Showing posts with label passion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label passion. Show all posts

Friday, December 28, 2018

Moving Toward a Respectful New Year (Part Three)

This is the third article expanding on respectful and healthy relationship behavior. Who will be up for the New Year  challenge of practicing all of these behavior for the month of January and beyond? (link to part one and part two)

21) Be Inclusive: Human beings often fall into the trap of dismissing others, sometimes due to a sense of personal superiority, but often due to not caring or listening to other people. In a relationship, dismissive behavior adds up over time with increasingly hurtful results. The counter to being dismissive is choosing to be actively inclusive of others. Making other people matter and caring about their thoughts, opinions, and emotions. With an intimate partner, this would mean to include that person in your life by sharing your successes and challenges, bringing that person into your world, even if it is mundane - and showing respect and care by including their experiences, stories, and life in your own through listening. This may mean inviting a conversation, becoming an active source of support, or making plans alongside your partner.

22) Be Open and Transparent: It's easy to be unconscious of manipulative and controlling behavior toward a partner. All it takes is selective information sharing (so-called white lies, withholding information, or lying by omission), yessing another person or being insincere (lying by assent), or of course blatantly saying or doing things to get a specific advantage (outright commission of lies or manipulation of information). Many people easily miss the build up of such patterns, and become manipulative for all the "right" reasons, even if for self-protection. But since it builds over time, it can dismantle a relationship once someone sees through that manipulation. It takes direct open communication about problems, challenges, and seemingly boring details to be transparent in how you work with your intimate partner. Your partner needs to have a sense that your motives are respectful and healthy, that those reasons for your choices are not based in coming out on top, but on working alongside. Since manipulation often takes a certain amount of personal mindfulness and reflection, it's easy to feel open and transparent while at the same time choosing behavior which alienates other people. Consider places in your life where you keep things secret - do such secrets ultimately benefit you at the expense of your partner? Are those personal things you do not speak about keep a barrier up in your relationship? Are there ways of dismantling even the small things to improve your ability to communicate and grow with your partner?

23) Let Time Run Its Course: Sometimes it seems very important to make a decision quickly, and pressure others to agree or join with you in a decision. This sort of pressure can wear others down, and make them feel less validated in their own decision making process. Not all decisions or situations are equally imperative, so balancing priorities and knowing when an immediate choice is necessary and when there is time to allow patience and discussion can help to make a partnership feel like a true collaboration. There are situations where an individual wants to make a quick decision to avoid pain or due to fear about outcomes - and in such cases allowing time can be important for other reasons. If decision making is about avoidance, then patience may instead lead to growing discussion and cooperation. If being right or winning a conflict is the priority, such motives are a trap that cause damage to a relationship. If your partner feels pressured to make a decision, and makes one out of that pressure, such a decision may be paired with regret and self-blame. Or it could be paired with anger and blaming you for pressuring. Sure, in some cases, particularly if someone is unsure or paralyzed in decision making, they might feel better about making a decision, but that is where it is important to know what is going on for your partner (and yourself) in decision making and to understand where your patience, or need to develop more patience, is important.

24) Remember the Value of Your Relationship: How do you add value to your partner's life? How does your partner add value to your life? These are critical questions to ask, and to understand the answer. In them, you can consider places you can improve (to add more value), and places to appreciate and validate your partner. I argue that this is a very important part of creating an amicable relationship with an ex-partner as well. Often men in my classes who have a child with their ex-partner speak to her faults and problems and their ability to co-parent suffers greatly as a result. Having neutral self-talk may involve the ability to remember why you chose your partner to begin with, and the positive characteristics that you had valued, and maybe even still value. Conflict can easily grow when there is discontent and a growing negative self-talk about your partner, and being conscious of value helps to keep that discontent from growing into contempt. It can also keep you humble if you have been working on awareness of your faults in addition to remembering the strengths that your partner appreciates in you.

25) Acknowledge Your Partner's Humanity: As human beings, we have any number of faults, make mistakes pretty regularly, and are self-oriented at times to the point of missing opportunities to validate and care for others. The ancient truism of "remove the plank in your own eye before addressing the sliver in someone else's" holds very true to this humanity. If you can recognize your own faults, and keep your partner's faults with several grains of salt, you can more easily navigate conflict by seeing where that humanity might be getting in the way on either side. Any of the items on this list can be challenging because they require a certain amount of personal choice and discipline. Your partner may not practice this (or any other of these things) but that does not mean you cannot. Sometimes a simple thing such as noticing your partner's exhaustion, understanding life experiences that are overwhelming your partner, or realizing you have made similar mistakes can lead to more understanding in conflict resolution.

26) Connect With Support Beyond Your Partner: It's important to choose wisely when investing in a relationship for many reasons, one of them being that it's natural that you will spend a lot of time together. When you connect with another person in a committed way, and as a relationship grows and evolves over time, you inherently will depend on support from your partner. This support might be emotional, but it may also be about sharing resources, time, and responsibilities. This does not mean all your support should come from one person. It is important to have others in your life, whether it be friends, family, or even coworkers who can offer feedback and emotional support. It's just as important to encourage your partner to foster such relationships and support. Being wise about your support system is also critical - it's no good to have people supporting you who give you hurtful ideas or selfish options to solving problems. Nor is it good to have people who fail to call you on your bullshit. Who is in your life outside of your partner who is there for you, and how do they demonstrate support for you?

27) Handle Tough Decisions Together: Not all decisions need to be made jointly in a relationship, but at the same time it's important to know your partner well enough to understand when that person wants to be involved in a decision. What are the tough decisions you face, and how do you get input on them from your partner? How do you work together as parents, and how do you work separately? Parenting is a useful example because of course you cannot make all decisions jointly, at the same time you need to be open and transparent about the decisions you do make so you do not override or counter your partner's choices. Even in decisions that may be more personal, having your partner's thoughts and input can lead to greater intimacy and validation.

28) Be Assertive: Know what you want and need, and know how to communicate those things. Often it's a trap to merely communicate what you do not like, do not want, or do not need - and use those things as attacks. Productively working toward goals and options will go much better when negotiating and compromising, and making decisions that do not end up as an expense to your partner are also important. Being passive and awaiting an outcome leads to less personal investment and makes it easy to later become aggressive about an outcome you had no investment in to begin with. Aggressively making choices to meet your needs or wants can easily steamroll over your partner and build resentment. Actively communicating and working together to prioritize, understand the difference between wants and needs, and set realistic and measurable goals are all traits that are a part of acting assertively.

29) Understand Respect: As a term, respect can be hard to define. Sometimes the examples given are things like "I respected my father, because if I didn't, there'd be hell to pay," but in such examples respect is confused with fear. If someone equates being respected to being obeyed or feared, they may pursue destructive and hurtful behavior in their relationships with others. Another common, but ultimately faulty example is, "to get respect, you have to earn it," but such ideas are more similar to defining authority. Rising in an hierarchy such as within a work environment may involve earning position, but if someone believes they have the right to control others or that they have earned such a right, then they may not be open to influence or negotiation which can again be destructive to relationships. Understanding respect as a concept involves understanding how you listen to others and show a certain amount of caring for them. The ability and willingness to listen to other's thoughts, emotions, and opinions demonstrates to others that you respect them. Alternatively, the ability to understand and listen to your own needs and gain them in a dignified way is what self-respect is all about. Developing respect in a relationship helps to strengthen and grow bonds between you, and is critical to having value in another person.

30) Balance Intimacy: Intimacy is no one thing, but involves layers of connection. Physical intimacy is definitely about sexual attraction and behavior, but it is even more than that. Passion about being with someone, enjoying physical (non-sexual) touch, these things and more are what make up physical intimacy and such things evolve throughout an intimate partner relationship. Emotional intimacy is about closeness to someone, knowing what they like and dislike, reciprocity of action and need, secrets shared and secrets kept, and overall knowledge of that person's life and history. Mental intimacy makes up commitment - how you bind yourself to another person by finances, marriage, having children, living together, making goals for the future, or other intimately binding behavior. Spiritual intimacy is about shared values and morals, both knowing your own and navigating your partner's, and appreciating their differences. All of these layers of intimacy are best developed equally, although it is natural for one to grow faster than another, and when that happens being aware of places that need to be developed further as a part of an ongoing and evolving relationship.

31) Be Mindful of How Others Experience You: Decent actors spend time in front of a mirror watching and practicing their emotional responses so they can best portray different situations and characters. Since communication is largely nonverbal, there are a multitude of gestures, vocal tones, and faces we make that others pick up on without our knowing it. Humans are sensing beings, as much as we put greater emphasis on thinking we all have the ability to feel that something is off, to know when tension is high, and to even determine danger or well being. It is an important skill to know how others may experience you at any given time, but particularly during conflict. If someone feels threatened by you, you can deny being threatening but that does not negate the other person's experiences of you or the reasons they felt that way. Within relationships, it is important to consistently listen to your partner's experiences of you so that you can learn more about yourself through their descriptions and their perspectives. Just like an actor practicing various responses, you can train yourself to become aware of how you act, and the "vibes" you give off when you are upset. Managing your responses is a big part of contributing to a relationship in a respectful and healthy manner.

I hope this discussion of healthy and respectful relationship behavior has been helpful! Please feel free to comment below, or send me an email if you have any questions. You can use the pamphlet in the link below if you think it would be useful for your work, and if you do please maintain credit to me (which is in a box on the pamphlet itself).


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Aziz Ansari and Sexual Harms Beyond Assault

Attention continues to rise for inappropriate sexual behavior by male celebrities. This weekend, an article highlighting a sexual encounter between Aziz Ansari and an anonymous woman (Grace) has brought up discussion of consent, sexual pressure and coercion, and where his responsibilities lie within this brief relationship.

A major challenge of celebrity is the illusion of intimacy. Personally, I like Mr. Ansari. I greatly enjoyed "Master of None" and have found his work to be excellent over the years. But his work as an actor, producer, and writer tell me nothing about him personally. My connection to him is passive - I watch him in his shows and feel like I am getting to know him, know who he is, know how he thinks, but it is just one way. He has never met me, knows nothing about me - and the information I have on him is a created image. As with all created images, there is no doubt a certain mirror into his life, but it is necessarily going to be full of inaccuracies.

I believe this is one of the major reasons there seem to be a large amount of blame placed on this anonymous woman, and general backlash against the #metoo movement due to this woman's story. Aziz is a good guy or she should have done A, B, or C! She's treating him unfairly!

This is also a bit like a real life version of the "Cat Person" short story that was recently published in the New Yorker (and my fictionalized response in the man's perspective here). Was this really more about bad sex, a consensual tryst that Grace did not enjoy, that led to her complaining about her experience later?

These are important questions to ask, but maybe we are missing some bigger aspects of this situation. The Atlantic published an article considering some of the current challenges with sexual behavior in relationships, saying, "Sexual mores in the West have changed so rapidly over the past 100 years that by the time you reach 50, intimate accounts of commonplace sexual events of the young seem like science fiction: You understand the vocabulary and the sentence structure, but all of the events take place in outer space."

In this article, I want to take some time to explore these sexual harms that often get lost in discussions - those that are not assault or violence, yet still cause pain and fear in others. 

What are we missing in our dialog with children and teens about sex? How are gender roles fitting into expectations about sex and relationships? A choice to hook-up and have casual sex is not inherently bad or wrong, even if many people (and USA culture) have moral beliefs against this behavior.What I encounter again and again in battering intervention groups is that in the sake of seeking consent, and in having sex as a part of courtship, development of intimacy beyond physical passion is lost.

Many abusers definitely gain consent before engaging in sex, although I question how explicit this consent is. One article defends Mr. Ansari by saying he shouldn't be a mind reader, yet men often accept implicit consent with few or any verbal consents to sex. They have definite understanding of nonverbal cues, but push against those in the knowledge that verbal rejection is hard to give after sex begins. Women feel pressured to consent, and may even fear saying no could lead to violence.

During group discussions, I will outline various kinds of intimacy and where they can fit into development of a relationship. Certainly, the first kind of intimacy guys in my groups go to is sexual. That physical passion I mentioned earlier. That is indeed a type of intimacy, and an important one for health in a relationship. Often what is missing from that analysis of passion, however, is a desire to be with that person, loving touch beyond sex, desire to pleasure your partner, and gaining knowledge of what the other person likes or does not like sexually or within physical touch overall.

Other categories are more difficult to discuss. What about emotional intimacy? The idea of closeness - a shared bond where you know someone's opinions, thoughts, and even their values or morals - can be equally intimate and critical to development of a healthy relationship. The equivalent to a random hook-up with a stranger might be going on a first date and telling that person your most intimate details, such as your worst fears, abuse you experienced in childhood, deeply held political or social beliefs that are controversial - and while some people do this during first meeting someone, the experience of someone dumping so much information at the beginning is often off-putting. Closeness takes time to develop, and takes time to foster in a healthy way.

Psychological intimacy can be considered along with commitment. An alignment of goals, values, and meaning in life. Again, it takes time to grow this aspect of intimacy, and a hook-up equivalent might be meeting someone and telling them that you should get married, pool your finances to buy a house you have chosen for the both of you, have children immediately, or any number of other intimate choices made when relationships become closer.

Emotional and psychological intimacy seem ludicrous to develop so quickly on a first date, yet for some reason we do not have deeper and more critical thinking about quick physical intimacy development. It is a risk - often a dangerous and hurtful risk. Certainly, if someone does not use safe sex, then there is risk of STD or STI or pregnancy. Along with that risk, however, is the truth that you might end up with someone you are not compatible with, or might make choices that coincide with pressuring or controlling someone into having sexual behavior they are not 100% comfortable with. The person you have random sex with might equate that with something much more emotionally or psychologically intimate - and if you are not on the same page your behavior can easily cause harm.

Some of the hangup I am seeing with people defending Mr. Ansari are that he did not sexually assault her, that his behavior was not sexual violence, that she gave consent for their sexual encounter therefore it shouldn't matter. This perspective denies the idea of sexual control, sexual alienation, and sexual irritation - ALL of which there is zero doubt that he is responsible for in his encounter with Grace.

Sexual control is making someone do something they do not want to do sexually, or keeping someone from certain intimacy they want to engage in. There are many forms of sexual control that involve coercion or pressure. Constant asking for sex, trying certain sexual behavior repeatedly and ignoring boundaries set by the other person, not listening to protests (verbal or nonverbal), and yes, not picking up on nonverbal cues, requests, or complaints.

Control is a human experience - we ALL do it, and sexual control can be a very destructive aspect of sexual behavior that we need to be addressing on a more active basis. We need to avoid lumping all sexual harms into violence - because in Mr. Ansari's case, he is being equated to other men who have engaged in sexual assault and violence. Without understanding the difference here, we risk his behavior and other's being dismissed because it clearly does not have the same impact or destruction therefore Grace gets blamed for daring to report this, rather than us realizing that regardless of the level of harm - it is still harm, and it is still destructive!

Sexual alienation and irritation are also very human things. It is where a person does something physically or sexually intimate that their partner becomes irritated by, or something which pushes that person away. One of the biggest alienating factors are not talking about sex, not talking about desire, not developing sexual knowledge of a partner over time. Other irritating/alienating sexual harms can involve things such as flirting that the other person does not like, use of pornography that is not okay with a partner, and blindness to or ignoring of another person's sexual boundaries. Again, some of these are clearly a big part of the incident with Mr. Ansari and Grace.

Defenders of Aziz Ansari lament that this could destroy his career. Attackers say sexual harm is sexual harm and he should be held accountable. When we make this into a binary argument, we miss the point that he needs to be held to account for his behavior that is problematic, and he needs to be aware of the level of power and influence his fame affords him and where that fits into his dating life. Grace describes the "hour or so" in his apartment involving him attempting different sexual behavior, her intermittently engaging and then disengaging and while her internal dialog was clearly confusion and anxiety over his behavior, his internal dialog could have been anything from entitlement of his celebrity status, confirmation bias on when she seemed willing to engage in sexual acts (while ignoring when she was not), and definitely overall entitlement to continue pursuing sex after she verbally and non-verbally expressed her discomfort.

Instead of lumping Mr. Ansari with violent, abusive, and sexually assaultive male celebrities, we should build awareness for the layers of sexual harm, and learn better ways to guide men toward responsibility, accountability, and health in relationships. Instead of being sad that his career is damaged and building anger toward Grace, we should be exploring where we focus on condemning celebrities yet ignore how common these patterns are for everyday men toward women. We need to be taking this opportunity to nuance the different kinds of sexual harm beyond rape and other forms of sexual assault, so we can adequately address their impact, and the intent men have behind them.


*For additional reading on this topic, I suggest reading Nehmat Kaur's "What Should We Expect from Liberal Feminist Men Like Aziz Ansari?" or Karishma Attari's "Aziz Ansari has a long way to go before mastering his own sense of entitlement." or Emma Gray's "On Aziz Ansari And Sex That Feels Violating Even When It's Not Criminal"