Rabbit season

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.

Share

Happiness or Misery

It’s either sadness or euphoria

Billy Joel

 

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.

Share

The Storm and the Sun

The sky is clearing and the night has gone out.
The sun, he come, the world is all full of light.
Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice but to carry on.

Stephen Stills

Recently, I was watching many weather forecasts for a celebratory event that I was attending. There were many conflicting reports, most involving rain. I heard the meteorologist on one channel say ” the nicer the day, the stronger the storms we will have.” I thought “wow that’s an interesting metaphor for life.” We want to have a life filled with beautiful blue skies, sunshine and a slight breeze. However, we will also have times with stormy skies, and days that are dark, rainy, cloudy and cold. It is how we “weather” the storms that lead to how much sunshine we will have.

Many people who come to see me are in the midst of their personal storms. They are unhappy in some way and using whatever coping strategies they possess. Not all of these are the healthiest. Some people may use some “quick fix band aids”– addictions of some kind to numb or escape. In an effort to stuff the pain, the person may become anxious or depressed. These predictably unpredictable storms are counterproductive but ironically get the person to make a therapy appointment. Unfortunately, the weather may get worse as we start to explore the issues and identify the mechanisms of how the storm got created. It’s always hard to know if the problems are recent or long standing. The more recent issues clear up sooner, but the older the issue, the harder it will be for blue skies to appear. (I have written about weather and therapy before. For a more dramatic description go to:http://jeffbrandler.psychcentral.net/2008/02/08/you-cannot-have-a-rainbow-without-a-storm/)

As a therapist who has a website change is possible, you would hope that I’m looking for sunny days. Seeing positive change, and quality of life improvements are the “spring” of my work. I am well aware that positive changes have set- backs. Relapses are often signs that more changes need to be made. When the negative behaviors occur, it is an opportunity for the person to examine their own willingness to change. Some people are done at the first raindrop. They enter the “therapeutic witness protection program” and are never seen or heard from again. Others are willing to examine every facet of their life and understand how and why the negative change occurred. The clients who handle the wind and darkness end up with the beautiful weather days that they want and need.

The event went off without a hitch. The weather forecast of the apocalypse did not occur. We were all grateful that our weather was cloudy with no precipitation. Late in the afternoon, the sun peaked through the clouds. It was an unexpected joy. On this day, like many days in my office, when the sun came out, a tear came to my eye.

Share