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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Cynical Daters - Is Your Past Sabotaging Your Future?

In today’s world of stranger-to-lover speed-connecting relationships, many people must now rely on intuition and sheer luck to find a quality, long-lasting partnership. Most often, without verifiable access to a potential lover’s relationship history, people in the relationship market are more likely to be operating in a murky and scary environment.
Even so, most of them continue to push forth, putting huge amounts of effort into triumphing over those odds. But, because they must navigate without reliable information, they too often end up discouraged and disillusioned. It is almost unavoidable for them to enter each new possibility without the cumulative wariness and fear they’ve internalized from past failures.
Being repeatedly immersed in relationship “stories” that too often turn out to be false and finding that many in-person meetings have little to do with on-line profile advertisements, it is not surprising that many relationship-seekers become discouraged over time.
In the last decade of my forty-year career, I have seen these accumulated experiences exponentially grow. It concerns me deeply because, once they take hold, they can prevent those who hold them from believing that quality, long-term relationships are actually possible.  
These cumulative losses become negative biases that not only stop people from continuing to look for new possibilities but keep them from being open to potentially different and positive experiences. They drive people to rely only on what they have previously experienced rather than on what might be possible if they opened themselves to new data.
Sadly, going into each new relationship, armored with these self-imposed, potentially sabotaging limitations, people tend to repeat past behaviors. The cumulative failures take their toll. Over time, they begin to create the wary attitudes that create the endless loop of relationship heartbreaks. And, though these self-protective biases feel as though they are an insurance against future losses, they more often fuel them.
You can actually identify if you are one of those weary relationship seekers who have slipped into these limited views of what relationships can become. If you hear many of your opinion sentences begin with strong and final-sounding opinions, you may be unconsciously locking yourself into these negative biases.
Listen carefully to your responses when others challenge or contradict your statements. Ask yourself, when that happens, whether you feel instantly defensive, holding on even more tightly to what you believe. If so, it doesn’t mean that your opinions aren’t true for you. They are, sadly, based on your actual experiences. But, if you let your past disappointing relationships define the limits of any future ones, you will doom yourself to only see what you already expect to happen. Once those blinders are in place, you can no longer be open to seeing something new and more hopeful.
Gathering data and continually sifting it to protect yourself from harm is a natural human process, and some conclusions are warranted. But carrying negative expectations into each successive new relationship will make new losses more likely. Suspicious and wary new lovers surreptitiously and continually test one another and are then far less likely to explore options that might actually work out.
Even more distressing is the fact that the longer people hold self-protective, armored views, the more difficult it becomes for them to challenge them over time. If they have additionally been programmed that way from early childhood, their cumulative experiences may actually become self-fulfilling prophecies. I have many times seen biased views handed down from generation to generation, dooming their believers to just repeat what they have observed.
Many of these negative relationship biases become buried within the unconscious and manifest as a person’s personality. In order for them to be unearthed and open to new challenges, they must be recognized and re-examined in a new light.
Much of what I do in my work with individuals and couples is to simply question the veracity of locked-in biases in a non-judgmental way so they partners can search together for these roots and where and when they were formed. As the origin of their opinions and attitudes emerge, many people are surprised that they have self-limited in that way. They are eager to re-examine and re-create their views to open themselves to the possibilities that can happen.
Here are some common negative relationship biases and how they sound when people express them. As you read them, ask yourself if they apply to you or your past partners and where they may have originated. You might want to get something to write on as you read the following:
      1) They are stated as generalities. “Men are just that way. They can’t understand     how a woman feels, and never will. You just have to accept it and work around it.”
2)    They are finite. “Don’t bother trying to change a woman’s mind. Just agree to whatever she says, and then do what you want. Most of time she won’t even notice.”
3)    They are unchallengeable and defy anyone who questions them. “You might have found one or two people who can make a relationship work long-term, but they aren’t really telling you how trapped they feel.”

4)    They are not based on extended research but are presented as if they are formed by all-inclusive knowledge. “I’ve read a lot about this and it is the truth,” or “Everyone I’ve talked to feels exactly the same way,” or “You can find so many articles on the Internet that back this up. They’re everywhere.”
5)    They are absolutely non-amenable to any other viewpoint. “Don’t bother telling me that they’re good men out there who are available. The good ones are taken and aren’t going anywhere. You can tell me it’s not true as much as you like, but I’m just not buying it. Believe me, I’ve been out there.”
6)    They are typically opinions expressed with pessimism, cynicality, bitterness, or wry sarcasm. “I don’t know why I ever thought that any woman could love me for myself. It’s actually true that the pocketbook is what matters, and that’s never going to change.” Or, “You just have to get used to it. No relationship lasts. It’s all about lust and fantasy. That stuff is bound to wear out over time and the same crap happens” Or, “You bet I’m jaded. Why shouldn’t I be? My mom told me that guys can’t sustain love for any one women so they’re bound to cheat and you just look the other way if you want them to stick around.”
7)     They are strongly justified. “If you’d been at the other end of my love-life, you’d feel exactly the same way I do. You can try as hard as you want, but I can tell you that this is the way things are for me because I’m me, and because I have rotten luck, and because I never had a chance.”
8)    They activate irritation and reactivity if questioned by the listener. “You keep trying to tell me something that just isn’t true and you’re really starting to piss me off. What are you trying to do, just make me feel like an idiot? Obviously, you don’t like my attitude and I’m not going to change the way I feel, so cool it, okay?”
Underneath their biases, the people locked in to limited viewpoints are neither hopeful nor emotionally okay with those restrictions. They commonly tell me that they feel powerless and pre-defeated. Entering each new relationship with those cynical expectations, they often sabotage each succeeding relationship without even realizing they are doing so. Those undermining behaviors typically manifest in one or more of the following ways:
A)   Testing potential partners for so long that those initially participating lovers eventually get tired of it and leave. “I know how hard you are trying to make this work, but you just can’t seem to treat me how I want you to.”
B)    Seeking partners who try to make up for all of their prior relationship losses but eventually give up. “I knew you would stop loving me. Every guy I’ve ever been with tells me I’m ‘the one” and then starts looking around. Why don’t you just leave now and get it over with?”
C)    Succeeding at convincing their partners that they have just been too damaged to change and aren’t worth being with. “Let’s face it. I have a lot going for me, but I just cost too much emotionally. I’m ‘too dramatic, or too hard to please. I think I’m not worth the deal so just get out while you can.”
D)   Consciously or unconsciously provoke their partners to reject them because they expect they will anyway. “I know I’m being an asshole, but it’s who I am sometimes. You’ll just have to take it or tell me to hit the door.”
E)    Too fearful of the possibility that they will temporarily put aside their biases, re-open their hearts, but then risk more avidly returning to their prior self-protective modes if the relationship fails. “Okay. Maybe I’ve been too wary. I love this guy a lot. I’m going to put down all my walls but, if I get hurt, they’re never coming down again.”
F)    Exiling themselves in advance of expecting to be rejected but secretly hoping that their partners will fight for them. “I know you’re too good for me. I should probably end this before you have to face telling me you’re through.”
G)   Assuming that their partners can’t or won’t change in order to rationalize their own need to leave the relationship. “He’s got a lot off good qualities but I just can’t seem to get past the bad stuff and I know he won’t want to hear that from me. I might as well get out while I can.”
* * * * * * * *
There is no way to form opinions about life’s probabilities without experience and no way to approach new experiences without being affected by history. Good relationships beget good relationships beginning from early childhood, and, sadly, bad relationships more often portend more bad ones.
Unless people realize that those emotional and mental “programmings” are amenable to challenge, they are doomed to live out the endless cycle of repetition without change. And, unless they can separate out what they expect to happen from what might be possible, they will only be able to see what they have already surmised.
It is crucial to walk gingerly where trauma creates self-protection and how important it is to drop those walls only after mastering boundary-sustaining skills. Relationship seekers who want to open back up to new possibilities must see a world beyond those who hurt and those who have been hurt. Unfortunately, consecutive disappointments tend to make people feel there are only those two possibilities.
The most successful way to engage in new life experiences is to begin each one with a healthy sense of self-awareness and self-preservation, but without assumption that things can only turn out a certain way. Negative biases emerge from consecutive disappointments and can easily become emotional blinders to possibilities of personal transformation.
Once identified and historically validated, all programmed attitudes and behaviors are amenable to challenge and change. If you are willing to look for your own locked-in assumptions and limitations, and open up to challenge and change them, you are ready to begin the journey to new possibilities.












Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Relationship Synchronicitiy - When Communication Intermeshes

Effective communication skills are crucial to successful long-term relationships. The tools they employ can significantly improve the transmission of thoughts and feelings between intimate partners. When they work as they should, they bring couples closer together and help them to find new ways to resolve their differences.  
There are many available resources that are available to teach couples the tried-and-true basics of quality communication techniques, but there is one crucial aspect that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. In my extensive work with couples over the last four decades, I have found it to be the basic core of what makes all of the other skills actually work. It is also the underlying foundation upon which all other communication techniques rest.
Intimate couples reach out to each other with individual styles of bids for connection. In doing so, they have their own unique way of how, when, where, and why they do so. Those styles manifest as personal rhythms that are each partner’s attempt to synchronize their needs. A good metaphor would be two potentially differently spaced gears attempting to enmesh when they are moving at different speeds.
People in committed relationships must be able to recognize these individual relationship rhythm styles both in themselves and in their partners. I have watched many couples who have mastered every other aspect of quality communication but still fail at successful connecting because they do not recognize that their connection rhythms are out of sync. They are using all the right words, voice intonations, facial expressions, and body language, yet their communication is breaking down.
There are many situations in which a couple’s individual rhythmic patterns can be disharmonious even when all else seems to be in order.  Whether these clashing “gears” exist in physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, or spiritual realms, they often upend well-intended bids for connection and resolution.
The good news is that communication immediately improves when couples identify and correct these out-of-sync connections. When they do, they can then alter their individual rhythms to more seamlessly intertwine.
The Five Relationship Realms of Syncronization
Out of sync physical attempts fall into two main categories. The first is how much, and what kind of, physical contact one partner may want versus that of the other. The additional dimension is when one partner desires a certain kind of physical touch and the other prefers something different.
For example, some people crave continuous but short physical connections, especially when they have been away from their partners for some period. Others prefer more prolonged hugs but only at particular times. Many of the men I’ve counseled tell me that they like to touch the parts of their partner’s bodies that arouse their sexual desires, while more of the women say that they prefer touch that is non-sexual affection unless it is a prelude to love-making.
A segment of the population, both male and female, are challenged by emotional or physical inertia. That just means that these people like to complete whatever they are doing without interruption. If, for instance, one partner is busy with a task and the other is seeking physical connection at the same time. The busy partner may respond with irritation or dismissal, not because he or she doesn’t like affection, but because the timing doesn’t work.
Similarly, one partner may like to cuddle as he or she is falling asleep, while the other wants separate space prior to slumber. Or, more women than men tell me that they prefer several hours of non-sexual affection prior to making love, and more men than women come into the same situation pre-heated and ready to move on to the kind of touch that accompanies arousal.
In many of these cases, the partners’ caring for each other may be solid and deep, but they are misunderstanding and misconstruing the other’s unavailability.
Perhaps emotional lack of synchronicity between intimate partners is the most common topic in relationship-advice columns, and regularly separates the genders. The expression, “I just want to connect with you,” is most often said by women. “Can we just get to the bottom line?” or “I don’t need the back-story first,” is more often expressed by men.
It’s not that men don’t understand what a woman means when she asks for heart-to-heart connection, especially before love-making. It’s just that most men are taught early in their lives to suppress or cover vulnerable emotions like fear, pain, sorrow, or insecurity.  They often tell me with deep frustration that their woman wants them to be “a mind reader,” and somehow intuit what she needs. If men are taught to hide their own more vulnerable feelings, they cannot easily identify with those of a woman’s need for those experiences. Most men relate more easily to battle, sports, business, and health when they are together, but rarely talk about the feelings underlying those subjects.  
It is crucial that women do not expect men to connect emotionally if it means they are to share relationship issues or asked to listen to problems without wanting any solutions. It is equally wrong for men to not understand how important it is for most women to have timeless attention that is not necessarily goal-oriented.
When intimate partners have both different emotional rhythms, times, and ways they express them, they just cannot effectively resolve whatever issue is on the table. It doesn’t matter what they are talking about. They won’t be able to make successful headway.
There are essentially four parts to every sexual experience. The first and fourth fall more predominantly into female energy needs and expectations. Those are courtship and pillow-talk. Courtship is the non-sexual flirtation and emotional arousal that heats a woman up, usually more slowly than what a man needs. Pillow talk, is the sharing of vulnerable emotions, and is often easier for men to participate in after orgasm. The middle two parts are physical arousal and orgasm and often enough for men to feel sexually satisfied. The standing joke is, “Women need thirty-six hours of pre-heating, while men wake up ready to go.”
Many men have told me that they prefer their genitals touched soon into love-making. Alternatively, most women tell me they need to open up like a flower, starting from the outside and encouraged to emerge only as they become more aroused. They can feel boundary-violated if their partners plunge into their erotic zones as a first move and is not usually a successful maneuver for optimum success.
Some people prefer hard touch while others respond to gentle caresses. Some like sustained physical connection while others prefer touch-and-let-go connections. One partner’s urgency can be another partner’s turn-off. Alternately, if one partner is too slow to arousal, the other may lose interest.
Also, both men and women differ widely on how often they want sexual connection and how long they want it to last. Some people like sex on a regular basis and others prefer a lot of sex for a short time with longer periods in between. There are also wide disparities about the actual act, itself. What may be a huge turn-on for one partner may unearth dissonance in the other.
Intercourse is a word that can be applied to both sexual and verbal interaction. It comes from a mid-fifteenth century definition meaning simply “to and fro.”  When two people are in sync intellectually, their conversations are a communal and reciprocal exchange of dreams, ideas, goals, feelings, attitudes, concerns, needs, and hungers. When they interact, they build on one another’s ideas, creating synergy and more curiosity.
The rhythm of how partners exchange these crucial expressions is particularly significant. The more vulnerable a thought or feeling is, the more supportive the other must be to insure the emotionally open partner must be at the time those thoughts are being expressed. If the partner sharing feels dismissed, overruled, erased, interrupted, challenged, or invalidated, he or she is likely to stop sharing. Even if the listening partner is innocently under or over-reactive, that same result can occur.
In addition, the more biased or fixated partners may be in their opinions, the harder it may be for the other partners to listen if they don’t feel or see things the same way. Learning to synergistically build concepts and dreams together is the hallmark of good communicators. Unfortunately, many intellectual disparities may not be resolvable. Too often, people don’t know how to listen deeply, expand the other’s mind-set, or understand a different line of thinking from their own.
Again, some people process words, thoughts, and feelings more slowly than others. This does not necessarily mean they have a less emotional capacity than their partners do. Successful intellectual meshing can only happen if both partners allow for a difference in speed, volume, and intensity.
Spiritual beliefs are crucial to one’s purpose as well as to his or her meaning in life. They are the foundation of why people do the things they do, how they relate to others, and what keeps them in the game when things are tough.
It is not absolutely necessary for both partners in an intimate relationship to derive inspiration from the same source, but crucial that they respect and support each other’s beliefs and conduct themselves accordingly.
Often spiritual beliefs are so deeply imbedded that many people do not understand the impact they have on their intimate relationships. Because these convictions are the basis for moral and ethical decisions and what both partners draw upon when they are troubled or over-stressed, they must be held sacred.
When either partner shares his or her spiritual reasons for thoughts or behaviors, the other partner must be willing to listen with respect even if he or she does not see things the same way. Even when partners are raised in the same faith, they may interpret those teachings differently, and must explore them together to make certain they understand any differences in the way they are experienced.
People pray, meditate, or commune with their source of light at different times and in different ways. It is always healing to any relationship when intimate partners can do that together, but they must allow one another time to do that even when they are unable to share those practices.
Being out of sync spiritually is a crucial problem for many partners. They may put their differences on a moral continuum and use those biases in ways that may distance the other partner. When those types of conflicts emerge, the couple may need spiritual counseling from someone they both trust.
* * * * *
The smooth meshing and accurate dove-tailing of all of the physical, emotional, sexual, intellectual, and spiritual “gears” form the basic foundation for all successful communications between intimate partners. If they are out of synchronicity, they will either collide and destruct, or not connect at all.
New lovers often use a kind of emotional transmission device to prematurely mesh these gears. When the relationship matures, the emergence of disharmony may occur. They are often not interested in looking at these potential non-synchronizing connections early on for fear of marring their seemingly magical compatibility.
For any intimate relationship to have a chance at long-term survival, new partners must be willing to look at where their rhythms automatically intermesh and where they may need to alter them for their relationship communication to flourish.


















Monday, April 30, 2018

Do You Feel Defeated by On-Line Dating?

So many single people in today’s relationship seeking world are currently having complicated and frustrating dating experiences.  In the four decades that I’ve been helping people find and keep quality partnerships, I’ve never faced so many exhausted and discouraged relationship seekers.  
I absolutely believe that this interpersonal disillusionment is a growing trend, certainly not as pervasive as even a few years ago. This is despite the exploding presence of multiple on-line dating services that have blossomed since the mid-nineties.
Most of my single patients have ardently explored these supposed short-cuts to romantic bliss for many months and even years. And, though there have been some percentage of successes, too many relationship seekers have come away empty-handed.
There are legitimate and significant reasons for this low probability of success, but one that stands out most clearly in my experience. It is that many of those who advertise their profiles on line are not honest in what they advertise. And, because it is not always easy to corroborate those profile presentations, responders can’t be sure who is truly on the other end of them. More often than not, the person they eventually meet bears little resemblance to the one expected.
In the past, most people had more options to test the viability of a potential partner from family and close friends before they decided to meet a new person. They hung out in the same social circles and stayed in the same geographical areas long enough to attain some mastery of the dating terrain.
Now that so many people have moved away from where they grew up, that information is rarely available. Relationship seekers are now on their own to find ways to check the authenticity of potential partners. Even tracing footprints on the Internet is not always reliable to predict safety or to find them if and when they spontaneously disappear.
Given the odds in favor of failure and the associated frustration, what can relationship seekers do differently to more successfully find viable partners in this painfully confusing dating picture? Where do people actually find successful long-term partners, if not on the Internet?
I have six suggestions that may help.
1)    Hang out where the probabilities of success are the most likely.
This suggestion encompasses several sub-sets of data. You will be, of course, subject to the hours and options that are available to you. But, safe to say, single people have their own individual hobbies, interests, and favorite haunts. Match your own interests to like others and find out what haunts they are likely to inhabit.
For instance, if you are a work-out buff, you are more likely to find single people at twenty-four- hour fitness establishments before and after work hours, and in the middle of the morning on weekends. And, there are often coffee houses nearby that welcome sweaty after-work-out-people looking for some energy brews but relaxed enough to be open to meeting similar aficionados. These healthy single-people hangouts also have classes that run the gamut from trendy soul-spinning to hard Yoga workouts. Go where, and when, the gender percentages are in your favor.
There are also countless meet-ups that are locally advertised on the Net that cater to singles. Special classes that would be more likely to welcome one gender do not necessarily exclude the other and the proportions can make connections more favorable. An attractive man I once knew took a seminar for women on what they wanted in a man. Yes, he was the only male present out of the 103 participants. Good odds.
If you’re inclined and wealthy enough to travel to exotic locations, check out singles’ trips to unusual places. They are more likely to attract interesting people who like unusual experiences. One of my patients met her partner helicopter skiing where she was the only woman in a group of eighteen men.
2)    Expand your connections vis-a-vis trusted others
Most single people surround themselves with other single people. They are all looking out for one another and relatively well aware of the current status of each. Exempt those few who might compete by sabotaging, most people thrive on belonging and mattering to others and often prioritize their social connections to those they already know and trust.
Interestingly enough, successfully partnered people, though they do hang out more with other couples than with untethered souls, do come across quality singles who are related to their committed partners. Let anyone you trust know exactly what you are looking for in a partner and unabashedly ask for assistance in finding him or her. Someone who knows and treasures both you and the person he or she is fixing you up with, can definitely tip the odds in your favor.
3)    Trust the universe.
Wherever you are, at any time of the day or night, you might meet the person you could spend your life with. Too many people, especially in these days of rushing and hyper-focusing, do not see who or what is around them. Every single person you connect with is the hub of more than two hundred other people. And those you make honest and caring connections with, even for a few minutes, often lead to others you might never meet any other way.
The people who are in the most demand, regardless of status, are those who are in love with life. They smile more, reach out more, and make others feel terrific on the other end of them. They also are infectious in their wonderment of even the smallest things and most people look forward to meeting them again. It doesn’t take very long to make meaningful connections, but too many people nowadays are so preoccupied with what is directly in front of them that they forget how they are seen by, or affect others.
So many people have shared stories with me of unexpected, spontaneous interactions with people they might not have met moments before or moments afterwards. That, of course, means that there are many possible relationships in the world available to everyone and that these unexpected and unpredictable 1% miracles do occur. But people have to be open to those possibilities lest they miss them when they emerge.
Many years ago, one of my patients left a party, realized an hour later she’d left her purse there, and went to retrieve it. As she was leaving, she literally ran into the brother of one of her close male friends who happened to be visiting from another city that weekend. Even though she hadn’t intended to stay, she was immediately attracted to him and decided to explore what had inadvertently come her way. Four hours later, they realized that fate had intervened and they were meant to be together, and they still are, seven years later.
Another one of my patients had just left a work-out session at her gym late one evening and was happily recalling an amazing day at work. She went into an all-night supermarket to pick up a few things and just couldn’t help humming a tune and dancing down one of the aisles. A single-dad, out to buy groceries with his wide-awake two-year old, told her how her enthusiasm gave him a much-needed lift.  Yes, they ended up together. But, it would never have happened had she been her usual exhausted self, focusing only on the task at hand.
4)    Let go of the negative biases from your past
Of course, that is always easier said than done. But so incredibly necessary. Multiple disappointments make most people wary, cynical, and pre-defeated. Those feelings tend to manifest in physical and emotional expressions of negative expectations and are definitely not magnetic attractions.
My most often expressed words of advice to new daters are, “Never talk about any past relationships in a negative way or make wide-sweeping generic statements that broadcast your disappointments or disillusionments.” If someone you date says something like, “My ex destroyed me with his/her lies and betrayals. I’m having a hard time trusting anyone after what he/she did to me,” please beware. Whether that person means to or not, he or she is implying that the new partner better not repeat those hurtful behaviors. That’s way too big an onus for you to bear.
Also, try hard to not advertise yourself as someone who needs to be rescued or fall into the trap of being the one to rescue someone else. It is fine, and appropriate, to have compassion and to be supportive to someone who has suffered in a past relationship, but it is not your responsibility to be the chosen one who will compensate.
Too many people think that they are exempt from the disappointments of past lovers and will be the exception. It generally is not a successful formula. Eventually, they are much more likely to be thrown into the same scrap heap as the others who failed. 
Distrust begets distrust. Discernment is better. With each succeeding relationship, you can learn better what to choose and what to discard in your next attempt for long-term success. Ask yourself this important question: “If all the important relationship partners I’ve had gathered in the same room well equipped with truth serum, and shared their experiences of me, what would those stories have in common?” That, combined with an accurate exploration of your own typical relationship patterns, can give you a lot of crucial information to help you learn better how to choose more wisely in the future.
5)    Learn from others who are successful in love
It is true that some people are truly luckier in love than others. Personal attributes, good parenting, financial options, quality past relationships, quality social connections, and availability of potential partners seem to be in the mix for some more than for others.
Yet, there are people who seem to create great relationship despite not being lucky in all of those categories. They often have several desirable personality characteristics in common and are known for  rarely complaining or bemoaning their losses. Perhaps they are just blessed with resiliency or have other joy options in their lives when a current relationship falters. Whatever the reasons, others simply seek out their company and feel enriched in their presence. Their partners don’t usually do anything to risk losing them because they know they are highly unlikely to find others who are as valuable.
This is not about comparing or competing. In every other life endeavor, we look for mentors and those who are successful at what they do and why. Love relationships are no different. There are just people who are good at them and their characteristics are often learnable.
6)    Commit to a purpose, ideal, or meaningful pursuit independent of a relationship
Buddhism teaches that suffering comes from attachments. Though it is not possible for any of us to give up all attachments, it is easier to let go of faltering relationships when we are deeply involved and committed to something else that is equally or even more important.
Think of yourself as having both a vertical and horizontal connection to people, things, or ideas that matter deeply to you. Your vertical connection is to what makes your life meaningful separate from a relationship. It can be a God, a philosophy, a cause, or a sacred relationship of any kind, and is always there to call you to your highest self. Your horizontal connection manifests in your earthly relationships with others, whether they be social, work-related, or romantic.
When people clearly understand that no horizontal relationship should ever be more important than their vertical commitment that keeps them true to themselves no matter what the price. If they are able to hold that choice sacred, they are much less likely to stay in a relationship that compromises their basic values.
* * * * * * * *
In this article, I’ve purposely left out the multiplicity of relationship-seeking advice that is so common today. So many competent relationship experts have guided people to becoming the most attractive they can be, working at being more interesting, and learning how to choose the right partner. There are so many ready references on these subjects already, and, though certainly important, have not seemed to tap some of the deeper issues that predict failures in the dating arena.
I truly hope that these suggestions might fill in the gaps. My patients tell me that using them has increased their success in finding viable partners. Perhaps, even more importantly, they feel that looking at the dating scene in this new way has given them renewed confidence on this increasingly difficult journey.    










Friday, March 30, 2018

How Passion Can Transform to Deeper Love

Passion and sexuality are synonymous experiences for new lovers. The intensity and sensitivity of their physical attraction to one another are major players in the early stages of their relationship.

What many do not realize is that the sparkle of passion lights up more than just sexual connection. “Attached at the hip,” new lovers are eager to capture every salient moment together, enthralled by every aspect of each other’s lives.
There is no way to separate this all-reaching passion from their experience of continuous discovery. Tastes, smells, reflections, visuals, histories, opinions, social networks, spirituality, family ties, interests, emotional and physical reactions, are all unknown and delicious to pursue.
Because of the enormous energy new relationships ask of people, this passionate stage cannot last forever. Though some of these partnerships dissipate sooner, most experience either the beginning of the end or a transformation to deeper love within about six months.  
If the relationship does end within that period of time, most people do go on to the next hopeful possibility after they’ve processed the loss. In today’s dating world especially, there are more options than have ever existed before for experiencing different kind of unions. Many relationship seekers find themselves alternating between longer-but-limited-in-time exclusive relationships and the more passionate intensity of short-term flings.
Yet, most people still ardently search for “the one.” In the four decades I’ve been working with individuals and couples, I have heard so many asking me what they could have, might have, done to make a relationship work. How could we have avoided the twin disillusionments of apathy and boredom if we couldn’t see them happening? How can we see what’s ahead so that we can change our behaviors before they cause irreversible damage? Are there practices we can learn while we are still in the passionate stage of our relationship that might give us better odds later?
There are actually workable answers to those questions. New lovers can know early on if they are doing anything that could sabotage the chances for a long-term relationship to be more likely. They can recognize the warning signs of potential demise and how to behave differently before they take hold.
Following are the six most important warning signs of potentially damaging behaviors and what new lovers can do to heal them. If they are aware and willing to act upon them, they can greatly increase the possibility of successful outcomes.
The Six Warning Signs and How to Heal Them
1)     Bids for Connection
Warning Signs:
When couples are first in love, they are attuned to one another’s needs and desires, often before they even emerge. It is as if they have antenna to the thoughts and feelings of the other. Whenever either partner is distressed, desiring, or in conflict, he or she is the top priority for the other and responded to as quickly as possible.
After they are apart, their immediate agenda is to re-connect, in whatever way each partner needs to feel validated and reassured. When they are out of touch, both partners know that the other is available whenever called upon.
Emotional bells should be going off if those bids for connection go unheeded and, when challenged, are met with excuses, justifications, or defenses.
The Healing Response:
As relationships head into the third or fourth month, it is natural that some of the urgency and immediate responsivity to each other’s reaching out will somewhat lessen. Because new lovers are loath to complain to one another about any distress, they might not be fully honest when they should be.
A lack of interest can be just temporary but could also be something that should be heeded. One partner, for example, might be preoccupied with an unexpected requirement. Or perhaps he or she feels the need to attend to something that’s been neglected because of the intensity of the relationship’s demands.
It is crucial that the partners talk openly to each other at the first sign the bids for connection are put off or ignored altogether. Otherwise it too often can lead to misunderstandings and insecurities. Even if the reasons for lessened availability are a concern, that authentic, early sharing is often all that is needed to put things back in place.
2)     Fault Finding   
Warning Signs:
When normally forgiving and accepting partners start to pick at one another, it is a cause for concern, especially if the behaviors in question were once easily endured. As people grow to know one another better, they often do feel free to challenge behaviors when they might have let them go before, and they should.  
If, however, new critiques begin to consistently emerge, the partner on the other end of those critical comments or behaviors might feel threatened and dangerously over-respond. It is important to pay attention to the frequency, duration, and increasing of those challenges. Escalation in any of those three areas should sound a powerful alarm, especially when they are delivered with irritation or blame.
The Healing Response:
It is crucial that both partners have paid exquisite attention early in the relationship to what the other says about prior relationship partners. If, for instance, one partner talks about them in consistently derogatory ways, he or she is giving a clear message that the current partner had better not make the same mistakes.
Many new lovers bask in the glow of expected exemption from the problems either may have described in their past relationships. They truly believe they will not be affected by prior disappointments with other partners because the current relationship is so good. That is simply never true.
Challenges that are fair and compassionately delivered are part and parcel of every good relationship and the way partners respond to critiques or challenges can define their relationship resiliency. Barring occasional moodiness or legitimate distress external to the relationship, partners who begin to feel more critical or those on the other end must be willing to listen to what the other is feeling without defensiveness and to help him or her work through it.
3)     Unexplained Disappearing
Warning Signs:
New lovers often feel insecure about where or what the other is doing until they experience the security that ongoing trustworthy patterns engender. Eventually, as they get to know each other better and can predict thoughts, feeling, and behaviors, they become more secure. If those beliefs are not undermined, both partners no longer require constant reassurance that absence is not a sign of disinterest.
However, if, over time, one partner begins to seem more out of touch or preoccupied without keeping the other informed, that trust can waffle. That is exacerbated if the newly disappearing partner becomes defensive when questioned.
The Healing Response:
If either partner feels that something is awry and the disappearing behaviors don’t add up, it is crucial that gentle questioning be met with honest explanations. Partners who have nothing to hide are quick to realize that their actions may have unearthed the other partner’s concern and willingly re-invite them to be central to their lives.
Some increased desire for separation is absolutely natural after the intensity of us-only time. From the base of more trusted love, either partner may need time with prior friends or just for personal regeneration. But those kinds of innocent “disconnects” are not threats to the relationship when they are shared and supported, and when the temporarily more absent partner joyfully returns to the relationship.
4)     Ebbing Resiliency
Warning Signs:
New lovers seem to have infinite patience with each other’s errors. They are quick to forgive and to focus on what they find positive about their relationship.
The first indication that patience is no longer guaranteed is a lack of bounce-back. Where once there was a reliance on a comfortable margin of error, one or both partners now find themselves more on the defensive.
Those quicker-to-harm and longer-to-heal interactions signal that the relationship is losing its elasticity and may appear to have lost its ability to weather emotional stretching.
The Healing Response:
These quicker-to-irritation reactions sometimes surface gradually and at other times seem to be all-of-a-sudden changes. They often are first noticed during conflict as resolution takes longer to happen.  
The sooner either partner recognizes that resiliency is waning, he or she must bring it to light. The couple must together search for the underlying cause of the quickness-to-impatience is, and what is behind its emergence.
When intimate partners stay up to date with their love and their uneasiness, they can catch these new irritations early enough to sooth them.
5)     Lessening Energy
Warning Signs:
One of the most observable characteristics of new lovers is their heightened energy together. They literally fill a room with their sparkling aura, often becoming more impactful and attractive as a couple than either was alone.
Because of the magnetic glow that emanates from that love-core partnership, it is very easy to see the signs of apathy and ennui when they occur. It is as if a once-firm balloon is slowly losing air. Partners who were once immediately responsive to every nuance of the other are now preoccupied and lax in their willingness to seamlessly create that aliveness in the same way they once did.
The Healing Response:
All intimate relationship partners eventually don’t require the constant need to please, not because they care less but because they feel more secure with each other. But apathy and ennui can be signs of growing boredom. If discovery is over, the relationship doesn’t require the level of energy it once did to delight.
When partners become aware that their relationship is losing energy, they must reevaluate why that is happening. Is it truly a lack of interest, or perhaps even too much security? Is there the possibility that one or the other partner is now giving the best of themselves elsewhere, content to use the relationship more to just refuel?
Great partners keep each other interested because they are still excited about where their own lives are going, separately from one another.  They don’t depend on the other partner to produce that experience for them.
6)     Lessened Affection
Warning Signs:
New lovers are intertwined, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. They are in constant touch in every way, reaching out for each other for the magic that they can create together.
Waning affection is the most observable warning sign of a relationship in trouble. Instead of reaching out, one or both partners turn the other away instead of seeking the warmth of each other’s embrace.
When affection wanes, the first sign is often a lack of interest in sexual connection and painful feelings of rejection in the exiled partner. Sadly, many respond to that lessened desirability with frustration, anger, or blame, that pushes the other partner farther away.
The Healing Response:
If either partner begins to focus on self to the exclusion of the other, a gentle re-inviting or genuine inquiry may be all that is needed to put the relationship back on track. It is crucial that those challenges be expressed without suspicion, anger, or blame. A partner who has temporarily pulled away from the other may react badly to the way they are presented and miss the underlying validity of the inquiry.
* * * * *
The potential for a new relationship to become a deepening commitment is much more likely if the partners pay attention to these warning signs early in the relationship. New lovers are often resistant to act upon them because they are either so blinded by the passion enfolding them, or do not want to challenge their fantasy world. Yet, the future of their relationship may depend upon their willingness to risk some of the early magic to build the foundation that might keep it intact.

























Thursday, March 15, 2018

When Negative Interactions Trigger Past Traumas

There are four consistent truths about intimate partner conflicts. In the forty plus years I’ve been a psychologist and marriage counselor, I totally believe in their veracity. The first is that repeated, unresolved conflicts dangerously weaken the sacred bond that keeps an intimate relationship intact.

The second is that the harsh words spoken during these dramatic disputes will inevitably escalate in intensity and meanness, and eventually result in impenetrable emotional armoring.
The third is that most people do not realize they are risking unsalvageable damage when they continue to interact that way.
The fourth is the inherent and undisputable fact that intimate partners have the emotional power to unearth buried trauma in one another when conflicts trigger them.
It is important to remember that ugly words, in and of, themselves are only one part of these destructive emotional attacks. Combined with threatening voice intonations, body language, facial expressions, and intensity, they too often become the verbal weapons of relationship war. When used to win, to dominate, to undermine, to invalidate, or to erase, they will eventually overrule any quality interactions that may happen in between the negative interactions. No matter how much care or love is expressed in the intervals between these destructive behaviors, the darkness of animosity will eventually prevail.
Every intimate relationship triggers the reliving of parent/child experiences and can activate buried wounds. As a result, what may penetrate deeply into the psyche of one person may not have the same effect on another. What one partner intends by stance, sound, facial contortion, or even rhythm may result in a level of unintended damage. Unless that partner knows how that hurtful expression will be experienced by the other, he or she may intend to throw a small dart that transforms through a trauma filter into an emotional hole the size of a bowling ball.
Meanness begets meanness. Criticism accompanied by hostility and unconscious hurling of damaging words will uncover previously learned levels of retaliation from the other side. As those negative spirals intensify, both partners might soon feel as if they are fighting ghosts from their pasts, without even realizing that the people they are now hurting are not those responsible for the early traumas.
In successful loving relationships, both people know where their partner’s wounds lie and do their best to avoid triggering them, especially during conflicts. Unless they have underlying or unconscious intentions to destroy the other, they must actively memorize and honor those early wounds so that they never trigger them, no matter how heated any dispute may become. The basic trust between intimate partners depends on keeping that agreement sacred.
To ensure that devoted couples do not re-wound each other in these sacred heartbreaks, it is crucial for both to accomplish two tasks. The first is to individually understand where and how the original traumas originated, who caused them, and what reactions the partners formed to survive them at that time. The second is to openly and honestly share those findings with a partner who will reverently listen and remember.
Task Number One: Finding Your Own Demons
Make a list of the people who caused you the most trauma when you were a child. Try to recall each scenario, what that person meant to you, what happened between you, and how old you were when you experienced the trauma. Search for the most accurately descriptive words that could help your partner visualize and feel the experience as you experienced it.
Here are some examples:
Physical posture: Looming, aggressive, dangerous, threatening, bullying, or intimidating.
Attitude: Contemptuous, spiteful, snarky, snide, irreverent, sarcastic, or scornful.
Facial Expression: Angry, frustrated, disbelieving, disgusted, suspicious, or disappointment.
Proximity: Invading your personal space as from a distance, coming back and forth, or cornering.
Touch: Rough, controlling, entrapping, painful, or blocking.
Voice Intonation: Whiny, deep-throated, screaming, yelling, menacing, or seductive.
Rhythm: Fast-paced, intense, slow and quiet, or alternating between barrage and periods of silence.
Task Number Two: Sharing What You’ve Learned with Your Partner
When you have created these compelling visuals, share with your partner what you have recalled, including the words or phrases that accompanied those behaviors. It is crucial that you are as clear as you can be and include as much detail as you can. Your partner’s job is to memorize those traumatic situations along with the power they have to trigger you back into those painful experiences.
Here is an example of just one scenario:
“I was five years old. My great uncle came to visit. He was a large and impatient man who seemed to growl when he spoke. My parents left him with me one afternoon. He became angry when I wouldn’t take a nap and started yelling at me. I was on the floor and I thought he was a giant. He seemed disgusted and I thought he was going to kill me. He grabbed me by my arm and forced me onto my bed and told me not to cry or get up or he would “give me something to cry about.” I was shaking. He kept walking out and then walking back in making sure I hadn’t moved, reminding me that he could do whatever he wanted to keep me there. He also told me that if I told my parents, he would tell them it was my fault and that I was exaggerating. I never shared what happened with my parents.”
The woman who is describing this scenario, as an adult, is immediately cowed when her partner stands above her when he is mad, grabs her arm in any way to control her physical movement during a conflict, gets immediately disgusted when she doesn’t do what he wants her to, threatens to invalidate anything negative she might say to others about him, or repeatedly leaves the room and comes back to begin the argument again.
When you and your partner care enough about each other to honor these potential trigger experiences as sacred, you will build the kind of trust between you that creates true intimacy and establish an unbreakable bond that very few partners ever achieve.
You can then learn to process future conflicts without risking the chance of re-harming each other in those crucially vulnerable ways. This interconnection can allow you to establish new responses when your partner is potentially in jeopardy and to respond in a healing way. That new scenario can not only create a corrective emotional experience for the traumatized partner but can significantly increase trust in future interactions.  
When those positive interactions become secondary and automatic reciprocal responses, intimate partners often magically cease to rehash previous meaningless and unresolvable disputes that were once driven by the triggers of past trauma. Their new conflicts, devoid of those painful symbolic interactions, will now have the capability of successful resolution.