You have had another relationship, unbeknownst to your partner, and he/she/they just found out. You feel your heart beat quicken and that moment of panic sets in. You are in hot water. What do you say? How do you fix this? End this uncomfortable moment? Then it comes out— “that person didn’t mean anything to me!”
Adding fuel to the fire
You look at your partner and instead of those words making he/she/they feel better you quickly notice they seem more upset. I have spoken to many couples about this very sentence. It is upsetting. It is hurtful. No one has ever said, “oh since that person doesn’t mean anything to you, I am ok now.” If anything it makes the whole situation much worse. But why? Why does this single phrase anger people so much?
It is because when you say those words, what your partner is really thinking is: what does that make me? If you can cheat on your supposedly important partner with someone that is meaningless, then this meaningless person trumps your partner. This just makes your partner feel even smaller. Because you made the choice to harm your relationship with your partner by having relations with this other person, you are telling your partner that they do not mean as much as this person. Therefore, making the statement “they didn’t mean anything” is you telling your partner they are meaningless. It is just another way to add insult to injury.
Therefore, making the statement “he/she/they didn’t mean anything” may get you deeper into hot water. Rather than digging through your brain to say something when the tension is high, own up to it instead. Saying “I am sorry” is a good start. Consider seeking the help of a licensed counselor individually, or as a couple, to help you through this.
It happens. Sometimes we DO say or do things that we don’t mean to. Sometimes we unintentionally hurt another in some way. Maybe we aren’t thinking clearly at the time. Maybe there is some deeper reason for our actions. It is natural to immediately want to explain to your partner that you “didn’t mean it.” I hear this phrase a lot when speaking to couples. Unfortunately the reality is, those words are not helpful. Explaining how you didn’t mean it, doesn’t cut it.
Sometimes hearing those words just angers the other partner. But why? In your mind you are thinking you really didn’t mean it, you are sorry, and you wish you could take it back. To your partner the damage is done. You can’t change the past. It is not helpful to argue whether or not you intended to cause pain. That is not what is in question right now.
Your partner is hurt. Whatever you did is not sitting well in their heart. They feel sad and angry at the actions you made. Own up to them. You did what you did. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t mean to do what you did. It matters that you did it. So going back to our earlier post, stop making excuses. Tell your partner you are truly sorry. Tell them you messed up. You made a mistake. Be honest. Show them you may not be perfect but it doesn’t mean you can’t grow and learn from your actions.
Be genuine, be respectful of their feelings. Try to see things from their point of view. How are they feeling right now? How would you be feeling? Then tell them how you wish you could take it back, how you are sorry, how you will learn from your mistakes.
What is the best way to apologize?
So, here you are. You have done something that has hurt another. You feel horrible. You just want to fix things. Make everything all better. What should you say? What can you say?
First of all, talk. Talk to the person. Communication is key. You can’t run away from your mistakes. Tell them you are sorry. Be genuine. Don’t back up your “I’m sorry” with an excuse. You hurt someone. Take ownership. Ask them how they feel? Ask them what you can say to make things better. Listen to what they have to say. Look them in the eyes. Make sure you are in a quiet, uninterrupted space. Ask them, explain to them how you can/will, change your actions in the future. This will help to open the door to how things might be repaired, if they are able.
So often we apologize and then immediately jump into defending ourselves. We are trying to justify our actions and make ourselves feel better, but what is that saying to the other person? By justifying our actions we are saying we had a right to hurt this person. Of course, you want to protect yourself, but you still hurt another and you should take ownership of that mistake. Acknowledge you were wrong. No one is perfect. We all do things we wish we could take back. Look at how you have wronged another and grow. Learn. Really, truly apologize.
Depending on how you hurt this person, and who the person is, repairing this relationship might be easy or impossible. But, regardless, of the end game. The best thing you can do to show another that they are valued and didn’t deserve what you did to them is to buck up and admit you were not right. End the excuses.
Someone asked me the other day — ‘how do I know I won’t find someone better than my partner?’ The person went on to tell me how they wanted to make sure there wasn’t a better choice before becoming exclusive with the person they had been seeing.
The truth is, there is always someone “better” if you choose to think about it that way. You will always come across people that are more fun, funnier, handsomer, smarter, or whatever qualities you are looking for. Committing to another person is a choice. It is not based on all that external stuff. When you decide to go all in with another person, you are making the conscious decision to shut down all the external noise. Stop comparing him/her to that coworker, or the guy that works in the office down the hall. Shut down the date search, and that cute guy that keeps talking about having dinner with you.
Choosing to commit is choosing to be with that one person— who probably isn’t always going to be the best in the room. But they should be the one that feels right for you. By committing you are choosing to accept that person as they are, and to close the door to the other options. If you spend your life always searching for the ‘best’ or the ‘better’ option then you will likely always find something, but will you be happy?
When did you choose to commit?
To all those ‘givers’ out there, this post is for you. First of all, I think it is great that you are considerate of your partner and you want to make him/her happy. But, it is not always a good thing when we give too much. Now, I am not saying that you should just receive in a relationship, that is not good either. There needs to be a balance.
It helps if you ask yourself — why are you so giving? What are you nervous about when you don’t give?
Giving is great, but it is possible to give too much. When you are always giving, or being the ‘do-er,’ in the relationship, it can come across to your partner that you are ‘in charge.’ Relationships aren’t expected to always be 50-50, but one person can’t always be the giver and the other the receiver. When you give too much three things can happen:
- Your partner feels like they don’t have an equal role in the relationship and leaves — they don’t feel like they are on the same level, like one partner is ‘higher’ on the scale than the other.
- Your partner becomes passive. They just go with the flow and don’t interject and don’t try to even the playing field because they know they can’t get to your level. They give up, which isn’t healthy for anyone.
3. The partner takes advantage of your good will. They think oh well he/she is going to keep on giving, then I am going to keep on taking.
Regardless, in the end, most excessive givers/do-ers feel resentful because they feel like there is nothing they can do to help their relationship be successful. They go by the idea that “no matter what they do” they can’t help their relationship.
The bottom line is the scales can’t always be in favor of one partner over the other. While it will rarely be equal, they need to fluctuate. Both partners need to feel like they are the do-ers sometimes. Both need to give at times and receive at others.
How do you find balance in your relationships?
My friend’s boyfriend enjoys playing tennis, and so does my friend. They have a lot of fun playing together but sometimes he just wants to go to the courts to hit the ball off the wall. It is therapeutic for him and helps him to relieve the stress of the day. The other day my friend told me she was concerned that he didn’t love her because he didn’t always want her to come along to play.
This is a common question I hear so I told her what I frequently tell others — just because he wants to be alone does not mean he doesn’t love or care for you. Sometimes we just need that time to decompress and be in our own heads. We all have different ways of relieving stress. For her boyfriend it was hitting a ball off a wall, for her, it is reading a book and taking a bath. We all need time alone. Some of us need more time than others and it can all depend on how much stress we have in our lives at the time. While I understand how she could worry he doesn’t want to spend time with her, it is just his way of taking care of himself so that he can come home and be more fully present with her.
It is healthy for us to set boundaries when we need that time, and it is not meant to hurt her. Chances are his time alone at the courts has little to do with her at all and it is all because he needs to work through the problems of the day. He needs to have a little room to breathe and process. It is healthy. I urged her to talk to him when he got home, ask him about his day and spend time together in other ways. Just because you are in a relationship with someone does not mean you have to spend every moment together. You each are still individual people who need to care for yourselves before you can care for the relationship.
How do you spend your alone time?
There is a difference between accepting and just “tolerating” your partner. Relationships are hard. You are each your own person, you have your own personalities, your own similarities and differences.
Love and Kindness
When you accept your partner you are wholeheartedly loving and receiving him/her. Acceptance comes from love and kindness. It comes from the heart. When you accept someone you have tolerance built-in. You are accepting your partner as they are and tolerating their imperfections because you love them and appreciate them. If you agreed 100 percent with everything your partner did it wouldn’t really be much of a relationship. No one is perfect. Everyone does things we don’t like/agree with but when you really love someone you learn how to tolerate those things. At least when they aren’t detrimental to the relationship as a whole.
On its own tolerance doesn’t come from love or kindness. It is not stopping the other person’s behavior. It comes from external motivation — whether it be to not get into trouble or receive judgment. Tolerating another person often has resentment. It does not come from the heart. It does not come from a genuine concern or care for the other person. It comes from personal fear or gain. If you just “tolerate” your partner or their behavior you don’t really care about the backbone of the relationship, which is acceptance.
In situations where I see a partner is just “tolerating” his/her partner’s actions, I encourage them to talk about it. To try to work towards acceptance. To minimize resentment, which can overtime build and ultimately destroy a relationship.
Chances are you have either been in a situation, or know of a friend, who has had sex in order to “get over the pain” of a breakup. This is called rebound sex. It is meant to be casual, no strings attached, but that can be hard when you are talking about such a personal thing as sex. While it might seem like a quick, fun fix, it is not the healthiest route.
Don’t get me wrong, sex is great. It increases feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin. It can give you a nice high. It is a lot like taking morphine for a sprained ankle. It is a temporary, addictive, avoidant fix. It is not something that myself, or any other therapist would recommend to “heal.” If anything it will cause more stress and frustration and it will definitely not “fix” the situation.
Distracting from true feelings
I often hear from my clients, “it is a nice distraction,” “it will help me forget,” “it will help me to move on.” But in reality, it is just another way of distracting yourself from your true feelings. In the end, those true feelings always come back up to bite you. The best way to handle them is to face them. Talk to a friend, a family member, a mental health professional. Work through them and when you are ready to begin a meaningful relationship with another person then put sex back on the table.
As a coping mechanism sex can be messy. It can leave you, or the other person, feeling bad about who you/they are. It can cause you, or them, to feel dirty or used. Those feelings just compound the pain you are already feeling from your break up. My best advice is to seek out support from trusted friends and family to help you through this tough time. Facing your feelings rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist will help you to truly heal. Come to terms with your new reality before delving into another deep, personal endeavor.
As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, my five-year-old daughter thinks another girl is pretty. She decided she wanted to give her a pretty plastic ring, so she made her a card and put the ring on it.
During the process, my daughter said she was embarrassed and “scared.” She said a few of her female friends were making comments like “eww, that girl isn’t that pretty anyway” and “I am weird.” It doesn’t surprise me that female competition is beginning to start at her age. Child and adolescent psychologist Katie Hurley describes in her book No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident and Compassionate Girls the trend of toxic female competitiveness that is creeping down from high school, and starting as young as grade school. She offers many reasons for this, citing busy schedules, rise in stress and anxiety levels, and increased pressure for children to do well in sports and extracurriculars.
Girls uplifting other girls
I responded to my daughter’s concerns over giving this card to her friend, by telling her “we can show people we like them in many ways.” I told her, “girls can think another girl is pretty. And girls can uplift another girl.” Her twin sister also supported her, the best any five-year-old can. She also made the girl a card that said: “my sister thinks you are pretty and wants to give you a ring.” Afterwards, the twin quietly told me she doesn’t care if girls are not “suppose” to like girls, she loves her sister anyway. I told her, “we can like people in many ways. We are just going to send nice words to uplift another girl! Cool, right?!”
We, adults, have a lot to learn from young children about loving and not judging each other. We are conditioned to compete with our peers. We draw on our insecurities and instead of turning them into positives, we put other women down. We are not being uplifting because we are afraid of other women being more successful, prettier, “bigger” than us. We need to dig deep inside and find that inner strength to uplift each other. Us, women, we need each other. We need the support from others, the kindness, the acceptance. We should be helping each other to feel good about ourselves, instead of doing the exact opposite.
How do you uplift the women around you?
More on Hurley: https://www.thestar.com/life/relationships/opinion/2018/02/08/why-girls-are-getting-meaner-younger.html
Your friend calls and asks you if you are able to help work the table at the school fair next week. You think about it and despite the fact that you will have to rearrange your schedule, and squeeze this event between two others, thus leaving no time for you to make it to your weekly yoga class, you still say “yes.” A few days go by and you are dreading it. On the day of, you start to get really disappointed that you have to miss that yoga class, so you cancel on your friend. You tell your friend something came up, or you aren’t feeling too great, and you back out.
Reevaluate your boundaries
If situations like this are a common occurrence in your life, you may want to take a step back and reevaluate your boundaries.
You don’t always have to be a people-pleaser. It is ok to say “no.” It is ok to disappoint a friend or a family member by turning down a request. It is ok to set boundaries. Rather than always saying “yes” just to say “yes” and make everyone happy—while really hurting yourself— set boundaries from the beginning. You don’t need an excuse or a reason to say “no.” If you just don’t feel like it, then don’t do it. Saying “no” from the beginning will save time and stress for everyone later when you inevitably back out or are unhappy for participating.
While in your head you are disappointing those around you for not doing everything they ask, you are actually displaying strength and confidence. Your ability to understand your needs and to take the steps to set a boundary will most likely be respected by your friends or family. And, so what if it is not. You have to do what is best for you, and the people in your life will eventually understand. Plus, no one wants to be seen as a flake. Rather than always having that appearance, take the right steps from the beginning—and save yourself the stress. No one is perfect, and no one can do it all ALL the time.