BIG Relationship Problems?

"Problems are only as big as we make them.” client shared this with me recently. She and her husband use this idea as a reminder to not make problems any bigger than they have to be. They choose to focus on their joys instead of their fears. Through our work on mindfulness and positive psychology, and their commitment to their marriage, they created this powerful mantra.

Pretty wise for 24-year-olds.

To develop mindfulness, I encouraged them to notice or reflect on their thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Sometimes a situation results in just a reaction without thought, and it seems you have no choice in your reaction. Mindfulness can reveal an opportunity to respond differently. I also encouraged them to end each day by sharing three gratitudes for that day with each other. In addition, if they felt sucked down by negativity during the day, they could choose to “flip the switch” to positivity, and instead shift their focus to something for which they felt appreciation.

Small shifts like these can have a big impact on a relationship. Clearly these shifts are working for this couple, as the husband recently shared:

I decided that the problems were small, and the rewards large, so I just don’t pay much attention to them anymore….Please know that you have helped guide us from a tragic situation to one of the highest levels of intimacy and satisfaction. I didn’t think it was possible to feel this giddy beyond the infatuation phase, but now I know you can feel in love every second of your life. Thank you Dr. Jenn.

They may be thanking me, but each of them is doing the hard work of retraining their brains. It’s not easy, but we have a lot more power and control over our emotional states and reactions than we realize. Sometimes it feels downright excruciating to break our automatic patterns. However, as this couple attests, through the pain of change, is the glory of intimacy.

(This was originally posted as the weekly Love & Sex Blog for Pacific San Diego Magazine.)

~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego, CA -- Sex Therapy, Marriage Counseling, Sexologist, Sexual Health Motivational Speaker