Falling in love is never a straight line to “happily ever after.” Relationships go through seasons of change, renewal, darkness, and light.
So promises long-time therapist and couple’s coach Linda Carroll in Love Skills: The Key to Unlocking Lasting, Wholehearted Love, which offers specific, effective solutions to the most common struggles that couples face. We hope you’ll enjoy this except from the book.
At spiritual retreats, it’s a common practice to ring a bell at unexpected times throughout the day. People are asked to stop what they are doing for a moment when the bell rings — they must stop folding clothes, put down their forks, or take a break from their conversations — and turn inward. This develops the practice of becoming still enough to take a breath and check in with our wise and centered selves rather than giving in to our first reaction.
Everywhere we go, noise distracts us from tuning in to this deeper part of ourselves: music plays in coffee shops, the TV drones in the background at home, and electronic notifications beep ceaselessly from our smartphones. I watch people walking in local nature reserves wearing earbuds and headphones, unable to hear the music of the birds, the whisper of the trees, and other soft nature sounds that let us slow down enough to experience our own breath and the deeper music of our own thoughts.
Even when we stop the outer distractions, there is often inner noise. A committee of voices resides in our heads, constantly dictating what to worry about, judging what we are doing, and chattering about ideas and plans. Most of this is not bad or wrong (although we could do quite well without the judging voice); it’s the way our brain functions.
Sometimes these voices can enhance creativity, lead us to face challenges, and identify sources of interest, all of which are important parts of life. But sometimes we frighten ourselves, belittle ourselves, or convince ourselves we are in danger when we are not. In our relationship, those inner voices can build an entire case against our partner when he or she forgets to pick up the milk on the way home. That’s why the pause is the first and most important part of positive couples’ communication.
Seven Small Steps to Help You Pause and Rebalance
- Notice when your body is tense and stressed.
- Accept your reaction without judging it as wrong.
- Take a few deep breaths to slow yourself down.
- Tense and relax the muscles in your limbs.
- Do something to get back to your body. Go for a walk, run, or do some other kind of exercise. Touch a tree and scare away a heron, as I did. Take a shower, chew on an ice cube, or smell some lavender.
- Do something that quiets the mind. Listen to a soothing piece of music. Say a prayer, practice a mantra, or recite a poem.
- Notice again what is going on in your body.
You might have picked up on this already, but practicing the pause is inextricably intertwined with practicing mindfulness. Pausing involves observing your emotions and noticing your mind’s desire to react from its fear center, and it also involves redirecting the mind’s attention to more soothing, physical rituals like breathing and moving.