Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why do Guys Try to Change Women’s Viewpoint?


Women hate it when guys try to change their viewpoint. Yet all guys seem to try this, even after it has ignited anger in the woman. Woman see this effort as discounting their view leaving them feeling  devalued, particularly when she is telling her partner why she feels hurt, sad or in some way sharing her pain.

So why do guys persist in doing something that is aggravating at best and often hurtful? Well they don’t do it to aggravate their partner, that’s for sure. Men desire a happy partner, particularly happy with them. Yet, if they want a happy partner why don’t they contribute to their partner’s happiness by simply listening and making supportive comments?

Here are three reasons. The most important thing to keep in mind is that men actually believe they are being helpful when they try to alter their partner’s point of view. Second, men are uncomfortable being exposed to pain and try to find a way to make the pain go away rather than sitting with the pain. Third, men really dislike being around pain that they have caused, so they really want to make this pain go away quickly.

So from a man’s point of view, pain that is shared is unfavorable. If a woman shares her pain with another woman, then this suggests to the other woman that she has been selected to be a close friend, not so with a man. He is searching the pain for the cause so that he can make it go away, particularly if he senses that he has contributed in any way to the pain.

Women must help men to understand their need for him to simply “sit beside her pain”, not to try to make the pain go away. Women have the strength to manage their pain but men think they must make it go away. A woman’s effort to share her pain is her way of coping with the pain.

It helps to give words to your pain. It helps you feel connected and secure to be able to share your pain. But men simply don’t know. Even when you tell them, they will have difficulty believing it because men fail to give words to their pain, which is probably one reason men are more likely to use drugs and alcohol to kill pain.

When you are hurting, tell your partner explicitly you need him to just listen (in a vulnerable tone of voice!). When he has done so, then tell him you want a hug. After this, tell him how helpful it is to you to be able to share your pain. If he is a source of the pain, then follow the same directions but you must avoid speaking in an aggressive tone of voice because this will trigger your partner to look for a way to make the anger to go away instead of simply sitting with your pain in a loving, caring manner.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

What He Wants More Than Sex

meeting place

Women make the mistake of thinking men only want sex or that men want what women want. Men have different desires than women but do not just want sex.

It’s difficult to ask a man what he wants. Men are very good at telling their partner what they do not want (typically the absence of tension and conflict), but not so good at asking for what they want.

Part of the problem is that men are concrete and have difficulty describing more abstract aspects of the relationship, but they know what they like when they are experiencing it. Men also have difficulty giving voice to their desires when they are aware of what they want, it’s similar to their discomfort with asking for directions.

The fact is that men are looking for a friend, a best friend. Now you must understand that a man does not measure friendship the same as you would with a girlfriend. Guys are drawn to sharing activities while women connect through sharing verbally. I understand that men must learn to connect verbally, but women must also understand the power of their shared activities with their partner.

If sharing activities has you thinking of taking vacations, going to sporting events, or even going out to a fancy restaurant, you may be missing the mark. I find that most men want companionship in fairly simple settings like watching TV, competing in a game, or drinking a beer. The problem is that women often jump on these simple settings to discuss relationship issues which is not what their partner wants. Men want to keep it simple, perhaps having little conversation.

In a previous blog, Distant Men, Frustrated Women I discussed how to approach a man for emotional connection, but there are other times when you want to focus on simply being together and letting your partner know that this contact is important to you.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rational Versus Irrational Jealousy


Is jealousy ever irrational? My sense is that most jealousy is a signal about your relationship with your partner. Granted there may not be a specific person that is endangering your connection, but your tension is an alarm signaling growing emotional and physical distance.

Even when you have solid reasons to be concerned about your partner’s relationship with another person, you can appear irrational by how you express your pain. Whether you are responding to an inner discomfort or you have observed inappropriate behaviors, you must choose how to express your pain.

Pain does not entitle you to lash out toward your partner. It is common to choose anger because you feel stronger, but lashing out will surely trigger a fight or flight response when you need understanding and comfort.

Jealousy typically triggers one to talk about your partner rather than yourself.

“You were flirting with that waitress.”

“Why did she text that message to you?”

“Do you have to go to lunch with him?”

When you talk about your partner, this also triggers a defensive response. The only way to avoid your partner becoming defensive is to describe your pain that has been triggered by your partner’s behavior.

“I feel pushed aside when you give attention to the waitress instead of to me. I want this to feel like a date and you are courting my attention.”

“I feel afraid when I read your texts that seem too familiar. I want to feel protected from other women who are seeking your attention.”

“I’m conflicted. I don’t want to interfere with your career but I am uncomfortable with your coworker always inviting you to lunch to discuss business.”

I hope that you won’t overanalyze these examples because my choice of words are not what’s important. Just note that in each case the difference is talking about the partner versus challenging the significant other to respond to pain.

Now I understand that your may still discount your feelings and become defensive, even if you share your pain. By taking the second route and by talking in a vulnerable tone of voice you are more likely to encourage your partner to protect your heart.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Five Ways to Get What You Want in Your Relationship: Act Like a Professional Negotiator


I was reading the Big Think blog post on How to Negotiate Like a Pro and recognized how the same five elements needed in a business negotiation also apply to negotiating what you want from your relationship.

  1. Appreciation. Do you and your partner express appreciation for each other? OK you know that in some ways you are a pain to live with, but you want your partner to see the value you offer despite your limitations. Perhaps you know what your partner contributes to your life, but do you let your partner know of his or her value to you?
  2. Autonomy. Do you try to impose your will on your partner or recognize that your partner must choose to offer you what you want? Early in the relationship you gave and received abundantly, but as the relationship went on you found that you received less. How did you interpret this? It is important to let your partner know what you want, but to ask your partner to care about your needs and wants. The tendency is to tell your partner what to do rather than what you want. We resist when we are told what to do.
  3. Affiliation. It is important to maintain a focus on the emotional connection in your relationship. Are you making an effort to maintain a warm, caring relationship or has the relationship become cold? If you feel that you are just performing tasks with a roommate, then you have lost affiliation. Rather than asking for what you want, start a conversation about the lack of warmth you feel in the relationship.
  4. Status. Do you and your partner share the ability to define your relationship? As you look at your relationship, does it reflect each of your desires or has one partner successfully negotiated for the relationship he or she desires over the wishes of the other? If so, this “win” will end up being a loss of intimacy in the relationship.
  5. Role. Are you willing to examine your approach to negotiating? Do you the pursue change? Do you sulk to make an impression on your partner? Do you act as though you have little investment in the relationship? Successful negotiations require flexibility. If what you are doing is not working find a different approach. Perhaps you need to consult with a marriage counselor to improve your ability to get what you want from your relationship.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

“I Deserve Better”: Managing Expectation in Marriage

You enter marriage with certain expectations. To be fair, these expectations were largely met when you were dating. When your expectations were not met, it seemed you only had to mention this for your partner to respond by telling you that he or she wanted to meet your expectations.

So what happened?

Now you feel deprived of the same treatment you received in the past. It is as though your relationship has become an elaborate bait and switch. Your expectations were set up only be disappointed after marriage. Aren't you entitled to expect the same treatment after marriage that your partner offered when you were dating?

When your expectations are not met, you approach your partner with your concerns but now your concerns are ignored. Now you’re feeling angry; you are only asking for what is right, the same as you once received without even having to ask! You feel you deserve better!

When you approach your partner with expectations based on being entitled, you are telling your partner that he or she should be doing something. Your partner’s reaction is likely to be resistance, either actively saying no or passively putting you off.

Either way, you will not get what you want by telling your partner that he or she is obliged to deliver what you want.

Read my post on Negotiating a Relationship and discover a more effective means for attracting change in your relationship.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Giver, Taker or Matcher

Couple power struggle
Who is getting the best deal in your relationship? Do you tend to give more than your partner? Do you allow your partner to give more, but you assume this is alright with your partner? Or, do you believe that while you give in different ways, you each demonstrate caring behaviors equally (OK roughly equally – it feels equal but you really have no need to tally up the score)?

Givers offer more emotional, physical and/or sexual connection than their partner. They take the lead in pursuing connection. Often they justify giving more as a sign that they love their partner and that giving is a path to attracting their partner’s love. Others believe that they have a nurturing personality; it’s just the way they are.

Takers are needy and require much emotional, physical and/or sexual reassurance of their partner’s love. Or a taker can simply approach relationships in a shallow manner and not consider their partner’s needs unless their partner shares his or her needs.

Matchers are sensitive to power struggles and are careful to give and take in proportion, but they are constantly auditing the relationship to make sure that it is even. Or matchers can be drawn to caring because they feel cared for.

The healthiest relationships give and take in proportion, but they share warmly, not through a cold assessment of what is shared.

Ask yourself, who is getting the best deal in my relationship? Do I feel nurtured or am I the one doing the bulk of the nurturing? What would I like to receive from my partner and how can I attract my partner to give me what I want?

Often an easy answer to this last question is to simply share your desires in a vulnerable tone of voice which challenges your partner to actively care for you.

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Partner is Considering Divorce and This Frightens Me

FearHearing your partner question his or her commitment to your relationship can be overwhelmingly frightening.  When  frightened your animal instincts take over.  You can lash out in anger, want to run away, but ultimately your instinct is to reach out desperately for your partner’s commitment.

Fear can lead you to push for your partner's commitment in order to remove your fear.  This leads you to try to become a salesperson trying to sell your partner on the relationship. The sales pitch can include all the benefits of remaining in the relationship and if that fails, you heap guilt on your partner for even considering abandoning his/her commitment to the relationship.

Your partner responds to this coldly much as you would when a salesman tries to close the sale before you are ready to make a choice.  Your partner doesn't need a sales pitch which ultimately says what you want, instead he/she needs encouragement to make a good decision.

The decision looms large in each of your lives. It deserves to be given even greater consideration than you would in buying a car, yet many allow emotions to rush the decision simply to reduce the pain of indecision.

If you or your partner are struggling with a decision to continue or end your marriage/relationship, practice the following four characteristics of good decision making:

Principle 1: Good decisions take time.  Fear is painful.  It is natural to want to end the pain as soon as possible.  The temptation is to set deadline, yet we most regret decisions made too quickly or two emotionally.

Principle 2: Good decisions consider all the options.  Politicians are adept at presenting issues as two-sided.  Most issues have many sides that must be considered.  Pressing your partner to see his or her decision as one in which there is a right or wrong answer hinders good decision making.  Good decisions come from contemplation of which requires both partners to be patient - a commodity in short supply in our culture.

Principle 3: Good decisions are made independently.  Pressing your partner for a decision can lead to your partner holding you responsible for his or her decision.  Regardless of what your partner decides, you want him or her to accept responsibility for the decision.  You do not want your partner to make a halfhearted decision to recommit.

Principle 4: Good decisions weigh all of the potential costs and benefits.  Weighing costs and benefits requires the use of reason. Emotions can be the enemy of reason.  Your partner needs more of a listening ear than someone telling him or her what decision to make.

Principle 5: Decisions improve when the emotion is drained out of the process.  Feelings can pull your partner toward you, but these feelings must arise from within. Efforts to sell your partner on love diminishes you and creates further distance in the relationship.

To explore this issue further you can read this free ebook on managing a marital crisis and you can read chapter four in my book Crumbling Commitment: Managing a Marital Crisis.  There is a link on my website for information about purchasing this ebook.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Making the Most of Couples Therapy


Most couples do not prepare for meeting with me. Probably because they do not know what to expect. If they do prepare, they tend to consider what their complaints are about the relationship. This is fine, but here are some other things to consider before meeting with your therapist.

Think about what makes your relationship good.  If you are married, think about what you like about being married.  If you are in a committed relationship but unmarried, think about what you like about being in this relationship.

Now think about your goals for therapy.  If therapy is successful, what would you want your relationship to look like?  Perhaps you can recall a time when you felt more connected to your partner.  Perhaps you can imagine a better connection with your partner.  Imagine what that connection would look like.  How would your emotional, physical and sexual relationship be different?

Now consider how you could contribute to the relationship you desire.  What small steps could you take to encourage this change?  Next, think about what you desire from your partner.  How could you encourage your partner to change?  What would attract this motivation to change?

Now consider the barriers within you which would prevent change.  Have you allowed resentment to build?  Are you uncertain in your desire for a connection with your partner?  Are you simply afraid to risk reaching out to your partner for fear that he or she will not reciprocate?

Couples therapy works best when couples are able to reassure each other of their commitment to doing their part to improve their relationship.  How can you communicate this to your partner?  How can you express your desire for your partner's help?  It is important to express this desire for help in a vulnerable tone of voice.

By thinking through these questions, you will be prepared to begin rebuilding your relationship rather than simply distributing blame for your disconnection.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Marriage/Couples Counseling–The First Session

I’m often asked what to expect in the first session I have with a couple. While this is a time for me to understand each partner’s view of their difficulties, I also want to find out if each is committed (here is a link to what I mean by commitment) to their relationship. 

Couples typically share their pain and disappointment with how their relationship changed from mutual attraction and caring to coldness and detachment. Often they will offer examples of how ugly the relationship can be. It’s difficult to hear these stories which demonstrate how harmful conflict can be.

I can control the session from becoming a mutual blaming contest by having each partner offer their view of the relationship. I have each say what they experienced rather than what their partner did to them. I help couples to understand that they are describing symptoms of a flawed relationship not flawed partners. 

Emotional distance is normal when you are hurt or disappointed, yet for your relationship to survive, you must believe you can recover the connection you once enjoyed. One goal of the initial interview is to plant a seed of hope that relationships can improve.

I also use the first session to educate couples about how healthy relationships work. Everyone missed that course in school!  Couples’ suggestions for how their relationship could improve typically involve suggestions for their partner, which are countered by their partner’s suggestions for them.

Instead of allowing the blame game to proceed, I help couples to see how they once attracted their partner, but have created distance through conflict. When they first fell in love, each partner made a great effort to assure their lover that it was safe to care because he or she could be sure that caring would be returned.

Now conflict has created a relationship that does not feel safe. The goal must be to regain the safety you once knew. This begins by interacting differently.

I will may have couples practice talking to each other in a way that invites caring rather than each arguing for their point of view. This means speaking to each other in a vulnerable tone of voice while sending the message of what he or she needs from the relationship. It is very difficult to express a vulnerable message in the first session but can completely change the tone of the relationship.

I will end the session with a challenge. I ask couples to spend the rest of the week communicating their willingness to contribute to an improved relationship. I suggest they find small ways to communicate a willingness to change, even if their partner does not observe this change. This keeps the focus on each taking personal responsibility for the relationship rather than sitting back and waiting for their partner to change.

I hope this offers you a glimpse for what an initial session with me can be. Each session can vary from couple to couple, but in every case I want to focus on how the relationship can improve through an improved connection that requires a mutual commitment to change.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine’s Day Is About Love, the Rest of the Year Is About Caring


Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to express your love for your partner. When you say “I’m in love” you are describing how you feel, but not what you do with that feeling.

Giving cards, chocolates and flowers express that you feel love and that is what this day is about. However, your relationship needs more. Connection is maintained throughout the year through knowing that your partner cares.

Caring is more difficult than feeling love. We don’t think of being in love as work; it’s more like sliding downhill. Caring is work, much more like climbing up that proverbial hill.

Caring behaviors are often those behaviors you would not normally want to perform but do because you want to be close to your partner. When you are first falling in love, spending time together is effortless. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, you just enjoy time together.

As you become a committed couple, how you spend time together and how much time you spend together becomes something that is negotiated. Activities now require more of a sacrifice and effort. This is natural. You now are being challenged to be caring…instead of falling (in love) you’re climbing.

Love is feeling based, whereas caring is action based. Love is not a substitute for caring. But caring will produce love. Challenge yourself to consider how you can be a more caring partner and how you want your partner to express caring for you. Then practice this daily till next Valentine’s Day. Your love will have deepened and that loving card will have more meaning!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Time For Rage Toward Your Partner?


I’m a fan of Harriet Lerner’s books and her blog, The Dance Of Connection. Recently, she blogged that there are rare times when anger can be useful. She reasons that “a raw expression of hurt and rage, will break through the other person’s defenses and get through” (to your partner). Admittedly, she suggests this is a rare exception to the general rule that anger is not a useful expression in an intimate relationship.

Still, I have a problem with her reasoning. Couples must make every effort to not excite that part of the brain that we share with the animal kingdom. This primitive brain only knows self-protection through fight or flight and knows nothing of relationship. Someone fighting or fleeing is not connecting with another person.

When you’re hurt you feel diminished and want to stand strong and say, “I will not allow you to hurt me.”  It feels strong to lash out in anger; your adrenaline is pumping into your bloodstream and you’re prepared to make a stand – “I’m not going to accept this.”

Coaches try to motivate players’ anger so they will enter the game ready to “fight.” But these players do not have to be concerned about maintaining intimacy with their opponents. Couples must learn to handle pain in a way that also preserves the connection.

A much stronger response that preserves connection is to share your pain in a vulnerable tone. Express your pain and expect your partner to respond in a soothing manner. If this doesn’t happen, then back away from your partner by becoming emotionally, physically and/or sexually distant (typically you will withdraw by degrees, but sometimes all at once).

When your partner is deprived of the connection, then he or she will be in a position to pursue you to restore the “goodies” that come with connection. Now you have the leverage to ask your partner to address your pain and to reassure you that the relationship is safe from further pain – at least that type of pain.

It is certainly easier to simply go off on your partner in a fit of rage, the question is whether it will be helpful. Reach higher (in the brain) and seek a path that maintains connection.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Effects of Divorce on Men


The tendency is to think about the effects of divorce on children, but it may be as important to consider the effects of divorce on men and women, particularly men. The image of the divorced man is one of the carefree, self-centered individual set loose in a world of fun and frivolity.

The reality of life for the divorced man appears to be quite different. The suicide rate for divorced men is four times as high as married counterparts. They are ten times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric help. They are twice as likely to die prematurely due to cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke.

Does this appear happy and healthy to you? I think not, yet men are often more resistant to doing the work necessary to maintain their marriage (not that women are workhorses in this area either). I think there are many reasons for this; here are a few:

Men lack confidence in relationships. Women begin practicing relationship skills when their brains develop the ability to assume another’s point of view, say in her preteens. At that age boys practice sports and videogames. So when guys start trying to connect with girls in their teens they mostly feel incompetent and the girls often let them know they are right. Men lack confidence in their ability to offer the woman an emotional connection, so they focus on wanting to please or avoid criticism, much like a child to a parent.

Men avoid being vulnerable. The best way for a man to connect with a woman is by sharing vulnerable feelings, yet boys are taught that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. If their fathers didn’t teach this lesson, then other boys in school made it clear that the vulnerable boy is the one who will get his ass kicked, much like the animal world devouring the weak.

Men think in terms of avoiding shame, not connecting with their partner. Women complain, cry and criticize in order for their partner to recognize the tear in the fabric of the relationship…they feel a disconnect and are trying desperately to express the pain of this disconnect. The man only hears that he has fallen short in her eyes, that once again he does not measure up to her expectations. This leads to withdrawal or a counterattack – can you say downward spiral in connection?

Men avoid pain, particularly women’s pain that they have caused. Men are uncomfortable around pain. Children sense this and run to women with their pain. Men even deny their own pain when around other men (but can be babies with a woman).

But men are most uncomfortable when they must sit beside their partner’s pain when they have caused the pain. Women want to be reassured that her partner understands her pain and is willing to be soothing, while men back away from the pain by trying to superficially fix it or by minimizing her feelings…a leading reason women want to exterminate men from the earth.

Women must understand that it takes much more courage for the man to deal with relationship issues than she believes. She must understand that her experiences with other family and friends who are female are not a standard to be applied to her partner. Women must make as much effort to understand men as they want their partner to understand them.

Men must recognize that relationship failure is the norm. It is ok to fall short but those failures must be addressed, including the painful feelings. Men must have the courage to develop skills to connect to their partner. When it comes to relationships, men have to learn to ask for directions. I spend much time coaching couples to practice skills of connection because I know the reward is a healthier life that not only can prevent deep unhappiness, but may keep you out of the grave.