Category Archives: Relationship Skills

How to have a productive argument: “You’re simply wrong.”

"Poetry - Arnold Palmer" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Poetry – Arnold Palmer” by Mimi Stuart ©

To resolve conflict, solve problems, and influence people, you have to be diplomatic and strategic. Argue with the idea, not the person.

1. Find common ground. Start with the part you agree with.

“I understand where you’re coming from.” Or

“Yes, I have also found that…”

2. Find out the reasoning for their perspective.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it. What makes you feel that way?” Or

“Tell me more about your position.”

3. Separate the idea from the person.

“The issue I have with that idea is that…”

4. Show concern rather than insistence by showing a compassionate side. Watch that your body language and facial expressions don’t convey superiority.

“My concern is…”

5. Broaden the other person’s perspective by posing a question. Even if someone doesn’t concede your point during the discussion, they may start considering it if you are not aggressive about it.

“Don’t you find…?” Or

“What if someone…?”

6. Don’t insist on resolving the issue now.

“Let’s think about this some more and see how we can fine-tune our ideas.”

Being strategic and diplomatic is not manipulative. It will allow you to hear what the other person has to say and you may learn something yourself. If you are soft on the person and curious about the issue at hand, you both might end up with a more nuanced solution than either one of you imagined.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

What to do when people gossip about you.

"Approach - Rory McIlroy" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Approach – Rory McIlroy” by Mimi Stuart ©

“I know people who seem nice but gossip about me behind my back. They are such hypocrites, it’s depressing. Being confrontational hasn’t worked.”

Rise above the fray. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the petty gossip that many people participate in, whether they are gossiping about you or others.

People often gossip out of boredom or envy. Thus, Oscar Wilde said, The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

This is one of the situations in life where you must create a mental barrier around your feelings. If you become confrontational, fearful, or humiliated by gossip, you increase your vulnerability and give those who gossip power over you. Ignore them and you take away their power. Don’t be hostile, but don’t allow yourself to dwell on what they are saying.

Focus on more positive, interesting people and activities. There are many people in this world who have adequate self-worth and are too busy living their lives to have any time or desire for malicious gossip. Keep your eye out for these people and find activities that you are passionate about.

If you have to engage with people who are prone to gossip, maintain a casual, even somewhat friendly but unconcerned attitude. Convey a lack of interest in what they are saying by simply ignoring them, but avoid acting superior. Thus, you will maintain your dignity and inner strength without giving up your power or provoking more hostility.

Above all, the best way to stay above the banality of scandal-mongering is to maintain a sense of humor, as expressed by Vanna Bonta’s attitude:

Gossip can be entertaining: occasionally, I’ve heard the most fascinating things about myself I never knew.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Overfunctioning and underfunctioning:
“If I don’t take care of things, nothing will ever get done.”

"Crescendo" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Crescendo” by Mimi Stuart ©

Emotional system

Every family is an emotional system, where the functioning, behavior and beliefs of each person influence those of the others. Overfunctioning is different from simply doing kind things for another person or having distinct but equal roles and duties. It is an ongoing pattern of feeling responsible for the emotional well-being of another and working to compensate for the perceived or real deficits in that person.

Polarization

Overfunctioning leads to the underfunctioning person feeling dependent and entrusting responsibility for decisions and effort on those willing to do the work. As a result, the underfunctioning person becomes “less capable” — a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As family members anxiously focus on compensating for the underfunctioner and trying to “correct” the problem, the family members become more polarized. Examples of these polarities include “overadequate” and “inadequate,” “hard-working” and “lazy,” “decisive” and “indecisive,” “goal-oriented” and “procrastinator.”

Resentment

The underfunctioning person gets comfortable being taken care of, and thus continues to allow others to overfunction. Yet the underfunctioner’s increased dependence and helplessness cause feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. Meanwhile, the overfunctioning care-taker feels overwhelmed — “I have to take care of everything, or things will go wrong.” Resentment on both sides builds.

Solution

The way out of such polarities is to work on oneself, rather than to attempt to change others. A positive change in one person will have a positive impact on all others, though there may be a bit of resistance at first.

1. Do Less

Those who overfunction need to do less. When mistakes are made, the overfunctioning family member must resist jumping in to take charge, fix things, and make motivational speeches. He or she must be able to handle the frustration of seeing others fumble around and do things far from perfectly.

2. Gradual Change

Gradual change is often less shocking and deleterious than sudden change. If, for instance, the overfunctioning person has been in charge of all budgets, financial decisions, and bill paying, it’s wise to ease into sharing such duties.

3. Explaining Change

Overfunctioners can explain to the underfunctioning family member(s) that they realize that their own well-intentioned overfunctioning has contributed to the current unsatisfactory situation and that they intend to ease off such doing so much. Then they must stand back a bit and allow others to become more autonomous, make mistakes, suffer consequences, develop resilience, and determine their own individual paths.

It helps to focus on one’s own interests and new activities rather than always focusing on other family members’ behavior.

Example: Teenager Laundry

For instance, if the overfunctioning parent has been doing all cleaning and laundry for the teenagers in the house, it’s helpful to explain how and why you’d like them to start doing their own. Teenagers like the idea of independence, although they resist doing “boring” chores that are at the core of being independent.

Explain that such changes are intended to help them become more capable and independent as they will be moving out in a few years and need to develop the habit of taking care of themselves. “Embrace chores, as they are at the core of becoming independent!”

Then you can either let their dirty laundry pile up in their closets, or tell them you won’t drive them anywhere until they’ve done their laundry. In either case, the consequences of not doing their own laundry will eventually provide its own motivation.

Balance and Harmony

After initial resistance, those who underfunction will gain more autonomy, especially if those who overfunction allow them to suffer the natural consequences of their inaction. Although it’s hard work to break patterns, eventually, with more emotional separation and autonomy, a better balance of capabilities and contributions in the household will bring much needed harmony to the family.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

“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


Text… phone call… email…
“Oh…what were you saying?”

“FIRE” — Jarome Iginla by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

What happens to your memory when you multi-task? It turns out that texting or cell phone interruptions mingled into face-to-face conversations weakens your memory. Fragmented attention does not allow you to focus on any one thing long enough to code it into your memory well. Poor memory leads to making frustrating mistakes and wasting time. Research shows that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to complete a given task and will make 50% more mistakes.

More importantly, fragmented attention does not make the person you’re talking to feel valued. Plus it’s just rude!

Focused attention is essential to working memory. Neuropsychologist John Arden explains that, “if working memory is impaired, long-term memory will experience a famine of new information. If the road to long-term memory through working memory is blocked, the ‘supplies’ or memories can’t get through.”

If, for example, you are texting during dinner while conversing with your family, your focus will be fragmented and your working memory jeopardized. When you are distracted, you forget the detail of the story being told — your working memory hasn’t been encoded into your prefrontal cortex yet. So you have to ask, “What were you just talking about?” after glancing at a text.

Paying attention is key to good memory. Arden recommends the following to cultivate memory:

1. Resist having your attention fragmented.

2. Schedule social media, text messaging, and phone calls to specific times of the day, when others are not wanting your attention.

3. Focus your attention on each task until it is completed. With better prefrontal cortex activation, your working memory will function well enough to code information into your long-term memory.

It pays off considerably to pay full attention to the work at hand and the people around you — it enhances your memory, makes you more effective, and improves your interaction and relationship with others.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference and great reading: John B. Arden’s “Rewire Your Brain: Think Your Way to a Better Life.”

Intimacy vs. Agreement
“I better not disagree with his point of view, or he’ll get upset.”

“Fire ‘n Ice”—Mark Wood & Laura Kaye by Mimi Stuart ©

“Fire ‘n Ice”—Mark Wood & Laura Kaye by Mimi Stuart ©

Guessing game: The cycle of fusion

People often think they want more agreement in order to gain a feeling of intimacy. They often mistake intimacy with a feeling of closeness or “being one with their partner.” So in their quest for intimacy, they anticipate what their partner’s beliefs are in order avoid saying something incompatible or controversial. If they foresee disapproval, they screen themselves and limit their expression to what’s tried and true between them. Or they pressure their partner into agreeing with their own position.

Unfortunately, this kind of self-screening and manipulation starts the cycle of emotional fusion (co-dependence), which curtails growth and intimacy within a relationship. Fear of disapproval leads to one or both partners striving to be in complete agreement with the other and avoid rocking the boat. As a result, the relationship becomes tedious and lackluster.

How intimacy develops

Intimacy develops when people get to know each other more deeply. When two people conceal who they are and what they think in order to get along, they do not get to know one another well. Intimacy develops when two people are able to express who they are more fully, and when they are able to change and grow while within a relationship, even though this does not always lead to a feeling of oneness. Passion requires friction, albeit not hostile friction.

Tolerating the anxiety of intimacy

To be able to express who you are, what you feel, and what you believe requires being able to handle rejection, which often triggers anxiety. Thus, by developing a better tolerance for anxiety, you enhance your ability to deepen the intimacy in your relationship.

Of course there is a limit as to what you should express to others. You don’t need to share every thought and feeling, because you don’t want to become a bore. Moreover, there is a point where consideration and discretion count more than blunt honesty and openness.

Get comfortable with discomfort

When it comes to more significant thoughts and feelings, we need to learn to express ourselves despite the other person’s potentially-negative response. If we learn to handle discomfort, we no longer need to feign agreement, laugh at a poor joke, or dumb down our conversation to avoid upsetting another person. Our relationships can then be based on stimulating thoughts, growth, and authenticity, rather than sham consensus.

Respectful communication

Intimate relationships develop best when we express our honest opinions respectfully, and most importantly, when we really listen to another person’s message without shutting him or her down. This means not being reactive — sarcastic, angry, or cold — when someone has an opinion that we disagree with. When we “correct” or attack people aggressively for their ideas, we’re not encouraging them to be open and honest with us.

Respectful communication is different from acceptance and approval. Good communication does not necessarily make the other person feel his or her opinions are endorsed. Yet he or she will feel understood and respected.

“I understand what you’re saying. I see it a little differently though.”

“I’m interested to hear why you see it that way.”

“Interesting. I have a different perspective.”

Intimacy develops when we learn to listen with equanimity and to reveal ourselves, our opinions, and our feelings respectfully. Only by truly getting to know one another, do we develop meaningful, intimate relationships.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen