Vulnerability

Avoiding Assumptions

In my 15 years of seeing individuals and couples in therapy, I've heard just about every version of argument there is. Whether it's a blowup that started with the laundry not being folded or a walk out due to a direct insult, I've heard it all. I've found there's a common theme in all of these miscommunications: assuming. Once we get comfortable with someone and have been with them long enough, we naturally tend to figure out some of their patterns of thinking, behavior, and communication. Although this can be helpful in meeting their needs and being more efficient, assuming can also be devastating to relationships. What if you're wrong and you didn't stop to check? Then you might be responding to or arguing with a point that the other person never even imagined.It's also important to remember that we all come into relationships and arguments pre-loaded with our own baggage and insecurities. This means you're not just making assumptions based on your observations of your partner, but you're also seeing everything through your own biased filter. Ever heard the phrase "you see what you want to see"? Basically if you're convinced there's a way your partner (or perhaps people in general) talk or behave toward you, then ironically this is what you're likely to experience, whether it's objectively occurring or not. For example, if you believe that no one could ever truly love you because you yourself don't believe you're truly worthy of being loved, then you'll consciously or subconsciously always be looking for signs that those around you do not in fact love you. Even if you see 10 signs of love for every 1 wrong, you'll focus on the wrongdoing and dismiss the love. See how this could be dangerous in combination with our natural tendency to assume?Luckily I've had 15 years and plenty of training on how to thwart these negative patterns! I have four quick (but not easy) steps to avoid falling into the assumption trap:1) Check assumptions - The moment you find yourself assuming your partner is saying something hurtful toward or negative about you, ask before attacking! It also helps if you do this in a curious way (What did you mean when you said X?) versus defensive (So you're saying that I'm an idiot?). What if they had a perfectly harmless thought and just expressed it poorly? Good thing you checked!2) Lead with feelings - This is by far the hardest step because it requires the toughest thing to do in this world - being vulnerable. Leading with how their comment made you feel is far "weaker" position than lashing out and hurting them back. However, I struggle to think of a time when attacking back has ever led to positive resolution. Instead use a feeling to describe your reaction to their comment. If your partner truly cares about you, sharing how you're hurt is far more likely to get a loving response.3) Address hurt feelings - If your partner has done step 2 and expressed hurt feelings the last thing you want to do is argue feelings with facts. The temptation is to try and convince them why they shouldn't feel hurt and why you're not a bad person/partner, but all that does is serve to invalidate their reactive feeling. Instead accept that this is how they feel and address that feeling.4) Meta-communicate - This is a fancy term for communicating about communicating (Did I just blow your mind?). In other words, talk about where the miscommunication occurred and how. Discuss how you could have gotten the same point across without hurting the other person's feelings. If the communication went poorly, talk about how you can better handle a similar miscommunication in the future without it leading to a fight.There are many other communication skills, but these 4 will have you well on your way to avoiding assumptions. For more help fine-tuning your relationship communication, please reach out to a couples therapist near you. They are an invaluable resource and are there to help strengthen your relationship both in quality and longevity.

Let's Face It

Face/Off was a movie made in 1997 starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. I remember being both mesmerized and freaked out at how someone’s face (Nicolas Cage) could be transplanted onto someone else’s face (John Travolta) and vice versa, along with vocal training, to impersonate one another. They were able to pretend to be one another so well that even John Travolta’s movie wife thought it was him. I often wondered if I were married, would I be able to tell the difference between my husband and an imposter. Oh, the worries of a 19 year old!Fast forward 20 plus years and I have gained a lot of personal and professional experience when it comes to relationships and faces. There’s something so intimate about touching someone’s face. Many relationship experts including John Gottman, Sue Johnson, and Ester Perel, to name a few, talk about the significance of face holding. I love to watch reactions of my client couples when I ask them, “So, when’s the last time you held one another’s faces?”Holding your partner’s face slows this fast paced, crammed schedule, children needing, work-driven life down. It tells the other person, “Hey, I see you. I notice you. You matter.” It opens the door to reminiscing of last summer’s vacation when you got that freckle on your cheek or the partner expressing how smooth your skin is or the feeling pokey whisker missed while shaving. It’s looking deep into the dark or light iris of the eyes and smiling into the soul. Compliments seem to naturally ebb and flow when you’re gazing into one another’s eyes while holding each other’s cheeks. We need this connection. Our relationship craves this affection. When’s the last time you felt like you mattered to your partner? That you were seen past the phone, laptop, paper, or child(ren)?I chuckle now at my future spouse impersonation fear 20 years ago. No one could pull off being as quirky and loving as my husband. However, more significantly is that as our relationship has deepened, not perfectly, but intentional, this has been a regular check-in time routine for us. Even when we’re both spent and absolutely exhausted, five minutes of face-holding reminds us that we’re in this together and that we belong and matter.I encourage you to try this. See what happens. If you want to learn ways to be more intentional in your relationship, I encourage you to find a therapist who will help you improve your communication, help manage conflict more effectively, and strengthen your intimacy.

Being a Man in a 2019 Relationship

I can't speak for the rest of the men out there, but growing up I heard all kinds of phrases such as "be a man," "man up", and "act like a man." Typically this meant to be tough, act like things didn't hurt, don't cry, don't act like a girl, and don't show emotions. Fast forward to 2019 and the message is a bit different. In fact, in searching for "be a man quotes," I found such messages as finding the right one girl, owning your mistakes, kissing in public, showing a girl how much she means to him, accepting responsibility, and being authentic. I'm not breaking news when I say there's been a culture shift for men over the past couple of decades. The problem is, the messages are often conflicting and leave men paralyzed, afraid to make the wrong move. Instead they choose to stay on the sidelines and simply be inactive.Early on I was taught to always open the door for others, but especially women. I was told this was out of respect because of all that women do for us. Then in one of my graduate programs, I had several female colleagues say they were insulted when a man opened the door for them because it was a clear indication that they were too weak to open it for themselves. I have many husbands that come into my office saying they work countless hours to provide for their families, only to be told by those same families that they are an absent father. In the 1950s you could pour yourself into your work, come home for a nightcap, go to a few tee ball games, and be considered a pretty good father.So what's the right answer? If you're hoping to find it in this blog, your expectations of me might be a bit lofty. But there's one thing I do know, and it's that sitting on the sidelines is the wrong answer. If there's one thing I can't stress enough, it's to get involved in personal relationships. Just like your jobs suffer if you only spend a few minutes or hours a week working at them, so too do your relationships with your wife and kids. Imagine if you spent as much time at work as you spend quality time with your wife. Would you still be employed? Is it any wonder so many marriages are either unhappy or headed for divorce? Now I'm not saying anyone should expect for a man to spend 40+ hours a week with his wife, but chances are the ratio of work to quality marriage/family time is a little off in your life.Another question I often get is regarding how to spend quality time with your partner. My answer isn't very romantic, but it is practical and it does work. ASK! Often men feel they're supposed to just have all the answers and if they don't, women get mad that their partners ask. Certainly most women would love for you to know exactly what they'd like and when, but I'll tell you something I know for sure. They'd prefer you ask and act rather than just taking a shot from time to time. You'd be surprised at the answers you might get. Heck you may even like some of the suggestions yourself. More important than what you do is that you do. If you simply choose to get involved, get curious, and show an interest, I think you'll like the results.

Infidelity - Clouded By Myth

According to couples therapists, infidelity is the second most difficult relationship problem, surpassed only by domestic violence. Most of the time, the other partner gets blindsided in the knowledge about their partner’s affair. Affairs do not have to be sexual for there to be infidelity. Sometimes the greatest betrayals happen without touching. Infidelity is any emotional or sexual intimacy that violates trust. “At least one or both parties in 50% of all couples, married and living together, straight and gay, will break their vows of sexual or emotional exclusivity during the lifetime of the relationship.” While most people want to be loving and dedicated to their partner, there obviously needs to be more awareness of the appropriate boundaries in friendships, work relationships, and internet interactions. Where are the lines between platonic and romantic feelings outside of the couple relationship? What are the signs or myths to look for? First and foremost, anytime there is a secret emotional intimacy, there is potential for an impending betrayal. Here are some myths encompassing affairs:Myth: Affairs happen in unhappy or unloving marriages/relationships.Fact: Affairs can happen in good marriages.Myth: Affairs occur mostly because of sexual attraction.Fact: The lure of an affair is how the unfaithful partner is mirrored back through the adorning eyes of the new love. Another appeal is that individuals experience new roles and opportunities for growth in new relationships.Myth: A cheating partner almost always leaves clues, so a naïve spouse must be burying his or her head in the sand. Fact: The majority of the affairs are never detected.Myth: The person having an affair isn’t ‘getting enough’ at home.Fact: The truth is that the unfaithful partner may not be giving enough.There is hope after an affair. If both partners are willing and wanting to stay together, here are some ways to bring about healing:

  1. Find a therapist whom you can trust and confide in. Make sure both of partners feel validated and heard in the therapy session.
  2. In order to rebuild intimacy, you must be willing to talk about the affair with the betrayed partner. “Trying to recover without discussing the betrayal is like waxing a dirty floor.”
  3. The aftermath of an affair can offer partners who are still committed to their marriage an opportunity to strengthen their bond. “Exploring vulnerability often leads to a more intimate relationship.”
  4. If you notice you and/or your partner turning outwards in the relationship instead of towards one another, seek help before bigger issues emerge. All relationships need tweaks and tune ups every now and then. Nevertheless, when the tweaks are not attended to, that leads to greater risk of greater damage.

Adapted from: Not “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity.” By Shirley P. Glass, Ph.D.

Meet Me on The 7th Floor: Getting Some Understanding Through Changing Your Perspective

Have you ever wondered what it is like for someone on the 5th floor of a building versus someone on the 9th floor?  Can you see more, can you see less, can you see what I see?  Perspective is a critical item in understanding.  Anything that happens in the world lacks meaning until we decide to give it meaning.  We all have our own ideas of how life should be, could be, and would be if things appeared or happened a certain way.  However, we all know life does not always play out the way we want.In relationships, perspectives play an important role in empathy, sympathy, compromise, and cooperation.  There are times where one person sees the glass as half empty and the other as half full.  While these two statements are each true, what meaning is given to the reason for the perspective?  Sometimes seeing another person's perspective gives us a new perspective on life.  The person on the 5th floor only sees what they can see and the same goes for the person on the 9th floor.  So, what do you do when you have reached your own perspective and you do not or cannot see the other’s?  Come together, compromise, and tell the person to “meet me on the 7th floor.”  Each person takes their own steps to give up their perspective to meet in the middle for a better understanding.  The key is to understand the power of your perception and recognize your ability to change it.  Here are a few steps to help:

  • Explain your perspective respectfully, honestly, and openly
  • Be open to hearing the other person’s perspective intently, respectfully, and openly
  • Be willing to meet the person in the middle on finding some understanding if a resolution is desired
  • Every now and then, do not be afraid to go up to the 9th floor or go down to the 5th because there is always something to be learned

Expect Greatness

Several years ago, a little boy around 7 or 8 came to my door by himself. It was Halloween. He had no costume on and, more importantly, no bucket or bag! I opened the door and he timidly asked, “Trick or Treat?” I asked, “Friend, where is your bag??? You can’t trick or treat without a bag?! Hold on!” I quickly ran and brought back the biggest bag I could find and handed it to him. I then said, “When you go trick or treating, you have to expect greatness. Now, I want you to open your honkin’ bag and “Trick or Treat” as if all the candy in the world depended upon those three words.” He stood up tall and grinned from ear to ear and boldly said, “Trick or Treat!” while holding his bag open. My 2-piece candy rule went quickly out the window and I gave him 2-handfuls instead.When’s the last time you expected greatness? How long has it been since you were happy with yourself? In your job? In your relationship? How you parent? When is the last time you got excited to bake a pie or go for a swim? Life is hard, and situations can slam into us like a speeding car without brakes. Nevertheless, we need to find pockets where we expect greatness. Notice perfection is not mentioned. Expecting greatness is different than expecting to be perfect. Brené Brown says we should live life daring greatly. Sometimes all that can mean is just showing up. Being brave enough to get off the sidelines, step out and be vulnerable. Occasionally it means making the first move in a strained relationship. Saying “I’m sorry”, “I messed up”, or “Let’s try again.”Therapy is a great and safe place to learn new techniques in practicing bravery and vulnerability in your journey. You can express pain, fear, and hurt, while being heard, validated, and affirmed. Therapy can be the tool you use as you expect greatness in every area of your life. Brené Brown wrote, “The power of owning our stories, even the difficult ones, is that we get to write the ending.” I challenge you to own your story and expect greatness as you write and live your life.

Bottle Up The Ocean

Recently my family and I vacationed at the beach. I love the beach!! Granted, I’m underneath an umbrella, but regardless, I love the sound of the ocean roar, children squealing and laughing, and sea birds gawking. It’s a breath of fresh air from the echoes of honking horns and tires monotonously speeding along the interstate concrete. While everyone else slept in, I would get up and join the fellow runners and walkers on the beach. Running on the beach takes me to another place. A place of peace and serenity. A place of reassurance and total focus. A place where it is just me, myself, and I. The ocean is a dwelling where status and gender, relationship status, kids or no, and level of education do not matter. The radiant sun shines on everyone the same. To enjoy this natural bliss, the only thing that matters is that we show up. Isn’t that like life? Being present? Being open and available? Brené Brown, in Daring Greatly, writes that, “What we know matters, but who we are matters more. Being rather than knowing requires showing up and letting ourselves be seen…vulnerability.”While I can’t start every morning at the beach, I can bottle a little of it with me. I can start each day by showing up and being vulnerable with myself and with those whom I love. Where is your sweet space to just be you? Where can you go and be loved, affirmed, and supported not for what you know or what you do, but for who you are? Here are 3 challenges in making this happen:

  • Find that space and place, and when you do, bottle it up and drink it every single day.
  • Ask yourself if you can be vulnerable with the people in your life. Do you trust them and yourself to be vulnerable? If the answer is, “Yes”, then ask them to be your person.
  • Find a therapist whom you can confide in and practice vulnerability along with learning ways in being more open and honest with yourself and with others.