Relationship Advice You Won’t Find Elsewhere on the Internet

There’s a great deal of worthy, common-sense relationships advice to be found on the Internet.  Most sites repeat the same familiar truths and give similar relationships advice — about the need for realistic expectations, about how soon to have sex, making room for personal differences once the initial euphoria begins to fade, or about how to recover from an affair, keep the romance alive, etc.  Most of this relationships advice tends to be practical; some of it is silly or manipulative.  Almost none of it suggests that your own psychological issues may lie at the root of persistent and recurrent conflicts in your relationships.

So here, in the form of a post that’s almost entirely about “finding your own way,” are my three personal, idiosyncratic and only slightly tongue-in-cheek bits of relationships advice for how to improve emotional rapport with your significant other.

Finding Your Own Way:

1.    When having a fight, particularly one where both of you have dug in and feel            righteously misunderstood, assume that you are in the wrong.

I don’t mean this piece of advice for those of you who always assume you’re in the wrong.  This is aimed at people like me who usually assume they’re in the right.  You have to embrace this bit of relationships advice fully, at least for a time; it does no good to follow it half-heartedly, simply going through the motions.  Articulate your partner’s position in your own thoughts and argue his or her point of view; if necessary, ask for further clarification or examples.  On many occasions, I have found that once I eventually cooled down and listened with an open-mind — not in the mode where I was geared up to intercept incoming criticism, defuse and then hurl it back — I was shocked to find some important elements of truth coming from the other side.

Blame is the enemy of truth and intimacy.  I know a therapist, a psychologist I deeply respect, who holds that the primary function of many (bad) relationships is to have a partner into whom you can project all the unwanted aspects of yourself and who can then carry your split-off shame for you.  While this may sound cynical, I have found it holds true in more cases than you might think.  By assuming you’re in the wrong, you can make a start on defusing blame.

2.    Better communication is not always the answer.

So much of the relationships advice available on the Internet concerns communication and how to improve it.  I agree that clear statements about feelings and needs between partners is crucial; on the other hand, many heated verbal exchanges often have nothing to do with communicating.  The employment of language doesn’t necessarily mean you are using words to communicate.   Sometimes words can be used to escape the truth (See No. 1 above); sometimes words bear a close resemblance to physical objects such as cudgels, whips and loaded weapons.

Much of the relationships advice you’ll hear will also emphasize the importance of honesty — undoubtedly true.  And yet, as I have said before (quoting the 1940 film version of Pride and Prejudice), honesty is a highly over-rated virtue.  On the StairMaster at the gym yesterday, the TV directly in front of me happened to be airing an episode of “Family Feud” (I put it that way so you won’t think me vapid enough to watch this show by choice); the host asked the following question, based upon responses gathered from 100 married men:  “What would you never dare tell your wife the truth about?”  As best I can recall, the correct answers were:  her weight, the way she dresses, her hair and makeup, the way she makes love, etc.  Many men would fear making an honest communication about such subjects; is it really better for the relationship that they do so?

I have no definitive answer to that question; it’s up to you to decide what you need to say in the interests of open communication and what you should keep to yourself if it might inflict needless pain.

3.    Sex is both a pleasure and a responsibility.

Now before you get all up in arms, hear me out.  I’m not suggesting that women have a duty to provide sex to their husbands, whether or not they like it.  What I mean is this:  feeling needy and full of desire is a vulnerable state for everyone; many (most?) of us have some issues about being that vulnerable and few people enjoy the experience of frustration.  If your partner asks for sex and repeatedly hears “not tonight,” eventually he or she will find the experience unbearable and shut down.  He or she may begin to look elsewhere to have those needs fulfilled.   I’m not suggesting that this response is acceptable; I’m only pointing out that if you have pressing physical needs but can’t have them met within your primary relationship, the alternative to infidelity is to live in a state of constant deprivation — hardly conducive to intimacy.

Both of you have a responsibility to keep sex alive in your relationship.  Sometimes you might simply do the deed as a way of giving, an act of generosity; you might even find you enjoy it more than expected once you get started.  Don’t have sex if you’re too angry or full of hatred, of course; on the other hand, never withhold sex in order to inflict pain.

Years ago when I was working in a law firm to put myself through college, I knew a woman named Sheila who once told me:  “When it’s going okay, sex is about 25% of a relationship; when it’s not, it’s about 75%.”  I’m not sure if she had the percentages right, or even if I fully agree with her, but to this day I see her point. When sex isn’t going right, it’s the elephant in the room and a huge source of shame for both partners.  While I don’t see
good sex as the answer to relationship problems, I personally find that having good and regular sex makes me feel more generous.  The minor irritations that might become major problems just don’t seem to matter as much.  The resentment a partner feels in the sexual arena can easily spread to other areas, transforming everyday relationship molehills into problematic mountains.

End of advice.  I look forward to hearing from you.

The following two tabs change content below.
Joe is the author and the owner of AfterPsychotherapy.com, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.

Latest posts by Joseph Burgo (see all)

This entry was posted in Destinations, Relationship Issues, Sexuality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

47 Responses to Relationship Advice You Won’t Find Elsewhere on the Internet

  1. LifeLong says:

    I particularly like what you said about words. I find that indeed, words are not always necessary, and in some instances, they are not required at all. My husband will often pick up on the message I am ‘sending’ without me having to verbalise it. When I was younger, I used far too many words; I now stop to listen to my intuition about what to do next when there is conflict in my relationship. I have also learned what is important and what is not in terms of what needs to be raised in the firstplace.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It takes a long time to learn those things, don’t you think? It took me years to understand what I wrote about today, and it’s certainly not something I learned in graduate school.

  2. Kathy says:

    Joe, this is absolutely brilliant.

  3. Lumina says:

    I was stunned when I read this post. It sounded like you lived with me and my husband for the past 5 years and wrote about it! I’ve nearly always assumed I was wrong…or at least took responsibility for the parts I could. Then it became unbearable because I found I was never right. It’s taken me years to find the truth and balance of it all. And the part about words…well, all I can say is never marry a writer by trade. I’ve been sliced and diced 50 different ways by something as simple as words. And I completely agree with #3. It would be nice, however, to have intimacy without sex.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I understand about the writer problem. A cogent, articulate and effective argument isn’t necessarily true, even if it wins the day. Many people — not just writers and lawyers — have this difficulty. Normally the acquisition of language is about learning the *meaning* of words so that they accurately describe reality and connect to it; with people who use words as you’re describing, the use of language takes a different course and it’s about *obscuring* and moving away from the truth rather than getting closer to it.

  4. Kathleen says:

    It’s so true you learn trough living, brilliant post again.

  5. Trisha says:

    Can you explain how “you can project all the unwanted aspects of yourself and who can then carry your split-off shame for you ” this is done? How can the other person carry the shame — in what ways — if they are not aware of what’s happening?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Trisha, a projection is a fantasy, usually unconscious, by which you get rid of unwanted feelings or aspects of yourself. You then experience them as if they were located somewhere else, usually inside another person. In this instance, your thoughts about and attitudes toward the other person would support the fantasy. For example, if you have projected a sense of unworthiness into the other person, you would them think about him or her as if they were inferior in some way; you might feel superior to or contemptuous.

  6. Trisha says:

    I see. Ok, does the person who is projected upon know they are supposedly carrying/holding/assuming the bad traits or shame? How does that person become aware of whats going on? Does it show up as them being accused of everything the projector is projecting? (Does that make sense?)

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      It makes perfect sense and yes, that’s the way you know if something is being projected into you. In emotionally abusive relationships, the abuser often projects feelings of fear, weakness, inferiority, etc. into the abused partner and then treats him or her with contempt. Abusers often choose partners who will readily “accept” these kinds of projections and assume the appropriate underdog, worthless role. If you have a strong sense of self and know yourself well, you may realize that you don’t actually deserve the way you are being perceived and treated.

  7. LifeLong says:

    In response to…
    Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:
    January 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm
    Yes, it did take me years to learn this, and it is definitely not something learned in school. It is something however that could be learned in the home, growing up; however one would first need parents who had these skills and knowings in order for the child to be able to adopt them.

    When I chose to undertake Psychotherapy, it was something that my friends and family struggled with a great deal. Now, more than 20 years later (during that time I had periods of therapy), when I was with all of my family on Christmas Day, I could ‘see’ just how much they are all in the very same place (psychologically) that they were 20 years ago when I began.

    It cost me an awful lot of money to do what I did, and time, and more than anything, effort but, I would not change that for anything. What I have can never be taken away from me and I continue to grow as I practise the ‘art’ of self reflection.

    • Amy says:

      I read this and could totally relate to the understanding of how it takes awhile to figure this life out. I have made alot of irresponsible selfish choices through this journey and wish I could have know then what I know now and wonder how things would have been? But I have to move forward and do what I can to be better and understand things with a more open aproach to life . I want to continue to learn to be a better person to others and be proud of the person I have become through all the challanges we face in this crazy crazy world. keep chin up and look forward!!!

  8. Elizabeth Balkovec says:

    For the 1st 9 yrs of marriage, I was naive and took the blame for all the problems. When my 5 yr old was molested by her father while I was in the hospital, I realized how dumb I was. I will never be quiet again about being married to a child molester with Narcisstic Personality Disorder.

  9. A Reader says:

    I agree that sex is both a pleasure and responsibility. For some of us, at least. As far as I can see a lot of sexual activity take place between people with minds dulled or altered by alcohol,, or something else. Beeing in the mood is by itself a sort of intoxication that effectively overshadows thougths of responsibitity.
    Luckily most persons do take responsibilty when the result is borne.

    The words about projecting bad feelings on a spouse made me think of Eric Berne and his old bestseller Games People Play.

  10. Cricket says:

    Thanks for the great article. I do agree with you about the sex. I came to realize early on in my marriage that the way my spouse feels loved is equated in how much sex we have. He knows I love him by the other things I do for him but his “love” language is based on the amt of sex we have. I know that he loves me when he puts new snow tires on my car. We all have our own way in which we feel loved. I am grateful to have found out what my husband needs in order to feel how much I love him .

  11. Sarah says:

    For a couple of years I, as some one who could express their angers, carried the anger my partner (now husband) could not express – when we had rows I got progressively more and more angry (and of course more and more shamed afterwards) and he became more shut down until one day I said to him I feel like I get angry for BOTH of us. Fortunately he felt that way too, and in the process of learning how to express his feelings and needs in therapy is now able to be angry and express anger. Consequently I don’t get so angry!

    Great post, thank you and great blog – I’m getting a lot from reading it.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      A great example of how projection works. Thanks for submitting that. I think this kind of dynamic is all too common.

  12. Gina Hardy says:

    Totally excellently delivered ! Your words inspire and thought provoke and it feels different to the “norm” stuff…memo to self as a UK Relationship Educator…I love the way you write…keep the blogs coming!

    Blessings
    Gina

  13. Karen Kay says:

    Hi Joseph,

    Thanks for the counter punches! I just finished an article on strengthening relationships and am guilty of some of the things you say not to do – but I do see the need for balance.

    Communicate? Yes, but not in a detrimental or hurtful way. Be honest? Of course – but details unnecessary to the growth of the relationship, especially when not sought, need not be brought up every time.

  14. JP says:

    Right on. Very good advice. I’m a psych intern and in a relationship, engaged, 3 years now and just now struggling with the honeymoon phase being so over and learning to negotiate our lives together, how our issues come out when we’re upset, how to say clearly what you need when you are upset. When we are getting along, we tell each other what the best thing is to say to the other the next time they get upset. It really helps. Also a little pop-psych of Venus and mars in the bedroom book has helped me understand men and woman’s different sexual needs and feelings.
    I appreciate your words of wisdom and teaching me something of value.
    Thank you, JP

  15. Sarah says:

    No-one is *entitled* to sex, ever.
    Just because you marry someone does not mean you are obliged to let them have sex with you whenever they want to, or vice versa, for the rest of your natural lives. Take a reality check, people.

    We are complete human beings with plenty of other organs that require honouring in life and in relationships. I guess it depends on your beliefs and how you were brought up, but in its truest and purest sense a marriage is a companionship of the spirit and of the endeavour of living and all that entails (sourcing food and shelter, raising young, dealing with fortune’s slings and arrows). It’s a commitment made by two *whole* people in anticipation of the needs and abilities of the *whole* people they expect to be in the future as they face the full spectrum of life together: not a contract of enslavement to one or both person’s reproductive organs (and certainly not at the exclusion of compassion and empathy for what their head and heart are doing).

    People need to keep perspective about sex. If you were single, would you expect that you would or “should” get as much sex picking up randoms at a bar (for instance) as you currently expect you “should” have in your marriage? Or would you accept that there would reasonably be patches of time in which you had to enjoy your own company because there was no sex to be found, and (god forbid) maybe go to an art gallery or volunteer at a homeless shelter instead?

    Why do we expect marriage/relationships to be some kind of sexual and emotional vending service instead of the opportunity it presents to love and accompany another human being through all different facets of what life brings? (e.g. warm toast in bed in the morning, planning and tending a vegetable garden together, someone to help you feed and clothe you when you are sick, the joy of co-parenting a puppy, etc). These things are *pleasant bonuses* of a relationship above what life gives you as a single person in *exactly* the same way and to the same degree that sex is – not entitlements, just as sex should not be an entitlement. Is sexual entitlement really the tradeoff for the “freedom” of single life?

    It’s really hard to respect (let alone desire) someone that badgers you for access to your genitals without regard for what your head or your heart might want. That kind of treatment will quite naturally build resentment because it says “you are invisible to me as a person: I see and value you only as an avenue for my physical relief”.

    It’s just as hard to live with the *unspoken* expectation that you will always provide sexually (the implication being that if you don’t, you’ll lose all other aspects of your shared life). How accepted, valued, secure, loved, and sexually turned on does that make you feel as a person? “Have sex or I’ll leave you and thereby also destroy our family, finances, and health”?

    That’s a guarantee of withdrawal and passion dampening right there: most people don’t want to be the “invisible” canvas for gratification of your needs, but need recognition, listening, understanding. They want to be “heard” as a *person* and from that can grow real (sexual and emotional) intimacy. If those things aren’t there in your relationship, then the sex is really (and inevitably) just another casualty.

    I think the whole thread running through the entirety of Joe’s post here is simply that no one aspect of a partnership should ever dominate to the exclusion of others. Switching off and taking any part of our interactions for granted is the seed that sprouts problems anywhere it’s planted. In relationships, as in life, we must tolerate complexity and ambiguity, and our own imperfection, show grace, compassion, empathy, humility, really listen, clarify, reflect, consider, learn, celebrate and be grateful for the good things, be prepared to keep moving and growing, and most of all create our situations with conscious positive intention towards ourselves and the other party(ies).

    On a general note, thanks Joe for a terrific, articulate, honest, and accessible sharing of your insights through this blog :-)

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree, in theory, that no one is “entitled” to sex. But the issue comes down to the idea that a monogamous relationship is the place where partners “get sex”. If one partner is withholding sex, unless agreed upon beforehand, and also chaining the partner from fulfilling the need for sex outside of marriage, that’s a bad situation. (And I’m not advocating an “open marriage” or anything like that, nor am I suggesting sex against another’s will.)

      You mention expectations and single life. But that’s the point, one got married (at least partly) so one doesn’t have to have that “single life” experience. Love, communication, a partner, etc. These are some of the reasons to get married. So, no, it’s not like single life and shouldn’t be.

      I think it comes down to expectations and communication. Seeing what a problem is, any problem, and dealing with it together.

  16. Marijke says:

    I disagree with Sarah about all but the last section. I’m a woman and I have only had 2 serious relationships and no one night stands, so it’s not as though I’m some sex fiend or a player or the stereotypical male who is only interested in sex. I think what you say sounds at worse like it’s all about what you want and value and your husband’s needs aren’t important, and at best like you just want to be friends or business partners with your husband. Sex is very important in a marriage. A marriage can actually be dissolved if no sex has occured within a certain timeframe after the ceremony. You take vows that either state or imply that part of your relationship will be sexual. There is no such agreement with a bar pick up.

    It would be very hurtful and unfair to your husband (or wife but it tends to be the husband) to expect that you can say no whenever you feel like it and that they should be fine with that and go help at a homeless shelter! And still bring you a cup of tea in bed. Maybe you have a low sex drive or you aren’t easily hurt and don’t interpret someone saying no as a rejection, but not everyone is like you. Say for instance you decided to never have sex again. Is your husband supposed to be fine with that? What if he decided he’s never going to go to work again, or do certain things around the house or whatever. I don’t think you’re being fair. I’m reminded of Debra on Everybody Loves Raymond constantly saying no to her husband and making him practically beg for sex. And telling him he didn’t ask the right way or do enough to make her feel good beforehand etc. I cringe whenever I see that. It’s just a selfish to keep saying no as it is to *expect* sex, as you put it.
    Have you asked your husband what he wants?

  17. M says:

    I think all of the points you have made are exceptional. I am constantly dealing with an ex-boyfriend that seems to have narcissistic rage as you have described it. I am curious if there is any way to better reason with someone, if they are unaware of their self-righteous personality and refuse to try and understand the others position. Is there anything one can say to make him put down the aggressive defense mode and be open-minded?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Not in my experience. People like your boyfriend are so heavily defended that it’s almost impossible to get through unless they’re really asking for help.

  18. Cristina laird says:

    I agree with you in so many ways!!!!
    I am a certified therapist in psychodrama and psychoanalysis and I am also an astrologer.
    The birth-chart provides you with so much info on how you meet someone when you are ready to explore a particular side of your psyche, and why the “other” appealed to you at that particular time. It brings the emphasis right back to oneself, helping us understand our projections.
    would love to sit and talk to you!!!!!!!!! love your blog. Thank you for doing what you are doing!

  19. Anonymous says:

    On the last bit of your advice, why does sex have such mass effect over the relationship? Sometimes sex doesn’t happen and frustration creeps in… While when it DOES happen suddenly we’re both enlightened Buddhas! I don’t want sex to control us so much…

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Sex is a normal part of intimate relationships. When it doesn’t happen regularly, for long periods of time, that’s a sign that there’s trouble. You may not want sex to control us as much as it doesn’t but it’s in our genes, part of our biological inheritance.

  20. a person says:

    “I don’t mean this piece of advice for those of you who always assume you’re in the wrong. ”

    And what advice would you give to those who always assume that they are in the wrong?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      That’s much harder. I guess the short answer is that you will probably need to get some professional help to work on that issue. There’s no simple answer.

  21. Matha says:

    my partner, uses words for when I had hurt him. I am now learning the same. (nstead of me being thoughtless in saying hurtful comments)
    that’s just something we got to work on. but these words leave a stain/blemish that continue to grow. nothing that is explained after the fact makes up for it, cause there are links of insercurcities, that adds to the words, and to try and clear them up now! it feels as if your are dragging the past up, having never really discussing how you may had felt at the time.

    I also feel that these insercure feelings should be owned by the person themselves and not transfered to the chosen partners behaviour. but I would like to continue on making a stand when I feel that the current moments of hurt accur.
    But am wondering how to let go of past hurts, that to my own mind doesn’t count, especially when things that are mentioned (past relationships …etc) are before your time and you are in a ‘hard work, happy, but not prefect’ relationship with current partner?
    yes there was a question lol
    I understand it matters now, cause it is making me unhappy, but….

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Maybe you expect too much of yourself. Maybe you won’t ever “let go” of the past hurts, but the important thing is not to use them as a refuge, relying on them to justify your own self-guarding or blaming behavior. Sometimes you remember past hurts and go on, making yourself vulnerable in light of the evidence that you can now trust your partner. That takes a kind of courage.

  22. Cynthia says:

    This is really a wonderful blog post.

    Your point about communication is exceptionally well-taken. I find that a lot of therapists work on communication because it’s something they can actually do. But the problem isn’t communication, it’s that the partners to the marriage are unhappy with what’s being communicated.

    As for sex, it’s generally a barometer of how the marriage is doing. I know few marriages where the couple is unhappy if sex is going great. On the other hand, there are few marriages where both partners are happy if the sex is lousy. Lousy sex dooms marriages. Great sex makes couples closer. Is there anything as hot as a long-married couple that still hot for each other? I think not!

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      I agree. I think sex is enormously important in strong, lasting marriages. But it’s a chicken-egg problem, isn’t it? Does the bad sex lead to unhappiness in marriage, or does unhappiness in marriage lead to bad sex?

  23. Julie says:

    I think chicken-egg problem is exactly whats going on in alot of relationships where sex is an issue and I think the chicken came first. What I mean is, it seems like when man/woman relationship starts, the man is full of nice gestures, attention, and affection to win the affections of the lady he is pursuing and it sometimes leads to relationship and sex. I really don’t ever hear about a woman having sex with a man she just met and then after they have sex him wanting to do things to meet her emotional needs, he is pretty much done with her until he wants sex again. So why then after marriage does a man expect to get sex first to be in the mood to make his wife happy/meet her needs?

    I think if the husband is feeling his married sex life is lacking he just needs to think how would he treat his wife if they were both single and he was in pursuit of her? If he does this for merely a day or week after slacking a few years, she may not be responsive right away as she likely has resentment and doubts about his intentions and his ability to follow through long term with this suspiciously new loving behavior (she has not felt loved in awhile and has lost trust). However, if this is kept up as a life long philosophy and she understands he is just trying to make her happy and honor his vows to love her, she will be happy and in return will want to make her husband happy and meet his sexual needs (unless she is npd, then good luck to you…). It seems to me alot of men feel like once they are married they don’t need to court their wife anymore, courting is a lot of work, they got her already! I’ve heard men say this and I’ve heard them say that its not realistic to expect them to carry on that courtship behavior for the rest of their lives. It is their choice to carry on this attitude and lazy sense of entitlement to sex, but I really don’t think thats going to get them anything but resentment.

    The way I see it, is its not realistic to expect your wife to respond to your sexual needs the way she did in the beginning of your relationship when you are not doing the things that motivated her to do so as you did in the beginning of your relationship. A husband can say but its his wives duty to have sex with them him, but this is not a loving or sexy attitude to have and will build resentment. Also I would challenge these men to be honest with themselves, have they been fulfilling their duties honoring their vows to love and cherish their wife? Men need to understand that although sex for him sex is a way to feel loved, for their wife this is not the case, it is the loving behaviors and gestures you made during courtship that makes her feel loved, not sex. Meeting her emotional needs is crucial to making her feel loved, if this was too much work for you, marriage was probably not the way to go.

    If trying to meet your wifes emotional needs to feel loved is too much work, please do not have an affair and blame your spouse for not meeting your sexual needs, just man up and accept you signed up for more than you bargained for and divorce peacefully. Please don’t turn on the woman you vowed to love and scorn her for not satisfying your sexual needs when you have not honored your vow to love her. Instead try to understand each other, she probably understands you want sex, but do you understand that if she has lost interest in sex with you, it is most likely because she doesn’t feel loved and when she doesn’t feel loved, but instead feels hurt, angry, betrayed and disappointed it becomes impossible for her to be intimate with you, she is not some evil wretch trying to make you suffer, understand she is suffering too.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Many of your observations are really good, but this is a completely one-sided account of the story, as if sexual problems in a marriage are always the result of a husband’s insensitivity. I assure you that is not the case.

  24. Angel says:

    I saw your you tube and got your website. I am glad i did. I think it is great stuff you say. I think i am in need of therapy to recover from my four year relationship with a narcissist. I originally thought he was misogynist, then i read borderline pd, so that was him. Emotional abuser yes. Now i have learned of narcissism. I agree with you it covers many different diagnoses. He is expert at each abusive tactic. Anyway i have asked myself why have i stayed for this abuse? I thought only someone with low self esteem would stay. I had worked twenty years on my low self esteem to raise it up. I thought only someone witno other possibilities a partner would stick around for this miserable situation. I had many other possibilities and chose this one?? I doubt myself more now and cannot even trust my discernment or judgement of character. He wwould bring me in just to turn on me and reject me. I was stunned. I found in the last year i am now retaliating back with abusive rantings and texts cans he ignores me (my abandonments issues that fit right into the narcississtic personality. Yes i am sensitive). We are trying to separate and he has gotten more hurtful than ever. How do you stop blaming each other when we have been learning we are seeing a mirror of ourselves. But we still end up thinking the other person is doing it to us.

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      In my experience, narcissists can be extremely seductive in the beginning; it can feel like such good fortunate to be in their presence, almost as if we’re lucky to be there. And that feeling of privilege is quite the antidote to any lingering feelings of shame. Look who I’m with — I can’t be so bad. In breakups like the one you describe, the two people separating often try to trade the shame back-and-forth: You’re the fucked up loser. No, you are! You see what I mean.

  25. Rachael says:

    “… the primary function of many (bad) relationships is to have a partner into whom you can project all the unwanted aspects of yourself and who can then carry your split-off shame for you. ”

    Do you think the primary function of unfulfilled love with someone you idealise can be to externalise your Judging self, the one who harps on how imperfect you are?

    Although that person may not be verbally critical, their Not-Loving-You speaks volumes, perhaps even mimics parental rejection more closely than any articulate adult criticism you can heap on yourself. And meanwhile you can tie yourself in knots, losing weight, excelling at work, all sorts of arbitrary ways of trying to “qualify” for their love.

    This was a situation I used to find myself in a lot, and then it kind of stopped happening after I did a lot of work on myself, although it does come up as a dynamic in my marriage now from time to time, where I don’t feel good enough and idealise my husband as embodying a lot of the qualities I aspire to.

    I’ve always wanted a partner I could both look up to and aspire to be like, and I’m usually only attracted to men who share my interests and work in the same field as me. Just wondered if this is a possible off-shoot of the whole thing?

    • Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. says:

      Yes, I do think that we often marry someone critical who embodies an aspect of our own selves. Once you do the kind of work you’ve done and “own” that part, it changes the entire dynamic of the relationship.

  26. I appreciate this post. One of the best things I heard from a mentor of mine is that sex is like glue. It can keep people together to work through difficult stuff when they might have otherwise decided to quit.

    Todd

  27. kate says:

    Do you think it is possible for a relationship to recover from a sexless marriage – after a period of severe depression – our sex life has stopped completely.. for more than 8months. It’s my fault -I don’t know how to make myself do it again. It absolutely freaks me out. He is a nice man

    • Joseph Burgo says:

      I think it’s possible, yes. It will probably mean finding it within yourself to care enough about his needs that you WANT to have sex, if only as a loving gesture, even if you don’t want to.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

This post is password protected. Enter the password to view any comments.