What We Can Learn from the Love Lab About Injuries - Part II
Posted Nov 02 2009 10:00pm
Last week, I wrote about the parallels between the work done by Dr. John Gottman and overcoming an injury. This week, I'll cover the seven positive traits that couples possess and how you can use those traits in your quest to rebound from and injury or illness.
Dr. Gottman has found seven positive traits in couples who enjoy long lasting, vibrant and rewarding marriages. Here they are along with my interpretation pertaining to injuries or illness.
1. Enhance Your Love Maps. Emotionally intelligent couples know each other's hopes and dreams. They know the history of the other person, significant events, and keep up to date with events.
Enhance Your Injury Maps. To be successful in beating an illness or injury, you need to know your own history; the actions, choices, attitudes that may have contributed to your current situation.
2. Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration. Gottman's research shows that 94% of the time, couples who feel the other is still worthy of honor and respect inspite of their flaws are more likely to have a happy future. According to Gottman, this is one of the most critical elements in a rewarding and long-lasting marriage.
Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration of Your Self. When you persist in running on a leg with a stress fracture, or working out despite raging leg pain, you're not honoring and respecting your self. You're only hurting your self. Listen to what your body is telling you and respect it.
3. Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away. Gottman found that a secret in developing lasting emotional connection is to find ways to turn toward each other every day. When your partner tries to get your attention or support, making the turn toward your partner and not away is key.
Turn Toward Your Injury or Illness Instead of Away. Denial is a protective emotional mechanism that buys us time while we figure out what to do but prolonged denial can turn an acute problem into a chronic one. When you have symptoms, pay attention to them.
4. Let Your Partner Influence You. Couples who enjoyed the happiest marriages were those who found common ground, shared power and decision making and respected each others feelings and opinions.
Let Your Injury / Illness Influence You. Believe it or not, you can learn a lot from an injury - about your self, your body, healing. But, that only happens if you allow it to. You have to find some common ground - something between what you've lost and what you have - to launch something new and great.
5. Solve Your Solvable Problems. Gottman suggests solving the things that can be solved by using the following techniques:
Complain but don’t blame. You can complain about something, although be careful or you may end up with the whine flu, but try not to blame your predicament on someone else even if it is truly not your fault. Blaming blocks you from moving forward. Forgive, let go.
Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You.” Make your feelings and needs known rather than what someone else must do to fix your situation.
Describe what is happening, don’t evaluate or judge. One of my favorite stories about accepting, "what is" is here. Injuries carry a certain reality that you must accept to get past. Judging that reality doesn't help.
Be clear, polite and appreciative. When you hurt or don't feel well, it can be very difficult to remain polite and appreciative. Try remembering that the people around you who want to help you will be more likely to do so if you're not a Grinch.
Don’t store things up. Tough one for me. Finding a balance between talking about frustrations or lack of progress or recurring symptoms and not feeling like I'm whining is hard. But. not talking or sharing things creates a toxic emotional soup. You can always write things down in a journal if talking makes you too uncomfortable.
6. Overcome Gridlock. Gottman has found that ending gridlock doesn’t always mean solving the problem, but rather moving toward discussion. The steps he suggests are:
Learn to uncover your partner’s dreams. Well, for an injury it's uncovering your won dreams. Injuries can rob you of your future by seducing you into worrying. The more time you spend worrying, the less time you'll spend working on the very things that will lead you to your dreams.
Understand why each of you feels so strongly about the gridlocked issue. For an injury, understand why you feel so strongly about the gridlock - the lack of improvement or change you expect. Most clients I've seen have had an injury for years and then expect all to be well in a few weeks. It's not only the unrealistic expectations that are at fault. It's also your reaction to the situation. Why does it upset you so much? Once you can answer that, you'll feel much better.
Soothe each other to avoid flooding. Use pain relieving techniques, relaxation techniques to ease your discomfort. Be kind to your self.
End the gridlock by making peace with the issue, accepting the differences between you, talking without hurting each other and compromising. You have to find a way to make peace with your injury or illness without feeling like you've given up. You can still work toward a goal or dream while acknowledging that today you're not there. I'll admit that this is tough to do. I'm about 20 months post-injury and would like to believe I can do what I want, when I want, how I want but I can't. I can't sit in certain chairs or stand in one place too long without symptoms in my hip or leg. Yes, it's mild and temporary and improving, but it's still there.
7. Create Shared Meaning. Couples who thrive seem to be able to speak candidly yet respectfully about values and dreams. They're able to respect the dream they each have but recognize they may not both share the same dreams.
Create Shared Meaning About Your Injury. When you can talk about your injury, what it has meant to you both positively and negatively, and still "see" your dream, you create a deeper meaning to the experience. Probably one of the most well known individuals to have done this was Christopher Reeve. He was candid about his injury yet held onto the hope that one day we would find a cure for spinal cord injuries. The injury and his hope created value and meaning in his life.
Overcoming an injury can be a daunting task at times. If you feel this way, try going through this list to make a potentially tough situation more tolerable and rewarding.