Monthly Archives: April 2013

Why do couples try to control eachother?

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As we sat at Pier 39 with our newfound friends last night, the conversations took many twists and turns (thanks to fruity drinks, no doubt), and eventually landed on the topic of relationships. Shocking, I know….

One of our new friends was sharing how he has found that women feel the need to control men that they are in a relationship with, have a need to know exactly where they are and with whom at all times, eventually stifling the very qualities they were attracted to in the first place. Now, I have to give this guy a lot of kudos for broaching this subject and taking such a bold position in the company of 3 women. Needless to say, we promptly put him in his place.

But it got me thinking… There is no doubt that there are women AND men out there who fit this description to varying degrees. But why do they feel the need to do this and how much (if at all) is a healthy part of a relationship?

I have always imagined a relationship in which I am completely accepted as I am, while simultaneously being challenged to continue to grow as an individual. Where spending time with my friends and doing the things I love is encouraged rather than stifled. Where there is complete trust. This is what I strive for in all my relationships, romantic or otherwise.

Various studies on relationships are aligned with my thinking, indicating that the most significant predictor of success in marriage is the ability to maintain your individuality while building a partnership based on mutual understanding, respect and support. Where it’s truly safe to be yourself because you know you are completely accepted for who you are.

But we all know that relationships like this are difficult to come by as we all enter the relationship with our own scars and “baggage” if you will. I believe that these scars unconsciously lead to the need for control in certain situations.

For example, someone who was physically or emotionally abandoned by their parents at some point in their life may fear being abandoned by their partner. This may manifest in their relationship through a desire to know where their partner is at all times, feelings of jealousy when others are getting their partner’s attention and the need for constant reassurance. In this case, they are not trying to be controlling to be hurtful, but are unconsciously trying to protect themselves from feeling the same hurt they felt when they were abandoned by their parents.

However, if you are in a relationship with this type of individual, you have to remember that knowing where it stems from, doesn’t make it right, or healthy. It’s not your job to heal their wounds. That’s something only they can do and it may require some commitment to therapy. All you can do is help them see what they are doing in a gentle way and support them as they start their journey of healing. And take the time to know what your boundaries are – what you are willing to tolerate and for how long – and communicate that to them.

And if you’re the one experiencing these feelings, know that they are perfectly normal. It’s how you act on them that matters. It’s neither good to transfer these feelings to your partner nor to hold them inside for a long time. So learn about what is making you feel that way and think about what you need to do for yourself to grow and heal so that those feelings are not controlling YOU anymore. You will be a much more complete and self assured person at the end of that journey.

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The day of many vices…

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An integral part of maintaining a good balance in life is to treat yourself once in a while. Work hard, and play hard, as they say. Last Friday I bid farewell to the grey skies and frigid cold of Toronto in favour of the sunshine and warmth of San Francisco, California.

The past 5 days have been a wonderful treat to an otherwise busy and rather gruelling year. Spending time with incredible friends and taking in the sights has been really relaxing and therapeutic.

When on vacation, it’s easy to let your diet and exercise slide, so I made a concerted effort to stay active while here. I have gone running through wine country for 2 out of the 5 days I’ve been here and utilized the San Francisco hills for butt and leg sculpting the remainder of the time. By and large, I have been eating relatively healthy as well. Until today that is….

I have no idea what came over me, but today has turned into the day of many vices. I kicked off the morning with a wholesome breakfast of leftover pizza. Not having had the opportunity to try San Francisco’s famous sourdough bread, I followed this with a brunch of a sourdough turkey and avocado sandwich. For lunch, we were at Ghirardelli Square, so I thought… What the heck… A chocolate brownie sundae sounds like a great idea! So I had that for lunch… If you’ve never been to Ghirardelli Square and you find yourself in San Fran, you MUST go and have some dessert. It’s to DIE for and worth every calorie.

Following this, my friend and I headed to Pier 39 where, like good Canadians, we got comfortable on some Muskoka chairs and ordered fruity drinks complete with little umbrellas. We quickly attracted some wonderful people who were out for a work function. They joined us on the Muskoka chairs and promptly offered us a few drinks on the company. We’re not ones to refuse great conversation and free drinks with new friends, so two more fruity cocktails ensued.

Time flies when you’re having fun, so before we knew it, it was time for dinner. Off we stumbled to an Italian restaurant we had scoped out earlier. More sourdough bread with butter, olive oil and vinegar magically appeared on our table along with wine. Clearly I had to sample some before my spaghetti a la salmone arrived. It would be rude not to…

So within 12 hours, I consumed more carbs and sugar than I have eaten in at least 3 years. I would normally be feeling very guilty, but I am relishing in the glow of the wonderful tastes I sampled comforted by the fact that I have earned every calorie not just by walking the steep hills and climbing 800 steps throughout the day, but by all the hard work I have put in over the past year. Soon, vacation will be over and I will be back to the grind of work, the gym and my own carbless cooking. So for now, I am treating myself. Because I deserve it.

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How does a healthy relationship develop?

touchYou’re at a party hosted by your best friend’s new boyfriend. He introduces you to his very hot and very fit Buddy. Yum! You start talking to Buddy and are pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to being deliciously good looking, he’s smart, funny and successful. Out of your league, you think. But you hit it off and he doesn’t leave your side the entire night. You exchange numbers and he calls the very next day. You’re all butterflies as you go on your first date a few days later. Things catapult from here and the next six months are a haze of butterflies, dinners, laughing and mental montages of your wedding day.

Suddenly… You start to get irritated with eachother and have your first fight… Then your second and third… The honeymoon is over and you start to notice how he slurps his coffee in the morning and leaves the seat up in the bathroom. You’re scared… You wonder how things could have changed so quickly… what it all means… Is the relationship nearing the end? Or is this normal?

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there, wondered that and found out that there is no simple answer. Relationships are tough… Sometimes this scenario spells the end and sometimes it’s just the beginning. Fighting is a normal part of every relationship and a very valuable one at that. It helps us get closer to the ultimate goal of true intimacy – where we fully accept, love and support one another exactly as we are. A completely safe environment.

John Bradshaw, an experienced counsellor and acclaimed author, states that there are four stages of a healthy relationship: Infatuation, Disillusionment & Conflict, Independence and Intimacy. Many relationships don’t make it past Disillusionment & Conflict and it can take some couples 20 – 30 years to achieve Intimacy. Here is a summary of each stage:

Infatuation

As in our example above, this stage is the “Honeymoon” period. During this period, the biological processes associated with procreation are most pronounced. The testosterone, dopamine and other “feel good” chemicals are intoxicating. You want to spend all your time together… can’t stop thinking about eachother… The way he slurps his coffee is cute. You idealize your partner so much, you think no one has ever made you feel this way before and no one ever will. But, within three to six months, the chemical processes begin to subside and you move forward to the next stage.

Disillusionment & Conflict

During this stage, the bio-chemistry returns to normal and reality sets in. The honeymoon is over. Suddenly, the way he slurps his coffee is so irritating, you imagine slapping the bottom of his coffee cup as he’s slurping away. This is perfectly normal – yes, that’s right… Perfectly normal! Even the healthiest of relationships go through this stage. You’ve been so consumed with eachother, it’s time to separate a little. But it can be scary. Many people become so afraid of this conflict, they take flight rather than working through it. Or, they begin to cling more out of fear of losing their partner. This is definitely the “make it or break it” stage.

They keys to making it past this stage are to take comfort in the fact that it will pass and to fight with respect. Recognize that this is the stage in which much learning takes place and in the end, you will understand eachother and become closer as a couple. This is the stage in which compromise is essential. However, it takes two to tango, so if you find yourself stuck in this stage despite adjusting based on the conflicts and “feedback” from your partner, it may be time to let the relationship go. Never compromise yourself and your values for the relationship.

Independence

In this stage, you have established healthy boundaries and found the right balance between “you”, “me”, and “us”. You have accepted most of your partner’s flaws, and though you may never learn to like the way he slurps his coffee, you love him anyway. Loving someone even though you don’t like everything about them is called “differentiation” and is a sign that you are very close to true intimacy. If you make it to this stage, there is a good chance you will not be part of the divorce statistic.

Intimacy

Bradshaw defines true intimacy as the ability to share who you truly are with your partner and vice versa. This is critical. You cannot achieve true intimacy unless both partners drop their masks and share exactly who they are with eachother. To establish true intimacy, you have to have created safety in the relationship during the Disillusionment & Conflict stage. This means making the relationship free of judgement and ridicule. Establishing your boundaries while showing love and compassion and without making your partner feel as though they are walking on egg shells or that they are inadequate.

It can take fifteen to twenty years to develop intimacy, but longevity alone doesn’t guarantee that you have achieved it. It takes work and unless you truly know who you are and have healed any wounds from your childhood, you will not be able to share your life with another person in a healthy way.

What stage is your relationship in?

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