It’s Finally Released!

booksolo (002)

With Valentine’s Day approaching, here is the perfect gift for yourself or your loved one:

Love Demystified: Strategies for a Successful Love Life.

This guide uses cutting-edge psychological research to tell you how to find a new love, fix a current relationship, love again after a loss.  It gives you the tips and techniques you need to get through many difficult times in loving.

Available through the publisher (BookLocker.com/9605) or at all online and neighborhood booksellers.

Anger Triggers and Resolutions

anger cartoon

In relationships, some lovers are quicker to feel anger than others. Yes, not having your expectations fulfilled or not getting your needs met can cause frustration. But some lovers seem to have shorter fuses when these situations occur. And some lovers allow anger to propel them into using strategies that hurt the loved one and the relationship.

Common Anger Triggers

Judgments and sensitivity to rejection are two of the main triggers of anger. Instead of simply seeing the situation as it is, you put your own spin on it. For example, your partner is scrolling through the messages on their phone while you are talking to them. You judge their actions as showing they do not really care about what you have to say. You might even go a step further in your mind to think, “My partner never really listens to me because they don’t think anything I have to say is worthwhile.” Now you have fueled your anger with that interpretation.

Or you may interpret your partner’s request to take out the trash as a demand that you do immediately, which causes you to feel controlled and angry. Your judgments can then lead to an angry outburst or even a turning inward with troublesome ruminations.

Sometimes it is the judgments you make about yourself that are behind your anger. For example, you might judge yourself as inadequate or defective. Then you base your self-esteem on your perception of the way others feel about you. Notice it is your perception of the other person’s words or actions, not what they actually said or did. If your feelings of being inadequate are aroused because you see the other person as being critical, your anger can get triggered. Of course, you might actually be in a relationship where your partner often complains about you. If you are also self-critical, this combination can lead not only to anger but also to depression.1

Sensitivity to Rejection                                                                                               

Some people are extremely sensitive to rejection. They have an anxious expectation of rejection. Even when there is little possibility of it, they still readily perceive social threats. This sensitivity motivates them to react with anger, hostility, or withdrawal.2 It is the mere anticipation of potential hurt that triggers their reactions. They are so vulnerable and insecure, they don’t even have to be actually hurt to feel wounded; the threat is enough.

Research has demonstrated that the brains of these people are different from the brains of people who are not so sensitive to rejection and do not act so defensively.5.33 People low in rejection sensitivity have a more active prefrontal cortex, which allows them to be less emotionally reactive and more self-regulating.3 Yet the good news for people high in rejection sensitivity is that emotional self-regulation can be taught, and a supportive romantic relationship itself can mitigate this sensitivity.

One concern about the defensive reactions used in the face of rejection sensitivity is that these reactions can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the reaction itself causes the feared rejection. One member of a couple in a conflict situation can seek support but not receive it, or be on guard for any cues that might indicate rejection. If that person begins to defensively start losing their temper, insulting their partner, or swearing, it can incite the partner to do the same. Then the negative interaction causes the conflict to become unresolved.

Strategies to Defuse Anger

Why do we say such hurtful things to our loved ones? Often it is because we are too fused with them. When we are fused, what our partner says or does often feels like it has something to do with us. And then we react accordingly. We lash out or raise defensive walls. Or even worse, we blame ourselves.

Your partner leaves the dirty dishes in the sink all day and night—again. You think, “If they really cared about my feelings, they would put the dishes in the dishwasher.” Or “I am probably expecting too much.”

With these thoughts, you end up saying, “Must take too much of your energy to put the dishes in the dishwasher. How lazy can you get?”

You know you’re not going to change your partner’s behavior with this criticism, but it slips out anyway.

Your partner’s behavior annoyed you, but it is the judgment you put on that behavior that caused you to lash out. More than likely your partner did not leave the dishes in the sink to purposely annoy you or as a lapse in caring for your feelings.

If you see your partner’s behavior as independent of your connection with them, you won’t be pressured to say something hurtful. Instead, you will find a way to let them know that you noticed without the negative reaction. You might even joke. “Maybe we could make the kitchen sink into a dishwasher.” Indeed, those partners who each have a sense of their own autonomy will be less defensive during a conflict and will be more satisfied with their relationship.4

The time between a trigger and your angry reaction is generally only two to three seconds. So try to cut the link between the trigger and your anger by taking a slow, deep breath the moment you notice a trigger. This will help you to cool off the hothead feeling, not bite the bait, and take a moment to think about a way to express your needs in a helpful way.

After the deep breath, you can respond rather than react, and then you will remain in control. You can respond with an “I” statement that lets your partner know what you need at that moment. For example, if your partner forgets to pick up the dry cleaning that has your work uniform in it, you could take a deep breath and then say, “I really needed my uniform for work tomorrow.” You are putting the issue on the table instead of blaming your partner. Then the two of you can work on finding a resolution to the issue.

Even if you are the recipient of your partner’s anger, you can still have some control over the angry reaction. When you see your partner starting to tense up, you can remind them to breathe. Or you can model the necessary action by taking a slow, deep breath yourself. Initiating the first step in calming the hot responses down will give both of you a chance to approach the situation in a more helpful manner. Instead of a fight, flight, or freeze reaction, you have used a calming strategy.

  1. Whiffen, V. E. and J. A. Aube. 1999. “Personality, interpersonal context and depression in couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 12 (3): 369–383.
  2. Romero‐Canyas, R., G. Downey, K. Berenson, O. Ayduk, and N. J. Kang. 2010. “Rejection sensitivity and the rejection–hostility link in romantic relationships.” Journal of Personality, 78 (1): 119–148. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2009.00611.
  3. Kross, E., T. Egner, K. Ochsner, J. Hirsch, and G. Downey. 2007. “Neural dynamics of rejection sensitivity.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 19 (6): 945–956.
  4. Knee, C. R., C. Lonsbary, A. Canevello, and H. Patrick. 2005. “Self-determination and conflict in romantic relationships.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89 (6): 997.

What Would Happen If You Assumed You Are Loveable?

teddy bear

We all start out being dependent on someone for love, needing to get love to survive.  Then, in the process of growing up, new needs emerge—-the foremost of which is to feel lovable, independent of other people’s judgments.

We feel a need to rediscover our separate self, our likeable, huggable, lovable self.  But how does someone who has only received conditional love begin to feel lovable?  It seems impossible for someone who never got unconditional love to be able to give unconditional love, to one’s self or to others.

From birth, we are all needing love and giving love1.  We are not just empty shells waiting to be filled.  There is love within us from the moment we enter the world.  We do need love from others, but not to fill us.  Rather, we need a special kind of love to uncover the love within that was always there.2

Love Yourself Unconditionally

You can’t fully love another person until you fully love yourself.3 So how do you do this?  You have to stop judging yourself.  And stop seeking other’s approval of you.  Instead of judging parts of yourself as good or bad, you can see yourself as just a unique human with weaknesses and strengths. You are loveable because you are this unique person, this whole and real person.  What is it that you, specifically, don’t accept about yourself?  Try this short assessment by filling in the rest of each sentence.

  • I regret …
  • I failed to…
  • I shouldn’t have…
  • I wish I were….
  • I need….
  • People would say I am….
  • I am…
  • I am proud of…
  • If only….

Do some of your responses indicate you regard yourself as only conditionally acceptable?  Are you starting to realize how harshly you judge yourself and how much you rely on the approval of others?  Can you change your negatively biased self-referencing beliefs to more helpful ones?

For example, can you tell yourself you did the best you could do at the time and forgive your mistakes?  Instead of dwelling on the past, can you pull your mind back into the present? When you let your mind go back into the past you see yourself as you were in the past and discount who you are now, in the present.

Can you accept that you do have some weaknesses but those are what make you a unique person so you don’t have to hide nor become defensive about them?  Each of us is a unique individual, with our own set of strengths and weaknesses.  That does not make us better than nor less than another person—just different—and we are usually loved for that difference.

Can you accept yourself just as you are now, unconditionally, free of any qualifications, and show that vulnerable self to your loved one?  Being vulnerable means willing to be open to yourself and to your partner.  If you look back at your responses to the above questions you might see what you are defending against when you respond to your partner.  You may assume that you should not let your partner see those weaknesses because then you wouldn’t be loved.  Yet, to have a lasting love, you must trust that your partner’s love for you will not be affected negatively when you reveal your vulnerabilities.4 The irony is that, if you tell your partner about your weaknesses directly, you will find that your partner will usually feel much closer to you.

Can you see yourself as having a lot of love inside to give your partner because you no longer judge yourself so harshly?  Then you have developed compassion towards yourself that spills out as compassion towards your partner (and, quite possibility, towards everyone).

See Yourself as Separate from Your Partner

Can you see yourself as separate from your partner with your own strengths and weaknesses?  This view of yourself is crucial because you may not always have your partner to supply what you don’t supply for yourself. So many of us separate or are forcefully separated from our partner before we have had a chance to develop a separate sense of self. Then the struggle is all the harder, but we can still find the love that helps us grow. This love is within ourselves.

When you see yourself as a lovable and loving person separate from your partner, you have the basis for developing a relationship that is no longer based on dependency nor isolated independency. You are more interested in giving love than in getting love.  Each of you give love and receive love but you are not desperately needing to get love from each other. You now have a relationship based on interdependency—two people who see themselves as existing separately and together.

  1. Cozolino, L. (2014). The neuroscience of human relationships: Attachment and the developing social brain (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). WW Norton & Company. pp. 97-98.
  2. Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-Centered therapy. Houghton Mifflin. pp. 137-142.
  3. Fromm, E. (1956. The art of loving. New York, NY: Harper Colophon.
  4. Kernberg, O. F. (1984). Object relations theory and clinical psychoanalysis. New York: Jason Aronson. pp. 185-240.

 

What to Look for in a Potential Partner

communication

When people are asked what aspects they value in a potential partner they tend to list physical qualities, socially desirable characteristics, and unrealistic expectations.  Furthermore, as we learned in the previous blog posting, we tend to make judgments about the other person’s trustworthiness, competence, and likability within the first tenth of a second, during the first glimpse of that person.1

We know that, for short-term relationships, physical qualities are valued but for long-term relationships, honesty, warmth and intelligence are valued.2 Other qualities typically valued are sensitivity, consideration, generosity, respect, responsiveness, and responsibility.  Yet none of us demonstrate these qualities all of the time.  We sometimes show the polar opposite, such as insensitivity, inconsiderateness, selfishness, rudeness, apathy, and irresponsibility.

Therefore, we should not expect these valued qualities to be fully formed and demonstrated all the time.  In fact, partners in growth-promoting relationships develop these qualities to a deeper degree as their relationship and they, themselves, mature.3 Yes, do look for these qualities but don’t expect them to always be present.

There are three qualities, however, that are especially important to look for in oneself as well as in a prospective long-term partner. They are so important that they actually predict the ability to form a lasting and growth-promoting relationship.4

These three qualities (some may even call them skills) are empathy, acceptance, and intimacy.  Empathy is the capacity to accurately understand others’ experiences and motivations, to appreciate others’ perspectives even if one disagrees with them, and to be aware of the effect of one’s own actions on others.  Acceptance is an unconditional love, a love without requiring oneself or the other to be a certain way or meet one’s expectations. Intimacy is the ability to engage in caring, close and reciprocal relationships; to strive for cooperation and mutual benefit; and to flexibly respond to the range of others’ ideas, emotions, and behaviors.5

Does your potential partner listen so carefully to you that he/she can acknowledge the essence of what you said?  Does your potential partner make you feel loved just for who you are or does he/she often criticize you for not meeting his/her expectations?  Does your potential partner spontaneously disclose what he/she is thinking and feeling at a given moment and respond to your thoughts and feelings in a way that helps you feel close to that person?

1. Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17(7), 592-598.

2.  Regan, P. C. (1998). What if you can’t get what you want? Willingness to compromise ideal mate selection standards as a function of sex, mate value, and relationship context. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(12), 1294-1303.

3. Beck, A. T. (1988). Love is never enough: How couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts, and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. New York: HarperCollins.

4. Rogers, C. R. and Sevens, B. (1980). Person to person: The problem of being human: A new trend in psychology. New York: Pocket Books.

Block‐Lerner, J., Adair, C., Plumb, J. C., Rhatigan, D. L., & Orsillo, S. M. (2007). The case for mindfulness‐based approaches in the cultivation of empathy: Does nonjudgmental, present‐moment awareness increase capacity for perspective‐taking and empathic concern?. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 501-516.

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A two-factor model for predicting when a couple will divorce: Exploratory analyses using 14‐Year longitudinal data. Family Process, 41(1), 83-96.

5. Reis, H. T. (1990). The role of intimacy in interpersonal relations. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 9(1), 15. doi: 10.1521/jscp.1990.9.1.15;

 

Red Flags: What to Watch Out for When You Are Dating

question

Swipe right—swipe left.  When it comes to the first few minutes of sizing up a potential partner, both men and women rely mainly on physical attractiveness.3.46 In addition, people overgeneralize from appearance, assuming that those who are attractive on the outside are also nicer on the inside, a phenomenon that has been termed the “what-is-beautiful-is-good-stereotype”.3.47 During the first 100 milliseconds of seeing a person’s face, not only is attractiveness judged, but also being judged is likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness.3.48

So, after you have met someone, how can you be sure this is the right one?  Are there some personality characteristics that you may not see initially but are ones that can stop a relationship from becoming a loving one?

You can assess these red flags by noticing how you feel when you are with the other person.  Do you feel controlled, inadequate, or criticized when you are with that person?

Some of the red flags to watch out for come from the scientific literature documenting impairments in thoughts and feelings regarding one’s self and one’s interpersonal relationships.3.90 We all might show some of these characteristics some of the time but it is the persistence and insistence of them that create problems in relationships.

Does he or she…

  • Want others to do things his/her way
  • Get bitterly upset when others disappoint him/her
  • Insist on being in charge
  • Get easily jealous or suspicious
  • Blame others when things go wrong
  • Get angry about even little things or perceived slights
  • Bully or flatter people into doing what he/she wants
  • Blow hot and cold
  • Get highly threatened by differences of opinion
  • Have difficulty acknowledging the other person’s point of view
  • Show a lack of awareness of the impact of his/her actions on others

If any of these characteristics are often present in a prospective partner, RUN!  You will not be able to change this person for the better because these personality characteristics have been shown to be stable throughout a long-term relationship.3.91 A person with these characteristics may begin, though, to recognize the difficulties they are causing and start to work on modifying them.  However, do you want to stick around long enough to possibly see these modifications?

But how do you find out about these characteristics during initial encounters, especially when the other person is trying to make a good impression and, perhaps hide them?  You could ask your partner how he or she would react in a given situation.  Ask, “If someone interrupted you while you trying to tell them something important, what would you feel and what would you do?”  Or “Tell me about a time when you were disappointed because someone did not think and act like the way you expected them to do.”  Another way to probe a little deeper is to ask about why previous relationships did not work out.  If your partner only mentions what was wrong with the other person, you may need to persist by asking what part they think they might have played in the relationship not working out.  Someone who has no insight into the way they may have triggered their partner is prone to create the same relationship that they created in the past.

So, what are the things you should look for in a potential partner? The next blog will address that issue.

3.46 Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What Leads to Romantic Attraction: Similarity, Reciprocity, Security, or Beauty? Evidence from a Speed‐Dating Study. Journal of Personality, 77(4),933-964.

3.47 Feingold, A. (1992). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological Bulletin,111(2),304. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.111.2.304

3.48 Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science,17(7),592-598.

3.90 American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-5). Washington, D.D.: American Psychiatric Press.

Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory. Psychological Assessment, 4(1).

Jacobsberg, L., Perry, S., & Frances, A. (1995). Diagnostic agreement between the SCID-II screening questionnaire and the Personality Disorder Examination. Journal of Personality Assessment,65(3),428-433.

3.91 Costa, P. T., & McCrae, R. R. (1988). Personality in adulthood: a six-year longitudinal study of self-reports and spouse ratings on the NEO Personality Inventory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,54(5),853.

 

How Romantic Are You?

2015-03-13 14.21.12

When two people are romantically in love they agree with many of the statements below. And even some of us who are not presently romantically attached would still like to feel this way. We all have at least a little bit of romance in our hearts.

To find out how romantic you are, check those statements you agree with.

Romanticism Scale *

Indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following statements by circling the “A” if you agree or the “D” if you disagree.

When you are really in love, you just aren’t interested in anyone else.  A D

Somewhere there is an ideal mate for most people. The problem is in just finding that one. A D

Jealousy is a measure of how much you love a person. A D

Love will overcome all differences between two people. A D

When you are separated from your love partner, you are miserable.

To be truly in love is to be in an eternal state of bliss. A D

You would do anything to make your loved one happy. A D

You can always tell when two people are in love; it sticks out all over.

Love just happens; you can’t cheat it. A D

Love and hate are opposites; where one exists, the other cannot exist. A D

A person who really loves you would never do anything to hurt you.  A D

No one can love more than one person at a time. A D

Who Are the Real Romantics?

If your partner also responds to the Romanticism Scale in the previous section, and you compare your responses, you may be surprised. Men and women are both caught up with romance, but research in the 1970s showed that it is men who are the real romantics. Men tend to agree with more of the statements about romantic love in the Romanticism Scale;4.15 they fall in love more quickly; and they hold on to a waning affair more so than do women.4.16

* Rubin, Z. (1970). Measurement of romantic love. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 16, 265-273.

4.15 Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving: An invitation to social psychology. N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, p. 206.

4.16 Kanin, E.J., Davidson, K.D., and Sheck, S.R. (1970). A research note on male-female differentials in the experience of heterosexual love. The Journal of Sex Research, 6, 64-72.

 

What Makes Love Last?

Bev and Dick 2017 (3)

As my husband and I are celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary I started to wonder what has caused not just our relationship but our love to last.

 The number one ingredient has been acceptance, which comes from not criticizing each other and valuing each other’s uniqueness. 

The second ingredient is being able to empathize and telling each other that we do understand the other’s perspective.

The third ingredient is letting each other know, every day in many different ways, how much we appreciate each other.

Of course, it probably helped that we also have some qualities in common, a curious intellect and an adventurous spirit.  And we learned the importance of acceptance, empathy, and appreciation early in our relationship.

“Well”, you may ask, “are those ingredients unique to my relationship or is there some scientific evidence that supports their importance in any loving relationship?”  The first two ingredients were demonstrated in the research of Carl Rogers.1   Appreciation, or gratitude, also has been shown to help love last.2

 

  1. Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person Boston. MA: Houghton Mifflin, pp. 342-344.
  2. Algoe, S. B., Haidt, J., & Gable, S. L. (2008). Beyond reciprocity: Gratitude and relationships in everyday life. Emotion, 8, 425–429.

When the Unpleasant Feelings Emerge

love and hate

In a truly intimate relationship, the rejections, irritations, and disappointments are as much a part of loving as are the securities, pleasures, and dreams.  No marriage is made in heaven and no relationship is built on only the heavenly feelings.  But no one ever forewarns us about the trials and tribulations.     Instead we believe that if it’s really love it will be sunny days forever, with no dark clouds to muddy up the horizon.  After all, we were always told that love is never having to say you’re sorry.

So, with our trusty aphorisms tucked deep within our hearts, we rush off to find the perfect love or, at least, a lover who will never hurt us.  And we begin spending a lot of time and energy just trying to avoid any unpleasantness in our newly-found relationship.

What never bothered our partner before, nor bothered us about our partner can become exasperating.  We notice he isn’t paying attention when we are talking (has he ever?).  Or she has left the door open to welcome the flies again (such a generous spirit).  Each morning he leaves her lists of things to do (does he think he is her boss?).  She tells him he is headed for diabetes if he doesn’t lose some of that weight (as if she has any control over this).  These little quirks and sins against the relationship gradually slip out, with the cumulative effect being disillusionment, resentment, and hurt.  What was comingled starts becoming unmingled.

Often, when this inevitable unpleasantness creeps into the relationship, we don’t know how to deal with it.  We leave our lover (either emotionally or physically), hoping to find a new love, one which will finally measure up to our ideal. Anyone who has ever been left by a lover knows that love hurts but, by then, it’s too late.

But, it doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship, nor does it have to be a relationship of shared misery. You could use your unpleasant feelings to begin a conversation with your partner.  This conversation can help each of you understand the other’s point of view, and even draw you closer together.  Or you could realize that you can get past the irritation into a more accepting attitude towards your partner and yourself.  Yes, sometimes your partner is selfish and sometimes you can be selfish.  So, it is important to let your partner know how his or her behavior affects you.  But it is up to your partner to change this behavior, not up to you to constantly complain about it. So why not just accept your flawed partner instead of trying to change him or her?

What the World Needs Now

world and heart

Love is what the world needs now.  But can we love someone who thinks differently, acts differently, and looks different?  There is a way to do this and it is called “empathy”. 

To have empathy for another person means setting aside our evaluations of that person.  Then we actively listen to the other person’s thoughts and feelings and acknowledge we heard them.1  That doesn’t mean we agree with the other person, just that we understand where that person is coming from and tell that person that we do.

When we are viewing another person with empathy, we have momentarily let go of our defenses.  And when we acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and feelings it disarms him/her.  Defenses are not needed by either party, so better communication and cooperation can emerge.

A loving empathy has been used even to defuse conflict between groups of people.2 The surprising fact is that both parties do not have to show empathy initially.  It only takes one person or group to start the process of empathic communication.  And then empathy begets empathy.3

Through empathy, then, we have the power to connect with others at a level that is deeper than attitudes.  We connect through acknowledging our common human needs and fears. 

The empathic approach to relationships is backed by evidence that it works—it works to neutralize power differences and tensions.4 Empathy is a viable alternative to our present way of seizing and using power.  It is a quiet revolution.5

References

  1. Rogers, C. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting Psychology 21, 95-103.
  2. Rogers, C., and Sanford, R. (1987). Reflections on our South African experience. Counseling and Values (Special issue on Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach to peace) 32, 17-20.
  3. Feshbach, N.D. & Feshbach, S. (1982). Empathy training and the regulation of aggression: Potentialities and limitations. Academic Psychology Bulletin, 4, 399-413.
  1. Rogers, C. R., and Sanford, R. (1987). Inside the world of the Soviet professional. Journal of Humanistic Psychology 27, 277-304.
  2. Rogers, C. (1977). On personal power: Inner strength and its revolutionary impact. New York: Delacorte Press.