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Ask A Therapist: Relationship Questions Answered

February 11, 2022


Dr Kelly Ray

Ah, Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate the love in our life. But many times, love can be complicated! We here at Living In Yellow are not even close to being relationship experts, so we brought in the real expert. Dr. Kelly Ray. She’s been so gracious to come back once again to answer some anonymous questions from the LIY Community, this time along the topic of relationships!

Dr. Kelly Ray is a clinical psychologist and owner of a group private practice in the greater Chicago area.  Kelly holds a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology and has 20 years of experience as a provider of psychotherapy.  She specializes in anxiety, eating/body image concerns, mood issues, the challenges of busy working parents, and parenting dilemmas. Off the “clock,” Kelly lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and two middle-school aged daughters, who have learned to make use of her other talent…as a chauffeur.

If you’ve missed out on Dr. Kelly Ray’s previous posts, you can see them here!

So without further ado, see what you asked, and Dr. Kelly Ray answered.

Q: As a full time working mom, I often find myself feeling the pressures of motherhood.  As the mom,, I am often the “primary parent,” and I sometimes feel anger or frustration with my husband because of this. He is quick to help when I ask him to, but I don’t always want to have to ask. I am expected to know and do all the time without being asked.  Why would my husband not be expected and able to do the same? Help!  I don’t want to feel angry or resentful.

A: Like so many moms in this day and age, you are doing a lot to hold down the fort! You are quick to jump in, very likely fulfilling the needs of others before they recognize the need even existed.  This tends to come with the territory of being a mom.  Does this mean it is not part and parcel of being a dad?  No.  However, the differences between how boys and girls are raised — also called socialization — may explain some of what you are seeing in your relationship.  

Socialization is a process that all children go through, as parents and caregivers teach them how to behave in a socially acceptable manner.  Especially if raised along more traditional lines of gender roles, we will see obvious differences between what is encouraged in girls’ and boys’ behavior.  Historically, boys have been raised (and praised) to “go out and do” — play ball, climb trees, build something.   Girls, on the other hand, have been taught to be nurturing and thoughtful of others.  This tends to be encouraged through dolls and other imaginary play, historically paving the way for girls to become wives and mothers someday.

Implying that socialization might be at play here does not mean that you must shrug your shoulders and accept the situation for what it is.  Instead, let’s find a way to put this information to work for the two of you:   

  • Recognize your instinct to naturally jump in — notice your tendency and observe when you are most inclined to step in to take care of something.
  • Brainstorm — reflect and identify in advance tasks or circumstances in which you would like more involvement from your husband. 
  • Express the specific request to your husband — after identifying where you would like more support, ask your husband for his buy-in to help in those areas. Be specific.  Requesting a specific task may hearken back to familiar habits from his socialization, having been expected to engage in specific, hands-on tasks. This level of familiarity may make it much easier for your husband to tap in and take care of the task at hand.
  • Feel the pull to automatically do and “push pause” — when in situations in which you naturally feel called to act, take a deep breath and ask yourself how you would like to engage with the situation.  Your breath acts like a “pause” button on your behavior, increasing the level of intention underlying your forthcoming action.
  • Express appreciation — a “thank you” goes a long way and increases the chances of having this interaction — and others like it — repeated.

It also bears to mention that there may be tasks that your husband takes care of that aren’t easily recognized by you.  Try to take mental note of those tasks, so you can remind yourself that you’re not handling matters as single-handedly as it might feel.

In either case, it will be worth giving yourself permission to slow down and engage with intention.  In the process, prioritize some time for yourself.  Duties and responsibilities will always be there, waiting to draw from your energy stores. It is up to you to make sure that you are replenished, giving yourself the time to decompress and refresh that you wholeheartedly deserve. 

This information is not intended to be a substitute for psychotherapy or a consultation with a licensed health provider.  If you are experiencing an urgent health concern, please go to your local Emergency Department.

Q: Why do men keep telling me I’m amazing, a great person, etc. but they’re not looking for a relationship? Am I doing something wrong?

A: First of all, I am guessing these men aren’t wrong:  you are very likely “amazing,” “great,” and a multitude of other positive adjectives.  Now — as you have already alluded to — the discouraging news:  It does sound like you are being let down easy…for whatever reason.  It might be that he is not interested in a relationship with you (as confusing as that may be), or that he is just not interested in a relationship.  Period.  The latter may be indicative of someone who is “emotionally unavailable.”  

You wonder if you are doing something “wrong.”  The real question may be if you are allowing yourself to be attracted to the wrong type of man.  If you are repeatedly hearing how great you are, but a relationship isn’t in the cards, you may have an unrecognized pattern of being drawn to emotionally unavailable men.  

You may be asking, “How can this be?  I know I want a relationship, so how can I be picking the wrong men?”  People can be drawn to unavailable romantic partners for a variety of reasons.  There may be some underlying ambivalence about being in a relationship themselves.  Others enjoy “the thrill of the chase,” but have little interest in a relationship with this person once the challenge is over.

Yet another explanation for repeated attraction to unavailable men has to do with emotional conditioning that comes from childhood experiences.  As girls, some women had unavailable fathers in their lives.  Their fathers could have been physically present but emotionally absent or just plain physically absent from their daughters’ lives.  While not ideal, if the experience of an unavailable men feels at all familiar, some women may find themselves repeating the pattern of finding unavailable men into their adulthood.  

The familiar may not be what one needs, but it sure is comfortable. 

In order to discern if you are inclined to go for the wrong men, try this exercise:

  • Imagine walking into a cocktail party.  Who are the men that initially catch your eye?  Who do you first want to approach (or hope approaches you)? With whom do you want to carry on a conversation?  Who do you hope to see again?
  • Now, reflect upon the qualities you are looking for in a partner.  Take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts. 
  • Compare your observations from the cocktail party scenario with your list of desirable qualities in a partner.  If there is any discrepancy between the two, you may be instinctually drawn to the type of man who ultimately won’t be the man you are actually looking for in a partner. 
  • With your ideal qualities in mind, revisit the cocktail party scenario.  Now, who do you wish to seek out?  Where is he in this image?  

This exercise may just scratch the surface towards providing insight on you pattern with men.  Working with an individual therapist to guide this exploration in greater detail can be of huge help.  Don’t hesitate to take this opportunity to learn more about yourself and to guide you to the type of relationship you seek and ultimately deserve.

This information is not intended to be a substitute for psychotherapy or a consultation with a licensed health provider.  If you are experiencing an urgent health concern, please go to your local Emergency Department.

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