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Relationship Tip: Who’s on Top?

The most destructive dynamic in a relationship is the “one-up/one-down” battle. In our competitive society, we are unconsciously programmed to see relationships as a competition. Especially when there is conflict, we automatically seek to determine who is more important, more valuable, better, or right. Of course, no one wants to be “a loser,” so each person battles to establish that they are in the more important/better position.

Relationship StruggleThis is a BIG problem because as soon as you assert that you are right, better, or more valuable, you put your partner in the position of being wrong, and less valuable. No matter who “wins” this competition, the relationship loses. This is unavoidable because when you take the one-up stance, you lose empathy for your partner. Your position of power becomes more important to you than respecting your partner’s feelings! On the other hand, if you try to keep the peace by accepting the one-down position, you cannot help but feel resentful. Human beings cannot experience humiliation without resenting it.

To put it another way, the one-up person assumes an entitled position. It looks and sounds like this: “Because I’m right/smarter/more important than you, I have the right to get my way/do what I want, AND you have no right to protest!” The last piece is the real “kicker!” That attitude is the part that fuels resentment in your partner. You act as if he/she should not protest your proclamation or behavior. It implies that your partner does not have the right to negotiate to get his/her wants and needs included in the outcome. Thus you end up with one person feeling entitled and not caring about the other’s feelings. Quite naturally the other person is fuming with resentment – a “dance of entitlement and resentment.” Not exactly a recipe for a loving, harmonious relationship!

As you delve deeper into your mind when you are in the “one-up” entitled position, you find that not only are you acting pompous and conceited, but that you actually BELIEVE that you are better than the other person. You are sure of your facts and your analysis of the situation, and you are convinced of your inherent rightness. That is why it is difficult to give up the perceived power that comes with the grandiosity of being one-up. The sense of power is addictive. This cycle must be broken for relational harmony to be re-achieved.

The antidote to this power struggle is to work to create a world of “same as.”

What is this, you ask?

Bill Russell (a former NBA star) quotes his mother’s succinct description of the “same as” position. After he had become famous, she told him: “You ain’t no better or no worse than anyone else out there!”

Another way to understand this idea is to recognize that the one-up position has lots of power for the self, but no empathy for the other; the one-down stance has lots of empathy for the other, but no power for the self. The “same as” position is one in which you have both power (to do what you need to do and say what you need to say) AND empathy (for how this is going to impact the other person.) Of course, empathy needs to lead you to a willingness to consider the other person’s needs and feelings to be just as important as your own.

In the world of “Same As,” each person’s needs, feelings, ideas and opinions are seen as worthy of respect and consideration, especially when they are different from yours. So, when you and your partner disagree, you assume that both your perspectives are valid. You make an effort to present your view calmly and confidently and to listen to and understand your partner’s view respectfully. Then you look for ways to proceed in the situation that take both of you into account;you look for a “win/win” solution. Ultimately, this is the only way your relationship can deepen and thrive.

Holding on for Dear Life: Responsibility for the Heart Connection

There are times when men in particular need to hold on to their partners for dear life.

holding your partner's heartWhat I mean is that men need to step out of their programming and hold the heart connection with their partner, and let them know by word and deed that they are doing this.

Most women learn from the time they are young girls that they are the ones who are responsible for the relationship connection, even sometimes to their detriment. Look at how many more books they read about relationships then most men do! They need to be able to let some of this responsibility go, and know that the men they love will hold the heart strings as well as them.

And guys, not only hold these lines, these connections, but let your partner KNOW that you are doing this consciously. Tell her: “I want you to know that I am always holding you and our relationship in my heart, and that I will hold us no matter what.” Then, follow through, like with your golf swing.

You are on target for a hole-in-one!

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Resentful Men: Power Dynamics in a Relationship

If, as I discussed in an earlier article, men are trained to be entitled (one-up) and women are generally trained to be (one-down) in this culture, why are men so often resentful in their intimate relationships?

This question addresses an insidious dimension of the state of intimate relationships in this culture.

Men, most often in the one-up position in this culture, are trained not to SEE the power dynamics in an intimate relationship, and women are trained not to SAY anything about the power dynamics in their relationships. When an individual’s entitlements (usually the man’s) are finally challenged, they often become angry and then RESENTFUL. “You’re crazy!” or “How dare you criticize me!” is often the initial reaction to an entitlement challenge. Part of the upset may be that the woman went along with her partner’s entitlements without challenging them for a long time. The unequal power arrangement was the “normal” state of things, even if the woman was resentful and unhappy. The traditional marriage contract was often we are one (and I am the one for the man) and yes, we are one (and you are the one, for the woman). This agreement is usually unconscious until the “we are one” myth is challenged and debunked!

coupleIf the woman begins to find her voice and starts complaining about her partner’s entitlements (sometimes louder and louder) and moves to blaming her partner, he is likely to become more and more resentful as well as entitled. Men often feel entitled to leave energetically and emotionally if they don’t like what’s going on, rather than talking about problems in relationships. Sadly, men are usually more unconsciously accepting of being lonely and disconnected in relationships than are most women. And then they wonder why a woman chooses to divorce them rather than stay in a situation where she is more lonely in the relationship than out of it.

So, in summary, many men get angry and resentful at the point where a woman begins to confront their unconscious entitlements. He may truly believe she has no right to do that or she has no right to do so in the WAY she is doing it, which is by yelling, complaining or blaming him. He has a point. Her complaining is not an effective way to bring about the change she wants in the relationship. Instead of complaining, she needs to find out if she has leverage with him meaning finding out whether he cares enough about her to make some changes in his behavior that she requests or, in some instances, demands.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

But You Said You Love Me. . .

Ahh…romantic love…how sweet it is! And those sweet words when she told me she loved me.

Of course I knew what that meant…I had found someone who would meet all of my needs, and I would meet all of her needs without ever having to ask.

LoveWhat do you mean, telling me I was intoxicated by Cupid’s arrow hitting me smack in the heart? She said she loved me and by god, I am going to hold her to it! Didn’t she promise to meet all my needs when she said she loved me?

Well…not exactly.
Not necessarily even close.

When she said she loved you, she had her own ideas about what that meant, what love means, just like you have your own ideas about what love means. It’s not that we are deliberately misleading one another. It’s just that we have different brains, and the myriad of meanings we each may attach to a word like love are almost infinite. If we are lucky, there will be some overlapping of meaning that we both can agree upon, and if we are willing to compassionately deepen our understanding of the other person’s worldview, we may hopefully grow in love together.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Getting In Touch With Our Feelings: Men vs.Women

I have written about how men are often out of touch with their needs, wants and feelings, and how this underlies taking entitled positions as well as other problems they may experience in relationships. Initially in counseling, they may have a great deal of denial about the significance or even the existence of traumatic experiences in their life, especially when they were very young, even infants.

If a man is willing to consider even the possibility of unresolved childhood trauma but can not feel it, he may be willing to hear me when I share with him that I am feeling his pain in a conversation we are having. He may be willing for me to reflect his pain back to him, thereby validating the importance of his getting in touch with his packed away feelings as an opening into his heart.

man and woman embracingWomen often do this unconsciously for men that they love, but since they do it unconsciously, they may not insist that a man then feel his own pain, and instead take his unresolved stuff on as their responsibility to feel and to manage for him. A man may then stay unconscious and continue to act out his painful feelings and early trauma in ways that are destructive to himself and others.

The bottom line here is that we may compassionately feel another’s pain and unconscious feelings, but we can not do their work for them. Paraphrasing something Carl Jung once said: “Enlightenment is not just about basking in the light. It’s about making the dark conscious.”

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Dynamics of the Journey of Self Recovery

When men set out on the journey of self recovery and really begin to connect with their needs and wants and feelings, they are embarking on a journey into the long unexplored and long neglected realm of their hidden selves. The relatively few men in our culture who are courageous enough to take this journey can get deeply immersed in their needs and wants and feelings, so long ignored and possibly screaming for attention. The danger now, if they are in an intimate relationship with another, is to make what they need and want and feel preemptive; that is, more important than their relationship with the other. This is a challenging and often relationship-threatening place for a couple to find themselves.

The work of recovery takes on another dimension. I really begin to get that my needs and wants and feelings matter and are important and yet not more important than the needs and wants and feelings of the significant others in my life. Now I am faced with, maybe for the first time in my life, really being able to negotiate on an equal footing about needs and wants and feelings with another person rather than take entitled positions with them! This is because I am finally getting in touch with more of the whole of me than ever before and more able to be in touch with the whole of you.

But being able to do this is not enough. Now that I am more able, I must choose to do so; indeed to exercise and practice this new ability if it is to be more than just potential. In other words, now that I am truly growing up, I must also show up and know that I won’t do so perfectly. But you, my love, probably knew that anyway, and you may have been waiting a long time for me.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Taking Action In Your Relationship – No More Shame, Blame or Criticism

When people have been in a committed relationship for a number of years, they usually each have a fairly accurate map of how the other needs to grow and change. It’s one of the benefits of being in a longer term relationship; that our partner has this unique perspective on our personal landscape and they do not hesitate to tell us, whether we want to hear it or not. They are often better able to see us than we are able to see ourselves.

We should be eternally grateful to them for their pointed observations. Right?

WRONG!

variety of relationship emotions

The problem is that more often than not, our maps contain “BASEBALL BATS” of shame, blame and criticism, which we use to beat each other up.

“Read my map!”
WHACK!
“No! You read my map!”
BAM!

WHAT TO DO?

We need to take the bats out of our maps and leave them out for good. No more shame, blame or criticism. Then our partners may be able to read our maps, which often are useful and accurate representations of how they need to grow. And who knows? If they do the same, we just may be willing to look at their maps of ourselves as well!

STOP AND SHARE
Have you found yourself using the “BASEBALL BATS” of shame, blame and criticism in your relationship? What have you done to stop this action?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Men and Women: Equal Opportunity Offenders

Men and women, when behaving badly with each other, are basically “equal opportunity offenders.”

That’s right!

They will each get their digs in and twist the knife a little bit when they get the opportunity.

However, there is a basic difference.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When behaving poorly, men usually scare women and women shame men. Take your choice? Both suck! The difference is that it takes much longer to recover from being scared than it does from being shamed.

Here’s how this seems to work: Men hate being shamed. It reminds many men of how they were controlled as children by parents, teachers or other adults in their lives. Usually when the shaming stops (“Oh no, John, it never stops,” I can hear some men saying), men recover relatively quickly. When women are scared by the men in their lives, the recovery time generally takes much longer. It just takes longer to recover from fear.

This helps to explain why, when both individuals are behaving better, the woman may hold on to her hesitation or reluctance to be close again a lot longer than the man does. It can be very difficult for the man to understand that even though he has ceased his scary behavior, she is still holding him off. She just may need more time to recover than he does.

Hang in there, guys. More often than not your patience will be rewarded, and your changed behavior will be much appreciated.

Chime in with your thoughts: When behaving poorly, do you agree men tend to scare women and women typically shame men?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

How To Get Your Needs Met Without Asking

Since men learn in “Guy School” to think that they don’t have any needs and to be needy is weak, but men really do have needs for affection and nurturing and connection – we have a situation!

Most women are trained in “Girl School” (Oh yes, there is a school for girls, too) to take care of this problem for men. They are trained to put men’s needs and wants before their own. They see the needy, hurt, little boy side of the man that they fall in love with as well as the strong, capable, needless side and may move right in to take care of us.

Red Alert!

Unless a man has done or is doing his work of becoming conscious of his needs and feelings and is taking responsibility for them, she may be stepping into a trap. She has to meet his needs without him asking or implying or stating that he is needy! And heaven help her if she says anything about him taking responsibility for his needs, asking for what he needs or even asking her about her needs.

couple with kidsThe reality is that it’s OK to have needs; to be needy at times is to come to recognize that men and women alike are vulnerable, as well being strong and capable. The sooner we accept the fullness of our humanity, the better.

Share your opinion: Do you feel men need to take more responsibility for their feelings and asking for what they need?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Spiritual/Life Journey as Surfing

Just yesterday, a client came up with the metaphor of surfing for what it is like to be on the journey of life.  Though I’ve never surfed, it makes a lot of sense to me.  We really aren’t in control of what waves life sends our way.  We do have the choice of whether to fight them, sink, or do the best we can to ride them with as much grace as possible! To ride them, we must be aware and attuned both to the wave and to ourselves, and have the courage to jump into the flow.

AND, we will not always catch it just right.  We may frequently get unceremoniously dumped and even beat up a bit – or a lot.  Still, we can choose how we react to the experience.  We can wallow in self-blame or self-pity, we can sink under the water and refuse to play again. Or, we can swim to shore, find our bearings and say, “Well, THAT didn’t work!  What can I do different next time? “  We might need to nurse our bruises for a while, but hopefully, eventually we’ll find the courage and confidence to try to catch the next wave a little more gracefully.

Mary Simon, Psy.D.

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