Tag Archives: great relationships

Part of me wants . .

. . . to finish writing this article, while another part of me really wants to go skiing.

Welcome to a conversation about mixed emotions. This is the second in a year-long series about the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

#1 ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

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Whether or not you’ve ever met Mork from Mork and Mindy (an American sit-com which ran from 1978-1982 about a space alien, played by Robin Williams, who’d been dispatched from his planet Ork to observe human behavior) you might appreciate what a great job Mork does of observing his own inner chaos. See if you can relate ~

Mork’s a mess and we love him for it. No matter what organized, calm, more-Mindy-like demeanor we might present on the outside, our insides can be quite different. In there, we’re a slowly simmering soup of sentiment – and that’s on good days. On bad days when we blow it, or someone blows it with us, that low simmer steams into a rolling boil and the inner chaos spills out all over.

You’ve seen it, right?

  • You’ve done what you consider to be good work and then someone gives you “feedback.” Suddenly your confidence vaporizes and you feel as capable as a mole on a unicycle.
  • Your teenager is late home. Your catastrophizing worrywart is about to call the hospital when you hear the car pull into the garage. In an instant your worry is engulfed by a volcano of rage and despite that slight whisper you hear back-stage to “Listen first!” you explode through the door like a banshee.
  • Your heart is full of love and ready to share. Candles. Mood music. Surprise dinner-for-two in the oven. Your phone bleeps for an incoming text: “Running late. Don’t wait up.” Poof! Your secure lover is sucker-punched and replaced by a green-eyed jealous, suspicious gut-chewing-monster.
  • And how about those inner tug-o-wars between the Part of you who craves cake after dinner and that Part who champions height-weight proportionality? Or between your straight-laced Banker who advises putting 10% of your income away each month and your Zesty “Carpe Diem” who’s just put a deposit down on that Hot Air balloon ride?
  • Or, much harder, the Part who wants to leave the marriage and never come back and that other Part, who is afraid of being alone and worries there’s no one better out there?

~ There’s not just one YOU ~

Have you noticed that your personality is more multicolored than monochrome?

That nothing is as simple as it seems?

Even when, to expand upon an example from the above list, you may feel confident about a piece of work, that confidence was probably a negotiated alliance between your ~

  • WORDY PART who wrote and wrote and over wrote
  • EDITOR who sliced through the word count
  • RESEARCHER who can’t stand unsubstantiated claims
  • POET who delivered gorgeous prose
  • TEAM PLAYER who sought buy-in from all the necessary stake-holders

and that sense of incapacity following the “feedback” was probably not just one flavor but a blend of your inner ~

  • CRITIC who warned you all along this was rubbish
  • PERFECTIONIST who actually agreed with the feedback you received
  • INSECURE teen who craves the positive attention of others
  • NAY SAYER who always warns you against risk-taking.

As I said, we’re often a mess on the inside. But the truth is, this is actually very good news! This is news-we-can-use, if we’d only learn how.

I’ve come to understand myself more clearly than ever before thanks to the work of Dr. Richard Schwartz and the model he developed called Internal Family Systems (IFS). As a brief intro I’m quoting from a short, accessible book* called There’s A Part of Me by Jon Schwartz (the founder’s brother) and Bill Brennen.

Normally, our parts work extremely well together. They coordinate, calculate, weigh in, and contribute to every decision we make, and they help us navigate a complex and sophisticated world. When they don’t work together, we experience conflict. As we will examine in this book, ironically it is mainly the parts of ourselves that want to protect us from potential harm that tend to cause emotional upset in our lives. We will look at situations in which our parts are in conflict, learn how we can recognize when this happens, and understand what we can do about it. (page 8)

Now this is useful stuff. Here’s a model which normalizes the chaos and offers a way into it, and then through it, that makes sense to me.

They go on to share their 3 main ideas about Parts:

  1. We are all made up of different “parts” that together form our basic nature and personality.
  2. What we call “thinking” is often conversations among these different parts, each with its own point of view. Many of the emotions we feel come from these parts of ourselves.
  3. All parts of us want what is best for us, and all of them contain valuable qualities and resources. But even though they want what’s best for us, sometimes our parts have bad ideas about how to achieve this.


  • Click here for an overview of IFS.
  • Click here for articles, books and other media about IFS.
  •  * Jon and Bill’s book excerpted above comes as a downloadable eBook for $10, or a paper bound book for $15. Both can be found at the IFS store..


Tune in to yourself. Can you identify a conversation you’re having in your head and notice the different perspectives? Or, have you noticed that you show up one way with this person, and another way with that? What Parts are those? Is there already a familiar set of thoughts and beliefs that tend to pop up, unbidden? A critical voice, a fearful gut, a vulnerable heart, or a Part who whisks you into some nice numbing behaviors like mindless eating, smoking, drinking, spending? Just be present with awareness, rather than judgment.


January 21st  – building upon a great question from a reader’s comment to me in an email about the idea of Parts. Thanks SS.

The “angry you,” the “mean you,” the “gentle, loving you.”  Where do they come from?  From experiences we have had, from people and situations we’ve been in – to an unholy degree, from our parents and the “attachment” experience of our early years: What?

Featured Image (above)

Robin Williams as Mork. Still missing his fire on the planet.

My Top 12 Relationship Skills

Last week I set a challenge, for both of us.

My part?

I’m challenging myself to identify and share the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-did.”

Those key things I’ve had to figure out over the decades in order to be happier in my own skin and behind my own eyes; those things that I’ve needed to grasp in order to understand other people; those things I’ve learned the hard way by all the failed connections, anger, sadness, loss, discomfort and unmet needs. These 12 skills are (so far) my answer to those unspoken “What if I’d known this?”” questions I’ve asked myself as I’ve bumped along on my own. To refer back to my math analogy of last week – what if I’d learned more than basic arithmetic at school before being asked to move into a world filled with calculus problems?

Your part?

Participate! Co-create this list. Here’s how. I’m exploring one skill per month, in one post per week – usually on Wednesdays. Check-in with me each week to see what you think of the ideas. I’m going to tell stories, post video clips, explore my reasons, & maybe share my own goof-ups. I’d love your feedback. Try these ideas on. Take them for a spin. Watch what happens. And remember – these are not exclusively “couples” skills. These are the building blocks for all loving relationships – loving ourselves, our parents, children, friends and yes, of course partners.

My hope?

That you’ll become more aware of what you do that works – what brings you closer to people. And that you’ll become more hopeful and empowered as you consider those relationships that are fragile or cracked. Are there ideas here that will help you build a firmer footing?

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After three decades of paying attention to how we connect with one another, I’ve come to believe that the essence of our human interactions can be pretty simply stated: We’re each trying to manage our feelings and meet our needs in the context of one another. And that’s why it gets so interesting.

At one extreme, to paraphrase Albert Camus, is the victim (someone who, for many reasons, is unable to advocate for him or her self) and at the other, the executioner (someone who ignores or crushes the feelings and needs of others). Neither path is satisfactory because the fact is, we need one another.

We need one another to show up with our true agenda more than we need either a resentful capitulation or a one-sided victory. Both these positions are destabilizing. There’s a score to settle. Pay-back and revenge are in the air. Someone has won or lost a battle but Peace has not broken out.

We need to be able to resolve issues with difficult neighbors; judgmental in-laws; stressed partners; angry children; our community – however we define this for ourselves. And, we need to be able to connect with happiness, celebrating the special moments, appreciating the day-to-day.

In brief there’s a whole lot of complexity to nurturing quality relationships and not a whole lot of teaching or guidance along the way.

So, about those skills.

I’ve gathered this list together from a variety of sources. Principally I want to acknowledge ~

My Top Twelve

It might not make total sense to you at first but I hope you’ll hang in here with me. And, because life is a work-in-progress, I may edit this list as the year progresses.


  • Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
  • Learn how to be pro-active: choose how “y’all” show up.
  • Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity.


  • Master the art of conversation.
  • Discover how to listen with your whole self.
  • Crack the empathy nut.
  • Practice kindness.
  • Negotiate with a win-win mentality.


  • Build (or rebuild) trust.
  • Apologize & “Do-Over” – when you blow it.
  • Forgive and move on – when they blow it.


  • Let go! Relationships end. You’ll learn, grow & carry on.

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The 3 next January posts will be exploring the many facets of ourselves. How come we can be assertive, brave and magnificent with these folks, and yet feel like a blithering idiot with those? What is this constant inner chatter?  Why do we get caught in dilemmas with totally competing arguments racing back and forth in our heads? What’s going on “inside” ?

Featured Image

Did you guess why I chose today’s featured image? This is a community of Bonobos. Considered amongst the most peaceful and egalitarian of apes I figured we’ve got something to learn from them.  Thanks to World Animal Protection for this image.

© Gemma Utting , January 2015


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IMAGINE you have a core, abiding Self;

a Self beyond the hubbub of the inner voices and distracting monkey-mind chitchat.

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IMAGINE this core Self is as pure, unblemished and perfect as it was at the hour of your birth;

before you wrapped it all around with layers of protection and ways of coping.

Screen shot 2013-06-28 at 3.06.08 PMIMAGINE this core Self is what you meet through ~

  • meditation
  • Yoga
  • absorbing pursuits
  • prayer
  • deep presence

and remember you have felt it before ~ as a pang of beauty, a quiet bliss, a deep connection, a pure joy.

  • Imagine this core Self is accessible to you at any moment.
  • This moment.
  • Imagine relating to yourself, and your loved ones, from this place.
  • Not all the time maybe, but more than you do now,
  • even without the Yoga or meditation ~ just by shifting your attention.

Slowly slowly, always coming (as my Yoga teacher says) I work to help clients reconnect to this place within themselves, so they might be happier in their relationships with themselves, and those around them, little by little, day by day.

If you’ve stumbled upon this post, please feel free to enjoy the others in this series ~

1. “I lived with Mother Theresa and Simon Cowell” about acknowledging all the inner characters who used to drown out my abiding core Self.

2. Meet Colin, the first person I met who lived connected to his core Self much of the time.

3. Hear how Colin achieved his form of inner peace and happy living.

And still coming ~ more about Internal Family Systems and how we can help ourselves, and one another, connect to our abiding core Self more often.