Category Archives: Conflicts
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
“There was no happy ending. I never called her. Using my cowardly cunning rationale, I eventually convinced myself she wasn’t that interesting anyways, that it probably wouldn’t have led to anything, and that it just wasn’t that important.”
When I was 14, I spent a week with my handball team at a tournament summer camp. There was this girl there, Britt, who caught my eye. At the final dance, we timidly chatted a bit, maybe even danced (as I recall, “dancing” meant standing across from each other looking down, trying not to move too much:)
A week after camp, I got a letter in the mail from Britt. Oh my, she thought I was cute and wanted to talk to me again, with her phone number included and an invitation to call her.
You can imagine how excited I was, my belly doing summersaults. I fantasized for days about the smooth conversations we’d be having, and how’s she’d be laughing at my quick wit.
So what happened?
Fear happened! I was terrified to call her, and even more terrified of the idea of being with her in person, just her and me. I read her letter over and over again, always feeling excited and flattered, but when it came to dialing her number … fear ruled me.
There was no happy ending. I never called her. Using my cowardly cunning rationale, I eventually convinced myself she wasn’t that interesting anyways, that it probably wouldn’t have led to anything, and that it just wasn’t that important.
BS! The simple truth was I desperately wanted to call her and I let fear be the strongest force in me. Hence, I totally missed out on … who knows what?
For years and years after that event, I repeated a similar sequence in my life in general and in my relationships in particular. Whenever I let my fear be the strongest force, it consequently led to unhappy endings. I walked away from countless relationships, and didn’t participate in countless opportunities, all because of fear.
There were so many things that seemed to cause that unpleasant pit in my belly. Getting really close to a partner. When a girl REALLY liked me and wanted us to be more serious. When she got mad about something and tried to talk me about it. So many times I let fear get the upper hand.
It wasn’t all bad, of course. There were many times where I followed my heart and did not let fear rule my choices.
After five years of university studies, I had all the required credits and exams to complete my master’s degree. I only needed to finish my final thesis. I chose to walk away from the whole thing because it was sucking the joy out of my life and because I never had my heart in it to begin with. In fact, the only reason I started my studies in the first place was because I was afraid I couldn’t make a decent life without a master’s degree.
Lots of people thought I was nuts to walk away, and I had serious fears they were right, but I still did it. In my heart and gut, it just felt like the right thing to do.
After years of physical and internal misery I finally admitted to myself that my life was not working and that my way of doing things was causing serious harm to my wellbeing and my relationships. It was scary, but I took the leap of faith to “quit” my old life. I sold my apartment, got rid of all my stuff, and moved to another country with no clue of where I was going.
A few years later I took another big risk that really paid off. I spent the last $8000 in my savings account to sign up for a course at The Option Institute in Massachusetts. I lived in Denmark at the time, had no steady livelihood and no clear path of where I was going. But I had a recurring voice in my mind that said to get myself to The Option Institute. So I did, knowing full well it was my last money, but choosing to trust that it would work out.
The first morning I was there, I met Sonika.
Now, I know there’s a lot of refrigerator-magnet wisdom that says, “Just follow your heart”, “FEAR is only False Evidence Appearing Real” (or more entertaining, Fuck Everything And Run), or, “Do it anyway”, which is great, but in my experience, it’s been a lot more complicated than that.
Much more than “overcoming” fear, it’s been about developing an empowering, judicious, and sometimes even fun-loving relationship with fear. Because it’s not just something to “get over” once so we can do the thing we were afraid to do. Fear arises each time we step outside of the box into new territory, and as a result, it’s not going away anytime soon, if ever.
So what to do?
There are a few things that have been absolutely key for me …
1. Understanding the good, innocent intention behind my fear. The Course in Miracles says there are only two states, love or fear. But I find the fear comes with a good deal of love in it.
2. Making friends with my fear. Since it’s not going to go away permanently (well, perhaps some day when I’m a more enlightened person), I might as well co-exist with it in a harmonious way.
3. Realizing how my fear points to my triggers, which points to what I’m making up in my head, which points to a decision I made long ago, which hardly ever serves me anymore. And which can be changed.
4. Gaining the discernment of when fear is to be listened to, and when it’s just paper tigers roaring in my head.
5. Having the courage to move ahead with clear action in the face of fear (should have done that with Britt 30 years ago!)
6. Learning how to decrease the intensity of my fear, and yet remain calm when fear is intense.
Sonika and I have this motto of sorts: Trust, risk, and keep a sense of humor. We try to live by that in all aspects of life. Whether it’s a trivial everyday relationship issue like working out a conflict between us or it’s big, intense, life-changing stuff like losing all our money or wondering which country to live in.
It’s from that place we developed our newest workshop offering, Fearless Love, Fearless Life.
If you would like to embody more of this spirit in your own life and relationships, come join us for our newest workshop, Fearless Love, Fearless Life. You’ll get to have fun with your fear, make friends with it, take it “for a walk”, and connect to the amazing love and power that’s waiting for you right on the other side.
And keep a sense of humor :/)
Rooting for you!
Christian & Sonika
For many people in relationship, fights about how much quality time to spend together or apart is commonplace. Usually one partner is arguing for more time together, while the other is arguing for more time to him or herself.
Watch our video here, and/or read the full article below the video.
There are two sides to this intimacy-freedom spectrum: there is a preference for intimacy or freedom, and there is a resistance to the other side. In other words, if I prefer intimacy and connection, I generally resist space and freedom – for myself AND my partner.
This is complicated even further by the fact that our needs and desires are constantly in flux. Even if one partner has a preference for more connection or space than the other, personal space and connection needs can vary from day to day. For example, I may want more connection today, but more space tomorrow and the next day.
This dilemma has a positive side. I just feel SO GOOD when we are together (or apart), that I want more of it. I want that feeling to stay and never leave. I want to hang on to that particular experience!
But sometimes this dilemma is fueled by fear. I don’t want you to go away because I am afraid if you leave you will never come back.
The more couples fight about this, the more they solidify their own position and preference and the more they resist their partner’s need. This pattern, in the end, only keeps the arguments and dissatisfaction going.
Given that there is an intimacy-freedom spectrum, it is inevitable for couples to find themselves having differing needs for connection and space. Rarely do couples hit the balance point where they both want the same exact amount of time together and apart.
So, what to do when you find yourself at odds with your partner’s preference?
For starters, explore. Where are you on the spectrum?
Do you find yourself preferring connection and dreading separation? Do you resist or pout or make a scene when your partner needs space or pulls away emotionally? Do you forget to take care of yourself because you are so focused on being with your partner?
Or do you prefer being alone and dread too much time together? Do you make plans away from the relationship without consulting your partner? Do you stay up late to avoid going to bed at the same time? Do you resist intimacy or sexual overtures?
So, explore your general preference.
Both space and togetherness are essential for love’s continued expansion. It is essential for any expansion and growth.
Think about it.
Your heart muscle opens and closes.
Your lungs expand and contract.
Your muscles tense and relax.
The seasons come and go.
The moon waxes and wanes as the earth shifts.
The waves and tides come in and go out.
There is a natural ebb and flow to the ever-changing energies of life that keep things moving, evolving, growing …
The same is true in relationship.
Relationship needs to breathe. It needs to move. It needs the space to grow and change. It needs an out-breath and an in-breath. It needs togetherness and separateness. It needs freedom AND connection. That is why this issue is so present for most couples in relationship – because both aspects are so essential to mature, healthy love.
Think of it this way …
When you get attached to connection, and you resist taking space or allowing your partner to take space, is a bit like trying to not breathe out. It is impossible, for one, and if you do happen to be successful, you will die. The same is true of relationship. Your relationship will die without breath, without movement. It will die if you ONLY have togetherness or you ONLY have space.
Or here is another useful image.
When you get attached to space and freedom, and you resist coming together in complete union with your partner, it is a bit like trying to keep a wave from coming onto your shores. Sure, you can build a wall to keep the water at bay with a lot of effort, but that wave is going to keep banging up against your wall over and over again for as long as you’re with this partner.
Imagine how it would be if you allowed for and celebrated both aspects. You come together and experience delightful bliss in deep intimacy and sex AND you go out and experience the richness of your time alone with yourself or others. You enjoy the exhale, and you allow the inhale. Both aspects give, both are nourishing and both contribute to your expansion as individuals AND as a couple.
How that looks in relationship is not resisting or arguing for one or the other of these states.
If you are the “connecting one” in the relationship, instead of pulling for your partner to come back when he emotionally withdraws, remind yourself that the wave is going out to sea. The wave is going back out to its source and will return invigorated with new vibrancy to add into the relationship. He is going out to sea FOR the health of the relationship. Remind yourself that he will be back – stronger, clearer, and more available for connection when he returns.
And if you are the “space one” in the relationship, instead of snubbing your partner’s overtures for connection, freely step in with your appreciation for your partner’s open heart. Reward her love and desire for you by meeting her with your openness and availability.
When you do this, a wonderful alchemy emerges. Your togetherness builds and reinforces your freedom. Your closeness infuses your solitude with confidence, love and presence. And vice versa. Your time alone is this nourishing opportunity to refuel your connection with yourself and spirit, so that you are more available and open for love and intimacy when it comes to you.
So don’t try to hang onto that wave or breath – no matter how good it feels. It will kill you and the relationship. Let the wave have its way. Trust that whatever you prefer will come back around, and enjoy the ride along the way.
As a coach, over and over again I witness successful people with great lives and loving relationships lament their failure because they don’t measure up to some outside image of what they think they need to be happy.
Many couples divorce and many singles stay single in search of that perfect ideal relationship.
In the Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about how having many options produce unhappiness. With more, better, different, faster choices in front of us, we continually compare what we have with what we could have, and this comparison has us feel unhappy with our lives and relationships as they are. We keep ourselves wanting what we don’t have.
Jon Jandai, on a Ted Talk I listened to recently, spoke about growing up in Thailand where he worked two months out of the year – one month planting, and the other harvesting, rice. The remaining ten months of the year he and his family had free time to be with themselves, take naps, visit with friends, garden, create art, read, and attend festivals. His community was poor, but they didn’t know it until television made its way into his town.
People went from being happy with their lives to feeling discontent, like they should have more and better. Jon’s parents sent him to Bangkok to get an education, so he could have access to this better life.
While he was working hard for eight hours a day at school, he wondered why? And for what? He already had a good life. He didn’t have to work more than two months out of the year and garden for fifteen minutes a day to have enough food to eat for him and his family of six. And he had enough rice and food left over every week to sell for extra income. It took him two months to build a house, that he could then live in for free for the rest of his life. He didn’t need clothes, because visitors coming through often left clothes behind that he could wear.
What was really better about what he saw on television? Where people work hard at jobs they don’t like for 40+ hours a week, take thirty years to pay off a mortgage on a house they own, make purchases on things they don’t really need, constantly buy new clothes to stay in fashion, and have but two weeks off a year for vacation.
We are continually bombarded in our lives with images of people who have more than we do. Millionaires who have luxury cars, vacation homes, boats, planes, nannies, personal chefs and have achieved a high level of success. The rest of us look on in envy, believing that we are poor in comparison, and that our happiness lies in some faraway distant future when we should attain some arbitrary level of material success and fame.
In this constant comparison, our otherwise good lives – perhaps average lives, which today are good lives – look like a failure.
Likewise, movies and television showing hot sexy thin tan young people falling in love and living happily ever after have our relationships look substandard by comparison. “Sleepless in Seattle” spoke to many who would love to replace their partners who snore and fart and belch and pick their noses with that handsome mystery rich prince who will sweep them off their feet and take care of them forever.
Alan Watts said that the act of wanting a more positive experience is in and of itself a negative experience, and the act of accepting a negative experience is paradoxically, a positive experience. We say it this way. “Wanting and having cannot exist in the same space at the same time.”
I recently worked with a couple that had been dating for two years. They loved each other deeply and had scheduled a session with me to help them with their breakup. The Relationship Completion process I gave them to assist with their separation process backfired, and only had them fall more in love with each other.
As we worked together, it was more and more apparent to me that they were stuck in some outside form that they believed they needed to be happy. Because their partner didn’t look like how he or she should, they thought they should move on to find their Prince/Princess Charming.
But when they slowed things down, they could see that they have what really matters most: undying love for each other, the ability to share and talk about anything, hot sex, the ability to take responsibility and work through challenges together, and the desire to really be there for each other.
They were able to see where they could join each other more completely to both appreciate their pretty miraculous life and relationship, while having fun creating new possibilities for the future. Witnessing their breakthrough, I imagine, was like Jon seeing that he already had the life he was presumably working hard to attain.
So what is the message to all of us?
Quit comparing. Quit thinking that what we have isn’t it. Quit looking for where our partner isn’t perfect. Or as Barry Schwartz says, have fewer expectations. Appreciate what we have now. Be in the moment. Choose to feel good. See “average” and “what is” as success, as having already arrived.
Christian and I endeavor to do just that. As we sit on our deck in the sunshine – we have a choice. Do we look at the large pile of bark that needs to be scattered about, the large yard of lumber that needs to be cut and stacked, a roof that needs to be repaired, a driveway that needs paving, and the carpet with stains, or do we appreciate getting to live in this amazing house with yard and pool and garden and flowers and birds and a cat?
Do we focus on not having made love last night cuz we were too tired, or do we have fun remembering the great sex we had last weekend and the grand time we will have tonight? Do we focus on how little money we have in savings, or do we focus on feeling grateful for the money we do have? Do we lament our business not being huge and famous, or do we appreciate getting to do meaningful work for the hundreds we DO get to serve?
We always have a choice. One leads to happiness and one doesn’t.
Eva, a woman who attended our Give Yourself to Love weekend, said after the first day, “I made love with God last night. The only difference with the man in my bed, was me!”
Another woman on the verge of divorce said, “After the first four hours this weekend, I got everything I wanted. We are back in love with each other. It’s like night and day. He hasn’t been affectionate with me for 8 years. He couldn’t keep his hands off of me this weekend. Something really opened up in him and healed him this weekend.”
When we fall in love, our lover becomes like a god or goddess in our love-struck eyes. As one person described it, “I remember the first day I ever looked into your eyes and felt my whole world flip.”
In that glorious honeymoon stage, we highlight the best of our partner in our mind’s eye. We uplift them with our words of appreciation and whispers of adoration. We go out of our way to generously give to them – touch, love notes, meals, flowers, gifts. We hang on to their every word, our hearts bursting at the seams with love!
When we meet our newborn child, we are likewise overcome with profound deep love. And it only grows over time. The bubbling delight of a child experiencing the magic of a butterfly for the first time delights us. We applaud their efforts at crawling or walking or later learning to ride a bike. We treasure their art creations with crayons and colored paper. We want to hold them and kiss them and squeeze their little cheeks. We express our love for our children in a thousand different ways.
Same thing when we see someone help a blind woman cross the street or a person with disabilities win a hard-earned race or a bubbly new puppy or kitten play with a ball – we are overcome with love and good feeling.
In each of these instances, we are seeing through the lens of love. We are seeing the best in someone – their innocence, positivity, and possibility.
Contrast that to when we are annoyed, angry or upset. At these times, we are seeing the worst in someone. We highlight what we don’t like, what we don’t want, or what we wish wasn’t there. We justify our bad feelings with recalls of past behaviors where they fell short. We circle around in negative thinking and lash out with hurtful or harsh words until our upsets take on a life of their own.
When we look through the lens of judgment, we cut ourselves off from love.
To feel love again, we need to shift our perception.
As Marcel Proust says, “Discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in seeing with new eyes.”
To create for ourselves a new experience, we need to turn our attention away from what we don’t want and put it on what we appreciate. We need to return to highlighting virtues rather than weaknesses. And we need to consciously amplify our experience by deliberately choosing to think about and express what we love.
This practice of shifting what you look for and how you see has been shown to be powerfully effective.
For example, we encouraged a couple to take on an experiment with their teenage son. He was about 17 years of age, wore a beanie hat with long hair that covered his eyes, smoked pot, got bad grades, and barely conversed with his parents. His parents were judgmental about his choices, and angry about his lack of connection and conversation. They had already tried everything they could think of to alter their relationship with him, but to no avail.
For one week, they decided to see their son at his best, to see him through the lens of love in their mind’s eye. Every morning for five minutes, they both imagined their son being powerful, loving, vibrant, smart, communicative and happy. It wasn’t easy at first, but they finally found a positive track and stuck with it. Before the week was over, they were both stunned when their son joined them downstairs for dinner with his hat off for some real conversation!
This couple changed their view of their son, and he in turn, changed in response.
Another woman we worked with who had been estranged from her sister for over twelve years took on this same experiment. Within a week, her sister called out of the blue, and they were able to successfully heal an age-old wound.
Mark and Lana moved back in with each other, more in love than ever, after being separated for almost a year, just from seeing each other with “fresh eyes”.
And last week, a couple in tears whispered in my ear their gratitude to us for saving their marriage, simply by recommending that they quit complaining, and instead appreciate each other every night before bed.
When we see the world through the eyes of love, our whole perspective changes. We see opportunities instead of challenges; we see the possibilities and potential in people and situations, instead of their limitations.
When we see the best in someone, we unchain them from the prison we’ve crafted with our judgmental word and thoughts. We free them to realize their full potential.
Not only do you change when I see you at your best, but I change too. I become a higher version of myself when I see you at your best. When I see your courage, I see my own. When I see your power, I connect with my own capabilities and competencies. When I focus on your generosity, I see my own giving heart. When I appreciate your efforts to do your best no matter what, I find compassion for my own shortcomings. When I see the depth of your love and care, I connect with my own loving nature.
Love is the only lens through which all things are possible.
It is in this magical place where we are empowered and supported to call forth the best of ourselves and each other. Love brings healing and forgiveness. It transforms hurt, fear, and conflict into harmony and love. Seeing through the eyes of love catapults us into a space of possibility where miracles and dreams have their best shot at being realized.
Are you up for an experiment?
Bring to mind someone with whom it would benefit you to see through the eyes of love. Begin by saying to yourself, “I am willing to see this person through the eyes of love.” Then, see them at their best. Focus on something you love about this person and amplify it with your attention. Meditate on their Full Potential. Let this vision be your prayer.
And then follow up your practice with action. Appreciate them this holiday. Give thanks for some quality, skill or virtue they possess. Write a letter, a poem, a song, or a text, or make a phone call to express your appreciation and grateful heart.
There is truly no greater gift that you can give to anyone (or yourself) than the gift of seeing through the eyes of love.
And honestly, there is no gift more greatly remembered.