I live in New England where right now in the middle of the winter of 2018 there seems to be a massive Flu epidemic. It’s cited as being the worst in history, with people unwittingly passing it on to others who then do the same. It’s a classic case of physiologic contagion. We’re all advised about washing out hands, not sharing towels or utensils, and staying home if we have symptoms to avoid unnecessary spread of the illness which can be fatal.
But what about other forms of contagion? Who notices them and gives us tools to avoid spreading the unsavory?
Contagion in relationships is much like the Flu – if you get too close and aren’t mindful, you’ll catch, in this case, the emotional state of someone you may feel sympathy towards.
If your spouse is depressed and lolling around, if you aren’t proactive you may end up “mirroring” them with similar body language and affect. We all seek people who will mirror us accurately as a form of bonding and connection, but when a loved one is very down or anxious, you want to be careful to not take on their attitude, but instead to feel compassion, and try to provide support. It’s a fine line of difference.
If a friend is feeling hopeless about a relationship or job, you can listen and acknowledge their pain, maybe even ask if they’d like some suggestions or a reality check around their experience. But that’s different from hanging around with them and getting into long, shared experiences about how partners or jobs are unreliable, and tapping into your own negative beliefs about these things. Then the feeling and attitude has been contagious. You’ve “caught” it.
If when you empathize with a loved one by connecting with similar experiences you’ll need to also connect with any lessons you learned or things you gained from the experience, so you don’t “catch” the “hopeless bug”. You’ll need to remind yourself of anything you may have done to get past the experience to something brighter.
It may be useful to remind your loved one of their resources and resilience they’ve demonstrated in the past around these kinds of issues. You can become a subtle cheerleader for their strengths, without sounding too chirpy.
It will also be helpful to limit time spent with someone in a very dark state. You cannot help them if their narrative becomes your own, so make sure you engage in activities before or afterward which remind you of good possibilities in life. You will be a sunnier presence for them as well if you practice this.
You can then make hope the contagious feeling instead!
Do you have a friend or relative who consistently screws up, forgets things, fails to follow through, or in one way or the other doesn’t take care of their own “life business”? If so, you may be in the presence of “learned helplessness.”
Unless these people are clinically depressed or physiologically compromised, this state often has more to do with someone operating at a “youngest sibling” level, expecting that others know more, are more capable, and can assume responsibility for things. They have usually developed unconscious life “scripts” about being inept, or ignorant or incapable, often not challenging these deeply held beliefs. As a result, they lack a sense of “agency,” the courage to try new solutions, and the ability or willingness to try to act effectively on their own behalf.
Your friend or relative may make lame decisions or procrastinate endlessly, and is likely to create a need on your part to take over and rescue them. If you feel that you’re watching someone who operates like a train wreck in slow motion, and that you can’t seem to help yourself from taking over to fix things, then you may be a target of their “learned helplessness”! People who demonstrate this are usually experts at training the people around them to go into overdrive “rescue” mode. They often don’t directly ask for help, but seem to be so helpless that the people around them feel they have to take over.
And don’t be fooled – their “helplessness” is generally very powerful! They get you to take over, pay for things, organize things, make appointments, ask the right questions, and generally fix whatever problems they are faced with.
So, if you’ve been feeling exhausted in a relationship which plays out with this “parent – child” dynamic, and feel that there’s a lack of reciprocity, or that you’re pouring lots of effort down a bottomless pit, watch out! You may be feeding someone’s “learned helplessness”! Consider backing off into a more supportive or facilitative role, allowing them to struggle more directly with problems, and learn that they can direct their power more appropriately into developing solutions for themselves. You’ll be doing yourself, your friend and the relationship a giant service.
If you feel that you need help to deal with this issue in any of your relationships feel free to contact me for an appointment.
Don’t miss my next 25 minute BlogTalk Radio episode on Wednesday, December 14th at 8:30 PM EST
If you’ve been telling yourself a story about all the stresses, expenses, difficult relatives, ridiculous gifts, cards to send, the hassles of putting up and decorating the tree, Chanukah forgotten, cleaning the house, making flights on time, too much eating and drinking, getting too fat, cleaning up the house, no time for anything, then this episode is for you!
I’ll give you 5 sure methods to make all the negative spin come true, individually, and as a couple. Enough chirpy info about how to do better! Let’s look at how you can SABOTAGE any fun, joy or meaning!
Tune into www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager for live streaming, or for the recorded episode afterward, OR to join me live on the air with your own Grinch stories or ideas call into the studio at: 877-497-9046 I’d love to make it a conversation!
Are you in a relationship which seems to have mysteriously lost its magic? Has the experience of mystery and romance dissolved into thin air without an obvious reason?
If you’ve thought “Yes! Yes!” then you and your spouse or partner may be guilty of too much familiarity, and too many liberties taken with each other by allowing boundaries to get too squishy. Here are some examples of this you may have seen creeping into your partnership:
- Going to the bathroom with the door open, allowing your partner the charming pleasure of hearing and smelling the result
- Passing gas without any attempt to be private about it
- Talking about every minuscule detail of your day, however boring
- Continuous contact through texts, calls or emails
- Sharing every detail of your fantasies, regardless of consequences
- Revealing all the gory aspects of your deepest insecurities or areas of poor self-esteem
These are only a few illustrations of how partners mistakenly think that total openness without privacy will promote more closeness and comfort.
Esther Perel, author of the bestselling book “Mating In Captivity” makes the clearest case for how intentional space is necessary for eroticism, excitement and ironically, intimacy. She talks about how total democracy, lockstep teamwork and lack of space have eroded modern partnerships. Couples used to spend longer spans of time courting, longing, missing each other, having less symbiotic “togetherness,” and as a result, often experienced the critical tension the space provided for more romance and excitement.
So, if this issue of overfamiliarity seems to have seeped into your relationship, take a look at how together you may have allowed too many boundaries to have broken down, notice the effect, and explore how you can re-install some mystery and privacy – (NOT secrecy), but space in the name of closeness.
If you’ve ever felt stuck in conversations which seem to go nowhere, and feel the need for some good skills in this area, then don’t miss this episode!
In this next 30 minute BTR episode tonight, (Wednesday 10/21/15) at 8:30 PM I will teach you a vital secret tool for better communication, especially when there’s conflict surrounding an issue.
Call in live at toll-free 877-497-9046 to join me on the air with questions or comments. If you can’t make the live show catch the recording at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager anytime at your convenience.
If you or your partner tend to shut down, retreat, or yell at each other when you disagree, and the “conversation” goes south fast, then this show is for you. Moving forward, you’ll have the means to talk more calmly, take turns, listen better, lower reactivity and move toward solutions faster.
I hope you can join me!
*P.S. To get my book “I’m Talking! Are You Listening?” click on the link below to find it on my Amazon store. There are lots of tips and tools in there for much better communication.
Due to technical issues with BlogTalk Radio, unfortunately last month’s episode, “Workplace Relationships: Dealing with the Dreaded Drama of Conflict” never aired, and has been rescheduled to Wednesday, September 23rd at 8:30 PM. My apologies for any inconvenience.
DO tune in to the rescheduled episode if you’ve experienced conflict at work and have felt dread and indecision about what to do. Or, if you have a manager who doesn’t handle conflict productively, you end up getting the short end of the stick, and again, dread dealing with the issue, then this show is for you!
My co-host Pattie Porter, The Texas Conflict Coach, is an expert in the field of conflict management, and will share her insights about the issues, along with some critical tools you can use to manage these situations more confidently and effectively.
Call 877-497-9046 to join us live on the air with questions or comments. If you can’t make the live show you can listen to the recording afterward at your convenience at: www.BlogTalkRadio.com/SusanLager
As we all get ready to pay our taxes, this is a particularly relevant show now!
In this 40 minute episode, I will co-host with Meredith Richardson, a talented and feisty lawyer, mediator, and conflict coach. Together we’ll focus on the central issues and some common pattterns couples play out related to finances during their marriages, or in their divorces.
* Learn about some key behaviors which are often indicators of marital strength and collaboration, or not.
* Find out about 4 new behaviors which can help you and your spouse to do better in this area.
* Learn about some critical legal issues you need to know about filing taxes jointly.
To listen in, or to join us live on the air with questions or comments, call toll-free 877-497-9046.
If you can’t make the live show, catch the recording at: The Couplespeak Relationship Forum
Whatever you do, don’t miss this episode!
I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love the idea that users can connect and re-connect with all the people they may have lost touch with. I love the “instant feedback loop” around ideas, events, and tastes. I love the marketing possibilities inherent in the site, being able to get a read on what potential clients and subscribers want and need. I love the inspirational content when it’s posted, and how it can change the day for so many people. I love the easy access to resources, often so difficult to find elsewhere.
But I hate all the posturing, self promotion, and mental masturbation which is so common on that medium. I hate all the PR falsehoods, the whole idea that anyone can have 3,000 “friends”! I don’t want to know all the graphic, obsessive details of Barbie’s awful time cleaning up Fido’s poop, and how it’s ruined the grass she paid thousands to maintain. I hate all the wasted time millions of people around the world are committing by living obsessively online, and not in their lives. I hate the marital violations and boundary crossings committed on Facebook which I work so hard to repair with couples. I hate the whole “faux intimacy” it generates, making face-to-face relationships seem so flat by comparison.
What I hate most of all is the envy it creates through all these illusions. I see so much unnecessary self-devaluation getting fueled by what Martha Beck refers to as “FOMO” – Fear of Missing Out, the idea that everyone else’s life is so fabulous, and they’ve all gone to a giant daily party that is exclusive.
If you ever have this experience of envy when you read other people’s posts on Facebook, then I have some tools for you which you may find helpful. I’ll share one here:
- Think of what you are reading about other people as just the corner of the picture frame. You are often looking at the outside trimming, not the substance in the picture. It’s the part people want you to see, not the real internal deal. Would you buy a painting just because the frame looked good? Probably not. Trust that for all the ideal looking vacations, parties, connections, and fun stuff people are posting about, they too have disappointments, frustrations, hurts, and heartbreaks. Barbie may tell you about her dog poop dilemma, but probably won’t share her deepest issues. (If she does on that forum, then her boundaries are bad, or she needs attention and a good therapist.)
Hopefully, the next time you cruise the Facebook site you’ll take it all with a grain of salt, use what’s relevant, and stay with the goodness you experience in your own life.
* If you’d like some one-on-one help with envy of any kind, I have other strategies which may be useful to you. Feel free to contact me at my Portsmouth office at 603-431-7131 for a live or remote session.
My husband Thom thinks he’s a regular handyman. He loves to “fix” things like re-wire lamps, unclog dishwasher parts, and make trash drawers slide like they’re supposed to. I affectionately call him “Mr. FixIt” because most things he “fixes” with the best of intentions, end up slightly better in some ways, but still essentially broken.
His real passion, however, is yard work on our land where he gets thrills from chopping down trees, hauling brush, seeding and mowing lawns, and generally riding around in his tractor, happy as a clam. What all this “work” requires, however, given the loud equipment he uses, is a pair of industrial “earmuffs,” supposedly to protect his hearing. But I’m convinced the muffs are for an entirely different thing – to block out my constant requests that he do this or that. I have therefore affectionately, (but I think, aptly), named the muffs “THE WIFEGUARD.”
As a couples therapist and relationship coach, I think my husband has devised a unique marital tool – a perfect way to ignore me without ever having to say anything hurtful or rude. When I shout requests at him, he either doesn’t hear me at all, and just keeps doing his thing, or he smiles at me quizzically, shakes his head, makes a motion that he can’t hear me, and cheerfully keeps going. Occasionally, when I wave my arms and make faces, looking really adamant about being heard, he takes off “the Wifeguard” momentarily and shouts, “What???”
How can I be mad, married to such an industrious, clever guy?
PS. For access to a somewhat more traditional marital tool, you can get a copy of my newly published book, “I’m Talking! Are You Listening?”Fix Communication Problems With Your Partner In No Time Flat! You can buy it on Amazon at: http://amzn.to/Qprh8v
I had a hilarious psychotherapy session today with a middle aged “salt of the earth” couple who were bemoaning the pervasive preoccupation with cellphones among the younger generation. They talked about how teens and “twenty-somethings” in particular were guilty of communicating primarily via technology. They had hired some young workers for their business, and discovered that these “kids” no longer even talked on their cellphones –(too personal!)– they only texted, did it all day long on the job, even did it with the phones in their pockets! The three of us lamented the loss of personal contact among people, and the increasing depersonalization in our society. The husband then referred to our generation as the “last of the ‘face-to-face’s”. We all cracked up, I told him this was a funny-sad, priceless depiction, begging to be shared, and we all moved onto other topics. But it made me think about the truth in the statement. Has personal contact become a quaint vestige of the past, (particularly the ex hippies)? Has an entire generation discarded something precious– face to face conversation, complete with eye and ear contact? And what’s the consequence? Daniel Goleman, in his book “Social Intelligence”, thinks we’re moving toward “social autism”, and that studies indicate it’s effecting our brain structure, and even immune function, which is impacted by the quality of our relationships. Scary! How to fight the tide? Use technology as a tool, not a barrier! Be mindful of when you’re connecting with your phone, and not the live person in front of you! Limit “screen time” for yourself and your children! Have human face-to-face conversations! Anyway, before I get more carried away, I have to sign off. (My husband went to bed an hour ago, and here I’ve been, all cozy “talking” to all of you.) Hmmm………….
Goodnight and good luck,
PS. For more of my thoughts, insights, and tools for relationship issues, go to my website: www.HowToBeABetterCouple.com and for live discussions about relationship dilemmas, go to my BlogTalk Radio show, “The Couplespeak Relationship Forum”. The next scheduled show is on Wednesday, Jan. 12th at 10:00PM: “Sisters– The Good, The Bad, And The In-Between”. It should be fun, and informative!