6 posts from April 2013

April 30, 2013

Relationship Game Changers: Characteristics That Burn Out Relationships (Part I)

IStock_0angry manllAs most people will tell you, relationships can be hard work. They should not, however, constantly be hard work and nor should they be tremendously difficult. Healthy relationships will have their natural ups and downs, with moments that are difficult and a majority of time where they should be fairly easy flowing and rewarding. 

Ideally, our relationship with our significant other will be the least stressful variable in our life. This core relationship is meant to give us the greatest support, not the biggest headache. If this isn’t the case, it may be time to look at what’s going on that’s preventing it from being a source of strength in your life. 

Below is the first set of variables that turns relationships from a place of refuge into a source of stress. If you do any of these, work on stopping yourself. If you live with someone who does any of these, learn to set limits when needed, get professional help if the limits don’t work and know when to walk away when necessary. If you are the one doing these behaviors, get help in working through these issues or they will wreak havoc in all of your relationships.

* Verbal abuse. Verbal abuse includes yelling, name-calling, shaming, making fun of others, speaking with contempt and/or undermining them. Verbal abuse is toxic to be around and kills a person’s spirit and the relationship over time. No one likes to be with someone who constantly puts him or her down, belittles him or her or makes fun of him or her. It is often only a matter of time before the one being verbally abused wakes up and starts heading for the door. Work to stop the abuse rather than minimizing or justifying it.

Continue reading "Relationship Game Changers: Characteristics That Burn Out Relationships (Part I)" »

April 25, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Being Conversational

In my work with couples, I often get complaints from women that their husbands don’t talk. The women feel that it’s like pulling teeth to have a conversation and the men feel that the women talk too much. Often the truth is they’re both right. When women don’t feel heard, they tend to go on and on, in an effort to finally be heard and many men give one word answers rather than engaging in a conversation.

Communication habits often start at a young age and frequently intensify and solidify, as we get older. Below are several easy communication tips for people of all ages and genders. These tips can easily be passed on and taught to children, as well, to give them a better jumpstart on communication than many of us adults ever had. For those who have received complaints from loved ones about how you communicate, this post is for you J.

The ABC’s of good communication

1.     Avoid answering questions with one-word answers. Giving a one-word answer to inquiries is what leads to the pulling teeth phenomenon. If someone asks you how your day was or how you’re feeling or what’s wrong, etc., do not simply say, “Fine,” “Okay,” or “Nothing.” Minimally, provide your answer with an explanation. For example, “My day was okay. We had another marathon meeting in the morning, which was annoying, but after that I was able to get a lot of work done.”

Continue reading "The Ins and Outs of Being Conversational" »

April 22, 2013

Women and Divorce: The Silent Exodus

Silentexodus Mary and Stan came into my office after 17 years of marriage. Mary was quiet and sullen as she said she didn’t want to be married anymore. Stan was shell-shocked. He was certain Mary was going through a mid-life crisis. Mary was clear she had been feeling this way for years, but hadn’t wanted to hurt him.

Mary is one of many women who have come into my office over the years, clear that they no longer wanted to be married.  In almost every case the men were shocked. In some cases, the women had been telling the men for years they were unhappy, but the men were not listening. In other cases, the women said very little and thought the men should just know. In all cases, the women left the marriage long before they actually walked out.

Below is an excerpt from one of my blog readers, Chris, who sent me an e-mail asking about this very dynamic. Here is what Chris had to say:

“About six months after my father died, my wife came to me and said she didn't like me this way and wasn't sure if she loved me anymore. It wasn't long afterwards that she left.  I had returned from a week long business trip and she didn't even come to pick me up at the airport.  She had moved out.  The reason I tell you this whole story, is that I'm not the only man who has had this happen (especially recently).  In fact, it is happening to men right now like a plague.  I have a couple of friends and acquaintances that have had this happen to them recently as well.  The question I have is -- why are women leaving men for "independence, freedom, romance and passion" when these men are supportive, healthy, kind and loving people? 

In my experience, Chris is correct that women are leaving.  The divorce rate, as many of you know, is 50% for first time marriages.  What many people don’t know, however, is that 75% of those divorces are initiated by...women.  Where Chris is not totally correct is that the women are leaving “supportive, healthy, kind, loving people.”  In some cases this is absolutely true and in some cases it is not.

In the cases where the women have been speaking up, many of the husbands have chosen not to listen.  The women have repeatedly told the men they don’t like the way they are being treated and have frequently asked their husbands to change.  The men have either outright denied poor treatment, justified it, minimized it or just blew off their wives’ complaints.  The men didn’t think their wives would do anything (since they hadn’t before), so they continued doing what they’d always done.  Imagine their surprise, however, when “all of a sudden” their wives chose to leave the marriage.

In other cases, the women have been miserable for years, but said little or nothing.  Some believed that if they were nicer, kinder or whatever, their marriage would be better.  Others believed that they should just learn to love him anyway and not create any conflict.  So the women suffered in silence until they just couldn’t do it anymore.  Then, one day, they tell their husbands that they haven’t been happy for years and they’re leaving.  Next, they leave.

This isn’t fair to the men.  Men are not responsible for reading our minds.  Suddenly walking out on a marriage is a horrible dynamic to pass on to our children and incredibly painful for our husbands. Walking out also deprives women of the possibility of creating great, loving relationships with their husbands.

So what should men and women do about this?  The first thing we all need to do is stay on our side.  We cannot change our partners so we need to change ourselves.  Here’s my advice for all the men and women out there in long term relationships:

Advice for Women

Speak up. Speak up. Speak up. If you do speak up and he doesn’t listen, then ramp it up.  Set limits.  For example, if he flirts with your friends or at restaurants and tells you he won’t stop, then refuse to go to parties or restaurants with him.  If that doesn’t change anything, then move out of the bedroom until he stops the flirting and agrees to get into counseling.  The bottom line is you need to let him know, with your words AND actions, that you are unhappy and you need to see change.  If he doesn’t change, be clear that your relationship is in jeopardy.

Do not make empty threats.  If you say it, you must follow through—otherwise don’t say it.  Do not give mixed messages.  Too often, we tell our partners one thing, yet water down our message by muddying the waters (e.g. “I don’t like it when you drink.” “Hey, you want to have a drink?”).  Be clear and don’t back peddle; this is confusing and crazy making.

Advice for men

Listen.  Listen.  Listen.  If your wife tells you she’s unhappy—she’s UNHAPPY.  Listen to her.  Men have this crazy tendency to minimize, rationalize and defend their behaviors and it’s killing relationships.  Stop it!  Trust that she knows what she’s talking about and stop being so hard-headed.  If you want your wife to stick around; then you need to treat her cherishingly.

Do not take your wives for granted.  Just because she’s not saying anything today, doesn’t mean she’ll be there tomorrow.  Below are the most common complaints I hear from women about the men in their lives.  If any of these sounds familiar, I suggest you deal with it now; if you don’t, your wife may not be there later:

•    Anger issues or rage
•    Flirting (poor boundaries)
•    Don’t talk or share very much
•    The “busy” bug—always focused on tasks not people
•    Untreated depression
•    Passive aggressive—make empty promises that you don’t keep
•    Never home—always working.  When you are home, you’re still working.
•    Don’t help with the kids or the house
•    Controlling or possessive.

CHALLENGE:  Women if you’re thinking of leaving--SPEAK UP.  Great relationships have been formed because partners have the courage to be honest about what’s not working.  Men—if your loved ones speak up, then you need to listen up.  Be a partner, not a boss or father figure.  Step in and connect rather than shutting down.  It’s no fun to be in a relationship with someone who never talks.  We can do that by ourselves.

April 17, 2013

The Boston Marathon Tragedy


As I watched the bombs going off only feet away from the Boston Marathon finish line, I was reminded of how fragile life can be. In an instant everything changed for so many people. Runners stopped celebrating, bystanders froze in terror, lives were lost and families were instantly altered forever. 

In an instant, everything changed. 

I can’t imagine what the affected families are going through. How many “what ifs” are being played out in the minds of those touched by this tragedy? How many “whys” are being asked in the hope of making sense of a senseless crime? How many prayers are asking for God’s help? I know many people are struggling to find the answers to this craziness. Honestly, I don’t believe there are any answers that would explain, make sense of or provide understanding of such a cowardly, evil act. Instead of focusing on answers, which of course we also need, my hope is that we focus more of our attention on foraging a path to healing rather than a path of vengeance. In the afterhours of this tragic event, here are a few suggestions to help us get on the path to healing. 

  • Refuse to allow hate to create more hate. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s violence takes place in response to violence. We call this offending from the victim position. It’s common for people to think, “You just hurt me so now I get to annihilate you…and I feel no qualms about my retaliation.” When we succumb to this type of thinking we create a tsunami of violence, not an answer to it. Martin Luther King said it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Refuse to succumb to hate.
  • Practice gratitude. After watching families crying for their loved ones, I was acutely aware of what a gift my family is. Pull your children in close, hug them, kiss them and tell them you love them. Let go of the pettiness that takes us out of relationships and take a moment to lean into them.
  • Don’t waste time. Tragedies like this are an unfortunate reminder that our time on this planet is limited. Don’t take your time for granted. Create the life and relationships you’ve wanted to create forever and have forever start today. 

Continue reading "The Boston Marathon Tragedy" »

April 11, 2013

How to Handle Passive-Aggressive Behavior

IStock_0rollingeyeXSmallI work with couples all the time who are impacted by the sting of passive-aggressive behaviors, which is why I’m writing this post. This post is for those people who are friends with, living with or family members of people who deal with anger and upsets in passive-aggressive ways. 

Here are the best tips I know for ways to address this kind of behavior head on, using compassionate accountability rather than a hammer. 

  • When in doubt, check it out. One of the crazy-making things about passive-aggression is that it’s seldom acknowledged yet often felt; it’s “hidden” anger. The first move, therefore, is to take the covering off the anger simply by naming it, “I’m making up that you’re mad because I asked you to help. Are you?” The more you name it, the more you increase the other person’s consciousness—and have your own back. 
  • Don’t mind-read. The work for people who struggle with being passive-aggressive is learning to speak their truth in a direct and purposeful way rather than indirectly and unconsciously. Do not alter your behaviors based on what you imagine the other person is upset about. Tell them when they’re ready to talk to you about what’s upsetting them that you’re open to hearing them. Until then, don’t chase them to try to make them feel better.
  • Check your responses. Be sure that on your end, you are respectful. It’s not uncommon for passive-aggression to show up with people who struggle with overt aggression and reactivity. You are responsible for being safe in your relationships...and yelling and screaming is not safe. Clean it up.
  • Practice compassionate accountability. Have empathy for your partner’s struggle with conflict while also holding them accountable for handling it responsibly and respectfully. Know when to check it out, make a request for change and/or set a limit. Do all of the above using a grounded powerful strength (GPS), not an aggressive strength.
  • Be the mirror. When you feel the sting of people side-swiping (biting comments, rolling eyes, silencing, snide remarks) simply hold up a figurative mirror and name what they’re doing. Three examples include: “You’re rolling your eyes;” “Wow, that was biting;” “You won’t even look in my direction.” 
  • Have an honest conversation. Find a good time to have an honest conversation about the impact of the passive-aggressive behaviors on you and your relationship. Be clear about what you would like to see be different and what you will do about it if it doesn’t change (e.g. “If this doesn’t change, I want to separate” or “I will no longer chase you down to see if something’s the matter. From now on, I will assume if you’re not speaking about a problem, then everything is ok.”
  • Explain the degree of seriousness involved.  If you’re thinking of leaving the marriage because of this issue, state that. The other person has the right to know how high the stakes are so they can decide how much they’re willing to lose. 

Challenge: Although passive aggression can be extremely frustrating, yelling and complaining about it just keeps it going. Be calm and forthright in your approach and deal with it head on and in a respectful manner. When talking doesn’t work, know when to set limits and up the ante when necessary. Good luck!

April 01, 2013

Changing Your Family’s Toxic Legacy

IStock_00couple alcoholAll human beings have been -- and continue to be -- greatly influenced and impacted by our family of origin. Some of these influences have been great and some have been toxic. And all of these influences impact the legacy we pass on to our children. For those who don’t have children, these influences impact the personal legacy we leave in the world. 

 What is particularly hard on couples, individuals and families, though, are the toxic legacies. Toxic legacies leave a tsunami of damage in families and in our world. Most of the time, these toxic legacies are unconsciously lived out and sadly passed on from one unsuspecting generation to the next. Before you know it, a person can look back a hundred years and see the same insidious, painful patterns back then that are being played out in the present day. Why is that? It seems crazy that people can’t learn to not repeat the same mistakes their great-great-great grandparents, grandparents and more recently their own parents made. Is it in our DNA to repeat the same toxic behaviors as those who have come before us? Are our destinies pre-wired? 

 Let me start by defining “toxic legacy.” A toxic legacy is a pattern of hurtful, painful and/or damaging behaviors that have been handed down from one generation to another through role modeling.  When parents repeatedly interact in a family system in an unhealthy way, they are imprinting this behavior on their children. The children (us, let’s say) then often grow up and repeat the behaviors we saw played out everyday of our childhood. As children, “we live what we know and we know what we lived.” As we grow up, we repeat what we learned in the first 18 years of our lives. And if we don’t repeat it ourselves, we often marry someone who does. 

Continue reading "Changing Your Family’s Toxic Legacy" »

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