Benefits of performing music on the street

Busking has helped me defy so many limitations that we as musicians face. Here are some examples:

(1) Being older has not held me back. People respond to how my music makes them feel before they notice how old I am. And once I’ve made that heart connection, age is irrelevant. (Also wearing a baseball hat helps). 

(2) I am not defined by a particular audience. When I give it all I’ve got, I get  a great response from young and old, as well as people from every ethnic and musical background. People respond to songs they know and to songs they don’t know if sung with feeling. Give it all you got and you’ll appeal to people of all ages and from every walk of life.

(3) I am not limited by what venues want. Most venues hire bands based on the crowd that they bring to their business. I’m not under pressure to produce numbers. Whether I’m singing to 9 or 900 the joy is the same. And some of the best tip dollar amounts have come with the fewest people listening. 

(4) I never lack for places to play. I could literally play every day somewhere on the walking streets where I’ve been invited by local businesses. Some musicians are stuck in bands where all they do is practice and rarely play. When you play on the street there’s always a stage and an audience waiting for what you bring.

(5) I only practice to learn or write new material. I no longer have to rehearse songs that I already know in preparation for a big performance. After playing through my 3-hour set multiple times a week for a full year, I can play those songs in my sleep. Most musicians don’t get that kind of an opportunity unless they are on tour for several months.

(6) My confidence is growing by leaps and bounds. When playing on the street you are faced with so many unexpected distractions – things like a loud motorcycle zooming by or a person who just walks up and starts talking to you while you’re playing. As you learn to navigate all the distractions and take them in stride, your performance confidence grows.

(7) My voice stays in shape. When you don’t sing a lot your voice does not stay in tip top shape. That makes it harder to groove and sing in tune. Today my voice is stronger than ever setting me free to really feel and express the music. 

If you relate to any of these limitations  as a musician, let me encourage you to start performing on the street. It will really help you sharpen your performance skills and overcome these limitations.

Two kinds of temptations: one to avoid, one to face

In Matthew 6:13 Jesus said to pray ‘Do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.’ And yet in Matthew 4:1 we read, ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ 

Rather than a contradiction I see two categories of temptations: those God keeps us from because we are not ready to face, and those God leads us into because we are ready.

When we obey God, he leads us away from unnecessary temptations.

In Exodus 13:17 when Pharaoh let the children of Israel go it says, ‘God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near, for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.” God led them in a way that avoided battle. Why? Because they weren’t ready. But later in Exodus 17 we see God leading them into battle with Amalek. Why? Because by that time they were ready.

When we seek God’s presence through His freshly spoken word, and yield our hearts and follow Him in obedience, we avoid temptations we are not ready for. Jesus lived his life in this way. He was able to say in John 14:30 ‘the ruler of this world is coming and he has nothing in Me.’ (no claim on Me). This is pictured for us in Psalm 23:5 when David says, ‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.’ This table is a place of fellowship and provision from God. And it’s experienced in a way that torments the devil as he has to watch and cannot reach us.

However when we are not in this place of surrender and obedience to God, we face temptations that we don’t have grace to overcome. 2 Samuel 11:1 tells us that in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, ‘David remained in Jerusalem.’ The very next verse tells us that David, after a long nap, went out onto his rooftop balcony, saw a very beautiful woman who was not his wife and fell into sin. This was a temptation that David did not have the grace to overcome, because he wasn’t where he should have been. Had he been on the path of God’s leading, this temptation would have never even occurred. 

When we obey God, temptations become opportunities to experience God’s power.

Matthew 4:1 says, ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.’ God does not lead us into trials to punish us, but so that we can punish the devil. There are two views of the same situation. The devil sees it as a temptation to destroy you. God sees it as a test to prove your faith.

In Matthew 4:3 the devil challenged Jesus’ identity saying, ‘If you’re the Son of God command that these stones become bread.’ Jesus had been fasting for 40 days and it says that His hunger had returned. This was a sign that if He doesn’t eat soon he’s a goner. The temptation was to take matters into His own hands rather than trusting His Father. His response was to quote from Deuteronomy 8:3 when He said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Jesus was saying, ‘I don’t see His provision but I have His word.’ He chose to trust God rather than believing that His Father had let him down. 

Jesus answered two more times from the Scriptures foiling the devil’s attempts. Finally v. 11 says, ‘then the devil left Him.’ The devil cannot outlast us. Eventually he will run out of gas and have to give up. 

So the Holy Spirit will lead us into opportunities to prove God, strengthen our faith, and punish the devil.

What challenge are you facing today? You are ready for it or you wouldn’t be there! So seek the Lord for His direction and stay with it until you experience a breakthrough.

In a series of meetings I experienced a person who was being rude to me. Each time I tried to make a contribution I experienced a subtle put-down from her. I was feeling really frustrated and angry, and then I heard the Lord speak to me from something I had read in Romans 12 that morning. I heard the words ‘Do not be over come by evil but overcome evil with good. Get up and get her a cup of coffee.’ No way. But I pushed myself down the hall the to coffee room, poured the coffee, and when I turned 180º to go back the power of God hit me and I felt His overwhelming love for this woman. And as the devil left the room and the Holy Spirit filled it, the spiritual climate changed from negativity to joy and freedom.

God will lead you into situations like this, not to punish you, but so that you can punish the devil and experience God’s glory and your own growth in greater measure.

Bible Study that transforms your life and community

Bible study is important, but not just as a way to gain more knowledge in my head. Bible doctrine is important, but not as a way to line up what I believe against what others believe. Bible theology is important, but not as a way to superimpose a belief system over what God is actually saying and doing in the world today.

Every insight gained through prayer and Bible study is an invitation to encounter God personally. Each point of Bible doctrine or theology is an invitation to step into his very presence, to intimately know his nature, to experience him in all his goodness, and to know what he is saying to me right now, today, in this very moment!

Psalm 103:7 tells us that God “made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the children of Israel”. God revealed his nature to Moses (his ways). Moses had regular personal encounters with God and knew him personally. But the people of Israel settled for seeing what God did at a distance (his acts – things like parting the Red Sea, providing manna for food every day, providing water from a rock). When the opportunity came for them to experience a more personal encounter with God they said, “No thank you!” That prospect was too scary for them at the time (see Exodus 20:18-19).

Like many of us today we read about what God did, or we hear testimonies about what God is doing today, and we believe it. And yet perhaps we have not experienced this same power in our own life.

  • We know he has forgiven our iniquities but we may doubt the part where he heals all our diseases (see Psalm 103:3).
  • We may believe in the love of God, but we haven’t experienced that in a way that heals us from our past.

This intimate, experiential knowledge of God doesn’t occur because we have correct doctrine about God’s love. It comes when we experience a personal encounter with the God who is love.

Here’s a tool that will help us study the Bible not just to learn about God (knowing his acts), but to experience him (knowing his ways).

Read a paragraph or a chapter in the Bible and answer the following questions:

1. What does it say? 

Ask, “What does it say?” When something begins to stand out, write it down.

Example: In Matthew 5: 14 Jesus told his followers, “You are the light of the world…”

2. What does it mean?

Ask yourself ‘What does it mean?’ Consider what the original writer was saying to the original audience. Consider the biblical and cultural context. Then write it down.

Example: Jesus was telling his followers that just as he came to bring light and reveal the true nature of His Father in heaven and to show what God is really like, (John 1:4-5), that calling is now given to them. His disciples were to be the light of the world!

3. What does it mean to me?

This is where the Holy Spirit will apply this word to you personally and present an opportunity to step into a place where you encounter him and experience his presence and power. Write it down.

Example: That calling to be the light of the world, to reveal the true nature of our Father in heaven, is also my calling. I’m called to bring to others illumination and revelation of God and his nature so that people around me can know him personally.

4. What am I to do?

This is where I yield my heart to God’s spoken word, experience his presence, and receive his grace (the willingness and power) to do what he’s asking me to do. My obedience connects with his power and resulting in a manifestation of his kingdom around me as his will is being done ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.

Example: v. 16 says “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” As I listened to the Holy Spirit the thought came, “My neighbor is sick. I know that he likes Chinese food. I’ll order a big take out bowl of war wanton soup and take it over to him.” When I did this I encounter God’s presence and connected with his power and joy. By serving in this way, I also prophetically declared God’s nature as a servant in my neighborhood in way that others can see him and sense his presence as well.

5. Who am I to tell?

This is where God will use me to speak to others. By sharing this word and testimony of what God is doing, I am bringing the kingdom of God to others. God will use my testimony to speak to others and encourage them to be light in their world and serve him in similar ways.

Click here to print out the Transformational Bible Study tool.

How the message of God’s kingdom really is “good news”

If you’ve been around Christians for any time at all you’ve probably heard about the “good news” – the gospel message of “Salvation in Jesus Christ”. Usually they are referring to the forgiveness of sin and eternal life that Jesus paid for by his death on the cross. That is really good news! And it’s true that forgiveness and eternal life are at the very foundation of the Christian message. However, there is even more to this “good news”!

God’s salvation also includes things like healing of sickness and disease, deliverance from torment and addictions, and healing of relationships.

The message Jesus proclaimed was called the “gospel of the kingdom”. Matthew 4:23 says, “And Jesus went about…preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”

The good news of God’s kingdom is that eternal life begins right now! And that this message is not just about going to heaven some day, but about bringing heaven to earth right now.

Jesus said, “the kingdom of God (or ‘the kingdom of heaven’ – same idea) is at hand” (Mark 1:15). He was announcing that God’s kingdom is present and within reach right now!

“Kingdom” means the “king’s domain”. That refers to any place where Jesus is acknowledged as Lord, and where people willingly submit to him.

Wherever this happens, God works powerfully to change the situation on earth until it looks like it does in heaven. Since there is no sickness in heaven, when this kingdom comes, physical illness receives divine healing; emotional torment is relieved by a peace that goes beyond human understanding; oppression and poverty is replaced by hope and a road to freedom and true prosperity. When people yield their lives to Jesus, things shift until the situation on earth mirrors the reality of heaven. In Matthew 12:28 Jesus said, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

Christians readily understand this reality in relation to the forgiveness of sin. Most would agree that when the kingdom of God comes upon an unbelieving person, there is the gift of repentance. God opens their eyes to see their sin, gives them grace to confess and turn from it, and to receive forgiveness and new life. But what some of us have missed is that this same good news also applies to physical healing and deliverance from evil powers. Sickness is to the body what sin is to the soul and God’s salvation dealt with both.

As we share this gospel of the kingdom with others, there is a collision of two worlds. When these two opposite powers meet, God’s kingdom always wins. Evil powers are no match for God’s power. Just like darkness is no match for light. If there’s light, darkness cannot exist. When light comes into the room darkness always flees. When we share the gospel of the kingdom the inferior reality must always bow to the superior reality.

Being a Christian means having the privilege and obligation to live a life of faith where we continually access the reality of heaven in order to see it invade the afflictions and circumstances of our world. There is not a problem on earth today that does not have its solution in the kingdom of God. Everything that a person could ever desire is found in this kingdom. And it’s up to us to bring these solutions to others in such a way that they encounter God’s love and power and enter into their own personal relationship with him. How do we do that? Through our prayers and declaration of truth and the promises of God.

As more and more people put their faith in Jesus, God’s kingdom will continue to expand, until, eventually, all nations will enjoy the blessings and riches of God’s salvation. That’s when Jesus will return for a victorious church and deliver on his promise of eternal life.

Join us in this unstoppable movement! Start by putting your faith in Jesus Christ, and experience the good news of his kingdom which, according to Jesus, is present and within reach right now to meet whatever need you may have.

When you’re disappointed with God

Someone said, ‘When you pray for an oak tree sometimes God will give you an acorn.’

Don’t let your disappointment cause you to miss God’s answer. Look at what he’s given you and not at what he hasn’t.

Take care of that acorn and it will become the oak tree you are longing for.

When disappointment occurs, your faith is tested. Where you experience your deepest disappointment is actually an invitation to your greatest victory. Deep inside your loss is an acorn of God’s promise that contains the mighty oak of your eternal destiny.

There are two forces warring to find a resting place in your heart. One is from your spiritual enemy who is feeding you information that builds a case against God: “If God is so good then why…? Where was God when…? etc.”

The other force is the one voice that matters: what God is saying to you; what God is promising you; the good purpose and plan God is declaring over you. Yielding to what God is saying to you connects you with the most powerful force in the universe. God spoke and the universe was created. Jesus said to Peter one word, “Come” (Matthew 14:29), and Peter was walking on the water.

So look for the acorn God has given you. Pull up and cast out all the weeds and seeds of unbelief and contend for the one voice that matters. Take care of that acorn and watch that mighty oak start to emerge.

Discovering why we’re on the planet

To discover why we’re here we have to go back to the beginning. The original purpose of humanity according to Genesis 1:28 was ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over’¦every living thing that moves on the earth.” God made the first man and woman in his own image to take care of the earth and expand that original garden to fill the earth, push out all evil, and establish beauty and order where there was chaos. With that authority God also gave us a free will to do with it as we choose.

Unfortunately when that first man and woman chose to use their free will to disobey God, their authority over earth was given over to the evil one (read the full story in Genesis 3). That’s the reason the world is in such chaos today.

But now through faith in Jesus – through his death and resurrection and ascension into heaven – God has restored us to our original purpose and authority with the mandate, “Go and disciple all the nations.’ (Matthew 28:18-20).

This answers the question as to why we’re on the planet. It is our task to co-labor with God the Holy Spirit to be fruitful and multiply and bring the kingdom of God to earth until every evil is displaced and every corner of this beautiful planet is filled with God’s glorious presence and his goodness – and until every nation has the joy of knowing and serving God. When that happens Jesus will return to a victorious church to fully usher in his kingdom which will last forever.

If you’re not a part of this wonderful reason for being on the planet you can be. Simply choose to put your faith in Jesus Christ and he will forgive your sins and cause you to be born again. And then he will empower you to do your own part, to use your own unique gifts and skills along with a growing company of others to accomplish this great commission to transform the world.

Living from heaven toward earth

What can we do about all the division, corruption, and unrest we see in our world today? Do we have a role? Absolutely!

A relationship with Jesus Christ means living from heaven toward earth – co-laboring with him to provide heaven’s solutions to every problem we encounter. As a Christian you and I died with Christ to our old nature, rose from the dead and are now seated with Jesus in the heavenly realm. That’s right! We are now citizens of two worlds, one that is passing and one that is eternal. This new position enables us to live as Jesus did, from heaven toward earth. From the eternal toward the temporary. This means all of heaven’s riches are available to us to accomplish our purpose bringing God’s blessing and kingdom to every corner of the earth. When people see how good God is and that he is for them not against them, they will want in. They will want to be a part of this kingdom.

So where do I begin? Begin by praying as the Lord instructed his followers: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Our instructions are in the details of that prayer:

“Give us this day our daily bread” – What’s the implication?

Alleviation of poverty – We are to receive what we need with such abundance that it will overflow to meet the needs around us, eliminating spiritual, social, and economic poverty. There is no poverty in God’s kingdom.

“Forgive us out debts, as we forgive our debtors” – What’s the result?

Healing of relationships – Receiving God’s love and forgiveness reconciles us to God and heals our hearts. As we extend that love and forgiveness to those who have offended us, our relationships are healed. There are no broken relationships in God’s kingdom.

“Lead us not into temptation” – What will this give us?

Protection from poor choices – God will protect us from choosing counterfeit joy and pleasures that lure us away from God, and he will lead us to a path of life where in his presence is fullness of joy and where we experience real and lasting pleasures (see Psalm 16:11). There is everything our hearts could ever desire in God’s kingdom.

“But deliver us from evil.” – What does this mean?

Deliverance from evil and its effects – This includes physical, emotional and mental healing and deliverance. God’s salvation is complete. He saved my soul from sin, my body from disease, and my mind from torment. Sickness is the to the body what sin is to the soul. God’s salvation dealt with both. There is no sickness, addiction, depression, or oppression in God’s kingdom.

If you haven’t considered a relationship with God, let me encourage to put your faith in Jesus Christ and join the party. The best is yet to come!


Our task: Heaven on earth

Growing up I learned the Lord’s prayer. When I thought of the words,“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, I assumed that referred to going to heaven someday.

While that is true, I have since learned that the Christian faith is not just about going to heaven some day, it’s about bringing heaven to earth.

Jesus came to establish his kingdom here on earth so it will spread through us like leaven until heaven permeates the entire earth.

What does this kingdom look like? The Bible describes God’s kingdom as three things: righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17).

I can understand how God’s kingdom would be a place of “peace” and “joy” but what does it mean by “righteousness”?

Think of all things wrong being made right – things like injustice, inequality, racism, oppression, pollution, greed, poverty, destructive behavior… all being eliminated from the earth as personal lives, cities, and ultimately nations are transformed by God’s love and power. Imagine that!

This is our task: to see heaven on earth.

And we are to do that not by a political power grab but by becoming servants bringing heaven’s solutions to the people we encounter and the places we go every day. As more and more Christians live in this way, the movement will grow until the glory of God will fill the earth.


Reconnecting and Rekindling Your Marriage Relationship

Let me invite you to a new 3-week online course for couples entitled “Reconnecting and Rekindling Your Marriage Relationship”!

In this course are two powerful relationship tools that can help you do what the title suggests…


Learn how to turn conflicts into a deeper connection with your partner

Allowing conflicts to continue without being resolved will drain the life out of any relationship.

The real problem is that unresolved conflicts block your ability to connect.

When we feel connected everything works. When we feel disconnected nothing works. Cortisol increases anxiety, and our unconscious defenses hurl us into further conflict.


In the first week, you will learn about the Power Struggle Stage of marriage and why we have conflicts as a couple. You will learn to use the Couples Dialogue to turn these conflicts into connection.


Learn how to reignite the flame of passionate love for each other.

Couples who have endured long term conflict often lose their feelings for each other. In the second week you will learn how to rekindle love and reignite passion in your relationship.


You will add to your toolbox a powerful tool called the Caring Behaviors exercise. This exercise and dialogue will help you identify and intentionally do things that make your partner feel loved and cared about. This will have a powerful effect toward rekindling romantic love and increasing safety and connection in your relationship


Build habits that will keep you feeling connected in a stable and secure relationship.

Most of the great relationship tools I teach don’t work’¦that is unless you work them. It’s easy to start well, have a breakthrough, only to go back to old patterns.


You will learn how to make the relationship tools you’ve learned a lifestyle. You will learn how to develop the habits necessary to sustain change over time and continue the journey toward the marriage of your dreams.

Let me encourage you to join me for this 3-week online course, RECONNECTING AND REKINDLING YOUR MARRIAGE.

The regular price is $129 but I’m offering the discount price of $69 through Sunday, April 10. Early registration is now open for you as a subscriber to my weekly email. You’ll receive more info on Monday.

Click here for more info and to enroll in this course.

Hope to see you there!

Safe conversations in an unsafe world

Troubled by what’s going on in our world? Wondering what you can do in response to all the social and political turmoil? 

Safe Conversations skills that have changed your marriage can also change your world.

Even if you feel like there is nothing you can do about where our country is headed, Safe Conversations can greatly impact your world and ultimately impact the world.  

How did we get to this place? How is it possible that we find ourselves able to dish out such emotional abuse toward fellow members of the human race? 

On the surface it makes no sense. But when we see what’s happening to us unconsciously as a nation, it makes perfect sense.

Our democracy is based on the fact that we all bring different views to the table. That’s a given.

So what happened? 


The wonderful process of co-creation and mutual purpose has broken  down and has resulted in the polarization that we are experiencing today.

When we can’t resolve normal conflicts, we get stuck in a self-absorbed state so that whenever we encounter someone who holds a different view, we are literally traumatized. That’s when we become reactive and go further into that self-absorbed state. 

Soon it no longer feels safe to engage with that person on the other side of the aisle.

What happens if we let this polarization continue? 


We lose empathy for each other. We are no longer in touch with what the other person is experiencing or feeling.

Objectification means that the other person has effectively been degraded to the status of a mere object. And here’s the tragedy of that:

When people become objects, we can treat them any way we want.

We can criticize them, we can label them, we can berate them, we can walk out of the room when they are talking it us. 

We can dish out this kind of abuse, because to us they are no longer human. They are just things that serve us. And they become objects of our frustration.

Tragically this is what seems to have happened in our nation today. And the whole world is watching us.

So what can we do? 


The Safe Conversations Dialogue is a tool that can help you restore empathy and begin to come back together with people who see things differently.

Here’s how the three steps of the Safe Conversations Dialogue can help.

When you MIRROR another person’s thoughts and  feelings, you begin to see who that person really is. That person feels honored that you would listen and see them. As a result they will tend to feel more open to you and your perspective.


When you VALIDATE this person’s thoughts and feelings, you begin to see how they make sense from their perspective. Validation is not agreeing with this person, but it’s seeing how their perspective makes sense according to their own inner logic. Validation results in differentiation and neutralizes the trauma so that polarization does not have to occur. Again when you validate someone they will tend to feel more open to you and your perspective.


When you EMPATHIZE with another person’s feelings, healing occurs and safety is restored. You can then see that person as human and not as an object, and connection, and dialogue, and even mutual purpose is possible. We now know it’s impossible to criticize someone you are empathetic with.

Go one way with one person talking and the other person listening. Then reverse roles and do it again….and again…and again!

I know you can’t stop and have a deep dialogue with every person you engage with. But you can apply these principles in every conversation you have. And if you do, I’m convinced that you’ll see dramatic results in terms of safety, connection, creative solutions, and ultimately healing in your relational world. 

If you’d like more help click here for more information and to enroll in an upcoming Safe Conversations Workshop.

Let’s be courageous and do our part to bring peace to our troubled and polarized world!

Feeling stuck? Get back on track to your dream marriage

Most couples begin their journey with a dream of marital bliss.

But somewhere within the first two years after saying ‘I do’, many get stuck and their dream becomes a living nightmare. Or, at best, a dull and mediocre existence.

How does something so good end up feeling so bad? 

It happens when we enter the Power Struggle Stage of marriage. You know you’re in the power struggle when you start wanting your partner to change. ‘If only you would change, I could be happy.’ You start complaining that your needs are not being met. ‘You could meet my needs if you wanted to. And since you don’t, you don’t love me.’ 

And because unconscious reactions are triggered and emotions surface from places we’re not aware of, we begin reacting in ways that are not helpful in our relationship.

For some crazy reason some partners think, ‘If I cause you enough pain, you will change and meet my needs! Then, we can go back to romantic love.’ 

But it doesn’t work. It only gets worse. That’s why about 40% of marriages fail. And of the couples who stay together, about 75% report their marriages as unsatisfactory. These couples are stuck.

So how do we get unstuck and back on track toward the marriage we dreamed about in the beginning? 

Here are six steps that will help’¦along with an opportunity to enroll in an online course that will take you further, learning all the tools you’ll need.

1. Make a new commitment to pursue your dream marriage

Most things in life don’t come to us unless we go after them. When we get stuck in our relationship it will require a new commitment to get unstuck.

Make a commitment to three things: Reconnecting, Rekindling and Re-envisioning your relationship.


Week 1: Getting on the journey to your dream marriage

You’ll discover why marriage is the best place to heal and grow and fulfill your life purpose together – no matter how stuck you’ve become. 

You’ll look at four stages that most marriages go through, and you’ll work together as a couple to create your own Relationship Vision statement that will help get you back on course and guide you into the future together. 

2. Learn how to turn conflicts into a deeper connection with your partner

Allowing conflicts to continue without being resolved will drain the life out of any relationship.

The real problem is that unresolved conflicts block your ability to connect.

When we feel connected everything works. When we feel disconnected nothing works. Cortisol which increases anxiety, and unconscious defenses hurls us into further conflict.


Week 2: Turning Conflicts into Connection

You’ll learn about the Power Struggle Stage of marriage and why we have conflicts as a couple. You will use the Couples Dialogue to turn these conflicts into connection.

3. Discover root issues that are blocking intimacy

You can resolve conflicts but still not feel connected. You must move beyond the symptoms and deal with root issues that cause your conflicts to keep recurring. 


Week 3: Overcoming Unconscious Barriers to Intimacy

You’ll learn why conflict is a sign you married the right person. You’ll discover what kinds of unconscious forces were in effect when you chose the partner you did, and how there was an unconscious program running in your lower brain that led you to the person best suited to help you heal and grow. You’ll use the Parent/Child Dialogue where you will gain empathy for your partner’s past and learn what to do about the childhood defenses that are blocking your ability to connect. 

4. Rekindle romantic love 

Couples who have endured long term conflict often lose their feelings for each other. Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to rekindle love and reignite passion in your relaitonship.


Week 4: Reigniting Your Passion for Each Other

You will add to your toolbox this powerful tool called the Caring Behaviors exercise. It will help you and your partner rekindle romantic love and increase safety and connection in your relationship

5. Use conflicts as an opportunity to heal and grow

As conflicts are turned into connection, learn to ask for changes that bring healing and growth


Week 5: Building a Healing and Growth Partnership

You will look at how your partner’s need for healing becomes a blueprint for your own emotional growth. You’ll learn that buried beneath each relationship frustration is a wish. You’ll use the Change Request Dialogue tool to begin a lifestyle of turning frustrations into requests that help you get the love you want, bringing healing to you and growth to your partner.

6. Build a culture of safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness.

Most of the great relationship tools I teach don’t work…that is unless you work them. It’s easy to start well, have a breakthrough, only to go back to old patterns. Build habits that will keep you feeling connected in a stable and secure relationship.


Week 6: Continuing the journey to your dream marriage

You will learn how to make the relationship tools you’ve learned a lifestyle. You will learn how to develop the habits necessary to sustain change over time and continue the journey to the marriage of your dreams.

Let me encourage you to join me for the six-week online course, Building the marriage of your dreams.

Click here for more info and to enroll in the Couples Online Course.

Also, if you haven’t already…

Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

    My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

    When marriage conflicts do damage to your children

    When Mark and Jennifer had a breakthrough in their marriage relationship, their joy was mixed with all kinds of regrets.

    Mark said, ‘Why couldn’t we have learned these things about our marriage sooner so our kids didn’t have to grow up in a war zone?’

    Their happiness was tarnished by thoughts of what constant fighting had done to their children.

    Are there things that happened in the past that you regret? Are you concerned about how your mistakes might have affected your children?

    Here are some steps Mark and Jennifer took to turn regrets of the past into hope for the future.

    1. Keep growing in your marriage

    You can’t change the past but you can change the future. You can’t change where you’ve been but you can change where you’re going.

    Although you began badly, you can end well.

    Although Mark and Jennifer spent much of their marriage in conflict, they did not give up. They found some powerful tools through Imago Relationship Therapy that helped them reconnect and rebuild their relationship.

    So they had a breakthrough in their relationship. That’s great, but what about the collateral damage? What about the damage done to their children?

    2. Let go of the past

    Mark and Jennifer realized they have to let go of their past. They decided to not let their past failures define them.

    History is full of examples of successful people who did not let their past define them.

    Historical figures like King David and the Apostle Paul had pasts that make most of us look like saints by comparison.

    And yet through their faith, they found forgiveness that enabled them to forgive themselves and move on toward monumental accomplishments in life.

    When we allow a failure to define us, it limits us all our lives.

    It’s not an easy thing to do. It may be a difficult process. But choose to let go of the past.

    3. Look at what you have; not at what you don’t have

    Jennifer and Mark did not minimize the pain they caused, or the loss of time and opportunities with their kids. But instead of looking at what they don’t have, they decided to look at what they do have. 

    A soldier who loses an arm in battle can let that loss define him for the rest of his life.

    Or he can look at what he has and ask, ‘How can I build on that?’

    In the same way Mark and Jennifer began to express gratitude for what they have – a marriage that is now on track and an opportunity to change their story.

    4. Look to the future with hope

    Mark and Jennifer realized the final chapter of their relationship is not yet written.

    Though they started out badly, they could end well and have a positive impact on their children.

    They were surprised to find that their children still looked up to them. Their children could see the changes in their marriage. They learned it’s never too late to have a positive impact on your children.

    5. Extend your healing to your children

    Mark used the dialogue skills he learned with Jennifer to talk to his daughter who was now out of college and building her career. He said things like, ‘I can see how I was into my work too much and was not available to you and your mom during that time.”

    She opened up and told him of an instant when she was in middle school and needed help that involved calling a teacher. Mark was busy and told her, ‘You’re a big girl. You can make that call yourself.’

    With tears she told him of the pain she felt at that moment, and how she vowed she’d never ask him for help again.

    From that point there was a strain and distance in their relationship. But now, as Mark acknowledging the hurt he caused, there was healing. 

    And then a thought came that surprised them both. His daughter said, ‘You know Dad, that was hurtful. But in many ways it served to make me the independent and self-sufficient person I am today.’

    Wow! Healing and acknowledgement of the good that came out of a childhood wound. Can it get any better? 

    Healing in Mark and Jennifer’s marriage is being extended to their children. 

    Could it be that your children need you now as much as ever?

    It’s not too late to give your children a blueprint of what a healthy marriage looks like – not a perfect marriage, but a growing marriage.

    Never underestimate the impact changes in your marriage can have on others, especially your children.

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      Marriage works best when you begin with the end in mind

      Sandy and I floundered in our relationship for many years simply because we did not ‘begin with the end in mind’.

      We lacked a shared relationship vision. 

      We had many good times, but we also lived in seasons of conflict, because we were not actually sure of who we were or where we were going as a couple.

      And our differences affected everything from how we parented our children to what music we listened to.

      I thought I knew who I was. And she was pretty sure she knew who she was. But as a couple? We didn’t have the tools to help us bring it all together until years later. 

      Living on parallel tracks is not living the full potential of your marriage.

      However, beginning with the end in mind can help you unite your hearts and unleash your passions.

      In Imago Relationship Therapy we learned a powerful tool called the Relationship Vision. It helped us forge a mutual vision for our life together.

      I want to share it with you because – whether you’re in a good place, or whether you’re floundering like we were – marriage works best when you begin with the end in mind.

      A wise king named Solomon wrote, ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ He was saying a society that lacks the divine insight that informs them of their true identity and purpose will always head in the direction of anarchy and destruction.

      The same is true for a marriage relationship.

      If you don’t really know who you are or why you’re here, the result can be a kind of anarchy and a relationship that self-destructs.

      Having a shared vision for your relationship can help you align your paths in such a way that you can fulfill your destiny together.

      Here’s how to do it. And I’ve shared our own Relationship Vision below as an example.

      How to write your Relationship Vision

      Click on this link, print out two copies of the Relationship Vision form, and use it with the instructions below.

      • Envision your marriage how you would like it to be.
      • Make a list of positive statements beginning with the word ‘We’ that describe the kind of relationship you would like to have.
      • State them in the present tense as if the future were already here. 


      ‘We enjoy each other’s company.’
      ‘We spend time together doing things we both enjoy.’
      ‘We are financially secure.’
      ‘We have a stable, intimate relationship both emotionally and physically.’
      ‘We are a great team parenting our children.’
      ‘We serve our community together by ________ .’ …etc.

      • Share your sentences.
      • Underline the items you have in common.
      • If your partner has written sentences you agree with but didn’t think of, add them to your list.
      • For now just ignore the ones not shared.
      • Take your expanded list and rank them in importance.
      • Work together to design your mutual relationship vision listing each sentence in order of importance.
      • Post it where you can visualize it and recite it daily.
      • Once a week read it out loud to each other. 

      Doing this will help you begin to actually experience this marriage that you are visualizing and declaring.

      Sandy and I keep ours in our journals to be read everyday. Here’s what it looks like.

      Chuck and Sandy Starnes

      We listen to God everyday and yield to His Word to us.

      We have a stable and intimate relationship both emotionally and physically.

      We bring God’s presence and peace everywhere we go.

      We live in the hope of healing and reconciliation in our family and other relationships.

      We give of our time and resources, contributing to the underserved in our community and around the world.

      We create a mutual purpose for every major decision we make.

      We are co-creators of our life work together.

      We go on regular adventures exploring the wonders of the world together (including spontaneous excursions).

      We work together on home and garden projects.

      We explore culinary delights together.

      We listen to Baroque music together.

      We trust God for His provision every day and are financially secure.

      Notice how our Relationship Vision encompasses big priorities like our faith and life work, and smaller things like working on our home and our love of cooking together.

      Committing to a common vision means that we make some choices to leave behind things we would want to do individually to invest the time and energy into doing things together.

      The priority must be the relationship over our individual desires.

      This may seem like you’re giving up a lot. But what you receive because of the increased intimacy you experience with each other more than compensates for anything you might leave behind.

      Sandy does not like the same music I do. But we both love Baroque music. So guess what we listen to together?

      Stating something you want in the future as if it were already realized today keeps your hope alive.

      For example, not all the relationships in our family are where we want them to be.

      We do not let that define us. But we do we live every day with hope that healing and reconciliation will happen in the future.

      Stating it in the present helps us move toward that future reality with confidence.

      I hope this helps get you started!

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        Confronting the fear of intimacy that causes marriage problems

        Underneath so many of our marriage problems is an unconscious fear of intimacy?

        ‘But,’ you say, ‘I don’t have a fear of intimacy.’ 

        Did I mention this fear is unconscious?

        Could it be that all this extra time together is forcing you to confront your fear of intimacy?

        Let’s not miss this opportunity! Let’s talk about  how to identify and disarm the fear of intimacy that causes marriage problems.

        According to Imago Relationship Theory, a universal human longing is to be in connection and at the same time feel safe. 

        The longing for intimacy is evident in the Romantic Stage of our relationship. 

        When we start out we want to know everything about our partner, and we want our partner to know everything about us. 

        During the Romantic Stage, information and energy flows into the relationship and it feels full and alive and exciting. 

        But soon, intimacy requires an openness and vulnerability we’ve never experienced.

        That’s when we move into the Power Struggle Stage. The power struggle happens in part because we are unwilling to be open and vulnerable with our partner. 

        Deepening intimacy in a relationship takes us to an increasingly vulnerable place. That can be terrifying (that’s not too strong a word).

        Because our brains are hardwired for survival, intimacy terrifies us.

        I’m terrified that if I share a certain part of myself it will be rejected. So I avoid the opportunity for intimacy.

        This fear comes from early childhood where we were wounded in our first experiences of connection.  As good as the best parents are, wounding still happens to all of us to some degree. 

        In response to this wounding, we create certain character adaptations based on the unconscious triggered responses of fight, flight, freeze, or submit.

        Then in our adult relationship, when we feel vulnerable, we use these same behaviors we learned in childhood to take ‘exits’ from the relationship.

        We create ways to have a sense of ‘staying in connection’ without having to risk the danger or pain of real connection. 

        That’s when the movement of energy and information that made the relationship so full and alive and exciting starts to flow away from the relationship. 

        It’s also when you hear couples say things like, ‘We’re so busy with the kids, and work, and all our activities, we just don’t have time for each other any more.’ 

        I don’t want to minimize stressors from the outside. There’s a reality there. Our relationship is an open system that is always being affected by outside forces.

        But the real issue is not stress from the outside. It’s the fear of intimacy on the inside. 

        Although we long for intimate connection, the exits we take are a result of an unconscious collusion we create with our partner to actually avoid intimacy. 

        In Imago Relationship Theory we define collusion as ‘two people partnering together to create something that neither of them wants’. 

        What?! That doesn’t make any sense!

        Well, consider my own example.

        During this crisis my wife Sandy and I  have discovered that we have ways of working together to maintain the illusion of closeness while at the same time keeping a comfortable distance in order to avoid intimacy.

        We use our learned childhood attachment behaviors to be able to feel relatively safe.

        I’ll get upset at Sandy, but I don’t want to talk about it.  Sandy senses the tension, and also wants to avoid it. So we decide to watch a movie.

        With the help of Netflix we can go into a state of mindlessness and never bring up the thing we need to talk about.

        We give each other the experience like everything’s OK, because we now have a comfortable distance between us. 

        We long for a deeper sense of intimacy, but because we’re afraid…

        We collude together to prevent ourselves from getting what we really want while giving ourselves what we really don’t want – a comfortable distance.

        And what happens with that thing I need to talk about? Nothing. It’s stuffed where it will simmer. It stays there unresolved and it will continue to grow inside of me.

        And things will get worse between us, unless we decide to deal with our fear of intimacy, close the exits, and find the deeper intimate connection we long for.

        What about you? What are your exits? 

        Work? Netflix?  Hobbies? The children? All exits rob your relationship. Some exits, like affairs or pornography are even more destructive.

        So what do we do?

        Let’s close the exits, be brave, make ourselves vulnerable and reconnect in deeper intimacy!

        Imago Relationship Therapy has a wonderful tool that will help us do that. It’s called the Commitment Dialogue. Click on the link to print it out.

        The Commitment Dialogue is used to identify and close ‘exits’, i.e. places where you are getting your needs met outside your relationship. 

        By closing exits you make more time and energy available for your relationship. 

        The Commitment Dialogue takes you through the Imago steps of Mirroring, Validating, and Empathizing which are essential to create safety where vulnerability can happen.

        Then it ends with a commitment to talk your frustrations out rather than acting them out in ways that avoid intimacy and connection with your partner.

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          My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

          Coronavirus forcing you to work from home? Use the crisis to strengthen your marriage

          ‘I’m going crazy working from home!’ Tom said, sharing his frustration with the shelter in place mandate.

          His wife Janet retorted, ‘Well you’re making me crazy!’

          I interjected, ‘Hey, why don’t you use this time to spend more time together.’ 

          Janet rolled her eyes in sarcasm, as if to say, ‘Right! Like that’s going to happen!’

          Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, some couples, like it or not, are stuck in close quarters with each other.

          This confinement can be a blessing or a curse. 

          It’s a blessing if you feel close and connected.

          It’s a curse if work is an ‘exit’ from your relationship.

          For Tom work had become an exit to avoid the pain of feeling disconnected.  

          And now the coronavirus was forcing him to be with Janet in a way that revealed the painful truth that their marriage was not what they wanted it to be.

          Tom habitually stayed late at work. He honestly thought it was because of his workload. But as he and Janet talked, he became aware that his workload was not really the issue.

          Work had become an exit from his marriage. It was a place where he felt more fully alive than he did at home.

          When he got in touch with this, he became conscious of how feelings of depression would come over him as soon as he walked through the front door of their home. Because of the negative way he and his wife communicated, he simply would rather not be there. That’s why work became an exit.

          Discovering this helped Tom change this reality.

          Two problems occur when we take exits from our relationship.

          • Exits rob time and energy that could be invested in the relationship. 
          • Exits cause us to put off dealing with issues hindering our relationship.

          By taking this exit Tom was avoiding the issues standing between him and a happy relationship.

          Tom and Janet had what I call ‘A Parallel Marriage’. A marriage that runs on separate tracks. A marriage where you are together, but not really, not close. More like roommates than lovers.

          If you’re like Tom and Janet and this crisis is bringing up issues you need to deal with, don’t just drive each other crazy in your close confinement. Turn this crisis into an opportunity.

          Here are 6 ways to strengthen your marriage while stuck at home together during the coronavirus crisis.

          1. Hug each other

          Science reveals that we are wired for connection with another human being. Therefore, touching your partner is not only nice, it’s necessary. 

          We actually live to touch. If we’re denied touch, we don’t do too well. Our health deteriorates emotionally and physically.

          So while you are in self-quarantine and socially distant from others, I recommend you give each other a one-minute full body hug during these times: When you first get up in the morning, after each meal, and before you go to bed at night. Include your kids in this ritual if possible.

          Human touch triggers the release of oxytocin into our bloodstream. This increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion.

          And it also decreases feelings of fear and anxiety that block our communication.

          2. Share appreciations with each other

          Say to your partner at least three times every day, ‘One thing I appreciate about you is’¦’ and share something about how your partner looks, something they did, or some trait you appreciate.

          New positive brain pathways are created in both of you every time you share an appreciation with your partner.

          And old negative brain pathways start to dissolve.

          This practice will transform the emotional climate of your relationship and your home.

          3. Plan time to listen to each other

          Being stuck in the same place together can work to your advantage. Make an appointment to use the Couples Dialogue.

          Use it to listen to your partner, and let them go deep into their feelings about whatever it is they want to talk about. 

          The Couples Dialogue will help you mirror (listen to every word), validate (affirm your partner’s perspective), and empathize (be fully present with your partner in their joy, sadness, anger, or fear).

          When you listen it says ‘I love you’ in a very tangible way.

          What I like about using the Couples Dialogue is that it helps me to listen in a way I wouldn’t normally.

          4. Talk about things you would not normally not talk about

          Use the Couples Dialogue to share your feelings. This tool will help you become vulnerable and open up to your partner. It can help you share frustrations in a positive way. 

          Perhaps one reason you don’t feel connected in your relationship is that you’ve held back your feelings.

          Remember, if you don’t talk it out, you’ll act it out in some unhealthy way, eventually doing damage to your relationship.

          Share your frustrations. But also share your ideas and dreams with your partner. 

          Talk about things that you normally would not talk about. The Couples Dialogue will help you do this when you probably would not do it naturally.  

          5. Surprise each other

          Find out what makes your partner feel loved and do it. Here’s a tool that will help you do that.

          Find out what your partner thinks is fun and plan it. Go against any unconscious resistance and just do it!

          I know a wife who loves to play board games. Her husband does not. 

          If you’re this husband, it will be a major turn-on for your wife if you pull out her favorite game, set it up, and invite her to play! Why not, what else are you going to do as you self-quarantine?!

          It will increase the pleasure chemicals not only in her, but also in you. So do it!

          6. Laugh together

          Laughter releases endorphins which helps relieve you of the pain you feel in your relationship. 

          I tell funny stories because laughter is good medicine. Here’s one I’ll give you as a bonus. It has nothing to do with what I’m saying but it may make you laugh.

          A police officer called the station on his radio. “I have an interesting case here. An old lady shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.” “Have you arrested the woman?” “Not yet, the floor’s still wet.”

          Whatever it takes, laugh together. It will do wonders for your relationship.

          So there you have it – six ways to strengthen our marriage during this pandemic.

          Let’s let the coronavirus crisis draw us together as a couple rather than blow us apart.

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            My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

            How is it possible for married partners to treat each other so badly?

            Most marriages start with the wonderful feelings of romance but soon descend into a power struggle that can be brutal. 

            That’s when we say things like:

            ‘If only you would change, I could be happy!’ 

            ‘You could meet all my needs if you wanted to. And since you don’t, you don’t love me.’

            The unconscious reasoning is: 

            ‘If I cause you enough pain, you’ll change and meet my needs. Then we can go back to romantic love.’

            How do we get to this place?

            How is it possible to dish out such emotional abuse toward this person that we promised to always cherish and protect?

            On the surface it makes no sense. But when we see what’s happening unconsciously, it makes perfect sense.

            Dr. Harville Hendrix shared a seven-step process that explains how our marriage goes from empathy and connection to objectification and emotional abuse.

            1. Disconnection produces ANXIETY

            Whenever there is a feeling of disconnection in marriage the immediate result is ANXIETY. 

            Anxiety is not a feeling or an emotion, but a sensation that runs through our bodies. 

            It first occurred as a child with our primary caretakers. As the Still Face Experiment shows, when the rupture in connection between the child and parent occurs, the result is anxiety. When it is repaired, anxiety goes away, and the child feels alive and happy again.

            But for some of us, that repair and reconnection was not consistent. And continued anxiety was the result. 

            This dramatically affects our adult relationships. Whenever we feel a disconnection with our marriage partner, this same anxiety is triggered.

            2. Anxiety replaces FULL-ALIVENESS

            The anxiety produced by the disconnection replaces the previous sensation which was FULL-ALIVENESS.

            As our neural system is flooded with anxiety we no longer sense the full-aliveness we experienced before.

            3. Loss of full-aliveness gives birth to DESIRE

            When anxiety shows up, it’s accompanied by DESIRE for what was lost, which is that feeling of full-aliveness that is no longer being experienced.

            Buried in every criticism or frustration with your partner is a desire to reconnect and restore that feeling of full-aliveness.

            So the beginning of desire occurs with the loss of connection and the appearance of anxiety.

            From the time that this wounding first occurred in childhood, you have been on a journey to find someone who will help you complete what was missing in childhood and help you feel fully alive again.

            That’s what Romantic Love is all about.

            When you find a person who matches your parents’ positive and negative traits, you fall for that person and form a relationship. What you don’t realize is that deep in your mind is an unconscious agenda to heal childhood wounds.

            And that’s what the Power Struggle is all about.

            Because your partner is like the parent who wounded you, conflicts with your partner bring to the surface old wounds you need to heal.

            Healing can only take place as you and your partner become conscious of what is happening and turn your criticism into a positive expression of your desire.

            That proves difficult because…

            4. Desire results in SELF-ABSORPTION

            When we experience that rupture and the anxiety that goes along with it, we become self-absorbed.

            SELF-ABSORPTION is the main feature of pain.

            There was a little girl who loved the beach. One day she was enjoying all of its beauty – the sun, the water, the colors, the seagulls flying overhead, the warm sand’¦

            …but then, suddenly, she stubbed her toe on a rock.

            All the wonder of this amazing world outside disappeared, and all she was aware of was the pain that was throbbing within her.

            Self-absorption is what happens psychologically to all of us when emotional pain is triggered.

            When that pain is triggered, our brain stops taking in outside information. That’s when we lose awareness of other people.

            When we are receiving information only from within our own psychoneural system, it’s not possible to see, acknowledge, or empathize with another person’s reality.

            The emotional pain from childhood that our partner triggers floods our psyche. That’s when we lose sight of our partner and we become absorbed only in our own pain.

            5. Self-absorption results in SYMBIOSIS

            Because you’re not getting data about your partner from the outside, you start creating an image of your partner with the data you have inside.

            You construct your partner with the figments of your own imagination.

            You think you are experiencing your partner, but in reality you’re experiencing your own projections of your partner, not who your partner really is.

            This is called ’emotional SYMBIOSIS’. It’s when you assign to your partner your inner world and you assume they are you – that they think and feel the way you do.

            ‘That’s a great song! Of course you like it too. Wouldn’t everyone?’

            ‘Who would ever want their living room painted green? Everyone can see that green is not a very attractive color!’

            Self-absorption requires your partner to agree with you and see everything the way you do.

            6. Symbiosis results in POLARIZATION

            As you’re stuck in this self-absorbed, symbiotic state, you’re rattled whenever you encounter a difference in your partner.  

            When your partner’s perspective, or opinion, or desire is different from your made-up image of him or her, it’s traumatic and POLARIZATION results.

            That’s when you feel your partner is no longer someone you can talk to, no longer someone who is safe.

            Soon you’re fully engaged in the Power Struggle Stage of your marriage. This is when you begin wanting your partner to change.

            You feel like, ‘If my partner doesn’t change, I can’t be happy.’

            7. Polarization results in OBJECTIFICATION

            As polarization happens, you lose empathy for your partner. You are no longer in touch with what your partner is feeling.

            That’s when OBJECTIFICATION occurs. Your partner has been effectively degraded to the status of a mere object.

            When people become objects, we can treat them any way we want.

            We can criticize them, yell at them, or label them. We can withdraw from them even if it makes them feel abandoned.

            We can do anything to them we feel like, because they are no longer human. They are just things that serve us. And they become objects of our frustration.

            This is how it’s possible for married partners to treat each other so badly.

            So what can I do? 

            The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a tool that can help you restore empathy and reconnect with each other.

            Here’s how the three steps of the Imago Couples Dialogue can help.


            When you MIRROR your partner’s feelings, you begin to see who your partner really is. When your partner feels heard, she or he feels loved.


            When you VALIDATE your partner’s feelings, you begin to see how their thoughts make sense from their perspective. Validation is not agreeing with your partner, but it’s seeing how their perspective makes sense according to their own inner logic. Validation results in differentiation and neutralizes the trauma so that polarization does not occur.


            When you EMPATHIZE with your partner’s feelings, healing occurs and safety is restored. You see your partner as human and not as an object, and connection is possible. It’s impossible to criticize someone you are empathetic with.

            CLICK HERE and print out two copies of the Couples Dialogue. Begin using it today to reconnect with each other and disrupt this tendency to treat each other so badly.

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              How to fall in love all over again with your marriage partner

              Sophia and Ian struggled for 11 years trying to make their marriage work. Despite their unhappiness and not feeling in love, they were committed to stay together, if nothing else for the sake of their children. 

              They managed to survive their lack of intimacy by finding feelings of aliveness in things outside their relationship.

              For Ian, it was his work building a business which was now thriving, and regular involvement in their kids’ sports programs.

              For Sophia, it was managing her job in a high tech company, involvement with the kids, and regular nights out with her girlfriends. To the world outside they had a pretty normal relationship.

              Then the unimaginable happened. One day Sophia announced she wanted a divorce. 

              Turn your crisis into your opportunity to fall in love again

              Often the increasing pain of feeling disconnected causes one partner to eventually hit a wall and want out. To make things even more complicated, over the past six months Sophia had become emotionally involved with one of her coworkers.

              Ian was in shock. He knew their marriage was not great, but this?! He never saw it coming.

              He was devastated.

              But this crisis became a wake up call, and for the first time Ian began asking what part he had played in the relationship’s failure.

              Fortunately Ian saw this crisis as his opportunity to begin a new relationship with Sophia.

              Reluctantly Sophia agreed to come with him to counseling. 

              Deal with the root cause of your relationship failure

              During our first session Sophia made a commitment to end her emotional relationship at work for six weeks in order to work on their marriage.

              Ian and Sophia began using the Imago Couples Dialogue to uncover the root cause of their disconnection.

              They learned how Ian’s unconscious fear of intimacy continually drove him to withdraw emotionally from Sophia whenever they had a conflict. When Sophia would overreact and complain and criticize Ian, it caused him to withdraw even further. 

              Ian learned how his avoidance of conflict had left Sophia feeling lonely for many years. He also discovered how his actions triggered deeper feelings of abandonment that Sophia felt from her childhood.

              They both began to understand how this repeated pattern of unconscious reaction to each other was at the root of all their relationship problems.

              As they slowly removed these unconscious barriers to intimacy, hope for their relationship began to grow.

              Have faith that you will fall in love all over again

              It’s a proven fact that if you remove all negativity from the space between you and start doing loving acts toward each other, you will fall in love again. It’s what we now know as basic brain science.

              Ian and Sophia could not believe this at first. Their feelings for each other were so dead they were certain they would never love each other again.

              But in time they became believers.

              Your feelings always follow your thinking and your actions.

              And sometimes you have to take that by faith. Do the right things and you will fall in love again!

              It does take time and effort. Brain pathways of fear and anger must be replaced by new pathways of love and joy. 

              Also, how could Sophia instantly turn off her feelings for someone she had been emotionally involved with for six months?

              And how could Ian overcome the feelings of betrayal and learn to trust Sophia again?

              Despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Ian and Sophia exercised faith in the process, and hope continued to grow.

              Create a culture that ensures you fall in love and stay in love

              It wasn’t just doing loving acts toward each other that helped them fall in love all over again. It was their work to create a culture of love that did the trick.

              The tool that helped Sophia and Ian fall in love all over again is called the Caring Behaviors Exercise

              This exercise revealed things like…

              Sophia felt loved and cared about when Ian spent time in the evenings talking with her, and when he called her at work just to see how she was.

              Ian felt loved and cared about when Sophia sat with him on the sofa and held hands or gave him a back-rub.

              It was when they started doing these things for each other every day without fail that their feelings began to change.

              Sometimes couples try this exercise and it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because there is a difference between an act of love and a culture of love. 

              When Ian spent quality time with Sophia in the evening, that was an act but it was not yet a culture.

              Creating a culture of love means doing loving acts repeatedly until they become your natural reaction to your partner’s need.

              As Sophia and Ian worked to create a new culture, a culture of love, new brain pathways were created. They began to unconsciously see each other as a source of pleasure rather than conflict. And in time a breakthrough occurred.

              Ian was eager to grow in his ability to be present for Sophia. Sophia was excited about learning to express her desires in a positive way rather than with criticism. 

              In time trust was rebuilt and Ian and Sophia fell in love all over again!

              What about you? Will you dare to believe that you and your partner can fall in love all over again? Take these four steps and see what happens!

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                Resolving the conflict over money in your marriage

                John said Martha is ‘a tightwad’. And Martha called John ‘a spendthrift’. Can you relate to this married couple?

                Which one is right?

                The answer is NEITHER are right! And BOTH are right!

                If you continue to criticize each other, you’ll find that neither of you are right! If you stop the criticism and look at the deep desire each of you have, you’ll find you are both right!

                Martha’s desire was to bring wise caution to their marriage based on the principle ‘live within your means’.

                Remember what Mr. Micawber concluded (from repeated personal experience) in Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield?

                ‘Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 19, 19, and 6 (19.97½ pounds) – result: happiness. Annual income 20 pounds, annual expenditure 20 pounds ought and 6 (20.02 ½ pounds) – result: misery. In short, continue to spend more than you earn and you’ll find yourself in serious trouble.’

                You’re right Martha, who can argue with that! Martha only wanted to live within her means!

                But here’s the problem: 

                Martha’s expression of that desire was not motivated by love but by fear

                The negativity produced by Martha’s fear and criticism corrupted the space between them as a couple and rendered them helpless in resolving such a conflict.

                Martha’s childhood connection

                Using the Couple’s Dialogue helped Martha uncover memories of growing up with a father who was continually in debt. He secretly took out a second mortgage on their home to make ends meet. Because his habits didn’t change, they lost their home. Martha grew up in an insecure environment of fear projected in part by her mother.

                As John mirrored, validated, and empathized with Martha (using the Couple’s Dialogue), her fear began to melt away. And as the negativity dissolved, John began to open his heart to Martha’s wisdom.

                ‘But what about John? You’re making it sound like it’s all Martha’s fault!’

                Of course John contributed to the problem. No one can spend more than they make and succeed.

                What was the issue behind John’s dysfunction?

                John’s desire was simply to feel fully alive. 

                But here was the problem:

                John’s expression of that desire was not motivated by love but by fear

                John saw Martha as a scrooge who would make their lives miserable. He was afraid his marriage would take him back to the prison of his childhood. He even talked of this as an ‘irreconcilable difference‘. His criticism of her made her also feel hopeless.

                John’s childhood connection

                Can you guess what kind of home John grew up in? His parents were so concerned about money they rarely spent any of it. Fun for John was not an option growing up. He remembers the joy he had when he got his first job and felt like he could buy whatever he wanted. 

                So when John married Martha, who was a lot like his dad, her financial caution began to activate this childhood fear of living in a prison. He reacted by sometimes spending without thinking. And he refused to listen to Martha. 

                As Martha used the Couple’s Dialogue to mirror, validate, and empathize with John, her understanding of his need began to deepen. She realized that what John wanted was for them both to live life feeling fully alive and not be needlessly limited. 

                His fear of staying in that financial prison was a barrier that kept him from appreciating the wonderful potential of balance Martha’s wisdom would provide. That fear began to dissolve as Martha empathized with him.

                So it turns out they were both right!

                What about you?

                The bottom line is that everything we say and do will be motivated by one of two things: fear or love.

                Continue in fear and you’ll stay in conflict.

                Let love dissolve your fear and you can reconnect with each other at a heart level and get the best of what you both bring to the table in your marriage!

                Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                  My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                  3 steps to healing the childhood wounds affecting your marriage

                  Does your partner’s controlling behavior open up old wounds of feeling smothered by a controlling parent? Or does your partner’s emotional withdrawal trigger wounds of abandonment or rejection from an emotionally distant parent?

                  Here’s some good news!

                  Because your partner can trigger your childhood wounds, your partner is also the one who can heal them.

                  Marriage is all about getting what you didn’t get in childhood.

                  How do childhood wounds happen?

                  Your parents may have unintentionally wounded you in two ways: Intrusion or Neglect.

                  Intrusion is over-involvement. Neglect is under-involvement.

                  If that intrusion or neglect caused you to feel a loss of connection, it’s what we call a wounding experience.

                  And unfortunately we bring these old wounds and unmet needs into our marriage where they can cause problems if we don’t address them.

                  Here is a helpful tool (created by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt) that will help you identify your unmet childhood need and find healing from your partner.

                  1. Identify the “early challenge” that may be affecting your marriage.

                  Think about whether your parents were intrusive or neglectful. Then study the two lists below under MY EARLY CHALLENGE. Write down the ONE (and only one from the two lists) that most represents your greatest early challenge.

                  MY EARLY CHALLENGE

                  If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
                  I wanted:’‹
                  • To get free from feeling controlled by others.
                  • To express my own thoughts rather than what I should think.
                  • To express what I felt rather than what I should feel.
                  • To experience my thoughts and feelings as important.
                  • To do what I wanted to do rather than what I ought to do.
                  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
                  If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
                  I wanted:
                  • To experience feeling seen and valued rather than invisible.
                  • To be approached by others rather than feel alone or abandoned.
                  • To feel appreciated as a person.
                  • To get support for what I think or feel.
                  • To have someone interested in what I want and like.
                  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

                  After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 2.

                  2. Identify the “early need” that may be affecting your marriage.

                  Just as you did with your early challenge, study the ten items below MY EARLY NEED. Write down the ONE (and only one) that most represents your greatest early need. 

                  MY EARLY NEED

                  If I had INTRUSIVE parents…
                  I needed:
                  • To have space and time to myself on a regular basis
                  • To experience trust from others in my thinking and my decisions. 
                  • To be asked what I feel and what I want.
                  • To experience genuine and reliable warmth when I need it.
                  • To experience what I do and want is valued by others.
                  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)
                  If I had NEGLECTFUL parents…
                  I needed:
                  • To experience a show of interest in me when I am talking.
                  • To be responded to when I asked for it.
                  • To ask me what I want, feel and think and then respond.
                  • To show curiosity about my experiences in life.
                  • To get love and a gentle touch frequently and without having to ask.
                  • Other (If there was something you wanted not on the list)

                  After you’ve written down one item from the two lists above go to step 3.

                  3. Communicate your early challenge and need to your partner in a ‘Safe Conversation’.

                  Use the Couples Dialogue format below to share with your partner the childhood need you brought into your marriage. Allow your partner to respond in a way that will meet that childhood need and bring healing.

                  YOU: ‘When I was a child, I lived with caretakers who were generally _______________ (Neglectful or Intrusive), and my relational challenge with them was to ________________ (the CHALLENGE you wrote down).’

                  PARTNER: (Mirrors)

                  YOU: ‘And when I remember that, I feel __________ .’

                  PARTNER: (Mirrors)

                  YOU: ‘What I needed most from them was _______ (the NEED you wrote down).’

                  PARTNER: (Mirrors)

                  PARTNER: (Summarizes) ‘Let me see if I got all of that. In summary, your caretakers were generally  _____ and the relationship challenge you had with them was to _____. When you remember that, you feel _____. What you needed from them was _____, and not getting that from them, you brought _____ to our relationship. Did I get it all?’

                  PARTNER: (Validates) ‘You make sense, and what makes sense is that if your caretakers were _____, then your challenge would have been _____, and that your relationship need would be ______. It also makes sense that not getting that in your early years, you would bring it to our relationship. Is that an accurate validation?’

                  PARTNER: (Empathizes) ‘And given that, I can imagine that if you’re relationship need to ______ was met by me, you would feel _______ (glad, relieved, happy, connected, heard, etc.). Is that your feeling? Are there other feelings?’

                  PARTNER: ‘Thank you for sharing with me your unmet need caused by your childhood challenges. I want very much for you to have your needs met in our relationship.’

                  YOU: ‘Thank you for listening and for wanting to understand this about me, and for helping me with it.’

                  Give each other a one-minute, full body hug.


                  Finally, let me know how it went in the reply section below! Share your story with all of us!

                  Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                    My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                    Frustrations wrecking your marriage? Here’s what to do!

                    Relationship science tells us that frustrations in your marriage that are recurring and that trigger an intense emotional reaction, come from your past, not your partner.

                    “Wait a minute! It’s not my past, it’s my partner who is frustrating me!”

                    Ok, I realize you get frustrated by what your partner does or doesn’t do. But if your reaction is intense and it happens three times or more, science says your partner is only the trigger of  a deeper frustration from childhood.

                    And, let me guess…your partner sees your reaction as an ‘overreaction’ that not justified.

                    Am I right?

                    Behind every recurring, emotionally charged frustration is a deep desire to get something you didn’t get in childhood. 

                    Here’s how you can turn frustrations into requests and keep them from wrecking your marriage.

                    1. Engage in the Imago Couples Dialogue

                    The first step is to make your conversation safe.

                    Laurel was upset because she felt like her husband Ben left her alone at a party. When she brought it up, Ben reacted to her. As you read on, you’ll see how escalated it got!

                    The Imago Couples Dialogue  helped Ben regulate his reaction so he could listen to Laurel. It also made Laurel feel safe enough to access information buried deep in her subconscious mind.

                    2. Identify the root issue

                    When a conversation is safe you can identify how your frustration is connected to childhood.

                    Laurel discovered that her ‘overreaction’ was because her childhood wound of abandonment was triggered when she felt Ben was leaving her. 

                    She had grown up as an only child. Her dad left when she was eight and her mom worked long hours. After school she was at daycare until she was old enough to be left alone at home.

                    3. Turn your frustration into a request

                    Buried deep within every frustration with your partner is a wish. A wish to finish what was left undone in childhood. If that frustration can be restructured into a request, your partner can give you the healing you’re unconsciously looking for.

                    Laurel’s frustration: ‘I feel like you left me at the party and when I passed by you, you didn’t speak to me. You didn’t even look at me!’

                    Ben’s escalated reaction to Laurel’s frustration: ‘What do you mean?! It was a networking party for crying out loud! I was there for business! I wanted you to come along, but I can’t even do my job without you complaining like a baby! When are you going to grow up?!

                    If they continue to talk like this, Laurel’s wound will continue to be reinjured and the frustration will never be resolved.

                    Here’s how the Couples Dialogue helped Laurel restructure her frustration into a request.

                    Laurel: ‘Last night when we were at the party and you were talking to potential clients, I felt really alone, just like when I was little and came home from school every day to an empty house. What I’m really afraid of is that you don’t realize what being alone does to me and that I’ll always have this feeling of being abandoned.’

                    Ben (Mirroring): ‘What I hear you saying is that when I was talking to potential clients you felt really alone. It reminded you of the feelings of abandonment you had when your mom was at work and you were alone in the afternoons. And that brings up a deeper fear that you’ll always feel abandoned. Did I get it? Is there more about that?…

                    Ben (Validating): ‘You make sense. Anyone would feel that way given your circumstances.’

                    Ben (Empathizing): ‘I can imagine it must feel really bad when you have those deep feelings of being abandoned or forgotten.’

                    Laurel (turning her frustration into a Request): ‘One thing that would help me the next time we’re at a party is if you will look for me every 30 minutes, touch my hand, look me in the eye and ask how I’m doing.’

                    Ben (responding): ‘I will be more than happy to do that.’

                    (Big hug!)

                    If Ben follows through, he will experience growth, and  it WILL bring healing to Laurel! 

                    That’s how you turn a frustration into a request and keep it from wrecking your marriage!

                    Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                      My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                      VIDEO BLOG: The L.O.V.E. formula for revitalizing your sex life

                      Ron said, ‘I don’t want to be in a marriage where we never have sex!’ Amy responded, ‘Well, I don’t want to be in a marriage where sex is all I am valued for!’

                      They were stuck and beginning to lose hope that things could change. This video shows how they used a four step formula (L.O.V.E) to get unstuck and revitalize their sex life.

                      Are you in a relationship that is lacking the passion it once had? I believe this formula can help you as well. Let me invite you and your partner to watch the video together, and then use the exercises below to begin revitalizing your sex life.


                      1. Use the 3 steps of the Couple’s Dialogue (Mirror, Validate, Empathize) to gain a deeper understanding of what sex means to each other. 

                      Sit in two chairs facing each other, eye to eye, knee to knee. Take turns as “sender” and “receiver”.

                      As “sender” ask for the appointment. Start by sharing an appreciation for your partner. Then use the sentence stems under “MIRROR” to share what sex means to you and to go deeper into your feelings.

                      As “receiver” follow the directions under each of the three steps to MIRROR, VALIDATE, and EMPATHIZE with your partner.



                      “What sex means to me is…”


                      Mirror: “Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You’re saying…”

                      Then ask “Did I get it?”, checking for accuracy. Mirror any additions or corrections.

                      Then ask, “Is there more about that?”


                      When asked “Is there more about that?” go deeper into your feelings using these stems:

                      “When I think about this I feel…”

                      Receiver mirrors, asks “Did I get it?” “Is there more about that?” then…

                      “What this reminds me of when I was little is…”

                      Receiver mirrors, asks “Did I get it?” “Is there more about that?” then…

                      “What I’m really afraid of is…”

                      Receiver continues mirroring asking “Did I get it?” “Is there more about that?” until there is no more.

                      Receiver then briefly SUMMARIZES what was heard.



                      “You make sense. And what makes sense is…”

                      “Is that the validation you need?”



                      “I can imagine this makes you feel…” (sad, mad, glad, scared, or…)

                      “Do you feel like I really understand how you’re feeling?”


                      “Thanks for listening.”

                      Then reverse your roles and go through it again.

                      End with a one-minute full-body hug.

                      2. Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to learn what makes your partner feel loved and cared about. Then offer three of these behaviors as gifts every day for the next two months.

                      Click on the link above, print out two copies and follow the directions.

                      Suggestion: Use the Couple’s Dialogue to share the items on your list with each other. Begin with “One thing that makes me feel loved and cared about is…”

                      Although you do want to talk about things that make you feel loved sexually, focus mainly on the non-sexual desires. Making your partner feel loved and cared about in a non-sexual way is what rekindles sexual desire.

                      Utilize the power of these caring behaviors to help reignite your feelings of love for each other.

                      3. Use the Four Powerful Appreciations tool to share appreciations with your partner along with one-minute full-body hugs four times every day for the next two months.

                      Click on the link above, print out two copies and follow the directions.

                      Utilize the power of touch along with the power of appreciation to help reignite feelings of love for each other.

                      Use three exercises to apply the L.O.V.E. formula to your relationship.

                      L – Learn what makes your partner feel loved.
                      O – Offer these behaviors as gifts every day.
                      V – Voice your sexual desires and needs.
                      E – Express appreciation for your partner every day.

                      If you do these exercises, I’m confident you can rekindle your passion for each other and revitalize your sex life!

                      Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                        My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                        VIDEO BLOG: How being “too nice” is bad for your marriage and what to do about it.

                        If you are being nice in order to ‘keep the peace’ in your marriage, that probably means you’re not talking about what you’re really feeling or what’s frustrating you.

                        If that’s the case, there are 7 reasons that show you’re not really being nice to your partner, to yourself, or your relationship.

                        This video provides a powerful tool that will help you to be honest in a way that will deepen your connection with each other and build a happier marriage. I invite you to watch it, and then use the questions below to discuss it together as a couple.

                        Discussion Questions

                        1. Have either of you been guilty of “being nice” as a way of avoiding sharing how you feel about something?

                        2. Thinking about the 7 bad things that can happen when you don’t share your feelings (see below), which one has affected your relationship?

                        • Negative feelings I have don’t go away.
                        • I internalize negative feelings and become bitter and depressed.
                        • I internalize negative feelings and later explode over something insignificant.
                        • My partner never gets to know me.
                        • I don’t heal my childhood wounds.
                        • My partner doesn’t get a chance to grow.
                        • We won’t have the connection that gives us passion and full-aliveness.

                        3. How can you follow Tom and Jennifer’s example and begin using the Couple’s (safe) Dialogue to share how you feel and connect more deeply with your partner?

                        Click here to download the Couple’s Dialogue.

                        Here’s to being honest, more connected and happier with each other!

                        If you haven’t done so already…

                        Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                          My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                          4 hacks to reignite passion, love, and happiness in your marriage

                          Have you lost the feelings of love you once had? Are you longing for more passion in your marriage? Are you ready to call it quits because you’re not happy and don’t love your partner any more?

                          Well hold on a moment!

                          Don’t get rid of your partner and keep your problems. Get rid of your problems and keep your partner!

                          Here are four brain chemistry hacks that will help you recover lost romantic feelings and reignite your passion for each other! And, I’ve put it all together for you in three simple tools that will help you build a happy marriage!

                          1. Touch

                          Science reveals that we are wired for connection with another human being. Therefore, touching your partner is not only nice, it’s necessary. 

                          We actually live to touch. If we’re denied touch, we don’t do too well. Our health deteriorates emotionally and physically.

                          Multiple studies show that human touch triggers the release of oxytocin into our bloodstream. Oxytocin, also known as the love hormone, is a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion.

                          And it also decreases feelings of fear and anxiety that block our communication.

                          Remember back when you first thought about holding hands with your partner? For many couples that was an unforgettable pleasurable experience!

                          Read on to learn how to begin feeling those feelings again.

                          The case for the “one-minute full-body hug”

                          While all kinds of touch is good, holding hands, back rubs, etc., I’m going to ask you to give each other a one-minute full-body hug. We used to prescribe a 20-second hug because that’s how long it takes for a wave of oxytocin to be released into your system. But now we’ve learned that by extending the hug to a full 60 seconds additional waves of this wonderful ‘love’ hormone are released.

                          So whether you feel like it or not, do it. Make the science work for you!

                          There’s an second powerful hack…

                          2. Appreciation

                          Recent discoveries in neuroscience tell us that not only does gratitude create a more positive and happy mental state but it also literally transforms your brain.

                          Each time you share an appreciation with your partner, it changes the molecular structure of your brain, keeps grey matter functioning, and makes you healthier and happier. Not to mention the positive effect it has on your partner.

                          Plus, it makes you more peaceful and less reactive in your interactions.

                          When you’re feeling emotional pain in your relationship, negative feelings tend to grow and expand until negative is all you can see. 

                          And at the same time, everything good about your partner tends to shrink until there’s nothing positive you can see. 

                          When that happens, we tend to get stuck in our own pain and self-absorption. We start reacting, and criticizing, and labeling our partner.

                          That’s when romantic feelings are replaced by anxiety and negative reactions.

                          When you share an appreciation, it reverses this dynamic. 

                          Sharing an appreciation creates new neural pathways actually rewiring your brain.

                          It transforms the space between you filling it with positivity that pushes out negativity. And, needless to say, it feels really good, not only to your partner, but to you too.

                          When you share regular appreciations with each other, you change your brain chemistry, waking up those powerful romantic feelings, and creating entirely new ones.

                          What if we were to combine the power of sharing appreciations with the power of touch?

                          Here’s a simple tool that will help you access all the benefits of both TOUCHING and APPRECIATION.

                          Four Powerful Appreciations

                          Just click on the link above, print out the tool, and follow the instructions. 

                          This exercise instructs you as a couple to do a one-minute full-body hug while taking turns sharing a 30-second appreciation with each other four times a day, during four critical moments. 

                          What you do during these ‘critical moments’ each day has five times the impact on your relationship: (1) when you are both first awake in the morning, (2) saying ‘Goodbye’ for the day, (3) when you first come home in the evening, and (4) when you say ‘Goodnight’.

                          Jack and Anna are a couple who were constantly fighting.

                          Doing this exercise for 40 days helped them begin to bypass their conflict and access the parts of themselves that really loved each other. 

                          As the cascades of romantic feelings continued to flood their souls each day, negative feelings about each other began to be flushed out of their relationship.

                          Needless to say their passion for each other was ignited and today they are much better at handling their conflicts.

                          A third hack is what we call…

                          3. Caring Behaviors

                          When you do specific acts that hit the bull’s-eye of what makes your partner feel loved and cared about, it awakens all kinds of romantic feelings! 

                          For example, if your wife says, ‘I feel loved and cared about when you initiate getting things done around the house”, and you get up Saturday morning and start washing the windows. Wow! Nothing could be more of a turn on! Right?

                          Doing ‘caring behaviors” has two powerful effects. 

                          First, it reignites your partner’s love for you.

                          And, second, it also causes your own dead feelings of love and passion to be resurrected.

                          There is a scientific reason this happens, and with this next tool we’re going to tap into that and use it to our advantage.

                          Keep in mind, it’s science, so you don’t have to feel it to do it. Just do it and it will be effective.

                          Here’s why.

                          When you do something for someone else, your lower, unconscious brain thinks you’re doing that act for yourself. 

                          That’s why it feels so good when you do something good for someone else. That’s why you feel loved when you do loving acts for others.

                          Doing these caring behaviors replaces the cortisol that produces anxiety and depression with oxytocin, dopamine, and other pleasure chemicals that cause you to feel joyful aliveness. 

                          As a result you’ll see depression literally be replaced by joy!

                          The Caring Behaviors exercise can help you identify precisely what makes your partner feel loved and cared about.

                          The fourth hack is…

                          4. Safe Conversations

                          The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a powerful tool that helps make every conversation safe, enabling you to’¦

                          • Talk without criticism
                          • Listen without judgment, and
                          • Connect beyond your differences

                          It’s the most powerful way I know to keep your conversations safe, enabling you to be fully open, present, and empathetic with your partner.

                          Putting it all together!

                          Here’s a how to use these 4 brain chemistry hacks with the 3 powerful tools to reignite passion in your marriage (click on the links to print out the tools).

                          1. Safe Conversations (every time you talk)

                          Use the Couple’s Dialogue as your core skill to keep every conversation safe and productive in a way that always leads you to connection with each other.

                          Flank this core skill with…

                          2. Four Powerful Appreciations (each day)


                          3. Three Caring Behaviors (each day)

                          Using the Safe Conversation model with these two types of affirmations on a daily basis will change your brain chemistry and create new neural pathways that create new feelings for each other.

                          It’s so powerful that I cannot overstate the importance of using these three tools together!

                          But nothing happens until you act on it!

                          So grab the tools and let’s reignite passion in our relationship!

                          Want to go further? Join my online course!

                          Six week online course: Building the marriage of your dreams

                          And if you haven’t done so already…

                          Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                            My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                            VIDEO BLOG: Breaking out of the cycle of blaming and defensiveness in your marriage

                            Some marriages get stuck in a brutal cycle of blaming and defensiveness.

                            Blaming and defensiveness happens because of “symbiosis”, a state of living together as if you are one.

                            It’s a place where you and your partner can only see your own reality but not the reality of your partner.

                            It’s the inability to see your partner as an “other” person.

                            The result of symbiosis is self-absorption and conflict. That’s when all the blaming and defensiveness begins and often becomes a destructive cycle.

                            In this brief video…

                            I talk about why this happens and how to break out of this painful place.

                            WATCH IT with your partner and then DISCUSS IT together using the questions below.

                            How to break the cycle of blaming and defensiveness

                            Discuss with your partner:

                            1. Describe your own version of the blaming and defensiveness cycle.

                              (Some couples share feelings openly, others “walk on eggshells” to avoid a conflict. Either way there is probably some defensiveness and resentment going on that you should talk about. An example of walking on eggshells would be: SHE: “I want to talk to him about his leaving dirty dishes in the sink but I’m afraid he’ll be defensive.” HE: “Every time she mentions things like that I feel like nothing I ever do is good enough so I defend myself and then blame her for being obsessive.” Now describe your own version of the cycle.)

                            2. How is your conflict the result of “symbiosis” as described in the video?

                            3. Differentiation by definition is seeing your partner as different from you but valid in their own view of reality. How can the Couple’s Dialogue process (that the couple with the “dishwasher conflict” used) help you achieve differentiation in your relationship?

                            To go further…

                            Click on the link and print out two copies of The Couple’s Dialogue and follow the steps of mirroring, validation and empathy.

                            The validation step facilitates differentiation and dissolves symbiosis. The empathy step facilitates reconnection at an even deeper level than before.

                            When doing the couples dialogue to share a frustration, always remember to begin with an “appreciation” (as directed on the sheet).

                            Have fun!

                            And if you haven’t already…

                            Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                              My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                              VIDEO BLOG: How to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities

                              Most of us see conflicts in our marriage as bad.

                              But did you know that conflicts can bring us to new levels of healing and growth we would never experience otherwise?

                              In the video below, the story of Mario and Rosa shows us how to turn marriage conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

                              Take a few minutes to watch the video with your partner’¦

                              ‘¦and then use the discussion questions below to talk about how you can turn your conflicts into healing and growth opportunities.

                              Discussion with your partner:

                              1. What evidence do each of you see that you married your “Imago” match? (To explore further, fill out the “Brief Relationship Workup“, then transfer the info to “My Unconscious Relationship Agenda“. )
                              2. Share with each other what needs for healing you see.
                              3. In what specific ways will you both need to grow in order to bring healing to each other?

                              Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                VIDEO BLOG: Marriage communication that leads to connection

                                Couples often say they have “communication” problems.

                                In the video below, Rob and Janet show us how to communicate in a way that dissolves all the conflict and leads to a closer connection with each other.

                                Take a few minutes to watch the video with your partner…

                                …and then use the discussion questions below to talk about how these three steps can help your relationship.

                                Safe Conversation: A way of talking without criticizing, of listening without judging, and connecting beyond our differences.

                                Discussion with your partner:

                                1. In what ways do you think you may have limited your ability to connect with each other by either criticizing or judging each other?
                                2. What kinds of hidden fears or other emotions do you think are driving these unhealthy reactions to each other?
                                3. How do you think these Safe Conversation skills can help you begin to talk without criticizing, listen without judging, and connect beyond your differences?

                                Click here to download the Couple’s Dialogue that can help you go further in developing your safe conversation skills.

                                Share with us your insights in the comment section below!

                                Also…if you haven’t already…

                                Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                  My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                  Does your partner want to leave you? Here are 9 things you can do to save your marriage

                                  For years, Mary pleaded with Jim to work on their marriage, but Jim felt they didn’t need help.

                                  Eventually she gave up and made plans to leave him. Now Jim is desperate for help.

                                  Mary’s desire to leave was a painful surprise and a powerful wake up call.

                                  Having Jim’s full attention, I recommended 9 things we can do to save our marriage.

                                  1. Express your appreciation for your partner multiple times every day

                                  Jim’s first assignment was to share appreciations with Mary every day. This was a real change from his behavior in the past.

                                  One evening, instead of leaving her to do the dishes, he dove in to help and said, ‘One thing I appreciate about you is how hard you work doing more than your share of the housework.’

                                  Mary not only warmed up to the words of appreciation, she was impacted positively by Jim’s sincere desire to help with a task he usually left to her. 

                                  Good job Jim! But don’t expect immediate results. You’re goal is to win the superbowl. You just got a first down. This requires patient endurance. But that’s a good start!

                                  2. Do things that make your partner feel loved multiple times every day

                                  If she’s open to it, use the Caring Behaviors exercise to discover the things that make her feel loved.

                                  If not, watch for hints that she drops. If she says, ‘If only I had a break from the kids on Saturday, I could get a pedicure’, what do you do?

                                  That’s right! Secretly make an appointment for her, and plan a Saturday outing with the kids. Then let her know on Friday night.

                                  When you hit the target of what makes your partner feel loved, she cannot help but feel loved. Doing this consistently will start to open your partner’s heart and rekindle her love for you. 

                                  But, if she is not open to your doing these things at first, don’t push it. Just continue making gentle efforts without pressuring her. 

                                  3. Take your partner on a date to do something fun

                                  Not what you think is fun. Find out what is fun for her and do that. 

                                  Take her to see that movie she wants to see. Plan a dinner at her favorite restaurant. Take her to that park she has wanted to visit. Take her shopping. Find ways to laugh together.

                                  Go all out. Pretend you’re trying to win her for the first time. Spare no effort or expense. Invest everything you’ve got. It’ll be well worth it in the end.

                                  4. Surprise your partner with something she loves

                                  Surprise her with coffee in the morning. Surprise her with breakfast in bed. Go out and initiate a project she’s wanting to do in the patio. Jump in and help her get the kids ready. Vacuum the house. Do the dishes. Surprise her with that new fountain she’s been wanting. Repair that broken fence that has been causing her stress. Take her out for coffee just to talk. Surprise her with flowers or her favorite candy.

                                  Some things like planning a romantic getaway may not work if she’s not ready for that. Make sure you respect her limits at this time. Pressuring her will  be counterproductive. Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Do the little things you can do.

                                  Be spontaneous and sincere. Let your efforts to surprise her come out of a heart that says ‘I genuinely care about you’, not ‘I’m just trying to get you back.’

                                  5. Casually initiate non-sexual touching

                                  Don’t let it be obvious what you are doing. Be subtle about it. 

                                  A brief shoulder rub. A hug when you see her. Casually put your arm around her. Hold her hand briefly when you’re walking. A longer backrub if that is welcome. Rub her feet (even if she can’t stand you right now, she might let you rub her feet). 

                                  Give her any kind of non-sexual touch that is welcome. 

                                  Make sure to keep the touching non-sexual if your partner doesn’t want to be intimate. Give her room to not want to have sex right now if that’s where she is. You want to win her heart. When she gives you her heart, her body will follow.

                                  Here’s a little secret: Non-sexual touching will bypass her rational rejection of you and release a chemical called oxytocin into her system which will cause her to feel closer to you and safer with you. This combined with all these other efforts you’re doing will go a long way in changing body chemistry and opening her heart to you.

                                  6. Listen to your partner with undivided attention

                                  Listen to what she’s thinking and feeling. Don’t judge. Don’t fix. Don’t even piggy back with your own ideas. Don’t look at your phone when she’s talking.

                                  Use basic mirroring skills to show genuine interest and curiosity.

                                  Use these sentence stems to simply mirror back to her what she’s saying. 

                                  ‘Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You said…’ 

                                  (Paraphrase or repeat word for word what she said.)

                                  ‘Did I get it?’ 

                                  (This is checking for accuracy. Staying interested.)

                                  ‘Is there more about that?’ 

                                  (Turning on your curiosity. And staying curious.)

                                  Mirroring makes your partner feel like you care. Mirroring says ‘You matter. What you have to say matters.’ Your partner will translate that as ‘You value me.’ 

                                  When we feel heard, we feel valued and safe. Mirroring can help your partner start to feel safe enough to join the conversation with you about your relationship.

                                  7. Validate your partner’s reasons for not wanting to be with you

                                  You can validate her without agreeing with her. You don’t have to admit guilt if you’re not guilty. But do not defend yourself even if she doesn’t have her story right about you.

                                  Simply let her know that she makes sense. 

                                  Use this prompt:

                                  What you said makes sense. And what makes sense about it is…

                                  Here’s an example.

                                  ‘It makes sense that after years of feeling neglected and taken for granted you wouldn’t want to be with me. That makes sense.’ 

                                  Let her know she’s not crazy. Anyone would feel that way.

                                  8. Empathize with your partner’s feelings of anger, fear, sadness or hopelessness

                                  This is where you start feeling what she feels. 

                                  Use the stem: ‘I can imagine you’re feeling’¦’

                                  Here’s an example: ‘I can imagine how lonely you’ve felt for all these years. I can understand how empty and sad and frustrating that must have been.’

                                  If she questions your sincerity it’s because she doesn’t trust you yet. That is normal!  Just keep working to make your conversations sincere and safe for her. You’ll get there!


                                  9. Learn to express your own needs in the relationship

                                  Hey Chuck, ‘What about my needs? Will there ever be a time to share my frustrations with her? This sounds like I’m taking all the blame. What about her part in the relationship failure?’

                                  Even though you’re taking the full burden of restoring the relationship by using these tools, it will also be important eventually for you to share your own needs, desires, and frustrations. 

                                  One of the ways we can lose connection with our partner is when we withdraw and repress our own needs. We may think we’re being nice, but we are actually robbing our relationship by doing this. 

                                  In our example, part of Mary’s frustration is that, for most of their relationship, Jim didn’t share his needs. This caused her to feel abandoned by him. Ultimately Mary won’t be happy in the relationship unless she is meeting Jim’s needs, even as he is working to meet hers.

                                  So, it will be important for your partner to listen to you in the same way, and to express love to you in the same way. She needs that as much as you do.

                                  But for now put this idea off in the future. Wait until she feels safe and wants to be with you again.

                                  Patience and perseverence!

                                  At one point Jim said, “I’ve been doing these things for three weeks and she still wants to separate. It’s not working!”

                                  I said, “How long did it take you to get in this mess? Don’t expect results so soon.”

                                  Although…you’ll be surprised how often a breakthrough is right around the corner.

                                  So don’t give up. Keep going!

                                  Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                    My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                    3 ways to help your partner overcome anxiety and depression that’s killing your marriage

                                    Mike’s anxiety and depression got so bad he finally hit a wall. Having almost lost his marriage, he can now barely even function at work.

                                    How did he get so stuck? And what can his wife Jen do to help?

                                    This article describes three ways Mike and Jen worked together to transform their marriage into a powerful agent of healing.

                                    The symptoms of anxiety and depression

                                    Mike’s symptoms were: 

                                    • could not work
                                    • could not maintain relationships
                                    • was abusing alcohol
                                    • felt sad
                                    • felt tired and slowed down
                                    • could not complete activities of daily living
                                    • things that used to interest him no longer had any appeal

                                    Sound familiar? 

                                    If you or your partner are weighed down by anxiety and depression, keep reading to learn three ways Jen and Mike worked together to overcome it. 

                                    The fundamental cause of anxiety and depression: DISCONNECTION

                                    Disconnection triggers anxiety. Anxiety triggers depression. And then depression triggers more anxiety until it becomes a vicious cycle.

                                    I often refer to Dr. Edward Tronick’s Still Face Experiment to demonstrate how disconnection results in anxiety.

                                    Feeling connected with a loved one who is attuned to us makes us feel alive and whole. Our brain triggers happy chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin which makes us feel joyfully alive. 

                                    But when that connection is interrupted, the brain triggers the release of cortisol and the sensation of full aliveness is replaced with anxiety.

                                    If anxiety is not relieved, it can increase and become an anxiety disorder which is the most common mental illness in the USA. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

                                    In Mike’s case the anxiety and depression that began in childhood followed him into adulthood and his adult relationships.

                                    And now feelings of disconnection in his relationship with Jen were triggering those old wounds resulting in increased anxiety.

                                    Growing up, Mike’s parents valued intellectual development, but lacked in the emotional skills to help him feel connected. He grew up in a home where success was a high value. The stress at times was unbearable.

                                    If he got an A on a test, the message was you should have gotten an A+. Acceptance was conditional upon his being a good boy and performing well.

                                    Mike dealt with his anxiety by suppressing it and trying harder. Everyone applauded him as a high achiever. No one realized how little value he felt apart from what he did to please people.

                                    Fast forward 20 years. 

                                    Mike was a successful medical doctor. But he was stuck in a career he hated; one that provided the image of success, but had nothing to do what he was passionate about. He felt powerless to change his situation.. ‘What do you do when you’ve invested 10 years in medical school and another 10 years building your practice? You can’t just walk out on that and start over.’

                                    And yet, now things had taken a turn for the worse. Having taken a toll on his relationship with Jen, Mike could no longer function at work. He was finally forced to deal with it.

                                    He also feared what this would do to their children. Plus, there was a looming fear of what would happen if he were diagnosed with a mental disorder. How would that affect his career as a physician? All of these stresses added to his anxiety.

                                    In an attempt to deal with his depression Mike started drinking more alcohol. This led to increased feelings of isolation and disconnection, which in turn increased his anxiety.

                                    The fundamental cure for anxiety and depression: RECONNECTION

                                    If the fundamental cause of anxiety is the feeling of disconnection, can you guess what the fundamental cure is?

                                    That’s right! 

                                    The fundamental cure for anxiety is found in reconnecting with your marriage partner in a healing relationship.

                                    When Mike and Jen came to counseling, this was our goal through Imago Relationship Therapy.

                                    But what if depression, self medication, and lack of motivation are all working to keep them from reconnecting? Shouldn’t Mike work on himself first, and then work on the relationship? 


                                    The commonly held view that you should work on yourself before you can work on your relationship is simply not true.

                                    If the ultimate solution to anxiety and depression is found in connection with your intimate partner, then your therapeutic approach should be to help reconnect you, not separate you.

                                    We decided that Mike and Jen would work together – to use every effort to deepen their connection with each other, rather than having Mike work on himself without Jen.

                                    But you say, ‘What if Mike is too depressed to work on the relationship? What if his drinking is blocking their ability to reconnect?’

                                    We still have them work on those issues together. We are born in relationship. We were wounded in relationship. And we heal in relationship.

                                    At first this was not an easy sell. Jen was told by another counselor that Mike needed to deal with his ‘alcoholism’ before they could have a healthy relationship. I cautioned Jen about labeling Mike an ‘alcoholic’ because, if we do that prematurely, it can serve to reinforce negative brain pathways.

                                    Of course alcoholism can be a problem. But what if Mike’s increased alcohol use is simply an unconscious attempt to manage his anxiety? The solution would be short sighted if Mike were labeled an alcoholic and sent off by himself to fix that. Everyone could then blame Mike’s ‘alcoholism’ for their problems. On the other hand, if Mike’s deeper anxiety issue can be solved through reconnecting and processing everything with Jen, that might help resolve not only the drinking problem, but their other problems as well. 

                                    So here are the three steps I asked Mike and Jen to take together using Imago Relationship Therapy. 

                                    1. Lower your stress level

                                    ‘Mike, you gotta take a break.’ We’re talking about lowering stress levels by taking time off.

                                    At first Mike said, ‘But I can’t afford to do that.’

                                    My question was, ‘How are you going to afford it when you have a complete breakdown?’

                                    Why is taking a break important? To temporarily alleviate unnecessary external stress.

                                    Stress comes from the outside: work deadlines, etc. Anxiety comes from the inside: the body’s reaction to stress.

                                    Anxiety persists even after your stress has been reduced. But if you don’t reduce your stress, it will only create more anxiety which, in Mike’s case, was already overwhelming and debilitating.

                                    So Mike took a medical leave of absence. Jen was committed to this with him. And together they got on a regular program of 

                                    • physical exercise
                                    • healthy diet
                                    • regular sleep
                                    • relaxation exercises

                                    We also encouraged Mike to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Jen was good with all of this except the caffeine part. We all have our limits. 🙂 

                                    2. Balance your brain chemistry

                                    A 50-yr old theory says that chronic depression might result from an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the body. One of those neurotransmitters is called serotonin

                                    Low levels of serotonin are linked to chronic depression. Mike’s serotonin level had become so low that his body could no longer restore it on its own. 

                                    This explained why Mike could not come out of his depression on his own. He needed medication that would help restore his serotonin. 

                                    His low levels of serotonin also helped explain why he started drinking more. Mike learned that alcohol was not a good way to cope, because alcohol decreases the brain’s absorption of serotonin. By raising Mike’s serotonin level through prescribed medication, his need to self-medicate with alcohol diminished. 

                                    SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression. They are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants.

                                    Examples include fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), sertraline (Zoloft), Escitalopram (Lexapro), and Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva).

                                    If you or your partner are in a similar place, check with your doctor about giving you a prescription, and always be aware of cautions and possible side effects.

                                    There is no reason for embarrassment if you need to take medication. 

                                    It does not mean that you are weak. Sometimes anxiety and depression get bad enough to become a brain chemistry issue rather than a psychological issue. At that point we need to address the biological side of it. 

                                    These medications are essentially food for the brain. They restore serotonin and other chemicals you can’t produce for yourself. 

                                    The good news is that medication can help you return to a point of being able to deal with your issues on a psychological level because the pain isn’t making you dysfunctional. 

                                    That’s what medication is for! 

                                    Medication is not to solve your problem! It’s to get you to a place where YOU can solve your problem. 

                                    Someone said, ‘It is hard to be a philosopher and have a toothache at the same time.’

                                    Sometimes you need to lower your pain level to a certain point in order to become functional again, so you can work on fixing the real problem.

                                    So Mike, with Jen’s support, took steps to lower his stress levels and balance his brain chemistry.

                                    3. Rewire your neural pathways 

                                    With anxiety and depression, the brain and the heart muscles have cells called neurons that can fire as a group. When this happens, they wire together and form a network, or ‘groove,’ which can become deeper and deeper. Therefore, negative thoughts literally shape the brain structure to form negative neural patterns. These habituated ‘grooves’ in our organs and regions of the body trigger us into feeling and acting in certain ways. These grooves produce habits. So, in part, anxiety and depression become habitual.

                                    How do you change these negative neural pathways related to anxiety and depression? 

                                    Imago therapy provides positive habit-forming behaviors that help reprogram your brain, heart, and nervous system.

                                    Most people underestimate the power of these simple marriage tools.

                                    A regular regimen of tools we use, including Safe Conversations, Appreciations, Caring Behaviors, One-minute Full Body Hugs, Positive Flooding all work to rewire brain pathways and kickstart the release of happy hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and norepinephrine.

                                    If you engage in these prescribed positive behaviors over and over again, you will ‘re-groove’ the muscle memory or the nervous system patterns, so that instead of automatically triggering self-destructive behavior, these new patterns orient you toward joyful aliveness and feeling connected. 

                                    Analysts have done brain scans showing that these kinds of exercises done over time can shift your default condition back to joyful aliveness rather than negativity, anxiety, and depression.

                                    Because we helped Mike and Jen deepen their connection with each other during the first two steps using Imago Dialogues, we were able to add these exercises that help rewire brain pathways.

                                    So how is this working for Mike and Jen? 

                                    It’s slow, but they are making progress. 

                                    And since their focus through this whole process was to reconnect with each other, they will tell you everything is better.

                                    Many things about their future are uncertain but one thing is for sure – they will face it together.

                                    How about you? 

                                    Please share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

                                    Until next week…

                                    Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                      My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                      Four steps to revitalizing your sex life

                                      Ron and Amy were in a sexless marriage. Their sex life was almost non-existent.

                                      A marriage is considered “sexless” if a couple is only having sex on average once a month or less. (USA Today)

                                      Ron said, ‘I don’t want to be in a marriage where we never have sex!’

                                      Amy responded, ‘Well, I don’t want to be in a marriage where sex is all I am valued for!’

                                      Amy saw Ron’s desire for sex as a physical need that made her feel ‘used’. 

                                      Ron saw Amy’s disinterest in sex as a personal rejection that made him feel ‘undesirable’. 

                                      They were stuck and beginning to lose hope that things could change.

                                      We used the Couple’s Dialogue with the goal of helping them get a deeper understanding of what sex really means to each other. 

                                      Underneath Ron’s need for sex was a deeper need – the need to be desired physically by Amy. 

                                      When Ron feels that Amy desires him sexually, it gives him a sense of well-being in all the other areas of his life.  

                                      But if Amy is just going along with his need for sex with a sigh, and an ‘OK let’s get this over with’ attitude, that’s a clear message to him that she doesn’t desire him. 

                                      As a result, he doesn’t feel like he’s the one who can make her feel amazing. This triggered in Ron deep feelings of inadequacy rooted in his childhood.

                                      Underneath Amy’s lack of desire for sex was a deeper need – the need to be desired emotionally by Ron.

                                      Amy also needed to be desired by Ron, but not just sexually. She needed to feel like Ron desires her emotionally – that he loves her for more than just her body. 

                                      She wanted Ron to connect with her emotionally before expressing his love physically.

                                      They discovered they both needed a deeper connection emotionally and physically. Amy was more acutely aware of the emotional need, and Ron the physical need.

                                      The answer? 

                                      In order to revitialize your sex life, you have to revitialize your ‘L.O.V.E.’ life. 

                                      I created an acronym for Ron and Amy and want to share it with you.


                                      L – LEARN what makes your partner feel loved.

                                      Use the Caring Behaviors exercise to learn specific behaviors that make your partner feel loved. 

                                      Examples: make me coffee in the morning, call me from work just to check in, tell me I’m doing a good job, help me with my chores around the house, spend quality time talking with me, take a shower with me, compliment me on how I look, give me a back rub, want to have sex with me, bring me an unexpected gift, cuddle without having to have sex, etc.

                                      After you’ve made your lists and gone through the instructions on the Caring Behaviors page, study your partner’s list and LEARN whkat makes your partner feel loved. Memorize it and review it every day.

                                      Click here to download this tool.

                                      O – OFFER these behaviors as gifts every day.

                                      Do at least one of the things on your partner’s list every day. Offer it as a gift.

                                      When you do these acts of love for your partner, a powerful shift takes place in both your brains.

                                      Feelings of love and romance are rekindled in your partner because you’re hitting the bullseye, doing what makes your partner feel loved. 

                                      Feelings of love and romance are rekindled in you when you do these caring behaviors, because your unconscious brain actually thinks you’re doing these behaviors for yourself.

                                      It feels good and it rekindles your own loving and romantic feelings for your partner.

                                      Even if you don’t feel love for your partner right now, just offer these behaviors as a gift everyday. And soon your loving and romantic feelings will rekindle, becoming as strong or even stronger than before.

                                      Learning what specific behaviors make your partner feel loved, and offering them every day is a great start toward revitalizing your sex life.

                                      V – VOICE your sexual desires and needs.

                                      For Amy this meant to communicate why she had lost her desire for sex, and what would help her recover that desire.

                                      As they went forward she talked about how the caring behaviors that Ron was doing were making her feel loved and were starting to rekindle her sexual desire for him.

                                      For Ron this meant to communicate what he wanted sexually. At first he had to go slowly, and not insist that Amy do something she wasn’t ready to do, but eventually they both could express things they wanted sexually that they had never shared before.

                                      E – EXPRESS appreciation for your partner every day.

                                      Appreciation dissolves criticism and negativity. It also helps you begin to see your partner as a source of pleasure rather than pain. The more you share appreciations with your partner the more your feelings will follow and the more love you’ll feel for your partner.

                                      This will help fuel a growing sexual desire for each other.

                                      Share what you appreciate in three areas: how you look, something you did, or some character trait you appreciate.

                                      Do this every day during the four critical moments of each day. Click on that link to read about this powerful approach. Click here to download the tool.

                                      Follow this four step formula for L.O.V.E. and I’m confident you can be on your way to revitalizing your sex life!

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                                        My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                        How to become a great parenting team with your marriage partner

                                        ‘Why is it that you get to be the Sugar Daddy, and I always have to be the ‘bad cop’, party pooper disciplinarian with the children?!’

                                        Sara’s complaint to her husband Jon is one I often hear from couples who are struggling to parent together.

                                        It’s common for one parent to see the need for more fun and flexibility, and the other parent to see the need for more structure and discipline

                                        One parent is saying kids need to feel loved. The other is saying yes, but they also need limits.

                                        Who’s right? 

                                        Sara says she’s right. ‘If it were up to Jon, the kids would never learn any discipline. He gives them whatever they want whenever they want it. Kids need love but they also need limits!’

                                        Jon says he’s right. ‘If it were up to Sara, it would like military school 24/7. Kids need more than just rules. They also need relationship!

                                        Who’s really right?

                                        I’m sure you guessed by now. They both are.

                                        All children need love AND limits; rules AND relationship.

                                        As a couple, are you experiencing this kind of problem?

                                        Here are some steps that can help you reconnect and resolve this conflict, and  become a great parenting team with your partner.

                                        1. Always use conflict as an opportunity for a deeper connection with each other

                                        Differences in parenting styles can create conflicts that rip a couple apart. Serious marriage problems begin when conflicts like this result in a couple feeling disconnected.

                                        That’s why, in Imago Relationship Therapy, we don’t settle for problem solving or conflict resolution. Instead we seek to turn every conflict into an opportunity for a deeper connection.

                                        Why is that?

                                        Because it is possible to resolve the parenting problem and still feel disconnected.

                                        If a couple doesn’t reconnect their relationship in the process, the fix will only be temporary until the next difference in opinion is encountered.

                                        That’s why, as couples, we tend to argue about the same kinds of things over and over.

                                        So, if you’re in conflict over parenting (or over anything), learn how to turn your problem into an opportunity to reconnect with each other. Then solving the problem will be easier. 

                                        The next three steps will help you do that.

                                        2. Incorporate your partner’s need for ‘limits and structure’ into your parenting plan

                                        Sara saw the need for limits and structure in parenting. Her perspective came in part from her own childhood experience

                                        Growing up, Sara’s need for fun was suppressed by parents, who were good disciplinarians, but didn’t see much need for flexibility and fun. 

                                        As a result, Sara grew in discipline but never developed an ability to be flexible and have fun. 

                                        One of the reasons she was attracted to Jon was his free spirit and fun-loving nature. But, when they entered the Power Struggle Stage of marriage, this trait that Sara once admired now feels like a threat to the well being of their children. 

                                        In the Couple’s Dialogue process, I encouraged Jon to seek to understand what was driving Sara’s need for more structure.

                                        We discovered that Jon’s ‘lack of limits’ with the children was triggering a fear that caused Sara to overcompensate. It was pushing Sara’s “need for limits” into overdrive and therefore out of balance.

                                        When Jon got to the point of empathizing with the all the fear Sara felt, his image of her was transformed from a ‘control freak’ to a ‘wounded child’ who was terrified of failure.

                                        As an adult, this old fear was triggered by thoughts of what could happen if their children didn’t learn discipline.

                                        Empathy helped Jon to open his heart to Sara and her need for more structure in their parenting plan.

                                        Jon recognized that if her perspective could be brought to the table in a more balanced and respectful way, it could be an invaluable part of their parenting plan. He discovered that he did not fundamentally disagree with Sara. He was just reacting to her “over-reaction”.

                                        As Jon took the time to really understand Sara’s need, the anxiety that was driving her began to subside. As they continued in safe conversation, Jon began see and accept Sara’s side of the argument.

                                        3. Incorporate your partner’s need for ‘fun and flexibility’ in your parenting plan

                                        Before Jon had this breakthrough, Sara’s ‘overreaction’ would cause him to respond in kind adding fuel to their conflict. He would say things like…

                                        ‘You’re frustrating our kids. Rules without relationship drive kids into rebellion.’ 

                                        The Couple’s Dialogue process helped Sara see that Jon’s angry reaction was rooted in his own childhood experience.

                                        Jon’s parents gave lots of ‘love’ but without many limits. As a result, he brought some baggage of insecurity into his marriage. One thing that attracted him to Sara was her discipline and structured life. 

                                        But now Sarah’s request for more structure from him triggered his deep feelings of insecurity.

                                        Her complaints were received as messages that he wasn’t good enough. And that triggered a fear that he would fail as a husband and father. As a result he became reactive and began pushing back, arguing his point.

                                        The Couple’s Dialogue helped Sara empathize with Jon’s fear of failure. It also helped her see the need for more grace and flexibility in their parenting plan.

                                        This began to dissolve Jon’s defensiveness.

                                        Empathizing with each other helped Jon and Sara reconnect on a heart level.

                                        This led them to a fourth step that helped them apply what they learned about each other and  become a more effective parenting team. 

                                        4. Remain flexible in your balance of freedom and structure

                                        An effective parenting plan changes and adapts to what is needed at the time.

                                        There are times when children need more limits and structure. There are times when they need fewer limits and more freedom to learn through failure.

                                        A connected marriage has the ability to negotiate a healthy balance of freedom and structure into the parenting plan. 

                                        By reconnecting emotionally, Jon and Sara began to rely on each other more. When the need for discipline arises, they now look to Sara for direction. When then need for grace arises, they look to Jon.

                                        And as Jon sees the need for discipline through Sara’s eyes, he is growing in his ability to be more balanced toward the discipline side. And the same thing is happening with Sara with regard to fun and flexibility.

                                        It’s the connection with each other that helps you flex your own boundaries and ‘recompensate’ for each other. 

                                        When you feel connected with your partner there is a more security, less anxiety, and overreactions are diffused. That’s when you can see and value the perspective of your partner, and make a healthy decision that honors you both and is best for your children.

                                        So let’s work together to establish age appropriate limits, while at the same time, let the love you have for each other overflow toward your children giving them the flexibility, fun, and grace they need to grow into healthy adults.

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                                          My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                          Is it marriage incompatibility…or do your differences have a deeper meaning?

                                          Like many couples, you may be asking…

                                          ‘How did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet?’

                                          ‘Why could I not see who this person really was?!

                                          ‘How did something so beautiful turn so ugly?!’

                                          Before you lose hope, consider the fact that this experience is NORMAL to some degree with most couples.

                                          Also, consider the possibility that your differences may have a deeper meaning and purpose.

                                          We are so much ALIKE!

                                          (The story of symbiosis and romantic love)

                                          Most marriages begin with  pretty intense romantic feelings. This is a season where you actually feel like you and your partner are ‘one soul and two bodies’, sharing the same beliefs, values, tastes, and desires.

                                          The term for this emotional state is ‘symbiosis‘. During the romantic stage of the relationship symbiosis is pleasurable. You feel like you’re in heaven.

                                          The problem is that, unconsciously, you are assuming that your partner is like you.

                                          Symbiosis is the illusion that your partner shares your thoughts and feelings.

                                          • You believe that when you are in love you must think, feel, and act alike.
                                          • You’re certain that it’s not possible to function as an individual and still be in a relationship.
                                          • You assume you can’t operate with clear boundaries and still be connected.

                                          I know this may sound absurd, but that’s what goes on unconsciously.

                                          And it’s like heaven as long as this  romantic symbiosis lasts and you believe that you and your partner are the same!

                                          But, after a while, some clues that your partner is actually different from you begin to surface.

                                          We are so DIFFERENT!

                                          (The story of symbiosis and the power struggle)

                                          ‘What happened?! Why did you have to change?! Why can’t we go back to the way it was when we were ‘in love’?!’

                                          When the symbiotic state of romantic love is disturbed by these indications of difference, marriage partners become anxious and reactive. Conflict occurs as they try desperately to retain the romantic illusion.

                                          • You get frustrated or irritated when your partner can’t read your thoughts.
                                          • You get disappointed because your partner doesn’t do things right.
                                          • You criticize your partner to get her or him to be more like you.
                                          • You become argumentative and dogmatic because ‘there’s only one way to think’.
                                          • You use guilt or shame in an attempt to get your partner to do things your way.
                                          • You say your partner is like you when he or she does something you like.

                                          This negativity and coercion only make matters worse, and you soon feel like your romantic dream has morphed into your worst nightmare!

                                          Symbiosis in the romantic stage is like heaven, but symbiosis in the power struggle is like hell.

                                          The wish to maintain the romantic illusion is so powerful, and its rupture so terrifying that a couple will start to unconsciously annihilate each other through many forms of negation, negativity, as well as verbal and even physical abuse.

                                          As things progress you realize you both have married someone who has the worst traits of your parents. We call this your Imago. You ask yourself, ‘Could I have possibly chosen someone more incompatible even if I had tried?!’

                                          That’s when we start thinking about ‘separation on the basis of incompatibility’.

                                          But are you really incompatible? Or do your differences have a deeper purpose?

                                          Actually, we are a PERFECT match!

                                          (The story of differentiation and connection)

                                          At this point a new commitment is required.

                                          A commitment to move from an unconscious to a conscious relationship. To move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

                                          If symbiosis in the power struggle seems like hell, differentiation will dissolve it and make your relationship feel like heaven again.

                                          But you must surrender your symbiotic wish, and engage in the process of differentiation.

                                          Here’s what can happen with differentiation:

                                          • You move into a new paradigm in which your relationship has priority over your individual needs.
                                          • But paradoxically, when you serve the needs of your relationship, the relationship serves your needs.
                                          • You will discover that your differences do have a deeper purpose: healing and growth.
                                          • Your relationship problems become maps that identify the places you have been wounded and need healing.
                                          • You discover that it’s the partner you’re with right now, your ‘Imago match’, that offers you the greatest opportunity to heal your childhood wounds and grow the underdeveloped parts of yourself. To separate from this person means that you miss this opportunity, and end up taking all your problems with you into your next relationship.
                                          • When you move from negativity to curiosity, you discover the amazing world of your partner. Your partner is not who you thought they were. Turns out they are even more amazing than you imagined.
                                          • Both of you are enormously enriched when you accept the fact that you live in two different worlds, and that you look at everything through different lenses.
                                          • You are no longer imprisoned by a mono-centric view of life. And this transforms other areas of your life – your parenting, your life work, your community involvement.
                                          • In sharing your stories with each other, you co-create a new story in which you actually co-create each other. You become a much better person together than you would be by separating.
                                          • And, finally, meeting each other at this level restores the feeling of original connection. And that is what heals you and restores your feelings of joyful aliveness.

                                          The Imago Dialogue process can help you and your partner discover that your problem is not really incompatibility. And you will see that your differences really do have a deeper meaning!

                                          Let me encourage you to find an Imago therapist in your area to help if you need it. Or contact me and I’ll walk you through it.

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                                            My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                            Is self-rejection causing problems in your marriage? It’s more common than you think

                                            Sam and Anna were not happy in their marriage. One big reason was that self-rejection was blocking Anna’s ability to receive love from Sam.

                                            ‘No matter what I do to try and make her happy, nothing is ever good enough!’ Sam complained in frustration.

                                            Anna not only deflected Sam’s attempts to show her love, she often criticized those attempts as not being good enough.

                                            If Sam commented on how good she looked, she pointed out her flaws. If Sam went out of his way to buy her something she liked, there would always be something not quite right about it.

                                            Eventually Sam stopped even trying.

                                            What was going on?! How did Sam and Anna go from such a romantic and passionate relationship they had in the beginning to this place of unhappiness?

                                            Part of their problem was Anna’s self-rejection.

                                            1. Self-rejection is a universal problem

                                            Everyone rejects or hates some aspect of themselves often without even knowing it.

                                            Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote in their book Receiving Love,

                                            ‘Self rejection is the most universal and least recognized problem in our lives. It is the source of all our difficulties in giving and receiving love.’

                                            2. Self-rejection begins in childhood

                                            You may be rejecting a part of yourself you aren’t even aware of.  It could be related to your feelings, your thinking, your sensing, or your talents.

                                            You probably aren’t aware of it because your self-rejection began in childhood. And now it’s preventing you as an adult from being a fully alive, whole person, capable of fully giving and receiving love.

                                            When Anna was little, her dad was an alcoholic and was often away on business. Her memory of him, whenever he was home, was that he was either quiet and withdrawn or drunk and explosive in anger.

                                            Her mom was a ‘go along to get along’ kind of person and Anna didn’t really have a close connection with her either.

                                            Anna felt she was not allowed to express emotions of happiness or sadness. Her mother was stoic, always trying to do the right thing, but never shared her feelings about anything.

                                            Whenever Anna expressed any feelings or desires she had, she got the message that she was ‘too emotional and needy’.

                                            The message was ‘having needs is dangerous’ and this belief was deeply impressed on her tender, young, unconscious mind.

                                            Growing up she learned, ‘You can only be safe by NOT having needs’.

                                            This caused Anna to reject the part of herself that experienced emotions as she was growing up. She learned to deny the part of her that needed normal, loving affirmations. She learned to withdraw and minimize her reactions in order to protect herself.

                                            Children learn quickly to do whatever they have to do to survive their wounding experience.

                                            Anna’s rejection of her ’emotional self’ also resulted in a loss of joy and feelings of aliveness.

                                            3. Self-rejection results in a ‘receiving deficiency’ in your marriage

                                            So now, as an adult in a marriage relationship, those old fears of ‘being needy’ were triggered at times when Sam would make a loving gesture toward her.

                                            As a result, Anna had trouble accepting the good things that Sam offered. Her self-rejection had become a ‘receiving deficiency’ in her marriage.

                                            Because she was not aware of her inability to receive love, she unconsciously erected a barrier between her and Sam – a barrier that blocked his efforts to love her.

                                            This was so hurtful to Sam that he eventually lost hope and was ready to give up on the relationship.

                                            4. Self-rejection results in criticism of your partner

                                            Anna’s criticism of Sam’s attempts to love her was clearly a reflection of how harsh she was on herself.

                                            Anna had learned to hate and reject that emotional part of herself that had needs. So whenever Sam’s actions threatened to awaken that part of her, it was met with harsh criticism.

                                            Anna’s self-criticism manifested in criticism toward Sam.

                                            That made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to be nurtured by Sam’s loving gestures.

                                            5. Self-rejection results in an inability to give love

                                            Ironically Anna expressed that she felt like she was giving more than she was receiving in the relationship. She was unable to see how she was receiving a lot more than she could acknowledge.

                                            She also discovered that you can’t give what you don’t receive.

                                            You can’t love others if you’re drawing from an empty tank. Anna felt like she was giving so much because she was ‘running on fumes’. But in reality she had as much trouble giving love as she did receiving love.

                                            In order for Anna to be able to give love, she had to learn to receive love.

                                            How to deal with self-rejection

                                            Anna took three steps deal with her self-rejection and begin a journey toward wholeness and self-acceptance in her relationship with Sam.

                                            1. Receive your partner’s empathy

                                            Through the Imago Therapy process, Anna began to receive empathy from Sam.

                                            One amazing purpose for marriage is that our partner (who is often perceived as causing our pain) is the one who can best heal our pain!

                                            Using the Parent-Child Dialogue, Sam was able to help Anna get in touch with memories of what it was like living at home with parents who were either raging or absentee. She was able to pinpoint times when she was shamed for having needs.

                                            Sam saw that Anna had a valid reason she could not receive his love. When Sam was able to tell her that she made sense, they were able to connect the dots and understand how Anna’s childhood had affected her ability to receive love. She discovered how it was all related to the rejection of her emotional self.

                                            Sam listened as Anna revisited her fears. And his empathy helped her to begin dissolving those fears and feel safer with him.

                                            When Sam declared to Anna in the dialogue, ‘You deserve to have these needs met’, it helped her open her heart toward him.

                                            2. Turn your criticisms into requests

                                            Looking behind her criticism, Anna discovered the part of herself she was rejecting.  

                                            Helen LaKelly Hunt said, “Criticism is merely a ‘wish in disguise'”.

                                            Discovering that wish will help you identify the part of yourself that you’ve rejected.

                                            Anna’s request of Sam was that he not just ‘do things’ to try to make her feel loved. She requested that he dialogue with her and allow her to make a request for what she needed or wanted. That would help her feel safe to open up and receive it.

                                            So Anna’s criticism of Sam for just doing things for her without sensitivity to her was turned into a request to let her ask for what she needed.

                                            Learning to ask Sam for what she really needed was the biggest step of growth toward wholeness that Anna could take…and the hardest.

                                            It was hard because she was going up against years of unconscious programmed responses telling her that to have a need or an emotion is dangerous.

                                            But, as she began to turn her criticisms into requests, there was a breakthrough that enabled Anna and Sam to connect more deeply with each other.

                                            3. Share regular appreciations for efforts your partner is making

                                            The third thing Anna and Sam did was to share regular appreciations with each other.

                                            Sharing an appreciation for something has a powerful effect that literally changes our brain.

                                            When we’re in pain, we become self-absorbed and we can only see things our partner is doing that cause us pain.

                                            But when we share regular appreciations for the positive things our partner is doing, we break out of that self-absorption.

                                            In time, our lower brain will begin to see our partner as a source of pleasure instead of pain – as a place of safety instead of danger.

                                            Anna and Sam shared a minimum of three appreciations with each other every day using the Mirroring An Appreciation tool. As a result, new brain pathways were developed enabling Anna to receive these and other daily affirmations from Sam.

                                            With this breakthrough, Sam and Anna found themselves on a new path toward healing and wholeness together.

                                            What about you?

                                            • Do you deflect the love your partner wants to give you?
                                            • Does your partner feel like nothing she or he does is ever good enough?
                                            • Do you feel unloved even though you see your partner trying to love you?
                                            • Do you have trouble telling your partner what you really need?

                                            If so, let me encourage you to follow Anna’s and Sam’s example.

                                            Overcome your self-rejection by learning to receive and give love that heals.

                                            For more on this subject I highly recommend the New York Times best selling book Receiving Love by Drs. Hendrix and Hunt.


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                                              My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                              How one husband transformed his marriage from a storm of conflict into a refuge of healing!

                                              Debbie said she had only one problem in her marriage! It was her husband, Will!

                                              ‘Our counselor told us Will has to work on himself before we can ever have a healthy relationship!’

                                              Debbie and Will were in a storm of conflict and she was blaming it all on him.

                                              Will had ‘anger issues‘ so in Debbie’s eyes he was 100% to blame for their problems. He got labeled by their prior counselor as the ‘bad spouse’ and she was the ‘good spouse’.

                                              But we soon discovered that Debbie’s fear of intimacy was preventing her from connecting with Will. And her withdrawal from him during times of conflict was activating Will’s childhood feelings of rejection. That’s when he would react with  outbursts of anger.

                                              His anger, in turn, made her feel smothered until she would then blow up. And the raging storm of conflict continued!

                                              In a storm of conflict like this, the problem is not you or your partner, it’s the ‘space-between’.


                                              Their problem wasn’t Will. And it wasn’t Debbie.

                                              It was ‘the space between’!

                                              The ‘space between’ them was filled with negativity, making the relationship unsafe. Both were adding to that negativity in their own way. Will by his uncontrolled anger. Debbie by her fear of intimacy, retreating, and then blowing up.

                                              An intimate partnership is not just two individuals interacting. It’s two people plus the ‘space between’ them.

                                              A marriage relationship is like the physical universe in two ways: (1) everything is connected, and (2) the space between planets is not just empty space. There are massive energy fields at work to hold everything together.

                                              In the same way, you and your partner are connected, and the space between you is not just empty space.

                                              The space between you is filled with either positive or negative energy. And that’s what determines the quality of your relationship and your life. Whatever you put into that space has the power to shape and change your lives more than any other force.

                                              So, to fix your relationship, you can’t just fix your partner or fix yourself. You have to fix the ‘space between’.

                                              Filling the space between with positive energy makes it safe to reconnect. And when you reconnect all the problems you want to solve actually dissolve.

                                              That’s when the storm of conflict can be transformed into a refuge of healing.

                                              Here are three powerful steps Will took to turn their marriage from a storm of conflict into a refuge of healing.

                                              1. Commit to Zero Negativity

                                              If there is ANY negativity in the space between you in the form of criticism, judgement, an eye roll, or even going silent when your partner is overreacting, the relationship will not feel safe to either of you.  And negativity will always keep you from connecting with each other.

                                              So make a commitment to eliminate ALL negativity in the space between. Then, when you slip up, repair it immediately so you don’t fall back into the same old pattern of allowing negativity into the space between.

                                              Debbie could NOT stop her negative reactions, but Will tried hard to stick to it even when things turned ugly.

                                              As Will continued to refrain from any put downs, the space between began to slowly change.

                                              Will was demonstrating how one partner can change the dynamics of the relationship with a zero negativity commitment. Click on the link to download the tool.

                                              2. Share 3 ‘Appreciations’ with your partner every day.

                                              The way to get beyond the one negative thing you’re stuck on about your partner is to point out the myriad of things that are positive.

                                              What you focus on is what you will get.

                                              If you focus on what your partner does wrong all the neural pathways of anger and fear will continue to get reinforced. Then the accompanying neurochemicals of cortisol and adrenaline – the neurochemicals of fear and anxiety flood your system giving fuel to the storm of conflict.

                                              But if you focus on your partner’s positive qualities your brain releases the pleasure neurochemicals of dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin – neurochemicals of pleasure that make you feel safe, wonderful, and alive.

                                              Recent discoveries about the brain have given us new hope that we can change our way of relating and turn that storm of conflict into a refuge of healing.

                                              Turns out our brains are’ plastic’. This means that we can reshape our neural pathways. By choosing what you think about, you have the power to change your own brain and your feelings as well.

                                              The more we bring these appreciations into the ‘space between’, the more neurochemicals of well-being, wonder, and full-aliveness are released. And the more the space between is filled with positive energy and safety. Click here to download the Appreciation Tool.

                                              3. Use Safe Conversation skills

                                              Eliminating negativity doesn’t mean you don’t deal with negative issues.

                                              You have to talk about negative things, but you can do it in a positive way, keeping the space between you a negativity-free zone.

                                              Safe Conversations skills (aka The Couple’s Dialogue) can help you talk without put downs.

                                              It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that makes it positive or negative.

                                              The Couple’s Dialogue will help you slow down and mirror (listening to 100% of what your partner is saying), validate (letting your partner know she or he makes sense), and empathize (feeling what your partner feels). Click here to download this tool.

                                              Will used these skills trying make it safe for Debbie, but it seemed to only escalate her anger.

                                              Debbie began accusing Will of things that simply ‘were not true’.

                                              It seemed like they would never catch a break from this storm of conflict.

                                              But a miracle happened as Will continued to regulate his own reactions by mirroring Debbie as she shared her feelings.

                                              Even though her accusations were unfair, and her feelings seemed unwarranted, Will continued to mirror, validate, and empathize with her until he literally dissolved all her criticism and negativity!

                                              That was a breakthrough! Why?

                                              Criticisms are simply a wish in disguise.

                                              Behind all Debbie’s hateful words and wrongful accusations was a hidden desire to be connected with Will.

                                              When it became safe for her to reconnect with him, all those criticisms melted away.

                                              When you make it safe for your partner to share ANYTHING, you can dissolve all their criticism, and melt all their accusations.

                                              Isn’t that better than defending yourself and trying to prove your partner wrong?

                                              What about you and your partner? Are you in a storm of conflict?

                                              • Get rid of ALL negativity.
                                              • Share 3 appreciations with your partner each day.
                                              • Use Safe Conversation skills to share your frustrations.

                                              And you can quell that storm of conflict and transform your marriage into a refuge of healing!

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                                                My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                Help! My husband is a porn addict!

                                                When Jenny discovered her husband Tom was visiting porn sites on the internet, trust was broken, and their relationship was suddenly on the rocks.

                                                That’s when she cried out for help.

                                                Jenny’s desperate cry is shared by many married partners today.

                                                Although ‘internet pornography addiction’ does not officially exist as a mental health disorder, recents studies are showing more and more of the effects of its compulsive nature.

                                                One survey revealed 73% of women and 98% of men used internet pornography in the last six months (Daspe, Vaillancourt-Morel, Lussier, Sabourin, and Ferron 2018).

                                                According to an earlier study, 17 percent of pornography users are compulsive, leading to distress and dysfunction (Cooper, Delmonico & Berg, 2000).

                                                Is all pornography bad?

                                                Arguments go back and forth over whether all pornography is has ill effects, and some experts are proposing that there may be some benefits to viewing porn in certain situations.

                                                I know of relationship coaches who tell wives they should be grateful that their husband chose pornography when that choice kept them from an affair.

                                                But many wives I talk to feel that sexual fantasy with an image IS an affair. An affair of the heart even though the social consequences may be not as severe.

                                                A friend of mine, who considers herself a modern and progressive woman, shared her opinion with me that, ‘We should keep an open mind about pornography’.

                                                This was fine and good until her husband started using pornography. Suddenly she had mixed feelings and admitted she was jealous.

                                                There is growing evidence that suggests that pornography robs a couple of the potential of a more satisfying sexual relationship.

                                                Studies have also shown that internet porn use may mis-wire reward circuits of the brain causing sexual dysfunction and reinforcing dependence on porn. For men, lower sexual satisfaction correlated with greater frequency of porn use (Park et al., 2016).

                                                Some successful female porn stars claim they entered the profession fully conscious of what they were doing, and that there have been no ill effects in their lives.

                                                Yet experts tell us that for every successful porn star, there are thousands of young girls lured or forced into the industry whose lives are destroyed.

                                                But Chuck, women are more liberated today, and society is more sexually liberated. Right?


                                                And yet internet porn almost always promotes male domination and female subjugation.

                                                According to Ron Gavrieli, boys and men (btw, he claims 90% of 12 year old boys watch internet porn) are programmed to believe that their value resides in a large penis and an eternal erection.

                                                Women are portrayed as objects just to please men.

                                                While viewing pornography, nothing is learned of what it means to be truly connected with an intimate partner in the kind of long term relationship that gives you the real approval you need.

                                                You learn nothing about a relationship that gives you the lasting feelings of full-aliveness you’ve longed for all your life.

                                                And on top of that pornography doesn’t teach your how to have a mutually satisfying sex life no matter what hardware you possess.

                                                Studies of the brain tell us that just surfing the internet itself might be addicting. Everytime you click on a link or respond to a social media notification you get a shot of dopamine. That’s why we keep doing it.

                                                Add pornographic images to that mix, and the result is a supercharged release of dopamine that causes the brain to respond in the same way it would if you were using a drug like cocaine or heroin.

                                                The result over time is decreased grey matter, decreased motivation, significant feelings of loneliness, the loss of contentment in the everyday normal things that used to bring joy. Those things just don’t make you happy any more.

                                                In many cases this results in more dependence on pornography.

                                                In this article, it’s not my purpose to debate the issue in the broad context. I’m concerned with its effect on you as a couple.

                                                Based on Jenny and Tom’s story, I’d like for us to consider four steps that can help us overcome the effects of internet porn in our relationship.

                                                1. Identify the real problem

                                                Tom and Jenny discovered was that pornography was not Tom’s problem. Viewing porn was a behavior Tom was using to medicate and mask his real problem.

                                                And what was the problem?

                                                It was Tom’s need for approval.

                                                Pornography was the way Tom was trying to satisfy his deeper need for approval.

                                                Whenever Tom felt rejected by Jenny, old feelings of rejection from his dad would be triggered, and he would feel depressed. Whenever he got depressed, he looked for something to make him feel better.

                                                One night, during an argument with Jenny, he left their bedroom and went to the living room sofa where he opened his lap top. In just a few clicks he found himself feeling much better.

                                                The rush of dopamine that came as he viewed dozens of pornographic images brought immediate feelings of relief from his pain. He was hooked. This became a regular pattern.

                                                This “illusion of acceptance” he experienced through porn turned out to be a cheap substitute for what he really needed. It became increasingly apparent, because every time he used porn, he always felt even emptier afterwards than he did before.

                                                What he most needed was to feel Jenny’s approval. To be connected with her in an intimacy that would meet this deep need for approval. This would, in effect, eliminate the need for a substitute.

                                                2. Close the ‘exits’ you’re BOTH taking from each other

                                                Internet porn can be an ‘exit‘ from intimacy with your partner.

                                                Tom said his lack of intimacy with Jenny was one of the reasons he took this ‘exit’ from the relationship.

                                                But then he admitted that porn became the place he went instead of turning to Jenny for what he needed.

                                                It was important for Tom to close this exit, and seek to have his needs met through a deeper connection with Jenny.

                                                Keep in mind in these kinds of situations, both partners are taking ‘exits’ from the relationship.

                                                In Jenny’s case, it wasn’t pornography or an affair.

                                                It was a focus on their children whenever she didn’t feel connected with Tom. That’s not bad in itself, but it was her ‘exit’ from their relationship.

                                                These exits were keeping them from getting the love they needed from each other.

                                                3. Build an intimate connection with each other

                                                Through a tool called The Commitment Dialogue, both Tom and Jenny agreed to close their exits from their relationship in order to spend more time together building closeness with each other. (Download your copy of this tool by clicking on the link.)

                                                Tom made a commitment to not use pornography as an exit.

                                                Rather, he would use Safe Conversation skills to ‘talk it out’ rather than ‘act it out’ everytime he felt the need to go to a porn website.

                                                Tom realized, that through this connection with Jenny, his deeper need for approval could be met, thus eliminating the need for porn.

                                                In the same process, Jenny made a commitment to close her exit as well in the interest of a closer relationship with Tom.

                                                Instead turning to their children to escape the pain of the disconnection she felt, Jenny committed to move toward Tom.

                                                She pledged to work with him to build the kind of safety that would help her feel more connected, more sexually alive, and more available to him.

                                                So after closing the exits, they began building closeness with each other.

                                                4. Ask for what you need from each other

                                                In the context of a safe and connected relationship, asking for what you need becomes a powerful tool.

                                                Tom realized that Jenny was not a mind reader. She had no idea of his need for approval. And she was never aware of when this need drove him to pornography.

                                                Therefore it became important for Tom to become conscious of his feelings, and to ask for what he needed from Jenny rather than letting his feelings drive him back to the internet.

                                                Tom’s freedom didn’t come from just getting rid of pornography. It came when he dealt with those feelings of rejection.

                                                This happened when he became proactive, asking Jenny for things that made him feel loved and accepted.

                                                As a result Tom became more equipped to handle any rejection he experienced at work or in other areas of life.

                                                This is how marriage, when done well, can become a great source of healing you need.

                                                What about you?

                                                Feeling disconnected in our relationship can make us vulnerable to powerful exits like internet porn.

                                                It can became a dangerous compulsion, because it gives us an escape from reality and a false sense of approval. Whenever we have an approval deficit, we can become compulsive seekers of whatever makes us feel approved, even if it is a fantasy.

                                                Is this kind of thing happening in your relationship?

                                                If so, let me encourage you to take some time to read this article with your partner, and talk openly and honestly about it together.

                                                Then follow Tom and Jenny’s lead by taking these four steps to reconnect with each other, and to rid yourself of the problem of internet porn.

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                                                  My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                  How to resolve marriage conflicts when one partner is “too logical” and the other “too emotional”

                                                  Jim and Patty’s marriage was in conflict. Jim was a logical, ‘black and white’ kind of thinker while his wife Patty was more sensitive to emotions and in touch with her feelings.

                                                  They say opposites attract, and this was never truer than in the case of Jim and Patty.

                                                  Their conflicts usually ended with Jim arguing his point until Patty finally gave in to his ‘logic’. Patty would react emotionally, and she never felt like her opinion mattered.

                                                  For years, Patty went along with this until one day to Jim’s complete shock and surprise, she asked for a separation.

                                                  That’s when they sought help. Here’s what they said.

                                                  Patty: ‘Jim thinks he’s right about everything, and he tries to make me feel stupid.’

                                                  Jim: ‘I manage my team at work. I reason with them, and they all get my logic and everything goes smoothly. I can’t understand why Patty ‘doesn’t get it’ and it frustrates me because she’s so ruled by her emotions.’

                                                  Patty didn’t feel heard. And Jim felt like everybody in the world understood his logic but Patty.

                                                  What is the problem here?

                                                  Jim is a ‘separate knower’ and Patty is a ‘connected knower‘.

                                                  The theory of separate and connected knowing states that there are two different ways we know and learn. I’m no expert in epistemology, but I find this simple insight very helpful with couples.

                                                  SEPARATE KNOWING

                                                  What is ‘separate knowing’? Think Socrates. The scientific method. That kind of empirical, objective, linear thinking that western civilization is largely based on. That’s what’s meant by ‘separate knowing’.

                                                  Separate…as in detached from the object being studied. It’s the critical thinking approach.

                                                  It’s an approach that becomes adversarial and competitive, because it assumes that a group of random people can understand and describe a reality in the same objective way.

                                                  It has an attitude which says, ‘Prove it.’ It holds that truth exists independently of who is doing the observation.

                                                  Nothing wrong with that!

                                                  The advancements in modern science and technology that we enjoy today are the result of brilliant minds engaged in ‘separate knowing’.

                                                  Jim is a separate knower. And who do separate knowers usually marry?

                                                  You got it! Connected knowers.

                                                  CONNECTED KNOWING

                                                  Patty is a ‘connected knower’.

                                                  Connected knowing adds to the knowing process things like intuition, emotion, and empathy. This kind of knowing is not detached and uninvolved.

                                                  It’s the kind of knowing that actively affirms the person you are attempting to understand. In marriage, it’s the kind of knowing where you seek to empathize with your partner.

                                                  While holding fast to your own view of reality, you stretch into your partner’s world to see and understand her or his point of view as fully as possible.

                                                  At first, Jim thought this was nonsense. He claimed that Patty couldn’t see truth clearly because her feelings distorted her perspective.

                                                  Connected knowers are often misunderstood in this way. Connected knowing is often referred to as ‘soft thinking”, and is not valued as much as clear, logical evaluation.

                                                  But connected knowing, when done well, uses the knower’s intuition, emotion and empathy as part of the knowing process, leading to even better independent judgments.

                                                  Connected knowing views the truth as a process that is evolving and co-created by those who are participating in it.

                                                  It realizes that observations from a detached, objective position will not necessarily result in an unbiased view of truth.

                                                  In marriage, you need your partner’s perspective to arrive at a fuller, more unbiased view of your reality as a couple.

                                                  Ok, enough theory. How did this help Jim and Patty?

                                                  THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

                                                  We used the Couple’s Dialogue to first help Jim see Patty’s perspective. Then to help Patty see Jim’s perspective. (Click on the link to print out the Couple’s Dialogue guide for your own use).

                                                  Through the Couple’s Dialogue Jim began to suspend his own critical judgement long enough to enter into Patty’s world.


                                                  The first step was for Jim to ‘mirror’ Patty (repeat back to her exactly what she said).

                                                  It went like this:

                                                  Patty: ‘When you argue your point, I feel like you’re not seeing everything. I feel like you have your mind made up and I have no room in the relationship. No room to be who I am and to have my own opinions.’

                                                  As Jim mirrored Patty, he began to see things he hadn’t seen before.

                                                  After mirroring, Jim checked for accuracy: ‘Did I get it?’

                                                  Then he turned on his curiosity with the question: Is there more about that?’

                                                  That powerful question that ignited curiosity in Jim’s brain also made it safe for Patty to get in touch with her feelings.

                                                  As Patty felt safe for the first time in a long time, she began to share how her childhood wounds were being triggered by this feeling of not being heard and valued.

                                                  She began to get in touch with thoughts she’d never thought, and feelings she’d never felt.

                                                  Patty: ‘Yes, it reminds me of when I was little and I felt like my dad never listened to me. And mom was so busy I felt invisible.’

                                                  As Patty added this meaning to the collective consciousness between them, you could see a shift happening in Jim.

                                                  Suddenly he realized there was so much more going on in their relationship than meets the eye.

                                                  He began to see that his ‘separate knowing’ was limited, leaving him with just his perspective, and blinding him to Patty’s.


                                                  The second step in the Couple’s Dialogue is validation.

                                                  Instead of seeing Patty as emotional and illogical, the dialogue helped Jim to see that her feelings made sense.

                                                  Jim: ‘Patty, you make sense. Growing up you didn’t feel like your dad listened to you, and with your mom you felt invisible. It makes sense that when I don’t make room for your opinion, you would feel that way in our relationship.’

                                                  Mirroring and Validation brought Jim into a place of ‘connected knowing’ intellectually, but it was the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue that helped them reconnect their hearts.


                                                  Empathy is the third part of the Couple’s Dialogue.

                                                  Jim: ‘I can imagine feeling invisible, and feeling like your opinion doesn’t matter really hurts. And I can imagine the fear you have that this will never change and you’ll never get to be who you really are in our relationship.’

                                                  Jim was now fully experiencing connected knowing. As he saw what he hadn’t seen before, and felt feelings that he hadn’t felt before, there was a transformation that occurred.

                                                  Before this dialogue, he saw Patty as simply emotional and illogical. Now he was seeing her reality.

                                                  He was becoming aware that there were past experiences that affected the way she saw everything.

                                                  Connected knowing was helping Jim gain a fuller picture of their reality as a couple.

                                                  This was the beginning of a new relationship where they learned appreciate both “logic” and “feelings”.

                                                  In time Patty began to feel safer and more able to share her feelings with Jim.

                                                  And Jim discovered how enriched his perspective and his life can become if he engages in ‘connected knowing’ with Patty’s help.

                                                  After Patty had talked and Jim mirrored her, it was Jim’s turn to talk. And Patty went through the Couple’s Dialogue steps with Jim of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

                                                  Through the dialogue, Patty came to more fully appreciate Jim as a ‘separate knower’. Because he made it safe for her and engaged in ‘connected knowing’ with her, she was able to see the value Jim brings to the relationship as the logical ‘separate knower’ that he was.

                                                  What about you? Are you a separate knower? Are you a connected knower? Or, are you some of both?

                                                  How is the imbalance to one side or the other affecting your relationship?

                                                  Do you have a tendency to exalt your own way of knowing while putting down your partner’s?

                                                  It’s not a matter of one way being better than the other. Both ways of knowing are necessary to arrive at a more complete and unbiased view of realty.

                                                  So let’s learn from our partner how to resolve our marriage conflicts when one partner is ‘too logical’ and the other ‘too emotional’.

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                                                    Why did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet?

                                                    If you’re thinking of divorce on the grounds of incompatibility, STOP and think again!

                                                    Incompatibility is the grounds for a great relationship. Compatibility is actually the recipe for boredom.

                                                    The dating sites have it all wrong.

                                                    Dating sites are good at matching you up with someone with whom you are compatible. No question about that.

                                                    Finding someone compatible with you sounds like a great idea, but there’s one problem with this approach.

                                                    You won’t bond with that person!

                                                    Oh, if you’re just looking for a companion this can work fine.

                                                    But if you want hot romance, forget it.

                                                    The sparks will fly only when you connect with someone with whom you are incompatible.


                                                    That’s right.

                                                    The degree to which you are incompatible is the degree to which you will be drawn to a person romantically.


                                                    Why are we drawn to someone with whom we are incompatible?

                                                    The incompatibility I’m talking about has to do with something going on in your unconscious mind.

                                                    We are attracted to someone with the positive and negative traits of our parents.

                                                    Consider Ron and Debbie’s experience.

                                                    Ron was super popular in college. There were at least three attractive women who had serious crushes on him.

                                                    He dated and got along really well with these women. But everyone was surprised when Ron fell for Debbie, a girl who did not fit the image of the perfect match for him.

                                                    While Ron was outgoing, Debbie seemed aloof and socially withdrawn.

                                                    Why was Ron drawn to her? Why did he choose Debbie when there were so many other more compatible prospects?

                                                    The scientific reason is that…

                                                    Our lower brain only releases the romantic love chemicals that cause us to fall in love when we find an ‘Imago match’, i.e. someone who has the positive and negative traits of our parents.

                                                    Debbie has some of the positive and negative traits of Ron’s mother. The negative traits are especially significant as Ron’s experience shows.

                                                    Ron grew up feeling neglected by his mom. His mom was distant emotionally. Debbie was like that.

                                                    Ron’s mom tended to be depressed. So did Debbie.

                                                    Even though Ron had much more in common with the other girls he dated, he had more feelings for Debbie than for all them put together!

                                                    It was this Imago match, this composite image of Ron’s early caretakers, particularly his mom, that drew him to Debbie.

                                                    But why are we drawn to someone like our parents?

                                                    Our ‘unconscious relationship agenda’ is to finish what we didn’t get in childhood.

                                                    It may sound absurd, but Ron was drawn to Debbie because she had the very traits that would activate the wounds, frustrations and unmet needs from his childhood.

                                                    His unconscious hope was that he would finally get the love he always needed from a person similar to the one who denied it when he was growing up.

                                                    This unconscious agenda is a primary factor in our choice of a romantic partner.

                                                    Growing up we all experience wounds, frustrations, and unmet needs to some degree.

                                                    From your very first interaction with your parents, your lower brain starts ‘videotaping’ everything they do.

                                                    The things that that register and stick in our unconscious mind are those experiences where our needs weren’t met. Each wounding experience takes up permanent residence in our memory.

                                                    Your lower brain (the part that is all about survival) is crying out something like, ‘I need mom’s attention to survive! I’m not getting that and yet I have to have it to survive!’

                                                    When Ron experienced neglect from his mother who was often depressed and detached, his anxiety would turn into rage.

                                                    What about Debbie?

                                                    Debbie was romantically drawn to Ron with her own unconscious agenda to ‘finish’ her childhood as well.

                                                    Debbie’s wound growing up was similar, but her way of coping was opposite from Ron’s.

                                                    Her dad was outgoing like Ron but was preoccupied with work, and often had angry outbursts.

                                                    In order to avoid feeling smothered and overwhelmed by her dad, she learned to detach emotionally and avoid closeness with him.

                                                    Both Ron and Debbie needed a more consistent feeling of connection and safety growing up.

                                                    Ron learned to throw tantrums for attention while Debbie learned to cope by escaping into her art and reading.

                                                    They illustrate how…

                                                    We are drawn to someone who has a similar wounding that we had, but an opposite way of coping with it.

                                                    Wow, talk about incompatible! Evidently opposites do attract!

                                                    This fundamental ‘incompatibility’ is hidden from our awareness in the Romantic Stage of our relationship (darn those rose-colored glasses!), but becomes painfully apparent when we enter the Power Struggle Stage.

                                                    So we can see how Ron and Debbie entered adulthood with an unconscious agenda to get those childhood needs met someday, somewhere, by someone.

                                                    And so, when they found each other, that is a major reason they fell in love.

                                                    Ron and Debbie show how our unconscious mind pairs our childhood needs with someone similar to the parent who didn’t meet those needs.

                                                    The problem is that romantic love hurls us into a relationship without our being conscious of these hidden agendas.

                                                    The Power Struggle is evidence that healing and growth need to happen

                                                    As a result of this Imago match, the person you fall in love with has the ability to trigger memories of the parent in childhood with whom you had the worst time.

                                                    After the romantic feelings faded, Debbie began to feel smothered by Ron. The childhood wound from her dad was triggered, and she’d pull away from Ron saying she ‘needed space’.

                                                    This of course triggered the childhood feeling of abandonment Ron experienced during the times when his mother would be emotionally unavailable.

                                                    This ignited all the rage he felt as a child. His reaction had the effect of smothering Debbie even more. This is where the dynamics of their power struggle began.

                                                    Debbie’s retreat would trigger Ron’s need to connect. Ron’s need would in turn trigger further emotional withdrawal in Debbie. Their situation soon became hopeless.

                                                    We fall in love with this person with whom we want to get the need met. But since this person is like your mom or dad, they can’t meet your need anymore then your mom or dad could.

                                                    Couples begin to talk about divorce on the grounds of incompatibility when they realize they need something their partner can’t give them and they lose hope that things will ever change.

                                                    Chuck, it sounds to me like romantic love is nature’s ‘dirty little trick’.

                                                    It really does seem that way.

                                                    Ron said, ‘Debbie and I were so in love! It wasn’t until after we got married that I realized we are so incompatible! And now my dream of a happy marriage has become my worst nightmare!’

                                                    But it’s not a dirty trick.

                                                    Romantic love is actually a very effective way to get you to commit to someone who otherwise would  cause you to run away in the opposite direction as fast as you can!

                                                    ‘I don’t get it! Why did I marry the most incompatible person on the planet! What was I thinking?!’

                                                    Now you know. It was an unconscious relationship agenda that drew you to the person who will be the key to healing your childhood wounds.

                                                    Why? Because’¦

                                                    You can only finish childhood with someone similar to the one with whom it got interrupted.

                                                    It would be nice if our brain said, ‘Let’s go find an ideal person, someone compatible with whom we can finish childhood without all this conflict and struggle.’

                                                    But it doesn’t work that way. Your Imago is the template that guides you in that selection process.

                                                    OK then, how is incompatibility the grounds for a great marriage?

                                                    Next stop: Mature Love

                                                    Ron and Debbie show how we begin in the Romantic Stage and soon enter the Power Struggle stage of the relationship. That’s where they got stuck.

                                                    But they didn’t stop there. Through the Imago Dialogue process they were able to mirror, validate, and empathize with each other.

                                                    As they continued to do that with the help of an Imago therapist, every issue of ‘incompatibility’ became an opportunity to heal the past and to grow into new behaviors that continued the healing process.

                                                    They showed how, if you hold this ‘tension of opposites’ without letting it go, without giving up on the relationship, then you can grow into a new way of being with each other.

                                                    This is how an incompatible relationship becomes a win-win proposition: a healing and growth partnership.

                                                    What about you today?

                                                    If you’re in conflict with your partner, you’re not with the wrong person. You’re with the person that your unconscious mind chose and put into your life so that you can finish childhood.

                                                    ‘Irreconcilable differences’ is not a reason to separate.

                                                    On the contrary, it may be the greatest opportunity you’ll ever have, not only to heal and grow into the person you want to be, but also to have the marriage you’ve always dreamed of.

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                                                      My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                      How to have the kind of marriage communication that leads to closer connection

                                                      Experts cite communication problems as the number one reason marriages fail.

                                                      But good communication in marriage is not enough, unless that communication leads you to a closer connection with your partner.

                                                      That’s because…

                                                      Communication is not really the problem in marriage. Feeling disconnected is.

                                                      You can have good communication and not feel connected.

                                                      I’m not saying communication is not important, because you can’t connect without communicating. What I’m saying is you can communicate without connecting.

                                                      Sometimes you may communicate perfectly and still trigger each other’s defenses.

                                                      Whenever defenses are triggered, the space between you becomes negative. Negativity makes a conversation unsafe, and that’s what keeps you from connecting.


                                                      Whether it’s criticism in your communication, or a judgmental reaction to your partner’s words, this kind of communication will prevent connection and conflict will be the result.

                                                      Talking with criticism or listening with judgment can make any subject a contentious one. And that’s when we blame our relationship failure on ‘communication problems’.

                                                      On the other hand, when you talk in a way that leaves you feeling connected, then you can more easily deal with every problem in your relationship.

                                                      The Safe Conversation model (aka The Couple’s Dialogue) is a tool that will help you communicate in a way that leads to connection.

                                                      Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt have defined a Safe Conversation as…

                                                      A way of talking without criticizing, of listening without judging, and connecting beyond our differences.

                                                      Let’s consider how this can work for us.

                                                      1. Talking without criticizing

                                                      Janet said to her husband Rob, ‘You’re going to kill yourself if you keep eating like that! You know that white sugar is poison!’

                                                      Communication? There is no question about what Janet is communicating. It’s crystal clear. But what do you think Rob’s response would be to this kind of communication?

                                                      He’d probably see it as criticism, and react by judging Janet’s intent as being disrespectful or controlling. Right?

                                                      ‘Stop telling me what to do! You’re always trying to control me!’

                                                      And then this reaction would then trigger further frustration on Janet’s part.

                                                      ‘You never listen to me.’

                                                      This downward spiral began with a critical comment.

                                                      A safe conversation can eliminate that.

                                                      You can talk about almost anything if you’ll say it in a respectful way without criticism.

                                                      It’s not what you say but how you say it. Whatever it is you’re talking about is secondary.

                                                      As safe conversation is like a truck moving produce.  The truck will deliver whatever it’s carrying: wheat, corn, beans or potatoes, it doesn’t matter.

                                                      In the same way a safe conversation will deliver any kind of message you want to send: appreciation, frustration, things you want, or things you need from your partner, it doesn’t matter. Like the truck moving the cargo, a safe conversation will deliver the goods.

                                                      So what would a Safe Conversation look like in this case?

                                                      1) Use ‘I statements’ rather than ‘you statements’

                                                      Instead of saying ‘you’ and then criticizing Rob, Janet could start by using ‘I’ statements to share two things: ‘what I saw or heard’ and ‘what I felt’.

                                                      And then she add any other thoughts or feelings that come to mind.

                                                      ‘When I saw you eating donuts, I felt anxious. My mother had diabetes and died at an early age and I’m afraid of something happening to you.’

                                                      2) Watch the non-verbal messages you’re sending

                                                      Often, things like a sigh, a glare, or a rolling of the eyes communicate negativity.

                                                      It will be really helpful if Janet conveys a soft look in her eyes and speaks in a kind tone.

                                                      It’s the non-verbal gestures that actually do most of our communicating.

                                                      3) Regulate your own emotional reaction

                                                      When Janet speaks in this way, she is working to regulate her reaction and the fear that drives her criticism.

                                                      This gives Rob a chance to control his own reaction, and perhaps listen with curiosity.

                                                      So, when you’re talking, use I statements, watch your non-verbal messages, and regulate your reaction to what you’ve seen and heard.

                                                      These steps will help do a lot to make the conversation safe and thus easier for your partner to listen and connect with you.

                                                      The problem may not be that your partner is not listening well. The problem may be that you’re not communicating in a way that can be heard.

                                                      Talking without criticizing can help make it safe to talk about even the most difficult issues.

                                                      2. Listening without judgment

                                                      What’s Rob’s part in this?

                                                      Rob stirred the pot by reacting with, ‘Stop telling me what to do! You’re always trying to control me!’

                                                      What if he were to regulate his own reaction for the moment?

                                                      You know Janet is really a decent person. What if Rob were to become curious about what feelings are driving her insensitive comment.

                                                      The three-part Safe Conversation model is designed to help you do that.

                                                      Here’s what it might look like:


                                                      What if Rob simply mirrored back to Janet what she said?

                                                      Mirroring says to your partner, ‘You matter. What you have to say matters.’

                                                      Here’s what that might look like:

                                                      ‘Let me see if I got what you’re saying. You’re saying that when I ate that second donut, you felt anxious. Your mother had diabetes and died at an early age, and you’re afraid of something happening to me.’

                                                      Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

                                                      Is there more about that? (curiosity)

                                                      Checking to get 100%, and then becoming curious about your partner has a powerful effect, making your partner feel like she or he matters.

                                                      The second step is…


                                                      Validation is when you say to your partner, ‘Although I may see things differently, you make sense.’ And then you tell your partner what makes sense about what she or he just said.

                                                      ‘Janet, you make sense. It makes sense that because you experienced such a loss when your mother died, you’d naturally be anxious when you see me not being careful about my sugar intake. That makes sense.

                                                      ‘Does that give you the validation you need?’ (always check to see)


                                                      And finally, empathy is when you feel what your partner is feeling about the issue.

                                                      ‘And I can imagine that you’re feeling really scared. I’ve felt afraid when I thought of losing someone. And that feels really bad.’

                                                      Empathy enables you to be present with your partner in the midst of their fears. This enables you to connect emotionally, on a deeper, heart level. This will also bring a measure of healing to the wound that is driving your partner’s fear.

                                                      3. Connecting beyond our differences

                                                      As Rob and Janet connect, their differences over diet may not change. But empathy will enable them to connect beyond their differences.

                                                      You say, well, what if I can’t accept the difference? What if it’s not just an addiction to sweets, but an addiction to say, alcohol.

                                                      Then it may be necessary to ask for a change in behavior. But in my experience Rob would be much more open to Janet’s request if they feel connected.

                                                      On the other hand, if they continued being defensive and feeling disconnected, the fight would go on and on and on. Right?

                                                      What about you?

                                                      You too can learn to communicate in a way that leads to closer connection with your partner.


                                                      By talking without criticizing, listening without judging, and connecting beyond your differences.

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                                                        My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                        What you may not know about the childhood wounds affecting your marriage

                                                        When I suggest that a marriage conflict may stem from a childhood wound, some marriage partners protest.

                                                        ‘Wounds from childhood? Not me. My parents were great!’

                                                        ‘Why do you say my childhood wounds are affecting my marriage? That was in the past. I’ve moved on and the past doesn’t affect me.’

                                                        ‘My problem is not because of what I experienced in childhood. It’s all about how my partner treats me today!’

                                                        These are comments I’ve heard from clients or workshop participants when I share what’s called the 90/10 principle.

                                                        90% of your upset in a conflict is rooted in the past. Only 10% is related to the present.

                                                        I used to be skeptical myself, but in my experience with couples, and especially in my own marriage, I see it played out every week.

                                                        Whether or not we acknowledge it…our childhood wounds do affect our marriage.

                                                        According to relationship expert, Dr. Harville Hendrix’¦

                                                        Anytime you have a frustration with your partner that occurs three times or more, and you have negative feelings about it, it comes from childhood.

                                                        Emotions buried in your unconscious mind that are based on childhood can drive you to explode or withdraw, behavior that’s not productive in your relationship today.

                                                        To understand how this happens, consider with me how childhood wounding occurs.

                                                        The childhood wounding experience

                                                        Dr. Edward Tronick’s Still Face Experiment shows the interaction between a caretaker and an infant. If you haven’t seen this I encourage you to watch it now. And then let’s explore the implications together.

                                                        When the child feels connected with mom everything works well.

                                                        But when mom gives the child the ‘still face’ causing a rupture in the connection, the child begins to feel anxiety.

                                                        When this happens in real life, we call this ‘un-attuned’ caretaking, and it occurs to some degree in most parent-child relationships.

                                                        In busy families, especially large families, it’s hard for caretakers to stay fully attuned to every child. Most of us probably got lost in the shuffle at some point growing up.

                                                        Un-attuned care taking may not be intentional but it’s a reality.

                                                        When we lose the ‘attuned face’, i.e. the attuned emotions, the attuned eyes, the attuned  presence of a caretaker in childhood, we call that a ‘wounding experience’.

                                                        Notice how the child uses all her abilities in a desperate attempt to get mom’s attention. If that doesn’t work the child will either continue to act out, or she may withdraw and simply give up trying.

                                                        This experience shows how we adapt to childhood wounding by becoming either a maximizer (hailstorm) or minimizer (turtle).

                                                        The experience of Sarah and Eric

                                                        About a year after Sarah was born, her mom gave birth to twins who cried continually with colic. One-year-old Sarah experienced neglect.

                                                        It was not intentional. It was a time when her parents just had to do the best they could, and could not be constantly attuned to Sarah.

                                                        That’s why we say’¦

                                                        Healthy adults are a result of ‘good enough’ parenting, not perfect parenting.

                                                        Sarah’s home was a normal home…

                                                        But the wounding that she experienced through unintentional neglect in childhood became a problem later in her marriage.

                                                        Sarah’s parents were under-involved. Her pain from those feelings of neglect in childhood (the 90%) was triggered by her husband Eric whenever he gave “more attention to his work than to me’ (the 10%).

                                                        On the other hand Eric’s parents were over-involved. He grew up always being told what to think and what to feel. Therefore, the pain of this continual intrusion in childhood (the 90%) was triggered whenever he felt controlled by Sarah (the 10%).

                                                        And what did he do? He withdrew emotionally from Sarah when she became “controlling”. What effect did this have on Sarah? It activated more of that old pain of neglect causing even more explosive anger and need to control.

                                                        Sarah was the “hailstorm”. Eric was the “turtle”.

                                                        Our childhood defenses will always activate the childhood wounds of our partner. And vice versa.

                                                        What about you? Do you see where your childhood wounds are affecting your marriage in similar ways?

                                                        Which are you? The hailstorm or the turtle? Which is your partner?

                                                        Here is a powerful exercise that will help you better understand and empathize with your partner’s childhood wounding experience.

                                                        It’s called the Parent/Child Dialogue. Click on the link, print out two copies and follow the instructions very carefully.

                                                        As you do this simple dialogue, it’s my hope that you begin to turn your relationship of conflict into a partnership of mutual healing.

                                                        Here’s to turning conflicts into a stable connection that facilitates healing of our childhood wounds!

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                                                          My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                          5 things most people don’t know about emotional connection in marriage

                                                          We know emotional connection is important in marriage, but why?

                                                          Here are five powerful benefits of emotional connection with your partner that you may not know.

                                                          1. Emotional connection is the key to problem solving.

                                                          When couples fight, it’s usually not about what they are fighting about. Couples fight because they feel emotionally disconnected and don’t like it.

                                                          And when couples feel that disconnection, they will pick the first thing in sight to blame for the anxiety they feel.

                                                          He: ‘If you would just park the car on your side of the driveway I wouldn’t have to worry about hitting it every time I back out of the garage!’

                                                          She: ‘Well if you would fix my side of the driveway, I wouldn’t have to step in the mud every time I get out of my car!’

                                                          Even if she parks on her side every time for the rest of her life, and even if he fixes the driveway today, it won’t solve the problem.

                                                          Why? Because the problem is not the problem.

                                                          The problem is the feeling of being emotionally disconnected.

                                                          When a feeling of disconnection occurs, anxiety is triggered, defenses go into effect, and our adrenal gland pumps cortisol into our system. Feeling stressed, we then blame the problem on the first thing that becomes apparent in that moment.

                                                          ‘It’s the way you put the dishes in the dishwasher!’
                                                          ‘It’s your mother! You care more about her than you do me!’
                                                          ‘It’s your job! I feel like you’d rather be at work than at home with me!’

                                                          ‘It’s’¦’ you name it! Every disgruntled partner has something they think is the problem!

                                                          But THAT PROBLEM IS NEVER THE PROBLEM!

                                                          The problem is not feeling connected.

                                                          Nagging, criticizing, cajoling, or giving the silent treatment might get you what you’re asking for’¦

                                                          …but it will never get you what you want – the restored feeling of connection with your partner that you’re really longing for.

                                                          2. Emotional connection produces feelings of full-aliveness.

                                                          If you repair the rupture and feel connected again, defenses come down, the happy chemicals start flowing. There’s nothing more pleasurable than the rush of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin into your system!

                                                          This results in feelings of safety, connection, passion, and full aliveness .

                                                          When you feel connected again all the ‘problems’ you’re struggling to solve simply dissolve.

                                                          ‘Chuck that sounds like a fairy tale!’

                                                          No it’s true! When you feel connected things just aren’t such a big deal.

                                                          Like the way your partner puts the dishes in the dishwasher, the love he has for his mother, or her commitment to her job. These are just the things we complain about when we feel disconnected.

                                                          With a close emotional connection, these things simply dissolve, as overwhelming feelings of well-being flood you and your partner and the space between you.

                                                          3. Emotional connection lowers your stress level.

                                                          When criticism is replaced with appreciation, and frustrations are translated into positive requests for things that make us feel loved, anxiety abates, defenses come down, safety is achieved, and relaxed joyfulness is experienced.

                                                          That’s when you’ll notice a whole lot less stress even when your life is otherwise very stressful.

                                                          Everytime you give your partner a hug, your pituitary gland releases oxytocin which lowers your heart rate and lowers cortisol levels.

                                                          Why is this important?

                                                          Cortisol is a hormone largely responsible for stress, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

                                                          It’s a fact that partners who regulate stress with regular physical embracing and ongoing physical intimacy have fewer life-threatening diseases.

                                                          There is no better stress remedy than a close connection, and regular hugs, and other physical contact with your intimate partner.

                                                          To come home after a hard day to a warm embrace has more value than you might think.

                                                          Intimacy with your marriage partner can reduce stress better than anything you can do on your own, such as meditation, yoga, mindfulness, or you name it.

                                                          But wait…there’s more!

                                                          4. Emotional connection results in more and better sex.

                                                          When a relationship is predictably stable and safe, more and better sex is usually the result.

                                                          Aside from the health benefits of a regular sex life, there is the fun, and feelings of full aliveness that come with complete vulnerability, safety, and intimacy that only couples can enjoy.

                                                          ‘Ok Chuck, you had me at ‘more and better sex’!’

                                                          5. Emotional connection unleashes your creativity.

                                                          So, what is it about an intimate partnership that brings out the best in men and women?

                                                          There is no greater uplifting feeling than to have someone who loves you unconditionally. Someone who is there for you when things are at their worse. Someone who can look you in the eye, and remind you of who you are when you are doubting yourself.

                                                          When you’re emotionally connected you HAVE EVERYTHING. You DON’T NEED THE OTHER STUFF.

                                                          Not from your job, or from success, or from a bigger bank account, or from anything.

                                                          It’s only when we feel emotionally disconnected that we look to all those other things for our significance and fulfillment. And it never really lasts.

                                                          A stable, secure, and deep emotional connection is the key to not only succeeding but also finishing well in this life.

                                                          The passion, the joyful relaxation, and the full-aliveness that overflow from your marriage into your life work is the number one key to having the greatest impact and  influence you can possibly have.

                                                          And when you fail, it simply doesn’t matter. Because you already have what your heart really longs for – a deep connection with your intimate partner.

                                                          This can make you bolder and more willing to take risks than you would otherwise. Why not? There’s nothing to lose!

                                                          It’s like Chloe Kim, the 17 yr. old snowboarder who won olympic gold in Pyeongchang 2018.

                                                          She she scored enough on her first run to win the gold medal.

                                                          Since she had already secured the gold, she realized there was no way she could fail on her last run.

                                                          So she pulled out all the stops, and went for the record books. As a result she got an almost perfect score, nailing back to back 1080s, in other words, three full mid-air revolutions!

                                                          I want my “last run” in life to be like that!

                                                          How about you?

                                                          This kind of confidence begins and ends with an emotional connection with your partner.

                                                          Work on that first…and then let your feelings of connection and full-aliveness overflow as you launch that blog, write that book, create that new program, start that new business!

                                                          Access your dreams and unleash your creativity!

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                                                            My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                            Want to live “happily ever after” in your marriage? Here’s something even better!

                                                            Peter and Kathy had an amazing marriage breakthrough! But after a few months they found themselves stuck again in the same vicious cycle of blaming and defensiveness that almost ruined their marriage before. Only now it seemed worse.

                                                            Here is a couple who was able to dissolve all the anxiety that was driving their Power Struggle and connect with each other in a deeper way than ever before!  Their marriage moved from the brink of failure to a picture of marital bliss! They were so happy! So was I as their coach!

                                                            But a few months later all those feelings were gone. They felt like all the ground they had gained in their relationship had been lost. Once again they were considering separation.

                                                            What happened?

                                                            It was something that I discovered only recently.

                                                            When a couple rekindles Romantic Love, it hurls them back into the Power Struggle!

                                                            What?!! That’s right!

                                                            Most marriages begin with Romantic Love. Then comes the Power Struggle.

                                                            Then, with a commitment and the right tools, a couple can move through the Power Struggle to Mature Love and to the World Impact Stage where the changes in their marriage begin to positively impact their children and their world.

                                                            Here is the graph I made to depict that journey.

                                                            The problem with this model is that it suggests that when you get to the World Impact Stage you’ve arrived!

                                                            Then your marriage is one of eternal bliss that continues ‘happily ever after’ as you ride off into the sunset to go out and change the world!


                                                            I wanted to believe that! I really, really did!

                                                            But that was not the case with Peter and Kathy. Actually it’s not the case with the other couples I help. And it’s certainly not the case with Sandy and me.

                                                            Why? Because…

                                                            Marriage is a journey of healing and growth that doesn’t end with the first breakthrough you have.

                                                            There is no place of arrival where you are both healed and where you no longer need to grow.

                                                            You and I will always long for new levels of healing. And we will always discover areas where we need to stretch and grow and discover lost and undeveloped parts of ourselves.

                                                            And that’s why, when we rekindle Romantic Love, it hurls us right back into another round of the Power Struggle!

                                                            So the Couple’s Journey actually looks more like this:

                                                            Couple's Journey

                                                            Instead of a linear path, the Couple’s Journey is a progressive cycle that repeats these four stages.

                                                            As you go through this cycle, there is connection, rupture, repair, and then reconnection that occurs over and over again.

                                                            Realizing that this is normal helped Peter and Kathy feel better, and regain hope that they could get back on their journey toward healing and wholeness.

                                                            As we worked through this “second power struggle”, Peter and Kathy discovered some childhood adaptations that were fueling this new Power Struggle. Some unconscious defenses they had never been conscious of before.

                                                            Peter realized he would withdraw from Kathy whenever she was ‘overreacting’. He did this without even knowing he was doing it.  Through the Couple’s Dialogue, we discovered that this defense was deeply connected to the way he felt smothered as a child by his mother.

                                                            Kathy would explode when she felt Peter ‘leaving her’. This defense was deeply connected to the times when Kathy felt like her mother was not emotionally available to her when she was a child.

                                                            Through the process Peter saw that his own unconscious reaction to Kathy was just as powerful as her outbursts. It’s just that his defense, which was to withdraw his emotional presence, was silent while Kathy’s was sometimes very loud.

                                                            Why did they not see this before? I don’t know.

                                                            But when they became conscious of these newer, deeper dynamics, two things happened.

                                                            Peter began to grow by staying present with Kathy rather than leaving when she was upset. This immediately had a healing effect on her wound of rejection.

                                                            Kathy began to grow by regulating her emotions, making it safe for Peter to stay present. This had a healing effect on Peter as he overcame his fear of intimacy and his childhood feelings of being smothered by his mother.

                                                            This process of working through the second Power Struggle helped Peter and Kathy reconnect once again and get back on the path toward healing and wholeness. They were able to use the same skills they learned before to go even deeper this time.

                                                            It feels like a game of Chutes and Ladders.

                                                            Sandy once said that our progress felt like a game of Chutes and Ladders. Sometimes we land on a chute and slide all the down to where we were before.

                                                            It sometimes feels like you’re starting over. But that’s not true. You’re actually going deeper.

                                                            It’s something even better than ‘happily ever after’.

                                                            Even though romantic love fades away, romance never has to end.

                                                            Staying on the journey where you experience more and more healing and growth, and where you experience a greater and greater sense of safety, connection, and full-aliveness is even better than our fairytale concept of ‘happily ever after’.


                                                            Because in the fairy tale ideal of ‘happy ever after’, there’s no program for healing and growth.

                                                            Without conflicts brought about by the power struggle, our relationship would eventually die anyway. It’s a principle of nature that, if something is not growing, it’s dying.

                                                            Also, relationship science tells us that, ironically, you and I would never really be happy with someone who doesn’t push our buttons and help us finish the work left undone in childhood.

                                                            As Peter and Kathy made the choice to recommit and work through this second power struggle, they were encouraged by what happened.

                                                            And they discovered it does actually get easier.

                                                            They learned that each time around the cycle the rupture feels less catastrophic, the repair process happens faster, and the connection feels even deeper than before.

                                                            Also as they continue around the cycle, the emotions connected with the Power Struggle become less toxic to the relationship as understanding, curiosity, and compassion grow.

                                                            So this is WAY better than merely ‘happily ever after’!

                                                            What about you? Have you had real progress in your marriage only to be set back?

                                                            It happens. But like Kathy and Peter, you can stay on the journey no matter what.

                                                            Even though it will recycle through the Power Struggle, and you may feel like you’re in a game of Chutes and Ladders, eventually you will get there!

                                                            And you will have a marriage filled with safety, connection, passion and full-aliveness!

                                                            Which is better than “happily ever after”!

                                                            Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                              My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                              Heal your marriage and you heal the world!

                                                              Brent and Jewels Niccum went from being employees in a large corporation to being owners of a multinational company overnight!

                                                              But despite their success in business, they had trouble keeping their marriage on track.

                                                              Through the Imago Relationship counseling process, they discovered that the reactivity toward each other that was wrecking their relationship was based in their unconscious defenses that had been in place since childhood.

                                                              It didn’t take them long to figure it out, dismantle those defenses, and reconnect.

                                                              Like everything else they did in life, they worked hard on their marriage.

                                                              Soon they had a breakthrough, and now they are on a solid path toward, not only a healing and growth partnership, but a partnership to change the world through their life work together.

                                                              Brent and Jewels Niccum

                                                              When a couple in conflict learns to reconnect, they recover all the time and energy previously wasted in that conflict.

                                                              That’s when they look for some way to work together to make the world a better place.

                                                              Brent and Jewels are living in what I call the World Impact Stage of marriage. Having moved through the Power Struggle Stage into a Mature Love, they now have a great foundation in place to be effective co-creators in their life work.

                                                              A Couple's Journey

                                                              How did they get there?

                                                              By learning to consistently talk without criticism, listen without judgement, and connect beyond their differences.

                                                              Soon both of their sons, Lew and Cole, along with their families, began to join them on this journey toward healing and wholeness.

                                                              Niccum Family

                                                              One day Jewels asked me, ‘Can you help us do for our company what we’ve done for our marriage and family?’

                                                              That’s when we introduced Crucial Conversations® Training to NCCM Company.

                                                              This ongoing training and coaching has become a foundational piece in developing a healthy corporate culture that is having an impact on their employees, their customers, and their community.

                                                              NCCM Company Facility
                                                              NCCM Company, River Falls, WI USA

                                                              What Brent and Jewels realized was this:

                                                              “When we are dysfunctional in our marriage, everything under our charge will be dysfunctional in the same way. When we heal our marriage we can heal our family and our company.

                                                              “That’s because the same principles we’ve learned in our marriage apply in all our relationships. So our task is to teach everyone in our charge how to do what we are trying to do, not only at work, but everywhere in their personal relationships.”

                                                              After almost two years of training…

                                                              Overly aggressive employees have learned to listen and let others add to the collective wisdom of the team. This is resulting in better decisions and greater motivation.

                                                              Passive employees who would previously withdraw rather than confront a difficult situation are now bravely engaging in tough conversations with skills that help them to be both candid and respectful at the same time. This is preventing costly log jams in the production process.

                                                              Needless to say productivity, profits, job satisfaction, and customer loyalty have all risen substantially.

                                                              And a whole new generation of young leaders are being developed to expand this global enterprise.

                                                              Brent’s and Jewels’ impact is spilling over into their community.

                                                              NCCM Transformation Foundation
                                                              NCCM Transformation Foundation

                                                              Through the NCCM Transformation Foundation they are joining hands with the community to do many things including care for the homeless in Minneapolis, to mentor children in Wisconsin, and train and coach a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

                                                              Here’s what inspires me about the Niccum’s story.

                                                              What if thousands of leaders in companies, government agencies, and educational institutions worldwide were to follow this example?

                                                              What if these leaders started with their marriages, learning to talk without criticism, to listen without judgement, and to connect beyond their differences.

                                                              And then, what if these leaders led their families and organizations to do the same? We could see a revolution of remedies for our world’s ills!

                                                              Healing our world starts with us as couples.

                                                              What about you? Will you join with us in this revolution?

                                                              Heal your marriage and you heal the world!

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                                                                My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                Build your dream marriage part 7: Learn to be honest rather than “nice”

                                                                Is it possible to be ‘too nice’ in a relationship?

                                                                Jennifer said, ‘I always feel like I’m walking on eggshells with my husband, Tom. Often when I tell him what I really feel, he overreacts and we get into a big fight. So there are some things I just don’t talk about.’

                                                                Jennifer is choosing to be ‘nice’ rather than honest.

                                                                But, Chuck, can’t I be nice AND honest?

                                                                Sure. But we’re talking about ‘being nice’ as a way of avoiding the honesty necessary to build your dream marriage. That’s not really being nice…to yourself, to your partner, or to your relationship.

                                                                If your partner is reactive, it’s very easy to try and ‘keep the peace’ by being nice, and not talking about what you’re really feeling or what’s frustrating you. But this is the ‘kiss of death’ to your relationship.

                                                                What happens if I choose to be ‘nice’ rather than honest?

                                                                ‘¢ The negative feelings I have don’t go away.

                                                                Negative feelings don’t go away unless they are communicated and processed in a safe conversation. By using safe conversation skills, you can learn to be honest in a way that will bring you closer to your dream marriage.

                                                                ‘¢ I internalize negative feelings and become bitter and depressed.

                                                                If being ‘nice’ helps you stuff what you’re really feeling, the bitter feelings of anxiety result in depression.


                                                                ‘¢ I internalize negative feelings and later explode over something insignificant.

                                                                Because I’m carrying this simmering frustration and anger inside, it doesn’t take much to cause an uncontrollable eruption that happens over the ‘stupidest things’.

                                                                ‘¢ My partner never gets to know me.

                                                                Hiding the parts of me that are hurting actually robs my partner of the chance to really get to know me – the real me not just romantic projections and fantasies.

                                                                Also the pain of ‘not being seen’ continues to grow as I continue to hide. As this pain grows I can be assured of either deeper depression or another eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, or both.

                                                                ‘¢ I don’t heal my childhood wounds.

                                                                Instead of healing my childhood wounds, I continue to carry them which has the effect of limiting my growth and progress in every area of life, including my parenting and my career.

                                                                ‘¢ My partner doesn’t get a chance to grow.

                                                                Being ‘nice’ robs my partner of the opportunity to see up close where he or she needs to grow. Calling someone to emotional and spiritual growth is threatening. Growing is hard and we will resist some areas of growth to the death.

                                                                Unconsciously we know that, so it’s no wonder we’d rather be ‘nice’ than to be the ‘sand in the oyster’ – the one who brings to our partner the irritation necessary to produce a beautiful pearl.

                                                                ‘¢ We won’t have the connection that gives us passion and full aliveness.

                                                                A dream marriage, a relationship of safety, connection, passion, and full-aliveness, only comes to couples who can be completely vulnerable with each other.

                                                                Being nice at the expense of vulnerability will keep you from a deep connection and from your dream marriage.

                                                                So what can I do?

                                                                1. Face your fear.

                                                                Ask yourself, ‘Why am I afraid of conflict? Is it the fear of rejection? The fear of abandonment? The fear of intimacy (fear, that if I do connect intimately, I’ll be hurt)?

                                                                Fear that causes you to walk on eggshells and not talk about what’s frustrating you will rob you of your dream marriage. So face your fear.

                                                                2. Share your fear.

                                                                Jennifer started to tell me how her husband Tom is such a nice guy with everyone else. He’s willing to help anyone in the neighborhood, but when she asked him to do something he told her to stop nagging him’¦

                                                                I stopped Jennifer there, and asked her to share that with Tom, using safe conversation skills.

                                                                (It does little good for Jennifer to be honest with me. It will do a lot of good for her to be honest with Tom in a safe conversation.)

                                                                Jennifer: ‘You are always willing to help anyone in the neighborhood, but last week when I asked you if you would clean the gutters before the rainy season, you told me to stop nagging you.’

                                                                Tom reacted immediately, denying that he’d even said that.

                                                                So I coached Tom to regulate his reaction by simply mirroring Jennifer – repeating back to her exactly what she said as close as he could.

                                                                Then to check for accuracy.

                                                                Then to ask ‘Is there more about that?’ (activating curiosity)

                                                                After a few tries, it went like this…

                                                                Tom: ‘Let me see if I’m getting what you’re saying. You’re saying that I’m always willing to help others, but last week when you asked me to clean the gutters, I told you to stop nagging me.

                                                                ‘Did I get it? (yes)

                                                                ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                Jennifer: ‘Yes, when I’m accused of nagging, it makes me afraid to be honest with you about how I feel.’

                                                                Tom: (mirrors, checks for accuracy, asks if there’s more)

                                                                Jennifer, feeling safer, goes deeper into her affect, enabling them both to see the fear that is triggering her silence.

                                                                Jennifer: ‘Yes, what I’m really afraid of is that you’ll leave me if I share how I honestly feel. So I just keep it to myself hoping that it will go away. But the frustration doesn’t go away, and I’m afraid that it’s killing my love for you.’

                                                                Wow! Talking about honesty! She’s there. But what will Tom do? How will he react to this scary revelation?

                                                                3. Dissolve your fear.

                                                                For the first time Tom was able to see what was behind the ‘nagging’ that he felt coming from Jennifer.

                                                                He went on to discover that their house was an ‘extension of Jennifer’s identity’ so that when their house wasn’t prepared for the storm season, she felt vulnerable and exposed herself.

                                                                As Tom continued to mirror and  validate Jennifer’s perspective and empathize with her feelings, two things happened:

                                                                First, Tom connected with Jennifer’s fear, and a desire to protect her arose in him. This consciousness of her fear had the effect of dissolving his defenses. Rather than seeing Jennifer as ‘nagging’, he saw her as afraid of rejection. Her vulnerability caused him to want to love and protect her, rather than complain about her ‘nagging’.

                                                                Can you see how it’s better to be honest than ‘nice’?

                                                                Second, Jennifer was able to process the feelings she couldn’t share before. As a result, she learned that she COULD share her feelings with Tom. Through a safe dialogue, she could be honest in a positive and productive way.

                                                                As Jennifer’s fear dissolved, she learned it was possible to be both nice and honest.

                                                                What about you? Are you walking on eggshells? Choosing to be nice rather than honest?

                                                                The Couples Dialogue is a free tool you can use to have your own safe conversation as a couple. Click on it and use it to follow Jennifer and Tom’s example and be both honest and nice!

                                                                Here’s to building your dream marriage!

                                                                For further help, read about another powerful tool called ‘The Left-Hand Column

                                                                Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                  My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                  Build your dream marriage part 6: Rid your relationship of “invisible abuse”

                                                                  Did you know that most marriage partners regularly abuse each other? And they do it without even realizing it.


                                                                  That’s right. There is an “invisible abuse” that keeps us from having our dream marriage.

                                                                  Experts tell us that any form of negativity in our relationship is emotionally abusive.

                                                                  If we want to build our dream marriage, we must rid our relationship of NEGATIVITY which is “invisible abuse”!

                                                                  The good news is that you and I can do it!

                                                                  And, when we eliminate negativity in our marriage, we can then extend it beyond ourselves – to our children, our workplace, and our city – making the world a better place.

                                                                  Drs. Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt wrote this:

                                                                  ‘We now think of negativity as an emotional disease on the order of cancer. It is pervasively destructive and ultimately kills the relationship. But unlike cancer, negativity can be stopped in an instant. You can decide now to stop all negativity. Act on that decision and everything will change. To be blunt: negativity is invisible abuse and is an addiction of the human race. When you eliminate this invisible abuse in your primary relationship, then you eliminate it in your relationships with your children, your friends, and the broader world.  You become a person of peace!’


                                                                  • Ruptures connection
                                                                  • Stimulates anxiety
                                                                  • Eliminates joy

                                                                  So, let’s get rid of it!

                                                                  Here are three powerful steps to eliminate negativity, and rid your relationship of this “invisible abuse”.

                                                                  1. Make a ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

                                                                  Everything we achieve that is worthwhile begins with a commitment.

                                                                  I’m asking you today to make a pledge to eliminate 100% of all negativity from your relationship.

                                                                  You say, ‘Really? Get real, Chuck! Every relationship has negative issues to deal with. Not everything can be positive all the time.’

                                                                  That’s for sure! But here’s the rub…

                                                                  We can deal with all negative issues in a positive way, and thus completely eliminate negativity.

                                                                  It’s also true that no one’s perfect. We will all inevitably fail at some point in our attempts to eliminate negativity. So the Zero Negativity Pledge includes several methods to repair the relationship when you don’t succeed.

                                                                  How do we define negativity in a relationship?

                                                                  Negativity is any transaction your partner experiences as a ‘put down’.

                                                                  It’s any interaction that is experienced as devaluing or negating.

                                                                  Negativity may be intense: criticism, shame, blame, deflection, disempowering, accusations, and contempt.

                                                                  Negativity may be mild: in your tone of voice, an eye roll, or silence (ever heard of the ‘silent treatment’?).

                                                                  It may be intentional.  Or, it may be accidental.

                                                                  But, negativity in ANY FORM will keep us from our dream marriage.

                                                                  It’s like putting a drop of sewage in a clean glass of water. It’s only a drop, but it can contaminate the whole glass with harmful bacteria.

                                                                  In the same way, even a small amount of negativity can toxify your entire relationship.

                                                                  That’s why I’m asking us to make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE.

                                                                  But what if we disagree over what is negative?

                                                                  There’s an easy way to identify negativity in your relationship…but you’re not going to like it.

                                                                  You really want to know? OK.

                                                                  If your partner says it’s negative it’s negative! Your partner is the authority.

                                                                  Your partner is the ‘canary in the mine’ alerting you to negativity.

                                                                  Same is true for you. If your partner says or does anything that feels negative to you, then it’s negative!

                                                                  So, here we go’¦

                                                                  Click here and print out two copies of The Zero Negativity Pledge, one for you, and one for your partner.

                                                                  Read it carefully and, when you’re ready, sign it!.

                                                                  On the second page of the printout, you’ll find The Zero Negativity Repair Process, which gives you several ways to repair your relationship should you blow it.

                                                                  Study it carefully, and decide ahead of time how you’re going to repair it when you fail. Because if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna need it!

                                                                  The sign of a healthy relationship is how quickly you can repair it once your connection is ruptured.

                                                                  Make the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE. And, if you would, please share your experience in the comment section below.

                                                                  A second step to rid your relationship of ‘silent abuse’ is…

                                                                  2. Share four powerful appreciations with your partner each day.

                                                                  Guess what happens to some couples when they stop all criticism and negative talk?

                                                                  They have nothing to say!

                                                                  When I was young I was told, ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.’ So, there were many times, I said ‘nothing at all’.

                                                                  But this is a problem when we’re trying to eliminate negativity in our marriage.

                                                                  When we’re addicted to negativity, it’s a hard habit to break, in part because we have to fill that space with something.

                                                                  There is a tool I developed called ‘Four Powerful Appreciations’ that can help.

                                                                  Click here to print this tool out.

                                                                  Here’s how it works.

                                                                  Plan a moment with your partner four times a day…

                                                                  • when you first wake up
                                                                  • when you leave for the day
                                                                  • when you come home, and
                                                                  • before you go to bed

                                                                  Easy to remember, right?

                                                                  During these four crucial moments, find each other.

                                                                  Then give each other a one-minute, full body hug while you take 30 seconds each to say to each other, ‘One thing I appreciate about you is’¦’

                                                                  At first it may be hard to think of that many new things you appreciate about your partner.

                                                                  But the more things you share that you appreciate about your partner, the more things you’ll see that you appreciate about your partner.

                                                                  That’s the way it works.

                                                                  But you’ve got to START, and then STAY WITH IT! Four times a day!

                                                                  Soon negativity will be flushed out of the space between you by this constant influx of positivity.

                                                                  And your partner’s lower brain…you know, the part that has a negativity bias…will start to see you as a source of positivity and pleasure rather than a source of negativity and pain.

                                                                  This will go a long way toward building your dream marriage by increasing safety and the feeling of connection  in your relationship.

                                                                  If you find it hard to do it four times a day, join the crowd! Most of us find it hard. So start with one…then two…then three, etc.

                                                                  But START! And KEEP GOING! You’ll get there!

                                                                  A third step to rid your relationship of ‘silent abuse’ is…

                                                                  3. Turn your criticism into a positive request.

                                                                  Part of the ZERO NEGATIVITY journey is learning how to deal with negative issues in a positive way.

                                                                  It helps to know that…

                                                                  Negativity is simply a wish in disguise.

                                                                  Samantha was critical of her partner, Paul.

                                                                  Samantha: ‘You’re always late! I can never count on you to be on time!’

                                                                  Using of ‘always’ and ‘never’ unfairly labels a person and assaults their character. It’s negative, and it’s abusive.

                                                                  Through the Couple’s Dialogue, Samantha learned to express her frustration in the form of a positive request, rather than a negative criticism.

                                                                  Samantha: ‘When you arrive late, I don’t feel like I’m valued, and it makes me feel sad. Then I get angry.’

                                                                  Paul: ‘Let me see if I get what you’re saying. You said that when I arrive late, you don’t feel valued and it makes you sad and angry.

                                                                  ‘Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

                                                                  ‘Is there more about that?’ (increasing curiosity)

                                                                  Samantha continued sharing with the focus on what she felt, rather on what Paul did.

                                                                  They continued the dialogue through the 3-fold process of mirroring, validating, and empathizing.

                                                                  Paul relayed the message to Samantha that she made sense, that he could see where his being late would make her feel “not valued” (validation). He could also empathize with her feelings of sadness and anger.

                                                                  Their defenses came down, and that made it safe enough for Samantha to share a request, and for Paul to hear the request and gladly grant it.

                                                                  Samantha: ‘The next time you are going to be late, will you call me ahead of time and tell me when you will arrive?’

                                                                  Paul was more than happy to do this.

                                                                  This is how Samantha turned her criticism into a request.

                                                                  What about you?

                                                                  Can you see where negativity is ‘invisible abuse’ in your relationship?

                                                                  Will you take the ZERO NEGATIVITY PLEDGE… replace negativity with REGULAR APPRECIATIONS… and then, turn your criticisms into POSITIVE REQUESTS?

                                                                  Here’s to taking another step toward our dream marriage!

                                                                  Next week we’ll look at the 7th and final part of our series…

                                                                  Build your dream marriage part 7: Learn to be honest rather than ‘nice’

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                                                                    My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                    Build your dream marriage part 5: Break out of the prison of self-absorption

                                                                    So, you fell madly in love, and you were certain that ‘this is the one!’ Right?

                                                                    But soon after you were married, ‘romantic love’ faded, and now you feel like your partner is so self-absorbed!

                                                                    Now, everything is all about your partner’s needs, wants, and desires! What gives?!

                                                                    In a weak moment you might express it like this…

                                                                    ‘You’re so selfish! All you can think about is what you need and want from me! And you never listen to me!’

                                                                    Only to hear your partner respond like this…

                                                                    ‘I’m selfish?!! What about you? All you can talk about is how I’m not meeting your needs!’

                                                                    What’s happening is a very normal phenomenon called ‘symbiosis and self-absorption’.

                                                                    This morning, my wife, Sandy ‘advised’ me not to use technical terms. She said, ‘What does ‘symbiosis’ mean, anyway? I know it has to do with organisms who live happily together. But what are you talking about?’

                                                                    Good question, Sandy!

                                                                    Symbiosis, in a human relationship, is ‘a state where you have a limited capacity to understand and appreciate the subjectivity of the other person’.

                                                                    It’s when you can only see your reality, and not your partner’s reality.

                                                                    It’s when you believe your reality is the only true description of reality.

                                                                    It’s where you’re convinced one person is right and the other is wrong! And I’ll bet you can guess who that might be! 🙂

                                                                    Symbiosis is therefore a state where you’re BOTH self-absorbed.

                                                                    It’s intensified when you insist that your partner see things the same way you do. When that happens, your partner responds by insisting you see things the way they do!

                                                                    And that’s where couples get stuck.

                                                                    What causes this mutual self-absorption, and is there a way to break out of this prison?

                                                                    Consider two reasons we become self-absorbed. And then we’ll look at what we can do about it.

                                                                    1. Differences activate self-absorption

                                                                    It sounds funny, but actually just discovering that your partner is DIFFERENT triggers self-absorption.


                                                                    It’s that moment you realize your partner is different from you, different from your projections, different from your expectations.

                                                                    Jeremy couldn’t believe it! After they were married, Marta stopped wanting to watch football with him.

                                                                    Jeremy said, ‘It happened overnight. It’s like she’s changed and isn’t the same girl I married!

                                                                    He was further blown away when she said that she never really liked football.

                                                                    ‘Are you kidding me?!!’

                                                                    Marta said, ‘When we were dating, we were so in love that we did a lot of things with each other. Now that we’re married, many of those things have lost their appeal.’

                                                                    What happened?

                                                                    Did Marta suddenly change? No!

                                                                    Marta hasn’t changed. She’s just different from the projections and expectations Jeremy had when they were dating.

                                                                    Now she’s just being more of who she really is.

                                                                    It’s important for Jeremy to realize that this is his opportunity to find out who Marta really is, and most importantly, that SHE IS DIFFERENT FROM HIM – a fact that was previously blocked by the rose-colored glasses of romantic love!

                                                                    Unfortunately, this is when the Power Struggle begins – that ugly game of tug of war that couples play where they try to change each other back into the romantic illusions they had before.

                                                                    When we first experience our partner as ‘different’, polarization results.

                                                                    It happens because we fear that the slightest expression of difference will separate us. It’s that fear that causes us to avoid facing these differences, or be in denial of them.

                                                                    As we avoid it, unresolved conflicts begin to build up. This dramatically increases that fear of being separated should those conflicts ever come out into the open.

                                                                    Now we’re really stuck.

                                                                    So discovering our differences is one reason we get stuck in this prison of mutual self-absorption.

                                                                    There’s another reason.

                                                                    2. Childhood pain activates self-absorption

                                                                    I remember when I was about 7 years old, I was going with my mom and dad to the lake to spend the day swimming and playing on the beach.

                                                                    I was so excited as I looked forward to getting into the water, building sand castles, and buying a Snickers bar from the little concession stand on the beach!

                                                                    But as we were getting out of the car someone slammed the car door on my hand!

                                                                    My little 7-year old world of adventure ended right there, at least for the day.

                                                                    In that moment of excruciating pain, nothing else mattered.  The beautiful water, the warm beach, the anticipation of a Snickers bar – it was all irrelevant.

                                                                    This is a picture of how pain can trigger your self-absorption in a relationship.

                                                                    Pain from your childhood is triggered by your partner. That pain can be intense. When that happens, you, like all of us, reconstruct the world in the service of the self.

                                                                    What was once hopeful anticipation in the Romantic Stage vanishes!

                                                                    The expectation that this person would meet all your needs is dashed!

                                                                    This person is not only different from what you thought, now they’re pushing all your buttons!

                                                                    In that excruciating pain you’re feeling, nothing else matters.  All the wonderful, amazing, and beautiful aspects of your partner are all now irrelevant.

                                                                    All you’re aware of is the throbbing pain and wanting it to go away.

                                                                    Ok, so I get it.

                                                                    Discovering our DIFFERENCES and experiencing PAIN are two things that activate self-absorption.

                                                                    So, how do I break out of this prison?

                                                                    3. Differentiation and connection break the shackles of self-absorption

                                                                    Differentiation is learning to see your partner as different and being OK with it.

                                                                    This is essential, because you cannot be in a real relationship, or empathize with someone you do not see as separate from you.

                                                                    Connection is what unlocks the prison door and sets you free to be focused on your partner rather than yourself.

                                                                    The Imago Couple’s Dialogue is a powerful tool that can help facilitate differentiation and connection.

                                                                    If you’re a regular reader, this tool is familiar to you.

                                                                    Here’s how it works to help you move from symbiosis and self-absorption to differentiation and connection.

                                                                    1) Mirror your partner’s words

                                                                    Mirroring is simply listening and repeating back what your partner said, one thought at a time.

                                                                    Jeremy: Marta, let me see if I got what you said. You said you don’t really like to watch football, and you were just watching it with me before because you wanted to be with me.

                                                                    ‘Did I get it? (checking for accuracy)

                                                                    ‘Is there more about that?’ (igniting curiosity)

                                                                    Mirroring does two things.

                                                                    It communicates value to your partner. It says, ‘You are important. And what you have to say is important. You matter.’ And that feels good.

                                                                    Mirroring also enables you regulate your reactions to your partner’s difference in order to begin integrating that “difference” into your relationship.

                                                                    2) Validate your partner’s reality

                                                                    This is where differentiation occurs – when you can validate your partner’s reality without giving up your own.

                                                                    It might go something like this…

                                                                    Jeremy: ‘When you say you don’t really like to watch football, and you were just watching it with me because you wanted to be with me, that makes sense. You said that football is not something you grew up loving like I did. So it makes sense that it doesn’t mean that much to you now.

                                                                    ‘Is that the kind of validation you need?’

                                                                    Validation facilitates differentiation.

                                                                    Jeremy can now see Marta as different from him, while not letting that difference trigger defenses and disconnection.

                                                                    He’s able to hold his reality (I LOVE to watch football) and hold Marta’s reality at the same time (Marta really doesn’t care that much about football.)

                                                                    When differentiation occurs, connection is possible.

                                                                    Jeremy, although he has to grieve his loss, he then accepts Marta for who she really is.

                                                                    And Marta feels like there is room for her to be who she really is in the relationship. It’s a win – win!

                                                                    3) Empathize with your partner’s feelings

                                                                    This is where deeper connection occurs.

                                                                    It might go like this…

                                                                    Jeremy: ‘I can imagine that it feels bad, or maybe even controlling to be forced to do something you really don’t like.

                                                                    When Marta feels like Jeremy is present with her in her pain or frustration, that’s when healing and deeper connection occurs.

                                                                    And, as a bonus, sometimes this is where re-compensation occurs.

                                                                    If Jeremy succeeds in empathizing with Marta, it’s possible that she might experience a new openness to watch football with Jeremy.

                                                                    We resist most when we feel controlled. When that control is gone, we become free, and maybe even happy to make choices that make our partner happy.

                                                                    ‘To watch or not to watch? That is the question.’ (not really!)

                                                                    The question is ‘Are you stuck in symbiosis and self-absorption?’

                                                                    If so, there is a way out. It’s called differentiation and connection.

                                                                    The Couple’s Dialogue can help you dissolve symbiosis, and break out of the prison of self-absorption.

                                                                    Let me know if I can help you further!

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                                                                      My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                      Build your dream marriage part 4: Be willing to grow into more of who you really are

                                                                      Marriage is the best place for you to grow in ways you never would otherwise. It’s where you can, not only discover, but to also recover those lost parts of yourself that were never developed growing up.

                                                                      And building your dream marriage depends on this kind of growth.

                                                                      ‘Chuck, I know I need to grow and change, but it feels like my partner wants me be someone that I’m not.’


                                                                      Your partner’s deep desire is not really for you to become someone you’re not. It’s for you to become more of who you are!

                                                                      And, as you grow to into more of your authentic self, it will bring increasing measures of healing to your partner in a way that nothing else can.

                                                                      Building your dream marriage requires growing and recovering parts of yourself that are lost and buried in your unconscious.

                                                                      How did parts of me get lost?

                                                                      As you grew up, certain things may have been taboo, or not talked about, or not allowed. Maybe comparisons were made between you and your siblings or peers. Or perhaps society may have suppressed your potential because of the color of your skin or your gender.

                                                                      These are the kinds of things that can work to repress our thinking, feelings, senses, or actions. When that happens our growth can be cut off.

                                                                      Maybe you grew up in a home that frowned upon expressing anger. From the time you were an infant, the message was instilled, ‘If I’m angry, mom won’t be happy and she’ll leave me.’

                                                                      Or perhaps you grew up with the unspoken message that sex is bad or shameful. You were scolded for touching yourself in certain places, and sex was never talked about. When you grew up and began to have sexual impulses, it was scary and you felt shame.

                                                                      For some reason my grandmother grew up believing that she couldn’t do stuff. So she never learned to swim or drive. I often wonder what messages she received growing up that repressed her desire to gain those and other skills.

                                                                      Our growth is cut off when we’re not allowed to express our full aliveness in ‘forbidden areas’, or in areas where we’re told we are not capable or good enough.

                                                                      Whenever a child is given the choice between expressing full aliveness, and connecting with a parent, the child will sacrifice the growth that comes through expressing that aliveness. This happens when a child fears losing connection with the parent.

                                                                      This is what results in adaptations that block development in those areas of thinking, feeling, sensing and doing.

                                                                      ‘Well, if part of me is ‘lost’, as you say, or buried in my unconscious, how do I find it?’

                                                                      To find out where you need to grow, simply look for what your partner needs most that you’re least able to give.

                                                                      What?!! That’s right!

                                                                      What your partner needs most points to where you need to grow most.

                                                                      This is one of the wonders of the marriage relationship.

                                                                      The drive to grow these lost parts of yourself is one of the unconscious reasons you chose the partner you did!

                                                                      We tend to choose a partner who ‘has what I don’t’.

                                                                      If you’re sexually repressed you may be drawn to someone who is free in that area.

                                                                      But after you’re married you discover that it’s actually not being with a partner who is sexually free that makes you whole. What’s really happening is that your partner’s freedom is calling you to reclaim that freedom that you never developed.

                                                                      Make sense?

                                                                      Growing into more of who you really are happens in one or more of these areas:


                                                                      …unlocking all those suppressed intellectual powers that you actually have, but never developed, because of messages you received growing up that you were slow or dumb.

                                                                      Yolanda gives her husband Chris the ‘still face‘ every time he comes home sharing an intellectual breakthrough he had in his work as a design engineer.  Can you guess what Chris needs most from her?

                                                                      He needs her to celebrate with him and experience with him the joy of his accomplishments…something his dad never did.

                                                                      Yet, this is the thing Yolanda is least able to do, because Chris’ accomplishments make her feel dumb, just like she felt growing up with three siblings who were ‘brainiacs’.

                                                                      Building a dream marriage requires that Yolanda grow and unleash her own intellectual powers that are there but never developed. Then, instead of being threatened by Chris’s intellectual accomplishments, she can celebrate them.

                                                                      When Yolanda grows in this way, it brings healing to Chris.


                                                                      …learning to be in touch with your feelings and share them freely with your partner.

                                                                      Gary has trouble sharing his feelings with his wife, Laura. Can you guess what Laura needs most from him?

                                                                      More than anything Laura needs Gary to be present emotionally for her when she’s angry – one thing Gary is least able to do.

                                                                      Building a dream marriage requires that Gary stretch and grow in his ability to be aware of what he feels, and to be brave enough to share his feelings in a way he never did growing up.

                                                                      It’s a scary thing, but when Gary grows in this way, it brings healing to Laura.

                                                                      It’s amazing how your partner’s need for healing becomes a blueprint for your own growth!

                                                                      It also works the other way around.

                                                                      Laura has trouble regulating her anger. Can you guess what Gary needs most from her?

                                                                      More than anything Gary needs Laura to control her emotions when she’s angry so he can feel safe to be present with her – the one thing she’s least able to do.

                                                                      Building a dream marriage requires that Laura grow in her ability to regulate her emotions and not overreact in anger toward Gary.

                                                                      When Laura grows in this way, it brings healing to Gary.


                                                                      …being in touch with the sensations in your body.

                                                                      Jim has trouble responding sexually to his partner, Martha. Can you guess what Martha needs most from him?

                                                                      More than anything Martha needs Jim to express his love physically – the one thing Jim can’t do.

                                                                      Building a dream marriage requires that Jim overcome his inhibitions and develop a mutually satisfying sex life with Martha.

                                                                      When Jim grows in this way, it brings healing to Martha.


                                                                      …courageously stepping out of your comfort zone, and doing what you’ve never done.

                                                                      Wesley longed for his wife, Kathy to mountain bike with him. Growing up, Kathy was never allowed to do anything remotely dangerous, so for her, this was completely out of the question.

                                                                      If Kathy took some courageous steps to overcome her fear of adventure by developing new skills, this could be a great step toward building her dream marriage with Wesley.

                                                                      Being willing to grow into more of who you really are is a win-win proposition.

                                                                      Not only does your partner find the love that heals, you will feel more fully alive because of new skills you are integrating into your life!

                                                                      Here’s to growing into more of who we really are…for our partner, and for ourselves!

                                                                      Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                        My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                        Build your dream marriage part 3: Understand how your childhood affects your relationship

                                                                        If we are going to build our dream marriage we must understand the effect our childhood has on our relationship.

                                                                        Most couples describe their dream marriage as one that feels safe and connected.

                                                                        It’s from that safety and connection that feelings of full-aliveness and relaxed-joyfulness are born and sustained.

                                                                        The operative words here are ‘safety’ and ‘connection’.

                                                                        Safety is what makes connection possible, and connection is what keeps a relationship safe.

                                                                        A dream marriage is one that does that delicate dance where the one leads to the other. And where each one is dependent on the other.

                                                                        Safety leads to connection and connection preserves safety.

                                                                        But why is this dance so fragile? What is it that causes relationships to become unsafe and therefore disconnected…or disconnected and therefore unsafe?

                                                                        One answer: childhood defenses.

                                                                        Why is she so defensive?  Why is he always overreacting? Why am I being blamed for stuff I didn’t do? Why are we fighting before we’re even aware of what hit us?

                                                                        One answer: childhood defenses

                                                                        It’s because we bring our childhood into our adult relationships.

                                                                        What do you mean, Chuck?

                                                                        The way we learned to get our way as a child will be the same strategy we use as an adult. We’ve just grown taller and more sophisticated. 🙂

                                                                        A tantrum is a still tantrum. Pouting is still pouting. All those defenses that block our connection go back to our childhood. And it usually happens without any conscious awareness.

                                                                        According to Dr. Gary Brainerd’¦

                                                                        90% of our upset in an interaction is related to history. Only 10% is related to the present.

                                                                        I call it the 90/10 principle.

                                                                        If I have a painful, infected ingrown toenail, and on a crowded bus you happen to brush up against it with your foot, my reaction is to pop you in the mouth.

                                                                        Ouch! #@$%#

                                                                        And now you’re looking at me saying, ‘What gives?! You’re reaction makes no sense!’

                                                                        But when I take off my shoe, and you look at the swollen redness, you remember a time when you had the same problem. Then you say, ‘Oh yeah. I get it.’ And although you don’t justify my reaction, it makes sense.

                                                                        At that point, we both realize that you are not the source of my pain, you are only the trigger.

                                                                        The 90/10 principle.

                                                                        The same thing happens on an emotional level in intimate partnerships.

                                                                        Last week in Build your dream marriage part 2, we saw how we tend to marry someone with the same traits as our early caretakers. We call that our Imago.

                                                                        For example, when your wife acts in a way that is similar to your mother who wounded or neglected you, your reaction to your wife may pack a powerful and surprising punch that is related more to your childhood wound than to what your wife did or said.

                                                                        Dr. Herb Tannenbaum describes it as’¦

                                                                        a 5 watt stimulus that produces a 1000 watt reaction’.

                                                                        Such was the case with Mark and Deanna.

                                                                        One morning they were making their bed. They both noticed a spot of blood on Mark’s pillow. Evidently he had scratched himself during the night, and it left a small stain right there on his pillow.

                                                                        Deanna said, ‘Oh bummer, I just washed that.’

                                                                        Mark felt a surge of anger and he lashed out at Deanna.

                                                                        What was this all about? Why was Mark suddenly infuriated at Deanna?

                                                                        Deanna said, ‘That’s just the way he is! He does that all the time. He has ‘anger issues’!’

                                                                        Sound familiar?

                                                                        It’s so easy to label people who have reactions we don’t understand.

                                                                        It’s what we do when we don’t understand the 90/10 principle.

                                                                        Imago Relationship Therapy tools helped Mark and Deanna go deeper and begin to understand Mark’s reaction in a way that transformed their relationship.

                                                                        In one of the Couples Dialogues, Mark shared the frustration’¦

                                                                        Mark: ‘When we saw that little stain on my pillow, you said, ‘Bummer, I just washed the bed clothes’. When I heard that I got really angry.’

                                                                        Deanna: ‘Let me see if I get what you’re saying. You’re saying that when we saw that stain on the pillowcase, I said, ‘Bummer, I just washed that.’. And then you felt angry.’

                                                                        ‘Did I get it?’  ‘Yes.’

                                                                        ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                        It was when Deanna asked this powerful little question that the breakthrough came.

                                                                        ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                        That question, designed to intensify Deanna’s curiosity and curtail her own reaction, made it safe for Mark to see, for the first time, what he’d never seen before.

                                                                        And that was when the real issue behind Mark’s anger began to surface.

                                                                        Mark: ‘Yes, it reminds me of when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My parents had separated and for some reason I started ‘wetting the bed’ at night. This happened every night and my mom, evidently couldn’t deal with it. For whatever reason, she stopped changing the bedclothes, and I had to sleep in that filth night after night. I didn’t know any better. I thought it was normal.’

                                                                        You could see the compassion flood Deanna’s eyes as all the dots were now being connected.

                                                                        She mirrored Mark again and asked, ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                        Mark: ‘Yes, I guess I grew up believing that my needs don’t matter. Now I realize that in some ways you’re like my mom. Not in that kind of gross neglect, but whenever you seem to scoff when I need something, it connects with that feeling that my needs don’t matter. I can see that it’s not you I’m angry at, it’s my mom.’

                                                                        A major shift occurred in that moment.

                                                                        Mark later reported that his awareness of this childhood wound being triggered began to change everything between him and Deanna. It enabled him to talk about the pain with her, rather than blaming and blasting her for it.

                                                                        It also helped Deanna make room for Mark to feel, and to process his feelings with her, rather than walking out on his angry outbursts as she had done for years. She no longer took his reaction as personally as she had before.

                                                                        She realized she was not the source of his pain and anger, only the trigger.

                                                                        What about you and your partner?

                                                                        Are you puzzled by your partner’s reaction? Do you feel blamed for things you don’t think you’re guilty of? Is the intensity of your reaction sometimes over the top? Do your reactions kill safety and thus sever the connection between you?

                                                                        Could it be that one of the things holding you back from your dream marriage is your unawareness of  your own childhood defenses?

                                                                        If you’d like more information please contact me personally and I’d be happy to give you a free 30 minute video consultation.

                                                                        Also, please put your questions and comments in the reply section below and let’s keep this conversation going.

                                                                        Here’s to another step in building your dream marriage!

                                                                        Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                          My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                          Build your dream marriage part 2: Turn conflicts into healing and growth opportunities

                                                                          We’ve been programmed to believe that conflicts in marriage are bad! That’s NOT true!! Conflicts in marriage can bring us to new levels of healing and growth we would never experience otherwise.

                                                                          A dream marriage is a true partnership where you find the healing and wholeness you’re looking for. Conflicts are what provide opportunity for that!

                                                                          There are four reasons conflicts provide our best opportunities to heal and grow.

                                                                          1. We marry our ‘IMAGO’.

                                                                          We marry our what?!

                                                                          Imago is Latin for ‘image’. Dr. Harville Hendrix coined the term to refer an image we carry around in our unconscious minds.

                                                                          In order for us to fall in love with someone, that person must match that image, or we simply won’t fall.

                                                                          The Imago consists of…

                                                                          (1) the positive and negative TRAITS OF OUR EARLY OUR CARETAKERS, and

                                                                          (2) the LOST PARTS OF OURSELVES; i.e. skills in our thinking, feeling, sensing, and doing that we never developed growing up.

                                                                          All the child development theories tell us that children create representations in their minds, pictures of their caretakers. This picture recedes into our unconscious and becomes what we now know, according to modern science, a neural network in our lower brain (brainstem and limbic system).

                                                                          Because this part of our brain only sees images, this ‘Imago’ is kind of like a Monet painting, a fuzzy image that is a composite of our parents’ positive and negative traits.

                                                                          As you seek a life partner, this image filters out of consideration everyone whose traits are not similar to your early caretakers.

                                                                          And it draws you to a person who not only matches your parents’ traits, but one who also exhibits those disowned, denied and lost parts of yourself.

                                                                          Are you kidding me? Can this be real?

                                                                          Sure! Let’s say you meet a person who is beautiful, or handsome, or smart. They seem compatible, and share common interests with you.

                                                                          Think of how many people you’ve met like that. Hundreds perhaps!

                                                                          But, have you noticed, no matter how great they are, if they don’t have, for example, your father’s anger, or your mother’s depression, or the withholding nature of a grandmother who helped parent you, they are absolutely, totally uninteresting?!

                                                                          Sure this is a theory, but I’m finding it to be true more and more as I continue to practice Imago Couples Therapy based on this concept.

                                                                          When a person comes along who matches these traits, especially the negative traits, your lower brain signals the release of the chemicals that cause you to fall blindly in love.

                                                                          Take Mario and Rosa for example.

                                                                          MARIO’S IMAGO

                                                                          Mario’s mother’s had many positive traits including LOYALTY, and some negative traits including DEPRESSION and DETACHMENT.

                                                                          As the third born of four children, Mario grew up feeling left out and invisible. Lost in the chaos surrounding a single mom struggling to meet the needs of four children, he often felt abandoned. His way of surviving that wound was to always be in control, and to be aggressive enough to get the attention he needed.

                                                                          So who does he marry?

                                                                          Rosa, who had traits similar to his mom. Mario was drawn to Rosa’s loyalty, and he later discovered her depression and ‘distant nature’ triggered his old wounds of abandonment.

                                                                          Rosa’s Imago

                                                                          Rosa’s father’s had many positive traits, including WORKING HARD, and some negative traits including ANGER and the need to be in CONTROL.

                                                                          She learned early on to stay out of the way, to detach emotionally, and avoid the conflict that seemed to always surround her dad.

                                                                          And who does she marry?

                                                                          Mario, who had traits similar to her dad. Rosa was drawn to Mario’s hard working nature, and she later discovered that his angry outbursts and controlling nature triggered her old wounds and fear of closeness.

                                                                          OK, wait! Why would I be drawn to someone who triggers my pain and brings out the worst in me?!

                                                                          Keep reading. This will all make sense. Trust me.

                                                                          The Romantic Stage

                                                                          When you meet your Imago, you become intensely attracted and fall in love, because your lower brain signals the ‘ok’ to release dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin into your system. That’s when you realize there’s ‘chemistry’ between you.

                                                                          When Rosa and Mario fell in love, they felt fully alive and saw life in vivid color! They felt they had finally arrived! They felt they had found someone who ‘not only understands me, but is willing to meet all my needs’!

                                                                          In this ‘drugged up state’ they were totally unaware of how their negative traits would eventually affect each other.

                                                                          Can you relate?

                                                                          This is called ROMANTIC FANTASY and it doesn’t last! The drugs wear off and the rose-colored glasses are soon ripped from your face.

                                                                          The Power Struggle Stage

                                                                          About nine months after Mario and Rosa said ‘I do’, their romance began to fade and the Power Struggle began.

                                                                          When Rosa felt the slightest inkling of Mario’s anger and control, she would detach emotionally in order to feel safe. This is what she learned to do growing up with a father who could explode at any provocation.

                                                                          Rosa’s withdrawal would then trigger more of Mario’s anger and controlling behavior. It activated the lonely feelings he felt when his mother couldn’t be there for him. He learned to be aggressive to get what he needed growing up.

                                                                          And, you can probably guess how it went down from there’¦

                                                                          Mario’s angry reaction triggered more withdrawal in Rosa causing him to become even more angry and controlling…

                                                                          And it was ‘game on’! The Power Struggle.

                                                                          A destructive cycle of cat and mouse!

                                                                          It was Mario, overly aggressive in his pursuit of connection, and Rosa, withdrawing in her fear of connection.

                                                                          Rosa and Mario fell in love not just because Rosa was beautiful and Mario was handsome, or any of those normal reasons we imagine, but mainly because they were an Imago match!

                                                                          Becoming aware of their Imago match was the first step toward seeing conflict as the key to healing and growth.

                                                                          The second step was to realize…

                                                                          2. Our unconscious relationship agenda is to HEAL the past.

                                                                          This matching of Imagos is driven by an agenda to heal past wounds.

                                                                          It’s actually two lower brains colluding to fulfill nature’s drive to heal wounded emotions.


                                                                          Rosa’s lower brain perceived Mario as one who, because he was similar to her dad, could activate the old wounds she experienced from her dad’s anger.

                                                                          OK Chuck, now you ARE talking crazy! How could this be a good thing?!!

                                                                          Because experts tell us our emotional wounds heal best when they are activated by someone similar to the one who caused the wound.

                                                                          If this person triggers that old pain, and then responds in a healing way rather than a hurtful way, there is nothing on the planet that can facilitate your healing better than this!

                                                                          This is why marriage is the best place to find healing. Better than any therapist alone can facilitate.

                                                                          Rosa’s need for healing

                                                                          Rosa’s unconscious relationship agenda was that Mario, when triggered, would not explode in anger, but respond in a different way. She needed Mario to be present with her making it safe for her to stay connected with him.

                                                                          Her hope (and her real reason for falling in love) was that Mario would heal the wound that her father’s anger inflicted.

                                                                          This is the love that Rosa always secretly longed for. And she discovered that the best person to give her that love and help her heal her past was Mario, the one who happened to have the greatest potential to bring her more pain!

                                                                          Mario’s need for healing

                                                                          Mario’s unconscious relationship agenda was that Rosa, when triggered, would not withdraw like his mom did, but respond differently and stay present with him.

                                                                          His hope (and his real reason for falling in love) was that Rosa’s presence would heal the wound that his mother’s emotional distance inflicted.

                                                                          This is the love Mario always secretly longed for. And he discovered that Rosa, while being the least capable person to give that love, was the best person on the planet to help heal his past!

                                                                          The Couple’s Dialogue

                                                                          The Couple’s Dialogue provided a process for them both to validate each other, and to empathize with each other in a way that began to turn their conflicts into this kind of healing connection.

                                                                          And here’s a wonderful reality that brings lots of hope!

                                                                          Our lower brain doesn’t register time. It exists in a constant present tense. Therefore, when you finally get the love you’ve always longed for, it doesn’t complain, ‘Well you’re about 15 years too late! That’s what I needed as a child!’

                                                                          No, it says, ‘Finally, I’m getting what I always needed!’ And the healing begins!

                                                                          So conflict becomes an opportunity for healing when we discover our unconscious agenda to heal the past.

                                                                          There’s a final reason to embrace conflict…

                                                                          3. Our unconscious relationship agenda is to GROW toward wholeness.

                                                                          Mario’s need for growth

                                                                          Rosa’s need for healing was a call for Mario to grow in the skills needed to regulate his anger, and patiently wait for Rosa to respond to his need for connection. It was Mario’s growth in this respect that would bring healing to Rosa.

                                                                          This required Mario to stretch grow and discover a part of himself that was there all along, but was lost or never developed growing up.

                                                                          As Rosa learned to voice her frustrations in the form of positive requests, Mario grew in his ability to regulate his anger, and to let go of his need to be in control. This made it safe for Rosa to stay present with him.

                                                                          Rosa’s need for growth

                                                                          On the other hand, Mario’s need for healing was a call for Rosa to grow in her ability to stay present with him and to overcome her fear of closeness. It was Rosa’s growth in this way that would bring healing to Mario.

                                                                          As Mario voiced his frustration in the form of positive requests, Rosa grew in her ability to lower her walls of protection and become vulnerable and emotionally present with Mario.  She learned the skills needed to share her feelings in a way that helped her gradually overcome her fear of intimacy.

                                                                          From Rosa’s and Mario’s example, we can see that’¦

                                                                          Your marriage partner’s need for healing provides a blueprint for your own growth, and vice versa.

                                                                          Conflict is a sign that growth is needing to happen. It’s a sign that something new is wanting to emerge in your life and relationship. It’s your partner’s need that points to the specific area you most need to grow.

                                                                          When you give your partner the very things you feel you just CAN’T give (because you never developed that ability), you end up getting a piece of yourself you never had before.

                                                                          Partners who grow by stretching into these new ‘caring behaviors’ often report feeling more fully alive than they ever have before. It seems they benefit even more than the partner who receives healing!

                                                                          What about you?

                                                                          Is your relationship in conflict?

                                                                          Has your romantic love faded, turning your dream marriage into a nightmare?

                                                                          Does it seem like falling in love was simply nature’s way of getting you to hook up permanently with the most incompatible person on the planet?  

                                                                          Are you asking ‘Why would nature drive me into the arms of someone who ends up frustrating me to no end?’

                                                                          Well, now you know!

                                                                          It was your inner drive to heal past hurts, and to discover and grow lost parts of yourself that caused you to fall in love.

                                                                          And there’s no better person to heal and grow with than the one you’re with right now!

                                                                          Click here to download a Brief Relationship Workup that will help you learn about your own Imago.

                                                                          Click here to use the Workup to discover your own Unconscious Relationship Agenda.

                                                                          Ping me if you’d like help and I’ll walk you through it!

                                                                          Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                            My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                            Build your dream marriage part 1: Reconnect your disconnected relationship

                                                                            Has your dream marriage turned into a nightmare? Are you facing the future with a hopeless feeling that nothing in your relationship will change?

                                                                            When you’ve been together for years, and you’ve tried everything, it’s so easy to just settle into ‘I guess this is just the way it’s going to be’.

                                                                            Let’s take the next seven weeks to explore how we can stop settling and start building our dream marriage.

                                                                            What is a dream marriage?  It’s a relationship where there are deep feelings of safety, connection, passion, and joyful aliveness.

                                                                            Who wouldn’t want that?

                                                                            But I’ve learned from experience, you won’t get there unless you change how you relate to each other.

                                                                            Someone said (probably not Einstein), ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.’

                                                                            Jessie Potter said (she did, I googled it), ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.’

                                                                            So for the next seven weeks, let’s talk about DOING SOMETHING DIFFERENT!

                                                                            ‘Let’s do what we’ve never done so we’ll see what we’ve never seen.’ (I might have actually said that).

                                                                            Here is the first of seven powerful steps we will take over the next seven weeks that will help us build our dream marriage!

                                                                            STEP 1: RECONNECT YOUR DISCONNECTED RELATIONSHIP

                                                                            Disconnection is the fundamental problem that keeps us from the relationship of our dreams.

                                                                            It’s not poor communication per se, or differences we can’t reconcile, or conflicts we can’t resolve, or even problems we can’t overcome. You can conquer all these, and still feel just as disconnected.

                                                                            Couples fight for one fundamental reason: They feel disconnected and don’t like it!

                                                                            What’s the answer? Reconnecting your disconnected relationship of course. Connection is everything.

                                                                            You won’t solve your marriage problems by talking about the problems.


                                                                            Buried beneath every marriage problem is a hidden desire for connection.

                                                                            That’s right. The great paradox is that your partner is a ‘pain in the neck’ because he or she wants you. It’s as simple as that.

                                                                            It’s connection that we all long for. If we get that, working through problems together is a piece of cake.

                                                                            Let’s look at how the Imago Couples Dialogue helped Karissa and Doug, not just solve a problem, but reconnect their disconnected relationship.

                                                                            BEFORE THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

                                                                            Karissa: ‘The problem is that Doug never helps me discipline the kids! I feel like I have to be the bad parent and he always gets to be the good guy!’

                                                                            Before I could direct her to dialogue with Doug, she was already complaining to me. And then Doug jumped right in with his own reaction.

                                                                            Doug: ‘Help you discipline?! What do you mean? You make every decision and you’re so controlling and overprotective. It’s going to ruin our children. And you want me to help with that?!!’

                                                                            At first glance you see only the problem – what they’re fighting about. You don’t see their desire for connection.

                                                                            Their desire for connection was buried deep beneath a flood of pain, negativity, and defensiveness.

                                                                            Karissa’s and Doug’s self-absorption only allows them to see their own reality and not the reality of their partner. Doug sees her as critical and controlling. She sees him as never helping, and leaving her to do all the hard work with the kids.

                                                                            And what does all this this criticism, labeling, and name calling result in? Feeling even more disconnected in their relationship.

                                                                            That’s why trying to fix a relationship problem usually makes it worse. Because the problem is not the problem. The real problem is the feeling of being disconnected.

                                                                            AFTER THE COUPLE’S DIALOGUE

                                                                            The Imago Dialogue process went like this. After an appointment was made, and an appreciation was given by Karissa to Doug, she asked to share her frustration with him.

                                                                            Doug’s role was to MIRROR, VALIDATE, and EMPATHIZE.

                                                                            You can download this tool here.

                                                                            (Note to self: Always ask for an appointment for a dialogue. Respect your partner’s boundaries. And always share an appreciation before sharing a frustration.)


                                                                            Karissa: ‘The problem is that you never help me discipline the kids. I feel like I have to be the bad parent while you always get to be the good guy.’

                                                                            Doug: ‘What I hear you saying is that I never help you with the discipline of our children. And you feel like the bad parent while I always get to be the good parent.

                                                                            ‘Did I get that? (checking for accuracy)

                                                                            ‘Is there more about that?’ (increasing curiosity)

                                                                            At this point I coached Karissa to incorporate “sender responsibility” which means to not use accusatory or critical words, or statements like “you never…”, but rather to talk about what she felt when she saw Doug not helping her. And then to connect that with what it reminds her of when she was younger. After that I prompted her to share any deeper fear she became conscious of.

                                                                            Karissa: ‘I feel so all alone. It’s like when I was little and my parents were arguing, and things felt out of control, and I felt helpless to do anything about it. My brothers and sister would just leave, and I felt so all alone and responsible. My biggest fear is that you’ll never be there for me and I’ll be all alone.’

                                                                            You could see tears welling up in Doug’s eyes.

                                                                            Doug: ‘What I hear you saying is that you feel all alone. Like when you were young and your parents argued and you felt things were out of control and you felt helpless. No one was there for you and you felt responsible. When I don’t help you with the children you feel that same sense of helplessness and being alone. And you fear that this won’t change and that I won’t be there for you.’

                                                                            ‘Did I get that?

                                                                            ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                            The dialogue continued. Then I asked Doug to SUMMARIZE what Karissa was saying.

                                                                            Then I asked him to VALIDATE her.


                                                                            Doug: ‘Karissa what you’re saying makes sense. I can see how, when you don’t feel supported by me in your efforts to discipline our children, you feel alone. And then all those feelings of helplessness you had when you were little and your parents were fighting all come back, and you feel extremely alone and helpless to do anything. And it makes sense that my lack of support would cause you to fear that this will never change.

                                                                            ‘Is that the validation you need?’

                                                                            Doug learned that he can validate Karissa without having to agree with her.

                                                                            He disagreed with how she was disciplining the children, but through the dialogue process, he could regulate his defenses enough to see how Karissa’s inner logic made sense, even though he saw things differently.

                                                                            Then I asked Doug to EMPATHIZE with Karissa.


                                                                            Doug: ‘I can imagine not having me present with you in the discipline of our children feels really lonely and scary. That must be very hard for you.

                                                                            ‘Am I’m empathizing with what you’re feeling?’

                                                                            Suddenly Karissa felt like Doug was truly being present with her. Her pain began to lift, and her anxiety dissolved.

                                                                            Then she felt an openness to hear Doug’s perspective through the dialogue process.

                                                                            And here are some of the things that came out of that process as Karissa MIRRORED and VALIDATED Doug, and then EMPATHIZED with him.

                                                                            Doug felt left out because Karissa always went ahead of him in to discipline their children without consulting with him. This triggered Doug’s childhood feelings of inadequacy. He never felt he could please his dad.

                                                                            Doug feared that their children would not receive good parenting, because Karissa was too controlling.

                                                                            Karissa was able to see that Doug had wisdom to add to their parenting process.

                                                                            The dialogue helped Karissa regulate her own emotional reactions enough to see and validate Doug’s reality. This activated a new process where Karissa and Doug were able to ‘re-compensate’ for each other.

                                                                            Re-compensate? What’s that?!

                                                                            The best way I can describe what I mean by re-compensation is’¦

                                                                            ‘Because you have validated me, I feel open to seeing new things which I can validate in you.’

                                                                            In our example, the boundary shifted where Karissa’s anxiety was relieved and she became less controlling. Doug, on the other hand, felt safer to become more engaged and present with Karissa in their approach to child discipline. Wow!

                                                                            This was the beginning of a new way of doing things. Karissa not only felt supported, but Doug’s wisdom was also integrated into their parenting process.

                                                                            With this skill now in place, Doug and Karissa now know how to use problems like this to bring them closer together rather than blow them apart.

                                                                            Does that make sense? Do you see how connection is the real issue? Do you see how just ‘solving the problem’ will not solve the problem?

                                                                            The first step to building the marriage of your dreams is to reconnect your disconnected relationship!

                                                                            Let me know your thoughts below!

                                                                            Next week we’ll look at’¦
                                                                            Build your dream marriage part 2:
                                                                            Discover your unconscious relationship agenda

                                                                            Meanwhile, if you haven’t already…

                                                                            Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                              My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                              Turning marriage conflict into an opportunity for deeper connection

                                                                              When Dennis and Marsha came to see me, their negativity toward each other was off the charts! Here are some steps they took to turn a nasty conflict into a deep and loving connection.

                                                                              1. Start by sharing an ‘appreciation’.

                                                                              When a relationship causes us pain, we begin to see our partner through the lens of negativity.

                                                                              Using a tool called ‘Four Powerful Appreciations’ every day can change this lens from negative to positive.

                                                                              Click here to print out that tool.

                                                                              Click here to read more about how gratitude can radically change your relationship.

                                                                              Sharing “appreciations” regularly pushes negative energy out of the space between you, and fills it with positive energy.

                                                                              That’s when your unconscious brain starts to identify your partner as a source of pleasure again. The result: feelings of safety.

                                                                              When safety increases it makes connection possible.

                                                                              It’s also important to share an appreciation before you share a frustration. Doing that helps creates a safer space between you, making it easier for your partner to listen to your frustration rather than react to it.

                                                                              Marsha shared her appreciation with Dennis in this way:

                                                                              ‘Dennis, one thing I appreciate about you is the way you always take care of my car, making sure it’s always clean and well maintained.’

                                                                              As Dennis mirrored the appreciation, he saw for the first time how that act of kindness made Marsha feel especially loved and cared for.

                                                                              You could feel the atmosphere in the room change, as the space between them was filled with positive energy.

                                                                              2. Share negative feelings in a positive way.

                                                                              After sharing the appreciation with Dennis, Marsha went on to share a frustration – something that typified the regular conflicts they had been having for years.

                                                                              She said, ‘The other night when I was talking to you in bed, you just turned over and went to sleep.’ Marsha was furious, and typically she would accuse him of not caring about her.

                                                                              But instead of blowing up with a negative expression like, ‘You never listen to me!’, the Couples Dialogue helped Marsha use ‘I’ language, focusing on what she felt rather than what Dennis had done.

                                                                              ‘When you went to sleep, I felt so lonely. And I was so angry I didn’t speak to you the next day.’

                                                                              Simply asking Marsha to describe what she felt, rather than what Dennis was doing, helped her get more in touch with what she was feeling.

                                                                              Marsha’s anger was a surface emotion that was masking her deeper feeling of loneliness.

                                                                              When Dennis drifted off to sleep while she was talking, it triggered that loneliness.

                                                                              Her reaction to that feeling was anger toward Dennis. She expressed that anger by giving Dennis ‘the silent treatment’ for a whole day.

                                                                              3. Connect your frustration to a childhood wound.

                                                                              As Dennis mirrored these words back to Marsha, she was able to go deeper into her feelings.

                                                                              ‘It reminds me of when I was little and what I said never mattered.’

                                                                              Marsha had grown up the third of four children. Her older siblings always dominated their conversations and made all the decisions. On top of that, her mom always seemed preoccupied with her younger sister.

                                                                              Growing up, Marsha felt like her thoughts were inferior, and her feelings were not valid. As she entered school with this belief, it all became a self-fulfilling prophecy which limited her in life and in relationships.

                                                                              As she was making this connection with her childhood, it became obvious that her reaction to Dennis was unfair. She was reacting to him with all the pain she felt from childhood. He was not the source of her reaction. He was only the trigger.

                                                                              And, until now, Dennis could never understand Marsha’s ‘extreme reaction’. It would cause him to pull away even further, because her criticism triggered his own childhood feelings of inadequacy.  This, then, activated even deeper feelings of abandonment or rejection in Marsha.

                                                                              This cycle of conflict repeated itself over and over again, almost completely destroying their relationship.

                                                                              The Couple’s Dialogue helped them disrupt this pattern and begin turning their conflict into connection.

                                                                              4. Validate your partner’s perspective.

                                                                              Dennis validated Marsha’s perspective by saying, ‘What you’re saying makes sense. You always felt like what you have to say doesn’t matter. So it makes sense that my falling asleep while you were sharing important thoughts would make you feel bad.’

                                                                              Validation helps you see your partner’s differences without judgement, and therefore without polarization and conflict.

                                                                              It also makes your partner feel valued and safe and helps them drop their walls and defenses.

                                                                              5. Empathize with your partner’s feelings.

                                                                              Dennis was able to go even further into empathy with Marsha. ‘I can imagine how painful it is to be treated as if your thoughts aren’t important. It must be especially hard, because you expected that I would treat you differently from your parents. Instead I fell asleep, as if what you were saying was boring or not important. That must have really felt bad’

                                                                              Back in that heated moment, Dennis had responded defensively saying, ‘Hey give me a break! I worked hard today and I was exhausted. That’s why I fell asleep. Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?!’

                                                                              But as he empathized with Marsha, defending his own position didn’t seem so important any more.

                                                                              Empathy caused his perspective to shift so that he could see Marsha’s pain, rather than just his own frustration.

                                                                              Empathy dissolves our defenses and makes connection possible.

                                                                              6. Grant your partner’s request.

                                                                              It’s in the safety and closeness of this kind of moment that Behavior Change Requests are powerful. BCRs should be S.M.A.R.T. – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

                                                                              Marsha made this request of Dennis’¦

                                                                              ‘The next time we’re talking, would you sit up, look in my eyes and listen to me…and mirror what I’m saying?’

                                                                              Usually we encourage three requests that your partner can choose to grant, but this one request was on the money.

                                                                              Dennis eagerly agreed to grant this request, and they talked about how their newly learned skill, ‘mirroring’ (the first step in the dialogue process), would help Dennis stay interested and curious (and awake :-)). And it would ensure that Marsha felt heard and valued in the process.

                                                                              The powerful thing about this little breakthrough was that this conflict was similar to most every other conflict they had.

                                                                              Because they were able to turn this conflict into connection, they saw how every future conflict had this same potential! Wow!

                                                                              Of course it’s easier said than done. But it’s exciting to see the journey that Marsha and Dennis are on – turning marriage conflict into deeper connection!

                                                                              What about you? Try using these steps to turn your conflict into connection.

                                                                              Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                                Is criticism wrecking your marriage and hurting your children? Here’s what to do!

                                                                                Here’s how to stop the criticism and begin modeling a healthy marriage for your children.

                                                                                The first step is to…

                                                                                1. Regulate your own reaction to criticism.

                                                                                You can’t control what your partner does to criticize you, but you can control your response to your partner.

                                                                                And if you’ll do that, you’ll change the whole dynamic of your relationship.

                                                                                Criticism triggers defenses and activates counter-criticism.

                                                                                Whenever opinions differ, you’ll tend to criticize your partner for not being like you.

                                                                                For example:

                                                                                Wife: ‘Make sure when you load the dishwasher you face the dishes inward, put all the silverware sorted in the tray, and don’t turn it on until is full so we don’t waste energy.’

                                                                                Husband: ‘You know it really doesn’t matter which way they are facing, they’ll get clean either way. And just put the silverware in there. We can sort it when we put it away. And really it doesn’t use that much energy.’

                                                                                That’s a setup for a critical reaction and a counter-critical reaction:

                                                                                Wife: ‘You never listen to me!’

                                                                                Husband: ‘You’re always telling me what to do!’

                                                                                Can I say it again? You CAN’T control your partner’s choice to criticize you, but you CAN control your response to your partner.

                                                                                You don’t have to engage in counter-criticism. And when you make that choice, you diffuse the tension, disrupt the cycle, and the whole dynamic of your relationship changes.

                                                                                So, how do I regulate my reactivity?

                                                                                Instead of reacting in your default, “critical mode”, respond by ‘MIRRORING’ what your partner says.

                                                                                MIRRORING is a tool that empowers you to stop reactive feelings in their tracks, and turn your rational brain on with genuine interest and curiosity.

                                                                                When you mirror your partner’s criticism back to her, you not only hear WHAT she’s saying, but you become curious as to WHY she’s saying it.

                                                                                Here’s what that could look like:

                                                                                Wife: ‘You never listen to me!’

                                                                                Husband: ‘Let me see if I’m getting what you’re saying.’

                                                                                OK, before you say that’s a silly way to answer just bear with me!

                                                                                That opening sentence becomes a powerful pivot point, enabling you to turn in the opposite direction – from reactive criticism toward interest and curiosity. It helps you turn on your upper brain and temper your lower brain.

                                                                                ‘If I got it, you said that I never listen to you.’

                                                                                Mirroring is about focusing on what your partner is saying with such intensity that you can repeat it back word for word.

                                                                                Then you ask a question that helps you focus on hearing her with complete accuracy.

                                                                                ‘Did I get it?’

                                                                                This ensures that you hear ALL she is saying.

                                                                                In the case above, the husband heard the words the wife said, but now he’s inviting her to clarify what she meant with those words.

                                                                                And finally’¦

                                                                                Is there more about that?

                                                                                This last question puts curiosity in overdrive, and bingo! Congratulations! You’re in “regulation mode”!

                                                                                Now you’re not driven to react with that ugly counter-criticism:‘You’re always telling me what to do!’

                                                                                And, you have made it safe for your partner to access what she’s really feeling.

                                                                                When you do that you’ll probably see her re-compensate and say something like’¦

                                                                                ‘Thanks for hearing my concern. What are your thoughts?’

                                                                                (OK, I admit, it doesn’t always go this smoothly, but your chances are a whole lot better than if you react with your counter-criticism! :-))

                                                                                Then you’ll find yourself without a ruptured connection, and in a better place to solve the problem.

                                                                                You cannot be curious and critical at the same time. Your brain can’t run on those two tracks at once. The problem is our reactive neurons move 10 times faster from the bottom up (lower brain to upper brain).

                                                                                And the moment a conversation becomes unsafe, your lower brain triggers the release of cortisol and adrenaline into your system. This causes all the blood to rush from your brain into your larger muscles in preparation for fight or flight.

                                                                                In this kind of reaction mode, we can’t think straight! In that drugged-up and dumbed-down condition, we tend to do our worst when it matters most!

                                                                                Mirroring disrupts all that. It gives the top-down neurons a chance to regulate your emotions, and this empowers you to make a conscious response rather than a triggered reaction.

                                                                                And here’s a BONUS! This process builds new brain pathways, connecting your lower reactive brain to your upper rational brain. So the more you practice it, the better you get at regulating your reactions.

                                                                                Modern scientific discoveries about brain plasticity tell us that ‘old dogs’ can learn ‘new tricks’!

                                                                                As the husband in the example above regulates his own reaction, it not only keeps him from adding to the negativity, it also changes the way his partner responds to him.

                                                                                Many times that’s how it works. But of course, not always.

                                                                                Sometimes regulating your own reactions is not enough, because your partner’s reactivity is so intense.

                                                                                That’s where a second, even more powerful tool comes in.

                                                                                2. Respond to criticism with forgiveness.

                                                                                How can I forgive someone when they are attacking me?

                                                                                Well, what happens when you mirror her criticism? What do you discover?

                                                                                You discover that beneath your partner’s criticism is cry for connection with you.

                                                                                Disconnection results in anxiety. Unchecked anxiety is what manifests in criticism. Therefore, every criticism is an unspoken desire for connection.

                                                                                Knowing this, enables you to ‘pre-validate’ your partner’s feelings.

                                                                                And then, when you stand tall and forgive her for that criticism, rather than shrinking in shame, or exploding in retaliation, you become her hero!

                                                                                That’s what happened with Mark and Sunny.

                                                                                Nedra Fetterman tells the story of her parents, Mark and Sunny, how a simple request changed their whole relationship dynamic in a way that stopped the criticism.

                                                                                The impact on their relationship was not a surprise. These tools really work.

                                                                                But the subtle impact this had on their daughter’s marriage, and even their grandson came as a complete surprise!

                                                                                3. Model for your children a marriage that is “in process”.

                                                                                The third step is to simply let your children see you growing in your relationship.

                                                                                Regulating your reactivity, responding in forgiveness, and reconnecting with your partner will help you eliminate criticism in your relationship.

                                                                                This will become a beautiful example for your children – one they will see when you least expect it!

                                                                                Watch how all this worked in Mark and Sunny’s relationship in the brief video below. Then use the discussion questions to go deeper with your partner.

                                                                                The video ends with these words:

                                                                                ‘Consciousness is contagious. Love is irresistible. Acts of courage and kindness are never forgotten. You never know who is watching you, or who you inspire. The ripple effects of healing pain are boundless in every neighborhood, in every family. In every moment you have a choice. Each moment is a crossroads. Our culture glorifies the magic of falling in love, but says very little about how to sustain a more seasoned love.’ – Nedra Fetterman

                                                                                Discuss with your partner:

                                                                                1) How is criticism affecting our marriage?

                                                                                2) What can we do to regulate our own reactions?

                                                                                3) Behind every criticism is a wish. How can you turn your criticism into a request from me? How can I turn my criticism into a request from you? 

                                                                                4) How can we “pre-validate” each others criticism as  a cry for connection, and how can we meet that criticism with forgiveness?

                                                                                Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                  My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                                  Dealing with the silent killer of your marriage relationship

                                                                                  Everyone said Stacey and Eric’s relationship was the perfect match.

                                                                                  Their story shows how a silent killer called the ‘Still Face’ almost ended their marriage.

                                                                                  The ‘Still What’?

                                                                                  Dr. Edward Tronick’s ‘Still Face Experiment’ shows how an infant becomes anxious when her mother’s face becomes ‘still’ rather than responsive.

                                                                                  This same anxiety results when we give each other the ‘Still Face’ in adult relationships.

                                                                                  If you haven’t seen the experiment, click here to view it.

                                                                                  The ‘Still Face Experiment’ demonstrates how we are truly designed to be connected in a relationship.

                                                                                  It affirms, that from very early on, we all long for someone to be interested in us and curious about what we are experiencing.

                                                                                  And, of course, this is one of the big expectations we bring into our marriage.

                                                                                  When we experience the ‘Still Face’ from our marriage partner, it can rupture our connection and kill our relationship.

                                                                                  That’s what happened to Stacey and Eric. 

                                                                                  It seemed like a match made in heaven. Eric was a college rock-star and Stacey was star-struck.

                                                                                  Of all the girls that flocked around him, he chose Stacey. So, after college, they got married and set off together on life’s adventure.

                                                                                  Although Eric got a ‘real job’, he didn’t leave his music behind. He continued to play in a band and to build his collection of vintage guitars, amps, and vinyl records.

                                                                                  He expected that Stacey would be just as excited about that as he was. After all, this was how they started out. Right?

                                                                                  But, as it turned out, Stacey was not really ‘all that into music’.


                                                                                  That’s right. It was fun to be one of his ‘groupies’ in college, but she had moved on from that.

                                                                                  When the romantic chemicals were flowing, Stacey went along with everything Eric wanted to do. Both of them were oblivious to any differences between them.

                                                                                  But after they were married, differences began to surface and a power struggle began.

                                                                                  Eventually, Stacey felt she couldn’t compete with Eric’s love for music.

                                                                                  And every time she voiced her disapproval, he withdrew more and more into the music. She felt betrayed and unloved.

                                                                                  Secretly, she felt like leaving him.

                                                                                  When complaining didn’t work, she resorted to the silent killer I’m referring to. She gave him the ‘Still Face’ whenever he talked about his music.

                                                                                  Every time he would hear a song he liked and wanted to share it with her, she would go silent or walk out of the room.

                                                                                  It was like sticking a knife in his heart again and again. But he couldn’t talk to her about it.

                                                                                  Eric had always wanted someone to share his love of music, and he thought that Stacey was the one who would always do that. He described her lack of interest in what he loved as ‘a rejection to the very core’.

                                                                                  This left Eric in a terrible place. He felt that to have a relationship with Stacey meant that he could never enjoy the thing in life he was most passionate about.

                                                                                  Secretly, he felt like leaving her as well.

                                                                                  So what’s a couple to do?

                                                                                  The Couple’s Dialogue of course.

                                                                                  And as we went through it, defenses were lowered, and here’s what happened.

                                                                                  What Stacy discovered about Eric’s reality:

                                                                                  Eric felt the rejection of his music was a rejection of him.

                                                                                  He grew up in a home where he learned to ‘fend for himself’ and was mostly alone. Getting lost in his music was a place where he didn’t feel the loneliness and where he felt fully alive.

                                                                                  He always longed for someone he could share this passion with. He thought Stacey would be that person.

                                                                                  The “Still Face” triggered deep feelings of rejection, and Eric’s defense was to detach from the relationship and lose himself in his world of music – his happy place.

                                                                                  Through the Couple’s Dialogue Stacey discovered that Eric wasn’t abandoning her. He was simply trying to find a place where he didn’t feel the sting of rejection. And that place was his music.

                                                                                  What Eric discovered about Stacey’s reality:

                                                                                  Stacey felt like Eric’s guitar was ‘the other woman’.

                                                                                  At first Eric thought that was ridiculous. The Couple’s Dialogue process helped Eric see that she wasn’t kidding. This was no joke. This WAS her reality.

                                                                                  Eventually it made sense to Eric why she could not be happy about his passion for music. How could she be OK with him ‘bringing another woman into their home’?

                                                                                  As we went further, Eric began to see that…

                                                                                  It wasn’t his love for music that hurt Stacey. It was his exit from the relationship that triggered her childhood feelings of abandonment.

                                                                                  Stacey wasn’t giving the still face to be mean. She was hurting. It’s hurt people who hurt people.

                                                                                  Eric moved from a place of judgement to empathy. And that changed everything.

                                                                                  Turns out, neither of their realities were wrong. They were just different.

                                                                                  Connection is what we’re all looking for.

                                                                                  Eric could see that it was a connection with Stacey he was longing for, not the music. The music was simply an escape from the pain of disconnection.

                                                                                  His music was a substitute for real intimacy. It was an illusion of intimacy that, in the end, was very empty.

                                                                                  There’s a big lesson in this for all of us’¦

                                                                                  Full-aliveness does not come from pursuing our passions. It comes from connecting with our intimate partner.

                                                                                  Then the full-aliveness from that connection can overflow into the things we are passionate about as we pursue them together.

                                                                                  Stacey saw that the ‘Still Face’ was blocking her ability to connect with Eric.

                                                                                  Eric saw that using music as an exit from the relationship was blocking his ability to connect with Stacey.

                                                                                  As they moved toward each other, a connection occurred between them.

                                                                                  In the safety of that connection, where Stacey did not feel Eric would abandon her, she began to grow in her interest and curiosity about what Eric experienced through music.

                                                                                  This felt like love to Eric. And it was healing.

                                                                                  As Stacey became curious about Eric’s world (rather than giving him the Still Face), she began to explore a whole new world of wonder she had been missing.

                                                                                  And, as you might imagine, now Eric would rather be with Stacey than with his guitar. 🙂

                                                                                  Imagine that!

                                                                                  Are you guilty of giving the ‘Still Face’ to your partner? Does your partner give it to you?

                                                                                  Use the Couple’s Dialogue to discover your partner’s reality. You can print it out by clicking here.

                                                                                  If you need help, contact me and I’ll walk you through it.

                                                                                  Even if it feels like your partner is trying to hurt you, you’ll discover that what they really want is to connect with you!

                                                                                  And when that connection happens, there will be no more Still Face!

                                                                                  Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to you email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                    My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                                    Romantic love fades away but romance never has to end!

                                                                                    Romance is a choice we can make every day!

                                                                                    As a couple you can influence the way you feel about each other by reconstructing the conditions of romantic love.

                                                                                    When you treat each other the way you did in happier times, you will begin to identify each other as a source of pleasure once again.

                                                                                    What could be more powerful than doing the very things your partner has identified that make her or him feel loved??

                                                                                    Here’s a tool that will help you reconstruct those conditions of romantic love. It’s a very practical way to choose romance every day, and keep the fires of romantic love burning.

                                                                                    It’s called…

                                                                                    The Caring Behaviors exercise

                                                                                    Click on the link above and print out two copies (one for you and one for your partner). Then follow the instructions below.

                                                                                    In this exercise, you and your partner give each other the keys to your heart – specific ‘caring behaviors’ that make you feel loved.

                                                                                    After you go through it, there’s a link below where you can read the story of Wendy and Tom – how their relationship died, and then how it went from “flatlined” to “fully-alive” using this tool.

                                                                                    1. Make a list as you think about three areas:

                                                                                    (1) what your partner is already doing that pleases you.
                                                                                    (2) what your partner used to do that pleased you.
                                                                                    (3) what have always wanted but never asked for.

                                                                                    These may be very private fantasies, but should not be a present source of conflict.

                                                                                    With each item complete the sentence, ‘I feel loved and cared about when you’¦’

                                                                                    Fill in your answers on the spaces provided on the printout.

                                                                                    (Examples: make me coffee in the morning, call me from work just to check in, tell me I’m doing a good job, help me with my chores around the house, spend quality time talking with me, take a shower with me, compliment me on how I look, give me a back rub, want to have sex with me, bring me an unexpected gift, cuddle without having to have sex)

                                                                                    2. Indicate the importance of each item with an A, B or C, with A being most important.

                                                                                    3. Now exchange lists.

                                                                                    4. On your partner’s list put an X by any items you are not willing to do at this time, making the rest of the list conflict-free.

                                                                                    5. Then beginning tomorrow, do at least two of these behaviors each day for two months.

                                                                                    Start with the easier ones first and then move to the more difficult ones.

                                                                                    These acts are to be GIFTS, NOT OBLIGATIONS. However, do them whether you feel like it or not.

                                                                                    The act of doing these things will begin to reignite your desire for each other.

                                                                                    Keep going and you will rekindle the feelings of romance, and create a safety zone that will allow deeper connection and bonding.

                                                                                    If either of you experience some resistance with this exercise, keep on doing these caring behaviors until the resistance is overcome. Do it even if you don’t feel it. Your feelings will follow.

                                                                                    But remember, the process won’t work unless you work the process.

                                                                                    Someone told me, ‘My partner and I tried this and it didn’t work.’

                                                                                    I can relate!

                                                                                    Sandy’s list included things like surprise outings and weekend adventures. Those kinds of things really make her feel loved and cared about.

                                                                                    So I planned one. And it hit the mark! She LOVED it and we felt close. 🙂

                                                                                    But then I did nothing like that again for several months. 🙁

                                                                                    Her efforts to do things on my list were about like mine. One here and one there.

                                                                                    To be honest, this exercise didn’t do for us what I was telling others it would do for them!

                                                                                    So I asked Sandy, ‘Why do you think it’s not working for us?’

                                                                                    She thought for a moment and then said, ‘It’s kind of like the California drought.’


                                                                                    Then I got where she was going with that.

                                                                                    A few years ago California went through about six years of serious drought where reservoirs dried up and a statewide proclamation of emergency was issued.

                                                                                    During that time there would be a day or two, here and there, when it would rain cats and dogs all day long. And it felt so good every time all that rain poured down.

                                                                                    But those few times of rain had no effect whatsoever on our reservoirs or on the drought.

                                                                                    Sandy went on explaining…

                                                                                    “The few times we did these ‘Caring Behaviors’ could not make up for the drought we have experienced day in and day out over the years.”

                                                                                    Wow. I get that. That really makes sense.

                                                                                    Lesson learned.

                                                                                    We realize we have to do these caring behaviors REGULARLY and NOT STOP!

                                                                                    The exercise you printed out says “three a day for the next two months”! If three is too much start with one a day and work up from there.

                                                                                    The key is consistency!

                                                                                    Then it’s something hopefully you get addicted to – in a good way.

                                                                                    Sandy and I are rebooting our efforts. And it’s paying off.

                                                                                    What about you?

                                                                                    Print out the Caring Behaviors exercise and let’s get started!

                                                                                    Click here to read how Wendy and Tom used this tool and saw their dead marriage resurrected!


                                                                                    Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to you email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                      My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                                      Why the best relationship tools to improve your marriage don’t work

                                                                                      My business is finding marriage tools that work! So why, after so many years, do these tools not work for some people?

                                                                                      Well, the answer is quite simple.

                                                                                      It’s not that the tools aren’t working. It’s that we aren’t working the tools.

                                                                                      What do you mean?

                                                                                      Let’s consider a prime example – the Couple’s Dialogue from Imago Relationship Therapy.

                                                                                      This is the most powerful relationship tool I know.

                                                                                      Click here to download and print out two copies of this powerful tool – one for you and one for your partner. And get ready to find out how it works!

                                                                                      This powerful tool is based on science. So when the process doesn’t work, we have to conclude that it’s because we’re not working the process.

                                                                                      The science of aerodynamics says you must take into account four factors of physics: lift, drag, thrust, and weight.

                                                                                      I’m no scientist, but I know if you neglect even one of these factors in your design, you’re aircraft will never get off the ground.

                                                                                      In the same way, with The Couple’s Dialogue, you must take into account four factors: interest, curiosity, vulnerability, and safety.

                                                                                      If any of these are neglected it won’t fly.

                                                                                      When doing the dialogue…

                                                                                      • Sometimes a partner will lose interest and the other partner feels abandoned or that their efforts are insincere.
                                                                                      • Sometimes an emotional reaction will override curiosity and drown the process in negativity.
                                                                                      • Or maybe a partner does not yet have the courage to be vulnerable.
                                                                                      • Then, because the relationship is not safe, connection cannot happen.

                                                                                      So, if you neglect any of these basics, like a poorly designed plane, The Couple’s Dialogue will not get you off the ground.

                                                                                      And unfortunately the couple who crashes in a few failed attempts joins that crowd that says, ‘It didn’t work’. 🙁

                                                                                      On the other hand…

                                                                                      The Couple’s Dialogue is what helps you channel interest, curiosity, vulnerability and safety in a structured way that makes connection as a couple possible.

                                                                                      Here’s how Sandy and I are trying to make it work for us.

                                                                                      Make dialogue a lifestyle – something you do every day.

                                                                                      The Couple’s Dialogue should be the way I communicate with my partner everyday, in every conversation.

                                                                                      It should be a lifestyle – part of our relationship DNA.

                                                                                      Mirroring, validating, and empathizing is a regular way of communicating that can always lead to a closer connection with each other.

                                                                                      ‘Hold on.’ one of my couples said. ‘Who has time to stop and do the couple’s dialogue every time you have a conversation?’

                                                                                      And so this couple keeps coming back to me for therapy. That’s OK. It helps pay the bills.

                                                                                      But, my goal is for every couple to experience mature love ON THEIR OWN – a conscious relationship that becomes a partnership of mutual healing and growth.

                                                                                      The Couple’s Dialogue is the most powerful tool I know that can help you get there.

                                                                                      And you can do it on your own. And it WILL work.

                                                                                      Here’s how.

                                                                                      1. ALWAYS MIRROR each other.

                                                                                      That’s right – in every conversation.  I do this silently in my mind so it comes across very naturally rather than in a structured or stilted way.

                                                                                      When she’s talking, I seek to listen as if I’m going to repeat back to her what she said.

                                                                                      I’ll say in my mind. ‘Let me see if I got it. You’re saying’¦’

                                                                                      The point is – I’m listening with full engagement.

                                                                                      This helps me turn turn my interest toward her and hear 100% of what she’s saying.

                                                                                      ‘So you’re saying’‘¦ and I mirror her.

                                                                                      Then I check for accuracy –  ‘Did I get it?’

                                                                                      And then I continue with curiosity – ‘Is there more about that?’  

                                                                                      Mirroring says to your partner, ‘You matter.’ ‘What you say matters.’ ‘I see you.’ It says, ‘I’m genuinely interested in you’. And that feels so good to your partner.

                                                                                      Nothing says ‘I love you’ more powerfully than when you listen with full attention.

                                                                                      Well ok, if you were to push your partner out of the way of an oncoming train, and get run over yourself – that, too, would be a powerful way to say ‘I love you’.

                                                                                      But, hey, this is something you can do every day, and without getting killed!

                                                                                      And…without paying for expensive therapy!

                                                                                      So always mirror your partner.

                                                                                      Mirroring helps you regulate your defenses while creating safety for your partner.

                                                                                      2. ALWAYS VALIDATE each other.

                                                                                      To validate is to simply say, ‘You make sense and what makes sense is’¦’

                                                                                      Then tell them from your heart what you see that makes sense according to their inner logic. Do this while maintaining your own inner logic which may, of course, be vastly different.

                                                                                      Validation facilitates ‘differentiation’ which is necessary to feel a genuine connection.


                                                                                      Whenever we discover our partner is ‘different’ – has a different taste, or opinion, or perspective, our natural response is to polarize – to see them as wrong and then try to fix them.

                                                                                      That feels judgmental. It’s not safe. And conflict is the result.

                                                                                      Validation dissolves polarization and enables differentiation – the essential condition for genuine connection.


                                                                                      3. ALWAYS EMPATHIZE with each other

                                                                                      Mirroring is about about meeting ‘mind to mind’. Validation is also ‘mind to mind’ enabling differentiation.

                                                                                      But empathy is ‘heart to heart’.

                                                                                      Empathy is about entering your partner’s world on a ‘heart’ level. Feeling their feelings. Fully realizing their pain, or joy, or fear, or anger.

                                                                                      And this is where your presence with your partner in their vulnerability is a powerful healing force. In that context, your partner can  process their wounded emotions and heal them.

                                                                                      So learn to MIRROR – VALIDATE – and EMPATHIZE in every conversation.

                                                                                      Make it a lifestyle – part of your relationship DNA.

                                                                                      Sandy and I are also working toward spending 15 minutes each evening engaged in the fully structured Couple’s Dialogue.


                                                                                      Why not?! It’s like free therapy!

                                                                                      The structured dialogue makes it safe for thoughts you’ve never thought, and feelings you’ve never felt to come to the surface, and become integrated into your relationship.

                                                                                      The Couple’s Dialogue is truly a transformative process. 

                                                                                      So, if you haven’t already, click here, print it out, and go for it!

                                                                                      And please, let everyone know how you’re using this tool in the comment section below.

                                                                                      Share this blog with your friends as well and on social media. Let’s be part of a relationship revolution!

                                                                                      Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                        My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

                                                                                        How to stop overreacting and start reconnecting in my marriage

                                                                                        When we overreact to something our partner says or does, we kill any chance of connecting with them.

                                                                                        The logic goes like this: The connection we long for can’t happen when a conversation is not safe. A conversation will not be safe when there is negativity. And negativity always fills the space between you when one of you overreacts.

                                                                                        So, if you do the math, overreaction = disconnection.

                                                                                        On the other hand, controlling our overreaction can make it safe enough for reconnection to occur.

                                                                                        Ok, Ok, I get it. But how do I do that?

                                                                                        The answer came to us last weekend when Sandy and I attended a Getting The Love You Want – Couples Weekend Workshop.

                                                                                        That’s right! We were at, in my opinion, the best marriage workshop on the planet! If you haven’t been, I really encourage you to go.

                                                                                        Our workshop leaders were none other than Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt themselves – authors of the book, and co-creators of Imago Relationship Therapy.

                                                                                        This was a dream come true for us.

                                                                                        And it was a great weekend’¦until I had an overreaction of my own.

                                                                                        What do you mean?

                                                                                        Well, on Saturday morning, Sandy and I had a disagreement and for the moment, I walked away from her and did NOT want to talk about it.

                                                                                        You’d think I’d just use the dialogue skills I know so well. Right?

                                                                                        Well honestly, it’s easier to talk about those skills and even write about them in a blog than to actually use them!


                                                                                        Because our reactive brain is so powerful when triggered, we’re often incapable of doing anything but overreacting. That’s why so many couples just can’t stop fighting. I get that.

                                                                                        For me, in this moment, to not overreact was impossible.

                                                                                        Some of us (like me) are like a ‘turtle’ and our overreaction is to pull away.

                                                                                        This may activate our partner’s childhood wound of being abandoned or rejected.

                                                                                        And some of us are like a ‘hailstorm’ and we overreact by exploding outwardly.

                                                                                        This may activate our partner’s childhood wound of being smothered or controlled.

                                                                                        Here are some lessons we learned at the conference that helped Sandy and me to not only reconnect, but also prepare us for a completely unanticipated event that broke our hearts later that afternoon.

                                                                                        The first lesson was…

                                                                                        1. You can’t control your first thought, but you can control your second thought.

                                                                                        Sandy said something that really took the wind out of my sails. And even though we were in this amazing marriage workshop with these wonderful people, things went really negative.

                                                                                        Sandy: ‘I’m am glad we’re here together, but I don’t think you understand the stress I felt leading up to this weekend.’

                                                                                        FIRST THOUGHT:

                                                                                        Chuck : ‘She thinks she had a tough week! What about me? What does she have to complain about anyway? Why even try?! I’m done!’

                                                                                        And then, being the turtle I am, I start to pull into my protective shell.

                                                                                        You CANNOT control that first thought. That’s impossible.

                                                                                        BUT…here’s the amazing truth that will set you free!

                                                                                        You CAN control your second thought.

                                                                                        SECOND THOUGHT:

                                                                                        Chuck (thinking): ‘I should use my dialogue skills and stay present and curious with her rather than letting  this reaction cause me to withdraw.’ (But then there was a fight inside me. ‘First thought’ tries to take over.) ‘But I don’t want to. Forget it. She’s being unreasonable. I’m done.’

                                                                                        But then the thought came to me, ‘No, Chuck that’s your first thought. Of course you can’t control that. But what’s your second thought? The one you can control?’

                                                                                        (Still languishing in my first thought.)

                                                                                        Then it came to me…and I turned toward Sandy, standing courageously facing the conflict (not like me at all) and I said…

                                                                                        “Sandy, let me see if I’ve got what you said. You said you’re glad we’re here, but you don’t think I understand the stress you felt leading up to this weekend.’

                                                                                        That may sound weird if you’re not familiar with the “mirroring” skill (which is part of the Couple’s Dialogue), but that sentence stem became a powerful pivot point that helped me grab control of my second thought.

                                                                                        When I said those words, I could feel my overreaction subside, my curiosity switch on, and that kept me in the game with Sandy. I was able to stay present with her rather than abandoning her in the heat of the moment.

                                                                                        In that moment, I’m no longer thinking about how hurt I am. I’m now curious about Sandy and especially about the feelings that drove her to say those hurtful words.

                                                                                        It’s like a miracle occurred! From reactivity…bam! into curiosity.

                                                                                        That was a 180 degree turn that happened in a heartbeat.  

                                                                                        All because you CAN control your second thought by using this powerful tool called mirroring.

                                                                                        So I continued…

                                                                                        Chuck: ‘Did I get that?’ (checking for accuracy)

                                                                                        Sandy: ‘Yes.’

                                                                                        Chuck: ‘Is there more about that?’ (continuing to be curious)

                                                                                        Suddenly she burst into tears.

                                                                                        Sandy: ‘I can’t believe that I’m doing the very same thing I asked you not to do a few weeks ago. I’m being so negative. Would you forgive me?’


                                                                                        This leads to a second insight I gleaned from the workshop.

                                                                                        2. Choosing to be present with someone who is overreacting dissolves their criticism.

                                                                                        Sandy’s criticism melted and in that moment she wanted nothing more than to connect with me.

                                                                                        You say, ‘Well I try to control my overreactions. But what if my partner doesn’t even try?

                                                                                        This is where you have the power to change the whole dynamic of how you’re interacting.

                                                                                        Choosing to be present with someone who is overreacting dissolves their criticism. Your partner won’t be able to continue reacting, because your regulated response will cause them to recompensate.

                                                                                        To do what?

                                                                                        Harville Hendrix told of counseling a man suffering with schizophrenia who said he was Jesus.

                                                                                        Instead of reacting to him, he said, ‘Let me see if I got what you’re saying’¦’ and he mirrored him. He kept mirroring him, and mirrored him some more.

                                                                                        Instead of reacting (which is what most people might do when someone claims to be Jesus), Harville controlled his reactivity by continuing to mirror him.

                                                                                        Soon, Harville could see how this man’s own inner logic made sense. It made perfect sense to this man even though we might not agree with his conclusion.

                                                                                        So, Harville validated him.

                                                                                        ‘You make sense. And what makes sense is’¦’

                                                                                        After he validated him, the man paused…and then said…‘Well, actually my name is John.’ 🙂

                                                                                        He recompensated!

                                                                                        In the same way, when you control your reaction by mirroring, validating, and empathizing with your partner, guess what?

                                                                                        If you partner is off-base, they can see it and correct it on their own.

                                                                                        Why? Because when it’s safe, they don’t have to dig in their heels with their own opinion. The conflict is dissolved and there’s an openness to see your partner’s perspective.

                                                                                        That’s how the Couple’s Dialogue process dissolves conflict.

                                                                                        There’s a third lesson we learned that helped us face one of life’s unexpected, tragic turns.


                                                                                        3. Guarding your connection helps you as a couple deal with unexpected loss.

                                                                                        Within an hour after experiencing this wonderful reconnection, Sandy got a text from her sister who was watching Brie, our Irish Setter, while we were away.

                                                                                        Brie had collapsed and couldn’t get up. She was almost 15 years old but seemed to be in perfect health.

                                                                                        We drove down the hill about 45 minutes and found her completely paralyzed. She could only look up at us with her soft brown eyes. We sat with her for about hour, and there was no change.

                                                                                        So we picked her up on her bed, gently put her in the back seat, and drove 10 minutes to the nearest veterinary hospital.


                                                                                        Bottom line, we had to put our baby down.

                                                                                        I never dreamed that would be so hard.

                                                                                        I was reluctant about adopting her over 10 years ago, and resisted the whole idea at first. But now the loss was almost unbearable.

                                                                                        Every day of the week that followed I was reminded in so many tiny ways how she had subtly woven herself into the very fabric of our hearts.

                                                                                        Needless to say there is now a huge hole in our hearts.

                                                                                        Hard times, experiences of loss will either draw you together as a couple, or blow you apart.

                                                                                        Imagine what this would have done to us had we gone into this situation upset with each other and disconnected. We could not have possibly been there for each other when we needed each other the most.

                                                                                        But because we had been able to regulate our overreaction and reconnect with each other, this huge loss has actually worked to draw us even closer together.

                                                                                        And we’ve been there to comfort each other every moment.

                                                                                        Over the last week there has been a lot of healing. And a powerful reminder that we need to guard our relationship and keep connected.

                                                                                        I hope this encourages you as much as it has us to stop overreacting and start reconnecting in your marriage!

                                                                                        Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to you email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                          My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

                                                                                          How to resolve every single frustration in your marriage

                                                                                          It’s true! You can resolve every single frustration you have in your marriage…if you understand this one important reality:

                                                                                          Behind every frustration is a wish. Behind every criticism is an unexpressed desire.

                                                                                          Learning to identify and communicate this desire in a safe and loving way will help you not only resolve your frustration, but transform your marriage!

                                                                                          When you resolve frustrations in your marriage by unlocking and fulfilling hidden desires, you become more whole as a person, more fully present, not only in your marriage, but in every arena of your life – family, work, community, world.

                                                                                          That’s my heart’s desire for you!

                                                                                          So how do I turn a marriage frustration into a spoken request so that it can be resolved?

                                                                                          I’m glad you asked. Try these three steps.

                                                                                          1. Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

                                                                                          Stephen Covey coined this phase. It’s a powerful principle.


                                                                                          About 90% of our frustration in a relationship comes from history.

                                                                                          When a husband says, ‘You never want to have sex‘, his frustration may be connected with an experience in childhood where he received messages that he was inadequate or messages of rejection.

                                                                                          So when he hears, ‘Not tonight. I’ve got a headache’, he goes ballistic.  

                                                                                          How could he be angry when his wife has a headache? That doesn’t make sense.

                                                                                          No it doesn’t’¦

                                                                                          But what does make perfect sense is that this perceived rejection is triggering those old feelings of inadequacy.

                                                                                          Can you relate?

                                                                                          When a wife says, ‘You don’t listen to me!’, it can be connected with experiences in her childhood where she had feelings that ‘what you have to say doesn’t matter’.

                                                                                          Though she’s not conscious of it, she has a lot of pain around the question ‘Do I matter?’

                                                                                          So when her husband does something as simple as looking at his phone when she’s talking to him, it triggers something much more powerful than he realizes.  

                                                                                          That 10% stimulus produces a 90% reaction, and the next round of the power struggle begins. And the husband is left wondering what he did that was so bad.

                                                                                          Can you relate to that?

                                                                                          Do you see why it’s so important to first seek to understand before being understood?

                                                                                          The second step is…

                                                                                          2. Listen for your partner’s hidden desire for connection.

                                                                                          The hidden desire behind your partner’s frustration is always to connect with you.

                                                                                          That frustration, that criticism, that off-handed remark, that demand, that glare, is all because your partner doesn’t feel connected with you.

                                                                                          It may be hard to believe, but it’s true.

                                                                                          Your partner’s frustration is because they feel disconnected and don’t like it.

                                                                                          And so, like an infant screaming to be fed and have it’s diaper changed, your partner is unconsciously making life as miserable as possible for you until you figure out what they need.

                                                                                          And what your partner needs is to be emotionally connected with you and cared for by you.

                                                                                          Janet said to her husband, Rick, ‘You never listen to me. You’re always checking your phone. I feel like I’m talking to a wall!’

                                                                                          Rick didn’t understand why she was so frustrated. He was under the gun at work, and during this season he had to stay close to his phone. He thought he had made that clear to her.

                                                                                          But Janet was frustrated. And she felt justified in her frustration. This was her story and she was sticking to it!

                                                                                          But Rick changed the game they always played. That game of blaming and defending every time they encountered a frustration.

                                                                                          Instead of this becoming a slug-fest, he used his safe conversation skills to dialogue with Janet about this frustration. He had learned that behind every frustration is an deeper, unexpressed desire for connection.

                                                                                          He said, ‘I can tell you’re upset. Can you tell me what you’re feeling?’

                                                                                          And as they talked, Janet was eventually able to uncover what was behind her frustration.

                                                                                          ‘When I’m talking to you and you look at your phone, I feel like what I have to say is not important to you. That makes me feel like I’m not important to you.’

                                                                                          And as she went on, Rick could see Janet’s reality, the inner logic that made sense to her, and it was all now beginning to make sense to him.

                                                                                          He realized that behind her frustration was simply a desire to be connected with him in a way that made her feel loved and valued.

                                                                                          As Rick continued to make the conversation safe for Janet, the hidden desire behind her frustration bubbled to the surface in the form of a wish expressed.

                                                                                          ‘Every day I just want some time with you where I feel loved and completely accepted.’

                                                                                          As they both stood there, feeling deeply vulnerable, Rick did one last thing that sealed the deal for Janet and made her feel really connected with him.

                                                                                          3. Ask your partner what you can do to fulfill this hidden desire.

                                                                                          As Rick mirrored Janet’s words he was able to empathize with her feelings and desire.

                                                                                          Then he asked, ‘What is one thing I can do that will help you feel that love and acceptance?’

                                                                                          Janet thought for a moment and then said, ‘The next time we go for a walk would you leave your phone at home so we can talk?’

                                                                                          That request was based on Janet’s hidden desire that was at the root of her frustration.

                                                                                          Rick committed to this, and even better yet, on their walk the next day, Janet noticed he didn’t have his phone with him.

                                                                                          This made her feel so loved and safe with him. Not only was their frustration resolved but they felt more deeply connected.

                                                                                          Make sense?

                                                                                          So this is how you can resolve every frustration in your marriage.

                                                                                          Just take time to…

                                                                                          – Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
                                                                                          – Listen for that hidden desire for connection.
                                                                                          – Ask what you can do to fulfill this desire.

                                                                                          By following Rick’s example I’m convinced we can resolve every single frustration we encounter in our marriage!

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                                                                                            My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

                                                                                            Don’t settle for an “OK” marriage”! Ask for what you need!

                                                                                            So many couples are staying together in an unhappy marriage. When you ask how they’re doing, they’ll say, ‘OK’.

                                                                                            That’s code for ‘I’ve settled’.

                                                                                            In more open and honest moments, they’ll admit, ‘We say we’re happily married, but actually most of our needs are being met outside our relationship.’


                                                                                            ‘Everyone thinks we’re doing fine, but we don’t really feel connected. He does his thing and I do mine. We’re like ships passing in the night.’

                                                                                            Can you relate? Would that describe your marriage?

                                                                                            Well join the crowd!

                                                                                            Experts tell us that up to 60% of couples who stay married report their relationship as ‘less than satisfactory’.

                                                                                            Some of these couples make it to the end of their lives, surviving in this prison. Life sure didn’t turn out like they expected, but they felt hopeless to change it.

                                                                                            But other couples don’t survive. Their relationship eventually blows up and ends.

                                                                                            And it doesn’t have to be a big problem that blows it up. You’ll hear them blame it on things like, ‘We couldn’t agree on whether to squeeze the toothpaste from the top or the bottom of the tube.’

                                                                                            But here’s what actually happened:

                                                                                            Years of living with someone without feeling connected resulted in pain that became unbearable.

                                                                                            And they put off getting help until it was too late.

                                                                                            Dr. John Gottman said that the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their heart to call for help is four hours.

                                                                                            But the average time it takes for a person with a pain in their marriage to call for help is seven years!

                                                                                            So don’t wait!

                                                                                            You can break out of that place where you’re stuck by learning to ask for what you need!

                                                                                            Change happens when we make it safe enough for each other to turn our frustrations into desires expressed.

                                                                                            Then when my partner gives me what I ask for, it brings healing to me and closeness in our relationship.

                                                                                            But for my partner, it usually means they must be willing to grow into parts of themselves they never developed.

                                                                                            And that’s hard.

                                                                                            ‘Wait a minute Chuck! You said to ask for what I need? I’ve done that a thousand times and it didn’t work!’

                                                                                            Did you make it safe enough to ask for what you need? Or did you just ask?

                                                                                            Asking someone who is in a defensive mode always comes across as nagging. And you’re right! That never works!

                                                                                            But in a safe conversation, asking for what you want gives your partner a great opportunity to stand tall and be your hero!

                                                                                            And that’s when everything changes.

                                                                                            Just ask Mark and Sunny.

                                                                                            One day Mark made a request of Sunny.

                                                                                            It was something he really needed from her.

                                                                                            He was tired of them both being ships passing in the night. After years of marriage, he wanted to know this woman he lived with in a more personal way.

                                                                                            Turns out that request was not easy for Sunny. It required of her something she had never done. It required that she stretch and grow a part of herself that was lost growing up and never developed.

                                                                                            Watch their story then discuss it together with the questions below.

                                                                                            (This is a powerful video by one of my mentors, Nedra Fetterman. Watch it as she tells the story of her own parents, Mark and Sunny.)

                                                                                            Click here to watch it on Vimeo, and then come back and discuss what you saw using the questions below.

                                                                                            Discuss with your partner…

                                                                                            1. In what ways is your relationship like Mark and Sunny’s before Mark made his request?

                                                                                            Here are some steps that have to be followed in order to make a request that deepens the connection in your relationship.

                                                                                            – Create Safety
                                                                                            – Connect
                                                                                            – Make a Request (small, specific, doable and positive)
                                                                                            – Be Courageous

                                                                                            2. Why is safety important?

                                                                                            3. Why should the goal of a request be ‘to connect’ rather than to just make a change?

                                                                                            4. Why do you think this takes courage?

                                                                                            5. What would you like to ask from your partner right now? If the conversation feels safe, do it and then talk about it.

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                                                                                              My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

                                                                                              How being a good listener can radically improve your marriage

                                                                                              Talking is only one part of the communication process in marriage. Real communication happens when we listen too.

                                                                                              Duh? Really? I kind of knew that.

                                                                                              But did you know that in an average conversation one partner hears only 13% of what the other partner is saying?

                                                                                              We may be good at talking, but evidently we’re lousy at listening.

                                                                                              Here’s how being a good listener can radically improve your marriage.

                                                                                              Every time Lloyd would share his frustration with Fran, her reaction would shut down her ability to listen.

                                                                                              No doubt part of the problem was how Lloyd talked to her.

                                                                                              It’s not what you say but how you say it that matters.

                                                                                              Lloyd: ‘When I came home I felt like you practically threw the baby and me, and start barking orders. I know you’ve had a hard day, but you act as if I’ve done nothing all day. I work hard and I don’t deserve this when I get home.’

                                                                                              OK Lloyd, let’s back up and start over! No wonder your wife is not listening! You’ll never get anywhere saying it like that! Can you stop using accusatory ‘you’ statements and talk about what ‘I’ am experiencing in a way your partner can hear you?!

                                                                                              The first rule of ‘safe’ communication is guess what?  SAFE! It has to be SAFE!

                                                                                              LLOYD (second try): ‘When I came home it seemed you were frustrated, and you told me to take the baby and the dog for a walk. When I heard that, I felt like I didn’t get a chance to take a breath from the stressful day I had.’

                                                                                              Even with Lloyd working at being a better SENDER of info, this usually turns into an argument with Fran.

                                                                                              FRAN: ‘You think YOU’VE had a stressful day! Come on! I’ve seen you at work. Making some calls, then having a leisurely lunch with your co-workers. Try being here with the kids all day! I wish I had an office to escape to!’

                                                                                              Come on Fran, these are fighting words and you know it. Use your skills now. Make it SAFE.

                                                                                              In order to have a safe and productive conversation, you have to have SENDER and RECEIVER responsibility.

                                                                                              But today is about listening…so what can a RECEIVER do to become a better listener?

                                                                                              Try these three steps.

                                                                                              1. Mirror your partner’s words.

                                                                                              Repeat back what you heard as close as possible to how it was said.

                                                                                              ‘OK Chuck, you keep talking about ‘mirroring’. That’s a counseling tool. This is real life where the pace of life makes your head spin. I can’t stop in the middle of everything to use this rigid therapeutic structure you’re talking about.’

                                                                                              I get that.

                                                                                              You don’t want to come off like you’re using some counseling technique in a normal conversation. But there’s good news.

                                                                                              You can still tap into the power of mirroring as a listening tool.

                                                                                              So, as your partner is talking, listen with the purpose of mirroring.

                                                                                              How do I do that?

                                                                                              After a few sentences, stop your partner and say something like…

                                                                                              If I get what you’re saying, you said’¦’ and simply repeat what you heard.

                                                                                              Or, ‘What I hear you saying is’¦’

                                                                                              This will help you regulate your emotions AND give your partner a good feeling.

                                                                                              A feeling of being heard. A feeling of being valued. A feeling that his or her words matter.

                                                                                              Think about it. If the average partner hears only 13%, what will be the impact when you hear 100% of what you’re partner is saying

                                                                                              Mirroring can help you do that.

                                                                                              Your partner will feel safe and be able to access more of what they are really feeling and thinking.

                                                                                              FRAN: ‘Lloyd, what I hear you saying is that I seemed frustrated and told you to take the baby and dog for a walk. I heard you say, you’ve had a stressful day, and didn’t feel like you had a chance to catch your breath.’

                                                                                              That’s good Fran! Now go to step 2.

                                                                                              2. Check your accuracy.

                                                                                              After you’ve mirrored your partner’s words, check for accuracy by saying something like, ‘Did I get it?’ And then keep listening for any corrections or clarifications.

                                                                                              Then, mirror those additions back to your partner as well.

                                                                                              Continue to check your accuracy until your partner tells you, ‘You got it.’


                                                                                              3. Turn on your curiosity.

                                                                                              Ask, ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                                              That question will continue to make it safe for your partner to access more of what they are really feeling and thinking.

                                                                                              And for you, as a listener, it will turn on your curiosity like a switch turns on a light.

                                                                                              Curiosity is vital to being a good listener. Why? Because it empowers me to regulate my emotional reaction.

                                                                                              Listening breaks down when I start feeling reactive to something that is said. Something I think is not true. Something that is different from my reality. Something that is not according to the way I see things.

                                                                                              When that happens my auto-response is to stop listening and start ‘reloading’ what I want to say in reaction. At that point I’m not listening to my partner. I’m listening to myself.

                                                                                              As human beings we have a fundamental, unconscious objection to difference. This objection to difference happens when we don’t feel connected. And it’s a paradox, because you can’t get to connection when you object to difference.

                                                                                              When I object  to difference, it produces polarization. And that shuts down my ability to listen.

                                                                                              Curiosity is what disrupts that objection to difference, allowing me to listen to everything my partner is saying.

                                                                                              Asking, ‘Is there more about that?’, does a number on my brain. I cannot be curious and object to difference at the same time. The brain pathways cannot run those two directions at once.

                                                                                              So now I’m in control, not my emotions!

                                                                                              Curiosity helps me hold my reality and my partner’s reality at the same time – to be able to see that we are different, and that it’s OK.

                                                                                              Let’s pick up where we left off with Fran’¦

                                                                                              FRAN: ‘Lloyd, what I hear you saying is that I seemed frustrated and told you to take the baby and dog for a walk. You said you’ve had a stressful day, and didn’t feel like you had a chance to catch your breath.’

                                                                                              ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                                                              LLOYD: ‘Yes, I guess I’m feeling like what I do doesn’t matter. That reminds me of how hard I worked to make straight A’s growing up, and even when I succeeded, it felt like it didn’t matter.’

                                                                                              Whoa! What’s happening here?

                                                                                              Lloyd realized that his upset was not just about Fran’s comment. It was related to the baggage of the past he was carrying.

                                                                                              Because Fran made it safe and really listened to Lloyd, he got in touch with his deeper issue.

                                                                                              They both realized that the conflict was about the deeper pain that Lloyd felt – that what he did didn’t matter.

                                                                                              This part of Lloyd’s world instantly became integrated into their relationship. And Fran grew in a new capacity and sensitivity to Lloyd.

                                                                                              The result? Transformation.

                                                                                              All because one partner decided to listen!

                                                                                              Subscribe below to receive my weekly post every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                                My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

                                                                                                Unleashing the transforming power of gratitude in your marriage

                                                                                                Gratitude will transform your marriage! And here’s a powerful tool that can make that happen! 

                                                                                                Believe it or not, one drop of negativity pollutes the space between you as a couple and makes connection impossible.

                                                                                                But sharing regular appreciations with each other will rock your world in the opposite direction.

                                                                                                It will dispel that negativity so you can get the deep connection you’re longing for.

                                                                                                Negativity comes in many subtle forms. Any criticism…even so called ‘constructive criticism’ will pollute the pond. And there are those more subtle forms like a negative tone of voice, or a disapproving facial expression, or a rolling of the eyes. Things like that.

                                                                                                It’s not what you say, but how you say it that determines whether something feels negative to your partner.

                                                                                                Negativity is defined as anything that your partner says feels negative to her or him.

                                                                                                Are you saying my partner gets to decide what is negative?

                                                                                                Well’¦do  you want a close relationship with your partner?

                                                                                                Then, yes, they get to decide. Because, if your partner feels it’s negative, they will feel unsafe. And an unsafe relationship will never be close.

                                                                                                Why is this?

                                                                                                Criticism, or blaming, or playing the victim can trigger deep emotional pain in your partner.

                                                                                                When that happens, everything positive goes out the door.

                                                                                                You don’t even know who started the fight, but suddenly you’re in a conflict and everything goes negative.

                                                                                                Am I close?

                                                                                                You can be the most caring person in the world! Constantly working to do everything you can to make your partner feel loved! But when that one critical look triggers their pain, unfortunately that’s the way they see you. And it’s downhill from there.

                                                                                                No fair!

                                                                                                You’re right. I get that. But that’s reality.

                                                                                                When pain is triggered all positive things about our partner go away…it’s all irrelevant… it’s like those positive traits are non-existent!

                                                                                                And your partner screams, ‘Why do you focus on this one negative thing and fail to see all the good things I’m doing?!’

                                                                                                Ever have that happen?

                                                                                                When you look at your partner through the lens of your pain, all you see and feel is negativity.

                                                                                                And soon all that negativity is spewing out of you into the space between you – through a negative reaction, a critical remark, or a glare.

                                                                                                I love road biking. So does my friend. One day I asked him if he’d like to ride. He said no. ‘Why?’ I asked.  He said, ‘I have a toothache.’

                                                                                                Ever had a toothache? Everything positive about your life disappears and is irrelevant until you take care of that pain. Right?

                                                                                                Because of the pain triggered in a relationship, so many couples are not really living with each other. They are living with their defenses in a perpetual shadow of negativity.

                                                                                                They see their partners, not as a source of pleasure, but as a source of pain.

                                                                                                And that’s when those negative words, that criticism, those put downs come out of their mouth further polluting the space between.

                                                                                                But here’s some good news!

                                                                                                Recent relationship science affirms that the most powerful antidote to negativity is gratitude!

                                                                                                Sharing what you appreciate about another person flushes the negativity from the pool between you and fills it with pure, pristine water that is not only safe to swim in but safe to drink!

                                                                                                So how do I unleash gratitude’s transforming power in my relationship?

                                                                                                I’m glad you asked that question!

                                                                                                Here’s a tool to help you push out the negativity, rekindle romantic love, and create a safety zone in your relationship for further growth, healing and deeper connection.

                                                                                                Are you ready for this?

                                                                                                To get ready let me ask you both to stand up right now, and do two very simple things.

                                                                                                Step One: Give each other a full-body hug for 60 seconds.


                                                                                                I know this may sound silly, but bear with me, OK?

                                                                                                Are you doing it?


                                                                                                Well please stand up right now and do it. I’ll wait…


                                                                                                And when I say full-body I mean just that. Hold each other like there is no tomorrow.

                                                                                                Multiple studies show that human touch triggers the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, into your brain. That increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion. And decreases feelings of fear and anxiety.

                                                                                                Feel the sensations all over your body as oxytocin and other super-healthy pleasure chemicals are released into your system.

                                                                                                This is far more powerful than you may think. So even if you think it’s silly, DO IT!

                                                                                                Feel it.

                                                                                                OK, not too much.

                                                                                                This is supposed to be an non-sexual exercise. (But who am I to tell you what to do)  😉

                                                                                                OK, if we can just stay on track for a moment…

                                                                                                Just take the time right now, and feel the pleasure hormones release into your system.

                                                                                                This by itself will start to rekindle your positive feelings for each other. Can you feel it?

                                                                                                This will also begin to create a safety zone in your relationship.

                                                                                                Oxytocin is a drug that creates a feeling of safety with the person who triggers it.

                                                                                                As you do this, your lower, unconscious, reactive brain will begin to see your partner as a source of comfort and pleasure rather than a source of pain. And vice versa.

                                                                                                Are with me?

                                                                                                Keep going. Feel it. Enjoy it for a moment. In fact shoot for a goal of 60 seconds.

                                                                                                But don’t count seconds, just go to step two.

                                                                                                Step Two: Share an appreciation with each other.

                                                                                                Look into each other’s eyes, and one at a time, finish this statement:

                                                                                                ‘One thing I appreciate about you is’¦’

                                                                                                It should be whatever comes to your mind that you genuinely appreciate. You might think in terms of (1) how your partner looks, (2) something they did, or (3) some trait you admire.

                                                                                                It could be ‘I appreciate you wearing that shirt today. You make it look good, and it makes me feel proud to be with you.’

                                                                                                Or it could be something like ‘One thing I appreciate about you is the way you give of yourself so unselfishly to take care of our children.’

                                                                                                Get the idea?

                                                                                                Now try it.

                                                                                                A 30-second appreciation one way. Then a 30-second appreciation the other way. Giving one. Receiving one. All while embracing in that full body hug.  

                                                                                                This will immediately change the chemistry in your body and your brain!

                                                                                                And it will change the atmosphere around you and the space between you!

                                                                                                Plus it really feels good!

                                                                                                Am I right? 


                                                                                                Research tells us that each time you share an appreciation with your partner it changes the molecular structure of your brain, keeps grey matter functioning and makes you healthier and happier. Plus, it makes you more peaceful and less reactive in your interactions.

                                                                                                Now here comes the part that will rock your world, and transform your relationship.

                                                                                                Step Three: Do this four times a day.

                                                                                                What?! That’s a lot. How am I going to remember to do this four times a day?

                                                                                                It’s easy.

                                                                                                It has to do with four critical moments that happen in our lives every day.

                                                                                                They are:

                                                                                                1. The first four minutes you’re both are awake in the morning.
                                                                                                2. When you say ‘Goodbye’ for the day.
                                                                                                3. The first four minutes you’re home in the evening.
                                                                                                4. When you say ‘Good night”.

                                                                                                According to Dr. Gary Brainerd, what you do during these times has 5 times the impact on your relationship than other times.

                                                                                                So you can see how this exercise has the power to turn a bad marriage upside down! (or should I say right side up?)

                                                                                                Get ready to have your world rocked, and your passion for each other revived!

                                                                                                So that’s the plan. It’s very simple.

                                                                                                – Full body hug
                                                                                                – Appreciations shared each way
                                                                                                – Four times a day (during times that will have a profound impact on your relationship)

                                                                                                Now go! Do this for six weeks, and let me know what happens along the way.

                                                                                                Print out a copy of this tool here by clicking this link 

                                                                                                Share your story in the reply section below. Others need your encouragement and insight!

                                                                                                Here’s to the power of gratitude, and getting all the love we want from our partner!

                                                                                                Subscribe below to receive my weekly post every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                                  My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every week! 

                                                                                                  How to break the cycle of blaming and defensiveness in your marriage

                                                                                                  Is your marriage stuck in a vicious cycle of blaming and defensiveness? Here’s why that happens, and what to do about it.

                                                                                                  Marriages get stuck in this kind of destructive cycle because of what we call ‘symbiosis’.

                                                                                                  Symbiosis is living together as if you are one. It’s another way of saying “being dependent on one another”. But this kind of dependence goes way overboard and is not healthy.

                                                                                                  In the romantic stage symbiosis is pleasurable, because I’m under the illusion that my partner and I are the same.

                                                                                                  We think alike. We feel alike. We don’t need words to understand each other. We feel like we’ve truly found our soulmate.

                                                                                                  But after the love chemicals wear off and the power struggle stage begins, symbiosis is painful.

                                                                                                  Symbiosis is painful because I discover that my partner is an ‘other’ person with their own needs, desires, hurts, experiences, and perspective.

                                                                                                  That’s when I get stuck in my own self-absorption. So does my partner.

                                                                                                  – I can only see my reality.
                                                                                                  – I believe my reality is the only true description of reality.
                                                                                                  – One of us is right and the other is wrong.
                                                                                                  – ‘You and I are one, and I’m the one!’

                                                                                                  Sound familiar?

                                                                                                  Whenever I discover that my partner is different, my reality is challenged, and I can feel deeply betrayed.

                                                                                                  That’s when the blaming and defensive cycle begins.

                                                                                                  Here’s an example of symbiosis with two realities colliding.

                                                                                                  SHE:‘Make sure when you load the dishwasher you face the dishes inward, put all the silverware sorted in the tray, and don’t turn it on until it’s full so we don’t waste energy.’

                                                                                                  HE:‘You know it really doesn’t matter which way they are facing. They’ll get clean either way. And just put the silverware in there. We can sort it when we put it away. And really it doesn’t use that much energy.’

                                                                                                  SHE:‘You never listen to me!!’

                                                                                                  HE : ‘You’re always telling me what to do!!’

                                                                                                  Wow, Sandy and I have had that kind of exchange countless times! How about you?

                                                                                                  So how do I break out of this cycle of blaming and defensiveness?

                                                                                                  Differentiation is the process that helps us get unstuck.

                                                                                                  Differentiation is when you begin to see and accept your partner as different, as an ‘other’ person.

                                                                                                  Differentiation is when you can hold your reality and your partner’s reality at the same time.

                                                                                                  The Couple’s Dialogue is a powerful tool that can help a couple experience differentiation.

                                                                                                  Here’s what it might look like in the example above.

                                                                                                  HE: Mirrors and validates his partner’s desire to have the dishes face inward, the silverware sorted, and the dishwasher full before being used.

                                                                                                  In that safe context where he has regulated his own reactions, he sees that her  perspective really does make sense. And he lets her know that he gets it.

                                                                                                  SHE: Having her reality validated, she feels safe and is open to seeing his reality.

                                                                                                  She mirrors and validates his view that the dishes will get clean facing inward or outward. That the silverware can be sorted just as easily after they’re clean. And that having a few empty spaces in the dishwasher is not a huge expense.

                                                                                                  Although she sees it differently, his view makes sense to her.

                                                                                                  In the process, she realizes that there is really no right or wrong way to do it – just different ways.

                                                                                                  She lets him know she gets it.

                                                                                                  HE and SHE: They both feel safe and validated. As a result they both are now are open to new ways of washing the dishes.

                                                                                                  Neither are holding on to their view for dear life. Neither are driven to prove themselves right.

                                                                                                  Differentiation dissolves the symbiosis and self-absorption.

                                                                                                  And, bingo, the blaming and defensiveness stops!

                                                                                                  That’s how it’s done!

                                                                                                  Simple but admittedly not as easy as it sounds.

                                                                                                  But if we work at it we can turn symbiosis and self-absorption into healthy differentiation and deeper connection…

                                                                                                  …and stop the blaming and defensiveness!

                                                                                                  My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.

                                                                                                    How can I stop being so reactive in my marriage relationship?

                                                                                                    Is your marriage relationship being sabotaged by outbursts of anger and overreaction?  Does your own reaction drive you to pull away from your partner, causing her or him to feel abandoned?

                                                                                                    No marriage relationship can stay connected if one person is highly reactive.

                                                                                                    Whenever emotions are out of control, the conversation will never be safe. And feeling connected will not be possible.

                                                                                                    Here are three powerful insights that can help us regulate our emotions and help us stay present and connected with our partner.

                                                                                                    1. Our feelings drive our behavior.

                                                                                                    Who me? No, never. Not me. I believe you should do what’s right regardless of feelings!


                                                                                                    I used to be so naive.

                                                                                                    But after a few decades of marriage, I discovered this was almost never the case.

                                                                                                    Why? Because’¦

                                                                                                    The feelings that drive our actions are almost always unconscious.

                                                                                                    Seems like negativity would always spew out of my mouth whenever my unconscious fear or anger was triggered. And the results were never good.

                                                                                                    And this all happened without my even knowing it.

                                                                                                    Before I could process anything in the thinking part of my brain (cortex), the critical retort was already out of my mouth and I was in trouble.

                                                                                                    Can you relate?

                                                                                                    Problem is the neurons triggered from our lower, reactive brain travel 10 times faster than those from the top down. That’s why it so difficult to not be reactive to your partner.

                                                                                                    The moment that reaction occurs, the conversation is no longer safe. And the kind of dialogue that leads to connection is not possible.

                                                                                                    Here’s how it usually goes down. I learned this from the book, Crucial Conversations.


                                                                                                    The example in the graph is a wife I previously shared about.

                                                                                                    She grew up in a home where her father and brothers were engineers, and her mom and sister were nurses. She was the ‘artistic’ one.

                                                                                                    Although she was very talented, she always felt ‘dumb’ growing up with all those math and science whizzes.

                                                                                                    So now in her marriage,  just a ‘5-watt’ eye-roll from her husband triggers a ‘1000 watt’ reaction.

                                                                                                    Ok. I get it. That makes sense. But how do I get control of my emotions and all this overreaction?

                                                                                                    The key to controlling our emotions is learning where they come from.

                                                                                                    There is something that happens lightening fast between the time we see or hear something and the feelings we create in response.


                                                                                                    We often say, ‘He made me mad.’  Or, ‘She upset me.’

                                                                                                    The truth is no one can make you mad.

                                                                                                    ‘What? What do you mean no one can make me mad? It happens all the time!’

                                                                                                    No, actually, you make yourself mad.

                                                                                                    Something happens between what you see and hear and the feeling you create.

                                                                                                    ‘OK. I give up. What is that?’

                                                                                                    2. Our ‘stories’ drive our feelings.

                                                                                                    The story we tell ourselves, or the meaning we attach to an event is what creates our feelings.

                                                                                                    I see or hear something.
                                                                                                    Then…I attach meaning to it. I tell a story about it. I interpret it. I judge what motives are behind it. I tell myself whether it’s good or bad, safe or dangerous.

                                                                                                    And this all happens in a flash.

                                                                                                    That’s what creates my feelings.

                                                                                                    So I do create my own feelings after all…hmm.


                                                                                                    The path to action we take begins with what we see and hear.
                                                                                                    Then we tell a story about what we saw or heard.
                                                                                                    That story then creates feelings.
                                                                                                    And finally those feelings drive our behavior.

                                                                                                    When we are in a reactive mode, that behavior takes one of two directions: clamming up or blowing up.

                                                                                                    Both of these options destroy any chance of a healthy dialogue, and leave us feeling disconnected from each other.

                                                                                                    Sandy says, ‘Do you have to take your phone whenever we go for a walk?’

                                                                                                    What story do I tell? ‘She’s trying to control me.’

                                                                                                    That story creates feelings of anger or fear.

                                                                                                    Then like a hailstorm I react. Or like a turtle, I withdraw into the safety of my shell. Yes, I can be a hailstorm or a turtle.

                                                                                                    Clamming up or blowing up never gets me what I really want. Only safe dialogue can keep us close and connected.

                                                                                                    That’s because my reaction is only the beginning.  

                                                                                                    My reaction triggers Sandy’s pain and defenses. If she responds in kind, the conflict is on.

                                                                                                    How do I know so much? I’ve lived this scene over and over again. ‘Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse’.

                                                                                                    But I’m learning that if I can catch my story, and hold it tentatively, I can change the feelings I create before there is a reaction and things go south.

                                                                                                    Even if my story is true, even if Sandy IS trying to control me, I can confront the issue in a safe dialogue which brings us closer rather than blowing us apart.

                                                                                                    Make sense?

                                                                                                    In scientific terms, I have to give time for the neurons that move top down from my thinking brain to my reactive brain.

                                                                                                    When I stay in my thinking brain, I can master my story and then tell it in a way that doesn’t trigger hurt and reaction.

                                                                                                    So what’s the conclusion of all this?

                                                                                                    3. If I change my story, I change my emotions, and thus my behavior.

                                                                                                    So what does this look like?

                                                                                                    Crucial Conversations gives some great sentence stems that help you turn your brain back on, and keep you curious and present rather than critical and reactive.

                                                                                                    Here’s the one I used.

                                                                                                    I looked at Sandy and asked myself, ‘Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person like Sandy say that?’

                                                                                                    And, as I used this stem to keep my brain turned on, and to become curious about what Sandy was feeling, the answer came.

                                                                                                    ‘Oh yeah, she just wants to spend some uninterrupted time with me. That makes sense. That’s why always being on my phone is a frustration to her. I get it.’

                                                                                                    Change my story – change my feelings – bingo! Changed my behavior!

                                                                                                    Even with the negative vibes I felt from Sandy’s frustration, this tool kept me from reacting and helped us stay in dialogue.

                                                                                                    This is how we can turn a negative feeling into a positive interaction that leads us to deeper connection.

                                                                                                    This is how to avoid  spiraling downward into a negative interaction.

                                                                                                    And this is how we had a great walk, a great conversation, and ended up feeling closer to each other rather than hurt and angry.

                                                                                                    If you change your story, you change your feelings.

                                                                                                    Then you can respond in a way that gets you what you want. For yourself, for your partner, and for your relationship.

                                                                                                    Try it and let me know how it goes in the reply section below!

                                                                                                    My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.

                                                                                                      The Art of Caring Confrontation

                                                                                                      What happens to my marriage if I choose to be ‘nice’ rather than honest?

                                                                                                      ‘¦if I go “silent” rather than confront an issue head on?

                                                                                                      Usually there’s an ugly consequence.

                                                                                                      Today I’m sharing an amazing tool I call “The Art of Caring Confrontation”.

                                                                                                      I always assumed that going silent and being nice is better than blowing up into a raging argument.

                                                                                                      I’m not advocating blowing up, but clamming up doesn’t work either.


                                                                                                      Because a healthy relationship requires vulnerability.

                                                                                                      And vulnerability takes courage, not just being nice.

                                                                                                      I’ve learned that I tend to avoid vulnerability like the plague.

                                                                                                      I’d much rather hide what I really feel about something than to confront it in a scary conversation.

                                                                                                      Can you relate?

                                                                                                      I call it ‘being nice’ rather than being honest.

                                                                                                      ‘I know how sensitive she is. I don’t want to get a reaction.’
                                                                                                      ‘Talking about it only brings up the pain of the past.’
                                                                                                      ‘Sharing how I really feel will hurt his feelings. I don’t want to go there.’

                                                                                                      I’m so ‘nice’.


                                                                                                      Sometimes being nice is just a big cover up job for something I’m too afraid to broach.

                                                                                                      What a whimp!

                                                                                                      It takes COURAGE with a capital C to be vulnerable.

                                                                                                      There is a relationship in my family were we have gone silent for 20 years.

                                                                                                      There are things that we do not talk about – and have not talked about for two decades. And stuff we will not talk about for another 20 years, unless something changes.

                                                                                                      And that big fat elephant shows up and sits there in the room with us every time we’re together. And no one talks about it.

                                                                                                      Oh, there are some people who tell me ‘Just say it because it needs to be said!’ If I did that, it would just trigger everyone’s defenses so that no one would really listen.

                                                                                                      So, it’s easier to just be ‘nice’.

                                                                                                      Why? Because it’s too painful to open old wounds.

                                                                                                      Wait a minute! Too painful!?

                                                                                                      Too painful compared to what? (Now I’m talking to myself again.)

                                                                                                      Have I even considered the price of silence?

                                                                                                      Evidently I’m willing to suffer a slow death over 20 years rather than facing the pain of a brief surgery that might start the healing process.

                                                                                                      For me that’s been the price of silence. And it’s a heavy price.

                                                                                                      OK, whew’¦! I hope there’s some value in that catharsis I just went through.

                                                                                                      Now I want to lighten up, and apply this amazing tool to our marriages. It’s a skill you and I can use every day.

                                                                                                      I call it’¦

                                                                                                      THE ART OF CARING CONFRONTATION

                                                                                                      This is how I’m working against that forceful tendency to go silent in a conflict.

                                                                                                      This is how I’m learning to say what I need to say in a healthy way that leads to dialogue.

                                                                                                      It’s a skill I adapted from the book Crucial Conversations. It’s a way to be honest while being nice.

                                                                                                      It goes like this:


                                                                                                      1. State the FACTS

                                                                                                      Start with the facts because facts are less controversial.

                                                                                                      Facts are the basis of the story I’m telling that is creating my emotions.

                                                                                                      So start with what happened. ‘This is what I saw or heard.’Facts are what a video camera with sound would have recorded about the event.

                                                                                                      2. Tell your STORY

                                                                                                      This is my interpretation of the facts. The meaning I’m adding to the facts. The story I’m telling myself about what happened.

                                                                                                      Use a sentence stem that goes something like this. ‘This makes me wonder if’¦’

                                                                                                      3. Ask the QUESTION

                                                                                                      A question that invites dialogue. Something like, ‘Is that what’s happening, or am I missing something?’

                                                                                                      Here’s a real life example from Chuck and Sandy’s experience.


                                                                                                      FACTS: ‘You asked me if I’d be willing to tear out the old tomato vines and I said I would. But then you went and did it.’

                                                                                                      STORY: ‘That makes me wonder if you don’t trust me to do something when I say I will.’

                                                                                                      QUESTION: ‘Is that what you’re thinking?’

                                                                                                      At this point I was in control of my emotions because I’m not leading with my ‘story’. Rather than judging Sandy’s intent I used this process to turn on my curiosity.

                                                                                                      And this actually made it safe and got us into a healthy dialogue.


                                                                                                      ‘Sometimes I’m afraid you’ll forget, or you’ll think I’m nagging you. So I went silent and just did it myself.’


                                                                                                      ‘That makes sense.’

                                                                                                      Then we try to be open to a Behavior Change Request.


                                                                                                      ‘Is there a request you’d like to make?’

                                                                                                      And this is how Dialogue becomes the means to a real change in the relationship.


                                                                                                      ‘Yes. It would be help me if you would use your Caring Confrontation skills and talk about it rather going silent and then not trust me. That feels bad.’


                                                                                                      ‘Can we have a do-over?”

                                                                                                      Now Sandy is in the game. She’s not going silent. She’s choosing to be honest rather than ‘nice’. (But honest in a nice way.)

                                                                                                      And she’s willing to practice it by going back over it. (We notice our skills get better when we practice them.)


                                                                                                      FACTS: ‘Chuck, when I mentioned the dead tomato plants needed to be removed, you said you’d take them out. After a few days I noticed it wasn’t done.’

                                                                                                      STORY: ‘That makes me wonder if you forgot or you’d changed your mind. And I started feeling frustrated.’

                                                                                                      QUESTION: ‘Can you help me know what’s going on?’


                                                                                                      ‘Oh yeah. I was planning to do that this weekend. It did slip my mind, but I thought about it the other day and figured I could do it Saturday morning. Thanks for the nudge and reminder.’

                                                                                                      Right on, Chuck and Sandy! Issue resolved!

                                                                                                      But…in that first round, why did Sandy go silent?

                                                                                                      Fear’¦fear that I would get upset.

                                                                                                      But which is harder? Doing the surgery now and having the hard conversation, or letting it fester and become a disease in the relationship?

                                                                                                      Can we see how avoiding conflict keeps you in conflict? I’m starting to get it.

                                                                                                      Using a skill like The Art of Caring Confrontation opens things up so that we can stay connected and grow and heal together.

                                                                                                      Try this out the next time you’re tempted to be ‘nice’ rather than honest.

                                                                                                      My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.

                                                                                                        What to do when your marriage partner keeps “leaving the relationship”

                                                                                                        I’m not talking about moving out. I’m talking about taking  seemingly innocent “exits” that rob your relationship. 

                                                                                                        ‘Exits’ are places where you go to get your needs met outside your relationship.

                                                                                                        Things like hobbies, sports, computer games, the kids, work…

                                                                                                        or pornography, an affair, etc.

                                                                                                        Some ‘legitimate’, some not so.

                                                                                                        Whenever anything becomes a substitute for intimacy with your partner, it can drain your relationship of the energy it needs to flourish.

                                                                                                        Does this touch a nerve? Please read on.

                                                                                                        In last week’s post, Katie felt like her husband, Frank, was playing way too much golf.

                                                                                                        But through the Couples Dialogue, they got to the real issue in their relationship.

                                                                                                        Golf wasn’t the problem it was Katie’s hidden fear.

                                                                                                        Katie’s hidden fear was  that something would always take her place in Frank’s life.

                                                                                                        Their marriage experienced a breakthrough when Frank began to understand this.

                                                                                                        Frank began to see all Katie’s ‘nagging’ as simply a hidden desire for more closeness with him. When he finally got that, Katie’s nagging stopped. Fantastic!

                                                                                                        But what about Frank? What was Frank’s issue, and how did he contribute to this relationship problem?

                                                                                                        Turns out, playing golf was an ‘exit’ from the relationship. It was one of many ways Frank would “leave” Katie when he felt unsafe.

                                                                                                        In the counseling process, while Katie learned to turn her criticism into a spoken desire, Frank learned to close the exits that were robbing their relationship.

                                                                                                        He began to channel that energy into building an intimate partnership with Katie.

                                                                                                        And you can do that too.

                                                                                                        Here’s how  to close the ‘exits’ that are robbing your marriage.

                                                                                                        1. Identify your unconscious defenses

                                                                                                        If you met Frank you would not see any indication there was a problem. He is funny, and outgoing, and well-loved by all their friends.

                                                                                                        But as the Dialogue process went deeper, Frank discovered a secret about himself.

                                                                                                        Although Frank was super outgoing and a real ‘people person’, he was terrified of intimacy.

                                                                                                        Abuse suffered early in life from his father, and neglect from his mother led to a deeply ingrained belief that intimacy is painful.

                                                                                                        The message was, ‘If you get close to someone, you’ll end up getting hurt.’

                                                                                                        Frank learned to survive childhood by keeping a safe distance from everyone.

                                                                                                        The first step for Frank was to identify his unconscious defense strategy:

                                                                                                        Frank was an ‘isolator’ who would take a convenient “exit” anytime Katie would get ‘too close’.

                                                                                                        2. Identify ways you avoid your relationship

                                                                                                        Katie complained that ‘golf was the problem’, but we saw that golf wasn’t really the problem.

                                                                                                        It was that Katie felt like Frank was ‘leaving the relationship’. Golf was one way he did that.

                                                                                                        When Frank quit playing golf on the weekends, Katie was still not happy. Why?

                                                                                                        Frank’s ‘exit’ switched to computer games. Again, Katie felt him leaving her.

                                                                                                        It wasn’t until these exits were identified that a plan for change could happen.

                                                                                                        Katie longed for closeness, but from the very beginning of their relationship whenever she would get too close, Frank would exit.

                                                                                                        It was Frank’s  fear of intimacy that kept him on the run.

                                                                                                        And there was always an exit to be found!

                                                                                                        What about you? What are your exits?

                                                                                                        Take time to look at your activities and ask yourself, ‘Am I doing any of these things in order to avoid my relationship?’

                                                                                                        One husband realized that he was staying late at work, because when he would walk through the front door, a wave of depression would come over him. It was real easy to stay at work.

                                                                                                        When we are disconnected from our partner, anxiety can make our relationship a real downer. That’s when it’s easy to exit.

                                                                                                        So take time to identify your exits.

                                                                                                        3. Redirect energy into your relationship

                                                                                                        It’s important to not just close the exit. We must also find a way to redirect that energy into the relationship.

                                                                                                        The best way I’ve found to do that is by using ‘Caring Behaviors‘.

                                                                                                        A ‘Caring Behavior’ is something your partner has expressed to you that makes her or him feel loved.

                                                                                                        In last week’s post, Katie made a ‘Behavior Change Request’ of Frank. That request  pointed to a “Caring Behavior” – something that, when done, makes Katie feel loved.

                                                                                                        Her request was, ‘Next month, will you choose one weekend and plan something for us to do together?’

                                                                                                        When Frank gave up his weekend golf to plan a suprise weekend with Katie, it was a positive experience for them both.

                                                                                                        Katie felt loved, and her response made Frank feel like he could move closer to her.

                                                                                                        It doesn’t help to just close your exits. You must redirect that energy into the relationship in a way that works for you both. That’s when reconnection can occur.

                                                                                                        How about you in your relationship? Perhaps you can relate to Frank?

                                                                                                        Is it scary for you to think about giving up something you love on a slim chance that you might be able to make your partner feel loved?

                                                                                                        I can relate!

                                                                                                        So begin with small steps.

                                                                                                        There was wife who would go jogging every day at lunch, and then again after work. She learned that jogging was an exit – a way she was avoiding intimacy.

                                                                                                        A small step for her was to continue jogging during her lunch break, but stop jogging in the evening in order to spend that time with her husband. 

                                                                                                        She didn’t give up jogging altogether. She just turned some of that energy back into the relationship. They spent time using some of the Dialogue tools they were learning in therapy. It was a step in the right direction.

                                                                                                        Small steps…

                                                                                                        So closing the exits is not about giving up something. It’s about getting the love you’ve always wanted!

                                                                                                        Instead of leaving the relationship, identify your defenses, call your exits what they are, close them, and redirect all that good energy into your relationship.

                                                                                                        You’ll be glad you did!

                                                                                                        Need help? Reach out to me. I do coaching with couples all over the world through video conferencing.


                                                                                                        If you haven’t already, please subscribe to my weekly post in the form below. My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning!

                                                                                                          You won’t solve your marriage problem by talking about the problem! Here’s why

                                                                                                          If you find yourself arguing about the same things over and over again you’re probably not focused on what you really need to be talking about.  

                                                                                                          It’s true! If you try to fix a problem by talking about the problem, you’ll never fix the problem!


                                                                                                          Because ‘the problem’ is not the problem.

                                                                                                          For example, if you argue about the dishes, or who is not helping with the kids, or who is not picking up around the house, chances are you’re really just talking about the symptoms.  

                                                                                                          You have to look deeper, because beneath those symptoms is the problem of not feeling connected with your partner.

                                                                                                          When a couple feels disconnected almost everything becomes a problem!

                                                                                                          On the other hand, if a couple reconnects their relationship, all the ‘problems’ they want to solve, DISSOLVE!

                                                                                                          Here are three practical steps to help you uncover and deal with the real problem in your relationship.

                                                                                                          1. Use ‘the problem’ to begin a Couple’s Dialogue

                                                                                                          Let problems and frustrations you experience in your relationship be a catalyst to get you into a safe dialogue. Nothing positive happens in a relationship until both partners work to make it safe for each other.

                                                                                                          (Click here to download the Couple’s Dialogue tool that Frank and Katie used.)

                                                                                                          Frank and Katie found themselves arguing about the same things over and over again. But no matter how much they talked about their problems, they found themselves going around in circles.

                                                                                                          Resolving conflicts? Sometimes. But solving the real problem of feeling disconnected? Never! It was SO frustrating!

                                                                                                          When I asked Katie what the problem is, she said…

                                                                                                          The problem is ‘Golf’!


                                                                                                          Katie felt like golf was Frank’s highest priority in life. She said repeatedly that ‘golf’ is the problem.

                                                                                                          ‘He works hard all week. And then on the weekends he just wants to play golf with his buddies.’

                                                                                                          So Frank said, ‘Well if the problem is golf, I’ll quit.’

                                                                                                          And he did.

                                                                                                          So, on the weekends that followed, Frank was not on the golf course with his friends. He was at home’¦

                                                                                                          …but he was in the garage, on the computer, or watching TV.

                                                                                                          You get the picture. Frank was at home but he still wasn’t with Katie. There was still a disconnect in their relationship. And stopping his weekend golf did not fix that.

                                                                                                          So fixing ‘the problem’ did not fix the problem.

                                                                                                          Most couples use ‘the problem’ to hammer on each other. But blaming and defensiveness do not help you solve the problem, much less get to the root problem.

                                                                                                          Even though ‘the problem’ is very real to you, it’s important to talk it out in a healthy way rather than act it out. So let the problem lead you to Dialogue.

                                                                                                          2. Use the Couple’s Dialogue to unmask the real problem

                                                                                                          Now that you’re in a safe dialogue, you can look for the real problem.

                                                                                                          In the Couple’s Dialogue, safety and curiosity replace judgement and reactivity.

                                                                                                          Then validation and empathy help one partner fully appreciate and validate the other partner’s reality while holding their own reality as both valid and separate. (Does that make sense?)

                                                                                                          When we’re in that kind of safe conversation, vital insights come bubbling up from our unconscious mind that we would never see otherwise.

                                                                                                          The Couple’s Dialogue revealed something beneath Katie’s anger about golf. Her anger was only a surface emotion masking her deeper issue.

                                                                                                          Katie’s deeper issue was FEAR. Katie feared that something would always take her place in Frank’s life. At the moment it appeared golf was the culprit.

                                                                                                          She said golf felt like ‘the other woman’. And as long as ‘she’ was in their life, how could she ever feel connected to Frank?

                                                                                                          Katie grew up in a family of high achievers. Her parents gave her the gift of believing in herself, and that there was nothing she couldn’t do.

                                                                                                          But what she did not get from her parents was a consistent, close emotional connection.

                                                                                                          Later Katie became a problem, rebelling and acting out in her teen years. This was obviously an attempt to get the attention and connection she so desperately needed and was lacking.

                                                                                                          Through the Couple’s Dialogue, it became clear, that when she married Frank, she married her ‘Imago’.

                                                                                                          Her what? Her Imago.

                                                                                                          Your Imago (latin for image) is someone who has the positive and negative traits of your parents. Science tells us that we’re drawn to, and fall in love with someone who matches this unconscious image of your early caretakers.

                                                                                                          Your Imago is someone who will activate those old wounds from childhood in a way that is similar to how you were wounded while growing up with your parents. 

                                                                                                          Katie’s unconscious relationship agenda was to marry Frank so those old wounds could be activated.

                                                                                                          Why? So they can be healed. Of course all this is going on unconsciously.

                                                                                                          In Katie’s case, when Frank ‘left her’ to play golf, it triggered those old wounds of abandonment she felt when her parents ‘left her’ for other interests.

                                                                                                          Katie was now doing an adult version of those earlier childhood defenses – feeling abandoned and unleashing her anger toward Frank.

                                                                                                          The fear of rejection or abandonment she felt went much deeper, and it was based on that timeless unconscious pain of abandonment or rejection she experienced in childhood.

                                                                                                          A childhood where the work, goals, hobbies, and aspirations of her parents always seemed to be more important than she was.

                                                                                                          The 90/10 Principle tells us that approximately 90% of our upset in a relationship is from history. 10% is from the present.

                                                                                                          So Frank was relieved that his choice to play golf on the weekends was not the source of Katie’s upset. It was only the trigger.

                                                                                                          3. Make a request that will bring healing

                                                                                                          As Frank was able to empathize with Katie’s fear of abandonment, I encouraged Katie to make what we call a ‘Behavior Change Request’. Something that Frank could do that would be helpful to her in this frustration she experiences.

                                                                                                          A Behavior Change Request is something tangible that Frank can do to meet a deeper need Katie has. It’s a caring behavior that makes Katie feel loved and sets their direction as a couple toward healing and growth.

                                                                                                          It’s only effective in the context of a Safe Dialogue where Katie can be vulnerable enough to ask for it.

                                                                                                          If our defenses are in place, a change request, even if granted, will NOT have the same powerful healing effect.

                                                                                                          Katie’s Behavior Change Request went something like this…

                                                                                                          ‘Next month will you choose one weekend and plan something for us to do together?’

                                                                                                          And because Frank validated and empathized with Katie and was not reactive toward her, he was more than willing to do this.

                                                                                                          As a matter of fact he was excited about the potential of being more connected with Katie. He hadn’t had any hope that this could happen before.

                                                                                                          Do you think this might be why he was on the golf course so much?

                                                                                                          Could that have been the way he dealt with his own pain as he lived with the same feelings of disconnection that Katie had?

                                                                                                          When Frank granted Katie’s request, it met her need in a powerful way and brought healing.

                                                                                                          And equally important,  it set them both on a direction toward a deeper and more stable connection with each other.

                                                                                                          Although Katie couldn’t solve her marriage problem by talking about the problem, she was able to solve her real problem by reconnecting with Frank. 

                                                                                                          Want to know what Frank’s issue was? Click here to read more of their story.

                                                                                                          Subscribe below to receive my weekly post that will come to your email inbox every Saturday morning! 

                                                                                                            My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your inbox every week! 

                                                                                                            Hindsight is 20/20! What I wish I’d known 40 years ago about mutual purpose

                                                                                                            Marriage is supposed to be two people becoming one. Right?

                                                                                                            Two people striving for “mutual purpose” in their life together.

                                                                                                            But for us it was two self-absorbed individuals both constantly trying to get our own way!

                                                                                                            Can you relate?

                                                                                                            Our attitude was ‘You and I are one, AND I’M THE ONE!!’  

                                                                                                            And the power struggle began shortly after we said ‘I do’. 

                                                                                                            We recently celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary!

                                                                                                            Sandy encouraged me to write what we wish I had known about marriage 40 years ago.

                                                                                                            And as I think about it, I really, really, REALLY wish I’d known this 40 years ago.

                                                                                                            And so, now I can’t wait to share it with you.

                                                                                                            The power of mutual purpose

                                                                                                            Before we learned about this tool, we were regularly in conflict over major decisions.

                                                                                                            For years, whenever Sandy and I came to cross-purposes, there were three ways we would handle it – none of which resulted in a happy couple.

                                                                                                            How not to do it:

                                                                                                            1. Compromise

                                                                                                            We were told that marriage has to be series of compromises.

                                                                                                            What a bunch of bunk!

                                                                                                            With compromise you both lose.

                                                                                                            Compromise can lead to feelings like, ‘Being married to you means I have to give up what I really wanted in life.’

                                                                                                            Wow. That’s heavy.

                                                                                                            But actually, we did it a lot, until we discovered what Mutual Purpose is all about.

                                                                                                            Compromise = You both lose. Not good.

                                                                                                            2. Bulldozing

                                                                                                            This is when one of us wanted something so bad we bulldozed over the other in order to get it.

                                                                                                            Guess who did that a lot?

                                                                                                            That’s right. I (Chuck) could be the bulldozer. Can you relate?

                                                                                                            And what was the result?

                                                                                                            The plan would fail and there was a big ‘I told you so!’ Although Sandy never said it out loud.

                                                                                                            Or, I would drag Sandy through the mud. Rather than kick and scream about it, she’d become silently resentful.

                                                                                                            But either way, as you can imagine, as a couple, YOU LOSE!

                                                                                                            You may win the battle, but you end up losing the war!

                                                                                                            That’s because, as human beings…

                                                                                                            Our feelings of being fully alive come from connection in relationship, not from getting our own way!

                                                                                                            Even though I got my way a lot, I often lost that connection.

                                                                                                            Big lesson here.

                                                                                                            Bulldozing = One person wins and the other loses! Not good.

                                                                                                            3. Giving in

                                                                                                            Giving in happened when one of us got so tired of the conflict that we said, ‘OK. Whatever.’

                                                                                                            But when you give in, you’re not really vested in the decision forced on you.

                                                                                                            The result: Feeling manipulated or coerced. And that means bitter feelings rather than closeness and connection.

                                                                                                            Once again we were losing the war.

                                                                                                            Giving in = One person loses to let the other one win. Not good!

                                                                                                            The turning point

                                                                                                            chuck starnes mutual purpose in marriage

                                                                                                            We began to experience mutual purpose through Imago Couples Dialogue. The Dialogue helped us begin to see how ‘other’ the other person was.

                                                                                                            When you go through that process of differentiation, your relationship is transformed.

                                                                                                            And that transformation happens when you make room for the ‘otherness’ of the other person.

                                                                                                            That’s when everything changed for us.

                                                                                                            Years later the book, Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Granny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler helped us put language to this idea of Mutual Purpose.

                                                                                                            Here is what we learned to do when we find ourselves at cross-purposes.

                                                                                                            1. Commit to Mutual Purpose

                                                                                                            The first step is to make a commitment to Mutual purpose.

                                                                                                            One person initiates the commitment and the other agrees.

                                                                                                            It could go something like this.

                                                                                                            ‘It seems like we’re both trying to force our view on each other. I commit to stay in this conversation until we find something that works for both of us.’


                                                                                                            ‘Hey, if it’s not good for ‘us’, it’s not good for ‘me’.’

                                                                                                            In order to do this you have to be willing to think outside the box. You have to shake off the notion that ‘I will never be happy unless I get what I want.’

                                                                                                            That’s the hard part.

                                                                                                            Can I dare to challenge myself that there just might be a third choice out there – one that works for both of us?

                                                                                                            If you do that, you’re on your way.

                                                                                                            So, make a commitment to Mutual Purpose.

                                                                                                            Now, if you’re thinking what I thought, you’re feeling like “I don’t want to do this because I’ll end up giving up what I want”.


                                                                                                            It’s about getting what you really want! For yourself, for your partner, and for the relationship. It’s called MUTUAL Purpose.

                                                                                                            So go ahead and make the commitment.

                                                                                                            Because that’s what we didn’t do.

                                                                                                            Especially when it came to career moves (more about that and the pain we experienced later).

                                                                                                            2. Let go of conflicting strategies

                                                                                                            Notice I said let go of the strategy, not the purpose. Hold on to your purpose.

                                                                                                            This is where we sort out the difference between purpose and strategy.

                                                                                                            PURPOSE is what I really want. STRATEGY is how I get what I want.

                                                                                                            On a Friday night Sandy would say, ‘Let’s go to the beach tomorrow.’

                                                                                                            I already had decided I wanted to stay home and work on my home office.

                                                                                                            So there we were – at odds. Or were we?

                                                                                                            Odds about strategy but not necessarily about purpose.

                                                                                                            Going to the beach is a strategy to get something Sandy really wants (purpose).

                                                                                                            Staying home and working on the office is a strategy to get what I really want (purpose).

                                                                                                            Going to the beach and staying home on a Saturday morning are mutually exclusive. You can’t do both.

                                                                                                            Typically what would happen is that dialogue would shut down, and we’d move into one of the unhealthy strategies listed above – probably bulldozing and giving in.

                                                                                                            So here’s how to disrupt that destructive cycle.

                                                                                                            I ask Sandy, ‘Why do you want to go to the beach?’

                                                                                                            She says something like, ‘I want to get away, see some beauty, be inspired and spend some uninterrupted time with you.’

                                                                                                            My response: ‘I am fully on board with that purpose. I really want that for you.’

                                                                                                            Then Sandy asks me, ‘Why do you want to stay home and work on your office?’

                                                                                                            I say something like, ‘I really want to clean out the mess and get everything organized so I can feel good about going to work on Monday.’

                                                                                                            Sandy’s response: ‘I’m totally on board with that! I really want that for you.’ And by the way, Sandy is all about home organization and order.

                                                                                                            So now we’ve discovered our purpose as separate from our strategy.

                                                                                                            And we’re now committed to each other’s purpose

                                                                                                            So it’s easier to let go of the strategies that are in conflict, and look for a purpose that’s mutual.

                                                                                                            3. Synergize a purpose that satisfies you both

                                                                                                            Stephen Covey said, “Synergy is better than my way or your way. It’s our way!”

                                                                                                            When you look beyond strategy to your purpose, you find that you’re not as incompatible as you thought. Right?

                                                                                                            You’re both more than supportive of each other’s desire than you realized. Isn’t that amazing?

                                                                                                            It’s when you react to each other that all this clarity is lost. And the fight continues.

                                                                                                            How could I not be excited that Sandy wanted to spend time with me and be inspired?

                                                                                                            And Sandy always gets excited about making spaces more beautiful and functional.

                                                                                                            One way to synergize a purpose is to simply combine purposes. The other is to look for a higher purpose beyond what you both want. More on this second one later.

                                                                                                            For Sandy and me this meant combining purposes to make a Mutual Purpose.

                                                                                                            4. Brainstorm new strategies to accomplish your Mutual Purpose

                                                                                                            Sandy wants to go to the beach and I want to work on my office. But we both share each other’s purpose.

                                                                                                            So a new strategy would be…

                                                                                                            ‘How about tomorrow morning we head for the beach and spend the day. On the way back we pick up the hardware supplies I need for the office. And then Sunday afternoon we work on my office?’

                                                                                                            Bingo! That worked! And we did it all together!

                                                                                                            Happy couple!

                                                                                                            But what if your purposes are mutually exclusive?

                                                                                                            For example, what if your purpose can’t be achieved except at the expense of your partner’s, or in a way that affects your children.

                                                                                                            In this case everyone has to let go and honor the fact that the needs of your relationship and your children come before any other aspirations.

                                                                                                            By focusing on higher and longer-term goals, you then seek ways to transcend short-term compromises, build Mutual Purpose, and return to dialogue.

                                                                                                            But if done right, the end result is even better that what you wanted in the first place.

                                                                                                            Why? Because of the close and connected relationship you gain in the process.

                                                                                                            Make sense?

                                                                                                            The pain of failure and a lesson learned

                                                                                                            Hindsight is 20/20 right? Here’s why I wish I had learned this lesson 40 years ago.

                                                                                                            There was a potential career move I was especially excited about. One I saw that would lead me toward my own personal dreams.

                                                                                                            When I shared the opportunity, Sandy was…well…underwhelmed.

                                                                                                            It involved her leaving her friends and community. It involved changing our daughters’ schools. She saw the plan as disruptive, not in a good way.

                                                                                                            And looking back, it wasn’t so much that she opposed the move, it was my insensitivity to what this change meant to her that hurt so much.

                                                                                                            No wonder she was ambivalent!

                                                                                                            But I was determined that this was the ‘only strategy’ that could fulfill my ‘purpose’.

                                                                                                            So I bulldozed and got my way.

                                                                                                            While I got opportunities, Sandy gave up a whole list of them.

                                                                                                            She’s an amazing woman, always willing to forgive, but the damage was done.

                                                                                                            From her perspective, years were lost. And what was so hard was that I didn’t get it. For years I couldn’t see what this did to her.

                                                                                                            When we began using the Couples Dialogue I began to see the light.

                                                                                                            If we had known about this tool, we could have synergized a Mutual Purpose. And then  I’m confident we would have found a ‘third way’ that worked for both of us.

                                                                                                            When you and your partner value each other, and honor the deep desires you both have, SKY IS THE LIMIT!

                                                                                                            So that’s one thing I wish I had known 40 years ago.

                                                                                                            Yes, hindsight is 20/20. So after we lamented it and healed a lot, we are happy about how this lesson is working for us today!

                                                                                                            mutual purpose in marriage chuck starnes

                                                                                                            It’s our hope that this tool called Mutual Purpose will help you NOT make the mistakes we did!

                                                                                                            Here’s to a great relationship established on Mutual Purpose!

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                                                                                                              How a husband’s destructive anger was transformed into passionate love

                                                                                                              ‘My husband’s destructive anger is wrecking our family! I can’t deal with his abuse any longer!’

                                                                                                              Tears filled Gina’s eyes as she explained what her husband Gary’s anger was doing to her.

                                                                                                              This began a 7 step journey that transformed Gary’s destructive anger into passionate love.

                                                                                                              Recently, in an argument over how to deal with one of their children, Gary blew up at Gina and put his fist through the wall.

                                                                                                              Gary had not previously been physically violent toward Gina or their three children. But there were repeated times of yelling and name-calling.

                                                                                                              And now Gary had literally hit the wall. Where was it going to end?

                                                                                                              Gina was not only concerned for her own safety, but was really afraid of what this anger would do to their kids.

                                                                                                              In our first session, we began a structured dialogue that helped Gary and Gina take seven steps toward dealing with abusive anger.

                                                                                                              1. Set a boundary against uncontrolled anger.

                                                                                                              It was very important for Gina to say to Gary that uncontrolled anger is not ok. Gina must realize she does not have to tolerate it, and must be empowered to leave the abusive situation in any way necessary. This may include getting a restraining order.

                                                                                                              There are cases of emotional and physical abuse where the first step is for the victim to separate from the abusive partner and get professional help.

                                                                                                              Gina communicated this boundary in a Dialogue where Gary mirrored and validated her concern.

                                                                                                              It was very important that this boundary be communicated to Gary in a safe way. The Couples Dialogue helped him receive and accept it rather than feel judged by it.

                                                                                                              In Gary’s case, he was ready to get help, and fully accepted Gina’s boundary.

                                                                                                              For Gary and Gina, this act of violence was a wake up call to get help.

                                                                                                              Both of them were eagerly seeking change.

                                                                                                              They invited me to continue to facilitate this process of transforming anger into passionate love.

                                                                                                              2. Commit to “zero negativity”.

                                                                                                              After setting a boundary against violence, Gary and Gina agreed to sign the Zero Negativity Challenge.

                                                                                                              This is a pledge to stop all negative comments, criticisms, and uncontrolled expressions of anger.

                                                                                                              It is something I ask all my clients to sign whether violent anger is an issue or not.

                                                                                                              Because nothing can happen in a relationship unless it is safe.

                                                                                                              And it will never be safe if the tiniest bit of negativity is allowed in the space between the couple.

                                                                                                              Negativity in a relationship is like putting a drop of raw sewage into a glass of pure drinking water.

                                                                                                              Would you drink it even if I assured you it contained only a drop of sewage? 🙂

                                                                                                              Of course not! Because, even with a drop of bacteria infested sewage, it’s no longer safe to drink.

                                                                                                              In the same way, when a drop of criticism or unbridled anger is deposited into the space between a couple, it’s no longer safe to for either partner to open up to each other.

                                                                                                              Going forward Gary and Gina weren’t perfect, but this commitment to zero negativity was a good start down the right path.

                                                                                                              3. Avoid assigning labels to each other.

                                                                                                              “My partner is abusive!”
                                                                                                              ‘My husband is a narcissist!’
                                                                                                              ‘My wife has Borderline Personality Disorder!’

                                                                                                              Labeling like this produces enough negative energy to keep a person permanently bound in the role assigned to them.

                                                                                                              People live up to what we say about them.

                                                                                                              It’s important to drop the labels.

                                                                                                              And here’s another reason why.

                                                                                                              Gary and Gina are just two partners doing the best they can to manage their anxiety.

                                                                                                              What do you mean?

                                                                                                              When couples feel disconnected, the result is always anxiety.

                                                                                                              The human mind cannot handle anxiety for more than a few seconds. To cope we turn it into either anger or depression.

                                                                                                              So most people are not what we tend to label them. They’re just trying to manage their anxiety the best they can. Obviously some better than others.

                                                                                                              Of course there are true narcissists and there are violent aggressors that are unsafe people period.
                                                                                                              But in many cases where a someone claims their partner is a narcissist, it is a label unfairly assigned.

                                                                                                              During the Dialogue process, we often find that the “so-called narcissist” is perfectly capable of empathizing with his or her partner. It’s just that the relationship had never been safe enough for that to happen.

                                                                                                              We are all self-absorbed until we experience differentiation in our relationship.

                                                                                                              It’s the growth challenge of marriage that changes us from self-absorbed individuals into differentiated individuals capable of intimate connection.

                                                                                                              In many cases people are self-absorbed because they’ve never stepped up to the ‘growth challenge’ that every marriage presents.

                                                                                                              Therefore it’s important not to label.

                                                                                                              The Couples Dialogue process helps you reimage your partner as someone who is simply trying to manage their own anxiety the best they can.

                                                                                                              Some do it by exploding anger outwardly. Others by internalizing anger and becoming depressed.

                                                                                                              4. Listen to anger’s ‘cry for help”.

                                                                                                              As Gina mirrored Gary’s angry feelings, she learned that his anger was a cover for deeper emotions he was experiencing.

                                                                                                              Usually anger is not about what you say it’s about. It’s a way to protect yourself from your more vulnerable feelings.

                                                                                                              Like the tip of an iceberg, anger can be used to cover deeper emotions that we my not be conscious of.


                                                                                                              Gina and Gary’s big blow up was not really about differences over child discipline. It was about Gary not feeling important in the process.

                                                                                                              And at the very core was Gary’s hidden fear of losing his connection with Gina.

                                                                                                              As a child, Gary experienced feelings of abandonment from his early caretakers. Unknowingly, he had brought these wounds into his marriage.

                                                                                                              When he felt Gina withdrawing from him, his deep fear of abandonment was triggered.

                                                                                                              In an unconscious reaction he would then use anger to mask these feelings of abandonment.

                                                                                                              This in turn caused Gina to move even further from Gary.

                                                                                                              But Chuck, that doesn’t make sense. If Gary wanted to be connected with Gina, why would he yell and punch the wall?

                                                                                                              Why do kids throw temper tantrums?

                                                                                                              To get the attention of the parent they fear won’t be available to them when they need it most.

                                                                                                              Gary was doing an ‘adult version’ of this kind of behavior.

                                                                                                              So how does Gina ‘listen to anger’s cry for help’ and begin to understand Gary’s real emotion behind anger?

                                                                                                              It was through the structured Couples Dialogue that Gina felt safe enough to listen and validate Gary.

                                                                                                              And in the context of that safety, Gary got in touch with the fear of abandonment that was driving his explosive anger.

                                                                                                              And then, as we’ll see later, things went even deeper…

                                                                                                              5. Stay present rather than retreating.

                                                                                                              As Gina stayed present and listened to Gary, this had a powerful calming effect on him.

                                                                                                              It was Gina’s withdrawal that triggered the fear and anger in Gary.

                                                                                                              Most every day we walk our dog, Brie, in the neighborhood. There is a cat about a block away that Brie loves to chase. It goes like this.

                                                                                                              The cat sees Brie and takes off. When Brie sees the cat take off, she begins pursuit until she reaches the end of her leash. And then it’s all we can do to hold her back. We should have gone to dog training school.

                                                                                                              One day the cat saw Brie, and instead of running, he sat down in the driveway and began licking his paw.

                                                                                                              Brie was really troubled. And stood perfectly still. Why?

                                                                                                              We discovered that Brie will only chase if the cat retreats. If the cat doesn’t run, Brie waits.

                                                                                                              In the same way, Gina’s running away was one of the triggers for Gary to pursue her in anger.

                                                                                                              A dramatic change occurred when she remained present for Gary. His anger was diffused and he was able to express his fear in a safe dialogue.

                                                                                                              Gina was able to empathize with Gary’s feeling of abandonment, and that was when everything changed.

                                                                                                              Continuing to be curious in the Dialogue, Gina found out Gary’s hidden fear.

                                                                                                              Recently she had became more involved in her work as a school teacher. This meant more social engagement with her coworkers as well.

                                                                                                              As Gary saw her having fun with people that had more in common with her than he did, Gary feared that one day she wouldn’t need him and would leave him for good.

                                                                                                              So the anger wasn’t about the differences they had in parenting. It was about Gary’s deep fear of being left alone.

                                                                                                              Very often the problem you’re arguing about is not the problem. It goes much deeper.

                                                                                                              Both Gina and Gary got in touch with the real issue which was Gary’s hidden fear.

                                                                                                              This happened because Gina stayed present and curious in the process.

                                                                                                              6. Use your anger as a signal to stop and dialogue.

                                                                                                              The Couples Dialogue slows things down, enabling you to talk about your anger rather than exploding it.

                                                                                                              Anger does not have to be unhealthy. It doesn’t have to turn into destructive aggression.

                                                                                                              Anger can be an incredibly useful emotion.

                                                                                                              Anger serves as a stoplight – a signal that something is not right and you need to STOP.


                                                                                                              Gary learned to recognize when he was angry by noticing the sensations in his body.

                                                                                                              Sensations like a tensed body, clenched teeth, restlessness, or increased intensity of speech were the cues that helped him realize he was angry.

                                                                                                              If we can recognize anger before it’s expressed, it can be a signal to stop and use our safe conversation skills to talk about it.

                                                                                                              If we heed anger’s warning, it’s possible to return to love and connection. If we ignore its warning, our relationship will suffer.

                                                                                                              It’s a choice we have to make.

                                                                                                              7. Channel anger’s energy into passionate love.

                                                                                                              Anger and passionate love are opposite expressions of the same energy.

                                                                                                              When anger’s negative energy gets redirected in a safe conversation it transforms into passionate love.

                                                                                                              Gary took steps to moderate his anger, by talking it out rather than acting it out.

                                                                                                              Gina stretched in order to be present with Gary rather than withdrawing and triggering his feelings of abandonment.

                                                                                                              What happened as a result?

                                                                                                              Anger was transformed into passionate love.

                                                                                                              I saw evidence of this in the parking lot of my office after our last session as Gary and Gina stood by their car for what seemed like forever in a passionate hug and prolonged kiss.

                                                                                                              As people watched them, I thought, “They have no idea what’s behind this. If they only knew…”

                                                                                                              Gary and Gina not only learned to deal with destructive anger, but all of their feelings of love and passion returned.

                                                                                                              That’s because anger’s negative energy can be channeled in the opposite direction. And passionate love can be reborn.

                                                                                                              It can happen for you as well. If you need help, I can take you through the same process that Gary and Gina went through. Here’s more info.

                                                                                                              If you haven’t already, subscribe below to Relationship Resources and receive my weekly post emailed to your inbox every Saturday morning!

                                                                                                                What do I do when my husband is avoiding conflict?

                                                                                                                I was that husband avoiding conflict!

                                                                                                                Here are three powerful insights that helped me stop avoiding conflict, and start engaging in a way that led us to a deeper connection as a couple.

                                                                                                                Last week I wrote a personal account about how ‘Our fights started on our honeymoon! Is there any hope for us?’

                                                                                                                The focus was on Sandy’s feeling of abandonment whenever I (Chuck) would withdraw from conflict.

                                                                                                                Today’s focus is on how I felt controlled whenever Sandy would be upset about “being abandoned”.

                                                                                                                Can any of you guys relate? No wonder I avoided conflict, right?

                                                                                                                Here are some insights that helped me do my part to break this unhealthy pattern.

                                                                                                                1. Avoiding conflict can activate the childhood wound of abandonment in your partner.

                                                                                                                When I pulled away from Sandy to avoid conflict, I thought I was doing a good thing.

                                                                                                                I thought, ‘Fighting is bad.’ ‘Not fighting is good.’ So let’s not fight.

                                                                                                                I couldn’t understand why Sandy would get so hurt and upset when I was just “trying to do the right thing”.

                                                                                                                It was because I didn’t see how avoiding conflict was affecting her.

                                                                                                                My withdrawal triggered her feelings of abandonment at the deepest level.

                                                                                                                According to Dr. Herb Tannenbaum, when our childhood wounds are triggered…

                                                                                                                A five watt stimulus can produce a 1000 watt reaction.

                                                                                                                So the first step for me was to become conscious of how my actions to avoid conflict activated Sandy’s childhood wound of abandonment.

                                                                                                                You can read more about that process in last week’ post.

                                                                                                                2. Avoiding conflict keeps you from getting the love you want.

                                                                                                                Why did I avoid conflict?

                                                                                                                Because I feared intimacy.

                                                                                                                This strategy of avoidance helped me survive a childhood, where I often felt smothered and controlled.

                                                                                                                As a child, connection and attachment was not a pleasurable experience.

                                                                                                                So, in my adult relationship, I feared intimacy because it was tantamount to intrusion and absorption and control.

                                                                                                                And yet what I craved more than anything was that very intimacy I was missing by avoiding conflict.

                                                                                                                Wow! Talking about a dilemma!

                                                                                                                I craved connection with Sandy. And yet I avoided the conflict that could lead us to that connection.

                                                                                                                If conflict is handled well, it can lead you to a deeper connection and to getting the love you want.

                                                                                                                We get married because we have found someone who will help us finish our childhood, by healing and recovering parts of ourselves lost along the way.

                                                                                                                We know intuitively that this person is the key to feeling fully alive and whole again.

                                                                                                                So marriage makes a lot of sense.

                                                                                                                The problem is that conflict is what catalyzes the healing and growth that results in wholeness and full-aliveness.

                                                                                                                So, if I’m avoiding conflict, I’m missing out on the whole deal.

                                                                                                                I realized that Sandy and I did not feel connected. And by continuing to avoid conflict I was settling for less, willing to live in that disconnected state.

                                                                                                                And it doesn’t end there. If you don’t address this it will get worse.

                                                                                                                The partner who is avoiding intimacy will look for substitutes for that intimacy in things outside the marriage.

                                                                                                                Things that bring a temporary feeling of being alive but it doesn’t last.

                                                                                                                In my case, I was first driven to pursue my career with passion.

                                                                                                                Nothing wrong with that in itself, but when it’s a replacement for the real intimacy missing in your marriage, it always turns out to be an empty illusion.

                                                                                                                The more I would seek my full-aliveness in work…you guessed it.

                                                                                                                The more Sandy would feel abandoned.

                                                                                                                And although she was careful not to criticize, her negative feelings came through.

                                                                                                                I just wasn’t measuring up!

                                                                                                                And it was true.

                                                                                                                What a wife needs most is to feel connected with her husband. And that feeling of connection was not there.

                                                                                                                When the glory my career accomplishments faded, I turned to my lifelong love affair with music and my guitar became the new ‘mistress’.

                                                                                                                Then it was my infatuation with road biking‘¦

                                                                                                                ‘¦all good things, but all empty in the end.

                                                                                                                When we’re in a marriage that doesn’t feel connected, we look for exits that we think can fill the emptiness and loneliness.

                                                                                                                But they don’t really work. And the pattern continues.

                                                                                                                Experts tell us that only 10% of married couples report having a truly satisfying relationship.

                                                                                                                We were one of that 90% – staying married, but not happy campers.

                                                                                                                The 90% settles for either a ‘silent divorce’ where they remain together in agony and in separate lives…

                                                                                                                …or they settle for a ‘parallel marriage’ where they are relatively happy together, but most of their needs are being met outside the relationship through things like work, hobbies, social causes, sports, gaming, etc.

                                                                                                                This is where we were.

                                                                                                                But thanks to Sandy we didn’t settle there!

                                                                                                                What did Sandy do? She talked about it.

                                                                                                                And I’m glad she did, rather than settling for less.

                                                                                                                I so admire her for that. She was able to identify what was missing in our marriage, and that is the reason we are where we are today.

                                                                                                                So speak up. But do it in the context of a Safe Conversation so transformation of your relationship can occur.

                                                                                                                Our marriage was transformed the day I realized that full-aliveness doesn’t come through all the things I was seeking outside our relationship.

                                                                                                                Full-aliveness comes with safety, connection and passion in my relationship with Sandy.

                                                                                                                Like Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz, I realized that everything I needed was right here with me all along.

                                                                                                                But how did this change happen?

                                                                                                                3. The “Commitment Dialogue” helps the “avoider” stay present and heal the one who feels abandoned.

                                                                                                                Nothing happens in a relationship unless it’s safe.

                                                                                                                One drop of negativity renders a conversation unsafe and therefore nothing transformational can happen.

                                                                                                                Whenever someone withdraws from a conversation, the conversation is unsafe.

                                                                                                                Whenever someone criticizes someone (even so called “constructive criticism”), the conversation is unsafe.

                                                                                                                And did I say that nothing happens in a relationship unless it’s safe?

                                                                                                                Oh yeah.

                                                                                                                Ok, so how did you get to a Safe Conversation that brought about this change in you and Sandy?

                                                                                                                The most powerful tool we found is called the Commitment Dialogue from Imago Couples Therapy.

                                                                                                                Here’s how it went for Sandy and me.

                                                                                                                After I integrated the first two insights I’ve shared above, i.e.,

                                                                                                                1. My avoidance was hurting Sandy at the deepest level, not because I was evil, but because neither of us were conscious of the childhood wound of abandonment that was so painful.

                                                                                                                2. My avoidance was ripping me off from the experience of full-aliveness in my relationship with Sandy.

                                                                                                                I was ready to do…

                                                                                                                3. The Commitment Dialogue.

                                                                                                                Here is a summary of what happened:

                                                                                                                Chuck made an appointment to dialogue with Sandy.

                                                                                                                Chuck began with the sentence stem, “One activity I use to avoid connecting with you is…” And I talked about how I withdraw when I feel criticized.

                                                                                                                Sandy mirrored using the stem, “What I hear you saying is..” She checked for accuracy by asking, “Did I get it?” And then she remained curious by asking, “Is there more about that?”

                                                                                                                Chuck continued with more details that went deeper into his childhood.

                                                                                                                BTW: Curiosity helped Sandy regulate her reactive emotions, and made it safe for Chuck to access his feelings.

                                                                                                                (As a result, several new insights dropped out of  my unconscious mind, helping Sandy to better see and know the real me. And it helped me to see me too :-).

                                                                                                                Can you see how it would have shut things down if Sandy had allowed feelings of abandonment to cause her to react rather than remain curious?

                                                                                                                Did I say nothing can happen in a relationship that’s not safe?)

                                                                                                                Sandy summarized what Chuck said and then VALIDATED it, using the stem “Chuck, what you’re saying makes sense, and what makes sense about it is…

                                                                                                                Then she EMPATHIZED with Chuck saying, “I can imagine that it feels…”

                                                                                                                Chuck finished the dialogue by saying, “I’m committing today to keep talking about this with words, rather than acting it out and withdrawing from conflict.”

                                                                                                                At this point the new paradigm was integrated, a shift occurred, and Chuck transformed fundamentally into an “engager” rather than an “avoider”.

                                                                                                                It’s not perfect, but it is truly a fundamental shift that has changed everything.

                                                                                                                Now when I feel criticized or controlled, I’m working toward facing it and talking about it rather than avoiding it.

                                                                                                                That new area of growth for me is hard. But it enables me to be present with Sandy when she needs it most.

                                                                                                                When I do that, it brings healing for her.

                                                                                                                The area of growth for her is learning to communicate her feelings in a safe way with zero negativity.

                                                                                                                And of course that means healing for me.

                                                                                                                And that makes it much easier to stay present with her and deepen our connection.

                                                                                                                The old cycle of criticism and withdrawal is being replaced with one of safety and connection.

                                                                                                                This new partnership of healing and growth is a “win-win” to say the least.

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                                                                                                                  Our marriage fights began on the honeymoon! Is there any hope for us?

                                                                                                                  This was our story!

                                                                                                                  But we learned that with the right skills you can turn a marriage with conflicts into a relationship with a deeper connection!

                                                                                                                  That’s because conflict is a sign that something new wants to emerge in your relationship. Something that will bring healing, wholeness and deeper connection.

                                                                                                                  And sometimes that sign shows up as early as the honeymoon!

                                                                                                                  That’s what happened to Sandy and me!

                                                                                                                  For years, Sandy and I have been on a journey in our own marriage.

                                                                                                                  That journey is from an unconscious and reactive relationship to a conscious and connected relationship.

                                                                                                                  For us this means’¦

                                                                                                                  • Moving from blaming and defensiveness to empathy and connection.
                                                                                                                  • Realizing that behind every criticism is a desire not expressed.
                                                                                                                  • Realizing behind every angry outburst is a desire being expressed but not heard because of the way it’s delivered.
                                                                                                                  • Realizing that behind every withdrawal from conflict is a fear of being controlled or smothered.
                                                                                                                  • We are still working on it, moving from the Romantic Stage – through the Power Struggle Stage – into the Mature Love Stage and World Impact Stage.

                                                                                                                  The Romantic Stage

                                                                                                                  It all began with two people madly in love – Chuck and Sandy.

                                                                                                                  I’ll save you the sappy details but we were IN LOVE. I took her to Ernie’s in San Francisco for dinner. Then to the Top of the Mark – Mark Hopkins Hotel for drinks.

                                                                                                                  And while looking out over that beautiful city, I asked her to be my wife. She said ‘yes’! And I was the luckiest guy on the planet.

                                                                                                                  The Power Struggle

                                                                                                                  Most couples see signs of the Power Struggle anywhere from two months to two years after the wedding vows.

                                                                                                                  Our power struggle began on the honeymoon. That’s right. As a matter of fact on the day after the wedding.

                                                                                                                  Sandy had given me a beautiful watch as a wedding gift – a battery powered, electronic watch. One of the first of its kind. I’d never had one before.

                                                                                                                  Problem is, there was no instruction manual. So I spent the first couple of hours ‘the morning after’ (yes, the first day of our honeymoon) trying to set it up (yeah, I know.).

                                                                                                                  To me this was normal. Not doing anything wrong here. Except for one detail. I was married now. Not alone. And we were on our honeymoon for cryin’ out loud! Now that I’m married, it’s not really cool to just do what I want, without any consideration for the other person in the room.

                                                                                                                  But how was I to know?

                                                                                                                  As Sandy tried to communicate her disappointment to me, I immediately felt attacked.

                                                                                                                  Feelings of inadequacy overwhelmed me. So I pulled away from her – literally withdrew from the conversation. This really upset her and I had no idea why or what to do.

                                                                                                                  It was horrible!

                                                                                                                  Even though we ‘coped’ and moved on, this tragic episode began a pattern that would last for years. I’d get lost in my world (work, hobbies, whatever). Sandy would feel abandoned.

                                                                                                                  She’d express disappointment. I’d pull away further. That would trigger more feelings of abandonment, resulting in more expression of disappointment, which would cause me to’¦well you get the idea.

                                                                                                                  Not good!

                                                                                                                  Welcome to the Power Struggle!

                                                                                                                  All she wanted was a close connection with me. That’s what marriage is supposed to be, right?

                                                                                                                  Like many couples we struggled to cope with this pattern. But it always costs when you merely cope with a problem rather than dealing with it.

                                                                                                                  The price we paid for years was the insecurity of an unstable connection that could be easily ruptured.

                                                                                                                  Two precious daughters were born, as we continued to do the best we could.

                                                                                                                  What we didn’t realize is that both of us had brought our childhood wounds and defenses into our marriage. Unconscious pain from childhood that drove me to abandon ship when criticized, and that drove Sandy to criticize when abandoned.

                                                                                                                  The Breakthrough

                                                                                                                  I’ll save you all the gory details. But it was fight after fight. Silent-standoff after silent-standoff. Literally “second verse same as the first – a little bit louder and a little bit worse.”

                                                                                                                  Over and over’¦and over again.

                                                                                                                  But a breakthrough came when we began practicing Imago Couples Dialogue. The therapy I now use with couples every week.

                                                                                                                  The process slowed us down in a way that helped regulate our emotional reactions. And that gave us a chance to see each other – things about each other we’d never seen before because of all the defenses.

                                                                                                                  Then we began to embrace our differences, and empathize with each other.

                                                                                                                  And we began to see how our childhood dramatically affected our relationship.

                                                                                                                  Sandy grew up in an amazing home. She was SO attractive. And so was her family. Her parents did a great job. But even with great parents, all children experience wounding at some level. It’s inevitable.

                                                                                                                  When Sandy was 2 ½ years old her mom had twins. Both infants suffered with colic. And both mom and dad were consumed by the need to care for them.

                                                                                                                  Some of what Sandy needed was lost in the process. Her mom was amazing. And dad too.

                                                                                                                  But no matter how good you are as parents, wounds happen to our children in ways we’re not aware of.

                                                                                                                  This feeling of abandonment surfaced many times later growing up.

                                                                                                                  Once when her older brother got to stay out much later with his friends on Halloween. And got SO much more candy. And she remembers another time waving goodbye to her older brother as he and his friends drove away for a ski weekend at Tahoe. Once again she felt left behind. And left out.

                                                                                                                  Experts say that approximately 90% of our upset comes from history. 10% is related to the present.

                                                                                                                  The Dialogue help me see that the pain that Sandy felt on our honeymoon was not just because of me.

                                                                                                                  I was not the source of her pain, only the trigger.

                                                                                                                  chuck starnes relationship coach
                                                                                                                  Chuck and Sandy at Waikiki Beach

                                                                                                                  The Mature Love Stage

                                                                                                                  Here’s what we learned that helped us move from the Power Struggle to Mature Love.

                                                                                                                  1. A childhood wound of abandonment can be activated when your partner disconnects from you.

                                                                                                                  For me to ‘leave her’ for a watch brought back all that pain from childhood.

                                                                                                                  Am I worth being taken care of? Am I worth pursuing? Am I more important than a watch?

                                                                                                                  2. Healing comes when you finally get what you needed in childhood from your intimate adult partner.

                                                                                                                  Sandy wanted me to choose her. To be close to her. To be enamored with her, not a watch (even though she gave it to me.).

                                                                                                                  Even though that didn’t happen then, it happened later.

                                                                                                                  During one of the Dialogues she made a change request.

                                                                                                                  In a moment of safety and empathy she made this request.

                                                                                                                  ‘The next time you feel like pulling away from me will you make an appointment with me to dialogue and tell me about the feelings that make you want to withdraw.’

                                                                                                                  It was a stretch for me. But when I did it, it brought healing.

                                                                                                                  It was amazing how granting this change request helped me overcome the force of my own adaptations and stay present with her.

                                                                                                                  And when a change request like this is granted, your lower brain, where all your memories and pain and defenses reside, is not going to say in that moment, ‘We’ll you’re about 20 years too late!’

                                                                                                                  No! It’s going to say, ‘Finally I’m getting the love I always wanted!’

                                                                                                                  And healing is the result.

                                                                                                                  3. Growth comes to the one bringing healing.

                                                                                                                  That would be me.

                                                                                                                  I can’t tell you the feelings of wholeness I experienced as I stretched and grew in to this kind of behavior Sandy was asking for.

                                                                                                                  Staying present with her was VERY hard because all I felt was anger and fear and wanting to run!

                                                                                                                  My strategy from childhood, which helped me stay alive, was not going down easily (I’ll talk more about this next week).

                                                                                                                  It literally called me to access a part of myself that I had lost and never developed growing up.

                                                                                                                  And the feeling of wholeness was something wonderful like I’d never felt before.

                                                                                                                  So what about you?

                                                                                                                  Did your fights start early on like us?

                                                                                                                  Is it hard to understand why you fight?

                                                                                                                  Does your partner’s reaction seem extreme?

                                                                                                                  Join us on this journey toward healing and wholeness.

                                                                                                                  Get the skills you need to turn marriage conflicts into a deeper connection and passion together.

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