Category Archives: Relationships

So…Now what do we do?

Gridlock is when one partner in a relationship wants one thing, and the other partner wants something completely different. When you talk to each person and ask them for their reasons, in general their reasons are sound on both sides. The dreams and the fantasies on both sides have value and validity. So when no one is wrong and everyone has a reason for what they want, what do they do?

The first thing to do is stop trying to convince the other person why they are right. It turns in to a pattern of attack-and-defend. “Yes, but….my here is my attack on your idea. And if you would just stop to listen, you would see why my idea is right, and why this is so important to me, and if you really loved me, you would see how important this is to me and just give me what I want.” I have had so many sessions with couples where I explain this concept, and as I say the above statement both people are nodding their heads. “If you loved me you’d see how important this is to me and just give in!” You both are in the same place. Let go of convincing the other person they are wrong, even when you have a “Yes, but…..” that is perfectly valid. Start trying to figure out why the other person’s view-point is so important to them. Start looking through their eyes. Once you have an understanding of their dreams and their fantasy, even if you don’t agree with it, you have a starting place.

The next bit is the hard part. It is the “So, what do we do now”.

Start thinking about what you deal breakers are. This is part of recognizing that you are not getting the whole kit and kaboodle. Compromise means everyone walks away from the table unhappy.

You also have to think what you are going to do if the other person’s deal breakers are in direct opposition to yours. You probably have multiple fantasies going, and what is the more important fantasy. For example: You have a fantasy of living forever with your partner. You see them holding your hand when you’re old and grey. And you also have the dream that you persistently fight about with that partner. Having another baby, spending now vs spending later, colored vs white Christmas lights, mountains vs beach, homework or playtime first. Admittedly, some of these are more difficult than others, and at the same time you may or may not be surprised about how ugly the fights get when talking about them.

What happens when no one is wrong. In the above examples, there is no right and no wrong. You may have strong feelings about some of them, and at the same time none of them are wrong. We want to believe that if our partner loves us they won’t make us sacrifice our core wants / needs. We may have to choose the partner or the belief. And even then there is no right answer. There have been core needs / wants I have left a partner over. There are core needs / wants that are less important than my partner. You have to answer the question: Is this the hill you want to die on? Is it important enough to walk away from your partner over?

Now, once you’ve decided what the deal-breakers are, and you know what your partners deal breakers are and you know why they are important: it is time to get creative. So, what do we do now?  When it comes to having a child or not, you may have to decide what’s more important, a child or your partner. When it comes to anything beyond a win / lose situation like a child, get creative. Do you take separate vacations? Do you have 2 Christmas trees? Do you have 2 sets of lights on the same tree, with different timers? Do you each get an allowance that you get to spend whenever you want, while still saving money for the future? Work to not defend your point, and work to move toward solutions, not toward attacks. I have sat at a table for 2 hours with both of us looking lost, just pondering the words “What do we do now?”.

The biggest key through all of this is to keep your calm. Avoid the big 4: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling. When you find you are feeling attacked, say out loud, calmly: I’m feeling defensive.   And then take a break. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and then come back. This process won’t work if both of you are feeling attacked, if darts are being thrown (“Let’s be logical about this” Implies that the other person isn’t being logical, and is a dart) or fireballs (That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard!) nothing will get done.

Remember, Is this the hill you want to die on? Is this the thing that is worth ruining your marriage or friendship over? If it isn’t, then it may be time to step back and take a breath. Most disagreements aren’t friendship or marriage ending disagreements. Work to find a middle ground through creativity and kindness and it will save a lot of tears and frustration.

It’s no big deal

Have you ever said this about something that has frustrated you? We say this about our job, our friends, and our partners. Something happens, and though it frustrates us we say; “It’s no big deal”. We say this once or twice, with no worries. How many times can you say this before anger and resentment start to take over?

We all walk the fine line between managing relationships and managing our identity. We all have what we want to have happen. At times what we want and what others want are not the same thing. Many people, in an effort to keep the peace and avoid conflicts, will sacrifice what they want. They will do this thinking “It’s no big deal”. So imagine your best friend asks to borrow five dollars. And then every week following for 4 months asks to borrow five dollars. Without ever asking your friend to re-pay you, you give the money. At first it is willingly. Then after a month or so, as you have given $20, then $40, then $60, how long will it take before you become resentful? How many of you will continue to give week after week, slowing simmering, but never saying anything?

We tell ourselves it isn’t a big deal. Week after week, time after time, we say these words. We convince ourselves that this is true. And underneath we simmer. The resentment builds, until eventually it erupts. The eruption may or may not be at the person or people that have created the resentment. And often when the eruption comes and the person on the receiving end is confused and befuddled when they are covered in emotional lava. They had no idea that you were angry or resentful, because you never set the limit.

“The givers need to set limits because the takers never will”. Even the most well-intentioned of people will take advantage of someone that gives again and again without setting boundaries on it. It is just human nature. We want to believe that human nature will keep people from taking advantage, and often that just isn’t true. Even I, and I would like to believe I am a good person, have taken advantage of situations and people when I needed to. I would have been perfectly understanding had the people set boundaries, and at the same time I also used the resources around me.

You don’t have to be an ass to set a boundary. “Sure, I can give you $5, I need you to pay me back by the end of the week”. And then when they don’t pay you back “Hey, you didn’t pay me back from the last 2 times, I need you to pay me back before I can lend you any more money”. If your friend gives you resistance for this, maybe they aren’t the best of friends, or the best of people. You don’t have to be an ass to say out loud what you want to have happen. “I’m interested in pizza tonight”, even though you know your friend or partner may not have the same interest.

The thought “It isn’t a big deal” is the warning sign that you may be sacrificing yourself more than your identity and integrity can handle. You can be kind and still say out loud what you want or need to have happen. Make sure you know what you want to have happen, and then think how you would want someone to say the same thing to you. Remember, using criticism, contempt, or blaming will make people put up their own walls.  Setting limits and standing up for your identity is just as much a part of maintaining relationships as meeting in the middle, and letting go of the small things.

50% of any relationship is deciding what to do for dinner

“What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know? What do you want for dinner?”

“I don’t know, you pick”

“What are you in the mood for”


“How about Chinese?”

“I don’t want Chinese”

“Then what do you want?”

“I don’t know. You decide.”

Believe it or not this is a ritual. How often do you have this discussion? IF you have it more than once a month, then it is a ritual. We don’t often think of these things as the rituals we have. And we don’t recognize how important even these small rituals are.

Examples of rituals are leaving in the morning, bedtimes, greetings after work and meals. We don’t think about it, but these things, the little things we do every day, are some of the weather veins of the relationship. When these events help you feel connected to each other, when they are filled with kindness, humor and intimacy, it generally means the relationship is going well. When these events either don’t exist at all, or are filled with passive aggression, frustration, or irritation it means that the relationship is drowning.

It seems silly, but it can be good to have a discussion about how you want these events to go. How do you want good-bye’s to go in the mornings? How do you want to handle meals? What makes the ritual important to you? What kind of connection do you want at bed-times? What about that is important to you? Discussing these things gives the other person insight in to how you find connection and how you can be closer to each other.

If these events are difficult or don’t exist at all, it is time to take a deeper look at the relationship. When you think about these events, what gets in your way from making them a point of connection? What are your general feelings about the relationship that keep them from being positive events? What are the bigger problems that could use an outside counselor to help with?

Small events are a large part of the relationship. They create connection, or tell you if things aren’t going well. Think about what it means if your partner walks out of the house in the morning without saying good-bye to you. Think about what kind of good-bye you want. What meaning does that good-bye have for you?   Think about the same for dinner, bedtimes, and greetings. They may seem little, but they are a big part of the relationship. And while it is a joke, think of how often do you talk to each other about what you’re doing for dinner? J

Setting limits in confusing situations

Life is not always clear.  We want to think that we will be able to quickly and easily see boundary lines, and be able to follow them.  The boss is always the boss.  The child is always the child. The teacher is always the teacher.  But what happens when the wife becomes the teacher?  When the child becomes the boss?  When the parent needs to be taken care of?  When the Boss becomes the friend?  Or better yet when the friend becomes the Boss?

Is your your employee a good friend?  Does this person some times take advantage of the friendship when it comes to work?   Is your parent older, and while they are asking you to take a larger role in caring for them, do they resist your care?  It can be difficult setting boundaries when there are two parts of a relationship that need to be considered.

The first thing to look at as an individual is the roll that you need as a person to be the primary / dominant roll.  For example, once you’re the boss, the primary roll is probably going to be your position as the boss.  It is one thing to lose a friend, it is another to lose a job because you weren’t able to step up and set limits.  When a parent becomes the one needing care, letting your desire to have a mom or a dad can compromise the care of the parent.

Having poor limits can also compromise the relationship.  When you have the friend that is also an underling, and boundaries are not firm, the friend taking advantage of the poor boundaries can create resentment and anger.  The parent that doesn’t have firm boundaries can wear a care-giving child out quickly.  Unfortunately, the one in the power position is the one that needs to be the one setting limits.  The givers need to set limits because the takers never will.

You will need to be OK not being liked all the time.  The one in charge will be required to make decisions those under them don’t like.  They will be required to set limits, delegate, and set tasks that will make people uncomfortable, resentful, and frustrated.  That is part of the job.  It ain’t easy being Queen.  Or King.

Work to create a container around the rolls.  When you are the friend / child / partner or friend don’t be the boss.  Set boundaries that when you in certain places and certain times whatever work you have that you are the boss is put aside.  For example, At lunch you are friends and you don’t talk about work, work frustrations, or work needs.  When you are at “work”, literally or metaphorically, personal and friendships are put on hold.  You create a container around the work, and around the relationships.  Work to keep them from bleeding in to each other.  Make it clear to the other party where the lines are, and be clear when the lines are crossed.

Life isn’t about nice clear lines and easily understandable boundaries.  We are sometimes required to set them for ourselves.  That means we have to figure out what boundaries we need for our own sanity. Creating these containers will not be easy, and will be uncomfortable for everyone.  It will also save relationships and sanity.

Saving I’m Sorry

Do you apologize when you are late? Do you say I’m sorry as you walk in to a room for a small mistake, in acknowledgement of some small thing you may have done? Did you know that apologizing in advance has a tendency to make people irritable, and more likely to feel as though they have been wronged, when they wouldn’t have before hand? So what does that mean?

When you walk in to a room saying; “I’m sorry I was late” it is more likely to irritate the person and make them frustrated with your lateness. “Sorry about the mess” will make you more likely to notice the mess and be irritated by it. That means we need to re-learn what to say.

Thank you for your patience today!   When you walk in to a room late saying this, it will immediately make the person feel as though they have done something for you that you appreciate. They will actually feel closer to you, as though they have helped you with something. It is a complete change in how we approach interactions with people. And it is a complete change in how we feel about each other.

People like to help. They like to feel helpful! When we thank instead of apologizing we change the dynamic. “Thank you for your patience!” “Thank you for your understanding!” “I appreciate your understanding” For one week, replace “I’m sorry” with “Thank you” for the small things you want excused. See what happens. See how you feel about yourself, and see how others react to you. We need to use “I’m sorry” when we’ve actually done something wrong.

We have turned I’m sorry in to such a common phrase. We say it when we want to express sorrow for someone’s loss. When we want our behavior excused, or when we want understanding for something. It has long lost the meaning that we want it used for, which is “I did something wrong and it wasn’t OK. There isn’t an excuse. I’m sorry”. It also set people on the defensive when that isn’t what our goal is.

Redefining Love

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

Love is opening your heart to another person and trusting they won’t stomp all over your hurts and fears with cruelty and their own pain. The longer you live the more bruises your heart accumulates and the more protections you create. When we create more and more protections we keep not only the things that will bruise us out, but the things that are kind and loving as well. We put walls and cages around our heart, isolating it from everything and everyone. It becomes very lonely.

If we want to feel connected with others, if we want to be present with the beauty of the world, we have to be open to it. That means letting go of some of the walls, and creating healthy boundaries. Instead of steel reinforced concrete walls, brick walls with doors that we can open.

There is risk with an open heart. We see more of the pain of the world, and we sometimes misjudge and let people in that aren’t save and don’t deserve access. We also see the greatness and the beauty of the world and find the people who’s hearts shine with love and beauty.

Love isn’t about worth. There is not one person on this planet that is unworthy of love, and I say that knowing that there are some truly horrible people out there. There are some people that aren’t safe to open our hearts to, and at the same time every one is deserving of love. That includes you. It is up to you to be safe enough to be let in to someone’s heart and to believe in yourself enough to be vulnerable. Love will find you when you drop the barriers that you have created against love; loving yourself and others, and letting others love you.


I was wrong

I was wrong. These are three of the most difficult words to string together in one sentence. Living in a blame filled society where being wrong is seen as being weak, or at times leaves us vulnerable to attack from the wronged makes it difficult to admit to our mistakes. It is also one of the best ways to resolve conflict.

We all make mistakes. We make mistakes in the way we act and the way we treat each other. Sometimes the mistakes we make dig deep holes. In order to dig out way out of these holes, most people want to hear one thing: “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have done that, and it wasn’t OK.” It takes a good deal of strength to say those words. It also begins a healing process.

Most of us want to hear the other person say that they were wrong when they have done something they shouldn’t have. It allows the forgiveness process to start, both with the wronged, and the person that committed the act. I know personally when I screw up I go through a guilt / shame cycle in which I work to forgive myself for behavior I did. The simple admission of being wrong lets me shift from shame (I am wrong) to guilt (I did wrong and am capable of doing better). It lets me shift from what a f$%k up I am to how I can do better next time.

The ego is the part of the self that regards itself as real. It is the part of the self that says “I can’t show weakness”. It is the part of the self that says “You suck, and always will”. Strangely enough, the ego is trying to help us fit in and make us be better people, but what it does is encourage us to either tear ourselves down, or tear others down to feel better. In reality, we all make mistakes. We all have the ability to change and the ability to do better next time. In order to do better next time though, we have to admit that we made a mistake.

Our ego will yell at us when we go to admit to our mistakes, especially out-loud to others. It is also the best way to start the healing process. It has been found that a Doctors or clinicians that apologize and admit when they have made mistakes are less likely to get sued. That is clear, definitive proof that we just want someone that has wronged us to admit that they were wrong. It starts a healing process, both within ourselves and with others. Three little words that can help so much, but are amazingly scary. “I was wrong”.

The path to destruction

We all have beliefs, values, ethics, and morals. Because we are all individuals with out own unique perspectives and experiences these beliefs, values, ethics and morals are going to vary significantly from person to person. We think we know and accept this fact. We know we live in a country with people from all walks of life and the people from different walks than ours will have different beliefs and opinions. We seem to forget this in 2 places. 1: Relationships, and 2: Politics.

It is perfectly acceptable to have a belief that is different from another person’s. What is not acceptable is to use aggression, either verbal, emotional or physical to force that opinion upon someone else. This is where fights come in. In a relationship, when one partner has a different belief, want, wish, or would like from the other partner we move in to an attack and defend state of being. I’m going to take your stance as an attack upon mine, and I’m going to staunchly defend my opinion while attacking yours, and possibly even attacking you. In politics we see the same thing. I didn’t watch the Republican debate last night, but up until now no matter your politics, we can mostly pretty much agree that the debates have in general been a sh*t show of insults and contempt with little substance. They have been dominance fights of attack and defend, trying to see who can get in the best attack. We have all seen the exact same thing in our own living rooms as well.

This is a sure path to destruction. In a relationship, if we can’t have civil discussions when we disagree or are frustrated it will increase resentment and start destrying the relationship from the inside. Each partner will feel unsupported, not listened to, not validated, not understood, and unloved. If there are children involved the children will do two things: first they will feel unsafe, feel the need to pick sides, and start acting out emotionally, and second they will start to see the weak spots to manipulate the parents to get what they want. Within our country we start to appear weak and divided. We start to appear easy pickings for groups that are already seeking to undermine us as a nation.

There are entire seminars on how to have an argument without killing each other. Here I’m going to give the beginning on how to start. First: Recognize that as your own person, your beliefs, values, ethics and morals are yours and yours alone. Your partner or other members of your community and even Country may share many of them, but because of your unique experiences no one will share all of them all the time. You are allowed to have them The other people are allowed to have theirs as well. The minute we recognize that other people are allowed their opinion; no matter how much it differs from ours, no matter how repugnant or offensive it may seem to us, they are allowed to have it.   The key is, no matter how offensive, repugnant, or different the other person’s beliefs, values, ethics and morals are, you aren’t allowed to use violence to force them to change. Neither are they!

The next step, and this is the difficult one: work to avoid Criticism, Contempt and Defensiveness when debating wants, wishes and would likes. We have become a country of criticism. I have found myself that I want to march over to my neighbor, that blatantly has different values that I do about recycling, and tell them what assholes they are for never recycling, when we have a large trash can that is meant specifically for recycling and is, in my opinion, so amazingly easy to recycle. I want to remind them that this world will be theirs long after I am gone from this planet (they are college students) and beat them over the head with the stuff I see sticking out of their trash can on trash day that could to in the recycle bin. And at the same time, I’m pretty sure that would at the very least get me the middle finger in my face, or maybe a punch in the nose. I need to find a place where I am calm enough to have a conversation about my beliefs, and ask politely for them to change their behavior. And then when they don’t, I get to self soothe my frustrations, and continue to do my best to save the plane one can at a time by recycling myself.

We have become a country (maybe even a world) where telling people how wrong and stupid they are is meant to change something, when all it does is polarize people. Criticizing people for what they believe and do tends to make people defensive, not want to change. Showing contempt for their beliefs and actions leads to the same reaction. When all we are doing is attacking and defending without hearing the other person’s point of view and recognizing that they may have some valid points in there, just as we do, we create anger and frustration, not resolution.

For this week I want you to do your best to find a place in every argument where the other person has a good point. Even if you don’t like that point, or want to like that point, find that place where the other person isn’t as stupid as you feel they are. For a moment play devils advocate for your own perspective to see where they are coming from. Imagine if each side of a disagreement did this, what would happen. Then work to make sure if you are hitting a point of frustration where you want to show criticism or contempt, you take a break. Work to keep things civil. Take small steps to keep from eating your relationship, or even our country as a whole away from the inside with anger, hate, and polarization. It will also do the same for you, and keep you from being eaten alive from the inside by the above. Anger is like drinking poison and expecting it to kill the other person. We are on a path to destruction, and as individuals we are the key to stopping it.

Asking for what you want

We all hit that point in a relationship where we want something that we aren’t sure our partner wants to give us.  Many of us have one of two difficulties.  The first one is the belief that if our partner loved us enough  they would know what we want and they would give it to us.  The second is not feeling comfortable asking for what we want because we aren’t good at expressing ourselves, or because we are afraid we aren’t going to get it.  Either way is a recipe for either silence or passive aggression.

For those that aren’t quite sure what passive aggression is, it is being subtle about saying insults, requests or wants.  Saying them in a way that can be played off.  If I am making requests in a way that can be ignored or played off, then they probably will.

Firstly, make sure you know what you want, and if it is possible for the other person to help.  If you have no idea what you want, then the person you are asking isn’t going to be able to give it to you.  If the want is something that the other person can’t help with, then they are going to be set up for failure.  If the desire is to feel love or losing the emptiness, asking someone to do it for us is destined for failure.  If someone loves us and we are unable to connect with that love, all of their love won’t help that.  If you feel empty, there is nothing anyone can do to fill you.  A partner can support and sponsor us while we work to let the love in, or to feel filled.

Do you want your partner to go on a walk with you today, or do you want them to spend more time with you overall?  Do you want them to do the dishes tonight?  Or o you want them to take more of an active roll in taking care of the household?  Are you asking for what you really want?

This goes for work and friendships as well.  If you are not articulating what you want, it is unlikely you will get it. No one can read your mind.

Once you know what you want find the words to clearly articulate it without criticism, contempt or blaming.  These three will get the person you are speaking to defensive, and unlikely to want to help you.  Stick to “I want”, “I would like”, or “I need”.  Avoid telling the other person what they need to do, as that also leads to defensiveness.  State what you want or need clearly and assertively.  Make eye contact, head up and shoulders back.  Speak in a clear voice working to avoid “ummmm” and “ahhhhh” as they steal the vision of confidence.
Finally, let the other person know how their help will be beneficial.  We are all more likely to help someone else if we are going to get something positive out of it.  How will their life be able to move more smoothly.

If you noticed, the majority of this blog was about you discovering what you truly want.  What do I want to have happen?  What is my goal, and what do I need?  Once you have these questions answered, you are better able to find the confidence to walk in and ask for what you want in a clear and concise way.  You aren’t always going to get what you want, but if you are able to be clear and calm in your approach, it increases the odds significantly.

Don’t fall blindly in love

Most of us in the dating pool are using online dating as a resource.  Because we develop impressions based on profiles and pictures we often wonder about the gaps that aren’t explained in the short blurb written on their page.  When friends introduce people to us we get partial descriptions, generally including the best traits of their friends.

We humans don’t like blanks in information.  We are very good at filling in these blanks with assumptions based on our previous experiences.  When we have small bits of a larger picture, we tend to fill in the bits we don’t know.  When we do so with other people it is called parataxic distortion .

What this means is that we create a fantasy of a person that we don’t know well, essentially “filling in the gaps”.  This is detrimental in two ways.  The first way is creating a positive, overly fantastic image of someone that is false.  This sets up expectations for a date that they are not aware of, and probably won’t be able to meet.  When those expectations are unmet, we (especially women) can become bitter and angry.  We start making conscious and sub-conscious demands of our dates to meet our expectations, expectations that are based on a fantasy.

The second, when this becomes very dangerous, is in creating a fantasy that our partner / date is nicer, more loving, healthier than they really are.  We haven’t taken the time to actually discover the true personality of our date, and in extreme situations that can place us in danger.  If we believe our partner is safer than they really are and we place ourselves in a vulnerable situation, there is a possibility of very real danger.  A good example is “just knowing” that someone is trustworthy, and allowing them to use restraints / bondage during sex.  Worst case scenario is to be held against your will, injured or raped, even killed.  In less extreme situations, there is still emotional traumas to consider.  If you end up saying to yourself “How come all of the guys I date turn in to jerks eventually?”, you now know the answer.  They were jerks to begin with, and you just created a different reality around who you wanted them to be.

These distortions generally are part of the “falling in love” process.  We create an ideal of the person, who we want them to be, instead of who they really are. In some ways it helps us see past the minor flaws that people have so they have a chance in our lives. But the dangers include not actually seeing the person for who they really are.  In meeting people and learning them, always keep your eyes open.

It is easy to create a fantasy and fall in love with the fantasy. The chemicals in the beginning don’t help with this, they even encourage the fantasy.  It is dangerous to get lost in the fantasy, throw ourselves in to the relationship, and only find out when we are committed that the picture we painted isn’t the truth.  When we fall in love we don’t want to fall blindly.