“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

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,
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

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Can My Relationship Be Saved?

Most of us want security in our relationships. We’re wired to be social so, when we feel like our social standing is threatened or that our intimate connections are unreliable, our brains process it as actual danger, and we freak out.

Some of us crave security and validation of our places and safety in our relationships but can’t seem to find partners with whom we get that. We tend to find and are attracted to people who provide us with incredible highs (and incredible lows), drama and a push-pull style of interacting. When we’re in relationships with partners who help us to feel more secure and receive validation of being loved, respected and cared for, we often feel bored. We mistake the tension-relief cycle and the excitement of the highs and lows for love. This type of behavior is common in those of us who have an anxious attachment style. We think we want security (and we do but getting it also stresses us out) and then when we get it we’re not interested.

 

Look at this scenario. Let’s say you are in the middle of a pretty unstable intimate relationship with a partner. To friends and family, the relationship is fraught with various dramas and issues; everyone thinks it’s run its course and just needs to end. You acknowledge that there are problems, but think you can work through them. You might even believe that you can’t live without your partner or that there is no one you could ever love as much. Your partner is ambivalent about your future as a couple which is weird because when you first started dating, they came on strong and made you feel like you were the only person in the world. Now, you’re lucky if you get a text back. Much of the relationship consists of a good couple of months and then a breakup or the threat of a breakup. Even when things are good, there is a lot of discord because you don’t feel prioritized by your partner and they experience you as suffocating. When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, you feel like you might lose your mind. When you’re at work or out with friends, you are often distracted and thinking of your partner, waiting for their text or call. If they do contact you, all of your attention is fixed on them. You often threaten to end the relationship, but when an actual breakup happens, it’s either initiated by your partner or because they are the one who follows through on your threat. You think the relationship would be perfect if you partner would make only a few changes to your dynamic. After all, you’ve sacrificed a lot of your expectations and some of your values in a desperate effort to make this relationship work. You often say you’ve never loved anyone so much until now. This is also one of the most unstable relationships you’ve ever had.

 

In this example, you are exhibiting anxious attachment behavior. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have an anxious attachment style. During the course of our lives, we are in relationships with people who might connect us to various styles of attachment. If this relationship is representative of most of your intimate relationships, then it might be more likely that you have an anxious attachment style.

 

People with an anxious attachment style (or who have enough of a propensity for it) feel themselves pulled to people who have an avoidant attachment style. The partner above is a pretty good example of someone who might have an avoidant style of attachment or at the very least displays some features. This is usually pretty rough going because while one partner craves validation and is insecure about space in the relationship, the other partner is looking for more space and is insecure about giving validation.

 

This is a pretty crazy-making, taxing cycle. To add insult to injury, the more we engage in this cycle, the more insecure we become. I know it probably feels like there’s no winning here, that you can either be with someone you love but who can’t give you the security you need or be with someone who can give you that security but not a satisfying connection. I would love to talk with you more about this. Please contact me if you would like support.

 

I recommend reading the book Attached., by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. It’s a great resource for people struggling through these and similar patterns.

 

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

Identifying Dependency in Relationship

Identifying Dependency in Relationship

I wanted to write something about dependency in relationship because I haven’t in a while and it keeps coming up in various conversations with people. First off, it’s pretty commonly confused with love. Secondly, it’s not love.

Most of us work best in relationship when there is an interdependence, when we can rely on and trust one another, share our gifts and strengths, give and receive support. We thrive when we allow ourselves to learn and teach, explore on our own and then come back to share our experience. The experience of being appreciated by someone for who we are and what we bring to the world is pretty profound.

And that’s my cue to make an important distinction. Appreciating someone for who they are and what they bring to the world is different from appreciating them for who we think they should be and what we think they should bring to our world. The latter is consistent with dependency in relationship. Some people feel safe in a relationship where their partner is dependent on them. Others feel safe when they are the one who is dependent. Some people feel safe in the familiarity of a codependent relationship. There are many reasons why that happens although I won’t explore it in this post. Instead, I will talk about some ways to identify dependent behavior (in either yourself or your partner). (There are many people who are not dependent in relationship, but for different reasons find themselves exhibiting these traits with someone. I’ll also talk about that at s later time.)

 

  • Making demands. This could be anything from telling someone who their friends should and shouldn’t be to how they spend their free time to their life goals. We can’t tell each other who to be friends with, how to be, or what to want. It’s not fair to demand that anyone change to make us happy.
  • Constant validation. It’s nice to hear that we are loved, why we are loved, why we are special, etc. It feels good, and it usually makes us feel close to the person telling us those things. Sometimes, though, we have difficulty internalizing those sentiments, and we just can’t hold onto it. We need to hear it all the time, and we feel that our loved one is withholding if they don’t tell us all the time. The problem with this is that it’ll just never be enough. When we can’t internalize something, we’re like a bucket with holes. Stuff just seeps right out, and we need more and more and more.
  • A feeling of emptiness. This feeling is usually looming, and we feel like it zeroes in on us when we are not with our loved one. We need to be with them all the time and if we’re not with them, we need to know where they are at all times and know that they are accessible to us (usually so that we can get the validation that they love us/miss us/ aren’t putting anyone before us/that they are ok). We usually panic if we cannot get in touch with them.
  • Cancelling plans. When we feel dependent on a partner, we will cancel plans to be with them. We will also want them to cancel plans to be with us. Sure, it’s nice to ditch something and stay home to be cozy together every so often. This is not the same thing. The stakes are higher, and it needs to happen more frequently than a once-in-a-while treat.
  • You’ve probably vibed that there is a pretty big need to feel in control when someone is experiencing dependency. You’re right. We usually feel dependent because we are anxious. (The higher the anxiety, the greater the feeling of dependence and vice versa.) When we’re anxious, we really need to find something to control. Another way to feel more in control is by demanding that a partner act and speak the way we want them to. “Don’t do (blank)! It makes me feel like you would rather be with someone else.” “Don’t say (blank)! It makes me think you don’t love me as much as I love you.” And I’m not talking about someone setting a healthy boundary like, “Don’t see other people when we’ve agreed to be monogamous.” The controlling behavior is demonstrated more often than something like that, and it usually leaves a partner feeling limited and boxed in. It might look like, “Text me every hour so that I know you’re ok.” or “give me all of your passwords so that I know I can trust you.”
  • Giving things up. This can mean giving up hobbies, ideals, political or religious affiliations, practices, anything. There are a million reasons we might ask someone to give up this part of their lives- “It goes against my own set of values,” “It takes you away from me so much,” “It makes me feel like you would rather be doing that than spending time with me.” The list of reasons goes on and on. When we are dependent in a relationship, we cannot tolerate feeling separate from a partner. We need to merge our lives and our experiences. We can’t and don’t respect a partner’s need for individuality. We feel threatened by it.
  • And this is definitely not limited to feeling jealous of someone with whom we think a partner might fall more in love or experience more attraction. This jealousy can extend to friends, family, work, even the partner themselves for wanting any alone time. Anyone who is not us is a potential threat to our time together. We will take it personally, and we will flip the heck out over it.

This list is not exhaustive. It’s a good insight into what it feels like to be in a relationship in which dependence plays a role. The funny thing is, some people who experience it don’t do so with each and every partner. Some people bring it out in us or we bring it out in them, and there are a lot of reasons why this can happen (attachment styles, relationship trauma, etc.). There are those of us who experience it as a relationship pattern and might be confused about why. The point is, it happens, and it’s helpful to identify it before too many fights and too much suffering. It’s absolutely workable and doesn’t have to mean the end of a relationship as long as you get help and learn how to manage the feelings and beliefs that drive it.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie

Giving Versus Giving In

Giving Versus Giving In

Being in a successful, healthy relationship requires prosocial behavior. We must employ tools such as active listening, curiosity, giving the benefit of the doubt, assuming the best intentions, empathy, honesty, cooperation, and sharing. All of these actions sit under the umbrella of giving. Most of us are familiar with the saying “relationships require give and take.” Giving is an essential part of any relationship.

I’ve seen a lot of people who confuse giving with giving in. And the two have very different implications for a relationship.

Giving comes from a loving, strong, and often courageous place. When we give someone the benefit of the doubt, for instance, we’re allowing ourselves to trust, to be in a vulnerable position. We are not defending ourselves with skepticism or assumptions. We’re giving out of love and in doing so enriching our relationship.

Much can be given from such a loving, strong, and courageous place within ourselves- boundaries, empathy, second chances, forgiveness, patience. We can navigate our own limits of giving with more confidence and self-assuredness when we come from this place. We can teach cooperate, receive and give back. We can truly give.

But sometimes it’s hard to inhabit this place that lives within us. We feel drained or exhausted or alone or overwhelmed. We want to avoid the feelings we’re experiencing from the situation that’s causing us to have to decide what and how much we will give.

Most of us have been there. Most of us have found ourselves saying something like, “Fine, take the ice cream.” Or “Yeah, I’ll just do it. Whatever.” Instead of giving, we’re giving in. If we do this enough, we can build some pretty hefty resentment. We start to feel totally disempowered, that we have no voice (or that our voice doesn’t matter). We might even begin to assume that this is what everyone expects- for us to just give-in and soon we believe that everyone has an agenda. We start to feel defeated.

Some of us give in more than others. When we are afraid of confrontation, we give-in. Some of us do it because we’re afraid we’ll be rejected if we don’t. Some of us believe that that’s our role, to give-in endlessly. Some of us would have been hurt in the past if we didn’t give-in and defer to someone else, so we’ve learned to do it as a way to keep ourselves safe. Many of us give in because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to do; we don’t really recognize it as giving in.

A good way to check-in with ourselves to find out if we are giving or giving in is to pause and see what our intention is. Do we want to get this conversation over with or avoid a feeling we don’t like? We’re probably giving in. If we pause to take the temperature of our intention and our feeling, we’ll start to see how we feel when we are giving in and how different we feel when we are giving.

If we can, we should try not to judge ourselves (or others) for this. It’s something that happens.  We get tired or overworked and make mistakes. So, every-so-often giving-in is bound to happen. We can keep an eye on it and make sure we’re keeping it in check because the less we give in and the more we give, the more we will serve our relationships.

I know it’s not always easy to change behavioral patterns. Identifying it is the easy part; changing it provides much more challenging work. I’d love to talk with you more about this if you have questions about it. We’ll figure it out together, little by little.

 

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

After the Hurt

After the Hurt

We’ve all said or done hurtful things either by accident or intentionally. If we’re in a relationship long enough, it’s bound to happen. The injury can happen for many reasons. Sometimes we feel hurt so we hurt back. Sometimes we’re carrying around so much hurt from past relationships that we act from a defensive (or offensive) place. Sometimes we expect to be hurt, so we hurt first.

After we’ve hurt someone we love so many feelings are likely to surface. We might experience guilt, shame, residual anger at the other person, anger at ourselves, and sadness. We want to apologize for our actions, but we don’t know how or where to start. And the difficulty of extending an apology is exacerbated by our anger at the other person if we feel hurt by them, too. It’s pretty common to succumb to the temptation of sweeping it under the rug and forgetting about it (until the next time).

And while it is easier to forget about it in the short term, this is a dicey way to go. When we don’t hold ourselves accountable for wrongdoing, we send messages to our loved ones that we aren’t prioritizing their feelings, that dealing with conflict is too scary, that we aren’t concerned with their experience, and that we have difficulty with interconnectedness. Withholding an apology is a way to cut off intimacy and garner fear and resentment in the relationship, things that, over time, can kill a relationship. Most of us let this happen unintentionally. We’re not necessarily trying to sabotage the relationship (at least not consciously).

So, how can we do our part to keep this from happening? We have to show our loved one empathy and take responsibility. This starts with getting ourselves back on track. We have to remind ourselves what our values are and the importance of the relationship. This will help us stay in integrity with ourselves when we start the conversation and maintain our resolve when it starts to feel uncomfortable (because it will).

Once we’ve grounded ourselves in our values and our commitment to our loved one, we can come to them in an attempt to make peace. Sometimes we come to them, and they’re not ready to talk about it. That’s ok. This process is not about absolving ourselves of anything; it’s about showing integrity and love to the other person. It’s important to give respect and wait until they’re ready.

When they are ready to start the conversation, we should begin by taking responsibility for whatever it is we did or said. The most important thing is not that we start off by effusively apologizing; that indicates that our primary goal is to be forgiven, that this whole process is about making ourselves feel better. The most important thing is to let the person know we see them, that we understand what we did wrong, and that we want to know how they experienced the hurt. So we listen.

Next, we validate them. We listen to them, and we validate their experience. We make room for them as they communicate how they feel about what happened. This is not the time for us to defend ourselves or to explain our actions. This is the time for us to listen to the other person’s experience.

Finally, we show empathy. We let the other person know that we can understand how they might be feeling. If this understanding eludes us, we can ask supportive questions to help us identify with them.

Ok, so we take responsibility, listen, validate, show empathy. There is a time in the conversation to explain what was happening for us, and it’s now. After we’ve taken responsibility, listened, validated, and shown empathy, we can communicate our experience.

It’s a little tough-going at first, but this process is incredibly rewarding. It nurtures the relationship. If you have any questions or need some clarification, please let me know.

 

Love and Be Loved,
Natalie