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Do 5 Things

Do 5 things to make your relationship a place they want to be. 

Sometimes talking won’t help. I know, that’s a weird thing for a talk therapist to say. It’s true though. 

Talk can become cheap. Let’s say you often apologize or you often hear apologies. That’s okay but if apologies don’t ever come with behavior change then words don’t mean much anymore. .

In the same way promises made over and over without the actions to back them up make promises worthless. Actually it’s worse than that. Promises made but not kept consistently over time will result in resentment and ultimately disinterest. That’s the old cliché right? The opposite of love isn’t hate it’s indifference. .

When our relationships are in this state the time for talk has past and it’s time for action. 

Do 5 things for your partner over the next 7 days. On the 8th day check in with them. See if they noticed. 

Here are some sample actions I’ve recommended to clients over the last month or so. .

Expand your definition of sexuality well beyond penetration as the goal and reengage. .

STOP all criticism. Just stop it. Don’t rationalize any negative comments as “constructive,” “just trying to help,” “real talk,” or any other justification for meanness. Just stop. Immediately. Like now.

Take over the other partner’s chores for the week. If they do bath time with the kids usually, give them the week off.

Start a yoga practice together. Begin at the lowest level of the least experienced partner. Get in the habit of being in your own body while in the presence of your partner.

Do the dishes. Pick up the stuff. Make the bed. Do your own laundry. All the stuff you have a good reason for not doing but it makes your partner(s) crazy. Don’t let your relationship die on that hill (of dirty clothes).

Think of something your partner wants to do and then join them. If you can’t do that thing without complaining then send them. Make all the arrangements for them and send them. All details taken care of by you, for them.

If you try this let me know what you did and how it went. I’d love to hear.

“If I could give you one gift, it would be curiosity.”

I wish I had a curiosity potion (and since I’m wishing I want my potion to have the side effects of a good night’s sleep and a day’s worth of a charming personality). I would give it to all the people I know who want better relationships.

There‘s a whole separate universe in that person across from you. Different thoughts. Different feelings. Different experiences. Each is a whole new world to explore. It’s true for siblings. It’s true for co-workers. Maybe that’s a scary idea for some. To me it’s exciting.

Being with someone is an amazing opportunity to see the same thing,a meal, a podcast, an argument in a whole new way. If we can be curious we can get a totally different perspective.

If only we could be curious instead of obsessed with being right. I can have one experience and someone else can have another one. That doesn’t make me wrong. It just makes us different.

So without my magic potion, how can we be more curious?

1. Get calm.

2. Get secure.

3. Get in the habit of asking questions.

4. Wait for answers.

5. Keep listening and asking and listening until we find understanding.

Be Careful What You Ask. You Might Get Answers.

We can’t unring a bell and we can’t unhear the damn thing.

In the heat of the moment be careful. When fighting with our partner(s) the only things that run as high as our emotions are our mouths. Hit the brake. Sloooowwww waaaayyy down.

Sometimes we think we want to know all the details. Sometimes we think we want to know exactly what they were thinking. Sometimes we think if we just got more information then it wouldn’t feel so awful. The hell of it is that sometimes the details make it worse.

When you’re hurt, confused, betrayed, angry, STOP. Soothe yourself. Set up some boundaries. Get some space. Then really think about what you need to know and why. Then, proceed with caution.

If you need help having these conversations I can help.

I Get It

“You get it? Right?” she asked.

It probably doesn’t sound like one person, in the whole world, getting it makes that big a difference. I mean it’s 1 in 7.53 billion. But this is where the stats don’t tell the story. .

Healing can come from one other. One other who hears you. One other who believes you. One other who gets you and loves you anyway. The power of one might be all you need to change your whole story. .

I get it.

All Men Are Not Like This

“Are all men like this?” she asked. 

Nope.

I got that question from a client last week. It’s tempting to make broad generalizations about a group of people. Men, women, whites, people of color, gay, straight, liberals, conservatives, gun-owners, transgender, cisgender, Astro fans, Yankee fans, it can go on and on. It seems we love nothing more than putting ourselves and others into categories so that we can form some understanding about them without having to do the hard work of getting to know them. My advice? Resist the urge to categorize, generalize, and labelize.

There’s no quicker way to be wrong than to say any version of this mad lib: “All _________ are _________.” 

That’s not to say that broad strokes can’t be helpful. I like knowing and teaching what research says makes for happy relationships. However, what works you, in your life, with your partner(s) will be unique. That’s one of the reasons I love being a therapist. I take what I know, we combine it with my clients’ lived experience, and develop a plan, a relationship, a life that is uniquely theirs.

Take generalizations with a grain of salt. Get specific. Get to know individuals and their situations. Be curious instead of judgmental. You’ll be surprised what you learn.

Slow Down (apply to as many situations as needed).

There’s good data that shows none of us are as good at multitasking as we think we are. Actually we’re terrible multitaskers. We do our best work when we do things one at a time. 

You might disagree. I didn’t believe it when I heard it from the folks form University of Washington that taught me Dialectical Behavior Therapy. That’s a therapy that does in part a good job of operationalizing common sense. The truth is that we never really multitask meaning that we don’t really do two things at once. We do them one at a time whether we know it or not whether we believe it or not. 

When we think we’re multitasking we’re actually moving our attention from one thing say the person we’re having dinner with to another say the phone on the table next to our plate. 

It’s natural for our attention to jump from one thing to another. Somebody once described our minds like puppies. They’re curious, well-meaning, and easily distracted. Don’t kick your puppy. 

So let’s give up on multitasking and adopt intentionality. Let’s do one thing and then shift our focus to the next thing and do that next thing. Go slower. Remind your puppy to be good. You’ll enjoy the good things more. The bad things will not be worse. Go slower as often as possible. 

Sitting With Isn’t as Satisfying as Fixing

We don’t want people to hurt. We especially don’t want our loved ones to hurt. When we care for others and witness their pain it hurts us for them. We want to fix their pain for them. We want to fix their pain for us. If someone’s injured we can administer first aid. If someone’s choking we can apply the Heimlich Maneuver. In the right circumstance it’s vital for a responder to provide CPR. This begs the question, however, what do you do when someone you love is suffering a pain you can’t fix? This might take the form of chronic pain (think fibromyalgia or arthritis) , illness (think MS, HIV, Parkinson’s, and the like), or reactions to treatments or medications (think chemotherapy). Maybe it’s emotional pain associated with trauma, depression, anxiety, or grief. There are no Heimlich Maneuvers for emotional pain.

What can you do when your loved one is in pain that you can’t fix? Sit with them. Be present. Hold their hand. Let them know they’re not alone. Sound easy? It’s not. We’d rather fix. It’s more satisfying. Sitting with someone in pain is much harder than it sounds. To do it well we must be able to manage our own reactions and hold them as we stay in the room.

These things are easy to say or to type but they are hard to do. Here are some tips to help you stay present or “in the room” as I say when someone you love is in pain and it’s a pain that you personally can’t fix.

  1. Shift your focus to you. When our love hurts we can become so focused on them that we ignore ourselves. While we should never be oblivious to what’s going on with them we should likewise never be oblivious about what’s going on with us.
  2. Name what you’re feeling. Emotional literacy is the first step to emotional mastery. By the way emotional mastery doesn’t mean that we control what we feel. Rather it means that we know what we feel; we understand that emotional message from ourselves; and we know what to do in response to those feelings.
  3. Get aware of how intensely you’re feeling. Give yourself a score of 1-10. 10 is the most intense version of the feeling. For example a 10 on the 1-10 anxiety scale is panic. A 10 on the 1-10 anger scale is rage. A 10 on the 1-10 sadness scale is despair.
  4. Breathe deeply. Repeat as needed. I usually take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth. As I breath slowly in I imagine I’m breathing that feeling in (see #2) and then breathing it out of my mouth. Do this as long as it takes for your emotional intensity to drop down to whatever your manageable level is. That might be a 6, a 3, or a 1 depending on how different emotions effect you.
  5. Shift your focus back to your partner. When you’re okay go back to providing reassurance. Ask them what they need from you. Hold hands. We’re all wired to receive soothing from touch so touch if it’s okay with them.

Self Esteem Can Be Built But We Need Help

Self esteem is the confidence we have in ourselves to adapt, get along, and eventually thrive no matter what life throws at us. Here are a few keys to building your self esteem or your self confidence.

1. We’re not born with good self esteem. It’s built. We have to try new things, figure them out, and then be good at them. Repeat. The encouragement we get matters here. It takes courage and with a little or a lot of encouragement to try that new thing. Who encourages you?

2. We can’t build it on our own. We can’t see ourselves so we need mirrors. If those mirrors don’t give us an accurate view of ourselves then we don’t know what we truly are. When it comes to self esteem the people around us are our mirrors. Are they giving you an accurate view of yourself?

3. You can only build self esteem by trying and mastering new things.

4. You can take your self confidence with you.

5. Your self esteem is to you what gasoline is to your car. Self esteem can run out and you can’t go on if you don’t get more of it.

If your self esteem is low. There’s your work.

One of the best things about therapy is that a therapeutic relationship can correct years of bad mirroring and a lack of encouragement. If you’d like to do that work with me, check the link in my bio to set an appointment in person or online.

Love, – c

Would You Talk To Him the Way You Talk to Yourself?

Nope. You wouldn’t. And I know for sure that I don’t, anymore.

Let’s back up a step. You’re talking to yourself all the time. We all are. Do you know what you’re saying? Tune in. Just notice. Notice what you’re telling yourself. Notice how you’re saying it. The tone you use is as important as what you’re thinking, maybe more.

In relationships one of the things that makes or breaks them is the atmosphere around it and within it. Is the experience of your relationship generally positive and warm like a safe haven from the outside world or does it feel negative and tense like walking on eggshells? A safe haven is good. Walking on eggshells is bad. What’s the atmosphere in your relationship with yourself?

If your self-talk is negative and the atmosphere in your head is like walking on eggshells then let’s turn that around. Imagine yourself as a little kid. I did. Yes, that’s me in this picture. Would you say the things you’re saying to yourself about yourself to 8 year-old you? Nope.

Your first job in adult life is to take care of yourself. In the airplane we always hear “put the mask on yourself before me you assist others.” Your life is your airplane. Self-care is putting the mask on yourself. Good self-talk and keep the atmosphere in your head positive are vital to self-care. If you’re not good at this, there’s your work.

Our lightning fast emotional reactions might serve us well sometimes or they might get us in big trouble. 

Anyone who’s gotten a checkup at the doctor knows what their reflexes are. As soon as the doctor hits your knee with that little rubber mallet she can make your leg jump. Our emotions have reflexes too. 

There are all sorts of rubber mallets out there too. Think of when a police car appears behind you with her lights and sirens flashing. That flash of dread? Your emotional reflex. 

Some emotional reflexes are appropriate. If you’re under real threat that fight or flight jolt of anxiety can help you take action fast. 

Usually though with the situations we face day-to-day are not life threatening. That doesn’t mean that our emotional reflexes don’t fire. It just means that we have to have them, metabolize them, and then choose what action we take.

Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for us.

What are the mallets that hit your emotional reflexes? Are your responses helping you or hurting you? If your emotional reflexes are distressing you and you’re making bad (for you) choices, there’s your work.