Relationships

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.  

 

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.

 

Effective Skills for Communicating Anger

"Effective emotion regulation is key to satisfying relationships and long-term health and well-being, and the more we learn about emotions, the more constructive and adaptive our regulation can become."

                                                                                      —T. Wranik and K.R. Scherer


What we don't understand about anger can hurt us, and the people around us. Every day the media bombards us with story after story about violent crimes from around the world. One thing most accounts have in common is anger. Someone flew into a rage.

During our evolution our ancestors’ ability to anger quickly, to deter and defend against threats, helped them survive in a predacious environment. However, as we continued to evolve, live closer together, and more effectively manage predators, our need for rage decreased. But our propensity for it remained. Today, to avoid killing each other over slight provocations we need to both learn and unlearn important things about anger. Our happiness and survival depend on it. We need to accept our anger and learn how to manage it. It’s difficult to create a fire drill if you don't believe you will ever face a fire. Accepting anger enables us to be proactive rather than reactive. Prediction is the basis of control. If you can predict an event you can better prepare for it even if you totally can't stop it.

We need to unlearn that anger must be expressed, at least in the way most people think of expressing anger. It's a myth that we fill with anger and need to blow it off like steam from a kettle. Years ago, the Primal Scream movement encouraged participants to release pent up anger and aggression by screaming at the top of their lungs. That misguided practice continues to compel some people to vent their frustration by beating a pillow, hitting a heavy bag, or “keeping it real” by expressing exactly how they feel without considering the effect such behaviors may have on the people they are mad at or on bystanders. Rehearsing expressing anger tends to prime one for their next angry episode. Also, expressing anger, even when not directed at someone, can have unpredictable social consequences—friends and peers may avoid you.

Another erroneous belief is that people or situations make you angry. That belief also needs to be unlearned. When situations occur that provoke anger the way you appraise the situation, and the meaning you assign to that appraisal, can turn a pilot light into a raging fire. The way you see it and what you tell yourself about what you see determines how well you manage your impulse to rage. This is paradoxical because people and situations do actually trigger our anger, however, the way you appraise the situation determines whether you express anger constructively or destructively. Shakespeare was correct, “thinking makes it so.”

Most people agree: anger can be destructive. But what about anger’s positive qualities? Anger surfaces when our needs go unmet. When we witness injustice in the world, anger compels us to act on our own behalf or on the behalf of others. Civil rights icon Rosa Parks wanted a seat on the bus, and she got angry when ordered to get up and move to the rear of the bus. Her anger at the injustice of racial segregation in the Jim Crow South changed the course of history.

In intimate relationships, anger often indicates that we care about some issue. Used appropriately, anger can have a positive effect. Since anger is inevitable, it is also predictable.  Prediction is the basis of control. We might as well recognize our mistaken beliefs and learn how to constructively use anger to improve our relationships. We can stop feigning surprise next time our blood boils, and take this opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive and learn how to effectively express anger.

According to C. Nathan DeWall Ph.D., it is theorized that self-control is comprised of three distinct systems: learning, skill, and a limited energy resource. We need to learn about our emotions to manage them more effectively. It takes skill to know not only what to do intellectually when we get angry, but also how to manage our behavior to meet the challenges posed by difficult emotions. All of us have only so much energy per day. Once we deplete our daily energy allotment, we don’t have it available to help us control our impulses or to manage other difficult tasks. A useful way to monitor our limited energy resources is to use the acronym HALT reminds us to avoid becoming too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.

We need to learn about our own emotions and the emotional lives of others if we plan to improve how we deal with anger. An interesting characteristic of anger is that it is described as a "secondary emotion." Usually, when we feel anger some primary feeling such as guilt, shame, or vulnerability has been tripped, and anger signals to us and to those around us that a threat is present. Anger swells quickly not only to help us mobilize against the threat but to also help us save face among our social group. In this way, according to Raymond Novaco, anger serves as a form of image control. Anger communicates to others that “I am angry, leave me alone or I am willing to defend myself now.” That's a great feature for guys running around on the savannah hunting for protein, but not so valuable for your intimate relationships.

A better alternative today is to recognize threats, appraise situations accurately, and use words to express how you feel—provided you don't have to run. Running is still a great survival skill. Cultivating emotional intelligence provides the best opportunity for us to keep our inner caveman in check, avoid jail, and maintain both our employment and our relationships.

We all get angry. The point I’m making is not how to avoid anger but rather to express anger effectively and constructively. To that end, one of the best skills one can learn is how to calm down. We get angry for various reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that we sense danger. Before you attempt to calm down you must feel safe. Move to a safe place and make the effort to calm down. When we feel angry or anxious our breathing becomes fast, loud, shallow, and irregular. To calm down, bring your attention to your breathing and do the opposite: breathe slowly, quietly, deeply, and regularly. Thich Nhat Hanh says he can control his anger in three breaths. He’s a Buddhist monk. Don't expect to corral yours that efficiently; he's practiced meditating for years. The point is your breathing controls your nervous system. When correctly used it is very effective in regulating your emotional states.

Other than getting to safety, take care of your anger before you attempt anything else. When it comes to stress we all think we're better at managing it than we really are. We often make situations worse when we attempt to solve problems under duress with adrenaline coursing through our veins. This idea goes back to the myth that we have to get the anger out. Don't fall for it. Take the time to calm down. If you attempt to resolve a problem between you and another person while agitated, mirror neurons in your brain activate mirror neurons in the other person's brain and both of you will most likely get upset. Calm down first.

What you say to yourself when angry is important. Pay attention to negative self-talk. This may be challenging because you’re upset and you may have never considered your internal dialogue or tried to change it. Saying soothing words to yourself will help you avoid boiling over.

Optimally, in an intimate relationship, approach your partner with a soft heart, soft eyes, soft voice, and soft hands. It helps to build trust. Remember human beings, when frightened or overwhelmed, turn to each other. It's only if we have experienced some previous traumatic event that we turn on each other.

Use your words. If you are unable to express your complaint succinctly, you are either not calm enough or you have not thought about the issue well enough to discuss it effectively. Words formed into “I statements” can be very effective because the structure of the “I statement” helps you articulate the problem without blaming your partner. The object is to state the problem, how the problem makes you feel, and what you need from your partner to correct it. Here’s an example. “When you’re late coming home, I feel worried. I need you to call when you are going to be late.”  Another useful approach is the “XYZ Statement.” Here’s an example. When X happens in situation Y, I felt Z. Both “I Statements” and “XYZ Statements” are non-blaming. Remember, conflicts are expressed through language. How you say things, the words you choose, can be the difference between a successful outcome or a broken relationship.

Relational statements make clear what the relationship means to you. Relational statements also help you remain calm by reminding you to remember that you are having a conflict or disagreement with an intimate partner—someone you care about. Here are some examples of relational statements. “This issue is important to me.” “You are important to me,” and “Our relationship is important to me.” Relational statements, when properly used, express the positive value you place on the relationship between you and your partner and increase intimacy while reducing anger and frustration.

Listening to understand can help keep you and your partner calm. Listening is the first step toward validating feelings. Invalidation can ignite anger and escalate a conflict faster than gasoline and matches. Listen so that you can respond to what you hear rather than the voice in your head that is often emanating from the most primitive regions of your brain—the part that only understands fight or flight. Remember, you're angry at an intimate partner, someone you care about. Listening helps you suppress impulses which is the key to expressing them constructively rather than destructively.  

Anger management takes practice, honesty, open-mindedness, a willingness to stay calm, positive self-talk, compassion, the expression of your feelings using “I Statements, XYZ Statements, and Relational Statements, and active listening to validate and understand the feelings behind your partner’s words. Controlling your emotions is worth it. Practice for yourself, your partner, and for the world.

 

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.    

What is a Healthy Relationship?

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A healthy relationship doesn't kill you. We're all going to leave here at some point, hopefully not by the hand of a boyfriend, girlfriend, lover, or spouse. People kill each other in relationships. You survive a healthy relationship.

Short of death, relationships can make you miserable. Feeling unable to communicate, treat each other with respect, and speak openly about thoughts and feelings can suck the life out of you. I talk to people all the time who willingly poke themselves in the eye in relationships and wonder why their eye hurts. In essence, here's the conversation.

How may I help you?

“Every time I... This happens and I can't take it anymore.”

Have you considered not doing...?

Silence.

The butt-tensing silence you experience watching a horror movie when the person on screen separates from others and wanders down a dark, spooky hallway. Relationships can make us all feel lost. A healthy relationship is one in which you notice when you are drifting into unfamiliar territory, and self-correct before finding yourself on the wrong end of a chainsaw.

A healthy relationship encourages you to grow up and step into your responsibility. You can bitch, gripe, moan, and complain all you want. But if anything is wrong with your relationship or life, it is your responsibility to fix it—even if that means accepting the situation as it is, admitting defeat and seeking outside help, or exiting without leaving behind a wake of destruction.

A healthy relationship is not to be used to escape your circumstances. You can't avoid life and reality, both become crystal clear when you enter an intimate relationship with another human being. Once the honeymoon ends and you're both standing face to face with your respective mothers and fathers, the shit gets real. What started out feeling like the Tour de France can quickly morph into the Tour de Hell—in the best relationships. You will need to double down on every relationship skill you know to manage conflicts, remain respectful, and maintain your sanity.

A healthy relationship requires both partners to rise to the occasion and support each other through the letdown of “the real”, for real. You are not perfect. That's real. You're in a relationship with another person who is not perfect, for real. A healthy relationship is one in which you can laugh at the absurdity of your predicament and your life. A healthy relationship enables you to recognize and accept the difficulty involved in loving another person. You silly fool. Did you really believe you could? That's not your fault. We all believe we can love another, and many believe they can love another without loving themselves.

Healthy relationships are best when a little unhealthy—”unhealthy” as in not perfect. Sometimes we promote an outside appearance of health and inside the relationship is toxic. A healthy relationship is one in which appearances do not deceive.  

Healthy relationships result from both partners willingness to do the work—their work.

 

Why Does Someone Stay in an Abusive Relationship?-Domestic Violence Education Series

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.

 

Power and Control

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For years I have used the Duluth Power and Control Wheel to understand and teach domestic violence prevention. I have also used the Equality Wheel from the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence to help men learn alternatives to destructive power and control in relationships. In this article I combined the two and discuss them in an effort to explain how to reduce intimate partner violence and improve relationships.

What is Power?

Everyone wants influence over other people. In relationships perceptions of power are critical to understand. We do not have the option of not using power. We only have options to use power destructively or productively. Exercising influence or control is one of the basic human needs. The ability to meaningfully influence important events and people around us is necessary for our a sense of well-being and personal effectiveness. Exercising personal power is crucial to how you feel about yourself. High power is often a goal that people strive for. Without some sense of agency in your interpersonal relationships, you would soon feel worthless as a person.

In interpersonal relationships power is a property of the social relationship rather than a quality of the individual. Your dependence on another person is predicated on the importance of the goals the other can influence. If there are other avenues available to accomplish your goals, you will be less dependent on another person. If you want more power, it becomes important to increase the other person’s dependency on you. One way to reduce power others have over you is to change your goals or what you want from them.

It’s easy to confuse conversational control with power; they are not the same thing. One person may dominate the conversation, but if you refuse to cooperate, their power is nullified. People who look the most powerful to outsiders are often less powerful than they appear. You can’t tell from looking without examining the dynamics of the relationship.

Often during conflicts each person firmly believes that the other person has more power. Many problems result in this situation because the image people have of their power (and others) is unrealistic. Conflicts escalate if you or the other person believes you are in the low-power position.

Power Denial

When people view power as negative they may deny that they have power.

“I'm not myself when I drink.”

“I can't help it. I told you I had a temper.”

“I did not say that.”

“I forgot I said that.”

“People are always bothering me too much! Oh, I'm not talking about you…”

“I'm used to being treated unfairly by others…”

Everyone has some power.

Power Currencies:

Power currencies are basically things that people find valuable to use in relationships to garner influence, status, and power. Here’s a partial list:

Reward, coercion, expertise, threats, promises, persuasion, reinforcement control, information control, exploitation, manipulation, competition, special skills and abilities, personal attractiveness, likeability, control over rewards/or punishments, rank, persuasion, control, surrender.

People try to spend currency that is not valued in a particular relationship and, when they do, problems arise. Power depends on having currencies that other people need. Once a relationship deteriorates, power concerns increase.

Destructive power vs. constructive power

Destructive Power:

Destructive power is power used over or against someone. Its effectiveness derives from competition and dominance. Long-term it is destructive to the relationship, ultimately leading to relationship termination. What follows are examples of destructive power currencies from the Power and Control Wheel:  

Intimidation: Merriam-Webster: to make timid or fearful: Frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats.

Making your relationship partner afraid by using looks, actions, and gestures. Smashing things. Destroying her property. Abusing pets. Displaying weapons.

Many of us grew up in households with parents who practiced corporal punishment. “Do I need to give you something to cry about? Or Do I need to fix your face? Were common refrains heard in my household throughout my childhood. They were effective because the threat of getting an ass whipping always loomed in the background whenever my father disciplined me during my childhood. That's intimidation.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abuse is an attempt to control, in just the same way that physical abuse is an attempt to control another person. The only difference is that the emotional abuser does not use physical hitting, kicking, pinching, grabbing, pushing or other physical forms of harm. Rather the perpetrator of emotional abuse uses emotion as his/her weapon of choice.

Putting her down. Making her feel bad about herself. Calling her names. Making her think she’s crazy. Playing mind games. Humiliating her. Making her feel guilty. Here are some examples: “You didn't do that right. What's wrong with you? You're always nagging me I just go home from work. I don't want to hear that right now.”

Isolation: Humans are hardwired to interact with others, especially during times of stress. When we go through a trying ordeal alone, a lack of emotional support and friendship can increase our anxiety and hinder our coping ability.

Controlling what she does, who she sees and talks to, what she reads, and where she goes. Limiting her outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions. “I don't like your friend Sandra. She always has something to say about our relationship. I really don't like you talking to her. I don't want you to invite her over here. I don't like her.”

Minimization, Denial, Blame: Minimizing means downplaying the severity and effects of one's abusive behavior: Denying means pretending the abuse never happened:  Blaming means making someone else responsible for your abusive behavior:

Making light of the abuse and not taking her concerns about it seriously. Saying the abuse didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for abusive behavior. Saying she caused it. “That's no big deal. Why are you still on that? If you hadn't got in my business, I would not have had to put my hands on you. You know how my temper is.”

Using Children: Making her feel guilty about the children. Using the children to relay messages. Using visitation to harass her. Threatening to take the children away.

“Is your mother seeing anyone? Are there any men coming to the house?”

Economic Abuse: Preventing her from getting or keeping a job. Making her ask for money. Giving her an allowance. Taking her money. Not letting her know about or have access to family income.

“I started working under the table so I could avoid child support.” That's a common statement I hear men make who don't understand economic abuse. Also living with a woman and waiting on her check—money that is not theirs—each month.

Male Privilege: Treating her like a servant; making all the big decisions. Acting like the “master of the castle,” being the one to define men’s and women’s roles. Leaving the house whenever they want, thereby shirking household responsibilities such as chores and childcare, leaving their partners to pick up the slack. Squandering the household income on vice.

Coercion and Threats: Making and/or carrying out threats to do something to hurt her. Threatening to leave her, to commit suicide, or to report her to welfare. Making her drop charges against you. Making her do illegal things. Similar to intimidation, threatening to leave the relationship if certain conditions are not met. Threatening violence when upset in an effort to get their own way.

Power sickness

Power sickness resides at both ends of the power spectrum. People with high power can begin to abuse the people around them who they perceive have less power than them. And people in power down positions can begin to resist more forcefully leading to acts of violence and terrorism. In severe, ongoing conflicts both parties perceive that they have low power, and they continually make moves to increase their power at the other’s expense. This can make each person feel justified to use dirty tricks. Lower-power parties will sometimes destroy a relationship as the ultimate move to rebalance power. The more you struggle against someone the less power you will have over them.

Constructive Power:

equality.jpg

Constructive power, on the other hand, is power used with the other person to support their rights and needs and to create mutually beneficial outcomes. Here are some examples from the Equality Wheel:

Non-Threatening Behavior: Talking and acting so that she feels safe and comfortable expressing herself and doing things.

Respect: Listening to her non-judgmentally. Being emotionally affirming and understanding. Valuing her opinions.

Trust and Support: Supporting her goals in life. Respecting her right to her own feelings, friends, activities, and opinions.

Honesty and Accountability: Accepting responsibility for self. Acknowledging past use of violence. Admitting being wrong. Communicating openly and truthfully.

Responsible Parenting: Sharing parental responsibilities. Being a positive, nonviolent role model for the children.

Shared Responsibility: Mutually agreeing on a fair distribution of work. Making family decisions together.

Economic Partnership: Making money decisions together. Making sure both partners benefit from financial arrangements.

Negotiation and Fairness: Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict. Accepting changes. Being willing to compromise.

Realigning Power Balances

Calm persistence and active engagement are necessary to manage and or repair power imbalances. During a conflict, the most powerful party places the responsibility for keeping the peace on the least powerful party. Both parties need to practice restraint. Focus on interdependence and if you are the more powerful make the effort to empower the less-powerful. That can only be accomplished if you have some awareness of your position. Also work to shift the conversation to the relationship between you and your conflict partner and discuss the process used to manage power and conflicts.

Conclusion

You have more power than you think. Your perception and understanding about how to recognize and use power constructively can have a dramatic effect on your relationships. There are many different power currencies you can talk to your partner about and experiment with to create a more satisfying relationship. Managing power imbalances in relationships is an ongoing process, and one that can be satisfying due to its ability to help you maintain meaningful relationships.

On Domestic Violence

          Domestic Violence

         Domestic Violence

When it comes to talking to men about violence in general and violence against women, I prefer an unconventional approach. I encourage men to discuss how good violence feels. Before you start balking, gasping, and sputtering allow me to explain. Some people reading this have never been slapped, punched, kicked, whipped or choked. Good for you. However, there are many men who experienced violence as children, when they were least able to overcome its devastating consequences. Men who have been hit feel differently about hitting than men who have not been hit. Many psychologically wounded men walk around oblivious to how their previous violent experiences have changed their attitudes and behavior. They are often more likely to use violence against women when frustrated or angry.

Violence is pervasive. Our society is violent. The world is violent. Violence is in our DNA. While there have always been women warriors—and women do get arrested for domestic violence—primarily men send women to the hospital or the graveyard. When it comes to violence, we like watching it. We like performing it. Violence is orgasmic. If men didn't find it enjoyable on some level, we wouldn't constantly commit acts of violence all over the world.

Violence is deeply gratifying. We don't like the consequences, but we relish the act. It changes things both externally and internally. Externally violence alters the victim’s behavior. Internally violence relieves internal stress. It works quickly and effectively. It’s difficult for a man to unlearn the powerful tension release, the instant satisfaction, and the strong reinforcement that comes with violent acts.

Men don't really know how to talk about our love affair with violence. It's not socially acceptable. We don't have any problem talking about the latest example of violence we see in the news, social media or our neighborhoods. But our own propensity for violence mutes us. We pretend that it's someone else. We dawn the good guy mask and disavow our culpability in the violence epidemic engulfing the planet. Because we fail to allow ourselves to discuss it, we also fail to control it. Social acceptance is not recovery. We must begin with the obvious fact that we enjoy violence and give ourselves the freedom to explore what it does for us if we ever intend to meet those needs without resorting to violence.

If we're not talking about how we really feel about violence, what are we talking about? Before you say, “Not me. I don’t like violence.” I ask: What about the porn? What about the video games? What about the horror movies? What about the NFL? The President recently stated professional football was too soft. While on the campaign trail, prior to becoming president, he bragged about grabbing women by the crotch. The man’s statements and behavior, as he sits in the highest office in the land, has normalized violence. His admission makes violence against women as American as lynchings and police shootings.

Freedom comes from not driving problems underground.  Our ambivalence about violence needs to be explored. There is a tendency to avoid the shadows, fearing that if we address it, it will lead to more violence. We pretend that the shadows have no value. Shadows provide protection. Shadows serve as resting places. Predators ambush from shadows. Without exploring the shadows, we can’t hope to overcome our destructiveness. By fearlessly examining our ambivalence about violence, we can identify opportunities to take personal responsibility and reduce violence. Can we acknowledge our propensity for violence and stop running around like wolves in sheep's clothing? If we can't accept it, we can't change it. The time has come for us to change it.

 

Sponsorship

                The 12-Steps

               The 12-Steps

When I first began attending 12-Step meetings, I heard, “Get a sponsor and work the steps.” I didn’t know what they were talking about. One evening, while standing around after a meeting a man walked up to me and asked, “Do you have a sponsor?” I said no and he offered his services. I had no idea what sponsorship entailed or what his role would be in my life. Like most social situations I found myself in at that time, I wanted to fit in, so I agreed.

Because I didn't understand what sponsorship meant, he remained my ornamental sponsor for quite some time. It took dating a woman in the fellowship before I got a clue. When I found myself in an embarrassing, painful, public break-up with a popular woman who processed her feelings about me and our breakup by putting me “on blast” in meetings, I began to call my sponsor more frequently. Hurt, angry, and resentful I started reading the literature and going to additional meetings. Having committed to 12-Step recovery, I refused to leave the program. Together, my sponsor and I worked up to the fifth step. At that point, he rekindled a relationship, got married, and moved away.

Enter my second and current sponsor. By that time, I realized the importance of step work and I wanted to complete the process I started. Spiritual smugness felt too good to stop working the steps. My new high became walking into meetings and comparing myself to others who were not working the steps. That downward comparison became my new fix. I chose my next sponsor after observing him in meetings. He possessed numerous qualities that made him ideal for me, even if I didn’t know it at the time. He seemed to lack anger, hostility, and authoritarianism.  He appeared calm and relaxed which attracted me because I never felt safe around angry, hostile authority figures.

Like any addict, I am recovering from turning to drugs rather than people when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. I'm recovering from immense shame which makes me fear intimacy. I often projected my problems onto women, blaming them for my internal discord.  As my recovery progressed awareness shed light on my problems with male role models. I began to recognize misinformation I received from men and society about masculinity and manhood. Through my relationship with my sponsor, I have been able to not only explore my emotional life, but take responsibility for it, remain drug-free, and cultivate happiness.

Somehow recovering addicts before me discovered an effective way to recover from trauma. I always found myself hurt by the people I was in relationships with. Addicts understood recovering people would need to turn to the very thing that may have harmed them—relationships—in order to heal. From trial, error, and ingenuity they created sponsorship.

As I progress through recovery and the 12-Steps, my relationship with my sponsor deepens. Working with him, exploring my emotional life, improves all my relationships. As we learn from our literature “we don’t heal in isolation.” Through sponsorship, I practice honesty, open-mindedness, courage, willingness, and vulnerability. Sponsorship taught me how to trust myself and others.

When men stop fronting on each other, drop their masks, and share their emotional lives with each other they develop intimacy. Many men never get that opportunity and later end up placing too much weight on women to care for them emotionally. With no men to bond with and placing too much emotional weight on women, they lose.

Last week, while sitting on a bench talking to my sponsee, I saw my sponsor in the distance, walking to his car. I felt emotional as I thought about how long he and I have worked together, how much I have learned about myself, and how much my heart has expanded due to our relationship. When anyone complains about their relationships, I remain silent. When others lament about unhappiness, I yield the floor. When someone gripes about being lonely, I stand down. Today, those are not my issues. Through sponsorship, I have been able to improve mutual satisfaction in all my relationships. Considering my sponsor’s role in my recovery, I felt myself getting emotional. My eyes began to well up and my heart felt full as I watched him walk away. I believe in the therapeutic value of one addict helping another.

Improve Your Relationships with Compliments

IMG_0894 Compliment.jpg

There is a powerful way to improve your relationships. It is not a tactic. A single tactic will not work. In fact, it may make your situation worse because most people can sense insincerity. Without commitment the minute you experience frustration you will abandon the effort to change. This is an attitude and behavior change I'm inviting you to try for yourself. So what am I suggesting? If you want to improve your relationships, increase happiness, and lift self-esteem, learn to give compliments.

Depending on where you're from and what your previous relationships have been like this may prove to be quite challenging. If you come from a family that did not express or provide praise it may feel awkward for you to give and receive compliments freely. I have even had people say that it felt like ass kissing to give someone a compliment. Your history may be such that no one was around to notice and provide you with adequate praise for the things you did. If that was your experience, you very well could be walking around feeling invalidated and insecure simply from receiving insufficient positive attention growing up. You may even find yourself compensating for that by seeking negative attention. As human beings, if we can't get positive attention, negative attention will do.

Praise or positive attention is one major contributor to good mental health. It acknowledges you and reinforces your felt sense of security. I used the term “felt sense of security” here to emphasize the difference between being secure and feeling secure. To compliment someone indicates that you noticed and feel grateful for something they have done. Gratitude must be cultivated to the point of awareness in order for one to compliment another. Well-being is comprised of gratitude. Feeling secure, grateful, and happy all contribute to increased self-esteem.

The opposite of praise is criticism. The opposite of a compliment is an insult. Nothing says abuse like criticism and insults. I'm suggesting that you learn to give what you may so desperately need, more than every now and then: a pat on the back. Learning to give sincere, specific praise to yourself and others is a tide that lifts all boats. By cultivating an attitude of gratitude for the little things, you become aware that gratitude connects you to life and living. It also attracts people to you because they get from you what we all desperately need: positive attention.

One of the first things that lead to our relationships going bad is our inability to see and acknowledge the good that others do. We can only see their mistakes and shortcomings. This happens not only with our view of others but also with our view of ourselves.

Changing your attitude and behavior doesn't cost you anything but time and effort. A change like this does not require any special talent, no merchandise, no skill. The only requirements are willingness and practice. When practiced on yourself it's considered self-soothing and when provided to others it called a compliment. No matter what moniker you use, compliments reduce suffering and serve as an antidote to insecurity and abuse.

Conflict: Do I Need to Check...