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.  


Is Your Personality Killing Your Relationship?


“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.   


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.



               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.

The Stuff You Gotta Watch


Privilege is defined as a right, advantage or immunity granted or available to a particular person or group of people. Privilege is also a type of power which enables one to alter the attitude, beliefs, and behavior of others. In this country, a black man, compared to a white man, has less power. One can have low power in one relationship and high power in another. Effectively understanding that nuance prevents many black men from properly managing power in  relationships with women.

One can benefit from privilege without recognizing it, and one can use privilege to infringe on the rights of others without being aware of it. Privilege can be earned or unearned. Privilege like power remains silent. It doesn't have to speak. Power has no need to bitch, gripe, moan or complain. Due to its propensity to remain unconscious, by those who wield it, privilege can silently damage otherwise good relationships. On the other hand, understanding male privilege can provide benefits to anyone interested in improving male-female relationships.

When men feel frustrated or blocked from their goals they often look for and make others pay for it. Cruelty can be defined as an unhappy person's effort to gratify themselves at the expense of someone else. Unhappiness is corrosive to relationships. This happens because men often find themselves with fewer emotional outlets when stressed. Men learn early to deny emotions, avoid vulnerability, and hide inadequacies. Rather than turn to other men who deftly navigate their emotional lives, to discuss how we feel, and learn positive coping skills, we often never learn how to express our feelings constructively. Too often, men are left placing too much responsibility on women for taking care of our emotional lives. By out sourcing the responsibility, men can remain emotionally illiterate and both the outsourcing and the illiteracy comprise male privilege.

Let's face it, it's pretty cool to be a dude. We don’t have to know how we feel. Dudes don't have to worry about much other than underemployment or getting shot by the police. If it wasn't for our relationships with women we would never have to discuss how we feel. We could talk about cars, sports, and food. Or we could talk about sports, cars, and food. If we were not interested in women we would never even have to talk. We could just grunt and scratch. I’m teasing, but you get my point. That’s the privilege. We really believe that we don’t have to raise our emotional IQ or communication skills. When we fail at it, our refrain is “I’m a dude. I don’t know that stuff.”

Male privilege extends into social realms, too. We don't have to worry about women sexually harassing us or raping us or calling us a “bitch” if we refuse to talk to them. When we’re out and come across an unknown woman the likelihood of her harming us is not that great. Women, on the other hand, have to constantly consider what they wear, where they go, what time they go, and who they go with. It's a lot of work. The FBI reports that the greatest threat to a woman's safety is her intimate partner. A woman has a greater chance of being harmed by her boyfriend or husband than by a mugger, murder or rapists.

It's great being a dude. We never have to think about how frightening we can be to women. We don't have to steel ourselves when we walk past a woman on the street. We don't have to brace ourselves for some interruption or sexist comment. We can remain clueless. We never have to think about how creepy we can be around women; the things we say or our body language or how uncomfortable we make women feel just by being unaware of our effect on them. We don't have to consider it the same way they do. Even the way we look at women, undressing them with our eyes, can be unsettling for them.  Even if we’re not undressing them visually, just that creepy look a dude over forty has when he looks at certain women...

Dudes have privileges we may not recognize. We don't have to ever talk to women about this. We can just keep it moving and enjoy the privilege we have of not having to calculate or worry much about our personal safety around them. We can say awkward things and do dumb things and it's OK. We don't have to worry about it. We’re dudes. We never have to consider the weight of living in an unsafe environment worrying all the time about being nice while putting up with a bunch of slights, threats, insults and harassment constantly.

Privilege allows men to remain indifferent to how their behavior affects others. That’s why it’s a problem. But if men could become aware, they could seize the opportunity and become better men and better partners with women. By understanding privilege we could stop gaslighting women by accusing them of being crazy, and become more skillful partners with them by making our relationships more equatable, safe, and nurturing. We should do this not so much for them but for ourselves. The benefit to us would be more durable and secure relationships. Cruelty is never in anyone's best interest even if you are unaware of it. Improving the quality of our intimate relationships is perhaps the best place to start making ourselves happier and our lives more satisfying.




The Opposite of Addiction

Any recovering addict worth asking will tell you they have not forgotten how to get high. They will probably also add that they never stopped enjoying the high, it's the consequences that they couldn't stand.

The experience of addiction is never forgotten. Not just the high but the whole behavioral practice leading up to the high. Ask any addict what it's like to cop. From the drug infested neighborhoods to the sound of a dispensing ATM machine, it's visceral.

Scientists have documented dopamine levels increase in anticipation of the reward. That endorphin increase connects the preceding activity to the hit. All of it, the coping and actual ingestion of the substance reinforce and connect you to the experience.

If the drugs don't get you the lifestyle will. That's why it's not enough to simply stop using drugs. One has to actively work on changing their attitude and behavior in order to stay stopped. The deer that wanders onto the road at night receives two competing signals, one to stop and one to go that freeze him in the headlights and bring it's life to an abrupt halt. Recovering people specifically those who use the 12-Steps figured that out a long time ago. Their approach, going to meetings regularly, doing step work, sponsorship, and service is designed to help one make the lifestyle changes necessary to avoid getting run over by the disease of addiction. There's always two parts to any behavior change one wants to make, cognitive and behavioral.

The opposite of addiction is not recovery it's connection. You never forget how to get high. Once you learn how to swim, you may not swim for years, but once back in water you will instantly remember. You could take any recovering person and drop them off in any city in the US and they could cop dope within two hours. As a recovering person myself I can tell you I know where to find street drugs. The only reason I'm not high right now is because I have some connections I don't want to lose. Whether it's my partner, my job, my kids, my grandson, or god children I don't want to give them up. Connections are the key.

Are You Benefiting...

from all of your bitching, griping, moaning, and complaining? Wait, wait, wait… I know you think what you’re experiencing is a problem. But are you deriving any benefit from it that you can't see?

You complain about your relationship but, may I ask, do you think there might be some benefit you gain from being in that relationship? You say you’re not happy, you don’t like your partner’s behavior and the way he or she treats you. What about how they help you? After all, that relationship also prevents you from facing the uncertainty, rejection, and loneliness of dating. Your relationship is both dependable and predictable even if you are not satisfied. Predictability is the basis of control. Those are benefits.

What about your responsibility to create the life you want? Blaming your relationship may be providing you with plausible deniability. In fact, a trifling partner may even secretly boost your self-esteem. As long as you stay with him, when things don’t work out, you can say, "I have a bad partner." If you were on your own and things didn’t work out, it would fall on you.

That job you complain so much about also provides you with an excuse to avoid updating your skills and your resume and looking for another job. You can both gripe about your job and avoid competing with other job seekers in the marketplace. Don’t forget to remember, complaining protects you from a competitive job market.

Is your poor health also providing you with attention? or is it allowing you to avoid people and discussions that make you even more uncomfortable? After all, if you keep the focus on your various ailments you can avoid other people or painful feelings. It’s easier to talk about a sore knee, for example, than to talk about childhood sexual abuse.

If you define a situation as being real it becomes real in its consequences. Unconsciously, you could even be gratified by the very situation you complain about so vehemently, because it confirms your belief. We all have a way of seeing what we think. It can feel good to have our beliefs confirmed even when they sabotage us.

Problems often benefit us in ways that we can't see, but unconscious benefits can make it impossible for us to eliminate our problems. 

Here’s a question: would you rather be right or happy?


Resistance is Fertile


It's easy to pathologize what we consider bad behavior, but it's important to recognize unhappiness and our resistance to it. People who are abused, disrespected, or ignored take on behaviors that, on the one hand, can be viewed as pathologies and, on the other hand, serve as small acts of self-preservation. Drug use, lying, stealing, and irritability are all coping skills that enable one to resist or continue living when they may very well feel like giving up.

This may be a somewhat difficult idea to wrap one's mind around because of our tendency to place the locus of the problem within the other person rather than recognize that we play a part, especially in intimate relationships. It becomes harder to see that your partner's behavior may be in direct response to your treatment of them; your partner may act the way they do because of something you are doing, rather than tell you, they may act in ways that not only communicate their unhappiness but also carve out for them some way to resist and survive.

Before you go away mad, consider the opportunity this view offers. What if you could have a conversation with your partner about their unhappiness? Well, if you consider their behavior as negative and blame them the conversation will probably shut down before it begins. On the other hand, with the ability to discuss their behavior and take some responsibility for your part you could gain some valuable insight into how to increase not only their happiness but also your own. Their behavior is actually a strength: they are trying to survive in the relationship.

Nagging is not just nagging. Dishonesty is not just dishonesty. Irritability is not just irritability. Nagging, dishonesty, and irritability are all forms of protest, resistance and self-preservation. Rather than stepping stones on the path to divorce these behaviors can represent opportunities to communicate constructively, increase happiness, and create a more intimate relationship.

Empathy can enable you to adopt a new perspective because it will allow you to imagine the suffering of others. Their suffering is not an isolated occurrence but one that is directly related to your own suffering and how you treat them.


Porn Problem?

When does porn become a problem? When you can't stop looking at it? When it interferes with your ability to function? When it serves as a gateway to high risk behaviors? What constitutes an addiction is controversial among researchers and scientists. There is no consensus that porn is an addiction. Porn addiction did not make the latest addition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), The bible of mental disorders. However, for the purpose of this article let’s define addiction as any activity or behavior that is mood-altering, habit-forming, with negative consequences. Addiction is also progressive, incurable and can be fatal. In this case, watching porn is not fatal but when it serves as a primer for high risk behaviors, like using prostitutes, it can lead to a fatal outcome.

Until recently drugs were commonly believed to be the only source of addiction. However, researchers continue to expand the list of addictions to include both substances and activities, such as video games, food, and sex. The latter are considered process addictions, and vigorous debate rages among scientists about whether or not they actually constitute addictions at all.


Addiction results primarily from disconnection from significant people in our lives. We are social animals, hardwired to connect, with nervous systems designed to grow in close proximity to others. If anything interferes with our ability to remain connected we experience discomfort which signals to us that something is wrong and connection needs to be re-established. Basically we feel anxiety, depression and loneliness. Learn more here.

When connection to others is either not possible or poor, drug and process addictions are often substituted for relationships. Compulsive behaviors serve as repair attempts that fail. Obsessions and compulsions become self-soothing rituals that most people later refer to as addictions. One becomes aware of them when they begin to interfere with their finances, occupation, relationships, and self-esteem.

The question whether porn is an addiction is not relevant here because the more important question is: how is porn affecting your life? Men have begun talking about the problems they have experienced from watching pron. Recently, ex-football player and actor Terry Crews began discussing his porn addiction and recovery. Bottom line: He admitted porn was a problem for him. Here is Ran Gavrieli discussing why he stopped watching porn.


Here are some important steps you can take if you believe you have a porn problem or any addiction. Talk to someone knowledgeable about your concerns who can help you create a relapse prevention plan. Educate yourself about addiction. Develop safe coping skills. You will need two kinds when you feel triggered: cognitive and behavioral (soothing self-talk is cognitive, going for a walk is behavioral). Remove all paraphernalia and reminders from your environment. Imagine that you have already stopped looking at porn, what feeling, or situation would trigger you start looking at porn again? Prepare for cravings by answering that question and shoring up your support in those areas. Set a "quit date" no more than two weeks away. If you make your quit date farther out than two weeks, you may be procrastinating. On your quit date stop watching porn and avoid starting again by using your support system, coping skills, and relapse prevention plan.

Remember quitting is easy. Staying stopped is the challenge. If you start again, stop again as quickly as possible. It may take several tries. Getting unhooked is worth it.