Humans have a difficult time understanding that two opposing things can be true at the same time. In relationship, we must embrace this reality to feel relaxed and free.
If we are expecting 100% of our partners trust, interest, or understanding all the time, we will be disappointed.
It’s okay to both trust and not trust.
It’s okay to want to be close and to want to back away.
It’s okay to understand and also not understand.
It feels so good to feel accepted for the paradox that you are.
Shame grows in the darkness of secrecy. One of the fastest ways to release the grip of shame is to speak your shame to another person. This is a simple, yet profoundly scary task if you have been stuffing their secrets down for years. The fear is usually that you will upset their partner or that the person listening will shame them even more.
The consequence of this strategy is that secrets become toxic. All the energy we use to keep our mouth shut begins to burn us up inside. We get tired, irritable, depressed, anxious, or we disassociate. If you’re locked into this dynamic with a partner, it begins to erode the safety within yourself and with this person. From this place, it’s easy to slip into an abusive relationship where one is abusing the other or both are abusing each other. The energy has nowhere else to go so it lashes out onto the other or inward into oneself.
In order to release this pressure, you must speak the truth. As scary as it seems, you must begin to open up to someone else who can help you hold and process the shame. You may also need them to help guide you in your actions if you have been dislodged from your internal compass.
Collectively, we can also do this by being transparent with each other. It’s okay to say, “I’m struggling today” or “I’m feeling insecure in my relationship right now”. Your openness helps other people grow their courage to open up and this bravery ripples out into the world.
Dear Confused Man,
Can you remember the last time you really let yourself cry? It was probably because something really big happened in your life. Maybe it was a divorce, a death, a birth, or some tragic news? It must have been so abrupt, unexpected, or life changing that you couldn’t hold it in. You were unable restrain your body as the emotion ripped through all the walls you’ve built to protect yourself from feeling weak or vulnerable. What did it feel like as it was happening? What happened afterwards? Did you feel raw, embarrassed, or confused?
You’re not alone. This is a common male experience. We may spend years bottling up our emotions only to have the cap blown off during some of the biggest moments of our life. The force is so great that it can completely wipe us out. After it happens, we may need time to crawl back into our shell and shut out the world for a while. It’s fucking intense!
It’s no wonder that we resist these feelings, positive or negative. We have very little experience here and what we do know is that we lose all control. That’s scary for a man…
Consequently, we judge others for their emotion, big or small. We believe they are “too emotional”. Why can’t they just “get over it” like we do? Why can’t they see the bright side? Why does everything have to be so serious?
What we may not see is that we are looking into a mirror. We judge others in the same way we judge ourselves. We do everything in our power to not let those little things bother us as we stuff more and more into our container of unresolved feelings. This masculine imbalance may show up as an inflation of self, such as bullying, irritability, frustration, or anger. We may react to this by attempting to aggressively “fix” the problem or blame.
We may judge, hurt, or shut out the ones we care about as a way to keep ourselves protected. However, the confused man is unaware of what is going on in the background. No one has every pointed out his strategies in a way that he can absorb them. He is confused. He doesn’t know why he his intimate partners don’t feel safe with him while his friendships feel so easy. The difference here is that the closer we get to someone, the more vulnerable we are.
What the confused man needs to know is that his confusion, irritability, judgment, and relational struggles are all here to serve him. They are pointing him towards his heart. Without the discomfort and pain, he could stay in his pattern, bottling up and exploding, shutting out his partners, and not experiencing the depth and richness of life.
The confused man must welcome in the confusion and feel it so that he can get at what is underneath. He must do things he has never done to get results he’s never had. There are no shortcuts.
Your sometimes-confused fellow Man,
The Backpack Theory
Imagine that every unresolved conflict in your life is like a tiny pebble that you put into your backpack. You may not feel the first 100 as you walk along but, at some point, you will begin to feel the straps pulling down on your shoulders. The heavier the pack gets, the less you will feel the weight of one stone and the more you will feel the weight of the backpack in its entirety.
When you do finally manage to take out a pebble or two, you may be disappointed by the lack of relief that you feel. The pack feels the same. It’s at this point that you may feel stuck. Your effort appears to earn you little to no reward.
What we need to understand is that this same experience works in reverse. It may take a ton of effort, a great deal of time, and many stones before we notice a shift.
The real reason why this matters is that, even though we may still feel burdened, we are intuitively aware of our trajectory. "Is the pack getting heavier or lighter, over time?" This is the difference between feeling hopeful and feeling hopeless. This emotional state is what allows us to carry our backpack of rocks when we feel like giving up.
Some people seem to get passion and blame mixed up.
For instance, it is very possible to say "I really care about this issue and this is what I am choosing to do about it" and leaving out "If you don't do what I do, you're an idiot."
In fact, if you're trying to convince anyone else of your point, this will have the direct opposite effect.
You will drive others away while simultaneously breeding contempt within your group. As people move away from your group, you will feel less connected and you will begin to objectify them
Once you lose your sense of another person or group's humanity, it opens you up to just about anything.
This is how riots and wars start.
It all begins with this fundamental principle of learning how to honor your passion while also holding love for others.
Be the change.
Utah is like no other state in the country. Not only does it have one-of-a-kind national parks like Zion, Bryce, Arches, and Canyonlands, some of the best skiing in the world, and a 30,000 acre patch of land made of salt, it is also the only state with over half of it’s population belonging to the Latter Day Saints faith. Even though some might call the LDS church a branch of Christianity, it is much different when looked at from a doctrinal and cultural viewpoint. For instance, Mormons believe in modern day prophecy and rely on one man (The Prophet) to receive revelation from God on how the Church should be conducted. It’s fair to say that this has caused some controversy over the years because some of the Prophets reports have come into conflict with equality for women, blacks, and the LGBT community.
Culturally, the LDS faith is also different because most Mormons here view active status as accepting added callings and duties on top of attending Sunday worship. Basically, whereas you could get away with being a cafeteria Catholic or an Easter Sunday Christian, you would stand out way more as a semi-active Mormon in Utah. Hell, they have people designated to show up to your house if you start to fall off!
I hope you enjoyed the quick lesson on Utah culture. Now, I’m going to tell you how this ties into relationship coaching. As you may have guessed, some people love the Church set up and some don’t. In fact, a Pew Research study found that 36% of Mormons left the faith in 2015! And, many folks are not going quietly. New support groups have popped up all over Utah to support ex-Mormons, curious Mormons, and interfaith couples.
This is where things get really interesting. More than half of the individuals and couples that my wife and I see fall into one of those three groups and many relationships struggle mightily under the pressure of a faith transition. After being told that your worldly life is just a quick precursor to what’s next and then having that whole idea disappear, many people fall into pits of anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. Throw in a spouse who doesn’t share your views, several kids (Mormons have 60% more children than the rest of the U.S.), and a community that doesn’t support your departure and this creates a mountain of confusion, shame, and anger to sort through.
Where do we even start?!
Fortunately, I always start with the basics because relationship mastery builds on a foundation of presence, self-awareness, and openness. We all need to be able to handle ourselves before we can handle someone else and this is not taught in schools or church. I help couples get really honest about their biggest fears, stories, and patterns. The content of the conflict is usually not as important as it seems. What we are all really running away from is discomfort. Once a couple learns to handle each other and do conflict, the disagreements run smoother and more efficiently. If people do separate, it can be done consciously and with love.
In many cases with interfaith couples, there is no simple answer. Many couples split or stay in situations that are extremely difficult. It’s also common for both couples to leave the church but, highly unlikely that they both rejoin. No matter what each person decides, there is hope for the relationship. I view “Relationship” as a crucible for self-discovery so faith transition becomes the perfect catalyst for growth and development. Of course, that’s if you’re up for it…
No matter what you think the future holds, one thing is for certain. The world will never be the same. We can’t pretend like we don’t know just how easy it is for a microscopic organism to sweep across our planet, paralyze our supply chains, kill millions, and completely change any semblance of normal life. No, it didn’t happen this time but, we now know it’s possible. We have now come face to face with a new reality in a world that is more connected than ever before. Within our strength comes our greatest weakness. We depend upon each other.
A community experiencing grief is not much different than a person experiencing grief. We may be at different stages at different times but, the process is the same. So, where are we on the spectrum of grief and what’s next?
For all of us, there was a moment when it finally hit us that OUR lives were going to be affected and not just the people on the screen. Many people ran to the stores to stock up on essential items, the FBI ran 3.7 million firearm background checks in the month of March, all non-essential businesses were forced to close, and governors began to outline “shelter in place” orders. Life changed overnight and it was like we were living in the Twilight Zone. It did not seem real.
This was the SHOCK that one experiences when the news first hits them that something unimaginable has happened. It may not have been as acute as some forms of shock. For many it was more of a slow-burning realization, an undercurrent of anxiety, or a racing mind that could not stop. What was going to happen?
Although this was a difficult time for so many, grief did what it usually does to a population and it brought us together. Amidst all the fear came monumental acts of bravery and service as the world worked together to slow the spread. It was truly inspirational to see city streets, void of people, as the human race hunkered down to protect each other. It may have been the single greatest act of love and solidarity that the world has ever seen.
Just like the impermanence of each moment, parts of the world began to fracture and change as we moved along in our attempt to understand. The next phase of grief had begun to creep in…DENIAL.
Many people became experts overnight and touted the info they found through their late night google searches. We didn’t want to believe that something so abstract could slowly cripple our way of living, our collective life force, and our freedom. No one wanted to admit that there was a real risk to them or the people they loved. Most deniers still conceded with clenched fists. Some people are still in this phase and are completely denying that anything significant ever took place. They believe that everyone is “overreacting”.
As people move out of denial, I now believe that many are moving into the 3rd phase of grief. This is ANGER. The human spirit is difficult to keep down and energy builds, even in periods of sadness and depression. There is a slow rumbling happening as billions of people sit, cooped up in their homes and apartments. Whether it was the promise of help that never came, staring at broken dreams, or pure exhaustion, the world is coming alive with blame, projection, and frustration. We may be able to stop the spread of the virus but, we have little defense against the spread of grief. This is BIG and we are going to go through this TOGETHER, whether we like it or not.
Nobody knows how long this stage will last or how intense it will be. However, if we are truly on the path of grief (and hopefully healing) then we have a good idea of what’s coming next. It’s likely that we will want things to go back to normal and that we will begin to BARGAIN with reality, God, the government, or whatever else we think is in charge of this whole thing. Some things will go back to normal, some will be slow to come back, and some things will never be the same. Either way, the collective pressure and stress that we have experienced as a society will probably bring the largest mental health crisis that we have ever seen. It’s my guess that we will experience widespread DEPRESSION. Not everyone will have had the ability to handle this allostatic load and many people will struggle greatly in the aftermath.
Unlike the first 5 stages, the last stage is not a guarantee. The final stage is ACCEPTANCE. It’s up to us to determine if we get here and a big part of reaching this precipice is acknowledging where we have come from. We have to be ready and able to turn around and reach our hand out after we crawl out of the hole of grief. The world needs us now, more than ever. We may not be facing the total destruction but, we have a chance to greatly alter the direction of the planet and its inhabitants.
What’s probably more true is that we’ve always had great power. Maybe, it just took a global pandemic for us to finally wake up.
It may have been nice if it was just there and we didn't have to work through layers of old stories and fears to share our authentic desires, experiences, and feelings, but emotional safety doesn't come to us very naturally.
It doesn't mean that we're bad people or that we're weak. When we are in state of growth, it's normal to take a little break from the work from time to time.
However, if we stagnate too much, stop taking care of ourselves, and don't build emotional safety into our lives, then we begin to feel...
And then, we need to come up with excuses for why we feel this way so we say...
"I've just been really busy."
"Work is really stressful right now."
"My partner just has a lot on their plate."
"I'm haven't been feeling well."
"I don't have time for x, y, z."
We get mixed up that these are the results and not the cause of our action and inaction.
However, the more you learn, earn, and build emotional safety into your life, you begin to feel empowered to...
Speak up for yourself
Taking responsibility for your health
Create a vision for you life
Confront your compulsions/addictions
Invest in yourself
CHANGE YOUR LIFE!
But, you have to earn it. There are no shortcuts. No one will do it for you.
And, most of all...IT IS POSSIBLE.
In my work as a relationship coach, I’m continually hearing Men talk about their partners as self-proclaimed Empath’s. They typically say something like, “So, my wife is an Empath. Do you know what that is?” I give a little sigh and nod my head because I already know what they’re going to say next.
“Yeah, so it’s like she feels what other people are feeling and she gets overwhelmed by emotions and it’s really frustrating because she’s always feeling things.”
So, although I have my own skepticism about one’s ability to literally feel what someone else is feeling, I wanted to tackle this head on because, whether it’s true or not, most Men can use a little guidance in how to deal with a partner that experiences strong emotions.
Chill out, bro! No, not her. You! Look at what happens to you when you see her in her strong emotions. Your blood pressure goes through the roof and you either run away or fight. The reason this happens is because you do not have enough capacity for your emotions. Your job is to be with your own emotional experience here. Do you feel angry, frustrated, or confused? Great! Sit with that. Stop running away, defending, stonewalling, and becoming passive-aggressive. This is all about you! Once you learn how to be with your emotions, you won’t feel so threatened by hers and you’ll be able to handle the situation like an adult.
Use her sensitivity for YOUR benefit. Women that are highly empathic, emotional, and affectionate may be difficult for you AND they have an abundance of information that you can glean. If you’re the type of Man that is emotionally constipated, then there is a good chance that she is going to sense when something is up for you. That charge you feel in your body when you get asked, “What’s wrong?” is the feeling of something coming to the surface that was already there. She didn’t create it by asking you a question. So, you have 2 choices. Blame her for being the way she is or get curious and use it as a chance to look inside yourself and learn something new.
Stop judging yourself. The next step, if you aren’t already there, is usually a realization that you’ve been emotionally shut down for most of your life. You stuffed your sensitivity at an early age because of how you were conditioned to be and now you often don’t know what you feel or why. That’s okay. The more you can accept your “way of being” the more that you will be able to accept her way. Neither are wrong and you will probably never feel things the way she does. You get to keep all your logical expertise, your stoicism, and your Manhood. The true test of a warrior is how he handles the things he fears the most.
You’ve gone around and around in your head, talked to friends, listened to podcasts, and now you’ve decided that you want to end it. The talk is just as difficult as you had imagined and it does not go very well. You still want to be seen, heard, and cared for, but now you are all alone. Your friends and family say that they are here for you and you know that they can’t quite be there for you in the way that your primary partner was. Let’s be honest. We’ve all been here. It really sucks!
Your body is a super-intelligent system that instinctually knows how to take care of itself. When a body realizes that it is in danger, it immediately goes into shock and restricts blood from the less important parts of the body and directs it back into the heart. This is what you need to do directly after a break up. Direct your attention back into your heart and take care of yourself. Cease trying to manage the less important parts of your life and don’t bother making big life decisions. If you need to take a day away from work, cancel that commitment, or ask for help taking care of the kids, do what you need to do heal.
It may be tempting to curl up on the couch, turn on the TV, and block out the world, but that’s not what is going to be best for you in the long run. Just like a soldier who has been wounded in battle, you need a team, a medic, and a safe place to rest. This may look like calling a few friends to come check up on you for the first week, working with a therapist/coach, or staying at a friend’s house for a few days. Get the idea out of your head that you don’t deserve other’s care and attention. This can be ultra-healing for them, too.
Once the shock begins to wear off and you’re ready to face the world again, take baby steps. It is probably not the best idea to start dating within a month of a big break up. If you do, there’s a good chance that you will roll your old baggage, that hasn’t been dealt with, into the new relationship and crash and burn all over again. If rebounds are a pattern for you, then consider doing something different and intentionally place the focus on yourself for a period of time. Think health, community, family, self-development, and passion. The more secure you are within yourself, the more likely you are to draw someone into your life that is also secure in themselves.
When you’re ready, take complete ownership of the part you played in the relationship and dig deep to understand. This is the part that will really set you free. If you drew someone into your life that was emotionally unavailable, unable to commit, narcissistic, or co-dependent…why? What did you do or not do that allowed this person to enter into your life and affect you the way they did? Or, why did you choose to stay with them for so long once you knew how they operated? This doesn’t mean that it’s your fault that you were lied to, cheated on, or abused. The purpose of asking these questions is to empower you in your relational life.
Once you’ve designed your life in a way that you feel good about yourself and you understand your patterns, it’s time to open your heart again and trust. If you don’t fully open yourself to the possibility of love, the fantasy that someone will come swoop in and open it for you may never come true. You are totally, completely, and entirely deserving of the love you want and it’s important that you continue your search with this in mind. You’ve been hurt, but you’re not broken. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Be you. Life is inherently trustworthy and it will continue to provide lessons in all the areas that you have to grow.