Ilona L. Tobin, Ed.D.

Licensed Psychologist

Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Boundaries, those invisible lines of protection you draw around yourself, let people know your limits on what they can say or do around you.

When personal boundaries are too weak, too soft, you’ll allow others’ actions to harm you. When they’re too solid, you’ll build walls. But boundaries that are just right make for good relationships.

The problem is, it’s not always clear where our boundaries are or need to be. It’s helpful to start by learning to recognize the signs of ignored or ineffective boundaries, as these “symptoms” give clues to the needed boundary. See if any of the following ring true for you.

Aloofness and distance. When you are fearful of opening your space to others, or when you build walls to insure that others don’t invade your emotional or physical space, this may be a defense against cruel behavior, abuse or neglect that you allowed to happen. A person with healthy boundaries draws a line over which they will not allow anyone to cross because of the negative impact of its being crossed. They recognize their right to say, “No!”

Chip on the shoulder. This kind of attitude declares, “I dare you to come too close!” and is often the result of anger over a past disregard of your physical or emotional space by others. Healthy boundaries mean you are able to speak up when your space has been violated, leaving you free to trust that you can assertively protect yourself to ensure you are not hurt.

Over-enmeshment. In this game, the rule is that everyone must do everything together, and must think, feel and act in the same way, without deviation from group norms. Healthy boundaries acknowledge that you have the right to explore your own interests, hobbies and outlets.

Invisibility. The goal here is not to be seen or heard so that your boundaries are not violated. Healthy boundaries are in effect when you stand up for yourself. Others can learn to respect your rights, needs and personal space.

Disassociation. If you “blank out” during stressful emotional events, it results in you being out of touch with your feelings and unable to assert your limits. Healthy boundaries allow you to assertively protect yourself from further hurt and to choose to end relationships with those who will not respect them. With healthy boundaries, you can begin to feel your feelings again.

Smothering and lack of privacy. When another is overly concerned about your needs and interests, or when nothing you think, feel or do is your own business, it can be intrusive into your emotional and physical space, leaving you feeling overwhelmed or like you are being strangled. Healthy boundaries ask that others respect your uniqueness, your choices, your autonomy.

Here are some strategies for applying limits when your boundaries are intruded upon:

  • Calm yourself and take deep breaths.
  • Remember your right to set limits.
  • In a firm and composed manner, tell the other person how you feel.
  • Communicate clearly what your limits are, especially when you are extending a new boundary.
  • Ask the other person to respect your boundaries.
  • Make decisions about the relationship according to how the other person responds to your requests

“I love you. You…you complete me.” From the film Jerry Maguire.

Whether this quote melts your heart at the thought of such commitment or makes you cringe at the idea of a power imbalance, the fact is, we all relate to people in different ways.

Most people would say they want (or have) a balanced relationship with their significant other. But what does a balanced relationship look like and how do you maintain it?

First, people tend to relate to one another in one of three ways: Dependently (or codependently), Independently and Interdependently.

Dependent/codependent: In these relationships one person sets aside his or her personal welfare to maintain the relationship. This dynamic implies that the codependent person in the relationship can’t survive independently of the other person.

Independent: In this configuration, the couple lives mostly separate lives. For example, they have different friends, are rarely together and make decisions autonomously. They may live separately as well and they are fine with that arrangement.

Interdependent: In this type of relationship, two people are intimate with one another but don’t compromise or sacrifice themselves or their values. This dynamic is about collaboration and cooperation. Each person is self-reliant (physically, emotionally, financially, etc.) and, simultaneously, responsible to the other.
While it’s possible to find happiness, at least temporarily, in all three types of relationships, the Interdependent relationship is generally considered the model for a balanced relationship.
What do you do if you don’t consider your relationship to be balanced? Take heart. With a little information and effort it’s possible to attain a balanced relationship. Try starting with this approach:

1. Find Inner Balance by:

  • Focusing on what you can control (your thoughts, feelings and actions) not what you can’t (others’ thoughts, feelings and actions).
  • Noticing how you feel and, as clearly as you can, communicating those feelings.
  • Recognizing and owning your issues, which will help you recognize your partner’s as well. You can be empathic and supportive without having to “fix” everything.

2. Create and Maintain a Balanced Relationship by:

  • Staying present and empathic even when your partner is upset.
  • Stepping back from conflicts to avoid escalation, assess the problem and make positive changes.
  • Reframing the actions/reactions of your partner. For example, seeing a loved one as anxious and fearful, instead of cruel and controlling, paves the way for a more sympathetic, less confrontational approach.
  • Being a good listener and focusing on the only person you can change—yourself.

Keep in mind that balance, like a relationship, is dynamic not static. It’s impossible to keep balance 100% of the time in every situation. Even a balanced relationship can, at times, feel like more work than play.

Remember, sometimes the focus will be more on you, other times more on your partner, and still other times when what’s best for “us” needs the focus rather than either individual.

Like a wave, there is an ebb and flow to relationships. But once we are aware of what balanced relationships look like we can better manage that dynamic.

“To love is to stop comparing.”

—Bernard Grasset

Comparing ourselves and our loved ones to others seems to be ingrained into us. We notice similarities and differences. It’s one way we learn to navigate our world.

The trouble comes when we notice differences and then use that information to feel “less than.” For instance, rather than noticing someone’s success and letting that inspire us to take the risk we’ve been wanting to take, instead we may despair, believing that we could never have that kind of success ourselves.
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From the second they arrive on the planet, just inches long and utterly dependent, our children occupy a place in our hearts deeper than most any other relationship.

We nurture, guide, feed and protect them for years. The relationship brings us a complex mixture of joy, frustration, sadness, delight, anger, pride and love. Our children occupy our focus like nothing else, as they grow taller and more independent with every year. And then they go away.

Of course, we knew that from the beginning. And that’s been the goal all along.
But that doesn’t make an empty nest any easier when it finally comes.
Fortunately, an empty nest is also the beginning of another era for parents, one that can be equally fulfilling.
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DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link Spring 2009

Managing Financial Anxiety Managing Financial Anxiety

Sarah is a self-employed hair stylist who’s watched her business decrease by 50 percent. She’s cut expenses, but is stuck in a costly lease she can’t afford. She’s also worried about losing her home, and says her anxiety is “through the roof.”

Frank and Marilyn have well-paid jobs, and she believes that they will weather the economic downturn. However, Frank is so afraid that one of them will lose their job that he has stopped paying anything but basic bills and recently yelled at Marilyn for going to the dentist.
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DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE AND MORE AS A PDF FILE by clicking this link: Thriving: A journal of wellbeing – WINTER 2008

Changing Relationships: Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents

With people living longer than ever before, more and more individuals find themselves sandwiched between caring for their children and caring for their aging parents.

Coping with our fast-paced, always-connected world is stressful enough, but when you add double or
triple the family responsibilities, well, it quickly gets overwhelming.

You’re probably losing time and energy worrying about things that aren’t getting done or things you have
to do next. You may not realize just how much physical and mental stress you are under, or how much that has been sapping your effectiveness at work and at home. Guilt may be a constant companion. While you take care of your parents, you may feel that you’re not doing enough for your children, and vice versa.

You may experience feelings of grief and loss, as you see your parents changing and the roles of your family
shifting. You may also feel fearful and anxious about your parent’s mortality, and that gets you thinking about your own.

With all of the extra time you need to take care of others, there is less time—if any—to spend on yourself
and the things that recharge you.

Here are five ways to take care of yourself while taking care of your
aging parents.
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Love is friendship that has caught fire.  It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving.  It is loyalty through good and bad times.  It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.

Love is content with the present, it hopes for the future but doesn’t brood over the past.  It’s the day in, day out chronicle of irritations, problems, compromises, small and large disappointments, big victories and working toward common goals.

If you have love in your life, it can make up for a great many things you lack.  If you don’t have it, no matter what else there is, it not enough.