After the Fight – How to Get Back to a Place of Understanding and Connection

heart that is broken drawing

You had a fight with your loved one. You are disconnected and hurt. How do you get back to a place of connection?

It does not feel good, one bit, to have a fight with your sweetheart. This is a process that is intended to help talk about the incident without getting back into the fight itself. It is more about understanding what took place and how to make it better. And how to get that feeling of connection back.

Some of the foundation pieces to have in place before you start this process would be the following:

  • You and your loved one are no longer in place of feeling escalated or highly upset.
  • You both are feeling calm and can look at the incident with a bit of distance.
  • You can put the incident outside of yourself and really look at it as if it is on a stage before you.
  • You both acknowledge the GOAL is to understand HOW things took place.
  • You start with both knowing you each have your own separate “reality” of what happened. It is about perception, not facts.
  • You stay away from CRITICISM, DEFENSIVENESS, CONTEMPT, and STONEWALLING as you talk about what happened.
  • You choose to speak from the position of “I feel . . ” opposed to “You never …” language.

Your Way Back to Feeling Connected.

  1. Talk about how you felt. This is not about why or about what you think your partner felt.Take turns with how you each felt.
  2. Share what was going on for you – YOUR Reality. You each have a turn to do this. As one of you finishes sharing his or her reality, the other’s job is to reflect back what the general summation is of what they hear the other is trying to get across. This is not a time to attack or blame. Just tell what you needed in a positive way, beginning with “I needed . . . “
  3. Tell about anything that this discussion triggered for you. Help your loved understand what this conversation set off as far as memories for you. Each of you take time to think and share anything that your fight brought up for you. Let each other know if you understand.
  4. Be responsible by acknowledging any thing that you did that fueled the fight. This may not feel easy to do, but it sets a tone of accountability on both sides. Let each other know how you were set up for things to go the way they did. Example: “I have been sensitive lately.” or “I am over whelmed with all of our financial problems right now.” Tell your loved one what you regret and feel you need to apologize for. Let each other know if there is anything you still need to be able to let the incident go.
  5. Create a pro-active plan for what to do next time. Each share one thing they will do. Writing your plan down can be helpful and give a concrete feel that you have accomplished something toward making things better

couple hugging black and white

It may not always look as step by step as mentioned above, but if you can better understand how the other is feeling and be willing to take responsibility for your part (and there are always two parts) and end with a plan of something you each can do, this will take you a long way to understanding one another and re-connecting. And isn’t that what a good relationship is about – understanding one another and feeling a wonderful sense of connection. I think so. Best wishes for your “after a fight” conversation.

 

Source: Bridging the Couple Chasm. Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research – Based Approach. By John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D

 

A Blueprint for Managing Conflict

couple communicating with quote box filled with images

Having a healthy blueprint for handling your conflict with your partner or spouse can be ever so nice. It takes the guess-work out of what to do with the upset between you. I have been sharing from Dr. John Gottman’s research the last couple of posts. He just has so much that I feel is valuable as to creating a healthy couple relationship. This blueprint is actually a combination of Dr. Gottman’s work and Rapoport’s work that was used to help with international conflict during the Cold War. Pretty interesting how Gottman incorporated some of Rapoport’s work. Some of the core principles that he incorporated from Rapoport’s work are:

  1. We must agree that there are “two valid realities”. The focus is on perception and not facts.
  2. Each partner must feel that they have been “heard and understood”. The person’s emotions must be understood. To keep from being in an adversary position, the partners need to be able to fully express to each other their positions they are coming from and each feel they are understood. Only after this is in place can partners try to use persuasion.

Steps for Managing Conflict – The Gottman – Rapoport Conflict Blueprint

Step 1:  Listen and Validate.

The speaker and listener each have a role for this process. You and your partner will take turns being the speaker and listener. Understanding your partners point of view is crucial. 

 

As the speaker you do the following:

  • Avoid “you” statements that are blaming in nature and uses “I” statements.
  • Express your feelings.
  • You share your “positive need” opposed to a complaint.

As the listener you do the following:

  • You listen carefully to your partner and reflect back what you understood are their needs and perception. Your own “agenda” is put on hold. (Not easy, but so important.)
  • Really feel what your partner is feeling and let them know what you think they are feeling.
  • Gottman asks you to say the following to your partner, “It makes sense to me that you would feel that way and have these needs, because . . . ” This is “validating” your partner.
  • Ask your partner questions if you so desire.

Note: If you are feeling overwhelmed or “flooded”, you should take a break and “self-soothe” before you return. I feel it is important to let your partner know what you are doing so they don’t feel you have just “left”.

Step 2:  Understand Each Other’s Dreams Within Perpetual Conflict.

It is important to know the history and meaning as to each other’s perception of the issue at hand. Dialogue is the goal with acceptance of each other’s differences. You will delay trying to persuade during this step.

Step 3: Compromise with Your Partner Keeping True to Your Core Needs and Using Areas of Flexibility

Each of you will need to help your partner understand what your core needs are and why they are so important to you. Each of you will need to feel emotionally safe. Compromising takes place within areas that you each feel you have some flexibility.

Step 4:  Repair Emotional Wounds From the Past.

Process the emotional wound by understanding your two different realities. Validate and understand each other’s reality. Each of you take responsibility for your part in this emotional wound. In addition, develop a plan that can help make things better.

 

Ending Note: The key for this process appears to be about understanding and accepting each other’s realities. And then coming to a place where you can respectfully comprise on the parts that are not core needs.

I wish you the best in trying out this research-based conflict management blueprint. Check out The Gottman Institute’s website: www.gottman.com .

Source: Bridging the Couple Chasm: Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research-Based Approach by Drs. John Gottman, PhD and Julie Schwartz Gottman, PhD.

 

 

What Makes for Healthy Conflict Management?

couple ants with antennas connecting (not used as of april 10 2015)

Would you guess that positive interaction during conflict is the key to healthy conflict management?  Twenty years of research by Gottman and Levenson back this up. In a healthy relationship there will be differences of opinion and disagreement in which there will be an overriding positive to negative ratio.  At least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions will be happening for a happy, stable couple.   Basically we are talking about a whole lot of positive happening in the way you handle conflict.

I wanted to share a bit of Dr. John Gottman and Dr. R.W. Levenson research on what is seen in a relationship that is going well in the area of conflict management. After 20 years of research they concluded the following:

  • In relationships that are going well, the conflict management style is matched or congruent. Gottman uses Avoiders, Validators and Volatiles to describe preferred conflict styles. His research did find that these styles could co-exist and be happy IF there was at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interaction during conflict situations. Differing styles will create perpetual issues for a couple.  These need to be addressed through “dialogue opposed to gridlock”.
  • In relationships that are going well, couples will dialogue with one another rather than becoming gridlocked. Some of the ways that couples can promote dialogue opposed to gridlock are as follows:
  1. Use “Soft Start Up” opposed to “Harsh Start Up” in introducing an issue or problem.  As women bring up “issues” 80% of the time in a heterosexual relationship, this soft start-up approach is extremely important for women to understand. Of course soft start-up is crucial for men as well.
  2.  Remember men, you have influence on whether your wife or partner uses a soft or harsh start-up.  This happens by how  positively responsive or rejecting you are in your interactions with your wife or partner, especially directly preceding the conversation before the issue is brought up. As you can see it is all a bit of a relationship interaction loop. We all have are parts.
  3. Accept influence from your partner in a conflict situation opposed to choosing to escalate it by batting back.  This is particularly important for men as research shows that women rates of accepting influence are higher than men.
  4. Make sure your repair attempts are successful.  A lower level of negativity will prevail.
  5. De-escalate negativity early on.  Not many can de-escalate with high level, intense negativity. It was also found that when a conflict discussion started negatively, 96% of couples were not able to turn it around.  Also, men are mainly in the role of de-escalating negative interaction, but they can only do so when it is low-level negativity.
  6. It is ok to express anger IF it is without the escalation of negativity. But  what Gottman calls the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are not ok: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling.  Plus, belligerence is the not ok list. So expressing anger would be without any of the above involved.
  7. Infuse lots of positive interaction to create a more stable, happy relationship.  Early in the relationship,  escalation of negativity predicts early break up or divorce. Later in the relationship,  emotional dis-engagement is a predictor of breakup or divorce. Emotional disengagement, in this case, is about when there is conflict with an absence of positive interaction and a lack of negative escalation as well.
  8. Keep positive interactions in place to help with conflict de-escalation.  This is needed for soothing the male and predicting outcomes that are positive for the relationship. Of course females need this as well.
  9. Remember 69% of perpetual problems are not completely resolvable for couples. What matters is the positive interactions you build around these issues. These perpetual problems need continuing dialogue that center around acceptance of each other, affection and humor at times. In addition, you will need active coping strategies to  work with these issues. This is versus “gridlock” with criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Plus icy withdrawal and painful exchanges. We might ask ourselves which will bring us the most happy, stable relationship.
  • In relationships that are going well, on purpose avoiding becoming negative is a preemptive strategy that is employed by successful couples. This is called “preemptive repair” by researchers, Janice Driver and Amber Tabares.

As you can see, there is a lot of research that focuses on how positive interaction within conflict makes for happy, healthy couples. I hope you find this helpful.

Source:  Bridging the Couple Chasm,: Gottman Couples Therapy: A Research-Based Approach by John Gottman, Ph.D and Julie Schwartz Gottman, Ph.D

The Oklahoma Renaissance Festival – Last Two Weekends for This Family Friendly Activity

IMG_6923

This last weekend we went to the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival in Muskogee, OK. It is held at the Castle of Muskogee. This was our first time to attend this festival that recreates a 16th Century Renaissance English Village. The festival has a nice mix of performers and artisans and hands on activities and unique merchants and lots of food of course. This is a family friendly event. But it does appear that  for toddlers and pre-schoolers it may not be an ideal activity. If you decide to give it a try with very young children, you will find there are some activities that will be workable.  This would be the case for pre-schoolers opposed to toddlers. There appears to be something for almost all ages. It is a unique festival with lots of educational information about this Renaissance time period.

 

IMG_6905

 

Some of the performances that are part of the festival are the following:

In the Tournament Arena: Twice a day there is a Jousting Event.  We did have an opportunity to witness this event and found it very entertaining.  There is a Birds of Prey Performance in which you will see Falconers working with owls, buzzards, hawks and a falcon. You can experience Bronze Bells Music if you wish. I know there is a Scottish Bagpipes Performance as well.  This is only a partial listing.

On Somer’s Field: you will witness and participate if you like in a Maypole Dance.

At the Dragon’s Stage: Bob the Juggler performs.

You will find musicians and dancers and performers in the Village Center, the Crown Inn, at the Castle Keepe and in the Gypsy Camp. The Swordsmen are in the Italian Piazza and The Brothers Dimm are on the Mud Stage and much, much more.

 

IMG_6902

 The Woodlands are set up specifically for children. Activities such as making paper and marbles are activities for children to experience. Plus special games are available.

 

There is a set schedule for performances.  You might consider buying the one dollar guidebook which has this schedule. You can also get information on the events and schedule online at okcastle.com .  I would encourage you to check out their website so you can know what is available and go to those areas first if they are of special interest to you. This is something we did not do that I feel would have been helpful. We loved what we found in a spontaneous fashion but we also missed a few performances that I wish we would have known about.

 renassaise men in costume may 2015

 

You will find the staff all in period dress of course. What I was surprised about was that many of the folks who attended where in period dress. We overheard one parent tell her child that they could find one item to add to their growing costume. It appeared that they chose one piece each year to add to their costume. What fun! Each day there is a costume contest at 2:00 pm at the Great Hall.

I hope you will have a chance to check this out if you have not done so in the past. The last day for this season is May 31, 2015. If you have activities you have really enjoyed or have tips for families as to attending this festival, please share.  Thanks! Best wishes for a fun family day.

A Mother’s Day Letter for Your Super Mom

mom in supermom cape

Want a mother’s day gift that your mom will treasure that shows your appreciation and love for her and all she has done?  Or maybe as the dad of children at home you are looking for an idea you can help your children create.  You might consider a “A Mother’s Day Letter”.  This is a wonderful way to focus on all the good that your mom has brought to you and to the world around her.

I was inspired to do this blog piece after reading an article by Reid Tracey, CEO of Hayhouse and his own personal letter to his mom.  And then just an added confirmation that I should champion this cause a bit when a friend recently told me of her adult daughter publishing a letter about her on face book. You can read this letter at the end of my post.

So here are my own thoughts on putting together a Mother’s Day Letter. First of all this could come in more than one format. I have suggested some formats below.

Letter to Your Own Mom

Letters from Your Children to Your Wife

Letter to the Mother of Your Children

Collection  of Letters to Mom (your whole family collecting them and presenting them together)

 

M green letter with pink flowers

 

Putting Your Mother’s Day Letter Together

  • Express Your Feelings of Thankfulness & Appreciation.  This can be a fairly comprehensive going back in time to your childhood or it can be a more recent focus. There is no wrong or right way of doing this of course. What do you want to say thank you for? What do you appreciate about her? What makes her so special? 
  • Highlight Times that Stand Out.  There may be a time that you know your mom sacrificed or put her own needs on hold to attend to and help you. You can share your thoughts about this. Or whatever feels like a fit to highlight.
  • Recall Memories that Have Special Meaning For You. We all have memories of happy times or times that stand out for us that are positive. Those can be used in this kind of letter.
  • Use Descriptive Praise.  This is basically writing out in detail your praise. An example: “Mom, I loved all the home cooked meals you made growing up. They were fresh from your garden and hand-made. Not a common thing in today’s world.”
  • Be Positive.   Only focus on the good here. This is not a letter to hash our disagreements or mix the good and not so good together. This is pure love and appreciation. No “barbed praise”.
  • Keep it Real .  Speak from your heart as to your true positive feelings about your mom. Even if you have had a challenging relationship, there are normally some things that you do appreciate that could be written about. Choose those things.
  • Do a Hand Written Letter if Possible    Decide if you want an old-fashioned handwritten letter or a clean, polished computer generated note. I might note that handwritten notes do add a personal touch that you cannot get with a computer note. But that all said they both count and will be appreciated.
  • Choose Some Fun or Elegant Paper. Make it special if you can. But if not no worries, she will still love it.
  • Consider a Drawing, a Poem or Quote to Add.  If you have younger children or teens who like to draw encourage them to include a drawing. She will cherish it forever.  Or if you draw by all means include a drawing to illustrate a point or just a general feeling or something that you feels fits with this letter. Adding a poem that makes you think of her can work well especially if she likes poetry. Or including a quote that is a fit for her can add another component to your letter.
  • Date Your Special Letter.  This extra touch will mean a lot when your special mom looks back in the future.
  • Wrap It Like It  Counts.  Your letter could be put in an especially pretty envelope or one you decorate or you could do a fun shallow decorative box to enclose your letter or letters.  This could also be a great box to store your special letter(s). You can be as creative as you like and you can also keep in mind the mom you are doing this for and what they would like because that is really what counts the most.

 

mom and child giraffee animated

A Few Thoughts If Creating With Young Children

  • Act as a Scribe for Children Who Cannot Write Yet. They can tell you what they want to say and you can write it down for them. They can maybe sign their name.
  • Have Children Do a Drawing.  This can be a picture of them together or just a pic of her or whatever makes sense to them.
  • Give children some guideposts to help them with their letter. You can ask a set of questions that they can answer. 1) What do you like /love about your mom? 2) What is your favorite thing to do with your mom? 3) What does your mom do for you that you are thankful for? What is your favorite memory of your mom?

 

Last but not least, I was given consent to post my friend’s letter her young adult daughter wrote to share with her Facebook community. For privacy I have left names off of this letter.

My mother is my best friend, but was also my mentor!

As a child my parents owned a small kid’s shoe store for 12 years, so I grew up working there. As my mother’s health has declined I am so thankful for all of the time I spent growing up working there with my mother. Many of my best childhood memories are working in the store with her. Looking back now I realize all the things she taught me there about business and life in general. My favorite thing was going to market down in Dallas every year. It was better than any expensive vacation. She allowed me to help run the business doing things like managing inventory , reconciling the money every night, training new employees, arranging and maintaining the front area, helping come up with advertising ideas, and so many other things! She inspired my love for business! She shaped me into the person I am today and I am so thankful for every day I have with her. I love seeing franchisees providing this same amazing opportunity to their children!

woman with flowers around her head not photo

 

I hope you will choose to write a letter to your mom. Our words are so powerful and stay with us for a very long time, especially in written format. Happy Mother’s Day!

 

 

 

Meals that Nourish and Connect You and Your Family

heart of food

Mealtimes can be a powerful ritual  in keeping you emotionally connected to your family. You may be a young couple or a family with small children or maybe a family with teens. Or an empty nest couple. All of these categories apply. When we are all so very busy with our lives having set times that we meet together is important. Mealtimes are a natural time to nourish our bodies physically & emotionally. It is not uncommon for me to hear families talk about all eating at different times or for some taking their food to their own separate space to continue with whatever they were doing – watching tv, playing a computer game, face-booking, continuing a work project, etc. This can be so easy to fall into with our busy lives. Here is some “food for thought” as to how to make mealtimes a powerful  “connect time”.

Consider Your Family and It’s Current Mealtimes.  

  • What do you like about your current mealtimes in your home? What do you want to make sure that you keep in place?
  • What do you NOT like? What do you wish would be happening instead? What would be the first step in doing what you feel is better?
  • Do you have meals together? How often?
  • What is the tone of your mealtimes? Positive? Negative? Lots of sharing or not so much?
  • Are meals viewed as important in your household?
  • Does everyone participate in putting meals together and or cleaning up after?

eating healthy family

Make Your Meals an Awesome Connecting Ritual.

  1. Put Family Meals in Your Schedule. For so many of us, unless we schedule it, it will not happen. It may mean you have to do a healthy snack late afternoon to get everyone through until you can all re-unite.  Or it may mean all eating early to accommodate early evening commitments. The point is to shift  and adapt to make this a priority. There will be times it will not work for all of  you to eat together, but for those that are there, go for this time together. For some very busy families, it may mean having a couple of times a week that are set in place, with an understanding that activities are not to be scheduled in that time frame.  To start with if planning this is very challenging you might do one night a week to begin with.
  2. Let Everyone Have a Part in Meal Preparation and Cleanup . This will be different for different families. You might have one family that rotates children in the kitchen to help the parent who is making the meal or maybe children help clear the table, etc. At our house who ever cooks gets a pass on helping with cleanup.  Do what fits for you and your family.
  3. No texting, No tweeting, No face booking, No phone calls at the dinner table. I am sure I missed a couple here. The point is that this is a special time you have set aside to eat and be together. This includes asking that no screen devices be brought to the table. Just too tempting.  Some families have a basket where all phones are deposited at the beginning of the meal. I would even suggest to keep the environment peaceful that everyone mute their phones. Wouldn’t that be nice. No beeping, buzzing, ringing, etc, etc,   And answering the home phone that is ringing is not ok unless you hear voice mail go through and it is a critical someone is very ill call. I stand a bit firm on this one, I guess because I see a real erosion of family time due to our current management of our very high-tech world we live in. You might consider this training for your children in how to handle screen time when they are with others.
  4. Consider Starting the Meal with a Time of “Gratitude” or “Thankfulness”. This could be in a prayer format if this fits for your family. Or it could be a new ritual you start by each saying something you are grateful for that happened that day. Even in a prayer format you could have each person do their own individual gratitude prayer. If all of this feels uncomfortable, you might just consider talking about these kinds of things during the meal.
  5.  Feeling the “Love” of Family  – Ask that no one disrespect the other or on purpose cause a conflict during mealtimes. Try to frame this as a time for you all to encourage and uplift one another.You can model by asking how each person’s day has been and really listen carefully and give encouragement when needed.
  6. As Parents or as a Couple Choose not to use This as a Time to Talk  About  Problems. Keep your meal times positive. This is not to say you should not address problems. Just at another time.
  7. A Fun Feeling Activity .  One playful way of seeing how things are going for all is to have each person “choose a feeling” and ask each person to tell something that happened to them that day that fits with this feeling. For example: “What is the happiest thing that happened today?” Others might include: saddest, the best thing, the most weird, the most crazy, the funniest thing, the hardest thing, the easiest thing, the most surprising, etc. If a family member draws a blank then the person giving out the feeling state, can throw out another one. Just a fun way of checking out everyone’s day.
  8. Consider Asking All to Stay at the Table until Everyone is Finished Eating.  This is just good manners and showing respect for one another.  And if one does need to leave, maybe encouraging that they excuse themselves with why they need to leave from the table. Just a way to show you care and respect each other. Being respectful is one of the foundations for good relationships.

If you do your own fun mealtime rituals that work well, I would love to hear about them. Here is to lots of meals of connection with your family!

We are not that far apart . . .

love snail eyes connecting

Sometimes it feels you are so far apart!  You want THIS and your partner wants THAT. You feel you are on opposing teams, going to battle for your needs and desires. In reality many times when we go beneath our surface wants, we really want the same thing.

Look at these examples of surface needs and more core needs underneath, are they not the same?

We are not that far apart . . .

“I want to have more sex more often.”  Core Need: I need to feel close and connected.                                                                                                                  

 “I want you to talk to me more.”   Core Need: I need to feel close and connected.                                                                                                                           

At first look, they may seem like two different desires: more sex and more talk. But underneath both are wanting closeness and connection. 

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“You are always critical of me.”  Core Need: I need to feel safe and protected.

“You never listen to me.”    Core Need: I need to feel safe and protected.  

Again, at first look it appears to be two very different upsets – always critical and never listen. But essentially the core message of need is the same – safety and protection.

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

“Of course there are times were the core desire may not be the same. But regardless we can be on the same team, fighting for us, not against each other. We are normally not that far apart. When we are upset and in a negative state of mind, it all becomes heightened and feels so very intense. What can we do to get more on the same page and begin to see that we are on the same team?

Being on the Same Team

  1. Take Some Deep Breaths and Calm Yourself.  To really hear your loved one, you will have to be calm enough to really hear what they have to say.
  2. Beginning with the MINDSET, We Are on the Same Team!
  3. REALLY Listening to Each Other. This is not always easy. Because we are many times thinking of what we want to say. Just stopping and really hearing can so help to fully understand what is going on with your loved one.
  4. Reflecting or Acknowledging What You Think You Are Hearing. This simple act goes a long ways to resolving and coming together on the issue that is upsetting you both. We all want to feel heard. It calms our anxious brain to know that we are truly being heard and acknowledged. We can think more rationally when we are not on high alert. 
  5. Framing the Issue in Terms of, “What can WE do to make this better?” This is not about who is right or wrong. But about, “How can we make this better?”
  6. Recognizing that Solution Building May Mean Shifting and Adjusting. Basically, this means after we really hear our loved one and express our own feelings that we may need to shift to a place that works for both of us. This is about what is best for you as a couple, not just you as an individual.  Of course, you will have to truly feel good about what you choose to do. This can be the challenging part. But with love and respect for your partner this can happen and make you stronger as a couple and still incorporate your own needs.
  7. Using Dr. Sue Johnson’s 3 Key’s to Emotional Connection: A.R.E.  “Are you there, are you with me?”  A = Accessibility  R=Responsiveness  E=Engagement

           

Core Needs for All of Us to Have a Secure Bond

Secure, healthy relationships will have these components:

  • Feeling Safe and Protected
  • Feeling Loved and Nurtured
  • Feeling Connected 

So consider these core needs. Many times what we say we need or want are really at the core one of these components.

So remember, YOU ARE NOT THAT FAR APART.  You are on the same team!!!

Do I need to be playful and light-hearted to be happy and connected? It depends!

tennis shoes black and white with heart in between

Is it necessary to be playful and show your “fun” side to be happy and connected? I think this depends on what you want from your life. If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, you might consider the many benefits of having some “play time”. What this means will be different for different folks. There is planned play and then there is random acts of playfulness. Sometimes a mix of both. All are good for you. Play is not just for children. Let’s look at some ways that play is beneficial, some of the components of healthy, restorative play and some thoughts on both planned play and random acts of playfulness.

Benefits of Tapping Into Your Playful Self

  • It gives your overworked brain a break. In particular your amygdala, the center that alerts you if there is potential danger or harm coming your way. When your amygdala is calm, so are you. The relaxed state of play can give your brain a needed break.
  • Play gives you respite from worry and upset. When you are in a playful state, your focus has shifted away from the worries and stresses of your life.
  • Play is a wonderful medium to help you connect with your loved ones. ♥♥  Play can create a space for loving / nurturing interactions . Actually for all relationships: couples, parents and children, siblings, families.
  • A relaxed play state can help you recharge and think more clearly, allowing for more creativity and effective problem solving.  I know many of my best ideas come when I am in a relaxed state.
  • Play can aid in healing mentally or physically. Being in a relaxed, non stressed state gives our body the rest it needs to heal.
  • It can bring you joy and happiness. And isn’t that something we all want and desire!

 Components of Healthy, Restorative Play

  • Competition is not emphasized. In its purest form it would be cooperative and mutually satisfying. There can be healthy competitive play. Considering your goal would be good here. In general for all those involved, cooperative play is going to feel the best for all concerned and do more for relationship building. Competitive play can help one prepare for the competitive world we live in and develop a healthy outlook on competition, especially if developmental age and talents are considered. But for the goal of lowering stress and relationship building, cooperative play is best. If you do something with a winner / loser, keep it light. If you are doing this as a family, model a light-hearted approach to your game.
  • It is fun and all those involved are enjoying it. Basically it should be mutually satisfying for all.
  • It is inclusive. No one is left out or made to feel as it they are not a real part of the play.
  • If it is parent child or family play, it is at the children’s developmental level. If something is too far above our level of understanding or capabilities , it is stressful. This goes for children and adults.
  • It feels uplifting and positive. There is focus on fun and enjoyment. We would of course avoid criticizing or telling another what to do. This is not to say that redirecting and establishing appropriate boundaries and limits for children are not a needed component.
  • There is a healthy flow of taking turns in leading the play. It has a cooperative, shared kind of feel to it. No one person dominating.
  • It does not involve electronic devices and these are not used during your play. This would be in the purest state the most conducive for interaction. There may be some times that watching a funny movie or doing an electronic game together may be what you want. But other forms of play will bring lots of other additional benefits. Or at least keeping it balanced can be helpful between the two avenues. If you are using electronic devices you can try to remember to add in playful touches and conversation. Plus more one on one non screen interaction afterwards.
  • Healthy, fun bantering and light-hearted teasing as a couple. With children (and with some adults) it is best to gauge for sensitivity and upset with your light-hearted teasing. This is meant to be fun, not hurtful at any level.
  • Open affection and laughter is a good hallmark of healthy play.  Holding hands, hugs, kisses, friendly and open interest.
  • You feel expansive and good during and afterwards. There is a light feeling that is a part of this kind of play.

play don't forget to play pic of swing set

 

Planned Play

Due to the very busy lives we all lead, it is necessary to plan for times of play or opportunities for play. For some it may not happen unless it is planned. This is not a bad thing, just a necessary thing. Even within the planned times, you will find opportunities for more spontaneous, out of the box playfulness. Having set play times can be very helpful for busy couples or families. It may be a planned family activity once a week. Or a date night in which playful things are included. Or a quarterly get away for a couple to relax and play. This does not have to be far away, just a scheduled time to “be together” in a playful fun state. But most of all it is is important to remember that play is not so much about a specific get away or activity (even thought that can be fun), but more about a state of mind and attitude and blocking of time to create an atmosphere or space where it is more likely to happen. 

Some other examples:

  • Doing versions of child activities as adults or with adolescents. And of course, doing child activities with your children. This creates a fun base that encourages playfulness. Some examples: Silly String Fight. Blowing Bubbles. Slap Jack.
  • Creative activities lead to allowing for playfulness. Things such as: Arts and Crafts. Cooking. Decorating. Lego Building. Telling Stories.
  • Encouraging humor. Telling jokes. Watching funny movies together. Parents and children reading funny books together.
  • Being in nature together. Spending time outdoors creates a sense of well-being that can allow for more playful feelings.

Random Acts of Playfulness

Is there anything better than having some random acts of playfulness happening? I think not. I love this the very best myself. For example: I was at a muddy outdoor event and my husband decided to give me a piggy back ride across an especially muddy area. It was so light-hearted and fun. That was actually the high light of that fun event we attended. It just felt so playful and fun.

Random acts of playfulness are really more about acting from our playful side of our self. It is about being open to this playfulness by both people. Letting our self have this light, freeing interaction even at times that are not ideal can help relieve stress. Maybe you have a hard day, but you come home and decide to let that slide away and be with your loved one in a way that promotes a feeling of connection and playfulness. It is a lovely choice we can choose to make.

  Ending Notes 

There are times when we do need to be serious and have extreme focus.  As with so many things in life BALANCE is a real key. Your playful self is wonderfully complementary. Here is to lots of playful, connecting times ahead!

Please let me know of Random Acts of Playfulness that have occurred for you. This may give other ideas as to how to express this fun, more spontaneous side of themselves. Maybe we should all take a pledge of seeing how many Random Acts of Playfulness we can spread around this next week. What a win – win situation, for us and our loved ones!

 

Natural Dyeing of Easter Eggs – A Family Affair

Easter eggs dyed on a cup cake stand

Children love to color their own Easter eggs. So do adults! If you are looking for an inter-generational activity that is fun and connecting, this is it. I tested this out last year by having this as an activity for my Easter guests who were all of all ages. It was a hit. With all ages “getting into it”, including the males in the family, even Grandpa seemed to enjoy the coloring of eggs and intricate design work. See the picture above of our finished eggs. Our eggs were placed on a 3 tier wire cupcake holder lined with lettuce and a few sprinkles of grated carrots for an Easter look and a way to keep the eggs from rolling around too much.

What is even more fun is to use natural plant-based dyes made from food you have in your kitchen. We are talking red cabbage, beets, onions, coffee, frozen blueberries, etc.  This is a bit of an art / science experiment that everyone can get into.  This is sort of old, old school. Not only no plastic eggs, but dyes that are good for you and the environment that were used before artificial dyes were on the market. I am listing some of the foods that can create dyes for your Easter eggs.  For natural egg dye recipes and instructions for your Easter eggs go to: http://www.marthastewart.com/267850/dyeing-eggs-naturally . You may also consider checking out the following blog piece: www.yourhomebasedmom.com/naturally-dyed-easter-eggs/   She has a smaller recipe with a bit less time involvement with examples of using these dyes with children.

 

Red cabbage creates blue.

Brewed coffee or tea creates brown.

Blueberries will create a blue-gray.

Beets will create a pink.

Onions with yellow skins will create a yellow. And purple onion skins will give you purple.

Tumeric can also create a yellow. (Tumeric is a spice.)

Paprika will create a muted red / orange.

 

naturally-dyed-easter-egg-collage

 

Making the Dye as Part of Your Easter Event.

If you have the space or a smaller group, you can let folks help make the plant-based dyes. This will involve some time, so this would be something to consider as to including this piece in your Easter event. The younger your children, the more challenging it will be, due to that most of the dyes need to be cooked on the stove. Some dyes are more simple to prepare than others. So finding ones that are easy and not a long process may work best. Each person can be in charge of a certain color or colors. Your children will think this is so cool and it is! What fun to see the dyes you can create and then how your eggs will absorb and create color on the eggs.

A few General Tips:

  1. The longer an egg sets in a natural dye the more intense the color. For a super intense look you can even do a soak overnight in the refrigerator.
  2. The white egg will give you a more clear color. Brown eggs will give you a more muted, antique soft look.
  3. With natural dyes you will want to keep stirring the egg to keep the dye even on the egg.
  4. There are cold water dyes that can be created. These will be bit more muted unless you soak for a longer period of time. And then for more intense colors boiling the plant-based item with or without the eggs is suggested by some.
  5. It appears that vinegar is a setting agent for many recipes. And some suggest salt as helpful.
  6. Be prepared for a bit of a mess. No biggie,  For little ones (or for big ones who are concerned) you can cover up with aprons or old shirts. Having a base to work from on the table can help. A plate with a paper towel placed on top to set your egg on is helpful. And yes your hands may get a bit of dye on them. But most will wash off with soap and water and the rest wears off pretty quickly.  One idea would be to buy some disposable rubber gloves to keep hands clean if this is a real concern.  Spoons to stir your eggs help. A pretty plastic table-cloth is good for clean up. Tongs might be helpful too for removing eggs from the dye pots. But spoons will work.
  7. The egg carton can be place to let eggs dry out, the cardboard ones are most useful. Some folks use a wire rack to let eggs dry out.
  8. If your group is particularly adventuresome, you can have some empty cups or small bowls for folks to mix colors for their own unique blend.

easter eggs undyed on a cupcake stand with materiels to dye decorate

Very Simple Ways to Create or Decorate Your Eggs:

  • Two toned eggs can be created by dipping only one portion on one end and then switching to the other side of the egg.
  • Using crayons to draw something on the egg and then dipping the egg in the dye. This is a crayon resist technique.
  • A sponge can be used to create a certain look.
  • Thin lined permanent markers work nicely after the egg has been dyed and dried. Or they can be used on a white or brown un-dyed egg.
  • Rubber bands are fun to use as a way to keep a certain parts of the egg covered and un-dyed. For a striped look possibly.
  • Using very small soft leafs can work well to make a leaf print. I have used cilantro and parsley. A piece of panty hose can be tied around the egg and plant to keep it in place during the dyeing process.
  • Glitter pens can be used after you egg is dyed or for that matter on an un-dyed egg.
  • For a shiny look after your egg is dyed and dry, you can rub it down with a bit of vegetable oil.

Best wishes in creating YOUR own, unique egg dyeing activity for your family!

 

Gratitude Journals that Build Relationships

gratitude journals at table and chairs cropped pic

Gratitude journals are not new, but they are still a practice I find very helpful for myself and my clients. And there are so many different ways to use them. Traditionally they are a daily log of what good things have happened for us that day. It is a way of capturing all the good and reminding our self of what is going well in our lives.  Helping us to not let the negative bias of our brain drown out all of the good that has been going on.  I was thinking wouldn’t it be nice to take this concept and use it for “relationship building”.  So I have chosen this forum to focus on Gratitude Journals that Build Relationships.


 

Keeping a “Relationship Gratitude Journal”

The Rationale

Relationships thrive on compliments, gratitude and appreciation. The outside world can deal us disappointment and upset at times. When our relationships are filled with the good it is so much easier to get our balance and feel better. And when we feel good about ourselves and our loved ones we feel more inclined to put more into our relationship to keep it strong and well. Gratitude builds good feelings and that is an essential part of a healthy relationship – feeling positive feelings, which leads to feeling connected.

Basic Guidelines

  •  You will be writing about what you appreciate or feel thankful for in regard to your loved one. This could be your husband, your significant other, your daughter or son.  You will need to decide who you want to focus on.
  • Focusing on specific actions and using detailed description of what it is they did or said or didn’t say, etc is most helpful. For example: “I was so grateful when John started supper when I came home late from work.” OR “I loved it when Susan took time to listen to me about . . . even though I know she was busy with . . . “
  • Be expansive and try to broaden out what you see and hear from your loved one to help illuminate all the parts you see and are grateful for.  Try to write about different things that you see. It is ok to duplicate, but try to think of all the different things that are there to appreciate. Being specific with the specific day or the specific week will help to be more expansive.
  • Ideally this would be a joint project, in which both of you are doing your own gratitude journal.

How to Create YOUR Gratitude Journal that Builds Your Relationship:

  • Find a journal that you really like and will draw you to use it every day. Of course any note-book or pad of paper will work. So don’t let not having a “perfect” journal get in the way of keeping a Relationship Gratitude Journal. But if possible find a journal that really calls to you.
  • Design a plan of action as to how you will do YOUR Relationship Journal.
  1. Who am I going to focus on? My husband or partner? My children? My entire family?
  2. How often do I want to record my feelings in my gratitude journal? Daily? Weekly?
  3. Will I choose a specific number of entries I strive for or will it be completely open-ended?
  4. Will both of us keep a gratitude journal? Is this a joint endeavor or is this just an individual project?
  5. When and where will you share your gratitude feelings? Daily or Weekly?

Gratitude Journals in ACTION:

Sharing your journal entries with each other OR you only sharing your entry with your loved one is putting this “Gratitude Journal” into ACTION. This takes a gratitude journal to a whole new level. Not only do you feel the wonderful feeling of gratitude but your loved one does as well. So you are now building relationship and connection. This is a bit of a different twist than a traditional gratitude journal. This is expanding and sharing the wonderful appreciative feelings you have discovered.

Again it is ideal to both be sharing your feelings of gratitude. But you can start with just one of you, if one is not able to do this or not wanting to do this. Any feelings of gratitude that are shared are helpful and build a sense of love and connection. Gratitude = Connection.

Young man giving piggyback to woman