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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Are you Insecure about your Partner's Past Relationships?

Many people feel vulnerable and shaky about whether or not their current partner is truly done with his or her past relationships. Though that may be especially true in a new love relationship, it can happen at any time to any partnership when old partners resurface.

Regardless of repeated patterns, each new relationship is unique and every past one holds both positive and negative experiences. Sequential relationships feel to most relationship seekers as if they are trying out a series of potential settling places, each of which offers reasons to stay and reasons to keep exploring.
That means, of course, that the partners in all relationships are on trial, always compared to the past, and subject to being more or less valuable in the future. To believe anything else is a romantic myth that can make intimate partners less aware of how much energy, time, commitment, and skill they must be willing to give to keep their current relationship as alive and meaningful as they can.
One of the standard questions I ask my established relationship partners is, “Where are you the most alive and present in your life?” Way too often, even in the presence of each other, they spontaneously and innocently answer that they are the most involved and excited about their lives somewhere other than in their relationship. Yes, of course, they value their partners, but they have somehow become more like backdrops on the stage rather than central performers. Their committed relationship is a place to regenerate so they can give the best of themselves elsewhere.
Worrying about losing one’s partner is a terrible state of insecurity. It tends to make a person careful not of offend, devoted to constantly being what the other wants, and constantly watching out for any potential competitors. That state of hyper-vigilance is not only exhausting, but not interesting or attractive. People who live in those fears are constantly concerned about loss, and continuously look for reassurance. Not only do these insecure partners live in a state of painful anxiety, but their commitment of so much energy to that fear of potential loss robs them of the time and opportunity to develop what value and specialness they could bring to a relationship.
Do people sometimes leave a current relationship to return to an old one that now seems better? Do some leave relationships prematurely unfinished, and then want to find closure before they can truly commit again? Do even committed partners often wonder if there is someone better out there for them? Do all relationships wax and wane in terms of satisfaction? Do some ex-partners resurface and actively attempt to gain back their old relationship? Are there intimate partners who regret leaving some relationships behind even when they are committed to a current one? Are some relationship partners pretending to be committed but are internally searching for a way out of their current one?
Yes. Those potential threats are always there. Whether founded on legitimate concerns or not, the fear of their presence will drain the positive energy of a relationship, actually making it more prone to defeat at the hands of those enemies.
Some currently committed partners stray, deceive, or behave in ways that eventually destroy a relationship. And there are many who never do. In the four decades in which I’ve practiced as a relationship therapist, I can unequivocally say that the major reason people do not do things that threaten their current relationship is because they do not want to lose it. Every currently committed partner is faced with multiple options to choose new loves as life goes on, but intimate partners who absolutely cannot imagine being without their current partner, simply do not allow those temptations to grow. When they experience them, they put energy back into the relationship they’ve chosen.
Insecure relationship partners who constantly worry about a past or future person who might threaten their current partnerships will, too often, be preoccupied with that potential loss. And, partners who are secretive, unavailable, and uninterested in providing love and support, are more likely to increase insecurity in the other. That is a deadly combination and a sure predictor of relationship failure.
Past relationship betrayals, the inability to be a courageous and open communicator, insecurity of one’s own worth, being with a partner who is “more marketable,” the inability to get the love one needs, indicators that the other partner is bored or losing interest, or diminishing interest in being together, are all potent stimuli that will increase the fear of loss. Each of those must be addressed by both partners in any relationship that has the chance of long-term success. They are so important that they should be addressed as early on in a relationship that the new partners are able and willing to do so, and continually in on-going committed partnerships.
The most crucial thing to remember is that past or future people can only threaten a relationship that has lost its own unique magic. The energy lost in living in insecurity needs to be put into keeping the best parts of a relationship alive and thriving, while continuously adding new and challenging dimensions. The art of creating a great relationship can be learned. Nurturing the positive parts of it, and diminishing what doesn’t work is a necessary component. Fear of loss is the greatest enemy to that path.
Here are some related articles that might help. You can get to them by going to my website, Or, you can find them by their individual titles on Psychology Today Blogs. I welcome any comments.
Dating a Man who is Separated but not yet Divorced
Should you Rush Into a Relationship?
Are you Withholding Love?
Is Lying Part of Loving?
Coming Home – When Old Loves Rekindle
10 Important Questions you should ask a Potential Partner
Class Reunion Scrambles – Return to Old Loves
Why Can’t I Let Love in?
Virtual Infidelity – Am I being Unfaithful if I don’t Touch
How can Romantic Love Transform into Long-Term Intimacy?
What Causes Boredom in Intimate Relationships?
And, my ebook,









Thursday, September 15, 2016

Avoiding Rebound Relationships

Most of the partners who commit to each other intend for their relationship to last and to grow deeper over time. Sadly, many do not. More often than not, one partner wants to leave while the other is still committed.  

When an intimate relationship that was once sacred ends unevenly, both partners often suffer, albeit in a different way. The partner who still cares about his or her prior love is likely to feel guilt and remorse for causing pain to the other. He or she might, out of respect, intend to refrain from dating right away, but, too often, a new relationship is at the crux of the reason for the premature ending of the other, and that period of grace doesn’t happen.
Those emotional triangles tend to lengthen the grief of the partner who has been left behind. If that partner didn’t want, or didn’t expect, the relationship to end, he or she may be demoralized or diminished by how the relationship ended and is often buried in self-doubt, feelings of failure, and fear of new love being forever elusive. Broken hearts and damaged self-esteems can easily drive abandoned partners to seek new relationships while still grieving the loss of the others. Thus, the motivation emerges for a rebound relationship.
In this age of more sequential monogamous commitments, relationships tend to start and end more often. And, even though relationship seekers are more willing to see the ending of one relationship and the beginning of the next one less as a measure of failure, they still ache for true, long-lasting love. When each hopeful relationship end, that dream takes a dip, leaving the dreamer susceptible to the dreams of another.
If you are the partner suffering the heartbreak of a lost relationship, you are extremely vulnerable in the dating world. Your need to find a substitute partner to help you through your sorrow can easily mask your good judgment as to whether that person will still be what you want later. You won’t want to tell your current partner that you are still missing you ex, but you just can’t be fully open to that new commitment when the past holds on.
Patients in these situations often say things to me like, “He’s still stuck to me all over. I keep comparing this new person to the one who still owns my heart. I’m trying with everything I have to just be in the moment, but the past haunts me every day.” Or, “I find myself saying things to my new date that are totally inappropriate. We haven’t even been dating a month, and I know I’m making myself too available and telling her how amazing she is. I hope she doesn’t get it that she’s in competition with that ghost in my mind.”
If you’re still hurting over your lost love, you may think your new relationship is just between you and your current partner. It’s important to recognize that you’re dancing inside a triangle, going back and forth in your mind and heart between who you still wish you were with, and the person you’re currently involved with, comparing and contrasting every characteristic and behavior between the one you are with and the one who left you abandoned and bereft.
Yes, of course it would be absolutely better for you to fully heal before you venture out again. You know that it would be better to hang out with people who truly love you, do things that regenerate you physically and emotionally, and participate in helping others. Those are the rational ways to heal more quickly.
Sadly, that is not what most human beings do. Living in a state of loving and being loved is harder to leave behind, especially when the relationship has developed multiple dimensions amongst friends and family and a history of sacred moments. If you’ve recently lost that sense of being part of something bigger than self, you are likely to feel so lonely that any new relationship can look better than it will ultimately be able to sustain.
Some rebound relationships do turn out to be successful, but most do not. People in grief cannot possibly be at their best. Even if they try their best to be present, open, and to fully engage with a new person, their hearts, minds, and souls, are preoccupied. They are also very susceptible to attracting rescuers, only to find out later they do not want to pay the price of indebtedness understandably asked of them later. Also, a person getting involved with a broken and abandoned person runs the risk of being that temporary haven, often losing the person later to the ex-partner reentering the scene, or seeing their new love, now healed, wanting to move on.
So, what are the answers?
As many as there are individuals. There are just too many variables, and it turns out that each person has a unique response to his or her situation. Most often, people experiencing loss have practiced certain behaviors during other times of heartbreak that are unique to that person. Under stress, most of us simply rely on what we’ve done before, even if it isn’t the best solution. “Learning to swim while you’re drowning” isn’t easy for most. Even though it is best to do what will make the next relationship better, people tend to respond in ways that are familiar unless they learn from the current loss and prepare for the next one.
All relationships end at some time, whether by the end of life, or the end of a relationship’s life, determined by one or both partners. If people go into each new relationship determined to fully experience it while it lasts, stay open and courageous in taking risks and being totally authentic, and staying true to one’s own values and ethics, they are more likely to recognize whether a relationship is enlivened and growing, or beginning to deteriorate. They are also more likely to know whether they, or their partners, are still fully in the game, and to head off unexpected destruction before it gets going.
When relationship partners are comfortable enough with each other to talk about waning desires or interests, they may still have the time to repair and regenerate before the relationship ends. If not, they are rarely surprised or unprepared when it does end. Those are the people who are most likely to not only stay friends after a breakup, but to help each other navigate new relationships with more success. Rebound relationships too often get in the way of the kind of healing that promotes ongoing and continuous success in learning how to create relationships I the future that are more likely to last.
I’ve written more than 100 articles for Psychology Today Internet Blogs. Some of the following may further help, but please feel free to peruse them:
Dating Man who is Separated but not Divorced
Should you Rush Into a Relationship?
How to End a Relationship When Your Partner Still loves you?
10 Questions to help you tell if you’re Ready to Commit
Touch and Go Relationships – Do they have to be Superficial?
10 Important Questions you should ask a potential partner
When is it time to let a Relationship go?
How can Romantic Love Transform into Long-term Intimacy?
Should I date this person again?














Friday, September 9, 2016

When Love is Uneven

One of the most common romantic fantasies is the belief that intimately connected partners will love one another in the same way, at the same depth, at all times, and forever. Feeling secure in love relationships relies on both people believing in that premise, and new lovers find comfort and joy in keeping that faith.

At the beginning of most all new love relationships, both partners focus on the ways they love similarly and discount any potential differences that take away from those initial moments of ecstatic connection. They assume reciprocity of devotion, sacrifice, and treasuring, and have complete faith that equal balance between them will continue to flourish as the relationship matures.
The reality, of course, is very different. Love, and the way it is expressed, is never one hundred percent reciprocal at all times, even at the beginning of a relationship. All people love more deeply at different times and in different ways, and most all relationships have one partner who wants more connection more of the time and the other who needs less contact to feel secure. Also, both may be just as committed to the relationship but express that attachment in very different ways.
As a relationship weathers the test of time, differences in the way the partners feel about love, relationships, time commitments, sexual needs, financial obligations, family ties, religious affiliations, social obligations, future dreams, and past entanglements slowly emerge. With each new layer peeling back, the partners learn more about themselves and each other, either deepening their affection or placing obstacles in the path of continued devotion.
As new lovers get to know each other, one of the most painful discoveries they may find is that one may love the other more than the other can love back. What was initially thought of as a more reciprocal attachment turns out to be more imbalanced as the relationship matures. As that awareness deepens, committed partners may or may not want to recognize what is happening and go along as if that gap were not widening. But, even if they are willing to face the growing disparity of unequal ability or desire to love, they may still want to stay in the relationship because of the positives that still exist.
Unequal styles, unequal appetites, differences in the way love is expressed, and deepening dissatisfactions are part of every committed relationship. When intimate partners are courageous, authentic, and skilled in the way they share and resolve these conflicts, their love can grow deeper in the process. But, if one partner consistently needs more than the other can give, especially in areas of greater hunger, he or she may eventually lessen the value of the good parts of the relationship because of that growing ache. The other partner, if he or she still values the relationship, can begin to feel more and more inadequate and guilty for not providing what the other needs.
In helping so many couples with this kind of imbalance, I first explore with them whether or not they each believe the other has good intentions and is not using their situation fraudulently. That means that the partner needing more has done everything he or she can to modify those needs, get them met in other ways, or gives them less weight in the entirety of the relationship. It additionally means that the partner who does not need as much learns how to give more out of compassion, without falling prey to the indulgence of automatic unavailability.
If good intentions prevail, and both have done all they can to close the imbalance gap, yet there is still a growing heartache, the next step is to try to negotiate the difference. Both partners must feel okay about their ability and right to need or not need the amount of affection, emotional and physical availability, and heart connection that they each do. They cannot blame the other person for having those patterns or feel entitled to change them.
A simple example of a rational negotiation would be when one partner looks forward to, enjoys, and thrives on frequent sexual connection, while the other savors sexuality less often and in a different milieu. Though it is true that this situation is more often the male in the former position and the female in the latter one, I have seen them reversed as well. A rejected lover is not normally an empathic or cooperative partner. A partner feeling obligated to be sexually available who is not ready to be involved is not usually a great sex partner.
If the partners truly love each other and realize that an unequal sexual appetite or preference does not make either inadequate, they try to find a way to work it out. If, on the other hand, they fault the other for being inappropriate, they will eventually lose each other.
It is absolutely normal for the partners in a love relationship to love more deeply or differently at different times during the relationship. Sometimes those differences even out over time, and sometimes they become more distinct. Temporary inability to be intimately connected is often due to other stressors and normally returns to a better balance. Or, deeply felt needs at one time may be less strong at another as people mature and their attachments change.
If, over time, these disparities cannot be resolved, and one partner continues to love more than the other can return, the relationship can be in danger. It is important for each partner to look at his or her pattern of setting up these kinds of problems by being unable to sustain giving love with anyone, or not being able to take love in no matter how it is offered. If those patterns have prevailed in the past, no relationship will be safe from an eventual demise.
If you’d like more information on related topics, please feel free to check out the following articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Blogs.
How to End a Relationship when your Partner Still Loves You
The Myth of Romantic Expectations
Are You Withholding Love?
Is Lying Part of Loving?
Contrasting Expressions of Love
Are you falling out of Love?
Why Can’t I Let Love in?
Unequal Appetites
Relationship Disenchantment
When Your Partner loves you more than you can return









Thursday, September 1, 2016

Still Keeping Score? - Your Relationship is in Danger

Having been party to hundreds of partner conflicts in my forty-three years of working with intimate couples, I can categorically state that score-keeping is a futile process.

Unless there is an absolute misdistribution and consistent misdistribution of power in a relationship, the partners within it will absolutely, over time, ultimately even the score. Though they will each do that in a unique way, the score will end up about even, with many destructive conflicts along the way.
The problem is, of course, that keeping score is even necessary, and it is never helpful. The partners in an intimate relationship who find the need to do that usually do so for one main reason; they do not trust that their partners will own their own part in any conflict between them if they do not keep track of who is right and who is wrong.
More men than women tend to live in the moment and are often caught off guard when their female partners punish them long after they have forgotten the fight. More women than men keep track of the past and future when they are in conflict, often appearing to be more controllable in the moment but clearly keeping track of a bigger picture for later on.
Secondly, the partner who feels the least power in a relationship or the most dependent upon it is most likely to keep score as a buffer to being controlled. Along with the additional strategy of bringing up expert opinions that agree with them, they are able to resurrect the score to add power to their position when needed.
Thirdly, partners who repeatedly and continuously bicker more often find the need to keep an ongoing score that feeds the ongoing conflicts. Otherwise, it would be too difficult to resurrect the past when so many minor skirmishes have to be accounted for.
Lastly, score-keeping is often thrust into an argument that has deteriorated into a defense-to-defense conflict. If one partner challenges or criticizes the other in a hurtful way, that partner will do whatever he or she can to invalidate that uncomfortable assessment. It is similar to looking into a mirror that bears a reflection that doesn’t feel good, so why not smash the symbolic mirror? Partners most often do that by either countering that negative assessment with a statement that blames the other. Within a very short period of time, those invalidations and counter-blaming statements escalate into more serious and damaging attacks. Score-keeping raises its ugly head in the attempt to stay in control of winning the argument.
Two of the most important qualities of a successful relationship are the absolute belief that both partners have good intent towards each other and the willingness to be accountable for what each contributes to things not working. If a couple is relying on score-keeping to keep the other in line, those basic elements of trust are not in play. When that happens, both partners will be less and less able to heal from the competitive need to have the most powerful score, and the relationship will eventually wear itself out, or deteriorate into an unending power struggle.
Once a couple realizes they are in a no-win game together, they will hopefully see the futility of continuing to score-keep, and search for the underlying reasons they are holding each other ransom.
Here are some cues to watch out for to help you stop keeping score:
1)    Be careful not o bring up a past “win” during a current struggle. People in conflict usually bring up the past if they feel they are losing in the present. “Remember last year when you did this on our anniversary. You promised you would never hurt me this way again.”
2)    When you feel attacked or invalidated, observe if you flip it back to your partner. “What about you? You do the same thing.” It’s not that your point may be invalid but the timing will only bring on more discrediting in both directions.
3)    Adding up a number of small indiscretions in your own head and laying them out at one time to gain the lead. “I’ve been counting how many days it’s been since you said you would spend time with me. You must admit that I’ve been really patient and have a right to complain.”
4)    Comparing how much you give in or accommodate compared to the other partner’s contribution. “I thought we were a team, but I’ve had to do all the work around here while you come up with excuse after excuse. When are you ever going to keep your word and be fair?”
5)    Over-giving in order to set up an obligation in the other partner so that he or she feels trapped into giving back when the score-keeper demands payment. “I’ve so been there for you now for weeks. You aren’t fair if you don’t give me what I need when I ask you.”
6)    Having double standards or erasing contributions to rig the game. Many partners, sometimes without even realizing it, steal love by pretending they didn’t need it or arbitrarily even the score by feeling their own gifts are more valuable. “You’re acting like I owe you something. I didn’t ask you to do that for me.” Or, “I’ve been there for you in every way you’ve wanted me to. Now you do one thing for me and think we’re even. Well, we’re not.”
7)    Keeping the other partner in the red. Another way of using score-keeping to control the other partner is to rarely allow him or her to make any points. The emotional credit card has an ongoing balance that can be demanded at any time, keeping the owing partner captive to potential demands.
There are many other ways to use score-keeping in ways that are detrimental to an intimate partnership. Remember, once the partners trust that both will agree upon value and rights, behave in fair and just ways, and stay open to personal accountability, they will find that keeping score is not only unnecessary, but damaging to the relationship. If the partners in a relationship feel they have to keep score, they must be constantly vigilant to keep from feeling ripped off. Love cannot thrive in that kind of environment.
Here are some related articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Blogs that you can find on the Internet.
How Intimate Partners Manipulate Each Other
No-Win Conflicts in Intimate Relationships
Couple’s Alert – Is Your Love Dying?
Haven’t we had This Terrible Fight Before?
Who Owns Your Relationship Score Card?
Intimate Conflict De-Briefing
Love your comments. Please feel free to contact me at







Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Risks of Dating a Separated Man

This potential situation is one of the most common inquiries my patients have brought to me over the last four decades. Despite the media’s tendency to define them in simple terms, I am continually surprised as to how many different variations of this dilemma actually exist. The ways in which they are strikingly similar is in the fact that two women are in some kind of relationship with the same man.

Triangles are stable when all three legs are solid. What that means is that each dyad is securely connected. A psychologically floppy triangle exists when the man is at the apex of that triangle and the two women represented by the two legs are not connected to each other. That gamut can run from two women who have known one another in the past, even possibly friends, to total strangers who are now connected to each other by being attached in some way to same man. Floppy triangles are essentially unstable and the outcomes are often unpredictable.
There are many factors that can affect these triangulated relationships and can affect the outcome in different ways.
Time Elapsed
A new separation is clearly more undefined. Committed couples often hit major snags in a relationship and lose each other, sometimes only temporarily. A person in grief, angry, unhinged, or feeling newly free of cumulative stress is a vulnerable target for another, or an unwitting seeker of undiscerning escape. Anyone, who is in an unstable situation, lacking a clear path, can make in-the-moment decisions that have nothing to do with what he or she may need or want as time elapses. If those newly separated partners are searching for validation and support, they often only focus on that aspect of a relationship, blinded to what the eventual problems would be.
If, on the other hand, a separation has been in effect for quite a while, multiple attempts to reconnect have failed, and both partners are coming to the conclusion that divorce may be inevitable, that compulsive hunger to immediately reconnect is not the driver it might have been at the beginning. Those quieter reasons for seeking another relationship can give both people the time to choose another relationship more carefully.
If the separated man is concerned that a new relationship may inflame the other partner, he may choose to keep a new relationship quiet. Many people considering divorce are in the throes of conflict and don’t want another source of trouble adding to what is already a difficult situation. That is especially true if the new relationship can threaten the other partner’s potential access to resources or loss of what they have. If the separated man isn’t sure about reconnecting with his partner and a new relationship would make that option far less likely, he may not want to lose those choices by keeping his two worlds separate.
The heartache that arises if and when those clandestine relationships emerge is never good. A partner who may have understood a one-night stand is much less likely to weather feeling a fool for some period of time. She will likely assume that person was there from the beginning and the reason for the break-up if her partner asked for the separation.
Prior History
Volatile, unstable relationship that have had a history of break-ups and reconnections, are often laden with unresolved issues. Intimate partners, who can’t live with each other and can’t live without each other, often take semi-legitimate breaks from the relationship from time to time, either with or without other partners in between. When they are initially back together, they are in renewed ecstasy and often don’t want to deal with their recurring problems. As they must eventually emerge, they become quickly allergic to those deal-breakers and disconnect. Over time, and especially if they’ve been in disappointing other relationships, they miss each other and valiantly try to “make it work again.” If they don’t see those patterns and correct them, that process will occur until they either wear each other out or find someone they’d rather invest in.
Committed partners who still care deeply for one another, on the other hand, often separate because of external stressors, worn-out interactions, infidelities, or a slow drift-apart that neither realized could have ended up in a separation. They are at a loss when it happens, but still feel attached to their history, friends, children, financial situation, mutual families, and a deeper caring. After a time apart, they realize that they want to make the relationship work and are highly motivated to make that happen.
The man in those unfinished relationships may be unknowingly available to a new partner, but is highly likely to go back to his other relationship.
Time the prior relationship has existed
All committed relationships go through stages where the partners feel connected and that they wouldn’t want to be with anyone else, and other times where one or both starts to feel that the partnership is on a collision course. Those drifts can come from so many causes: illness, financial strain, too many obligations without reward, personal insecurities, stages in life that produce self-doubt, boredom, neglect, too much hostility without reparation, or just plain growing apart.
Relationships that are new have not had the time for enough negatives to accrue that can outweigh the reasons to stay together. Long-term commitments are filled with attachments to meaningful experiences, people, material goods, and history that may go beyond the loss of personal intimacy. These attachments can bring people back together after a separation in ways that new relationships are less likely to do.
It can also have the opposite effect. If one or both partners in a relationship have drifted too far apart to repair the loss, that separated man may be soured against getting involved long-term again or authentically seeking a new long-term relationship. In the midst of a separation, especially if many other people want that relationship to keep going, he may be overwhelmed with indecision and unable to see clearly what is best.
Prior Infidelities
Men who have had relationships with other women throughout their committed relationship have either had partners who have regularly left and returned, or have been successful in keeping them clandestine. In either case, a relationship they begin while being separated is just another kind of infidelity. Men who do not find themselves ever satisfied with only one woman are clearly not likely candidates to change that behavior in the future. Women who feel they can corral that man because of their specialness often find themselves broken and disillusioned when that man continues his prior behavior.
There is one exception. Some men have had dual relationships for a long time. They are in committed relationships with two women at the same time, most often without their primary partner knowing of the other woman. If their clandestine relationship ends, they find themselves unsatisfied with only that remaining partner, and want out of the relationship. They are earnestly looking for someone new to commit to, but triangles are highly likely to eventually happen again.
Quality men who are truly torn
Lest it appears that all separated men are untrustworthy and unstable, I must mention a sub-group of men who come to me torn apart by their loyalty to the person they have truly loved and the need to move on. They have deep and current needs to be soothed in their conflict but do not want to hurt the person they’ve left or are not over the loss of a woman who has left them. They are the most vulnerable to any predatory woman who, knowingly or unwittingly, seeks the opportunity to be that man’s solace. He may prematurely commit to that relationship, without resolving his internal conflict first. Once he does that, he may find himself feeling trapped by the woman who moved in the situation too quickly.
Here is what to watch out for.
1)      Whether or not that separated man talks well of his established partner. No blame, no attacks on character, and no created rationale for why he had to leave or how bad she was for leaving him.
2)      His indecisive state of whether or not he’s doing the right thing.
3)      Any promises that do not materialize in the time committed.
4)      Hostility, judgment, or invalidation of “women.” You will be next.
5)      How, and in what way, he has tried to make that prior relationship work. Did they go to couple’s therapy?
6)      How clear he is on why the prior relationship didn’t work, his part in it, and how much he wants to, or feels obligated to, stay connected to her.
The last, and perhaps most important, caveat
Women who are trusted by, and trust, other women, do not create triangles where they are in competition, clandestine or out, with other women for the same man. Remember the demise of floppy triangles. If you are going to create a relationship with a separated man, insist that his separated spouse know about it, that she is emotionally done with the relationship, and that she would want to know you were the relationship with her ex to actually end. That is especially true if children are involved and you will eventually become a co-Madre. If you have children of your own, that man must know you are a package, not just an available woman. If he is a father, pay attention to how he feels about his children, especially if you have your own.
Only enter these triangles if you are fine whether or not this relationship works out or doesn’t. Be a friend to both he and his ex in terms of your support for what is right, over what you may legitimately want and need. If you can remain that neutral supportive person, despite your love for him, you will have the best chance of a successful outcome.








Thursday, August 11, 2016

Selling Out - Giving Too Much Away in Relationships

There may be a few random souls who are not buyable under any circumstances. In my four decades of working with individuals and couples, I have never known one. The majority of us try as hard as we can to hold on to our integrity even when we’re threatened by loss, but it just isn’t that simple. Love requires sacrifice. Trust requires faith. And, getting along in this complicated world of dating and commitments requires believing in the goodness of ourselves and our partners. When we’re in love, we want to believe that bending to the wills of our partners is a noble act.

It is, but only to a point. Unless a relationship partner is threatened with abuse or unable to physically disconnect for whatever reasons, many stay in relationships they should leave because of both conscious and unconscious attachments, compromising their own integrity to hold someone to them or to get to stay. Those sell-outs can be anything from giving up simple desires to letting go of life-long dreams. Or, in some cases, behaving in ways that seal the deal with even more disastrous self-destruction.
Every relationship is different and people are different in different relationships. Time and experience also alter relationship partners as they learn from prior interactions. Yet, many people simply continue to repeat patterns that cumulatively reduce their value and eventually believe they have to give even more to succeed. They continue to adapt, adjust, and accommodate whatever the other partner asks for, sometimes before it is even requested. Others become bitter and withhold love, testing each new partner exhaustingly until he or she leaves, supporting their self-fulfilling prophecies that love can never be trusted.  They have felt so ripped-off in so many encounters, that they have become unwilling to risk anything of themselves, only willing to interact with partners who play their prior martyred part.
Yes, some compromises in intimate relationships are not only necessary, but serve to make our recipient partners feel important and cherished. They are the ways we willingly and voluntarily give up some of our own desires to make room for those of the people we love. If, in the process, we don’t feel used, martyred, or taken advantage of, we not only feel good about doing it, but make our relationships more successful. On the other hand, we’re human beings, not saints, and do need appreciation and gratitude for those sacrifices. If we’re clear about what is easy to give, what we need compensation for, what we can’t do under any circumstances, or what we might need as a return favor, we can help our partners to know what kind of a deal they’re signing at the time.
But are there some things that should never be personally compromised and how would we know when we are accommodating more than we should?
Here is a simple questionnaire that might help.
1)      When you have a conflict as to which of your needs should be served, are you the usual one who compromised? ____
2)      Do you frequently feel as if the relationship works because it is easier for you to adapt to your partner’s needs? ____
3)      Do you often feel unappreciated by your partner? ____
4)      Do you find yourself rationalizing your accommodating behavior at the time, but resenting it later? ____
5)      Are you disappointed that your partner doesn’t recognize your sacrifices to him or her? ­­­­___
6)      Does your partner seem to feel entitled to your sacrificing behaviors? ____
7)      Do you continue to over-give because you are afraid your partner will leave you if you don’t?
8)      Do you keep your feelings to yourself when you feel taken advantage of? ____
9)      Do you feel you would be a bad person if you did not give in to your partner’s needs? ____
10)   Do you keep thinking that your partner will eventually see how much you give and compensate you someday if you just keep giving? ____
Score the test:
The range is 1 – 5.
1 = Not usually
2 = Sometimes
3 – More than not
4 = Often
5 = Most of the time
Add up your scores.
1 – 10    You are a giving person who is comfortable in how you interact with your partner
11 – 20  You like who you are but wish sometimes that your partner would be more reciprocal
21 – 30  You are storing up some resentment that could erupt inappropriately when you need something you don’t get
31 – 40 You are beginning to feel as if it will never be your turn and starting to withhold your affection
41 – 50 You are headed toward martyrdom and will eventually be unable to reinstate your trust in your partner
Fortunately, you can change these scores and have a willing partner who doesn’t realize you are sacrificing so much and doesn’t need you to. Many people establish their own requirements for giving based on insecurity, past trauma, or the need to be good. They are unequally giving to a partner who enjoys their devotion, but perhaps doesn’t feel the need to reciprocate because he or she didn’t realize that partner needed something in return. Martyrs frequently believe they are putting emotional money in a psychological bank they can fairly draw from when they need to. If the other person hasn’t conceded to owe something on that emotional credit card, that storage unit may have a hole in the bottom.
Over-givers are also in grave danger of being patronizing without even realizing it. They have assumed that their partner would not want to give back and take control over their own deprivation by assuming that partner isn’t able to give, thereby supporting their own capacity to give more. It is a self-rationalization that backfires over time.
Successful relationships are, in some way, reciprocal, authentic, and above-board. Yes, there are people who find it easier to give and those who enjoy being overly cared for without guilt or conflict. When they choose each other, they can actually make the relationship work. But those couples are honest about who they are, and grateful to be with each other. The reciprocity may not be actions, but it is clearly in mutual appreciation and comfort. The potential danger in those partnerships is that they can easily slip into symbolic parent-child interactions and ultimately keep the relationship from maturing.
Here are some related articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Blogs that might help.
When Your Partner gives more than you Can Return
When it’s time to let a Relationship Go
How Intimate Partners Manipulate Each Other
Are you Withholding Love?
Is Lying part of Loving?
Couples Alert- Is your Love Dying?
Why Can’t I let Love in?
Are you Controlled by Love?
Bitterness – Love’s Poison
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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Love Me, Love my kids - A Potential Deal Breaker?

 As more people are ending relationships with kids in tow, they are facing increasing dilemmas in how to effectively blend new families. No longer can relationship seekers, entering the dating whirlpool of often confusing and exhausting options, risk their personal choices without considering the small people they have to watch for.

It is commonly accepted knowledge that, even in the most successful families, caring for children puts a strain on the intimacy between their parents. Even when both partners have agreed to bring entitled dependents into their lives, they must still sacrifice many tender moments once shared to the legitimate needs of their children. Those partners who don’t make children a part of their relationship have many more options to continue commit only to each other. They do not have to deal with the legitimate interruptions, and often unending, needs of immature beings who cannot function successfully without those sacrifices.
Two parents are often insufficient to meet their own standards. Burdened down by financial and time pressures, they must struggle to balance their own needs with their commitment to family demands. When relationships end, there is a major deficit of time and energy for one parent at a time to keep up the Herculean effort to give their children what they want to. Add to that the seeking of a new relationship, the requirements of more expensive survival needs, and the sting of failure, and reentering the dating world is, at best, scary.
In addition, that newly single parent must also reinvent him or herself as a legitimate and desirable entity in a dating game that may have significantly changed during a long-term relationship. Even people married for less than five years consistently tell me that they don’t recognize the world they left behind when they committed to a relationship they thought would never end.
There are also the issues of who their children are in terms of their own value to another who did not conceive them, and the missing parent who may be angry, vindictive, or possessive of his or her own children.  Little children under the age of five rarely later remember their initial intact family, but must still deal with often very different environments as they are shuttled between two parents who can range from good friends to hateful enemies.
Older kids have their own resentments towards parents who have forced them into a situation they did not choose, and may be reluctant to encourage yet one more family to which they are now forced to accommodate. Their economic lives may have changed dramatically, their single parent overloaded, and their locations and friends rearranged without their desire or support. As a result, many children of divorced parents feel legitimately cheated, possessive of what they have left, and resistant to any new pressures placed upon them.
There are two more crucial variables: the new potential partner’s own children and where they stand on the same variables and how and when to blend two families who have not chosen each other. Literally hundreds of books have been written on blended families but the multiple variables that emerge simply cannot be put into simple rules. I have dealt with hundreds of these blended families, and they are all unique.
As a result of all of these legitimate pressures, newly dating people struggle in the conflict between how to present themselves early on in the dating process. They are ultimately a package that must be contended with as a critical variable in the success or failure of a new relationship, yet, on the other hand, many tell me that they want some separate time to present themselves as a desirable person in their own right who would be “worth it” even if with the larger price required down the line.
In my newest book, “Heroic Love,” I firmly state, and believe, that people should lay the groundwork for everything they know are non-negotiables early in a relationship when the outcome is not so important. That does not imply, in any way, a demanding attitude or a “me” set of expressions. Two people, even under the most desirable conditions, bring a whole different set of values, experiences, and desires to one another.
Even without the added complication of potential deal-breakers such as beliefs or actions that would not be acceptable to a new partner over time, bringing an already established family into the mix cannot be an easy task for anyone. To wonder when and how to bring up non-negotiable parts of a future package is too big a burden to impose on anyone who already is wondering about desirability in so many other areas.
If new daters understand the sanctity of what they hold sacred and what is potentially negotiable, they can offer those values and attachment within a very short time of knowing a new person, without, in any way, perceiving those as put-offs. In addition, many people, fearful of being too deeply known without first securing acceptance, must finally state those positions and then risk the dismay of the other who may feel unfairly duped. Most people, in any other situation, would prefer knowing what they are getting into up front, rather than have to accommodate to unforeseen, and perhaps, unacceptable conditions later on.
Imagine yourself travelling into a new country, unattached to outcome, meeting a stranger on a train. You have, perhaps, a few hours together and would most likely never see each other again. Because you are not bound by fear of loss, you are relaxed, open, and eager to know as much about that other person as you can. You’re driven not by insecurity or the need to be safe, but by a natural and innocent curiosity. You have no need to control, to interrogate, to possess, or to persuade. You’re just two people, experience life from the past and the present, and offering that to your new, and likely temporary friend.
Ideally, that should be no different from the dating world. Security is an illusion that we hold dear to feel safer in the present. In reality, no one can count on anything but the quality of the moment. Saying to a new person, “This would be my ideal life, though I know that a relationship script must be written by two people in order to work. I’ve been kind of through a hard separation and divorce, my kids are having a hard time adjusting, but I’m a survivor and I’m determined to go forward without bitterness and with a lot of hope to take what I’ve learned and do better. I’m working and have the kids half the time. My ex is already in a relationship so the kids are in a constant readjustment mode, but they’re good kids and we’re making it into an adventure. I have a great family and they’re there for me. How about you? What is your ideal life look like? Is there anything about my situation that would make a relationship too hard for you? I’m okay either way, but I want to be completely open, and I’d so appreciate that same kind of honesty in return.”
Sound difficult? Please believe me, it is ultimately the easiest and most successful way for any relationship to begin. The more people practice that un-self-conscious and transparent way of presenting themselves, the more comfortable and easy they get with it. It is the most effective way of separating a truly potential relationship from one that is likely to fail later on.
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