Divorce from a child’s perspective

This is so poignant. A child asking her parents to be friends. She talks about wanting everyone to be steady, low, where her heart is. Such wisdom.

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Take personal responsibility for your relationship

Falling in love is a bit like losing yourself to somebody else. There is chemistry behind falling in love and it is shown that dopamine has a powerful impact on our brain and makes us feel like we are high on drugs.

Symbiosis is defined as “being dependent on one another”. In the initial infatuation stage of love partners feel naturally symbiotic and reassured that they think alike, feel alike and don’t need words to understand each other. Finally you’ve found that soulmate! As time goes on, this glory of being so alike gets trampled by real life experiences to that contrary which breeds colossal disappointment.

Knowledge of all of his negatives and the ways he doesn’t give you what you need and assumed you would get are interpreted as ‘not being in love anymore. The expectation that you can get all you need from your partner naturally doesn’t acknowledge that we are ultimately responsible for asking for what we want and need. Perhaps you’ve taken on an identity that you thought was the only way be in the relationship. Parts of yourself were suppressed and maybe true values got lost. “I’m more than you think I am!”

This is the key downfall of a symbiotic relationships. If you and your partner are no longer in ‘lockstep’ with each other then we think that something is fundamentally wrong. It is much more difficult to assert your needs and easier to turn away in disappointment. How do you ‘stand up for yourself’ in the relationship in the areas where you may have differences. It demands grown up skills in honest assertive communication (both listening and talking) and a lot of courage.

Make the implicit explicit and stop mind reading your partner. When you try to fill in the blanks about what your partner is thinking, you risk projecting thoughts and feelings that aren’t in any way coming from your partner. Making assumptions and drawing conclusions provides a false sense of control. Be assertive and ask what your partner is thinking before jumping to conclusions.

Talk like a grown-up. Intense negative emotions often result in impulsive and poorly thought out reactions. That child within us gets activated and much damage can come from words. If you need to clarify or communicate important thoughts, be sure to consider all aspects of reality, without blowing things out of proportion.

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What happens after being ‘in love’.

People usually nod their heads when considering the notion that the first and ‘in love’ stage of a relationship transitions to something else. Terry Real has said that this first stage is Love without Knowledge. Yikes ! How do you survive the Love With Knowledge stage to arrive at Knowledge AND Love?

This is not to minimize the first essential stage of In Love. Seasoned long term couples will say that the first years of romantic, passionate, intense fusing together is what helped them stay together through difficult times. Not everyone has that stage in their relationship and thus not much depth to tap into when challenges come. This process is  beautifully described by a character in Louis de Bernières’s novel “Corelli’s Mandolin”:

“”Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it. We had roots that grew toward each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.””

Now that is a beautiful picture.

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When baby makes 3

A new baby often results in a sexual dry spell for the parents that extends beyond the months it takes to recover from birth – in some cases, it can go years. But do children extinguish the flame of desire, or is it the adults who fail to keep the spark alive?

Here are five ideas to make space for yourself and your partnership, after the birth of your first child:

1.) Enlist your support group – friends/neighbors/peers

If you don’t live near your relatives (or your relatives aren’t able or willing to help with childcare), you need to create a family of choice. These are neighbors/friends/peers who can watch your children, and you reciprocate for them and their children, too. Avoid the callous atomization that American society puts parents in, and make this new experience as collective as possible. Having a family of choice to rely on will free you of feeling like the entire burden of responsibility for your little smurfs rests only with you. A larger support system also helps young parents have alone time.

2.) Stay out late.
Plan one curfew-free night every 6-8 weeks. Get a sitter or put the child to sleep at a friend or family member’s home (someone who won’t care how late you pick up your child). Go out all night and don’t worry about when you have to be back home. This gives you excitement for your outing and a glimmer of your past life. Just because your children have structured bedtime, doesn’t mean you have to live like that as well. Every once in awhile, go out and allow yourself to experience open-endedness that reconnects you to the sense of possibility and freedom.

3.) Make nice meals easier.

You don’t have to sacrifice those elaborate meals of pre child life. Shift cooking meals from a chore to a quick and lively part of your evening. Eat at home and eat together, but cook simply and as quickly as possible without being unhealthy.

  • Plan a prep day early in the week to prepare ingredients with your child. Rather than choosing between playing with your child or cooking, you can involve the children in the prep process. Give them safe little jobs like putting ingredients in bowls, tear lettuce for salads, etc.
  • If you use a nanny/babysitter, have that person shop for your groceries and prep them ahead of your arrival home for dinner. Make sure that the babysitter is there to help you — not only to play with your child.

4.) Prioritize alone time.

Make sure that each person in the couple has time to him/herself and commits to preserving some form of personal intimacy. Alone time is critical for an individual to feel complete.

5.) Break your routine and plan couple time, together.

The important word here is plan. Structure breeds freedom. Especially after the birth of your first child. This concept is often hard to grasp, since it’s the opposite of what you probably used to think. Make sure that the couple has time for itself, without the baby. Break the schedule that parenting has forced you into by planning together.

  • Schedule together time, in advance. Build anticipation and mystery around the activity itself. Anticipation is important, as it connects us to our imagination (the antidote to responsibility).
  • When you finally get out on that rare date night, do not spend the time talking about the children.
  • Do something new and different. Skip the typical movie night, and instead, plan an experience that’s new. Novelty breeds testosterone.

Plan together. For many couples, it helps if one person is responsible for the adult end of the planning (date night activities, researching vacations, booking reservations, etc.), while the other focuses on the kid’s end (reserving babysitters, packing overnight bags for the grandparent’s house, etc.). Systemic distribution; one partner holds vigil for the family, the other focuses on the couple. Remember how much you need each other, and practice being grateful for your complementarity. Be watchful not to blame your partner for not focusing on the the same important priorities as you.

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Using the CNI (Core Negative Image)

How to Break through your CNI

We talked about an intimacy exercise where each partner writes down the core negative image of the other. Then he/she writes down what their core negative image is of themselves. Compare the two and share in session.

  1. When your partner shares his CNI of you, listen with a healthy protective boundary. Listening doesn’t mean agreeing! Just take it in calmly. How is it similar/different to your self CNI assessment?
  2. There will be kernels of truth in what is shared. See those truths as behaviors only and resolve to change those behaviors.
  3. Reaffirm your self-esteem- not in a way that rebuffs taking in the truths. Reach inside and care for that soul within that is good and innocent.
  4. Notice when you complain – and resolve to change the way you communicate outwardly from complaint to request.
  5. Begin to listen with an open mind by putting yourself aside. Also put ‘objective reality’ aside as there is no such thing. Be curious about your partner’s experience. Is there any part of what they perceive that you can see as valid? All this with your protective boundary intact.
  6. Empower your functional adult. Feel the calmness in your body as you put aside reactivity.

Terry Real talks about these“Five Winning Strategies” in communication.

  1. go after what you want.
  2. speak to make things better
  3. listen to understand
  4. respond with generosity
  5. cherish what you have

And most of all, remember love. Just a slight and vague reminder that you do love this person can help reduce reactivity and soften the communication.

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Core Negative Images


Personal growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum – it happens as we act in relationship to another. As Terry Real says, “Intimate connectedness is our birthright and optimal state. The cure for emotional problems is intimacy.”

Even when I work with an individual, I do relational therapy. I am always asking questions about how their behaviors, decisions, and beliefs affect their spouses or anyone else in their life.

One good exercise in relational therapy is to write or talk about what your partner’s experience is of being married to you. We often get stuck in what it’s like for us. This assignment takes

us out of our natural self-absorption and makes us think more relationally. Resolving problems is easier when we remember that our reality is really just our perception and that our spouse may have a very different one. And it’s just as valid as ours!

A second relational exercise involves something called CNI or Core Negative Image.

Each partner is asked to describe :

“Who your partner becomes to you in those most difficult, irrational, least loving moments.”

This often causes emotional responses when each reads his back to the other. – they usually hear a kernel of truth in their partner’s CNI perception of them.

Then instructions are to write down, “What he/she imagines their partner’s CNI is of him/her? Our self-criticisms are often worse than what our significant other thinks of us!

The point of this exercise is to :

1.Make each other’s C.N.I explicit and specific

2.Acknowledge the truth in each others C.N.I.’s

3.Identify one’s own C.N.I. ‘busting’ behaviors

4.Use the other’s C.N.I. as your personal behavioral compass.

This exercise must be done in the safety of a therapy session because it’s usually necessary to be coached on how to make the CNI specific and not general. Phrases like “you always,” “you never,” “all you ever do” are too broad.

Secondly, people need help to separate their projections of the other to their authentic observations and experiences. Most importantly it cannot be done accurately when one partner is angry, frustrated and not in an emotionally centered spot.

More next week on how to crush that Core Negative Image and promote personal growth and better relationships.



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The Inevitable Stages of Relationships

I just attended a teleclass given by Terry Real where he described the three stages of a relationship as :

  1. IN LOVE also known as Love without Knowledge – That ‘in love’ feeling that can only come without the knowledge of those aspects of the person that leaves sweetener packets on the counter, sometimes drinks too much or is frugal at the wrong times. This infatuation feeling that many seek can rise to the level of being described as a ‘love addiction’ as Pia Mellody termed. We want a ‘fix’! It feels so good when someone misses all our flaws.
  1. Disillusionment or Love with Knowledge – This is the stage where most come into therapy. Usually after 5 – 10 years it begins to settle in that this person we have committed to is not what we thought and we want him to either change or we want out. Bolstered by our feelings of entitlement – to a better matched partner – we struggle to reconcile the benefits of staying versus the pain of starting over. If a love interest beacons with Stage 1 hormones it’s difficult to resist and impulsive ones take a leap out and into something else – a relationship that will most likely end up in similar dissatisfaction enhanced by any complications of his and her kids.
  1. A Knowing Love – This is where long term relationships that do last, end up. One way to look at it is that age and inertia has beat us into submission or acceptance of our partner. A better way to frame it is that , with perspective and self responsibility, we know each other’s imperfection and love them regardless.   Terry talks about grieving the needs we have that won’t be met (as if they all ever could, anywhere). That enough of my needs are met to make remaining in the relationship worth my while. This has to come with responsibility for making the choice – no victims allowed!!

So what does this mean for those searching for that soul mate, that person who completes us? Recognizing the stages of relationship that are inevitable can help us turn within to ask – why am I not complete? Is completion anything that someone outside us can accomplish?

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Mindfulness in relationships




noun: mindfulness

  • 1. 
the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.”their mindfulness of the wider cinematic tradition”
  1. 2. 
a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

In couples counseling the process of becoming aware of relationship patterns and one’s own part in them is a key to insight and can be a helpful motivation for change.

In a study , published in the journal Mindfulness, researchers used subjective self-report and objective saliva sample—to find out how stressed 114 couples were after they discussed an unresolved issue in their relationship for 15 minutes. People who were higher in mindfulness were more likely to be securely attached to their romantic partner—and secure attachment, in turn, was associated with lower cortisol-levels after the conflict.

The researchers speculated that mindful traits can reduce the hyper-vigilance associated with attachment anxiety, helping people get a handle on negative thoughts, even if their bodies still show signs of stress. In other words, attention to present-moment experience helps control anxiety.

These results suggest that “mindfulness” is a concept that covers a number of specific tools. The tools that are most beneficial to you depend on which specific skills you need help with. People who often ruminate (which research shows tend to be women) may benefit most from practicing nonreactivity—letting thoughts and emotions enter and leave consciousness without getting caught up in them. People who have trouble describing emotion (which research shows tends to be men) may benefit most from practicing doing just that—labeling thoughts and emotions with words.

Overall, by seeing stressors and one’s own part in them more clearly, mindfulness allows us to respond more skillfully with what is needed—either higher or lower, faster or slower stress activation—and move forward with greater equanimity.

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Being right or being married

I’m not the first therapist who talks to couples about the dangers of having to be right in a relationship. In fact there is a book by that title on Amazon that I just ran across. The consensus is that ‘having to be right’ it is a surefire way to create discord and that “You can be right or you can be married”. (H. Harville)

People are not right or wrong but simply have different perspectives, or we might say different “realities”. Depending on how you were raised, what gender you are, where you have lived, and even what mood you are in, you will interpret events differently. Your perception determines your perspective, your beliefs, your values and thus, your “reality.” So when you find yourself disagreeing and arguing with your mate (or anyone else for that matter), you might take a moment to just consider that you may both be “right”, that each of your realities has validity. What a concept??!!!

You might then take that a step further be curious about your partner’s reality, wonder about their perspective, how they see this issue, why they view it so differently, and what leads them to their conclusion. If you can take this second step you are on your way to having a ‘conscious’ relationship and evidencing real growth.

So the next time you disagree with your significant other about who said what, see if you can stop yourself and instead allow that both opinions may be possible. When you learn to understand your partner’s experience you develop empathy, and most important, compassion.



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Simple co-dependency checklist

This term was first used to describe behaviors of care taking in a relationship where one partner has a substance use problem. It’s been broadened to describe a similar pattern in relationships without a substance issue. I like this simple list of characteristics from Mental Health America.

Characteristics of Co-dependent People Are:

  • An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of others
  • A tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescue
  • A tendency to do more than their share, all of the time
  • A tendency to become hurt when people don’t recognize their efforts
  • An unhealthy dependence on relationships. The co-dependent will do anything to hold on to a relationship; to avoid the feeling of abandonment
  • An extreme need for approval and recognition
  • A sense of guilt when asserting themselves
  • A compelling need to control others
  • Lack of trust in self and/or others
  • Fear of being abandoned or alone
  • Difficulty identifying feelings
  • Rigidity/difficulty adjusting to change
  • Problems with intimacy/boundaries
  • Chronic anger
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Poor communications
  • Difficulty making decisions

Do any of these apply to you or your partner? Are they causing relationship problems. It all starts with identifying a pattern and then taking responsibility for one’s own behavior.

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