Alcohol Makes Me More Social

Many students tell me they don’t feel comfortable in social situations without engaging in some type of extracurricular activity.  Some claim they want to have the “college experience”.  Others say that parties are boring unless they get completely wasted.   Then there are the students who started smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol back in high school and can’t imagine changing that pattern in college.  Most studies would say that students use these extracurricular activities to lower their inhibitions and be more social.   Because we all know college is about socialization.  Many students who admitted to using alcohol or marijuana as a freshman in college stated they used it to feel more confident when meeting new people.  What happens is this becomes a way of life and everyone around you now sees you as someone who drinks or smokes at every party.

I have counseled some students who are now labeled, “the party girl or guy” in their circle of friends.  They have considered slowing down or even stopping their drinking or smoking habits, but feel obligated to keep their status with their friends.  It isn’t so easy to go to a party and say no to the drugs or alcohol offered.  Especially if you never have declined these activities in the past.

It can be intimidating to reinvent yourself.  To have to explain to your girlfriend or boyfriend why you are making  a change.  Your friends may even feel like you are trying to blow them off or that you starting to look down on them.  So the pressure to stay in the same situation is intense.  Only you know why you do what you do.  If you know you don’t need alcohol or weed to relax and have a good time, be courageous and show others they can do the same.  Sometimes it only takes one person to say no before others will have courage to do the same.

Confidence is the key to saying no.  If you’re single and going to parties to find someone to date, be self assured enough to know that you don’t need alcohol or marijuana to be outgoing and social.  There are students who go to parties and stay sober, or at least don’t get completely wasted.  They are able to meet people and have fun anyway.  There are many reasons you can use to say no.  One, you may not want to spend the money on it.  Two, you know it is illegal (underage drinking and smoking marijuana) and you don’t want to risk having it on your record when applying for a job in the future.  Three, you can say you don’t enjoy it anymore and that you would rather not suffer from hangovers in the morning.  Four, you can say it is interfering with your grades and you want to be able to stay off of academic probation.  Five, you can admit that it changes your personality and you don’t like the choices you make under the influence.

Other students may not be bold enough or want to say no to everything.  There are other ways to cut back on alcohol at parties.  You can sip your drink and then go to the bathroom to pour most of it down the drain.  If you have a glass you can fill it with water or pop.  No one will notice what you’re drinking after a couple of hours.  You can also switch back and forth between non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks to slow down the amount you consume.  You can opt of out drinking games or refuse shots and just drink beer.  You can eat a big meal before going out to slow down how fast your body absorbs the alcohol.  You can also volunteer to be the designated driver for others at the party.  As for marijuana you can share the love and pass it on to the next person.

We all have things we don’t like about ourselves.  Alcohol and weed may help you to numb out those things or make you not care for the moment that they exist.  But they do exist and instead of ignoring things you may not like about yourself or your life, you may just want to work on  making positive changes.  If you don’t like that you are shy or nervous around others, work on those things to improve your confidence in social situations.  This means exposing yourself to social situations when you are sober and feeling anxious.  This is the only true way to develop that confidence and get rid of the fear you feel.  If you have a hard time relaxing and letting go of the stress of classes, you can find ways to learn to relax without the help of alcohol or drugs.

It is worth it to figure out how to be yourself in social situations.  You want someone to meet you and like you for who you are all the time, not only when you are drunk or high.  You can also learn how to drink or smoke less and still have fun.  This will help you find and stay in healthier relationships, as well cope with stress in better ways.  The point is to still go to parties and have fun, but without needing to be completely wasted to feel comfortable in your own skin while doing it.  If you want to build your confidence and self-esteem it is more beneficial to cut back on the use of drugs and alcohol instead of using them as a crutch.

For more information please see these websites below:

http://collegedrinkingprevention.gov

http://niaaa.nih.gov

http://marijuanaaddictiontreatment.org

Trusting an Apology

How do you know someone is being honest when they say “I’m sorry”?  When someone has hurt or lied to you it can be hard to trust the words that come out of their mouth.  Sometimes those two words just don’t cut it.  A lot of times people say things but never act on their words.  It is hard to believe someone after so many apologies.  How do you know when an apology is genuine?

A real apology has four parts.  Completing all four parts of an apology helps to show that you really mean what you say.

For example, let’s say I broke your window.  This is a genuine apology.

Part I:  Admitting you were wrong.  “Hey, I want to let you know that I accidentally broke your window”.

Part II:  Saying you are sorry.  “I’m sorry that it happened.  I feel really bad that I made such a mess and scared you that way”.

Part III:  Fixing or repairing the damage done.  “I will call someone to come out and replace your window.  I’ll pay for everything”.

Part IV:  Vowing to not do it again.  “I will not be playing ball outside your window anymore so this won’t happen again”.

Some people can’t even make it to the first part.  They won’t even admit they were wrong.  If your boyfriend or girlfriend can’t even admit they were wrong it will either make you feel crazy or your mistrust will skyrocket.  If you have proof that someone did do something and they won’t admit it, there is a huge problem to overcome.  It will make you wonder how well you really even know this person which usually starts the downfall of many relationships.

Other people only get through the second part.  Your boyfriend or girlfriend will admit they were wrong and they do apologize, but they don’t follow through on trying to repair the damage or vow to not do it again.  Or they vow to not do it again, but skip the third step.  If they skip the third step, odds are great that their vow means nothing.   A person has to make a conscious change for you to really know that they don’t want to hurt you again.

So how do you repair damage like cheating?  Say your partner has admitted what they did and apologized and even vows to never do it again.  How do they complete step three?  It can be done in different ways.  Some people need different things to feel more confident again in their relationship.  Do you need them to spend more time with you?  Do you need them to be more affectionate and attentive to you?  Do you need them to tell you how much you mean to them and be more complimentary?  Do you need them to be more open with their phone, email and social media accounts?

An easy way to know if someone is still hiding something from you is if they become very defensive if you ask questions about their phone, email or Facebook.  If they have nothing to hide they should want to show them to you.  They start to feel proud that they aren’t hiding anymore, and you start to feel more confident because they are more open with you.  It is a win win for someone who is trying to prove they aren’t hiding anything from you.  If they rush  you to “get over” what happened and don’t feel they owe you anything to prove they are now being honest, be very very cautious.  This person is probably still hiding something.

A person who has cheated will not want to talk about it all the time.  It is hard to have it brought up because it is very shameful to those who regret their actions.  However, they shouldn’t be defensive about wanting to show you they are now being faithful.   When I worked in private practice I worked with many couples.  I met with people who have changed jobs so they can prove to their partner that they won’t see the person they cheated with anymore.  Some people have given up  promotions so they don’t have to travel as much for work.   Some people have told friends or family so they become more accountable.  If an apology is truly genuine, they will want to make the changes necessary to win back your trust.  It will also help them keep their vow of not hurting you in that way again.  It is not easy, but it may be very worth the effort to make amends and move forward.

Remember these four steps the next time you realize you hurt someone in any kind of relationship.  If you are honest about your apology, follow through with making changes to repair the damage so it will be easier for that person to believe you when you say it will never happen again.

P.S. Just to let you know.  If someone says they won’t ever do something again, and its a habit, like drinking, doing drugs, cheating, lying, being emotional abusive, or using pornography, be aware that they most likely will need professional help to change.

They need to learn new ways of dealing with things and have someone hold them accountable while they break that habit.   It isn’t as easy as depending on you to help them change.  If they are willing to get help, they are more likely being honest with you about stopping.  If they follow through for 3 months or more, you can start to trust that they are truly making a change.  Three or four weeks of staying sober, being nice, or being helpful doesn’t mean they have really changed.  This is from a decade of experience of working with many people with a lot of bad habits.  Give them a chance, but be prepared for disappointment if they can’t follow through with step three.

“58 Happy Customers Served” – Mark

I’ve been watching the show Whitney on NBC.  It’s a new sitcom this year.  Whitney is the main character and Alex is her boyfriend.  They have the usual friend side kicks every episode.  In this episode, Alex’s friend, Mark, goes with Whitney’s friend, Roxanne, to donate blood.  The nurse needs Roxanne to fill out a questionnaire first and asks how many sexual partners she has had.  She tries to cover the sheet so Mark doesn’t see her number.  However, when the other nurse comes out with a questionnaire for Mark he blurts out, “58 happy customers served” before he is even asked the question.

Images courtesy of NBC/Whitney

Are guys sexually insecure?  That is a good question.  I can’t speak for the whole male population, but generally speaking I think a lot of guys are sexually insecure.  Later in the same episode Mark accidentally tells Roxanne the number again and it is in the 60’s.  She confronts him about changing the number.  He finally admits to her his real number is 7.  She is surprised the number is actually low because he talks a big game when it comes to sex.  She asks him why he lied.  He admits he was embarrassed to say that he feels sex should be shared with someone special.

Why do guys talk a big game, especially in front of their buddies?  If you are tuned into the media like teenagers and young adults tend to be, then you know how both men and women are portrayed.  Sex is everywhere in the media.  They don’t show men who choose to wait to have sex until they are in a serious relationship and it is unheard of to see someone, man or woman, waiting until they are married.  Like Mark said, he was embarrassed to admit that sex means something to him.  That isn’t what is seen as “normal” for guys.  Instead, you see Jersey Shore, and everyone is having sex with different people all the time.  It makes it seem like it’s a great thing for guys to have sex with as many women as possible.  Go out, party, get drunk and have sex.  The pressure to feel like you fit into that kind of lifestyle can be pretty intense.  Some guys are confident enough to keep their sex life private.  However, sometimes friends and peers can be pretty hard on guys who are more quiet or reserved about their sex life.

Guys also have an issue with wanting to date a woman who has a lower number when it comes to sex partners.  They might not care if they are having a one night stand, but when it comes to getting serious, the double standard still exists.  Guys have told me they can be really insecure if their girlfriend’s number passes a certain limit set in their head.  It comes down to competition.  The more men their girlfriend has slept with, the more men they have to compete with.  Many guys have admitted they don’t want to think of competing with the 9 other guys their girlfriend previously had sex with.  Even though their own number may be higher.  Other guys have also admitted it has been difficult to continue dating a girl who’s number is higher than their own.  Not all guys feel this way, but sometimes the greater the perceived competition, the greater the insecurity.

I can sympathize with the pressure guys are under.  No one wants to be thought of as incompetent.  It is hard to get through high school or college and not feel inadequate if you aren’t out conquering sexually.  I think there are a lot of guys out their trying to break down the double standards, but it isn’t easy.  It is usually done behind the scenes because the media doesn’t really emulate responsible and respectful behavior.  To all the guys out there respectful and responsible, I say THANK YOU.  I hope you feel confident about your choice and that you find a great women who appreciates you for it.

Remember, there is more to you than just the number of sex partners you’ve had.  (Same goes for you women out there!)  It is a good idea to stop thinking of sex as a competition.  Instead, start to think of it as pleasurable experience you have with someone you are attracted to and hopefully care about.   It is about you and the other person.  Leave the past out of the bedroom and focus on being in the moment.  This may help lessen that insecurity you may feel due to the numbers game.

It isn’t easy to develop confidence over night, but it starts with accepting yourself.  You don’t always need to change to please others.  Try to drown out the voices of the media and others around you who try to tell you you’re missing out because you aren’t bagging a different female every night.  Sometimes it starts with accepting that you might be different or not fit the “norm” of society.  However, in this case I think that is a good thing.  I like the character, Mark,  a lot more now that he stopped trying to be something he wasn’t.  I’m glad he was able to admit he isn’t really an disrespectful idiot, even though he thought it was more acceptable to be this way.  He is much better off just being himself.

Plus, if you saw the whole episode, you know that both Roxanne and Mark are worried the blood bank is going to call them to say they can’t accept their blood because of STD’s.  It may be hard to admit your number is low, but trust me, it is a lot harder to tell your partner that you’ve contracted an STD.  No matter what, always use protection when engaging in any type of sexual activity.  It is true that the higher your number, the more at risk you become of contracting an STD.  So be smart and be safe!

The Conflict Avoider

Come on, you know who you are!!  The one who pretends everything is fine while internally wishing you could rip someone’s head off.  I have to admit, sometimes it is good to take the high road and not say anything about your internal frustrations.  However, sometimes it doesn’t do anyone any favors by not speaking up when you are upset.

There are no “perfect” relationships.  Whether you are having issues with your boyfriend or girlfriend, your friends, your roommate or even your family, there are ways to handle it without going postal on everyone.   Conflict is inevitable, but some ways of handling it are better than others.  Here are a few tips to help you through that fear of conflict.

First, go directly to the source!  Don’t talk about the issues you are having in one relationship with everyone else.  The only time this is a good idea is if you truly are unsure about how to handle it.  You can ask for some solid advice from one or two people you really trust.  They may be able to talk you through it and give you some insight.  However, make sure you actually talk to the person you are having a conflict with and address the issue so you can find a resolution.

When I say talk, I mean actually TALK.  Not text, not Facebook chat, not tweet or email.  It is best to deal with heated subjects face to face.  It is harder, but you will avoid a lot of miscommunication this way.  Texting something you are upset about can get misinterpreted or you could misinterpret the other person’s response.  It is best to talk it out face to face if possible because much of our communication comes from non-verbal sources such as tone of voice and body language.  It will help both you and the other person avoid the possibility of a bigger blow up if you can actually see and hear them while having this type of discussion.

So, what non-verbal cues are good to note when you are trying to resolve conflict?  Notice your tone of voice, especially the volume.   The effect of an “I” statement can get lost if you sound sarcastic or hysterical.  Make sure you feel calm enough to talk through the issue without raising your voice.  At a certain decibel, people will start to tune you out.  If what you have to say is important, make sure you are talking at a level where the other person will want to hear you.  Also, watch your body language.  Make sure you aren’t standing over the other person and stay out of their personal space.  If you look threatening or stand in a threatening manner, it will cause the other person to feel more defensive.

Second, use “I” statements.  It is best to handle a conflict by sticking to your own feelings and not making any accusations.  For example, if someone has hurt me by something they’ve said or done it is best if I say something like this: “I feel very disrespected and hurt that you left the party last night without telling me”.  That is better than saying this: “You are such a self absorbed bitch for leaving the party without me last night”.  It is okay to be upset, but going off on the other person isn’t going to help any more than holding all your anger in.

I find that people will listen better when you give them real emotions.  Not that anger isn’t a real emotion, however, it’s usually a cover up emotion.  That means anger covers up other emotions that you are feeling underneath, such as; hurt, embarrassment, disrespect, disappointment, insecurity, and fear.  If you attack someone, expect them to become defensive and attack you back.  Anger usually brings on more anger.  If you’re brave enough to open up about the real emotions underneath your anger, you will usually get a better response.  The person has a better chance of hearing you and making a change if they become aware of how they hurt you.  True feelings help the other person understand you better so the issue can be resolved.  Using “I” statements with real emotions makes you more vulnerable, but it can bring you closer to the person you are having a conflict with.

Holding all your anger in and avoiding conflict isn’t the answer.  It is better to clear the air and try to move forward.  You will feel better when you know the other person heard you, and it gives them a chance to try to make a change.  You may also find the other person was upset about something that you now have a chance to change and make better.  Relationships aren’t easy.  They take some work.  If you find that you’ve handled the conflict in the best way possible, but the other person isn’t willing to listen or compromise, then you have some other things to think about.

Not everyone you will be in a relationship with will be able to look at themselves and take responsibility.  Some people won’t listen even after you’ve poured your whole heart out.  If this person is a roommate or a casual friend, it may be easier to separate yourself from this person and move on without them in your life.  It takes two people to resolve an issue, if this other person is unwilling to work with you, there isn’t a lot you can do.

If this person is a close friend, family member or significant other it won’t be so easy to separate yourself.  Some people decide to accept the person for who they are.  They learn to deal with their own anger and decide to take the high road rather than continue to try to resolve the conflict.  Other people decide they need to separate from the person for their own mental health even though they don’t really want to.  There will be people in your life that put you between a rock and hard place.  If you aren’t able to take the high road without building up a lot of resentment and anger, then it may be smart to try to grieve the loss of the relationship.  It won’t be easy, but it may be necessary.

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

It is true, everyone has different ways of showing love.  I like the book “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman*.  Some people really need words of affirmation to feel loved.  However, sometimes people say nice things, but never really back those words up with any nice actions.  Words don’t carry a lot of weight if you don’t really mean what you say.  It may be time to put your money where your mouth is and back up those words with some actions of love this holiday season.

Even if you aren’t someone who really needs words to feel loved, you may be getting caught in the trap of listening to words instead of looking at your girlfriend or boyfriend’s actions.  How many of you have been in a relationship where your partner showed up late for dates or sometimes didn’t show up at all, neglected text messages and then texted back hours or days later only to pretend everything was fine, or just continued to lie to you?  Now, how many of you have forgiven the same partner when they finally showed up or texted back and told you a bunch of crap about how great you are and how you get them in a way that no one else does?

Words are easy to say…and some people are even better at knowing WHAT to say in those tense moments to make you smile again.  In black and white it seems so easy to realize that this person really doesn’t mean what they are saying.  Their words don’t really make sense in light of their actions.  However, when you really love someone, you want to believe the best of them.  You want things to work out.  You can’t imagine not having this person in your life.

Trust me, I’ve been there.  I realize how much you want to trust those words your partner is telling you.   To believe and hope they love you as much as they say they do.  Sometimes the longing for love is so strong that it is easy to forget all the bad things when you hear the simple words, “I love you”.  You can see the potential and know some where deep inside is the really good person you fell in love with.  That little spark of hope is all most people need to hold on.  So you believe their BS about how much they love you and how you’re the only one who is really there for them.  Your partner then realizes the moment of crisis has passed and they go on to do whatever the hell they want again.

Words without actions to back them up are empty.  In time, it will become obvious whether this person truly loves you.  People who love you want to be there for you, even when it may not be convenient for them.  They make efforts to put you first.  They follow through on what they say they are going to do.  They include you in their life, and want you to be around their family and friends.  They are respectful to you in private and around others.  They want to hang out with you even when you aren’t having sex.

When those words are too often backed up with lies, disrespect, anger and neglect, you need to be courageous enough to see it.  Not everyone is ready to truly love another person.  Not everyone is selfless enough to make those kind of sacrifices.  Your partner may not be in the right place or time to give you what you need.  You deserve someone who remembers you, shows up, initiates, is respectful.

The first step is to first learn to love yourself.  Start to believe that you are lovable and have so much to offer someone in a relationship.  The second step is realize that you deserve someone to love you in the ways you need.  You don’t have to settle for less.  The third step is to wait for that person to arrive.  We can’t always make love happen when and where we want it to.  Learning to be alone, even when it is hard is a valuable lesson.  The forth step is love with all your heart when you do find that person, even if that means you risk getting hurt in the end.  Every person we let into our lives has something to offer.  Even if it doesn’t work out, that person can teach you something so you’ll be smarter the next time.  Don’t give up!!

*Here is a little background on the Five Love Languages in case you’ve never read the book.  It is based on the premise that there are five different ways to show love.  Each person likes to receive and give love differently and usually prefers one or two types most often.  It is a good idea to know what your partner’s love language is so you can back those words of love up with actions.  Here the the five different types:   Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service & Physical Touch.

Sacrifice or Settling?

Sometimes it can be hard to know if you are making a healthy sacrifice in a relationship or settling for something you shouldn’t.  Everyone has differences and every relationship requires sacrifice.  It is good to know yourself to figure out whether you can make a change in yourself to make the relationship better or whether you should look for someone who doesn’t need you to change.

For example, often extroverted people get in relationships with introverted people.  Opposites attract right?  Well to make a relationship work between these two will require some sacrifice.  Extroverted people by nature have a lot of good friends.  They tend to act very friendly even with semi-strangers.  They get bored with hanging out at home and like to schedule lots of social activities.  An introverted person by nature has only a few close friends.  They don’t act friendly with people unless they know them very well.  They mostly like to chill at home and feel stressed when a lot of social activities are scheduled.

You can see how this may cause some problems.  An introverted person may feel like “one of many” or not special to their extroverted partner.  They see their boyfriend or girlfriend hugging and talking to everyone and may feel left out.  They may also come off as jealous because they don’t want their boyfriend or girlfriend to go out all the time or because they make comments about how their boyfriend or girlfriend flirts too much.  They may tend to follow their extroverted partner around at parties where they don’t know anyone.  This may make the extroverted person feel smothered or guilty because they have to entertain their partner all the time.

In order to make this work both people have to make sacrifices.  If you are an introvert, you have to be able to trust your partner to go out without you.  They need their friends and other social contacts.  This doesn’t mean they don’t love you.  Their needs are different than yours.  You would be content to spend a lot of your time with them and very little time with your few other friends.  This is not the case for your boyfriend or girlfriend.  They may want more time with their friends.  You will also have to be willing to go out more than you would like.  Also be aware that your extroverted partner is going to be friendly to everyone around them.  This doesn’t mean they want to hook up with everyone.  If you can feel more secure in yourself and the relationship, it may make it easier for you to watch your boyfriend or girlfriend talk to anyone and everyone.

If you are an extrovert, you  have to be willing to engage in more down time.  Your introverted partner isn’t trying to keep you home because they don’t trust you.  It’s because they need more quiet time to recover from the stress of school or work.  They love having one on one time with you as well.  You may think if your introverted partner just had more friends or activities in their life they wouldn’t “need” you so much.  This isn’t true.  They don’t need you, it is just that when they let someone get really close to them, they want to spend the majority of their time with that person.  They don’t need or want to have more friends, or fill up their time with tons of activities.  If you cherish your independence and time with other friends, try to find other ways to make your introverted partner feel special.  Understand that it may be hard for them to watch you be so friendly with everyone.  They need to work on feeling more secure, but it helps if you can do a few extra things to help them know how much you love them.

Sometimes relationships like this can’t work out.  For some people it is too much of a sacrifice or they feel they have to change too much to make the other person happy.  Get to know yourself and know what you can and can’t handle in a relationship.  It is okay to admit you may need someone who is more like you in this area.  What one person can be flexible with and tolerate, another person can’t.  No one can tell you when your settling in a relationship.  It will become obvious if you start to build up a lot of resentment.  The above example is just one way couples are different.  Some people who are laid back and impulsive are with someone who is very organized and plans way in advance.  This couple will have to make other types of sacrifices.  I always say, “If it isn’t one thing, it will be another, no relationship is perfect.”  You may be able to be with someone who is opposite in one way, but can’t handle being opposite in other ways.  That is whole point of dating…to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Just remember the key is trying to understand where the other person is coming from.  Understand they may not be doing something to you just to drive you crazy.  It may just be because they are different than you and therefore, have different needs in a relationship.  It may help you to come out of your comfort zone and try different things.  If you are in a relationship with someone who has opposite characteristics, try to learn from them and appreciate the differences.  Hopefully it won’t be too hard to compromise.  However, if it becomes too difficult or stressful for you to be in the relationship, admit that and do your best to move on from there.

The EX Factor

How many of you wonder about your girlfriend or boyfriend’s ex?  For a lot of students I talk to this can be a huge issue in the relationship.  Especially if your partner still talks to his or her ex.  How should you handle this?  What is okay to ask or talk about?  What if your partner doesn’t want to open up or talks about their ex too much?

When you are first dating you can get very caught up in the moment, and all other people kind of fade into the background.  You might not even care who their ex was because you feel so in love and untouchable by anything negative.  Sooner or later it becomes a reality.  Either you run into them by accident, see a random pic, or hear someone else talk about a memory involving the love of your life with their ex.  No matter how the subject comes up, it eventually hits you that there was someone else before you.  Someone else they may or may not have loved.  Someone else that  may or may not still love them.   Someone else they may or may not have had sex with.  Someone they may or may  not still think about or still be friends with.  It can also drive you crazy wondering about how they broke up and why.

Maybe you’re lucky and this is the first serious relationship your girlfriend or boyfriend is in.  It can be a huge sigh of relief to not worry about who came before you.  However, most of you probably have to deal with an ex or two or ten in your current relationship.  Here are few suggestions to navigate the touchy subject of the EX.

Sometimes people are too open.  They have no filter so they share all the gory details from their previous relationships.  It can make you wish you had a delete button in your brain.  They may not realize how much they are talking about their ex.  You have every right to let them know how its making you feel, and ask them to turn it down a notch.

However, many people tell me that their partner is reluctant to tell them details about their ex.  This can be frustrating because it makes you wonder why they are holding out on you.  Some people may argue that they are more private and don’t like to share.  When it comes to being in a relationship some things need to be shared.  If you can’t open up about certain things, then maybe you aren’t ready to be in a serious relationship.  Here are few things I think are important to ask about the ex.

You should know how many serious relationships your boyfriend or girlfriend has been in.  It is also a good idea to ask how long each relationship was and how long it has been since their last break-up.  You don’t need to get all the details of the break-up, but you should know who broke up with who and why.  You also don’t need to know the number of sex partners they’ve had (even though they may share anyway) or any sexual details (please stop them if they start to share these), but you do need to know if your current partner ever had sex in their past relationships, especially for STD reasons.  You can also ask what your partner’s  current status is with their ex.  Do they still text or talk to them?  Do they still hang out?  Are they still friends on Facebook?  Stuff like that.

Do you have the right to ask your partner to stop being friends with their ex?  To be honest, most people are not able to maintain a healthy friendship with an ex.  Especially if you’ve had sex in that relationship.  Once a line is crossed, it is hard to go back.  There is a knowledge there and certain feelings that you should make an effort not to tap into because it can lead to dangerous ground.  I know people have done it successfully, but it is rare.  In those circumstances your partner needs to be willing to have their ex become friends with you as well, and all lines of communication have to remain open.  One on one get togethers with their ex or private conversations that you don’t know about will ultimately break the trust in your relationship.

I also always tell students to remember that their current partner comes first, not their ex.  There is a reason you are no longer in that past relationship.  If you choose your ex over your current partner you will cause major problems to arise.  Not that your partner should always get their way, but you should be respectful of their feelings.  What if your ex is part of your whole group of friends?  Make sure the boundaries are strong.  Only see your ex in those group situations, and don’t spend the whole night talking to just them.  You can be nice and friendly without being too friendly or flirtatious.  Watch your body language as well because you can bet that your current partner will be watching!!  Again, if you aren’t mature enough to handle this, you may have to stay away from group get togethers when your ex is around.

Talking about the ex isn’t ever the easiest thing, but certain things need to be said and dealt with to make your current relationship as healthy as possible.

In a Relationship with Anxiety

I wrote a post a couple of months ago about being in a relationship with someone who has bipolar disorder.  I thought it may be helpful to write something about how to deal with someone who has anxiety.  Anxiety is an overwhelming feeling of fear or worry.  Anxiety causes a person to feel out of control.  This affects a person physically as well as mentally.  A person in an anxious state has an accelerated heart rate, their breathing is fast and their muscles become tight.  They can’t usually think rationally in those moments because of their fear.  To avoid those feelings, some people with anxiety try to control the things around them that make them anxious.  This can cause problems in their relationships with others.  If someone is anxious about being late it can cause them to be pushy to those around them who may make them late.  They feel the need to leave early to avoid being late but if they are waiting on others, this person can seem very impatient.  I can relate to this one because I have some anxiety myself.  My husband has to deal with some of my quirks because of this, and it isn’t always easy for him to understand my moods.

When I get anxious I tend to become more impatient and my tone of voice changes.  I don’t always realize how I am coming across to people.  When I take a step back I can see that I become more controlling and less flexible.  I tend to speak in a more condescending tone and I sound more demanding than polite.  This means I usually hurt other people’s feelings in the middle of dealing with my anxiety.  I don’t mean to hurt anyone’s feelings.  I’m usually very empathetic and don’t like when other people are mad or upset.  However, when I’m worried about something my empathy tends to fly out the window.

For example, bugs make me anxious.  I don’t like them at all.  They creep me out.  I remember when I was first dating my husband.  I took a plant out of a planter because it was dead.  When I pulled it out to put it in a lawn bag it was full of bugs.  I barely was able to put it in the bag, roll the top of the bag down and put it at the end of my driveway.  When Steve came over later he noticed the bag at the end of the driveway and because it was going to rain thought it would be helpful to put it in the garage over night.  Needless to say, when he told me of his kindness I didn’t say thank you.  I totally freaked out and yelled at him that there were lots of bugs in that bag.  My mind was now thinking they were all over the garage, in my car and around other stuff I had stored in there.  I can see now how irrational I was being, but at the time my fear was stronger than my intellect.  I ran out to put the bag back outside because I didn’t care whether it was going to rain.  Steve was upset that I yelled at him even though he was trying to help.  After I calmed down I realized how crazy I sounded.  Just because I was scared didn’t give me the right to treat him like he was an idiot.

People with anxiety do worry about things that other people don’t usually worry about.  They become upset over things that other people don’t necessarily become upset over.  This is confusing to people who are close to them.  A person with anxiety may apologize afterwards, but sometimes the damage has already been done.  I do my best to work on my anxious thoughts.  I am much better now than I used to be.  However, from the above example you can see that it is a work in progress.  It is never ending.  When I was single, I didn’t have to worry as much.  I had control over my environment and not living with other people was helpful because my bad moods weren’t always caught by others.

In college, most people live on top of one another.  It is a luxury to have your own space.  This can make people with anxiety feel even more anxious at times.  I work with students who have roommate issues because they or one of their roommates has anxiety.  You could also be dating someone who is like me.  Your partner may overreact at times and take their frustration out on you.   My best advice if you are dating someone who suffers from anxiety is to not feed into it.  Try to take a step back and remember that they aren’t attacking you.  They are feeling scared and are trying to regain control.  Trying to reassure them isn’t always going to help.  It can make it worse.  Give them a little space if possible.  There anxious moment will pass.  If they do apologize, try to be forgiving, but be honest about how they made you feel.  I realize how selfish my anxiety makes me at times.  That is why I continually work on it.  Hopefully your partner is aware of their anxiety and is working on it as well.  You may be tempted to call them crazy or irrational.  However, it isn’t helpful to throw their anxiety in their face.  Asking them in a sarcastic way if they took their medication that day because they are acting crazy or suggest they get on medication will only make their anxiety worse, not better.  Try to remember that they are suffering from something they can’t always control or even understand themselves.

If you date anyone who suffers from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder it is going to be frustrating at times.  If you are dating someone who isn’t taking care of themselves and doesn’t care about how they affect you, then you may want to rethink your decision to be in the relationship.  You can’t save them and you can’t make them be better out of your own sheer will power.  They need to take responsibility for themselves.  If they are trying to take care of themselves and apologize when they do mess up, please try to be patient with them.  Be supportive and try not to take some of their outbursts personally if possible.  It isn’t easy, but if you love the person, it will be worth the effort you put in.  Fighting anxiety isn’t easy and some days it isn’t even possible.  I’m very grateful to be with someone who goes through some of my ups and downs with me.  I know I frustrate him some days but he never throws my anxiety in my face.  I really appreciate that.  No one is perfect, but it easier to be with someone when you know they are trying.  If you have anxiety, try to continue to fight the battle against it.  It isn’t only hard on you, it’s also hard on others.  The more you can do to fight it, the better your relationships with others will be.

Here are a few quick tips to help you reduce anxiety.  The first thing is to distract yourself if possible.  This helps to get your mind off of what you are worried about.  Also, take deep breaths.  You need the extra oxygen because your muscles tense up and suck a lot of energy from your brain.  Shake out your hands, and if you can, take a brisk walk or jump up and down to release some of that tension that is built up.  If you are suffering from extreme anxiety, I suggest seeing a counselor who can help you first.  If you still can’t get it under control then I suggest seeing a doctor for medication as a last resort.  Anti-anxiety medication like Zoloft, Paxil or Lexipro is not habit forming and some people are only on it temporarily to get their symptoms under control.  They then learn how to control it better through cognitive behavior techniques and are able to live medication free.  If you suffer from extreme panic attacks or obsessive compulsive disorder, medication may be life long to keep symptoms under control.  For more information please see the website below.

Anxiety Disorders Association of America

A Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

Many people I talk to tell me they have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.  On one hand it keeps them connected to people who they may not be able to see or talk to anymore, but it also allows nosy, semi-stalker type people to creep on their page.  They may get to hear many compliments about pictures and status updates, but also get slammed from the haters who are jealous.  They can proclaim their relationship status to the masses, but they can also see pictures of people who seem to be leading more exciting lives.  It can bring you up and it can bring you down.  Build up your self-esteem one day and body slam it to the ground the next.

It is hard to be confident in a world where you can constantly compare yourself to so many others.  The internet has opened up the world.  On one hand, this is a great thing.  On the other hand, it seems to be leading many people to have doubts about their happiness.  I’m reading several literary classics this year.  I’m currently reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens.  Little Pip is being brought up by his sister and brother-in-law.  It is not a great life, but Pip doesn’t know any different.  One day he is asked to go visit with an older lady who is a recluse.  Pip meets this girl, Estella.  Estella has been brought up to think she is better than other people and is very privileged.  She tells Pip that he is common and he immediately feels inadequate.  Estella is very pretty and he is hurt that she doesn’t like him.  For the first time in his life he feels ashamed of where he comes from.  He then starts to have great expectations for his life.  He wants to learn to read and write.  He aspires to become a gentleman.  He no longer wants to work in the forge as a blacksmith with his brother-in-law, who by far is the nicest person Pip has ever met.  This is now too far beneath his expectations.  Pip goes on to come into mystery money from a benefactor unknown.  He is able to be tutored and can afford luxuries.  He continues to be ashamed of his family and no longer sees them.  He also continues to aspire to win over the beautiful Estella, who has never approved or liked him.  I won’t ruin the end of the story if you haven’t ever read this book, but it is interesting to me that Pip isn’t happy even after he starts to rise to his expectations.  He continues to feel discontent and doesn’t understand why he feels this way when it seems he is getting what he has always wanted.

Why is it so hard to be content?  You could be happy in your life only to go on Facebook and see something that a friend of a friend has in their life.  All of the sudden you feel less than adequate, even though you don’t even know this person.   Maybe you feel like you have to lose weight to look like someone else.  Or have more money to have something that someone else has.  You may love your job but now see that someone else is more successful and you wonder if you’ve made the right choice.  Some of my students go on Facebook to brag about their great weekend or to show off how hot their boyfriend or girlfriend is, only to be disappointed once they see what other people are doing.  They all agree that is it is great to be able to keep up with people from high school and meet new people they may not have been able to meet otherwise.  However, there is a big downside to being able to be connected to so many people.  To open up your world to so many possibilities.  It causes people to doubt themselves and their choices.  They may feel happy until they creep on their ex-boyfriend or girlfriend’s page and see how well they are doing.  All of the sudden jealousy and discontent floods in.

So why do people  torture themselves so much?  Because there are perks too.  Again, social media and technology isn’t all bad.  Its great to get so many birthday messages.  It makes us feel more important than we really are sometimes.  It is great to get a compliment on a picture or have so many people “like” something you said in your status update.  It is a way to stay connected to those you love and miss.  In order to get the good, you have to accept the bad.

It is possible to minimize the bad.  If you feel like you have more bad experiences than good on Facebook, I suggest that you limit your time spent logged in.  Do you really need to look at all 200 pictures that were posted from a party you didn’t attend last weekend or click on a link on friend of a friend’s page that you don’t even know?  I also encourage students to weed out their friend list.  If you don’t know someone, delete them from your friend list.  They may not even notice you’re gone if they have 973 friends.  Block your ex’s from being able to creep on your page and leave nasty messages.  Also erase ex’s from your friend list so you won’t be tempted to write things on their wall unexpectedly in a weak moment.  Don’t be so quick to un-tag or delete pictures of people you may be mad at.  Wait it out, if the fight doesn’t blow over in a couple of weeks, then take down those pictures or delete them from your friends list.  Sometimes people work things out and it is annoying to delete and add things all the time to your page based on your fluctuating feelings.

The hate part of Facebook can make life hard even if you have minimized a lot of the bad things.  If social media continues to bring you down and ruin your self-esteem, consider staying off of Facebook for a while or deleting your profile all together.  You want to put as many positive things in your life as possible to help your self-confidence flourish.  If Facebook is a negative influence and is causing you to have unrealistic expectations of yourself, consider finding other ways to spend your time that help you feel good about yourself.  Don’t play the comparing game.  We are all different, with different abilities.  It is okay to be you, no matter what other people think or say.  It may be easier to believe that when you don’t have negative comments or so many other people to look at in comparison.  You need to decide what is best for you, and social media is not always the best thing for everyone these days.

A Man’s Brain is Like a Waffle…

…and a woman’s brain is like a bowl of spaghetti noodles without butter.  I talked a little last week about how men and women think differently.  There is a biological reason for that.  An analogy would be to look at men’s brains as if they were a waffle.  Women’s brains would resemble a bowl of spaghetti noodles.  This is why…

Men can compartmentalize a lot easier than women.  They seem to have little walls around emotions they feel and events that happen to them, like a waffle has compartments.  This is why men let go of things a little easier than women do.  They just jump out of one square and into another one.  The walls help them block out thoughts and emotions about one event so they can focus on something else.  This is also why men have a harder time multi-tasking than women do.  If a guy gets into an argument before they go to class, they can move past it to focus on their class and other tasks they need to accomplish that day.  When he sees his girlfriend later he may have forgotten the details of the argument because he jumped out of that box and has moved in several other directions since then.  This can frustrate his girlfriend who can remember every detail of the argument and thinks he doesn’t care.  This isn’t always true.  Guys do have good memories, but they don’t relate everything in their minds like women do.

Women relate everything easier than men.  Their brain is similiar to picking up a wet sticky noodle out of a bowl.  When you pick one up, several others are also stuck to it.  Women can move from one thought or emotion to the next at a speed that usually confuses their boyfriends.  This is why women are also better at multi-tasking then men are.  They can focus on something else and still be thinking about a past event.  It isn’t that women are smarter, they just relate things back to a previous experience better.  Especially if it revolves around a relationship.  Women are more concerned with relationships and base a lot of their self-worth around how well their relationships are going.  If a woman gets into an argument with her boyfriend in the morning, it won’t matter what she does the rest of the day, she is going to be able to go right back to that argument like it never stopped happening.  This can frustrate her boyfriend who can’t quite remember all those details and wonders why she is bringing up something that isn’t relevant at this later point in the day or week.

When a woman starts bringing up the past in a discussion, this can also frustrate men.  A woman again relates everything in her mind to another point of reference.  So in a woman’s mind she is going in a direction that makes perfect sense.  However her boyfriend is thinking, “Okay, she started out in square 42, but then jumped to square 67, then she went back to square 31.  Crap, now where is she?  This isn’t making any sense!!!”  At that point he checks out of the discussion because he is frustrated, not because he doesn’t care.  His girlfriend may not realize this and the argument may escalate.

It is so important to understand the differences between men and women.  It is also important to remember that women process their feelings by talking through a problem.  Men normally think through a problem before they discuss it.  So when a guy’s girlfriend starts venting about a problem, he wants to help her fix it.  He believes she has already thought through it and needs his help to solve it.  This isn’t necessarily true.  She may just need to vent to be able to come to her own conclusion.  Sometimes, just listening to a woman process her feelings is actually helping.  Women also need to remember that their boyfriends do mean well and only want to help.  They aren’t offering solutions because they think their girlfriend is incompetant, they just think she’s asking for help.  A woman needs to be clear if she wants her boyfriend to just listen because he doesn’t have that instinct like her female friend’s do.

When it comes to sex this same analogy applies.  Men are better at just jumping into the sex box, and whatever just happened a few minutes or hours before can be blocked out easily.  This isn’t true for women.  Their sex noodle can be at the bottom of the bowl.  It is hard for them to forget the other things that are attached in their brain and just focus on having sex.  If their emotions are hurt it is harder for them to tune that out and bring out sexual emotions.  Men have an easier time blocking out emotions and just feel sexually turned on physically.  This isn’t to say that men will always want to have sex if their emotions are hurt.  They may not be able to perform if ongoing troubles have been occuring in the relationship.  However, it is easier for them to biologically turn on one emotion and block out others they don’t need at the time.  For women, this is possible, but a lot harder to accomplish.  Just like it is harder for men to focus and follow a woman when she jumps from topic to topic in a discussion.  It can be done, but it takes a lot more effort.

If you can remember the differences in the ways women and men think, it can help you communicate and relate better in your relationship.  A lot of times people feel frustrated because they think their boyfriend or girlfriend is doing something to them on purpose.  That isn’t always the case.  Sometimes we forget how different we are and we expect the other person to always think and feel they way we do.  That isn’t realistic.  Men aren’t better than women and women aren’t better than men.  We are just different.