by Cathy Lumsden
Relationships are one of the main cornerstones of happiness. So why do I often hear there isn’t time for connecting with others? At the end of the day, relationships are what life’s all about. We learn from them, grow from them, feel intense joy and sorrow thanks to them. We need them, and need to recognize they require our time.
Here’s a quick exercise to see if you and your family are connected:
- Do you eat at least three dinners together per week without TV or technology?
- Do you put your technology away at a set time in the evening and spend time together?
- Do you listen to your spouse and children without thinking about what to say next?
- Do you listen and empathize, or fix and lecture?
- Do you notice your family members’ strengths and encourage them, or do you focus more on their limitations and mistakes?
- Do you carve out time for family activities at least once a week?
If you answered yes to four or more of these questions your family is most likely connected. If you answered yes to three or less, your family probably needs to be more diligent about connecting.
What creates disconnection?
Many of us wonder how our families disconnect. Common answers include technology, overwork, anger, stressors at work and home, drugs and alcohol, and extramarital affairs. These are all external factors.
What about internal factors—the ones behind our eyes, in our minds? Our minds are pattern machines. Their job is to create thoughts. However, many of our thoughts generate disconnection from ourselves and others.
Do you ever have these thoughts?
‘She thinks I’m stupid.’
‘Why bother trying to say anything since he doesn’t listen anyway?’
‘I’m so boring.’
‘Why can’t the kids just stop fighting?’
When our minds create these thoughts, we’re apt to withdraw, give the cold shoulder (thinking ‘That’ll teach them’), or overreact and become angry.
Take a minute and consider how this occurs: we think thoughts, believe them and then behave according to our thoughts. Wow! In fact, research demonstrates that individuals who believe their negative thoughts report poorer relationships and quality of life.
Don’t let negative thoughts leave you disconnected
We all have a need to belong and to be accepted, so why do we escape, push others away and then feel lonely, isolated and depressed? To answer this question, you need to connect with yourself. Go inside yourself to see what you are feeling and ask yourself, ‘Why am I escaping into technology, work or (fill in the blank) and what do I need?’ Unfortunately, sometimes we’re too stressed to know what that is. However, there are concrete ways to relieve some of the tension.
Many people meditate, pray, walk in nature, and listen to music to connect with something more than or bigger than themselves. This allows them to be more content, feel the urge to connect with others, and reach out with gentleness.
Take time for what matters
- What really matters to you? Be honest. This question is a good way to assess your values. Is family one of your top values? If it is, then it may be easier to connect and stay connected. If family isn’t high on your priority list, you may want to explore why it’s not. Perhaps your experiences as a child taught you other values. Now that you’re an adult you have the capacity to reassess and choose your values. If you do that and decide family doesn’t need to be a top value, you may want to discuss this with your partner.
- Make a conscious choice to connect with your family daily, and create a plan for how you’re going to follow through. Write your ideas down on paper. I like to suggest dividing your plan into categories. Communicating, Listening, Engaging in Activities and Showing Respect are a few popular ones. In each category, record the behaviors you will adopt to increase connection. For example, under Listening you may write:
- Look directly at the person
- Don’t interrupt
- Reflect back what is being said, adding a comment such as “Interesting point!”
- Ask questions to demonstrate interest
- Now that you’ve made a choice, how are you going to stick to it? I suggest you use visual cues, such as words or pictures, and put them on your mirror, phone, desk or refrigerator to use as reminders.
Imagery and visualization are other powerful techniques to use. Imagine a time when you felt connected to someone you cared about. What did you do that contributed to this connection? How does this make you feel now? Most likely it creates warm, pleasant and safe feelings. Connecting to our feelings assists us to achieve our goals 3000 times faster than thinking or logic. Hallmark counts on this!
- Mindfulness provides a fantastic opportunity to stay in the moment and experience the beauty of your children, your partner and yourself. Through mindfulness you learn to decrease your judgment of self and others, increase your vitality in life and, consequently, connect with your family members.
Are you ready to choose a new approach to get a different outcome? When you choose to connect with yourself and your family, the 86,400 seconds you have in a day will be precious. You have been blessed with these people in your life, how about taking time for them?
Cathy is a psychotherapist, researcher and international speaker with years of experience counselling adults, families, teenagers and children. Contact her at Adlerian Counselling and Consulting Group, 613 737-5553.