All posts by Mark Groves

Are You Giving The Wrong Kind Of Love?

“Can You Actually Love Someone Knowing They May Leave You?”

I remember when a friend of mine asked me this question…

I thought this was ridiculous. In my first two relationships the women left me… and I was understandably heartbroken.

This pain led to confusion about what love was. I wondered, “How could love hurt this much and be a good thing?” My confusion turned to frustration, which translated into drinking lots of pints and making out on dance floors.

I never really thought about limiting how much I loved until I saw what love can do. Because of the devastation of heartbreak, from that moment forward I abandoned going to the depths with love and relationships (not the “drop it like it’s hot” kinda depths, I could hit tha floor). I had now subconsciously subscribed to the story, “If I love people they’ll leave. If I let people love me they’ll hurt me.” This is a common narrative that most people live by without even knowing it, and they’ve abandoned loving, like, truly loving, because they’ve been hurt. Welcome to the club, right?

What I didn’t see is that the heartbreak is love too. We want the pretty parts of love… but love is ALL the parts.

The “unconditional” part of love is where most of us get confused because most of us weren’t taught it. When our families need us to practice “this” religion, to get “this kind” of job, to marry “this kind” of person, that’s conditional love. When the people around us only love us when we do things that make them happy, that’s conditional love. When our societies and cultures only accept us when we stick to the status quo and don’t challenge their beliefs, that is conditional love.

Our need to be accepted and part of a tribe/group is inherently programmed into our cells, which evolutionarily, if we were kicked out of a tribe, meant almost certain death. Those who followed, survived. Those who didn’t, well, they aren’t on Ancestry.com.

So how do we love unconditionally when we’ve never been taught it? And more importantly, how do we love someone even if our relationship ends?

Relationships are where our  wounds are born, so it’s in relationships our wounds are healed. But in the dance of love, this isn’t so easy to do, right?! Why does healing have to feel so hard?! Gawd. No wonder we would all rather take antidepressants, get hair plugs,  and inject our lips and asses.

This is how most of our relationships play out:

We meet someone and get super excited (or we’ve been with someone for awhile and love them deeply)… and then they either don’t reciprocate our invitations to develop a relationship or they end the one we had. It’s a terrible feeling to want to build love, only to have that desire not reciprocated, and from our perspective, rejected.

When most of us love people, we don’t love them just in the present moment, we love them also because of the story we’ve built in our minds of “how it’s all going to play out.” Loving someone and holding them to a future is, in essence, conditional love. It’s “I love you as long as this story goes the way I have imagined.” Well, it seldom does.

It’s not to say that when people leave and kids are involved it’s not painful. Or when relationships end in any capacity we’re not allowed to be heartbroken – because if we did, that would mean we’re loving people conditionally. It’s not that at all.

As I said before, the painful parts are the love too. They’re the unconditional parts. They’re the parts that say, “I love you so much that I can still love you regardless of what you choose… even if that’s not me (us).”

It can be challenging to understand when our hearts have been broken, but I think most of us have been in the space where we have wished that others would’ve understood when  we wanted to follow a passion that wasn’t in alignment with what our family/culture wants, or even why we didn’t want to go on a second date. Most of us have been in the position where we’ve hoped that someone would be able to offer us compassion when we broke their hearts or left them… We have all wished for unconditional love from those around us.

conditional love, mark groves, createthelove, relationship advice, dating advice,

So what we wish for from others, we must give.

When those women left me when I was younger I didn’t understand how to love them despite their choices. Sure, I wanted what was best for them, if it meant me. And them not choosing me had me resentful. It made me angry and caused me to abandon my own heart because they followed theirs. I fell in love with a story that wasn’t mine (them being part of it), and because of that I put down the pen on my own. I tried to force a love story with those women, not seeing that if I accepted that truth (and let them go) in my heart, I would welcome in the woman who was actually part of the story I dreamt of.

You see, this is where we all get stuck; we don’t offer ourselves the unconditional love for our story to not look exactly how we thought and/or we’re taught it should be. When we do we accept and see that maybe being a doctor, having an arranged marriage, being heterosexual, getting divorced, following a different dream, are all okay paths. Actually, they’re not just okay, they’re perfect, for us… because they’re our story.

What does this have to do with people leaving us or relationships ending? We allow their path to be their path. When we allow their path to be their path, we allow our path to be ours as well. Do you see that? When we love people for being human, we give ourselves permission to be human too. Unconditional begets unconditional.

How do we make this make sense when people abandon families and/or cheat and leave? Firstly, needing to make it make sense is the foundation of building a prison to keep ourselves in. Secondly, if we get stuck in the space of wishing they hadn’t left or wanting our lives to look differently than they do currently, we are fighting against what is true. You fight reality, and when you fight against what’s real, you lose.

You need to accept what’s real, because the only alternative feels like pushing a big rock up a big hill. You look at your life as it is today, and you love yourself unconditionally. You put one foot ahead of the fucking other and you build from where you are. You start. You take care of you (and those around you) and you stay committed to your life, your story. Stop getting stuck on which actor needs to play which role and see that you’re the casting director and the fucking writer, and the lighting person, and the executive producer. You’re all of it. The whole fucking sha-bang (is that a word?!).

If you loved yourself unconditionally, you would love your life as it is. You would express and love all the parts of you, even if you think others won’t. You would put your self-worth in your hands and make you choosing you decide your lovability rather than someone else. The moment you decide whether you’re lovable is the moment you put your worthiness in your hands. When it’s in your hands, no one can ever take it from you.

I see now that it’s not whether I can love people if they stay or go, it’s: Can I stay and love me even in the most painful parts?

can't get hard, cause of ED, cause of erectile dysfunction, men's health, mark groves, createthelove, positive psychology

Why You Really Can’t Get Hard

I was a late bloomer to the sex game. Even the concept of dating a girl scared me so much that I never had to worry about the sex part, I was still working on the “be kinda cool around chicks” part. I didn’t kiss a girl until high school and the first assisted ejaculation didn’t come till shortly thereafter that kiss. Anyone who’s touched a booby knows that once you’ve touched one, you want to either touch those boobies a lot more, and/or all the boobies around you, for pretty much every waking hour. So, stopping at “light petting” wasn’t likely to happen, despite my church’s best effort.

My sexual experiences and education came quick… (the puns are so easy here, right?!?)

When I entered (gawwwwwd it’s killing me) my first relationship I was quick to fall. I was such a romantic and so excited about love that I would celebrate our monthly anniversary… Cheesy right?!? I love cheese.

I was very passionate about building a bond with my girlfriend. Relationships came naturally to me, and I had no problem being committed to the person I loved and seeking purpose in being a great and loving partner… and building and feeding my own life and passions (calm down co-dependent police).

Unfortunately (at the time), that relationship ended. As most are, it was a painful breakup. I took about seven months to myself. I went out with friends, I met new girls, but it wasn’t until I met the next girl I dated, that I got sexual with anyone again.

She would be the fifth girl I’d kissed in my life, and the second I slept with… All this by the ripe age of twenty. Why am I telling you this? You’ll see. Read on.

That relationship would end and it would break my heart wide open. I no longer wanted love, because from my perspective with a freshly broken heart, love meant hurt. I had many friends at that time were hooking up with girls and sampling different goodies. All this time I had stayed in my integrity and it had gotten me what?!? A devastated heart.

So in that moment I would choose to try a different path. A month after my girlfriend and I broke up, for the first time in my life, I brought a girl home from the bar to my parent’s house..to have a one-night-stand with. Well, that was the plan. We were both naked and about to do it, but I couldn’t get it up. For the first time in my life, my wiener was like a noodle. I mean, all systems should’ve been go. Hot girl. Check. Naked. Check. R&B music. Check. Lubricated. Check. Hard…wait. nope. fail.

And so we (I) would welcome the first of three causes of ED:

(1). Being out of integrity:

Man… it would take me years and many shots of Jack Daniels to actually own this truth: I was out of integrity for most of the sexual encounters I had outside of relationship. I am not a one-night-stand guy. But yet, for years, I tried to make this my truth. My MO. I got celebrated for hooking up with ladies and I saved myself from heartbreak by never letting anyone truly love me. I lived through and told some great stories though.

I danced in the space of promiscuity to avoid love.  Over time I would recognize that if I drank enough I could drink away my built-in guidance system that wouldn’t allow me to get erect when the sex wasn’t in alignment for me. I was drinking away the very thing that was there to protect me. Sometimes I would even use Viagra or Cialis to curb my values and integrity. Using pills to escape truth seems to be common these days doesn’t it?

The penis is interesting, right? Because it must work in order to have sex. The vagina has an out… It requires lubrication, yes. But women can still allow entry and find things for lubrication in order to have sex. A guy can’t prop his dick on a kick stand or wrap it to a popsicle stick. It has to work in order to have sex. A man doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, he wears it on his dick. Our dicks are connected to our hearts, and we can’t avoid that truth. Although, do we ever f*cking try.

Which leads me to point numero dos:

(2). When we begin to actually care:

This one is messed up… because when we care is when our penis is supposed to work. I had a good friend who was a family doctor who told me that one of the number one causes of ED was “new partner anxiety”.

It would be a couple years after that big heartbreak before my walls even started to come down a bit. I hadn’t felt butterflies in years and even the hint of loving someone hadn’t edged its way into my experience. I went on dates, I drank my way through encounters. Then, when I finally met a girl I cared about, I understood this statement wholeheartedly.

I was in integrity, I cared about her. I waited until what felt like the “right” time, and then boom. No boom. Again, all systems should’ve been go. But yet, I couldn’t do it, because I couldn’t get hard.

I didn’t intellectually understand why this was happening in that moment, but now I see that my fear of getting hurt was causing me to have a fear of letting this woman in (ohhhhh the irony). In my experience, relationships had led to heartbreaks and pain. Sex, on a meaningful level, had solidified that truth. And here I was, at the potential for heartbreak’s door, and it was like trying to put a marshmallow in a piggy bank. When I actually needed to perform, I couldn’t.

I realized that I had placed my masculinity and my lovability in sex. And the pressure of having to perform for someone where it actually mattered, mattered a lot. In a way, so much that it scared me and paralyzed my dong.

(3). Health/fitness/nutrition:

In order for the penis to get erect it requires blood flow. It’s no secret that ED is related to cardiovascular disease. I’ll also save the long-winded information about how your physical health is likely directly related to your emotional health.

So, instead, let’s focus on this: Erectile Dysfunction can be a symptom of cardiovascular disease, if you’re at all concerned about the health of your vascular system and you have risk factors associated with it, definitely go to your doctor. In all reality, adhering to a healthy diet, learning how to manage stress and having a good exercise regimen are the likely solutions to this issue. The trick is, you have to want good health more than you want to work 80 hour weeks, eat sh*tty food, and continue to ignore the glaring health signs that you need to pay attention to. That’s about as clear of a PSA (Public Service Announcement) I can provide.

mark groves, positive psychology, createthelove, treat ED, erectile dysfunction

What’s the solution?

Maybe it’s time we saw our dicks as something different than battering rams? Maybe we need to see them as they are: very accurate barometers of our hearts. From emotional health to physical health, it all seems to manifest in the very thing we need in order to procreate. Ironic right? Our bodies and minds attempt to require a certain level of health and congruency in order to pass on our seed. Coincidence? I think not.

It’s time we accept as men that we are emotional creatures. We require connection and love. We desire closeness and intimacy that is safe and secure. When we’re operating from a certain level of awareness, we can’t shut off the truth that whom we choose to share our sexual energy with, is important. Accepting this reality made me finally understand the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.” But boy, was it ever blissful to do shots, dance on speakers, and not know the real consequences of those choices, until I knew them.

If you want to stop getting ED the first thing you have to do is stop living out of integrity. How do you know what is in/out of integrity?! The truth is, you already know the answer to that. You know what choices you’re making that don’t feel good. You know when you’re hit by the cloud of guilt that blows over you the moment after you reach coitus. Yep. You know exactly what I’m talking about.

Next, you need to make different choices, and in turn, that will change how you feel about yourself (as in you’ll start loving yourself because you’ll start loving your choices… finally!). Personally, I took a vacation from women. I vowed to not have sex or be intimate with anyone where it didn’t feel in integrity and/or who I didn’t have feelings for. This taught me that I could stay committed to my integrity, and I also learned how to live in my aloneness. I invite you to do the same. Its other incredible benefit is that it also rewires our brains by teaching us that we deserve great love and that our worthiness isn’t found in random encounters. It teaches us that we’re a man of integrity. It teaches us that we get to choose. And most importantly, it teaches us that we get to decide what kind of man we want to be.

What about the scenarios where we actually care? Most of the time in these cases it’s the anxiety of love that has us not performing, so we need to talk about it. We need to express that we care and this is why erectile dysfunction is happening. We need to let our partner in on the secret, and then it’s not a secret. ED only has power over us if we let it. Your ED is asking you to be vulnerable and communicate, which is a skill that is necessary to create a loving and wonderful partnership… Your dick is soft so it can teach you to be soft too. F*cked up right? Ohhhhh the lessons in life’s experiences are vast.

New partner anxiety and infidelity aren’t the only ways ED can show up in relationships. It can be that we’re not communicating something that hurts. Perhaps our partner cheated on us and we haven’t stood up for ourselves and dealt with the hurt. Perhaps we’re no longer attracted to our partners.  And maybe, just maybe, we’re holding on to emotions instead of sharing them.

As a partner of someone who is experiencing ED, the worst thing you can do is take it personally and make it about you. Be curious, be understanding. Don’t shame him. Ask questions. Love him. Hear him. And then ask how you can help support him.

My journey has allowed me so much clarity surrounding my relationship to my penis, to sex, and to my partner. I now see that my body always knew what was right.

It’s funny, because often I’ll get asked, “Do you regret or wish you could take any of your choices/mistakes back?” No, I don’t. It sucks that I’ve hurt people and been hurt. It is unfortunate that I had to stray from my path so much to find it… but that’s exactly it; I had to leave my truth to know what it was. Other people were part of my lessons, as I was part of theirs.

When I look back, I look back with clear eyes because I’ve learned from my past. So any hope to change it would be hoping to change the experience that taught me the very things I needed to learn to be the man I am today. So you see, there are no mistakes. Life has a brilliant way of teaching us. And sometimes that lesson is through Jack Daniels and getting some extra exercise from a few walks of shame.

mark groves, createthelove, relationship advice, dating advice, nyc couples therapy, motivational speaker

Did Your Parents Make You Bad At Relationships?

I spent a lot of my life chasing women who would never let me catch them. And the ones who wanted to catch me? Wasn’t interested. There was no…. challenge.

As I woke up to the realities of my patterns I began to see the same stories playing out in all of the relationships around me. The same frustration that incessantly coursed through my veins was running rampant and infecting the masses.

Wait, was there a plague that caused the love of the unavailable?!

And who were these unavailable people? Why did they seem to never care as much as I did? Why did I feel like I was loving all out and they were just chilled out, not at all concerned about what was going on between us, drinking Mai Tais by the pool, never afraid to lose anyone? And, on top of that, why did I feel like I was taking crazy pills and they seemed liked they could give two shits?

Well, if you’re like I was, don’t worry, you’re not crazy, but your emotional brain is. The good news is I’m about to make all of your irrational behaviour make sense AND give you some actionable tips on how to actually choose relationships where we choose each other.

Wait… those exist?!

In relationships we generally take one of two roles… The Pursuer and The Runner. To put it more simply, we’ll either be the one always running after and chasing love (pursuer), or we’ll be the one always fleeing from it and feeling controlled and smothered by love (runner).

So you may be reading this thinking, “No way, I’ve been both”. And while you are likely right, you will be one more than the other the majority of the time… and I would put money on the fact that you became the other when you got really hurt. (I went from pursuer to runner… smooth move. This comes from the belief that love hurt us so we just won’t entertain love anymore).

“So what does this mean about me if I’m the pursuer?”

Here’s the deal, the pursuer is often someone who’s greatest fear is being left. Ironically, the very behaviours we choose when we’re a pursuer; being clingy, needy, jealous and feeling desperately fearful, are the very things that make our greatest fear (being left) realized. Add to that the fact that we tend to pick people who never really want to be caught, makes this painful reality a regular. We live in a state of fear, and we often see love and anxiety as being synonymous.

This is why when someone truly wants to love and choose us, we can often not feel excited. We mistake the safety of a secure partner with a lack of connection and there’s no spark. Know that we can change this though. Once we reduce the anxiety and live in a space of security, we begin to choose partners from a place of authentic connection, and not just because we’re repeating patterns.

Where does this behaviour begin? Why would anyone want to be in a relationship like this?! Welllll… let’s get in a time machine and go back to childhood.

Pursuers usually have a parent (caregiver) who wasn’t around. Maybe that person worked a lot. Maybe they left. Maybe they were an alcoholic. Maybe we never knew them. Maybe we had a great childhood, yet we just didn’t feel acknowledged. Maybe we were in a large family and didn’t feel noticed or heard. Maybe we felt like we weren’t told enough we were loved and shown general affection.

Having this experience as a child usually has us believing that we were never enough. That no matter how much we achieve or how much drama and trouble we cause, we will never be noticed and loved for who we truly are. Pursuers tend to act out and/or be high achievers. Pursuers are often in a constant state of anxiety because they’ve always been waiting to be chosen. They’ve been waiting to receive the love and affirmation they never got as a child. Stay tuned for the way out of this perceived insanity. (Hint: We’ll never fully choose someone who loves us for who we are till we do. We must model the love we seek.)

Runners:

Ohhhhhhh runners. Why can’t we just find someone we want to be with? Why does love scare us so much? Why does everyone get so crazy and smothering in relationships? People are so needy right?!

The runner is usually afraid of intimacy. It’s what love brings that scares the crap out of them. The runner usually has a parent (caregiver) who was controlling and all over them. They maybe grew up in a very religious and/or culturally restrictive environment. Maybe they were not rewarded for self-expression. Maybe their parents got divorced and they saw the devastation that relationship can bring. Maybe one parent abused the other (or both). Maybe they were abused by the people who were supposed to love them. Maybe they’ve had their heart broken by a romantic partner. Maybe they were bullied or picked on.

No matter the reason, runners are often afraid of what comes along with loving people and letting them in. Runners are afraid of being caught, because being caught means being loved, and their association with love is likely hurt, trauma, heartbreak, and even the loss of themselves and their own identity.

mark groves, vancouver relationship, relationship advice, couple's therapy,

Ok, so we’ve roughly broken down where these behaviours begin and how they often manifest, but now that we know that, how the eff do we change these patterns? How do we stop running after and running from love? Why the hell does our emotional brain do such crazy things?!? Gawwwwwd. Someone pass me a tequila shot.

I’m going to get real serious on you here. Our fear of being excluded from groups, tribes, communities, and most importantly, relationships, is so great that we become who we need to be to be loved. We become a identity which we create so that we get to maintain our inclusion in the group. In that moment when we begin to become an “actor” and wear a mask, we separate from ourselves…. Woahhhhh, right? That’s some deep sh*t right there. We’re not born this way though… we’re born with an open heart and a soul that longs to express who we are at our core.

So when do we begin this formation of a false identity?!

Well, the very people who welcome us into this world were taught that they had to become something else to be loved. So, just like we hand down our DNA which provides our hair and eye colour, we are also handed down the emotional wounds of our parents. So, our parents usually impart onto us the same cultural and religious expectations which were imparted onto them. They pass down the same emotional wounds their parents gave them.

It’s only fair right?!? “You need to change and become this perfect ideal like I had to, otherwise it makes my choices not make sense. You need to give up you and abandon your heart, because I had to. That’s just how life is.” (Don’t be mad at them, they were/are doing the best they can with what they have/know.)

This is why in arguments and relational experiences, we will only ever be able to go as deeply as our parents (caregivers) have gone. They can only teach us what they know. All of this is proven untrue if our parents have done the work and healed their pasts. If they’ve broken free of the mold and blazed a trail of truth.

The good thing is, even if our parents haven’t transformed themselves, we can. We can learn how to go deeper. We can learn why we do what we do and heal our childhood experience. We can look at the ways in which we’ve changed who we are, our self expression, and what parts we let the world see, and what parts we have hidden in order to be loved. We can learn.

The way out is simple, but it requires courage:

  1. Accept who you are currently being: If we can take ownership for how we’re currently showing up to love, we can make different choices, because we can’t change where we’re going if we don’t consciously know and accept where we are.
  2. Begin to lean into the uncomfortable. Patterns change by changing them. There is no escape from this truth. So, embrace your power to change your life and how you love. For pursuers it means giving love room to breath and asking for what we need from relationships. Feel unsafe and like the relationship isn’t secure? Ask for what is required in order to calm your anxiety. For runners it’s about slowing down. It’s about letting yourself get caught. It’s about communicating the fears you have and asking for the space you need to breath… and then returning once your partner gives you that space.
  3. Let love in. Decide to finally let love in, and by doing that we not only heal ourselves, we also invite those around us to heal as well. We go deeper. We see that love is meant to feel free.

Pursuer or runner, we’re both afraid of the same thing: receiving the love we so desperately crave.

The difference is we’re just going about protecting ourselves from being hurt in different ways. At the baseline of these relationship patterns is always fear. When we acknowledge and communicate these fears, we begin to dissolve them. The walls between us and other lower, and we slowly (or quickly) begin to form the belief that we are lovable and worthy of a great partnership. We change the stories we were taught. We finally get to see into our partner’s hearts and be seen in return.

So, I ask you to turn within. If you don’t do the work, no one will. And you will always hit the same emotional limit with every partner you choose. Different name, same patterns. If we’re willing to look, we’ll see that our partners are our path to healing our childhood, we just need to choose one who’s willing to heal with us.

Originally published on Thought Catalog

unworthy, mark groves, createthelove, relationship advice, not lovable, worthiness, positive psychology

If You’ve Ever Felt Like You’re Not Enough, Read This

I was born into a wonderful and loving family. I am the youngest of three children, with both an older brother and sister. When I was younger I often felt like my brother and sister related better to one another than I did to them. I sometimes felt left out on their jokes and their adventures.

For me, this was the first time I can consciously remember not feeling like I was enough. That who I was, wasn’t good enough to be included in all of the fun and the secrets that my brother and sister shared.

Next would be the time in grade eight when I was called a porker (pleasantly plump would’ve been a little nicer). Following that would be being cheated on by a girlfriend… and then by another one.

I share these experiences with you so that you can see that, time after time, we all have these moments of feeling excluded and not lovable.

Those are some of mine. What are yours?

Now the challenge with understanding our childhood experiences, such as mine, is that we look back with the eyes and mind of an adult. I can rationally process the way I felt was silly. With my siblings it was just a phase of our childhood. My brother and sister meant no harm and I have wonderful relationships with them today. My girlfriends were young and I made decisions and choices that led to their choices… we’ve since reconciled so everything is ok now, right?

What you can see from all of this, is that I can make my feelings make sense.

But here’s the issue that happens when we do this to our past stories, especially from our childhoods:

We dismiss our wounds and don’t acknowledge that when we were four, eight, or twelve years old (whatever the age), those were real and valid emotional experiences. By rationalizing these experiences, we invalidate our childhood feelings.

We often don’t think our past experiences influence our lives today because we understand them logically, but that doesn’t heal them and stop them from being the main program running in our subconscious and guiding our decisions. Our emotional brain still remembers the impact of not feeling like we’re lovable… And the pain of the fear of isolation for a human is far greater than any other psychological pain (or physical pain) we can experience. To protect ourselves and prevent this pain we often react defensively, we cling so tightly to the people we love, and, in some cases, it causes us to never let people in…because if we do, we believe they’ll just hurt us.. and often, in our pasts, we’ve been proven right.

Here’s the deal… 99.9% of us live with the underlying belief that we’re not enough. For some of us we may intellectualize it as a “fear of rejection” and/or a “fear of abandonment”. But even at the base of those fears is the underlying belief that we’re not lovable. Because of this underlying belief of unworthiness, most of us send our representatives out into the world to be the ones who are seen. The version of us who acts like everything is wonderful and then goes home and suffers from GI issues, weight issues, depression, drinks Jack Daniels for breakfast, and for some reason, has crippling anxiety and just can’t sleep.

The majority of the time, the underlying pathology is that being someone else is f*cking exhausting. Pretending like everything is ok, f*cking sucks. Acting like we believe we’re good enough by buying more shit and getting more affluence works for a bit… till it doesn’t. And then we just go into hyperdrive and pretend “everything is fine” so as to hide the scared child who lives underneath. And the truth is that we can never get enough surgeries, lip injections, botoxes  (is there a plural for this?), do enough drugs, eat enough food, become successful enough, take enough steroids, or buy enough sh*t to hide the fact that we’re afraid. The fact that we don’t believe we’re lovable.

Based on this definition most of us are frauds aren’t we?! Sh*tty deal right?! At least we’re all playing the same tricks. Really we’re just a bunch of actors and representatives running around pretending we love sh*t we don’t love and living lives composed of things we’re “supposed to” want… It’s insane isn’t it?! This is the greatest joke of awareness… that if none of us played the game, it wouldn’t exist. Welcome to the conundrum of humanity.

Freedom begins the moment we quit the game. When we begin to shed the bullsh*t stories we’ve been taught and actually decide we’re going to choose a life that reflects what we want, that we actually love ourselves, and we’re worthy of being loved for who we truly are. The trick is, we have to give it to ourselves first… and that means finally letting people see us. The real us.

How do you know if you’re kinda/sorta wearing a mask and pretending to be someone you’re not? It’s not that hard to diagnose… 

Let’s try it:

Does your partner know everything about your past? Are you both open to talking about the greatest fears and the times you felt rejected and didn’t feel like enough?

Do you persecute your partner for their pasts? Do you get hung up on how many sexual partners they’ve had and the mistakes they’ve made?

Do you hold back your real feelings and don’t tell your partner that you’re upset out of fear of being seen as “needy” and/or “too emotional”?

Do you have stories and situations that you’re holding onto in your relationship from years ago that you are afraid to talk about? (If so, it’s not in the past… it’s a giant elephant in the fucking room… it’s operating in your underlying behaviour and unconscious in every moment.)

Do you avoid telling your partner about things you’ve done because you don’t believe they can handle the truth and/or they’ll get upset?

If you’re single, do you choose people who treat you poorly? Do you keep breaking up and getting back together? Do you keep dating “a*sholes” or “b*tches”?

Do you suffer from GI disorders or skin outbreaks? Do you have pain in your body that is there despite all your efforts to understand it and treat it?

Do you subscribe to a religious/spiritual practice and hold others to a standard while you have secret indiscretions that don’t align with that practice? Do you operate with an actual set of beliefs that are different than the ones you say matter so much to you?

Do you harbour any racism and/or dislike any group that doesn’t believe what you believe?

Do you have issues with your weight, drugs, alcohol, gambling, debt, food, sex, partying… and just in general anything that seems to be an escape from the pain?

Are you currently living a life that feels out of control, and your soul is calling to you with every ounce of its power?

lonely, sad, createthelove, mark groves, unworthiness, relationship advice, dating advice,

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, there’s also an incredibly high chance you’re a human being.

Every single question above indicates that  we would rather be loved for who we pretend to be as it’s safer, than be loved for who we really are… because we’re afraid that no one will love the real us. The core belief at play here… guess?!? DING DING DING. We’re unlovable.

So what’s the way out?  Awareness. Truth (getting real with ourselves). And then a sh*t ton of courage.

I wish I could sugarcoat this sh*t, but if I ask you to pursue truth I need to give it to you straight. Look, it sucked that I had to admit I was chasing love through flings. It sucked when I saw that I used alcohol as an excuse to numb my values and integrity. It really sucked when I saw that I made protecting my feeling of unworthiness – a core part of my former identity – more important than my desire to love deeply. It monumentally blew (not the good kind) when I saw that I hadn’t actually let anyone love me… like, truly love me, in sixteen years.

But I had to face all of my sh*t to change my life. I had to admit that I didn’t have it all figured out and that I’d been hiding myself and my heart because I didn’t want to get hurt. I let go of a religion that caused more separation than unity. I let go of any beliefs that made it so I didn’t meet others with love and acceptance.

It sucked but it was also the most freeing and transformative moment in my life when I decided to stop changing myself to accommodate the world, and instead said…

“This is who I am Universe. What do you got for me?”

For the first time, I let the world adjust to me.

When we finally see that everyone is full of sh*t and no one actually knows what the hell they’re doing, we begin to understand that under everyone’s representative and “perfect” life is a child who desperately craves to be loved. A child that craves a voice, and the birth of an amazing life is through giving that child words and self-expression.

How do we even begin to do that? Grab a piece of paper and a pen and take an inventory of the things in your life that are out of alignment. What do I mean by that? Anything that feels forced, heavy, and not a celebration of who you are in your heart. What relationships (family and friends included) are weighing you down? Is your job what you really want to do? Do you live in a city/place that feels good? Geez… does your home feel good?! What are the habits in your life that hurt you more than they help you?

Start there. Start with an audit of your life… and then get ready to be courageous. Because all of this stuff is easy to understand with our brains… and a whole other story to face and change. Why? Changing parts of our identity, especially a core belief (that we’re unlovable), can be challenging because of the neural pathways we’ve built and the foundations of our life (jobs, religion & relationships) have been constructed upon our identity in order to reinforce it. We’ll even fight wars and kill others to preserve our beliefs.

So, if we want to feel like we’re enough we have to make choices that reflect that. In each moment where you’re feeling stuck and/or wondering what you should do, ask yourself:

“If I was enough, would I tolerate this situation? If I was enough, would this matter? If I was enough, what would I do in this moment?”

On a final note, I want you to truly understand, like to truly feel, to awaken to the truth… that the loneliness you fear, the paralyzing concern that if people met the real you, you won’t be loved… is happening right before you’re eyes. Because if you don’t share your deepest truths with the world, you’re sending the message to yourself that you’re not lovable. The thing you fear most you’re already living in… so it can’t get worse. It can only get better. And the people who are meant to love you for the real you, will. That’s a fact. But they can’t find you till you find you.

genital mutilation, mutilation of men, mark groves, createthelove, relationship advice, dating advice

We’ve Failed Men: Here’s How

Did you know that the foreskin is the same skin that forms the clitoral hood on a woman? Crazy right?!

When I became aware of this it made me want to explore the history of circumcision. Wow, seek and you shall find. And boy, did I find a boatload of history that didn’t match the modern day stories we tell and are led to believe.

Religious rituals, rites of passage, and sexual control, all sneakily squeezed into what we’ll call a procedure that has “health benefits.” God, even writing that makes me feel like a liar.  I’ve always found evolution to be rather efficient… One would have to be VERY naive not to believe Mother Nature would remove the foreskin if having it meant death and disease…. but we as humans probably know better, right? Seems to have worked in every other area we’ve tried to shortcut (sarcasm). Good…

Let me elaborate.

Recently I was reading a controversial post on Facebook about male circumcision and a man commented saying “there are many health benefits, that’s why it’s been part of Judaic law for thousands of years.” *cough cough. The cynic in me prayed for a “you’re delusional” button on FB. I’m not attacking Jewish law, but I am challenging a clearly historical religious and tribal ritual that has manipulated modern thoughts on a procedure that is about as grounded as the idea that women were created from a man’s rib…even though men have the same amount of ribs and people are born from vaginas. Not sure who was in charge of the math there.

Alas, I digress, and instead of attacking my naive FB friend, who only wanted to protect a choice he was never given about his own penis, let’s look at what it would require of him to accept the truth about this ritual.

First, if he chose to believe anything different about circumcision, what would that mean about his religion? Secondly, what would that mean about his trust of all of the religious leaders, and even more importantly, the people he loved (and loved him) most, who put him on the chopping block?

I’ll tell you what it would mean… a ton of cognitive dissonance because what he has been taught and led to believe, which helped found and form his identity (religions are a pillar of our beliefs and how we identify), are BS. He would have to understand and accept that the people who “love” him hurt him and didn’t ask questions, questions which could’ve prevented the desecration of his nether regions. (They were doing the best they could with what they knew, but it’s still a reality one must face to accept truth.)

So, in order to prevent inquiry and a backlash, we’ve shifted the most common surgery in the world to be rooted in….ummmm…science…sure, let’s go with that. 

In light of the story we’ve chosen to tell about circumcision, I decided to dive into the extensive history and medical evidence surrounding male circumcision. Which we’ll just start calling it what it is, Male Genital Mutilation (MGM).

So let’s  explore this topic and pull the proverbial wool from over our eyes in a not so dissimilar way as the foreskin retracts from the penis head.

I’ll just summarize all the stuff you can read here.

1. It’s not rooted in science. Duh.

It didn’t take long before I stumbled on this wonderful statement:

“While studies show there is a modest epidemiological benefit to circumcision, critics argue that the number of circumcisions that would have be performed would yield an overall negative public health outcome due to the resulting number of complications or other negative effects (such as pain).”

So basically, its loosely supported medical benefit is largely outweighed by the potential negative effects of the procedure. Wow. Mind-Blown (insert sarcasm font).

We are cutting the tip of a penis. Are you kidding me?! This needs science to prove the pain of the procedure has a significant impact on the child?! The logic here is so sound… we should circumcise all males to prevent the often treatable potential health risks that can happen with an uncircumcised penis? To which the final treatment of those health risks is potentially circumcision? Hmmm. So in order to save some tips from being amputated we should just remove them all? Seems practical to me.

I’m not a scientist but I want to apply the same logic: Did you know that having an arm means you can potentially break it as a child and an adult? We should remove people’s arms. It’s rooted in as practical scientific knowledge (more sarcasm).

Also, the most compelling evidence (still weak) to support circumcision is in the reduction of the transmission of Sexually Transmitted Infections… So, I say, keep amputating arms… Because having two arms increases one’s likelihood to be involved in light petting (grabbing a breast), which would in turn be correlated with more penetration. No arms, less foreplay, less sexual interaction, less STIs. Perfect.

I know this analogy is ridiculous but that’s how ridiculous the circumcision argument is. Because we all know circumcision is not rooted in science. The main historical foundations of male circumcision, mostly based on rites of passage and religion, were never originally founded on being a necessary medical procedure in order to prevent health outcomes. Ironically, these are the very same foundational pillars of Female Genital Mutilation. Which leads me to my next point…

2. It’s no different than Female Genital Mutilation. 

When I first started reading about this subject I was fired up (can you tell I still am?!?). With my new found knowledge and my desire to wake up the world to the common practice of MGM, I entered a discussion with a good friend of mine who is by her own definition a feminist, and she told me to “be careful comparing the two. They are not the same and it will get a huge backlash from those who oppose female genital mutilation (FGM)”.

Wow. Faced with this feedback, I was afraid. I didn’t want to ruffle feathers or take away from the clearly destructive and appalling practice of FGM. But then it struck me:

Why are the people fighting for the ending of FGM not also super supportive of fighting for the ending of male genital mutilation?!?

I’ll say  it again, the foreskin and the clitoral hood are the same skin. Knowing this, how different we would react if when our beautiful new baby daughter is born we’re told by the doctor, “Just give me a second while I remove her clitoral hood.”

There would be OUTRAGE.

FGM and MGM are the same cause. We’re fighting for the same thing as they both share the same ridiculous nonsense. They are rooted in tribal rites of passage, sexual control, religion and, oddly enough, scientific myth (male circumcision needed this to continue happening).

3. We are violating human rights.

We are taking away a man’s ability to choose. We decide for him that he gets to lose a part of himself for no reason other than we’re afraid to challenge the status quo.

We reduce the sensitivity of the penis. We inflict trauma on a child. We cause potentially deeply traumatic emotional wounds to a boy as he is first being welcomed into the world. On a psychological note, I would love to see a medical researcher look at the attachment styles (how we connect with our mother) of circumcised vs. non-circumcised males. I bet we would find some interesting stuff there. I would also love for us to admit and acknowledge how devastating it would be to a child who was just welcomed into this world that they now will experience a severely traumatic event… all within days of breaching the safe space of the uterus.

circumcision, debate, mark groves, createthelove, positive psychology

I’m still in such awe about this subject. I feel like as a society we’ve decided to turn a blind eye to the harming of children. If we’re not standing up against it, are we not passively promoting violence against young male babies? It sounds so dramatic and controversial to say this, but based on the available literature and science, how can we not say this?!?  I was reading that “the physician is bound under the ethical principles of beneficence (promoting well-being) and non-maleficence (“first, do no harm”).” And I thought to myself, how is this not a violation of non-maleficence?! Cutting the tip of a penis off in the name of nothing, is harm. 

All of what I’ve said will likely cause a lot of resistance from people who have chosen to circumcise their child and/or are circumcised themselves. And to you all I say, sorry. To the parents who chose circumcision and didn’t know all of this, I’m sorry that you weren’t better informed. I’m sorry that you were mislead. To the poor men who didn’t have a choice in what would happen to your foreskin, let me apologize on behalf of our world. Your son’s penis doesn’t need to look like yours. He’ll understand. He’ll get it. You have the language and skills to explain it.

Neither the parents who chose circumcision nor the men who experienced it can change what happened and you also can’t get a foreskin installed, but you can stand for change.

We need to start being curiously critical of why we believe certain things. We need to challenge traditional thinking. We need to be mindful of why we do the things we do. We must question those who don’t want to be questioned. We need to have the important conversations because not having them is passively saying “yes” to a world living in fear and tradition. This is the type of world where we’re afraid to speak our minds for fear of disrupting the status quo.

For too long we have allowed people to do as they wish for whatever reason in the name of tradition, religion, science…and profit. We’ve allowed these people to destroy our food, our environment and, in the end, us.

We’re quicker to abolish peanuts from schools than we are to abolish a deeply traumatic and invasive procedure. What. The. Eff.

I guess this is something I should expect since we’ve made the Kardashians more important than global health.

I’m not ok with that, and neither should you be.

Playing “Just the tip” is a completely different game when you keep it.

relationship advice, dating advice, vancouver, nyc, mark groves, createthelove

Are You Unlucky In Love, Or Is It You?

It seems a challenging thought doesn’t it? To admit that when our relationships have trouble and/or end, we are the common denominator. Most of us project the causes of our relationship woes on our partners… “The relationship ended because he/she ________ (insert reason).” It was them, not us… right?

It would be idealistic and perfectly comforting to our hearts and our minds to think it’s always them. And, if we’re being honest about it, that’s how most of us live, that our partners are always to blame and they are the ones who don’t understand us. I mean, we’re all perfect communicators who have done the work and we never instigate fights, we only respond emotionally because of our partners… Right?!

Wrong… Oh, how we have it so, so wrong.

One of the most powerful moments of transformation anyone can experience is finally taking responsibility for themselves. Because, the truth is that we choose the partners who are in our lives. So if we chose them, are we not responsible for what we choose? I mean, if I order dinner, I don’t then blame someone for bringing me a steak even though that’s what I literally just asked the waiter to bring me.

If we’re willing to take the same accountability with our relationships and look at our partner choices through a wider lens, a deeper understanding, we can see that they are a mirror of what we believe about ourselves. Think about it: If we believe we aren’t worthy of a less than average partner, then how can they actually exist in our lives?

Spoiler Alert: They could not. We wouldn’t allow it. So, on some level, we have to believe we deserve them to keep them in our lives. This is because our external world will ALWAYS be a reflection of our internal world (what we truly believe about ourselves).

Humans are the ultimate tricksters though. We love to play games with our realities, so instead of actually processing and accepting that we are also responsible for our relationship outcomes, it’s easier to project blame on others. But what we don’t see is that the consequences of living in that state are vast. To deny responsibility is to live as a victim.

“They tricked me.” “They just didn’t know how to communicate.” “They cheated.” “They lied.” They, they, they, they… blah blah blah.

You know what projecting blame onto others does?! It takes our power away. Actually, when we’re a victim, we give our power away. You want to be powerful and get the relationship you say you want? Take back your power.

A simple change is to shift the story from “Why did this happen to me?” to “How did this happen FOR me?”

There are 3 reasons it’s so challenging to move from victim to creator:

1. It requires us to admit we’ve made mistakes. The first thing that happens when we take responsibility for our lives and accept that we choose everything is that we look back upon our pasts and we review all of those choices we’ve made.

We look back and we think to ourselves, “Wait, if I choose everything why would I choose things that hurt me? Why would I have chosen to hurt other people?” This is where most people stop, because admitting that we haven’t been so great, hurts, so it’s easier to go back to victim state because that makes life and our pasts so much easier to process and put behind us. But this easing of the pain is only on the surface, deep in our hearts we know the truth, and it’s this truth that leads to depression, anxiety, sickness and pain. And this is why we continue to choose the same people and the same patterns, we keep choosing the same things because we live in the illusion that these situations and people keep happening to us.

Stay the course, process your past from the eyes of creator and feel the pain of your choices. Look at the past through the lens of self-compassion and accept that you were doing the best you could with what you know. Now you know better, what does that demand of you?

2. We are afraid to process our emotional hurts and our traumatic memories. We all have pasts. We all have childhoods that weren’t ideal and we all have had people take a crap on us and say things that scathed. Often we’ve done the same and we’re not proud of who we’ve been at times. But till we can take an honest look at who we’ve been and who we’re currently showing up as, we will never be able to change our lives. It requires radical honesty with ourselves to take an accurate audit of our hearts and our emotions.

Emotions scare us though, and we’ve been taught that sadness and negative emotions are bad. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Emotions are information. They are neither bad nor good, they are an invitation for us to grow and change and expand and become an amazing human being who takes accountability for our choices and uses emotions as fuel for that transformation. You are a deeply feeling being who wouldn’t know love without the pain, who wouldn’t know what feels good if you didn’t know what hurt felt like. You, are a effing powerhouse if you let yourself be. You are fire, and you either let yourself burn and let yourself love, or you use negative emotions as a reason to protect yourself and lash out. But realize, that everything you do to protect yourself from being hurt, also protects and prevents you from feeling and being loved. You choose.

3. We don’t like the mirror. Looking at our partners and our pasts as valuable information of how we’re showing up can hurt deeply because we ask ourselves, “What would I have to believe about myself to keep this situation/person in my life?” Mirrors can hurt. They remind us that we’ve always felt like we weren’t enough and people have failed to show up for us. They remind us that we have put the belief that we’re lovable in the hands of others. That we let the way other people treat us determines whether we believe we are great and worthy of great love.

dating advice, relationship advice, mark groves, createthelove, positive psychology, nyc relationship coach, vancouver relationship coach

The first and most important step out of the cycle of choosing people who will never be able to love us is to accept that it’s because, deep down, we don’t believe that we’re lovable. This is the common baseline belief that every human has to some extent. The second is to realize it’s not our fault that this is our common belief. We have been raised in societies, cultures and religions that say we have to fit into a box and be ______ and ______. And if we’re not, then we won’t be loved. The message that is sent is that we must hide our true selves and our true essence. We are programmed through evolution to conform or we will be kicked out of the tribe.

What we don’t realize is that today we can find people like us. We can find weird and wacky human beings who want to love the way we do. We can choose our own spiritual practices and decide that the principles with which our families are founded on are not in alignment with what we want. We get to decide if our life will be a true and authentic expression of our hearts.

You are so much more than just person born into a family, a country, and a religion. You are unique and you have so much love to give. The catch is that till your life is an expression of your deepest truths you will be the birthplace of your greatest fear, rejection. So you will choose people who reject you too. That’s why when we take responsibility for what and who we choose, when we become the Gods we’ve been taught to praise, we begin to realize that the birthplace of deep and unconditional love, is the love we give ourselves. It’s in accepting ourselves that we find people who love and accept us unconditionally too.

love, dating advice, relationship advice, couples, feminism,

Maybe Instead Of Shaming The Divorced, We Should Be Learning From Them

“What are your deal breakers?”

I asked a friend recently as she was talking about re-entering the dating world. She replied with absolute certainty, “Well, I definitely don’t want to date anyone who has been divorced before.”

“Why?”

I asked… curious as to the belief system surrounding this decision.

“Because people who have been divorced don’t know how to make relationships work.”

WHOA.

Almost half of the wedded human population will find their way to this land of the forbidden. That’s a large number of people to remove from our potential dating pool. I mean, for the most part, it’s not where people intend on ending up when they walk down the aisle. Sure, how a relationship ends tells a lot. Did they cheat? Lie? Perfect. Valuable information. How *any* relationship ends is information we can use to understand the person in front of us. The fact that there are divorce papers present adds zero value to what being in a relationship means to the person sharing their heart with us.

But we’re merciless. We shame the divorced. We put them in a box and tell them they don’t know how to make love last and how to create relationship success. Like “being married” means that?!? Because of these messages, we attach our self-worth to our relationship status. But the problem with this is that our relationship status is zero percent correlated to how great of a human we are or how great a relationship is.

But it’s hard to escape these thoughts because we have been sent messages from society, religion and/or media (which are all often synonymous) our whole lives that divorce is bad. As a society we’ve come up with a scale to measure how great we are at love. So, based on our metrics of measuring relationship success, we would rank our worth based on this listing (top to bottom…best to worst):

▪Married

▪Dating

▪Single

▪Separated

▪Divorced

We hear people say, “I never want to get divorced”, instead of “I want to learn how to have thriving and amazing relationships”. In the first statement, our intention is focused on avoiding an outcome. So, instead of building the habits and rituals to have a great relationship, we avoid the conversations that may break us up. Ironically, these are the same conversations that will strengthen and build our relationship, if navigated correctly. The other statement demands of us the foresight and effort into creating and maintaining a great relationship. Wow, how our perspectives are so skewed. Ironically, we get what we focus on…

See, the reality is that divorce isn’t the problem, unhealthy relationships are. And there are plenty of people, regardless of the whether they’re married or not, who are in unhealthy relationships, including relationships with themselves. The consequence of the messages we send about relationships, is that we reward people for staying in unhealthy ones. We shame relationships for ending, yet the real issue is not being dealt with. We need to teach people how to have thriving and healthy relationships. The way to create safe and secure attachments is to have a relationship environment where we have the ability to speak our truth and feel like ourselves.

A lot of people who chose to leave their relationship, not just those who divorce, made being their authentic selves their priority. Not to mention that they’ve put what is true for them (needing to leave a relationship), ahead of their ego and their desire to please society, culture and religion. Now that’s a quality that I would love in a partner.

What about the people who were left in their marriage? Who didn’t make a choice but found themselves alone and starting all over?

I can honour and respect anyone who goes through a breakup and is willing to look at their role in the relationship. They then use this valuable information to build a newer and stronger version of themselves. These are the kinds of partners we want! Resilience and grit are unbelievably attractive qualities, as well as someone who embraces their growth and sees their most painful life experiences as learning opportunities. Talk about sexy! The greater challenge that the divorced face versus someone during a breakup, is that we vilify divorces, so often people end up feeling ashamed, depressed, and hurt because they’ve been put in a box, a box we’ve created.

We need to cut the bullsh*t. We should run an anti-bully campaign for the whole world. We need to remove our judgments of others. We don’t know their journey. We don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of their houses. We don’t get to judge them, because we are not them. We need to spend less time analyzing and criticizing other people’s relationship choices and start to look at our own. We need to acknowledge and be critical of the narratives we’re subscribing to that have us becoming the things we choose in our lives. What often happens is we pressure other people to do what we’ve always done, because that makes our choices and our lives make more sense. We’re afraid what their decisions mean about what we believe. Maybe them staying unhappily married means we can too?

Let’s learn how to have thriving relationships. Are we talking about the things that matter in our relationships? Do we understand why we lose our temper and what triggers us to put up walls and withdraw during emotional conversations? Does our partner feel loved and appreciated? Do we? What’s our relationship like with our kids?

As for dating people who are divorced, I can’t be the only one that sees the massive flaw in our general logic?! The divorced offer qualities that someone who has been to the depths can offer. They know what it’s like to get to a place that doesn’t feel great and to try to do something about it. They know how to talk about the things that matter and they know what it’s like to challenge the status quo. They have put the freedom to be themselves ahead of compromising their happiness just to keep everyone around them happy. The divorced don’t deserve to be called the divorced, they should be called human, because that’s what they are. Just like everyone else, they have made mistakes, said the wrong thing, chosen the wrong things, and get to choose and find someone else to love them for everything that they are, just like they’ll do for their partners.

We need to stop shaming them, because we are them, they just had to sign some extra papers and probably spend a little (lot) more money.

Originally Published on Thought Catalog

she left, breakup, divorce, relationship advice, mark groves vancouver relationship coach, positive psychology

Love Her Before She Leaves You

“I had no idea things were that bad. When she left it was such a shock.”

Was it really? Because I’m sure there were signs lonnnnnng before the bags were packed and a trail of smoke led out your front door. This is a common feeling for men; that we didn’t know she was going to go, till she did. We didn’t hear her all of those times when she cried and didn’t feel heard or understood. We didn’t understand just how unhappy she was, and now we clearly do as she’s no longer in our life.

Don’t shoot the messenger, the research supports what I’m saying; women initiate divorce far more than men do. It’s not like this is a shock right?! A lot of the clients I work with have male partners who aren’t interested in attending coaching with their partner. Women have a more attuned emotional barometer to the relationship. And men, although not happy that their partner is dissatisfied with the relationship, are okay with the relationship just continuing as it is.

I’m guilty of this naive ignorance. I remember when I was in my early twenties talking to my dad once and telling him about my frustrations with my then-girlfriend. She had expressed to me some things that she needed for me to do better and I responded with, “If it’s so bad, why don’t you leave? You have it so good.” Wow. What an arrogant and poor response. It hurts me to even type it because I’m sure, in that moment, I completely devastated her emotional safety and told her that her needs weren’t important. What a message to send.

When I told my dad this story and what I said, he was appalled (for good reason). He said sternly to me, “Wow Mark, she’s telling you how to love her.”

Eff. In that moment my heart descended into my stomach. I needed to be better. That wasn’t how I wanted to love. And that definitely wasn’t how I wanted my partner to feel in being loved by me. There are many moments in relationships where we are being invited to love our partner. We often think these are the big things like the anniversaries, the birthdays, and the holidays. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Our invitation to love others is always in the many moments in between the ones we think are important.

John Gottman, who’s a relationship guru that studies marriages, calls our invitations to connect with our partners “bids”. This could be something as mundane as one person reading the paper and declaring out loud, “Hmmmm. That’s interesting!” They’re not just making a remark. In that comment is a request to connect. In that moment we have a choice, to either “turn towards” or “turn away” as Gottman calls it.

Just how important is responding to these bids?

In the research these interactions have an incredibly powerful effect on how our relationships fair and whether or not they will last. Couples who only turned towards bids 33 percent of the time were divorced in a six year follow up. The couples who were still in magical bliss after that same six year period responded to 87% of bids.

Wow. This is profound. Gottman can predict, just by observing a couple’s interactions, whether a couple will divorce with over 94% accuracy. This is regardless of sexual orientation, whether they have children, or their socio-economic status. So, in essence, our words and how they’re delivered, literally do shape our world.

I don’t know about you, but as a man, and a human, knowing just how powerful my words and actions are and how much they can transform the world, I’m not okay with being mediocre. I want to take responsibility for my actions, the words I choose, and how I operate in all relationships, not just romantic. As men (and women), we need to be better. We need to be committed to learning how to communicate how we’re feeling so that we don’t demonstrate those unheard feelings with anger, withdrawing, frustration and words that scathe.

Of course the challenge is that we (men) have been generally cultured and socialized to not share our feelings and frustrations. We’ve been told to not use language to communicate our fears and feelings because only pussies and sissies do that. When we engage in emotional conversations, we don’t have a toolbox filled with as many words and as much emotional fluency that can articulate the range of things we’re feeling. But, the best thing about all of this is, we can learn how to.

It takes admitting that our relationship may not be so good and that we can, in fact, get much better at communicating and understanding how to have our partners feel heard. You know how women generally want to talk about the SAME thing over and over and over and over? That doesn’t happen when they feel loved, appreciated, heard and understood. And the truth is, if you love a woman like that, she will almost always give you that same love right back.

breakup, divorce, she left, positive psychology, relationship advice, dating advice, mark groves

Now, of course it would be simple if women always communicated effectively and told us what their ACTUAL needs and feelings were. So women, you’re not off the hook. You’re in a relationship with a man. And as Alison Armstrong says, “Men are not hairy women.” You need to learn how to speak his language. You need to learn that men are not broken humans who don’t have any emotional intelligence and aren’t capable of hearing you. We are different, and you also need to understand how the male brain works and that we process emotions differently (due to socialization). It’s actually on you to communicate your needs, fears and thoughts clearly. Your partner doesn’t have a google maps to your brain and heart, or even better yet, your vagina. (Although all of those things would be nice)

So, man or woman, straight, gay, whatever…We all need to begin to realize that behind every tantrum, frustration or complaint, is always an unmet emotional need. So, for example, it’s not about the fact that we left the toilet seat up AGAIN (it is funny when they fall in at 2am), it’s what leaving the toilet seat up means about them (the message they receive): they aren’t important, they’re not a priority, their needs don’t matter… etc. We need to learn how to understand what this need is and see that she (or he) is not just trying to play catch when she throws her shoe at you. She has a hurt, a wound, a fear, and what is happening is triggering that pain point. This is why communication is paramount to successful relationships.

I write this to men mainly because the emotional impact of a breakup/divorce is greater on us. This is clear in the research, as we see that men are generally more emotionally dependent on their partners. When men were asked who they would go to if they were feeling depressed, 71% of men selected their wife whereas only 39% of women selected their husband. When we lose our partners, in a lot of ways we lose our support system. Our happiness and the health benefits of relationships are also larger for us…so when we lose our relationship, often those emotions go out the door with her.

Of course hindsight is 20/20, but it doesn’t have to be.

We don’t see just how important she is, till she no longer is…with us. We don’t see how much love actually matters to us because we’re too busy watching the game. Our needs matter too, but we have to love her always, not just when we’re about to lose her. Not just till we get her back. Not just in the moments we think matter, because all moments matter.

Love and relationships require effort. We might not always understand her, but she just wants to know that we’re trying. She wants to know that our efforts match our words. She wants to know that her well being matters as much as our own. She wants to feel safe in our arms. She wants to feel loved always, not just when it’s convenient.

So love her before she leaves you. (and him too ladies).

relationship advice, dating advice, couples therapy vancouver, life coach vancouver, positive psychology,

Maybe We’re The Generation Who Actually Have Relationships Right

“Congratulations on your seventy-fifth wedding anniversary! Tell us, how did you do it?”

To that the old couple replied, “Well, we got married at a time when people took relationships seriously. We didn’t walk away from love at the first sign of trouble. We take the commitments we make to heart.”

This is a story we love to perpetuate in the media. Memes are shared on Instagram and Facebook all the time that speak to how the generations of today are doomed and that they don’t know how to love.

There are a lot of mixed emotions on this subject.

First, adopting the point of view that a relationship ending is a failure makes being in a relationship more important and celebrated than being true to ourselves.

We also start to live the narrative that all relationships need to last and that leaving even the worst of relationships means we “don’t take our commitments seriously.” We don’t see the impact of the belief systems we form just through the inundation of information and belief structures that get shoved into our psyche through media, religion and culture.

Relationships of today are very different. Before the 19th and 20th century people didn’t marry for love. And even a lot of the marriages of the mid twentieth century were based on bread-winner models. They were born of necessity and dependence. Couples stayed together, because, well, they had to. So, if we say that the people of today leave relationships too soon, one could argue that in a lot of the relationships of the past, people stayed too long. It wasn’t until the divorce act that this changed, and people (especially women) could leave because they actually wanted to.

Also, in general, what we want from relationships has changed dramatically too.

We want love, support, nurturing, and companionship. We want partnership, freedom, and independence within the relationship. And along with these higher standards, we also have more options than ever before.

Of course, there’s a positive and negative to having more options. One, we can hold the bar higher as to the types of people we’re agreeing to enter into a relationship with. Because of that, our relationships today can give us more than they ever have.

They, if navigated and nurtured properly, can allow us to thrive, love, and connect, in deeper and more profound ways than we ever have. On the flip side though, more options can mean more difficulty making choices. It can mean that, in the face of having to do the work, we may choose to opt out and start fresh with someone more exciting, beautiful, and with whom we share less history and emotional baggage.

So how do we know when we should we stay or leave? Are there times when we should stick it out, and other times when we should pull the chute? What determines whether we’re taking our relationships seriously or not?

If we have mustered up the strength to leave someone who no longer fulfills us, or have seen our mother or father escape an unhealthy relationship, we’ll likely believe we want and expect more from relationships, and that leaving when compelled to is ok.

Because of this, there’s really no magical answer. 

Of course it’s a romantic ideal that all relationships, if navigated perfectly, will result in lifelong marital bliss. But, if we’re being honest about it, most relationships won’t last forever where both people are still very much in love. So, knowing that fact, what is the ‘right’ thing to do? Does it make it all hopeless?

Relationships of the past and today share one very common challenge: No one has ever taught us how to exist in and maintain great relationships. For this reason alone, most of our interactions in romantic affairs throughout history lack the consistent rituals that separate great couples from mediocre ones. Our attention is often misguided though as we focus on people leaving, but divorce isn’t the problem–bad relationships are.

So, no matter our age or how “seriously” we supposedly take relationships, what makes for a fulfilling relationship is the result of the two people within it. And further that, we are the only ones who know the answer to what we should do when it comes to love. We are in charge of our outcomes and how we show up. All we can ever know is what our truth is and be congruent with that. If we’re not happy in our relationship, it’s important we voice that and then put in the proper plans to get our relationship back on track. But that doesn’t always work. It’s important to invite our partners to grow and change with us, and if they decide not to join or participate, that’s ok.

Because, if people won’t meet us where we’re at or where we’re headed, then leaving is ok too. We can’t give our lives away because we’re afraid someone else thinks we’re not taking our commitments seriously.

At the end of the day, our commitment must always be to ourselves. To speaking our truth and honouring our hearts. We cannot choose our lives and how we love based on the opinions and expectations of others, because they will always give us advice based on their lens of the world. And no one really has any clue what they’re doing. Because if they gave their life away to unfulfilling love and relationships, they’ll want others to do the same. Then it makes their choices and existence seem safe.

One of the most challenging things any and all of us will ever have to do is to accept and realize that there is no “right” way, and only “our” way. Because from that space we can see that we are free to learn, grow, and make mistakes. We’re free to choose one thing, and then decide on another. We live from a place of learning rather than a place of pleasing.

Maybe the secret to seventy-years of wedded bliss is not expecting that we have to achieve it, but instead subscribing to learning how.


Originally Published on Thought Catalog

What Your Partner REALLY Wants For Christmas

Let’s be honest, buying gifts for others can suck. Often sucks. Almost always sucks. I remember when I was younger I really struggled with finding a gift for my dad. Man, he was so hard to shop for. He is one of those people that if he wanted something, he would just go buy it. On top of that, he’s a publicly declared minimalist… He wore the same pairs of shorts for what seemed like twelve years, only to be replaced because of the risk of getting charged for indecent exposure. Thanks to new shorts, he’s still allowed around playgrounds.

The imminent approach of any holidays has a direct correlation to a rise in our blood pressure. Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, whatever holiday it may be,  buying the perfect gift is something that can cause a lot of stress, right?! Especially when it comes to our romantic partners.

We want a great gift to be thoughtful, unique, creative, and for it to mean something. That’s a lot of pressure isn’t it?! And, of course, when we ask our partners what they would like, we’re more often than not, met with the incredibly irritating reply, “I don’t need or want anything, it’s fine.” Ha. I’ve fallen for this one. It’s total BS. It’s like a trap just waiting for us to take the bait. We only make that mistake once. That’s when we hear after, “I know I said I didn’t want anything, but I didn’t mean it.” Ok great, now we’re saying things we don’t mean.

And to think, all we had to do was get them something…anything, really!

So in the land of relationship booby-traps, how do we satisfy the list of things from above that make a great gift, and make it meaningful?!?

The research is very fascinating on this subject, because when we look at buying a gift, we usually consider a material gift, like a purse or a watch, versus an experience, like a vacation or a thoughtful day planned out.

Gifts, i.e.  material things, are instantaneously gratifying. We get a spike in happiness and well-being when we receive them, but that feeling doesn’t last long (hedonic adaptation). And soon, that purse that cost more than any rational human should pay for a bag, becomes the emotionless container to carry all your partner’s stuff for them. That watch just reminds us of how late we’re running to pick up the our lovely partner who was supposed to make time stand still.

So what’s the secret to a great gift? Firstly, I don’t want to dismiss the value of a material gift. If it’s something that we’ve wanted for awhile it can be very gratifying and mean a lot. In order to buy a great gift listen to the things your partner says in passing, the little cues when they mention or reference something he/she would like but they’re not explicit about. This type of gift serves two purposes, (1) It indicates you listen even when you don’t have to, and (2) You care about the things you hear in those moments. The ability to hear things and take note is a great sign of thoughtfulness and will have your partner feeling both cared for, and appreciated. Now those are two great feelings that nurture and foster great connection.

love advice, dating advice, relationship advice, vancouver relationship coach, nyc relationship coach, positive psychology

So now that we’re done defining what makes for great material gifts, let’s look at what the research proposes will win their heart, and having them feel all of the elation that great partnerships provide.

Experiences, bar none are the greatest gifts. Here’s why:

  1. They are new. They are novel. Adventure is sexy. People love feeling loved. Material gifts are one small second of bliss,  experiences are a smorgasbord of those moments. And the very cool part is that you’ll be associated with this novelty and newness. A passive way of stimulating the same neurotransmitters that are associated with love. That’s right, your partner will fall in love with you all over again. Think of the “honeymoon stage” we are all made to believe is only at the beginning of relationships. Maybe it’s only at the beginning because we stop doing new things? We can literally trick (or is it a trick?!) our hearts and minds into seeing the person differently.
  2. The emotions the experience produces can be relived. WHAT?! Wait. That’s right, this is the gift that can keep giving. Let me give you an example. Let’s say you took someone on a day trip to the mountains. You packed a lunch, you drank wine, you went for a hike, you humped in the bushes. Whatever. Fast forward six months and you’re sitting on your couch together… You say to your partner, “Hey! Remember that time we did that amazing day trip to the mountains?! We ate great food, we rolled around in the bushes… How fun was that?!” And boom. You’ve just released the emotions associated with that experience. Want to add more? Ask them, “What was your favourite part about that day?”

love advice, dating advice, relationship advice, vancouver relationship coach, nyc relationship coach, positive psychology

In Psychology we call this savouring. In essence, it’s allowing someone to relive a moment and to actually get their physiology to replicate that moment and that experience. You’ve just changed their chemistry with your words. You’re basically a God. If you want to be really good, before you have the experience, you can ask them. “What are you looking forward to most about _________ (insert awesome idea here).” Anticipatory savouring… that’s next level.

So, if you want to be the ultimate gift buying baller, you could combine the two. I don’t want to give away the farm (and give away my future ideas to my lady), but one thing that is brilliant is to plan a special day when they get a gift that matters and an experience that matters. True love and connection isn’t built on “stuff”, it’s built on shared moments.

Ultimately, the secret to giving great gifts is making them meaningful. People just want to feel loved. They want us to pay attention to the moments between the perceived important ones. They want us to care and listen even when we don’t have to. They want us to recognize the little things that light their heart up.

It doesn’t take money to be a great partner, it takes care and attention, and, at the end of the day, effort. Demonstrate that you care, and they’ll know you do, they won’t have to ask or wonder. It doesn’t matter what our words are if between our words and actions there’s a disconnect.

As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Let the emotional intention you have guide where you invest your time and money… and you’ll find your partner’s emotions will follow suit.