Are you ready to improve your relationship????
Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future,
but from wanting to control it
If you live in NJ and commute you know that you will drive in traffic. You will stop and go and stop and go. If you have to do one of those jug handle turns in order to turn left, you typically race to make the light. Did you ever think what would happen if you didn’t make the light? What would you miss? Would you get a better song to listen to, would you make one more phone call?
One day I got stuck at the traffic light. (For the record, I listened to more music) I waited and waited and waited for the light to change to green. As I made the turn on to my next street, I saw a police car, lights flashing, zoom past me. I kept on driving. I saw where the police car ended up. There was a serious car accident right down the street. I thought, “Wow if I had made that light could that have been me in that accident?” The thought shook me and I continued my commute.
After arriving at my destination, I began to think about recent world events. What would have happened if I was on that New York street the day the bombs went off in Chelsea, or I had been on the platform the day the NJ transit train crashed in Hoboken? How do you explain the randomness of these bad things happening? How do we deal with this? If you think too much about these questions, you will never leave your house again. Your motto will be “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”
Staying home however isn’t the answer. I mean bad stuff happens in people’s homes everyday—accidents, falls, fires, robberies. That doesn’t sound any better, in fact it sounds worse.
What is the answer to the craziness of our world, a world where tragedies happen to both good and bad people? I mean we smile and smirk when karma comes back around and the bad people get it, but at the end of the day it’s hardly a victory. When the tragedies happen to good people, we are stuck, we are without words, we are without anything. There is nothing left to say or do.
Our lack of control in our life is frightening. We desperately want control. We want to know when people will die, so we can say our goodbyes at the right time. We want to know when we will be laid off so we can get our resumes out to land that new job. We want to know when our houses will sell so we can find the new house that we want. We never know any of these things in advance. We get upset, we get frustrated, and we get angry when we have no control.
We need to figure out how to handle our lack of control and how we can live our lives in a healthier, less anxious way. Here is a musical example of our fear and anxiety. The band Incubus, released the song “Drive” in 2000. It appears on their third album Make Yourself. Enjoy the song.
“Drive” gives us a clue for handling this fear and anxiety “I should be the one behind the wheel”. We’ll address this topic in greater detail in part 2 of this blog.
Remember change is possible.
In this episode, we examine the most shameful of all addictions, sexual addiction. We will define addiction, identify how addiction impacts family members, and the addicted person. A case example is presented to highlight these issues
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On Today’s show we will examine how technology is ruining your relationship- how people are spending too much time with their phones and not each other.
We’re going to talk about phones and relationships and most importantly, how to improve them.
My latest podcast is about grief. Learn what it is, what are the symptoms, and what are some coping strategies. Music from Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Ambrosia, and George Harrison provides examples for discussion.
Let’s watch this clip to see how couples often have conflict:
The “rabbit season/duck season” argument occurs often among couples. They go back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, usually with someone getting “blown up”. This ping pong match features lots of conflict which go nowhere. Just like rabbit and duck season, nothing is solved, there is no resolution of the conflict, and there are no negotiations. Things just go boom!
What is the cost of that boom? More conflict, less communication, holding grudges and resentment, less intimacy, and further distance between partners– a loud boom indeed for a relationship! The ironic part of this conflict is that many of the topics in the argument are pretty worthless! It is conflict for the sake of conflict and conflict in order to win. Please pause from reading this and think about the last five fights that you and your partner have had……
How many of these involved “big ticket items”—addiction, mental illness, infidelity, domestic violence?
How many of these involved a misunderstanding/misperception of who was going to do what /when?
If you have big ticket item fights you should be attending regular couples and individual therapy –Schedule that now.
If you are having the “rabbit season/ duck season” fights—explain to YOURSELF why you are doing this. Please do not rationalize, justify and blame your partner for HIS/HER actions. Please ask yourself……Why are I doing this? What is MY part in the fight? What is MY ISSUE that keeps coming up? Why do I want to engage in this conflict? –Do you want to know? (Do you need to know?)
YOU have the power to change YOUR behavior! If you do that, you can change the relationship! (If you change one part of a relationship, that changes other parts of the relationship — a lengthy conversation for another time.)
At this point, you may be feeling defensive and wondering why YOU have to do all the work? What about your partner? Shouldn’t s/he be doing some of this SELF examination? You may want your partner to do this, but is your partner open to this inquiry? If s/he is willing, communicate your desire for him/her to change in a loving, soft, gentle way. No need for another boom. If your partner is not open to change, then you have two choices—keep having booms over small ticket items or change YOURSELF. Start with the questions from the previous paragraph. Identify that issue. Work on making it better. Since you are looking at yourself, ask the hard question—is there any truth to what my partner is saying about me? . If I’m accused of being loud and obnoxious and insensitive, is there truth in that? If so, how can I change that? Can I be warmer, more caring, and more empathic? Can I be a better listener? Do I have to win every round of every fight? (You don’t)
If you work on changing yourself, then something magical is going to happen—you will feel better. You will feel better about the world, you will feel better about your partner, and you will feel better about the relationship. You will see how worthless the “rabbit season/duck season” argument is and how it is much better to appreciate the positives that your partner brings to the table, not his/her deficiencies. You can also acknowledge those positives, and validate his/her behaviors that you appreciate (instead of criticizing your partner repeatedly)
What do you have to lose? — Many pointless hours of frustration, stress, agita
What do you have to gain? Peace, change and love.
Seems like a simple decision.
Change is possible.
It’s either sadness or euphoria
It’s a new year. People make all kinds of resolutions. People will say “this is the year that I get into shape, or lose weight, or improve my self-esteem, or improve my marriage. People make these plans in order to make themselves happy. Many of these resolutions fall off of the table early in the year. This lack of success indicates to me that people are apparently content with their misery.
One of the leading causes for misery is expectation. An expectation, according to Webster’s dictionary, is “a belief that something will happen in the future” If it’s garbage day and my partner is in charge of garbage I expect that he or she will take out the garbage. When this occurs, everything is great. The problem occurs when I expect my partner to do something and it doesn’t happen. This expectation often leads to a variety of negative feelings. Let’s look at the following example:
Marie and Steve are married for 10 years. They have two children. Steve has an episodic alcohol issue—He doesn’t drink regularly, but when he does, he binges for days at a time. Marie has communicated her frustration, anger, hurt, disappointment to Steve about his drinking. She assumes that her communications will lead him to “get it” and he will stop drinking. Marie and Steve are having family over on Saturday night. She expects that after all of her conversations, that there is no way that Steve will drink. When she wakes up Saturday morning, she sees Steve passed out on the couch with a bottle of vodka nearby. She is livid, and screams at him at concert hall volume.
There is no doubt that Marie’s feelings are valid—hurt, anger, resentment, disappointment, fear, embarrassment. The problem however lies in Marie’s expectation—“we are having a family party, I’ve spoken to Steve many times, he shouldn’t be drinking” It is the expectation that creates her feelings.
Expectations are the things that we have the most control over, yet the thing that we want to change the least. It is way more fun to have a “you fest” …”you did this, you did that, you always do this etc”. It is much harder to look at our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors. We live in a world that we think is governed by the ways things should be. People should always stop at stop signs. People should wait on lines in grocery stores, airports, department stores. People should be courteous drivers. People should follow all of the rules of our society. We know however this doesn’t happen all the time. We get upset when these rules are bent, broken or destroyed. In relationships, we have the same rules. We expect our partners will follow these rules. (In the above example, Steve should not drink when Marie is having company) When partners don’t comply with OUR EXPECTATION, then we are justifiably hurt, angry etc. [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#00008b” class=”” size=””]We then then blame our partner. It is MY expectation that is the problem, not my partner’s behavior![/pullquote]
In order to change expectations we are going to invoke my favorite six letter word, “accept”. For more on acceptance (manny being manny blog. Acceptance gives us power over our thoughts, feelings, and behavior and produces the ability to let things go. If I accept the fact that people will not stop at stop signs, will cut lines, and will drive erratically, I will be less upset. Since no one decided that I was in charge to enforce these infractions (a scary thought if I was), I can just accept that people will not always act in ways that I like. They can break all the rules they want. In relationships the same concept applies. In our earlier example, If Marie accepts the fact that Steve drinks episodically, and that in spite of all of her lectures and discussions, he will drink again, she will not be as angry. (In fact if she changes her behavior, she’ll be more compassionate, and won’t take his drinking personally, but that’s another blog entirely!)
Marie gets to choose if she wants happiness or misery. If she looks at life with high expectations and very little acceptance, she will be hurt, angry, and resentful. She will have a great deal of misery which she is causing for herself. If Marie decides to make changes and work on being happy, she can have few expectations, and lots of acceptance. She has the power to do.
Change is possible.
Dedicated to LC who didn’t live very long but inspired many
Many years ago Linda was a client that I was working with. She was a very complicated young woman. She had chemical addictions, eating disorders and an assortment of other significant issues. Her chemical addictions were getting out of hand and she needed to go to detox. Linda agreed and assured me that she would go on Monday. On Monday, after she didn’t arrive at the detox, I called her and the conversation went something like this:
Me: What happened?
L : You know
Me: You took a detour?
Me: Ok, (pause, pause, pause,)but really you need to go to detox
L: I know
Me: How about tomorrow
Me: So you’ll call them now so you can get in tomorrow?
Me: So you are going tomorrow?
Me No detours?
L: No detours
Linda did arrive at detox the next day, she looked like, someone who was on the highway to hell. She completed detox, but soon her multiple issues and continued detours led her to her final highway. She died way too young, unable to deal with many issues that she could not even speak about.
Linda’s detours sadly led to her undoing in a permanent way, but many people that I see don’t listen to their internal gps settings. They appear to be on the verge of getting better only to get off of “Healthy Road” and make several turns on to “Self-Defeating Avenue” or “Self-Destructive Boulevard”. These detours tend to last way longer than necessary and ultimately lead to lots of guilt, shame, remorse, and self-loathing. When people drive back and find “Healthy Road” they generally have to clean up the messes they made from their detour. As people start to clean up those messes they begin to ask themselves the following questions:
• Why did I do that?
• What’s wrong with me?
• Why can’t I succeed?
• Am I doomed to always do this?
• Can I be healthier?
When people bring these questions to my office, we need to do some probing for the answers. We need to look at how their detouring behavior is “wired”— that is what causes this behavior? Is it something from their past? Is it a long standing issue with their self –esteem? Is it from some traumatic event that has occurred? There may be hundreds of hypotheses about the reasons this behavior exists and the mechanisms that keep this behavior going. Once we have an idea about why a person may detour, then we need to identify how to change this. This can be a very painful process because some the issues have never been addressed. It takes great courage, patience, and trust to work through the pain.
Linda never got the opportunity to do this. Her detours to hell, ultimately led to her demise. Her fear and shame led her to take her secrets with her to her death.
As we head for the New Year, we can work to stay on “Healthy Road” with frequent turns towards “Self-Improvement Street” and “Feeling Better About Myself Avenue”. Whatever the issues are, they can be identified, and healed. No one needs to keep detouring from the right path.
Change is possible
There is a light flashing on the answering machine. Wow. Could it be a referral? Is it someone I can see? Is it someone I can help? Will our schedules match up? I impatiently go to the message “Hi this is Lois, I got your name from Dr. Don Henry at St. Paul’s medical center. He said you specialize in couples therapy and addictions. I’d like to make an appointment” My heart races, my breathing increases. I’m a specialist? I am, I guess. I call Lois on the telephone. We discuss some of the clinical issues, insurance, and scheduling. I feel awkward trying to communicate the key points. I have to remember to tell her my address, give directions to the office, and tell her where to park. I successfully accomplish all of this and Lois and her husband Bill come in. I get to share my “expertise” with them. There are so many issues—Bill’s drinking, Lois’ control, and the impact on the relationship. Where do I start? Can I help these people? I’ve helped hundreds of people like Bill and Lois when I worked for someone else. But this is about my name, my reputation, my career, my future.
I see Bill and Lois and their multiple problems. They get better. My initial fears get smaller. Week after week, the phone keeps ringing. There are more messages. A man with an angry sounding voice named Tom, calls saying “I gotta come see you; my boss is such a jerk; he’s gonna fire me if I don’t come” He comes in, and over time, he’s not so angry. A sweet, soft sounding woman named Joan, calls to get help for her panic attacks. She comes into my office and is not as sweet as she sounds. In fact, she’s quite angry, in fact about everything. People continue to call and ask interesting questions “Can you see my son and not tell my ex-wife that he’s coming for therapy even if she calls you”? “Can I tell you a secret that my husband doesn’t know”? “Do I have to be honest during therapy, I mean tell you everything?” These questions and their answers all test my therapeutic skills and challenge my knowledge of both ethics and the law. (if you are scoring at home, it’s no, yes, and no)
Among the other new challenges is the business part of the practice. This includes billing, collecting, marketing and advertising I listen to my colleagues who share the ongoing debate ” I have too many clients to be part time, but not enough to be full time” I wonder ” Will I suffer the same fate?” “What if I do too good a job, and all of my clients get better?” “[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#9370db” class=”” size=””]What if the phone stops ringing?”[/pullquote]
What if the phone stops ringing? (It actually did once for a period of 12 days). Will I be like other therapists in private practice, here today, closing up shop tomorrow?
Over time, my fears get smaller, and more clients attend. I begin to realize that as a result of information that I learned from continuing education classes and from reading journal articles, that prospective clients want to find a therapist who has good clinical and interpersonal skills. They want to find a practitioner who is also human. They want to find someone who has the following characteristics:
Characteristics of desired therapists:
• Shows empathy
• Non judgmental
• Keeps good boundaries
• Good interpersonal skills
• Is human
• Open to other viewpoints
The above characteristics seem obvious to me, but many clients have reported that they have had poor or unsatisfactory experiences with previous therapists. Some are robotic. Some are non-communicative. Some only care about getting paid. I’m glad that’s not the feedback that I have received over these many years of being a therapist.
Time has passed; technology has given us new ways of communicating. We now have voice mail, text messaging, and email, all direct ways for new clients to begin their journey towards change. Over the last few years I have discovered that two trends have started to happen. I have been receiving calls from second generation clients. These conversations usually start the same way “you saw my mother/father some years ago and I would like to make an appointment.” It’s funny to see the adult version of a person who their parent once described to me. The other interesting trend is the returning client. This is a person who I met with more than ten years ago. Those conversations too have a familiar sound to them “Hi my name is Sue and I don’t know if you remember me but I saw you 15 years ago. You helped me so much then and I have some issues that I know you can help me with again.” These two trends are very gratifying to me because they demonstrate my beliefs about change. If two people work together on a problem, and there is good “therapeutic chemistry”, change will occur. This has been proven over my entire career. I am grateful to be a part of that chemistry.
If you are looking to find a therapist, use the “characteristics of desired therapists” list to find your person.
Change is possible.