Real Communication Strategies For Men

The older I get, the more I consider how critically valuable the art of communication is for every aspect of my life, from marriage to clients and business, to working with service providers. It’s impossible to underestimate the power of the verbal word, especially when it is on target and delivered in a way that the person not only understands, but that facilitates openness, agreement, and cooperation.

We are going to discuss several aspects of healthy communication in this blog post today. I’ll touch on a variety of things to consider when you want to develop your communication skills for greater success, and better relationships. Communication strategies for men aren’t hard, they just take a lot of willingness to look at what’s not working

The Tried and True “I” Statements

One of the clearest and most basic ways to communicate is speaking from “I” statements, rather than talking about the other person or referencing them when it comes to issues or problems. People tend to feel attacked, judged or criticized when you are talking to them about something that you’re needing from them or are having a hard time with, and it helps quite a bit if you can speak from your own perspective using “I” statements.

For example, instead of continuing to rely on things like, “you do so and so that is an issue for me,” try saying something like “I have a reaction to this behavior that you’re doing.” People are quick to feel judged or criticized when you make them the subject or object of your issue, but if you try to share your own perspective with them, and your emotional reaction to it, they are more likely to be able to hear you or act accordingly for what you need or want.

Knowing Yourself, and What You Want/Don’t Want

Another critical aspect of good communication is knowing what you want, and saying what you want. A lot of times people that I talk with don’t really know what they want or need, so getting clear about those things is an important first step to be able to communicate it clearly and directly to someone else so that they understand it.

If you don’t know what you want or need, how well will others know and be able to help you? I hear time and time again from people that don’t know them selves, and don’t know what they need/want in the world, be it love, respect, help around the house, more time, less stress, more vacation, more sex, etc. Really getting in touch with yourself and knowing yourself, your interests, your likes, your turnoffs, your needs, your feelings, etc. will go along way into being able to communicate this to others in your life. Others aren’t in the position to read your mind.

Now comes the ‘saying it’ part. Just as hard as knowing what you want is actually saying it out loud to someone who can help you. Sometimes there’s a huge disconnect between knowing what you want, and being able to say it. People get scared to say what they want or need, out of fear that others will have a reaction to them, judge or disapprove of them, or flat out reject them.

A lot of times this relates to our growing up in our families of origin, where our needs were repressed, not accepted, or flat out denied by parents who could not hear us. Therapy is really good for helping identify these blocks and being able to work through them so that you can support yourself, and communicate yourself to those close to you, rather than shying away out of fear of rejection or of disapproval.

Men Hide and Run Away, Not Communicate

For men, shutting down or withdrawing is very detrimental to their communication process. If there’s one communication strategy for men, I would say that to just stay present and not run and withdraw would be up there on the charts. Men tend to withdraw, hide, or shut down in intimate relationships rather than sticking in it and communicating themselves directly. I find that this sets up other problems down the road in a marriage, because it ends up making your partner the “pursuer”, which creates resentment and anger additionally.

Men who tend to withdraw, avoid, or shut down need to learn how to take the risk of staying in the game and communicating themselves. Sometimes, the comfort or security of shutting down is more important for protection than the actual ability to stay present and communicate, and this is something that a lot of guys could benefit from learning and undoing.

I think that for women, the worst thing is male avoidance or withdrawal, because a lot of wives or girlfriends that are left to making up certain stories about them and their role in the relationship, like how they are not loved, not cared for, or not important to their guy. Quite the reverse, for men it’s usually about self protection, rather than communicating their lack of love for their partner, but again, this does not get communicated and gets lost in translation. Rather than a conversation about better communication, it can get taken onto a new plane of meaning – about the marriage or relationship itself, rather than as a situational problem with communication.

Vulnerable Men are Not Weak: Being Vulnerable is a Communication Strategy for Men

Another aspect of good communication, especially in an intimate relationship or marriage, is the ability to be vulnerable. I think this is uniquely difficult for men, but difficult for people in general. For guys, not having grown up without any of the intimacy language, many are forced into trying to become emotionally vulnerable or disclose their innermost life when they don’t know how to do that at all.

Part of becoming vulnerable is learning how to take risks to be authentic and genuine with people who you have learned to trust. It’s difficult to do those things, especially when you grew up in an unsafe or hostile family background, where the prospect of opening up and sharing your deepest emotions, thoughts, and experiences was on supported, or dangerous in fact. It’s harder when you and your partner have a strong “negative cycle” that keeps you from connecting and sharing your innermost self.

Dealing with fear is also a part of becoming vulnerable. Learning how to identify what you fear, and challenging those beliefs to see whether they are irrational or rational, also helps in promoting better communication. I have found that there can be a big difference between what we think is going to happen, and what actually happens, when we take a risk to reach out and communicate ourselves honestly to others. I think learning how do identify and deal with those fears is like removing barriers to deeper and more genuine communication.

Contact me for more information about learning how to better communicate with your wife, girlfriend, partner, or others close to you. Here’s where we can help. You can learn how to speak your mind in a clearer, more decisive and open way with your mate.

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How to Take a Break (A Real One)

Taking a Break (A Real One)

Ask yourself this: Would you know if you’re exhausted? Do you have an accurate internal gauge or barometer to honestly track your level of burnout or exhaustion? Do you find yourself getting to the point just after exhaustion when you end up doing something about it – reactively rather than proactively?

When we get caught up in the day-to-day flow of life, it’s hard to see that those things in our life, and stress, have a gradual effect on our well-being, be it emotional, psychological or mental. We’re usually forced to attend to what’s right in front of us, and often neglect or overlook what’s happening inside of ourselves while we’re attending to everything in our lives, until we find ourselves in an exhausted state of being. So many of us are so out of touch with our bodies, that we don’t know how stressed we are until some stress reaction happens, or our body starts to push back in the form of pain or other chronic issues.

Dealing with Exhaustion

Sometimes, exhaustion is there, lurking under the surface, and gets neglected in the day-to-day hubbub. To admit to yourself that you’re tired or exhausted means to actually stop in your tracks and connect with yourself and your experience, which is hard for a lot of people.

It’s not weak to be or feel exhausted. For a lot of guys, they feel the eternal need to push through stress and exhaustion to get things done, or to be productive. Dealing with exhaustion is actually generative, meaning that if you fully attend to it, it can restore you back to your previous levels of energy and health. Sometimes we have to let ourselves fully rest and renew before we’re back to functional levels in our lives, and allowing ourselves to just be exhausted and really rest is one way. It’s no different than getting the sleep you need, or keeping your body fed.

To overlook it and to “man up” through it, there will be negative effects – maybe not today, or tomorrow, but at some point down the line. Maybe your marriage starts to erode over time, or maybe the relationships with your kids suffer because you’re working too much or not available physically or emotionally. Maybe your health starts to worsen over time, or creates chronic stress-induced problems. To nip those things in the bud before hand, and be proactive about your stress and exhaustion, is a way to prevent those things (or their severity) from hitting you later on.

Turning work off when you’re not working (e.g. not worrying about work when you don’t have to) is something that’s important in terms of being present and managing stress. If you’re trying to be present and fully enjoy yourself with those you’re around, it helps to not have other things, like work and what you need to be doing, on your mind. When you’re in your head worrying about work, you’re just adding more stress to the mix, and you’re not being available to the things and people you need to be there for.

Finding Real Rest

Do you know how you really – and truly – find relaxation and rest? Do you know how to identify and find the things that help you feel revitalized and filled up? Some guys don’t know this about themselves, and don’t know how to find the things, activities and people that can help them deal with exhaustion and stress. It’s critical to create an arsenal of those things so that you have them to fall back on when you need them – when you’re needing to deal with your stress and exhaustion. Some examples of these things are: yoga, meditation, nature walks, friends, confidants, exercise, eating well, simply not doing or planning anything, talking through your stress and exhaustion, doing deep breathing exercises, planning a chunk of time out of your schedule to do nothing, or do something fun, etc.

The opposite idea of that is also to try to minimize the things, situations and people that drain your time, spirit, energy and life. I think being able to say ‘no’ or negate these energy drainers is important, even if you can’t get away completely from those things, events or people. And, it’s also about stepping up and changing those things if you can’t avoid them altogether, like setting healthy boundaries with others, changing your relationship or thinking to the stressful event/person/situation, or finding some better way to communicate your needs and feelings so that those things can possibly change for you.

It seems as if our culture is making it more and more acceptable to work 50 and 60-hour weeks, and making that a cultural badge of honor. We work so much and are neglecting other areas of our lives that are equally – if not more – important, and I think that needs to change, and something’s gotta give. If we can help it, it’s not healthy, productive or responsible to contribute to that cultural expectation, and if you are, ask yourself why you’re contributing to it in the first place. We’re sacrificing ourselves, our health and our relationships to more stress and exhaustion, so how good are we for the extra time we’ve got? Considering the role of stress and exhaustion in your life, you might be motivated to take some action and make some changes in your life to mitigate those things as best as you can.

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Why I Work With Men in Counseling

As a counselor for men, people ask why I do the work that I do. For me, it’s personal, because I’m a guy and I have dealt with a lot of the things that guys have dealt with.

Therapy is still stigmatized for many men, and this stigma prevents guys from getting the help that they might really benefit from. Although I think it’s changing a bit now, especially with younger guys who are more willing to seek out therapy, a lot of men still hide in the shadows when to comes to seeking out help of any kind, let alone counseling or therapy. They would prefer to “do it themselves,” and find the solutions that they need – or think that they need – rather than asking for help from a trained, unbiased professional like myself. Men in counseling can benefit from support of a different kind, not just the limited opinions of biased friends and family.

I think especially now there are there are a lot stronger forces at play that challenge men than have in the past: demands of work, challenges of new marriages, difficulties in parenting children in a more complex world, and general lack of stability across the board. I see a lot more unhappiness in people in modern living, especially because of those traditional roles that have been challenged, compromised or subverted. Because life is a lot more complex, a lot of people don’t have the skills or resources that they need to cope, or even thrive, in this ever-changing world, so they navigate through it with the limited skills and resources that they have, and that they know. Unfortunately, many don’t work, are outdated, or are tools that our parents used that are just as equally unhelpful to our own lives.

As far as relationships go, many men don’t really learn the right skills, be it communication skills, conflict resolution, or ways to treat a partner, and these deficiencies end up causing relationship or marriage problems along the way. Part of what a relationship counseling for men helps with is to build these skills, tools, and resources to be able to succeed or improve difficult relationships. Sometimes, it’s also unlearning certain problematic or unhelpful behaviors that contribute to overall relationship or marital strain.

For example, a lot of guys have never had “relationship training,” be it how to talk with a woman, how to empathize, how to have a healthy sexual relationship, how to deal effectively with conflict, and how to be a good mate or relationship partner overall. So, what happens is, relationships fail with the lack of these skill sets, and are replaced with maladaptive or dysfunctional ones. I think a lot more is demanded upon of men in this modern age, like romance, emotional availability and intelligence, and “soft” skills that typically women brought to relationships.

In addition to these demands, technology has become a profound disruptor in a short amount of time and, in my opinion, has actually eroded personal relationships and the ability to connect with live people, not devices. It becomes harder and harder to relate to people, let alone enhance an intimate relationship, so I think people aren’t used to what it means to have full contact relationships with others, be it intimate or not. I think this contributes to our overall sense of isolation, loneliness, and depression, and then we choose out the same maladaptive coping skills or hiding places that we’ve known to protect us further, isolating ourselves even more.

What we work with guys to do to improve the relationship is to support what they are doing, and work with them to consider other options that they haven’t yet learned. A lot of the time we learn these maladaptive or dysfunctional patterns growing up from our families of origin, so we work with guys to take honest and direct looks at those behaviors, see what’s not working, and through better awareness and insight, evolve or adopt those things so that they create more relationship success for themselves. Through experiential learning and awareness – and often times helping guys get out of their heads – they can tap into deeper information and understanding that can change them in very profound ways.

Men also deal with self-esteem issues, which can affect their lives in different ways. Usually if we don’t like who we are, can’t support ourselves, or are actually at war with ourselves, it makes it difficult if not impossible to experience happiness and joy and develop the kinds of relationships things that we want in our lives. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others, and we end up undermining or sabotaging relationships often as a result. I work with a lot of guys who have a strong negative self-critic, which is constantly reminding the m of their inadequacy, failure and worthlessness. If this critic has control, it is few areas of life that aren’t negatively affected, including work, marriage, parenting, friendships, mental health, and physical health.

We don’t just help men have better relationships, but we help them live more fulfilling lives, in their work, in their friendships, in their relationships with their kids, and in their skin. We try to create a safe space conducive to men who want to take a leap of faith, and explore aspects of themselves that are blocked, stuck, problematic or just plain not working for them, and help them come up with the solutions that they want (although not always in the way that they want!). Contact us today at 602.309.0568 for more information about we can help you, or your loved one.

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When Your Spouse Starts Acting Erratically in Your Marriage

Often times right before a separation or divorce, I’ve noticed that a lot of wives and spouses of guys I work with have this tendency to fall into bad behaviors or regress to an almost “teen” state of being: going out partying, being irresponsible, sometimes being defiant against the “bad parent” in the other spouse. I’m interested in this phenomenon, since it doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident, and seems to represent certain things happening.

What I know is that, in situations like this, is that this “bad behavior” is the result and accumulation of a long time of avoiding and not attending to marital issues when they needed to be. Sometimes, when a partner isn’t getting what they want or need from the other marital partner, they can start finding alternative outlets for themselves, which may or may not include extramarital partners. Sometimes, they carve out lives outside of their marriage where they can find the fun, fulfillment, freedom and lack of responsibility that they feel that they need.

One theory is that when couples get together in their relationship or marriage when they’re young, some don’t have the opportunity to “be young,” and explore their adolescence and young adulthood, which is a problem because later, when those partners are unhappy and stuck in their adult relationship, they feel denied from that growing up period, and often want to try to gain those experiences back by going out with friends, staying out late, drinking more, experimenting more with sexual partners, and any other number of other things that are detrimental to their current relationship or marriage.

I think this is equally true, if not moreso, for women, if they get into a marriage early and start to create their sense of identity around being a wife, and then a mother. If they haven’t had a chance to develop themselves as people outside of the primary relationship, and then fall into these roles without any exploration of themselves, there is the possibility of later-life exploration, which may appear sometime in the marriage or relationship, or towards its end.

Again, I think the search for self and lack of a structured, stable identity might account for this. When people start to explore different activities, or start acting erratically in a situation that calls for consistency, it leaves me to wonder whether or not they’re trying on different identities, like changes of clothing, and exposing themselves to people and experiences to figure out who exactly they are.

Spouses behaving badly

I’ve heard guys tell me that they’re wives tell them that “this is who I really am” – the new, “independent” woman that she might not have been able to be in the relationship/marriage previously. I’m not sure I quite understand this, and think that it’s more of a situation of “taking the bull by the horns.” Anytime I see erratic behavior or people acting out, it’s never sustainable, and if there are issues that weren’t worked on before, they surely haven’t gone away just because the behaviors look different. They’re still there, but harder to see.

For the guys/husbands that I speak with, this can be maddening, confusing, terrifying and angering all in one. A lot of the guys that I talk with who are in this position are powerless to see their wives start to act out, and don’t know who their wives have “turned into.” They’re not the some women that they married, many say.

I try to encourage the best communication possible, which sometimes is challenging to do when your spouse doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say, or do what you want them to do. Sometimes, the power/control dynamic in the marriage has hit a point of no return, meaning that the spouse acting erratically may have felt controlled by the other spouse for so long, that they have no intention of turning the power dynamic around once they’ve seized it.

I would try to get clear about what your spouse wants from the situation, what they want from you and the marriage, and tell them your feelings about their impact on you from their current behavior. They need to know that what they’re doing is having a negative impact on you, and to give them the opportunity to stop it. I would also tell them that you care about them and the marriage, and that you’d like to get marriage counseling to try to identify and sort out all that’s happening in the attempt to get things back to how they were.

As difficult as it is to do, I also encourage men/women to stay with their feelings and experiences, and really watch and be mindful of acting erratically themselves, which could do a number of harmful things. First, it may unknowingly trip the marital dynamic more, which may see your spouse dig in an continue to act in the same way. If there’s a parent/child dynamic in your marriage, you’re inadvertently steeping back into the parent role – which makes your spouse be the defiant child who acts against you. So, don’t do it if you don’t want the situation to get worse.

If worse comes to worse, and your spouse doesn’t stop the behavior, you may need individual counseling to help you better cope with this distressing situation. You may also need to seek out legal counsel to help you understand your rights in your marriage, or with your children, if the situation won’t change with your intervention.

This type of situation is tough, because a marriage may be degrading to the point of ending, and you’re not aware of what’s happening as it’s happening. It may be confusing to see your wife or spouse engage in behaviors or hang out with people that you haven’t previously been used to. It may elect some strong emotions in you, which you may be tempted to act on the “right the ship” and get your spouse back. Hang on, because it’ll get better, eve if it’s not now. You can survive this, even if your spouse is gone for good and doesn’t want to work on or help repair the marriage.

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The Pros and Cons of Porn

I’m going to approach the topic of porn from a neutral position, even though it’s a loaded topic, and some may think that there are no ‘pros’ to the topic. I think the whole issue of porn had changed and infiltrated men’s lives in a way that pales to how it used to in the past.

First off, it’s amazing that smart phones can offer a wide variety of things, including porn, and are accessible at a moment’s notice in unlimited variety. I’m sure we’ll be looking at smart phone porn and online videos in the future in the same way we look at “brown bagged” porno magazines of the past when the era of robotic sex surrogates and VR porn sees it’s heyday in the near future.

I’ve talked with some guys that use porn casually, and others that abuse it. Most men that I work with say that porn has become abusive, and some spend hours on end clicking through and watching videos, much like flitting away hours on the Internet or on video games. It’s funny to me how we’ve digitized the hell out of sex and death to the point that we – as a society – have in many ways anesthetized ourselves even more against those two power life experiences.

I think porn becomes an issue when the relationship or marriage has an issue with it. I don’t think porn is an automatic relationship-ender, nor do I think that it can’t have it’s place in a sexually-healthy relationship or marriage. It’s when it starts to get hidden from sight or not communicated that it has the potential to damage the relationship or marriage. It’s when it becomes fully illicit and starts provoking shame, concern or trust issues that damage starts to be inflicted.

It’s a double edged-sword: guys want the illicit quality that porn brings, which heightens the sexual excitement value, but it also can harm the primary relationship if not discussed. It wasn’t a big deal hiding porn magazines from your Mom growing up, but it’s a different ballgame with your wife or girlfriend, especially when they have certain sensitivities against this, or have sexual wounds that you may be unknowingly triggering with your porn use.

The main problem, as I see it, with porn, is when men use it to hide and escape into a fantasy world – not unlike alcohol, gambling, sports, video games, you name it. Often times, porn becomes a surrogate for sexual contact with a real woman, and what drives it can be multiple factors.

Porn won’t reject you, it won’t make you feel like a sexual failure, it doesn’t require that you communicate and it probably won’t elicit your unconscious and unresolved issues around sex. Those are the benefits. It’s a escape with a million varieties of pleasure, and it’s not reality. Young men who grew up on online porn, think that trying to mimic the sexual positions and mistreatment of women in porn videos, become stunted in their sexuality and don’t know how to engage sexually, emotionally or otherwise with real women. They have a hard time understanding that being sexual with a woman is a difficult thing, and not represented by the porn images immediately impressionable and accessible to them.

Porn can also help distract from sexual performance issues occurring in the bedroom, which may or may not involve erectile dysfunction issues. Often times, when I hear guys escaping to porn continually, they are avoiding dealing with sexual performance issues which can manifest in a number of ways, like fear of having sex, lack of initiation of sex, inability to talk about sex, erectile issues, or generally other sexual apprehension.

Endless variety is also another pro of porn. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and caters to every taste and preference. It can be instructional for a guy if he doesn’t know what he’s doing in the bedroom, and can be used as a guide if he understands that a lot of porn is fake and not what a lot of real sex entails. Sure, there are ways to experiment, but ultimately, if a guy isn’t trying to mimic or recreate scene by scene a porn video he’s seen, it can have benefits of some “sexual guidance” in the bedroom for real sex.

Knowing that porn is not real, and it’s an escape, can help to prioritize real sex with real women who are infinitely more complex than the fantasy woman on the porn screen. There are real feelings, thoughts, desires, inhibitions, fears, etc. when you deal with having sex or making love to a real woman, not to mention all of those things within yourself.

The main problem with porn is that it detracts from men having healthy sexual relationships, or healthy relationships in general. It gives men wrong ideas about sex and relationships, and helps them avoid dealing with the very complex, intricate and sensitive details of having a sex life with someone, and carrying on a relationship with them outside of the bedroom, as the latter affects the former. I believe it also “flatlines” or numbs a man’s brain when it comes to sex, and detracts from his ability to be “into” the woman who is is having sex with.

We have so many inhibitions linked so sex, from the messages that we learned growing up from our parents and friends, that ultimately affect the way we relate to sex. If we don’t work through those issues themselves, we’re limiting our ability to have healthy and open sexual lives with our partners.

Dealing with those issues sometimes means getting therapy to work through blocks within yourself, or doing it as a couple. It doesn’t mean you’re less of a man if you have sexual fears, inadequacies and inhibitions. Our culture is distorted when it comes to giving men healthy models of sexuality, and for a lot of guys, they lack the resources growing up to know what they’re doing. Many fathers of men also don’t have the knowledge or courage to talk with their boys about sex, so boys are left to their own devices, and come up with their own versions of sexuality, which are often very different from healthy models.

Sex is complex, and I think porn can often times complicate it more so. Learning what your relationship is to porn, and considering it’s role in your sexuality is important, whether or not you’re in a relationship or marriage at this point in your life. If you are partnered, communication can help you figure out the role porn plays, or help you to deal with some of the sexual issues that will inevitably materialize if you’re with your partner for an extended period of time.

 

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Considering Divorce: Things to Think About

If you’re considering divorce, I want to present several things to think about that may or may not be factors in your decision to do so. Divorce is not an easy decision, especially if you have a long marital history or have kids to consider, but it’s possible.

Dealing with your mindset or psychology: Getting to committing to divorce is the hardest thing, in spite of all of the other decisions you’ll have to make.

I usually help people come to that conclusion for themselves, because if you’re not there in your mind, your actions and apprehension will manifest in a number of different ways. Apprehension will make you drag your feet, give mixed messages to your wife and family, and generally brew frustration and resentment in you which you can’t outrun. Having an affair can also be an expression of divorce apprehension or be a passive-aggressive or conflict avoidant way to deal with (or not deal with) ending your marriage.

Dealing with guilt or obligation is important, because those are experiences that will keep you stuck in a situation you might not otherwise want to be in. You may want to preserve a marriage that isn’t right for you, or that isn’t making you happy, because you feel too guilty to end it.

I talk with a lot of clients who feel overly emotionally responsible for the spouse that they will be divorcing, and this responsibility can co-exist with guilt or obligation. Hanging in there because you feel too badly about hurting the other person, or because you think that they can’t handle it or can’t bounce back from divorce is your issue, not their’s. It’s most likely a way to assuage your negative feelings about divorcing your spouse, as much as the impact on their lives will be real, and in some cases, immediate.

Don’t cheat: If you’re considering divorcing, don’t cheat on your wife or spouse. It’ll make everything infinitely more complex. Get the counseling assistance to help you divest of your marriage before you start another one.

You may not have gotten certain things from your wife in your marriage, but seeking them out on the side does no one any good, and only adds fuel to the fire. You’re hurting your mate if you’re doing that. Try communicating with them about what you’re not getting in your marriage, and if need be, seek out a quality marriage counselor to talk through those marital barriers for yourself. If those things ultimately don’t work, going into divorce head-on is the best option because although it may hurt, you’re not adding insult to injury with an affair.

Some guys don’t know what they’re not getting from their marriage or their marital partner until they meet someone who has those qualities and that person. Then, that person “just happens to fall in my lap,” or I hear, “I didn’t mean to meet anyone – it just happened!” Not really. You may be unconsciously looking, or putting out signals to potential affair partners. In some way, you’re projecting some sexual or emotional energy or desire out into the world that you’re not directing towards your wife or marriage, and if that new person comes along, they’re going to pick that up and possibly send it back your way.

Working on your marriage – yes or no? This is the ultimate question – do I want to work on my marriage, or not? Do I want to stay and work out the problems between us, or do I want to find my happiness somewhere else?

It’s important to know that if you’re staying for the kids, your marital history, your lifestyle, your finances, your family, or any other reason other than your happiness, you may want to reconsider.

Many individuals – and couples – who are unhappy, and don’t have a marital foundation, find themselves staying together for those reasons listed above. I think marital happiness is something that has surely evolved over time, whereby marriages in the past were for different reasons, like bringing families together, financial or social reasons, etc.

Now, you don’t need to do that. Your kids probably already know that you and your spouse are unhappy, so you’re not fooling them. If you’re staying for your kids, ask yourself – and your spouse – if you’re doing it just for them? Ask yourself: are you willing to sacrifice yourself, and your lifetime happiness, for a marriage that makes you unhappy? Even if you want until your kids are age 13, or 18, are you willing to forego those years of being in a relationship that might work a lot better for you because you feel overly responsible for the welfare of the children?

Other factors can impede one’s decision to divorce, including religious beliefs (marital “vows”), family suggestion, fear of being alone, fear of paying for two households, fear of not finding someone else, fear of being “too old” or fear that they will lose relationships other than the marriage, including with their children (or that the relationships with the kids will be altered for good).

Thoughts on separation first: Many couples opt for this as a precursor – or trial run – before divorce, and I’ve never been sure how this helps, or if it helps, couples in the way that they way. I think couples think that if they “have space” or “perspective” away from one another, that they will be able to find clarity or will become more comfortable with their decision or thought process one way or the other. I have some differing opinions about this.

I practice Emotionally-Focused Therapy for Couples, and one concept incorporated with this style of therapy is that there are often one or both partners that “withdraw” or disconnect from their marriage or their marital partners, usually to protect themselves emotionally or from attack or pursuit from their relationship partner. To this degree, I think separation mimics this withdrawal pattern, so a partner who typically withdraws (I work with men, and see this a lot with guys) is unconsciously “activating” the couple’s dysfunctional relationship cycle.

Although it seems like a good idea on paper, it can actually – and unintendedly – do a lot more damage to the marriage, or never give the marriage a fighting chance to repair. Good marriage counseling can help you address these cycles of conflict, and see how the role of withdrawal may be contributing to your marital problems, and need for separation.

The idea, ultimately, is to create a safe environment in your marriage that’s conducive to communication – speaking and being heard – so that you and your spouse can learn how to work through the difficult and often times painful experiences you will share as a married couple. Separation doesn’t allow for that repair, let alone a chance to better understand your negative relationship cycle.

These are some initial ideas to keep in mind if you’re considering divorce for yourself. There are others, and there will be more to come on this blog, but I think that these are some of the more important ones to consider. Most importantly, coming to that decision for yourself, and hopefully a mutually-agreed upon divorce, would be ideal, but life doesn’t always work that way.

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10 Mental Barriers to Exercise

I’m not a sports psychologist – or even a therapist focusing on sports or exercise issues. But I am an exerciser, and have fallen victim to quite a few excuses or reasons to not do it, in spite of intellectually knowing all the benefits of doing it.

I want to share with you 10 things I’ve learned along the way, both as a counselor helping men through their barriers to exercise ad self-care, and from my own experience – both in what works and what doesn’t – along my journey to health.

  1. Laziness: Do you consider yourself lazy with exercise? Do you hate it, or simply dislike doing it? A lot of people I talk with just simply don’t like exercising, or don’t want to do it, in spite of it’s myriad benefits for health and well-being. Identifying and dealing with the part of you that’s resistant, or defiant, to allowing yourself to exercise is important, if you want these benefits and a longer, healthier life.
  2. Not making it easy for yourself: I know that if the gym is too far away, I won’t go. I know that if I don’t get training help, it’ll make it that much harder to exercise, because I won’t necessarily do it on my own. Also, if I don’t have food and bottled water readily available before I go, it’s going to not give me the energy and hydration at hand that I need. So, how do you work? Do you know what needs to happen to create an ideal situation in which to exercise? Are you a morning person, or evening person? Do you like to exercise alone, or with others? Knowing what you need, and how you work best, will help “grease the wheel,” and get you doing it more, and more often.
  3. Why are you doing this? Exercising means something different to me in my 40’s than it did in my 20’s. Yes, it’s still about appearance, but now, it’s about having something to invest in my health for the long-term. I didn’t consider that as a younger guy, because I didn’t have my retirement in sights way back then. Some guys want better health so they can have more energy with their kids. Really consider your motivation, and why you want to exercise or workout in the first place. It has to come from deep inside of you, and the motivation has to be intrinsic (inside you) versus extrinsic (outside of you). If it’s extrinsic, it’s hard to keep up with it. It’s not going to be as sustainable if it doesn’t originate from within you.
  4. Excuses! I can come up with plenty of excuses to not exercise. What are yours? The weather? It’s too dark outside? List out the excuses you can come up with, and list out ways to combat each one. Tackle them one by one, until you’ve run out of them. And then execute your exercise plan.
  5. The Likability Factor: Can you find something to do, like racquetball or swimming, that you enjoy doing, or even kinda enjoy doing? If exercise becomes work, the chances are greater that you won’t do it, or will let it go. If it’s a hassle, or “something that I have to do,” forget it. You’re going to burn out. Finding some fun, engagement, or fulfillment in exercising is critical. I like to knock out audio reading my magazine while I walk the dog, and I get the sense of multitasking while I’m exercising, which motivates me. Can you find something like that?
  6. Negative self-talk: Telling yourself, “I don’t want to do this,” or “I can’t be consistent with this,” will actually come to fruition. If you shoot it down, or don’t generate positive or motivating thoughts, your exercise will burn out and you won’t want to do it. Explore the negative self-talk that’s getting in your way from achieving your exercise goals.
  7. Self-sabotage: It’s when you’re working against yourself in some way, whether it be defiance, through fear of success, or just plain stopping yourself from achieving your goals. If you think you may be self-sabotaging yourself, it may be worth some counseling time to uncover how you’re doing this, so you don’t have to work against yourself. Exercise is hard enough; you don’t need to add insult to injury if you’re self-sabotaging.
  8. Not rewarding yourself: Find a way to treat yourself or praise yourself for a job well done. That can be with a celebratory meal or drink at the end of a hard workout week, or little things through your week. I’ve found that food items are an easy and convenient way to treat myself, as long as it’s not taken overboard. Usually, one weekend meal “off” the plan can reward myself and keep myself going for the duration. It’s a goal to work for.
  9. Cognitive dissonance: It’s when you harbor two opposing or inconsistent thoughts about something, which creates problems in the behavioral part of doing something. You may think, “Man, I really want to work out,” and get stopped with, “I’d rather be lazy and not work out.” The friction between the two thoughts creates a stoppage, so to resolve the stoppage, the thoughts need to align so the behavior can then proceed.
  10. “Stop and Start”: I’ve mastered the “stop and start” of exercising. You know: you get motivated, you get to exercising or working out, and then you stop, either after you get tired of it, lose motivation or attain your short-term workout goals, like losing weight. It’s something I’ve mastered over the years, and have really remedied it by thinking about on meditating on what I really want, what my values are, and why I’m doing this. I want good health, so that I don’t gain weight, that I look good, and that I can be flexible and mobile in my 40’s and beyond. I get motivated thinking it’s like investing – it’s not fun or easy in the short term, but over the long term, I’ve reaped the benefits that I’ve worked hard at achieving.

You may be able to add your own mental barriers to this list, and please do. Email me if you have others that I’ve missed, or your own unique ones at jfierstein@mac.com. I hope this helps you at least map out the constellation of excuses so that you can see them coming, plan for them, and make them work for you so that you can have a good relationship with exercise for you and yours.

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Bad Mood Rising

Your bad mood may have more negative effects than you know. It may – over time – erode good relationships, and even your marriage or intimate relationship.

Everyone gets irritable or in a bad mood. You don’t have to be positive all the time to everyone. Just “owning” your bad mood, or taking responsibility for it, is a huge step in dealing with it, and possibly neutralizing it.

Here are 10 ways to deal with your bad mood:

Stay well fed: Are you hungry? Do you get irritable like me when you’re not fed? Try to get something in your stomach before you start spilling your bad mood out onto others. Also, if you’ve eaten sugary foods, drank caffeinated foods or consumed too many carbohydrates, it may trigger an irritable response in you that may exacerbate underlying issues, or make things seem worse than they are.

Get sleep: Are you well rested? If not, you may experience being short or irritable with others. Lack of sleep can undercut your good mood in various ways, so get the right amount and quality of sleep that your body needs for optimal functioning.

Identify what you’re upset about: Is it about someone else? Is it work? What is it? Clarifying what you’re upset about will help, so that you can better address it in a more effective way, and not be held hostage to your bad mood. Localizing the issue, you’ll have a better handle on it to be able to deal with it.

Something deeper: Is there underlying anger, behind the bad mood? If so, you may be avoiding it or not  dealing with it. Your bad mood and negativity may point to something deeper and more substantial to look at and consider within yourself. If so, you might benefit from some short-term counseling to help you identify it, work through it, and move past it.

Watch being short with others: Do you find yourself getting short with others? Do you take out your bad mood on others in your life, other drivers on the road, or service providers around town? Consider this: it may not be them – it may be you and your mood.

Unmet needs: A way to deal with a bad mood – and potentially neutralize it – is to ask yourself, “What am I needing right now that I’m not getting?” What would you need in this moment to satisfy you or quell your bad mood? Is it simple or complex? Does it involve other people? How can you go about meeting your needs in a way that’s not upsetting or disrupting to others?

Taking responsibility for your bad mood: It’s yours – not other peoples’ – problem. They may be triggering you in some way, but ultimately it’s your mood, your disrupted mind, and your experience. It may come back, even if other’s change their ways, or your situation changes, but you’re not really working on your bad mood, are you?

Positivity may not work: if you steer your mind towards positivity, you may be suppressing what’s putting you in the bad mood to begin with. Try dealing directly with the bad mood itself, rather than just trying to “be positive.” It’s counter to how we usually try to coax ourselves into positive thinking.

Communicate what’s on your mind: try talking it out, and in the case that you’re upset by someone saying or doing something to you, try communicating it in a non-toxic and non-threatening way. Speak your mind, so that you don’t stew on what’s upsetting you.

Meditate: meditation can calm the otherwise wild and active mind. There are plenty of good resources out there to get you started. I like mindfulness meditation myself, something that can help you train yourself to detach from the compulsive negative thinking that the mind is used to producing.

Hope these ideas help. Bad moods come and go, but you don’t have to add fuel to the fire and make them worse. You also don’t want your bad mood to solidify into a personality structure, where you’re the guy in a permanently bad mood.

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Taking The Initiative

There may be areas of your life that might benefit from you giving more of yourself: relationships with kids, your wife or girlfriend, your work, your personal life. They all have one thing in common: they all take constant work, energy, and resources to maintain and thrive. Sometimes, it just takes getting going, but what if the starting part is hard? What if you don’t know how to begin?

If you’re not giving what you need to in those key areas of your life, there may be a problem initiating. Initiation is, quite simply, “the action of beginning something.” It’s that initial spark that jumpstarts you into action, and make the changes you want as a result. It’s what evolves your relationship to those things and people that you hold dear in your life, and it’s what prevents regret later in the future that you didn’t do those things earlier.

Assess your life “domains,” such as work, relationships, health, marriage, finances, etc. and see what areas require more initiative from you. It may be that you need to start exercising regularly, or lose weight, or find a financial planner to help you plan for retirement or to save more in your emergency funds. It may also mean that you start to change around some behaviors that are not working, like not communicating with those close to you, or not being proactive with projects at work. It may be as simple as getting the to-do list done for chores around the house. Whether big or small, initiation may be an issue for you, so try to consider the following ideas.

Identifying and Removing Obstacles

One of the greatest things you can do to help yourself take more initiative is to identify and deal with the road blocks that are in your way.

Some of those obstacles might include:

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being criticized or rejected
  • Not believing in yourself
  • Irrational beliefs about how you think it will be in advance
  • No prior experience doing what you’re about to do
  • Not having the skills or resources that you need to succeed
  • Not getting the help that you need to take the initiative
  • Not asking yourself why you’re not motivated or taking the initiative

If you carefully look behind the lack of initiation, you’ll find one more more of these types of obstacles behind the scenes. They may be working consciously (or unconsciously) in holding you back. If you’re conscious of them, they still may be holding you back, and if you’re unconscious of them, therapy or counseling may benefit you to help make them conscious so they’re available to you to start to work on.

Emotions vs. Behaviors

Changing behaviors works well, but if you can understand the emotions driving the behaviors, you’re dealing with the problem from more of the root rather than the surface, and creating more sustainable change in your life. Emotions drive everything we do, and inform the decisions we make in our lives. If we can learn not just to intellectually identify the emotions underlying our actions and behaviors, but to actually feel and deal with them, we can make more lasting change in our behavior, which includes taking more initiative in the long term.

For example, if you’re eating junk food regularly, and want to lose weight, you can just discontinue eating candy, pizza, or chips, and be done with it. Right? But say if you use food to cope with stress or other negative emotions, what happens the next time you encounter stressful situations? What will you turn to then? Your brain is going to want to soothe itself with more junk food, so you may go back to what you know.

In this case, you might be feeling bored, lonely, anxious, afraid or not feeling good enough. In those cases, it’s really important to deal with the underlying emotions by observing, feeling and dealing with them, rather than pushing them away and indulging in the negative behavior through avoidance. In this way, you’re going to the heart of the issue emotionally, which breaks up the need to do the behavior you don’t want. Over time, the behaviors dissipate and you rely less on them to cope or avoid. It sounds easy, but this process can be quite difficult.

Ask Yourself: Why Do You Want It?

It’s essential to ask yourself: why do I want this in the first place? What good will come to be if I take the initiative to put myself into this change? Am I doing this for myself, or for someone or something else?

You’ve got to find the motivation inside of yourself to do something, or else it won’t work. It’s “intrinsic” (inside you) motivation, rather than “extrinsic” (outside you) motivation. You have to make sure that your values match the reason you’re doing it. Do you value more time with your children? Do you value being productive at work? Is a strong marriage important to you? Are you willing to make behavioral changes aligned with what you value or believe in?

Without the intrinsic motivation – and attachment to the reasons you want it – the initiative doesn’t make sense. Then you’re just doing it for other reasons, which aren’t sustainable, and don’t organically come from within you. They’re just not sustainable and valuable to you.

If you’re making change or taking the initiative because others want you to do it, that won’t last, either. It then becomes obligation, which creates resentment, guilt, conflict and eventual burnout. You’re going to do it once, or twice, but it’ll peter out in the long run.

 

Taking initiative for changing behaviors in your life is not as easy as just getting something done, and being over with it. If you want long-term change, it’ll important to consider all of the factors that go into it, including the barriers to getting you there, the emotions underlying why you do what you do, and knowing how to summon the intrinsic motivation to make the long-lasting changes in your life that you desire.

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Speaking up for Yourself

It’s important to speak up for yourself, or learn how to, because one major consequence of not doing that would be that you’re forced to stuff your anger and frustration. When that happens, the anger is forced out in all sorts of mutated ways: irritability, anger at innocent bystanders, and anger at yourself.

Speaking up for yourself also negates much of the assumptions or things we think will happen if we say what’s on our mind. A lot of the times our assumptions or fantasies aren’t really valid once we actually check it out with the person that you need to communicate with.

Often, we spin so much negativity and irrational thinking, that we talk ourselves out of standing up for ourselves or confronting anything. We have to learn how to teach ourselves how to check things out with reality, not just what’s stirring in our heads. Realities vary from person to person.

Ask yourself: what is the worst thing would happen if I stick up for myself and say something? Will I piss this person off? Will worse things happen to me? Will the person never speak to me again? Play some of these questions out in your head when you are considering making a confrontation or speaking up for yourself. See if they are actually true once you get them out there on the table.

If you’re confronting the person and they do get angry that you’re saying something to them, or they get defensive, that’s really about them, and not you. You don’t have to own or take responsibility for them – you only have to for yourself. You can still listen to what they’re saying without absorbing their anger or defensiveness, or taking it on yourself.

If you’re the kind of person that is afraid of conflict, your lesson is to learn how to challenge yourself to push past it and speak up for yourself. Therapy or counseling also helps with this, as you could uncover the driving factors involved in not being able to speak up for yourself or that make you avoid conflict.

Examples of when speaking up for yourself might be needed:

  • When someone says something offensive or hurtful to you, that you can’t let go
  • When something is affecting you or your life that needs to change
  • When you find yourself ruminating – or thinking constantly – about something that someone has said or done to you
  • When someone else’s behavior is getting in the way of your happiness or emotional well-being
  • When you’re trying to right a wrong
  • ​When you’re sticking up for someone else who’s been wronged, like your spouse or family member
  • If you have been wronged by a restaurant, retail store or some other customer service provider

Helpful hints when speaking up for yourself:

  • Speak in “I” statements, and don’t be rude, critical or attacking of others
  • Get to the point: be specific, clear, and direct; don’t beat around the bush or make others read your mind
  • Be confident with your words and body language: really get on board with what you’re saying before you say it
  • Target their problematic behavior or words directly when you say what the matter is
  • Don’t take responsibility for their defensiveness, or for them getting angry with you for saying what’s on your mind: remember – that’s about them, and not you
  • Be aware of your tone when you say what’s on your mind – sometimes the same words said with two different tones have completely different effects, and can get you two different outcomes
  • Say what you want or need from the person directly
  • Time it well: think out what would be the best time to approach this person, where you could get through to them most effectively

Speaking up for yourself doesn’t have to be a big deal. It may take a bit of courage, well-placed words and timing, but learning these things becomes an art. People will respect you for saying what’s on your mind, and you’ll respect yourself, too. If you don’t learn how to stand up and speak out for yourself, you’ll be missing opportunities to support yourself and get what you want.

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