Archives for posts with tag: relationships

When I posted my blog about how men in relationships and their lack of vulnerability, I promised that I would follow up with something about women.  It’s not that we need to bash men or women and our flawed relationship strategies, we just need to shed some light on why they’re dysfunctional.  Let’s just call a spade, a spade, if you will.

I previously mentioned the obvious change in women across the last several decades and how it has changed relationships.  Part of that change is the empowerment of the individual woman.   The strengthening of boundaries.  The courage to say no and stand up for one’s self, especially in relationships.  This is all really important stuff.

Losing relationship strategies

So where is that a problem in relationships?  To keep it simple, a completely autonomous stance of “I don’t need you” doesn’t send a good signal of relational stability into the marriage or partnership.  Let’s face it.  Men need women and women need men if they’re going to be in relationships.  It’s yin and yang.  Cats and dogs.  Peanut butter and jelly.  To forsake the man in the relationship and his needs is just as bad as the man withholding from the woman.

To be fair, most women I see in couples counseling do not take this approach.  It something, however, that can undermine the empowerment of the relationship.

Losing relationship strategies

Think of it like this.  You’ve fought hard and have done a lot of personal work to be able to get back in the boat with your partner.  You’ve been able to take control enough to help him steer the boat, or now your’re steering it all together.  Great!  Now don’t go and sink the boat by undermining the needs of the relationship.

(Courtesy to Terry Real and the Relational Life Institute for his coined phrase “I was weak, now I’m strong so go screw yourself.”  If you’re interested in learning more about relationship empowerment and how to navigate 21st century relationships, check out the link to his site.)

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We are arguably at a time of social change in history like none other.  The age of women’s empowerment is increasing and has been for the last several decades.  Women’s position in our society has changed drastically.  Women are more self accepting and are more accepted in various arenas, such as the workforce, than ever.  Not just here in this country, but in most parts of the world.  Any significant change in men?  Not much.  Not a lot of change going on.  Right now, I would look at it as playing more catch up with women than anything.  And it’s not that this is a good or bad thing, so before some of you get defensive, hear me out.  Women and their roles have changed significantly while men have not and it’s affected relationships, marriages, and family life.

So, what happened?  Why are men struggling to keep up with all of this change going on?  There are a few possible reasons.  A big one is that in our society we still look at expressing emotions and feeling as a weakness.  This isn’t just men, but it’s also the women in their lives expecting them to maintain this false sense of bravado.  Men feel a tremendous amount of pressure to maintain the role as provider and fearless protector.  Another reason is that we weren’t taught to give ourselves space to be vulnerable and emotionally expressive.  Most of us men were never modeled this from our parents and our fathers.  But before we go and blame dad, we have to realize that he wasn’t modeled vulnerability from his father either.  “So what’s the big deal?”, you are probably saying.  Why do you need to be more emotionally sensitive or vulnerable?  Well, if you’re young, single, and not in an intimate relationship of any sort, you probably don’t need to be.  However, most of us men end up falling in love, thinking we have the perfect relationship, getting married, having kids, and then running into problems down the road.  A lot of us don’t know how to connect in ways that our partners and kids need us to.  There’s more to being a provider than bringing home the paycheck.

As a therapist I see couples who are having relationship issues and there is one common dynamic 9 out of 10 times.  The woman is dragging the man into counseling because she can’t get through to him on many levels.  These are areas such as shared common interests and goals, and intimacy both physically and emotionally.  The woman has found she is empowered enough to make a move to get her and her partner in counseling and now she’s pissed and wants change.  This is hard change for the man, however.  This is a huge shift and it’s not like the man can all of a sudden learn new skills overnight.  It takes coaching, patience, and vulnerability.  She’s asking him to be open and vulnerable to receive change for the first time in many cases.

It didn’t take long for me in my relationship to see where old patterns of communicating weren’t working.  It’s not that I was doing anything wrong, or intentionally wrong, it’s that I had not allowed myself to see past my perspective.  Once I began to take some risks, both personally and inter-personally, and connecting with some male mentors my relationship with my wife changed in positive ways I could never imagine.

I actually enjoy working with dysfunctional couples.  It’s not that I enjoy seeing their misery, it’s that I know what kind of positive changes are in store for the relationship.  And as a man, it’s rewarding for me to see another man willing to allow himself to grow not only for his wife and kids, but also for himself.

(Please feel free to comment with your thoughts and questions in the comment section.  I’d love to hear from people on this subject.)

One of the common themes with my clients that I see is their consistent questioning and doubting of themselves when it comes to making decisions.   Decisions with raising kids, decisions with career choices, decisions with relationships, and especially ending relationships.  “Will I make the right decision?  Will it all work out?  Will it happen the way that I want it to?  What will people think of me?”  Some seem big and it feels that the fate of our lives are in the balance. Some are small (such as figuring out where to go with your significant other for dinner).  Big or small we can still struggle with decisions.  Even with the seemingly most confident people that we know, or that we know of, the shadow of doubt creeps up on their shoulder from time to time as well.  So how DO we know if we’re going to make the right decision?

Well, we’ll never know.   Sorry.  There is no way to know if you’re about to ruin your kid’s psyche forever by refusing them their 3rd episode of Thomas the Train in a row…or if you’re trying to figure out if you should leave your job for a new one.

Here are some reasons why it doesn’t matter that we have to know if we’re making the right decision:

1.  There is no such thing as certainty and ultimate safety.  There is nobody that can get out of life untouched.   Sorry again.  I know that freaks parents out.  But we know that over protecting ourselves and others keeps us and others from engaging in life.  Since I figure we all want to engage in life, I’ll continue.

2.  Don’t allow yourself to live through your expectations!  Our expectations are nice stories but they aren’t reality.  Ultimately, they are not fair to you, or those in your life.  Especially in relationships.  Expect someone to make you happy in a relationship?  Don’t.  It doesn’t work.

3.  Focus on what you can control.  This is pretty much why expectations aren’t our friend.  We can’t control them.  Often when our hopes, dreams, sense of failures and accomplishments are tied into other people or outcomes…we end up disappointed.  Sometimes we’re devastated.   Living by waiting for things out of our control to “come through” for us doesn’t seem very stable, does it?

4.  Hindsight is 20/20.  Yeah, let it go.  We don’t have some super power that allows us to know what we don’t know and as much as we think we “just should have known better”. We didn’t.  Let it go.  Forgive and let go. This is where resentment to self and others is born.  Don’t let it.

5.  That thing you did that one time?  Yeah, everyone forgot about it except you.  We shouldn’t let that never ending loop of a story from that one thing that we did that one time influence our future actions.

6.  Life is for living.  Not over analyzing.  Life is for doing, not thinking.  We do life, we don’t think life.  Be here now.  Not only will we benefit but the people we are in relationships with will thank us as well.

Indecisiveness, like many things, isn’t necessarily good or bad.  Sometimes not making a decision is the best thing we can ultimately do.  Whatever the case, recognizing the bigger picture by not over inflating the true importance of what decision we make is what we have the most control over.  A big part of that is letting go of what happens after we do come to a conclusion.

Decide, trust, let go!  And it doesn’t have to be in that order.

 

think you can

 

 

 

Relationships are challenging at times, especially as we grow as adults.  Relationships go through phases and stages.  Ideally, we would like to choose a partner that moves through the growth of the relationship with us.  We start from the “honeymoon” period where each partner presents him and herself as the ideal mate.  We’re kind of like living and breathing Facebook profiles.  Putting our best, ideal self out there for our new partner to see.  Of course they reciprocate, which makes us “fall in love” even more.  Everything is fun, exciting, and new.  We say to ourselves, “This is the one!  I’ve found them!”  Of course that honeymoon ends and each person exposes themselves for who they are.  The good, bad, all of it.

Obviously, that person we honeymoon with wasn’t real and now we’re left with the truth. Two flawed individuals who are far from perfect.  Sometimes these relationships last and evolve into life long relationships.  Most of the time these relationships end.  That’s ok. We’d rather end up with the “right” person and not settle.

It’s also very common for people to date the same type of person over and over.  Why is that?  We see this in our friends and can’t figure out why they can’t “find someone better”. Why?  At some level of our subconscious we seek challenges for our “stuff”.  We could call that emotional triggers, baggage, insecurities, whatever.  We seek out partners that put us into the very uncomfortable position of dealing with the parts of ourselves that need attention and healing.  The same goes for our partners in that we do this for them.  All of this is unavoidable.   Our minds tell us that we’re looking for that “nice guy that treats us right” or that “woman who knows exactly how to give me what I need”.  Don’t buy it.  Your greater sense of self doesn’t actually want that. It wants the challenge of growth.

Committed partners are there to push each other to grow and change.  Of course, none of this is actually enjoyable.  But it is necessary.  Even past relationships that seemed like disasters had a key part in the evolution of who we are.  Our minds imagine a scenario where a relationship can exist without conflict and discomfort.  Our greater awareness and sense of self knows better.  Most of the time what we have is exactly what we need in our relationship.  Happiness, pain, conflict, and all.  We might call that “perfect”.

 

I found this very accurate.  Going inward is hard work but the payoff is well worth it.  I guess when you meet your “soulmate” that’s pretty much their job.  Making you face yourself for your own growth.

From Ram Dass:

“What you have found from your past relationships is that what you are attracted to in a person isn’t what you ultimately live with. After the honeymoon is over — it’s after the desire systems that were dormant in the relationship that have the attraction in it pass and all of it passes — then you are left with the work to do. And it’s the same work. When you trade in one partner for another, you still have the same work. You’re going to have to do it sooner or later when the pizzazz is over. And it just keeps going over. And you can’t milk the romanticism of relationship too long as you become more conscious. It’s more interesting than that. It really is. And people want to romanticize their lives all the time. It’s part of the culture. But the awakening process starts to show you the emptiness of that forum. And you start to go for something deeper. You start to go to meet another human being in truth. And truth is scary. Truth has bad breath at times; truth is boring; truth burns the food; truth is all the stuff. Truth has anger; truth has all of it. And you stay in it and you keep working with it and your keep opening to it and you keep deepening it. Every time you trade in a partner, you realize that there’s no good or bad about it. I’m not talking good or bad about this.

But you begin to see how you keep coming to the same place in relationships, and then you tend to stop because it gets too heavy – because your identity gets threatened too much. For the relationship to move to the next level of truth requires an opening and a vulnerability that you’re not quite ready to make. And so you entrench, you retrench, you pull back and then you start to judge and push away and then you move to the next one. And then you have the rush of the openness and then the same thing starts to happen. And so you keep saying “Where am I going to find the one when this doesn’t happen?” And it will only happen when it doesn’t happen in you. When you start to take and watch the stuff and get quiet enough inside yourself, so you can take that process as it’s happening and start to work with it. And keep coming back to living truth in yourself or the other person even though it’s scary and hard.”

~Ram Dass

(This, like many topics that I deal with concerning my clients, also hits home for me.  Remembering who is responsible for change seems like a common sense concept.  However, it never hurts to be reminded of the simple things.  I know I appreciate it when I am reminded.)

Much of my time interacting with my clients involves talk about change.  Most of the time that someone seeing me for therapy is seeking some change in their lives that they are having a difficult time in achieving.  Some of our old tendencies in seeking change is to look into the external environment.  We tend to seek relationships, experiences, new occupations, etc.  We also might look for others to change as to make our changing easier.  If only things would work out for us.  However, we discover that he, or she, does not “make me feel upset” and no, we can’t “just find the perfect relationship” to make us happy.   It seems we live in a socially accepted state of this reality that is actually false.   People don’t prevent us from being happy, nor do they bring us happiness.  In the same light, nobody can force us to change ourselves and we cannot force others to change.  It just doesn’t work that way!  So, we’re left with the realization that we are the sole catalyst responsible for the changes we want to see.  For many people that’s a hard reality to accept.  To accept this reality brings an awesome feeling of empowerment.   It also brings an awareness that being in control of our change is a lot of responsibility.

If we are ultimately responsible to make the changes we seek, how do we go about doing this?  Naturally, increasing our awareness of self and expanding our consciousness in our world will influence change in self.  We can recognize this by seeing how we’ve changed in our lives through our experiences.  As we have grown, or matured, it is because our awareness of self and our surroundings have expanded. Simply because we’ve allowed ourselves to live.  Unfortunately, the experiences that come through living and are helpful for lasting change can also be painful.  In fact, we can learn to embrace pain as a signal that we are encountering change.  Yes, I said pain can be a good thing.  Experiencing difficulties is the fastest track to lasting change.

We also might have noticed that change does not simply occur when we take in cognitive information.   Even if we have all this good advice and information, we have to utilize it.  We can remember as young adults, the advice of others only goes so far.  First we seek to know, then we do, then we “are”.  From knowing to being through doing.  The key part of this transition is the “doing”.  We have to act, nobody else can do that for us.  Waiting for others to change or our environment to change turns out to be a waste of our time and energy.  The intended effect of all of this work to change is that we become our change.  Who wants to live their change through struggle?  Lasting change only exists when we actually “become” it.  Our actions simply become a reflection of who we are.  Be patient with self.  Be patient with others.  Blame of others, including ourselves, does not serve our purpose of achieving lasting change.  Can we balance the responsibility of our own change while holding compassion for self and others and withholding the blame?

 

How do we begin to understand others, when it can be difficult to understand ourselves?  Why is it that we insist that we have the answers for those around us when we too struggle to change?  People can seem to annoy us, piss us off, and cause us pain.   We say “if they would just change, our life would be better”.  We might suggest “if our co-workers would start acting like they should our job and workday would be easier”.  It’s common for us to say that if our partners would change, our marriage, or relationship, would be better.   We plead to our kids that if they would just simply listen to us, we’d worry less and they’d “obviously be better off because we know better”.   Being able to relate and show compassion to others brings more understanding, and better grounds for communication in our relationships.  Understanding and compassion helps us grow and it brings ourselves the peace we seek.

The path to peace and finding the common ground ALWAYS begins with us.   Even if the other person takes the first step towards change or making amends, WE STILL have to be the receiver of those amends. In essence, we still have to be the one to initiate peace for ourselves because that is the ultimate goal.  Since peace is experienced within, we have to allow this understanding, peace, and compassion to be allowed within.  Simply waiting for others to change is actually an act of pride and resentment, not a motion towards resolution.

We all have biases, we all have judgments, we all have a need to serve our egos and feel validation.   This is human.  Is it possible we can work through these aspects of self so we can find more contentment and more peace?

be-kind

The next time you are feeling a need to tell someone how they should be, or what they should do, remind yourself of your own life struggles.  It’s possible that simple changes for you may not be so simple for them.   Maybe you can reflect on some form of behavior in your life you are attempting to stop.  Your task would be to cease that behavior immediately.  Now at this moment of awareness…never do this thing you are trying to change again.  (It’s not that simple, right?) Maybe in doing this you are reminded how difficult change is for you.   Maybe you become aware of some resentment towards yourself because of your inability to change.  Maybe your capacity for empathy and compassion increases when you take time to reflect on the concept of shared struggle.   We all can relate to difficulty, pain, and struggle.  Though, our paths are different, we all experience struggle as we navigate life and seek change.

The peace we are ultimately seeking comes in the change we make for ourselves, not the changes we are encouraging others to make.  Increasing our sense of awareness of seeing ourselves in others, as well as others in ourselves, can go a long way in making the change that we may seek.  These changes we seek in our lives that were once viewed as out of our control are now attainable because we recognize the responsibility we have to make them ourselves.