Interview With Deborah Cox: Sharing Her Thoughts on Relational Paradox, Dangers of Oversharing and Much More
1. One question we get asked quite often from our subscribers especially from women in their late 30s and above is if there are enough eligible men looking for a serious long term relationship. There seems to be this belief that men around their age group are more interested in younger women.
What advice do you have for women who have a deep rooted skepticism that they can’t find love because of their age and are almost at the point of giving up?
This is a complicated issue, because finding love so often involves letting go of one’s notions about love.
I see a lot of women who “fish” in the same ponds, over and over and over, always thinking they’re going to find that right person but continually disappointed by what/who they do find. The most current example is online dating sites, where people use external criteria to try to locate a someone who must, at some point, match an internal set of needs.
Love happens to us when we least expect it – and when it’s most satisfying, it happens between people who share deep commitments and values in common.
I think this is why so many strong romances start at work, especially between two people who are committed to a profession. So when women ask me about how to find love, I ask them about their ponds.
Where do you go to broaden yourself intellectually? Spiritually? Physically? What organizations matter to you?
I suggest they take classes, visit places of worship, find gyms or exercise studios where they feel at home. I suggest they make friends with people who are older and younger. I suggest they find an area of study or creative outlet that makes them feel really content and/or passionate.
As they develop themselves as deep, spiritual beings, they meet others who are doing the same.
They enhance the likelihood of meeting men who are seeking a deeper, more soulful kind of connection. This process happens at literally every age: when the time and circumstances are right, it will happen.
2. Some of our subscribers feel stuck in their love lives because of their past emotional baggage. This affects them in a number of ways- they either tend to compare the next man they are dating with their ex or they have trust issues because they have been cheated on before or they just cannot seem to forget their ex and move on in life.
What are some practical ways that can help women release their past emotional baggage so that they can start attracting healthy love into their lives?
Yes, we all carry this kind of baggage from one relationship to the next.
It’s a part of the process of our evolution and growth. They key here is to shine a light on ourselves – to shift some of that attention away from “he” to “me.” What I mean is that there’s a good reason we keep finding men who trigger our jealous rage or our feelings of unworthiness or our sense of being smothered or disappointed by someone’s addiction.
And that reason can be found in our own early childhood experiences.
“What appeals to me about guys who can’t commit?” “Why do I keep finding controlling men?” “Where did I learn it was my responsibility to fix my man?” “When was the first time in my life I felt undeserving of love?”
Enter good therapy. EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy is especially well suited to this kind of work. We all have relational trauma in our backgrounds. Even if it’s relatively small. It’s part of the human experience. EMDR helps to target those early life experiences that may have taught us to devalue our worth in relationships or seek alcoholics or fall in love with people who are unavailable.
An EMDR therapist can guide you through a targeted assessment process designed to locate key memories connected with love and attachment – and then reprocess those. EMDR literally jump-starts the brain to do this work for you. You were made to resolve the issue of love in your life – and EMDR is the most powerful tool I know for catalyzing that resolution process.
3. One popular concern that our subscribers have is regarding sharing their feelings with the man they are dating. What we typically find is that when women like the man they are seeing, they tend to avoid bringing up difficult issues and tough conversations because they fear they might lose him. So what they generally tend to do is that they keep it to themselves and give the impression that things are just fine.
For example, they have a fantastic date with a man and he says he will call after a few days. They wait, wait and wait to be disappointed that he didn’t follow up as he said he would. But they are happy when they eventually hear back from him and don’t share how they really felt during the no contact period.
What would your advice be for women who have the fear that sharing feelings and emotions will drive a man away and make them come across as someone clingy and needy?
This problem – keeping our true feelings hidden from the object of our affection – is also one of those deeply human experiences we all have.
In fact, so common is this experience, there is a whole psychological theory built around it. Relational Cultural Theory, formulated by a group of feminist thinkers, including Judith Jordan and the late Jean Baker Miller, is all about how we take ourselves out of relationship in order to protect relationship.
This process is called “relational paradox,” because we exit the relationship when we hide our true feelings – while at the same time, we want so desperately to keep the relationship alive. So this is a huge issue – one we probably never resolve completely.
Here’s what I tell my clients about the relational paradox.
First, read about it. There are plenty of articles online about RCT and the very human need we all have for genuine connection and love – and the strategies we use to disconnect from the very thing we need most. Second, I invite them to become more and more aware of the things they feel but do not share.
Write them down. Third, as they become more comfortable knowing their innermost feelings and sharing them with me or with trusted friends, I ask them to experiment with sharing them in the love relationship.
We sometimes have this notion of men that they can’t handle our emotions.
But as someone who works with a lot of men, I can say with confidence that men are looking for genuine connection too. No one wants to be criticized or blamed, but inside each potential mate is that same human need for true, honest, mutual sharing. It’s important to remember this when you start to talk about your feelings.
So sometimes I’ll help a client write a script, so she has words in front of her when she attempts this sharing.
“How do you feel about me being more honest/open with you than I’ve been in the past?”
“I felt sad and worried during that radio silence – I wondered if I’d done something to offend you.”
“I realize this may make you feel uncomfortable, but can we talk about the last few weeks?”
It always helps to practice this one someone else first – as it may feel very different from conversations you’re used to having. Just keep in mind that as long as you own your own emotion, the sharing of it is a gift to the other person. So if he gets offended or antsy and stops calling, that’s on him. You’ve given him the gift of your true self, which is always a good thing.
4. From our subscribers, we often hear “lack of chemistry” as a leading reason why they aren’t willing to go out on a second date with a man even though he seemed to be a decent guy and they were comfortable and treated with respect during the first date.
Can you share your thoughts on chemistry- how important is it for a relationship to succeed long term and can chemistry grow over time? Is it worth persisting with a man with whom a woman feels comfortable but doesn’t quite share the chemistry?
I really respect chemistry. It’s a mysterious process with a mysterious source – and when it’s not there, things do not go well.
I’ve seen women “settle” into relationships that seem otherwise good but have a lack of chemistry.
What happens often is that those positive qualities begin to erode and they’re left with a really empty situation.
The things they thought were so smart about the relationship begin to disappear. It’s almost like you can’t trick Mother Nature by settling when you have no chemistry or limited chemistry. I trust those first sparks. I liken them to the research on mothers and babies showing that mothers can pick their babies’ blankets by smell while blindfolded.
Chemistry is like that.
A certain scent. A way of moving or walking or talking. A set of skills and ways of thinking. Folded together, all of it creates a whole package that feels like home. That said, sometimes women need to get to know potential mates in a setting that allows those attractive traits to emerge over time.
The chemistry may not be evident right away, in a blind date situation, through the email. This is why online dating seems so limited to me. In other words, we may need to watch a guy handle meetings, sip his coffee, talk to others, run a race, etc., before we see him as the attractive person he is.
5. Some experts recommend women wait till they get to know the man they are dating and not have sex until you both are committed to exclusivity. Some experts believe you should go with the flow and be spontaneous and not have any rules regarding when you want to sleep with a man.
Can you share your thoughts on the right time to have sex especially if the woman is interested in pursuing a long term committed relationship?
I have lots of thoughts here. And all of them are based on observation – not research per se. Sex is a big deal.
It involves the body-mind, DNA, the potential creation of life, the close-in connection of a vulnerable knowing. It’s not a thing to take lightly, in my view. I was raised in a very strict, religious environment that condemned sex outside of marriage, but my views are not that rigid anymore. Still, I see women (and men) having sex early in a relationship and then stunting the development of that relationship.
We need to talk first. We need to tell our life stories, tell our jokes, admit our shortcomings and regrets, see the reactions of each other to all of it. We need our boundaries during this talking process.
We need to protect ourselves from intrusion into our sacred spaces before it’s time. And our relationships need lots of nurturing before they are ready to handle the impact of sex.
Even if you’re both thinking about it all the time (which is human and totally fine), having a boundary protects the development of key features in a relationship – things that have to be created and nurtured at first or will never happen.
6. Some of our subscribers have the tendency to ignore and overlook the red flags especially when they really like a man. In the process, they create an idealized version of the man and overestimate the feelings he has for them.
For women who have a history of fantasizing and idealizing a partner, what can they do to evaluate the man and their relationship for what it is truly worth rather than what they ideally like it to be?
This one is really difficult because there seems to be a universal law that we idealize each other at the beginning.
There really is no good way to “evaluate” a potential partner outside of our feelings for him/her. People who are good at evaluating potential mates are not good at settling into relationships. Falling in love is involuntary . . . we don’t get to choose whom we fall for.
However, there are some good questions you can ask yourself, as you’re dating and falling for someone, that will help you become more awake in that relationship – and thus more able to navigate it (which could mean leaving it or taking it to therapy).
1. How do I feel when I’m around him?
2. Does he make me a better person?
3. Does he inspire me to be more creative and active – or does he seem to limit me?
4. What do my friends notice about us as a couple?
5. How willing is he to be vulnerable with me – – how willing am I to be vulnerable with him?
6. Is this the kind of person who would go do therapy with me when (not if) our relationship hits its inevitable rough patches?
7. Can I speak openly and honestly with him? Am I always afraid I will offend him?
8. Can we have a good time and stay sober? Or does it feel we always need to drink?
9. What are his weaknesses? Can I see them now? Can he admit them?
10. What is it about this person that most draws me? How is that related to my early family experiences?
7. Can too much honesty negatively affect a relationship especially when you have just started seeing the other person? How much of the past and even the present should you reveal to the man you are dating? Should you share details like cheating in the previous relationship, the fact you are currently seeing a therapist or you are a recovering alcoholic etc? Some of our subscribers have been too honest and in the process lost out on many men because it freaked them out.
Can you share your thoughts on how women can balance the fine line between honesty and giving themselves the chance to date men and pursue a long term committed relationship?
Yes. Although I wouldn’t necessarily call it honesty when we overshare.
This is another boundary issue, like sex, that calls for discernment. Sleeping with your partner too soon and sharing deep secrets too soon have similar effects on a budding relationship. They limit growth and possibility.
Although we may be tempted to bare our souls right away when we meet someone that seems like a perfect mate, it’s better to take some deep breaths and allow a pause before telling some of our stories. When we stop and breathe, we can anticipate the impact of our revelations on the person across from us.
On the other hand . . . . early dating is the time to talk versus have sex. The more talking you can do in the early weeks of a romance, the more likely the relationship will progress.
Maybe the real issue here is HOW we share.
There’s timing involved in the level of detail and intimacy we should allow, if we want to sustain a long-term connection with someone.
Here’s an example of that timing.
I can talk about growing up in a religiously abusive community – and I can tell virtually anyone that this was my childhood situation. I can leave it kind of general if I feel it’s not time yet to give details – or, if someone wants to know more, I can tell a story that’s not too painful to tell.
After I’ve gotten to know this person, I may decide it’s okay to share deeper or more painful aspects of growing up fundamentalist. I may get more specific about how girls were treated in this world. Deeper still, the stories of physical abuse, which I will leave for much later, when I’ve decided I can really trust the person I’m getting to know.
My partner needs to see I’m solid before hearing the worst of my issues.
He needs to know I’m not just looking to offload a lot of negativity on him ( – that I have many positive things to offer. So I want to make sure I talk about my hopes and dreams, right out of the chute, along with things I’m thankful for, things I love to do, and people who make my life worthwhile.
8. 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.
Deal breakers are things to keep in our consciousness, but not necessarily speak about until it’s time.
The “time” typically involves that DTR talk (determining the relationship). Until both parties are ready to have that talk, our deal breakers aren’t on the table – they are just ours, to know and remind ourselves about as we need to. But they are assumed.
Infidelity, violence, untreated addiction……things like this are expected to be deal breakers.
And just because we haven’t spelled them out, doesn’t mean we can’t get clear about them later. Yes, this is very hard. But it’s okay to learn as you go – in fact, that’s what relationships are all about.
9. Our subscribers also run into a situation where things are going great and just when they think the relationship has great potential or feel he is the one, the man starts developing cold feet. He pulls away, doesn’t respond to phone calls or text messages and in some cases disappears for a while.
What advice do you have for women who deal with men that suddenly pull away and act inconsistent?
Glad you asked this one, because what you’re describing is totally normal.
In fact, if it doesn’t happen like this, you will probably be the one backing away pretty soon. Relationships have to find their own balance of closeness and distance. So, partners come close briefly and then the tide pulls them back. This cycle goes on throughout the lifespan in a long-term relationship. But at first, when you’re developing a coupleship, it seems like the tragic end when your partner suddenly pulls back.
My advice is this: relax and know that this is a normal stage in the development of relationship.
If you can stay calm, reach out to friends, stay active in whatever else makes you happy, meditate on the future you want, it will work out as it is supposed to. Allow the space to be there without pushing him for conversations he doesn’t want to have right now (I know this is terrifically hard). Use it as time to clean out your closets.
Start training for your marathon. Get out your knitting. Yes, sometimes they back away entirely and never come back. But you can’t know that initially. And if, in your heart, you know the bond has been formed, you can also trust that there will be another chapter after this one.
10. What are your top 3 relationship tips that you would offer women who are single and looking for a long term committed relationship?
Top three relationship tips for single women.
1. Develop yourself.
Seek continuing education, spiritual community, physical fitness, and creative expression. Read avidly. Think about your life’s work and dig deeply into it. Make friendships that are emotionally connected and nurture them. Write something in your journal every day without fail.
Green up your diet. Meditate. Do yoga. All of these things bring your closer to your higher self, the person you are meant to be. As you near this higher self, you draw people to you that fit with who you really are – and you make yourself more appealing to them.
2. Expand your social network.
Fish in new ponds. Take classes at your local college or adult education center. Join a church or synagogue or other place of worship. Join a gym where people seem friendly and personable. Invite people over for dinner. Meet your neighbors. Find out if there’s someone in your circle who needs your help. So often, meeting the right person happens when we least expect it, as we’re engaged in other kinds of relationships.
I know this one could seem strange or controversial, but it’s been my experience that it really works. You could also say, “meditate.” Spend time connecting with your higher power – and “talk” with her/him about your longing for connection. Spend time taking deep breaths and picturing yourself in a loving relationship.
Pray for opportunities and discernment. Give thanks for the people in your life who already love you. Write a letter to The Great Creator in your journal and ask for what you want and need. A mysterious, alchemical process will ensue. Something I have no words to explain. You’ll know it when it happens.
About Deborah Cox
Deborah Cox is a psychologist, writer, EMDR therapist, and artist. She works with bright people to help them become more of who they were meant to be. She writes about anger, religious abuse, art for healing, and trauma recovery. Her book, Wife Material, is a semi-autobiographical portrait of all these things.
Her psychological research on women’s anger appears in numerous media outlets, such as Salon.com, Reuters Health, and Cosmopolitan – and she co-authored The Anger Advantage (Broadway), a smart self-help guide to women’s emotional empowerment.
Visit www.deborahlcox.com to know more.