Beyond Relationship Pain to Personal Power

Okay; so that man or that woman did you wrong. Well maybe that’s not so okay, but the reality is that as long as we are in a relationship, we are going to experience some pain. Things definitely do not always go smoothly in love-land. So what exactly should we do when we find ourselves deep in the throes of relationship pain or anguish? We have a choice among several responses which will more or less determine how well we are able to cope with the seeming injustices of relationships. Of course I’m in no way suggesting that all relationship infractions are equal; breaking a date, constantly leaving the toilet seat up and being unfaithful are all distinct issues with varying levels of gravity. When an action or behavior by our spouse causes us to experience feelings of rejection, low self-esteem, extreme irritation or bitter disappointment, it’s within our power to determine where we will allow these experiences to take us.

The Pity Party

When we are hurt or angry, feeling sorry for ourselves can be fairly valuable; for about two minutes. We need that much time to hunch our shoulders, bite our lips and concentrate on our pain; before we decide what we’re going to do about it. This pseudo-comfort which a pity party allows is actually quite short-lived. There is perhaps nothing as dis-empowering as wallowing in a place of self-pity for too long. When we do this we are seeing ourselves as victims, as weak, as powerless and even sometimes as deserving of the “punishment” we are enduring. In a pity-party we don’t only own our pain (as we should) but we hold on to it for dear life. We come to identify ourselves by it and see ourselves only through the lens of our relationship pain or dissatisfaction. Ultimately, this is counter-productive and inhibits us from moving into action.

Revenge Mode

There is a very common human emotion which encourages us to want that “eye for an eye”. When we have been hurt and we are in the throes of pain sometimes we can be motivated to retaliate by causing similar hurt to our partners. It is not always literally feasible to perhaps do the same thing that was done to us but the objective of dwelling in this mode, is to try to damage our partner’s psyche as much as ours has been. Usually this is an extreme response to deep pain caused by infidelity or some other really serious infraction. Some actually do cheat or at least flirt in return for their experience of infidelity. For other infractions, there may be angry, insensitive words hurled at the offending partner, the withholding of sex or affectionate gestures, the withdrawal of financial support or even an act of secretive, wild spending, where the family funds, personal account or credit cards are splurged. These responses are of course surface responses to deeper issues and may only bring momentary satisfaction. They are incapable of addressing the real problem of relationship pain and what caused it.

Stonewalling

Somehow, some of us believe that remaining silent, while fuming and seething on the inside, is self-empowering. Because we are not crying, ranting, raving or throwing things, we deceive ourselves into thinking that we have a handle on our difficult emotions and that we are somehow large and in charge. Actually, we couldn’t be farther from the truth. Refusing to talk about the things which our partner or spouse does that irritate us, only serves to give those things more power over us. When an issue remains un-discussed and unsettled, it retains the power to shape our thinking, feelings and emotions. This is why individuals who refuse to vent, tend to suffer from raised blood pressure. Just imagine, poor relationship habits can actually affect our health. While there may be critical times in our lives when silence may indeed be golden, a relationship confrontation or problem is not one of those times. Stonewalling represents a certain character weakness and a tacit refusal to confront issues.

Claiming Personal Power

Seizing personal power out of relationship difficulties sounds wonderful and resonates with a certain political correctness; it is, however, no mean feat. This preferred response often involves admitting personal weakness and exposing our own vulnerability. We have to be willing first to admit that what our partner has done or neglected to do caused us pain. Sometimes we even have to admit our own part in the problem. Whether we communicate this calmly or with loads of emotion, we must be willing to share our real feelings. This is the beginning of our own healing. While we cannot control what someone else does to us, we can control our responses to it. This brings us to the need to assume personal responsibility for our relationship well-being.

Assuming responsibility does not mean that we can manipulate our partner into doing whatever we what him/her to do. Nor does it signify that there is any secret behavior which we can do, which guarantees that our partner will never hurt us again (how I abhor those articles and books which make these false promises).  Rather, it means that we are responsible for communicating honestly our feelings and our expectations. Even though I promote relationship education and believe that we should “clear the air” on certain issues even before getting together, the truth is that relationships are on-going and developmental. There will always be the need to grow, change and make adjustments; no matter how many relationship seminars we attend!

Seizing personal power also involves being willing to share our challenges and our ineptitudes with others. Admitting to friends and family that our relationship is far from perfect can be a cry for a help or a source of encouragement to others who may also feel that they are going through difficulties alone. It means admitting being wrong. It means being willing to acknowledge that we don’t know everything. More so, it involves using our relationship challenges as a learning curve to catapult us into better relationship practices.

If we truly want a healthier relationship, these best-practices should involve:

  • Practicing greater openness with our partner; this means making communication sessions a regular feature of the relationship
  • Communicating expectations in a non-threatening way; for example “Having a date with you once a week will help me to feel closer to you” instead of the anger filled sentence: “You never carry me anywhere.”
  • Owning our pain without accusation by utilizing “I” statements, for example,: “When you . . .  I feel undervalued” instead of “You don’t appreciate me.”
  • Reading great books or articles on relationships together or if only one partner is a reader, using the subject matter as the basis for couple discussions
  • Complimenting each other or showing appreciation when something is done right in the relationship
  • Practicing random acts of kindness; for example, delivering flowers outside of special dates like Valentine’s or birthdays, paying for a spa-day for our spouse, making breakfast, rubbing tired feet at night, doing a body massage with no “sexpectation” (if you get lucky well so be it), buying a special item for our spouse which we know he/she has had an eye on for a while
  • Spending valuable time together just connecting and having fun
  • Setting up clear boundaries for the things we will absolutely not tolerate in the relationship, like infidelity, abuse or any form of dishonesty
  • Accessing help from a counselor, pastor, mentor or friend when we think that things are way over the top and that we are clearly not coping

Getting to this point of positive relationship practices, is however not automatic. We must be proactive and willing to do whatever is necessary to breed a healthy relationship, even before the challenges come. This means knowing the pulse beat of our relationship by living in the moments and not avoiding them. Ultimately, when we are open about our pain, and seek help, we begin the cycle of relationship renewal.

Red Red Apples

No I haven’t gone off my rockers. But I am quite taken by the idea of the Vagina Monologues: a series of reflective, dramatised, “speeches” which more or less trace the experiences and psychology of the vagina. These monologues express and reveal every nuance of a woman’s sexuality from pain and abuse, to surprise and divine pleasure.

As women we have come to associate our vagina with a representation of our sexuality. How we feel about sex and sexuality is significantly borne out in our comfort level with our vagina. Do we talk about it, touch it (outside of bathing), expose it, cover it up, know what it looks like, or even care what it looks like? Are we even in tuned to what the physical changes in our vagina may tell us about our sexual health?

The vagina is located deep within the pubic area so understandably, it…

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Does Size Really Matter?

Some of you might be a bit disappointed because this is definitely NOT going to be another article about penis size. But let not your heart be troubled; do read on. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed for too long.

I recently did an interview with Sexuality and Relationship Therapist Rebecca Rosenblat, on her television talk-show Sex @ 11 With Rebecca, on Rogers TV, Toronto. Before I actually came on air, she was responding to an e mail and seeking to reassure one of her viewers, who had been grappling with a poor body image and an insensitive partner. Rebecca’s statement that “Fat is not the Kryptonite of sex!” immediately peaked my interest and actually inspired this article. For those of us who have been following the adventures of Superman over the years, we well understand the impact of Kryptonite on Clarke Kent’s ability to be super and strong. But does “fat” have a similar impact on our sexuality, our sense of our sexual selves, our body image or on our partner’s ability to enjoy our bodies? Now unapologetically I say it most certainly does! Not however because of some intrinsic flaw inherent in having a few pounds or curves. While “fat” in no way inhibits our ability to be sexy or to enjoy a good roll in the hay, what we think about it often does.

Ultimately sexiness is a state of mind.

We are inundated mercilessly with media images which seek to convince us that a truly sexy woman must be a size six or under. All the stars of the really great romantic comedies, of every romantic novel and of all the music videos we watch, have a particular body type. This says nothing about the magazine cover-girls and poster girls of Weight-Watchers®, like Jennifer Hudson. Suddenly Ms. Hudson is now “living the life” and “looking like a blast” according to the media-validation and hype which now comes her way on account of her moving from a size sixteen to a six. (We wonder what her fans really thought of her before). While I’m most definitely not knocking Ms. Hudson, weight-loss (could definitely shed me some pounds) or a healthy lifestyle, it is apparent that the media convinces most of us that thinner is sexier; and we believe the crap!

Now to the million dollar questions: Can a woman be “fat” and sexy? And does size really matter when it comes to our emotional and sexual health?  Honestly, I do believe that we should all strive to be our better selves. That often includes shedding some pounds, getting into an exercise regimen, eating more balanced and healthy meals and spending more time getting adequate rest and relaxation. In an ideal world; this is where we would all like to be. Being our better self (since there’s always room for improvement), however, also includes knowing who we are outside the definitions of media, family, friends or sexual partners. It is also true that today’s “fat” and “plus-sized” is yesterday’s voluptuous. (Studies actually show that the average woman is a fourteen and not a four).

Each human being is special and unique. As women, we need to feel comfortable with our own sense of style and with our expression of our sexuality. This is going to be very difficult to accomplish, however, if we are constantly beating ourselves up because we don’t look like someone else’s version of sexiness. Yes, I’m entitled to feel great if I’ve set myself a weight-loss target and then accomplished it. But should weight-loss define my happiness and sense of self? Of course there are loads of women with metabolic, thyroid or other medical issues which may make obesity and required weight-loss a challenge. But even for those women, it is important to find and validate the self. At the end of the day, while our bodies are our windows to the world, we are in many ways not just a body. There is personality; essence, mind, soul and spirit.

Losing weight to make YOU healthier or to feel more energized is actually great. Doing it to “fit in”, to please or to keep your partner, is another thing altogether. If a woman needs to move from an eighteen, sixteen, or fourteen to a six, to feel that she has suddenly struck gold as an individual, chances are, her sense of validation is flawed, shallow and dependent upon externals. Anything will shake the foundation of a woman who can only feel fabulous when her dress size conforms to the media stereotypes. Yes, every woman loves a great make-over. No woman can deny that we feel sexier in a new outfit, with a new hairdo or with a fresh manicure. We feel ready to take on the world and then some but if we can’t leave home without the make-up or the weave, then something is inherently wrong with our self-image. This is what is damaging to our sexiness.

There are many full-figured, voluptuous women, who have never been without a partner or who are happily married and sexually fulfilled. What attracts a man to a woman is not the number on her dress tag but her wonderful personality and sense of sexual self-confidence. This is what makes a woman riveting and unforgettable. The woman who turns heads as she enters a room exudes an aura which says “I know I look good and I really don’t care what you think!” No matter what size you are as a woman, learn to do you to the max, as you engage your incredible sexual energy in positive ways.

Here are seven helpful tips that will hopefully make this happen:

  • Strip naked and look at yourself in a mirror. Decide what you like and affirm yourself eg “I love my butt”, “I have great legs/breasts” etc. If there is stuff that you would love to change, devise a realistic plan and timeline to make that change a reality. If you’re totally happy with what you see, more power to you diva!
  • Do NOT beat up on yourself if your planned changes do not emerge as you would like them; know that you are great; regardless.
  • Think about your core personality and of the things that you feel passionate about. Find ways to engage your passion and your dreams. When we are emotionally fulfilled because we are connected with our purpose, it shows up in our walk and our talk; instant sexiness!
  • Treat yourself to a “spa-day”, even if done at home; a facial, manicure, pedicure, hair-conditions, re-braiding or perm can go a long way to boost how you feel about yourself. See these things, however, as enhancers of the real you and resist the temptation to be totally defined by them.
  • If you are in a committed relationship or marriage, discuss the concerns you may have about your body-image with your spouse but “own” your own body and the decisions that you make to improve it.
  • Do not accept emotional abuse from your spouse, family members or friends on issues of weight gain. Those who truly respect you will lovingly affirm you, despite what you look like.  When advice is offered or concern expressed, it should be non-threatening, non-derisive and sensitively communicated. Abuse that becomes defining or over-bearing in an intimate relationship or marriage, warrants the intervention of a Counselor, Pastor or Therapist. Do not tolerate this as normal.
  • Ultimately sexiness is a state of mind. Learn to love yourself, warts and all, by affirming that you are fearfully and wonderfully made and by thinking positive, sexual thoughts. A woman who loves herself is ready for some good loving and the terrific sex to follow.