I can’t decide if this is more about relationships or sexual experiences so take your pick.
Relationship satisfaction is an underrated measure of what makes for a “good relationship” and tenure is overrated. I’ve known a few married couples who get lots of praise for hitting milestone anniversaries: 30, 40, 50 years and I inevitably wonder how happy those decades have been?
Eli Finkel wrote of our era of marriage in his book The All or Nothing Marriage. Marriages that have longevity in this era must have high relationship satisfaction too. Otherwise we leave. Have all the reactions to that which you need. The trend remains.
Today we will not stay forever in situations that aren’t contributing to our growth as human beings. I see it all the time in people coming to my practice with stay or go decisions.
If you’re facing a stay or go decision there’s your work.
Full disclosure, I’m in recovery from depression and anxiety disorders.
It’s been a number of good years in recovery. There are days when that recovery feels like an expansive landscape stretching far out in front of me. Then there are other days when my recovery feels like a precipice that I’m clinging on to for dear life.
On my precipice days I have a few go to coping behaviors because what I do and the choices I make are what I have the most control over. My coping actions help me get on solid emotional ground again. Making “to do lists” and checking items off those lists are some of my favorite coping acts.
Given my particular crutch of productivity both real and imagined I was puzzled by a mindfulness group exercise I did last October with @dr.saranasserzadeh . She told us that we were doing enough simply by breathing. By breathing I was contributing to the ecosystem that makes our atmosphere livable and that simple act, that we all do automatically, was enough.
Breathing is enough?
We talk about trust in our relationships all the time and for good reason. Trust is a fundamental component of rock star relationships. When it’s there we have a sense of security and safety at home that lets us venture out into the world with confidence. When trust is shattered it makes us question everything. “If I can’t be okay here, how can I be okay anywhere?”
We should be talking about trusting ourselves just as much. Trust in yourself can provide security when others fail you. Because they will fail you, sometimes. More on that later.
We come into the world dependent on others. If our parent types were mostly good; there more often than not; and we could mostly count on them we get a good relational base inside of us. We go from parent types to middle school friends. They solidify our relational insides and then we wander into the young adult world hopefully more or less ready to connect with others as we continue to discover who we really are. That’s the job of a lifetime.
Trusting ourselves means seeing us as fundamentally good. It means believing our own experiences especially when they’re hard. To trust ourselves we need a mostly well-functioning emotional system. That means we know what our feelings are what they’re trying to tell us. Then that we act accordingly.
Trusting ourselves means that we are competent and capable problem solvers and that we believe in ourselves to get a job done in whatever way works.
After a year or so of writing #therapynotes, people mention this one to me more than any other.
Some people are allergic to responsibility.
So this is a sequel of sorts. I know all about people who are allergic to responsibility because I was one. I spent most of my 20s living in victimhood. Every bad thing that happened in my life was someone else’s fault or so I thought. No wonder I felt so terrible.
The lesson of my first therapy was MY choices led to the misery I was feeling in MY life. Personal responsibility and learning to take it session by session were my allergy shots.
Those early shots were painful and invaluable. When we stay perpetual victims in our own lives we choose to be powerless to change. However, when we are responsible it means that we can make new choices. We have the power to effect the outcomes in our lives. We can feel better. We can be better.
If you’re miserable being a perpetual victim it does not have to stay this way. There’s your work.
John Gottman often says, “You pick your partner and you pick your problems.” Esther Perel says, “When you pick your partner you pick your story.” Sometimes I like to ponder these two things…what a therapy nerd.
John’s point is in part that we are going to have problems with any partner we choose. I think this is a good antidote to the toxic myth of “the one.”
Esther is elegantly providing us with a powerful tool in her version. How could Esther be anything other than elegant? She’s framing romance and our romantic lives as “choose your own adventure” stories. To me that’s exactly what our love lives are. We choose a partner, we choose a story. That story is going to have parts we hate, parts we love, and some parts that drag a little bit but further the plot.
Relationship problems are the parts we hate in the stories we love. Chronic fights are prime opportunities to reframe. If you and your partner(s) keep having the same fight over and over then reframe the issue as a problem for you two (or three or four) to solve instead of a fight to have. If y’all need help with that there’s your work.
I have mixed feelings about this #therapynote. My feelings about expectations depend on the context.
Context matters. Context matters in all things most especially in sex (thinking of you @enagoski). More on that another time.
When I wrote this particular note about the title fight of expectations v good times I was thinking about my holiday season just last year. I had one great experience after the other last year I think it was because I had no expectations. I didn’t expect the moon of the holidays and I didn’t dread them. I went in expecting nothing good, nothing bad, and then every positive experience truly was a gift. Luckily there were many gifts last year in the forms of experiences had and memories made with family and friends. So in this context my expectations did not get in the way of my good time.
On the other hand, in relationships we have rights to expectations from our partners. We are right to expect respect and admiration. We have the right to expect our partners to know us. We are right to expect that our suggestions and bids for connection be taken with open hearts. We expect support for our goals and accept the expectation of supporting theirs. In relationships expectations aren’t the nemesis of good times they are the protector of our selves.
Context matters. If you need help defining which context you’re in, there’s your work.
Are you motivated most by avoidance or desire?
Avoidant leaning folks like me tend to be able to see the worst case scenario easily in any situation. When we avoidants go too far we venture into paranoia. “Nothing is going to work.” “Everyone’s out to get me.” “Everything I do is wrong.” There’s no quicker way to be wrong than to think a version of “All ____ are ____.” When avoidants venture into paranoid town our chances at relief plummet and our chances at happiness dwindle to zero.
The desirous among us know what they want and they go for it. At least that’s my understanding. Gone too far the desirous don’t get paranoid they get obsessive. In the extreme there’s seemingly nothing else in the world save for the object of the obsessive’s desire. “To hell with the consequences, I’m getting, doing, thinking about, pursing ‘the thing’.”
Like with any dialectic both avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure are important motivations. The trick is to have both desire for what you want and protection for yourself. BOTH/AND.
Seriously, you might be. Some of us who tend to want to escape responsibility need to hear that.
On the other hand there are some of us martyr types out there that think EVERYTHING is our fault. Pro tip: it’s not.
When you’re the problem it hurts. Guilt, shame, regret, disappointment are just some of the hurtful feelings we’ll inevitably have when it’s on us. The good news is when we’re the problem we also have the power to make it right with others and with ourselves.
When we martyr up and take on problems that really aren’t ours Futility, frustration and even depression will follow when we taking false responsibility for someone else’s problem. It’s because we’re powerless over them.
If you can’t tell whether the problems in your relationship or yours, theirs, or co-created then there’s your work.
I’m loving my sex therapy training at the University of Michigan. That formal training is coming to an end in April. 😢 I know that this experience is going to leave me inspired to learn more. My punch list of deeper dive topics include body image, kink, STIs and general medical treatments, and of course trauma.
Trauma, it’s effects, and recovery from them is my current deep dive. The seminal work of Bessel Van Der Kolk is playing on my iPhone now during my breaks, my commute, and during puppy training 🐶. The Body Keeps the Score is as fine a clinical volume as I’ve ever heard.
Dr. Van Der Kolk is reminding me just how important it is to incorporate the body into trauma recovery work. Movement, touch, mindfulness can all help the mind and body mend their connection and that connection is vital to real sexual health.
I wrote this particular note thinking of my own insomnia. I’ve had it for years and have tried any number of remedies. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that often my insomnia is driven by a fundamental anxiety that responds much better to touch than to talking or reading or rewatching episodes of Chuck.
Safe, soothing touch is one of the very first co-regulation strategies we should have been given. Sometimes we didn’t get it, didn’t get enough of it, or didn’t get it right. If that sounds like your experience it’s not too late to get it right. Touch can become safe again. If you need help with that there’s your work.
When it comes to our relationships we’re all bipolar in the colloquial sense. We think “I want to be me separate, distinct, unique.” AND we think, “I want to be with you (or y’all) in sync, connected, together.”
We can’t have both moment to moment but we should strive to have balance between “I” and “We” over the course of our relationships.
If you’re in a relationship the ways you talk day-to-day can be a clue to your position in this dance between togetherness and individuality. If I’m all “we”…“WE’RE thinking about getting a puppy.” “WE hated the ending of Game of Thrones.” “WE’LL have to get back to you on that,” …that’s a problem.
If I’m all “I” that’s it’s own problem. “I want…,” I need…,” “I’m going to…”
If you’re or y’all are having a hard time striking the right balance between “I” and “we” there’s your work.