Honesty

honesty
Honesty.

We all want it in our relationships.

But is dishonesty ever “alright”?

It seems like a simple question at first.

Of course dishonesty is not alright – we want honesty all the time. After all, if you can’t trust someone about the little things then you can’t trust them about the big things, right?

But when you really look at it, it’s not really that straightforward.

What is dishonesty? There are three main forms of dishonesty:

  1. Lies
  2. half truths
  3. lies by omission

Some people think of honesty only in terms of lies, but it seems very clear that it’s more than that. Honesty is not only about the words you say and the actions you take.

It’s also about the things you don’t say.

You can be 100% honest in everything “you say”, while still being very secretive and deceitful. Half-truths and lies by omission are as damaging (if not more) than the things that you say.

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Intimacy vs. Autonomy

Intimacy is all about closeness, and the way to build intimacy is through the sharing of your thoughts and feelings.

No one shares everything however, and we shouldn’t want them to. It’s important to balance intimacy with autonomy. Even when we are part of a relationship, we are still an individual and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

When you see your partner at the end of the day, it’s common practice to ask about their day. When we do this we don’t actually want to know everything. We aren’t looking for an itemized list of what your partner did during the day, minute by minute (at least I hope not). What we are really looking for is a summary, with maybe some of the highlights and lowlights of that day. We want to know what was important to them, and by them sharing that with us they are both maintaining and building a sense of intimacy.

It’s up to each person to determine what the “relevant” details are, and this is one of the places we get ourselves in trouble. What it relevant to one person may be different from what is relevant to another.

Let’s say you had a cheeseburger for lunch.

Now let’s say you had sex with a co-worker at lunch.

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like they are pretty different things. Having sex with your co-worker is kind of a big deal, and sharing that knowledge would probably have a different impact on your relationship then telling your partner you had a cheeseburger.

One seems a wee bit more important in terms of relevance to your relationship than the other, and although the fallout would be considerable, I think it’s a safe bet that your partner deserves to know about the lunch sex.

But what about the cheeseburger? Is there any need to tell them about that?

Normally the answer would be no. But it comes down to context.

What if you and your partner are on a diet together, and the cheeseburger was a way of “cheating” the diet?

What if you are saving up for something and you promised to brown bag a lunch in order to save up money?

Well then perhaps the cheeseburger IS actually relevant. Maybe your partner WOULD be hurt if they knew about the cheeseburger.

honestyisintimacy

Intent

When withholding information from your partner (either through half-truths or complete omission) it comes down to intent.

WHY are you withholding information?

Is it because you truly thought it wasn’t important and it didn’t even occur to you to tell them? Is it because you want to surprise them with something? Or is it because you were feeling guilty and you didn’t want them to find out?

Sometimes people have disconnects on what “is important”, and this is an area where communication comes into play. Over time these sorts of disconnects will be sources of conflict for a couple, and this is natural and even healthy conflict.

When there are disconnects on what is important you can use them as opportunities to understand your partner better, and be a better partner to them in the future.

But if you are ever withholding information or keeping secrets out of shame or guilt, then you KNOW you have done something wrong. If this happens, any withholding is intentionally being deceptive.

Drawing the Line

Is it ever alright to intentionally be deceptive?

Sure, if you want to surprise your partner with something. It’s kind of hard to surprise them with things if you can’t keep some secrets.

But what about secrets that would hurt them?

I think there probably is a bit of a grey area here as well.

We all run into problems and issues in life. And sometimes we don’t want to share those. Sometimes we need to be able to work through things on your own.

That’s understandable to a degree. We don’t want to be the person who is alarming our partner by crying wolf every time we have concern or a fear. Sometimes we realize our fears are nothing, and it’s best not to stir the waters by raising them.

It’s important to be very careful with this though.

If these fears persist for a long time, or if they start to spill over into and affect the relationship, then they are pretty damned relevant. At that point choosing to keep them to ourselves will only ever do harm. It will break down trust, and damage the integrity of the relationship. And the longer it goes on, the more damage will be done.

Being Honest

I think being honest in a relationship doesn’t mean you are always truthful. It doesn’t mean you have to share every little thing. There are cases where you will hold things back, or even outright lie in the short term (with surprises for example).

To me it comes down to three very important things:

  • Intent
  • Empathy
  • Respect

We all choose our own actions. If we are in a relationship, then we need to think about our partners in the things that we do.

If our intent is good in the sense that we are considering our partner and being respectful towards them, we may still get ourselves in trouble if there is a disconnect between what is important to one versus the other. But those sorts of conflicts are fine.

We should never hide behind lies and partial truths or omissions out of shame or guilt though. Those sorts of things will only do long term harm.

And we should never do things that are disrespectful to our partner, or we know would hurt them if they found out. If we are doing that, then our relationships are built on a rotten foundation. And eventually, they will crumble under the weight of our own deceit.

Acting with respect, empathy and good intent is always the best approach.

The truth isn’t always easy to face; but it’s always the right answer.

we-all-need-to-know-what-it-means-to-be-honest

Why and How Matters More Than Who

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Love.

That’s why we are all here.

It may sound cliche, but I think it’s true. Humans are social animals, and we are all looking for acceptance and belonging.

No one wants to be alone. We all want to find that “someone” we will be with for the rest of our life. And sometimes we think we’ve found the person we can imagine ourselves growing old with.

But even still, many relationships don’t work out.

When we sort through the aftermath of failed relationships, it’s always easy to find the reasons it didn’t work out.

Maybe we had different interests, or different values. Or different attitudes towards any number of things.

And looking at the differences that we had can provide validation for why it didn’t work out.

We just weren’t a good fit. They weren’t the right person for us.

Next time we just need to find a person who is a better fit for us. If we can do that, then we would have our forever.

The Right Person

The “right person”. The “one”.

These concepts are driven into us through romantic notions of love.

And there is some truth to them.

It seems obvious that “who” you are with has some bearing on the success or failure of a relationship. Some people ARE more compatible than others, and certain personality traits seem to mesh with our unique makeup better than others.

There will always be differences though. Those differences are actually one of the strength of a relationship, because although they can be sources of conflict they also allow us to complement each other and bring out different sides of ourselves.

Due to this I think the “who” is actually a smaller factor than most people think.

There are no magic wands in life. There is no one person who, once you meet will turn your life into rainbows and unicorns.

ALL relationships run into challenges over time.

Who you are with is only a piece of the puzzle. What’s more important than the who is the why, and the how.

Why are you with your Partner

I am a huge believer in intention, and the question of why you are with your partner is perhaps the most important one you can ever ask yourself.

There are two levels to this question.

The first one I touched on in my last post. What was it that drew you to them? What made you decide this was someone you wanted to be with?

Depending on where you are in life, “what” you want in a relationship may change. What matters to you at 20 or 30 may not hold the same importance at 40 or 50.

If we hope to find someone we can be with for the rest of our lives (in spite of thse changes) perhaps the more important question is:

Why did you want a relationship in the first place?

I believe an honest answer to this question goes a long way towards determining the success of any relationship.

Relationships start with our own needs.

We find someone who we enjoy being around. We hopefully find them attractive, or at least feel we have some sort of chemistry with them.

But why do we want to be with them?

Are we looking for someone who will take care of us and fulfill our needs? Someone to share bills with? To provide a safe environment (physically and emotionally)? To provide a periodic sexual outlet? To potentially raise children with?

Are we looking for someone who makes us happy?

Take a look at this quote on happiness in relationships:

bewithsomewhomakesyouhappy

I get the sentiment behind this. Obviously we want to be around people that make us feel happy. But I think the idea is actually quite messed up, and can become twisted into something it was never intended to be.

To be happy, you have to first be happy with yourself.

No matter how good your relationship is no one can make you happy all the time – and in fact, your partner shouldn’t have to. You will always have times that you aren’t happy. And if you associate your level of happiness with the quality of your relationship, then during those unhappy times it can feel like something is wrong in the relationship.

When you are looking for someone to “make you happy”, you are putting a stress on your relationship that it will never be able to meet.

So instead of looking for someone to take care of us and make us happy, we should be looking for someone to share our life with. We should be looking for someone to share experiences with, and looking to enrich each other’s lives.

When we take this approach, the concept of happiness is better represented by the following:

makesomeoneelsehappy

This is a much healthier state both for the individual and the relationship. In either mindset, the actions and interactions in a relationship often look the same. But there is a big difference between wanting someone to make us happy and looking to share our experiences and happiness with someone.

When we want to “be happy”, we are in a selfish state of mind. Our relationship is one where we take more than we give, because we are interested primarily in what we get out of it. Our focus becomes how the relationship is meeting our own needs, and what it provides for us.

That’s not to say that our needs aren’t important, because they are. But a relationship needs to become about more than that.

We need to truly care about our partner and their needs. Their needs should not be viewed as part of an exchange, where we are meeting their needs in order to have ours met.

We should *want* to meet our partners needs and take enjoyment from the act of doing so. We should finding happiness within ourselves from the enjoyment of sharing our life with our partner.

The “we” has to become as important as the “me”.

How do we treat our partner

The next important thing in a relationship is how we treat our partner.

I suspect this is actually related to the “why”. When our focus is ourself (and how well the relationship meets our needs) we have automatically set up an antagonistic approach to our relationship.

When this happens couples get into patterns of conflict and withholding. “Oh, you didn’t do this (for me)? Well fine, then I won’t do this (for you)”.

Everyone falls into this sort of behavior occasionally, but hopefully not often.

It’s petty, it’s destructive, and it’s about power. In fact, intentionally withholding as a form of “punishment” is generally considered abuse.

By focusing on the couple and looking at what is good for the relationship, we can see the relationship in a different light. We are definitely an important part of it, but it’s not all about us. It’s not all about our partner either. We need to be in a position where we are both able to thrive at the same time.

Think about how you interact. About how you treat each other, not just when times are good but also when times are hard.

When you are stressed, do you take that out on your partner? Or do you try to work with them to ease any burdens.

How well do you support each other?

People use “we just weren’t compatible”, or “it just didn’t work out” because it’s the easy answer. When we say this, we are absolving ourselves of any responsibility.

“Who” you are with IS very important. But why you are with them, and how you treat them is equally important.

So instead of focusing on “the one”, focus on what you can do to improve your approach to your relationship each and every day. Don’t look for someone to take care of you. Don’t look for someone to make you happy.

Instead look at the good you have, and find joy in what you are able to provide.

You may find that giving and putting in effort provides it’s own rewards, and as you build you may also receive more in return.

Under Pressure

pressure

Recently I discussed the idea that many (and perhaps most) relationship issues are not actually issues with the relationship, but are rather issues with coping skills and handling stress and pressure.

Sometimes life gets hard, and there is a sense of being “trapped” in a situation and a longing to be “free”.

Free from responsibility.

Free from expectation.

The things is, that sort of freedom is a fantasy and is not attainable. I would also argue it’s actually not even desirable.

Responsibility, pressure and expectations are part of life. We all have them and always will. Even at your most “free”, you had them.

People sometimes believe they will be happy if they can only find “freedom”, and life without responsibility and pressure.

And when life gets hard, people sometimes are willing to throw away the good parts of their life with the bad, just to have a taste of freedom – even if it’s just for a moment.

But any escapes from them are always temporary, and never real.

Your Life is Not Your Own

We are individuals. We can be who or what we want. We are free to make our own choices. In that sense, we are entirely free.

But just as throwing stones in a pond creates ripples, each and every choice we make has impacts, or consequences. And because of that, none of us are ever truly free.

Does that mean you should live for others and do that what want?

No. Not at all.

You should never live for someone else. You should always be able to tell other people “no”, and do what you want.

But those choices about what you want don’t only affect you. And it’s important to understand that when making them.

Are We Ever Truly “Free”?

Think of your late teens/early 20’s. Some people call these years “the best years of your life”.

I completely disagree with that notion, and think it’s actually pretty sad to think. If your life peaked at 18 or 20, there’s *probably* something wrong. Ideally your current years should be your best – whatever they are.

That said, those years from 18-25 are probably when you had the most freedom.

You were considered an adult. You may have been living with your parents still, or you may have been out on your own for the first time. But chances are, for the first time in your life you were making your own decisions. Your own choices.

You probably had a job, so you now had money to do some of the things you wanted. Maybe you were going to school, but if so it was up to you if and when you wanted to go.

Life was easy.

Your biggest concerns were whether to study, work or to go out with your friends tonight.

Your choices largely affected you.

But even then you weren’t free. You couldn’t truly do whatever you wanted.
If you wanted to go on a vacation or get something new you still needed to save for it. Or rack up credit card debt, but eventually that caught up to you.

If you were on your own you still needed to come up with money for food and rent. And if you were living with your parents, you knew that one day that would have to end.

Your choices still had impacts – it’s just that less people were impacted by them. And those impacts were more indirect.

carefree

Feeling Pressure

So where (and when) does pressure come in?

I think pressure comes in two related forms. Look at the following definitions of pressure:

– the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object by something in contact with it.
– the use of persuasion, influence, or intimidation to make someone do something.

The first definition is like responsibility. Work, mortgage, bills, parenting, our relationship. They are always there, constantly. Sure, there are weekends, and maybe a couple of weeks vacation every year. But as much as we may wish it, responsibilities don’t go away.

The second definition is like expectation. Expectation is when you feel that you need to do something, or you feel you are being measured against some sort of standard.

When you look at these concepts expectation and responsibility, pressure really comes when there is a struggle to meet one or both of them.

Expectations

While responsibility is something we all have and there is no real escape from it, expectation is a bit different.

Expectation may appear to come from others, but it is actually largely internal. Whether others expect something of you or not in many ways doesn’t matter. What really matters is what you expect from yourself, what you believe others expect of you and what you expect you should be able to do for others.

The pressure people feel from expectation comes from within. Often we “believe” that other people expect something from us, when they don’t. Or maybe they do, but not nearly to the extent that we believe they do.

Even if someone does expect something of us, that expectation has no power over us unless we also expect it of ourselves.

When we internalize this expectation, it gives us a sense of how we are being measured. And when we feel we aren’t meeting it, we experience guilt and shame as a result.

So expectation is the voice inside our head, telling us we need to do this, or that. It is the internal critic, and it is this expectation we place on our self that tells us we aren’t good enough, smart enough, or pretty/handsome enough.

Being “Free”

When the pressure of responsibility and expectation becomes too great, people break.

That’s when they feel trapped, and feel a need to be free. But when you are feeling this sort of pressure, the “freedom” you are looking for is simply an escape, and often an unhealthy one.

A few year ago a buddy of mine’s girlfriend died. They had been together for a lot of years, and had four kids together. Not long after their fourth child, things went bad. The pressure of everything got to her, and according to my buddy she talked about just wanting to “be free”. She walked out, leaving him with the kids, and ended up escaping into a world of drugs. Within six months she was dead of an overdose.

That’s a pretty extreme case, but this next one is more familiar:

Another buddy was married, and he and his wife welcomed their first child. In his mind, life was good. They had a house, cottage, and family. They both had pretty good jobs, and a great future. Then one day she told she wanted out, with no warning that there were any troubles between them. He felt blindsided, and tried getting them to counseling, but she was going through the motions. She had decided she was done before he even had a chance.

So they split up, and she went back to her “party days”. Around two years later she contacted him and told him she realized she had made a huge mistake. She wondered if it would be possible for them to try and work things out. The pressure of life had gotten to be too much for her, and she wanted to be free. But she realized that what she was chasing wasn’t real. It was simply an escape from life.

It was too late. Too much damage had been done, and he had moved on.

Pressure and Anxiety

People have different levels of stress, and we also have different ways of coping with the stresses in our life. Everyone feels pressure at some point in time, but this is accentuated for people with anxiety issues.

My buddy Gandalf is somewhat of an expert on anxiety (in my mind anyhow), and he gave me following description of how the dual pressure of responsibility and expectation affects someone with an anxiety disorder…

Most people fear failure. But when they fail most people accept something didn’t work and try a different approach. When someone has an anxiety disorder they cannot separate the failure of a task with the failure of their core being. Plus, they fear others will dislike them if they fail, especially if they value the other person’s approval. With little to no internal self-worth, their self-worth come from the people they are seeking approval from.

This makes anxiety suffers avoid responsibility, unless they can control the outcome so that it’s always a success. They pick battles that they know they’ll win before starting. But in a weird twist they also fear success, because it usually means increased responsibilities they cannot control and automatically succeed at. So the easiest path in life is to avoid responsibilities.

This is freedom, but it’s actually freedom from worrying, not responsibilities. Responsibilities cause fear, worrying, and anxiety, and all they want is for that to stop. Being unable to handle the fear of failure, the only option is to not be responsible for anything. Thus, when free of responsibilities, they are free of the anxiety that comes with it, and they are “free”.

Expectations are a subset of responsibilities. These are personal evaluations of a person by another, like a friend, family member, or coworker. They place a condition on their relationship that one tries to live up to. If the person suffering anxiety feels they are not meeting that expectation, they start to worry the other person will not like them and be angry with them. Also, if the anxiety sufferer feels they are exceeding the other person’s expectations, they want that external validation. When it’s not there, they get upset and feel like they are not appreciated.

Like responsibilities, expectations are to be avoided as well, and resentment occurs when the person suffering from anxiety feels that expectations have been placed on them by others, especially ones that they feel they cannot succeed at, or live up to. The main difference is responsibilities can usually be chosen, while expectations are usually arbitrary.

Responsibility and expectation can be hard for anyone, but when someone has anxiety feelings of guilt and shame also get mixed up in there.

Not a lot of fun.

Managing Expectations

Which brings me back to my regular topic, relationships.

Relationships inherently have both responsibility and expectations. That’s not a bad thing, but when life is hard these responsibilities and expectations can be difficult. And the pressure can take a toll on our relationships.

When we are under pressure, hopefully our partner will be understanding and try to help alleviate some of that pressure. But when the pressure persists for extended periods, then it’s important to try and understand it.

When you are feeling pressured, trapped and in need of an escape make sure you ask yourself the right questions. Is it really the relationship? Often relationships are blamed for pressure because stress spills over into them, making them an easy target.

Maybe the pressure is actually coming from responsibility.

If so, we taking too much on? Are there ways we can lessen the load, or are the responsibilities we face part of normal everyday life?

If our responsibilities can’t change, then we have to look at expectations. Expectations normally come from within. What is your inner critic telling you? Working to silence (or at least reduce) the internal critic is one of the most effective ways of managing stress.

Actively work on managing your stress and your internal critic. Your physical and mental well being will thank you for it, and so will your relationship.

Asking the Right Questions

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I suspect everyone has gone to see a doctor at one point in time or another.

Let’s say you hurt your hand somehow, and it’s bothering you enough that you decide to see a doctor. What happens?

Does the doctor put your arm in a cast? Does he/she send you straight to surgery to amputate your hand? Do they remove your liver?

You know, while they may ultimately give you a cast or amputate the hand (your liver is probably safe), it’s a pretty safe bet that those (fairly drastic) measures aren’t where they start.

Instead, they start with something simple.

A question.

They start by asking why you are there – what is bothering you? Then they ask a series of questions related to your reason for coming in. Maybe they ask when the hand started hurting, and they may ask you to try moving it in different ways while describing any sensations.

I hear complaints sometimes that doctors don’t always “get it right”. But really, if you think about what they have to do I suspect their job is quite difficult.

People go to them with a list of symptoms, and based on these symptoms the doctor has to determine what the underlying issue *could* be. Sometimes there are multiple potential issues matching the symptom list, so they ask additional questions to try and narrow things down; to ultimately find the actual cause of the problem.

What does the doctor base their decision on?

They base it on knowledge gained through years of schooling and experience. We go to them because we trust that they have built up sufficient skills to help us. And if they haven’t, hopefully they refer us to someone who is better qualified.

When we have problems, it’s important that we turn to the right sources. In the example above, the “problem” was a sore hand. For a sore hand do you call an auto mechanic? A gynecologist? No, you need to turn to someone who has knowledge and expertise in the problem area. Even skilled professionals sometimes make mistakes. But by turning to an “expert” we better position ourselves for the best results.

Dealing with Problems

The human body is a pretty complicated thing. But at least it’s tangible. At least you can point to an area that “seems” to be the problem (though due to the interconnected nature of things, sometimes that is actually just a symptom and the real problem lies somewhere else).

When we are dealing with feelings and emotions though, things get much more complicated.

We all have problems and issues that we deal with, and often our hallmark of “good health” is our level of happiness. If we’re happy then things must be going well. And when we aren’t, well then that indicates some sort of issue – right?

Things like issues with anger management or chronic unhappiness let us know that something is not right in our life. So we try to figure things out, or “get by” on our own.

And that’s where we go wrong.

The thing is, we are terrible judges of our own problems because we are too close to them. We can’t see past the emotion of our involvement in order to see clearly. And because of this frequently we can’t see the difference between a symptom and the actual problem.

Sometimes we really have a splinter, and we end up doing makeshift surgery on ourselves – amputating the arm and the liver instead.

One of the areas this manifest itself the most is with relationships. Our relationships are some of the central things in our lives, so if we aren’t happy it’s easy to look at the relationships for what is wrong. All relationships have problems, so once you start looking it’s usually pretty easy to find something.

But a question you need to ask is, is the relationship issue the actual problem? Or is the relationships issue actually a symptom of something else?

Looking for Help

For most of us, there are a few people in our lives that we are able to turn to when we need to open up and talk about our problem. Ideally our partner is the person we open up to the most, and beyond that it’s usually close friends or family.

It’s great to have sounding boards, and often these people can provide a different perspective and help ground us. Even then you need to remember that they only have your side of the story, and only have what you give them.

If we go in to a doctor and say “I’m sore”, but aren’t able to (or won’t) tell them where it hurts, when it started or what it feels like, they really don’t have much to go on.

Here’s a larger issue though…

…these people have only their own personal experiences to draw upon, and this colors their ability to give you advice. Even if they have been through something similar, it doesn’t matter. Every person is different. Every situation is different. What worked for them or what was best for them isn’t necessarily what is best for you.

Shopping for Answers

Sometimes when there is a problem people have come to conclusions about what is wrong and what they need to do, but a part of them is scared to act. After all, what if they are wrong?

So they turn to others for their “opinions”. But those opinions don’t really matter, because they are really looking for opinions that match their own.

They could get multiple opinions that aren’t what they want to hear, and those are ignored. But when an opinion matches the one they want? Then it provides validation that they were right (that sort of thinking reminds me of this scene from the Lego Movie).
When you have already decided what the appropriate answer is, all the questions in the world don’t really matter.

Starting Fresh

A buddy of mine was recently divorced, and he’s loving being single again. He had been married a number of years and had a family.

When I asked him what he’s enjoying the most, he says it’s the freedom and the time to himself. He doesn’t have to answer to anyone, and has been able to pick up some new hobbies.

Well, except for when he has his kids. When he has his kids, his week revolves around them and he has no time to himself to do his new hobbies.

Oh yeah, and he’s started dating again so during his *me* weeks he has to make time to fit in his new girlfriend.

It makes me wonder, is that new freedom real or is it just an illusion? Was it really the marriage that was the problem?

Maybe.

But perhaps it was actually the sense of responsibility that came from going to work everyday and coming home to a wife and children who both put demands on his time.

Maybe he just needed to find a way to carve out a bit more time for himself. Marriage and families definitely restrict you. You aren’t “free” to do what you want. But maybe he could have found a way to get a bit of balance back in his life.

My worry is, if/when he hits the point where he’s either married or living with someone again he will find himself back in the same spot he was in before. And he’ll have broken up his family in the process.

For many people, there is often a sense of relief after a separation or divorce. A sense that “yeah, I made the right decision. I’m happier now”. And that sense really comes from the nature of changing up a stagnant situation.

Often within six months to two years though, people find that their “new” situation is really no better than the old one. Some parts are better, and others worse.

The grass isn’t greener on the other side. Both sides have patches of green and patches of brown. But unfortunately the grass often looks greener from afar, and it’s not until you actually get there that you realize it’s only green where you water it.

Keep an Open Mind

When trying to understand our problems, one of the most important things is being able to keep an open mind. It’s easy to have an idea of what is wrong and then latch onto that. But is it the problem? Or it is a symptom?

Depending on the nature of the problem you are dealing with, the consequences of mistaking a symptom for a problem can be considerable.

When dealing with issues that can have serious implications (such as issues with long term relationships or when kids are involved), I would definitely recommend looking into professional counseling services when possible.

Not all counselors are good, and even the goods ones aren’t always a good match for a couple or individual.

But it’s always a shame when someone mistook a symptom for a problem, and amputated an arm when they really had a splinter.

Can You Change Your Partner?

couple
In my last post I looked at whether or not you should have to change.

My take is no, no one should ever *have* to change. Your partner should be able to accept you for who you are, flaws and all.

And we do have flaws. All of us.

So if we can accept that we are all flawed, then it’s important to accept that a relationships involves two flawed people.

The notion of “the one” is a myth – there is no magical person who will make everything perfect. Yeah, some people are better fits than others. But there are many facets to people and relationships. So believing that you just need to find the right person is actually pretty unhealthy, because it implies that relationships don’t have to require effort.

We are different. We have good sides and bad sides, and sometimes this causes conflict. It’s easy to get along when things are going well, but how you deal with adversity says a lot more about your chances for future success. In fact, many seemingly “great” relationships are ruined by a lack of willingness on the part of one or both member to do the dirty work.

When we talk about “change” in a relationship, it’s not actually intended to be change in the other person. Instead it’s about change in the dynamic. In the way a couple communicates, interacts, and deals with their areas of conflict.

So while we should never have to “change”, we should all be willing to try and improve ourselves and work on our relationships. Communication is a skill. Relationships are a skill. And they can both be improved with consistent effort over time.

When we don’t? That’s when we run into problems.

The Need For Change

Relationships often fall into unhealthy patterns where they need to make some sort of changes (or at the very least it would be beneficial for the couple if they could).

If you are feeling as though you need some sort of change, you need to first ask yourself what changes you are looking for, and why you need them.

Commonly the problems a couple faces revolve around needs that are not being met. Common conflict points are sex (different drives), money (different spending habits or priorities around money), kids and time spent together.

Whatever the issue(s), it’s important to remember that relationships are a team sport. Both people matter. Both peoples needs are important.

Usually a need for change is an attempt to have your partner change to accommodate you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if so, what are you doing to accommodate them?

It’s not unreasonable to want changes. But you need to be able to find a middle ground somewhere that works for both partners. It may not be ideal for either partner, but that’s better than things only working for one person.

Need vs. Want

For any conflict area, it’s important for the couple to accept that this is an issue that impacts the couple (not just one person). If it’s a problem for one person but not the other, guess what?

It’s still a problem.

When one person refuses to deal with an issue because “it’s not an issue to them”, that is disrespectful to the needs of the other person. An issue for one person IS an issue for the couple, and left unresolved can poison the relationship.

In trying to deal with issues your options are as follows:

  • Accept things as they are, recognizing that while it may not be perfect it’s good enough. If you can do this, then the issue in question is a “want” and not truly a need.
  • Alternatively you can work on any issues and try to improve them. Generally this requires communication, and an acceptance that things may be more or less important to the different people in the relationship. It may always be an issue, but it needs to be reduced to a level that is acceptable for both people.

Those are your options. That’s it.

Well, those are the only good ones. If you can’t accept the current situation and you are unable to work on it in a way that works for both people, then you are in trouble.

It either continues to be an issue and the couple will grow increasingly resentful about it, or it will cause the relationship to fail.

When there are needs that aren’t being met, you accept it, work on it or walk away. There’s not much else you can do.

Can You Change Someone?

Which brings us back to the title of the post. Can you change your partner?

Some people hold out hope that “things will change”. That they will be able to change the person they are with.

Well, guess what. People generally don’t change, and even when they do you can’t change someone. Change is hard, and people only change when THEY want to and they are ready to. They need to see a reason to change, and understand how it will benefit them.

All you can do is try and show the other person how important something is to you, and what it would mean to you. Perhaps that will influence them to try and make changes, but you can’t ever MAKE anyone change.

Any change needs to come from within them.

Setting Boundaries

Where does this leave you if you are someone who needs to see change in the relationship, but your partner isn’t buying in?

In this case the only thing you can do is set boundaries about what is okay and what isn’t.

Attachment Theory says boundaries are one of the keys to healthy attachment. I would like to think that as adults we shouldn’t need to set boundaries, but the reality is that sometimes we have to.

Boundaries are not intended as threats, or ultimatums. They are about respect, and compassion. They are about clearly stating what we want and need in our relationships.

Enabling

Although boundaries are not intended as ultimatums, you need to set them appropriately and be prepared to stand by them.

If you clearly communicate to your partner what you need and it is constantly ignored, what do you do? If you do nothing, then you are enabling the bad behavior and at the same time devaluing yourself.

People are adults, and they make their own decisions. All decisions have consequences, and people need to live with the consequences of their decisions.

As much as we may want to shield them, sometimes we have to let them go.

It can be very difficult, especially if there are children involved or you believe in the “for better or worse” side of marriage.

But think of marriage as a contract that involved conditions. Are they keeping up their end of the deal? Or are they getting the “for better” while you deal with the “for worse”?

Both people matter. Your needs matter. The relationship has to work for both people..

I’m not saying walk away at the first sign of problems. Give things time, and as long as there is steady forward progress and it is something you can accept try to hold on.

But sometimes loving yourself means you need to let go.

neverthoughttoloseit

Letting Go

A buddy of mine shared how he felt letting go of a long term relationship that he still wanted very badly, but it seemed to him like he was the only one.

Nothing is more difficult than watching your relationship die.

Watching someones love for you change and deteriorate while yours still burns strong.

You desperately want to understand it and make sense out of what has become of your life, but you can’t.

So you hold on, trying to repair things, and trying to rebuild what you once had and you know you could have again.

You believe with all your heart that life could be not just good, but great, if they would put in even half the effort that you are.

But they don’t.

You care so much about the other person, but it feels like they won’t even try.

Still, you stay. Even as you feel the relationship shift. As you feel them pull away and shut you out.

And it hurts all the more, because although they are physically present they are a million miles away.

And you realize they’ve left the relationship, but they don’t even have enough respect for you to end it.

So it’s left to you.

Nothing is harder than making the choice to walk away from someone you still love, even after all they’ve put you through.

Unless someone has been there, they cannot understand the pain that comes with making that choice.

Sometimes you desperately want things to work out, but your partner doesn’t show a willingness to work with you to make things better. It doesn’t matter how much you love someone.

Know your value. If you know you have done your best and things still haven’t worked out, never forget that it’s not a reflection on you.

treatingothers

Should You Have to Change?

changeHeading

Love is an interesting thing. We all want to be accepted, and we all want to be accepted for “who we are”.

In fact, by definition unconditional love means is that someone is not putting conditions on their love for us. They are accepting ALL of us, the good and the bad. In fact, part of the concept of self-love is being able to look at yourself and say “I am enough”.

Being able to love yourself, and being loved unconditionally are two things we should all strive towards. And in my opinion they probably the most important building blocks to happiness, and healthy relationships.

One place people seem to get confused though is in the belief that unconditional love and accepting yourself as you are means you are a finished product. It means you can’t change, and you can’t improve.

Patterns of Behavior

It doesn’t matter who we are, we can always improve. And sometimes we really should.

I know a guy who never seems to be able to hold a job for long. He would spend a few months here, a years or so there. In all cases he would leave the job and I would hear about how awful it was at the company. Usually it was an issue with management, how terrible they were and how they treated the employees poorly. Although it must have been hard on his family, his wife was very supportive of him. She seemed to admire the fact that he was willing to stand up for himself and what he felt was “right”.

Then one day I got a job at one of the places he used to work and I met some of the managers. When I met them, I had a hard time reconciling the stories I had heard with the people I had met. That’s when it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t the places or the management.

Maybe it was just him.

But when he spoke about how terrible these places were, he genuinely seemed to believe it.

A few years ago I read a book by Anne Sheffield about how depression impacts relationships. She had grown up in a household with a mother who suffered from depression, and as an adult she had a few failed marriages.

All her marriages ended because of similar issues, and after the second or third (I can’t remember) she realized that maybe the problems didn’t lie with her partners. Maybe the commonality was her. It was at that point that she started to realize she also had depression, and it had been affecting her ability to maintain a relationship.

Reading that story made me think of the guy who couldn’t hold a job for long.

Each time he left or lost a job, he had a reason. And taken individually each of those reasons seemed valid and defensible. But when you look at them as a pattern of behavior, the one common item was him.

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Through the Looking Glass

I’ve talked about my buddy Gandalf, who spent much of his adult life without fulfilling relationships before. He ended up seeing a psychologist and related to me some of his experience:

Early in my therapy my psychologist had me list out what I thought was the perfect partner. After going through that list with him he said one word that I’ll never forget. It was “selfish”.

My mindset at the time was that I wanted and needed loving, but I didn’t think that I needed to give any love back. It never even occurred to me that I should even give any love back. To me, my thinking was that it was their duty to give me love and that I didn’t have to return anything back because just the act of loving me should be enough for them.

There was no empathy for anybody else. My mind only focused on me. It is known as the Narcissus Paradox, where it appears that I would be thinking of others, but really, my mindset was only focused on me and my needs. I was nice only to the point of where I could get other people to show me affection. My thinking was only on how to get other people to show me love, and not on how to love other people.

This leads to passive aggressive behavior and giving people the silent treatment because I didn’t understand how to deal with conflict or how to get what I wanted from other people.

I now realize that this is not only very selfish, but childish and immature. There are several factors that contributed to me having this mindset, but lack of being loved as a child is a significant factor in this. If you don’t grow up in a loving environment (both between the parents and the parents to the child) then you grow up without knowing and understanding what love is and the empathy required for a loving relationship. I am now in the process of learning this, but it takes time. However, as my friends have told me, it’s better late than never.

He had people around him who loved him, and accepted him for who he was, flaws and all. But I’m sure the people who cared about him (myself included) wanted and hoped for him to change.

Change is a difficult concept. We’ve probably all seen people who have relationships where there are parts of their partner that they don’t like, and they try to change those parts. For anyone who has seen that, you know that it never works out well. People generally don’t change.

I have children, and one of my most important roles as a parent (in my opinion) is to try and shape their behaviors in a way that they can interact with the world in a healthy fashion. When I do that, am I not trying to change them? I am the parent, and part of being a parent is teaching.

A big part of teaching as a parent is around helping your children understand their emotions and their feelings, and allow them to cope in a healthy fashion. Is that changing them? Yes, I am the parent and they are the child, so part of my role is teaching. But am I only trying to teach them because I am the parent? No, it’s because I love them and want the best for them.

Don’t we want the best for all the people we care about? We aren’t responsible for others, but isn’t it normal to want to help those who seem to need it?

It’s a fine line between wanting someone to change to better suit what YOU want from them, and wanting them to change for THEM. And the distinction between those two things is blurred, because often the types of changes that benefit the individual also benefit the people who care about them.

What makes you “You”?

The idea of change often scares the hell out of people. Even when people know their behaviors and actions are damaging and destructive, they often defend them by saying “this is just who I am”. To change would mean you are changing who you are, and by extension that would mean you are no longer “you”.

This is scary. But really, what are you? We are a collection of habits and behaviors, some good and some bad.

What if some of your habits or behaviors are broken? What if something is wrong with the current version of you?

Thinking of my buddy Gandalf story above, he recognized that there WAS something wrong with the old version of him. And although it was hurting the people around him, the main person it was hurting was himself.

This is a difficult situation, because generally we are told that people should be able to accept us as we are. We shouldn’t have to change in order to be accepted, and we should be able to be happy with who we are. So the idea that he should have to change somehow seemed wrong.

But here’s the thing, he wasn’t happy with who he was. In fact, he didn’t really like himself at all. Interestingly the people around him generally did accept him. But he didn’t see that, and he didn’t accept himself.

It was only later when he found himself chronically unhappy and falling into clinical depression that he started to realize and understand exactly how broken this thinking was. And he needed to change, because the way he approached the world was not a situation under which love or true intimacy can thrive.

Should he have had to change?

No.

But not doing so would have kept him in the same negative cycles he had been in for years.

Were there benefits to him for making changes?

Definitely. Both for him, and for those around him.

Although he saw that, he was terrified to change. Because the way he was, and the way he coped with life, was the only way he knew.

LifeChange

I think back to the guy who moved from job to job. He didn’t have to change. Although it probably put tremendous pressure on them, his family accepted him as he was.

He didn’t see a need to change, because in his mind he was never the problem.

People often deny they have a problem. Or they accept it, but say “it’s just the way I am”.

But when you deny a problem, blame others, or minimize it and fail to see how it impacts both you and those around you, you give up the power to change.

The Road to an Affair

dark-road

Affairs.

Lots of people have them.

In some cases people are serial adulterers. They are hedonists who are only interested in themselves, and they don’t care about who they hurt in the process. Basically they are narcissistic and selfish, and just overall not nice people.

But stats say that anywhere from 20-40% of people have affairs at some point. That many people can’t ALL be terrible human beings.

People generally don’t advertise when there has been an affair in their relationship, but often it gets out. And when friends and family find out that someone they know had an affair they are often stunned. A common reaction is:

He/she had an affair? I never thought they were the sort of person who would do that. I guess I didn’t know them that well after all.

This sort of reaction isn’t just isolated to outside observers though, as the betrayed partner is often in a state of shock.

And not only is the betrayed partner shocked, but often the person who HAD the affair is also shocked. Many people who have affairs are somewhat horrified with themselves both during and after. They never thought *they* would be the sort of person to have an affair.

Yet they did.

And that leads them to realize that they aren’t who they thought they were either.

When you look at stories, there are a lot of common elements. Usually starting with long term relationships that are “in a rut”, where the passion is gone or fading. But sadly, that happens to most of us over time.

So is everyone at risk of having an affair? Well, even if 40% of people do, 60% don’t. So are there actually some common characteristics of people that make them more susceptible? I believe there are.

In this post I want to explore that, as well as provide some thoughts for those who are either having an affair or have thought about it.

The Myth

I think the idea that sexual needs not being met leads to an affair is only partially true. Yeah, if your sexual needs aren’t being met it will spill out into the rest of the relationship. But I actually think that’s a symptom and not a cause.

I believe affairs are much more frequently about emotional needs and connection. And when you feel emotionally connected then sex is a natural result of that.

So people are in relationships that are in a rut, and the emotional connection has broken down. They meet someone and connect emotionally, and don’t actually intend for it to go any further. But once that emotional connection has been made, nature takes over.

In fact, a recent British survey on affairs found that for both men and women, attention and emotional connection were among the leading reasons for affairs. Here are the top three reasons, broken down by gender:

  • I felt flattered by the attention (men 35%, women 44%)
  • I felt emotionally deprived in my relationship (men 29%, women 43%)
  • I was dissatisfied with my sex life (men 32%, women 15%)

Note the difference between men and women when it comes to their sex life. Sex is twice as important to men than women. I suspect those numbers are skewed a bit by different perceptions around sex. For men, sex is often seen as symbol of the relationship, so dissatisfaction with a sex life is dissatisfaction with the relationship. For both genders however sex is only part of the reason behind an affair, and attention and emotional connection are more significant factors.

When people say they didn’t mean for an affair to happen or it was a mistake, I think there is some truth to that. They probably weren’t looking for an affair. They were actually looking for attention and an emotional connection that was lacking in their own relationship.

They just didn’t mean for it to go as far as it did. But by pursuing a friendship/relationship after they knew feelings were developing, they are completely at fault.

cheating

The Cheaters Perspective

In the blogsphere you find many stories of relationships broken by affairs, mostly from the perspective of the betrayed spouse. A few months back I found a blog written by a guy on the other side of the fence; someone who betrayed his wife and is now trying to deal with the fallout from his decisions.

An affair is always wrong – I will never suggest otherwise. But although we may not choose to have affairs, the pain and loneliness of a stagnant relationship is something I suspect many couples in long term relationship can relate to.

In his blog he starts with the affair and it’s ongoing aftermath, and slowly peels back different layers of his history. But for purposes of telling his story here I will try to stitch together a few pieces in some degree of chronological order (The sections below in blue are reprinted from his site with permission).

The Breakdown of the Marriage

Up until this point in our marriage we only really ever fought about one topic. Sex. I have a higher drive than she does and so it has always caused friction. I would make an advance, sometimes I would handle it poorly and sulk for a short time but often times I just would leave the bedroom to watch TV or something else. Just so I would not bother her. Then she would feel extremely guilty and we would end up doing it in the morning half the time or maybe the next week. Either way neither of us ever felt good about the situation.

After a few years of this, I started to believe that even when she accepted my advances she was just doing it to get her “wifely duties” completed. It wasn’t because she wanted me or even sex for that matter. It was very hard for me to deal with but I did what I thought was best. First I assumed I must suck at sex. I must be awful because I love how she makes me feel and if I don’t make her feel this way then I could see why she doesn’t want me.

I would try and talk to her about it but it usually ended up having the focus about sex and not just my wanting to know that she did indeed want me around. Then she would feel guilty and then try to have sex with me and then I did not want it because it was only because she felt guilty, not because she wanted me. It was a frustrating cycle. I don’t know if you can imagine but having the only person you have known and loved constantly reject you and avoid you will destroy you. She was everything I had ever known.

My response was to keep slowly pulling out of our marriage. I stopped going out of my way to work on us. I stopped reading and researching ways to make your marriage better and closer. Instead I just avoided alone time. We stopped having sex but every couple of months and it was nothing spectacular.

The Rise of the Affair

One day as I was driving home from my commute I came across an app to meet other people. I could view peoples pictures and decide if they were a match for me. After a couple of weeks I had a few dozen matches of people I thought were out of my league. I would chat with a few here and there but one drew me in particular. She was funny and cute and we seemed to really have a good time chatting back and forth. We talked for a few months and I noticed I was much more pleasant at home. I felt good about myself because my ego was being fed. I was happier and even my kids noticed it.

I thought this was a perfect setup. I really believed I had no intention of ever meeting her and she never pushed to meet me. We were both content with what we were getting. It seemed to take the edge off my marital problems and my wife and I were getting along better. We still were not very active in the bedroom but when she denied me it wasn’t such a big deal because I knew there was at least someone else who found me attractive and good company.

But it also started a destructive dialog in my head. It was something like:

  • “These women find you funny and attractive but your own wife doesn’t.”
  • “She won’t be intimate with you because she does not find you good-looking.”
  • “You are just the father of her children and her partner but you will never be the love of her life and you can never make her happy.”

These thoughts or ones similar would just pour through my mind. I couldn’t get them to stop.

Exciting and New

We kept sharing more and more personal information with each other. This went on for a days and I felt like we really had a connection. She kept telling me how easy it was to talk to me and how I can make her feel so safe that she can share most anything with me. She told me that she has not felt this at ease with anyone before. I told her that I felt the same. I was a lot less guarded around her and felt like I could say anything and it would not surprise her or scare her away. I was thinking how much different she was than my wife. How exciting, how refreshing. I did not feel judged, just accepted. I felt like she really understood me and liked me for who I was, even though she truly did not know who I was yet.

I think this led to a lot of the attraction I felt. It was new and exciting and she was interested in everything I had to say. We were sharing and exploring each other intellectually and emotionally. I really believe that is what really hooked me, it had been a long time since someone made me feel this way and I wasn’t even sure if I actually felt this excited and close to my wife all those years ago. Now in hindsight, I can say that this is probably how I first started with my wife.

Crossing the Line

Now I have thought about this for a while, why did I finally decide to meet her again even though I was pretty sure deep down that I knew what I was getting into. I know on the surface I thought I could control myself. So really, the second time I was going to see this woman we would actually do it. No way! Not in a million years! Uggghhhh… (I guess on the surface I was old-fashioned, but deep down I knew. I really knew).

Ending the Affair

I was lonely and dying for attention, which is what led me to look for it else where. I did not do this looking for an affair, but just some attention that validated I was worth something. Then I met the other woman (OW), one thing led to another until I was in a full blown affair. It was euphoria when were together and agony when we were apart. This is what fed the illusion that it was such a great “relationship”. The reality was, it was just fantasy land and as I began to see her with everyday problems like us, the less and less I wanted to be with her.

I think I was finally really realizing what I had done. I was seeing that the OW was really just fantasy land and none of it was real. My wife helped me recognize this by her asking about the OW and why she was so perfect. I told her she wasn’t and if I decide to leave the marriage I am not running into her arms. She has a lot of problems that she would have to fix before I would let her around my kids. Once I told her this it pretty much shattered the fantasy that I had with her. I started seeing her with her problems and everyday trials just like everyone else.

I have tried to give excuses for why the affair happened. The reality is I am the one who made the decision to cheat. If I thought the marriage was that bad I should have left, not taken this route. I made that choice and she had nothing to do with that choice. I have to take responsibility and be a key component in both her recovery and my own.

Things to Learn

As I said earlier, cheating is always wrong. But generally, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Most commonly, an affair is an attempt to fill gaps that are missing in a relationship. And attention is the number one thing both men and women are looking for.

They want to feel loved again, and they want to feel valued. In the story above, the guy turned to “dating apps” for the attention he felt was missing in his relationship. This is not uncommon.

I recently read an article on Tindr that found 36% of users are actually married, and an additional 12% are in a “committed” relationship. That’s almost ½ of all users who are probably not looking for an actual relationship. So what are they looking for?

Sex? Probably. An ego boost? Definitely. But mostly, attention.

It’s a sad commentary that in many relationships, we often do a poor job of making our partners feel loved and valued. And eventually, they look elsewhere for the attention that is missing.

In a prior post I talk about some of the reasons I think this happens. Basically I think we get too caught up in every day life, and we stop making our partners a priority. After all, they will always be there, right? Thing is, when you stop making the other person a priority they start to feel it. And it hurts.

Some people won’t like this, but I believe in relationships damaged by an affair the partner who was cheated on does hold some of the blame. I’m not suggesting it’s 50/50 or anything, and they aren’t the ones who cheated. But in most cases they contributed to the conditions that led to affair. Unless they recognize their own role in the breakdown of the relationship (whatever it may be), they will never be able to heal and move forward.

Life does get busy. Jobs, kids, house maintenance, personal lives etc. But in order for a relationship to survive, it needs maintenance. It needs time, and effort put into it. And it can’t only come from one person. Both members of the relationship need to feel valued, and loved.

When we subconsciously think “I’m married now, I don’t need to try”, problems will invariably set in. Relationships only stagnate when you let them.

For the person who has cheated (or is on that path), a few things to consider:

When the guy in the story above was on the dating app, it felt good. He was getting the attention from other women that he wasn’t getting from his wife, and it made him question why? He came to his own conclusion:

What did they see that my wife didn’t? This question never went away. I could not get it out of my head. It would not go away. I was the same person wasn’t I? I looked the same, had the same personality, then why?

It is a funny question to me now. What did they see that my wife didn’t? I can answer it without a problem. They saw someone who had an interest in them. Who made them feel attractive and interesting. So they never saw me, they saw what I was giving them. So the real question I should have been asking myself was not “What did they see that my wife didn’t?” but “What I am giving them that I am not giving my wife?”.

Another thing to note is that an affair is rarely about our partners, or our relationships. It is about ourselves, and our coping mechanisms. As another person wrote after his affair:

I wish I’d known what love was. I craved feelings I labeled as love. Feelings that came from having someone I valued value me in return. It made me feel I was all that. In fact, the more I esteemed the other person, the stronger the effect. But, what I really loved was how they made me feel about myself. The reflection of my image in their eyes made me feel amazing. But love isn’t that feeling, rather it’s the grace my wife extended, not when I deserved it, but rather when I least deserved it.

One final thought.

People are often more susceptible to have affairs when they are dealing with things like depression, or if they have issues with self-esteem or self-love. If you struggle with loving yourself, external validation from others is needed. However it’s important to understand the following:

All the external adoration, respect and adulation in the world, can’t drown out the internal voices that tell us, we are not good enough and unworthy of; happiness, love and an abundant life. When we need others to tell us we’re amazing, worthy and lovable, in order to feel good about ourselves, it is never enough. It goes into the bottomless pit where our inherent self-worth should be. It may feel like we are reaching out to receive love, but in actuality, we are seeking external noise to help drown out our negative core beliefs.”
― Jaeda DeWalt

Affairs are never the answer. They are a form of escapism, a way of running from the problems that relationships will face from time to time. Sure, the cheater gets an ego boost and some sexual release – which helps them feel better (for a time). But they don’t solve anything, and they don’t make things any better.

A better solution is effort. Communication. No matter where you are, and how deep the hole is you can always get out. But you need to want to.

The guy in the story realized that he felt good around other women because they were giving him attention. But that attention was in turn because of the attention he was providing to them. Attention that he had stopped giving his wife long ago.