marriage

Ways to Be Miserable In Your Marriage

No relationship is the same.  People are extremely complex- a marriage multiplies that intricacy.  How can a marriage work?  Amazingly, we really know a lot about what makes marriages function on all cylinders.  But there is a gap between knowing and doing, and this is in large part what I work with in counseling.

Instead of recreating the wheel, I am reproducing word-for-word here the “Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage.”  With wit, wisdom, and brevity, Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix offer a tongue-in-cheek way to keep a marriage strong.  I want to express my thanks to them for the incredible contribution they have made to marriage counseling.

The Ten Commandments for a Miserable Marriage

by Dr. Harville and Helen LaKelly Hendrix

1. Be as critical as you can! All criticism, including constructive
criticism, is an ideal way to keep your partner’s
defences on high alert. Being judgmental will ensure that
you don’t get what you really want from your partner.
And disparaging words when angry or frustrated will
stimulate their fight or flight response. If you ritually
play the “blame and shame game,” your marriage will be
safe from the anxiety of being happy.

2. Expect your partner to be just like you. You and your
partner should have the same needs, wants, likes, and
dislikes. You should have the same perceptions, feelings,
and experiences. When your partner wants something
different from you, be swift to show them how being like
you is the only way to be. Absolute compatibility is the
key to a boring marriage, and insisting on it will bring
you unbearable despair.

3. Avoid intimacy as much as possible by engaging in
exits. Engage in activities that help you escape from the
day-to-day intimacy of your relationship. Engage in any
activity, thought, or feeling that decreases or avoids
emotional or physical involvement with your partner.
Increase functional exits (car-pooling, work, taking care
of kids), motivated behaviors (watching TV, reading,
sports, hobbies), and/or catastrophic actions (emotional
or physical affairs, addictions, threats of divorce). This
will help magnify the distance between you and your
partner.

4. When upset, use “You” language as much as possible.
Avoid saying “I feel” and express instead what your partner
is doing that frustrates you. Engage in language such
as, “You always…” and “You never…” to insure that your
partner remains defensive and reciprocates with rolling
eyes, deep sighs, and reciprocal speech. Remember: your
goal is to keep the power struggle active and your intimacy
level comfortably low!

5. Give conditionally and receive cautiously. Bargaining
is the process to ensure minimal growth in your relationship
and keeping score will help maximize your
frustration level. Make sure you only do things for your
partner if s/he will promise to give in exchange. But be
wary when your partner comes through with a gift—
follow the string and see where it leads. Cut the string if
necessary and refuse the gift.

6. Be unintentional about romance. Inevitably, the joy
that came easy in your romantic days disappears. At all
costs, don’t try to make sense of this since you risk moving
through the stage to a deeper experience of love.
Avoid committing to fun activities on a regular basis and
embrace the emptiness as proof you are probably married
to the wrong person.

7. Amplify the negative in your relationship. When you
are away from your partner, think about how s/he has
changed (for the worse) since you first met. Focus on
what is going wrong in your relationship and all the
things your partner is not doing for you. It’s not only the
words you use, but your thoughts, tones and actions that
will help keep you despondent. Live by the motto:
“Negativity breeds contempt.”

8. Avoid learning new communication skills. Basically,
keep doing what you are doing and engage in a one-way
monologue. Talk to your partner as if all s/he has to do is
to listen to you. Make no attempt to listen to your partner.
That will make your partner feel invisible and maintain
the set point of misery you need to regulate your
anxiety about closeness. Insist that the two of you are
ONE and that you are the ONE. There just isn’t room for
two in a dismal marriage.

9. Be sure not tell your partner what you need or want.
After all, s/he should know by now. Never, ever, tell your
partner what you really need or want. Do not drop hints
about things that truly touch your heart. Saying what
you need could tempt your partner to give you what you
actually asked for and then you will have to reject their
offering because you had to tell them. By deflecting as
much love as possible, you can maintain your narrative
of deprivation. Re-read #5 as a review.

10. Expect your relationship to be a fairytale romance.
Live in the illusion that romantic attraction should be
forever. Once the illusion breaks down and your partner
is no longer spiking your highs, demand s/he return to
your dream (and ignore their reciprocal requests). When
s/he fails miserably in sacrificing her/his authentic self
for your insatiable longings, you will realize the dream
has become a nightmare. Congratulations! You have
reached your destination.

 

P.S. For Ten Commandments to a Happy Marriage,
reverse all of the above.

Advertisements

Money Psychology

Image

The holiday season is coming to a close.  2014 is upon us.  If you are like most Americans, you have spent a fair amount of money in the past month.  Whether consciously or not, you have made a substantial number of financial decisions.

How much did you drive?  What did you spend on food?  What led to the purchasing decisions you made?  What brought about changes or continuity in how you spent money?  How are you planning to spend or save in the next week?  What are your goals for next year?

These are all money questions.  Whether we like it or not, it is integral to daily life.  Even right now, as I type, I am using electricity, wearing down the life of my computer, using time, and re-educating myself on decision-making.  This all affects money.  And money affects it all.

Money is neutral.  Good or evil can come from it.  It is a great tool to reveal what is important to us, and it will quickly reveal the true investments of our hearts- what matters to us.  So when I work with couples and individuals dealing with relationship problems, it’s no wonder that this is a regular dispute zone.

In The 5 Money Personalities, authors Scott and Bethany Palmer present 5 personal styles to handling money.  We each have styles, just like we have personalities- equal, yet different.   There are strengths and weaknesses in each style.  How a person comes to the table- their beliefs and attitudes- considerably impacts their actions and emotions.

First of all, the Spender gets a genuine rush from spending- big or small.  This type of person lives and breathes in the moment- seeking to make life enjoyable now and create memories.  Spenders love to buy for others and get much happiness from helping others and giving gifts.  However, impulsive decisions, a tendency not to communicate about money, regret, and sticking to a budget are some unhelpful results that can ensue.

For the Risk Taker, risk brings a thrill, a challenge, a joy.  They will think about the big picture.  Entrepreneurial possibilities are their life-blood.  The hunt invigorates- and this person moves quick.  Instead of looking at the data and following a standard path of conventional wisdom, their gut is often consulted.  Conversely, vulnerability to loss, ignoring reality, impatience, and a lack of empathy are some of the risks that can follow.

The Security Seeker is a researcher.  Just like the motto of the Scouts, they live by Be Prepared.  Future focus allows them to be willing to give up on immediate gratification for long-term gain.  Faithfulness with resources is an almost inevitable outcome.  The down side is the tendency to be negative along with having anxiety, possibly becoming a killjoy, getting stuck in analysis, and lacking in creativity.

The Flyer may seem out of place in a discussion on money- they hardly think about it.  This person is not consumed or obsessed with money.  They are content, centered on relationships, and usually not motivated by dollars and change.  The flyer may not pay enough attention to money, make decisions based on emotion, lack money skills, or lack in responsibility and initiative.

Finally, the last money personality the Palmer’s introduce is the Saver.  They love to, well, save.  Getting something for less is exhilarating to them.  Organization and stability are this person’s namesake, avoiding debt and calculating buying decisions.  On the contrary, financial goals can lead this personality to lose sight of the present, form anxieties around plans, goals, and saving (which can be not-so-fun), and they may also be just plain cheap.

Exciting, huh?!  This knowledge can certainly help understand the motivations and drive behind money decisions.  Many people, though, are like John and Kate, who approach money in very different ways.  When everyday decisions arise, they quickly get into conflict because they assume the other person is ignoring their needs and not being helpful.  The more a person is “vilified” for their style, the more they will shut down.  You (and those around you) will benefit if you learn to appreciate the person and personality without treating them like a villain.

Here is the thing: changing behavior- not just observing it- is the challenging task.  You will be successful in your relationships if you can really listen, show understanding and respect, and give generously.  Let money be your servant, not your master.  And when you handle money this way, will you ever look back and regret it?

Yours truly,

Justin K. Hughes

Intensity vs. Intimacy

Possibly the simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known.  Intensity is defined as strength, power, or force- in relationship terms, it’s getting a surge of whatever makes a person feel good.  Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding, with compassion, with sacrifice.  Intensity happens quickly and fades quickly- it is not long lasting.  Those that trade it for intimacy will find themselves dissatisfied and using people like objects.

The implications of this are profound.  It has changed the way I look at relationships.  I have been a “thrill-seeker.”  Oh no, you never would see me cliff-diving, jumping out of airplanes, or swimming with sharks.  I learned to seek intensity in subtle ways- especially with people.  I would feed off of the praise of others; I would pursue the “high” of new connections; I would live for recognition.  I became aware of this through support, seeing my own counselor, and study.  You see, I made a major error- I substituted intensity for intimacy.

They are not the same thing.

This concept is important in understanding Addiction, Bipolar, Personality Disorders, and just plain ol’ dysfunctional relationship patterns.  For instance, with addiction, a person adapts to the world and copes using a substance or person or thing as if it were a relationship- gaining comfort, support, investing time and energy, and to soothe pain.  I commonly hear addicts say that their addiction became their best friend.  Of course, the problem with relying on an intense “high” to feel better is that our brains weren’t made to sustain constant highs.  Our brains will normalize to constant surges of feel-good intensity (aka, dopamine highs), and then we naturally begin to feel depressed when we don’t have this now “normal” high.  The classic term for this is ‘tolerance.’ 

Healthy relationships don’t run on constant highs.  Hear me out: good, healthy relationships can give the greatest satisfaction and offer wonderful highs.  But this is not all the time.  They require consistency, work, patience, suffering, and perseverance.  This goes way beyond just romantic relationships.  Running after intensity leaves a person “high and dry,” trying to be satisfied in ways they were not created to be fulfilled.  The substitute kills.  The real thing fulfills.
 
Yours truly,
~Justin

Attracting Bad Relationships: How You Become a Jerk-Magnet

How did this happen again?  Do I have a sign on my face that says, ‘Take advantage of me’? 

A common counseling topic is addressing habitual and self-destructive patterns in relationships.  For the person that keeps getting stuck and attracting the same jerk over and over again, I have good news: there are clear, identifiable characteristics that actually do make you a magnet for certain types of people.

Addictions, compulsive, and impulsive behavior.  Each of these keep us from feeling true emotions; they insulate us from reality.  And in so doing, they keep us from seeing things as they truly are.
Betrayal Bonds and patterns of abuse.  In the classic work, Betrayal Bonds, renowned addiction specialist Dr. Patrick Carnes poignantly notes that people who experience trauma in relationships (and who don’t deal with the trauma) are often bound in some way to the same person/type who deeply, and often repeatedly, hurts them.
Codependency.  A person who is codependent finds their identity in fixing others and ensuring everything goes well.  In so doing, they often lose their own sense of self and boundaries.  See Codependent No More by Melody Beattie.
Cognitive distortions.  If you have harmful thought patterns that are not based in truth, you won’t be in touch with what’s really going on or what is actually needed to be healthy.  See Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.
Depression.  Low motivation and energy along with hopelessness all make healthy decisions difficult, especially if another person fills a void.
Lack of Direction or Spiritual Anchor.  Confusion as to who you are and what you are doing with your life goes hand-in-hand with picking the wrong person.  If you don’t know who you are, how can you express yourself and be understood?
Law of Complementary Personalities.  The saying, ‘opposites attract,’ often is true when it comes to negative relationship styles.  For example, a passive person pairs with an aggressive person, often attracted to their leadership (or on the flip side, attracted to how easy-going the other is).  Someone who is pathologically controlling must find someone who can be pathologically controlled.  The two fit together like sweet tea on hot Texas day.
Learned Helplessness.  Elephants who are originally chained down will later believe they can’t escape when they only are held by a flimsy rope connected to a stake in the ground.  Have you learned helplessness?  Do you stay in a relationship because you don’t think it will get any better, or because it would get a lot worse if you made changes?
Love Addiction.  When a person is addicted to the “high” of falling in love, often they miss important signs and signals and get into unhealthy relationships.  Check out Pia Mellody’s Facing Love Addiction.
Poor Emotion Management.  Not knowing how to identify and regulate emotions leads to a lack of self-control and direction.
Training.  I love the phrase: We train others how to treat us.  Examples are letting people into your personal space, not letting someone know they’ve harmed you, and not telling others your wants/needs.  All of these train others.  Do you stand up for respect and honor for yourself and others?
Self-Esteem Issues.  If we look hyper-negatively at ourselves, any person who seems to boost our self-view will make do.
Self-sabotage.  Due to insecurity, a person fears getting something good, so they inadvertently or intentionally damage opportunities.  Too much potential threat is involved.
Toxic Shame.  If you consistently see your value as worthless, you won’t make decisions to secure respect and love.  A great read on this is John Bradshaw’s work, Healing the Shame That Binds You.

 

These are just a beginning.  Knowing underlying patterns is only a start to changing them.  If you see yourself in these descriptions, write it out and talk to a trusted person about what you want to change.  After all, acknowledging a problem is the BIG first step.  If you need more help, this is why counselors exist!

Image

Effective Communication

From a counseling perspective, when I study communication between politicians, businesses, and portrayals in the media, I often shake my head.  It’s pretty bleak.  Some of the very same dysfunctional communication that happens in unhappy and unsuccessful relationships is often present in these environments- and shown as an example.

Effective communication, like most anything else of value, takes work and practice.  Unfortunately, a lot of models of communication from environments like those listed above are about winning and being “one-up” from another person.  You will never get very close to another if this is your stance.  True intimacy is knowing someone and being known by them- not putting another down, trying to win, or being “right.”    

When I was a counseling intern, I was struck by a question my supervisor posed to a client in group therapy: “Do you want to win the argument or keep your spouse?”  Good question.  What are our priorities?  It’s a good idea to look at them.  Because whatever you ultimately are seeking will come through in your communication patterns.  Do you truly seek to understand, to know, and to connect?  Or are you trying to win, to defeat, and to be the big-shot?    

  

Here’s a few helpful pointers on assertive and kind communication:

-Mutual respect (their thoughts/feelings matter, and so do yours)

-Reflect (share) what you think you heard

-Strive to understand what the other REALLY means

-Ask lots of questions

-Be concise, if possible

-Say no when it’s called for

-Be direct

-If reasonable, thank the person for sharing

-Let another person know they are important

-To love and care for another requires that you set healthy boundaries

-Ask the other person how you can approach something

-Use “I” statements (saying “you,” especially in conflict, often comes across as blaming)

-Remember you are human– be patient with others as they are, too

 

 

Image

Bad Romance?

It’s Just Lunch claims to be “The world’s #1 personalized matchmaking service.”[1]  Flying on a plane, the article caught my attention.  This service, amidst the growing trend of supercharged dating, offers professional help.  This time, it’s personal.

They search for “interesting, like minded individuals,” taking away the grueling task of locating the next prospect of your love life.  This service especially gears its advertising towards busy professionals.  Too far?

When I found out about this service, my gut reaction was, “Really?”  Does a person really need a professional to help them locate that “special someone?”  But of course, the once crazy idea of online dating is responsible for a huge percentage of marriages (and even more relationships).  Match.com utilizes cutting edge, scientific processes and psychology to develop matches.  And the truth is, there are successful and unsuccessful relationships arranged by various means.  I don’t have the stats concerning the most successful methods as related to satisfaction, stability, and length of relationship.  What I can speak to are the psychological and relational principles that lead to emotional health.

IJL states, “We know dating can be frustrating and disappointing, but it doesn’t have to be.”    Truth: all relationships of any depth will have frustrations and disappointments in them.  Can they minimize that?  Possibly.  Get rid of them?  Nope.  Truth: helping a person play “the game” better doesn’t guarantee long-term success in a relationship, only possible short-term success in minimizing stress and finding someone.  Truth: good relationships take hard work, so if you bypass it at one level, more power to you.  You can’t bypass all of it.  Healthy couples do their utmost to be…healthy.

Call me old-fashioned, but service and selflessness is also a part of healthy relationships.  When the focus is inherently on my needs and my wants when I want it, it can be easy to miss out on loving the other person- especially when they are hard to love.  With any amount of time, we all are hard to love. Then, when a person is focused solely on their needs and wants, surprise, surprise!  That person you fell in love with starts to cheat on you because you are “no fun anymore” or “you don’t get me.”  Possibly the most famous marriage researchers, the Gottmans, have quantitatively shown again and again how the ability to manage conflict well in a relationship is its number one predictor of success.[2]  And that takes work.

Conclusion?  IJL may be a great service.  If you are seeking to be emotionally healthy as a person and in a relationship (and finding a healthy person), please consider the importance of pursuing measures to develop yourself in healthy ways.  No professional service magically makes that appear.  Not even counseling.