By Suzanne Zook-Johnston, DMFT
Clinical Director and Counsellor for the Niagara Relationship Health Centre (NRHC)

The holidays can bring a mixture of emotions, and often we find ourselves reflecting on the past as our minds go into a state of rewind. Rewinding past relationship hardships can stir up feelings such as anger, sadness, resentment, and regret.

Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist who wrote the book Hardwiring Happiness (2013) , suggests our brains have a negativity bias that is programmed to remember and accentuate the negative. Similarly, Dr. David Olson, a couple researcher who wrote the book The Couple Checkup (2008), has collected data on more than 50,000 couples and discovered married couples or couples in long-term relationships tend to focus on negative aspects of their partner.

What does this mean? Overtime,a buildup of disturbing thoughts, and feelings about our partners and our relationships can takeover and create a toxic emotional cesspool. What is a toxic emotional cesspool? It is a toxic environment where negative emotional energy is stored and can act as fuel to increase distressing relations and overtime destroy our most cherished, intimate relationships.

How do you clean up your emotional cesspool?

Alfred Adler, one of the founding fathers of psychology, created a technique called “act as if” that suggests acting a certain way can make you feel a certain way. Comparably, Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), created a psychoeducational skill called “opposite action” that suggests we can actually trick our brains by doing the opposite of what we feel like doing.

This holiday season give your relationship a dose of holiday cheer by following the 10 steps outlined below. If you find this process too difficult to follow or have any questions, I will be happy to help.

Give Your Relationship A Dose of Holiday Cheer-10 step Process:

  1. ACT HAPPY to see your partner, put a SMILE on your face.
  2. NOTICE something you appreciate about your partner
  3. TELL him or her how much you appreciate that attribute.
  4. Then become AWARE of your feelings and notice positive feelings, hold onto those feelings for 5 to 10 seconds.
  5. STILL (Stop Toxicity and ILLness from entering) the mind.
  6. Say POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS to yourself “I am changing this negative cycle.”
  7. Communicate with your partner. LEAN into your partner, and really LISTEN to what he or she has to say. Get rid of defensiveness, and start paraphrasing (repeating what you think your partner said) to make sure that you understand.
  8. TELL your partner that you APPRECIATE his or her point of view
  9. SHARE your point of view. Use “I statements” to share your point of view.
  10. GIVE your partner a hug, a kiss, or a touch, and thank him or her for talking and listening.

Congratulate yourself! You just took the first step toward cleaning your emotional cesspool. How do you feel?

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