Category Archives: Relationship

Behind Women in Power

Women have come a long way. Or have they? The famous Virginia Slims ad campaign created by the Leo Burnett Agency claimed so in July of 1968 with the launch of their legacy “You’ve come a long way” tagline. The ads captured the progress of the women’s movement and often portrayed successful women working happily in their careers.  Just 48 years prior to the ad launch, the U.S. Constitution was ratified with the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. Today, 48 years later, a woman is running for President of the United States. Progress is being achieved. Albeit slowly—and with a few costs.

It’s not difficult to step back and notice that as women’s careers escalated so did thedivorce rate. Research shows that there is higher divorce rate among children of divorce, setting up a reinforcing cycle. Yet I don’t believe women are to blame for this. Women want and deserve equal treatment, respect, and safety. Women are not chattel, yet they’ve been treated like property for centuries. Today’s young women may not realize the sacrifices made by the generations of women before them to attain safe and equal treatment. More important, today’s young women—and men—may not realize that progress must still continue.

While I have specialized in gender dynamics and even give talks on ‘resolving the gender pay gap’ and ‘understanding the hidden differences in the way men and women work,’ I was still taken aback when a yogi, Rolf Gates, vulnerably disclosed in his book, “Meditations from the Mat” that he has to work on letting go of an “irrational fear of ‘women’s lib.’” He described that he struggles with seeing life as a zero-sum game (if you win, I lose), so his fear of being powerless heightens when he witnesses that women are outnumbering men in law school. That deadly competition between the sexes is real—and sadly many men are unaware that they have unconscious fears about women’s power. The conscious people, like Gates, work hard to find it, own it and release it.

Part of the difficulty is that men are more wired to be hierarchical and see things in win-lose scenarios. It goes back to those innate hunter skills that allow a man to singularly focus on the killing their prey—and to beat the other hunters to it first. Women, on the other hand, are more hard-wired to be more multi-tasking and collaborative and seek win-win solutions. It’s part of the mothering need to solve multiple children’s issues while also cooking meals, cleaning, and keeping an ear out for danger. The wonderful thing in our evolution and growth is that gender norms are changing a bit and with increasing role-reversals, a bigger bridge between the sexes is built. Even so, the greater majority of men and women reveal pretty entrenched male-female neurological patterning.

So what does this mean for the women’s movement and society overall? First, it illuminates the need for men to take Gate’s lead and uncover their own fears and biasesabout women. It is also important for women to understand male fears so they aren’t caught off-guard by subtle forms of sabotage. Some ways men unconsciously and/or consciously sabotage women is through sexualizing, dismissing, controlling, teasing, criticizing, interrupting, psychopathologizing, humiliating, abusing—and measuring women against a male standard.

How to success on your marriage

images-37Linda: So this couple walks into amarriage counselor’s office and the wife is crying about feeling neglected. Really wailing, she tells the marriage counselor that they don’t sit down to meals much anymore. They don’t go anywhere and have any fun. She feels like a maid around the house. Sex? It’s been years! And not only is intimacy a thing of the past, they don’t even talk any more! Sobbing, she tells the therapist: “I can’t go on this way.”

The marriage counselor gets up out of his chair and goes over to the woman. He gently takes both of her hands into his and slowly lifts her up out of her chair, maintaining eye contact with her all the while. He pulls her gently to him and enfolds her in his arms to give her a sensual hug. Then he plants a big kiss right on her lips for several seconds. When he disengages the embrace, she sits back down in a daze, but with a smile on her face. Then he turns to the husband and says: “Did you see that? That’s what your wife needs three times a week.” The husband pauses for a moment and then says: “I can do it on Wednesday and Friday, but it would be hard for me to bring her over here on Monday, because that’s my busiest day.”

Of course no reputable marriage counselor would interact with a client in such an inappropriate way. But the story is illustrative of the mistaken idea that a marriage counselor can do our work for us. The sooner we rid ourselves of the idea that our relationship can improve with efforts on anyone else’s part but our own, the better we are positioned to make the necessary changes.

It is a popular misconception that marriage counselors have some kind of magical powers that can fix relationships. There are so many gifted couple counselors, but the most talented are only able to give the couples they work with guidance and steer them in the right direction. For couples’ counseling to be effective, the questions and topics explored during the counseling sessions must illuminate the work that each individual must do to become eligible for a great relationship. And once those requirements are identified, each member of the couple is challenged to do the work between the sessions that will change the old habituated patterns into more productive ones.

The marriage counselor may be an excellent guide, knowing the territory of conflictmanagement skills, handling fear and anxieties, uncovering conditioned patterns resulting from unsuccessful modeling in childhood, how to establish open honest communication, learn from and forgive past transgressions, and how to build the fondness and affection system of the marriage. But what will determine the outcome is the how the couple implements what they learn in their sessions. It is the daily practice of the new skills that gives rise to the shift in the relationship. It is in the cultivation of the character traits such as courage, resilience, patience, integrity, creativity, and compassion that forms a more fertile environment for the relationship to grow.

Success on Relationship Tips

At a recent dinner party, I witnessed a group of friends teasingly ask each other who was in charge in their relationship. The question was meant to be playfully provocative, with most people laughing as everyone else at the table shouted, often in unison, who they perceived as being the boss: “Well, he decides when they go out, but she decides everything else!” Or, “She sounds like the bossy one, but he’srunning the show behind the scenes!” Sometimes, the couple themselves would chime in, with one claiming, “I wear the pants in this relationship!” and the other rolling their eyes as if to say, “You wish!” While the whole conversation was meant in good fun, and the sheer lightheartedness of the friends’ tone made me doubt any of them would seriously condone any power dynamic operating in their relationships, they were actually hitting on some serious issues within most couples.

Culturally, it seems we’ve grown a little too relaxed about accepting that one person is “the boss,” or in control of certain aspects of an adult romantic relationship. Equality is one of the most important elements of a successful relationship, and yet countless couples fall into dynamics and roles that are inherently unequal. One person tends to be more childish, the other more parental; one more submissive, the other more dominating.

Individuals are often drawn to these roles because on an unconscious level, they allow us to play out dynamics from our past that are familiar, and therefore, in some ways, make us more comfortable. For example, if we felt like we didn’t have a voice in our family growing up, we may choose a partner who speaks for us. We may even find ourselves being much quieter around our partner, encouraging them to represent us. If we grew up in a family that made us feel like we couldn’t do things for ourselves, we may have the tendency to act helpless with our partner. We may find ourselves struggling with simple tasks and depending on our partner to take care of us. Conversely, if we grew up feeling rejected or as if we had to take care of ourselves, we may find ourselves seeking control anywhere we can find it. We may not easily trust others, and may try to control our partner’s movement to help us feel more at ease in the relationship.

Each of these scenarios can lead to a pattern of behavior in which one of us becomes like a parent and the other like a child. Without knowing it, we tend to play out the half of the dynamic that provokes our partner to play out the other half. While we may regret these ways of relating, we actually help create them. Again, it may not feel pleasant, but it often feels familiar. It may not even be a conscious process, but for many people, feeling like we have control—or that we have someone else to control us—relieves our anxiety or insecurity.

We’re initially attracted to these roles as a means to making us feel more comfortable or secure, but these power dynamics still generate a lot of tension and conflict. They may lead to arguments and actual contempt, or they may subtly subdue our feelings of love and attraction. When we start to overstep each other’s boundaries and stop treating each other like two separate people with two sovereign minds, we seriously diminish our feelings of respect and attraction. When one partner exercises control over the other, we tend to experience less loving interactions where we really see and feel seen by our partner. We start to replace substance with form, imposing expectations and routines on each other, rather than accepting the more natural give and take that characterizes an equal, adult relationship.

Dangerous Word On Relationship

Which thoughts should we suppress? Which should we shine more light on?

Here are some dangerous thoughts clients have revealed to me. Seeing them may remind you of some of yours.

Deep down, I care mainly about myself.

My family gives me more pain than pleasure.

The liabilities of getting married outweigh the benefits.

I’m terrified of the physical pain of having a baby and then the enormous sacrifice it takes to be a parent—Your life is no longer your own. And it costs a fortune.

I’m tempted to cheat on my spouse.

Deep down, my failures aren’t caused by all those externalities I cite. Fact is, I am not very competent nor motivated. Plus, I’m a handful. If I were my boss, I’d replace me.

I’m tempted to commit a crime.

I claim to be an artist but really that’s just a socially acceptable excuse for not getting a real job.

I say I can stop abusing substances but I always seem to fall off the wagon.

I spend too much.

I’m a hypocrite. For example, I say I believe in mass transit but avoid it as much as possible. I love my car.

I’m nice but I’m not sure how good I am.

I try to believe in God but deep down I know there is no God.

I hate men.

I hate women.

I tell my kids to work hard at school but much of what they’re taught really isn’t important.

I’m not as honest as I appear.

I talk too much even it bothers people. I like to talk.

Sex has become boring.

I wish I never married that person.

I regret having children.

I wouldn’t sacrifice as much for my spouse as s/he would for me.

Therapy has given me insight but my life is no better.

Argue at the Right Way

Everyone knows just how taxing a fight with a loved one can be on us emotionally. But new science is showing just how bad arguing is for our physical health. A 20-year studyfrom the University of California, Berkeley, has started to pinpoint some of the negative long-term health effects of arguing. Researchers found that while “outbursts of angerpredict cardiovascular problems… shutting down emotionally or ‘stonewalling’ during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff muscles.” These findings come just a couple years after a Dutch study concluded that frequent arguing can lead to premature death. Even though it may feel like arguing is just a part of life, the way we react to conflict and choose to communicate at these stressful moments is actually a matter of life and death.

Fortunately, there are a few very important, highly effective practices we can implement in order to not feel overwhelmed when a conflict arises. All of these practices involve getting to know ourselves and our partner better. When we understand the specific patterns and behaviors that cause us to fly off the handle or completely shut down, we can learn to take pause and take more control over our actions and reactions. We can avoid building cases against our partner and start living more mindfully, thereby removing some of the drama and intensity from our arguments and communication. Here are five key tips for arguing the right way:

1. Be mindful

Practicing mindfulness can help in almost any situation in which we feel triggered emotionally. Mindfulness teaches us to slow down in the moment. Although, this is most challenging in those instances when we’re provoked, it’s essential that we take pause and avoid reacting out of conditioned responses. Instead, we can take a breath (or take a walk or count to 10) in order to calm down, so we can pay attention to what’s going on inside us. When we name the feelings we’re having, we help tame them. Rather than lashing out or ruminating on our thoughts, we can notice that we feel angry or hurt without judgment or justification.

Once we’re in a calmer state, we can choose our responses based on the outcome we desire. As Dr. Pat Love puts it, we can feel the feeling but do the right thing. In addition, practicing patience and compassion toward ourselves helps us do the same with our partner. When we’re operating from a mindful place, we’re better able to tune in to our partner and see the situation from his or her unique perspective.

2. Be open to being wrong

In every relationship, it’s mutually beneficial to be open to the possibility that our perception isn’t necessarily right or wrong but just different. For example, if your partner didn’t call you while he or she was away on a short business trip, you may feel hurt. You may then start to tell yourself stories about why he/she didn’t call. You’ll start to listen to a negative inner dialogue or “critical inner voice” coaching you about what’s going on. “She’s tired of you! She’s happy to get away.” Or, “He doesn’t even think about you. He’s so inconsiderate.” By the time your partner comes home, you may be ready for a fight. However, your partner’s experience is likely very different from yours.

When you attack your partner for everything you’ve been imagining, he or she will most likely retaliate, accusing you of being ridiculous, too sensitive, or needy. Unfortunately, a confrontation in which neither person is willing to hear out and empathize with the other tends to have a snowball effect. If instead you own your reactions and present your feelings without blame or righteousness, your partner is more likely to be able to take in your experience and empathize with your feelings.  You can then be open to hearing their experience and seeing how it looked from their perspective.

The hottest of relationship

images-36Since the dawn of civilization (or at least the modern era), non-normative sexualities have been pathologized, shamed, and stigmatized by society. With all of this shaming going on, one would think that sexualities that don’t fit into society’s neatly packaged box would be as rare as hen’s teeth. Well, two recent studies show that not only are these “rare” sexualities quite common, they are in fact actually the norm. Turns out everyone’s been shaming everyone else for the same things that they’ve been keeping secret. Projection anyone?

For the purposes of our discussion here, let’s first create some definitions. The dictionary definition of “nonnormative” is “not adhering to a standard.” In other words, something that is not typical. In this article, I further identify nonnormative sex as anything that would not be described as “vanilla.” What is “vanilla”? Well, that’s a little more complex and subjective, but to keep things simple, let’s say vanilla sex describes typical penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse, with three or four base positions. That excludes right off the bat anything heteronormative in nature. I don’t want to get into a more nuanced discussion of what is or isn’t “vanilla” since I am merely trying to establish a baseline, and the focus of this article isn’t about debates on flavor, but rather on the research I am about to share.

Speaking of which, let us begin with astudy published in 2014 in the prestigious Journal of Sexual Medicine, which surveyed over 1,500 respondents about their sexual fantasies, and determined that almost none of them were really that unusual. Let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of this survey. It breaks down the sexual fantasies into very specific details and separates participants by gender. Most interestingly, only two of the fantasies were found to be rare and men and women were found to differ significantly in the amount and content of their fantasies. The two more rare fantasies were having sex with a child younger than 12 (pedophilia), coming in at roughly 1.5% (0.8% women and 1.8% men) and having sex with animals (zoophilia) (3% women and 2.2% men). Remember, these numbers reflect the people who were willing to disclose these kinds of fantasies– self reports like these are notorious for underreporting.

Other fantasies that were unusual included fantasies around urination (a.k.a. “watersports”)—for both women (7%) and men (9%)—and, for women: wearing clothes of the opposite gender (6.9%), forcing someone to have sex (10.8%), abusing a person who is drunk, asleep, or unconscious (10.8%), having sex with a prostitute (12.5%), and having sex with a woman who has very small breasts (10.8%). None of these were found to be unusual at all for men. In general, men had way more fantasies than women and indicated a higher desire to experience them in real life.

Of the 55 sexual fantasies studied, which included a wide gamut of scenarios, 36 were found to be common (more than 50% frequency), including all themes of domination and submission, and five were typical (more than 84.1% of the sample).

The Reason of Your Mother Won’t Listen

I would really like help with trying to communicate with my mom. I am 15 and I know it’s mostly supposed to be easy, but my mom is such a stubborn woman that nothing will work. I’ve messed up a lot freshman year and my parents (mostly my mom) holds a grudge and thinks I will never change, but she is not with me 24/7. We honestly cannot compromise on anything and she is very negative. I can’t have one conversation with her without one of us being mad in the end. At this point I really just want us not to be mad at each other anymore. I get really depressed and I feel like I have no love. I only trust 3 people (my best friend, my boyfriend, and my aunt). I try to talk but she never listens. I just don’t know what to do. My reasons sound stupid and the whole situation is stupid because I shouldn’t have to be trying to reconnect with my mom at this age and have her pushing me away…Normally its the other way around. I just need help. Please please help me.

A Sad Teenager

Dear Teenager,

I feel for you. You are absolutely right. It is usually the other way around. I hear from so many parents who feel that their teenage children shut them out. It is possible, however, that your mother feels like you shut her out as well and that you are both frustrated with the difficulty communicating with each other. I also want to let you know that there is nothing stupid or shameful about you wanting to have a better relationship with your mother. In fact, it is quite admirable. Of course, you want your mother’s love and acceptance.

I believe that what needs to happen first is that you and your mother need to learn to communicate with each other without becoming intensely emotional. Try very hard to stay calm when communicating with your mom even if she becomes emotional. I know that this is easier said than done, but with practice it should become easier. My hope is that your mother will respond to your calm style by following suit and becoming calmer. When the emotional level settles down you should be able to have easier conversations. Nothing good happens when 2 highly emotional individuals try to communicate. Instead, what happens is that mean things get said in the heat of the moment. Once these things are said it is nearly impossible to continue the conversation as you already know.

Yes, you may not have had a good freshman year. Try very hard to do better this year and let your behavior speak for itself. Your mother doesn’t trust you and is not ready to give up her anger. Do your best to prove her wrong but don’t expect that she will compliment you easily or quickly. It may take a while to gain her acceptance. On the other hand, she may have difficulty being positive and validating. This may not be her strength.

I am very concerned that you feel unloved and that you are getting depressed. I am sure that there are other individuals in your life who can give you support. Please talk to your school psychologist and maybe even speak to your mother about seeing a therapist so that you can deal with your depression and frustration. You need a safe place where you can talk about yourself and not get yelled at or judged. I wish you luck and courage. Please get back to me.

Mindful Path in the Woods

A few days ago I went on a hike with a good friend and colleague.

We went to Indian Peaks Wilderness, a magnificent area of majestic mountains, crystal blue lakes and endless wild flowers.  I always get into “the zone” when I’m hiking there. I feel so fortunate to have such beauty so close to home.

As we neared our destination—a lake at the top of the mountain—we had to cross a stream.  There were two logs placed closely together that acted as a “bridge” over the rushing water.

As we approached the crossing, there was a couple standing on the logs, preventing us and the others standing beside us from passing.  The woman was slowly and methodically putting a camera into her partner’s backpack.

In a New York moment, my irritation with the couple caused an adrenaline rush. “Can’t they do this NEXT to the log?” “Can’t they see that there are other people who want to pass them?” “Why do they have to be so inconsiderate?” I wondered. My thoughts were fueling my growing impatience.

And then it happened.

A mindful moment.

I reminded myself that I was in one of my favorite locations, hiking with a dear friend, breathing the clean, crisp air, soaking in the unparalleled beauty.

What was the rush?  We had no goal.  There was no deadline.  I was having road rage in the wilderness!

Not okay.

So, I told myself to take a deep breath, relax, that it didn’t matter if we got to the lake 60 seconds later than planned.  I even entertained the possibility that the couple wasn’t intentionally being insensitive, they were simply repacking their gear.

I was back in the zone.

As I passed, they said, “Sorry,” and I replied. “No problem.” And that, after my attitude adjustment, was the truth.

As we walked further towards the lake, I thought about the fact that, although we have no choice about the seemingly random way emotions tend to arise, we certainly have a choice about what we do with them.

Once we step back a bit, we can reflect on our reactions and decide how we want to think about what has happened and how we would like to respond.

We have choice.

Similarly, we have endless options when we feel triggered by our spouses.  Although we often believe that our actions are dictated by our spouse’s behavior, it simply isn’t true.

One time, many, many years ago, as my husband Jim was leaving our home for work, he stormed out in an unkind way.  My first reaction was to call him on his cell phone and give him a piece of my mind.

But then, a mindful moment.

Instead, I told myself that his curtness with me was probably due to the fact that he felt stressed from work.  So rather than engage in vengeful behavior—my first plan—I decided to order a bouquet of flowers and send them to him at work with a card that read, “I hope you are feeling better.  Have a nice day.”  Upon receiving the flowers, he called and expressed his gratitude.

The reason you should tell everything on your partner

There are a number of components involved in co-creating a highly successful partnership, not the least of which is tobecome consistently emotionally intimate. The process always begins with the self: When we periodically step out of our busy lives to take a reflective pause and see what is occurring in our body, mind, and emotions, we can find the words to describe our feelings and needs. Once we have told ourselves the truth, then we are challenged to dare to risk revealing whatever is there to our partner.

Communicating fully and openly, without withholding, is a key to successful relationships. And yet, many people operate from a commitment to conceal that which they fear could reflect negatively on them. As a result, they tend to be discriminating about what they chose to share about themselves and what they chose to withhold, even with the people with whom they are closest. This practice of concealment can foster feelings of mistrust, inhibit spontaneity, and diminish feelings of intimacy.

So many of us have had negative experiences revealing our feelings and needs. We have been shamed and blamed for feeling the way we do. Those of us who attempted to be authentic were sometime ridiculed for being overly sensitive, making a mountain out of a molehill, or being too needy. We got the message early that it was dangerous to show our tender underbelly. We might be judged and criticized, even humiliated. Many of us have spent our lives studying how to conceal, repress, and close off, thereby arriving at a level of mastery in disguising our true self. It can be a revolutionary thought to reverse this process and dare to try living another way.

Couples with strong, vital relationships use candor characterized by forthrightness or frankness. Candor is truth-telling with tact and reserve. Such couples are generally more committed to revealing all aspects of themselves, including those that may not reflect favorably upon them. They are more committed to authentically sharing themselves than to protecting their image and manipulating another’s impressions. The commitment to reveal is really about authenticity. For people committed to being authentic, self-expression shows up in all relationships, not just those with their romantic partners.

Such a commitment to authenticity promotes a kind of transparency that creates deeply meaningful and fulfilling personal connections. Those of us who trust each other to be accepting and nonjudging feel secure in revealing our feelings and experiences on an ongoing basis. Trust is earned out of a long history of acceptance. By practicing revealing, without being met with judgment, we accumulate evidence that we can be ourselves. The ability to accept another person nonjudgmentally is linked to self-acceptance, and such self-acceptance is a circular process that allows us to be accepting of each other.

People can get nervous when they consider the idea of being more self-revelatory, but they may be intrigued, too. On the one hand, they sense that there is enormous possibility that someone will finally accept them “as is.” They are delighted with the thought of a lover or a friend saying “I love you.” They may imagine resting into that love and the peace of mind that would come with it, without wondering whether they would be loved if the other person knew their whole story. On the other hand, dread and trepidation can surface when their recollections of past painful experiences start showing up.

Learned About Living From Someone Dying

I don’t want to die.

As far as I know, thankfully, I’m not dying.

But if we are being honest with one another, I am not all that comfortable thinking about my death. Imminent or otherwise.

But the fact of the matter is whether sudden or prolonged, we are all dancing our own path to the waterfall. We all eventually die.

I love my life. I love what it was. I love what it has become. I love what it is.

I also love thinking about what is to come.

What’s the next ocean to cross? What’s the next prose to read? What’s the next nuance to discover? What’s the next shadow to outwit? What’s the next concept to learn?

There are many questions I like to ask, like these.

Disentangling tomorrow is what I do.

It’s what I have always done.

I love today. I love each day.

But I am also hardwired to think about the day after today. Tomorrow is not just another day. It is the day of infinite possibility. Of perpetual positivism. What’s wrong can be righted. What’s problematic can be solved. What’s missing can be found. What’s learned can be unlearned.

Ultimately, today is thinking fodder for tomorrow. And I love tomorrow.

But if I know that my tomorrows are time limited, how should I act? Interact? React? If I know that my death is imminent due to a health-related diagnosis, how should I be?

What’s the plan, man?

Him? Here? Now?

No.

This is what you have taught me Gord Downie, poet and lead singer of the Tragically Hip, a Canadian rock band.

It’s the lesson of the grand bounce.

When Downie announced on May 24 he had been diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), a type of terminal brain cancer, the entire country of Canada collectively gasped.

“Gord Downie? How could that be?”

But through his perseverance, Downie taught me (and thousands of others) an important lesson.

Whilst our tomorrows may physically cease one day due to a pending health-related death, it will continue for others. I have three children. Better half. Family. Friends. Loyal readers. Maybe there are more.

How I hold my head today—despite the inevitability of tomorrow ending—will be how I am remembered. To act in any less a manner would be selfish. Frankly it might even be wrong.

I have watched, listened and embraced Downie and the Tragically Hip from afar for a quarter of a century. How’d it get this late so early? But the way in which he has handled a recently completed 30-day tour across Canada has nothing on that period. Seven months ago Downie was told he had terminal cancer. Four months ago he had a craniotomy. One month ago he went on tour, performing a two-and-a-half hour concert every other night, fifteen different times.

Some say it’s courage. Of course it’s courageous.

But it’s more than courage.

During those concerts (where I attended several, including the last one in Kingston, Ontario) I came to realize Downie was defining his tomorrow, today.

This is what I learned.

Whether for his family, band mates, friends or fans, Downie has indeed become “involved in a life that passes understanding,” imploring each of us to remember that “our highest business is our daily life.” Thank you John Cage for such inspiring words.