The Right Way to Say, “I’m Sorry.”

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I am a relationship therapist in San Francisco. I know relationships. And I have something important to tell you about dating, marriage, and relationships:

Conflict Is Inevitable

In relationship it’s inevitable that we’ll step on each other’s toes and have different needs that conflict.  And it’s likely we’ll want or need different things at the same time.  When this happens, the situation is ripe for conflict, hurt and disappointment.

So, when the dust has settled, how do you repair?  Do you brush it under the rug?  Do you uncomfortably or reluctantly dip your toes in the water with each other?  Or do you make the repair explicit and direct. 

Get Good At Repairing

Repair is a critical part of relationship.  If you aren’t good at repairing, your relationship is probably in trouble.  Conflict is inevitable, because difference is part of what sparks chemistry.  So, relationship pros know that it’s important to clear things up, not let it smolder or fester.  And the best way to do that is directly, with care and mutuality.

As I’ve seen couples negotiate repair, step into each other’s shoes and acknowledge their part and their partner’s feelings, I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of ‘Sorry’.

The differences aren’t glaring, but there are important subtle distinctions that communicate different feelings and intentions.  In a nutshell, one is closer to acknowledging how your partner felt and understanding it with care and compassion.  The other is more like saying, “Yeah, I screwed up.  I let you down/I crossed a line.”  Both can include or embody the words and message, “I’m sorry.”  But which one is better, or more appropriate, depends on the situation.

I Care About How You Felt

The first one is kind of like stepping on someone’s toes.  It’s inadvertent.  There’s no foresight about the hurt.  Usually, there is no selfishness or neglect.  You’re different, separate people so imperfect attunement and missed wishes, preferences and needs are inevitable.  Casually put, ”Shi* happens.” It’s unfortunate, but part of life and totally repairable.

Example:  You walk by an ice cream shop and you want ice cream. Meanwhile, your partner wants to go home.  You think: This will only take a minute.  Your partner thinks: He knows I want to go home and he’s ignoring my desires. I feel like he doesn’t care. I feel ignored and hurt, like I don’t matter.

Simple example.  Maybe you can think of a better one from your own life, in fact.  But the point is, you have differing wants and needs.  Someone is going to have their needs left unmet. 

A repair of this kind is about acknowledging that your partner had needs and while you were trying to get your needs met (normal human stuff) your partner didn’t get theirs met.  And it’s likely that because you two have some history around this kind of thing, you end up feeling unimportant, hurt and you react.  An argument ensues, and you get disconnected. 

The kind of repair or apology in this case is more about understanding and responding to how the hurt partner felt.  Step into their shoes, experience care and share compassion for how they felt.  You weren’t wrong, but something happened.  Find a place inside that can understand and communicate care from that space.  For some couples repeated experiences like this become a stuck spot that requires some deeper exploring and working through, often with the help of a therapist.

I Screwed Up

The second kind of ‘Sorry’ is more about taking responsibility for doing something that is an implicitly or explicitly held agreement about values and behaviors in your relationship.  Hopefully this kind of repair is needed less.  But in some relationships these kinds of “violations” happen more frequently.

When they do happen and repair is needed, it’s more like saying, “I screwed up.  I see that what I did/said was against our values and hurt you.”  It needn’t be a huge aggression.  It could be that you were selfish.  Or thoughtless.  It could be that you were out-and-out hurtful and reacting to some other hurt you felt from them. 

In any case, the repair is more of an apology and ownership of responsibility and regret or remorse about how what you did or said caused hurt and/or harm.  Again, setting aside your experience just for the moment, step into their shoes and tell them how you understand them.  Then let them know how their hurt actually impacts you (sadness, disappointment, guilt, pain) and that you care and wish it hadn’t happened. 

In either case of ‘Sorry’: Curiosity, Openness, Working to Understand/Put Yourself in Their Shoes, Communication of Empathy and Care are key ingredients.  If you get stuck along the way, you may need some help learning to repair and/or sorting through more complex relationship dynamics.  A good couples counselor or therapist is a great ally and can help you create an even better relationship than before.

I love hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you relate and are creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident relationship therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!

5 Questions That Create Happy Relationships

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In case you didn’t get the memo, communication is the thing that makes relationships click.  Well, its one of the things.  Maybe one of the most important things.  Intimacy, vulnerability and expression of care are also huge, but they all rest on the basic skill of communication.

Not everyone is super skilled or comfortable with “real” communication.  But since you’ve decided you like this person so much, why not talk to them?  And why not really talk.  Practice it, grow, stretch a little if these kinds of questions are a stretch.  They’ll feel better, you’ll feel better, and you’ll be investing in your mutual long-term happiness.

If you don’t already have a weekly time set aside to really connect, start to make time.  John Gottman’s research-based Magic 6 Hours for satisfying and long-lasting relationships suggests it’s a no-brainer.  Try asking these questions or others that are in the same neighborhood and see how they improve your relationship.  And of course, this is a two-way street.  These questions should always be asked to both partners.

1.How was your day/week…would you tell me something about it that was hard so I can help you hold it?

Sometimes its hard to ask and be asked this kind of question.  Sometimes we’re silently dying to have our partner ask and help us hold or sort through something.  When you ask this kind of question, try to stay away from advice giving and certainly from taking sides with anyone other than your partner, and definitely from any form of critical comments.  Offer words of empathy, understanding, care and support.  Ask follow-up questions that give your partner the opportunity to explore more and re-articulate just what they’re really feeling and thinking.  For more see Gottman’s Stress Reducing Conversation.

2.What do you need most from me at the end of a day?

Knowing what each other need and being able to try to get some or most of that met by each other is a life-long tango you’ll be dancing, so see if you can do it more intentionally and consciously.  Letting your partner know explicitly that you are interested in, care about and aware of their needs (even if you can’t meet them perfectly) is a huge part of the dance.  Do your best to stay aware of each other’s needs and collaborate.

3.What is something you feel like you struggle with, that maybe you haven’t ever shared with me?

It’s not uncommon to hold things back from the person we’re most vulnerable to, even though (or maybe because) we want to feel seen and accepted by them.  Asking this question can open a doorway in your relationship for deeper intimacy and connection.  Staying compassionate and non-judgmental will be a key to success. 

4.What is one of the most important goals/dreams you have that I can support you in and share with you?  (Follow up: Can you help me understand more about why that goal/dream is so meaningful to you?)

John Gottman’s 30 years of research tell us that shared meaning in our partnerships are an important element in long-term satisfaction.  Being a part of or even just a present cheerleader and advocate for each other’s goals and dreams paves the path for us to be there to hold disappointments and achievements together.

5.What is one thing I do that bothers you or is hard for you? (Follow up: Can you help me understand why and a way that might work better for you?)

Most of us steer clear of things that others don’t like about us.  But its unrealistic to expect that you’ll be perfect, or that you won’t bug or even frustrate your partner at times.  Get it out there on the table in a collaborative way so it doesn’t come out sideways in a moment of anger.  Maybe even find a way to get more light-hearted about it and put yourself in their shoes.  You’re both different and both imperfect, so some friction is par for the course.  Get good at acknowledging and talking constructively about it.

I love hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you relate and are creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident relationship therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!

5 Ways to Soothe Dating Anxiety

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Dating Can Be Crazy-Making!

I recently had a client who was struggling with the all too familiar experience of dating anxiety or what we often call attachment anxiety. We had had a fairly productive session helping her re-regulate her nervous system, but I knew she was still leaving with some angst and discomfort given the unpredictable nature of dating. 

I wanted to be helpful outside of the session by sending her some tools and tips for dealing with anxiety and insecurity. I was looking for a quick blog with some tips that I could send her that could help her in between our sessions, but didn't find something that I liked so I decided to write my own, both for her and for you.

Attachment anxiety throws our nervous systesms out of whack!

Attachment anxiety shows up in the dating world when someone we have started to date and get to know, and consequently started getting even a little bit attached to, suddenly does or says something that makes us feel like they aren't as interested as we thought they were.

We can feel left hung out to dry, unimportant, un-liked, and unwanted.  It can even touch off deeper experiences of shame and hopelessness (I’m not lovable, I’m never going to find someone that wants me).

When someone we have started seeing unexpectedly pivots, perhaps for reasons that have little or nothing to do with us personally, it can feel like WE are being rejected and left and we can feel abandonment.  The internal psychological experience is somehow, “I'm not okay.” We need to re-establish contact with ourselves and our sense of goodness and we need our nervous systems to settle in order to do that.

5 tools to get your system back on track.

Here are some tips that should help you manage some of the anxiousness, self-soothe and re-regulate when you're feeling rejected, left or not liked or loved anymore.

Get physical. – Take a good 20 minute walk or do a full exercise/work-out routine that includes cardio.  Getting the cardiovascular system revved up changes brain and body chemistry. Yoga is also a great physical practice to soothe anxiety. 

Crank up the volume! – Listen to some up-tempo/Dance Music. It gets you moving physically and can uplift your spirit and mood, and interrupt and re-route unhelpful/obsessive thoughts and can get you back in touch with your inner strength, core energy and center.  My favorite is House music.

Make Contact: Emotional and Physical – Get in touch and connect with a friend or someone who will listen and empathize.  If you have a close enough friend or family member who can put a hand on your back, give you a long hug or even hold you and let their regulated nervous system co-regulate your anxious nervous system.  In lieu of an available friend/family, getting a massage can be a good way to soothe. 

Visualize a better reality.  – John Welwood, in his book Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, has an exercise that I have found to be quite powerful for a number of situations:

Get comfortable.  Close your eyes and go inside.  Ask yourself: How do you most want to be loved right now? Answer that question to yourself out-loud or inside.  It could be anything (I want a hug./I want my mom to tell me how great I am./I wish an angel would come down and wrap her/his arms around me. Or anything simpler or more elaborate.)

Notice the answer and feel it as if it was happening, imagine it in your mind’s eye. Let the question help you get in touch with a longing for something soothing and then let that lead you into imagining it and experiencing it in the moment as if it were happening.  Our brains/nervous systems respond as if it were actually happening.

Relax the body. – Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Sometimes we have to activate something to relax it.  Start by lying down on the floor. You will go through the body one muscle group at a time slowly first tensing and then relaxing each muscle group.

Start with feet, then calves, thighs, and on up through the neck and facial muscles.  There’s no right/wrong, just start with one muscle group at a time. 

Breathe in as you tense or contract and hold for 5-ish to 10-ish seconds, then slowly exhale and relax the muscles.  Then just notice how it feels, rest and take in that relaxation.  Then do the next area. 

At the end you can try tensing/relaxing the whole body.  Notice and take in whatever positive sensations or experience arises. Notice the good sensations IN YOU.  You ARE OK.  There are many different guided practices on YouTube that might help you, here is just one.

You could take 10 minutes or more doing this.  It should help your muscular, nervous, cardiopulmonary and other systems to shift and begin to re-regulate and reconnect you with the goodness that is in you and IS YOU.

I appreciate hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want!

Heal From Your Breakup: How Neuroscience Can Help

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Breaking Up Sucks!  Your heart aches, your thoughts spiral, you don’t want to eat, leave your darkened room or do many of the things you need to do just to get through your day and keep from losing your livelihood. 

We all know breaking up sucks just from having been through it, but neuroscience has recently given us a leg-up on recovering from the heart-sickness that comes from losing someone you love and have been attached to.  I’ve written a guest blog-post on Medium with other breakup advice, but keep reading for my latest thoughts.

What happens when you break-up?

When you fall in love and get attached to someone new, all kinds of feel-good neurochemicals and hormones are activated in your body and brain.  These neurological factors translate into the experience of being psychologically, emotionally and physiologically ATTACHED to another person.

So, its no minor event when you get torn away from that person.  The attachment isn’t just in your head, it’s also in your body.  It’s kind of like if your skin or a body part were to be torn off or removed from the rest of you.  When someone you’ve loved and has become part of your life and part of your daily psychological, physiological, and emotional experience it’s excruciating.

Your pain isn’t just imagined, it’s (literally) in your head.

Neuroscience validates this pain.  According to Xioameng Xu in a report in the Scientific American, fMRI studies have shown that the pain and heartache experienced during a break up activate the some of the same regions of the brain activated when we are in physical pain.  In other words, it’s not just in your mind, the pain is evident and measurable in your body and brain.  Your brain is reading and responding to real pain.

Other fMRI studies have shown us that physical contact with a loving partner relieves and reduces the brain’s perception and our experience of physical pain. This study shows that the pain from the loss of a romantic partner ignites the same areas in the brain as physical pain.

Going through withdrawals is a bitch.

In addition to that, areas of the brain that we refer to as the reward centers are affected.  These areas are involved when experiencing the euphoria induced by drugs such as cocaine and heroin, or the experience of falling and being in love.  Similar to the physical and psychological pain experienced during chemical and substance withdrawal, when you’re going through a break up, your brain and body (not just your “feelings”) are experiencing a deficit of the usual neurochemicals present when you are connected, attached and connected to your partner.

So how can you use this information to help get through a break up? 

  1. Give yourself a break.  Find ways to soothe and comfort yourself; you’re going through a physiologically demanding and painful process. You’d take it easy and get support and be gentler with yourself if you had a broken leg, try and do the same with your broken heart.

  2. It won’t last forever, though it feels that way.  Know that though this experience may feel like it will never get better, part of what you are experiencing is physiological and chemical withdrawal from someone you loved and relied on.  It is a process that will peak and settle, just like an ocean wave.  This wave of pain and heartache will eventually subside and reach the shore.  You will start to feel better after these waves have run their course.

  3. Get through the waves.  Navigate these waves with some tools: 

    • Connect with others that will help you get human connection.

    • Exercise or do physical activity.  Getting your heartrate up and be active helps your body process the stress hormones that are part of the heartache.  It can also help your brain chemistry regain equilibrium and balance.

    • Processing the break up is healthy and helpful, but if you get overwhelmed too much of the time, push pause.  Your body needs to re-regulate.  Sometimes it may help to stop thinking about the person.  You can gently tell yourself, “I care about you so I’m going to protect you from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless for a little while.  We are not going to think about him/her.”

    • Catch “romanticizing” your ex.  It’s easy to get pulled into a state where you are only remembering the “good” things about them and for the life of you, can’t remember any of the “bad” things.  This isn’t reality.  They weren’t all good and they aren’t your source of goodness. You are.  Try connecting with some of the things that weren’t perfect to balance out your perspective.

I know breaking up aches and can be totally overwhelming.  I’ve been through my share too.  I’d love to hear if these ideas are helpful OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want some help getting through the waves - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want.

Social Anxiety and West Coast Culture: How does it relate to my dating life?

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Could West Coast culture be affecting my dating life?

I’ve long had a fascination with understanding the differences between East and West Coast culture in the US.  I’m going to take this chance to share some of my thoughts about the Coast Cultures and how it relates to social insecurities and what I’ll call “hiding”, particularly on the West Coast.  The caveat is that these are generalizations and may not apply to everyone. 

Having said that, part of my own personal working hypothesis is that on the West Coast people tend to be more private, tentative and get preoccupied with what others are thinking.  Many of us grew up with the saying,

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Now, when my mom said that to us I’m sure it was meant to teach us proper manners and to not just blurt out any old thing we felt in the moment that might offend someone.  But as I’ve been reflecting on it, I’m realizing the message received in many situations was something like:

“Don’t say what’s true, people don’t want to hear that, and people can’t handle that.”

I think it also communicated things like:

·       Others can’t handle your truth (or you).

·       You’re kind of threatening, so don’t be direct. 

·       And especially for guys:  Guys are threatening, and girls don’t trust you, so be careful, filter what you say. That’s what good guys do. 

Without intending it, these old messages fostered the seedlings of shame and the belief that in some way, “I’m not ok.”  We often refer to this as a sense of shame:  somehow I’m not ok and I don’t want others to see that.

Many of us learned to keep certain things to ourselves and filter what gets shared.  Many folks learned they’re too much, others are sensitive or fragile, and it’s not a good idea to just be who you are or say what you think. 

With these kinds of messages embedded in our iOS (internal operating system) they can create a subtle self-doubt that is pernicious and paralyzing.  It can cause us to doubt and distrust ourselves at fundamental, even non-verbal levels.  Yet it shows up in our attitudes towards ourselves and others.

On the other hand, many of my East Coast transplant friends, particularly if they haven’t given in to West Coast sensibilities, often tend to say whatever shit they think.  In general, I think East Coast cultural values trend more towards directness, honesty and less preoccupation with others’ sensitivities.  The operating social platform is more like:

“Hey, I’m ok, you’re ok.  And if not, we’ll sort it out…if loudly and brashly, nevertheless, we’ll get it all out and we’ll survive.” 

A West Coast bias that keeps you feeling alone?

As a result of being programmed with sensitivity to others’ sensibilities I think West Coasters have struggled more with being open, direct and honest.  They tend to hide a little more, can feel more reluctant, ashamed or hesitant around approaching others. 

So, whether it’s West Coast culture, a family value or personal constitution that influences values and behavior, lots of people tend to worry about how they’ll be seen, what others will think and/or say about it them, and how they need to compensate for that. 

Regardless of culture, shame and insecurity can cause us all to get stuck!

Shame, even if we don’t recognize it as “shame” per se, makes us all freeze or hesitate and become self-conscious.  In turn we bottle stuff up, hesitate about being direct and honest, don’t trust others or ourselves, and end up feeling disconnected from others and ourselves and painfully alone. 

According to Brene Brown, social psychologist, researcher and acclaimed author, resilience is the opposite of shame and the antidote to hiding, feeling unworthy or not enough.  Include in that, the sense that it’s not ok to really be myself for fear of being too much or feeling unwanted or rejected.

Brene’s work tells us that actually being vulnerable is they key.  Vulnerability is actually COURAGEOUS, not weak or undesirable. 

What shame tends to keep us from:

·       Going for what we want

·       Believing we’re enough/acceptable as we are

·       Feeling good about ourselves and life

·       Being open to taking risks that could create positive experiences

Ok, so what?  How can that help me?

Daring Greatly, as she calls it, or courageously risking being vulnerable is the antidote to shame.  Shame only has an edge when it can freeze us, make us hide, or rob us of our future with negative narratives about our past.

So here are a few ways to respond to the shame that underlies some of the self-doubt that keeps us from feeling good about who we are and how others see us:

·       Uncover the shame by understanding it

·       Overcome the shame by naming it and uncovering it

·       Becoming more accepting/loving towards the parts that have felt the shame

·       Finding ways to move past freeze and courageously into places we feel more vulnerable

I plan to write more on Brene Brown’s work with shame and Daring Greatly.  For now, she has a popular Ted Talk and a book, Daring Greatly, that are good places to continue exploring these ideas.

I love hearing how these ideas are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping successful singles create the love and life that they want!

Can I Have A Great Relationship Even If I Didn't See One Growing Up?

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I was sitting at a coffee shop in warm and sunny Walnut Creek, California several weeks ago escaping the June Gloom of San Francisco, which was bleeding deep into July. As I was sipping my tropical tea, letting myself slowly arrive and adjust to working on some writing projects, I noticed a warm grandfatherly gentleman just outside the window in front of me sitting with what must have been his sweet, little blond-headed 4-year-old grandson.

He was gentle and nurturing with the boy and I thought about how special it must be for that little guy to be able to spend time with this warm, kind grandfather.  Then I noticed a cheerful woman about the same age as the grandpa come over and sit down next to them.  As she settled, the boy leaned in and nestled his head into her lap. It was such a warm, endearing scene.  I basked in the effortless waves of care that rippled off that family as I peered out the rustic window frame. 

I never met my paternal grandfather so perhaps it warmed my heart a little to see a young boy get to be with his grandfather.  And in such a kind and affectionate way, somewhat uncharacteristic of an older generations emotional sophistication. 

Difficult relationships create longing for better ones.

My grandparents and my own parents struggled with relationships as many of us imperfect, yet aspiring humans do. But somewhere along the line I decided to make it a point of my life to learn about relationships.  I wanted to better understand these things called feelings and to create more rewarding experiences with the ones I love than the complicated exchanges I grew up seeing.

Have you seen relationships that inspire you?

Did you grow up seeing complicated relationships?  Or did you see great relationships between your parents or grandparents?  Maybe you had some good models outside of your family that you looked up to in some way. Maybe they taught you that there was a way to do relationships that was better than the ones you saw in your own family. Or maybe you never really learned it you just saw it, admired it and longed for something like that.

We ALL need help creating the loving relationships we long for.

I think many of us fall into the latter category, or perhaps somewhere in between.  An in-between place that has left us with longings, but without enough skills or the ability to turn our wishes into our realities.

I have to admit, I think every single one of us could use some good relationship guidance and communication tools and strategies. Even those of us who know a lot about it, have gone to school and studied it, and practice it a lot need reminders and need help in our blind spots.

If you didn't grow up with great relationship role models and if you didn't go to therapy school, there are probably some ways in which you could enhance your relationships, maybe even make them more like those ideal relationships you grow up admiring, or like the grandparents I was touched to see outside the coffee shop window.

You can do big and small things to create a happier relationship.

Here are some of the most important things I find myself helping clients do every day and every week.  I hope it will help you experience more warmth, kindness and gentleness in your relationships:

1.  Be Curious - Come from a place of genuinely wanting to understand. You’ll probably have to check the HABIT to want to be understood first or to counter-argue.

2.  Listen.  Listening is the greatest gift (and sometimes takes the most work) you can give a loved one.  It takes intention and effort.  But the rewards are transformative.

3.  See More – See the vulnerable, tender, human with needs and cares and hurts, just like you.  Don’t just see what’s on the surface.  There is so much more there.  See the GOOD underneath, whether it’s presenting or not.

4.  Reflect/Ask Questions - If you’re struggling to empathize or understand, ask questions to help you get there.  If you think you’re getting it, check it out.  Reflecting back what you‘re hearing is also a gift.

5.  Regulate - your own feelings that may come up while you’re listening to the other person:  Breathe, notice your body, ask for a moment to clear your head if it will help.  Then return to listening to your partner.

These tips are little nuggets that can point you in the right direction.  But if you find yourself getting stuck or unable to translate them into real change in your life, it may be helpful to get some professional guidance.  Real long-lasting change and satisfying relationships shouldn’t skip your generation.  You can create a great relationship even if you didn’t grow up with one.

I love hearing how couples are using these tips and strategies! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help with listening and getting listened to - feel free to call me at (415) 797-8297 for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am San Francisco’s resident relationship therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!

Part III: 3 Tips to Get Them to Swipe Right + Rewire Your Brain for Love

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GET THE RIGHT ONE TO SWIPE RIGHT!

Part III:  3 Tips to Get Them to Swipe Right + Rewire Your Brain to Attract Love

This is Part 3 of a mini-blog on getting more profile perusers to “swipe right” on your profile by rewiring your brain and upping the frequency you’re vibing on.

In Part 1 of this mini-blog we saw how confidence is attractive and how to build that sense of confidence by slowing down, tuning in and focusing on the good that’s already there in you!  You-liking-you is numero uno in enhancing genuine self-confidence.

In Part 2 we talked about enhancing good voices that help us to tune into self-love that feels good and draws more good to us.  Drop by drop, practicing slowing down and tuning into those good voices inside actually rewires our brains for love.  Now let’s talk about Enoughness – feeling like we’re ok, good enough, ANYHTING enough.  And how rocking that vibe will attract more love (and swipes that matter).

What is “enoughness” and what’s it got to do with dating?

A sense of “enoughness” is a wonderful achievement.  We’re incessantly bombarded by cultural and commercial messages that prey on our vulnerability to feeling like we’re not enough in some way.  Dr. Brene Brown, a popular sociologist, author and Ted Talk presenter with over 35 MILLION views (link), is known for her research and talks on vulnerability, shame, and what I’m calling “enoughness”.  She talks a lot about shame, one of the most debilitating and painful feelings we can encounter, which cripples us with the message that we’re not “something” enough.

Not-enough-ness casts us into dark, shame-filled, virtual hells (not realities) where we just want to hide, so as not to be seen, and where we feel inferior and insecure.  It’s so hard to connect with others or feel worthy of their appreciation, let alone our own, when we’re in these dark, disempowering places. 

The antidote to the sense that “I’m not enough”, and to the accompanying shame that cripples us is being seen, and more specifically, being seen as truly ok and acceptable--just a human being like everyone else--in that place we fear we are not ok. 

Confronting the BS story of feeling not enough is the answer.

We hide when we don’t feel we’re enough.  However, when we summon the courage to fight that FALSE feeling-thought, and take the risk of coming out into the light and being seen, we take away shame’s power and weapons.  We take back our power.

Let’s be real.  I’ve worked with enough people from all walks of life to know that CEO’s, supermodels, and others with incredible success, fame and affluence do not escape the fear about measuring up.  Everyone has underlying vulnerabilities, worries and insecurities.  It’s a human condition. 

So, you’re not alone and no one is better than you.  Everybody experiences not-enough-ness.  So then, what are we measuring ourselves against?!  It’s an illusion, a fantasy that we don’t measure up or aren’t “blah, blah, blah” enough. 

How can I use this in my dating life?

Here’s a quick experiment: Take a few minutes and ask yourself:

·       What areas do I feel I am somehow not enough?  Write down 2 or 3.  For example: I feel like I’m not funny enough. I feel like I’m not intelligent enough.  I feel like I’m not (fill in the blank regarding physical attractiveness) enough. 

·       Now, what would it be like to have someone you trust and appreciate tell you the opposite of those thoughts or beliefs?   Example: “Kelly, I think you are genuinely funny and interesting. I love hearing you tell stories!”

·       Close your eyes so you can go inside.  Visualize in your mind’s eye, someone who you like and trust telling you this kind of message about the “not-enoughs” you just listed.  Really feel it.  Let it in. How does it feel?  What happens when you take it in?*

*Sometimes we encounter blocks to letting in good messages that contradict old longstanding beliefs about ourselves.  If that happens, that’s totally understandable.  Keep experimenting and practicing. 

Build shiny new neuropathways that will change how you feel and how others see you!

Once you get to a place where that message starts to create a good, uplifting, lighter, positive physical and emotional experience inside, you’re letting it in.  That means new neuropathways are getting built, right now!

Take that internal experience, knowing you’re creating new neuropathways in your brain and in your psyche, and approach your profile, the next app encounter, and/or your next date with that quality and energy.

This isn’t magic, it’s science.  It works.  The goal is to feel the newer good feeling and start to experience and create for yourself new realities, that then manifest in new experiences in your life.

It does take time and commitment to catch, stop and replace the old “not-enough” messages with something that is new and different, but truer, more supportive and just plain feels better.  For me, knowing that I’m not just feeling something in the moment, but actually creating a new pathway in my brain that I can build on and that will eventually create long-lasting change in my life is satisfying an encouraging!

Remember, “Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, so the wise man [and woman] gathering it little by little, fills her/himself with good.” -Buddha

I love hearing how these dating-life strategies are helping OR where you get stuck! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help changing how you feel, how you date and creating the love you want in your life - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415) 797-8297.  I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping singles create the love and life that they want!

 

 

 

Part II: 3 Tips to Get Them to Swipe Right + Rewire Your Brain for Love

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Get Them to Swipe Right!

This is Part II of a blog series on getting more profile perusers to swipe right on your profile by rewiring your brain and upping the vibe you’re sending out.

In Part 1 of this mini-blog we saw how confidence is attractive and how to build that sense of confidence by slowing down, tuning in and focusing on the good that’s already there in you!  You-liking-you is numero uno in enhancing genuine self-confidence

So, how can self-love get me more swipes?

While confidence can come from this deep sense of goodness, people often tend to think of it as something we kind of try to put on or talk ourselves up to.  Genuine sense of confidence is a close cousin to self-love.  And most folks understand that self-love is inherently borne out of a place inside that experiences intrinsically: “I’m loveable,” and “I’m good.”  When we’re connected to that place inside we feel good and can be more natural and comfortable with others. We can be ourselves.  And while we’re often pulled to conform to norms and social stereotypes of what good equals, that kind of comparison with others always leaves us feeling crappier.  Thus, it’s often been said: “Everybody else is taken, just be yourself.” 

Loving one’s self can be a challenge if we didn’t get enough positive self-affirming messages while our brains were getting wired during crucial neurological development in childhood. 

Do you have a “good voice” inside?

Finding a voice inside that is nurturing, caring and supportive of the good that we naturally, inherently are and have to offer is a huge part of feeling that way, seeing ourselves as lovable and sending that message out into the universe—which, in practicality, is usually just the 10-20 feet in front of our noses—where we interact with others. 

You might have competing voices inside.

In my practice and in my personal life, I often work with internalized parts or voices.  You’ve probably heard that while we appear to be a coherent single personality, we are actually made up of multiple internal parts, voices and motivations.  One part wants to be liked and accepted while another wants to be true, authentic and express our uniqueness.  One part feels compassionate and giving, while other parts can feel stingy and protective.

Discovering or creating your supportive voice is so important.

If there isn’t already a natural voice that’s accessible inside that resonates with the message, “You’re so great! I like you! You are good enough right here, right now,” try creating one.  Visualize a person, a wise guide, a mentor, a friend, a good parent, an old (or present) lover, or a spiritual figure…anyone that sees your beauty and goodness…and hear them say words like this to you.  Take them in. Feel their truth. Feel the good inherent in this message.

Practice this in your dating life.

From that place, turn to your profile, while owning that reality and feeling.  Hold yourself, sustain yourself in that reality…this might be work.  It’s different from just swiping for swiping sake. 

Learning how to swipe all over again.

While holding yourself in that uplifted feeling state and reality, approach your profile or other’s profiles.  This time, it’s going to be less about swiping to get something or swiping to find something or someone.  Just for now, try making it more about sustaining your experience of “I’m really good, I’m confident, I like myself,” while being in (virtual) contact with others.  See what happens.   See what comes up.  If it feels good, great.

If you get pulled away from feeling good, notice it. What happens?  Then process it, journal it, make sense of it and feel your way into what’s there.  It may start a deepening process of becoming aware of what gets in the way of feeling good, or it may reinforce your ability to stay with the voice that feels supportive.

Rewiring our brains for happiness and love.

Feeling good isn’t always easy. Sometimes we have to overcome old messages and implicit “truths” that got wired into us before we had the ability to question or challenge them.  If that’s true for you, and most of us have these places where we can get stuck feeling unlovable or un-acceptable, it just means this kind of practice is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Try committing to practicing it for 1-2 minutes each day.  Rick Hanson, who I call my favorite neuropsychotherapist, refers to this as “slow-drip” happiness and often quotes the Buddha saying, “Drop by drop is the water pot filled. Likewise, so the wise man [and woman] gathering it little by little, fills him/herself with good.” It’s worth the time it takes to cultivate! And it IS do-able.

My next post will be Tip 3 in this series on getting them to swipe right, so watch for it.  I love hearing how these strategies are helping! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help accessing or enhancing your self-love and devloping the good voices inside - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation at (415)-797-8297. I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping singles create the love and life that they want!

3 Tips to Get Them to Swipe Right + Rewire Your Brain for Love

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3 Tips to Get Them

to Swipe Right

How do I meet someone so I can get off these damn dating apps?

“I just want to meet someone great, so I can get the ‘EFF’ off this app!”  As a Relationship Therapist specializing in Dating Therapy it’s a complaint I hear often enough.  Some of the habitual swiping going on these days can be mildly entertaining, and slightly more than mildly addictive.  Even so, many who are using the latest dating apps are SRSLY ready to get off of them and get on with living, loving and relating.

For those of you who are ready to revolutionize your dating app profile, and your IRL profile (how you present to people In Real Life) here are 3 simple, but powerful tips from a Dating Therapist to help you meet your match.  These tips will help you RE-WIRE your brain to attract the right kinds of people to you.  Check it out:

Get them to swipe right with confidence.

Confidence is sexy.  But why?  On a deeper level, it’s a reflection of one’s self-acceptance, self-love and just plain old likin’ yerself.  And that’s a rare commodity.  If you can take time out, go inside and connect with parts of yourself that you do like, feel good about and intrinsically feel valuing of you’re crushing it.

Rick Hanson, PhD, a neuroscientist and author of many great books including Hardwiring Happiness and Buddha’s Brain, is one of my favorite neuropsychotherapists.  According to Rick’s research and practice, when we slow down to connect with those places and experiences inside ourselves that feel good we reinforce the strength of those feelings and the likelihood of our being able to get there again.  Translated, we get better at feeling good about ourselves.

One of the coolest things I like about Rick's Hanson's approach is his H.E.A.L. technique for rewiring our brains:

Have It  - Have a good experience. (Someone says something kind or prizing to or about you.)

Experience It – Slow down, realy experience that good feeling and ensuing mind-body state.)

Absorb It – Stay with that good feeling-tone experience resonating inside of you for at least 20-30 seconds.

Link It – Then, an extra step if you want: While feeling and being in that good place, try linking an older more negative experience with this new positive one. 

By bringing in a little bit of an old “bummer” feeling from a similar kind of experience that didn’t go as well we blend the old neuropathways with new, positive, supportive ones.

Linking that old negative feeling with the new, good feeling can take away the strength of the negative past experience.

Take a good vibe with you when you go-a-swiping, or dating, or anywhere.

Now, take the more positive, uplifted state of mind, and approach your profile with that inner experience of self-confidence, self-love and appreciation and the internal KNOWING that you have something to offer and that someone, make that many people, would appreciate.   Being in touch with who you are (GOOD) and what you have to offer (GOOD) will exude a presence and energy that is rich. Most of us want to feel that way too so if you do, not in an arrogant, devaluing way, but in a genuine, real way, people will sense that you have something valuable and be attracted to that.

So, in a nutshell…

Want to get off those darn apps?  Re-wiring your brain, in this case rewiring how confident you feel about yourself, will have a direct effect on how you feel when approaching your profile or others’ profiles.  Being in touch with things that you feel good about and value about yourself breeds confidence. Confidence is sexy, and attractive and genuinely feeling attractive starts on the inside with how YOU see and hold yourself. 

My next post will be Tip 2 in this series on getting them to swipe right, so watch for it.  I love hearing how these strategies are helping! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help uncovering your real inner confidence and feeling good about yourself - feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation (415)797-8297 today. I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping singles create the love and life that they want!

 

Are You Feeling Hopeless About Your Relationship? 3 Ways to Start Feeling Better.

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Does feeling hopeless mean it is, or is there still a way to fix things?

You’re feeling hopeless about your relationship, but does that mean you’re doomed?  Or is there still hope in spite of that sinking feeling?

Well, hopelessness usually comes awhile after the point where your relationship struggles and red flags started showing up.  Hopeless feelings are likely an indication that overwhelm has been taking its toll on you, not just emotionally, but also on your nervous system, physically.   When that happens your body’s ability to regulate which is essential to healthy, sustainable functioning is severely compromised and parts of you start shutting down to regulate and regain your grasp on things. 

Hopelessness and overwhelm don’t mean you’re doomed…not yet anyway.  They mean it’s way past the ideal time to catch the slide and course-correct to keep the ship afloat.  Your boat is sinking.  But the “Coast Guard” is still within range, i.e., it’s likely not too late. 

How in the heck can we survive?

Ok, so you don’t know what to do…that’s scary, and a tough place to be.  You probably feel like you’ve tried to make things work, but it hasn’t gotten you out of the repetitive, negative cycles that pull you apart from each other, or slam you into conflict. 

My guess is your attempts to fix things have been limited to what you know, what you saw your family or friends do or something you read in a self-help book.  There are techniques and strategies that trained therapists know typically work for couples in distress and despair.  

I’ve seen couples recover from hopelessness and overwhelm so I know what its like and even without knowing you specifically, I know some of the steps that usually start to help.  But be-ware, at this stage it’s likely you will need someone to help tow you out of the rut you’ve gotten into.  For now, though here are a few suggestions.

There’s a solution to what you’ve been doing that hasn’t been working.

So what is the antidote to the negative fights or overwhelming feelings?!  It’s not that complicated in a way…

1. REGULATE TO RECOUPERATE

Regulation is the first step.  Your nervous system is probably activated and you need to get back to even Steven or Stephanie.  If you’re dysregulated, you need to get regulated.  You need to be able to reach to your partner and feel comforted, even if only a tiny bit at first, by their helpful and soothing, reassuring response.

Problem is, you’re likely way past saying things nicely, and your partner is not feeling the most thoughtful and understanding.  If you’re the one saying, “Hey dumbass” or anything that smacks of criticism, blame or confrontation, you really have to stop.

2. SOFTEN YOUR APPROACH

You have to start saying something a little better…a little softer.  Angry, critical words push away the very thing you’re needing. When you’re upset and hurt, it’s hard to do.  You’re in distress.  But you need to start saying what you haven’t been saying – I’m scared, I’m worried, I’m hurting.

According to Dr. John Gottman, who did tons of research in the Gottman Institute’s Love Lab in Seattle, criticism and blame is highly correlated with marriage or relationship failure.  And it doesn’t work in conflict resolution.

3. VULERABILTILTY IS NOT A DIRTY WORD

The antidote: sharing the vulnerability of your feelings and communicating your needs in effective ways. Turning, “Hey, “dumbass,” into “Hey, I’m hurting…I need you,” might be a good start.  So, start using softer words and then try letting your partner in on what you’re really wishing or longing for.

Simply put, soften your approach, say what’s hard to say, be vulnerable and reach with an open hand, not a shaking fist or scowling, disgruntled face. 

Vulnerability, contrary to social misunderstandings, is not a four-letter word.  Done right, it is the answer to your relationship’s biggest challenges, even if it sounds like letting down your shield in the middle of battle.

SIMIPLE, BUT NOT EASY

The answer to getting unstuck and out of this hopeless rut (or pit) is fairly simple, but it’s not easy.  It’s not easy for any of us.  When we’re upset we often start to freak the ‘bleep’ out.  It takes practice and hard work.  You may need someone to help both of you take a deep breath, get your relationship back on the rails and start doing things differently.

If these suggestions don’t start to make things a little better, you most likely need a professional to help you both get out of the rut you’ve gotten in.  The negative spiral that you’re stuck in can take on a life of its own and can be virtually impossible to slow down and course correct.

With guidance and support from a skilled couples counselor, you can start to learn some relationship skills that MOST couples don’t know…until they exhaust their resources and get help.

So, soften your heart and words, speak vulnerably, receive good responses from each other and start to really communicate.  It’s a big job, but it’s doable.

I appreciate hearing how these strategies are helping.  Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help getting into a better place and creating the love you really want- feel free to contact me for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am San Francisco’s resident couples therapist helping couples create the love and life that they want!

Stop Telling Yourself That BS Story About Being Single

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Being in a relationship is AMAZING and PERFECT!

Of course it feels good to be in love or in a good relationship…at least it does until you and your new sweetie start arguing about your differences or the shine otherwise starts to wear off of the romance.  But, yeah it feels good. 

Everything about being single SUCKS!

Conversely, it TOTALLY SUCKS to be single and alone.  Or at least that’s what many people tell themselves.

What is the truth about your single life?

But is it true?  Maybe you tell yourself:

·       I’m really lonely.

·       It’s really sad or bad that I’m alone or not out with

        someone I’m excited about.

·       There’s something bad about being single.

·       Something might be wrong with me.

·       I’m not measuring up or I’m less happy than those other          people who are out having cocktails at Trick Dog and                watching movies at the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre.

Letting half-truths or lies become your WHOLE truth.

The problem with this is that many of those thoughts – and the painful, ugly, feelings that accompany them – are just roaming around without a security clearance.  They may not actually be true or worth buying into.

Is it true that something is wrong with you?  No.  Bigger picture, you’ve got a lot of good in your life and there are probably some understandable or even good reasons you’re                                        currently single.

Are people in relationships really happier?

Is it true that all those couples out there are happier than you are?  Ummm….maybe, but I kinda doubt that they are actually happier…they just have different ways of being unhappy.  Relationship struggles are among the biggest challenges in life and stir up lots of negative feelings and experiences.

Turns out… we don’t actually always know what we want or what makes us happy!

People also have a pretty poor track record of predicting what will make us happy.  Author of Stumbling on Happiness, Dan Gilbert, has done a lot of research on this and its pretty evident that what we THINK will make us happy –usually something we don’t have in this moment—turns out usually not to make us any happier at all.

We overestimate or misinterpret how happy getting certain things will make us, like meeting someone new, falling in love and getting married, and how unhappy certain things will make us, like being single. 

Getting real about and living your WHOLE truth.

So if you let those negative narratives run around in your head unchecked, breeding all kinds of crap feelings they can totally wipe you out.  Noticing them, questioning them, challenging them and replacing them with a story or reality that is more appropriate, positive and true can help you shift out of that pit of s***.

Do you want to live a lie?

What’s more, if you let those stories grow like weeds in the garden of your mind, you will be way more likely to fall prey to the Confirmation Bias -- a tendency to ONLY see facts, situations and versions of reality that fit within your crap negative story about yourself. 

You become “blind” to experiences, possibilities and potentials that are better than the old, sad story you’ve been buying into.  There ARE better opportunities out there, new doorways full of potential, but you don’t even see them when you’re stuck in your old narrative.

So what does this mean for you in your day to day life?

So, stop telling yourself the same old painful bullscheisse story about being single:

1.  Stay alert for that old, familiar, bad feeling that goes along with the story,                 feelings are your best cue.

2.  Uncover the message the story is promoting (I’m not interesting, I’m not                     attractive enough, I’m not happy.)

3.  Be kind to yourself.  There’s a reason this story is there, even though it’s not               helpful at this point.

4.  Challenge, question or otherwise disempower this story with a countering reality       or truth (there are people that like and love me, I have friends who are in                   relationships that are sometimes unhappy too, sometimes I do enjoy my                     singlehood and alone time.)

5.  Replace that old narrative with a new one. (I like me. I have lots of good in my           life.  It will be nice when I meet someone, but it will also have its challenges and       maybe I’ll miss some things about my single life, so I’m going to appreciate that         now.)

One more quick tip!

Finally, gratitude is never a bad idea.  Gratitude isn’t just airy-fairy stuff, it actually boosts the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which naturally make your brain function better and you feel happier.  Think of some things you have in your life that you do appreciate and feel good or happy about. Focus on those.  Feel the good feeling that comes with gratitude for what you do have.  This will put you in a better emotional space and open you to new positive experiences.

I love hearing how these strategies are helping! Feel free to leave a comment below, drop me an email, or if you want to some help getting real and finding out what will really make you happy- feel free to call me for a free 15 minute phone consultation. I am San Francisco’s resident dating therapist helping singles create the love and life that they want!

 

 

Why Am I Still Single?

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Do I Need a Dating Coach or Therapist?

When Everything’s Clicking

You like their profile pic.  They like you back. 👍 They send a flirtatious message.  You respond. 😊 There’s good banter.  You feel hopeful. 😄 They suggest a meet-up, at one of SoMa’s coolest new bars you’ve been looking forward to trying.  👌 🍸 Everything’s clicking. 💑

What comes next is anyone’s guess. Dating in San Francisco (or the Bay Area...or anywhere nowadays) is a brave new world of marginally controlled chaos and it is so easy to get hurt.  Chemistry could fall flat, you could get ghosted, they could ACTUALLY text you, yet say they’re going to keep looking: any number of flakey or foul things could happen.

So what DO you DO when that hopeful, excited feeling turns on you like an unexpectedly aggressive chihuahua and becomes that same old ache of Dating, Disappointment, and Disillusionment?

  • Lick your wounds?

  • Salve your bruises?

  • Swear off dating, commit to self-care and personal growth?

  • Decide to be more assertive, delete those apps and start dating in the REAL world on YOUR terms?

None of these are bad options.  Anything it's pretty reasonable at THIS point.  These approaches might pan out.  You wisely resist the voices that say dating is futile and the fears that you could be alone for the rest of your life.  You choose one or all of them because there isn’t really another good option.

But do you slow down long enough to ask yourself why this keeps happening?  Why this keeps happening to ME?

Doing the Same Thing, Expecting a Different Result

You keep telling yourself that you just need to be patient. That when you meet the right person, dating will be easy. But, you can see there is a pattern here. On some level, lately it feels like each new dating experience or progression towards a relationship is a slightly different reflect of the same old story. And you know what, you are SICK OF THAT STORY.

The Upside-Down

So how do you get unstuck? How do you start to attract and maintain a new way of doing relationships? I think lots of us get stuck in some “upside-down” of relationship worlds where we can’t get unstuck without help from someone on the other side.  We have a hard time seeing clearly and getting free of ghosts from our past and fantasies of our future, that may not exist in the real world.

You need someone who knows the terrain, the dimensional doorways, and who has the right kind of tools and experience to guide you out of the upside-down and into a place where you can untangle the things that have caught you.  

The Help

Therapists and Dating Coaches do similar things, but usually work a bit differently.  Many Dating Coaches have great, tangible, practical advice, and some may even help you start to explore some of the deeper emotional experiences you’re struggling with.  But a Therapist is specifically trained in working with the upside-down…we usually call it the unconscious or subconscious.  I’m a licensed relationship therapist who focuses on Dating and Relating issues.

As a Dating and Relationship Therapist I help singles find their way out of the upside-down of their relationship world by discovering the things that have blocked you from finding the love you want.

Updating your profile might help on some level, building a stronger sense of yourself and confidence wouldn’t hurt—we could all probably use some of that at times.

But really, if you’ve been struggling in this stuck place of disappointment and disillusionment and sometimes get a case of the “F*** Its”, then I think there are some closets that might need cleaning out so that you can have room for the new kind of love you keep saying you’re ready for!

One of the most apropos quotes I know and refer to often is from the mystical poet Rumi:  

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the obstacles within yourself that you have [unwittingly] built against it.”  

So, if you’ve been stuck and struggling with repeated disappointments, sometimes feel like saying “F*** It,” and want help getting out of the upside-down, a Relationship Therapist may just be the right next step for you and move you closer to living in a loving relationship instead of longing for one.

In my next blog Episode in this series on “Why Am I Single?” I will share 3 very common ways singles get themselves stuck being single without even realizing it!

Sneak Peek

Here’s a sneak peek of Episode 2 of this Why Am I Single series as some food for thought:  

1. Fantasy: Longing for your ideal. Does longing for that ideal someone, somehow get in your way?

2. Resisting and Persisting Fears. Do you hold fears inside that actually push away what you want?

3. Saying X, Doing Y.  Are there parts of you that might feel (subconsciously) hesitant?

I look forward to exploring these ideas with you more in this series.  For now, please stop by my homepage www.barthatler.com and feel free to leave a comment, ask a question, or set up a free dating therapy consultation with me.

~Bart Hatler is a San Francisco based Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing Couples Counseling + Dating Therapy.  He holds masters degrees in both Counseling Psychology and Spiritual Psychology and has over 20 years of education, training and experience in the field of psychology.  Bart has a special interest in Relationship Therapy and works with couples and singles to help them CREATE the love they want.  He maintains a private practice in the Cow Hollow neighborhood of San Francisco and lives in the Mission.

Premarital Counseling in San Francisco: Why bother...?

You live in San Francisco, one of the toughest dating scenes, this side of say...the Hudson River and Manhattan and...well, you're killing it!  You've met your match and life-partner, you're making an honest living, and living the life!  I'd say you've done pretty darn well!  Just ask one of your single friends who's still living with 3 roommates in the Outer Sunset.  So why bother with premarital counseling when life is so good?  Well, for starters, how about protecting that most precious asset that no bull market or real estate investment could bring back to you--your relationship, and that other lovely person you're in it with.

Counseling for couples who are ready to take that next big step, traditionally referred to as pre-marital counseling, is a priceless investment in your relationship and your life that there really is no substitute for.  

I've worked with couples who came in to just check it off the list, who then ended up finding out there was so much more to know about each other and left feeling closer and more prepared for their life ahead than they could have imagined.

So if the the simple idea of investing in and protecting the most important and fragile asset in your life isn't enough, I’ll also give you 5 Factors to consider in making a decision about whether you really should invest in it or not.

In general, most of us did not grow up with rockstar relationship models.  If your family was your average kind of dysfunctional, i.e., your parents didn’t ruin your life and they didn’t destroy each other, but they weren’t amazingly happy either, then odds are they got by like most couples.  But I’m guessing “just getting by” isn’t what inspires you to be considering or deciding to make a long-term commitment such as marriage.  And I doubt you’ll write “let’s just get by” in your marriage vows.

Most of us didn’t grow up in a family where the adults in the room knew how to communicate well or manage conflict productively, and they definitely didn’t know what we now know about building a satisfying long-lasting love relationship.  We know more now, and we have discovered how to create much more satisfying relationships, so yes, even without a rockstar model to draw from, odds are good you can build a rockstar relationship.  

But how are you going to know how to do it better?  Of course most couples don’t know what the formula is for a happy, long-term relationship.  That’s why it would be a great idea to talk with somebody who does know.  I mean, you wouldn’t just jump in the pilot’s seat of an airplane and hope for the best, nor would you take any kind of exam of any importance without studying and learning about the subject first.  Why would we think we could create successful, long-lasting relationships without learning how to? 

Below are 5 additional factors you should consider in deciding if premarital counseling is for you.

1.  Top 3 Couples Problems

By many accounts, communication, sex and money are the top 3 conflict areas in intimate relationships and marriage.  If you know about your strengths and weaknesses as a couple or you know the areas where you are different and you've got the skills to talk about those differences, you automatically decrease the volatility in the conflicts you may encounter down the road.  Being able to say, “I know [insert issue] is an issue where we are different, but can we sit down and talk it through? I’d like to understand what’s important to you about it, and I’d like to feel like you understand me,” puts you miles ahead of the curve.

Also, there are other topics partners gain a lot from exploring prior to making the big “I do”.  Knowing ahead of time where your partner is coming from before it’s a high-conflict issue is helpful and just plain smart.  Other topics that are worth exploring together include:   

  • Extended Family/In-Law Issues

  • Personal and Shared Goals and Dreams

  • Children and related issues

  • Shared/Different enjoyed hobbies and activities

  • Spirituality and Religion

Premarital counseling is more about learning about each other and being open to understanding more about each other and having strategies to talk through things rather than looking for deal-breakers that should pre-empt your wedding plans.

2.  Four Horsemen + Antidotes

One of the most powerful predictors of whether a relationship will fail is the amount of blame and criticism, contempt, and defensiveness present in your relationship.  Dr. John Gottman has studied relationships for over 30 years and has discovered that relationships that experience what he calls the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse are much more likely to fail. 

We know intuitively that it feels terrible to be blamed for something, that’s why we have a tendency to react defensively, as if saying, “No, don’t see me that way.”  Gottman’s research tells us scientifically what we know experientially, but with greater definitiveness.  Criticism and defensiveness, along with the other 4 Horsemen, will eat away at the goodwill and affection in your relationship.  Learn how to communicate with the antidote to the 4 Horsemen.

3.  Your Attachment Styles Are Key

Do you know what your attachment style is?  Are you more of a pursuer or withdrawer in your relationship?  Or do you do both?  Knowing this is, and how to communicate more effectively around it is the basis for being able to experience the kind of love you’ve always wanted.

Sue Johnson, founder of EFT Couples Counseling and author of the book Hold Me Tight, gets to the heart of what causes couples to disconnect and become vulnerable to divorce, affairs, and deep dissatisfaction in their relationship.  Understanding each other’s attachment styles and your “dance” of intimacy is, in my experience, the key to taking your relationship from disappointing or even good to GREAT!

4.  It’s “How” Not “If” You Have Conflict

Conflict is inevitable.  We’re all different and especially in our closest relationships those differences will come out.  Needing different things at the same time, and being unable to give each other exactly what is needed is inevitable.  And so, conflict is inevitable.  Yeah, it’s a bummer, but the differences between you are also the reason for the spark and chemistry.  So, knowing how to manage conflict productively is a skill very few of us have learned.  And even if we’ve learned it, it requires regular honing and intention to practice it.  When there’s a positive reserve in each other’s emotional bank account, however, that task is much easier.  Learn what productive conflict is and how to do it.

5.  Turning Towards

He says, “Hey did you hear the report on the radio earlier today?”  She, frustrated with him for neglecting to do what she asked him to do on his way home, ignores his question.  This is an example of “turning away”.  It’s a clear example of it.  Yet turning away can happen much more subtly dozens of times in the flow of a day or week.  Turning towards your partner instead of away is a small, but powerful habit.

Do you know powerful that skill and habit is?  Another helpful insight from Dr. John Gottman’s 30+ years of research is how important turning towards vs. turning away can be.  According to one of  Gottman’s research studies, couples that had stayed married after 6 years had turned towards each other about 86% of the time.  Couples that had divorced in that same time period had turned towards each other about 33% of the time.  Gottman is able to predict which relationships are most likely to fail and succeed with incredible accuracy based on how couples communicate and interact.  Learning successful ways of relating and communicating is invaluable.

So become a rockstar at relating to the love of your life, for the rest of your life!  But just like you wouldn’t jump into a pilot’s seat, attempt dental surgery or casually take the reins of a bucking bronco without a reasonable amount of learning and practice first, why gamble with the most important relationship in your life?  Get some support, explore premarital counseling and learn what it takes to create and then enjoy an amazing (rockstar) love relationship.

3 Things You Should Expect from (Good) Couples Therapy

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Knowing you want help and need help with your relationship is the easy part.  You’re feeling unseen, unappreciated, repeatedly disappointed and pretty damn unsatisfied with him or her.  Now what?

It’s kind of a daunting question and adventure…looking for a GOOD couples therapist.  What does that mean anyway?  What is a good couples therapist going to do and how is it going to help?  And how do I know if I’ve found someone that will actually help us to feel better and want to be together again?

There are many different approaches to couples counseling.  Many that are helpful and effective, and some that, well…aren't.  While there are many good signs that you’re in the right place, here I’ll tell you 3 things that I think you should absolutely expect from good couples therapy and how that will help your relationship…and you.

1.  Feeling Understood

You should start to feel understood, less crazy, and less alone in your relationship and life.  Your partner should also begin to feel that way.  A good therapist will explore and work to genuinely understand both of you in your own separate ways.  That may feel like fresh, new territory since it’s likely what you and your partner have been doing is trying to get understood rather than give understanding.

Good couples therapy happens especially when another human being with their own life, history, emotions and relationship experiences sits down with you (along with all their training and expertise) and steps into your shoes, into the shoes of your relationship.  You’re not in it all alone anymore.  You’re not Alice lost in the craziness of Wonderland.  You’ve been joined by a warm and friendly guide who will be in it with you as a means to understanding your experiences and then helping you to untangle them and turn them into something new and productive.  Then as long as all that goes well, you should be able to begin seeing things from a new perspective which translates into new kinds of conversations with each other.  This is the beginning of a new relationship for you and your partner. 

2.  Getting A New Point of View

As I was saying just above, you should begin to see things in a new way.  Part of the problem is you and your Main Squeeze have been stuck in contracted and defensive ways of communicating, thinking and seeing each other AND the issues you’ve been grappling with.  So, a really big part of changing how you interact and how much love and appreciation flows between you is in changing how you see each other.  When both members of the couple do this, they usually start to soften and open up and that alone feels better.  Then to receive that softness from each other is even more delicious and desirable.  Now, how that change in how you see each other takes place is a topic for a future conversation.

3.  Communication Tools

But for the moment, you probably want something more tangible, don’t you.  I mean it’s nice to hear that things should start feeling better, but why?  How do I know that will happen, right?  What are the goals I can expect to meet?  What tools should I expect to get?  Yes, those exist too. 

You should begin to experience a reduction in blame and criticism (see this article about Dr. John Gottman’s research on how damaging these are to your relationship), and an increase in expression of understanding via one of the most powerful and impactful relationship tools on the planet: Effective Listening.  Effective listening, which is sometimes called active listening or empathic listening (as opposed to “kind of listening” or “listening while I’m planning my rebuttal”) is a gift.  Along with more frequently expressed empathy, it’s a gift you definitely need in your relationship toolbox.

Effective Listening a gift you need to learn to give and receive in your relationship so that you can get more of the thing you both really want: Knowing that you’re important, cared about and interesting in your partner’s eyes.  Who doesn’t want to feel important to their partner?  Who doesn’t want to feel cared about and interesting in general, let alone from the most important person in your life?  No one wants to feel like they’re boring, uninteresting, and unimportant.  Yet, couples struggle with that all the time, wanting their partner to give them that feedback, yet struggling to give that very thing to their partner.

So yes, you should expect to feel understood by your couples counselor or therapist, and thereby not alone in the struggle you are experiencing in your relationship. You should begin to see your partner in a new way – you should begin to understand them in a new way and then see them in a new way.  And you should begin to develop some new communication tools such as REAL listening, communication of empathy and understanding, and definitely a reduction in the amount of criticism and blame you’ve probably gotten into the (bad) habit of using.

These are all signs you’re on the right path with a good couples counselor.  Yes, there are other signs, but without these it will probably be hard to feel motivated to stick it out.

Do I Need a Dating Coach or a Therapist?

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Thousands every day are asking the question, "Do I need a Dating Coach or a Therapist to help me get out of this frustrating pattern of dating, disappointment, and disillusionment?"  Ok, I’m not sure about those numbers, it may be less than thousands every day, but it’s still a big question for singles.  And you’re here so it’s an even better question for me to answer for YOU.

Fortunately, I am both a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and I work specifically with Dating and Relationship issues.  The way I work is a bit different from the kind of Dating Coach that might tell you to “stop this” or “do that” in your dating experiments, or the kind that may give advice about how to write an ideal dating app profile, how many days to wait before responding, and so on. 

Don’t get me wrong, those issues are part of navigating the modern high-tech dating landscape and have validity.  But rather than focus on giving advice or helping my clients perfect their on-line profiles, I am often more interested in helping people to get clearer and clearer about what is driving the painful, frustrating and disappointing experience of meeting and perhaps dating people that repeatedly DO NOT work out.  You want to be in a loving, satisfying, long-term relationship with someone who wants the same!

So WTF, right?  Why isn’t that happening?  It’s easy to start asking, “Is it me?”  “Is there something wrong with me?”  “Am I doing something wrong?”  “Am I missing something important?”  “Am I creating this painful reality?”

The short answer is “No…And Yes.”  I mean, “No, it isn’t you, you’re not the problem, and there isn’t something wrong with you.”  And, “Yes, you may be missing something…and it is likely that there is some way in which some part of your psyche, beliefs, and past experiences are affecting you and contributing to the tough place you’re in.”

So, I get curious about what might be operating under the surface.  What “programs” (that you didn’t even ask for) might be running the software of your mind, emotions and decisions?  And how can we work to shift those, so you are freed up to attract in and be open to new kinds of people that work for you and bring you more of the joy, love and relationship satisfaction that you want!

The computer (or your fav technology device) analogy isn’t a bad one.  If Windows, IOS or an Android-based device has a “bug” or a “virus” in it’s code, then the user can’t get what they want out of the software or operating system.  It malfunctions, it shuts down, it freezes.  How did that “bug” get in there?  Someone, somehow put it in there…it isn’t a part of the REAL operating system. It came in through an old communication (email, download, coding error) and is interfering with you, the user, getting what you want out of your technology. 

Similarly, our minds, hearts and emotional selves follow a foundational operating system of beliefs, thoughts, feelings and decisions/actions.  Those programs were not written solely by us, in fact many of the most important parameters and factors in our mind-heart-emotion “software programs” were wired into us when we were younger than 5 or 6 years of age.  Of course, there have been some updates since then, but for most of us, the code that was produced back then was far less than perfect and very powerful.  We were trying to survive and the people helping us learn about life weren’t exactly Steve Jobs – in a technically savvy way – they most likely weren’t masters at life, love and happiness.  They were trying to figure out their sh*t, and helping us learn how to be relatively stable little people.  By one measure, if we stayed alive they did their job.  But that doesn’t mean we got what we needed to be happy or to experience loving, satisfying partnership in our lives.

So, here we are, 2017 (at this writing) and we say we want to be in a loving, satisfying relationship, but it hasn’t quite turned out the way we had planned or hoped. 

My approach with Dating Therapy is to guide you through a process of exploring and untangling the lines of code in your operating system (beliefs, thoughts, feelings, etc.) and to help you discern which parts of the program that you inherited are right for you and feel true to you, and which parts need to be re-written.  And then we work on re-writing and installing the program so that you are better positioned to get what you want.

Essentially, my intention, goal and job in working with Dating Therapy clients is to help you find what is getting in the way of your heart’s desire so that you can follow the calling inside that longs for a deep, loving, meaningful connection and a satisfying partnership with someone who is interested in you, who gets you, and who is committed to creating a loving relationship with you.

I believe that you were meant to experience loving connection and relationship.  If you aren’t and are feeling frustrated and stuck, then maybe you need less dating “do’s and don’ts” advice and online profile tweaks and what you need more of is to uncover the obstacles keeping you from finding that love. 

One of my favorite quotes is from the mystical poet Rumi:  Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have [unwittingly] built against it.

Those barriers are the code or programs that unwittingly and unintentionally got written in when we were just learning how to be a person, how to be in relationships, and how to love.  Now it’s time to choose who you are and to re-write how you operate as a more conscious, adult being, learning how to love and be loved.  I’m here to help you in that process if that is what you’re searching for.

 

3 Fears Blocking Love From Your Life

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Fear Is Keeping You Stuck

You may have seen the clever, insightful diagram (“re-purposed” above) educating us about the discrepancy between what we want or say we want, and what we actually feel comfortable with letting ourselves experience. 

Even if it’s a tiny bit simplistic, I think it’s a helpful description of how we inadvertently get blocked from real love and partnership because of deeply hidden and largely unconscious fears and resistance to love that keep us in a “comfort zone” of aloneness. 

“Aloneness isn’t comfortable,” you might say!  No, of course not, but it might be an unintended consequence of hidden fears deep inside.  If “Where the magic happens” = Love + Lasting Partnership, then being in a relative “Comfort Zone” of aloneness or repeated relationship disappointments may be a way of steering clear of things in relationship that are uncomfortable and somewhat scary. Essentially, hidden fear(s) can interfere with our conscious desire to be in a loving, long-term relationship.

Love’s Barriers

The wise and oft-quoted mystic poet, Rumi said, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have [unwittingly] built against it.”

According to Rumi, it’s not that we need to go out and rummage around until we finally find love.  Instead, we need to discover what blocks have come between us and love.  Or maybe, what fears inside have created blocks that keep love from really entering into our lives?

Actually, It’s Reasonable

Let me run that by you again…

We’re smart.  We wouldn’t knowingly create barriers to the very thing we say we want, would we?  Of course not.  But if we were worried about our vulnerability, had been hurt before, or felt some inner anxiousness about feeling rejected (or becoming too dependent) we might have some mixed feelings about it.  Right?

Love is NOT just a cake-walk.  By the way, I loved cake-walks as a kid.  So much fun.  Just wait until the music stops, land on the right spot and you get an amazing cake!  Easy!  Love isn’t like that.  I know, it isn’t breaking news.  Love also includes risks and potential losses, vulnerabilities, disappointments, commitments, and learning to rely on another person.  And if we’ve been hurt in a relationship in some way in the past (and if you’re human, um…yes, that means you) then we have wired in protective mechanisms to keep us from getting burned again.

Fear x 5

In the blog/article The 5 Things That Are Blocking You From Love I wrote about 5 psychological dynamics that can basically be boiled down to fear, fear, fear, fear…and fear.  Some form of fear or resistance is usually at the crux of our blocks and barriers to love and partnership.   It might a be fear of getting hurt, a fear of not being enough, fear of losing something, of not getting what you want, what think you need, or what you feel you deserve; or sometimes, it can be an attachment injury or trauma from way back that has produced a forcefield of resistance in your nervous system, kind of like a low-grade PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). 

Repeating Patterns

If you find that you keep saying or can relate to statements like, “I don’t get it, I keep meeting the same kinds of guys/girls,” or “I’m REALLY ready for love and relationship, but I just keep getting disappointed again, and again,” it’s likely that there’s something going on on a deeper level that’s worth taking a look at. 

Real love isn’t just a blissful journey of ecstasy and satisfaction, and “happily ever after”.  It is a wonderful way of experiencing intimacy and connection with another, but it does also include many things that are hard work and potentially risky and anxiety-provoking.  We can get hurt, and experience loss in romantic relationships. 

Because of that perceived and/or actual risk, on some level we may be concerned or nervous and therefore have mixed feelings about entering into an intimate relationship where there are both yummy, desirable experiences and challenging, scary ones to be had.  And if that concern has gotten covered over somehow, at some point, there may be an unconscious “part” or “voice” inside you that’s scared, but hidden.  We may actually have mixed feelings about love and relationships.

When that happens less-than-consciously, it’s easy for us to consciously say, “I want a relationship,” and at the same time another part of us is saying in the background, like a stray am radio station creating interference, “Whoa, slow down, I’m not so sure I do want that.”  Part of the challenge can be that by definition, these unconscious or sub-conscious feelings and fears aren’t readily noticeable.  But if you find yourself in a repeating pattern of saying you want love, feeling disappointed and frustrated in relationships, and maybe even resentfully watching others seemingly finding love easily, it may be that there are competing beliefs, and feelings within you about love and romantic relationship.

3 Examples of Fears that unwittingly and unconsciously prevent us from getting the love we consciously say we want include:

  • Fear of “Not-enough-ness”

  • Fear of Imperfection

  • Fear of Losing It

1.  Not Enough-ness

A kind of Cinderella syndrome or the feeling like we don’t measure up or might not be good enough is a very normal human feeling.  For the moment, I’ll call it fear of “not-enough-ness”, or the fear of not being enough of something and therefore unworthy of being loved and accepted, especially by someone we feel attraction for.  It’s a painful, but ubiquitous human insecurity whether it’s conscious, unconscious or alternates between the two.

If you haven’t felt it, it’s probably not because it isn’t a part of your psyche, but rather that you have managed to push it so far down it doesn’t register consciously.  This fear can keep us in a place where we long to feel good enough in someone’s eyes, especially someone we are drawn to and admire or are attracted to.  Yet that longing can be a mask for the internal self-evaluation that we aren’t quite “something” enough and so we long to prove we are by being liked, loved and feeling accepted by another.  That’s a natural need and feeling, but it can sabotage us in the pursuit for romantic love and effective long-term relationships.

What to do:

The antidote is to start to discover and bring to greater awareness the more fundamental feeling and belief-thought that we aren’t enough or aren’t fundamentally good and deserving.  When we can say, “Yes, I like me and I love me, and I’d like a partner, but I’m still a great person and feel good and lovable regardless,” we are beginning to send out a different kind of vibe and draw in a new kind of person;  someone that’s more likely to turn into lasting love. 

2.  Imperfection

The Fear of Imperfection is a sword that cuts both ways.  We often experience it consciously as a concern that the other (someone we’re dating or initially attracted to) is not quite who we want or how we want them to be. 

This idealized partner syndrome is basically searching for Mr. or Mrs. Perfect.  If we keep finding fault with others and no one is quite good enough for us or just doesn’t meet our standards or expectations, we can get frustrated and discouraged.  But is the problem that no one’s perfect?  Or that we are searching for someone who will prove our goodness, worth and value by being just right.  Perfect for us.

The thought process we go through may not be conscious, but underneath it may sound like: If I get that person (who I see as amazing, wonderful, just right) then they’ll make me feel good.  I’ll feel good because someone I see as worthy and lovable wants and loves me.  And that makes me feel secure.  It’s a product of their goodness, that by proxy I get to partake in.  Unfortunately, underneath that is the less-than-conscious sense or belief that I’m not good enough without them.  I need them, I need someone amazing, to be amazing and feel good and okay with myself.

What to do:

An alternative to this is to acknowledge my own imperfection, and everyone else’s, and begin to love and accept myself and others for who I am and who they are: Beautifully, imperfect fundamentally good human beings.  I am lovable and good, yet I have issues. And so are they.

3.  Losing It

The old axiom, “They bigger they are, the harder they fall,” is a relative of, “The more I have to lose, the harder that loss will be.”  The fear that greater joy, success and satisfaction is actually putting us a greater risk, especially when it’s held subconsciously, can act as a restrictor plate on our natural interest and incentive to find love.  It can cause us to hesitate to really be open to love.

The unconscious and somewhat understandable conclusion that I’m safer alone or I’m safer in a marginal relationship that I don’t really feel happy or satisfied in can be a barrier to real connection.  It can be scary to risk being in a wonderfully satisfying relationship with someone with whom we feel compatible and deeply connected.  Why?  Because the fear is that if I lost the love and relationship I cherish more than any other and have worked so hard to find, I’d be so devastated I wouldn’t know what to do, i.e., I might not be able to survive.  We can make it safer in our minds to stay in mediocre relationships that if lost would feel hard, but not the end of our world.

What to do:

One way to work with this anxiety is to acknowledge the fear and process through it.  It may include processing through past losses that have been unresolved inside our psyches that actually amplify that fear of loss.  It can also be helpful to explore the assumption that our fear or dependency is based on.  Yes, it would be painful and incredibly difficult to lose someone that important, but it’s part of the human experience.  Loss is a built-in reality.  Therefore, how to we stay open to life and the possibility of loss and cultivate a sense of resiliency and depth of goodness within ourselves, not just within our relationship.

The Bottom Line

We human beings usually get stuck when fear freezes us or throws us off course.  One of the fundamental fears is that we are somehow not enough, not lovable, not acceptable, not wanted, and on, and on and on.  It’s a painful part of living this human experience.  Some of us over-compensate for those concerns and some of us, withdraw, hesitate, or shut down in some way.

If you have been frustrated with dating and unable to find lasting love and a reliable partner in your life, it isn’t because you aren’t lovable or worthy of love.  Yet there may be some part of you deep inside that is afraid of that, has heard some version of that message in the past or just isn’t fully convinced of your true Goodness.  These parts need attention and airtime to sort through complex feelings that are likely creating mixed messages inside of you and driving the frustrating repetition of disappointment in romantic relationships.

If you have questions about these sorts of dynamics or would like help exploring how you get stuck around love and relationships, please contact me.

How To Stop Arguing + Get Your Partner To Listen To You!

You may have heard of The Four Horsemen.  It’s an apocalyptic image and term in our culture.  But did you know that the Four Horsemen are probably actually living in your bedroom?!

Arguing and conflict that includes criticism, defensiveness and other elements of Dr. John Gottman’s 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse predict that a marriage will fail about 5 ½ years after the wedding.  So, whether you’re already married, or imagine yourself moving towards marriage with your love-bug, you can’t afford (emotionally or financially!) to let the arguments and disconnection continue.

In this short article, I’ll talk about some powerful ways to stop arguing so much, AND to get your partner to listen to you more! Seriously!

1. Stop The Arguing

You may have heard that relationships require a give and take.  Well, here’s the hardest part of getting what you want from your partner.  One of you needs to step out of the cycle of escalation and criticism.

Arguing is often borne out of a desire to be seen as right!  We all like to be right, to FEEL right.  It feels more solid, and good.  We think we’ll get what we want when we are right or seen as right by others.

Problem is, asserting how RIGHT we are, seldom leads to a genuine acknowledgement and agreement from those we want it from the most.  More likely, they also want to be seen as right and feel that “right” feeling!  Duh, they’re human too, just like us.  And so, the battle ensues.

Step 1 - Softening

Next time you feel you’re partner sees you as wrong, or doesn’t see how amazingly insightful, intelligent and full of foresight you obviously are…try this…

  • Try slowing down and pausing. (If you need to, take a short time-out in your discussion.)

  • Ask yourself what you are needing right now.

  • Then, see if you can discover what’s beneath that need. (i.e., to feel safe, to feel loved, important, wanted, valuable, etc.)

  • See if this can help you soften a bit. It can shift you from feeling your partner/the other is an obstacle or against you, and put you in touch with the simple reality of the need you’re feeling and your attempt to get that need met.

  • Sharing vulnerability and need is the antidote to The Four Horsemen, so see if you can uncover the need and vulnerability you’re experiencing and let your partner in on it. It’s the honey vs. vinegar (criticism and blame) theory: You get more with honey than you do with vinegar.

These are first steps at working towards collaboration rather than confrontation or conflict.  Slowing down, being more mindful of the process you’re in and sharing vulnerably are the first steps.

2. Give The Gift You Want To Receive

The next step is actually a big ask.  I’m asking you to listen to your partner, first; let that open up a new kind of space and interaction between you; and then, ask for the gift you’ve just given and demonstrated.

“What!?”   “You want ME to do the listening that I want my partner to do for me,” you may be asking?!

Mmmm, yeah, I know it stings.  I’m sorry to be so direct, but in my experience, this is the medicine your relationship needs.  You both need to take it; ideally, you both will together, but if not, who’s going to take it first?

Again, if the old axiom is true, you GET more with honey than with vinegar.  It may be a very big ask, but it really is a big key to healing.  Whether it’s in international politics, workplace negotiations, or romantic relationships, we have to be able to come to the table with goodwill, collaboration and openness if we are going to make real progress.

Step 2 - Listening

  • Try to find some space inside yourself where you can open up and be curious about your partner’s point of view and experience. This is THE key.

  • Just for the moment, set aside your position, objection, need, etc. Just for the moment.

  • Soften into curiosity and openness to the possibility that your partner isn’t the enemy, but has some very legitimate and important needs and feelings of their own that have been hidden from your view due to the conflict and arguing.

  • From that place, try: Listening with curiosity, non-defensively reflecting back what you hear, empathizing with how they see and feel about things, and validating – sharing how their experience makes sense to you.

This is an amazing GIFT you’re giving to your partner.  Imagine how good it would feel to be given this gift by them…the gift of feeling genuinely listened to and understood.  Can you give this gift?  If you can’t, why are you expecting them to give it to you? 

If you can, then perhaps they will also be willing to give the gift in response.  Go ahead and ask.  It may help to be explicit about the fact that you want to listen to them, model how to listen to and be understanding, and then ask them to do the same for you.  And for your relationship.

Summary

So, coming full circle, stopping the painful and destructive escalation of conflict-filled arguing, criticism, and defensiveness is directly tied to listening and being listened to.  It’s not easy, but it sure is a whole lot better then a failed relationship or a failed marriage a few years down the road.  The stakes ARE high.  And you and your relationship ARE worth it!

This is not rocket science, but honestly, it’s not necessarily easy either.  Many couples, in my opinion all couples, need the support and guidance of a good couples and relationship counselor to help learn these new moves in your relationship.  The old painful and ineffective dance steps you’ve known may need to be deconstructed and the new ones integrated.

If things don’t click at first keep trying, and if you decide you want some help and guidance along the way, I’m here to help you like I’ve helped many other couples to improve their communication and experience of feeling connected and in love.