Interview With Dr. April Lok: Sharing Her Thoughts on Communicating Your Non-Negotiables, Not Losing Your Identity in a Relationship and Much More
1. Is love alone enough to sustain a relationship? If not, what do couples need to do to sustain a long term fulfilling relationship?
Love is both a feeling and a choice.
The feeling of love alone is not enough to sustain a relationship, and it’s very difficult to keep making the choice to love without the feeling. Both are needed for the relationship to be fulfilling over the long haul.
2. Can you further explain what you mean by “making the choice to love”?
The choice to love means being patient and kind and doing that which is in the best interest of the beloved–even if you don’t “feel” like it or if s/he is not reciprocating at the moment.
It may mean holding your tongue…or at least speaking truth gently. It also means making an effort to put a smile on your partner’s face, regardless of whether they are trying to do the same for you.
3. In your therapy practice, what is the biggest issue that you see couples or individuals especially women coming to you for help?
I typically see two types of couples, those in crisis and those experiencing chronic dissatisfaction in their relationship.
Couples in crisis are usually in acute distress as they attempt to deal with a high conflict situation, such as the discovery of an affair. Chronically dissatisfied couples are the ones that have lost their spark, don’t talk about much except schedules and the kids, and basically live like roommates.
When a woman comes on her own for relationship counseling, she is often trying to decide whether to remain in the relationship.
She may be facing a partner’s addiction or infidelity. She may be frustrated, sad, and lonely because her husband is disengaged, or she may feel stifled and scared because he is controlling and/or abusive.
I often see women who have tried hard to please others, lost themselves in the role of wife and mother, and are desperately seeking to rediscover their own sense of identity.
4. You touched on something very important- women losing their sense of identity. We get a lot of emails from women playing the role of martyrs where they put everyone and everything above themselves and feel unappreciated, dissatisfied and unhappy at the end of the day.
How can women in this position redeem themselves and put the first step forward to change the state of marriage? Where can they start?
The process begins with taking back control of your life by taking responsibility for it.
That includes acknowledging your part in the life you’ve created for yourself. You teach people how to treat you, and as the saying goes, what you put up with, you end up with. The good news is that by owning your part of the problem, you also empower yourself to change it.
That change begins with you.
Before you can set and enforce boundaries with others and expect them to respect your “no,” you must learn to believe your own “no.”
That means breaking free of the psychological shackles that keep you a martyr, such as the belief that you should never say no or that you should always be giving and putting others first. Giving can be good. So can putting others first. But when you give and give and don’t take care of yourself, you eventually become worn down, empty, and resentful, with nothing left to give.
If you can see how taking down time and time for yourself replenishes your energy and your joy, then you can give yourself permission to say no to others when you need to, confident that you will be better able to serve them if your tank is full. Think of it this way: Put your own oxygen mask on first. Then you can assist those around you. If you pass out, you can’t help anyone!
5. We get a number of emails from women who are looking for a long term committed relationships but repeatedly end up attracting the same kind of men- jerks, cheaters, needy men, players etc.
Why does this happen and what can women do to overcome this problem?
Recognize that there is one common denominator in these relationships: YOU!
Often there’s some need you are trying to meet by picking these people. If you have low self-esteem, you may be choosing people who confirm your belief that you’re not worth much.
If you need to avoid intimacy or are afraid of commitment, you may be drawn to cheaters or others who will soon give you a reason to hit the door.
If you need to be needed, you are likely to choose someone needy. That feels good in the beginning, as long as they appreciate how great you are. But sooner or later, you end up feeling used and tired of always being the one to give because you want a partnership, not a parent-child relationship.
So often, we pick partners who have both good and bad aspects of our parents. Of course, it’s nice to have the positive qualities, but there’s a reason we pick people with the same flaws as our parents. It’s like we are trying to get a “do over” for whatever went wrong when we were a kid.
For example, a woman whose father was an alcoholic may find that she continues to date guys who drink too much–and secretly hope that somehow, someday, she can get one of them to love her the way her father never did. The daughter of a critical parent may keep going out with men who tear her down and criticize her in hopes that someday she’ll win them over and finally feel good enough.
The first step to changing this is to recognize the patterns.
Rather than painting with a broad brush that simply writes all men off as jerks, ask yourself what it is that you’ve been hoping to get from these jerks you’ve dated. Working with a good counselor can often help you identify the common themes and uncover what need or belief is driving them.
The next step is to change the problematic belief (e.g., I’m unlovable) and find healthy ways to meet your needs.
For example, rather than looking for a man to tell you that you are good enough, begin to believe it for yourself and do things that make me feel good about who you are. Then you’ll naturally attract men who also think you’re wonderful–and you won’t let anyone who doesn’t think so hang around too long!
6. You mention, “Then you’ll naturally attract men who also think you’re wonderful–and you won’t let anyone who doesn’t think so hang around too long!” I guess a part of that has to do with setting clear boundaries with oneself and also with others with regards to what is acceptable and what is not. We get emails from women who feel that they are not respected enough by their partners and a feeling that they have been taken for granted. But the problem dates back to when they first started dating and refused to set the boundaries for the fear of losing the guy they are dating.
Sometimes women feel that being assertive is a turn off because they can be perceived as someone aggressive, but I guess being assertive only helps you respect and love yourself first before you can start loving others. What are some ways women can develop assertiveness without coming across hostile and defensive?
The key is do it with a positive mindset. When you value yourself, you can come from a place of humble confidence, feeling secure in who you are, and knowing that if someone else doesn’t value you, you don’t need or want them in your life.
Evaluate the situation and your desired outcome.
If it’s someone you want to continue a relationship with, someone who you think genuinely cares about you who doesn’t even realize that he’s hurt you, you can take a softer but direct approach in telling him how you feel. “I don’t think you meant for it to come across this way, but when you said _____, I felt _____. In the future, I would love it if you _____.”
On the other hand, if it’s someone whose behavior was intentionally harmful and/or with whom you do not wish to continue a relationship, consider whether you need to say anything at all.
Will they even listen or care if you tell them how you feel? If not, no need to put yourself out there. You can say it’s not what you’re looking for or not the right fit. If someone else does not respect you, you can simply tell them no. You don’t owe them an explanation.
In either case, work through angry and hurt feelings on your own ahead of time, perhaps by writing in a journal or talking to a friend, counselor, or pastor. That way when you have the conversation with your man, your approach is a little more refined, not venting raw emotions.
Keep it simple and straight forward.
As word volume increases, so does the likelihood of being perceived as hostile or defensive…or needy. Think short and sweet. Matter-of-fact. No drama. Maintain respect for yourself and your partner. Even if you choose not to continue the relationship, you can conduct yourself with dignity and treat them better than they treated you.
7. Another common line of thought among our women subscribers is when they see the red flags and they either ignore it because they feel this intense passion or connection or they tell themselves that they can change the man over time or hoping he would change once they get married and needless to say they are quite often disappointed.
I guess this boils down to not knowing your deal breakers and non-negotiables when it comes to relationships. While the deal breakers and non-negotiables are usually different for every woman, are there certain core values that you would recommend women to look for in men if they want to have a long term committed relationship?
I think the 2 most important things to look for are love and truth.
Love means finding someone who cares for you, who considers your needs and desires as well as his own, and who is kind and respectful–even when he’s angry.
Truth means finding a man of integrity, someone you can trust because he is honest and maintains consistency between what he says and what he does. It also means someone who is loyal and will remain faithful. In short, find a man whose character you respect.
A few questions can help you evaluate these qualities.
- Do I like the way he treats me and the way I feel about myself when I am with him?
- Would I love him if he never changed?
- Do I want my kids to grow up to be like him?
8. Here is a common problem faced by many of my women subscribers “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?
If you know what you want, focus on building relationships with men who also know what they want…and want the same things.
You don’t have to ask if he wants kids on the first date, but if you don’t know within 3-6 months whether you share the same life goals, you probably don’t.
9. A number of my subscribers have been in relationships where they have been hurt and betrayed as a result of which they are afraid to be vulnerable again because they don’t want to go through the pain again. Some despite being in a great relationship always have the fear that it would just be a matter of time before their current partner abandons them.
Can you share some practical strategies on how women can overcome this fear and treat the current or next relationship on its merit rather than distrust and skepticism?
The old saying, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting” applies here.
When we are afraid of repeating past patterns, it’s important to identify what we have done (or are doing) to change them. Counseling can help you understand what your negative patterns are…and break them. This may mean changing the kinds of partners you choose and/or changing how you go about attracting and interacting with them.
If you have a good track record of relationships and still battle such fears, take comfort in knowing that doing what you’re doing is working and focus on building self-esteem.
If this fear is not based on a history of experience, it may be rooted in what you believe about yourself.
Again, counseling may help. In either case, it’s important to look at how this partner is similar to and different from others you’ve had, as well as how you are the same as and different from the person you were before.
10. What would be your top 3 tips that can help single women create and enjoy long lasting fulfilling relationships?
a. Find a spiritual center.
Love is spiritual, so if you want to experience true love, you must engage your spirit. Faith and spirituality also teach us about joy, patience, kindness, gentleness, strength, courage, and forgiveness…all essential ingredients for a loving relationship.
b. Love yourself.
Know and accept yourself. Trust your inner guidance. Celebrate who you are, do that which brings you joy and fulfillment (rather than waiting for a partner to do so), and surround yourself with people who help you be your best self. This allows you to attract a partner from a place of wholeness and happiness rather than glomming onto one out of needy desperation!
c. Love your partner.
Get to know them deeply and accept them as they are–a continual process because we are always changing! Celebrate who they are and be a safe person for them to be their true self with. Be willing to forgive. Try to do something each day to make them smile.
About Dr. April Lok
Dr. April Lok is a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 10 years of experience providing counseling for individuals, couples, and groups.
After receiving her undergraduate degree from Texas A & M University, she earned her doctorate from the University of Kansas. She completed her internship and post-doctoral training at the VA Medical Center in Leavenworth, Kansas. Now in private practice, Dr. Lok remains dedicated to serving military veterans and their families, as well as other members of the community.
Click here to know more about Dr. Lok.