Category Archives: Intimacy

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.”

Emotional Fusion: “Whenever I’m in a long-term relationship, I lose all of my passions, desires, and goals in life, simply to make the other person happy.”

“Sorcery” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I have always been very, very close with my mom. However, her constant complaining and negative attitude has always taken a huge toll on me. When I was younger I would have violent outbursts and hit objects because I became so frustrated. The concept of emotional fusion might explain my inability to be in real intimate relationships. Whenever I’m in a long-term relationship, I lose all of my passions, desires, and goals in life, simply to make the other person happy. I was wondering if you had any advice going forward regarding intimate relationships as it is something I crave yet am utterly and completely terrified to enter one again.”

Emotional Fusion

Yes, it sounds like emotional fusion may be the issue. When you are a child and dependent on a parent, especially when there is only one primary parent taking care of you or you feel very close to that parent, it is natural to focus excessively on tuning into and accommodating your parent’s needs.

As you grow up from childhood to adolescence and into young adulthood, it is natural and healthy to gain more independence, both in action and thought. A self-centered or unhappy parent is likely to feel threatened by a child’s natural drive for independence, and thus, become volatile and controlling. The child, as a result, will feel constrained or manipulated by the parent, while simultaneously needing the parent. These contrasting emotions create a great deal of inner conflict, which can lead to outbursts, tantrums, or depression.

Both drives are natural: 1) the desire to accommodate and avoid disappointing the parent, and 2) the drive toward independence and attaining your own happiness. But if these two drives are not allowed to coexist, the result will be great tumult and frustration. These drives will conflict when a parent unconsciously or consciously tries to suppress their child’s independence and need for emotional separation. The child senses that independence in emotions, thoughts or actions is risky and dangerous, which leads to feelings of resentment, anger, guilt, or depression.

Ideally, a parent balances rules with freedom, that is, having boundaries and guidelines with compassionately allowing their children to develop emotional and mental separation and autonomy. Of course, there is no such thing as an ideal parent. Some may tend to smother their children in some respects while others tend to neglect them, at least to some degree. The greater the parent’s emotional reactivity is to the child’s emotions and actions, the greater the emotional fusion.

Future relationships

A person who is emotionally fused with their parent while growing up will tend to become emotionally fused with others in future relationships. They tend to assume they are responsible for the other person’s happiness. As a result, they lose sight of their own desires and goals.

It is fine to want your partner to be happy, but when it becomes your primary motivation, you fall into a no-win trap. Your happiness and vitality become dependent on the other person’s happiness, which puts an undue burden on both you and the other person, because you cannot make another person happy. You are aiming for something which you do not control, and actually shouldn’t control. Also, there is often an unspoken expectation that the other person owes you, and should make you happy in return, which leads to further disappointment and resentment.

Advice

My advice is to start imagining specific past situations where you have either submitted to doing something you didn’t want to do, responded with anger, or felt a distinct loss of enthusiasm and vitality. Then think of a new way you could have responded using a calm and considered approach, while honoring your own needs. It is generally not good to dwell on the past. But by considering real examples, which tend to repeat themselves, you can practice and prepare yourself for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

The goal is to learn to speak up for yourself while still respecting the other person, but leaving it up to them how they will feel and respond. Let go of your desire to insure that the other person will be happy and pleased with everything you say and do. Be considerate without becoming responsible for their reactions and emotions.

Examples

Do you put up with ongoing complaints? Then practice your response. For example, “I’m so sorry you are unhappy. Let me know if there’s something specific I can do. But when you keep telling me how unhappy you are, it also brings me down, and it’s not helpful for either of us.” If that person gets angry, repeat yourself once, and then say, “I’m sorry you feel that way,” and drop it or leave.

Do you spend too much time together, or do you give up doing things you love to do? Then find a way to do what is important to you, and express yourself without feeling guilty. For example, “Thanks for inviting me, but I need to get some exercise,” or “I have a project I’m working on at home,” or “I have been out too much lately.”

Do you focus too much on what the other person wants? Then become hyper aware of your tendency to neglect your own needs while focusing excessively on the other person’s needs. Express and pursue your desires with a matter of fact quality, “Sorry I can’t be there tonight. I need to catch up on sleep,” or “I was looking forward to practicing the guitar,” or “I need to rest and chill.” Anyone who easily disregards your needs is not someone you should lavish your attention on.

Do you feel that you have to fix things when the other person is sad, frustrated, or in pain? Be kind and compassionate, but resist your impulse to be responsible for fixing another person’s problems and moods. Use a firm, kind, calm voice, make no excuses, assign no guilt or blame. Wish them will while respecting your own space and needs. Use words like, “I wish/hope/want you to be happy/feel better/have a good evening,… but I need/would like/want to get some rest/see my old friend/catch up on reading….”

If the other person gets angry or feels hurt when you state your needs, then you may need to disengage from that relationship. A relationship that requires you to suppress your own needs to satisfy another person’s is not reciprocal or ultimately, sustainable. Alternatively, a relationship in which each person is primarily responsible for expressing and pursuing their own desires while being considerate of the other person fosters freedom, vitality, accountability, and long-term sustainability.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


“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

“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


“I have been the Pursuer of my boyfriend. What is the best way to demonstrate the beauty of connection to a typical Distancer?”

"Rocket Man" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Rocket Man” by Mimi Stuart ©

The best way to approach your boyfriend as a Distancer so that he recognizes the beauty of the connection is to enjoy your time together without overwhelming or pressuring him for even greater connection. A Distancer prefers to keep physical or emotional distance because unconsciously he fears that he will be manipulated or obligated to give up his autonomy.

Distancers dislike setting boundaries

Strangely enough, Distancers are typically uncomfortable setting boundaries in a clear but compassionate way with people they feel close to. One way this inability to set boundaries develops is that the Distancer’s parent punished him or her with anger or cold withdrawal when the child did not want to accommodate and go along with the parent. Setting boundaries, therefore, became dangerous for the Distancer because of the risk of incurring a hostile reaction from someone he or she depended on for survival. Thus, the Distancer learned to protect him- or herself by staying emotionally distant and no longer needing to set boundaries in an intimate or personal situation.

Avoid pressure and manipulation

Thus, Distancers are particularly uncomfortable with people who are prone to want something from them, for example, people who are needy, controlling, or manipulative. Thus, it is important to avoid manipulating or pressuring your boyfriend into doing things he may not want to do, such as spending more time with you or opening up and talking more. So when he says or hints that he prefers to stay home instead of being with you, respond with easy kindness and without causing him to feel manipulated or guilty, “Too bad. I’ll miss you. Have a great evening.” Tone of voice is key—it should render no feelings of guilt. Over time, he may feel that it is not as threatening to resist accommodating you as it was for him as a child.

If the Distancer opens up and expresses emotion or something personal, be careful not to criticize or analyze him and don’t grill him for more information. It’s better to just listen, and then say something like, “I appreciate you’re telling me that.” Or “Is there anything I can do to help?” And then allow the subject to be changed if he starts to feel uncomfortable.

In these ways, the Distancer will learn over time that the earlier hazards of intrusion and control no longer threaten him. As a result, he will probably open up a bit more (especially if he is younger.) But don’t expect a big change. He will likely remain somewhat on his guard.

Focus on yourself

Part of the beauty of a relationship is learning from the person you are drawn to. Focus on why you are attracted to a Distancer and in what ways you could learn to become more like him. He probably has fine qualities typical of a Distancer, such as having discretion and being autonomous, that might benefit you. Learn to resist the desire for more connection, and simply appreciate the connection you do have as well as the time you spend apart or with others.

If he is significantly closed off and spends inordinate time alone, you can talk to him about your needs. Try to be specific, and make sure you do not manipulate him as that is sure to backfire. Ask him how he sees the ideal balance of separateness and togetherness in your relationship. If his desire for connection is very different from yours, be prepared for disappointment and perhaps for moving on from this relationship, because people only change when they themselves are motivated to do so.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen