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“In our relationships one of the most valuable things we can do is learn to pause.”, with Jean Fitzpatrick

In our relationships one of the most valuable things we can do is learn to pause. It is a given that our partner and other loved ones will upset or annoy us at times. We’re wired neurologically to react defensively. But we can learn to be mindful. By avoiding a hair trigger response, we give […]

In our relationships one of the most valuable things we can do is learn to pause. It is a given that our partner and other loved ones will upset or annoy us at times. We’re wired neurologically to react defensively. But we can learn to be mindful. By avoiding a hair trigger response, we give ourselves a moment to reflect on what we actually feel and want. We develop awareness. Then, once we’ve done that, we can get interested in our partner’s point of view. Then a conflict can turn into a creative opportunity. Partners can work together to find a shared solution.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Jean Fitzpatrick LP. Jean is a licensed relationship therapist in New York City who works with couples and individuals and has a website at therapistnyc.com. For over 20 years Jean has helped busy New Yorkers nurture stronger, more loving relationships. Jean’s practice includes some of the world’s fastest movers — leaders in finance, fashion, entertainment, and medicine. Jean often works with New York’s expats — the highly driven international residents who have come to work in the New York’s big firms, research centers, hospitals and NGOs. Jean also specializes in helping anyone who identifies as a “highly sensitive person” or HSP, because they process emotions and events deeply, are aware of subtleties, and are easily overstimulated — about 15 to 20 percent of the population at large.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

I started out writing books and articles on family life. My publisher, Viking Penguin, sent me out on several book tours. I gave talks and signed books, but what I loved most were the question and answer sessions with young parents who shared their dreams and concerns about raising kids. I knew I wanted more of that interactive experience.

I considered becoming an Episcopal priest. I wanted to share with others the practice of spirituality — the value of silence and peace in the midst of our busy lives. But in the end I wanted to work with people of all faiths and backgrounds, so I decided to become a therapist. The desire to get underneath the stress and busyness of the day, to get centered, has always been a big part of my work.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

After World War II when many families moved to suburban houses, life was supposed to get easier because they had access to “modern” appliances — washing machines and dryers, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners. Instead it turned out women ended up spending more time on housework than previous generations had. With convenience, standards went up.

The same thing has happened today with cellphones and computers. The devices that were supposed to save us time have upped the ante. Except in countries like France, where it’s actually illegal to send work emails outside of business hours, people wake up in the morning to a load of emails. They’re dogged all day by texts. The people I work with schedule conference calls with Asia that, given the twelve-hour time change, eat into their personal and family time.

Our increased income inequality and lack of social safety net are also factors here in the U.S. Many people are struggling to pay for their healthcare, student loans, and childcare. Those who are doing relatively well recognize that a fall down the economic ladder — losing a job, getting a serious illness — is likely to leave them without a safety net. As a result, many people are on a hamster wheel.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

We know that people’s capacity for focused attention has been diminishing the more we spend time on our computers and devices.

As a relationship therapist, I also find that the rushed nature of everyday life has a negative impact on the way we interact with loved ones. In a marriage or other long-term relationship, we can prevent conflict from escalating if we recognize moments when we need to stop and reflect rather than reacting automatically.

We can’t bring a twitter mentality to our relationships. There’s no point in rushing to a mic drop instead of creating an emotionally safe space for two points of view to be shared and for something new to happen.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

In our relationships one of the most valuable things we can do is learn to pause. It is a given that our partner and other loved ones will upset or annoy us at times. We’re wired neurologically to react defensively. But we can learn to be mindful. By avoiding a hair trigger response, we give ourselves a moment to reflect on what we actually feel and want. We develop awareness. Then, once we’ve done that, we can get interested in our partner’s point of view. Then a conflict can turn into a creative opportunity. Partners can work together to find a shared solution.

That means the best time to have an argument is when you’re not actively angry! I always recommend couples schedule regular business meetings so that they can discuss logistics and also sort out areas where they’re hitting bumps. When you plan on meeting regularly, you are valuing your relationship. And you can rely on the fact that you will have an opportunity to talk over your concerns. You don’t have to jump on your partner verbally every time you don’t like something they’ve said or done.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Create a transition ritual from work to home. Often people get home from work feeling stressed out. They feel guilty that they don’t feel up to talking or listening to their partner or family members right away. This backfires. They end up resentful and irritable. It works a lot better to create a period of relaxation that helps you shift gears. Tell your partner or family that from now on you’ll be taking a walk around the block, shower, change clothes, listen to music. You’ll be better company.
  2. Walk outdoors every day. Doesn’t need to be a major hike. There’s something about moving at human speed that helps ground us. You breathe outside air, you smell the trees, you feel the heat and cold. It’s even true in New York City! If you’re always in a car, or underground in the subway, you miss out.
  3. Set up a device-free period daily. I find this works great for couples. Sometimes they need to literally lock away their phones or it’s too tempting.
  4. Focus on your breathing. You don’t have to do anything fancy. Your body chemistry makes it inevitable that you will exhale regularly and then inhale. Just close your eyes and notice this pattern. Tune into it. As you do, you’ll notice yourself feeling less stressed and more relaxed.
  5. Redefine self-care. Too often women in particular think self-care means going to the nail salon. Personal grooming is great, but sometimes self-care means taking a long, hard look at the big picture. Taking notes on how you feel in the course of a week or two can be very helpful in assessing your life. How do you feel about the pace of your day? Do you dread Monday mornings? How exhausted are you? Do you crave more alone time? True self-care means addressing questions like these and making changes.
  6. Slowing down might mean adding something to your day. It’s a paradox, but sometimes we’re rushing around in a very unfulfilling way. We’d benefit by adding one activity that we find truly, deeply satisfying. Maybe you’d like to take up a hobby like dancing or golf. Maybe you’re not up to cooking dinner after work but you’d like to sit in your favorite upholstered chair with a fragrant cup of herbal tea.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is the capacity to be present, attentive, aware, and calm in the moment, not shutting out all distraction but not being thrown off by it either. When my children were small I remember when I’d be trying to rush somewhere with them and they’d dawdle because they were fascinated by a leaf that they’d found on the driveway or a Canada goose on the lawn. I’d get anxious at first and a little frustrated, but I learned to stop and enjoy the moment with them. Life became so much richer than it had been when I’d zoomed past so much of what makes it beautiful. I’d say my children taught me mindfulness.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

We’ve talked about practical tools. I’d say people need to ask themselves what they truly value and to take a step back and consider the life they are seeking to create. Forty years from now, do you need to forward this meme to your colleagues right now? Or would a walk outside, or a few moments with your child, do you good?

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

A simple tool is to notice my mood. If I find I’m feeling tired or negative, that usually means I haven’t scheduled enough down time for myself.

Calendaring myself helps. Putting myself on my own calendar and setting aside time to be alone and relaxed is essential. That could be working out, going for a walk, or staring into space for a while.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

I like the Calm app and recommend it to the people in my practice because it offers a cafeteria of choices to suit various temperaments — music, nature sounds, nature sounds with music, stories, meditations, white noise, and so on.

I also recommend the various downloads on the Dartmouth College website, which are available for free: https://students.dartmouth.edu/wellness-center/wellness-mindfulness/relaxation-downloads

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s hard to think of a more important quote than “Love one another.” Sounds like a tall order, but one way to think about it is to prioritize relationship. With our partner we all hit moments when disagree. We’re convinced we’re right and we’d prefer to argue for that rather than to consider how much the other person matters to us. If we prioritize the relationship, then we can usually make much more headway. We listen better, we’re open to a creative shared solution.

We don’t need to just blindly love the other person. I find if I can’t see something beautiful or loveable in the other person, that spurs me to ask a question and try to gain a better understanding of where they’re coming from. All of a sudden, when I can get in touch with what they’re feeling, I can find them loveable.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m glad you’ve read this interview. Now walk away from your computer or out your phone down, and think about a relationship you’ve been struggling with or neglecting. How about planning to reconnect today? Yes, you’ll probably have to pick up the phone!

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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