There is No Such Thing as Constructive Criticism, All Criticism is Destructive

Being married to a therapist can be difficult. I am sure my wife would agree with that statement. Often times, I find myself getting wrapped up in what “I” think is best for our two girls and their development. Because of this, I don’t hesitate at practicing some constructive criticism and making it known to my wife what I feel is best for her and our girls. After all, I am the expert, right? Shouldn’t my wife just hang on to my every word regarding how best to parent our children? WRONG!

One of the most difficult things to face as a therapist is that often people look to you as the expert, expecting you to have it all together in your own relationship. Well, I don’t!!  Just saying this makes the little therapist inside of me yell in my ear, reminding me that I am not supposed to admit that.

At times, I find myself guiding couples through important principles that they need to adopt in their relationship and then immediately recognizing how I lack those principles in my own. I just had the pleasure of reliving this experience. I know for myself that knowing something and doing it are two different things. In spite of this, luckily, I have the tools necessary to fix the problem.

This time, what I reminded myself to watch out for is the common practice of using constructive criticism in relationships. I notice how this comes up quite a bit with couples. Some common examples of this type of criticism in relationships is when one partner expresses to other partner what he or she should do to fix their dilemma. This occurs frequently with parenting. With my own experience, my wife will often come to me and talk about her frustrating day with the girls. She will often express the difficulties that she had faced because one or both of our daughters were not listening to her prompts. My first initial reaction to this is to “fix” the problem. Isn’t that why my wife is coming to me in the first place? So I can tell her what to do? WRONG AGAIN!!

The last thing she needs is for me to tell her what I feel is best for her and the girls. My intentions might be good. After all, I feel sad that she is having a rough time. I might also feel responsible for her current emotional state. I believe it is natural for a man to feel powerful in wanting to protect and provide for his family, not only on a temporal level but a spiritual and emotional level as well. However, I have learned the hard way that using my constructive criticism to tell her how to fix her problems has ended in her feeling I don’t care and understand what she is going through, and it has left her questioning her abilities as a mother. For this, I feel responsible for. The fact, that my actions has lead her into feeling doubt about her abilities as a mother pains my heart and brings me to sadness.

What I have learned and often try to help other couples to understand is that a husband and wife are EQUAL PARTNERS. It is not my right to remind my wife of her faults and shortcomings!! This is not my role as a husband. However, I am justified to offer a suggestion on how to better her situation, but she is equally justified to reject such a request to give her advice. Plus, that’s not what she really needs from me. What she is looking for in that moment of crisis is for her husband to understand her fears and worries as a parent. She needs validation and a reminder that she is doing the best she can with what she has. She needs to be reminded of her abilities as a mother and that there are innate qualities that she has, in spite of her weaknesses, that makes her more capable of nurturing our children than I am. Ultimately, she needs me to lift her up and support her through her crisis. This is the only thing she needs from me at the time. She doesn’t need a husband telling her what she should and shouldn’t do!

One of the most rewarding experiences I have had as I have strived to be the support and rock that she has needed through validation and empowerment on my part is the joy I have received knowing that I have practiced my role as a husband, and as a result, she feels loved and cared for by me. To me, being emotionally available for my wife is one of the highest levels of masculinity that I have found.

 

 

Five Damaging Myths We Believe About Our Relationship

Five Damaging Myths We Believe About Our Relationship

I enjoyed this article about common myths in a relationship. I have many clients who come and see me describing some of these fears. Read it and tell me what you think!

How Stress Can Actually Help Us Live Longer

http://www.upworthy.com/a-whole-new-way-to-think-about-stress-that-changes-everything-weve-been-taught-2

This is a great video on how important stress can be and what messages it gives to our body. What we do with the stress is essential and how reaching out and connecting with others is what our body really needs in the end.

The Secret Ingredient to a Happy Relationship

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

You could probably “google” the title of this blog and get hundreds of different responses. Despite this, I would like to share what I think is the secret ingredient most couples and family members lack when they experience relational distress. I believe it is human intuition that when our character or role in a relationship is threatened we immediately want to put up a defense to protect it. One of the reasons we do this is to avoid feeling shame about ourselves or the role we play in our relationship distress. Most of us naturally want to feel important as well as feel we are making a positive difference with the people around us. The way we react to disapproval or criticism is similar to how our bodies react to a cold virus. When our bodies recognize that something foreign has invaded it and is threatening the system, it gives off antibodies to fight and defend itself. Unfortunately, in relationships, these natural efforts to defend ourselves from others’ disapproval usually causes more harm than good. Often times, we feel the “need” to help our loved ones hear our side of the story because if they don’t (we say to ourselves) they will think the worst of us. Then as soon as we express what “really” happened, we expect our loved ones to succumb to the “truth” of it and admit that their views of the incident are in error. Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, our episodes most often don’t unfold in this manner. What often happens is two people feeling unheard and misunderstood and leave feeling more frustrated than ever. However there is a key piece of knowledge here that many people have a hard time contemplating. It is that TRUTH IS POINTLESS IN RELATIONSHIPS! Trying to convince each other to hear the “real” story often ends up in a conversational debate about who is right and who is wrong. Now don’t get me wrong. I think there are certain things in the relationship that need to be regarded as “wrong” and “right.” However, for the most part, healthy relationships are often founded on a mutual understanding of each other’s unique perspectives. This leads me to the SECRET INGREDIENT……..VALIDATION. Validation is the ability to step inside our partners world and to see the world as they see it. When we have done this we given them permission to feel whatever they are feeling and acknowledge their difficulty and pain in the events that have occurred. When couples and families are able to validate one another’s story and feelings, positive interactions can start to succeed the negative ones and lead us on the road to relationship satisfaction. I think that often times we fear that if we validate and understand our partner’s feelings that we are afraid that our own feelings won’t be heard or understand. However, that is often not the case. When we are able to listen to our partners on an emotional and authentic level and our partners are able to express themselves on a vulnerable and authentic level, our partners are much more likely to step inside our world and listen to our reality.

The Importance of Authenticity in Relationships: A Personal Story

In the process of change and growth in relationships, authenticity is a vital, yet difficult, attribute to develop. In his book, Becoming a Whole Man, David Matheson states, “To be authentic means to live out of the core of who we truly are, undistorted by our shadows, wounds, or symptoms. It means being the real thing—being genuine or pure. It’s something more than blunt honesty. Rudeness is sometimes honest. Rage can be honest, so can hatred, lust, and selfishness. But authenticity represents the highest and most mature level of ego consciousness of which we’re capable. [It] springs from the guiding self that exists at our center.”

I wanted to share a personal example in my own life to show how authenticity can change relationships for both the good and bad but ultimately lead us to healthy and happier lives. This experience occurred quite recently.

During my first year of college, I moved in with my best friend (let’s call him Joe) and his brother. The three of us started to get pretty close over the coming months and their relationships had become important to me. After several months, some friends from their hometown started to move into the complex and what began as a small group of guys hanging out became quite a large one. At one point our apartment complex needed us to switch apartments. So, on moving day, I headed down to the office and asked what apartment I was moving into with my friends. They told me Joe had told them that I was moving into a different apartment with some people I had never met prior to this.

When I had confronted Joe, he told me that he wanted to move in with his hometown buddies and he didn’t have the heart to tell me. I was devastated. This overwhelming feeling of rejection overtook my body. I decided from that day to lock my heart up and keep my distance from my friend emotionally. I told myself that it was too difficult for me to be emotionally influenced by him any longer. Over the years I started to distance myself from him more and more, and he eventually moved away so we rarely spoke after that.

In spite of my efforts to distance myself, Joe has been pretty persistent these past several years in keeping our friendship alive and has always done well to call me and ask me about my life. Joe had apologized for his actions previously in our apartment turmoil, but up until a few weeks ago, I had been avoiding his calls. At first I wasn’t consciously aware why I had been avoiding his calls because I had thought I had done my own therapeutic work already around that fateful day. However, I had recognized some fear I was experiencing every time I thought of calling him and knew there was some unresolved work around this.

So, I decided to be vulnerable and authentic with him about my fears. When I spoke to him, I apologized for avoiding his calls and told him that it was a result of my hurt around that fateful moving day. I told him that in spite of his apology, my body obviously wasn’t over the issue and that I was currently working on it. I told him that I felt it was my issue and asked for his patience. He was able to respond warmly and told me, “If I had been a better friend, you wouldn’t be feeling this way. I want you to know that I love you and think of you as one of my best friends.” I told him that if it weren’t for his willingness to see how I was doing on a regular basis, I would have made excuses not to call. I told him that I loved him too and that he was important to me. His words to me were exactly what I needed to hear, and I felt my fear dissipate. We have talked quite often since, and I felt that our conversation was just what I needed to resolve my fear. Joe was able to validate my hurt feelings, and I felt a connection with him on a higher level than I have ever felt with him previously.

I hope my story will help each of you get the courage to take the risk and become vulnerable and authentic with the people you care about. It will bless your life. I believe that authenticity in relationships can help increase your own feelings of worthiness as human beings and help you on the path to becoming whole.

Many individuals have spent a large portion of their lives trying to be the types of people they believe others want them to be. They do this to gain acceptance and love from those around them, but in this process they forget their true selves. It is as if they’ve locked up their unique true selves in a prison inside their unconscious mind, in order to protect it from danger and avoid acknowledging it any longer. If we’re able to open the prison door and listen to the part of us we have kept locked up, we will come to find that the true authentic versions of ourselves are actually the versions that people desperately want to see and come to know.

The road to authenticity can be a difficult journey, and it may include letting ourselves become vulnerable, sometimes even to those individuals who are capable of hurting us. This journey may require us to explore the pains of our past. However, if we let our true selves be seen by others, and take the risks required to connect to those people who are willing to see us for who we really are, the ultimate goal of becoming whole and finding lasting happiness will be much closer than we have imagined possible. So, let’s find relationships that encourage us to become genuine and authentic. These are the relationships that are so vital to our success in living up to our whole potential as human beings and obtain the happiness we so desperately desire in a world filled with constant turmoil and chaos.

This video clip from the movie “The Adjustment Bureau” addresses the concept of authenticity in a really unique way. Check it out.

http://www.wingclips.com/movie-clips/the-adjustment-bureau/authentic-speech

Love is a Verb

I found this post I really liked. It serves well at explaining what love really means in a relationship. Here is one of the quotes that I thought was intriguing.

No, love isn’t an emotion or even a noun.  It’s a verb.  Better defined as giving.  As putting someone else’s needs above your own.

Why wasn’t I getting reciprocal lovey-doveyness when we were first married?  Because it wasn’t for her.  It was for me.  An emotion I had in my chest.

What do you think about his definition of love? Does it resonate with you? 

You can read his post here:

 

The Value of Controlled Emotional Expression

photoRaising my two daughters has taught me a lot about parenting (considering the fact that my degree at BYU was in child development). My oldest (Rylie) can be a handful sometimes, especially since she is like me in most ways. Sometimes, she wakes up at night and will just cry for about 20 minutes then fall back asleep. Knowing that it is most likely Night Terrors that are the cause of this, I try to calm her down so she can go back to sleep. However, our youngest (Raelyn) sleeps in the same room as her and will sometimes wake up as a result of the crying. When this happens, it can be frustrating because now I have two crying children that I am trying to get back to sleep. I am sure many of you know what this is like. Recently, Rylie woke up crying again and in an effort to not wake Raelyn up, I appeared very anxious toward Rylie and encouraged her to calm down. This of course made things worse. After this, I kept on repeating, “Shhh” to Rylie in an attempt to stop the crying so she wouldn’t wake up the baby. After doing this several times, I had realized exactly what I was doing wrong. First, I was indirectly telling Rylie that Raelyn’s sleep was more important than her Night Terrors or how she was feeling. Secondly, I portrayed the message that sharing her feelings was not allowed in the family and that she needed to repress how she was feeling in order to prevent causing a stir with the rest of the family. Whether she interpreted the situation like that or not I do not know. I had realized that in spite of my good intentions I was teaching my daughter that expressing her emotions was not important to me. Of course, one situation like this is not going to cause an emotional disaster with Rylie in the future, However, I believe that an accumulation of the indirect message “Your feelings are not important right now” can very well teach my children to repress and not deal with what their bodies are feeling.

I see the affects of this with many of the people I see in therapy. Because of the messages that they might have received in the past, they have taught themselves that allowing one to experience core emotions such as sadness, fear, shame, or anger is not safe to do. Unfortunately, when we repress such emotions we begin to carry them with us in a suit case where ever we go in our lives. If you think you are effectively dealing with the issue in this case (pun not intended) I assure you it is not so. I have noticed that many of my clients are afraid of expressing an emotion such as anger, especially if it is towards a deceased family member. They feel that it is not their right to be angry at such a person especially since the family member is not here to defend themselves. However, They are already angry with the deceased member whether they accept this or not, and that by not facing the anger they are already holding towards the family member will most likely continue to tarry with them where ever they go and affect their relationships in the present and future. However, if we can learn to ACCEPT our emotions and the fact that they are part of us as human beings and begin to process through the anger (or other emotions) effectively , we do not have to let it control our lives or influence our relationships any longer. However, this processing can be difficult and dangerous to do and manage especially if you are not being guided by a trained therapist.

As for parenting, A book that really helps parents to teach their children the importance of processing through emotions is called, “Raising an Emotional Intelligent Child” by John Gottman. I recommend it to any parent who is interested in helping their children understand the importance of processing their emotions effectively.

Of course for my own parenting, despite all my mistakes (and future mistakes), as long as I continue to apply my own principles of parenting as best as I can (crossing my fingers) and most importantly as long as they know that I love them MORE THAN I LOVE MYSELF I would consider my parenting a success.

Great Expectations

Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

I once had a friend who told me that when he was first married, he had the flu one weekend. He started to get very angry at his wife because she didn’t have a glass of grape juice sitting on his bedside when he became sick. I thought to myself, “That’s ridiculous!” He went onto say that growing up his mother would give him a glass of grape juice every time he was sick. He was so used to getting one over the years that he expected his wife to do the same thing.

We all of have expectations in our relationships. Some are important for the relationship to continue (e.g. fidelity) and some are ones that we might need to reevaluate or just remember that we own them and shouldn’t push them onto our partners. I would say that the hard part is trying to decide which ones are worth fighting for and which ones we need to own for ourselves.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in relationships is the fight each partner has between what is right and wrong in their eyes. Each partner spends so much time trying to convince the other that they need to see things their way that all they end up doing is convince the other to hold onto their current way of thinking who in return becomes resentful towards them for trying to force their beliefs onto them.  One example of this is when my wife and I were first married. In our drawer in the kitchen, we had bar towels and towels you would use to dry your hands. According to my beliefs and how I was raised, you NEVER mix up the two! I had a firm belief that you never use the bar towels to wipe your hands and you never use the hand towels to wipe the counter. However, my wife didn’t see this issue as of great importance and was wondering why I was running around throwing a hissy fit. So, she would continue to mix up the two quite often. Sometimes I would go and wipe my hands on a hand towel not knowing that it had been used previously to wipe the counters off. I became frustrated with her quite often and attempted to convince her that my way was the right way of doing things and she needed to stop mixing the towels up. I began to realize that she just wasn’t raised my way. I realized that I needed to stop putting my expectations onto her and stop demanding that she live up to them. I had to make a choice. I would either continue to nag her about the towels to the point she would do what I said. I would get what I wanted but with a heavy price of resentment and a build up of emotional walls from her in return. On the other hand, If I chose to own my expectations and understand where she was coming from, I could begin to see how using the right towels wasn’t worth the pains of the relationship distress. I could ACCEPT it…… Of course, I chose the latter. We haven’t fought about it since. Choosing to ACCEPT this has lead me to look back on it now and think how silly it was for me to put so much effort into using the right towels. Now, instead of getting on her case, I grab another towel to wipe my hands and move on to the rest of my day leaving that behind me. This experience has taught me the importance of owning my expectations in my relationship as well as learning to ACCEPT many things I don’t have control over.

Addictions and Their Substitutes for Love

Author: Kyle M. Reid, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist

One of the best books I ever read wasn’t actually a novel. It was a book about drug addicts. It is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate. Well, I learned from this book that most of the things that a drug addict struggles with and the reasons for their addiction plague most relationships. Addictions are actually much more common than you might think. There are many forms of addiction that plague relationships: such as TV, Internet browsing, pornography, social media websites (i.e. Facebook), computer games, video games, cleaning, shopping, music, eating disorders, and electronic gadgets. The problem behind the addiction isn’t the addiction itself but the addiction cycle and the needs our bodies are trying to get met. Even if you take the steps necessary to stop one addiction (e.g. pornography), another one pops up in its place (e.g. TV). This is because you are not actually solving the problem underneath the addiction, which is: using poor substitutes for love. People who struggle with addiction do not necessarily have problems with being loved or feeling loved, but the problem lies in “accepting love vulnerably and openly on a visceral, emotional level” (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). People who cannot find or receive love need to find external influences or substitutes to get their needs met (Mate, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts). One of the biggest differences between people who struggle with addiction and people who are less influenced by them is their ability to handle and deal with emotions. Children who have parents who are always attentive to their needs, who have the ability to regulate their own emotions, and can properly soothe their children, learn to manage their emotions effectively because they were taught by their parents. However, those who have poor attachments with their parents and were left to themselves to soothe their emotional distress relied on external sources to comfort themselves. It is unfortunate that we are entering into a society where there is more and more emotional deprivation and reliance on electronic technology to find comfort rather than having quality contact at home with our loved ones.

What do I do then?

If you are struggling in a relationship where addiction has taken its toll on the relationship distress, I encourage you to see a therapist. Addictions can be difficult to overcome and unless you can deal with the underlying problems associated with the addiction, you are most likely to develop other forms of addicted behaviors. However, knowing what is at the root of addiction can help the addict and the partner of the addict in knowing what needs to be done.

If you are interested in finding out more information on the book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, please visit the resources tab at the top of the page.