Couplespeak™ Blog

The Challenge of Staying Present

 

This guy, Tucker, is one of the 4-legged loves of my life. In previous posts I’ve written about how through our daily romps in the woods around my land and walks around the neighborhood he reminds me about what’s most important in life, especially as I veer off into thoughts about my unanswered emails, calls, bills needing attention, etc. (Refer to “Its’ All About the Ball!”)

I share him with our next door neighbors Peggy and Dave who inherited him, not having had an agenda or a wish for such a demanding, messy creature. They love Tucker but Dave isn’t a dog guy. So our arrangement works. I don’t have a dog of my own, so Tucker is it. He lives at Peggy and Dave’s, but his heart lives with me.

 

Here’s the thing: Tucker at 7 years old has terminal cancer. Six months after surgery to remove a huge malignant mass on his thyroid the cancer is back. After a subsequent evaluation, the vet gave him about 7 months to live. My challenge is how to manage the pain of witnessing his imminent suffering and probably losing him not long from now, without wasting precious time we have together today – time for joy and much fun. It’s a mind screw and a heartbreak – right now he has minor symptoms – some weakness in his legs and some coughing, but other than that he still acts like an exuberant toddler, full of sweetness, innocence and life. 

“Staying present” means being in the moment without preoccupation about the past or the future. Some Eastern spiritual practices say that when you’re anxious you’re not here now, but in some possible or anticipated future, and when you’re sad you’re living in the past, grieving some loss or disappointment. So, the challenge is to be here for the present moment, savoring and amplifying it. The present moment is usually just fine if we don’t mess it up with our thoughts. For me with Tucker the present moment is about enjoying his current vitality and playfulness, savoring the shared sights and smells of Autumn without obsessing about it probably being his last one. (And by the way, research has indicated that people who practice savoring and amplifying positive experiences have more happy neural pathways which show up on brain scans)!

 

If you are in a situation like this with a similar challenge, make room for your sadness and honor it when it visits you. But, so your sadness doesn’t drown out all else, when you’ve given your sadness its’ due, change the channel in your brain through the practice of noticing the specialness of this present moment, take a mental snapshot, then save it as a treasure to place in your treasure box of memories for the future. Pay attention to what is right in front of you and appreciate its meaning to you. You will be present for your life which will feel much fuller, and in the future you’ll be thankful for that!

 

 

“Being a Grownup When You Must: 6 Practical Tools” BTR Podcast Wed. 4/3 8:30 PM EST

Who wants to get up at the crack of dawn, leave a cozy, warm bed, get into a workout outfit and head to the gym for an hour of exertion and sweating?
Who wants to spend a Saturday doing the books and paperwork for their self-owned business, instead of listening to music, romping in the woods, or hanging out, eating and drinking with the people you enjoy?
Who wants to come home after eight grueling hours at the office to walk the lonely dog, answer twenty overdue emails, and cook dinner on demand?
Who wants to spend a whole beautiful Sunday afternoon in July visiting a sick friend who’s in the hospital an hour away?
Unless you’re an obsessed athlete, a compulsive accountant, a precise rule follower, or an unconscious co-dependent, you’ll probably be thinking “NOT ME!”

So, the big question becomes: how do you get yourself to honor your “Shoulds”? How do you motivate yourself to do the right thing, taking care of the not-so-fun parts of your life which require attention? How do you attend to your connections and responsibilities to your friends and family when doing so may be tiring, and not very glamorous or convenient?

Here are two of the six useful tips I’ve learned and shared with clients which I’ll be discussing in the 20 minute podcast on Wednesday 4/3/19 at 8:30 PM EST:
1. Connect with your deeper, less momentary motivation. Think about the big picture and why doing this thing is nagging at you? Will you be creating a big mess by avoiding it? Will someone else get hurt or offended if you blow this thing off? Is there a health issue which needs to be addressed in some regular way? Or, is this “Should” an unnecessary, illogical, guilt-driven piece of head noise?
2. Try to automate this activity if you can, as with exercising daily.Build it in and make it part of your schedule. By doing this you reduce conflict by pre-empting some bargaining on your part. When you automate things you spend less time thinking about how boring or annoying they may seem, (like brushing your teeth). The Nike company made multiple millions with their “Just Do It” slogan for good reason!

So, if you relate to this issue and want the other four tips about pushing yourself when it’s the grown up thing to do, tune into this brief podcast at BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager

*If you’d like to join me live on the air with questions or comments call into the studio at 877-497-9046.
 

How Do You Manage Conflict?

The most prevalent problem I deal with in my work as a psychotherapist with individuals and couples is the issue of how people talk to each other when they’re trying to manage conflict. And “conflict” isn’t always about big ticket items, like how to handle a kid’s bad behavior, or who is spending how much money. Conflict can be about who forgot to feed the dog or who did a lousy job declining an invitation to a party. It can be about anything where there’s an experience of difference or disappointment or hurt or aggravation or frustration. (The list goes on and on). So, if you notice a fair amount of escalation or reactivity or avoidance or defensiveness or criticism in your marriage you may need some help. You’ll want to first understand how the tactics you and your spouse use may be destructive and why. You’ll also want to know how these behaviors can become part of a toxic pattern which may put you at a higher risk for divorce. Most importantly, you’ll want some tools for how to deal with conflict in more mature, constructive and respectful ways so the two of you don’t become a nasty statistic.

For a quick primer on all of this I’d recommend that you listen to my latest podcast on BlogTalk Radio about this subject. In just 30 minutes I condense the subject sufficiently so you’ll be better equipped in this department. After that, it just takes practice, practice, practice, like anything else that matters in life.

Here’s the link to the podcast:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/susanlager/2019/03/07/4-communication-styles-that-can-ruin-marriage-and-what-you-can-do-to-fix-them

*If you need some help with this issue because you either get too distracted or overwhelmed or discouraged on your own, then contact me for an appointment at my Portsmouth office at 603-431-7131

Next 30 minute BlogTalk Radio podcast Wed., 1/30/19 at 8:30 PM: “How to Interrupt Frustrating Impasses and Standoffs with Your Spouse”

In this 30 minute episode I explore the frequently experienced issue of standoffs or impasses in marriage – those times when couples get “locked in” to a negative sequence when nobody feels heard or acknowledged, and nothing gets resolved. These “lock-in’s” can be about critical issues of importance or minor things, but the feelings of frustration, anger, and helplessness generally feel quite awful for each spouse.

Tune in to get some handy tools this couples therapist can teach you to interrupt the impasses, manage yourself more calmly, and move forward with your spouse in a more conciliatory manner.

Join me and have to option to be live on the air with questions or comments by calling toll-free 877-497-9046.

If you can’t make the live podcast you can stream it anytime at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager.

A Second Important Question for Spouses with Kids

(Here’s the second very good question Parenting NH magazine asked me recently):

What are some practical tips and ways for parents to prioritize their relationship as spouses/partners?

Most people know about the importance of setting aside quality time together through things like “date night.” Having a planned, ritualized time alone with your partner amplifies your “couple-ness” through shared experiences, reminding you about your reasons for choosing and staying with each other. I encourage couples to ramp it up a notch by taking turns with the planning, each putting energy into the “work” of connection.

Sometimes surprise experiences can expand a sense of fun, and even ramp up friendly competition. Anticipating and later reminiscing about these events can actually build happy neural pathways in your brains!

Novelty and a shared sense of discovery by doing new things together also generates excitement and joy, which are important antidotes to the doldrums which often plague long term relationships.

Equally as important, build mini “pockets of connection” into your everyday life as a couple. Don’t overload date nights with too much expectation, especially if you can’t manage to have them regularly and frequently. Instead, look for small, subtle moments of sharing by being intentional about them:

– If you’re getting dinner ready, create a shared experience with some conversation and a glass of wine while you prepare the meal.

– If the kids are in bed sit on the deck or the porch and watch the stars come out together. Talk about your dreams and passions, not just who aced it at your kid’s soccer game.

– If you’re watching a TV program sit next to each other and use the commercial breaks to have a snack and share your thoughts about the program.

– “Kill two birds with one stone” and have some lively conversation while you walk your dog.

However brief your time together may be, protect it from outside intrusion. Get more comfortable saying “No, thank you” to invitations that might cut in on the two of you too often. Set boundaries and prioritize your time together, even if it’s not a Hallmark moment.

Whatever you do together, be intentional about it, be present, and put down your cellphones! Texts, Facebook, and Instagram can wait, unless they’re shared activities you both enjoy. Here again, remember that one way or the other, your kids are watching, and you’re giving them a template for either a loving, respectful partnership, or an empty one.

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Susan Lager

I am a licensed, board certified pyschotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Through my psychotherapy or coaching services, I can provide you with skills and tools to transform your life.

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