Creating Healthier Relationships
AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. JOHN GRAY
by Randy Peyser
Dr. Gray has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, CBS Morning Show, Good Morning America, The View, Politically Incorrect, and Larry King, and has been profiled in Newsweek, Time, Forbes, USA Today, TV Guide, People and New Age Journal, among others. A recipient of the Smart Marriages Impact Award, Dr. Gray, who is a certified family therapist, is also the premier Better Life relationship coach on AOL.
For this interview, I asked Dr. Gray for advice on many issues related to various problems that we all face at one point or another in a relationship.
On Being Supportive
Randy Peyser: How can we be supportive of our partners when our partners want our support, but we don't agree with their choices?
John Gray: The only thing you can do in a relationship is to give your point of view and try to do it in the best way your partner can hear it, but then don't be attached to them doing what you say. Support does not necessarily mean "I agree with you." You can be empathetic, understanding, appreciative, and respectful, and still not agree with somebody. It's like the old premise, "let's agree to disagree" - and still love each other. Sometimes it helps just to say that out loud to remind our selves of that.
RP: I know that when either my partner or I feel unsupported, we shut down.
JG: If you want to create a change when you shut down like that, go to your partner and apologize for shutting down. It's always about being accountable for how you contribute to the problem. In this situation you have to say to your partner, "Let's redo the conversation." Redoing a situation is a good communication skill. I call this "instant replay." You look at the situation and see where it went wrong, and say, "Let's go back to the time before we went off track. Let me redo the situation. This is how I would like to respond, and this is how I would like you to respond. If you can respond this way, that's great.
If you can't, at least you know how I would like you to respond." Then while redoing the conversation, also say to your partner, "This the response I want to give you: 'I want to be supportive of you. I see that you'd like to have me agree with you and be on your side. I can understand why when I didn't agree with your choice that might have shut you. I then shut down myself, and I don't want to be shut down to you. I want to be open to you and allow you to be the person you are and not be your parent or try to control you by insisting that you make the choice that I want. I appreciate that you heard my point of view, and I understand that we have a difference here; it's your choice."
Often, what happens in relationships is that we shut down, because we don't speak enough about our perspective and about the other person's perspective. The universal solution in this instance is that we understand their perspective. If we can communicate effectively with our partner, it often helps him or her from shutting down. For example, if your partner could communicate to you, "I understand why you are shutting down," and state it in the kind of words that would be supportive to you, then you would start to open up again. In a relationship it takes one person to take that step, and then the other person begins to open up.
RP: My truth is that I feel that I am supportive. I disagree with my partner's choices, but I think I am offering the solution that is for the highest and best good of all.
JG: (laughs) That is what doesn't work. Validate their feelings, as opposed to trying to fix them and tell them how they could do the best thing. They are not typically asking for that.
Handling the Green-Eyed Monster
RP: Can you address the topic of jealousy? How can someone break through this kind of behavior that can be so detrimental to his or her relationship?
JG: The problem with jealousy is that people generally don't own it as their own problem. Sometimes their partner is doing something that one could appropriately be jealous of. For example, if you are in a committed relationship and your partner is spending all his time with somebody else, the feeling of jealousy is appropriate. However, if he is simply making a few calls here and there and you are feeling jealous, then the feeling is not appropriate.
What you have to do in terms of communicating a feeling to your partner is to recognize if your feeling is appropriate. Is it important to bring this message of feeling jealous to him? Or is it better to simply talk about the situation from the perspective of, 'I miss you. I'd like to spend more time with you. Let's spend some special time this weekend, just the two of us.' Rather than focusing on the feeling of jealousy and expressing this feeling to your partner, look at the situation from the point of view that there is a problem, and ask him to help you solve that problem.
If you start out by accusing a partner, you will alienate them. Instead, invite them to be part of the solution, then work together to solve the problem, rather than think you have to solve it all by yourself.
Attracting a New Kind of Partner
RP: A lot of people attract the same partner over and over again, whether it be an abusive person, a betrayer, etc. Do you have a way that you would suggest to break these longstanding patterns when it comes to attracting a certain kind of person that you don't want to attract anymore?
JG: I do. I've worked a lot with people who have had the same type of partner and situation again and again. You know the old saying, "When one door closes, a new door opens." If the old door doesn't fully close, then it's the same door that opens again and again, as opposed to a new door opening. Closing a door means to find forgiveness.
When we are in a negative pattern, we feel like a victim, and we don't acknowledge that we contributed to the problem by staying in that relationship. When you truly are a victim in a relationship, there truly is a villain. The only way you contributed to that situation is by allowing that person to continue to victimize you. Most victims, if they explore it, will see that there were many signals along the way, and they didn't listen to them or act on them.
Often a person in a victim pattern doesn't feel comfortable saying "no" and leaving a relationship. They are afraid of hurting someone or don't feel worthy inside of better treatment, or they are taking too much responsibility for everything. They are afraid to leave that relationship until it just gets so bad. Their lesson regarding this repeating pattern is to fully resolve the upset they felt in the relationship they left. That means they need to get in touch with their feelings and feel their anger, hurt and disappointment or guilt. They need to explore the fear that they are in the relationship and their fear of moving out of that relationship. They have to learn how to let that person go and find forgiveness for that person.
When they explore all those feelings, they will be able to find a sense of understanding, and appreciation for what was there. That is the essence of forgiveness - letting go and moving on, recognizing that the two of you just didn't fit well together. It wasn't that you were just a victim, but you allowed yourself to continue in that situation. Staying in this kind of situation will always bring out the worst in someone who is victimizing you. This is the only level of accountability that we can find in this kind of situation, but we need to find it.
In a healthier relationship, where there is no victim and villain, the solution always comes when you ask the question, 'how am I contributing to this and what can I do?' Then you talk with your partner about how you can work together. The same kinds of problems will emerge in a healthy relationship as in a dysfunctional relationship. The difference is that in a healthy relationship, you are able to talk things through and find a resolution together. In relationships where you cannot talk it through or find resolution, you are like a square peg in a round hole. You cannot make it work.
Staying in such a relationship and expecting your partner to make it work with you, you will actually pull out the worst in them because you are just so different, or the partner is so unavailable or unready for a relationship, that trying to get more from them is an unloving and unsupportive act because you are trying to change that person. In trying to change someone you will always bring out the worst in them.
Signs to Look Out For
RP: How can a single person discern whether or not someone would make a good partner for them?
JG: It depends on their age. When you're young, you are exploring and you learn as you go through the minefields of life. As you get a little older, you learn how to recognize and clearly interpret the signs of a healthy individual.
Here's a sign that always means walk out the door and leave: If someone hits you, that's a sign that they are not ready for an intimate relationship. If violence is part of a relationship, they don't have any sense of maturity. You need to spare them from becoming more violent by leaving - and spare yourself from being a victim.
Some signs and signals you need to be very clear about and walk away from, while others you just need to correctly interpret, since the behaviors that lead to a dysfunctional relationship can be the same behaviors that could lead to a healthy relationship. That's where we don't clearly interpret the signs. For example, a partner might pull away and withdraw, which is a normal thing that occurs in a relationship. You just need to give them some room to do it, a little patience, and support them when they open up again. If somebody is violent in a relationship, however, often before they become violent, they shut down. If you were with a violent person in the past, in a future relationship when someone shuts down, you might mistakenly assume that they are going to be violent, too, and become afraid or upset. But they're not about to become violent; they're just shutting down.
Here are some more signs to be aware of: Being attracted to a partner who is not available. It is a very common thing for people to fall in love with someone who is not available, who is already taken, or who does not have the maturity to be available in a relationship. Why is it that we want something we can't have? Why is it that the things we can have we don't want? That is part of the human neurosis, which is that the more we can't have it, the more we want it, How about passionately desiring what we can have? How about wanting and needing that?
We seem to dismiss what we can have and seek after the things that we can't have. This is a symptom of unresolved issues within our selves. We really don't know how to be happy. Before you can find a partner, you have to learn how to be happy without a partner. That's a cliche, but it really is true. It is not as easy as that, but that is at least the direction you want to go in, which is to acknowledge that the things that you seem to want are the things that are not good for you, or available to you.
In the "Mars Venus Diet and Exercise Solution," I point out that if you want to know what foods are good for you, look at what foods you want to eat when you are feeling really good. When you are feeling stressed, unhappy or tired, what are the foods you eat at that time? Those are the foods that aren't good for you.
When your brain is clear and feeling good, you tend to desire things that are good for you. When your brain is not feeling clear and good, you tend to desire foods that are not good for you. In the same vein, when we are not feeling really good about ourselves, and our self-esteem isn't good (even though we may think it is), look at the results in your life. If you keep wanting things that aren't good for you, that's a sign that you are not coming from a place of really loving yourself.
So what does it mean to love your self? I've written a book called, "What You Feel You Can Heal" in which I explain how we can learn to feel good about ourselves and love ourselves more, increase our self-esteem, and not feel like we are dependent on someone else to feel good about ourselves.
Often, people who have this problem in relationships get married young, and they don't really give themselves the chance to explore who they are and what makes them happy or doesn't make them happy. They don't really know what they like or don't like, what they want or don't want, or how to react to things. They also don't yet have a sense of knowing their true self, which is to be a loving human being who has particular needs, who deserves to have those needs be met, and who understands that other people have the same rights as well.
Women are more vulnerable in this regard than men because they have the nurturing gene. Women tend to easily lose themselves at a time in life when they are learning who they are. They will easily lose themselves by trying to nurture somebody else too much, while not nurturing themselves. I look at the 20's as being a time when individuals need to be much more selfish so that they can prepare for their 30's, which is a time when people can begin to grow into unconditional love.
The 20's needs to be a time when we learn to love ourselves. It's not that people in their 20's can't be in relationships, it's just that they need to make sure they are not sacrificing anything during that time.
I'm a big believer in sacrifice in a meaningful way as you get older. But you can't make a sacrifice without giving up yourself unless you know who you are. It takes a while to become anchored into who you are so that you can give to someone unconditionally without feeling like you are giving up yourself. So many times, I'll counsel women who say, "I've given up who I am. I don't know who I am. I've been giving and giving and giving, but what about me?" They wouldn't be doing that if they had a strong sense of "me" to start with. That takes time to grow during that time of life in the 20's.
Coming back to that question about patterns, if you know who you are and you tend to love who you are, you will tend to be naturally drawn to the people who are available to you. Here is a practical tip: Quite often when we meet someone we might feel a very strong sexual connection with them and then find out they are not available. If that is your pattern, then the next time you feel a strong sexual connection with someone, realize that this is your body's way of telling you that this person is probably not available to you.
The people who are available to you are probably the people you feel no sexual connection to. Give them a chance in relationships. As you start working through your own personal issues, you might find your sexual attraction starts becoming automatically connected to people who are available.
Ending the Drought - Rekindling Passion
RP: One of the things I'm hearing a lot from couples who have been together for a long period of time is that they have become best friends, but they have stopped being intimate. Usually, one or both partners want more passion, but it's just not happening. Do you have any recommendations?
JG: Yes. Often, we lose touch with who we are while we are making those daily little compromises that create harmony in a relationship. In the name of love and in the name of being harmonious friends, we chip away at what we'd really like, at who we really are, and how we feel. We don't even realize we're doing it, but as we chip away at pieces of ourselves to get along with somebody, the passion starts to diminish. That's why we are no longer lovers, but are good friends.
To bring back passion, often you have to look at those places where you have given up a little too much in order to please your partner. Lots of couples who are good friends often don't have passion, while lots of couples who aren't good friends stay together because they have such good sex. Then there are those who don't do either. But the reality is there are also couples who are good friends, and who have good communication skills, and they are able to keep the passion alive in their relationship.
You can bring the passion back. There are writing exercises in the back of "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" and in "What You Feel You Can Heal," where you can journal the kind of feelings that come up that you don't want to share with your partner because you think it might bother him or her. At least you get to explore those feelings and what's underneath them yourself. Often individuals who do these exercises will find they fear expressing who they are, asking for what they really want, or doing what they'd like to do. Once an individual can begin to feel more authentic, the passion comes back. It's about reconnecting to who you are.
Want more of John Gray? You can watch Dr. Gray's two new Internet TV Shows, "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" and "The Mars Venus Wellness Solution" at www.marsvenus.com. The shows air live on Tuesdays, but can be downloaded any time.