10 Mental Barriers to Exercise

I’m not a sports psychologist – or even a therapist focusing on sports or exercise issues. But I am an exerciser, and have fallen victim to quite a few excuses or reasons to not do it, in spite of intellectually knowing all the benefits of doing it.

I want to share with you 10 things I’ve learned along the way, both as a counselor helping men through their barriers to exercise ad self-care, and from my own experience – both in what works and what doesn’t – along my journey to health.

  1. Laziness: Do you consider yourself lazy with exercise? Do you hate it, or simply dislike doing it? A lot of people I talk with just simply don’t like exercising, or don’t want to do it, in spite of it’s myriad benefits for health and well-being. Identifying and dealing with the part of you that’s resistant, or defiant, to allowing yourself to exercise is important, if you want these benefits and a longer, healthier life.
  2. Not making it easy for yourself: I know that if the gym is too far away, I won’t go. I know that if I don’t get training help, it’ll make it that much harder to exercise, because I won’t necessarily do it on my own. Also, if I don’t have food and bottled water readily available before I go, it’s going to not give me the energy and hydration at hand that I need. So, how do you work? Do you know what needs to happen to create an ideal situation in which to exercise? Are you a morning person, or evening person? Do you like to exercise alone, or with others? Knowing what you need, and how you work best, will help “grease the wheel,” and get you doing it more, and more often.
  3. Why are you doing this? Exercising means something different to me in my 40’s than it did in my 20’s. Yes, it’s still about appearance, but now, it’s about having something to invest in my health for the long-term. I didn’t consider that as a younger guy, because I didn’t have my retirement in sights way back then. Some guys want better health so they can have more energy with their kids. Really consider your motivation, and why you want to exercise or workout in the first place. It has to come from deep inside of you, and the motivation has to be intrinsic (inside you) versus extrinsic (outside of you). If it’s extrinsic, it’s hard to keep up with it. It’s not going to be as sustainable if it doesn’t originate from within you.
  4. Excuses! I can come up with plenty of excuses to not exercise. What are yours? The weather? It’s too dark outside? List out the excuses you can come up with, and list out ways to combat each one. Tackle them one by one, until you’ve run out of them. And then execute your exercise plan.
  5. The Likability Factor: Can you find something to do, like racquetball or swimming, that you enjoy doing, or even kinda enjoy doing? If exercise becomes work, the chances are greater that you won’t do it, or will let it go. If it’s a hassle, or “something that I have to do,” forget it. You’re going to burn out. Finding some fun, engagement, or fulfillment in exercising is critical. I like to knock out audio reading my magazine while I walk the dog, and I get the sense of multitasking while I’m exercising, which motivates me. Can you find something like that?
  6. Negative self-talk: Telling yourself, “I don’t want to do this,” or “I can’t be consistent with this,” will actually come to fruition. If you shoot it down, or don’t generate positive or motivating thoughts, your exercise will burn out and you won’t want to do it. Explore the negative self-talk that’s getting in your way from achieving your exercise goals.
  7. Self-sabotage: It’s when you’re working against yourself in some way, whether it be defiance, through fear of success, or just plain stopping yourself from achieving your goals. If you think you may be self-sabotaging yourself, it may be worth some counseling time to uncover how you’re doing this, so you don’t have to work against yourself. Exercise is hard enough; you don’t need to add insult to injury if you’re self-sabotaging.
  8. Not rewarding yourself: Find a way to treat yourself or praise yourself for a job well done. That can be with a celebratory meal or drink at the end of a hard workout week, or little things through your week. I’ve found that food items are an easy and convenient way to treat myself, as long as it’s not taken overboard. Usually, one weekend meal “off” the plan can reward myself and keep myself going for the duration. It’s a goal to work for.
  9. Cognitive dissonance: It’s when you harbor two opposing or inconsistent thoughts about something, which creates problems in the behavioral part of doing something. You may think, “Man, I really want to work out,” and get stopped with, “I’d rather be lazy and not work out.” The friction between the two thoughts creates a stoppage, so to resolve the stoppage, the thoughts need to align so the behavior can then proceed.
  10. “Stop and Start”: I’ve mastered the “stop and start” of exercising. You know: you get motivated, you get to exercising or working out, and then you stop, either after you get tired of it, lose motivation or attain your short-term workout goals, like losing weight. It’s something I’ve mastered over the years, and have really remedied it by thinking about on meditating on what I really want, what my values are, and why I’m doing this. I want good health, so that I don’t gain weight, that I look good, and that I can be flexible and mobile in my 40’s and beyond. I get motivated thinking it’s like investing – it’s not fun or easy in the short term, but over the long term, I’ve reaped the benefits that I’ve worked hard at achieving.

You may be able to add your own mental barriers to this list, and please do. Email me if you have others that I’ve missed, or your own unique ones at jfierstein@mac.com. I hope this helps you at least map out the constellation of excuses so that you can see them coming, plan for them, and make them work for you so that you can have a good relationship with exercise for you and yours.

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Bad Mood Rising

Your bad mood may have more negative effects than you know. It may – over time – erode good relationships, and even your marriage or intimate relationship.

Everyone gets irritable or in a bad mood. You don’t have to be positive all the time to everyone. Just “owning” your bad mood, or taking responsibility for it, is a huge step in dealing with it, and possibly neutralizing it.

Here are 10 ways to deal with your bad mood:

Stay well fed: Are you hungry? Do you get irritable like me when you’re not fed? Try to get something in your stomach before you start spilling your bad mood out onto others. Also, if you’ve eaten sugary foods, drank caffeinated foods or consumed too many carbohydrates, it may trigger an irritable response in you that may exacerbate underlying issues, or make things seem worse than they are.

Get sleep: Are you well rested? If not, you may experience being short or irritable with others. Lack of sleep can undercut your good mood in various ways, so get the right amount and quality of sleep that your body needs for optimal functioning.

Identify what you’re upset about: Is it about someone else? Is it work? What is it? Clarifying what you’re upset about will help, so that you can better address it in a more effective way, and not be held hostage to your bad mood. Localizing the issue, you’ll have a better handle on it to be able to deal with it.

Something deeper: Is there underlying anger, behind the bad mood? If so, you may be avoiding it or not  dealing with it. Your bad mood and negativity may point to something deeper and more substantial to look at and consider within yourself. If so, you might benefit from some short-term counseling to help you identify it, work through it, and move past it.

Watch being short with others: Do you find yourself getting short with others? Do you take out your bad mood on others in your life, other drivers on the road, or service providers around town? Consider this: it may not be them – it may be you and your mood.

Unmet needs: A way to deal with a bad mood – and potentially neutralize it – is to ask yourself, “What am I needing right now that I’m not getting?” What would you need in this moment to satisfy you or quell your bad mood? Is it simple or complex? Does it involve other people? How can you go about meeting your needs in a way that’s not upsetting or disrupting to others?

Taking responsibility for your bad mood: It’s yours – not other peoples’ – problem. They may be triggering you in some way, but ultimately it’s your mood, your disrupted mind, and your experience. It may come back, even if other’s change their ways, or your situation changes, but you’re not really working on your bad mood, are you?

Positivity may not work: if you steer your mind towards positivity, you may be suppressing what’s putting you in the bad mood to begin with. Try dealing directly with the bad mood itself, rather than just trying to “be positive.” It’s counter to how we usually try to coax ourselves into positive thinking.

Communicate what’s on your mind: try talking it out, and in the case that you’re upset by someone saying or doing something to you, try communicating it in a non-toxic and non-threatening way. Speak your mind, so that you don’t stew on what’s upsetting you.

Meditate: meditation can calm the otherwise wild and active mind. There are plenty of good resources out there to get you started. I like mindfulness meditation myself, something that can help you train yourself to detach from the compulsive negative thinking that the mind is used to producing.

Hope these ideas help. Bad moods come and go, but you don’t have to add fuel to the fire and make them worse. You also don’t want your bad mood to solidify into a personality structure, where you’re the guy in a permanently bad mood.

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Taking The Initiative

There may be areas of your life that might benefit from you giving more of yourself: relationships with kids, your wife or girlfriend, your work, your personal life. They all have one thing in common: they all take constant work, energy, and resources to maintain and thrive. Sometimes, it just takes getting going, but what if the starting part is hard? What if you don’t know how to begin?

If you’re not giving what you need to in those key areas of your life, there may be a problem initiating. Initiation is, quite simply, “the action of beginning something.” It’s that initial spark that jumpstarts you into action, and make the changes you want as a result. It’s what evolves your relationship to those things and people that you hold dear in your life, and it’s what prevents regret later in the future that you didn’t do those things earlier.

Assess your life “domains,” such as work, relationships, health, marriage, finances, etc. and see what areas require more initiative from you. It may be that you need to start exercising regularly, or lose weight, or find a financial planner to help you plan for retirement or to save more in your emergency funds. It may also mean that you start to change around some behaviors that are not working, like not communicating with those close to you, or not being proactive with projects at work. It may be as simple as getting the to-do list done for chores around the house. Whether big or small, initiation may be an issue for you, so try to consider the following ideas.

Identifying and Removing Obstacles

One of the greatest things you can do to help yourself take more initiative is to identify and deal with the road blocks that are in your way.

Some of those obstacles might include:

  • Fear of success
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of being criticized or rejected
  • Not believing in yourself
  • Irrational beliefs about how you think it will be in advance
  • No prior experience doing what you’re about to do
  • Not having the skills or resources that you need to succeed
  • Not getting the help that you need to take the initiative
  • Not asking yourself why you’re not motivated or taking the initiative

If you carefully look behind the lack of initiation, you’ll find one more more of these types of obstacles behind the scenes. They may be working consciously (or unconsciously) in holding you back. If you’re conscious of them, they still may be holding you back, and if you’re unconscious of them, therapy or counseling may benefit you to help make them conscious so they’re available to you to start to work on.

Emotions vs. Behaviors

Changing behaviors works well, but if you can understand the emotions driving the behaviors, you’re dealing with the problem from more of the root rather than the surface, and creating more sustainable change in your life. Emotions drive everything we do, and inform the decisions we make in our lives. If we can learn not just to intellectually identify the emotions underlying our actions and behaviors, but to actually feel and deal with them, we can make more lasting change in our behavior, which includes taking more initiative in the long term.

For example, if you’re eating junk food regularly, and want to lose weight, you can just discontinue eating candy, pizza, or chips, and be done with it. Right? But say if you use food to cope with stress or other negative emotions, what happens the next time you encounter stressful situations? What will you turn to then? Your brain is going to want to soothe itself with more junk food, so you may go back to what you know.

In this case, you might be feeling bored, lonely, anxious, afraid or not feeling good enough. In those cases, it’s really important to deal with the underlying emotions by observing, feeling and dealing with them, rather than pushing them away and indulging in the negative behavior through avoidance. In this way, you’re going to the heart of the issue emotionally, which breaks up the need to do the behavior you don’t want. Over time, the behaviors dissipate and you rely less on them to cope or avoid. It sounds easy, but this process can be quite difficult.

Ask Yourself: Why Do You Want It?

It’s essential to ask yourself: why do I want this in the first place? What good will come to be if I take the initiative to put myself into this change? Am I doing this for myself, or for someone or something else?

You’ve got to find the motivation inside of yourself to do something, or else it won’t work. It’s “intrinsic” (inside you) motivation, rather than “extrinsic” (outside you) motivation. You have to make sure that your values match the reason you’re doing it. Do you value more time with your children? Do you value being productive at work? Is a strong marriage important to you? Are you willing to make behavioral changes aligned with what you value or believe in?

Without the intrinsic motivation – and attachment to the reasons you want it – the initiative doesn’t make sense. Then you’re just doing it for other reasons, which aren’t sustainable, and don’t organically come from within you. They’re just not sustainable and valuable to you.

If you’re making change or taking the initiative because others want you to do it, that won’t last, either. It then becomes obligation, which creates resentment, guilt, conflict and eventual burnout. You’re going to do it once, or twice, but it’ll peter out in the long run.

 

Taking initiative for changing behaviors in your life is not as easy as just getting something done, and being over with it. If you want long-term change, it’ll important to consider all of the factors that go into it, including the barriers to getting you there, the emotions underlying why you do what you do, and knowing how to summon the intrinsic motivation to make the long-lasting changes in your life that you desire.

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Speaking up for Yourself

It’s important to speak up for yourself, or learn how to, because one major consequence of not doing that would be that you’re forced to stuff your anger and frustration. When that happens, the anger is forced out in all sorts of mutated ways: irritability, anger at innocent bystanders, and anger at yourself.

Speaking up for yourself also negates much of the assumptions or things we think will happen if we say what’s on our mind. A lot of the times our assumptions or fantasies aren’t really valid once we actually check it out with the person that you need to communicate with.

Often, we spin so much negativity and irrational thinking, that we talk ourselves out of standing up for ourselves or confronting anything. We have to learn how to teach ourselves how to check things out with reality, not just what’s stirring in our heads. Realities vary from person to person.

Ask yourself: what is the worst thing would happen if I stick up for myself and say something? Will I piss this person off? Will worse things happen to me? Will the person never speak to me again? Play some of these questions out in your head when you are considering making a confrontation or speaking up for yourself. See if they are actually true once you get them out there on the table.

If you’re confronting the person and they do get angry that you’re saying something to them, or they get defensive, that’s really about them, and not you. You don’t have to own or take responsibility for them – you only have to for yourself. You can still listen to what they’re saying without absorbing their anger or defensiveness, or taking it on yourself.

If you’re the kind of person that is afraid of conflict, your lesson is to learn how to challenge yourself to push past it and speak up for yourself. Therapy or counseling also helps with this, as you could uncover the driving factors involved in not being able to speak up for yourself or that make you avoid conflict.

Examples of when speaking up for yourself might be needed:

  • When someone says something offensive or hurtful to you, that you can’t let go
  • When something is affecting you or your life that needs to change
  • When you find yourself ruminating – or thinking constantly – about something that someone has said or done to you
  • When someone else’s behavior is getting in the way of your happiness or emotional well-being
  • When you’re trying to right a wrong
  • ​When you’re sticking up for someone else who’s been wronged, like your spouse or family member
  • If you have been wronged by a restaurant, retail store or some other customer service provider

Helpful hints when speaking up for yourself:

  • Speak in “I” statements, and don’t be rude, critical or attacking of others
  • Get to the point: be specific, clear, and direct; don’t beat around the bush or make others read your mind
  • Be confident with your words and body language: really get on board with what you’re saying before you say it
  • Target their problematic behavior or words directly when you say what the matter is
  • Don’t take responsibility for their defensiveness, or for them getting angry with you for saying what’s on your mind: remember – that’s about them, and not you
  • Be aware of your tone when you say what’s on your mind – sometimes the same words said with two different tones have completely different effects, and can get you two different outcomes
  • Say what you want or need from the person directly
  • Time it well: think out what would be the best time to approach this person, where you could get through to them most effectively

Speaking up for yourself doesn’t have to be a big deal. It may take a bit of courage, well-placed words and timing, but learning these things becomes an art. People will respect you for saying what’s on your mind, and you’ll respect yourself, too. If you don’t learn how to stand up and speak out for yourself, you’ll be missing opportunities to support yourself and get what you want.

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Living Behind Facades

Facades can be designed both to protect us from those in our lives, and to turn us into new and more exciting versions of ourselves. They can misrepresent us by advertising ourselves as someone were not, or someone we want to be, and they put distance between us and the world.

Personality facades are artificial versions of ourselves, or masks we wear. They are basically roles that we play to others, which give us a limited sense of importance, success, affirmation to both ourselves and to other people. They can be adorned by the careers we have, the material items we own, the money we have, or the importance that we create for ourselves. They are superficial realities that we use to judge ourselves by, and judge others by, and are egoic in nature.

These masks or roles mostly serve to make us more appealing to others. They allow us – in a roundabout way – to get our needs met from those in our lives, be they friends, coworkers, family, or others we encounter. When we put our mask on, we then enter into a game in which the goal is to seek out love, adoration, acceptance, importance, or good standing with those who encounter our facade. They are needs we’re seeking to get met from others, that we can’t someone meet for ourselves.

The problem with living behind these facades is that our authenticity, or our true self, gets suffocated and snubbed out. When you suspend the facade or the false front, the real person behind it may be someone you feel is inadequate, inferior, insecure, or not up to par in someway to deal with others. That person may be someone you wholeheartedly reject, and never really allow to appear in your life because his or her perceived flaws are unacceptable to the world.

Sometimes, we get so used to clinging to the false fronts that we forget that anyone with actual substance exists behind them. The tendency to keep the facades going has become second nature and so unconscious that they exist on autopilot. It’s quite probable that we manufactured these facades growing up in our families of origin, or when we were young, as ways to protect us from inadequacy, weakness or insecurity. Creatively, we create these masks to compensate for personality deficiencies that could leave us vulnerable to others’ emotional or verbal harm of us, including from parents. Sometimes, the facades get built to insulate us and keep us imprisoned from the world.

Taking the risk to pierce or puncture old facades has its benefits. It can mean the difference between keeping a friendship or intimate relationship on a superficial level, and deepening it to one that is more fulfilling. I think that we think we run the risk of rejection if we open up and expose others to the real version of us, who we think will be less than adequate and unappealing. But, the reality is a bit different.

It can be that we ourselves reject who we really are behind the false fronts, and project that onto others. If we have a self critic, he or she can hammer at us and try to keep our true self in lockdown, especially in the case that we don’t like who we truly are. Dealing with the self critic, we may allow ourselves to truly shine through – warts and all. We may be able to learn how to embrace our true self, even if we have been unacceptable to ourselves in the past.

I find that relationships thrive when they are opened up to deeper dimensions, and are usually welcome by other people. Many times, other people in your life are craving the authenticity and genuine qualities of bringing your true or false self to the relationship, even if you think they’ll reject you. And it may be worth reconsidering those relationships that cannot deepen and seeing if they still work for you after you risk being vulnerable.

Facades are just avatars. They allow us to navigate our lives and our relationships, and are not bad things in and of themselves. Different situations and relationships require different roles, but the problem comes when you forget you’re playing the role and forget to drop the facade and bring our your authentic self.

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Barriers to Sex

Sex is far from just the physical act. There are myriad factors that can contribute to the health of your sex life, from timing, to stress, to emotional issues that play in. We’re looking at some of the issues that might affect your sex life, and offering some tips as to things you might consider or implement into your life, whether in or out of the bedroom, to create a more fulfilling sex life with your partner.

  • Learning how to communicate what you want is important to creating the type of fulfilling sex life that you desire. If sexual gratification is left to inhibition and assumptions, your partner won’t be able to satisfy you in that way that you need to be. Know or learn what you want, and speak your mind. It may not be easy, or it very well may be totally uncomfortable, but learning to communicate what you want is vital.
  • Pornography abuse is another barrier to sexual contact and fulfillment. I think that heavy porn use dulls and flattens the mind, and makes the act of sex flat, robotic, and digital. I think that overactive porn use creates a divide between getting sexually fulfilled by a computer, and having person-to-person contact with your intimate partner. Porn can certainly play into the relationship, but it takes both people being okay with it and accepting of it, in order to enhance the sexual part of your relationship in a mutual way. If it’s threatening or unacceptable to one partner (e.g. your wife or girlfriend), it’s going to create problems, lack of trust, and feelings of rejection on her part, and make things worse.
  • Anxiety about sexual performance is another barrier to sexual contact that I talk with many guys about. It’s more common than you think. This issue often manifests in things like erectile dysfunction or an inability to perform sexually, but can also appear as pushing your partner away or not initiating sex. Some guys – feeling like a failure in the marriage – manifest that experience in the bedroom. They have a hard time with performance because they are already feeling like failures, and so they carry this thinking that they will fail their partner into the physical intimacy realm.
  • Making the time is also difficult. When kids, exhaustion, grueling work schedules and poor timing collide, the time for intimacy can go by the wayside. If partners have different sexual schedules, one person may be ready for sex at night, when the other one is exhausted and just wanting to sleep. Syncing up schedules without losing the fun and spontaneity of sex then becomes a challenge. I think planning sexual intimacy is great, but again, it may lose some of the spark when it just becomes planned. Spontaneous sex is great if you can manage it, but realistically, it may also take some light planning, too.
  • Trouble initiating sex: There may be subtle power dynamics at play in your marriage, and when it comes to sex, those may play out unconsciously through sexual contact. It often goes that men who are good at initiating in other parts of their lives or marriages sometimes have a hard time initiating sexually or emotionally, so women are forced into the role, which creates resentment. Have a talk with your partner about initiating sex and making that a mutual thing. If one person is in charge of it, the effects of that will play out sexually.
  • Deal effectively with your stress: You’re not fully physically or emotionally available if stress is getting the best of you. Eat right, get the quality sleep you need, and exercise. Dealing with stress is an everyday pursuit: it’s not just a one-time deal. The better you deal with stress, the more energy and availability you’ll have with your partner when it comes to sex, and the happier and more physically available you’ll be for your partner.
  • Not being present is another barrier to sex. When you’re present, you’re not in your head thinking about other things, or thinking about the past or future – you’re right in the moment where you need to be. When you’re in the here and now, you’re actually involved in the act of lovemaking, and not somewhere else. It’s hard to be fully in the present, because that’s where all of our inhibitions and junk come up – not being good enough, not pleasing our partner, being uncomfortable, etc. Sex is a container for the rest of the unresolved issues in the relationship, so be aware of that as they come up, and get the help that you need to work through those issues so that you can be more present to the experience.
  • Emotional disconnection between you and your partner: If there is emotional disconnection in the relationship or marriage, it’s going to play out sexually as problems in the bedroom. Like marriage counselors know, understand that there is a direct correlation between the emotional and the sexual health of the relationship or marriage, and this can go either way. If there are emotional problems, they can manifest as sexual problems, and vice versa. Work on repairing any emotional problems or damage to the relationship outside of the bedroom for a better relationship inside of it. For guys, understand that issues that your wife or girlfriend may have from the past need to be worked through, and that they neither can “just get over them,” or are amenable to any “fix” or solution you may try to put on it.
  • Comparing your sex life to “others” or the media’s version of sex: Do you really and actually know what other people are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms? No, you don’t. The media surely doesn’t have it right, and people you know aren’t going to tell you if they are having sexual problems themselves. The fact is, you don’t know what other peoples’ sexual realities are. The “hot and heavy” period in the beginning of the relationship will fade some, so don’t expect a sustained libidinal consistency throughout the relationship. Address issues as they come up, and don’t compare your situation to others, especially when they might be in the same boat as you and your partner. Even if you never know.

You can spice up your sex life in a variety of ways, but to look at some of the underlying issues takes a little more introspection, courage and willingness to confront issues head on. In the long run, I think a healthy, long-term sex life is a function of working through some of those issues together. Without a sincere effort to work on those issues, you may be setting yourself up for other, bigger marital issues, like marital infidelity or divorce. So, invest the time and energy into solving those issues as they come up – together – and you’ll have not just a better sex life, but a better marriage or relationship in general.

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The Business of Marriage

When you get caught up in the business of marriage, the marriage starts to run more like a business or organization where two employees run side by side rather than enjoy an intimate, loving relationship with any depth. A “business marriage” becomes flat, stale, mechanical and unfulfilling, and it usually happens over time. “We’ve become roommates,” is also another complaint that I hear from couples who have experienced this phase in their relationship. Although it can happen gradually, it’s effects can be disastrous.

It’s certainly easy to get caught up in the day-to-day mechanics of your relationship roles, especially if you have kids and both of you have full-time jobs. There are schedules to plan, meals to prepare, activities to organize, and at the end of the day, it’s hard enough just to find five or 10 minutes for yourself, let alone with each other. What’s a struggling couple to do to rekindle or reconnect and prioritize their relationship or marriage?

So, what characterizes the “business” of the relationship?

  • Issues concerning kids: appointments, activities, school, etc.
  • Financial issues, like bills, taxes, investments, house issues (mortgage/rent), debt, purchases
  • Family issues, either your own or yours or your wife’s family
  • House projects, maintenance, remodeling and other plans for your home
  • Plans, such as vacations, trips, weekend plans, plans for the future
  • Other partnerships or roles that you both share that aren’t actually romantic or interpersonal connections
  • Feeling flat, uninspired, unfulfilled, bored or generally on satisfied by your partner or by your marriage
  • Checking out, whether emotionally, daydreaming you were somewhere else, or even having extramarital affairs or communication with other people
  • Things that don’t “connect” you or allow you to get to know each other, see each other as people, and allow you to drop the roles you play in your marriage (e.g. parent, domestic person, breadwinner, etc.)

I think the immediate first thing to do with a problem like this is just to both acknowledge that you have fallen into this trap, and commit to turning it around. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, diagnosing it may be fairly difficult. Just being able to label it as such and both agree that that is what’s happening is a huge step forward towards rebuilding your marriage or relationship.

A lot of couples try to remedy this with more date nights. Date nights are fine and good, but what you do with date night is important: merely scheduling it out and following through with it isn’t enough. Date night can become just as scheduled as everything else in your routine, so what good is it if it’s hyper-planned and boring? What fun will you get from it if you’re not actually connecting with your spouse or partner while you’re on it?

I think planning chunks of time in which to work on the “business” of marriage or a relationship is important, so that you can prioritize those business elements of your relationship, and clearly differentiate it from the romantic or interpersonal part of your relationship. It’s important that you draw the line in the sand, or else the romantic part of the relationship can get overrun with the demands of the business side of the relationship. Taking a regular chunk of time weekly, or monthly, to work on the business matters will allow you to get all of the logistics out of the way, so that you can establish priority to the romantic or intimate part.

Ultimately, you may choose to seek out professional counseling to help work through the issues that have created your business marriage, and look at some of the origins or unexpressed negative emotions that you both may be harboring towards each other. It may be essential to look at the past, as much as you and or your spouse may not want to. Identifying and working through those issues may help you prevent them from returning and creating the same scenario you have today.

Sometimes, we use items that make up the business marriage to avoid dealing with the real problems in the marriage. It becomes easy to hide behind the business of the marriage or the logistics rather than actually turn and face the sometimes monumental issues having faced you as a couple for a very long time. The kids, plans, responsibilities, jobs and the like then become tools of avoidance and distance from your mate and the marital problems.

Avoiding your marital problems by using the “business” end of your relationship will only create problems in the end, especially if there are kids. When the kids grow up and leave the house, you won’t have any connection with your mate if you’ve been only good business partners, or have sought to avoid any marital issues by focusing on the business of the marriage, including the kids. Those roles can only take you so far.

Like most issues, prevention is the key. Taking the steps to ensure that your marriage does not have to go down the road of a business marriage is a wise investment if you want to enjoy a loving, intimate marriage that is mutually fulfilling years to come. You may not always share this type of connection, because life demands that you share some kind of business relationship together, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve balance somewhere in between.

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How to Deal with Feeling Inferior

Along with powerlessness, feeling inferior is one of the most difficult experiences a man can have. When you deal directly with feeling inferior, this rips off any facade or structure that you have built to convince others of the opposite impression – that you’re powerful, competent and in charge. In other words, you don’t have to work at showing the world you’re something you’re not, if you feel inferior.

Most people feel inferior to some degree or another at times, and some people feel inherently inferior all their lives. Yet many of us work so hard to posture and build an identity to reject feeling that way. We try to run far away from feeling inferior, usually by gaining wealth and status or trying to become important in one way or another in the world. We try to create a persona of someone we want to be, or someone we’re not, to fight against the feelings we hold so deeply within us.

I think it’s harder for men, because as men, we’ve grown up and been socialized by so many institutions and media to be in charge and be in control. There is no room for feeling inferior in our modern culture, yet intimate relationships have evolved to demand our vulnerability as men. It’s a Catch-22: culture says be strong, but relationships say talk out feelings and be vulnerable. What’s a guy to do without going insane?

In my opinion, it’s OK to feel inferior. It won’t make you less of a man to feel inferior. You may think that others will reject you, including your wife or partner, if you open up and talk about feeling inferior or be vulnerable to any degree. If you are with the right person, that’s probably not true and won’t happen. If you’re with the wrong person, your mate will expect you continue to conform to all the false demands our culture has put on us: to always be strong and bulletproof, and show no weakness.

When we try to be “strong men,” what does that actually mean to you? Does it mean being a stoic rock, or not showing weakness to others? Does it mean playing the “part” of the man? How much do you conform to the rigid stereotypes that media and culture manufacture for men?

Thinking about and challenging what you know about feeling inferior is important to being able to eventually incorporate it, not fear it and start to accept it. It’s a natural and (sometimes) inevitable part of our experience, and the more you can get used to it, the better chance you’ll be giving yourself of not making unwise decisions to avoid feeling inferior.

How can you deal with feeling inferior?

  • Challenge what it means to “be a man” and to be strong all the time
  • Communicate your inferiority to yourself, and someone you trust, like your wife or girlfriend
  • Journal about feeing inferior: use a dedicated journal to write about your inferiority
  • Seek out professional counseling to help you further understand your inferiority, and to work through it
  • Understand it’s origins, by looking at your early childhood and growing up in your family of origin
  • Make friends with it, and don’t run away from it: accept it as it is
  • Try to not “overcompensate” for it, by trying to prove how superior you are or how competent you are to others. People see through other people when they’re not transparent, and are acting out a role
  • Know that other guys like you are feeling the exact same things as you are, and that you’re not alone with your inferiority
  • Ask yourself: “what’s the worst that can happen if I feel these feelings?”
  • Play out in your mind the worst-case scenarios, and figure out who would see you as lesser-than or reject you for being inferior. Ask yourself how you give them so much power over you.
  • See if you make decisions against feeling inferior. Understand what the consequences of those decisions have been for you

Feeling inferior is a part of the human experience; it’s not a bad feeling that requires you compartmentalize your feeling and run away from it. The better you can get to know when you feel inferior, the more likely you can open up your relationships in a deeper way – including your intimate relationship – and the less likely you’ll be making poor decisions because you’re avoiding feeling inferior.

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Is There Any Extra Space In Your Life?

When it seems like your life is packed with chores, obligations, work, and responsibilities, is there any room to breathe, let alone experience the benefit of having extra space or time for yourself?

Whoever you are, I think the practice of making regular space in our busy lives allows us a lot of opportunity for personal growth. It helps us take care of ourselves by just making it a habit to think about ourselves and prioritize ourselves. Making extra space in our lives – on a continual basis – allows us to replenish and get present to ourselves and what’s around us, after being caught up in the treadmill of life.

What do I do with more space? 

  • Time to think
  • Take a walk, hike, or exercise
  • Learn something new, like a foreign language or a new hobby
  • Call someone close whom you’ve neglected
  • Have fun
  • Breathe
  • Read
  • Do nothing
  • Time to do something good for yourself, like take yourself out to eat or get a massage
  • Sleep in
  • Spend time with your child or spouse
  • Relax without doing anything

This could go wrong if you over prioritize yourself. A lot of couples that I speak with tell me that their guy thinks too much about himself, and plans time or activities more for himself than for his family or marriage/relationship. I think the way to best handle this is to create balance, and not get so caught up in taking care of yourself – or thinking about yourself – that other things and people go by the wayside. The point here is not to neglect your responsibilities and the people that depend on you; in fact, it’s to become more available to them  when you have more in your tank to give to them.

A lot of people don’t know why they pack their lives to the hilt. Often, there are psychological or emotional reasons behind why we have to stay so busy, in spite of the real need to get things done or bring in a paycheck. Sometimes, we keep ourselves busy to distract ourselves away from a bad situation in our lives, or to avoid negative emotions that we would have to face if we stopped and stood still for a minute. Consider that if you’re packing your life with so much busyness, and ask yourself why. You may be running from something that is unconscious and that needs to be attended to so that you can create more space in your life.

Some people need to be “extremely busy,” because it gives them a sense of peace or a sense of identity. If I’m “that busy guy,” I might get affirmation or praise from people who I care about what they think about me. I may see myself as important or special if I’m so busy. I think we, as Americans, pride ourselves on being “busy,” and congratulate ourselves by being so “busy,” “productive,” and “important.” What would happen if we cut back on what makes us so busy? Would we lose those feelings that we get from staying so chained to our schedules and obligations? Who would we find if we are forced to face our “non-busy” selves?

I think money is also important in this conversation, because may times, we’ve obligated ourselves financially to our cars, houses, trips, and other expenses that we may not be able to afford, which strips us of our time, mental well being and ability to carve extra space out in our lives. Ask yourself: can I afford to cut back on things that may be draining my ability to create more space in my life? How can I cut back on expenses to be able to free myself of more time for space in my life? Time is directly related to money, and by “interrogating” your finances, you may see that you’re losing valuable time you could be creating because you’re too busy paying for things you don’t want or need.

How to create more space:

  1. Carve out a chunk of time (1 hour, 2 hours, etc.) for just you to do whatever you want on a regular scheduled basis.
  2. This is not time to do errands, pay bills, or to obligate yourself to things that you should/need/ought to do. It’s time to relax and create space for yourself.
  3. Communicate your intentions for making space or time to those that need to know – don’t just do it without letting your spouse or family know what you’re doing. They may need to plan around your planned time for yourself.
  4. Make this a regular habit. Plan on doing this on a schedule, like once a week, every two weeks, or once a month. If you don’t plan it, it may not happen.
  5. Assess, and see what the results are. What did you learn from the experience of creating more space for yourself? How did it benefit you to do this? Process the experience and develop self-awareness to identify the benefits of creating space for yourself.

Creating space is essential for when things in life get busy. When marriage, family and career arrive, those things usually get prioritized, and we can lose ourselves in the day-to-day aspects of those roles. By creating extra space for ourselves, we keep ourselves a priority and replenish ourselves so that we can be the best we can for ourselves and others in our lives.

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Creating and Keeping Male Friendships

Do you have solid male friendships in your life right now? Do you have other guys in your life you can call and hang out with, and enjoy being together with? Are you one of those guys who’s had a hard time keeping friendships going, either because life has happened or you’ve gotten too busy?

I think male friendships are valuable and necessary for a varied and meaningful life. Good friendships can provide support, brotherly love, masculine energy, common interests, reliability and happiness for a lifetime. They are an antidote to loneliness, stress and depression, and can meet your needs in a way that a marriage or intimate relationship might not. Marriages or intimate relationships can meet a lot of needs, but not all of them, and male friendships can fill in those gaps to create a complete life for yourself.

Male friendships take work and investment. They don’t just come to you – you also need to go to them. If you want friendships that last, the relationships require that you put yourself out there to make the effort of keeping the relationships going, by making the calls, setting the plans and doing the groundwork needed to keep them up. They demand you be there and “show up” by being present, and not be withdrawn or aloof, as well as not too needy in them where it’s one-sided.

A lot of men don’t want to put themselves out there, especially to make new friendships, because they’re afraid of rejection. They don’t want to be seen as not being wanted, not having enough to contribute to a friendship or being deficient in ways that they won’t be acceptable for. On the flip side, some guys have too high of expectations for others, which can translate into other guys not being good enough for them, which can create isolation and loneliness.

To make new male friendships can be hard, especially when you don’t have other men around you that you would necessarily hang out with. Without the comforts of college, work or another structure, it can be hard to find easy access to new male friendships. When career, family and life start up, the time and availability factors make it harder to meet new people and continue to connect with them on a regular basis. That’s why it takes a little extra work when your a working guy, married guy, or family guy – or all three – if you want a new male friendship, or to keep old ones going.

Laziness is also a friendship-buster. If you’re lazy, and don’t really want to do the work that is needed to keep a friendship going, you’re putting the expectation on the other person or people to do all of the heavy lifting involved to keep the relationship going. Then, it’s only one sided, and one-sided relationships can only go so far and only have so much shelf-life. People get tired and friendships burn out without both of you working towards it.

Making excuses is also another factor in squashing male friendships. Statements like, “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t have the time for anyone else,” may be true, but it depends on how bad you want make friendships. Do you really want them in your life? What are you willing to do to make them happen for yourself?

Here are some thoughts about how to go about and what to think about when increasing your male friendships.

What can you do to increase or improve your male friendships on a regular basis?

  • See what you want or need: do you actually want more time with friends? Do you want more male friendships in your life? What are you actually needing, and what are you willing to do about it?
  • Know who you want, and who you don’t want: not everyone you meet will fit the bill. Also, you may have outgrown other friendships, so see if there is still enough there for you to maintain the friendship. Sometimes, friendships change for the worse, and you can outgrow them, so know if it’s still worth the time and energy invested to keep old ones going.
  • Take a risk: put yourself out there and take a risk to meet new people, or reconnect with old friends.
  • Challenge your barriers: laziness, fear of rejection, inadequacy or other barriers can get in the way of you taking the step to keep friendships going. See what’s getting in your way and do something about it. Challenge yourself and your barriers to friendship.
  • Project your life into the future and see: are male friendships something that you see for yourself in your later years? Would more friendships make for a happy life as you age? Work backwards and do the work now; investing in good, quality male friendships now will pay off down the road, like a good retirement plan.
  • Find new friends: seek out parts of your life where new people may already exist, or find new places to go find people. Think about what interests you have, and where other, likeminded men would be to share those interests. Spend the time to go to where other guys who are like you would be hanging out.
  • Talk with your girlfriend, wife or spouse: maybe doing double dates would work in the beginning, so as to ease the transition into a new male friendship. It’s possible that your wife or girlfriend knows another female in her life that she would like to spend time with and get to know, and maybe that person has a significant other that would like to meet you. Plan an evening outing for the four of you, get a babysitter, and find an interesting new restaurant to meet up at. Take a risk, and even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have put yourself out there anyways.
  • Go through your Facebook or LinkedIn contacts: this doesn’t have to sound cheesy, but maybe there are actually Facebook friends that you could meet up with in real life. Hey, it’s an idea, and who would have thunk: actually meeting someone live in the flesh from Facebook. It’s possible there is one or two guys who you could see yourself spending an afternoon hanging out with, or drinking a beer with.
  • Carve out the time: actually find the time in your busy schedule to meet a friend. Stop using the excuses that you can’t or don’t have the time, and make it happen. Create the time on a regular basis, on a weekend or weeknight evening where you’re available to meet with someone, and work around your and your family’s busy schedule to prioritize this for yourself, without impinging on any one else’s needs.

Male friendships – whether old or new – make for a happy and varied life, and can give a lot to you. They require work and availability, but they are some of the most important things for a fulfilling life. Think about the ideas above, and challenge yourself to see if you’d like more male friendships in your life by reaching out beyond your comfort zone to make a friendship happen for you.

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