Melanie Alford, MSW MPH LICSW 

Manzanita Therapy, LLC

Individual and Couples Therapy

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What's Love Got To Do With It? Part One

Posted on February 22, 2014 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (10)
What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part One: Relationships
LOVE.  It’s the thing we wish for, hope for, seek out.  Many of us feel empty without romantic love in our lives.  There’s countless movies about it, holidays devoted to it, and the thing we’re raised to believe that we’re incomplete without.  We  are simply in love with the thought of being in love.  But once we have it, it doesn’t always match up to our expectations.  After the initial rush of romance dies down, we are left with wondering . . . what now?
I think the answer lies in the way we’ve been taught to view love. In America, we’ve inherited our British ancestor’s idealistic vision of romantic love, which we can trace back to the “courtly” love stories from the Middle Ages.  These stories, written about knights falling in love with the women of nobility that they served, created the archetype of romantic love that we see today.  In this archetype, however, the love affair was never meant to be physically actualized.  The knight and lady were never meant to have sex, get married, have kids; never meant to deal with the day to day doldrums of real life.  It was a fantasy, an escape; not a roadmap. 
Somehow, this fantasy of love has become the gold standard in today’s world; the way that we’re raised to believe that love is meant to be.  Disney has created an entire industry out of this vision, banking on the wish of many little girls wanting to be a princess who finds their perfect prince.  In the context of all this, it is inevitable that we feel let down when the way that we know love “should” be does not match up with reality; when our partners fall short and reveal themselves to be imperfect creatures.
If you find yourself constantly annoyed and irritated by your partner, its time stop and do some reflection.  Rumi writes, “Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  One way that we sabotage good relationships is by having “all or nothing” thinking about our partners.  We think of them in terms of “always” and “never”; this type of thinking divorces us from the present moment and keep us from feeling empathy and compassion for our partners. Ask yourself these questions:
·         Are the qualities of my partner that I used to find cute or funny now the things about him that drive me crazy?
·         Are some of these qualities that annoy me actually strengths of my partner in different situations?
·         Am I reacting to the problem at hand, or all the problems like this that have come before? (ie.  “This is always what he does,” or “She never listens to me.”)
·         When I am aware that my partner is annoyed or irritated with me, does it raise my defenses? Make me shut down emotionally because I feel attacked?  Is my partner doing this when I approach him when I’m angry or irritated?
·         Am I angry at my partner because this issue is really important, or am I angry because I feel my partner should be thinking, acting or relating differently than he does?
·         Can I forgive my partner for all her imperfections, knowing that she must also forgive me for mine? 
·         Can I find space in my heart to love the ways that my partner is not perfect? Can I accept that my partner loves the things about me that are not perfect?
Forgiveness and love are not about turning a blind eye or living in denial about our partners, but instead acknowledging that this person, like yourself, is flawed.  In fact, many of the so-called “flaws” of your partner could actually be reinterpreted as simply a way of being and operating in the world that is different from how you operate. These differences make us unique individuals, make us interesting, and do not diminish worthiness for being loved.  Approaching our partners with love and empathy when troubles arise becomes the conduit for open hearted communication. 
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Radical Acceptance

Posted on May 30, 2013 at 7:29 PM Comments comments (226)
I'm reading the most beautiful book right now.  A book that has the ability to transform its readers.  It's called Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach, PhD.  

The premise is simple: What would our lives look like if we accepted ourselves? Really accepted ourselves, warts and all?  What if we realized, when that acceptance happened, that the warts weren't actually there to begin with?  What would it look like to treat ourselves with the same kindness and love that we treat our partners, our families, our friends?  What would our lives look like?  Who would we be? 

Try to remember an incident recently when you engaged in a behavior or thought pattern that you did not like.  Did it bring up an emotion for you? Guilt, shame, regret?  Did you say to yourself that you should not have done x, y, or z?  There is a famous Buddhist proverb which goes like this: “The Buddha once asked a student, 'If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?' The student replied, 'It is. 'The Buddha then asked, 'If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?' The student replied again, 'It is.' The Buddha then explained, 'In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.'  

Simply put, radical acceptance is revolutionary.  It is the the evolution of our spirit if we allow the possibility that it can be attained.  It is the acceptance that our behavioral and thought patterns have allowed us to survive to this point, and the recognition that things can be different.  It is the removal of the second arrow, the arrow of shame, guilt, remorse, and self-loathing.  And in that removal of the second arrow, it frees our spirit to remove the first. 

Of course, no one can sum up the tenants of radical acceptance better than Rumi:  “This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor...Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.” 

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