Category Archives: Conflict

“Is there hope for our relationship when we have such different mindsets?”

"Jazz Night" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Jazz Night” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I have a “growth mentality” and I guess my husband has a “fixed” mentality. I want to grow and change in every area of my (our) lives. I want us to become better people and pursue greater happiness. My husband wants to stay the same. He is insecure and likes comforts and approval and takes my wanting change as a personal affront. He says I’m never happy. But I am happy. I’m just happiest when I/we are moving in new directions and growing! He loves movies and food and I want to read and be outdoors and learn. We have little children and I really don’t want to divorce. We seem to want such different things that I fear we won’t make each other happy over the long run. Is there hope for people with such different mindsets being together?”

Two people who are very different from one another can have a loving, fulfilling relationship as long as there is no contempt or abuse within the relationship. While you can generally improve a relationship more easily if you have a growth mentality than a fixed mentality, I don’t think having a husband with a fixed mentality is enough reason to toss in the towel, especially if you have children. Remember that we can never get everything we want in any particular partner.

I would consider whether part of your growth could be to accept your husband for who he is, that is, someone with different interests and less desire to change and grow. I would recommend continuing to pursue your interests while respecting his complacency. Continue to grow, read, go outdoors, and learn. But don’t show contempt for your husband’s lack of interest in doing the same. I would not badger him to read, because he probably won’t, and he would feel that you are nagging and criticizing him. If you try to push him, he will become more defensive, entrenched, and find more things to criticize about you.

I bet that there were qualities about him that you liked when you met, and that there’s a reason you liked those qualities. Perhaps you liked him in part because he is predictable and not seeking novelty and growth. Predictable people tend to be more loyal and bring less chaos into a relationship. They can be more stable as a partner and parent than someone who is seeking change and improvement. Your differences from each other can bring a nice balance to the relationship as long as there is no contempt.

I would recommend continuing to pursue your interests and learning, while also spending a little time trying to appreciate the things he likes to do, whether it’s watching football, going to movies, or eating delicious food. You don’t have to do everything together by any means. But it would be nice if you could find a way to do a couple of the things he likes to do and really appreciate those activities (even as a learning experience) and try to understand why he likes them.

Reading, learning, and going outdoors may sound more virtuous than watching movies, enjoying food, and staying comfortably at home. Yet it is important to enjoy the present even while seeking improvement in YOURself for the future.

I am not implying that you don’t enjoy the present, and I can see why you would be frustrated with someone who isn’t trying to better himself and explore life more. I’m just trying to help you appreciate what is good in your husband, while you continue to seek your own path. We cannot change others, but sometimes it is surprising what we can learn from them while continuing to maintain our own preferences.

I’m glad you’re reluctant to divorce, particularly since you have children together. It can be beneficial for children to experience two very different kinds of parenting—one who is predictable and stays at home, while the other explores the outdoors and new activities.

If you continue to grow, and the two of you thereby grow apart dramatically and can no longer get along, then that will become much more clear over time. Or if you are able to resist criticizing him and pushing him to change, and he continues to act with defensiveness and hostility toward you, then it may be time to seek counseling to improve the situation or to consider other alternatives.

But there is a good chance that you can and will continue to grow while honoring who your husband is as a person, a mate, and a father. You may come to appreciate your differences, while experiencing growing mutual respect and love for each other.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

A 3-Step Routine For Processing Betrayal (And Walking Away Happier) by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed

"Strength and Wisdom" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Strength and Wisdom” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I’ve been cheated, been mistreated
When will I be loved
I’ve been put down, I’ve been pushed ’round
When will I be loved?”

~ Linda Ronstadt

Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed writes:

Sad to say, many of us have sung a version of this tune in the face of adultery and betrayal. Most people are shocked and utterly shaken by this type of betrayal because they “never saw it coming.” It’s like a meteor of misery hurling from outer space that bursts our life apart.

Reconstituting our life after deep betrayal is an arduous task but, if done well, it can be extraordinarily transformational and empowering.

So now that the inconceivable has happened, what can you do to mop yourself off the floor and heal magnificently? This three-step process is a great place to start.

1. Feel everything.

Every emotion in the book will come up during the aftermath of the betrayal: rage, grief, terror, jealousy, revenge, etc. It is essential that you have space to fully experience the intense variety of feelings in a safe context.

Pushing down this emotion or burying it with numbing substances will prolong the wound. Find friends and professionals who will support you to feel without adding any more emotional kerosene to the bonfire. Get enough support to go deep, express fully, and emerge much lighter. You know you are done with this phase when you are not obsessed with the betrayer or what they did anymore. You are ready to actually think about you, your life, and what you want now.

2. Use your new free time wisely.

After you have collapsed for a while and experienced an enormous amount of catharsis, you can begin to see the emptiness that exists where there once was the presence of your person. Emptiness is at first terrifying for most of us because we are afraid we will dissolve into nothingness and never return. The beauty of this black hole is you have the opportunity to create whatever you desire in this nascent period of vast choices.

What have you been longing to do but have been avoiding? What hobby, interest, class, can you now devote some precious time to? The vacuum inside you is really not a problem if you commit to filling it with things that will enhance your life and fill you with inspiration. There is nothing better than looking back at the period of heartbreak and betrayal and saying “That was when I really found my passion for …”

3. Forgive yourself.

The final stage of recovery is about forgiveness. Now, I’m not telling you to absolve the betrayer of their sins—they need to do their own forgiveness work and you really do not need to be any part of it. This is when you must absolutely forgive yourself for and learn from the following:

• Not seeing it coming.

• What could you have seen if you were looking more closely?

• Seeing signs of something wrong but not wanting to confront it for whatever your reasons.

• Where did you back down from real issues that were simmering? What skills do you need to not do that again?

• Any ways you contributed to the distance that ultimately led to this tortuous level of disconnection.

• How did you check out in some critical ways or put up with behaviors that were unhealthy?

Forgiving yourself is the final frontier of transformational recovery. It is the utter acceptance that we have no control over others whatsoever, yet we can always learn to be more whole and complete ourselves. Betrayal creates an undeniable break in our self-image. However, if we use that rupture to reformulate ourselves into more present, awake, connected, and fully expressed people, we will not only walk tall, but we could, one day, actually have gratitude for the brutal wake-up call.

by Guest Author Dr. Jennifer Freed, PhD, child behavioral expert, co-founder of AHA! (Attitude.Harmony.Achievement.) http://ahasb.org

How to express anger effectively: Nonviolent communication

Everyone has reasons to get angry once in a while. But if you lose your temper or become mean and hostile, you are not going to improve your long-term relationships. When you lose your temper and attack another person, that person is likely to feel horrible and defensive rather than receptive and compassionate toward you.

So how can you express anger effectively, and what can you learn about yourself from your anger?

What emotion is hiding beneath the anger?

Often the fear of abandonment or of losing love and connection is what is fueling the anger. Sometimes it is a feeling of being insignificant or unappreciated that underlies the anger.

Frequent triggers to anger include not be listened to, anxiety, or feeling powerless.

Uncontrolled anger backfires and often causes the very thing you fear. For instance, you may fear abandonment. Yet when you become angry and possessive, you push the other person away.

Self-reflection

1. Recognize your feelings before you explode in anger. When you feel a mere irritation, it’s easier to do or say something calmly than when anger has built up.

2. Know what you need to do for yourself rather than expect another person to do something for you. Don’t expect others to read your mind or to satisfy your desires and needs.

Sometimes you do need to express your anger to another person. Here is how we change powerless hostility to personal power to inspire transformation:

Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication:

The most important component of this four-step process is that the intent shown through tone of voice is to treat the other person with respect while respecting our own needs. Without a calm tone and demeanor, it will be difficult to be effective even with the right words.

If you’re too angry, let the other person know you’ll discuss this later when you’re calm.

1. State the facts. Express the facts neutrally and factually without exaggeration and without saying “You never” or “You always”.

2. Express your feelings. “I feel angry/ sad/ defensive/ lonely.” Saying you feel angry is very different than expressing hostility and anger through yelling. Make sure your feelings aren’t in fact judgments. “I feel that you’re a jerk” is not a feeling.

3. Express your need or desire. “I need support/ to be able to trust someone/ to have more fun.” Be careful that your needs are not specifically about the other person. “I need you to clean your room” is not as effective as “I need order and cleanliness.” Remember that you have to satisfy many of your needs yourself.

4. Make a specific positive request, not a demand. Don’t be too abstract, e.g., “I want you to love me forever.” Avoid negative requests, e.g., “I want you to stop being selfish.” An example of a specific positive doable request would be “Let’s go out to dinner Friday night,” or “Would you help me do the dishes after dinner.”

Rather than complaining or nagging, you’re giving the other person the opportunity to do something thoughtful for you.

5. Observe patterns. This is an added step to consider it your requests keep getting ignored. You don’t want to try to control other people. Yet if you see that a person is repeatedly ignoring your reasonable requests, desires, and expectations, then you want to change your expectations and perhaps limit your relationship with that person. By changing your expectations, you’re less likely to be disappointed and once in a while you’ll be surprised to find the other person treating you with more respect.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Dealing with Angry People.”

“Is planning in advance an unreasonable expectation?”

"Tiffanys" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Tiffanys” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I never expected to come first even on a weekly basis, but it was tiring to NEVER be a priority in my boyfriend’s life. I was very understanding about the demands on his time, but I was getting frustrated that he refused to plan ahead. Apparently asking for that was too demanding and he ended our two year relationship over it. I know I was the pursuer and I did make myself too available to him.”

Is planning ahead unreasonable?

It is very reasonable to expect an intimate partner to plan ahead for you! But, he did not plan ahead because he did not have too. You were always available. You focused too much on accommodating him, and thereby narrowed your own life and became less desirable.

Avoid being a doormat

My advice to you is to start living your life fully. Rather than asking him to plan ahead, simply make your own plans. I would plan out each week a week in advance, and be busy with people or activities or just plan on staying home to chill and read or do something you enjoy doing alone. When you have other interests and a life beyond him, you will be more interesting and desirable. If he really wants to see you, he’ll have to make you a priority and plan ahead.

If he does call, you can be friendly. Let him know that you’re busy, because you will be busy. Do NOT drop everything to see him, even if you’re dying to see him. For instance, “I’d love to see you tomorrow, but I have plans with a friend,” or “Tonight I’m staying home and relaxing, but it sounds great for another night.” Only be available if he plans ahead of time.

Note that in a mutual, reciprocal relationship, it’s fine to drop everything to see the other person sometimes.

Is being unavailable a game?

Haivng a busier life and being unavailable is not game-playing. It only feels like a game because you don’t feel like behaving this way. You need to use your reason and avoid acting only according to your feelings. Your desire to be with him was so strong that your other interests were pushed aside, which caused you to put too much emphasis on him and the relationship. The result was self-sabotaging.

You will be honoring yourself by requiring some notice. You will be doing him a favor as well. He will appreciate you more and have the opportunity to look forward to being with you, as there will be time for him to anticipate seeing you. Right now, you are the only one doing the anticipating, waiting, and yearning.

How to change your behavior

We learn to behave differently by playing a new part, whether we want to become more responsible, more fun, or more desirable. Through practice — by copying people we find particularly good at those behaviors — the new behavior will become more natural.

In part, desire is generated by anticipation, which requires distance and separation. Pursuing your own interests, other activities, and friendships will distract you, bring you joy, and will make you more desirable. And if your life is more full and well-rounded, all the better!

by Dr. Alison Poulsen


Blame: “It’s all your fault!”

“Purpose” — Einstein by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When it comes to blame most people fall into two camps. They either blame everyone else for their pain or they blame themselves for all of their problems.

In reality, there’s enough blame to go around — for ourselves and others.

The benefit of apportioning blame

While assigning blame seems like an exercise in futility, it does serve a purpose, as long as you don’t dwell in negative emotions that can accompany it. The purpose of assigning blame is to develop the ability to recognize problematic patterns in your own and others’ behavior.

For example, if you have a friend who repeatedly disappoints you by promising one thing and doing another, it’s important to make the connection — “I probably can’t trust what my friend promises.” That friend is responsible for her words and her actions or non-action and she is to blame for not following through.

However, if you continue to count on that friend, then you are also to blame for the disappointment that results, because you have not learned from your experience. Blaming yourself here is the acknowledgment that your desire for a positive outcome tends to blind you from recognition of the other person’s weaknesses.

The problem with dwelling on blame

Even if we carefully divvy out the proper proportions of blame, we can still get stuck brooding in the state of blame. “Ah, look what he’s done to me and look how I’ve contributed! Can you believe this rotten state of affairs?!” Dwelling in blame, resentment, and anger will only worsen relationships and bad situations.

Blame is only useful in problem-solving when we use it to figure out how to avoid repeating the harmful behavior, not when we use it to brow beat ourselves or others.

How to use blame to improve your life

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves in order to move from blame and shame to arranging positive change:

1. How do I tend to project my fears and hopes onto others, contributing to the way people will respond to me? How can I change that?

2. How can I change my interactions with others to avoid repeating this painful pattern?

3. How should I change my expectations of others to avoid inevitable disappointment?

4. Am I allowing myself to dwell in blame?

5. How can I change the focus of my thoughts and feelings to help me move on? Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our own emotional reactions and the focus of our thoughts.

In short, we can draw conclusions and learn from those who are to blame, be it others or ourselves, as long as we don’t drop into a state of self-pity and hopelessness or start carrying a grudge.

No heavier burden than to carry a grudge. Let go, don’t judge, Forgive.

~Ros McIntosh “In Search of the Good Life”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


How to Deal with Emotionally Volatile People:
“He can be so charming and then so defiant.”

"Out of the Rough" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Out of the Rough” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

People who swing from one extreme to the other, from being pleasant and charming one moment to being angry and defiant the next often lack emotional resilience and autonomy. They tend to fuse emotionally both positively and negatively to others, behaving wonderfully when they feel good, and blaming everyone around them when things are not going their way. Their sense of self reacts to external circumstances, and their behavior fluctuates according to their unstable sense of self.

There can be many reasons for emotional volatility, including genetic influences such as bipolar disorder, parental indulgence that contributes to a lack of impulse control, dietary imbalance, narcissism, or brain trauma from injury or drug use. Regardless of the contributing factors, when we understand how we might affect, trigger, or play into the relationship dynamic with a volatile person, we can learn how to stop having to suffer at the whims of the temperamental people in our lives.

Emotional Fusion

Swings in mood are exacerbated by emotional fusion. The emotional merging together of two people often results in excessive attachment, manipulation, and reactivity. When two people are emotionally fused, there is insufficient emotional separation for either person to maintain a grounded and empowered sense of self. As a result, emotionally-volatile people tend to swing from being hyper-accommodating to recalcitrant. Autonomy and intimacy get replaced by a sense of isolation and oppression.

Problems with Emotional Fusion

1. Repression and Anger

The reason volatile people swing from good to bad moods is that the only way they know how to be “good” is to be completely accommodating of other people’s needs and desires. The problem with being overly accommodating is that you repress your own conflicting needs, feelings and thoughts.

Such repressed feelings can manifest themselves in depression, sickness or addiction, or they erupt unexpectedly in anger or self-sabotaging behavior. The inability to calmly and firmly withstand the pressure to acquiesce to another person or tolerate another person’s disagreement or disapproval often leads to anger, belligerence and destructive behavior.

2. Weak Sense of Identity

Excessive emotional fusion creates an increasing dependence on others, which will often result in self-loathing. From infancy onward, human beings possess the instinctive drive to become capable and autonomous. It is not egotistic for a child to say, “Look at me! I can throw the ball, paint a picture, tie my shoes.…” It feels good to be able to do something on your own.

Yet it can be tempting to allow others to do things for you or tell you what to do. Such dependence seems to make life easier, but also creates deep-seated resentment. Thus, emotional fusion leads to cycles of attack and capitulation, which cause bitterness and a diminished sense of self. The underlying problem is that neither person can maintain his or her sense of identity in the presence of the other.

3. Subject to Peer Pressure

When you accommodate others in order to get validation, you become subject to peer pressure, that is, you behave in order to gain the immediate approval of your peers. This can easily lead to engaging in behavior that is harmful to yourself or others.

4. Diminishing Boundaries — Fusion

With increased fusion, boundaries between people dissolve, and anxiety becomes increasingly infectious. Undifferentiated people, that is, people who tend to fuse emotionally to others, mistakenly assume that they are responsible for another person’s wellbeing. The expectation that they must “make somebody happy” ironically increases pressure, anxiety, and disappointment for both parties. It does not generate happiness.

We can only placate someone temporarily. While we can be kind and considerate, we cannot ultimately provide wellbeing to another person without diminishing that person’s independence and exhausting ourselves in the process.

Altering your role in a fused relationship

1. Disengage: Don’t Manipulate

Control your own behavior but don’t try to control the other person’s behavior. It takes two to become emotionally fused. Stay calm even if the other person throws a temper tantrum, tries to manipulate you, or withdraws suddenly. Those strong emotional reactions only have power if you give them power.

You may have to pull back, limit the relationship, or discontinue the offerings you provide, but don’t do so in a dramatic way. Actions taken without emotional heat are much more effective than histrionics in the form of pleading, lecturing, or giving the cold shoulder.

It is imperative to stop participating in the drama of trying to control, manipulate, or unduly accommodate the other person. If you become emotionally separate, that is, if you remain caring without becoming overly reactive or tied into the other person’s emotional state, the other person will lose the intense desire to provoke an emotional reaction from you. There will be less of an urgent desire to either please you or to rebel against you. In other words, their reactivity — whether smoldering hatred or sweet manipulation — diminishes when there is no dramatic emotional effect, including cold indifference.

Analogy

Think of a toddler’s temper tantrum. When parents bribe, plead, or make threats, they actually encourage more tantrums. The toddler, who is just starting to develop a sense of self, thinks “Wow, this is cool. Look at the commotion I am causing! I have power!” Moreover, the parents’ anxiety expressed by their frantic attempts to calm the child shows the child that the world is not so safe. Why else would the parents be acting so anxiously?

For those who lack self-empowerment, such as a toddler or a dependent adult, having power over others provides a substitution for the feeling of power over one’s own life. But it is a poor substitution.

2. Stop Tip-toeing Around: Don’t be Compliant

Resist the temptation to become compliant in order to modify the other person’s mood and wellbeing. State your requests or potential consequences in a matter-of-fact way. We want to be considerate of others in our interactions. However, we do not want to compromise our own lives by endowing emotionally-volatile people with too much power over our own wellbeing.

By not allowing other people’s anxiety to infect us, we remain more emotionally separate and objective. Our disappointment in others diminishes as we accept and honor our individual selves. Even if only one person becomes less reactive, the relationship will improve. Moreover, it makes it easier for the other to eventually own, enjoy, and be responsible for his or her own decisions, moods, and conduct. It will ultimately give the other person the opportunity to develop a substantial sense of self and empowerment.

Often people get sucked into their child or spouse’s power trip because they feel guilty for not having been a “perfect” parent or spouse — as though there were such a thing. This is a mistake. Trying to make up for past errors and omissions by submitting to your child or partner’s emotional manipulation hurts everyone involved. On the other hand, being caring yet emotionally separate allows people the freedom to take responsibility for their own lives.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen