Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Dr. Seth Meyers, Clinical Psychologist

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

RELATIONSHIPS: Men Who Withhold Feelings or Affection

At lunch recently, a friend invited another friend to join and that friend talked to us about his dating life. First, he shared that he never told his girlfriend of five years that he loved her. Second, he said point-blank, "I don't really show my feelings in a relationship." It was interesting that he made these comments not in a I'm-embarrassed-to-tell-you way but rather in a this-is-just-the-way-it-is way. When clients I work with say something like this, I always ask the following question: "Is this something you're okay with or something you want to change?" Because this particular man wasn't my client, I spared him the psychoanalysis. But the thoughts he shared are important because there are many other men who are just like him, withholding affection and feelings from their partner in a relationship.

Women are free to date whom they want, so why would some women put up with a man who is emotionally withholding? In many cases, women who are drawn to men like this had an unavailable man in their life early on (father, step-father), and they seek out unavailable or withholding men because this type of man is familiar and because this type of man reinforces what she already feels: that she isn't really worthy of affection or consistent love. Think about the woman I talked about whose boyfriend didn't say "I love you" for five years. Come to think of it, when he confided that he had never shared these words at lunch, he actually smiled. Psychologically, I imagine that this man treated women in this way as a defense. He feels powerful having the upper hand in his relationships and believes he will be less likely to get hurt if he doesn't make himself vulnerable by developing strong feelings.

The "needy" woman

The man who spoke to us at lunch also shared another disturbing consequence of these unhealthy relationships in which a man is withholding. He talked about how his girlfriend was "needy" and how he found her neediness unattractive, causing him to leave her. So, to be clear, here's the relationship profile: woman dates man for five years; man never says "I love you" and withholds feelings and affection; man disrespects and has contempt for woman; and man finally leaves woman. How sad for that poor woman! Without even knowing the woman's name, I guarantee you that some other man in her past - probably a father figure - messed up her self-esteem. Some other man taught her that she should never expect much from a relationship, and that she ought to appreciate whatever morsels of love or affection she can get. The reason that woman stayed with that man for five years: she was settling for whatever morsels she could get. Plus, she was probably also living in a fantasy world in which she was hoping that he would one day change. (Let's all vomit together now.)

Can the withholding man really change?

Reality check: a grown man who withholds affection and won't make himself emotionally vulnerable is not going to change unless he has a major life crisis; works on his issues by reading, writing, and asking for help; or he gets months or even years of good psychotherapy. The poor woman who dated the man I had lunch with was waiting in vain - for years. Imagine how she must have felt after waiting for him to change for so many years and then later being dumped. Everything about the relationship for her was lose-lose. She wasn't happy in the relationship because her most basic emotional needs weren't being met, and then she wasn't happy when it ended it because she was discarded. By the end of the relationship, the woman's self-esteem must have been even lower than it was when she started the relationship.

One of the techniques I use in psychotherapy is to ask my clients to think about a certain issue from the perspective of their own hypothetical child. For example, in this case, I would talk to the woman who was broken up with and ask her the following question: "If you had a teenage daughter and she told you that her boyfriend never told her outright that he likes her, what would you say to her?" For some men and women, it's hard for them to feel empathy for themselves, but they can access that empathy if they imagine how they would feel if the same thing happened to their child. Let's agree to set this goal: We will all work to protect our own feelings as much as we would protect the feelings of a young child.

Drawing boundaries and minding a timeline when dating withholding men

If you find a guy you want to date, give him a chance. Look for patterns early on, and ask yourself if he treats you well enough and gives you what you need from the relationship. Does he give you meaningful compliments? Does he tell you he likes or loves you? Does he share his feelings and convince you what about you he likes and admires? Does he need you enough? Remember, for a relationship to be successful, both partners need to feel needed. If you have been dating someone for a month or two and you have the sense that he is holding back or not sharing himself enough emotionally with you, you need to have a talk with him. Tell him what needs you have that are not getting met; tell him you need him to meet these needs on a consistent basis going forward; and make a mental note to give him another month or two to see if he values and needs you enough that he is willing to change his behavior. If he doesn't make the required changes, think about the woman I talked about who was broken up with after five years and ask yourself how many years of your life you're prepared to lose to someone who doesn’t value enough to try to change.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Dr. Seth in the Media: Billboard Magazine

Check out a new article coming soon from Billboard Magazine about the meaning of breakup songs. I am a huge fan of music and love this magazine to the point that it's almost a personal bible. I have been reading it since I was 12 years old! (I think I secretly wanted to be the next Clive Davis.) Article will be published soon!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

My New Article: "The Root of Narcissistic Personality Is Rarely Discussed"

My new article for Psychology Today focuses on the narcissist, that enigmatic personality type that both fascinates and frustrates. Specifically, I address how the root of narcissism isn't feeling superior, bur rather it is the refuse to feel vulnerable which is the pivotal factor in this personality disorder. You can read my article here at Psychology Today.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Psychological Analysis: TV's "The Affair" (Showtime)

Showtime's "The Affair" chronicles one of the richest, most layered relationships I've ever seen on television or in film. The most recent episode (Season 3, Episode 5) brought too many oh-wow moments to count. The show focuses on the relationship between Noah and Alison, and we finally see Alison gaining insight and maturing while Noah - older and most successful - still stumbles to find himself.

One point that I found especially interesting is how Alison, having been in a mental health treatment facility, at first appears to be the "crazy one" but is actually wiser in many ways than everyone around her. Alison has always been sexualized and seductive, but as she develops her sense of self, she is able to use her words and thoughts instead of her body to connect with men. True, she slept with both Cole and Noah in a short window of time, but you get the sense that she will learn from these mistakes. Cheers to the actors and writers which make this show such good TV!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

RELATIONSHIPS: How to Feel Attracted (Again) to Your Spouse

Most married couples experience it, the sense that the passion and sexual chemistry have died after many years together. The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way. Though you probably won't resuscitate the same type of passion you had when the two of you first got together, you can practice a few techniques to get some of that sexual interest and excitement back again. Check out my new article for Psychology Today and see what I mean. Article here!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

RELATIONSHIPS: How to Say No to Anything (Including Dates)

Dating situations are tricky, in part, because they sometimes require you to say no or reject someone when you have no interest in hurting anyone's feelings or looking a bad person. The good news is that there are ways that you can say no that still manage to show respect and kindness. I'll show you how to say no respectfully but first I will ask you some questions to get you to think about why people have a hard time saying no in the first place.

Do you need to be liked by everyone?

Men and women who have a hard time saying no often have a deep need to be liked. While it's normal and healthy to want to be liked by the people you have relationships with - family, friends, and so on - it's not normal or healthy to want to be liked by everyone. If you need to be liked by everyone, you are inevitably going to feel stressed because you are trying to pull off the impossible! After all, who really cares if someone you don't know well doesn't like you? They don't even know you, so it doesn't make any sense to take it personally. The first step in learning how to say a "nice no" is to put any need to be liked by everyone to rest.

Do you try hard to look perfect or like one of the nicest people around?

If you have this problem, you know it. What you need to do is remember that the goal is to be good enough - not perfect - and to be nice enough - but not the nicest. Anyone who appears perfect or like the nicest gal or guy is actually working really hard to keep up that image. It's a lot of work, so spare yourself that headache and allow yourself to be flawed (a little) like the rest of the world around you!

The secret reason why some people don't want to say no

If you say no to someone about something specific, you may be afraid that they won't like you or want to be with you anymore. You may have the fear that you will only be liked if you mold yourself into whatever that other person wants you to be. If you say no to a date and let the other person know that you're not interested, you know what's going to happen: they will move on. If you are someone who doesn't want to say no and reject someone, it might not be for purely altruistic reasons; you might actually like the attention and you might not want to say no because you don't want the attention to end. While that it is understandable on a gut level, it's not fair to anyone to keep someone strung along for the sake of your (somewhat needy) ego.

The answer, finally - How to say no with a question

This technique is my favorite way of saying no to anything. You ask me for a date but I'm not interested, so I respond: "Thank you for asking but is it okay if I say no?" By asking the question, you aren't shooting anyone down harshly and you give the other person a sense of control so they don't otherwise have to feel like an idiot. If the person persists and asks why, say this: "I’m not sure exactly, but is that okay?" Again, you ask another question which has the effect of taking the pressure off of you. Very quickly the person will stop asking and will move on, and you won't have said anything mean or hurtful while simultaneously managing to avoid something you don't want to do. When someone asks you to do something that you really don’t want to do, ask “Is it okay if I say no?”

What you shouldn't do when you can't say no

There is no reason why you can't say no using the technique above. It's easy and direct, and you don't have to list a million reasons why you are saying no. What you shouldn't do is postpone dealing with the issue by not saying either yes or no: "Let me think about it;" "I'm not sure;" or "I have to check my calendar." Come on, let’s all degree to be more direct in our communication, especially in dating! It’s already stressful enough to begin with, so let’s not communicate in ambivalent ways and make a challenging process even more challenging. Deal with the question you're asked and say no nicely so that the two of you can move on.