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!
When working to make change, it can be helpful to explore the intention in as many different sensory capacities as possible. Writing is one of those activities that requires thought process and then physical action tied to that process. This makes writing an effective method of expanding and reinforcing learning.
Writing is a reminder of the goal. Often there is a situation which has created a significant amount of pain for you. For instance, perhaps you have been arrested for driving under the influence. This is usually a source of pain and shame. As time heals all wounds, over time, the memory of this pain dulls. Therefore, there is value in recording this pain. At some point in the future, you’ll start to feel that “it wasn’t that bad”. The written account will serve as a reminder. This can apply for many types of behavior we want to change.
Writing can clarify the goal. At times, our thoughts can be “foggy”. Writing and review can help us become more focused on specific goals regarding that change. Written thoughts can give you clues on where to focus attention. I like to use a game of “whys”. So, an example might be: Why do you overeat? Because I’m bored. Why are you bored? Because I have nothing to do. Why do you have nothing to do? Because I can’t afford to do anything. Why can’t you afford to do anything? Because I’m disabled. This example leads to multiple potential interventions that can be addressed. A person may be disabled, but they can find inexpensive or free things to do. Or perhaps they need to deal with the grief surrounding being disabled and the limitations that brings.
Writing can provide insight. Insight means gaining an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of self. Often, writing illuminates things about our ourselves that we hadn’t realized. When you commit to journaling even briefly every day, it can lead to insight that has not been realized until this time. This can cultivate further focus for growth or even for more writing.
Often, people have had an unsuccessful attempt in the past to journal consistently and this creates a resistance. If this is you, try a prompt that only requires one or two words. People can usually make the commitment to do this as a minimum. My own journaling practice focuses on 5 areas of my life: Relationships, Health, Career, Abundance, and Gratitudes. I do a quick summary of each of these, a few sentences. If things are great, GREAT! If things are a bit “jangly”, I go into how I might improve that area.
Since personal writing is a direct reflection of yourself, you’re bound to learn something. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
And remember, you are lovely!
All Couples are going to disagree. Usually, we have not had training in how to fight fairly and so, fighting becomes a free for all to see who can hurt the other’s feelings the most. If we can adhere to the rules of fair fighting, our arguments can be much more productive experiences.
Rules for Fair Fighting
1. Identify the problem. If you can’t identify the problem, is there really anything to fight about? Is one of the participants simply irritable? Once you have isolated what the issue is, follow the rest of the rules and avoid the fouls!
2. Attack the problem, not the person. If an argument gets personal, it’s an indication that you’ve lost sight of rule #1. Attacking the other participant is a sure way NOT to gain agreement.
3. Listen to each other. Adults listen to views that are different than their own. Listening is a sign of respect, not submission. Take turns with a timer on if you need to.
4. Take care of each other’s feelings. Assume that you are each responsible for the other’s feelings and ensure that you do and say nothing that is damaging to the other person’s feelings.
5. Take responsibility for what you say and do. If you do lose control and say something “foul”, then own your behavior; apologize sincerely and do an act of kindness to make amends.
Each of the behaviors below is considered fouls. These behaviors indicate fighting behavior that is damaging to the relationship.
Chances are you’ve been in relationships where the fouls above have been part of the fighting. While you can only be responsible for your actions, you also owe it to yourself to set limits when others use these fouls with you.
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1. It’s ALL about you!
Relationships are our biggest teachers. Often they are our first voluntary “belonging” type relationships. This makes them unequaled in highlighting our weaknesses. When our belonging gets shaken, a primal evolutionary fear emerges. It pushes us to action which our history tells us will solve the problem, soothe the fear. Often, this action brings us exactly the opposite of what we want.
We only have control over one person…..that’s ourselves. Focusing your energy and attention on what your partner needs to change is very inefficient. You’ve got to stay focused on the things you need to change. A relationship is a system and when you alter one part of a system, the whole thing changes. This is great news because that means you can create positive change in yourself and it will impact your relationship.
2. You will have to change.
That’s the sad truth. You can’t count on your partner changing. Nothing’s going to change unless you do. What do you want to change? Change behaviors that are not contributing to the health of your relationship. We all have them.
Changing means you’re going to have to behave in different ways than you currently do. Unfortunately, most of our behaviors are automatic. Just like changing any habit, you’ll have to put in effort to remember to change. The good news is, after you’ve established a new habit, it gets a lot easier.
3. You have to do it.
You’ll have to spend time learning and practicing new behaviors. That implies a time commitment as well as consistency and persistence. Penciling in some reading time on Tuesday afternoons won’t cut it. Daily practice, every day, even when you feel that it’s not working is the definition of consistency and persistence. Harsh reality is, change doesn’t happen without some effort. If you’re not willing to do that, you might not want to improve your relationship as much as you think you do.
Have you proclaimed, “I’m working so hard to make this work.” Or, “I’ll try anything to make this relationship better.” Then I don’t care if you think it’s silly or hard. You’ll do anything, right? If that’s true, then do it.
Practice Time: Are you willing to be the change agent in your relationship? Can you devote time and attention to identifying and changing your own behaviors? Are you willing to be consistent and persistent with that attention for at least 90 days before giving it up?
If so, you may well master your Relationship Game!
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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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I did a little camping last month and it gave me time to think about all kinds of things and observe nature up close and personal.
I love to take lessons from nature and so this post is going to be about one of the lessons that I took from my time in the woods.
Did you ever notice that nature produces nothing that’s perfect? Everything in nature has some sort of imperfection in its formation or it gets impacted and changed by something that’s in the environment around it. When you look at a forest landscape, it can look so perfect. The leaves are green; there are different textures. And, it looks perfect from a distance. But, when you get up close, you see there are millions of imperfections in the shape of the leaf or the colors of the leaves. They’re usually mottled or maybe even yellowed, and just imperfect in their own perfect way. So, the lesson I take from this is that we can’t expect perfection in anything or anyone for that matter.
We want our relationships to be a reflection of nature. Nature is fluid, changing, growing all the time. Translate this to relationships. We really can’t expect perfection from other people or from ourselves. But, do we really expect that? Don’t we get upset when our partner doesn’t meet our expectations? When we first start to get to know our partner, we notice the beautiful things in them. We notice the things we see as perfection. We notice the color or the motion, the essence of their being. Just like the forest’s perfection from a distance. But, once we get a little closer, we see things a little closer, get to know them a little better, we start to see the flaws. Those flaws inevitably draw our attention away from what we might see as perfect. We might feel like we’ve been betrayed or duped or that we’ve been sold a flawed product when we got together with this person.
There comes a time we just have to back up and pay attention to the imperfect perfection that is everyone and everything in nature. Your perspective really is important isn’t it? Do you think that you’re perfect? Of course you don’t, at least I hope you don’t. Do you think that your partner focuses on your flaws? Do they notice your perfections or imperfections more? If you’re lucky enough to have a partner that doesn’t pay much attention to your flaws, is it possible that somewhere along the line they made a decision about what to pay attention to? If I had a choice, I’d certainly want my partner to focus on my positive qualities vs. my imperfections.
Another element of this perfection versus imperfection dance is how we practice self-compassion. Do you let yourself notice the glorious perfection that you are or do you spend a lot of time focusing on what you see as your imperfections? So, this is a lesson we can take into our self-compassion as well as into our compassion for our partners. We have a choice about where we place our attention, and like all habits, it’s something that has to be developed. That takes motivation and intention to do that. I hope that your motivation is to win in your relationship!
If you remember back to that time when all you saw was the perfection, when you committed to your partner, wasn’t it your intention to honor them? Both their perfections and their imperfections, that is. And, shouldn’t we have the same commitment to ourselves? So, focusing on the areas of perfection versus the imperfection is one of those winning behaviors. And, it’s what you’d like from your partner, too.
So, have you been focusing on the imperfections in your partner? Or in yourself? If you need to do self-work then take this opportunity to look at that. How can you shift that perspective and take in the perfection that is all of us?
Practice Time: Spend just a few minutes jotting down the things that are perfect about your relationship, your partner, or yourself. Get a list of eight or ten things that you love about your relationship, partner or yourself. Now you’re going to leave those notes around somewhere where you’ll come across them several times a day. Maybe on the bathroom counter or in your purse would be a good place. When I want to look at something several times a day, I put it in my appointment book. A lot of people set up reminders on their phone, which is great if you’re into technology. Take a few seconds every time that comes into your awareness and just hold that thought of perfection. For a moment or two, really feel and appreciate that thought fully. A few moments and a few times a day can really help you in this journey you’re on. It can help shift your perspective back to the view that looks perfect rather than the close-up view that shows you all of the imperfections.
And remember, nobody is perfect; nothing in nature is perfect, relationships aren’t supposed to be perfect.
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