Having Boyfriend Who Much Older

Dear Bridestory,

After a series of bad boyfriends, I have finally met a man who makes me happy. He’s everything I’ve wanted to have in a serious relationship. The problem is he’s older, much older than me. Since he and I got together, I’ve received weird looks from my family and friends. Am I really crazy for doing this? What are the potential problems I will face by being in a relationship with someone who is from an older generation? – YoungGirlfriend

Dear YoungGirlfriend,

First of all, thank you for sharing. Although you’ve gotten your share of “jokes” when it comes to your relationship, we believe that the significant age gap does not make your relationship any less meaningful that those who are close in age. Even though yours maybe somewhat uncommon by society’s standards, it is still just as special. To understand that your relationship is “special” is to also know the challenges that you may face, that people whose partners are close in age do not. To navigate through a new relationship is already tough as it is, and when you add in the possibility of a generation gap, yours can become even more challenging. However, looking on the bright side – a significant age difference can give you the chance to consider new perspectives and to appreciate the offerings of a different generation.

We think the first thing you need to ask yourself is this: Why are you doing this?

Take a look at your motivation and understand why you want to enter a relationship with someone who is much older than you. Love knows no age, we believe that. But if you’re always attracted to someone who is part of an older generation, you might want to look at the underlying reason. A significant age difference doesn’t always mean that there’s something wrong, but to examine yourself is always worth the effort and to understand your motivation will benefit you in the long run, especially when it comes to establishing commitment.

The second question you need to ask yourself is: Are you ready to handle the generational differences?

It takes a thousand similarities to bring a couple together and takes only one difference to break them up. No matter how understanding you are and how much tolerance you have for each other, you are bound to find some difference, especially those the come as a result to the generation gap. Not only might you have different political views, you might also find each other’s interests boring and you might not understand each other’s tastes in music. The key is not about discovering them, but rather in overcoming them. You can bridge the differences by learning more about each other and to make the effort to understand each other’s point of views.

The third and last question you need to ask yourself is: Are you ready to handle the criticisms?

It’s true that you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself when it comes to choosing the person you want to give your heart to. However, we are all social beings who live in a society with other people who might disagree with our choices in romantic partners, no matter how perfect our relationship will be. With your close friends and family, this might mean taking the time and making the effort to explain why you are in love with this person. You need to consciously and continuously bring the spotlight on your partner’s personality and not on his age. You also need to be prepared for snide comments and inconsiderate remarks. To continuously get into arguments about your choice in romantic partners won’t be good for anyone, so have a simple yet polite response to the criticisms that may come your way.

When you have answered these questions and have found the confidence in your relationship, understand that age is one of the (many) difference you may have as a couple. Learn about each other and deal with your differences. At the end of the day, your commitment to the relationship is what matters. Make sure that your commitment is bigger than your differences.

Something Will Change When Get Married

The festivity of your wedding is over, and you begin the reality of starting your life with your husband. You start to adjust some things, such as sharing a home and a life with someone, and while you may find it inconvenient sometimes, you get on with it because you understand that with marriage comes new roles, new responsibilities, new priorities, and new dreams.

Since a marriage needs each person in the relationship to work together as a team, for the marriage and for the family as well, it is natural that you and your spouse change as you adjust and adapt. But where does the biggest change lie? Will marriage impact your lifestyles? We think so!

Life before marriage will totally different. You have plenty of time hanging out with your friends, even time for yourself. You can go wherever you want, you don’t have to figure out how to fit in the in-laws, you don’t have to adjust yourself on how to act based on your marital status. Things will already be different, even without the arrival of a baby. When you’re married, you’re someone’s spouse. When a baby comes, it’s a total game changer, and you’re suddenly someone’s parent. You got more tough responsibilities, and along with that, you have different vision of life that you really need to work it out.

When you used to spend your hard earned cash to support your lifestyle, you would most likely be unable to do that on account to having to support your lifestyle as a family. How you spend your money will also change after you’re married. Money won’t be an issue of his-and-hers anymore because yours and his will come together in one melting pot.

However, being married also brings with it some comforting lifestyle change because there is a new level of security and comfort that comes along with being married. You’d opt for a night in, to Netflix with your hubby and chill, instead of going out and partying until the wee hours of the morning. What you enjoy will be different now that you are not two, but one.

Once you’re married, you’re a team, which means it’s not about you anymore. Marriage is a transformation from “I” to “we”. Change is inevitable. It is natural and it needs to be embraced. It’s the way two persons in love come together as one. Will you be able to take on change? We absolutely believe so. But the question is actually, are you ready for the change?

How to Trust Him

Dear Bridestory, I’m in a serious relationship with a very special someone. We’re planning to get married and I know that my marriage is going to work if I’m able to trust my future husband. I want to trust him, but somehow I am harboring a feeling of insecurity about him. Maybe I am just paranoid, but how can I be sure that I can trust him? What are the signs?” –GirlWithTrustIssues

Dear GirlWithTrustIssues,

First of all, let’s be clear. Marriage is about commitment. And since it’s for the long term, it’s important to be married with someone you can trust. A relationship with a lack of trust is not going to be a very satisfying or fulfilling one and we’re glad that you’ve come to realize that, because unfortunately, some men can be trusted but some cannot.

Before you deciding to marry, please look for the signs that he is a trustworthy man. Learn to trust your gut. But in the case you’re doubting even that, please ask yourself these questions to help you think if he’s worthy of your trust:

1. Has he ever done anything to make you doubt his faithfulness to you? Signs of infidelity are actually recognizable. Open your eyes and see him for who he is. If he has done something that ignites your suspicions of being cheated, maybe you need to have a talk with him.

2. Does he always keep his words and promises? “A man is only as good as his words.” And a trustworthy man will always follow through on his words and promises.

3. Does he uphold the values he has in life and does his actions show good moral principles? The goodness of a man shows in his action, and action speaks louder than words. Find out if you can share and connect important beliefs and values with him.

4. Can everyone around him attest to his character? A man’s behavior is an indication of his character. If you can’t see clearly, you might want to see how other people sees him.

5. Does he consistently do the right things? Doing the right thing isn’t just a one off thing. Doing the right things molds the character of a person. And consistency is important.

Remember that trust is the bedrock of a marriage. Before you take the plunge, make sure that you can trust him. Look for the signs that he deserves your trust and then make the decision to trust him.

Chocolate Peace of Mind

What is peace of mind? And how do I know when I have it?” is a question I’m often asked.

Unfortunately, words are insufficient to describe what peace of mind is. Thus using them will always wind up coming short of an accurate description. In this regard, peace of mind is like chocolate. Unless you’ve eaten it, you’ll never fully know how wonderful it is.

Although I’ve described peace of mind as something elusive, the truth is, we all have it. In fact, it’s our natural state. Like a long lost relative you’ve just met, peace of mind has always been there. Which means it’s waiting for us to discover.

This natural state has been buried under years and years of experiences. Think of peace of mind as the sun: Always shining and ever present. Clouds may cover the sun, so much so that we may not even see it. In this analogy the clouds are our conditioning, which is built up over our lifetimes. Nevertheless, the sun’s powerful glow is always there.

Perhaps you recall studying about clouds in one of your childhood science classes. While the fluffy floating pillows may at first all look the same, science has taught us there are multiple cloud types—many different kinds of clouds may be covering the vast radiant sun.

Similarly, multiple experiences may be clouding our ability to experience peace of mind: Painful memories, sad memories, distractions, addictions, wants, desires, and more. While whisking these away may not happen in an instant, we can begin today slowly moving them aside to uncover the peace of mind within.

Eventually, we’ll be able to access peace of mind, our natural state, with more frequency. The path of non-judgment is how we develop peace of mind.

What Is Non-Judgment?

Imagine you’re at your favorite restaurant. You’ve had a long day, and you look forward to unwinding with your favorite dish: Lasagna. You’ve thought about the comforting dish with its perfectly seasoned tomato sauce and the bubbling cheese on top. You take a seat at the dining table, which happens to be in the best spot in the house, and you place your order.

“I’m so sorry, we only make lasagna in small batches, and we’ve run out for the day,” the server tells you.

In this scenario, you have two choices:

Reject what is.
Accept what is.

The first choice, rejecting what is, is like a cloud. It’s based on our conditioning. The server’s news can trigger a series of thoughts rooted in our prior experiences.

Thoughts may rapid fire in our minds: I was looking forward to lasagna, this isn’t fair! Why does this always happen to me? The restaurant really needs to get its act together. This is just another piece of bad news for the day, and more.

Rejecting what is, is moving away from peace of mind and toward its opposite: Suffering. Suddenly, the restaurant experience is unpleasant or even infuriating. To return to our cloud analogy, your sun can be covered with a thin layer of clouds or fully-fledged thundershowers.

The second choice, accepting what is, is the state of non judgment. It will bring about peace of mind. While the news isn’t what we wanted to hear, we adjust to what is. We asked for what we wanted, which means we did our part. But once we have done this, we adapt.

Preferences Versus Expectations

Developing a non-judgment mindset requires us to shift from expectations to preferences.

In the restaurant scenario, we may prefer lasagna. But if we continue wanting it even after the server tells us it’s not available, we will suffer. Suffering is caused by expectations. We suffer because we expect things a certain way. And suffering is the opposite of peace of mind.

To shift from suffering to peace of mind requires moving away from expectations and toward preferences. We may prefer lasagna. But if it’s not available, we will see what other options there are, and enjoy our meal even if it wasn’t our first choice.

The bottom line is we can choose to cling to our expectations and suffer, or we can accept what is and experience peace of mind. This doesn’t mean we are complacent. If we can change a situation and improve it, then we should do so. But once we’ve done our part, we must let go of expectations. The path of non judgment applies to menu items at restaurants, relationships, careers, and more.

Developing a non-judgment mindset is simply returning to our natural state. While experiencing peace of mind may seem impossible, the good news is, it’s always been there. It is a beautiful gift waiting inside us, ready to unwrap.

Know More About The Trader

This is the true story of one of my clients. I’ve changed irrelevant details to protect his anonymity.

Nick and Marie wanted to marry but agreed to wait until he returned from Afghanistan—just in case. Fortunately, he returned, uninjured, no PTSD, just proud, especially in his uniform that he got freshly pressed for their reunion.

Soon after they married, she got pregnant, gained 60 pounds during the pregnancy, and after their son was born, lost only 20. That combined with their having been together for a while resulted in his not feeling sexually attracted to her.

When Trump got elected, their political differences, which seemed minor before, got inflamed. Marie felt that Hillary was too dishonest to vote for but Marie hated Trump so she didn’t vote. Nick voted for Trump. They fought bitterly about it—She was shocked that he would vote for Trump and Nick felt that she was narrow-minded, brainwashed by college and the media. Their fight about politics expanded in unexpected ways. For example, Nick thought they should join a church to give their son exposure to religion. Marie, who had been neutral on that before, had gone to a Women’s March and came to believe that Catholic churches were too racist, sexist, and homophobic and she refused to expose her son to church.

They’ve had ten sessions of couples counseling but privately believe it’s hopeless. He has consulted a divorce attorney who warned him that if he divorced, because she’s a stay-at-home mom and hasn’t worked in two years, he’d probably have to give up a big chunk of his $90,000 salary in alimony and child support. Living in San Diego, he was having a hard enough time making ends meet as it is, so he has tentatively decided to stay and keep trying with the marriage counselor.

But Nick is finding himself wanting to spend little time with Marie, so he spends much time with his son and on his new hobby—stock trading. Marie hates that, understandably–They have only $20,000 in savings. He counters that he has earned all that money. She yelled, “You only earn it because I stay at home with the baby. You can’t gamble away our security!” And indeed, in the first month of trading, he, like the vast majority of traders, has lost money, $5,000 to be precise.

But he can’t make himself stop, in part to punish Marie for being tough on him and for her refusing to get a job to contribute to the family income.

He’s also started an extra-marital affair.

The takeaway

Disputes about sex, religion, money, and politics, especially in the aftermath of the Trump win, can take a toll on a relationship.

What advice would you give to Nick? To Marie? Would you simply say, “You need to openly but tactfully communicate?” Or would you offer a suggestion? For example, might you ask them to shop for a church that might be comfortable for both of them? Ask them to try new tactics to resurrect their sex life? Ask her if and how she’d like to lose weight? Ask him to list the risks and rewards of having an affair versus staying monogamous versus divorcing her? Would you try to get him to stop trading stocks? If so, how might you word it?

Know More Why Do People Lie

“I always lie”, one of my patients said to me. What was I meant to believe? If they were telling the truth then they weren’t lying. Which meant they were lying when they said they always lie.

Since November 8th what is a lie has taken center stage in our country, perhaps in the world. Lying has always been part of who we are. We’ve all lied. And that’s the truth. Some lies are benign, like when we say something like “That dress looks great on you!” when it really doesn’t. We say a white lie like that to save someone’s self-respect.

But there are other lies designed to steal and not save: strategic lies calculated to deceive another person or group for personal gain. For example, Bernie Madoff created an exclusive investment fund for the ultra-wealthy. His brilliant investing seemed impermeable to the cyclical downs of the market. But Madoff was really brilliant at lying. His Ponzi scheme was revealed with the collapse of the economy in 2008: Madoff’s fund had lost 65 billion dollars. People lost millions, some their life savings. At the age of 71, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. At his trial not a friend, family member, or other supporter had submitted any letter on behalf of Madoff’s character or contributions to the community.1 Society does not like liars. We have to be able to trust.

We call people who set out to strategically lie to us “con artists”, con being an abbreviation for confidence. The skilled con artist uses Theory of Mind with great cunning, instilling confidence and trust in their target. They manipulate human behavior to their gain. But the underlying feature with strategic lying is often more than money: it’s to gain or maintain influence and power.

Strategic lies are all over the internet, designed to entrap another person into giving money or divulging their secrets. You’ve seen them, hopefully laughed at them, and quickly deleted them; “I am in Portugal and need a kidney transplant. The medical cost is so much less here in Portugal, but my time is running out. Please send me money so I can get my kidney.” Or, “Congratulations, you have won the Lottery. Your check is waiting. Please send us your bank account information so we can deposit your winnings.” Or one of my current favorites, “This is the IRS with a warrant for your arrest for unpaid taxes.”

Strategic lies can be remarkably successful. According to a US government report on internet crime, Americans lost $198.4 million to Internet fraud in 2006.2 Internet scams stole $12.4 billion dollars in 20133, and in 2015 $21.84 billion was pick-pocketed from global credit card and debit card fraud4. Today the FBI even has a designated Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Our desire to be successful can be a double-edged sword, often exploited by people who specialize in tapping into our need to be valued and valuable. That is the message of most modern marketing and advertising- if you use our product you will be perceived as more valuable. The wish to be valued by others makes us ripe fruit to be deceived. Most of the world’s largest advertising agencies hire anthropologists to shed light on how the human mind ticks.

Buy this deodorant to be more accepted. Wear these clothes and you will be hot. Use this credit card and everyone will think you’re successful. We sure do care about what others think of us: as a nation we spend millions in the process of trying to influence others. Join this club and you will be special.

Right now it is hard to know who is lying, who is not lying, why those who lie are lying, and what does it mean to call someone who tells the truth a liar? Think about this from your own experience. Were you ever accused of doing something you knew you hadn’t? Taking a cookie, dissing a friend, cheating on a loved one, talking to the Russians, being accused of lying that someone was talking to the Russians. Who is telling the strategic lie? What does the liar want to gain? Or is it just a white lie to save face, or simply an alternative fact? We have always counted on the Press and their professional integrity to discern the truth. But even many of them are being called liars.

The uncertainty from this not knowing places us all at enormous risk: risk of becoming so afraid we divide into groups. Those who believe what we believe and those who don’t. Retreating into the safety of our perceived allies and suspecting anyone with a different perspective. Not knowing breeds fear and suspicion. People we never even noticed, people we once considered friends, can become potentially menacing and dangerous, threatening to subvert the basic foundation of our beliefs. We’ve seen this before throughout the centuries. Anyone who is not in our group is against us.

There is some deep evolutionary brain science behind these divisions, a topic I will discuss in a future blog. We need to know who to trust. Lying erodes trust. We are desperate to trust. This very desperation can make us irrational, impulsive, limbic.

SOme Reasons You Keep Bringing Workplace Stress Home

Many individuals and couples suffer when they bring stressful, debilitating workday experiences home with them. A new study provides some information about what can help. Its findings are useful, but in a narrow way: They are limited by a significant omission that – unaddressed – fails to stem the impact of workplace stress upon home life. Unfortunately, such research is too often typical of the kind of academic studies that ignore the realities of everyday experience.

Let me explain: Researchers from the University of Central Florida found that exercise and sleep are the keys to keeping employees from bringing work stress and frustrations home. The study, reported in this summary from the University, focused in particular at abusive behavior at home in relation to workplace experiences. They found that employees who engaged in more walking at work, and had more sleep, were less likely to be abusive towards their partners at home. That is, according to researcher Shannon Taylor, “…employees who are mistreated at work are likely to engage in similar behaviors at home. If they’ve been belittled or insulted by a supervisor, they tend to vent their frustration on members of their household. Our study shows that happens because they’re too tired to regulate their behavior.”

Really? Because they’re too tired? Of course, exercise and sleep are important for everyone to sustain and improve health – especially in these times of stress and uncertainty in all realms of life. Corporations are starting to take note, as well. But as a solution to the debilitating impact of workplace stress? Not so much. The findings from that study focus on one of its symptoms, but not its source.

That is, the wellspring of most employee distress and dissatisfaction in our organizations is the management culture and leadership practices that are negative and destructive, either directly or indirectly. They include practices and environments those that are abusive, psychologically unhealthy, unsupportive of career development, too limiting of opportunities for continued learning; and a host of other features.

I’ve described in The New Resilience many examples – such as dealing with the impact of unhealthy management practices and the emotional damage that results; the sources of negative views about management and work that surveys regularly find; and many related issues whose origin are found in unhealthy management and leadership. The latter continue to be implicated in the variety of emotional and physical ailments people experience in their workplace and careers.

Regarding the current study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, note that it was conducted with MBA students – a population whose daily experiences, while stressful in their own way, are not the same as those encountered by entry level, mid-level or senior career workers in organizations. So the researchers’ conclusions — “burning an additional 587 calories can reduce the harmful effects of mistreatment and help prevent it from carrying into the home…(such as) an hour of swimming or a brisk 90-minute walk” — are healthy practices, to be sure. But they don’t address the fact that healthier organizations will help people experience more positive, supportive, and meaningful career and work experiences to begin with.

Know Some Signs Your Elderly Parent Is No Longer Fit To Drive

During our childhood, it was our parents who looked out for us. They provided food, shelter, care, and love. But as the years turn into decades, our parents become our responsibility. It is often up to family members to spot the signs that their elderly parents are no longer safe drivers. However, age alone should not be the sole determining factor when considering driving ability. Some 70-year-olds might be unsafe drivers, whereas some 90-year-olds could still be well capable of driving. Here are eight signs to look out for.

1. Hearing and/or Sight Loss

Hearing and visual aids can only do so much to help the elderly drive a vehicle.
A friend recently told me that her mom complained of trouble reading road signs. When my friend suggested that maybe it was time for her mom to give up her car, her mom said she just needed new glasses. There comes a time when the damage cannot be mitigated and the potential risks outweigh the benefits of driving. Help your elderly parent understand that giving up their driving privilege is for their own safety and that of other drivers on the road- and not a punishment.

2. Minor Dents in Your Parent’s Car

Minor dents are an indication that they are having small crashes that they may not even be noticing. I remember one older gentleman who I saw back out of his parking space and into the car behind him. He drove away as if he didn’t realize it had happened. These minor dents can be a harbinger of a more serious accident.

3. Easily Distracted

This can be noticed at home if they frequently start and abandon minor tasks. When driving, does your parent suddenly lose concentration? If they’re driving, they may be easily distracted by a conversation, daydreaming, changing the radio station, or adjusting the temperature controls. Suggest that they delegate tasks like changing the radio station or adjusting the temperature controls to a passenger, and keep their focus on the road if engaging in a conversation. If these precautionary measures don’t help, then they should strongly consider giving up driving.

4. Regular Alcohol Consumption

Compared to younger people, alcohol may affect the elderly differently. Have you noticed them having trouble with balance when walking? Be careful not to mistake this as a result of aging- it may be an indication of alcohol’s effect. If this is the case, they should not be driving. One drink can have a much greater effect in their older age, than in their younger years. A study conducted by Sara Jo Nixon, Ph.D. and her team, “. . . found that despite the participants’ low BAC, just one serving of alcohol was enough to affect seniors’ driving abilities. They found no significant signs of impaired driving among the younger moderately intoxicated drivers.”

5. Slow Reaction Time

Do they run red lights or stop signs? Does your parent fail to brake when an animal runs out onto the road? If this happens, point out that next time it could be a child. This could be something that would warn them to be more careful, or consider giving up driving entirely. My friend whose mom has difficulty reading signs also mentioned to me that because her mom is generally weakened, she is concerned about her reaction time as well. While she hasn’t given up her car, it is currently in at my friend’s house. She shared with me that she was concerned that her mom would try to drive if the car was available.

6. Poor Driving Techniques

Is your parent hunched over the wheel? Do you catch him or her driving out of their lane? Does your parent drive abnormally slow or fast for conditions? Does he or she appear to be tense or a “white knuckle” driver? This might be an indication that your parent is also be nervous about driving and is trying very hard to avoid driving mistakes. These cues might appear minor, but left unaddressed can cause serious accidents down the road.

7. Multiple Tickets

Does it seem like the parking and speeding tickets are quickly adding up? A missed stop sign, not signaling when switching lanes, or forgetting to turn on their headlights can be a sign that it’s time for them to stop driving.

8. You’re Nervous Sitting in the Passenger Seat

If you don’t feel safe sitting next to them in the passenger seat then it’s imperative you let them know. It may be hard to put your finger on what exactly is making you nervous, but it is always better to be extra safe than risk an accident or tragedy. This is an important sign that should not be ignored.

If you pick up on any of these signs, it is important that you speak to your parent and suggest they stop driving. If they fail to understand the significance of these signs, consider taking them to the doctor for an expert opinion. This will help them understand why they should make the decision to stop driving. Also, be sure to explain to your parent that they are not giving up their independence by giving up their driving privileges. Instead, offer them alternatives like public transport, ride-sharing, or door-to-door services. Highlight the benefits of these alternatives- meeting new people, safety, and dependability. Remind them that they are not being punished and that this precaution is for their safety and those of other drivers.

Get Better Communication

When partners come to me to request I help them improve their communication, what they usually mean is ‘please help me feel heard.’ In other words, they are talking, but their partner isn’t ‘hearing’ or, sometimes, isn’t agreeing. Fair enough. Following these basic ideas can create significant improvements:

Model – and require – respectful behavior. Seems straightforward, but when partners objectively look at what they are saying, they may find they are justifying angry outbursts, demands, put downs, and more. Further, respect is too often confused with compliance, which is NOT what I’m referring to here. No matter whether you are in agreement or completely on opposite side of an issue, respectful interactions are critical for good communication. Without respect you move quickly into the defensiveness and wall-building, which shuts down communication fast.

Seek to repair after disagreements. John Gottman’s research points to the importance of repair behaviors in healthy relationships. We all disagree – Gottman’s work suggests the number of times we do so is less important than how we ‘repair’ from those disagreements. Repair behaviors include apologies, laughter, hugs or touch, finding common ground, validation, and more. In essence, anything that calms you both down and helps you remember you’re a team.

Remember that most issues aren’t resolvable. About 70% of disagreements are unresolvable over the long term, yet we continue to be held hostage by the idea that if we just ‘discuss it enough’ we will somehow find a breakthrough. Instead, when you encounter one of these areas of disagreement, do one of the following: look for a work around instead of a solution; agree to disagree and move on; or set up a system in which you each once in a while get a ‘my way’ pass – that is, whomever feels the most strongly about the topic gets to use their ‘pass’ and the other partner agrees to adopt that solution and move on with no hard feelings. (You can only have a few of these a year, for obvious reasons…and you both have to agree that you want to adhere to the system.)

Value your partner’s opinions and concerns as much as your own. This can be a tough one for many people. But your way and your partner’s way are different, not ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. Truth is, opinions and concerns are not FACTS. They are ideas based upon your own unique background, physiology and experiences. Your partner’s opinions are always valid because they are his or her own, whether or not you understand how s/he got there…and vice versa. We all have a bias to think we are ‘right’ because (among other things) our logic and attitudes make complete sense to us. Good communication, however, requires valuing your partner’s logic flow, too.

Internalize that you are only in charge of you. Healthy couples understand that they are differentiated from each other. In other words, you’re not in charge of your partner, and your partner is not in charge of you. Yet a lot of what we say is ‘partner focused’ – what we think our partner ought to be doing differently or better, for example. Focus, instead, on expressing your own feelings and ideas. If you have a suggestion for your partner, offer it up as such – an idea, but not a requirement or a judgment. You’ll find that this approach greatly improves your partner’s desire to communicate – nobody likes to be told what to do, while many like to share their ideas when invited to do so.

Practice non-defensive listening. If you ever find yourself constructing your rebuttal while listening to your partner, or prickling at the idea that your partner’s suggestions are really a disguised form of attack, then you are most likely listening defensively. We do this ALL the time and to get out of it takes overt effort and practice. The goal is to be open to what you are hearing as always legitimate (as it’s your partner’s opinion) and to actively seek the ‘truth’ in what s/he is saying. Believe your partner’s words, rather than try to rebut them, and ask how s/he got there. When you do, the conversation will become significantly more productive for you.

Some Qualities of Great Communicators

There are many books and articles that teach intimate partners the art of effective communication. Some couples do improve their ability to trust each other more deeply by practicing the exercises within them. But, in most cases, their efforts have only been minimally effective. Despite sincere efforts to master these techniques, intimate partners still too often continue misunderstanding and misconstruing what they say and hear.

In the four decades I’ve been treating couples, I’ve continually searched for the answers as to why so many people continue to have such difficulty when so much excellent guidance is available. What could possibly have been overlooked? What techniques or advice might be missing that could help intimate partners be more successful in communicating more effectively?

I decided to focus on the few fortunate couples I’ve worked with who, no matter what the problems they were working on in therapy, seemed to have no trouble deeply connecting with each other. These intimate partners had clearly mastered a way of communicating that made both feel supported and understood regardless of the difficulty of the subject matter.

I compared their attitudes and behaviors with those who were less successful and, from those experiences, have come to understand the ten crucial qualities that these successful communicators continually demonstrate.

The Ten Qualities of Great Communicators

1. No Conversation Stoppers

There are eight conversational responses that are highly likely to stop your partner from continuing to share his or her more vulnerable thoughts and feelings. All of us have used these phrases and behaviors at times, often without realizing how badly they can make our partners feel.

Once you recognize them, you will hopefully not use them again. You can express these responses in effective ways at other times if your partner is interested, but never when your partner needs to be heard.

Minimizing – Making the problem seem trivial.

Taking the Other Person’s Side – Not supporting your partner’s experience.

Blaming – Criticizing your partner for feeling or acting the way he or she does.

Fixing – Offering to solve the situation without being asked.

Giving Unsolicited Advice – Telling your partner how to act or feel.

Shock – Expressing upset or outrage at what your partner is saying.

Holier than Thou – Don’t say how you could have handled the situation better.

Negativity – Keep impatience, irritation, sarcasm, or sounding burdened out of your response.

2. Full Support Independent of Agreement

Many people believe that if they support the way their partners think or feel that they will automatically have to agree with them. Support and agreement do not have to be the same response. Even if you don’t see things the same way, you can still be empathetic and understanding of how your speaker thinks and feels.

Too often listeners are so concerned that if they don’t immediately argue for a different point of view, that there will be no way for them to disagree later, so they preempt their partner’s conclusions to share how they may see the situation differently.

If you and your partner have agreed that emotional and psychological support do not automatically mean agreement, you are free to totally validate the thoughts and feelings of the other. Once your partner feels heard and understood, you can ask him or her if feedback is wanted.

3. Tracking

Your speaker will be far more likely to continue sharing if he or she feels that you are paying attention to all that’s been said. That not only includes the present, but anything that might also reference the past. Take notes, if it helps you to do that as you are listening.

Many times when speakers are emotionally distressed, they repeat themselves or skip logical sequencing. It is very helpful to them if you can help them stay on track. Caringly ask the kind of questions or make comments that help them put their ideas together. It’s like holding each important statement as an emotional puzzle piece, ever-ready to help your partner eventually see better how they can go together.

4. Presence

Anyone trying to share something painful or scary knows instantly if you are preoccupied or not really present. You’ll know if you are “drifting” because your answers will sound patronizing, impatient, or matter-of-fact. Your speaker will soon feel he or she is boring you and will automatically shorten the conversation or push harder to be heard.

It’s sometimes hard to stay focused listening to your partner, especially when he or she is angry, upset, or too repetitive. That’s even truer if the object of the distress is you. If you feel defensive at any point and you can’t be present anymore because of your own reactivity, ask for some time out to re-stabilize before you go on.

5. Rhythm

Good listeners get the cadence and urgency of their speaker’s communication style and present need. They don’t try to suppress emotions or change their rhythm or the way the words are being expressed. Some people get worked up as they get deeper into their emotions or change from one rhythm to another according to the subject they are unearthing.

If you can be flexible enough to flow with them at the same time as holding on to your own internal rhythm, you may be able to help them find a more comfortable pace that better enables both of you as close to the core truths as possible.

6. Emotional Anthropology

It is very tempting to impose one’s own thoughts and feelings on another person, especially when he or she is vulnerable or needy. When your partner is trying to explore a deeper thought or feeling, he or she may seem unsteady or in need of direction, and that can feel like an invitation to redirect.

At those times, it is particularly important to just stay authentically interested, curious about those reflections and conclusions, and wanting to truly understand how that person came to feel the way he or she does in that moment.

Anthropologists know how important it is to respect and support another culture, even if they don’t see the world in the same way. Every human being is a culture unto themselves and intimate partners need to remember that their partner’s view of reality must be viewed with the same sacredness.

7. Timing

Even good listeners can make the mistake of answering too quickly, saying too much, interrupting, or pulling away and shutting down too quickly. It can be very hard to stay on track and not push your own timing agenda when you are on the other end of an emotionally upset person or have your own priorities.

In any conversation, you are absolutely allowed to tell your partner that you are overwhelmed or beginning to feel defensive, especially if your own emotions do not allow you to stay in the moment. You cannot continue to be a good listener when you’re impatient, and it’s always better to reconnect when you can be authentically present. If you do have to disconnect, make a time soon when you can continue so your partner doesn’t feel abandoned.

8. Non-judgmental Feedback

When your partner feels safe, heard, and ready, you can offer non-judgmental feedback after asking if he or she is ready to listen to it. Using any notes you have taken, share your summary of what you thought was said, what your partner seemed to have needed, and where you agree or see things differently. Even if your experience is not positive, you can still deliver your feelings in a caring way.

Tell your partner how you feel about what you heard and what your responses are. Ask for feedback as to how you were as a listener and any differences he or she might have wished for. Where were you accurate and where might you have misunderstood? Did your partner feel cared for, understood, and supported, and in what ways? Does he or she have any good feedback for you?

9. Patience

Patience is not just “waiting.” Patience is being so involved that you don’t notice the passage of time. When you are listening deeply to another, with no other thought than to be there doing what you are doing, you feel emotionally weightless and unconnected to the past or future. Your only desire is to be there fully for the one you love.

Emotional patience feels to the other like chivalry. There is no resentment, impatience, martyrdom, or boredom in the gift of listening as long and to whatever your partner needs from you at the time. You feel absolutely willing to put your own needs aside, and feeling honored to do so at the time.

This may seem idealistic, but most people sharing something vulnerable or painful know exactly what it feels like to be on the other end of someone who truly wants to listen. You may not be able to do it for long periods of time, but the rewards for the listener are as great as for the speaker.

10. Weaving

This capability is the true art of a great communicator. People in pain or trying to express negative or hurt feelings often cannot keep track of what they’ve said or make sense of their presentation while they are in that emotional state.

A great listener weaves statements of the past, relates them to the present, and takes them forward into the future. To do that, he or she must take cues from the past and combine them with what listener already knows about that person. Using a combination of emotional support, accurate listening, tracking, rhythm, presence, and care, an effective listener helps his or her partner to continue getting closer to the true message offered.

Weaving helps a person remember his or her past and how it is affecting the present. It also helps point out repetitive patterns that have not yielded good results, and makes them less likely to continue into the future. It is crucial that weaving is not done in a way that makes the sharing partner feel trapped or labeled, just known more deeply as to whom he or she behaves in the relationship.

How If Your Friend Have An Affair

I need help on how to handle a situation my friend is in. She has been seeing this guy who is already married and has kids with his wife. I have tried to warn her from the beginning but she didn’t listen to any of my advice. Now the affair she is in is getting deeper and deeper – I can tell she is falling in love with him. What should I do as her friend? Should I tell her I won’t be her friend anymore if she keeps on doing this or should I just let her be? I’m confused!” – HelplessFriend

Dear HelplessFriend,

First of all, seeing a friend in a sticky situation is never easy to deal with. And in your case, the situation is even more of a messy one as it involves other people besides your friend. Regarding your confusion about whether or not you should threaten to end the friendship unless she ends the affair, the best thing to do is to avoid doing that. Because at the end of the day, your friendship must remain untouched because what your friend is doing affects her personally and it should not affect you. If you were to cut off your friendship with her for something that your friend has done to herself then it would not do any good. It seems that the only thing that would do is cause more pain where it isn’t necessary.

Furthermore, when it comes to simply letting your friend be, this should only be done after you have given her a reality check. As a friend, your only responsibility is to give your honest opinion with the intention of helping her in any way you can. This means that you should tell it like it is when you are talking to her about the affair. Let her know that she is not only putting herself at risk of getting hurt, but she is also putting the man, his wife and his children at risk of getting hurt. Let her know frankly that being romantically involved with a married man is only going to end in tears and the longer she keeps this up, the more hurt she will feel later on. You need to tell it like it is because it is your job to do so – not because you want to cause her pain or make her feel scared but it’s simply to show her what she may not be able to see for herself.

Aside from giving your friend the reality check, try your best to not entertain or make a big deal about her affair when you see her. This means that all you have to say to her is that she is doing something that is clearly wrong and that she will get her hurt. That’s all. Aside from that, it helps if you do not ask her anything about the affair or show that you are disinterested in the subject. Because what this will do is show her that you will not condone or pay any attention to that part of her world because it is simply something you are against. The more you give her attention, ask lots of questions, be mad or constantly tell her to not do it, the more she will be tempted to keep doing it. People always want to do things they are not allowed to do. The more you tell her “don’t” the more appealing the affair will be. So, simply say these two things, “You are in the wrong” and “You will get hurt”, anything else should not be of your concern.