Compartmentalization is the psychological curtain that slides closed when our feelings get too messy, uncomfortable, or inconvenient. Find compartmentalization and you will often find judgment--for the CEO who delivers inspirational speeches to shareholders from whom he is bilking millions. For the spouse who kisses her unsuspecting husband goodnight before heading downstairs to check the Tinder account. It’s easy to judge compartmentalization when it is used to facilitate subpar behavior.
But every card has two sides.
When used appropriately, compartmentalization can help divorcing spouses build and maintain a constructive co-parenting relationship.
Figuring out how to divide time with children, financial resources, and possessions can be a Herculean task, especially when one person neither asked for nor wanted the divorce. It's common for exes to become triggers or targets for anger--sometimes even rage.
Anger, like all dark emotions, serves a specific purpose.
In divorce, anger can help us forge the distance needed to heal the wounds of loss. Furthermore, when channeled appropriately, anger can fuel the rocket ship that propels us toward a new, post-divorce life.
But here’s where things get tricky.
The most reliable predictor of children’s post-divorce adjustment is how well they are (and continue to be) protected from adult feelings and conflicts.
In other words, the anger we need to feel in order to heal is the very emotion we must filter away from our children and out of our co-parenting relationship. Here's where compartmentalization comes in handy.
When adults can appropriately contain their acrimony, kids are freer to work through their own divorce-related feelings, without worrying about burdened by ours.
If this sounds confusing or difficult, that's because it is. To help divorcing spouses better understand healthy compartmentalization, I use the following metaphor. Imagine your brain is like Hogwarts, where each thought and feeling must be sorted into three empty boxes: the marital box, the parenting box, and the in-between box.
What follows is a description of all three boxes, along with a few tips for how to create them.
The Marital Box. Negative sentiments about the relationship, the divorce, and/or your ex belong in the marital box. This box should be stored high on a shelf where only you (not your ex or your children) can access it.
In the early stages of separation, it is likely your marital box will be quite full--even overflowing. This is completely normal.
Set a goal to reduce the size of your marital box by carefully working through its contents. Do this on your own, with a therapist, or with other trusted adults in your life. Reassure yourself that, with time and appropriate resourcing, the size of this box will eventually shrink (It will. I promise).
Helpful hint: Tempting though it may be, avoid sorting through your marital box with your ex. Your former spouse cannot help you get over him or her. Conversely, should your ex attempt to enlist you in sorting through his or her martial box, it’s okay to respectfully disengage. A brief “I’m sorry I cannot help you.” will suffice.
Trust that, if you and your former spouse could resolve your differences, you would have by now. That time has come and gone.
The Parenting Box. You and your ex share this box. Unlike the marital box, the parenting box should be void of emotion. It contains only information pertinent to raising healthy kids smoothly in two households (i.e., residential schedules, school events, extracurricular activities, medical appointments, etc.). Any text, email, or phone call between you and your ex should be brief and pertain only to the business of raising your children.
Growing up, my father used to say, “Never wrestle with a pig. You’ll just get dirty...and the pig likes it.” This was his colorful, Southern way of saying that acting out of anger isn't productive.
Insight and anger are inversely correlated. When one runs high the other runs low. The angrier we are, the easier it is to get the marital and parenting boxes mixed up.
Helpful hint: It's normal to get worked up on occasion. Keep yourself out of the mud by taking the time needed to calm yourself before engaging with or responding to your ex. Additionally, before responding, I recommend sending emails and texts to a neutral third party (e.g., trusted friend, divorce coach, etc.) to make sure they are 'washed clean' of negative emotion.
Helpful hint: It's always better to lead by example than to get in a mud-slinging contest with your ex. If your ex lashes out at you, resist all urges to fight back or defend yourself. Staying within the confines of the parenting box does not make you a pushover. It makes you an example of the mature, stable co-parent your child needs you to be.
Helpful hint: Determine ahead of time your goal for any communication with your ex. Include in your communication only the facts that serve this goal. For instance, if you are hoping to swap weekends, with sufficient notice (which should be stipulated by your parenting plan), provide in writing the dates you would like to swap. Your ex does not need to know the reason for the swap. Just the dates in question will suffice.
The In-between Box. The in-between box is a place for neutral-positive sentiments related to your fellow co-parent. This box is meant to be shared freely with your child and, on occasion, with your ex in front of your child.
Here are a few examples. Let’s say your ex is a fabulous cook and your child expresses interest in learning to cook. This is a great time to say, “You know, your Mom is an excellent chef. How lucky you are to learn from the best!”
Perhaps your ex is a musician and your child has taken up an instrument. Upon leaving a school concert together, in front of your child, it's okay to say to your fellow co-parent something like, “I can see Tim has inherited your musical abilities. It’s great to see him share his love of music with you.”
I cannot overemphasize how much this means to your kiddos.
Your child’s developing ego cannot easily distinguish itself from others. Thus, when you say positive things about and to the other parent, you are actively bolstering your child's self-esteem.
Helpful hints: If you are struggling to fill your in-between box, it may be useful to remind yourself that no one is either all good or all bad. To assume the latter about your marriage or your ex is to discount the positive attributes that brought you together, the most important of which was the fate of becoming your children's parents. Even if your marital box is overflowing, look for ways to encourage your child to have a positive relationship with his or her other parent.
Even when it is the right decision, divorce is rarely easy. The clarity needed to compartmentalize feelings appropriately can elude us when we are in pain. Let this be your motivation to seek support from others. Find people who have successfully weathered divorce. Ask them for tips about what worked, what didn’t, etc. Find a therapist in your area who specializes in working with divorcing co-parents. No one should have to do this alone.
Finally, remember that, while pain is temporary, parenting is forever. Committing the time and energy it takes to build and maintain a constructive co-parenting relationship with your ex is one of the best investments you can make--for yourself and, most importantly, for your children.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers divorce consultation, co-parenting support, grief therapy, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you need help sorting through divorce-related feelings, schedule a free consultation to see how divorce counseling and co-parent support can help you create the co-parenting relationship your children deserve.
Dear Dr. Jill,
I’m a 35-year-old female who has been making the online dating rounds for a while now. After many dates with many people who were not a good fit, I finally met someone amazing.
On the first date, sparks flew.
We talked about wanting more out of life, being tired of the whole “casual hookup scene,” wanting to settle down, get married, and eventually have a family.
The physical sparks were there too. We couldn't keep our hands off of each other. I ended up staying the night and we ended up having sex. It was mind-blowing!
Sex is something I vowed never to do on a first date.
After one of the most amazing nights of my life, my date and I said goodbye and agreed to go out later in the week. He said he would call or text me to set something up.
A week passed. Then two weeks. Then a third.
I reached out to him a few times and, each time, he wrote back with brief, one-word answers. I asked about getting together. He responded vaguely and never got back to me.
I was very hurt and confused by his behavior. Was this the same guy I met less than a month ago?
Anyway. He reached out to me last night, asking to get together. I really like him and would very much like to see him again but I’m still stinging from the roller coaster of the last three weeks.
I don't often meet men I'm so compatible with. I'm afraid of closing the door on something (or someone) with promise.
Should I tell him that my feelings are hurt? Am I being too sensitive? Should I just accept his invitation and forget the whole thing ever happened? I don't want to scare him off by coming on too strong or by acting needy or clingy.
Would appreciate your thoughts on what to do.
Bothered and Bewildered
What stands out most in your letter is not that you seem needy or clingy. It's the amount of fear and self-doubt you feel--only a few weeks after meeting this guy!
I had two thoughts when I read your letter.
The first pertains to the breaking of the vow you made to yourself about proceeding a bit more slowly when it comes to being intimate with someone. This is something most of us either have done or will do at some point in our lives. So no judgement here.
That said, we need boundaries to feel safe and secure in any relationship, romantic and otherwise. When we behave out of accordance with our own boundaries, it is normal to feel insecure. In this case, I suspect your fear of seeming "needy" or "clingy" is a manifestation of this insecurity.
The second thought I have is about your date's behavior. In short: it's really bad.
I’m wondering if you feel confused because this man's behavior is the very definition of confusing: hot one minute; lukewarm—even cold—the next.
Given the first date you described, anyone would be left wondering what the hell just happened. This is not needy or clingy. Yours is a natural reaction to inconsiderate behavior your date has yet to own or apologize for. This is a big red flag in my dating book.
Before you do anything, I recommend sitting quietly with yourself and taking an honest inventory of what it is you really want.
Do you want a hot fling or a deeper, more stable relationship with an emotionally available partner?
Though his words may have indicated otherwise, I suspect your date is capable of offering you little more than a (temporary) good time. If you decide that you want stratospheric chemistry (aka white hot sex), by all means, accept his offer.
Just know that, if you have real feelings for this man and/or if you want a real, committed partnership, each hookup with this guy is likely to be followed by an unceremonious thud back into fear, confusion, and yearning. For more on that, click here.
Many of us mistake chemistry for connection. It’s easy to do. The former tends to be instantaneous, short-lived, and drug-like. The latter requires patience, consistency, and time to develop. Not exactly the stuff that James Bond movies are made of but, in the long run, a much better emotional bet.
Bottom line: if a solid, stable partner is what you are really looking for, I strongly encourage you to look elsewhere. No man worth his salt would ever dream of leaving someone he cares for guessing about his feelings or intentions.
Here’s to a more satisfying future dating experience!
Yours in health,
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, counselor and dating coach in Seattle, Washington. Emotionally unavailable partners got you down? You deserve better! Find out how hiring a dating coach can help you have a richer, more satisfying relationship experience. Schedule a free dating consultation today!
The digital age has neatly divided us into two categories: those who have had their personal data compromised and those who will. Most of us think of financial institutions, cell phone providers, and insurance companies when we think of data breaches. But what happens when the invasion of privacy occurs right in your own living room?
The following letter was submitted by a reader who wants an answer to this very question. Let's dig in!
Dear Dr. Jill,
My fiancé (let’s call her Tammy) and I have been together for about six months. After three months, we moved in together. We recently got engaged and are talking about an August 2018 wedding. I am 25. She is 27. Neither of us have been married before.
The reason I’m writing to you is because of something I found on Tammy’s phone recently. While she was in another room, I saw a text message from an unrecognized number. No name. Just the words “Hi. Can you talk tonight?"
When I saw the message, my heart started to race and my mind went crazy! I’m embarrassed to say what came next. I know I shouldn’t have done it but I opened Tammy’s phone and read the text history. Turns out that Tammy and "the mystery man” have been trading raunchy messages, sexy photos, etc. for over a month!
I am in a total state of shock. The idea that Tammy could do this to me…to US…just devastates me. While we have been planning our future, she has been carrying on like that with someone else.
Things haven’t been the same since that night. Here’s the kicker: I feel so guilty for snooping on her phone, I haven’t told her what I saw. I have been quiet and keeping to myself. When she notices I am acting weird, I lie and tell her I am not feeling well. I think I’m just stalling, trying to figure out where to go from here. I know it can’t go on like this forever.
I talked with a buddy who told me I should just cut my losses. But that feels too severe. Pretending like nothing happened really is starting to make me feel sick. I can’t eat or sleep. I’m nervous all of the time.
Can you help me?
Worried About The Future
With all that you are holding right now, no wonder your body is feeling sick! Let's see if we can sort a few things out, on both the micro and macro level, and, hopefully, lighten the load a bit.
On the micro level, I see two issues here: your partner's behavior and the means with which you discovered it. It is painful enough to learn that a person you love hasn't been honest with you but it’s even more complicated when that information is ill-gotten.
When facts are uncovered this way, I usually encourage people to first weigh the potential consequences of saying something vs. saying nothing. When there is relatively little at stake, silence is probably the best bet. However, given that remaining silent appears to be upsetting both you and Tammy and given that August is just around the corner, the stakes here seem pretty high to me.
To disentangle a relationship from dishonesty, one or both partners must speak the truth. Since Tammy did not choose to tell you about the mystery man herself, I encourage you to make the first move. More on that in a minute.
Now for the macro. After six months of courtship, how well can any two people know each other? The short answer is "not super well." For the first two years of any romantic relationship, we are awash with a hormone (Oxytocin) that hijacks the body and puts the brain on hold for a while. Under its spell, it's easy to see our partners through rose-colored glasses, overlooking behaviors that would otherwise be considered red flags.
After about six months to two years, oxytocin slowly leaves our systems, our brains come back online, and our hearts and heads join forces to determine if the object of our infatuation is a decent long-term bet. The determinant of long-term compatibility is not the butterflies in our stomachs; it's commonality of our values (e.g., monogamy).
I believe that partners have affairs to solve a problem or avoid a problem. When couples consult with me post-infidelity, I always want to know the unique meaning or purpose that the affair served for the person who chose it. Without this information, it's hard for any healing to take place.
While only you can decide whether to stay or go, your recent discovery suggests it may be wise to pause and gather a bit more information.
I encourage you to schedule a time to talk with your partner. Tell her what you saw. If you're not sure where to go after that, try something like, "It was wrong of me to violate your privacy and I completely understand if you are upset. Now that the secret is out, I would like to discuss the situation openly with you." The result of these talks will likely deepen your knowledge and understanding of each other, which is good for any relationship regardless of the outcome.
Deception is painful and rebuilding after betrayal can take a while. Slowing things down a bit will give you and Tammy the time each of you deserves to make a well-informed decision about the next best step.
In the meantime, if the conversations get too overwhelming, I recommend seeking assistance from a qualified couples therapist. Having a well-informed, neutral third party in the room can make a huge difference.
Good luck to you both and thanks for writing in.
Yours In Health,
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA.
Howdy folks! In my years of being both a participant and leader of therapy groups, public speaking engagements, etc. I’ve learned that, if one person has a question, chances are, others in the group have the same (or similar) question. If that question never gets asked, then no one gets the benefit of learning from it! It is for this reason I’ve decided to experiment with something a little different.
Over the past few months, I’ve gotten so many great questions via “Ask The Shrink,” that I’ve decided to publish them here on the blog. The question below is one I recently received from a reader and, given the frequency with which the topic comes up in my therapy and counseling practice, I couldn’t wait to share it with the rest of you!
So, if you’ve got a question, click here to ask it and you may just see your question answered in a future blog post! Of course, all identifying information will be omitted to protect your anonymity.
Hi Dr. Gross,
I have a problem with my boyfriend's mother. My boyfriend and I have been dating about two years. We are both in our late 20's. My boyfriend's mother has a history of not liking her other children's "significant others." However, it really bothers me that his mother is so standoffish and judgmental towards me. Her tone and eyes are cold and she rarely offers positive affirmations of my life happenings. It makes me feel insecure and sad. My boyfriend is sad about it too. He talks to his dad who is also uncomfortable with his wife's behavior. I want to have a happy relationship with her. It is especially scary to imagine marrying my boyfriend and having her for a mother-in-law. Not sure what to do...
I look forward to hopefully reading guidance you may have.
First of all, thank you for broaching this topic! Learning how to relate to a partner’s family can be quite complex, particularly when members of that family seem reluctant to engage.
When I read your letter, the first thought I had was that your boyfriend’s mother feels exactly the way her actions make you feel: sad and insecure (scared).
Parenthood is a complicated stew of emotions: we want our children close yet we must also accept that they do eventually grow up. I think your partner's mother is grappling with this very issue and, rather than acknowledging the fear and sadness it often evokes, she is taking it out on the poor, unsuspecting partners of her now-adult children. In this case, that unsuspecting partner is you.
You feel sad and insecure for a good reason: no one wants to be pushed away by a member of their beloved's family!
If there is anything to be said or done about this, your boyfriend is the best candidate for the job. Assuming he hasn’t already done so, I would encourage him to talk with his mother and say something like, “Mom, I love you and my girlfriend so much. Nothing would make me happier than for all of us to be close and have fun together. How do you think this can happen?” This question states your boyfriend’s wishes clearly while enlisting his mother to be part of the solution. Win-win!
If your boyfriend’s mother denies her behavior or gets defensive, he gets to decide the best way to set appropriate boundaries with his mother while protecting his allegiance to you. Then, the two of you get to decide on your own how much time you choose to spend with someone whose actions leave you feeling sad, insecure, or both.
The fact that her son is ready to start a life and family of his own is a testament to what a good job his mother has done...she just doesn't know this yet.
Keep in mind that time and consistent kindness can thaw even the iciest conditions. Though things may be a bit frosty right now, if your boyfriend’s mother continues to witness how happy you make her son, she may eventually conclude that the best way to honor him is to accept the person he is choosing to spend his life with.
Thank you again for entrusting this community with your question. Best wishes to you as you navigate this challenging situation!
Yours in health,
Speaking of community, have any of you successfully worked through in-law issues? We would all benefit from knowing how you did it! Please share your story in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share this post with anyone who may be asking their own version of this question!
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you've got questions about your own relationship, schedule a free consultation to find out how therapy or counseling can help you!
Is it just me or is summer always way busier than you anticipate?
Lately, it seems my eyes are bigger than my stomach, creatively speaking. So blog updates haven't been as frequent. That said, there are a few posts in the hopper, along with a new project that I hope to have more information about soon. So stay tuned!
In the interim, some of you may already know how much I LOVE podcasts. I listen to them when I'm walking the dog, cooking meals, shopping for groceries, or working in the yard--they are a multi-taskers dream! What's more, good podcasts always remind me of how much we humans have in common--a comforting thought in times of trouble.
I've noticed that boundaries are trending in my therapy, counseling, and coaching practice. Many folks are in the process of either learning about them, setting them, or maintaining them. Boundary work can challenge both our sense of who we are as well our connectedness to those around us. It's enough to make some people want to head for the hills!
It is for this reason I wanted to share with you Part One and Part Two of "The Power Of No," two of the latest episodes from one of my very favorite podcasts, "Dear Sugars." Both episodes feature none other than Oprah Winfrey, who candidly discusses her own personal struggle with boundaries. I hope these episodes can be useful to those of you who may be doing boundary-related work as we speak.
And remember: boundaries are not punishment. They are protective guideposts for healthy communication!
Until next time...
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. If you've got questions about how boundaries can improve the quality of your relationships, schedule a free consultation now!
In Part One of this series, we explored why people lie and the impact of dishonesty on relationships. This week, we will endeavor to answer the two most common questions asked of therapists and counselors by individuals and couples whose lives have been shattered by betrayal: Can the relationship be rebuilt and how long will it take?
So little of therapy or counseling is governed by hard-and-fast rules. This can be frustrating for clients desperately seeking clarity after being hoodwinked by someone they loved and trusted. Typically those who have betrayed their partners are eager to bury the hatchet (to assuage their guilt or shame) while the betrayed need time for the pain of its blow to subside.
Reparability is contingent upon the following factors:
Trust is regained when actions and words align over time. Partners can say they want to repair a relationship but, if they are unwilling to do what is needed, these words are meaningless. Betrayers must display a solid track record of being where they said they would be, when they said they would be there, doing what they said they would be doing with whom they said they would be doing it. "Deposits" in the trust account must be made repeatedly until the balance is significant enough to offset the recent withdrawal.
Some couples view betrayal as an opportunity to form a stronger, more satisfying union. Others see deception as the harbinger of an ending. I once worked with a young woman whose husband had a lengthy affair with a female colleague. Just months earlier, the client discovered her husband had been sending inappropriate texts to other women. After a year of obsessive thoughts, frequent checking of her husband's phone, and barely-contained urges to follow him every time he left the house, the client realized that remaining in the marriage was costing her dignity. This was ultimately too high a price to pay so she left the marriage. As the healing process unfolds, both the deceiver and the deceived must ask, based on what they know to be true about themselves, whether the pain of rebuilding is preferable to the pain of leaving. As this young woman's story suggests, we must know ourselves well enough to be honest about the answer.
How long does healing take?
For those who choose to rebuild, repair time depends on the severity of the wound and the preexisting level of trust between partners. Those who trust easily tend to rebound faster than those who do not.
It can take one to two years, sometimes longer, for a betrayal to fade into the backdrop. During this time, it is helpful for couples to generate new, positive memories together. This is an excellent time to explore new hobbies together, take extended vacations, learn new skills, etc. Couples can also opt to renew marriage vows or create other rituals to signify new beginnings. It is easier to leave the past in the rear view mirror when we are focused on the road ahead.
Painful though it may be, deception is always a catalyst for healing and growth. We only blow up our lives when part of us is yearning to refashion the pieces.
Whether we are the deceiver or the deceived, it is important to remember that every betrayal draws our attention to what can no longer be ignored. Some truths are incredibly painful to confront, particularly in the beginning, but we are usually better off for doing so.
If you are currently struggling with the aftermath of deception, consider getting help from a licensed psychologist, counselor, or therapist. Whether you choose to seek therapy or go it alone, remember that people can and do heal from betrayal. If you are willing to keep your eyes and heart open, you can be one of them!
We have so much to teach and learn from each other. Have you survived betrayal? Did you learn something valuable from it? Are you still figuring it out? Feel free to discuss your experience in the comments section below.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Has your relationship been torn apart by betrayal? Schedule a free consultation to see how couples counseling or individual counseling can get you on the road to recovery!
One morning, not long ago, I overheard a conversation between the host of NPR's "Morning Edition" and some distinguished law professor from one prestigious university or another—you know the drill.
The two were bantering back and forth about the meaning of the word "truth." Up until now, the word has always been understood to mean any thing or event that actually happened. Apparently, truth's ratings have been sagging; Donald Trump wants to give the word a sorely-needed makeover.
In the 2003 movie "Something's Gotta Give," Harry (played by Jack Nicholson) and his love interest, Erica (played by Diane Keaton), are struggling to create a meaningful connection with one another. Harry, a long-time womanizer with questionable integrity, explains that he has never lied to Erica. Instead, he has always told her "some version of the truth." In response, Erica snaps back, "The truth does not have versions!” Indeed, until about a month ago, it did not.
If The Administration has its way with us, the definition of "truth" will stretch to include opinions or ideas that, when emphatically stated over and over again, are accepted as fact, regardless of their veracity. If the public buys this new-and-improved rendition of truth, as a psychotherapist, I cannot help but wonder about the impact this will have on our intimate relationships.
I am often enlisted to provide individual and couples counseling for those whose lives have been shattered by dishonesty. People lie or keep secrets about all sorts of things: history, fidelity, spending, addictive behavior and, in extreme cases, even their identities.
Whether big or small, I have found all lies have one thing in common: they forge distance between ourselves and our intimates. A lie is a carefully built wall that neither we nor others can scale.
The basis of meaningful connection is shared reality. If I see a dog and you see a fish, any conversation we have about this animal will be meaningless. A lie renders impossible the shared experience upon which trust and intimacy are predicated.
Why, when given a choice between closeness and distance, do some of us choose the latter? I think it happens for several reasons.
Lies are exponential: we must continue to tell them to keep truth hidden. This can get tricky so most skilled liars tell partial truths to avoid slipping up. Partners may get some of the “who, what, where, how, when, and why" of a story but any detail that threatens to topple the house of cards will be withheld.
No matter how adept any of us are at deception, it is in only the rarest of cases that the truth remains indefinitely hidden. Truth demands to be told. Lying forfeits our jurisdiction over how and when this happens. We may think we've done a sufficient job in covering our tracks but it is only a matter of time before we forget to minimize the screen before our lover enters the room, log out of a secret email account, or are spotted by a co-worker or neighbor doing something we shouldn't be doing.
We avoid the truth to prevent suffering but, in so doing, end up creating far more of it. Instead of grieving only the pain of a difficult truth, the deceived is humiliated over having played the lead role in a story without full access to its script. Additionally, those who have been betrayed suffer tremendous doubt. Doubt of themselves for misplacing their trust and doubt about where the line between fact and fiction existed their relationship.
In the aftermath of betrayal, the two most common questions I hear in therapy are “Will I (we) get past this?” and “How long will it take?” We will explore the answers to these questions in Part Two of this series. So stay tuned.
In the meantime, has deception played a role in any of your past or present relationships? If so, what did you do about it? Feel free to share your thoughts anonymously in the comments section below.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA. Has your relationship been torn apart by betrayal? Schedule a free consultation to find out how couples therapy or counseling can put you on the road to recovery!
It's been one month since the country was upended by the presidential election. Though some of the immediate panic has subsided, many of us are still chewing our fingernails, wondering what's next. We’ve lived through many elections. We have been on the winning or losing side of every one. But this one...this one feels personal. Many of us still feel scared, deeply disappointed, and really, really angry.
As a therapist, I encourage people to pay attention to strong emotion. It is our body’s internal warning system. Anger, for instance, is both clarifying and activating. It tells us where our personal boundaries/values are and compels us to protect them. The strength of our post-election emotion suggests something powerful is occurring. Here are a few observations that may provide context for your feelings:
1. Disconnection: The election illuminated how deeply disconnected we have become from one another. We’ve been so busy sorting our fellow citizens—friends and family included—into factions of “us” and “them,” that we have forsaken compassion and understanding. We may think we know why people voted for Trump, but have we taken the time to ask? If so, have we really listened to the answer? I think most of us are shocked by the outcome because we have not been paying attention to the nation’s growing dissent with the status quo.
2. The system needs to be broken. The word "politics" is derived from the greek word "politicos," meaning "citizen." Historically, we have elected "politicians" because rules and guidelines (aka policies) were needed to organize our shared lives together. We need clean water, roads, bridges, and public spaces to enjoy. Without politics, none of these things would exist.
Elected officials were originally intended to be the mouthpieces through which citizens’ voices were expressed; instruments for the common good. Over decades, the sanctity of high office has been highjacked by wealth, corruption, and theatrics. Laws are no longer written and enforced for the vast majority but for a handful of individuals who can afford to buy influence. And who is entrusted to regulate this system? The very people who benefit from it. If that seems messed up to you, that’s because it is. It is normal to feel sad, disappointed, scared, or angry when things are messed up.
American citizens are tired of leaders who are motivated by personal and corporate greed. Regardless of whether it’s true (facts seemed to have mattered little this election—a sign that the Trump brand reached beyond logic or reason), Trump marketed himself as the sledgehammer who would break apart an old, outdated system and reform it to resemble its original intent: the organization of our shared lives together.
3. Better choices: I recently filled out a demographic form that had FIVE gender categories yet we have two (viable) choices on a presidential ballot, a vote for either of which usually requires us to ignore or abandon a significant subset of our core values. Why is it that only democrats care about human rights and climate change? Why is it that only republicans care about the health of our businesses? Why isn’t there a fiscally conservative, morally liberal choice for the American people? We need more choices. We need better choices.
4. Clarification: The deeper we go, the clearer things become. This election has exposed our core. American people seem surer than ever of who they are and the values by which they choose to live. After the election was announced, there was a reported surge in volunteerism and donations to human rights and women’s health organizations. People are putting their money and time where their hearts are. When this happens, we all benefit.
5. Healing: Any time we are broken open, old wounds get triggered. Every suitcase we carry gets reopened: every slight, judgment, rejection, discrimination, every sexual impropriety. Ruptures in our social and familial bonds reappear anew. It can sometimes be hard to recall the loving connection that predated the election. Ask yourself what personal or familial hot button may be getting activated right now. Talk about your feelings with people you trust. Fabric cannot be mended until it is torn. Pain is often the necessary precursor for deeper healing.
None of us knows how the next four years will go, which only adds to our discomfort. When faced with uncertainty, many of us feel compelled to “do” something. Start with noticing your own strong emotion. Remind yourself that your body is trying to tell you that something significant is occurring. Perhaps your feelings are guiding you toward an acceptable course of action: a committee to join, a charity to support, an organization that could use your skills. If action is needed, trust that you will take it. Unless or until that happens, let yourself feel your feelings until they pass.
If you notice yourself heading down the road of fear (which is usually signified by lots of “what if” questions), try to remember that this moment is one line in a chapter of a story that is still being written. The purpose of any life chapter is usually revealed in retrospect. Remember that only good can come from this: either Trump delivers on his promise to reform government or he paves the way for a more qualified visionary to take his place in four years. Win-win.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
As a therapist, I often hear many different versions of, "If my partner/friend/family member would do more of this or less of that, I would be SO MUCH happier." Seems many of us believe the road to contentment is paved with another's intentions.
When a loved one's behavior is overtly destructive, would a change likely do everyone some good? Sure. However, when we focus exclusively on someone else's motivations or actions, we forfeit our own power to affect change. A pointed finger merely identifies the person to whom we have relinquished it.
Emotionally intense (heated) and/or familiar (repeated) arguments hold the key to identifying and resolving the childhood wounds that obstruct intimacy. The heated and repeated words we speak are usually (a) the words we needed to say at the time the wound was created (but we were too small or vulnerable to speak them), (b) what we most needed to hear from the person or people who initially hurt us, or (c) the words we are speaking about and for ourselves.
Each time we notice and respond lovingly to our words in the present moment, we move toward healing the past. Each repetitive argument is life's way of asking us to clear the obstacles that keep us from loving more freely.
Partners cannot clear these obstacles for us; we must do it ourselves. I know; I've been there.
I once struggled in a relationship with someone who did not know how to respectfully treat others. After months of fruitless pleas for him to change, I realized I was the one who was being disrespectful: of him by expecting he morph into someone he wasn't and of myself for ignoring my own words. It was I who had to change.
Over time, I came to appreciate how choosing an unhealthy relationship was a necessary part of learning to respect myself. Had I continued to direct my energy toward someone else's behavior, this lesson would have been missed entirely.
The next time you find yourself shouting something you've said more than three times, I encourage you to accept life's invitation. Listen to your words. Love yourself by respecting your own words. Your words are a testament to your strength. Your words will tell you everything you need to know.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA.
Feeling worn down by your own heated and repeated arguments? Schedule a free consultation to find out what these arguments may be trying to teach YOU!
Relationship issues are among the most common reasons people seek therapy, counseling, or coaching. When things aren't functioning optimally in our relational world, everything can seem off-kilter. No matter how varied the details of each situation, often, the root cause of relationship tension lies in the setting and maintaining of appropriate boundaries.
Personal boundaries foster safety and well-being in relationships. They are the physical, emotional, and mental guidelines we follow when teaching others how to treat us.
When we are raised in households where healthy boundaries were neither modeled nor encouraged, it can be difficult to tell the difference between what boundaries are and what they are not, rendering us less likely to take appropriate action when it is needed. Here are the top five erroneous beliefs that get in the way of healthy limit-setting in relationships:
1: Boundary-setting is an act of disrespect, aggression, or punishment.
Fact: Boundaries are protection, not punishment. It is up to each of us to determine what we will or will not tolerate. It is our responsibility to assert our boundaries (calmly and respectfully) and to disengage when they are not respected. Failure to honor our limits breeds resentment. Resentment may seem like it's about what another person is or is not doing, but it is actually our body's way of signaling us to set an appropriate limit and stick to it. Resentment occurs when we expect someone else to take better care of us than we take of ourselves.
2. Boundaries need to be explained, justified, or understood by others in order to be effective.
Fact: Though it is always nice to feel supported or understood, others do not have the power to decide what is best for us. Other people do not have to like or agree with our decisions. Each of us is free to determine how we choose to participate in any relationship or situation; no permission or explanation required.
3. Because I tolerated certain situations or behaviors in the past, I don't have the right to set limits in the present.
Fact: Boundaries do not have an expiration date. We grow and change and so do our boundaries. Someone I know once worked for a boss who expected his employees to work overtime, with little vacation. This friend never liked working long hours but chose to grin and bear it. However, once she had children, my friend was plagued by constant fear of disappointing either her boss or her family. Her physical and mental health consequently suffered. She ultimately discussed the situation with her employer, who was unwilling to grant flexible hours. After several months of stewing in her own resentment, she ultimately sought employment with a company whose work-life values matched her own--and she was so much happier!
Sometimes we must struggle in order to fully know our limits. However, the moment we realize situations or behaviors are harmful or destructive, it is always our prerogative to help ourselves.
4. Boundaries require others to change what they are doing.
Fact: Boundaries require us to change what we are doing. We cannot control how someone else thinks, feels, or behaves, but we can control whether or not we choose to be in the presence behavior that is counterproductive.
If someone we love is behaving destructively, we may wish for them to change. However, when our feelings indicate the current situation is no longer working, the onus is ours to change it. Remember, boundaries are not about punishing another. They are about protecting ourselves.
5. Someone else's negative reaction to my boundary means that it is "wrong."
Fact: Because no two people think, feel, or act the same way all the time, it is common for us to be in conflict with others. Sometimes setting a limit means someone else does not get what s/he wants, which can naturally lead to anger or disappointment. These feelings are not indicators of wrongdoing nor do they suggest a boundary reversal is in order.
Knowing who we are and how we want to be treated are prerequisites for healthy connection. We need look no further than our own thoughts and feelings to tell us what is or is not acceptable. The next time you notice yourself feeling angry or resentful, I encourage you to ask yourself how these bodily signals may be inviting you to set a limit in your environment. Knowing you can protect yourself is the key to feeling safe with others.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, therapist, and counselor. She offers grief therapy, divorce support, and other counseling services in the Phinney Greenwood area of Seattle, WA.
Having trouble with boundaries? Schedule a free consultation to find out more about how counseling or therapy can help you feel safer and more secure!
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Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, grief counselor, and dating coach. Her coaching and therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of North Seattle in Washington.