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We Need Many Different Forms of Love in Our Lives

We Need Many Different Forms of Love in Our Lives

Love is both a feeling and an action.

Many people describe love as a feeling of warmth in their heart, chest, or stomach.

We often feel a sense of affection for the object of our love. We reach out to touch, caress, hug, hold, pat, kiss, and otherwise be near this person or pet. Healthy attachment is regulating to our nervous system.

Those warm feelings feel like safety and yumminess.

We need, and can have, many different forms of love in our lives.

Love for a partner.

Love for a child.

Love for a friend.

Love for a sister/brother/parent/cousin/grandparent/etc.

Love for a pet.

Love for a person or people we serve.

Love for someone we’ve lost.

Love for someone we’ve found.

Love for time we share with someone who shares an interest.

Love for our colleagues.

Love for a hobby or passion.

Love for a time that once was.

Love for the hope of what will be.

Love for who we were.

Love for who we are.

Love for whom we may become.

Many of us learned we were unlovable.

Many of us decided then to un-love ourselves first before we could be taken by surprise by those who would reject us. This un-love, this fear, this strategy became True and we were divided.

When seeking to return to love of ourselves, acceptance feels frightening and we rebel against it.

But wait.

Slow down.

Start by accepting THAT you don’t accept. Accept fear. Accept pain. Accept sinking doubt, searing shame, the desperate desire to hide. Accept that you don’t know how to accept.

Ah, yes. This is what’s here right now.

You may find that with this little drizzle of acceptance for non-acceptance, there is a little softening and a little relief and the tiniest possibility of acceptance of more of who you are.

Love, acceptance and pleasure for someone for who they are right now, is the rain, sun, and soil in which each of us blossoms.

May you reach and stretch for a little of your own sunlight.

May you drink from the well of your own affection.

May you eat from the table of your own acceptance.

May you feel yourself blossom right where you are, no matter how imperfect the conditions.

With Love and Yumminess,

Karen

Polyamorous on Valentine’s Day? Therapist Tips for a Healthy & Happy Poly Valentine’s…

Polyamorous on Valentine’s Day? Therapist Tips for a Healthy & Happy Poly Valentine’s…

Jenna has two partners and three metamours. She wants to celebrate with everyone and leave no one feeling left out. But each year, it’s a challenge because Valentine’s Day is only one day. How in the world is she supposed to make time for everyone? Last year, one of her partners was hurt because they felt she signaled that he was less important. She wants to avoid this this year.

Valentine’s Day is a day often filled with excitement and expectation. It’s a day to celebrate love and romance, and many Americans hope to spend the day with a special someone, but how do you manage this when you are polyamorous and have multiple partners? How do you navigate showing each partner just how much they mean to you without neglecting anyone? How do you decide what to do with whom and when? It can be a stressful time for any polycule, but it doesn’t have to be.

Here are a few ways to leave the stress at the door as you think about celebrating this Valentine’s Day.

DETERMINE WHAT YOUR PARTNERS WANT TO DO

Don’t make assumptions, ask your partners how they want to celebrate with you this year. Figure out what will make all of your special someones happy as you celebrate your love together. Does that mean a weekend away together? How about a nice dinner at home? Maybe it’s a party with your whole polycule to celebrate together? Flowers and a card? Whatever you decide to do, make sure to ask your partners and don’t assume what they want.

DON’T MAKE ASSUMPTIONS

Not everyone wants to celebrate Valentine’s Day with their romantic partners, but some people do. Make sure you connect with all of your partners in your polycule and ensure that you have a clear understanding of what Valentine’s Day means for each individual relationship. Is celebrating on February 14th of utmost importance, or is just being together to honor your commitment to one another no matter the date more important? Will you exchange gifts with one another? Unclear expectations can lead to hurt feelings, so make sure that you connect with your partners to have a clear understanding of what they envision.

COMMUNICATE

This is the cornerstone of every polyamorous relationship(s). Whether you’re a dyad, triad, quad or a wide-reaching poly family, communication is a key part of navigating partners, metamours, and everything in between. Things are no different when thinking about how to spend Valentine’s Day. Make sure you share your plans with your partners so everyone knows when they’ll be celebrating with you and when you’ll be with other partners. Don’t leave anyone in the dark, just like any other part of polyamory, be open and be honest.

DON’T SCHEDULE BASED ON HIERARCHY

Polyamory often comes with innate hierarchies among relationships often determined by sweat equity in a relationship. Simply put, it’s the idea that the relationship you’ve been in the longest is your most important and so forth. It comes with the idea that one has primary, secondary, tertiary, etc… partners. This is a valid style of poly for some, but when it comes to celebrating your love for your partners, don’t let your scheduling be dictated by hierarchies. Primary partners shouldn’t get to “call dibs” on a day before you’ve had a chance to talk to all of your partners. Make sure that your scheduling works for everyone to avoid hurt feelings and negative metamour relationships.

DON’T COMPARE AND/OR COMPETE

No two relationships have the same connection or love between partners, so why would you compare how you celebrate that love? It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Everyone has different needs and it’s important to avoid comparing or competing with your metamours. Just focus on the best way to give and receive love with your partners in whatever way will make you happy. 

Have a happy Valentine’s Day!

Alyson Mullie, LMSW

5 Unusual (and Effective) Ways to Keep Dating Your Spouse

5 Unusual (and Effective) Ways to Keep Dating Your Spouse

written by Stephanie Schuster, LMSW, Avalon Psychotherapist

In my work with couples, I often mention the notion of dating your spouse. When first entering a relationship, it is filled with dates, getting to know one another, romance, and passion – all part of the limerence or “honeymoon” phase. 

But what happens after the honeymoon phase has fizzled out? Or when life gets busy? Or after having children? I always ask couples how often they make time for dates or even just alone time together. For some, the answer is rarely.

There are many reasons that make it hard for couples to schedule dates or alone time:

having to hire a babysitter

financial reasons (and you know what’s expensive? Divorce. Divorce is expensive…)

differing work schedules

just always being busy

There are always reasons to push dates together to the backburner, but you don’t have to have a full date night in order to date your spouse. Just like any relationship, maintaining a bond and connectedness requires work.  The exercises below do not require money, hiring a babysitter, or even taking hours of time. (Although, it always helps to keep monthly or biweekly dates in the mix!) 

Here are 5 unusual (and effective) ways to keep dating your spouse:

1.    Reminisce over the start of the relationship and/or other memorable moments. A fun and free way of dating your spouse is revisiting the moments that fostered your connection and love for one another.  Spend some time with your partner going over in detail your recollection of your first date together, or when you got engaged, or even the day you both said, “I do”.  Take turns discussing what it was like for you during that time. What were the feelings? Was it nerve-wracking, exciting, or did you feel the chemistry immediately? What were the thoughts?  This exercise is light and easy and can help you both remember what drove you to one another in the first place.

2.    Spend time together disconnected. In a time where we are constantly on our phones, watching tv, and worrying about the long to-do list that needs attention, take time away from it all. Set time aside where you both can disconnect from the social world and connect with one another. Remove focus from the daily tasks and spend time going over things that are central to you both. Talk about goals, or dreams, or places you would love to visit. This can be done at home, at night in bed, or when out on a date. Don’t get caught up in discussing the “business” of running the family. This is connection time!

3.    Show appreciation. Sometimes couples think that this is an easy or silly exercise. However, the value of showing appreciation for one another is often overlooked.  You may be thinking- why should I show appreciation for daily tasks that need to get done. Or- I already say thank you when my partner does something nice or helpful. And those are valid. But when we take the time to focus on the things we may take for granted, and even more, make it a point to recognize them, we foster love and connectedness because it meets a core need of our partner: to feel “seen.” This does not have to be done daily and can be done in a way that is fun. Take turns each week noticing things your partner does that you don’t always give them credit for. Do you appreciate when your partner makes you your morning cup of coffee? Or when they offer to pick up something from the store for you? Or maybe even the way they parent. There are always things we can appreciate in our partners; we just need to take the time to recognize them and, more importantly, verbalize them.  

4.    Take a moment to connect and sync up your breathing. This one may take a little practice but can be very rewarding once you get the hang of it.  Sit down facing your partner, find a position that is comfortable for you both, close your eyes, and get ready to be extra close to one another. In this exercise, you and your partner will sit and lean in to touch foreheads together. You will then both focus on your breathing and work to sync up your breathing with one another. This may take a couple tries and can be done for time intervals that feel most comfortable for you both.  For the first try, aim to sync your breathing for 30 seconds, inhaling and exhaling. If you feel comfortable and find you are both able to easily sync your breathing, try for longer time intervals. Remember to focus on your breathing and your body. To add another layer of connectedness, hold hands while doing this exercise. Side note: You may find it hard to keep focused on the breaths while a myriad of things are swirling around in your head, and that is okay!  Just try to notice when other thoughts come in and then return your focus to your breathing. Mindfulness is a powerful thing and keeping the focus on one another can bring on feelings of closeness and connectedness.

5.    Get in your six second kiss each day. Anyone who is familiar with the Gottman Institute may already know about the 6-second kiss. If not, I am here to tell you about this amazing way of staying connected with your partner. It really is as simple as kissing for 6 seconds. Yup, that’s it! Now for the science- Kissing releases oxytocin and dopamine and can help reduce cortisol. What are those chemicals you ask? Oxytocin helps with feeling comfort and bonding, often referred to as the love hormone. Dopamine is that fun chemical that activates the reward center of the brain, giving us feelings of pleasure and satisfaction.  And cortisol, the hormone that gives you fight or flight reflexes, a response to stress. This is a simple but powerful way to keep dating your spouse, and who doesn’t love a good kiss!

While setting time aside and scheduling date nights is important, it is not the only way to keep dating your spouse. Try any or all of these methods to help in reconnecting you to the one you love. Life is busy and hectic but that does not mean it has to get in the way of being close with your partner. 

Stephanie Schuster, LMSW

5 Ways to Cope with the Anniversary of the Death of a Loved One

5 Ways to Cope with the Anniversary of the Death of a Loved One

(Guest post by Avalon Healer, Alyson Mullie, LMSW)

Death. It’s a difficult topic to talk about. But, we will all be impacted by death and dying at some point in our lives. Death is a natural part of life and thus, so is grief. Yet, we live in a culture with the expectation that we attend the funeral or memorial service for our loved one, and then return to work after our 3.5 bereavement days have expired. It can be hard to know how to cope with death experiences. We feel a need to rush a grief experience so that we can “process” it and “get back to normal.” 

We may even believe we have gotten back to “normal,” but then the anniversary of our loved one’s death approaches, and we get smacked with all the feels once again. It can seem like an unending cycle. 

Here are some ways to cope and manage the emotions that emerge as death anniversaries approach.

Allow space to remember your loved one.

Positive memories are the best way to keep the spirit of your loved one alive after they’ve passed. Even though they have died, they still occupy space in your life and memories. It’s important to recognize that and allow space to experience those memories. It can be as simple as looking at photos, listening to a favorite record, or visiting a favorite place of your loved one. 

Ask for support.

Processing grief can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Ask for support from friends and family members as you grieve. This can be especially important in the early years (1st, 2nd, maybe even 3rd death anniversaries). Grief emotions can be complex and sometimes, having an understanding friend or family member there with you can help create a safe space to experience our loss. Know that there are no “right feelings to have. It is common to have a variety of feelings from sadness to anger to relief.

Do something in honor of your loved one.

My grandmother died in 2017, 1 year later, I launched my first grief and loss support group in honor of her and my grief experience. Honoring our loved ones allows us, as survivors, to pay tribute to those that we’ve lost. As a therapist, I chose to use the skills I have to give back to others experiencing grief, but there are so many other ways you can honor a loved one. You can visit their grave or resting place and leave flowers, plant a tree in their memory, volunteer for an organization that was special to them, have a gathering of friends and family to reminisce, or light a candle in honor of your loved one. All these things are small ways to simply remind yourself and the world that your loved one existed and that they are remembered.

Be kind to yourself.

Experiencing grief brings dozens of different and often unexpected emotions. This can be magnified even more on a death anniversary. It’s important to remember, that this is a normal part of the grief process and that it is ok to be sad, angry, happy, or whatever it is you’re feeling. It is important to take the time to grieve by slowing down, doing less, and taking quiet space. You have not let anyone down, you are not crazy. You are just being human. The grief process can be difficult and long, but it is important to take care of yourself along the way.

Talk to a therapist.

Sometimes it can be difficult to find a friend or family member who understands. Maybe they are overwhelmed with their own grief, or process grief in a way that is incompatible with your way. Maybe they have not (yet) experienced this type of loss and find it difficult to provide the empathy and compassion you need (and deserve). This is when talking to a therapist can help. With a safe, judgement-free space, you really can say whatever you need to say in order to feel your feelings and continue on your healing journey.

Alyson Mullie, LMSW

 

Resolve to Love Yourself Better

Resolve to Love Yourself Better

Today, and every day, resolve to love yourself better.

Loving ourselves does not mean we “think we’re so great,” or that we recite empty affirmations about our vague worth or likableness.

True, radical self-love is the practice of slowly and gently changing the way we talk to ourselves, the story we believe about ourselves, the expectations we have of ourselves. We do not have to live with self-aggression to be motivated to change. We do not have to become less of who and what we are in order to be worthy.

True, radical self-love means getting up each day and deciding to see ourselves as the vulnerable, needy, child that we are longing for acceptance, longing for approval, begging for permission. To. Just. Be.

There are many cultural traditions around self-denigration. We confuse humility with low self-worth. We confuse self-sacrificing giving to others with love.

We are not at our best when we don’t feel safe in our inner world. Self-criticism might feel comfortably familiar, but it is not safe. We’ve simply internalized the self-aggression of others and made it our own.

Yet, our young inner selves, now hidden deep in the being of a performative adult, longs for that adult to turn inward, to see her. Really SEE her. Acknowledge her vulnerability. Speak to his fear and his need. Slow down and give space for the truth of their very reasonable longing for compassion, comfort, and protection.

This type of love looks simply like stopping in the middle of the day, placing a hand on your chest, closing your eyes, and saying, “Yes. This work/parenting/event IS scary. Yes. Of course I feel this way. And I can slow down and breathe. I can let you know that you are not bad, no matter what happens. It is ok that the house is a mess. There isn’t enough time to do it all. We are just one doing the best we can.”

By doing this kind of in-the-moment, spot-check, radical self-love, we can, stitch-by-stitch, repair our relationship with ourselves and create the happiness and contentment we have so longed for.

We find that as we trust ourselves more and fear less, we no longer need many of the strategies we tried so hard to beat out of ourselves. We become more of the best of who we are and find that the best of who we are is truly all of who we are.

Today, and every day, resolve to love yourself better.

With love,

Karen

We need a new conversation about food and weight.

We need a new conversation about food and weight.

We need a different conversation about food and weight. We need a conversation about food and weight that is not focused on the outcome being about food and weight.

We need a conversation that recognizes and centers two critical aspects of our difficulties:

  1. Our relationship with food is happening within the context of a larger food creation and distribution system that maximizes profits at the expense of public health, and;
  2. Our relationship with food is not about food and weight, but about deep relational wounds that often begin in childhood and for which food, eating, and weight control or chaos are symptoms.

There is an intersection where we find ourselves starved for the core sense of love, acceptance, belonging, and security, all of which evoke embodied feelings of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm; and the prevalence of cheap, readily accessible foods that have little nutritional value, but also evoke a temporary sense of satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm.

Yet, because these very real sensations are not love, acceptance, belonging, and security, so many people find themselves driven to return to food as the source of the sensations over and over as we attempt to regulate our nervous systems in the face of very real unmet human need for deep connection.

This is the why when diets “don’t work.” Food restriction is incompatible with our physiology AND our neurobiology. When food is the solution to the problem, removing that solution still leaves the underlying problem.

This is true for all addictive patterns.

The solution must acknowledge the deep truth that we eat within a complex, economically driven, and politically protected food system that needs the population to eat and eat and eat.

We are provided a rich abundance of highly rewarding food products that keep us coming back for more.

All the while we are starved for the love and human connection we so desperately need for physical and psychological survival.

Nourishment, which is our very first experience of warmth, love, and safety moments after we are born is deeply wired into our beings to be associated with the core experience of love.

We have to stop demanding that people somehow eat normally in a very abnormal environment.

We have to end the suffering of shame and blame and daily private wars being waged with food in the battlefield of our bodies.

We have to reframe the discussion and help individuals and communities understand the problem is not will-power. It is not self-discipline. Is not that people are lazy or gluttonous.

It is that, as human beings, we are desperate for deep connection, yet we find ourselves deeply disconnected, not only from each other, but from ourselves.

We are not bad for seeking satiety, warmth, fullness, and calm in the face of constant discomfort, fear, distress, worry, and the terrible lie that we come to believe in childhood that we are fearfully and irreparably not enough. We are not bad for reaching for the thing that evokes the same embodied sense as that for which we so deeply long that is provided in such pervasive supply.

We must frame this conversation around removing the suffering of misunderstanding and blame for the individual and shifting the focus to empowering the individual and demanding that, as a society, we recognize the incredible harm our systems are doing to us as individuals and as a collective, as well as the planet we inhabit.

We must demand that health and mental health professionals divorce themselves from the “blame the individual” narrative around eating and weight. We must demand that professionals learn the available science of interpersonal neurobiology and addiction. We must demand that helping professionals honor the dignity of every human, trusting that each is doing the best they can within the context of their experience.

We must step beyond the false duality of fat/thin, healthy/unhealthy, good/bad, all/nothing narrative about food, weight, and eating disorders and compassionately recognize the profound need for human attachment – to ourselves and each other.

We must recognize that we are not eating in a normal environment for humans. We need complex solutions that compassionately recognize the complexity of our relationship with food as a species and its inherent link to our very nature as social beings.