Healthy Individuals, Couples and Families for All Seasons

As we enter the fall months and we are aware of the approach of winter, most of us experience a shift in feelings. Some individuals become sad, anxious or disappointed. Perhaps their perception of the shorter days, going back to school or night school, spending more time indoors and less outside in nature, getting back into more work oriented activities and routines, and watching the beauty of the flowers begin to wane, is experienced as a loss.

Others may experience autumn as the beginning of a new year, a time to shift gears, pull off the cobwebs, roll up their sleeves and get focused. They may look forward to a more scheduled set of routines and so they feel energized, enjoy their more formal clothes and the cooler temperatures, greeting the change with exuberance, and a happy sense of purpose.

Imagine the increase in stress as couples and families begin the transition from summer to fall and get back into the new routines, under the influence of their unique perceptions and feelings about the change. The tension may be more pronounced if couples experience the transition in an opposing manner. There may be an increase in bickering, resentments and misunderstandings. We know that it is natural for children to feel either anxious or excited about going back to school and getting them settled into new routines may stretch parents’ patience. The same dynamic occurs for adults, too, so there is ample opportunity to experience more confusion and conflict.

As couples, with or without children, how can we create a strong team approach that contributes to a more smooth and constructive seasonal transition?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Each week a planning meeting is helpful to have both partners fully up to date with the upcoming events, making and keeping agreements about priorities and responsibilities.

2. Another important element is to schedule pleasant time together over a coffee or tea to enjoy, if even for a few minutes, some adult down time.

3. Watching funny movies is a way to create good energy and laughter.

4. While the weather is still moderate, getting out into nature on weekends is a way to breathe more deeply and be more peaceful. Shopping malls are not conducive to healthy energy.

5. Constructive communication is a helpful tool. When emotions are more easily triggered, ‘I’ statements are effective. These statements may reflect what we feel and the reason for the emotion. For example:

“I’m feeling concerned that the children aren’t getting to bed early enough.”

“I’m feeling frustrated that I was late for my night class because the car wasn’t here as agreed.”

The next examples are ‘I’ statements that are useful when communicating with children. In this case we describe what we see and what needs to be done about it. For example:

“I see dirty dishes in the living room. I want them to go into the dishwasher.”

“I see spilled milk on the floor. I want the mess cleaned up and the floor wiped with the mop.”

In all the examples the speaker is clear, respectful, without blaming or shaming the other person, so that the individual doesn’t experience a lecture or personal attack.

6. In a transitional period we may become more impatient, irritated, and easily angered. If you feel like this with a family member, friend or co-worker, write down a list of their strengths and what you like most about them. See the issue as yours and take steps to see the person through a different lens. This approach will increase your personal energy, as well as contribute to the strength of the relationship.

A few reminders to individuals about energy, as you are a contributing half of the relationship. As you gear up for the fall cycle, your level of positive energy and how you think and feel about the loss of summer experiences can affect the quality of your experiences that are about to happen. If you put your focus on what you don’t want, such as more work, the cold, rainy weather, or feeling cooped up inside, you attract more of what you don’t want, especially bad weather! People who love fall activities use imagery effectively. They see themselves hiking on rocky trails, and as the snow flies they image traversing the mountain, building skating rinks and gliding across the ice and their energy flows with positive and pleasant feelings.

If you aren’t into outside fall and winter adventures, then imagine yourself snug and cozy in front of the fireplace, under your duvet reading, working out at the gym or baking holiday treats. Find some elements of the changing seasons that give you good feelings and expand your energy and focus on what you want and enjoy. When both partners take responsibility for creating their own positive emotions, the relationship benefits.

As you say goodbye to the long, easy, warm, bright summer days, remember to welcome all the aspects of the fall and winter that bring you, your partner and family strong connection and peaceful, happy and heartfelt feelings. In fact, spend as much time as possible focused on the activities that bring laughter, joy and love to your relationship.

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