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Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

It is remarkable how often I listen to clients worrying themselves sick over people who don’t even seem to like them.

The other day a woman complained she didn’t know how to handle a guy who’d treated her like something under his shoe.  He didn’t call, didn’t pay attention to her life or any of the issues she was facing at work or with her family.  He pretty much just talked, and cared, about himself.

But she couldn’t seem to get over him.

He called again, wanted to get together.

“Should I see him?”  She asked me.

The answer was obvious.  Every time she’d given in – and it had happened plenty – the same pattern played out.  He was considerate and nice for a week or two, then went back to the same old routine of ignoring her needs and focusing entirely on himself.

I told her she needed greater wisdom than I could summon.  She needed to listen to Barry Manilow.

You probably have some sort of opinion regarding the creative output of Barry Manilow – which is to say you probably either love his music or you hate it.

If you love it – really, really love it – then you’re a “fanilow,” a Barry Manilow super-fan.

A friend of mine visited Las Vegas last year with his two elderly aunts, and – mostly to humor them – went to see Barry Manilow play at one of the big resort hotels.  He posted his response up on Facebook:  “I’m a fanilow!”

He was wowed – like plenty of people who actually go to see this hard-working, talented performer who gives everything he’s got on stage.

Barry loves his fanilows.  He thanks them, he signs their programs, he tells them again and again that he owes them everything, that they’re the reason he can keep on performing and doing what he loves.  They love him – and he loves them right back.

On the other hand, I read an interview a few years back where the reporter got a bit snarky with Barry, hinting that his music was widely dismissed as camp, mere sugary trash.  I don’t remember Barry’s precise words, but he said something like this:  “I take my work very seriously, and if you aren’t going to treat it with respect, I’ll end this interview right now.”

He had a point, and he made it.  Barry Manilow does what he loves, and there are many people who celebrate him for it. He doesn’t need the haters.

You can learn from Barry Manilow.

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I received the following letter concerning the tricky business of maintaining a relationship:

Dear Will,

I’m a recent law school graduate studying for the bar exam. I just got into another argument with my boyfriend of four years, and I’m feeling frustrated and upset.

Our relationship tends to break down when I’m going through a period of heightened stress — writing my law school admissions essays, studying for finals at the end of each semester, and now, studying for the bar. I know I can get moody and depressed during these times, but I’m up front with him about my state of mind, and I wish he could be more understanding.

The problem is that, on the one hand, I’m starting to feel like the girl who cried wolf, since these periods of stress have happened regularly throughout our relationship. On the other hand, I still feel hurt and upset when he loses patience with me, like I can’t rely on him during tough times.

Any thoughts or advice you can provide would be much appreciated.

Thank you,

L

And here’s my response:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist.
========

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, “Way Worse Than Being A Dentist”

I also recommend my first book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy”

(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.) 

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LGBT people confront widespread hatred, yet each year take new strides towards equality. What’s the secret?

“Straight allies” – a concept every lawyer needs to understand.

As an LGBT person, you face a stark reality – there aren’t many of us. It might not seem like it, but we’re a tiny minority. And it’s a myth we recruit straight people to be gay – we would, but it’s impossible.

“Straight allies” are the folks who aren’t LGBT but – because they’re caring, patient, loving, open-minded and plain decent – they help LGBT people persevere in the struggle for equal rights.

What’s this got to do with lawyers?

You need some allies, too – allies who aren’t lawyers. It’s key to your survival.

Look around – all you see, probably, is lawyers – lawyers and more lawyers. That’s because you spend 90% of your waking hours at a law firm, where that’s all there is to see.

At some point in your day, or your week, or maybe your month, you’re going to have to see someone who isn’t a lawyer. And that person is going to have to put up with you. It may be your spouse, your romantic interest, your buddy from college or a member of your family.

That’s your non-lawyer ally. And you know deep in your heart it’s not a fun job. Whoever he is, he’s putting up with a lot – helping you keep it together.

One of my clients complained to me that he regrets coming back from work every night and grumping at his wife. I reminded him she might not be savoring the experience either. But it went further than that. The following week she blew up at him and gave him an earful of what being a non-lawyer ally is like.

Based on that earful – and other earfuls like it – here are a few tips for getting along with your non-lawyer allies:

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One of my patients gets together sometimes for lunch with his ex.  It’s always awkward, he says, and a bit melancholy, but there’s something nice about it, too, and so it’s become a ritual.

This time she brought a piece of news – she’d met someone, and was getting married.

He was happy for her.  He knew that.  They’d been broken up for years, and were never really right together.  They’d dated for about seven months – she was the first person he’d seen after his wife died in a car accident.  Even when they were dating, he’d realized  she was probably too young for him and they had different interests and maybe he wasn’t ready and…well, it never really worked.

Yet, somehow, this news still hurt.

On the way home from the lunch he asked himself – Why?  Why does this hurt?

And then it came to him.

He pulled out his cellphone.

She was at her office, and seemed surprised.  He spoke to her frankly.

Listen,” he said. “I’m truly happy for you.  I mean that.”

“But…” she said, prompting him.

“But,” he hesitated.  “This sounds nuts, because we’re not together anymore, and we don’t want to be together anymore…but…I guess I just want to know I’m still your guy.”

He felt a little ridiculous, and wondered if she was going to hang up – but she didn’t.

“Oh, honey,” she said.  “Don’t worry.  You’re still my guy.  You’ll always be my guy.  That will never change.”

He felt tears welling up, and all he could think of to say was,”thanks.  I love you.”  And that was the call.

Now, in his session with me, he said he felt a little shaky, but okay.  It was as if she’d lifted a weight off his shoulders.  Their connection, whatever you wanted to call it, was still there after all this time.  Whatever she meant to him – and whatever he meant to her, still mattered.

Break ups are tough.  They are necessary sometimes, but they can leave you with a certain melancholy, an ambivalence.  There is always unfinished business in a relationship even when it’s run its course.

That was especially true for this guy because he’d lost his first wife suddenly, after only three years together.

“After my wife died,” he told me, “I vowed I’d never take for granted that I could talk to anyone whenever I wanted.  Of course, I’d give anything to talk to her again, but she’s not there.  So I talk things over with her in my mind – that’s all I’ve got.”

There are no easy answers when it comes to interacting with ex’s.  The relationship has run its course, and you both have a right to move on. Strong feelings may linger, and you might have to give each other some space.

That doesn’t mean you can’t be gentle.  Your ex is a person with whom you’ve invested a chunk of time – a person you have loved, who has loved you, and made you special in his life.  Some vestige of that bond is worth preserving, if you possibly can.

Of course, it’s toughest if the feelings remain strong.

One of my patients ran into her ex recently at a social function.  He told her he missed her, and she was surprised, when she looked in his eyes, to see an imploring look.  He meant it.  She knew, without asking, that he wanted to get back together, to give it another try.  But that was impossible.

It wasn’t that part of her didn’t want the same thing.  He was the one who had wanted to break up all those years ago, and she knew this was some kind of redemption – a chance to make him happy, and get that wish she’d clung to for so long.

But their time together was years ago – and she’d moved on.  She was in a new relationship.

She felt torn in two – one half in the past, wanting to give it another chance.  The other in the present, knowing it would never work.

And all along she was wondering if it was entirely in her head.  Maybe she was just reading something into his words, and his facial expression, that wasn’t there.

So they chatted about nothing, and then her ex turned to leave.  Nothing much was said.

She felt an ache for days afterward.

The next day she took out some old photos from their time together, and had a good cry.

She’d probably run into him again, one of these days.  And maybe he’ll have moved on, and maybe he’ll be in another relationship too, by then.

But there would still be that ache.

That’s the gift we receive for taking the risk of loving someone else.

Maybe he just wanted to know he was still her guy.

—————

Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

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My patient was in a tizzy about a relationship:

“I don’t know if I can do this.  I mean – he’s talking about going on a vacation together.  What if we break up before then?”

I tried to calm her down.

“You guys have been dating for a month.  No one’s bought tickets.  He’s just talking.  And you two seemed to be having fun together.”

“But I don’t want to hurt his feelings.  Maybe I should break up with him now, before he gets too into me.”

“You barely know each other.  Give it a chance.”

“But what if I want to date someone else?  Wouldn’t that be cheating?”

“After a month?  It’s too soon for commitment.  Try to relax and have some fun.”

I encounter this type of anxiety in my patients all the time.  Relationships are scary because people make them scary.  Even during the first few weeks, they build up the pressure until they’re going nuts, then complain that they feel smothered, walled-in, overwhelmed, suffocated – it doesn’t make any sense.

When you climb a ladder, you shouldn’t look down because you’ll get scared.  The trick is to ignore how high you’re getting, and keep climbing.  At some point it doesn’t really matter how high you are – you’re high enough that if you fell, it would be bad.  So why bother looking and get freaked out – just keep climbing.

It’s the same with relationships.  Don’t look too far ahead or you’ll panic.  Try to relax, keep going, and have fun.  If you pay too much attention to how many weeks, or months, or even years have gone by, it will only spook you.  Take it day by day, moment by moment.  How long a relationship has been running doesn’t tell you anything about its quality in the moment, where it’s actually playing out.  Maybe you’ve been together 60 days or 60 years. They both probably seem like a long time, depending on where you are in your life.  The more important question is are you happy together right now?

The past is behind you and the future is unknown.  The present is where you live.  That’s where relationships take place.  The key question each day is:  am I having fun?  Do I want to continue to share experience with this person?

If the answer is yes, keep going.  If not, maybe wait a little while longer, and if the answer is still no – it might be time to move on.

I’m amazed at how quickly my patients begin to feel overwhelmed by relationships.  That happens because they rush things – stare out at the distant horizon instead of staying in the moment and concentrating on today, the time you’re sharing right now with another person.

Remember, it’s easy to break up.  It takes about two minutes.  Say “this isn’t working for me” and walk away.  Done.  You can end a relationship in the time it takes to brush your teeth.  No one is “trapped” in a relationship.

Starting a relationship is the time-consuming part:  meeting someone, connecting, finding out about one another and keeping it going.

The road ahead in every relationship is unknown.  And it doesn’t really matter all that much because you can’t control the future.

I’ve developed a few general time guidelines for relationships, just from watching my clients and seeing what works.  I think four months of dating is a symbolic milestone.  That’s the first time it would be remotely sensible to consider whatever you two have more than casual dating, and maybe even contemplate the idea of becoming exclusive.  I don’t know why I chose four months – maybe the idea of sharing an entire season of the year is symbolic.  You’ve gone one quarter of the way around the sun in one another’s company, from equinox to solstice (or vice versa.)

Six or eight months seems like a reasonable time before you consider yourselves a couple and present yourselves as such.  A year or 18 months seems like a reasonable amount of time before you think about moving in together.

These are not hard figures – everyone has their own way of doing things.  But if you’re going much faster than that, you’re probably rushing things – trying to get to the end of the road instead of letting things unfold organically, and stopping to enjoy the ride.

There’s no rush to get “established” in a relationship.  A relationship never has to be anything other than a choice you’re making because you’re enjoying it – something you want to do, today, for yourself.

Anyone who’s in a really good long-term relationship will tell you:  it’s best when every day feels like the first day, when you first met someone interesting and thought – hey, this is fun.

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This week’s question was a bit long, but it raised interesting issues, so I’ll print it in full:

My boyfriend and I have decided to have a wedding. We’re not getting married in the legal sense, and in fact I share many of your views on civil marriage and lifelong commitment, but we like the idea of a party with our friends to celebrate our union with one another as it is right now and will remain for the foreseeable future, and we’ve been together long enough that we don’t think people will take issue. I spent part of this morning working on some words I could say that, for me, define my commitment.

When I was six years old, my dad left my mom. I asked each of them, at different points, why that happened, and their answers have always resonated with me. My mom said that my dad had told her that he decided at one point early in their relationship that he wasn’t going to bring up a problem unless it ranked a 9 or a 10, and then one day he looked around and there were piles of 7’s and 8’s. He told me that my mom had all kinds of expectations that she never communicated, but would then get disappointed and upset when they weren’t fulfilled. When I was brainstorming my vows this morning, here’s what I came up with:

I promise to be with you as long as we both so choose.

I promise to talk to you when there is a problem, even a little one, but to do so with love.

I promise to be honest with you about my expectations.

I promise to learn how to be a better partner to you every day.

I only got that far before I looked at it and realized what I had done. What a slap in the face. Right there in the middle, my parents voices were still telling me what not to do in a relationship. In my mind, these are the two reasons relationships fail, so I have to do the opposite. My question is whether this is really a bad thing. It’s not like the promises I’m making, to communicate clearly with a partner, are so strange or egregious, and I’ve known for a long time that some of my habits in relationships were governed by those words I heard as a child. Still, it makes me want to reconsider what it is that makes a meaningful commitment between two people, and define it as what it is, rather than what it’s not. How worried should I be?

Maggie

And here’s my answer:

To submit a question to Ask The People’s Therapist, please email it as text or a video to: wmeyerhofer@aquietroom.com

If I answer your question on the site, you’ll win a free session of psychotherapy with The People’s Therapist!

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The People’s Therapist is a big Stevie Wonder fan.

Here’s one of my favorite songs, “I Believe (When I Fall in Love),” from the legendary 1972 album “Talking Book”:

You can see what makes it a classic.

First – it’s Stevie Wonder.

Second – who can resist a song whose chief lyric is “I believe when I fall in love this time it will be forever”?

We all want to find perfect love – and have it last forever.

But listening to this song feels like a guilty pleasure – there’s something that nags at you, even as you want to go along with it.

In reality, it’s impossible to know how long a relationship is going to last.  You can “believe” all you want – but no one can predict the future.

Stevie married his first wife in 1970, divorced in 1972, then, after multiple relationships, married again in 2001.  He has seven children, the product of what Wikipedia describes as “his two marriages and several relationships.”

For Stevie, where relationships are concerned, I think it’s fair to say “it’s complicated.”

That’s true for most of us.

Relationships are organic – like plants.  No one knows whether they’re going to flourish or wilt, and there’s only so much you can do to control them.  You can’t pull on a leaf and make it longer – it has to decide to grow that way on its own.

I try to avoid valuing a relationship based on its longevity.  We all know people who have had meaningful relationships that lasted only a few years.  And we all know couples who have been miserable together for decades.

At some point, what matters most in a relationship is not whether it lasts forever, but whether you enjoy being in it.

When I treat couples, I ask them right away:  “How much of the time, as a couple, are you having fun?”

I’m not trying to be flippant – it’s an important question.

My general rule is that they should be having fun more than 50% of the time.  Otherwise, it’s trouble – and I begin to question why they’re sticking it out.

In an existential sense, having fun – being happy – is what life’s about.  We’re here to experience joy, and our relationships should be a source of that happiness.

There are a lot of things I could say about relationships – that they should be balanced, that partners should treat one another as equals and relate as adults, that they should be two whole people pursuing a shared goal, that a healthy relationship requires attraction, trust and respect between the partners.

But the most important thing – the starting place – is that you should be having fun.

The truth is most relationships end in break-up – and that’s not necessarily a disaster.  It might be an evolution to something different. People grow and change over time, and having several loving relationships – like Stevie’s – might not be fundamentally better or worse than having only one.

It’s having fun, together with a partner, that really counts.

Here’s another song (lyrics by Eddy Arnold, performance by the incomparable Nat “King” Cole), called “Sometimes I’m Happy.”

I think gets a little closer to the truth of what relationships are really about:

Sometimes I love you.

Sometimes I hate you.

But when I hate you.

It’s ’cause I love you.

That’s how I am

So what can I do?

I’m happy when I’m with you.

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