Fighting With Your Partner? Here Are Some Tips To Diffuse The Situation
Jack and Harriet were fighting for days when they first came to my office. They walked in separately and sat as far away from each other as they possibly could. What was wrong? Harriet blurted out, “He just won’t listen, all he cares about is being right.” To which Jack fired back, “If you weren’t so angry all the time I might listen more.” They were at loggerheads. This negative cycle happens frequently among couples in trouble.

The cycle works like this. First, a disagreement or some kind of action by one of them triggers anger or irritation. Something is said, then the other person becomes defensive or critical in return, then more and more until they either shut down or escalate into full blown warfare. At first glance we can see that no one is listening. What happens is both parties become more and more frustrated and they up the ante until it gets louder and louder. This critical flashpoint can make emotional trust dangerous and causes couples to shut down, sometimes to never open up again.

Jack and Harriet described a conflict where they were defending and criticizing endlessly. Out of utter frustration Jack smacked Harriet’s favorite hanging plant. It flew across the room and in mid-flight the plant died, and something inside her died as well. These are pivotal moments in a relationship where there is an intention to hurt. Unintentional hurt is one thing but to deliberately try to hurt someone is different. Even though it may be about wanting to get back at the other person, it may also be a desperate attempt to be heard. The same is true for screaming, yelling, name calling, swearing, or lying, cheating or stealing. These are relationship killers.

But the most effective tool to remedy this situation and the one thing that will save your relationship is a process I call WAVE. It’s simple, powerful and very effective. It means Wait, Acknowledge, Validate and Empathize. Sounds easy, well it’s not, it takes practice.

Let me cover them one by one.

WAIT– First wait and calm down. Take as long as necessary. There has to be an agreement to wait and give yourself some time to ask yourself the one question. If this was all my fault what would it be? Then WAIT to hear what your partner has to say before you say anything. Each of you should have a turn telling your story about how you are feeling. The best way is to put it in the future. People never agree on the past so why bother. Say what you want, need and value in all future actions or activities. This gives the other person the ability to do it right and get out of the feeling of being cornered as the bad one.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – This is the magic pill. To acknowledge your partner is the most effective way to de-escalate and argument. Let them know that you get what they are saying, even if you have to repeat it back but make it your own and tell a story about what they said, make it real. Add some concern or compassion to it and that will immediately calm it down. Acknowledgement does not mean agreement, it means that you heard what your partner said and you get it. Many times this will end the argument right there.

VALIDATION – This means that we can see that they have a right to their opinion no matter how irrational it may seem. We all want to be validated for being who we are, no matter what. Loving someone is not unconditional, Love is conditional, it is alive and requires attention if it’s going to survive. The work of relationships revolves around validation about who one is. It’s a celebration of differences, not an ideal version. Couples cannot be in lock step about their beliefs, interests or activities because everyone has different experiences and cultures.

EMPATHY – This is the most critical and difficult of all. We define empathy as “Vicarious introspection.” This description was coined by Heinz Kohut the founder of Self Psychology. Empathy is not sympathy. It’s about being able to see our partner as they truly are, not necessarily from our own particular point of view. The attempt is to see it as they see it. From behind their eyes. This process takes some doing but is the most important skill we can learn in relationship life.

So the next time a flash of anger comes over you and your partner, stop, wait and calm down, then listen, acknowledge, validate and emphasize. The next step is to brain storm about some ideas that will make it better next time. All behavior and emotions have meaning, they are about something. The trick is to see it.

My patient and I were talking about the latest revelations of sexual misconduct in the news and she described an incident that she explained was not unusual. She was stopped at a light and absentmindedly looked over at the car next to her. A man looked back. What ensued was a chase right out of the movies, with her racing in and out of traffic until he finally gave up. As I walk down the street a young woman walks past me, she stares straight ahead, avoiding my gaze. I think to myself about how incredibly confining and dangerous the world is for women.

With the recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Donald Trump, women are vociferously speaking up about their disturbing and appalling accounts of sexual abuse. The response that follows is “Why now, what took them so long?”. The convoy of women stepping up represents a tectonic shift in the cultural landscape that has shaped our country and the dirty little secrets of men. Women are literally coming out of the woodwork describing patterns of harassment and rape from predatory men operating with reckless abandon believing they were bullet proof. The background of fear and intimidation is not the only culprit in this collision of morality and entitlement but another more insidious evil, and that would be shame.

The word “shame” originates from the Teutonic root word “skem” which means “to cover oneself.” Shame is an intense reaction to the pain of humiliation and necessitates deception to keep it concealed. For shame to be exposed could mean further humiliation and that would be intolerable. Like the spilling of blood, shame is the most powerful internal feeling we humans can experience. Victims of abuse or rape react to these events with crushing shame and then to protect themselves they hide as a means of emotional survival. When women come out it emboldens other women because they can transcend shame through acts of courage.

Rich and famous men have been riding a runaway train of entitlement that is at last coming to a screeching halt. Men have long been immune to the protests of women because of our almost psychotic worship of celebrity and wealth. The undeniable myth is that somehow they are superior and therefore can do whatever they want to whomever they want without rules or restrictions. Back to bullet proof. The need to simply keep quiet from shame and the fear of loss both of employment or career also play a prominent role here. The shame of standing alone in the face of a powerful man who denies any wrongdoing and even aggressively blames and shames women in public creates an incalculable panic in the victims of abuse. Adding to this is the tendency for victims to blame themselves.

These men wield prodigious sway in the world and because they are revered or feared or both. It becomes very difficult to get the truth out. All anyone has to do nowadays is call “Fake News or Lies” and it casts aspersions on the claim whether true or not. We don’t have a valued means of establishing what is true when it is being undermined daily in the news and social media. These men are just the tip of the iceberg as my patient so adroitly pointed out.

Importantly, equality between men and women is the foundation of a civilized society. The treatment of women worldwide is like a cancer on the very core of what it means to be human. In countries where women are not treated equally alongside men those discrimination’s create suffering. We watch the mighty fall in the new era of emerging woman power. Wherever women are given a place of value those countries become less war like. Humane societies are more peaceful. Equality means we all excel. The time has come for real change and everyone reaps the rewards both economically and within families and communities.

To remove the stigma of shame, allowing the truth to be known is the goal of a civilized society. All people require fair treatment and have the right to equal opportunity, black, white, brown, female and LGBT. Everyone has a contribution to make and ending harassment and abuse is one giant step forward for mankind or womankind for that matter. It’s up to all of us to step forward and make our voices heard if not openly than certainly at the ballot box. To eradicate abuse toward women is to create a truly evolved society. This issue is systemic and its men who perpetuate it. When men decide to stand tall and confront misogyny in locker rooms or men’s gatherings then this pervasive abuse will finally end. Hallelujah.

First appeared on the Huffingtonpost UK

The Happiness Mystique - How The Search For Happiness Can Make Us Miserable

“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” Albert Schweitzer

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It’s not that we seize them, but
that they seize us.” Ashley Montigue

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of, you will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Albert Camus

Ellen was weeping in my office. She had a stylish and imperious air about her. She described her life as miserable and inadequate. Her husband she complained didn’t make enough money. I knew he was a very successful stock broker but it was sorely lacking in her mind. I asked her what she thought would make her happy. Silly me. She snapped back immediately that sixty thousand dollars right then she would make her happy. I was taken aback in a certain way because we don’t necessarily expect that money will make anyone happy but there it was. So many people believe that wealth and things will bring happiness into their lives. Certainly time has proven her wrong. Even though she has a great deal of money these days she is still just as unhappy.

Blasting over the airwaves, Facebook, television and film is a constant refrain about the pursuit of happiness. We are in search of the Holy Grail called being happy. Socrates believed that only people with self-knowledge could find true happiness. According to Socrates: – “Happiness flows not from physical or external conditions, such as bodily pleasures or wealth and power, but from living a life that’s right for your soul, your deepest good.” It would seem that the quest for happiness can be a source of unhappiness. People blame themselves for their inability to be happy. In that sense the idea of happiness seems a bit flawed. How can we be happy when we are missing an internal life? Ultimately happiness in an inside job. But how is that accomplished? Inside how, what, who and when? It would also seem to nix relationships altogether. Finding the right person can make us happy for a time but sooner or later we run into life and ourselves and whalla, we are back in the soup.

The song goes “Don’t worry, be happy.” Is that like “Be spontaneous?” One cannot be something or it takes the thing itself away. To be anything, nice, happy, cool, great, smart or special is prescriptive and therefor fake. To try to be happy is an exercise in futility. Finding happiness is probably more akin to training our focus on something outside of ourselves that is fun, exciting or creative. The secret to happiness then lies out in the world. Although we do need to clear away our pain and misery first before we can be happy.

So it seems that happiness is the byproduct or the exhaust from some activity or condition but then it quickly fades. Can we find lasting happiness? I think not. How can we be totally happy when the world is upside down and so many people and animals are suffering? Does happiness require that we tune out the rest of the world?

Maybe it’s not happiness at all that we seek but contentment. Now there’s a reasonable goal. The illusive thing called happiness may be an illusion or a brief moment but we can be content. We can find an inner sense of peace, acceptance, compassion and respect. We can enjoy the simple things, a flower in bloom, a sunset, a hug from someone we love. These things create contentment. The expectation that we can reach this state while working, raising a family, trying to get enough sleep, and physical challenges can create a sense that we have failed at being happy. Everyone else manages to be happy why not us? That concept alone can make us miserable.

What then is a realistic expectation in this world of illusion and fantasy? It’s realistic to assume that there will be problems and that life is difficult but that’s not our fault. We can’t blame ourselves for the difficulty of life. We can learn how to not be self-critical, develop loving relationships and find meaningful work. We can build interests and talents, a good sense of humor, meditate, adopt a positive attitude and most of all have some fun. These are things we can succeed at. Lasting happiness not so much.

Most of my research revealed happiness was related to gratitude, mindfulness, a positive attitude, finding love and being active. What else is new? Truth is no one really knows for sure what makes us happy. Certainly trying to find it can be disappointing or exhilarating. Maybe the secret is to be still and it might just sneak up on us.

First published in the Huffington post UK

John F. Kennedy uttered the now famous words during his inaugural address “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. At the time (it was 1961) it hit me like a thunderbolt and many of my generation joined the crusade. I wanted a better life for all Americans and the world. He inspired us to be a part of social giving. So, I applied for and won a government funded fellowship (there were such things in those days) called Teacher Corps that was a domestic form of the Peace Corps. We went into inner city schools and brought new methods and special programs that were meant to lift up the under performing school districts in South Central LA. What we found were corrupt and decimated schools and a beleaguered faculty many of whom were not even college graduates. The shock and dismay was utterly disappointing. Turned out that no one ever went there to find out what was going on. The failure was alienation.

The spirit still prevailed in me as I set out as a teacher, to help white kids learn about how other less fortunate and diverse groups lived. Then there was the peace movement with so many giving so much to end the war in Vietnam. Everyone marched and rioted and shouted. It took a long time for the war to end. It was the ballot box that finally made the difference.

Early on I was told by my parents and a host of others, of the greatness of doing good for others and we believed in the American dream of equal opportunity for all. A compassionate country with open arms, “Bring me your tired and huddled masses” were the kind and heartfelt words. We are now standing before the world with an entirely opposite view being expressed by our government. “America First” is the rallying cry. We have become anti-altruistic as we are flipping off the rest of the world. It’s every man for himself mentality. It’s worldwide. What have we become? Less compassionate, less concerned with human rights and animal rights as well. We see only the immediate and not the long-range effects of what we are doing. In our struggle to succeed we have lost our heart.

So, what has changed? The sixties were painful and scary with riots, assassinations, drugs and clandestine liberation groups setting off bombs. The difference then and now is that we believed America stood for something special, that we were the gold standard for how democracy really worked. We were a cut above. That has now gone the way floppy disks. Now we are solidly in the muck with everyone else. We have a president who attacks the press and opposes all forms of government. Our congressmen seem to blatantly represent big money and special interests while proposing a draconian budget and health plan that cares for no one. We seem to have lost our sense of what our forefathers were all about. And so has everyone else for that matter. We observe democratic institutions crumble around the world to be replaced with dictators who jail dissidents and murder anyone who opposes them.

Now that we have stripped away the vestiges of what we thought our country or the world for that matter is supposed to be, perhaps it’s time for the great mass of humanity to wake up. Should we not stand for something? How about equality, integrity, democracy, and free elections. Who will take up this challenge and shake things up, start the conversation. What about our planet? We are facing certain annihilation if we don’t get real and that would need to be real soon.

What has really changed is the lying is different. It’s more open and blatant. The cat is out of the bag and we don’t have to pretend anymore. Now we can truly bend down and pick up the pieces and perhaps begin the process of bringing what our founding fathers really wanted into reality. One Nation and one world for all. It’s up to us to not fall asleep at the wheel.

First appeared on the Huffington Post

Is Criticism Ever Constructive?

Is there such a thing as constructive criticism? Not really? Criticism seems more like a punch in the stomach than a helpful hint. Complaints are a different animal altogether. The major difference between a criticism and a complaint is that a criticism is a personal attack and a complaint is about who we are. Criticism creates defensiveness. How could it be otherwise? Defensiveness is a knee jerk response to criticism; it’s payback. A complaint, on the other hand, aspires to loftier goals; it’s about your inner world.

In my work I have to say things to people that are really hard to hear. I must provide insights without judgment or criticism. Otherwise, they are up and out the door, never to be seen again. Criticism is always about the past but complaints can be about the future. “You did the wrong thing” as opposed to “This is what I want moving forward.” Whenever you express your complaint as a wish, need or a want, you are creating the possibility of a positive outcome. Criticism is always negative, whereas a complaint can be quite positive. Complaints give your partner something to do, whereas a criticism paints them into a corner. They are bad and there is no way out. A proper complaint is an exit strategy.

John Gottman, the author of The Seven Principles for A Happy Marriage interviewed over 12,000 couples. He describes the “four horsemen” of a failed marriage as criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. Highly critical couples are doomed to failure because criticism is a disconnect and ultimately a shut down.

The difference between a criticism and a complaint might look like:

  • Criticism: “If you could ever think of anyone besides yourself, you would know that I needed your help today. You bailed and left me holding the bag.”
  • Complaint: “Next time we have a function in our home, could we sit down and plan, so we are on the same team? I need your help.”
  • Criticism: “Are you so selfish that you can’t even remember my birthday? You can’t get anything right.”
  • Complaint: “I know how busy you are, but it really would mean a lot to me if next year on my birthday we worked out a plan so we could celebrate. It would mean the world to me.”

Criticism and complaints have one thing in common – they both relate to differences between people. Differences create conflict which is natural and unavoidable. Differences can be about lifestyle, culture, past experiences, morals and values. It’s not that we will never get angry or have conflicts, it’s about how we handle them.

There are steps you can follow that will allow you to steer clear of criticism and develop a positive complaint style.

Step 1. De-escalate. When a conflict erupts your first response is to be angry, critical, righteous and retaliatory. You are convinced that you are right and they are wrong. But maybe you are blind to your part in it. It’s a good idea to cool down and think about what made you mad. Anger is informative and complex, it can be about five or six different things. Anger let’s you know that something is up, some internal land mine has been triggered. Take a beat and consider what made you angry. Is this an old wound? What do you want, need and value moving forward? What were they thinking? When you feel calmer and have a better idea about what pissed you off, then set up a time to talk or wait for an opportune moment.

Step 2. Acknowledgment. Conflict and anger break the emotional connection. The best method for reconnection is to acknowledge what your partner is saying or feeling. Providing feedback that gives the sense that you understand what they are experiencing is connecting. Do not repeat word for word, but summarize the most important elements in a way that lets them know you understand. When couples are having trouble, it is often because they are not listening to each other and are too busy defending. Attack and defend is a lethal style that loops around and around until there is only stalemate. Acknowledgement breaks the negative cycle.

Step 3. Define the Problem. Once each person feels understood and has made an effort to voice their concerns try to make a statement about what you think the problem is. Something like: “When you ignore me, I turn up the volume and then you get angry with me for getting angry. I think the problem is that we are spending too much time arguing about what happened instead of what we want.” Once you agree on the problem you can start to talk about solutions. This is where your complaints can be heard. “In the future you don’t have to fix it, you just have to let me know what you need and that you hear me.”

Step 4. What Can Each of Us Do in the Future to Make it Better? Each person at this point can make a statement about what they will do next time. “I promise to listen so you won’t have to yell at me to be heard.” By placing your concerns in a future context it feels positive rather than blaming and critical. In 30 years of seeing couples, I have yet to see two people agree on what happened in the past. What works is to consider what you might do next time. “Next time, could you let me know when you are going to be late?”

Step 5. Take Action. Making an effort to do those things you have agreed to do demonstrates commitment and concern for the needs and feelings of your partner. You don’t have to be perfect but when you do make a real effort it creates connection and love.

This road map is just that, a way to resolve problems and communicate in a way that creates love and connection. Like all road maps you need to know when you are off track and then get back on the road. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling break connections and compassion, understanding, respect and empathy create them. Complaints allow your partner into your inner world, criticism shuts them out. Love is an active process and sharing your complaints positively creates a more loving connection. This is the way to be “Happy Together.”

Love after the initial blast off is essentially a creation. We fashion love through first-rate conflict resolution skills, communication, laughter, sex and affection.

A Beatles song captures the imagination of youthful love in the verse, “When she crossed that room, my heart went boom and I fell in love with her.” When we are hit with that thunderbolt, we become teenagers again as a tsunami of chemicals amass the feelings of love at first sight. At this point our bodies are chock full of pheromones, oxytocin and vasopressin, the love combo, as it whipsaws us around in a whirl of chemical goo. How sweet it is. Scientists now believe we needed those compounds to survive as a species when animals roamed free some ten thousand years ago. At the time a women needed a man to be interested enough to protect her and her infant until the child was old enough to keep up with the swift moving tribe.

The tempo of a new relationship feels like it has wheels as it moves at emotional lightning speed toward a full blown commitment. Before we know it, we are walking down the aisle and saying our “I do’s.” Real life is another matter. We soon realize that this vision of perfection has some chinks. Often the person we thought we knew has morphed into another species. Relationships start out romantic then lead to disappointment and ultimately to alienation according to Daniel Wile the noted relationship author and speaker. Wile contends that while relationships are filled with a certain struggle all is not lost. We can’t do much about disappointment but we can work on alienation. These alienated situations need to be talked out, worked through, so we become more connected and less ambivalent.

Get the picture, of course you do. Relationships can be quite nurturing, loving and kind or cut like a knife right into the sinew and nerve of our most sensitive feelings. Eventually, we find some serious annoyances and defenses which can suddenly spring forth in avalanches of boiling anger, ready to rip our loved one from ear to ear. Relationships present quite the challenge over the long haul. What it really takes to continue the love we had at first is something to strive for, but the secret is that we have to pay attention. For love to endure we need to learn how to throw the proverbial log on the relationship fire. To maintain a loving relationship requires that we are the sort of person whom someone could love. We think we can do whatever we want, say anything that comes to mind and let it all hang out. But a marriage license can’t become a license to kill if love is to remain viable. To preserve a loving relationship requires that we make love in every sense of the word. It doesn’t always just happen, it takes some planning, some perseverance, tolerance and a sense of humor to make it run smoothly.

When we are first in love we can’t really know what may lie ahead. For the next umpteen years we are faced with the foibles and flaws of another human being. Trying to change them is useless, so the only solution is to accept this person warts and all or go down the path toward relationship hell. If we don’t know something about our own craggy inner terrain we are doomed to the jungle of conflict cycles with no foreseeable end or the dead end of fighting for position in competitive power failures.

Love after the initial blast off is essentially a creation. We fashion love through first-rate conflict resolution skills, communication, laughter, sex and affection. Love is an activity; it is about creating love by being loving, kind, caring, responsible, reliable and supportive. In this way we actively promote loving feelings. Obviously, if we apply compassion, understanding, respect, empathy, acceptance, patience and perseverance we will support loving feelings. Through all the vagaries of relationships they inevitably lead to negotiating our wants, needs, dreams and wishes with another who is hopefully interested enough to consider it. When it is all said and done we need to tend our relationship garden with gentle hands. If we actively create moments of enjoyment while letting the small stuff roll like water off a rock we will win the relationship wars. We must not forget that our relationship is perfect but there is always room for improvement. The work of love is gaining the ability to look at ourselves from within and between while listening to our loved one so they can show us what we cannot see.

 

“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that
you end up being governed by your inferiors.”  -Plato

I remember where I was standing when I casually mentioned the word “Global warming” to my friend and neighbor. What happened next stunned me. I watched in shock and awe when the top of this funny nice guy’s head blew off. He was shrieking “It’s a pack of lies, utter BS.” Wow. I was blown away. After that very brief but explosive incident he sent a message from his wife to mine that we were not to discuss politics. Needless to say things have not been the same since. It appears as if there is no way to respectfully discuss our political differences. People I know are refusing to be friends with Trump supporters and vice versa. Something has either changed or what’s been hidden is now out. It does seem like the polarity is greater than ever.

What can we do to bridge what appears to be a tectonic ideological divide? How can we partake in meaningful dialogue and find agreement if there is such a thing? The roots of this polarity go all the way back to the Mayflower when dissidents arrived on our shores seeking religious freedom. Over the centuries, the original settlers and others like them have remained steadfast in their religious conservative individualism while other more progressive groups have sprung up. Conservatives believe that religion guides all our actions and government should be small and pertain to the rights of the individual. The other side believes that government should play a role in protecting and supporting its population, including those in need.

In our recent election cycle many things changed. The core political call was the idea that America has lost its previous glory and that evil elements are flooding our country and making it less safe. Trump trumpeted the promise of a return to glory and a removal of those criminal elements who seek to tear our country down, otherwise known as illegal immigrants and terrorists. It’s true that times have changed and our cities have become more diverse. The Normal Rockwell world of the fifties has largely vanished, giving way to a more urban, sexually open world and a more varied set of values and life styles. Things that were hidden are out, gay rights, transgender, and drugs are all on display and many folks don’t like it.

People are frustrated with not getting raises and the move to technology and away from manufacturing. That irks a lot of people in rural areas who have lost their jobs. There’s not talk of retraining but instead we are given the paradise lost paradigm and the promise that the “The good old days” are just around the corner. All we gotta do is kick out those illegals and charge the hell out of China for shipping in their goods made by low wage workers and all will be well.

There are lots of fear based assumptions and let’s face it politicians know how to work the fear card. There is political hay to be made by proffering the idea of closed borders and safe harbors. How do we overcome these perceptions and create compassion for those who are suffering and not condemn a whole group of people for the actions of a few? The politics of differences is escalating and the divide is deepening. With one side compelling us to go back to our mythic glory days and the other pressing hard to move forward, we find our country in an ideological head on collision.

It’s true that we live in a more dangerous world. Instead of a few bad countries that we know about there are a plethora of small and secretive lethal subversive guerrilla groups committing heinous crimes and leaving dead innocents in their wake. How then do we bring these diverse elements together? The truth is we cannot. We can’t mend those fences but we can live together in our opposition and work out healthy compromises. What we need is honest respectful dialogue. We are getting spin, fake news, lies and fabrications for personal gain. We can all agree that truth in all things is the most important value in a free society. Is it still possible to show the world that democracy can work instead of become exactly what we hate? The only true way out is education. John F. Kennedy once said, “The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” It appears that we are lacking in both. If we are to survive as a nation, one nation under God, then we must trust that our forefathers had it right. That equality, opportunity and inclusion are still what America stands for.

First Appeared on Huffington Posk UK

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
—Anaïs Nin

The way a relationship begins is often a far cry from what it’s like after many years of being together, and what it’s like is what we make it. If our partner asks for help and we don’t give it—or if we take a moment to consider our partner’s point of view; if we feel entitled to scream obscenities when we’re angry—or if we pay close attention to our partner’s needs; either way, our actions will have consequences, positive or negative. To ensure that the love we begin with is still there 10 or 20 years in the future is thus a constant process of making and creating a loving environment.

When people talk about the “work” of relationships, what do they mean? Simply that if a relationship is to stay intimate, loving, and happy, it requires some effort on our part. We need to be compassionate and consciously available; to make sure we understand our partner’s point of view before we express our own; to speak and act respectfully; to check our defenses at the door and empathize instead of falling into tit-for-tat retaliation. During arguments we must remember who it is we love and what our intentions are for the relationship. At the same time, we must be aware of what is causing our anger, which may mean holding on to it until we do understand it. To find love is a miracle; to keep it takes focus. Relationship is at its core very simple, but simplicity is a complex process.

People have made war in the name of love, spent fortunes in love’s pursuit, and even died for love. And although there are many ways of loving—from affectionate friendship, to the infatuation of love at first sight, to the romantic love that arises after infatuation fades, to the consummate connection that is forged in an intimate process over many years—they share a common heart. Diane Ackerman writes in A Natural History of Love:

“So it is with love. Values, customs, and protocols may vary from ancient days to the present, but not the majesty of love. People are unique in the way they walk, dress, and gesture, yet we’re able to look at two people—one wearing a business suit, the other a sarong—and recognize that both of them are clothed. Love also has many fashions, some bizarre and (to our taste) shocking, others more familiar, but all are part of a phantasmagoria we know. In the Serengeti of the heart, time and nation are irrelevant. On that plain all fires are the same fire.”

Others have recognized that fire, too, and given it names of their own. Pioneer psychologist Harry Stack Sullivan wrote that “love is the state in which the needs and feelings of the other are as important as or more important than our own.” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote of “love as a wish or call for the other to come out.” Sigmund Freud is well known for describing “the two most important conditions in life as love and work.” Milan Kundera describes love as “interrogation.” These notions of love all have a common theme: an intense feeling that pulls one’s thoughts and desires toward the loved one.

For many of us, that intense pull is the defining characteristic of a romantic relationship—and the thing that makes being in love so irresistible to us. We think of romance as the stuff of grand gestures, selfless acts, and consuming feelings of till death do us part. We yearn to be filled with the contentment that the thought of love conjures up. But real love is more than romantic thoughts and feelings passively received. Real love is actively made, and we must consciously choose to make it, not just once but throughout our lives together, over and over again.

An excerpt from “Happy Together”. To read more visit www.happytogetherbook.com

 

Now have a new tragic frenetic display of serious insanity being played out all over the world in such a way that if a news cycle is even a day late it’s so completely old news.

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on”.
– Franklin Roosevelt

The news is not what it used to be, remember the little things like war, disasters and overall bad news. Those were the good old days. Now we have a new tragic frenetic display of serious insanity being played out all over the world in such a way that if a news cycle is even a day late it’s so completely old news. It’s like our planet is on steroids or some weird amphetamine.

Catastrophe is the new normal. We feel like pulling our hair out or tearing something limb from limb but don’t know what or who. Riots, murder and mayhem used to be a big deal but now they are an afterthought of a much more tumultuous set of circumstances, Waking up to the idea that foreign powers are succeeding at controlling elections and even how government runs is frightening. This was unthinkable. Other than the cold war we always felt safe and we knew that our government was looking out for us. That has all changed.

So staying sane is a real problem. We want to run screaming into the night but we have jobs, obligations, children and bills to pay, so we can’t or we pay an even stiffer price. We are huddled masses of insecurity about what we thought was secure that is now careening out of control toward what appears to be a new kind of oblivion. When the inmates are running the asylum or what we used to think of government, what is there to do to keep our heads above water and not drown in a sea of our own discontent?

What is said in these days and what is done in these times will foretell our future as a nation or a world order of individuals and collectively as a society or culture. So dare we mention what it will take to get us through the daily onslaught of offensive, oblivious and dangerous behaviors? With people and countries coming out of woodwork and doing totally outrageous things to one another what are we to do?

Here are a few ideas.

1. Do something. Take time to do some small, medium or large thing but do something. We need to feel like we are taking some control of our lives which helps to feel like we have some power and are living up to our own expectations.

2. Remember that we have lived through worse and survived as a species. Developing hope is an important component for our personal sanity. Remember that there are always swings left and right throughout human history. In the end it’s a balance. This too shall pass and hopefully we will all still be here.

3. Current calamity may be for the best because it wakes people up and they come out of their apathetic doldrums to be engaged with other like-minded people to create positive change.

4. Take care of yourself. Do all the normal things, exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, go to work but take some time to address your concerns and your health.

5. Don’t believe everything you hear. Make sure that it is corroborated over time and from different sources. Fake news is fake and we’ve seen how it creates more chaos. Rely on solid and established news sources not on some outlet that we have never heard of.

6. Talk about it with people you trust. Being able to commiserate and talk through your fears and concerns helps to not feel so alone and helpless. Listen to people we trust are being truthful.

Being sane is an activity which requires that we know something about who we are and what kind of a life we want to lead. These times help us to define our lives in new ways that can be transformational. There is a nobility in finding what is true and helpful for all people not just for the few. It informs us about what matters. To convert greed and lies into giving to others and essential altruism is making something sane from insane self-serving behavior.

For all things there are the opposites and a new way of living in the face of disharmony. To lift ourselves and others up and to oppose those that wish to tear us apart is the essence of what it means to be human. Finding harmony amid chaos leads the way to a better life. For so many of us not running amok is an achievement but for those who must run, do it with passion and in the spirit of what is truly great about humanity. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sanity. Hallelujah.

First appeared in Huffington Post UK

The Importance of Intimacy in a Relationship“The married are those who have taken the terrible risk of intimacy and, having taken it, know life without intimacy to be impossible.” – Carolyn Heilbrun

For most of us, the word intimate conjures up romantic images of candlelit dinners, slow dancing, and long passionate kisses. Romantic gestures are certainly a dominant theme of intimacy, but there is more. Intimacy in the real world is the result of expressing our feelings, our personal secrets, and our deepest truths to each other. It arises when we feel cared about, accepted, and loved for our own sake, warts and all.

The word intimacy originates from the Latin word intima, which means “inner” or “innermost.” Thomas Patrick Malone writes in The Art of Intimacy, “The outstanding quality of the intimate experience is the sense of being in touch with our real selves. It allows us a fresh awareness of who, what, and how we are.

Ideally, intimacy is a blend of emotional closeness, spiritual connectedness, and an open heart and mind. Its origin lies in intellectual collaboration and familiarity, especially with one another’s culture and interests. It may also involve shared religious or philosophical beliefs. Finally, intimacy can be an emotional response to knowing someone well by virtue of shared experiences. When we think of the word intimate we see both the word in and the word mate. That is kind of how it works: being inside another person in a way that feels as though we psychologically mate with him or her and in that way become intimate.

When we share details about our life that usually remain hidden, we are connecting in an intimate way. The extent to which we can disclose deeply private personal feelings and experiences is proportionate to how safe we feel, so safety is a requirement for intimacy as well. Of course, intimacy means different things to different people, and its meaning for us may even change over time. It can be linked with sexual closeness, but not necessarily; intimate feelings arise from shared moments of emotional connection as well as from sexual encounters. Whatever its particular nature, intimacy is the product of relationship work and the result of feeling emotionally connected to our loved one. It’s the operating principle for creating love.

As Thomas Patrick Malone eloquently makes clear, intimacy is not only about the other, it is about who we are. And the most powerful and profound awareness of who we are comes when we open our hearts to others, allowing them to touch our deepest sensitivity. In the act of risking our tender inner world, we become more of who we are because we feel touched in an untouched place.

Intimacy takes courage because we must risk expressing our deepest sense of self to create it. We may be apprehensive about opening our hearts and minds to another for fear of being judged or rejected. But the reward is immense. It is the antidote to painful loneliness. It reaches into our hearts, providing love that satisfies our need for emotional food. Our ability to establish and maintain nurturing intimate relationships is not only gratifying, it nourishes us and ultimately helps keep us sane. Our survival as a species requires that we seek connections with others and open our own inner world to them. Intimacy breaks into our isolation and intertwines our souls and, if done with tenderness and care, creates safe and secure attachments. This ability to intimately connect with others is the backbone of civilization. Intimacy is what makes us human.