Category Archives: Conflict

Pursuing passions or partnership?
““You should spend more time with me instead of going fishing!””

"Long Drive" — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Long Drive” — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

Should you push your partner to stop pursuing their passions?

People often push their partner to stop pursuing their interests in favor of spending more time together as a couple. The pursuing partner may genuinely want to spend more time together or he or she may be reacting to feelings of jealousy or insecurity. Feelings of insecurity in particular will cause someone to try to control the other person and become possessive.

Some partners find it uncomfortable to deal with their partner’s insecurities. So they prefer to accommodate them. Often it is their own anxiety in face of a partner who is upset that they cannot tolerate. As a result, when their partner pressures them to give up their interests, they give in quickly in order to avoid conflict.

Long-term problems of appeasement

When your partner appeases you, you may feel temporary relief. However, ongoing appeasement will create long-term problems. The result of repressing one’s own desires can result in a gradual deadening of the soul, growing resentment, boredom, and a loss of passion within the relationship.

When your partner continuously appeases you at the expense of their own interests, they will lose some of their passion for life and for you. Moreover, as appeasement becomes the norm, you will both feel increasingly burdened by an obligation to appease each other. As a result, one or both of you will become more and more vulnerable to the other person’s manipulation.

Long-term intimacy and accommodation

True intimacy evolves when you don’t manipulate your partner to accommodate your needs and desires. Long-term passionate intimacy requires that two people have a strong enough sense of self that each can spend time separately pursuing their own individual interests.

To sustain a long-term passionate relationship, you need to balance two primary drives — the desire for togetherness and the desire for autonomy. While everyone has a different ideal balance point, it is clear that the extremes of too much togetherness or too much independence each generate their own problems.

If you really love someone, you do not want that person to stop pursuing their passions and interests. Nor should you want to make that person feel guilty for pursuing them. It’s not much fun spending time with someone who feels stifled and held back. The very reason you love a person has a lot to do with their vitality and individual interests. So it is both wise and loving to encourage them to continue to pursue their interests.

Empower yourself

When you feel threatened by your partner spending time apart from you, rather than controlling your partner, find a way to empower yourself and the relationship.

1. Desire the best for your partner.

You will have a better relationship if your partner is happy. It reflects well on you and you will be more attracted to your partner if your partner is passionate about life rather than unhappy about it.

2. Be curious about your partner’s interests.

You don’t want to become a couple that has nothing to talk about. Don’t feel resentment about your partner’s fishing, golfing, or reading. Instead, ask about their interests, their progress, and other details. Find genuine joy in what they appreciate about their pursuits and passions.

3. Pursue something you enjoy.

Start pursuing your own passions. If you don’t have any, try out different activities, sports, or hobbies, or take some classes. The experience of trying new things will make your life richer. When you keep your life engaged, you enhance your life, which also makes you more interesting to be with. Taking on challenges builds a healthy confidence and joie de vivre. Even failed pursuits make for great stories. All of this will lead you to a more interesting and passionate relationship.

4. Make your time together more enjoyable.

Plan activities together that your partner will want to participate in. Spending some time together is important. Rather than spending that time complaining about your partner’s passions, think about pursuits that you can do together that may be interesting or pleasant for both of you. Talk to your partner about what your interests and passions are.

While it is important to spend some time together, couples keep their relationships alive when they do not spend all their time together. When you encourage your partner to pursue their passions, they will be grateful to be with someone who is truly loving.

Loving someone means respecting their autonomy and wanting them to be truly happy.

Alison Poulsen, PhD

New Book Announcement:
“Desire & Desirability: Transform the Pursuer/Distancer Dynamic into a Mutual Loving Relationship”

Desire & Desirability
Transform the Pursuer/Distancer Dynamic into a Mutual Loving Relationship

Over the past seven years, I have had the pleasure of responding to many questions and comments from readers of my blog “So what I really meant….” I have been struck by how frequently readers express the value of understanding the Pursuer/Distancer dynamic and the benefit of learning how to overcome it. This inspired me to write this book called “Desire & Desirability.”

Often in a relationship one partner seeks more intimacy than the other. When the Pursuer seeks too much connection or attachment, the Distancer can feel trapped and anxious about losing his or her independence, which may ultimately lead to withdrawal from the relationship leaving the Pursuer heartbroken.

Perfect balance in a relationship is impossible to achieve, yet we can learn to modify our behavior to move toward better symmetry. Real-life examples described in this book illustrate ways to transform your desire based on need into desirability based on fullness. The examples focus primarily on couples in romantic relationships but the principles discussed hold true for all types of relationships including those between friends, co-workers, and parents and children.

It is my hope that understanding the strategies laid out in “Desire & Desirability” will give you the tools to empower you to sustain a more balanced, reciprocal, and fulfilling relationship.

I want to thank my readers for the many thoughtful comments and questions sent over the years that have inspired me to think about relationship and psychological challenges in new and deeper ways.

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“Should I stay with my husband who is rude, selfish, and impossible to live with?”

“Celestial Magic” Mimi Stuart©

“Should I stay with my husband who is impossible to live with?

My husband barks orders at me, is rude and condescending, and when things heat up he uses profanity and calls me names. He does things that can be very selfish, and if I complain he says I’m being “toxic”. He rarely says he’s sorry and is uninterested in counseling.

Here are the reasons I have stayed with him to date:

1) I don’t want another failed marriage,

2) We have a kid together and for her sake I don’t want to break our family apart,

3) He is very smart, can be fun, and we share values,

4) He is the primary breadwinner so I’d have to go back to full time work, and

5) We are both in our early 50’s and that feels like a pretty advanced age to give up and try to start over.”

1. Another failed relationship

Is staying in a failed relationship better than leaving it? We all make mistakes and face different challenges in our lives. Life is about learning from our experiences and transforming ourselves and our relationships for the better. Ask yourself whether staying in a failed relationship is better than leaving it when there is very little hope for joy, mutual growth, and deepening love.

2. Staying together for the children

Staying in an abusive relationship is not good for you or your daughter. In contrast, having the courage to seek a better life can be of great benefit to your child. It is a gift to show your daughter that you can set clear boundaries, that you have the self-respect to expect better treatment, and that you will take action to improve your life.

It may be helpful to explain the situation to your child, without unnecessarily disparaging your husband. There is no need to go into great detail, especially if the child is young. For example, you might say:

“You probably have noticed that we have great difficultly talking to each other without arguing. There will be disagreements in any relationship. But in our case, we are hurting each other constantly and unnecessarily. Since your dad is unwilling to go to counseling, I have decided to leave the relationship. But we both love you and life will go on and eventually improve.”

You may be surprised by her reaction, if not immediately, then down the road. If your husband is as abusive as you say then she may thank you for the separation.

3. My partner has good qualities. What is the magic ratio?

Something attracted you to each other in the first place, and it is good to still be able to see his positive qualities. The question to ask yourself is whether your relationship reaches the magic ratio—that is, a minimum of five positive interactions to every one negative interaction (found through John Gottman’s research.) When that magic ratio is not reached, the relationship will spiral out of control toward misery.

4. Financial considerations and going back to work

For many people, financial security is a very serious consideration. Yet independence from an abusive relationship is well worth your going back to full-time work. As a capable and thoughtful person, I am sure you will find work and thereby become more independent and also attract more positive people into your orbit. In fact, working can be the most liberating and rewarding experience you can have outside your relationship. Whether you stay together or not, working can expand your life and social network, which can enhance your self-respect and courage.

5. Too old to start over

You say that you are hesitant to end your relationship because you are in your fifties. But consider that you could easily live for another 35 or 40 years. Even if you only had another five years, your best years are likely ahead of you given your current circumstances. People can have new relationships, learn, grow, and find joy and happiness in many ways later in life. I know many people who are physically and mentally active well into their 80’s and 90’s.

Now that your husband is spending more time at home, ask yourself whether things are improving and will continue to do so, or not. Ask yourself whether you will be able to enjoy your life more in the next 30-40 years with him at your side or without him? What you have described is an abusive relationship, so I suspect the answer would be the latter.

It is laudable that you are taking responsibility for your part in the conflicts between the two of you. You can continue to work on becoming a more effective communicator and focus more on controlling your own life.

If you do leave your husband, there is no need to blame him or to be hostile. Explain the situation in a “nonviolent” way (see Marshall Rosenberg.) Here is an example,

“We have many values in common, I enjoy your wit and intelligence, and most importantly, we have a wonderful daughter. However, I need to be able to communicate with my partner in a loving way, to share joy, and to find ways to grow together. I feel distressed and frustrated that we rarely can talk with one another without fighting. I want to be in a relationship where there is mutual respect, curiosity and love. I’m sure you have noticed it too that our relationship is no longer a happy one—for either of us. We may find a way to resolve our ongoing problems by counseling, but if you aren’t willing to try, it’s best that we separate. It makes me very sad. I certainly don’t want to hurt you, but I can’t foresee continuing in the way we have been.”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Anger: “I have a right to be angry.”

"Kej" from the Mayan Collection by Mimi Stuart ©       Live the Life you Desire

“Kej” from the Mayan Calendar Collection by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Anger as a signal

When you feel anger rising in your belly, your subconscious is generally warning you to pay attention and perhaps to take action in order to avoid potential pain or loss.

Anger can be a powerful emotion. In threatening circumstances, it can be effectively channeled to help defend yourself or others, to command action or to set and maintain boundaries. In many circumstances, however, showing raw anger prevents understanding and perpetuates suffering — yours and others.

Beneath the anger

When you view anger as a signal, then the most effective response is to pause and reflect before taking action. Assessing the emotion and thoughts underlying the anger is generally the best way to plan how to rectify the situation or avoid further injustice.

Often it is helpful to figure out specifically what is underlying the anger. Generally, anger is triggered by fear of immediate loss, pain, or future damage, or by the recognition of an injustice. For example, you might fear being physically or emotionally hurt, or being abandoned or losing someone you love. You might fear financial insecurity or being ridiculed. Anger is also triggered when you see others hurt or treated unfairly.

The other individual

To be most effective, first consider the perspective of the other individual(s) involved even if you don’t agree with their perspective. You can communicate much more effectively if you can find common ground and if you use a solicitous tone of voice and effective choice of words.

For example,

“Perhaps you meant to help…”

“I imagine this promotion means a lot to you…”

“I know economic times are rough…”

“You seem to have a lot going on in your life…”

How to communicate anger effectively

The best communication occurs when people show their vulnerability while remaining self-possessed, in other words, if they don’t give in to the underlying vulnerability and they don’t go ballistic. So, don’t attack, cry, beg or whine. Stay neutral, find common ground, and state your case or make your point.

Here are some examples of bad vs. better communication:

Bad: “How dare you talk to me like that!”

Better: “I know you’re upset, but I feel pushed away when you talk to me like that. Would you explain what you want without raising your voice so much.”

Bad: “How selfish of you not to call until the last minute!”

Better: “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate, but when I didn’t hear from you, I was disappointed and decided to make other plans rather than be angry with you.”

In summary, when you feel anger, don’t become reactive, but do the following:

1. Understand what is motivating your anger, so you can be clear about what you want.

2. Find common ground to keep lines of communication open.

3. Express the feelings of fear or sadness that cause your anger without becoming overwhelmed by fear or sadness.

4. Maintain a calm demeanor, that is, maintain your self-respect and self-control.

5. Make a request, not a demand of the other person, if appropriate.

In certain life-endangering circumstances, however, using the full power of your anger could just be the most effective way to prevent harm.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Contempt:
“You’re always scowling at me!”

"Forlorn Heart" Julia Louis-Dreyfus, by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Contempt breaks the heart, because it implies that one person considers the other as undeserving of respect. Studies have shown that people who make sour facial expressions when their spouses talk are likely to be separated within four years. The dissolution of the relationship may take longer, but contempt will steadily and painfully eat away at a relationship, even when there are a few good times in between. In an atmosphere of contempt, partners find it difficult to remember any positive qualities about each other. So the vicious cycle of disdain and hurt gets worse and more irreversible with time.

It is crucial to break this cycle before it gets a stranglehold on the relationship. If your partner talks down to you, express your desire and need to be treated with love and respect. Be firm, but compassionate enough to be listened to. Try saying something like, “You may not be aware of this or mean anything by it, but you look as though you dislike me. Your facial expression makes me feel defensive and bad. I would love it if you could look at me with love and kindness.”

If your partner doesn’t get it, show him or her the research on relationships and contempt. Get any of John Gottman’s books, such as “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work,” that show the mathematical research on the effects of contempt on a relationship. Tell your partner that life is too short to spend time together if both of you are not willing to try to bring the best of yourselves to the relationship.

While you can’t control another person, you do have control over what kind of behavior you are willing to accept, and whom you spend time with. If your partner knows that you have the desire and courage to leave an unsatisfactory relationship you will retain power over your own life. If you’re determined not to let contemptuous behavior slide, your partner will be hard pressed to continue to treat you poorly. If the behavior continues despite your ongoing efforts, the only solution may be to limit or end the relationship before heartache and misery overwhelm you.

A loving relationship based on respect requires a sense of self-respect on your part. People who exude self-respect by stopping or withdrawing from others who talk down to them are more attractive than those who accept contempt. Expecting respect can be a more powerful aphrodisiac than unconditional acceptance. But it has to be backed up by the courage to remove yourself from an unhealthy relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

John Gottman’s website.

Read “Criticism and Contempt.”

A Better Way to Break-Up: 20 Ways to Leave Your Lover
by GUEST AUTHOR Dr. Jennifer Freed with Molly Green

"Grazia" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Grazia” by Mimi Stuart ©

GUEST AUTHOR Dr. Jennifer Freed with Molly Green writes:

The dissolution of any romantic relationship is invariably painful: At its worst, it is devastating and harmful and leaves a lot of emotional collateral damage in its wake; at its best, it’s done with tenderness and care, and both parties put aside a desire to just be done with it in favor of taking the time to separate with patience and love. The latter is difficult to achieve, but ultimately a more expedient path to peace. Below, Dr. Jennifer Freed, a therapist, astrologer, and the founder of Santa Barbara’s AHA!, together with her colleague, Molly Green, explains what needs to be reckoned with.

Paul Simon suggested:

“You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free”

This song hit a national nerve precisely because people tend to leave their lovers in the most hideous and harmful ways. There may be any number of causes or triggers—an affair (physical or emotional), growing disdain, physical rejection, addiction, and anger—but when the betrayal results in often-public drama and fireworks, rather than a calm, loving, and honest reckoning, it lays waste to all the joy the couple in question might have experienced together, coloring the entire relationship with pain. It begs the question: Why do so many people, who have often spent years loving one another, leave their relationships in such hurtful, harmful, and unconscionable ways? How can it be done differently?

People leave their love relationships in tatters because they:

1. Are too frightened to actually face their own unhappiness and take responsibility for it.

2. Are unwilling to face the pain in their partner’s face when they tell them the relationship is over. They don’t want to witness the loss band-aid being pulled off in slow motion and thus feel responsible for the hurt.

3. Selfishly tell themselves that what their partner doesn’t know will not hurt them.

4. Want to punish their partner emotionally for what they have experienced as coldness, distance, or waning desire.

5. Are addicted to novelty and idealization at any cost.

6. Are unable to face the material consequences or insecurities of their decision to leave.

7. Blame their partner for their lack of success or dissatisfaction with their own life.

Any of the choose-your-own-adventures above indicate that there is a lot of pain between lovers that has not been addressed in an appropriate way, and that a lot of collateral emotional damage could be spared if people felt good enough about themselves, and had the correct tools, to deal with immense fear, insecurity, and emptiness. It takes tremendous courage to actually face relationship despair head on. Instead people bolt, cheat, lie, withdraw, get addicted to things, or trash the whole thing with an abrupt cut-off and hostile attack listing every imagined resentment and flaw. Rarely do people face each other and discuss the dying elephant in the room. To do so would be to take an honest look at the demise of the dream, the failing of the promises, and the personal sense of inadequacy and hopelessness that intimate relationship endings bring.

If we are to truly absorb and assimilate the grief of a coming ending—in its raw and undistracted state—we actually need to confront our own shortcomings. Both parties need to look at their parts in the deterioration of the connection and the many personal patterns or flaws that contributed to the dying of attraction and affection. This is the psychological work of warriors, quite frankly, and many folks just do not have the inner muscles or resolve, or outside resources to flex that deeply.

However, if we could all agree that it is in the best interest of ourselves, and our communities, to get into some serious intimacy shape, we could begin to deal with the reality and the sorrow of relationships that are fizzling out, and do so with dignity, maturity, and kindness. We could support one another to take regular inventory of the health of our love relationships and not go into cruise control or denial about intimacy erosion. Once we start hearing the whisper of the death rattle through long periods of emotional disconnection, avoidance of sex, constant bickering or fighting, increasing times apart, and a vapid joylessness, we can roll up our sleeves and wrestle these emotional demons. If all efforts fail to revive the romance and quality of connection, then everyone can feel more empowered to move forward.

Below, 20 ways to leave your lover with love and respect.

1. Take full responsibility for your part in the ending, as in:

“I gave up a long time ago when we were drifting apart and I just didn’t fight for us.”
“I stopped appreciating you and took you for granted.”
“I need something different than what I am getting with you and I want to move on.”

2. Take time to dissolve the ending by giving your partner notice and discussing reasonable ways to end things.

3. Speak highly of your soon-to-be ex, because what you say about them actually reflects a great deal about you.

4. Spend a good deal of time reflecting on how you got into the intimacy bog and what you could have done differently.

5. Give your soon-to-be ex a lot of space to be upset and remove yourself immediately from any conversations that are hateful or abusive.

6. Pay off all debts and split things up fairly.

7. Seek professional help to mediate finality if you are too frightened and find yourself backing off from your firm decision.

8. Refrain from clingy sex and keep appropriate new boundaries to avoid confusion and undue stalling. Respect your partner’s boundaries and their need for distance.

9. Be kind to all of your mutual friends, as well as the friends of your partner. Avoid taking sides. There are no sides. There is just loss.

10. Use this time to take great care of yourself by getting in shape, not just physically but mentally. This is a very stressful time, no matter how adrenalized you may feel in leaving.

11. Keep your words in the affirmative about the situation and avoid all attempts to make you right and your partner wrong. Again, it is all just loss. There are no winners.

12. Be faithful to your soon-to-be ex and do not involve anyone else romantically in your complicated emotional maelstrom until you are truly separated.

13. Give your soon-to-be ex lots of physical space and let them attend to things without having to see your face.

14. Take up a new class or hobby to help you fill the new free time that is often fraught with compulsive over-thinking.

15. Take a short road trip alone or with friends to get some perspective after the big announcement.

16. Refrain from any social media postings about your status. RESPECT the transition.

17. Keep all your soon-to-be ex’s secret vulnerabilities SECRET. Do not ever reveal intimate facts. That would be tasteless and petty.

18. Let go of all letters and memorabilia as soon as possible, but in a discreet, honorable way.

19. Take time to feel all the emotions without involving your ex in a blow-by-blow battle. It is time for you to feel it all. Get a therapist or friend to be there for you.

20. When you make mistakes along the imperfect road of breaking up, admit to them and move on. Making a mistake is not code for failure.

If you are the friend of someone in the midst of this process, you can be truly helpful by encouraging the person to look in the mirror for the real lessons to be learned, and to keep an eye on the path ahead. There is only power in looking at his or her part of the relationship, no matter how screwed up their partner’s actions seem to be. After all, so much of falling in love is in the feeling we get about ourselves in the eyes of the beloved. It seems fitting that falling out of love is also about bravely enduring the feeling we get from looking in the eyes of one we have disappointed, whether they be our ex-lover’s or our own.

by GUEST AUTHOR Dr. Jennifer Freed with Molly Green. Dr. Jennifer Freed PhD, is a child behavioral expert and co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.)