Couples Counseling Articles

Relationships & Connections

Relationship Tools May Seem Important

Relationship tools seem important….

Yet, the essence of relating lies in non-judgmental curiosity.

This is a new idea for most of us and it’s simple but not easy.

It points to heart-centered listening.

When we learn to practice this approach with a heart-centered attitude, our relationship takes care of itself.

This clear concept can be written down in a few sentences and covers a lifetime.

It’s the seed for empathy, compassion and connection.

Relating is not so much about using tools to figure things out, rather it’s in how you approach the relationship itself.

When you show up curious and willing to observe with an open mind, things start to shift.

You show up moment by moment ensuring that you are not trying to change or control anyone or anything.

A little clumsy at first, you start to refine your approach and your attitude.

You withhold judgment and criticism (even the kind you consider constructive).

You observe yourself and stay present.

There will be challenges every day and some days will be easier than others.

You will have disagreeable conversations and have to work through them.

But over time, relating to your partner with curiosity becomes the new normal.

Together you explore, create new experiences, get comfortable and your relationship starts to change.

It’s Worth Considering

In a safe, intimate partnership, there is nothing more important than approaching each other with an open mind and a vulnerable heart.

The moment we seed our interactions with defenses and demands, we are no longer relating.

It’s subtle, yet over time, we can see how easily and often we project images and comparisons onto our relationships.

When we show up open, without labels or expectations, things start to shift.

The approach is simply to allow; to relax and show up as if you’ve never done it before.

You genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen.

You’re showing up as your unique and original self… willing to relate… not knowing what is going to happen in this moment… or the next.

Your mind is open and your heart is available.

You’re naturally curious and able to experience your partner.

Letting go of all those thoughts of what your relationship should be, is a radical idea.

One worth considering.

Tis the Season: Love, Resentment and Happiness

We all have decisions to make around careers, love, and partnerships.

And making good decisions makes us happy.

It’s a simple concept, but not easy.

Because when life is stressful, it’s hard to know where to begin. Good decisions can seem out of reach.

We might doubt ourselves or think of others as the source of our confusion and unhappiness.

Take a closer look and we can see why.

We are social creatures who are hard-wired to connect, and our happiness depends largely on our relationship with others.

Without love, friends, and community, it’s hard to be happy.

Continue Reading Tis the Season: Love, Resentment and Happiness

Stories That Connect Us

When we’re in a relationship, it’s easy to get stuck on the stories we tell ourselves.

When these stories are based in frustration and fear, they live inside us and are rarely spoken out loud.

We lose ourselves in them and the moment we do, we shut out the people we care about most.

Actually, we shut out everyone because once we get caught up in the story, we’re no longer present with people and the world around us.

We become overwhelmed or distracted and it’s hard to function optimally.

When these internal conversations get big enough, we can’t hold them anymore and we might feel compelled to share them with others (aka venting or gossiping).

When a relationship is in high distress, the storylines we tell ourselves are often disparaging and untrue. Because we’ve told them so many times, it’s hard to believe they could be otherwise.

Sometimes we resort to telling stories about our partner that include name-calling.

It’s a downward spiral and our brain finds it almost impossible to step out of that kind of thinking.

As long as we stay in this limited state, we miss out on authentic relationships with people…especially the ones we care about most.

It keeps us trapped and small. Of course, we can be polite, but there’s little room for the expansiveness of Love.

Recognizing and speaking our storylines out loud along with

the meaning behind them and

the emotions that fuel them

morphs into compassion, presence, and connection.

Young happy couple

Communication, Creativity and Contradictions

Reading any news headline makes me think deeply about the source of turmoil.

We can pretend things will get back to normal soon.

We can tell ourselves that our lives and the world are not forever changed. 

We can continue the exhausting human habit of resisting pain and bracing ourselves for (mostly) imaginary disaster.

We can even continue to relate to each other as before; tiptoeing around the under-currents of anger and tension. 

We have a choice; we can hold back or we can speak up. 

What keeps us from speaking up at home AND in the world, I believe, is fear. 

It also prevents us from loving well.

The moment we recognize our emotions as the organizing principle of truth and we’re willing to speak them out loud…..

We’re inclined to take more risks and make a ruckus.

That’s when our relationships are transformed.

Spoiler alert – speaking our emotions is not the same as venting, blaming, criticizing or acting out.

Rather, it’s a courageous and messy process brimming with creativity, communication and contradiction. 

One way or another, it seems we’re all headed in the direction of more truth-telling.

Either we embrace the shift or we keep doing things the old way.

Isn’t it good to know we have a choice?

Love, Loneliness and Connection

My attorney married his college sweetheart after she finished medical school.

They were married only a short time, which he describes as the loneliest three years of his life.

To this day, he has never remarried.

In 2018, loneliness emerged as a silent epidemic in North America.

In today’s almost-post-quarantine-world, we have a national health crisis on our hands.

Oddly, loneliness is not defined by our surroundings nor does it have a direct relationship to distance or geography.

We can feel lonely and emotionally alone even in beautiful space with people we love.

It’s an internal sense or comfort level and is distinct from solitude.

Solitude is an opportunity for rest and rejuvenation. It’s voluntary and tends to enhance our personal growth, creativity and well-being. It brings up emotions…but in a good way.

Loneliness feels heavy and is burdened with shame. Stigma surrounds it and creates an unconscious desire to escape. The brain says, “Anywhere but here.”

In research circles, there is an evolution in thinking about loneliness and its link to depression, anxiety and addiction.

Meanwhile, most people have become experts at suppressing loneliness with magical thinking and….let’s admit it….our over use of electronic devices.

When that doesn’t work, we withdraw, stay busy or self-medicate with something or someone.

As unrelenting as the state of loneliness may seem, it is reversible.

First, we can lift the burden of shame by recognizing and acknowledging that we all need human connection as much as we need food and water.

Then we can de-stigmatize loneliness by talking about our experiences and understanding it for what it is:

a near-universal human condition we can do something about.

New Normals Will Come and Go

Just for today, I’m unwilling to listen to noise about the new normal.

In normal times, most of us forget we’re even there.

We’re on autopilot and rarely give normal a second thought until a new normal wants to take over.

First, we protest. Then we problem-solve and adjust….over and over again.

That’s what we do and humans are really, really good at it.

We are natural-born problem solvers. And you could say, we take normal for granted until it’s gone.

Taking things for granted may seem like a harsh term…. especially at a time when people are searching for security and stability.

But step-by-step we know how to connect, share, problem solve and make change happen.

It takes focus and energy. And sometimes…. it takes an intervention.

Still, it seems important to remind ourselves.

Because it’s easy to forget the miracles and the smallest normals that make our lives extraordinary.

For example,

You swallow about 2,000 times a day or once every 30 seconds on average….

Blink about 14,000 times per day and touch your face 16 times per hour, on average.

All virtually invisible to us….

until we try not to blink, swallow….

or touch our face.

The Moment I Knew…

I had mine at 42 and have had several since.

Almost everyone has a moment. It’s when you know or understand something that was previously a source of confusion. Somehow out of reach.

This moment of clarity can be filled with relief…or terror.

Maybe it’s been germinating in the background for years. But when a ‘moment of knowing’ shows up, it feels sudden…and it’s packed with lessons that teach us how to listen and trust ourselves.

If we listen, life starts moving in a new direction.

Here are some examples of such moments……

  • I’m going to marry him/her.
  • We’re pregnant.
  • My life isn’t working anymore.
  • Something’s got to change.
  • I’m going to start a business.
  • I need to go back to school.
  • I want a new job.
  • I’m going to leave him/her.
  • S/he is going to divorce me.
  • We need an intervention.
  • I’ve been betrayed.
  • I must do that ONE thing I’m afraid to do…or at least try!

Typically, these are intimate landmark moments of knowing. They’re about ordinary things….that end up creating memorable, life-altering experiences.

These game-changing moments do not like being neglected.

When ignored, they don’t disappear.

Instead, they wait patiently…for years, sometimes decades…until the next opportunity arises.

And, when it taps you on the shoulder, that’s when you know. This is the moment.

How Do We Make Things Better?

We don’t think of it often but, culture defines nations, neighborhoods, families …and corporate entities.

Starbucks and Dunkin’ have different cultures, for example.

Families differ culturally too…

And, every marriage merges two cultures.

When we spent Thanksgiving with one of my relatives, my dad would grumble all the way home.

It makes no sense,” he would say with an eye-roll, “Why would anyone serve Jello at a holiday meal?”

Culture is a set of ideas that affect our behavior in certain ways.

It’s shared information and values….stored mostly in our brains.

(Yes, it’s also stored in libraries and museums.)

Some of these stored ideas are clear and explicit. Others, not so much.

They’re vague and few ideas last for long.

Most simply disappear.

But when an idea is exceptional (good or bad) it gets embedded and resistant to change.

Like long-lasting relationships, long-lived ideas start to shift too.

When the shift happens…and it always does…perhaps the most important question to ask is,

How do we make things better?

Couples, Communication and Confusion

It can happen while sitting around sipping an extraordinary Australian cabernet….

Or between episodes of Bridgerton…..

Or even while giving simple directions to someone you love.

Things can get awkward and frustrating because communication is fundamentally flawed.

Even the best communication involves abstraction and guesswork on the part of both people.

It’s filled with errors on the part of the communicator and misunderstandings by the recipient.

Messages shared and messages received are rarely the same.

And, over time…patterns develop.

Communicating with any human being depends on putting an abstraction, or thought, into words as precisely as possible.

At first glance the recipient thinks s/he understands….but take a closer look… and you’ll see that they have to guess.

Does s/he mean exactly this? OR Does s/he mean exactly THIS?

The brain gets confused and it happens so fast that we don’t notice.

Even if we do….we rarely take time to check things out …because we’re not doing scientific research here…right? Instead, we move on.

The brain makes a quick interpretation and we make our decision from there.

Seems simple enough, right? But hold on.

We also ‘make meaning’ out of these new interpretations.

If there’s a meaning or interpretation we don’t like….well….the brain can take us on a harrowing roller coaster ride full of emotional ups and downs.

That’s when we develop a false sense of certainty….and the brain makes up even MORE stories we believe to be true.

It all happens in seconds and when the stories fit our narratives and beliefs…

…we get frustrated… rarely show mercy….and find someone to blame.

Sometimes, we even blame ourselves.

Perhaps…these self-created interpretations get in the way for all of us.