so many unhappy partners to toss around these very serious and complicated labels?


When we’re hurt in a relationship, it’s tempting to make the other person the problem and to select evidence and events that diminish their credibility and value. This tactic may even have the temporary effect of making us feel better.
If we slap a label on our ex, what went wrong is a “slam dunk.” The certainty with which we come to this conclusion short-circuits any pain we might suffer, and shields us from our sense of loss. Most of all, we can duck out on seeing our part in the unraveling.

So let’s examine a few of these labels, and re-consider how we are using them:


1.
Narcissist
"Narcissist" is probably a label we hear most frequently, and is one that is also frequently misused. Let's start with an example ...

Meg, who always thought of herself as somewhat sickly, mildly attractive and “reasonably intelligent” (but not startlingly so), blossomed at 32. Her career as an editor in a yoga magazine suddenly was flourishing, and her fitness achievements and radical health improvements made her a sought-after blogger and speaker. As someone whose self-estimation had always been “just OK,” she was deeply excited by her new achievements.


Her old friends, meanwhile, began to notice how she tended now to focus on her accomplishments and her long list of admirers. They saw her less in person and more on social media, where she constantly posted selfies of herself in amazing yoga posse. Was Meg a narcissist? Or was she just going through a transition period, which caused her to be especially self-centered?


True narcissists are the loneliest people on the planet. Unable to connect with and claim their actual strengths and positive qualities, they rely almost entirely on how others see them or her to achieve a sense of self. Their moods tend to swing between the ecstasy of grandiosity and the agony of deficiency.


Most of us can relate to
some of the characteristics that define a narcissist. We may even exhibit narcissistic traits or qualities for extended periods of time. A true narcissist, however, maintains this defining attitude always, because he or she knows no other way.

2. Sociopath

Here’s another example of how another label can get misused. Christine found out that her partner, Manny, had been dating her best friend for months behind her back. Enraged, she threw his clothes on the lawn, reported his cheating to his sister, and on impulse posted a photo on Facebook of the two traitors kissing on a running trail.

So is Megan a sociopath? Or was she temporarily blinded by anger and pain and did things she would later regret? A true sociopath lacks empathy
all the time, and often is often actively contemptuous of other people’s suffering.

To receive such a diagnosis, a person has to have:

  1. Exhibited a lifelong history of deceitfulness for personal profit and pleasure;
  2. Behaved aggressively toward others without regret; and
  3. Shown a lack of remorse for the harm they have caused.

3. Borderline Personality

Likewise, borderline personality disorder is not simply a synonym for your ex-wife, who you think is punishing you by changing her mind about when you can have the kids, or by sending you mixed messages about her residual feelings for you.

The main feature of BPD is an ongoing pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotions. A person with this disorder is impulsive, often self-injurious, and often has a history of self-cutting and suicide attempts. Such a person lives with a frantic need to avoid real or imagined abandonment and expresses chronic feelings of emptiness and emotional instability, even during periods of calm and well-being.

Recall those times when you’ve been at your angriest while interacting with your partner: would you like to have had a video camera record your responses in that state? Probably not. Would your behavior indicate that you’re a person with BPD? Again, probably not.

Typically, personality disorders are diagnosed by a trained mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Even family doctors are not trained to make a diagnosis, let alone upset friends and family.

So please: let’s stop flinging around labels that most of us are fortunate enough not to fit.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

4 Essential Truths About Keeping Love Alive

linda carroll

When we fall in love, we take a leap into thin air. That’s why it’s called falling. I did it at 12 years old; it didn’t take maturity, consent or intention. It was a feeling, which happened to me. All I had to do was be: I met a boy with grey-green eyes who make jokes and called me by a special name.

Because of the euphoria we feel during the initial stages of a relationship, we make certain assumptions about what love is or means that prove detrimental in the long run. Love is complex, and sometimes difficult. But
through better understanding love, we can learn to love better.

Here are four essential truths about keeping love alive, through thick and thin:

1. Loving is a skill set, and it takes practice.
Falling in love is a passive process: it just happens. The actual day-to-day practice of
loving, however, requires work, time, and effort. Lasting love necessitates a skill set, which anyone can learn. Without the skill set of loving mindfully, we have only our feelings to fall back on.

And let me tell you this about feelings: they can carry us along just fine as long as the sun is shining on our relationship. But when the rain and storms come, and lots of fog, we’re quickly swamped. Afterward, we’re left high and dry, with a hollowed out, empty relationship and no idea how to move it back into the light unless we know the whole road map and how to navigate our way through the harder times.

2. If you don’t fill your own tank, you can’t be there for someone else.
The ultimate nourishment we must provide is to
the garden of our own well-being. To nurture the creativity, friendships, mind, body, and spirit in our own lives is equally important as caring for the relationship.

For years, my husband and I used to finish our long workweek in much the same way. The moment we arrived home, he’d change into his biking clothes to go for a long, hard ride. Meanwhile, I’d head for my favorite couch, to get back to the book I was in the middle of, with a cup of ginger tea and our dog by my side.

“Come for a ride with me,” he’d say.

“No, I’d rather sit here and catch my breath,” I’d say.

For decades, this sort of exchange took place. Then he’d take off in a huff, and I’d sit there feeling low-level guilt. Thankfully, we finally figured out that each of us was doing exactly what we needed to do to rest and recharge. It just so happened that we needed to do different things: I recharged by turning inward and being intellectually stimulated, while he recharged by turning outward and being physically active.

Each of us needs to find our own way to rest, play, and comfort ourselves. The more room I have to care for myself, the more I can bring to you. And when you’re not available and I’m thrown back on my own company, I will have learned
how to be with myself, not simply by myself. That ability is the taproot of any sustainable relationship.

3. The relationship needs to be nourished even when neither person feels like it.
To commit to an exercise program is easy when we’re feeling energetic and inspired. What matters is what we do on those mornings when we don’t want to drag ourselves to the gym. It works the same way in relationships. When all is going well, most of us find it easy to be generous, kind, and affirmative. When we perceive our partner to be the cause of our trouble, however, we must learn to counter our natural urge to punish, withhold, and otherwise flip into self-protective mode.

To make it a practice to be kind and build goodwill doesn’t mean we never say no, accept mistreatment, or disregard our own needs. Instead we realize that feelings aren’t the only measure of love. The positive actions we take to override our reflexive ones matter even more.

If I can bring you a latte in the morning, fill your car with gas, and make your birthday special even when I’m annoyed with you, I’m funding the goodwill account of our relationship bank. If I can care for some of your needs, although they’re different from mine, I can mine some of the gold in the relationship —
the gift of seeing the other.

4. Healthy relationships are a balance between solitude and connection.
In the first cycle of love, you and I merge into a glorious illusion of oneness. In the second cycle, I awaken to your differences just long enough to panic, deny them, and cling to the comfort of “we.” By the third cycle, I find your differences are real, infuriating, and enduring. Profoundly disenchanted, I turn my back on the “we” and run for cover to the perceived safety of “I.”

Yet two individuals must integrate the “me” with the “we,” if they ever want to move through the fifth and final cycle to become truly wholehearted in loving one another.

Love is, in many ways, a balancing act. It is achieved through a combination of time spent alone and time spent together. Fierce independence breeds warmth and connection, and deep connection permits stronger independence.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

15 Universal Truths About Love

love cycles linda carroll
I’ve done numerous interviews and talks about what makes for a successful relationship. I’ve been a marriage counselor for 35 years, and have also written extensively on the subject of love, most recently a book entitled Love Cycles, which looks at how the feeling of love comes in distinct cycles during romantic relationships. In other words, love is more complicated than we often believe.

With that, here are the 15 things I’ve observed over time to be the most essential and universal truths about love.

1. Love is a feeling.
And like any feeling, it can come and go — sometimes unexpectedly. Loving, however, is a skill set, and one you can develop.

2. At its beginning, romantic love is passionate and exciting — so enjoy the ride.

Keep in mind, though, that the depth of your passion early on is no indication that your lover is a good person for you to commit to. We need other (less exciting) information to select a partner wisely.

3. One of the main reasons relationships fail is that we don’t choose someone who is right for us to begin with.
This seems obvious, but accepting this truth will help you be more mindful and self-aware when it comes to determining the difference between love and lust.

4. We tend to commit to those we think are like us.
And we move into a power struggle dynamic soon thereafter because we find out they’re different. Then we try to change our lover into the person we thought they were — or should be. That is the cause of so, so many conflicts I see in relationships.

5. Nobody can change another person.

You may get compliance and agreement, but they won’t last. Learning to practice the art of acceptance is an effort far more worth your while.

6. We often look out and see what our partner is doing “wrong.”
But any change we seek has to come from within us. Relationships are an inside job.

7. Waiting for your partner to change isn't the same thing as patience.
To be actually patient (with yourself), learn to accept your partner. Rather than wait for him/her to decide to change, sometimes all it takes is to make a new move yourself.

8. To find the right person is to be the right person.

Feeling good in your own skin is the foundation of a healthy relationship, period.

9. All couples have some irresolvable issues.
The difference between couples that thrive and couples that dive is how successfully they manage their issues, because every couple has some.

10. Nourishing the relationship doesn't happen on its own.

In addition to developing the skills to manage conflict, you also need to commit to nourishing the relationship (even when you don't want to). As I said, loving is a skill set — so make sure to put in the work to have fun together, to try new activities and to allow miracles to happen!

11. To be able to nurture the other person and the relationship, we have to keep our own tank full.

Giving and giving without receiving is a recipe for burnout. Not only should there be mutual giving in the relationship, but make sure to give yourself love, too.

12. You can live a full life even if you don't commit to one person.
People used to need relationships to survive and to keep the species alive. Now, by contrast, we are with particular partners by choice. So honor the power of your choice.

13. The #1 complaint in couple’s therapy is “I’m not in love with my partner anymore.”

But once again: love is a feeling. It comes and it goes, and is never constant. Good relationships have bad seasons and also dull ones. Most often, the feeling returns — so don't be in despair if you feel the ebb and flow.

14. It’s normal for sex to slow down and sometimes seem to disappear in long-term relationships.

No matter how dull or dead our sex life feels, we can jump-start it into something passionate and hot all over again, if we’re willing.

15. To
fall in love takes a moment.
To learn to love takes a long time and is the most valuable thing we can learn in our lifetime.

I’ve been with my husband for thirty years of a (mostly) terrific marriage. I attribute this to the commitment we each made to learn the skills (and practice them) which make love thrive and to almost create a series of mantras for ourselves out of these points. In some ways I feel my own life experience are my most important credentials.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

12 Truths About Defensive Behavior

“My partner is too defensive” is a common complaint I hear as a couples therapist.

Of course, we are all wired to protect ourselves — so most of us get defensive at least sometimes. But if you find that either you or your partner is always on guard, waiting on the front-lines to pounce into a defensive mode of communicating, it can be deeply harmful to the relationship.

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Here are 12 truths about defensiveness — what it is and why it happens — that can help us better understand this self-protecting impulse (and especially when it gets precarious). In understanding defensiveness better, we can learn to dismantle it as a habit, and begin engaging more compassionately and openly in our relationships.

1. There are several ways to define the term defensive.
My favorite is by author Sharon Ellison: to be defensive is to react with “a war mentality to a non-war issue.” In other words, defensiveness is an impulsive and reactive mode of responding to a situation or conversation. Rather than listening with an open heart, we respond with our metaphorical shields up and weapons drawn.

2. All relationships experience hiccups now and again.
Be they with a lover, a child, your mother or a co-worker, all relationships will inevitably suffer at some points from a breakdown in communication. Your husband forgets to pass along a message, your wife forgets to pick up milk at the store, or your partner says something that inadvertently hurts your feelings.

Getting defensive in response to disruptions like these in your relationship is natural. But it's all about your recovery time: holding onto a defensive attitude is a decidedly different way of approaching your relationship than recognizing that you're being defensive and letting it go.

3. When issues come up, someone needs to protest.
If your partner forgets to call, you need to express how you feel. Saying, “I’m upset you didn't call when you said you would” is
not defensive, but open and honest. It gives your partner the benefit of the doubt, allowing, in the best of circumstances, for he/she to repair the situation with a simple, “I’m sorry. How can I make this situation better?” or “What would you prefer I do next time?”

4. Conflict allows for reconnection (and more).
The two steps of an “ideal conflict” that I explain about — protest and repair — also build faith in the resiliency of the relationship.
Working through conflicts explicitly and openly assure both partners that they can trust each other; they can be honest and acknowledge that any relationship is a work in progress, not fixed or defined on just one person's terms.

The “conflict cycle” goes like this: connect, rupture, protest, repair and reconnect. Remember, when it comes time to protest, be sure your complaint is stated considerately enough not to punish or shame your loved one.

5. Not speaking up is dangerous.
Bottom line: if we don't learn how to deal with our grievances head on, inevitably we deal with them indirectly, most often in more toxic forms: by teasing or making snide comments, holding grudges, or by growing more indifferent to our partner over time.

Of course, it's difficult to give and receive healthy criticism if we're clinging to a defensive attitude. If you feel yourself become defensive, try to see if you can simply acknowledge it, and work through the conflict as honestly and generously as possible. If your partner is giving you criticism that is making you feel defensive, can you express why?

6. Our brains are wired for connection.
In the first stage of love, when we're infatuated by the freshness and excitement of new romance, we anticipate the best in our new partner. And we're rewarded, because each thing they say and do
activates the connection center of our brain. We view their actions, intentions and language through the lens of our positive vision. As the chemistry of the “honeymoon phase” shifts, a second kind of circuitry emerges, one that is about sustainable connection.

That said, it turns out that we're wired for self-protection as well. So in times of defensiveness, see if you can tap into our naturally coexistent desire to connect. Remember the enduring connection from that first stage of love, and try to access the feelings that first made you predisposed toward generosity and understanding at the outset of your relationship.

7. Withdrawal is not actually a great way to protect ourselves.
When we experience our partner as a threat, we withdraw to protect ourselves from further injury. Yet withdrawal and disconnection are what continue to create trouble. At the heart of our vulnerability lies the feeling that we've lost our best friend. Our heart and body ache for their return. Yet our behavior often is the last thing that would invite them back. So when you least feel like reaching out to connect, take a risk and try it; the results will pay off (much more than isolating yourself).

8. Books about communication don't do a great job at teaching us to receive criticism.
Sure, books on healthy relationships often emphasize the importance of expressing anger and complaints, but seldom do they tell us how to cope with being on the receiving end.
How do you sit calmly and quietly while your partner laments that you're neither emotionally available nor trustworthy? How do you silence your inner-lawyer's constant stream of counterarguments? Ask yourself these questions, even if your self-help books aren't.

9, Your response to criticism depends on several factors.
Namely: temperament, history, and self-esteem. Keep this in mind. Some people have nervous systems that respond more frequently and intensely to sensory stimulation. They may have a more exaggerated startle response than other people do, even in the same family. Often their bodies remain on high alert, and they perpetually scan the environment for danger. They may often hear themselves described as “too sensitive” or “thin-skinned.”

People who are more prone to defensiveness may perceive an attack in certain situations in which people with resilient and calm temperaments would perceive none. Experiment with viewing the situation from different vantage points.

10. Your childhood history has a lot to do with how you respond to criticism.
If your parents shamed you often and punished you harshly, it's likely that, as an adult, you quickly feel self-protective whenever you see someone upset and angry about something. The reasons for defensiveness are myriad and important to understand, but they don't take away the need to learn how to rewire ourselves away from the impulse to immediately self-protect.

11. Resentment doesn't do us any good.
The cost to our intimate relationships when we aren't willing to protest (whether out of fear, self-doubt, an impulse to people-please and so on) is that we literally make it impossible for the issues in the relationship to heal.
The relationship begins to smolder with resentments that undermine us in ways they wouldn't if expressed freely in the first place. Remember this when you're thinking of burying issues under the rug instead of dealing with them.

12. Our love connections are all spiritual practices.
Relationships give us opportunities to grow in ways that make us more loving, accepting, and whole. Learning to hear our partners complaints with curiosity and openness not only deepens the connection between us but helps us be more open in all of our relationships.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.

What Most People Get Wrong About Happiness

We all want to be happy, right? But most of us probably don't even have a concrete idea in mind about what we really mean when we think about “happiness.”

Linda on Happiness
That's because happiness is largely a concept, and a complicated one at that. It can be especially difficult for most of us to think about happiness in today's age, as we're constantly checking our social media accounts only to find more and more updates about how we're living on a planet full of pain. These instant reality checks have caused me to redefine the term “happiness” itself. I no longer think of happiness as fuzzy-wuzzy. I can no longer associate it with a smiley face and the everyday greeting, “Have a nice day.”

We need to redefine happiness. We need to conceive of happiness more like well-being, a sense of stability that is not contingent on the external, and can exist regardless of whatever turbulent events happen in the world.

Happiness, like all emotions, comes and goes. Still, there are behaviors and attitudes we can adopt to help us remain calm and content, even in difficult times. Our success may even allow us to radiate enough well-being to spread the joy, so we all receive fewer updates on how much reality bites.

Here are five reminders that I like to think of as five facets of happiness. These reminders show us sensibilities we can foster to enhance our quality of life in a sustainable way.

1. Connection is a prerequisite to happiness.
The values of connection are exalted in health articles everywhere: they are emotional, physical, sexual, mental, social and spiritual. Connection strengthens our immune system, lowers our blood pressure and enables us to live longer. The introduction of pets as companions into nursing homes enriches the lives of residents and reduces their calls on doctors and their visits to the emergency room. Couples that make love boost their self-esteem and sleep better, while our friendships expand our sense of pleasure in ways too numerous to capture.

One of these benefits is chemical: our bodies produce more oxytocin, the happy little hormone produced in the brain, which is often called the “love drug.”
Oxytocin reduces stress and improves circulation. In one recent study, people with heart disease or cancer reportedly had a higher survival rate if they were social than if they were isolated. The social people recognized their connection to everything on the planet, whereas isolation was identified as a symptom of distress.

Many things connect people to life besides other humans: animals, dance, nature, music, art and literature. Our senses connect us: the smell of jasmine, the sound of waves, the touch of warm sand. People with well-being feel that connection on a regular basis. They know they are a part of a world that is much greater than they are.

2. Solitude actually feeds our connections.
Paradoxically, solitude enhances connection. We must be happy in our own company to bring our best to others. Being with ourselves (and not just “by ourselves”) restores energy, enhances creativity and reminds us who we are from the inside out. If we take the time and space to silence our inner noise, we can listen to our truest perceptions, deepest dreams and wisdom.

Meditation, contemplation and walks in natural settings are just three ways to hear the sound of our deepest voices.
When we remember we're already complete, we're not as vulnerable to the desire to look to other people to make us whole.

3. Appreciation of the here-and-now is what we are all looking for.
When I hear the expression “It's all good,” something in me rebels and wants to say it's NOT all good. And it's precisely this realization that helps me develop an “attitude of gratitude.” The benefits from an acknowledgment of what's right in our lives (without denying what's difficult), of noticing the simple pleasures, and experiencing consequent joy have been studied for decades, and the results are astonishing.
Happiness and Communication

Research by Robert Emmons, Lisa Aspinwall and others shows that people that practice an attitude of gratitude reap benefits that include better immune systems, healthier diets, and mental alertness, to name a few. The more we appreciate what we have, the more we can actually retrain our brain and thinking process to notice what's right in our world. This appreciation makes us more hopeful, positive and caring to the world around us. Our performance at work increases, our sense of self-worth expands and so do our relationships with others.

4. Generosity is a power.
I was a newly divorced woman who was going to be without her kids at Thanksgiving. I couldn't imagine how to get through the holiday alone. A friend suggested I volunteer at a soup kitchen, which seemed like a perfect solution. I contacted one nearby in Portland, OR and anticipated that I'd be greeted with great appreciation for my service. Instead, I was stunned to find a two-year waiting list to be allowed the privilege of helping to serve the meal: there were
that many other people that wanted to do it.

Generosity includes the first four qualities discussed here: it connects us to others, it stems from some deep recognition of what life means, and it's a thank you to the universe for the richness in our lives. A generous spirit can be used in many ways: to help someone combat depression, to show kindness to a stranger, to clean up the environment, to teach a child to read. By demonstrating generosity, we put ourselves in touch with a world bigger than we are and continue to open our eyes to life's deeper meanings.

The journal BMC Public Health reviewed 40 studies on the effect of volunteering and found that volunteers experienced a decrease in depression, a lower risk of dying early and an increase in their satisfaction with life. Generosity has been found to be the most important factor in a thriving marriage. Yet to be generous is not just a matter of giving time or giving things. To be generous is also a matter of giving of yourself: to give yourself a break when you make mistakes, or to listen to others with an open-heart and mind.

5. Acceptance is the only way to respond to uncertainty.
Each time a journey has ended, another one begins. Life surprises us with a delight and then a challenge. Something we expected doesn't happen. Something unexpected does. The path to well-being, so essential for real, sustainable happiness, is a trek that takes dedication, patience and resilience.

Like a caterpillar's metamorphosis into butterfly, cultivating our personal growth takes time — and lots of work. In our culture of instant gratification, marketing experts sprinkle their advertising campaigns with words like “quick,” “instant,” and “easy.” There is no instant
shortcut to learning the art of acceptance. We're forever standing on new ground. Change is, ironically, the only certain thing there is.

We receive messages from our culture, which point to wealth, material possessions, and eternal youth as the keys to sustain happiness. Yet the research clearly points in a different direction. We have a better chance of sustaining real pleasure by engaging fully in all aspects of our lives, finding our purpose and staying connected to those experiences that feed our deepest needs.

This post originally appeared in MindBodyGreen.