Couples

Be a Cheerleader for Your Partner

Photo by marekuliasz/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by marekuliasz/iStock / Getty Images

According to divorce lawyer James J. Sexton, “In our day-to-day lives as professionals, parents and just plain human beings, there is no shortage of voices telling us what failures we are. We're bombarded with advertisements designed to make us feel inadequate. Whether there selling pistachio nuts or sports cars, the implication is often that something is wrong or missing.

In the face of this relentless onslaught, you are uniquely positioned to be a voice of support and encouragement for your spouse—a shelter in a storm of disparagement. If you want to keep your marriage healthy, don't squander that power. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to an imaginary ideal you have created or what romance films have told you a perfect spouse would look and act like. Your partner needs a cheerleader. We all do. If there is no major achievement to cheer for at the moment. Cheer for the small things your spouse is doing well. When people have a taste of victory, they often crave more of it.”

Sexton confirms what research has revealed about relationships. Criticism is toxic to marriages. John Gottman, an American psychological researcher and clinician who has done extensive work over four decades on divorce prediction and marital stability, has written about the negative impact of criticism on marriages. If fact, he refers to criticism as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The other three are contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Criticism can gallop into your relationship making you or your partner feel vulnerable, rejected, and inadequate. While feedback is important in any relationship, criticism differs in that it can evoke such hurt, shame, and self-doubt that the effects prevent it from being constructive once the victim begins to feel anxious and defensive. Criticism is corrosive, not only to the victim's self-esteem and your relationship with them, but also to your own self-esteem when you criticize others. Unless you are a sociopath, harsh words or insults that hurt your partner don't make you feel good. We all have a tendency to move away from pain and toward pleasure. We want to flee and escape uncomfortable people and situations. As criticism increases, your partner will begin to create distance if not physically, emotionally. Many people report that verbal abuse is more damaging than physical abuse.

To improve your relationship, remember to encourage your partner. One good way to accomplish that is when possible soothe your anger before speaking harshly to your loved one. When you feel angry or frustrated you may feel the greatest urge to provide feedback, but remember that's also when you're most prone to insult, shame, or criticize your partner.

In any relationship from time to time we all communicate in unskillful ways. None of us are perfect. It takes practice to keep our communication upbeat and to accentuate the positive. Sexton is correct, “when people have a taste of victory they crave more of it.” Positive attention and encouragement are strong motivators. And they help raise your partner's morale while simultaneously improving your self-esteem. So if you want to keep the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from trampling your relationship, look for opportunities to praise your partner for both large and small victories.  

 

WTF...

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I was doing what I do on Sundays, sitting at home, reading the New York Times. A front page headline read: “Monticello Finally Opens Door Into the Life of Sally Hemings.”

According to writers Farah Stockman and Gabriella Demczuk, “Curators had to wrestle with thorny questions… And, thorniest of all, in an era of Black Lives Matter and #Me Too: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?”

“We really can't know what the dynamic was,” said Leslie Greene Bowman, president of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. “Was it rape? Was there affection? We felt we had to present a range of views, including the most painful one.”

My phone rang.

“Hi daddy. Happy Father's Day.”

My daughter's voice sounded cheerful.

“Whatcha doing?”

“I'm sitting here eating ice cream and reading the New York Times.”

“Ooh. I want some ice cream so bad, but I'm trying to avoid dairy.”

It's good. Vanilla Swiss Almond. I'm reading about Sally Hemings. Wait, wait, wait… what do you think about this? Let me read you something.”

After reading her the headline I continued:

“Curators had to wrestle with thorny questions. How to accurately portray a woman for whom no photograph exists? (The solution: casting a shadow on a wall.) How to handle the skepticism of those unpersuaded by mounting evidence that Jefferson was indeed the father of Hemings’s children? (The solution: tell the story entirely in quotes from her son Madison.)”

“And thorniest of all, in an era of a Black Lives Matter and #Me Too: How to describe the decades-long sexual relationship between Jefferson and Hemings? Should it be described as rape?”

“Daddy, it's rape. She was a slave. She was his property. If you can't say no, you can't say yes. There can be no consent. The way crimes are reported in this country has a lot to do with the color of your skin. Our society has difficulty pathologizing the behavior of white men, so they turned it into a love story”.

I felt gaslighted by the article. Thank you for clearing that up. Some white folks make my head hurt. Only they can have that fantasy.

After more conversation, she again wished me happy Father's Day and hung up.

I continued to read the article when I came across this, “John H. Works Jr., a descendant of Jefferson’s who is among the founding members of the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society, accuses the nonprofit organization that runs Monticello of bowing to political correctness, and insists that the entire premise of the exhibit is flawed.”

Hey John, in a way, by maintaining narcissistic fantasies of innocents you are the one who has bowed to the political correctness of the day. And to Leslie Greene Bowman’s notion that there may have been affection between them, victims of abuse often identify with their captors in an effort to save themselves. In this case, that does not eliminate the fact that she was his property. A slave.

A very similar situation is going on at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice informally known as the Lynching Memorial that just opened in Montgomery, Alabama. From accounts I've read many white folks have difficulty wrapping their minds around the sheer number of black people lynched or even the fact that a memorial to lynching exists. It appears that some white people are straining under the weight of maintaining a non deviant image of themselves.

Wtf...

Voicelessness in Married Men

Photo by MarinaZg/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by MarinaZg/iStock / Getty Images

According to Harriet Lerner Ph.D. in a recent article, she wrote for Psychology Today entitled

The Invisible Struggle of Married Men.

“Men lose their voice in marriage far more than women do. They may distance or stonewall, telling themselves, ‘It’s not worth the fight.’ They may remove themselves emotionally from the relationship, and then feel devastated when a partner leaves them ‘out of the blue’.”

I didn't lose my voice in my marriage. I lost my voice in childhood. I lost my voice so early I didn't even know it was gone—almost like I never had a voice. Raised by old-school parents who struggled to parent, and who didn't allow a lot of discussion about feelings, my voice never fully developed. Our family was not a democracy. If anything was wrong, you either prayed to Jesus or you stuffed it. I had no sense of any other option when it came to discussing my feelings with my father. My relationship with my parents felt unsafe, and one contributing factor to feeling unsafe was talking too much.

Prior to my own experience with his violence and neglect, I watched my mother for years plead her case to my father only to learn that to talk back to him was not only useless, it was dangerous.

“Mom, please shut up before you get all of our asses whipped.”

“Who broke… Whatever?”

“I don't know.”

Those are good responses for anyone in an abusive relationship. They helped me survive my childhood and have remained difficult to relinquish to this day.

Voicelessness is a symptom of shame. Show me a man who is voiceless and I will show you a man who is ashamed. Shame pressed my mute button years before I got married. In a healthy family, different members are available to talk, provide emotional support, and help mitigate the ill effects of poor relationships with parents. Comfort can be found in them when unavailable from primary sources. I didn't have that luxury. I turned to the streets. I played sports from sunup to sundown to avoid feeling shame about what I was experiencing at home. Avoidance, distancing and stonewalling were my coping strategies that later led to drug use and other addictive behaviors to numb toxic shame. They became a way of being for me. I gave up on trying to discuss my emotional life with my parents or any other adults for that matter. My relationships didn't work that way.

On the playground, my behavior spoke volumes. I could conceal my frustration on the football field, baseball diamond, and basketball court by outperforming my peers thus gaining the acceptance I craved. Later, in the dope house, I expressed myself fluently. “Let me get another one.” My beliefs about both men and women while dormant hindered my ability to connect with intimate relationships I later discovered.

I didn't have much experience with healthy relationships. Superficial friendships built around my secrets made me a great candidate for becoming abusive once I got married. I was afraid of intimacy, of being too close to anyone. Marriage created the perfect conditions that triggered the very same behaviors that I used in my family of origin. I perceived my wife as an authority figure. I was an immature communicator. And, as a result, problems I encountered as a child manifested themselves in the family I created. Intimacy made voicelessness more uncomfortable and difficult to hide. It exposed the flaw in my game. I developed passive-aggressive tendencies from my inability to speak truth to power. I had an aversion to the authority figures in my life and I acted out behind their backs. Marriage forced me to continue what I practiced in all of my previous relationships. There was nothing wrong with marriage.

Alexithymia is the condition of having no words for feelings. Just like my father, I, too, had no words for feelings, except anger and happiness. By the time I arrived at couples therapy, it was rendered ineffective. I would have benefited more from visiting a veterinarian. I cried throughout the entire experience. My software was defective from childhood. It took the destruction of my marriage for me to break free from my previous programming and learn to take responsibility for my voice.

Men can use their voice and still end up voiceless. To compensate for perceiving themselves as powerless victims in relationships with women many men compensate by communicating from an anxious position, yelling and screaming in an effort to dominate or “win" arguments with their partners. That type of communication in relationships often has the net effect of rendering men voiceless in many ways. Yelling and screaming serve to divert the conversation away from the shame the man may feel, and it can emotionally flood and terrorize his partner. The inability to discuss shame and to thwart your partner from expressing his or her needs or concerns renders communication ineffective.

A more insidious problem resulting from voicelessness is how it undermines forgiveness. Without the ability to protest when wronged, any effort to forgive is bogus and rendered ineffective. You have to give yourself the opportunity to voice your outrage and move through that stage before you can let go and try to forgive. Any effort to bypass that stage is like trying to walk before you crawl. To deny your feelings is a denial of your feelings.

Voicelessness cost me much of my childhood and ended my marriage. It has taken individual psychotherapy, domestic violence education, and 12-Step recovery to help me clear my throat.

 

Is Your Personality Killing Your Relationship?

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“Hello, Mr. Chambers. Can you talk?”

“Sure, what’s going on?”

“I talked to you recently about my boyfriend and I starting therapy with you. He said he was exhausted from my personality, needs time, and wasn't sure if he wanted to attend therapy with me. Do you think it’s even worth it for me to try to get him to come to therapy?”

“I'm sorry to hear that. It sounds like you might also be tired of your personality. That’s not unusual. We get tired and concerned about our behavior when we behave in ways that are not effective or that do not make us or those around us happy.”

“What do you mean? I’m tired of my own behavior?”

“That’s one way we get tired, by behaving in ways that do not achieve our goals.”

“So you think my behavior is a problem?”

“We have talked on the phone twice about concerns you have about your relationship and your behavior. Nothing that happens in your relationship is entirely all your fault, and I’m not judging you. But, I sense what you have been describing is a problem for you. Anyone is capable of behaving in ways that make other people want to avoid them or end their relationship with them.”

“That hurt my feelings when you said that.”

“When I said what?”

“That I was tired of my own behavior.”

“That’s not unusual. That’s when people call me, when something in their life is not going well and they are unhappy.”

“Yeah, I just don’t know what to do about this relationship. He told me he had one foot out the door, but that he cares about me. He just doesn’t know what to do.”

“It sounds like no matter what he does you would like to stop behaving in ways that make you and him unhappy. You could always enter into therapy for yourself, without him, and see if we might be able to figure out how to help you make changes. Relationships are about attraction and not promotion. It sounds like you are unhappy and you may be pressuring him to commit when he feels unsure about it. A better approach might be to enter therapy yourself, identify your problems, make some changes, and see if he recognizes it. Even if he doesn't, you will still feel better about yourself. You really don't have to pan-handle anyone to be in a relationship with you.”

This inquiry illustrates a common problem. Your personality can kill your relationship. When considering what it takes to succeed in relationships, we often only consider our positive personality traits. However, even positive traits can become problematic when they become extreme.  For example, according to Rob Kaiser, author of “Dealing with the Dark Side,” being excitable can make you appear passionate and enthusiastic on the one hand, and reactive and volatile on the other. Or being skeptical can make you appear politically astute and hard to fool in one instant yet mistrustful and quarrelsome in another instant. The trick is to improve self-awareness by studying your own behavior patterns, listening carefully to intimate partners and friends who provide you with critical feedback, and using that information to minimize or prevent your negative personality traits from spiraling out of control. By learning to do that you can prevent these patterns from poisoning your relationship.   

 

Insecurity

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“My girl so insecure. She always looking for shit.”

“Yea. I tell mine, if you look through my phone it's a wrap. You got ta go. Why they always looking fa stuff?”

“What do you mean, looking for stuff? What kind of stuff?

“Man, they be lookin’ for other women numbers and shit.”

“So, what you got a phone or a grenade? You leave your cell phone down and she see a message from baby, and it will blow your whole shit up. You'll be starting the New Year  in a shelter or in jail.”

“That's only if she lookin’ for something. Why they so insecure?”

“I hate to tell y’all this, but you will not date secure women,” I said.

Every man in the room paused, cocked their heads to the side, and looked at me like the RCA dog.

A voice shot out of nowhere.

“Why?”

“You will not date an secure woman because you are insecure.”

The looks on their faces indicated in no uncertain terms that I needed to resolve the tension.

“I'm not insecure. She’s look’n fa shit.”

“Remember the meditation we just did? Remember how noisy it was all the shuffling, fidgeting, and stuff that was going on. That's insecurity. The inability to just sit still and breathe. What about all the girlfriends? You're supposed to be in a committed relationship and you're cheating. Cheating is a form of insecurity. Violence is the biggest form of insecurity there is. There can be no attack without fear. We all date and get involved with people who are equal to or less than we are. I suggest that we account for and learn to manage our own insecurity, and stop believing that it is a force outside of us, moving toward us, rather than a feeling inside of us, moving out.

The room got quiet.

 

The Impact of Witnessing and Experiencing Violence and Victimization as a Child

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Neither the mother’s personality, nor the infant’s neurological anomalies at birth, nor its IQ, nor its temperament—including its activity level and reactivity to stress—predicted whether a child would develop serious behavioral problems in adolescence. The key issue, rather, was the nature of the parent-child relationship: how parents felt about and interacted with their kids.

                                                      —The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.

In my practice, working with both victims and perpetrators of intimate partner violence, one observation stands out. People who have been hit in relationships have different attitudes about hitting than people who have not been hit. Those who have been hit often believe violence is useful, necessary, and expected. When initially asked, men in my domestic violence groups do not attribute their current behavior to the harsh treatment they received as children. In fact, most offenders share one thing in common—early childhood trauma.

When we discuss corporal punishment the men in my groups often argue that the treatment they received during childhood helped them become better people. They also believe they deserved the overly punitive treatment they received from their caregivers.They often don't see how their subsequent substance abuse, criminal behavior, and domestic violence relate to the harsh treatment they received growing up. Part of my job requires drawing lines and connecting dots to help them understand the problem before they become motivated to change. Precontemplation, not necessarily denial, prevents many of them from understanding the link well enough to consciously engage the change process.

Trauma victims often blame themselves. It may be easier for them to ascribe blame to themselves than to cope with the random, unpredictable, predacious nature of trauma. Blaming themselves may serve to decrease anxiety.

Often, our suffering begins when we are quite young and continues to fester as we grow. There is a five-year-old still inside us. This child may have suffered a lot. A five-year-old is fragile and easily wounded. Without mindfulness, parents may transmit all their pain, anger, and suffering to their children.

                                                                         —How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Participants in my groups have significant difficulty regulating themselves. I observed this recently when I invited them to join me in a ten-minute meditation at the beginning of a group session. They were all new to meditation and mindfulness. During the meditation, I noticed they made lots of noise and were quite restless. Their inability to sit quietly I found very annoying. I could feel myself becoming angry, as I imagined them making noise on purpose to get me to discontinue the exercise. One man even began drumming his fingers on the table next to him and talking to what sounded like himself as no one else answered. As I continued to breathe, frustrated with the noise they made and my powerlessness over their behavior. I felt the impulse to yell at them to shut up, but I held my composure. I herded my attention back to my breathing, and my anger began to cool. As it decreased, I realized they were not making noise and fidgeting on purpose. Each man, in his own way, was challenged by the silence. As I relaxed more deeply, I noticed the men making the most noise also had the most severe trauma histories. What I was actually witnessing was each man's dis-ease. Meditating with them opened a window which allowed me to observe their suffering. But more importantly, meditation allowed them to observe their own suffering. Rather than personalizing their behavior and feeling angry at them, I was able to feel compassion for them. I began to think more deeply about what each man had experienced in relationships prior to the incident that resulted in his arrest and sentencing. The gift I received from them was an opportunity to see first-hand, at least, some of the impact of witnessing and experiencing violence and victimization as children.

Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.

                                                                                  —Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. MFT                   

Once the meditation ended, we engaged in a discussion about their experience, emotional lives, and coping skills. Informed by my observations, during the exercise, I posed questions to help them see their need to avoid the discomfort of thinking about past treatment, emotional burdens, and silence. I encouraged each man to account for his own dis-ease while meditating and to consider no wives, women, or girlfriends were present. Their experience was solely their suffering—suffering they have been blaming and punishing their partners for.

When we feel unhappy, we often use cruelty toward others to make ourselves feel better.    

Who Can Be Affected by Domestic Violence?-Domestic Violence Education

Domestic violence affects us all regardless of race, sexual orientation, and religion. This video is for anyone seeking education about domestic violence. It offers tips on what to do if you suspect that you or a loved one are in an abusive relationship. 

SUBSCRIBE HERE: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCi_wu8p1Kcc3VxyV4NZ6TZA

 

How to Fix Communication in a Relationship

How to Fix Communication in a Relationship

Even when we're not speaking we are communicating through facial expressions, body language, action, or inaction. Communication is not a choice. The only option is communication—constructive or destructive.