“We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.”
Alright so you’ve come up against an obstacle in life and you’ve decided you no longer want to keep hitting your head against the brick wall. It’s just too painful to remain wrapped up in the same old worn out coping skills. They are no longer serving you nor are they bringing about any peace in your life. Getting to this point, means reaching your own end of the rope or hitting bottom or being sick and tired of being sick and tired.
So now what? How do we go about engaging change? What are the steps we can take to begin traversing a new and improved path? We know one thing for sure, we no longer want to feel heavy and burdened and weighted down by our own perceptions. We are ready to take a look at our life through a different point of view. But how do we do this? How do we learn what we don”t know?
Trial and error for many of us is the starting point of this change. We try different tactics in an attempt to adjust ourselves out of old habits. This can work to a degree, as it does offer us an opportunity to see for ourselves what different ways of handling emotional triggers can look like. The self discipline required for this trial and error approach needs to be intentful and we need buckets of patience and constancy in order to get a clearer picture of our behavior.
What were some tools I DID learn over the years? First off let’s be clear that these steps took me years to compile and just like anything in life I am still learning and still checking in with myself and still have days where I react instead of respond. I mean it’s not like you ever reach perfection in handling every situation, but the point is to be working towards creating the best possible outcomes of whatever you come up against. Even if that means admitting sometimes the way we’ve handled an issue isn’t the best way to a positive solution. We HAVE to be willing to look at ourselves. Some of my steps will help you in walking your own path and some of them won’t. The point is to pull what works and what will propel you towards a more joyful life.
Keep A Journal.
If you really want to capture a screenshot of your own processing capabilities and habits I can think of no better way to do this than by keeping a journal. When I say journal, I mean a no holds barred, zero judgment zone, get it all out journal. I want you to spill every single emotion you have. If you’re pissed, say so. If you’re scared, write about it. But with all the beautiful unloading, I also want you to start each day’s entry with a list of 3 things you are grateful for and why. Do this for 30 days. Yes, I know it sounds laborious, especially if you’re not into writing, but the point of this step is to see where you are in your life and what it is you believe, think, and how you are approaching issues and how those issues make you feel. It will also give you a window into how you are viewing your partner. How you feel about his or her response or reaction to whatever is going on in the marriage. I know it can be easy to get into a negative narrative, where the pages can get crowded with chatter about triggers or ways in which we feel wronged by our behavior or our partner, but what I hope you to do though is really dig down deep to those core emotions. What is the trigger? Is it a fear? If you don’t want your husband to kiss another woman, why? And no, writing because I get jealous, while that may be true, is not really the first emotion. Tap into the insecurity, or the fear of loss, or the low self esteem, those are where we need to focus the attention. But we won’t see those if we can’t sit down long enough with our silence to hear our own cries for help.
Third Party Therapist.
Sometimes, we’ve got to admit we need some objectivity in our life. We can get so comfortable in our own reactions that we won’t even recognize when we’re having them. While being able to communicate with our partner is critical, sometimes the rut we’ve been traveling is so deep, we’ll need help stepping up and out. A third party person is also a safe space to be open about the struggle. If you have a fear, this is the place to unwrap that package. Remember, a therapist has been trained to pay attention to your body language, the hidden meanings behind each sentence and is the one person who can ask those tough questions. You may have been able to fool yourself but you won’t be able to trick a well trained counselor. They can also ease your mind especially if you are coming up against a new situation within the relationship. Change is hard no doubt about it. Sometimes just knowing that the hiccups we’re facing are normal and to not be too hard on ourselves can be a huge comfort. Even in the best of relationships you are still dealing with individuals with their own perceptions and who will be biased to a degree about how they see the situation. A therapist can help guide us to better ways of dealing with ourselves and our partner and lead us to healthier coping skills. A therapist can also help in unlocking personal traumas in addition to assisting us in understanding our triggers. Relationship. Sometimes we need those “personal interventions” only a therapist can provide. Don’t forget Openlove101 offers coaching if you need personalized support.
Fear vs. F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real)
Talking about how we feel to our partner can be tricky, especially if we are upset, or riddled with anxiety or better yet when we’re mad. In those times it’s probably not the best idea to have those sit down discussions. Even being able to say, I can’t talk right now ‘cause I’m ________ can be tough. The goal is to be able to get to the point where we CAN say what needs to be said outside the confines of anxiety, fear, or anger. Remember these emotional surfacings are protection mechanisms. So, if we are experiencing these it’s a signal to us we are trying to protect ourselves. The goal is to be able to differentiate between true danger and the danger of our imagination. If you’re like me, you have a ton of internal material from which to pull all sorts of scenarios about what could happen in any given situation. I can easily imagine myself falling off a steep cliff, or clearly picture the white water raft I’m about to climb into overturning and me drowning. I can also imagine my husband running off with the woman he just met, or imagining the two of them falling in love and me being sucked out of the relationship picture entirely.
Our imagination is a powerful tool, one that can produce trilogies like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. In those cases we celebrate our capacity to explore ideals or the ingenuity of our incredible brain. But on the other hand we can also drop in fantasy and imagery from our incredible stores of imagination smack dab into our everyday, real life world. Sometimes the melding of the two will happen seamlessly. This is how we can end up seeing our partner with someone else and then also insert a storyline that is not taking place.
Now the danger of our imagination when it comes to things like fear, anxiety, or anger is the seamlessness of integration between what’s truly happening and what we think might happen somewhere out in the future, and that’s we’re we trick ourselves. We will literally begin to believe the storyline we are creating. All of us know Star Wars was created by the brilliant George Lucas. No matter how many movies about the characters or planets or battle scenes, we all know the movies and books are fiction. None of what we are seeing or read has actually taken place.
*Stop The Negative Self-Talk, The “Why Aren’t We Enough” Crappola.
For those of you who remember The Bob Newhart Show, Bob Newhart played a therapist. Years later he would reprise this character in skits on Saturday Night Live. One particular skit involves Bob Newhart in an office and a woman comes in for counseling. As she sits opposite him, she begins to tell him all her problems, her fear of being buried alive in a box, her eating disorder, and her dysfunctional relationships with men. For each and every issue, Bob tells her to, “STOP IT!” While the skit is satirical there is truth to the message. Sometimes in life we can get so caught up in a fear or behavior that we need to be told to STOP IT! Obviously, this is an over-simplification to deep seeded thought patterns but it can be a stepping stone to at least give ourselves permission to change the way we are talking about ourselves or situations. Besides, when we are ready for change this is essentially what we’re saying anyway, we are saying we are ready to stop the way we’ve been handling difficulties in exchange for healthier and more productive ways to cope with life.
Those times I have been caught up in self degradation, those times where it comes super easy to talk negatively about myself are the times I allow my ego to take the wheel…when I’m already struggling with an issue. Maybe John and I have had a disagreement, or maybe I’ve reacted instead of responded to a topic. Maybe I’m feeling insecure or I’m already in fear of something, those are the times I can take the already negative atmosphere and pull myself into the mix. Sure why not! Why not make ourselves feel 100% worse about whatever’s happening?! Why? Because if I can distract myself from the responsibility of owning my part of a disagreement, or own my reaction to a situation then I don’t have to do any work. I can simply sit back and pile on loads of self pity and negative self talk to escape the responsibility of owning my behavior. And yes, self talk is a responsibility. As hard as it is to admit, sometimes we will beat ourselves up verbally as a control mechanism. As a way of gaining comfort or affirmation from our partner. Ouch. Maybe we aren’t sure how to comfort ourselves in times of chaos so we seek out attention outside ourselves even if it’s from a negative aspect. Talking bad about ourselves can be one such maneuver.
For example, let’s say John and I have just had an argument about, gosh I don’t know, about where a tree should be planted in the backyard (and yes we actually got in a fight about a tree one time…ugh!) for, whatever reason we both butted heads on the topic. Each getting more aggravated and both taking strong stances on our respective opinions. More than likely there was an underlying unresolved issue, but the tree triggered a cascade of pent up emotions that didn’t match the seemingly small issue of tree planting. As the argument escalates and statements get thrown out that have nothing to do with the tree and we each become more entrenched in our view, a couple of things can happen. 1) we can rein ourselves in by pulling back on the subject at hand. We can step back, widen our view and allow for some empathy, some objectivity, and maybe even tackle the hidden emotions that triggered the whole thing to begin with. 2) we can keep down the path of agitation that can result in one of us, usually me, running out of coping mechanisms and turning to a tried and true tactic…I’ll begin to talk negatively about myself. “This is all my fault.” “I’m an idiot!” “I’m a horrible person.”
The more negative energy I put out, the more negative things I begin to say about myself, the more I pick up speed. This can be a dangerous track to jump on, because negativity can be, well, negative. The last thing we need to be doing is making ourselves feel worse about our capabilities or worse about who we are as a person. We aren’t an idiot because we are in an argument over a tree, but we do need to own that we are in an argument over a tree.
The other interesting thing that can happen when we try to exclude ourselves from the role we are playing in an uncomfortable situation is while we might be trying to avoid responsibility, we will simultaneously try to pull in all the ownership of our partner’s role in the controversy. We’ll move from wanting to blame our partner or point fingers to wanting to carry the load of the entire dispute on our own shoulders. In short this is our attempt to gain some kind of control or order in the midst of chaos. An all or nothing ploy to regain structure to a situation that feels out of control.
Trying to wiggle out of the responsibility of owning our role in an out of hand “discussion” by putting ourselves down doesn’t help us learn new tactics of resolution. We only succeed in stagnating ourselves and keeping us in a space of helplessness. We can be brilliant, talented and beautiful people and still get in an argument over a tree. It boils down to whether or not we want to continue down the path we’ve been traveling or whether we are ready to take a new trail. A trail where we give ourselves permission to be loving to self. To be able to own our choices outside of fear or anxiety. A place where we can love ourselves.
*Get Out Of Your Head.
Stop overthinking and allow yourself some distraction. Sometimes the best course of action when we are feeling overwhelmed is to step back and chill. For me, getting out and doing something physical really helps. Things like gardening, cleaning up some disorganized drawer or straightening up a closet can switch our attention away from the thunderous noise in our head. The goal is to separate yourself from the voices of self doubt or of wanting to run down a rabbit hole. When we sit too deeply in a trigger, it’s the silence that can sometimes trap us in a loop.
*Stop Viewing The Marriage As Fragile.
Quit focusing on what we think might happen in exchange for all the wonderful things going good in our marriage. How often does this happen? We’re going along, all content in our relationship, we love our partner, we appreciate all we have, and things couldn’t be better. Then bam we come up against a fear or are triggered into an anxiety ridden moment and all those wonderful attributes we felt about our life come tumbling down. We’ve gone from feeling like the poster couple of a healthy emulating worthy union to feeling lost and unsure. Maybe we saw our partner talking to someone of the opposite sex and it triggered a fear. Maybe the two of you got into a disagreement and now you wonder about the steadfastness of the marital foundation. Our mind goes immediately to all the negativity we are feeling.
We gather fuel for the fire we’ve started and watch as the flames go higher and higher. We stop focusing on how much we love each other and replace the love with a fear of losing them. We discount all the ways in which we have worked together to build a strong foundation for the temporary issue of the day. Using phrases like, “you always” or “you never” begin each sentence. We will react this way especially when we’ve come up against a situation that causes us some form of anxiety. For instance, If we think our partner is spending too much time with someone else, it could trigger a fear of abandonment, or a feeling of insignificance.
These feelings can easily escalate into full blown episodes if we let them. We will get so caught up in the triggered feeling that any of the positives of the relationship will be hidden. Instead of taking comfort in what a wonderful marriage we have, we’ll only see the situation from the standpoint of what we could lose. I call this the, “Fragility Syndrome.” The fragility syndrome is when we view our marriage as something incredibly fragile. We keep ourselves on high alert emotionally, looking for cracks and crevices that could become openings for others to enter into the marriage intent on destroying the relationship. We operate in a protection mode 24/7.
We just know at some point, the marriage will be infiltrated and it’s up to us to be vigilant in keeping this from happening. We will tell ourselves we do this, not because of any trust issues we have with our partner, but because we can’t trust the intentions of those outside the marriage. Someone from the outside is going to steal away our partner and we’ll be alone. So like sentries guarding a castle, we pace back and forth at our post watching for any sign of intrusion. But is this really how we should be approaching a union? Is treating our marriage as if it were a fragile bubble floating helplessly on the breeze really a true reflection of what we are creating? Would most of us instead use words like strong, secure, solid, and firm when we talk about how we view our union? What about a deep everlasting foundation, or a solid love for one another? Don’t we talk about how much we trust one another or how deep in love we are? Do these descriptions sound fragile?
No, of course not! Why? Because we find great value in how intentful we’ve been in building a relationship that will stand the test of time. If this is true, then why do we insist on belittling our own efforts by treating the marriage like it could shatter like a fragile piece of glass? Do we not end up sounding hypocritical? Why would I need to protect something that doesn’t need protection? Think about that one a minute. If no one would have the power to “steal” you away from your partner, then why would you think your partner wouldn’t feel the same about you? So it begs to differ that maybe the issue isn’t so much what might happen from outside the marriage but more about how our own views and fears and anxiety can have on a relationship. A crumbling from within so to speak. Facing the truth that we might be the biggest culprit in the fragile view of our relationship can be a hard reflection to face, but one that needs attention. If you are finding yourself coming up with reasons why you need to “protect” your relationship then it might be time to take a more personal look as to why this need is surfacing and how this form of control is helping or hurting you. Take inventory of your behavior through journaling.
If you feel pressure in your chest anytime a partner talks to someone of the opposite sex, write about it. What feelings surface? And while, “I feel angry,” is a feeling, it’s what’s called a secondary emotion, remember, there is a slew of first emotions that will go racing past us, those are the ones I want you to pay attention to. Those are the ones I want you to pay attention to. The purpose of this exercise is not to gather backing or support for a habit that is no longer serving us, but to force us into new patterns. Dig deep into what is happening when we are triggered by our partner. Remember we can’t change habits if we refuse to acknowledge their existence. Once we feel safe enough to let go of our own protection mechanisms by admitting those first emotions, then we will be able to begin seeing the strength of the marriage instead of the fragility we keep trying to create. Our own vulnerability through trust and honesty oddly enough is what’s going to surface the hard as nails fortitude of the marriage.
*Recognize when Control/Jealousy is seeping in.
A good rule of thumb for knowing when this is happening is when we feel out of control. When we speak about control, what exactly are we talking about? What is control? Well, according to Merriam-Webster it’s, “the power to influence or direct people’s behavior or the course of events.” Merriam-Webster takes it one step further by stating, “some common synonyms of control are authority, command, dominion, jurisdiction, power, and sway.” While all these words mean “the right to govern or rule or determine,” control stresses the power to direct and restrain.”
I dated a guy one time, well more than dated, he’d led me to believe that we would be married, so I’d sold my home and moved out of state to be with him. One day our doorbell rang. I ignored the red flag of my boyfriend telling me not to answer the door. As my boyfriend stood hiding just out of site, I answered the door to find the neighbor across the street standing on our porch. He was making a courtesy stop to share information about the neighborhood sewage system. The conversation was brief, I thanked him and shut the door. The very first thing out of my boyfriend’s mouth was accusations. “I told you not to answer the door. I heard you flirting with him.” I couldn’t believe it. What was going on with this guy who was supposed to love me? Why was he thinking the worst of me or better yet, what was going on with him internally where he was operating from such fear? So much fear that the only way he knew to dissipate the fear was to control his environment. I fell within that environment. Needless to say that relationship did not last. I wasn’t going to live the rest of my life, 1) being accused of things I wasn’t doing and 2) not being trusted was a huge blow to my feelings of safety and security within the relationship. If my partner couldn’t trust me, then how was the relationship ever going to work? I realized quickly that I just couldn’t subject myself to this man’s irrational fears. If he wanted to live his life in fear so be it, but it didn’t mean I had to be party to the destruction.
While I can easily pull up examples of times control or authority or dominion had been held over my head, what about the times I’d been guilty of this same behavior? What about the times I’ve accused MY partner of doing something I didn’t like or worse accusing him of something I thought he might do because it triggered my fears? Are we as quick to see the dominion when we are the one exerting the power, or do we rationalize away our fears by projecting them onto our partner? Those times we want their behavior to be a justifiable reason for our reaction. Those times we try to control our partner’s behavior so we don’t have to come up against what’s happening internally. Jealousy is a word used many times to rationalize our controlling behavior. We can view our partner as our property or as belonging to us only. Of course when we talk about our marriage we’re not going to say my husband or wife is our property, that just sounds way too antiquated and harsh or even legal, so instead we’ll say something along the lines of belonging to one another or he/she’s mine. When we say it like that it sounds to us way more romantic and even loving. An affirmation of our love and commitment for one another. But what’s really going on when we view our partner as ours? As someone who belongs to us. Well, if something belongs to me then I could begin to feel possessive of it. I might begin to think others will want what is mine. I will become suspicious and will begin looking for clues this is happening. What if I think another person talking to my spouse is really just wanting to steal them?
And what about the flip side of this coin? What if I believe someone else could be a better caretaker? What if we believe the neighbor talking to our partner is better qualified or has a better body or laughs at all our partners jokes or seems happy all the time? What’s happening then? According to Pooja Bedi in a recent article, her take on jealousy/control is this:
“Many people glamourize jealousy by saying it’s a sign of love. It’s not! It’s a sign of insecurity and reflective of seeing your partner as an object to be possessed. It’s a negative emotion stemming from both desire and insecurity, but not love. Conversely, if you love the fact someone is possessive about you, it stems from your debilitating need to be loved and be taken care of, even at the cost of your freedom.
Jealousy and possessiveness are not safe cocoons. It’s a prison where the prisoner has to behave as per the rules and insecurities of the jailor or be punished for it. There is no space or regard for trust, individuality or personal growth.
Your love for your partner and your desire to see them happy will be used as a means to whip you into subservience and to force you to bow down to their demons. None of it is healthy, desirable or productive. None of it will create harmony and long term happiness. To truly love is to trust. To allow those you love to blossom, be the best they can be. To be protective and not possessive because being protective is to care about them and being possessive is all about catering to the self.
People should be together because they support each other, bring out the best in each other and to be the best they can be. Don’t punish people for loving you, allow their love to help you conquer your demons.”
Read Bedi’s words over and over if you need to so the meaning of what she is saying can really sink in. Are we trusting in the relationship we have with our partner or are we fearfully being possessive? Learning to release our hold on control requires a shift in our self view. When we know where we stand and where our comfort level is then we are capable of owning our role in the relationship. Letting go of control allows us to then grab hold of self-confidence, assurance, and what we are comfortable accepting within the union.
“One day or day one…you decide”
Whether you use all these steps to formulate a change in your life and your relationship or use the list as stepping stones to tailor make your own plan, I hope that each and every one of you will be able to grow through the lessons, to break free from the box you find yourself confined and will be able to embrace a much more joy centered existence.
John and Jackie Melfi are in a consensually non monogamous marriage. They have been featured in ABC News Nightline Special Report “Getting Naughty In N’awlins”, Inside a New Orleans Swingers Convention, and CNN “This Is Life” with Lisa Ling. The Melfis are the force behind the industry famous colette swingers clubs in New Orleans, Dallas, Houston, and Austin. With over 20 years of combined experience, this powerhouse couple coaches thousands of singles and couples through their award winning blog Openlove101.com.