Do You Know The Rules?
Maybe You Need To Get Out Of Your Own Way?
Warren Buffett once said that most people could be as successful as he is. Some will, but others won’t because they get in their own way. Dr.Mark Goulston, a Los Angeles, California, psychiatrist, believes she’s right.
A business advisor, consultant, trainer and coach, his book, Get Out of Your Own Way, has helped people get over a number of self-defeating behaviors, including those used by spouses to sabotage their marriages. “Self-defeating behavior is the single most common reason that people seek psychotherapy,” Goulston said. “It is a poison that prevents people from achieving the love, success, and happiness they desire.” The book explains the reasons for the behavior, going back to childhood to examine what started it.
Goulston said he was moved to write the book after appearing on a series of television shows, including CNN, MSNBC, Oprah and Today as well as being a source for stories in Time, Newsweek, The New York Times and Cosmopolitan. “After my agent and editor reviewed my appearances they asked me, ‘Mark, can you write about why so many smart people live lives that are much less happy and successful than they are capable of having. I don’t know whether they came up with the title or I did, but it seemed that the main reason why people don’t have the life they are capable of is because they get in their own way,” Goulston said.
Recently, Wevorce asked him a few questions about relationships, and he had much insight to share. Read on for our Q and A with Goulston.
Q: There’s so much information in this book. How does someone who is getting divorced use it to their best advantage?
A: It’s a very easy read. A radio host once compared the book to eating pistachio nuts, that once you start you can’t stop” so you might just want to read it from cover to cover. It shouldn’t take more than 90 minutes. As you do it, dog ear the chapters that you think apply to you. After that, select several three close friends or family who care about you, root for you, but will be candid with you if you ask.
Tell these people that you are trying to improve yourself and would like their input on what behaviors you do or fail to do that they think cost you happiness and success and also trust, confidence and respect from others including them. Show them the ones you selected, but invite them to select others from the table of contents of the book or ones that aren’t in the book.
Ask them which of the self-defeating behaviors if corrected would most quickly regain trust, confidence, and respect from them and others. Only focus on two behaviors at a time, because in all likelihood if you choose more, you won’t change any of them. Whatever they say, DO NOT become defensive or get into an argument. That will only show them that you don’t want to change and don’t want their input.
Q: What is self-defeating behavior and how does it affect our love relationships?
A: Self-defeating behaviors are usually coping behaviors that make us feel better for the moment (for example, procrastination), but then mess up our future and mess up how others see us. If you minimize the negative effect is has on your relationships when you procrastinate, get angry and make things worse, make excuses, feel sorry for yourself or any of the 40 ones in the book, you are only fooling yourself. Probably the main way that self-defeating behavior affects love relationships is that they cause the other person to feel they can’t depend on you, believe you and that causes them to eventually lose respect for you.
Over time, one of the most insidious causes of falling out of love is that you no longer respect the other person or feel respected by them or feel respect for yourself for putting up with them.
Wevorce.com: How do we get past self- defeating behavior to make our relationships work?
A: The best way is to make each other a sponsor for overcoming what amounts to an addiction to self-defeating behaviors. Furthermore, put in writing what you are committing to do and when you will check in with each other on it (don’t bring it up every day). When you do bring it up to each other ask: Have you noticed whether or not I have been doing ‘x’ behavior that I committed myself to doing? What refinements can you give me to do even better at it? Then thank them and make the changes they suggested. It usually takes about a month for a change in behavior to become internalized as a habit, so after that, repeat the process with additional behaviors.
Q: You talk about chasing after the love and approval of our parents. How does that affect our love relationships and what can we do to change this?
A: Here is one of the avoidable tragedies in life and love. When we didn’t get something we needed from a parent, such as acceptance from a critical parent or warmth from a distant parent or encouragement from a discouraging parent, it creates a gap in our mind and personality that aches to be filled. So we unconsciously have a tendency to become involved with someone who may be positive in the beginning of a relationship, but turns out to be very much like that negative parent and we then continue to look for love in all the wrong places.
Alternatively, if we were coddled, spoiled, doted on and enabled to not develop ourselves by an overprotective, non-limit setting parent who died, or just got older and couldn’t do it anymore, we often seek a partner who will do the same. That can lead to our acting entitled to more than we deserve and lead to the other person waking up some day and feeling ripped off. The way to change this or prevent it from happening is first to become aware that these powerful forces are at work; second realize that if we keep acting them out as described above, our relationships are doomed; and finally when we are in a relationship, make sure we share common values and goals that are more important to each partner than getting their way.
A friend of mine on his third marriage (and finally the one that is the charm), established ground rules with his current spouse for disagreements. This included never berating the person, never resorting to lambasting or sullen withdrawal, never saying “You’re an ‘X’ rather than When you do ‘X’, I felt ‘Y’,” never blaming the person instead of focusing on behavior and then solutions.
Wevorce.com: There are people who continually get involved with the wrong people. How do they change it to find a relationship that’s healthy for them?
A: In terms of how to find a relationship that’s healthy for them, stop and review relationships that haven’t worked out and answer these questions:
1. Why didn’t it work out?
2. What did they do or fail to do that I minimized, but that really mattered to me?
3. What did I do or fail to do that I also minimized, but that really mattered to them?
4. What did I learn is most important to me?
5. What will I do differently in my next relationship?
Other thoughts, Be yourself as soon as you can in a relationship and get your partner be themselves as soon as they can, because why would you want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t love you for you?”
Finally, one of the most brilliant approaches I have ever heard came from a 46-year-old woman who was determined to find a spouse with whom she could live happily ever after until death do they part. She sat down and listed all the characteristics of a man she would want to spend her life with. This isn’t exactly rocket science. They included:
- sense of humor
- take life but not himself too seriously
- be emotionally present
- have a loving relationship with parents
- be a good listener
- have a thick skin but a warm heart.
She then kept those traits close to the top of her mind so she would recognize such a guy, if she met him. Now comes the brilliant part. She then made a list of all the traits that such a man would want in a woman to spend his life with. She figured it would make no sense if she got a great catch, if she were the lemon. In that list, she included being gracious, not being petty, not being overly vain, not gossiping, not being overly sensitive — all of which she did, knew she did, but had never been motivated to change them.
With the clarity of these lists, she became motivated to make those changes, one at a time. As you can probably guess, she developed more self-esteem by the process and became more attractive to men. And the result? She’s been happily married for seven years to Mister Right.
Q: How does the quote — “No dying man ever wished he spent more time at the office” — apply to a love relationship?
A: The more preoccupied you are with your career the less room in your mind or your heart to be occupied with anything or anyone else. One of my Usable Insights from the book is: Everything and everyone in your life competes for time, not importance.
What this means is that in a well-lived life everything you do (including taking time for yourself) should be important. The key to treating them as important is to be fully present in each activity and with each person in your life, rather than dragging work into your relationship or vice versa and shortchanging everyone, including yourself. It seems common complaint among women, in particular, to say yes when they want to say no. How can this affect a love relationship and what can you do to change this behavior? Earning respect often starts with the word “no.”
When you say yes when you don’t want to, you’re sacrificing respect in order to be liked and you won’t be either. We respect people who stand for something and demonstrate it by standing up for it and standing up against people who violate it.
Another important reason to not say yes when you want to say no is that you will unconsciously expect them to be appreciative and when they aren’t or worse yet, see your answer as a reason to ask for more, you will become resentful.
Q Some people always want to be right. How can this hurt a relationship and what can you do to avoid this self-defeating behavior? If you resent people when they want/have to be right, then how can you expect people not to resent you if you act that way?
A: One main reason a person will go along with their partner having to be right, is because they are so dependent and so afraid of not being taken care of by that partner. But as previously mentioned, if you put up with something the other wouldn’t, you run the risk of their losing respect for you and treating you even more poorly.
Q: Some partners always focus on what their other partner is doing wrong. How do you fix this common problem?
A: You have control over what and how you say something; you don’t have control over how it is heard. If your intention is to help the other person, but they feel lectured and put down and you don’t like the way that feels when it is done to you, you need to go from talking at them to talking to and with them.
Keep in mind that unless someone asks for advice, they usually don’t want it. The best way to give people input/advice is to use the process of Appreciative Inquiry. This is where when you want to give your partner advice, you ask their permission first (that’s the appreciative part) by saying: There’s something I want to tell you/give you a suggestion about/ask you. Are you willing to have me do that? And when would be a good time to do it? (This last question is the capper. Just that fact that you can show respectful restraint when you have an impulse to talk is incredibly disarming.)
If they reply with a no, respond with, “That’s okay. It will keep and if I forget it, then it wasn’t that important.” (Saying that will make them nuts and curious to find out now.)
Then when you speak to them, focus on a specific observable behavior or lack of one by them, how it makes you feel, and what you’d like them to do differently in the future and finish with, Do you think that would be possible? If they say, No to that, don’t respond huffily. Instead respond calmly with, What would be possible for you to do? Don’t attack them as a person, belabor how you feel, or leave them hanging out there without a replacement behavior.
Wevorce.com: If a partner continually breaks promises over and over, is there anything you can do?
A: As a general rule, actions do not respond to words, they respond to counteractions. The key is to fit the counter action to their action.Don’t do something that’s over-the-top and something you will have to take back. Try saying this: I’ve noticed that you will sometimes (don’t say always or never ever) say things that I’m sure you intend on doing at the time you say them, but then you don’t do them.In the event that occurs for whatever reason with this promise, how do you want me to respond to you?'”They will probably be startled and say, Huh? or What? If they do, say, I mean do you want me to yell at you; tell you that you can still do it, but I’ll need it in the next 24 hours; or say, ‘It’s okay. Do the best you can.’ By the way, I don’t think I’ll be able to do the latter, because it will cause me to be too resentful.
Then whatever they say, repeat it back to them and respond to them the next time with what they told you to do.If they continue to break promises tell them you’d prefer them not to make promises, because it only sets you up to be disappointed and that will cause you to resent them and then either criticize or avoid them.
Q: With women, it’s a common complaint that they’re always taking care of everyone and over time, they become exhausted by it — particularly in a relationship. How do you change this behavior?
/strong>A: Part of that behavior is out of love, but an increasing part of it is not being able to leave anything to chance. That is because they have a fear that if left to chance, something bad will happen. Another reason is that as people become more used to clipped communication, text messaging, emailing, interpersonal communication skills have deteriorated. As a result for some people it is easier to just do it yourself than have to communicate it to someone else and then hear their excuse for not doing it. A final reason is that many people do not know how to be loved or even wanted, and instead settle for being needed, but then they end up feeling used.
To change it, become aware that the more you go from feeling needed to feeling used, the more hurt and then resentful you will become. There is also a general rule that the more you do for someone the less many people appreciate it and more they expect from you. What I advise is that you don’t keep score, but you always try to maintain reciprocity between you and the other person. So anytime they ask you to do something say in a very friendly, non-tit-for-tat way, Sure, oh and by the way there was something I’d been meaning to ask from you, but it slipped my mind. Could you do ‘Y’? (Pick something of equal effort on their part).”
Q: How can you get over your own self-pity and take charge of your relationship?
A: Self-pity is a guilt trip in feel-sorry-for-me clothing. Just as most children resent guilt trips, most adults resent it even more. What most people resent is that it feels manipulative and that you’re trying to get someone to do something for you without directly asking them. The way to test how manipulative you are being is if they respond with: “Gee, I’m sorry you feel that way” and then do nothing. The angrier you are, the more manipulative you are being.
To get out of that, think of what you want to ask people and pose it as a favor that you want to return. Say, I have a favor to ask you that you are free to do or not do, and it won’t change the way I feel about you. Since it is a favor, if you do it, please come up with something I can do for you in return.
Q: You have a chapter on the hard way not always being the right way. How does this relate to your love relationship?
A: When people are in the early part of their marriage, it often seems that you have to resolve things completely. Ironically that doesn’t happen that often and when it does, it seems two weeks later that it was not the issue you were fighting about.If your marriage survives the ups and downs and become a mature marriage, couples just resolving that they don’t want to be angry with the other is sufficient.
Also when I see couples who come in putting conditions on their relationship, i.e. I won’t do until and unless he/she does b” I have discovered that after that issue is resolved something else replaces it. What I tell them is that their issues are not the issue. The real issue is that they have somewhere during their marriage lost a loving (or even liking) feeling and don’t know how to get it back.They think that resolving issues will bring it back, but it usually doesn’t. I conclude that they have the power right now to act loving towards each other.And they don’t need to be a genius to describe what loving versus unloving behavior look like.
Furthermore, I tell them that it will be awkward because like many couples they have actually developed a marital shyness about being tender, because each is afraid of being rejected.This emotional shyness may explain why many married couples have sex but won’t kiss on the lips.
Q: Aren’t there people who just hold it all in and how can that affect their marriage?
A: Absolutely. So often people come in two varieties, the ones who verbally explode and then they’re over it in an hour and the ones who rarely explode, seethe and remain sullen or withdrawn for days.
As you can imagine these personality types (the explosive being more extroverted, and the implosive being more introverted) are like oil and water, but because they’re opposites they are often attracted to each other. Many first marriages are like this where each person rather than developing the positive attributes within themselves that the other has, take the lazy way out and try to have it in their life by osmosis, which usually doesn’t work.
If you are opposites like this and you want to make it work, you need to learn to face conflict head on vs. avoiding it. The key to that is checking in with each other once every week and answering the question, Are we on track in our relationship? And don’t accept a polite, Yes.
Instead ask the other what things you have done or failed to do that hurt them or disappointed or caused them to lose respect for you. Don’t become defensive, instead clarify what the specific behavior is so that you know exactly where you messed up. Then shift the focus from the problem to the solution and if they say indignantly, You should know what to do differently? respond with, Maybe so, but I can’t afford to guess and get it wrong. This last point is critical, because it then causes them to participate in the solution vs. throwing it all on you in a shameful, blameful and angering manner.
Q: What three tips can you give people who are struggling with their relationships to get what they want from love?
1. Before you start feeling like a victim (“How could they do such a thing to me?” or “They do that after all I’ve done for them!”,) think of three important things you are grateful to them for that they bring to your life.
2. Before you start acting blameful and self-righteous (they are such a jerk or b**ch”) reach for humility and think of three things that make you a piece of work to deal with (if you can’t think of them, you are probably a narcissist).
3. Give your partner a power thank you or a power apology as frequently and earnestly as you can.
Q: What are seven tips folks with struggling relationships need to pay attention to in your book?
1. When no one is attacking you, being defensive comes off as being offensive.
2. When you can’t say, No without fear or Yes without resentment, it’s time to say Stop!
3. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
4. Don’t try to change people, accept them as they are and hope they change, rather than not accepting them at all until they change.
5. Time doesn’t heal, truth heals.
6. Relationships end not because you stop loving each other, but because you can’t stop hating each other.
7. Love means ALWAYS having to show you’re sorry.
Get Out of Your Own Way can be found at Amazon.com or at bookstores everywhere.