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Category Archives: Conflicts
Do you hate feeling judged in your relationship? Or you are you perhaps the one judging your partner? Either way, you and pretty much everyone else.
The judgments we have of one another comes out of our mouths as complaints, criticisms, and accusations. We say things like, OMG, “You’re so stubborn. Why do you always have to micro-manage me? You are totally self-absorbed! Why do you have to be so judgmental?!
When we talk to each other like that, we infuse our communication with irritation, anger, and hurt, and not only do we not get what we want in terms of listening, understanding, and harmony; it also sours the mood in our house; it feels bad.
On the other hand, theres’ no denying that as humans, we make up judgments. On one hand, that’s a good thing, right? We use our sound and positive judgment to navigate the world, to determine what activities are safe and what we should avoid, and to make judgments about what we value and what we don’t. So try as we might to be non-judgmental, these brains of ours are judgment machines.
But what are good ways to use our judgments, to build connection and understanding instead of distance and irrigation.
Try this quick experiment … think of a judgment you have about your partner or someone else? Do it now …
Ok, now ask yourself … “How am I just like that?”
The judgments we make about others are a reflection of aspects of ourselves that we don’t see or honor. For example, I have often judged other people – partners, friends, co-workers, politicians, you name it – for being judgmental and narrow-minded. How am I just like that? Well, in the same moment I judge someone else for being judgmental, I’m obviously doing the same thing.
But I’m judgmental in so many ways … I make up judgments about people who aren’t willing to work; or people who buy ten times more toilet paper than they need, and leave nothing for the next customer … at home, I judge Sonika for being too fuzzy with our cat, or for not using the chef’s knife correctly.
When I ask myself, How am I just like that?, I even the playing field. I stop making myself superior to you. Cuz that’s what happens when I judge you … I effectively say, I am better than you. When I judge you for being stubborn, I’m implying that I’m not; when I judge you for being selfish, I’m implying that I’m not … I’m basically declaring that I’m better than you. Most of the time, that’s rubbish. We both make up judgments about ourselves and each other. We both get irritated when we see behaviors we don’t like. At times, we both think we are superior to the other person, cuz we don’t do “that thing”.
Most of the time we are blind to how we are just like those we judge. Just yesterday I was coaching a man who is having a hard time being direct with his client who is always changing appointments on him last minute. He judges her as not being strong enough and direct enough with her employees who are requesting she cancel these appointments to accommodate their needs. He can’t see how he is just like her.
We worked with a couple last week who are on the brink of divorce. She is pissed off at how angry her husband is all the time (see it? She’s angry that he’s angry!) A woman who came to see us is emotionally shut down because her husband isn’t open to intimacy and connection. And a man quit talking to his partner because she isn’t available to physically connect with him as often as he wants. Each of these people are a match to those they are judging.
When we can slow things down to explore how we are just like the people we are judging in these specific ways, we open ourselves to seeing shadowed aspects of ourselves we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. When I can see how I am just like you, it helps me to drop my arrogance, step into humility, and find compassion.
Not only that, but exploring “How am I just like that?” is a great equalizer … I’m just like you, at least in some ways. From that place, we can meet as equals, and if we still want to talk about changing our behaviors, interactions or patterns, we can do it with compassion and humility.
As a child, when I didn’t understand something my father was saying, he would simply say it again louder. If I still didn’t “hear him” the second or third time, he would continue to increase both his volume and enunciation of the same phrase over and over again to the point of yelling, which only culminated in his exasperation and me bursting into tears.
Can you identify with my dad? Ever feel frustrated or angry because your partner or kid or boss doesn’t hear you?
For some people, not feeling heard is a big trigger point and sore spot in their relationship. Conversations can easily escalate to the point of yelling or even violence if people feel misunderstood and not heard.
Feeling heard is an essential part of the two-way communication process. One person speaks, or delivers a message non-verbally, and the other person deciphers that communication in the form of listening and receiving.
Hearing is an important part of the communication bridge in relationship that makes connection and the coordination of action possible. If we miss the communication, if we don’t “hear” what the other person is trying to convey, we fall off that bridge of connection.
In extreme instances, miscommunications like these can be life threatening. But even if the misunderstanding is about something as mundane as whose job is it to do dishes, while not actually life threatening, we can still feel as if we are going to explode if the other person doesn’t get our side of things.
What are we actually going for when we want to be heard? And why is it such a big deal when we don’t have that experience?
Below, I’ll share some of the reasons why being heard is important, I’ll give examples from coaching sessions, and finally, I’ll share how this is useful in your relationships.
For some of us, being heard means we will get what we want. We believe that the experience of being heard will result in the other person seeing our side of things, agreeing with us, and that will increase the likelihood that we will get what we want.
I remember having a heated conversation with our son in his teens, when he was trying to talk Christian and I into having a drug/drinking pool party at our house without adults on the premises. We were not willing to budge on our decision, and even though I was hearing my son and repeating back his well-intentioned points, he insisted I wasn’t hearing him because we weren’t changing our minds. He was confusing hearing with agreeing.
Call to Action
For some of us, being heard means you get my words and the call to action behind my words. In the example above, my dad was confusing me not understanding what he was saying with me not being able to hear his words. He spoke to me like I was someone who was hard of hearing or didn’t speak or understand English.
But it wasn’t because I wasn’t hearing his words. It was the meaning behind his words that I couldn’t hear or make sense of, which hindered my ability to take the action he was requesting of me. When he asked me to get him a wrench, for example, and I had no idea what a wrench was. Him yelling louder about it didn’t change anything about my understanding or ability to fulfill his call for action.
In order for us to hear a request that requires a response or action on our part, it helps if the speaker is direct with their requests. However, in the world of relationship, we are often indirect in our communications. For example, if I say, “the garbage is overflowing”, I am likely to not feel heard if you take what I said as an informational report rather than as a request: “Will you take out the garbage?”
A man recently sent us this in an email … “I feel as a man that being heard is a real issue. I grew up not trusting anyone with my innermost secrets and feelings. [Despite my] really working on and making efforts to be accountable, honest and open, I don’t feel heard in my relationship. Seems to me my wife wants me to “talk” and “share feelings” and “be open” so long as it fits her agenda or ideals. This just sends me back to the point where I feel “sharing” is not worth it.”
For many of us, sharing and being heard is a way for us to know ourselves, and to experience feeling known by others. When we put our internal experience on “loud speaker” and are able to freely explore our thoughts, feelings, values, dreams, desires and inner workings, we come to accept and know ourselves more deeply.
When someone hears our ruminations with curiosity and interest, without judgment or interruption, we feel known, seen, witnessed. We feel close to the listener. We feel less alone in our separate existence and experience. Not only that, but we are more inclined to want to continue sharing ourselves if we are received and heard when we do.
I witnessed a coaching session last week that was deeply moving. The coach listened to his client talk about her mixed feelings about moving from New York back to Italy, her country of origin, after several years in the states. She spoke of herself as a risk taker, highlighted her successes, and spent most of the time talking about the challenging logistics of moving.
When the coach reflected back what he had heard, he added having heard her underlying fear and concern of looking like a failure to her family at returning home. She was deeply affected by his reflections, seeing the truth of his words. He had listened not just to her words, but to the deeper fears behind her story.
A client of ours was complaining about her husband’s preoccupation with work. His long hours at work meant less time at home and she was fed up with having to do everything herself. Instead of reacting defensively to her criticisms, with our help, he was able to listen “underneath” her complaint to her loving desire for more time together. Instead of hearing her disapproval, he was able to hear her loving call to connect with the man she loved. This allowed him to lean into creating more connecting time with his wife and family at home.
Sometimes what we want in our quest to be heard is validation and affirmation for who we are. We want to know that we are okay, that we are loved, and that we matter. When you hear my words, respond to my requests, meet my needs, mirror back my deepest feelings, I get to feel like I am important in your eyes. Your acceptance of me helps me accept myself. Your love for me helps me love myself more.
One of the best definitions I once heard of love is, “Love is granting space for something or someone to exist.” When you hear and allow what I say without resistance or judgment, it is like you are allowing me to exist in your acceptance of my communication. In this way, you could say that hearing me is one of the deepest expressions of love you can offer.
Recently, I coached a couple that was stuck in negative stories about each other. She was afraid he was withholding secrets from her and wanted access to his phone. He felt micromanaged and didn’t want to give her access to his phone to avoid feeling powerless. In each case, their listening of each other was shaped by their own fears and negative stories.
Every time she shared her fears, he heard, “I want to micro-manage you!” Every time he moved to protect his autonomy, she heard, “I am withholding secrets from you!” They couldn’t hear their mate’s underlying fears: “I am afraid to lose you if you talk to your ex” and “I am afraid of your rejection if I do something that scares you.” They were too busy fighting to be right about the other person being micromanaging or withholding.
Sometimes our communications are attempting to prove our innocence and goodness. If I can just get you to hear that the reason I didn’t make dinner was because I took care of the cat, then you will quit judging me as wrong and bad for not keeping my agreement to cook. Once you hear me, I will get to be right about not making dinner as promised.
How Can We Use This?
There are many different experiences and results we are after when we are going for being heard. The most important thing we can do to help ourselves feel heard in relationship is to first explore what we are after. Do we want to be known? Do we want to be right? Do we want to get our way about something? Do we want someone to act? Do we want something to change?
The next thing we can remember is that we human beings are closed biological systems with our own interpretations and understanding of things. If feel that you’re not hearing me, maybe there is something going on in you that is preventing you from hearing me. Maybe you have an old negative story about me that has you interpret what I am saying as criticism versus a compliment? Or maybe you have a different definition of “helping around the house” than I do and what’s required is more exploration?
Or maybe I am not being clear about my intention in sharing, and I can rephrase what I am saying in a way that produces my desired result and outcome. Instead of launching into a complaint about us not having sex anymore, which might have you rebuff me, I can slow things down and share how much I miss connecting with you in this really special loving way. Instead of complaining about how you are never home, I can make a direct request, “Would you be willing to come home early on Wednesday so we can have a date together, just you and me?”
If you find that clarifying your intentions and making clear requests before going for getting heard doesn’t work, get support from an experienced coach or therapist to help you bridge the gap.
One couple who always fought when she wanted to share something she was triggered about and he disappeared to work in the yard as fast as possible, were able to understand each other’s differing responses to stress with the help of our coaching.
Now, when she wants to “talk”, he hears her desire to connect, and when he disappears to work in the yard, she hears his desire to avoid criticism and be a good man in her eyes. This different understanding has helped them be less reactive and they are better able to hear each other as a result.
Your desire to be heard is a good thing. Use it to bring you closer to all the good things you long for.
If you’d like support getting heard and deeply connecting with someone special, check out our upcoming Give Yourself To Love Workshop in Sacramento, March 7-8. And you’re always welcome to reach out to us for personal coaching as well.
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” L.J. Isham
As individuals, and in relationship, we have two conflicting needs. One is for stability, familiarity, intimacy, and safety. The other is for newness, adventure, risk, danger, and feeling alive.
[watch a short video version of this article on our YouTube Channel …]
When we get too much or little of one or the other, problems arise. When we feel totally comfortable, familiar and safe with each other, we often get bored and we begin to take our relationship for granted.
Couples will often unconsciously create fights or upsets, just to “shake things up” and create some aliveness. Unfortunately, that has unpleasant side-effects. If you’re familiar with Ester Perel’s work, you might have heard her talk about how infidelity often happens as an attempt to infuse adventure, risk, and excitement into a relationship that feels too familiar and routinized.
On the other hand, if we have loads of risk, adventure, and excitement, but with very little safety and familiarity, we get scared and can’t relax, and from there, might act in overly controlling, anxious, and jealous ways.
To change what you do and the results you produce in your relationships, you might have to stretch a bit, take some actions that will support you to feel better. You might not want to, but do it anyway. Make choices that keep the energy moving. Don’t wait until you “feel like” doing something before you do it. Just do it!! It always seems impossible until it is done!
“I don’t feel like it” is the great enemy of positive change. “I don’t feel like it” is the soundtrack of status quo. It’s tricky, because you are often trained and encouraged to listen to your feelings and follow your feelings. Heck, if you don’t “listen to your feelings” enough, you might even get criticized for it. However, in this context, waiting to take action until you “feel like it” results in stagnation.
Don’t use your feelings and body (depression, boredom, tired, etc.) as an excuse to remain disengaged in life. Instead of saying, “I am too tired to go out with you”, own your choice, “I am choosing to not go out with you.” This will help your body not have to get sick for you to express your feelings and desires. Or push past tired and depressed, and get yourself up and out anyway!
Instead of letting your feelings lead, let your vision of who you want to be and how you want to feel lead. This will more than likely help you feel way better than staying home watching TV or sleeping an extra hour or two anyway. This is true in relationship as well as in the rest of your life. If you keep waiting till “you feel like it”, how often would you go to the gym, eat a Buddha bowl instead of donuts, stay on top of your finances, take out your trash, or make sure you have quality time with your beloved?
To help yourself take new actions and risks, you might visualize doing them ahead of time in your mind. Abraham-Hicks calls it “pre-paving” the path ahead. Keep your eye on what good comes out of your new actions. What do you get out of setting time aside for intimacy? How good do you feel after working out? Lead yourself with what your new action provides.
A couple who participated in our Mastery Program had a big breakthrough in their sex and intimacy. Having cleared up a bunch of old hurts and misunderstandings, they did exactly what we’re talking about here, and set aside a few hours on every Saturday or Sunday morning as time just for them to snuggle, sleep in, make love, or just talk. They now reserve that time whether they “feel like it” or not.
You can also find an accountability partner. Tell someone about the risk you will take. Make a promise. Make a plan to do it with someone else. Support yourself to do what you know will benefit you by enrolling outside support.
Your vitality and the vitality of your relationship are too important to be guided by what you “feel like” in any given moment.
Will this year be your year for love? Will you put relationship at the top of your priority list? Will improving relationship be one of your primary 2020 New Year’s resolutions?
Over the holiday break, we received many calls from singles feeling alone at this time of year, and from couples in crisis. Needless to say, they did not have a great holiday experience.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising. Both research and direct experience show that the quality of your life is directly tied to the quality of your relationships. Some studies reveal that loneliness, a rising social epidemic in this age of technology, has disturbing negative health consequences.
“Single Life Is Deadly. Be sure to find someone to live with. Or move into a co-housing situation or some other form of dwelling where there are other people you can be around. Whatever you do, avoid moving into an apartment by yourself, where you only meet other people when you pass them in the hallways. If you do, it could cost you your life.”
That’s the dramatic beginning of an article (translated from the original Danish article in the Berlingske newspaper. The article describes a large Danish research study which documents a 36% increased risk of dying from coronary or other life threatening diseases if you live alone. The study followed 3,300 men for 32 years, and is being published in the European Heart Journal here.
Granted, this study followed only single men, but even if you’re not a man living alone, you are not immune from loneliness and its effects. We all live in a world affected by the use of technology and changing demographic patterns, such as the consistently increasing number of people living alone.
In one study documenting the negative effects of social media use on interpersonal relationships, the author writes, “The top three responses for negative effects of social media use on interpersonal relationships were distraction, irritation, and decreased quality time with their significant other in offline settings”.
From our vantage point as relationship coaches for both men and women, singles and co-habitating couples, loneliness and disconnection are a manifestation of a deeper problem that can befall anyone.
When we add a bunch of extra expectations, as happens during the holiday season, to our loneliness and disconnection, we get even more relationship breakdown!
In the big US holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we received phone call after phone call from distressed couples who were suffering under the real and imagined increased pressure of the various extra activities and expectations surrounding the holidays. Couples told us they couldn’t take it anymore, that the stress of the season was turning into shouting matches, disconnection, and short fuses all around.
On a coaching call I did with a man in the throes of separation, he expressed how painful it is for him that his partner is no longer giving him affection, touch, love, and appreciation. He no longer felt loved and cared for.
On first look, it might seem that men living alone, couples preparing for the holidays, and a guy separating from his wife are such different groups of people that they couldn’t possible have the same problems.
So what is this thing that afflicts us, this loneliness that is so severe the authors of the above mentioned study stated that, “We have to look at loneliness as a separate risk factor that is destroying people’s quality of life and increasing mortality”? According to this study, loneliness is as dangerous as smoking and alcoholism!
For some, like the men in the study who live alone, we might say it’s just because they’re never around other people. They’re alone as well as lonely. For couples, it’s certainly not because they are alone; most of the couples we talk to still live together, often with children in the house.
When my client was sharing his agony over not being loved by his wife anymore, I offered that perhaps it was not just because he wasn’t receiving the love and affection he wanted, but just as much that he had no one to give his own love and affection to.
We believe that we are loving beings, and that we thrive by giving love, care and interest to others. If we have no one to give our love to, it’s as if our love gets stuck in our hearts, and we get mad or depressed when we don’t get to give.
The loneliness so many feel is a combination of not feeling seen and acknowledged by others; not getting to share our own love with others; and finally, not having the opportunity for meaningful contribution.
In the absence of those three essential human needs, we feel lonely, empty, and without worth, no matter how many people we are around. Everyone knows you can’t fix loneliness by simply going to the nearest Starbucks and sitting among 40 strangers. Heck, sitting in a crowd by yourself can magnify your loneliness instead of cure it.
Theoretically, it’s easier than ever to find someone to hang out with or date. Just grab your phone, launch Tinder and in seconds you can check out dozens of potential dates and set up a meeting with someone. But that doesn’t seem to have cured our societal loneliness.
Why? Because the three human needs I mentioned don’t get satisfied just by getting together with someone. What we need is a certain quality of “being together”.
If you know about our work you’ll know we offer in-person workshops. We do that not just because it’s a highly efficient way to learn and practice new skills, but because in that setting, participants get to fulfill some of those human needs, right there on the spot. They get to connect with other human beings in meaningful ways. They get to both receive and give love, interest, and appreciation.
In any one of our workshops, you can find single people waking up their hearts after years of feeling unseen and “un-given” (to borrow a poignant term from David Deida). Couples reconnect in ways they didn’t even think were possible anymore because they get to share their love and appreciation with each other in a safe and focused manner.
There’s no replacement for getting to connect deeply and meaningfully with another human being. There is no substitute for giving and receiving love and appreciation. Seeing other people’s lives on a screen cannot replace your own need for being seen as a good person with something to offer.
In the 2004 movie, Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon’s character is reflecting on her troubled marriage. She says to Richard Jenkin’s character, a PI she hired to spy on her husband): “Why do you think we get married?”
Jenkins says confidently, “Passion!” To which Sarandon replies, “No. It’s because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion (sic) people on the planet, what does one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything, the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed, because I will be your witness.”
So when you’re feeling the stress levels rise; when you find yourself snapping at your partner; when you’re feeling lonely because no one is there to witness you; or when you have no one to share your love and affection with … instead of getting mad or depressed or lonely, ask yourself some simple questions, such as:
- Who can I reach out to?
- Who can I give to?
- Who can I ask for a minute or two of their time?
- To whom, or where, can I offer appreciation, interest or a helping hand?
And then take action according to your answers.
In today’s world, for the first time in history, it is possible to work, shop, date, and talk to other people without ever leaving our homes, or without ever being physically in front of another person. That’s amazing! And sad, too!
Because nothing replaces physical, in-person interactions, where we can see, feel, hear, and touch another human being.
Remember, research and direct experience show that the quality of your life is directly tied to the quality of your relationships.
\When your relationships are humming harmoniously, when you are having great sex and quality intimate conversations, when laughter and play are a regular part of your days, life feels sublimely rich and satisfying.
One couple who came to work with us declared that this was “The Year of Us”. In previous years, they had focused all their attention on their kids, on their respective careers, their home, and a myriad other things. But they’d never given any real attention to their relationship, and it showed. So they came up with The Year of Us.
They devoted an entire year to attending as many workshops and weekly support calls as they could, for the benefit of themselves as individuals, for their marriage, and for their young children. During that year, they told us, “It made all the difference. We are far happier and closer now.”
What kind of year is 2020 going to be for you? Is this your year to make love and relationship and real connection a priority?
If this is the time for you to put yourself in our loving workshop space, check out the next dates here …
Wishing you a connected, meaningful 2020.
❤️Sonika & Christian
We all know what it means to take stuff personally, because it’s really irritating when it’s happening to you. Sometimes you’re trying to share something meaningful or vulnerable, but when your conversation partner takes it personally, the deep sharing is over, right?
What you might be less aware of is when you’re the one taking things personally.
Taking things personally happens all day every day for most people in most relationships. It’s been my experience that unless you’ve deliberately practiced how not to take things personally, you’re most likely doing it at various times. I certainly used to, and I have practiced very diligently how not to take things personally.
In case you’re wondering, “What are you doing when you’re not taking things personally”, here’s my definition: You’re listening. You’re observing. You’re calm. You consciously choose your response to a given input.
Let’s break it down a bit more.
Taking things personally starts with me taking in some stimulus through my senses. I hear something, see something, smell something, feel something, or taste something. In addition to stimuli I take in through my senses, taking things personally can even start in my own head, by remembering something, or activating a certain thought.
I then make up a conclusion about what this stimulus means. Which in turn creates a certain feeling in me. And from that feeling, I take some sort of action.
As a formula, we could say, a Stimulus leads to a Thought leads to a Feeling leads to an Action.
Taking things personally can show up in an infinite number of ways, some where you take things personally, some where it’s the people you relate with …
- You’re sharing something about yourself or about your day with your partner and he makes it all about himself instead of just listening.
- You go on a date, enjoy yourself, the next day you send your date a text and you get no response. You immediately think, “I know I didn’t show up very well; I’m not very attractive; I’m too old; I never get a second date”.
- Your boss says, “We really need to shore up our numbers this quarter”, and you immediately think, “I knew she didn’t like me; I’m going to lose my job”.
- You partner initiates sex, but you’re really not in the mood, and ask for a rain check. Your partner says, “Why don’t you love me anymore?” That’s your partner taking it personally. Or you might think, “Why am not turned on anymore? What’s wrong with me?” That’s you taking your own lack of desire personally.
- You want to find a solution to an issue with your partner or someone. Could be about where you live, where you go on vacation, how you earn or spend money, how you have sex, how you raise your children or any other topic. You say, “there’s something I’d like to talk to you about”, and your partner says, “Now what did I do wrong?”
- Any time you think or say things like, “I don’t deserve it; I’ll never get what I want; no one loves me; I’m not attractive; I’m not successful enough” Those are all versions of taking things personally, that is, you’re making whatever is happening about yourself.
- Any time your partner or your kid or someone near you gets upset, and you think, “Now what did I do?” That is, you assume their upset must be because of something you did or didn’t do, that’s you taking it personally.
Let’s play out one example, a variation of what I heard from a client this week:
We’re trying to get out the door for an event. It’s getting a little tight on our timing. My partner says, “Where are the car keys?” That’s the Stimulus. In my mind, I think what she’s really saying is, “You lost the car keys! Where did you put the car keys? I told you a gazillion times to put them in the basket by the door! Can’t you do anything right?”
That’s the thought, or conclusion, I make up about the Stimulus (we call these conclusions simply “make-ups”).
I now feel irritated, angry.
The action I take is to shoot right back and say, “I didn’t put them anywhere! They’re probably in your purse! Like last time!”
This is a simple example of taking something personally. She didn’t actually make a statement about me, but in my mind, she was saying all kinds of things about me. Negative things. About how I can’t do it right, and I always lose stuff.
Here’s the first important lesson: Whether or not a statement, or a stimulus is about me, I can easily make it about me. And whether or not it really was about me, I’m still better off not taking it personally.
What happens when I take things personally – what we sometimes call getting triggered – is my brain kicks into fight-flight-or-freeze reaction mode. From that place, I’m not making conscious choices. I’m simply knee-jerk and either lashing back, defending myself, or checking out. It’s not a conscious decision on my part. I didn’t stop and think to myself, “Hmm, in the face of that statement, I’m going to choose anger”. Anger just showed up!
In short, I took it personally. I made up that it meant something bad about myself.
Next important lesson: When you take things personally and get triggered, you’re no longer the one who controls your own mood or your own reactions.
In this case, my partner saying, “Where are the keys”, activated my thoughts, which activated my anger. And from that point of view, the only way to feel calm is to convince my partner that it’s not my fault, and she should not use that tone of voice, and that the keys probably are in her purse. Now we’re arguing, and it sucks.
Perhaps even sadder is what happens to my communication partner, and to the space of deep sharing, when I take things personally.
When my partner, or my child, or my friend, is trying to share something with me, and I start taking things personally, I immediately shut down the space of open sharing and invalidate the other person’s experience.
You know the stereotypical experience of a woman saying to her man, “Stop trying to fix me!” Well, when I’m the one trying to fix someone, that is a variation of making it about myself.
Let’s say my wife is sharing something about her day, or about her friends, or about a difficult situation in her life. After 5 minutes, I begin to feel uncomfortable or impatient, and I jump in and say, “Look, you just tell your friend to mind her own business, and you can be done with it!” That’s me making it about myself, because I don’t want to take the time to listen, or I’m getting impatient.
This happens with children and parents all the time. A child comes home from school and starts talking about something that happened at school, and before the child is finished the parent says, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about; it’ll pass, don’t pay attention to that”. That’s the parent making their own time or experience more important, and it shuts down the space for the child to share.
In fact, partners in long-term relationships often come to us with their number one desire being to be heard without their partner taking it personally. That’s the only way they’ll ever get to actually share fully what’s on their minds and in their hearts. I can’t tell you how often it happens that Sonika wants to share something with me, and when I don’t take it personally, that is, I just remain present, calm, interested, and listening, she will work her own way through whatever difficulty she’s talking about.
So the big lesson here is, when you or I take things personally, we shut down the space for deep sharing and exploration. Conversely, not taking things personally is one of the biggest gifts you can offer to anyone. Because they get to experience themselves and find their own solutions.
Of course, it’s extra tricky to not take things personally if my partner is talking directly about me. But remember I said earlier, that even if a communication has your name in it, you still don’t have to take it personally. Say my partner is launching into a speech that goes like this: “You just don’t listen to anyone but yourself; it’s impossible to trust you; you keep saying one thing and doing another; I can’t count on you!”
Most people do indeed take words like these personally when they’re coming from someone they care about. Those are statements, or accusations, that hit directly towards my core values, so it’s only natural I’d be triggered and want to defend myself, right? Yeah, it probably is; but when I do, it still only creates arguments and distance, and once again, shuts down the space for open sharing.
It is a masterful skill to not take it personally even when someone you care about is throwing direct accusations your way.
I personally made a decision long ago that I would free myself from being run by other people’s opinions about me, and it’s served me wonderfully. Even more so, it’s served my wife, kids, and friends, because I have developed the capacity to just listen and remain calm and open no matter what or whom they’re talking about, even when they’re talking about me.
So how do you get to that point?
You start by remembering that annoying thing your teacher told you when someone had just called you a ninny or smeared their sandwich in your face in the schoolyard. My elementary school teachers always said, “It’s not about you, it’s about them”. Every time I heard that, I wanted to tell the teacher that sounded ridiculous, but I didn’t.
That idea is a good start, because there’s a lot of truth to it. Whatever another person is sharing with you, even if your name is in it, it’s still primarily a reflection of their own internal experience.
Look at what productive conclusion or meanings you can make up about a given situation, instead of taking it personally. Remember, when I take it personally, I’m typically making up that it’s my fault, that I should know better, that I don’t deserve it, that I can’t get it right, that I did something wrong, that people don’t love me, etc., etc. All makeups that have a negative meaning about me.
What else could I make up? For instance, one of the makeups I’ve taken on is whenever my partner is sharing something, whether about me or not, I make up that it’s a chance for me to practice staying calm and open in the face of anything.
I make up there’s important information in what she’s sharing that I might learn from. I make up that by my just listing and remaining calm and open, we’re going to be closer and stronger together. I make up that by not taking it personally I give her a gift, and I make her happy, and that makes me happy.
What could you make up? Specifically with the purpose of you remaining calm and open, instead of taking it personally?
It’s always struck me that taking things personally has a good deal of arrogance behind it. When I take things personally, I’m assuming that everything is about me. It’s a sobering thought to step back and reflect on that thought … Am I really so important that everything you say, or all your emotional upsets could be because of something I did? Not likely! And since I don’t want be to an arrogant person who takes himself overly seriously, that’s another good motivation for me not to take things personally.
Here’s a quick recap:
- When I take things personally, I take a given stimulus or communication, and I make it mean something, typically negative, about myself.
- Whether it’s about me or not, it always serves me and the other person or persons if I can remain calm and open, instead of taking it personally
- When I take things personally, I’m no longer in control of how I feel and how I act. I’ve given that power over to outside stimuli.
- When I take things personally, I shut down the space for deep sharing and exploration, and I deprive my partner of the opportunity to explore him or herself.
- Remaining calm and open, instead of taking things personally, is one of the biggest gift I can offer to someone, or to my relationships.
We all know the value of exercising and staying fit. It’s practically recommended by every doctor and expert in the world. Does that mean we all do it? Not exactly.
It’s the same in your marriage and other relationships. Unlike our physical health, we often have the unfounded expectation that our relationships are going to stay fit and in good health with little to no effort.
The renowned relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found in one study that couples wait an average of six years before they seek out counseling for their marital issues. Six years! Can you imagine having a twisted ankle or a serious stomach ache, but not consulting a doctor about it for six years?
We often get very nervous when it comes to talking about our relationship “stuff”. It’s no surprise, really. Many of us, myself included, were raised to keep our feelings and personal relationships very close to the vest.
As with physical fitness, there are myriad ways to keep your relationships fit and in great shape. Even if you’ve fallen out of shape, there’s still plenty of hope. You just start small.
Remember when you were newlyweds, how many nice things you’d say to one another? Turns out, appreciations spoken out loud are the pushups of relationship fitness, an absolute staple of personal and relational wellbeing. My wife and have had a simple fitness practice for over ten years: before we go to sleep, we both share at least three appreciations to each other.
Alongside increased appreciations, there is often a decrease in complaints, blame, and criticism. We all know how easy it is to devolve to routine bickering with our partner, but we might not know that it’s proven to be fateful to marriages. Dr. Gottman, quoted above, found by studying several thousand couples over many years that we need at least a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative interactions per day in order to avoid marital breakdown or divorce. That means for every critical or blaming remark, it takes a full five positive remarks to counter the negative effects. And if we want a thriving, healthy relationship, we should probably aim for a 10:1 or 20:1 ratio.
We’ve had several coaching clients over the past few weeks, both couples and singles, for whom the absence of the relationship fitness basics have taken a toll. A young couple with three kids, both parents working full time, find themselves feeling so drained and stressed by the responsibilities of work, kids, house, and family, that any advances from their partner seems like just another chore, and they inadvertently end up pushing each other further apart. When the general stress level is elevated is when we’re most prone to activate our own as well as our partner’s “hot buttons” and go down a rabbit hole of triggered reactions. And then we forget all about our relationship fitness basics.
For a single mom I coached, this shows up a bit differently, although it’s the same dynamic at work. She’s also feeling scared and pressed by the never-ending responsibilities of making life work, being the only adult to handle everything. Just like couples end up complaining to each other and rejecting each other’s advances, this single woman finds herself complaining to other people, to herself, and completely forgetting the relationship fitness basic of appreciating herself and finding space to recharge her batteries, another absolute necessity for anyone to remain sane, calm, and functional.
For both the couple and the single mom, the immediate remedy is to return to relationship fitness basics. Sure, there could be a bigger process about how to set up the life to function better, how to communicate better, and how to create structures that support deeper connections, even with a gazillion chores. But it didn’t take more than 10 min into our session, with some guidance to relax, connect, and express appreciations, before they both were crying and holding hands, relieved to be “back to basics”. They even expressed it themselves, saying that when they regularly engage in activities just for the two of them, like attending the workshops with LoveWorks, setting up time for fun, dance, music, and exercise, everything works out better.
As is true for our physical fitness, it’s no use if we just do it once or twice. We have to make appreciations and quality time, for ourselves and/or with our partners, an ongoing practice. It has to become a staple in our daily lives. We need to keep learning more effective ways to communicate, deepen intimacy, and resolve our problems, so that connection and intimacy are the rule, and breakdowns the exception. And when breakdowns do occur, as they will, we have the skills to deal with it them in short order.
Along with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual fitness, your relationship fitness will hopefully now become part of your regular routines. As one couple in our workshop said, “Appreciations are a lot cheaper than divorce!” We believe that keeping your relationship fit will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
If you’re ready for a relationship fitness kickstarter event, by yourself or with your partner, check out our Level 1 workshop, Give Yourself To Love. We still have room in our Oct 5-6 workshop in Auburn, CA. More info here ….
When I was a kid taking the bus to school, I used to fantasize while looking out of the window. Most of my fantasies were about something bad happening to me, and people rushing in to take care of me and show me how much they loved me. In my fantasies, I mattered. I was important. I was loved.
It wasn’t until my twenties, when I found myself in a battering relationship, that I saw how I had associated being a victim with love. In my life, drama was the path to love – to both expressing it and receiving it. It was in pain that I felt loved by others, and it was in other’s pain that I felt the compassionate presence of my own love for them. While this path allowed me to feel an incredible depth of connection at times, it also left me feeling powerless, unhappy, stuck, and even physically battered.
A therapist woke me up one day with his suggestion that my victim experiences were sourced by me for some positive purpose. It was the first glimpse I had into the creative power behind my victim mindset. Then in a workshop I took, I saw even deeper how supremely I orchestrated my relationships to keep myself in the victim role. It was awe-inspiring to discover just how much unconscious planning went into the recurring victim dramas I played out in my relationships.
Once I discovered how much power went into keeping myself a victim, I decided that I would use that same power to create myself to be the hero, the lover, the powerful creative one, and walk myself down the happiness trail. It took decades, but I steadily learned how to leverage my creative power to step into love directly, to eradicate the victim tendencies in myself.
I have since learned from experience that the victim mindset comes with stories and beliefs about ourselves that we inadvertently reinforce in the course of living and play out in our relationships. Most often, these beliefs include some variation of “I obviously have no power here. I am not going to get what I want. There is something wrong with me and I am not enough, because if I was this wouldn’t be happening. Things are not going to turn out for me.”
To shift out of victim into power, we need to change our deep-seated stories. We need to be willing to be wrong about the beliefs we have about ourselves that say we are inadequate, powerless and doomed to suffer. We need to remember that we are master creators and that we have the power to take life by the reins and at any moment, and take actions in the direction of our dreams.
Beliefs lead to a destination. When I believe that I am not enough, it takes me down a victim road. When I think I won’t get what I want, it has me throw my hands up in resignation, or jump to blame and criticism. When I think whatever is happening shouldn’t be happening, I am thrown into resistance and despair.
On the other hand, if I consider that maybe I am enough, that I can create something good out of this, that I will absolutely, get what I want – somehow, some way – and that everything that is happening is occurring for my benefit and growth, it helps me to feel hopeful and centered in my power. It keeps me inspired to expand myself, to learn and grow, to search out creative solutions and explore new possibilities.
Just as beliefs lead to a destination, so do questions. If I ask, “Why do I keep creating this shit? What is wrong with me? Why am I settling in this relationship?” I am likely to reinforce feeling victimized and stuck.
I prefer to ask questions that keep me connected to my power and lead me in the direction I want to go. “If I were powerful right now, what would I do? What action would I take today if I knew I could get what I want? If I believed I was enough, what goal would I tackle? If this were happening right now to help me grow, what would I learn here and how would I use that? If I was wrong about me not being lovable, what step would I take?”
Taking responsibility is the key to stepping out of victim into power. Responsibility defined is the “ability to respond”, and we would add, the ability to respond consciously and intentionally in a powerful resourceful way. Responsibility is something to take, not something to take.
There are three ways to take responsibility, each with their own set of leading questions.
- Past. The most common way of taking responsibility is to look backwards at what I did to contribute to my current predicament. “How did I help create this? What did I do to set this up?” Unfortunately, this way of taking responsibility sometimes has the adverse side effect of beating ourselves up for past actions and reinforcing our incompetence and powerlessness. Beating ourselves up for not knowing then what we know now is futile. Besides, often what we learned about our values and boundaries and preferences came from past breakdowns and lines crossed! While it is true that we don’t have the power to change the past, we do have the power to offer apologies, make amends, offer forgiveness, do “do-overs” and learn from our mistakes.
- Present. Another way to take responsibility is to explore what I am doing to perpetuate my experience. “What am I doing to keep myself stuck in victim? Am I not asking for what I want? Am I not honoring a boundary? Am I assuming my partner is the enemy? Am I backing away from what I want versus stepping in towards what I want? Am I blaming my partner for not reading my mind and giving me what I want? What am I thinking and believing about myself that is contributing to this outcome??” Answers to these types of questions will lead to insights that will reveal new possibilities for different actions we can take that are more in line with who we want to be and what we want to create.
- Future. This is my favorite way to take responsibility. “How can I use this to step more fully into my power? How can I use this to realize my goals and step more fully into my Full Potential? If I were a powerful, resourceful woman who could make good use of anything, what would I do with this? If this was happening FOR me, instead of TO me, what action would I take today?” This way of taking responsibility challenges us to rise up and creatively turn challenges into growth opportunities.
When I am triggered in my relationship world – when my son doesn’t respond to my texts, or Christian is feeling cranky or a friend cancels a visit at the last minute – I ask myself, “If I were connected and knew I was loved right now, what would I do?” The answer that I get to that question is infused with love, and the actions I take that follow only serve to create and reinforce the connection I want. I use the unwanted event to uncover my desired experience, and I move towards what I want, step by step.
To maintain an empowered state, we need to work with our body and mind. Paying attention to and altering our language is an important part of shifting from victim to power as well. Instead of saying, “I can’t”, say “I choose”. Instead of saying, “I should”, say “I could”. Instead of saying, “I don’t know what to do”, say, “I am open to an answer showing up.” Instead of saying, “I am shut down”, say, “I am opening up little by little”. Instead of saying, “I am not enough”, say, “I am enough just as I am.” Instead of asking, “How did I create this?” ask “How can I use this?”
Actively cultivating fantasies of being in our power and visualizing our selves living a Full Potential life is crucial. Taking care of our body with exercise, healthy nutrition and sleep, and shifting any victim postures to powerful stances are essential as well. These undertakings will all contribute to us having and sustaining an empowered mindset.
We need to be gentle with ourselves as we shift from victim to power. It is easy to stay stuck in victim. It gives us an excuse to stop. It feels safe to stay where we are and avoid change. Our victim mindset reinforces old stories that are comfortable and familiar.
Everything new we want is outside of victim and lives in our creative resourcefulness. We merely need to remember how powerful we really are, take responsibility where we can, and use our current life circumstance – the good, the bad, and the really challenging – as a steppingstone towards our goals. We need to steadily take risks into unknown territories that blow up our old limiting stories and allow us to recreate ourselves.
Moving from victim to power is freeing, and truthfully one of the best gifts we can give ourselves. But breaking the victim habit is not necessarily easy. Rewiring our thinking and shifting behavioral patterns takes time and consistent effort.
Start small. Ask a question that points you in the direction of your power. Take one action that moves you towards what you want. No matter how challenging life is, we all have the power to take responsibility and choose what we think and what we do.
Get support from other people on the growth path when you can’t find your way through. Let them shine the light on your brilliance and competence and support you to learn new ways to speak and think and act, until they become second nature in your own life. Do it for yourself, for your family and for the people you work with and love.
There is no grander experience than moving from victim to power. And no greater love than that which comes from drama-free empowered relating!
If you want to take action in learning drama-free, empowered relating, look into our foundational workshop, Give Yourself To Love.
You know the situation: Your partner says or does something and you immediately get hot and triggered. Somehow, that one comment or gesture sent you from 0 to 100 in a blink of an eye. Just as often, you are on the receiving end of your partner’s reaction, where something you said set them off to explode or shut down.
What is going on when this happens?
On this week’s podcast episode, I interviewed Tania Choi, an MFT and trauma specialist who also did our workshop program. She said that any time you have one of those reactions where you go from 0 to a 100 in no time, you’re in trauma. A trauma got activated inside you.
Tania’s brief definition of trauma is “a point in time where you lost your sense of choice”. (Find this week’s podcast episode with Tania here…)
I used to think that trauma was only created by big, violent situations like incest, rape, battery, or war. Whereas those are sadly common, almost every child, even those who grow up in happy, peaceful surroundings, still experiences incidents that are traumatizing; incidents where they feel powerless to choose.
In these traumatic situations, we make decisions and formulate beliefs that shape us. They influence who we become, what we care about, how we feel, and what actions we take. They also become trigger points for us. When we are faced in the present moment with situations that remind us of these painful experiences from the past, our bodies respond the way our bodies responded back then.
We have heard hundreds of these experiences in our coaching practice and workshops. One student, an independent, resourceful, professional woman, shared how as a child, on a Tuesday afternoon after school, her mom gave her the choice between staying home with a bigger sibling to make brownies, or to go with mom and two other siblings to a local theater show.
No big deal, right? The kind of everyday situation that could happen in any family.
Well, as a young girl, she was traumatized by this event. She was torn about what to choose, concerned about missing out on either the brownies or the theater play. She was too scared to talk about her experience. She felt completely powerless and unable to come up with a choice that would prevent pain and loss. She was stuck. Paralyzed.
In that moment, she made an unconscious decision, “It is not safe to choose. No matter what I choose, there will be loss and pain.”
Guess how that’s relevant for her as an adult and in her relationships? Her whole adult life, she’s had a terrible time making decisions. She’s found herself unable to commit to a relationship and unable to end a relationship. She is unable to make a choice either way, always straddling that painful fence of “do I go stay or do I go? Do we move in together or not?” Anyone who’s been stuck in that kind of indecision knows how torturous it can be.
On the surface, it might sound implausible that trauma gets created by such an everyday, un-dramatic event. But for a young child who doesn’t have the wherewithal to look at all the angles and come up with productive solutions, an incident like that gets logged in their internal operating system as a painful “fact”. To this child, and later to this adult, it’s now “true” that making choices results in pain and loss. From that point of view, it makes perfect sense that she would want to avoid making choices.
So when she’s in the grocery store with her partner, trying to figure out which pasta to use for dinner, and he says, “What’s the problem? Just make up your mind already!”, she might have one of those 0-100 moments where she gets mad as hell in no time. Not because it’s a life or death matter if they use Barilla or DeCecco pasta, but because her childhood trauma just got reactivated, and she is back to being eight years old again.
It’s as if this trauma and the associated beliefs create an internal landmine that it is only a matter of time before someone, typically someone close like a spouse, a child, or a family member, detonates by saying, “Just make up your mind already!”
How is this important for you and your relationships today?
Most of our traumas and the subsequent decisions we make and the stories we live are unconscious. To create change and become authors of a new story, to consciously craft a new set of beliefs and behaviors that we live by, we need to bring our patterned responses up to awareness. We can’t change what we can’t see.
Triggers are a great way for us to slow things down and become aware of the landmines that live in us and get at their source. From there, we can decide to not let these past traumas run our lives. We can take the time to unpack and re-work these past experiences, to do “do-overs” in our minds and bodies that allow us to emerge empowered and with a new set of embodied decisions from which to live life.
One of the most popular and effective tools we teach our students is indeed based on these kinds of do-overs.
Brian Lewis, a local MFT and art therapist said that trauma happens when pieces of our soul get snagged on the jagged points of life. (Find our interview with him in episode 24 of our podcast here…).
Those snagged pieces of our souls can be set free and healed. They might have negatively impacted our past, but they need not dictate our futures!
In our workshops, we teach a triggers process that allows people to become aware of past stories that are reactivated in challenging situations. This step-by-step process allows people to move from victim to power, from having no choice to having choice, from not having what they want to getting what they want. It gives people a quick opportunity to turn a traumatic retriggering event into a positive empowering experience. Plus, it gives a way to communicate with a partner or loved one even in the midst of feeling triggered.
You might have heard the saying, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Well, it isn’t. With support, we can heal and shift almost everything in our past with conscious attention and re-patterning.
For more information on our workshop, go to loveworksforyou.com/gytl
She was crying in the corner. I went over to her and asked, “You ok? What’s going on?”
Through tears, she proceeded to tell me that she didn’t know why she was still single, especially after all of her hard emotional work over the past many months. She was sure it was because there was something wrong with her. She was too old, not sexy enough, too shy and introverted, and she probably wasn’t open enough or fast moving enough for the men she was attracted to.
Another man I spoke to, also in tears, shared his frustration at not being able to create the living situation and career in music he has always dreamed of. “Everything is falling apart and I just don’t seem to be able to do what I have always wanted to do! I feel depressed.”
Several weeks ago, our daughter came home in tears after chemistry class. “I feel stupid. I have to work so much harder than some of the other kids to understand this stuff and get good grades.”
Each of these people suffers from Not Enough Syndrome. In fact, countless numbers of people suffer from this condition.
Not Enough Syndrome stems from the belief that “I am not doing enough or being enough” or “I need something I don’t have in order to accept myself, feel successful, confident and peaceful.” It includes thoughts like, “I’m not smart enough, thin enough, pretty enough, talented enough, lovable enough, rich enough, productive enough, etc.”
Some people with Not Enough Syndrome are depressed, lonely and withdrawn while others are outgoing, friendly and successful. Despite appearances, inside, there is a shared sense of not measuring up to some expectation or standard.
Not Enough Syndrome is best fueled by comparing oneself to other people who seem to have what we think we “should” have or be how we think we “should” be.
I too suffer periodically from Not Enough Syndrome. Thoughts have crossed my mind like, “I don’t have enough friends, enough clients, enough time with my kids. I should weigh ten pounds less. I am getting old. I should have more money saved in retirement. I should be able to pick up the latest line dance steps faster.”
One of the best gifts a friend of mine gave me in my thirties, after I had just sobbed my way through telling her I wasn’t enough, was saying to me, “You are right. You aren’t enough.” I was shocked at first. Then I thought she was joking. But when she said it again with a straight face, “It’s true. You aren’t enough.” I realized she was serious. Then she added, “So what? You aren’t enough. Are you going to let that stop you?”
The more I thought about what she said, the more I saw the truth in her words. Compared to standards and expectations, compared to experts and people more successful than I, compared to my ideal visions and goals, compared to perfection and God, I would never measure up. I would always fall short. I would never be enough.
Accepting that I wasn’t enough and would never be enough brought with it a sense of peace. Instead of fighting it or trying to change it or being resigned to it, I could just let this not enough thought be there. I could bring it along with me like an old friend, and not let it run me or limit me in any way.
When you think about it, don’t a lot of successful people think they aren’t good enough? Didn’t Princess Diana think she wasn’t good enough? And Ghandi? It’s no secret that a whole host of famous people had numerous failures before their big successes: Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Sir Isaac Newton, Stephen Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey to name a few. It makes sense that they didn’t always think they were good enough either.
And when you think about it, doesn’t Not Enough Syndrome come with some positive useful benefits? Doesn’t it dampen down arrogance, foster humility, promote compassion, and fuel achievement, growth and success?
I have come to make peace with my Not Enough Syndrome, to use its presence in my life for many positive outcomes. It helps me cultivate deeper love and appreciation for others, as well as for myself. It keeps me honest and vulnerable and humble. I use it as a launching pad for helping me grow and expand into new areas I’d like to develop. And it supports me to soften into appreciation and gratitude on a regular basis.
If you are a woman and you suffer from Not Enough Syndrome, I encourage you to join me for my upcoming Women’s Retreat: For Women Who Want More. At this retreat, you will get to explore your Not Enough Syndrome, become aware of its impact on your mood, relationships and productivity, and learn how to counteract its negative effects with positive uplifting practices.
Rest assured, Not Enough Syndrome is curable. The first aid response includes a solid dose of love, acceptance and appreciation. The long-term treatment plan includes a heightened awareness, a restructuring of beliefs, and a series of positive uplifting practices that will support you to keep going for your dreams with healthy confidence and power.
Not Enough Syndrome doesn’t need to take you down or out!
The woman who was crying about not being enough for a relationship? Well, she was left knowing she is a beautiful soul and appreciates her innocent desire to find love. The man who wanted a lucrative career in the music industry was empowered to go for his dreams. And our daughter, well – she is feeling pretty good about acing her Chemistry class!
A comment we receive a lot in our relationship coaching sessions is this: “I don’t want to say anything to him about how I feel because I don’t want him to feel bad or wrong.
For women, it’s easy to put another’s needs ahead of our own. We are biologically wired to put relationship concerns ahead of our own personal needs. It is how we ensure the kids are taken care of and our husbands are nurtured, so they will love us, take care of us and go “hunt” food for us again day after day.
There is a real fear in the background of our animal brain that if we say or do the wrong thing, he might not love us or hunt for us anymore. From men, we consistently hear that you censor yourself because experience has taught you that emotional uproars are likely to occur when you try to share what’s on your mind. Many men have a deep fear of their partners getting mad at or disappointed with them, so it seems easier to just not say anything.
But there is a very real cost to not saying what we feel and need.
Imagine that you and your partner are looking into each other’s eyes, melting into this beautiful place of oneness, and there is nothing blocking the incredible flow of love between you.
Now imagine that there is something you want to say that you don’t say, and let’s symbolize this something as a brick that is now placed between you. At some point, there is another thing you don’t say, and so another brick is laid. Pretty soon there is another, and another. Everything you don’t say is another brick in the wall being built between you and your lover, obscuring your vision and flow of love.
Before long, there is so much that isn’t said between you, that you can barely see each other at all. Instead of having a relationship with your partner, you are now in relationship with all of the things you are not saying.
Needless to say, the love you feel gets more and more obscured as well.
Our relationship advice is this: Say it! Don’t hold back! Take the risk to speak your heart. And of course, say it in a way that optimizes your chances of being heard.
One of the best relationship tips we can give is to be transparent, withhold nothing, to say it all. When we share ourselves completely, that is when our light shines brightest. It is when we are real, vulnerable and open that we are the most attractive.
As mentioned above, the reason we tell ourselves for not sharing something, is most often a variation of “I don’t want to hurt my partner”, or “I don’t want to cause a stir”.
In our experience, what this really means is, “I’m scared of what’s going to happen if I say this. I could get in trouble”. It’s often our own fear, more than our concern for our partner, that makes us choose silence. Or perhaps you’ve tried sharing yourself in the past, and based on those experiences, you’re pretty sure your partner is going to feel offended, triggered, or hurt; or that you’re going to end up arguing about something.
We suggest that you don’t take this as evidence that you shouldn’t say something, but instead as evidence that you and your partner need to learn a new way of sharing and listening, or get some qualified help to facilitate the conversation.
Despite the risks you might feel when sharing something that’s on your mind or heart, it is your openness that will call your mate to meet you with openness and presence in return. We’d even say that you must find a way to share yourself, because if you don’t, the wall built between you will eventually negate to your love and connection altogether. So there’s really no other good choice!
Now, there are ways to share and ways to not share. Here are ten tips for sharing:
- Set your partner up to listen. Ask him or her to listen without interruption or without trying to fix anything.
- Give your partner a time limit. Men in particular will be more present with your sharing if they know it will end in a certain time, say 15 or 20 minutes. Men are not as comfortable with and don’t enjoy long-winded sharing sessions that go on for hours as much as women tend to do.
- Let your partner know you want to share something with them. Reassure them that it is not because they did anything wrong. Promise you will not turn your share into a dumping or complaining session. This will help them to relax and hear you better.
- Be as vulnerable and real as possible. Share your feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and fear. The more vulnerable you are, the more likely your partner is to meet you with compassion and empathy.
- Use I-statements. Avoid You-statements. “I feel scared when you leave the room.” Or “I miss feeling close to you.” Owning your own feelings will minimize defense and inspire listening and interest. (Note, “I feel like you’re an immature jerk” does not qualify as an I-statement:)
- Tell the microscopic, unarguable If you say, “You don’t love me”, your partner is going to argue with you about that. But if you say, “I feel scared. I notice that there is a knot in my stomach. I am thinking that you might not love me”, there’s nothing to argue about; it’s simply your internal experience.
- Ask directly for what you want. Say, “Would you be willing to ______?” as this engages your partner’s will and inspires a specific response to your question.
- Say what you DO want and why you like it, not what you don’t like. “I really like it when ________” is much more useful than, “I hate it when you ________”.
- When you’re done with your share, thank your partner for listening. Remember, your partner wants you to be happy and to feel heard, and they want the same for themselves. The more you acknowledge them for listening, the more they will want to listen to you again later.
- Get help from a professional if your sharing leads to distance and defense, or if it is too scary to get started. There are many ways in which a coach or therapist can help to create a safe space for sharing difficult things.
The most important thing is to keep practicing sharing your innermost feelings and thoughts every time, and as they arise! The love that flows from regularly and steadily removing bricks is reward enough and will soon raise the bar on the value of sharing everything in your relationship.
And remember, practice makes perfect. It does get easier over time! Listen to an expanded version of this article on our latest podcast episode here …