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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.











Friday, February 16, 2018

Seven Ways Texting Defines Your Relationship

Texting has become the most prominent form of instant communication. Because intimate partners are likely to save these messages, they form a valuable archived, written history of a relationship’s “story.”

This ongoing “relationship novel” provides a unique opportunity for them to evaluate how texting may be helping or hindering the way they communicate. It can also help them to see if their texting synchronizes with their face-to-face relationship.
Most of my couples haven’t realized the opportunities that their text archives offer to teach them about how well they are actually communicating with each other.  Using the following criteria, they can not only evaluate their relationship vis a vis the things they have texted in the past but better understand how they use that data to improve their relationship connections in the future.  
If you have a partner, read the seven criteria in each other’s presence. If you are currently single, you can still get a better idea of how your text messaging style has helped or hindered your past relationships and how you can use that data in the future.
Criteria Number One: Do Men and Women Read Texts Differently?
Most of my patients believe that females are “wordier” than males. The actual data shows that whichever gender is the most talkative actually depends on the subject being shared. Most often, women do use more words when talking about relationships, and men when talking about business, battle, or sports.
They also unanimously tell me that men like to hear the bottom line first and work up to the back-story details only if they need them, and that women like to “set the stage” before coming to the conclusion. If that is indeed true, then women are likely to experience many men as too laconic and direct, and that men are more likely to hear or read only the first part of a long message.
Though those assumptions have understandable exceptions, most of the literally hundreds of patients I’ve explored these thoughts with over my forty plus years career, do agree on them. So, do your text messages bear that out as well?
Go back over as many text messages as you need to evaluate this. Count the amount of lines you or your partner use on average to send a text and how those figures change depending on the subject discussed. Ignore those that are simply logistics, like where you’re going to meet or what you might need picked up for dinner. Just pay attention to those that are important emotional interchanges.
If you are a more typical male in a traditional male/female relationship, ask yourself how much of a long, emotional text message you actually read from your female partner before you respond, and if your responses are typically shorter than the message you receive. If you are a more typical female in a traditional male/female duo, do you take time at the beginning of your emotionally expressive text to create at back-story before you get to the point?
The point here is not to judge, but to compare and contrast, just for information and understanding.
Criteria Number Two: Response Time
When either partner in an intimate relationship sends out an emotional message, he or she may have a different expectation of how soon the other partner should respond. I’ve witnessed many painful altercations between partners when their expectation of response time is different.
Again, this has a lot to do with the subject matter. Typically, again in a traditional male/female partnership, men are more often loathe to respond to an angry, complaining, or demanding text than women are and, as a result, will put off a response in hopes that partner will “calm down,” before the altercation is necessary. Their female partners may misunderstand that lag time as indifference or a lack of priority. Alternately, many men have told me that they are totally frustrated when their partners do not respond to logistical requests within a reasonable period of time.
When couples have clear understandings of when and where they are more likely to be available, timing of the response becomes less important. Sometimes, arguments over response time may actually be the tip of icebergs that reflect a deeper frustration about availability in other areas of the relationship.
Ask yourself and your partner how you handle disappointments about expected response time to a text message. Do you frequently argue about how or when those priorities should happen?
Criteria Number Three: Misunderstandings
Accurate, effective, and welcomed communication is one of the core elements in any successful relationship. Because communicating is only ten percent words and ninety percent facial expression, body language, voice intonation, rhythm, and touch, it is totally understandable that misunderstandings have mushroomed when relationship partners rely on words alone rather than face-to-face connections. Even emojis don’t always help because people can misunderstand what that facial expression is meant to convey.
In January of 2016, I posted an article on Psychology Today Internet Blogs entitled “Text Alert – Is Your Intimate Communication Inadequate?” I invite you to read that article for a more expanded view on this subject. You can find it by its title on Google or by visiting my web site and using the icon for Psychology Today.
Criteria Number Four - How Words Alone Can be Easily Misinterpreted
Which words are emphasized in a phrase can significantly change the meaning of that phrase and the absence of voice intonation is the culprit.
Here is an example. Let’s change the emphasis on just one word in the following phrase as it might be interpreted differently by the recipient.
 The texted phrase: “What are you doing?”
 What are you doing?” Emphasis is on the act.
“What are you doing?” Emphasis is heard as challenge.
“What are you doing?” Emphasis is on the person.
“What are you doing?” Emphasis could be asking for justification.
Okay. Now let’s add another complication and change the possible definition of just one word and see how easily it can be misunderstood:
The texted phrase: “I’m so upset,” could mean:
“I’m incredibly agitated.”
“I’m totally psyched out.”
“I’m coming unglued.”
“I’m so worried.”
And those are just four of forty-six meanings for just the word “upset.”
One more to add to the mix. What emotions is the texter feeling when sending the text? If the text conveys an angry or hurt message, it can mean many things. Is that sender emotionally upset, continuing a past conflict, ready to follow with more threats or actions, just venting in the moment, needing nurturing, or truly falling apart?  If the recipient doesn’t know, he or she may feel very differently than the sender as its read.
When people are face-to-face sharing important emotional exchanges, they are much more able to intuit a current experience and put it into its correct context. When messages are not shared in real time, are offered without knowing the availability of the recipient, and often hastily sent, the chances of unwanted outcomes mushroom.
I have known many patients over a long period of time and have watched their vocabularies shrink as they relied more and more on texting and emojis to communicate. They have sacrificed the poetry of clear adjectives and carefully chosen emotional visuals in service of immediacy and convenience. What has been lost are the heart and soul hand-crafted messages designed to expand each other’s awareness of themselves and the other.
Have either of you unintentionally or unconsciously “dumbed down” or abbreviated your communication style by texting in ways that do not communicate the best you can?
Criteria Number Five - When Text Messages are Different from Face-to-Face Interactions
Some people, independent of gender, are better at writing than they are at speaking. Whether they use email, instant messenger, or texting, they can think better when they are not facing their partners, preferring to read what they’ve written before they push that send button.
Others are much better communicating when facing their partners so that they can add their non-verbal communication to their words. They share their thoughts and feelings come across much more effectively when they can see their partner’s responses in real time. They feel that texting is too inadequate to get across what they need to say.
Try reading your text messages of the day out loud to each other when you are together. Compare how your partner heard and reacted to what you said in your texts to what he or she would have if you were in each other’s presence.
Criteria Number Six - Staggered Connections
Because text messages are often sent and received at different times, they can be misinterpreted by that process alone. Unless there is an agreement beforehand, a person texting has no idea what the person on the other end is doing, feeling, or thinking before that text comes in. If that person is rushed, pre-occupied, or upset about something that may be unrelated in any way to the texter, he or she may respond to the text differently than at another time. The time lapse between getting the message and responding can result in a total change in mood or availability which, in turn, changes the causality or intensity of what the recipient expects or needs in the return text.
Do you and your partner ask one another what his or her emotional receptivity is before you begin the body of your text?
Criteria Number Seven - Unconscious Overloading
When intimate partners are in each other’s presence, they are more likely to be aware of nuances that change the way they continue expressing themselves. If texting, those same partners are unable to see the effects of the text message on the other. He or she might keep going, not realizing that the recipient may be overloaded and unable to respond effectively.  
A partner experiencing that overload via text may just skim through the message, respond erratically, or focus on a word or sentence that stands out and fire back a response that is isolated from the rest of the text. The texter may have no idea why the return message is urgent or dramatic.
Look at your texts and evaluate whether or not they might be overloading your partner. Do you allow enough time between texts to make certain you partner is getting what you mean to say by the way he or she responds?
* * * * *
Hopefully, sharing and discussing these seven criteria with each other will help your text messages convey what you want to get across and will be more congruent with how you communicate when you’re in each other’s presence. The closer they are aligned, the less you will end up misunderstanding each other.
Intimate partners choose to communicate through texting because it is such a convenient way to stay connected at any time and in any place. Understanding the above criteria can make sure that texting actually aids and abets quality communication and erases the need for damage control.     


















Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Insecurity - Love's Most Potent Saboteur

Partners in committed relationships rely on each other to keep their love intact. When they face unexpected threats or challenges, they work together to keep each other protected and safe.

If they enter their intimate relationship secure and confident within themselves, they are much better equipped to give that blessing to one another. People who are basically confident and secure in their own separate ability to handle peril do not readily fold when it occurs. Those individual resiliencies blend into a unified stance of greater strength as they navigate these hardships together.
Unfortunately, when one or both partners enter their relationships without their individual security intact, they rely on the relationship, itself, to define their current value. If uncertainty challenges the partnership in any way, their individual insecurities are likely to emerge and take precedence over the crisis that needs to be resolved. That ensuing instability can overwhelm the teamwork that is necessary for optimal resolution.
As insecurity increases in any of us, so do the symptoms that are associated with it expand. Anxiety, paranoia, fears of loss, instability, and increasing needs for reassurance begin to diminish our capacity to think and act effectively. Even if the less insecure partner the relationship tries to do everything right to help the other feel safe, he or she will eventually pull away if not successful.  
If you are a relationship partner who becomes insecure in the face of a relationship challenge, you are not alone. Confidence is a relative experience and even the most self-assured people can be stressed beyond their limits when threatened with loss or abandonment. Still, if you do feel that your sense of worth is too easily shaken when you face uncertainty, there are things you can do about those responses that will strengthen your ability to triumph you’re your fears. 
The first step is to learn what the six most common causes are that make all people more insecure, and to evaluate where you are in those realms. The following descriptions will hopefully start you on the right path. They will help you pinpoint your own reasons for your strong reactions to uncertainty and how you have been expressing them within your relationships.
Once you have identified where your insecurity stems from, the next step is to learn how to lessen the impact of those drivers and to change those responses in the future.
The Six Most Common Causes of Insecurity
1)     Genetics
All people have a built-in alarm system to protect them from harm. Whenever threatened, their bodies produce chemicals that help them to survive by fighting, fleeing, or freezing. When the threat is vanquished and their fears subside, their bodies produce another set of chemicals that put them back at ease.
Some people have a more physical trigger-ready response to threats from birth. Those individuals naturally react more intensely to perceived threats and are more likely to anticipate future ones. They are naturally more likely to become hyper-vigilant and ever-watchful over time as each new threat emerges.
2)     Environmental Stressors
People who have suffered trauma in childhood often have more intense fight or flight reactions when they feel threatened. They may have witnessed important caretakers experiencing tragedies, or have been on the other end of broken promises, physical or emotional threats, or other losses over which they had no control.
If those people had understanding and supportive nurturers during those stressful times and became stronger as a result, they have a better chance to become more resilient when they face future challenges. Alternatively, if they have been abandoned or wounded during those episodes, their confidence and innate sense of security will become more vulnerable in subsequent losses.
3)     Fear of Disappointing
Many people, especially those who have suffered, are terrified to be discounted by those important to them. They have assumed responsibility for lost relationships by feeling that they did not measure up. If losses accumulate, they become even more reticent to express their reactions for fear they will again push the other partner away. That kind of insecurity feeds upon itself, and can reinforce their feelings of being basically unlovable.
4)     Conflict Aversion
Confidence increases when people are able to triumph over adversity. If relationship partners are innately insecure, for whatever reasons, they are less willing to take chances that might give them the opportunity to develop alternative options and more resilience.
Some people, whether from childhood trauma or innate characteristics, are unnerved by disharmony of any kind. They cannot abide by dissents or conflicts, and avoid them whenever possible. They develop heightened accommodation tendencies whenever they face dissonance. They are extremely susceptible to folding in order to maintain security, often giving up who they are to ensure there will be no loss of safety.
5)     Dependency
People who feel that their partners are only with them because they haven’t yet found someone better, often become hyper-vigilant and increase their dependency on their partner’s supportive responses.  Ever-fearful that the relationship will end, they try too hard to please and avoid challenging anything that might lessen their partner’s commitment to the relationship. They tend to narrowly focus on only the behaviors that keep things in order and become totally dependent on those outcomes.
6)     Broken Trusts
Intimate partners who have been abused, abandoned, or betrayed in the past, are going to be naturally warier in subsequent relationships. They inadvertently allow past failures to overly influence their future behaviors, especially if they haven’t learned from them. If they continue to expect a new love to make up for past betrayers, they are certain to recreate the same patterns that haven’t worked in the past. 
Seven Steps to Becoming More Secure
Ultimately your success in relationships will boil down to your getting a handle on your own insecurity, whether it comes from childhood trauma, repeated relationship failures, or a genetic predisposition to worrying and hyper-vigilance. Even if you have a great deal to offer in your capacity to love and to be loved, your fear of loss might keep you from fully expressing those values in any relationship.
There are ways you can change your perception and control of your own insecurity. They may not be instantly easy to master, especially if you have suffered insecurity your whole life, but you will become more able over time to make them part of your new commitment to yourself.
1)     Mattering
Make a list of all the people in your life who you believe in your heart care about you. To whom have you truly mattered? Use as your criteria whether they have loved you, known deeply who you are, and have enjoyed your company.
Ask yourself what each would say about you were they asked, and why they felt that way about you. As you let yourself feel that safety and comfort, listen for any voices in your head or heart that have made you doubt those positive feelings. They represent people in your past who took away your sense of personal value or did not make you feel that you had a right to be loved and appreciated.
2)     Agency
Every person needs to feel that what he or she says or does affects the people who are important to them. Think about relationships where you have felt you’ve made a difference, where the person on the other end of you is truly affected by who you are and what you’ve had to say.
Ask yourself why you have stayed in relationships where you’ve not been effective. Those are your attachments, the things people have a hard time letting go of, even if they have negative consequences. If you afraid that you cannot afford to lose them, you will always be emotionally blackmailable by those who can take them away.
3)     Spiritual Connection
The only way any of us can stay truly secure is to know that we are ultimately accountable to something greater than us that gives us meaning and purpose, independently of relationships with others. That connection does not have to be religious and certainly not obligatory. It is a proven fact that when people regularly meditate, pray, or convene with nature, they feel a sense of responsibility to honor what is most sacred in themselves and the world. That commitment creates awareness and appreciation of what each person needs to do to be the best person he or she can be.
Fall-Back Networks
No intimate relationship can survive and prosper if it is the only meaningful connection a person has in his or her life. Secure people seem to know that innately and maintain many quality relationships they can fall back on if their primary one is in jeopardy. They continuously keep those networks alive and available. Trusted and committed friends, family members, co-workers, spiritual advisers, communities of like-minds, and sacred causes are all places to regenerate that do not depend on only one person in one relationship.
4)     Acknowledgement of One’s Own Marketability
Although it may be a very difficult concept to accept, accurate and honest assessment of our own value is crucial to knowing what we can expect from others. If you are in an intimate relationship with someone you truly believe is “more marketable,” i.e., is worth more on the open market, you will naturally feel more uncertain in that relationship. That “rating” is relative and susceptible to change. You could be on the other end of someone who is, at this moment in time, less valuable.
Perhaps you are choosing to be in your current relationship knowing that you are compromising, but don’t have anyone better at the time. Or, you may be fearful there may not be anyone better out there for you. You are not alone. Value on the open market is a factor that affects everyone. You must believe in your own value, no matter who you are with and be realistic in terms of where that puts you in the current partner-availability process.  
5)     Not Letting the Past Define Your Future
The past is for lessons. The present is for experience. The future is for dreams. Insecurity increases when the past continues to become the future when people have not resolved their past fears or failures. Many people enter new relationships with a pre-defeat, cynical, pessimistic expectation of loss. They then, biased by their predictions, see only what they expect to see and react as they have in the past. They may even continue to choose the same kind of partners because of the familiarity those relationships offer. 
6)     Understand the Difference Between Abandonment and Disappearance
The fear of abandonment is a common driver of insecurity for many people. Everyone wishes they could control fate and fears being alone and unwanted. We are tribal creatures, interdependent on one another for existence and comfort. Most people do not thrive when disconnected from others.
When a romantic partner chooses to leave a relationship, the person left behind often feels forsaken and worthless. Even when people lose someone through the death of a loved one, they still may doubt their own worth, while grieving the sorrow of that loss. Others are left behind by betrayal and are decimated by the unexpected loss. If a partner has focused heavily on only one person, he or she will understandably feel completely unprepared to live life without that other person beside them, even if they have established others who care for them.
* * * * * *
Imagine how you would feel on the other end of someone you deeply care about who is constantly fearful and anxious. You would naturally try as hard as you could to heal those feelings of uncertainty and reassure that special person that everything will be okay.
What if that person’s terror of loss makes them unable to benefit from your genuine and sincere efforts to quell their fears? Or, even worse, what if those feelings get worse even if you’ve done everything you could to help?
No matter how deeply you love, no matter how committed you are to the relationship, no matter how much you want to help, you are human. At some point in time, you will begin to feel helpless and powerless, then insecure in your own ability to make a difference.
Insecurity breeds insecurity. It is truly a formidable saboteur of love’s potential to heal. Whether you are the insecure person in a relationship or the one who is trying to fight that demon, it is imperative that the battle be won.








Friday, January 12, 2018

The Do's and Don'ts of Great Relationships

Most long-term intimate relationships are often challenged by unpredictable events over time. Some are defeated, while others not only make it through, but get stronger from the process. Those partnerships that are most likely to strive are marked by a focus on the blessings of the relationship and a watchful eye on keeping negative interactions at bay.

There is a plethora of published relationship advice to help long-term partners do to stay in love, especially during hard times. Many of my patients come to me in a time of critical decision making. They share how overwhelmed and confused they are, searching for a simple set of workable rules that would be easy for them to practice during, and between, these struggles.
Over the last four decades, I’ve created a simple set of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that not only work beautifully during times of stress but are good guidelines for committed partners to follow every day.
I call them The Ten “Do’s” and “Don’ts” that great relationship partners practice as a crucial part of way they live their lives together. The two sets of behaviors form the bookends that protect intimacy from its most common enemies. Though each could be an elongated article in itself, the essence of each is what’s important to grasp.
The Ten “Do’s”
1)    Attunement
Accurately “tuning” into another person means that you “get” them. When an intimate partner intuitively resonates with his or her partner’s heart, mind, and soul experiences, he or she understands how any thoughts and behaviors will affect them. That knowledge drives what the “attuner” does and says to help the other partner feel truly seen and heard.
2)    Tracking
All people are continuously affected by their past experiences and unconsciously weave them into their present and future behaviors. Successful partners make it a point to remember those thoughts and experiences and act tract them. They mark, note, and weave everything they know about each other and communicate that understanding to each other on a regular basis.
3)    Transparency
Intimate partners share their internal experiences with each other when they feel safe to share them. Successful partners do not hold back any thoughts, feelings, or intended behaviors that might affect the other partner in the present or in the future. Both partners agree that they would rather know their truth no matter what the outcome would be.
4)    Prime Time
I often ask a couple in the first hour of therapy where each feels they currently are at their best in their lives. Much of the time, sadly, they do not respond with “in my committed relationship.” There is a predictable correlation between how long people have been together and the quality and quantity of time, energy, and fresh love they reserve for each other. Great partners make certain their relationship stays a place to rejuvenate rather than simply regenerate.
5)    Traumas
No one escapes traumatic experiences in life, but some people have been more damaged by them than others. Those emotional, intellectual, and bodily experiences result in exceptional vulnerability when they are triggered by current events. People who love each other always keep in mind where those heartbreaks lie, and take pains to protect each other when they emerge.
6)    Communication
There are two crucial aspects to communication. The first is the verbal content that is being shared. The second is the non-verbal way the communicators feel about each other as they are sharing.  Partners who communicate effectively never forget that the way they are feeling during communication is far more important that what they are talking about. 
7)    Mattering
Every human being needs to know that he or she is significantly important to the person he or she loves. They need to feel they are automatically included, welcome to speak their upsets, and t share their concerns. They feel safe in that space, able to be understood and forgiven, even when they falter. Loving partners give one another that sense that how they feel and what they do are important and worthy of recognition and response.
8)    Focusing on the Positives
Every relationship has its assets and liabilities. It is far too easy for many partners to take the positives of the relationship for granted and focus on what is missing or irritating. When intimate partners feel their relationship is being threatened in any way, they consciously focus on what they love about each other and keep their criticisms of what they don’t limited and resolvable.
9) The Gift of Sanity
Whenever one partner speaks his or truth, the other validates and supports that point of view, even if he or she sees it differently. Successful partners do not undermine or invalidate the other’s reality. They are more interested in what may be driving that experience, how that partner feels about it, and what he or she may be wanting when sharing it.
10)Faith in Each Other and in the Relationship
Great relationships partners believe that they are blessed to have one another, and that their relationship is truly special and unique. They know that their faith is based on continued commitment to do whatever they need to keep it that way.
The Twelve “Don’ts”
1)    The Breaking of Confidentiality
As they spend more time together, intimate partners are more likely to share vulnerable and sacred thoughts, feelings, and memories with each other. Those intimate experiences can run the gamut to telling someone about a painful trauma from childhood to feelings of hostility towards a family member. Some of those shared experiences are never meant to leave the sacred emotional environment between the two partners and permission must be given if that is to happen.
2)    Withholding
Partners who treasure honesty, authenticity, and each other’s resilience do not hold back on thoughts or feelings that can unexpectedly explode at some future time with unintended painful consequences.
A routinely-withholding partner may be having thoughts, feelings, or intended behaviors that could eventually hurt the other, without ever giving the other partner the opportunity to vote. That policy will eventually destroy trust.
3)    Hitting Below the Belt
Over time, most partners know enough about the other to know which behaviors they could say or do that could be crucially hurtful to the other. Expressing any of those, especially during an argument, can leave deep scars and erode trust. Successful partners know exactly what they must never bring up, especially during times of animosity or stress.
4)    Loading the Emotional Bases
When either partner feels powerless during a conflict, he or she may try to strengthen the platform by citing other sources. “Everyone agrees with me that….,” “I read in this article that…,” “My whole family thinks that you….,” “Even out therapist agrees with me about…,” are some of the many varieties.
Successful partners make it a point to simply tell one another when they feel cornered or powerless during an argument, hoping for the other to listen and respond supportively. Very rarely is the content of an argument worth the loss of intimacy that a citing of external validation causes.
5)    Blame
Volumes have been written about the negative effect that blame can have on an intimate relationship. One of the most confusing and destructive varieties of blame is when either partner attacks the other for something that he or she is also doing. Whether conscious or unconscious, projecting one’s own faults onto the other is especially destructive.
Another poor blame behavior is blaming the other for not doing what the blamer wants. Gaps between what any partner can or cannot give exists in all relationships. It is neither partner’s fault when either cannot give what the other needs, and blame only makes the situation worse.  
6)    Chronic Nagging
Unsolicited advice is rarely welcome, especially if it is negative. Nagging is the continuous repetition of preaching, instructions, or directions that the other partner has not asked for nor usually wants.
The partner being given constant “cattle-prods” to live his or her life as the nagger wants will eventually rebel, disconnect, or sink into a passive/aggressive reaction.
7)    Broken Promises
When either partner expresses the desire for something important, it is crucial that the other be honest in his or her ability or willingness to grant it.
If one partner believes that the desired behavior will occur, but it never does, he or she may eventually stop asking. The pain of waiting while a promise becomes an excuse, and then no longer believable, will stop that partner from asking in the future.
8)    Character Assassinations
All intimate partners fight at times. They become frustrated with the other’s behaviors, feel disappointed when they can’t get what they want, or are upset by the way their partner is behaving.
Successful partners fight fair. If they don’t, disappointment, disillusionment, and frustration increase with each conflict and attacks become more ruthless.
Character assassinations are heart-breaking examples. The partners angry expressions eventually go from challenges to unwanted behaviors to mean attacks on the core of character, often expressed in wipe-out statements. “You always go for the gut, don’t you?” “Let’s just face it; you’re an a***hole, and always have been one.” “You hate men; why don’t you just admit it?” “You’re a really insensitive lover.”
9)    Exploitation
Caring partners know of each other’s vulnerable personality characteristics and are careful not to take advantage of them.
Some of those characteristics are common. For instance, some people are just natural givers. Others feel immediately guilty if they disappoint their partners in any way. People who have social anxiety can’t handle groups of people or social surprises. Absent-minded people sometimes lose themselves in private thoughts without meaning to exclude others.
People who care for each other accept that these behaviors are part of their partner’s personalities and do not take advantage of them.
10) Boundary Violations
Boundary violations include any physical or emotional behavior towards another that makes the other partner feel uncomfortable or threatened. Many would think this “don’t” would be so obvious as to be unnecessary to mention, but many unsuccessful relationship partners do not remember, or do not care, to respect and honor their partner’s physical or emotional boundaries.
When intimate partners feel on the other end of a boundary violation, they are likely to feel like symbolic “prey” to seeming “hunters.” Their natural responses will be to fight, to flee, or become immobilized. All three of those responses are counter to trust and will eventually destroy intimacy.
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Intimate partners who value and respect each other willingly and continuously embrace these “Do’s” and avoid these “Don’ts.” They know that they cannot achieve absolute perfection in following them nor do they expect to, but they realize how important it is to commit to these behaviors as part of the sacred commitment they have made to each other.           







Friday, December 29, 2017

Relationship Triangles – Conspiracies that Threaten Intimate Partnerships

Healthy, long-lasting relationships have many things in common. One of the most crucial is the couple’s ability to be authentic and open with each other both in thought and deed. Committed couples base their trust on these agreements and are rarely willing to risk damaging the relationship by violating them.

An intimate partner will threaten that sacred agreement if he or she chooses to create an important but separate relationship with another person without the other partner’s knowledge.
Some intimate partners would argue that these undisclosed relationships can actually be good for the primary relationship. Unfortunately, the decision to create these hidden triangles, whether conveniently rationalized or unconsciously chosen, most often backfires.
Secret liaisons, more often than not, offer the conspiratorial partner the comfort and support that he or she may not be currently receiving from the primary partner. The excluded partner is at the disadvantage of not being able to influence the outcome.  
The word, “conspire,” literally is a Latin word that simply means breathing together. Though often used to describe a nefarious tryst, conspiracies are not automatically harmful to an intimate relationship. It is only when they are covertly formed outside of the committed partnership and unknown to the excluded partner that they are highly likely to end up sabotaging that union.
A good way to define these potentially harmful situations is to image them as an actual triangle. One leg of the triangle connects the outwardly-seeking partner to a complicit confidante external to the committed relationship. The second leg emanating from that same partner connects him or her with the primary partner. Because of the lack of a connected base between the outside confidante and the primary partner, the triangle is inherently unstable and likely to eventually disintegrate.  
Some Common Examples of Conspiratorial Triangles
Sexual Infidelities
Most people automatically think of all secret liaisons as sexual infidelities. Because those kinds of betrayals are the reason why many couples come into counseling, I have become intimately familiar with them in my forty-plus years of therapeutic work. Because of that significant exposure, I believe I can offer a more expanded prospective than has been traditionally offered.
To begin with, it is important to note that there is a clear difference between committed partners who regularly indulge in serial infidelity and those who enter into a covert sexual relationship that they would not have considered in the past.
People who have participated regularly in sexual relationships outside of their primary relationships are typically well-practiced in the art of deception. They routinely pick partners with whom they can easily manage simultaneous dual relationships. They want the benefits of a primary relationship but believe that they cannot be sexually satisfied with only one person. Their typical reasoning is that, as long as their partners never become aware of the situation, that it “can’t hurt them.” They are generally very careful to keep their dual lives separate and have ready excuses if caught.
The second type of person who enters a covert sexual relationship outside of his or her primary relationships most often does so in a previously unexpected and atypical situation. These situational infidelities span a very complex and multivariate continuum and are often harder to evaluate.
For example, one end of that continuum might include a committed partner in a relationship with someone who is no longer able to, or willing to, wholly participate in the partnership. Perhaps that person is suffering from a mental illness or more devoted to a career than the relationship. In these types of situations, the primary relationship connection may have already significantly diminished and the partners have not chosen or been able to intervene.
On the opposite end of the same continuum, it is not unusual to find someone who is still totally committed to his or her monogamous relationship, and then unexpectedly falls in love with someone else. He or she may still feel wholly connected to his or her primary partner and deeply morally conflicted, yet unable to end the relationship.
Situational betrayers often do not want their primary partners to feel hurt or betrayed, and rarely want to end that partnership. The secret liaison either eventually dies out on its own without the other partner’s ever discovering that it has happened, or is brought to light with expected upheaval and distress.  
Most people have developed connections with a number of people with whom they have created trusted and emotionally intimate relationships. Some of those confidante liaisons have spanned many years and have a history of the sharing of vulnerable situations, but new confidante relationships can also be compelling and seductive.
When people are having difficulty with their primary relationships, they are most likely to turn to those they have learned to trust from the past. In these outside interactions, they trust the understanding, support, advice, and caring in a different way than they do with their primary partners. Sometimes, they do not want to burden the committed partner during a personal crisis or don’t feel they can get what they need there.
If that confidante is a champion and supporter of the primary relationship, he or she will not say or do anything that might encourage that person to keep the other partner excluded, even if the relationship is conspiratorial.
Unfortunately, that is not always the case. If that external person supports the partner’s reasons to no longer trust the primary partner or is perhaps personally interested in maintaining the exclusivity, he or she will influence the committed partner to pull further away from the established relationship.
 Prior or Potential Lovers
Whether innocent flirtation, unconscious planning, or the intent to keep other options open, those potentially inflammatory relationships are more likely to flare if they have the cloak of secrecy as their protector. Some people are enticed by mischief and the concept of naughtiness, and may not be able to recognize when they are going over the line.
When those third parties have embraced the primary relationship, and are committed to knowing and valuing the new partner, they can possibly stabilize the triangle by their contributions.
Unfortunately, the situation is suspiciously unstable if there are any left-over feelings for the past relationship, even if they are not acted upon. The willingness to accept past lovers as current friends should only occur if agreed upon by both partners.
Family Attachments
Established family members can exert significant influence over their members, even well after they have created new families of their own. In moments of conspiracy, they can sometimes make or break these newer relationships by consistent undermining of one or the other’s the other partner’s value, or even by intentional sabotage.
Sometimes these sabotaging family members do not even attempt to hide their dislike of the partner they would like to disappear. If the person in the middle is in a loyalty conflict between the two participants, he or she may either allow that family member to continue berating the other partner or risk deflating that person. Whichever the decision is, it will send a clear message of who has the most importance.  
A common example would be the competition between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, now legion in the literature. But there are other family members, perhaps competitive or concerned in other ways, who have the need to upend the partnership of their sibling, parent, or other relative.
There are literally thousands of obvious and non-obvious triggers that can influence that partner in every relationship outside of the family of origin. To be able to create a successful, separate relationship, people must be aware of these potentially sabotaging influences, and make intentional choices to not let them harm their primary adult relationship.
Unfortunately, some partners will intentionally or unwittingly use family members to justify their own feelings towards their partners. Those other partner may not even know that may be happening or that those covert relationships may be crucial factors in their partnerships. If they do not know they are influencing outcomes, they are unable to vote for any other.
When they are “using,” addicts most often choose short-term escapes over long-term consequences. Those compulsive choices may take the addict out of temporary distress but costs him or her in the long run. There are only so many resources available to any relationship, and addictive involvements redirect those resources away from the primary relationship.
The relationships that addicts have with their fantasy seducers repeatedly keep that partner separated from the addict’s thoughts, feeling, and behaviors that need to be part of their personal intimacy if the relationship is going to thrive.
All addictions are inherently self-serving and ultimately will be destructive to the primary relationship, even when they are known. They are essentially relationships with intimate pseudo-lovers who promise immediate comfort. When they are hidden, another layer of potential destruction too often emerges.
Some addictive behaviors are in plain sight but still defy the other partner’s influence or control. Drugs and alcohol, over-work, need for constant social connection, excessive working out, or gambling are some common examples.
Most addicts, helplessly caught up in the need to maintain their escape rituals without losing their primary relationship attachments, live in two competing relationships, desperately trying to hold onto both. Those dual commitments vie for the same resources and goals, and are especially difficult to manage when they are unknown to the primary partner.
Withheld Thoughts and Feelings
This last example may be the hardest to describe but it is crucial that it be explored and understood.
Authenticity and courageous openness are core to successful communications. To be productive, both partners must maintain the willingness to listen to any expression without judgment. In quality, long-lasting relationships, both partners readily accept that they may not see things the same, or always want to be or support what the other wants. Those conflicts are part of every relationship, and loving partners do all they can to resolve them fairly.
When either partner cannot be open with their thoughts or feelings for fear of threatening the relationship, they are prone to withhold them and attempt to resolve them within their own minds and hearts. Now the partner who is withholding that internal world from his or her mate, is in danger of creating an unknown internal process that could turn those internal experiences into actual behaviors. The excluded partner is not able to weigh in early enough to influence the outcome. 
Secret thoughts and desires can run the gamut from believing in another religious, social, or political ideology to lusting for another person or considering an alternative way of living. Whether they are temporary fantasies or building in intensity, they remain unknown to the other partner and may turn into decisions that can threaten the primary relationship.
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Relationship triangles that are connected by all three legs are stable. They can often be helpful to the primary partnership when all parties are supportive of them. A partner who chooses to enter personal therapy, as an example, may ultimately be a better mate if the therapist supports the committed relationship.
Many people have trusted and helpful outside relationships with good friends or spiritual confidantes who can help both partners in times of crises. There are other opportunities for people to find solace or support outside the relationship that both partners agree are needed and helpful. Addicts, as an example, derive significant help from groups like AA and Alanon. Those liaisons are often significantly supportive to the committed relationship especially when both partners participate.
Because the deceptions and betrayals required to maintain potentially threatening triangles will ultimately sabotage even the best of intimate relationships, successful intimate partners know they need to remain open about any outside relationships. When they share and face their issues together, their situations can be challenged and corrected before they gain the traction to irrevocably harm the partnership.