relationships

‘Moving Towards’ in Relationships

Karen Horney, a major psychological theorist of the twentieth century, wrote about three general “movements” that people engage in when relating to others.  These are movement towards, movement away, and movement against. How we engage in each of these movements is important, because they can either be healthy or unhealthy. For example, moving against can help a person develop a sense of personal control and identity, but it can also lead to aggression; moving away can help a person develop competency and individuality, but it can also lead to isolation; and moving towards can lead to connection and interdependence, but also neediness and anxiety.

Moving towards is the foundational movement of romantic and family relationships.  It is impossible to have depth of connection without moving towards another person.  One way to increase the chance that moving towards someone will result in healthy connection is an attitude of what I call “vulnerable engagement”.  At it’s most extreme, this attitude mirrors how you might approach an injured wild animal: you become as nonthreatening as possible while still moving towards and you expect that you might elicit a negative response.  In approaching an animal, you become nonthreatening by crouching down, moving slowly, and speaking softly. In a relationship, you speak softly and start by talking about your own experience and emotions. An animal might have a negative response of biting or scratching, but a negative response from a person when you are trying to move toward them is that they move away or move against.  

The movement away or against can be subtle or forceful, but it is negative because it precludes the connection that you are trying to achieve.  This is the vulnerable part of the engagement. It hurts when you try to connect with someone and they turn against you or pull away. If you then react to defend yourself because you are hurt then it justifies the defensive posture the other person took in pushing you away. It is very hard to not respond defensively when someone hurts you and a defensive response can be the right response in many situations but remember that in this instance you have initiated the interaction because you want to connect with the other person.  One thing that helps me in this sort of situation is knowing that moving against and moving away are important. I want the people I love to have their own identity and individuality. When I can accept that sometimes those movements need to be directed towards me, I can let it go and try to connect in another way or at a different time. As that goes on, the other person’s needs for those negative responses diminishes and I find that my movement towards them is more often met by a movement towards me and we are able to meet in the middle. I find that depth of relationship to be worth the vulnerability and pain of the times we fail to connect.

 

Bring BRAVING to Your Relationships

One of the biggest struggles in navigating through relationships is building and sustaining trust.  Being able to fully trust another person involves vulnerability and accountability – two components that can elicit feelings of fear and dread in even the strongest of people.  I was recently re-introduced to one of Brené Brown’s concepts called BRAVING and responded to it as if it were the first time that I’d been exposed to her teachings. I recognized that I had feelings of fear, disappointment, regret, and anxiety in hearing this concept again.  Not that these feelings were rooted in concern that I had done anything wrong or that anyone else had done me wrong, rather I allowed myself to hear her reinforce the importance of trust within a relationship. I don’t know about you, but I find it very easy to allow myself to wear the ‘victim hat’ and focus on how someone else has broken my trust.  If I haven’t clearly established my ‘BRAVING’ components though, how can I hold anyone else accountable for theirs? The answer is that I can’t; I can only hold myself accountable for something that I didn’t take the time to establish at the beginning of the relationship, and take steps to embrace BRAVING in the present.

Brené breaks down BRAVING as such:

BBoundaries - establishing clear boundaries for yourself and for your relationship.  Are your limits respected within the relationship? Are you respecting the other person’s limits?

RReliability - is the other person there for you you when they said they would be?  Are you there for others when you said you would be?

AAccountability - are others accountable for their mistakes and misgivings?  Do you hold yourself accountable for yours?

VVault - are others able to hold things that you’ve shared with them in complete confidence?  Are you able to do the same?

IIntegrity - do the actions of others match their words?  What about for yourself?

NNon-Judgement - is there an air of compassion and non-judgment when engaging with others?  Are you able to listen to others without quickly jumping to judgement?

GGenerosity - does the other person assume the best about your words, actions, and feelings? Are you able to do the same for the other person?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to all of the above, grab a hold of that person tightly and don’t let that relationship go!!  All joking aside, if you genuinely can answer yes to all of those components, the trust between you and the other person is steadfast.  If, though, like most of us, you struggled in saying yes or found yourself confidently saying no, there is a path forward and this is where the work begins. As with any human connection, there is always hope for change. The first step in creating any sort of change is in identifying the problem, so congratulations! You’re halfway there!

Re-read through the BRAVING components (Boundaries, Reliability, Accountability, Vault, Integrity, Non-Judgement, and Generosity) and parse out the pieces that don’t feel strong.  Ask yourself what may be going on that’s causing some shakiness for you.  Are there ‘yucky’ things from the past that are coming up within your current relationship or is the ‘yuck’ being born out of the relationship itself?  Stop and ask yourself - “what is it that I need?” Your answer will be the doorway into your repair.

It Takes a Village: Understanding How Systems Shape Us

Photo by  Duy Pham  on  Unsplash

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

We are all part of a system, several systems in fact. Systems range from our partner, family unit, school/work/organization, community, culture, and everything in between. Systems often develop patterns of functioning that support the system in accomplishing tasks, moving forward, and maintaining balance. The evolution of patterns can be intentional, they might present an imbalance in who the system serves, or perhaps they came about over time through events and experiences that shape patterns without members attunement to the helpful or unhelpful results. I have felt inspired by my work and personal experience to reflect on the systems in which individuals exist, how systems function, and if that function is serving individuals and the systems as a whole.

To further understand the operation of systems, I offer the example of coming to therapy (coincidence?) … Perhaps you chose to begin therapy or maybe that was a choice made for you by someone in your life who cares about you. Whatever the circumstance, you are the client in the room. Maybe you or a loved one identified that you can benefit from having an unbiased, safe space. This sometimes implies that you bear the sole responsibility of making a change or committing to yourself. While this can absolutely play a role in what therapy looks like, it would be a disservice to ignore how the systems you exist within also impact your experience and furthermore how the other members contribute to your identity & well-being and that of the system at large.

Let’s say I come to therapy with the goal of enhancing my ability to be more assertive with my feelings in relationships. It might be helpful to look at what communication has been like in my family, for example. Perhaps I found it challenging to be assertive with family because I was expected to “keep the peace,” insert humor in place of vulnerability, or avoid rocking the boat at times it was on the edge of capsizing. This style offered my family a sense of protection, that everything will be alright, and that I am capable of “going with the flow” to avoid exacerbating conflict. While my willingness to mute or soften my emotional expression appeared to function well in our family system to keep us moving forward and establish rhythm, it also presented a later consequence of fear/hesitancy/confusion around how to be assertive in other relationships and areas of my life.

To avoid placing “blame” on any single family member, including myself, I might remember that this pattern of communicating was protective, and it supported my family moving forward and maintaining peace. Rather than viewing our family system as flawed, I might say this pattern functioned for a period of time for a particular purpose; however, that function no longer serves me or the system as a whole. It truly does take consideration of the systems we participate in to understand how patterns develop and how we might want to change a pattern that is no longer serving us. The shift in system function is not any single individual’s responsibility, but a product of all members role in that system; however, when one person chooses to create changes in how they move within the system, there's a ripple effect that can occur, offering an opportunity for growth for the whole system. In re-framing your experience, identity, and worldview to include how your systems have shaped you, you may notice you experience more self-compassion and compassion for the systems that you are a part of, which in turn connects us more deeply to our humanity and the humanity of others.

I offer some tips in considering your village, how it functions, and how it serves you:

  • Reflect on your systems - identify who and what your systems are, what your function is within the system, and the function of the system as a whole

  • Take inventory on what is serving you and what does not seem to work (anymore)

  • Communicate with members of your system on what’s working and what’s not

  • Practice approaching change to the system with curiosity, willingness, flexibility, patience, and compassion for yourself and others

  • Resist the urge to fall back into old patterns that you know are not serving you, practice a beginner’s mind with each situation you are faced with

Remember that it takes a village for your experience to shift, and you are neither the purpose for unhelpful changes in the system nor do you bear the sole responsibility of enacting change. Use your supports and practice self kindness 😊


How Honeymoons Can Help Strengthen Relationships

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What is a “Solo-Moon” and How Taking a Honeymoon with Your Spouse Can Strengthen Your Relationship: A Response to the NYT Article “Honeymoon Do We Part”

As I scrolled through the morning headlines last week, I came across an article printed in the New York Times describing several couples who had blissfully parted ways to enjoy a much needed break from reality, after enduring the stresses associated with their weddings. While I have explored the benefits of solo vacations, I had never considered the idea of couples separating from each other, to relax on independent vacations, following the reception of their wedding. To say I was intrigued, is an understatement! With a quick google search, I realized that taking individual honeymoons (also known as, “unimoons or solo-moons”), is more common than I expected!

The NYT article does a great job exploring some of the pros and biological factors of taking trips, as well as the sociological evolution of the meaning of marriage. However, I wish the article distinguished more between honeymoons and general vacations. A honeymoon isn’t just “any” vacation, it’s an opportunity for a person and their spouse to reconnect after weeks/months of stress, and for them to begin to create their identity as a pair. Absent from the article was mention of the need to connect and begin to build shared experiences as a married couple. Travel, whether near or far, offers an opportunity to bond and build a strong foundation of compromise and support, as well as fun, as they embark on this next stage of the relationship.

But what about couples who have been together for years or even decades, before tying the knot? Haven’t they already developed a strong sense of “we/us”? The answer is yes and no. While couples who have lived together and/or spent significant amounts of time in a relationship likely have a strong identity as a couple, the question is, do they have a strong identity as a MARRIED couple. Everyone has reasons for tying the knot, however, regardless to the reasons, when couples decide to walk down the aisle, they are acknowledging that marriage is a new step or stage, and that it is adding something to their union. What better place to explore that new dynamic than in a new environment, or while experiencing something new, with their partner?

Looking at Gottman Therapy, we know that the goal of relationships is shared meaning. To reach shared meaning, couples must build love maps, share feelings of fondness and admiration, turn towards one another, manage conflict, and work to have a positive perspective towards one another. All of those steps are difficult to attain, if the couple consistently pursues individual endeavors over activities as a couple. On the other hand, should couples decide to take their honeymoon as a pair, each level of the Sound Relationship House, can be nurtured and fostered throughout the trip. See the list below, for more details about how taking a honeymoon as a couple can help strengthen your foundation.

It can be hard to put aside personal desires and individual needs to compromise with a spouse, especially with the added stress that can come along with travelling. However, the benefits of taking the honeymoon as a couple, instead of parting ways, can provide stability at a pivotal point in the relationship, and allow the couple to build a strong foundation for which to grow their marriage. Rest assured, there will be TONS of occasions, throughout their lives together, to develop their individuality, but they will only have one chance to relish in the glow of this newest union!

Ways that Honeymoons Enhance Relationships -

  1. Enhance Communication: Without stress and prying eyes, you and your partner are able to talk freely with one another.

  2. Process the wedding together: You spent thousands of dollars on the “big day”, but hardly had a chance to recap the experiences and perspectives from throughout the night. This also gives you and your partner a chance to “relive” the moments from your wedding, and find out what really stood out to each of you.

  3. New Experiences: Vacations, particularly to new places, allow you to experience somewhere/something new. These experiences allow you to gain new perspective, which can be used later in negotiating stressors in your personal life, a greater mental bank for mindfulness, and can help both you and your partner gain empathy for others

  4. New Dreams- As you enter this new phase, you and your partner may feel more secure in expressing dreams and desires or exploring further into the future, especially now that the two of you are bound together in matrimony. There is now an additional layer of security when being vulnerable.

  5. Rituals of Connection- Honeymoons allow you and your partner to build memories together, and encourage you and your partner to create a joint vision for the future. Events/Meals/Destinations experienced during this time can be used for decades to come, to unite and ground you as a couple, and to help reconnect you, when you feel distant in your relationship.

  6. Reduce stress- Let’s face it, weddings are stressful. Taking time away from your everyday life allows you to live in the moment, and re-energize before facing the “real world” again.

  7. Validation- Couples often say that the wedding went “by in a blink of an eye”. It’s hard to feel like anything has changed, particularly if you have been together for a while, immediately following the wedding ceremony. By introducing yourselves as a married couple, hearing people gush over this exciting time (think hotel staff, restaurant staff, excursion guides, etc), and reading cards of well wishes, helps validate that this event is a positive milestone, and allows the magnitude and joyous sentiment, sink in!

How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship Pt. 2

Photo by  Raw Pixel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

The Season of Love is upon us!! Welcome back for Part II of the five Love Languages! Hopefully by now you have determined which Love Language both you and partner “speak” - if not, refer to Part I of this series, and follow the link to take the Love Language Quiz.

Was your Love Language what you expected? How about your partner? Reflecting on your past attempts to show love and affection: Have you been offering love and showing appreciation in the language that your partner identified as their Love Language? Has your partner been responding in their own Love Language, instead of in yours, or vice versa? Today is a new opportunity to commit to making a conscious effort to present your feelings of love to your partner in their identified Love Language and allowing your actions to capture the full magnitude of your affection.

To start off, how do you put these Love Languages into action? One of the best parts of Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, is how simple each language really is. While grandiose gestures can be flattering, most relationships thrive on the smaller, everyday moments that build an overall sense of “we”, togetherness, and full understanding of one another in your relationship. For a quick refresher, see the basic qualities of each Love Language, below, taking special note of your Love Language, and that of your partner.

Words of Affirmation- Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service- Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time- Undivided attention; spending time to fully “be with” partner

Gifts- Whether bought or created, giving items to partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch- Physical affection, not to be confused with sexual intimacy (which is desired in most romantic relationships), in which hand holding with partner, hugs and kisses, and activities such as a back rub

The basic qualities listed above make it easy to determine what actions you may want to take in order to show your partner love and affection; but what about actions you should avoid, and the best to way to communicate with them in general?

For those who “speak love” through Words of Affirmation, having a partner not appreciate effort or having a partner who is overly critical, can be overwhelming and hurtful. On the other hand, a partner who communicates through encouragement and appreciation, and empathizes while actively listening can be extremely affirming, and create an environment of unconditional love.

For those who seek love in the form of Acts of Service, they may be turned off by actions involving a lack of follow-through or commitment to see the job to the end, as well as being prioritized after other people. Instead, partners who try verbalizing a desire to help “lighten the load,” and offering to assist with chores send a clear message of love and togetherness.  

Quality Time sometimes gets overlooked, as most couples assume that “they spend lots of time together.” But for people whose Love Language is Quality Time, the keys are in the name: Quality - the time should be uninterrupted and free from distractions like cell phones and work; Time - going too long without one-on-one face time can be detrimental to the connection. Planning time to be together, actively communicating or participating in a desirable task, together, and creating an environment where each partner can fully focus on one another, strengthens relationships in which one or both partners’ Love Language is QT.  

Physical Touch is often misunderstood to solely focus on sex, however, the intention of all of the Love Languages is to build your connection with your partner, and as a byproduct, increase intimacy and foster a healthy sexual relationship. When a couple identifies Physical Touch as their Love Language, they are actually referring to the non-sexual physical affection of others. Keep in mind that any trauma history may overtly and covertly impact your, or your partner's, sense of safety and pleasure with physical touch and that consensual, respectful and mutually pleasurable physical affection is what we're talking about here.

Gift Giving, as described by Chapman, is the most simple of the Love Languages. Those whose partner’s preferred Love Language is Gift Giving will want to be sure to set reminders for important dates and think creatively about gifts. While we all occasionally forget birthdays and anniversaries, to someone who “speaks love” through Gift Giving it feels very personal and can drive a wedge in the relationship. Keep in mind, the monetary value of the item is not what is important, but instead, that the individual took the time to consider the person they are giving the gift to, and made the effort to obtain the item (whether that be creating a card or picture, throwing a surprise part, or purchasing a needed tool or accessory).

Remember - One of the biggest complaints that marriage therapists hear from couples who try Love Languages, is that one of the partners is “more committed” to following the Love Languages, than the other. Keep in mind that love is a choice. After the initial infatuation that goes along with a new relationship has faded, you are actively waking up each day and choosing to love and show love to your partner. How you do that is up to you, but if you have chosen this individual as someone you want to spend at least the foreseeable future with then it only makes sense that you would want to do what is best by them. In this case, that is presenting them your love in the way that they understand and feel most deeply. In most cases, the less enthusiastic partner feels more motivated to attempt Love Languages, once they feel the effect.

Since posting the first blog about this topic in January, I have noticed Love Languages popping up everywhere (kind of like getting a new car and then noticing everyone on the road is driving some version of that make/model)! In fact, I have had a hard time NOT seeing Love Languages all around me- ABC even dedicated an entire episode of Fresh Off the Boat to the idea of Love Languages! Board game makers are now including this premise in their toys, geared for kids and families. For example, while playing "Table Talks" with friends, it was hard not to see the connections between each of the "would you rather" style questions, and Dr. Chapman's Love Languages built into each of the options.

All that to say that Love Languages can be integrated into several aspects of your life, not only your romantic relationships! Dr. Chapman has expanded this idea of ways we show and feel love and appreciation to include teens, friends, and as a part of goal setting and dream building. By having a more clear understanding of your own Love Language, and those around you, you are able to show and receive love in a way that is more consistent, more impactful and more meaningful than ever before!


How to Put the 5 Love Languages to Work in Your Relationship

Photo by  Evan Kirby  on  Unsplash

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

January is a month of reflection. Let’s take a moment and consider your relationships… Are you feeling fulfilled and satisfied by your partner? What about your closest friendships? Do people around you swear that they are trying to please you, or show you love, but they are consistently missing the mark? What feedback have you been given? Have you found that you are consistently being asked to “do more” in your relationships, but are feeling unsure how to “give” anymore of yourself? As we move out of the holiday season and into the “season of love” (aka February), it is normal to begin to re-evaluate some of your relationships. For some, the holiday season is an opportunity for people in their life to “make up” for past wrongs and lackluster celebrations, often in the form of some grandiose gift or gesture. For many, that gift or gesture doesn’t meet the expectation, and then they are left with disappointment.

Enter Valentine’s Day: another opportunity for those close to us to show us love. But if they/we follow the same recipe from the holiday season, we are bound to fall short. Why are the efforts of those around us, as well as our own, not communicating the love and commitment that we are intending? In today’s blog (part 1 of 2), we are going to explore Dr. Chapman’s Five Love Languages, and how, even with your best effort, if you and your partner (or friend) are not speaking each other’s love language your (and their) communication of love is going to be seen as “not enough.”

So what is a “Love Language”? Essentially, Dr. Chapman, the author of The Five Love Languages, describes the way we show others love (and expect love to be shown in return), as our love language. Often times, people assume that the only way to display your love is to give a physical gift, but if everyone only utilizes gifts for love, there will be a lot of exhausted and unfulfilled couples. Understanding love languages gives couples, and relationships in general, an opportunity to thrive when the specific language of each individual is being “spoken” or met.

Imagine this: You come through the door at the end of a long day. What action from your partner would have the most impact on you?:

  1. They immediately tell you that you look great, and how important you are to the family unit (Words of Affirmation)

  2. They approach you, place your coat on the rack, and hand you a snack or meal (Acts of Service)

  3. They stop the task they are working on, sit with you, and engage in a full conversation about your day (Quality Time)

  4. They present you a card they have made with designs and funny sketches (Gifts)

  5. They approach you, give you a kiss and quick shoulder rub (Physical Touch)

While all of these options sound like a nice way to come home at the end of the day, not all of them are going to provide you with the same level of satisfaction and fulfillment. This is the idea behind The Five Love Languages. It is not that you or your partner are completely void of the need for any of the five languages, but instead, one or two love languages will have more value to you and to your partner. As you read the possible options, did any of them stick out to you as a way that you or your partner consistently attempt to show love? Consider all of the ways that you have reached out to increase closeness and intimacy with your partner, as well as some of the actions that they use to reciprocate that love. The best part of Love Languages is that they allow you to work smarter, not harder. If you knew how to make fewer, more personalized attempts at affection that would make a bigger impact and satisfy your partner more, would you?

Here is a breakdown of the Five Love Languages. As you read the descriptions, try to identify which one or two resonates most with you. Now consider which love language most closely matches the way you show your love and affection to your partner. Are they the same? Different? Take a moment to sit down with your partner, and go over the five languages in detail. Which Love Language do they most identify with? Have they been attempting to express themselves to you in a language other than your preferred Love Language?

Words of Affirmation - Compliments, loving language and notes, verbal (and written) appreciation for partner

Acts of Service - Completing jobs and tasks that reduce the workload and burden on partner

Quality Time - Undivided attention; spending time to fully be present with your partner

Gifts - Whether bought or created, giving items to your partner (this includes free items, such as a flower picked from the yard)

Physical Touch - Physical affection such as hand holding with your partner, giving them hugs, kisses, and back rubs (not to be confused with sexual intimacy, which is desired in most romantic relationships)

If you and/or your partner are struggling to narrow down a specific love language, I invite you to consider the most recent times you or your spouse “nagged” at one another. What was the topic of contention? Is one person feeling neglected, as if they are not getting enough “face time”? Or is someone looking for more help with tasks around the house? Whoever was doing the “nagging” is likely feeling as though their love language is not being spoken in the relationship, and the complaints that they have expressed in the past are great insight into what needs are not being met for that individual. If you find that you and your partner are still struggling to decide which love language best suits each of you, or you have several that seem like they may be good fits, I encourage you to take the Love Languages Quiz on Dr. Chapman’s website. As you answer the questions, remember that you want to choose the one that you MOST prefer, although both options may feel like acceptable choices. When finished with the quiz, calculate the results (instructions are at the bottom of the quiz), and determine which language best suits both you and your partner!

**Note: You and your partner may have different Love Languages, and that is okay! Keep in mind that Love Languages is not a matter of compatibility. Every relationship has the option to evolve and adapt with the identification and implementation of the Love Languages Principles

Now that you have identified your Love Language, join me for Part 2 of the Love Languages series to find out how to apply that information into meaningful actions!

LifeTip: The Power of Silence

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Often, when we think of silence it sounds like nothing, and it looks like nothing. On a superficial level this is certainly accurate; however, silence can be extremely powerful and meaningful. Silence provides us so much information about ourselves and about others. Our awareness of silence and what comes up during silence can be a helpful tool when used with intention. I have felt motivated by my therapeutic work to share how silence can be used in a beneficial and intentional way, specifically in relationships.

Both verbal and nonverbal communication offer us a means of sharing in addition to a means of understanding what is being shared. Silence falls in the category of nonverbal communication and in the silence there is significance to what is NOT being said. Allowing the space for silence in any interaction offers an opportunity for us to observe body language, facial expressions, physical distance between ourselves and others. Being mindful of how others present during silence can tell us a bit about how they are feeling, how the interaction seems to be going, and their comfort level in the current space/time. Silence also provides us an opportunity to notice what emotions stir up inside of us during silence. Maybe we feel uncomfortable, unsure, unsafe, self conscious, OR we may feel relaxed, relieved, neutral. We might also notice what is our “go to” response to silence in relationships: attempting to fill the space with words, avoidance, safety behaviors (i.e. playing with our phone, fidgeting). Rather than placing judgment on ourselves or others for what appears to come up during silence, I invite you to simply notice what happens both outside and inside of you when silence occurs.

Once we have practiced noticing silence and what comes up for us and others during silence, we are able to use it intentionally for a variety of purposes to enhance our relationships. Ever heard of the “silent treatment”? This is when we use silence to punish someone for doing us wrong. While this may or may not be an effective tool in any particular relationship, this is an example of how individuals may use silence with intention. Rather than using silence as a punishment, we can use silence in more assertive ways to promote understanding, safety, and mutual respect in relationships. See below for some strategies for using silence to enhance relationships:

  • Practice active listening in your relationships

  • Reflect on what you see and check in with others if your hunch on how they are feeling or what their experience is, is correct

  • Practice mindfulness of your emotions and mindfulness of others’ emotions

  • Practice sitting with and tolerating uncomfortable emotions

  • Demonstrate that you can not only sit with someone else’s silence but you can maintain the safety of that silent space without trying to change it

RECAP! Practice noticing the silence you experience in relationships, what comes up for you emotionally, what you observe in others, and reflect on how you can use silence as a means to deepen your connection with another person.


“Silence is the most powerful scream”


LifeTip: Learning to Trust and Be Trusted

Photo by  Perry Grone  on  Unsplash

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

“Trust me” is a phrase we hear in all types of relationship dyads. From intimate partners, to parents and their children, friends, and even work colleagues and acquaintances, we all want to feel trusted and know if we can trust the other person. If we look closely, we might even wonder if we can trust ourselves. It begs the questions - “Why is trust so important?” and “How do we know if we have trust?” The challenge is that like most things in life (dare I say ALL), it isn’t black or white. It’s not as simple as “Yes, I trust you” or “No, I don’t” in most situations...

As I reflect on my 10+ years of experience as a therapist, I can safely say that every one of my clients have struggled with the question: How can I know if I trust him/her/them? I can easily recall the pain in the eyes of a 16 year old client who had worked for months to mend their relationship with their parents after a period of greatly deceptive behavior, as they asked, “Can’t you trust me now? What more can I possibly do?” And the simultaneous confusion, grief, doubt, hope, and uncertainty in the eyes of the parent who responds, “I don’t know; part of me says ‘yes’ while another part says ‘no way!’”  There’s also the employee who can’t quite pinpoint why he feels so uneasy in interactions with his boss. Or the woman who sits in my office wondering out loud if her boyfriend can truly be trusted, despite her deep love for him. Most of the time, it’s painful to examine trust in our relationships and yet, it’s completely necessary.

If we want to be seen and valued in our relationships, trust is essential. Trust is the foundation upon which we can engage in and build authentic relationships with one another. It determines if we feel safe enough to be vulnerable or if we feel the need to put on our armor and self-protect with another person. Trust is not something that we can expect to have with other people instantly. Rather, it is much like a flower - it requires patience, attention, nurturance, and flexibility in order to thrive. When we see warning signs that things aren’t going well, we must take a look at the components of trust to know what is getting in the way and whether it can be salvaged. So what are the components of trust?


Researcher, author, and storyteller, Brené Brown has identified 7 elements of trust which are incredibly helpful when evaluating and examining where there are challenges and strengths in a relationship. Quoting from her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution (pgs 199-200), she defines these elements with the acronym BRAVING:

B - Boundaries: You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s

okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say no.

R - Reliability: You do what you say you’ll do. At work, this means staying aware of your

competencies and limitations so you don’t over-promise and are able to deliver on

commitments andbalance competing priorities.

A - Accountability: You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

V - Vault: You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need

to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any

information about other people that should be confidential.

I - Integrity: You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun,

fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

N - Nonjudgment: I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can

talk about how we feel without judgment.

G - Generosity: You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions,

words, and actions of others.

This is one of the most useful measuring sticks for trust that I’ve found. It takes something that is very murky and hard to define, and makes it just a little clearer. The reason the parent may struggle to say whether she trusts her teen is because their child may be incredibly reliable but struggles greatly with accountability. The employee may feel uneasy around their boss because the same boss they are supposed to have rapport and safety with is the same person who revealed deeply personal information to him about another colleague. The newly formed romantic relationship may be strong in generosity but weak in boundaries.

This stuff is complex. The good news is that if we take a look at each of these components we will likely find strengths to acknowledge and praise, as well as new language to explain the reasons we’re struggling with trust in our relationships. Similarly, it can help us to identify our own areas of weakness that may cause others to mistrust us or to mistrust ourselves.


So, the next time you feel uneasy or uncertain about your level of trust in an important relationship, take some time to get quiet, take a deep breath, and evaluate your strengths/weaknesses according to the BRAVING model and the strengths/weaknesses of your counterpart. Keep in mind, the point is not to blame the other, but to make this murky concept of trust a little clearer, which means looking within as well. As the saying goes, “it takes two to tango.” We have to be willing to look at our part in building and maintaining trust, as well as the other’s part.

LifeTip: Communicating Your Needs and Getting What You Want

Photo by  Mona Khaleghi  on  Unsplash

You can’t always get what you want, but how do you get what you need?

The Rolling Stones may have been on to something with their 1969 hit “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” but what happens when you “try sometimes” and still can’t get what you need? Think about it: Have you ever tried explaining what you need or how you feel to a friend, family member or spouse, but the message doesn’t seem to translate? No matter how you try to explain yourself, your listener becomes defensive, uninterested or simply does not react the way you had anticipated. Afterwards, as you mentally parse every word that was spoken, you start to wonder if talking about your needs, bringing up a concern, or making a request was even worth it in the first place. Let me reassure you- it WAS worth it! Not expressing your needs with others may leave you feeling unfulfilled, overwhelmed and resentful towards those relationships. In my work with couples and individuals, I have found that in most relationships, platonic or romantic, both parties want to provide adequate support and meet the needs of the other person. The problem is not the request for support, but instead how the request was made.

In a society where social and emotional learning is now being taught to kids as young as Pre-K, we are all pretty well versed in “I statements” (for those of you unfamiliar, an “I statement” goes something like this: I feel because ). Many couples and individuals report that they have used traditional “I Statements” but the results have been less than satisfactory. What I have discovered is that this statement tends to leave the listener with only a small amount of information, and in many situations, they can get defensive. While we have the best intentions in explaining why we feel the way we do, this format of the “I Statement” tends to lead us into a “you”/blaming format.

For example: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

In this example you have articulated your feelings, but, unfortunately, your listener is left to interpret your meaning of “selfish” and forced to guess how they could appear less selfish in your eyes. This is especially difficult if the listener doesn’t feel as if they are being selfish, or they just become defensive at the term. Instead of providing our partner or friend with a road map of how to better support us, we end up leaving them questioning the security of our relationship and lacking direction of how to meet our needs.

In an effort to reduce conflict and allow individuals to express their needs, I teach my clients a modified version of the “I Statement.” With this new phrasing, we exclude why the person feels the way they do in the initial statement, and instead specify under what circumstances the feeling occurs, as well as the needs of the speaker. The goal is not to negate why you feel the way you do, however, you want your listener to hear your message before they start disputing your reasoning or feeling under attack. Conversation immediately following the stating of your needs, may allow for you to express the “why.” The phrase I recommend to anyone interested in clearly communicating needs, looks like this:

“I FEEL , WHEN . I NEED .

This statement allows the speaker to not only express how they feel, but give a specific example of when the feeling occurs, and exactly what they need from the listener. Sounds like great information to give and receive, right? This does, however, require a little bit of thinking on your part. Before approaching a loved one with a feeling, determine what you need from the individual. The goal is not to blame the other person for your feelings, but instead provide specific details about what they can do to help you.

In the case of our example, instead of saying: “I feel sad because you are so selfish.”

Try saying: “I feel sad when you refuse to go to the symphony with me. I need you to show interest and agree to participate in activities that I like. I feel supportive when we go to see your favorite soccer team. I need to feel the same support from you.”

See the difference? The modified “I statement” lets the listener know that the speaker is upset, gives specific reasons why, and provides the listener a road map to the speaker’s preferred path forward. Now the listener should have an opportunity to explain how they are feeling, and if they can’t agree to meet the specified needs, they need to explain why that is (more modified “I statements”, but this time from the listener).

Keep in mind, not only couples and adults benefit from clearly stating their needs. While teens may need more help labeling their feelings and identifying their needs, statements such as the modified “I statement” may provide them with an incredible template to express themselves!


Here are a Few Tips for Conversations about Needs:

  1. Privacy Please! Conversations discussing sensitive topics should be done in private, or at least without other people within ear shot. If you want your partner/friend/family member to fully focus on your message, and respond authentically, give them an environment that they feel secure to do that in.

  2. Fully focused! Find a time that is free from distractions. If your listener is dividing their focus, they may not fully understand what you are asking of them or even be able to process your conversation. Also consider outside stressors that may prevent your message from translating; such as, stressful days for your listener, exhausted listener, etc.

  3. Make “eyes” with your listener! Gazing into one another’s eyes allows us to bond, without speaking. By making eye contact, you are showing your listener that you not only want their attention, but you want to connect with them.

** In some situations, the idea of sitting face to face may feel too confrontational. In these cases, instead of forgoing the conversation all together, consider taking a walk and talking side by side, or chatting in the car (after you have pulled into the driveway).

Help your partner meet your needs and vice versa. Use “I feel , when . I need .” statements to get your message across. Encourage the people in your life to also use these statements, so that you can appropriately respond to their needs as well. Promote this type of discussion until it becomes a natural part of your conversations!

LoveTip: The Relationship Tango

Photo by  Tim Gouw  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

No matter how you look at them, relationships can be tough.  Bringing two or more people together into an emotional dance can cause confusion, insecurity, and feelings of instability.  It is within these feelings of "yuck" that resentment can set in and defenses begin to build.


The million-dollar question that I'm often asked is, "should I really stay in this relationship?"  As easy as it may be to give a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, the solution is rarely that cut and dried.  At the risk of sounding too therapist-like, I'll state that the answer is not always as important as the journey to find that answer.  This is your chance to start looking within and exploring what's working well and what's not working so well.

Check out my latest blog post and read more about turning that disjointed square dance back into a graceful tango.