Marriage is Supposed to be a Struggle?!

 

If you think your spouse should ALWAYS make you happy, I feel sorry for . . . your spouse.

Sure, the desire to make you happy should be high on your’s spouse list of priorities.  But you go too if you think your spouse’s responsibility to make you happy.

Take a moment to view the coin from the other side.photo by Tavallai--cc flickr

Can you always make your spouse happy?

No.  So how can you expect more from him or her?

Even if your spouse could “always make you happy,” would that truly be a good thing?

Probably not.  It would far more likely just make you increasingly narcissistic and more of a pain in the ass than you already are!

If it’s not good for your own spouse, siblings, children, or pets to always get their way, why would it be good for you?

Marriage is the Best Path to Self Improvement

Despite all the romantic hopes everyone harbors about finding a soul mate or perfect match, the reality of human nature is that we are all imperfect and therefore imperfectly compatible.

Lori Lowe’s essay We All Married The Wrong Person describes research that shows that there are no perfect matches, and perhaps not even any great matches.  Instead, there are matches of imperfect people who greatly work at becoming better and more tolerant. Read the rest of this entry »

We Are All Guilty. But Not Equally Guilty.

Here is an uncomfortable truth: “Every married person abuses his or her spouse.”

Most will be quickly to deny it.  But it is actually true.

Most of these abuses are very small, I agree.  But ignoring even the smallest of abuses is what can lead to big trouble.

Think about it.

A harsh word.  A criticism veiled as a “funny” tease.  These are the seedlings of verbal abuse.

The cold shoulder.  Withholding a smile or a look of affection.  Even benign neglect.  These are the seedlings of emotional abuse.  In these examples, the emotional abuse is in the form of rejection.

Remember, every person wants to feel loved.  Just as you want to feel treasured, honored, respected, admired, and cherished by your spouse, he or she wants the same from you.

The Seedlings of Emotional and Verbal Abuse

At least in some small way, any rejection or put down of the person you promised to love as much as you love yourself is an abuse of that loved one.  It is a betrayal of your vow to stand by, protect, support, encourage, and love your spouse.

But you may complain, such a broad definition of spouse abuse sets an impossibly high standard. Read the rest of this entry »

Love is Verb, Not a Noun. A Choice, Not a Chemistry.

Many people are looking for “chemistry” in their love lichemical reactionves.

They want someone who stirs up their feelings of admiration, attraction, and desire.

It’s like they want to be handed a surprise gift.  A neat little package containing all of the feelings we associate with love, especially the way “true love” and “love at first sight” is conveyed in the movies and songs that define our culture.

Is it any surprise, then, that divorce rates are so high?  Is it any surprise so many people are in serial relationships that last only months or a few years before they renew their search for “better chemistry?”

Love is not chemistry. Love is a choice.

The feelings we associate with love (admiration, desire, possessiveness, generosity, et cetera) are just that; feelings associated with love, especially when choices to love are being reciprocated and the challenges we face are relatively small.   And these feelings are all good.  But they are not love.

Love is decision.  It is a verb.  It is the process of making every day choices that honor a relationship which includes commitments of serving another persons, whether that be a new born child you barely know, a parent you’ve known all your life, or your fiance’ on your wedding day.

images

It is the every day decisions to make little or big choices to honor this Read the rest of this entry »

Wanted: Leaders not Tyrants — What Women Want in Men and How They Can More Likely Get It

Women are attracted to confident men.

Indeed, confidence is the most commonly listed quality women report wanting in men.  Moreover, even the physical characteristics of an attractive man are ones which suggest manly confidence, strength, and an ability to lead.

On some level, this sign of confidence also reflects an ability to protect, provide, and lead a family.

But there are delicate balances at stake.   Leaders are valued, but beware of tyrants.

Men, or women, who “naturally” appear to be strong leaders may in fact be tyrants–pressing their wills forward with a sharp focus that looks like leadership but is really self-focused, closed-minded narcissism.   Dictators may be perceived as leaders, and do serve the role of leaders in many governments, businesses, associations, homes, and relationships . . . but once they are discovered to be dictators, they are usually not the men women wish they had married.

by Elvert Barnes, Creative Commons

While husbands should certainly avoid being tyrants, it still remains true that most wives want a husband who is a leader.  More specifically, they desire a husband who is closer to the ideal of a servant-leader, one who seeks the good of everyone and is often willing to forego his own desires and preferences because of that desire to “lead by example,” including by examples of generosity.

The irony is that a good servant-leader, especially early in relationships, may not be perceived as a “leader” precisely because he is seeking to understand his partners needs and desires before making decisions.

The dilemma this creates for confident women is well described in a blog post by Evan Marc Katz:  If You Want to Date A Confident Leader, You Have to Let Him Lead.

While Katz fails to offer much in the way of solutions (like I hope to do), it is still a very interesting read.  Go ahead.  Go read it.  Then come back here.

One of the striking points in the Katz article is that many confident, successful women are tired of making decisions all day and would welcome their date simply choosing what restaurant to go to without having one more consultation.   This sets them up for being more intrigued and impressed by men who are really prone to be dictator types who know what they want for themselves and figure its up to women to adjust if they want to be part of “his life.”   The problem is that this form of self-centeredness may appear to be confidence, which is attractive, in the dating stage but is later seen as, well . . . self-centeredness after marriage, which is not attractive. Read the rest of this entry »

Sex, Success, and Security

Best selling author Dr. Warren Farrell’s Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say  is filled with lot’s of valuable insights for both men and women.   It’s given me much to ponder.

One line of thought that I would like to share with you stems from his thesis that men seek women for sex while women seek men for success.  Put even more bluntly,  men seek “sex objects” and women seek “success objects.”

Farrell’s would agree that this maxim describes just a “tendency” that does not sufficiently reflect all of the more complex and noble aspects of human relationships.

Clearly, men want more than sex and women want more than financial freedom.   On the other hand, it is sometimes useful to boil down even the most complex systems to the most base generalities.

Acknowledging that caveat–and with your promise of tolerating the following over generalizations–let’s follow the lead of a few of these stereotypes to see what insights they might give us.

First, it it noteworthy that Farrell’s formula can apply to both people who are avoiding marriage and people seeking marriage.Women Can't Hear What Men Don't Say: Destroying Myths, Creating Love

For example, men avoiding marriage are attracted to beautiful women who offer sex without commitment. Women avoiding marriage are attracted to wealthy men who offer gifts, meals, housing, travel, and excitement without commitment.

For those seeking marriage, men marry seeking sexual security and women marry seeking financial security.

 

Marriage as A Promise of Security

Again, if we temporarily ignore all the many beautiful and important nuances to look at the differences in focus on sex and success, this is difference between what a bride and groom hear when they make their marriage vows:

  • a groom hears his bride promising to do her best to always be available to him for sexual intimacy, and
  • a bride hears the groom promising to do his best to always provide the necessities of life which will allow her to form their household, raise their children, and pursue all of her dreams for a happy productive life.

Read the rest of this entry »

Marital Expectations — Ingredients for Marital Intimacy

 

Be wary of stereotypes.   They often hold elements of truth, but not the whole truth.

Stereotypes about men and women, for example, may be helpful starting points in discussions because there are true differences in men and women.  On the other hand, since there is so much variation between individuals, both men and women, stereotypes often don’t apply to particular individuals or couples.

Acknowledging that caveat (and with your promise of tolerating the following over generalizations), let’s see what we might learn by contemplating a couple of stereotypes.

(1) Men want sex more often than women.

(2) Women want conversations more often then men, especially about topics (and in feeling terms) which women experience as especially meaningful.

So, man meets woman.  They fall in love.  They promise to marry with the expectation that their spouse will dispel the loneliness  in their lives by giving them the security of (a) a sex partner forever and (b) someone to converse with forever.

Put another way, they are looking for sexual security and emotional security which are distinct but very intertwined.

Typically, for men satisfaction of sexual desire produces feelings of emotional closeness.  For women, emotional closeness produces feeling of sexual desire.

This is why women want to be romanced before sex and also why men have a tendency to want to move quickly toward sex . . . not just for the sex act itself but for the afterglow of emotional closeness which sex is the shortcut to.

So part of the “mismatch” between men and women is that while they both want true intimacy, which is both emotional and physical, they have a natural tendency to want the first steps to be down their own preferred path . . . emotional for women and physical for men.

This difference can lead to unintended hurts.   A wife can feel emotionally hurt and used when the husband neglects to emotionally warm her up before sex.   Conversely, if the wife refuses a “quicky” because her husband has failed to romance her, or she just doesn’t have the time, he is going to experience rejection.   Not just a rejection of sex, but rejection of emotional intimacy with him.   He, after all, is seeking not just sexual release but profound emotional intimacy. . .or at least a short cut to it,  especially in the afterglow of sex.

So remember this fundamental principle:  both husbands and wives want intimacy.  Deep, profound intimacy.  But they often see different paths to greater intimacy.  

While they both want sex and conversation in the mix, it is likely that they each want sex and conversation in different proportions.   Add on top of this the fact that either spouse, feeling that one’s desire for intimacy (verbal or physical) is being rejected feels like a rejection of one’s very self.

Read the rest of this entry »

Help for Repairing a “Broken Relationship Picker”

A friend recently blamed her “broken picker” for a series of bad relationships.  Naturally, she fears her next relationship will also end in heartbreak.

If only there was a better way to screen out bad matches and to increase the likelihood of finding a great partner.

Maybe there is.

In How To Know If Someone Is Worth Pursuing In Two Dates Or Less, clinical psychologist and eHarmony co-founder Niel Warren counsels everyone to develop a thoughtful, written list of the top ten “Must Have” traits and top ten “Can’t Stand” traits they require in a future mate.

This list serves three purposes.

First, it helps people to focus early conversations on key points that can help them to quickly assess whether someone they have just met might fit their core values and needs.

Second, once potential partners progress beyond a second or third date, its a great idea to discuss your lists together. If your potential partner has not created a list, ask him or her to do so. By talking through your priority lists you will more quickly identify core issues regarding your compatibility.  Together, your two lists will give you 40 relationship priorities to discuss . . . fewer, if there is overlap, which might be a great thing to learn, too.

Third, you can use these lists as a reference point for later evaluating whether or not the person you are dating is truly honest and authentic, or is instead deceptive and manipulative.  (More about this later.)

 

Seek Compatibility, Not Perfection

You’re not looking for a 100% overlap of priorities.  You’re looking for irreconcilable conflicts in your priorities.   Pay especially close attention to your Can’t Stand list.

Don’t compromise on your top priorities.  Resist the temptation to downgrade one of your core priorities just because of your date’s dazzling smile.  If an item on your list is truly a core priority, giving it up hoping to “make it work” is burying a seed for future unhappiness.

Also, just because someone has admirable traits, it doesn’t mean they are right for you.  This is why you need to take the time to actually identify and articulate the core traits you really value.   What core traits will you admire, love and appreciate for not just a year but for decades?

Similarly, if they have even one trait you cannot stand (such as arrogance), even though others might consider it attractive, don’t compromise.  If that Can’s Stand trait will eventually wear you down or embitter you, you are doing yourself and the other person a favor recognizing this incompatibility now.

According to Dr. Warren: “Overlooking obvious incompatibilities and thinking, ‘Well, no one’s perfect’ can be a recipe for relationship disaster.  The bottom line is you never have to settle for less than compatible, comfortable and happy.  Selecting your Must Haves and Can’t Stands is one of the most important components of your search.”

 

Always Run From the One Universal Disqualifier

While everyone will have a different list of Must Haves and Can’t Stands, there is one thing everyone should have on their Can’t Stand list.   And that is “a character disorder that is incompatible with a giving, respectful relationship.”

Obviously, not every emotional problem is incompatible with good relationships.  For example, depression and anxiety are common problems that many partners can accept and help each other through.

But some problems–such a sociopathic tendencies, border line personality disorder, and narcissism–are simply incompatible with lasting, loving, respectful relationships.

According Dr. Warren:

“At the center of a character disorder is a poorly developed conscience.  These persons behave out of their own desires and impulses and pay little attention to how their actions affect you. If they can get their own perceived needs met, even if that means hurting you, they will do so. People with these kinds of disorders tend to lie, cheat, exaggerate, and take advantage of others.”

This is why you should always be alert for manipulative behavior,  twisting of the truth, shifting of blame, flashes of disdain, addiction and perhaps most simply, an inability to be authentically and generously other-centered.

These are takers, not givers.  Often, they may appear generous at first.  But they are really giving only when it advances their ability to take.

People afflicted with these kinds of emotional problems may be interesting and exciting for a time being.  In fact, they may be incredibly skilled at charming others to draw them into their dysfunctional relationships.   But once you are drawn into their net, they will become more demanding, more manipulative, more disrespectful, and more determined to punish you whenever you interfere with their obsessions.

Sadly, because of their skill at deceiving and manipulating, such people often run through a steady stream of victims.

People with such character disorders won’t hesitate to lie when you request they write up a list of Must Haves and Cant’ Stands.  They may even use the opportunity to create a list custom designed to make themselves be more attractive to you based on what they have already learned about you.

So don’t assume a successful conversation about your lists means a person is truly compatible with you.  The value of these conversations is entirely dependent on the honesty and self-awareness of both parties.  If either of you is dishonest to yourself or the other, the evaluation of compatibility you draw from your first conversation may be grossly inaccurate.

This is why it is a great idea for you to review your compatibility lists with some frequency, especially during the first year of your relationship.   By having these lists, your B.S. detection skills may be vastly improved by comparing real life observations with the written record of your partner’s claimed priorities.

When doing your list review, obviously you should be forgiving of incidental issues.  No one is perfect.  But you should be alert to patterns of behavior that indicate not just a one time lapse of judgement but rather a deeply ingrained personality trait.

These character disorders cannot be fixed, especially by you.  Even professional counselors have great difficulty helping these people to confront their problems, much less improve.

If you see patterns of deceit, manipulation, or emotional, verbal, or physical abuse, break free.  Protect yourself.

If you are a giver, then you a deserve a giver, too.   Make that one of your Must Haves.

 

Get Started!  Pick Ten Must Haves and Ten Can’t Haves

Below is a starting point of suggestions.  Use it as a checklist to start refining the ten qualities that your potential mate Must Have.   Feel free to add anything else.  You are uniquely you.  Your list should be, too.

To help define your list, think through each of your past relationships, good and bad.   Write down the best and worst characteristics of each partner.   Pay special attention to characteristics that overlap in multiple relationships.   These can be either positive or negative.  They may help guide you to identifying a priority or two that you might otherwise overlook.   If you “always” fall for a narcissist, for example, realign your radar detector to avoid doing so again.

Dr. Warren recommends limiting your list to just to ten of each type.   It may not be easy to do so.  But boiling your list down to just the ten must haves that are most important to you will help you to learn more about yourself and your true core priorities.

Ideas for Possible Must-Have Traits

1. Chemistry…I must feel deeply attracted to my partner.
2. Good Communicator…I must have someone who is good at talking and listening.
3. Sense of Humor… I must have someone who is sharp and can enjoy the humorous side of life.
4. Verbal Intimacy… I must know that my partner is sharing their deepest emotional thoughts and desires.
5. Emotionally Healthy…I must have a partner who is emotionally healthy, and able to share a stable life with someone else.
6. Strong Character…I must have a partner who is honest and strong enough to do the right thing.
7. Artistry…I must have a partner who has a passion for music, literature, drama, art, and the finer things in life either as a spectator or participant.
8. Kindness…I must have a partner who is gentle and kind.
9. Education…I must have someone whose educational achievements match my own.
10. Organized…I must have a partner who values structure in their life.
11. Exciting…I must have someone who isn’t afraid to take a risk and who sees life as an adventure.
12. Patience…I must have someone who can handle life’s frustrations or momentary setbacks with a patient, steady, demeanor.
13. Tolerant…I must have a partner who is able to hear and appreciate divergent viewpoints.
14. Conflict Resolver…I must have a partner who will work to resolve rather than win arguments or conflicts within our relationship.
15. Attractiveness…I must have a partner who is considered “very attractive” by most current standards.
16. Personal Habits…I must have a partner who maintains high standards of personal hygiene, orderliness, and other personal habits.
17. Affectionate… I must have someone who is comfortable giving and receiving affection.
18. Industriousness… I must have someone who is willing to work hard at whatever they do.
19. Energy Level…I must have someone whose energy level matches my own.
20. Emotionally Generous…I must have a partner who enjoys people and is generous with his or her compassion, attention, sympathies and love.
21. Intellect…I must have a partner who is bright and can share my understanding of the world as well as enjoy discussing important issues.
22. Self-Confident…I must have a partner who knows and believes in himself/herself throughout life’s ups and downs.
23. Unassuming…I must have someone who is able to accept criticism, and even admit to being wrong sometimes.
24. Able to Accept Help… I must have a partner who is willing to accept outside help for personal or relationship issues that are serious and important.
25. Curiosity… I must have a partner who is hungry for new information and knowledge and who strives to learn as much as possible.
26. Loyal…I must have someone I can count on to always support me.
27. Adaptability… I must have a partner who is able to adapt to life’s surprises.
28. Autonomy… I must have a partner who will give me space to be my own person.
29. Family Life…I must have a partner who is committed to marriage, home, and family.
30. Shared Interests…I must have someone who is willing to share my interests and passions.
31. Style and Appearance…I must have someone who cares about the way they look and dress and has a sense of personal style.
32. Shared Politics…I must have someone who has political beliefs which are the same or similar to my own.
33. Spirit of Volunteerism…I must have a partner who shares my willingness to volunteer and support community and/or social causes.
34. No Children…I must have someone who shares my desire to not have children.
35. Family…I must have someone who shares my desire to have or adopt children.
36. Stepchildren…I must have someone who will accept my children as their own.
37. Parenting Style…I must have someone who shares my views about how to raise children.
38. Parent Care…I must have someone who is willing to help me take care of my parents, now or when the time comes.
39. Staying In…I must have a partner who mainly enjoys staying in together and having quiet evenings alone or with close friends.
40. Sociability…I must have a partner who loves to socialize with lots of different people.
41. Spirituality…I must have someone with a similar deep commitment to spirituality, who shares my beliefs.
42. Religious Practice…My partner must be committed to being an active member of a church or temple congregation.
43. Spiritual Acceptance…My partner must accept and respect my spiritual beliefs, whether they share them or not.
44. Financially Responsible…My partner must be financially responsible.
45. Ambition…I must have a partner who shares my desire to achieve high financial and/or career goals.
46. Relaxed…I must have a partner who is able to forget about money and focus on the important parts of life.
47. Abstinent… I must have a spouse who has saved himself/herself sexually for marriage.
48. Traditional… I must have someone who is reserved and traditional in their sexual needs.
49. Sexually Knowledgeable…I must have someone who is mature and experienced as a potential sexual partner and is able to express himself/herself freely.
50. Passionate… I must have someone who is willing to explore our sexual desires with passion and understanding.We tend to focus on what we most want in a partner. However, it may even be more important to know what we want to avoid!
51. Previous marriage… I’ve learned from my failed marriage, and I hope my future partner has, too.  People my age who have never been married have generally grown too self-absorbed to know how to compromise in a marriage.
52.  Experience as a parent… Parents are more likely to have learned how to be more other-centered. My kids are a priority, and middle aged or older people without parenting experience may have trouble prioritizing family over business or pleasure.

_____________________________________________________

Ideas for Possible Must-Not-Have Traits

Examine the list of items below as a starting point for identifying just ten qualities that you “can’t stand” in a potential mate.

Use this as an opportunity to learn a little more about yourself, and really think about what you’re looking for!

1. Vanity… I can’t stand someone who is overly interested in their physical appearance.
2. Dependence… I can’t stand someone who bases their happiness on me.
3. Depressed… I can’t stand someone who is constantly unhappy about their life.
4. Lying… I can’t stand someone who lies to anyone-especially to me.
5. Cheating… I can’t stand someone who takes advantage of people.
6. Cynicism… I can’t stand someone who generally sees the world from a cynical perspective.
7. Anger… I can’t stand someone who can’t manage their anger, who yells, or bottles it up inside.
8. Self-Centered… I can’t stand someone whose main topic of conversation is himself/herself.
9. Rude… I can’t stand someone who is belittling, impatient or hateful to people in any situation.
10. Unhappy at Work… I can’t stand someone who hates their job and complains about it all the time.
11. Materialistic… I can’t stand someone who sees material items as a measure of success.
12. Denial… I can’t stand someone who is unable to accept blame or see fault in their own actions.
13. Workaholic… I can’t stand someone who treats everything in life as secondary to their job.
14. Lazy… I can’t stand someone who likes to spend excessive time sleeping, resting or being a “couch potato.”
15. Worrier… I can’t stand someone who easily loses perspective and constantly worries.
16. Intolerance… While I understand that religious conviction is a positive trait, I can’t stand someone who is self-righteous and feels that their particular faith is the only one that matters.
17. Victim Mentality… While everyone has times of self-pity, I can’t stand someone who continually sees himself/herself as a victim.
18. Grudges… I can’t stand someone who has a chip on their shoulder.
19. Mean Spirited… I can’t stand someone who has a devious nature and is mean to others.
20. Childishness… I can’t stand someone who is not emotionally mature.
21. Fiscally Irresponsible… I can’t stand someone who is incapable of managing their money.
22. Petty… I can’t stand someone who focuses on imperfection.
23. Hypochondriac… I can’t stand someone who has a general disposition of sickness and is constantly treating the symptoms of their supposed illness.
24. Boorishness… I can’t stand someone who is inclined to rowdy, vulgar or disrespectful behavior when “having fun.”
25. Excessive Overweight… I can’t stand someone who is overweight.
26. Gambling… I can’t stand someone who gambles.
27. Drugs… I can’t stand someone who uses illegal recreational drugs.
28. Intruding Family/Friends… I can’t stand someone whose relatives and friends are constantly calling or visiting. Values
29. Punctuality… I can’t stand someone who is always late.
30. Flirts… I can’t stand
31. Racist… I can’t stand someone who believes that any particular ethnic group to which they belong is superior to the rest of humanity.
32. Television Junkie… I can’t stand someone who constantly watches television.
33. Poor Hygiene… I can’t stand someone who is not clean.
34. Hypocrites… I can’t stand someone who holds a double standard for their actions and those of other people.
35. Gossip… I can’t stand someone who loves to talk about other people.
36. Judgmental… I can’t stand someone who finds fault with everyone and everything.
37. Pornography… I can’t stand someone who views or owns pornography in any form.
38. Addictions… I can’t stand someone who currently suffers from addictions.
39. Sloppy… I can’t stand someone who is unkempt. 40. Undependable… I can’t stand someone who fails to come through and is unreliable.
41. Cheap… I can’t stand someone who is so tightfisted as to be impractical.
42. Foul Mouthed… I can’t stand someone who swears or uses inappropriate language or humor.
43. Arrogant… I can’t stand someone who is obnoxiously cocky.
44. Extremely Shy… I can’t stand someone who is so shy that they cannot open up and share with me.
45. Pessimism… I can’t stand someone who always sees the glass as half empty.
46. Political Correctness… I can’t stand someone who censors their thoughts and opinions with a politically correct agenda.
47. Recklessness… I can’t stand someone who has a careless and irresponsible manner when with others.
48. Sexually Obsessed… I can’t stand someone who is sexually obsessive.
49. Uninterested… I can’t stand someone who does not enjoy having sex on a regular basis.
50. Infidelity… I can’t stand someone who engages in sex outside a committed relationship.~

Three Inescapable Relationship Laws

Opening yourself up to a true intimate relationship can be scary.  We all want to protect ourselves from being hurt, from being judged, from being rejected . . . and sometimes, from being fully known.   There are weaknesses, addictions, petty feelings, and dark places that we may want to hide.

A loved one recently explained why she had failed to respond to my calls, texts, and emails for over two weeks because she “afraid to burden you with my problems. I don’t want you to think I’m a loser.”

Here was my response:

I understand. I truly do. But being afraid of a fall doesn’t change the laws of gravity. In the same way, being afraid of the “laws” of relationships doesn’t change how those “laws” impact relationships.

Here are a three inescapable truths about relationships. You may fear them. But you can’t escape them.

1. Relationships are fed by spending time together. Avoidance is poison.

2. Relationships are nourished by open communication. Silence starves.

3. Relationships are built on honesty. Hiding problems is dishonest.

Ergo, relationships cannot grow, improve, or survive without time, communication, and honesty.

I understand your fears. I truly do. You want to show your best self, not your struggling self. I get it!

On some level, we all fear the vulnerability required to be fully present, open and honest.

But none of us can escape the three “laws” I mentioned above.

When our actions are governed by our fears first, and our desire for a relationship second, our relationships will suffer.  It is the inevitable result of the three laws of relationships.

On the other hand, relationships have their best opportunity to grow and thrive when we prioritize the relationship over our fears, using the desire for a good relationship to inspire the courage to overcome our fears regarding being fully present, open, and honest.

 

Joy versus Happiness: Where to find them

Joy is what we experience from things, activities, and even adventures.  But true happiness comes from relationships.

Joys are passing.  That’s why we are constantly seeking new joys.

True happiness, by contrast, is marked by a deep sense of peace or contentment, which in turn is dependent on feeling safely connected to other persons by whom we feel loved and love in return.   These other persons may be family, friends or God . . . and to some degree, even pets.

Here’s the proof.   A person who has experienced great joys in his collection of mementos, cars, or travels does not receive comfort on his death bed by asking for the things or distractions that gave him joy.  He receives comfort by asking for the people in his life who were the source of his true happiness.

Here’s another proof.   No one who feels entirely isolated from meaningful relationships is happy.   Loneliness is the antithesis of happiness.  The lonely may experience joys, but they are not happy.  They do not feel socially connected and socially rooted.   We are all psychically built to be social creatures.  When there is a lack of sufficient social connection we are not fully the social beings we are meant to be and therefore lack a fullness of happiness.

In short, we can only find true happiness in relationships with others.   Indeed, it can be argued that the whole purpose and meaning of life is to develop relationships and thereby understand and mirror that Divine relationship which is the very nature of the Trinity. One of the ways we are made in the image and likeness of God is to be in relationship with others like ourselves.

From these insights we can see that key to experiencing and deepening true happiness in our lives is to focus on nurturing our relationships with others, including God, parents, siblings, spouse, children and friends.

Everything you do to nurture and restore relationships (including seeking and offering forgiveness, comfort, and support) will contribute to your happiness and the happiness of others. 

From this same line of reasoning we should also be aware that the temptation to seek individual joys in things and experiences, especially at the expense of our relationships, is like overindulging on sugar at the expense of good vegetables and protein.   Whenever our pursuit of joys lead us to neglect our relationships, this will diminish our happiness, not feed it.   So be careful of pursuing the excitement of material joys at the expense of your relationships.

 

Guaranteed Freezing: “I’ll give you wood when you give me heat.”

Your spouse’s opinions may change over time, but seldom because you have lectured, pressed, insisted or demanded his or her conformity with your opinion.  It is far more likely that your spouses opinion, or yours, will change simply by being aware of each others views and being open to allowing those views, and others one will witness as the years go by, percolate deep inside until that view begins to meld into one’s own opinions.

Acceptance of differences is what both wins  hearts and eventually, at undetermined times and rates, can transform hearts and opinions.

Withholding acceptance, on the other hand, poisons intimacy.

In The Seven Levels of IntimacyMatthew Kelly writes:

The first truth of relationships is that all relationships have problems.  They all have unresolvable problems.  These unresolvable problems are usually the result of vastly different opinions on certain issues or varying expectations about the role each partner should play.  All of these are the result of differences in upbringing, education, and experience.

…it is how we choose to deal with these unresolvable problems that most influences the quality and depth of our relationships.

The relationships that thrive despite their unresolvable problems are those in which the people acknowledge the problems, find ways to adapt to them, and over time even find them amusing.  They don’t allow differing opinions to become a roadblock in their quest for intimacy.

The people whose relationships struggle take a very different path… They constantly argue to the point of gridlock; they keep hurting each other’s feelings, and consciously or subconsciously they stand at the stove saying, “I’ll give you wood when you give me heat.”

They withhold their love, affection, and acceptance from each other while promising themselves, “When I understand her I will accept her,” or vice versa.  Over time, a pattern emerges.  The people disagree about something; they criticize each other; they blame each other for their inability to resolve their differences; the tension escalates; the subject of the argument is abandoned for condescending and critical personal attacks; the argument becomes too painful, so one person (or both) abdicates; they retreat from the conflict and return to the superficial and safer levels [limiting conversation to cliches or facts, rather than opinions and values].

Unless they can lean a new way to deal with their unresolvable problems they will never taste the life giving waters of intimacy. The new way they desperately need to find is acceptance. . . .

We must work our way out from under the illusion that all problems can be resolved.  Once we are liberated from the expectation that we should be able to resolve all the problems in our relationships, we are free to turn our attention to helping each other become the-best-version-of-ourselves.

It isn’t your job to fix the relationship.  It is the relationship’s job to fix you.

Relationships are hard work, but the hardest work is letting go of our personal agendas and learning to accept that we are who we are and where we are right now for a reason.

Everything doesn’t have to be planned and controlled. Relationships should be treated as sacred mysteries.  Allow the mystery to unfold in it’s own time.

The greatest gift we can give anyone in relationship is acceptance.  Once we resolve to accept people for who they are and where they are, we are set free and so are they.

We are free to affirm them, encourage them, and appreciate them, and by liberating ourselves we set them free to be who they are and become all they were created to be.

All relationships have unresolvable problems.

It is difficult to come to come to terms with this truth at first, but in time you will discover, if you have not done so already, that it is how we deal with these unresolvable problems that usually determines the fate of our relationships.

Very few relationships lose their footing in the midst of great joy or even the everyday challenges; it is the unresolvable problems of relationships (and the illusion that they should not exist) that cause us to lose our footing.

The Demanding Spouse

“She’s a demanding wife.”  Or, “He’s a demanding husband.”

We’ve heard these phrases, which are usually criticisms.  And while there are certainly over demanding husbands and wives, certainly there are also cases where spouse have legitimate desires and expectations that are being so ignored that a “demand” to give them attention is not only appropriate, but just.

So, what’s the difference between legitimate and illegitimate demands?

Before answering that, perhaps we might step back to the broader question of what it means to be a healthy and mature person.   If demands are arising from selfishness rather than maturity, there’s a obviously a greater chance that they are not legitimate.

Are You Surrounded by Mirrors, or Windows?

The best sales people know what motivates people.  In other words, they have a firm grasp of practical psychology.  So I wasn’t surprised to collect some very insightful notes form a lecture by Chet Holmes, at least some of which ended up in his book The Ultimate Sales Machine.

This article isn’t about sales.  But I want to give credit where credit is due.

His reflections began with a quote: “Maturity is when all of your mirrors turn into windows.”  It may have been uttered by Thoreau , or perhaps it’s just a variation of Pamela Frankau’s “There must come a time when . . . all your mirrors turn to windows.”

Holmes then observes that, “Most people live their lives surrounded by mirrors, focusing on themselves. They see their feelings, their needs. They think about how they come across to other people and whether or not they will get what they want…”

No one with this attitude will be a good salespersons, he argue.

I would add, no one with this attitude will be a good spouse.

A person who is self-focused is concerned about four things:

  • Their feelings
  • Their needs
  • How do people see them?
  • Will they get what they want

But a truly mature person is one who has grown past selfishness, replacing all the mirrors that surround them with windows that allow them to see other peoples feelings and needs.  And these have to be true windows, not partially mirrored ones where they are actually seeing their own images interposed on that of others.

Being other-focused means having concern for four different things:

  • Empathy for others’ feelings
  • Respect for others’ needs
  • How can I see them in the best light?  The least judgmental way?
  • How can I help this other person get what they want and need?

<< To be continued >>

Extraordinary Reasons for Sexual Problems in Marriage

Every marriage goes through cycles of intimacy.

Sometimes we will feel close to each other and yearn for ever more emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy.  At other times, we will feel that we are drifting apart.   If the drift apart becomes too severe, we may actually begin resent our spouse’s efforts to renew and restore emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy.

Some of the driving forces which tend to push couples away are what I will call normal circumstances.  These encompass the normal competitors for time and energy — like jobs, parenting, hobbies, et cetera– and the normal vices of human nature — self-absorption, selfishness, envy, boredom and the like.    These are “normal circumstances” because they arise in nearly every marriage and are addressed in nearly every book on marriage advise.

But there are also extraordinary circumstances.  Unfortunately, these extraordinary circumstances are not rare.   I call them extraordinary not because they are rare but because can loom so large in the psyche of one or both partners that they may render a spouse truly unable to even work at being who or she wants to be without professional counseling and an extraordinary effort on both partner’s part. Read the rest of this entry »

When a History of Sexual Abuse Impacts Marital Intimacy

Trust is vital to marital intimacy.

Unfortunately,  sometimes through no major fault of a spouse, trust may be lost — or at least buried–beneath feelings of anxiety, fear, or even an emotional shut down.

Why?  Because past hurts caused by other people can become mentally associated with one’s spouse.  Once these links are made, even subconsciously, these feelings of hurt, despair, shame, hatred, and more need to be dealt with or they will continue to haunt the marriage.

One life experience that can intrude on marital intimacy in this way is a history of sexual abuse, especially a history of sexual abuse as a child.

photo by  Stuart Dallas Photography--cc flickr

While a history of sexual abuse may not always interfere with marital intimacy, it would be a very rare couple with whom it never has any impact on their relationship.

Occasionally, the effects of prior sexual abuse will be evident early in a relationship.   In such cases, an alert couple will educate themselves and be consciously prepared to persistently and patiently work through these issues as they unfold through the early years of their marriage.  Bravo!

In other cases, a couple may be taken by surprise by issues arising out of a history of sexual abuse.  Or worse, they may have no insight at all as to how this past is contributing to the disintegration of their marriage.  This can occur because survivors of sexual abuse are often unaware of its lingering effects and impact on relationships.

Indeed, if an affected spouse believes the past abuse is not something that needs to be addressed (much less has successfully suppressed memories of the abuse), it is quite likely that their spouse, too, will treat it as a non-issue presuming he or she has even been told about the past abuse.

As a general rule of thumb, however, sooner or later it will always become an issue.   As trust, love, interdependence grow and wane, and as unexpected events in life create emotion sapping tension and hurts, unresolved feelings will be triggered, misdirected, and misinterpreted.

In many cases, a couple may enjoy period of normal and pleasurable marriage for several years.    During this time, the affected spouse may actually be coping well, and healing on many levels.   Alternatively, the affected spouse may mostly be suppressing the all the little hurts and resentments which are due to normal marriage experiences rubbing up against unhealed trauma wounds related to trust, self-esteem, control, sexual boundaries, and more.  In such cases, the affected spouse may be working hard to convince themselves and their spouses that they are happy when in fact they are getting by, coping, doing their best to their “duty,” while inside true marital intimacy is not growing but is instead eroding.

Read the rest of this entry »

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