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Category Archives: Couples
My husband Christian and I have been busy of late. Distracted. More in our heads than our hearts. We felt a bit flat and off. I was definitely not in my feminine receptive loving flow – more in my masculine “doingness.”
When it came time for dropping back into our hearts and bodies with each other in lovemaking, I surprisingly felt a bit of dread about the whole thing. My body was so closed that mostly I felt like I didn’t want to open.
I could watch my mind wanting to rush out to the kitchen to eat something, to watch something on TV, to check my phone or email for messages – anything to avoid sinking and melting. I put on a shirt as a sign of sorts of my guarded, un-open heart. I dared to tell the truth about my resistance to opening.
Now, thank God, I am with a man who knows my deeper yearning: to melt into love and God through our bodies and hearts in sex. To let go of resistance and be fully present. To love and be fully open in my heart.
So he doesn’t pay much attention to my words, because he is listening to what is underneath my words: “Take me.” “Make me open.” “Melt my closed heart with your love.” He meets my resistance with his strong, yet gentle, persistent presence. I feel the strength of his hands and body as he wraps his arms around me and holds me close.
I push him away, but he stays with me. He kisses my face and neck and keeps holding me. He kisses me and senses my closed lips. He tries to tease me out. But I turn away from his eyes and lips and try to hide in his chest.
He stops for just a second to see if I am serious, to check if he really should back off. I love that about him — his heightened awareness and sensitivity to my body language and non-verbal communication. His checking in, enables me to feel safe, to trust him. I know if I really wanted him to back off that he would.
But deep inside myself, underneath this closed heart and body, is a desire to truly open and surrender to love, to melt. So I encourage him to stay, to continue to love me in spite of my “shut down.” He needs that reassurance to proceed. It helps him stay present, helps him know he is doing the right thing.
He keeps being there with me, relentless with his kisses and eyes and touch. He knows I will eventually open, that I won’t be able to keep resisting his love, his presence… And he is right.
Within minutes, I start to cry. Then sob. My whole body releases the build-up of tension and resistance in my cells through my unstoppable tears. I can feel my body relax more and more through my crying, and my heart begins to soften. He just keeps holding me, telling me it is good that I am crying. He knows that my tears are essential to my opening.
The tears eventually stop, and then I am laughing and looking at him and touching him and opening my mouth and heart and yoni to him, and he meets me there. In this sweet soft open loving powerful presence place.
And in the end we are melted and soft, a puddle of love, lying in each other’s arms.
We appreciate God and each other, for this delightful place of love and softness and strength and presence where all is well and good and right….
It never ceases to amaze me how I need to cry to soften myself out of masculine and back into my flowing easy open feminine heart. If he didn’t stay with me—if he took my resistance personally and stopped and turned away—I would never get to drop down into my tears and melt. We would never get to wash away all of the “disconnect” and “re-set” ourselves back to LOVE.
How grateful I am for the transformational power of Presence. And for having a man in my life who can funnel that presence through his eyes and body and call forth the deepest parts of my love.
We have worked with several men and women the last few weeks – couples feeling distant and lonely, fighting over stupid stuff, desperate to find their way back to each other – many considering divorce; and singles feeling hopeless and lost. They all shared how they felt depressed, bored and uninspired in life as a result of their unhappy relationships.
Within a short time of working with us, couples are looking at each other like they haven’t in years, sharing their deepest feelings in safe space, and feeling connected, hopeful and in love again.
Singles are feeling loved, seen, safe, powerful and beautiful, full of hope and possibility.
I know this might sound like “too good to be true” stuff, but it happens all the time, I assure you.
A man at our last workshop came up to me and said, “When I came on Saturday, I was feeling so angry with my partner and unsure about whether or not I even wanted to stay in this relationship. After this weekend, everything has changed and I am leaving feeling re-committed and in love.”
A woman said, “Wow. We haven’t felt this close to each other for years.”
And a single man said, “I got to have the experience I have wanted my whole life this weekend. Now I know that I can create that anywhere.”
I could list hundreds of examples.
The thing is, resolving conflicts and getting back to love is easy when you know what to do. Easy.
But humans are funny. For some reason we would rather struggle on our own for years and years rather than invest in a few weekends to learn skills that will save so much heartache and misery down the road. Most don’t even think to get help until someone walks out the door.
Not just in your romantic relationships, but in every relationship.
That’s right. We help anyone improve any relationship.
We’re like a one-stop shop for all your relationship needs.
Jeremy is a more effective restaurant manager.
Charlene, Kay, Greg and Cari are all better doctors.
Desiree is a better school psychologist.
Jerry is a better lawyer.
Amy is a better nurse.
Maria is a better therapist.
Vicky is a more loving and happier mother.
Jeff is now on good terms with his ex.
Mike and Jean created a breakthrough with their teenage son.
Mark, Mary, Machen, Laura and countless others have saved their marriages.
Paige, Andy, Samantha, Kate, Jessica, Diego, Grace, Jeremy, Naomi and many others have found the love of their lives after years of being single.
Beth, Kate, Molly and Jennifer all started families after resolving their relationship struggles.
You can’t keep doing the same things over and over again and expect different results.
Marriage, sex, dating and parenting do not get better by themselves. In fact, all professional experience, and lots of statistics, will tell you that you are headed towards divorce, separation, loneliness and dissatisfaction without some sort of effective intervention or education.
But with the right support and tools, any relationship can be improved!
For example, one couple came to us as a last ditch effort after he had an affair with another woman. They were both pretty sure that divorce was the only solution for their problems and past hurts. They have since forgiven each other and themselves and are enjoying the most sensational second honeymoon!
And Laurette was feeling so wounded she wasn’t sure she ever wanted to be in a relationship again. Now she is enjoying a wonderful new man!
Our workshops and programs offer a safe radical innovative approach to relationship that allow you to create what you REALLY WANT: connection, fulfillment, freedom, love, peace, aliveness, and bliss. We help you realize your Full Potential in your relationship world, teach you how to use the problems and challenges in life as stepping-stones towards your dreams rather than obstacles on your path.
To incentivize you to take the risk to jump in on a program that will catapult your relationships to new heights, we are offering a 2-for-1 spring deal for our upcoming two-day relationship training, Give Yourself to Love: Creating Relationships that Call You to Rise. May 5-6 in Auburn, CA, 9-7 PM both days.
Don’t suffer any longer. Seriously. Improve your relationships. Improve your life!
And do it now for the reduced investment of just $397 for any two people, May 5-6 in Auburn, CA!
Watch the video and get the details here: www.loveworksforyou.com/gytl
See you there!
🙂 Sonika & Christian
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.
Do you ever wonder if you could do better in the relationship department? If you could find a better partner than the person you are currently dating or are married to? Somebody who is less critical, more open to sex, more successful, playful, and intimate?
In this day and age where we can pre-order products to our specifications and have them arrive overnight on our doorstep, where images of gorgeous young lovers madly in love are plastered on billboards and movies with increasing regularity, and where expectations for marriage bliss are at a all time record high, it is easy for us regular people to feel disappointed with substandard partners who are less than perfect at satisfying our fairy tale picture of our every dream come true.
Sleepless in Seattle was a classic depiction of a woman in an ordinary relationship with a man she knows intimately well. He farts, burps, snores, unceremoniously gives her his grandmother’s ring when he asks her to marry him, and makes unremarkable love to her. But it is clear he is a sweet nice guy who loves her deeply and would do anything for her. All the while, she secretly longs to be swept off her feet in romantic bliss by a handsome mysterious hunk from another city, and when presented with that possibility, dumps her fiancé in the middle of a Valentine’s Day dinner for an upgraded male model.
This schism between our actual experience and our fantasy of relationships is not so far off from what many men and women experience in dating and marriage. There is a rampant secret longing for that illusive something “better”, no one seems to be above it, and it is contributing to immense dissatisfaction in relationship, plus a 45-50% divorce rate.
It is not anyone’s fault really. We are impacted by high cultural expectations for marriage. We want everything that we expected in traditional marriage in terms of companionship and economic support and family life and social status. And we also want what romantic marriage brought us – a sense of belonging, connection, intimacy, a best friend, a play buddy, a trusted confidant and a passionate lover. And we also now have a desire for self-fulfillment in our relationships, for personal development and the realization of our full potential. And let’s not forget, that we want to find our soul mate too, a word that for most of history was reserved to God, someone with whom we can experience mystical transcendental oneness and bliss.
That is a lot to put on one person … on one single relationship.
Are these high expectations, in this age of customization, keeping us from being happy in our relationships? Would we benefit from lowering our expectations and standards? Would we benefit from choosing to make the best of our relationships as they are? Might we gain more by putting energy and time into improving our existing relationship rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater and starting over?
One of the first suggestions we offer to unhappy couples is to complain less and appreciate more. It shifts a couple’s attention off of what is missing on to what is wonderful and working, and this simple shift in focus often quickly replaces dissatisfaction with an experience of satisfaction, gratitude and love. This is an important first step – to make ourselves “satisfiable”.
Research suggests that the more choices and options we have, the less happy and fulfilled we are, the less satisfiable. Certainly, the more expectations and specifications any of us have for what we want in relationship, the less likely we are to find someone who is a match to them, and the less likely we are to experience satisfaction once we are in relationship.
Because, honestly, no one is perfect – no one can be everything we need and want all the time.
Yet sometimes, ending a relationship and starting over is exactly what is needed for us to be happier and more fulfilled. Certainly, some of us (like myself) who have divorced and remarried, know intimately the benefits of a more aligned and better matched partnership!
Where is that line between unreasonable expectation, reasonable preference, non-negotiable deal breakers, being grateful for what we have and dancing gracefully with what shows up?
While there are no easy answers to the complexity of our current day relationships, we can strive to be aware of our tendency to compare what we have to unachievable standards and to be tentative about throwing away perfectly good relationships.
Yippppeee, Valentine’s Day is almost upon us! A chance to express our love!
Granted, some of you might approach Valentines Day with considerable dread, either because you don’t know what to do, because you don’t have anyone to spend it with, or because you feel obligated to do or buy something even though you don’t really want to – you know, get the hearts out, send flowers, buy chocolates, purchase a Hallmark card, reserve dinner at a fancy restaurant, and generally be blinded by all the pink!
Conventionally, Valentine’s Day is a day to express love for a romantic partner.
But we need not limit ourselves. Remember when we used to make Valentine’s cards for our friends in school? That’s right. Love is not relegated to only lovers.
We love our friends, our children and grandchildren, our extended family, previous lovers, co-workers, clients, teachers – as well as our primary partner if we have one.
There is also our relationship with ourselves. How many times a year do we take the chance to celebrate and love ourselves? Give ourselves a luxurious bubble bath or take ourselves out to a nice dinner or indulge in a lovely massage? How often do we take time to say out loud what we appreciate about who we are?
And then there is our relationship with God or Spirit or the Great Mystery or the Universe or whatever words you choose to use for this miracle life of ours. How often do we give thanks for just being alive? For living a blessed life? For the sun and moon and rain and air and land and animals?
There’s a multitude of places to express our love and gratitude. By all means do it with your lover, spouse or primary partner, but that doesn’t have to be the extent of it.
Not only that, but love is free. We can express our love in a myriad of different ways that do not require buying anything at all.
When we express our love, and become a vehicle for love’s voice, not only do we help others to feel special, but we feel the positive effects of stepping into love too. When we reach out and do something that communicates the depth of our love and appreciation, we ourselves are uplifted!
Valentine’s Day provides a great excuse for us to express our love. It is a chance to do something we may never have done before to show our appreciation.
Aside from the conventional Valentine’s Day practices, we thought we would help you brainstorm a list of things you can do to make this Valentine’s Day special. Feel free to steal one or more of the ideas listed below or invent something else!
• Write a love song or a poem and deliver it in person.
• Make a Valentine from scratch out of paper, glue and craft supplies
• Call a loved one and leave a mystery love message
• Make a list of what you love about that person that corresponds with how many years you have known that person
• Have a picnic on the floor of your living room by candlelight
• Set up a table with table cloth and flowers outside and eat take-out in a park, or on your porch.
• Serve cake and ice cream or some other delectable desert before dinner
• Put on your favorite dance music and dance
• Take a walk in the moonlight and share your happiest memories
• Feed each other your entire meal without utensils
• Text someone something you will always treasure and never forget about them
• Write a letter to someone about how they have touched your heart or changed your life
• Offer your partner a foot or back rub to soft music while delivering appreciations
• Take a bath by candlelight
• Write a love letter to yourself about what you appreciate
• Forgive someone for something you have been hanging onto and tell them
• Make a bonfire outside and sing love songs under the stars
• Run up to someone as if you haven’t seen them for a long time, pick them up, twirl them and tell them how lucky you are to know them
• Make a list of 10 intimacy and love questions to ask and answer
• Invite your non-Valentine’s friends over and have a non-Valentine’s hangout.
• With family or friends, take turns saying what you love about each person
• Leave love notes in secret hiding places all around the house
• Make a video or book of what you love
Notice that all of these ideas are simple. They are more about creating a special memorable experience than about spending money on something fancy or doing something you always do by rote or that you think you should do.
We encourage you to take time this Valentine’s to come up with a creative, fun, and unique way to express your love – not only to your loved ones, but to people in your life that you care about and wish to appreciate, including yourself!
Don’t forget. Love is free, and the more we give, the more we get.
Make this Valentine’s Day one to remember! And once Valentine’s has come and gone, remember there are 364 other days in the year to express your love.
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
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.
Last night, my daughter asked me to rub her back. I noticed myself hesitate. My addiction to my phone took over – I wanted to keep doing emails, reading Facebook news, and beating people I don’t even know at Scrabble. I had to remind myself that my relationship with my daughter was more important than distracting myself with my phone. I made myself put it down and a sweet interaction and conversation ensued as she laid on the floor of our living room in the dim quiet light while I massaged her aches away.
This experience is happening to me more and more these days. I notice myself preferring texting, posting, swiping, liking, blogging, scanning countless images, videos, and devouring the latest gossip or news snippet to *being* in my REAL life and relationships. I postpone going to bed to get one more word in.
But it isn’t just me. It’s all of us. I can barely have a conversation with my children anymore without several interruptive pauses as they respond to the latest “beep”. We are hard pressed to get through a meal as a family without looking up something on our phones. The phone is the last thing we look at before sleep and the first thing we look at when awake. We take it with us every time we visit the bathroom. It is frightening to watch myself and my family glued more and more to our screens. We are like addicts in need of our technological “fix” lest we die from withdrawal, boredom or loneliness.
Last year, when I heard that a friend of mine had a death in the family, my heart went out to her. I lovingly sent out a text to let other friends know so they could send their condolences. Upon hearing the news, another friend of mine immediately went to her house to offer support. I was shocked to realize that it had never occurred to me to do that. I had forgotten that a text was a poor substitute for real human contact.
What is happening to us? How is this digital age impacting our relationships and our families?
We talk less, interact less and get out of the house less. We rarely look at each other and we have less sex. We take fewer risks. We hardly ever reach out to each other by phone and have an extended conversation. We have fewer deep, rewarding interactions with our spouse, children and friends. We are lonelier, and more disconnected and isolated than ever. This new way of living is becoming more and more a new way of not living.
We see the impact of this digital age all the time in our relationship work.
We come across many singles who are understandably desperate for intimacy. So-called “dating” sites are like shopping catalogues for the perfect specimen, and the few dates with prospective partners that occur after meeting online are but judging fests with little or no genuine connection. Most singles are touch and affection starved. As a result, many feel hopelessly sure there is something wrong with them and afraid they will be lonely forever.
Couples surprisingly feel just as lonely and disconnected in their homes and marriages. They can go months or even years without talking, looking at each other or making sweet deep love. Many men disappear into their work, computer or porn worlds while women contemplate divorce in secret while losing themselves in TV dramas, house and kid logistics, or careers. Turns out many couples are just as love and touch starved as their single counterparts.
Many of my women friends who have relatively happy lives are sure they are the only ones who never get out much, are never invited to parties or events or dinners. But in reality, all of us are merely spending way too much time on our screens, pretending we have lots of friends and connections as we scroll through pages of posts and pictures, and feeling involved in life by proxy as we Netflix the latest episode of our favorite series.
Just look around the next time you walk into a coffee shop – there just isn’t much real-life human interaction and conversation going on anywhere these days. It is no wonder we are lonely. And the cycle is self-perpetuating, as we go to our screens to find the connection we long for, the very thing that keeps us feeling disconnected in the first place!
I am 59 years old, so I have known life without smartphones and computers. I remember playing outside and spending hours camping and swimming and playing games when I was growing up. I remember reading books out loud with my parents before bed and having conversations about our “day” over dinner. We worked together in the yard, cooked meals and cleaned up together and engaged in crafting projects, and played with our animals. Watching television was something that happened sparingly in the evenings. Going to the theatre was a rare special treat.
My past helps me remember that life is richest and my relationships more meaningful away from electronic gizmos. Each activity in real life that I design into my day contributes more to my body, heart and soul than any news feed ever has. I play volleyball six hours a week. I teach myself to learn new songs on the piano. I gather with women in a spiritual group. I coach clients and lead workshops. We engage in community workdays, where some ten families alternate going to each other’s houses once a month to work together on a project of that family’s choice. Christian and I take walks regularly in nature. We vacation at new places every year. We dance and laugh and crack jokes and sing songs. We have a “no phone” table policy, with and without kids, which means mealtimes are conversation rich. Making love is a priority for us every week. We invite friends over for dinner and games and holiday celebrations that are purposefully interactive, playful and memorable. For example, over Christmas, we played fun white elephant games, lit candles on our tree in reverential silence, sang songs, and went caroling with friends. On New Year’s Eve, we dined with two other couples and played a game called Sparked that inspired us to share stories, laughter, tears and love.
Each real life activity encourages us to meet the unexpected play of life in motion with undivided focus, to be in the time consuming messiness, awkwardness, deliciousness and pleasure of real relating and living in all its variety.
Still, even with knowing all that I know, I feel the pull of the screen…
Christian and I judge our children and their friends for having phones glued to their hands, even when together, with little eye contact and real conversation. For them, like us, the pull of technology is constant. But they know the richness of life without phones too. Our son came alive with purpose and perspective when he volunteered in Bali this last summer, a location with sketchy Internet. He appreciated more than ever in retrospect his media-free Waldorf Education and vowed to spend fewer hours on the computer upon his return. Our daughter enjoyed the peaceful beauty of nature, singing songs and working together in the elements when she joined her class for an 8th grade field trip on the shores of Maine without phones.
Both of our children and their friends appreciate it (even though they hate it) when we tell them to put phones aside for a meal, an activity or visit – they literally come alive as they engage with us, each other and their surroundings.
It is more and more imperative that we insist on making time to really be with each other in this life; to not let the pull of our screens put us to sleep to what really matters. There is nothing that fills us up more than genuine interaction with other human beings, than being present to the beauty of these bodies in this life with all of our senses. No one wishes they had spent more time on their phones when faced with death. They wish they had danced more, loved more, played more, touched more, laughed more.
Personally, I think that is what makes our live trainings so powerful. People are supported to actually look at each other, talk to each other and work through conflicts together. In the process, souls are nourished, hearts are blown open and people are massively transformed in a way that can only happen in community with others.
I will never forget one man, sharing with tears in his eyes, that his wife hadn’t looked at him like that for years. Another woman, on the edge of divorce, fell in love with her husband again after just a few moments of guided heartfelt sharing. A single man, who had given up on love, months later was in the relationship of his dreams because he dared physically reach out to someone he was interested in 2,000 miles away.
Meaning, contribution, mystery, play, passion, love and transformation show up in real life; it is not replicable on a screen. It is in relationship with life and others that we see and feel ourselves, where we are supported to grow and experience and play and transform and create and manifest.
I believe that in this digital age, we are challenged more than ever to create meaningful, passionate, joyful, love-filled lives and relationships. And for those of us who happen to still remember life before TV and computers and phones, well, we may be the last generation to impart to our youth the value of eye-contact, delivering appreciations, having loving sex, being vulnerably honest, sharing deep feelings, taking risks, being in nature and focusing our attention on who and what we love.
To do so, we will need to find the commitment and courage to disconnect from our own technological gadgets, to get out of the house, to make sex, love and relating a priority, to model what is possible when our lover or children ask for our attention and we don’t hesitate to put down our phones.
Note: If you would like to deepen your relationship and life experience in 2017, you are invited to put down your phone and join us. loveworksforyou.com
Any thought or comments, send me an email at email@example.com