Interview With Allison Cohen: Sharing Her Thoughts on Managing Insecurity, Overcoming the Tendency To Fix Men and Much More
1. Many experts recommend women to be authentic and be themselves to attract the right kind of men. An interesting questions we got from a reader the other day was “Well, I just try to be myself but I don’t get the results I am looking for as far whether it is attracting the right men or having a good dating experience or transitioning from casual dating to serious dating. So obviously I am doing something wrong and being myself is not going to help me. And I want to know, what does it mean to be my authentic self and how it can help in my relationships.”
Can you share your thoughts on this question?
It’s easy to assume that you are doing something wrong when you are “just being yourself” but its important to look at other factors as well.
For example, are you seeking a mate that would truly be a good match for you or are you unconsciously gravitating to someone that is merely a chink in the chain of a destructive pattern? Do you believe in your worth, deservedness and right to be happy or are you seeking men that will reject you, ultimately creating a self fulfilling prophecy of rejection?
If you first answered “Yes” and then “No” to each question above, it may be time to examine how you are expressing your “authentic self.”
This concept refers to being cognizant of who you truly are at your core and acting in ways that are reflective and representative of those likes, dislikes, opinions, instincts, needs etc. Fortunately, we are living in an era that encourages introspection and self improvement, however, sometimes awareness can become a slippery slope.
We now know that owning who we truly are and acting as such is a positive. But what happens when we passively live life and wake up to realize it’s passing us by? We revert to the opposite extreme and become over bearing with OUR needs and OUR wants.
Dating by nature requires finesse.
It takes practice to achieve the happy medium of expressing who you are but doing so in a timely, assertive manner and not an aggressive one. For instance, perhaps you are keenly aware that you want children and recognize that being “authentic” means laying that fact on the table, so you make it clear from the start.
Your date may find your honesty refreshing but terrifying as he may (wrongly) assume that this means you want children immediately and as a result, you don’t get the call for a follow up date. What could have been a great per-cursor to a relationship gets quashed before it even begins.
Being yourself can only improve the partnership in the long run because you successfully manage expectations and will leave no uncertainty as to what makes you tick and flourish in the relationship.
But first, you have to know why you are drawn to the types of men that aren’t interested in you long term and start working on your presentation skills at the beginning of the courting process.
2. So you advice to be honest but also be tactful and be conscious of what you say and do in the dating timeline. A common problem we hear from our women subscribers is “My biological clock is ticking and I cannot afford to wait and waste time with men who are not serious or commitment phoebes.”
What they typically encounter is men who seem to be a nice, decent guy but who is not on the same timeline as far as a marriage is concerned. In fact, they are typically neither for marriage nor against marriage; they are usually “Maybe- maybe I would like to get married one day.”
And this difference in timeline causes a lot of stress, doubts and fears within women because for women a maybe is not definitive. So they are left wondering, should I wait, if so how long and if I do wait and then he says no or maybe again, what should I do etc.
What would your advice be for women who are working from the perspective of a limited timeline?
Being clear on who you are and what you want can only benefit you in the long run.
That said, it can also certainly cause some anxiety when dealing with men that are “marriage maybes.”
Here is some vital information to quell that panic – People show you who they are from the very start. It may be quiet and subtle, but make no mistake; every action and behavior is a signal to true intentions.
As a result, you won’t “wait and waste time” because you’ll know within the first few months if this is someone that is truly looking for a forever commitment (You certainly won’t know if he is “the one” but you’ll have a strong indication if he is someone that is serious about finding a life mate).
Clue into behaviors like when and how often he calls.
Does he make a definitive plan to see you when he does make contact? What kind of plans does he make (weekend time or late in the evening, a long dinner or a quick drink etc)? Does he start to open up about his personal story, important people in his life etc or does the conversation always stay surface? These bits of information alone will be a powerful determinant, therefore, if things aren’t progressing you have your answer.
While a man may not be ready to get married and have children in record time, if he wants those things in the future, he will either be verbal about them or show you in every action that he means business. If he is a “maybe” he may not know himself well or isn’t sure about his feelings for you and those facts alone will likely be deal breakers in the end.
3. I think you are pointing out two very important things here. One is to closely observe what a man does rather than what he says because action speak louder than words and two you are advocating women to set the bar high and clearly identify their dating/relationship deal breakers.
But I have also seen how some women have this tendency to “fix men” or “change him for the better.” The thinking is “He hasn’t committed to any long term relationship before because he did not meet the right woman” or “If I do the right things for him, show him how much he means to me, he will change.” I cannot tell you how many women unfortunately think this way and end up being unhappy, unfulfilled and unappreciated.
In my Facebook page, I have this quote- “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.” I think to a large extent it is true.
What would your advice be for women who tend to ignore the early red flags or underestimate them hoping they can change their men later on in the relationship?
It’s incredibly romantic to think that we will be the one to reform the bad boy/bad girl or mend the broken heart of a gentle soul; romantic and false.
All mates deserve a couple of basic things; to be with fully functioning, mature partners and to stop chasing fairy tales that won’t come true. To achieve a successful relationship, you have to be willing to give up the notion that you can change anyone. Long term, only the individual themselves can make change because they have to want it internally.
No outside motivation will be worth it and you will be left with unfulfilled hopes and much time wasted.
There are a myriad of people that are a truly committed to self improvement and are looking for committed relationships. It may just be time to let go of the addiction to partners you want to fix. In strong relationships people fix themselves.
4. I guess what you are implying here is know your deal breakers and also be prepared to accept your partner for who they are rather than who you want them to be. I understand when you say only individuals can make the change themselves. Some experts say that when you are in a relationship, you are in a dance and when one person changes, it alters the dance as well.
Can we alter our relationships by changing ourselves and as a result our partners change because they sense the difference in our behavior and attitude? I do recognize and realize that there are some people who are not going to change no matter what you do or what you say, but I guess there are some ways to make your partner see what’s worrying you or concerning you from your point of view in a manner that triggers that internal change or at least the idea of change on their own accord and not necessarily by nagging, force or manipulation.
Most therapists will tell you that when you are dealing with a couples issue, its best to see both parties to discuss the difficulties.
That said, if one partner is unwilling or unable, there are ways to move the relationship forward, even when only one partner is creating the momentum.
In this scenario, I always encourage clients to think first about what they can do to improve the relationship by focusing not only on their personal issues but on what they feel their partner is craving from them, even if they aren’t in the room to articulate it (We know our partners well and if you truly ask yourself the question, it will likely be easy to ascertain their desires and needs).
This singular effort can create a powerful shift if your partner is amenable to change and aware enough to see and validate your efforts.
That said, some people will never change because they don’t have the internal desire or don’t believe they should have to, in order to make the relationship work. In this case, no amount of individual effort will alter the dynamic for the better.
5. When you talk about articulating the issues clearly, a common problem our women subscribers face is when their partners tend to shut down or become silent. This is quite frustrating for many women because they are trying to figure out what is bothering their partners and the silence they get as a feedback is often confusing because they are not quite sure what they are suppose to do. It is a popular belief that men are not very good at expressing their feelings and they don’t always want to talk about their problems because it makes them feel less “manly.”
Are there certain things that women can do to make it easier for men to open up and talk honestly about without any guilt, shame or fear?
Communication really is the cornerstone of a successful relationship and if one partner is taking a vow of silence, it throws up a very high and almost impermeable wall between the mates.
Each person has to commit to expressing their feelings and needs to avoid the disaster of the mind reading trap (Ie. “I don’t have to say anything because my partner knows me well enough to know what I’m thinking”) where false assumptions are made, acted upon and problems grow exponentially.
If you find that your partner starts to communicate but ultimately shuts down, it will be important to look at what is happening that is causing him/her to become silent.
Is the tension increasing? Are you getting angry? Have you touched upon a hot button for your significant other? Pay attention to the cues so that you can learn better coping mechanisms to respond.
For example, if he/she pulls back when you start ramping up, call a “fight break” before things heat up too much by asking for a time out and picking a moment to revisit the conversation when cooler heads prevail. It could be 10 minutes, an hour, a day etc. Figure out what works for you both and commit to sticking to that appointment.
The best thing you can do is to practice staying calm and supportive, when your special someone does express their feelings, no matter what they say.
It doesn’t mean that you have to agree, but it does mean that you have to show them that their feelings are safe with you; that you won’t become reactive when they say something upsetting. It will go a long way in easing the path towards communication.
For reference, people that avoid discussions do so because of the fear of having a blow up in the moment.
Unfortunately they forget that a small disagreement in the present is always better than brushing it under the rug, as it will build towards disaster in the long term. Stay focused, cool, loving and encourage your partner along the path by modeling the behaviors you want to see from them. It may just shift the dynamic.
6. A few important points that I am picking up from what you are saying are “Don’t assume your partner can read your mind”, “pay attention to how you feel and also observe how your partner is responding”, “take a break if necessary to cool things off and revisit the conflict again” and “don’t rug sweep the problem however small it may be because it is toxic to your relationship.
I think the most important advice to take home is “It doesn’t mean that you have to agree, but it does mean that you have to show them that their feelings are safe with you; that you won’t become reactive when they say something upsetting.”
How do you go about developing this trait?
Let me give you an example: some of my subscribers boyfriends have the tendency of looking at other women and flirting even when they are around.
This makes them feel insecure, inadequate and even jealous. Sometimes the response from men is “Yes, I do check out other women and I do flirt with women casually. Honestly it means nothing, it’s something that comes naturally to me and it really doesn’t mean I don’t love my girlfriend or I don’t consider her beautiful. I can have the world’s most beautiful woman as my girlfriend and still I will be checking out other women. I guess I am wired this way, but it doesn’t mean I am sleeping around with them. However I can’t tell this to my girlfriend because she always ties my behavior back to her- that I am doing this because she is not enough for me and that is not the case at all.
So in this case as a woman, it is probably not something that you may agree with or like hearing, but if men consider you are not someone “safe” to share their true feelings, they are either going to shut down or start lying and deny checking out other women or accuse you of being jealous or paranoid.
In this case, how would you recommend women to be open and safe to have men share feelings and then work on solving the issue in hand?
Despite many wishing this was the case, we do not, in fact, go blind once entering a new relationship.
Both men and women see and are aware of others they find attractive and there is nothing wrong with that. The problems, however, begin when it triggers a (human) insecurity inside us or if our partner conveys that acknowledgement in a disrespectful way.
In order for your special someone to feel safe enough to express their feelings, you’ll have to work to manage those pings of insecurity by:
1. Reminding yourself that out of every person in the world, he/she picked you and if they wanted someone else, they would be with them.
2. Reminding yourself that in reality, he/she has not acted on any other attraction and therefore, has done nothing to warrant legitimate concern.
This said, it will also be important to tune in to the way your mate is expressing their awareness of an attractive other.
A glance and a smile is benign. Staring and actively flirting is not. Should you find yourself struggling with the manner in which he/she is signaling their acknowledgment, start a dialogue with them.
First, note that you have no issue with your significant other having eyes wide open.
Second, specify that it’s simply the way they indicate that cognizance.
Ask for what you want in a calm, respectful way. Through this process you will show your partner that their opinions are safe with you (even when you disagree) and there will be no need for rebellion or guilt as a result.
7. I guess it also boils down to what the individual considers a deal-breaker. For some, flirting is a deal-breaker while some are okay with it. I think the worst scenario is when it is a deal-breaker or something that bothers you but you either stay silent and pretend the problem doesn’t exist or is not bothering you or when you are too afraid of bringing up the problem because you feel he will leave you. In this case, the woman should feel safe enough to share her concerns with her partner.
Talking about deal-breakers, what are some best practices when it comes to clearly communicating your deal breakers and boundaries and when should you be having these conversations? I have heard from quite a number of my women subscribers who initially set the bar low and then find it incredibly difficult to raise the bar in the relationship because their partner has been conditioned to the earlier low standard. Many women find it quite difficult to have these conversations because they fear coming across as someone too uptight and rigid and worry about driving men away.
I’ll pass along some very wise words from my very wise grandmother, who told me the following information in my teens and I never forgot it…”You start a relationship the way you want to end it.”
Meaning, you are establishing boundaries, patterns, habits, limitations and expectations from date 1. This of course, doesn’t mean that you act like a bulldozer, demanding and setting your terms from the get go.
It does however, mean that you have to be (kindly) honest from the start, to avoid setting up a dynamic that doesn’t work for you long term.
Be clear about who you are and the type of relationship you are looking for. Reacting to fear will only exacerbate issues and increase your resentment down the road.
If you find that your partner is unwilling to communicate or compromise in the beginning, he/she won’t be willing at the end either.
8. Your grandmother is a very wise woman indeed. I really like her advice and it drives home the point of setting the right tone and boundaries in a relationship. And when the boundaries are not respected or discussed, it is quite easy to assume your partner and be discontent and unhappy deep inside without talking about it openly and honestly.
At what point is it better to end a relationship as opposed to working on improving the relationship? What are the factors you would recommend women take into consideration before making a decision?
In all things in life, you must act to limit regret and ending a relationship is no different.
In order to walk away with no concern of the “what if’s” nagging at you, you must leave no stone unturned when it comes to communicating, being clear about your needs, improving yourself and being flexible enough to tend to your partner’s desires as well.
Once you start to doubt the viability of the relationship in the long term, ask yourself if you’ve done everything possible to make it work.
If the answer is “yes” and the relationship is still failing, it’s a strong indication that it’s time to walk away. This said, if you find that you are in a mentally or physically abusive relationship, there is nothing to work on. For your safety, walk away immediately.
9. How important is chemistry for a relationship to succeed long term. One of the problems our women subscribers face is that men with whom they share great chemistry seem to be either players, jerks or commitment phoebes while there is hardly any chemistry with nice guys who treat them with respect, love and kindness.
So when they are with the former, there is a lot of drama and unpredictability which makes the relationship exciting and fun but they never last long whereas with the latter they feel the relationship is too predictable and boring.
It’s easy to lose hope when so much of your dating experiences fall into the “safe” or “passionate” categories and it starts to feel like the two shall never meet.
While the definition of insanity will tell you that you don’t continue down the same path if you want different results, dating is one of the grand loopholes in the concept. You do in fact, have to continue dating without settling for one or the other. You must do it with an open heart and core belief that the two CAN exist in one person.
Without this “knowing,” you will bounce between “nice” and “exciting,” perpetually rebelling because both (equally vital) needs aren’t being fulfilled and each time you settle for one over the other, you actively place yourself further from your partnership goals.
Chemistry comes in many forms; intellectual, physical and emotional.
For whatever type you crave, it’s imperative that you ultimately get it. No relationship is perfect but you must be honest with yourself and if chemistry is a unwavering desire, ignoring or living without it won’t solve the problem.
10. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are looking for a long term committed relationship?
1. Be clear about what you are looking for so that you can recognize it when he/she is standing in front of you and can communicate it when they ask.
2. Stay present to the moment, to avoid over analyzing and missing important indicators and signals your partner may be sending.
3. Be honest with yourself when it comes to your flaws. It will give you a jump start on keeping the relationship strong if you are committed to improving upon them.
About Allison Cohen
Allison Cohen, M.A., MFT is a licensed, private practice psychotherapist, with 10 years experience in individual and couples therapy.
With offices in Beverly Hills and Tarzana, CA, Allison specializes in aiding clients that struggle with life issues including self esteem, partner dynamics, family of origin conflict, identity formation, communication skills, intuitive eating, anxiety and depression.
She uses a kind but direct approach to provide concrete tools for life long change. She believes that the client is the expert on themselves and through an eclectic combination of orientations, she works to bring out the best version of the client that they can be.
She is a member of the California Association of Marriage Family Therapists, Divorce Transition Professionals and Psi Chi (the International Honor Society of Psychology).
To know more about Allison Cohen, visit www.lifeissuespsychotherapy.com.