I recently published a blog on the "Care and Feeding of your Island/Avoidant Partner". Since one of the main principles of successful relationships is that they are fair and equal it only makes sense to talk about how to take great care of wave-ish partners. So here goes...
Wave-ish folks, like the rest of us, are subject to becoming more wave-ish once married. This has to do with breaching that final level of commitment to where our partners are now also family. We all carry around inside of us memories of how we were treated in childhood, and how we observed our family members treating each other. These templates are more flexible and less evident in our relationships with our friends and co-workers. Once someone enters into the realm of true family these templates are often re-activated in powerful ways and they tend to amplify our natural tendencies learned as children.
So as with Islands, once Waves are truly committed you may see the following tendencies emerge more strongly:
Fear abandonment, even in ways that seem more minor. Wave-ish folks experienced inconsistent parenting, such that they were sometimes coddled and given lots of attention but then sometimes unexpectedly rebuffed or pushed away and even shamed for being "too needy" or "too much". They intuitively expect the other shoe to drop and expect to be rejected. This gets worse with commitment for the reasons mentioned above. Your wave-ish partner may start reacting to you leaving, even if you are just running some errands, leaving you feeling bewildered and frustrated. Know that departures can be triggering for them and depart with an extra dose of love. Let them know that you are leaving but will be thinking of them while you are gone and look forward to seeing them when you get back. Give them a hug before you leave. Send them a text (doesn't have to be fancy, a heart or smiley face will do) while you are out. Think of them as a kid who gets nervous when their mom or dad are suddenly unavailable. They need reassurance around both departures and reunions.
Can get prickly when you reunite after being apart. Again this can be VERY confusing for their partners, who have no idea that the separation was stressful. They come home from running some errands to a wave-ish partner picking a fight. Crazy, I know. But remember that they fear you leaving and when you do they may feel a surge of anger at being left. Since they tend to have trouble letting go of the past they may think about this the whole time you are gone. Then when you get back, wham! they let you have it. THEY DON"T DO THIS CONSCIOUSLY OR ON PURPOSE. Please, please, keep this in mind. It is no picnic for them either. No one likes to feel upset, so if your wave-ish partner is being cranky or downright mad remember that what is underneath that is emotional pain. They are hurting. One of the most fool-proof ways to soothe a wave-ish person is to hold them. They usually melt under touch. They also tend to love eye-contact. So hold them, gaze lovingly into their eyes and tell them that they can depend on you to never leave them.
Can ramp up their emotional intensity, especially if you are island-ish. Remember the opposite styles amplify each other. So if you are island-ish, after marriage or deep commitment you will tend to move away a bit. This is likely to bring about protest behavior from your wave. It may be more clinging or it may be more frustration and accusations about how aloof you are. Or both. Try to remember that a wave-ish person is like a fussy baby. They make a lot of noise and you may be inclined to simply leave rather than deal with the fuss. But just like a crying baby they need your help, love and soothing. They tend to calm down MUCH faster than their partners think. So moving in, using touch, soothing words and eye contact can usually get a wave-ish person to get some emotional equilibrium pretty quickly. Even if you are not an island your wave-ish partner may get extra emotional after the deep commitment. Be prepared for this and don't blame them or tell them they are crazy. They are expressing their fear that you are not going to connect to them. Waves need a lot of connection and get more dramatic and emotionally messy when they don't get sufficient connection. Sadly they often unconsciously drive people away with their "fussiness", depriving themselves of the connection they need to get calm again. So know this and help them. It will pay you back tenfold in that you will not only have a more calm partner but you will have a partner who is eternally grateful to you for knowing what they need and giving it to them. Like islands, waves are often misunderstood. Your job is to not fall into that trap, to know them and take care of them.
May "spoil" things you try to do for them. This one is bound to make you feel crazy but remember they are not doing it intentionally. They want to be happy, just like any person does. However, since they have a childhood history of having the other shoe constantly dropped they anticipate being disappointed. So if you do something nice for them they may just turn around and "spoil" it somehow. If you take them out to dinner they may complain about the restaurant. If you buy them a gift they may tell you it's not their style, or the wrong color, or whatever. While the natural reaction to this would be to tell them to take a hike, you need to remember that they are acting from childhood pains. Tell them how much you love them and that you know they have been disappointed in the past. Tell them you don't want to disappoint them and you are open to hearing what they need from you. Don't take it personally when they try to spoil a gift or kindness. I know it's a tall order but you will be healing a deep and very painful wound from their childhood. Which is really, in my opinion, what marriage is all about. And that's a two-way street, so when you heal your wave's painful childhood issues they will do the same in return. Everybody wins, which is why marriage is so great!
Tend to respond with a negative a lot of the time. So if you propose a vacation to the beach they are likely to tell you the five reasons that's a bad idea. Don't bite. Just let them know that you know that they tend to find "what's wrong with the picture" before being willing to see what might be right. Tell them you are going to overlook their first response and give them another chance. If your partner is good with humor, you can say something like "OK my beautiful nattering naybob of negativity, now that you have gotten all the no's out of your system, can we revisit the idea?". Then flash them a loving smile. When used with love and kindness humor can be a great way to re-boot an activated wave.
May get really preoccupied with being "too much" or "too needy". Remember that wave-ish folks had childhoods where people alternately showered them with attention and told them they were too much and rebuffed them. So they are naturally afraid of overwhelming people. Paradoxically this leads to a lot of anxiety, which can make them more emotional, more clingy and more negative. Which has the unintended consequence of making their parter get exasperated with them! Be on the lookout for your wave-ish partner feeling judged as too needy or rejected. A wave-ish partner may misinterpret signals like you looking away during a conversation or sighing when they tell you something they need. Be careful to let your wave-ish person know they are NOT too much for you and that you have no intention of leaving them. Help them feel safe and secure and you will find their wave-ishness will actually diminish!
May have trouble ending an argument or letting it go afterwards. Wave-ish folks have trouble with endings, even arguments! They may keep it going because closing up something feels in a way like loss. They may also hold on to hurts from the past to act as a bulk-wart against being vulnerable towards you in the future, which they fear will be rewarded with more hurt! Help your wave let go in an argument by reminding them that while there may be a part of them that tends to hang on their body and mind deserve relief. Hold them tight at the end of a rough conversation and reassure them that if they let go they are not going to be setting themselves up for additional injury.
May not look out well for their partner in social situations. If you go to a party or event your wave-ish partner may wander off and socialize and "drop" you. This is because their parents dropped them (emotionally) as kids. Don't take this personally and remind them before you go out to social events that you would like for them to keep track of you and circle back at predetermined intervals to keep you feeling connected.
Waves are not any more difficult than islands. And like islands they do not do these things "on purpose" or with the intent of making their partner crazy. Learn to love your wave and help them to manage their emotional reactivity. They will greatly appreciate your help in containing some of their intensity and you will feel calmer knowing you are not about to be plowed under by a tsnumami!
Wishing you happiness and health,
12/6/2018 3 Comments
"An Introduction to PACT Therapy" will cover the fundamental aspects of PACT therapy that make it so distinctly different (and arguably more effective!) than other forms of couple's work. If you have avoided working with couples for fear of the complexity this talk will help excite you to the possibilities and show you a clear and coherent model that is elegantly simple. If you already work with couples and find that there are particular couples, dynamics or situations that you struggle with this talk may help you see how to work in a new and different way that taps implicit learning and deep emotional patterns, creating fast and lasting change.
In an effort to spread the word about PACT I’m going to be giving a talk in Houston on Friday, January 11, 2019. All are welcome to attend. If you would like to purchase a ticket please click on the link below!
First a note on semantics. The "Island" under consideration is a romantic partner who has what would, in research, be called an "avoidant" attachment style. Attachment research goes back many years (to the 1940's) and involves classifying people into different categories based on how they relate to their primary caregiver in early childhood. For more information on attachment see my earlier blog on the subject. As some of you know when I work with couples I use the PACT model of therapy (the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy). The PACT model has re-labelled the attachment styles as follows: Islands (avoidant), Waves (resistant) and Anchors (secures). It would be too complicated to explain the model here but see earlier posts of mine on the classification system and how our attachment styles impact our romantic relationships. Dr. Stan Tatkin's audio program, "Your Brain on Love", provides a wonderful explanation of the theory and how to apply it to your relationship. OK, now on to those islands. For those of you who love someone who is often island-ish it can be confusing to understand them if you are not one yourself. Now of course to be fair, island-ish people often don't understand non-island-ish people either!However, human behavior is often predictable if you know what to look for. So if you know that your partner is "island-ish" then you can predict what is going to bug them and what will really make them purr. I am summarizing here points made by Dr. Stan Tatkin in his wonderful audio program Your Brain on Love. If you haven't listened to it I strongly suggest you give it a try! While I have provided a link via Amazon above you can also buy it on iTunes, Audible and soundstrue.com. Now before proceeding I need to make something REALLY clear. What I am about to say may make you think "sheesh, why would I want to commit to an island if it will turn out this way?". So PLEASE understand something-- everyone, regardless of their style (Island, Wave or even Anchors) will get harder to handle after commitment. Dr. Tatkin refers to this as the "marriage monster". It's the unstoppable dynamic that gets activated when we pledge ourself to someone for all eternity. This just naturally turns up the heat and starts to show the cracks in our structure. So if you are wave-ish please realize that commitment also makes you more wave-ish and therefore harder to handle. It's not that island-ish people are worse than you. There is enough bad behavior to go around ;-)OK so as long as you proceed without judgement, here are a few things that are predictable about people who are island-ish (or avoidantly attached):Once committed, island-ish folks tend to distance more. Remember that in courtship our brains are on all kinds of love chemicals that make us act like the most perfect version of ourselves. Those things that later will drive us crazy, like how our partner snorts when they laugh, which seemed so cute when we are dating but is now repulsive. Island-ish folks can tolerate a lot more closeness during courtship thanks to the cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones we are on (for more on this see the Ted Talk by Helen Fisher). However once those hormones and neurotransmitters settle down as a real relationship develops, Islands start to have more trouble with the stress of being close. Islands find close relationships more stressful than waves or anchors so they are more prone to this problem. Once committed island-ish folks tend to be more secretive. They may feel the need to 'protect' themselves as we become more important to them. Closeness can provoke a sense of danger to an island so they will "beef-up" on their boundaries as the relationship progresses. Remember that this is NOT specific to you (they would do it with any partner) and also they are NOT conscious of it or doing it "on purpose". Reassure them that you accept allof them and that they don't need to keep secrets from you for fear that you will judge them. This should help them feel more comfortable with the closeness and intimacy.Once committed they are likely to be more protective of their alone-time. Try to let them know that you respect their need to be alone some of the time and that you are committed to letting them have some of that. Don't let them be alone all of the time (which they may think would be good for them). In fact, if left alone too long they tend to neglect themselves! So they truly do "need" us, but they also need to feel separate and autonomous. Once committed their preference for "auto-regulation" can become more pronounced. Auto-regulation strategies are things we can do alone to help ourselves feel more calm and happy, like listening to music, reading, watching movies, exercising, etc. Everyone needs some auto-regulation skills but don't let your island-ish person over-rely on that strategy. Help them use you for safety and security when they are under stress. They may protest against this at first, saying that they want to "be alone". But remember if under stress an island would to better to seek solace in their partner, they just don't do that instinctively. The brain literally needs more resources to get regulated alone-- it takes more oxygen and glucose (the power sources for the brain) to calm down when alone. Islands are not aware of this, they feel "normal" being alone, even when upset. They don't realize that if they could "plug in" to their partner and use their partner to get calm that they would literally have more oxygen and glucose available in their brain for other things. Partner's help us save resources so that we can get more done, but Islands do not come from homes where there was a lot of "plugging in" to other people for comfort. So they don't intuitively do that and they need to be shown the value of that. Once committed they may start reacting poorly to being approached. This is especially likely if you come unannounced or they do not know you are approaching until you are there. They tend to feel that their independence is being threatened when their partner walks up to them. They tend to expect that you need something from them and this makes them uneasy. Reassure them that you don't "need" anything from them but you just want to be around them because you love them. Let them know you are not using them for anything but rather that you choose them because you love and appreciate them. And try not to call them, especially by name, from another room. That tends to set off their alarm systems and they will likely react with anger or irritation. Instead go to them if you need them. Once committed island-ish people's fear of engulfment from childhood tends to return.This makes them behave in all of the ways mentioned above. Reassure them that you want them to have their independence and that you also know that even though they want their alone time you also know that they love you. Island-ish folks tend to be afraid that if they ask for what they need for in terms of alone time their partner is going to feel hurt. Let them know this is not the case. They also often have some shame about the feeling that their partner is overwhelming to them. They may not want to admit that they prefer being alone at times because they find relationships stressful. Let them know that you know this about them and you don't judge them for it. That can be VERY healing to an island. Once committed island-ish folks can be peckish about feeling they are being used, as noted above, so make sure to tell your island-ish partner that you love them just for who they are. And don't always come at them with the "honey-do" list. Try to sometimes approach them just to tell them how great they are!Once committed island-ish partners can experience a lessening of their libido/sex drive.A once pretty sexually active partner can seem to lose interest sexually. Be careful not to take this personally. They would be this way with anyone and it has to do with them coming from families where there was not a lot of physical closeness. Now that you have become "deep family" to them they start to unconsciously revert back to the patterns of their childhood attachments, which probably did not include a lot of close physical contact. Of course you can continue to ask for physical contact but be patient with them and try to find ways of approaching that don't provoke a defensive response in your island-ish partner. Also be careful not to trigger a shame response when discussing this with your island-ish partner as they tend to feel ashamed and embarrassed about letting their partner down in this way. Once committed your island-ish partner may start to doubt that you will really be there for them if they need you (even if you have already proven that you will be there!). This comes from their history of having to take care of themselves emotionally a lot of the time. So now that they have taken you in to their inner level they will expect you to neglect them somehow. Make sure to let them know that you intend to continue to take care of them and don't let them push you away in this area because they "know" you won't measure up. Remember that all of the above is NOT personal, NOT conscious and NOT immediately under their control. Like any human being island-ish partners can learn about themselves and can learn new behaviors. But this often takes time and some professional coaching. And one final tip on not triggering your island-ish partner-- Try not to ask them why they did something. Most people probably don't know exactly why they do what they do in a given day because most of our brain processes are automatic. If we had to consciously think of everything we do we couldn't walk and breath at the same time, let alone explain ourselves from moment to moment. And since island-ish folks are not prone to thinking about themselves they feel caught off-guard and put on the spot if you ask them to analyze their own behavior. It's more useful to give them feedback on how their behavior is impacting you (what you like and what you don't like about their behavior) rather than try to have them explain themselves. I hope these tips have been helpful. Look for my upcoming blog on "The Care and Feeding of Your Wave". Remember, about half of us have "insecure" attachment styles (meaning we are not "anchors" or "secures"). So if you find yourself relating to the Island or Wave types don't feel bad. There are plenty of folks in your company. And if your partner is willing to learn your style they can take great care of you (and vice-versa!). Best wishes,Dr. Jordan
10/26/2018 3 Comments
What exactly is the difference between co-dependency and interdependency?
This is a question that comes up a lot for folks who are familiar with the idea of co-dependency. Many of us have an idea that we are supposed to "love ourselves before we can love others" and "be the source of our own happiness." We may feel that if this is not happening that we are being "dysfunctional" or "co-dependent." One of the interesting things to me about the re-focus on attachment research in the past decade of psychology has been the re-realization that humans are inherently dependent on others. We are born some of the most vulnerable babies of all species, requiring a full decade if not more of intensive parental involvement. Our brains do not actually finish maturing until halfway through our second decade of life. We have always, and continue to, live in groups or "packs". We use solitary confinement as the worst punishment for the worst humans. So how many of us got this idea that depending on others was bad or pathological seems curious indeed.
I recently encountered a podcast with Dr. Stan Tatkin, a prominent couples therapist and author who utilizes attachment theory as a foundation of his work. Among other things in this interview Dr. Tatkin shows how his model is representative of healthy interdependency versus the pathological idea of co-dependency. It would take several pages for me to summarize his theory on this point and he does a perfectly fine job on his own. So for those reasons rather than try to explain his viewpoint to you I suggest that you listen yourself:
He gets to the topic of codependency around 20 minutes in to the podcast. While you are there you may want to check out other topics in this podcast which specializes on relationships. The podcaster has many excellent guests on his shows and seems to cover a lot of important ground.
And if you are interested in learning more about healthy relationships, as always I also recommend Dr. Tatkin's audio program, Your Brain On Love, as well as his books, Wired For Love and Wired For Dating.
Wishing you happiness in your connections,
When I was in graduate school a wonderful mentor (Marc Rathbun, Ph.D.) told me "marriage isn't about being happy, it's about growing up." At the time I thought he was just a cynic and figured that when I found my prince charming all would be different (!)
Here I am 20 years later and married for 16 of those and I now whole-heartedly agree. It's not that I don't have fun in my marriage. I took the advice of my best childhood friend seriously-- she said "never marry anyone who does not make you laugh." So I married someone who I find very funny and we definitely laugh together. And he makes me laugh. And it's still a lot of hard work and part of that work has been me really, truly and deeply "growing up." Learning to put another person first even when I don't feel like it. Making sure to consider my partner in ALL of my decisions and actions, even those he may never know about. Learning to forgive AND forget.
All of this has made me a much more mature person and I am thankful for it. And I am relatively sure none of that would have happened without marriage.
That may not be true for everyone. I am stubborn and I think if I had not had a marriage at stake I would have just ejected partners who did not see eye-to-eye with me. Or been by myself so that I did not have to compromise. For those of you who are able to grow without the threat of your partner leaving, I applaud you. I know for me it took my husband being that dreaded mirror, reflecting back my shortcomings in order for me to grow.
One big part of growing up around relationships was learning what they are and what they are not. Dr. Stan Tatkin, author of Your Brain On Love and other great books, taught me these 10 "unfortunate truths" that I would like to pass on to you and yours:
1. There are no low-maintenance people. All people are high maintenance because all people have needs and all people are imperfect and no one sees the world exactly the same way you do all of the time. This will make people seem "high maintenance". If someone seems low maintenance you just don't know them well enough.
2. To your brain and nervous system there is nothing more complex than another human being. On the one hand this is why we crave relationships. On the other hand it's why we sometimes would rather watch Netflix than talk to our partner. Try to remember that the human brain, as great as it is, makes mistakes. It may misunderstand a facial expression, a tone of voice, a gesture or a comment. Human's are actually terrible at communication, despite thinking the inverse! So remember that your poor brain is trying to understand the most complex organism in the known universe and be patient with yourself and your partner.
3. Love relationships are burdensome. That's kind of the point. We need another person to help us with the things we cannot do for ourselves. And not just holding up the other side of the shelf while we put the screw in. We need someone else to take care of us when we are sick, to hear our secrets, to deal with the spider we are afraid of. To help us because humans are PACK ANIMALS. We are not designed to be alone or be fully autonomous. The reason that this burdensome quality is not a problem in love relationships is because it is supposed to cut both ways. My husband deals with the spiders I am scared of and I cook for him because he burns toast. We both "win". But we are each other's burdens in the process. Thinking that loving someone is not going to be a pain in the neck some of the time is naive and leads to feeling frustrated and disappointed. So be prepared for the burden aspect and don't forget you are a burden too!
4. In love relationships no one comes pre-trained. He does not know that she needs to be held when she's feeling angry. She does not know that it drives him crazy when she leaves the house without saying goodbye, even if she is only going to be gone briefly. We don't know what our partner's need and so we have to work hard on finding that out. And we should not expect them to know what we need either. We need to "train" each other in the relationship to take good care of each other.
5. Romantic partners are responsible for each other's past. If I marry someone who was neglected, I am going to need to take extra good care of them to help them feel nurtured and to heal that wound. It's not fair to complain about that, to think "why should I have to pay for his parent's mistakes?". Because honestly, who else is going to do it? That's what you are there for, to heal what was hurt when your partner was small and vulnerable. And they are there to do the same for you.
6. What we don't know we confabulate. Human's are actually pretty terrible at communicating. We also want to feel that we know what the heck is going on, so we fill in any blanks without even realizing it. Sometimes the blank we fill in is in the direction of "I know what that look means" (which you may not!) and sometimes it is in the direction of trying to explain why you did something (when in reality most of the time we are operating on autopilot during the day). Don't assume you can trust your brain. Be open to being curious about what you may have gotten wrong. Assume that your partner is also filling in a lot of blanks and don't take it personally if s/eh comes to the wrong conclusion.
7. Our brains are built more for war than love. Mother nature cares more about survival than courtship. If you are dead you simply cannot reproduce. So as much as courtship and mating is important to the survival of the species, not dying is even more important. So our brains literally have more circuitry designed to keep us alive than to help us communicate, bond, negotiate, take another person's perspective or even understand people. So biology is stacked against us. That's why you have to put EFFORT into keeping you brains from going to war with each other. The fact that it requires effort does not mean you have picked the wrong person, or that you are not cut out for relationships, or that this relationship has run its course. It only means that you are dealing with brains that are predisposed to see threat and respond defensively.
8. All people are annoying. This includes you. I know, I know, you honestly believe that other people are MORE annoying than you. But that's subjective. Realistically we are all annoying and probably about the same amount. So stop thinking that you are easy to get along with, or "low maintenance", or that your partner is more annoying than most people. Our neurobiology has set us up to only see the world from our perspective, colored with our own unique history, and reacted to through our own unique nervous system. What are the odds that with everyone being fundamentally different things are always going to go smoothly? Get over it and cut people, especially your partner, some slack. And spend some time making a list of the way that YOU are probably annoying to other people, too. Especially your sweetie. Because I promise you, you are.
9. Most of the time we don't really know what we are doing or why. Again this goes back to brain science. Our brains automate as much as they can to free up processing power for other stuff. If you had to really fully be aware of moving your legs and maintaining your balance whie walking while you also were aware of taking in visual stimuli to make sure you did not get hit by a car while crossing the street while at the same time thinking about decoding the words coming through your cell phone so that you can respond to the person on the other end you would never get anything done. We automate walking, driving, brief responses ("How are you? Fine, how are you?"), navigating getting places, scratching our ear when it itches, etc. We also start to automate our partners, assuming we know what that expression means or how they will respond to a certain request. Of course sometimes we are right but sometimes we can also be WRONG. And then we may be asked to explain ourselves, and we can't. Because we weren't even aware of what we were doing. So don't assume that your partner knows why they are doing what they are doing. They may be on autopilot. You may be as well. Don't get so invested in theories about WHY people do what they do. Be willing to accept that they may not know and if you press them they may just make stuff up.
10. The need to be re-parented never ends. Parenting involved a lot of things. Help when you are hurting. Kind words when you are down. Advice when you have to make a big decision. Cheerleading when you are anxious about doing something new or hard. And on and on. We don't stop needing these things when we get to be 18. We all need parenting all of our lives. Marriage is great in this regard because once again we get to live with someone who can do all of this for us. They are available much of the time. They know us deeply. They can do for us what our friends or colleagues really can't. So I find it curious when people act as though they "should" not have to do this! Being parented is such a wonderful thing (if done properly), why would you want to do without it? Or force your partner to do without it? When my partner rotates my tires he is parenting me. When I make him breakfast I am parenting him. We can benefit from continuing to do what good, loving parents should do, even if (and especially!) we never got that in our own childhoods. Don't miss out on this opportunity to give something wonderful to your person and to receive it in kind.
I hope that when you read this list you see the theme. That love heals. That it's also hard and takes effort. And that it may not come naturally to all of us but that does not mean that we can't learn it. And it is worth it. Love can revolutionize your life. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. So suit up and roll up your sleeves and get to work on it. I can promise it won't be easy but I can also promise that if done well it makes all the work worthwhile!
Wishing you the best in your relationships,
One of the clearest definitions of love addiction I have seen is "a compulsive, chronic craving and/or pursuit of romantic love in an effort to get our sense of security and worth from another person." Or, if you prefer something more pithy, author Ethlie Ann Vape calls it "affection deficit disorder". She goes on to say that "Every woman with an absent father-- whether through divorce, death, disease or distance-- is going to associate feelings of affection with feelings of abandonment" and therefore "confuse love and longing". That also seems pretty on target to me in terms of how people end up here. And men can be love addicts, too, and often have the same route to getting there-- a distant relationship with a parent that they desperately craved love and attention from.
Of course it's normal to gain a sense of security from being in a romantic partnership and we tend to feel especially good about ourselves if our partner occasionally tells us how great they think we are. Those are good and normal things. But in love addiction those normal aspects of being partnered become turbo-charged in an effort to prop up our inability to actually feel good about ourselves without a romantic connection. And unfortunately our culture is all to quick to provide is with totally unrealistic ideas of what love is. Sofo Archon, in his article "The Trap of Romantic Love", states that "Just like pornography fools us into believing that perfect sex exists, the romantic tradition fools us into believing that perfect relationships exist." We are fed a steady diet of Rom-Coms and images of celebrities falling madly in love and swimming off into the sunset on their private Caribbean island. It all seems so AMAZING and, insanely, we think that we too can have that and it will last forever...
Since our culture is obsessed with both sex and romance so it's no wonder that many of us are confused about what is healthy. I remember after my daughter was born walking down the aisles of Toys R Us acquainting myself with what little girls may want to play with. I was absolutely stunned when, in the aisle for 3-6 year olds I came up on a giant box about 3 feet tall that contained a mini wedding dress, tiny white plastic shoes, a veil, plastic flowers and a fake diamond solitaire ring. Yes, folks, it was a bride-in-a-box. The only thing needed was the poor hapless groom. I remember asking myself "what are we teaching our girls?" and noting that there was no corresponding "groom-in-a-box" option in the boys 3-6 aisle. While boys were busy being introduced to fake power tools, fireman's outfits and play lawn mowers girls were being trained to get hitched up and knocked up all before the age of 6. Sadly it was not the last of those surprises Then came all of the princess movies. The ones where princesses are cast into spells only to be awoken by a handsome prince. This was before the days of Frozen. And while Frozen is great, I still don't think it's enough to stem the tide of images that our girls absorb about the importance of romance and sex. Cosmopolitan magazine still has images of nearly eating-disordered young women scantily clad advising you on "how to give your man the best orgasm of his life" or "how to make him never forget you". The emphasis is still on a woman in relation to a man rather than as a stand-alone person. It's no wonder that MORE girls don't grow up to be love or sex addicts.
So what is love addiction? Is it a "real" addiction? If so, what does it have in common with other addictions? How can you tell if you suffer from Love Addiction? And if you do, what can you do about it?
One way to investigate whether or not the concept of Love Addiction might apply to you is to take an online test. The Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, California has an online questionnaire that you can fill out. Love Addicts Anonymous (LAA) has their own version which may also be useful. I have worked with clients who used the Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) program and found that helpful also. SLAA has their own questionnaire that you can download as a pdf.
Once you decide whether or not you think you have a lot in common with this form of addiction what can you do? There are many ways to approach treatment. A qualified therapist can help you figure out what is unhealthy about how you create and participate in your romantic relationships and then format goals for what you would like to have with a partner. The therapist can help you develop a plan to achieve that goal which may involve therapy, support groups, readings and "homework" exercises to retrain your brain to relate romantically in a healthier way. Untreated love addiction, like any addiction, can create years or even decades of misery. By placing the love object at the center of your universe you lose the ability to know what is best for YOU and how to make decisions that will be equally beneficial to your partner AND yourself. This can result in a life that is woefully unfair and unfulfilling. The goal of treatment is to help you place yourself at the center of your priorities so that you can enter into a balanced relationship with others in which you enjoy them and value them but don't need them to plug holes in your self-esteem.
This year (2018) at the SXSW Film Festival a movie entitled Unlovable got rave reviews. It was written by, and stars, a woman who is a love addict. It is not yet available to rent but keep a lookout for it. I am betting it is going to be moving and funny and a great insight into one person's personal experience in looking to fill that "affection deficit" in all the wrong ways.
In the meantime if you feel like you may have a problem with love addiction I strongly encourage you to take one (or more) of the tests mentioned in this blog. The first step to fixing a problem is diagnosing the problem. Many resources exist to help those with love and/or sex addictions (by the way they are different but can co-occur). Like most emotional disorders this pattern can be changed and the result can be a much more balanced, fulfilling and peaceful live.
Wishing you health in your relationship to yourself as well as others,
I get this question a lot. So I decided to write a blog post about it. Now, of course first you need to realize that you cannot control another person. Believe me, I have tried and tried hard. I like to say that I am just stubborn enough and strong-willed enough and persistent enough that if anyone COULD control another person it would be me. And I have always failed every time I tried.
So please realize that. You cannot force another person to do anything, least of all couples therapy. Not without firearms being involved (shotgun therapy?) which most therapists will strongly discourage.
That said you do have some options if you are a partner who wants to get into couples therapy and your person is not on board. First I would suggest trying to understand their position. This is best done when you are CALM. So not in the midst of a fight. Seriously. That's important.
So if you are calm, sit down with your person and ask them if this is a good time to talk about something that is important to you. This cues them to pay attention and reminds you not to try to have this conversation while you are driving to dinner, doing laundry together or generally distracted. These kinds of conversations need their own time and space. As a PACT therapist I also recommend that you sit in a way where you can face each other directly so that you can see each other's faces dead-on. This helps reduce the chance that you will mis-read each other's facial expressions or accidentally trigger a threat response and cause your partner to become instinctually defensive.
Now that the stage is properly set let your partner know that you have given this a lot of thought and that you would very much like them to go to couples therapy with you. I am pretty sure if you are in this situation you have asked them this before. So they may get a little activated and say "I already told you I don't want to do that!" or something equally contrary. STAY CALM AND CARRY ON! You could say something like "You are right", (people love it when you tell them they are right), "you did tell me that. And I wanted to know if we could talk about why you don't feel like couple's therapy is something you want to do. I want to understand more about how you feel about it." Generally people want to be understood so this is a pretty non-inflammatory statement. However look at your person and if the veins in their forehead or neck are starting to bulge make sure that you take a nice slow breath and settle yourself as best you can. Then just let them know you just want to talk about it for maybe 10 minutes. That way they know that they are not trapped there forever. You can also say "I'd like to talk about this for maybe 10 minutes to see if I can better understand how you feel about it, unless that's not OK with you." Phrasing it this way tends to help people who can be a little reflexively defiant to be more agreeable. Then set a timer on your smart phone and put it on the table so your partner knows you mean business. They are not trapped forever!
Once you have set the stage as well as you possibly can, and assuming they have not stormed off, I recommend starting with asking them why they feel couples therapy would not be helpful. DON'T COMMENT!! Just listen. No matter what they say don't interject. This will be hard, trust me. But to be effective at this point you must just listen until they stop talking. Then repeat back to them what you think they said and ask "did I get that right?". Yes, folks, this is that "active listening" that you probably practiced in that hokey "emotional intelligence" class in High School. But trust me, it's important.
Then if they agree that you heard them right you can start taking their concerns one at a time. For example if they say "it's too expensive" you can say "yes, it is expensive, but I would be willing to forgo my weekly pedicures, or poker nights with the guys, or my daily Starbucks, or whatever, to contribute to the cause. Try to show that you understand that whatever their concern is there is some legitimacy to it but you are willing to give ground to allay their concern. If they say "I don't have the time" you could offer to take some chores off their plate or in some other way help them to create the time. You want to show that you are willing to put skin in the game.
Sometimes your partner may question how couple therapy can help. You can explain that having the right skills to be good in a relationship is just like any other skill we learn, like tennis for example. You can try to teach yourself tennis by reading a book or watching other people play tennis and you may learn to hit the ball but you may also develop some bad habits like holding the racket incorrectly or using a backhand when a forehand would be more effective in that moment. So if you really want to learn tennis well it makes a LOT more sense to engage a tennis instructor for a few lessons. After that you will understand the proper form and be able to practice on your own much more effectively. Couples can try to learn how to get along well without professional help, and they may make some progress, but they may also fumble more and even develop patterns that are not super healthy. Better to hire a "relationship coach" to help learn how to get along and after a period of time (3-6 months) you may have all of the skills you need to go do it on your own.
Another helpful offer in trying to get ones partner engaged in couples work is to ask him or her to just go to ONE session to see how s/he feels about it. Often a partner will be willing to go once (to an actual session by the way, not the 30-minute consultation, since no therapist could do enough in 30 minutes to help anyone see the value). In my experience I have never met with a couple once and had them not see the potential value of couples work.
Since I practice a very specific type of couples therapy (PACT) if you are interested in that style of couples work you could also ask your partner to at least familiarize himself/herself with PACT by :
These resources may help your partner understand what PACT couples therapy would look like and what kind of relationship principles you are interested in applying to your situation. It may spark some helpful conversations with your partner and/or help to get your partner more engaged around the idea of couples work.
Or finally if none of these suggestions works and you REALLY feel like you do not want to stay in the relationship if s/he is not willing to go to therapy then you have what we call a "deal-breaker" situation. You sit down with your partner and CALMLY tell him/her that you are simply not willing to continue in the relationship without professional help. You need to make VERY specific requests at this point (not vague) such as telling your partner that you need him/her to consent to scheduling meetings on a weekly basis for at least 6 months (these are the terms I recommend) and if s/he can't commit to that and show up and try it then you want to end the relationship. The thing about this option is that you MUST be willing to follow through with ending the relationship if your partner says no. So this only works if you are really at the end of your rope and don't want to go on without therapy.
Relationship are tough. Intimate relationships, in my opinion, are the toughest. Plenty of folks who can earn 6 figures, run companies, paint masterpieces, compose symphonies, run 4 minute miles or solve quadratic equations in their heads while doing back flips fail at intimate relationships. There is no shame in that. But there is help! I hope that these tips are useful to you in trying to engage a reluctant partner in therapy.
Wishing you happiness and harmony in your intimate partnership,
PS Remember if you have found this blog to be helpful to "like" it on Facebook or "tweet" about it on Twitter to help others find it! And always feel free to leave a comment, I will respond as soon as I can.
I am a self-confessed "Stan-fan". Since starting to study with Dr. Stan Tatkin in 2009 I have gained a profound understand relationships from a brain and attachment perspective. This has helped me help hundreds of couples find their way back to each other-- back to love and lust and unity. While most people will not have the opportunity to hear Dr. Tatkin talk directly, or even better to study with him as I have, he recently was invited to do a Ted talk on why relationships are hard. I think this is a wonderful primer on his theories and how to apply them. I invite you to watch his talk (it's 10 minutes) and if you like it to check out his audio program Your Brain on Loveand his books Wired for Love, Wired for Dating andLove and War in Intimate Relationships. The first three are aimed at lay-people and the last is more for psychotherapists. All are clearly written, insightful, useful and even humorous in parts. Dr. Tatkin has a fantastic approach to love and connection and I encourage anyone who has ever felt that "relationships are hard!" to check him out.
Wishing you health, happiness and connection,
I am always searching for new resources to guide clients to. Many people are in need of information and help but can't afford therapy, live in areas where there is not good access to therapy, don't feel ready to start therapy at this time or don't have the time to take off work/kids/etc. to attend therapy. Obviously as a psychotherapist I think therapy is HUGELY helpful. I also acknowledge that good information, whether as an adjunct to actual therapy or in lieu of therapy, can be transformative for some people.
In that light I am very pleased to point you towards a great on-line resource for information about healthy sexuality. Whether or not you are a survivor of sexual trauma who is trying to figure out how to get comfortable with sex again, or someone who is struggling with a pornography addiction, or a couple looking to improve your sexual connection this youtube channel has something for you. The youtube channel is owned by the Center For Healthy Sexuality in Los Angeles, California. The director, Alex Katehakis, has also written a great book called Sex Addiction as Affect Dysregulation which is due out very soon.
I strongly recommend taking a minute to browse the videos available on this amazing channel. Some of the ones that caught my eye were:
But there are MANY more videos on this website and new ones being added regularly. So take a look! Whether you are partnered or single, young or old, gay or straight (or anywhere in between) sex is part of the human experience. We all need healing and many of us need healing in some of our sexual selves. I encourage you to be curious about how some of these resources might help you.
As always I also encourage you to consider therapy if you feel that you are stuck and in pain.
Best wishes for your sexual, emotional, physical and relational health,
If you have found this information helpful or interesting please click on the "like" button below for Facebook, the "tweet" button for Twitter or leave a comment. Thanks!
With divorce rates in some social strata continuing to rise and many of us bemoaning the loss of true intimacy in an age of Snapchat and Facebook, Bruce Feiler has found an unlikely source of inspiration to help us navigate the modern waters of love-- the bible. Yes, folks, that ancient text with all of the "begat"s and such. Feiler writes quite convincingly that Adam and Eve may have had it right from the very beginning. Stay together, even when the proverbial applesauce hits the fan. Even when it might look like one of you has made an uber-big mistake and put both of you in jeopardy. Even when one of you outpaces the other in knowledge, life experience or situation. Even when you get evicted from the only home you have ever known. Even when one of your offspring kills the other. Stay together. Learn, grow and circle your wagons when necessary. Don't give up on each other. Don't turn on one another in times of strife. Forgive each other.
Feiler makes some startling points. He says that the message of the story is not "disobeying God", it's "about obeying the larger message [of God], which is making the relationship work". God made these two to be companions for life. God calls upon them to "succeed...Go forth and multiply" according to Feiler. He argues that the only way Adam and Eve can do that is to continue to turn towards each other in hardship and, unlike so many of us in our baser moments, not vilify one's partner. To forgive the shortcomings of one's partner and re-commit to the relationship. He states that love is "not a choice we make once; it's a choice we make multiple times." Eve chooses to return to Adam after eating the fruit and Adam chooses not to reject her. They chose to make a new life together. They chose to stay together even after one of their children kills the other. They even chose to recommit to the marriage by having another child-- a sure sign that each believes in the relationship.
Feiler calls love "an act of imagination, an act of commitment and ultimately an act of love to re-choose someone after a difficult time." He adds, "That choice is much harder than the first." I can't think of a more poetic way to describe what it takes to succeed in marriage. To continue to re-choose at every turn. To doggedly, even when one's own hope is waning, re-choose to be "all in." This is what we mean when we talk about putting one's partner first in PACT. Protecting the "couple bubble" and nurturing it.
Many years ago I met an older couple who had been married several decades. As is my practice I asked "what's the secret?". The man replied "my wife is not the same person that I married all those years ago. She has changed many times, and each time I fall in love with the new version of herself." He smiled as though he were the luckiest man alive-- to have been able to love different versions of the same woman for nearly half of his life. I think most of us would hope to be so lucky. He continued to choose her. That's love. Not the easy kind of love you see in Hollywood or that we grew up with in our princess and prince charming fantasies. The real kind where you double down and recommit, knowing that come what may you have each other.
Wishing you health, happiness and connection in all of your relationships,
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP
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