Will You Ever Love Again?

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As a therapist who works with couples in crisis and many people who are going through divorce, I am often asked some form of the question:  Will I ever love again?  This can be a couple who has done some damage in their relationship and wants to heal from it and stay together, or this can be an individual who is recovering from a break-up or divorce.

In this moment of change and turmoil, often a time of pain and fear, I know the answer that most folks are hoping to hear:  “yes”.  Everyone wants the simple answer.  So here it is, “yes”.  Yes, it is possible to love again after being hurt emotionally.  But… as with so many things, it all depends on you and what you choose to do with your experience.

Your ability to love again, truly love again, is linked to several definitions:  your definition of self, your definition of your (ex)partner, and your definition of the events that caused harm in your relationship.  Depending on your viewpoint; your definition of things; there may be no possibility of love in your future, or every possibility for a greater love than any you have ever known.

This naturally leads to the next question:  What will help us open the door to healing and to embracing future love?  Several things.  First it helps to see yourself in a positive light; to know you are a good person with good qualities.  This can be particularly difficult if your partner cheated on you or left you for someone else.  This is often a time when we compare ourselves to the other man or woman and criticize ourselves.  It is important to understand that it doesn’t matter if your (ex)partner appreciates your qualities.  Your (ex)partner does not determine your worth.  What one person wants, another doesn’t.  What one person loves, another cannot stand.  You may not be the perfect fit for one person, but you are exactly what another is looking for!  Seeing yourself as a good person allows you to feel worthy of love, to feel lovable and to accept love when it is offered.

Second, it helps to see your (ex)partner objectively and positively.  This requires us to admit that both people did good and bad things in your relationship.  It is very rare that only one person is “to blame” for all the problems in a relationship.  Even in a case where a partner has cheated, which is clearly not ok, this can sometimes be linked to unmet needs in the relationship, and poor communication.  It is nearly always a combination of things that makes a couple struggle or even end their relationship.  Owning some responsibility for the health and success of your relationship, though not all of it, helps you to feel empowered.  You are/were the architect and builder of your relationship.  When we view ourselves as responsible for our relationships and we feel empowered, we are able to alter, change, or remake a relationship.  We are in the driver’s seat.   If we are blaming our partner and we feel like a victim, we feel unable to make changes.  It is out of our hands.  This keeps us stuck and unable to move on.

Third, it helps to see that neither you or your (ex)partner has been purposely cruel.  Many of us lack the necessary skills to help a relationship thrive, but that does not mean we aren’t doing everything we know how to do.  Sometimes this isn’t what is needed or it isn’t enough of what is needed and the relationship falters.  But, this does not change the intent of you or your partner.  When we acknowledge that both people gave their best and did not try to hurt each other, it allows us to forgive our (ex) partner for their part in things, and it allows us to forgive ourselves for not being perfect.  This forgiveness allows us to let go of past pain, and to learn from our past.  It allows us to evaluate who we are today, what we want and need, and how we can engineer a strong relationship with a good partner in the future.  It allows us to believe in ourselves and to believe in love.

When you approach a struggle in your relationship as an opportunity to learn how to be stronger as a couple; when you view a break-up as a learning experience, a step towards a greater relationship; then you are open to healing and embracing love.  You are able to move on with a sense of hopefulness and self-worth.  It becomes part of your evolution towards better things.  Sometimes our vision changes.  Our idea of love can look differently over time.  Who we are and what we want may change.  But… Yes, you can love again, better than ever before.

Long term solutions in relationships = Long term relationships

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When we find ourselves frustrated or unhappy with an area of our lives; work, relationships, health, appearance, we can either stay unhappy or we must do something different so we don’t have to feel unhappy anymore.  If we choose to do something different, to try to be happier, we really have three choices:  Accept it, Fix it, or Leave it.

Yesterday I wrote about my own physical health and my diet and exercise plan.  I talked about my jeans fitting more tightly now than before the holidays; something I was not happy about.  I could allow the problem to remain, buy a baggy sweater and try to ignore or hide from the problem, or I could try something different so I could feel happier and more satisfied.  I felt that the short-term solutions of ignoring or covering up the problem did not really work for me, so I chose to try something different.  So let’s look at the choices:   I could accept my new size, buy bigger jeans that are comfortable, and choose to be happy with my body.  I could leave my old habits behind that had led me to this physical state, or I could fix my habits.  I can tell you that I am not comfortable with acceptance in this case.  I also do not believe I need to totally leave any of my old habits behind as I am not doing anything truly horrible to myself.  This leaves fixing my habits!  I choose to modify my lifestyle to include smaller portions of food, more healthy choices and less of the unhealthy ones, and more exercise.

I can take this same model and apply it to a relationship issue.  If there is a person you are connected to; perhaps your boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, and they are doing something you don’t like, something that you feel unhappy about, you have your choices.  First, leave the problem there.  Don’t really deal with it.  You can yell at the person, ignore the problem, avoid the person, numb out with food or alcohol or drugs.  All of these are short-term solutions that may offer a bit of relief for a short while.  But, they won’t solve the problem.  These short-term solutions may ultimately contribute to the demise of your relationship as you grow further from one another and feel more negativity towards each other.  Or you can choose to do something different, to try to feel happier!  This involves choosing one of the long-term solutions:  Accept, Fix, or Leave.  If you look at the behavior your partner is doing and you feel it is something you can accept, great!  Then let your frustration go; embrace the total package that is your partner and realize this is one small issue that is overshadowed by their other wonderful traits.  Or, if the behavior is totally unacceptable to you; such as a violent partner that is hurting you, you may choose to leave the relationship.  This is the right choice in some situations.  Or, you can choose to fix the problem in a long-term way.  This means addressing the problem, talking about it and finding a new way to do things.  If your partner stomps out when you have conflict, you may need to ask why and both of you may need to learn ways to alter your interactions.  Perhaps you are doing something that triggers that response.  Perhaps your partner is afraid or doesn’t know how to communicate.  Whatever the issue is, there is a solution.  It may involve a book, a workshop, a class, or working with a good therapist to learn a new skill, but there is a solution.

If we want happy long-term relationships, and we want to be happy in the long run, sometimes we must be uncomfortable in the short-term while we craft the change that is needed.

Think of it this way:

Long term solutions make problems short-term whereas

Short term solutions make problems long-term.

You decide!

If you are in the Boise area and would like to work on an issue in person, I am a therapist who has had great success helping clients improve communication skills, build stronger relationships and create more fulfilling lives!  Learn more at my website:  www.meganlinzcounseling.com

Short Term Solution… cookies!

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I have decided to get in shape this year, and the shape I have chosen… is a circle!!

Not really….

It is January… the month of resolutions!  The time of year when we evaluate our lives and make big plans to take action, to tackle things we would like to change, to become the people we have always wanted to be!

While evaluating my life I have found that there is generally a reason I have areas that I would like to change.  For example, I would like to eat better, exercise more and be more fit in general.  Why then have I not tackled this area of my life and shaped it, and me, into the vision I have in my head?  I think it is because short term solutions are easier than long term ones.

For example:  I put on my jeans and think, “Hmmm, these are a bit tighter than before Christmas.”  What to do?  Long term solution:  Exercise more, eat less and better quality foods; lose weight, build muscle, etc.  Short term solution:  Put on a baggy sweater to cover the jeans.  Time and effort to implement the long term solution:  A lifetime and lots.  Time to implement the short term solution:  A few minutes and almost none.  And as a bonus… I can still eat cookies whenever I want to!

So of course, I am inclined to choose a short term solution… it is easy, fast, and there are cookies involved.  But… as with most short term solutions, it doesn’t solve the problem, it avoids it, and in time makes new and bigger problems for me to deal with.  So… long term solution it is.  And… now I don’t need to go buy that baggy sweater.

Are short term solutions only a problem when it comes to my diet and exercise program?  Afraid not… tune in tomorrow and we will look at short term solutions in relationships… 😉

The Holidays Turn up the Heat!

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It seems that all of the emotions we have about our relationships, or our lack of relationships, tend to magnify during the holidays.  If we are feeling lonely, we can feel more lonely during the holidays.  If we are ambivalent in our relationships, this becomes more noticeable during the holidays too.  If we are deeply in love, this is very obvious during the holidays.  If we have conflict with our family or just can’t wait to see them… yes, this too seems more noticeable during the holidays.

So what to do with this increased volume in our emotional state?  What to do with the obvious and glaring self-awareness and knowledge staring us in the face that we cannot ignore as we can the other 10-11 months of the year?  I say use it!  If you want to know what works and what doesn’t in your life, there is no better time to observe yourself… you will see the truth, so loud you cannot hide from it!  If the news is good, EXCELLENT!  Celebrate!  You have things the way you want them.  If the news does not feel positive and you simply feel that you are seeing the areas you are unhappy with, EXCELLENT!!  Yes, I said excellent!  Don’t let this unnerve you or make you feel sad!  Use this knowledge!  Now you know what works and what doesn’t; now you know just what areas you want to change in your life to make the future just as you want it to be.

Let this month be a month of celebrating!  Celebrate the life you have achieved and celebrate the life you dream of, that you can and will achieve!

Happy Holidays!

You have Power in your Relationships!

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I had a funny experience this week, very deja vu.  I was talking with a friend of mine who is a single man, divorced for quite a few years.  He was talking to me about why he doesn’t want to be in a serious relationship.  Then I was talking with another friend the next day, also a single man, divorced for quite a few years.  He was talking about not being able to find anyone who he can have a serious long-term relationship with.  A day or so later, as I was thinking about both conversations, I realized they had both been strikingly similar.

One of these men has recently slowed down a long-term relationship that was getting too serious.  The other has been dating multiple women but not settling on any of them.  Both men expressed frustration about the women being too controlling, too clingy, too needy, wanting to know when they would be home and so forth.  Both had male friends who referred to this situation with a colorful turn of a phrase … usually something about cutting off part of the guy’s anatomy and keeping it in a jar, losing their man card, you get the point.  So both of these men were struggling with the idea of maintaining power and control over their lives without having to be accountable to the women they were seeing.  If they could just find the “right woman” they could be in a relationship and maintain their power!  I could understand what both were saying and I can understand the need to be a free spirit… but… the irony for both men (and many other men and women) is that they have power and control in these relationships and they are giving it away.

What do I mean?  Well, put simply, when we take a stance that the issue is someone else’s problem, we are in a victim stance.  Sometimes it is not a true, strong “victim” stance… maybe it is a softer version, the “blame” stance.  Either way, we are placing responsibility for the issue on someone else rather than looking to ourselves.  If the problem is theirs, they are the only one who can fix it and we are powerless.  Now we have to get away from the person to have power.  So we cannot have a serious relationship without losing power.  But there is another way.

Look at a scenario:  A guy and a gal have been dating for a few months.  They are together more often than not, they talk throughout the day, they eat dinner together most nights, they have started to assume they will be together each weekend and are no longer needing to reserve time with each other… they have built expectations with one another.  Now let us assume that the woman in this relationship is quite content with things.  She still sees friends when she wants to, and is very happy with the time she gets with her boyfriend.  But, let’s assume the man is not happy.  He hasn’t seen his friends in weeks, he wants to go hang out with them but feels guilty if he does.  If he is in a “blame” stance and feeling powerless, he will blame the woman.  She is too needy, she is too clingy, she might get mad or hurt if I don’t hang out with her this weekend.  He tells his friends this and they make a comment about losing his man card and him being “whipped”.  Now he feels trapped.  He doesn’t like this feeling, but he doesn’t want to feel guilty if he doesn’t hang out with his girlfriend.  How can he resolve his situation, maintain his power, keep his girlfriend and still see his friends?  Well this one is both easy and hard… easy to do, but the hard part is setting it straight in his mind… what he can do is simply communicate out loud with his girlfriend what he wants and set some boundaries.  He can reset the expectations she has about the relationship.  It might sound like this:  “I enjoy spending time with you and want to keep doing so, but I also need some time with friends.  I am going to hang out with the guys this Saturday, and then spend some time alone Sunday.  Maybe we can see each other Monday night after work?”  Now the “hard” part… he has to tell himself it is ok to do this, to have balance and to take care of his needs and not just hers.  And he has to be ok with it if she doesn’t like it.  He has to take space for himself.  This isn’t about “her”, it is about him.  As soon as he looks to himself for the source of the issue, he sees he feels guilty and he is worried it will cause problems with her.  That is all him.  His guilt, his feelings, his fears.  That means it is totally within his power to alter the situation.

So he does, he alters it.  Now he sees his friends, he sees his girlfriend, he asks for what he wants, he sets boundaries about what is ok for him and what is not.  He has power and control in his life… all because he looked to himself rather than looking to someone else and placing the issue on their shoulders.  To truly have power and control in your life and in your relationships you need to own it… own your feelings, your wants, your needs, your fears.  Set boundaries where they need to be set for you to be ok, and then be with people who are truly ok with who you truly are.  Often the person you are with is fine with you making these changes, once you say what you need.

So own it… your life is yours!

What I learned from my dog

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I had a beautiful chocolate lab that passed away a few years ago.  Her name was Yuki and she had the kind of personality that drew people to her.  She was also gorgeous as dogs go… golden eyes and fur that gleamed like a copper penny in the sun.  And… she got more pretty as soon as you got a glimpse of her sweet spirit.  Someone who was petting her one day said to me, “I bet this dog never met a stranger, we are all just a friend she hasn’t met yet!”  True words!  So I in turn shared with them my often repeated remark that if a burglar broke into the house, Yuki would have asked what they needed and guided them to it directly.  I have always felt that Yuki had a lot of basic life wisdom, and that I would do well to model my life after hers in some ways.  Mostly, I admired her attitude.  Yuki expected good.  She went up to each new person wagging her tail.  She asked everyone to play with her, but if they didn’t want to, she would happily go and entertain herself.  Even when she was sick or hurt, she maintained her positive attitude.

I think that Yuki always found what she was looking for.  She looked to people to be good and kind, treated them as such, and so they were.  She looked at life as an opportunity to have fun, so she always did.  She treated everyone as if they could be trusted, and in turn, they were all good to her.

I have met other dogs, not like Yuki.  Some of them were scared and barked at everything.  Some were aggressive and strained at their leash or tether trying to attack first before they were hurt themselves.  They were always prowling, always looking for trouble, never able to settle.  They were treated differently by people than Yuki was.  People seemed uncomfortable and avoidant around these dogs.  People didn’t trust the dog and the dog therefore couldn’t trust the people.  They certainly were not friends.

Now I ask you dear reader…. how much alike are people and dogs?  Because I have known people whose names I could swap out for Yuki’s above and the story would be mostly accurate.  I also have known people who can easily be described as the other dogs I noted above.  Strangely, these people seem to have the same experiences as the dogs.  Woman, man, child…. or dog, we all find what we are looking for, good or bad.  We all must decide how we see people and the world around us, what we expect.  Whatever we decide, we will act accordingly, and this will create our experience.  For me, I choose to follow in the footsteps/paw steps of Yuki… and I am looking forward to meeting many of you…. friends I just haven’t met yet 🙂

Rituals make us feel we are a part of something

Join any group or organization and you will see that each one has rituals they go through that help create the structure of that group.  If you go to church, it may be the way your service is held.  There may be songs, prayers, blessings and so forth that are conducted each week.  If you join an exercise group, there may be a greeting, a warm up, the exercise portion of class and a cool down period.  If you join a scouting troop with your children, there may be a flag ceremony, announcements and then an activity.  The point is, each group member comes to know what is expected and how things run.  As they become familiar with the routine and their place in it, they begin to feel a part of the group.  They become a part of the “we” or “us” of the group.  They build memories and expectations and a sense of belonging.

Relationships are the same as other groups.  If you have a family, you likely have routines and rituals that are a part of your family.  Perhaps it is Sunday dinner, perhaps it is going to cut a Christmas tree together in the mountains, or skiing on New Year’s Day.  If you are in a romantic relationship, you may have your favorite restaurant, “your song”, doing the Sunday morning crossword puzzles together, or the greeting you give one another each day that is always the same.  These rituals are important to us all.  They tend to be the things we remember, the things we miss when they are gone, the things that define our connection to each other.

If you don’t have many personal rituals in your life, you may find that they add depth, structure and connection to your life, spiritually, intimately, emotionally, and mentally.  So start a family tradition!  Do something with your significant other that you enjoy and repeat it daily or weekly until it becomes “your thing”.  Create rituals and feel your connections grow!!

Believe

If you want to find love, real love, true love, enduring love… you must believe in it.  You must believe in love.  If you are a doubter, a skeptic, or a cynic and love comes around, you will likely not see it for what it truly is.  You will doubt it and turn away.  But, if you believe in love, you will know it when you see it, when you feel it.  It will be in your life.

It is up to you.  If you have never felt love, this does not mean love isn’t real.  If you have mistaken a feeling or relationship as having love, but discovered you were wrong, it does not mean you will wrong again.

So is love real, does it exist?  Yes, dear readers…. I believe.

Assumptions – Think twice before making them in your relationships!

Assumptions… strange that this is not a four letter word!  In relationships, assumptions can be very damaging, and it is very common for a relationship to be riddled with them.  Think about how many assumptions are common in relationships:  We assume the other person knows how we feel, as in she knows I still think she is pretty after 15 years, without me telling her.  We assume we know how they feel, as in my previous blog where the girlfriend assumes her boyfriend does not care about her.  We assume they know what we want, as in my husband should know I want to be left alone when I get home from work.  We assume that we know what they want, as in she won’t want me to get involved when she disciplines our daughter.  We assume that they want the same things as us, as in both my husband and I want a deeply romantic and intense relationship.  We assume our partner has the same talents and abilities as us, as in my boyfriend should know how to talk about his feelings openly and easily, I can.  We even assume that our partner’s behaviors mean the same thing as our behaviors, such as when I am silent it means I am angry so if he is silent, he must be angry.  The list goes on and on.

Why wonder or guess in your relationship?  Instead, ask your partner what they want, tell them what you want, tell them how you feel, ask them how they like to do things, ask if they are comfortable with things!  In my previous blog, a girlfriend became angry when she tried to tell her boyfriend about her day and he was watching television.  She assumed he did not care about her and was ignoring her on purpose.  It was her assumptions that allowed her to feel angry and to get angry with him.  In reality, he did care about her and did not hear her when she started talking.  When she asked for his attention, he quickly gave it to her.  No assumption, no bad feelings, no fight.

So tell your partner if you love them, tell them they are attractive even if you have told them before, ask for romance and explain what you like, ask for time alone.  Take responsibility for making yourself clear and for learning about your partner’s needs.  Make communication your ally rather than assumptions, and see how your relationships thrive.

The Amazing “I” Statement

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One of the first communication skills I ever learned, is still one of the most useful and beneficial; the amazing “I” statement!  Yes, I know it is simple.  It is simple, but it is powerful.  Consider this example:  You tell your boyfriend about something upsetting that happened to you today.  You realize that he is staring at the television and didn’t hear you.  You say to him “You never listen to me, you are such a jerk, I can’t believe the way you treat me!”  What happens now?  First, your boyfriend is probably annoyed and feels attacked and criticized.  He doesn’t want to listen to you now, he feels defensive and guarded.  Second, you are not getting what you want, which is to be heard and cared for.  Third, you don’t have any control, you just gave it away.  It is his fault, and only he can fix it.  You are a victim of his poor treatment.  Framed this way, how long will you tolerate him before he becomes your ex-boyfriend.  How long will he tolerate you?

Now rewind…. Same scenario:  You tell him about what happened to you and notice he is not listening, but this time you say, “I feel upset right now, and I would really like your attention.  Can you turn down the television so I can tell you what happened to me today?”  Now what happens?  Your boyfriend turns down the television and gives you his attention so he can hear about your day.  He is open to listening to you.  You feel heard by him, cared for and supported, which is what you wanted.  Your boyfriend likes that he can help you, and he feels appreciated.  Framed this way, how long will this caring, supportive man be your boyfriend?  How long will he want to be with a kind woman who simply asks for what she wants and treats him well?

The simple but amazing “I”statement changes how we feel; empowered versus powerless.  It changes how the person we are speaking to feels; cared for versus blamed, and open versus defensive.

Now we need to talk about the other thing going on in our example:  The assumption.  More on that next time!