Keeping Problems Where They Belong: How To Work On Your Relationship On Your Own

I’m not going to make myself popular with this one. I’ll just dump it here and then explain why it is true.

Everyone is responsible for their own emotional response.

Imagine a situation in which you had a seriously negative emotion, because of what someone did or say to you. For example a conflict between you and your other half. Take it in, try to fully remember it and then read on.

First, let’s separate a few terms, so we’re all talking about the same things. I’m mainly talking about cause and about responsibility. A cause is anything that produces a result. A responsibility is something one has a burden of dealing with. Obviously, these are very different concepts, but we often confuse them in our relationships.

Let’s take an example. You accidentally drop a vase and it shatters upon impact. Your spouse calls you an idiot and accuses you of always breaking things. You get infuriated! They get infuriated! Fight!

Hit the gong!

So, you’re infuriated. Why the hell did they call you an idiot? You actually never drop stuff, it’s a fabricated lie! Last week, your spouse got tomato sauce all over your clothes and now they complain about you dropping a vase! Why do they try to make your life miserable? Now you feel awful and it’s their fault.

But that’s not entirely true

Let’s face it. At this moment, there are two events that caused the fight: you breaking the vase and your spouse calling you an idiot. But who is responsible for the way you are feeling and the fact that you want to make them understand your point of view?

You are!

You may not have caused how you are feeling, as in: the event producing your emotion may not have been in your hands. But it is your burden to deal with. As chief executive officer of your own mind, ultimately everything happening in there is your responsibility. Whether you caused the mess or not. Always you. You’re the boss. At least you should be.

This means you actively need to choose how you want to feel and how you want to respond.

Let’s turn it around and see what happens in many situations. Maybe even in most situations.Most people would make the other person responsible for their emotions. They caused it right? Now they can fix it! They need to apologize! They need to fix my pride and my bruised ego! The fixing is in their hands. The fixing is their responsibility.

The fixing is in their power

And as we place the responsibility of the fixing and the power of the fixing in their hands, we suddenly lose control. We freely hand over the control and say “You must fix, otherwise I will be staying mad” and POOF: We’re a victim. A victim of our own emotions, in the hands of someone else to fix.

It’s easy to be a victim

It takes quite some self-discipline to not be a victim. But realizing that your own emotional response is entirely your own can already be a solid first step in owning your emotions. Ultimately, if you always own your emotions, you’ll never get owned again. The real trick is seeing through that emotional blur, being able to rise above it and clearly seeing what is happening between you.

This goes much further than incidents

Very often, placing responsibility of your emotions at your other half is structural. I read so many stories on Reddit that resemble something of the following: “I don’t want my boyfriend to respond to any of his female friends instagram pictures”, or “I’ve told my girlfriend I don’t like her to go out alone when other guys are present, am I wrong?”. The underlying emotions here belong to the ones posting these messages.

But they’re not owning their own emotions

Instead, they refer the responsibility to their girlfriend/boyfriend. Easy peasy. Make it their problem to deal with. Make rules about how to interact with the other sex and then you can even get mad when they don’t follow these rules! And there will be a fight again, where both people are right. Indeed, one did not follow the agreed rules. But the other did not respect the others’ autonomy in the first place and has jealousy issues.

This is one of the main reasons why relationships get complicated

So should these people let their other half just go ahead? Well, yes! Of course it’s good to share how it makes you feel if they go out with others. That’s fine. But the decision of what to do with it should be theirs. The real issue: your own fear is yours to deal with. It’s your responsibility.

And that’s incredibly difficult

Making this shift really isn’t easy at all. Especially if you’re used to getting away with being a victim your entire life. It’s easier than being responsible, but it also leaves you powerless to deal with it healthily. But it starts with recognizing that all your emotions belong to you and that you own them. Not just today, but every day, until you die.

But what about extreme cases? What about when someone gets almost beaten to death and is severely traumatized?

It is true in these cases too. We’ll use the word victim differently here though. Here is a situation in which we ‘officially’ have a victim and a perpetrator. Here the victim cannot play the part of not being a victim. The cause of the trauma here is the behavior of the perpetrator. The victim experiences an overwhelming rollercoaster of emotions. But they are still their responsibility to deal with. They are still the ultimate boss of what happens in their mind, so they are still responsible of finding a way of dealing with it. The alternative is handing over ownership to the perpetrator, giving them even more power over the victim. The trauma can be better dealt with, if the victim chooses to be responsible for the emotions they are experiencing. It’s not fair that they have to. But the events have already happened and there is no better alternative

This can be hard to accept. That is why this is not a popular opinion.

But I think it’s the healthiest one.

If you feel like you’re in a situation where responsibilities of emotions are blurred, but you don’t know where to begin or what the underlying emotions are, send us an email. Maybe we can help make that first step and provide some insight in the emotions that play a role.

The Differences of Men and Women Explained by Evolution

Although men and women may appear to come from different planets, the causes of our differences are in the way we evolved. I dare to say that all behaviour in which women and men differ in general, is caused by the way we evolved. And every individual is the exception to this rule, if you know what I mean.

While reading this article, please keep in mind that this is a highly simplistic explanation, for the sake of understandability. There are many more factors in play and there are many more nuances.

How Does Evolution Work Again?

I’ll just put some basic assumptions here. I’m only talking about the general population here. There may be groups of people or individuals that do not confirm to these, but all the statements below apply to our general population. Please keep in mind the context in which we humans were evolving our physical properties: we were hunters and gatherers most of the time, living in small tribes with just basic tools.

The first principles are:

  1. You can only have offspring if you have sex
  2. You can only have sex if you’re alive

The way your body develops is ‘programmed’ by our genes. Each cell knows what to do because of this programming, which happens in our individual cells. This programming though, the way our genes work, has come into existence through uncountable iterations of the two principles above.

I’ll rewrite them in gene-terms:

  1. Genes that multiply, can multiply again.
  2. Dead genes do not multiply.

In most spiecies, having offspring involves a process in which the genes of two individuals are combined into a new unique combination of genes. These genes are then a new set of building blocks for this unique individual.

Genes can mutate though, which is nothing more than a random change in one or more of the genes. This can be caused by many things, but it is a part of our natural evolution process. If such a mutation increases the chances for the principles 1 and 2 above to succeed, the mutation may survive in our evolution.

For example: a mutation may cause you to grow an extra toe. This may or may not give you an advantage or a disadvantage. If it is an advantage, it may cause you to have more or healthier offspring. And since the mutation is part of your genes, your offspring may have this same mutation. With the same advantage. And they have advantage as well, causing them to have more or healthier offspring. It spreads through the population.

On the other hand, it may also be a disadvantage. Maybe the other sex is appalled by the extra toe. Or maybe it causes you to trip a lot more often, increasing the chance of injury. Chances for more or healthier offspring are lower than those with 5 toes per foot. This mutation may already die out in the first generation. If not, it probably won’t take many other generations.

So we’ll add a principle:

  1. You can only have offspring if you have sex
  2. You can only have sex if you’re alive
  3. Random mutations may increase or decrease chances of having offspring

Keep in mind, that the changes in an entire species, from one mutation to the next, involves many generations. We humans didn’t come to exist this one day emerging from monkeys. There were many ‘intermediate’ species, slowly going from primates to the humans we are today. We still share our vast majority of genes with the species we’ve evolved from. Because of this, this is also true for most of our hard-wired behaviour.

This also means that most of our primal emotions, are essentially not human. Feelings of territoriality, jealousy, anger, sadness, happyness and relaxation, being in love, all not human in origin. We humans are just generally a lot smarter than other species and we have hands, which are incredibly versatile tools in manipulating our environment.

This is a highly simplistic view on evolution, but within the context of this article, it should be enough.

Men and Women in Evolution

I’ll be blunt. Women have a womb. Men don’t. This has a vast array of implications. I’ll name the main ones:

  1. Women take a much higher risk in having children. Pregnancy and giving birth are serious threats to survivability.
  2. Women invest a lot of time, effort and resources in a single kid during pregnancy
  3. Women are sure a kid is theirs.
  4. Men only need to have sex to procreate and sperm costs nothing.
  5. Men can have multiple children with multiple women simultaneously.
  6. Both men and women can choose if they will invest time and resources in a kid after birth.

In short: physically, having kids is easy for men and very risky and time and resources consuming for women. This all causes some fundamental differences in the way men and women behave. I’ll name a few:

Do women like rich men?

Raising kids is hard. Women can use all the help they need, as it helps their offspring survive. If they have a man that will sustain them and provide resources and safety, their offspring has a much higher chance to create their own offspring. Because of this, reliable, loyal men with access to resources are important to women. On a subconscious level, they are attracted to this, as being attracted to these men increased chances for healthy offspring that survives. This is why it is often said women like rich men. This is also why men tend to show off their resources. They probably even crave to have resources, as men with this craving had better chances of more, healthy offspring. Why do men feel the need to have awesome cars? Precisely…

Men can never be sure

Men are never 100% sure a kid is theirs. Our babies even evolved to look like their fathers when they are just born. These babies had a higher chance to survive. But still, men are never 100% sure. If they start caring for children, they run the risk of investing a lot of time and resources in children that are not theirs. This is why men tend to react much stronger to sexual infidelity than women. Women tend to react stronger to emotional infidelity, as they have an in-built fear they may lose the resources and security if the man leaves.

That also means that in a relationship, men may not think of an emotional affair as a very alarming thing. But for their partner, it may be huge! The same goes the other way round: maybe a woman had sex with another man, without any emotional attachment. She may think it’s not that bad, but her man may explode from jealousy. This behaviour is all in our genes.

This all also means that men have a choice: provide quality care for a few kids? Or have many kids and hope they turn out allright, at least fit enough to create their own offspring and care for it? As women don’t have this choice while men do, this creates a very different way of thinking about sex.

The male focus on the female body

A healthy body is important for both men and women. It indicates good genes and access to resources. But because of the reasons above, women also put an emphasis on resources. Men have this a lot less and are much more focused on the healthy body of women. But there are trade-offs. Wide hips may be attractive to men, as it may indicate a sufficiently large birth-canal to give birth without complications. On the other hand, wider hips may also cause physical problems in other, more athletic areas. The same goes for breast size. Because of this, men tend to be focused more on the bodies of women than the other way round.

This also means that women tend to focus on their own body more than men. Securing loyal men with resources is serious business. If they are also handsome, that’s triple bonus. Women that make themselves look prettier tended to have an advantage during evolution because of this. This directly enhanced the chances of their offspring to be healthy, survive and have offspring of their own. So to feel this need to make yourself pretty, was an evolutionary advantage. And it still is to this day.

When to have sex?

There tends to be a big difference between men and women here. If men found a very attractive woman, they tend to want to have sex with them as soon as possible. This secures healthy offspring. Women on the other hand, tend to feel the need for a commitment first. If they are going to have that baby, this man better make sure he’s there to support them. Even with contraceptives readily available, this difference is hard-wired in our brain to such an extent, that it completely controls what we want and when we want it. And because women tend to be more conservative in when to have sex, they are often the ones making the decision when, as men are usually “ready when you are”.

Multitasking and focus

Ever heard that women can multitask and men can’t? It’s a myth actually. We humans are all very bad at doing multiple conscious things at the same time. Women tend to lose less energy micro-switching though, in which they can quickly switch between multiple tasks, making it appear they are doing them simultaneously. As hunter gatherers, women have spent much more time dealing with all kinds of tasks at the same time, while caring for kids, gathering food, cooking and chatting. Because of this, their brains tend to be wired better for this. Men were often busy hunting and building tools or houses. Those are all tasks that require focus and are much less social.

Concluding

The number of differences, especially the more subtle ones, is very large. They are all caused by men and women being in consistently different contexts throughout evolution. And if there were mutations that increased their chances for healthy, surviving offspring, within the given context, those mutations were more likely to continue to exist. That’s how our brains evolved. This is how we are hard-wired.

The existence of these differences can cause a lot of conflict, as there is a biological conflict of interest between the sexes. And then we start a relationship, engage in marriages, raise kids together, all while having essential different needs. And often one has no clue why the other acts as they do. The basic differences start in our evolution. This is where we need to start understanding our differences.

The Secrets of How To Rescue Your Relationship or Marriage

The amount of things you can do to try to make your relationship better is staggering. There are so many things you can do! But how do you know which ones will work? Since you’re here, you’ve probably already tried many things. But apparently, these didn’t work well enough, or maybe even not at all. They may even have made it worse!

So what can you do?

At the moment, you are probably having huge fights over the smallest of things or maybe you even stopped fighting overall, just evading any and all conflict. The general atmosphere is grim and there seems to be a general sense of perceived respectlessness on both sides. It’s time to turn it around!

But before we tell you the secrets of making your relationship last, please know, that there are also relationships that are too abusive to be saved. Your own safety has priority. If you are not safe, please start working on a solution to become safe as soon as possible. I’m talking mainly about physical abuse here. Emotional abuse is a very tricky subject, as it can be very subjective in when it actually becomes abusive. Also when (undiagnosed/untreated) psychological disorders come into play, this can greatly complicate things.

Also note that behavioural patterns within a relationship can become very twisted, to the point that it may seem the persons in it have become almost insane! But only when dealing with each other. And they know this, because they only behave that way in their private environment. Not with other people around.

Recognizable?

It’s these behaviourable patterns that need attention. The way these come into existence is so gradual, that you hardly notice what they’re growing into, until it’s too late. It’s not weird either. None of us were trained in ‘how to relationship’.

We’re just winging it.

So how do you relationship? You learn by experience, but experiencing already screws it up half the time? That can’t be good! Some of the most valuable things we have, we go by just improvising. Marriage, friendships, raising children, we’re just winging all this. The secrets in this article should give you some proper guidelines, so you at least have a solid concept of what you are doing and why.

So what is it you need to do, in order to make sure your relationship will last?

The Secrets

1. ‘We’ is the Third Person in Your Relationship

This may sound weird, but the relationship itself has a unique pattern of interactions, habits, routines and other dynamics. Think of it: you may act one way to everybody, except your partner and vice versa. You’re treating each other totally different compared to anyone else. And often not in a good way. But somehow, you’re still fighting about you and me. But you and me are not being you and me within the relationship which is we. We is something else.

Sounds weird and true at the same time, right?

One very practical thing you can immediately start with, is stop talking and fighting about you and me. Start talking about we. It immediately shifts the conversation from something which may be interpreted as hostile, to something you both are part of. Silly us. “You started this fight!” becomes “We’ve started this fight!”. You should start respecting me for once!” becomes “We should start showing each other more respect”.

Do you see how this immediately changes the tone?

It immediately helps in de-escalating a fight. It also makes it a lot easier to talk about your interactions. Nobody is blamed and it creates an atmosphere of working on something together. Because don’t forget, outside your relationship, you may both be acting completely different as from within. It is we that somehow defines your behaviour. It is we which needs work. Not you or your partner.

So if you nor your partner needs to be worked on, you both should be able to be yourself, right?

Right!

If you want to know more about using ‘We’ to better your relationship, have a look here.

2. Allow Yourself and Your Partner to be Yourselves

It is time to relax again. How long have you been feeling stressed about your relation? You’re not pleasant company when you’re stressed. And the same goes for your partner. And when you’re both stressed, only small things need to happen to cause an explosion.

But how can you relax amidst all this tension?

The answer to this is of course very elaborate, but you need to start somewhere. One thing is sure: in the current situation, you cannot change the way your partner behaves.

You can only change the way you behave.

You can start by giving up on trying to steer your partners behaviour by pointing out that behaviour. It will only make it worse. Instead, accept your partner for who they are. Fully accept. No buts. All quirks, annoyances, irresponsibilities, naggings, nasty habits, annoying routines, everything. Accept them. You will not be able to change them now.

Let them be who they are.

How would this be relaxing to you? It will only increase your stress right? Wrong! It will relieve you of the job of being in control. Being in control is hard work and stressful. Especially if the one you’re trying to control doesn’t want to be controlled. And most people really don’t want to be controlled. They will resist, with everything they’ve got.

Just let it go

You will gift them the freedom to be who they are. This will not only be relaxing for you (once you get used to it), but it will be even more relaxing to your partner! And if they get more relaxed, they will lose the need for control as well. They can be free and so can you. You can smile.

This will go a long way in learning to trust each other again.

But you’re not there yet. There are more things you can do to start building on we.

3. Own Your Emotions

Building on we starts with you. We humans are emotional beings. We get so overwhelmed by emotions, that we can hardly control how we feel and even how we behave. We do weird things when we get emotional and we get emotional all the time. But who is responsible for these emotions?

You are!

Always, you are responsible for your own emotions. You’re probably often not the cause of your emotions, but you’re always responsible for them. This is not a popular opinion at all, so let me explain you why realizing this is so incredibly important:

If you are not responsible for your emotions, you cannot control them. You will give the control to someone else!

So if your partner pissed you off and you’ve got steam coming from your ears, is your partner responsible for that? And if they say sorry and you feel much better, are they responsible for that? No! You own your emotions. You decide how you want to react. You decide how you want to feel. If you feel angry, own it. This is your emotion! You cannot be a victim of your own emotions if you’re the boss of them. The point is: do not give someone else control over your emotions. Especially when they are the direct cause.

So if your partner tells you to shut up and that makes you angry, they are causing your anger and you are responsible for it.

You will no longer be a victim of your own emotions.

4. Assume Good Intentions

Your partner is not evil. Neither are you. You both probably have good intentions. Whenever your partner does something that makes you angry or sad, just start to assume they mean well. They are probably just looking after themselves or reacting based on the assumption you don’t have good intentions. Someone has to start the positive cycle to get out of the vicious downward cycle.

It might as well be you.

It also takes away the need for control I wrote about above: if you assume bad intentions, you can’t just let it happen. You have to correct it somehow, to prevent it from happening again. If you assume good intentions, even if you feel they did something wrong, you can just let it go. And they can relax a bit as well.

5. Listen and Understand

This is one of the most important communication skills there is. And I’d like to take it a lot further. How many times have you tried to get your point across, only for it to fall on deaf ears? Time and time again, right? Chances are, your partner feels exactly the same. You’re both just trying to get the other to understand how you feel.

And you’re both failing!

It’s up to you to make the first step. Start listening. No counterarguments, no but’s. No questions disguised as counterarguments, nothing of all that. Just questions for elaboration to make sure you fully understand your partners thoughts and feelings. And when you do finally understand, you stop the conversation. Do not try to bring your own point across at this point. Only when they ask for it.

This sounds unfair right? Why should only your partner be heard?

Because at this point, fixing your relationship is more important to you than getting your point across at this moment. Your time to explain will come. You’re going for the long term plan here. You’re creating a safe environment, in which you both can express what you’re thinking and feeling. You’re doing this.

Be proud of it!

So they’ve told their story. You’ve listened. You bit your lip and managed to let your urge to get your own point of view across. This is all very hard! You need to swallow your pride and take in all that blame and verbal abuse without defending yourself. It may feel very denegrating. This leads to the next secret.

6. Learn to Set Aside Your Ego

Your ego is that voice in your head that constantly says “Yes, but ME“. Your partner is trying to manipulate you, obviously, and you fear that if you let it slide it may teach them it is effective, right? And it makes you feel so small. And if you feel small you want to feel bigger! And all your attempts to feel bigger make your partner feel smaller. It’s a tug of war of your ego’s!

What is more important? Your ego or your marriage?

Decide. You decided your marriage, right? This was not a suggestive question at all -wink-. What happens if you forfeit a tug of war and say you’ll just stop? You lose the fight. That’s fine. You can’t win each fight. And if you can’t win any of them, might as well forfeit this one as well. You can rise above the battle of the ego’s.

Any idea how big that makes you?

But it’s not big at the cost of your partner. You build confidence on your own foundation. That’s a good foundation! Be aware though, you may even feel the need to apologize for your bit of the fight, without expecting an apology back. It’ll put a serious dent in your ego though. But considering you’re working the long term plan, it may just be worth it. In any case, you’re showing your partner how it’s done.

7. Educate by Example

At various points above, I’ve stated that you can be the only one doing all of the above, of the two of you. Of course it helps if you are both actively following these principles, but you can start immediately doing it alone. Your partner will notice a change in your behaviour. Maybe not exactly what and not even right away, but partners tend to imitate each other. Even if there is hostility.

The more your partner likes your responses, the more they will unconsciously imitate you.

It will take a while. But as stated above, just let them be themselves. It will come naturally. There’s also no way to force this. But in general, you’re already doing some things tghat make you much more likable and this will relax you both. You’ll switch around to a positive cycle!

Introducing

We’ve launched the site!

You’re probably here because you want to save your relationship or marriage. Good! You’ve already made the first step! Please browse the stories here. If you want, you can email us your personal story and we will try to answer. Our time is limited, so we can only do a select number of stories. If we select your story, it will be featured on the site, anonymously.

My name is Erik ter Elst. I’ve set up this site to help people get through difficult times in their relationships.

I’m very excited to finally open this blog. I’ve been walking around with the idea for over a decade and it was finally time. The problem was, that given the time investment, I never knew how to justify the time spent if I couldn’t make at least a little money to cover the expenses.

Now I’ve found out about affiliate marketing. If you don’t know what that is: it’s promoting products of others for commission. There are links on this site leading to products, resources, that I use anyway. Might as well suggest them to others and earn a bit of commission while I’m at it. They are good products! Cookies track your clicks on these links.

I’m from the Netherlands, in Europe. We Dutch people are mostly bilingual (Dutch and English), so I chose for my blog to be in English, in order to reach a bigger audience. I’ve studied Psychology at the University of Maastricht and got my title ‘doctorandus’ there, which is equivalent to Master of Science.

I’ve also owned my own company as an assessment psychologist, which mostly involved doing psychological assessments using tests, interpreting them and see if the people tested were suited for specific jobs.

In my opinion psychological tests are very usable when dealing with relationship or marriage problems. They can open up the conversation about who we are, why we do what we do and what we really can’t stand. They create understanding and further curiosity. Many people would argue that they don’t want to be categorised, but this is not the purpose of these tools. The purpose is to get to know and understand individuals. This helps. A lot.

In this blog I will not only use a scientific background and where possible psychological profiles, but also a gut feeling of reading between the lines, based on experience.

Please read the stories and articles and let me know what you think!

Erik