14 posts from January 2006

January 30, 2006


Repeatedly reminding your partner of what they did in the past that was hurtful, especially when they are no longer doing it, is holding a grudge - a detrimental move at best. Bringing the past into the present is seldom a helpful dynamic in relationships; it stirs up old wounds, leads to one partner believing they will never live “it” down and creates distance and resentment within a couple. While it is okay to remember, learn from and look at the past, it is not okay to dwell in it or continually throw it in your partner’s face. Would you like to have someone constantly reminding you of the time you screwed up? I’m guessing you wouldn’t – and neither does your partner.

If you are either always looking at the past, or always ignoring the past, you are robbing yourself of a rewarding future. Look at the past to learn from it, not to punish. Look at the present to insure the past is not repeating itself and to insure you are both on the right path for creating a healthier future. If your partner has stopped doing the behavior - then stop reminding them of it; tell them you appreciate the work they have done to change it and do what you have to let it go.

Challenge: Is there something you continue to bring up from the past? If so, ask yourself if that behavior is still going on and if so, is it the same or has your partner been working on it with positive changes? If it is not going on, commit to not bringing it up anymore – put it to rest for the sake of you, your partner and your relationship.

January 27, 2006


Although I have talked a great deal about women who silence, I want to be clear that not all women silence. In fact, some women do quite the opposite – they rage. Most of them, however would not call what they do “rage”; they yell, scream, slam doors and say things they shouldn’t, but “rage” – that they don’t admit to.

I have found that, for whatever reason, women who rage, often have a harder time owning their piece than men. That is not to say that men also don’t struggle with this, however they seem to back down much quicker when faced with irrefutable evidence. Women, in contrast, more frequently move into justifying their behavior. They say they do what they do because their partner has been so passive aggressive, unemotional, or such a jerk for so many years, that he deserves it. They are adamant that the couple’s problems are a direct result of their partner, and if I knew what a jerk he’s been, then I wouldn’t even mention her behavior.

More often than not she is right on… and… totally wrong. You see, on the one hand, the woman’s partner often has been unemotional, passive aggressive, overtly aggressive or a host of other things. In short, he has been behaving non-relationally at best. However, as I say all the time, one partner’s irrational, mean spirited, non-relational behavior does NOT excuse, warrant or justify, the other partner’s irrational, mean-spirited or non-relational behavior. So while she might be right that he has been horrible to live with, she is not right that her rage is justified – and make no mistake, it is rage.

Women can behave just as outrageous as men and it is never more acceptable because it is a woman doing it. If you are a woman who struggles with your anger, dare to look at it, be courageous enough to own it, and be determined to change it. We all have our imperfections, if this is yours commit to working it.

Challenge: If you are a woman who struggles with anger or who’s partner, friends, children or loved ones have complained about your anger, then pay attention over the next month to how you react to things you don’t like. Watch your tone, words and intensity and try to lower the sting of all three. If you are not sure if this pertains to you, ask others you trust and take in their response – even if it is not what you wanted to hear.

January 25, 2006



I often hear individuals who have had affairs speaking to their partners, making comments like: “Am I ever going to live this down?” “It didn’t mean anything.” “It’s over with, would you let it go!” etc. The general theme is they want to quickly move past the affair and go on with their life; the only problem is their partner is not quite as ready to just “move on” (and with good reason).

The killer about affairs is not so much the act of sex, per se, as much as it is the lies, deceit, and crazy-making denials that occur prior to and throughout the entire affair. The residue of the deception is what lingers long after the actual sex has stopped. So when someone has ended an affair and decides to step back into their committed relationship, they need to know that step back is a long, hard journey. If you want to rebuild your relationship after breaking the trust, you must realize that it is the norm for couples impacted by affairs to struggle for months and even years afterward.

More often than not, the journey back is about the damage done, the remorse shown, and the day-to-day actions of repair the offending partner does or does not take rather than their partner’s inability to let it go. With this in mind, here are some tips for those of you who have had affairs and want to rebuild the trust in your relationships:

1. Take full responsibility for the affair without rationalizing, defending, or minimizing what you did in any way.
2. Know that your partner will be triggered often and this is normal! Your job is to reassure him/her when they are feeling insecure or suspicious--not deny, get defensive, or storm out. Every time you respond to your partner’s insecurities defensively or angrily, rather than listening, comforting, or reassuring, you earned yourself two more months of insecurity. (Comfort sounds like, “I’m sorry you’re struggling with this. Is there anything I can do to help?” Reassurance sounds like, “I know I hurt you and I want you to know that I am committed to never do that again.”)
3. Show remorse, apologize, and make amends. If there is little remorse, the recovery time expands to years--if this is possible at all.
4. Be an open book for as long as necessary. Do not hide e-mails, tell any lies--no matter how small--and be honest even if you think your partner will react negatively…take lying off the table!

Challenge: If you have not taken full responsibility for your affair, go to your partner today and own up. Show remorse and mean it--you just ripped apart what you both had--and that deserves an apology...for starters! Commit to not act defensively when your partner gets triggered--comfort, reassure, and listen…every time. The more you do this, the quicker you both will heal and the less your partner will be triggered.

January 23, 2006


John Gottman has done extensive research on couples and found that couples who stay together have more positive interactions overall than couples who divorce. When they speak to each other, they do so respectfully and without contempt. They listen as though they care and they treat each other in kinder more thoughtful ways; they do not however, necessarily fight less.

After working with hundreds of clients over the years, I am not surprised by this. The impact of a kind word, a loving action or a thoughtful deed can have an incredibly powerful impact on a couple. Women and men alike want to be appreciated and loved and sometimes this requires a direct action. The idea that they “should just know” – is a cop out! – trust me they don’t know and nor should they if you don’t act as if you do.

So, to give your relationship a higher chance of success, begin to practice random acts of kindness with your partner. The rules are; neither partner can point out what act of kindness they did and both partners agree to keep an eye out for any acts their partner may be doing. If you catch your partner in the act of being kind you have to note it and thank them!

Challenge: Talk to your partner and request they take on this challenge. Follow the rules above and have fun! If you can’t think of what to do, choose from the list below. As always, note what happens.

Potential Acts of Kindness:
· Write partner a short note that is kind and place it where they will find it later that day. Some examples:
o Just wanted to tell you I love you
o Hope you have a great day
o You looked great last night – thought you should know
· Call your partner during the day just to tell him/her you were thinking about them…have fun with it (i.e. sing “I just called to say I love you…”)
· When you see your partner at the end of the day greet him/her with a compliment
· Tell your partner 3 things you love about him/her
· Be creative and come up with your own act…feel free to share it in my blog!

January 20, 2006


My long time mentor, Terry Real, was speaking about world violence one day and stated that over 90% of the violence in the world, he believes, is the result of someone “offending from the victim position”. Offending from the victim position is when a person acts on the notion that retaliation is justified. For example, “You yelled at me, now I have every right to yell, scream and rage at you.”

I left that workshop with this notion stirring in my head for many days. I could see it played out in so many scenarios: gang shootings, the horrors of 911, domestic violence, wars. If retaliation is justified then where does it end? If you yell at me, then I can yell at you, then you can scream at me, then I can rage at you, then … what? It doesn’t end. You end up with two people abusing each other “justifiably” while little children watch and learn.

The idea that retaliation is justified, is not only absurd, it is dangerous. Offending from the victim position is…Offensive! It is abusive and it is never justified. You can try to rationalize, justify or explain it away, but the truth is you are using another person’s unacceptable behavior as an excuse for you to behave unacceptably – there is no excuse for that. Your job is for you to do the best you can to work your part in this relationship – regardless of what your partner does. If they are acting irresponsibly or abusively, then decide what you are going to do and commit to not allowing their inexcusable behavior to justify yours.

Challenge: Pay attention to how, when and if you retaliate. Make a decision to act with integrity on your end regardless of what your partner is or is not doing on theirs. Address your partner’s behavior directly and respectfully and don’t give yourself permission to do otherwise.

January 18, 2006


I have watched the dynamic of men bullying and women silencing play out again and again, over the years. The men have learned to master the “effective” use of anger, intimidation and fear and the women have learned that it is not worth taking on the man’s wrath…that is, until they can no longer take living in the intensity anymore. For some however, that is a looooong time.

When I first started working with couples I found this dynamic to be frustrating, appalling and down right unacceptable. Now I just find it unacceptable. I realized that men who bully do so, because…it works! More often than not, the men were taught bullying as an “effective” way to get what they want. If they don’t want to talk about something -slamming their fist down and saying, “This conversation is over DAMN IT!” is a much quicker conversation stopper than, “Honey, I’d rather not talk about it.” The angry response elicits the perfect amount of fear in their spouse – just enough to shut her up but not too much that she will leave.

You see, we do what we do because --- it works. Women silence themselves because they know that if they speak, their partner will get bigger. They know that to truly put their foot down and take a stand against the bullying means they have to be willing to take on a tough fight; many are too tired, worn down or hopeless to take on this fight. Their silence is the best shot they have at calming the waters – it works. So, the men keep bullying and the women keep silencing…and the couples keep passing this toxic dynamic from one generation to the next…and the next…and the next.

The torch will continue to be passed until one person, one couple, is brave enough to take it on and to stop the legacy in its’ tracks. Men can not silence women – if women don’t allow themselves to be silenced; women can not enrage men – without men allowing themselves to be enraged. Children will struggle to have a healthy relationship when they get married – if they were never shown one at home.

Stop passing the torch on – it may be “effective” in the moment but, in the long run, it is like acid eating away at the very core of our relationships and our culture.

Challenge: If you are bullying commit to do something about it; get help, breath before you react, get clear that no one has the right to bully another person and take necessary steps to stop it.
If you are silencing, learn to speak up effectively. Pay attention to your gut; if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. As soon as you are aware that something isn’t right, next pay attention to your thoughts (uncensored…what are you thinking?). Once you are clear on your thoughts – speak them in a calm, strong voice. Start doing this in non-threatening situations first and move out from there.

January 16, 2006


Several years ago I began paying attention to all the things I did not say to people. I watched as I silenced myself, lied, rationalized, spoke half-truths or told the truth in such a “nice” way that I wasn’t even sure any more what “truth” I was trying to speak.

I then began to watch other people do the same thing. It was fascinating. I watched women tell one friend they weren’t feeling well enough to go out - only to find they went out with a different friend. I saw men telling women they would call when they had no intention whatsoever to call. I saw parents lying to their children because they didn’t think their children should hear the truth. I saw husbands lying to wives about what time they would be home and wives lying to husbands about whether they were mad or not.

The list goes on and on and I’m sure you can come up with your own lists, however what struck me during this time was how unreal we, as a culture, have become. We have become so skilled at not telling the truth about what we are seeing, thinking, feeling, or doing, that much of the time we don’t even realize when we lie, omit, or misrepresent ourselves.

We can not have real, authentic, intimate relationships, if we are not real and authentic. We have to begin to step out, begin to take risks, and begin to be honest if we want to have truly intimate relationships in our lives. If we are bothered by something someone does, we need to speak it. If we are angry, we need to acknowledge that we are angry and stop trying to pretend we are not. If we made a bad decision, we need to face the consequences of that decision. Our relationships will never become intimate if we do not share ourselves in an intimate way by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, speak honestly and handle what happens as a result.

Challenge: Bring honesty into your relationship. Tell your partner how you feel, answer their questions honestly and commit to being more “real” in your relationships.

January 14, 2006


I have watched many unhealthy relationship decisions be made out of fear. The fear of being alone has kept people in hurtful relationships for way too long; the fear of getting too close has kept people alone unnecessarily; the fear of conflict has silenced people’s voices when speaking was tantamount; the fear of being wrong or hurting someone’s feelings has resulted in people ignoring their intuition…intuition that could have saved their life; the fear of success/failure has sabotaged many a person’s future.

Fear is a part of life and most people, if not all, feel fear. The difference between those who succeed in their relationships (and life) and those who don’t, is those who succeed don’t allow their fear to stop them; they feel the fear and do it anyway. They know that fear is a normal, healthy part of life and they respect it and don’t allow it to determine their fate. Those who do not succeed, allow fear to paralyze them. They feel the fear and they get stuck in it, refusing to make a move. They then find themselves in unhealthy relationships they are miserable in, yet too scared to change or get out of.

Allowing fear to determine your decisions will almost always result in the wrong choice. Don’t let fear decide your fate; the fate of fear is not the fate you want.

Challenge: Look at what role fear plays in your relationships. If you silence yourself out of fear of conflict – feel the fear and speak up anyway. If you are staying in a relationship out of fear of being alone – it is not enough - change your relationship, get help or learn to handle being alone.
Commit to not allowing fear make unhealthy life decisions for you and live by the saying “Feel the fear and do it any way.”

January 12, 2006


One day I was working with a couple and while the husband was talking, his wife interrupted him several times. After about the third time he turned to her and said, “Would you shut up and let me speak!” She immediately became angry. He attempted to continue until I stopped him. “Tom” I said. “You have a great message but a horrible delivery”. He got quiet and asked what I meant. I explained that his message was great: don’t interrupt me when I’m speaking. His delivery (“Would you shut up…”) however, left a lot to be desired. In fact, his delivery was so bad that the message got lost in it. Now the issue became about him instead of about his wife’s interruptions; obviously of no benefit to him…or the couple.

In this couple, like many couples, each partner needs to learn to say a message in such a way that it can be heard. It is in the speaker’s best interest to speak “clean”. Speaking clean means you are respectful, you speak from the heart, and you speak from a position of equality not judgment. This is not easy to do when you are angry, however it is necessary if you actually want to be heard. If you do not speak “clean” you increase your partner’s chances of becoming defensive or angry and although you may have had a great message, it does you no good if it gets lost in the delivery.

Tips to delivering a great message:
1. Before speaking get clear on what your message is.
2. Commit to speaking this message respectfully, from a place of equality and with an open heart…speak it “clean”.
3. If there is a request you would like to make – make it. Don’t just complain.
4. If there is a limit you need to set – set it… then follow through.

In closing, always remember: Don’t let a great message get lost in the delivery!

Challenge: If you are upset about something someone is doing, get clear on what you would like your message to be to that person. After you are clear, commit to delivering that message in a “clean” way. Note any changes in how you feel and/or if the other person responds differently as a result of this shift.

January 10, 2006


I was just sent this e-mail and enjoyed the life and relational tips so I am passing it on. Hope you enjoy it…

In April, Maya Angelou was interviewed by Oprah on her 70+ birthday.

Maya Angelou said this:
"I've learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow."
"I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights."
"I've learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life."
"I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as "making a life."
"I've learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance."
"I've learned that you shouldn't go through life with a catcher's mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw some things back."
"I've learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision."
"I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one."
"I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone.
People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back."
"I've learned that I still have a lot to learn."
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Challenge: Choose one of these nuggets and work it in your life: making decisions with an open heart; don’t use being in pain as an excuse for you to be a pain; touch someone’s soul daily... Remember to be conscious of the effects of this action.

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