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Category Archives: Marriage
Do you hate feeling judged in your relationship? Or you are you perhaps the one judging your partner? Either way, you and pretty much everyone else.
The judgments we have of one another comes out of our mouths as complaints, criticisms, and accusations. We say things like, OMG, “You’re so stubborn. Why do you always have to micro-manage me? You are totally self-absorbed! Why do you have to be so judgmental?!
When we talk to each other like that, we infuse our communication with irritation, anger, and hurt, and not only do we not get what we want in terms of listening, understanding, and harmony; it also sours the mood in our house; it feels bad.
On the other hand, theres’ no denying that as humans, we make up judgments. On one hand, that’s a good thing, right? We use our sound and positive judgment to navigate the world, to determine what activities are safe and what we should avoid, and to make judgments about what we value and what we don’t. So try as we might to be non-judgmental, these brains of ours are judgment machines.
But what are good ways to use our judgments, to build connection and understanding instead of distance and irrigation.
Try this quick experiment … think of a judgment you have about your partner or someone else? Do it now …
Ok, now ask yourself … “How am I just like that?”
The judgments we make about others are a reflection of aspects of ourselves that we don’t see or honor. For example, I have often judged other people – partners, friends, co-workers, politicians, you name it – for being judgmental and narrow-minded. How am I just like that? Well, in the same moment I judge someone else for being judgmental, I’m obviously doing the same thing.
But I’m judgmental in so many ways … I make up judgments about people who aren’t willing to work; or people who buy ten times more toilet paper than they need, and leave nothing for the next customer … at home, I judge Sonika for being too fuzzy with our cat, or for not using the chef’s knife correctly.
When I ask myself, How am I just like that?, I even the playing field. I stop making myself superior to you. Cuz that’s what happens when I judge you … I effectively say, I am better than you. When I judge you for being stubborn, I’m implying that I’m not; when I judge you for being selfish, I’m implying that I’m not … I’m basically declaring that I’m better than you. Most of the time, that’s rubbish. We both make up judgments about ourselves and each other. We both get irritated when we see behaviors we don’t like. At times, we both think we are superior to the other person, cuz we don’t do “that thing”.
Most of the time we are blind to how we are just like those we judge. Just yesterday I was coaching a man who is having a hard time being direct with his client who is always changing appointments on him last minute. He judges her as not being strong enough and direct enough with her employees who are requesting she cancel these appointments to accommodate their needs. He can’t see how he is just like her.
We worked with a couple last week who are on the brink of divorce. She is pissed off at how angry her husband is all the time (see it? She’s angry that he’s angry!) A woman who came to see us is emotionally shut down because her husband isn’t open to intimacy and connection. And a man quit talking to his partner because she isn’t available to physically connect with him as often as he wants. Each of these people are a match to those they are judging.
When we can slow things down to explore how we are just like the people we are judging in these specific ways, we open ourselves to seeing shadowed aspects of ourselves we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise. When I can see how I am just like you, it helps me to drop my arrogance, step into humility, and find compassion.
Not only that, but exploring “How am I just like that?” is a great equalizer … I’m just like you, at least in some ways. From that place, we can meet as equals, and if we still want to talk about changing our behaviors, interactions or patterns, we can do it with compassion and humility.
As a child, when I didn’t understand something my father was saying, he would simply say it again louder. If I still didn’t “hear him” the second or third time, he would continue to increase both his volume and enunciation of the same phrase over and over again to the point of yelling, which only culminated in his exasperation and me bursting into tears.
Can you identify with my dad? Ever feel frustrated or angry because your partner or kid or boss doesn’t hear you?
For some people, not feeling heard is a big trigger point and sore spot in their relationship. Conversations can easily escalate to the point of yelling or even violence if people feel misunderstood and not heard.
Feeling heard is an essential part of the two-way communication process. One person speaks, or delivers a message non-verbally, and the other person deciphers that communication in the form of listening and receiving.
Hearing is an important part of the communication bridge in relationship that makes connection and the coordination of action possible. If we miss the communication, if we don’t “hear” what the other person is trying to convey, we fall off that bridge of connection.
In extreme instances, miscommunications like these can be life threatening. But even if the misunderstanding is about something as mundane as whose job is it to do dishes, while not actually life threatening, we can still feel as if we are going to explode if the other person doesn’t get our side of things.
What are we actually going for when we want to be heard? And why is it such a big deal when we don’t have that experience?
Below, I’ll share some of the reasons why being heard is important, I’ll give examples from coaching sessions, and finally, I’ll share how this is useful in your relationships.
For some of us, being heard means we will get what we want. We believe that the experience of being heard will result in the other person seeing our side of things, agreeing with us, and that will increase the likelihood that we will get what we want.
I remember having a heated conversation with our son in his teens, when he was trying to talk Christian and I into having a drug/drinking pool party at our house without adults on the premises. We were not willing to budge on our decision, and even though I was hearing my son and repeating back his well-intentioned points, he insisted I wasn’t hearing him because we weren’t changing our minds. He was confusing hearing with agreeing.
Call to Action
For some of us, being heard means you get my words and the call to action behind my words. In the example above, my dad was confusing me not understanding what he was saying with me not being able to hear his words. He spoke to me like I was someone who was hard of hearing or didn’t speak or understand English.
But it wasn’t because I wasn’t hearing his words. It was the meaning behind his words that I couldn’t hear or make sense of, which hindered my ability to take the action he was requesting of me. When he asked me to get him a wrench, for example, and I had no idea what a wrench was. Him yelling louder about it didn’t change anything about my understanding or ability to fulfill his call for action.
In order for us to hear a request that requires a response or action on our part, it helps if the speaker is direct with their requests. However, in the world of relationship, we are often indirect in our communications. For example, if I say, “the garbage is overflowing”, I am likely to not feel heard if you take what I said as an informational report rather than as a request: “Will you take out the garbage?”
A man recently sent us this in an email … “I feel as a man that being heard is a real issue. I grew up not trusting anyone with my innermost secrets and feelings. [Despite my] really working on and making efforts to be accountable, honest and open, I don’t feel heard in my relationship. Seems to me my wife wants me to “talk” and “share feelings” and “be open” so long as it fits her agenda or ideals. This just sends me back to the point where I feel “sharing” is not worth it.”
For many of us, sharing and being heard is a way for us to know ourselves, and to experience feeling known by others. When we put our internal experience on “loud speaker” and are able to freely explore our thoughts, feelings, values, dreams, desires and inner workings, we come to accept and know ourselves more deeply.
When someone hears our ruminations with curiosity and interest, without judgment or interruption, we feel known, seen, witnessed. We feel close to the listener. We feel less alone in our separate existence and experience. Not only that, but we are more inclined to want to continue sharing ourselves if we are received and heard when we do.
I witnessed a coaching session last week that was deeply moving. The coach listened to his client talk about her mixed feelings about moving from New York back to Italy, her country of origin, after several years in the states. She spoke of herself as a risk taker, highlighted her successes, and spent most of the time talking about the challenging logistics of moving.
When the coach reflected back what he had heard, he added having heard her underlying fear and concern of looking like a failure to her family at returning home. She was deeply affected by his reflections, seeing the truth of his words. He had listened not just to her words, but to the deeper fears behind her story.
A client of ours was complaining about her husband’s preoccupation with work. His long hours at work meant less time at home and she was fed up with having to do everything herself. Instead of reacting defensively to her criticisms, with our help, he was able to listen “underneath” her complaint to her loving desire for more time together. Instead of hearing her disapproval, he was able to hear her loving call to connect with the man she loved. This allowed him to lean into creating more connecting time with his wife and family at home.
Sometimes what we want in our quest to be heard is validation and affirmation for who we are. We want to know that we are okay, that we are loved, and that we matter. When you hear my words, respond to my requests, meet my needs, mirror back my deepest feelings, I get to feel like I am important in your eyes. Your acceptance of me helps me accept myself. Your love for me helps me love myself more.
One of the best definitions I once heard of love is, “Love is granting space for something or someone to exist.” When you hear and allow what I say without resistance or judgment, it is like you are allowing me to exist in your acceptance of my communication. In this way, you could say that hearing me is one of the deepest expressions of love you can offer.
Recently, I coached a couple that was stuck in negative stories about each other. She was afraid he was withholding secrets from her and wanted access to his phone. He felt micromanaged and didn’t want to give her access to his phone to avoid feeling powerless. In each case, their listening of each other was shaped by their own fears and negative stories.
Every time she shared her fears, he heard, “I want to micro-manage you!” Every time he moved to protect his autonomy, she heard, “I am withholding secrets from you!” They couldn’t hear their mate’s underlying fears: “I am afraid to lose you if you talk to your ex” and “I am afraid of your rejection if I do something that scares you.” They were too busy fighting to be right about the other person being micromanaging or withholding.
Sometimes our communications are attempting to prove our innocence and goodness. If I can just get you to hear that the reason I didn’t make dinner was because I took care of the cat, then you will quit judging me as wrong and bad for not keeping my agreement to cook. Once you hear me, I will get to be right about not making dinner as promised.
How Can We Use This?
There are many different experiences and results we are after when we are going for being heard. The most important thing we can do to help ourselves feel heard in relationship is to first explore what we are after. Do we want to be known? Do we want to be right? Do we want to get our way about something? Do we want someone to act? Do we want something to change?
The next thing we can remember is that we human beings are closed biological systems with our own interpretations and understanding of things. If feel that you’re not hearing me, maybe there is something going on in you that is preventing you from hearing me. Maybe you have an old negative story about me that has you interpret what I am saying as criticism versus a compliment? Or maybe you have a different definition of “helping around the house” than I do and what’s required is more exploration?
Or maybe I am not being clear about my intention in sharing, and I can rephrase what I am saying in a way that produces my desired result and outcome. Instead of launching into a complaint about us not having sex anymore, which might have you rebuff me, I can slow things down and share how much I miss connecting with you in this really special loving way. Instead of complaining about how you are never home, I can make a direct request, “Would you be willing to come home early on Wednesday so we can have a date together, just you and me?”
If you find that clarifying your intentions and making clear requests before going for getting heard doesn’t work, get support from an experienced coach or therapist to help you bridge the gap.
One couple who always fought when she wanted to share something she was triggered about and he disappeared to work in the yard as fast as possible, were able to understand each other’s differing responses to stress with the help of our coaching.
Now, when she wants to “talk”, he hears her desire to connect, and when he disappears to work in the yard, she hears his desire to avoid criticism and be a good man in her eyes. This different understanding has helped them be less reactive and they are better able to hear each other as a result.
Your desire to be heard is a good thing. Use it to bring you closer to all the good things you long for.
If you’d like support getting heard and deeply connecting with someone special, check out our upcoming Give Yourself To Love Workshop in Sacramento, March 7-8. And you’re always welcome to reach out to us for personal coaching as well.
“Listening is an attitude of the heart, a genuine desire to be with another which both attracts and heals.” L.J. Isham
Will this year be your year for love? Will you put relationship at the top of your priority list? Will improving relationship be one of your primary 2020 New Year’s resolutions?
Over the holiday break, we received many calls from singles feeling alone at this time of year, and from couples in crisis. Needless to say, they did not have a great holiday experience.
Perhaps it’s not so surprising. Both research and direct experience show that the quality of your life is directly tied to the quality of your relationships. Some studies reveal that loneliness, a rising social epidemic in this age of technology, has disturbing negative health consequences.
“Single Life Is Deadly. Be sure to find someone to live with. Or move into a co-housing situation or some other form of dwelling where there are other people you can be around. Whatever you do, avoid moving into an apartment by yourself, where you only meet other people when you pass them in the hallways. If you do, it could cost you your life.”
That’s the dramatic beginning of an article (translated from the original Danish article in the Berlingske newspaper. The article describes a large Danish research study which documents a 36% increased risk of dying from coronary or other life threatening diseases if you live alone. The study followed 3,300 men for 32 years, and is being published in the European Heart Journal here.
Granted, this study followed only single men, but even if you’re not a man living alone, you are not immune from loneliness and its effects. We all live in a world affected by the use of technology and changing demographic patterns, such as the consistently increasing number of people living alone.
In one study documenting the negative effects of social media use on interpersonal relationships, the author writes, “The top three responses for negative effects of social media use on interpersonal relationships were distraction, irritation, and decreased quality time with their significant other in offline settings”.
From our vantage point as relationship coaches for both men and women, singles and co-habitating couples, loneliness and disconnection are a manifestation of a deeper problem that can befall anyone.
When we add a bunch of extra expectations, as happens during the holiday season, to our loneliness and disconnection, we get even more relationship breakdown!
In the big US holiday season, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, we received phone call after phone call from distressed couples who were suffering under the real and imagined increased pressure of the various extra activities and expectations surrounding the holidays. Couples told us they couldn’t take it anymore, that the stress of the season was turning into shouting matches, disconnection, and short fuses all around.
On a coaching call I did with a man in the throes of separation, he expressed how painful it is for him that his partner is no longer giving him affection, touch, love, and appreciation. He no longer felt loved and cared for.
On first look, it might seem that men living alone, couples preparing for the holidays, and a guy separating from his wife are such different groups of people that they couldn’t possible have the same problems.
So what is this thing that afflicts us, this loneliness that is so severe the authors of the above mentioned study stated that, “We have to look at loneliness as a separate risk factor that is destroying people’s quality of life and increasing mortality”? According to this study, loneliness is as dangerous as smoking and alcoholism!
For some, like the men in the study who live alone, we might say it’s just because they’re never around other people. They’re alone as well as lonely. For couples, it’s certainly not because they are alone; most of the couples we talk to still live together, often with children in the house.
When my client was sharing his agony over not being loved by his wife anymore, I offered that perhaps it was not just because he wasn’t receiving the love and affection he wanted, but just as much that he had no one to give his own love and affection to.
We believe that we are loving beings, and that we thrive by giving love, care and interest to others. If we have no one to give our love to, it’s as if our love gets stuck in our hearts, and we get mad or depressed when we don’t get to give.
The loneliness so many feel is a combination of not feeling seen and acknowledged by others; not getting to share our own love with others; and finally, not having the opportunity for meaningful contribution.
In the absence of those three essential human needs, we feel lonely, empty, and without worth, no matter how many people we are around. Everyone knows you can’t fix loneliness by simply going to the nearest Starbucks and sitting among 40 strangers. Heck, sitting in a crowd by yourself can magnify your loneliness instead of cure it.
Theoretically, it’s easier than ever to find someone to hang out with or date. Just grab your phone, launch Tinder and in seconds you can check out dozens of potential dates and set up a meeting with someone. But that doesn’t seem to have cured our societal loneliness.
Why? Because the three human needs I mentioned don’t get satisfied just by getting together with someone. What we need is a certain quality of “being together”.
If you know about our work you’ll know we offer in-person workshops. We do that not just because it’s a highly efficient way to learn and practice new skills, but because in that setting, participants get to fulfill some of those human needs, right there on the spot. They get to connect with other human beings in meaningful ways. They get to both receive and give love, interest, and appreciation.
In any one of our workshops, you can find single people waking up their hearts after years of feeling unseen and “un-given” (to borrow a poignant term from David Deida). Couples reconnect in ways they didn’t even think were possible anymore because they get to share their love and appreciation with each other in a safe and focused manner.
There’s no replacement for getting to connect deeply and meaningfully with another human being. There is no substitute for giving and receiving love and appreciation. Seeing other people’s lives on a screen cannot replace your own need for being seen as a good person with something to offer.
In the 2004 movie, Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon’s character is reflecting on her troubled marriage. She says to Richard Jenkin’s character, a PI she hired to spy on her husband): “Why do you think we get married?”
Jenkins says confidently, “Passion!” To which Sarandon replies, “No. It’s because we need a witness to our lives. There’s a billion (sic) people on the planet, what does one life really mean? But in a marriage, you’re promising to care about everything, the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things. All of it. You’re saying, ‘Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed, because I will be your witness.”
So when you’re feeling the stress levels rise; when you find yourself snapping at your partner; when you’re feeling lonely because no one is there to witness you; or when you have no one to share your love and affection with … instead of getting mad or depressed or lonely, ask yourself some simple questions, such as:
- Who can I reach out to?
- Who can I give to?
- Who can I ask for a minute or two of their time?
- To whom, or where, can I offer appreciation, interest or a helping hand?
And then take action according to your answers.
In today’s world, for the first time in history, it is possible to work, shop, date, and talk to other people without ever leaving our homes, or without ever being physically in front of another person. That’s amazing! And sad, too!
Because nothing replaces physical, in-person interactions, where we can see, feel, hear, and touch another human being.
Remember, research and direct experience show that the quality of your life is directly tied to the quality of your relationships.
\When your relationships are humming harmoniously, when you are having great sex and quality intimate conversations, when laughter and play are a regular part of your days, life feels sublimely rich and satisfying.
One couple who came to work with us declared that this was “The Year of Us”. In previous years, they had focused all their attention on their kids, on their respective careers, their home, and a myriad other things. But they’d never given any real attention to their relationship, and it showed. So they came up with The Year of Us.
They devoted an entire year to attending as many workshops and weekly support calls as they could, for the benefit of themselves as individuals, for their marriage, and for their young children. During that year, they told us, “It made all the difference. We are far happier and closer now.”
What kind of year is 2020 going to be for you? Is this your year to make love and relationship and real connection a priority?
If this is the time for you to put yourself in our loving workshop space, check out the next dates here …
Wishing you a connected, meaningful 2020.
❤️Sonika & Christian
We all know the value of exercising and staying fit. It’s practically recommended by every doctor and expert in the world. Does that mean we all do it? Not exactly.
It’s the same in your marriage and other relationships. Unlike our physical health, we often have the unfounded expectation that our relationships are going to stay fit and in good health with little to no effort.
The renowned relationship researcher, Dr. John Gottman, found in one study that couples wait an average of six years before they seek out counseling for their marital issues. Six years! Can you imagine having a twisted ankle or a serious stomach ache, but not consulting a doctor about it for six years?
We often get very nervous when it comes to talking about our relationship “stuff”. It’s no surprise, really. Many of us, myself included, were raised to keep our feelings and personal relationships very close to the vest.
As with physical fitness, there are myriad ways to keep your relationships fit and in great shape. Even if you’ve fallen out of shape, there’s still plenty of hope. You just start small.
Remember when you were newlyweds, how many nice things you’d say to one another? Turns out, appreciations spoken out loud are the pushups of relationship fitness, an absolute staple of personal and relational wellbeing. My wife and have had a simple fitness practice for over ten years: before we go to sleep, we both share at least three appreciations to each other.
Alongside increased appreciations, there is often a decrease in complaints, blame, and criticism. We all know how easy it is to devolve to routine bickering with our partner, but we might not know that it’s proven to be fateful to marriages. Dr. Gottman, quoted above, found by studying several thousand couples over many years that we need at least a 5:1 ratio of positive-to-negative interactions per day in order to avoid marital breakdown or divorce. That means for every critical or blaming remark, it takes a full five positive remarks to counter the negative effects. And if we want a thriving, healthy relationship, we should probably aim for a 10:1 or 20:1 ratio.
We’ve had several coaching clients over the past few weeks, both couples and singles, for whom the absence of the relationship fitness basics have taken a toll. A young couple with three kids, both parents working full time, find themselves feeling so drained and stressed by the responsibilities of work, kids, house, and family, that any advances from their partner seems like just another chore, and they inadvertently end up pushing each other further apart. When the general stress level is elevated is when we’re most prone to activate our own as well as our partner’s “hot buttons” and go down a rabbit hole of triggered reactions. And then we forget all about our relationship fitness basics.
For a single mom I coached, this shows up a bit differently, although it’s the same dynamic at work. She’s also feeling scared and pressed by the never-ending responsibilities of making life work, being the only adult to handle everything. Just like couples end up complaining to each other and rejecting each other’s advances, this single woman finds herself complaining to other people, to herself, and completely forgetting the relationship fitness basic of appreciating herself and finding space to recharge her batteries, another absolute necessity for anyone to remain sane, calm, and functional.
For both the couple and the single mom, the immediate remedy is to return to relationship fitness basics. Sure, there could be a bigger process about how to set up the life to function better, how to communicate better, and how to create structures that support deeper connections, even with a gazillion chores. But it didn’t take more than 10 min into our session, with some guidance to relax, connect, and express appreciations, before they both were crying and holding hands, relieved to be “back to basics”. They even expressed it themselves, saying that when they regularly engage in activities just for the two of them, like attending the workshops with LoveWorks, setting up time for fun, dance, music, and exercise, everything works out better.
As is true for our physical fitness, it’s no use if we just do it once or twice. We have to make appreciations and quality time, for ourselves and/or with our partners, an ongoing practice. It has to become a staple in our daily lives. We need to keep learning more effective ways to communicate, deepen intimacy, and resolve our problems, so that connection and intimacy are the rule, and breakdowns the exception. And when breakdowns do occur, as they will, we have the skills to deal with it them in short order.
Along with your mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual fitness, your relationship fitness will hopefully now become part of your regular routines. As one couple in our workshop said, “Appreciations are a lot cheaper than divorce!” We believe that keeping your relationship fit will pay dividends for the rest of your life.
If you’re ready for a relationship fitness kickstarter event, by yourself or with your partner, check out our Level 1 workshop, Give Yourself To Love. We still have room in our Oct 5-6 workshop in Auburn, CA. More info here ….
You know the situation: Your partner says or does something and you immediately get hot and triggered. Somehow, that one comment or gesture sent you from 0 to 100 in a blink of an eye. Just as often, you are on the receiving end of your partner’s reaction, where something you said set them off to explode or shut down.
What is going on when this happens?
On this week’s podcast episode, I interviewed Tania Choi, an MFT and trauma specialist who also did our workshop program. She said that any time you have one of those reactions where you go from 0 to a 100 in no time, you’re in trauma. A trauma got activated inside you.
Tania’s brief definition of trauma is “a point in time where you lost your sense of choice”. (Find this week’s podcast episode with Tania here…)
I used to think that trauma was only created by big, violent situations like incest, rape, battery, or war. Whereas those are sadly common, almost every child, even those who grow up in happy, peaceful surroundings, still experiences incidents that are traumatizing; incidents where they feel powerless to choose.
In these traumatic situations, we make decisions and formulate beliefs that shape us. They influence who we become, what we care about, how we feel, and what actions we take. They also become trigger points for us. When we are faced in the present moment with situations that remind us of these painful experiences from the past, our bodies respond the way our bodies responded back then.
We have heard hundreds of these experiences in our coaching practice and workshops. One student, an independent, resourceful, professional woman, shared how as a child, on a Tuesday afternoon after school, her mom gave her the choice between staying home with a bigger sibling to make brownies, or to go with mom and two other siblings to a local theater show.
No big deal, right? The kind of everyday situation that could happen in any family.
Well, as a young girl, she was traumatized by this event. She was torn about what to choose, concerned about missing out on either the brownies or the theater play. She was too scared to talk about her experience. She felt completely powerless and unable to come up with a choice that would prevent pain and loss. She was stuck. Paralyzed.
In that moment, she made an unconscious decision, “It is not safe to choose. No matter what I choose, there will be loss and pain.”
Guess how that’s relevant for her as an adult and in her relationships? Her whole adult life, she’s had a terrible time making decisions. She’s found herself unable to commit to a relationship and unable to end a relationship. She is unable to make a choice either way, always straddling that painful fence of “do I go stay or do I go? Do we move in together or not?” Anyone who’s been stuck in that kind of indecision knows how torturous it can be.
On the surface, it might sound implausible that trauma gets created by such an everyday, un-dramatic event. But for a young child who doesn’t have the wherewithal to look at all the angles and come up with productive solutions, an incident like that gets logged in their internal operating system as a painful “fact”. To this child, and later to this adult, it’s now “true” that making choices results in pain and loss. From that point of view, it makes perfect sense that she would want to avoid making choices.
So when she’s in the grocery store with her partner, trying to figure out which pasta to use for dinner, and he says, “What’s the problem? Just make up your mind already!”, she might have one of those 0-100 moments where she gets mad as hell in no time. Not because it’s a life or death matter if they use Barilla or DeCecco pasta, but because her childhood trauma just got reactivated, and she is back to being eight years old again.
It’s as if this trauma and the associated beliefs create an internal landmine that it is only a matter of time before someone, typically someone close like a spouse, a child, or a family member, detonates by saying, “Just make up your mind already!”
How is this important for you and your relationships today?
Most of our traumas and the subsequent decisions we make and the stories we live are unconscious. To create change and become authors of a new story, to consciously craft a new set of beliefs and behaviors that we live by, we need to bring our patterned responses up to awareness. We can’t change what we can’t see.
Triggers are a great way for us to slow things down and become aware of the landmines that live in us and get at their source. From there, we can decide to not let these past traumas run our lives. We can take the time to unpack and re-work these past experiences, to do “do-overs” in our minds and bodies that allow us to emerge empowered and with a new set of embodied decisions from which to live life.
One of the most popular and effective tools we teach our students is indeed based on these kinds of do-overs.
Brian Lewis, a local MFT and art therapist said that trauma happens when pieces of our soul get snagged on the jagged points of life. (Find our interview with him in episode 24 of our podcast here…).
Those snagged pieces of our souls can be set free and healed. They might have negatively impacted our past, but they need not dictate our futures!
In our workshops, we teach a triggers process that allows people to become aware of past stories that are reactivated in challenging situations. This step-by-step process allows people to move from victim to power, from having no choice to having choice, from not having what they want to getting what they want. It gives people a quick opportunity to turn a traumatic retriggering event into a positive empowering experience. Plus, it gives a way to communicate with a partner or loved one even in the midst of feeling triggered.
You might have heard the saying, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Well, it isn’t. With support, we can heal and shift almost everything in our past with conscious attention and re-patterning.
For more information on our workshop, go to loveworksforyou.com/gytl
A comment we receive a lot in our relationship coaching sessions is this: “I don’t want to say anything to him about how I feel because I don’t want him to feel bad or wrong.
For women, it’s easy to put another’s needs ahead of our own. We are biologically wired to put relationship concerns ahead of our own personal needs. It is how we ensure the kids are taken care of and our husbands are nurtured, so they will love us, take care of us and go “hunt” food for us again day after day.
There is a real fear in the background of our animal brain that if we say or do the wrong thing, he might not love us or hunt for us anymore. From men, we consistently hear that you censor yourself because experience has taught you that emotional uproars are likely to occur when you try to share what’s on your mind. Many men have a deep fear of their partners getting mad at or disappointed with them, so it seems easier to just not say anything.
But there is a very real cost to not saying what we feel and need.
Imagine that you and your partner are looking into each other’s eyes, melting into this beautiful place of oneness, and there is nothing blocking the incredible flow of love between you.
Now imagine that there is something you want to say that you don’t say, and let’s symbolize this something as a brick that is now placed between you. At some point, there is another thing you don’t say, and so another brick is laid. Pretty soon there is another, and another. Everything you don’t say is another brick in the wall being built between you and your lover, obscuring your vision and flow of love.
Before long, there is so much that isn’t said between you, that you can barely see each other at all. Instead of having a relationship with your partner, you are now in relationship with all of the things you are not saying.
Needless to say, the love you feel gets more and more obscured as well.
Our relationship advice is this: Say it! Don’t hold back! Take the risk to speak your heart. And of course, say it in a way that optimizes your chances of being heard.
One of the best relationship tips we can give is to be transparent, withhold nothing, to say it all. When we share ourselves completely, that is when our light shines brightest. It is when we are real, vulnerable and open that we are the most attractive.
As mentioned above, the reason we tell ourselves for not sharing something, is most often a variation of “I don’t want to hurt my partner”, or “I don’t want to cause a stir”.
In our experience, what this really means is, “I’m scared of what’s going to happen if I say this. I could get in trouble”. It’s often our own fear, more than our concern for our partner, that makes us choose silence. Or perhaps you’ve tried sharing yourself in the past, and based on those experiences, you’re pretty sure your partner is going to feel offended, triggered, or hurt; or that you’re going to end up arguing about something.
We suggest that you don’t take this as evidence that you shouldn’t say something, but instead as evidence that you and your partner need to learn a new way of sharing and listening, or get some qualified help to facilitate the conversation.
Despite the risks you might feel when sharing something that’s on your mind or heart, it is your openness that will call your mate to meet you with openness and presence in return. We’d even say that you must find a way to share yourself, because if you don’t, the wall built between you will eventually negate to your love and connection altogether. So there’s really no other good choice!
Now, there are ways to share and ways to not share. Here are ten tips for sharing:
- Set your partner up to listen. Ask him or her to listen without interruption or without trying to fix anything.
- Give your partner a time limit. Men in particular will be more present with your sharing if they know it will end in a certain time, say 15 or 20 minutes. Men are not as comfortable with and don’t enjoy long-winded sharing sessions that go on for hours as much as women tend to do.
- Let your partner know you want to share something with them. Reassure them that it is not because they did anything wrong. Promise you will not turn your share into a dumping or complaining session. This will help them to relax and hear you better.
- Be as vulnerable and real as possible. Share your feelings of anger, hurt, sadness and fear. The more vulnerable you are, the more likely your partner is to meet you with compassion and empathy.
- Use I-statements. Avoid You-statements. “I feel scared when you leave the room.” Or “I miss feeling close to you.” Owning your own feelings will minimize defense and inspire listening and interest. (Note, “I feel like you’re an immature jerk” does not qualify as an I-statement:)
- Tell the microscopic, unarguable If you say, “You don’t love me”, your partner is going to argue with you about that. But if you say, “I feel scared. I notice that there is a knot in my stomach. I am thinking that you might not love me”, there’s nothing to argue about; it’s simply your internal experience.
- Ask directly for what you want. Say, “Would you be willing to ______?” as this engages your partner’s will and inspires a specific response to your question.
- Say what you DO want and why you like it, not what you don’t like. “I really like it when ________” is much more useful than, “I hate it when you ________”.
- When you’re done with your share, thank your partner for listening. Remember, your partner wants you to be happy and to feel heard, and they want the same for themselves. The more you acknowledge them for listening, the more they will want to listen to you again later.
- Get help from a professional if your sharing leads to distance and defense, or if it is too scary to get started. There are many ways in which a coach or therapist can help to create a safe space for sharing difficult things.
The most important thing is to keep practicing sharing your innermost feelings and thoughts every time, and as they arise! The love that flows from regularly and steadily removing bricks is reward enough and will soon raise the bar on the value of sharing everything in your relationship.
And remember, practice makes perfect. It does get easier over time! Listen to an expanded version of this article on our latest podcast episode here …
You know those times. You and your lover are hanging out in the kitchen and everything seems great. But then something is said or done that triggers one of you, and within seconds, you are yelling at each other and engaged in an all-out fight about something that took place years ago.
Perhaps you are that someone who remembers when something was said or done that produced a rift in your relationship. No matter what you do, you just can’t seem to let it go and forgive. The moment replays over and over in your mind, and the pain from that event seems un-healable. The silliest little things send you back to that time. It doesn’t matter how many times you hear “I’m sorry”, you just can’t open your heart all the way again like you used to. You wonder if you will ever be able to fully love again.
Or maybe you are on the other end of this dynamic. You said or did something hurtful and you are now genuinely sorry for your mess-up. You are desperately seeking forgiveness and redemption. You have learned from your mistakes and are sincerely moving ahead with committed resolve to be a better person. You need your partner’s support as you make these changes, but your partner just can’t give it to you. You feel pigeonholed, punished, unseen and disempowered. You wonder if you will ever be forgiven.
What can we do with such moments in relationship? How can we heal and move forward in partnership without being blindsided by the pain of past wounds?
We are biologically wired to focus on injury – doing so helps us protect ourselves from threats to our survival. But since we aren’t usually defending ourselves against real tigers, our painful memories don’t serve the same practical purpose.
We humans have a unique way of recovering from trauma: we need to share our hurt and pain with a compassionate, nonjudgmental person in order to heal. We generally feel lighter, more uplifted, and less alone when we share our story with someone who really gets the depth of our painful experience and allows us time to sort through the maze of our conflicting feelings.
However, if we take this too far, sharing our hurt and pain can have an opposite effect. If we focus on the negative and repeatedly tell our sorrowful story, we essentially experience the tragedy over and over again. So instead of feeling lighter and freer, we feel unhappier, and more depressed, stuck, gloomy, and hopeless.
Simply stated, there is a difference between honoring and sharing our feelings for the purpose of healing, and wallowing or stewing in them. You can know you are wallowing if you feel worse when you talk about your painful experience, if your thoughts keep drifting toward the same old story of loss or injustice and you can’t seem to let it go, or if your loved ones are sick of listening to you talk about it!
How to get out of wallowing? Change the end of your story. Do a ‘do-over’ in your mind, or better yet, do a ‘do-over’ in real life. Replay the event until you emerge from your story empowered, uplifted, and transformed. Instead of being a victim in this past event, you are now a survivor, a hero or heroine, a miracle maker, a master creator.
If he kept a secret from you, replay the event where he comes forward and tells the truth. If she stole money from you, replay the event where she comes forward and vulnerably shares her need for financial support and asks to borrow money. If he made fun of you for wanting sex, replay the event where he instead appreciates you for your sexual desire.
Do-overs don’t disappear the original injury, but research shows that when we end a negative experience with a positive one, the pain of the negative experience is dramatically reduced!
In the 80’s, I participated in a special self-defense class where I witnessed several women who chose to reenact rape scenes with male volunteers in order to create a more empowering end – one in which they were able to successfully disable their attacker and emerge victorious. This reenactment went a long ways in helping these women recover from traumatic experiences and find their power again.
Recently, a man who felt unjustly judged by his wife, was able to fully forgive and let go in a ‘do-over’ with a friend who acted as a stand-in for his wife. There he fully expressed himself, stepped into his power, and was finally able to get the support and love he wanted. This work allowed him to be more forgiving and open with his wife.
We have helped many couples walk through do-overs, where each person gets to replace an undesirable negative past behavior with a positive new experience. Do-overs help both parties emerge empowered, connected and renewed, anchored in a new “past” that results in fewer fights in the kitchen going forward!
If you’ve suffered deeply and no one knows, by all means find an accepting, empathetic person to talk to – a friend, mentor, or coach; someone you trust. Let yourself fully own and express all of your feelings. After a while, your emotional waves will begin to subside and you will experience increased ease, lightness, and freedom. Once you have been fully heard and received, create a new ending that moves you from victim to power. Get support if you can’t do it on your own.
Perhaps you have heard the saying, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood”? Well, it is never too late to have a happy relationship, or a happy ending!
When Christian and I went to Denmark recently, we spoke to woman who’s a mother of four and whose husband travels for work a great deal. I asked her if his travel was good for their relationship, if it kept their romance and appreciation for each other alive. My thought was along the lines of “distance makes the heart grow fonder”.
But she said, “Quite the contrary! We are feeling very distant from one another. When he comes home from his trips, he prioritizes work and I prioritize the children. We fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day. We don’t make much time for each other.”
During the same trip, we listened to an audio book about a woman in a coma. In the story, her father came to visit his unresponsive daughter in the hospital and said to her passive face, “If I had known this was going to happen to you, I never would have said those last words I said to you. I am so sorry.”
A friend of ours was surprised by his wife’s confessions of an affair and a desire for divorce. He told us, “I knew our marriage wasn’t perfect. I knew we needed help. But I thought we had time – I figured we would work on our problems someday. But now it’s too late. I had no idea she was THAT unhappy!”
These three stories are all examples of how easy it is to put kids, work, and house projects at the top of our priority list, while relegating relationship, communication, and sex to the bottom of our list. Actually, all too often, relationship, play, and intimacy don’t even make the list at all!
Unfortunately, like our friend above who got divorced, or the father of a comatose daughter, what it takes to wake up to the importance of love and relationships is often news of illness, death, separation, or divorce.
You’ve probably heard it said a million times, that on your death bed you’re not going to be lamenting that you couldn’t work another hour, or make another buck. What you’ll really miss is another moment with your loved ones.
I believe we all know that to be true, but we don’t always live like relationship is the most important.
There are studies upon studies that confirm the number one factor having a truly happy and satisfying life is good relationships, not money, fame, health, or accomplishments. (See for example this great TED Talk by the director of the 70-year long Harvard Study, Robert Waldinger, who says directly that based on their enormous amounts of data, they conclude that the key to a good life is “Relationships, relationships, relationships”).
And yet, despite all our personal experience to the contrary, despite all the scientific support, it still seems that we drift into making work, kids, chores, money, and everything else more important than our intimate relationships.
What if we didn’t need to be presented with a threat of death or divorce before we took action in the love and relationship department? What if we could use the inevitability of loss and impermanence to inspire us to put relationship first on our list (or at least in the top three)?
The truth is, of course, that all relationships end – one way or another. We’re all going to die eventually. And some of us get old and sick and lose important mental and physical faculties, which take us away from relationship long before we die. Then there’s the infamous divorce statistics that tell us some 50% of first-time marriages end in divorce, and it’s even worse for second and third timers (some estimates say up to 73%!).
What if we used this knowledge to remind us to make love and connection in relationship more important than anything else?
Christian and I do just that, and for those very reasons. Perhaps it’s because our relationship started as a very-long-distance relationship, which was highly unlikely to succeed. After our very first meeting, we were sure we’d never see each other again. So when we did, it made us really appreciate the time we got to spend together.
Subsequently, while living in two different countries in very different time zones, we valued intensely any opportunity we had to talk by phone or visit in person. We have extended that same gratitude and mindful appreciation of each other to our marriage, even now that we live and work together and have for 14 years.
We are long past the “honeymoon phase”, but we still say goodbye with presence and love even if we’re just running a quick errand to the store. We greet each other with enthusiasm after being apart for a day or two. We say yes to lovemaking almost any time one of us initiates. We stop and talk and hug and playfully chase each other around the house. We appreciate each other every night before bed, expressing our gratitude for each other and our life.
I am reminded of the Meghan Trainor song that goes. “I’m going to love you, like I’m going to lose you. I’m going to hold you, like I’m saying goodbye.” That is great relationship advice to live by.
If you knew you only had a short time, how would you express your love to those around you?
If you put relationship to the top of your list today, what would you say to your partner, child, or friend?
Move relationship to the top of your list. Express your love and appreciation for the people you care about. Spend more money on experiences and less money on things. Create positive memories with family and friends. Live a life of no regret when it comes to love and relationship. Your happiness depends on it.
Blessings on your new year!
Sonika & Christian
PS. One way to put your love and relationship higher on your list is attend one our Give Yourself To Love weekend workshops. More here …
Most of us spend more time than we might like to admit wishing for something to be different in our relationships. We want more engagement, less fighting, more sex, less distance, more intimacy, less time watching TV, more appreciation, less criticism, more dates, fewer nights at home alone, more communication, less silence, etc.
We don’t just want our relationships to be different. We want our lives to be different, too. We want a bigger house, a faster computer, more money, more clothes, more vacations, a skinnier healthier body, a younger look, and lots of better, newer stuff.
We are so accustomed to wishing and longing for more and different – whether in our relationship, work, money, kids, body, etc. – that we don’t even recognize that we are spending our precious lives in a state of constant wanting. This wanting manifests in our experience as unhappiness, dissatisfaction, boredom or loneliness. We feel like we are missing or lacking something important.
There is something I realized a long time ago that has proven to be pivotal for living a fulfilling and happy life:
Wanting and having cannot exist in the same space at the same time.
I think of life as a house with two rooms, the Wanting Room and the Having Room. The Having Room is the room in which we are engaged in life and love.
Just like in a real house, you are either in one room or the other; you cannot be in two rooms at the same time.
Unfortunately, when we want our lives to be different and the people we love to change, we are in the Wanting Room.
When we are in the Wanting Room, we inevitably produce unhappiness for ourselves. Our focus on lack and what is missing keeps us from noticing and appreciating what we have. It throws us into a state of resistance to our current reality and has us believe we are powerless victims stuck in unwanted situations, unable to powerfully create what we want.
Think about it. You only want stuff you don’t have, right? The mere wanting of anything is a declaration that you don’t have it. So when you reside in the Wanting Room, you’re likely to have internal conversations like, Why can’t I make my relationship work? Where are all the good men? My husband never talks to me. I wish I looked younger. Just to mention a few examples.
The Having Room, on the other hand, is where you get to enjoy experiences, where you harvest and partake in the fruits of your labor, where you appreciate what you have and count your blessings. It’s the difference between wishing you had an apple, and actually biting into an apple and enjoying the blast of taste and sensation as you do it.
Life is just better when you occupy the Having Room. So how can you do that? We’ll give some ideas here, and share a few real-life examples.
One way to shift from Wanting to Having is to take notice of and express your gratitude and appreciation for what you do have, even if you have very little. What is working in your relationship? What do you adore about your partner? What would you miss about your spouse if he or she suddenly vanished? What do you take for granted that you are grateful for? And tell them.
Another way to shift from Wanting to Having is to ask the question, “If I already had what I wanted, what would I do or say right now?” This question tricks your mind into imagining that you already have what you want, and enables you to bring to mind actions that you can take right now that are consistent with what you want to create for yourself. When you take those actions, you step into having the experience that you were longing for in the Wanting Room.
For example, if you are struggling with intimacy in your relationship and you want more connection with your partner, you can ask yourself, “If I were connected and intimate with my partner, what would I do or say right now?” Trust me, an answer will pop up in your mind. This question will move you towards creating more intimacy with your partner and thrust you into the Having Room.
At our last workshop, a woman was angry with her husband for something he said that triggered her. She was missing the close connection they were sharing before he said it and was now in the Wanting Room feeling disconnected from her man. When we asked her what she would do if she felt close and connected like before, she said she would go over to him and put her head on his shoulder and her hand on his knee. So we encouraged her to do that. As soon as she sat down next to him, her face lit up like a light bulb and a smile spread across her face. She was back in the Having Room (and you can imagine how he responded to that gesture:-).
A single woman called me for coaching, very distraught and lonely after her last relationship ended. She had a hard time getting out of bed and she was scared she’d never find love again. She was solidly anchored in the Wanting Room. During our conversation, I asked her, “If you knew you were going to be fine, and you would definitely find love again with a wonderful man, what might you do right now?” Her first response was, “I’d get out of bed and go to the gym!”
Just like that, back in the Having Room (And sure, this does not fix or deal with her entire situation, but it’s definitely a vast improvement over being in bed, depressed).
Just to be clear, wanting isn’t bad. That is where the best of our creative ideas show up! Wanting is the start of any improvement in life. You just don’t want to get stuck in wanting! Be there long enough to uncover what you want to create! Use your wanting to connect you to your desires and dreams. Then use that discovery to spark and move you into having, into action.
Everything you want – all of the connection, love, peace, fulfillment and joy you desire – lives in the Having Room.
If you find yourself stuck in wanting your relationship to be different, check out our Give Yourself to Love live relationship training. We will teach you how to step into having the life and relationship you long for and deserve. Click here for more info …
One of the biggest mistakes we witness people make in relationship is the decision, conscious or unconscious, to rein in some of their own desires or dreams because it triggers their partner, because they think it’ll cause too much of a stir, or because of they convince themselves they “should”.
See if you can relate to any of these examples from people we’ve been coaching recently.
Anna thinks there is something wrong with her because she doesn’t want to marry and have children with the man she has been dating for ten months. After all, he’s a good guy, loyal and responsible (in stark contrast to her ex). He really wants to marry her and make a new life together. So Anna is trying to talk herself out of her feelings of doubt and lack of desire to marry, in order to make him happy and because it just makes logical sense to marry this nice guy.
Anthony damps down his desire for sex in several ways: By not acknowledging his need for it in the moment; by trying to talk to himself out of wanting it by minimizing its importance (“It’s not that big of deal, anyway. I’m fine without it”); by not initiating sex or touch with his partner; by backing off at the first sign of discomfort or refusal; and by routinely putting his partner’s needs ahead of his own.
Finally, Robert, who is in the throes of divorce and is discovering that he doesn’t know what he wants anymore. He has gone along with his wife’s desires and demands for some 30 years and has totally lost touch with his feelings, desires and dreams. During their marriage it simply became second nature to let her desires be their desires, and whenever he did want something different from her, to just let it slide, because, as he said, “It was easier that way”.
In each of these three examples, you could make the case that they are just being generous – they want their partner to have what they want and need. You could say they are being flexible, because they’re not attached to having things their own way. We could posit that they are peacemakers who value harmony more than getting what they want. We could even call them super spiritual in the sense that “The Great Way is easy for those who have no preferences”.
Just today, we read a great article on mindbodygreen.com (here …) that said the most important ingredient of a lasting relationship is generosity. We don’t disagree, generosity is essential.
However, in the three examples above, our friends are not being generous. Let me qualify that. I’m not suggesting that they are not generous and flexible people, or that they don’t want their partners to have everything they need, or that they’re not spiritual or understanding people. I know for a fact that they are these things, too.
The problem here is that what masks as generosity or flexibility in reality is much more avoidance of “trouble”, fear of rejection, lack of power to stand up for oneself, or flat-out laziness.
There’s always a long-term price to pay for the short-term gain of “not making trouble” by letting your own desires go. Whenever anyone damps down their own feelings or shuts off their own desires to avoid upset or conflict in relationship, whenever they don’t stay engaged and go for what they want and create win/wins that enliven both partners, they set themselves up for breakdown; ultimately risking the stability of their relationship.
No one can remain disconnected from themselves and their feelings and their passions for a prolonged period of time without the potential consequence of wanting to break free from their imprisoned experience in relationship in an attempt to “find themselves” again. In other words, negating your own desires and dreams over time creates resentment.
This is tricky stuff, no doubt. Who can’t relate to wanting something that you know might trigger your partner, so you go, “Whatever, it really isn’t that important”? You let it slide and don’t speak up about what it was you really wanted. And for a while, it’s totally fine. Until it isn’t.
Like Robert, who inadvertently did this with everything, by his own admission. Where they went on holidays, when they took holidays, or not; who they visited, for how long; what color to paint the house, what school to send their kids to, you name it. Her preference became their preference. For the longest time, this system worked fine.
Only now, as they’re divorcing, he’s resentful in retrospect that he always got “steamrolled”. In our coaching, he had a profound realization. He went along with her desires because “it was easier”. In doing so, he believed he did her a favor by not causing a stir and thus keeping the peace in the house. He believed he was being easy-going and flexible, and that she’d love him more for it.
What actually happened? She lost respect for him, and he lost respect for himself. Plus, he totally lost touch with what he actually wanted about pretty much every aspect of life. To be blunt, he “chickened out” on his own dreams.
I offered him this image. From her point of view, his “going-alongness” made her feel alone. Every time she’d offer up an idea, instead of a sparring partner, he showed up as an amorphous blob, without any distinct boundaries or edges, like a bowl of jelly. In partnership, it produces safety and connection when a partner can put her hand on the other and feel some substance instead of “jelly”.
Flexibility and easy-goingness are great qualities and can absolutely support harmony and easy flow. Always yielding like a jellyfish, however, produces loneliness and resentment. Generosity is indeed an absolutely crucial part of a successful, loving relationship. Self-sacrifice to the extent of not getting what you need is something else entirely.
The article we quoted above included this important detail: “Giving until it hurts or trying to buy affection does not develop a healthy relationship … It does not take the place of caring for yourself or expecting your partner to do his or her part.”
It’s easy to get mad at your partner when you don’t get what you want. It’s tempting for Anne to get mad at her boyfriend for pushing the marriage agenda. It seems logical for Anthony to get mad at his partner for not being more into sex. (On a side note, there are many effective ways to communicate directly to your partner about situations where you want seemingly different things. That is outside the scope of this article.)
Here, we want to offer you the opportunity to look inwards, specifically at where you let go of your own desires, for whatever reason, when in actuality it is important to you. Look at where, like Robert, you let it happen that you don’t get what you want. Where you let it be ok, even though it’s not really ok with you, to not get your needs met.
We encourage you to ask yourself questions like:
- Where am I not going for what I want?
- Where am I settling?
- Where am I holding myself back from my own passionate aliveness?
- Where do I “forget” what I want and need, in the interest of peacemaking, taking care of my partner, or someone else’s desires?
- What am I afraid would happen if I stood up for what I want and need?
The upside here is for you to find your own clarity about what you want, and the power and worthiness to stand up for what you want as well as what your partner wants.
Optimally, you’re saying (and this is part of our definition of a successful relationship or marriage), “I deserve to have what I want, and so do you. I want you to have your needs met, and I want that for me, too. I’m not going to sacrifice my needs to satisfy yours, or yours to satisfy mine. We are both going to get what we want. If we don’t know how to accomplish that, we’ll learn. But we’re not giving up on both of us being satisfied”.
You might even consider that you owe it, not only to yourself, but to your relationship, and to your children (if you have children), to listen to the whispers of your dreams and desires, lest you end up resentful that someone didn’t give you everything you wanted.
So take the risk. Go for what you want, for what makes your heart sing. Work it out with your partner, so you both get to fly.
If you don’t know how to do that by yourself, learn. Get help. And don’t back off from what you want.
🙂 Sonika & Christian
PS. If you’re curious about the kind of coaching we offer, use our contact form here to get in touch with us.