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Why Are Relationships Such Hard Work?
1. The Wishes. If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve wanted to walk away from my marriage, I’d probably be sunning myself on the beach in Rio de Janeiro by now. But after 31 years with the same woman, I know that even with my megabucks and all the trimmings that wealth can bring, deep down I’d be feeling that something was missing somehow.
Someone once said that the only thing worse than wanting something was getting it. When I heard that first, in the folly of my youth, it didn’t make much sense to me. Nowadays, being in the situation of knowing how little I know, it seems quite profound.
Have you ever noticed how the warm fuzzy feelings of getting what you want fade pretty soon afterwards?
How long does the euphoria really last?
How long does the acquisition stay NEW?
If it is a new car, perhaps only as long as that unique smell that comes with it. So what comes next? Do you start longing for something else? What’s to be the next acquisition?
Or have you ever heard yourself saying:-
“Things will be great when I get my new house.”
“Just wait until the new car arrives.”
“Once I get the boss’s job, then things will be great.”
And sure, after you’ve got it, for a while anyway, things may indeed be great. But how do you feel after a week, or a month? Does the hunger set in again? Do you start looking for the next “When I get…”
How does this play out in our careers? Personally, I was able to spin out the self-delusion for quite some time. I’d joined the Army at 20, mainly because I “didn’t know what I wanted to do”. And when the little inside voice asked what was going on I was able to put it off until ‘later’. John Lennon is attributed to having said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” My ‘later’ lasted for 22 years.
2. The Illusion. “WHAT does this have to do with relationships?” I hear you ask. Well, the same rationale that we use to tell ourselves that “..It will be OK when…” is the same mechanism that we apply to our relationships. “When she starts to….”, or “When he learns to…”; then I will be happy. Always looking for something or someone out there to make us happy.
We start off by “Falling in Love” with someone who is everything we ever dreamed of. Apart from being the most beautiful / handsome person we have ever met, they also have the cutest habits. They are warm, caring, gentle, kind, sensitive etc., etc…. What is even more wonderful, they seem to return the affection. Along with this nonsense comes the totally fatuous notion that he / she “makes me so happy.” And how the musicians and poets milk this to death. One song line actually goes “You know you make me feel like you know I ought to.”
The tragedy about this situation is that it is a complete ILLUSION, a total MYTH.
“Romantic Love” is only the kindergarten of our learning journey. At first we see it as the be all and end all, but of course, when put to the test of marriage or even cohabitation, it just doesn’t survive.
So why do we do it? Why do we ‘fall in love?’ Why does it feel so good at the start and why do we feel so disappointed when it doesn’t last?
The reason for romantic love is that it provides us with a sample of how productive our lives can be; IF we do the necessary work.
3. The Deficiency. AS a species, mankind is a social animal with a strong need to belong. In his well-accepted Table of Needs, Abraham Maslow rates the feeling of belonging very highly, suggesting it is secondary only to our need for food, drink, rest etc. Related to that need however, and possibly much, much stronger, is a need for intimacy, closeness and acceptance. In other words, we need love.
And here is where the conundrum starts: – we make a decision as to how we feel about love very early in life. The continuum of our amenability to love varies from people who are totally switched off to the possibility of love, (our prisons are full of them) at one end, to those really gregarious individuals who work themselves into a frenzy trying to gain approval.
We can gain great mileage, and absolve ourselves from responsibility for our attitude, by blaming our parents. Depending on the dynamics of our early relationships, we grow up with either the sense of having been abandoned or having been smothered. Either way we are left with the sensation of being flawed somehow, or having something missing.
4. The Expectation. THE illusion referred to earlier is the seeming fulfillment of our deficiency. This person with whom we have “fallen in love” can magically provide all the missing elements that are needed to make us happy. Amazing. Mr. or Ms. Right has arrived. Not only does this “RIGHT” person have all the answers to my problems, but he / she will instinctively know how to behave to continue to make me happy. I do not even have to ask; she will somehow read my mind and understand what I need. While this attitude may seem ridiculous from an outside perspective, it may be a good thing to ask yourself this question.
How often have you felt disappointed that your partner has failed to carry out your wishes, to discover afterwards that he / she did not really know what you wanted in the first place? In other words, you ASSUMED or EXPECTED that she / he would fulfil the requirement. We know enough nowadays to blame most difficult situations on poor communication. Unfortunately, there is an implication that if we just used terms and words that the other party understands, then problems would disappear. It is my contention that our problems stem not just from accidental or inadvertent mis-communications, but from our underlying arrogance in having expectations in the first place. And on a distinct unwillingness to take responsibility for our own actions and situation. How often have you heard about people whose marriage broke down. There it was, one minute it was OK, the next it was broken. (“I had nothing to do with this, it was the marriage that failed.”)
5. The Games. BACK in 1966 Eric Berne, M.D., in his book “Games People Play” introduced us to the idea of habitual behaviours that we employ in order to achieve our ends. He calls these habits “Games” because they do not represent honest and authentic behaviour. They are more like automatic, knee-jerk responses which are so well ingrained that we have convinced ourselves to be true.
My favourite is the one he calls “Why Don’t You – Yes But”. I am sure you have heard it before in different formats, but here is the example he uses in his book: –
Mrs. A: “My husband always insists on doing our own repairs, and he never builds anything right.”
Mrs. B: “Why does he not take a course in carpentry?”
Mrs. A: “Yes, but he doesn’t have time.”
Mrs. B: “Why don’t you buy him some good tools?”
Mrs. A: “Yes, but they’d be too expensive.”
Notice the pattern here. Mrs. A’s conversation has little to do with getting help. The likelihood is that, no matter what alternative Mrs. B came up with, Mrs. A would find a reason for it not to work. So what is going on?
Dr. Berne gives a comprehensive description of the ulterior motives of this and many other games. The simplified answer is that Mrs. A uses this game as a Coping Mechanism, when she finds herself in difficult or embarrassing situations.
The truth is that a high percentage of the human race use games in one form or another. We do it to perpetuate the image that we want the world to have of us, how we want to be seen. We live our lives behind shields, and use games to maintain what Carl Jung refers to as the “Illusion of Separateness.” I call this shield KUSAAC, standing for ‘Keep Us Safe At All Costs’.
Now Kusaac didn’t just appear one day and take over. He (or she) was a very necessary part of our lives in our early days. He was the earliest part of our intellect to develop. He listened to our parents’ advice about taking care of ourselves.
“Don’t put your hand in the fireplace.”
“Wait until the road is clear before crossing.”
All good sensible advice so far, but what else did he learn?
“Never trust people who ….”
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
“Big Boys never cry.”
“Ladies never show their anger.”
So as kids we take a lot of this advice on board, and adopt it as our modus-operandi. After all, the people we trust have told us these things, so they must be true. Kusaac listened and learned; as he got older he learned to challenge some of what he heard, and may even have changed his opinion a few times. But by around 6 or 7 years of age, Kusaac had experienced enough to come to believe that he knew most of what he needed, so his enthusiasm for learning about life dimmed a good deal. While becoming set in his ways was bad enough, what has really caused our problems in later life is this: – Kusaac has been running our lives for so long that he has come to believe that he is supreme. In fairness to him, he has done the job of keeping us safe all these years, he has acted like a Guard to keep all perceived attackers out. He knows a lot of the crappy things about us, and protects us anyway. If no one gets inside our shields, then they can’t see all those bad things.
The tragedy of this mentality is the awful feeling of loneliness that can accompany it. We are so used to hiding behind our shields that we have forgotten who we really are, and create so many diversions to hide away.
You see Kusaac also stands for “Keep Us Separate At All Costs.”
So what are we really offering to our Ms / Mr Right? Most of us don’t really know, we’ve spent most of our lives listening to Kusaac that we have come to believe that he is all we are. The good news is that Life wants more than that from us, so consider the following.
You have a voice, but you are much more than that.
You have a liver, but you are much more than that.
You have a thinking system, but you are much more than that.
The Being that is within us, that the professionals refer to as the Autonomic Nervous System operates without Kusaac. It doesn’t need to be told how to operate, what is right / wrong, good / bad etc. It isn’t interested in impressing anyone, becoming rich and so on; its prime function is only to BE.
Eastern theologies have learned the benefits of meditation by learning to calm the thinking system and access this inner being.
6. The “Wake Up” call. LIKE the man building his house upon the sand, we actually start out relationships from positions of dishonesty. That is not to say that we INTEND to defraud, indeed in most cases we don’t even know that we are being dishonest. As far as we’re concerned, we’ve met this wonderful person who loves us just as we are. And we will live happily ever after.’
Dream On! The truth is that the REAL story must develop. And as sure as a seed is planted in the ground, so too are we destined to grow. And of course, growth means change. So how do we handle our growth? And perhaps more importantly, how do we handle our partner’s growth? And how does KUSAAC like it when things start going wrong?
The difficulties and disappointments that we come across in our relationships can be painful. The “Seven Year Itch” was once considered the legitimate time for couples to start getting a bit restless with each other. The implication somehow was that once a couple ‘gets over’ that, then the happiness would start again. But what about the “Ten Year Itch”? And the 15, 20, 25 and 30 year itches?
7. The Reality. AND now for some Good News, followed by some Not-So-Good News, followed again by some Excellent News.
The Good News is that there are no 10, 15, 25 and 30-year itches.
The Not-So-Good News is that a meaningful relationship is one continuous itch, punctuated by a number of delicious scratching periods.
The Excellent News is that each disagreement; every disappointment and difference of opinion between two people contains within it the opportunity for more learning and greater closeness. Rather than live together as 2 Kusaacs, each with its own set of values as to what is Right / Wrong, Good / Bad etc, we can use each other to learn how to manage Kusaac, and keep it from dominating. We can accept that our Kusaac is just a paradigm, only our perception, and probably highly out-dated as well. We can learn to drop our shields, and improve intimacy.
The time for greatest hope is when two people get to the stage of bringing out the worst in each other. If each party can learn to handle their own Kusaac, and the emotional baggage that goes with it, without blaming the other person, there is such a wonderful opportunity for healing and mutual growth.
Remember, Kusaac can also mean, “Keep Us SMALL At All Costs.” And your time for being small is long gone.
8. The “Wrap Up” My contention all the way through this article, indeed my life, is that we are each TOTALLY responsible for ourselves.
Sure, we all influence each other to varying degrees, but the amount to which we allow that to happen is TOTALLY OUR OWN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE.
In other words, while we can not always control, or determine events in our lives, we can absolutely and totally control our REACTION to these events.
And therein lies our TRUE POWER.
9. The “Plug” When things seem really grim, it can be very useful to have some outside input, from someone you trust, preferably one with direct experience of the difficulties thrown up in a relationship. As an experienced Life Coach, I can help you gain greater perspective and work towards a satisfying relationship. To find out whether you and I would work well together, why not schedule a “Trial Session”, it will cost you nothing and there is no obligation.
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