Bad Relationship Advice: The Case of Abuse

There is one very important exception to the principles I discussed in my previous post.  If you are in a situation where abuse is involved, taking care of yourself or even leaving may very well be good advice.  In this case, this is not selfishness.  This is simply self-preservation. 

Abuse in any form is unacceptable.  The most common forms include physical, sexual, and emotional/verbal abuse.   Physical abuse is fairly easy to recognize.  It is intentionally inflicting physical harm, or preventing actions necessary to maintain life and safety.  Sexual abuse is forcing any sort of sexual contact (physical or visual) against another’s will. 

Emotional abuse can be far more difficult to identify.  This is also the area where friends and family make the most errors in giving advice.  You must be very careful in assessing emotional abuse.  I have often met with individuals whom were convinced that they were being emotionally abused, either because of their own conclusions, or of those close to them.  However, after observing what they deemed emotional abuse, I would find that it was their own personal insecurities that were abusing them, not their spouse.  Due to strong feelings of inadequacy or being unlovable that resulted from long past experiences, a minor inadvertent comment by their spouse could trigger an intense emotional response in them.  What was perceived as emotional abuse was nothing more than an “emotional landmine” that their spouse happened to stumble upon. 

I have just as often discovered that the one crying the abuse was a greater perpetrator than their “oppressor.”  Individuals often complain to others of those things they actually dislike most about themselves.  If you hate yourself for the way you lose your temper, you are likely very sensitive when others lose their tempers as well.

The moral of this story is that neither you nor those close to you are in the best position to determine whether you are being emotionally abused or not.  It is absolutely true that many times in abusive relationships it requires the encouragement of others in order to recognize and/or have the courage to stand against the abuse.  In the case of emotional abuse, it is very important that you seek out professional help in assessing and working through the issue.  You and those close to you are far too emotionally involved to make a reliable judgement.

Please don’t misunderstand, true emotional abuse is extremely damaging to an individual.  It can cause emotional and psychological problems that can persist for a lifetime.  In no way is my intention to diminish this fact.  It is my intention to reduce the damage done by perceived emotional abuse- those situations where an individual reacts rashly due to their incorrect perception that they are the victim.  Please be very careful in considering emotional abuse.  This, or any other type of abuse, should not be dealt with without the assistance of professional help.

Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 11:44 am  Comments (3)  
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Beware of Bad Relationship Advice

Good relationship advice can be very hard to come by, particularly when you’re seeking it from friends or family.  This is primarily because most of the advice we receive is founded on principles of selfishness rather than love.  Comments like, “You need to take care of yourself.”, or “How can you put up with that?!  You should leave!”, seem to be universal answers for every problem.  Sadly, even many therapists, speaking from the baggage of their own failed relationships, may give this type of advice.  Those who give this advice always mean well.  They are not trying to cause further damage to our relationships.  They are merely trying to be supportive.  Unfortunately, being told we are right is not always what is right for us or the relationship.  Well meaning people can wreak great havoc by promoting selfishness and separation.

Even if the advice you receive from others seems like good advice, considering the information you have given, it is very important to remember that their assessment of your situation is only based on half of the information.  I am constantly amazed by how masterfully we can paint ourselves as the ultimate martyrs in our relationships.  I remember one couple I met with particularly well.  The husband started the session by constructing a perfect picture of his wife being a perpetual nag, while he did nothing but serve her and do her will.  The wife then jumped in and told the story of an uncaring distant husband, who only saw her as his “whore.”  Had I only heard one side of their story I would have been ready to call out the hangman’s mob to bring the other to justice!  It is not only unwise, but completely wreckless to give advice when only having half the information.  At the same time, it is even more unwise and wreckless to take advice when you know you have only given half the information.  Remember, YOUR story is not THE story.  The true story usually ends up being some kind of average between your perspective and your spouses. 

This brings us to the question, “So, how do you know when advice is good advice, and should be taken?”  For starters, if you are sincerely looking for advice and not just someone to tell you you are right, then begin by making sure that the third party has as much information as possible.  If possible, give them the opportunity to speak with both of you.  You will be doing you and your relationship a great disservice by only offering your perspective.

Second, in listening to others’ advice, look for signs that they may be reacting particularly strong to certain issues.  This could be a sign that they are speaking from their own relationship baggage, which could drastically affect the reliability of their advice.  The best advice comes from those who are able to be as neutral as possible.  If they have a strong emotional connection to a certain aspect of the issue, they will likely be speaking from their emotions rather than their wisdom.  This is an extremely common reaction, one that even some therapists fall in to.  It causes great bias in how others view our circumstances, so be very vigilant of this hazard.   

Finally, ask yourself the question, “Is this advice based on principles of love or selfishness?”  This simple question can reveal a great deal about the quality of the advice you are receiving.  It reaveals whether you are receiving constructive or destructive advice.  If you have seen the movie Fireproof  you may remember the scene where the wife is surrounded by her friends, telling them about how awful her husband is.  The scene rapidly switches over to her husband complaining to his best friend about her.  The scene goes back and forth, showing the reactions of the friends of the couple to the news they have heard.  The friends of the wife say things much like the other blind, selfish phrases I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Things like, “You are so right”, “You need to leave him!”, or “He is no good for you!”  On the other side, the husband’s friend reacts very differently.  His response is to put the responsibility back on the husband, asking him what he is doing to make the relationship better. 

As the movie goes on, the effects of these different approaches become very apparent as the husband gradually makes more loving and committed efforts to the relationship, while the wife slowly drifts further away, even to the point of becoming involved with another married man.  Fortunately, the wife eventually recognizes the efforts of her husband and comes back to him, but it does leave you to wonder how much faster that would have taken place had she had the type of friends her husband did.

 Don’t fall into the trap of giving or accepting gifts of destruction.  Much advice can appear appealing as it is wrapped in the alluring wrapping paper of confirming our beliefs and justifying our wrong actions.  But, when that package is opened, we find nothing more than a ticking time bomb waiting to explode on our relationships.

Making Love Everyday: The Solution

After reading my previous post, The Diagnosis, you may have realized that you have some tendencies toward being a neurotic investor.  I hope that you were not too devastated by this realization, since practically everyone has these tendencies at times.  At the same time, this is an issue that must be taken very seriously if you hope to have a truly happy marriage. 

Now that you understand what the neurotic investor syndrome looks like in marriages, let’s get into the most important part of the issue; the solution.  How do you end this devastating cycle of hurt, withdrawal of love, and misery?  You begin by living according to the moral sense you were born with.  I realize that this may sound a bit philosophical, so let me put things into a more practical perspective.

 After having a long day of housework and taking care of the kids, Tammy is exhausted.  When her husband Eric comes home, Tammy immediately proceeds to tell him about how difficult her day was and asks him for a massage.  Eric, also feeling exhausted from a stressful day at work, asks if he can do it later, after he’s had some time to wind down.  They eat dinner, spend some time with the kids, and put them to bed.  They then sit down in front of the TV and start watching a show they both enjoy.  As they are watching the show, Tammy is continuously wondering when Eric will follow through with her request for a massage.  They finish their show and go up to bed, Eric having forgotten completely about the massage.  When they get into the bedroom, Eric starts giving Tammy his usual signals that he wants to make love.  Tammy has the thought that she should make love to him.  She rejected his past couple of attempts, and knew he would be hurt if she did so again.  But, upset that she didn’t get her massage, she pushes him away and says she’s too tired.  Both of them go to sleep feeling unloved, hurt, and rejected. 

In addition to feeling hurt and unloved, there is another issue that Tammy is now faced with.  When Tammy had the thought that she should make love to her husband, despite his forgetting her massage, she was receiving a message from her innate moral sense.  This is a sense that all of us have.  Some people are very good at ignoring this sense, while others are very in tune with it.  It sends us hundreds of messages everyday on anything from whether we should allow someone to merge in front of us in traffic, to whether we really should bomb our boss’s car after receiving a rebuke. 

When Tammy made the choice to go against the message she received, she betrayed her own conscience.  This is an action that does not go without consequence.  We cannot go against our conscience without our actions quickly being followed by feelings of guilt and shame.  If Tammy is like many people, her first response to these feelings is to rationalize and convince herself that the actions were completely justified, in hopes that she can fool her conscience into thinking she is in the right.  In the end, all she truly accomplishes is lying to herself, damaging the relationship,  and lubricating her cycle of selfishness, due to the justifications she has put in place.  There is nothing more damaging or exhausting to an individual than betraying their moral selves.  We may convince ourselves that it is the relationship that is draining us, but in truth, the greatest drain comes from knowing we are not acting according to the goodness we truly have.

In considering this situation, you may be thinking, “But Tammy is completely justified in not having sex with him!  Why would she when he isn’t giving any attention to her needs?”  If this were a question of fairness, you would be absolutely correct.  However, if you are looking to have a successful marriage, you must never ask the question “Is this fair?”  Instead, you must always ask the question “Am I living according to my moral sense?”  Put in simpler terms, “Is this the right thing to do?”  The reason why it is so important to ask this rather than what is fair is that when you are seeking what is “fair,” you are also agreeing to make your behavior contingent on your partners.  We act lovingly only as long as we believe our partner is doing the same.  When we do this, we have also given our partner the power to decide what kind of people we are going to be.  They act selfishly, so we must also be selfish.  The ultimate result is that you and your spouse walk hand in hand toward a horrible marriage and an absence of personal integrity. 

There is another thought that may have gone through your head as you have read this post.  It may have looked something like this, “But if she just went along and had sex with Eric, then she would be letting him completely take advantage of her!”  This type of thinking dominates our view of relationships today, which may also be a good explanation for the current divorce rate.  In addressing this, I have one important question: at what point did we convince ourselves that it is a greater wrong to be taken advantage of than it is to act without love?  Think about that question very carefully…  When did our pride become a greater priority than a successful marriage?

So, what is it that I’m trying to say in all of this?  There is only one way to cure the neurotic investor syndrome.  That way is to do what is right… period.  To act lovingly… period.  To honor your moral sense… period.  No contingencies, justifications, or rationalizations.  Just do it.  You will be amazed by what can happen in a relationship when love is no longer contingent, but unconditional.  It enlivens, excites, and motivates the couple to seek for even more ways that they can please each other, and both have their needs met in ways that were never before possible when they were neurotic investors.  Does it take time and enormous patience to reach this point?  Absolutely.  But so what.  Isn’t it worth it?  As the saying goes, anything worth having is worth working for.  I can’t think of anything more worth having than a wonderful marriage.



Published in: on March 12, 2009 at 2:26 pm  Comments (4)  
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Making Love Everyday: The Diagnosis

After reading my first two posts, I hope that you have begun to understand that my purpose is to assist in bringing about lasting changes in your relationship.  I think it’s important that I emphasise that, when it comes to marriage, there is no such thing as a “quick fix.”  I’m sorry to say that there is no pill you can pop that will bring about these kind of changes.  This is a devastating realization for many of us as we come to understand that achieving the relationship we want requires far more “umph” than what we were hoping to have to give. 

To illustrate what I’m talking about, allow me to describe a scenario I have seen more times than I can count.  One spouse, determined to change the relationship, puts in a mighty burst of effort.  This may last a few days, or even weeks.  However, all the while they are doing this, they are watching carefully for a very specific type of response from their spouse.  If they do not see this response, they begin feeling as though they are being taken advantage of.  After all, it’s not fair that one partner should make all the effort while the other basks in the spoils, right?  And, of course, being taken advantage of is one of the greatest sins of all. 

Once this feeling of being taken advantage of sets in, the individual will throw up their hands in exasperation and say, “I will not be taken advantage of anymore!”  They feel hurt, bitter, and unloved.  All their efforts are withdrawn, and the marriage goes on in an even more miserable state than it was previously, due to the compounded feelings of resentment. 

The scenario I just described is a classic example of what I call the neurotic investor syndrome.  This is also the most dangerous barrier to making love everyday.  Let me explain.

As you look at the state of the economy today, there are varying opinions as to why it is the way it is, and what will make it better.  However, one point that seems to be universally accepted is that the economy will not improve until the public begins to invest in it once again.  Businesses simply cannot thrive unless the consumers will invest the money necessary for them to stay afloat.  Unfortunately, many consumers, panicking that they are not seeing returns on their investments, pull their money out, hoping to save themselves from further loss.  This, of course, only results in further damage to the economy. 

In my work I have seen a great many individuals and couples who treat their relationships as they would any other investment; they invest themselves in it only as long as they are getting back exactly what they want.  As soon as there is the slightest sign that they are not getting a return on their investment, so to speak, they pull out.  Hence, they earn the diagnosis of neurotic investors. 

One universal attribute of neurotic investors is that their goal is individual happiness.  On the surface, that doesn’t seem so bad.  After all, who doesn’t want happiness?  But, it is not the desire for happiness that is the problem.  It is the desire for individual happiness. 

I want to make something very clear…   If your goal is individual happiness, your marriage will not succeed.

No one can succeed in marriage unless their goal is not individual happiness, but relational happiness.  These two goals are very different, as are the means for accomplishing them.  To begin with, it’s important to understand exactly where your own goals lie.  It can sometimes be difficult to figure this out.  Most likely, you quickly thought in your mind, “Of course my goal is relational happiness!”  But, in truth, many people convince themselves that their goal is relational happiness, when their thoughts and actions speak very differently. 

In order to assist in determining where you are at, I’ve compiled a list of common “symptoms” of those who are focusing on individual happiness.  Consider each of these points slowly and honestly.

1.  You are convinced that you have tried everything and nothing has worked or will work. 

2. You see your spouse as stubborn and/or unchangeable. 

3. Your spouse’s flaws are far more apparent to you than are his/her strengths.

4. You have caught yourself saying or thinking something along the lines of, “If you are not going to _____, then I won’t______.”

5. You put in great flares of effort, but soon stop when you believe your efforts are not being matched.

6. You read articles and self-help books thinking all along the while, “Boy, does he/she need to read this!”

If some, or all, of these statements are true for you, then I have good news…  You have just discovered the problem in your relationship, and now you can solve it. 

In fear of turning this post into a novel, I will save the solution for my next post.  It’s also much more fun for me to leave you hanging.  🙂  Until then, consider this question very carefully: “How would my thoughts, words and actions be different if my true goal was relational happiness?”

Keep making love!

Published in: on March 6, 2009 at 11:51 am  Comments (2)  
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