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8 posts from February 2007

February 26, 2007

SO MANY RESENTMENTS, SO FEW WORDS: Healthy relationships require authentic conversations

Have you ever watched your partner do something fairly benign and found yourself snapping at them for it? Perhaps you woke up one day being utterly annoyed by the one characteristic that you used to love about your partner. What happened?

When I have couples in my office, I can easily see what’s not being said. As much as I’d like to say this is an amazing gift I have, it’s not. People are often just incredibly obvious about what they’re thinking--even if they don’t verbally share it.

Typically any of the following are signs that something is not being said that needs to be:
• One partner rolling his/her eyes while the other partner is relaying a story.
• A heavy sigh from one partner.
• A staring off into space while one partner is speaking.
• A reddening of the face, clenching of fists, or otherwise tightening of the body.
• An empty promise that is said in an effort to shut down the conversation and move on to less uncomfortable topics.
• A short, snappy reply or comment that seems to come out of nowhere.

There are many reasons we choose to not deal with issues head on, including: trying to avoid a conflict, believing our partner won’t listen anyway, not knowing exactly what it is that’s bothering us, being too tired, not trusting that it will help, wanting to be nice, etc. The list could go on and on, but hopefully you get the picture. The bottom line is we tell our partner in many ways that we’re annoyed with him/her, however seldom do we do this directly.

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February 21, 2007

WHAT HAPPENED? WE WERE DOING SO WELL: The rebound effect in couples

One of the most difficult phenomenons I’ve found with couples is the rebound effect. The rebound effect occurs in many couples who have done a lot of work on their relationship. Typically, somewhere along their journey toward a healthy, harmonious relationship, they begin to backslide. Often this back slide is instantaneous.

In therapy circles this is called the rebound effect. A couple will be moving along, making excellent progress, and then hit a bump. The “bump” may be a disagreement, a notoriously difficult issue for the couple, or an old pattern that crept back in.

Now of course all of these are normal relationship bumps that all of us have—no big deal. Couples often don’t see it as just a bump, because it’s so reminiscent of an old familiar pattern. The couple turns this “bump” into Mt. Everest.

They believe that if they really did this much work, then this old behavior wouldn’t be happening. More specifically, if their partner did this much work, than s/he would not have reacted the way s/he did.

Wrong. Old behaviors will most likely show up throughout our lifetime--no matter how much work we’ve done. Why? Because we are human.

Continue reading "WHAT HAPPENED? WE WERE DOING SO WELL: The rebound effect in couples " »

February 18, 2007

EMOTIONAL AFFAIRS: “We’re just friends” is a dangerous line in relationships

The concept of the emotional affair seems to be getting more and more attention of late. I was just reading an article at USAToday.com by Karen S. Peterson (You may be interested reading it yourself at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2003-01-08-workplace-usat_x.htm) about this very phenomenon.

Emotional affairs have been prevalent in several of the couples I’ve worked with over the years. More often than not, one partner begins to question a particular relationship the other partner is having with someone else and inevitably I will hear some variation of the response, “We’re just friends.” I still find myself surprised by how often I hear this line.

It’s not at all uncommon for this line to be followed up with some type of attempt to reassure the partner that s/he has nothing to worry about either because they don’t find that person “remotely attractive”, the other person’s married, or they will swear they would never do anything to harm this relationship. (Does this sound at all familiar to those of you who have been cheated on already?)

Just like sexual affairs, emotional affairs start with two people connecting more frequently with one another through jokes, e-mails, and conversations. As they begin to feel more comfortable with one another, they increase their level of conversations. Gradually they begin to have deeper conversations--co-commiserating about bad days/marriages/events etc.

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February 13, 2007

VALENTINE’S DAY: IGNORE THE HYPE--KEEP THE MESSAGE

I keep reading about the stress that occurs as a result of Valentine’s Day and I can’t help but wonder why. Why do so many people place so much value on this day? Do we think that if our partner has been irresponsible, mean-spirited, and selfish throughout our relationship, a nice, thoughtful, present erases that history? In contrast, if our partner has been kind, loving, and relational throughout our relationship, does that get thrown out the window if s/he only buys us a card?

I’m a firm believer in moderation. I don’t believe Valentine’s Day requires a magnificent gift and nor do I believe it’s in our best interest to do nothing. Valentine’s Day can be a wonderful reminder to do what we should be doing all year—act as though we truly care about our partner. It’s a reminder to not take our loved one for granted. It doesn’t take an earth-shattering feat to accomplish this. It does however take something…

It takes a moment to pause, slow down, and show, in both our actions and our words, that we feel blessed to have our partner in our lives. We can do this with a card, a flower, a teddy bear, a poem, a dinner, a tender moment, etc. The most important thing is that we do something--with a tender heart.

The reason doing something is so important is because so many other days out of the year, life caught up to us and we forgot to take the time to show our love. All those days went by and we allowed ourselves to take our loved ones for granted.

Valentine’s Day is the day we stop and take notice. No major “splash,” just a genuine act of tenderness.

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February 11, 2007

NOURISHING RELATIONSHIPS: LOVE DOESN’T GROW WITHOUT ATTENTION JUST AS FLOWERES DON’T GROW WITHOUT WATER

Okay so no new revelations here, right? Most people would tell you that you have to nourish your relationship if you want it to grow. What few people know, however, is how the heck to do that. So here’s a list of ten ways to nourish your relationships in five minutes or less.

1. Give your partner a ten-second, full-body hug daily.
2. Give your partner a five-second, gentle, kiss on the lips.
3. Do a random, kind act (i.e., a note that says, “I love you,” bring home his/her favorite dessert, etc.).
4. Make it a habit of giving your partner a compliment every day.
5. Tell your partner two things you admire and/or like about him/her.
6. Take note of your partner’s efforts and say thank you.
7. Say you’re sorry from a genuine place when you make a mistake.
8. Hold your partner’s hand while sitting on the couch together.
9. Surprise your partner by helping out with something you don’t usually help with (i.e., cooking, cleaning, the garbage, recycles, etc.). Do this before they ask for your help.
10. Take a relaxing walk while holding hands.

Nourishing our relationships often takes only a moment. Fortunately, the impact of that moment goes on for much longer. Stop thinking you have to do some major, jaw-stopping feat in order to get your relationship back on track, and just start with the little things--start with watering it.

Challenge: Choose two items on the list to do each day for the next fourteen days and see if your love begins to grow and your relationship begins to heal. I’m betting more than half of the relationships will notice a difference. Put me to the test and let’s see.

February 08, 2007

THE UNDERBELLY OF AFFAIRS AND JEALOUSY: Can anyone relate to Astronaut Lisa Nowak’s feelings?

The closing line of act III of William Congreve's The Mourning Bride is:
Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turn'd
Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd.

The more familiar quote derived from this is, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned". I would change this to, “Hell hath no fury like a woman or a man scorned”…but let’s not quibble.

Either way, I’m sure many people can relate to this idea. In fact, I’m betting that many people reading this quote are shaking their heads thinking, “Isn’t that the truth!”

I wonder how many people can relate to the feelings Astronaut Lisa Nowak may have had that led her to do such an extreme act. She traveled miles and miles, in a diaper no less, to confront a woman she thought was in competition with her for another man’s affections. She’s married with children, yet she risked it all to confront this woman (perhaps to kidnap and murder too?). What the h*ll was she thinking? The truth is, she wasn’t thinking, she was reacting.

I hear from people all the time wanting to do something hurtful to the person their partner had an affair with. In fact, it is not uncommon for murders to occur between “loved ones” as a result of jealousy and affairs. Murder--isn’t that extreme? Well, of course it is, and when a person is “scorned” it feels extreme to them.

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February 06, 2007

BLAMING AND DEFLECTING: AN OBSTACLE TO HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

The last post I wrote about excusing behaviors due to good intentions. In general this is just another way that many of us deflect responsibility. For whatever reason, I have been running into this behavior left and right of late…so here’s a post on the larger issue of deflecting responsibility.

Deflecting responsibility may sound something like:
• “I didn’t mean to go behind your back I thought we talked about it.”
• “Look, I was drunk, I couldn’t help it!”

A more extreme form of deflecting responsibility is actually blaming our behavior on our partner’s behavior. This may sound like any of the following:
• “I was late because you gave me an impossible list of things to do and I couldn’t get them done in time.”
• “I was distant because you were relentless and wouldn’t let it go.”
• “I wouldn’t let it go, because you refused to hear me and talk about it.”

A major aspect of healthy relationships is taking responsibility for our own actions. We are human beings and will therefore make plenty of mistakes in our lifetime. The problem isn’t making mistakes. The problem is not owning them, or repairing. It’s also a problem if we keep repeating the same mistakes we just apologized for yesterday, last week, and last month.

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February 03, 2007

THE ROAD TO MANY HURTFUL CH0ICES IS OFTEN PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS: Relationship turmoil

My son accidentally stepped on his sister’s foot the other day and when she yelped “OUCH!” my son replied, “WHAT?! It’s not like I meant to do it.” I explained that his intention had nothing to do with how much it hurt. I also let him know that he needed to apologize for the pain it caused even though it was an accident.

This incident led me to thinking about how often adults do this. Adults will often use their intentions as a way of minimizing the impact of what they do. Some examples of this include:

• “Well, it’s not like I intended to have an affair; it just happened.”
• “I didn’t mean to hurt you, I was just angry and I blurted it out.”
• “It’s not like I meant to embarrass you in front of your colleagues. I didn’t realize they were
behind me.”

Your intentions are irrelevant when your behavior causes pain. It doesn’t matter if you intended to have an affair, the fact is you did…and it caused a tremendous amount of pain. The fact that you lost your temper and called your wife a b*tch or your husband a son of a b*tch doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt or it wasn’t out of line and disrespectful. It was. Own it. Take responsibility for your actions whole-heartedly, without excusing them due to your intentions.


Continue reading "THE ROAD TO MANY HURTFUL CH0ICES IS OFTEN PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS: Relationship turmoil " »

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