by Katherine Willow ND

This month let’s explore healthy relationships. . .

heart-collageAs a naturopath I’m not trained in couple counselling, but over the decades there have been times when I’ve asked a patient to invite their other half in for a session as relationship stress is a common cause of illness.

Sometimes there are easy answers to even long-standing issues. If it’s obvious that the situation is too entrenched or complex, I refer to a counsellor.

My understanding about relationships in these times is that we are transitioning from getting and staying married as a result of social and religious rules and expectations, to having the freedom to make our own choices and then learning and growing from experience as well as study and therapy.

From that perspective, I keep discovering new tools and principles for building good relationships that make me hopeful that we can emerge from our dismal track record of painful divorce and broken families to developing creative, loving and growthful marriages, friendships, households and cooperatives.

The first point has to be clarity about the level of awareness we are living from. Whether from chronic anxiety and depression, anger and irritation, striving to grow and transform or general calm and contentment, we tend to project our internal state onto the person or people with whom we live.

When this is truly understood instead of defended or denied, one can start to resolve one’s own pain and a situation that was stuck can move forward. If the partner can be compassionate with the other’s wounds and realize that it is triggering issues of their own that can be healed, we have a process that can lead to honest communication and reconnection.

My role is to model compassion and kindness instead of blame while trying to understand each side; and I encourage both parties to undertake a healing path while supporting the other. I typically describe each of their body types and how they are genetically inclined to function so that expectations and support of each other can be realistic.

loveI explain physical influences on moods that can help people balance anxiety, depression , anger, fear, shyness and blocked feelings over time with various therapies. It’s amazing how different a relationship looks when one is feeling healthy, energetic and happy oneself — or at least is on the way there!

If a couple is open to it, I recommend finding a spiritual practice, together or alone. Having a way into one’s own peace makes communing with others easier and takes the pressure off the relationship to fulfill needs that have to be met in other ways such as taking time in nature, meditation, prayer, readings, music and spiritual gatherings.

Specific tools and books that can help: Non-Violent Communication (NVC) books and workshops; The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman; How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo; co-listening; couples massage; Journey work; and of course, skilled couple counselling, retreats and workshops.

If nothing helps and people are unwilling to continue in a relationship for whatever reason, I support separating well instead of creating more traumas, especially if there are children involved. I have seen good results with the children of separating couples having their own counsellor to help them navigate the process. As long as we are learning and growing, there is hope for the future; in these turbulent times we sometimes do well just to remember this. . .

Katherine Willow is a fourth generation naturopathic doctor who runs a healing centre near Ottawa, Carp Ridge EcoWellness Centre. This year Katherine is offering a program consisting of monthly retreat days where she distills thirty years of practice to support people towards better health — physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.