he other day I was approached by an acquaintance who was offering me a great opportunity to be a part of a great organization where a lot of money could be made with very little work. He got my name in passing and was good at following up leads. During his call to schedule a time to meet and discuss this opportunity further, I found myself in a dilemma. While this may indeed be a good option to explore further and the guy offering this was a new acquaintance, there was no way I was going to add anything more to my schedule, especially another job. So what to do?
A little into the call I simply told him “no”. I was not interested in adding anything more to my life. A few years ago I would have gone into even more of an explanation and justification of my answer in hopes to not hurt his feelings or our relationship. But I have discovered that the art of saying “no” is often enough in itself. No explanation is usually needed unless it is requested and the relationship is higher on the importance list.
Saying “no” is easy when it is a telephone solicitor or via email. As the degree of contact and the importance of the person rises, saying “no” is more difficult. However, it is important to be able to tell even the important people in life “no” if you hope to have more authority and power over your life. Being able to take charge of your life may mean that everything and everyone will not fit into your dreams and goals. It’s time to face the fact that some things and people are energy drainers. You dread the conversations with them when you meet in the hall at work. You see their name on the caller ID and your insides tighten, but you still answer the phone (even though your voicemail works fine).
Let’s begin to employ the art of saying “no” more frequently. For some of you that may mean this week you only tell two people “no”. Which would double your normal rate. Start small and work your way up. This week, when faced with something you really don’t want to do, say so. When given the wrong order at the restaurant, speak up. This is an easy way to learn how to say “no” which will increase the likelihood that you will be able to say it to more people, even those towards the top of the importance list.
Saying “no” allows you to stay on target with your values and goals. I do not recommend saying “no” just for the sake of saying “no”. Say it to take charge of your time. To take charge of your family. Your marriage. Your job. Your recreation. And say “no” without a long drawn out explanation, which often turns into excuses. Say “no” confidently. It will empower your spirit and your life!Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Every person seeks happiness. You hear it all the time. “I just want to be happy.” “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This last phrase points out an important aspect, the pursuit of happiness. There is no guarantee that it can be obtained. One of the common things I see is people spending most every waking moment seeking happiness. As if it is something out there to be gained or discovered. Perhaps this is a major contributor to the status of society.
Watch television for more than five minutes and you will see this idea confirmed. If I can only get the car, house, boat, job, relationship, salary increase; then life will be complete. I will lack nothing, at least until the next can’t-do-without product is available for purchase. The average adult now has more than 4 different careers in their lifetime. My father-in-law had one job from the time he was a teenager until retirement. Forty-two years at the same job. That’s almost unheard of now. It seems our society is more into the thought that if this job won’t bring about happiness, the next one will. If this relationship doesn’t bring about happiness, then a relationship with him or her will. If life in this tax bracket isn’t satisfying, then the next bracket up will be. It’s the same story over and over. Something out there will complete my life. It will fill the void.
What if the key to happiness rests internally? What if happiness can be learned?
This starts with the idea that happiness is up to me. My perspective of things will influence the results. My expectations affect the outcome.
So what is it about my life that brings me happiness? If I change my outlook from happiness being something out there to it resting internally, ask this; what am I grateful for in my life? What are my successes or wins lately? When I focus too much on what else is out there, I neglect the things we currently possess. Going to the other extreme is also unhealthy. Spending too much time focusing on what used to be produces blurred vision about what is.
Focusing too much on the future or too much on the past, I will miss a lot of what is going on now. I think I have told every one of my clients at some point to slow down. We live life at a fast enough speed as it is. Sometimes speed only produces uncertainty. Did you realize that of all the species on the planet, humans are the only ones that when lost, speed up. All other animals will slow down or even sit down until they get their bearings before proceeding. Do you know where you really want to go? What is your vision for life?
If you have trouble answering the preceding questions, that’s where you should spend some time reflecting and searching. Take an inventory of your current life. What are the things that you enjoy? What are the things that drain you? Enjoy the things going on in life right now. Happiness can be learned, and it starts with what’s going on inside you now. Happiness is not something out there, its inside. Resting deep within your soul waiting to be tapped into. By slowing down and seeking what you really want, life will begin to be more aligned and then more full.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
While driving down the highway in the fast lane, the person in front of you appears to have no idea what the fast lane means. After running all over town with the kids, you arrive home. They know they have rooms yet insist that the entire house is their closet and drop things wherever they please. It’s your birthday and your best friend gets you just what you needed, nothing. It seems that in these instances, the first reaction is to take things personally. As if what was done was intentional, a personal attack.
As odd as it sounds, we often think that there are many forces against us and we are innocent bystanders. I don’t agree. While there are some truly random events, much of what happens is our own doing. How we feel and react to the things going on around us will largely determine what happens to us. In the preceding examples, what makes us think that the things that happen to us are directed at us? Instead of reacting with a “How dare you!” we often react with a “How dare you do this to me!” The truth of the matter is that each person is really more concerned about themselves than they are others. It’s survival of the fittest. The person driving slow in front of me in traffic is more concerned about having a wide open lane ahead of them than they are with me getting past.
A lot of our life is spent worrying about what others may think or feel about us. To paraphrase Dr. Phil, we wouldn’t worry near as much about what others thought about us if we knew how seldom they did. When we are emotionally reactive to things in life, we give up our power to choose. If we take things personally, whether intended personally or not, our reaction intensifies. All of the sudden we have to defend ourselves, though many times a response is not warranted. Instead it would be better if we could learn the art of self-soothing. To be able to calm ourselves in the midst of emotional reactions opens a whole new range of responses.
We all have this ability. We are born with it. Just the other day, my 2 year old was climbing up on a toy in the house for the first time. As I watched her, she had a moment of pause just before she stood up tall and proud. In that moment of pause, she gathered herself and found the internal courage to stand. We do the same thing just before we honestly speak our mind, or address an issue with our spouse or kids. Self-soothing can be enhanced and used in all situations. And doing so gives you much more power over life’s circumstances.
To put this another way; you teach people how to treat you. If you feel that many people treat you wrong or take advantage of you, it only happens because you let them. Learning how to self-sooth, then stand up will produce a different outcome. This in turn will change the way others treat you. If you demand respect, trust, love, honor, comfort, or whatever, accept nothing less. Whenever you receive less than you expect, rather than taking it personally and reacting as such, calm yourself and address the issue. Either put yourself in their shoes and see it from their perspective or stand up and be honest, or both. If this honesty comes from both your mind and heart, it carries much more weight than just emotional reactivity.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
We hear what we expect to hear, we see what we expect to see. Our expectation changes our experience. If we walk into a meeting and expect it to be a long, drawn out process rivaled only by a root canal or preparing your taxes, more than likely it will not disappoint. At that same meeting, another member of the crowd may come with a more open mind and willingness to learn and think it is the most enlightening time they have ever spent. So what’s the difference? This same rule applies to our relationships. Our expectation changes our experience.
So where does our main model for relationships and communication come from? You probably guessed it, our parents; who received their patterns from their parents and so on. How they did and do relationships has an impact upon our own. Like it or not. If you had an affectionate relationship modeled by your parents, you will most likely carry the model forward or go to the other extreme so as to try and break the cycle, either way the influence is there. If your parents were good communicators when it came to the sticky topics; money, discipline/parenting styles, intimacy, then you most likely can handle the tension most people try to avoid when it comes to talking about some of the tough things in life. If this information gets you down, don’t worry. You can change the pattern if you choose. When you understand some of the forces at work in your relationships and life, you attain the possibility of being able to have your past no longer dictate your future.
When you shed some light on this process in your relationships it’s easy to see why our important relationships are so much work. There are two family systems fighting to gain control of this newly formed system. Coupled with the idea that we see what we expect to see and hear what we expect to hear, no wonder there are times of conflict in this relationship. Surprisingly, there are many people I have worked with that are shocked at this fact. Apparently they have held on to the fairy tale version of relationships for too long. Maybe you have too. Movies and TV portray relationships as an alluring time of romance, love, laughter and joy. You know what I mean, “and they all lived…”
If you can complete that sentence, you have had that illusion as well.
Now back to the initial question, what did you expect? The onus rests on our own shoulders to make the most out of this life. If you expect things to be tough today, most likely they will be. If you expect your marriage to be rocky, it will. I am not advocating that you don’t examine reality honestly, but more often than not, what we expect out of things becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. By changing your focus or outlook on things, other aspects of life will begin to change as well. Problems in life are inevitable, struggling is optional. Improve your ability to improvise, adapt and overcome will allow you to take charge of your life and harness more energy for your day. Rather than spending a lot of time trying to change the wind in your life, adjust your sails.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Have you ever wondered why there are times in life when it seems that you are simply coasting along? Throughout life, there are many tasks that must be undertaken in order to experience a life or relationship that is more alive. Granted there will be times when each of us may be bogged down with a particular event or stage in life (I have a 2 year old and a 3 month old in my house, needless to say, life right now is about them). Life has its natural ebbs and flows of emotion. But if you find yourself asking the preceding title question frequently, let me offer you some hope.
First, you are not alone. There are many, many people that have chosen to settle into their schedule driven life and have begun to believe that this is all there is for them and their loved ones. For many people, a routine life full of kid’s activities, homework, one week of family vacation per year, grocery lists, church meetings, carpool, etc. is enough for right now. What about later? When the kids are grown and out of the house (hopefully not boomeranging back). Have you planned that far in advance? Incidentally, did you know that the second most frequent period of relationships experiencing divorce is after the kids are out of the house? When you are forced to spend time with your spouse whom you may have avoided by “diving” into your kid’s life for all those years. You don’t have to wait that long (to change something, not get divorced).
Second, something can be done now that can begin the process of experiencing a life that is more fully alive. Experience a life full of passion, energy, love, adventure, and fun. It begins by asking yourself a series of simple questions: Would you want to be married to you? Would you want you as your father/mother? Would you want to work for you? Be friends with you? When we can honestly answer these questions, we have entered the beginnings of a life transforming process.
Far too often we want or expect those around us to change and accommodate us. We also may fall victim to the stagnating process of waiting for the other person to change before we respond. Let me explain by personalizing this. There have been times in my marriage when I have grown tired of the routine we have established of interacting, but I wait for my wife to do something different before I do. And to compound the issue, while I am waiting for her to read my mind, I get frustrated that she doesn’t respond fast enough or adequately to my unspoken expectations. Now I know how you may be responding to this; if she truly loved me and understood my needs, she should just know. If you are thinking this, you have fallen victim to the Hollywoodization of relationships. Just because you are in a marriage/committed relationship/close friendship/family does not mean that you cease to exist as an autonomous being. One with your own hopes and dreams and fantasies.
Having a life that is more fully alive, starts with you. By answering these questions honestly, you can begin to grow yourself into a better human. However, this does not come easily. This honest assessment of self and life is often accompanied by a spike in our levels of anxiety and discomfort. This is why we settle into the routine of life and don’t rock the boat. What I am proposing is that you have the willingness to stand up and address the things in your own life that get in the way of the life you want and in turn, take charge of your life and become more fully alive.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Imagine you’re 42 and in pretty good shape.
You exercise several times a week, eat okay, and outside of the occasional cold, are healthy.
You’ve been married for over 15 years, have a couple of kids, nice house, and a good job.
One morning you wake up to find that you can no longer move your right arm. Everything else in your body feels fine, you even have feeling in your arm, you just can’t move it.
What would you do?
If you’re like most people, you’d schedule an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible. You may even immediately head to the Emergency Room. You also would probably be fine going to several visits with various specialists in order to find out what’s going on with your arm.
You’d sit through tests, scans, waiting rooms, and be willing to take whatever prescribed medication the doctor’s recommend. You’d be willing to go to physical therapy several times per week until your arm was working properly.
The point is, you’d be willing to do almost whatever it took to have your body working well.
Now, answer me this: What makes it so many people don’t treat their marriage the same way?
If you wake up one morning and discover a problem (or finally admit to a problem’s existence), would you seek out help right away or hope the problem simply goes away on its own?
It seems many people hope for the latter.
Don’t believe me?
Research continues to show that couples wait an average of 6 years after a problem has become a problem before seeking out professional help. That’s 6 YEARS!
Imagine if we treated our bodies the same.
Imagine if we said to ourselves, “Oh well, I really don’t use my right arm all that much. Perhaps it will begin working again soon. I’ll just wait and see. In the meantime, honey, can you cut up my dinner for me?”
Marital problems and struggles are common to us all.
But they don’t have to be the end of the relationship, and you definitely don’t have to go through them on your own.
Seek out a marriage and family therapist. This is your best option.
If you don’t want to do that, open up to a close friend. Preferably as a couple to another couple, or if it’s just you, share your troubles with a good friend of the same gender.
Life is so much better when shared with others. Including our struggles.
Most of the time, when you share a struggle with a friend, you find out that they’ve experienced it as well. Plus, you get the burden lifted off your own shoulders a little.
Thanks to the technology of today’s world, you can find help regardless of where you live.
One last point: being brutally honest with you.
Seeking out professional help or opening up to friends around you is a whole lot cheaper than divorce.
10 sessions with a therapist = $200-$650ish (depending on insurance)
Talking to a good friend = Free, unless you pay for dinner or the coffee
Divorce= $???????, but a whole lot more than all the above options combined.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Marital/couples therapy is a form of therapy which involves working with both partners of a couple to improve their relationship and/or help them make important decisions about the relationship. Couples enter into therapy for many reasons, often at a time of transition or stress in the relationship or in their lives. Couples may come to counseling at a time of crisis, for example, following an extramarital affair, or when one or both is unhappy in the relationship or may want to leave. However, some couples use therapy before getting married or early in the marriage in order to learn skills to resolve conflicts and differences, or to recognize potential vulnerabilities in the relationship, with the goal of preventing problems later on and protecting the relationship.
Other issues which may lead couples to seek help through therapy include: anger/resentment/lack of communication, trust issues, fighting, upcoming marriage/wedding/commitment, fertility issues, mid-life crisis affecting one or both partners, illness: physical or psychological in one or both partners (e.g., depression, history of sexual/physical abuse), moving, parenting/family difficulties, in-law problems, religious/cultural/value differences, sexual problems.
In couples therapy both partners meet together with the therapist, who initially tries to get an understanding of each of them, their views and feelings about the relationship, and what they each want from the relationship and the therapy. The therapist also uses her own observations of the way the couple interacts in the session to evaluate what happens between them and determine how to best help them.. The therapist understands that relationships and people are complex. Problems that develop within relationships involve an interplay of the personalities and life circumstances of each individual to varying degrees, as well as what they bring out in each other when they mix together.
To improve a relationship, the therapist may work on helping each of the individuals as needed, usually with the other one present, in addition to working on the relationship and changing problematic patterns which have developed between them. Individual and couples issues affect one another. For example, when one partner is depressed and despairing, the mood of the relationship is affected. Similarly, when the relationship is in trouble, one or both partners may become depressed.
Common tasks of marital/couples therapy are as follows: to develop better communication, resolve trust issues, manage anger/differences/conflict, determine whether the relationship is salvageable, learn fair fighting skills, enhance intimacy/sex, heal after an affair, change destructive patterns, improve understanding of one another and oneself (including understanding gender differences that affect behavior and communication, and learning how to translate the other’s “language”), increase empathy for one another, and repair/strengthen the relationship by healing old wounds. Entering into couples therapy is an act of courage and offers the possibility of freeing oneself and the relationship from tedious and/or destructive patterns of relating, as well as hope of greater intimacy, happiness, and/or peace/resolution.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Some struggles that women experience are common to many women, and can therefore be attributed or understood in this larger context of what it means, biologically and socially to be female. A counselor informed about these issues is in a better position to understand women’s experiences and know how to help them. Psychotherapy can help women achieve their personal goals and improve themselves. A counselor can teach assertiveness, decrease fears that may impede success and happiness, and work with women on developing better and more sustained self-esteem.
In our society, women are often in the role of protecting and caring for others emotionally. Women may fear success and competition (which can manifest in self-sabotage) and have difficulties with anger and aggression. Women often experience stress related to the burdens associated with caretaking, compounded by stress resulting from their caring being devalued, unnoticed, or unacknowledged. Many women rely on external validation from others in order to feel good about themselves. Women are often accustomed to tuning in to other’s reactions to determine how they should feel and how they should act. Therapy can help women develop a positive sense of themselves and direction from within, rather than relying on other’s opinions of them, as well as develop the strength to follow the path they choose.
Women may suffer from depression, anxiety, self-destructive or self-sabotaging behavior, pressure to overachieve, perfectionism, sexual problems, body image problems, sexual identity issues, and destructive relationships to food. Women are too often the survivors of sexual/physical abuse (past or present), rape, emotional abuse, and re-victimization. They may struggle with feeling a lack of empowerment, choosing the wrong partners, staying in destructive, empty, or depleting relationships, being overly accommodating, and feeling afraid to leave unhealthy relationships.
Psychotherapy can help women manage the feelings associated with these struggles; recognize, understand and change self-defeating patterns, heal past pain, discover and foster inner strength, and learn new ways of behaving in relationships that allow them to get what they want and feel good about themselves.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
There are aspects of men’s experiences that are particular to being male. In working with men, it is important for a counselor to understand the differences in men’s experiences, what men need, and how to best help them achieve their goals. For men, psychotherapy can promote success in careers and relationships by teaching better communication, interpersonal, and leadership skills. Therapy can improve men’s relationships in general, at home and at work, by fostering greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and empowerment.. Therapy can also help men with issues of mid-life crisis, affairs, anger management, fear of entrapment in relationships, sex addiction, performance anxiety, social anxiety, and difficulties in relationships with women, e.g., understanding what women want from them.
Men often experience common dilemmas in their relationships with women. In relationships, men frequently overestimate their ability to sacrifice themselves for their partner, often trying very hard to please their women and accommodate them to make them happy and to keep the peace. These efforts may seem to go unrecognized or unappreciated, and they may experience confusing complaints from their partner in spite of their efforts. This pattern typically leads to a build-up of resentment and hurt, which the man may not even be aware of, except through his partner’s persistent accusations, of which he may feel innocent. These feelings may take a disguised form, for example, forgetting, being late or unreliable, not following through on his word, tuning out, working late, becoming impotent or losing sexual desire, having an affair. Men can be helped with this issue in a number of ways. Through psychotherapy men can learn to better recognize and identify what they need and feel, which may be foreign to them since boys usually grow up in this society trained to suppress or be ashamed of most feelings (other than anger). Once they become more self-aware, they can learn ways to be more direct, but non-combative, in expressing their opinions, even opposing ones. As men learn to express themselves more directly with words, versus actions, passive-aggressive expression of anger or resentment through actions, is no longer necessary. This change often leads men to feel stronger and more effective. Also, therapy can teach men how to decipher the language of women, so that they can more easily understand why they get upset and how to more easily satisfy them without sacrificing themselves.
Another issue particular to men, and often misunderstood by women, is the importance of sex. For a man, sex is often at the core of how he feels loved, and loved as a man. Though women may need to feel close or loved in order to have sex, men experience the reverse: they need to have sex in order to feel loved. This difference can create conflict and misunderstanding in relationships especially during times of conflict when their partners do not want sex. At these times whatever conflict already exists now becomes compounded by the man feeling more rejected, unloved, and angry, even suspect that his partner is using sex (or the withholding of it) as a weapon. When these patterns develop, men often retreat in hurt and anger or escape the relationship by acting out. Therapy can help by increasing self-awareness, developing more effective ways to communicate, and providing an experience of being understood.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
JOSH was engaged to be married. He confessed that he loved Karen, but was scared of feeling trapped. Though this is commonly known as a fairly typical male reaction to getting married, in this case it was more than just “cold feet.” Josh often talked in the men’s group about Karen’s reaction when he made plans with the guys. She would seem ok with it until that day would arrive. Prior to Josh leaving, Karen would predictably struggle with him about it . “Why aren’t I enough for you? I don’t understand. It seems like you don’t really enjoy spending time with me the way you do with them. “ Eventually, they would end up in an argument with Karen in tears, which led to Josh feel guilty about leaving. There were times when Josh ultimately didn’t go ahead with his plans and, when he did, rather than feeling free to have fun, he was instead preoccupied with Karen being upset with him.
STEVE seemed deflated as he talked about his wife, Sonya. He had just gotten a promotion to be a professor, something he had worked hard to achieve. Sonya had a fairly high status job herself. When Steve told Sonya about it, she did not seem very interested – definitely not impressed.
He thought back to the party they went to recently with some of Steve’s colleagues and friends. Many of them talked about what a great guy he was, telling stories from work. Steve was within earshot when Sonya commented sarcastically, “Hmm, funny how at home he doesn’t seem so great!” It reminded him of Michelle Obama’s comment during the primaries about how “stinky” Obama was in the morning. On the way home Sonya remarked that she finds it annoying that everyone seems to have to brag about him to her “for some reason.“
DAVID seemed to live in a constant state of underlying anxiety and hyper-vigilance at home. He was generally a perfectionist and tried hard to do the ”right” thing. He seemed very focused on keeping his wife, Jeannie, happy – though as one of the guys in the group mentioned- David’s focus on pleasing his wife often seemed compulsively driven by his fear that she would be mad at him.
Jeannie often seemed mad or displeased and wouldn’t tell David why. David felt he could never get it right and was frustrated that he did not seem to know the rules, despite frequently asking Jeannie to just tell him what she wanted. She often remarked angrily that he “ should know. ” But he didn’t know, and dreaded thinking he was in the clear only to find out he had failed again.
David and Jeannie both worked and generally shared the household chores and child-care. In response to Jeannie’s complaint that David didn’t think of her, he tried to do little things for her, for example, taking the baby out on Saturday morning to let her sleep in. Still, somehow David never scored any points for things like this and often found himself on the losing end feeling defeated, though by his own calculations he should have earned extra credits.
Can Wives Also Be Friends?
What do these stories reveal about men and their relationships with women?
They tell us about men in their own words – what they feel deep inside. Underlying each of these vignettes, though not stated explicitly, is a feeling that many men share that their wives are not really their friend. Men’s sadness and disappointment is palpable when they talk about feeling alone and unsupported in their marriages because of this missing aspect of connection, common in each of these examples. For men, a “friend” means someone who likes you, is happy for you when you make it, and who encourages you in your career and personal goals because in spite of all else, they really do want you to be happy.
Research on marriage has found that celebrating your partner’s success is an essential ingredient of a good marriage, and actually more predictive of a good marriage than being supportive when your partner is unhappy.
At face value, it seems as if it should easy to believe in your man and his triumphs. So then what got in the way of these women recognizing the good and rejoicing with their husbands in those events that their men felt to be positive and inspiring?
Promoting your man and encouraging his personal development requires allowing him some autonomy – which means recognizing and fostering the aspects of your man and his life -independent of you- that bring him joy, and giving them room to grow. Encouraging your man’s personal development and successes can feel risky to the relationship and therefore requires not only love, but courage and letting go. In order to take this leap of faith, women need to feel a sense of security – within them selves and within the relationship.
Women who feel insecure from their own psychological issues, such as Karen, Josh’s wife, may act possessive to manage their own unacknowledged fear of separation and abandonment, or use their spouse to mask emptiness in their own lives. These women may interpret any sign of separation as betrayal, for example, when men say no to something or express feelings, interests or opinions which differ from theirs.
Other women who feel insecure may also unconsciously hold on too tight to their man but may be reacting to legitimate issues that have occurred in the relationship which affect trust and security- such as a past affair or other dishonesty. In all of these situations, women may react by trying to hold their partners back, keep them down or punish them, in the hope that this will secure them. Not surprisingly, this approach usually backfires, leaving men feeling trapped and wanting to break out, and limiting what they share with their wives.
Steve’s wife, Sonya, was competitive with him. She treated him as if she did not believe in him, often putting him down. This ultimately created a profound feeling of hurt in Steve and led him to doubt their marriage. Though from the start Sonya challenged him to be as successful as she was, and claimed to need this from him- when he did match and even surpass her, she refused to acknowledge his accomplishments and did not seem happy for him.
Both Sonya and Karen experienced their husband’s outside interests and successes as taking away from them and compromising their husband’s devotion to them. Sonya’s resentment about feeling less taken care of in the marriage increased over time as Steve became healthier and for the first time considered his own needs. This resentment contributed to her jabs and muted reactions to his success, reactions which existed all along but over time were exacerbated, as well as experienced differently by Steve.
Our Ever- Changing Relationship Patterns
Unspoken marital contracts, set up early on in relationships, may work in a particular context, but later become unsustainable as a result of changes in one or both partners or new life circumstances. Such unspoken arrangements often involve roles taken on by each partner, usually involving behaviors learned in childhood. For example, with Steve and Sonya, Steve was the “underdog” from the start, but found this role natural for a long time, devoting himself to taking care Sonya’s needs, making himself imperceptible, and even taking pride in not needing or depending on anyone.
Later on, however, Steve’s success and personal growth allowed him to begin expressing himself more as well as recognize that he wanted Sonya’s support and encouragement. These changes in Steve essentially challenged their implicit marital agreement, creating conflict and destabilizing their marriage at its roots.
In such situations, when a relationship pattern worked at one time but is no longer viable, marriages must go through a transition and resettle into a new dynamic that works for both individuals. This reconfiguration requires role flexibility in which, rather than being constrained by having to behave within a fixed set of parameters, partners are able to switch off and take on the other’s role when necessary, for example being able to lean as well as be leaned on. Flexibility in being able to assume different roles according to what works for each partner and the couple at different times is associated with healthy marriages, just as psychological flexibility in general is associated with mental health.
Jeannie, David’s wife, also failed to acknowledge her husband’s good deeds, in this case, specifically his accomplishments within the relationship – on top of creating what David experienced as an atmosphere of unrelenting criticism. Jeannie was angry about the lack of emotional connection between her and David but handled her anger in a unclear and indirect way, leading to further isolation between them.
David, in turn, reacted to Jeannie out of fear, behaving as if he had no power in the marriage, continually trying to accommodate her. This strategy served to perpetuate the power differential in the relationship and contributed to the development of a bully-victim dynamic, lack of authentic connection, and failure to resolve the real issues.
Unresolved anger may spill into the relationship in the form of unremitting disapproval, nit picking, and lack of appreciation. Even in the absence of resentment and conflict, when things are working well they are often invisible and unacknowledged, whereas problems intrude and demand attention. Moreover, when other needs are not being met, the good is easily missed or taken for granted, and entitlement replaces gratitude and appreciation.
Men’s need for love, support, and friendship can go unnoticed because of their own lack of recognition that they need this, leading them to participate in the development of patterns in their marriages in which they feel alone. They conceal their unhappiness at first from themselves and then from their wives and overestimate their ability to sacrifice what they need and want.
Men often contribute to setting up a dynamic where they give up the healthy aspect their own power. Then, unable to sustain this, they take power back by acting out – or secretly pulling away, building a wall around their hearts and in their relationships that often becomes impenetrable. When women in these cases discover the extent of their husbands’ unhappiness and why, they are often shocked because it was so well disguised often until it is too late.
Tips for Men
• Recognize that insidious unhappiness and loneliness leads to acting out and/or marital failure.
• Be explicit with your wife about what positive changes would help.
• Point out when your actions or decisions are out of wanting to be thoughtful, or out of love, so that these efforts are recognized as such.
• Resist accommodating out of fear or guilt, keeping in mind that this will only lead to feeling powerless and helpless.
• If you are never getting it right, re-consider what may be the problem. When your wife is telling you something, before responding repeat it back to her to make sure you have heard her correctly and to let her know that you have heard what she is saying.
• Ask your wife how she is feeling about you lately and if there is anything you can do differently (keeping in mind that this doesn’t commit you to anything and that whatever she tells you can be negotiated).
• Thank her when she supports you.
• Make time to be together.
• Be clear about what is important to you. Try to find a mutually acceptable solution.
• When telling your wife what is important to you, for example, going to a game with your friends – try to listen and understand her feelings and objections. Be empathic and find ways – other than giving in – to reassure her and make her feel secure, for example, “I know it is hard for you that I want to go to the game on Saturday. I love you and want to understand how you feel and try to help.” Negotiate but know your bottom line.
• During conversations with your wife when she doesn’t seem happy for you, puts you down or tries to hold you back, be direct and don’t minimize or disguise the impact of her behavior towards you, Match her intensity in discussions (which is different than acting angry), make eye contact, and resist the impulse to retreat.
• Have the courage to consider that you are not in fact trapped. You can choose to work on the marriage – and you can choose to leave if you have to. Allowing yourself to consider this option and even share it with your wife may be scary and create a crisis, but it is empowering too, by creating a sense of urgency that in some cases is needed to provide the impetus for positive change. However, be careful not to use the idea of leaving to escape from having to face the difficult struggles inherent in marriage.
• If none of these tips help, consider seeking a marriage therapy consultation.
Tips for Women
• Recognize that insidious unhappiness, loneliness leads to acting out and/or marital failure.
• Recognize that resentments pile up and build walls. Think about the atmosphere you want to create and the effect it will have on both of you. Keep in mind that grudges and punishments are not effective strategies. They lead to impasses, and pollute the relationship – breeding isolation, helplessness, and despair.
• Be clear, concrete and explicit about the positive things your husband can do to help, even if it is obvious or he should know.
• Instead of giving the cold shoulder, when unhappy or mad, be explicit. Tell him, for example, “When I feel like you are not listening it makes me want to pull away from you.”
• When voicing unhappiness, keep the focus on what your husband can do concretely to make things better. When discussing problems, be as concise and brief as possible. Limit how much you say when it is your turn to speak and it and try to limit the number of issues you raise (preferably only one per discussion).
• Allow positive moments even if you are mad about something, and express appreciation for positive actions.
• Acknowledge your husband’s efforts to express love and be helpful, even if they are not exactly what you asked for.
• In gauging how to support him, treat him the way you would treat a friend.
• Support him in the interests and pursuits he enjoys which are a part of who he is – separate from the relationship. Manage your anxieties without restricting him.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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