Dear, just listen to me! Darling, just stop fighting with me!

““Being the best you can be is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.” Sue Johnson
“Being the best you can be is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people.” Sue Johnson

We long for connection

We are born to be with people who lovingly bond with us. We know that the health of newborn and young children depends on how attentive care providers respond to fearful screams as well as joyful coos. We have learned that people in emotionally safe and responsive relationships fair better physically and emotionally. Recently, we learned in the experiment, Soothing the Threatened Brain, that closeness of a partner, one who is securely connected in relationship, decreases the negative experience of pain. All of this supports what we already know instinctively. We find shelter and comfort in loving, dependable, supportive relationships.

While we know how important relationship is, there are still many couples that find themselves so unhappy that it would be easier to leave than to stay in misery. How do we get from head-over-heal in love, to an unbearable cycle of ugly fights and long silences? In my personal life and my counseling practice, I have found that it is not the conflict that rips apart relationships. Conflict can be endured, even beneficial in resilient partnerships that nurture safety during vulnerable conversations. It is when the fear of loss of connection distresses the relationship that conflict can turn into rigid cycles of demanding to gain connection and withdrawing to gain safety.

Yet we get stuck in the conflict dance

In the demand-withdraw cycle, which Dr. Sue Johnson calls the Protest Polka, one partner demands, trying to pursue closeness while the other partner withdraws, trying to avoid a fight. Partner one seeks responsive connections longing to experience validation. Partner two seeks safe connections longing to experience success. Both are in hopes of finding a connected, intimate bond with his/her partner, and both probably blaming each other for their disconnection.

Imagine the unsettling music of this punishing polka shouting back and forth: “Dear, just listen to me!” “Darling, just stop fighting.” “Dear, I wouldn’t fight if you would talk to me!” “Darling, we never talk, we just fight!” “You are never there for me!” “You are too demanding!” In this dance, racing furiously across the floor, partner one is really asking, “Do you love me?” and partner two is really asking, “Am I good enough for you?”

So how do we get unstuck?

The demand-withdraw cycle may lead to such disillusionment that neither partner knows how to stop the rigid cycle of conflict, or may no longer desire to reconnect. You can disengage from cycles of conflict, create safe conversations and nurture ways of being with your partner that builds the bond of connection you long for. Some suggested steps to stop the demand-withdraw cycle are:

1) Breath. Slow down and notice when you are triggered. Consider the cause of the trigger without blaming or judgment. Simply notice what happened from your perspective. What did you do/say? What did your partner do/say? This step allows you to notice your part of the cycle versus jumping into it.

2) Notice your emotional and physical sensations. Quietly name the emotion you are experiencing and where you feel that emotion in your body. What might you need at this time perhaps from yourself or from your partner? This step allows you to slow your reactions and create choice.

3) If you can, after giving yourself empathy, consider what your partner might be experiencing from his/her perspective. What do you think he/she saw? Did he/she see your displays of angry demands? Or displays of distant unresponsiveness? What might be his/her current emotional experience? This step allows you to gain your partner’s perspective of his/her part of the cycle and form compassionate empathy for him/her.

4) Consider what it would be like to connect with your partner in compassionate empathy, guessing what your partner is feeling, connecting to that feeling within yourself and wishing your partner well-being. This step allows you to further soften the cycle and perhaps empathically bond with your partner.

5) Consider how it might be to share your current feelings and needs with your partner. How might you share your feelings and needs in a way that would open conversation versus fuel the cycle? How might your partner respond to you in this moment? This step allows you to gauge the current security within your relationship to deeply communicate with your partner. This step allows you to observe your cycle and gain understanding of how the cycle becomes so rigid and repetitive.

Nurturing a more approachable cycle, one that allows the safety to have deeper conversations and security to have a more intimate connection will produce that physical and emotional health research is reporting. Hold Me Tight and Love Sense, both books by Dr. Sue Johnson, are recommended readings on nurturing long lasting love relationships. If you wish to seek support from a therapist while you create more secure bonds in your relationship, please contact me. Also check out my weekend couples workshops.









Mindfully Addressing Anxiety

"Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are cause by too much future, and not enough presence..." Ekhart Tolle
“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are cause by too much future, and not enough presence…” Ekhart Tolle

Eckhart Tolle, who wrote a recommended book, “A New Earth: Awakening your life’s purpose,” has said that worry, stress and anxiety are caused by too much future thinking and not enough being in the present moment. He also mentions that worry and anxiety are forms of fear of the future. With this said, the solution for anxiety seems simple. To ease my stress and anxiety, I simply remain in the present, and remain hopeful of the future. But how does one truly stay present? How do I look to the future without some fear of the unknown? I notice for me, that during stressful times, mindfulness is easier conceptualized than realized. Yet, I do find that it is still attainable with some self-compassion.

Experiencing the mental and physical effects of anxiety are not easily wished away. It takes consideration to realize the purposes of anxiety and find helpful ways to address it. Anxiety is our mind and body’s way of letting us know to pay attention. Worry allows us to plan, to visualize potential problems and possible solutions. While anxiety can cause us to become stuck in fearfulness, mindfully paying attention to our anxiety can help us address the underlying needs and emotions in ways that create curiosity and choice.

To consider using mindfulness to ease anxiety, here are some suggested steps.

1) NOTICE your anxiety in the moment (i.e. I say to myself, “Pay attention here, you are feeling anxious. What are you feeling? What are you needing?”) – so that you may address it mindfully vs. reactively

2) BREATH, inhale a slow, warm intake of air to the count of four; gratefully caress (hold) the breath to the count of four; then graciously release exhaling slowly to the count of four – this helps us move from a reactive mode of fight/flight/freeze to a more responsive mode of creating choice while considering your needs and the needs of others

3) SCAN how your body is reacting to anxiety, check for any tightness, soreness, any shallow breathing, or any other physical reactions – noticing the physical responses may help you to relieve them, guided meditations can also be helpful

4) NAME THE EMOTION you are experiencing with empathy and compassion for yourself (could be and not limited to: frustration, confusion, worry, fear) – this helps to identify the cause and purpose of your anxiety

5) NAME YOUR NEEDS, noticing your anxiety, noticing the physical response, naming the emotion and breathing can be enough to ease your anxiety; at times it is also helpful to state a need that is coming up to request of yourself or someone else – this also identifies the cause and purpose of your anxiety and may also allow for a strategy to relieve it

While working with your symptoms of anxiety, be kind to yourself. If these steps are not working as you like, within the time you like, give yourself the opportunity to practice and explore. If you experience the symptoms of anxiety persistently, it may be helpful to seek counseling to gain support in uncovering the details of your anxiety and to ease its effects. Another recommended book is The Mindful Way through Anxiety: Break free from chronic worry and reclaim your life, by Susan M. Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer. May you enjoy a day filled with compassionate connections, meaning, peace and ease.

Being Genuine, Your Essential Self

"What we need most of all is to get in touch with ourselves, to seek solid grounding in ourselves, to feel within that it is we who are speaking, we who decide and not our habits, our conditioning, our fears of another's opinion." Thomas d'Ansembourg
“What we need most of all is to get in touch with ourselves, to seek solid grounding in ourselves, to feel within that it is we who are speaking, we who decide and not our habits, our conditioning, our fears of another’s opinion.” Thomas d’Ansembourg

There is an essential being, a genuineness, that is you. You are caring, driven to connect in relationships that are meaningful to you. You are
talented, driven to gain successes that are meaningful to you. You are compassionate, driven to contribute in ways that are meaningful to you. You are driven to survive with purpose and in health.

The challenges we experience in life, our interactions with others, and tragically, the effects of abuse and trauma may veil our essential being with thoughts and behaviors that do not enrich life. Because we seek to survive and seek to fulfill our needs, we find ways to cope with the stresses we experience.

Whatever those coping strategies are, we choose them in an attempt to fulfill a need. Consider this, all we do and think is an attempt to fulfill a need. Perhaps we seek to gain safety, or autonomy, or connection and belonging, or to be seen and to matter, or to be competent and skilled, or for ease and order. At times, the strategies we choose may cause frustration and harm. Our strategies may cause disconnection from those we love. We may withdraw from or chase after the relationships we long for causing us to be stuck in heart-breaking, cyclical conflicts. We may experience overwhelming emotions that may include grief, anxiety and depression.

When you sense a veil over your essential being, when you experience the effects of overwhelming grief, anxiety and depression, when you find yourself in constant conflicts with those you love, therapy can provide a safe place to untangle the places where you are stuck and to create change. With an empathic counselor where you can be fully heard and fully seen, the process of therapy allows you to experience your emotions and perspectives without judgment. With uncondtional regard, you are able to speak and experience your emotions completely, creating a space that allows you to see the reason and the logic of your coping strategies, even those that are not helpful to you. With unconditional regard, you are able to address the shame that might be keeping you stuck in thoughts and behaviors that are not enriching your life. You are then able to address your needs allowing you to create awareness and choice in your life.

Contact me to discuss how counseling may be helpful to you. You may also enjoy recommended books on the topic including “Non-Violent Communication: A language of life” by Marshall Rosenberg and “Being Genuine: Stop being nice, start being real” by Thomas d’Ansembourg. May you enjoy days filled with compassionate connections, meaning, peace and ease.