Who Are You, Really?

The poet Maya Angelou is known for so many beautifully worded ideas … after all, she’s a poet! One of my favorites of hers is,

“When people show you who they are, believe them.”

Note, she didn’t write, “When people tell you who they are …” she deliberately used the word “show.”

This is her version of the old saying “Actions speak louder than words.” So, what does this mean for relationships? Well, pretty much everything.

If your partner says your needs matter but doesn’t try to meet them, that’s showing you who they are.

If you say you’re not possessive or jealous, yet question every phone call, text, unexplained silence, or sideways glance at another person, that’s showing them who you are. If you say “I’m fine” when you’re clearly not, that’s showing who you are.

Recently, I had a long, reality-checking session with a couple I’ve been seeing for about six months now. They came in crisis, as so many do, and are now in a more stable place.

For the past 3 months, they’ve not made any real progress, and the man called me on it in my office.

“We’re stalled and stuck,” he said, in an accusatory voice.

I agreed they were. He looked challengingly at me and said, “So, what are you going to do about that?” I calmly asked him the exact same question.

They’d both said they wanted a more connected, loving, healthier marriage.

They agreed they needed to spend more time together and make that time more meaningful. They committed to half an hour every day to check in, catch up, touch base…whatever words you want to use to describe a couple connecting. And, they didn’t do it. At all.

Not once, in three months, had they spent 30 minutes together more than two consecutive days. I quoted Maya to them, and said they were really showing each other how much their marriage meant to them, no matter what they said. That silenced them both.

Trust is key to all healthy relationships, and one important way to build and maintain trust is to show up authentically. Say what you mean, mean what you say, and back it up with congruent actions. Congruence is SO important. Your words and actions need to match, and they need to do it consistently. When they do, you’re showing who you are: someone who can be trusted, relied upon, and believed.

No Pain, No Gain? Well…sometimes

We’ve all heard that phrase, often applied to working out or dieting. When it comes to emotions or relationships, though, we often do everything we can to avoid any pain at all, and sometimes, pain can be good.

First, let’s define pain. When it comes to us humans in relationships, I’m going to define pain as any of these: loneliness, sadness, anger, fear, betrayal, mistrust, boredom, dissatisfaction, confusion, frustration…there are many more, but you get the idea.

These feelings and others like them are uncomfortable, to be sure. No one likes to be lonely or bored. We avoid being sad or confused any time we can. In fact, we often avoid or deflect difficult emotions, but that’s not always a good idea. These feelings usually have a purpose, and it’s a good idea to understand what it is.

Pain’s purpose often is to show us that something’s wrong and needs to change. Emotional or relational pain is there to point out areas of growth or development in our lives, places where we need to change in order to be happier or healthier.

If we’re lonely, we can volunteer, join a chorus or a running group, call a friend or sibling, chat up a stranger in the coffee shop line…there are lots of ways to bring people into our lives, both short and long-term. Loneliness is a sign that we need to add or strengthen relationships. If we pay attention, our lives will become richer and more fulfilling; if we ignore it or distract ourselves from feeling lonely, we miss the opportunity to enrich our lives with the energy of others.

If we’re bored, we can pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill. We can use what we already know in new ways, maybe to help others or to earn a little extra income. We can travel, we can dive deeper into something that interests us. Boredom can show us where we’re stuck and can give us the motivation we need to branch out, grow, and do something different.

In short, when we’re in pain of some sort, we have a few choices. We can wallow in it, playing the victim and allowing it to keep us from fully living life. We can ignore it, distract ourselves or numb it out, hoping it will just go away. Or we can embrace it for what it often is: a sign pointing us to places in our lives where we can grow and improve, making ourselves and our relationships stronger and better.

3… 2… 1… Impact!

In close relationships, impact is important. In fact, the closer we are to someone, the more impact we have on each other. Let’s look at some of the ways this plays out, in both positive and negative scenarios.

Let’s say you left for work in a hurry, and the kitchen was a mess. As you were driving home that evening, you knew exactly what waited for you: a sink filled with dirty dishes, crumbs on the counters, and a sticky spot of dried OJ on the floor. You were tired, hungry, and not in the mood to clean it all up, but you couldn’t even start dinner until you had.

You walk in the door, eyes on your feet, and as you look up…you see a sparkling clean kitchen! Shiny counters, OJ-free floor, and instead of a pile of dirty dishes, you see a pile of chopped veggies waiting to be stir-fried for dinner!

How are you feeling right now? Take a moment and think of words that describe how you’re feeling: relieved, happy, grateful, lighter, loved, cared for, important, special? Tell your SO that. Don’t just say “thank you for cleaning up the kitchen and starting dinner.” Say something like, “I feel so grateful and relieved that you took care of that mess, and so special and loved that you’ve started dinner. Now I can relax and enjoy the night. Thank you!”

Different message. Totally.

Now, let’s take the same set-up and play it out differently. When you walk in the door, instead of a clean kitchen and dinner prepped, you find not only what you left, but worse. Now there are more dishes on the counters, food left out on the stove, and a smear of something unidentifiable on the counter. Worse, your SO is sitting in a comfy chair, sipping a cold drink, watching TV.

How are you feeling right now? Take a moment and think of words to describe it: angry, unimportant, exhausted, enraged, taken for granted, resentful, confused, unloved?

Here’s where impact statements can make a big difference. Instead of yelling, attacking, accusing or being snidely passive-aggressive, SAY how you’re feeling. Say, “I feel so sad and resentful that you didn’t take the time to clean up the kitchen. I’m confused about why you chose to watch TV, leaving the mess for me to deal with. I feel taken for granted, like you think it’s only my job to manage the house.”

You’re not attacking or accusing, you’re saying what’s true for you; you’re naming the way you feel in the face of this choice your SO made. Rather than blaming, you’re giving your mate the chance to take responsibility for their behavior and owning your own feelings.

Different message. Totally.

Try it this week and see how it goes. Remember, don’t focus on what they do, focus on how what they do impacts you.

The Sexiest Words a Man Can Say

“I’ve Got This”. The sexiest words a man can say. Or are they?

It’s hard to be a man dating or in a relationship with a woman these days. I know, I know, “poor them”, right? But, hear me out. Women reading this, give my ideas a chance. Men, see if any of this resonates with you.

Sometimes it seems we women want it all from our men. We want strong protective men, who we can rely on to do all the things we COULD do ourselves, but would rather not. We often want them to take a leadership role, but not always. And we expect them to know which is which, without us telling them.

We want them to be sensitive to our feelings and listen to us, but not problem-solve for us, because that’s condescending. Right? We expect them to know what we mean by “I’m fine”, based on our tone of voice, like our girlfriends would. We like it when they do things like walk on the street-side of the sidewalk, hold doors, and handle small conflicts, but not when they do it “as if” we can’t take care of ourselves. It’s almost like the way they do these things matter more than the things they do, and what’s OK with us changes based on our mood and the context, and that’s what’s so confusing to guys.

They tell me they don’t know how to act, because they’re so often very willing to do what their woman wants them to, but still feel they get demerits for not “knowing” what it is. There’s a line from the movie The Break-Up, with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, in which she says “I want you to want to do the dishes,” and he replies, “Who would want to do the dishes?”

And we women often operate with the idea that if we have to ask for it, it somehow counts less. So we drop hints, use tone of voice to indicate something isn’t really OK with us when we’re saying it is, use silence to indicate we’re unhappy but don’t say what we’re unhappy about…and then say “men are such idiots” when they don’t get it.

The thing is, men are just wired differently. They almost never talk about a problem unless they want an idea or solution. They pretty much always ask for exactly what they want. They realize that there are tasks that need to be done, and will do them to show their love. They want to be their woman’s soft place to land, and don’t understand why that’s such a problem for so many of us. “Soft place to land” can mean they’re empathetic and supportive, but they don’t try to fix things. They trust us to handle our own business, and want to watch us shine, and also want to be the safety net should we need one.

Men are more likely to show their love by actions than talk about it in words, but they like words coming back at them when we’re happy with what they’ve done. They grew up playing sports, being coached and cheered on, and that sticks with them into adulthood. Try doing that with your man, tell him what you want and appreciate when he gets it right, and see if that doesn’t change things for the better.

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