I’ve recently been asked about the influence of differing political and/or religious views on relationships. Specifically, would differing opinions in these areas negatively impact an intimate relationship.
In my opinion, differing beliefs do not signal the demise of a relationship. Rather, it’s the day to day responsibilities that may be the stomping ground of dissolution.
My closest friend does not share my spiritual views, yet we have never had a conflict about faith. Over the years, we’ve had discussions about our spiritual beliefs, but our friendship has endured. So why would this topic be a concern in a romantic relationship? And is my acceptance of differences unique? I certainly hope not.
What are religious and political views except a chosen way to collaboratively view the world and provide a moral code or set of values to follow? (This is a very simplistic definition condensed from the dictionary definitions, no offense intended, just trying to keep the length reasonable here.) If my friend believes something other than me in regard to spirituality, is one of us wrong? Certainly not! She has found comfort and a value system in her spirituality, how can anyone judge that harshly? It is simply part of what has created who she is, which I find valuable. Does my differing belief system somehow threaten her? I think not or I might feel pressure from her to align my beliefs with hers.
So does this relational dynamic change if it’s an intimate relationship? Is it less possible to have differing views in a romantic relationship? I personally know a couple that has been married 25 years this December and one partner is a devout Catholic and the other an Atheist. How can this be you ask? Well, they each value having the other in their life enough that they make concessions and respect their individuality without feeling threatened. They do not spend any time debating their views or trying to convince the other to “change.”
What is it about differing beliefs that feels threatening anyway? If I have a certain belief and I’m not advertising it, just living with integrity and honor, why would another person feel the need to judge me as less than themselves because I do not think exactly the same way?
I do not believe that differing political or religious views result in the ruin of relationship, rather the everyday tasks, our idiosyncrasies and communication styles are what threaten our ties. Things such as leaving the clothes lying in a pile on the floor vs putting them in the laundry hamper, wanting key lime paint on the walls vs meadow green, or wanting to go out for a run after work vs wanting to watch Netflix. And of course, the ability to respectfully discuss these differing preferences. Can we instead learn to appreciate these differences in each other? Can we value that we are not committed to our clone?
Seriously, how much fun would it be to be in a committed relationship with yourself? Would you enjoy always being with someone that liked everything you do; ate all the same foods, liked all the same movies, listened to all the same music, shared every political and religious view, had the same hair color, left the cover off the toothpaste like you, didn’t ever want to clean like you, had all the same friends as you, and had your job? While it may feel exasperating at times negotiating our differences, would you enjoy never learning another point of view or hearing new types of music? Can you imagine all the museums, locations, activities, food, books, and people you would miss out on? Can we not embrace and find gratitude in the opportunity to see the world through another’s eyes?
How often have we made a decision to have a belief and shut someone else down because they don’t share our view? How does that make sense? Of course, within any relationship (intimate, friendship, work) there are times we don’t see eye to eye and of course it’s the people we’re most invested in that we have the biggest reaction to when we feel our viewpoint is the “right” one, but is it not our duty to step back, take a deep breath and realize perhaps there’s another way to look at the situation? And that perhaps the other way is the best way for right now? Is it not possible we’re wrong sometimes?! Just as it’s possible our point of view may be the best choice at another time? Does it not take tolerance, open-mindedness and trust in the other person and in the relationship that allows for acceptance of differences?
I value having my friend in my life and with that comes appreciating and accepting our differences. Neither needs to change, we value the qualities that makes us each unique and have learned to rely on each other’s differing strengths. And perhaps with trust and safety, there will be a change of beliefs, but it will be because we see valuable qualities emulated in the other, not because of coercion or insecurity.
So, I believe the success of a relationship depends on the people, not their beliefs. Jetting back to my previous blog on Mindsets (July 30), consider what matters, what your goal is in having said relationship; having a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset guarantees opening your heart and mind to embracing each other’s differences and embarking on an unknown, kindred adventure!
Happiness is not only an outcome, but also a source of health and performance.
Happy people enjoy a bounty of beneficial outcomes in life - from better health habits to improved immune function, from more meaningful work to more frequent promotions, from higher goal completion to resiliency in the face of setbacks, and from higher creativity to better social lives. Positive emotions such as joy, contentment, interest, and gratitude tend to enhance our chances of success.
What makes positive emotions so powerful? As the human brain evolved, it became very good at recognizing negative feelings and at reacting to them in a very clear and immediate manner. That’s the fight or flight response we’re all familiar with. It served the purpose of keeping us alive in a world full of predators.
Positive emotions did just the opposite. They served, and still do, the purpose of broadening our cognitive and behavioral capacities so we can recognize and explore a multitude of options. In the process, they help us gradually build social and intellectual resources that promote future growth. That’s the broaden and build response described by psychologist and author Barbara Fredrickson.
On a more physiological level, and darting back to my blog on August 5th, positive emotions are associated with:
As a rule of thumb, we need to experience at least three positive emotions for every negative emotion in order to broaden our behavioral repertoires and build durable resources. As shown by psychologist George Bower many years ago, positive emotions also lead to positive memories, which support positive moods.
Get ready for some great facts and ideas you can use to cultivate happiness...
In the grand scheme of the many goals we set, our moods are yet another facet that should be explored. If finding a sense of purpose, having realistic optimism, feeling grateful, doing random acts of kindness, naming our emotions, and getting outside are all avenues to achieving goals such as better sleep, weight loss, relationship fulfillment, or job satisfaction, why not make an effort?
To learn practical exercises for any of these mood elevators, contact me or read more in Marie-Josee Shaar’s book Smart and Stamina.
What will you put in your positive emotion toolbox?
By change I mean forward movement in a positive direction of our choice.
Forward movement looks different to all of us, doesn’t it? While in forward movement we have a vision of where we want to go, a picture of who we are at our best. Forward movement doesn’t require figuring out what’s wrong or what needs fixing yet sometimes that’s where we are and what we do.
Forward movement means we’re in the Action Stage according to the Transtheoretical Model (Dr. James Prochaska). There are five stages in this change model and Action is step #4. Step 1 is when someone is saying “I can’t” and/or “I won’t” (precontemplation); Step 2 they’re saying “I might” (contemplation); Step 3 it’s turned into “I will” (preparation); Step 4 is “I am” (action); and step 5 is “I still am” (maintenance).
Forward movement requires a vision of who we are at our best and fulfills a sense of purpose. It depends on honing our strengths and building on what’s already working well. Small attainable goals that build our self efficacy keep us moving forward. Continued forward movement may also include naming and preparing for obstacles that appear and threaten to derail our plans.
For some, the thing we want to change is our eating or exercise habits, giving up cigarettes or alcohol, or fitting into our favorite jeans again. For others, it’s a relationship or career that isn’t supporting our mental and emotional health. Sometimes the thing we’d like to change is to listen to others more than we speak. Or learning mindfulness to appreciate what’s right in front of us, right now. The list of things we’d like to change is endless and unique to us all.
What is it that happens when we try to give up an unhealthy thing and we keep going back to it? Similarly, what happens when we’re doing a new, healthy behavior and we’re tempted to fall back into the old, familiar activity?
For me, meaningful connection with people is what matters most in life. I truly care and am interested in people and their stories. So much so that I have, at times, and on a personal level, shown a lack of respect for my own needs in order to meet the needs of another person.
Forward movement for me means moving toward emotional autonomy. This means honoring the feelings and moods of another person without letting them impact my emotions, personal value, and/or actions. I have been diligently working on this change for close to two years. It has been the most emotionally challenging change I have ever embarked on. I can now say I feel confident and capable of maintaining my emotional autonomy. Yet, just like everyone else that takes on difficult changes, sometimes I come face to face with my kryptonite.
In that moment, I can see the path to emotional strength and yet when I’m faced with the actual choice of autonomy or self defeating connection (which of course doesn’t sound like that in my head or heart at the time), there’s a moment when I have to remind myself where I want to be and what my best self looks and feels like to keep moving in that direction.
I’m curious though, what are the feelings I hope to assuage in consideration of doing the very thing I want not to do? What are the feelings that for one moment will be silenced by doing the exact thing that will bring anxiety and disappointment the moment I realize I’ve just done the thing that causes the anxiety and disappointment? Is that not what I need to recognize, to feel? Is it not sitting in that feeling until it passes (and it will pass, all feelings do) that will bring relief and affirmation? And confidence that I can in fact overcome that which threatens to crumble me?
I can see that I assign meaning, an emotion, to this thing (person). And what are our meanings (interpretations) except our own perceptions projected? We might all have a different experience and assign different meaning to the same person and as different as they all may be, they’re all correct as they are simply our own chosen perception.
I designate positive meaning and emotion to this person (perhaps an object or activity for others) and that illusion of positive emotion draws me to it (him). Simultaneously, I have empowered it (him) with the ability to silence or numb other negative emotions, so now this person has mistakenly become the way out of, or away from, my pain and fear. And perhaps this thing (person) will briefly quiet my demons. However, because it doesn’t actually possess the meaning I’ve assigned it (it’s only my perception, after all), it can’t possibly bring lasting relief.
I’m working on naming these feelings I wish to silence in moments of potential weakness, their names don’t come easily for me. My coach training tells me that picturing what you don’t want only brings more of that very thing, so I cannot say I don’t want anxiety and angst, which are really not specific feelings anyway. I think - correction - I feel, that loss and loneliness are the feelings I wish to numb and avoid by way of this object (person) and that rescue, magical love, and personal value have defined my fantasy object (person). What I want to feel is reliable, consistent, and authentic connection, and emotional autonomy. This is the ball I need to keep my eye on.
So if I do not do the thing that derails my goal for emotional autonomy, if not just this one time, will it not lead me to feel stronger to do the same if the situation is presented again? There are two energetic forces that need recharging every day when taking action to make changes. One is motivation; connecting with your own picture of you at your best, your vision of thriving. The other is confidence; a mind set that supports setting a positive goal for the immediate future that you believe you can achieve.
Every change we want to make takes specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and time lined goals. It takes naming and picturing who we want to be at our best. It takes recognizing our strengths and what’s already working well. It takes sitting through and accepting uncomfortable feelings at times. It takes creating strategies for potential obstacles. It takes support by authentic, emotionally present people. And it takes patience, understanding and forgiveness on your own behalf.
So what makes change so difficult?
Change happens when we locate the value and motivation for change within ourselves, decide we’re worth it, are willing to work for it, and no longer accept the alternative.
Most adults need between 7.5 and 8.5 hours of sleep per night. Most of the adults I know tell me they don’t get that much. In fact, I’ve found that some people seem to think it’s a badge of honor that they function on less, as though it demonstrates how invaluable their presence is to the people and projects in their lives. Others wear a face of desperation when answering how much sleep they get because though they report wanting more, there’s just too much to do during the day to get to bed at a reasonable time. For some, sleep gets interrupted during the night for hours at a time and seems to become habitual.
Just yesterday I had a conversation with someone regarding her night time routine of reading before bed and nightly wakings for two or more hours which results in less than adequate sleep during the week and sleeping half the day on the weekends. She often reads during the nightly wakings. While she enjoys reading, she doesn’t enjoy being tired all day and/or sleeping half the day away.
We all need adequate sleep to help our brain and body perform a number of important mental and physical functions. One of the basics that I learned about years ago has to do with how muscle utilizes sleep to repair after intense workouts. If you exercise, what’s the point of all the hard work if you sabotage yourself with less than adequate sleep?
The brain uses sleep to consolidate the day’s learning and memories. Sleep adequacy also impacts decision making as it increases the ability to receive, process and act on information.
Other factors impacted by sleep have to do with the role of hormones. Sleep increases serotonin, the neurotransmitter that facilitates self discipline, helps you feel cooler, calmer, and more upbeat. Higher levels of serotonin also reduces the incidence of depression.
Dopamine levels rise with more sleep and causes us to feel more energetic, capable, and motivated to persevere when facing difficulties.
Leptin levels are replenished during sleep. Leptin helps us regulate our food intake as well as when and how much energy to spend in physical activity.
High cortisol levels brought on by less than optimal sleep are associated with impatience, irritability, insomnia, premature aging, and cravings of high sugar, high fat, and high sodium foods.
Interestingly, these hormones also play a role in exercise, mood and nutrition. For example, with exercise, serotonin and dopamine levels rise and cortisol levels drop. Correspondingly, people with positive moods have higher levels of serotonin and lower levels of cortisol.
When people have a difficult time reaching a goal, say weight loss, it may be beneficial to investigate the less obvious factors that have hormonal impacts on food and energy regulation (sleep and mood). When people have a difficult time with sleep, it may be beneficial to look at less obvious areas that may have a hormonal impact on energy regulation (exercise, food and mood). Can you see how interwoven sleep, hormones and our goals are?
Sleep debt accumulates as well. If we skip two hours of sleep for four consecutive nights, our brains perform no better than if we are legally drunk. Our ability and willingness to be reactive and proactive, to sustain concentration, and to function at high capacity all get increasingly worse. And research shows that sleep deprived people are very poor judges of their own abilities to concentrate.
Interesting to note; poor sleep is NOT a natural consequence of aging. It may however be a natural consequence of reduced physical activity, increased social isolation, and/or higher stress. The good news, as you have read, is that you can experiment to find your best solution to better sleep health.
Are you wondering what the fore mentioned client and I brainstormed as potential solutions to her sleep conundrum? For now she’s going to read for only 30 minutes before bed and the reading must be done with a book, not a Nook, as research shows that the lighting in all of our tech gadgets wake up the parts of the brain responsible for alertness. Also, should she wake during the night, reading is not an option, instead she must wait until morning when she wakes - at the same time regardless of night time waking. Reading will be her reward as soon as she gets out of bed with the alarm. The goal is to retrain her sleep cycle to begin and end at a set time rather than having no structure. It will take time, but new habits can be learned!
So, how much sleep are you getting per night? How can you improve that number?
To learn more about sleep, mood, food, and exercise and get some usefu, I recommend “Smarts and Stamina” by Marie-Josee Shaar and Kathryn Britton
Learner and sharer of all things healthy, active, esteem building, growth promoting, witty and Hawaiian