Grief

It’s very hard to describe to someone how grief feels. I remember when I was going through my own persistent hell I was taken to a doctor who flippantly told me, “you’ll be fine soon”. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, a condescending idiot. Doctors are not trained in counselling and frankly he was talking outside his pay grade. Comments like, “time will heal” and “just move on” are seemingly wonderful platitudes that are, frankly, usually useless or even harmful. No one who is not experiencing your grief has the slightest clue what you are going through. If you have ever been crushed by a failed relationship, dealing with saying goodbye, or working through your private hell, you know what I am talking about.

The longer I do this the more I have come to understand that grief is an oft misunderstood and pervading emotion, that is not confined to the death of a loved one. People grieve for a myriad of reasons, from the death of a dream to the break-up of what “should/could have been”. People can grieve the loss of innocence or a dream, the hurt inflicted by a parent or child, even the loss of a job or a hope for the future.

There are, of course, levels of grief. No one who has lost a child would appreciate this being compared to the loss of a job, by way of example. Some grief is overt, palpable, intense, overwhelming. As far as I’m concerned a parent who loses a child is given a “free pass” in my world for the rest of their life. Some hells are beyond comprehension.

Grief is not just an emotional state or feeling. Sometimes, when the waves come (and many of us describe grief as a “wave”), your body hurts. Exhausted. Finished. Grief can come in crests that are all-consuming. Your world is so consuming that you cannot understand why everyone seems to be able to go about their lives as if nothing has happened. You can’t stop crying, or you can’t start. Your heart races and you wonder if you are going to die. It never seems to end. Bad counsellors have told you that it will get better someday but you know it will never end. It consumes you. It defines you. You begin to wonder if you are insane. You can’t stop hurting, wave after wave after wave. You don’t care if you live. You often wonder about death, your death. Nightmares turn into daymares as each day, each hour and minute, seems to last forever. You are destroyed. Broken. Life has no meaning.

I’m not making this up. There are readers here who tell you that I’m not even remotely exaggerating. Quite the reverse, actually. People die from grief, and some people who survive never really recover. There is nothing that anyone can say that will make a difference today, but that’s ok. Helping someone who is grieving is about “presence”, not snappy advice. In that time that cannot be named there was nothing you could have said to me that would have “snapped me out of it”. Recovery was a series of infinitesimal movements that I probably had no idea were happening. Time and tears and waves and waves. Emptiness. Then one time, for reasons that escape you, you don’t have a horrible day. Maybe you didn’t cry today. Sometimes that is a huge win. Let’s not pretend, however, that you were happy. Happy? Not bloody likely. Little by little life was less horrible, though it seemed to take forever.

There is no magic pill at the end of this tale, no Prince Charming to swoop in and rescue us. There is only coping and learning and surviving in spite of it all. As we always say around here, there are some lessons that are only learned in pain. They still aren’t worth it, usually. Pain may have given me a measure of wisdom, but I still would have preferred to stay stupid and idealistic and unscarred.

Once again, there is more philosophy in psychology than many realize. These conversations bring up questions of mortality, and faith, and fairness. Learning to cope with a life you never wanted, in a world you never imagined, is a harder thing than most of us would have supposed; If we could have imagined it at all. I grew up in a world where right always triumphed in the end and cool guys never looked at explosions, they just walked away looking like Fonzie or Bruce Willis, Arnold and Clint. Real men ate red meat and drank martinis that were shaken and not stirred, for a reason I have yet to appreciate. Learning that life doesn’t end like in the movies is a painful lesson that we learn and relearn.

Maybe wisdom is learning how to live in a world that is unfair, and where everything doesn’t necessarily happen for a reason. Lowering my expectations, one more time. It has helped me a great deal when I realized that life offered me no guarantees, only days. Learning to find contentment in the moment has been an arduous journey. Learning to let go of things that hold me back has been harder still. I am still hoping for success someday.

I am often reminded of the second half of the Serenity Prayer, the line where it says “that I may be reasonably happy in this life”. Reasonably happy.

I might have a shot at that.

Here’s To You

It happened last night. It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, it takes my breath away. Those invasive thoughts.

Lying in bed they rolled over me like a wave. One thought led to another and then I was consumed. I couldn’t stop myself from “going there”, couldn’t keep the steaming pile of shit from pouring in and taking down. It went on forever.

At the end of it, and literally the end, I got out of bed and went into the kitchen. Then it was over. Moving, changing, going into the light was enough to break that pattern of thoughts, thank God. It doesn’t always work but last night it did, and I’m thankful.

It only happens to me a few times a year. I have clients and friends who deal with this rush of hell every day. I cannot imagine the strength it would take to get up each day and do it all over again. I’m not that strong. Some of these people are. They have learned to cope. You know who you are and my hat is off to you. I’m humbled by your courage.

The tools work. They’ve been tested by fire and I can tell you first hand that there are people who are more familiar with some of the toolbox and are having a measure of success. I have seen some of my clients and friends come through things that I could have never survived. In this office I have learned that I simply cannot stay in that emotional hell or it is going to take me out. Wise sages have written words that have helped me, and probably you as well. I’ve listened to victims and I’ve listened to survivors, and I learn from the survivors. Just the way it is.

So on that ‘night of nights’, and in times when I deal with other, less intense, dysfunctions; I continue to work the program. The Wisdom Rock, the brain massage, recognizing cognitive distortions, practicing STOPP Therapy, WWSD, faith, mindfulness, taking my argument breaks to breathe and breathe and breathe until I calm down. My mantras, the crap detector, the stuff I learned from Family Systems Therapy and motivational interviewing, the self-talk, the distraction techniques, dozens and dozens of cheesy tricks that keep me from losing my mind. Like most of us I forget more than I remember, often not recognizing the danger signs until finally the wisdom of retrospect magically kicks in.

I don’t really have a “Plan B” that doesn’t involve self-medication.

Forgive and Forget?

Probably not.

Many of us have talked to someone about our painful past. Most likely you have heard the advice, “you can forgive (with help) but you probably will never forget’. This is generally good advice and is given when people ask, “how am I supposed to forget what he/she has done?” In cases of violence against persons, hurt, or abuse, unfortunately forgetting is rarely an option. Even years of intense counselling cannot erase some memories. Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling something.

But what about forgiving? We have all been taught in church or school or by a guardian that we need to forgive those who have harmed us. There are a plethora of stories of individuals who have chosen to forgive the person who has murdered a family member, or done egregious harm. Let me make this perfectly clear so there is no misunderstanding of where I am headed with this. In my experience this is the EXCEPTION, not the rule. Most of us in similar situations spend our entire lives seeking to work through such pain. There is counseling and prayer and screaming and tears and more counseling. We are taught to move forward, and many of us do. It takes time and tears and work to loosen the grip such experiences have had on our lives.

Most of us have been taught that moving forward is primarily a matter of forgiveness. This is not always good advice. Telling a patient that he or she must eventually forgive their rapist, for example, is overwhelming and inconceivable at the beginning of the journey. It may be possible for some to eventually forgive after working through much of the pain, but is this the only option?

Let me suggest a third option (as opposed to bitterness or forgiveness). Many of us will never be able to fully forgive those who have injured us. Common wisdom dictates, therefore, that we will never “truly be able to move forward.” As a result, even with counseling or prayer or whatever floats your boat, we remain in bondage to that trauma for the rest of our lives. This often has catastrophic ramifications. Untreated trauma can lead to all manner of mental health issues from depression to hoarding to constantly painting our front room, to being unable to commit to a healthy relationship, or have an orgasm, or cope with catastrophic shame and pain. “Trauma trumps all” as the saying goes and leaving it untreated is often a prescription for a haunted life.

So what is the answer?

Over the years I have worked through hurtful memories with hundreds, even thousands of people. We are taught in school that tools such as Exposure Therapy help clients to deal with such issues. Clients are often encouraged to tell their stories over and over again until they can do so without the emotional discharge. There is some wisdom in this, in spite of the fact that Exposure Therapy no longer enjoys the popularity it once did. What is good about such methodologies is that contained within is a nugget of dynamic truth.

Here’s what I often tell clients. Sometimes moving forward is more about boredom than forgiveness. Let me put this another way – Let’s deal with you story until it bores you (figuratively speaking). Let’s work through your stuff until you learn enough, hurt enough, think and feel enough, that the tragic parts of your story lose their power… until one day you realize that you want to talk about something else.

And therein, as the bard said, lies the rub. There is real power in teaching your heart to listen more to your head. Most of us are a raging bundle of hormones and emotion and tend to make decisions and have opinions based on how it “feels”. Therapy will help you gain perspective. The real message of counselling is, “change your mind and your ass will follow”. You are hurt. It often becomes virtually impossible to see beyond the pain. I often tell clients, “when you are really hurting it can feel like you are insane. You think and do things that are born out of that pain and it is almost impossible to be objective. You may not understand, in such times, what is the best for you. You may not care. Movement involves wrestling with the demons until you are able to loosen the emotional hold such memories can have on you. Until your story becomes less interesting to you. Until you are able to push ahead without being ambushed by the pain. It still hurts, but you are on the move.”

Stop Dating Until You Don’t Need To

"A serious relationship"

I often tell clients not to date until they don’t need to. The fundamental premise behind such a cliché is that if I am unhealthy, or needy, or on the rebound, or broken than any legitimate concerns I have become massive, obsessive. I begin to catastrophize what is going on. I lose my objectivity and it isn’t long before I have a hole in my heart that I am looking for someone else to fill. Dating when you are vulnerable or broken is a sure-fire recipe for relational strife, no matter what Cosmo tells you.

Finding the right person has less to do with romantic bliss than we have been led to understand. Being the right person – whole, happy, not needy, that is the right goal to pursue. If I am healthy enough that I do not need another to fix me or complete me (gag) should be our goal. Dating then becomes an opportunity to share who we are with another without the needy blinders on. Settling for whatever is available isn’t even an issue.

Singleness is not a disease.

I was a single parent for years and after I got over the self-indulgence, the pity, the tears and the loneliness I began to realize that it was awesome to be alone. The healthier I got the less I needed a woman to approve of me or assure me I was ok. By the time I did date again I was not an emotional vampire that needed to be filled. I found I was no longer as needy as I once was. I began to like who I was. All of this was only possible once I learned to live with myself.

I can honestly say I like myself today (I find that hard to write). I still don’t like what I look like in the mirror or some of my obvious faults but for some reason that doesn’t hurt like it once did. Singleness was a gift that I never wanted. It was a gift that changed my life.

If you are single today it is perfectly normal to experience loneliness and momentary unhappiness. I believe they call that “life”. You are not a second-class citizen, a third wheel, or the odd person out. You are free to be who you truly are. Don’t miss the opportunity, like I almost did, to allow yourself to learn who you really are apart from someone else with all their baggage, needs, quirks, foibles and insecurities. If you aren’t complete without someone else filling that hole in your heart chances are you won’t be complete with someone there.

Trust me on this – don’t date until you don’t need to.

Making It Work After Someone Cheats

The Pleasure and the Pain (1963) ...item 2.. M...

Not everyone can do it. I’m not sure I could, to be honest. Many couples choose to stay together after infidelity and I salute them. Remaining together is one thing, trusting ever again is another. So if you are in this situation, what can you do?

Earning trust back is a monumental task requiring an incredible amount of humility from both partners. It takes way longer than people want to admit. I have, however, seen couples who are committed to making things better, in spite of the horror and the obsessive thoughts, jealousy, and pain. Sometimes.

Working as a counselor I have, as you can imagine, my share of marital issues to wade through with people. Nothing comes close to the difficulty of rebuilding trust and safety. Trust and safety – two words that constantly come up when I talk to clients, especially female ones.

People don’t generally understand how devastating infidelity can be. For the partner who has been rejected (yes I said that word) the process can take years, if ever. There are nights and days of obsessing about the “why” of it all, about how they have failed as a lover and a spouse. There are hours and hours of anger and more obsessing. Even being touched by the cheater becomes loaded, and potentially volatile. The spouse who has cheated is often subjected to months and years of the “short leash”. They are forced to phone more often, report in more often, talk to potential attractions much less often. Sometimes there is punishment and condescension, anger and vengeance. The one who is on the short leash usually grows tired of the lack of trust. Why can’t your partner ever seem to move on?

Spouses who cheat, especially men, are prone to verbalize how tired they are of not being trusted. Many will, after some months, flatly refuse to jump through any hoops or even talk about the infidelity… yet again. They are sick of the same tears, the same logic, the same belittling. A surprising number of relationships break up a year or more after the actual incident. Things just won’t seem to go away and both partners are not getting what they need.

If you have been betrayed in this way the first thing you need to understand is that there is no template for how to respond correctly to such a nightmare. It’s so easy for counselors to give out prescriptions for happiness but the sad truth is that most of us are permanently damaged. There can be forgiveness, even reconciliation, but the relationship will change. For some of us leaving is the only emotionally healthy option.

If you or someone you love is tortured by infidelity, either their own or someone else’s, encourage them to talk to a professional. The most important part of moving forward is personal healing, no matter what the outcome. Learning how to process what has happened is the key to healing. Time doesn’t hurt either.

No one really knows what you are going through although some of us can understand that pain. Whether it’s your parents or your partner you owe it to yourself to do everything necessary to be whole again. You’re worth it, in spite of how you may feel right now.

I’m Disappointed In You

Have you ever had someone in your life who seemed constantly disappointed in you? It didn’t seem to matter how hard you tried, it was never enough. Sometimes they didn’t have to even say much, you just knew – you are a loser, you will never be worthy.

I know what it is like to live with disappointment. It was a glib smile and a few words, a gentle sigh. I failed again. In my particular case it made me needy, so very needy. Dedicating every waking minute to impress, to please, to do, didn’t seem to matter. Disappointed again.

Maybe it was your dad, or your mom, a relative or a friend. For many of us it was our spouse – a wife or a boyfriend whose expectations and selfishness bruised and ultimately scarred your heart.

Poor self-esteem. Bad self-image. Feelings of inadequacy. Second-guessing yourself. Minimizing your accomplishments. Squinting in the mirror. Fear. Doubt. Self-loathing. Pain. Never good enough. Loser. Pathetic. Bitch.

On some level we all know that it is our own responsibility to feel good about ourselves. In theory. In practice, when someone whose opinion is supposed to matter denigrates and often subtly destroys our wholeness, it is very difficult to feel worthwhile. We know we are not supposed to base our self-esteem on others but how do you do that?

Quick quiz – If ten people tell you that you are beautiful and one person tells you that you are ugly, which one will you remember?

I wonder if the reason we believe the insult is because somewhere, down deep perhaps, we believe them. Many of us have been told we are ugly or fat or stupid or bald or pathetic or worthless all our lives. How can we possibly have good self-esteem now?

The truth: The opposite of bad self-esteem is not good self-esteem. The opposite of bad self-esteem is self-acceptance.

The truth is, you may always be fat. You may always be bald. Joan Rivers is scary proof that plastic surgery can only take you so far. You may be considered ugly by the beautiful. You may never go to college. You probably will never be famous. Or rich. Or even successful. And you get cry all you want and rail against the system, get angry and frustrated and die in a flaming manure-ball of bitterness. I see people every day who absolutely refuse to accept their illness, or their spouse, or their saggy boobs. I know how they feel. There are seemingly countless things I don’t like about myself. Nobody needs to point our my flaws, I see them in glaring technicolor. You don’t need to be disappointed in me, I can do quite fine on my own, thanks.

One day I woke up and realized in retrospect that I was living my life to impress someone who was incapable of accepting me or loving me for who I really was. I understood that I had been running myself sick trying to earn her love, only to hear her sigh with disapproval. I still care about this person, actually very much, but no longer feel compelled to sacrifice my soul for a smile and a nod.

Emotional wholeness rarely comes by accident.

How To Pick Up Women In Their Twenties

dating-tips-for-guys-how-to-pick-up-womenI am not in my twenties and do not make a habit of hitting on any women, especially not women that young. I do, however, have a very attractive and intelligent son who was more than willing to provide a few insights for this Part 2 of “How To Pick Up Vulnerable Women”.

In my first instalment I wrote about manipulating a group of women who were in their late thirties and forties. You may want to familiarize yourself with that article before going on. It has been, and remains, my most hated and revered article to date. I have received private letters, several in fact, accusing me of being abusive and misogynistic, even cruel. Read it for yourselves and ask yourself why I would do such a thing and then freely tell everyone I did so…

In this instalment I begin by recognizing that everything I am about to say may not apply to you. Like many of my articles what follows is based on generalities. Please understand I’m not talking about anyone in specific, only trends and observations which may not even be objective. If nothing else it should be interesting.

You are sitting with friends at the local bar and I can tell, because you wear it like a beacon, that you are looking for a guy. I intend to be that guy. You are not in your forties so I am not going to gush, not going to give too much away. In fact, just the opposite. Your divorced mom is looking for someone who is emotionally sensitive, someone who is going to make it all about her. That isn’t my tactic, though some of the techniques are transferable. When I first meet you I’m very interested, very charming. Initially, at least, it’s all about you. But only initially. If we have been introduced I will be nice to you for a minute or two, then move on. If we are not introduced I will make a point of ignoring you and talk to the person directly beside you. I’m not going to hit on you, I’m not needy. And that is really the point.

1. I’m not needy. I act aloof but not rude. Okay, occasionally I can even be a bit rude. I will make the obligatory conversation, but little more. While I am talking to you I may check out other women. I will talk, engage, but we are not exclusive. That is the point. Heartiste writes, “That aloofness is catnip to women. You may as well prop a neon sign over your head that says “Preselected by women who have come before you, and who are standing right next to you.” Aloofness is one of those male characteristics that women are finely tuned to discover, isolate, and hone in on, because it tells them, subconsciously of course, that THIS MAN, this one right here, has a lot of choice in women. ERGO, this man, this one right here, must be high value.” I know this because the internet is polluted with websites that teach this very thing. Confidence and self-assurance is an aphrodisiac to some females.

I don’t need you. I may or may not be interested, but I’m keeping my options open. I like myself and I don’t need anyone. I’m mysterious. It’s hard not to want what you cannot have. My strength and even dominance is very attractive. If you don’t believe me than why are so many women attracted to the bad boy? Yummy.

The social context has changed  in the past few years. Women in their thirties and forties want to invite a man into their emotional world. In your twenties he invites you into his social world. As one twenty-five year old player told me today, “If you can get the girl to leave her social grouping and come over to yours you are 80% of the way into her pants.” That’s important to remember because…

2. It’s all about social context. Meet my entourage. We are not at the bar to take pictures of ourselves for Facebook. We are interesting. Come hang out with us. Let me separate you from your friends and take you out of your comfort zone. Let me introduce insecurity. After all…

3. I’m here to exploit your insecurity. I may compliment you but it is often tinged with irony or sarcasm. The unspoken point is the exploitation of your negative self-image. The trick is to not let you know I’m interested and get you wondering whether or not you are worth my time. Watch me dominate the social setting, see how I handle myself. Am I or am I not interested in you? Later, when I am very direct with you, and tell you I want to be with you, you are surprised, intrigued, complimented, and affirmed. But make no mistake, the underlying tactic is dominance (and not in a good way…). There is an interesting dichotomy at play. You want to be thought of as a strong woman but you also have insecurities. Doesn’t a part of you wish you could be taken?

Even a plain guy can confuse a beautiful woman if he acts like he doesn’t need her.

As a counselor I find this topic sickening. There are people out there, regardless of age, who use psychological and emotional manipulation to exploit the vulnerable and hurting. It usually isn’t until it’s too late that it becomes apparent that a damaged and delicate person has been exploited and often degraded. It is also unfortunate that so many women get taken in more than once. Some of us are attracted to personalities that lend themselves to narcissism and depravity. It is a sad thought that the confidence and maturity you think you are attracted to may only be a tool to tear your heart out.

Ladies, we lie to you. We believe that we understand the score far more than you think we do. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who has gotten into a relationship with a narcissist. Everything was amazing… at first. We told you what we thought you needed to hear. We held the door open, we talked about our feelings, we shared our hearts. We know you get off on that stuff. Some of us actually read about how to pick up women. We are smarter than you think.

I am often asked why I write about this topic. Sadly, it has become apparent that many vulnerable and emotionally damaged people are being treated as prey by morally bankrupt individuals who think nothing of ruining lives as long as they can get what they want. I would invite you to read some of the heartbreaking comments on the first installment of this topic here. That alone is incentive enough.

I have this crazy idea that if you know what is going on you might know a predator when he buys you a drink.

I Need Sex Every Couple Of Days

No I don’t.

I would like sex every couple of days. I would also like chocolate, and bacon, and candy every few hours. That doesn’t mean it should happen.

If I hear of another whiny, manipulative male guilting their partner with this again I’m going to scream. I have been wanting to address this issue for some time but realize that this blog does seem to be hard on men. My hope is that heterosexual men will figure this out.

Almost every day I have women tell me that if they don’t have sex with their man every two or three days that he will whine and complain, even become abusive. So they give in. When I hear that my heart breaks. What a horrible reason to share the most precious gift you can give to another person. Disgusting.

What the hell is wrong with these men? Do they care, even a little bit, about their partner, or are they such slaves to their hormones that they don’t consider the needs and desires of the person who loves them the most? Do they understand female sexuality at all? Do they think whining or threatening is a turn-on for women?

Women need to understand that men do not have to have sex every few days. We get horny, it’s true, but so what? Should we as adults give in to every single urge, every craving, every impulse we have? Should we manipulate and exploit women just because we have a desire? My wife can turn me on just by being in the room, she’s gorgeous (I know that’s shallow but she does drive me wild). Her smile, her touch can still drive me crazy. Is that, therefore, license to invade her personal space, force myself upon her, and manipulate her to do something she had no intention of doing just because I’m a man and dammit, she should have to? Am I saying that I’m weak, I’m pathetic, I’m a slave to my emotions? Even though I teach my children to say no to their base instincts apparently I will never say no to mine. Pathetic. It is no wonder that so many women tell me that they have lost the magic, the desire, for sex with their partner. It is no shock, therefore, that so few women experience regular orgasms with their men.

This issue strikes at the heart of respect, understanding, and selfless love. It speaks to the selfishness and lack of honor that many men have been raised to feel about women. As I said in an earlier article we were raised to believe that sex is really about the male orgasm. Most men actually believe that is the purpose of sex.

They are so wrong.

He Probably Had It Coming…

Let me start out by saying I was raised to never hit a woman… ever. I think husbands and boyfriends who hit their spouses are pigs and cowards. Please do not write me and accuse me of treating the subject of violent men flippantly. Take a look at this blog and ask yourself if I let men off the hook too lightly.

Lately, however, I have been noticing an equally disturbing trend in domestic violence – wives/girlfriends beating their spouses.

I was commenting about this to someone recently and they immediately went on the offense. They started out by saying “he probably deserved it.” They went on to say further, “well what did he do to her?”

Seriously?

I find it intriguing that when I have been involved in domestic situations where a woman is battered those questions never come up. Ever. They are political suicide to ask, bordering on slander. Only a misogynistic douchebag would hint that a woman had it coming. Yet it seems perfectly acceptable to ask when the victim is a man.

I would have to admit that I hear of an alarming number of situations involving a battering wife/girlfriend. It’s shocking and something you never talk about. After all, what kind of man would complain? Is he a wimp? Surely she was protecting herself.

This is overt sexism and absolutely unacceptable. I have heard of men being hit with the car, beaten with cast iron, knives being thrown, kicked between the legs, faces slapped on a regular basis. I personally know several men who are afraid of their spouse, demoralized and emasculated. In counseling these men question their masculinity, even their sexuality. They cannot talk to any friends about this, for fear they will be belittled or accused of violence themselves. One man told me he feels “physically, emotionally, and sexually violated” by his wife. These same men were taught to never hit a woman and so complain that they have no defense against violence. They somehow have come to the conclusion that, in order to be a “real man”, they must take it and keep silent.

Recently I have also had clients who are in a lesbian relationship and feeling the sting of physical and emotional violence. They are also unsure of how to handle the situation. They have also struggled to be heard. Transgender people have long felt the sting as well. We all know about the abuse of gay men.

It is a horrible thing when relationships end in violence, and it is certainly no more acceptable for a woman to be physically violent than a man. I am seriously afraid that someday a man will retaliate after being struck by a female – then beat her up – charge her with assault – and win. This could open up the doors to rampant abuse and violence.

It’s time to stop the cycles of violence wherever they occur.

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater?

As a counselor I have seen my fair share of marital infidelity. Unfortunately few cheaters I have dealt with actually come clean without being caught. Most feel deep remorse, after they are found out. They are prone to weep and plead and promise the world, but can you ever trust them again? Do you even want to?

This week Americans were surprised to learn that the director of the CIA in the United States resigned after confessing to having an affair. I found it ironic that the head of the most secret organization in the country didn’t see that coming. That is often the way of it, unfortunately. Few of us set out to ruin our lives or our relationships. Fewer still realize the cost. As a person who has felt the sting of infidelity firsthand I know how painful and horrific it can be to find out that the person you have given your heart and body to has thrown your trust and future away.

I recently came across this article in Psychology Today which I found helpful and informative:

So you’ve been cheated on. It was devastating–like being kicked in the gut and thrown into the gutter. You couldn’t eat or function at work. Or maybe you were up all night watching old movies, crying and eating pints of Ben & Jerry’s. The affair creates such heartache and pain that you do not want to be in a relationship again. Definitely never again.

The questions loom large. Is the cheater going to cheat again? Should you trust again or not? Is it true, “Once a cheater, always a cheater”? You may feel torn, like you want to take your cheating partner back but feel like it is a point of pride not to. You think, maybe you should just dive into that online dating pool, start looking for some great profiles and forget all about it. Or maybe not.

Well, I have some critical relationship advice for you: Research studies show that even among married couples, cheating is relatively common: about 22% of men and 13% of women cheat. According to recent studies, even spouses who describe themselves as “happy” with their marriage have affairs.

But the good news is this: Many people who are in committed relationships that have decent chemistry and benefits for both partners can actually work through the crisis of affairs. Not only that, their relationship can become more intimate and they can put an end to cheating once and for all. This means that, “Once a cheater, always a cheater” is just not true. There are people who learn and grow from the painful emotional hurricane and the loss of closeness in the relationship that are the aftermaths of cheating.

Of course there are players or sex addicts that will cheat and cheat and cheat again. These are the ones your truly have to watch out for. How do you tell if you are dealing with a chronic cheater? Here are five signs of relationship advice that indicate your cheater is not a chronic case and that the couple still has hope:
1. Your partner is truly remorseful and regrets having cheated. Look for heartfelt apologies that ring true when you hear them.
2. Your partner cuts off contact with his or her lover.
3. The cheater shows a renewed appreciation and devotion towards you.
4. You wind up having deep, open and honest conversations with each other about your relationship, what was missing in it and where you’d like to take it in the future.
5. Your partner wants to enter psychotherapy or counseling either individually or with you to understand his/her own dynamics and to make your relationship better and more intimate.

If the cheater shows these signs and the relationship is good for you in many ways, consider taking your partner back. One caveat: If your partner continues the affair or starts a new one, in spite of showing the above signs, you may be dealing with a player or a sex addict.
And just how do you know if the cheating is going on again? Here are some common signs:

• he/she’s working late a lot
• he/she’s’s suddenly taking trips you can’t go on
• he/she’s got new hobbies that don’t include you
• mysterious phone calls with hang-ups
• credit card bills for unexplained hotel stays or gift-type items
• less sex
• he/she’s more distant, angry or picky

If you find out your partner is cheating again, it’s time to protect yourself from any further heartbreak by breaking up with this person. There are wonderful new matches waiting to date right there on your computer screen!
In sum, if your partner strays, it doesn’t absolutely mean he or she will do it again. Once a cheater, always a cheater isn’t necessarily true. Forgiveness and a new coming together are possible. If you have been betrayed but want to see if it can work, just stay heads up for a while and see which way the train is heading!

Diana Kirschner, Ph.D. in Finding True Love

Why Most Radical Change Is Bogus

Have you ever promised yourself that you would get in shape? Ever made a new Year’s Resolution that you couldn’t keep? Have you ever tried to make a radical change in your life? Ever been on a crash diet?

Don’t even bother. The likelihood that radical change will last is so low that if I showed you the statistics on dieting you would order a pizza. Real change rarely happens all at once, and when it does it is almost always because you have been trying and fretting and hoping and failing at it for so long that you are ready. You hurt so much and for so long that you have to change.

With few exceptions the majority of us wildly overestimate our ability to make significant change over a short period of time. Real change is incredibly hard and ordinarily demands months and years of work. Most of us do not get healed over night. I am not denigrating those of you who may claim supernatural relief but for most of us God does not choose to deliver us from our ADHD, or our abuse, or our mental issues. The vast majority of us can not claim fire from heaven, or legs regrown, or our malignant tumor disappearing. For some reason we must do it for ourselves or it isn’t going to get done.

We all want monumental change and we want it yesterday. Unfortunately, however, change that dramatic is often artificial and impossible to maintain. Ask any spouse who has decided to call it quits only to be bombarded by promises from their estranged spouse that, in spite of nothing happening for decades, they have totally changed overnight.

I also believe in the tooth fairy.

As a counselor I regularly meet clients who brag that they are radically redefining themselves virtually overnight. In just a few days they have stopped smoking, started working out, become a vegetarian, stopped self-medicating, got religion, and are going to become a counselor. In my business we call this a “red flag”. Such change rarely lasts. These people have the best of intentions and are incredibly dedicated, almost too dedicated. They have not considered the cost, or the fact that real change must be long-lasting. Authentic growth requires an alteration in lifestyle and the development of new coping mechanisms. In order for growth to become permanent you need to fundamentally change the way you think.

Most of us have tried for years to ‘fix’ our lives. We have tried everything and usually failed. That’s perfectly fine. Most of us, myself included, have tried to do the best we could with the wisdom and coping skills we had. We were told by people who should know that this quick fix, that power diet, that ridiculous philosophy or flavor of the week guru would magically give us what we have so desired and sought in vain for so long. We have been so desperate that we were willing to try anything, no matter how preposterous.

Unfortunately your good intentions are meaningless. Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you will do. If you are willing to spend significantly more time and effort than you first imagined, if you are willing to be humbled, challenged, and question your childhood beliefs, your coping skills, your thinking, and the bullshit you so firmly believe to be true – than authentic and lasting change is not only possible, it’s probable.

In the coming year I hope to share with my subscribers my course entitled, “Change your life 52% in one year”. It is about 1% solutions, small but lasting change – one step at a time. That is how change happens, little by little, day by day, month by month. Anything else is probably not real.

Don’t give up. Make small changes and stick with them. Talk to a counselor that doesn’t suck. Challenge your cognitive distortions and when you hear about the newest fad that is guaranteed to work – set your crap detector on stun. You’ve had enough disappointment.

You’re worth it.

The Biggest Complaint I Get About Men, Hands Down!

Many men are not emotionally available. We have discussed this in previous posts, see below. I get that. Many of us do. What I am learning lately, however, is how incredibly important emotional connection is. It is becoming abundantly clear to me that most couples who have been together for years and years do not seem to connect anymore on a deeply, friendly, and intimate level. It’s not something abusive or intentional, it just happens. You have seen the other person naked a thousand times (hopefully), know all their habits, and those special little character traits have become annoyances. You find that you cannot connect like you did when you were dating. If you were perfectly honest you would probably have to admit that this person is no longer your real best friend.

You love your partner, but the “spark” is gone.

I am firmly convinced that the spark is emotional, not physical or sexual.

Although not uniquely a gender issue, it is women who will usually tell me they long for an emotional connection that has died. This is primarily for two reasons:

  1. Most of my clients/patients are female. By far the vast majority. This has been the case for so long that I tend to identify better with women emotionally than men. My redneck, Scottish ancestors would be so proud.
  2. Woman are typically vastly more in touch with their emotions. In fairness, however, I was never really taught to connect on an emotional level. My generation of males did not grow up to value emotional vulnerability. We work out our issues alone. We have caves. I grew up believing that emotionally sensitive guys were barely guys at all. Clint Eastwood did not cry after beating someone up when I was a kid. He wasn’t in The Bridges of Madison County yet, he was still doing spaghetti westerns. I grew up wanting to shoot people, not cuddle. On the other hand I watch females engage naturally, automatically share emotionally, and tune in to another’s emotions almost flawlessly. Where did they teach this?

As a counselor who has had hundreds of great female teachers I have observed that men (I will generalize from here on in so please excuse) generally are not emotionally mature and rarely, unless they get paid to do this kind of stuff, learn emotional wisdom. Men have not traditionally valued emotional connection, post-marriage. We are excellent chameleons who can flawlessly invest ourselves emotionally when romantically infatuated; but it is another thing altogether to expect us to “share our feelings” after we have become relationally comfortable (lazy). Talking to you about your feelings, or worse, my feelings, requires an actual effort for men – I kid you not. Seriously. Really.

It is no wonder than that men, once the gloss of the romance has tarnished, subconsciously assume that they can go back to life as it has been their entire life (the media has not helped in this regard. Men over thirty are still portrayed in sitcoms and movies as emotional neandrathals who have to be mothered and nagged to do anything relational. The emotionally sensitive male is almost always the gay guy or the metrosexual twenty-four year old who gets physically manhandled by every female. Notice the message this sends to men).

The women I speak to tell me that they are willing to put up with just about anything, short of infidelity. The one thing they say they need the most though, and the one thing men generally give the least, is emotional connection. It’s an epidemic in my counseling world. It is the single most problematic issue women talk to this counselor about, hands down. Maybe it is just a big issue on the left coast of Canada, but I sincerely doubt it.

It is easy to take shots at men, we are used to being told we are the weaker, stupider, insensitive, uncoordinated gender by the popular media. The truth is, however, perhaps quite different. We have different skills, important ones, that we caught or were taught. Men are not stupid. Women are not smarter than men, it’s simply not true. The research is overwhelming conclusive in this regard. What is true, I am convinced, is that women are emotionally smarter than men. This problem is compounded by the unfortunate fact that most men don’t even realize there is a problem. They don’t believe they are emotionally unavailable as much as they think that women and effeminate men are too emotional.

And for many many men, that is the same as weakness. Suck it up and be a man.

So why do I keep writing about this topic? I am convinced that the solution is not more belittling or denigrating. Telling men they are stupid, or shallow, or insensitive, is only going to further the problem and polarize the combatants. It is my dream that men who read articles like this will wake up to the fact that it isn’t penis size, or earning potential, or even looks that my clients are looking for. They are looking for understanding, connection, and they want their best friend back.

If you are a woman reading this, please teach your guy. He doesn’t mean to be a caveman, most of us have never seriously considered the importance of emotional connection. We hear you talking, but we can’t hear it if it isn’t presented in guy-speak, by someone who is humble and willing to butter us up a bit. Sorry, but that is the truth.

How To Pick Up Vulnerable Women

...And The Home Of Depraved.You just got out of a messy, abusive relationship with a guy who doesn’t understand you, never took the time to service your needs, and was emotionally unavailable. You are working your way back into the dating world and you may not know it, but you may be in a very dangerous scenario.

You are prey. I am a predator. I know you are hurting and vulnerable. You probably haven’t been with a guy who is emotionally sensitive, vulnerable yet still strong, willing to listen and laugh and be everything you ever needed; and yet somehow allows you to feel safe.

I actually do a seminar for women on how an average looking guy can pick up women in their late 30′s and beyond using emotional and psychological manipulation. It’s scary when you realize how easily vulnerable people can be manipulated by a guy who is willing to pretend he is sensitive, a listener, who makes it “all about her”, is a bit aloof, and knows how to say the words that will push the vulnerable buttons of a girl they have just spent two hours milking her for information I can use to control her emotionally. So sad.

Last year, in front of a group of twelve women, I announced that I was going to seduce one of them in the group, under the fluorescent lights, without any alcohol, and asked for a volunteer. In front of eleven hostile witnesses, in just over twenty minutes, I was able to confuse a woman who knew I was doing it. Let’s be honest, I’m simply not that good-looking.

I started by talking about her life, her fears, her hopes and the pain she must have experienced. I used the information I knew about her that she shared in the group in confidence and violated her emotionally. Half way through I announced that I was stopping the exercise so that I could explain what I was doing. I lied. I used that next five minutes to confuse her and convince her that I actually did have her best interests at heart. I apologized, back-paddled, asked about her needs, and then cried with her. I never touched her.

I have done this in several groups and have never missed. I tried it the first time almost by accident and scared myself by how evil and dirty I felt. And how powerful.

Please, isn’t there something you can learn from this?

Dating the Bad Boy

Easy RiderFor some reason many more women than are willing to admit it have a thing for the bad boy. Actually there are several reasons, both sociological and sexual, not all of which I am prepared to go into at this time. The fact remains, however, that while other gender stereotypes have been put to rest you can still find a school teacher or PTA member somewhere drooling for a dude with a tattoo driving a Harley. That doesn’t do it for you? That’s ok, there are several types of bad boys from the guy at the gym with no neck and a shoulder tattoo to the moody hipster with a man purse giving a finger to the establishment. Some of you even swoon for a dusty dude in cowboy boots.

On an anthropological level there are some fairly obviously sexual reasons women are still attracted to the bad boy. Sigmund Freud would have a field day with this topic and there would be several unguarded references to violence, rebellion and counterculture penis envy. While I would LOVE to spend time helping some of my female friends question their sexual and psychological reasons for such a preference it would only serve to invite a backlash and cloud the issue. I really have no idea why you personally like the bad boy, maybe you just have a thing for overstated machismo. I mainly brought the tensions up because they are really fun to write about.

There is a pragmatic reason why I have an opinion, as a therapist, about this stereotype. On a far more pragmatic and painful level I have seen firsthand the relational problems and tears from patients who have lived with the man behind the tattoo, or murse, or protein shake.

What I am about to say is a generalization. As Gonzo says in the original Christmas Carol, “That one thing you must remember, or nothing that follows will seem wondrous.” There are exceptions to every generalization and I already know I am going to get deluged by women telling me their Hell’s Angel is actually a big kitten. Ok I get that, can we go on?

The kitty-cat notwithstanding I have spent many hours listening to women, and a few men, who are devastated by the man of their dreams and desires who, for some reason they cannot fathom, seems shallow, emotionally unavailable, even narcissistic. Imagine that, a guy who spends thousands upon thousands of dollars and calories on his image having an issue with narcissistic behavior. You want me to come clean so I’ll say it, the bad boy is generally a bad boy for a reason. Most people who are this concerned about looking tough or being a rebel are battling significant self-esteem issues and are insecure and potentially self-absorbed. The very reason you are attracted to them is the reason you should run. Let me say that again – the very reason you are attracted to them is the reason you should run.

Remember Fonzie? Tyler Durden? James Bond? Gilligan? (Wait, not that last one). A generation of yuppies idolized Fonzie, the Easy Rider, and Clint Eastwood because they did not need anyone. They were completely self-absorbed. They were not in touch with their feelings, in fact they spent and inordinate amount of time trying to impress everyone around them that they had no feelings. Does this really sound like someone you want to spend fifty years with? Remove the rose-colored lenses and simply ask yourself if your ‘strong silent type’ or your outgoing man candy is going to live a sacrificial life that puts you first in every decision that matters and share with you their hopes and dreams and emotions.

I wish I could videotape the hundreds of hours of tears, the pain and the misery that I have had to listen to from spouses who feel emotionally distant or even abused by someone who will never put them first. I wish you could be in my chair as those same people break up and then date the exact same stereotype again and again, expecting different results. Didn’t Einstein have something to say about that?

If you are falling for the bad boy I hope you will be the exception to the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we hope, few of us ever are. Instead, date a school teacher. Sure they’re usually passive-aggressive and wear Dockers but at the end of the day they’ll still be there, with their i-pad, complaining about their three months of vacation but faithful and true. The sex may not be amazing but at least you can teach them to make it all about you.

Or I can, give me their email address.

The Masks We Wear

Masked.“Mate, you’ve been honest with me so let me honest back. Honestly, you could do a better job than many. You should be being heard and you should be leading the charge. However, as you say, a key thing is your personality. There is an enormous place for you and every time I’m with you I think you are a wasted talent.”

That letter was many years ago now but it has haunted me. You may argue that no one has the right to send someone a letter like that, especially since it was during a time when my life was falling apart. It really hurt. It was soul crushing.

I have always known I was different.
They say you can trace a lot of things back to your childhood. If this is true then it explains a lot in my case. One of my earliest memories is of when, at approximately the age of three or four, I hung myself in my backyard.
We lived in typical suburbia where blue-collar workers dream of long weekends and tall cocktails. Our backyard buttressed onto a virtual forest, replete with red fencing and the quintessential barbeque pit. There was also a square clothes line, the kind where someone has dropped six inches of concrete into the grass and rammed in a pole and enough line for two point four children. The exact details fail me now but nonetheless I pulled up a stool, crossed the wires, inserted my head and kicked away the floor. My sister walked out a minute or two later, and seeing my dilemma, ran in to my parents yelling, “mommy, daddy, Scott hung himself!”

When, a couple of years later, I threw a lit match into a five gallon gas can to see if it was empty I think it was beginning to dawn on my parents that their newly bald son, sporting no eyebrows and lashes, had a few issues.

My grade three report card actually said, “Scott thinks he runs the class and frankly I am sick of it!”

Like many of us I can look back on my life and see a variety of pitiful attempts to fit in. As a little child I have vivid memories of my grandmother telling me that ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. I remember being demeaned by relatives for being hyperactive and aggressive. Today I am sure I would be diagnosed as ADHD and medicated, but back then, like many of us, I was just a kid trying to fit in and be loved.’

As we grow up we begin to realize that we are supposed to act a certain way. In order to fit in and be popular many of us wore a mask to hide the hurt, to pretend we were all together, to live a lie. We began to understand that we couldn’t be ourselves because who we were on the inside just wasn’t good enough. As the poem says so well:

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks
masks that I’m afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
I give you the impression that I’m secure
That all is sunny and unruffled with me
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm
and I’m in command,
and that I need no one.

Many of you are afraid that if you really let someone in, let them see the real you, they would reject you. This belief has some truth to it, doesn’t it? We’ve been hurt before, ridiculed and demeaned before. The older we grow the harder it gets to be honest with people. We have loved before and been burned. We have given our heart away only to have it stepped on. Most of us have a long list of people who have done us wrong.

It’s so much easier to wear a mask.

Some of us have been wearing a mask so long we aren’t even sure who we really are. We have been forced to be someone else by our spouse or our parents or others. Many people have been told since they were a child that they aren’t good enough the way they are; that people who matter don’t like their personality, that they are somehow flawed. I know I was.

Maybe you can relate to what I am writing about. Perhaps you have said to yourself, “If people really knew me they wouldn’t love me”. You have some terrible junk in your past, things you’ve done or didn’t do, ways you couldn’t measure up. Most people have a hard time forgiving themselves for things they did ten, twenty, even thirty years ago. I’ve been there too. We have scars that never seem to heal.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. One day I just decided I’d had enough. Enough self-ridicule, enough doubt and negativity and condemnation. Enough of feeling like a loser who is unlovable. Enough of hating myself and apologizing for who I am.

I have come to realize that it’s ok being me, in spite of my glaring faults. And you know what, it’s ok to be you too.

You are amazing. Unique. Special. Maybe no one has told you that in a long time but it’s true. Maybe your partner or a family member or friend has demeaned you and hurt your self-esteem. Stop listening to them. You don’t need to change who are.You don’t have to apologize for being opinionated, or creative, outspoken or different. Take off the mask and if people don’t love you for who you really are then they are not worth it. Stop surrounding yourself with negative people who feel it’s their god-given right to put you in your place. Someone who really cares about you will want you just the way you are. Without the mask.

It’s ok to be you. It’s more than ok, it’s fantastic.

(tomorrow I’ll return to the regular stuff so if you don’t like this post, that’s ok, I needed to say it)

You Aren’t As Good As You Think You Are

My wife is ‘frigid’.

Really?

I have known many men who accuse their wife of being frigid, of not wanting sex. Conversely, I have spoken to women who have stated that their man has no idea what women’s needs are, that plop into bed at midnight, and even though they have virtually ignored their partner all day cannot understand why the woman is not immediately “into it”. They have told me that their man doesn’t realize that sexual intimacy is a very invasive, emotionally complex experience, and that women have different needs then men when it comes to sex.

Unfortunately, the majority of women I talk to over thirty years of age think that they have an obligation to have sex with their husband because he is frustrated and apparently needs her to fulfill his physiological need. Many male partners are also whiny, make passing remarks about their unfulfilled needs, and tend to emotionally blackmail their partners until they give in.

Sadly these women often report that they rarely engage in meaningful sexual intimacy; that the whole episode is over in minutes, and their needs are rarely, if ever, met. It is nothing short of astounding how many women, who have been with their partner for years and decades, have resigned themselves to a ritual that no longer carries much meaning.

What is the problem? Are these women simply frigid? Or is something else going on?

psychologist Asiphe Ndlela ties lack of sexual interest to a woman’s relationship with her partner. Ndlela says men need a place for having sex, women need a purpose.

“Female sexuality is complex. At its core is a need for closeness and intimacy. Women also have physical needs. When there is an emotional or physical problem, they can have sexual problems.”

She says a lack of interest in sex can also be triggered by family problems, illness or death, financial or job worries, in-law problems, childcare responsibilities, managing a career and children, previous or current physical and/or emotional abuse, past history of sexual abuse, fatigue and depression.

Men don’t usually struggle with such issues where sex is involved. If you show up naked we’re usually good to go. Men are microwaves. Just turn us on and we are heated up and ready to go. Women are more like slow cookers. They often take some time to warm up but tend to keep things quite hot once they do. I read an article by one therapist this week who insisted that men should never engage in sexual romance with their female partner unless they are willing to spend forty minutes to help their partner enjoy themselves. That is amazing advice. Men also need to realize that for women there is a stronger emotional component and issues such as stress, work, relationships and problems can have an effect on her libido.

Men, take the time to find out how your wife is doing before you suggest romance. Make sure you are available to talk and connect. Become a student of your wife’s needs and pleasures. If you really want to find out how to make your wife happy why not ask her? You might be very glad you did!

I’m Not Responsible For Your Happiness

HappinessIn fact no one is. Not your partner, not your parent, not your priest. We are all responsible for ourselves. Blaming others for problems in life only leads to disappointment, shattered expectations, and bitterness.

No matter what has been done to you it’s up to you to do something about it. Yes I know that sucks, it’s unfair. In life we are taught and want to believe that life is fair, that everything happens for a reason. In counseling we call that a cognitive distortion. It’s a lie that distorts our way of thinking and keeps us from growing. Does everything happen for a reason? Ask the families of the six million Jews, countless Russians, intellectuals, gypsies, Poles, Czechs and others who perished in World War ll. It makes no sense but we are not supposed to question its veracity and just believe it. And let’s be honest, is life fair? How can anyone who has lived for very long believe this? Life isn’t fair. What happened to you is wrong but unfortunately you are the one who is going to have to live with this. The horrible truth is that life is only what we make it.

So it is with our problems. We want to believe that someone else can swoop down and heal those holes in our heart. Is this reasonable? Likely? As the unknown comic says, “You know who cares less about your problems than you do? Everybody.”

In counseling I see this manifest in many ways – the woman who needs man after man to heal the hole in her heart, the needy and dependent spouse, the person who blames others for their problems. Even the person who has been horribly abused must someday wake up and realize that if healing is going to come it will have to come from within. Blaming others may feel cathartic but does it really make a positive difference?

Some of us have been victimized. We are, in fact, victims. My heart goes out to you and I realize that you have been wounded deeply. But there is a difference between being a victim and playing a victim. You only have one life and deserve more than eighty years of misery. Working through these problems is hard but if you can get the right help, a counselor that doesn’t suck, you can find healing and hope again.

Dealing With Your Baggage

child abuseSexual abuse is destroying our society. It’s almost impossible to find accurate statistics on the percentage of women who were molested as children and adolescents. Numbers vary wildly between 20-60%. Statistics about the molestation of boys hovers somewhere between 6 and 24%.

Emotional and physical abuse statistics are difficult to measure but can be equally as devastating, and not just for children.

What everyone does agree on, however, is the devastating impact of sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Almost every day I hear story after story of pain and abuse from earliest memory to adulthood. I have often contended that just about everyone has endured some form of abuse by the time they are in their forties. It is easy, therefore, to believe that there is no hope, no cure, no relief from something that looms so large that it feels impossible to overcome. But what if it could be dealt with? What if the effects of this hell on earth could be diminished, even alleviated?

Trauma, whether from childhood or as an adult, is devastating and left undealt with, often affects us for the rest of our lives. Even those of us who have not had a ‘trauma’ event, so to speak, may also have the effects of trauma due to long-term abuse, neglect, or situations which have damaged us emotionally or physically.

Maybe you were not sexually or emotionally abused as a child but wonder if you may still have real baggage. Maybe you grew up in a single family home and it has left you tainted or emotionally wounded. You may have had an emotionally unavailable parent, heard more than your share of verbal abuse or yelling, or had parents who drank too much or used drugs.

Divorce can often have devastating effects on children as well. So can witnessing violence, so can growing up with insecurity or self-esteem issues. Your parents may have shown you dysfuntional ways to deal with stress or relationships.

Although we have different issues, many of us are carrying baggage around. In my course on Trauma we talk about some of the bizarre ways this has impacted many lives. Survivors of trauma are often hoarders, or cannot commit to a relationship, or have difficulty finishing problems, or have long term sexual issues including the seeming inability to be sexually satisfied.

Wounded people often struggle with more loneliness, are far more critical of themselves or others, or are what we call hypervigilent. Their danger radar is especially fine tuned and they are constantly on a high state of alert. There is even evidence to suggest that many who consider themselves ‘discerning’ or ’emotionally in tune’ are actually victims of trauma who have developed this hyper awareness as a defence mechanism.

The list of potential issues associated with trauma goes on and on – difficulty relaxing, problems with intimate relationships, difficulty sharing feelings, extreme reactions to normal situations, anger and anxiety, cycles of abusive relations, approval seeking, etc.

Counselors often say that “Trauma trumps all”. They mean that there are clear indicators that trauma affects every area of your life. If you have not dealt with your baggage it is very likely that you are not living the life you were meant to live. I meet people all the time who have been carrying around this garbage for years, for decades, who believe that there is no choice but to stuff their hurts and try to cope the best they can. While this may work for some, it didn’t work for me. Maybe it isn’t working for you either.

If you are weighed down by a backpack of abuse, neglect, and pain you need to know that there is hope. Working through your issues may be hard but it can lead to hope and liberation. You don’t have to spend the rest of your life reeling from the hurts of your past, no matter the issue.

Talk to someone. Find a friend or colleague that understands and empathizes. Or better yet go see a counselor that doesn’t suck. You can do it.

You’re worth it.

Why Men Don’t Volunteer To Do Dishes

She is standing at the sink doing dishes frustrated by the six or eight other things she still has to do tonight.

She can see him – sitting there, doing nothing, drifting off to sleep.

Why doesn’t he volunteer to help? He knows how much needs to get done, you’ve hinted, and not very subtly, several times.
What has happened to this relationship? Is this the best it’s ever going to get? Do you have to nag him yet again? Men constantly complain that women nag but you wouldn’t have to if he wasn’t so insensitive, right?
Wrong.

The longer I live the more amazed I am by the incredible differences between men and women. There is no absence of literature pointing this out, but for some reason most people still don’t know how to talk so that the opposite sex will understand. As a result many women think men are stupid, or dense, or insensitive. Often men believe that woman are pushy, or nagging, or bitchy. It is no secret that communication is key to a successful relationship so why don’t we have more information on how to speak so the opposite sex can really hear?

I run a course (which will be available online in the new year) called “Speaking Chick and Talking Dude”. I do not pretend that I understand women but when ninety percent of your clients are female they teach you a few things. Plus, from an anthropological standpoint, most of what I teach seems obvious… once you’ve heard it a few times.

Take for example the problem previously mentioned about doing dishes. I remember clearly, years ago, before I knew better, standing beside my wife while she was doing dishes. The entire time I was thinking, “She is giving off signs that she is too busy and frustrated, why doesn’t she ask me to help her with the dishes?” It turns out she was thinking, “Can’t he see I’m busy and frustrated, why doesn’t he volunteer to help me with the dishes?” I thought she was being stubborn, she thought I was insensitive. I asked her later, after finding out she was feeling overwhelmed, “Why didn’t you ask me to help?”. Her response was, (altogether ladies…) “I shouldn’t have to ask”.

The problem with that scenario is that neither one of us really understood how the other sex thinks. We grew up learning very differently, with different expectations and different ways of relating.

As a man I don’t do well with ‘hints’. In a guy’s world when you are out for beer with the buddies no one ‘hints’ that it is your turn to buy a round. If I think Steve should pay for the next round I will probably say, “Hey Steve, it’s your turn.” Not exactly difficult to interpret. Steve’s response is equally obvious, “No.”

Male culture is very different than female culture. It is considered bad form, for example, when I am trying to fix the car for my partner to come out and say, “Should I call Dave (next door mechanic) to help you with that?” When she suggests this, no matter how helpful she is striving to be, something inside of me hears her telling me I am not capable of fixing the car myself. For some reason I feel demeaned, less ‘manly’.

There is a very strict though unspoken etiquette in a guy’s world for volunteering to help. It is acceptable to offer to help in a generalized sense but I would never go up to my friend fixing his car and say, “Do you want me to do that for you?” unless we had established this as a mutually acceptable way of relating beforehand. I would be saying that I do not think he is capable of doing it himself. I need to wait for him to invite me.

Remember the conversation about dishes with my wife? Using the information you now know about how men respond to an offer of assistance, is it any wonder than that I did not volunteer to take over the dishes? On some subconscious level I was hesitant to ask my partner if she wanted me to take over because I was afraid she would interpret it as a putdown. I was afraid she would hear my offer like a guy would, as criticism. Based on what I had learned growing up about how you are to relate in my world I assumed that she would ask for help if she needed it. She was sitting there fuming, wondering why I did not volunteer (like a woman would). Apparently, I have been told, women grow up with different social boundaries.

Very different social boundaries. Most men, when going to the restroom at a restaurant, will probably not say, “Any of you other guys need to go?” Men don’t talk at the urinal or pass toilet paper. We are not allowed to talk between stalls. We don’t even stand beside each other when urinating. We have strict urinal etiquette which is not negotiable. Ever.

So what is the point of all of this? Perhaps if nothing else we can admit that the opposite sex is called that for a reason and communicating between sexes may, in fact, be much more difficult to understand than we have been led to believe. Making relationship work, any relationship, is going to require more effort than we probably knew when we fell in lust.

In my course on relationships we identify twenty-four different communication issues including ‘why men don’t volunteer to do dishes.’ If you would like more information on joining a group, doing the online course, or having me come to speak or lead a group or relationship weekend you can email me at info@scott-williams.ca.

Don’t give up without a fight! I know first hand that when a relationship works there is nothing better. If you think you need professional help I can help you out or point you to someone who can.

And, oh ya, don’t hire a counselor who sucks!

Stay tuned for the next installment of “Speaking Chick and Talking Dude”.

Prince Charming?

Orlando Bloom as Legolas in Peter Jackson's li...I grew up watching Disney cartoons, believing in ‘make believe’ and dreaming about fighting dragons, slaying bad guys, and getting the beautiful princess. There was something inside of me as a child that longed to be special, that longed for knights and battles and glory. As Gene Hackman said in The Replacements – “wounds heal, chicks dig scars, and glory lasts forever.”

Recently I have been doing a great deal of marriage counseling. I have come to realize that men and women are very different, so different in fact that it’s like they speak two different languages. They also come to the relationship with very different expectations. Though I am hesitant to state that I know someone else’s motivations, there is a lingering dream that keeps resurfacing in my counseling. Many women I counsel eventually admit that they grew up with the same fantasies and long to be treated like a princess – adored, supported, protected and treated as beautiful , intelligent and willing to hack off a limb if she needs to.  And what guy doesn’t want to be praised, thought of as a mighty warrior who can slay the dragon, and have great hair doing it?

But is this reasonable? Let’s talk about it.

Unfortunately in the real world it seems that reality rarely meets our childhood expectations and many of us end up in relationships with few fairy tale endings.

So is there any truth to this princess thing?

With few exceptions most women I talk to can identify with at least some of the myth. Who does not want to be treated like a princess (in the best sense of the word)? Princesses are honored, they are royalty. People stop and stare when they walk by. Men fawn all over them for attention. So many heterosexual men do not seem to understand that when they cannot show their spouse that she is special, and that he can be trusted and has her back; that this strikes at the core of what many woman are looking for in a partner.

There seems to be almost a primal reason why many women are attracted to affluent men, or men with nice possessions. They may believe on some level that this individual can treat a woman the way she inherently wants to be treated. Most women, when pressed, will admit they think security is an important value.

So what’s the deal with Prince Charming?

Many men, on the other hand, want to be the hero. Men over thirty come from a world of masculine competition. We were raised on movies starring Clint Eastwood (before he went crazy at the Republican National Convention), Arnold and Sly, Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. We all wanted to be Hard to Kill. Many men are not, nor will they ever be, metro-sexual. When they watch Lord of the Rings they do not think Legolas is a real man (well technically… he’s an elf). The hero of 13th Warrior is not Antonio Banderas, it’s Buliwyf. In a man’s world you are constantly measured  by other males based on your capacity to take care of yourself. We have thousands of years of hunter/gatherer machismo to get over, and apparently not all of us have been able to make it over the wall yet.

It may be for this reason that men subconsciously respond so poorly to criticism by their women. If my wife diminishes my character it affects me on every level and something deep inside me feels like I’m a child again, being chastised by my mother. It attacks the essence of what it means for me to be a man. Women who understand this and are willing to ‘butter up’ their man are used to getting their way far more than females who use condemnation to coerce.

But is this fair? Fairness has little to do with it, it’s simply a reality for many men.

I find it interesting that the myth of machismo continues to thrive so blatantly in popular culture. Most stereotypes that have been bashed by the media eventually lose their popularity and are scorned by movies and culture. Take, for example, the idea of the submissive, ‘meet you at the door with your slippers’ depiction of the housewife. This once popular role has almost ceased to exist in popular culture except among the fringe and a few fundamentalist Christians I know. Popular culture has led the way in relegating this stereotype to the realm of the absurd. So why, then, does the macho, unfeeling, remorseless, beer drinking, emotionally unavailable male still enjoy such popularity?

There is an interesting phenomenon going on among women in my part of the village. Some are complaining that they are frustrated by their relationships with men who are emotionally needy, whiny, almost ‘too’ in touch with their feelings. Is it possible that a few women out there still want a knight in shining armor to be the hero he so desperately wants to be?

So what can we do about it?

If you are struggling with your relationship, don’t give up without a fight. Any relationship can be restored if both partners are willing to put the needs of the other person first. Unfortunately, however, many couples have so much ‘water under the bridge’ that they cannot talk about anything without it becoming heated. If it’s not too bad, fight for it. If it is, and you aren’t ready to leave yet, maybe you should consider having a professional help you through the jungle of emotion and hurt.

And oh ya, if you do get a counselor, get a counselor that doesn’t suck! (I can help you with that).