January 2013

Inside this Newsletter:


Message from Carolyn:

As most of you probably know, Alan and I left Denver for Tucson on December 21. We are now officially permanent snowbirds – wintering (Nov through April) in Tucson and spending the summer (May through October) in Colorado. I am still doing therapy, dating coaching, and marriage counseling, but by phone now, and it’s going well. I hear it has been a warm and dry winter in Denver. To our dismay, it has been a colder than usual winter here in Tucson. It’s quite an adjustment for me to have closed my office for the winter and be working from home. I actually miss getting dressed up and going into the office, and I look forward to having a part-time office in Denver again this summer.

We drove the cats down here with us (15 hour drive), which was of course not fun. We had an outdoor cat cage built for them that’s attached to the house. Yes, they are spoiled. They’re adjusting very well, but the two feral cats howl at night wanting outside.

It’s been strange to actually have time on my hands. They say, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” And it’s true. I accomplished more when I was busier. But I’m starting to adjust. I’m gardening, although my tomato plants froze during our cold weather, but my lettuce and green onions are an inch high, and my geraniums and petunias are still blooming (they’re considered winter plants down here). I’m taking Zumba dance classes, have made a new friend in the classes, and am hoping to lose a few pounds. I still sing karaoke once a week with my friend Carol, and I hope to start writing more again and maybe even starting a blog. I invite your questions and/or topics you would like to see me address. I’ve answered one below, and written about one of my favorite topics, “Looking Forward to Being Attacked” (emotionally/verbally of course).

Hope you had great holidays and a great January and that you’re all keeping your New Year’s Resolutions. Enjoy the Superbowl this weekend, even though the Broncos didn’t make it!

Carolyn

Q&A - Making It in a Long-Term Relationship

Question:

I used to feel crazy in love with my partner, and that motivated me to work through issues with him. But over the last few years, I don’t want to bother with the arguments as I don’t seem to care enough. I still love him, but I feel too exhausted to fight with him. My attitude is “Screw it, it doesn’t’ matter anyway!” How do I get enough energy back to actually do what I know I should do to fix this relationship?”

Answer:

I know it’s difficult to face issues in a relationship, and it’s easier to avoid them, especially when issues often don’t actually get resolved and then just create more bad feelings. That crazy in-love feeling we have at the beginning of a relationship does usually diminish somewhat over time, and part of that is normal. But, leaving issues unresolved builds more and more resentment, which will eventually completely kill the “in-love” feeling altogether.

How it should work is that the crazy in-love feeling grows into a deeper kind of love over time as a couple is vulnerable with each other and works through their issues together. This gives each of you a better understanding of your mate, helping the deeper love grow. By avoiding the issues, however, this never happens and the relationship becomes stagnant and boring. Both people eventually become unhappy with their mate and themselves, damaging both partner’s self-esteem.

It sounds like this is where you are in your relationship, and that you are angry at yourself too for letting it happen. It’s hard not to be depressed in a situation like this. Depression, of course, takes all of your energy away and causes your “Screw it!” reaction.

Instead of avoiding your emotions, start by journaling your resentment and anger so you at least slow down your depression and/or numbness. Turn your self-anger outward on paper. Be sure that you journal in first person and to your partner, i.e. “I am angry at you for ……,” instead of talking “about” the issues or blaming yourself (that will keep you exhausted). Anger can energize you. It would be good to ask your partner to do the same exercise. Then you can both come together to negotiate. Both of you need to use my 4 Steps of Healthy Communication:

I feel _____when you_____.
I want _______.
Will you do this and this?
If not, I will _______.

The “If not, I will ____” part of my 4 steps needs to help you take some sort of action, whether it involves going out with friends when your mate won’t go with you or you deciding to leave the relationship.

Hopefully, this exercise will energize you, give you hope, and help the two of you create some healthy negotiations where you both give each other more of what the other wants. If your partner won’t cooperate with you, you can try to get him or her to join you in therapy, or seek therapy yourself to help motivate you to bring this to a head. If none of this works for you, you need to move on and leave the relationship to stop the downhill spiral you are in. For most people, once you get your frustrations out and start making deals, your energy comes back and you can build a healthier relationship for the future.

This year take a look at your family dynamics. Note whether or not you see yourself in some of their bad behavior. Think about how certain behaviors of theirs have affected your own relationships. Use this time as an opportunity to make changes in your life that will improve all of your relationships, as well as make your holidays better in the future!

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Looking Forward to Being Attacked

“Looking forward to being attacked” sounds crazy, I know, especially since most people hate confrontations. In fact, many people avoid confrontation at all costs. But being attacked (at least verbally and emotionally) is something that happens to most of us on a regular basis. Yet few of us ever develop the confrontational skills needed to defend ourselves in these situations. This leaves us easy prey for bosses, co-workers, family, friends, and mates who want to control us. Our fear of confrontation lets others take control and hurt us. When this happens, we either expose our weakness, or hold in our pain and anger until we explode, often causing damage to the wrong people. Not only does our self-esteem get damaged, but the actual problem never gets resolved.

Years ago I picked up a book titled Looking Forward to Being Attacked. It was a self-defense book, but the title intrigued me. What if we changed our attitude from fear of being attacked to looking forward to standing up for ourselves? Over the years, I’ve worked on this attitude myself, as well as teaching it to my clients. To gain this type of confidence, however, you have to practice – just as you would with any sport or any special activity such as singing or dancing. Yet, confrontation is not something most people want to practice.

It’s surprising how often very confident-appearing people let themselves get intimidated just because they’re afraid to stand up for themselves. Take Nancy for instance, an attractive woman in her mid-forties who appears very strong. Her co-workers and family would say that she does stand up for herself because she often explodes on a dime. But she is actually short-tempered because she usually doesn’t stand up for herself. She says, “People aren’t respectful to me and don’t seem to like me. I try to ignore it and can’t seem to say what’s on my mind to them. Then it builds up and I’m mean to them. Then again they don’t like me. It’s a vicious cycle.”

My 35-year-old client Dan has a similar problem. His boss constantly rides him. He feels so intimidated that he is miserable at work every day, constantly complaining to anyone who will listen as he searches for a different job. Then when he gets home, he has a tendency to take it out on his wife and kids. Afterwards he feels guilty which further damages his self-esteem.

And my client Marie, who is young but has worked at the same company for several years, also avoids confrontation. Actually, she avoids interactions with people altogether (unless she’s known them for years), but fools herself into thinking it’s because she doesn’t like most people. But that’s just her defense talking. She covers her pain with a cold, bitchy attitude toward co-workers and the men she meets. In her last review at work, her boss told her that she doesn’t play nice with others, and that her behavior needs to change. Her attitude affects her personal life too as she admits that she stayed with her last boyfriend way too long because she has difficulty meeting new people.

All three clients spend most of their time covering their insecurities with a façade of fake strength. It’s fake because they feel rejected which erodes their self-confidence on a regular basis. But nothing ever changes because they continue to avoid much-needed confrontations. They confuse “strength” with protecting themselves. True strength is being able to stand up for yourself by handling emotional and verbal attacks as they occur.

Dan recently had an encounter with his boss and finally told him, “If you think I’m doing such a bad job, why don’t you just fire me and get it over with!” His boss was shocked that Dan even felt that way. He backed down, reassuring Dan that he needs him, and has stopped criticizing him. Dan can’t believe it – he assumed that standing up to his boss would get him fired, but it didn’t. Dan had taken his boss’s criticism personally (as most of us do), but now realizes that the problem is just in the way his boss manages. Dan has developed a new attitude he now calls “keeping my swagger.”

Nancy is also learning that instead of continuing to be nice to try and win over her co-workers who are being disrespectful, she needs to tell them that she doesn’t like the way they are behaving toward her and to stop it. She has to learn not to fear them, realizing that they have many insecurities themselves that make them behave that way. She just needs to train them how to treat her.

And Marie says that her bad attitude toward her co-workers comes from how much they irritate her when they ask stupid questions and seem lazy, so she just gives them the cold shoulder, hoping they’ll get the hint and leave her alone. People accuse her of acting like she’s better than them, but she actually realizes deep inside that she’s socially inept. She’s been using her defensive ways so long that she doesn’t know what else to say or do. She’s agreed to start trying to tell people how she feels and what she wants. With her co-workers she’ll say, “I have to be honest, it irritates me when you ask me that question when I know you already know how to do that. I want to see you try, and then I’ll help you if I see that you need it.” It’s a very simple change, but an important one. And her co-workers may still not like her reaction, but at least the issue can get resolved and Marie can start connecting with people again.

Real confidence comes from knowing that you can handle whatever situations come your way. And avoiding something is not the same as “handling” it. Avoiding will keep others’ bad behavior going and will not help you get what you want in the long run. Standing up for yourself -- by letting people know how you feel about what just happened and what you want changed -- will help you have the strength to “look forward to being attacked.”

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About Carolyn

Carolyn Bushong, L.P.C, is an expert on relationships and a licensed therapist. She is known for being one of the top relationship therapists in the country and the author of 3 relationship books. She has appeared on Oprah, the View, and many other TV shows, and she has been giving relationship advice on Denver radio for more than15 years. She has been helping people like you improve your life and relationships for more than 30 years. Cosmo, US Weekly and other magazines quote her expert relationship advice, and McCall’s named her one of the “Top 6 Passion Doctors” in the country. Carolyn Bushong always has fresh, up-to-date, hot information on topics that will inspire you and change your life and improve your relationships. She has clients all over the country, some who come into her office and others who receive Carolyn's expert advice through phone counseling. Carolyn Bushong is an excellent psychotherapist, but she also lives what she teaches, as she is in a happy, healthy relationship with Alan, her mate of 25 years.

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