Relationships can be a person's greatest strength or a persons greatest weakness. In counseling, we teach that relationships or social support can be one of the most stabilizing factors in a persons life but what happens when those relationships that we invest and do not really go two ways. You can find yourself spending so much time and energy on relationships and people that may not be giving anything back. Part of this issue is that people tend to be in denial when this is the case and do not want to face the hard truth that maybe they aren't in a relationship at all. If this is the case, you can try to renegotiate terms of the relationship by expressing your needs but if this fails you will be faced with a choice of whether or not to accept the relationship in the condition that it's in or spend your time and energy investing in relationships that could give you something back. I would love to know what you do when you are in this situation. Please feel free to leave a comment.
As a therapist, I spent a fair amount of time talking about the importance of being of service to others as part of recovery and is part of just what it means to be a healthy person. Positive psychology has shown that gifts of service or acts of kindness can actually make you happier and more fulfilled in your own life. However, like anything, this is about balance. Therapist will often say that you need to "put yourself first". On the surface, this statement sounds selfish or even rude but putting yourself first is the only way for you to be able to guarantee that you can really be there for someone else when they need you. Simply put, you can't give someone something that you don't have. Putting yourself first means prioritizing your own self-care over and above the needs of other people. Your ability to connect with other people in a genuine empathic way is finite needs to be carefully monitored. One of my supervisors one said that the ability of being of service to others it's like a reservoir and if you drain that reservoir completely you will have nothing left for yourself or for other people. Putting yourself first means investing in the people and activities that bring you energy and don't just deplete it. Take a minute and ask yourself what brings you joy? The goal is to be more intentional about doing those things that keep you refreshed and revitalized in the midst of the battle that's going on all around you.
There are two main models or approaches used by therapists to help both sex addicts and their partners in recovery. The older approach is often referred to as the co-addict approach. This theory is derived from substance abuse treatment and it labels the betrayed partner as a co-addict. The idea is that the partner is somehow complicit in the sexual acting out of their partner through codependency and enabling. This approach has proven harmful to both betrayed partners and sex addicts because it amplifies the pain associated with infidelity.
The other, newer model, is referred to as betrayal trauma model. Unlike the Co-addict model, betrayal trauma focuses on the physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences that betrayed partners experience due to infidelity and sexual acting out. In session, addicts will often accuse their partners of being vindictive or trying to punish them. However, this can be better described through the lens of trauma than it can be through codependence. Counseling for betrayed partners should focus on normalizing the trauma response and working to rebuild trust in a relationship. I if you have been betrayed by your partner in infidelity you should ask your therapist or group which model they adhere to, whether it be co-addiction/ codependency or betrayal trauma.
I normally recommend Covenant Eyes for online monitoring and blocking for anyone trying to quit using pornography but I have realized that Covenant Eyes does not work for everyone. Covenant Eyes using a VPN (virtual private network) and this may cause problems for some clients because their work does not allow them to use a VPN or their work uses another VPN. The app Purge may be useful in these situations. It works through DNS (domain name system) and can filter all content on the device. This way, you can use any browser you like to access the internet safely. Right now, Purge seems to only be available for apple users and it is highly recommended that you pay for the pro version or it tends to limit or even disconnect your internet connection. Another plus is that this app is much cheaper than Covenant Eyes but it does not take screen shots like Covenant Eyes does. Please note that when using Purge parental controls need to be enabled to prevent Purge from being deleted.
My own battle with depression began in high school and really escalated when I went to college. My entire first year of college was nearly consumed by depression. I had crippling self-doubt, negative thoughts and chaotic relationships. Finding a therapist really helped on that journey but still I did not feel any real improvement until one day I noticed a cherry tree in bloom. It was in that moment that I realized that I had not even looked up in almost a year. I walked through every day just staring at my feet, but in that moment I saw some beautiful, something outside of myself and I realized that I had hope for a life free from depression. Now I have that life but it doesn't mean that I am happy all of the time and I do have real struggles. What I learned about depression is that it makes everything hard: going to work, relationships, hobbies and sometimes just existing is hard. One of the symptoms of depression is that you no longer enjoy the things that you used to. Sometimes, one of the best skills you can use when you are depressed is pushing yourself to do the things that you used to enjoy and maybe one day you will find yourself looking up and noticing a real change.
Have you ever looked at an old picture of yourself and thought wow, I was thinner and younger and I still don't remember being happy? Happiness is a funny thing. Sometimes we look for reasons not to be happy. When we accomplish our goals we move right on to the next goal without a lot of happiness. In the last 20 years, there has been a lot of research on happiness and there are some things we can do to experience more happiness in our lives. About half of happiness is actually based on your genes and is out of your control. The funny thing is that very little of happiness actually has to do with your situation. For the most part, people experience great and terrible things with appropriate emotional responses but they tend to come back to our baseline quickly. As a therapist, the number one goal I hear from clients is that they want to be happy. More often than not, this happiness has something to do with money. Does money bring happiness? The answer is that some money does bring happiness when it buys security and basic needs. However, more money like mansions and fancy cars do not tend to bring happiness. Here are some tips to help you recognize and embrace your happiness. Try these 4 tips for feeling happier and see if your perspective changes.
Concentrate on helping others or the world around you
Helping others and being concerned with their wellbeing has been proven to make you a happier person. Try to help someone else at least once a week.
Keep a gratitude list
Being grateful for what you have can shift your perspective. Try keeping a gratitude journal and review it at least once a week.
Try new things
Your brain responds better to novel experiences so try to vary your routine a little. Walk or drive a different way and challenge yourself with new experiences.
Lower your expectations
Sometimes our expectations are too high and they make feeling happy difficult. Lowering your expectations can help you experience more happiness. However, this is not the same as feeling hopeless or not setting goals.
It seems like compromise is never the first thing we think of when we are in an argument. When people realize they have disagreements it is tempting to amplify or hyperfocus on those differences. So many of my clients come to work on issues that constitute a small fraction of the relationship in question. Couples will spend an hour talking about disagreements without acknowledging all of the issues that they agree on. Sometimes, it is good to remember what is going well.
Compromise happens when couples build bridges and think outside of the box for possible solutions. Very few problems have only one or even two solutions. One of the best skills to help you reach a compromise is to listen to what your partner is saying and start talking about the issues you agree with. This can help you both be on the same side of the table and not engaged in a chess match. It may be possible for both people to get what they want. However, with any compromise, you may not get everything you are asking for. Sometimes it is a good idea to ask yourself "is this the hill I want to die on" and be able to move on if it isn't. Remember, you are working with your partner to solve problems. Your partner is not the problem you are solving.
Some people can look at the world and themselves through rose colored glasses. They can see the best in everything, even when life gets hard. Others see the world through lens of their own in ways that put a gloomy view on everything they see. What if you could change your lenses and see the world in a new way? The psychological term for these lenses is core beliefs. They are hidden beliefs we have about ourselves, others and the world around us. Having negative core beliefs may contribute to depression or anxiety, especially if you view yourself as negative and are wary or afraid of the world itself. These core beliefs can make it difficult to cultivate self-esteem, trust other people or feel safe in your environment. So when it really comes down to it, what do you think of yourself. Take a blank piece of paper and write the words "I AM ________" and make a list of as many words as you can without spending too much thought on it. This will help you identify negative core beliefs. As a therapist, I hear a lot of core beliefs in my conversation with clients and the one I hear the most is "I am unloveable" or "they wouldn't love me if they knew what I have done". This core belief erodes self-esteem, increases shame and guarantees future secrets. This core belief can change when someone loves you anyway, despite the things you may have done and despite the negative things you think about yourself. Most people have a combination of positive and negative core beliefs. One of the best ways to challenge negative core beliefs is to ask yourself if you have evidence for your beliefs or are they based on feelings. Remember, feelings are important parts of your inner experience but feelings are not facts.
In general, there are four types of communication. On one extreme there is passive communication. Passive people may sit quietly and even nod when they disagree with what is being said. Passive communicators generally do not get their needs met. The opposite extreme is aggressive communication, which may include swearing, aggressive body language (getting in someone's face) and could escalate to physical violence. Aggressive communicators are use to getting what they want through bullying others. Sometimes it is possible for someone to both passive and aggressive at the same time. This is called passive-aggressive. The communicators may agree with you to your face but gossip about you later. Passive-aggressive communication is the most difficult form of communication to deal with. Finally, in between passive and aggressive on the spectrum of communication there is assertive. Assertive people manage to get their own needs met while respecting the boundaries and autonomy of others. Assertiveness is the only recommended form of communication but it can be hard to get quite right when you first start practicing. The first tip for assertiveness is to use "I statements". These statements make communication less accusatory and can be more easily heard by others. The second tip is to focus on your feelings because feelings can never wrong. Unlike facts, they cannot be argued with. They exist in your experience and expressing them can help take weight of your shoulders but also help others understand you and your perspective. The best question to ask yourself about your communication style is whether or not it is effective. Most people resort to name calling, swearing and aggressive gesturing in order to be heard, but it actually has the opposite effect. People stop listening when they feel threatened. Most communication is actually body language, which makes your overall demeanor very important. Tone of voice is also important. The actual words you use represent less than 10% of overall communication. This is why it is so easy to miscommunicate in texts and emails. The number one way to make sure you are heard by others is to listen to them.
THE LOVE MAPS 20 QUESTIONS GAME
Now that you understand the importance of building Love Maps and have assessed the quality of you and your partner’s current Love Maps, play a fun, light-hearted game with your partner. The more you play, the more you’ll learn about the Love Maps concept and how to apply it to your relationship. Each of you should ask your partner the questions below. If your spouse answers correctly (you be the judge), he or she receives a point. If your partner responds incorrectly, neither of you receives any points. The same rules apply when you answer. The winner is the person with the higher score after you’ve both answer all twenty questions.
1. Name two of my closest friends
2. What is my favorite musical group, composer, or instrument?
3. What was I wearing when we first met?
4. Name one of my hobbies.
5. Where was I born?
6. What stresses am I facing right now?
7. Describe in detail what I did today, or yesterday.
8. When is my birthday?
9. What is the date of our anniversary?
10. Who is my favorite relative?
11. What is my fondest unrealized dream?
12. What is my favorite website?
13. What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?
14. What kind of present would I like best?
15. What makes me feel most competent?
16. What was my favorite vacation?
17. What is my favorite meal?
18. What is my favorite way to spend an evening?
19. What is my favorite color?
20. What personal improvements do I want to the least?
* From Gottman