Today you’re going to learn one of the foundations of not only a happy, connected relationship, but of a happy, fulfilled life: resilience! The good news is that resilience is a skill you can learn and people in resilient relationships report more ease, satisfaction, contentment, physical health, and connection. So come on this journey with me today while I break down what resilience really is, why you need it to be happy and my top tips for making it happen!
Why do I care about resilience, Abby?
Because you’re going to experience stress in your relationship and, the more resilient you are, the better you’ll be able to cope with stress.
Stress, in some form or another, is the reason you argue and disagree with your partner. These arguments and points of contention create resentments and dissatisfaction and this creates more stress and it all becomes a vicious cycle!
If you can’t figure out a way to repair and resolve an argument or disagreement, you end up with sometimes days (weeks? months?) of feeling crappy about your partner. Usually this shows up in some passive aggressive way like a nasty undertone, sarcastic comments or stony silence. No matter how it shows up, it sucks and it weakens the foundation of your relationship.
If you think about it, all of these “after effects” of a fight can be more damaging than the disagreement itself!
Resilient people feel good about their relationship and their lives as a whole. They cope better with money issues, health crises, fertility and child-rearing and mental health issues like PTSD, depression and anxiety.
Resilient couples and people have confidence that they can get through the tough times or whatever conflict may arise, so they’re less stressed, closer, and more comfortable with one another. The deep trust is there, so true intimacy and emotional closeness is higher.
There’s lots of research showing that, even after experiencing tragedies and hardships, resilient folks have reported:
- better relationships,
- more self-confidence and strength even when they’re feeling exposed and vulnerable,
- a more developed spirituality,
- an increased sense of self-worth,
- and an overall appreciation for life.
And probably the best part is that resilient couples come through difficult times stronger and closer than they were before! They learn from what’s hard and use it to make their foundation stronger!
Imagine feeling so sure of your relationship and your partner having your back that you could fully relax and feel at ease!
OK – it sounds good, but what the heck is it, Abby?
Resilience is a skill! You’re not born with it. Like any skill, it has some main components and, the more you practice and get good at those core components, the more resilient you and your relationship will be.
Think about learning a sport. There are some basic principles. Once you learn the fundamentals, they become easier and more automatic over time. Psychologists define resilience as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors.”
To me, the real win with resilience isn’t just the ability to “bounce back” but the way I grow and learn from tough crap that happens to me. It’s not like I’d wish it on myself (duh?!?) but, since it happened, what did I learn? It also helps me get through the next tough thing because I can remember that I did it once before, so I can do it again. I end up feeling empowered instead of exhausted or hopeless. Then that becomes its own positive cycle.
So, getting resilient isn’t about ignoring the bad and just focusing on the good like some crazy Pollyanna. It’s about leveraging your negative thoughts and feelings and creating positive adaptations to the negative stuff that will eventually happen (because that folks, is life).
It’s when I see that my butt has gotten too big for my pants but, instead of getting depressed, I get fired up to start working out harder (because I know I can change it).
It’s when you argue with your partner for the 100th time about their drinking but, instead of feeling hopeless that nothing will ever change, you get to therapy yourself and start going to Alanon.
It’s when you your boss is an asshole (again) and, instead of entering a downward spiral of despair, you think about what you need to learn from this relationship and start working on your resume tonight!
As Mark Manson says (and this is my favorite quote of all time about resilience), “It’s turning lemons into a fucking piña colada.”
There are basically four main components of resilience.
I’m going to teach you each one right now and give you tips and ideas for how to incorporate these into your daily life.
I. People Connection
You know I talk non-stop about connection! It’s my jam AND it’s one of the best predictors of resiliency in children and adults: connecting to other people.
There are lots of ways to connect and lots of people to connect with. Let me start with talking about your partner, and then we’ll go from there.
I’d say the easiest way to connect with your partner is to focus on bids. I’ve talked all about bids but to quickly recap, it’s basically about noticing any time that your partner makes a bid for your attention and answering it in some way.
If your partner says, “This cat video is so funny!” don’t roll your eyes – instead walk on over and watch it with them. If your partner says, “Try this sauce I’m making,” don’t dismiss them with, “I’m sure it’s good,” and walk out of the kitchen. Instead, go in there, taste it and make all those appreciative noises. If they say they want to talk, you guessed it, give them your full attention and talk!
You could also branch out to other people like your kids, siblings, parents, or friends. Make plans to connect with them whether that’s joining in on that coloring book with your five-year-old, shooting some hoops with your brother, or getting on a Zoom happy hour with your best friend.
There are other ways to connect also. Think of volunteering, joining a running group or doing a Meet Up. For those of us in recovery, there are always 12-step meetings and other support groups depending on your particular struggle. Maybe it’s time to start a book club – anything that’ll bring you closer to those you care about. Or, you could go to your local temple, church or mosque and get connected!
II. Physical Wellbeing
Feeling strong in your body and mind will absolutely help you feel more resilient. This doesn’t mean you need to be some CrossFit junkie who only eats bark. But, it does mean that you need to take a minute and be respectful of your physical wellbeing.
Eating junk food constantly isn’t respectful. Being so out of shape that you make lots of noise when you get off the couch isn’t respectful. Ignoring your need for sleep is not respectful. Not taking breaks during the day and working nonstop is not respectful. Smoking nonstop is not respectful. Drinking too much booze is not respectful.
Again, I’m not talking about needing to be on a strict diet and workout regime, although that’s fine if it works for you (and I’ll try not to hate you).
I’m talking about being mindful and kind to your physical needs every day or as consistently as possible.
So, move a little every day. Just do anything, even if it’s just a quick walk around the block. Get out there and move. Paying attention in some way to your food and drink is important also. How’s your sugar intake? Are you drinking too much? Did you put on too many pounds in quarantine?
I don’t diet per se but, when I notice that I’ve tacked on some extra weight (as I recently have), I start to focus on adding healthy foods first. This usually keeps the junk food at bay. Once I start restricting too much, I get crazy, but do what works for you!
Next, you’ve got to get that mind in line. Calming your mind is key to finding the space to act and not react to situations, people and events in your life.
There’s nothing better and quicker than focusing on mindfulness and making it a daily habit.
The other thing I do to keep my life feeling calm and to help me put things in perspective is to lighten the “f” up! Life does NOT need to be so heavy. I look for the joy and humor as often as possible. It’s so much easier to bounce back when there’s some lightness.
Humor always helps me keep things in perspective. It helps me feel differently in a given situation and be more resilient when the tough stuff comes up. Get out of that all or nothing thinking or thinking the world is out to get you in some way (please, the Universe is too busy to try to trip you when you’re walking to the kitchen).
Your expectations and your perceptions in a given situation are almost always the thing making you unhappy and feeling defeated.
You can’t change what’s happening likely, but you can always be in charge of how you respond to it.
III. Healthy Thinking:
Calming your mind as we just discussed is great, but what happens next? Getting calm doesn’t mean negative thoughts stop. In fact, sometimes when we’re quiet, those thoughts get the loudest. So, you’ve also got to work on changing your stinking thinking (as we say in the 12-steps).
There are a few tools I want to mention here:
A. Learning to be Optimistic
Learning to be more optimistic in general will absolutely help with changing the way you think about things and your resilience.
When things happen to you, you have an internal dialogue and way of explaining these events to yourself. It’s what Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and the “father” of optimism research, labeled as Explanatory Styles.
For example, let’s say you’re brushing your teeth in the morning and toothpaste spills down your shirt. You might say to yourself, “I’m such a klutz! I’m always doing stuff like this! What’s wrong with me?!” or you might think, “Oops. Oh well, I guess I’ll change into my blue shirt. That looks better on me anyway!”
Both of these are ways of explaining to yourself what happened with the toothpaste but, as you can see, they’re very different explanations and will affect your self-concept differently.
B. Correct or Effective
I talk about this one a lot. You’ve got to decide in all your interactions if you want to be correct or effective, because you can’t be both. Yes, you might be very correct that your partner should be willing to go to therapy with you, but nagging them about it doesn’t get you where you want to go.
You want to think about how to be effective in this situation. If your partner won’t go to therapy, you could go and work on yourself. You could investigate other ways to make change in your relationship that don’t rely on their actions (gasp! I actually wrote a book on this subject)!
C. Take Full Responsibility
And this leads beautifully into my next tip for healthy thinking which is that you must take full responsibility for your life. The whole thing! How do you know you’re doing that? By making sure you’re NOT doing any of the following unhealthy behaviors that I want you to remember using the acronym VERRB:
Don’t be a Victim, act Entitled, think you can Read anyone’s mind (or expect anyone to read yours), wait to be Rescued or Blame anyone else for your lot in life.
Taking full responsibility for your life is at the heart of resiliency.
What VERRB adds up to is making sure that you’re taking regular action to move towards your goals. There’s no waiting for someone else to do anything. Think of that one thing you can do, that one action you can take – no matter how small – to move towards where you want to be and how you want to feel.
Last but not least, if you want to be more resilient, you’ve got to find some meaning in your world.
Obviously, helping others and volunteering is an easy way to get this job done. When I’m upset nothing helps me get my head out of my ass more than helping other people. Talk about a quick way to put things into perspective and stop taking myself and my life quite so seriously. There are always bigger fish to fry.
This does not mean that you don’t feel bummed, hurt, angry or upset. It means you don’t wallow in it. Feel all the feelz, and really go there, but then it’s time to reframe a bit. Finding meaning for what’s happening is an important way to bounce back from it.
The meaning might be something spiritual or religious for you: “It’s God’s will” or “Change is a constant in the Universe.” If saying these kinds of mantras to yourself helps put things into perspective, then keep doing that!
For others, these types of statements might feel like bullshit platitudes. For you, I’d say to ask yourself, “What am I learning here?” I want you to assume this happened for a reason. It might not be a reason you like, but a reason, nonetheless. What can you take away from what happened?
Steve Jobs famously said, “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Again, if you want to take all this learning deeper and really integrate these concepts, you can take my Optimism Jumpstart Workshop for FREE and start feeling more ease, joy and connection in your life today! (Did I mention that it includes a quiz?)