Category Archives: Conflicts
When couples or family members experience conflict, it is easy to rush into generalities.
“You never help me around the house! I always have to do everything myself!”
“We never have sex anymore. I am tired of being in relationship with someone who doesn’t value intimacy and sex.”
“You never take responsibility for your side of the street. You blame me for everything!”
“I am sick of being the only one who initiates working on the relationship. I want to be with someone who actually wants make things better!”
“You are such a hypocrite!”
When we feel triggered, hurt or angry, generalizing happens almost automatically. Unfortunately, there are many problems with this habit that prevent us from resolving our conflicts and coming back to love and harmony with our partners and loved ones.
When something happens that we don’t want, e.g. when someone doesn’t keep an agreement or says ‘no’ to a request or need, our mind gets instantly flooded with past memories of times when we felt similarly. Old beliefs of not being lovable or deserving bubble up from the deep and we find ourselves awash in a bleak sea of negativity.
Our unhappiness and dissatisfaction skews our current world-view, and suddenly our entire relationship sucks and has always sucked. We begin to see disheartening and frightening patterns.
We can’t help but share our newfound thinking, the connections we are making between what is happening now and what has happened in the past. We might focus solely on the person we are in conflict with and where that person has always been the same (“You have never helped around the house!”), or we might broaden our connections to include previous partners (“All three of my husbands never wanted to help around the house”), or we might even go all the way back to our childhood (“My dad never helped around the house either! I can’t believe I have created the same exact pattern with you!”)
We typically share these “insights” in the middle of being upset or triggered, which is not particularly helpful, to put it diplomatically. The problem with bringing up the past is that you are no longer dealing with a specific breakdown or problem, no longer focused on the one problem that is presenting itself at the moment.
Your focus shifts away from productive solution discovery, away from actions and steps that will help you resolve the conflict and get what you want. Instead, you spiral downwards, into what some call “circling the drain”.
Generalizing and bringing up the past also reinforces your sense of powerlessness. When you generalize, you effectively blow your problem up to unfixable proportions. You add weight to negative stories you have about yourself and others. Once you get lost in these general loops of negativity and complaint, you will likely feel more and more powerless and victimized, because all of the evidence you gather from past similar experiences essentially prove the unworkability of your current situation.
Not only do you feel powerless, but your partner feels powerless too. When your partner feels negatively characterized, pigeonholed, or blamed, they will naturally resist your view and defend themselves and their actions. When they hear your negatively biased view of them or the past, they will want to correct your perception by blasting you with evidence to the contrary, proving their side of the story. They will be reluctant to hear you and your concerns, and will likewise be uninspired to work with you to create win/win solutions to the presenting issue. This is the recipe for pointless arguing.
What to do instead?
Stay away from lumping whatever you are experiencing now with similar instances from the past. Keep your focus on the specific issue, problem or breakdown at hand, and work it all the way through to completion. Resolution and changes occur when you break things down to specifics – to specific steps – to something you can do or say or think differently right NOW.
You can start a conversation by saying …
“When __ (specific instance) happened, I felt ______.
What I made that mean is ______
What I want is ________”
What I’m willing to do to that end is_________
What I’d like from you is _______
Would you be wiling to do that?”
As an example …
“When you sat at the dinner table while I cleared the dishes, I felt mad and hurt. What I made that mean is that you don’t care about me, that I have to do everything myself, and that you’re above working in the kitchen. What I really want is help to clean up after dinner. I want us to work together to clean up. What I’m willing to do to that end is make a calm request and hear you side of the story. What I’d like from you is help to clear the table and do the dishes. Would you be willing to do that?”
Granted, there are a myriad variations depending on the specific situation, but hopefully you can see from the example that you are only talking about one specific instance, not bringing up the past or making sweeping generalizations.
This kind of communication has a much better shot at a positive result than, “You never help around here! My dad was just like that! I always have to do everything myself!”
Beware of your mind’s tendency to look for generalities and patterns when you’re feeling triggered. Reaction = Re-Action, meaning we are re-enacting an old story from times past. Which is just to say, that whenever you are upset, i.e. “in reaction”, you ARE in the past! You aren’t in the present moment!
By using the example above, you help yourself to stay in the present moment, and you help yourself work an issue all the way through to a workable solution. Try it. If by chance you do see patterns, or if resentments and hurts from the past do come up that need to be discussed, healed, or released, talk about those separately at a different time, one at a time, until they are worked through all the way to completion.
Use your awareness to powerfully generate specific action steps you can take NOW to create change. And don’t hesitate to get support from a professional if they feel too big to resolve on your own.
While there are several more actions you can take to work problems through all the way to completion, keeping your focus on the specific problem at hand, avoiding generalizations and not talking about the past will go far to help you resolve conflicts.
Lastly, if you want a chance to work out actual conflicts with support, learn cutting edge tools, and gain a totally different view and skill set around conflict resolution, check out our Gift Of Conflict workshop, Nov 10-11, in Auburn, CA.
This is normally a members-only advanced workshop, but when space allows, we open up a few seats to the public. Contact us right away if you are interested.
Change is afoot.
Ford came forward to speak of having been sexually assaulted in high school by Kavanaugh, who vehemently denies any wrongdoing. Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years in prison after being found guilty of sexual assault.
The MeToo movement has emboldened women to speak out about their past sexual assault, abuse and rape experiences – many of whom have held their abuse secrets for decades. Men are judged and handed “guilty verdicts” by the public court of opinion in a matter of hours as women’s stories make their way through the news media. Both genders are forever impacted negatively by these misdeeds and their ever trailing after effects.
The number of rape and abuse cases is staggering. Human rights violations across the globe are appalling. War, violence, crime, human trafficking, environmental disasters – we can’t listen to the news anymore without hearing about someone who is suffering somewhere.
All point to a need for a vast global overhaul in our political, financial, educational and legal institutions to ensure equal rights for all, regardless of race, gender, sexual preference, financial status or religious belief.
Massive change is required on so many levels, from the global to the individual. We also need advanced communication and problem solving skills, where we really listen to and learn from one another, and work together to create win/wins. We need to develop workable strategies for achieving sexual, cultural and racial healing, gender reconciliation, and effective reparation practices for people who take responsibility for and are genuinely sorry for their actions and want a new start. We need a safe space to look at ourselves, learn from our mistakes, and develop effective relationship practices that enable all of us to thrive and realize our pure positive potential.
In our work, we focus on where we can make a positive impact, in our interpersonal relationships. We notice, that when we are willing to take a brave and honest look at ourselves, there is much we can accomplish.
From outward focus to inward focus
It is far too easy in relationships to take someone else’s inventory; to point out someone else’s faults and weaknesses and lay out what they need to change or improve. We do this with public figures just as readily as we do it with the people we love. We think we are different. We are better. We aren’t like that. We aren’t as bad as they are.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking only inflames disrespect, inequality and separation. It breaks down our relationships.
Alternatively, we can use our judgments to gain insight into ourselves, to build bridges between others and ourselves, and to find compassion for those we love (and those in the media spotlight).
One of the favorite tools that we use in relationship, especially in the face of judgment, is to simply ask, “Where am I just like that?” For example, if I judge you for lying, I ask myself, “Where do I lie?” If I judge you for being selfish, I ask, “Where am I selfish?”
In the context of MeToo, we can ask:
- Where have I been sexually assaulted, abused, or harassed?
- Where have I abused, harassed, or taken advantage of someone?
It takes great courage to answer these questions honestly. It is a brave person who can admit to them and offer up apologies and make amends.
But even if we haven’t been abused, many of us can relate to feeling afraid or powerless to speak up in the face of a partner’s angry outbursts. Many of us have had the experience more than once of saying yes to sex when we really meant no, and of feeling coerced to go along with something that didn’t feel right.
Me too. I didn’t listen to my deep-seated intuition to walk away from a financial investment that turned out later to be a Ponzi scheme that cost me thousands. I allowed myself to be talked into a job that I didn’t want. In my 20’s, I had sex with several men I didn’t have the courage to say no to. I stayed in an abusive relationship where I got beat up for a whole year before I found the courage to leave.
On the flip side, we can explore how many times we have used our power to coerce someone to give in and go along with something we wanted – in everyday instances like doing the dishes, watching a movie, or getting our way with any given situation. How many times have we tried to override someone’s resistance to romance or sex? How many times have we yelled or cried or begged or explained our side to try to get someone to do what we want them to do?
Me too. I have caught myself more than once trying coax, force, or guilt trip my kids into answering a text or returning a phone call. I have screamed at my ex for not parenting the way I do. And I withdrew my love and affection from Christian when he declined my sexual advances early on in our relationship.
When I judge the people I love in my life, and I dare to explore “Where am I just like that?” I see places where I can grow, change and improve. Healing comes from honestly and squarely looking at myself, from owning my side of the street and taking responsibility for the impact of my less-than-ideal actions. There is power and healing available when I take responsibility, both within myself and in my relationships.
I can do the same thing with public figures. When I dare to investigate where I am just like Ford – to honestly explore where I too have been victimized in my life, where I have been terrified to speak up and reveal my secrets, where I still need healing from past painful experiences, I see aspects of myself I might not see otherwise.
Or when I explore where I am just like Kavanaugh – where do I act self-righteously from privilege and entitlement, where do I defend myself rather than listen and take responsibility for my actions, where do I lash out when feeling attacked and afraid and made wrong, something powerful happens …
I am suddenly no better or worse than they are, or any other human being on this planet. Judgment shifts to compassion, resentment shifts to forgiveness, separation shifts to connection, hate shifts to love. My heart softens. Healing happens. A new possibility emerges.
Actions I can take to improve my interactions in relationship begin to show up. Apologies are offered up and new commitments stepped into. A better version of myself arises. And consequently, better versions of those I love and happier relationships also rise up.
It is my hope that we will use this new chapter in our lives to learn from one another, to deeply listen to each other, to honor and respect our differences, to bravely share our stories, to own our shadow, to take responsibility, to ultimately offer amends, heal, forgive and create a courageous new world together.
It is my vision, that every one of us will be able to say one day, “I have never been disrespected or sexually abused by anyone”, and all of our brothers and sisters will be able to emphatically say, “Me Too!”
P.S. Check out what our friend Dave Klaus’ Facebook post; it’s a really powerful example of “Where am I just like that?” in the context of the Kavanaugh issue. Click here to read …
Most of us spend more time than we might like to admit wishing for something to be different in our relationships. We want more engagement, less fighting, more sex, less distance, more intimacy, less time watching TV, more appreciation, less criticism, more dates, fewer nights at home alone, more communication, less silence, etc.
We don’t just want our relationships to be different. We want our lives to be different, too. We want a bigger house, a faster computer, more money, more clothes, more vacations, a skinnier healthier body, a younger look, and lots of better, newer stuff.
We are so accustomed to wishing and longing for more and different – whether in our relationship, work, money, kids, body, etc. – that we don’t even recognize that we are spending our precious lives in a state of constant wanting. This wanting manifests in our experience as unhappiness, dissatisfaction, boredom or loneliness. We feel like we are missing or lacking something important.
There is something I realized a long time ago that has proven to be pivotal for living a fulfilling and happy life:
Wanting and having cannot exist in the same space at the same time.
I think of life as a house with two rooms, the Wanting Room and the Having Room. The Having Room is the room in which we are engaged in life and love.
Just like in a real house, you are either in one room or the other; you cannot be in two rooms at the same time.
Unfortunately, when we want our lives to be different and the people we love to change, we are in the Wanting Room.
When we are in the Wanting Room, we inevitably produce unhappiness for ourselves. Our focus on lack and what is missing keeps us from noticing and appreciating what we have. It throws us into a state of resistance to our current reality and has us believe we are powerless victims stuck in unwanted situations, unable to powerfully create what we want.
Think about it. You only want stuff you don’t have, right? The mere wanting of anything is a declaration that you don’t have it. So when you reside in the Wanting Room, you’re likely to have internal conversations like, Why can’t I make my relationship work? Where are all the good men? My husband never talks to me. I wish I looked younger. Just to mention a few examples.
The Having Room, on the other hand, is where you get to enjoy experiences, where you harvest and partake in the fruits of your labor, where you appreciate what you have and count your blessings. It’s the difference between wishing you had an apple, and actually biting into an apple and enjoying the blast of taste and sensation as you do it.
Life is just better when you occupy the Having Room. So how can you do that? We’ll give some ideas here, and share a few real-life examples.
One way to shift from Wanting to Having is to take notice of and express your gratitude and appreciation for what you do have, even if you have very little. What is working in your relationship? What do you adore about your partner? What would you miss about your spouse if he or she suddenly vanished? What do you take for granted that you are grateful for? And tell them.
Another way to shift from Wanting to Having is to ask the question, “If I already had what I wanted, what would I do or say right now?” This question tricks your mind into imagining that you already have what you want, and enables you to bring to mind actions that you can take right now that are consistent with what you want to create for yourself. When you take those actions, you step into having the experience that you were longing for in the Wanting Room.
For example, if you are struggling with intimacy in your relationship and you want more connection with your partner, you can ask yourself, “If I were connected and intimate with my partner, what would I do or say right now?” Trust me, an answer will pop up in your mind. This question will move you towards creating more intimacy with your partner and thrust you into the Having Room.
At our last workshop, a woman was angry with her husband for something he said that triggered her. She was missing the close connection they were sharing before he said it and was now in the Wanting Room feeling disconnected from her man. When we asked her what she would do if she felt close and connected like before, she said she would go over to him and put her head on his shoulder and her hand on his knee. So we encouraged her to do that. As soon as she sat down next to him, her face lit up like a light bulb and a smile spread across her face. She was back in the Having Room (and you can imagine how he responded to that gesture:-).
A single woman called me for coaching, very distraught and lonely after her last relationship ended. She had a hard time getting out of bed and she was scared she’d never find love again. She was solidly anchored in the Wanting Room. During our conversation, I asked her, “If you knew you were going to be fine, and you would definitely find love again with a wonderful man, what might you do right now?” Her first response was, “I’d get out of bed and go to the gym!”
Just like that, back in the Having Room (And sure, this does not fix or deal with her entire situation, but it’s definitely a vast improvement over being in bed, depressed).
Just to be clear, wanting isn’t bad. That is where the best of our creative ideas show up! Wanting is the start of any improvement in life. You just don’t want to get stuck in wanting! Be there long enough to uncover what you want to create! Use your wanting to connect you to your desires and dreams. Then use that discovery to spark and move you into having, into action.
Everything you want – all of the connection, love, peace, fulfillment and joy you desire – lives in the Having Room.
If you find yourself stuck in wanting your relationship to be different, check out our Give Yourself to Love live relationship training. We will teach you how to step into having the life and relationship you long for and deserve. Click here for more info …
One of the biggest mistakes we witness people make in relationship is the decision, conscious or unconscious, to rein in some of their own desires or dreams because it triggers their partner, because they think it’ll cause too much of a stir, or because of they convince themselves they “should”.
See if you can relate to any of these examples from people we’ve been coaching recently.
Anna thinks there is something wrong with her because she doesn’t want to marry and have children with the man she has been dating for ten months. After all, he’s a good guy, loyal and responsible (in stark contrast to her ex). He really wants to marry her and make a new life together. So Anna is trying to talk herself out of her feelings of doubt and lack of desire to marry, in order to make him happy and because it just makes logical sense to marry this nice guy.
Anthony damps down his desire for sex in several ways: By not acknowledging his need for it in the moment; by trying to talk to himself out of wanting it by minimizing its importance (“It’s not that big of deal, anyway. I’m fine without it”); by not initiating sex or touch with his partner; by backing off at the first sign of discomfort or refusal; and by routinely putting his partner’s needs ahead of his own.
Finally, Robert, who is in the throes of divorce and is discovering that he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has gone along with his wife’s desires and demands for some 30 years and has totally lost touch with his feelings, desires and dreams. During their marriage it simply became second nature to let her desires be their desires, and whenever he did want something different from her, to just let it slide, because, as he said, “It was easier that way”.
In each of these three examples, you could make the case that they are just being generous – they want their partner to have what they want and need. You could say they are being flexible, because they’re not attached to having things their own way. We could posit that they are peacemakers who value harmony more than getting what they want. We could even call them super spiritual in the sense that “The Great Way is easy for those who have no preferences”.
Just today, we read a great article on mindbodygreen.com (here …) that said the most important ingredient of a lasting relationship is generosity. We don’t disagree, generosity is essential.
However, in the three examples above, our friends are not being generous. Let me qualify that. I’m not suggesting that they are not generous and flexible people, or that they don’t want their partners to have everything they need, or that they’re not spiritual or understanding people. I know for a fact that they are these things, too.
The problem here is that what masks as generosity or flexibility in reality is much more avoidance of “trouble”, fear of rejection, lack of power to stand up for oneself, or flat-out laziness.
There’s always a long-term price to pay for the short-term gain of “not making trouble” by letting your own desires go. Whenever anyone damps down their own feelings or shuts off their own desires to avoid upset or conflict in relationship, whenever they don’t stay engaged and go for what they want and create win/wins that enliven both partners, they set themselves up for breakdown; ultimately risking the stability of their relationship.
No one can remain disconnected from themselves and their feelings and their passions for a prolonged period of time without the potential consequence of wanting to break free from their imprisoned experience in relationship in an attempt to “find themselves” again. In other words, negating your own desires and dreams over time creates resentment.
This is tricky stuff, no doubt. Who can’t relate to wanting something that you know might trigger your partner, so you go, “Whatever, it really isn’t that important”? You let it slide and don’t speak up about what it was you really wanted. And for a while, it’s totally fine. Until it isn’t.
Like Robert, who inadvertently did this with everything, by his own admission. Where they went on holidays, when they took holidays, or not; who they visited, for how long; what color to paint the house, what school to send their kids to, you name it. Her preference became their preference. For the longest time, this system worked fine.
Only now, as they’re divorcing, he’s resentful in retrospect that he always got “steamrolled”. In our coaching, he had a profound realization. He went along with her desires because “it was easier”. In doing so, he believed he did her a favor by not causing a stir and thus keeping the peace in the house. He believed he was being easy-going and flexible, and that she’d love him more for it.
What actually happened? She lost respect for him, and he lost respect for himself. Plus, he totally lost touch with what he actually wanted about pretty much every aspect of life. To be blunt, he “chickened out” on his own dreams.
I offered him this image. From her point of view, his “going-alongness” made her feel alone. Every time she’d offer up an idea, instead of a sparring partner, he showed up as an amorphous blob, without any distinct boundaries or edges, like a bowl of jelly. In partnership, it produces safety and connection when a partner can put her hand on the other and feel some substance instead of “jelly”.
Flexibility and easy-goingness are great qualities and can absolutely support harmony and easy flow. Always yielding like a jellyfish, however, produces loneliness and resentment. Generosity is indeed an absolutely crucial part of a successful, loving relationship. Self-sacrifice to the extent of not getting what you need is something else entirely.
The article we quoted above included this important detail: “Giving until it hurts or trying to buy affection does not develop a healthy relationship … It does not take the place of caring for yourself or expecting your partner to do his or her part.”
It’s easy to get mad at your partner when you don’t get what you want. It’s tempting for Anne to get mad at her boyfriend for pushing the marriage agenda. It seems logical for Anthony to get mad at his partner for not being more into sex. (On a side note, there are many effective ways to communicate directly to your partner about situations where you want seemingly different things. That is outside the scope of this article.)
Here, we want to offer you the opportunity to look inwards, specifically at where you let go of your own desires, for whatever reason, when in actuality it is important to you. Look at where, like Robert, you let it happen that you don’t get what you want. Where you let it be ok, even though it’s not really ok with you, to not get your needs met.
We encourage you to ask yourself questions like:
- Where am I not going for what I want?
- Where am I settling?
- Where am I holding myself back from my own passionate aliveness?
- Where do I “forget” what I want and need, in the interest of peacemaking, taking care of my partner, or someone else’s desires?
- What am I afraid would happen if I stood up for what I want and need?
The upside here is for you to find your own clarity about what you want, and the power and worthiness to stand up for what you want as well as what your partner wants.
Optimally, you’re saying (and this is part of our definition of a successful relationship or marriage), “I deserve to have what I want, and so do you. I want you to have your needs met, and I want that for me, too. I’m not going to sacrifice my needs to satisfy yours, or yours to satisfy mine. We are both going to get what we want. If we don’t know how to accomplish that, we’ll learn. But we’re not giving up on both of us being satisfied”.
You might even consider that you owe it, not only to yourself, but to your relationship, and to your children (if you have children), to listen to the whispers of your dreams and desires, lest you end up resentful that someone didn’t give you everything you wanted.
So take the risk. Go for what you want, for what makes your heart sing. Work it out with your partner, so you both get to fly.
If you don’t know how to do that by yourself, learn. Get help. And don’t back off from what you want.
🙂 Sonika & Christian
PS. If you’re curious about the kind of coaching we offer, use our contact form here to get in touch with us.
A woman came into our office, we’ll call her Karen, very upset and jealous that her husband was “attracted to other women”. She had come across a picture of a woman he had liked on his Instagram account, which set off her jealousy. In fact, she got so mad at him, she accused him of being unfaithful and threatened to divorce him.
A man I coached, let’s call him Timothy, was enraged with his girlfriend, because she was always talking about how great her car was. Every time they’d go driving, she’d say, “I love this car, it makes me so happy driving it!” When he heard her say that, he’d feel a wave of anger arising inside him, and he’d clench his jaws in hopes of not saying something nasty. But sometimes he just couldn’t help himself and berated her for going on and on about her “stupid car”.
What do these two examples have in common?
First, both people got really angry over their partner’s behavior. Secondly, both of them reacted out of anger in ways they afterwards felt bad about, and which created a significant fall-out. Karen ended up with a serious breakdown after her outburst and accusations, and Timothy ended up having to apologize and backpedal after letting his girlfriend have it, but even after apologizing, he still felt mad and she felt hurt and kept her distance.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, both Karen and Timothy shared a very common predicament: They both made sketchy conclusions based on sketchy evidence.
Did you ever read or see the Hunger Games series? In case you haven’t, our young protagonists Catniss and Peeta go through all manner of harassment and awfulness at the hands of the “evil empire”, called The Capitol. Peeta is tortured and brainwashed to the point where he believes his beloved Catniss is his mortal enemy. The bad guys messed with his head so badly he can’t tell friend from foe, love from hate, fantasy from reality.
When they get reunited, Catniss and Peeta make up a game, a test of sorts, to help Peeta regain his sanity. Peeta says what he thinks, then asks Catniss, “Real or not real?”
In the final scene, they’re snuggled up in bed, and Peeta says, “You love me. Real or not real?” You might guess what her answer is:-).
Why is that relevant here?
Because both Karen and Timothy, although dealing with seemingly very different situations, are in a similar situation to Peeta in the Hunger Games. They don’t know what’s real or not real, true or not true, accurate or false. They don’t know what is fantasy and what is reality.
Karen sees an image on her husband’s Instagram account and quickly makes several conclusions.
She concludes that …
- He’s attracted to this woman
- He’s attracted to many other women, too
- He’s not attracted to her (Karen)
- She’s not attractive, period
- He’s unfaithful
- He’s lying
- He’s deliberately keeping secrets from her
Real or not real?
Timothy, in his situation, when he hears his girlfriend talking about how much she loves her car, makes several conclusions, too.
He concludes that …
- She loves her car more than she loves him
- She thinks her car is better than his car
- She thinks he’s a loser because his car is a piece of junk
- She thinks he’s not successful in life
- He really isn’t as successful as he should be
- Other guys are way more successful than he is
- She’s deliberately mocking his car and him
Real or not real?
When we talk more in depth with Karen and Timothy, it quickly becomes clear that they don’t really know if any of these conclusions are real or not real. What IS real is that they themselves made up these conclusions based on the “evidence” at hand, which in each case was very skimpy evidence for such heavy conclusions.
What IS real is that Karen saw an image of a woman on her husband’s Instagram. And what IS real that Timothy’s girlfriend said, “I really love my car”.
Beyond those simple facts, everything else is a made-up conclusion that may or may not have any real basis.
How do you tell the difference between reality and fantasy?
One way is to simply ask yourself, like Peeta did, “Real or not real?” and sometimes it’ll be evident. For example, when Timothy realized he was concluding that his girlfriend was deliberately mocking him, he immediately said, “Not real, she’d never do that, that’s ridiculous”. (As you might know already, sometimes the stuff we conclude is flat-out ridiculous when examined).
Secondly, you ask the other person(s) involved. In Karen’s instance, she wasn’t sure if her conclusions were real or not real, so we would recommend she ask her husband about it.
A word of caution. When you ask your partner, or someone, if your conclusions or assumptions are real or not, try saying it this way.
“Because I saw a picture of so-and-so on your Instagram, I’m making up that you’re attracted to her and you’re not attracted to me. Is there any grain of truth to that?” (“Is there any grain of truth to that” is another way to say, “real or not real?”
DO NOT say, “You always have these skanks show up on your profile! Are you sleeping with them, too!?” You can imagine how well that would turn out. Don’t accuse before you know.
By including the words, “I’m making up that …”, you acknowledge that what you’re making up could be just that, purely made-up conclusions with no grounding in reality.
When you ask directly, you might sometimes discover that some of your made-up conclusions do indeed have a solid basis. Sometimes your partner might say, “Yeah, there is a bit of truth to that”, which could open up some really juicy conversations, if you’re willing to go there.
The main point we want to make here is that we all suffer from the predicament of making up sketchy conclusions based on skinny evidence. Often, our conclusions are detrimental to our own wellbeing and to the health of our relationships.
When Timothy makes up that his girlfriend is telling him he’s not successful enough, it’s more a reflection of his own lifelong fear that he’s not successful enough, than it is her putting him down. In this case, she just loves her car, plain and simple. That’s it. The rest came straight from his “mind factory”.
Don’t believe your own conclusions too readily. Especially the ones that make you feel like crap!
The wonderful Byron Katie asks of her own thoughts: Is it true? Can I be absolutely certain it is true?
Questioning your own conclusions might just set you free from the occasional madness of your own mind, and open up more space for love in your relationships.
Real or not real?
PS. We just launched our new podcast, Dare To Love. Check it out here …
The other day while we were driving in the car, Christian was angry.
Not at me. He was frustrated that his back wasn’t healed enough yet for him to be able to drive himself long distances. So I did what any loving wife would do. I got mad at him for being mad.
You may have heard the saying, “You become like who you are around.” Mostly what the saying means, is that if you hang out with people who are not successful and playing big, chances are YOU will not be successful or play big.
There is another way this dynamic plays out in relationship. When Christian gets mad about something, I get mad at him for being mad. I become like him. Which doesn’t help, by the way, it just accelerates his anger, because he now adds “being mad at me for being mad at him” to the mix. When he withdraws, I withdraw too. When he judges, I judge him for judging. Christian does the same with me. And we both do it with our kids.
This plays out so fast that we barely notice how we “become just like who we are around.”
Now, it is NOT my intention for us to both be pissed, withdrawn and judgmental. And it is not Christian’s intention either. Even though that is what gets produced.
We know it is the same for you – that when you “match” your partner’s moods or thoughts, you don’t want a miserable experience either!
Our unconscious positive intention in matching our partner’s emotion is for the bad feelings to go away and the good ones to return. Some part of me actually believes that if I get mad at him for being mad, he will quit being mad!
So how do you change this dynamic?
First thing is to notice it. Become aware that you are doing exactly the behavior or emotion you are resisting.
Next, is to realize that you want something sweet and good underneath your bad feeling. For instance, in the car, I noticed that I really wanted Christian to feel good and happy and for us to have a fun sweet time together. That was the reason for my wanting him to not be mad.
As I saw that in myself, I was able to see that in Christian too. He just wanted to feel good, happy and in his power too.
Seeing that he wanted something sweet and good underneath his anger softened my heart. It took me out of mad, back into love.
When we connect with the positive intent underneath bad feelings, annoyance gets replaced with compassion, and separation gets replaced with connection. “We are the same. We feel the same. We both want something good.”
Once we understand that a pure innocent desire for love, connection and all things good is underneath our anger, we can reach out in love from that new place.
As a result, instead of meeting Christian’s anger with more anger, I was able to meet his anger with love, and give him a chance to “become like who he was around.” I complimented him for his desire to feel good and appreciated his aspiration to drive the car. We ended up stopping for food, enjoying delicious sandwiches together, and he successfully drove the next half hour to our destination.
Soon after, we were playing, giggling and in the end, enjoyed a wonderful evening together.
Next time you notice yourself “matching” your partner’s mood, slow things down.
Look for the positive reason you are mad or sad or upset underneath, and instead of both of you spiraling down into a crummy experience, lead both of you to an upward spiral of deeper love, connection and joy.
To improve security, we recently moved our entire website to a different server. As I was checking it out to make sure everything was up and running, I came across the testimonials page where a couple talked about how they went round and round on the same issues, and took turns feeling disconnected and shut down before they came to work with us.
Just today, a woman called me to say that if she could do it over, she would have picked a different man to be her husband. “He just doesn’t hear me when I communicate”, she said.
Another gentleman told me that after an almost-separation from his long-time girlfriend, he is finally ready to work on his relationship. “We both feel so judged by each other. We need to learn how to listen better to each other.”
Relationships can be hard. It’s easy to fight about the same things over and over. It is tempting to lose ourselves in our favorite screen and hope our problems will get better by themselves. It takes courage to improve our relationships and to dare learn a new way to communicate with each other.
One of the questions we hear often from the people we work with, is “How can we create more intimacy and connection in relationship with less reactivity and judgment?” In this article, we will offer a few different ways to increase intimacy and improve communication in relationship.
Get curious about your partner
To create more intimacy, it is imperative that we take time to step into each other’s worlds: to listen, to ask questions, to encourage the sharing of feelings, desires and thoughts without limitation or restraint, and to safely explore and discover the other person with curiosity, mindfulness and an open heart.
Often, we are oddly reticent to spend too much time just listening to our partner, or someone else. We are afraid to step into another person’s world. There is a concern, that if we really hear and understand our partner, really get their needs and concerns, our needs and opinions will get lost. We are afraid that we won’t get what we want if we don’t get our own needs across.
Consequently, with both parties fighting to be heard and no one listening, conversations tend to stalemate and go nowhere.
Therefore, any structured conversation that interrupts the usual batting back-and-forth style of communication and allows for both people to be heard, will be useful for creating deeper intimacy and connection.
Focused Exploration One Person At A Time
One way to deepen intimacy and interrupt fights is to take turns asking questions with the intent to learn more about each other. Agree that you will focus on one person at a time for, say, 10 minutes before shifting to the other. Knowing that you will both get to talk and be heard will help you feel relaxed.
Pretend you are listening to someone you don’t know at all. Be committed to discover something that surprises you. That will help you cultivate a curious mood as you explore.
Ask questions you authentically want to know more about. Any open-ended curious question will do. “How is that for you? How do you feel about that? What do you want? What are you afraid will happen if you don’t get that? What do you want me to really know? If you could have it your way, what would you change? Would you be willing to say more about that? Why is this really important to you? If you could go back and change anything, what would you change?”
Once one person has had a chance to share and be heard, switch roles.
Heart Shares are a variation of the Native American talk circle, where the person with the ceremonial pipe has the floor to talk without interruption. Everyone else just listens until the pipe is passed.
Heart Shares are great practice for learning how to not react when triggered, and how to share from your heart without blame, criticism or complaint.
For couples, one way to do Heart Shares is to sit near or in front of each other with eyes closed, to eliminate visual distractions, and having cleared away all other distractions. Speak honestly and vulnerably in “I” statements as you go inward to discover and reveal your self. Avoid “you” statements and put-downs to make it easy for your partner to stay with you. Whoever has the floor first speaks until they declare they are complete, or when the agreed-upon time is up. Their partner then only says “Thank you” with great sincerity before taking their turn to share. (To keep Heart Shares safe, it is imperative both parties agree to not use against each other whatever is said in a Heart Share.)
Share. Then Respond.
Yet another way to increase intimacy is to take turns, sharing and responding without interruption, so that both people feel heard and both have a chance to respond on a topic. One speaks his or her mind and the other responds, after which they both repeat that same sequence. Then both parties switch roles.
Take turns sharing and repeating back what you heard to be sure you are getting what the other person is saying correctly.
Light-Hearted Questions Practice
You can ask light-hearted questions to help create connection on non-triggering topics as a way to practice listening and exploring, which will make it easier to tackle more challenging topics later. Questions like, “If you could have any super power, what would you choose and why?” or “If you could go any place in the world for three weeks on a paid vacation, where would you go?” or “What is your sweetest memory of us?”
Remember that whatever the other person thinks or does makes sense from their point of view, and that there is a positive intent and desire underneath their feelings and behaviors. Taking time to listen and explore will increase understanding, build compassion and open you up new possibilities for connection.
We recommend you pick just one of the suggestions above and try it. Just see what happens. You might just surprise yourself with how quickly you can produce a sense of shared intimacy.
“Love isn’t always upbeat and wonderful and sexy. Sometimes love is shared in tears and pain and loss and grief and hurt.”
It is 2:30 in the afternoon. Christian has been sleeping for several hours now, a welcome relief from his nearly 24/7 excruciating sciatic pain. Ever since Thanksgiving, he has been up most nights, unable to sleep. During the day, he grimaces and moans as he moves from one lying position to the next, trying to find a pain-free position. He can’t sit or stand or walk without agonizing discomfort. I drive him to medical appointments on a mattress in the back of our van.
He has tried many things to eliminate the pain: three chiropractors, three doctors, several body workers, acupuncture, massage, hot tub flotation, a multitude of marijuana products, Reiki, prayer, visualizations, ice, heat, electrode stimulation, grounding, energy balancing, muscle stretches, muscle relaxants, steroids, narcotic drugs, on and on. He has yet to find relief.
He has been living with genetic arthritis for some twenty-five years now, so he is accustomed to daily joint pain. He has such a high tolerance for pain, that if I didn’t see him using ice packs at night, I wouldn’t know he’d been hurting most of the day.
But this pain has taken him to his knees. I’ve never seen him cry like this. He apologizes often to me for the inconvenience of his incapacitation. We had to cancel our holiday trip to Denmark because he can’t travel. He is reliant on others for everything.
What to do?
Several times a day, I ask that question. What can we do to help him? What new action can we take that might produce relief?
There are many so options. Hundreds of friends on Facebook have offered their services or made recommendations for help – many more than we can even respond to. Doctors, body workers, energy workers, including a physical therapist, spinal specialist, acupuncturist, Bowen therapist and rheumatologist all have offered a variety of treatment recommendations. A couple of women did long-distance healings. Some even did house calls.
What is clear to me in this experience is how much love is underneath everything, even the pain.
Christian’s desire to be free of pain so he can make dinner, work in the yard, and greet me at the car to carry in the groceries all have love in it. His wish to be well enough to lead our courses and make a difference for people who are struggling in relationship has love in it. His longing to travel to Denmark to see his ailing father has love in it. Even his pain that is communicating something that wants to be healed has love in it.
All of the people who are sharing their treatment solutions have love expressed in every word. Our daughter making him dinner and serving it to him on the floor has love in it. And me, when I put clean clothes out for him on the bed, or bring him tea or a heating pad, or rub his back – every action I take has love in it.
Love is everywhere.
Funny, how we so often miss love when it is in plain sight. We are sometimes so busy searching for love that we miss it altogether.
I remember once hearing a single person say that she broke up with an older man she loved who was not in the best of health. She exclaimed, “I don’t want to have to push him around in a wheel chair later!”
A man recently shared with me that he only wants to get together with the woman he is dating when they are both feeling upbeat and positive, because anything less than that never works for them.
And a couple just scheduled an appointment because they are going through some hard times right now and are thinking about getting divorced.
One thing I know…
Love isn’t always upbeat and wonderful and sexy. Sometimes love is shared in tears and pain and loss and grief and hurt.
No one knows that better than Eric. He is a good friend of ours who is dying of ALS. He and his wife just celebrated a tearful 25th anniversary knowing full well that it may be their last. Friends of ours brought flowers and dinner, another converted their wedding video to DVD, and together, they ate and watched and cried and loved in between the sounds made from his breathing machine.
Another friend of ours just shaved her head from chemo and radiation due to breast cancer. She shared through tears, “My husband looks at me and holds me and reassures me that I am beautiful. He tells me, ‘I have you. That is all that matters’.”
I can relate to their experience of love in pain. In between the immense pain that Christian is experiencing, there are those moments when we look into each other’s eyes. Sometimes we cry. And sometimes we laugh full out belly laughs at the absurdity of it all.
In those moments where our souls touch, there is just as sweet and deep a love between us as in our wildest lovemaking sessions. While I am just as eager as Christian for him to find relief from this excruciating pain, I am enjoying the deep love that we are sharing in this experience.
I remember telling the woman who was afraid of pushing her dating partner around in a wheelchair in their later years, “If you love him, it will give you great pleasure to wheel him around! Why cast love aside now and miss out on love later for a fear that may or may not ever manifest?”
This afternoon, before Christian fell asleep, I suggested he pay attention to the spaces in between his pain, the spaces where pain was absent and there was a second or two of relief. It made all the difference. He was able to find them, eventually relax and fall asleep.
I can see the gift of putting attention on the spaces, not just for pain relief but also for love.
In our workshops, we encourage people to look into each other’s eyes without words, and just connect. People are often surprised to find the very thing they have been searching their whole life for in that quiet still place.
Love is in the spaces. Love is in the pain.
Perhaps this holiday season, we would all benefit from slowing down and paying attention to the love that is spoken in the silent pauses, whether we are challenged in life or blessed. To find the deep love expressed in every gift, in every morsel of food prepared, in every hug and in every tear.
I am grateful for this grand love, and for all of its myriad expressions. There is nothing more miraculous.
Wishing you a love-filled holiday!
P.S. In honor of love, we are offering a two-for-one Give Yourself to Love holiday special. On the website you can register for one person, then bring a friend for free. Check it out here: www.loveworksforyou.com/gytl
Christian and I weren’t feeling well. Christian had just gotten over a 10-day flu, and I could tell by my run down body and cough that I was working hard to fight it. We had two talks scheduled that week and a workshop. We did them anyway.
While sick and recovering, neither of us felt like being intimate. We hadn’t been sexual for a week and we could tell we both really needed the physical connection, even though we still didn’t feel like it. We made love anyway.
When our daughter’s other mother insisted we do the necessary repairs on our house for mold remediation, we didn’t want to.
Tearing up our house, living in disrepair and spending money on said repairs were not on our list of priorities. We did them anyway.
Our daughter had a horse show in Davis last weekend and our son and his girlfriend wanted to meet up to walk through the Dixon corn maze. We didn’t really want to do either activity, but we went anyway.
When Christian and I first met, we were not what we each were looking for. He wasn’t looking for a mature 47 year-old professional from California with two children, and I wasn’t looking for an unemployed, broke 32 year-old with little relationship experience who lived in Denmark. But we got married anyway.
Why? Why would we do what we didn’t feel like doing? Why would we marry someone who didn’t match our picture of the ideal partner?
Because we were committed to something greater than ourselves.
Commitment is often the difference between being successful or not. One of my favorite passages reads, “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness….”
When you’re not committed, it’s easy to walk away when differences, obstacles or problems arise. There is no commitment to stay in there and work through them. Even minor differences show up as deal breakers, as reasons to give up.
But when you’ve already made a commitment, those same differences or problems are just the next thing to work through. When you don’t give yourself the option to walk away, you begin to explore and notice options and solutions that can only show up inside a committed conversation.
EVERY relationship has differences! Every relationship has problems! Nobody is exactly the same as you. Life is not always easy. Everyone encounters tough times.
When you are committed, you use differences and challenging times to expand yourself into new territory, to deepen your understanding of others, to creatively come up with win/win solutions, to bring you closer to yourself and another human being, to walk hand in hand through life’s varied experiences.
When you’re not committed, you use differences and challenging situations as justifications to back off, disappear, avoid, and distance which can keep you stuck and actually prevent you from getting what you REALLY want.
When you’re committed, your focus in relationship is all about give AND take. You remember that your partner’s needs are as important as yours, and you lean in towards solutions that deepen your connection in relationship.
When you’re not committed, your focus tends to be on yourself and what you are getting or not getting. “Are my needs getting met here? Will I get the kind of relationship I want if I choose you?” There is very little attention on the other person. We don’t think to ask, “What is your most important need? What can I do to help you get your needs met? How can I help you feel loved?”
We are generally afraid that we will lose something or get less of what we want if and when we commit. But truthfully, we get MORE of what we want when we commit.
There is infinite freedom inside of commitment. When we choose or decide a course of action, when we marry or buy a house or commit to a job, endless new openings and possibilities arise within that decision!
Imagine standing in an aisle at the grocery store, picking out peanut butter. There are many different kinds: crunchy or smooth, salted or unsalted, Valencia or Spanish or Virginia, with or without sugar, organic or not, and several different brands of various combinations.
Only after choosing ONE kind, do you have the freedom to do different things with it and create new experiences: bake cookies, eat it by the spoonful, slather it on celery slices, make a PB&J sandwich, etc.
The same is true in relationships. Until you choose ONE person, even with “differences”, you can’t discover all of the fun, loving ways you can interact with that person and all of the creative solutions you can come up with for how to work through the conflicts that arise between you!
We were speaking with a woman who has been single for five years, clear that she does not want to date a man who is into sports because she hates sports. So every time she finds out a man is into sports, she writes him off and moves on. But if she fell in love with and committed to a man who enjoyed sports, they would work it out!
Christian and I have our differences and conflicts, just like most couples. One way we are different, is he doesn’t like musicals and I don’t like rock and roll. But now that we are married, I sometimes listen to Queen and he sometimes goes with me to musicals and we actually enjoy ourselves! Or sometimes I go out with friends to musicals and he rocks out to loud music on his ear-buds. Point is we make the differences work because we are committed to making them work!
I realized a long time ago, that to commit to someone or something is really a hidden declaration to myself that I WILL make good on that commitment. I trust myself to come through no matter what, to stay in there and creatively figure out a way to keep my word and do what I committed to.
Yes, of course, as with all things, there are exceptions – times when it may be the right action to back out of a commitment or renegotiate a promise. If that is the case, when you do, it is important to make sure to take care of the other person or persons as best as possible, to take care of their concerns so as not to break trust or damage your relationship with them.
Commitment is powerful. It calls you to rise in ways you might not otherwise. It summons amazing resourcefulness and creativity. Synergy becomes possible. Miracles show up.
We believe that you can always commit to something. Commit to being completely transparent about whatever you are thinking and feeling. Commit to allowing other people to have their experiences and feelings. Commit to asking for and creating what you want. Commit to creating win/win solutions so your partner gets what they want too. Commit to showing up no matter how you feel. Commit to some project or goal and don’t stop until you achieve it!
When you find something big enough to commit to, obstacles are merely steps along the way to your dream. Without commitment, obstacles stop you on your path.
We encourage you to create a commitment “frame” through which to live life. What if you couldn’t walk away? What if the person you are with is the perfect person for you to be with right now? What solutions / opportunities would you see around the difficulties you are facing? How could you use this situation to help you grow?
I’ll leave you with our favorite quote on Commitment:
“…Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.
I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’”
W. H. Murray in The Scottish Himalaya Expedition, 1951
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“You don’t listen to me!”
“What are you talking about, I’m right here in front of you … “
Sonika and I did a presentation this week for a group of couples and singles in Sacramento. We played out a typical interaction between partners. One of the couples in the group said, “We literally had that exact same fight this week. Have you guys been in our house?”
We hadn’t been in their house:) But we have been inside their relationship, and thousands of other relationships.
The conversation went something like this:
“You don’t listen to me!”
“What are you talking about, I’m right here in front of you … “
“That’s not the point. Look at you, with your arms crossed, all stiff, you’re not really listening”
“Want me to repeat every word you just said?”
“No! You’re being all defensive, can you just listen for once?”
“So I’m not doing it right, is that it? It doesn’t matter what I do, it’s not right for you!”
“See, you’re doing it again! Making it all about you when I’m trying to tell you something about me”
“Well, if you actually cared about what I think … “
From here, you can imagine how the rest of the interaction goes. More arguing back and forth, more disconnection as each one tries to get their point across.
A simple argument like this illustrates what pretty much every person in this world does to problem solve their relationship:
They bring up an issue they think needs to change, in this example, “You don’t listen to me”.
When I’m the one bringing up an issue, I think I’m just presenting an obvious problem, in a calm and reasonable manner.
But in the ears and eyes of the recipient, “bringing up an issue” like this sounds like nothing but complaining, blaming, and criticizing.
Why do I bring up an issue? In the hopes it’ll improve our relationship. In the hopes that you’ll get my point, agree with me, and change your behavior (to one I like better).
We call this strategy Complaining For Change.
Everyone uses this strategy in every relationship. With spouses, dates, ex’s, co-workers, employees, family members, you name it.
It’s like a bad movement that went viral long before anyone heard of Facebook.
It’s the #1 default strategy we use to improve our relationships. And it consequently, always, no-exceptions-ever, backfires.
The whole strategy rests upon a fantasy. The fantasy is, if you say, “You don’t listen” to your partner, that he’ll go, “Really! OMG, I’m so sorry I haven’t been listening you to. I’m such a doofus. You deserve to be listened to all the time, and every word you speak is gold to me. I promise it will never happen again, I’m really sorry about that, I love you, baby! Tell me again, what did you want me to hear?”
But has that ever happened in real life?
We use the example of “You don’t listen”, but you can insert any other topic or issue.
“Am I the only one cleaning up around here?”
“Do you really have to spend that much money on clothes?”
“We really need to talk about the stuff in the garage!”
“Why don’t you want have sex anymore?”
“You’re going out with your friends again!?”
Or with our kids, we say things like, “Your room is a mess”, with the fantasy that they’ll go, “Oh, I’m sorry, dad, I’ll get it cleaned up right now, thanks for telling me”.
What actually does happen when someone tells you, “You never listen to me”? Do you want to listen more? Or less? What actually happens when you tell your kids, “Your room is a mess”? Defensiveness, resistance, more arguing.
When we complain for change, we make things worse.
As a matter of fact, we end up with less of the very thing we were trying to get more of. It produces the exact opposite of what we were hoping for.
“You never listen” produces less listening.
“Why don’t we ever have sex anymore?” produces less sex (Think about it, are you more or less attracted to your partner when he/she says that?)
Complaining For Change is basically a relationship tragedy.
It’s meant to make our relationships better, with more love, connection, and friendship. But instead it grinds down our love, patience, and good will and produces more of the problems we’re trying to solve.
So what to do instead?
We recommend two simple tips (granted, not always so simple to practice).
1. Quit Complaining For Change
2. Find and deliver specific appreciations
We mean #1 very literally. Just quit it. Knock if off. Don’t ever do it again.
Next time you catch yourself complaining, you’re better off zipping it and not saying another word.
Because everything you say after that point is only taking your further down a negative rabbit hole. You already know you’re not going to like where it’s taking you, so stop going in that direction.
As to #2, find and deliver specific appreciations, it’s the fastest and most effective antidote to Complaining For Change. It’s like kryptonite.
Sure, it’s not meant to fix all your relationship issues, nor are we recommending that you don’t deal with your legitimate challenges. But until you have a better method than complaining, you’re better off not talking about your problems and making things worse.
Whether it’s your spouse, date, brother, sister, anyone, find something to appreciate about that person and tell them.
Appreciations are to human beings like water and sun is to a plant. Without them, we wilt. With appreciations, we puff up and shine. Delivering appreciations uplifts the other person and supports them to be and bring out their best.
More importantly, it forces your mind to look for something you like in your life. It gets your focus off of what you don’t like. Every time you find something specific to appreciate, you’re reminding yourself that you actually have some of what you want in your life and relationships, that it is not all crap, and that uplifts YOU.
Every appreciation feeds BOTH of you, and you actually begin to create an upward spiral of positivity in your relationship.
This appreciation practice will disappear a good bunch of your problems. Most breakdowns stem from one or both of you not feeling seen, loved, valued and appreciated. As for the rest of your issues, your head and heart will be in a much better place to deal with … anything. With love and appreciation as the frame, it is more possible to work on your challenges together or by yourself.
Try it. Many couples have saved their marriages from implementing these two steps alone. Parents have had breakthroughs with their children. Co-workers have had miraculous shifts in their relationships at work.
And then get help for effectively dealing with the genuine conflicts and problems that inevitably show up in every relationship. So you can use them to bring you closer to one another, instead of farther apart!
For that purpose, consider attending our two-day Give Yourself to Love training. It offers powerful cutting-edge paradigm shifts and practical tools for improving relationships that stay with you for the rest of your relationship life!
You can save $700 per ticket in October!
More here: loveworksforyou.com/gytl