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Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? Part Two

June 23, 2009 4 comments

hamster-wheelThis is part two of Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? The last post examined your usual choice of romantic partner, which stems from early childhood relationship experiences and the faulty belief system you learned about relationships as a result.

Ultimately, the self-doubts and self-defeating beliefs you have about yourself and relationships are obstacles to having the kind of relationship your rational mind wants. Whether you’re aware of them or not, they shape the relationship choices you make. For example, do you believe that:

  • You have to work hard to earn someone’s love?
  • You have to prove that you’re “good enough” for someone to love you?
  • You must be perfect to deserve someone’s love?
  • You have to go along with, like, or agree with everything your partner likes or wants?
  • You need to ignore or hide your needs and feelings in order to meet all of your partner’s needs?
  • Your partner should “magically” know or intuit how you’re feeling and what you want without having to tell him or her?
  • Your partner should be able to meet all your needs?
  • Your partner should enjoy doing all the things you do and like all of the same people you like?
  • Your partner should prove he or she cares by spending money on you and paying for trips, dinners and gifts?

Whenever we make statements that use the words should, always, must, never, or have to it usually means we’re placing unreasonably high expectations on others and ourselves. This usually leads to anger, disappointment, hurt and frustration, which makes it difficult to have good relationships.

A faulty relationship belief system, which is tied to our fears and self-doubts in a self-reinforcing loop, perpetuate our poor relationship choices. For example, do you worry that:

  • You’re unlovable?
  • No one would love you if they really knew you?
  • You’ll eventually be rejected?
  • You don’t deserve love?
  • You’re cursed?
  • You’re not attractive enough?
  • You’re not thin enough?
  • You’re not smart enough?
  • You don’t make enough money?
  • You’re boring?
  • There’s something wrong with you?
  • You don’t deserve respect?

It’s hard to feel good about yourself and have confidence in your ability to be an attractive partner to others with this kind of self-defeating garbage floating around in your head. We develop our beliefs and fears about relationships from observing our parents’ or caretakers’ relationships as children and by how they treated us. In many cases, they weren’t ideal relationship role models. These beliefs cause us to choose people who treat us in ways that make us feel bad, which reinforces these negative feelings and doubts.

It becomes a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy that can make us believe that we’re doomed to be alone or unhappy in relationships. As a result, many of us learned unhealthy relationship beliefs as children that still control our behavior to this day. An effective way to counter these faulty beliefs and fears is to challenge and reality test them to see if they’re true. Otherwise, you’re allowing what happened to you “way back when” to control your “here and now.” You don’t have to allow your adult life and the course of your adult relationships be defined by what happened to you as a child or teen.

You can take control of your life now. You don’t have to be dependent on the approval of others who aren’t likely to give it to you. You can let go of your old beliefs and adopt new ones. In some ways, it’s like flipping on a light switch in your mind. When you do this, you may see some things from the past that you’d rather not deal with, but they will continue to control you and lead you to make poor relationship choices until you do.

Next week, I’ll post part three in this series. It will focus on problematic relationship behaviors and coping strategies that tend to do more harm than good and contribute to staying stuck in an unhealthy relationship pattern.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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Are You Stuck in an Unhealthy Relationship Pattern? Part One

June 17, 2009 17 comments

hamster on a wheelAre you stuck in an unhealthy relationship pattern? Do you repeat the same relationship choices and behaviors that ultimately lead to the same unhappy conclusion: conflict, unmet needs, disappointment and loneliness?

If so, the first thing you need to do in order to break your unhealthy relationship pattern is to consider the kind of romantic partner you typically choose. Do you have a habit of choosing women or men who are:

  • Unavailable
  • Unfaithful
  • Emotionally abusive
  • Physically abusive
  • Totally self-centered
  • Still involved in other relationships
  • Too dependent
  • Jealous or controlling
  • Unable to commit
  • Unable to express and receive love

Do you choose women or men who:

  • Have substance abuse problems
  • Have a lot of emotional problems
  • Get serious too quickly
  • Run hot and cold

Logically, you probably know that you won’t be able to have a loving and enduring relationship with the type of woman or man you’re usually attracted to; while your emotional reasoning and the “thrill of the familiar” pulls you toward the same type of relationship time and again.

Is it possible that you’re stuck in a dead end relationship pattern with the same type of person because you’re recreating earlier relationships from childhood or adolescence? Until you gain awareness regarding your choice of adult romantic partners, you’ll tend to be attracted to a certain kind of person because the way you interact with them and the way they treat you feels familiar, especially if it makes you feel bad.

Why would anyone voluntarily choose to feel bad? Seems crazy, right? But that’s exactly what many of us do; we choose to pursue and have relationships with women and men who make us feel bad. In a way it is crazy, but there’s a kind of warped logic to it.

These people are familiar due to your early childhood and adolescent relationship experiences. Because it’s what you know, you don’t realize that there are other ways to be in a relationship and  other kinds of people who are open to relationships and will value you rather than shut you out, reject you, or, in extreme cases, demean and abuse you.

When you’re stuck in an unhealthy relationship pattern, it’s usually because you’re trying to get a different outcome in your adult relationships than you had with your family and other people who hurt you or didn’t meet your needs often enough when you were a kid. This is why you choose people who are no more capable of meeting your needs and loving you the way you want to be loved than your parents, family, or your first intimate relationship partners were.

Choosing the same kind of person, even when it’s self-destructive, protects you from the realization that perhaps you didn’t have the best parents in the world or that they treated you in ways that weren’t always loving, damaged your sense of worth and affected your ability to give and receive love. It confirms your faulty relationship beliefs by setting you up for the same bad relationship result. It also keeps you from facing residual painful memories and hurt feelings that may be lingering from childhood. Consequently, your faulty beliefs, self-doubts and fears about relationships that lead you to make choices and behave in ways that support your beliefs and fears, which perpetuates the unhealthy pattern.

Next week, I’ll post the second part of this series in which I’ll explain how self-doubt and fears contribute to unhealthy relationship patterns.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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Lindsay Lohan’s eHarmony Profile: If Only All Crazy Women Were This Honest

April 14, 2009 14 comments

I saw this comedy video on Funny or Die this morning and am still chuckling. Who knew Lindsay Lohan had such a good sense of humor about herself?

Wouldn’t it be great if all women (and men) who had issues, whatever they might be, were this up front and honest about it? Then you would be able to make an informed decision before jumping into a relationship. It would sure save a lot of time and emotional stress.

Enjoy!

Posted by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

The Secret to Happy, Long Lasting Relationships

March 9, 2009 9 comments

self love grafitti“You can’t love someone else until you love yourself first.” Everyone knows this talk show-pop psychology platitude. Self-help gurus regurgitate this mindless mantra ad nauseum.

I don’t know its exact origin, but whomever first uttered the phrase confused things terribly. Accepting and loving yourself is a precondition to being in a healthy, reciprocal relationship. However, the oft-recited advice has it backwards: Before you can RECEIVE love from another, you must first accept and love yourself.

There are women and men who have no trouble chasing after their romantic quarry, loving and desiring them without rhyme or reason, only to have their feelings unmet. They languish in their unrequited anguish—driving their friends crazy with endless conversational autopsies about why she or he hasn’t called them when they had such a powerful connection on their date or beginning of the relationship. These are usually the same people who run in the opposite direction—uninterested and completely turned off—when someone shows real romantic interest in them.

Why? These individuals are attracted to others who can’t love them in return, usually for similar reasons, i.e., “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members” (Groucho Marx). This begins a futile cycle of pursuit and distancing behaviors that reinforces their inner and oftentimes unacknowledged feelings of worthlessness, inadequacy and unlovable-ness.

They seek intimacy only from those who also cannot tolerate intimacy. The pursuer feels vulnerable and needy. The distancer feels put upon and guilty, which then breeds contempt and resentment. Think of it as mutually assured unhappiness.

When these individuals are lucky enough to meet someone who sees and is attracted to them, they push them away. They devise many reasons why the other person isn’t the one. Standard excuses include:

  • There must be something wrong with him or her.
  • He or she is too much of this and not enough of that.
  • There isn’t any chemistry.

Mind you, the only chemistry or attraction people who struggle with these issues are likely to feel is for someone who’s only interested in keeping them at arm’s length and therein lies the problem.

Loving someone else is easy enough, especially since people who molder in this position tend to idealize those whom they love (i.e., an unrealistic, highly selective version of the other person—the love usually disappears as soon as they realize the other person isn’t perfect.)

How do you begin to love and accept yourself in order to let someone else love you?

1) Acknowledge and wrestle with your inner demons. This usually involves going back and dealing with the unfinished business of childhood. Sometimes these issues are buried so deep that many people aren’t even aware of them.

Typically, you’ll experience them as vague feelings of not being good enough, that something’s wrong with you, shame and believing that no one would love you if they really knew you. These feeling didn’t spring up out of nowhere. Figure out which early relationships caused you to think and feel like this and work through them. This is easier said than done, but it can be done.

2) Accept that you’re not perfect. No one’s perfect. You’ll never be perfect, but that doesn’t make you unlovable and unworthy. Perfection, if there is such a thing, has nothing to do with peace and wholeness.

If you can’t tolerate your own imperfections, you won’t be able to tolerate them in another person. Other people will always fall short and leave you feeling disappointed and that’s definitely not a recipe for relationship success.

3) Develop the ability to hold and sit with the discomfort and strangeness of the new and unfamiliar. If change felt the same as that to which you’re accustomed, it wouldn’t be change. (Repeat the last sentence to yourself a few times.) If feeling rejected, not good enough and unwanted is your comfort level, it’s going to feel mighty weird and unnatural when someone expresses genuine interest and wants to be with you without you having to cajole, pressure or pester them into it.

You shouldn’t have to perform feats of strength and/or demonstrate why another person should want to be with you. If they can’t arrive to that conclusion of their own accord, they’re not worth your time. Plus, it sets up an unbalanced power dynamic in your relationships in which you’re always having to please the other person. Do you really want to spend the rest of your romantic life as a performing seal?

The fear of being loved is tied to the fear of being discovered and known; of having your vulnerabilities and those aspects you don’t like about yourself exposed to another. This is fundamentally silly because we all have things we wish were different or better about ourselves. The fear is that he or she won’t love us if they find out how horrible we think we are. True love is acceptance, not unforgiving judgment and it begins with you.

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

3 Dating Tips for Having a Healthy and Successful Relationship

February 27, 2009 16 comments

When Children Start Dating

Why does this always happen to me? Why can’t I find someone? Why are all the women I meet only interested in money? Why are the guys I meet such jerks? Why can’t I meet “the one?” Why are relationships so hard? Why can’t I just be happy with someone?

The list of why questions people torture themselves with is endless. Some might say these questions are unanswerable. I disagree. There’s usually a universal and simple answer to most of life’s relationship why questions.

The answer is: personal choice.

Relationships are choices. They’re personal and/or professional choices we make and enter into, most times, of our own volition. If you’ve had a string of unsuccessful relationships and don’t know why, instead of placing blame on other people and external factors, consider your role in it first. It takes two to make or break a relationship—even abusive relationships. *If you’re the target of abuse, of course you’re not to blame for being abused. However, once you recognize your partner’s behavior as abusive, you’re complicit for remaining in the relationship and tolerating the abuse.

1) Healthy relationships require self-awareness, self-understanding and the capacity to accept responsibility for one’s choices and actions. Many people haven’t a clue about what kind of man or woman they’d like to meet and, incredibly, don’t understand why they haven’t met him or her yet. It’s the equivalent of saying you want to take a vacation and then aimlessly wandering around the airport terminal trying to decide upon a destination.

2) Know who you are and what you want. If you don’t already have a good sense of yourself; take some time to figure it out and then begin dating again. It’s unwise to try finding yourself or living through another person. The best and healthiest relationships are between two whole people.

3) Understand past relationships before beginning new ones. Some people have no trouble finding and beginning relationships, but these relationships never seem to work. Why? Because they’re more than likely making the same relationship choices over and over again, but with boyfriend or girlfriend du jour. It’s tempting to believe, different person-fresh start; but many people carry the same relationship baggage in different packages.

Some people blindly people choose relationships that recreate unresolved early childhood ones or unrequited adolescent crushes. It’s difficult to move forward in the present if you’re allowing your present life and relationships to be defined and dictated by events in the past. Being a grown-up and having grown-up relationships means letting go of what happened there and then and accepting responsibility for your choices in the here and now.

If you want healthier, long lasting relationships, explore what led you to choose past relationships, what needs or roles they may have successfully and/or unsuccessfully met and what you can do differently in the future. Maybe you’re focusing on the wrong qualities and attributes. Move past the flash—those qualities you find irresistible, but lead nowhere—and get down to the essentials. If you don’t like where you are in your life and the quality of your relationships, it’s up to you to do something about it.

Creating change is like a mathematical equation: if you want a different outcome, you’ve got to change at least one variable. We gravitate toward the familiar, even if it’s unbearable and no longer viable, which is why we make the same relationship choices over and over.

Before you jump into dating after your most recent break-up, reflect on your past relationships and choices. Ask yourself, “What have I learned and what can I do differently?” rather than “Why can’t I just meet someone and be happy?”

Shrink4Men Counseling, Coaching and Consulting Services

Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD provides confidential, fee-for-service, counseling, consultation and coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.

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If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

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When children start dating by wardomatic on flickr.
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10 Gifts NOT to Give on Valentine’s Day

February 10, 2009 3 comments

Vending machineBecause some things are just bad ideas…

1) A pig’s heart with a nail through it. This actually happened to Neil Forrester on MTV’s The Real World: London in 1995. It was so disturbing 14 years ago, that I haven’t forgotten it. General rule of thumb for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, baptism, or anniversary gifts: No barnyard animal sacrifices.

2) Anything that can be purchased at a gas station or a men’s room. Nothing quite says, “I love you and think about you constantly” then a pack of Dentyne, Trojans, and a gallon of windshield wiper fluid. If you care enough to make an effort, the least you can do is get yourself to a Walgreen’s before closing. Even low-maintenance women don’t go this low.

3) Office supplies. Unless, of course, it’s a full-service photocopying machine. That would actually be handy to have at home. Throw in a year’s supply of toner and you have a winning combo.

4) His and hers adjoining burial plots. Because I love you so much that I want to spend eternity lying next to you. While this may seem romantic in theory, trust me, in reality it’s not a good idea, especially if you just started dating (stalker alert). An exception might be if you and your beloved are past retirement age. But even then, there’s probably a better time than Valentine’s Day to give this gift.

5) A mix tape. Or, if you’re a geek, a hard drive with 10,000 hours of mp3s. Although, a boyfriend once gave me a hard drive as a gift and I liked it. I realized it’s the techie’s version of a mix tape and found him all the more adorable, but I’m an odd duck. Many women would look at the hard drive and USB cables with a, “What do you expect me to do with this thing?” expression. It’s a judgment call.

6) Anything that requires assembly. It’s not a present if you have to break a sweat or use tools in order to enjoy it.

7) A membership to Jenny Craig or NutriSystem. Even if she or he needs it, you’re basically saying, “I won’t love you if you’re fat.” There are better days and gentler ways to discuss your sweetheart’s weight problem.

8) Randomly purchased scented lotions and shower gels. No one needs more Vanilla Amber Freesia Mist bath products. No one.

9) Body fluids or clippings. Before Brangelina, Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie wore vials filled with each other’s blood. Unless the object of your affection is a Goth, Vampire, or medical student, it’s probably best to skip gifts you harvest from your own body.

10) Feminine hygiene products. This is no joke. I found this image on flickr today. Eeeew. I threw up a little in my mouth when I saw it. I considered posting the image here, but I just can’t do it. Check out the link.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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Vending machine by Nuevo Anden on flickr.

2 Reasons Why Valentine’s Day Gifts Cause Relationship Problems

February 9, 2009 1 comment

3250938683_94b1dee1fe1Are you sweating what to buy your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day this year? Are you feeling a lot of pressure to buy the “perfect gift?”

Valentine’s Day gifts have been the death knell of many a burgeoning and faltering relationship.  Men and women, mostly women, oftentimes attach over importance on the holiday trinket and not the relationship itself.

If a Valentine’s Day gift makes or breaks a relationship, odds are it was already on shaky ground. There are various reasons why people give gifts: etiquette (it’s expected), buying another person’s love and affection, manipulation, guilt, or as a simple token of affection.

For some, giving and receiving gifts is a huge deal; for others, it’s not so important. If you’re in a secure and healthy relationship, holidays, birthdays and other gift giving occasions are days that remind you how lucky you are to have found each other and be together. If you’re not in a happy and healthy relationship, gifts are a source of conflict, sense of failure, guilt trips, and anger. There are two main reasons why gift giving can cause relationship problems:

1) If You Could Read My Mind, Love. There are many women who believe that when men fall in love they develop special psychic powers. He is supposed to magically know her every need and desire. If he can’t guess or doesn’t know what she wants or needs, then he doesn’t really love her. While being in love adds many wonderful dimensions to a person’s life, ESP isn’t one of them.

Every one of us is responsible for getting our own needs met. If we put this on someone else–a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a spouse, a child, a friend–it will only lead to disappointment, hurt, and resentment. If there’s something specific that you want or need as a gift or in your relationship, ASK FOR IT. Passively sitting back and waiting for people to please you is NOT a recipe for relationship success.

If you communicate your needs you’re more likely to have them met. Alternately, if your partner cannot or will not meet your needs after you’ve communicated them or your needs are incompatible, perhaps it’s time to move on.

2) Money Matters. Many women think the cost of the gift correlates to the level of feelings and emotional investment of her partner. Sometimes this is true; sometimes it isn’t. Carat size isn’t necessarily indicative of the quality of a relationship.

I have a friend who gave his girlfriend a tennis bracelet last year for V-Day. She opened the box, tossed the bracelet in the air, let it land in her palm and said, “It feels a little light.” My response to him when he told me the story was, “And you’re still dating her WHY?”

The true measure of a relationship is mutual kindness, caring, support, warmth and commitment. Unreasonable gift expectations can be a sign that your values are out of sync or that perhaps one of you wants more of a commitment than the other.

The best gift of all is when you give of yourself, not your Amex card, well, on second thought, I guess it all depends upon whom you’re involved with.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

Donations

If you find the information I provide free of charge helpful and valuable here on Shrink4Men, please consider making a donation via PayPal to help me maintain the site.

Photo credits:

Cupid by Voodoolady on flickr.

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