Marriage or Relationship Not Working? Anxious? Frustrated? Lost?

Ten Ways To Be A Better You


Ken Donaldson has a book coming out soon called Marry Yourself First. It suggests the reality that we really need to know and respect ourselves before we are truly ready for a long-term relationship like marriage. Our relationships tend to falter when we have not invested in the one person who makes a difference in them all and that is ourselves. I know I have written about this in many different ways, but each time the message is the same. If I am a sinking ship with no plan for survival and rebuilding, how can I carry along any other passengers? Here are some suggestions from a variety of sources that recommend the same. We are the ones who can make a difference in our homes or in any room we enter when we take the time to not only marry ourselves first, but also evolve to a place where we love us and in loving us, we lose hatred, anger, and resentment. Here are a few suggestions to start moving in that direction.

1. Can I remain centered and loving in the face of conflict and criticism?

2. Do I offer empathy and understanding to others before making corrections?

3. Do I maintain an attitude of appreciation for all that comes my way?

4. Do I live with intention following my purpose and vision in life?

5. Do my time, energy, and money reflect my values in life?

6. Are my closets and attics clean? Do I keep my mind free of the debris of hostility while focused on the good in others?

7. When things happen, do I ask how I brought these into my life through my expectations and beliefs?

8. Do I adjust my thoughts to create the kinds of feelings I want to have?

9. Do I do something for others every day?

10. Do I find something positive to contribute to the world every day: a smile, a hello, a note of thanks, a kind thought, or a service?

Though this list is not exhaustive, it does offer us something of a checkpoint. It can help to have such suggestions, but is not always easy to accomplish. Happiness has become more and more succinctly defined and no matter whose book we read, the answer to happiness lies in our own eyes, our own perspective on all that we experience in the past, the present, and the future. If I am having a problem with someone in my life, the first examination is of myself. What can I think, do, or say to make this relationship better? The real secret is in who I am. If we first choose to be, the doing and having take care of themselves. If my children misbehave, if my spouse doesn’t treat me as I wish, if my boss lets me down, if life keeps bringing me despair, I have to look inside me first. Wayne Dyer says we are born geniuses, but our brain training gets in the way. We can learn to do all of the above. Give it a whirl. It is only up to one person. No one else carries the responsibility or the answers. Look inside. If it’s too dark in there, start filling it with light, understanding, and compassion.

Passive-Aggressive Stuff


Is there someone you want to get even with, someone who deserves to be taught a lesson? Are you planning what to do to pay them back and even the score? If so, you could be thinking like a passive-aggressive who covertly and indirectly expresses anger. To avoid face-to-face confrontation, the passive-aggressive drops clues to indicate dissatisfaction. Sometimes the clues are so subtle that others feel stupid or petty addressing them. Heavy sighs, rolling eyes, shaking head, sarcasm, disapproval of others, withholding love, the silent treatment, hurting others, competing to get even, gossiping, tattling, and punishing are some examples. When asked what’s wrong, the pat answer is “Nothing’s wrong.” (“I don’t want to fix the problem; I want revenge.”) In the P-A’s mind he has taught a lesson, but the lesson is lost and nothing changes. Passive-aggressive behavior sneaks into a relationship when someone feels angry, betrayed, jealous, threatened, intimidated, or maybe competitive and needing to be in control. It is the communication style that will most likely destroy a relationship. It is hard to forgive and forget someone who intentionally tries to get needs met at our expense and does it in such a sneaky way that we don’t know what hit us. We are left feeling used and betrayed. Unfortunately, P-A’s are rarely sorry for their behavior and usually feel justified using revenge tactics since they have been mistreated and have a right to get even. The irony is that in their passion to get even, the P-A not only fails to get his needs met, he usually ends up hurting himself while the issue that made him spiteful and vindictive is never dealt with or resolved.

How does this pattern develop? When as little ones we are not allowed to express our discontent directly we learn to control the feelings to please our significant adults whose love we don’t want to lose. The pressure builds and then anger and resentment come out in destructive ways usually toward other people/mates who become the symbolic target. There is a natural tendency to express anger and resentment inappropriately when we do not have permission to express it directly and responsibly.

When unable to put voice to our frustrations, two things can happen. We turn anger in on ourselves in the form of self-abusive behavior like isolating ourselves, self-criticism, masochism, disease; or we direct the anger elsewhere toward other people, races, the government, police, etc. So we deny the anger we feel toward the significant ones who raised us, our source of love that we idolize, and then we act it out with others. The problem is that we cannot get angry enough and often enough symbolically to heal this unresolved resentment from the past. Suppressed anger numbs the body and deadens our ability to feel, but we are able to have judgments about people who express their upsets directly. Most who have suppressed anger are in deep denial about it.

To change this pattern of interaction, we need to learn new skills for getting needs met and to be in touch with feelings. Granted freedom to know that it is okay to be angry and to express it in helpful healing ways, one can improve relationships and physical health. The P-A can use the current situation to stop blaming others and look within for the source of resentment. Venting feelings by writing or talking to a friend/ counselor can clear them and make room for healthier perspectives. Our perception about what is happening determines our response to it, so clearing the emotions that cloud our perception makes room for creative and energetic solutions. Forgiveness of those who have caused us emotional harm as well as ourselves is also an essential element in the process of becoming and functioning at our highest level. We need to remember that at any given time, people are doing the best they can. As we grow emotionally and spiritually, we can change our perceptions, our relationships, and have a sense of inner peace. We can begin to laugh when we catch ourselves with passive-aggressive thoughts or behaviors and decide to be more assertive in getting needs met respectfully.

  Copyright © 2002,2003 Pamela Simmons.    Return to Top    

Being Our Best


Each year many of us resolve to attend to those areas of our lives that have been neglected. Though there is a natural inclination to improve ourselves, we may find that we fall short achieving these goals. When that happens it helps to ask what might be preventing our success. Sometimes it may be a less than concerted effort on our parts; sometimes we may require coaching to help with motivation and/or information. Sometimes we need a deeper look into our psyche to determine what might be blocking success. Coaching and motivational training can be effective performance enhancers, but those techniques can diminish over time. According to Dr. David Grand, the author of Emotional Healing at Warp Speed, we all experience traumas that affect our perception, emotions, and behavior. To ignore the important neuropsychological effect past traumas have on performance is much like “cutting down the weeds but leaving the roots to grow back.” Freezing affects of anxiety can be changed in very few sessions with a trained professional.

Performance is frequently impeded by the distorted beliefs we hold about ourselves, often unconsciously. These negatives pervade our entire system, distorting images of others and ourselves allowing us to make unsubstantiated assumptions of what others may think of us. Those who suffer from social anxiety terrified to attend parties put themselves in a critical spotlight of their own invention. Actors, golfers, tennis players, public speakers, CEO’s and others observe times when they were disappointed in themselves and yet naive about what kept them from being more. Beyond coaching and determination lies the opportunity for self-discovery—of finding the truth behind our successes and failures, competition and achievement. By addressing our histories and discovering the events that created false beliefs, we move ourselves to new dimensions of living and being.

Bill Russell, a great basketball player of the 1950’s and 1960’s, describes the moment in which all outside factors in the game--the crowd, body pain, even the score--vanish, and he is one with the flow of the action. It is a sublime moment, he says, when winning or losing are meaningless. It is the fusion of body and spirit, of instinct and skill, of rehearsal and spontaneity.” It is possible to live in the now without the worry about future or past and experience ourselves at our own heights. It is a combination of both peace and exhilaration when we lose consciousness of everything save the fact that we are doing what we should be doing, that we’re the best we can be in that moment. We can all have lives with more of these moments of joy. It begins with revisiting our first experiences with trust.

  Copyright © 2002,2003 Pamela Simmons.   Return to Top    

Do Your Teens Push Your Buttons?


 Do your children get you off the subject by drilling you with irrelevant questions that distract and somehow make you feel inadequate? Do you yell and lecture in hopes that your child will finally get the message and change his ways? Do you wish you could freeze them for 10 years and take them out as adults? In the words of Dr. Scott Sells, we are in a “dance” with our teens, a dance that we do together and somehow find ourselves tripping. Scott researched teen/parent relations for 8 years. His own troubled teen years paved the way to a passion for making life better for families. Below are his theories of why teens misbehave and how we become entangled in the web of their needs, manipulations, and growing pains. Can you identify with any of these?

1. Teens are more skillful than we are at pushing buttons. Statements like “I hate you,” or “You never let me do anything,” are not meant to be mean spirited. It is all about getting what they want by keeping us in the dance.

2. Another skill called “Enhanced Social Perception” is the uncanny ability to think 2 steps ahead of us to derail contracts or agreements. Stretching their ability to “lawyer” they can find loopholes in any rule of the household.

3. Sometimes we turn to outside forces to stop their problems. Though it does take a village to raise our kids, it is easy to undermine our own authority by relying on hospitals, group homes, etc. to change teen behavior.

4. Teens want power and can become “drunk” with it and take over the mood of the house. To keep the power they may try extreme behaviors like running away or threats of violence to make us back down.

5. Teens live by the pleasure principle and want instant gratification. Spontaneous decisions to try risky behaviors provide a high without thinking through the consequences of the action.

6. Though it is age appropriate for the teen’s peer group to gain importance, they can be easily influenced by what their friends say and do. It is a time for them to learn who they are among their peers: their strengths, talents, roles, abilities, etc. The peer group can become a second family as quality time parents spend with their teens diminishes to as little as 8 minutes a day.


It can be challenging to maintain a sense of warmth and nurturing during this time. Tension can become so great that we wonder who will break first. Scott offers specific and proven skills for decreasing tension and increasing cooperation in his book Parenting Your Out-of Control Teenager: 7 Steps to Reestablish Authority and Reclaim Love. The book and other support resources are available locally.  

Copyright © 2002,2003 Pamela Simmons.   
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An Affair To Remember

A love affair can be a wondrous thing unless one is presently married. Though it may be an enjoyable experience for the unfaithful spouse, it is a disillusioning experience for the betrayed spouse. Many very difficult questions arise if the couple decides that they would like to recover and live productively after the affair. Step one is to stop all contact with the lover and begin the healing process at home; healing can happen, but it does involve teamwork and does take time. Ups and downs are normal and to be expected. Just as things are looking up, a reminder of the affair can happen and create a downward spiral. Michele Weiner-Davis and Shirley Glass offer helpful information in their books and on their websites.

The betrayed spouse typically experiences shock, rage, hurt, devastation, disillusionment, and intense sadness all of which could be accompanied by depression and/or anxiety and sleeplessness. The unfaithful spouse may experience tremendous remorse and guilt leading to reluctance to talk about details and address negative feelings and lingering questions. The unfaithful spouse can demonstrate sincere regret to help the path to recovery, and cannot apologize enough or too often. A change of behavior needs to accompany the apologies. Mistrust is strong, so understanding and attention to the betrayed spouse ought to be a priority. Talking about the affair, answering questions, and spending time together to reconnect and nurture the friendship is critical. Using good listening skills allows each partner the opportunity to be heard and understood.

It is difficult to progress until one has been able to grasp some understanding about the details of the affair as well as how it happened and what was going on that allowed it to happen. The struggle about how much to tell can stifle advancement and is an issue that every couple trying to recover from infidelity faces. It is common for the betrayed partner to obsess over learning details, while the unfaithful partner tries to suppress descriptive information. Information disclosed too early can be destructive, but total avoidance tends to intensify alienation. Before revealing too much it helps to lessen emotional intensity and resolve ambivalence about the future of the marriage. Understanding the story of what happened is an essential part of the recovery from that trauma; it allows one to put the pieces together into a meaningful whole. Research shows that individual recovery, survival of the marriage, and restored trust are contingent on honest communication about the infidelity. Who, where, when, and how long are helpful pieces of information that can be requested calmly and nonconfrontationally. Hearing this information may also expose previous lies and deception, but it is crucial that the unfaithful partner’s current truthfulness be appreciated rather than attacked.

It is advisable to reserve sensitive and painful topics for discussion with an impartial third party like a minister or counselor while focusing on renewing positive aspects of the relationship at home. Considering what the unfaithful partner liked most about himself or herself during the affair provides an opportunity to bring that aspect into the marriage. For example if one liked his/her assertiveness and outspokenness, but at home is tightlipped and withholding; the spouse’s willingness to listen without criticism can provide hope that he/she can be free to be real in the marriage.

The best resolution of infidelity is achieved when both partners assume responsibility for improving the relationship and are able to co-construct a story of the affair that integrates their different perspectives. At the final stage of mutual understanding and responsibility, couples can have free-flowing and introspective discussions without accusations or defensiveness and allow forgiveness to occur. Misunderstandings about what partners need from us can be clarified with open and honest talks. For example, one husband discovered that his need to rescue was triggered by a woman he saw as a damsel in distress. His wife’s perception was to that he had been attracted to her competence and strength so had not allowed her vulnerable self to show in the relationship. Addressing these misunderstandings and being able to speak our own truth including our needs, feelings, and tolerances helps maintain the equilibrium to sustain lasting relationships.

  Copyright © 2002,2003 Pamela Simmons. Return to Top   Copyright © 2005 Pamela Simmons

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