Tag Archives: Love

The Alphabet of Trust

Trust is like love. It’s one of those super dense words we seldom unpack. So, for a start, what does it mean to love? What does love look like?

I think that’s why 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 is such a popular wedding verse. It offers a set of “How To” guidelines:

  • Love is always patient and kind;
  • Love is never jealous;
  • Love is not boastful or conceited,
  • It is never rude and never seeks its own advantage,
  • It does not take offense or store up grievances.
  • Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.
  • It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.

Absent these suggestions, we might think love is just a fuzzy feeling.

So how about trust? Is trust just a fuzzy feeling, or are there behavioral guidelines that show us how to behave in a trustworthy manner? Or how to demonstrate our trust in someone else?

And if so, what are they?

Relationship researcher extraordinaire John Gottman has a fascinating article on Trust & Betrayal. If this is an area you are interested in, I highly recommend checking this link.

Meanwhile, I decided to take a stab at my own list of behavioral guidelines for how to cultivate trust.

Your character (who you are ) and your competence (how you act) show up in many ways of course, but the list below, if practiced, will help your relationship in two powerful ways.

  • You will become more trustworthy
  • You will become more trusting.

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve had a few clients lately who were raised in less-than-trustworthy environments. They were abused sexually, emotionally or physically and never learned what a trustworthy adult looked like. These young people can’t call upon an inner experience of trustworthiness. They have to think through the huge issues of “Whom can I trust?” and “How do I trust?”. They could use some behavioral guidelines.

This Alphabet of Trust is for them

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ACCEPT influence ~ from your partner. If you show them you accept (which does not mean you have to agree) their views and opinions, they will be more inclined to accept, and trust, yours.

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BELONG to one another ~ reassure your partner you are there for them, they belong in your heart, there is always a space for them.

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CONTROL ~ is an illusion in all but two places: your thoughts and your behavior. So, by all means take responsibility for all you think (and the stories you tell yourself) and all you do (how you show up on the planet with words and actions). But release any temptation to control or manipulate your partner. Trying to manage the outside world to protect your inside emotions never works.

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DUMP DEFENSIVENESS ~ if you make a mistake, don’t use excuses or be defensive. Own your error and simply say you are sorry. Be clear. Be true. End of conversation!

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ENJOY EYE CONTACT ~ lean in, look into each other’s eyes, whether you’re chatting over a beer or making love. Eyes seldom lie.

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(be) FAITHFUL ~ to whatever promises you make. If you’ve pledged monogamy, stay monogamous; if you’ve pledged to move after med school, move after med school; if you say you’ll take kid duty all Saturday, do that. Keep your commitments. If you absolutely need to change things, negotiate. Don’t  just drop the ball.

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GIVE thanks ~ be grateful for little things; a bed made, a meal served, a wound kissed, a knotted shoulder rubbed.

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(be) HONEST ~ tell the truth in everything . Little lies are a slippery slope to big lies. Tell the truth even when no one will know otherwise.

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INITIATE connection ~ reach out frequently. Little and often is great. A text. A smile. A hand squeeze.

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JUDGE with your heart ~ it’s too easy to tell ourselves negative tales about why our partner did this or that. Suspicion is like a poisonous worm – it will eat you up from the inside out. If you have a worry, it is better to confide that you have a worry and get it out in the open.*

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KEEP their secrets ~ if your partner shares something with you in confidence, guard it fiercely. The alternative is a fast track to betrayal.

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LISTEN deeply ~ tune in, seek to understand, paraphrase what you heard and ask “Did I get that right?”

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(be) MINDFUL ~ when you speak and act. It’s crazy-making to live with someone who says or does hurtful things and then denies having said or done them crying “But I didn’t mean it!”

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NEGOTIATE WITH A WIN-WIN MINDSET ~ in partnerships, that old win/loose idea is actually loose/loose. It does not feel like a simple win/loose, it feels like win/betray. Get creative until you find a solution that works for both of you. See How To Negotiate The Small Stuff for tips on how to do this.

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OWN up ~ if you blow it, say so. Offer an apology. Excuses suck!

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(be) PREDICTABLE (but not boring!) ~ a fine line, I know! Create certainty in the big stuff, like your values and dependability. Bring variety to the small stuff, like where and how you “eat, pray, love” (Thanks Ms. Gilbert).

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QUESTION ~ what you do not understand, don’t make assumptions. Ask your partner to clarify things so you can get to know the truth, not your fantasy.

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RESPECT ~ who your partner is, take his/her thoughts seriously. Never be dismissive.

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SPEAK ~ carefully. Not all the time of course, the warm friendly banter between two lovers needs no scripting nor censorship. But if something is bothering you (from a small irritation about making the bed, through a huge gut-wrenching fear your partner may have been unfaithful) HOW you approach the issue is key.  Huge topic of course – you may find my series on communicating helpful. It begins with The Five Conversations,

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(be) TRANSPARENT ~ be upfront about your motives, reasoning and opinions.

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USE “Us” & “We” ~ not “I’ and “You,” as in “We’ve got a problem between us”  rather than “I want this and you want that; I’m right & you’re wrong.”

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(be) VULNERABLE ~ let yourself show up warts and all. We all have aspects of ourselves we are afraid of, or embarrassed by. It is a huge vote of trust to share these aspects of who you are.

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WAIT ~ and count to 10 if you must, before you express an angry emotion. Being with a partner who flies off the handle is emotionally frightening. Calm yourself down before you talk about a difficult subject. If this is an issue for you, see The 7 Deadliest Fights.

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(E) XAMINE ~ your life and conscience from time to time. Are you as trustworthy as you can be?

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YIELD ~ your desires and wants sometimes. It can feel very reassuring to feel prioritized by a partner.

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ZIP-IT ~ sometimes stopping all the noise, all the words, all the “communicating”, processing, planning, commentating, justifying and explaining to simply be still in the presence of one another is the biggest boost to mutual trust there is.


These guidelines are not always wise. It will depend upon whether or not you are in a relationship with a more or less healthy individual. Be sure to come back next week and we’ll explore what to do when your partner is not yet deserving of trust.

  • Is learning how to trust rocket science?
  • No.
  • Does it require the dedicated life long practice of heart, mind and soul?
  • Yes.

And well worth it it is.

(Thank you to  Jenn Erickson for the delightful vintage alphabet images.)


Can we ever be too trusting?


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality


SKILL NINE ~ Build (or rebuild) trust.

  • The Alphabet of Trust

The #1 Reason Marriages Fail

And no, it’s NOT what you think!

Despite the fact that numerous couples interviewed after divorce cite things like ~

  • Incompatibility
  • Adultery
  • Boredom
  • Abuse
  • Marrying Young

(from Legal Zoom)

and despite the fact that numerous autopsy studies after a divorce cite things like ~

  • Getting in for the wrong reasons
  • Lack of individual identity
  • Becoming lost in the roles
  • Not having a shared vision of success
  • The intimacy disappears
  • Unmet expectations
  • Finances
  • Being out of touch … literally
  • Different priorities and interests
  • Inability to resolve conflicts

(thanks to Your Tango)

these remain symptoms of a much deeper problem, not the problem itself.

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It’s as simple and as challenging as that!

Here’s why.

Core human needs will ultimately trump everything else.

What are core human needs?

I love using Tony Robbins’ list. It’s short, memorable and in alignment with Maslow – the “grandfather” of needs identification.

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Below are some simple stories illustrating how these needs might be unmet in a relationship. I use the six terms Tony Robbins uses:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love and Connection
  • Growth
  • Contribution

I use actual examples from my clinical practice, with identifying names and circumstances changed, to build my case that it’s not the specific “crime” that brings the relationship down. It’s the inability of partners to negotiate, to advocate for their needs.


Max and Ira were international circus performers (yes – I meet fascinating clients!). They met when Ira was hired by the same prestigious group of performance artists and spent three years traveling the world with the group. They fell in love. They committed to one another and spent nearly every waking moment together for five years. Somewhere along the way, Max’s capacity for constant shift and adventure took a toll on another deeper need he felt for stability. For nesting. For settling down into a lifestyle he could count on. He wanted to be sure he’d know where he’d be 3, 6 18 months into the future. He wanted to put down roots. And he wanted Ira by his side.

Ira was still enchanted by the lifestyle that circus performing gave him; international travel, astonishing highs, a degree of fame. That almost lottery-ticket thrill of not knowing exactly what his apartment or city would look like 6, 9, 18 months out. He adored international vagabonding and performance art and he wanted Max by his side.

They knew other couples in their circus community who managed marriages and even families, but they could not negotiate a solution.

Max’s need for certainty, and Ira’s need for variety were, for these two, the stumbling blocks that ended their relationship.

As an interesting aside, the fastest growing segment of the population getting divorced is the over 50 set. It’s super high over 65. But, as Bridgid Schulte writes in The Washington Post  “More than half of all gray divorces are to couples in first marriages. Indeed, 55 percent of gray divorces are between couples who’d been married for more than 20 years.”

Folks have been unable to negotiate sufficient variety in their lives or marriages… they’ve been drowning in their own long-outdated need for certainty!


Oh, I could name scores of couples here where one partner was unable to communicate to their spouse / lover / former adored chosen-one how much they ached to be really seen. To be considered as relevant. As special. As worthy of time and attention.

But I’ll tell you the story of Cassandra and Rex. The classic beginning, they met in med school. Rex was a rare male going into Psychiatric nursing while Cassandra had a knack for surgery. They courted in the exhausting crucible of residency and first jobs and both were initially deeply supportive. They had a wide circle of friends, were generous and social, and married with a showy bash funded by Cassandra’s wealthy parents.

They came to me about seven years later. Their careers were flourishing. They were both superb at what they did, well paid, articulate, well-respected in their fields.

The core issue?

Underneath it all, Rex believed Cassandra did not value him, who he was, or his profession. He noticed how certain unkind comments slipped out at gatherings; how she said the word “nurse;” how she’d blow off commitments they had as couple with his friends, for non-emergency get-togethers with her friends (all surgeons).

The way Cassandra treated Rex fed into his own core insecurities. Rex had a core Part of himself who felt insignificant in his own eyes. This part needed Casandra to value him all the more. Meanwhile, Cassandra too had a powerfully insecure part cultivated in her high achieving family home. This part leveraged a sense of significance by looking down on Rex.

The way forward for them as a couple would have been for them each to meet and heal their core insecurities. They each needed to feel significant in their own eyes first. Absent that, their way of meeting their personal need for significance was coming at the expense of their partner.

But because they had spent so many years hiding from themselves, because the system they had evolved had Cassandra managing her insecurities by letting Rex see her as highly significant and Rex managing his insecurities by having Cassandra as his wife, they had caused one another too much pain and decided to divorce and move on.


Because the need for love and connection is so central in relationships, it’s the inability of partners to negotiate  this prime need that brings most couples in to see me.

Once that loving feeling has worn off, how do two people continue to express and receive love from one another?

We may have moved into the 21st century, but Della and Rob’s situation is repeated with subtle variations in (dare I say this?)  many couples in the USA?

Once the post-romantic-love high has worn off, couples settle into the business of living. Earning a buck. Making a home. Raising a family. Both Della and Rob love their work and in fact, increasingly, getting out the door in the morning to go to work is the highlight!

It’s on the home front that things are a battleground. Della has been totally unable to get Rob to see that “if he loves her” he will ~

  • Pick up his laundry
  • Fold the towels and put them away
  • Do the dinner dishes
  • Cook occasionally
  • Help her teach manners to their hyper-active toddler
  • Help her discipline their overly-sassy-pre-teen
  • Vacuum
  • Be OK with her time spent with girl friends on weekends

And Rob is increasingly loosing the battle to negotiate for the two things that spell love for him ~

  • Weekly sex
  • Weekend TV sports

As these individual but differing recipes-for-love go un-expressed and un-negotiated, they remain unmet. Each partner feels increasingly alone in the marriage, and they begin to drift apart.  By the time Della and Rob  came to see me they were ready to hit the “eject” button out of their marriage without having done the work necessary to prevent them from re-creating this same scenario again. The work? To figure out their core needs and learn how to negotiate for them fair and square.

For too many folks it seems easier to just start over with pockets full of hope than to do the important inner work that no one has taught them how to do anywhere along the way. (Yes, you hear my frustration with our educational system!)


Healthy couples allow space and room for each partner to grow. When one person wants to get a degree, start a business, travel the world, fly airplanes or learn Arabic and work with the International Rescue Committee – how they negotiate this expansion is key.

Both sides have work here – the one negotiating for the new thing will be wise to be mindful of their partner’s needs (maybe for certainty, maybe for significance after this new event) and the partner being invited to embrace these expanded horizons will need to manage their own fears and perhaps invite their own aspirations.

Elise and Frank came to see me on the brink of divorce, but are now in some solid negotiations with themselves and one another.

Elise has a promising break with her acting career which could take her to New York. Frank is heading for tenure at a good University in the mid-west. It’s a crux move in their marriage. Fortunately they are both willing to look inside themselves to see what triggers these two opportunities are igniting, and what needs these opportunities are meeting for each of them, and one another. Thus informed, their negotiations are grounded in self-awareness and understanding which is allowing them both to be creative, flexible and willing to do the work necessary to have a marriage in which growth is not only possible, but supported with enthusiasm.


Maybe with a twist of irony, think American Sniper here. For those who don’t know the story, here’s a summary lifted from the Amazon publicity spiel on the link above.

From 1999 to 2009, U.S. Navy Seal Chris Kyle recorded the most career sniper kills in United States military history. His fellow American warriors, whom he protected with deadly precision from rooftops and stealth positions during the Iraq War, called him “The Legend”; meanwhile, the enemy feared him so much they named him al-Shaitan (“the devil”) and placed a bounty on his head. Kyle, who was tragically killed in 2013, writes honestly about the pain of war—including the deaths of two close SEAL teammates—and in moving first-person passages throughout, his wife, Taya, speaks openly about the strains of war on their family, as well as on Chris.”

Clearly it sounds as though this couple did a remarkable job of negotiating a way to allow Chris’s desire to contribute to his fellow Seals to continue as long as it did. And, it put enormous strains on their marriage and family.

Living with a “legend” isn’t always easy…


So if – as I have come to believe after nearly 20 years of working with couples – the #1 reason marriages fail and relationships end is because one or both partners is unable to negotiate a way to meet their core human needs within the marriage, then these three things need to happen.

  1. We need to understand more about our own needs

We need to spend time with ourselves and ask ~

  • What needs do I have?
  • How do I meet my own needs?
  • How do I choose which needs to meet if I have more than one and they seem to compete?
  • How do I negotiate my needs when I’m around others?
  1. We need to understand more about our partner’s needs.

As we are getting to know a potential partner, we need to ask ~

  • What needs does my partner have?
  • How does my partner meet his/her own needs?
  • How does my partner choose which needs to meet if s/she has more than one and they seem to compete?
  • How does my partner negotiate his/her needs around others?
  1. We need to understand how to negotiate our needs as a couple.

As we consider building a relationship together, we need to explore ~

  • What needs do we each have in this relationship?
  • How do we each advocate for our needs to be met?
  • What do we do when it seems as if our needs are in competition or mutually exclusive?
  • What does each of us do when we feel our needs are not being taken seriously by our partner?


This is a huge topic and I’ll be exploring it for the next 3 posts.


Thanks to the Your Tango article referenced in this piece.


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  →Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you’re interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

SKILL SEVEN ~ Practice Kindness

SKILL EIGHT ~ Negotiate with a Win-Win Mentality

  • The #1 Reason Marriages Fail

Beyond Emotion Coaching-Listening For Your Child’s Needs

Because children aren’t just small adults, listening to a child is a unique skill. Not knowing this can get parents and kids off to a rocky start.

In fact, very often when adults wonder why their child doesn’t listen to them, one explanation might be that the child is simply modeling the listening they’ve received. Oops!

Screen shot 2015-04-01 at 2.01.31 PM← This is a terrifically helpful book on the subject of listening to your child, and it’s based on (to my mind) an even more wonderful book, Between Parent and Child, by Haim Ginott.

Both books speak to the importance of ~

  • listening for the emotions behind a child’s words or behaviors;
  • naming the emotions as your child experiences them;
  • listening empathically – which means avoiding the denying, minimizing, interrogating, pitying, defending the other person, advising, teaching, philosophizing and all the other things we do to manage our own discomfort when we are asked to simply be present to someone else.

Reading these books will help you become an emotion coach to your child, and studies show how emotion coaching helps cultivate emotionally intelligent kids. And, for success in life these days, EQ counts.

Here’s my favorite contemporary researcher talking about EQ.  John Gottman writes:

Emotional intelligence means being able to read your own and other’s emotions, and being able to respond to the emotions of others in a cooperative, functional, and empathetic manner. Emotional intelligence is a kind of social “moxie” or “savvy” about even very complex social situations. It requires knowing who you are, knowing your own feelings, knowing your own needs, and being able to handle yourself and compromise these needs with the needs of sometimes very complex social situations. EQ (Emotional intelligence) is a much better predictor of how children will turn out than IQ or achievement test scores.

(For the whole article, click → EMOTIONALLY_INTELLIGENT_CHILDREN_Updated2 )

So its good stuff, right!

However, since great resources for emotion coaching already exist, and since I have experienced an even deeper level of listening – both as a child and a parent – I’m here with two questions to push a little deeper:

  • What is it that sets good-enough listening apart from great listening?
  • What does it take to go further than emotion-coaching your child?

Remember yourself as a kid?

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Were there some adults with whom you could share your thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, stories, and even your slip ups?

And others who could hardly drag a civil response from you?

What was it about the adults you talked to?

My guess is they checked some of these boxes for you.

When you were with them, you felt ~

  • safe but not smothered
  • exhilarated but not frightened
  • loved but not controlled
  • significant but not in a way that gave you false airs
  • capable but not burdened by expectations
  • inspired but not pressured

Sure these qualities speak to an emotional sensitivity on the part of the adult listener. But there’s more there, and cracking that nut will help you become not just a good enough listener, but a great listener. The sort of listener a child (whether a just-verbal toddler or an articulate teen) will joyfully and consistently turn to because~

  • not only do you listen
  • not only do you help the youngster understand him or herself more fully,
  • but your listening actually helps the child meet one or more of their deepest human needs.

I’m drawing upon Tony Robbin’s work on core human needs. Here are the six as he identifies them:

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So – what does “beyond emotion-coaching” look like in the midst of real life?

Four-year old Ian comes running up to you from the sand box at the park where he’s been playing with some other kids using his shovel and pail. He is now empty-handed and screaming.

First – be his emotion coach. There are 3 steps.

1)  Listen for the emotions behind a child’s words or behaviors;

Quietly assess what you see – a kid formerly engaged in sand play now running to you empty-handed and screaming … you can begin to guess what might haven gone down.

2)  Name the emotion;

“Ian, looks to me like you’re super angry and maybe sad too?

3)  Offer empathic listening.

Tell me, what happened?

Now you just listen. Pop him on your knee if you want, or crouch down and hold his hands. Look him in the eye and let him unburden all the yukky stuff he’s feeling. Probably some other kid took his things and he feels helpless, angry, frustrated, alone. Listen until you can see he feels fully heard. Keep helping him find names for his emotions, guiding as you go.

If, for example, Ian says “I hate that kid – he took my shovel” show him it’s OK for him to express his emotions to you, but notice the difference between parroting “You hate that kid


Right now you’re so mad at the kid who took your shovel you feel you hate him.”

See how the first example seems to set in stone that Ian hates the kid, whilst the second example places the emotion in the specific context of the situation so the person with the emotion can be seen to own the emotion – not the other way around!

The two books I recommend above have so much great information on how to listen in such a way that your child feels heard. This IS subtle work, but you can master this.

But now here comes the “beyond emotion-coaching” part.

Second, help him meet his deepest needs.

Knowing Ian as you do, what does Ian NEED right now?

And can you use your understanding of Ian’s needs  – not just his developmental needs although those of course are in the mix, but his needs as a unique, particular human being – to help guide the next step?

Here’s the list of our core 6 human needs once more:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Connection & Love
  • Significance
  • Contribution
  • Growth

So, back to little Ian who’s been able to share all his yukky feelings about the shovel and pail incident. Now what?

Does Ian need a bit more certainty, predictability and security?

Has Ian experienced a lot of change lately? Maybe a trip? New sibling? A move? A divorce?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that creates a bit more stability in his life? In the midst of uncertainty, a child needs certainty. This would not be the day to push him to share, or use his words to negotiate turn taking.

It might be a good day to find a place where Ian could count on having his shovel and pail to himself, with some calm and predictability.

Or, does Ian need a bit more variety, surprise and novelty?

Have things been in a bit of a rut for Ian? Does he play here a lot and often come to blows?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that opens up some exhilarating new ways for him to relate with this other kid, or with this predicament of his toys being taken without his permission? Or even with his response to the fact his toys get used by other kids?

It might be a good day to brainstorm with Ian to find all sorts of ways to respond to the situation. It might be great to get playful and fun and resourceful.

Or, does Ian need to feel more love and connection with you, or someone else in his life?

Have things been a bit rocky for Ian and his relationships? Has he been running to you screaming a lot and maybe you’re getting irritated and he feels this? Is grandma playing with his new baby sister and he’s feeling left-out and second best?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that builds connection and love.

It might be a good day to see if Ian would like to play with you a bit? Or it might be a good time for a huge hug and snuggle before he goes back to the sand box.

Or, does Ian need to experience himself as significant in your eyes? In his own eyes?

Has Ian been going through a bit of a regression developmentally so adults have been doing more for him and you sense he needs to reclaim his power a bit?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that offers him a chance to be brave and creative.

It might be a good day to remind Ian of some prior brave creative thing he did (or of a character in a story he admires) and see if he’d like to find a way to be that boy again in the sand box?

Or, does Ian need to contribute a bit today?

Have you noticed Ian trying to be helpful but not quite getting the thanks and recognition he might be craving? His attempts often fall short (since he’s only four!) but he’s often saying “I’m a big boy now!”

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that offers him a chance to contribute? Maybe the solution involves thinking about how “big boys” might figure out what to do about two boys who want the same shovel and pail?

Or, is it time for Ian to be inspired to grow a little?

Does Ian have a pretty good life? Do things usually go well? Is he emotionally stable and loved? Could he handle a bit of a push?

Maybe what Ian needs now is for a solution that inspires in him an opportunity to grow into a bigger, kinder Ian. What might that look like? Could he lend his toys? Could he give them away?

 * * * * * *

No matter the age of your child, this pattern of emotion coaching – followed by a deeply wise recognition of where the child’s needing-edge might be – will deliver to the two of you a connection built upon so much mutual trust, respect and delight that you will be, to your child,  a uniquely satisfying resource.  One he or she will turn to again, and again.

When s/he grows up, and someone asks , “Who could you turn to when you were young? Was there someone special whom you felt really heard you, really understood you?”

Your child will not hesitate, but will be able to turn with confidence and say

“Yes, absolutely. It was X. And do you know  why? Well, when I was with them, I felt ~

  • safe but not smothered
  • exhilarated but not frightened
  • loved but not controlled
  • significant but not in a way that gave me false airs
  • capable but not burdened by expectations
  • inspired but not pressured

WOW ~ What a legacy!


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

Your Friend’s Separation

How friends and relations react in the face of a couple’s troubles makes a huge difference, often for the worse.  I am dedicating this week’s blog space to addressing the five types of couple distress I see most regularly, with tips for how family and friends can help, not harm, the hurting couple

Part 2 of 5  HOW TO HELP WHEN ~ They Separate

1. Be a neutral-zone. Even if you feel strongly in favour of one partner over the other it’s not helpful to act this out as prosecutor or defense. Just listen and try to be supportive by telling your friend how sorry you are that he or she is having this experience.  Don’t badmouth one person to the other – not only is it unhelpful, but there’s always the chance they might get back together again. Don’t ever volunteer to be the “go-between.”  While it might seem neutral, this perpetuates dreadful behaviour and fosters jealousy.  If the separated partners want to talk, they can do so directly, or in therapy.

2. Offer tangible, practical help. If your friends are separating, one, other or both of them will be living with less stuff. Does someone need bedding, kitchen ware, extension cords or a lamp?  If your friend used to rely on his or her spouse to help with dry cleaning, car troubles, elderly parents or the pets, can you step in instead?  Sleuth out which day or night is toughest on your friend and show up with dinner. Be willing to talk about anything, e.g,(“Can I survive on this budget?” or “Shall I shave my head, drop 10 kg, and  re-do my wardrobe?” Listen. Ask questions. See if you can get them laughing at their predicament – occasionally.

3. Stay alert for severe reactions. Whatever the cause of a separation, this is a massively unstable time. Feelings and behaviour will be all over the map and you may be frightened by your friends’ oscillating mood swings. Just show up. Love your friend unconditionally even if they are making poor choices. If you suspect your friend is severely depressed be willing to discuss suicidal thoughts. If she / he has a concrete plan (I’ll take an overdose) and has the means for completing this plan (I’ve been hoarding my pills for two years and have more than enough) ask  “On a scale of 1 – 10 with 10 being you don’t want to make it through the night, where are you?” If your friend has the means to carry out a suicide and is over a 3 or 4, get professional help.

4. Get your friend helping others. A pity-party is a lonely affair. If your friend is wallowing, get them thinking of someone else. You need them to walk your dog; the neighbour needs house-plants watered; animal rescue needs someone to love the kittens. Obviously, if there are children involved, this will look very different.  See Part 4.

Love as Lust

Part 1 of 5 How to Win At Love – in Five Easy Stages

STAGE  #1 LUST ~ You’re on the hunt

What is it that gets a perfectly happy guy who is otherwise content to swill some beers over sport talk with his mates, to eschew the bar, clean up and hang out with a woman while she asks ~

  • his opinion on her girl-friend’s boy-friend’s jerk behaviour (TIP: agree he’s a looser)
  • whether or not she should pierce her navel (TIP: tell her she’d look great either way)
  • whether these shorts make her look fat (TIP: nothing makes her look fat – how could it?)
  • for a movie date with The Notebook (TIP: let her cry on your shoulder and offer her some clean tissues you’ve packed along just in case)

What is it that gets a perfectly happy gal who is otherwise content to snuggle the cat in sweatpants whilst simultaneously “chatting” to her mother, and at least 3 other girl friends, to climb back into her heels, pop on the eyelashes, shimmy into the hip huggers and head on over to ~

  • watch the game with his mates (TIP: be enthusiastic when his team does well)
  • grab a bite to eat (TIP: be flexible on the first date – it won’t always be Take-Away)
  • go fishing on the weekend (TIP: take Dramamine, avoid makeup)
  • play competitive mini-golf (TIP: you could decline…..)

Evolution – that’s what!

According to Dr. Helen Fisher we humans have evolved three core brain systems to successfully mate and reproduce our species. This first one, of lust and attraction,  is the drive we all need to leave our comfort zones and head out and mate. If you really stop and consider how very different men and woman can be, it makes sense that our ancestors with the strongest desire to get out there and have sex are the ones whose genes have been most successfully replicated.

So –whether you want to simply indulge your sexual appetite, or you are hunting for a long term companion until  death do you part, if you’re single and don’t want to be, you’ll need to mingle.

How to win the LUST Stage?

TIP 1  ~ Be clear about what you want. Just sex?  Be alert & safe, but you don’t have to be too fussy. If it’s sex and a possible relationship, then be safe but try and meet someone who shares some interests – see below.

TIP 2 ~ If you’re kinda-sorta interested in meeting the right person get out there and do stuff you enjoy; or try speed dating; participate in singles networks and watch how successful “attractors” go about it.

TIP 3 ~ If you are super-serious about meeting someone for the long haul, go to Chemistry.com,  take their free personality test and discover the sort of person you are statistically most likely to be attracted to, and then get back out there!

(Let me know if you find a good catch this way.)

How Relationships Offer Us Everyday Transformation

Invited to contribute an article to my friend’s Doors of Transformation on-line magazine. You can link to it here http://thedoorsoftransformation.com/how-relationships-off-us-transformation/, or just read it below.


“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

Carl Jung

Once upon a time two travelers decided to leave the village and try their luck in a new environment.

Both were keen to visit a nearby town of interest so, seeking some advance information, they consulted the renowned sage of the area with their shared question:

“Tell us Oh Sage – what sort of community do you have there? What are the people like?”

“Of course I will tell you. But first, tell me if you will, can you describe the community you have just left? How did you find the people there? Why do you wish to leave them and venture afar now?”

The first traveler jumped in with a sigh. “Oh Sage – I have had a dreadful time of it which is why I am leaving – to seek my fortune amongst better folks. The people in the old town are mean spirited, cold hearted, not inclusive nor kind nor curious. They seem to look at me with nothing but contempt and judgment. I am desperate to put some distance between myself and that place!”

 “Oh, I am so sorry!” said the Sage. “You will most certainly be disappointed here for they are all just like that!”

With a stamp of frustration the traveler turned and left in the opposite direction.

The second traveler was looking on in amazement. “Oh Sage!” he burst forth,

“but I have had such fortune there!  I have laughed and loved and learned so much! I have been feasted and included in the day to day of many lives! I only leave now for sheer joy to see if the world is full of wonderful souls or whether these people are uniquely delightful!”

“Oh, I am so happy!” said the Sage. “You will most certainly not be disappointed here for they are all just like that!”

To the extent we are that first traveler, what can we learn from the second?

As Jung notes – when we allow ourselves to be touched by another we may be transformed. But in what way? Clearly all villages have their fill of fiends, fear mongers and frauds as well as sweethearts, sages and saints.

Why do some folks become cynical, disillusioned and hopeless while others seem to overflow with so much warmth, goodwill and kindness that these inner qualities transform any external situation – like a beam of light transforms the darkness?

The key, it seems to me, is to take control of the only things you can – your own heart and your own mind. Every encounter invites you to deepen your ability to be the second traveler.

“Ye s yes!” you say (with perhaps a hint of frustration).

“But you’ve not met my uncaring boss, nor my grouchy spouse, nor my defiant rude child; nor my back-stabbing friend, nor my narcissistic mother, nor my garrulous neighbor.  Sometimes my day is one long dodge and weave session through land mines of other peoples’ emotional sludge!”

OK – fair enough. This is probably what the first traveler saw when he took stock of his unsatisfying day-to-day interactions. It may never have occurred to you to consider transforming these encounters.  If you are like most of us, it would be more apt to say you alternate between tolerating, ignoring, getting angry with, giving helpful feedback to or having a drink to numb your feelings about  – your boss, spouse, child, friend, mum and neighbor.  

These are coping strategies – but you’re reading a magazine about transformation so clearly you want more.

Let’s go back to the key being your own heart and mind. Two of your most powerful muscles – OK technically the brain is an organ not a muscle, but it operates like a muscle to the extent it responds to exercise (try telling that to your kidneys). With your heart you can choose a different feeling. With your mind you can choose a different response.

Here are three ideas that will allow you to cultivate a “second traveler” mind set:

1.     Choose to see the other as a mirror ~ Notice the judgments you have about someone else and ask yourself, “To what extent am I like this? Where in my life am I uncaring, grouchy, defiant, back-stabbing, narcissistic and boringly talkative?” And in your heart, thank this person for showing you so perfectly that which you could choose to improve upon in your own life.

2.      Choose kindness ~ When someone is generating symptoms (I see unhelpful behaviors as symptoms of unmet needs) consider asking the person about it. If your boss seems uncaring, might she be under huge pressure? Could you ask how she is? Might your spouse need some understanding? Your child some slack?

3.     Choose compassion ~  A deeper blend of the two above, you could practice a form of Tonglen meditation,. First note your judgment. “My spouse is grouchy.” Next connect to the suffering behind the grouchy. What might your spouse be feeling that is generating the symptom of “grouchy”? Maybe exhaustion, overwhelm, fear, irritation? Thirdly, quietly allow yourself to connect with that pain and breathe it in. A long, deep, slow in-breath sucking up all that sadness. Then, breathe out what you want for your spouse: peace, joy, happiness, solace. Send to them waves of good things. And let it be.

Over time, this will transform you into a second traveler. One who sees it all, learns from the judgments, offers kindness to the sad and connects with the universality of all through a deep breath of love.

“Wicked” Camping to Celebrate 30th Wedding Anniversary


OK – thanks so much for all the suggestions!

In the end, practicality and zest won the day.

 New Zealand’s “Grab One” deal showed up just in time to deliver one “Wicked” Camper for 2 people, for a ten day rental with pickup in Christchurch and return to Auckland — including the Blue Ridge Cook Straits Ferry  which is usually between $255 and $364) — for only $99. Done deal!

 Mark and I fly to Christchurch Wednesday morning to visit dear friends whom I met on an Israeli Kibbutz in 1974 and with whom I’ve been friends ever since. In fact their first daughter is my namesake (Hi Gemma!).  Then, we have ten days to re-enact a small portion of our 18 month original Honeymoon, in which we lived in a VW camper and traveled in Europe and the Middle East.  This time we’ll mostly explore New Zealand’s South Island, and visit friends in Nelson as we head north.  And, during the drive, Mark and I can hatch some new directions and priorities for our next 30 years.

 Stay posted.