10 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Loving Someone
Questions you may not have thought of before.
Posted Nov 03, 2017
Questions are everything. Without them, we don’t find answers. They act as rudders that direct us in the life direction we want to go. So it’s important we ask ourselves the right questions before investing our time, energy, and heart in someone. But since our brains are just on a continuous replay loop, we are always asking the same fucking questions.
Not today, friend.
Okay, real quick. I lied about something. There’s only one question you really need to ask yourself. But don’t scroll down and try to find it because you’re going to miss some good stuff, something that may change your thinking and give you a fresh perspective. Listen, you’re still going to get your ten questions. I promise. It seems like everyone these days just clicks on listicles then runs through the numbered list without reading the explanation. And you won’t get the most out of the read. So today, I’m helping you break that pattern, you gotta earn that shit by actually reading the entire article. I’m making this stand for all writers, not just for me and my controlling ways. So I’ve breadcrumbed/buried the questions. Without a list or numbers. For you. Not me. Please don’t be mad.
I’ll front load a few now so you don’t leave.
How does he make me feel? Yes, that one’s obvious. But a better question to ask is how do I feel about myself when I’m around him? This question brings it back to you but more importantly, can be a measure of how you’re treated. Because someone can make you feel good if you find them attractive or hot or whatever. But if you feel shitty about yourself around that person, that may be telling of the kind of space they’re creating for you. Now, of course, the next question is, how much of you feeling shitty about yourself is your own stuff and insecurities and how much of it is something they’re doing or not doing? But how you feel about yourself when you’re around someone is a very important question. The reason is if someone is supportive and holding space/you, the relationship, instead of grabbing, controlling, and owning, you’re going to feel good about yourself because they’re creating a safe space. Safe spaces are where people grow and relationships thrive. So if someone is criticizing, judging, controlling, unaccepting and unsupportive, you’re going to feel shitty about yourself. Because that space is not safe.
Another question that goes under the radar that people don’t put much weight on but I believe is important is:
Are they thoughtful? Yes, it may not be a dealbreaker but thoughtfulness goes a long fucking way when you’re three years in and the sex isn’t the same and little shit about them are starting to really annoy you. Because thoughtfulness is them thinking about you in action. Being thoughtful is proof that they are thinking about you because you can’t be thoughtful without actually thinking about the person, right? Notes, cards, texts, love letters, a birthday gift that you actually like because they listened and remembered, all of that is a way of connecting. Thoughtfulness equals connection. So if they are not thoughtful, they’re not connecting. Yes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they love you less or aren’t thinking about you. But it kinda does. Also, it fuels the loving banter, the back and forth. If you’re super thoughtful and your partner doesn’t give you anything back, you’re playing frisbee by yourself.
One of my favorite questions, do you see home in their eyes?
Now everyone has their own definition of home. For some, it’s a list of things. For some, it’s security. For some, it’s a cute baby. For some, it’s action driven. For some, it’s a feeling. But home is home. And at the end of the day, it’s what we all want.
Under the umbrella of this question, there are many other important questions.
Are they supportive of you and your journey? Huge. If you find your partner to be jealous or competitive, or want you to do something or be someone you’re not, they are making it about them, obviously. In the relationship, they will be bringing you down, not lifting you up. Sulking you instead of sharpening you. It’s not sustainable. You will only take so much. Once you believe you have worth, you’ll peace out. Trust me. Do not waste your time on anyone who is not supportive of you and your journey.
A quick note about questions. If it’s a yes or no question, then follow up the same question with a how. For example, are they supportive of you and your journey? Yes. Okay, how are they supportive of you and your journey? Because sometimes we think they are because they say it but when we ask ourselves how, we come short with examples. How questions force us to really examine what’s going on. It demands proof.
Moving on. Are they tactile? This isn’t just me sharing a personal preference. It’s a real thing and an interesting question many don’t consider. There is something called skin hunger. And some people have high skin hunger, need to be touched and cuddled. And some don’t care for it. So if you’re someone who not only wants but needs to be touched, home isn’t going to be with someone who doesn’t like to touch or be touched. It’s like dogs and cats. If you stop petting your dog, she will probably fall into a deep depression. Stop petting your cat and she may be happier. It’s not a love thing. It’s a wiring love language thing. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but if you think about the day to day of a relationship and how much time we spend with each other, it’s as significant as chemistry and humor.
How do they fight? Because you know it’s never about how many times we fight. It’s about how we fight. If they don’t fight fair. If they steamroll, storm out of rooms, or throw chairs, that’s not home. That’s a red flag.
Do they take care of themselves? This is probably a question our parents didn’t ask themselves when they were courting each other because it was a different time then. Wellness is a lifestyle today and it matters. I’m not just saying this because I’m a therapist. It’s a human thing. And by taking care of oneself, I’m not referring to hygiene, although that may be a make or break for some. I mean are they feeding their brain, exercising their body, conscious of their diet, and working on their mental and emotional well being? Because if this will directly affect your life. Or are they just chasing success but deteriorating. Mind, body, and soul. You are investing in a whole self-sustaining person. Not just someone with an ability. It’s not just an attractive thing. It’s a health thing. Like they actually may die early. Stress kills people. We all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves or other people end up doing it and that’s not fair to the other person. Also, if they don’t take care of themselves, they probably don’t love themselves on a deeper level and if they don’t love themselves, they can’t love you. Or at least in a healthy fulfilling way.
How are you doing? Are you still mad I didn’t number and bold these? Or are you annoyed I’m calling attention to it and it reads cutesy? Well, this is the mood I’m in today. Here’s another one you may not have thought of.
Do they use a lot of “I’s” in their sentences? Basically, do they always make it about them? Some people have this thing where no matter what you talk about, they end up making it about them. It’s actually kind of impressive because they’re so good at it, you don’t notice until they leave and you’re sitting there feeling like a therapist. Who never gets paid. If they do, it means they’re going to be taking in the relationship instead of giving. And people who take very little ownership. And if they are not able to take any ownership, there is no room for growth. They will be at you instead of with you. They are not relationship-able. Sorry, had to. No, they may not be abusive. Yes, they may still love you. But the relationship will be lopsided and lopsided equals unhealthy, equals unsustainable.
As a therapist, I do encourage “I” statements. But that’s to own your feelings and validate yourself. Not to forget about the person you love.
How are they good for me? Not just are they good for me, but how. I want examples. Or you may be misleading yourself because you feel something. We are obsessed with sugar (chemistry) instead of the protein (if they’re good for us). And sugar doesn’t last. It just creates cavities. So ask yourself if he or she is good for you. Not just good for you right now. Because you can also fool yourself into liking someone because they are giving you protein right now, something you haven’t had in so long or maybe ever, but that doesn’ necessary mean you like the person. Make sure you ask yourself if they’re good for you in the long-run. Not good for you right now. If so, how? Make a list. If there’s nothing on the list or it’s very short, then ask yourself why you are with them? And if that list is also empty or super short, you don’t have enough to build something.
Which brings me to:
Okay, here it is, the one question you really need to ask. Yes, all the questions above are important. And I’m sure you have many more great questions you ask yourself. But at the end of the day, there’s only one question you really need to ask before you choose to invest or not. Because everything hangs on this. If the answer is no, the other stuff doesn’t matter. The house crumbles.
Can I build something with this person?
Because relationships are built, like houses and bodies and careers. That means tools are required. By tools I mean ability. And I think this is where we drop the ball. We rarely think about one’s tools. We get excited about charisma, chemistry, and how they make us feel. Then we invest and realize they can’t build anything. So ask yourself, are they self-aware? Or are they just a walking reaction? Do they try to understand before trying to be understood? Are they working on themselves? Have they ever? Have they been through some shit and come out the other end better, stronger, with wisdom and reflection? That says a lot. Are they aware of their energy? Their actions? Their negativity? Their choice of words?
I don’t have to say this because you know how tough relationships are. And throw into that mix, stress from the daily turbulence known as life, random events that are thrown at us, the battlefield known as our heads, and people constantly changing, and love can turn into a shit storm.
And I don’t want to end on that sentence.
But if you find someone who has the ability to build something amazing, that shit storm will have nothing on you guys and your home will be weatherproof and bulletproof and love will grow and blossom and be the most beautiful thing you ever experience. It will be bigger than the both of you. Your insecurities. Yourself-doubt. Your weaknesses. Your wandering eyes. Your success. Your failures. Your fears.
When you build something solid and healthy, the relationship will be its own living breathing thing, new legs in your life, and force both of you to learn and grown and be better versions of yourselves. And all the shit that happens in this world, including your changes, won’t matter because you have built the most powerful weapon we possess as humans, healthy love.
Do We Demand Too Much From Our Partners? The price of unrealistic expectations.
Posted Aug 27, 2018
I treated a woman who complained that her husband was doing poorly at work; apparently, he made less money than she believed he was capable of. To be sure her husband was not functioning very efficiently, but he made it clear that he “hated” his job. Following college graduation, he said that he had planned to pursue an entirely different career, but immediately married and had children. He claimed he was then trapped and could not afford to explore his options. The concept of being trapped was something this man was familiar with having grown up with a father who was unhappy in his career and saw no way out. My assessment was that this man did not have the “ability” to achieve any more at his current position than he had because he did not have the desire to do so. His wife countered that her husband was a “smart” man—smarter than most of his peers who made much more money than he did. She therefore asserted that he did have the ability to achieve more. She saw him as lazy. She was very angry and disappointed in him but the more she demonstrated these feelings the angrier and more emasculated he felt. Interestingly, this man did not admit to a lack of ability. His defense was that he was doing well enough and that his wife was “greedy.”
A man complained that his wife was “lazy.” He wanted her to get up early in the morning as he did and charge into life. This man was a very successful attorney and believed in the benefits of hard work and persistence. Nevertheless, I determined that his wife had limited intellectual and emotional resources—perhaps even a learning disability that was never treated--and did not have the ability to function at the level her husband demanded. I worried that the more he pushed her the further she would deteriorate. The husband saw me as supporting his wife’s laziness.
A woman had an affair. She claimed that she did so because her husband refused to show her that he cared for her both emotionally and intellectually. She said that her lover was effusive and always touched her with affection. He consistently told her how attractive she was and that he followed by wanting to be with her as much as possible—all things her husband failed to do. The husband was devastated by the affair. He in fact cried and said that he loved his wife very much and that he was confused by her behavior. When the wife witnessed this, she became even angrier and screamed: “Why didn’t you tell me this before?” While the wife apparently stopped her affair, the husband soon retreated to his old noncommunicative ways and the affair was renewed. It was clear to me that the husband was raised in a family of distancers and poor problem solvers. They were physically close but showed little affection and were avoiders of uncomfortable material. As a result, this man was not able to routinely demonstrate to his wife how much he truly cared for her. Only in crisis did he acknowledge these feelings. Without a great deal of treatment, I found the husband to be incapable of giving his wife what she claimed to need in their marriage.
The dissatisfied partners illustrated were justified in their complaints. None of their so-called insufficient spouses were functioning well enough to please themselves or their mates. But in my estimation, none were failing out of malicious intent. The husband in the first case hated his job and could barely stand to get up on week-day mornings—he was somewhat depressed. He was raised by a father who was chronically unhappy with his life choices and demonstrated poor problem-solving ability; the wife in the second case had limited abilities and was clearly depressed; her parents failed to address her limitations and she spent most of her life developmentally behind her peers; in the last case the husband was handicapped by his history as well.
All of this begs the questions:
1. Why do we expect something from those who cannot give it to us?
2. Why do we persist in trying to get something that we have not been able to get no matter how hard we have tried?
And 3. Why do we get so angry, hurt, and disappointed when our unrealistic ventures fail to pay off?
I have found that many of us tend to look for something in others that we were deprived of in our formative years and when they fail to provide it—for whatever reasons—we react. Simple enough. But why then do we keep trying to extract something in the constant face of failure? Some would have you believe that the answer is because we want or need it bad enough. Perhaps, but I sense that because it was not given to us in our youth it is somewhat foreign to us. It becomes something in the air; something idealistic and mystical rather than something reality-based. If this is true than the “fantasy” of getting what we want may be more comfortable than getting it—a frustrating cycle that ends in nothingness.
This might explain why we choose people who give off signs that they are incapable of giving us what we want. We blame them for our deprivations, losses, and for our pain as if reparation was at their disposal if they would only work harder. We have chosen them to keep our fantasies alive, not to achieve anything more than that. We in a sense, project our failures and frustrations onto the incapable rather than own them. And so, we keep failing.
Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP and James Pawelski, Ph.D.
One Thing Some Don't Do That Damages Their Relationship
Couples who savor together are more likely to stay together.
Posted Aug 30, 2018
Labor Day Weekend is commonly considered the unofficial end of the summer season. For many of us it means back-to-school for our children and a return to a more regimented schedule. We often reconnect with friends we haven’t seen over the last few months and share stories. Looking back fondly on our summer and savoring the joyous moments with our friends builds stronger bonds. Sharing these experiences also enables us to relive those positive emotions again. It’s like compound interest!
Imagine now if we took the time to savor the everyday positive moments in our romantic relationship as well and shared them with our spouse or partner rather than just letting them pass on by. What if we specifically focused on what intrigues us about our loved one, rather than what annoys us? What would that mean for our relationship? And how much better would that make us both feel?
How come it seems much easier to notice what’s wrong rather than what’s right with our partner? And why do we dwell more on the bad times rather than celebrating the good times?
Perhaps, it’s because problems tend to scream at us whereas opportunities whisper.
We usually know when we have a problem because problems tend to scream at us and beg for attention. We often react immediately out of a need to take care of them right away. In contrast, opportunities and positive moments just whisper and often fade into the background. Even though good things tend to happen to us three time more than bad things, according to one study, we often tend to focus more on the negative things. This explains how we likely forget about the many good things in our lives and in our relationships. We often miss many subtle and beautiful opportunities to act.
What if instead of letting these small, wondrous moments slip by, we focused on noticing, acknowledging and appreciating them, rather than waiting for the momentous? It can make a monumental difference in our romantic lives, according to leading research on the psychological concept of savoring as well as what we learned from talking to real-life couples.
Researchers Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff found that savoring may be more effective at expressing love to our romantic partner than a variety of other means for doing so, such as helping out with chores or giving gifts. When couples savor their love and communicate it to each other they experience a feeling of being deeply cared for and respected, or what Bryant and Veroff refer to as affectively affirmed. Married couples who feel affirmed by their spouses report having more thriving marriages.
Let’s take a look at two relationships that we detail in our book Happy Together: Ursula and Joe, and Tonya and Marco. Both couples in long-term relationships for more than 20 years. One relationship is still going strong and one fell apart.
Ursula & Joe
Ursula told us that during their twenty plus years of marriage her husband Joe has continued to savor their relationship, valuing it like he did on the very day he proposed to her. Whether it’s whispering sweet thing in her ear, sending her sexy texts, or spontaneously embracing her in the kitchen, he continues to show his love for her. He regularly tells her how happy he is to have her as his wife. And the savoring is reciprocal. Ursula expresses her joy for having Joe in her life as well.
Tonya & Marco
In contrast to Ursula and Joe, Tonya only recalled two times in their entire marriage where Marco expressed his appreciation for her. Rarely did Marco touch her, compliment her, tell her he loved her, or express how much he savored their relationship. Tonya felt like she was withering and eventually left the marriage to the utter surprise of Marco who couldn’t comprehend what he did to cause her to leave. “What could possibly have been so awful?,” he inquired. While there weren’t any affairs or big fights there was a slow boil over the years that caused irreparable damage to the relationship, Tonya told us.
Act of Omission vs. Commission–Importance of Being Proactive
What’s the difference between the two relationships above? The one that fell apart wasn’t based on anything the partner did. No big fights, affairs, or major problems. Rather, as one partner tells us, it’s what he didn’t do. In interviewing couples over the years we found it’s often an act of omission, rather than an act of commission for what caused the relationship to unravel.
It’s commonly said that as we age and look back on our life that we rarely regret what we did but rather regret what we didn’t do. Missed opportunities. Perhaps opportunities to reach out, connect, and express our love. Let’s not end up regretting these things like Marco did. As his ex-wife said, once he realized what he didn’t do it was too little and too late for them to reconcile.
Savoring appears to be a powerful way to build a stronger and more satisfying romantic relationship. So why not start practicing it in your relationship today. The next time you’re tempted to let something good your spouse did slip by, stop to acknowledge it, focus your attention completely on your partner, and express to him or her what you see. Make savoring experiences together a habit and discover the positive impact it’s likely to have on your relationship over time.
Put-downs can be satisfying, but they come at a high price.
Posted Aug 30, 2018
Faye and Chip had been locked in a struggle for power that was taking an enormous toll on their marriage. Because they both were run by the fear of being dominated and controlled by the other, even the smallest issue could become a huge dispute. They were always jockeying to get the upper hand. Faye would indulge herself by letting judgments fly out of her mouth: “I can’t believe you said that! Didn’t your parents ever teach you any manners? You are so rude. You never consider anyone else’s feelings. You’re the most insensitive person I’ve ever seen. Some people never learn.” And Chip was no better. He would give it right back to her: “When are you going to get it right? You never listen! You always interrupt me! You misinterpret every thing I say. You’re just like your overly sensitive mother. I can’t imagine whatever possessed me to marry you!”
If you have ever found yourself saying anything along the lines of the above, then you have been guilty of putting your partner down. Put-downs often provide a rush of pleasure that comes from a brief feeling of superiority and the sense of temporary safety that comes from attacking someone. Pleasurable as this may be, it comes at a high price. In this case, while Chip and Faye were indulging themselves by taking verbal shots at each other, the love with which they had begun their relationship was rapidly eroding. Their efforts to gain the upper hand were damaging their marriage.
By the time they arrived in the marriage counselor’s office, they had suffered a great deal from the effects of the cheap shots they had been taking at each other. Each of them was exhausted from the roller coaster ride of being hurt and angry and then patching things up, knowing full well that it was an uneasy truce, that there would only be a brief interlude before the next flare-up. Neither Faye nor Chip could fully relax in their own home. The level of suffering that they were both experiencing provided the motivation to lower their defenses long enough to finally get the help that they had needed for a long time.
In their marriage counseling, they were introduced to the notion of “win-win.” This is not so much a strategy of success, but an understanding of the essential reality that in any partnership there is no such thing as win-lose; if what you gain is at your partner’s expense, then you both have lost. Like two people riding a tandem bicycle, if one goes down, you both fall. Either you win together or you lose together.
As Faye and Chip gradually became able to understand this, they began working more cooperatively and less adversarially.
When they tried to enact the practice at home, they soon found out that although it is a simple concept, it is not easy to implement change. But because they both wanted desperately to preserve their marriage, they were determined in their attempts to “fight fair.” They became more aware of the triggers for accusation and blame and often succeeded in repairing the damage before it was too late.
They understood that the put-downs stemmed from relationship patterns that had existed in their families for generations, and that the work that they were doing was not simply for themselves but for their children and grandchildren as well. They knew it was up to them to break the cycles that had resulted in so much pain over the years in each of their original families. Their vision of liberating their children from these painful cycles provided the incentive to commit to doing the work that would ultimately bring them more inner and interpersonal peace. Chip knew that it wasn’t an exaggeration when he referred to the effort it took to break his reactive patterns as “Herculean.”
Faye and Chip did learn to fight fairly. They learned to disengage from the habituated tendency to indulge in taking cheap shots. They both realized that they could exercise self-restraint, vulnerability, and emotional honesty to create an atmosphere of respect. As they got used to the experience of increased trust and safety, they became less tolerant of behaviors that had formerly been commonplace in their relationship. Verbally abusive patterns all but disappeared, and they achieved a degree of trust and respect that neither of them had imagined possible. “If we can do it,” Faye said during our last meeting, “anyone can!”
“Have you learned lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who reject you, and brace themselves against you, or treat you with contempt, or dispute the passage with you?” ~ Walt Whitman
Courage is not a word that comes to mind for most people when they think about relationships. Love, compassion, devotion, affection, support are more likely to be the words which people associate with great partnerships. There is no doubt that these qualities are essential to any good relationship, but courage is no less important than any other qualities that contribute to fulfilling relationships.
The idea that relationships should require courage may seem strange. But as anyone who has ever gotten beyond the initial stages of infatuation knows, opening your heart when there is a risk of rejection, judgment, criticism, or anger isn’t exactly easy for most of us. Stephen Levine, author of Embracing the Beloved, has referred to relationships as “the ultimate danger sport.” While it require a different kind of courage than it does to scale Mount Everest or step into the ring with a heavyweight boxer, there’s not denying that here are serious risks involved for those who tred in the territory of the heart. As a friend of ours has said from his own experiences on that terrain, “relationships aren’t for sissies.”
In our workshops, we’ve encountered people who are veterans of combat, professional motorcycle riders, ex-gang members, and law enforcement officers who could look straight into a gun barrel without blinking but we’re reduced to quivering masses of flesh in the face of an angry spouse. It’s not that these people aren’t courageous, they are. But there are different types of courage, just as there are different types of risks. While many people, particularly men are conditioned by society and it’s institutions to endure physical pain, the capacity to tolerate emotional pain, either their own or another’s without withdrawing, reacting, or shutting down, presents a nearly impossible challenge. Yet just as it is courage that enables a person to take risks involving exposure to physical dangers, it is courage that makes it possible to maintain an open heart in the face of emotional dangers.
Many of us are confused about the meaning of courage and think that it has something to do with the absence of fear. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s because of the presence of fear that we need courage, in order to act on behalf of a commitment that is stronger than the desire to avoid risk or pain. Courage has to do with the willingness to honor an intention that overrides our instinct to protect ourselves in the face of risk or harm. The root of the word comes from the word “Coeur” which is French for “heart.” So courage means to act on behalf of our heart’s truth, our deepest values, rather than to act from an intention to protect ourselves.
Life in general and relationships in particular offer a wide variety of such forms which invite the expression of courage when we have the willingness to:
feel and investigate old emotional wounds that get activated by our partner, that may have been denied or buried for years or even decades
stand up for what you believe in even when facing rejection, condemnation, or punishment
resist the temptation to withdraw or counter-attack
the willingness to speak our truth even when to do so subjects us to shame or humiliation
keep our mouths shut even when the impulse to argue or become defensive is strong, the willingness to listen deeply and non-reactively even when we strongly disagree with what is being said
bring up difficult or painful “incompletions” when others or we ourselves would rather keep them under the rug;
disarm ourselves of our aggressive or manipulative strategies even when we find ourselves in an adversarial situation.
Courage requires an act of will to overcome our conditioned patterns of defensiveness and control. It is a purely voluntary choice that cannot be coerced or demanded. In the domain of relationships, honoring a commitment to conceal and protect will lead to a very different outcome than a commitment to reveal and connect. While many of us understand this concept on an intellectual level, putting it into practice is another thing altogether.
We are not born courageous; we all have the same self-protective instincts. The decision to face one’s fears and lean into the risk rather than withdraw from it is not a one-time decision, but rather it is choice that is presented to us throughout our lives. The formula for cultivating courage means stepping into the fear rather than withdrawing from it. The former strengthens courage regardless of the outcome. The latter diminishes it, regardless of the outcome.
Not all risks are worth taking, and the ability to make an accurate assessment in a threatening situation is a vitally important skill to possess. Shakespeare knew this when he put the words “discretion is the better part of valor” in the words of Falstaff in his play Henry IV. It’s still true. The object for those who wish to become more courageous is not to accept every challenge that presents itself and take every risk that comes their way, but rather to discern the risks that are worth taking from those that are not, and to bring our whole heart into our actions. This is what characterizes those who are Warriors of the Heart.