Why Do Guys not “Get It”?

JimCarrey

A while back I was talking to a friend of mine, and we were talking about those final sputtering gasps of relationships and how they often look the same.

Usually it looks something like this…

A couple stops doing things together, they stop having fun together, they stop having sex, and often even stop sleeping in the same bed.

The sense of “we” breaks down, and they increasingly become two people living separate lives; simply occupying the same space instead of being “a couple”.

Maybe they start fighting a lot, or maybe they just stop talking and interacting AT ALL.

 

Even still, when one person finally decides to initiate the breakup – the other person is often caught completely off guard.

 

The way the scenario was presented to me, it was the woman who was the one initiating the breakup; and the question was asked of me:

“why in the world are guys surprised when this happens?  You’re not getting along.  You’re not having sex.  Why is this a surprise?”

Yet for the person on the receiving end of the breakup, it often is.  Sometimes the other person is completely blindsided by the loss of the relationship.

 

As I thought about it, I realized it was a great question.

Why is it a surprise?

Why in the world doesn’t someone see it coming?  Especially when there are usually a significant number of signs that something is clearly wrong.

Is the person on the receiving end of the breakup stupid?

I suppose it’s possible that stupidity, ignorance or naivety plays a role here.  But often I think the issue goes a little bit deeper than that.

And I think it’s a sign of a relationship where there is very poor communication.

 

One of the biggest issues plaguing couples is an (often unspoken) belief that if your partner “knows you” then they will know what you are thinking, or be able to read your body language.

News flash – it’s not true!  People *aren’t* mind readers.  Well, I suppose some might be – and if you actually can then great, I’m not trying to downplay that ability.

But by and large?  Ummmmm… no, things don’t work that way.

When you’ve spent enough time with someone you often can make some guesses as to how they will react to events.  And you probably get pretty good at reading their body language (when you’re actually paying attention) over time.  But no, you can’t read their mind.  You don’t actually know what they are thinking – it’s just guesses.

In fact, believing people should be able to read your mind (or thinking you can read theirs) is one of the leading thinking patterns (or cognitive distortions) associated with things like anxiety and depression.  Or on a lesser scale, unhappy relationships.

So if we can accept that the person who is caught off guard on the receiving end of a breakup can’t actually read minds, and we can accept that they aren’t necessarily stupid, then maybe something else is happening here.

Maybe, just maybe

They are caught off guard because although they knew *something* was wrong, they had no idea what it was, or they had no idea how severe the issue was.

 

Going back to the common signs of a relationship in distress, I mentioned things like a couple no longer  doing things together, not really having fun anymore, not really having sex, and even not sleeping in the same bed.

Basically, a couple ceasing to be a couple.

When this happens, usually one person has pulled away or started to check out of the relationship.

Depending on what is going on in their lives, maybe the other person doesn’t notice at first.  But eventually they clue in that *something* isn’t quite right.

And I think what happens next is what will likely determine the outcome of the relationship.

 

There’s a pretty good chance shitty communication and a dislike of conflict on the part of one or both parties has gotten the couple to this point.

So chances are, the person who notices things aren’t quite right will wait it out for a bit.  After all, people and couples have good days and bad days; maybe this is just something that will pass.

Maybe they try engaging their partner a bit more.  Or maybe they actually ask them something like “hey, is everything alright?”

No one *likes* to discuss difficult things.  No one likes conflict.

But the worst thing people can do is say “yeah, things are fine” when they really aren’t.

Issues and concerns need to be out in the open, and they need to stay out in the open as long as is required to either get things resolved, come to terms with the fact that this is an issue that will always be there (and you can accept that), or realize that the nature of the issue is one which means a couple may be better apart.

People may not like to admit that last one.  But really, sometimes couples are simply not good together.  Sometimes there differences are things that they will never resolve, and if they can’t accept each other for who they are then ending a relationship is actually an act of kindness and compassion.  Time is the one thing we can never get back, so if you don’t actually WANT to be there, get out.  Don’t waste someone else’s time.

 

If someone notices that their partner is withdrawing from the relationship, yet their partner claims things are “fine” or won’t talk about it; it becomes very easy to mentally fill in the blanks and find other reasons as to why they may be withdrawing.

Perhaps they are stressed with work.  Perhaps they are unhappy with something else in their life.

There can be any number of reasons why someone can check out for a while, and often those reasons can have nothing to do with the relationship.

And if they are telling you it’s not the relationship, not being clear about the issues in a relationship, or being passive aggressive in addressing these issues?  Well, it’s easy to tell yourself it’s something else.

Maybe it’s a form of denial or wish fulfillment, but when there are signs of trouble yet your partner won’t tell you what is wrong, it’s really easy to find other reasons to explain away their behavior.

And when you start to tell yourself that the issues are due to something else, then it’s easy to feel blindsided when things completely fall apart, even when there’s ample evidence that something is wrong.

So to me, it really comes down to communication.

 

Let’s look at this another way.

When you are the person on the receiving end of a person who’s checking out of a relationship, yet they aren’t articulating to you (in a way that you understand) that there are problems, what’s really happening?

Maybe they are scared to communicate and avoiding dealing with things.

Maybe they they’ve tried communicating, but they feel they haven’t been heard.

Or maybe they’ve communicated in a way that made sense to them, but really wasn’t understood by you.

Personally, I think it’s often the latter of these.

 

I’m operating from the premise that people aren’t actually stupid (alright, some are).  I also believe most people are in the relationship because they actually “want” to be there, and DO want things to work out.

People communicate in different ways, but communication is a two way street.  It’s not just about one person describing what they are thinking or feeling.  It’s also about the other person actually understanding those things, and not just hearing the words.  Without understanding, you have a monologue – not communication.  And without actual two way communication, a couple is in a world of trouble.

communication model

In the above communication model feedback is the key piece, and if you note the arrows, it’s a two way street.  It involves two people going back and forth, as much as they need to in order to ensure the message is understood.

It’s this feedback that is often missing piece with couples.

It can be frustrating and exhausting to go back and forth ensuring you are understood.  It may result in arguments, and your partner may never fully agree with what you are saying.

But that effort to ensure there is two way communication is incredibly important.  Because think of the alternative…

  • One person speaking but not feeling heard.
  • Resentment and apathy setting in.
  • The relationship slowly breaking down as one or both people emotionally detach, until you are two people occupying the same space instead of two people sharing and building something together.

No one should ever be blindsided by the ending of a relationship.  If they are, then somewhere along the way the communication has broken down; or it was never really there in the first place.

Communication isn’t always easy, but some things are worth fighting for.  And if you want your relationship to last, communication needs to be built so that both people know they are being heard.

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Differing Opinions

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As a boy growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, Star Wars had a huge impact on my life.  My buddies and I played with Star Wars figures, I’m pretty sure I had Star Wars bedsheets (it was either my brother or I, I’m not sure which), and I remember my dad making an awesome R2D2 birthday cake for me one year.  Luke, Han, Vader, the cool ships and creatures, Leia’s slave girl oufit (hey, that was pretty memorable as a 9 year old boy!)…

Star Wars was awesome, and in many ways I see myself as part of the “Star Wars Generation”.

When I was in my mid 20’s it was announced that George Lucas (creator of Star Wars) would be revisiting the Star Wars universe, and myself and a bunch of buddies were pretty excited.  A group of us got together and got tickets for the first of the prequel movies – “The Phantom Menace”.  I remember the anticipation and the excited buzz from the crowd as we waited in line to see it…

And, well, it kinda sucked.

Over the next few years two more prequel movies came out, and they weren’t very good either.  Sure they have some good scenes in them, and some of the character designs are pretty cool (Darth Maul was awesome).  But as movies?  Well, they are almost unwatchable at times.

I remember thinking maybe it was just nostalgia.  Maybe the early movies were just as bad, but I was a kid at the time and I have all these great memories of playing with buddies in the yard.

I don’t think that’s it though.  I know the original trilogy really well, and when I go back and watch them they still hold up as solid movies.

The prequels on the other hand?  Well, they weren’t great to begin with and the past 15 or so years have not been kind to them.

Over the years I’ve wondered – why are they so bad?

I won’t pretend to *know* why they are so terrible, but based on an interview I remember seeing I have a guess.

When the original trilogy was made, George Lucas was George Lucas.  By the time the prequels game out however, he was GEORGE FREAKING LUCAS!!!  He was this visionary genius who created a series that was beloved by millions of people and multiple generations across the world.  And I suspect he was at a point that people were scared to say no to him – or if they did, he probably didn’t have to care.  He was in full creative control.  He could make the movies he wanted, however he wanted

So he did.

 

Looking back at my early dating days, I remember an argument I had with my first serious girlfriend.  We had been out with a group of friends and she said something about one of my buddies (who was with us at the time) that was both inappropriate and out of line.  I was pretty upset with her about what she said, so I called her on it; and she didn’t appreciate it.

When we got home that day, we had a fight where she told me that she expected me to always back her up and support her.  I told her that in calling her out on what she had said, I *was* actually supporting her – just not in the way she wanted.

As a disclaimer here we were really young at the time, probably in our early 20’s.  And at that age she felt that part of “loving someone” was always agreeing with them.

I didn’t see it that way.

Even at that age, I saw value in having your own mind and your own opinions.  And in being both able and willing to stand up for them – even when it made things uncomfortable around the people you care about.

 

Most people don’t like conflict.  And perhaps as a result we find ourselves drawn towards people who have similar beliefs.  Things are nice and easy when people agree with us, and when we don’t have conflict.

But in some ways, we NEED conflict.  We NEED people to challenge us – our ideas and beliefs.  In fact, we should be willing to challenge them ourselves.  As we grow and change, we need to be willing to ask ourselves if the things we believed in the past are still true.

Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  But if we aren’t willing to challenge them and look at things differently, we will never know.

 

I’m not the same person I was at 20.  Or even at 30.  In many aspects I am, but in other aspects I have changed.  Sometimes I look back on the person I was, and I shake my head.  I wish I could go back in time and shake that younger version of me, and teach him some of the things that I know he struggled to learn.  And in another 10 or 20 years, I’m sure I will look back on who I am today and think, geez, I had so much to learn.

We should ALWAYS be wanting to grow, and learn.  But that doesn’t happen unless we see reasons to.

And often, to see those reasons we have to first accept that we are wrong.

 

Thing is, we don’t usually see that on our own.  If we knew that our ideas or beliefs were wrong, then we would likely adjust them.  But due to our own naiveté or ego, we don’t easily see that.

We only see that when we are forced to face it.  Because we have done something wrong or something that has caused harm, either to ourselves or those we care about.

 

I suspect that I’m no different from most people.  It’s nice when people like me, or agree with me, or say nice things about me.  And when people don’t, it can be difficult to hear.

But I know I’m not perfect.

I make mistakes, sometimes I’m ignorant, I say stupid things sometimes, and hurt others – just like anyone else.

So for me, I don’t WANT to be surrounded by people who will tell me how great I am.  If I had that, how would I grow?  Why would I need to?

No, I would argue that perhaps the most important thing in the world is having people around you who are willing to call you out on your bullshit.  People who are willing to say no, and to tell you when they think you are wrong.

I want that in all aspects of my life – in my work relationships, in my friendships, and especially in my romantic relationship.

I’m not saying I want to be around people who are disagreeable and will argue for the sake of argument.  But I want the people I care about to be comfortable enough with me to argue with me when they feel they need to.  And I want to do the same for them.

To me that’s a big part of what love is about.  Being each other’s editors; our balances, and our voices of reason.

It may not be comfortable, and we shouldn’t necessarily change our stance to accommodate others.  But we should always be willing to listen without getting defensive, and try to understand others points of view.

Because sometimes understanding alternate views will allow us to look at our own in a different light.

And only when we can do that can we truly grow.

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Making Choices

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Choice.

In life, there is very little we have control over.

We all come from different walks of life, and have had different things happen to us.  Sometimes life goes relatively according to plan, while at other times life throws us curveballs we never could have anticipated (both good and bad).

Yet no matter what happens to us in life, we are never just passive observers caught in the wake of events.

The one element we are always in control of is how we respond to the events in our life.

That response is always our choice.

 

When things go wrong in our lives it’s understandable to be upset.  And it’s natural to look for someone to blame.

But blame doesn’t help us.

Whatever has happened has already happened, and we can’t change it.  Plus sometimes there isn’t even anyone to blame.  Sometimes things just happen and all we can do is accept them.

That doesn’t mean we have to like whatever has happened, but the reality is we can’t change it.

Our only choice is in deciding how we want to move forward.

That decision is an important one, because we have to move forward.  When we get caught up in blaming and we don’t move forward, we are allowing ourselves to remain stuck in the past.

 

I’m not suggesting people try to hold in their feelings and emotions.  We’re human, and we are emotional beings.  When something bad happens in our lives it’s understandable (and normal even) to be upset.  Anger, sadness, fear – these are all natural responses to events and it’s important that we accept them.

However it’s also important that we process them and deal with them.  Because when we don’t, those emotions can control us and keep us trapped, unable to move forward.

 

When someone has hurt you, it’s easy to be angry at other people for things that have happened.  It’s easy to blame, and want to lash out.  It’s easy to let that hurt shape you, and change you.

It’s much harder to work through it, and then let it go.

I don’t pretend to have any magic answers for how to do this, but when facing challenges in life I ask myself a number of questions:

  • How am I spending my energy, and more specifically is it in a positive way?
  • Can I change something?
  • Can I influence something, or do I need to accept it.
  • What can I learn from something?
  • In the big picture, does this really matter?
  • How can I best move forward?

If my energy is being spent focused on what has already happened, then I am allowing myself to be stuck in the past.  Our past shapes our present, and beyond being part of our journey our past also gives us an opportunity to learn from it and try to better ourselves.

 

How we move forward is always our choice.

We only stay stuck if we won’t move forward, and if we can’t let go.

Sometimes letting go means letting go of the hurt and resentment that can keep us stuck.  Other times it means letting go of the people in our lives who are hurting us.  Letting go of people isn’t always an easy choice, but we can’t change others.

If there is something or someone is hurting us, we can’t keep doing the same things and expecting a different outcome.

Something needs to change.

And if we aren’t willing to make changes, then staying where we are is also a choice.

Because the only person who can change where we are, is our self.

The-purest-form-of-insanity-is-to-leave-everything-the-same-and-the-same-time-hope-that-things-will-change.-Albert-Einstein

Try Anything Twice…

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A few weeks back, my nephew (I’ll call him J) celebrated his 16th birthday.  Geez, where has the time gone?

It brought back a memory from when he was really little (maybe 5 or 6).  My brother and I both worked in downtown offices just a few minutes away from each other, and for some reason he had brought my nephew to work.  I worked on the 27th floor of my building, and had a great view of the city from there.  I thought he would enjoy the view, so over lunch I went and brought him to my office.

We were walking around the office, checking out the view from different places; and while walking around we went by the desk of a co-worker who had a bowl of jube jubes on his desk.  I told him he was welcome to have some if he wanted, and our exchange went something like this:

Me: Hey J, there are jube jubes here.  Would you like some?

J: No, I don’t like those.

Me: What, you don’t like jube jubes?  Really?

J: No, I’ve never tried them.

His logic made me laugh.  I’ve never tried them, therefore I don’t like them.  Thing is, it’s not just kids that think this way.

 

Take a few moments, and in your head come up with a few of the things that you enjoy, or that make you “you”.

Now think about some of the things that really “aren’t you”.

I’ve always been fascinated with the whole nature/nurture debate, and think there are definitely elements of both of these at play in how people develop and grow.

When it comes to interests and experiences though, I think you really need to be exposed to things and give them an honest chance before you can say if you like something or not.

 

If I look at myself, the person I was at 12 is very different from the person I was at 24, and both of those are very different from the person I am now.

Actually, that statement isn’t entirely accurate.  The core “person” is probably still the same, but my interests…

Well, they’re pretty different.

At 12, I was someone who was often out riding my bike around the neighborhood or playing at the park with buddies.  Sure, I was a kid, but my “alone time” was characterized by reading, drawing and listening to music in my room.

At 24 I was an adult (hah, right).  I was in my career, so I was obviously at a different spot in life.  Most of my “me” time was spent in a gym working out or on a basketball court.  When buddies and I would get together, we were often watching movies, basketball games or playing video games.  I would rarely read (for fun), and I hadn’t drawn in years at that point.  Music was a constant, but the type of music I listened to was completely different.

We aren’t the same people at 12 as we are at 24, and we shouldn’t be.  We experience things, and those things shape us.  And the key to that is experience.

 

What happens if we don’t experience new things?

If we just do the same things again and again, we are shortchanging ourselves.

We aren’t giving ourselves opportunities to grow.

 

As a kid, I didn’t spend much time around water.  Sure we went to a beach once in a while, but that was about it (hey, I grew up in the middle of the prairies).  And guess what – probably as a result I was scared of water, and I never really learned how to swim.  I enjoyed being “in” water, but was not comfortable getting water over my head.  And that stayed that way for a long time.

Did I not “like” water?  Was that just who I was?

No, I don’t think so.

I simply didn’t have a lot of opportunity to be in it, and as a result the few times I was in it, I wasn’t comfortable.

Over the years I have gotten past that fear, and I now love water.  I will probably never be an accomplished swimmer, but I am completely comfortable in water.  At age 39 I went snorkeling for the first time, in the tropics.  I thought it was a magical, incredible experience, and I look forward to being able to do it again.

 

There are many, many things I have yet to do and experience.  And my current approach to life is I will try almost anything twice.  I say “almost” because there are certain things I have no real interest in trying, as doing so would violate some personal boundaries for me.  But yeah, by and large I’m willing to trying anything twice.

I say twice because the first time you do something, you may not be able to fully appreciate it for what it is.  The “newness” of the experience may override your ability to actually have the experience.  Plus the experience may not really be representative of the event or experience.  So it’s hard to say if it’s something you may enjoy or not.

Take trying a new type of ethnic food for example.

If you’ve never tried it, how can you say you don’t like it?  And maybe the first time you try it you’re a bit hesitant because of the way it looks, or smells, or its texture or something.

That first time trying it is overcoming the any potential fears of something new.  And if you didn’t really like it, maybe it was just prepared badly.

After a second try, if it’s not something you want to try again then no problem.  You can at least say you gave it a chance.  You tried it, and it wasn’t your thing (though our tastes can and do change over time).

 

As people, for some reason we seem to accept that kids change.  After all, we see them growing and changing right before our eyes.

Yet for some reason we seem to think that as we grow into adulthood we become finished products.  We are more likely to say “I don’t like this”, or “this is just who I am”.

We are more likely to become set it our ways, and be resistant to change.

 

Instead of “this is just who I am”, I think of it as “this is who I am, right now”.  Change is one of the only constants in life, and we are always in the process of “becoming”.

 

So next time you walk by that bowl of jube jubes, be willing to give some a try.

You might like them, you might not.

But you’ll never know if you won’t try.

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Owning our Part

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I’ve got a buddy who drives me a bit crazy.  He’s a great guy, he really is; and I love him to death.

Thing is, he also happens to be a bit of a slob.

Not a slob in terms of his appearance or anything.  But, well…

…he’s kind of lazy.

And where you see it the most is he almost never cleans up after himself.  I mean, the dude will eat his food and just walk away, leaving his plate behind.

Not taking it the 10 steps to the sink.  Not putting it in the dishwasher.

He just leaves it.

 

I don’t have to live with the guy, so I guess it really shouldn’t bother me.  But it still kinda does.

I like things to be fairly tidy; and seeing plates sitting around with leftover bits of food?  Well, that’s pretty gross.

It makes me think, what the hell man – how hard is it to put your stuff away?  Why do you leave your stuff out?  Why do you think it’s alright?

 

Let me ask you a question – do you like paying bills?  It doesn’t matter which type of bill.  It could be mortgage, utilities, credit card, or any bill really.

Unless you’re weird, the answer is probably no, you don’t like paying them (and if you DO, I have a bunch that you can pay if you want).  Nah, we pay our bills because we have to.  Paying the mortgage is preferable to having the house repossessed.  Paying the utilities is better than having them cut off.  If we want the thing the bill is for, we have to pay it.

But what if you didn’t?

What if you got that bill in the mail and you never had to pay it.  What if it just paid itself?

Would you cry?  Would you complain?  Would you cry out in indignation saying “hey, I WANTED to pay that electrical bill!”

No, probably not.

Rather, you would probably think it was pretty awesome.

Maybe the first time the bill “paid itself” you would wonder how/why it was paid.  If it was a mistake you may contact the electrical company and let them know, or you may just hope they wouldn’t notice.  And if someone paid it for you, you would probably be thankful.

Thing is, over time if they just continued to pay it and you never had to you would probably start to expect it.  And eventually you would take it for granted.

 

So, back to my buddy…

He doesn’t clean up after himself, and in all the years I’ve known him he’s never had to.  He doesn’t seem to even think about it, because he gets away with it.

It’s frustrating to me, but I think it’s also human nature.

No one wants to feel like a parent to their partner.  We don’t want to feel like we are nagging them.  We want our partners to do things because they are showing consideration to us and because they recognize it’s the right thing to do, not because they have to.  But at the same time, it’s human nature to do the least amount possible.

So looking at my buddy, yes he needs to own his behaviors.  Yes it’s his “fault”.

But it’s also the fault of the person who enables him to do it.

Bear with me a moment here…

 

When “bad things” happen to us or we are hurt by the people we care about, we often struggle to understand things like how could they do that to me?  How could they hurt me?  Don’t they care?

The focus is on what has happened to us.  And when we are hurt, it’s easy and even sensible to blame the person who hurt us.

The harder question is what did you do to contribute to the situation?

This isn’t a popular question, especially when people are hurting.  And in asking it in the past, I’ve even been accused of victim blaming.  I don’t see it that way though.

Trying to understand how you have contributed to something is not the same as taking blame for it.  People are responsible for their own choices and behaviors.

I am never *responsible* for someone else’s choices.  That’s on them.

So when someone has done something, whatever it is, it was their choice.

However that doesn’t mean I haven’t contributed to the situation in some way.

 

Let’s say your relationship is breaking down – does it really matter who’s fault it is?

I don’t think so.

It may be 50/50.  Or it could be 90% your partners fault and 10% yours.

Ultimately you have no control over what the other person has done.  The only thing you have control over is you.  Your actions, your response.

The only thing you can actually change is your part in things.

So be willing to recognize and own your own part.  Owning your part is very different from taking the blame for someone elses part.  That’s on them, and only they can own it.

Some people won’t own their own part.  Instead, they will blame others for their own actions and their own choices.  Saying things like “you made me do this”, or “I did this because you did that”.

 

When we blame others for the bad things in our life (and ignore our own part in things), what are we doing?

We are making ourselves victims.

And we are giving that other person control over us.

That doesn’t help us at all – blaming others keeps us trapped, or at least makes us feel trapped; when in reality we always have choices.

Even if our only choice sometimes is to walk away.

 

When do we learn?  When do we grow?

We grow when we struggle.  We grow when we fail.

We don’t grow when things are easy, and when our life is going down the happy path.

As I said, owning our part in things does NOT mean we are taking ownership of someone else’s choices.  It does not mean we are taking the blame for the things they have done.

It means we are accepting that our choices are our own, taking ownership of those choices, and realizing we have the power to make different choices in the future.

It means seeing how we may have contributed to the situations we are in, and looking for ways that we can change that moving forward.

 

Facing our own role in things is difficult.  It forces us to take a long hard look at ourselves, and sometimes what we see will make us uncomfortable.

This isn’t a bad thing though.  Rather, being uncomfortable with something about ourselves is often a sign that we’re on the right track.

And it’s a sign that we are ready to grow.

Be aware of your own bullshit

Prevention vs. Cure

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During my recent tour of China, one of the things I did was go to a hospital that does traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

At the hospital a doctor came out and gave our group a short talk on the ideas behind TCM, and coming from the world of western medicine it seems pretty bizarre.

I’m probably going to mess this up completely, but as an overview the premise is that the human body has 5 main elements – wood, fire, earth, metal and water; and that each of these elements is related to an organ in the body.  The kidney represents water, the liver is wood, the heart is fire, the spleen earth, and the lungs are metal.

Why, who knows?  That’s just how it works.

But the key to health in the Chinese model is that it’s important for us to maintain a balance between these elements, and when we don’t, bad things happen.  Similar to rock/paper/scissors, there is a relationship between the elements, so an imbalance in one vs. the others will cause specific effects.

After the overview, they had doctors come in and assess us.  The approach is to look at our tongues and hands, and then based on whatever it is they are looking for they prescribe herbal remedies that are supposed to help alleviate any imbalances in our body.

It was pretty interesting stuff.

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My biggest takeaways from traditional Chinese medicine were as follows:

  • Balance is important to a properly functioning system, and when things get out of balance bad things happen.
  • Prevention is better than cure.

Whether you believe in traditional Chinese medicine or not, these two points seem painfully obvious.  And really I think they apply to virtually everything in life.

Balance is important.  And prevention is better than cure.

 

 

As people, we have (at least) four different sides to ourselves.  There’s the physical – our bodies.  We also have our emotional state, and our intellectual.  And then there’s our spiritual side.  I’m not going to delve into religion here, but whether your spiritual side is manifested through religion or not, I think you can look at your spiritual side as your connection to yourself, and/or the world around you.  The idea that there is “something more”.

It’s important to nurture and take care of all these different sides of ourselves.  And I believe the more we are able to find balance between these different sides, the healthier we are as a person.

 

In addition to trying to find balance between these states as a person, we should also strive to find that balance in our relationships.

Often a relationship starts with physical attraction, leading people to start to get to know one another.  As they learn more about each other person, attraction and connection will hopefully start to happen on additional levels.  Emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually.

There can be different depths of connection for the different areas.

For example, two people may have an incredible physical connection.  And that may be fun, for a while at least.  But if that’s all there is, it’s unlikely to sustain a relationship over a long period of time.

A couple needs to be able and willing to explore and connect with each other on all levels.  Sharing beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings.  And striving to accept and understand each other for who they are.

Some people wall themselves off, either because they’ve never learned how to open up to another person or because they are trying to protect themselves from being hurt.  Ultimately doing just hurts the relationship, as you can’t have closeness without vulnerability.

Finding balance in relationship is important.  Between being an individual and part of a couple; and between the different levels of connection.  The goal in relationships should never be just building connection initially, but also continuing to grow and maintain this connection over a long period of time.

And I think this is where couples often get into trouble.

 

Prevention is better than cure.

At some level we all know this.

When rot or decay has infected something, that rot needs to be cut out before it spreads and does further damage.  So preventing rot in the first place should always be the preferable approach.

Yet time and again couples struggle to build resilience into their relationships.  Couples build the relationship, and once they have it they act like the work is done.  They stop doing the little things.  They stop putting in the effort.  And they stop trying.

 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  After all, life gets busy.

Most of life is mundane – jobs, chores, bills.  All these little things eat away at our time, and prevent us from focusing on our partners.  There are countless little things which on their own are perfectly valid reasons for not putting effort into our relationship.

As one-offs that should be fine, and understandable even.  But when it continues to happen over time, it becomes a pattern.  And that pattern clearly tells the other person:

“This relationship doesn’t matter to me”.

“You don’t matter to me”.

If we aren’t making our relationship a priority in our lives, why should we be shocked when we realize our relationship is in crisis?

MakingTimeForWhatMatters

 

 

What does prevention look like in a relationship?

Taking a page out of traditional Chinese medicine, I think it comes back to balance.  Maybe not between wood, fire, earth, metal and water; but between the different parts of our life.

Yeah, we probably all have jobs to do.  And there is always *stuff* that needs to be done.  Groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, bills, etc.  For those who are parents, there is also the time spent on kids.  And these things have to be balanced with having time for yourself and for maintaining friendships.

But there also has to always be time for your relationship.  To not only maintain it, but hopefully to continue to grow it, and continue to learn each other as you change and grow over time.

 

I think prevention means taking time out every day and being present, in the moment, with each other.  Taking that time to try and stay connected with each other on all levels – physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

It is about staying curious about each other, and interested in continuous growth both as individuals and as a couple.

It’s about showing your partner that no matter what else is happening in life, they matter to you.

 

Pink lotus blossoms or water lily flowers blooming on pond

I think the above graphic illustrates this need for balance well.  Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual – these different levels of connection are all related.  You can’t neglect some parts of a relationship and not expect the other parts to suffer as well.

 

So don’t wait until there are issues in your relationship until you remember to show your partner that they matter to you.  When you neglect it, sometimes it’s too late for “a cure”.

Instead, focus on prevention; and make each other a priority each and every day.

We are all Damaged

BrokenMask

I was recently talking with a close friend who is in the early stages of a divorce, and our discussion made me think back to a line from the first post I ever published, back in early 2014.  In it I wrote the following about learning what it meant to be a parent:

Suddenly we were parents, and it was up to us to discover what that meant.

We spent the next few years learning and I’m sure we made some mistakes along the way.  The bumps and bruises healed, and any psychological damage we did hopefully won’t surface for a few years yet (at least until he’s out of the house).

It was meant to be funny at the time, and it still kind of is (to me anyhow).  But at the same time, in the years since I wrote that I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of truth to it as well.

 

While talking things through with my buddy, one of his biggest concerns (about the divorce) is how it will impact his kids.  And really, the question is how, not if; because there WILL be impacts.  Some of those impacts will be felt immediately, with pain and confusion.  Tears, anger, withdrawal, etc.  A divorce can have impacts that cannot be predicted though.

As children, parents often shelter us from the world and make us feel safe.  Having your parents split up is often the first time that safety is really threatened, and it can be many, many years before the full impacts of that are felt.

I think these are natural concerns, and in fact I would be more concerned if he wasn’t worried about how the divorce would affect his kids.

 

This post isn’t about divorce.  Divorce just happens to be one of the many things that can happen in someone’s life that will have long lasting impacts.

Rather, it’s about how all the little things that have impacts we can’t fully understand or appreciate at the time.  Parents are always shaping our children through the things we say and do.  As parents we are models to our children, and they learn much more than we realize.  Hopefully a lot of what they learn from us is positive; but a lot of the issues they have in future life will come back to the “mistakes” that were made in raising them.

 

Attachment Theory is a psychological model that talks about how we form attachments with others; and how our relationships shape us, especially when we are hurt or feel threatened in those relationships.

Attachment theory has three attachment styles (four in some places, but the last one is just a mix of these three so I’m going to ignore it):

  1. Ambivalent Attachment.  This is characterized by a reluctance to get close to others, and a fear that your partner doesn’t love you.
  2. Avoidant Attachment.  This is characterized by problems with intimacy, holding back emotionally from the relationship (which probably contributes to the intimacy issues), and being unwilling to share feelings and emotions.
  3. Secure Attachment.  This is characterized by being comfortable sharing feelings with partners and friends, and an ability to have trusting lasting relationships.

 

I mention parenting above, because our earliest relationship is with our parents; and it is these early years that are believed to be the most important for shaping how we are able to form attachments as adults.

Which is kind of scary really.

I’m a dad, and I’ll be the first to admit that I have no freaking clue what I’m doing most of the time.  I try to do my best, as I’m sure most parents do.  Am I a “good” dad?  I would like to think so.  Yet I know I’ve made mistakes in the process.  Just as my parents did, and their parents before them.

This same dynamic has played out in our own lives.

As people we are the sum of our experiences.  Everything we have gone through up until now has impacted us in some way, and has shaped us into the person we are today.

Think about that for a moment.

How we were raised, what our parent’s relationship looked like, and also what our earliest relationships looked like.  All of these things have shaped HOW we form attachments.  I say “shaped”, because they influence it but they don’t have to control it.

 

As attachment theory says, it’s the fears, threats, and the hurts in our relationships that shape our future relationships the most.

We’ve all been hurt.  We’ve all suffered pain, and disappointment at the hands of those we love.  And these things leave marks on our lives.

If we’ve been hurt a lot, it’s understandable that we start to become more tentative around people, or build walls to protect us from being hurt again.  If we’ve been betrayed, it’s natural to start to lose trust in people, and fear these same things happening again.

All of the pain we’ve felt leads to insecurities, and we all have them.  We all have some sort of damage that we carry with us into our future relationships.

The danger here is, if we aren’t careful the damage we carry with us can poison our future relationships and end up causing the exact situation we are trying to avoid.

If you’ve been betrayed and find it difficult to trust, that lack of trust can lead you to see threat in situation that don’t warrant it; and that lack of trust can drive people away.

If you’ve been abandoned that fear of abandonment can make you hold on too tightly, pushing people away.  Or it can cause you to remain distant, preventing close attachments from developing.

There are all sorts of things we can do that sabotage our relationships; and while they may be understandable to those who know our histories that doesn’t mean they are healthy or acceptable behaviors.

The absolute worst thing you can do is say “this is just who I am”.  It’s not up to our partners to accommodate us.  To a degree they need to, but it’s also on us to try and heal ourselves, to be “better”.

We need to try and be self-aware and look at ourselves.  Try to understand what we are bringing into our relationships that is causing harm.  Because it’s only when we recognize and accept that damage that we can start to change it.

It’s a lot easier said than done though.

 

I’ve always thought of myself as someone who is fairly self-aware and emotionally healthy.  I realize I’m affected by my experiences and I think I understand what my own insecurities are.

Yet even still I have times that I catch myself doing things and/or saying things that at some level I *know* are counterproductive to what I want.  I know these things are self-defeating, but like turning your head to watch the scene of an accident, it’s hard to stop.

I’ve written many times that I don’t believe in “meant to be”.  I believe life presents us with opportunities, and it’s up to us to determine what we want to do with them.  So it’s especially frustrating when we do things that undermine those opportunities when they are presented.  When we don’t give ourselves the best chance to succeed.

 

One of my current favorite bands is Editors, and in their song Bones they have the following line:

In the end all you can hope for
Is the love you felt to equal the pain you’ve gone through

I think there’s a lot of truth there.  As I said, we’ve all been hurt.  We’ve all been disappointed.  We are all damaged in some way.

But it’s up to us to recognize that damage, and accept that it’s part of us.  And while it may be part of our past, it doesn’t have to shape our future.