How a Coach Can Help You Assess the Viability of Your Relationship
|Posted by [email protected] on July 9, 2015 at 8:05 AM||comments (0)|
"How do I know if this relationship is right for me anymore?” Mary* asked.
“The fact that you’re even asking the question means that you probably already know the answer,” I responded.
We spent the rest of the hour going through the specific reasons why she was feeling unfulfilled. To the obvious question about whether she’d talked to her partner about her feelings, she told me that her girlfriend found it difficult to have discussions about emotional matters, which was just one more indication that these two were severely mismatched for long-term happiness since Mary deeply values deep emotional discussions. Don’t get me wrong, opposites often do attract, and usually for very good reasons. But if they don’t figure out how to appreciate how they complement each other, opposites can quickly become opponents, once the shiny wears off.
I also asked Mary to consider all the ways that her girlfriend is a good match, and to think about the things that drew her into this relationship. I asked her to weigh those against the negatives and the areas of perceived lack or mismatch. Which side is heavier? Do the positives outweigh the negatives? In an exploration like this, it’s important to note that there is no wrong answer here...what you’re doing is evaluating what’s best for yourself. And you will make the decision you need to make, even if it’s not one that I would make if I wore your shoes. If you decide to stay, there must be more for you to learn in this relationship or perhaps you’ve decided the negatives DON’T outweigh the positives.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is a listening ear and someone who’s not afraid to ask you the tough questions. Sometimes all we need is somebody who can point out patterns, or highlight where our words and actions are inconsistent. Some friends can do this, but a lot of times our friends are scared to hurt our feelings or they’re scared that if they are honest with us, the friendship could be damaged or ended. Enlisting the help of a professional ensures that the person you’re talking to has some skill in seeing patterns, has been trained in asking the right questions, does not have a personal stake in the outcome, and isn’t going to deflect the conversation to tell you all about themselves.
I’m not sure what Mary ultimately decided to do, whether to stay or leave that relationship. But the fact that I don’t know doesn’t really matter. I helped her to think through her situation and not simply react out of a place of heightened emotion. I enabled her to make the best possible decision for herself.
*Names and specific details changed to protect confidentiality.
On Privilege, Validation, Compassion
|Posted by [email protected] on January 26, 2015 at 4:50 PM||comments (0)|
I posted an article to my personal Facebook page recently, called “6 Reasons Why Being Called a Cisperson is Not Offensive,” which spawned a heated discussion in the Comments section. I have repeatedly heard or seen people responding negatively to the concept or discussion of privilege.
Why is privilege so hard to understand? So hard to accept that it exists? Part of it, of course, is that it makes us uncomfortable. There’s some “privilege guilt” at work there. We don’t want to believe that we have succeeded at the expense of someone else. We don’t want to believe that some aspect of ourselves that we have little or no control over has somehow given us an advantage in life. We often can’t even see that we HAVE had any advantages, if our lives have been particularly difficult.
Part of the challenge is that it’s an invisible characteristic and you can only really see that you have privilege in relation to someone who doesn’t. Otherwise, it’s an embedded assumption - you don’t realize that some aspect of how you were born gives you an automatic advantage in the culture in which you live, which has made that aspect the most socially preferred one to have.
Having Privilege Does NOT Mean You Have It Easy
Another issue, one that hasn’t been mentioned yet in the national discourse that I’ve seen, is that the word that we’re using to describe this concept is one that is loaded with other meaning. “Privilege” is defined as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people,” according to my Google search. And we say that people “enjoy” privilege, AS IF being of the dominant class (i.e., white, male, cisgender, monogamous, christian, able-bodied, etc.) means that you automatically enjoy life and you don’t have to work at it. And that’s what’s being misunderstood - privilege simply means that if you possess the dominant (or societally preferred) form of the trait simply by being born with it, you will unknowingly benefit in the culture that celebrates that form of the trait. For example, if you are a white male, you have a higher chance (statistically) of getting accepted into the college you want, of not being arrested for your drug use (if you’re a user), of succeeding in any career field. It gives you a slight advantage. All else being equal, if a white male and a white female apply for the same job, the white male is more likely to get it. That is the basis for the affirmative action policies. That is the reason people are talking so much about privilege today.
The American Dream can be a Harmful Myth
We, as a culture, believe in equality and individualism. We believe in the American Dream of being able to do anything you want if you work hard enough. We believe that anyone can achieve anything and that the only thing holding you back is yourself. The problem is that reality does not match this ideal. Some people, no matter how hard they work, still can’t quite make it as far as those who were born into the dominant classes. Women still experience, on average, lower pay for equal work and they hit their heads on glass ceilings that shouldn’t exist anymore.
For transgender people, the discussion is not about “putting sex at the center of one’s being” (as someone recently said in the above-referenced Facebook discussion about cisgender privilege), It's about claiming the gender that you feel you are inside regardless of what body you were born with -- and our gender IS at the center of our being, but those of us born cisgender don't think about it that way, it's not necessary --- and THAT is our privilege. We don't even have to think about which bathroom or changing room to use. We don't even think twice about what to mark down as "sex" on forms. We don't experience dysphoria every day when we look in the mirror. THIS is our privilege revealing itself.
It's Not All About You
This discussion reminds me of an unrelated one about setting boundaries in interpersonal relationships. Sometimes, when someone says, “No, I really don’t want to do that at this time,” the other person hears, “No, I reject you and your ideas.” The first person may really just be drawing a border around what they need to protect their limited stores of energy or their mental state. But the second person continues to feel butthurt about it because it still feels like a personal rejection to them. In sharing this with a fellow relationship counselor, she said that she has started including the phrase, “This is FOR me, not AGAINST you,” in similar situations in her personal life. And that’s what the author of the article referenced at the beginning of this post was trying to say. “...using the c-word is all about helping trans people and not at all about making cis people feel like shit.” And yet, that point seems to get completely ignored too often. Not everything is about YOU. And that’s hard for people to swallow.
The Importance of Validation
I found it fascinating that when I looked up the exact definition of “privilege” through a Google search, I found the UrbanDictionary.com page on “white privilege.” This page lists a number of people’s interpretations of the concept and most of them are ignorant and rude and incorrect. One person was able to convey the concept correctly and give examples, such as “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.” So another aspect of the discussion, another reason to HAVE the discussion, is about validation. There’s an excellent article available on Transgender Identity Formation by Aaron H. Devor, in which s/he describes the intertwined processes of Witnessing and Mirroring, which combine in ways to help someone feel validated:
Each of us has a deep need to be witnessed by others for whom [sic] we are. Each of us wants to see ourselves mirrored in others’ eyes as we see ourselves. These interactive processes, witnessing and mirroring, are part of everyone’s lives. When they work well, we feel validated and confirmed—our sense of self is reinforced (Poland, 2000). When the messages which one receives back from others do not match how one feels inside, various kinds of psychological distress and maladaptive behaviours can result. When the situation is especially severe it can lead to psychotic and/or suicidal behaviours. (Devor, p. 4)
Will You Choose Compassion?
So what people are trying to do, when they suggest or encourage others to use a non-judgmental term to define themselves, is to find one that does not also by extension invalidate others. Our language and choice of terminology can make those who aren’t like us feel invisible and invalidated, or we can instead choose words that are more inclusive or at least less invalidating. Our language can paint a picture which honors all of us, if we work at increasing our awareness and working at changing habitual patterns that we didn’t even realize were hurtful before. Awareness grants the power of choice. May we all choose kindness and compassion.
My relationship advice articles for the LGBT Relationship Network
|Posted by [email protected] on September 18, 2014 at 5:45 PM||comments (0)|
I've been a regular contributor to the LGBTRelationshipNetwork.org for several months now. This note will be a list of all those articles and I will update as new ones are published.
Orientation vs Behavior vs Identity: Labeling Bisexuals
EXCERPT: In light of the March 20 article in the New York Times, “The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists,” I feel compelled to address the topic of orientation vs behavior vs identity and labeling bisexuals. Bisexuals, especially, can identify with the differences associated with these different concepts, but they often get muddy for others whether straight, gay or lesbian.
Can Bisexuals Really Be Monogamous?
EXCERPT: One of the myths that bisexuals hear a lot is this belief that since a bisexual person is attracted to both genders, they must be unable to be in relationship with just one person, because then they wouldn’t be getting all their needs met. This can be a difficult myth to overcome and can get in the way of a bisexual forming a lasting relationship with a monosexual person, who may wonder and worry about this for the duration of the relationship.
The Freedom to Marry…and Divorce
EXCERPT: Do You Marry a Person or Their Genitals? In considering my own upcoming nuptials, I find myself reflecting a lot on marriage, commitment, and vows, as well as shifting roles and identities...My decision to marry this man does not make me any less of a bisexual. I am choosing a person, not changing my identity. However, this arrangement does contribute to bisexual invisibility and bi-erasure, which bothers me.
The Healthy Purpose of Jealousy
EXCERPT: The Potential for Jealousy is Doubled for Bisexuals -- Bisexuality is often invisible because the problems bisexual people face are often identical to those faced by everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. Bisexuals are, before anything else, people and they each have their own quirks and things that make them unique from other people and other bisexuals. One of the things that many people have to deal with regardless of sexual orientation or relationship status is jealousy. This is one of those universally troubling issues that I see often in my office. However, while many couples try to eliminate the chance of jealousy by restricting their partners from having opposite-gender friends, for a bisexual, anyone of either/any gender is a potential target of attraction. So let’s dive into an understanding of jealousy and how to deal with it.
Who Wears the Pants? How to Respond with Grace & Positivity
EXCERPT: People who are openly bisexual and marry a same-gender partner sometimes have even more challenges in this area because they are liable to get questions not only from their straight friends and families, but also from their lesbian and gay friends. When someone is asking a question out of a genuine lack of understanding, they are hoping for a helpful answer. If what they get instead is blasted for their insensitivity, they are likely to stop asking questions and instead develop a more negative attitude toward the group in question. I know, it can be hard trying to distinguish between a hateful jab and a clueless poke, especially if you’ve endured malicious remarks previously. Following is a several step process for responding to someone from a more mindful place.