- “Perception is reality”
- “Appearances can be deceiving”
- “My brain has a mind of it’s own”
- “There are two sides to every story”
- “Life is not always as it appears to be”
A new client once looked around my office and asked, “Where’s your bucket?”
I gave a puzzled look.
They said, “You know, the place where I’m supposed to spill my guts.”
I laughed out loud!
Here’s a one page info-graphic of one’s options when we have unmet needs in a marriage.
Starting tomorrow a new 9 part series entitled, “Remarriages: Unforeseen Challenges.”
It comes as a shock to many people to realize that they feel emotionally empty not because their partner hasn’t been making emotional deposits but because their bucket has a hole in it. Here are some possible holes in the bucket. Plug them up and security and confidence increase.
1. Fear of rejection. Learn from the guy who made it his goal to overcome his debilitating fear of rejection by purposely getting himself rejected many times. It’s a hilarious and helpful tale. CLICK HERE to listen and CLICK HERE to read.
2. Low self esteem. Our worth doesn’t depend on other’s approval. Make a list of your good traits and remind yourself, “God don’t make no junk.”
3. Inner critics. Give that negative voice in your head a name (not your own, pick a random one) and say, “Beat it, buster. I’m no loser; let me remind you how I’ve succeeded….” and then list all the evidences that you’re not a loser.
4. Subjectivity. Look at past rejections objectively, through a new frame. Instead of thinking, “I am unlovable,” remind yourself, “They are unloving.” This makes a huge difference.
5. Comparison. We can always find somebody better than us. But if we knew their failings, weaknesses, and flaws we wouldn’t be so envious.
6. Entitlement. Being in a relationship does not mean we own our partner’s time, love, or life. Quit clinging and let them go.
7. Lack of forgiveness. We can’t undo past betrayals. But we can (over time) forgive them.
8. What ifs? Our brains are notorious for hammering us with worst case scenarios. Tell your brain to cut it out!
9. Inadequacy. We’re all inadequate; nobody can do everything. Accept your limitations and celebrate your unique talents, skills, and gifts.
Next: A Bucket Info-graphic
NOTE: This is the 200th blog post on this site.
In no particular order here are six “managing your empty bucket” strategies.
1. As motivation to do serious personal bucket work, recognize how insecurity can become a self fulfilling prophecy. Neediness drives others away which reinforces your belief that you’re unlovable which only further drives others away.
2. Build your life around things that are stable and unshakable. For many this includes a spiritual approach. Healthy and stable persons are attractive persons.
3. Deal with past abandonment issues. Turn past traumas into a narrative and integrate them into your present reality.
4. Examine a possible insecure attachment style. Don’t blame yourself if you had negligent parents. It’s not your fault they were incompetent. You can unlearn bad lessons and learn new lessons about your lovability and others’ trustworthiness.
5. Develop an internal switch for happiness. Do not base your happiness on circumstances.
6. Look at yourself as a keeper. If you do all in your power to woo a partner and they aren’t wooed it may not be you that is broken. It may be them.
NEXT: Plug Your Leaky Bucket
When I ask couples what originally drew them to each other they say, “They meet my needs and I want to meet theirs.” Sounds great to me. Those buckets are evenly calibrated.
When couples hit their thirties and forties however, unresolved stuff from the past shows up. This means evenly calibrated buckets become uncalibrated. Needs, and the willingness to meet their partner’s needs, change. Either the bucket of one grows to gargantuan proportions (excessive neediness), or unresolved stuff from the past drills holes in their bucket (guilt, selfishness, trauma, anger), or unresolved stuff in the other partner reduces the size of their deposits (mid life crisis, unrealized dreams, greener grass syndrome).
As the saying goes, “Marriage doesn’t create problems so much as reveal them.”
Re-calibrating buckets means managing neediness, plugging leaks in the bucket, or increasing the size of the deposits.
- Things get complicated if one party gets desperate, clingy, and needy expects their partner fills their bucket.
- Things get complicated when one party quits trying to fill their partner’s bucket.
- Things get complicated when one party decides to become less dependent.
- Things get calibrated when couples hammer out expectations what.
When a normally compliant partner chooses no longer to be overly responsible, or to prop up their overly dependent partner, the wounded partner reacts and says, “Hey, you’ve changed!” Which is true. Their partner is choosing to manage their life in a healthier way.
And when an overly dependent partner gets more demanding, needy, and controlling their partner may say, “Enough! I’ve got limited resources and catering to your every need isn’t good for you, for me, or for the kids.”
Continuing to comply with a demanding spouse in hopes they’ll back off is like throwing meat to a lion hoping they become vegetarian. It doesn’t work.
When one party in an enmeshed relationship chooses to make adult choices, stable but dysfunctional bucket calibrations get out of whack. It can so threaten their partner they’re on the cusp of (or have already crossed into) screaming matches, increased drug and alcohol abuse, or domestic violence.
So, be forewarned: choosing to recalibrate buckets (AKA individuate, differentiate, set boundaries) must be handled cautiously, carefully, and with help.
Next: How To Manage Your Half Empty Bucket
1. They didn’t get their buckets filled by their parents so they marry someone like their parents hoping to get from their spouse what they didn’t get in childhood.
2. They feel inadequate and believe their partner possesses the qualities they lack. As the risk of disagreeing with a professional boxer, I do not agree with Rocky Balboa who told his girl friend Adrienne, “You complete me.” Food, oxygen, and sleep complete us. But people can be complete without a partner. It happens all the time.
3. They’ve embraced the mistaken notion that “two become one” like a blue and yellow crayon melting into a green blob. Two people can share a name, kids, a bank account, a bed, and even a toothbrush but they do not merge into one soul in two bodies. For this reason I’m not crazy about the phrase, “You are my soul mate.” That puts tremendous pressure on a marriage.
4. They haven’t developed a tolerance for aloneness. Pre-married couples are sometimes shocked when they hear, “The people most ready to get married are those who need it least.” It’s intolerance of being alone that fuels twenty phone calls a day, snooping on phones and emails, and interrogating their partner, “Who’d you see today? Where? Were they prettier than me? Did you dream of me last night? Why not? I saw you looking at that muscular guy on TV. Stop it! You just went to the bathroom, why are you going again? Don’t leave me. I hate your job, it puts me out of your mind which I find excruciating.”
5. They married with excessive neediness. Instead of standing on their own two feet they’re codependent and enmeshed. This is why I think marriage conflicts are so beneficial! It forces couples to get out their green blob relationship, not expect too much from their partners, and to enter into a mature love based on healthy differences.
Next: The Risks of Recalibrating Buckets
Imagine life is a bucket. A full bucket means contentment, security, happiness, energy, and vitality. This is what the Hebrew sages called “shalom.” An empty bucket means anxiety, worry, loneliness, insecurity, and anger.
Everyone fills their buckets differently. Popular bucket fillers include a loving spouse, meaningful work, creativity, fun hobbies, parenting, spiritual commitments, public service, learning new things, or drugs and alcohol. Some of these are helpful and some are not.
People with full buckets rarely talk to counselors. But those with half empty buckets do. What do counselors suggest?
1. Ask nicely for your partner to increase the size of their deposit. Describe precisely what fills your bucket: quality time, reassuring words, gifts, acts of service, or meaningful touch.
2. Do not expect your partner to be your primary bucket filler. They are, after all, only human and have their own buckets to worry about. Plus, they are fickle and pour energy into your bucket intermittently, inconsistently, and incompletely.
3. If your partner is making smaller deposits into your bucket than they used to explore several options.
- have your needs increased over time thus making your partner’s contributions feel smaller?
- has your bucket sprung a leak and no matter how much they deposit you still feel empty?
- has your partner simply chosen to make smaller deposits for their own inscrutable reasons?
4. Until the size of your bucket and the size of your partner’s deposit match (with counseling, mediation, and negotiated agreements) fill your bucket with other healthy choices. (I’m not a fan of filling buckets with drugs and alcohol; this doesn’t work and it drills holes in others’ buckets).
5. Learn to live with a half empty bucket. Here’s where security plays a role. A secure person appreciates their partner’s deposits but doesn’t expect deposits, demand deposits, or think they can’t live without their partner’s deposits.
Next: Why Half Empty Buckets Drive Us Crazy
Click HERE for a link to Drought Time: Help from Proverbs for the Emotionally Parched Wife
If you were a Weird Analogy Contest Judge which one of these entries would win?
- People whose heads are under water can’t breath. Their options are 1) get an oxygen tank, 2) borrow someone else’s oxygen tank, or 3) swim to the surface.
- People deprived of sunshine get depressed. Their options are 1) move to Florida, 2) take extra vitamin D, 3) learn to cope without sunshine.
- People whose loved ones pull away feel insecure. Their options are 1) increase their magnetism, 2) decrease their anti-magnetism, 3) practice acceptance, mindfulness, and learn to live without a magnetic connection.
- People whose partners don’t fill their “emotional needs bucket” feel empty. Their options are, 1) ask their partner to make a deposit, 2) engage in activities that fill their own bucket, 3) read the next 6 posts where we’ll discuss ways to deal with half empty buckets.
Note to the Weird Analogy Contest Judges: Please send my prize to 4200 Guide, Ste. 215, Bellingham, WA 98226. Thank you.