Category Archives: Relationship

Cyber Cheating: What to do

With the rise of the digital age “cheating” has taken on a new form. Now more than ever husbands and wives are catching their spouses having romantic interactions online. Cyber cheating has many forms including chatting with an ex through social media, watching porn, sexual or romantic online chatting with a stranger, using dating apps to chat with others but not hooking up outside of the app, and sexting. 

To the guilty party it might not seem like they are actually cheating because they aren’t meeting up with the people they are interacting with online, but to the one being affected, it still hurts. Cyber cheating is still a form of betrayal, dishonesty, and still has the ability to ruin a marriage. It is common for the cheating person to deny what they are doing as cheating, and to come up with excuses such as “if life wasn’t so stressful,” “if I got enough sex,” “I am only flirting,” or “it means nothing.”

What do you do if you catch your spouse cyber cheating?

No matter how you discovered your spouse cheating, the first thing you need to do is talk to he/she about it. If there are kids in the house, choose a time when they are asleep or get a sitter and go somewhere where you can be uninterrupted. Talk to your spouse. Tell them what you saw and ask them to explain. Tell them how it makes you feel. You need to lay out the details, and then  take some time to think. You need to decide if there is a way to go on. What do you want? What would make you feel better? 

There is no easy fix. Recovering from an affair is a major hurdle for any couple. The intense feelings of betrayal, hurt, and distrust can linger long after the affair has ended. This is a great time to seek the help of a licensed counselor to help talk things out and determine what works emotionally for each of you. A counselor can help you to evaluate your relationship with a clearer lense. 

How to be in a happy relationship

Frequently I have clients ask me how to be in a happy relationship. Usually, after much discussion, we come up with the solution to a happy relationship as not being “obliviously comfortable.” The idea is you need to be your authentic self, comfortable in your skin, having the freedom to truly and deeply be you, but you also need to tune-in to your partner. 

A relationship is typically composed of two people, not just one. So you can’t be happy if you are not thinking about the other person. It is just not possible. That means being mindful, not oblivious, to their thoughts, feelings, likes, dislikes, and who they are as an authentic self. You can’t expect them to change to conform to you, although some of being in-tuned to your partner is making sacrifices. There is a difference between sacrificing and making adjustments for your significant other, and changing who you are. 

Being in-tune with your partner

You need to be comfortable to be happy, but that does not mean you will never be uncomfortable…if you get my drift. You need to be able to be you, to feel safe to be you, to not have to hide your inner being, but that does not mean never adjusting to please your significant other. It takes work from both sides to be happy. For example, a wife dislikes sports and a husband dislikes going to concerts but the two of them would like to start doing things together more often. They aren’t getting the quality time they need. So, they make a deal. The wife will go to a sports game or watch a game on TV with her spouse so they can have time together, and the husband will agree to attend a concert with the wife. It is a small sacrifice for the good of the relationship. 

Another example might be the wife gets up early every day to run while the husband chooses to hit the snooze button a 1000 times before rolling out of bed. Instead of making a lot of racket when getting out of bed, the wife gets out quietly and is respectful of the husband. It is about being in-tune with her husband’s need to get more sleep. There are many many examples, but the bottom line is you can’t be happy in a relationship without effort from both sides. You need to open your eyes, your ears, and your senses. No one is the exact same, we all do things a little differently.

 

Connecting with loved ones at bedtime: It is good for your health

A healthy bedtime routine with the people we love can be a smart way to close off the day. To let go of stress, and rest peacefully.

Whether it is cuddles with a child, a bedtime kiss, laughing and talking with a spouse, feeling physically or emotionally connected to those we love can decrease cortisone levels and stress-related health risks. It is a routine that everyone in the home can look forward to, and it is a nice way to put some finality into the day…to know you are not alone in this busy life, and tomorrow is a new day. 

A psychological scientist at Wayne State University explored the link between cortisol levels—also known as the stress hormone—and physical health. Cortisol is present in nearly every cell of the body, impacting learning, memory, and emotion. It also helps to regulate the immune system. The scientist Richard Slatcher found the more connected to their relationships people felt, the healthier cortisol levels they had. 

A Healthy Bedtime Routine

Some ideas for a healthy bedtime routine may include:

1.) Exchanging “I love you’s.” This is a good habit to get into because as much as we feel we don’t need to always say it, it helps to hear it and know your children or spouse mean it. It is healthy for everyone. 

2.) Go to bed at the same time as your spouse. This provides time to reconnect, even if only for a few minutes. It is time where it is just the two of you. Even if it is a few exchanges about your day or some more intimate cuddle time, maybe a laugh or two, it is a good healthy habit and keeps you both on the same page. 

3.)Unplug. Bed is not the place for your phone or laptop. Leave that stuff at the door. This is time for your marriage, for your children. 

4.) Prioritize getting a good nights rest. Try to go to bed at an early enough time to get ample sleep. Better sleep means better mental and physical health, and better handling of stressful situations. 

5.) Don’t try to settle arguments. The old saying “don’t go to bed angry” is not always true. Not everything has to be fixed before getting some shut-eye. In some cases, it can be better to get some good rest and then reassess in the morning when you are refreshed and focused. 

6.) Take a few minutes to practice gratitude. Think about one good thing that happened in your day and share it with your spouse or your kids. It will leave the day on a happy note and improve overall mental health. 

Judgment Vs. Feedback: How to tell the difference

We often get upset when people tell us things about ourselves. We get defensive, we hold it in, we let it fester, and internalize our feelings. But, is it always bad? There is a difference between being judged by others and getting constructive feedback.

Feedback is usually given by people who have a positive relationship with you, they care about you—maybe it is your mom telling you to stop letting your child sleep in bed with you. It might feel like a judgment but really it is because she cares for you and your child and wants you to get rest and have a healthy relationship with your spouse. Or maybe a friend doesn’t think your hair looks good a certain way. Maybe he/she is trying to be helpful because they know how beautiful you were with a different style.

Judgment is often unkind

Judgment, on the other hand, is not about caring for one another and is often unkind. It is often people that don’t really know you and are just making statements they have no right making. It is the random person sitting next to at McDonald’s telling you to keep your kid quiet, not because you aren’t trying to care for your kid but because the person is annoyed. It is the man at the grocery store eye-balling you for reprimanding your child because he doesn’t agree with how you handled things, but it is not his business.

Feedback is the stuff we should take a few minutes to think about and if we don’t agree that is fine, but don’t let it eat you up inside. Judgment is the stuff you should let go of because it is not in your best interest and has nothing to do with genuine care for your health or that of your family’s. It is the stuff that is out of place and unnecessary.

Regardless, it is never a healthy habit to hold our emotions in and let them stew over time. That just makes you unhappy, increases stress levels, and doesn’t solve the problem. If you need help distinguishing between feedback and judgment, talk it out. Talk to a friend, a counselor, a family member. Express your feelings, don’t let them eat you up inside.

Guilt & Shame: Whose Life is it Anyway?

Guilt, we all know that deep-down gut feeling and some of us know it all too well. We feel it all the time. About everything. But why? What real reason do we have to condemn ourselves to such feelings all the time? It is draining and it makes our life events less enjoyable. 

Clients come to me all the time telling me they feel guilty for taking a break, for actually using the vacation time given to them, and for choosing to stay at home when feeling sick or drained. I always ask them, what does that guilty voice say? Whose voice is it? And, whose life are you living? Is this your life, or the voice of life’s past?

Why do we feel guilty all the time?

1.)We want people to like us. We are people-pleasers.

2.)We are focusing on the “shoulds”— the stuff we tell ourselves we should be doing. We should be cleaning the house. We should be folding the laundry. We are comparing ourselves to what we think other people are doing with their time, instead of caring for ourselves.

3.)Perfectionism—we have a fear of letting people down, of not allowing ourselves to make mistakes.

4.)Childhood conditioning—we were taught as children to always put people first and to feel responsible for other people’s happiness. Sometimes we feel like we are failing to live up to the expectations of others.

5.)Manipulation—we are susceptible to having our buttons pushed by other people. You are exhausted and desperately need a break, yet when your boss calls you to come in two hours early to work on a project you do it. 

Next time you feel guilty over caring for yourself, take a breath and think about that voice in your head. What do you really think of what it is saying? What would you say to someone else in your situation? This will help you to live by your own standards, rather than someone else’s.

You must take care of yourself before you can fully take care of you. If you find it difficult to care for yourself without feelings of guilt, then it may be time to seek out a licensed professional counselor to help. After all we are here in this world to live it, to enjoy it, and to enjoy those around us. If we are constantly consumed by feelings of guilt or shame for doing things that make us happy, then we can’t fully live. 

Are you really being ‘fake’?

Clients tell me all the time that they feel “fake.” They are not their “true selves” when they are at work or with certain groups of people. But, is that really being fake? I often ask my clients ‘what are they pretending?’ And, then I ask them to consider if it is possible to be an authentic person but be different in different contexts of life? 

Having an authentic voice in different environments is a flexible, adaptive personality trait. It is a desirable and positive skill to have as a person, and some people struggle their whole lives to attain such a skill. We are made up of many different parts that together make our whole selves. Just because we might act differently in different environments doesn’t mean we aren’t being true, we are just acting on that part of our personality at that time. Think of ourselves as being onions with many different layers. We are not two-dimensional. 

Maintaining strong relationships

Being able to adapt your behavior, improves your ability to make and maintain strong relationships with people. I think we can all agree that in many cases we should be different people at work than at home. There are things that we do or say or wear, in the comfort of our home, or with friends, that would not be acceptable in a place of business. There are also different groups of friends or family that we may act differently around, for example, you are probably going to be different with your grandma than your college roommate. That doesn’t mean you are being fake. 

The traits that make up our true selves, tend to be the moral ones—the qualities of ourselves that lie deep down.  The traits that have been ingrained in us since we were children—be kind, be truthful, don’t hurt another, don’t steal, etc. Those traits stay consistent across all situations. Those are the core of the onion. 

So, next time you fear you are being fake, take a minute to think about what you are pretending? Are you really trying to be someone else? Or are you just a different genuine version of yourself? 

Why do we lie?

We have always been taught lying is bad. It is socially unacceptable. It is wrong. Good people don’t lie. But, let’s get real here—everyone does it. 

There are the bad lies. The ones that could be detrimental to the future of your relationships, the ones that could ruin your image and unravel your life as you know it. Then there are the ones that don’t seem as significant—“I was late because I was stuck in traffic” but really you were distracted by your phone or the dishes in the sink. There are a million reasons for someone to choose to tell a lie. 

So why do we do it?

Lying is a means of wanting to keep a relationship but in a conflict-avoidant way. Humans are social animals, we crave love and connections—who wants to spoil that? We lie because we are wanting to remain loved, and avoid rejection. We lie because the truth is painful to others, we lie because we don’t want to start an argument, we lie because it is easier. And, we lie because in our minds we believe the truth would be unacceptable to the person we are lying to. We lie to please others. If you have ever faked an orgasm, you have lied.  

Lying is ingrained in us. It is part of our cognitive evolutionary biology (according to Psychology Today). It has become a tool in our survival kit. It appears in young children when they throw fits to get attention and only grows as we move into adulthood. 

That doesn’t mean it is ok to lie, of course, it isn’t, but it is part of being a human. 

Many times people lie to protect their own egos, making it easy to convince themselves what they are doing is ok. They are ashamed and are afraid of the consequences, like when a friends husband told her he was dieting and she later discovered an arsenal of donuts and cookies in the trunk of his car. It is isn’t that he was dishonest across the board, but he wasn’t mature enough to own up to the fact that he didn’t really want to participate.

It can become a vicious cycle if you let it. If you do find that a spouse is lying to you in a repetitive fashion, the best way to handle it is to talk about it—let them know how you feel but be careful not to throw hurtful things in their face. After all, the reason they didn’t come clean, to begin with, is that they want your acceptance. 

No Really, You Should’ve Asked!

My eyes wide open 2 minutes before my 6AM alarm goes off, and I swear my brain has already been churning out agenda of the day throughout the night – get breakfast ready, get the kids and their lunches ready, client appointments, review client progress notes, call the contractor, sign kids up for swim class, send expense to accountant, donate kids clothes, buy grocery and kids clothes from Costco, turn in kids school forms, talk to that web guy about SEO, make doctor appointment for kids booster shots, fix that scheduling bug on my website, get a sitter for Saturday night thingy, dinner, screw dinner, etc.

“Ok, it’s 5:58 AM! Wakey wakey,” says my brain. I turn around to see my snoring husband, I give him a stink eye and mutter, “You have no idea what I am going through!”

This is what feminists called, “mental load”. It is when a woman keeps mental track of all these things she has to do, the tasks that men do not think about and anticipate, and therefore do not help with unless they are being asked. This creates stress for many women, and tension for many couples. French comic artist Emma succinctly illustrated how women bear this “mental load” and that men should be more in tuned with women’s needs in her post “You Should Have Asked”.

I Agree To Disagree

In Emma’s comic, the wife is busy feeding kids and food boils over. The husband said, “you should’ve asked”. Emma stresses that men need to anticipate the household needs and women shouldn’t have to ask because when a woman asks, it puts her as manager and the man as subordinate. While I find Emma’s comic entertaining, I do not agree with that message.

I agree that men should not be passive bystanders when it comes to shared duties, but I don’t think men should anticipate all the needs without women communicating because some tasks are very obvious that the women need help and some are not obvious at all.

Once, I put all the clean clothes in a hamper and placed it near my husband’s side of the bed without instructions. He knew those are clean because he participated in the folding and yet he did nothing. After 3 days I asked him why he didn’t put the clean clothes away. He said he would have if I had asked. I asked why he needed me to ask and he simply said, “I don’t know what your plan is. Maybe you are putting the winter clothes away; maybe you plan to donate some of them. I can’t read your mind.” I then asked him, “Couldn’t you ask me what I want to do with it?” He replied, “I could. I suppose we both can step it up on this communication game when things are not so cut and dry.”

Touché.

Things Aren’t So Obvious

In the case of Emma’s comic, there’s no way for the husband to know if she is intending for the pot to boil until it’s too late. Only obvious or routine needs can be anticipated. If the family is leaving the house and he notices something is boiling on the stove, it makes sense for him to turn off the stove without asking. That’s obvious because it’s basic safety.

If Tuesday night is garbage day and she is not home in time to take care of it, it makes sense for him to take out the garbage without prompt because garbage day is routine and predictable.

For things that are not obvious or routine, two-way communication is essential. We really shouldn’t expect our partners to be mind readers and we need to communicate with each other.

It’s Not The What But The How

Communicating needs does not make one a manager and the other a subordinate but how you communicate those needs sets the tone of roles. If you bark your orders with your arms crossed, it might look like manager-subordinate roles and does not convey equilateral relationship. In communications, it’s not what you communicate but it’s how you communicate, verbally and non-verbally. There’s are always effective ways to communicate your needs without leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

If she finds a pile of dishes in the sink that she wishes he had done, she has three options: 1) yell at him about why he hasn’t done the dishes; 2) begrudgingly do the dishes while building resentment; 3) ask him to do the dishes while you do the things you intended on doing if he had done the dishes, and ask him to do it next time if he is the first on the scene of the dirty dishes.  Some communications, verbal, text, even a post-it note is better than no communication. Chances are he will need to be reminded a few times before he makes this into a habit but it might be a better option than 1 and 2.

In the case of the husband in Emma’s comic, he could use a better communication tactic as well. Instead of asking his wife, “What did you do?” in an accusatory tone when the pot boiled over which aggravated his wife, he could say, “What happened? How can I help?” Remember, it’s not what you communicate, it’s how you communicate.

It’s 6:01 AM, my therapist brain finally wakes up. I look at my snoring husband again and remind myself that I shouldn’t expect him to be a mind reader. I walk over to his side, gave him a gentle kiss, and put a hamper of fresh clean clothes on the floor next to him with a note “Please put us away”, and go about my day.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.

Image Source: Emma

Why 50-50 Marriage Is A Bad Idea

Recently my newly-wed friend asked me what does equal partnership in marriage means, and does equal partnership mean splitting everything down 50-50 like Lena and Harold bickering over who should pay for the cat’s flea treatment in the classic movie The Joy Luck Club?

Most people see marriage as a “equal partnership” where each party brings their own contributions to the table. You will often hear things like: “If I have to pay the bills, then she will have to the chores”, “We both have demanding jobs so we decided that I pick up Johnny from school on Monday and Tuesday, then my husband does the remainder of the week”, or “We both have a savings target of $1000 every month, I contribute $500 and he does the other half.

HOW SHOULD MARRIAGE LOOK LIKE?

While there is nothing wrong with splitting chores and savings target, trying to achieve an equal balance is what is actually the recipe for disaster. Marriage is most healthy when it’s a union, not a partnership. In a partnership, your say depends on how much you are bringing to the table and their still the retaining of individual identities. But in a union, you both have a common purpose, therefore it doesn’t matter who is doing so much in an area or who is doing less. What your spouse doesn’t make up for in chores, they might make up for it in taking care of the kids or the bills. Partnership belongs in a law firm, not in a marriage.

50-50 IS EXHAUSTING

In a happy marriage, the key is giving 100% and being 100% helpful to your spouse according to the result of a survey carried out by the research team of Cornell University in the Legacy Project. This is something that I have also found to be true observing many couples in my therapy practice. When you decide to splitting hair on everything, you open yourself to exhaustion and frustration. Keeping tabs on how your partner hasn’t met you halfway is calculating and most likely leads to negative feelings of distrust. Constantly keeping tabs will only make create a feeling of resentment on both sides, which may transform a hairline into a fault line that will eventually break the marriage.

WHAT TO DO?

If a healthy relationship is the relationship goal, then both parties need to step it up and strive to be complimentary to one another. Even though every couple should have a mutual agreement of their duties and responsibilities, an attempt at creating a straight down 50-50 equality is not productive. You are both collectively responsible for the tasks that comes with your marriage and should both give a 100% all the time. Also, be fluid without being transactional. Don’t create a hard context. If something happens and the other person isn’t able to do their tasks any longer, recalibrate, and think about a new solution that will both work for you without trying too hard to get a 50-50 situation.
Marriage is sweet and messy. It is not clear cut and lines are blurry. You will have to take on loads on your plate at times. But with commitment, empathy, deep breathing and forgiveness, your marriage will not only work, but will be sweet and full of good memories.

Mabel Yiu is a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in girls’ and women’s mental health at the Women’s Therapy Institute in Palo Alto, CA. You can reach her at mabel@womenstherapyinstitute.com for more tips or tools, or schedule an online appointment.