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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    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.


    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. 


    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!

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      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! 

        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!

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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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              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.


              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?


              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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                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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                  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”!

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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 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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                      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 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 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!


                          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.

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                              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!

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                                My goal is to provide free relationship tools and resources delivered to your 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 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.

                                      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! 

                                            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.

                                                If you haven’t already…

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                                                  What if my husband is unwilling to work on our marriage?

                                                  Every marriage needs work. But what happens when a relationship goes flat and one partner is not willing to work on it? Is there hope for that marriage?

                                                  Yes, and here’s why.

                                                  One person can change the relationship!

                                                  Change happens when one partner starts doing something differently.

                                                  One reader told me…

                                                  “Chuck, we are trapped in that cycle of blaming and defensiveness you talk about. I feel stuck, and powerless, and it hurts because my partner doesn’t want to work on our relationship? I feel so alone.”

                                                  That’s really hard and can feel hopeless.

                                                  But if you will change the way you communciate, the dynamic of the relationship will change, and something will shift.

                                                  And your partner will have to change. Not by force, but willingly.

                                                  My experience tells me that at least he will become curious, and he’ll probably end up wanting to work with you toward change.

                                                  It’s a principle of the universe. If you change, your partner will have to respond differently.

                                                  It’s like when you change your tennis serve, your opponent has to change their response.

                                                  Quantum physics claims that, in our interconnected universe, anything you do anywhere impacts everything, everywhere. This is no truer than in relationships.

                                                  So here are some steps that are in your power to do, no matter how hurt or powerless you feel.

                                                  1. Listen before talking

                                                  Helen LaKelly Hunt said in an interview that on average we hear about 13% of what is being said in a conversation.

                                                  I believe that. Because as soon as my wife says something that triggers my defenses, I start ‘reloading”. At that point, I’m not listening to her. I’m listening to me! And I doubt if I even hear 13%!

                                                  So start listening to your partner.

                                                  How do I do that?

                                                  Mirror rather than react.

                                                  Use the powerful Imago Dialogue sentence stems to regulate your emotions, listen to every sentence, observe every inflection, and be attuned to every non-verbal message.

                                                  ‘What I hear you saying is’¦

                                                  ‘Did I get it?’

                                                  ‘Is there more about that?’

                                                  Mirror rather than react.


                                                  Validate rather than shame.

                                                  Be the one who lets go of the need to “be right”.

                                                  Validation says…

                                                  ‘While I may see it differently, you make sense; and what makes sense is’¦’

                                                  You don’t have to agree with your partner, but you do have to see that his reality is valid.

                                                  “If 6 turns out to be 9, I don’t mind. I don’t mind.” – Jimi Hendrix

                                                  If you are looking down at the number 6 and your partner who is across from you is swearing that it’s a 9, you can argue forever about “who’s right”.

                                                  Validation says even though I hold my own reality and won’t deny it, I can also see from your perspective why you say it’s a 9. Though I may see it differently, you make sense.


                                                  Empathize rather than villainize.

                                                  When you mirror rather than react, validate rather than shame, then you can actually empathize with how your partner feels. This is where your relationship is transformed.

                                                  ‘A first I saw you as a disrespectful person who was nagging me. Now I see that you’re upset because you’re in pain, and fearful of losing your connection with me. That changes everything.’

                                                  This will cause a shift in your relationship, draining the negativity that would otherwise fill the space between you.

                                                  So listen before talking.

                                                  2. Be curious rather than critical

                                                  One sure way to keep your partner in that uncooperative state is to criticize him for it.

                                                  Very often the reason a husband is not open to getting help is because he fears being railroaded into something that feels unsafe.

                                                  “But Chuck, I can’t help it. I just open my mouth and all these things I’m not happy about just come flooding out.”

                                                  “How can I not be critical when he’s being so difficult?”

                                                  This is where you should make curiosity your best friend.

                                                  It’s impossible to be curious and critical at the same time.

                                                  Being curious is one of the most powerful and pro-active things you can do for your relationship. That’s because curiosity helps regulate your emotions and makes the conversation safe for your partner.

                                                  Plus, when you are curious and stay curious you’ll actually find that your partner is far more interesting than you may have thought. That happens when you get curious and stay curious.

                                                  Still feel like you need to criticize?

                                                  Then it may be that you’re more frightened of intimacy than your partner.

                                                  Why do I say that?

                                                  I believe you when you say you want to work on the relationship, but you may be unconsciously maintaining your distance by criticism. Why? Your own fear of intimacy.

                                                  Whenever there is criticism the relationship is not safe. And distance is assured!

                                                  ‘I want to work on our marriage but you don’t.’

                                                  ‘I want to have sex and you don’t!’

                                                  Hey, someone is definitely not going to want to have sex with you if you approach it this way.

                                                  So what do I do?

                                                  Simply drop the criticism and be curious.

                                                  This will change the game!

                                                  Get curious about what’s going on and what’s making you feel disconnected. Say to your partner…

                                                  ‘I don’t know what’s wrong but I’d like to learn from you. How could I be the kind of person with whom you’d want to be more romantic, make love, spend more time with?”

                                                  If I’m interested in you, really interested in you, not interrogating you, but really interested and curious about what’s inside of you, you’ll open up to me.

                                                  And when I listen to you and not try to change you, you’ll start liking me and not react to me.

                                                  “Chuck, I did all that, but it didn’t work”.

                                                  That’s because his defenses were activated. When that happens, nothing will work. So start over with #1 Listen Before Talking. Refuse to come up against his defenses. Once either of you are defensive, the conversation is no longer safe. So start over, make it safe, stay in dialogue.

                                                  Listen before you talk, be curious rather than critical, and things will begin to change!

                                                  This final step will seal the deal.

                                                  3. Share appreciations rather than complaints

                                                  When you’re grateful rather than complaining, negative energy is replaced by positive energy in the space between you.

                                                  This will make your partner want to work with you toward a better relationship.

                                                  So no matter how you are feeling about your partner, share with him three things you appreciate about him every day. Tell him some of the many things he’s doing well and what it means to you.

                                                  ‘One thing I really appreciate about you is’¦’

                                                  ‘When I experience that I feel’¦’

                                                  And if possible, relate it to your childhood.

                                                  ‘When I feel that, it reminds me of when I was little and’¦

                                                  But will this really work???

                                                  The power of appreciation

                                                  There was a wife who went to counseling alone because her husband wasn’t interested in working on the relationship.

                                                  The counselor said, ‘Just tell him three times a day something you appreciate about him and see what happens.’

                                                  She said, ‘There is no way. There is nothing I appreciate about him. There is not one thing I can honestly say I appreciate about that man.’

                                                  ‘Come on, you can think of something.’

                                                  ‘Nope. There’s nothing.’

                                                  ‘Oh come on think about it. Surely there’s something. One thing.’

                                                  ‘Well’¦I guess you could say he’s good looking’¦even though to be honest I can’t stand to look at him right now.’

                                                  ‘Well, just start with that. Just tell him.’

                                                  So she did. And, to her amazement, there was a surprising openness she hadn’t felt before. That compliment sat rather well with him.

                                                  So the next day she said, ‘You know, I appreciate the way you are with the kids. In our parenting, you bring to the table things that I don’t have. I appreciate that.’

                                                  And in those first few days she began to feel a subtle shift in the relationship.

                                                  Over the next couple of weeks, as she continued to express appreciation each day, two things began to happen.

                                                  First of all, the more things she shared that she appreciated, the more things she saw that she appreciated.
                                                  Second, as she shared things she appreciated about him, she began to notice him trying more and more to live up to those things that were being said about him.
                                                  Wow! Amazing!

                                                  And, in time, it completely transformed their relationship!

                                                  Affirmation and criticism cannot travel the same narrow pathways at the same time.

                                                  So push all the negative energy out of the space between you and your partner and watch your partner change and become open to working on the relationship with you!

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                                                    Until next week!





















                                                    Why incompatibility is the basis for a great marriage

                                                    Marriage incompatibility can be transformed into an intimate partnership for healing and growth!

                                                    Ever feel like you’re married to the most incompatible person on the planet?

                                                    You’re not alone. Turns out ‘opposites’ DO attract!

                                                    And being opposite can feel like you’re incompatible.

                                                    But here’s a secret…

                                                    Incompatibility is the basis for a great marriage!

                                                    “Ok Chuck, I get it that opposites attract. But incompatibility…the basis for a great marriage? Give me a break! Is this going to be another post where you say the opposite of what we’ve always thought? Like ‘Conflict is a sign you married the right person‘?”

                                                    I could hear your objections already and you’re not alone.

                                                    I googled ‘relationship compatibility’ and found many who agree with you. Countless articles warning you NOT to be in a relationship with someone incompatible with you in areas like’¦

                                                    • Strict punctuality vs. hang loose “I’ll get there when I get there.”
                                                    • Neat-freak vs. slob
                                                    • Spend-thrift vs. stingy-sourpuss
                                                    • And God forbid you get into a relationship with someone who is not ‘sexually compatible’ with you.

                                                    “Experts” are saying that differences like these will make life miserable!

                                                    “So don’t commit!  Find someone compatible!!” 

                                                    But recent neuroscience discoveries are turning what we thought about the marriage relationship on it’s head.

                                                    Think about it:

                                                    Each of those differences listed above represent opportunities for healing and growth…but only when those two “incompatible” people are together in a relationship!

                                                    Get my drift?

                                                    Here are two reasons I’m convinced “incompatibility” is the basis for a great marriage.

                                                    1. Incompatibility creates opportunities to heal the past.

                                                    Case in point: Nate and Susan.

                                                    Nate was a very intelligent, but very quiet young man in my premarital counseling group. When I tried to point out traits in Susan, his fiancé, that foreshadow future areas of conflict, he said, ‘No way! Those are the things I love about her!’

                                                    Nate was sincere, but he was also in the Romantic Stage of the relationship, and was seeing Susan through rose-colored glasses.

                                                    Isn’t it cute the way she’s so expressive with her emotions! I can listen to her talk all day.

                                                    So why is it that after only a year of marriage he found himself leaving the house because…

                                                    She never shuts up!  


                                                    At some point after the wedding vows, the neurotransmitters that induce the romantic love coma subside.

                                                    That’s when we wake up to the fact that we have married someone different from us.


                                                    The rose-colored glasses are ripped off. Welcome to the Power Struggle Stage.

                                                    So what was going on with Nate and Susan?

                                                    Nate had married his “Imago match”.

                                                    His what?

                                                    Harville Hendrix uses this term, “Imago”, to describe an image you carry in your unconscious ‘lower brain’ (brain stem and limbic system).

                                                    And that image consists of’¦

                                                    1) The positive and negative traits of your primary caretakers.


                                                    2) The disowned, denied, and lost parts of yourself.

                                                    Imago Relationship Theory posits that the selection of a romantic partner is partly unconscious, driven by an agenda which is to’¦guess what?

                                                    Finish childhood.


                                                    To finish childhood. To resolve the wounds, unmet needs, and frustrations that occurred while growing up.

                                                    That’s why we fall in love and marry someone who is like our parents!

                                                    Not in just their positive traits, but even more significantly in their NEGATIVE traits.

                                                    Now why would I want to do that? That doesn’t make sense.

                                                    Did I say that it happens unconsciously?

                                                    Those positive and negative traits in your partner feel familiar. This explains in part why you’re drawn to his person and why you fall in love.

                                                    But as you encounter the negative traits, old wounds are activated.

                                                    Nate had that mysterious quietness that Susan was drawn to.

                                                    And when we talked about how his childhood defenses could make her feel abandoned, she was confident that would not happen.

                                                    He just won’t. Because we’re in love. He’d never do that.

                                                    Don’t you just love the naiveté of the Romantic Stage of a relationship?

                                                    But at one point, when Susan felt Nate withdrawing from her, it did activate those feelings of abandonment. And that’s when their conflicts began.

                                                    Growing up, Susan’s mom was busy caring for younger twins, while her dad seemed married to his work. And then her dad spent whatever time left over with her brothers.

                                                    Her method of coping was to break the rules, act out – anything to get someone’s attention.

                                                    So when Nate activated this same feeling of rejection and abandonment by simply pulling away from her, she would become upset and demand to be heard and recognized.

                                                    And the more he withdrew, the louder and more controlling she became.
                                                    And the louder she got, the more he withdrew.

                                                    At that point, so early in their journey, there was no way that Nate could have understood the pain that was driving her.

                                                    But during therapy he was able to empathize with Susan, and to see how his pulling away from her triggered those deep feelings of abandonment from childhood.

                                                    He realized he was not the source of her upset. He was only the “trigger”.

                                                    In the Imago Dialogue process, Susan began making “change requests” of Nate that involved him being present with her during times of conflict, rather than “abandoning” her.

                                                    She asked Nate for things like this…

                                                    “The next time you feel like leaving the conversation, can we just stop talking, and will you just take my hand, look into my eyes, and just be silent with me for two minutes?”

                                                    As he granted those requests, Susan’s wound from childhood began to heal as her longing for connection was no longer being frustrated by Nate leaving.

                                                    Our lower brain holds pain from the past in an unconscious state, and also in the present tense (as if the wound happened yesterday).

                                                    And the lower brain does not distinguish between individuals. It only apprehends the traits of a person.

                                                    So when that past wound is activated by someone similar to the one who wounded you…BUT this time their behavior gives you what you needed, healing is the result!

                                                    And your lower brain doesn’t complain, “Well, you’re about 20 years too late!”

                                                    No! The love you’re receiving registers deep in your psyche, “Finally, I’m getting the love I wanted.” And it’s healing.

                                                    Do you see how your marriage can be an amazing partnership for healing you never even imagined before?

                                                    Incompatibility creates opportunities to heal.

                                                    Wow.  Sounds simple enough, right?

                                                    Hold on a minute.

                                                    It sounds simple, but…it was extremely hard for Nate to grant that request.

                                                    Why? Because Nate had spent all his years protecting himself from this kind of vulnerability. A step like this was threatening…actually terrifying!

                                                    This leads to the second reason I think incompatibility makes for a great relationship.

                                                    2. Incompatibility creates opportunities to grow.

                                                    What Susan needed to heal pointed precisely to where Nate need to grow.

                                                    Nate had never had to be present and share his emotions until he married Susan.

                                                    Incompatibility provides an opportunity to grow and recover parts of youself that were lost and never developed growing up.

                                                    Nate was drawn to Susan because she was so effusive and free to share her feelings. Something Nate had never developed growing up.

                                                    How did Nate miss out on this?

                                                    His mother was controlling. So he discovered early in life that one way to maintain a feeling of autonomy around his intrusive mother was to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself.

                                                    Without this information, she was less able to invade his space.

                                                    Nate learned to hide behind a psychic shield he erected as a child to protect himself from an overbearing mother.

                                                    He felt smothered by his mom growing up, and now he was feeling smothered by his new wife.

                                                    So Nate would respond to Susan’s ‘intrusions’ in the same way – by doing a disappearing act where he could hide his feelings from her.

                                                    Susan didn’t realize that when Nate left the conversation, he was only trying to survive his own pain and not trying to “punish” her.

                                                    But notice how Susan’s “change request” was a challenge for Nate to begin to learn to stay present and connect emotionally. Something he’d never had to do. Something he’d never developed. But something that he was actually very capable of doing.

                                                    Because, in doing this, Nate was recovering a lost part of himself.

                                                    So for Nate to provide what Susan needed most (his presence during conflict), required him to stretch. To stretch into behaviors he never learned as a child. And it was not easy.

                                                    But through this process Nate began to feel much more “whole” as a person.

                                                    So…not only can incompatibility create opportunities to heal, it also creates opportunities to grow.

                                                    “But, Chuck,” Nate could have said (he didn’t say it, but many partners do), “That’s just not who I am. I’m not a ‘feelings’ person. I feel like Susan wants to change me into something I’m not.”

                                                    I hear that a lot.

                                                    This growth challenge is not about changing who you are. It’s about becoming more of who your are.

                                                    It’s about recovering those things that are actually in us, but have been walled off by our childhood adaptations and defenses.

                                                    That’s why Nate felt more whole as a person after this.

                                                    Here’s a super big takeaway:

                                                    Your partner’s need for healing will always point to your need for growth. And vice versa.

                                                    An amazing thing this thing called marriage!

                                                    What about you  today? Does your partner trigger this kind of upset in you? Or do you trigger it in your partner?

                                                    Have you felt like giving up on your marriage because you’re “incompatible”?

                                                    If what I’m saying is true, the best place for you to be is right where you are.

                                                    So let me encourage you to stay put. And work toward building this kind of mutual partnership of healing and growth.

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                                                      What to do when childhood defenses sabotage your relationship

                                                      Couples fight for one fundamental reason: they bring their childhood defenses into their relationship.

                                                      The way you learned to adapt and survive in childhood can negatively impact your adult relationships…even if you had really good parents.

                                                      To one degree or another