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Friday, December 2, 2016

What Should you do if Your Partner Doesn't Keep Promises?

Promises are statements of future intent and keeping them is one of the most important components of trust. In intimate relationships they can be widely variable, from something minimally significant like, “We’ll get together soon,” to much more important like, “I’ll text you as soon as I get home,” or “I’m only going to date you now.”

Many people make promises at the time that they intend to keep, but haven’t taken into consideration events that might keep them from delivering on them. Others make them to get what they want in the moment, knowing they will never come through. Some feel coerced into guaranteeing behavior in the future they have no way of doing, but are intimidated into making a contract they can’t fulfill. Anyone, at times, can want desperately to deliver a promise they have no capacity to do at the time, but hope they will when the promise comes due.
When feelings are authentic in the present, but wane over time, many intimate partners don’t tell their partners, hoping those prior feelings will return before they have to forfeit a relationship that is still important to them. When time goes by and they do not feel differently, or even worse, they are now in danger of pulling out of a relationship when their partners haven’t had warning. Afraid to hurt, distance, or lose that relationship, they hung in there without sharing their lessening interest. Now they have two problems to face: getting out of a relationship that has lost its meaning, and bearing the brunt of hurting and humiliating someone they truly loved at one time.
Because the majority of intimate partners do care about their significant others, they don’t make promises lightly or without the intent to keep them. They also know the difference between a light-hearted promise and those that would create significant heartbreaks were they not followed through, or at least re-negotiated. Also, the partners of well-intentioned lovers do learn, over time, the differences between well-intended but unlikely commitments to future behaviors, and those that are tossed out but unlikely to happen. People who know and love each other depend strongly on the other’s good intentions and are quick to forgive those slight mishaps that simply define the difference between desire and action.
However, anyone’s trust can wither over time if their partner’s consistently make promises they do not keep. Yes, some are made into jokes: “Don’t expect him to be on time. He really means it, but you have to tell him it’s a half-hour earlier than it is to compensate. He’s worth it when he gets here, so we just allow for it.” Or, “I really love her, but she just can’t seem to prioritize her commitments and she’s always rescheduling her appointments. I feel sorry that she’s so distressed about disappointing people but she truly doesn’t mean it and her friends always forgive her.”
But others are more serious, especially when that promise is important to the other partner. “I promise that I’ll cut back on the spending, honey. I know you’re right and I’ll make it a high priority.” “I know that I’m out of shape and it’s important to you. I’ll sign up at the gym first thing in the morning.” “I’m really undependable about texting you right back. It’s not fair. I’m going to really work on that.” “I won’t respond to my old girlfriend’s texts anymore if it bothers you.” “You can’t count on me to be on time from now on.” “I’ll only watch porn with you in the future, I promise.” “I’ll tell you from now on if you’re doing something that bothering me.” “I won’t yell at you anymore just because I’m angry.”
The more un-kept promises are made, the more difficult it is to trust that they ever will be. The greater sadness is that any trust continually broken in any one area, even those that are relatively unimportant, will eventually bleed out to every other area in the relationship. Relationships usually begin with a lot of forgiveness and accepted excuses but, over time, certain issues can become more prominent and less easily erased. The early relationship is proportional, that is, the good outweighs the bad and the problematic issues take a back seat. As the relationship matures, those issues that seemed innocuous to the future of the relationship can slowly erode away at the core of the relationship. Trust breaking is one of the most susceptible to that increasing damage.
It is natural and expected that most people are not completely able to predict their future feelings and behaviors no matter how phenomenal a new relationship seems to be. Life is meant to challenge as time goes by and intimate relationships are no exception. However, there are ways that devoted couples can predict and influence their future trust in one another.
      1)    Don’t make promises about future thoughts or behaviors that are inconsistent    with anything you’ve ever done before. Let your partner know who you’ve been in those areas before. It’s not that people can’t change, but entrenched actions are hard to change and take enormous amounts of commitment and energy to do so.
2)    Keep your communications open and authentic from the beginning of a relationship. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not nor do things that make your partner believe something that is unlikely to happen. You may lose someone up front who can’t abide long term by those behaviors, but you won’t ever feel like you’ve gotten someone to love you on false pretenses.
3)    If you promise something from a well-intentioned place, then find you cannot deliver, tell your partner immediately, ask for support, and renegotiate that promise as something you can fulfill.
4)    Using all your past relationship experiences, know yourself well enough to predict when you are promising something that you are highly unlikely to deliver.
5)    In any important relationship, understand your partner’s continuum that lets you know the difference between an unbroken promise he or she can laugh about, and one that is less forgivable.
6)    Remember that broken promises of any kind do threaten anyone’s belief in your integrity and your trustworthiness. That loss might affect your future chances to make deals of any kind.
7)    Evaluate how you have felt when a promise made to you doesn’t happen.
These simple rules are not as simple to live by, but they genuinely pay off if you can live by them. Everyone has the right to change desires and commitments, and relationship partners are no exception. If those differences in life views, expectations, dreams, or desires evolve and transform over time, it is crucial that intimate partners keep each other up to date as soon as they realize those differences. It may temporarily challenge the relationship, but it also makes it possible to authentically recommit to that new future for both partners.
Here are some articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Internet Blogs that may give you additional help:
What Causes Boredom in Intimate Relationships
Can a Relationship Survive Betrayal?
How to End a Relationship When Your Partner Still Loves You
Are You Withholding Love?
Couples’ Alert – Is your Love Dying?
Are you Afraid of Falling out of Love?
When is it time to let a Relationship go?
Promise Keepers – The Committed Partners who Stay Faithful
All comments are welcome.






Thursday, November 24, 2016

Fantasy Partners - Is "Out of Reach" Always More Exciting?

There are a few fascinating observations about many relationship seekers that are so common that they sometime feel like the norm. One of them is when a person is more intrigued by something out of reach than something he or she has, or might be able to attain. That grass-could-be-greener-if-we-could-only-get-to-it-desire can occupy one’s total imagination, wiping out any true contentment in what is at hand. And, though that wishful thinking is not a problem if it is an occasional passing whim, it can be an extremely frustrating and damaging way of being if it persists.

Many think that those fantasy desires only happen when a current relationship has matured and lost its novelty. Actually, many people are “relationship-table-hoppers” all their lives, wanting their current relationship to stay in place while constantly thinking or actually looking for something that might be better. They may not act on it or betray an existing relationship, but they are constantly fantasizing on how they could be happier with someone else. And, because they don’t necessarily want to risk what they have, that someone else is usually an unavailable partner.
At the foundation of all intimate relationships most all humans need a balance of both security versus adventure, and safety versus risk, to be genuinely content. Relationships that maintain their discovery and novelty are less prone to hidden desires to experience impulsive experience somewhere else. And, people who opt for more security than risk are going to be more likely to fantasize what they are missing to keep the balance, at least internally.
But there are those, in a cherished partnership, who continue to see life as a series of “relationship islands,” each with their unique characteristics. Are these symbolic beautiful palm trees as important as a warm-water lagoon? Will the plush environment of this island be bettered by a sandy beach on another? What lies in the unknown for me, if I’m just brave enough to let go of where I am? Would it truly be worth the risk to go for it?
And, who are those people who often are the objects of those fantasies. Do they have a generic tone to them? Are they elusive by desire, high up on the “hot” list, unavailable because they are already taken, or so mystical that people never tire of them? Do many people hunger for certain types of looks, behaviors, situations, or experiences that they covet simply because they are out of reach? There are the “bad boys” and “fatal attraction women” who seem to seduce at will, only to dump when done? Do they love and leave because they can? Or, are they more interested in the chase than in the maintenance of a relationship? Is it because they do not seem to need, but have the capacity to capture, that makes them desirable because the very temporary-ness of the passion cannot bear the test of time? Do they feel responsible for the broken hearts they leave behind, or advertise clearly up front and still command connection?
The people who so leave their comfort zone and go for the elusive knight or sequestered princess, fantasize that they will be the one who will capture him or her forever. Harlequin romances are made up of this duo of the quality, lonely woman who has given up on true, passionate love, who falls in love with the tall dark stranger who enters the town with a hit-and-run agenda. Because of her rare combination of not needing to possess him while giving totally of herself, she feels that she might be “the one” for whom he will give up his renegade ways. He, of course, takes advantage and then skips town, only to finally return because she was, in fact the one. (See the classic stage play and movie, “The Music Man”).
And what about Scherazade, the famed young woman who won over the heart of the murderous sultan? Reportedly, his first wife was unfaithful to him. In retribution he sequentially married 1,000 virgins for one night each, and then had them beheaded the next day. Scherazade was the most beautiful, learned, and fascinating woman in his realm and daughter of the Vizier. Deciding to stop the massacres, she agreed to marry the Sultan and, on their wedding night, asked to see her sister one more time. He agreed, and then listened with fascination as Scherazade told her sister an intriguing and magical story. When the Sultan asked her to finish it, she said she would the next night because it was so late. So, of course, he spared her. She continued to tell only half a story for 1,000 nights, keeping the Sultan engrossed in the beautiful fantasies. When she told him there were no more, he had become so enraptured by her that he spared her and stopped his revenge on women. Women ever since, have attempted to master how to give enough to maintain interest, but not so much as to give away the mystery.
The common ironic belief is that most men want a beautiful elusive woman in public, hopefully desired by many other men, but who is only theirs when the bedroom door is closed, and that most women want a chivalrous, giving man whose sexual and emotional hunger for them is visible but not ever forced. And most people would agree that they have felt that at times. Sadly, the fact that beautiful, elusive, hot women are rarely sacrificial, giving, and unselfish, and that sexy, unavailable men hunger to stick around when things aren’t easy and fun, tends to throw a monkey wrench in the hope that both traits can exist in any one gender. As a result, many relationship seekers go from one to the other, trying to end up fulfilling all of their needs, albeit sequentially. (See my Psychology Today Article, “Why Great Husbands are Being Abandoned.”)
Your fantasies about creating a great relationship with an elusive, self-protective and self-serving partner are probably, at best, a waste of time. Better to work on blending your own autonomy with your availability in a great package that neither over-sacrifices nor is over-elusive. Don’t play games with yourself or with potential partners. Hot, passionate relationships can be their own reward, even without any guarantees for the future. (See my Psychology Today article, “Touch and Go Relationships – Do they have to be Superficial?”) Trying to make a comfy, secure, loving relationship compete with the hot passion of a new relationship with an out-of-reach partner rarely works, and is not fair to either.
Generally, it is more hopeful to pick a partner who is closer to the middle, someone who knows how to love, but isn’t so attached to you that he or she will give up integrity and personal growth just to hold on to you. Great, authentic intimate partners who recognize the need for both comfort and challenge, keep their hearts and souls open to that continued discovery. They know how to balance their own risk versus safety ratios internally and they want the same for their partners. They recognize that both will always fantasy about another at some point in time, but that they are highly unlikely to leave a relationship that is in the top ten percent already.
Here are some related articles I’ve written on Psychology Today Blogs that might provide more interesting perspectives:
Is this True Love?
10 Important Questions You Should ask a Potential Partner
Promise Keepers
Should I date this Person Again? – First date behaviors that predict relationship success
Selling Out – Compromising Integrity






Thursday, November 17, 2016

Your Partner just "ghosted" you?

Before the Internet exploded into our lives, people searching for relationships most often dated people whose backgrounds they knew. They met by working together, playing in the same areas, sharing the same social contacts, or belonging to the same groups. Occasionally, they were “fixed up” by friends, or perhaps met in some kind of magical, unpredictable way.

In that way, most intimate relationships were publically observable. They were part of a larger social “tribe,” and, therefore, open to observation and influence. There was little probability that either partner could get away with disappearing if he or she was planning to leave the relationship.
In today’s world, many daters not only don’t know where their new partners come from, whether or not their histories are even accurate, or what other relationships may exist outside of the one they are currently pursuing. There rarely are ways to compare what is being said with what may really be the situation or to know which coordinates can be used to figure it out.
How can anyone in a new relationship know how to trust what he or she is experiencing as real? What criteria should people use to predict whether that new partner is telling the truth about the importance of the relationship? Are there signs and signals that precede disappearance? And how can a deserted partner cope with the painful feelings that accompany abandonment?
There are several ways to determine whether the person you’re with will be honest about either staying in the relationship or telling you it’s over:
1)    Comparing an online profile with the person who shows up
Profiles are often carefully scripted summaries of what a person feels will attract a potential mate. As such, they are rarely representative of who a person truly is, or how he or she will actually respond in any one situation. Most people are reluctant to share vulnerable feelings or past histories that might push someone away before they can make an impression. Using what they believe the media suggests as valuable assets, they try to fit all of who they are into what they believe most others would value.
When you eventually meet that new person, pay careful attention to any differences you observe between the profile and the actual person. If there are obvious discrepancies, share them with the person in a non-threatening manner. Anyone whom you can trust later will be happy to clear up any misunderstandings.
2)    Let the person know up front who you are and what an ideal relationship would look like.
Coming from a place of curiosity, not the need to interrogate, share your feelings in general about what you truly care about in your world, how you feel about being in a relationship, and how you came to feel the way you do. Don’t share personal information like how many people you’ve been with, why your relationships haven’t worked out, any pessimism you might have about why things don’t work, or your fears of the future. Being open and authentic is not the same as opening yourself up to challenge or criticism.
Imagine being in a foreign place with no expectations of the future. You meet an interesting person in a spontaneous situation and just begin to talk. It’s easy, in an emotionally anthropological way, to explore how each of you came to be where you are, what you are currently excited about, and what you’d love to have happen in the future. You’re sharing without being self-conscious, open without exposing personal information about yourself. The beginning of any relationship should be that comfortable.
3)    Pay attention to the consistencies or inconsistencies in the narrative you’re hearing from a new partner.
Though most people are nervous when they start a new relationship, they do share stories about who they are, what they’ve done, and what they like. If you listen carefully, you can hear how those different narratives seem logically connected or that obvious gaps are evident. If you are a good listener and know how to welcome another’s world, you will hear them if they exist. Watch for whether or not your date fills in details that you could easily check out, or seems evasive in presenting underlying substantiation. Does he or she, for instance, talk about families or origin, current friendships, or present interests in an open way, or skims over details while presenting stories that may or may not be real?
4)    Directly ask about how they’ve ended relationships in the past when they stopped working.
Tell your date about what you’ve heard about how easy it is these days to disappear out of a relationship when someone is uncomfortable about rejecting or hurting someone and how you so much prefer honesty both from others and from yourself. Tell them that, although it may be hurtful at the time, it is much less when both partners are always up front with one another. That way you are letting that partner know who you are to get his or her reaction before you even consider going further.
5)    Before you consider committing to a new relationship, make sure your partner introduces you to important members of his or her social circle and/or family.
People are much less likely to disappear out of a relationship when it is consistently observed by others. If you know a person’s haunts, social patterns, and other close relationships, you can trace them more easily. Partners who are leaving it open to do an invisible get-away, do not make that easy.
If your new relationship only exists in isolation, no matter how good it is, you may be in for a future “ghosting.” That is especially true when that partner doesn’t easily offer where he or she is when not with you, especially when they don’t answer texts for long periods of time, or keep their phones turned off when they’re with you.
6)    Equal interest and value.
If you start a relationship in a one-down place, you are more likely to be expendable. People, who don’t want to lose a relationship, even if it’s to maintain a friendship in the future, do not “hold court.” That means that you are not the one who is always reaching across the chasm to make the relationship work or to keep it going. It’s just too easy to eventually walk out of a relationship when there is unequal value of both partners.
Check out how many resources you are contributing to a relationship versus what is coming back. Time, energy, money, love, trust, need, giving, investing, and devotion, must be somewhat reciprocal from the beginning. It’s okay if those resources shift back and forth, but not if they are consistently only available in a one-sided deal.
7)    Being honest with yourself.
Many people tell me, after the fact that they knew their partners were on their ways out, but didn’t want to see it happening. They turned the virtual “blind eye” to the situation because they wanted the relationship to work out and were not prepared to lose it. They were afraid to confront their partners to give them a chance to validate what was happening.
A partner who can’t seem to tell the other that he or she is losing interest always gives some sign that are happening, no matter how subtle. If they are not recognized by the other, those reluctant abandoners often see “ghosting” as the only way to end the relationship without having to face the consequences.
Invisible or unpredictable abandonments that happen early in a relationship are a little easier to bear. There hasn’t been a lot invested. They hurt much more when a relationship is established. If you have been rejected that way many times, you’ll need to look at your expectations and make sure they are in line with probabilities. If the person you’re with has a history of leaving without settling and it doesn’t repeatedly happen to you, you may just have been blinded by the magic and forgot to leave the lights on.









Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Successful Online Dating Profiles

Since online dating began, many of my patients have shared dating profiles of potential relationship partners with me. Despite many connections, most are disappointed with the difference between whom they expect to meet and who actually shows up. They are confused as to why do so many online profiles don’t match up with who shows up, and why don’t their own profiles attract the kind of partners they want?

It is difficult to capture the myriad of personality characteristics, histories, personal attributes, likes and dislikes, and prior disappointments that describes each individual, in a few short paragraphs. How does one summarize a life of experiences in an interesting and attractive presentation when you have no idea who is on the other end? And how can anyone know who is behind the profiles of others?
The way most people deal with these understandable conundrums is to rely on the media to tell them how they should best present themselves online. That approach too often results in an artificially scripted profile that doesn’t accurately represent the true core of a person. It does, however, keep the risk factor down. Better to be safe than sorry, better to not say things that could be misconstrued, better to risk rejection of parts of the presenter that he or she can afford to lose.
Unfortunately, once a relationship gets going, those masks must eventually come off, and disappointments often follow. Though it may be more anxiety producing to be more authentic up front, I believe that it is far more successful in the long run.
I’ve pled with my patients for decades to risk writing honest profiles rather than media-driven sales pitches. Their common argument is that they will have the best chance of getting good responses if they follow those guidelines. They can mask things about themselves that they fear might be too easily misconstrued, expose vulnerabilities they don’t want shared, or resist uncovering something that another might find off-putting.  
A few brave souls have allowed me to guide them into writing a very different kind of dating profile, one that is much more open and risky. These profiles are much more accurate descriptions of who they truly are and what they really want in a partner.  These more successful, authentic dating profiles contain more visuals, evoke more emotion, and share more profound experiences. They are, for want of a better phrase, more intimate.
Typical profiles describe more personal data. They carefully present superficial information about themselves, the people they hang out with, where they’ve been, what they’ve done, and what they want in a partner. When you read these profiles, you have learned what that person wants you to know about them, but little about who they really are.  
The following directions and examples will help you see the difference between a traditional online profile and an intimate, authentic one.
Constructing an authentic online profile
Step One
Make two private lists for yourself. On the first, put everything you know about who you are. Include significant history, personality characteristics, any strong opinions, expectations of others and the world at large, people you admire, hopes and dreams. Add anything else you can think of that you feel is important that truly represents who you are. Physical, emotional, mental, sexual, philosophical, spiritual, and political thoughts and actions are all part of you.
The second list is what you imagine to be a perfect relationship. If you could create the kind of partnership that would fulfill your most profound expectations, what would it be like? Who would be that person that matches you perfectly?
Here’s an example, written by a woman:
List One
I come from a broken home where my parents constantly fought and put each other down. I’ve had several relationships that all started out well but ended in my partners leaving me. I’m terribly insecure and have difficulty believing that love really exists. It might never come true for me. I’m reasonably attractive and very kind, but people take advantage of me on a regular basis because it’s hard for me to say no. I’m afraid that any opposition may alienate people. I don’t believe in God anymore, and I’m a little cynical about whether anyone really out there who will ever love me for who I am. I love people who stand up for themselves and not scared. I do like sex, but I have a really hard time showing that side of me because I’m afraid I’ll be rejected so I just wait for someone to want me. I read a lot, but mostly romantic novels. I guess that’s where I pretend I’m really desirable. I want desperately to love someone who loves me, too. I am a good friend. I’m shy until someone gets to know me and I feel safe. I’m trying hard not to feel defeated.
List Two
I would like a partner who knows who he is and isn’t afraid to be up front about his thoughts and feelings. Even though I’m afraid of criticism, I’d rather know the truth if it’s said in a kind way. I’m afraid of anger because of my dad, but I don’t mind strong feelings if they are not blaming.  I would prefer that he be taller than I am, but not fat because my mom always hated her overweight body and I stay really thin because I don’t want to be like her. My perfect partner needs to earn a good living and hopefully is a professional, but it’s more important to me that he is honest, pays his bills, and has integrity.
I like to be around people, so I would hope he’d have long-term friends who would want him to be in a relationship with a good person. We would share everything and be a team, especially when either one of us need support. I would like to have children, but I wouldn’t mind if he had already had some, if they were good kids and open to a new relationship. And I have to have animals around me. They keep me from being lonely.
Was this woman, using her explorations of self, to write a typical, carefully scripted, online dating profile, it might sound something like this:
“I’m a fun-loving, affectionate woman who is looking for a long-term relationship. My past partners would say that I am “easy maintenance.” It takes me a while to get to know someone, but I’m very open and friendly once I feel connected. I have a good job and would like to be with someone who also likes what he does. I’m open to do almost anything my partner enjoys because I am very adaptable. I know that finding the right person is not easy, but I am willing to do whatever I can to create a good relationship. I am idealistic and romantic at heart, but I also am very practical.
I’m looking for a kind and sensitive person who is honest and keeps his promises. He would ideally be a social person who enjoys family and friends. He doesn’t have to be tremendously handsome, but does take care of himself and doesn’t let other people push him around. He likes being the head of a family and sees his partner as an equal.”
In this profile, she is doing everything she can to be as honest as she can, without revealing any of her deeper fears and insecurities, or making the game too hard for him. She dances around her pessimism and tries to sound more optimistic than she feels inside. She doesn’t want to sound as if she needs too much for fear of seeming anxious but hints at her fears of relationships not working out.
Here is what the same person could say if she were open, real, and unscripted. This profile contains all of the important information she needs to get across but has her true essence within it. (I’ve purposely made it a little longer than it would normally be to help get the essence across.)
“I’m a different person on the outside than I am on the inside. I appear very adaptable, almost to a fault, but that’s because I’m a little scared to be real because it might sound too demanding. I know that I could truly love the right person with all of my heart and that my insecurity and shyness would melt on the other end of that man. Most men like me a lot at the beginning of a relationship but then take advantage of my giving nature. I’m sure I start to show my disappointment in subtle ways that eventually push them away.
Inside I know that fantasy and reality are not the same and I probably live too much in unlikely expectations of romance, but I’m a really good person and I believe that, with the right guy, those hopes would come true. I’m sure that I come across as a little reserved and wait for the guy to reach out emotionally and sexually, but I’m very receptive and responsive once he does. I guess that’s the way I avoid rejection, and it’s probably not fair. I often wish I were more courageous that way but I’m scared of getting hurt again. The only emotion that pushes me away me is intense anger. That’s from childhood stuff but I’m working on it. I tell most guys that kids aren’t as important as a relationship, but inside I ache to raise some, even if they aren’t mine.
I know that I’d be at my best if the man who wants me is strong, honest, and direct, even from the beginning of a relationship. I’d want him to always tell me the truth even if it might not be what I want to hear. I need to know that he trusts my goodness and that he would not carelessly hurt or take advantage of my vulnerability. His friends would need to see me as someone wonderful and really good for him so that I would be welcomed.  Oh, and he would need to love kids, and animals, too. If he had that love of taking care of people, I would safe with him. We would both like to look at each other and to share our deepest feelings without being afraid.”
In these simple contrasting examples, I hope that you are able to see and know the person better from the second profile more than you could from the first. Can you feel her emotions and thoughts as she is writing to you? Would she more likely to be the same person when you meet her as you thought she would be from her description?
The last step is for you to first write your own carefully scripted profile. Then write an intimate one that takes more chances and shows who you truly are behind your words. When you’re done, ask the people who love you how they would respond to each one, and which one they would most agree with. If they choose the second one, take the chance up front to risk the adventure.



















Thursday, November 10, 2016

Are You Obsessing over your Relationship?

Relationship partners most often obsess over an intimate partner when a relationship is new and at any time when they feel there is a threat to an existing relationship. When it is continuous and intense, obsession can be an enslaving, self-absorption that can fill people’s minds and hearts, immobilizing their ability to endure what feels like certain loss. People who worry excessively about the future of their relationship often feel literally consumed by their anxiety.

Not every intense concern, even if temporarily obsessive, is harmful to a relationship. All intimate partners are likely to obsess at some time, or over specific situations. If and when those disruptions are resolved, they easily return to normal watchfulness. Sadly, though, there are some people who are innate worriers. Those people may constantly focus on what might have gone wrong in the past, or what could be an upset in the future. They are typically anxious people who live more in the past and the future than they are able to stay in the present. They must maintain their hyper-vigilant “radar-blippers”, counting on the fact that their preoccupation with watchfulness will somehow keep bad things from happening.
Sometimes relationship obsessiveness is a legitimate reaction to the kind of partner who triggers it. These kinds of partners can cause anxiety in anyone. They deliver double messages, aren’t traceable in their exploits, keep their phones turned off when they are with you, aren’t open about where they are when they’re not, and disappear from time to time without sufficient explanation. Sure, they could just be private people who need separateness to be able to bear intimacy, or, too often, genuinely non-trustable in the things they say or promise. If the partner on the other end is also a basically anxious worrier, there is a high probability of a potential disaster.
On the other hand, there are relatively authentic, honest, and open partners, who are, unfortunately, in relationships with obsessive mates. They can try to repeatedly reassure their partners, but will eventually wear down. Deeply insecure people may tell their partners that they are the “only ones” who have understood and can make them feel safe. Sadly, over time, that is unlikely to happen. There can never be enough reassuring words or behaviors that can quell the depth of that level of fear.
Disillusionment most often comes from expecting something that is not likely to happen. Many daters have started off trusting each of their new partners but, over time and experiencing too many losses, become untrusting, cynical, and pre-defeated. As a result, they are understandably afraid to ask crucial questions that might turn a new partner away. Yet, relationships that are not challenged early on too often mask crucial information about past partnerships that could possibly signal what is likely to happen again. Because so many people fail to learn from past encounters, they are doomed to repeat patterns in each sequential relationship.
Nagging, constant questioning, pleas for reassurance, paranoia, skepticism, anxiety, and general pushiness too often accompany obsessive worries. Those behaviors keep relationships immobilized in repetitious interactions that do not foster deeper trust or growing love. They become self-fulfilling prophecies, rendering the people who live those terrifying predictions helpless and hopeless.
It is crucial that people learn to separate out legitimate concerns from obsessive worry. If you have found yourself obsessing in your intimate relationships, begin by courageously examining the roots of your plaguing concerns about losing love. Look to your childhood upbringing, traumas of loss in the past, whether or not you are realistic about what to expect in a partner, and what is keeping you from developing trust in another. Ask yourself if you have been accurate in your past relationships when you have been suspicious of your partner’s behaviors, or if your concerns were not based on reality. Do you pick partners who are “out of reach,” because they are more intriguing to begin with, but ultimately hard to trust? Are you afraid of intimacy, and use your reactivity to suspected betrayal as a way of pushing your partner away? Are you an anxious person across the board and your intimate relationships are simply part of an overall pattern of constant worry about everything? Are you unconsciously trying to control your partner by continuously asking him or her to prove that you are important? 
Whatever you can learn about your obsessive thoughts and behaviors will help you take the next step to quieting them down. If you conclude that your anxiety is based on fears of loss, you will feel better if you do not make a practice of prioritizing your intimate relationships above all others. Focusing on only one relationship to fulfill all of your needs will not give you the fallback comfort of knowing that there are other people who care for you in times of self-doubt or actual loss. If you suffer from innate anxiety, know that emotional reactivity is very responsive to mindfulness techniques, and to professional help. Many of my patients who learn to quell anxious responses automatically are more confident and comfortable in their intimate relationships.
Obsessive thinking can actually be more painful to the person experiencing it that to the partner on the other end. Calm and non-reactive people who deeply love an anxious person can often weather that person’s distress without feeling the need to fix it, or responsible for having caused it. It still wears on a relationship because it takes away from the joys that cannot co-exist with it. It is crucial to the success potential of any relationship, that it is recognized and healed.
Here are some of the other articles I’ve written on Psychology Today Internet Blogs that might help:
The 10 Rules of Love
20 Questions That Can Bring You Closer Together
Should you Rush into a Relationship?
The Myth of Romantic Expectations
Is This True Love?
Ten Important Questions You Should Ask a Potential Partner
Emotional Reactivity – The Bane of Intimate Communication
What Keeps Me From Changing?
Are You Controlled by Love?
Nagging or Avoiding Won’t Help you Find Love Again
When Should I have Told You? – Negative Surprises that Hurt Relationships
Unequal Appetites
My book, “Relationship Saboteurs,” in the chapter titled, “Fear of Intimacy.”









Thursday, November 3, 2016

Am I "Too Much or Too Little" for my Partner?

Emotionally needy” versus “Emotionally Unavailable” is a classic “blame battle” between who is responsible for creating this common and painful gap between intimate partners. The question that emerges is often the same: is the partner who feels physically, sexually, or emotionally neglected asking for too much, or is the more distant partner unable or unwilling to give more?

There are similar gaps between all intimate partners who have different desires, appetites, and capabilities in other areas of their relationship. Is, for instance, one partner who thoroughly enjoys sex a couple of times a month “sexually deficient,” or is the one who would like sex many times a week a “sexual addict?” Should someone who thrives on multiple and consistent social interactions be considered as a person who “cannot be alone,” and his or her partner would prefer connecting with a few close friends from time to time? When one partner describes the other’s love of adventure in derogatory terms like “My partner just can’t ever be happy with where he(she) is,” is that just a statement of the complainer who doesn’t like to go far from home and doesn’t want to be left behind?
If these kinds of gaps are present at some level in virtually every intimate relationship, then the issue, of course, is who is blamed and who is guilty of not closing them. What is also true is how the behavior of blaming the other partner when a gap exists affects the relationship. If either or both maintain a superior position of blame of the other, that gap can severely damage their intimacy. Righteousness and/or guilt are not bedfellows of successful relationships.
So how does an intimate partner explore whether, when, or where he or she is asking too much, or whether the partner on the other end is not providing what is needed to make the relationship work?
The first step, always, is to look at all prior intimate relationships to understand what your own personal history tells you about yourself. If, for instance, in some kind of ideal situation, you could put all of your former, serious partners in a room, fill it with truth serum, and get them to share the ways in which they valued or devalued you during the relationships. Most relationships, sadly, end with most of the good intact. They end with an emerging imbalance of the negatives. What would they say about you and why did the relationship end? So, unless you are the partner who always leaves all the relationships you’ve been in, it’s most accurate to look at what they would say in common that ended their investments in the relationship.
Make a list of those. Sometimes that is very hard to face, but it is a crucially courageous requirement in examining whether you are doing any of those same behaviors in your current relationship(s). If, for instance, many of your past partners have started the relationships avidly and, over time, began to pull away, you might be the one asking for more than those partners have been willing or able to continuing giving. Then you would have to look at your own insecurity in romantic relationships, and how you project that onto your partner. (See my book, “Relationship Saboteurs.”) Or, if you have had a sexual drive that has continuously overwhelmed your past partners, you might want to look at what is driving that hunger. It could, for instance, be a cover for something deeper, channeled in a different direction, or amenable to honest negotiation, without blaming you, or your partner.
Some people look at this self-accountability list and realize, often for the first time, what they’ve been doing wrong and can correct those behaviors immediately. At other times, they realize that they’ve just been searching for the wrong partners who could probably never have satisfied needs or desires that are not out of line. If they are totally honest with what they can bring to a relationship or cannot, they can also see what behaviors are more intrinsic and unlikely to change. They know that they will need to compensate in other areas for those drag chutes.
Once facing and knowing what you might have been doing that may have been keeping you from getting what you need in your intimate relationships, the second step is to look at the partners you’ve chosen, and in what way they, or the relationships are similar. Before you commit to any relationship, you should know enough about that potential partner’s past relationships to answer the same questions. Again, what have they given and is it the best they can do or have they knowingly withheld for whatever reasons they’ve found explainable. Never think that you might be the one person who can turn a long history around. Very rarely, two people who have repeatedly lost relationships in the past (for the same reasons) do heal in a new way with the right partner, but it is not typical for that to happen.
Thirdly, if you have too-often perceived yourself of being the neglected partner, or the one accused of doing the pulling away, take a good look at whether those assessments feel true to you. In other words, courageously ask yourself if you are guilty as accused by a well-intentioned partner who does everything he or she can to limit desire or to fulfill them. You may have grown up experiencing these imbalanced relationships and have just seen them as normal. Of you may be one of many people who expect all of their needs to be fulfilled in one relationship, and have overloaded a partnership that could have worked if it had not born that burden.
Unequal appetites exist in every intimate relationship. Partners who are not into keeping score or blaming search for ways to negotiate them without resorting to nagging, pressuring, avoiding, or punishment. They don’t expect that they will always need the same behavior at all times or in all situations. They want to fulfill each other’s needs, but neither expects the other to give up integrity or self-respect to do so. If they can love each other enough in other areas, they can use that connection as a foundation from which to close the gaps however possible.
Please refer to the following articles I’ve written for Psychology Today Internet Blogs. They may be helpful to continue exploring this area of your intimate partnerships.
Nagging or Avoiding Won’t Help You Find Love Again.
When Your Partner Gives More than you can Return
Are you Controlled by Love?
I didn’t Mean to Hurt You
No-Win Conflicts in Intimate Relationships
Are You Withholding Love?
Why Can’t I let Love in?
The 12 Most Common Ways Partners Manipulate Each Other
The 6 Most Common Enemies of Intimacy
When is it Time to Let a Relationship Go?
Contrasting Expressions of Love
Haven’t you had This Terrible Fight Before?
Hostile Venting
Mean Phrases that Scar Relationships
Bitterness – Love’s Poison











Monday, October 31, 2016

The Ten Rules of Love

In this increasingly confusing and insecure dating world, many of my patients are asking me for simple guidelines to help them better navigate the turbulent relationship sea. Relentlessly battered by media-overwhelm, online dating challenges, and a plethora of books and articles, they no longer know what or who to believe.

I was initially reluctant to reduce the many crucial aspects of each individual’s situation into a one-size-fits-all manual. I resisted minimizing the significant efforts, disappointing outcomes, and anguishing disillusionments that so many of my patients have experienced, each in his or her unique way. I didn’t want a set of rules to ignore the significant differences that differentiate one person’s journey from another’s.
For example, how do you compare the dating goals of a successful career woman whom society deems highly valuable, with a single mom working two jobs and supporting a family? Both are sincerely looking to find a viable long-term relationship but have very difference resources or options. What about a pastor who has just lost his wife of twenty-three years looking for a suitable woman to help him run his parish? How about someone who has had a series of failed relationships who is struggling to make better choices when he or she has been recently transferred to a new job where options for a partner are minimal? How could I compress so many unique stories into one set of helpful rules?
I knew that what my people were asking for would not work if generic guidelines just echoed what already existed in abundance in most advice compilation data. In order to make a real difference, they needed to reach more deeply into the true psyche of long-lasting love. What had I learned from the literally thousands of hours I’d spent with sincere and committed daters over the years? I decided to try.
What follows is the result of my inquiry, the “Ten Rules of Love.” Hopefully, they will tap into a different kind of quality relationship assessment that will actually help. Some will be more meaningful than others to those of you reading, but they may help you to better define what your own love manifesto means to you and how you can use it to better choose your next partner, or to revitalize your current partnership.
Rule Number One
Never invalidate or erase the personal reality of someone you love.
Every one of us counts on our partner supporting and validating the way we see the world, even if he or she doesn’t see it the same way. Though we are hopefully open to expanding or transforming our views by comparing them with our partner’s, our emotional sanity depends on trusting the world as we see it. If our partner tries to undo that reality, we feel unseen and erased.
All of us have been on the other end of statements like, “You’re crazy to think that way,” “That’s bull s**t,” or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” They are examples of what one partner may say who is invalidating the world view of another.
Rule Number Two
True compromise can only happen when each partner begins an interaction by first supporting the other’s point of view.
When intimate partners have conflicting opinions, they too often flare into justification and defense. Very soon, instead of talking to each other, they rapidly begin talking at each other. From those disparate vantage points, there is no possibility of achieving a resolution that can cradle the views of both partners. The barrier to that kind of regeneration lies in each partner’s fear that if he or she temporarily gives up that personal view, it will be impossible to get it back. If that ensues, one partner will win the battle, but both will lose the war.
Rule Number Three
Quality relationships are made up of two partners who treasure and uphold a set of mutual beliefs and ethics.
I cannot underscore enough how important it is for intimate partners to be authentic and open about what they hold sacred as well as what they expect of each other when they begin a relationship. Though thoughts, feelings, and attitudes can and do change over time. The partners in successful relationships are always up-to-date in revising and recommitting to the beliefs they share. Trust can only hold when each partner willingly supports those agreements whether they are in each other’s presence or not.
Rule Number Four
Bids for connection are always honored.
When either partner needs the attention or support of the other, that request must be responded to in some way. That doesn’t mean that what is being asked for can always be granted but the interest and support is there. Sometimes bids for connection can be presented in a demanding or self-serving manner, or at an inopportune time. But intimate partners who love each other are highly tuned to the other’s moods, needs, reflections, hopes, dreams, worries, hungers, frustrations, or sorrows. They are joined in their hearts and one cannot feel okay staying separate if the other needs to connect.
Rule Number Five
There is the underlying absolute assumption that each partner believes the other to be basically valuable and well-intentioned toward the other.
No matter what the downsides are in any relationship, no matter what unresolvable conflicts a couple may have, no matter what needs may go unmet, as long as two people continue to choose one another as their significant partner, they must believe that they see inherent value and quality in the other. Whatever negatives exist, as they must in any relationship, partners who love each other truly believe in the unchallengeable quality of their partner’s core selves, and are secure in the knowledge that they both have the other’s best interests at heart.
Rule Number Six
The partners in a great relationship are a team.
Whether they play together, dream together, trust each other’s counsel, know how to resolve conflict, share responsibilities and resources, or are there to nurture distress, the partners in successful relationships make more than the sum of their parts. They watch for when either needs shoring up or authentic challenge. They also revisit their game plans on a regular basis, continuously looking for ways to play it better. There is no need to have power struggles because they strive to agree on who flies left seat and when each has the best chance to lead the team better.
Rule Number Seven
People who love each other want to be the best they can be for the other.
When people are out there dating, they know that they need to put their best foot forward. They get in shape physically, know who they are and what they want, keep themselves up on what is going on in the world, take care of their health, and try to stay away from thoughts and actions that make them less than the best they can be.
Sadly, as many relationships mature, intimate partners tend to lessen their commitments to those behaviors. It is too easy to let up when life’s stresses intervene. But, in successful, long-term relationships, both partners count on the other to keep them in check. They stay committed to be the best people they can be for themselves and for one another, and hold each other to those promises.
Rule Number Eight
Ownership or possessiveness is unacceptable.
No one should ever feel that he or she is simply a player in another person’s script. Insecurity, the need for power, fear of loss, the drive to control, or not trusting the other to comply, all undermine the free choice that is the underlying foundation of love that deepens.
Threats of abandonment, retaliation, or non-participation can get another person to temporarily fall in line to satisfy the other’s demands while sacrificing their own. But, if that happens, martyrdom and resentments will follow. The sense of being in a relationship out of fear of loss does not create an atmosphere where love can continue to grow. If those feelings are ignored for too long, the relationship will fall apart.
Ultimate love can only sustain when both partners want the other to be the most alive, satisfied, intrigued, and committed to life, wherever that person can find that experience. All relationships go through difficult situations, but too many without resolution can leave lovers trapped in a lonely and meaningless partnership. True love may end with the ultimate sacrifice: “I love you enough to want you to be where you are the most fulfilled, even if it turns out not to be with me.”
Rule Number Nine
Never blame the other partner for what you cannot be, have, or achieve in your own life.
Perhaps it is a dark part of human nature to place accountability for unhappiness or failure away from oneself, but it is a disaster in a love relationship. People do look to their intimate partners as a source of stability, comfort, and safety, as well they should. But a person’s desires and hopes are not the responsibility of the other partner to fulfill. 
Yes, one lover’s needs should be a high priority, but every desire expressed by one partner cannot always be automatically the goal of the other, no matter what the circumstances. No partner deserves to be automatically held accountable to meet them.  
Rule Number Ten
Continue to Grow Beyond Your Own Limitations.
All human beings need both security and challenge, whether alone or in a relationship. Too much predictability seduces boredom and eventual decay. Too many risks can undermine the comfort of familiarity.
The partners in long-term, successful relationships know that they must preserve discovery, both within and between themselves. Every person knows where he or she is “locked-in” and where they are flexible. Openness to new ideas and adventures challenges the status-quo, but introduces the differentness that makes for depth and possibility.
Just think what it would be like to read the same book every year. Some of the passages would still be exciting and interesting, but all would lose their luster if they were simply repeated exactly as they were once written. When the partners in a long-standing relationship tell me they can finish each other’s sentences, I am not happy. Why bother talking if you will always know what the other partner is going to say?