I’ve gotten quite a few questions over the past couple of weeks and I’ve tried to answer some of them individually, but I’m going to answer some of the questions generally and hopefully help as many people as possible.
I get this question in similar format all the time. Many times, the person asking the question has been in a relationship for quite some time. They believe things are alright and suddenly their partner leaves or kicks them out.
I understand this can be devastating, especially if you didn't think things were THAT bad. Now usually the person writing the question wants to know how they can get their partner back.
Sometimes the person writing the question can look back and realize this partner had never been who they needed in their life. They may even feel their partner really wasn’t capable of the depth of relationship they wanted. But sometimes, they still want them back.
I'm sorry to disappoint, but I've never said I can make someone come back to a relationship! I’ve never been able to force another person to do anything. The only control any of us have is over ourselves. So, if your partner is done with the relationship, I can't tell you how to force them back. If you think there’s still hope and there’s some communication with your partner, there might be room for something to change.
The first thing I advise if you’re in the wanting them back camp: Ask yourself, do I really? Do I really want them back? People will say their partner was emotionally abusive, cheating, lying, emotionally distanced, etc. …..WHAT is it you want to continue?
Why do you want this to continue? Are you afraid of failure? Do you still have some love in your heart for this person? At some point, you have to accept that your partner isn’t going to be what or who you want them to be and that’s ok. Most of our angst in the world is because we want something to be different than it is. There've been times in my relationship when I thought I couldn’t take how it was. I felt miserable, unseen and unheard.
What kept me here? When I rationally looked at my relationship, it wasn’t that my husband was mean or intentionally neglectful, I just wasn’t happy about what I was getting. I decided to more clearly communicate those things and guess what, things got better. If you’re anything like me, the tiniest bit of effort keeps me engaged. So, it was enough for it to make sense for me to stay. And I’m glad I did.
Now if he'd been a liar or cruel, etc....I’d probably have made a different decision.
We all have to decide these things for ourselves, but it’s really more about YOU. If you’re being treated disrespectfully, why do you subject yourself to this?
Likewise, if your partner has left you, have you treated them disrespectfully? Did they get to the point, they could not tolerate it? I’m not saying this is the case and I’m not trying to kick you when you’re down, but if a relationship has failed, it’s part of our self-growth to learn what we can from it.
So more rarely, someone reports their relationship ended, they thought they were both totally committed and suddenly, their partner ended it. Most of the time, there were signs if you look back.
If your partner brings up reasons for their ending the relationship, you have to honest with yourself. Did they bring these issues up with you? Did you not take them seriously? Did you not realize how important it was to them? Maybe you can take some responsibility for that.
I believe it’s all our responsibility though to communicate our wants/needs/desires to our partners in the best way we can and to make sure they understand how important these things are to us. The kicker to this is: Your partner has the right to respond or not to these requests. You cannot force your partner to do what you want them to or to not do what you don’t want them to do.
Now you would hope your partner wants to contribute to your happiness (at least I do!) so they would be willing to change things within reason.
Recently, I was walking around the house in my slippers. They were floppy slippers and when I walked around the house in them, they made a fwap, fwap, fwap noise on the floor. My husband said, "Those slippers are driving me crazy. Would you please get rid of them?" I said, "Of course." I threw them away and went to Wal Mart for a new and different pair. It was one small way that I could meet a need. Now that wasn't earth shattering, but how many times has your partner made a request and you resisted just to "fight for your right"? I could have told him, "No, get over it. You don't like them that's your problem. I want to keep my slippers." And I can tell you, at some time in my life, I might have reacted that way. His happiness was worth more than my slippers.
Now if he had asked me to throw out my yoga pants, it probably would have been a different story!
Your responsibility in the situation is to decide for yourself if you can live with it. As an example, if I had a partner who spent money irresponsibly, I would ask him to get it under control. I’d try to get his buy in to a budget, cut up credit cards, whatever I thought might help.
If he refused, I’d have to determine how important it was to me. If he’s going to continue to spend recklessly, it could very negatively impact me. Now if that’s not so bad to me, I might just continue to be annoyed at his behavior and move one. If that’s unacceptable to me, I have some decisions to make.
Can I separate my financial wellbeing from his? I need to find out if I’m liable for his overspending. If so, I might take measures to protect myself. I might even have to leave the relationship.
You see all those responses are up to me. I don’t have to make him change to protect myself. My responsibility is to clearly articulate what I want/need or desire and how important it is to me. It’s up to him to change if he sees fit.
I know that can be hard to accept just allowing them to continue to do behavior you consider harmful. The truth is though we’re all people of free will and we are not truly capable of changing another person.
Usually when you get to this stage of giving ultimatums, there’s a fair amount of pain and anger involved. When we’re in those painful emotional places, it drives us to act in desperate manners. We may be making our requests by screaming, crying and berating. This behavior on our parts does not improve our communication. It actually makes it harder for our partner to listen to our actual concerns. When we let our negative emotions drive our actions, we actually get more of what we don’t want. So, pulling back on our instinctual reactions can help us be more understood.
I understand how difficult this is and at times, relationships are too far entrenched in this negative behavior cycle and it’s impossible to get it out. In those cases, a relationship may end.
Another situation that occurs pretty frequently is a partner is having an affair and believes they are in love with the affair partner. There is a biological basis for this so those feelings may be real. I’ve talked about that a lot so I’m not going into it here.
Affairs are secretive by nature, forbidden fruit so to speak. They may see in the affair partner things they don’t see in you or things they used to see in you. The problem with this is, bringing an affair into the light, shows some of the flaws as well. It’s entirely possible the affair will be over as soon as this happens. You staying present and open to that possibility could save your relationship in the end.
The more you show yourself to be clingy/a bitch/nagging/controlling whatever description they have of you, the more you reinforce their skewed view of reality. If you really want your relationship to survive this, you must keep the walls down.
It’s perfectly acceptable for you not to remain open to continue the relationship as well. No one would blame you, it’s easy to leave, it’s much more difficult to stay and stick with the feelings that are going to come up. If you’re trying to rebuild after an affair, it really does pay to get professional help.
It is always your responsibility to communicate what you don’t like (and what you do like) clearly and if it’s a deal breaker, communicate that too!
Any situations you don’t like, you have a responsibility in them. You can accept or not accept the situation and probably a whole slew of other options as well. We very well may not like the options, but that’s trying to make reality different than it is isn’t it?
So, in summary,
1. Stop trying to control partner
2. Take responsibility for your part in the situation
3. Decide if it’s worth it, or are you wanting it to be different than it is?
4. Don’t let your feelings run the show.
If you need some help in improving your communication, check out my new course here.
As always, hope this helps and let me know how it’s going!
A-You have to decide to.
In every situation there is something you appreciate or be grateful for. For instance, if it's raining, you can be mesmerized by the drops hitting the puddles or be grateful that the plants will have what they need to grow.
Stress hijacks our attention and focuses us on survival. But most situations really aren't that important and we have to recognize that we don't have to allow our thoughts to run away from us, we can control them with some practice.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy tells us events and feelings are separate entities. Our thoughts about events are what lead to our feelings about it.
For example, it’s raining. I think, “This sucks! There go my plans for today!” Then I end up feeling disappointed and bad.
I can choose to think different thoughts that lead to different feelings. For example, I can think, “This sucks, and I’m disappointed, but maybe I can find something interesting to do inside today. Yeah, I got that new puzzle! I’m going to work on that today!” I’ve got a whole new feeling coming out of the same situation just by altering my thoughts.
This can take some practice, but I’ve written lots of other articles addressing how our thoughts, feelings and behaviors impact each other. If you feel that you’re just depressed and can’t succeed in changing your thoughts, find a therapist that practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Best of luck,
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Q-I think of myself as an optimist, but my wife seems to be a pessimist. I love my wife, but it feels like she is always complaining about something, and it’s starting to bother me. In a way, I think she is trying to express her feelings. I want to support her, but I’m not sure how.
A-You’re right, she’s trying to express herself. John Gottman says a complaint is an unmet desire expressed.
That being said, complaining is a habitual behavior most of the time. Try having a compassionate, supportive conversation with her about how it bothers you. It probably bothers you because you want to help correct whatever’s going on. Don’t start off telling her how wrong she is to communicate in that way. Try to make her feel understood and she won’t be defensive.
She may also have realized this is a problem and be open to changing this about herself. If she isn’t, don’t waste your time coercing her. Don’t respond to the complaining behavior, but fully engage when she’s being positive.
I, too, sometimes complain, and my husband just abruptly changes the subject! I’ll be going on about something and he’ll say, “Man, look how pretty the sky is today!” It’s kind of a joke between us now and we’ll just both laugh.
I assume from your question that she is not complaining about YOU specifically. If she is, there’s an opportunity for you to decide if there’s something you need to work on. If not, approach this as a team in trying to reduce a bad habit.
f she is depressed, seek professional help.
Best of luck, hope this helps!