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Work On Myself? Are You Kidding Me! Urrggh

Updated: Apr 5, 2023

I see it all the time. A couple is constantly at each other’s throats, bickering over the smallest things. Finally, one partner suggests couple’s therapy. At this, the other scoffs, saying, ‘I’m not going! You’re the one with the problem. You need to go and ‘work on yourself’.

It’s probably true that your partner has their own issues, and it would be most helpful for them to be the one meeting with a relationship coach. It may also be true that they are 90% to blame for most things going sideways in your relationship. So, you ask again, “Why am I the one talking to you, and not them?” Perhaps it’s because at this moment in time, your emotional intelligence is a bit higher than your partner, or you’re more motivated to find some resolution and solve the problems you are living through instead of settling. You can’t make your partner do anything they don’t choose to do, but you can make them ‘want’ to change.

Step 1: Ending The Negative Vortex

We’ve all heard catchy phrases like, “You catch more bees with honey than vinegar”. On the surface, this sounds trite, but there’s depth to this little quip. Working on yourself isn’t about ‘fixing’ yourself or your partner, it’s about changing the world as we see it. This starts with how we respond to people and events in our life. Early in childhood, when things seemed bad, we created ways to cope with life’s struggles. Maybe it was when you were bullied, didn’t make the team, failed math, or your parents divorced. Every time you believed that bad things happened, you created a blueprint or rule book on how to cope and survive. As a child, we created rules and triggers and locked in those neural networks to protect us from bad things that might happen in the future.

As the years pass, we reinforce these old, coping strategies that helped us survive when we were young but now we’re married, and without realizing it, we’re still using that old, outdated blueprint from decades ago. So today, when our partner comes at us with negative energy or says something that goes against our blueprint, we flip into an automated limbic response. Their actions or inaction can trigger a part of our brain designed to keep us safe. What once served us well as a kid, is no longer serving us.

The good news is that we can choose to create a new blueprint or rule book on how we cope and react. This is the type of work that can be most beneficial to reduce stress in your life, diffuse negative conversations with your partner, and bring more joy and friendship back into your relationship. We can create a new rule book or blueprint, and let go of things that served us well as a child and create new strategies that foster the love and support you desire today. We can create new neural networks to weaken our old, automated response. It's likely our old blueprint was motivated out of fear. I’m suggesting that your new blueprint is based on unconditional love for yourself and for your partner. Is this easy? NOPE! Is this possible? YUP!

Although you may have issues that you want to resolve today, research shows that lasting change happens slowly. That limbic part of your brain hates change of any kind. Trying too much, too fast might give you short term progress, but research shows that after a few weeks of growth, self-sabotaging behavior, prompted by your limbic system will snap you right back to square one. You need to start somewhere, and in my opinion, the best place to start is to slow down the bickering or negative self-talk that leads to the negative, downward spiral. At this, you might think, “But how? This has been our pattern for years.”

There are several parts to this equation. First and foremost, get back to the basics and lock in your why beneath the why? On the surface, it’s easy to answer that question. You don’t like to fight and right now, you want to reduce the stress in your life. But go deeper, what do you want, next week, next month and years into the future. What’s your why beneath the why? When you have someone qualified to walk you through a sequence of questions in a coaching session, your brain starts to create new neural pathways and starts to generate a new blueprint of what you want today and moving forward. As this new blueprint is imagined, life coaches help you anchor your vision into your environment. As you work on this each day, you'll continue to build those new neural networks. Week by week, your old blueprint is becoming less and less important, because you have found a new and better way to live your life.

The next part of the equation is building empathy. Empathy for yourself, empathy for your partner and empathy for the circumstances you find yourself stuck in. You can have empathy for your partner, and still not agree with them.

If you have a pattern of fighting and arguing with each other, step back and relive the last argument. Do an autopsy of sorts on the exchange. What preceded the argument, what did you feel when you started the conversation? What unfolded next? And what did you do after the argument? Break it down step by step. Then think through this scenario again and imagine what you might do differently next time this happens. This is called a mental rehearsal and preempting the self-sabotaging behavior. If you know this is your pattern, begin to identify it before you get sucked into your partners negative energy. Expect it to happen. When you feel it coming on, do something different. The easiest thing to do is take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. This is called diaphragmatic breathing. It slows deep breathing in which the diaphragm contracts on the inhale and relaxes on the exhale. Try taking 6 breaths per minute. This kind of breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and activates the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system. This allows you to think more clearly and circumvents your limbic, automated response. Another way to activate this response is by humming or singing.

If you are a self-starter, and a ‘do it yourself’ kind of person, it’s possible to do this deep inner work on your own. Unfortunately, research shows that knowledge is only 20% of getting the outcomes you desire. The other 80% is doing the work. The good news is you don't have to do it alone.

This is where hiring a life coach becomes essential. A life coach can help you approach your situation with a customized, systematic approach. They offer you support and guidance, but most importantly, they will help hold you accountable to keep reminding you of your motivation. A life coach can hold your vision, when you begin to lose sight of your desired outcomes.

Ask yourself, what is it that you want most? What desired outcomes would you like to strive for in your life? Once you have your vision of what your future could look like, you are more likely to continue to do the small things each day, to keep moving you towards your desired goals.

If you found this information useful and would like to break the negative, downward vortex in your relationship, please consider reaching out to a life coach that understands your situation. Look for a life coach that can help you see and feel different perspectives, give you the tools you need to move forward, and help you unlock what’s holding you back. I offer a complimentary, two hour, 1:1 session with people that are highly motivated to live a better life and want to create lasting change. A life with less stress and more joy. I offer this discovery session for free, because I feel it’s necessary for you to experience the power and see the value of what one coaching session can bring to your life, and have you imagine- how much more joy than can be discovered in future sessions. When you are ready, pick a date and time to meet from the link below. Johnny is a certified life coach, health coach, holds a certificate to facilitate John Gottman’s Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and is a Mental Fitness Coach with Positive Intelligence.

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