Your Partner Is Not Your Therapist

Your Partner Is Not Your Therapist

Your Partner Is Not Your Therapist

love-couple-young-teens-outside-moment-emotionsNobody emerges from childhood completely unscathed. Intimate relationships can be a wonderful container in which childhood wounds and sorrows come to light, are met and held with love, and release their power to cause us pain.

However, when childhood wounds are deep and serious, or when there is a trauma response, it is not reasonable to expect a partner to have the skills and emotional resilience to give us everything we need to heal. Serious wounds require serious treatment and rehabilitation.

Warning Signs of Serious Childhood Injury

How can we know whether our emotional baggage is too much for a partner to carry?

The problem for most people is that we grow up thinking that whatever we experienced as a child is normal. It can take outside input to open our eyes to the possibility that our childhood had some problems, and that we may have some unhealthy coping strategies as a result.

Here are some clues to look for, in ourselves and our close friends, family, and partners.

Relationship Anxiety

Needing constant reassurance, finding separations unbearable, anxiously watching for return text messages, intense fear of abandonment, possessiveness and jealousy, trying to control partners, especially in how close they are to other people emotionally.

aloneAvoidance or Extreme Detachment

Feeling uncomfortable, even “invaded”, when relationships become emotionally intimate, avoiding sex and intimacy, keeping emotions out of sexual relationships, pushing friends and partners away when upset, reacting to uncomfortable situations in relationships by withdrawing, or even leaving the relationship.

Unbalanced Focus on Self

While it is healthy to have a good awareness of our own wants and needs, it is important to give equal weight to the wants and needs of others, especially those who are close to us, either physically or emotionally.

If people are regularly letting you know that you are appearing selfish, or not listening to them, or not taking them into consideration enough, it is worth checking whether you have the right balance of self vs others.

This may manifest as people every now and again unfairly abandoning you for reasons you don’t understand, or getting very angry at you when you don’t think you have done anything wrong.

other focus-1600x900Unbalanced Focus on Others

Focusing on others can be a delightful gift, but not if you lose contact with yourself in the process.

Are you aware of your own needs and wants? Do you regularly express them to the people who are close to you, both physically and emotionally?

Or do people seem to take you for granted, and exhaust you with their constant needs and demands?

Are you afraid that if you don’t take care of everyone properly, their reactions will be even more unbearable than the constant low level frustration and exhaustion that you usually feel?

love addictionAddictions

We may not have an addiction to a substance like alcohol, opiates, or illegal substances, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have an addiction at all.

Any activity which causes us to get a hit of dopamine can become addictive.

Many people are addicted to more subtle “drugs”, like gambling (which includes high risk activities like day trading, commission-only sales work, and some forms of entrepreneurial activity), or sex (which can also include addiction to the dopamine highs of infatuation), computer games, or food.

Even socially-valued activities can be addictive – there are many workaholics out there! Working out at the gym, going to church, gossiping with friends, fixing up old cars, building dollhouses or computer programs, doing crosswords, and just about any other hobby can become an addiction when we are using it to escape unpleasant emotions or avoid difficult conversations.

These more socially acceptable addictions can combine with other items on this list, such as avoidance, zoning out, and mood swings, so watch out for combinations!

Zoning Out

Losing time, or not noticing what is happening here and now, can be a sign of trauma. This is a particular red flag if it happens during emotionally difficult conversations, but it can also be a habitual way to get through life. If our life as a child is emotionally difficult, one coping strategy is try as much as possible to “not be there” while life is happening.

It often goes together with not remembering much about childhood before the age of 6-8 years old.

2018-07-06 depressionMood Swings

Some days are great – you’re on top of the world, you get a lot done (or start a lot of things), and you feel ten feet tall and bulletproof. Other days, you don’t even want to get out of bed. You curse yourself for the promises you made when you were feeling great. There is no clear cause for the great days or the terrible days.

And some days start out great, but then something happens – someone rejects you, or something doesn’t go to plan – and for the rest of the day you feel awful.

If the swings happen slowly – over weeks and months – you may have bipolar disorder. But if you are having wildly different moods within a single week, you don’t have bipolar disorder – you have emotional dysregulation, which is usually a result of childhood emotional neglect.

SearchingExtreme Sensitivity or Empathy

Can’t walk by a group of people without getting a “hit” of someone else’s emotions?

Find crowds and public spaces draining and exhausting?

Can’t feel happy when your partner or housemate is feeling down?

You are likely to have some childhood wounds or trauma to explore.

Generally, children focus on their own world, and tune out the adults around them until they need something. But if life was difficult, upsetting, or painful, and the adults around were the cause, some children learn to be hyperaware of the emotional state of others. It is a coping strategy, a way of at least having a few seconds of warning before the bad thing happens.

discontent

Yes, That’s Me (or My Partner) – Now What?

Untreated childhood wounds tend to resurface over and over until they are healed. The most common way they emerge is by having us subconsciously recreate the situation where we were wounded.

We are most likely to do this in our intimate relationships, which is what makes intimate relationships so uniquely painful.

 

The number one reason that I have seen relationships end is because one or both people can no longer tolerate the pain of their childhood wounds resurfacing over and over.

This is often a tragic result, because the people concerned love one another very much, and have the potential to support one another in healing – that’s usually what attracts us, at a subconscious level.

But navigating the interlocking childhood wounds of two people in an intimate relationship is like picking your way through a minefield – you just never know when things are going to blow up and cause a whole new type of trauma.

CoachingIt is really important that you have outside support through this process. In severe cases, one or both partners may benefit from individual psychotherapy. Often, though what people really need is a neutral third party who can let them know when they are stuck in a childhood coping strategy, rather than being present and responding to the current situation.

This is where a relationship coach can be invaluable. Not only can they provide useful strategies to improve communication, and mediate difficult conversations, they can also keep you on track with your individual healing, and your support of your partner’s healing.

Book Coaching

Remember – we are here to help. If you’d like personalised coaching at any time, just fill in an application form, and we will schedule a short real-time call to see whether we are right for each other.

After Separation

After Separation

The end of a long-term relationship is never easy. Immediately after separation, there are both practical and emotional challenges to navigate. No matter how clear it is that you need to part ways, separation is always a deep emotional process. Sometimes we have completed several stages of the grieving process before the official moment of separation, and sometimes events take us by surprise. Either way, the grieving process is unavoidable.

grief after separation

All of us grieve, even for the most painful and dysfunctional relationships. We may be grieving the relationship we thought we had, or the relationship we deserved and didn’t get. We might grieve the relationship we hoped for, rather than a relationship we actually experienced, but we grieve, just the same.

It can be tempting to bypass grief and jump right into a new relationship. The intoxicating chemicals of being “in love” make us forget about our previous partner. The new person has none of the infuriating issues that the previous partner had. There are many risks in this approach, which we explore in our “Real or Rebound?” series, available in the members area.

Some people avoid a rebound relationship by diving into a busy whirl of dating and casual sex. Sexual exploration is very healthy after ending a long-term relationship, but compulsive or addictive behaviour is not so healthy. You might be at risk of sex or love addiction if you find yourself seeking sex or love as an escape from unpleasant emotions, or if you can’t imagine life without it.

The more you can allow the grieving process to move through you, fully and cleanly, the faster you will be ready to embark on your next genuine, deep relationship.

Stages of Grief After Separation

Denial – when it doesn’t seem real

Anger – at anything and everything

Guilt/Bargaining – going over everything obsessively, trying to figure out what you could have done differently in your mind

Sadness – this may be associated with remembering good things that have been lost, or hopes which never manifested, or it may have no particular object

Acceptance – starting to appreciate the new life which is taking shape

Check out this post on grief for more guidance.

Rebuilding Confidence After Separation or Divorce

We don’t like to think about what comes next. “Getting back out there” can be a daunting prospect. Dating was stressful, painful, and exhausting enough when we were teenagers. The idea of putting ourselves through that again, with everything else we have to deal with …

Confidence often takes a beating as a relationship breaks down. Whatever the circumstances of the break-up, we tend to focus on the ways in which we have personally failed. If our ex was abusive or irrational, we can also become focused on the reasons not to trust anyone else ever again.

Crisis – Both Danger and Opportunity

changing after separation

Times of big life changes can be a blessing in disguise. When everything is up in the air, when we are changing living arrangements, working arrangements, childcare arrangements, and everything else – these are the times when it is easiest to also change ourselves.

Should you choose to, you can make this separation a “watershed moment” in your life. Looking back in a few years’ time, you could pinpoint this time as the turning point. This could be the moment when you stopped being a victim of circumstances and truly claimed your life as your own.

What will it take?

Taking back your life begins with knowing who you really are. Once you are connected with your authentic self, you have all the guidance and personal power you need to make the right changes.

Over the years, I have watched hundreds of people take back their lives. Some move swiftly and dramatically, while others make subtle adjustments that are barely visible to outsiders. All of them report feeling more freedom, power, and fulfilment.

Grief

Grief

Grief is a normal part of human psychology. You wouldn’t know that from watching how grieving people are treated, though. There is a growing trend to consider grief a pathology, and to treat it as though it was a mental illness, or a personal weakness.

Had a death in the family? You might get a day off work to go to the funeral. They might even let you take sick leave for a few days, or a week. Beyond that, though, you are expected to show up and be productive, as though nothing happened. 

Anything else that might cause grief – the end of a relationship, death of a pet, loss of a home, and so on – you don’t even get one day off work to process your grief. (Of course, there are caring and empathetic employers out there, who don’t follow these norms, but we are looking at the culture overall, on average.) 

Friends aren’t much better, often. They bring casseroles for the first few days, come to the funeral and say the right things, and then they expect you to get on with life as normal within a week or two. If it’s the end of a relationship, or the loss of a home, they might even start immediately with bypassing comments like “look on the bright side, now you can find something better …” 

When it comes to grief, we are expected to manage it in our own time, and mostly on our own. 

Remember that there is no statute of limitations on grief. You are entitled to grieve in your own way, in your time, for as long as you need. 

What is grief? 

grief

Grief is a set of emotional responses which happens whenever we are required to let go of a future we have invested emotional energy into. The more emotional energy we have invested in a future, the stronger the emotions of grief will be as we reshape our emotional landscape to erase that future. 

We invest emotional energy into a future by imagining it, making plans, or just unconsciously expecting it to happen. As an extreme example, we might hate and fear an abusive parent, and be planning to escape from home as soon as possible. At the same time, we unconsciously expect that parent to be there every morning when we wake up. If that parent dies, we might be relieved that the abuse is over, but we will still experience grief because of our deep, unconscious expectation that our parents will be around forever. 

The emotions which arise when we are grieving can be confusing, because they can appear contradictory. 

It is important to remember that the emotions of grief are markers for our process of letting go of a future, and they don’t need to match up to anything real that is happening how, or that happened in the past. The emotions of grief are “free floating” – they don’t need a particular object. In fact, the grieving process goes faster when we actively prevent the free-floating emotions from latching on to any person or event. 

Stages of Grief

 

While grief is described as having “stages”, we don’t pass neatly from one stage to the next. We switch around between 2-4 stages at any point in time. The proportions change over time. The early stages are a bigger percentage at first, and the later stages come to be the biggest proportion as time passes.

Denial

The denial phase comes first, and generally passes within a few days. In this phase, we simply forget that the loss has happened. We repeatedly remember, with the same force of shock as when we first heard the news.

The denial phase can be extended indefinitely if the loss isn’t due to death. We can remain in denial about a relationship break-up for much longer than a few days. While we hold the belief that our lost future may still happen, we maintain that future as an object in our emotional landscape, and the grieving process slows down. It may even stall completely.

anger

Anger

Free-floating anger is a significant element of the early stages of grief. When someone has died, particularly if they did nothing to cause their own death, it can be disturbing to find ourselves being angry at them for dying. This is completely normal, and it will pass.

When a relationship has ended, it is easy to attach the anger to our ex, and make lists in our mind of the ways in which they wronged us. While this is a seductive process, it is not a healthy way to grieve. The anger will move through much faster if it remains free-floating, without any particular object. In truth, we are angry that our anticipated future has been taken from us, and it really doesn’t matter how that future was taken.

Guilt/Bargaining

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross described the grieving process which takes place when a person is told they have a terminal illness. She described a stage she called “bargaining”, where people construct “deals with God”. If I become vegan, my cancer will go away. If I forgive all my enemies, I will be cured.

When someone has died, we can’t bargain with God in quite the same way. This stage manifests as obsessively going over the past in our mind, over and over. On some level, we are hoping that we can find a way to make it turn out differently. Of course, we can’t.

However, if we happen to find something specific we did, or didn’t do, we can attach this emotion to that memory. Again, as with anger, it is much more healthy to allow the guilt/bargaining energy to remain free-floating. Punishing ourselves emotionally for doing or not doing something gives us the illusion of having control over the loss. These illusions are temporarily comforting, but they keep us trapped in unresolved grief.

denial

Sadness

When we think of grief, it is the sadness we most easily understand. The sadness can last for a long time. It will appear from moments in the early stages, amongst the more intense denial, anger and guilt. As time goes by, if we don’t attach the more intense emotions to anything, sadness will become the dominant emotion.

Sadness can manifest “out of nowhere”, when we have been moving through acceptance for quite some time. This is normal. Reminders such as birthdays, holidays, and objects with personal significance can trigger sadness, even decades later.

Acceptance

Acceptance is the emotion which manifests when we have reclaimed enough emotional energy from the lost future to start creating something new.

Even after we have felt acceptance, we will still cycle back through the other stages. Over time, we will spend a greater and greater proportion of our time in acceptance.

Grieving a Relationship

When we have ended a relationship, we will be required to carry on living as normal while we grieve. We may be pressured to throw out mementos, start dating again, or make other radical changes.

It is very important to give yourself time and permission to grieve fully before starting to move forward. In the chaotic emotions of grief, we may not make the best decisions for our long-term future.

That’s not to say you should be a hermit for a year or two. By all means have a rich social life, including dating and romance if it feels right for you. Just be prepared to excuse yourself if you find yourself doing things that aren’t yet comfortable for you.

Often, in the course of a relationship or a break-up, we lose touch with our true self. Some people are completely out of touch with their true self from childhood, and rely on partners to give them direction and certainty. Others have a good connection to their true self, but find it is disrupted by stress, conflict, too many compromises, or betrayals.

true self

What next?

Whatever else happens after the end of a relationship, it is essential that you re-establish your connection with your true self. This is your “inner wisdom”, the guide which will help you navigate the next stage of your life. The relationship or the break-up may have disrupted that connection, and you will need it for the next stage of your journey.

If you are someone who has always struggled to “find yourself” or to “go within”, times of grief are a golden opportunity. When everything is thrown into chaos, you have an opportunity to rewire your brain in new ways. Rather than going back to coping strategies from earlier in life, you can find your core – your inner strength – and create a new life which suits you much better than anything you have experienced in the past.

Secrets of Sexual Desire

Secrets of Sexual Desire

Secrets of Sexual Desire

happy-couple-1Sexual desire is often presented as one of life’s great mysteries. Who can say why we are attracted to one person, and not to another? Or madly attracted to someone at first, but after a few months or years, the same person leaves us cold?

Many damaging myths and misinformation campaigns have arisen to explain this apparently contradictory, unpredictable beast – sexual desire.

Myths and Lies About Sexual Desire

“Women don’t really want sex; they become willing to do it for a man they love.”

“Men are always up for sex with someone new, but they get bored quickly in monogamous relationships.”

“Treat ‘em mean and keep ‘em keen.”

“Oh, you just need to spice it up a little – buy some lingerie, or some sex toys. Watch dirty movies together. Have a threesome.”

And, in recent times, courtesy of the Neo-Tantra gurus “You have lost polarity. Spend more time apart and act more like the stereotypical man or woman.”

Sexual-Desire-PullNope.

As a relationship coach, I have worked with many couples over many years, and I can assure you that women can want sex, and men can not want it. People can be monogamous without getting bored in bed, manipulative games are at best a band-aid and at worst a disaster, and “spicing it up” might work for a brief while, but if you don’t address the real issue, the problem will be back.

And “polarity” – don’t get me started on the horrible distortions that I have seen enacted in the name of “polarity”!

The Truth About Sexual Desire: Lust

Sexual desire operates on a number of levels. According to scientists, there is a basic, biological component to sexual desire, based on genetic and immunological compatibility. If this component is present when two people meet, it will be present for a lifetime, because it is based on aspects of the physical body that don’t change much over time.

The one exception to this rule is when women start or stop using hormonal birth control – the hormonal changes affect the desirability of the woman in general, and they change the type of man to whom she is attracted.

But that is not the issue with the vast majority of couples I work with. The basic biological polarity is in place, and it doesn’t change.

cropped-happy-coupleThe Truth About Sexual Desire: Romance

The next level of sexual desire is attraction. This is the fascination we experience in the early stages of a relationship, when we (almost literally) can’t keep our hands off each other.

This is the level at which visual and behavioural cues bring us together. Holding the gaze for a little longer than usual, playing with the hair, moving into one another’s personal space, and so on. These “flirting” behaviours are often gender-specific, with the female version being more coy on average, and the male version more assertive.

The big mistake is to imagine that the attraction between two people is caused by these gender-specific behaviours. In truth, the attraction is communicated by these behaviours. The cause of the attraction lies elsewhere.

The seeds of this level of attraction lie in the social self – the persona that has been constructed since early childhood, based on messages from outside.

This is where we get our exaggerated images of the “ideal woman” and the “ideal man”. The ideal woman was a stick-figure in the 1990s, an hour-glass in the 1950s, and a voluptuous, curvy goddess in Raphael’s time, and the ideal man has always had muscular shoulders, and a square jaw, and only recently has come to require a six-pack.

The ideal woman is soft, kind, and never argues. The ideal man is masterful, understands intuitively what his woman needs, and surprises her with thoughtful gifts on a regular basis.

When we are in the romantic early stages of a relationship, we are motivated to do all sorts of things to express our love and appreciation for our partner. We say loving words. We shower them with gifts and acts of service. We can’t wait to see them again. We touch. A lot. Especially sexually.

The thing is, this motivation arises from the reward/punishment centre of our brain, not the emotional centre. We think of it as love, but it is, quite unromantically, an addiction to our own reward chemical, dopamine.

This crazy, obsessive romantic period has a time limit. We can’t perpetuate the species if we are staying up late and ditching work to be together every day for the rest of our lives. What will we eat? And how will we pay the rent? At some point, we need to settle into a more sustainable pattern of relating, so we have the energy for feeding and housing ourselves (and the offspring that evolution intends us to have).

The Truth About Sexual Desire: Love

The third type of sexual desire is so different from the first two that many people aren’t even aware that it exists.

Sexual desire in the context of a long-term bond is based on feelings of safety and comfort. Your partner might have “love handles”, and not have shaved for a few days, and you would never look at them twice in a singles bar, but you feel warm and comfortable in bed with them on a Sunday morning, and one thing naturally leads to another …

This is almost the exact opposite of the crazy highs that come from dopamine in the romantic phase. Dopamine is heightened by risk-taking, so someone who is “bad for you” in some way can be even more rewarding, because it is a more risky situation.

In a long-term relationship, the opposite is true. Someone who hurts you unpredictably might make an exciting lover. You might enjoy the passionate reunions and make-up sex after a big fight. In a long-term relationship, over time, that unpredictable hurtfulness will totally kill sexual desire.

holding handsThe Unromantic Secret To Keeping Sexual Desire Alive For A Lifetime

It all comes down to this – does your partner feel SAFE with you?

Do they feel loved, wanted, and accepted, just the way they are, or are you forever trying to change them “for their own good”? Do you see them for the unique soul they are, or are you casting them as the enemy in your unresolved childhood dramas?

We all have patterns wired into our brains from our childhood, and those patterns run our romantic partnerships. So check your patterns – are they healthy, constructive patterns, or are they patterns that hurt your partner from time to time?

  1. Purify Your Relationship Patterns. Make sure you are consistently showing up as an empowering, supportive, affirming partner.
  2. When You Mess Up, Clean Up. Nobody expects perfection. You will have bad days, discover new dysfunctional patterns, and go through periods of intense stress, illness, and other issues. All these things make you less patient and your partner less resilient.

If you handle it well, you can heal the emotional wound before it undermines the sexual desire in your relationship. Sit down, take responsibility for your part in the hurt, listen, give empathy, apologise, and, if necessary, do something to make amends.

Your reward? A lifetime of rich, fulfilling sex on tap!