Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, Or Grow Apart

Grow Together, or Grow Apart:

Why Right Now May Be a “Make or Break Moment” For Your Relationship

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

Is your relationship growing together, or growing apart? As a Denver marriage counselor and online relationship coach, I am highly aware that the current circumstances of the world are putting a unique type of stress on relationships. Many couples are using this pressure to grow stronger than ever before. Other couples are growing apart, and may never recover.

On this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast I'm discussing the seemingly inconsequential “make or break moments” that will either strengthen your relationship or tear it apart. Listen now so that YOU can be intentional and self-aware about what's happening in your own relationship.

Relationships Under Stress

The ongoing global health crisis of Covid 19 plus the turmoil and uncertainty in the world right now is putting stress on everyone, both as individuals but also as a couple. We're dealing with more stress and anxiety, but without the protective factors that we usually have to soothe ourselves and practice good self care. We have a swarm of new things to figure out, and may be dealing with heightened fear or anxiety, job loss, health issues, and for many of us, grief.

To cope, we find ourselves turning toward our number #1 people for support — our partners, or our closest friend, or go-to family member. If we reach out in these moments and connect with the love, empathy, emotional safety and responsiveness that helps us feel calmer, safer and more supported…. our relationships are strengthened. If we reach out but feel criticized, judged, uncared for alone… it creates mistrust and emotional damage.

What's happening in the moments when YOU try to reach out lately? Does it feel healing? Or harmful?

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

Great relationships don't just happen, great relationships are grown — moment by moment. Little things matter. All couples have had LOTS of moments lately to either show each other love and respect, solve problems productively, and provide each other with emotional support… or fail at doing any of those. Great relationships don't happen despite difficult circumstances, great relationships are created by overcoming difficulties and challenges together. Couples who do this courageous work together come out stronger and more successful on the other end.

Some couples are achieving this right now…. but some marriages are quietly failing.

Marriage Falling Apart?

If the stress and strain of the current situation is making you feel like you're in a relationship growing apart, that your relationship is becoming unhealthy, or even that your marriage is failing or falling apart you'll definitely want to tune in and get the relationship repair strategies I share including:

  • Why understanding our innate need to love and be loved is key to reconnecting with your partner or spouse. 
  • Gaining self awareness around how positive and negative interactions that you have with your partner affect you (and how you may be impacting them without realizing it).
  • Learn the most consequential “micro-moments” that many couples dismiss as being unimportant (to the detriment of their relationships).
  • Learn about the core principles of a happy and healthy relationship.
  • Gain a deeper understanding of how conflict can strengthen relationships.
  • Recognize what actions make the relationship system work.
  • Learn how to cultivate compassion, empathy and emotional safety in your relationship, and more….

You can listen now by scrolling down to the podcast player at the bottom of this page, or tune in to the “Grow Together, or Grow Apart” relationship podcast on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or wherever your like to listen.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Grow Together, or Grow Apart: Episode Highlights

Our Need for Connection 

Humans are relational. As burdens come, we have a healthy instinct to find comfort with people we love. This may manifest differently in what we receive from others. What holds is these connections build our relationship even further. It's healthy and adaptive to share our burden with others. This is how closeness, connection, and strong, secure attachments are achieved.

When we are in this space of needing support and reach out, our relationships will become strengthened when we're met with responsiveness, empathy, and understanding.However, if we experience judgment, ridicule, or rejection when we reach out in vulnerable moments, our relationships are damaged. It's incredibly important to avoid this at all costs, particularly in stressful moments when your partner needs you.

Feeling Failed by a Loved One 

We often think of relationships as being damaged by fights and conflict, or obviously “regrettable incidents.” While this can be true, what's more common is that our feelings of love and attitudes towards our partners change not only during dramatic moments. Micro-moments can also define our relationships, building from everyday encounters. Small moments of judgment, ridicule, resentment, or silence, or small actions (or inactions) may destroy your relationship in the long run. Without responsiveness in a relationship, we may feel existentially alone.

When your relationship is becoming unhealthy and you're growing apart rather than together, you may find yourself withdrawing from that instinct to connect. Because this is the opposite of our everyday adaptive attachment needs, withdrawing from that instinct is damaging on a deeper level. Couples can end up getting a divorce because they don’t talk about and resolve the most important things during these types of “make or break” moments.

Couple fights don’t always have to be about something big. It may come from even the smallest things. All “conflict” is an opportunity for greater understanding and increased connection. Particularly when we have effective strategies to stay calm, practice radical acceptance, and maintain our empathy for each other, we can turn conflict into connection. 

Here are some strategies that healthy relationships and healthy couples use to achieve this.

Happy and Successful Couples

When we learn acceptance, our relationships grow stronger and healthier — there will be compassion and empathy. What else do happy and successful couples have?

Psychological Flexibility 

We react to situations as they come, allowing us to respond to different situations appropriately. Problems are inevitable, but when you’re psychologically flexible, you can figure out a path through them. This ability to stay in the present, approach problems without preferences, judgments, and other biases tie into our emotional intelligence.

Flexibility allows us to regulate emotions and communicate with our partners. It enables you to stay connected to your partner. If this is an area you need to work on, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Coaching may help manage these thoughts better.

Kindness and Generosity

According to the Gottman Method of Marriage counseling, when kindness and generosity are at the center of a relationship, couples can:

  • Have empathy for each other 
  • Communicate feelings, thoughts, and needs 
  • Respect each other

What Gottman’s research has found is that you can basically throw 90% of everything else out the window if you keep kindness and generosity at the center of your relationship, that you have kindness and generosity flowing between two people. Treat your partner with the utmost consideration so that you can grow together as a couple and as individuals.

While all of these sound great, do remember that kindness goes beyond your words. You also need to show kindness through your actions. You should also know how your partner needs love and appreciation from you. Once you learn this, make sure to shower them these lavishly.

Empathy

You might understand your own worldview better than you understand your partner’s. Your partner may be more connected with their feelings than you are. Whichever is the case, we should approach our partners without judgment and accept how they make perfect sense in their context and perspective.

Understanding already goes a long way, but it isn’t enough. Make sure that you understand your partner’s feelings and assure them that their feelings are just as valid as yours. It’s not a competition.

Acknowledging our personal feelings will allow us to respect differences within the relationship. When there is respect, it gives room for understanding and appreciation.

Courageous Conversations

In the podcast, I mentioned how one of the most destructive things we can do in a relationship is not talking to each other. We tend to avoid bringing things up out of anger or fear. We bottle them up until we explode. Couples who do this can eventually grow apart. (More on this subject: Withdrawn Partner? How to Talk To Someone Who Shuts Down).

But in a healthy relationship, it’s vital to have conversations about the important things. These aren’t fights or discussions; instead, these are authentic and passionate exchanges of our thoughts, values, and truths. After all, effective communication is crucial to a healthy relationship, and a lack of open communication can create distance.

These conversations can be challenging because people can discover that there are areas of their relationship that feel out of alignment. There are differences in values, perspective, needs, wants, or desires — and that is all okay. (More on “How to Have Difficult Conversations” right here.)

Related to courageous conversations is the concept of emotional safety. It is the most critical component of a healthy relationship. When we have courageous conversations with our partners, and with kindness and empathy, we can give each other an emotionally safe environment that allows us to grow together and be authentic.

Emotional Intelligence

Your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others and then respond to them appropriately and effectively depends on not just emotional intelligence but also the foundation of emotional intelligence — self awareness. This is the ability to understand and manage your thoughts and feelings first.

Emotional intelligence is all about being aware of your feelings and surroundings. It is the ability to regulate your emotions. It is also vital for understanding our partners.

Emotional intelligence is powerful. It allows us to: 

  • Become aware of our own and other people’s feelings
  • Regulate emotions
  • Practice empathy, especially during stress and disappointment
  • Establish emotional safety

Respecting the Fact That Relationships Are Systems

Relationships are systems where two individuals respond and react to one another. You and your partner are not existing independently. What we put into the system partly influences our partner’s behavior. When you are aware of this, you understand that your negative actions can also trigger negative responses from your partner. This cyclical nature allows us to adjust and change ourselves to be better instead of forcing our partners.

Steps to Grow

How can you start taking steps to grow your relationship?

You can have your partner listen to this episode and have courageous conversations about things that matter to you most. To help you along the way, you can take our How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz.

If you feel that you are both growing apart no matter how much you try, it’s not too late. You can seek expert relationship advice from a licensed marriage and family therapist. Learn how to find a good marriage counselor here.

More Resources 

We have a comprehensive library of other relationship podcast episodes and relationship advice articles here at GrowingSelf.com, I hope you take advantage of them!

  • How to Have Difficult Conversations – Like courageous conversations, difficult conversations bring people together despite differences in beliefs, feelings, and values. Learn how to have and respond to these difficult conversations. 
  • Emotional Safety – Learn more about how to practice emotional safety for you and your partner.
  • When to Call Quits in a Relationship – Walking away from a relationship can be challenging for many. Listen to this episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast to learn when to call it quits.

These trying times are genuinely challenging for everyone. I hope this episode gave you valuable advice on how to improve your relationships. What did you learn and can apply in your life from this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts on the comments below this post. 

Did today's discussion inspire you? Please review, subscribe to, or better yet, share the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Grow Together, or Grow Apart

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Music Credits: Sarah Kang, “More Than Words”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Lots of couples go through challenging times, but the ones who turn "rough-patches" into "growth moments" can come out the other side stronger and happier than ever before.

 

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Grow Together or Grow Apart: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

 

[More Than Words by Sarah Kang]

 

Isn't that the cutest song? That is Sarah Kang and the song More Than Words, I thought this was a nice segue for us into our topic today, because today I am putting on my marriage counselor hat. And we're going to be talking about relationships, and particularly why this very moment that we are sitting in right now together is a make-or-break moment for a lot of relationships, possibly including yours. 

Grow Together, or Grow Apart

I have to tell you in my perch, my 30,000 foot view as the clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching, not only do I have my own clients and couples and individuals for therapy and coaching, but I also do a lot of consultation with other marriage counselors and relationship coaches on our team to talk about what's going on and to kind of work together around cases and kind of keep an eye on trends. 

And I'm also listening to you, my dear listeners, who’ve been getting in touch with me on Facebook or Instagram or through our website growingself.com to ask your questions. Often, these are relational questions. And so through all of these various sources and channels of information that I have access to, I have become aware that there is a really important thing happening right now relationally for many, many people. 

Grow Together

And I feel like today's episode of the podcast is almost going to be like a public service announcement in some ways to let you know that right now, there are opportunities to either grow your relationship in like profound and enduring ways. Like what is happening right now between you and your partner, or you and your friends or you and your children or your closest confidence is an opportunity to have a very deep, solid, trusting, connected relationship that will endure for many years to come. Or if you don't handle this moment, as well as you could, this could doom your most important relationships. And I'll tell you why. 

 

We are currently, as I record this in a time of high stress, a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns. There's so many different things happening in the world. And right now we need each other more than ever. And some of us, not me, of course, but, some other people are not behaving always as well as they could due to all the stress again. Not myself personally, because I don't do that sort of thing. But if I was that sort of person, I might be a little higher anxiety right now. I might not have access to all of my self-care routines that usually support me. I haven't had a massage in 10 months. We can't see our friends as much as we want to. 

 

And in addition to just losing some of the niceties of life, jobs are in peril, economic security is in peril. You may have had—like I have—people close to you who have died or become incredibly ill perhaps, you yourself have become incredibly ill. Perhaps you are partnered with someone who, like so many, is experiencing the ramifications of long COVID, who is not okay right now and is still building back to the way things were before and that future feels doubtful. Like there's a lot of really real stuff going on. And I haven't even scratched the surface of social justice and other things. 

Healthy vs Unhealthy Relationships

Anyway, but the point is, we are all dealing with a lot. And because humans—we humans are so relational. In our moments of stress and strain, we have these instincts, these healthy, normal, adaptive, resilient instincts to turn towards each other, to come together in these moments of difficulty and share the burdens with the people that we love the most and who love us the most. This can take so many forms in a relationship. It can mean talking about how you feel. Laying on the floor sobbing while somebody pats you on your back. It can look like so many different things. It can look like being kind of quiet, not really wanting to talk, not being your usual fun, bouncy self, withdrawing, like so many forms. 

 

But the point is that in these moments, we need each other. And when we are in this space of needing support, and we reach out for that support in whatever form it may take, and connect with someone who cares about us, who sees us, who has compassion for what we're going through without judgment, without criticism, without telling us we should cheer up or feel differently, or any of the things—when we connect with that kind of energy, and experience true love in the form of empathy and compassion. And then when that understanding is followed up by responsiveness, like, hearing what we're saying, and giving us what we're saying that we need, that moment, that 90 seconds of relational interaction is like welding you emotionally together in your relationship. You reached out, you connected, your needs were met, and it was this, “I am loved. I'm safe. I'm secure. We are together in this. I love you. I'm so grateful to have you in my life.”

 

It's these kinds of micro moments that we're all dealing with. And the good news is that many of us are getting them from our partners and because of this, are developing a deep, deep enduring appreciation and gratitude for our relationships and the steadfast love of our partners through thick and thin.

Why Marriages Fail

In the same 90 seconds span, there are lots of people reaching out in healthy ways, and maybe in some not so constructive ways. And we'll talk about that too, but reaching out saying “I'm not okay.” And being met with silence, rejection, ridicule, resentment, hostility, criticism, or just nothing at all. Or somebody saying, “Yes, sorry, you feel that way.” But there's no responsiveness. There's no movement to kind of come together in honor of what someone is communicating. 

Couples Who Grow Apart

Those micro moments, it is like a machete hacking through the fabric of a relationship. Nothing dramatic may happen in that moment but every time it does, there's a slice to the core that says, “I'm not understood. I'm not cared for. I'm not safe. I can't trust this person. I can't talk to this person. Even if I can talk to this person, it doesn't matter because either they don't care, they don't care enough. They're not doing anything to help me. Never mind.” And there's this withdrawing. This basic, basic experience of being profoundly alone. And like not just alone-alone, but like existentially alone, like “where is the person I am sharing this with? Who is here for me? What do I do?” And this particularly for us collectively minded humans, if you have any attachment needs at all—healthy, normal adaptive attachment needs, it is incredibly painful and damaging on so many different levels. 

 

I am aware right now that I'm being very dramatic as I talk about this. But like I have this feeling almost of urgency and this is why I really wanted to talk with you guys about this today. And you know, partly this was prompted. I have to tell you. 

Online Marriage Counseling and Couples Therapy

So here at Growing Self as you know, I'm sure if you've listened to this podcast more than like half a time. We really specialize in marriage counseling, couples therapy, relationship Coaching. So I would say, 70- 80% of our clients are couples who are either seeking to improve their relationship or they are individual coaching or therapy clients who are coming to us because they need to make some decisions about their relationships. Or like maybe their partners won't come into couples counseling with them, so they're here on their own trying to see if they can make something better. Or if that fails, they're having very honest conversations with us about what they want to do with this—if their relationships can be improved. 

 

So a lot of this going on. I think that we've seen a flood of couples coming into our practice, because I think many, many people and couples have become acutely aware that when everything else falls apart, at the end of the day, like really, all we have is each other. And particularly in this quarantine pandemic experience, like, the people that you live with. Be it your romantic partner, your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your parents even—it's like this, sort of family experience, either if it's the family, you were born into the family that you chose, the family that you created.

It's like, our most important relationships have become dramatically important. I mean, it's really illuminating how crucial and important these relationships are. It's like this boat that you're floating on together in the midst of this ocean that's chaotic and dangerous, and in ways both emotional and literal. 

 

There's this, I think, renewed importance of relationships right now. And so lots of couples coming in, who are committed to their relationships and are realizing like, “We need to do everything that we can to make this good for both of us and have a happy, healthy relationship.” 

How to Fix an Unhealthy Relationship

Also, seeing interestingly, people coming in like adult children with their parents wanting to improve those relationships and deal with some unfinished business, which is always a positive thing. A lot of dating coaching clients who are like, “I'm feeling extremely ready to be in a relationship, what do I need to do to get there?” But again, this other subset of people coming in, figuring out—because they have had experiences with their partners, particularly over the last few months when they've needed their partners so much, and felt like their relationships were failing them. And really just at their wit's end and not knowing not knowing what to do and wanting to get clarity to make a plan one way or the other. 

 

Anyway, this is what has been happening in our practice. And then I had a journalist reach out to me a little while ago, and this happens from time to time, and they're like, “Hey, working on a story about”—this is somebody from, I don’t know, NBC, CBS, one of them, a reporter. It was like, “Hey, I'm working on a story because there's data out right now showing that divorce rates are down.” And the journalist’s angle was like, there was all this talk at the beginning of the pandemic about how much stress and strain this is putting on relationships, and how so many marriages were doomed because of it. And now there's all this data showing that divorce rates are down across the board. “Dr. Bobby, can we have your comment?” So like, “Okay, sure.” 

 

Because it's true. It's true that, again, many couples in this space have had this fork in the road moment, where they have had to figure out how to have difficult conversations about important things that really do need to be hashed out and resolved. They have been spending more time together. You're not running out the door to go to a happy hour with your friends. You are at home with the person that you live with. And so it's spending more time together, figuring out what to do to make life meaningful and good for both of you. Maybe getting reengaged with quiet activities that can help you kind of connect, and even if it's just cooking dinner at home and having a nice conversation. Like these are small, intimate moments that I think many relationships have benefited from. There is a quietness that has settled over our lives that in some ways has been really good because the focus can be on the relationship and on your family. Instead of running around with 97 different friends and these different activities like there's a lot of quiet time at home, and it's good for conversations and for connection. 

 

I think too, when people feel stress and anxiety, there is this natural inclination to bond and to connect and to share. And it goes so deep within us that it's almost an instinctive, reflexive, like, “Where's my person?” in these moments of stress. And I think that because of this, this is part of the reason why divorce rates are down, is because many couples have a renewed sense of appreciation for each other. And I think like this sort of big picture highlight of when everything else falls apart, I can count on you. I can count on this family through thick. And it has really renewed people's commitment to do everything in their power to have a really healthy, high quality relationship, because it matters so much. 

 

As part of this podcast, I'm going to be giving you very specific information about things that you can do at home today within the next 30 minutes of hearing the sound of my voice in order to invest really good things into your most important relationships because we need each other right now. We need each other.

 

But, so going back to this interview with this journalist who was like, “Divorce rates are down and people decided that during the pandemic, they loved each other. Didn't want to get divorced anymore.” I was like, “Yes. And let me tell you about the other side of this, Mr. Journalist.” And I think honestly, he wasn't really expecting this perspective because on the surface of it, the data says, “Yes, fewer people are getting divorced.” That's a good thing. 

 

However… he has not been privy to the same kinds of intimate conversations that I have with so many people, my counseling and coaching clients, and being in these consultation groups with other people in the team. And what we're hearing over and over again, is the part of the shoe that hasn't yet dropped, which is the other side of this equation. And I know, this is probably true for so many of you also that, that you have experienced probably, in some ways, your worst nightmare over the last few months. Not just in the circumstances of life, but in your relationship, right? That you have felt failed by your partner. You have felt emotionally rejected at the time that you needed the most. And you have felt this wounding that has probably taken your breath away, like, “Oh! Oh my god, did that just how did that just happen?” And again, it doesn't have to be some big crap show fight, right? It can be the smallest things. 

 

I have had people tell me that, and think about it, this is so understandable, a lot of anxiety about getting sick. And in this terrible pandemic and they're really worried about things like keeping their environment relatively safe, as safe as any of us can. So wearing masks when you go places, washing your hands, doing things around the house to keep things a little bit cleaner than usual. And it is totally okay to have a spectrum of comfort with different levels of safety. And there may or may not be an objective truth right now that like, “this is what everybody should be doing.” 

 

So, that aside, what I'm always more focused on is the relational piece of this, which is that one person is saying, “I'm scared. If you did this with me, it would help me feel a little bit less scared. Can I count on you to do this with me?” And the other person says, either “No, that's stupid. Oh my god, really? You're such a pain in the ass, like, why?” Or arguing with them about how it doesn't make sense. Or saying “Yes, sure.” And then just not doing it. I mean, there are these tiny little moments over things that do not seem like that big of a deal but when you look at it through this relational lens, it is this big existential question like, “Do you love me?  Do you understand me? Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do you care about me and how I feel? Am I important to you? Can I trust you when I am scared, and I need help?” Like, these are very fundamental foundational attachment kinds of wounds. 

 

And so there are couples, all over the place, where these kinds of things are happening in many different ways. It could be somebody can't tolerate the other person being anxious or sad or worried and shuts it down, like, “Nope, look at this funny cat meme. Look, look, it's a kitten eating a popsicle.” Or whatever. Like trying to change the subject, trying to fix things, cheer people up. 

Radical Acceptance to Strengthen Relationships

In a recent podcast episode, if you recall, if you're a regular listener of mine, we talked about radical acceptance and how being able to just hold the space with someone is the most important and healing thing any of us can do, as opposed to trying to, like make people feel better talk them out of their feelings. Like, it feels like rejection when somebody does that to you. But that's happening all over the place. And there are so many other little things that are happening within families, within homes that might not seem like a big deal, but are a very big deal.

 

In many homes, particularly, if it's a heterosexual couple, and there are children involved, many children—women are feeling extremely burdened with all of the things. And this has been a huge growth moment for many couples to reorganize the way they do things. If everybody's working at home, how do we divvy up the responsibilities in a way that really feels equitable and fair for both of us? So this has been a growth moment for so many couples to be like, “Okay, what we're doing right now is not actually working because I'm not getting anything done. Neither you, what do we need to do here? Our children's needs aren't getting met.” And it's been a really good thing, because it's led to more fairness, teamwork. Every couple needs to create a set of agreements around like, “Okay, I changed the litter box, you clean the toilets, and this is when it's going to happen.” Like in order just to have a functional life together, that some of that has to happen. And, and this has been one of those make-or-break moments for couples to figure that out. And lots of couples have very happily with or without the support of a relationship coach, right. 

Healthy Relationships Prioritize Trust

But there are other couples who have really struggled to do this. And it could be the smallest thing from somebody saying, “Yes, I'll be done with work at 3, and then I'll take the kids, and you can do your thing from 3-5” and then, like, okay, so the person is like, “Okay, I'm going to count on this.” And then their partner who said they would be done at 3, comes wandering in at 3: 45. And, like, “What's for dinner?” I mean, it's like, “Wah!”, and it seems like such small inconsequential things. But again, it's the same big underlying themes of, “I can't trust you. We had a plan. We had an agreement and I am being harmed by your failure to follow through with what we agreed on.” And these seem like such small things, but they erode the fabric of a relationship that leads to resentment. It leads to hostility. It leads to a reduction in the things that keep a relationship good. 

 

It's hard to be kind and generous and empathetic to someone when they are not holding up their end of the bargain the way they said they would, right? And so, there are all kinds of negatives like relational cycle that can start spinning out from those micro moments like little mini dervishes. And so, these small, small things are highly consequential, and many couples are experiencing these like, death by a thousand cuts kind of moments. 

 

Some people are acutely aware that that is happening and they are here at Growing Self, talking to their therapists about what this means for the future of their relationship. And some people are just beginning to get very weary and very disappointed and starting to pull away emotionally and feel more distant and disconnected from the partners that are showing them that they cannot be counted on. That is happening quietly in many homes right now as we speak, perhaps even yours. And so, this is again that like do or die, grow together, or grow apart kind of moment that you're faced with now. 

 

And I also want to say, just to normalize all of this, all relationships have, I'm using my finger air quotes right now “that all have issues,” right? All relationships have things that are nice, things that are not so nice, challenges, and strengths. This is just what it means to be a human being in a relationship. We are all a mixed bag. And our partners are all a mixed bag. And all relationships are a configuration of the best and worst of both of us, right? And so, the point isn't that you have some sort of hypothetically perfect relationship where none of this stuff ever happens, that is not a reality-based idea. 

 

What it is, is what do you do in these moments that are an opportunity to grow closer together, or to grow apart? Because if you don't do anything, and just let things fall, where they may—while all relationships have issues and have strengths, and also have growth opportunities, as we like to say around here, stress will illuminate all of the cracks and fissures and fractures. So stress doesn't necessarily create the problems, but it will reveal the problems more acutely. Because again, when we depend on each other for so much more, and there's so much less that we have in the rest of our lives, our relationships, hobbies, my massages, right? Like we notice when we're not getting our needs met from our partner that much more acutely when we're so much more dependent. 

 

This is a real opportunity to take stock of a relationship and say, “Okay, these are the parts that are working for both of us. These are the parts that aren't working really well for me right now. Let's talk about what's feeling okay, and not okay for you. So that we can work together to improve the situation for both of us because if we don't, if we just let it go and keep doing to each other what we have been, this isn't going to work out long term.”

Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage

I don't mean this to sound scary, but I have talked to so many people over the last few months who have said very plainly and clearly, “I am no longer interested in being married to this person. I can't trust them. When I really needed them, they weren't there for me. I've tried everything I know how to do to improve the situation, I don't think it's possible to improve it. But circumstantially, this is not a good time for me to get divorced. It's financially—I don't even want to go look at apartments right now, with the masks and disease and all that. I don't want to have to deal with finding a different childcare situation for my kids. Financially, it feels safer for me to just stay put right now. But, this is just me, waiting until the time is right. But I know very clearly that I am done and that we are getting divorced as soon as possible.” 

 

They're saying that to me, they're not saying that to their partner. Their partner may have no idea what's going on. Their partner might not understand the micro wounds that has led to this person sitting with me to be firmly and clearly convinced that they're done with this relationship. So yes, divorce rates are down. And there is this thing simmering under the surface that has yet to grow into fruition. 

 

I want to change gears now that I've hopefully impressed upon you the importance of taking this moment seriously if you would like to remain married or partnered or in a connected relationship with a person that you're thinking of right now. We're going to talk about that. 

 

Just as a side note, because I know that many people are sort of on the down low thinking about or actually making plans to get divorced once we're past this. I have actually—had sought out— why can I say this? I'm just going to say this. There is a divorce lawyer who's based in Denver—a Denver divorce lawyer who's incredibly, not just knowledgeable, but really ethical and extremely honest. I had the great pleasure of interviewing her a little bit ago. And it's such an interesting conversation. She absolutely spilled the beans around things to think about if you are entertaining the possibility of divorce. We talked a lot about strategies to create an amicable divorce situation, a collaborative divorce, which is the best possible outcome, if you're going to get divorced is figuring out a way to part as, if not friends, at least, yet still have some kind of relationship at the end of it. Particularly if you're going to be co-parenting with each other or have a business together. So we talked a lot about that. 

 

She also offered a lot of her insights into the aspects of divorce, the experiences of divorce that people don't think about before they pull the trigger. Really great questions to ask a divorce lawyer, I asked them for you. And so if you've, if you have been leaning in this direction, I do hope you join me for that podcast. I'm going to be airing it next week. So look out for that. 

 

But for the rest of you who believe that there's still a glimmer of hope for your relationship that maybe it has felt like it's been sliding down the unhappy path towards disconnection, towards disappointment towards growing apart, I want to discuss some ideas that will help you begin to turn this around and begin to use this opportunity to grow back together again. 

 

Because I tell you what, and if you take nothing else from this podcast, take this: relationships that are good and healthy and happy, don't have any less problems than anybody else's. They are not relationships with two highly evolved people, who just don't have the same weird quirks and things that the rest of us do. And great relationships don't come into being because they don't have issues, problems, or circumstances that are difficult. Great relationships happen because of all of those things. They are grown through difficult circumstances. They are grown through facing challenges together. They are grown through having very difficult conversations and figuring out how to solve problems together. Great relationships are grown by very intentionally, doing certain things at critical moments that strengthen a relationship. And strong relationships are stronger for having gone through challenges together and having worked through difficult issues together. 

 

People who are in new relationships that have been together for six months, not to knock it, it's fun, and it's cute, being in love and all that good stuff is lovely. But that is not nearly as strong, or as deep or as intimate of a relationship as the kind that couples create because of having gone through the crappy crap together and come out the other side successfully. That's the path to creating a deep relationship—is not avoiding the problems or not trying to create a relationship without any problems. It is addressing them courageously and also competently. So this is good news for a relationship. Because of all the hard stuff right now, this is the path to creating the kind of relationship that you would really like. 

 

Let's talk now about some strategies for how specifically to do that. There are several things that you can do in order to create a healthier relationship and to have growth moments with your partner. 

 

So first of all, and I would also just like to back up a second and say this is not my opinion, the things I’m going to share with you. These are things that are based in research. There are all kinds of self-proclaimed relationship coaches everywhere, who just like basically make crap up. I am not one of them. I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, in addition to being a relationship coach. And I myself, like the rest of the couples, counselors on my team here at Growing Self, exclusively practice evidence-based forms of marriage counseling, couples therapy, and relationship coaching. So we are looking at what do we know from fact that helps couples form healthy, happy relationships? And how do we guide couples through having these very specific experiences and new skill sets offered to them so that they can replicate these positive outcomes. So that is what we're doing here. 

 

And also, I've mentioned this before, but myself and the people on our team here at Growing Self are really specialists in marriage counseling and couples’ therapy. So it’s like even get in the door to be able to be a couple's counselor here at Growing Self, you have to at minimum, have a master's degree in Couples and Family Therapy. So like not just being a garden variety therapist, you have to have specialized education and training. You have to be eligible for licensure as a marriage and family therapist, which is 1000 to 2000 hours of postgraduate experience seeing couples and families under the supervision of a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. 

 

I think we have two people on our team who offer couples counseling, who are not licensed Marriage and Family Therapists. And the only reason they're here is because they have done extensive postgraduate training in couples and family therapy that is really the equivalent to what they would have learned if they'd done a master's degree in couples and family therapy. 

 

So I just want to preface what I'm about to share with you through that lens because I think that it's wise for you to be discerning about where you're getting your information, particularly when it comes to something as important as your most important relationship. Because when it's like really real and very serious, date nights are not going to cut it, they're going to make things worse instead of better. 

 

So, anyway, sorry, I'm going to get off my hysterical soapbox, now. So let me tell you, they're the fork in the road moment, the fork in the road, there is the happy path towards growing together, there is the unhappy path of growing apart. What we know from research is that there are very, very specific and important things that happy successful couples do within themselves and within their relationship. 

Psychological Flexibility

First of all, we know that one of the most important factors for having a great relationship is something called psychological flexibility. Psychological flexibility, and this refers to the ability to be able to kind of like shift gears and stay in the present, not get overly attached to specific outcomes, or rules or shoulds, or muster black and white thinking. But rather be able to kind of take things as they come and make decisions and react to situations that are in alignment with your most deeply held values.

 

So that means, being able to let go sometimes of your preferences, or the way that you think things should be. And being able to come into the center of “We're having a problem. I'm unhappy about this. And I love my partner. I want this to be a good outcome for both of us. What do I need to do in order to create that?” 

 

It kind of ties in to emotional intelligence, which is one of the things we're also going to be talking about, but psychological flexibility, I think, is a very important component of emotional intelligence because it has less to do about how you feel, and even what you do compared to what you think and being able to have a flexible mindset, where you can sort of shift gears cognitively to be able to like handle appropriately whatever is coming up in the moment, either from your circumstances or from your relationship or inside of yourself. And having some mastery around what's going on between your ears so that you can stay in a good enough place. And you can also be flexible and responsive to whatever’s going on with your partner right now. 

 

The opposite of this is extreme rigidity and getting very bent out of shape when things don't go your way. Or when your preferences aren't always accommodated and having big feelings and reacting from those feelings as opposed to being able to kind of mediate cognitively what's going on and what you would like to think and being able to reach for a more helpful thought instead.

 

So, I mean, look it up yourself—psychological flexibility in relationships is huge. And if this is a growth area for either you or your partner, you might consider getting involved in cognitive slash cognitive behavioral therapy, or cognitive behavioral coaching. There is such a thing as evidence-based coaching. It is not for the treatment of mental illness. It is for people who would like to develop things like cognitive flexibility, and be able to manage their thoughts in a way that feel better for them. So there's that. 

 

And when you're able to practice psychological flexibility, it allows you to regulate your emotions, communicate effectively, and most importantly, work with your partner to find productive solutions to inevitable problems. The problems are inevitable. It's just when you're psychologically flexible, you can figure out a path through them, staying connected to your partner. 

 

And when couples can do this together, they're really able to stay aligned through thick and thin, because life throws a lot of stuff at us. And there are lots of times when things don't work out the way we'd quite like them to or when our partner isn't being the way we would want them to be and is being able to shift gears and be appropriately responsive to what is actually happening. 

Kindness and Generosity

Okay, another key core thing. If you want to take your relationship down the happy path right now, is to be practicing kindness and generosity. That sounds fluffy. I know it does. But here's this. One of the most prolific and well-respected researchers in the field of marriage and family therapy is Dr. John Gottman, he's written about 97 books, are all amazing. He has developed a evidence based form of marriage counseling called the Gottman Method of Marriage Counseling. The Gottman method is different from other kinds of marriage counseling in the sense that is extremely behavioral. It is very coachy. And so a lot of what we do here Growing Self with Relationship Coaching is based on the Gottman model, because it's so amenable to kind of a coaching model. Again, not for mental health stuff, but for more of a coaching focus. 

 

And what Gottman his research has found is that you can basically throw 90% of everything else out the window if you keep kindness and generosity at the center of your relationship. If you have kindness and generosity flowing between two people, nothing else matters quite as much. Like, you can have bad communication, you can not have date nights, you could not do a lot of other things that you would think would be very destructive to a relationship. But I mean, obviously relationships are better when you do have those things. But if you have kindness and generosity, in ample amounts, you're going to be okay. 

 

And so what do I mean by that? Kindness and generosity is when you very deliberately make efforts to treat your partner with consideration, with kindness. And like, being able to—this is actually connected to the next thing but like, have a lot of empathy for how they're feeling, what they're needing right now, even if that is different from what you are needing or wanting, and to be able to give that to them, and communicate your respect for how they're feeling and what they're needing through—here's the important part—not just your words, but your actions. And that's where this generosity piece comes in, which is being able to give things to your partner generously, that are what they need and want from you. There's generosity there. 

 

And there needs to be balance in a relationship at a certain point like it's nice and we get our needs met in return. But in a relationship where you are focusing on kindness and generosity, what you are getting or not getting is not always going to be your number one priority. You're going to be thinking, “Wow, what, I'd really like to have more conversations with my husband. And I know that he is not okay right now. He is not feeling good. I know that he's super stressed at work. I think he feels bad about what's happening to us financially right now. And I know, because I know him, that when he gets into that space, he goes internal. It is not easy for him to talk about things like this.

What can I do to show him that I understand that, that actually, when he is checking out and playing Fortnight for three hours at night, he is maybe doing that, because it's his way of trying to manage some of the stress right now. How do I show him that I get that, and that I love him, and that I want him to have what he needs? You know what? I am going to bring him a big bowl of popcorn and put it right next to his video game chair and just kind of wave and give him a kiss on the cheek and let him know that I love him and that I am so happy that he is playing Fortnight with a bunch of 14 year olds right now.” Can you tell that I'm a Fortnight widow, my husband and son playing fortnight constantly. I get stressed out but I try to play any video games or I have to shoot at someone or I get shot at. I’m like a candy crush person, 100%. 

 

But it's like how do we be generous with our partners when they are showing us what we need from them as opposed to getting all resentful and demanding when we're not getting what we need. Right? That will be a quick, quick turn down the unhappy path if we stay focused on that kind of opposite of kindness and generosity, which is sort of selfishness and self-focus and lack of empathy. So how does your partner feel loved and appreciated by you? If you don't know the answer to that question, find out and then lavish them with it every chance you can. 

Empathy

Another core piece of a healthy, happy relationship with a couple that grows together. And it's related to kindness and generosity, certainly, but it's this core piece of empathy, which is not just understanding how your partner feels or how your loved one feels. It doesn't have to be your partner, it could be your child, it could be your parent, it could be your friend. But, “I understand how you feel and how you feel is valid. And how you feel is important.” 

 

It's not quite enough to just get that someone else is sad or afraid. True empathy goes into, “If I were to put myself in their proverbial shoes and look at the world, through their eyes, through their set of life experiences, through their belief system, through their values, through the things that they tell themselves in their own mind, this makes sense to me, when I see it through their eyes, without judgment or criticism or blame.” Or that if you did this differently, more like how I do it, you wouldn't have these problems, right? Without that kind of, of condemnation or ridicule. It's just “Yes, I could see why you feel that way.” When I put myself into this, this point in space, if I fast forward through all the years of your life and arrive at this point in time, I would probably feel exactly the same way too. I get it. This makes sense. 

 

And here's the other piece. The way you feel is actually just as important as the way I feel. My feelings are not more important than yours. I might understand my own worldview better than I understand yours and I might be more contact with my feelings and I am in yours. But the way I feel, the things I want, the things I think about, my values are not more important than yours are. They are equally important. 

 

And so this sounds like a simple thing but it is very easy to slip into conflict and just like that waterslide, like shoot down the unhappy path of disconnection. When you begin to believe that your partner is behaving unreasonably, and that they're wrong to think and feel and behave the way that they are, and judge them for it. Empathy is the antidote. Everybody makes sense. Trust me. I have sat with—I can't even tell you how many, hundreds, possibly thousands of people. Some of them are doing things that are surprising or feeling things that are different than other people feel. And I have never in my entire life met a person that when I sat down with them, and didn't like really get a whole story, and all the information and kind of put all the pieces together, that didn't make perfect sense. You make perfect sense, and your partner behaves and makes perfect sense—behaves in a way that makes perfect sense. If they're behaving in a way that doesn't make sense to you, it's because you don't have all the information yet. 

 

Find out the information with empathy, with empathy, without judgment, without criticism, without blame. Because when you understand somebody’s why, things fall into place. And in having this kind of attunement with your partner and being really compassionately accepting of your partner's thoughts and feelings, even if they're different from yours. But when you achieve that level of understanding, all conflict immediately melts away. There's just nothing to argue about. There is only the opportunity to have a deeper connection with your partner that they feel understood and cared about by you. And then you'll have the opportunity to open a door so they can understand your perspective a little bit more deeply. And from that point, all that's left to do is figure out how to solve solvable problems and appreciate and respect each other's differences for the rest of it. Empathy is really important right now. 

Courageous Conversations

Another core skill, if you want to have a growth moment with your partner. This might surprise you, but it's true, to have courageous conversations that might even feel like fights. Let's just reframe those, they're not fights, they are passionate conversations about things that are important to people. A while ago, I did a podcast about how to have difficult conversations that is really geared more towards having productive connecting conversations between two people who might be in very different ideological places or have different values. Because if you don't have those, there is distance and disconnection, and relationships will just wither and evaporate. 

 

And the same holds true for our intimate partnerships. People sometimes erroneously believe that having a healthy relationship or a good relationship is kind of defined by having lack of conflict. “Well, we don't fight, everything's fine,” right? No, if you are not having important, meaningful conversations about important things, you are not having a relationship in some real ways. 

 

Now, there are couples that have worked a lot of stuff out. I mean, my husband and I have been together for—I don't know what year is this, it was sometime in the early 90s, I don't even know. But anyway, a long time, and we've worked out a lot of things. And so we still have courageous conversations from time to time about growth areas. And that is the engine of growth in a relationship. When somebody says, “This is how I feel, and you might not be happy about this, or you might not like what I want, but I have to say it because I have to be authentic with you. And I have to be real with you. And I have to let you into my inner world. This is me. And if I'm not talking about this, you don't really know me. You don't know who I am. And if I'm not hearing about what is important to you and how you really feel it means I don't know you.”

 

And so these conversations can feel challenging sometimes because people can discover that there are areas of their relationship that feel out of alignment. There are differences in values or perspective, or needs or wants or desires. And that is all okay. The goal is not to be exactly on the same page and an alignment about all the things but is to achieve, understanding and respect for each other's differences. And to be talking very openly about what those are, and how you can work together to make this as good as possible for both of you. 

 

Also, courageous conversations are absolutely necessary to be solving and facing the issues of life right now. From how do we communicate about things? How do we work as a team together in our house? “You know what? I did dishes five times today, how many times did you do dishes? None? That is not okay with me.” And it doesn't need to be I'm being more conflictual than I probably would be in real life. But although Matt Bobby could handle it. Because he's actually usually the one that does dishes five times a day, and I'm like, “What's for dinner?” 

 

But that aside, to be able to say, “I have to talk to you about something important. XYZ is not working for me right now. And I want to have a conversation with you about what we can do together to make this feel better for both of us because I am not okay.” And it can be about anything, but it is the conversation that you least want to have is the conversation that you most want to have. It can be very tempting to think about avoiding difficult conversations as not rocking the boat, as being not communicating well, I'm not saying anything about things that really bothered me, and I'm just stuffing it in that bottle until I get more and more resentful until I explode. Let's not do that. Have courageous conversations when things come up because that authenticity around your true thoughts, feeling needs, desires, will help you feel known and be known, you will know your partner. And you'll be able to achieve this deeper understanding and a deeper union, really, through courageous conversations. And couples who don't do this will inevitably grow apart. 

 

I will tell you a secret. One of the most insidious destructive ideas that you can have in your head, that will be the seed of destruction for your relationship is this idea of, “No, I don't want to say anything. It won't change anything. It doesn't matter, we'll just have a fight. No, it's not worth bringing it up. I'm just no, I'm just going to deal with it.” That is the narrative that will land you in a divorce lawyer’s office, that inner narrative in your head is what will become the barrier for the necessary courageous conversations that we all need to have. 

Emotional Safety

Related to this is the deliberate practice of emotional safety. I have also done standalone podcasts on this topic. But as a quick refresher, emotional safety is the primary foundational component of a healthy relationship. It is related to empathy. It is related to kindness and generosity. It's related to communication. It is also related to psychological flexibility. When we are being emotionally safe partners, it is okay for your partner to not be okay sometimes. That means that they can say thoughtless, insensitive things, and you can say, “I don't like the way that sounded but I love you so much. I'm going to give you a redo, try again.” I use that one with my 12 year old son on a fairly regular basis, but it's like, you are not going to explode. You're not going to fall apart. You're not going to criticize. You're not going to reject people. You are being emotionally safe for your partner when they need you. 

 

And that goes both ways that when you're in a high quality relationship where you are feeling emotionally safe, it means that you can be mad sometimes. You cannot feel like talking, you can be you're not best self. You can be imperfect. You can have your own little weird quirks and things and you can feel sad or scared. And it's just that like unconditional positive regard that even if you're not okay, it is emotionally safe for you to be authentic. And to be not always okay that you're loved anyway. 

 

Not that we don't all have a responsibility to do the best we can to bring the best we can to the table like it does require intention, but it's like committing to being a safe person for your partner to talk to, to be empathetic, to be non-judgmental, to try to be kind and generous when someone is sharing their authentic feelings with you, in a way that fosters this feeling of safety, that is not being the fixer, or the solver of the problems or the whatever, it's not that type of safety. It's emotional safety, it's, “I am a safe person for you to be real with. What's going on?” And to have that going both ways in a relationship is I think, what we all really, really need right now, particularly when there's so much going on in the world. 

 

I mean, just this morning, my husband saw something on the news and had a solid, I think four minutes of ranting in the kitchen, about whatever it was like “Ahh!”, smoke actually coming out of his ears and just, and just kind of like, “Yes, that is so messed up. I can understand why you're angry.” As opposed to telling him to calm down or like “think about this instead,” it's like, “Yes, this is bad.” You can do this, too.

Emotional Intelligence

Our next skill, and then I promise, I only have two more, and then we'll be done because it's like a 19-hour podcast. But the next skill is emotional intelligence. This is another core component of a healthy relationship. I am planning a podcast on this topic specifically to come out for you in the next—probably February. But anyway, about how to increase your emotional intelligence. But here's why. Your ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and then respond to them appropriately and effectively depends on not just emotional intelligence, but like the foundation of emotional intelligence, which is the ability to understand and manage your own thoughts and feelings first. 

 

So to have that emotional intelligence is a skill set that allows you to be aware of how you're feeling, regulate it if you need to, have control over your reactions, be able to communicate effectively during times of stress. And it's also related to empathy, not just empathy for others, but also really empathy for ourselves. Particularly under times of stress or disappointment, and by very deliberately building up your own emotional intelligence skills, and working on that part of “Okay, how am I showing up?”, you will immediately see positive results in your relationship. 

 

And so if you feel like you and your partner have been growing apart lately, I would recommend getting real serious about emotional intelligence and working on what you can, which is how you are showing up as—are you being an emotionally safe person? Are you having courageous conversations, that are productive and well intentioned? So not like attacking people, but having honest, important conversations. Are you showing up with empathy? Are you showing up with kindness and generosity? And are you really working on psychological flexibility that allows you to kind of roll with things as opposed to freaking out about all the things like these are all related 

 

And so I want you to also hear that all of the constructs that we've been discussing, hang together. Psychological flexibility is an aspect of emotional intelligence. You can't have kindness and generosity without empathy. Having courageous conversations requires emotional safety. If you are not being emotionally safe—people, yes, your partner is not going to talk to you, because it will be unpleasant, conflictual experience, right? So, these are things that all hang together. 

Remember: Relationships Are Systems

And very lastly, is one last idea, is that people who have healthy, enduring relationships that are made stronger for having gone through difficult times and coming out the other side, have a high degree of awareness for and respect for the fact that your relationships are systems.

 I mean, the successful couples or people with harmonious relationships with their family members know what Family Therapists like me have been preaching for decades, which is that any relationship is more than just two individual people kind of bopping along. A relationship is a system. And that means that people are not just existing independently. Two people in a relationship are reacting to and responding to each other's reactions and responses. So there's like the cyclical thing. Your partner is having reactions to you. And your reactions are in turn what you perceive your partner to be doing or not doing. 

 

So there's this like, cyclical thing. And by understanding that whatever is happening with your partner right now is at least in part influenced by what you are putting into the system. You immediately become empowered to change it. And not by demanding change in your partner and insisting that they change 19 things about yourself, themselves, rather, so that they can be closer to perfection, right? But is to really get very deliberate about, “Okay, what is it like to be in a relationship with me right now? What am I contributing to this relational system? And what adjustments can I make that might help my partner have a better reaction to me?”

 

I know that that can be very difficult to take on board. And I also know—I'll just say this out loud, some relationships are in fact irredeemable. There are such things as narcissists and sociopaths, and people who just can't or won't be emotionally safe or have empathy for others, or have courageous conversations, or have emotional intelligence. Those are realities. I would refer you back to another podcast that I did about when to call it quits in a relationship. Like if you don't know if your partner can do these things with you, time to find out. So listen to that podcast for some advice on how to create that. 

 

I do hope that this honest, courageous conversation that you and I have had together today can provide you with a little bit of a roadmap to help you understand the importance and the significance of this moment for your relationship and can empower you to do everything that you can do in order to help you and your partner grow together right now instead of apart. 

 

If that isn't possible, next week, we're doing a podcast on amicable divorce. So stay tuned. But in the meantime, I do hope this conversation has been helpful. And very lastly, I tell people this all the time, I'll tell the same thing to you. Resources to get this started, you could certainly have your partner listen to this podcast with you, trap them in the car, go on a drive and turn on the podcast. 

 

Also a tool—we offer a free relationship quiz on our website that is super like low-key. It's the How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz. And I think it was growingself.com/relationship-quiz, I'm pretty sure is the URL. You can go on the Growing Self website and Google. Or there's like a search bar on our site. So you can look up different resources. But look up the How Healthy is Your Relationship quiz. And you can take that quiz together. You can take it. Your partner can take it. You won't see each other's answers. But the neat thing is that then you can kind of just come together in a nice emotionally safe space and just compare answers. 

 

For the purpose of yes, sure communicating to your partner how you're feeling, it can kind of get the conversational ball rolling. It also provides some information in the results of the quiz to help kind of orient each of you to like some of what we're talking about and somewhat is different. But like the different domains of your relationship. So you'll see the parts of your relationship that are strengths for both of you, and the parts of your relationship that are growing areas. 

But to have like that be the intention of the conversation like “Okay, let's take this quiz together. And let's just talk about what parts feel like they're working for each of us and then maybe talk about some ways that we could improve how this is feeling for both of us.” 

 

You might be surprised at some of the things that you learn about how your partner is feeling about this relationship. Going back to what we talked about before, that once you have that information, the way they're behaving and feeling will maybe make more sense to you once you have that. So there is a resource for you. 

 

I also just want to say this and again, as I said on previous podcasts including a recent one about discernment counseling, when relationships are strong and healthy, fundamentally—so yes, there are problems and parts that people are not happy with each other about—but fundamentally, people love each other and they want it to work, they're still committed. That is typically when people show up in couples counseling, in relationship coaching. As “We want to make this as good as possible. We're having trouble talking about this, without it sort of disintegrating into an argument. We really want to learn how to do this together, can you help us figure out how to do this together?” Yes! And in those cases, it's usually fairly easy. Like, 4, 6, 8 sessions, we do all this stuff, and teach couples how to do these things and be these things with each other, and they go off on their way. 

 

If you are in a relationship, where you have not been getting these things for months, perhaps years, and you are having really negative relational cycles with your partner. They are refusing to talk to you. There's a lot of hostility and resentment. There are a lot of automatic negative assumptions about each other's motives. There are feelings of hopelessness, almost about their relationship. I just want you to know that this is also not just normal but expected. 

 

If you have been living without kindness and generosity, empathy, psychological flexibility, emotional intelligence, a real dedication to emotional safety—to have a very, very difficult feeling relationship is a predictable outcome of that. And it is still not too late. It does mean that you will probably need the support of a good—and by good I mean, someone with specialized training and experience, look for a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a at least a master's degree or a doctorate in marriage, family therapy, and who practices, evidence-based forms of couples’ counseling to help you. It can take a little bit longer to kind of peel this onion and be able to understand each other with empathy and compassion again. It's going to be a little bit of a process. Because what we have to do is really help you to restore your empathy and compassion for each other. 

 

So that it stops feeling like an adversarial thing or like this person is somebody that you don't understand and who doesn't understand you. This can be achieved. It just takes a little bit more time and it takes skilled evidence-based couples counseling, and we do it routinely. I cannot tell you how many couples I've worked with who came in being like, “I do not understand this person and I never will.” And, yes, it took a few months, but at the end of it was like, “Wow, you know what? They're amazing. I can't imagine my life without them.” 

 

So just know that and I hope that that helps you hold on to hope even if it feels like you guys have been drifting away. 

 

Big podcast. I'm going to stop now, and I'll be back in touch with you next week for another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Thanks for listening.

 

[More Than Words by Sarah Kang]

 

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Body Image & Self Esteem go hand-in-hand – What's your body telling you? Denver Therapist and Online body positivity coach, Kathleen Stutts, M.Ed, LPC discusses the relationship between your body, self-esteem, and overall health here!

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Radical Self Acceptance

Radical Self Acceptance

Radical Self Acceptance

Radical Self Acceptance:

Why Accepting Yourself Changes Everything

Radical Self Acceptance

Are you already worn out from pushing yourself toward another goal? Do you feel that no matter how many times you try, you are still not growing or changing? If your answers are yes, you might want to take a step back and try radical acceptance.

In this episode, I help you understand how radical self acceptance works and why it is essential. It is an emotional intelligence tool used to guide us to understand and value ourselves. And consequently, lead a better life. 

Listen to the full episode to better understand radical self-acceptance!

In This Episode, You Will . . .

  • Understand the relevance of radical self acceptance in your life.
  • Recognize (and release) your tendency to beat yourself up for having feelings.
  • Learn how to accept your feelings without judgment or shame.
  • Become aware of how toxic shame can worsen your well-being.
  • Find out how unconditional self-acceptance can help in your relationships.
  • Discover self-love through practicing mindfulness.
  • Recognize the power of facing negative emotions. 

You can listen now by scrolling down to the podcast player at the bottom of this page, or tune in to “Radical Self Acceptance” on Spotify.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa

Radical Self Acceptance: Episode Highlights

The Relevance of Radical Acceptance

The art of radical acceptance — radical self-acceptance — will change so much more for you both on the outside and the inside than you will ever even know.

There are four goals of radical acceptance, which are a prerequisite to genuine personal growth. You have to ask to understand:

  • Who are you?
  • What is important to you?
  • Why are you the way you are?
  • What works and what does not work with you?

Stop Beating Yourself Up

When people stress themselves out into something they should be but are not, they become the opposite of their goal. These people start to create an internal emotional environment, which is the antithesis of the calm they need.

As a therapist, I often recommend radical acceptance to my clients, but sometimes are apprehensive at first. It's because they equate “acceptance” with “giving up.” That is not the goal. The goal is to feel calmer and less stressed or upset about what's currently happening. From that space of strength, you will be much better able to take steps towards changing the situation. (If you want to. You don't have to).  

What is Radical Acceptance?

Radical acceptance is about believing our inner reality or experience and not judging ourselves for having it.

When people don't feel good on the inside, it’s because there is a gap between how they perceive the way their world is or how they are and how they think they or their world should be.

In 2018, a group of psychology researchers examined the overall mental and emotional wellness of several people. They compared two groups of people: those who were accepting of and those who did not like experiencing negative emotions. The first group had excellent mental and emotional wellness, but not because they experience less negative emotions. It is because they openly accept that they will experience negative emotions from time to time.

Accept Yourself

The true path to happiness and wellness is not eradicating any challenging emotions, difficult situations, or problematic thoughts. Rather, it is understanding non-judgmentally that it happens sometimes. Not only is it normal and expected, but it is also okay.

You do not have to change or escape from negative emotions. In other words, you do not have to do anything at all. You have to let the negative feeling stay inside you, then observe it mindfully. It may float off, but sometimes, it does not, and it becomes a persistent feeling of sadness. However, this negative experience is never an indicator that you are a flawed human being.

Once you accept negative experiences as a normal, healthy, and expected part of your life, you will feel incredibly liberated.

Toxic Shame

Here’s an analogy to better understand radical acceptance: If you're feeling sad and you go to somebody who loves you, and you say, “I am so sad right now. I don't know how we're gonna get through this.” Sometimes it's just so hard. And to have someone be with you and say, “Yeah, it really is hard,” without judgment.

To be straightforward, you do not need someone who will try to fix, change, or reject your negative feelings. Most of the time, you will only feel worse or alone. It’s because they are indirectly implying that you have feelings you should not be having.

You may also tend to shame yourself for having negative feelings. It is intolerable for you to show that you are not okay because you believe you should be okay. And as opposed to this, radical acceptance advocates that it is okay not to be okay.

Unconditional Self-Acceptance

A byproduct of practicing radical acceptance is having compassion, tolerance, and love for yourself even when you are not 100%. You are also better able to connect with people when they are not okay. Since we can face our own negative emotions, it becomes more comfortable to sit with others who experience the same.

In my experience in couples counseling, when one vents out their negative feelings toward their relationship, the other's acknowledgment and acceptance are enough.

However, when the other chooses to reject and disprove their partner's feelings, the conflict starts. It is just one more moment where there wasn't understanding, empathy, and tolerance for the reality of the other person. And all of a sudden, they feel lonelier and more ashamed.

How to Practice Self-Love

You should start by choosing to release the idea that you should be feeling anything specific. You have to believe that relentlessly stressing yourself out for not being okay will only sink you.

Here’s a Buddhist story about two monks who were robbed and were pushed into a river:

One monk got too consumed and distracted by his anger that he drowned and was never seen again. The other monk also felt anger but was able to return to a place of radical acceptance. It no longer mattered to him how he got in the river. What matters is that he is in the river and what he must do to survive.

When you get wrapped up in negative emotions, it becomes nearly impossible to get out on your own. Nonetheless, you can strive to shift into a space where you acknowledge and accept what is without any judgment. From there, you will be better able to see and try to solve the problem.

The Power of Facing Negative Emotions

Even with radical acceptance, you are allowed to feel resistance to what is happening. You are allowed not to like what is happening, wish it was different, or feel sad about it. Sometimes that sadness can point us in the direction of a thing that we would like to create in our lives, but we don't know what that is until we listen to the sadness.

The people who have been working hard to avoid their negative emotions do not like grieving. So I help people like them to understand that negative emotions are not bad. It is healthy for a person to feel legitimate sadness, anger, or grief.

People are also afraid of accepting negative emotions because they might get consumed and never be okay again. This fear exists because they have been avoiding these big emotions for so long.

I also guide my clients through their negative emotions:

  • Touch your negative emotions without any judgment.
  • Examine what the emotion feels like in your body.
  • Talk about what you feel at the moment.

There is power in facing your negative emotions. When you stop resisting your truth and rejecting your feelings and begin to radically accept any and all of how you really feel, that in itself becomes a point of resilience and truth. It is also a point of growth because you are not afraid to admit when you are not okay. 

Resources

I’ve introduced you to the essential life skill of radical acceptance. What did you learn and can apply in your life from this episode? We would love to hear your thoughts on the comments below this post. 

Did today's discussion inspire you? Please review, subscribe to, or better yet, share the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

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Radical Self Acceptance

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Music Credits: Denver's Mike Masse, with a cover of “Dear Prudence”

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Radical Self Acceptance: Podcast Transcript

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Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

 

[Dear Prudence by Mike Masse]

 

It’s just one of my favorite songs of all time. “Dear Prudence,” of course, recorded originally by The Beatles, that particular version, is performed by a really talented local Denver artist by the name of Mike Massé with an “E” on the end, M-A-S-S-E. He has a website mikemasse.com, and he does all kinds of cool stuff. So you should definitely check out more of his things. And if you ever like to hear that song again, you can call Growing Self and talk to Erica, first of all, who is a gem. And then if you're lucky enough to get put on hold, like, if she's transferring your call or something, we have the privilege of using Mike's lovely song as our hold music. So, thank you, Mike, and thank you for enjoying this beautiful song with me because it's good stuff.

 

And so, that is our segway into our topic today because we are talking about how to be engaged with a world as yourself, as authentically as is your truth and with the world as it is. And, practicing I think new for some of us but very important life skill of radical acceptance. And I am very deliberately posting this particular podcast for you on the week after the turn of the year because how much of the time are—you know this time of year, it's like, “Okay, this year, I'm going to make all these changes. I'm going to go to the gym, I'm going to starve myself, I'm going to make myself do XYZ,” and it's like, so exhausting. 

 

We also know from research that any kind of new year resolution thing is generally not helpful when it comes to making real and lasting change in our lives. And there are certainly things that are. We've talked in the past about habits and really like doing deep work on yourself. All of that is well and good. But for many people, the biggest, most important, powerful life-changing point of growth is not changing at all, but rather experimenting with something called radical acceptance, radical acceptance. 

 

If you want to take it up a notch, we could talk about radical self-acceptance and how we understand, and appreciate, and value ourselves for exactly who and what we are. And absolutely release the inner critic and the judgment and the self-blame and even just that uneasy feeling that you should be doing something different, something better, something more. You should have a goal, you should have a resolution, new idea. Radical acceptance is a release of all of that. 

 

And that's what I really want to talk with you about today so that I can just—hopefully helpful counterbalance in your ear if you are being besieged by other forces in your life right now. Who are doing this cheerleader “This year is the year everything is gonna be different” voice in your ear, and that may or may not feel congruent for you. 

 

Radical acceptance that's what we're doing today on the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. And I'm so glad you're here to join me. I am Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I'm the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. We're based in Denver, Colorado, but we see clients all over the world. We specialize in couples counseling, marriage counseling, and a lot of coaching. I think more of what we do than therapy these days is really in the coaching camp. But because me and everybody on the team, we have a background in mental health. Like myself, I'm a licensed psychologist, I'm a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and I am also a Board Certified coach. So I like to think that we take it to a deeper level. 

 

And that's also what I try to do for you in this podcast is, give you hopefully helpful new information, new ideas and, and different ways of supporting you on your journey of growth. So we're always talking about your love, happiness, and success. And the topics that I select for my podcast are all about you. I am listening to you, thank you, if you're one of the many who's gotten in touch recently on Instagram @drlisamariebobby or gotten in touch with Growing Self @growing_self on Instagram, or through our website. We have a very active blog community at growingself.com. There's always a lively discussion in the comment section. You can also connect with us on Facebook if you like, or you could just send an old fashioned email to hello@growingself.com if you would like to share what's on your mind lately. 

 

And our topic today is born of what I'm hearing from you, which is that, boy, there are a lot of you—and hey I can relate, who can't? Who is just, like, coming out of the end of this year feeling like you've been through a meat grinder on so many different levels. And it's hard to even know what to do next, or what to try, or what to grow, or if it's even possible to have goals right now. And you know what, there's again, a time and a place for growth and goals. And I'm right there as a life coach, but I tell you what, as a psychologist, the art of radical acceptance, radical self-acceptance will change so much more for you both on the outside and the inside than you will ever even know. 

 

I see there's this weird paradox when it comes to personal growth, that before people can really change and grow and develop and do anything different. They must first understand themselves, understand who they are, understand what's important to them, why they are the way they are is often very helpful. And also, get a lot of clarity around what is working, what isn't working, to begin to create a plan that will move you forward into a different reality.

 

And here's the paradoxical part in my experience, both as a life coach and as a therapist, when people, as we so often do—no judgment. But when we expend a lot of time and energy into feeling upset—usually with ourselves, sometimes with other situations—when we badger ourselves and criticize ourselves and shame ourselves into being something that we should be that we're not, it creates an emotional environment inside of us, that is absolutely the antithesis of the kind of calm, compassionate, non-judgmental way of being that true growth and mental and emotional health really requires. And there is an enormous amount of value in figuring out how to accept yourself and the world around you.

 

Many times when I first introduced the idea of radical acceptance or radical self-acceptance to my clients, they have a very common reaction, which is some variation of “So, do you mean I'm just supposed to give up? That I'm just supposed to tolerate these things that feel intolerable to me? That I'm supposed to stop trying, that I'm supposed to stop doing the things I think are important for me to be better or some aspirational thing.” And, so it's like, there's a lot of anxiety when people think about moving into a space of self-acceptance, or even general acceptance because it feels like this is hard to put into words, but I'll try. When people don't feel good on the inside, it is because there is this gap between how they perceive the way their world is, or how they are, and how they think they should be, or their world should be. So the larger the gap between what you want to be or what you want your life to be about, what you want to have, and your present reality, the more unhappy you will feel. And this is always true and can be useful when we apply it to generating motivation—topic for another day. 

 

But what is incredibly insidious, and what happens so often more often than you would think, although if you can relate to this, they'll probably be like, “Yes, I could see other people doing this too,” is that when people believe that they should be happy, they should be free of negative emotions, or dark emotions, they shouldn't be angry, they shouldn't be sad, they shouldn't feel upset or disappointed, or guilty or even shame, when people have inner experiences that are different than what we think they should be, this, in itself, can create enormous feelings of unhappiness and shame. Because we feel something that we believe we shouldn't feel. This is a little bit mind-blowing, okay, but I want you to like, let it sink in for a second. 

 

The fact that we aren't okay, the fact that we are not having a good time, or not feeling good about something is itself a cause to feel badly about and beat ourselves up. Say you are feeling a little low, or depressed, or not motivated, or don't want to get up and go jogging at five o'clock in the morning when it's 10 degrees out, okay? Just say that you don't actually feel like doing that. If you haven't cultivated this radical acceptance idea, that inner reality in itself, can then generate all of these negative feelings. This, “What is wrong with me? Oh, my God, I am such a loss. Why am I depressed? There's something wrong with me for feeling the way that I do. Oh, my God, I wish I felt better, why don't I feel better, I really want to feel better. Ah!” And it turns into this, like, avalanche snowball-ly thing of beating yourself up for like, being a human with human feelings, and desires, and longings, and sadness, and loneliness, and all of these other things that are actually the human experience. 

 

And so when we talk about radical acceptance and radical self-acceptance, what we are really talking about is how we can have an inner reality, an inner experience without judging it, criticizing it, believing that there is something wrong with us for having it in the first place.

And this isn't just my idea, I'd like you to know that. There have actually been a number of very interesting research studies. I think one of the more recent ones was in 2018. 

 

A group of psychology researchers compared the overall mental and emotional wellness of people who were really pretty good at accepting the fact that they had challenging emotions sometimes, compared to the overall mental and emotional wellness of people who really didn't like the fact that they sometimes had negative thoughts or feelings. And what they found is very interesting, and I think an important takeaway, which is that the people who identify themselves as most generally happy is having a lot of mental and emotional strength and wellness, and really like being the most psychologically resilient and hardy, we're not the ones who were experiencing the least amount of negative or dark emotions. The people who were most resilient were the ones who were most accepting of the fact that they did have difficult feelings sometimes. Isn't that interesting? 

 

That the true path to happiness and wellness is not eradicating any challenging emotions or difficult situation, or problematic thoughts, it is rather understanding nonjudgmentally that that happens sometimes. And that not only is it normal and expected, it is okay. And that you don't actually have to do anything, to change it, to escape it, to make it be different. You don't have to do anything at all. Because the fact is that when we, really patiently, compassionately, and mindfully sit with exactly who and what we are, and how we feel, and think about why we feel the way that we do, and how it's absolutely legitimate when we see it through our own mind. And if you just kind of like, let that feeling be inside of you. It just is there for a little while.

And then that sort of floats off, then you don't have to do anything to change it. 

 

And sometimes it doesn't float off. It's sort of a persistent feeling of sadness, or loneliness, or disappointment that you carry around with you for a while. And that is also okay. It doesn't mean anything is wrong with you. It doesn't mean that you're some sort of uniquely deficient human that you're having that experience. That is the human experience. And when we can accept this as being a normal, healthy, expected part of our life, sometimes it is incredibly liberating. 

 

Very analogous to if you're feeling sad, and you go to a friend or family member or your partner, somebody who loves you, and you say, “I am so sad right now, I have just had the hardest day. I am just so sad about some of the things that are happening in the world. I don't know how we're gonna get through this. I just sometimes it's just, it's just so hard.” And to have someone with you, and be with you and say, “Yes, it really is hard,” without judgment, without being like, “Look on the bright side.” Without saying, “Look, this funny cat meme I found. Watch this cat meme. It'll cheer you right up because you shouldn't feel sad. I'm going to make you not feel sad. Let's fix it. Let's do something. Let's change it.” Right? 

 

I mean, how do you really feel in those moments when you're like, “No, I'm actually sad right now.” And somebody's like, “No, no, that's not okay.” It feels worse. It feels like you shouldn't have the feeling in the first place. It feels lonely. That feels like the person that you're trying to share with how you're feeling doesn't understand you. And it feels like you don't have the right to your feelings. Feels like kind of shaming, like, “Oh, I guess nobody else feels this way.” Makes you feel more alone. And think about how often we do that to ourselves without really even realizing it. You know that it's so intolerable for any of us to just not be okay sometimes. So, we have to take an antidepressant or to do something to be better because I'm not supposed to feel this way. 

 

And radical self-acceptance is just predicated on this one idea that it's actually okay to not be okay. And how do we have compassion, and tolerance, and love for ourselves when we're not 100%. And fascinatingly, like we don't want to attach specific outcomes to our radical acceptance practice because that is entirely not the point. 

 

But I will also say that often, a happy byproduct of a good radical self-acceptance practice is that when you become able to tolerate and have compassion for and just sit with nonjudgmentally, any and all thoughts and feelings that happened to be true for you in the moment, you become much better able to stay compassionately connected to other people, in their moments of not okayness. 

 

When we are putting a lot of energy into criticizing ourselves, judging ourselves, feeling ashamed about the way we feel, and you know, like, “I feel so bad and ashamed because of the fact that I feel shame sometimes,” right? When we have that going on, in our own mind, it's like this almost frantic energy to escape what is happening inside of you, if it's not happy and light and all good, which it's not sometimes you're not a damn robot, like, it's part of the human experience. 

 

But when we can't do that inside of ourselves, for ourselves, it is virtually impossible to sit with somebody else who is actually in that place. And you see that a lot, especially my role as a couple's counselor, like some couples where they're both just dying to be seen, and cared about, and understood, and loved for who and what they are. And it can take a lot of work sometimes in couples counseling to just sit with a couple and have one person say, “I just feel so sad sometimes and I feel like you're disappointed in me. I feel like I can't be the person that you want me to be. And it just, sometimes it makes me feel like just withdrawing or it's too hard to try that I'll never be who and what you want me to be and that makes me feel really bad about myself.” For somebody to be able to say that, and have it be heard, and received, and loved by someone who cares, without having to change it, that moment in itself is enormously healing. 

 

Compared to the exact same sentiment that's expressed to a partner that says, “You shouldn't feel that way. That's not true. That no, let me tell you five reasons why that's not true.” And honestly, but like the paradox here is that they're oftentimes trying to make their partner feel better. They're saying, “No, no, no, don't feel that way. Don't feel that way. Because here's—because I'm going to tell you why you're wrong. And that wasn't always true. And that is not what I did, by the way.” And so it like, turns into this defensiveness and this push back, and that is a rift in the relationship. It is just one more moment, where there wasn't understanding, there wasn't empathy, there wasn't tolerance for the reality of the other person. And that person all of a sudden feels lonelier and more ashamed. And more like how they feel so badly about themselves as actually true.

 

So, it happens in relationships, and it happens inside of ourselves, and it's time for it to stop.

So how do we do that? How do we push back against self-judgment and move into a space of radical self-acceptance? I think it begins with a choice. You have to decide that it is actually okay for you to not be okay all the time. And to release this idea that you should be feeling anything specific, because you will feel sad, lonely, disappointed, guilty, angry, shame, I think we all do, from time to time, annoyed with yourself, annoyed with other people. 

 

And there's an enormous power that comes with making a decision that it is okay. You are allowed to have all of those feelings. It is normal and expected for you to have all of those feelings. And there's nothing wrong with you for feeling the way that you do sometimes. And that it is really the thing that will hurt you is to relentlessly beat yourself up and judge yourself and criticize yourself and demean yourself and shame yourself for not being okay, and not being happy, and not being perfect. That is what will really sink us. 

 

I think the idea of radical acceptance, in addition to being applied to radical self-acceptance, is also enormously helpful when it comes to accepting circumstances that are not what we really want. And there's a story. I think I've probably shared this before in a previous episode. But there's a Buddhist story that illustrates the point of radical acceptance. And that I think, again, we can all relate to.

 

And the story goes that there were two monks walking by a river minding their own business, and this person maliciously came out of nowhere, and just jumped them and robbed them and took their stuff and threw them into the river. And this was a cold, fast deep river, a dangerous river that we're rapids. Now these two monks are in this river, and there's rocks and whitewater it's bad, I mean, it's like really a bad situation. And the first monk is like, “What just happened? That was not okay.” And he's like, the guys walking off in the distance like carrying their money like, “How dare you? I can't believe you did this. I am so mad. That was angry.” And like just absolutely beside himself wrapped up in the anger, and the injustice, and the horror about what had happened. And was just in the state of “I cannot—this is not okay.” And because so wrapped up in this emotion about what had happened, he drowned. The river got him; he breathed in water and hit his head on a rock and was never seen again. 

 

The other monk was equally distressed and upset and that same emotion, and like “I'm so—how dare that? But this is not okay.” And then very quickly, came back to a place of radical acceptance of “I am in a river. I am in a fast cold dangerous river, does not matter how I got here. What matters is the fact I am here now. And what do I need to do right now to survive this.” And “Oh, look, there's a branch sticking out over the water, I'm gonna see if I can paddle out over that way,” and grab hold of that branch, and hauled himself out of the river and lived to fight another day. 

 

Did that second monk have the right to be just as angry and upset at the injustice of what they had just experienced? Yes. And what he was able to do is mindfully accept that even though a bad thing had happened, he was able to kind of release the almost judgment, like, release the ideas about what should be happening compared to what was actually happening. And instead come into the, here and now, where he was in the river. He was accepting the fact that he was in the river and figuring out what he could do in this present moment to make his situation just incrementally better without being upset about it. 

 

And also not getting attached to any outcome. There might not have been a branch there. There may not have been a way to make that incrementally better. And so we would have floated along for a while, just in the river. I am in a river right now, sort of looking around what's happening next. But it's this, like, mental state of being present, mindful, without judgment or angst in the face of difficult circumstances. Because when we get all wrapped up in our anger or injustice of it all worked up, shaming ourselves around, “Oh, my god, this is so terrible that I feel the way that they do or that this thing is happening.” It becomes impossible to get out of it on our own that the inner experience that we are having in response to something external, an external circumstance that is happening, “to us,” or that we don't want that be happening right now. Or that same level of angst and judgment around an inner experience that we think should be different is what will ultimately sink us. 

 

And the big, the big lesson, a big shift is coming into a space of being able to say, without judgment or criticism, “This is happening, this is happening.” And can I solve the problem? You know, if there is a solvable problem, let's go ahead and do that. But you will be much better able to find solutions and actually solve problems. If you're in a space of acceptance, right? Then like laying on the floor, bawling your eyes out. “So what is happening, what do I have to do, but one foot in front of the other.” 

 

And then also, when it comes to that radical self-acceptance, to be able to say, “I don't like this. I don't feel good about this situation. I wish it were different. I feel sad that this is happening. And that is okay. I'm allowed to feel sad that this is happening.” And as we've been discussing in other podcasts recently, not only is it okay for you to feel sad or angry about something, what is the hidden gift, even of the sadness or anger? 

 

If it is motivation, to say, “You know what, I don't want to do this again, what do I actually need to do to not have this particular life experience again, because I don't like it.” Or “If I really listen to this sadness right now, what is it telling me that maybe I need to listen to, like, why am I sad? I am sad, because I miss my friend, or I miss my life, or I miss feeling stable in my world, or I miss maybe a relationship that has ended. I feel sad about that.” And you know what, sometimes that sadness can point us in the direction of a thing that we would like to create in our lives, but that we don't know what that is until we listen to the sadness. 

 

But you know what, sometimes sadness says, “You have the right to grieve. You can be sad, and experience a loss and feel the sadness of that loss.” It is grief, and it is okay. Because the path through grief, like so many other things, is not rejecting grief, talking yourself out of grief, making grief go away. It is embracing it. Allowing yourself to be sad and angry and all of the things for as long as you want to or need to. And then that's it. That is actually the work of grief. It's giving yourself the time and space to feel those feelings and trust that even in dark emotions, especially in dark emotions, sometimes the act of feeling them and being present with them is in itself, the paths through them. 

 

I know that sounds weird, particularly if you have been a negative emotion avoider. When I present this idea to some people who have worked really hard for a long time to not feel bad things, or you know that they label as bad in their own mind, right? That's oftentimes part of our work is having to say “that's actually not bad, it's healthy.” It's a challenging emotion. And it's incredibly healthy to feel legitimate sadness, and anger, and grief, it's a good thing. So we have to reconceptualize that, first of all. 

But the other part and I don't know if this is true for you, but I've had people say, “I am afraid that if I accept this feeling if I allow this feeling to come in, and be inside of me, and if I really let myself feel sad or mad, or any of these things, that I will be consumed by this emotion. I will be lost forever. I will always feel this way. And I will never, ever be okay again.” I know that like when I say it out loud, it doesn't sound like a rational thing. But it is so true when people have become afraid of fear, afraid of sadness, afraid of big emotions, it is because they have been avoiding it for so long. And that's part of the like, cognitive framework that makes them push it away as “No, I can't let this in because if I do, I will be steamrolled and lost forever. This sadness will be a bottomless pit. I will never, ever be okay again.” 

 

And so then, of course, what we do in therapy, or sometimes coaching is to actually have a little experiment or somebody practices sitting with me, and touching that anger or that sadness that they've been resisting for so long into practice. Just accepting it nonjudgmentally without trying to change it, or make it go away. And we talk about what it feels like in their body. We talk about how it makes their face feel flushed, or their stomach hurt, or that makes the tears come. We talk about the thoughts that come up alongside of it. We talk about the feelings, and then after a while, there's not really anything more to talk about, we're just sitting there breathing, looking at each other. 

 

And then I say, “Now what are you aware of?” “I feel better. Actually, it sort of, like, didn't last as long as I thought it would. I'm actually alright.” And that, that is really the moment of healing and truth because when people stop resisting their truth and rejecting their own feelings and begin to accept, radically accept any and all of how they really feel, that in itself becomes a point of resilience and truth. And is a point of huge growth. 

 

Because when people are okay to be not okay, when they can say, without judgment, or self-criticism or shame, like “I feel ashamed of myself right now. Or, you know what, I am kind of judging myself right now.” And that's okay. I do that sometimes, like without it turning into this big horrible thing. They can then be like, “I'm judging myself. I do that sometimes.” I don't want to judge myself and be able to sort of walk themselves through that the way you would compassionately take a child by the hand who's wandered into something that maybe is not really to their highest and best like, “let's go over here.” It's like this friendly way of being with yourself. Like, “You know what? You don't have to judge yourself for this. You don't have to beat yourself up. Let's go back and listen to that podcast. Dr. Lisa recorded a couple weeks ago, where she made us list out all of the awesome things that we have done and all of the strengths that we have, why don't we revisit that again, because that is true.” Yes. 

 

And to also be able to sit with that inner child sometimes and say, “You know what? You have every right in the world to be sad. And to wish things were different and I love you. And I'm just going to sit right here with you while you have these normal, healthy, legitimate feelings that do not need to be changed. They just need to be felt and embraced. And we're just going to sit here and do that together without any attachment to any particular outcome, and certainly not with any expectation that they're going to go away because they don't need to. It's all okay.” 

 

Radical self-acceptance. So much compassion, so much love in this perspective. And before we close today, I would also like to share that if you've been inspired by these ideas and like, “Yes, I want to get better at radical self-acceptance,” you will invariably find that it's hard to do that. And I would like to just invite you to consider that—it is hard to practice radical self-acceptance, and it is also okay to struggle with radical self-acceptance. Yes, and not have it turn into another thing that makes you feel bad about yourself. If you are not always perfectly self-accepting, because it's hard. And it's okay. 

 

So, radical self-acceptance, and also radical acceptance of reality is a—I think, incredibly healing and affirming, and empowering way of being, that is also irrefutably true, and is also something that you have 100% control over, no matter what else the world throws at you. And it can be difficult and disempowering to set goals and be pushing yourself onward and upward and constantly and all these things. And again, time and place for that, but that foundation of radical acceptance and radical self-acceptance is a strong floor to stand on. If you decide to build on it down the road, great. But it's really hard to do, to do more until you accept what is. 

 

And so that's the idea that I would like us all to be sitting with this particular New Year season. I hope it helps you value and accept and appreciate all of your experiences that are valuable and worthy, without judgment. And just like “Dear Prudence,” you too get to be in the world and loved and appreciated for exactly who and what you already are. You don't have to change anything. And you have the right to feel exactly the way you do. And so do others. As you practice self-acceptance and self-compassion, you may notice yourself having more compassion and empathy for people around you. And happy byproduct as you feel more accepting and comfortable in yourself. You will also, as a happy byproduct, strengthen your most important relationships while you are, at the same time, strengthening your relationship with yourself. So all good things. 

 

I hope that you enjoy it. And I hope that you also respect and appreciation for the parts that aren't fun because there are light and dark and all things, and it is all valuable and rosy, just like you. All right, talk to you next time.

 

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Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow

Learn and Grow:

The most important life lessons uncover your strengths.

“May you, every day, connect with the brilliancy of your own spirit. And may you always remember that obstacles in the path are not obstacles, they ARE the path.”

Catherine Jane Lotter

LEARN AND GROW: We all want to learn how to work on ourselves, grow and learn, and become the very best version of who we are. Sometimes, the true path of personal growth is not forcing yourself to change into some new iteration of yourself, but rather to discover and embrace the strengths and virtues you already have.

For the last several years, on the Love happiness and Success Podcast I've done experiential growth actives with my listeners in order to help them reflect on past years and set goals for their future aspirations. There's a time and place for that type of forward focus and personal challenge. If you are here seeking a goal setting experience, I invite you to check out last year's Ten Year Plan podcast and activity.

You're Already Amazing

But it's also true that there are also times when it's more helpful to rest and reflect, and embrace our strengths, life lessons, and accomplishments rather than charging forward into new goals and aspirations.

I believe that this is a time for reflection and acceptance, and this episode of the podcast is going to be a personal development podcast that walks you through an activity designed to help you do exactly that. By the end of our time together today I hope you have:

  • Greater appreciation for your strengths,
  • A sense of empowerment for all that you've already achieved,
  • Deeper clarity about your values
  • A different perspective about your obstacles
  • Receive wisdom from your dark emotions.

I have created a set of journaling prompts / exercises to help you not just follow along with the personal growth activities I describe in this episode, but to dig in!

Download the workbook that goes with this podcast (below) then scroll down to the bottom of this post to listen and follow along. Or you can listen to Learn and Grow on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen to things.

Learn and Grow

It can be easy to over-focus on constant-and-never-ending improvement, new goals, the next step, and all the things you have yet to achieve.

But the truth is that you have already grown so much, learned so much, and done so much. Sometimes it can be more empowering to slow down and respect the enormous amount of work you already have done rather than pushing yourself.

So often, personal growth can feel like chasing some idealized version of yourself. It can feel discouraging rather than inspiring, especially if you feel like you're never quite good enough. In contrast, radical, compassionate self-acceptance is the highest form of growth because from this place of self-awareness and self-love we can truly be the very best of who we are.

The love, happiness and success we seek through our efforts to “change” can sometimes be elusive. But so often, they miraculously show up on their own when you stop working so hard to change yourself, and instead focus on how strong, amazing, and accomplished you already are. (You are).

This type of self discovery process is often achieved not by charging ahead into the next level of your personal evolution, but rather by digging in to who you already are.

Important Life Lessons

It can be easy to over-focus on the things we haven't done, or the mistakes we've made, or the times that we have struggled with disappointment. But a door to powerful personal growth and self-development opens when we shift into what the hardest times revealed about our character, our values, what we're capable of, and what's truly most important.

When we have the courage to face the hard parts of life from a place of compassion and radical acceptance rather than anger, we have the opportunity to receive the hidden gifts they have to offer.

Uncover Your Strengths

It's often said that “character is revealed through adversity.” But in my experience, character is often formed through adversity. You don't know who you really are until you've experienced disappointment or hardship. Only then can you fully be aware of how strong you truly are, and what you're capable of.

Those are often moments that lead us to greater self-love, self-acceptance, and self-esteem too. It's often the personal qualities that we don't love the most about ourselves that are the most useful to us when times are hard. Recognizing and embracing these aspects of your “shadow self” can help you appreciate yourself in a whole new way. (For more on this topic I invite you to check out the “Shadow Work” episode of the podcast).

Sometimes personal growth happens when you challenge yourself to think, feel, or do things differently. But sometimes the most important growth occurs when you realize that you don't have to change or do anything in order to be good enough, strong, accomplished, and worthy of love and respect. You're already there. Your life lessons and strengths are yours to keep.

The “personal growth work” is not one of creation and effort. It's of discovery and acceptance.

Thanks for joining me today. I sincerely hope that these ideas and activities support you on your journey of growth.

With gratitude for the gift of YOU…

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Learn and Grow

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

Personal Growth:

Why You Are The Greatest Gift

PERSONAL GROWTH — Why YOU Are The Greatest Gift: You are already amazing. You, and your life, is a gift to the world. You are on a courageous path of personal growth and development. As you work on yourself, cultivate areas of personal growth, develop yourself, and liberate yourself from the things that are holding you back… you are actually helping others. Not only are you inspiring them, you are benefiting them and their wellness just as much as you are your own.

Does that idea surprise you? That you are actually the greatest gift of all? That by working on yourself and your own personal growth, you're helping others too?

If so, it's worth re-evaluating your understanding of personal growth.

Why Is Personal Growth Important?

If your personal growth feels like an afterthought, you may not fully appreciate just how incredibly important and impactful you already are. Without having a full awareness of how much you really matter it can be easy to dismiss the importance of your personal growth, and make it (subconsciously) less of a priority than it should be.

When you don't recognize the true power of your presence in the lives of others, it can be easy to think that people value things about us, or want things from us that they might not. This misperception makes us think that the way we “give” or show love to others is through giving presents or doing special things for them. While those typical gift actives are certainly nice, they are no replacement for what people really want.

The truth is that what your loved ones want (and need) more than anything else is the very best, happiest, and healthiest version of you. 

The Greatest Gift You Can Give Someone

This concept of giving to others by our own personal growth is sometimes more easily understood when we think about it from the other side. Think about it this way: Have you ever been in a relationship with someone who was exhausted, or constantly stressed, or had super-low self esteem, or who was struggling with untreated mental health issues? (We all nod our heads).

Think about how you felt with them: Like, perhaps, they were in such a not-great place that it felt like they didn't have the capacity to be your soft place to fall. Or that they were in so much pain that they legitimately couldn't be there for you. Or that, due to their own issues, they reacted to you in a way that didn't make you feel emotionally safe, or understood, or secure, or that you could trust them.

I bet that the thing that would have mattered more to you than anything (much more than anything they could give you, or buy you as a present) would have been their fundamental mental, emotional and physical health. If they were healthy and well, they would have been able to be what you needed them to be for you. 

Their wellness would have been a gift — both for them, but also for you too.

Self Care is Not Selfish

From that perspective, it can be easier to understand how you and your personal growth is truly the ultimate gift.

We think of loving others as being outward in nature. Our idea of “love in action” may include the way we do things for others or gift them with things. Particularly in our consumerist culture, it can be very easy to get tricked into believing that gifts or presents or experiences or things is the ultimate expression of our love and care.

It can be easy and understandable to lose sight of the fact that what people want the most, more than anything in the world, are the big things. Unconditional love, trust, kindness, appreciation, attention, time, understanding, empathy, respect, to feel emotionally safe, and to feel cherished for exactly who you are is truly what we're all craving.

However, when we neglect our own personal growth and fundamental wellness, it is nearly impossible to have the level of mental and emotional wellness that those things require. Think about it:

  • When you're personally depleted and exhausted, it's impossible to feel fully present and patient with others.
  • When you struggle to have compassion and empathy for yourself, you'll struggle to feel it for others too.
  • When you aren't taking care of your physical health and wellness, you won't have the energy to spend time and energy with others or engaging in fun activities.
  • When you're pushing yourself, criticizing yourself, and judging yourself, you inadvertently become emotionally unsafe for others.
  • When you'e depending on others to make you feel secure or worthy, you'll become emotionally reactive and others won't feel safe and secure with you.

I could go on. The point is that our ability to give others what they genuinely need and want from us is dependent on willingness to invest in our own personal growth, our own mental and emotional wellness, and our own devotion to becoming the highest and best versions of ourself.

Being who others really need and want us to be is not selfish, it's selfless. Your being okay is the ultimate act of love towards others.

The Gift of Personal Growth

On the latest episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, I'm taking a deeper look at the topic of personal growth counseling and discussing some specific ways that, through your own growth, you can become an even greater gift in the lives of others. We'll be talking about some new ideas that can foster your personal growth and wellness, in domains including:

  • Your self esteem
  • Your empathy for yourself
  • Your appreciation for yourself
  • Your physical health
  • Your unique strengths and talents
  • Your mental health and emotional wellness
  • Your emotional intelligence
  • Your financial wellness
  • Your being emotionally safe and compassionate for yourself
  • Why cultivating all those aspects of your own wellness directly benefits others, as well as yourself

This episode is intended as a gift to YOU. I hope that this discussion helps you appreciate and embrace just how incredibly important you are. I hope that this new perspective helps you to prioritize your own personal growth, release any notion that your personal growth and self development is “selfish,” and instead, embrace the truth: The ultimate gift you could ever give anyone is actually you. (YOU!)

With much love to you and yours,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

The Gift of Growth

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Music Credits: Rodello's Machine, “The Beauty of Your Life”

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

Please Rate, Review & Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

More Love, Happiness & Success Advice

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read more

Personal Growth: The Greatest Gift

In this season of gift giving, it can be easy to forget what our loved ones really want: Our unconditional love, trust, kindness, appreciation, attention, time, understanding, empathy, respect, emotional safety, and cherishing. However, we can't give those to others without prioritizing our own wellness. On this episode of the podcast, learn the personal growth strategies that will help you grow into your best self, and also become a true blessing in the lives of others.

read more
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Honest Advice From an Online Dating Coach

Honest Advice From an Online Dating Coach

Honest Advice From an Online Dating Coach

Honest Advice From an Online Dating Coach:

Dating Do's and Don'ts | Common Online Dating Mistakes | Pandemic Dating | and More!

HONEST ADVICE FROM AN ONLINE DATING COACH: Have you found yourself saying lately, Help! I think I'm falling in love over Zoom?” Or possibly, “That's it! I'm never dating again!!” It's not just you: these are challenging times for singles. Pandemic relationships in particular can get hot and heavy fast, but that's not always a good thing. The new reality of Covid-19 has changed so many things about life, not least of which are the new possibilities (and perils) of online dating. 

The days of waiting in a restaurant for your date or planning a trip with your new romance are gone, at least for now. As such, many have looked to online dating to find that human connection.

Many dating apps already exist, but the difference is the possible absence of a face-to-face meeting. You are now getting to know someone almost exclusively through the screen of your devices. Depending on your preferences, that could make dating easier or more difficult. 

Today’s episode of the podcast will tackle the new reality dating in the time of a pandemic. My guest, Growing Self online dating coach Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC will be sharing her honest dating coach advice to help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the new reality of dating and how you might discover more about yourself through it. 

Listen to the episode to understand what you truly want in your dating life and how to find love in these strange times.  

Honest Advice From an Online Dating Coach

In today's episode we're discussing:

  • Know how the new reality of dating may or may not work for you. 
  • Learn the benefits and drawbacks of online dating. 
  • Discover how to navigate your expectations when meeting someone online.  
  • Find out the problem with being available all the time to the person you're getting to know. 
  • Understand the importance of communicating what you want. 
  • Know how online dating may affect relationships. 
  • Learn how to deal with the continuous evolution of dating. 
  • Learn how to form positive relationships through online dating.  

 

 

Episode Highlights:

The New Reality of Dating

Michael Stahl, in an article titled “Help! I think I'm falling in love over Zoom,” narrates his dating experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. He talks about feeling emotionally intimate with someone over Zoom and how it faltered when they met in person. Sadly, this is the new reality of dating — dealing with the uncertainties of finding love online.

This type of situation is what my team and I have noticed lately from our clients. The way people are connecting these days can create new opportunities but also some potential pitfalls. 

Struggles with Online Dating

Markie Keelan, who helped Michael with his story, is a licensed therapist who provides dating coaching services with Growing Self. In the episode, she shares some of the questions about dating her  her dating coaching clients have been asking lately. She mentioned that her online dating coaching clients have been sharing struggles like:

  • The lockdown period has added extra layers of complexity to an already complex dating environment. Navigating connections with one another has become different with technology.  
  • Many tend to invest in relationships early on since most of them have been — and are capable of — talking frequently online.  

The Good Things About Online Dating

One of the good things about online dating is feeling safer since you don't have to meet face to face amid a global pandemic. Markie also said online dating allows people to feel more comfortable and vulnerable toward their date because meeting someone at an unknown place can make you feel anxious and hinder the way you communicate.

Because digital communication is convenient and you’re familiar with your surroundings, you feel safe being vulnerable. This way, you can have longer and more in-depth conversations. 

The Pitfalls of Online Dating

Dating during a pandemic is new territory for all of us. Therefore, it’s good to recognize the adverse impact it may have. Markie says meeting a person on the computer screen leads to miscommunication. The benefits she mentioned previously have drawbacks when you look at them more closely.     

  • People tend to judge others more quickly online. Meeting face to face reduces judgment as both people feel vulnerable or nervous, especially on a first date.
  • In-depth discussions usually occur on date number three or four when dating in person. Online dating allows you to create conversations so in-depth that the other person may not be at the same vulnerability level yet. 

 

Dating Mistakes: The Problem with Being Always Available

Since many people are now more likely to be in their homes, we assume people are available 24/7. But others may have a job or a daily structure they planned for themselves. Here are the reasons why Markie advised not to be available 24/7 to the person you're getting to know.  

  • Constant availability can disrupt your day-to-day activities.
  • Being overly available can overwhelm the person who doesn’t have access yet to that kind of vulnerability. 

If you find yourself talking to someone you feel can’t understand your boundary, you have to assert yourself. Learning that the person can't respect your boundaries early on is a signal that they may not be suitable for you.

Dating Advice: Say What You Mean Out Loud

Not all people have the sensitivity to know what you're trying to say. Women, in particular, tend to use other tactics to express their desires. Clear communication is vital in building relationships. Here are reasons why you should verbalize what you're thinking:  

  • By telling what you want clearly, you can see if the person can listen and respect your decision. Then, you can determine whether to pursue the person or not. 
  • If you don't say it out loud, the issue can be brought up later down the road, especially in fights. 
  • The other person may not be aware of what you’re thinking.  

How Online Dating Affects Relationships

You probably already know this, but people present a perfect picture of themselves when dating online. In turn, this can put you in a tough spot — once you meet in reality, they may not be what you have expected. 

Markie shared the ways online dating can affect relationships: 

  • The emotional connection can be edited, so you might fall for someone who is a different person in real life. 
  • You can't see the whole picture of the person, such as how they interact with people and deal with adversity in life. 

Markie added that you need to get as much information as you can when you're dating. One critical factor is how they treat others because it reflects how they will treat you in the relationship. 

Dating Advice: Living Up to the Expectations of Your Online Persona

Set reasonable expectations, for people tend to curate themselves differently online or on first dates. Attachment to someone or an idea of someone can upset you once reality hits. 

Conversely, you also have to be honest online so that you won't feel pressured to live up to a false persona. Here's how you can lessen the possible stress of shouldering expectations when it comes to online dating:  

  • Be the same whether you are in Zoom or in person.
  • Remind yourself that you're still getting to know the person. Reserve your final judgment until you have all the information you need.

If you are going to be dating during this time, embrace all of it. Embrace the fact that you will get to know someone through more of a friendship lens first, and treat it like that.

Dealing with the Continuous Evolution of Dating

From telegraphs to telephones to texting to Zoom calls, there's a constant evolution in navigating relationships. Although everyone can adapt, no one can change the landscape when it comes to building relationships. So how do you navigate dating with the continuous evolution of communication?

  • Expect that your connection online is going to be different on your first date. 
  • Give grace to the other person.  
  • Give the first date the space it deserves.  

Forming New Positive Relationships Through Online Dating

Online dating can work. Just as Markie’s clients had proven, you can learn more about yourself in doing things differently.

  • Through online dating, you can get to know the things you're comfortable with while in a relationship. 
  • Markie’s clients have connected with people who are more like-minded because they're aligning with their values more these days. 

Despite the struggles, Markie still believes that online dating can have a positive effect on people. 

Resources 

  • Check out more of Markie's great dating advice on the Growing Self website. If you'd like to enlist her services as a private dating coach, you can schedule a free consultation meeting with her to discuss your hopes and goals, and how she can help you attain them.
  • If you'd like to get more help to master the art of modern dating (but aren't ready for private dating coaching) consider our Online Dating Coaching Program, “Find The One.”
  • Michael Stahl’s website — Read more about Michael's commentary around dating these days, and his other observations about life. 

Markie shared some valuable tips on dating during a pandemic. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

Hope these ideas help you on your quest for love during these perilous times…

xo, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby & Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC

 

Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast

Honest Advice From an Online Dating Coach

by Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby | The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast

Spread the Love Happiness & Success

Please Rate, Review & Share the Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

iTunes

Stitcher

Spotify

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

Let's  Talk

 

 

Real Help, To Move You Forward

 

Everyone experiences challenges, but only some people recognize these moments as opportunities for growth and positive change.

 

 

Working with an expert therapist or life coach can help you understand yourself more deeply, get a fresh perspective, grow as a person, and become empowered to create positive change in yourself, your relationships and your life.

 

 

Start your journey of growth today by scheduling a free consultation.

Online Dating Coach Advice: Podcast Transcript

.
Access Episode Transcript

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you're listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

Dr. Lisa: Very cool atmospheric tune there by Dasia May called Will I Ever Be. I thought it was a nice combination of sort of wistful and hopeful in tone and topic because that is kind of our theme for today. We are talking about dating and not just any kind of dating, but a special kind of dating because there is a new sort of circumstance, a new set of both opportunities, and potential pitfalls for singles these days in the era of Coronavirus and dating during quarantine. 

So, just in time for cuffing season 2020 we are going to be speaking about the new reality of dating. And I have to tell you too, the impetus to this whole topic came from a story written by an acquaintance of mine who's a writer named Michael Stahl. Michael's actually been on this program with me before and he recently wrote a couple of really great pieces about his experience of dating recently. One was published in narratively.com another one was in mel.com.

And his story actually got picked up by like the Guardian, it's been all over the place. So if you google Michael Stahl dating, you'll get the scoop. And I interviewed Michael to participate in this with us. And unfortunately, the audio file was corrupted, so we cannot include it. But here is the punch line, Michael, like so many people who are out there dating these days connected with someone online, and over a period of weeks established a relationship that felt very emotionally intimate over zoom, only to have it falter when they met in person. The dating coaches on my team have been hearing a similar story over and over again that the way that people are coming together and connecting particularly since there's so much online involvement can create really interesting new opportunities, but also some pretty major pitfalls that need to be navigated in a very kind of conscious and thoughtful way.

So to help us with this, I have invited my dear friend and colleague, Markie Keelan, who is also a licensed therapist, as well as a dating coach here on our team to give us the her inside perspective, and the things that she shared with Michael for his story. 

Markie, I know that you contributed to Michael's piece about the strange reality that is dating these days. And I'm curious to know, from your perspective, as a dating coach, what kinds of things you've seen struggle your clients, struggling with? It's maybe a little different run of the mill, dating concerns?

Markie: Right. I mean, I think there's a few different factors involved in dating during the Coronavirus that has added extra layers of complexity to an already complex dating environment. One of the main changes that I've noticed are people highly investing into relationships pretty early on. And I spoke with Michael about this. But just to kind of share with your listeners, if you know, haven't already talked about this. This idea of connecting online through video chatting, feels very safe for multiple different reasons, right? 

You're not going to contract a disease when you're facetiming or zooming in someone. But on the same time, the level of vulnerability that occurs on a video chat versus in person over coffee is different. So you might feel much more comfortable sitting in your house with a glass of wine talking about you know how, your struggles in life have come, you know full circle to successes, then you would you know, at the first meeting with someone at coffee, you might feel a little bit more hesitant to share things. And then the ease of meeting online and texting. We'll find out really quick.

Dr. Lisa: So you're saying that people if they're sitting in their living room talking to somebody’s face on a laptop, that they're actually sharing more, more personal things feeling less vulnerable than they would if they were like, you know, in a restaurant or something having a similar conversation, but people are less careful. Is that what you're saying? Right?

Markie: Well, I believe. I kind of— now that you say it out loud. There's two things is the more careful or less careful,

Dr. Lisa: Less careful..

Markie: Yeah, less powerful to share with them with their potential partner on zoom. Partially because of just the similarity of, you know, being at your living room with a glass of wine with a friend, right? Like you just feel more comfortable in your own surrounding whereas when you go to a new surrounding, you're already feeling a little bit anxious, but good anxiety. If you know you're excited to meet someone, and all those things come together and maybe slow you down from sharing every single thing about yourself or—

Dr. Lisa: Got it

Markie: —have kind of catching you in. Hey, this is a first meeting.

Dr. Lisa: You know, and just what else I thought of like. If you go to a restaurant, at a certain point, the waiter brings the check. And like if you don't pay it, like..

Markie: Oh my gosh, right!

Dr. Lisa: Hover, and I start refilling your water every 17 seconds, until you leave. Right? But like if you're sitting in your living room with a zoom call, you could seriously have like a four hour conversation that isn't like — Okay, everybody time to go, like by the server. I mean—

Markie: 100%

Dr. Lisa: —little logistical things. That's interesting. Yeah.

Markie: It's the structure that's different. Now, I say that there's this other piece too, that I want to bring up, because it's kind of counterintuitive to what I just said. And that is also the person that's judgmental — that dates around. And you know, no one's good enough. They're also going to be more likely to judge much quicker rather, the person that you know, sits back on the zoom call, and is talking in this trying to get information from them and doesn't have that investment. So they'll be much quicker to judge then if they're at that foreign restaurant. They're also feeling a little bit off kilter, because it's their first experience. And then there's also some normality. And, you know, I'm vulnerable, you're vulnerable and kind of reducing some of that judgment, because you might feel a little bit uneasy.

Dr. Lisa: At a restaurant, right?

Markie: Exactly. So I think it depends on what you're kind of bringing in already—

Dr. Lisa: Okay

Markie: —to the dating scene, like what was going on before coronavirus, I think is just kind of, you know, exploded a little bit now during coronavirus.

Dr. Lisa: So Markie, I think I'm hearing you say that, um, someone could actually literally have a checklist next to their laptop on the coffee table and be ticking things off on the list, but that's not actually in your head. And that would not happen in a restaurant.

Markie: Right!

Dr. Lisa: Like maybe, not quite that literally, but like that it feels like that more to people. There's a like, okay, let's talk about financial solvency, like that kind of conversation with the first online zoom date. 

Markie: Yeah. Right! Exactly! Or it could be the second or third because they're happening, you know, two days apart. Versus logistically again, the lack of logistical planning that goes into planning a date in person versus date actually matters when it comes to connection because these conversations around financial planning happen on day three maybe. Right like oh, what do you know? How much money do you make? You know, what, those aren't great date questions in general right? But you know you might..

Dr. Lisa: Fell off the checklist, right? 

Markie: Or reasonable to you know—have these three hour long dates, you know, three you know, in a row in one week, and then all of a sudden you're disclosing this information after knowing someone for one week or asking that of someone after one week.

Dr. Lisa: What is so hard right now because like if somebody texts you in the afternoon is like what are you doing like the answer for pretty much all of us is absolutely nothing would you like to hang out because I'm here in my house and that is almost like whereas normally it would be like yes, you can schedule an appointment with me five days from now that's going to require more advanced notice than it does right now. When…

 

Markie: Totally I'm so glad you bring that up because I actually think that is a topic to talk about really quickly that overly available. You're the people that you're texting that you're talking to — it's never necessarily like the best idea. But because of what you just said, like “What are you doing?” “Yeah, I'm at home alone not doing really anything.” Then you know one that creates that boundary of, “Oh yeah, you can you can access me at any time.”

And then all of a sudden we feel guilty if we don't respond right away because before that whole like, “Oh, there they left you on read,” narrative was actually quite rude. Right? Hey, I know that they could text me back. Well, now that's even more solidified they can text you back and so the expectation is now respond quickly and I think if possible to get that out of the way in the beginning would be really helpful for people to say you know, I do have all of my day kind of like open and free but I really value structure and so even though like I'm not doing necessarily anything work related or anything, you know, creatively related whatever it is that would structure you pre-coronavirus still have structure. 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Markie: Don't be available 24/7 to someone that you're getting to know.

Dr. Lisa: That is such good advice, Markie. And also just like when you think of it in terms of like almost power dynamics, being overly available communicates a, I think, level of vulnerability — that people that you're just getting to know they probably don't need. Don't need access to that, like there's almost a power thing to be able to say, “I probably won't text you back immediately. Don't take it personally, I just have a lot going on to communicate that to someone who's getting to know you.” They'll be like, “Oh, she has a lot going on.”

Markie: Right! Yay. Maybe you do, maybe you don't. Regardless, that is a good place to start communication from boundaried understandable seeing if they can also respect that boundary. But also that you feel that you can assert that boundary and good in the relationship.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Yes, that boundary is respected. That's right there. Yeah.

Markie: Well, I am again, I know people might do testing in relationships, but I always just say, you know, make sure the person knows what they're being tested on. You don't give pop quiz of like, “Oh, you know what, they keep texting me all day long. And they're so annoying. I'm going to move on to the next,” you know, actually verbalize. “Hey, you know, I noticed that we have been texting a lot. Is it okay, if we pull back a little bit, you know, I noticed myself getting really distracted from the projects I do have going on outside. And I really want to see where this relationship goes. And I just want to make sure you're comfortable with that.”

Dr. Lisa: Right. And to say that out loud. But gosh, I mean, what a fantastic piece of advice under any circumstances. I think for particular, for women a lot of times is to say very clearly and out loud. This is what I would prefer. And then to watch what someone does with that, because there can be a lot of information that comes from, you know, whether or not people listen to what you're saying, whether or not they respect the things that you're asking for. And if you could find that out sooner rather than later, that would be to your advantage in a relationship. 

Markie: Yeah. I think that brings up there like someone who's communicating that boundary out loud to someone. It brings that also into your own awareness. So I think sometimes we think about boundaries being for the other person. Mm hmm. But it's also for us, in the sense that we're telling them what we need. But we're also able to say, oh, okay, if I do make a judgment on this, if I do notice that this person cannot uphold this boundary, I will feel more validated—to maybe make that a place of judgment for myself to say, you know what, I'm going to have to step away, or I'm going to have to talk about this again. Otherwise, when we don't say it, you feel somewhat uneasy around bringing it up later on down the road, or in general, if we get really upset, and we have an outburst? And they're like, “Whoa, what happened?” And then that's when some of that, you know, gaslighting can come in, like, “Oh, well, you know, I never did that, or I, you know, I never text you that much.” Well, you do, but maybe that person wasn't aware of it. Just communicating in general, I think is really helpful. But it's really important for the person saying and communicating that boundary, I think.

Dr. Lisa: I agree. I agree. And even more, so these days. And then on kind of along those lines, well, actually, no, let me let me get your take on something. So when this was kind of gearing up, you know, March, April, kind of moving into quarantine and the dating landscape really abruptly shifted. You know, changing from having the opportunity to meet someone, in person, have a cocktail potentially have a romantic encounter, at some point. It shifted from, you know, talking on the phone or skyping, or even texting to not having the opportunity as quickly for physical interactions. And the couple  school of thought and one is, is that in this time of kind of increased anxiety, people are understandably maybe more motivated to get serious about finding their person and are coming into interactions with maybe a hope of commitment on their mind.

And think that is maybe something that has increased and also that in the early stage of dating a lot more like just talking about hopes and dreams and who I am and who you are and personality and values and life goals. And that is not being — the word obscured is coming to mind, I don't know if that's the right word or not — but by like sexual chemistry or drinking a little too much wine, you know, like you're really like face to face getting to know someone? And do you think that that shift has led to, you know, on the one hand, maybe relationships that start with a stronger foundation around friendship and have commonalities and common goals? Or do you think that that has led to, I say, problems, but like relationship experiences that counter intuitively have kind of arisen from not having had those in-person interactions in the beginning? I know that's a kind of meandering and unintentionally overly complicated question. But what do you want to know..

Markie: I think I understand kind of the root of this question, because I think I wrestle with it too. A bit. What are some of the benefits of connecting in this way? And what are some of the drawbacks, and what I am seeing from that first statement around, you know, developing that really strong friendship as a basis for a relationship. I think that this is really good for people that have done some of their introspective work, and are saying, “Okay, this is really what I am looking for, I'm connecting with this person, on a different level,” you know. Maybe I was too focused on that physical connection. And now I'm being able to, I'm almost forced to be able to prioritize this emotional connection, or intellectual connection. And that is helpful. I do think that physical presence matters in dating. And not being able to have that physical presence early on, I think can kind of rise two, or two drawbacks can arise from that. One is that that emotional connection can be somewhat edited. So again, a lot of these interactions are in settings that we can very much control. Our home.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Markie: You know, what we are presenting the camera angles. You know, that sounds silly. But really, you know, and a lot of this is also still through texting. And we know from texting, it's completely edited. You know, when we are in a conversation in real time, and an unknown location, we really get to see how someone is out and about in kind of our nature.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I was like random things that come up how they interact with the server, what happens if they get agitated when they can't find a parking spot? Like all this kind of stuff that in a very, like, controlled environment, like a zoom call? You don't? You don't get to see the full picture, I guess. 

 

Markie: Right. Yeah. And we're all courting each other, right? So this idea of like, we always present our best selves, when we're starting to date someone, right? We're not going to tell them about all of like, our dirty laundry right up front. And so, you know, it's funny because you bring up a really good point of like, how they interact with the waiter, or like, how they deal with uncertainty or things kind of going amiss. You know, how do they manage that when it's not in, within their control to like, navigate or change. And so you get a lot of information about someone when you're in person with them, that you're missing when it's over zoom, or text. And so I think some of that missing information can lead to some security being built on some unsteady ground, if that makes sense.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, that there are inferences or assumptions being made about who somebody is based on those zoom conversations that might be different, if you weren't with them in person, right? You don't maybe have as much infor— even though maybe like, you have more information about the things they want to tell you about who they are that you don't have the opportunity to see who they are. 

Markie: Yeah, absolutely. And like Lisa, you, you know, this from even working with client work, right, like a client talking about a hard situation they had earlier that week is one thing. But seeing a client during like, in the middle of that crisis, is it can be a different person. And so that's the exact thing of when we have so much insulation around how we arrived to the relationship. It's like, we're presenting our best self on steroids. And I would argue some of the most magical parts of a relationship are built off of our flaws, are built off of how does this person deal with the adversity in their life? How do they deal with the unknown? And falling in love for that person for those reasons of wow, you know what, even though they're not perfect, I really appreciate them. But, you know, of course, alluring perfection that can come from an edited version, of course, is also there, too. 

Dr. Lisa: Got it. And so what I think I'm hearing you say is that there's, you know, potential, the potential for having a relationship that's established on more friendship, as opposed to sexual chemistry. But the dark side of that is running the risk of having a relationship that is based on an overly curated self image that leads you to believe that you know who someone is. And you don't actually. And so maybe developing an attachment or an idea about who this person you're dating is that is not fully based in reality. Is that an overly harsh way of saying it? Or?

 

Markie: No, I mean, I think that's pretty appropriate. And I also say that the inverse is true, too. You know, I have some clients that are more on the anxious side. And they're really worried about “delivering” — I’m using air quotes here — on that first date in person, you know, what we made all these connections, you know, over zoom calls, and am I going to live up to their expectation. Maybe I overplayed or overly confident in talking to them about all these vulnerable things, what if they see me and the connections not there. And of course, you know, like, that may be a possibility. But also I don't encourage people to align with that type of anxious thinking, you know, if you are going to be dating during this time, embrace all of it, you know, embrace the fact that you are going to get to know someone through more of a friendship lens first, and treat it like that, you know, treat it in the same fashion, as you're going to be vulnerable to an extent, you're going to hopefully meet in person at some point, and allow that to be your first in person interaction, you know, make it special. Don't put that pressure on it of, it needs to be exactly like, you know, the connection over zoom. It's not going to be, it's going to be different. It could be better, could be worse, but it could be better.

 

Dr. Lisa: It could be better. Yeah. But and also, like, I think to—my takeaway from hearing you talk is like to be reminding yourself that you are still getting to know that person. Even if you've been spending a lot of time talking with them is that until you do have the opportunity to be with them in real life. And you know, getting to know someone over time to maybe keep reserve your final judgment until you have all the information you need. And I, you know, I'm thinking right now. And I think, I don't know if this is true for many people dating, I hope it's not, but I'm thinking of two clients that I have talked to recently, who had this experience. They got to know guys through zoom and calls that seemed really nice. And they wanted to get to know better, and wound up having really, like, actually unpleasant experiences with them in person that surprised them. And like, let's not forget that, you know, there's safety issues still, when you're out there dating, particularly if you're not meeting at a restaurant, where do you meet? Do you go to somebody's house like and to be, and not to be overly, like cynical or darker being it but to be using good judgment and be cautious.

Markie: Absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: And it’s not making assumptions about based on who you think you have come to learn someone is over zoom calls. Is that fair? 

 

Markie: Yeah. I mean, absolutely no one, no one feels good about being kind of duped by someone, especially on a dating app. And having that interaction, validate some of what you're feeling. And I want to also say, you know, even if you do go on an in-person date, you know, there's the potential to you know, second third date realize they are a different person.

Dr. Lisa: I don't like you. [laughs]

Markie: Right, you know, this is an evolution of our relationship. And it's adding a new layer. That's the way I'm looking at it. It's like, you know, before you know what, for telephones were invented, everything was in person, then telephones were invented. And then you know, we got to call, you know, our crushes and our boyfriends and things like that, and then text and all of a sudden more communication. And now it's this other form. And so we've just added something new to dating, and so make that adaptation, but no one is going to change the landscape, you know. And so that connection that you have in person on a first date is going to be different than when it's a zoom first date. But it's also going to be different when you can meet in person. And so just mitigate your expectations, you know, understand and give grace to the other person too. You know, don't be overly harsh, but also, you know, it's a first in person date, you know, really give it its space that it deserves.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Great advice. And then lastly, before I let you go, I'm curious to know, from, you know, as you kind of scroll through your clients and people that you've talked to that have been dating, have you had any experiences with clients or even people that you know personally, where this has really worked out well for them. And they have been able to form new relationships that feel really positive, and it seemed to be enduring?

Markie: Yeah, you know what, I'm glad you asked that question, because I definitely have, I think that one of the things that this time period is bringing out for individuals in general, is the need to really know what you are comfortable with and what you're not comfortable with in relationships. And so all of a sudden, this kind of landscape that where a lot of people had to go on a first date to know who someone was. Now, this kind of more open access to dating either multiple people through zoom, or being more open to like, Hey, I don't do first meetings in person, I need to like do a zoom call, or I, you know, we can socially distance, whatever that is. Yeah, that is actually. think bringing about a lot of people finding others that are in the same value system as they are. You know. And I think that that is something that I've really seen come out of this that I enjoy as a dating coach, of just seeing my clients go through is, they're really being able to connect with people that are more like minded, because they're also aligning with their values, much more so now. So I think this at minimum has that positive effect for people.

Dr. Lisa: Markie, thank you so much for sharing that. I'm glad to leave things on a positive note. And thank you so much too for sharing all your really good advice and tips.

Markie: Great. Well! No, thank you so much for having me. And, you know, I hope to continue to discuss this topic with you more in the future. 

Dr. Lisa: As things evolve. We'll see how it all goes. If you'd like to learn more about Markie and her practice, you can learn all about her on her site at growingself.com. And you can also cruise over to our blog at growingself.com and do a little search for Markie Keelan, or the search word “dating advice.” And you will see so much more from Markie. She's written a number of articles on the topic. And if you scroll back in this podcast feed, you'll also find more great dating advice from Markie as well as others on our team. And also if you would like to get all of the details about what it's really like to be dating these days, again, go to www.michaelstahlwrites.com or do a search for Michael Stahl to find his thoughtful, vulnerable, and oh-so-insightful writing, and commentary around dating these days at mel.com or Narratively.

So thank you guys for tuning in. And I'll be in touch again soon with another episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast.

 

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What do men secretly want? Emotional intimacy. Despite popular belief, men have feelings too. I can tell you, as a Denver therapist, online life coach and marriage counselor specializing in emotional connection, that I've worked with many, many men, that they have just as many feelings and emotional needs as women do. Men secretly crave to talk about their feelings, men want to be understood, have their feelings be cared about, and — just like everyone else — have their feelings be important to others.  

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Tune in to this interview to get Andrew's insight into why men secretly crave emotional intimacy, why it feels so hard, and the battles men and boys must often must fight to create emotional connection in themselves and in their relationships.

Listen to “What Men Secretly Want” to . . .

  • Discover how toxic masculinity affects men.
  • Learn the importance of a well developed emotional guidance system and how to create it.
  • Learn how to cultivate healthy masculinity in order to have greater courage and emotional resiliency.
  • Realize men’s needs for emotional intimacy and enormous capacity for  emotional intelligence.
  • Understand the importance of expressing genuine emotions and empathizing with others.
  • Discover why male privilege is more of a trap than a privilege.
  • Find out how men and women can emotionally support each other.
  • And more!

You can listen to “What Men Secretly Want” on Spotify, on the Apple Podcast App, or by scrolling down to the bottom of this page to listen to it on GrowingSelf.com. (Don't forget to review, share, and subscribe!)

Or, keep reading for the highlights of this episode. You can find a full transcript of this interview at the bottom of this post.

Thanks for listening!

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

 

What Men Secretly Want: Podcast Takeaways

Overcome The Trauma of Toxic Masculinity By Pushing Back

What are we teaching our boys every time someone says, “Don't cry” or “Shake it off,” or “Hit back harder.” It’s common for kids to squabble, but no one routinely encourages girls to assert themselves through violence. We do that to boys though. Boys are expected to fight back for themselves or to get back at their enemies. If they don't, they get labeled as cowards and lose status in the eyes of others (even their parents). Anger is good. Empathy is bad. What does that do to them? 

Because of these culturally indoctrinated expectations that start at such a young age, boys engage in aggression as a way to express feelings and prove their masculinity. Andrew says, “Boys and young men, because of the lack of awareness, look for ways to prove themselves.”

At a young age, Andrew himself got into fights to prove that he was not a coward. However, by the age of 12, he realized he did not want to hurt people. He wanted to stop succumbing to the pressure to be aggressive. So he began to find a better way.

As a young teen, Andrew frequently observed boys his age during junior high. He saw the aggression, the violence, and had empathy for the pain that many of his peers were carrying underneath. He saw other boys and young men around him learning to withdraw from their emotions. He recognized that happening inside of himself, too.

“I carry that with me well into adulthood, refusing to back down and also starting to pick apart the things about masculine identity that I saw were just hurting and harming other boys,” Andrew recalls. “It wasn’t just me. I mean, I was just sitting back in junior high, just watching, and just taking note of all this, and just thinking, ‘I’ve got to find other ways to push back against this.’”

Finding an Outlet For Feelings

Andrew shares that he found emotionally saf(er) spaces in his relationships with women. He says, “It’s leaning into the place where you can feel safe with your emotional life. And that was in the research in my book, I mean, just endlessly, boys in high school talking about the friendships they have with girls not surprisingly because those are the places where they have that safe space.” 

Just like women, men also want to show and reveal their genuine emotions. However, they cannot freely express their vulnerabilities, especially with fellow men, because they tend to regard their emotional lives as feminine.

He also observed that younger men of this generation tend to push back against this perspective. This was evident in his Jericho Circle Project, where younger male inmates of a prison in Massachusetts led the discussion group and older men would follow suit.

Sexism Impacts Everyone

Andrew shared a relationship phenomena uncovered by his research, which is that some women, whether consciously or not, tend to dismiss and undermine men’s emotional lives and vulnerabilities because of a disinclination to offer more “male privilege.” However, Andrew explains that such responses are counterproductive. He says, “All the privilege that they've had so far has not really encouraged or fostered a healthy masculinity that's the thing.”

Historically speaking, Andrew recognizes men’s privilege and power. However, it is much more complex than that. This power embraced by men becomes more of a trap than a privilege, particularly when it leads to the withering of their emotional selves and to the detriment of their marriages and families. Men who were socialized out of emotional intelligence can struggle to maintain relationships, both personally and professionally. In the end, toxic masculinity can stunt men and make it difficult for them to be happy, healthy and whole.

Andrew says, “We know that when you teach men and encourage men to get in touch with their emotions beyond the happiness and the anger . . . only good, generative emotions and changes in the way that they think and see the world better arise from that. And then, of course, all women and girls are going to benefit from that, too.” However, Andrew admits that there is still a lot of work to be done to achieve this.

Healthy Masculinity

Even as the idea of masculinity evolves, both straight and gay men still struggle with being more open about their emotional lives. Fortunately, Andrew finds “[t]here is more encouragement for a different kind of masculinity in this generation.”

Here are some of Andrew's recommendations for fostering emotional health in men:

  • Women expect emotional intimacy from men. In return, however, they should also support men by welcoming various degrees of vulnerabilities.
  • Andrew recognizes that this hypercompetitive culture expects men to be fixers or problem-solvers. Thus, we should encourage men and women to be more understanding and empathizing of each other. 
  • Men can and should also start being emotionally supportive of each other.

“I think it would go a long way if men could learn to reach out in really small ways to other men. That is something that we do not encourage in this culture,” Andrew says. Men tend to isolate themselves during difficult times. However, they also need emotional support, care, love, and affection from other people.

Andrew says, “The thing that we often forget is that even though a lot of guys won’t take the help, deep down, they appreciate it.”

Resources

Andrew Reiner just shared how men can learn emotional transparency. Which part of the episode was the most helpful? Feel free to share your thoughts by leaving a comment down below.

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Wishing you all the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. She's the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.

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What Men Secretly Want — Emotional Intimacy: Podcast Transcript

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What Men Secretly Want: Emotional Intimacy

With Andrew Reiner

 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

That’s a beautiful song called “Nowhere To Hide” by the singer-songwriter, Daniel Robinson. I chose it for us today because it is an excellent example of a man being incredibly emotionally transparent, and honest, and vulnerable. And that is what we’re talking about today on the podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. I am the founder and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling and Coaching. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. I’m a licensed psychologist. I am a licensed—no wait—board certified life coach. 

And I mentioned that as the stepping stone to say, I have many years of experience in working with couples, and individuals around matters of the heart, personal growth, helping people figure out what they want, figuring out how to be more connected, and have happier, more satisfying relationships. And I don’t know that I have ever had a single client who was either a man or in a relationship with a man where it wasn’t necessary to talk about some point. The fact that men are just as emotionally alive as women are. 

Men have a very rich and real inner life, and they crave emotional intimacy and connection, and to be known, and understood, and accepted, and loved on a very deep level, just the same way that women do. And fascinatingly, but understandably, that idea is not immediately apparent to a lot of people. That is something that we need to cultivate together in our work in either a couples counselling or individual coaching to help men, and the people who love men really develop the kind of healthy satisfying relationships, and even life that they want and deserve. 

Too often, men starting as very, very young boys, toddlers are socialized out of having feelings of being vulnerable, of having emotional needs or attachment needs. And so that part of themselves can get pushed away. In a recent podcast, we talked at length about shadow sides, and this is kind of an extension of that topic, but specifically around what happens to men as a result of that kind of socialization and how it’s so necessary to help men get reconnected with how they really feel on a deep level in order to help have more satisfying relationships, and also just more connected to themselves so that they really can use all of their emotional guidance as well as their ideas about who they are and what they need to be happy. 

And I am so incredibly thrilled today to be speaking to a real expert on this subject. My guest today is Andrew Reiner. You may have seen his work recently in the New York Times. He is the author of such provocatively titled articles as It’s Not Only Women Who Want More Intimacy in Relationships. He has another amazing article about teaching men how to be emotionally honest. And he is the author of a new book called Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. 

And in addition to that, he is a professor at Towson University. He teaches writing, as well as men’s issues. His work has been featured all over the place, the Chicago Tribune and PR the CBC, and he’s here today to share his wisdom and insights with us. So, Andrew, thank you so much for coming here today to speak with me and my listeners about the emotional life of men.

 

Andrew Reiner: I’m really grateful for the invitation to be on your podcast. I really appreciate the fact that so much of the focus of the work you do is on intimacy because it’s such an important part of my own life.

 

Dr. Lisa: Mine as well, and I so appreciate you. You bringing this up and sharing lessons, and you know what, maybe we can just jump right in and talk a little bit more about that because one of my first questions for you, if it’s okay to ask, was really to learn a little bit more around, where the idea and kind of drive to write this book came from? Because I got the sense that it was very much related to a personal journey, and I’m curious to know what that is if it’s okay. 

 

Andrew: Oh, of course. Yeah, of course. So, but as I said, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be on here and really honored. So thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa: Thank you.

 

Andrew: You’re welcome. So my own journey has been, yeah, you’re absolutely right. It’s been extremely personal. And really, it started for me, unfortunately, with well as it does in situations like this very often with kind of a—with a trauma. And so, when I was about seven or eight years old, I got into a really brutal fistfight with a neighborhood kid. And, it was just, it was unlike anything in our neighborhood that kids had ever seen before, and it really became a spectacle. Typically, in our neighborhood, we, it was the kind of neighborhood where fights ended, after a couple minutes, you got the animosity out of your system, the frustration, and you went back to playing together. 

 

This was a brutal, brutal fight. I remember a lot of the details of this fight because it was traumatizing. We were both really young. And he just, even when I would get up to run away from the fight, he would track me down, and he would just keep hitting me. So, I was just, I mean, it was just a bludgeoning fight, not the kind of fight you typically expect seven and eight-year-old boys or kids do it, adore. So what happened was, that alone was hard enough. 

 

But what happened was, later in the afternoon, I got home, and I heard my brother, my oldest brother was talking to my mother about this fight that everybody in the neighborhood was talking about it. And so I expected my brother, five years older than me, who I guess would have been 12 or 13, at the time, to be talking about, in some shape, or form, how he was going to support me in this—stick up for me, whatever it was, he was telling my mother what a coward I was, and what a black sheep in the family I was, and well I was basically, a loser, and all these things. 

 

And my mother really didn’t say anything. And that was the beginning of what became basically a smear campaign. By my brother for decades, in my family after that, I was always considered, he always made a point of shaming me as much as he could about being a coward, and it all started with this fight.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s terrible, I’m just like personally, I am so sorry that you live through that because that’s awful, and especially in your family. I mean, that, of all the places.

 

Andrew: Yeah, well, thank you. I appreciate that. So, but the point of it was—was that that began a campaign for me. And of course, I didn’t know it at the time. But first, it began with, as so often happens with boys and men finding ways to kind of, to overcome, and to redeem yourself from the shame. And so it often happens, boys and young men, because of the lack of awareness, look for ways to prove themselves in ways that other boys and men are going to find acceptable. So for me, that was—I leaned into fighting. I fought constantly, as a young boy after that. Got into lots of fights. 

 

And I didn’t realize it, but I was basically trying to redeem myself. And at some point, I think it was in sixth grade, I just stopped. I just realized it became really clear to me that this idea of being in fistfights was, even though I was also getting hurt,  it was painful to me to be hurting other kids, other boys over such really trivial things. And it was a huge wake-up call. I mean, I actually remember this specific fight, and it was in sixth grade. And so, after that, my awareness, once I stopped fighting, everything just kind of shifted. And so because of that, I was no longer trying to prove myself through fighting. There was just kind of an awareness where I suddenly became, in junior high, really cognizant of the ways that boys just really brutalize each other.

 

Dr. Lisa: Okay, but can we just pause for one second? I mean, that just the fact that you are such a self-aware 12-year-old and also like, and I just have to ask, so there were clearly all these messages coming at you from your brother, and other societal factors around, what it meant to be a male, and all of these kind of pressures to be fighting, and aggressive. But yet you had all this empathy and the self-awareness around, “I don’t want to hurt people,” and I’m getting cultural messages that don’t feel congruent for me. I’m just like, amazed as a therapist, I have to tell you, like…

 

Andrew: Sure.

 

Dr. Lisa: …where did that come from? At that age, it’s amazing.

 

Andrew: Well, I mean, as you know, as a therapist, what often happens with people who have endured traumas at a young age, is that there’s this kind of part and parcel with that is there’s an awareness, a consciousness where it’s raising, that occurs, and you can’t really qualify it, you can’t, I’m sorry, you can’t quantify it, and it just kind of—it occurs. And what often happens with boys and men is it goes one of two ways. The most common way is that boys and boys will start to, if there is any kind of consciousness-raising, they’ll often suppress that. And they’ll say, “Well, the path of least resistance is being accepted.” And so the way to do that is to swallow back the things that other boys and men are telling me—are getting in the way for me to have my man card stamped. The other way that it can go is you go the path that I took. And you kind of, for me, it was very much still fighting, even though I wasn’t getting into fistfights anymore, it was still holding on to a fierceness, a sense of kind of like that, the fear of feeling of like I still want to be a warrior, but I’m going to put everything I have into it to fight against this. So that’s really what was going on. 

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s amazing.

 

Andrew: That’s what was going on. I refused. It was just a matter of refusing to back down. And I carry that with me well into adulthood, refusing to back down and also starting to pick apart the things about masculine identity that I saw were just hurting and harming other boys. It wasn’t just me. I mean, I was just sitting back in junior high, just watching, and just taking note of all this, and just thinking I’ve got to find other ways to push back against this. And so that consciousness after I stopped physically fighting, really started to kind of take off, and it really just burgeoned in junior high. And it wasn’t something that I was writing about. It wasn’t something I was talking about; but it was something I was observing. And I was just trying to figure out ways that I could kind of push back against it.

 

Dr. Lisa: Thank you. I mean, one thing that comes up, as I’m sure you can imagine, over and over again, is this—men who have not been exposed to those ideas, or have had a champion saying, wait, there’s more, it doesn’t have to be this way, and they don’t know that there are options, and so they really kind of fold and acquiesce to these messages about it’s not okay to have emotions—it’s certainly not okay to have vulnerable emotions. The only acceptable emotions there are for a man is happiness and anger. And what this creates is such a constriction that it becomes very difficult to have the emotional intelligence skills that are necessary to have high-quality relationships later in life. 

 

And it’s incredibly damaging on so many levels, both relationally but also in terms of their own psyche. And just to think that you have been a champion for changing this is hats off to you. I mean, I can only imagine how many people you must have come into contact with over the years in your various roles as a teacher and as a writer who have heard this different message and maybe taking it on board—men who have taken it on board as a kind of counter to this toxic masculinity narrative that takes so many good, nice, decent men down.

 

Andrew: It does. Yeah, it does. And it’s—what often happens is, what I was doing was very much typical for a lot of boys and men, so for me, it was finding outlets for my emotional life through girls and then eventually women, right? I’m sure you see that a lot in your own practices. It’s leaning into the place where you can feel safe with your emotional life, and that was in the research in my book, I mean, just endlessly, boys in high school, talking about the friendships they have with girls. Not surprisingly, because those are the places where they have that safe space. 

 

And a lot of men, of course, as you probably know, I’m sure they take that into adulthood. And you can see that the writing on the wall, the problems with that is that it becomes, men learn to still look at their emotional lives, and their emotional awareness is something as being feminine. And so the feminine is the safe place that they can put that into, we are very much at a place, and this is more true. I think with younger men today, where there is a reckoning, where these younger men are trying to find ways to reconnect, or I should say, connect with boys with young men, and they’re trying to push back against that. We’re not there yet. I mean, we’re definitely not there yet. But they are the ones who really kind of leading the charge with that. 

 

When I sat in men’s groups throughout my research, often it was the younger men that were leading the charge, and then you might have the older men, who eventually, after a lot of his inner resistance, would start to let their guard down, because they felt like, “Okay, so these guys are making it safe, where I can do this.” 

 

And one of the best examples of that was in a prison up in Massachusetts, and that was a really great experience because there were these younger inmates, younger men sitting in this giant circle in this program called Jericho Circle Project. And they were the ones that were really kind of, you could just tell they were really setting the tone. And they were the ones who are learning, they were still learning, but didn’t come easily to them, but they were more willing to see the value in this process. And then the older men would follow suit.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s a need. The older men learning from the younger ones and thinking about just generational differences, and I just, had a thought that probably the women’s movement, and feminism and so many of the other social justice movements that have become stronger over the last few decades are now finally able to go back into the fire and maybe assist the men who came of age prior to some of those messages and who maybe hadn’t had the benefit of those ideas and those kinds of nurturing relationships prior to now. That’s amazing that… 

 

Andrew: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: … that’s happening.

 

Andrew: It is, and you bring up an interesting point about that, Lisa, because one of the things that came up in the research—it was actually a bit counter to that—there are women and I found it’s a lot of older women. When I say older, I mean, more middle-aged and older, who I think are showing a lot more empathy, and encouraging men to kind of create the space, actually, and I find this in the course I teach at the university where I teach, called “The Changing Face of Masculinity.” 

 

A lot of younger women really resist and really aren’t crazy about the idea of men because they feel like, “Here are men trying to suck the oxygen out of the conversation again, here are men saying” or “Oh, we need a safe space to talk.” And “Here are men trying to say that we are the ones who need a little bit more empathy and a little bit more understanding.” And understandably, a lot of them are very resistant to this, and they get—some of them get just downright indignant. And that’s it’s something that it’s an interesting dynamic, it’s that what’s happening today, I think, with younger, a lot of younger feminists is that it’s kind of a turf war for them. And you see this on college campuses, where there have been men’s groups.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s interesting. I didn’t know that.

 

Andrew: There’s been a lot of resistance to, for instance, when there’ve been a few groups, young men who have gone to like this, ESGA, the student governments and said, we’d like to be funded to have a safe space too, and they’ve met with a lot of resistance. There was a—what school is it? I can’t remember which it was, one university, I think it was University of Massachusetts and in the States, and there was a school in Canada, in British Columbia, where the young men who were trying to form this met with a lot of resistance from, unfortunately, a lot of female faculty members and from a lot of younger feminists. 

 

So it’s a little more complex than that, it’s, of course we know that when you teach men and encourage men to get in touch with their emotions beyond the happiness and the anger, we know that only good, generative emotions and changes in the way that they think and see the world better, arise from that. And then, of course, all women and girls are going to benefit from that, too. But we’re not there yet where I feel like we’re really not there yet in the conversation, to be honest.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, and this is really interesting, and something that I had honestly not considered until speaking with you about it. But, and I don’t know if this is the conclusion that you came to, but it’s almost like, this group of men, who, by many standards have all of this privilege that they have been exercising for millennia and using that sometimes unfair ways that now there’s this sort of push back against men as having the opportunity to develop themselves in the same way. 

 

Like, you have all of this privilege, you don’t deserve to have this kind of safe space, you don’t need it in the same way that we do, which is maybe unintentionally creating a consequence of not having the type of growth environment that would allow men to develop the kind of empathy, and self-awareness, that is the antidote to that unconscious privilege. Is that kind of the gist of it? Or did you just discover something else?

 

Andrew: No, I think, Lisa, I think you really summed it up very well. It’s the idea that, as you said, for millennia, men have had the privilege, oh my God, I mean, historically, when have they not? Right? And then all of a sudden, that we’re in this new kind of paradigm, there’s this new epoch that we’re in. And so, and I completely understand a lot of the frustration, and the anger, and the resentment. 

 

But then, the other part of that is that if we want men to change, if we want boys and young men and even middle-aged men to potentially had that changed, all the privilege that they’ve had so far has not really encouraged or fostered a healthy masculinity, that’s the thing. That’s the crux of it. Everything that they’ve had so far has been ways of wearing and embracing power, that hasn’t always been on to use that word, again, generative, in terms of benefiting everybody else. It’s been a very one-dimensional approach to power. So, all of that privilege doesn’t really mean anything for these guys, who many of them are clueless about their deeper emotional lives. 

 

And so it’s true, absolutely, absolutely men have completely controlled and embraced all the privilege. And now that they suddenly are seeing the ascent more of girls and women, they’re not understanding why. And I think to some extent, some of the younger women aren’t really understand why that, all that privilege, really didn’t mean anything in terms of them becoming the men we want and need them to be. If they still were looking at their privilege in a way that was very one dimensional, and that wasn’t really emotionally healthy for everyone, including themselves.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: So that where that disconnect, I think, is coming in.

 

Dr. Lisa: No, that’s good, going back to that idea that racism, sexism really does impact everyone whether or not they know it. And it’s interesting to hear you talk about that, but the privilege sort of, like, was a trap in some ways. As we’re talking, though, I’m also realizing that you and I just slid so naturally into like this fascinating conversation.

 

Andrew: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: Probably, it would be worth going back a little bit just to also provide an overview of your work and of your research. And so you were talking about how, from a young age, you kind of developed this the sense of mission and purpose around pushing back of some of these cultural forces related to what it means to be a man, and so you have a book coming out, quick plug, Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency is coming out. 

 

And can you talk a little bit about some of the questions that you had in mind, some of the topics that you wanted to write about? And you mentioned several times, like your research process, and I’m so curious to know more about what specifically you were exploring and what you learned through that research. And of course, this will be very high-level compared to the depth and nuance that you go to in your book, but what was the high-level story of your research in the process?

 

Andrew: Yeah, sure. No, great question. So, let me start off with some of the questions, some of the questions because I, like, I can tell you’re a fan of questions.

 

Dr. Lisa: I am such a nerd, card-carrying, yes. So I love the questions.

 

Andrew: Absolutely. That’s how we learn; we learn through curiosity. Right? Okay, so some of the questions for me were, of course, the big one, what does it mean to be a man? Right? What does it mean to be a man anymore, when we’re trapped? When some of us are really doing hard work to really kind of push back against that? What is it? When so, what does it mean to be a man? And if we’re trying to change that script, what are the parameters? Does that mean that there are no parameters? Even if we could—best case scenario, change that script? Are there still parameters? Or should they be taken off? Right? Should we just say that, just like that, we don’t say be a real woman, right? Thank God, we don’t, I mean, just like, we don’t say that, even if we take away that limiting script, of what it means to “be a real man,” where do we go from there? What does that look like? 

 

And so do we still have to have limitations, because one of the things I discovered throughout my research with both men and women—not just with boys, and men—but men, and women, and girls, too, is that the vast minority of people really feel that completely taking away all those constraints of masculinity that we’re familiar with—and comfortable with—by the way, completely, taking those away, still leaves a lot of people and a lot of very progressive-minded people a little bit uncomfortable. 

 

And so, because one of the things I would hear, for instance, when I would interview some young women at the college level, for instance, was, I want guys to be able to experience more ranges of their emotion, guys shouldn’t be stuck with just, and one of the thing that they always said was always anger. And then it’s okay, so what does it look like? How do you feel if a guy gets really weepy in front of you? 

 

And I did this, one of the things I did was I did kind of a survey in a lot of the classes I taught semester in, semester out. And it came down to about 90 or 92% of them said, “That they were very uncomfortable with guys crying in front of them.” Ranging from “it just didn’t seem right” to “they just didn’t know how to respond.” And so, of course, that’s just not crying, right? Crying is just the window of vulnerability. It’s just a manifestation of that. And so that’s still something that a lot of women are so uncomfortable with. 

 

And I mean, this is something that my wife and I, I’ve had to work with her on, in our relationship. Because there have been a lot of times, I could very clearly tell she wasn’t comfortable with my own vulnerability. So it’s something that I think that’s a good example of ways that we’re—that we’re not completely there yet. To say that, “No, sorry, there still are some expectations that were that we still have for you”—even if you can, for instance, be more entitled to like—wrong word they’re entitled—but even if we’re going to give you access and encourage you to to get access to the deeper range of your emotions, there are still thresholds that we haven’t really crossed yet. There still are some limitations. 

 

Dr. Lisa: So interesting, but again, that like that women to have received these messages about who men should be, what’s okay, what’s not okay, that are really also limiting the depth, and the quality of their relationships in heterosexual relationships. It’s so fascinating because, especially as a couples counselor, I have so many women saying, but I just want to feel more emotionally connected—but don’t cry. Don’t like, actually show how you feel.

 

Andrew: Right. I hate to plug a piece of this…But I just did this piece to New York Times, and it was about…

 

Dr. Lisa: Yes.

 

Andrew: …men, there are men out there.

 

Dr. Lisa: My husband is one of them.

 

Andrew: There you go, who want more emotional intimacy, and one of the things that other researchers have found, and I mentioned this in the piece, and is that a lot of women do say, yeah I want this from you because they haven’t gotten at all that kind of emotional connection, that intimacy that they want, and what a lot of the research has shown, and then I even spoke anecdotally, to a therapist who works a lot with men, and he echoed the same thing, he said, “A lot of my male clients, I get them to the point where they will finally open up with their female romantic partners,” and then often it’s met with the women appreciated first, but then if the men keep going there, it’s, “Wow, I didn’t realize you were this needy.” So it’s and so that kind of thing—that’s what I think a lot of men are up against, and there’s been other research on that speaks to this as well. 

 

Brené Brown comes to mind in her book, Daring Greatly, right, the great Brené Brown. And she has a great passage about that, about how women are constantly begging men to be more open to create this intimacy with me. And then when men really do cross that threshold and give them—feel safe, a lot of women recoil. And so that’s what—I think that that is to give you an example, with the research I found, it really does speak to that. It’s the idea that there are still ways that we still are uncomfortable with men redefining what this healthy masculinity looks like. I’m not saying it always. But I’m saying there still are some ways that we’re still kind of holding each other back.

 

Dr. Lisa: But what a wonderful question, though, to be posing to women to say, “How do you react when your male partner expresses these vulnerable feelings to you?” Because that might be a point of self-awareness and growth around if I do want more emotional intimacy in my relationship, what am I doing to support it on the other side? 

 

And I have to ask, just to have balance here, has your research extended to same-sex couples, like I’m wondering around male couples? Were there two male partners, are these dynamics still in place? Or does it feel almost more emotionally safe, potentially, for males who have done this type of growth work? I guess this is a very awkward way of trying to frame the question that should be much easier, but I’m wondering if it feels emotionally safer for men to be partnered with a man when it comes to these expressions of emotional vulnerability? Or is it sort of the same kind of dynamic that happens no matter if it’s heterosexual or homosexual relationship? 

 

Andrew: Yeah, no, that’s a great question. I haven’t done as much extensive research in gay relationships. But when I would speak with gay men, a lot of them did. And just in anecdotally, in conversations I was having with gay friends, there still are, for a lot of gay men, there’s still, I should say, there still is a lot of resistance, in terms of that feeling of wanting to open up, of wanting to feel really safe. In fact, it’s interesting, in some ways I feel this way, and I think it’s true, I think it’s true for hetero men, and for gay men, I feel like we have actually kind of, I don’t know if evolved is the right word. But I feel like we have, in many ways, the masculinity that we have right now, or what some of us are really working to kind of unravel, is more hyper-masculine than it was in the past. 

 

Anybody who’s lived through the 70s in the 80s would know that the kind of progress that was being made, as the women’s movement was really kind of hitting its stride with that second wave of feminism. There was a lot more encouragement for a different kind of masculinity with boys and men. And so there was kind of a much more sensitive kind of masculinity. That was much more—was becoming more acceptable then.

 

Dr. Lisa: The encounter groups of the 1970s. And yes, like hairy men hugging each other, I get

  1.  

 

Andrew: But it’s interesting, if you look at for instance, if you listen to music from the 70s, if you watch TV shows, and watch movies from the 70s, I’ve kind of gone back, and just to kind of immerse myself in some of that stuff is like guys is different. And today, for younger men, especially, there’s this real kind of polarity that they’re trying to straddle, where on the one hand there’s huge degrees of body dysmorphia, with younger men, huge degrees of and it’s all—I, in the book, I even say it’s caricature-ish, it’s cartoonish, because all the guys, and this is true of a lot of gay men too. 

 

This is really inflated, buffed upper bodies. And, I mean, they’re, it’s like, that’s really kind of the norm. It’s the limitations that women have had for God knows how many hundreds of thousands of years with body image. And this is really the first time that you’ve got men really kind of succumbing to this one dimensional image of what they should look like, as men. And so that’s an example of, but and, then you look at, like, the popular culture they’re consuming. I mean, there’s still a lot of hyper-masculinity, for instance, in rap. You look at the action hero movies that are really, really big with younger guys. They are completely one-dimensional.

 

Dr. Lisa: No crying. 

 

Andrew: That’s right. The only place that you see any really, kind of, nuance in the heroes, in these action movies, is there’s a little bit of, kind of, complexity in their morality, and the morality they’re wrestling with. But when you look at the messages these guys send, they’re swaggering, they’re cocksure, they’ve got these powers that other guys would love to have. They don’t second guess themselves. They’re not really emotionally. You rarely see any kind of outpouring of anything other than anger from revenge or constantly in combative action. I mean, it’s real; it’s very hyper-masculine. You said the kinds of things when you asked about questions. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: I wanted to ask guys, well, on the one hand, you say that you do once in a while, I’d like to talk to a male friend, although most of them would talk to girls. But on the other hand, how do you kind of how do you reckon that idea with wanting to kind of change that with feeling beholden to this kind of action hero? You know, thos?

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: So these are the kind of things the nuanced kind of thing, just because I, one of the things I was at the outset that I was really—it was very important to me, is that I not cover all the terrain, the kind of same old, same old terrain that a lot of books have already come. I mean, even if this was ten years ago, I would have felt the exact same way. I absolutely, positively wanted to get to the crux and the contradictions, and the complexity of what this masculinity thing is today. 

 

And so I also wanted to look at this idea of fatherhood for some men—what does it mean to be a father? Because that ties in with the idea of, what does it mean to be a man today? And I feel like these are conversations that do need to be talked about. Because it’s not just all, it’s not just theory? I don’t even get into theory in the book. It’s all about questions that a lot of us wrestle with. They keep us awake at night, that stresses us out, that makes us feel uncomfortable. I wanted to really lean into the kinds of questions and the kinds of issues that we wrestle with these boys and men that really affect all of us.

 

Dr. Lisa: Well, let’s talk about that part for a second. And this is just so interesting. And you bring up that there’s this like, hyper-masculine ethos that is more present in the culture in recent years that I also hadn’t thought of before, which is very interesting. And I could see that, and you say that there is this sort of internal struggle in many men and boys around how to be connected, be whole and also sort of meet the overt or covert expectations, right? That are being given to them about, who they should be. I’m curious to know how you have seen this impact men and boys in terms of their relationships, in terms of their personal development. I mean, you mentioned body dysmorphia, which is a huge thing. But like, particularly when it comes to relationships, how does this show up? For men and boys.

 

Andrew: So a lot of them are still—they—initially when I would talk with them, a lot of them would say, and this was true for boys in high school, this is true for young men, even in the men’s groups, a lot of them would say things like, “Well I do have a friend that I can talk with, I do have a friend that I can tell things to,” and almost always the kinds of things that they were sharing, were almost always things that invited and led to advice. 

 

And so, they were looking for, they were very solution still, as a lot of guys are as they think they need to be very solution-based. And so what they were always looking for were practical steps. They were looking for basically, somebody that to basically fill the role of what we tend to think of in a very stupid, stereotypical way is kind of like a father they were looking for another father. And this was true for a lot of high school-aged guys I spoke with, and it was even true for guys who are a little bit older and men’s groups. And so they might share that, for instance, “Oh I really cared about this girl.” And that’s great that they would even share that with another guy. And then instead of it really getting to the point where there would be this kind of support, what it became was, “What should I do?” And the other guy being all too happy to step in to say, “This is what I think you need to do.” 

 

And this was true for guys even in—even sometimes in the men’s groups, and what was lacking so often was exactly what they still would do, when they would be with girls who are friends, which is saying, “I feel awful”, and wanting that other person, in this case, who is always a female, to say things like, “It’s okay, or “It’s gonna be okay,” or basically the metaphorical equivalent of crying on their shoulder. And the guys were not doing that. They were still looking for practical ways to find solutions to the problems even, they would even look for ways in the emotional relationship ends, they were still looking for solutions, but they weren’t giving each other the emotional support that they really need. And a lot of it, Oh, go ahead.

 

Dr. Lisa: I was going to say it sounds like in there that that is what they really not just needed, but also wanted, and we’re kind of craving was just that that safe place to just be, without having their feelings, “fixed,” that it was okay for them, is that it?

 

Andrew: Yeah, to lapse into that old dynamic of guys feeling like they’ve got to be the fixers all the time, completely fits into that. And it’s the idea that there’s a really deep subtext here, Lisa. And the subtext beneath a lot of this dynamic is that when boys and men are in the company of other boys and men, excuse me, that is not a place where they’re supposed to be, the full degree of their humanity is supposed to be present, and it’s supposed to be encouraged and supported. 

 

That’s the subtext; it’s the idea that you’ve got to embrace the other parts of your humanity and save it when you can be with a female because that’s the domain of the—that still is the domain of the female—the feminine is emotional literacy. It’s having the depths of your humanity embraced and accepted. And so, that’s really the deeper subtext there. 

 

And there’s so much there in terms of the way guys are taught to relate to each other at a very young age. One of the things that I’ve always—one of the things I wanted to explore, you asked, what I would explore at the outset, in the book? One of the many things was the role of competition because we don’t talk about that a lot in this culture. 

 

We are such a hyper-competitive culture. And the way that boys and men are taught to relate to each other at very young age centers around different levels of different ways of being in competition with each other. And that and so, a lot of the points of an interview would say, “Well, no, here’s a good example of us not being competitive because we help each other.” And it’s a, you do, you do give each other practical advice, but it’s about ways of still distancing that from your deeper emotional life.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: If you could take away that other layer, the fear that you’re going to be judged, which is a form of competition. If you could take away that fear of being judged, and rejected, all speaks to forms of competition, then we’re getting somewhere.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, what a powerful message that even in cooperative behaviors, that the goal is still some variation of winning, which means sort of coming out victorious, as opposed to leaning in to the reality that they’re experiencing and figuring out how to understand that and even be okay with that. 

 

Andrew: Absolutely.

 

Dr. Lisa: That’s also wonderful.

 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. That really, yeah, that was really something competition that I really wanted to get into. Because it’s not something that there’s been a lot of, there’s been a lot written or talked about, and even when I kind of pushed this to some editors, I’ve worked with the different publications, they’ve been kind of cool in the idea because there’s this real resistance in our culture, to question or challenge, the idea that maybe the form of competition we have is really not that healthy?

 

Dr. Lisa: Uh-huh. 

 

Andrew: I mean, the only time we really ever start to question, the way that we compete in this culture, is when things get too far too fast. We look for instances at levels of like toxic competition in sports, for instance, and we’ll look at the ways that boys and men as examples, in certain kinds of sports, like NFL football, sometimes NHL hockey, or maybe we’ll look at guys who are in high school. And I read about this in the book a lot about the kind of toxicity of the culture of, I’m sorry, I’m like drawing a blank here. But it’s within sports of hazing, within… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, yeah, I can totally see.

 

Andrew: So much of that is rural sexual assault, and at the high school age, and so until it gets that bad, it gets really off the rails, we don’t question the ways that we compete. So much about the messages about how we compete is now not about winning as much as it is about dominating. When you take it to that next level, you ratchet it up to dominating—that invites a lot of really toxic behavior. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Oh, yeah. 

 

Andrew: And so this is the kind of thing that the more that we kind of lean towards a dominating culture. It’s hard to, kind of, challenge that, unless we can say, “Oh, yeah, well, Sure. Absolutely. We’re against the sexual assault, hazing.” No, we’re against guys in football hitting each other really hard just to like take the other player to the game. Sure, we’re against that. But when we look at this in a relational level and the ways that we relate to each other, that ethos is still, to some extent going to influence the way that we relate to each other. And so it makes it even harder for guys, when they’re kind of raised in this culture of dominating, which is pretty much very much part of our zeitgeist now. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: How could that not trickle into the way that you see yourself as a guy in the way that you can relate?

 

Dr. Lisa: Yes, in your intimate relationships… 

 

Andrew: Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa: …in your parenting relationships… 

 

Andrew: Absolutely.

 

Dr. Lisa: …in your work relationships. So there is so much here, and clearly, you’ve just spent so much very thoughtful and productive time and energy into developing these ideas. And so I would encourage everyone to read Andrew Reiner’s book, which is Better Boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency

 

And also, check out his piece in The New York Times provocatively entitled, It’s Not Only Women Who Want More Intimacy in Relationships. So there’s a couple of resources where you can dive deep into Andrew’s ideas. But I’m also wondering, and I hope this isn’t too much putting you on the spot. But in the few minutes that we have left, would you mind sharing a couple of ideas with my listeners around if you want to, either as a man develop the kinds of—like not just emotional awareness, but self-compassion, we’re talking about. What are some first steps might you do with that? 

 

And for the partners of men, what are some ways that you can shift your thinking or way of interacting that kind of see and value the emotional life of men that may too often go unseen or unmet in a relationship? I know those are two giant things. We could probably talk for many hours about that.

 

Andrew: Yeah. I know.

 

Dr. Lisa: Places for people to be doing that kind of growth work in addition, of course, reading your article in your book.

 

Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that guys can do out there and out in the world, in their lives, is I think it would go a long way if men could learn to reach out in really small ways to other men. That is something that we do not encourage in this culture. Of course, men do that. Men may do that with their friends, with their intimates. But it doesn’t mean you’ve got to necessarily go up and hug a strange guy. But it means, for instance, if you’re in a grocery store, and you see a guy accidentally knock over a bunch of cans… 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

 

Andrew: …go over and say, “Hey can I give you a hand?” 

 

Dr. Lisa: Uh-huh.

 

Andrew: That’s not the kind of the guy—most guys will probably say, “No, I got it, I got it, I don’t need help with this.” If you see a guy drop something, if you see a guy with his arms full coming out of the liquor store, the beer or wine store hold the door open. And it’s true that a lot of guys who are uncomfortable with their own masculine identity would probably feel comfortable for that. But it’s a way of kind of doing a very kind of harmless, very un-invasive thing, where you can start to feel like, you’re reaching out to other guys in ways that are, again, very un-invasive. But you’re taking small but really powerful steps. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. I see you, yeah.

 

Andrew: That’s right, where you can show, where you can practice, really experiment, practice ways to reaching out to other guys in ways that are small, but helpful. And I think, for a lot of guys, that is no small thing—holding open just a door for a guy. And there are some guys who are, have their own insecurities about their masculine identity. And they may say, “Dude, I can get my own door.” But it’s also about just doing this, as it’s a way of habituating and finding ways, to feel comfortable with reaching out to other guys. 

 

If you see a guy upset, just walk by to say, “Hey, you, okay? Is there anything? Anything I can do? Are you doing okay, man?” Or just something like that. Because the thing that we often forget very conveniently, because it’s a lot harder to do things like that. The thing that we often forget is that even though a lot of guys won’t take the help, deep down, they appreciate it. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: Everybody does. Everybody appreciates being cared for, especially by strangers; knowing that you—somebody else has your back out there is a really powerful thing to be out in public. And to know that even though you may not allow yourself to be helped, knowing that somebody else was there, it feels really, really powerful. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. 

 

Andrew: In terms of relationships, a lot of men can never practice assertive listening enough, really listening. And something, I think a lot of men a lot of us can really benefit from, myself included, is, as we are listening when we can tell if it’s something that, for instance, our partner, we can tell, it’s really important to them, is mirroring back and saying, “Okay, so what I think I hear you saying is this,” when it’s something, really, you can tell that it’s important to them. It doesn’t matter whether we think it’s important. It’s about listening and saying, “Okay, I can tell this matters to you so let me make sure I’ve got it right. This is what I think I hear you saying.” That small thing, I think, in terms of creating intimacy, is a door-opener. 

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. It really is. 

 

Andrew: It’s only going to help our relationships.

 

Dr. Lisa: And to piggyback on those ideas, I’m also going to remind all women within the sound of my voice that men are actually just as emotional, and in need of love and connection, and affection as you are, and that I think some women buy into this myth that men somehow feel differently or care differently, and that is not at all true. Many men have been socialized away from some of this, but it’s all still there. And I think that women have a responsibility to remember that, and see that, and attend to it just in the same way that they would like to be attended to.

 

Andrew: Absolutely. That’s a great point, Lisa, because, in terms of that, one of the things I mentioned in that article with, about men and intimacy is that all men struggle differently than women do. For instance, in relationships and when relationships end the difference that women work to have support networks so that they can have these emotional needs back. And men don’t do that, and they isolate themselves. 

 

And so even though guys will cook, give us this very convincing front that a lot of times it’s very convenient because it makes it easy for us to say, “Okay, great, you take care of it.” And they’ll say, “I’m okay, I’ve got this,”—they don’t. They don’t because most men do not really have the chops and the network and the support networks they need to really kind of navigate the ups and downs of their most—of their relational lives.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, that’s another great reminder, and because a lot of my work involves like breakup recovery, and divorce recovery, and that’s absolutely true is that men don’t have those support networks, and particularly when their primary person, that relationship ends, they can feel incredibly alone, and it is difficult to cultivate those kinds of supportive relationships with other men. I’ll also just add as a little tip: there are such things as men’s groups and supportive, kind of, therapeutic groups that are, by for, and about exactly that. And so that that may be another resource to look into potentially if you find yourself in that situation.

 

Andrew: You’re right. It’s a wonderful resource, and men’s groups are a burgeoning movement that is starting to get some traction, finally, and there are only a good things for men.

 

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Such a fascinating conversation. I feel like we could just talk for hours and hours, but so instead, I’m just going to read your book again.

 

Andrew: Good. Thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa: The book is called Better Boys—wait, hold on, I lost it—Better boys, Better Men: The New Masculinity That Creates Greater Courage and Emotional Resiliency. And if my listeners wanted to find out more about you or your work or find the book, where should they go? Andrew?

 

Andrew: Actually, if you google me, “Andrew Reiner with New York Times,” there’s about six or seven articles about healthy masculinity. And I’ve got another one actually coming up about, the next one I’m doing for them, which is going to run I think in late November, is going to be on this topic we’ve been talking about, about the need for men. In addition to things like men’s groups, men need this deep in their friendships, deep emotional support networks; they need to learn to create.

 

Dr. Lisa: I love it.

 

Andrew: But that you could easily find just Google Andrew Reiner.

 

Dr. Lisa: Andrew Reiner, New York Times and I’ll be on the lookout.

 

Andrew: That would be, and hopefully in the next couple of weeks, my website at some point soon.

 

Dr. Lisa: Stay in touch with me. I’ll be sure to put a link to it and the podcast.

 

Andrew: Thank you. So I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you so much.

 

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