Category Archives: Marriage

What’s love got to do with it?

When you love someone you care about their happiness and well-being. When they are struggling, you feel empathy and want to help. When they are sad or hurting you want to help them feel better. When you love someone you care. Codependency is taking responsibility for the other person’s happiness. When they are struggling you feel required to make it better. When they are sad or hurt, it is your fault if they don’t feel better. Codependency is when you know that is going on with them and put their emotions above your own.

Love has nothing to do with making someone’s emotions your own. It is difficult enough to manage your own emotions and keep them in check. Trying to add someone else’s is like trying to empty a lake with a bucket. You may be able to make a small difference, but not enough to really matter.

The best thing you can do for someone else is hold space for them while they have their own emotions. You create a situation in which they are allowed to feel what they are feeling without judgment. This at times means putting aside your frustrations with their emotions. It does not mean trying to fix the emotions or make things better. Just being present while they move through them on their own.

Love is not about making someone happy. While it would be amazing if we all had magic wands and we could fix things with a wave, or if we had happy buttons that could be pushed, we don’t. That just isn’t the case. It isn’t easy to be present for someone that is hurt, and just let them hurt. That is what you do for someone that you love though. You can’t fix it, but you can be there. Love is just being there.

It’s no big deal

Have you ever said this about something that has frustrated you? We say this about our job, our friends, and our partners. Something happens, and though it frustrates us we say; “It’s no big deal”. We say this once or twice, with no worries. How many times can you say this before anger and resentment start to take over?

We all walk the fine line between managing relationships and managing our identity. We all have what we want to have happen. At times what we want and what others want are not the same thing. Many people, in an effort to keep the peace and avoid conflicts, will sacrifice what they want. They will do this thinking “It’s no big deal”. So imagine your best friend asks to borrow five dollars. And then every week following for 4 months asks to borrow five dollars. Without ever asking your friend to re-pay you, you give the money. At first it is willingly. Then after a month or so, as you have given $20, then $40, then $60, how long will it take before you become resentful? How many of you will continue to give week after week, slowing simmering, but never saying anything?

We tell ourselves it isn’t a big deal. Week after week, time after time, we say these words. We convince ourselves that this is true. And underneath we simmer. The resentment builds, until eventually it erupts. The eruption may or may not be at the person or people that have created the resentment. And often when the eruption comes and the person on the receiving end is confused and befuddled when they are covered in emotional lava. They had no idea that you were angry or resentful, because you never set the limit.

“The givers need to set limits because the takers never will”. Even the most well-intentioned of people will take advantage of someone that gives again and again without setting boundaries on it. It is just human nature. We want to believe that human nature will keep people from taking advantage, and often that just isn’t true. Even I, and I would like to believe I am a good person, have taken advantage of situations and people when I needed to. I would have been perfectly understanding had the people set boundaries, and at the same time I also used the resources around me.

You don’t have to be an ass to set a boundary. “Sure, I can give you $5, I need you to pay me back by the end of the week”. And then when they don’t pay you back “Hey, you didn’t pay me back from the last 2 times, I need you to pay me back before I can lend you any more money”. If your friend gives you resistance for this, maybe they aren’t the best of friends, or the best of people. You don’t have to be an ass to say out loud what you want to have happen. “I’m interested in pizza tonight”, even though you know your friend or partner may not have the same interest.

The thought “It isn’t a big deal” is the warning sign that you may be sacrificing yourself more than your identity and integrity can handle. You can be kind and still say out loud what you want or need to have happen. Make sure you know what you want to have happen, and then think how you would want someone to say the same thing to you. Remember, using criticism, contempt, or blaming will make people put up their own walls.  Setting limits and standing up for your identity is just as much a part of maintaining relationships as meeting in the middle, and letting go of the small things.

50% of any relationship is deciding what to do for dinner

“What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know? What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know, you pick”

“What are you in the mood for”


“How about Chinese?”

“I don’t want Chinese”

“Then what do you want?”

“I don’t know. You decide.”

Believe it or not this is a ritual. How often do you have this discussion? IF you have it more than once a month, then it is a ritual. We don’t often think of these things as the rituals we have. And we don’t recognize how important even these small rituals are.

Examples of rituals are leaving in the morning, bedtimes, greetings after work and meals. We don’t think about it, but these things, the little things we do every day, are some of the weather veins of the relationship. When these events help you feel connected to each other, when they are filled with kindness, humor and intimacy, it generally means the relationship is going well. When these events either don’t exist at all, or are filled with passive aggression, frustration, or irritation it means that the relationship is drowning.

It seems silly, but it can be good to have a discussion about how you want these events to go. How do you want good-bye’s to go in the mornings? How do you want to handle meals? What makes the ritual important to you? What kind of connection do you want at bed-times? What about that is important to you? Discussing these things gives the other person insight in to how you find connection and how you can be closer to each other.

If these events are difficult or don’t exist at all, it is time to take a deeper look at the relationship. When you think about these events, what gets in your way from making them a point of connection? What are your general feelings about the relationship that keep them from being positive events? What are the bigger problems that could use an outside counselor to help with?

Small events are a large part of the relationship. They create connection, or tell you if things aren’t going well. Think about what it means if your partner walks out of the house in the morning without saying good-bye to you. Think about what kind of good-bye you want. What meaning does that good-bye have for you?   Think about the same for dinner, bedtimes, and greetings. They may seem little, but they are a big part of the relationship. And while it is a joke, think of how often do you talk to each other about what you’re doing for dinner? J

Redefining Love

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

Love is opening your heart to another person and trusting they won’t stomp all over your hurts and fears with cruelty and their own pain. The longer you live the more bruises your heart accumulates and the more protections you create. When we create more and more protections we keep not only the things that will bruise us out, but the things that are kind and loving as well. We put walls and cages around our heart, isolating it from everything and everyone. It becomes very lonely.

If we want to feel connected with others, if we want to be present with the beauty of the world, we have to be open to it. That means letting go of some of the walls, and creating healthy boundaries. Instead of steel reinforced concrete walls, brick walls with doors that we can open.

There is risk with an open heart. We see more of the pain of the world, and we sometimes misjudge and let people in that aren’t save and don’t deserve access. We also see the greatness and the beauty of the world and find the people who’s hearts shine with love and beauty.

Love isn’t about worth. There is not one person on this planet that is unworthy of love, and I say that knowing that there are some truly horrible people out there. There are some people that aren’t safe to open our hearts to, and at the same time every one is deserving of love. That includes you. It is up to you to be safe enough to be let in to someone’s heart and to believe in yourself enough to be vulnerable. Love will find you when you drop the barriers that you have created against love; loving yourself and others, and letting others love you.


What’s your love language?

Have you ever found yourself in a relationship in which you feel like you are starving? The other person overall is a pretty decent person, you get along okay, but there always seems to be something missing. You may not be communicating well. Sometimes this means that the two of you aren’t listening to the meaning of words, and sometimes it means that you aren’t speaking the same language. Gary Chapman introduced the concept of the 5 Love Languages. The languages include physical touch, words of praise, acts of service, quality time, and receiving gifts. On his website he has a test you can take if you don’t know which ones are your top languages.

If your partner’s language is acts of service (making coffee in the morning, emptying the dishwasher, folding the laundry) and yours is physical touch (hand holding, back-rubs, hand on the leg in a movie, hugs) you may both be trying to communicate love in a language that isn’t heard by your partner. It can be confusing and lonely when your partner doesn’t recognize your attempts to communicate and vice-versa.

If you aren’t sure what your primary language is, take the test on Dr. Chapman’s website. Have your partner do the same, possibly taking it together. When you know the language your partner speaks, learn to speak it. Also, learn to ask for the love that has meaning for you. There is a romantic belief that our partner will be able to just know how to tell us we are loved. We forget that they can’t read our minds. If you want a hug, ask for a hug. If you want help with the chores to know that your partner is invested in you and the home you share; ask. Without using criticism, contempt or defensiveness, remember to ask for what you want.

Love languages are important. They are how you communicate and receive love, and if you and your partner speak differing languages, wires may be crossed and feelings can be hurt. You may each be saying “I love you” without being heard. Learn what has meaning to each of you, and if necessary learn a new language. It can change your relationships.

The foundation of love

We think the first step of love is attraction. Tinder is a fine example of this, where you see a person and you have to decide if there is attraction to find out anything more about them; swipe left or right to decide a person’s worth and fate within your life. We do ourselves and each other a disservice when we take this approach. Of course there is a level of physical attraction that is important. What we find is more important is shared ideology, philosophy, principles, values and morals. Physical attributes will fade. Shared ideologies, principles, values and morals can shift together.

When is the right time to bring up that you want kids? That you have kids? That you don’t want kids? When is the right time to talk about your thoughts on retirement, saving vs spending, where to take vacations? The next question to ask is how long you want to spend on someone that doesn’t want children when you do, or who wants a beach vacation when you want to ski, or who wants to live life now instead of save for retirement? When you’ve been married for 10, 15, 20 years, when is the right time to talk about the fact that your beliefs have changed?

Beauty is only skin deep, and once you move forward in to a relationship a person’s attractiveness just isn’t going to cut it. Relationships are about fondness and admiration, and we can’t be fond of someone if we don’t know them. Many people’s ultimate fear is that their partner will see them. Truly see them, that they will be naked and their partner will know them. This is because letting someone in, letting someone see us requires vulnerability. When we let someone in, letting them see us, there is a chance they will take what they know, a chance they will get in to our heart and run around wreaking havoc. The truth is: when the right person comes along, they will be OK with all of you, even the not-so-awesome bits. And you will be OK with them, even their not-so-awesome bits.

While we are letting our partner to get to know us, we are also getting to know our partner. When we take the time to get to know them, we start seeing if they are worthy of being let in. We are all very well aware that this is part of the process of dating. We forget that our partners are changing and growing just like we are, and we forget that the “getting to know you” process needs to continue as the years progress. After 10 years we think we know our partners. We stop asking what their wants, wishes and would-likes are. When we get in arguments we think that we know why they believe what they believe, because we learned it 7 years ago in that argument way back when. But in 7 years there is a possibility that the why’s of desires have changed. If we don’t ask, if we are so lost in our own hurts, in the last 10 years of hurts and angers and frustrations and fears that we don’t ask, we don’t know our partner anymore.

In the beginning it is scary to talk about what we want and believe because of the fear that once our partner knows who we are they won’t like us anymore. When we’ve been in the relationship for years we have the same fear. We don’t want to tell our partner that we don’t like the beach anymore and we want to go to Germany instead, because we don’t want to upset them, or don’t want them to rethink their relationship with us. We don’t talk about how our sexual fantasies are different, how we don’t like Chinese food anymore, or we want a dog, when it was agreed years ago that you wouldn’t get one. But then we don’t let our partner know us. In hiding things we become resentful, fearful, frustrated and alone.

Then getting to know each other process doesn’t stop. It is the foundation of relationships, the place where everything else starts. Every building needs a strong, healthy, complete foundation to build from. Keep checking in, learning, and knowing your partner. You’d be surprised at what you learn. You’d also be surprised at the closeness it creates between you and your partner. You get to let go of loneliness and anxiety. You get intimacy, closeness and happiness.

My Sacrifice

In every relationship; be it work, friends, a personal trainer, partners, children, even pets there is a bit of necessary change and sacrifice that each party must make. There are times that you will need to give up what you want, or a part of who you are to make the relationship work. The fine line to walk is finding what to sacrifice, and what to make sure to keep for yourself.

Many different couples counseling programs point to a concept called differentiation. Dr. David Snarch, the Gottmans, Imago, all of these work to help couples move through differentiation and navigate their relationship. When one person’s identity and the other person’s identity bump in to each other, difficulties arise. Instead of negotiating and finding a middle ground that both can work from, often one person willingly sacrifices, or a partner demands a sacrifice (intentionally or not) and the identity of one is pushed aside. This doesn’t just happen with partnerships, but in friendships, at work, in all the places mentioned above.

When you find that you are losing yourself start by working to answer some questions. First, what is your dream? Have you clearly identified what you want to have happen, what you wish or need? If you aren’t able to clearly identify this to yourself then it can’t be expected for your boss, your dog, your friend or your partner to know what you want or need either. Next, look at what about your dreams, wants, wishes or would-likes are important to you. Is there a fear, or a desire?  Is there a story behind why they are important to you? The Gottmans found that examples of dreams are; a desire for a sense of freedom or peace, exploration of self, adventure, justice, honor or finding unity with one’s past. Others are having a sense of power, finding forgiveness, being able to relax, finishing something important, saying goodbye, or love. There are many stories behind dreams and wants. Be able to identify the story behind the want, wish or would-like.  They create who you are.

Be able to identify the deeper purpose or goal in your dream or wish. What would your ideal situation be, if you could wave a magic wand and everything could be the way you need it to be? Is there a deeper purpose or goal? Is the purpose or goal something that can be met, is it realistic? For example; if you have young children the desire to go to the bathroom alone in peace, the dream of peeing in silence is a valid want and dream, but unfortunately unrealistic.

Look at the values or beliefs that lie behind the desire. Is there a fear of something bad happening if the desire or dream isn’t met? Self awareness about the desire, what it is, what it means to you, and what it means to you if it isn’t met is important. If you can’t quantify these things for yourself, then the people around you can’t know or understand them either.

The next thing to do is to understand that the whole process that I just put you through, identifying what you want, why you want it, what it means to you, etc; your partner, boss, dog all have the exact same thing. Within any conflict they all have a want or a fear with a story behind it, with values and meaning.

Then find the areas within your dream that you just cannot give up. And then find the places where are the areas in which you are flexible. What are your core feelings, the ones that just can’t be negotiated about the situation.  And where do you have breathing room?  This can be difficult if you have been in a tense situation in for a while.  Even the breathing space becomes a hard line that just can’t be crossed, and there is no middle ground between the two parties when the fight has been going on and on.  When you’ve engaged in the emotional equivilent of trench warfare for years,  finding middle ground can be difficult.   Find that middle ground.

If you know what their back story is, and why the situation is important to them and you still can’t find middle ground, then you are closer to parting ways.  Be it your job, your dog, your partner, or your friends, if there is no middle ground without sacrificing your identity then it may be time to part ways.  I had a dog that could not be left alone with my cats.  I was told that I would come home to find a dead cat if I didn’t keep the dog contained and the cats separate.  Well, my cats had been with me for over 10 years, so the new dog had to find a new home. The middle ground was a life with her in a cage at night and when we weren’t home, and the house divided to where she could be and the cats could be.  It wasn’t OK.  She wasn’t a bad dog, there was just no middle ground.

If you walk to the table with breathing room and a middle ground then you have a place to start.  If you are able to walk to the table knowing what their frustration and back story is, and why it is important to them, then you are even further down the road.  Ninety Percent of situations have a middle ground that can be found if you are willing to lay aside your ego, and they are willing to lay aside theirs to find that place where both of you can be OK.  The ten Percent is heartbreaking because it doesn’t matter how much love there is, it can’t be found and neither person is at fault.  Overall though, there is a middle ground.  If you both follow the above recipe, then with patience and understanding you can find shared peace.

When is enough, enough?

Life is about balance, and this includes relationships. Knowing when to fight, when to back down, and when to retreat doesn’t come written down in a handbook. There are very few situations where there is a black and white, wrong or write answer. They do exist, they are just far and few between. Knowing when to move away from a relationship is not easy.  When do I let go of personal needs, wishes wants and would-likes and help my loved one, even if it causes me pain or problems? When do I walk away, admitting that my loved on is an anchor around my neck that is drowning me? These are questions to which there are few easy answers.

We will all struggle with something throughout our lives. Any time two or more people get together the struggles of one will affect the other. Many of these struggles will come and go, and some of them will be life-long struggles. Because we are social creatures we want to be with others and have their support and sponsorship as we move though struggles. We often turn to each other for validation and help. We all balance giving support when asked, and setting boundaries to make sure our needs are taken care of. In general giving this validation feels good as we help partners, friends and loved ones move through difficulties. When the support begins to weigh on us, or requires that we sacrifice our own identity, that is when the decisions get more difficult.

We enter in to relationships with someone that we love and care about, thinking that we can handle anything that comes our way. Then life happens. Accidents, illness, mental health, job loss and addiction are just some of the things that can change a partner or create difficulty in the home. When we signed on with our partners we signed on to be supportive and sponsors through thick and thin. We didn’t sign on to bail at the first sign of trouble. We also didn’t sign on to sacrifice our identity, our values and needs, or even our health and safety.

A situation in which you are in physical danger, especially in which you feel as though your life or the life of your children is in danger is a black and white situation in which you need to leave. There are safety plans available online that will help with packing lists and exit plans to keep you safe. It is often a struggle to leave a partner in times of abuse because we often know why they are doing what they are doing. We know their pain and their struggles. We know their insecurities that lead to their actions. Their pain, insecurities and struggles never excuse or OK physical assault or rape. A situation in which you or your children are in danger is not one to stay in.

A situation that is a little less black or white is when addiction is involved. You wouldn’t bail on your partner struggling with cancer, and like cancer, addiction is a disease. At the same time drug and alcohol addiction creates strong personality changes in partners and can lead to emotional, physical and financial burdens. It can tax families to the limit, especially children. In addiction people lose a part of themselves. A part that can be regained, but in the interim the actions of the addict can destroy a family. They key is the willingness of the addict to get help. An addict can’t be a good anything but a good addict. They can’t be a good parent, a good employee, or a good friend. The addiction is a monkey on their back that takes over and demands to be fed at all costs. Only you can decide if the price is too much. The danger aspect applies here as well. If you are in physical danger, you must protect yourself. If your partner is wild and aggressive when they are using but great when they are sober, you still need to leave. When you signed on with your partner you agreed to help them, and a strong supportive partner can make the difference between sobriety and addiction. It all goes back to your partner’s willingness to get help. If they won’t get help, it doesn’t matter how supportive you are, they won’t change.

If you are ever asked to give up a big part of who you are for another partner or a relationship, it probably isn’t a healthy relationship. Now, if you are asked to give up your drug use, or your unhealthy habits, that is different. But if you are asked to give up your identity, if you are asked to suppress your wants, wishes and would-likes long term, the relationship probably isn’t healthy. There are some situations in which the relationship is so amazing in other ways that it doesn’t matter that you have to forgo or let go a part of your identity. It should be pretty darn amazing and have a lot of perks in other places to compensate for the requirement of suppressing who you are. Only you can decide if the relationship is worth losing part of who you are. It is rarely worth losing a core part of you, such as your spirituality, your sense of humor, your sensuality / sexuality or your body image. If you are OK with your body, but your partner wants it to be different (bigger breasts, better abs, better bottom, etc) then it is a good indication that your partner likes you for your body and not who you are. If you are the right person for them, and you are confident in your body, then your boobs shouldn’t matter.  I personally would not give up my cat that I’ve had for 16 years for a relationship. She is important to me and a part of my identity. Again, only you can decide what part of you is worth sacrificing for someone else. And again, there had better be some darn good compensation for that sacrifice. In most cases, being asked to suppress or sacrifice who you are for your partner or your relationship means you aren’t with the right partner.

Illnesses and accidents throw curve balls at the person that goes through them. They also throw off the friends and partners. I’ve worked with clients that have partners that have had motorcycle accidents with traumatic brain injuries, degenerative diseases, even depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. When we marry we make a vow: In sickness and health. What happens when your partner gets in an accident that changes their personality, and they are no longer the person that you fell in love with? This happens in cases of brain injuries. It can also happen after a tragedy or when people are in great amounts of physical pain. There are resources for those with partners that are no longer able to take care of their basic needs that can help caregivers feel less overwhelmed. There are also support groups, both online and in person that help with feeling less alone. In most cases the partners and caregivers I work with stay with their partner. There are times though, in which leaving is a viable choice. If you are in danger, you are allowed to leave. If your partner has become someone that expects you to manage or tolerate behavior such as drug use or cheating, you are allowed to leave.

People that have been through abuse as a child can struggle to trust and bond as adults. This struggle affects loved ones because no matter how hard they try it can feel as though their love will never be enough.   It can be a challenge living with someone that wants to feel close but has barriers and boundaries that have been put in place before you ever met them to keep them emotionally safe. Childhood trauma often includes betrayals by people that were supposed to protect them and they had to learn to live with that in order to survive. This can include keeping themselves from trusting.  Being able to feel connected can be difficult. Because of the betrayals as children people with childhood traumas can be very sensitive to the possibility of betrayal as an adult, and this can lead to defensiveness in partnerships. This defensiveness can make partners feel very distanced and alone. They best way to be able to stay in such a relationship is to remember that their self-esteem and identity is not yours to fix. You are allowed to set boundaries with them, kindly, even if it hurts their feelings. You are allowed to take care of your own wishes, wants and would-likes. If ever you are not allowed to it isn’t a healthy place to be.

Relationships are hard work. They require patience, and understanding when your partner isn’t at their best. Relationships aren’t about bolting at the first sign of trouble. They also aren’t about losing who you are and sacrificing your identity to keep your partner happy or to keep the relationship happy. The lines between the hard work of making your relationship go and losing yourself are blurry. There are rarely easy answers. If you feel as though you are losing yourself the first thing to do is talk to your partner, without criticism, contempt or blaming. Talk to them about your wishes, wants and would-likes. Work with your partner to find a way to get your needs met as well.  If it is unsafe for you to do so because of violence, or your partner just blatantly couldn’t give a rat’s ass about you or your needs it’s probably time to go. Remember, you never have to make the decision by yourself. Talk to a counselor about your needs, talk about your fears, and talk about how to get your needs met in a healthy way.

Letting go of attack and defend

In relationships we have an investment to have our partners see us as loveable. We all have a fear of being left, and it is reasonable to believe that if our partners don’t see us as loveable they may leave. When our partners come at us with the revelation that they don’t see us as awesome, fear rears its ugly head and our first instinct is to want to defend ourselves. In this moment, the moment our partners come at us with criticism either constructive or not, we feel attacked and possibly fearful of being left. When we start to defend we start a cycle. Our partner feels as though they have to defend their position, get their concerns heard and possibly get their needs met. We start to listen to each other only in as much as we are getting ready to defend ourselves. We perfect the “Yes, but….” We have now hit the attack / defend cycle. If you fast-forward a year, or 10, we don’t even have to have to hear our partner’s criticism, we just defend or attack.

One way to step out of attack and defend lies on the shoulders of the person feeling attacked. When our partner comes at us we have an instinct to defend ourselves. Instead of turning back to defend, admit to yourself or to your partner, or both, that you feel attacked. And then ask for more information. That step is counter-intuitive to everyone that has ever been in a fight. To a lot of people it seems like getting punched in the fact and asking for a second punch. Imagine you are the one with the point to make, and imagine your partner asking you to give them more information about what you mean. Or asking why it is important to you. Or asking you how you felt. Would the next statement be another punch? Or would you feel validated and maybe be able to explain why your point of view is so important to you?

Another way to step out of attack and defend lies on the shoulders of the person that wants to get their point across. Learn to step in with a gentle approach. Avoid criticism or contempt for the other person, and work to avoid blaming. I think by now everyone has learned what an “I statement” is. Avoid anything that starts with “you”, and identify what your feelings are, and what your needs are. “I’m frustrated and I would like more help with the dishes”. “I’m feeling very unappreciated lately, and I would like….” Notice how these statements are very different from “you never help me with the dishes” (criticism) or “You don’t see anything I do” (blaming).

The steps for both sides include being able to identify your feelings in the moment. At times this is the most difficult part, as what most people are able to easily identify is angry. “I’m angry”. What else are you feeling? Abandoned, afraid, defensive, confused, betrayed, unloved, un-loveable, criticized, and hurt are common feelings during fights, all leading to anger. When you are able to identify what you are feeling, after taking a second to soothe the feeling yourself, the next step is to identify what you wants are.

Fights are a dance with two people trying to lead. If we can back down and be more gentle in our approach when asking for something to change, and if we can take a second when feeling attacked and try to dig deeper to get a better understanding of our partner the dance changes. It becomes less volatile and less hurtful to both partners. It becomes more validating and each person walks away less angry, less hurt, and less betrayed.  When we can change the dance we will feel closer to our partners and safer in our relationships, with greater intimacy.

Why are you doing this to me?

Why are you doing this to me?

In any kind of relationship we are going to step on each other’s toes. Friendships, business partnerships, romantic, and family; It doesn’t matter the kind of relationship. When two or more people get together they are going to have different ideas, values and goals that are going to clash.

Think of your place of work. What are your goals when it comes to your job? Often they are to find value in what you do, feel accomplished at the end of the day, and make some money in the process.  Are these your companie’s goals? At times your company is going to make decisions in an effort to reach their goals that are going to affect you in ways that you may not appreciate, from implementing a new policy all the way up to a reduction in force that terminates your job. The company is not doing this to you personally, they aren’t doing this to you, their actions just happen to affect you.

The same thing happen at home in closer relationships. Being able to learn the find distinction between something that our partner or friend is doing intentionally to us, and something that they are doing for themselves that happens to affect us, is important. It will change our reactions to the situation and will give us an ability to communicate our wants wishes and would likes more coherently.


The other night my husband and I had a disagreement. Because of the disagreement he went to the office for 4 hours, and astutely ignored me. It did not feel good to be ignored for 4 hours. It felt lonely and punishing. The energy in the house was tense and thick. Luckily I knew that he wasn’t ignoring me to punish me or to hurt me, he was taking space and time to calm himself down and soothe his anger and frustration with the situation. This made it much easier to be able to take time and manage my own hurt, anger and frustration with the situation (by baking cookies). If the belief had gone the other way, if I had taken his actions as a personal attack against me, the evening could have gone a very different way, with anger, resentment and escalation.


Our partners will take actions that affect us. These can be as benign as going to the gym instead of making it home in time for dinner, or deciding to go back to school to advance their career, to being lost in addiction.  There are times that our partners are doing something specifically to hurt us through spite and anger. It does happen. Just as often, if not more often our partners are just trying to take care of themselves in a way that steps on our toes, even if they way they are trying to take care of themselves is unhealthy and does some extensive damage.


When we find the distinction between “they’re doing this to me”, and “they’re doing this for them and it affects me”, then we have choices to make. Then we have to figure out what we need to do to take care of ourselves.   The first thing to do is to identify to yourself how your partners actions are affecting you by identifying the emotions surrounding their actions.  For example, being able to identify the feelings of hurt, betrayal, dismay, fear, etc will allow you to start to put a container around your emotions.  You will be able to say to yourself “I’m feeling afraid and angry right now” without necessarily blaming or acting on them.  Next you can start working to soothe the feelings by either finding something to do that you enjoy, or alternative self talk.  “I know I’m feeling really frustrated and scared, and I know that I will be OK.  I know that he/she is isn’t trying to make me feel angry and scared on purpose.”  Then you can ask yourself if there is anything that can helped by communicating these feelings to your friend or partner.  If you tell them you are really scared and frustrated, will they be able to change what they are doing, or even just confirm that their actions are affecting you even if the actions can’t be changed.  Often that confirmation, that recognition that their actions are having consequences elsewhere is comforting, even if they are unable to stop what they are doing.  Finally, in extreme cases such as drug use and sexual infidelity, which is not about you but about the other person taking care of themselves in unhealthy ways, you have to decide if you are able to stay in the relationship.  The dynamic of the decision when you have a full understanding that their actions aren’t personal, even when you have to protect yourself from the consequences of their actions, changes how you feel.

I’m not doing this to you, I’m doing this for me.  In most relationships, especially when they are overall healthy,  partners aren’t spitefully trying to make each other hurt, angry, scared, or feel abandoned or betrayed.  If you are with a person that does such things, then there is a completely different conversation to be had.  If they are taking care of themselves however, and how they take care of themselves is affecting you, move through the above steps.  Let go of the personal aspect, which will help you think more clearly, and take care of yourself without acting spitefully toward them.  It will help you be more at peace with your friends and partners, and more at peace with yourself.