My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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The Next Step to Heal from Relationship Hurts

You didn’t see it coming. You didn’t think something like this would happen to you. But your broken heart tells a different story. You’ve sustained a painful relational injury and you don’t know how to move on. The pit in your stomach, the inability to think clearly, the loss of security and everything you thought you knew. You question your future, your kid’s future, and worry settles in like an uninvited cat. You’re faced with decisions on how you will respond. You didn’t ask for this, but here it is anyway.

moving forward

And how will you respond? With anger? With silence? With vindication? The feelings of betrayal can be so intense that you can feel completely off your game and unlike yourself. I think that is where the phrase, “beside myself” came from- feelings of betrayal give us a sense that we are outside of ourselves powerlessly watching the bad thing happen. Last week, we discussed what true repentance looks like, and without true repentance, reconciliation is not possible. If you missed it, click here to read.

trustworthy again

 

How do you put together the pieces again, and make sure that you move forward instead of get stuck in anger and bitterness?

  1. Determine the state of repentance your partner is experiencing. Repentance means that your partner identifies the gravity of the injury, makes reparations and commitment for change. Last week’s post addressed the steps in true repentance. Click here if you missed it.
  2. List your needs: this may be difficult if you haven’t been in the habit of recognizing your own needs. Often women will try to fulfill everyone else’s needs before their own and are out of practice when it comes to identifying what they need. Take some time to list some things that you’ll need, in order to move forward. Maybe you need him to
  3. Determine if reconciliation is an option. Remember, forgiveness does not mean that you have to trust or reconcile with the other person. You do not. Reconciliation is a much different process than forgiveness. Forgiveness can be done with or without the offending person. If the offending person has proven himself emotionally safe, trustworthy and remorsefully repentant, then reconciliation can be an option. If he only offers lip service, without true behavior change, then reconciliation is not a safe idea. If the offending person offers no admittance of wrongdoing at all, he is showing you that he is not a safe person to trust again.
  4. Recognize your own part, if appropriate, in the breakdown. I’m not saying that the betrayal is your fault. Not at all. However, it is important to identify your contributions to the breakdown of the relationship whatever they may be. Maybe you ignored some warning signs, or neglected to set good boundaries in the beginning. Maybe your people picker was broken and you picked the wrong person. Maybe you had a pattern of trying harder than the other person and you trained him to disrespect you. This is an important step to your recovery because it prepares you for self-forgiveness.
  5. Determine what Forgiveness looks like for you. Forgiveness is choosing to no longer hold the person accountable for that particular transgression. It’s as if the trial is over, the sentence is in place, and you no longer have to be the judge, the jailor, or the enforcer. You may be experiencing fear of getting hurt again, but don’t let that fear determine whether you forgive or not. Forgiveness may mean that you reach out to the person and offer to take steps toward reconciliation. Or, forgiveness for you may mean wishing the person well, loving them from a distance and keeping your distance.
  6. Signs of forgiveness. How do you know if you’ve really forgiven or not? Well, you’ll experience less anger, hurt and fear when you are with or when you think about that person. You feel strong that you can take care of yourself, and wise about decisions you make. You feel compassion for the other person, and truly wish the best for him/her. Whether or not they have changed, you have peace with yourself and extend peace toward him/her.

forgiveness

Forgiveness is the freedom from the power of past pain.

We can’t go through life without hurting others, and getting hurt. Forgiveness is one of those skills that is required in order to live life well. When we extend forgiveness to others, it gives back blessing to us. Again, forgiveness may not look like full reconciliation. The other person may not be safe or ready to be in a close relationship with you and all your new fancy fandangled boundaries. But your heart can choose forgiveness and be free from the pain of the past.

 

A Sorry That Sticks

Remember trying to teach your toddler to say sorry for taking a toy away or hitting his little brother? It is worse than pulling teeth! They grimace, they whine, they stand firm with crossed arms. Maybe you might get them to grumble a mumbled, “Sorry,” but you know they don’t really mean it, and they would do it again if they had the chance. As my teenager would say, “Sorry, Hashtag, Not Sorry.”

sorry not sorry

Well, apologies aren’t that much easier for adults. How do you know when the apology is real, or really heart felt? How can you tell if your partner is just saying “Sorry” to stay out of trouble, or to cover up a deeper secret? How can you tell if the sorry will stick?

swingset

An old Hebrew tradition, I once heard seems to say it best. The story goes like this. Benny and Lucille were next door neighbors. Benny trained sheep dogs on his little farm, and Lucille raised goats. One day, Benny’s friskiest dog chewed out of his pen and attacked Lucille’s baby goat, Abigail and killed it. Lucille was sick about it. She cried and cried over her little Abigail. When Benny discovered the news, he couldn’t believe it. How could his dog do such a thing? And especially to Abigail, Lucille’s pride and joy.

Benny knew what to do, however. He knew he had to make it right with his neighbor. A simple apology wouldn’t do. When he went over to Lucille’s house, he could tell that she had been crying and he knew then just how much her little goat meant to her.

“I know I can’t bring back your little goat, and I’m so sorry that my dog attacked her last night. I want to make it up to you. I want to buy you two little goats of your choice. One for Abigail and one for our friendship.

Lucille knew that she could never replace little Abigail, but she appreciated Benny’s sincerity so much, she wanted to extend her hand in forgiveness.

“I also found a new home for the dog that did this,” Benny said, “So he won’t be a threat anymore.”

This is just a little story, but it does help to understand what is needed for a broken relationship to feel whole again. The old tradition basically states that the responsible party replaces what was lost, and then adds a 1/5 to restore the relationship. It emphasizes that an apology should not merely be words or sentiment, it must also include an offer to make amends. It must repair the emotional and relational damages, not just the financial.

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If you have sustained an injury, like betrayal or broken trust or damaged reputation- a simple apology may not be enough to repair the relationship. Here are some steps to recognize a sincere apology.

The responsible person:

  1. Recognizes the extent of the damage done, and accepts his/her responsibility
  2. Doesn’t minimize, excuse or justify the wrong-doing
  3. Doesn’t say things like, “I’m sorry, but…” or “I’m sorry if…” or “Sorry #NotSorry.
  4. Asks, “What can I do to make amends?” and insists on making reparations.
  5. Follows through with his/her commitment. This may be a promise to seek support, counseling, rehab, extra accountability, or change bad habits. This usually takes time and consistency.

And what about you? What is your role in extending forgiveness without losing yourself? Next week, we will discuss the important steps toward forgiveness and reconciliation without bending your boundaries too far.

What His Anger is Really Hiding

If you love a man with anger problems, you have probably felt hurt and overwhelmed by his behavior at times. Maybe you wonder if you could have done something to prevent the angry outburst. Maybe you feel responsible to control or pacify his temper. Women who are married to men with anger problems can feel desperate for them to change but powerless to do anything about it.

fight on phone

Anger can feel scary, mean, and even threatening. When a woman feels the full force of her husband’s anger, a deep abandonment, coupled with fear occurs in the psyche. This abandonment/fear mechanism inside a woman can have a traumatizing affect leaving her with primal response of fight/flight/freeze. If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know the feeling I mean. You realize how utterly vulnerable you are to the man you love and who you trust to love you back.

When I see couples where the husband presents with anger problems, I try to understand exactly what’s going on. Sometimes, the anger is really a secondary response to other untreated problems. The untreated problems have been stuffed, hidden, repressed, and denied for so long, they turn into unpredictable anger outbursts affecting the family and the marriage.

mental head

The Problems that Masquerade as Anger

  • Untreated ADD: people with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder often have difficulty with emotional  and mental self-regulation. When uncomfortable emotions are experienced, people with untreated ADHD often lack the inhibitory capacity to censor emotional reactions. Combine impulse control with rage and you can see how this could be a big problem.
  • Untreated Anxiety: When I am treating a man with an anger issue, I often find that anxiety is their root problem. I like to explain anger as anxiety’s stunt double. The anger is the emotion that gets the most attention, but behind the quick temper, the agitation, and the volatility, anxiety is in the driver’s seat.  They report feeling keyed up, stressed all the time, unable to sleep well, worried, out of control, fearful, and even panic attacks. Identifying and treating the anxiety offers can offer a lot of relief to both the man and his family.
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: Trauma or life-threatening events can cause upsetting memories, hyper arousal, increased agitation, distrust, and negative changes in one’s thoughts and beliefs. Trauma causes a person’s response to threat to become stuck. So when normal stressors come along, they react with “full activation,” as if their life were threatened. This automatic anger response can create serious problems  on the job and at home. 
  • Addiction: People can become addicted to many substances and activities like marijuana, alcohol, sex and gambling. When people become dependent and begin to abuse these mood altering drugs, they lose the ability to self regulate. The addiction becomes a sickness, and the need for the next high drives the person into acting ways he normally wouldn’t. Rage, denial, deceit, defensiveness, blame, and physical violence are all indicators that use has turned into abuse.
  • Antisocial or Sociopathic Personality: Men who have pervasive disregard for how their actions affect others, marked with hostility, recklessness, aggressiveness, deceitfulness, lawlessness and abuse for personal pleasure. These personalities can often make people believe the best in them or feel sorry for them, pulling people in just to take advantage of them. This type of personality will use his anger to manipulate, threaten, scare, control and dominate without empathy. They really just don’t care.

46312281 - lonely businessman depressed about life stress concept

If you are married to a man who struggles with anger, it is important for him to seek support to learn to regulate his emotions. When anger is driving a man to say and do things that hurt other people, serious consideration needs to be made about seeking help. Counseling, support groups, trauma therapy, medication treatment and meditation are all ways for men struggling with anger to learn new coping strategies. They can become truly happy people, with thriving relationships, if they address the anger problem they have.

However, if you are married to a man who uses anger to manipulate, control, or threaten, be careful. These are dangerous tendencies that you need to recognize as abusive. Getting support to help you know your options and keep yourself safe is very important. Click here for next steps. Anger is a normal feeling that all people have, and is necessary for healthy functioning. However, when anger gets out of control, boundaries and accountability are needed to keep safe and secure.

Understanding Anger in Men

Does he have an anger problem?

Anger can be a confusing emotion to understand. Does he really mean the things he says and does when he’s angry? How do you know when his anger is justifiable or becoming a problem?

couple on bench

Anger is a normal response to frustration, stress, disappointment or hurt. Anger is necessary to our human experience- it alerts us to injustice and motivates us to take action. Anger is useful in protecting others and self when in danger. But unchecked anger can be the root cause of chaos, mayhem, road rage, domestic violence, child abuse, and mass genocides. Anger is such a powerful emotion, it is worth the time to understand it’s role in the lives of the men we love.

  • Anger is Secondary. It’s important to understand anger as a secondary emotion, instead of primary. Anger may feel and look like primary feeling, but it’s not. Anger is always secondary, and is caused by hurt first. We become angry when we sense a betrayal or put-down or dismissal. Different things can trigger anger for different people, however the stimulus felt is always a perceived hurt.
  • Anger is a response to overwhelming feelings of pain and threat. All people experience overwhelming feelings from time to time, but it is how we behave with our anger that really counts. The kind of anger that intimidates, threatens, violates, insults and manipulates is never justified or ok. Figuring out how to recognize and manage anger in a healthy way is always the goal.
  • Often women who love angry men make excuses for their partner’s anger. They say, “Well, he’s under a lot of stress at work,” or “That’s the way he was raised,” or “It’s just part of his personality.” Women sometimes feel so afraid of their partner’s angry outbursts, they do anything to avoid upsetting him. This leads to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

In my 15 years counseling couples and individuals, I have found that there are two types of men with anger issues: one type that experiences shame and regret over his angry outbursts, and one that doesn’t. Both types of men can be abusive with their anger, but only one will care enough to do something about it.

The Repentant Type

The man who regrets his angry outbursts will not only apologize for the things he has said or done, but will also take consistent action to change. Repentance is a humble acknowledgement and deep sorrow of the hurt that was caused and a total change of heart. Evidence of this change is consistently seen by behavior changes. This often occurs through some sort of intervention, like confessing to other supportive people, seeking counseling or psychiatric treatment (not as scary as it sounds, btw), etc. The turn-around is measurable and sustainable. This type usually has something else going on underneath like unresolved grief, PTSD, or many other things that I’ll address in the next blog called, What’s Really Underneath His Anger.

The Non-Repentant Type

The man who uses his anger as a weapon of control, however is unlikely to feel truly sorry about his anger or the pain it causes. He may be unwilling to empathize with the hurt others feel, or even acknowledge he is responsible for it. The Non-Repentant Type may say that he is sorry, but he uses this apology to buy time or manipulate others to get what he wants. His behavior doesn’t show consistent markers for humility, responsibility, mood modification or desire for change.

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So what can be done? If you are a woman who loves a man with an anger problem, you may be asking if you can do anything to change things. Yes, you can. The first step is getting the help you need to be safe and you can click here for info. The second is getting the help you need to set appropriate boundaries, and you can click here for info.

If the man you love has anger issues, you may feel scared- like you’re walking around on egg shells hoping you don’t say or do something to upset him. This is no way to live. The truth is, that he will feel much better once he addresses his anger issues, and you will feel much better too. Anger doesn’t have to rule your household. You can have peace again.

What if he is unwilling to get help? This may be where you are at right now. You know that if you were to ask him to get help for his anger problems, he will become upset, defensive, blaming or worse… threatening. If this is you, I can understand why you have delayed in setting boundaries with him. However, things will never get better unless you get the help that you need and stop living in fear.

Nest week, I’ll be covering the problems that masquerade as anger, giving you a better understanding of what is really going on down inside the people you love.

Your Life Changing Moment

Have you ever had a moment of enlightenment when all of a sudden, the world seems to make sense? The marry-go-round stops. Your vision clears. The noise silences. And you knew something for sure. Like, for sure, for sure. There are a few times in life that we can all point to, where a word spoken at the right time simply transforms our life. It’s the light bulb moment. It’s the angels singing. It’s the come-to-Jesus-moment. It’s enlightenment.

child running

My bible study (btw, I like to pronounce bible like a southern woman… bobble study…) has been studying truth- things like core beliefs and how truth makes a difference in our lives. We sound like philosophers pontificating. We seriously need port, cigars and an MDiv to make us official.

Even if you’re not religious, you probably know the interchange between Jesus and Pilate before he was sentenced to death by cross. They talked about this very issue. When Jesus was taken to this Roman Governor’s Palace for questioning, Jesus said to Pilate, “…the reason I was born and came into this world was to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Then Pilate cynically asked, “What is truth?”

Good question, right? What is truth, anyway?

Simply put, Truth is aligning your thoughts with Reality. Reality is the picture you take on your iPhone listed as “Original”- with no filter. Our experiences, addictions, traumas, and belief systems see reality with different filters. Looking at life with a warped filter affects how we think, behave and relate to others. But seeing reality filter-less makes life a whole lot clearer.

Enemies of Reality

  • Denial– the refusal to believe something is true even when substantial evidence proves it. Denial is especially favored in relationships where the truth seems too hard to accept.
  • Pride– believing that being right, best, brightest or biggest is more important than being honest with self, God and others.
  • Shame– the belief that the pain of being wrong, weak or less-than is too crushing and must be avoided at all costs, even at the cost of truth.

 light at the end of the tunnel

The Psychology of Enlightenment

  • First Comes the Light: The light is sometimes so bright, it blinds. It might even hurt, like a sunny day without sun glasses. I’ve been in a room with someone I love, hashing out a problem, when the truth of what he/she says feels like lightening hitting. The truth is, I said or did something that was wrong and hurt my loved-one. When I come to the realization that I was the one who caused the problem,  I can’t argue my way out of it. I can’t excuse it or justify it. It is just true. It is just reality. I would be foolish not to accept it. I don’t have to like it. And it never feels good. If I’m a first-adopter of this truth, I tuck my tail without much growling, and I ask for forgiveness. If I’m slow, however, I sulk and mope and argue and then come around to the shuffling-feet-muttering-I’m-sorry- you-were-right-I’m-gonna-work-on-that stance.

Living in reality, and accepting my part in it, might mean swallowing my pride, but that is better than being foolish. Can I get an Amen?

  • Second Comes the Power: Once I have accepted reality, and my part in it, I am able to move forward in power. Years ago, my counselor said to me, “You haven’t forgiven your dad, yet.” Incredulous, I listed all the ways she was wrong (denial) because I couldn’t stand to be less-than a good Christian girl (pride) and because being a bad Christian girl would be too heavy a burden to bear (shame.) Once my counselor pressed me a little further (over the course of a month), pointing out the signs of my unforgiveness, I realized she was right (denial lifted) and I realized I was the one with the problem (pride turned to humility) and my problem was normal (shame turned to acceptance.)

Once I could identify the burden I was feeling, I all of a sudden, had the power to do something about it. Enlightenment delivers energy that empowers its adopters for transformation.

  • Third Comes the Freedom: Accepting reality is always a humbling experience. Sometimes we have to apologize or admit we were wrong. Sometimes we have to change course or ask for help. It’s hard. But it’s the only way to empowered and free-living. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Once I accepted my problem of unforgiveness, and I felt empowered to change it, I then became burden free. All that was left was acceptance and peace. In the matter of a few days, the burden I had carried for 20 years was shifted into empowered freedom, all because I aligned myself with the reality of my problem. The truth. I don’t mean that I didn’t have healing work to do, or communication work to do with my dad. I did. But, I had a totally new perspective and power on HOW to heal and communicate. Aligning yourself with the truth of your situation never results in a crushing defeat. Instead, it results in ultimate peace, and an -it’s-going-to-be-ok faith.

light unto my path

Telling the Truth

I’ve been on the other side of Truth Telling too. A woman can tell her story with crafted niceties explaining her marital problems. She may say they have a communication issue, or just don’t see eye to eye. She is obviously in a good deal of pain but feels hopeless she can do anything about it. The more she goes on, I hear troubling phrases like, “he has a temper,” and “not always truthful,” and “I don’t seem to do anything right.” And the more she talks, the more I feel a knowing in my heart and my head that there is more to the story, that something is going on that she is not admitting. I ask a few more pointed questions about what exactly she is experiencing at home. She gives half-admissions, which are enough for me to know the truth. And at the end of our time together, I softly say to her, and sometimes with tears, “My friend, your husband is abusing you. You don’t have to do this anymore.”

And then the flood gates open and she is hearing the truth spoken out loud that she has always know but was too afraid to admit. Denial is broken. She weeps because for the first time in a long time, she has aligned herself with the truth, and the truth is slowly setting her free. The truth is weakening the deception of “everything is fine,” and opening her to the possibility that God has a different plan. A better plan. A plan of healing and loving, and no harm.

Once she accepts the reality that she is a victim of financial/sexual/physical/emotional/psychological abuse (women who come out of abusive relationships can usually identify abuse in each of these areas) she can have the power to change her situation.

Sitting in a room when this kind of lightening strikes is the reward of my work. There is nothing like it on earth. That moment when time stops, eyes lock, and two souls are bound by the truth that settles down over the room. That’s when I feel God.

It’s magic. It’s love. It’s grace.

light on the journey

Actions Steps toward Enlightenment

  • Be open to honest feedback – instead of being defensive or overly sensitive, seek out honest feedback and take what is useful.
  • Let go of sacred cows– inventory the reasons why you keep your filter on, and see what destructive people, habits, thought patterns need to go.
  • Test your Belief System– you might be believing something wonky about yourself, God, or the world around you. Give some effort in determining what you believe and the effects of your belief system on your life.
  • Talk to Somebody– not just anybody, but somebody helpful and trustworthy. Letting other people know what you’re going through solidifies the truth in your own heart.

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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