On picking a partner

picking_a_partner.JPG “Doc, what should I look for in a partner?”

This question.

I get this question a lot in my practice, and it breaks my heart in small ways and large ways each and every time. On the whole, the idea of what people find desirable in partners, and how they view particular aspects and qualities of the other person as criteria to date or not date, baffles me.

There’s the big philosophical and psychological question of why we pick the romantic partners that we pick. There’s also this operational question, which is the one that baffles and fascinates me most. Operationally, how we pick our partners, and on what criteria we pick them, offers lots of avenues of exploration. Especially, or maybe I’ll say remarkably, I encounter people that choose partners based on supposedly relational criteria that I don’t see as relational at all. For some linky examples of what I don’t see as relational choosing criteria, there are people choosing relationships based on: being a geek, cycling, being a doctorgirls who traveltall guys, curvy girls, and even that classic trope of bad boys. These are lovely lists, which most read as more of a justification for dating, or worthiness to date, but I’ve personally and professionally heard of types as being relational necessities, which I struggle to see.

To move away from types and onto characteristics, I still hear a lot of ideas of what to look for in a relationship that have nothing to do with relationships: “Ambitious.” Ambition says something about a person’s ability to work toward their personal goals but nothing about a relational capacity. “Stable.” Stability is lovely in theory, as some signifier of personal growth, but we are all a gentle nudge over a precipice of perceived permanence, and we can so easily lose our jobs, health, family members, financial plans, or any others placeholders for stability. This characteristic also says little about relational ability. “Hot.” Hotness and perceived sexual attractiveness is super temperamental, because you can like someone, and in doing so find them hot, but once you stop liking, that heat, that attractiveness, that chemistry, can easily dissipate. There are tons more examples of qualities (e.g. confidence) or characteristics (e.g. doesnt live at home with the parents) that people may use to deem the suitability of a partner which have little relational bearing, but I won’t go more into those.

This article is about picking partners, and to that end, here’s what I would call relational criteria, or some unordered guideposts for this exploration on picking partners:

Effort. Returning phone calls, going on dates with you, a generally even text-messaging ratio, remembering your friends’ names, remembering your work schedule, remembering prior conversations, holding the door, and asking, “how was your day?” are all what I would generally consider nice, but not really effort. It is easy to interpret any action done on the part of a potential partner as having effort, and in many ways it is a demonstration of your kindness to assume that positive intent, but it doesn’t mean that effort is there. In my book, effort is the intentional act of reaching out, going beyond one’s self, of seeing things from the other person’s perspective, and preferring to make decisions with you rather than for you. As an example of effort, if you planned a date on a specific night and they can’t do that particular night/place, they give a counter offer of another day/time/location, rather than disagreeing altogether. Simply agreeing to a plan isn’t effort either; working towards something that works for all parties, is. True, it may seem petty to think of measuring effort and monitoring who is doing the planning and work, but ideally both you and they are demonstrating effort. In my book, consistent displays of effort build a feeling of trust, which is key to knowing that your partner is there for you.

To consider effort: with distinction, how am I demonstrating my ongoing desire to relate and how are they demonstrating their ongoing desire to relate?

In many ways, this is our kindness, assuming positive intent in others’ actions, and their actions may in no way be coming from a place of kindness.
Kind. This is a tough one. If we think someone is a a good partner to be, then we may take any action or behavior that they do as a form of kindness. In many ways, this is our kindness, assuming positive intent in others’ actions, and their actions may in no way be coming from a place of kindness. Being bought gifts may be kind, but it may also be about their personal wants of showing off their partner in hot new clothes or their own personal thoughts on what is expected, but not requested. Being taken to dinner may be kind, but it may be about the other person’s control issues and not wanting to seem dependent. Having the door opened to you may be kind, but it may be more about a presumed formality of what should happen than what you want to happen. In my scorecard, that you are treated as you want to be treated, granted you also treat yourself kindly, is where kindness is felt.

To distinguish kindness, and to see it, I like to ask: how am I being treated as a person, especially with regards to what I don’t like about myself?

Generous. I’m not talking money and gifts here. Those are nice, cute even, but can be more about the person giving than the one receiving. Generosity, to me, is with time and priorities. If a relationship is to occur, it is with respect to everyone’s time restraints, and consideration and weight is given to all priorities of all parties involved. If only one person’s time, energy, or priorities are valued then there is an inherent imbalance of power that can make relating difficult. Within this, it is difficult for all parties to relate to each other when there is an imbalance to this degree that. And yes, it may seem like a given thing, or an assumed part of relationships for compromise to occur, but a person that sees the value in what you value, and generously prioritizes it because it benefits you, regardless of any secondary gain on their part, is a relational skill to prioritize.

To decipher generosity: are time and energy being given, by my partner to be, to my priorities outside the relationship? And I to theirs?

Loving. I’m not talking about niceness. Nor am I talking about generally vague good feelings. Being loved, and what feels like love for you, because it feels like it to you, is the relational component. Now, you may really like a partner that is super invested in your life and gets really close to your friends and family, but they seem to shower you with gifts, some expensive, some less than shiny; that’s all very nice. Not quite felt as love. I’d say, in not so many words, that it isn’t quite love when their showing of love is more about what matters to them than what matters to you. If you want physical touch to feel connected to your partner, and they show that they care by holding your hand, but only in private, and only at your initiation, then I wouldn’t call that enough. In many ways, whether with therapy, counseling, or a lot of introspection, knowing what feels connecting for you, and how you want to be cared for is essential in being able to have a relationship. It also gives you the nuanced perspective to consider how your partner wants to be loved.

As a great guiding question: how am I being loved by this person, and is it how I want to be loved?

I’d say, in not so many words, that it isn’t quite love when their showing of love is more about what matters to them than what matters to you.
Apologetic. Now, a person who is always apologizing, always putting themselves down to elevate you, who is constantly self critical isn’t the most relational. They may have a horrible relationship with themselves, which is a whole other thing, and that isn’t the kind of relational sense that I’m encouraging being sought after. Having a relationship does mean, in large part, impacting those close to you in pleasant and unpleasant ways, and being impacted and growing as a person because of this other person. Expecting a relationship to be always smooth, kind, generous, loving, and not conflictual, not tense, nor disagreeable at times is to be unrealistic. Accordingly, seeing any sign of hurt, disloyalty, or discomfort in a relationship as a sign of weakness and not worthy of working on, both personally and relationally, is also a sign of lacking relational ability and not working on a relationship. Apologizing, repairing, taking responsibility, having a partner that sees the impact of their actions on you, changing themselves and their behavior, and asking for forgiveness when having done wrong and putting the relationship in your gentle hands is a demonstration of many relational abilities. A fantastic demonstration. A demonstration of being in a relationship.

To discern an ability to apologize, consider: have they apologized for some wrong, an important one, and changed to correct it?

Small caveat: it is easy to believe that in romantic relationships we are treated differently by our partners than how they treat others in their life. I largely disagree. I rarely believe that in romantic relationships both partners are the exception to how they treat and relate to others. I believe in romantic relationships, we simply get more of the same. To simply assess a partner as pickable or not based on how they treat you, and not take into account how they treat others, is to miss a whole host of information. Picking someone who is kind to others, is giving to others, tailors their connection to others based on them, and has the dedication to apologize and mend relationships that aren’t with you, is also picking someone that demonstrates a relational capacity to be with others, and maintain relationships with others. It can be difficult to assess how a partner to be treats others, but it is also an important relational priority to have: prioritizing their priorities. See above on effort and generosity.

Big caveat for those who have already picked a partner and maybe this writing has induced some anxiety on your own part that your partner might not seem pickable: all of the above can be worked on. Working on the above, is relating. It is effort. Throwing in the towel because a person isn’t fully relational, fully able to participate in a relationship from the first date, the infinitesimal moment of a first greeting, of any meeting, is to not work on relating. That’s a whole lot of a lot of sabotaging mechanisms designed to only allow a perfect partner the possibility of a relationship. This mechanism of only accepting perfection and not perfecting your relational abilities, perfects, ironically, the inability to be in a relationship.

….

Even in all the work that goes into finding a person to have a relationship, to discerning their readiness to have a relationship, to working on yourself to be able to be ready to be in a relationship, the relationship can still fail. Refining your ability to pick only goes so far in a relationship working or not, but it does refine your awareness of relational qualities, which is largely helpful in being in a relationship.

So pick a partner. Pick a partner based on their ability to be a partner. Be their partner. Be kind. Be generous. Be loving, as they want to be loved. And when you do wrong by them, do better.

 

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn picking a partner

On opening up a relationship

Open.JPG“I’m not monogamous. How do I tell my girlfriend that without it ending our relationship?”

“I’m dating these two guys that are awesome, but who do I really want to have a relationship with?”

“My girlfriend cheated on me with her ex that I know, and I’m more mad at him than her. Does this mean I don’t want to be with her? I still love her and I think I should be more angry. Should I?”

“I think opening up our relationship will spice things up, because things can’t get blander. Any advice?”

“If my wife had an affair, I think I’d be okay in the end. If I had an affair I think it would destroy her. Wait. Why did you ask if it mattered who cheats?”

I get questions like these quite a lot in my practice, and sometimes I get these questions because I ask leading statements to start a conversation that is being avoided. There are many different times, outside of therapy, when a conversation about opening up a relationship may happen: sometimes it is when the topic of exclusivity comes up, when a joke about a threesome seems like more than a joke, when one partner loses sexual functioning, or sometimes it never comes up explicitly out of fear of losing the relationship.

There is a lot to discuss in terms of what you do and do not want to do and what you do and do not want your partner to do, especially a really big underlying issue that is present in those areas, and it isn’t one of communication.
The idea of opening up a relationship, or starting the conversation itself, can falter under the weight of fear, and seem like a clarion call to end the relationship:

He wants to open the relationship, so he doesn’t really love me.

She’s thinking about opening the relationship, so I guess I don’t satisfy her.

He asked about opening the relationship, so he must not be committed to me.

She wants to also see other people, so obviously I’m not good enough for her.

These thoughts, and many more variations on this theme, often come out when a person talks to their partner about opening up a relationship. The party hearing this for the first time may feel shocked, betrayed, puzzled, hurt, angry, deceived, confused, or any other emotion, and the conversation can get messy really easily. It can also get confusing because both parties might have a difficult time conceptualizing what they want or do not want in this new structure of their relationship, and the thought of other partners or other partners for their partner, has a lot of moving parts.

Before going into the “we’re-breaking-up-because-you-want-to-change-the-relationship” conversation, I advise having the “what-would-it-even-look-like” conversation. To start the later conversation, I like to assuage some of the expected anxiety by going over many methodical and meticulous aspects of navigating these open waters. As a listy questionnaire I ask:

  • Are you opening up the relationship for there to be romantic relationships outside of the present dyad? Or simply sex?
  • Are you wanting to add another partner to your present dyad but have that throuple/pod/house be exclusive? A “monogamy premium package” arrangement?
  • Are both you and your present partner going to be pursuing other relationships?
  • Are external partners who are in other relationships preferred, or not? What about if they are single and want commitment?
  • How much time are you wanting to spend, per week, pursuing external partners? How much time are you wanting your partner to spend with their extra partners?
  • Is publicly flirting with others acceptable? Only in private? With each other present?
  • How much time are you going to spend getting to know your partner’s other partners? How much time do you want your partner to spend on getting to know your other partners?
  • How do you want to treat your other partners? Anonymously? Casually? Commited? Do you expect to love them, or not love them?
  • How do you want your partner to treat your partners? Do you expect your partner to love them, or not love them? How will you address their feelings of love, hate, or indifference?
  • How do you want to treat your partners other partners? How does your partner want you to treat their partners?
  • Do you want veto power over who your partner chooses to be with?
  • Do you want your partner to have veto power over your choices of partners?
  • Are other anonymous sexual partners preferred? Repeat partners? Mutual friends? Exes?
  • Are anonymous sexual partners excluded? Repeat partners? Mutual friends? Exes?
  • Do you want a, “don’t ask don’t tell,” policy?
  • Do you want a, “I will answer truthfully, but only if you ask the question,” policy?
  • Do you want relationship advice to be withheld regarding new partners? Sought out?
  • Who will know about being open? Family? Friends? Colleagues? Children? Neighbors?
  • What terms, titles, names are you going to use for other partners? External partner? Lover? Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Primary? Secondary? Polyamorous?
  • Can dates happen in communal places, like a shared apartment? Can sex happen in a shared bed?
  • Will sex with other people be safer sex? Condoms required? Birth control? Dental dams? Will sex with your present partner be as safe/unsafe as with external partners?
  • If it doesn’t seem to be working for you, how will problems be addressed? In therapy? All parties come together to discuss problems? First sign of problem and it becomes monogamous again? Other partners get abandoned to focus on the relationship?

These are only a handful of questions, and many of them are the start of full ongoing conversations about expectations and boundaries. There is a lot to discuss in terms of what you do and do not want to do and what you do and do not want your partner to do, especially a really big underlying issue that is present in those areas, and it isn’t one of communication.

All of these how questions are valid, and in many ways necessary, for the opening up of a relationship. Additionally, I would say the above questions are important, but not because communication is important. These are important to address, because addressing control is important.

In the decision to open up a relationship, and addressing all of the small, meticulous, and intricately integral questions to the act of opening up a relationship, an aspect of most all relationships becomes tangible: control.
Speaking broadly, when changing the nature or status of a relationship and facing an unknown and uncertain future, especially when insecurities and fears arise, we humans do this pesky thing of wanting to control the people around us and have them do what we want them to do and what we think is best for us, that we also think is best for them. We are comfortable with others doing what we permit them to do, but so long as they do what we want, how we want it, and in a way that is respectful of our boundaries/limits/needs, and this control supposedly makes the fears of an uncertain future more manageable. Your partner’s wants, their limits, their boundaries, their desired shape for a relationship, for their life, may not be seen at all if you aren’t open to seeing it and seeing it as theirs.

With this, we may see our partner’s desire to have sex with someone else as a sign of their lack of desire for us, rather than being open to what is desirable about that other person from our partner’s own eyes. We may see our partner in love with someone else as a sign that they don’t love us any longer, and we may not be open to seeing what is special and valuable about their love for that other person and that it doesn’t have to threaten our own feelings of love. We may see our partner wanting to build their life with another person as separate from a life expected to be built with only one other person, only you, and we may completely miss the multifaceted and beautiful composition of the life they want to build that does includes you. We may see our partner wanting to be close to another as a sign of not being everything to our partners, and we may not want to face the limit that we can’t be everything for the person that we love.

It is rare to see our relationships and the person that we are in a relationship with as their own person and more often than not, we prefer to close ourselves off from seeing this. We can avoid conversations. We can choose to not take any risks by not opening up the relationship. It is a risk to open up a relationship, and it is also a risk to not open up a relationship.

So talk to your partner. Listen to your partner. Talk about your feelings of love. Listen to their feelings of love. Talk about your sex life. Listen to their sex life. Talk about you. Listen to their talking about you. Talk about them. Listen to them talk about themselves. Discuss not having control over each other.

When you open up a relationship you also have the opportunity to open up your way of looking, seeing, and loving your partner. You have the unique opportunity to look past the illusion of control that you have over your partner. It is a beautiful opportunity, if you are open to it.

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn opening up a relationship

On fake people

Fake“Brady, I can’t stand fake people! I get so annoyed by them, pretending to be nice, pretending to be something they’re not, and all the lying. What’re some good ways to shut them down, call them out, or, I don’t know, get them to stop being so fake? You’re mean, so I want to be too.”

Admittedly, you probably won’t like what I’m about to write.

For those gentle readers who are unaware, that bastion of contemporary catchphrases, if clichés, Urban Dictionary, would say: A fake person is someone who is not genuine and will do whatever it takes to make themself look good. They will take credit for other’s work or down play the good of others to illuminate oneself. Fake people take part in hypocrisy [sic], lies, and will turn on friendship the moment it no longer is a benefit for them. They will change thier personality to fit in to a certain group.

Truthfully, I can hear [read] a lot of frustration in your words, and a tremendous amount of built up anger and relational problems. My imagination is painting a picture of deception, betrayal, and a long storied experience of such. You might have an altruistic agenda and want to confront them, whoever they are, and change them for the better. Or maybe you simply want to be mean for the sake of meanness and confront the lies and deception to relish in the ensuing tears. Since I don’t have any specifics to go on, and I’m not entirely certain of your agenda, I’ll try to be as specific-ish as I can be.

Devising strategies for what is real and what is fake hinges upon an idea that there are measures and standards for ontologically determining what that “what” is. In so many ways, the standard is what each person has made it to be. And those standards are made up. Faked up, if you will.
On a whole, I would say that we concoct these elaborate litmus tests of what is real, I think, because we crave certainty and absolutes in life, but even more so in our anxiety inducing relationships and with the incomprehensibility of other people. Allow me to demonstrate: to be a real man is to not act, behave, sound, dress, anything in any possible way like a woman. To be a real blond is to never chemically enhance, tone, lighten, or modify your changing hair color. To be a real friend is to only give compliments, always show up to events, never miss a time together, and have coffee/tea at least once a week. To be a real Christian is to have one particular interpretation of the Christian bible, denouncing all other interpretations as interpretations but your interpretation as fact. To be a real colleague is to never vocalize complaints about someone to other people, to be a team player, and to prioritize others’ ideas and not your own ideas. To be a real spouse is to be able to read another’s mind, satisfy all their wants and needs, and never disagree. To be real in love is to only ever feel it directed towards one person, ever, in the entirety of your life.

Well, I could keep going on with more examples, but I think my arbitrary points stand, even with other arbitrary measures of realness. Devising strategies for what is real and what is fake hinges upon an idea that there are measures and standards for ontologically determining what that “what” is. In so many ways, the standard is what each person has made it to be. And those standards are made up. Faked up, if you will.

To move away from a philosophy discussion and back to the unquiet psychological idea, what you perceive to be fake or real as a person’s character, and what I perceive to be fake or real about another person’s character, in many ways may have nothing to do with the other person’s actions or intentions. It is simply our own impositions of controlling and policing behavior coming out onto another person. I may want to declare, with certainty, and perhaps a little more than a sprinkling of self-regard, that my own beliefs and standards of what is fake or real are not mine, but what is universally, unquestionably, certain. They aren’t.

So what can you do?

What you can work on, and what is within your ability, is your choosing to see what is genuine and true about others. Your own limitations, biases, and psychological makeup will make it difficult to see what is true and real in others, because so often we will perceive others from the perspective of our own standards of what is true and genuine. If a friend lies about their activities, hear what is true in the lie. You think they are lying because they want to be liked? What is fake about wanting to be liked? You think they are lying because they are only telling you what you want to hear? What is fake in not feeling comfortable to express yourself, or fearing that your expression will have painful repercussions? You think they are lying because they know what they did is wrong? What is fake about how difficult it is to see or to admit our mistakes?

The moment someone tells me something that I struggle to believe, or I think is an outright lie and I want to catch them in a lie and shut them down, I realize that my desire to shut them down is because I am shut down. I don’t want to listen or hear what they are saying. I don’t want to spend time considering how they are right, or real. If I believe I’ve encountered someone I believe is fake, my desire to shut them down is only my own acting out and putting on them my own sense of being shut down.

No. I will not give you anything to shut them down. What I will encourage you to do, is to not be shut down and to try to listen to what is true in all that you deem fake.

See what is real for another person as real. It is okay if you fake it. Or as I like to think of it: it is okay to try.

-Brady

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn fake people

On asking for help and who we choose to get close to

lonely.JPG“I had the worst week imaginable. Like, everything imploded: car towed, my paycheck bounced, garbage disposal erupted, my dog went missing, is still missing, and I got flaked on my second date with Tinder guy. I didn’t even want to see you today, Brady, but I rallied to get out of bed after I called my dad this morning. He is really there for me when I need him. I don’t know what I’d do without him.”

When shit hits the fan, as if fans are somehow metaphysically engineered for shit, we do the best we can. We call dad. We call mom. We reach for our phones to text roommates. We yell for our partners. We shout for help with a childlike powerlessness. We can also reach for a bottle, whatever’s in the medicine cabinet, behind the refrigerator door, that habitual thing that we still call recreational, the remote control, or even the nearest warm body. We cope.

We cope the best way that we can at any given moment.

There is, in coping, a relational mechanism at work if we so choose to cope by asking for help. The relational piece, which is the focus of this blog entry, is in that moment of asking for help, that we might not consciously acknowledge.

Asking for help, in perhaps a moment of crisis, or even in less turbulent times, is done because we know someone is close and can help, as asking for help also makes someone close.

Like gravity, the more we pull for others, the closer they get; concurrently, it becomes easier to pull on those that are close.

To slow down this circular mechanism to see its movements, it is important to distinguish that the people that we choose to ask for help are often times those that we have asked for help in the past. Distinctively, we know that they are there, in large part, because we have asked them to be there for us. Conversely, without reaching out for help, it is very difficult to feel that others are there for you, in large part, because we have not asked for others to be there for us.

Over time, and over small and large moments of reaching out to others and not reaching out to others, we construct our feelings of closeness. Or to further the gravitational metaphor; we assemble our constellations from the familiar orbits of our daily living.

Taking a sidestep from the metaphor, perhaps dreamed by Brian Swimme, and back into the prompt,  I’m not saying that reaching out to your dad, or anyone in particular is wrong or bad or somehow emblematic of weakness, an unhealthy relationship, or some psychological deficit. What I am saying is that the act of reaching out for help to someone specific is also a relational act of opening up to that specific person and an expression of a desire to get close to them, above others.

On a therapeutic level, which is to say an incredibly personal level, I believe it is important to examine how we ask for help, or do not ask for help, and to whom do we ask for help, or do not ask at all.

The importance of that examination addresses, at least from one angle, feelings of closeness, connection, community, and in their absence, distance, isolation, and loneliness. And yes, I’m guilty of going the circuitous route as a shrink and asking about how and which persons are asked for help, to critically examine the felt sense of disconnection and loneliness.

Beyond the ideas of closeness and the pragmatic examination of how we can get close to others, and to the more general relationship advice, I would say: it’s hard to reach out to a person, any person, because we might be rejected. Our requests can go unanswered. Our messages can go unreturned. Our reaching out can be left empty. There is, however, the possibility that in reaching out for help, there is something to hold onto. And in that, I would say you do risk loneliness in having your requests go unanswered; you guarantee it in not asking for help at all.

Whoever you reach out to, I am glad that they are there for you.

BradyOn asking for help and who we choose to get close to

On hurting our friends

on hurting our friends

“Again. I keep getting hurt by all the people that I love and it seems like all I ever do is get hurt. My trust has been broken so many times by… everyone that I don’t even think… I can’t trust. What’s even the point of having friends if you can’t trust them?”

I get questions like these a lot in my practice. It is also so much more than a question about others motivations or intent, because it is a single moment of hurt compounded by many, an innumerable many, moments of hurt. It is also a hard question that I can’t really answer. However, it is a question that comes from a single perspective, and it is the perspective itself that I’d like the liberty to reshape.

Admittedly, I know many people that anchor their relationships in a felt sense of trust, and as their relationships grow, and the other person comes closer, trust is seemingly measured by a feeling of closeness. One can also think in the reverse order as well and measure how close they feel about a person by how much they can trust the other person. With both angles, trust then becomes this intertwined closeness thing, this thing that is a measure of kinds of relationships, this thing that can make relational distance, and this thing that can be broken and sever a felt sense of closeness. To break someone’s trust, then, is to no longer be close, and to feel as if another person is a far ways away.

In this operational breakdown, and why I am breaking it down, is to show more than the single direction of others moving away from us when they break our trust. It is my intention to show the movement as multidimensional; it is not a one-way movement. We, too, move away from others when we break their trust, and sometimes we don’t even move closer when attempting to repair the relationship.

This perspective on trust, that it is hard to trust others because they have broken our trust, that others are continuously in the wrong, that we are forever the ones having our trust in others broken, also denies the experience and realities of you having been the one that has, as well, broken others’ trust. To maintain the perspective that you are the one that has been hurt, that you alone cannot trust others, that you are beyond hurt and the relationship beyond repair, that you do not want to be the one hurt, is to narrowly focus on what others have done to you. They have gotten close to you and hurt you by being so close. You have also been close to others. You have also broken their trust as well. To focus on their wrongs and selectively choose to not see your own wrongs is, in not so many carefully chosen words, how you hurt your friends.

Most people hold varying perspective that they didn’t hurt someone, that the other person has the problem, or that the friendship is categorically over because there is a problem, or that there is no point in friendship because trust is lost, or that there wasn’t “really” trust in the first place. I often wonder where people get this idea that relationships should be … conflict free.

To maintain the perspective that you are the one that has been hurt, that you alone cannot trust others, that you are beyond hurt and the relationship beyond repair, that you do not want to be the one hurt, is to narrowly focus on what others have done to you.
I think that some of these thoughts stem from ideas, mantras, internet memes that say: “real friends or real love you never have to chase,” “your closest friend may be your biggest hater, because people pretend,” “true friendship doesn’t take work,” or “true friends don’t judge each other; they judge other people together.” These ideas are framing friendships, and supposedly “real” ones as ones where disagreement, differences, and anything other than loving kindness is a sign of not being friends, or not loving your friends at all. It is a really limited view, and an even more limited litmus test, of relating.

To me, it is a natural part of any relationship and any friendship to disagree, to differ, to offend, and to make many mistakes while struggling to do right by the other person. It is also natural to not know the unspoken and the evolving or unformed thoughts of someone we love. I write this all as a preface to say: more often than not we will probably hurt the people we care about.

Simply treating others as you would like to be treated is nice and all, yet it lacks personal nuance; the golden rule is lovely, but not everyone loves gold.

Metaphory digressing aside, there is a sparklingly clear quote by Sidney Hook (p. 29) that says it in another way: “We are all crueler than we know, not because we are evil, but because our senses and imagination have such a limited range.” [Pragmation and the tragic sense of life (1974). New York: Basic Books] In many ways, and especially in thinking about friendship and our ability to hurt others, it can be helpful to think that the people you will have the most conflict, the most problems with, are those that are simply the closest to you.

The poet Dante, in his Divine Comedy, captured this idea with perfect clarity: the worst sin, the worst wrong we can do to another is to betray trust.

Cassius. Judas. Brutus.

The deepest parts of our hells are reserved, especially, for those that betray trust. We place them the furthest from love. Dante captured this feeling in some of the most beautiful imagery I know. It is also a beautiful image that holds more insight; the deepest part of hell, the furthest we can be from feeling loved, is also the closest to returning to another’s grace. The ascent towards grace was, in the allegory, one step deeper into the hurt of betrayal, and then gravity shifted only to make the decent turn into an ascent. Betrayal and breaking another’s trust is the furthest we can get from loving someone and yet it is from being in that hell that we have betrayed another that we can begin to get closer, to heal, and to love. Even in the breaking of trust, we are closer than we may realize or feel.

Yes. Trust is broken. Betrayal feels like the worst pain, and yet, I expect trust to be broken countless times in every relationship, some intentional and some unintentional, but all done because the process of getting close to another person is incredibly difficult.

When problems invariably arise, it is so difficult to apologize to friends, in part, because we must first admit to hurting them, to being an aggressor, to being unkind. In doing so we must look at those difficult parts of ourselves, our guilt, our meanness, our carelessness, our cruelty, our inconsideration, our betrayal, or any part of ourselves that has hurt others, if we are to grow. We must look at ourselves and not excuse our actions away, whether by blaming others for our actions, or blaming the relationship as at fault rather than your actions in the relationship. To look at our own behavior, and to own our actions, is an opportunity to grow, and as is often the case, we discover these things in our relationships when things don’t go well.

If you don’t care about someone that you’ve hurt in someway, perhaps a stranger on the street, then apologizing to them, if at all, doesn’t really alter your self perception, your social world, your feelings of love, of your lovability, acceptance, and belonging. However, if the one you hurt is your friend, one you love beyond words, then all of those things may come up for you. With this, many people feel hurt at having hurt their friends. However, your feelings of hurt at the thought of hurting your friend are secondary to your friends hurt. To apologize to your friend is to acknowledge their hurt first and address it before all else.

So where do you start? Where can you start?

To look at our own behavior, and to own our actions, is an opportunity to grow, and as is often the case, we discover these things in our relationships when things don’t go well.
In some ways, a first step is acknowledging that we hurt those that we love, and it also one of the hardest places to start in apologizing to a friend. Apologizing in many ways involves not dissolving our own responsibility because some else, “feels that way.” If that’s the case, that you really believe the problem is theirs, and you aren’t an agent of their hurt, then any apology will sound dismissive: “I’m sorry you feel that way.” “That wasn’t my intention.” These non-apologies are a missed opportunity, because in part, apologizing and repairing any rupture in a relationship involves taking responsibility for one’s actions and not shifting the focus or blame onto the party that is hurt. You’ve got to feel, and own, the distance you’ve created, so that you can again move towards your friends.

The point of this writing, and the note I would like to end on is not that trust is the most important part of a relationship, nor that loving someone means never breaking their trust. It is that others will break your trust, and you will break theirs. They are hurt, and you have an opportunity to grow as a person in seeing how you hurt them. Take responsibility for your behavior, understand the impact of your actions, and with that, you have an opportunity to personally grow, and to become a closer friend.

It is in our relationships that we can grow. Spending time together, sharing interests, and agreeing are all icing on the cake of our friendships. The cake though, because I like ending my ramblings with a metaphor, is how you heal the emotional scrapes and tears that come from getting that close to another person.

 

 

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn hurting our friends

Apologies

Apologies. I am currently migrating my old website from Joomla to WordPress, and being trained as a shrink and not in the fine arts of web design, it will take a while fully migrate my site over.  In the meantime, you can still make an appointment through http://jonathanbradyphdlmft.fullslate.com and I am still available by email: drbrady@bradyesque.com and phone: 323.456.3010

-Brady

BradyApologies

On kinds of commitment

CommitmentCommitment. It is a weighty word. It looks long when I write it. It sounds long when I say it; rolling and repetitive. It also seems unfinished, as if there is an unspoken, “to,” somehow hidden, frightened, and scared to be acknowledged.

I think in many ways, these being my own pet theories, that we often want the idea of a thing, like the idea of commitment, of stability, of love, whatnot, to be one thing and one thing alone. We want our things, especially our ideas, to be firm. Fixed. Defined. Absolute. Ontological.

Following this, conversations about the relative nature of our ideas, of our words and ways of being, lend themselves to a flirtatious sense of what could be, and for many people this is deeply unsettling. They aren’t interested in what could be. They want to know what it is. They want answers. They want to know; period. The same holds true for commitment: we want to know what commitment is, for certain, so that we can be certain that we have it.

Jokingly, I think a lot of people are super committed to their idea of commitment and what commitment should be.

To not be committed to one definition of commitment, to embrace a bit of the relative nature of the things we so tightly hold onto, is an act of getting to know, of wanting to understand, of exploring, that is integral to knowing. As an aside, uncertainty is much more than a point to move beyond, and this aspect of uncertainty is easy to forget. I think it is especially easy, that is, to dismiss uncertainty and want one definition, when we are thinking about relationships and something as emotionally charged as commitment.

I’ve seen many different kinds of commitment in my life. By kinds, I am not thinking of kinds as the strength/quality/ranking of a thing: strong commitments, weak commitments, better commitments. Relationally speaking, I think of kinds of commitment as what grounds and what sustains one’s commitment in a relationship.

With my eye, I’d like to describe five that I see quite frequently.

Committed commitment is perhaps the most common kind that I see. It is also a cyclical kind of commitment. The ground of this commitment is simply being committed; remembering that one is committed therefore sustains the commitment. When, “we’re in a committed relationship,” is the point or counterpoint in arguments, when, “we’re in a committed relationship,” is the answer to any relationship question, and even when, “we’re in a committed relationship,” is the primary descriptor used to define a relationship, it all somehow rests on the meaning of commitment as this thing that simply is and needs no further explanation or examination. This kind of commitment, this more unexamined of commitments, seems groundless to me, for one is in a committed relationship because it is a committed relationship. With this, either you are or you are not in a committed relationship, and this vague yet definitive understanding is sustaining. It appears to be enough for many people.

There is also a commitment to the fantasy. My opinion of idealized notions of relationships, that marriage is a happily ever after, that love will keep us together, that picking the right person means the relationship will work, are all rooted in this revered Disneyish tale of true love, the one, and perfect endings. Life events that are less than idyllic can destroy these commitments: mistakes, unemployment, moving, evictions, affairs, sexual difficulties, breakdowns, miscarriages, bankruptcies, hospitalizations, deaths. The very vicissitudes of life seem stacked against any truly couple when this is the anchor of their commitment. With this commitment, it can really feel like it is, “us against the world,” because the world, and the living of life, rather than either party in the relationship, will be the breaker of the commitment. In an ideal world this idyllic commitment would be enough, and what sustains this commitment is a sense of predestination: if it is meant to be, it will be, and if not, it was never really meant to be. This kind of commitment perhaps has the deepest roots in our psyche and it provides hope for things to work, and comfort when things do not.

Committing to a person, rather than to the idea of comment or an ideal, is in some ways the most external of commitments that I can see, because the commitment is entirely weighted on the very being of the other person. What sustains a relationship, then, is the other person being who they were at the beginning and remaining the same throughout the relationship. If you are committed to a person, and they grow, change, or evolve, then their growth itself is a betrayal of the relationship and to the commitment; by changing themselves they are changing the relationship. If committing to a person is to be sustained, then the other person’s character and identity needs to be constant for the relationship to survive. This kind of commitment can give a person an experience of deep trust and surrender. It is a committing and relating through the eyes of their partner; which feeds the other party and theoretically nourishes the one making this commitment.

There is also a commitment to time, and making vows of forever. A relationship with this commitment is sustained with the simply passing of days and not wanting to be alone in those days. With time together, at worst it can feel like serving time under contract, and at best it can feel like sharing one’s life, big and small moments, all of it all, together. The committing to time, to going the long haul, can feel like a real relationship because time somehow acts to legitimize a commitment. It is sustained through no act of the persons involved, but by the simply making it through to another day. In this idea, time itself does the grounding and sustaining work, and the relationship, with the parties involved, is simply along for the ride.

Then there is a rarely seen commitment to choice and the act of relating. This is an altogether different kind of commitment because I see it as one not rooted in something external, but in an internal place of will and the realization that the choosing to be committed, in its own kind of way, grounds and sustains itself. To be in a relationship and, in each moment, to choose to relate to another person is so very difficult because it requires a vast strength of will. Commitment is anchored, then, not in external dynamics of time, of ideals, of your partner’s actions, or in a definition of commitment, but in your own agency and willingness to relate. This commitment isn’t sustained by a fantasy, because it is self sustained in the taking responsibility for one’s self while consciously staying in relation. It is not a commitment hedged in dependent stances, powerlessness, or other’s happiness being your source of happiness, but in an ability to stand on one’s own feet and in one’s own integrity. In this kind of committed relationship, then, the relationship is continuously consented to and carefully tended by your own self.

These are various kinds of commitment, five kinds, really, that I can see at the time of writing this, and each of them has their risks and rewards. Over time I have come to see and experience many kinds of commitment in relationships and the question of, “what grounds and sustains your commitment in your relationships?” has given me more answers than I thought possible. Then, perhaps the question itself, if posed to others, to you, will also give an opportunity to examine commitment and what grounds and sustains it.

To simply think of commitment as an all or nothing thing, that you have it or don’t, and to dismiss the evolving, struggling, renewing, redefined, and rerooted aspects of commitment is to miss out on examining your ideas of relationships and your ideas of love. To examine, to question, and discover how you are committed, and how it does and doesn’t work for you, isn’t a sign of not being committed. This is the furthest possible interpretation. To engage in the process of commitment is, in a way, an opportunity to look at what strengthens, sabotages, or supports your relationships, and in doing so, it increases your ability to commit.

If you are committed to one kind of commitment, then your sense of commitment cannot grow or evolve over time. Commitment can change, and how you are committed can change, which is beautiful. In my eyes there are no right kinds or wrong kinds of commitment, and what works or is right for you may not be what works or is right for other people or other relationships. Overall, there are simply multiple ways of being sustained in a relationship, and that, in my heart, is thinking of commitment kindly.

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn kinds of commitment

On an all twink diet

“Brady, I love twinks, because they are tasty, delicious, and oh so sugary. I have an all twink diet. However, I am worried that I will get a cavity: a cavity of the soul. What, oh what, should I do?”

I love this question and if I am to read between the lines, I would assume that your casually joking tone masks what may be a deeply personal question that you are trusting me to address. To that, I would like to say thank you for trusting me with this question.

For those in the dark, a twink is a young gay man, full of hope and promise, that most would consider barely an adult at all. He might have an endless playlist of earnest pop songs in his ears, last night’s glitter still in his hair, the taste of discount alcohol stale upon his breath, and an endless flood of texts and tweets issuing from his thumbs about his latest crush or an ex that he had to dump. This may be a flighty if shallow picture that I am painting of a romantic suitor, but that is not to say that there isn’t something substantial to explore here.

To think about it differently, a twink is in a temporary state of being that most gay men grow out of when they gain 20 lbs, go to grad school, or start a 401k. I write that not to belittle the younger generation of gay men or to impose an idea that, “they have a lot of growing up to do,” from a condescending place but to acknowledge, with gentleness, that they have only begun growing and becoming the men that they truly are. To be a twink, in essence, is to be at a temporary point along a long, if windy, road.

The psychology of twinks, [did I just write that?], therefore includes the understanding that their own youth, and youth’s transitory status, isn’t something that they are particularly conscious of. Others are acutely aware of it. That flourish of youthful vitality may be alluring to you, that sense of newness and discovery may be evocative for you, yet your attraction to twinks might be more about them as an object of desire rather than who they actually are as a person. Turning a person into a simple object for your conquest and away the fullness of their personhood, in this way, might actually foster that, “cavity of the soul,” that you fear.

In providing therapy to gay men regarding the question, “what’s wrong with loving a twink, or any particular type of men?”, I would say that loving a person, and having a type isn’t inherently flawed. Your desire for a partner that you are attracted to, that has a lightness and an unburdened simplicity within him, isn’t inherently problematic. A twink, like all types of persons, has a particular beauty. Being carefree, having boundless energy, thirsting for life experience, and exuding an unburdened air are attractive attributes that you might find appealing; those traits exist in many different kinds of men and not simply twinks. However, what may be more problematic is the reasons behind that choice of being drawn towards younger men.

I don’t want to throw any wild guesses about the reasons that you have for choosing to date twinks, but I will toss out some questions that I would counsel you to sit with so that you can get a better understanding of your own reasons: What do I admire in the men that I love? What are the qualities and personal characteristics that I want in a partner, and how do they relate to me? What are the personal qualities and characteristics that I do not want in a boyfriend, lover, or husband? How have I chosen romantic partners in my past?

Asking yourself these questions may provide insight into your own reasons for dating younger men. There is the possibility, then, that you can build within yourself an ability to describe, identify, and know the quality of man, not merely the type, that does satisfy your soul, and that feels right for you.

As much as twinks grow up, we all grow up, and we all have the ability to make more conscious and clearer choices in the kinds of relationships we would like to have, and the kind of life we would like to live.

-Brady

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn an all twink diet

On a calm pregnancy

“Seriously Brady. My best friend in this whole world is pregnant, after lying to me that she wasn’t. That’s not what’s bothering me though; she is pushing all of her friends away and her boyfriend is approaching all of her friends and family warning us all not to upset her. I’m afraid to confront her about her lies, her controlling boyfriend, and other actions, which there is a laundry list, and that she’s alienating those that really do love her for the sake of having a calm pregnancy and, ‘not wanting to hurt the baby.’ What am I going to do?”

Thank you for asking me this question. It definitely sounds you are struggling with a situation that you would like to confront, and without having more details, I’ll try to do my best to address what seems to the main issue: being hesitant to confront her at this time and her using her pregnancy as a defensive tactic to avoid confrontation.

There can be some legitimate reasons why persons would want to distance themselves from others: others can be abusive, there can be threats of violence, a person can put boundaries on a toxic relationship, or many other scenarios. There can also be some illegitimate reasons why persons would want to distance themselves from others, notably if a person’s partner is influencing that person to distance themselves from others. I would call this an illegitimate reason because the reason itself, from what you have written, doesn’t seem to originate from their own person, but from someone else. In this instance, I am not entirely clear on what happened for her to push others away, but that may be exactly what you would like to confront.

Using a pregnancy as a way to avoid conflict, confrontation, or addressing issues in a relationship is a tactical maneuver, because most people wouldn’t want to upset a pregnant mother for fear of upsetting the pregnancy. In actuality, that mother, whether pregnant or not, might be easily angered or use any circumstance as a prop, a tool, or more simply: an easy excuse. Confronting a woman that is pregnant, while many people would say is inconsiderate, or not in the best interests of the baby, is actually considerate of the woman and the kind of mother that she will become, and the kind of person that she will raise.

A woman that can handle difficult conversations before she is mother will be better able to have difficult conversations when she is a mother.

On the whole, it is important that when loved ones notice a person’s behavior that is detrimental, such as withdrawal, that the loved one speaks up. Whether pregnant or not, you love your friend, clearly, and how to love your friend seems to be problematic at this time. However, you are not without options or an ability to stand up for your friend and your relationship to her. You can talk to her, and address those issues, without worry about upsetting her pregnancy.

If a person is naturally inclined to be angry, volatile, or readily upset, then whatever stressful situation they are going through may be yet another excuse to be entitled to their anger and volatility. For a person with that temperament, there will continuously be something happening that will make it a hard time to confront them; the ideal time to confront a person will be when you are ready to confront them, not when you think they are ready.

(Originally written February 24, 2013)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn a calm pregnancy

On parental betrayal

“Brady, I’m torn. I’ve recently found out from my dad that my mom had an affair. I’ve always been close to my mom, and I know I’ve put her on a pedestal, but this hurts and keeping this secret is killing me. It is hard to look at her, and even though I’m an adult, the thought of them divorcing, the secrecy… I don’t know what to do. I’m lost.”

Hello. I want to say, first of all, that I am deeply sorry that you are going through this. I believe that parental conflict and betrayal doesn’t simply occur between parents, because the betrayal extends to children as well, so your own feelings of betrayal and hurt are completely valid. While most people would say that parental conflict, whether arguments or infidelity, affects younger children the hardest, I disagree; parents can betray each other, and thereby betray their children, with devastating results, at any age. I would say that the hurt, confusion, shock, and pain that you are going through are absolutely real and valid; it would make sense that you are lost.

As most of us do, you probably grew up with that concrete “All-American” ideal of a married, monogamous, stable, family as the foundation of your healthy and productive life. That ideal can easily be desecrated by divorce, affairs and betrayal; even large or small hostilities can start to erode that foundation of the “All-American” household. I say this, not to trash that ideal or belittle those that want it, but to acknowledge how fragile the “All-American” dream actually is, and how easily that ground can shift. The breaking of that ideal, for children, more than questions our notions of relationships, for it also sends us out into the world without a map or a direction.

When our parents betray each other, the shock disorients us and hits us as children on a cellular level. It is felt with the searing reality that the people that created you and the love that brought you into the world, is broken. It is right for children to be attached to that “All-American” ideal of their parents staying together, of their parents’ love for each other remaining for their, and our, entire lives. It is also fully natural to be scared and lost when that union seems to be fading into darkness.

If I were to give you any advice for where you are right now, any help on what direction to take with knowing that your parents are grappling with an affair, secrecy, and mistrust, would be to have an open conversation with your mother. You put her on a pedestal for a reason, which tells me that there is a lot of love between you and her, and a relationship that might be salvaged. Gently opening a conversation can be as simple as checking in with her, asking her how she is doing, and acknowledging that you don’t know what exactly is happening between her and dad (and you don’t know exactly because you don’t have both sides of the situation), but you want to know. You needn’t force that conversation, only to accuse, yell, or demand answers, so a gentle approach might yield the answers you want to hear. Even with a gentle approach, she may or may not answer; she won’t say anything, however, if she isn’t asked.

You as a child can be terrified of that conversation, but you as an adult can start that conversation.

When we put people on pedestals, if they betray us, we want to mercilessly kick them off, and keep kicking them down. What we can do, for the benefit of everyone, is offer a hand to those on a pedestal so that they can step off, stand on their own feet, and so that we can look each other in the eyes as fellow human beings.

(Originally written February 16, 2013)

About the Author

Brady

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I'm a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice down in the greater Long Beach, CA, area. I've been in the mental health field, formally, since 2005, and I consider it a deep and rewarding honor to see other people grow and live the lives that they want. If I'm not sitting on a couch with a cup of tea in hand, I'm probably on my bicycle, or lost in my own thoughts on the beach; meditating, tweeting, blogging, and talking into a video camera are also known to happen.

BradyOn parental betrayal