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(Reprinted from The Daily Freeman, Kingston, N.Y., May 27, 2003)

REVITALIZE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH 'SPRING CLEANING'

by Kris Harrington

Got a bad case of relationship stress? Try “spring cleaning” your relationship! You can throw out outdated rules and make room for brand new ones that work!

My friend Marian is a champion at spring cleaning, yet she finds it tough to toss out emotionally laden “souvenirs” — beliefs and patterns which don’t work for her anymore but which she keeps in her “closet” and uses to dictate her behavior.

Some of the beliefs may even stink, but she holds on to them anyway.

Why do so many people keep using patterns that used to fit but now feel a few sizes too small?

Like cherished items — “But that was the skirt my mother wore when she met my father at the college dance!” or “I wore that to my prom (30 years ago) and one day I know I’ll be a size 5 again! — we don’t yet feel we have permission to throw the outdated beliefs away.

Take Marian and Robert. They’ve been together for 12 years and until recently, they could predict like clockwork how each other would react. But things changed after Robert developed chronic pain and could no longer do his regular duties around the house.

Marian has taken on the tasks he used to do. She feels resentful, but doesn’t feel right expressing it since, she reasons, Robert’s condition is not his fault. Yet she is more irritable than ever and rarely laughs and talks with Robert anymore.

For his part, Robert feels guilty and doesn’t know how to address the situation openly. Crises continually arise when work goes undone because Robert doesn’t ask anyone for help.

Marian will tell you that her mom always said it was important to help others, even if that meant sacrificing too much and getting resentful. Of course, Mother’s rules also say that anger should not be openly expressed. So Marian resorts to an indirect way of expressing resentment — shutting off communication.

But this old rule doesn’t fit anymore, especially now that women are challenged with even more to do and are developing the same kinds of stress-related ailments as men.

We women need to clear out our “beliefs closet” and throw out those old size 5s if a size 12 gives us the breathing room we need.

Marian and Robert would both be well served if they considered throwing out expectations from their earlier years that no longer fit. They would do well to consider adopting a belief that it’s good and loving to specify and convey their needs.

Marian would benefit, since she already had

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REVITALIZE YOUR RELATIONSHIP (cont.)

two full-time jobs (mother and career woman) before Robert became ill. Now she’s struggling under the weight of three — and feels she’s not doing a good-enough job at any of them.

Robert, meanwhile, would benefit from asking for help and delegating tasks in a planned way, rather than waiting for a crisis to arise.

Here are five key steps to lessening relationship stress:

• Admit that you are stressed.
• Seek to understand what’s causing the stress. What has changed recently? Who’s affected? How are they responding?
• Give the stress the meaning it deserves. Don’t discount it for yourself or others.
• Talk about the stress in a way that promotes good understanding by each person. This includes validating each other’s point of view and empathizing with what the other person is experiencing. As part of validating, you might want to ask your partner to repeat back what you said, and vice versa, so you both know that everything has been heard correctly. This will also help each person assign even more meaning to the stress and highlight the importance of making behavior changes to help the other.
• Be respectful when you request any behavior changes. And when thinking about what to ask for, make the requested changes observable, measurable and time-limited. That way you’ll both know if the behavior has changed or not.

Spring cleaning worn-out beliefs is a must for any healthy relationship.

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Kris Harrington, MA, LMFT

Call 845-532-6622 and make an appointment today!