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November 2014

Mailbag: GF Left, 5 Months Later She Wants to Come Back

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 10 Comments

The mailbag is a Q&A column based on the real emails you guys send me. If you have a question related to dating, relationships, or psychology, click here to send me your question and your email might be the next one chosen.

Good day to you..

I’m not sure if you are a question to answer responder but I am looking for others advice outside of my personal family and friends.

So the story goes…I started dating my girlfriend 5 years ago when she had a 5 month year old daughter(not biologically mine). The first year or two I was always with them but hesitant to take on that fatherly role.

Finally we bought a house together after 3 years. Everything was great except the house wasn’t what we dreamt of together. So we sold a year after and bought an even nicer place together.

We are now at 4 1/2 years into our relationship while “our” daughter is almost 5. Then she cuts it off like that!!! Ya we had our normal relationship arguments, ups and downs, but nothing drastic. What we were the best at is we never held a fight for more than a few hours. We each expressed our points, stormed off, but always made up shortly after.

She left me and two days later I hear she’s with another man. So throughout the breakup I was accused of so many misrepresentations of who I am, we had a terrible split, had to sell our house….and I was forced move on without them both.

Well I’m in a better place now, doing great for myself personally. And all of a sudden I get phone calls and text messages from her, 5 months later after the initial break up. She wants me back.

What nerve I say to myself, but she holds a huge part of my reconstructing heart.

Wtf do I do.

Shitty situation man.

She messed up here, didn’t she. She found a guy who was willing to step up and provide for her and her child, but bailed for greener pastures, only to discover they weren’t so green after all.

That’s not the biggest issue though. If she was with another guy two days after she left, there was a relationship going on with him while she was still with you.

If the story is as simple as you say it is, she has no business coming back. She cheated on you, then left you high and dry, and is coming back to you now that things didn’t work out. Fuuuuuck that.

Like you said, you’re doing fine on your own, so keep on doing fine. Find yourself someone who isn’t going to bail on you after you not only take in her child but also put up the cash for two different houses.

What are your thoughts – do you agree? Or am I being too harsh… should he give her another shot? Comment below.

Is Monogamy Natural?

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | No Comments

Every time there’s a debate about whether or not monogamy is natural, some genius brings up the fact that only a handful of animals are truly monogamous.

If only 3-5% of mammals are monogamous, and even those aren’t usually monogamous for life, surely traditional marriage is an unnatural way of doing things?

In no other situation do people turn to animals for answers about what we should be doing. Why is this suddenly overlooked when it comes to sex and relationships?

Is greeting someone in your territory natural? Well, 95% of species bite people to death. Maybe give that a shot? Or wait, I know! Instead of saying hello, let’s copy bonobos and greet people by having sex for a few seconds instead.

If you define natural as existing in nature, then yes, monogamy is natural. But I think most people want to know whether or not monogamy is natural *for humans*. Without the influence of media, society, and so on, what form of marriage is the default for human societies?

So… let’s take a look at some research on non-industrialized indigenous societies. In the most isolated cultures of the world, what form of marriage most commonly occurs?

Thankfully, I didn’t have to do this research myself. A total boss of a scientist named George Murdock assembled a list of over 1,000 societies and organized data based on a variety of factors, including the type of marriage structure most common in that society. He did so much work that it took more than a decade to publish all of his findings.

I’ll spare you the work of sifting through all of his research, and summarize things here.

Form of Marriage:

Monogamy: 24.55%
Polyandry (multiple men per marriage): 0.007% (lol sorry ladies)
Limited Polygyny (some members of the society practice it): 33.55%
General Polygyny (almost all members of the society practice it): 42%

Polygyny certainly seems to be the default way of going about it. You could argue that this means polygyny is the natural form of marriage for humans, but I’d take it a bit further.

Polygyny is the “natural” form of marriage for humans in a “natural” tribal society. If you’re reading this, you live in a society that is far from natural. We don’t live in small huts and small groups, we live in giant sprawling urban centres with millions of people. We don’t use spears and hunt for our food, we use agriculture and go to the supermarket.

I’d call this evolution natural. I’d also call the change in our social customs natural as well – there are inherent problems with polygyny that prevent societies adhering to it from progressing. We use monogamy out of utility.

Are there problems with monogamy? Absolutely! Are there problems with primates living in huge cities, living sedentary lifestyles, eating foods high in calories, sugar, and fat? Yes – but it’s the best thing we’ve come up with, and (most) people aren’t running for the hills, are they?

Why None of This Actually Matters

Look, if you’re just curious about this and enjoy educating yourself, cool. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to lead a monogamous lifestyle, I think you’re going about it the wrong way.

Who cares about what’s natural, or if there even is something that’s natural. The kind of marital lifestyle you want to lead is up to one person – you. If you want to give your all to one person, awesome. If you want a harem of a dozen women (or men), go for it.

As long as you’re not hurting anyone, do whatever it is that makes you happy.

Does Cheating Mean They Don’t Love You?

By | Blog, Psychology & Relationships | 7 Comments

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen people say stuff like “If you really love someone, you won’t cheat on them.”

The problem with this perspective is you’re basically saying that actions reflect what a person truly believes. If you care about someone, you don’t hurt them, and since cheating is hurtful, you can’t cheat on someone if you truly care about them.

Any time you try to explain someone’s behaviour without taking environmental factors into account, you commit what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error (FAE). Contrary to popular belief, environmental pressures play as large a role in determining behaviour as a person’s character. What does this mean, exactly?

Consider the amount of people who would kill another person just because they’ve been asked to as part of a psychological experiment. Prior to studying psychology, I would’ve said zero or close to zero. Maybe a few psychopaths or murderers if one just so happened to be asked. Would it shock you to hear the number is above 60%?

Obviously no one was actually killed in the experiment, but the people who were part of the experiment didn’t know that. They were asked by a scientist to apply shocks to a student for every wrong answer the student provided, with each wrong answer providing a larger shock. Eventually the student stopped responding, at which point people expressed concern. The scientist simply said they had to continue, and 65% of people did.

This experiment has been repeated around the world, and across several decades. The results are consistently between 60-65%. Does this mean 60-65% of the human population are horrible, murderous savages?

Of course not!

The experiment I described is just one of many, many examples of how people can behave in radically different ways when exposed to environmental pressures. In the case of cheating, environmental factors could be drinking or drugs, locations like bars, night clubs, or strip clubs, certain types of people, different forms of stress, and so on. There are dozens of factors at work.

Take a guy who’s in love with his wife but is under a ton of stress from work, goes out with some office guys he’s not really close with, has a few too many drinks, gets caught up in the moment and does some coke. Starts dancing with a girl and makes out with her. They go to the bathroom to do another line and stuff happens.

This is a real life scenario I encountered during a couples session. Were these bad decisions? Yup. Was it wrong? Absolutely. Were there multiple points at which this could’ve been avoided? You bet.

But none of this means he doesn’t love his wife.

Despite the evidence, his wife initially disagreed that environmental pressures are a valid reason for doing stupid things. There’s a very good reason for this denial – it can be terrifying to accept that people you trust can act in horrible ways.

This extends beyond cheating and infidelity, and into all areas of life. Accepting that good people can do bad things is scary. Accepting that you can do bad things is really uncomfortable as well. Try to imagine yourself cheating. Tough right?

Every person I’ve met who has cheated is ashamed to some degree, and I often hear things like “I can’t believe I did that.” So are we all screwed then? Is environmental pressure like a black hole for morals?

No, definitely not.

Although 65% of people “killed” the student in the experiment, 35% of people didn’t. That being said, it’s a lot better if you don’t have to fight an uphill battle. The strategy I recommend is avoiding the pressure in the first place. If you’re married, maybe getting bombed with the boys at Club BJ isn’t the best idea. Get what I’m sayin?

I know it’s tough to accept, but you can cheat on someone and still love them very much. The couple I worked with did end up working things out. In fact, over the last 5 years only two couples I’ve worked with have divorced.

If you’re going through infidelity, it IS a real possibility that your partner doesn’t love you. But don’t be too afraid to accept that just maybe, they do.

Stop Arguing in a Relationship

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If there’s too much arguing in a relationship, eventually it breaks things down and you don’t even want to try anymore. I always have hope for the couples I see who are still fighting; it’s the ones who are apathetic that worry me.

To stop the arguing in your relationship before you cross the point of no return, here’s a list of the top ten best pieces of advice I’ve come across in the last five years of couples counselling.

1) Argue with the Right Frame of Mind

For most people, the purpose of arguing in a relationship is to expose your partner’s mistakes, criticize, or to prove that you’re right. Stop for a minute and think about how your purpose affects your actions. When you initiate a conversation feeling like you’re right, how do you act?

Probably like a self-righteous dickwad. I dunno about you, but I’m not very receptive to people who come across that way. It’s a good idea to have positive goals for your argument, ones that produce mutually beneficial outcomes.

A few examples include arguing to explore a topic, to compromise and agree on an outcome, or to understand the other person’s point of view. Those goals put you in a positive frame of mind, you’ll be more receptive, understanding, and less focused on being right.

2) Remember These Two Factors

We form our perspective based on two things:

1) The need to be accurate
2) The need to protect our self-esteem

Generally, the second one trumps the first one.

Your resistance to an idea is directly related to how much that idea threatens your self-esteem. For many people, living a lie is easier than accepting an accurate truth that would force them to acknowledge their flaws. Be aware of how you present your views, and do your best to avoid threatening your partner’s self-esteem.

3) Arguing Isn’t About Playing Games

In a game, you’re pitted against an opponent with the goal of winning. It’s extremely difficult to be vulnerable with someone you consider an opponent, and without vulnerability there is no trust, and… you get the idea.

Every disagreement in your relationship involves both of you. If you think your partner isn’t owning up to their share of the blame, it creates a stand-off. Neither person wants to be the sole bearer of blame, so you end up focusing on what your partner did wrong instead of focusing on how to resolve the issue.

How do you stop it?

When your partner says “Hey, I fucked up, I’m sorry,” you don’t rub it in, gloat, or lecture them. You say “Yeah, me too”, and then have really good make up sex. When you trust each other enough to know that admitting fault results in positives instead of negatives, you eliminate the cause of game playing.

4) Actually Listen

You know you’re listening when you’re carefully considering what’s being said. The big red flag to watch for is the urge to interrupt – if you feel the urge to interrupt you’ve stopped listening and are only waiting for your chance to speak.

If you’re not actively listening and thinking, you’re missing out on chances to find common ground and understand your partner’s perspective.

5) Everybody Has Unique Communication Styles

Most therapist advice seems very therapist-y. When I read relationship communication advice it usually clashes with what I actually see happening in relationship counselling sessions.

A book or advice column might tell you to say something like:

“Honey, I love how hard you work. I know you’re tired when you come home, but you know I’m tired too and it would mean a lot to me if you would help around the house.”

No one talks like that, especially when they’re mad. If they try to it slips into game playing and they do it in a restrained, passive-aggressive way. What they’re really saying is “I’m doing this bullshit our therapist suggested, so get the fuck up and help me clean.”

In my opinion, the most effective communication is honest communication. The honest truth is you’re mad, but also in love – so communicate that. What that looks like will be different for everyone.

I personally prefer something in between, like “Hey, you want dinner tonight? Then get your ass off the couch and come help me with the dishes… you sexy thing.”

6) Arguing Isn’t About the Other Person

Nothing is more frustrating than someone else telling you what you feel, what you think, or what you did. This is the emotional equivalent of someone taking your arm and smacking you with it, then telling you to stop hitting yourself.

Stick to what you know, and phrase things in the first person. Talk about how you felt and what you did or didn’t like, but stick to your own thoughts and feelings.

7) Recognize that Reality is Subjective

There are usually multiple legitimate perspectives on any given situation, and all can be “right”. Don’t focus on explaining why your perspective makes sense – look for common ground between your two perspectives and go from there.

I like to tell couples there’s more than one way to read a text, as demonstrated hilariously by Key and Peele:

(One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. NSFW language)

8) Forget About Convincing, Start Solving

Instead of trying to decide who’s right, figure out a way you can both agree. This basically means complaining instead of criticizing (yes, complaining can be good).

Most people have a tendency to take what they didn’t like about an action or event, and phrase it as a personal attack against their partner. Instead of saying “You’re so cold lately” (insult, criticism) say “I didn’t get a kiss when I came home” (feedback, complaint).

9) Don’t Forget the Love Beneath the Anger

Sometimes arguing can be draining on your relationship. You yell, say stuff you don’t mean, call each other names. One of the most important skills of successful couples is the ability to kiss through the anger.

It’s being able to let loose on each other, and understand it was just venting frustration and it got out of control. You say sorry for getting out of control, and acknowledge that this is something that needs to be resolved. Either let it go (and only say it if you really can let it go) or agree to deal with it another time.

This is basically the process behind never going to bed angry, which is another really good idea.

10) Avoid Blanket Statements to Stop Arguing in a Relationship

Avoid saying “never”, “always”, and so on. Instead of “You’re never there for me!”, try saying “I know it might not be this way, but it feels like you aren’t ever there when I need you to be.”

Do you have tips for putting an end to relationship arguments? Leave them in the comments below!

And remember, if you’re arguing with your partner and the relationship is in trouble, you can work with me to make things better again.