Tag Archives: relationships

Go Find Another Well

Time and time again, Christi tried to quench her thirst from a dry well.

The analogy describes what it’s been like living with her boyfriend, Tony, for the past six years. The anguish she’s felt is comparable to someone slowly dying from thirst. Although he called her his girlfriend, his participation in the relationship was halfhearted at best.

Christi held out—hoping that some day—if she just hung in there long enough, her dreams of a future with this guy would come true. Well, that all came crashing down around her when she discovered he was dating another woman.

No question, dashed hopes and rejection are a lot to endure. Loving support from others is a welcomed comfort, but it falls short of soothing a wounded heart. Recovery takes time, long moments of silent reflection and acquiring a new perspective.

In our counseling session, I could easily see the grief and betrayal in Christi’s eyes.

“I served that man for six years!” she said. “My life revolved around him!” She went on to explain all that she gave up—what she sacrificed personally—for him.

“Christi,” I said, “I’m having a hard time thinking this guy deserves you.”

She lowered her eyes. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him,” she said with a sigh. “I guess I couldn’t love enough ….”

“Did Tony betray you or were you betrayed by a fantasy?” I asked.

She looked puzzled.

“Did you read more into this relationship than was actually there?” I continued. “Did you imagine Tony to be something he wasn’t?”

“Ye-e-s … apparently so,” she muttered.

We spent the next several minutes contrasting her fantasy against reality. He didn’t invite her to go places with him. He showed little or not interest in the things she liked doing. He wouldn’t call or text her after business trips. Rarely ever, actually. He didn’t make her birthday a special event or even get her a gift! 

Where was the tenderness? Where was the concern for her needs and wants? Where was the concern for her feelings? It flat out wasn’t there.

For six years, she made excuses for him in her mind, all in an attempt to avoid the bold truth. She ignored all clues that told her they were ill-suited. And the clues where everywhere.

For years–before meeting Tony–Christi had yearned for a companion who was as devoted to her as she was to him. She imagined that Tony would be that guy.  “I kept thinking if I just got it right, he would come around—he would love me better,” she said.

How sad for Christi. She had used Tony’s lukewarm interest in her as a measure of her own worth and adequacy. Instead of asking herself: Do I measure up to what he wants? a better question would have been: Can he fulfill what I need in a partner?

Enduring the status quo wasn’t wise. She should have moved on, freeing herself to seek a more compatible partner.

I let her know that what her heart yearns for is right. What was off-kilter was expecting it to come from him.

I explained that she’s seeking love in places where love is in short supply. It’s like going to the same well everyday hoping to fill her cup with water. The well is  dry, so quenching her thirst is an impossibility. She returns each day, though, anticipating more than a mere trickle. It never happens.

“One of the things you need to see,” I said, “is that there are other wells spanning across the landscape in every direction, as far as the eye can see. But you tend to be blind to them.”

“I can’t argue that miserable truth,” she said solemnly.

As our session wore on, Christi started putting things together. “I can see that I don’t value myself very much,” she said. “And I’m like my mom—her life revolves around my father. It saddens me how she’s given up so much of herself just to make him happy. Well … it seems I’m no different. Hmm.”

Christi’s learned pattern is being challenged because the well did something extraordinary: It uprooted itself and left her behind, thirsty and confused in the dust. Painful as that might be, ultimately, the “well” did her a favor. She’s now forced to explore the offerings of other wells.

But before jumping into another serious relationship, Christi needs to figure out why she blames herself when love isn’t reciprocated, and why she denies herself other potential opportunities. Why does she undervalue herself?

Once she deals with the problem at its roots, the next time a well runs dry, I’m convinced she won’t stick around. Feeling deserving of more, she’ll seek water elsewhere. There will be no stopping her! It’ll be impressive.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2020

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Wanted: A Gentle Caveman

Image result for 11 signs you're falling in love

 

          Knowing how to love a woman isn’t rocket science. Or is it?

Over the years, as a counselor, numerous men have sought my advice about women. They want to know how to navigate the baffling pathway to a woman’s heart.

Whether dating or in a long-term relationship, it’s not uncommon for a guy to receive mixed signals. One man described the predicament perfectly: “I’m convinced women want a gentle caveman. They resent power, yet they want a powerful man. They want to tell you how to drive, but they really want you to drive.”

His observations were reinforced when a female client told me,

“I want a man who takes control, but isn’t a controller.”

Indeed, a fine line to walk.

What does it mean to be a gentle caveman? How is it possible to be a man who takes control without being controlling? For answers, I went to the logical source—women.

Jodie, 36, said this about her boyfriend: “I need him to be strong enough to stick up for what he feels strongly about, yet sensitive to my needs and feelings.”

She gave an example. “I’d had a bad day and just needed to talk it out, but he kept watching his game on TV. I was crying, and instead of consoling me, he went to another room so that he could watch his game on another TV. That told me that something else was more important than me.”

I asked: “So if he were to be sensitive to your needs and yet stick up for his own, how would that look?”

“In that situation,” she said, ” I just needed for him to shut the TV off. I wanted to be chosen over everything else at that point.”

Jodie clarified that under ordinary circumstances, “It’s okay if someone doesn’t drop everything for you.”

So I asked, “What would an empowered, gentle caveman do if his partner wasn’t in a distressed state?

Jodie replied: “He would say, ‘Can we talk about this in ten minutes or after the game?’”

She pointed out that his manner would be tender and patient, minus any hint of annoyance.

“All I would need is the assurance of a time-frame,” she said. “It’s a matter of knowing that your man wants to devote time to be there for you.”

Courage and independence are other qualities attributed to a gentle caveman. Women respect a man who will draw the line.

Tara, 27 and single, said: “If a guy lets me walk all over him, I will. Instead, I need someone who’ll stand up to me and not be a doormat. Yes, I’ll probably get ugly if he actually calls me out on it. But I’ll get over it, and I’ll be even more attracted to him than before.”

The message is clear: Integrity is sexy.

As women, we admire men we can’t completely tame or train. Not to say we don’t try. We do, but the men we respect are those who respect themselves while simultaneously respecting us.

In the movie, “What Women Want,” Mel Gibson’s character starts out as your stereotypical rude, narcissistic, insensitive sexist. He’s convinced that he’s  admired and desired by every woman he meets. But when he acquires the ability to hear the private thoughts of all women, his ego takes a nose dive. He’s faced with the ugliness of his own behavior as seen through the eyes and minds of the disgusted women around him.

Aside from getting stung by the unvarnished truth about himself, he can’t help but learn about a woman’s genuine needs, her hopes and her true emotions. From that point on, he’s incapable of viewing women the same. The result? Respect and empathy.

According to the women I surveyed, powerful men have the courage to face feelings. This includes their own as well as the feelings of others. Gentle cavemen feel comfortable with their own tears. Tears don’t make them little, dependent or vulnerable, despite what some were told as children.

When a woman says she wants her man to take control, it means she wants him to take control over certain situations—not her. For example, women generally like it when men take the initiative and say, “Let’s go for a walk.” Or, “Don’t make any plans, because I’m taking you out.” Or, “I’ll drive, sweetie.”

And if the back-seat driver in her tries to tell him how to drive his car, the gentle caveman—in control of both his car and his reactions—simply says confidently and respectfully, “Thanks, but I’ve got things under control.”

Odds are she’ll like that.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2020

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Don’t Be Nice All the Time

 

Over and over again, while growing up, Kari heard: “It’s better to give and be nice than it is to receive.”  Valuing the other person more than yourself was expected. So, today, she tends to be nice to everyone but herself. No surprise. When people mistreat or take advantage of her, she gives them a free pass. But Kari’s been waking up to that unhealthy pattern—seeing how it’s not serving her very well. Her current relationship is a perfect example, and right now, she would like to end the relationship but guilt stands in her way.

Guilt over caring for herself blocks her from doing the right thing.

Doug, another client, received the same training. “The way I feel good about myself is by being a good guy … doing for others.”  He gave me an example.  When an acquaintance of his, John, needed a phone, Doug agreed to sell him his $250 phone for $80. He even agreed that John could pay him later. Doug didn’t hear from the man for several weeks. Finally, when they bumped into each other somewhere, John paid Doug … but he paid him $50 instead of $80. When I asked Doug how he felt about that, he said: “I wanted to do the right thing.”

“Is it right to let others take advantage of you?” I asked. “How do others learn the same morals you were taught if you rob them of that opportunity?”

We talked at length, then Doug arrived at a realization:

“I should have stood up for myself,” he said. “Sometimes it’s right to upset people.”

Several years ago, I created a little story for the sake of illustration:

Imagine a classroom of small children—crayons in hand—each thoroughly absorbed in his/her own drawings. Jenny is sitting beside Joey, and at some point, he reaches over with his crayon and marks on her paper. Jenny objects, “No Joey!” while pushing his hand away. He stops, briefly, then repeats the offense. Again Jenny protests but this time she briskly moves to another spot in the room, taking her sheet of paper with her.

This scenario would have played out quite differently had Jenny been indoctrinated with the directive to always “be nice.” In that case, she would have wilted when Joey marked on her paper, letting him have free rein. Believing that objecting is hurtful, she would be ruled by restraint. Striving to be nice is a worthy ethic to teach children, but it should be a two-way ethic.

Niceness should run both ways.

Yes, Jenny should be nice to others, but she should also hold the belief that virtue applies to everyone else as well. Joey wasn’t being nice and that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Jenny’s actions preserved her well-being and dignity, but she also did Joey a favor. She gave him the opportunity to learn an important lesson: If I mistreat people, I’ll alienate them. They won’t want to be around me.

Had Jenny folded, submitting to Joey’s will and disrespect, she would have sent the opposite message.

We humans don’t grow when others are placating or pretending to go along with us. The best mirror we have available is the authentic response given by other people. No, it’s not always easy to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. It can be painful, but some deeper—truer—part of ourselves finds it gratifying to be shown the truth.

Protesting isn’t hurtful if done correctly. Being enlightened by truth is quite different from being punctured by it. When Jenny voiced her protest, she wasn’t being hurtful.

If Joey was hurt, he was hurt by the truth—not by Jenny.

When someone crosses a line, our instinct tells us to be self-protective. It’s the same instinct that protects us from eating spoiled food, stepping out in front of traffic, getting close to a raging dog. Psychological well-being is no different. Inner distress is a signal announcing the need for change.

Instead of just enduring, we’re supposed to listen to it and take action. Doing so is an act of love, both for ourselves and for the other person.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

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Shared Tears Heal

               One day, Heather’s parents discovered a suicide note          among her things.

Terrified and stunned, they sought help. It wasn’t long before their teenage daughter was admitted to a hospital. Looking back on that day, Heather recalls how hard she fought and argued with her parents when they said they were taking her to the hospital. “I soooo didn’t want to go!” she told me emphatically.

But Heather’s resistance didn’t carry any weight. Taking her by the hand, her dad promptly ushered her to the car, and off they went. The journey to the hospital seemed like an eternity for her. Far from being a casual trip, she was plagued with intense emotions, including raw fear. For the most part, the memory of that car ride is a blur. However, she clearly recalls tears streaming down her dad’s face throughout the ride. More than once, he told her, “I hate doing this, sweetie, but I have to.” His anguish was as great as hers.

Interestingly, she felt comforted by his emotions, interpreting them as caring.

Both parents visited Heather every day in the hospital, but the parent who had the greatest impact was her dad. On each visit, both parents told her how important she was to them. But words alone would not have made much of a dent for this girl who was at such a low point. Her dad cried with her on several occasions. That was the magic.

Emotions are the invisible medium by which we feel oh-so-connected with another human being. For those in pain, this simple remedy—connecting at the heart level—vitally assists the healing process.

Unwittingly, Heather’s father rescued his daughter from feeling isolated—from being all alone in her pain. Who among us would not feel cherished in the presence of such heart power?

What Heather received from her dad, she also desperately craved from her mother, Kate. But according to Heather, “My mother is usually matter-of-fact when it comes to my pain and troubles.”

Far from being cold-hearted, Kate has abundant love for all her children, and like most parents, when they hurt, she hurts. It’s just that she has trouble showing it. During the crisis, her own pain was immense, but she kept it all inside. Kate actually believed she was doing the right thing for her daughter. “I really felt that Heather needed for me to be strong . . . not to fall apart and be weak,” she recalled.

But her daughter didn’t need that. I asked Heather: “When you’re hurting, what do you need most from your mom? Do you need for her to be strong?”

Without any hesitation, she replied: “No! I need to see her feelings. Showing feelings isn’t being weak—it’s being close.”

Heather continued by tearfully expressing years of sorrow over her mother being emotionally detached, including this most recent example.

Kate suddenly burst into tears. It pained her that her daughter felt that way. “Heather, I felt I was going to lose you. I was terrified!” she said between sobs.

A wave of relief passed over Heather’s face. It was clear she felt consoled.

I said to Heather: “Your mom’s crying. Do you see her as weak right now?” Looking tenderly at her mom, she said,

“No, I see her as strong! Only strong people allow themselves to feel pain.”

I so savor the fresh and clearly spoken wisdom of young people. I had no more questions. Stepping back, I let mother and daughter embrace uninterrupted for as long as they needed.

There is a clear distinction between crying with our children and leaning on them for emotional support. The latter is just too heavy for them to bear. Feeling responsible for a parent’s well-being is an enormous burden for their young hearts.

But crying with our children doesn’t rock their foundation. In fact, children learn an invaluable lesson when we model the strength of facing and moving through the depths of our emotional pain. Instead of being overwhelmed by the strong current of their own emotions, they feel powerful and capable of dealing with them head-on.

While in the hospital, Heather was diagnosed with depression and prescribed antidepressants. Today, she’s happily married with two children of her own.

Helping in that recovery, I’m sure, were two parents—not just one—who knew how to cry with her.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

© Salee Reese 2019

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The Love in Goodbyes

 

They share one thing: the tomb they inhabit called their marriage. It’s as cold and lifeless as a mausoleum’s marble walls. Merely coexisting in physical proximity to each other, they rarely utter a word—only when necessary. Long ago, they gave up occupying the same bed—even the same bedroom. Detachment characterizes their marriage.

Is it a marriage? Legally, yes—emotionally, no.

Years ago, Beth and her husband underwent a psychological divorce, a condition of disengagement and indifference. The original intimate connection they once shared and enjoyed is broken.

The growing gap between them became evident to Beth after their children left home. At that point, Beth realized that she and her husband live separate lives, each absorbed in pursuing their own individual interests.

Beth sought counseling because she can no longer endure the way she is living. “I’m lonely in my own house,” she lamented. Although they are mutually involved in various social functions, “we’re not companions,” she said. “There’s no life in what we do together.”

Her marriage has been reduced to a habit, not something she cherishes. Feeling stifled in such a cheerless and deadening existence, Beth wants a divorce. But fear of the unknown anchors her. Although hardly rewarding, her marriage is familiar territory, representing a comfort zone. So staying together assures security and keeps Beth from having to deal with the unknown.

Another roadblock is guilt. She’s tortured by the thought of hurting her husband. Yet, in reality, Beth is hurting him more by living dishonestly. Maintaining the illusion that all is well—merely going through the motions—is a form of deceit.

“If he knew the truth,” I asked, “would he choose to stay married? Would he really want to stay in the relationship if he knew you were there only because you can’t bear hurting him and because he’s a comfort zone for you?”

Beth suddenly got that distinctive “the lights just came on” look.  After a few seconds of gathering up her thoughts, she said, “I have never–ever!–entertained that thought before.” She relayed how she found that both “disturbing, yet strangely freeing.”

Physically she’s still married, but her spirit has moved on. “You didn’t cause that to happen, Beth, so it’s not something to feel guilty about. We can’t tell our soul what to accept, what to do and where to be.”

Divorcing her husband isn’t a hostile act waged against him. It’s an act of honoring truth, while also honoring herself and her husband.

Since Beth can’t be what she isn’t and can’t feel what she doesn’t, she should love him enough to release him to pursue more gratifying connections with others.

Call it a higher form of love.

“If the relationship is no longer rewarding for you,” I said, “it can’t be rewarding for him either.”

Yes, it will be painful for him, but better to experience the pain of truth, than to go on living a make-believe existence.

Fantasy doesn’t nourish—it leaves us empty and unfulfilled.

When relationships end, our knee jerk reaction is to cast blame—aimed at the other person or ourselves. Sometimes that’s  appropriate . . . but in Beth’s situation it wasn’t. In fact fixating on causes and blame can distract from the deeper truth:

Life is a flowing stream—change is an inevitable fact of life. Nothing stays put even if we would like it to.

We also tend to believe that divorce entails turning off the love. Not so. In fact, such thinking merely amplifies suffering because souls are tormented by estrangement.

Soul bonds never die—they undergo a metamorphosis.

Ironically, for Beth, living a lie has created more distance than falling out of love. The fearful and guilt-ridden side of Beth has clung to the status quo, while her more alive self is pulling her in the opposite direction—toward a life relevant to where she is now in her growth.

“Embrace your life, Beth, and go where your soul wants to take you.”

“Then what do I tell my husband?” she asked.

I told her to warmly convey her truth along with her heart’s regret. “You didn’t anticipate or plan this,” I said. “Something in you shifted. You’re not the same person you were twenty years ago. It’s something you hadn’t counted on. Tell him that.”

Sadness and grief always accompany letting go. I urged her to join hands with him and walk through the pain together.

It’s the loving way to say goodbye.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

(c) Salee Reese 2019

 

 

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Unexpected Gift

 

“I don’t take responsibility for what’s going on in your head.”

That’s what Gordon wishes he had said when his girlfriend completely misinterpreted him . . . again.

It all started when she called to tell him how bored and miserable she was at work. According to the work schedule, she had the day off, but they needed the money. Bills were starting to pile up because Gordon had been sick for several days and was forced to take time off from work, so he’d been borrowing money from her to handle his half of the bills.

After getting free of the bug, he returned to work and started earning an income once again. But it would take a while before they were completely out of the woods.

Gordon was feeling nothing but respect and gratitude for his girlfriend’s generosity and work ethic.

After the call, he quickly rearranged his schedule so he could surprise her at work and help alleviate her boredom. As he drove to her restaurant, he felt immense tenderness toward her and was looking forward to brightening her day.

He walked in. She looked up and saw him smiling. Her face got very serious. “You need money, don’t you!” she said gruffly.

He froze . . . stunned.  She had completely misread his intentions. Though deeply hurt, he managed to stammer out a few words in defense of himself: “No . . . why would you think that? Nothing like that. You told me how slow things were and that you were bored, so I came!”

As usual, nothing he said made any difference. She didn’t budge from the distorted picture she had of him.

The whole event had a sobering effect on Gordon.  “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “She automatically assumed that just because I was visiting her at work—where she makes tips—that I came with my hand out, wanting some of her hard-earned cash.” He thought she might jump into his arms, or smile gratefully, or even just grin a little. The more he thought about it, the more it hurt.

“What kind of guy does she think I am?” he said. “I don’t even come close to the type of person she imagines me to be. Only a cold-hearted jerk would respond to someone’s call for help by showing up with the intent of asking for money. She doesn’t know me at all!  And the person she thinks I am isn’t even someone I’d want to be associated with.”

Once Gordon’s eyes were opened, he realized that this scenario had defined their relationship for the entire three years they were together.  He also saw just how much unhappiness he had swallowed during that time.

This latest event was a reality check. He came to realize that he could no longer stay in a relationship that was so costly to his well-being.

“Without knowing it, she gave me an incredible gift.”

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality

(c) Salee Reese 2018

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Don’t Take the Bait

When Jim returned home from his Saturday fishing trip, his wife, Marlene, was withdrawn—cold as ice. Alas, the all too familiar silent treatment had set in. He asked Marlene if there was a problem. With her head turned away, she murmured a mere, “No.” Remaining calm and unaffected, he said, “Well, you’re not acting as if nothing’s wrong.” He then encouraged her to say more. She didn’t respond. At this point, Jim had two alternatives: either invest agonizing energy into altering her mood, or just let it play out. He chose to let it play out.

A wise choice on his part because silent treatments are best ignored. Attempts to squelch them have a way of simply reinforcing them. Silent treatments are a substitute for verbalizing. As children, indirect communication may have been the sole option for some. Perhaps they were screamed at or ignored for speaking up directly.

As a young child, Marlene may have been taken seriously only when she got quiet and emitted vibes of being annoyed or hurt. If so, she learned that there is a greater payoff for going quiet than for speaking up. Her manner, though, is self-defeating in an adult partnership of equals. How can Jim be attuned to her needs if she alienates him—if he’s left in the dark?

Before he started counseling, whenever Marlene would go silent on him, Jim’s urge to fix the situation would be overwhelming. Tormented with guilt and unrest, he would try anything—short of turning cartwheels—to appease her. It never made a difference. Instead, it only left him feeling disgusted with himself.

Now, Jim doesn’t get caught up in those antics.

He has come to realize that the solution to dealing with Marlene’s silent treatments lies in changing conditions in himself as opposed to changing external factors.

In the past, if someone was withdrawn or angry with him, Jim automatically assumed he was at fault. But Jim is no longer inclined to accept blame that doesn’t belong to him.

In our counseling sessions, I emphasized to Jim: “Don’t be managed by silent treatments. Refuse to take the bait.” Instead, I urged him to practice integrity. Silent treatments are designed to control or punish. Thus the term “punishing silences.”

Inherently, they are an insidious form of aggression. Not only do the aggressors hide their weapons, they don’t see themselves as aggressors. Intent on believing they have been wronged in some way, they view themselves as victims and therefore feel justified to punish.

Being on the receiving end of a cold shoulder can be an intensely frustrating experience. Because there’s an unwillingness to discuss the unspoken complaint, people in Jim’s position are declared guilty without knowing why and without being given the opportunity to defend themselves.

The fair and open approach entails dialogue between both parties, mutually engaged in seeking a satisfying resolution.

Jim made such an attempt soon after returning from his Saturday fishing trip. In a forthright manner he invited open dialogue, giving Marlene ample opportunity to express what was on her mind. He wasn’t nasty about it, nor did he come off like a puppy deserving of a good whipping. He merely attempted to address an obvious problem.

Jim went as far with it as he could—the rest was up to her. Her manner exuded alienation, leaving him no healthy alternative to backing off. In so doing, the responsibility for Marlene’s mood was appropriately placed squarely in her lap.

Jim and Marlene went about their weekend barely speaking a word. The atmosphere was thick with silence—and tension. By Sunday evening the silence broke.

Apologizing for her behavior, Marlene explained what her problem was. She was disappointed when he chose to go fishing because she had been anticipating a romantic weekend—time with just the two of them. Ironically, since Marlene failed to be up front about her desires and expectations she sabotaged the entire weekend with her sulking. Her apology was a victory for integrity.

Had Jim manifested his former pattern of absorbing blame and engaging in feverish attempts to appease his wife, a different outcome could be anticipated. More than likely, the silence would have culminated with Jim groveling apologetically and Marlene enshrined in her self-righteousness.

Instead of surrendering to guilt, though, Jim displayed strength and poise, thus uplifting the dynamic between them. Quite possibly, Jim’s demonstration of unyielding integrity stimulated some healthy soul-searching on Marlene’s part.

Her use of silent treatments may become a relic from her past. Now, at least, Jim is breathing new life into the pattern of their relating. By changing his behavior, he’s stimulating Marlene to follow suit.

 

(c) Salee Reese 2018

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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