“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“It’s Chaos. Be Kind.”

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”

-James Baldwin



Not often enough is each of us asked, “What’s it like moving through the world as you?” We are not often asked about our fears and insecurities, hopes, frustrations, and about what makes us feel alive. We are not often asked about what we’re thinking, what we’re wondering about, or if we’re worried.


Some of us experience racism and homophobia. Some of us experience ableism or transphobia or sexism or classism or ageism.


Some of us suffer from depression, crippling anxiety, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic pain, or addiction. Some of us are navigating the complicated mourning process and feeling what can only be described as unyielding fragility. Some of us are numb.


All of us are grappling with something- marital problems, financial instability, a terminally ill child, a best friend dead from aggressive cancer, panic about the future, historical or intergenerational trauma, chronic mental or physical illness, a break-up, discrimination, sexual harassment, the aging process, our own inexorable thoughts.


I get the pleasure and honor of creating a space for people to sit down and tell me about what it’s like for them as they move through the world. I get to see couples learn, for the first time, in a deeper way what it’s like for their partners to be them. I have made a career out of witnessing what happens when people speak honestly and listen compassionately.


Not everyone has the privilege of making this their daily life, and I’d like to help make it as accessible as possible. It’s the act of intelligently tuning into our own experience and seeing what’s there. It’s the act of deepening our understanding of ourselves and another.


When we become attuned to and present with our pain, we can tune into and be present with another’s pain. The reverse is also true, that when we are present with and attuned to another’s pain we can also be present with our own. We are complex creatures, capable of many things, some being empathy and compassion.


When we open space for ourselves to be present and attuned, it’s easier to listen to what is really being said. It’s easier to see someone for who they are instead of our projection of them.


We can’t do this all the time, but we can do it more often. We can slow down and drop in.


Someone recently recommended to me Patton Oswalt’s “Annihilation” performance. In it, he talks about his late wife, writer Michelle McNamara, and her belief system. He quotes her as saying, “It’s chaos. Be kind.”


There is chaos. And there is kindness.


I wonder, what’s it like moving through the world as you?


Love and Be Loved,

Thank You, From Your Therapist

Thank You, From Your Therapist

We all want to know how people feel about us. Most of us want to know how our therapists feel about us. “Does he think about me in between sessions?” “Does she think I’m smart? Funny? Doing a good job?” “Does my therapist like me?” I think of clients often, both past and present. In fact, I think of our work together and how I’ve received immeasurable benefit from knowing each and every client.


Every single day I’m aware of the gifts of this profession. I’m deeply thankful and appreciative to be in a position that allows me to make contact with so many different members of my community. I’ve wanted to write a thank you letter to past and present clients for some time, but I’ve been fearful that I couldn’t express my gratitude as clearly as I’d hoped. I decided that it’s better to try than to stay silent.


We start out as strangers. You call or email, looking for help with your pain and suffering, questions, and frustration about your situation. Sometimes you’ve been suffering for years. Other times your discomfort is recent.


I know how hard it is to make that first contact, to come in for the first few sessions, before we’ve established a connection. You feel a mix of trepidation and cautious optimism. You’re afraid I might judge you. You’re afraid of stigma. You’re afraid there’s nothing anybody can do to help you, that you’re beyond hope, but you’re not ready to give up just yet. Thank you for your fight.


You show up and share your history, parts of yourself. You answer my questions. Little by little, you start to let go and engage in the process. You fight against the urge to clam up when you’re visited by self-judgment and fear. Sometimes you win. Sometimes the urges win. You keep trying. Thank you for your persistence.


I am awe-struck by your courage. You’ve been through so much life. We live in similar worlds so, I know that you’re working against years of people telling you to suck it up, that your pain isn’t a big deal, that there is more pain, worse pain out there, and that you’re lucky. I know you tell yourself this, too. But there’s a small part of you that doesn’t believe it. Thank you for your courage to hold onto this small part.


You come to our sessions when you don’t feel like it, when you’re thrown around by life, when you’d rather finish that work project or Netflix show or go out with friends. You come to our sessions when you’ve got a million responsibilities, when you’re afraid to face your feelings, when you’re embarrassed about what you shared last session. Thank you for your commitment to this work.


Somehow, you push through your own self-judgments, fear of judgment from me, discomfort, and you bring your authentic self. You allow yourself to ask revealing questions. You face your vulnerability and insecurity. You tell me what makes you feel joy, loneliness, hate, fear, and rage. Thank you for your authenticity.


For these and so many other reasons, I am inspired by you. You remind me that, while life is undoubtedly a painful experience, it is also wonderful. You remind me that it’s better to take chances instead of staying grounded in fear. Thank you for your inspiration.


You have changed me. I’m not the same person I was before I started this work. You have inspired me to become more self-aware, more patient, more curious, more direct. You’ve inspired me to learn and to embrace my vulnerability, to live more authentically. You’ve taught me to stop getting angry at people for being who they are and instead be curious. You’ve taught me to look and listen more closely and more compassionately. I would not be who I am today without our work. Thank you for changing me.


It is an honor and privilege to work with all of you. I hope my words and actions demonstrate my gratitude for you. Thank you for all you share with me.


Love and Be Loved,

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

7 Checkpoints for Your Anger

Humans are wired for anger. It’s an important part of our evolution. Anger tells us when something needs our attention, when we have an unmet need, or when something is missing. The problem with anger is in our mismanagement of it. And it can be incredibly destructive.


The best way to curb the destruction caused by anger and to use it more intelligently is to understand the feeling, to be curious about it. The more we understand our triggers and patterns, the more present we can be with our anger.


Start by identifying what activates it. Get a pen and paper and answer these questions.


What triggers your anger? (Here are some common ones)


-loud sounds

-having to wait (for someone, for something to happen)

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected


-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone


-inconsiderate actions/remarks


Then, start thinking about your pattern of anger. Once your wire is tripped, how do you react?


What’s your typical expression of anger?

-lashing out directly at someone, yelling, attacking

-passive aggression, withholding affection/love, trying to control someone using emotional manipulation/guilting, off-handed comments, gossip, isolating

-blame, resentment

-avoidance, defensiveness, stonewalling

-punishing, intimidating, judgment, criticizing, contempt, threatening, using ultimatums


-throwing things, breaking things

-physical violence

-broken promises


What’s it like for you when you engage any of these strategies? Does it get the job done/ get your needs met? At what cost? Do you like yourself when you use these strategies?  


What unmet need underlies your anger-trigger?

Here are some common needs that when unmet, cause us to feel anger:

-Feeling disrespected/ need to feel respected

-Feeling invalidated/ need to feel validated

-Feeling scared or unsafe/ need to feel safe

-Feeling abandoned (physically or emotionally)/ need to feel continuity of relationship or proximity

-Feeling or being out of control/ need to feel in control

-Feeling worthless/ need to feel worthy

-Feeling unlovable/ need to feel lovable

-Feeling inadequate/ need to feel adequate or good enough

-Feeling mistrusted/ need to feel trusted

-Feeling wronged/ need to be treated justly


When we stay caught in anger, we behave regrettably. We have no idea what our unmet need is. And we don’t even care; all we know is that something has pissed us off and whoever or whatever it is needs to pay. We can go so far off the rails that we forget we love the person with whom we’re angry. When we don’t know how our anger works and it just happens to us, we can’t catch it, pause, and redirect ourselves. Left uninvestigated, anger can kill or deeply wound any relationship.


It’s not easy to respond wisely to our anger. I know that. We run on the fumes of righteous indignation. We feel powerful when we yell or stonewall or manipulate or judge. We’re right, and they’re wrong. If the person really loved us, they wouldn’t do this. Given a choice between fully experiencing our vulnerability or a quick jolt of power, most of us would choose the quick jolt. But learning how to take care of ourselves, translate our anger, and address unmet needs is a much more satisfying, viable, and supportive power. This gives us the opportunity to connect on a deeper level and know true intimacy.


“When the gentleness between you hardens
And you fall out of your belonging with each other,
May the depths you have reached hold you still.
When no true word can be said, or heard,
And you mirror each other in the script of hurt,
When even the silence has become raw and torn,
May you hear again an echo of your first music.
When the weave of affection starts to unravel
And anger begins to sear the ground between you,
Before this weather of grief invites
The black seed of bitterness to find root,
May your souls come to kiss.
Now is the time for one of you to be gracious,
To allow a kindness beyond thought and hurt,
Reach out with sure hands
To take the chalice of your love,
And carry it carefully through this echoless waste
Until this winter pilgrimage leads you
Towards the gateway to spring.”
-John O’Donohue


Love and Be Loved,

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

If You Want to Be Heard, Start Listening

A lot of couples seek therapy looking for help with their communication. They want to feel seen, heard, and understood. Pretty much all of us want to feel this.


Often, what ends up happening is a lot of talking and explaining and scrambling but not a lot of listening. We want to be heard before we hear. We want to be seen before we see. It becomes a rigid bartering system with the understanding that “If you listen to me and understand what I’m saying, I’ll listen to you and try to understand what you’re saying.”


And it’s understandable. When an intimate relationship is fraught with miscommunication and misunderstanding, there are wounds. There is pain. Most of us don’t know how to navigate our pain and the pain we’ve caused our loved ones. We are defensive when confronted and quick to point out what the other has done to hurt us. It’s hard to forge ahead together with this strategy.


If we’re unsure of how to navigate our hurt, we usually use anger as a secondary emotion. During an intense discussion or argument, we become angry enough that we forget we love the other person. Our stance becomes adversarial, and in a minute we say something deliberately hurtful. This kind of defense amplifies our communication problem and is a devastating hit to emotional intimacy.


In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to slow down. It goes against everything our nervous systems are telling us to try hear and see the other person’s experience. But if we want to deepen and maintain our bonds, we have to learn how.


When we’ve experienced trauma, hearing and seeing while regulating our emotions is especially hard. Fatigue, hunger, and loneliness also stack the odds against us.  There are a million reasons that contribute to the challenge of hearing and seeing. And there is one big reason to keep trying- increased peace and understanding within ourselves and our relationships.


To be proficient in inquiry of others’ experience, it’s helpful to start to with ourselves. It’s also helpful to start by being pretty basic about it. Initially, try it when you’re feeling relatively calm. Pause and see what you notice. What’s happening? What do you hear? What do you smell? What do you notice in your body? Then, try it when you’re feeling slightly irritated. The more you practice it (or anything), the more available it will be to you when you need it. Eventually, you’ll try this when you are really struggling whether on your own or in relationship. If you’d like to talk more about this or have any questions, feel free to reach out.


Love and Be Loved,

Come Out, Come Out Whoever You Are

Come Out, Come Out Whoever You Are

Expressing our authentic selves can be terrifying. We risk rejection, disappointment, loss, and sometimes even violence. On the other hand, we stand to gain a life lived in integrity with who we are, more intimacy with our loved ones, acceptance, joy, and satisfaction. If we choose to stay closeted about who we are, we risk living our lives imprisoned.

There are a million ways in which we “come out of the closet” and, although they’re not all comparable, they’re all challenging to make known. We can come out as Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, GenderQueer, a survivor of abuse, polyamorous, religious, having a criminal history, a sex worker, nonreligious, an addict, recovering from an illness or disease… There is no limit.

Some closets are harder than others to come out of due to prejudices, culture climates, and phobias. It’s not always safe to make ourselves vulnerable and come out of our closets. If we live in a culture or an environment where we could suffer violence and abuse, coming out might be dangerous for us.

When we keep important parts of our identity secret, we keep a chasm between the people with whom we are in a relationship and us. There is so much we don’t share- our thoughts, our feelings, our wishes, our goals… ourselves. A part of us lives unseen and silent. Having to deny or invisibilize such important parts of ourselves often leads to isolation, depression, anxiety, low self- esteem, self-injury, and suicide.

We feel caught dangling from the precipice of the chasm. If we take the leap and reveal ourselves will we plummet and end up in the void or will we make it to the other side? Many of us spend years, decades even, dangling from this edge, afraid to make a step in any direction.

There is so much to consider when we reveal deep parts of ourselves. Will my support network continue to support me? Will I be safe? Will I be accepted? Will they still love me if I let them see who I am? Sometimes it feels like we have to give up important parts of ourselves to keep the love and support of the people close to us.

Coming out, making ourselves visible, being vulnerable is a painful process by definition. It’s the act of opening ourselves up to attack and harm, scrutiny and judgment. It’s stripping our souls of their protective cloaks and allowing ourselves to stand naked.

Ultimately, all any of us wants is to be loved and accepted. We want to know that our loved ones see us, that regardless of their agreement with and understanding of our choices they want to understand us, and that they love us. We want to know that we’re ok.

So, I want you to know that you are ok. No matter who you are, who you love, what you’ve done, who you want to be, how you want to live, as long as you are not hurting or oppressing anyone, you are ok. You are worthy of love and acceptance, and you are ok.


Love and Be Loved,

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Do You Want to Increase Trust in Your Relationship?

Not all couples are meant to stay together forever. Some couples are put back on the right track after they take a break from the relationship. Other couples regain stability after seeking professional help from a qualified counselor or therapist. And many couples need a few different strategies to get what they need from the relationship.

This week, let’s look at trust in relationship. What exactly is trust? What does trust look like in relationship? How can you improve the level of trust in your relationship? (And how do you know if your partner is worthy of your trust?)

Merriam-Webster defines trust as the “belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective,” an “assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”. In relationship, some basic principles of trust look like this:

-Both partners attempt to make one another feel emotionally secure

-Neither partner humiliates nor disparages the other

-Both partners uphold their responsibilities

-Both partners have power and influence in the relationship

-Both partners express a desire to listen to the other, even in an argument

-Both partners demonstrate respect toward one another

Some relationships start out with a substantial lack in even the most basic aspects of trust. It’s not necessarily an indication of a doomed relationship; there are plenty of ways to increase trust in a relationship if the motivation is there. (Finding out if the motivation is there is related, but in the interest of a streamlined discussion about trust, I’ll keep it separate for now.) Considering the examples of basic trust above, let’s say that one or even all of these aspects of trust have recently been breached. Does it mean your relationship is unsalvageable? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s take a look at what is communicated depending on how a breach is handled.

Apologizing and Trust:

Can you trust your partner to apologize for mistakes? Apologizing is an excellent way to measure trust. In conflict, it’s important to be accountable to your partner, to show remorse when a wound has been inflicted. Even if one partner has to get through some skepticism, to communicate genuine atonement, the other partner must remain nondefensive and patient. Alternately, if one partner is making a concerted effort to take responsibility for any wounding, the other must also make an effort to work on forgiveness. (If there is an apology, but no forgiveness or no apology, but forgiveness it paves the way for diminishing trust and more hurt.) How do apologies work in your relationship?

Reconnecting and Trust:

To healthfully and sustainably move forward from a breach of trust, both partners must dedicate themselves to taking the relationship to a sturdier (and more satisfying) plane. This means each partner is clearly communicating their feelings as they arise. Couples are in for less welcome returns if one partner expects the other to be a mind reader. They must allow themselves to be curious about their partner’s experience and ask questions. (Remember empathic curiosity?) They must communicate to one another the compassion and empathy they feel. This will help each partner to feel more connected to the other, safer, and more trusting. Are these qualities present in your current relationship?

Everyone makes mistakes. And it can be pretty scary to trust someone when you feel wounded by a current or past relationship. A breach of trust doesn’t have to mean that your relationship is on the verge of collapse. (And there are useful tools used to look at your relationship patterns to see if it is unsustainable.) I’d love to talk more about it with you.


Love and Be Loved,

All Relationships Encounter Stress

All Relationships Encounter Stress

If you look online or ask around about effective strategies for stress management, you’ll find recommendations about what to eat, what to think, and what to drink. There are tips for physical fitness, connection to others, and relaxation.

All of these are important for a healthy lifestyle. Paying attention to what we need here helps us to cultivate equanimity. Most commonly, I am asked what people can do to strengthen their connection to others.

Emotional connection is a staple for stress management. Most of us thrive with a sense of belonging. We need a place to go to feel supported, understood, and appreciated, a place where we can celebrate and commiserate.

And, still, sometimes we find that the very stress we are looking to manage seems to stem directly from our connections with others. When something that usually brings us such stability starts to feel like it’s getting off kilter, it makes sense that the rest of our world experiences disturbance.

So what happens when our relationships stop feeding us in the same way and we notice a shift in tension?

If we’re in any relationship long enough, it will encounter all sorts of changes. People move, get new jobs, get new partners (with whom others don’t always get along), have kids, lose loved ones, and experience a myriad of other game-changers. Our capabilities and limitations fluctuate.

Here are some go-to anchors you can use that will help your relationship weather the storm so that the occasional rough waters will serve to strengthen your bond.

First things first- be mindful of your energy. If you tend to overcommit (to anything/anyone) be curious about how this impacts your energy source. Overcommitting doesn’t have to mean that you’re busy every second of every day; it simply means that you have signed on for more than your limits allow. This happens for many reasons, and it effects relationships. When you overcommit, you might start to feel resentful at others who want to spend time with you or at the very things that you (over-)committed to in the first place. Be honest with yourself about how much you can take on without feeling exhausted and overextended.

Up next is to pay attention to your boundaries. Similar to being honest with yourself about what you can realistically commit to is the honesty you engage in identifying how you like to be in relationship. How do you like to be treated? What do you expect out of your relationships? What makes you feel the most connected? Some people are satisfied with relationships in which there isn’t a lot of contact. When there is contact the bond feels as strong as ever. For others, this kind of relationship isn’t enough; they need more contact. Then there’s the content of the relationship; some people prefer a lot of deep conversation with their loved ones while others prefer not to (or for whom it doesn’t feel essential). When you honor your boundaries and are clear about them, you’re less likely to feel resentful toward the other person.

A third way to maintain and manage a relationship is to engage respect, make it your best friend. Respect a loved one’s time, boundaries, choices, struggles, feelings, and wants/needs. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with something that goes against your code; it means that you understand that this is a part of their process, regardless of whether you would behave the same. It doesn’t have to be clear to you.

Lastly, accept them. Accept the ones you love however, they are. Again, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them about every choice. It means that you are aware of their limits and flaws and choose to be in a relationship with them anyway. And when their limits conflict with your boundaries, be honest. Accepting someone as they are isn’t synonymous with sacrificing your needs. You can exist together as whole people, flaws and strengths and all.


Love and Be Loved,

When You Want to Improve Communication

When You Want to Improve Communication

How often do you say something that you intend as curious, supportive, or at the least, innocuous only to find that the receiver of your message has taken offense? Maybe you’ve been on both sides of this communication mishap. And how often do you ask (or are asked by someone else) a cryptic question? Those questions that we use to communicate because we’re too afraid to say what we mean or ask what we really want to know.

They can make us crazy- “How do I look?” “This soup I made today is tasteless.” “Are you going to do the dishes or do you want me to?” All of these questions and statements can hold a lot of different meanings. They can also be easily interpreted in a lot of different ways. Getting lost in the meaning is a bit of a pitfall.

Take a look at this example couple to see if you can spot any similarities in your relationship:

(Background- Kim wants to spend some alone time with Kelly because they have been busy with work and various engagements.)

Kim: “Do you have any plans this weekend?”

Kelly: “Not yet although, I thought it might be fun to go to the beach for a barbeque.”

Kim: “Oh, mm-hm. Would you want to invite anyone or would it be just us?”

Kelly: “ I don’t know. Maybe. I guess we could invite Sharon and Dieter. We haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Kim: “Mm, that’s true. Ok, well, whatever you want.”

Kelly: “Did you want to do something different?”

Kim: “…I don’t care.”

Pretty classic. Kim isn’t saying what she wants; she’s fishing. Kelly either a) doesn’t understand Kim’s code, b) would rather she communicate clearly and is modeling that for her, or c) is also speaking in code! Whatever the case, when we left this couple in the middle of their conversation, it didn’t look like they were headed in a positive direction. Who knows where it could end up- a fight or argument, a mismanaged conflict.

If Kim had said something like, “I feel like it’s been a while since we’ve spent time just the two of us. I miss you. Want to hang out alone together this weekend?” she would have been clear and honest about what she is looking for. It directly communicates her feelings and intention.

Sometimes we’re looking for validation, support, approval, and connection. Maybe we’re feeling ignored, insecure, resentful, or hurt. Other times, we are genuinely seeking information from someone. Our tone, facial gestures, and body posture help to communicate where we are coming from; this provides useful information for one another. Still, sometimes we can find ourselves in this trap. Saying what we mean and asking forthcoming questions is a simple and powerful technique that we can use to improve our communication. When we do this often enough, we provide more stability and connection in relationship.

Of course, there are still plenty of times when sending cryptic messages is a lighthearted way to play. One of the most important types of awareness we can have is awareness of our intention. If we know we’re not feeling playful and resourced, it’s probably best to be as direct and honest as possible.


Love and Be Loved,

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Patterns of Fighting, Arguing, and Conflict

Most of us agree that relationships can be an exceedingly rewarding part of life. Most of us agree that they can also be a lot of work. There are differences to navigate, conflicts to negotiate, and emotions to be aware of and manage. By now, we understand that it takes cooperation, compromise, and empathy to get a stable start to a fruitful relationship.

We make so many choices when we’re in relationship although, sometimes, we’re not aware of what we’ve chosen and why… or that we were given any choice at all. This thread is found in a good number of the issues that couples bring to me. Somewhere along the way, people start feeling stuck.

One of the most common, basic choices we make in relationships is how we respond to one another. We are constantly negotiating offers for connection with others. Here are some ways people respond to one another. See which style is most common in your relationship(s).

The most ideal (because it is most supportive and has the best outcome) is when we accept bids for connection or “turn toward.” This happens when someone asks us a question, makes a comment, displays communicative behavior and we react in a positive way. If someone reaches out to you for a high-five, you high-five them back. If your partner says, “I want to start working out more and eating healthier,” you say something like, “That’s a good idea! I feel better when I do.” People feel more supported in relationships where turning toward one another is a common practice.

Another and less ideal way of responding to another’s attempt at connection is in rejection or “turning against”. This happens when defensiveness, blame, or criticism is used. If you were to respond in this way, it would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “Whatever. You say that all the time and you never do it. You should either do it or stop talking about it.” Couples who practice this generate a lot of hostility and resentment, two qualities that make it tough for a supportive, connected relationship to thrive.

The third way to respond to someone’s bid for connection is ignoring or “turning away.” It happens when one partner meets the other with silence or an unrelated comment/question. This particular pattern is the most destructive and puts couples on a fast track to breaking up. Unresponsiveness breeds resentment, defensiveness, blame, and eventually, hopelessness. An example of turning away would look something like this:

Them: “I want to start working out more and eating healthier.”

You: “…hey, do you remember the name of that guy we ran into last night?”

It could also look like silence while you’re staring at an electronic device or book.

At first, most people try a few more attempts at connecting. Eventually (especially when couples are headed for divorce), people stop making attempts.

Those of you who learned supportive communication skills early in life have lucky companions. For those of you who didn’t learn (or refine) your skills early on, well, you can learn at any age.

Here’s something to try which will promote an increase in turning toward- learning how to listen. There are a few key elements of listening in the most active, positive, supportive way:

-Focus on being interested in and curious about what the other person is saying, feeling, expressing

-Ask questions about what they thinking, feeling, experiencing

-Look for similarities you share with one another (Empathy fast-tracks connection.)

– Give them your undivided attention- don’t try to listen while playing with your phone, reading an article, watching T.V., etc.

-Suspend or let go of your agenda. We can’t listen to the best of our ability when we are preoccupied with our points of argument, feelings, and experiences.

Sometimes executing these things is trying. We might get scared that we’re not going to get our say in the matter or that we’re going to feel taken advantage of or taken for granted. Interestingly, couples who practice turning against and turning away report feeling this way while couples who practice turning toward report a decrease in such feelings.

Relationships can be difficult enough when we are on the same team. They feel nearly impossible when we pit ourselves against one another.


Love and Be Loved,

Deepen Your Relationship in Conflict

Deepen Your Relationship in Conflict

A few days ago, I came across various articles warning readers about what not to say to different groups of people- what not to ask women, what not to say to new parents, what not to ask an older male divorcee, what never, ever to ask (fill in the blank). I decided to investigate these articles further so that I might be able to understand the messages. After reading them, it seemed that the message to readers was pretty clear. The authors hoped that their words would preclude people from offending each other, sounding stupid, or both.

Overall, I appreciated this sentiment. I don’t like to see people get their feelings hurt either. But the more I thought about the authors’ collective message, the more I couldn’t help but get the feeling that there might be an even deeper message, a message that communicated danger in being curious.

As a therapist, I see a lot of people who want to learn how to manage conflict in a more productive way so that they can have the relationships, careers, and lives they want. A lot of learning how to manage conflict is a) learning how to manage one’s emotions, b) learning about the language one uses to communicate (and what it says about them), and c) curiosity about another’s experience. We are in conflict in every way, every day. Conflict is simply variation. We all manage (and mismanage) conflict every day, sometimes without realizing it.

When I hear people urging others out there to clam up and not ask specific questions, I hear them asking for people not to communicate their curiosity. It sounds as though they are suggesting that the antidote to conflict is a closed mouth. Of course, that isn’t the intention; I know that. But a lot of relationship wounds happen unintentionally.

Which brings me to… intention. When you are managing conflict, it’s important to pay attention to intention, both your own and another person’s. If another person’s intention is unclear to you, it’s a great idea to ask them. If it seems like they’re trying to make you feel uncomfortable, provoke you, etc., the conversation will probably feel like more of an attack and their questions might feel more threatening or offensive. Most people don’t want to oblige people’s questions when they feel threatened. But what if someone is genuinely curious about your experience? Then how do you feel about questions?

What if the thirty-something single working mom wants you to ask the questions that you have about her life so that she can broaden your understanding, feel a little less isolated, and deepen her connection to you? Obviously, the first step is to ask if you can ask. Second, be respectful and non-critical if she doesn’t want to answer certain questions. I imagine that part of what went into creating these lists of what not to ask who is the notion that there are times when it’s tough to be and feel vulnerable, that we need to respect this in one another.

Take some time right now to think about questions that might be on your “questions never to ask me” list. How did they get on that list? What does it mean to you when someone asks you these questions? Does age, gender, sexuality, privilege, economic status factor in? If so, how? What feeling is evoked when someone asks you or when you think about someone asking you these particular questions? What would you like to avoid by avoiding said questions?

I’m reasonable. I get that it might feel surprising (and maybe a little jarring) to be asked certain questions by strangers or those with whom you are not close, no matter how pure the intention. I’m not advocating for intrusiveness. But it seems like there is a lot of “never ask this!” advice for friends and family and I think it’s such a disservice to intimacy and connection! Most humans want to understand and be understood by one another.


Love and Be Loved,