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Posts tagged ‘Healthy Self-Care’

Self-Interest is Not Selfish in Relationships

SOURCE:  Alli Hoff Kosik/The Gottman Institute

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless.

We’re taught to put a high premium on kindness, generosity, and the needs of others. Sharing is one of the first lessons that many of us can remember learning as toddlers.

Making a decision based on our partner’s preference or going out of our way for a significant other — even when we’ve had a difficult day ourselves — is sort of the adult equivalent of letting a classmate borrow the crayon that we really wanted to use, no? At any age, these selfless acts are considered fundamentally good.

But that doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.

What happens when a spouse’s unflinchingly self-sacrificing behavior is built, brick by brick, into a wall so airtight that it’s no longer possible to understand the interests and desires that they hold near and dear?

Maybe it’s as simple as your partner constantly deferring to you to choose the movie or restaurant, or perhaps they are always willing to talk through the challenges of your day, while never quite opening up about their own. Maybe you feel they are always telling you just what you want to hear.

These selfless acts may feel good in the moment, but over time, they’ll limit your ability to authentically connect in your relationship. You may never learn whether they really like Mexican food and comedies best, and you may always wonder if their political views could actually be so similar to yours.

Finding yourself in a constant state of agreement may grow frustrating — and you’ll likely find yourself questioning if your partner’s selfless behavior is too good to be true. (For your sake, we hope it’s not… but your concerns are perfectly valid!)

In extreme cases, you may even feel as if you are being stonewalled, which, according to Dr. John Gottman, happens when a listener withdraws from an interaction. Have you ever felt as if your partner’s conversational generosity was simply a tool to shut down the discussion and avoid becoming more fully engaged?

Jackie: Where should we go this weekend?

Jim: I’m happy to go wherever you want to go!

Jackie: That’s great, but I want us to decide together. What would be your perfect getaway?

Jim: I will go anywhere you want. Just say the word!

Even if this conversation is sealed with a kiss and plans for an amazing weekend trip, the fact remains that Jim’s selflessness comes with a side of disengagement — and there’s no way that this goes unnoticed for Jackie.

If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance of authenticity and honesty with your selfless partner, perhaps you need to consider working toward deeper, more intimate conversations with them — drawing out their core opinions, setting a standard for more intentional, open, engaged, and reciprocal communication. Dr. Gottman has three basic rules for intimate conversations:

1. Put your feelings into words
2. Ask open-ended questions
3. Express empathy

In order to draw your partner further into more connected conversations, I suggest focusing on the latter two tips. Practicing these skills in your day-to-day interactions may help your spouse to communicate more genuinely — dare we say selfishly? — with you. Here’s how you can apply these principles more specifically with your self-sacrificing special someone.

Ask open-ended questions

Start paying closer attention to the way you engage your partner in conversation. If they are more selfless than most, you may need to be especially careful to avoid the use of yes or no questions. After all, what selfless spouse wants to say “no” when their favorite person wants to hear “yes?”

Maximize your partner’s ability to assert their opinions and preferences — in their entirety — by keeping your questions to them wide open. You may need to do it more often than feels natural. Ask “What would you like to have for dinner tonight?” instead of “Should we go out for Mexican for dinner tonight?”

The results may not be immediate, but as you establish a more consistent pattern of open-ended questioning — about everything from restaurant choices to the best way to manage your finances — we’re willing to bet that your partner will begin to realize that you expect them to engage with you at a deeper level.

Reestablishing the ground rules for conversations in your relationship may take time, but it will pay off in the long run in the form of a deeper connection with your partner.

Express empathy

Perhaps your partner struggles with authentic self-expression because their innermost opinions have never been validated with any sort of intentionality. Assuming you’ve started asking your spouse more open-ended questions, they may have begun opening up about their true preferences and desires. The trick now is to turn toward them (as Dr. Gottman always says) by engaging more fully in the conversation.

Show your partner that what they’re saying makes sense to you. If your partner is only taking baby steps away from constant selflessness, take baby steps with them. You can even show empathy for something as simple as your typically deferential spouse’s admission that they prefer Italian food to Mexican food (bear with us, we know this sounds a little crazy).

“Oh, I totally understand that,” you can say. “I feel like we always get more for our money when we go out to that Italian place down the street. And they have a great bread basket! What’s the best Italian food you’ve ever had?”

Engaging with your partner in this way shows them that you are paying attention to theirneeds, and that you may be in agreement with them as often as they are in agreement with you! Start small by validating their restaurant preferences, and watch them become more comfortable asserting their input in more consequential situations.

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Are Manipulators Aware of Being Manipulative?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Is It Possible That Spouses Who Manipulate Are Unaware They Are Being Manipulative ?

Question: Is it possible that spouses who manipulate are unaware they are being manipulative? If so, is this because of defense mechanisms or some other emotional void?

Answer: I think every human being has defense mechanisms and emotional voids. If we were capable of being completely healthy and whole individuals we would not need God. And probably 99% of all human beings have tried manipulation. Why? Because it is a very effective way of getting what you want.

A toddler throws a fit in the grocery store because she wants candy. If her mom capitulates because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t want to say no, she’s been manipulated by a two-year-old. And as the two-year-old learns that manipulation works she will do it again the next time she is thwarted from getting what she wants.

If her parents always give into her manipulative tactics her manipulation will increase and she will gain a wide repertoire of manipulative strategies. From throwing a fit, to whining, to saying “I hate you,” to the guilt trip or silent treatment, to badgering, to sighing with disappointment or disapproval, the manipulator communicates, “I am unhappy with you”, “I will hurt you”, or “you are a bad person if you won’t do or give me what I want.”

But your question is, “Is the manipulator aware that he or she is being manipulative?”

She may not know at two years old that what she is doing is manipulative, but over time she knows that certain tactics produce the results she wants. As she meets new people who resist her manipulative ways, she may face some tough realities. She may have teachers, coaches, or friends who refuse to always give into her. They may even give her some feedback that she is being manipulative. But if she continues to choose this way, she is conscious that she is being manipulative.

The problem with manipulators isn’t necessarily their tactics, but rather their thinking and underlying beliefs. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles says, “People do what they do because they think what they think and believe what they believe.”

Manipulators think that they are always entitled to get what they want. They believe that everyone should cater to their needs first and if one manipulative strategy doesn’t work (such as pleading and begging), they will switch to another tactic (the guilt trip, or bullying). They are so good and persistent at getting what they want, knowing that the victim becomes exhausted and eventually gives in. That is exactly what the manipulator wants.

You will need to learn to understand why you’ve allowed yourself to be manipulated over and over again and what you can do to change. Usually, fear and guilt are the underlying reasons why we say yes when we want to, or should say no. We fear the loss of the relationship and the loss of their approval and love. We may also fear that they will do something drastic or harmful if we don’t give in.

We feel guilty because the manipulator accuses us of being selfish and unloving when we say no or refuse to do what he or she wants. Even our best efforts will never get a manipulator to agree that our “no” was justified or appropriate. Our guilt also comes from religious teaching that has taught us to never have boundaries and that other people’s needs and wants always come before our own. This keeps us feeling confused and guilty, easy prey for manipulators.

By your question, I wonder if you want to believe that he or she doesn’t know better. That the manipulator manipulates as a defense mechanism or a result of some deep emotional void. And because of these voids or defenses, then you feel less angry or frustrated with him or her?

This perspective may help you. If you knew that someone was stealing money from you because they were fearful that they would not have enough to buy food for their family, you would probably have more compassion than if they were stealing it for drugs. However, the solution isn’t to allow them to steal. It is to provide them an opportunity to earn money to get what they need in an honorable way.

In the same way, you can have compassion for someone who manipulates, but you have to do so from a posture of strength, not weakness. You must have the strength NOT to give into the manipulator because giving in only enables the manipulator’s beliefs to go unchallenged and his strategies to continue. That’s not good for you or your relationship with him, and it’s not good for him. Imagine how many relationships he or she has lost because he doesn’t know how to tolerate someone’s no or accept someone’s boundaries in a healthy way.

So the next time he or she tries their manipulative tactics on you, say something like this:  “I know you just want me to (Fill in the blank) come to your house for Thanksgiving this year mom. I know it’s tough for you when we don’t come each year (Empathy and compassion), but I have to also think about what’s best for my family and me, and for this year it won’t work (Taking responsibility for myself and being respectful towards others.).

Then sit respectfully with his or her disappointment, anger, or grief without giving in.

Are You Caught in the Sandwich Generation?

SOURCE: iMom/Dana Hall McCain

The American population is aging, and this means a rise in the number of adults caught in what researchers call the sandwich generation—those who are caring for aging parents while still caring for their own children. Nurturing loved ones on both ends of your life, all of whom have major needs, is emotionally and physically draining. It can also throw a wrench into your financial planning.

How can you cope with such a heavy load without cracking?

First of all, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. Around 1 in 8 Americans age 40 to 60 is caring for an aging family member while raising a child. But you will be forced to make choices about priorities, learn to delegate responsibility, and accept that you won’t be perfect at both jobs every single day. Cutting yourself some slack may be the most important key to preventing burnout while you’re sandwiched in between.

Take a break from volunteering.

We love volunteers! They make every school, church, and community a better place. However, if you’re pulling double duty as a caregiver, you have very little margin in your schedule. Don’t feel guilty about saying no to some or all of the volunteer opportunities that come your way for a season. A time will come when your responsibilities shift again and you’ll be able to give more to the outside world and causes you hold dear.

Train your older children to pitch in.

In the not-too-distant past, it was common for three or more generations of a family to live together as grandparents aged. As a consequence, older children were expected to contribute more fully to the running of the household: caring for younger siblings, helping with chores, and taking more responsibility for their own needs. Even though current culture typically expects less of tweens and teens, they are capable of so much more! Delegate more tasks to them and the whole family will benefit.

Recruit your siblings to help with aging parents.

Many times the care of an older parent falls to one adult child more than the others. Sometimes, it’s simply because the other siblings don’t know what to do. If you find yourself in the role of chief caregiver, talk with your siblings about ways they can contribute to the effort. If they live nearby, it may be hands-on help. If they live further away, it might be by contributing resources toward hiring more professional help. Make sure they’re aware of what the specific needs are and how they can meet them.

Let go of perfectionism.

If you’re in the sandwich years, it might be a good time to lower the bar on some negotiable areas of life. Simplify your holiday routine from decorations to gift-giving. Relax if the house isn’t as tidy as it used to be. Don’t freak out if you gain five pounds. All of these things can be tightened up again when time permits. For now, just roll with it.

Give yourself an outlet.

This may be the hardest of our suggestions, because it requires time—time you likely feel you don’t have. But allowing yourself a bit of alone time regularly to decompress is vital. Prioritize it so that you have that opportunity to recharge your own batteries and enable yourself to serve everyone else.

Communicate clearly with your spouse.

The sandwich season can put a lot of pressure on a marriage. Make a conscious effort to check in with each other frequently to just say, “How are we doing?” It will give each of you the chance to express where you could use more help, and will provide a chance to strategize about how to accomplish the top priorities.

Accept help from friends.

Just like your siblings can help with the parents, your mom friends are often glad to help out with your kids. Take them up on an offer to drive carpool for you when needed or drop your kid at home after sports practice. Every little bit helps!

Q&A: Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship

Source:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship

by Kim Caloca

Today’s Question:  I have fully read and been studying your book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.  Thank you for teaching and sharing and helping me feel that I am not alone and not “going insane.”  Thank you for putting perspective on, and giving direction to, the need to rely on God and focus on my life with Him.

While I immediately began to follow your advice and work on developing my C.O.R.E. strength – it’s a process, for sure – I see that the complex situation with my husband is also going to require me to distance myself emotionally in order to survive.  I am having trouble understanding how to do that.  How to balance acts of love and kindness with distance in the same house is confusing me desperately.  I need to get off of this emotional roller coaster and stop believing that every kind gesture he makes is a step toward healing and restoration.

I dearly love my husband, and separation is not an option for me.  He says we cannot afford it financially and he also doesn’t want anyone to know there is a problem.

Answer:  You ask the million dollar question – yes you realize that you must distance yourself emotionally from your destructive spouse but how do you do it while still being the person you want to be?  Confusing indeed. It’s a tough tightrope to walk well but here are a few guidelines:

First, from your CORE – you are going to be Committed to truth – both internally (not lying to yourself) and externally (no more pretending everything is fine when it’s not fine).  Therefore one of the first steps to emotionally distance yourself from him is to acknowledge and affirm you have a right to a self, independent of the marriage. Philippians 2:4 says “Do not merely look out for your own interests but also for the interests of others.” Note that it does not say, “do not have any of your own interests,” nor does it say you may NOT look out for your own interests.

If indeed things are that bad, then you cannot comply with his desire for no one to know what’s going on between the two of you.  It is time that you get some support and that will require telling someone.  I’m not advising that you blab to everyone, but I am saying that part of emotionally distancing yourself from a destructive person is that you don’t cater to their demands or delusions anymore.  Instead, you decide what you are going to do and how you are going to respond. Your decisions are based on truth and the person you want to be (CORE) instead of based on what your husband says or your fear of rocking the boat or losing the relationship.

The second step in distancing yourself emotionally is to accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can and be wise enough to discern the difference.  You cannot change him, but you can change you.  In the R step of building CORE strength, you will be responsible for yourself (the person you want to be or want to become).  One thing that means is you will “guard your heart, above all else, for it is the well-spring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).

You said you must stop believing that every kind gesture he makes is a step toward healing and restoration.  You’re right. His sporadic gestures of love and kindness are playing with your emotions.  When his seemingly loving actions are not accompanied by sincere remorse and repentance for the hurt he’s caused don’t allow yourself to get sucked into the fantasy that “maybe he really does love me.”  Or “Maybe now he gets it and is changing.”

My hunch is that he does these token gestures to confuse you and keep you hoping he’s changing when he has no intention to do so.  This is a very common tactic seen in prisons as well as concentration camps in order to maintain control over  prisoners.  The term Stockholm Syndrome describes an emotional attachment to an abuser.  It was named after hostages in a bank heist became emotionally attached to their captures during their confinement, because the kidnappers offered small gestures of kindness mixed in with abuse.

For you to guard your heart you will need to set boundaries on what you will listen to or engage in and what you will walk away from when your spouse is destructive. When he blames you or tries to draw you in, you will tell yourself the truth, “This is not my fault, I do not make him choose to act this way and I will NOT take responsibility for his behaviors or feelings.”  When he’s charming and brings flowers, you will need to say to yourself , “Don’t be fooled.  These token gestures of kindness are meaningless when I see no change in his heart.”

To continue to distance yourself will mean that you take responsibility for your safety and sanity. When you are feeling tense or irritable or scared you will do what you need to do to calm yourself down (like breathe deeply and leave the house) even if it upsets your spouse.  Emotionally distancing yourself means that you will no longer allow your emotions to be tightly woven around his emotions or see your role as keeping him happy or calm. You are now taking care of yourself instead of expecting or hoping or waiting for him to care for you.

You will be respectful, and sometimes compassionate and empathetic (as appropriate to his suffering outside of the suffering caused by consequences of his own destructive behavior), because that’s the person you want to be.

However, living with a destructive person day in and day out takes its toll on your emotional, mental, spiritual and physical strength even when you put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6).  You often don’t sleep well.  Constant criticism or verbal assaults infect you with poison.  It’s like entering a toxic environment with a gas mask on.  You will still have limits of how much you can take without being overcome.   So be cognizant of your limitations and when you see you are running low on internal resources, remove yourself from the environment, even if only temporarily.

Last, but not least, to emotionally distance yourself you will need to let go of your dreams, hopes, and wishes for your husband to change, grieve your losses and release your husband into God’s hands.  In the Old Testament, Abigail was a woman in an emotionally destructive marriage.  She had no expectations that Nabal would ever be different than he was – a surly and foolish man (1 Samuel 25). By accepting who he was, Abigail was freed to distance herself from him emotionally.  She did what she needed to do as his wife but she held no fantasies that he would be pleased with her, thank her, approve of her, or love her.  She did what she did because it was the person she wanted to be, not because she hoped he would repent and come to his senses or change.

You said you love your husband dearly but to emotionally detach, you have to let go of your craving for him to love you back.

Dealing With Consequences of a Loved One’s Problem

SOURCE:  Living Free/Jimmy Ray Lee

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” Philippians 4:6-7 MSG

Dealing with the consequences of a loved one’s problem is difficult.

Pain, stress and frustration often build up to an overload level. Living in that overload condition can do harm. It can affect our emotional and physical health—virtually everything in our lives.

In order to avoid this state of overload, we must believe that there is hope. Not hope in our loved ones’ ability to overcome the problem on their own. Not hope in our own ability to fix the problem. As much as we may want to, we can’t take charge and make things right.

There is only one real hope—faith in Jesus Christ. 

Faith in his love—he cares greatly about where we are and what we need. 

Faith in his power—he is able to deliver us from the fears and stress. 

Faith in his plan for us—he has a plan for our future that will not harm us, but will prosper us.

God won’t force our loved ones to change, but he will help them when they are ready to reach out to him. In the meantime, he will comfort and strengthen us. Ask him to help you approach each day with an attitude that confidently expects him to do good things in your life and in the lives of those you care about.

Father, sometimes I really do feel as though I am running on overload. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to—that I am not alone. Teach me to trust Jesus instead of being overcome with worry. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Concerned Persons: Because We Need Each Other by Jimmy Ray Lee, D.Min. 

Helping Others By Taking Care Of Yourself FIRST!

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee

“Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.” 1 Peter 5:7 AMP

When trying to help a loved one struggling with a life-controlling problem, we need to be aware of the “Three C’s”: cause, control and cure.

We did not cause our loved ones’ problems. They are responsible for the choices that led to where they are, no matter what the circumstances may have been.

We cannot control our loved ones’ problems. As much as we might want to, we cannot fix them—only God can do that. Accepting this fact of powerlessness is the first step toward recovery for you as a helper.

We cannot cure our loved one’s problems, but the Bible tells us that Jesus cares and we can trust him to help us through any situation.

We must commit our struggling friend or loved one into God’s care.

The best way we can help others is to take steps to get and keep our own life on the right path. As we trust God and make him the center of our life, he will take care of the rest.

Lord, I’m beginning to realize that I can’t fix my loved one’s problems, but it’s so hard to let go. Help me turn all my anxieties, all my worries, all my concerns over to you once and for all. In Jesus’ name …


These thoughts were drawn from …

Close—But Not Too Close by Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee. 

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