"Now, say you're sorry and hug it out."
Apologies are often overlooked as a vital part of relating. If we do apologize, we often do as we were taught as children; a quick "Sorry" and shrug. Then, we're good, right?
These kind of apologies do not provide the relational depth and empathy required to not only repair what was damaged, but to heal and enhance our trust and understanding of one another. Yes, a good apology can actually build trust!
As I write this, I am painfully aware of my difficulty apologizing. Perhaps it is because I simply do not practice this art form enough and therefore it can seem pretty clumsy. Even more, I understand that a good apology requires me to completely humble myself, and choose to vulnerably put myself in the shoes of the person I hurt. This, in turn, hurts me! And then acknowledging out loud that I have done wrong hurts my ego!
Brene Brown says in her animated short on empathy, that in order to be empathetic, you must connect with something within yourself that knows that same feeling you are trying to understand. Empathy, she says, fuels connection. This is because everyone wants to be known and understood. A truly intimate relationship (friendship, marriage, sibling, parent, partner) is built on the foundation of fully knowing and accepting another while also being fully known and accepted by that same person.
Therefore, when we harm another person, either intentionally or not, we are left with the opportunity to connect with them more deeply by coming to them and apologizing sincerely and empathically.
"Apology - an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret"
So, what makes a good apology?
A great, empathic apology will start with a concession of responsibility or fault. I will acknowledge that this is almost always challenging because most, if not all, situations involve more than one guilty party. Therefore, it can be difficult to determine your part in the problem. But try you must! Take responsibility for harsh words spoken or actions taken, showing your desire to understand by recounting all offenses you have committed. (When key details are overlooked, the offended party may not feel entirely understood.)
Then demonstrate that you have taken the time to consider how your actions have impacted them by using emotion-words. This is hard for many people since most of us don't have a large vocabulary of feelings. The more specific you can be, the more comforted the offended will feel. They will feel most understood and cared for if you are able to connect exactly how the event left them feeling about themselves, you, or the relationship.
Next is the "sorry" part. Here's where you communicate your regret for your actions, letting the person know that you do not wish to repeat said offense. This is a big part of rebuilding trust because it offers a stated desire to learn from the experience and grow from it, rather than committing repeated offenses in the future. This needs to communicate that you are not just sorry for getting caught and feeling guilty, but rather, you are grieved by that person's experience.
Finally, request forgiveness. That's right, an apology does not end at "sorry". A deep, empathic apology that is created in vulnerability also requires the most humble posture: a request to be absolved from the offense. Forgiveness is a monster of a topic in and of its own. I suggest referring back to my post, Clarifying Forgiveness, for more information. For the sake of this post, however, if you are requesting forgiveness, you must understand that the choice to grant it belongs to the offended party ONLY. This is not something that you can beg or plead for and definitely not something to require or guilt someone into. Allow that person time to take in what you have said and determine if and when they are ready to forgive.
Simple, right?! This is not an easy process. Conflicts are normally swept under the rug or put away perhaps mainly because it is takes so much courage to be vulnerable and humble. In contrast to avoiding reconciliation which leads to disconnection and resentment, a good apology will create and grow a deeper, more intimate, and satisfying relationship. I challenge you to give it a try.
The last blog post addressed some sexual myths that mainly concerned women, although everyone should be aware of these cultural prejudices. This week will focus on some of the cultural messages that target men. Though men are generally believed to have a louder voice, sexually, the loudest voice is not within the couple. Society has validated many harmful beliefs that ultimately harm men and injure the relationship.
Perhaps the most pervasive and far from true belief is regarding a man's sexual understanding.
"Men are the experts...or sexperts."
Culture has put unrealistic expectations on men. This may seem obvious, but really consider everything you've seen in popular media. Boys, starting at a young age, will brag about their sexual knowledge, making dirty jokes and throwing out sexual vocabulary in the locker room, usually without actually knowing what they're talking about. Social pressures inform young men that they must know it all.
Additionally, it has become permissible for women to measure the sexual competency of a man by his ability to bring her to climax, without any kind of verbal coaching. Have you noticed anyone talking to one another in the sex scenes of movies? She may also be a more passive participant in the sexual encounter, giving him the physical responsibility to “make it happen.” The pressure here can be overwhelming and may contribute to certain performance-anxiety-induced-sexual-dysfunction.
Gentlemen, you have the privilege and the challenge to LEARN about what makes your lady tick. She will change, depending on the time of the month, her mood, the stresses she is currently undergoing, and her age and stage. This will be a continual learning process that she should readily and willingly engage in. By experimenting and listening to her coaching, the two of you will enjoy a deep satisfying sexual experience.
As for frequency, much like women, it will vary as much as there are men. Assuming a man will want sex at least daily will plant seeds of concern when he in reality doesn’t.
Even though sexual intimacy is a huge part of life, we each reap messages of what it is and should be from various sources. Hollywood, family, religion, and personal experiences have shaped our limited perspective of sex, and, unfortunately, we all too often hesitate to talk about the realities with others. There are too many false messages to tackle at once, but we'll start with two profound and contradictory messages (and yes, this one is for the ladies):
"Sex is your wifely duty. You won't care for it so just grin and bear it."
"A healthy woman's response to sex is/should be similar to that of a man."
The pressure is on, women! Geesh! Some well meaning mothers and grandmothers offer tips to the younger generation on how to "tame the one-eyed snake" and may warn a young bride of her wifely duties. Loaded with a traditional gender role mentality, the message is loud and clear: "Sex is for men. In order to keep him, you'll need to keep him satisfied."
Like most things, our beliefs and our attitudes directly shape our experiences. Women who grew up hearing these overt or subvert messages enter a sexual relationship already resenting her responsibility, thus removing the opportunity to find enjoyment. Women who have heard these messages yet still experience sexual drive often feel that something is wrong with them. Either way, this message directly and negatively impacts the sexual enjoyment of many women.
It's also NOT TRUE. I spoke at an intimacy conference a couple years ago. The audience was largely a conservative, religious group. It broke my heart when after my presentation, two women approached me to tell me they had no idea that sex is for them too! These women had been married for several years and viewed sex as solely their marital responsibility. Imagine the lack of passion that must have existed in those relationships!
Sex is absolutely for you too! The reality that women can orgasm is proof enough. In fact, women are given a sexual organ, the clitoris, that has one purpose - PLEASURE. Where as the male orgasm serves an additional purpose of reproduction, the female orgasm serves no reproductive purpose, yet we are designed to receive pleasure from sex. So yes, sex is for you too. It is not your wifely duty, it is your relational privilege, and your sex life will absolutely improve if you believe that.
But what about the other side of the coin, the very contradictory message that a healthy woman's sex drive should be equal to a man's? Also FALSE...the majority of the time. Studies show that 80% of women in heterosexual relationships have less drive/desire than their spouses. Healthy is a relative term and therefore cannot be applied to everyone.
A woman should not be pressured to feel like she must be someone she isn't. If she assumes that she must be highly sexual or sensual and it does not come naturally, she may feel broken and frustrated. (Hear me, I do believe we should stretch ourselves to deeper levels of sexual enjoyment, but not when the effort leaves you feeling, disingenuious, defeated and frustrated.) If you have a high sex drive and you feel like a highly sexual person, great! If your sex drive does not match that of your spouse, that's fine too! Ultimately the couple needs to determine what works for them, as a unit, always following the criteria of mutual edification. Free yourself from the pressure of stated or unstated expectations that simply are not your reality. We are all unique.
Next week, we'll take a look at some sexual myths that apply to men.
It is way too common for me to be counseling an individual from a couple and to hear them put up with inappropriate behaviors from their partner saying that they don't want to come across as "demanding", "nagging", or "pushy". Usually, but not always, this is coming from a woman. It seems that society has taught us that women need to be "cool" with whatever her man is doing and if she isn't she is controlling. So, to become attractive to the opposite sex, she pretends to be incredibly casual and comfortable with his behavior. The problem evolves, however, into her feeling devalued and without a voice to express herself.
So, here are some basic rights in a relationship. My intention for posting these is that both parts of the couple can be empowered to ask for these or hold off until they find someone who demonstrates these qualities. It is OK, ladies, to state your expectations (directly and pleasantly) and let your partner know that you need to see these behaviors in order to feel that you are valued, respected, and loved. That is, after all, the most ideal way you experience a relationship.
There are an abundance of examples of each of these basic rights. I would encourage that you assess your relationship and speak openly and honestly about how the two of you may improve. Don't forget, your partner has the same rights. So whatever you are willing to ask for, be sure you are demonstrating the same respect and love. Be bold. Be loving.
List of relational rights taken from the following sources:
Evans, Patricia. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and how to Respond. Bob Adams, Inc. Publishers. Holbrook, MA, 1992.
Tracy, Celestia G. Mending the Soul. Mending the Soul Ministries, Inc. Phoenix, AZ. 2012
“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
- Alexander Pope
This phrase holds a lot of truth to me. There are some offenses we endure that are more easily forgivable, but others require something bigger than ourselves to let go of. This is when forgiveness become a daily process or decision and we often have to rely on a strength bigger than our own to do it.
As provided by Dictionary.com
Imagine that your longtime friend asks to borrow $10,000 from you. For whatever reason, you agree to loan him the money, which he promises to repay. One year later, he has not been able to repay the any of the debt and continues to be in financial hardship. After consideration you decide to forgive him the debt, never requiring repayment going forward.
This is a very straight forward example of forgiveness: canceling a debt and therefore removing some or all of the consequences from the borrower. Forgiveness does not stop there, however. The money is still gone. And now, the consequence and responsibility to regain that money or deal with its loss falls on the lender.
This is why forgiveness can be costly and challenging. Not only in doing so do we remove our right to get even, but we also agree to deal with the consequence without holding it over the head of the one who wronged us. At times the offense is small and not as noticeable. At other times, though, the forgiver has much more at stake.
This is why those considering to offer forgiveness should NOT rush into doing so. First, they need to take inventory of all that was lost or harmed. You cannot forgive without knowing what it is you’re forgiving and what it will cost you. This step can be a lengthy process. For example, when one is considering forgiving their abuser, it takes time and a lot of reflection to know exactly how they have been harmed and what has been taken from them. Often the offense hurts us deeper than its face value. Do not feel bad about taking time on this step, but be cautious of stalling here and becoming bitter or resentful.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
- Nelson Mandela
Once you have taken thorough inventory, you can decide to forgive, remembering that you may need to make that decision more than once as feelings of injustice creep up. But forgiveness is NOT reconciliation or resolved trust. In the case of your friend borrowing $10,000, you may decide that it would not be wise to lend them money again. This decision, done out of self protection rather than resentment and passiveeagressiveness, is often very prudent. A survivor of abuse may be able to let go of their right to exact revenge, but it is unlikely that they will or should have a reconciled relationship with the abuser. Boundaries after wrongdoing is a necessary step in the forgiveness process.
Interested in reconciliation? Reconciliation requires repentance.
"Repentance, which literally means to turn, is the activity of reviewing one's actions and feeling contrition or regret for past wrongs."
This step is the one that requires action from the offender. It is a process of building trust again. The problem is we find it difficult to determine true repentance. Those who have done wrong often offer apologies and show remorse for their actions (or more often, remorse for getting caught), but after not too much time repeat their offense. So how can we be sure that the offender has truly changed? Well, there are never guarantees, but here are some things to look for:
“Just as forgiveness isn’t cheap, repentance isn’t cheap. Repentance isn’t just being sorry we got caught. Repentance is learning from our mistakes. Repentance is walking a mile in the shoes of the one we’ve wounded. Repentance demands that we lie for a time in the bed we have made. In real repentance, we feel the pain we have caused others and ourselves.”
-Laurie Hall, An Affair of the Mind
Forgiveness is a complex concept and truly courageous endeavor. We should never be asked or pressured to rush this process, but be careful to not wallow in a place of resentment. Prayerfully move through the steps outlined above and practice caution when considering reconciliation. At some point, however, a choice to trust and let go will ultimately come from you.
Boundaries are so hard to implement let alone determine. Everyone struggles to know what healthy boundaries are in their relationships, at work, physical health, finances, and, oddly enough, time. It seems that more and more people are losing the art of relaxation and taking time for themselves. Though our personal devices, like the iPhone, provides some level of diversion, whether that's games or Facebook, they often keep us tethered, accessible and, therefore, busy. Even more, often we are not actually "present" where we are and may miss out on the here and now.
Someone shared with me recently that he felt guilty when taking vacations or even days off. Raised with the value of hard work, it seemed selfish and lazy to enjoy down time. But the simple truth is people who rest and allow themselves time to recharge burn out less frequently and work with more energy and contentment. The bodies of those who take for granted down time will ultimately force time off. This burnout may look like a level of stress that is unbearable, or physical illness. Be kind to your body and mind and allow it the time to rejuvenate before getting there.
So here is a good rule of thumb for down time:
1 hour a day
1 day a week
1 week every 15 weeks (or so)
I'd suggest that in this time of R+R that you "unplug". Those who remain glued to their screens seem to miss out on the entire time. All of a sudden their vacation is over before they were able to enjoy it. Though down time is meant for relaxation, you will get more out of it if you are able to remain present. Implementing and protecting time off can be a challenge, but it is definitely worth it.
A couple sits in my office, at opposite ends of the couch, describing their sex life as “disappointing” and “frustrating”. After inquiring further, I learn that sexual pain has prevented intercourse and they now choose to avoid sexual interaction all together. That, along with comparisons to previous sexual partners, has left both feeling either broken, undesired, disappointed, and hurt. They both want to connect with one another sexually, but fear entices them to avoid those encounters, as if to avoid further rejection or discouragement.
The interaction between this couple, though heartbreaking, represents a common belief system about sex and intimacy; that is, the definition of [heterosexual] sex is vaginal penetration which leads to orgasm. This extremely limited definition will lead many couples to disappointment about their sex life and their own sexual capabilities. In fact, this narrow expectation of sex may actually drive people away from intimacy.
One of the biggest issues with this narrow perspective is it limits our sexual experiences and minimizes any other sexual expression. A couple that is not able to have vaginal penetration, due to medical complications, sexual dysfunctions, etc, are left to believe that what they have left to express their love physically is missing the mark or not as intimate as intercourse, when in fact, the array of other sexual activities may prove to be more physically enjoyable and intimate than intercourse.
More importantly, however, this belief emphasizes that the apex of the sexual experience is the orgasm rather than the intimate connection. If sex is all about achieving orgasm, then it becomes a performance with a physical end-goal in mind. When that is not achieved, for whatever reason, a couple will experience disappointment and withdrawal. Whereas, if the intent of becoming sexual with a spouse is to express love in a physical form, then whatever is done within that interaction, which edifies both people, will achieve its end. With or without the orgasm, with or without the vaginal penetration, the couple has the opportunity to make love and connect with each other in a very deep, profound, and intimate way.
A healthy sex life for a couple is deeply profound and has the power to draw them closer together or put a rift between them. Sex and intimacy can be challenging during certain seasons of our lives. Therefore, I urge couples to be proactive about that aspect of their lives. Nurture your sex lives with time, energy, love, and compassion. And if it is hurting or unhealthy, seek some help to get you back on track. It will be worth it.
Conflict in relationships is often met with suspicion that maybe the relationship is doomed, mismatched, or that something is wrong. The conflict may grow into an argument where one or both parties are set on proving their point of view at nearly any cost.
Unfortunately, both of these perspectives are short sited and pessimistic. Conflict is the most predictable part of relationships. Think about it! How often do we get frustrated with ourselves? Now add another person to the dynamic and you have at least twice as much frustration!
But instead of seeing conflict as a chance to prove yourself right, or as a sign of relationship demise, I encourage you to see this as an opportunity for intimacy. Intimacy, as defined here, is being known and knowing another. Particularly in the case of a committed relationship, conflict provides the window to understanding your partner better than you did before.
This is done by setting aside your need to be right for a moment. Just long enough to hear and understand your partner. If each party wants to be heard and known, then obviously the other party must be willing to hear and know. Your greatest goal in conflict is to listen first. What is bugging your partner so much? How did you play a role in that? Can you validate their perspective or their feelings at all? Don't worry. You'll have a turn too. But if our goal is to understand one another, we grow deeper together. And ultimately, we hurt each other less.
Don't go looking for conflict, but when it comes, welcome it. This is a beautiful opportunity to get to know one another better.
When Sex Hurts, by Andrew Goldstein, MD, Caroline Pukall, PhD, and Irwin Goldstein, MD, is a fantastic resource to women who are experiencing sexual pelvic pain. Perhaps most admiring about this work is how affirming the authors are about this extremely personal topic. Where many women who are experiencing challenging pelvic pain are met with criticism and disbelief, Drs. Goldstein, Pukall, and Goldstein offer unending understanding and validation. They quite consisely describe the various types of sexual pain disorders and offer encouragement for correlating treatment.
Anyone who has experienced unrelenting sexual pain knows frustration and hopelessness. This book will offer hope in the midst of confusion and empower readers to seek the treatment they require. Though it is written with a largely medical perspective and lacks a sufficient overview of psychological aspects of sexual pain disorders, I highly recommend this book to anyone navigating these extremely difficult waters.
A question was posed recently to explain self care techniques: What are they and why are they important? The topic of self-care is enormous, but definitely worth introducing at the very least. The best practitioners, medical or otherwise, are those who consider the person holistically and not merely physical, mental, or spiritual individually. Our psyche will absolutely affect our body, just as much as our spirituality affects our mind, and vice versa.
A healthy person looks for ways to tend to all aspects of their person: physical, mental, relational/emotional, and spiritual. The key is BALANCE, which is ultimately the biggest challenge. One who is unbalanced will find themselves out of sorts and potentially battling anxiety or depression. Each person will need to determine the perfect mix of self-care. Be careful not to become obsessed with health, but enjoy taking time to tend to yourself.
Taking Care of Your Body:
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity plus muscle-strengthening activity that utilizes muscles of all major body parts at least on 2 days a week. Physical activity will help you sleep better, improve body image, decrease anxiety and depression, sharpens the mind, and helps you live longer. Exercising outdoors gives you exposure to Vitamin D, an important element in regulating moods.
Additionally, healthy foods are fantastic mood boosters and eating right can help a person's self-confidence and self-esteem. "Comfort foods" end up making us feel bloated and gross, so be sure to enjoy food rich in nutrients. Strawberries, avocados, spinach and bell peppers are some examples of excellent options that will keep you healthy and happy.
Taking Care of Your Mind:
Challenging your mental faculties by reading, playing a crossword or sudoku, going to museums, and learning something new (like a language) is also an essential part to health and self-care. Those who partake in mentally stimulating activities are less likely to experience mental decline. In addition to caring for your brain, reading and learning is also excellent for self-worth and emotional development. It can also be a great escape or stress reducer.
Taking Care of Your Relationships and Emotions:
Relationships are so important to healthy living. Those who are extroverted may need extra social time to feel energized. Introverts, though energized by alone time, also need to prioritize relationships. It is in relationships that we are encouraged, loved, and often find healing. Experiencing authentic intimacy with friends and family often lifts us out of low places and encourages and strengthens us to continue persevering. Use caution in the people you spend time with. Those who are healthy and encouraging will be most beneficial to you. You will also need to put effort into cultivating vibrant relationships that are gratifying and satisfying.
Taking Care of Your Spirit:
Spirituality and faith provide a foundation for people, especially those who were raised with chaos and were previously lacking adequate stability. Consistent prayer builds a stronger faith in a higher being which provides hope for those in trials. Meditation and disciplined scripture readings increase clarity of mind, and provide emotional encouragement. Furthermore, those involved in specific religions often are plugged into a consistent social network, thus providing the relational support that people need.
Portland based Counselor sharing latest book reviews and emotional health tips.