Archive for July, 2006

July 23, 2006

“Space” revisited – all humans need space (unoccupied by another) to grow

by Rod Smith

The issue of “space” between lovers generates a lot of mail. It is usually the person who hears “I need my space” who writes and they are usually hurt, confused, and taken by surprise.

Space is necessary separateness between people. Those who are “madly” in love sometimes think space is unnecessary, believing their love to be uniquely strong. This kind of love is immature, rendering the participants unable to see, to think, and to hear how essential is separateness to the development of authentic love.

Humans need space for growth. Too much of someone may, at first, feel like love, but it most certainly will feel oppressive with time. If “space” (matters of proximity, closeness, fusion, time apart, enmeshment, over-investment, room to breathe) is not discussed, and appropriately established, early in a relationship, its lack will most certainly be a source of discomfort as the relationship develops.

What are the early signs someone will be asking for space? When new couples neglect valued friends, go against long-held values, behave as if they are inseparable (each is unable to think without consulting the other), become physically intimate too soon. These behaviors suggest one person will be asking for “space” once some time has passed.

July 21, 2006

Unsafe relationships: how to tell you are in danger

by Rod Smith

Are you married to a man who could harm or kill you, or harm or kill someone you love? Are you dating a man who could murder you one day (or at least harm you physically)?

Dangerous relationships are apparently easier to endure than to address, so it is not surprising that the murder of a wife, an ex-wife or lover usually takes everyone by surprise. Secrecy, cover-up and denial are the hallmarks of toxic binds.

Some women could use a set of criteria to evaluate whether they are involved with a man capable of committing a violent crime against them. Accurate or not, the list could help a woman escape a potentially abusive relationship, or at least eradicate the virus before it destroys her.

Men capable of killing a “loved” one often leave a trail of early indicators, like rose petals around an open grave, before they commit a horrible crime. Ignoring them is understandable. It can also be very costly.

Perhaps someone’s life will be saved because this list, incomplete as it is, will assist someone toward getting appropriate help:

1. He tells you how to dress and insists you obey his wishes in this regard. If you resist he becomes irrationally hurt or angry. You are beyond choosing what you wear because your way of dressing has become his domain.

2. He checks up on you for “your own good.” He wants to know where you are, what you are doing and whom you are with. Time unaccounted becomes an accusation. You find yourself explaining or hiding everything, to avoid the laborious conflicts that inevitably ensue.

3. Any move toward independence (“normal” separateness on your part is rewritten as betrayal).

4. He tells you when you are happy, and rewrites what you feel if you are unhappy. He tries to keep you from your family, suggesting they are not good for you. “They are not good for. You think they are but I can see the way they upset you,” might be something he might say.

5. He tells you when you are hungry and what you like to eat. He says he knows you better than you know yourself.

6. He is jealous of your friendships, even those that predate him and those that are already over. He especially gets riled when you are close to your family and if you talk with enjoyment about things that occurred before you knew him.

7. Keeping peace is second nature to you. Ironically, the peace seldom lasts because he jumps on the smallest issues, magnifying them into major breaches of trust.

8. His highs are very high and his lows very low. It seems as if your response to him is inordinately powerful in changing or determining his mood. There are times when you cannot tell who is controlling who.

9. He pouts easily. He manipulates truth so you are taken by surprise. He plays “hurt puppy” if you’re not happy, thereby making your emotions his business. He expects you to always be glad to see him and to drop whatever you are doing to focus on him.

10. He demands his own way and has an inordinate perception of his own importance. He shows off his “power” by threatening to “talk to the manager,” when he is not given the service he thinks he deserves. He becomes irrationally angry at the smallest of inconveniences. He accuses you of “taking sides” if you suggest he is being unreasonable.

11. He lives on the edge of “white hot” anger, becoming very angry with children, animals and anyone or anything that doesn’t obey him. He hides this anger from people outside the “inner circle” and his mood quickly changes if an “outsider” appears so that his anger is kept secret.

12. He removes your car keys or your purse to restrict your movements and then denies doing so. If you catch him in the act he will say he is kidding or he will become angry enough to throw you off the subject.

13. In the early days of the relationship you felt like you were on a fast ride on an unpredictable roller coaster. Everything was too much, too soon, but you did not know how to say it. Any comment about wanting to “slow down” on your part was ignored. You felt invisible, as if you were just along for his ride.

For such men, winning is everything — losing control is not an option, even for those whom they proclaim to love the most. Please note: the presence of some of these indications and not necessarily all of them, are still indications of an unhealthy and potentially dangerous relationship.

(When this article first appeared in print I got the most amazing volume of response. Some of the tales were VERY sad and almost all revealed great bravery of women who, at the end of their respective ropes, decided to do something about their situations. Included in the responses was, on the one hand, a man who threatened me with violence, and, on the other hand, a woman anonymousely sent me roses. Whoever she is — thanks, they were beautiful. To the angry man all I can say is if you can threaten a newspaper therapist you do not even know, I wonder what you are doing to the people you do know).

Copyright, 2004 ROD SMITH, MSMFT

July 20, 2006

Reader takes me to task (letter “lost”, found, edited, and finally posted)

by Rod Smith

I would also like to express my regret about your answer to the lady who is attracted to a married man (25th of May: see Category: “AFFAIRS”). In your answer you point aspects that are important (eg. even if the man is lonely, his emotional well-being is absolutely none of her business), but you also put an accusation on top of her suffering. If she is a “relationship piranha” she must have been the victim of that kind of relationship (very probably during her childhood). An explanation of why she feels attracted to a married man would maybe encourage the lady to seek help to change.

Also you end your message to her with irony. Being tough is okay as long as you seek the growth of the person you address. However, I don’t see how the irony can be edifying. Unless the explanation of such reaction of yours is that the matter the lady consulted you about is a zone of fragility in your life, which you have the right to have. As you say, “Being an authentic adult is hard work and a never completed task”.

July 20, 2006

Small steps to furthering emotional wellness

by Rod Smith

Forgive expansively. Commit specific and intentional acts of kindness. Despite the cliché, there is nothing at all “random” about acts of true, authentic kindness.

Write about your life in small, honest, vignettes. Make a list of the people who have most inspired you, then send them handwritten notes of thanks. If possible, go back to the neighborhood where you grew up and visit old memories, even if they are painful, and, even if everything has changed.

Find and thank the schoolteachers, sports coaches and youth leaders who inspired you.

Get as close, over time, to at least three healthy people (around your own age and of your own gender) as they will allow. Over extended time, and without being too overbearing or pushy, try to tell them everything. In return, listen.

Also, get close to at least three people who are of the opposite sex. Healthy men and women can and do enjoy opposit-sex-relationships that are not in any manner physical or romantic. Such relationships, especially if you are married, ought not be avoided. These relationships may not necessarily include your spouse, but neither will your spouse be intentionally excluded.

July 20, 2006

Reader asks: Why don’t men communicate once they get married?

by Rod Smith

Forgive me for the absurd but the long-lost uncle who lives alone in a tree house on the edge of the Amazon, and who never writes to, phones or contacts the family, and who never sends the children birthday cards – is communicating a great deal. One thing he is saying is that he wants little or nothing to do with his family!

Although extreme, the illustration demonstrates an important point: people are constantly communicating. The problem often lies in whether the recipient is willing to hear (read, perceive, appreciate) the essence of the messages.

The married man who might never tell his wife how he feels, what he thinks, or what he wants is communicating a lot. Silence SAYS a lot.

This said, most men and women are likely to become more fulfilled when they learn to define themselves more clearly, and remove as much the guesswork for others as possible, and state more exactly what they want from life, others and the future. While this is very difficult for some people – it is achievable by functioning adults.

So before attacking any man for his failure to communicate, be sure you have understood that which he is already saying. His silence is probably full of meaning.

July 20, 2006

Planning a wedding?

by Rod Smith

1. Have a wedding that you can afford without going into debt. Debt kills joy.
2. Regard your wedding preparations as a metaphor for how you will probably conduct life. The groom who sits back and lets a bride do all the planning and preparation is likely to sit back and expect her to do many of the important tasks the couple will face.
3. Remember getting married will not solve any but the most cosmetic of issues you face as a person and as a couple. A legal contract signed and witnessed between you will only serve to amplify any issues you already face and awaken a whole lot more. People who are unhappy single are likely to be more unhappy when married.
4. Pay the minister, priest or rabbi more than you pay a DJ or the barman. A lot of insight can be gained about a couple who expect to pay huge amounts for their wedding (expensive dress, excessive floral displays, rental of exotic cars, a flashy reception and an exotic honey-moon) who sneer with surprise, even disdain, when the pastor, rabbi or priest sets a healthy fee for his or her services.

July 15, 2006

Finding new life and love after death or divorce

by Rod Smith

Completing grief, after death or divorce, can take years, and then lead to the reawakening of new love and refreshed hope. A dirge can become a wedding song.

I’ve witnessed great love and wonderful joy at second, third weddings,and seen families embrace new members in ways they never thought possible. I’ve seen men and women, having been pulled through the ringer of a cruel divorce, or the trauma of prolonged illness and then death of a beloved spouse, learn to laugh, trust, dance, and really love again.

Life often offers multiple chances at love, and the best candidates, for second marriages, may well be those who were happily married but who lost a spouse to illness, and those who have emerged from divorce without lingering bitterness.

Yes, life is full of hope for those with the eyes to find it, and the courage to embrace it. May those who embark on new love, having emerged from the ashes of death or divorce, find joy and fulfillment in very large, overflowing doses.

July 12, 2006

He wants sex to see if we are “sexually compatible” before we can go on…

by Rod Smith

Reader’s Question: My boyfriend says we have to have sex to see if we are sexually compatible before he will continue seeing me. What do you think?

Rod’s Answer: What an old and ridiculous line. Move on! Your boyfriend is what I call a “pp” or “penis propelled.” If you really want to assess sexual compatibility it can be done without removing a single item of clothing!

First, compare credit reports and financial statements to see how each of you handles money. How you respect, use and save money, will exert more power over your long-term sexual compatibility than any immediate sexual encounter will indicate. It’s very hard to be passionate, faithful lovers when you are fighting over maxed-out credit cards.

Second: Compare your attitudes toward and your relationships with your immediate family. You can tell everything worth knowing about a person by how they respect and appreciate their parents and siblings. People who show little respect for their immediate family, or little desire to care for them, are unlikely to be a successful long-term husbands or wives, no matter how good or passionate they might be in a bedroom.

Third: Assess attitudes toward hard work. A shared, healthy attitude and high regard for hard, honest work, will give both of you useful insight into your long-term compatibility much more effectively than will the immediate experimentation with each other’s bodies.

July 10, 2006

Wise workplace behavior…

by Rod Smith

Remember why you are employed. Make your specific tasks your total focus. Don’t expect others to pick up after you or to complete your work.

Don’t ever steal anything at all – not time, not telephone calls, telephone usage, mileage, paper, or the use of the copy machine. Dishonesty is most unsettling. “Everybody does it” is enough reason to avoid whatever “it” is.

Never date your boss, colleagues or employees.

Never discuss, except in appropriate meetings with the appropriate people, what you are paid. Never ask questions about how anyone else in your organization is compensated, or give anyone information to colleagues about your own wages, salary or benefits.

Never discuss your domestic circumstances, your financial woes or your sex life at work. If your personal life is troubling, seek help with the appropriate department within your company or seek outside help. Don’t attempt to turn the workplace into a support group or therapy ward.

Learn to mind your own business. Help others to do the same by politely refusing, during work hours, to engage in conversation not directly related to the work at hand. While you are not at work to make friends, this should not stop you from being friendly.

July 9, 2006

Age is just a number — will this relationship work?

by Rod Smith

I (22) am seeing a man (53) who is three years younger than my father. He says age is just a number, and that I make him feel 22 again. He’s been married twice to women who were both unfaithful. He is not going to tell his son (21) and daughter (25) about us just yet. I am uncomfortable telling my parents about him. Everything feels good except that we have to be secretive. Could this work? (Letter revised)

This is unlikely to be the stable, secure, relationship you probably hope for. If “age is just a number,” I must assume the man has also dated women who are eighty-plus-years-old in search of a faithful woman.

Apparently age is not “just a number” when it comes to introducing you to his children.

I’d suggest you terminate this secretive alliance. Find a man both you and your parents will readily embrace. Suggest he seek help to discover his role in choosing to marry two unfaithful women.

I wonder if your suitor would be comfortable were his son dating a fifty-year-old woman.

The age-is-just-a-number line, in his case, is such nonsense – don’t buy it.