Monthly Archives: December 2016

How To Be Responsible For Your Relationships

My life’s work has revolved around the study of relationships—including friendships, acquaintanceships, partnerships, and any other human interaction that we tend to bring into our lives—and make no mistake, we are 100 percent responsible for our relationships. We create them in our minds and hearts, and we have a hand in the twists and turns they take.

If you don’t accept responsibility for your relationships, and you are unhappy in one or more, look to yourself first. It’s very easy to blame someone else for your uncomfortable feelings, so be sure to look at how you may have contributed to whatever is upsetting you at the moment.

All relationships take nurturing and work, and we make this investment for a number of reasons. First, you get what you want by giving it away to those you love. Then it is returned. That nurturing is what keeps the bond strong when you can’t be with one another, at special times or just when you feel the need. Nothing beats seeing and being with those you love, but if you need to connect, knowing you have a strong relationship allows you to get a lot out of a phone call or even a text. Just the fact that those who love you are willing to be supportive and connect with you makes it easier to feel good about your life, and having someone you trust to help you deal with an issue is one of life’s great rewards for working on your relationships.

Relationships also give us a sense of purpose, and that too is a gift. Without feeling like you have a purpose for being here, life can get emotionally uncomfortable, and feeling like you have no purpose can do damage to your self-esteem. Raising a family and being a good family member or friend are great reasons for being alive and moving forward in life. Relationships are also motivational. Anything I do for those I care about seems to go a little easier than the things I do for myself, and the rewards are a sense of inner peace and fulfillment. Really nothing can take the place of wonderful relationships.

If you don’t have an idea of what you need to do to get your relationships to where you want them to be, simply ask the people you are involved with. You can say something like, “I know things haven’t been the best, but I’d like to make them better. What can I do to improve our relationship?” Just asking the question is very powerful and tells the other person that you care. Even if things are seemingly great, it’s wise to check in with others and ask if there is anything thing they need to keep your connection strong.

Our relationships are what we look at when we evaluate our lives. I have spent hundreds of hours with people who were dying, and no one ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” But I often hear, “I wish I’d spent more time with the people who loved me.” Please don’t let that be you.

All About Apologizing

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This line from Love Story by Erich Segal has become a clichéd catchphrase. It sounds romantic—but it’s blatantly false. Intimacy inevitably involves hurt feelings and disappointments, but they can build up into grievances unless there are repairs along the way. For love to have the best chance of lasting, you sometimes have to say you’re sorry—and mean it! But this is not easy. Some people can’t apologize at all, while others give facile apologies, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It communicates: I didn’t do anything wrong AND you have no reason to feel that way. It’s a conversation stopper and it chips away at trust.

Xavier Sotomayor/unsplash.com
Source: Xavier Sotomayor/unsplash.com
A full apology involves two elements: taking responsibility for playing some part in the other person’s hurt AND being sorry the other person is hurting. An even better apology has a third element: an explanation of your motives or situation.

My patient, Sharon, got angry at her husband for not having dinner ready when she came home from work, as he usually does. In the past, she has not apologized for her outburst or she has said something perfunctory such as, “Sorry…that was bad.” But this time, after working on this in treatment, she regretted her outburst and wanted to heal the rift. She said, “I’m sorry I yelled at you, you didn’t deserve that. I didn’t take the time to eat lunch and I was starving and took it out on you.”

But what do you do if you believe you did nothing wrong, and yet the other person is hurt and angry? This is a situation I often face as a psychotherapist. For example, Paul was hurt and angry because he felt I didn’t believe him when he said he didn’t want to break up with a woman he was no longer interested in because he didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t think he was lying, but I DID think he had a subconscious motive—he liked having her adoration even though he wasn’t interested in having a long-term relationship. He didn’t want to lose her admiration; but he wanted to get rid of any obligations or demands from her. He didn’t like that interpretation because it made him seem less selfless than his explanation for delaying the breakup. It’s painful to own being selfish. So he got angry at me. How can I heal the connection between us, which is the most important ingredient in helping him, without apologizing for something I think is right?

“I am sorry I hurt you. I know it’s painful to look at things we do that we’re not proud of and I probably could have said it in a softer way. It goes against the way we see ourselves. I understand that from my own experience. It means giving up a fantasy about who we are and that’s a big loss. I get that.” It says, I’m sorry you’re hurt, I’m sorry I caused you pain; you are not the only person in the world who has trouble with this (it’s normal and I have trouble with it too) AND I don’t think you are bad.” He was still hurt and angry—but he was able to stay connected to me.

Some people are lucky and grow up with parents who are models for apologizing appropriately. But for the rest of us, we have to learn it. We may be able to develop it with our friends or spouses. But often our spouses or friends are not any better equipped for taking responsibility than we are—maybe even less so. So for those who never had a role model growing up, and cannot develop it with their friends or partners, psychotherapists must be good role models. For example, if a patient thinks I am being judgmental and I am, I admit it and apologize. And when Paul tells me that I could have said, “Everybody has trouble ending a relationship, it’s hard, but…” He’s right. I could have said it better and I’m sorry I didn’t.

This is essential because the connection between us is primary and has to be maintained. Also, when I can admit wrongdoing and apologize without the patient leaving, he learns that he can admit wrongdoing and apologize without losing someone he cares about.

The Mean of Being A Man

Today I want to celebrate men who are trying to redefine what it means to be one.

Here’s to the the men who react instead of respond. Here’s to the the men who take care of their bodies and eat like adults, not coping teenagers. Here’s to the men who want better and decide to walk with mirrors, not to check their hair but to examine their character and be aware of how their words and actions impact others. Here’s to the men who admit their defects and shortcomings and constantly strive to be better. Here’s to the men who work on their relationships by working on themselves, instead of trying to control or own their partner. Here’s to the men who check their egos, often. Here’s to the men who don’t whine, complain, or make excuses. Here’s to the men who wake up early and want to build something.

Here’s to the men who choose to be a daily student, to learn from others instead of thinking they are better than them. Here’s to the men who open doors, kiss like they mean it, and love hard. Here’s to the men who don’t ghost. Here’s to the men who call people back. Here’s to the men who believe in foreplay. Here’s to the men who don’t live in the past. Here’s to the men who have the balls to stand up to their parents and family. Here’s to the men who know how to create a safe space. Here’s to the men who take ownership when they’ve hurt someone or done something wrong. Here’s to the men who believe in something greater than themselves. Here’s to the men who have fire in their belly. Here’s to the men who make decisions, walk with certainty, and dream big.

Here’s to the men who can separate ability from worth. Here’s to the men who remember birthdays and anniversaries. Here to the men who put thought into their gifts. Here’s to the men who understand the responsibility of being a father. Here’s to the men who spend time and engage with their children. Here’s to the men who are not afraid to show affection. Here’s to the men who choose to be vulnerable. Here’s to the men who say I love you. Here’s to the men who can control their angry, alcohol, and money. Here’s to the men who practice self love. Here’s to the men who are not needy or codependent. Here’s to the men who stay positive through turbulence. Here’s to the men who don’t exchange their truth for membership. Here’s to the men who understand compassion and empathy. Here’s to the men who don’t try to fix everything. Here’s to the men who do the dishes. Here’s to the men who want to make a difference.