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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Is Your Partner Truly Sorry? Or just Sorry they got Caught?

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?

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.


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’ll say sorry if…”
  4. Asks, “What can I do to make amends?” and insists on making reparations.
  5. Doesn’t shift the blame to you, reporting that “It is really your fault. If you wouldn’t have….”
  6. 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.
  7. Helps in other ways, like helping with the house, the kids, and general willingness to serve.

If you see evidence that he/she is truly sorry for the relationship transgression, you will slowly be able to trust and forgive. However, if you sense that the “Sorry” is half-hearted, lip service or just for show, then trusting again is a big mistake.

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 out, sleepless, worried, out of control, fearful, and even panicked. Identifying and treating the anxiety 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.
  • Narcissistic 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 care for who he hurts along the way. They leave a wake of relationship wreckage, broken trust, and a past with immoral and even criminal activity. These men with anger problems are particularly dangerous because they prey on those they see as weaker, and are not bound to social or moral norms or conscience.

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. You don’t have to endure out of control anger or fear provoking rage. It is important to seek help immediately.

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?

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.

76564386 - man fists on a wooden table

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.

9 Things Narcissists Say to Make You Feel Stupid

One major tactic narcissists use to get their way is making other people feel inferior and stupid. Imagine opening up about a problem to a person you love, and then hearing, “Well you should have seen that coming,” or “Why in the world did you do that?” Ugh. Right to the gut, right? You hoped to receive some support or sensitivity, but instead you felt stupid, like you did something wrong.


People everywhere experience similar feelings when dealing with the narcissistic personality. Maybe you have a bright idea that will solve a current problem. Sharing that bright idea with a narcissist will leave you feeling dumb for ever having the problem in the first place. Maybe you feel great about a recent decision you made. Sharing it with a narcissist will beg the question, “Why did it take you so long?”

Self absorbed, narcissistic people have a way of stealing your confidence and joy right out from underneath you. They use patronizing put-downs so they can be in control. They minimize your needs, concerns and rights in order to promote their own. Having an intelligent conversation with a narcissist ends up as a one sided lecture or rant, with you on the wrong end. Disagreeing will get you attacked. Offering other perspectives will get you belittled. Having your own opinion will get you sidelined. If he can get you to feel stupid, or at least not as smart as him, then he has disabled your power and influence, and bolstered his own. He’s one step closer to getting his way, whatever that is.

In order to stay the “smartest person in the room,” there are key phrases narcissists use to manipulate you into feeling stupid. When you hear these things, you know you are getting played.

  1. Let me tell you how it is.
  2. You don’t understand.
  3. You need to … (fill in the blank.)
  4. You’re wrong, and let me tell you why.
  5. I know you better than you know yourself.
  6. You should have known better.
  7. I told you so.
  8. You’re misguided (uneducated, misinformed, etc.)
  9. I know more than anyone about this.

So what should you do when you think you’re being played as a fool?

  1. First, remember that YOU ARE NOT STUPID. You may have felt “less than” at the time, but you are not “less than.” You are “equal to.”
  2. Second, state your own opinion or need with confidence. It may not be received or respected by the narcissist, but that doesn’t matter. You are enacting self-respect by voicing your own needs and opinions.
  3. Third, avoid engaging in arguments or debates with a narcissist. Wrestling with pigs just gets you dirty in the end.

If you are living with or married to a narcissistic person, your life may feel like a never ending battle. A battle with him, and a battle to keep what is left of yourself in tact. It’s important to invite professional support to help you navigate your next steps. Dealing with this toxic personality is extremely frustrating and anxiety provoking. You shouldn’t have to do it by yourself. Sign up to take this Relationship Survey that will help you see your relationship more clearly, and get the help you need.



Why Does He Do That? Understanding Exploitive Relationships Part 2

When you think about exploitation, you may think of a child abuse case from the news, or human trafficking in impoverished countries. But have you thought about how it occurs in relationships and families close to you? Exploitation is the mistreatment of others in order to benefit from their work/life. Exploitative relationships consist of one party taking advantage of another, using an imbalance of power to control another, or to unrightfully benefit from another’s vulnerabilities. If you missed Users and Abusers: Understanding Exploitive Relationships Part 1, click here.

You may find yourself in the type of relationship at home or at work that is exploitive in nature. You feel unfairly mistreated, lacking in equal powers or freedoms, and beholden to anything he says or does. This is less of a partner type relationship and more of an owner-slave type relationship. Or at least, that is often how you feel.

You may find yourself wondering, “Why does he say those hurtful things?” and “Why does he do the selfish things he does?”

What Drives the User/Abuser?

  1. Power: Men (and sometimes women) who exploit others for personal gain can be motivated by an insatiable need for power. Feeling weak, insufficient, or vulnerable is so intolerable to them, they would do most anything to avoid it. The shame that accompanies weakness and vulnerability is too overwhelming to bear, so they push and force their way into power and control positions. Whether in the family, in friend circles or at work, they must feel in control or they start acting out.
  2. Protection of Ego: An exploitive person may not always have the means to curate power in every situation. But his ability to protect his fragile ego is always top of mind. The ego of exploitive people is so fragile, any unwanted feeling like sadness, fear, worry or jealousy quickly turns to anger as a means of self-protection. Since his ego is unstable and unsure, he lashes out to blame, penalize and make others feel bad to make himself feel better. Offending his ego may evoke a severe mood shift or even attack.
  3. Image: Keeping a desirable image is supremely important to an Exploitive Person. Users are extremely concerned with how others view them. A propped up Image takes different forms, however. Each User needs others to seem him/her in a desired way. Some users want to be viewed as the wealthiest, the most intelligent, the most successful, the most athletic, the most upstanding, or just the best. Others like to be admired as the hero, the savior, the boss. If they can’t be seen as one of these winningest characters, then they will take the role of the victim- the most villainized, most ignored or treated most poorly of everyone.You are most desirable if you can add to that image, and you are most despised when you threaten it. For example, if the User you married wants his mother to believe that he is happily married and a doting husband, he may be especially sensitive to your needs in front of his mother. You might even say to yourself, “I knew he had a caring side!” However, if the User you married wants the guys at work to see him as more of an unencumbered playboy, he may stay out all night without talking to you about it first. If he wants to be viewed as successful and generous, he may buy those same guys rounds of drinks, spending your entire budget trying to impress them. Though each User is different, each is highly protective over his image.

Power, Ego-Protection and Image are all powerful motivations for an exploitive person, and recognizing these motivations will help you clarify the role you’ve been playing in the relationship. Seeing the truth about the exploitive nature in your relationship will help you set appropriate boundaries and eventually gain the confidence you need. You may be holding on, thinking that his caring and generous side is enough for you to stay, even if you rarely see it enacted toward you. However, beware that his desire for Power, Ego and Image will always outrank you.

If you wonder if you are with an exploitive person, take the Relationship Quiz here. Even though the person you are with may disguise his exploitive actions as benign, it is important for you to see and know the truth of your relationship. Only then, will you have the power to take necessary steps toward health and happiness.

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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