The Happiness Connection  

Alone together

Many of my conversations over the past few weeks have been about relationship challenges that surfaced during the holiday season.

Just like life, relationships are journeys. They rarely stand still for long because the people in them are continually growing and changing. Just like life, it is up to you to decide how you are going to react to the circumstances your relationship presents you with.

While speaking at an event a few days ago, I shared one of my marital stories.

We had only been married for a couple of years when my husband came home from work and said he wanted to go on a boys’ ski holiday with a few of his mates.

His words may have been about skiing in France, but my brain heard, “I want a divorce.”

I cried for days thinking that my husband didn’t love me any more. My parents had never gone on separate holidays and as they were my model for marriage, I jumped to a conclusion that wasn’t accurate.

Healthy relationships go through three distinct stages.

The first stage is when you want to spend every minute together. You may even feel a physical ache if you are apart for too long. I call this the honeymoon phase. This is a time when you are not only eager to merge your lives, you are more tolerant and willing to accept your partner’s quirky/annoying ways.

I once told a boyfriend that I loved hearing him snore. It let me know he was there. Unfortunately, my husband didn’t snore when we were in the first stage, so he only got “Roll over!”

The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. If you believe it will, you will be disappointed. Honeymoon phase junkies tend to constantly move in and out of relationships, searching for something that is not designed to last forever.

The second stage comes with a need to step back from the bubble of love, and become more involved with the bigger picture of life. This is a time when you want to return to your own interests, friends, and the world around you.

This urge to step back from your relationship does not mean you no longer love your partner, or don’t want to be with them, you just don’t want to be only with them. It is an adjustment, a natural process.

The third and most satisfying stage arrives when you successfully find a balance between connection and separation that suits you both.

Rarely do couples arrive at the stepping back stage at the same time. One person still wants to spend every minute together, while the other one is ready to turn to their individual interests and dreams.

It doesn’t help that the relationships in fairy tales play such a big role in how we perceive what marriage should be like. The happily ever after belief encourages couples to keep the tough times strictly private. They only seem to share what is working well.

For the unsuspecting person who is looking at other people’s marriages, the good ones seem to only have one stage. When their own honeymoon phase ends, they think that spells the end of the relationship.

My husband was ready to move into stage two before I was. Because neither of us had ever heard about the stages of a relationship, I thought he didn’t care about me any more, and he thought – I’m not sure what he thought. I suspect he thought I was being clingy and ridiculous.

Conflict is bound to arise as you move toward the second stage, especially if one person is ready to transfer before the other one.

Relationships can get caught in a never-ending cycle of conflict if they get stuck in the second stage. You will never be able to move to the satisfaction of stage three if you can’t find a way to establish balance between connection and separation.

These stuck marriages may turn into power struggles between the person advocating togetherness, and the one advocating individuality.

There isn’t a magic formula or one size fits all answer to the balance dilemma. Every relationship is different. Some happy couples seem to spend most of their time apart, while others thrive creating a life of togetherness.

Your relationship is unique, and it is up to you and your partner to find a split that works for both of you. When you get it right, you will feel that you have equal parts couple and individual.

If you wonder whether you have moved into stage three, or want to know what to work on to if you are stuck in stage two, here are some of the characteristics of being in a balanced relationship.

Rather than feeling the marriage, or your individuality is more important, you both honour and protect connection and separation equally.

You are advocates for each other’s individuality, and encourage your partner to have separate interests and chase their dreams.

High quality times happen regularly and predictably because you know innately this makes you both feel safe and secure in your relationship. Knowing you have time together makes it easier to have time apart.

You take time to ensure your partner trusts you, feels seen, and knows they are a priority.

My husband and I were stuck in stage two for many, many years, and as a result, we accumulated baggage that had to be dealt with before we could find balance and move into stage three. The good news is that we were able to do that.

I don’t say this because I want to brag; I say this because I want you to know it is possible.

“If I knew then what I know now,” has never been truer than when I reflect on my reaction to my husband wanting to go skiing without me.

A little knowledge can go a long way. Take this knowledge and look at your relationship.

I hope it can help prepare you for stage two, help you move into stage three, or let you smile with satisfaction, knowing you have already arrived.


A bond of experience

Have you been watching the World Junior Hockey tournament? The gold medal game hasn’t been played as I write this, but Canada is in it, so the country is buzzing with optimism.

It always amazes me how one event can unite so many people.

Even though I don’t watch hockey on a regular basis, this is a tournament I never miss. My interest in it leads me to have discussions with strangers about why we want the checkout line to move quickly, or why we hope the dentist is on time.

We need to get home before the puck drops.

There are two valuable insights being demonstrated during this hockey-crazed time: 

  • having a common interest, goal, or experience is a great way to bond people together
  • feelings are amplified when other people are having the same experience at the same time.

If you have ever been in a play, or on a team, you know the strong feelings of camaraderie that arise, especially at the end of a competition, the year, or the performance.

Shared experiences make us feel connected.

You may be aware of this bonding effect, but do you take advantage of it to actively strengthen your bonds with family, friends, and colleagues?

Humans are hardwired to seek out social connection, but you know as well as I do that interactions with others aren’t always fun and uplifting.

Being around people can leave you frustrated, annoyed, and exhausted.

The most likely cause of negative feelings between individuals is their differences, not the things they have in common. It can be hard to accept something you don’t understand, or have never felt.

Instead of focusing on what isn’t working, or what is annoying you, create some common ground that brings you closer.

Choose a wellness initiative that everyone can get on board with, create common goals for the year, volunteer in the community together, go bowling or play mini golf. Doing something together, or agreeing to move in the same direction, will help turn a group of individuals into a team.

This is a great strategy if you find yourself at odds with your significant other. From the outside, many marriages may look strong and satisfying, while the people on the inside are struggling to find a way to live together in harmony.

Marriage expert John Gottman says when two people find meaning together, they are willing to support one another’s dreams, even if there is no personal gain for themselves.

Make sure you remember why you chose each other and inject enough shared goals and experiences that you have opportunities to work together rather than against each other.

My husband came home Thursday and remarked how busy it was when he and his co-workers went for a drink after work. It was busy because people wanted to watch the Canadian semi-final hockey game with other people, rather than home alone.

This illustrates the second insight the hockey tournament has provided for us.

Experiences are felt more intensely if you experience them with someone else. This is true even if you don’t know or communicate with anyone.

A Yale University study put individuals in a room with a confederate, a person posing as another participant. They sat side by side at a table without speaking and were instructed to taste two pieces of chocolate. Unbeknown to the participant, both pieces came from the same bar.

The confederate had been told to give the subject a shared experience and an unshared experience. They would eat chocolate at the same time as the participant for one piece and look through a booklet of paintings when they tasted the other piece.

The subjects then answered questions about the chocolate and their experience.

The results showed that the chocolate tasted at the same time as the confederate, the shared experience was consistently rated more flavourful than the piece they ate while the other person was doing something else, the unshared experience.

This has some powerful implications you can apply to your life. In the case of the hockey, you would probably relish the game more by going to a sports bar and sitting by yourself, than if you watched it at home alone.

Agreeing to take your children for ice cream will be appreciated more if you both have ice cream rather than you simply watching them eat. Allowing your staff a Friday afternoon break will be even better if you bring in donuts.

Give them a reason to come together.

Don’t think you need to do something extraordinary, or special every time. Bonding happens when we share mundane experiences too, like being in the same class, having the same parents, and eating dinner together every night.

Remember to live in the moment and ditch the devices if you want to bond and intensify the experience.

Knowledge is a wonderful thing, but it is the action you take when you have new knowledge that transforms your life.

Challenge yourself to make 2018 a year when you bond more and consciously choose to amplify your experiences.

Resolve not to resolve

This week ushers in the start of a new year, and with it, the tradition of setting resolutions.

What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions new year’s resolutions?

If you are like me, you will think about how few people stick to them, or even remember what they are by the end of January.

I strongly believe we should all take time to reflect on our lives and make conscious decisions to improve ourselves and the world around us, but I am not a fan of resolutions in the traditional sense.

Deciding to drop 15 pounds before your summer wedding, or become fluent in Mandarin before your trip in October are resolutions that focus on outcomes. I view these as dreams with timelines. You hope to achieve them, but experience shows it is unlikely.

If your desire is for personal growth and development rather than discouragement, try creating a resolution that focuses on the journey of improvement, rather than the destination, or end goal.

Here are three alternative ways to resolve to make changes in your life, without creating a traditional goal driven resolution.

Set an Intention

Intentions are like goals, but rather than focussing on a point in the future, they are about being in the present moment. You set an intention that you plan to act on, regardless of the outcome.

Let me give you an example.

You might set a goal to lose 15 pounds by the summer.

The goal is all about an outcome. If you don’t reach the magic number, you have failed. We all know that life happens, and even though you have the greatest desire to be thinner, that plan is easily scuppered.

Rather than setting a goal, try setting an intention. Instead of focussing on weight loss, decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

The intention provides a roadmap for each day. In this case, remind yourself to make healthy food choices, take the stairs, and drink more water. There is no failure if you have an occasional glass of wine, or miss your power walk occasionally.

With any luck, you may lose a few pounds and look better in your clothes, but that isn’t your focus. Each day you think about what you can do to live healthily.

Intentions demand positive energy, have no limits, and keep your conscious mind in the present. They allow you to bob, weave and pivot as life happens. You can be healthier even if you don’t lose the weight you hoped to.

Research shows that living in the moment is a great way to boost your sense of positive well-being. Happiness comes from your travels through life, not from reaching a specific destination.

Challenge yourself with action

Set yourself a challenge for the year ahead. You might think that losing weight is a challenge, but I’m talking about challenges of action not challenges of outcomes.

Challenge yourself to stop drinking alcohol for January, to commit a random act of kindness every day for a year, or to go to the gym three times a week. It is the activity, or action you challenge yourself with that is your focus, not the outcome.

If you go to the gym every day for three months, you may well lose 15 pounds, but that is not the focus of your challenge. Sticking to your pledge of working out every day is.

Choose a word

Decide on a word to guide you through 2018.

If you want to stop eating so much, or taking an all-or-nothing approach to life, perhaps moderation is a good choice. If you feel you need to soften your approach to life you might pick gentle, or if you want to get more done, action might be the word for you.

This type of resolution also focuses on living in the moment. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself daily to sprinkle this action, or feeling in your life. Put the word on post-it notes and leave them in strategic places, or create a poster with your word as the central theme.

Any time of the year is a good time to think about ways you can improve yourself, or give up habits that aren’t serving you anymore.

Instead of making a traditional goal-based resolution that is likely to be forgotten or abandoned, set yourself up for success. Stop focusing on an outcome and instead enjoy the journey through your life with an intention, an action-based challenge, or guiding word.

Happy New Year and all the best for you and your 2018 resolutions.


The gift of choice

When I was young, my mom and dad were confident that if they took me, or my siblings, anywhere we would behave well. They were proud of what good kids we were.

In truth, I don’t think we were naturally angelic. We behaved well because we knew what would happen if we talked back, or openly rebelled against our parents.

I don’t think we were unusual. Many people of my age and older, were raised at a time when children were meant to be seen and not heard. We weren’t supposed to have a voice, or articulate our opinions.

Disagreeing with parental decisions, or doing something they don’t approve of is still considered to be unacceptable in the eyes of many.

How can children possibly know more than their parents do?

If you are told to hug, or kiss a relative, that’s what you do. No questions asked. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to, or feel uncomfortable giving that peck or embrace.

This practice may seem harmless enough, but it is teaching children they don’t have a choice; that their instincts aren’t as important as doing what is expected.

The “Me Too” movement has drawn our attention to this conversation. Why have so many women been subjected to unwanted sexual advances, not been confident enough to walk away the minute they began to feel uncomfortable, and then felt the need to hide what happened?

The Girl Scouts of America must have been asking themselves the same question, because they published a blog post urging parents not to pressure their children to hug, or kiss relatives. No child, should feel they owe anyone physical contact.

Hugging another person should be a choice, not an expectation.

This guideline is important, not because your relatives may be predators, but because it tells youngsters they have the right to refuse physical contact if they want to.

Just because the person involved is a family member or friend, it doesn’t mean you have to ignore personal feelings of discomfort.

Children need to practise standing up for themselves and setting personal boundaries if they are going to feel confident doing it when they are adults. The best place to practice is at home with their family.

How do you react when your child talks back to you? Is it something you don’t tolerate? Do you punish them when they stand up for themselves by disagreeing with you?

Having taught Elementary and Middle school for many years, I was determined that my children would not be easy prey for predators. I always told them the bottom line was their own gut instinct. The could say no to anyone, including police officers, teachers, ministers, and doctors, if what they were being asked to do didn’t feel right.

The good news about this situation was they took my advice to heart, and had no problem saying no or standing up for what they believed.

The bad news was their comfort voicing opinions when I asked them to do something. If they didn’t consider my requests to be fair, or reasonable, they would say so. They might disagree even if my requests were fair and reasonable.

It was a difficult time, but I recognized they were using the safety of their home to learn how to stand up for themselves.

We had more conversations about how to voice your opinions in a respectful manner, than I care to think about.

It would have been much easier to parent in a more traditional way and refuse to accept any backtalk or disagreement, but rarely is the best way the easy way. Good parenting is about helping your children prepare to be strong adults, not to simply do as they are told.

I wonder how many of the women who are now standing up and revealing the inappropriate experiences they have endured were raised not to speak up when they felt uncomfortable with a situation?

It’s a sobering thought for the Christmas season, but there is no better time to start preparing your children than now. Talk with them and let them know you expect them to be respectful to all the people who are included in their celebrations, but hugs and kisses are about choice, not expectation.

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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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