“Suzanne” is a domestic and sexual violence advocate, working in a rural county. She also works part time in the downtown liquor store. It was pretty late in her shift at the store when a woman came in looking to buy a nip. The woman’s hands were shaking as she rummaged in her bag for her i.d. Suzanne noted to herself the woman’s disheveled appearance; her clothes and hair were soiled, her eyes, bloodshot. There are a few people who come into the liquor store like this. Suzanne felt put off. She didn’t want to turn her back on the woman, in case she would try to steal from the store. “What is wrong with her? What a wreck,” Suzanne thought to herself.

 When the woman showed her identification, Suzanne felt stopped in her tracks. As part of her work as a Civilian Police Advocate for her town’s Police Department, Suzanne receives referrals from the police as a follow-up to any domestic violence incident. Suzanne recognized the name and thought of how many times the woman’s name had appeared on that referral list—and how many times Suzanne had called to offer support and information, yet she had never heard back from her.

 Because of her work as a domestic and sexual violence advocate, everything for Suzanne changed as she held the i.d. in her hands. She was reminded again how important it is to stop asking ourselves, “What is wrong with her?” and instead to consider what might have happened to her.

 Suzanne decided to just start talking—about how hard it is to be a parent sometimes, how tired she could get—how relationships can be a strain. And the woman began talking to Suzanne. She bought her nip and she stayed to talk. Eventually, Suzanne told her about her job as an advocate. She and the woman met and talked together on and off over the next few months. She learned how the woman had endured humiliations we couldn’t imagine, as when her husband refused to let her get up from the couch as he hit and threatened her. He made her stay there even as she begged to go to the bathroom. Once she soiled herself, he called in their children to witness “how disgusting” their mother is. He had control of their finances, and he made sure he paid all the things that were in his name. Anything that was in her name, he would be sure to skip payments, so that her credit would be systematically undermined. He monitored all the calls and most of her contact with others, so that she had never received any of Suzanne’s initial calls. Her drinking was her way of “self-medicating,” of finding a way to bear the unbearable.

 Suzanne hadn’t heard from the woman in awhile when she came into the liquor store one evening. Someone else in the back of the store needed her attention, but Suzanne didn’t want to turn her back on her, she was so happy to see her again.

“You look so—healthy!” exclaimed Suzanne.

“Yeah. I stopped drinking. I moved out with the kids. I just—I just wanted you to know,” she paused, “that you were the only one who didn’t spit on me.”

Leave A Comment, Written on December 20th, 2012 , relationship

Honoring the Loss of a Relationship That Wasn’t That Great
I was in my backyard this morning when I discovered that  the giant tree branches, downed in last summer’s tornado and in the Halloween snow and ice disaster, are now dry and light enough to drag with one hand. It made me consider that sometimes
the breakage from a great storm needs to be left as it is for a time, until it is light enough to carry. Sometimes relationship break ups create emotional damage that need time to heal–to become lighter, too.  You can’t just pick up the broken pieces, carry them off and be done with the whole business quickly. You need some time.

Leaving a relationship is always painful, and there is a unique pain that comes from leaving an unhealthy relationship.Unlike the many people who leave a relationship when they realize they have nothing in common, or that they are no longer attracted to each other, or that they have grown apart, or that they simply don’t like each other, when you leave an abusive, addicted or
emotionally unwell partner, you tend to face a more powerful set of emotions.

You may well have to, for example, come to terms with leaving someone to whom you are still attracted, with whom you had much in common, and to whom you felt very bonded or connected when he was not destroying himself or being mean to
you. This means having to say good-bye to much that you liked, were attracted to, or felt so connected to. I want to support you in grieving those losses. Grieving takes time. Sometimes the breakage from a great storm needs to be left as it is for a time, until it is light enough to carry.

Planning for Grief

Your emotional well-being is in your own good hands. This means you will need to embrace and structure time for grieving. Now that you have decided to let go, let’s make room for grief by naming some of the many things there are to grieve in leaving a destructive relationship.

We know that a relationship that has been so troublesome can lead your friends and family to offer a form of support that isn’t really helpful, however well meaning it may be. It often goes something like this: “Thank goodness you left the bastard; now you can move on!” Just weeks later, they may already be saying, “Are you still dwelling on the past? It’s over!”

But that’s no how grieving a destructive relationship works. We know that there are many losses to grieve and that there is much wisdom for you in this pain. We suggest that you plan for a year of grieving. It might take you shorter or longer, but we ask that you plan for support from a couple of trusted friends, or find wider support through a group for women recovering from abusive relationships, or Al-anon, or a therapist, or a spiritual leader to help you through each of the four seasons of the year following your leaving. Planning for this as you get ready to go can make the entire journey not only more manageable, but fruitful and loving.

First, name what helps you.

Read the statements below and figure out the statement that feels most right for you, that you would most like to hear from other people as you begin to grieve:

“We are sorry that he wouldn’t change.”

“We are sorry that he threw it all away.”

“We are sorry that he wouldn’t step up, that he refused to ‘man up’.”

“We are sorry that he decided he didn’t want to go through all that work and that he chose what he knew already rather than risk a new way of being.”

“We are sorry that he couldn’t go any faster, or do any better.”

“We are sorry that he can’t offer to continue to lovely moments that you shared, because he is unreliable or unsafe.”

You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—attempt to rush yourself through the process of getting over the grief of leaving a destructive relationship. The slower you go, the faster you will heal. Begin by naming what it is for you that you most need to hear. That will tell you where the grieving needs to start.

 

 

We are ThorMoms–wrecking your dreams of endless sugar and tv. We are FirefighterMoms, talking your crazy cat emotions out of your trees. Sweetearth moms, easy as a breeze, soft as water. Ruefully weeping with laughter as we slip in your puke. Abundant as summer, skating like a penguin in winter. Wisely calling in the rains when we dry up; that is, locking ourselves in the bathroom because we need a minute. Overall, terribly glorious. And this is our day.

Congratulations, mothers.

Today I want to give special congratulations and encouragment to those mothers who are parenting children while managing the ongoing destructiveness of an abusive partner. Motherhood is demanding enough without the overt attacks perpetrated by the partner intent on demeaning you and undermining your authority. Abusive partners target what we love the most as a way to inflict the most damage. So it is no surprise that they often use every means possible to undermine a mother’s relationship to her children. That this erodes the emotional health of the children is not important to an abusive partner, whose aim is to control you. What matters to him is is the consolidation of his power that he will gain by manipulating your children away from you.

If your relationship to your children is threatened, there is almost nothing you wouldn’t do to protect it. The abuser knows this, and works to control you accordingly, not hesitating to threaten you with the loss of rights to your children if you do not do what he requires. And sadly, these threats too often come to fruition. Because abusive people are already well versed in lying, denying and blaming, they  often successfully apply these well honed skills to a family court system whose record on supporting protective mothers is abysmal.

If the abuser is not successful manipulating the legal system against you, he can also use the same tactics to destroy your relationship with your children.

Women enduring the ongoing stress of having their parenting sabotaged by an abuser tell me that their first priority is to restore their relationship with their children. They feel a sense of urgency about this that only a loving parent could understand. I’d like to offer one thought to help address the sense of pressing urgency and loss that mothers feel when they are separated either physically or emotionally from their children because an abuser has interfered in their mothering.

It’s a Big Picture thought. Because a wound such as this is so big, we need some big medicine to help salve it. The idea I offer here will not help restore your relationship with your child in the immediate sense that you want. I do honor this pressing need and I want you to pursue every legal avenue you need to; I also want you to offer every olive branch to your children that  you can. But today, I am asking you to pause from these efforts, to take a step away from the pressing urgency you feel on this Mother’s Day, and consider something.

You are still ThorMom and FirefighterMom and SweetearthMom. Even if you have a temporary breach from your child, one that may last for years on end–know this to be true: every loving act you ever gave, every kindness–the thousand wipes, rockings and caresses, all seemingly EtchASketched away by time, exist in your child. Look at the bigger picture of the life-long well-being of your child, even if you have an adult child.

Your gifts will be available to your child, even as an adult, for the rest of his or her life. Your child’s journey is one of figuring out how to relate to the abusive voices inside of him or her. She or he must learn to discern the love from the manipulation. Your child will know that there are two paths always available, and one, the one of honest loving,  will have your name on it.

In everday time, the abuser may seem to win–older children of abusers often choose to spent holidays with the abuser because it simplifies their lives not to go to war with him. They also argue with you in ways that they would never dare argue with an abuser–because they can. This is not fun news for you. This is not what you are due. But if you can remember the long haul–your child’s long haul ahead, some of the pressured feeling that you must get your child to return to right relationship with you might be lifted a little. You might hold the temporary distance you experience from your child differently. I say ‘temporary’ because your child will recognize love–even if it is years and years from now. Your truly loving gifts will become clear.

Think how hard it was for you to untangle yourself from the abuser–to understand what he really  was to you. It is as hard for your child. You can focus on this today: that for your child’s long life ahead,(God willing) your gifts of love, already given in such plenty, will always be available. You can never not be the mother of this child; his or her very cells were made in your love. You may not get the shiny, breezing Mother’s Day that you so well deserve, but your true gifts have already arrived. Your child will spend a life learning to harvest them.

4 Comments, Written on May 13th, 2012 , Uncategorized

As I dutifully set my clock ahead this morning, I started thinking about the precious time it takes to work on a destructive relationship. When we change our clocks forward at daylight savings, we give up a little time knowing that we’ll get that hour back later. As we explore the pros and cons of giving a destructive partner time to change we need to remember that whatever time we give, we’re not getting it back later.

There can sometimes be advantages to giving your partner time to change.

*You might use the time to construct a plan of exiting as safely as possible, with as many sound emotional and financial resources as possible—this is especially important if your partner is violent or threatening, or has indicated that he will get financial revenge on you if you leave him.

*With a dangerous partner, you might use the time to hope that he is the one he loses interest in you so that he is the one to leave you, which can be safer.

Giving your partner your time…

… might give you the space to become very clear about what is happening; going through repeated patterns can give you the opportunity to identify them, prepare yourself emotionally for them, and see the range of his abilities.

…can allow you to manage major life transitions, such as caring for infants or very small children, or dealing with a relative’s sickness and death, with fewer disruptions than leaving might entail.

…can allow you to articulate for yourself what exactly your “deal breakers” are so that you are more prepared to insist upon change, and to reinstate for yourself your standards and your clarity.

…when safety is not an issue, can allow you to detach yourself from the intense care and responsibility for him, and reestablish yourself as a priority, even while in the relationship.

…can assuage the voices in you that say, “What if…” or “I have to…” These voices can’t be heard and these expectations met until you can meet them squarely and feel confident in your conclusions.

… if things are noticeably improving, can connect you to the love, hope, and expansive feelings you felt when you first met.

… if things are noticeably improving, can afford you some of the acknowledgment and healing that you desire and deserve.

…can help you feel certain of yourself as a person who has tried everything, who is committed to relationships, who believes in giving people a chance.

… can give your children a chance to be in an intact family. (Of course, the costs can quickly turn too high for you, and for your children also, so be alert to when the costs start to outweigh the benefits.)

…can spare you the pressures of having to go through finding a new partner and building a new life.

Let’s look at the costs of standing by a destructive partner.

*Your natural sense of hope and resilience may be wounded. Giving so much loving attention to your partner without much return is like a slow leak in your energy reserve tank; hope for a life filled with love can fade, to be replaced by a desperate longing for love and connection.

*You might lose sight of your own set of standards in the relationship, compromising even your basic emotional needs because you are so busy sorting through and managing your partner’s dramatic ups and downs, with only short periods of rest in between. With all that work at hand, you have been pulled away from addressing what you actually want in your relationship. The standard becomes “He’s not as bad as he was,” or perhaps even, “It doesn’t devastate me the way it used to.”

*You might lose your sense of joy and creativity, for all the reasons we have just been describing. Expressing your vision is the core of creativity. You must have an audience that is receptive in some way, even if it is an inner audience. When you have internalized the destructive audience, you become bound up by a sense of rejection. You feel stopped before you even start.

*You may miss opportunities for yourself, and lose out on necessary personal changes because you are no longer attuned to your inner signals regarding your own needs and desires, as you have become so outwardly focused.

*You might have a confused sense of what the real signals of change are, since you have been promised changes for such a long period and they never materialize. His promises might be honest and heartfelt, but he lacks any real grasp of what it takes to overcome the profound issues and wounds that he faces. It’s easy to misinterpret these honest pledges as being changes themselves. And your confusion can be compounded if he keeps making changes but they rapidly fade way each time, or he makes small changes, but they aren’t nearly enough.

*You might have an inaccurate sense of who you are, because your partner so often responds to you in ways that don’t at all fit with what you are actually giving, saying, or doing. Being in a relationship with someone whose perceptions are so distorted can start to throw your own vision out of whack. It’s like looking too long into a funhouse mirror. You can’t have an accurate reflection of yourself back.

*You might have a growing fear of being ‘alone’ from him telling you that you are unlovable, unworthy and inadequate. The prospect of bring without a partner takes on a new meaning when you are in a destructive relationship, because you are already longing for intimacy, and may already be isolated as well. From inside the relationship, it seems that life without him would be even more painful than the situation you are in. (In reality, once the traumatic bond dissolves significantly and your life is filled with other loving connections, including to yourself, being alone can be filled with joy and renewal. You could rediscover who you are as loving, worthy and invaluable. Your possibilities for partnership could open.)

*You might not be the friend you want to be to others, because you have so little time to devote to your friendships.

*You may have a sense of frustration and impatience in your dealings with people, because you feel not known and not seen, and feel that your generous sharing of your life and time is not being acknowledged for what it is worth. You might be irritable and short from having been attacked over such a long period of time that you no longer have a place of rest from which you navigate the sometimes frustrating world. You might become intolerant of people disagreeing with your opinions because you’ve had to live with so much devaluing of your thinking that your value as a person seems like it is at stake.

*If your partner is self-destructive, giving him your time might increase your sense of obligation to him. If his style is to be less self-destructive for certain periods by channeling his unhealthy energy toward harming you, you may feel that you have to sacrifice yourself. Sacrificing yourself may seem less painful in the short term when you can ward off, temporarily, the self-destruction of someone you love. The longer you are with the partner, the longer you have the sense that you are keeping him going. But the reality is that you are both actually sinking; he may be sinking more slowly than he would without you, but you are both sinking nonetheless.

*The longer you stay, the harder it may be to find support from people around you when the time comes that you do feel ready to talk to other people about how this relationship is dragging you down. You may have had many reasons not reveal what was happening: you were afraid of how he would react if he found out what you said; you wanted to figure out more yourself first because you don’t know what it all means and where it is going; you didn’t feel that you could open up about the hours of arguments or the scary threats. It’s tempting to just say you are ‘fine’ and move as best as you can throughout your day with incredible (and unnoticed) strength.

5 Comments, Written on March 11th, 2012 , relationship, Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?

Your New Year’s resolutions regarding health and fitness may have waned, but it is still the season to invest in promises and hope for your relationship. If you are involved with a partner who has  repeatedly harmed you, whether through addiction, disrespecting you, cheating or being  outright abusive, much of the relationship advice you will hear during this romantic holiday will actually make your relationship worse. Let’s take a look at the commonly accepted wisdom that you want to avoid if you want your relationship to have a chance at becoming one worth saving:

*”Both partners have equal responsibility for making the relationship work.”

Well, no. The person who has behaved destructively has a much greater responsibility, and the relationship can’t become a healthy one unless he’s prepared to take that on.

*”Each relationship partner has to focus on evaluating his or her own faults, and stay out of judging the other person’s.”

Not at all–the person who has lived with the destructive behavior needs a break from stewing about her own faults, which her partner has most likely already harped on for years. Moreover, she will probably have to be calling her partner on his issues, because he has already shown that he won’t face them unless he is repeatedly confronted.

*”Issues from the past need to be left in the past.”

Wrong again. Don’t forget the wise saying “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat its mistakes.” Healing can’t happen unless we address the past.

*”Don’t shame your partner about what he has done–you’ll just make him feel bad about himself and so much of what he’s done comes from his shame.”

We don’t want to continue the centuries-long mistake of encouraging women to be silent. We want to see men who are tearing lives apart challenged clearly and directly about what they are doing. The kind of toxic shame they many destructive people already feel does need to be healed, yet it does not excuse them from their responsibility. Toxic shame is fundamentally different from the appropriate sense of conscience  a person ought to feel for creating such harm.

Once one partner becomes chronically cruel or demeaning to the other, once a power imbalance is established in a relationship, once profound lies start to be told, the regular rules for dealing with predictable, healthy relationship conflict have to be tossed out the window and a whole new plan put in place.

If your partner is destructive and has admitted that he has a serious problem and is agreeing to take steps to turn himself around, then remember these guidelines for going forward:

The Past Matters.

Don’t accept the following statements:

“We’re putting the past behind us,”

“None of what happened matters anymore,”

“We’re making a fresh start.”

We borrow the caution from AA, “Don’t forget where you came from.” While it is true that you don’t want to live in the past, you also want to avoid getting too distant from it. When destructive people forget what they have done, it increases the chances that they will harm you again. Therefore, you and your partner will have to do a kind of balancing act. On the one hand, you can’t be endlessly rehashing the past as if it were the present. On the other hand, during these early periods of change, you have to keep the past beside you, give it a kind of presence in the room at all times. It is important to name what his behaviors were like, and what the harmful impact of his actions were on you and your children. This is sobering and helpful for the truly recovering destructive partner, and may be deeply relieving for you. You will know when you don’t need to hear it and talk about it any longer. You will also know whether your partner truly is changing, by whether or not he accepts this phase of the work willingly.

Another part of the past that matters significantly is the facts. Often the opposite is argued–that in a relationship, it only matters what each person feels about what took place, and that you each have your “own reality”. I’m not sure how wise this thinking is for any relationship, but it is most definitely misguided when it is applied to a relationship where one partner has caused great harm. The blurring of the facts allows the hurtful partner to escape accountability for his actions, minimize the impact those actions have had, and avoid learning the necessary lessons.

If you and your partner cannot reach at least a reasonably close agreement as to what took place during critical events in the history of your relationship, you cannot safely trust him to not to repeat those kinds of behaviors in the future. Therefore, one of the rules for saving the savable relationship is that if your partner can’t get to a clearer memory of his actions, he needs to at least be prepared to wholeheartedly take your word for it regarding how he behaved, and stop saying (or implying) that you are making things up or exaggerating them.

If you are reading this and thinking, “No way! He’ll NEVER do that!” than you can avoid Valentine’s Day’s mistaken hopes. He’s not really changing at all unless these first few rules for going forward are something you can both live by.

8 Comments, Written on February 7th, 2012 , relationship, Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?

The new year: i lean towards more silence and pause, more dancing, more storytelling, more dreaming, more moving through the door to you, more letting the hooking places lie at my feet while i hop over, more drawing, more singing, more fresh air and water, more animal and plant things to eat, more dressing up and loving all the colors and all the drape of the world.  more reading true things and poetry in this ever giving motherhood.  more chancing the upstairs with husband when they are playing downstairs . more stretching slowly towards grief and its nurse, gratitude.

These are my New Year’s Resolutions. Of them all, it is hardest for me to jump deftly over the emotional traps that destructive people will leave in my path ahead. I call these traps “the hooking places” because they are very effective at hooking my strong emotions and launching me into a defensive stance. Three of the most popular hooks include:

-Typecasting. In acting, typecasting refers to when an actor or actress is so strongly identified with a character that s/he can’t get roles outside of that one role. (Think of the actor Peter Falk as his best known character, Columbo; in fact, who can think of Peter Falk as any character other than Columbo? Actors struggle with the limitations typecasting imposes on their careers. (Not all struggle equally. When asked by an interviewer how he felt being recognized wherever he went in the world as his character, Columbo, Falks replied, “Well,
it ain’t cancer!”)

In interpersonal relationships, destructive people will typecast you. And no, it ain’t cancer, but it can hook you into defending yourself and distract you from a centered sense of purpose.  It works like this: You tell your partner that you are disappointed that he didn’t hold up his end of an agreement—a minor agreement, but, it disappoints you. His response is to reply, “Oh, God, aren’t you ever happy? You are always upset
about every little thing.”

You have been typecast. He’s painted a picture of you as someone who is always in the role of miserable complainer, implying that your complaint must not have validity because this is simply your role talking, and not an authentic complaint worth taking seriously. In response, it is extremely tempting to attempt to prove him
wrong, by either showing your partner that you don’t care about things you really do care about, or by actively trying to disprove the typecast. Either stance removes you from your sense of clarity and purpose about your current complaint.

-The Warped Mirror. This works like carnival funhousemirrors, minus the fun. Let’s go back to the same dynamic where you are expressing a minor complaint that matters to you. You make your complaint to
your partner and he replies, “Oh, so you are always right and I am always wrong! This is all my fault!”  Now, this
is a very sharp hook, because it is commonplace to assume that in healthy relationships, you can equally take responsibility for things going wrong in the relationship, so that it would never be reasonable to assume anyone is always right about something. However, if you have an addicted, chronically immature, or abusive partner partner who is repeating a pattern of behavior that is entirely his responsibility, you really are in just that awkward position of actually being right about it again, and the responsibility being his still. It is pretty close to always being right about the same dynamic. But it doesn’t mean you think you are right about everything. And by implying you believe this about all things in the relationship all the time, he is distorting your complaint, just as a warped mirror distorts your reflection. Another version of distortion occurs when your partner responds to your complaint by saying, “Well, what about when you….!”  He has not acknowledged or addressed your complaint, but has instead moved to show you something about yourself—to hold up a mirror in place of receiving your message. What he has to say may very well have merit, but it isn’t the time or the place for you to attend to his
concerns until he has addressed yours. By bringing up his own complaint instead of an answer to yours, he is trying to distract from what you have to say.
-Mad About You This hook is probably most familiar, because so many people struggling with immaturity or other forms of destructiveness use it so often: When you express your upset about something, the other person gets mad that you got mad!

In a fairly predictable pattern, you can expect this hook to unfold in this way: you express upset at something to
someone. The person tells you not to feel that way (perhaps because they don’t want you to be upset or because they didn’t mean for you to be upset) and then gets angry if you remain true to your feelings. Many destructive or immature people will end a relationship at this juncture rather than truly hear your point of view and apologize—they  will throw in some Typecasting and Warped Mirror out of sheer habit, too.

In order for us to hop high over these hooking places, we need more of the things that fill our lives with  joy, meaning, happiness and flexibility.The more aggrieved and stressed we are, the harder it is to get any height over the hook. Once hooked, we won’t come out of the struggle without emotional wounds that need tending.

4 Comments, Written on January 3rd, 2012 , relationship

Does your partner take a fair stand—or retaliate?

Welcome to the season of resolutions for change! Do you have a destructive partner who has promised
you things will be better this year? For your partner to make serious progress towards change, he or she will have to learn to make the critical distinction between aggression (acting in ways that are designed to harm the other person) and assertion  (actions designed to protect or stand up yourself.) Destructive people get these two all wrapped up together, and tremendous harm follows.

STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF

*naming what you do not like

*speaking angrily, yet respectfully

*explaining how his or her actions are making you
feel

* taking time to yourself (be sure you are doing
this with an explanation, while still meeting your responsibilities)

*asking for what you want your partner to do
differently

*withdrawing extra favors (not responsibilities)

RETALIATION

*saying things that you know will hurt feelings

*withdrawing in a way that ruins plans and leaves
your partner with extra work to do

*not letting your partner talk

*giving your partner the silent treatment

*getting intimidating or scary

*saying exaggerated, and inaccurate things about
your partner to other people

*withdrawing your contribution to your
responsibilities

*trying to “make her feel” what you are feeling,
trying to “do the same thing to her that she did to me”

For real and lasting change to occur this New Year, your partner can’t use behaviors from the “Retaliation” list and then say, “I
was just standing up for myself.” Your partner has to own that she or he has used payback in the past, and, from here on out, take the new path forward.

 

 

Leave A Comment, Written on January 1st, 2012 , Uncategorized

So, you are giving your relationship another try. This time, you hope it is going to work.

Let’s look for some simple evidence that can help you sort out if things might work out better this time.

Our critical question is this: is your partner getting to know you? I don’t mean does he or she know your favorite team, or if you like sushi. (Though knowing those things won’t hurt.) I am asking you to consider if your partner is coming to understand who you are. If sustainable connection is going to happen, your partner needs to:

*completely stop interrupting you when you are talking (including not making faces, which is a way of interrupting.)

*ask you questions to express an interest in your thoughts amd draw you out.

*remember things you say (and don’t buy the “I have a bad memory” excuse–if your partner makes an effort to remember, it will happen.)

*demonstrate willingness to have your thoughts and opinions influence his or her thoughts and opinions (which means s/he gives up the habit of swatting down things that you say as if they were flies, and instead takes them in and lets them create growth.)

*focus fully on what you are saying, and not rush you.

*stop switching the subject back to him or herself.

*respond consistently in ways that indicate that your thinking is valuable and intelligent (including that, in the case of disagreement, your partner expresses the disagreement in a way that does not send the message that his or her opinions are superior to yours.)

*follow up in future conversations on ideas, ambitions, and dreams that you have expressed earlier, and show that s/he is supporting you.

If you are giving things another go, start here. Notice if your partner is collecting information about you that is still going through a self-centered filter–or if, instead, your partner is doing the work of making connection to you about you.

1 Comment, Written on December 11th, 2011 , relationship, Uncategorized

Destructive relationships cause so much pain and can be so confusing. The pain is compounded by the embarrassment of becoming the irritating person who is calling up  friends about the same old relationship story yet one more time. We can sense our friends hesitate to pick up when it is us; we can feel the emotional eye-rolling going on when they are quietly listening to us perseverate about our relationship.

Yet women who are in destructive relationships can have great friendships. I think of a woman I have worked with named Rachel, who, while navigating her way through a couple of consuming relationships, has been able to successfully keep a circle of supportive confidantes by adopting guidelines that she has shared with them:

TIME LIMITS

Rachel will call a friend and say, with humor, “I’d like twenty minutes to go on and on about my thing. I know I’ve said it all before, but I need to do it again. Can you do twenty minutes?” And then Rachel, against every intense pull to the contrary, will stick to the twenty-minute limit.

RECIPROCITY

Rachel will call the friend back the next day and devote her attention entirely to the friend’s cares and concerns, and not mention the relationship issues with which she is still obviously struggling. This way, Rachel is able to take advantage of a wide network of friends who do not get burned out by the intensity and circular nature of sorting through the relationship issues.

REGULATING EMOTIONS

By naming what she is going through and what she needs specifically from her friends, Rachel is managing the often intense pressure and ongoing urgency she feels to figure out this painful situation. Rachel is:

Observing her emotions

Naming them, and

Accepting them with humor and love

Rachel is doing this rather than being swallowed up or consumed by her emotions. Her approach goes a long way toward preserving her friendships because her friends have a sense that Rachel exists outside the relationship struggle, and is connected to them in other areas of their lives. Perhaps more importantly, so does Rachel.

Try  one of Rachel’s approaches—give yourself room for “going on about your thing.” Then follow up by giving yourself room to be yourself outside of “your relationship thing.”

6 Comments, Written on November 21st, 2011 , relationship, Should I Stay? Or Should I Go?

There’s nothing like the pressures of the holiday season to reveal the stress fractures in your relationship. The holidays are the time of year we most depend on our partner to help create warm memories and help uphold loving rituals. Yet for some of us, it is the time of year when our partners are the most destructive. The holidays are a good time to take note how much time you are spending on coping with your partner, rather than celebrating together.

If you’ve been thinking, “It’s only really bad during the holidays, so it’s not really that much of a problem,” take another look. How your partner manages the holiday season can provide you with valuable insight into how he is managing his emotional life.

Give yourself this gift: resolve to notice if your partner struggles with more than the ordinary holiday stresses. If he is actually struggling with some destructive issues, you will need to know this in order to get help designed for more than your typical relationship conflicts. This kind of work isn’t joyful at first, but it lays the groundwork for happier holidays ahead in your future.

Notice this season whether your partner is acting with a chronic immaturity or abusiveness and control. Notice whether he prefers his substance over spending loving time with you, or if his behavior becomes erratic, depressive or overwhelmingly focused on himself.

Addiction

If your partner struggles with an addiction, holiday gatherings can tempt him or her with the substance of choice. The stress of family expectations or seeing friends and acquaintances can also lead addicts to self soothe their pervasive sense of shame through substance use. And this can have devastating effect on you. This year, notice how much your partner’s substance use is impacting you or your family over the holidays. Are there places you choose not to go to or precautions you can take to lessen the chance that things might go wrong?

Abuse and Control

Abusive partners approach the holidays with characteristic selfishness and cruelty. Notice if your attention is hyper-focused on pleasing your partner’s whims and expectations. Does he become cruel in order to make sure you do what he wants you to? He can use your high hopes for a happy holiday to make his demeaning comments or overt flirtations with others more effectively painful for you. Meanwhile, he may go overboard to play the part of the big-hearted wonder to witnesses. Even if you are the only witness to the cruelty he exhibits in private, it matters.

Chronic Immaturity

Or maybe your partner takes it for granted that you will make the holiday arrangements, buy the presents, plan the meals and manage everyone’s needs, so that he can passively and eagerly await the festivities, as a child might. This kind of chronic immaturity—while less dramatic than addiction or abuse issues—can erode the foundation of your relationship just as surely.

Unaddressed Mental Health Issues

The holidays wreak havoc for partners with mental health issues. This is often complicated by the fact that partners with unaddressed mental health needs often insist that nothing is wrong (or that if there is a problem, it is that you keep insisting that something is wrong.) Think about the focus in your relationship over the holidays. Does he expect you to support him for the often painful family interactions within his own family—and then also support him while with your family– ensuring that his needs are at the center of both of your attention, and that your needs go unmet?

Or perhaps he seems to have “checked out.” He is showing up, doing what you ask of him, but isn’t affectionate, and has no joy to share with you. He might also become erratic, seeming full of energy, but also a little bit out of control.

Often we get so good at naturally navigating these destructive behaviors, and we don’t step back and note to ourselves that just because we manage them well (or well enough) doesn’t mean they don’t come without a cost. Start noticing how much time and thought you do give to any of these dynamics. You might want to make notes in a journal—even a tally. It can be shocking to see how often you are working hard at managing your partner, perhaps without even noticing. Noticing is the first step towards making a life filled with more of the good, loving celebrations that you deserve.

3 Comments, Written on November 2nd, 2011 , Uncategorized

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JAC Patrissi's Blog – Growing A New Heart

JAC Patrissi is a Communications Specialist who uses writing, performance art, training and collaborative facilitation in order to support healing for women who are questioning the health of their relationships or who are healing from destructive relationships. This is her blog.