It is no secret to the people I work with that I love the work of Brene Brown. Her books, podcasts, articles, Netflix special, and basically everything else she has done is phenomenal. One of the key topics she speaks regularly on is the idea of vulnerability. This is an important key to any successful relationship. I first noticed this when I started doing marriage therapy, almost fifteen years ago. Brene Brown helped me put a name and research behind what I had been seeing for so long. Couples and individuals that are struggling in relationships have a difficult time being vulnerable.
What does someone who struggles with vulnerability look like? It is the person who has a difficult time identifying and expressing primary emotions-or in other words those really hard sticky emotions like hurt, sadness, loneliness, grief etc. For countless years I have seen couples come into my office and as they express their feelings of anger they create a solid wall or barrier between themselves and their partner. As we work on knocking that wall down and identifying those hard emotions it is very difficult for these couples because they have stopped the vulnerability in their marriage for so long. Sometimes years. Sometimes decades. What happens when vulnerability is turned off? That wall between the couple gets higher and thicker. Emotions are not expressed, except through anger or passive aggression. Resentment grows. Communication decreases. Emotional and sexual intimacy decreases. The couple starts to lead completely different lives.
In therapy, we work tirelessly on creating a safe space where each person in the relationship can express their feelings and be truly vulnerable. It is amazing to see the progress when they can look at each other and state they feel lonely and unimportant rather than yelling. The couples I work with laugh because I am always saying to them “turn to each other. Talk to each other not to me.” Through this sometimes uncomfortable process comes true vulnerability. Through vulnerability couples are able to better share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings without the fear of judgement. These couples communicate better, fight more productively, and have better emotional and sometimes sexual intimacy. The ability to be vulnerable with your partner is a game changer!
I challenge you to work hard to implement more vulnerability into your marriage. If your marriage is in trouble and you feel this is lacking please come in for counseling! Working on this and other essential keys can help rejuvenate your marriage.
Who has ever said yes to something but were internally screaming a no?
We all have people asking us for time, money, attention, physical or emotional connection, labor, and on and on. Helping others, giving them our time or attention is a good thing, so I want to clarify that boundaries are not just about saying no. Boundaries are about making thoughtful choices which allow us to say yes to the things we want to say yes to.
We humans are social creatures. We are driven to seek connections with others. Forming connections, or attachments, helps us navigate challenges in life. Much like a toddler will cling to her parent’s leg, step away to explore, then run back when they need reassurance. Saying no to a request goes against our need to connect with others. However, when we repeatedly say yes to things we don’t feel good about, we can end up neglecting our own needs. This turns an act of kindness that helped us feel good and brought us joy, into a burden that we feel resentful of.
Resentment is an interesting experience. It’s a low simmer, just under the surface, that tells us something isn’t right. Something about the situation feels off. We might feel taken advantage of, unheard, or manipulated. Each experience where we feel resentment adds a link in our chain of resentment. They build upon each other, and if we continue to carry the chain around, and add to it, it will get heavier and heavier. This resentment chain makes it difficult to want to say yes to anything, because we’re constantly on guard, looking to protect ourselves.
Setting boundaries allows us to set down the chain. When we can stop carrying it around, we’ll have more energy to make the kind of thoughtful decisions that bring us joy.
Why is it hard to set boundaries?
-fear on loss/abandonment/loneliness
-fear of anger
-fear of self perception (I’m a good person, good people sacrifice for others)
-fear of approval (will other people think I’m a good person?)
-guilt for disappointing or hurting someone.
Feelings of resentment, fear, or guilt are indicators that there is an area of your life that needs boundary work.
Here are three concrete tools for helping to establish boundaries in your own life.
1. Have a Plan
It can be difficult to think clearly if you feel put on the spot. Having responses planned out ahead can help buy you time to evaluate whether the request is something you are willing or able to meet. One example, “I’ll have to check my calendar, but I’ll get back to you” can buy you some time to evaluate if the request is something you have the time/energy/desire to meet.
2. Don’t Explain
Sometimes, in an attempt to soften our “no”, we offer explanations that may or may not accurately represent our true reasons for saying no. This can be dangerous as it gives the requester the ability to counter with an adapted request that may feel more difficult to refuse.
3. Offer an Alternative
Offer an alternative if there is one that you feel good about. “I’m not able to make that planning meeting, but I will write up my proposal and email it to you before friday”.
All of us have boundaries. Whether we communicate them openly or not, we are setting boundaries. Holding back, or acquiescing out of fear or guilt means we are setting an loose boundary that will likely lead us to feel resentment. Setting clear and proactive boundaries allows us to form relationships with others, free of resentment, and allows us a greater sense of peace and joy.
If you are struggling to set boundaries in your life, and would like help learning how to make changes to reduce feelings of fear, resentment, or anger, call and schedule an appointment with Alice. 801-944-4555.
Whether you identify as a partner in a relationship, a member of a family, or coworker at your job, chances are someone you trusted has emotionally hurt you. When we get hurt we often feel victimized and become carried away in thoughts of retribution or self-pity. It is actually common for us to feel more powerful in our victimhood and become stuck in anger and resentment. It can be easier to remain in this state when we believe forgiveness means forgetting because forgetting could set us up for repeated grief. How much do you know about real forgiveness?