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”.

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…

Sharing Appreciations

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.

Differentiation in Marriage

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 are 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.

Childhood Pain in Marriage

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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Build your dream marriage part 1: Reconnect your disconnected relationship

Has your dream marriage turned into a nightmare? Are you facing the new year 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.



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.


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…

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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 perhaps 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.

And share with us how it’s working in the comment section below! Add your insights to the pool!

Also if you have any questions, others are probably asking it too. So fire away!

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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. (I have permission to tell their story, but their names and some of their story details have been changed to protect their identity).

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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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.

Let’s all follow Rick’s example and resolve every single frustration we encounter in our marriage!

Please leave your comments below. And subscribe to my weekly posts if you haven’t already.

Thanks for reading!

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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 90% 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.)

Because of privacy settings, you’ll have to watch it on Vimeo. Click on the blue tab to watch, 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.

When you’ve finished, please take a moment to share your thoughts with everyone in the reply section below.

And…if you haven’t already…

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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!

Watch the video below as Genevieve and Mike demonstrate the Couples Dialogue. Notice what happens to Genevieve when she feels validated by Mike.

This is how you do it friends!

Let’s turn symbiosis and self-absorption into healthy differentiation and deeper connection…

…and stop the blaming and defensiveness!

Let me know if I can help. I’ve been doing lots of Skype calls with couples over the past few weeks. I’d love to help coach you if you need it. Click here to find out more.

Post your comments below in the comment section. Share your insights and questions. See you next week!

My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.



How can I stop being so reactive in my marriage relationship?

Is your marriage relationship being sabotaged by outbursts of anger and overreaction?  Does your own reaction drive you to pull away from your partner, causing her or him to feel abandoned?

No marriage relationship can stay connected if one person is highly reactive.

Whenever emotions are out of control, the conversation will never be safe. And feeling connected will not be possible.

Here are three powerful insights that can help us regulate our emotions and help us stay present and connected with our partner.


1. Our feelings drive our behavior.

Who me? No, never. Not me. I believe you should do what’s right regardless of feelings!


I used to be so naive.

But after a few decades of marriage, I discovered this was almost never the case.

Why? Because…

The feelings that drive our actions are almost always unconscious.


Seems like negativity would always spew out of my mouth whenever my unconscious fear or anger was triggered. And the results were never good.

And this all happened without my even knowing it.

Before I could process anything in the thinking part of my brain (cortex), the critical retort was already out of my mouth and I was in trouble.

Can you relate?

Problem is the neurons triggered from our lower, reactive brain travel 10 time faster than those from the top down. That’s why it so difficult to not be reactive to your partner.

The moment that reaction occurs, the conversation is no longer safe. And the kind of dialogue that leads to connection is not possible.

Here’s how it usually goes down. I learned this from the book, Crucial Conversations.


The example in the graph is a wife I previously shared about.

She grew up in a home where her father and brothers were engineers, and her mom and sister were nurses. She was the “artistic” one.

Although she was very talented, she always felt “dumb” growing up with all those math and science whizzes.

So now in her marriage,  just a “5-watt” eye-roll from her husband triggers a “1000 watt” reaction.

Ok. I get it. That makes sense. But how do I get control of my emotions and all this overreaction?

The key to controlling our emotions is learning where they come from.

There is something that happens lightening fast between the time we see or hear something and the feelings we create in response.


We often say, “He made me mad.”  Or, “She upset me.”

The truth is no one can make you mad.

“What? What do you mean no one can make me mad? It happens all the time!”

No, actually, you make yourself mad.

Something happens between what you see and hear and the feeling you create.

“OK. I give up. What is that?”

2. Our “stories” drive our feelings.

The story we tell ourselves, or the meaning we attach to an event is what creates our feelings.

I see or hear something.
Then…I attach meaning to it. I tell a story about it. I interpret it. I judge what motives are behind it. I tell myself whether it’s good or bad, safe or dangerous.

And this all happens in a flash.

That’s what creates my feelings.

So I do create my own feelings after all…hmm.


The path to action we take begins with what we see and hear.
Then we tell a story about what we saw or heard.
That story then creates feelings.
And finally those feelings drive our behavior.

When we are in a reactive mode, that behavior takes one of two directions: clamming up or blowing up.

Both of these options destroy any chance of a healthy dialogue, and leave us feeling disconnected from each other.

Sandy says, “Do you have to take your phone whenever we go for a walk?”

What story do I tell? “She’s trying to control me.”

That story creates feelings of anger or fear.

Then like a hailstorm I react. Or like a turtle, I withdraw into the safety of my shell. Yes, I can be a hailstorm or a turtle.

Clamming up or blowing up never gets me what I really want. Only safe dialogue can keep us close and connected.

That’s because my reaction is only the beginning.  

My reaction triggers Sandy’s pain and defenses. If she responds in kind, the conflict is on.

How do I know so much? I’ve lived this scene over and over again. “Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse”.

But I’m learning that if I can catch my story, and hold it tentatively, I can change the feelings I create before there is a reaction and things go south.

Even if my story is true, even if Sandy IS trying to control me, I can confront the issue in a safe dialogue which brings us closer rather than blowing us apart.

Make sense?

In scientific terms, I have to give time for the neurons that move top down from my thinking brain to my reactive brain.

When I stay in my thinking brain, I can master my story and then tell it in a way that doesn’t trigger hurt and reaction.

So what’s the conclusion of all this?


3. If I change my story, I change my emotions, and thus my behavior.

So what does this look like?

Crucial Conversations gives some great sentence stems that help you turn your brain back on, and keep you curious and present rather than critical and reactive.

Here’s the one I used.

I looked at Sandy and asked myself, “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person like Sandy say that?”

And, as I used this stem to keep my brain turned on, and to become curious about what Sandy was feeling, the answer came.

“Oh yeah, she just wants to spend some uninterrupted time with me. That makes sense. That’s why always being on my phone is a frustration to her. I get it.”

Change my story – change my feelings – bingo! Changed my behavior!

Even with the negative vibes I felt from Sandy’s frustration, this tool kept me from reacting and helped us stay in dialogue.

This is how we can turn a negative feeling into a positive interaction that leads us to deeper connection.

This is how to avoid  spiraling downward into a negative interaction.

And this is how we had a great walk, a great conversation, and ended up feeling closer to each other rather than hurt and angry.

If you change your story, you change your feelings.

Then you can respond in a way that gets you what you want. For yourself, for your partner, and for your relationship.

Try it and let me know how it goes in the reply section below!

My goal is to provide free relationship resources delivered to your email inbox every Saturday morning! To receive my weekly blogpost just subscribe below.


The Art of Caring Confrontation

What happens to my marriage if I choose to be “nice” rather than honest?

…if I go “silent” rather than confront an issue head on?

Usually there’s an ugly consequence.

Today I’m sharing an amazing tool I call “The Art of Caring Confrontation”.

I always assumed that going silent and being nice is better than blowing up into a raging argument.

I’m not advocating blowing up, but clamming up doesn’t work either.


Because a healthy relationship requires vulnerability.

And vulnerability takes courage, not just being nice.

I’ve learned that I tend to avoid vulnerability like the plague.

I’d much rather hide what I really feel about something than to confront it in a scary conversation.

Can you relate?

I call it “being nice” rather than being honest.

“I know how sensitive she is. I don’t want to get a reaction.”
“Talking about it only brings up the pain of the past.”
“Sharing how I really feel will hurt his feelings. I don’t want to go there.”

I’m so “nice”.


Sometimes being nice is just a big cover up job for something I’m too afraid to broach.

What a whimp!

It takes COURAGE with a capital C to be vulnerable.

There is a relationship in my family were we have gone silent for 20 years.

There are things that we do not talk about – and have not talked about for two decades. And stuff we will not talk about for another 20 years, unless something changes.

And that big fat elephant shows up and sits there in the room with us every time we’re together. And no one talks about it.

Oh, there are some people who tell me “Just say it because it needs to be said!” If I did that, it would just trigger everyone’s defenses so that no one would really listen.

So, it’s easier to just be “nice”.

Why? Because it’s too painful to open old wounds.

Wait a minute! Too painful!?

Too painful compared to what? (Now I’m talking to myself again.)

Have I even considered the price of silence?

Evidently I’m willing to suffer a slow death over 20 years rather than facing the pain of a brief surgery that might start the healing process.

For me that’s been the price of silence. And it’s a heavy price.

OK, whew…! I hope there’s some value in that catharsis I just went through.

Now I want to lighten up, and apply this amazing tool to our marriages. It’s a skill you and I can use every day.

I call it…


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.

And share with us the results in the reply section below!

Until next week…

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