Finding the passion after it fades…

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Many couples find that after time, passion dwindles. But with some coaching and perseverance, they may be able to overcome the slump.

Please let me know what you think, and contribute to the wonderful dialogue already begun!

Toxic Relationships

I always enjoy seeing others’ websites when they comment on relational problems. That includes both professional blog posts and non-professionals as well, as I think anyone with a history of being in relationships can provide valid insight. I came across 6 Toxic Relationship Habits , and I thought it spoke very clearly on many of the patterns that relationships come across that people believe are romantic aspects of love, but in reality are negative and toxic to healthy relationships.

I began to wonder why popular culture has perpetuated these myths, urging us to believe that a lack of trust, obligatory matching emotional states and blurred boundaries should be something considerred positive rather than negative. I believe it’s a relatively recent phenomenon that has occurred within western culture, as other cultures do not mirror these beliefs in the same way. As an example, if a woman looks at her partner disapprovingly, slamming her phone down on the table and shouting obsenities because she believed her partner gave a seductive look to a waitress in an Eastern Asian cultural, it likely would not be seen as acceptable, and certainly not lauded as an appropriate display of feminism.

How as a species have we differed so greatly on matters of ways to conduct relationships? Most importantly, is there a way we can conduct these loving states without getting caught up in romantic notions of relationships without learning ways of actually living “happily ever after”? I think that the suggestions made in this article are very valid, but most be met within a particular context of each relationship. After these toxic behaviors infect a relationship, is there any way to go back to a healthy set of interaction. In many ways, I think that my theory of competition within the relationship offers a way out of this toxicity. I will highlight how the 5 points made by Mr. Manson below:

1. The Relationship Scorecard
This highlights so much of what I refer to as negatively competitive relationships. Arguing and keeping tally of past arguments only establishes resentments further. A way to turn around this experience is to change the dynamic of scoring, and change the competition. Can you think of things that your partner has done that is caring, loving, and considerate? Can you beat them at it, and then rationalize your behavior to be a better, more caring partner than your spouse? Perhaps even more than you have been before?

2. Dropping “Hints” and Passive Agression
Communication is truly the cornerstone of a healthy relationship, and experiencing a lack of communication in a relationship can be difficult to turn around. A state of safety must be established within the relationship, so that each partner can share their feelings without feeling judged or critiqued. A way to create this at first is through a mirroring exercise, where you reframe or paraphrase what your partner is saying, and then ask them for how they feel about it before you respond. If each partner adopts this pattern, it leads to an environment where feelings can be shared, and communication where each partner feels heard within the relational dynamic.

3. Holding the relationship hostage
A testament to how conflict threatens the integrity of the relationship. Any argument, no matter how small, blows up into screaming, yelling, and walking away from the other person. It somewhat reminds me of two fans of rival sports teams, and their overreactions to a seemingly small play that would otherwise be ignored, if not for the history of their rivalry. The important difference is, part of an aspect of sports rivalry is an inherent agreement to engage in competition with respect, within the rules and confines of the game, and to maintain sportsmanship within the rivalry. So, I suggest the same for couples who threaten to leave the relationship at the drop of a hat – either enage in a respectful competition, or don’t be in it at all; the choice is always up to you.

4. Blaming your partner for your own emotions
Codependecy is a very common, and potentially lethal dynamic for a relationship to have. The ability for each person to experience their own feelings without needing to pacify their partner can be the difference between a healthy relationship and a destructive one. A similar dynamic can be found in team sports where someone is leaving their own position to cover for a teammate. This rarely works, because each person’s role is defined. Similarly, in a relationship, if you try to cover for your partner, neither of your roles truly gets addressed, and you impair both of your abilities to address your own needs. My advice – don’t leave your position. Don’t expect the other person to cover for you and manage your emotions, and don’t return the favor.

5. Displays of “loving” jealousy
This one is all about power, control and trust. That feeling of anxiety that leads to dramatic outward acts is all about trying to control the other person and manipulating them to stay in the relationship to make you feel safe. However, is that really the relationship that you want? Trusting the other person is integral in a relationship, and it’s impossible to build if that person does not have the freedom to make their own decisions about how to act outside of the relationship. If they flirt with someone else, but it goes no further, and they bring that increased sexual energy into the realtionship, is that really such a bad thing?

6. Buying the solutions to relationship problems
Most of us hate to fight. We do it, quite often, but that conflict kicks up many emotions and brings many to an uneasy emotional state. So, we try to sweep issues under the rug. The problem? Issues swept under aren’t resolve, and will continue to come back with a vengence, only get added resentments for sweeping them under in the first place. It’s kind of like teammates who are fighting, and then go to the press to air their differences. Rarely works, and the outward flash to others doesn’t really convince anyone that everything is ok, and probably makes things worse. The solution: keep it in the lockerroom. Rather than buy your partner’s affection for some outward show, address the issue behind closed doors. Address it, resolve it, shakes hands (or hug/kiss – benefit of the relationship and not a sports teammate), and move on.

Competitive Liberty

As I stare up at explosions of fireworks booming overhead while millions of Americans celebrate the birth of our country, I consider the foundations of what has made America the country it is today, and in part what values have influenced me as a therapist. I have lived in this country as a natural citizen in the post-Vietnam, post-industrial revolution, post-modernism era which has culminated the later part of the 20th century and early 21st century. I have witnessed much of what has made America one of the most unique political powers in the history of humanity; a relatively new country who has become influential in their cultural and political byproducts in only a few hundred years based on principles of democracy, freedoms and liberty.

Of course, being a systemic thinker, I wonder how these ideas influence our behaviors and our mindsets in much smaller systems that don’t incorporate national foreign and domestic policies . Our families and our selves often incorporate these principles in our daily actions. And, what’s more, is that they don’t often conform to what we traditionally view is a healthy family system. If parents speak of giving their children liberties and freedoms to explore and create, they are often viewed as Liberalists who cannot control their offspring. How concepts of freedom and liberty influences marital  relationships is a topic I have covered in other posts, and I’m sure will continue to be covered in future discussions.

Strangely, these can be seen as very antiquated views which propelled our country to gain its independence initially, and one which influences children today as they become adults as seek their own autonomy and freedom. As children launch from the home, they seek many of the same things which our country sought in its initial stages – support from their homeland when starting out and eventual distinction from their country (or family) of origin. Issues of control continue to play out in adolescence where the concept of freedom for the teenager is balanced with a parents concern that their behaviors might be dangerous, risky, or embarrassing.

Perhaps in this way we may learn from our history. If England had addressed the colonies as adolescents preparing to launch into their own national identity, we may find ways of herding our own teens into their own independent adult lives. Giving them a voice in matters concerning them may help to foster both independence and decision-making. And avoid a Boston Tea Party 🙂 Allowing them measured autonomy while still acknowledging that their adult status is not quite there yet, and they don’t require the strains that are involved in adult responsibilities. In this way, we may not push our children out of the door before they are ready, or keep them dependent upon adults until they are in their mid-20’s, and are forced into their own post-revolution existence, needing to find ways of conducting their adulthood by necessity, and without our nurturing support.

Honoring Parents

At this time of year, we celebrate within 1 month of each other the roles of two family members pivotal to our entire society’s functioning; mom and dad. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are days devoted to celebrating how these individuals in our lives influence us and support us. Unfortunately, as is the case with any family relationship, having such a myopic view of how mothers and fathers influence us eliminates all of the other types of feelings we may hold on holidays such as these. Influences on how we function as children and as adults vary dramatically from both genetic and environmental triggers, but one thing is for certain – we all owe a lot to who we are based on our parents.

There continues to be more and more research on how this is exactly so. This page shows how influential fathers can be, even long before they actually interact with their children. It describes how stressors affecting Dad dating back to his own adolescence and adulthood can influence stress reaction from his children during the process of conception. It made me consider something pretty amazing – we can carry the genetic keys to managing stress from our entire ancestry. As these influences are passed down from one generation to the next, it certainly carries with it how transgenerational stress can be apparent in mental health of each generation. But moreso, I wondered if the positive traits are passed down as well. If your father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and so on were able to build healthy modalities of managing stress in their lives, does that give you a leg up on others when faced with the same thing? If that’s the case, our future generations have a tremendous advantage.

The role of therapy in our culture is very different from how it was perceived only a generation ago. Mental health has long been a taboo topic, and for a great portion of human history those with mental health issues used to be removed from society and tortured in various ways, depending on the culture. However, today it is viewed in a different lens, where speaking to someone about developing healthy ways of coping with stress does not carry with it the same stigma it once did. And so, our roles as parents today can influence the future in many more ways given this article. We can help to shape the future with positive ways of managing all types of stressors.

I sincerely doubt that one celebratory days such as Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, there can be a better way of honoring and respecting all of the generations which preceded us by taking all of their genetic contributions and using the tools which today’s world offers to us to expand and improve upon them. So thank you, mothers and fathers of decades and centuries gone by, mothers and fathers of today, and the mothers and fathers of tomorrow. You help to shape our world in more ways than you know, and deserve every bit of celebratory acknowledgment we can muster.

Role Definition

Who runs your family? Often there are many pre-conceived notions of what roles everyone plays. There are also many cultural definitions on who “should” play each role, including for men, women, children, and grandparents as well. In today’s society, these roles get blurred more than ever, and often we find ourselves fighting for leadership within the family or support from others, without being able to define who, what, and how these behaviors should be shown. Instead, we fight over them, creating a dysfunctional interaction that becomes the deciding factor in how our families operate.

So, who gets what role? Which arrangement is best? Well, to answer that question generally depends on the family. It depends on personality types and expectations from all of those involved. Should a father “rule his roost”, or should the mother “run the house”, as in traditional cultural expectations. What happens when both parents work, and the children become “latch-key” kids? Answers to these types of issues can best be discussed with your therapist, but some rules do tend to cross all family systems.

  • Let kids be kids. This is not to say that children should not have responsibilities to the other members of the household, but having a child be parentified and accepting responsibilities beyond their age or ability level can lead to resentment and acting out behavior. Often, these can be viewed as pleas to re-arrange the family structure, especially as children proceed from young childhood to pre-teen and teenage years. These roles can be fluid as the child ages and amasses more responsibilities, but must also address the overall hierarchy within the family.
  • Parents on top. Regardless if Mom or Dad occupies the leadership role, a lot of dysfunction originates when others perform this duty. Major decisions for family plans, discipline and reward for children and the organizing factor of family meetings must rely on this subgroup to lead others. For some parents, this may not be a comfortable position, and may need to seek guidance from outside the family system on effective ways of being a leader, and managing family dynamics.
  • Divorces: Nothing can wreak more havoc on family dynamics than separation of a couple, which is a reality many (according to recent statistics, most) families must face. How decisions are made on where to move, financial contributions, and parenting styles are still a factor post split-up, and acrimonious feelings and hatred only compound the problem, especially if children are placed in the middle as a go-between. Just because you’ve split up as a couple does not mean parenting duties do not still hold true.
  • Support Systems: Just like on a sports team, it is not the stars on the team that determine champions – it is the role of the supporting cast in filling in a role that can still hold value while not dominating the performance. Examples of these roles in families can include any aspect of a support system: extended family members, friends, step-parents, community members, clergy and therapists are all examples of individuals who can mean a great deal to successful family relationships while not overstepping their roles and allow the family to capitalize on their abilities and their roles in healthy and productive ways.

Listening Skillz

“You never understand what the hell I’m actually yelling at you for!” This was the opening statement a recent wife had in our couple session, moments after sitting down in my office. Each person sat on opposite sides of my wrap-around couch, creating a physical distance that mirrored the frustration and anger apparent in their relationship. She clearly had been waiting a week to say these very words, and effectively created the dialogue of the session before anyone (including myself) had a chance to intervene.

Which of course got me thinking and reflecting; isn’t listening the whole point of therapy? I know therapists pay attention to the value of listening a lot. Let me re-iterate: A LOT. A great blog I check out occasionally talks about how the therapist-client relationship is impacted so incredibly by the therapist’s skill to accurately listen to what clients are talking about without any preconceived notions.

However, doesn’t this really reflect what goes on in the relationships back home? Listening is not innate – it is a specific skill. One that typically does not get taught, at least not formally. I recall many things from school, but my classwork seemed rather devoid of “English-language arts, followed by some math, some practice doing listening homework, and finally that big science project.” I have not made a working volcano since, but I do practice listening daily, ironically enough. Still, I consider myself barely above a novice at actually setting my thoughts aside and fully, completely, listening to someone else. Not hearing what they say, but actually LISTENING.

Have you tried doing this with your partner? Ever? This is not meant sarcastically, I mean deeply, intentionally, listening to them. No judgments, no interpretations, and possibly no feedback even. Just listening to them. I don’t mean for content. “How was your day” can be an opening question to the trivial or to the in-depth. When a therapist asks this question in session, we usually are listening intently for an answer, but not one that is verbally stated. Possible responses may include “oh, everything is fine” or “same old, same old”. Real responses include the nonverbal: tensing of muscles, blinking, increased heart rate, and other signatures that are part of our internal biological system that indicates we are in a “fight or flight mode”. Then, as much as we may be hearing “everything is fine”, we can be listening to “everything is NOT FINE”. Some of these types of listening skills may help when your spouse sits down on the couch and says “You never understand what the hell I’m yelling at you for!”, and you actually pay attention to what the hell they’re talking about…

 

March Madness

As much of the sports world revolves around “March Madness”, or the collegiate NCAA tournament for men’s and women’s basketball, I consider the far more pervasive march madness that many of us face daily. We try to get through the grind of the winter, only to look for brighter horizons in the upcoming months of spring and summer. We hope that with sunnier weather comes sunnier attitudes and a fresh, new approach can come from some of the harsher interactions we’ve shared.

However, what happens when the spring of our lives continues on like a lion rather than a lamb? What happens if in the tournament of our lives, we are not exactly a 1 or 2 seed, but rather a 16-seed? Everyone anticipates our failure and expresses at least a covert expectation that we may not prevail in our goals. This can be one of the truly best lessons learned from the sports arena, and applied to our lives. It becomes the magic and enthralling nature of this tournament to watch, view, and become emotionally invested in upsets.

By upset, I mean those teams which are anticipated to fail, but do not. They refuse. They gather all of the courage and resiliency that they can muster, and despite all odds stacked against them, they unite together as one. Similar analogies can be seen in archetypes throughout human history, ranging from myths and legends, biblical verse, and stories prevailing the value of David vs. Goliath, and an ultimate rooting for the underdog.

Perhaps it has been my work with those struggling with addiction who have shown me the truly awesome nature of resiliency. They are a population who suffer from a stigma that they are the dregs of society, are worthless, lying, cheating individuals who threaten the safety and happiness of others. All due to a choice to use substances, categorically choosing them above all other aspects of life including family, friends, work, and love. And despite the fallacies involved of ‘choosing’ this type of life, many do indeed suffer great hardships including homelessness and retribution from loved ones. But it is those who persist that continue to amaze and inspire me. Those who acknowledge that they must lift themselves up from what so often is considered to be “hitting bottom”, and rise up from the ashes to success. They are able to decide not to let this stigma deter them, and it is a lesson I feel we may all benefit from.

No matter who, what, when, where or why someone is telling you that you deserve misery, you are not obliged to listen. You deserve better, and you are able to achieve more. It will require hard work, perhaps some sacrifice, and putting everything you have into making your lives a success. And, what’s more, you can do it.