Secrets: You’ve Got a Secret

Do you have a secret? 

You go through your days and no one suspects it. You have this under control. Its been a long time, you know how to handle your secret. As long as you keep it quiet, it doesn’t hurt anyone else. <—- This is what your secret tells you. 

Lets look at some lies that secrets tell. 

1. If they don’t know, it won’t hurt them. 
A secret would have us to believe that someone finding out is the only way for the secret to hurt them. People are hurt by what they don’t know because a secret changes you in a way that others don’t understand. They don’t understand why you are irritable, why you are so stubborn about some things, or why you can’t be around someone. Even worse, when people don’t understand a problem they usually attribute that they are the cause. Maybe you know it is about your secret but they think it is about them. 

2. Telling would be too catastrophic. Things would never be the same again. Telling would just create problems. 
You likely envision your secret coming out and life changing forever and nothing good happening from that point on. The truth is that if you tell your secret, everything may likely change for a time. Things may fall apart in the short term but will stabilize in the long term. Things might not ever be the same but it doesn’t mean that it will forever to bad. For secrets like affairs, addiction or abuse, the fall out can be big but the recovery will happen. The immediate aftermath will be rough but the only way to have a better long term is to go through this step.  

3. Keeping it doesn’t really affect me. I have it under control.
This is the biggest lie about secrets. You believe that you are okay or at least you can manage it. The truth is you are not okay. Most people do not understand how much energy keeping a secret takes, how much it changes your mood and behavior, and how much it keeps good parts of you locked away. I hear it over and over again “I didn’t realize how much if affected me until after I told.” Secrets can produce irritability, depression, anxiety, somatic symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, and tiredness. When a secret is locked inside of you it takes up room and there is less room for joy, peace, fun, and connection. And it is always taking up more room than you think. 

Now some truths about secrets

1. It will be easier to deal with a secret if you tell it instead of it being discovered. 
The biggest problem with a secret is the breach of trust. You can start the recovery off on the right foot by telling so that those who are involved can know that at this point you decided and wanted to be honest. The worst situation is for a secret to be uncovered, you deny it and then are proven to be a liar twice over. It makes so much more to overcome. 

2. There can be more healing and good than you can imagine. 
Because a secret is taking more from you and your relationships that you realize, being free from it will open up a lot of room for positive growth and change. I know that everything within you believes the opposite but I see the good side of telling all the time. 

3. There is help along the way. 
If you are struggling with a secret, I think starting with a counselor is a great place to begin. A counselor will not be hurt or upset by your secret. Telling a counselor can help you see the benefits of coming clean and can help you figure out the next steps. (Disclaimer:telling a counselor doesn’t mean that you won’t need to tell someone else in time.) 

Think about it. 
Next post: You’ve Learned a Secret. 

Texting: A Modern Pitfall for Relationships

“what are you up to?”


“how was your day?”


“what are you doing later?”

    “no plans” 

“are you mad at me?”…

As we become a more technology based society, our relationships are scrambling to catch up with “how to” rules and norms. We haven’t gotten it all figured out yet. I frequently see examples of where texting makes relationships more confusing. 

There is a new phase of a relationships. Before dating or talking, there is texting. You and your new interest begin a texting relationship where you have a continuous dialogue throughout the day. Supposedly, this is a low-key way to get to know someone. However, think about what you do: you only send the your best thoughts, you carefully edit yourself, you think about your response received before hitting send, you time your reply to seem interested but not too available. We present a carefully choreographed version of ourselves. Its safe to assume that the other person is doing the same thing. Then after a few dates, you might start to get the added curve ball that the text and real life version of your new interest don’t line up.

The solution: Texting as a primary means of communication earlier in a relationship isn’t inherently a bad thing. You just have to know the game. Know that texting doesn’t substitute for getting to know someone in person. If you do detect a difference between texting and in-person, likely the in-person is most accurate.  Know that by texting throughout the day, you are letting someone in your life. Be sure that you want to invest yourself in this way.  

New Relationships. 
Likely through the texting phase, you have developed expectations that you or your partner should respond to a text in a certain amount of time. Maybe 5 minutes, within the hour, whatever has become your norm. However, the truth is that we make ourselves very available at the start of a relationship and for most people this level isn’t sustainable indefinitely. Later when someone doesn’t text back in their normal time, its interpreted as a problem: she is losing interest, he is mad at me, she didn’t like what I just said. 

The solution: Consider more than one explanation. The above options might be true or it might be much more benign. Don’t come to a conclusion about the other person’s intentions based on few texts. 

Established Relationship. 
Now enters the dreaded texting fights. The main problem with texting to address an issue is that you have eliminated 80% of your information. (Communication is 80% non-verbal and 20% verbal).  Over text, we do a LOT more interpreting than we do in person and we are less likely to question our interpretation because you don’t get that in-person feedback. Also, we are often a little braver when we don’t have to deal with people’s reaction face to face. So you might not restrain yourself via text in the way you would in person. Add to all that, when the fight is over you have a digital copy of all the regrettable things that each other said to pull back up at a later date. 

The solution: (for lack of better words) DON’T DO IT. If find yourself fighting over text, stop and call or plan to talk face to face. Many people are more comfortable addressing problems over text and not face-to-face but for a relationship to work long-term, you have to be able to deal with conflict in person. 

I don’t want to give the impression that texting is completely negative for relationships. Because of texting, you can share the little parts of your day that you wouldn’t normally call to share or can still communicate when both of you aren’t available at the same time. The main point is know the boundaries and potential pitfalls of this type of communication. 


Relationship Triage: Step 3

Step 3: Bandaging Wounds

Now that you have identified a few core issues that have kept your conflicts spinning, the next step is working to resolve or manage these issues. The first step is to come together and talk about the core issues when you are not already upset, when you are both willing and ready and when you have both had time to think through it individually. If you can’t mean these prerequisites, you are most likely not ready to take this step. 

To help this conversation go as best as possible, plan for each of you to voice your side fully (although moderately concisely) but not to discuss what each other said. After you hear each other’s issues, part and give yourself time to think through what was said. Then, have a discussion about what to do about it. Be very intentional to stay on one issue at time. The conversation will get ship wrecked if you start stringing together all your issues and talking about everything at once.

The next step is harder to define. Hopefully, your conversation will help answer these questions: What do we do about these issues? How can I help that not happen anymore? What do I need to feel better about this issue? How do we keep this from happening in the future?

If you can’t get to these questions or you can’t find a good enough answer for it, then it might be time to seek help from a counselor. Having a trained, third party to help you identify and work through these issues will be a different experience that you trying to do it on your own.

Finally, remember that you both have been wounded. Even if your conversations have been more productive, you might not feel totally better or you might still be sensitive about the issue. You will likely need some positive experiences together to replenish your relationship. 


Your Best Friend

Your Best Friend

I’ve recently been reading John Gottman’s 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work. (book review coming soon). I’ve read a lot his professional writings and have been wanting to read his self help book. Unlike the vast majority of self help books, Gottman’s book is born out of research about marriages.  I wanted to share one thought from his book so far. 

Gottman talks about one of the biggest factors that make marriages happy and satisfying is when spouses are truly friends. This idea could easy be discounted as cliche — how many wedding songs and cards talk about marrying your best friend. He outlines why friendship is so important to marriage. 

You truly know your best friend — what makes him happy, how to tell when she is in a bad mood, what helps after he had a long day, what are her pet peeves
You give your best friend the benefit of doubt — He says something rude, you take it as what happened at work. When she forgets to call you back, you assume that she got distracted and nothing more. 
You use your manners with your best friend — When you are upset, you typically restrain yourself from yelling at her, calling her names, assassinating her character and talking about all of the her wrongs from the past. 
You want to be with your best friend — This is the person who you have the most fun with, who you share great memories and stories, and who makes you the most comfortable. 

Gottman talks about how a foundation of friendship can carry couples through the difficulties of marriage because their friend continues to connect them.  All friendship can get stretched thin and have to be nurtured to continue to be strong. As a side note, I would add that often we would tell our friends more directly what we want or need but often expect our spouse to just know. So at risk of sounding cliche, maybe your marriage can get stronger if you focus on reclaiming your friendship a little today. 


The Problem with Problems

The Problem with Problems

  • Money —-> there’s none left or you see the receipt from a shopping trip
  • Going on Dates —–> its Saturday night and you still at home
  • Division of Work —–> Wife’s had a hard day with the kids and husband comes home and needs to work after dinner
  • Kids doing things when they are told —–> its 9:30pm and he just started his homework.

One of the biggest problems with problems is when they happen. Timing. We start talking after the problem has already happened. You’re mad. You’re being blamed. Likely you’re busy and tired. In these circumstances, its easy to see how conversations quickly lead to arguments that don’t turn out well. 

And then when you’re not dealing with a problem, why rock the boat by bringing it up? Just deal with it when it comes up again. Right? Then you will be talking about what happened this time and the last 5 times and you’re upset. 

For problems that keep coming up, often a helpful strategy is to talk about when it isn’t happening right in front of you. This will help start your conversation off as best as possible. Research has shown how a conversation starts is one of the most predictive factors of how successful it will be. 

So for the problems that keep coming up, here are some ideas to tweak your approach…
  • Give a preview —> give each other some notice about what you want to talk about instead of just launching into the conversation
  • Put the weapons down —-> Start off with neutral or positive statements like “I want us to get better at….” instead of “we have to talk about how you never….”
  • Know your limits —> For issues that you’ve been dealing with for a while, there is likely a backlog of unresolved situations and feelings but know what you are going to focus on and stay there. It isn’t possible to work through everything in one conversation. 

Presidential Politics and Couples Quarrels

Presidential Politics and Couples Quarrels

When you hear a news clip of the Presidential candidates, mostly likely they are talking how the other guy has it wrong, did it wrong in the past, is being dishonest, doesn’t know what he is talking about or what the American people want, etc. Listening to a lot of that is draining and frustrating. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear a politician say “here are my steps to improving this issue”, “I respect what my rival has done in this area”, “I made the wrong decision” or “I would have done that differently now”. 

Often couples find themselves making similar statements.  Arguments are about proving the other person wrong, assaulting their character, questioning their motives, and getting your point across at any cost. It reminds me of a line from a country song “nobody wins, we both lose, we’ve both lost this fight before”. Couples don’t want to continue to argue like this and it is hard to pull yourself out of this pattern once it starts. 

Just as it would be refreshing to hear Obama or Romney talk about their plan, their actions, their thought process and even their failures, a couple can make some crucial steps to restoring peace and connection by talking about themselves. Statements like “I hope we can improve…”, “I would like to try…,” “I feel better when….”, and “I should do better at…” are much more likely to get a positive response and make it easier for your partner to do the same in return. 

Typically we argue so passionately because we have been hurt and our needs haven’t been met but to move forward together it takes finding a way to deal the hurt without injuring our loved one. Talking about yourself instead of what the other person hasn’t done is a good place to start.