“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,
Natalie

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

How to Get What You Want in a Disagreement

At some point, most of us have a hard time letting someone have their feelings. When someone is mad at us or sad about something we’ve done or said, we feel uncomfortable. We get defensive (“That’s not what I meant!”), aggressive (“Ugh, you always do this! Whatever. You don’t need to get upset about it.”), or we try to clean it up by backtracking.

 

When we react to the I-don’t-like-the-way-I-feel-when-you-feel-the-way-you-feel feeling, it usually doesn’t help the situation, right? The other person experiences our efforts as invalidating and self-serving (and they’re right). Everyone gets more upset, and we cause more hurt.

 

So, what can we do? Instead of trying to control how someone feels, instead of trying to control the way they interpret our actions and words, we can show respect and dignity to the other person and their experience while taking care of our feelings about their feelings.

 

This requires:

 

  • Curiosity about the other person’s experience
  • Presence, both with ourselves and with the other
  • Self-compassion for our own experience

 

When we’re employing curiosity, it’s important that the curiosity be as genuine as possible (or at least the wish for it). We’re not looking for ways in which we think they misunderstood us or for an in somewhere. We want to understand their experience. We want to know what they heard and saw and felt.

 

Engaging our presence will help us keep our reactivity to a minimum and provide a solid foundation for the conversation. It’s a great way to soothe ourselves in a moment of upset and show up emotionally and cognitively for the other person (and for any difficult situation).

 

Using self-compassion is helpful for something like this because it helps stabilize us and our need to make sure we’re ok with the other person. It gives us what we are looking for, the knowledge that we are ok, right from the source- ourselves. Often, the reason why we go on the defensive/offensive or try to convince the other person out of their feelings is that we need validation that we’re ok. But when we try to feel ok using those tactics we invalidate the other person. Then, there are two people who feel invalidated and are putting their needs on each other.

 

Managing conflict isn’t easy, and relational discord feels bad. Often, we are challenged by our need to be right and our need to maintain peace in the relationship. Sometimes we’re right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Ultimately, what matters is our ability to validate our own experience and our desire to see and hear the other person. Because many of our experiences will not be shared, it is important for us to be able to validate ourselves and respect other people’s perspectives.

 

The more curious we are about others’ experiences, the more likely it is that we will come to an understanding. If I’m busy trying to talk someone out of their anger, I probably won’t hear their need to feel respected. I probably won’t hear that they experienced me as belittling, that they felt insignificant and small. Chances are, we’ll keep rolling around in the same cycle because we’ll both keep triggering each other and waiting for the other to back down.

 

We will not always do this. I don’t always do this. There are plenty of times when I find myself acting defensively because I don’t like the way I feel when someone else feels the way they feel. But it’s less often. The more I practice taking care of myself and giving someone space for their own experience, the more I feel like it’s my natural primary response.

 

If you’d like to know more about managing conflict, please email or call me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

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)

-yelling

-loud sounds

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

-receiving critical feedback or being corrected

-deceit

-when someone talks over or interrupts you

-being/feeling avoided

-being/feeling smothered

-being in conflict with someone

-rudeness

-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

-revenge

-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,
Natalie

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

The Benefits of Changing the Way You Communicate

I’m a huge fan of the TV show, The Office. There’s an episode during which boss, Michael Scott, says something to his employees about wanting to make an announcement. He starts talking and an employee, Oscar Nunez, says, “These aren’t announcements…” Michael says, “Yes, they are; you just don’t care about the information.” And we do this kind of thing all the time with each other.

 

Productive communication is just as much about the way we hear something as it is about the way we say something. I see a lot of couples who try therapy specifically because they want to address the way they communicate with one another. This usually doesn’t mean what they think it means.

 

There are a million ways we send each other messages- by doing something (or not doing something), the way we ask, when we ask, arguing, avoiding arguments, passive-aggressively, literally a million (or more) ways.

 

Most of us think that when our partners accept an idea, think we’re right, or validate our self-concept we’re experiencing “good communication.” If we disagree, argue, or are invalidating of each other’s self-concept we believe we’re experiencing “bad communication.”

 

A breakdown or disturbance in our communication can happen when we don’t like the messages we’re receiving. We stop talking or argue in circles. Sometimes we acquiesce to one another’s demands or plans. We’re still communicating, but it’s become unproductive because we don’t like the information; the messages don’t make us feel good. We try various efforts to get the other person to understand what we are saying. We think, “Well if they really understood what I am saying, they wouldn’t react this way.” Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes, though, we just disagree with each other or can’t manage our emotions around conflict, and no amount of rephrasing will change that.

 

What do we do when someone knows exactly what we want, they just don’t want to (or can’t) give it to us? What if one person wants a lot of deep, personal conversation and the other person doesn’t? Or what if what one person thinks is a lot of conversation, the other person thinks of as minimal? Going from here, it wouldn’t be that hard for one partner to feel like the other is emotionally withholding nor for the other partner to feel constantly under attack.

 

Our need for a reflected sense of self is often the culprit. Don’t get me wrong, in the moment it feels great to have someone validate us, our ideas, experiences, and feelings. But we can’t plateau here. The drive for other-validated communication can end up being a relationship killer.

 

Here is an example of other-driven need for validation:

“I want to tell you about myself, and then I want you to understand, validate, and accept me. I’ll tell you about myself and then, to make it equal and to make me feel safe, you have to tell me about yourself regardless of your desire to share. Whatever I disclose, you must make me feel that you are trustworthy and you must disclose something that’s just as revealing, if not more.  This is how we will deepen our intimacy and develop trust.” This is most common. In a dynamic like this, the person who requires less intimacy is the one in control.

 

Here is an example of self-driven validation:

“I want you to know me, to see me, to hear me. I believe that in order for you to really love me, you first have to know me. I know that I am taking a risk by sharing this with you, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take because 1) I want to see the real me and 2) I know that I am capable of taking care of myself in the face of rejection. My sense of safety in this relationship is not dependent on your validation of me.  You don’t have to disclose something to me just because I have disclosed something to you. I acknowledge and accept that we are separate, different people.” This is a lot less common. In this dynamic, control isn’t relevant. It’s about the intimacy and security made possible by self-support.

 

The road from other-validation to self-validation is not short, and it’s not at all easy. Most of us grew up in families where other-validation is the ideal. It’s also pervasive in our greater culture. Self-validated intimacy takes acceptance, self-confrontation, practice, and commitment. We have to be willing to know and accept ourselves first. We have to have a willingness to be curious about ourselves and to face things we don’t like.

 

So what are the benefits of shifting from the aim to be validated by others and the aim to validate ourselves?

 

  • Vulnerability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word anymore.
  • We stop being dependent on an other to make us feel loved and important.
  • We learn that we can disagree without turning it into a knock-down-drag-out fight.
  • We stop taking disagreements personally.
  • We trust ourselves.
  • We break free from feeling controlled by someone else.
  • We stop having the kind of conflict that ruins our whole day or week.
  • We get to know the other for who they are, not for the role we need them to play.

 

 

Changing communication patterns isn’t always about empathy, active listening, acceptance, and reciprocity. Those are great skills to have, but they won’t necessarily bring your relationship back from the brink. If you can bring yourself back from the brink, your relationship has a better chance.

 

“Communication is no assurance of intimacy if you can’t stand the message.”
-David Schnarch, Ph.D.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

Why Are Relationships So Hard?

What We Want:

We all long for fulfilling, stable, and safe connections to others. We want to be understood and hope for people to experience us as we experience ourselves. We long for someone who will take care of us and reassure us that everything will be ok. We want to feel held and contained. We want our rage and defiance to be tolerated. We want to feel that someone understands our experiences of the world and we want those our feelings about those experiences to either be validated or soothed.

Why That’s Challenging:

We will often be misunderstood by and misunderstand others.

We don’t always know how to tolerate someone else’s rage and defiance. Some of us were taught that rage and defiance are intolerable and unacceptable. We were taught that in order to be lovable we had to be “good” which meant being pleasing and accommodating.

We all have some degree of self-idealization, over-inflation of certain qualities and that is often in conflict with a) others’ self-idealization and b) others’ self-concepts. It gets in the way. I might think of myself as a smart, fantastic listener and you might consider yourself a smart, effective communicator. If we come across a misunderstanding or a fair amount of tension during an encounter in our relationship, depending on how psychologically flexible we are, both of us might jump to the conclusion that the other is not as smart as they think they are or not a great listener/communicator.

We are a complex constellation of inner experiences and reduced to words as a means of communication.

Some of us have been deeply hurt by intimacy. Some of us respond to this wound by avoiding intimacy. Others respond by developing a preoccupation with it. Depending on the experiences endured in childhood, we might view safety as either boring, untrustworthy, or elusive. (And plenty of people would say that safety is downright illusory.)

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our own difficult emotions, let alone tolerate high emotionality in others.

What We Can Do:

 We can begin by learning to accept that we are never going to be completely understood by nor completely understand others. Having some understanding can be enough.

At any moment, we can slow down and label what is happening to give us space from the immediate interpretations calculated by our brains.

We can look at our expectations.

We can start to be more curious about which narratives we’re living by that aren’t serving us.

We can remind ourselves that, at the core, what we want from others is often what they want from us and that we might define this differently.

We can learn to balance between our attunement to others’ needs and our own.

Listening is an ineffably effective tool. When we’re willing to listen to ourselves and others we create an open, stable environment. Listening allows us to contact an experience on a deeper level and then make choices that are more in alignment with what is needed.

As always, none of this exhaustive but it’s off to a good start. Happy relating!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

6 Steps to Trusting Yourself

“The suffering itself is not so bad; it’s the resentment against suffering that is the real pain.”
-Allen Ginsberg

 

When I first started my own work with mindfulness and radical acceptance, I found myself saying, “I’ll accept this feeling/ this symptom so that I don’t have to have it anymore.” That’s… not really acceptance but it was the best I could do at the time. Since working with clients around mindfulness and radical acceptance, I have heard this sentiment hundreds of times. It’s hard to get behind the idea that accepting our pain or feelings or aversive experiences has therapeutic value, that it could ever help us to make positive changes. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy is driven by just this, accepting the hard-to-accept.

 

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy was created by Steven Hayes in the early 1980s and tested by Robert Zettle in the mid-1980s. It is a form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and is based on Skinner’s Radical Behaviorism. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’s (ACT) main objective is to help participants turn toward their feelings and symptoms instead of resisting them. The protocol helps participants learn how not to overreact nor underreact nor altogether avoid the associations with these feelings and symptoms. With ACT, we learn to accept ourselves and the experience we are having in the present moment so that we can commit to a behavior aligned with our values.

 

ACT succinctly describes the change in psychological flexibility in this way:

 

We go from F.E.A.R.

 

F- fusion with our thoughts

E- evaluation of our experience

A- avoidance of our experience

R- reason-giving for our behavior

 

To A.C.T.

 

A-accept our reactions and be present

C- choose a valued direction

T- take action

 

In the book, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: The Process and Practice of Mindful Change by Hayes, Strosahi, and Wilson, we’re given the six core principles to help us develop psychological flexibility:

  1. Cognitive de-fusion: Learning methods to reduce the tendency to reifythoughts, images, emotions, and memories.
  2. Acceptance: Allowing thoughts to come and go without struggling with them.
  3. Contact with the present moment: Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness.
  4. Observing the self: Accessing a transcendent sense of self, a continuity of consciousness which is unchanging.
  5. Values: Discovering what is most important to oneself.
  6. Committed action: Setting goals according to values and carrying them out responsibly.

 

ACT emphasizes mindfulness because presence of mind/contact with the present is the only way to change behavior. Now is the only time that we can truly choose a behavior. We habituate to looking at the world in a certain way which makes us miss important external and internal cues to help us determine what is happening in the present moment by thinking about the past or the future. Awareness of the present moment helps us to differentiate between what we are afraid is happening and what is actually happening. It helps us to describe what is happening and then make choices in response. Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

 

The “acceptance” part of ACT is problematic for some. “So then, if I’m supposed to accept my feelings and my experience, does that mean I’m supposed to accept abuse and maltreatment?” The answer to that will always be no. When we accept our feelings and experience, it means we accept the information that we are receiving and can make choices based on that information. It means that we accept that this is how it is right, not that this is how it should continue to be.

 

When we practice acceptance of what’s happening we can mindfully make choices that are in alignment with our values. I like to use this phrasing in my own life and when working with clients: “I’m going to keep choosing the same behavior of ______ because I care about______.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to ______ because I care about ________.” So, someone might say “I am going to keep choosing the same behavior of confronting people when they treat me with disrespect because I care about my feelings and how I’m treated.” Or “I’m going to change my behavior to respectfully disengaging from an argument when it no longer feels productive because I care about my feelings and this relationship and I know that continuing in unproductive conversation usually leads to hurt feelings and resentment.”

 

Sometimes the choice is hard to make. For instance, “I choose to go to bed earlier so that I can wake up feeling more refreshed” is a great behavior goal. But what if it means sacrificing quality time spent with loved ones? This is where present moment focus and acceptance of your experience comes in handy. You might prefer to spend the time with your loved ones and wake up feeling a little more sluggish.

 

I know it’s hard to identify choices so let’s do it together. If you want to talk more about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, changing behaviors, or anything else, please call or email me.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

How Do I Know If I Need Therapy?

“So about how long should it take until I feel better?” “How long do you think I’ll need therapy?” “How many sessions should I expect to attend before my problem is solved?” I have asked all of these questions during time spent on the other side of the couch. I know what it’s like to want concrete answers and expectations met. Everyone wants a sure thing in the face of so much uncertainty.

Therapy is not exactly a sure thing. Surely, it can and does help, but it’s not as simple as basic input of time and results yielded. Results depend on client honesty (with themselves and the therapist), right fit with a therapist, client’s commitment to the work both in and out of the therapy office, and right fit with whatever therapeutic modality is used.

Therapy is almost never a quick fix, but there are quicker-fix type/brief therapeutic modalities available. Whether or not these protocols are right for someone depends on a lot- personality, history, diagnosis, whether or not a person has experienced complex trauma. Even in the best of scenarios, it still requires the practice of skills through time to maintain results.

Under the psychotherapy umbrella, there are five really (really) broad categories we use to organize treatment strategies:

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamic Therapy:

Makes the unconscious conscious, insight oriented. Emphasis on client-therapist relationship. Brief therapy model (20 session maximum) is not the rule, but is available for single-incident trauma like an attack, rape, catastrophic event, targeting a single life shift.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy: Jungian, Dream Work, Attachment-based

Often used for: Increasing self-compassion, improving self-concept, self-actualization, mood disorders, relational problems, trauma, developing insight to identify and manage internal conflict, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families,

*Psychoanalysis: Multiple times per week. The therapist is a blank slate onto which client projects their beliefs and experiences. Relies heavily on free association.

 

Behavior Therapy:

Focuses on conditioning new behavior. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Applied Behavioral Analysis, Aversion Therapy, System Desensitization

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Anger issues, Impulse control problems, self-injury

 

Cognitive Therapy:

Focuses on changing thought pattern. Uses brief therapy model.

Examples: Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Often used for: Phobias, Addiction, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Suicidal ideation, Anxiety disorders

 

Humanistic Therapy:

Focuses on cultivating personal accountability and reaching highest potential. Emphasis on free will. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: Gestalt, Client-Centered, Transpersonal, Solution-Focused, Adlerian  

Often used for: Improving self-concept, self-actualization, improving communication with others, cultivating self-awareness, shifting external locus of control to internal locus of control, couples, families, existential crises  

 

Integrative or Holistic Therapy:

Often referred to as “Eclectic Therapy.” (Some practitioners will basically fight to the death in disagreement over whether or not Integrative is also Eclectic.) Uses various modalities depending on what is indicated for each client. One therapeutic modality combines various features of the previous four categories. Uses both brief and long-term therapy models.  

Examples: EMDR, Narrative, Cognitive Behavioral, Dialectical Behavior, Internal Family Systems, Gottman Method, Transactional Analysis

Often used for: All of the above

 

Some people prefer to see the same therapist for various issues they’d like to target while others seek out a different specialist to treat each issue. There’s no right way to do this, just whatever feels like it’s working for the client. Some clients come with an agenda and leave when their goals have been reached. Some stay for a while after because they like having a professional to talk to who’s all about them. Plenty of people try therapy and find it difficult to give themselves over to the process, take a more passive route to treatment, get frustrated and give up. Sometimes this is because traditional psychotherapy is not a good fit for them right now, maybe ever. There are so many other great therapeutic options. Traditional psychotherapy is not the only way to heal or feel better.

 

I know it’s overwhelming to look for a therapist and decide which kind of therapy would be best for you, especially when you’ve been dealing with a problem for years, and you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and ask for help.

 

If you describe the issue and a little bit about yourself, many of us will be able to direct you in the right direction. There are plenty of therapists who won’t do this because they are sure that they can handle it regardless of their training and orientation. While I would like to believe that this is mostly the exception rather than the rule, it happens. If you feel too overwhelmed or busy or exhausted to educate yourself on various therapeutic tools and modalities, remember that you can interview multiple therapists at a time to see who feels like the best fit for you. (You can also do this regardless of your stamina to self-educate.) Once you start seeing a therapist, you can audition us. If you’re not feelin’ it for some reason, you can switch. It’s ok not to like your therapist or to like them, but feel like they’re not actually helping you. Therapy is an investment, and you have the right to switch providers at any time for any reason. If you’re feeling like you need to discontinue treatment, I usually recommend addressing this with the therapist; sometimes it just takes a little direct communication to shift things. Even if you don’t plan on continuing your work with the therapist, honest feedback is good for both sides.

 

If you’d like to talk more about this, please email me or call and I would be happy to answer any questions. This is one of my favorite subjects!

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

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,
Natalie

9 Behaviors for a Healthy Relationship

9 Behaviors for a Healthy Relationship

I get a lot of questions about what makes a successful relationship, and while each relationship is unique, there are some standard behaviors you can employ that will propel you toward success. At first, this shift in behavior can feel clunky and even a little stressful. Don’t worry about it. If you practice this stuff enough, it’ll become a habit. And don’t get me wrong. Sure, on the one hand, it’s a challenging shift, but it’s also totally worth it.

Ok, so here we go.

1) If the iconic ‘80s show, The Facts of Life, taught us anything it was that “you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both.” Accept your partner for the whole person they are, someone with wonderful gifts, adorable traits, and irritating quirks. It’s along the lines of a pick-your-battles situation. Everyone has flaws. You can’t change that. And seriously, you cannot change that so don’t try. It’s fine to fight about them. In fact, you will, and this is totally healthy (as long as you’re using fair fighting techniques). But if you want your relationship to be successful you’ll need to be able to accept your partner’s flaws and remember why you’re with them. Don’t be with someone if you think they’ll make a good partner as long as they change core parts about themselves. It’ll only invite hurt, drama, and resentment. Be with someone whose imperfections you can deal with on a regular basis.

2) Empathic honesty without blame is what it’s all about. You don’t have to be brutally honest. In fact, I don’t recommend it. You love this person and you’re expressing yourself honestly for your relationship to overcome something so, there’s no need to take an aggressive approach. You’ll also want to move away from using blame while delivering your honesty. It will be easier for your partner to listen and you’re message will be clearer if you leave blame out of it.

3) Communicate your needs, feelings, and experiences directly. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind; say what you need to say. Open and honest communication can be intimidating for a myriad of reasons, but it’s worth it. The alternative is clamming up about it and relying on dropping hints and passive aggressive communication. For the love of everything holy, please don’t do this. Your partner ends up getting confused (understandably) and you end up building resentment toward them when they inevitably don’t meet your needs. When you clearly and directly state your needs you not only avoid unnecessary strife, you also give your partner a chance to show up for you which builds trust and intimacy.

4) Don’t be a victim. Engaging a victim perspective positions you and your partner against one another which strips away the intimacy you’re working so hard to build. Instead, be a champion for yourself and advocate for what you need. Using number 2 and 3 is a great way to do this. When you communicate using empathic honesty and direct messaging you’ll feel empowered, and your partner will feel like a valued member of your partnership.     

5) Look for the best in your partner. You started dating this person for a reason. You’ve continued dating them for a reason. Once the initial excitement wears off, and you’ve gotten a few fights under your belt, it’s pretty easy to let those reasons fade from memory. The solution isn’t always easy, but it’s simple. Look for the best. Look for what your partner does right, for the loving intentions behind their behavior, and for what gifts your partner brings to your life. When you actively look for the reasons why you love your partner you become more supportive, more charitable, and more loving. You become a better partner. (Looking for the best in your partner also makes it much easier to put their mistakes and flaws into reasonable perspective.)

6) Stop keeping score. This is a kind of opposite to looking for the best in your partner. With score-keeping, not only are you looking for all the things they did wrong, but you’re also not letting mistakes become part of the past. There are many reasons for doing this. You might keep score so that you can hold it as currency. You might use these wrongdoings as reasons to do something you shouldn’t or to not do something you should. Or maybe you use them as a way to absolve yourself from your misdeeds. This hurts the relationship because you set the default to “look for the faults” with your partner instead of “look for the best.” Use number 1 to help you out with this. Remind yourself to be with your partner now, not yesterday, a week ago, five years ago. Remind yourself that you choose this person which means you choose to be with their mistakes. You might also feel tempted to keep score about sacrifices you make for the person, good deeds, and favors. Don’t. This is an effective way of building resentment on your end and mistrust of your gifts on theirs.

7) Spend time together, time engaged in parallel activities, and time apart. It’s not healthy to spend every waking second together so don’t. Couples need a balance of time together with various levels of engagement and time apart. The time you spend directly engaged with your partner is beneficial for building and maintaining intimacy. It gives you the chance to have shared experiences which can enrich the narrative of your relationship. Time spent together, but less engaged (like when one of you is playing Angry Birds, and the other is cooking, or you’re reading separate books) is also enriching and allows you to maintain your individuality while simultaneously enjoying the company of the other. The time you spend part from one another is critical for maintaining your relationship with yourself, your individuality, and your self-sufficiency. When you prioritize time apart, you allow yourselves to experience new things to take back and share with your partner which is also pretty attractive.

8) Let go of some conflicts. Of course, it’s important to address conflict and find resolutions, but there is such a thing as resolving something to death. The truth is, you’re just not going to resolve every single problem, and that’s ok. This is where numbers 1, 5, and 6 can help you out. Accept the other person’s differences and flaws, remember why you’re with them and don’t keep a tally of all the times they’ve hurt you or pissed you off. And know that you are going to have recurring disagreements and arguments; it’s part of being in a long term relationship.

9) Know when to let go of the relationship. This plays as big a role as the others in creating a successful relationship because said relationship might be the one after the relationship you’re in currently. Sometimes you’re ill-matched and there’s nothing you can do to change it since changing it would mean altering core parts of yourselves. Knowing when to end it helps you to bring the relationship to a close in a healthy way and move onto a more successful partnership whether that means being with yourself for a while or being with someone else. The important thing is to be in integrity with yourself and your values.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

“This is all your fault.”

“This is all your fault.”

It’s important that we hold ourselves accountable. To be in a healthy relationship with ourselves and one another, we need to be able to accurately identify when we do something right and when we do something wrong. If we hold ourselves accountable, we learn what works, what doesn’t, and how to be a safer partner, friend, or loved one.

If I hurt your feelings, I need to take responsibility for my actions so that I can keep the integrity of the relationship. If I unintentionally hurt your feelings, I might say something like, “I can see how that would be hurtful. I’d be hurt, too. I’m so sorry that’s what it felt like to you. I would never intentionally do something to hurt you.” Then I’d probably ask you more about what it was that made you feel bad. I’d want to know what happened so that we’re both understood, make sure we increase our fluency of one another’s language, and sharpen my tools so that we have a better chance of avoiding a repeat. If I intentionally hurt your feelings, I might say something like, “You’re right. I was wrong to say that. You have every right to be hurt. I’m so sorry I hurt you.” I would do everything I could to provide a space where you felt heard and safe enough to express your experience.

The same would be true if I did something right. I’d need to be able to identify and take ownership of doing something loving or nurturing. Anything I might do in our relationship would be important information for how I feel about you, the relationship, and myself. My behavior is what I do, but it’s not who I am.

Think about that for a minute. Our behavior is what we do; it’s not who we are. One of the valuable gifts of accountability is that it reminds us of this truth every time we use it.

Blame is different. Blame tells us that our behavior is who we are. While accountability says, “I did this” blame tells us, “I am this” and is usually followed by some form of punishment and shame. Blame isolates us from our loved ones and our best selves.

When we blame ourselves, it usually sounds a lot like, “It’s all my fault. I always do this.” There is often a feeling of shame behind self-blame. We’re ashamed, so we blame ourselves, which makes us feel more ashamed, and it just goes on. Using blame also means that we are less likely to own our attributes in a positive way. There’s a better chance that we’ll throw our favors or good deeds in someone’s face, use them as weapons, or use them as tools to blame.

Anyway, we use blame will result in a negative outcome. It doesn’t matter if we blame ourselves or someone else. The message we are sending is the same- “one (or both) of us is faulty.”

When we practice accountability (whether we’re holding ourselves or someone else responsible), we increase our social and emotional resilience. We have a better understanding of what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again. We become better partners, friends, and colleagues because we’re much less toxic. We don’t have to delight in others’ mistakes and minimize their attributes because we are confident in ourselves. Accountability gives us freedom.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie