Tag Archives: marriage

Should you lower the bar?

Let’s face it: You’re not perfect, and nobody else in your life is either. The sooner we can all acknowledge that, the better. Our feelings in life typically revolve around expectations, and if we can learn to modify them we have a good shot at also modifying the feelings that follow.

Am I saying that you should lower the bar in your life? That you should stop striving for excellence? That you should aim so low that you are all but guaranteed success? Hardly!

What I am suggesting is that sometimes our expectations may not be useful. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. Goals are great. Intentions are important. Plans provide purpose. Expectations, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear when we don’t measure up, when we fail, or when we just don’t quite reach as far as we’d hoped.

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT EXPECTATIONS?

The problem with expectations is that they can make us believe that the only kind of success is complete/total success. In reality, there are gradations of success. Life is one big gray moment, slowly passing by with infinite opportunities for growth, acceptance, persistence, critical thinking, teamwork, and grace.

Seldom will we feel completely satisfied. Rare is the goal completely accomplished. And what happens once we reach a goal? How long will we sit around riding the wave of success? We need to start anew with other challenges/goals or our lives become stagnant.

“IF YOUR COMPANY ISN’T GROWING, IT’S DYING!”

Take a look at almost any successful business in America and you’ll likely find that they grow consistently over time. Rarely will a successful company stay successful if they plateau in their sales, membership, etc. Maintenance is not the path to success. Think growth. This mentality applies not only to business, but to relationships, personality, and careers. Always be looking for where you can be growing.

Just be careful that when you sit down to plan out growth/development in your business, marriage, church, family or peer group that you aim for what seems unreachable but hold yourself only to realistic expectations for what success will mean. Celebrate the small accomplishments along the way. See each moment as one in which you can claim success and move closer to your audacious end goal.

HOW CAN I APPLY THIS MENTALITY TO MY LIFE?

If you are at your limit for patience in your marriage and can’t see how things could ever be as good as you once dreamed, look for small moments to intervene. Don’t focus on how you want your relationship to be 5 years from now.

Find a small opportunity to be the change that you’d like to see in the marriage and go for it (try something as simple as counting to 4 before saying what you really want to say- this gives you a chance to reconsider saying something potentially damaging). Abandon your own need to see the finish line before doing something different, and accept a step in the right direction as success for the day.

If you are looking to grow your business don’t focus on your sales goal for  5 years from now. Definitely have that goal written down somewhere, but focus on what you can do today to increase sales.

How can you network with a colleague through social media in the next 10 minutes? What innovative strategy for marketing brainstorming can you insert in your next team meeting?

SUMMING UP

All said, you likely can’t reach the high bar you set for tomorrow by being anxious about it today. Take incremental steps and expect only that you will try your best, rather than that you will have the best outcomes. That part really is ultimately out of your control. People still have to choose you/your company over others. (If you find that you have to be in control most of the time and it’s getting in the way, that’s another issue to consider working on).

Letting go of expectations can be difficult. We want so badly to be successful. To be the best. To serve the most people. To reach our lofty goals. We want good returns on our investments of time energy, emotion, and expertise. Let’s just be careful that our desires don’t become expectations.

Acknowledge and accept your limitations. Set your goals at “excellent” and your expectations at “reasonable.” Keep striving for the best, but stay aware of how your expectations may be getting the best of you.

IF YOU’RE STILL HAVING TROUBLE…

You may have been trying like crazy to get control of your life but you constantly feel like an inadequate failure. Maybe you can’t seem to do anything right. Perhaps you want so badly to make things work in your relationships but it seems impossible to climb back out of the hole you’ve been digging. Maybe it’s time for a little professional assistance. Let’s work together to keep the bar high in your life but keep your expectations reasonable!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

Coping with Medical/Physical Disability as a Couple

In a recent session with a couple I was reminded of the importance of focusing on the CAN DO things in our lives. The couple was attempting to adjust to a medical condition that the husband was facing and all of the resulting individual and relational consequences that sprung up in the marriage. In difficult circumstances like this, whether  unexpected or planned, it can be tempting to pull away from your partner.

If we are experiencing shame or depression due to a decrease in functioning (general energy level, sexual performance, ability to help around the house, etc.) the first reaction is often to isolate. We don’t want others to see us at our weakest moments. This becomes a big problem when the functioning does not improve because we have then established a go-to strategy of hiding our pain and fear from the person who cares most for us.

If you are the partner in the relationship watching your partner go through the difficult physical transition, the problem is as much yours as theirs. When you said your vows you agreed that their pain would be your pain, their joys your joys. Certainly their transitions in life to different phases (new jobs, illnesses, etc.) are shared experiences as well. There are as many possible reactions to changes in our partners as there are people on earth. That said, there are two major general categories of response: moving toward, and moving away. If your strategy is to move away, to get space, to isolate, to dwell in fear and resentment, I can promise you that the long term picture for your relationship is not going to turn out the way you initially hoped.

So what can we do when a partner/spouse/loved one is unable to continue caring for and relating to us in the same ways as before? What can we do when, despite our best efforts, we are simply unable to perform tasks the way we used to when we were at full strength? There are just too many great ways to move forward to be adequately captured here. I hope you’ll consider the following three approaches as a starting point for coping together, rather than trying to “be strong for (insert partner’s name here)” and taking on the majority of the burden alone.

  1. Talk about it! One of the biggest difficulties for most couples I see in my practice is communication. Establish good habits around communication as early as possible. This means not just talking about the goings-on from your day, but how you experienced them. Did you have fun? Whom did you get mad at? Did you struggle with anything? These are sometimes difficult habits to establish when we feel too busy to even get through the basics of our day, let alone the associated reactions and feelings. But as difficult as it may seem, this is exactly what you’ll need to do when adversity strikes your marriage. Talk about the struggles. Talk about what you’ve lost. Mourn what used to be, and talk about what might be ahead. Validate each other. Support each other. Fears. Hopes. Sadness. Things you’re grateful for. These should all be part of the discussion. Not just what medications you are taking or what rehab strategies the doctor has recommended. Talk about it.
  2. Get support! A recent study¹ found that only about 2% of general medical practitioner communications with patients focused on positive coping and utilization of available resources. This is not enough! On top of that, about half of that discouraging 2% was from only two of the more than 20 doctors in the study. As a group, we professional healers/helpers need to help our patients/clients to focus more on what is positive and possible. Let me encourage you as a patient or partner of a patient to make the most of what is available to you. First of all, lean on each other (see #1 above). Second, make sure to take stock of the other supports around you. There is probably more available to you than you realize. Talk to your pastor/priest/rabbi. Reach out to family and friends. Find an online support group. Better yet, find an in-person support group. Talk to a therapist. (Yes, you can go to a therapist and not be in a relationship that’s on the brink of disaster). Check with your local library or community center. You never know where support may be found.
  3. Focus on what you CAN DO! If you are the partner personally experiencing a decline in ability, consider what options are still available to you. What activities are still reasonably within your abilities? Where can you go? How can you get there? What might you do once you arrive? If you love the outdoors and used to hike as a couple, where is there a park with a beautiful walking path you can tread leisurely down together holding hands? If you are the partner helplessly watching your loved one cope with the frustration of losing control of their body, take stock of what is still available. How can you encourage your partner to take advantage of their remaining physical abilities? What activities will you continue to do on your own (or, at minimum, without your spouse)? Will you still golf/hike/bowl/surf? Will you participate less frequently to accommodate your partner’s new set of abilities? What are you willing to give up to spend time with your spouse, and what would you like to continue even if it means doing things separately? The point here is to avoid feeling discouraged as individuals by embracing what is possible both from individual and relational perspectives.

As a final thought, it’s important to realize that where you are now, you may not be in the near future. Things may improve; they may get worse. Whatever the case, remember to come together during the changes. Discuss what’s happening, and focus on the positive CAN DO activities are there for the taking!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

¹Mjaaland, T., & Finset, A. (2009). Frequency of GP communication addressing the patient’s resources and coping strategies in medical interviews: a video-based observational study.BMC Family Practice, 10(1), 1-9. doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-49