Doing Life Together

question-mark-97062_1280Do you expect good things to happen in your life? What about in your relationships? Expectations make a difference? When they are positive, it helps a relationship grow. When you don’t know what the expectations are, it causes problems. And when relationship expectations aren’t met, it leads to problems.

Some people think that if you expect little in a relationship, you become pleasantly surprised when an expectation is met. But people who have low relationship expectations tend to be treated poorly, and the reverse is also true. Even when you have high expectations, they need to be reasonable. For example, do you expect your partner to understand you without ever having to explain yourself? This is an example of a relationship expectation that needs to be adjusted and made more realistic. You can’t be understood if your feelings and needs aren’t communicated.

Here are a few relationship expectations to discuss in order to decide what is reasonable:

  • How much time should your partner spend with friends versus you?
  • Are your demands too high—name a few and get the reaction of the other person.
  • Do you see conflict as a normal part of every relationship?
  • How much do you compare your relationship to people you see on social media?
  • Do we have to have the same interests? If not, is that an issue?
  • What are expectations around the sexual relationship?
  • How important is trust in the relationship?
  • Do you expect to be loved unconditionally or are their strings attached to love?
  • Do you expect the other person to fix all your wounds from childhood?
  • Do you expect a relationship free from any type of abuse?

Discussing expectations like the ones above can prevent lots of problems. And this type of discussion may make a difference as to whether or not you pursue a relationship.

Once you put expectations on the table, you can see if the other person is reasonable or is up for negotiations. But if you never talk about expectations and they don’t get met, you build anger and resentment towards the other person.

Most people in a loving relationship will do their best to meet reasonable expectations. The problem for many relationships is not making those expectations known. So, verbalize your relationship expectations and see where you have agreement. On points of disagreement, talk about how your expectations formed and how your family handles differences. While these conversations can be hard to do, working through differences can make the difference in your relationship health.


stretching-498256_1280I am not going to lie. I can’t seem to find the time to exercise and I really don’t enjoy it. But I know too much about its importance that I can’t just blow it off! While we all know the benefit of exercise for our bodies, how often do we consider the brain benefits?

The brain simply works better after you exercise. We know that aerobic exercise changes both the structures of the brain and how it operates. It helps kids learn and it helps adults with cognitive tasks. Your brain shifts into a higher gear during exercise. This heightens your sensitivities, helping you to see more clearly and have sharper perceptions.

Not only will you be cognitively better, but your brain stores up certain neurotransmitters during exercise-a factor that helps with depression. And exercise helps your brain stay “younger.”

Another part of the brain, gray matter, increases in volume in certain regions with exercise. The areas involved deal with attention and problem-solving. And brain white matter, which is like a super highway in the brain, runs better in the areas of balance and coordination. Neurons fire and communicate differently when exercise is involved and leads to better focus and memory.

So every time I begin to ignore the important self- prescription of exercise, I try to remember the benefits I will get. And while exercise isn’t a magic bullet, it is a free way to boost your brain health and help the aging process.

Think of it like a prescription that needs to be filled regularly. While I don’t enjoy it so much, I do enjoy the benefits from doing something I know will improve my health. So let’s motivate each other to get off the couch and do some moving!

clasped-hands-541849_1280“I can’t imagine what it must have been like to go through what you just did. It sounds awful and I am here to listen.”

How many of us have people in our lives who offer this type of support and listening ear? It’s called empathy and is one of the building blocks of morality. Lately, we seem to have lost empathy for those who struggle and go into attack mode or become indifferent. It’s time to bring empathy back.

Empathy is a skill you need to build healthy relationships and bring back civility to our culture. We need to feel each other’s pain more often than when a natural disaster occurs or a shooting happens. Yes, those are horrible events and Americans do well in response to those things, but what about every day kindness and understanding of each other to promote better getting along despite our differences?

Empathy is basically putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. You can have affective empathy which is when you feel or share someone’s emotions. Or you can have cognitive empathy in which you understand another person’s perspective and how they think. Both types is best.

Empathy is a trait or skill that can be learned.  One of the ways that happens is more exposure to the needs and struggles of people–not just by hearing something on the news, but actually spending time with those who struggle and hearing their stories. This is why people come back so moved from a missions trip–they have seen another side of life and can better understand what others are going through.

One of the insulators for empathy is wealth. In general, wealthy people turn more inward and socialize with others who have wealth. Unless they intentionally put themselves in touch with needy people, they will be less likely to empathize. When you see the need, your brain actives towards compassion.

So here are a few ideas to teach someone to be more empathetic:

  1. Expose them to the needs of others–take them to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centers, etc. Exposure will activate parts of the brain needed to build empathy.
  2. Get feedback from others regarding how they see problems in the culture. Don’t simply talk to your own familiar group. Rather talk to those different from you and hear other perspectives. Be open to differing views. One of the problems we see now is that certain groups act like attack dogs if you don’t share their perspective. This is dangerous and only creates enmity.
  3. Don’t be judgmental and truly listen to others and their stories. Again, there is cultural permission for some narratives and not others. All people should be able to express their views without fear of retaliation. While I try not to take sides on political issues, I am horrified by the lack of civility, shouting people down, and attacking those whose stories are not liked. This shows a complete lack of empathy and is bullying.
  4. To combat this, make sure you truly understand a position and hear all sides. Ask questions, get clarification, seek the truth.
  5. Practice comforting others. Get focused on needs outside of yourself and you will feel better. Acknowledge another person’s pain, share how you feel by saying something like, “I don’t know what to say” or “I am glad you told me.” Then be encouraging and supportive by offering hope- not unrealistic hope but hope for a better day and to be with them as they walk through difficulty.

bullying-3089938_1280Given the events of the past weeks, it is clear how blame can ruin peoples’ lives. The opposite is also true-the lack of blame allows people to get away with things. Blame, when tied to guilt, is appropriate. But you have to know the truth about a situation to know if blame is justified or not. These days the lines of accusations vs truth are being blurred like we have never seen before.

Blame is toxic in relationships when people don’t take responsibility for their actions and want to make the other person feel bad or suffer. Blame puts the other person in the defense mode. It is reactionary.

For example, when a couple blames the other person for their problems, the result is defensiveness and distance. No one wins because no one takes responsibility for their part of the problem. When you blame the other person, it stops the uncomfortable feeling of looking at your own behavior. And you don’t have to change anything in yourself. The message is, “I can’t change or be OK until you change.” It’s all up to you. But you can’t build intimacy with an accusing finger. And blame doesn’t usually motivate another person to change.

To avoid blame, look at your own behavior first. Are you doing anything that could be causing or contributing to the problem? Decide what is your part of the problem. Most problems are not one sided. Then, focus on a solution rather than blaming the other person. How can you improve the relationship and build trust not defensiveness? What can you do differently to build closeness rather than distance? Stay calm, think through solutions and don’t be drawn in to the attack mode of another person.

In addition, before you blame someone, find out if they acted with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions. Did they intend to hurt you? Did they fly off the handle? Or is their goal to hurt you because they have been hurt?

Blame has been around since the beginning of time. It started in a garden when Adam pointed a finger at Eve. Eve pointed a finger at the serpent and the result was distance from God. Blame doesn’t promote intimacy.

If you are in a blaming relationship, end the blame game now. Agree to be on the same team and work towards a mutual goal. Attack problems not people. Blaming and shaming don’t lead to solutions, only distance.