There is this underlying fear that many people struggle with surrounding emotions of anger, being mad, or disappointed with another. The belief is that if we are mad at our significant other, then we are not ok. If we are mad, there is no love present. In fact, that is not the case at all. Emotions and love can coexist together.
Not perfect all the time
In many cases, the more love we have for another the more these emotions affect us. We are not as likely to feel intense feelings of anger if we don’t also have intense feelings the other way. In relationships full of love, there is going to also be anger at some point or another. It is when we stop caring that things are more likely to not be ok. When we stop caring it can mean we also don’t want to try anymore. Whereas if we are angry, then we want things to be fixed. We want to come to a resolution.
People that have this fear of making others angry have a desire to always please each other, to make other people happy. We become deathly afraid of getting people mad. But how healthy is that? Ask yourself what that really means for you? Are you hiding your emotions? Are you ignoring your feelings? Are you pushing your needs to the side for others? While it is important in any relationship to have a desire to please the other, it is important that you recognize things are not always going to be perfect all the time. There will be arguments, there will be things he/she does that anger you because you are different people. That does not mean you don’t love or care for each other in very big ways.
If you are a newly single mom, I am guessing you have just been through hell. Your whole world has been shaken up, unraveling your day-to-day. Now it is time to find your new normal.
You are probably feeling all sorts of things. You might be bitter, sad, or depressed. You might also be relieved or feel rejuvenated because you can start to make positive changes in your world. But, what about your kids? They are probably struggling emotionally and you are struggling with how to keep things as normal as possible for them. You also might be faced with doing everything on your own. Maybe your ex has completely left the picture, or only helps on weekends. So what do you do? How can you regain your sanity? Take care of your mental health?
The best tip I can give is to focus only on the important things and let the rest slide. No one is going to die from fishing semi-dirty clothes from the laundry (be sure to wash that underwear, though). Who cares if you need to have microwave dinner for a week or two while you adjust. Let your kids help to prepare their lunches if they are old enough. If it is not a life or death safety issue, let it go.
Now is the time to focus on your kids. Spend time together and figure out that new normal. There will be bumps and hurdles but you will get to a point of peace again. Take your kids to family therapy and talk about what that “new normal” might look like. This is not an easy time in your journey through life but you can get through it if you focus on the important things.
It is always important to take care of your mental health, but now it is even more crucial. You need to take care of you in order to be the best mom you can be for your children. Talk to your friends, find people who are going through the same thing as you and connect. Lean on your village and take it a day at a time.
What is something that has helped you as a single parent?
Being a single mom is incredibly hard. It is doing it all, being everything for your children, and it is taxing on yourself. The reality is nobody actually decides “yes I want to be a single mom,” “yes, I want to do this by myself.” It is not a choice. It is something that comes as a result of another decision—whether it be getting divorced from your spouse, deciding not to marry the child’s father because of your relationship with him, or feeling like you have no other way to have children except to do it on your own. It is the absence of a partner but it is not a direct choice.
I was raised by my single mom. She had choices to not be a single mom. She could have chosen to stay in an unhappy relationship so that she didn’t have to care for me by herself. Instead I would hear her cry in the middle of the night because this gig is hard. But it was something she needed to do for us, for herself.
Of course she would have preferred to have someone to help split the parenting duties. Or course she wanted to give us a stable home. But she also wanted to show us that she wasn’t willing to give up on her ideals. That she was strong. That she wasn’t going to compromise her happiness to stay in an unhappy relationship. She was showing us to stand up for yourself and to follow your heart, as hard as it can be sometimes. She did make choices. Very difficult ones. But it was never about a desire to parent by herself.
There are many reasons for divorce to occur leading to a vast array of emotions. But why would bitter feelings occur if you and your partner agree that your marriage isn’t working? If you don’t have any hard or angry feelings toward your partner then why would you feel so upset at the situation? Why can’t you just end the marriage and move on?
It is because when you walked down that aisle you had an expectation of what marriage would be. You thought you would spend your life with this person and be happy and in love through the process. Now that reality is setting in and this expectation has been shattered, you are grieving. You have lost your marriage and now you have to grieve that loss.
It is truly human nature to feel this way, according to a Psychology Today article that looks at a study done on chimpanzees. When all of their basic needs are met— safety, love, survival, esteem, and actualization— they act much differently than if they are missing one of those five. When you go through a divorce you are bound to feel bitter, angry, scared, and just plain jerkish because you are not having all your needs met. You suddenly have to worry about all these things you didn’t have to concern yourself with before. When we feel safe, secure, and loved we are able to rationalize things better.
In addition to having your expectations shattered, you are also in for a whole slew of changes and let’s be frank — us humans don’t like change very much. Divorce also brings up many feelings of being powerless and out-of-control, you might not know how things are going to play out, what will tomorrow be like? And, there is a need to fight for what you love and believe—a sense of entitlement. Even if you still deeply care for your soon-to-be ex-spouse, you remember how long it took to pick out that couch downstairs and you want it back. You also worked really hard to save up for that house and now you don’t want to sell it. You want to hang on to the things that are important to you.
Divorce is one of the most stressful things a person can ever endure. It is a mountain of obstacles to face and it takes time and energy to get to the other side. If you are feeling overwhelmed, bitter, stressed, angry, know this is normal. Seek help from a licensed therapist who can help you to take care of yourself.
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?
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 https://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.