The other day my five-year-old daughter confided in me that she thinks another girl is pretty— and not just pretty but “so pretty she wants to put a ring on it” pretty. Now at the age of five, I know that developmentally she doesn’t necessarily have a true concept of romantic love and attraction. But, it got me thinking.
My daughter has never been a big fan of being “girlie.” She insists on wearing “non-girl” clothes and her favorite shirt is a tuxedo t-shirt. She is her own person, and as her mother, I have no desire to try to change those parts of her. She deserves to be uplifted and encouraged to be her true self. Whoever she grows up to be, I am prepared to love her no matter what.
Parents love unconditionally
That doesn’t change the fact that I am still going to be a parent to her. She still has to “suffer” through my firm, authoritative parenting and embarrassing mom-jokes (she will think they are funny too, someday). But, selfish love is not part of it. She will be loved in the way she needs, not in the way I want. I am her mother. I did not bring her into this world to make it all about me. I will accept her exactly as she is. I will love her unconditionally, with my whole heart and make sure she knows it.
That is the meat of parenting—unconditional love. It is that thing that helps us to forgive quickly when mistakes are made. We want our kids to grow to be good, respectable, kind, caring adults who are contributing members of society, but we also want them to be comfortable in their own skin. We want our kids to know that no matter how hard life gets (as I am sure there will be many a bump in the road), and whatever comes there way, they can always count on our love. We brought them into this world to nurture and encourage them, while also teaching them how to be good people. While we may not always agree with some of the choices they make, we will still love them always, forever, with no strings attached.
What do you think? How should parents love their children?
I have a client who recently moved to the East Coast. She lives in a very loud, busy, and overstimulating area. As with anyone moving to a new place, she was going through a period of adjustment and forming new friendships, trying to find her place.
In reaction to her fear of being lonely, she surrounded herself with people, any people. During a mindless event with one of these groups of people—who she didn’t really jive with—she opened her eyes, looked around, excused herself and walked away. She had a revelation of sorts—she didn’t need these people to fill in her blanks, to make her feel less alone. She realized she was sacrificing herself having to pretend she was something she wasn’t. She was sacrificing her authenticity, and at what cost?
You don’t need to sacrifice yourself
It is ok to walk away. It is the genuine connections in our lives, the people we feel comfortable being ourselves with that add to our happiness, our wellbeing as people. Sacrificing who you are just to be surrounded with people will only leave you feeling more alone. Don’t be afraid to walk away and find those people that lift you up, that expand your horizons, without sacrificing who you are. You don’t need to be dependent on other people for your happiness. You are in control of your own happiness. You need to dig deep inside and surround yourself with the things you love. Embrace your hobbies, take time to do the things that make you feel alive inside.
Find the people that share your values and will appreciate you for you. If you are a person who appreciates art, take an art class; if you like to exercise, join a gym or running group; if you like computers or video games, join a club; if you like to read, join a book club; if you like music, go to concerts. In time, you will find the people that see you and love you for who you really are. Don’t sacrifice yourself because you are afraid of the future, or afraid of how it feels to be by yourself. Love yourself, and do what you love. The rest will follow.
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.
When disagreements occur, are you quick to jump in and say “I am sorry”? Even when you might not really be sorry. Maybe you don’t even think you did anything wrong, or maybe you were upset by something the other person said or did but rather than addressing it, you say “sorry.”
It is possible to say “sorry” too much. It can be a quick way to get out of conflict, to avoid the disagreement from extending into another. It is avoidant and it is not healthy.
Conflict isn’t bad.
Every relationship has some kind of conflict. It is healthy and helps your relationship to grow and strengthen when handled in a constructive way. By constantly apologizing, even when you don’t really mean it, you are creating unhealthy boundaries. You are not addressing things that might be a problem for you. You are not airing your grievances and in turn are likely building resentment. And, you are showing the person you are in conflict with that you can be walked on because you won’t stand up for yourself.
By immediately saying “sorry” you are closing the door to the discussion. You are eliminating the space to make changes that could help you feel happier and help your relationship.
It is common for people who are not confident in conflict-resolution skills to apologize too much. It becomes a knee-jerk reaction. But, the best way to improve those skills is to try them out and gain confidence. Not only will discussion help to strengthen and grow your relationships, but it will also help you to feel better about yourself.
The first step to ending the cycle of the chronic apologizer is to first recognize and acknowledge it is a problem. Then next time you are faced with conflict don’t jump to the apology, instead take the time to share your side, express your needs and your feelings. You won’t regret it, and even if it doesn’t go as well as you would have hoped at least you are making strides in the right direction.
John (a fictional client) speaks up during a couples therapy session, saying Maria (a fictional client) is not respecting him. He says he feels exposed, embarrassed. I ask him why he has such feelings. He explains to me that he found out Maria was talking to her girlfriends about his sexual issues.
Unfortunately, John is not the first client that has expressed concern over his, or her, significant other talking about sexual issues to friends or family. The bottom line when it comes to maintaining integrity, respect, trust in a relationship is you have to keep the private stuff private. There is an intimacy in relationships—that is what makes them so special—and as the partner in that relationship it is important to keep whatever happens in the bedroom to yourself.
Sexual issues go to the core of our being. They have the ability to unravel us. They are sensitive, and so very personal. Respect that. If something is happening in the bedroom that you feel is a problem, speak to a counselor about it. They will keep it a secret. They will maintain that integrity and keep that information safe. They will help you process it without the backlash. When you talk to friends of family about sexual issues it completely exposes that person in a way they may never come back. It is almost like walking into a room completely naked. How would you feel?
We expect our friends and family to keep a secret, but the truth is we are all human. Things come up. We talk about things that we find “juicy” or revealing. Maybe we do it in a way where we think no one is harmed but usually, eventually, that information goes full circle. And the result can be a lot of pain. It is hurtful to feel like someone you don’t want to know, knows some of your most private information. It makes the person feel judged. It makes them feel just plain awful.
When John told me his story, I asked Maria how she felt. She told me she didn’t think he would find out, that she was just gabbing with the girls. There is information that is ok to gab about —like that argument over how his clothes were folded or him staying out with his friends late — but the stuff that happens sexually needs to stay personal, private, and hold the upmost respect. While it can be hard to do in a social situation, I encourage clients to always think about how the other person might feel if they found out before they share the information.
Susan (a fictional client) tells me she is not feeling in love with her husband anymore. She tells me she feels like he does not want to be around her, they don’t spend time together, he doesn’t show her affection anymore, she is worried the spark is gone. She wants to work though things in counseling, and she feels she is reaching a “tipping point.” She asks her husband to attend counseling with her, and he refuses. He won’t give it a second thought. I hear it all the time as a counselor.
Why do guys do this?
Men may believe the therapist and spouse are going to gang up on them, especially in the case where a therapist is a woman. While an understandable concern, this is the opposite of what counseling is about. In couples counseling, we work to honor both partners and to foster a bridge in communication. We work on communicating in a healthy way—both couples have a chance to share and be heard.
Couples counseling benefits both parties, and it can only work if the guy is present too. It takes both sides to repair the relationship. Despite what some might be concerned about, couples counseling is about leveling the playing field. It is about giving the relationship a safe space to air concerns and help the couple to come up with effective solutions. Couples counseling is separate from individual counseling, so if the wife is already seeing a counselor at the office she will see a different one with her spouse. This way there is for sure a level field.
Counseling can be a great resource for couples. It helps them to gain insight into why they might be acting in a certain way. It helps to open the doors of communication—which in many cases has been bolted shut. It helps to guide couples to solutions they can both accept, and to decide what their future together looks like. Ultimately in situations where both couples are invested in improving the atmosphere of their home, counseling helps to grow their bond.
It is ok to need help, the first step is admitting that you could use a little guidance and the rest will come in time.
We are here to help.
You can read more about our couples counseling services at http://womenstherapyinstitute.com/couples-counseling/
It might sound funny—fighting well. I mean, isn’t fighting something you just shouldn’t do, something that should be avoided, how do you do it “well?”
Fighting in and of itself is not a bad thing. It is an effort to make yourself heard, to voice your unhappiness at a situation, and it can be a time to grow and learn. But there are good ways to approach fighting, and ways that are hurtful and harmful to your relationship. You have the ability to build a bridge through communication, or you could build a wall.
THE WALL OR THE BRIDGE
A bridge is built when both parties have a level playing field. They each have a chance to contribute to the situation, and the argument is not all about one person putting the other person down. When you build a bridge, you uplift each other, you work as a team in the midst of your argument. For example, a husband and wife are fighting over all the housework and not being able to get it done. The wife wants more help from the husband and the husband doesn’t think the wife notices what he is doing to help. In most arguments, both parties have contributed, in some way, to the problem. Maybe the husband needs some thanks and appreciation from the wife to feel like his efforts are being noticed, and the wife needs the husband to acknowledge that he should be stepping in to help. The key to building a bridge is being able to disagree and come back together as a team. No one gets along all the time, and people are not supposed to. By working together to correct the problem, you will strengthen your bond.
On the other side of the spectrum, a bridge cannot be built when one side is higher than the other. This creates a wall. If arguments, or fights, frequently turn into one person putting the other person down or having a “I did not nothing wrong” approach, a wall is being established. When a wall is built communication is cut off. The person who feels “lower” than the other will likely stop trying to communicate, they won’t want to come to an agreement because they feel they are in a hostile environment. Chances are that person will want to get away from the situation altogether because who wants to feel like they are on an uneven playing field. If you find yourself in the process of building a wall, take a step back. That might mean it is a good time to take a walk and continue the argument later. Think things through and come back to the table when you are ready to open your ears to both sides of the story.
Fighting is part of human nature. It can be good and healthy for a relationship if done fairly. It is not easy but if you focus your energy on building a bridge—instead of a wall—you will strengthen your relationship.
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.
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.
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?