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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Living Behind Facades

Facades can be designed both to protect us from those in our lives, and to turn us into new and more exciting versions of ourselves. They can misrepresent us by advertising ourselves as someone were not, or someone we want to be, and they put distance between us and the world.

Personality facades are artificial versions of ourselves, or masks we wear. They are basically roles that we play to others, which give us a limited sense of importance, success, affirmation to both ourselves and to other people. They can be adorned by the careers we have, the material items we own, the money we have, or the importance that we create for ourselves. They are superficial realities that we use to judge ourselves by, and judge others by, and are egoic in nature.

These masks or roles mostly serve to make us more appealing to others. They allow us – in a roundabout way –to get our needs met from those in our lives, be they friends, coworkers, family, or others we encounter. When we put our mask on, we then enter into a game in which the goal is to seek out love, adoration, acceptance, importance, or good standing with those who encounter our facade. They are needs we’re seeking to get met from others, that we can’t someone meet for ourselves.

The problem with living behind these facades is that our authenticity, or our true self, gets suffocated and snubbed out. When you suspend the facade or the false front, the real person behind it may be someone you feel is inadequate, inferior, insecure, or not up to par in someway to deal with others. That person may be someone you wholeheartedly reject, and never really allow to appear in your life because his or her perceived flaws are unacceptable to the world.

Sometimes, we get so used to clinging to the false fronts that we forget that anyone with actual substance exists behind them. The tendency to keep the facades going has become second nature and so unconscious that they exist on autopilot. It’s quite probable that we manufactured these facades growing up in our families of origin, or when we were young, as ways to protect us from inadequacy, weakness or insecurity. Creatively, we create these masks to compensate for personality deficiencies that could leave us vulnerable to others’ emotional or verbal harm of us, including from parents. Sometimes, the facades get built to insulate us and keep us imprisoned from the world.

Taking the risk to pierce or puncture old facades has its benefits. It can mean the difference between keeping a friendship or intimate relationship on a superficial level, and deepening it to one that is more fulfilling. I think that we think we run the risk of rejection if we open up and expose others to the real version of us, who we think will be less than adequate and unappealing. But, the reality is a bit different.

It can be that we ourselves reject who we really are behind the false fronts, and project that onto others. If we have a self critic, he or she can hammer at us and try to keep our true self in lockdown, especially in the case that we don’t like who we truly are. Dealing with the self critic, we may allow ourselves to truly shine through – warts and all. We may be able to learn how to embrace our true self, even if we have been unacceptable to ourselves in the past.

I find that relationships thrive when they are opened up to deeper dimensions, and are usually welcome by other people. Many times, other people in your life are craving the authenticity and genuine qualities of bringing your true or false self to the relationship, even if you think they’ll reject you. And it may be worth reconsidering those relationships that cannot deepen and seeing if they still work for you after you risk being vulnerable.

Facades are just avatars. They allow us to navigate our lives and our relationships, and are not bad things in and of themselves. Different situations and relationships require different roles, but the problem comes when you forget you’re playing the role and forget to drop the facade and bring our your authentic self.

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Barriers to Sex

Sex is far from just the physical act. There are myriad factors that can contribute to the health of your sex life, from timing, to stress, to emotional issues that play in. We’re looking at some of the issues that might affect your sex life, and offering some tips as to things you might consider or implement into your life, whether in or out of the bedroom, to create a more fulfilling sex life with your partner.

  • Learning how to communicate what you want is important to creating the type of fulfilling sex life that you desire. If sexual gratification is left to inhibition and assumptions, your partner won’t be able to satisfy you in that way that you need to be. Know or learn what you want, and speak your mind. It may not be easy, or it very well may be totally uncomfortable, but learning to communicate what you want is vital.
  • Pornography abuse is another barrier to sexual contact and fulfillment. I think that heavy porn use dulls and flattens the mind, and makes the act of sex flat, robotic, and digital. I think that overactive porn use creates a divide between getting sexually fulfilled by a computer, and having person-to-person contact with your intimate partner. Porn can certainly play into the relationship, but it takes both people being okay with it and accepting of it, in order to enhance the sexual part of your relationship in a mutual way. If it’s threatening or unacceptable to one partner (e.g. your wife or girlfriend), it’s going to create problems, lack of trust, and feelings of rejection on her part, and make things worse.
  • Anxiety about sexual performance is another barrier to sexual contact that I talk with many guys about. It’s more common than you think. This issue often manifests in things like erectile dysfunction or an inability to perform sexually, but can also appear as pushing your partner away or not initiating sex. Some guys – feeling like a failure in the marriage – manifest that experience in the bedroom. They have a hard time with performance because they are already feeling like failures, and so they carry this thinking that they will fail their partner into the physical intimacy realm.
  • Making the time is also difficult. When kids, exhaustion, grueling work schedules and poor timing collide, the time for intimacy can go by the wayside. If partners have different sexual schedules, one person may be ready for sex at night, when the other one is exhausted and just wanting to sleep. Syncing up schedules without losing the fun and spontaneity of sex then becomes a challenge. I think planning sexual intimacy is great, but again, it may lose some of the spark when it just becomes planned. Spontaneous sex is great if you can manage it, but realistically, it may also take some light planning, too.
  • Trouble initiating sex: There may be subtle power dynamics at play in your marriage, and when it comes to sex, those may play out unconsciously through sexual contact. It often goes that men who are good at initiating in other parts of their lives or marriages sometimes have a hard time initiating sexually or emotionally, so women are forced into the role, which creates resentment. Have a talk with your partner about initiating sex and making that a mutual thing. If one person is in charge of it, the effects of that will play out sexually.
  • Deal effectively with your stress: You’re not fully physically or emotionally available if stress is getting the best of you. Eat right, get the quality sleep you need, and exercise. Dealing with stress is an everyday pursuit: it’s not just a one-time deal. The better you deal with stress, the more energy and availability you’ll have with your partner when it comes to sex, and the happier and more physically available you’ll be for your partner.
  • Not being present is another barrier to sex. When you’re present, you’re not in your head thinking about other things, or thinking about the past or future – you’re right in the moment where you need to be. When you’re in the here and now, you’re actually involved in the act of lovemaking, and not somewhere else. It’s hard to be fully in the present, because that’s where all of our inhibitions and junk come up – not being good enough, not pleasing our partner, being uncomfortable, etc. Sex is a container for the rest of the unresolved issues in the relationship, so be aware of that as they come up, and get the help that you need to work through those issues so that you can be more present to the experience.
  • Emotional disconnection between you and your partner: If there is emotional disconnection in the relationship or marriage, it’s going to play out sexually as problems in the bedroom. Like marriage counselors know, understand that there is a direct correlation between the emotional and the sexual health of the relationship or marriage, and this can go either way. If there are emotional problems, they can manifest as sexual problems, and vice versa. Work on repairing any emotional problems or damage to the relationship outside of the bedroom for a better relationship inside of it. For guys, understand that issues that your wife or girlfriend may have from the past need to be worked through, and that they neither can “just get over them,” or are amenable to any “fix” or solution you may try to put on it.
  • Comparing your sex life to “others” or the media’s version of sex: Do you really and actually know what other people are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms? No, you don’t. The media surely doesn’t have it right, and people you know aren’t going to tell you if they are having sexual problems themselves. The fact is, you don’t know what other peoples’ sexual realities are. The “hot and heavy” period in the beginning of the relationship will fade some, so don’t expect a sustained libidinal consistency throughout the relationship. Address issues as they come up, and don’t compare your situation to others, especially when they might be in the same boat as you and your partner. Even if you never know.

You can spice up your sex life in a variety of ways, but to look at some of the underlying issues takes a little more introspection, courage and willingness to confront issues head on. In the long run, I think a healthy, long-term sex life is a function of working through some of those issues together. Without a sincere effort to work on those issues, you may be setting yourself up for other, bigger marital issues, like marital infidelity or divorce. So, invest the time and energy into solving those issues as they come up – together – and you’ll have not just a better sex life, but a better marriage or relationship in general.

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The Business of Marriage

When you get caught up in the business of marriage, the marriage starts to run more like a business or organization where two employees run side by side rather than enjoy an intimate, loving relationship with any depth. A “business marriage” becomes flat, stale, mechanical and unfulfilling, and it usually happens over time. “We’ve become roommates,” is also another complaint that I hear from couples who have experienced this phase in their relationship. Although it can happen gradually, it’s effects can be disastrous.

It’s certainly easy to get caught up in the day-to-day mechanics of your relationship roles, especially if you have kids and both of you have full-time jobs. There are schedules to plan, meals to prepare, activities to organize, and at the end of the day, it’s hard enough just to find five or 10 minutes for yourself, let alone with each other. What’s a struggling couple to do to rekindle or reconnect and prioritize their relationship or marriage?

So, what characterizes the “business” of the relationship?

  • Issues concerning kids: appointments, activities, school, etc.
  • Financial issues, like bills, taxes, investments, house issues (mortgage/rent), debt, purchases
  • Family issues, either your own or yours or your wife’s family
  • House projects, maintenance, remodeling and other plans for your home
  • Plans, such as vacations, trips, weekend plans, plans for the future
  • Other partnerships or roles that you both share that aren’t actually romantic or interpersonal connections
  • Feeling flat, uninspired, unfulfilled, bored or generally on satisfied by your partner or by your marriage
  • Checking out, whether emotionally, daydreaming you were somewhere else, or even having extramarital affairs or communication with other people
  • Things that don’t “connect” you or allow you to get to know each other, see each other as people, and allow you to drop the roles you play in your marriage (e.g. parent, domestic person, breadwinner, etc.)


I think the immediate first thing to do with a problem like this is just to both acknowledge that you have fallen into this trap, and commit to turning it around. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, diagnosing it may be fairly difficult. Just being able to label it as such and both agree that that is what’s happening is a huge step forward towards rebuilding your marriage or relationship.

A lot of couples try to remedy this with more date nights. Date nights are fine and good, but what you do with date night is important: merely scheduling it out and following through with it isn’t enough. Date night can become just as scheduled as everything else in your routine, so what good is it if it’s hyper-planned and boring? What fun will you get from it if you’re not actually connecting with your spouse or partner while you’re on it?

I think planning chunks of time in which to work on the “business” of marriage or a relationship is important, so that you can prioritize those business elements of your relationship, and clearly differentiate it from the romantic or interpersonal part of your relationship. It’s important that you draw the line in the sand, or else the romantic part of the relationship can get overrun with the demands of the business side of the relationship. Taking a regular chunk of time weekly, or monthly, to work on the business matters will allow you to get all of the logistics out of the way, so that you can establish priority to the romantic or intimate part.

Ultimately, you may choose to seek out professional counseling to help work through the issues that have created your business marriage, and look at some of the origins or unexpressed negative emotions that you both may be harboring towards each other. It may be essential to look at the past, as much as you and or your spouse may not want to. Identifying and working through those issues may help you prevent them from returning and creating the same scenario you have today.

Sometimes, we use items that make up the business marriage to avoid dealing with the real problems in the marriage. It becomes easy to hide behind the business of the marriage or the logistics rather than actually turn and face the sometimes monumental issues having faced you as a couple for a very long time. The kids, plans, responsibilities, jobs and the like then become tools of avoidance and distance from your mate and the marital problems.

Avoiding your marital problems by using the “business” end of your relationship will only create problems in the end, especially if there are kids. When the kids grow up and leave the house, you won’t have any connection with your mate if you’ve been only good business partners, or have sought to avoid any marital issues by focusing on the business of the marriage, including the kids. Those roles can only take you so far.

Like most issues, prevention is the key. Taking the steps to ensure that your marriage does not have to go down the road of a business marriage is a wise investment if you want to enjoy a loving, intimate marriage that is mutually fulfilling years to come. You may not always share this type of connection, because life demands that you share some kind of business relationship together, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve balance somewhere in between.

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