Modern Relationship – contradictory expectations?

Today’s blog is an excerpt of Esther Perel’s work:

In today’s modern world, expectations are extremely difficult for us to provide to one another because they are contradictory, or even in some cases incompatible. Esther Perel’s The State of Affairs states, “contained within the small circle of the wedding band are vastly contradictory ideals. We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability… and we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk.”

So, what is the solution? How can we commit to another without losing ourselves in trying to meet these vast expectations? How can we be in a fulfilling partnership that also helps us grow as individuals?

Here’s a place to start.

We can think more clearly about our expectations from a partner. Research shows that people who have more social resources, and more people to talk to about various issues in their lives, do better in marriage. So in what areas do we want to invest with our partners, and in which areas do we need to invest in ourselves and our personal networks?*

And once we’ve had a chance to think more clearly about our expectations, how do we meet the expectations that we’ve set for ourselves and our relationships?

We can stop thinking of love, desire, and relationships as commodities. They are not. When a jacket doesn’t meet our expectations, we can easily purchase another one. The same is not true about our relationships. We have to work to make our expectations come to reality, setting expectations is only the start.

The next step is to actually go about achieving them by investing the time, patience, and space necessary with our partners. This process might not be perfect, but aside from the moment we recite them, neither are our vows.

*Two books that I recommend from guests of mine on the Sessions Clinical Education platform are:

  • The All or Nothing Marriage by Eli Finkel. Eli, a psychological scientist, goes into some depth about the research behind modern marriage, focusing in particular on the increasing set of expectations behind marriage and the ideology behind the institution.
  • Loving Bravely by Alexandra Solomon. Alexandra is the founder of Marriage 101, a course at Northwestern University that teaches undergraduates how to prepare for the types of relationships they want to have. Her book is a wonderfully written insight into the process of developing “relational self-awareness”, the prerequisite to being in a healthy relationship.

Original author, Esther Perel

Are Negative Patterns Causing Emotional Pain in your Relationship?

Negative patterns within us sometimes evolve for very good reasons. For example, growing up in an alcoholic and/or abusive environment may create a wall around you for protection. This type of defensive behavior helped ensure your survival emotionally and physically through challenging and threatening times. Years pass, however, and these walls and other defensive mechanisms may sabotage our personal and professional lives. The wall is no longer needed yet it remains. It has become habitual. The first step is to become aware of what we have built around us. What stories do you continue to tell yourself to fortify the wall (consciously or subconsciously)? Stories from the past live on in us long after the cause or effect is gone.

As we grow these negative, protective patterns outlive their use. Then as maturity comes, we seek to create new, healthier patterns. It’s not that the negative patterns leave, they simply go dormant, and the new healthier patterns take over, as it were. It makes sense to accept this and have compassion for not only the old negative patterns but for our selves as children or young adults who needed them at the time.

Only when old patterns, which no longer serve, are released can new ones emerge. Sometimes new, healthier habits must be in place before releasing the old ones. Sometimes, it takes working with a skilled, compassionate therapist, to be along side you during this journey.



One Key Ingredient

It’s that time of year to give thanks for our families and loved ones; to take time for gratitude for what we have and what we deeply appreciate about ourselves and our lives.

If your relationship is suffering and you wish you were feeling more grateful for the love, intimacy and closeness you you were experiencing, maybe I can offer something. A gift for this season:

Couples therapy has the power to move you and your partner into a whole new way of relating to each other. Therapists and researchers have now identified the one key ingredient – the make-it-or-break-it element that, more than any other, defines our love relationships. I have watched couples who are giving up on their relationship learn about this element and learn to use it to turn hurt and chaos into a caring connection. It is simple in it’s description, but challenging to do at first. It’s the ability to be emotionally open and responsive.

When we can dial into the emotional channel and tune into our partner’s emotional cues and show how these cues move us, this IS the connection, the answer to rebuilding what feels broken

Take for example, when a child runs to us, eyes wide with fear. We move closer, bend down, let ourselves feel in our own body what we see on their face, and we say softly, “It’s OK. I am here. Are you scared? I understand. ” The child holds onto us for a moment; then, they smile. There is a connection. There is safety.

Does this seem too simple? Perhaps. But neuroscience is proving that bonding experiences create safe connections that help to overcome most couples challenge. This is the kind of moment that answers the key question in love relationships: “Are you there for me?”

To use an example:

Peter tends to withdraw when he senses that Annie is hurt and disappointed in him, This leaves Annie so alone that she is permanently disappointed! What blocks Peter’s ability to respond reassuringly?

Michael tends to withdraw when she senses that Avery is hurt and disappointed with him. What blocks Michael’s ability to respond reassuringly? His fear – the one we all have that makes us so vulnerable in love, the fear of rejection and abandonment. So he moves like lightening into self-protection, shuts down and turns away.

Imagine what happens when Michael and Avery can slow down and talk about how afraid they both are, and how they trigger each other into a kind of angry mess. Imagine the magic that happens when Michael turns back and says, “Is this the moment when you feel that I am indifferent and uncaring? I really don’t want to turn away and leave you feeling alone. I am worried you are permanently disappointed in me and you can’t see my worth. I’m scared to lose you. But I wish I could tell you how important you are to me.” She moves closer, bends down, softens her voice and invites Michael into a safe haven of connection. In these moments in session connection is and the transformation begins.

There are no substitutes for this emotional responsiveness. Partners try to offer logical advice, ” Why don’t you meditate or count to 10 when you get upset, then you will be calmer and nicer to me” But it is the emotional support and connection that is needed to keep love alive and the relationship vital.

It takes courage to tune into and respond to our partner’s emotional messages especially when they are sparking our own defenses and anxieties. It helps to remember that we are humans are designed to tune into their partner’s verbal and non-verbal signals, both positive and negative, simply because we are bonding animals whose deepest need is to belong with another. In our example, I might suggest that Michael remember, when he feels like turning away from Avery and is dismayed by her anger, that she is angry because his comfort and support matters so much to her; to remember that his turning and responding to her emotionally has the power to pull her into loving connection, instead of cold withdrawal.

In the session, Michael says to me; “You mean, all I have to do is keep the emotional channel open and respond on this level, even if all I can say is “I don’t know what to say but I don’t want you to hurt and I am going to stay here and try to respond, and things will be better?” I reply, “Yup.”

I have helped couples to find their way back to each other by opening up the channels of vulnerability, empathy and attunement. Would you like to have the comfort of knowing your partner is really there for you, emotionally and physically? Let’s see what we can create together. I practice Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy designed by evidence-based research in this field by psychologists Sue Johnson, PhD. and Les Greenberg, PhD.



The eclipse is a potent symbol of transformation. meaningful change requires transitioning from what was to what is.

Transition though change is often filled with what Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist in early 1900’s, would call facing your “shadow.” The shadow is the part of us that we may have disowned in ourselves but see projected onto others. According to Jung, it is the process of bringing these disowned parts of self back into the light, rather than trying to cut them off, that brings us back to a place of wholeness.

Take the ocean for example, clearly, we see how the water is one Whole body of water, yet, it takes many forms and can only be seen, at times, as it’s parts. Drops of water, spray, waves taking different forms, stillness at the bottom, while storm is raging above Yes, the same water, all together is Wholeness.

In therapy, we work together to gently, nonjudgementally dive and swim in your ocean: to see the light and the dark. To uncover and unearth and mostly to heal and move forward.


Couples Therapy – Helps Break the Fight Cycle and Restore Connection

A fight cycle might look like: “If they would just not get so emotional and critical, we would get somewhere” | “Well, if they would talk more and not just shut down, we would get somewhere.”  We need to feel connected, yet our fight cycles disconnect us and push us farther apart. Our loved one (partner, parent, sibling, or close friend) can be our shelter in life. According to Dr. Sue Johnson, when this person is unavailable and unresponsive, we are assailed by a tsunami of emotions — sadness, anger, hurt and above all, fear.

Fight Cycle

This fear is wired in. Being able to rely on a loved one, to know that they will answer our call is our innate survival code. Research is clear, when we sense that a primary love relationship is threatened, we go into a primal  panic.

Couples therapy helps you find a way out of the cycle and into deeper, more meaningful communications and ways of relating to each other.

If “Violent” means acting in ways that result in hurt or harm, then much of how we communicate could be called “violent”

Dr Marshall Rosenberg wrote that language and communication skills that

strengthen our ability to remain human,

even under trying conditions, is the basis for transforming our relationships,

and of course, our lives.



Words are Windows, by Ruth Bebermeyer

I feel so sentenced by your words,

I feel so judged and sent away,

Before I go I’ve got to know

Is that what you meant to say?


Before I rise to my defense,

Before I speak in hurt or fear,

Before I build a wall of word,

Tell me, did I really hear?


Words are windows, or they can be walls,

They sentence us, or set us free.

When I speak and when I hear,

Let the love light shine through me.


There are things I need to say,

Things that mean so much to me,

If my words don’t make me clear,

Will you help me to be free?


If I seemed to put you down,

If you felt I didn’t care,

Try to listen through my words,

To the Feelings that we share.

Self Love, yeah right

Marketing experts want you to think there is a formula to loving yourself.  That’s how they profit from you. You will continue to buy makeup, expensive clothes,  phones, cars, memberships at their gym, etc.  And while none of those things are inherently bad, they do become dangerous when they’re attached to a message that says This is the key. This is the answer. This is what has been missing from your life. This is why you are not good enough. This will fix you. 

You cannot be fixed. Because you are not broken. Maybe you feel broken. Maybe you’ve been through things that almost broke you. Maybe you’ve been through some serious, horrible things that were beyond not fair and were definitely not your fault. And that seriously hurts. But you’re still here, you’re still breathing. You are evolving, growing, fighting, hanging on (even if barely), daring yourself to keep going.

Understand that loving who you are is a process, a lifestyle, a way of looking at the world. It’s not something other people can beat you at. It’s not a race, or a place you’ll get to with your next promotion, your next accomplishment, your next significant other. Loving yourself is a state of being. It’s not about being immune to criticism, doubt, rejection, judgment, or insecurity. It’s about learning to keep going in spite of those things.

Understand that much of the time, loving yourself comes from facing the things that make you feel the insecure, scared, uncertain about yourself and any (or all) of your capabilities. The times I’ve felt the most uncomfortable and uneasy with myself (starting a business, doing standup comedy, public speaking, to name a few) were also the times in my life that I experienced the most growth, the most enjoyment, the greatest amount of contentedness in spite of my stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. Accepting that you are an imperfect human doing the best you can with the gifts and talents you have is Enough. Love that you are Enough and go from there.

Life becomes a whole lot easier when you understand that you are not in competition with everyone around you, that they are no closer to reaching self-acceptance and self-love than you are – simply because that’s impossible, because self-love is not a place or location or milestone. Self-love is a point of view, a mindset; it is journey. You are Enough. You matter. Accept that and be set free.

Accept your natural gifts and talents and know you are doing the best you can. Set yourself free.

Accept your natural gifts and talents and know you are doing the best you can. Set yourself free.

Loss of a Loved One


Should I Seek a Therapist?

When a person’s grief-related thoughts, behaviors, or feelings are extremely distressing and unrelenting a qualified therapist may be able to help. Therapy is an effective way to learn to cope with the stressors associated with loss.

Each person’s experience of grief is unique, complex, and personal. Therapists will tailor treatment to meet the specific needs of each person. For example, a therapist might help the bereaved find different ways to maintain healthy connections with the deceased through memory, reflection, ritual, or dialogue about the deceased and with the deceased.

In addition to individual therapy, group therapy can be helpful for those who find solace in the reciprocal sharing of thoughts and feelings, and recovery results are often rapid in this setting. Similarly, family therapy may be suitable for a family whose members are struggling to adapt to the loss of a family member.

Stages and phases many experience:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Most everyone experiences at least two of the five stages of grief. It’s widely accepted that some people may revisit certain stages as often as needed.

There are also Four Tasks of Mourning:

  1. To accept the reality of the loss
  2. To work through the pain of grief
  3. To adjust to life without the deceased
  4. To maintain a connection to the deceased while moving on with life

People will invariably oscillate between the following two processes which encompass tasks of either loss-oriented or restoration-oriented.

  • Loss-oriented activities and stressors are those directly related to the death. These include crying, yearning, experiencing sadness, denial, or anger, dwelling on the circumstances of the death, and avoiding restoration activities.
  • Restoration-oriented activities and stressors are associated with secondary losses with regard to lifestyle, routine, and relationships. These include adapting to a new role, managing changes, developing new ways of connecting with family and friends, and cultivating a new way of life.



Couples: Does the same argument keep happening?

imagesWhen couples argue about issues like household duties, child-rearing, sex or money, the origins of these arguments are often some form of protest from one partner about not feeling connected, not trusting, or not feeling safe or secure with the other partner. When those we are attached to are not available, or are not responding to our needs to feel close or supported, we feel distressed. We may become angry or demanding, anxious or fearful, numb or distant.

These behaviors can become habitual modes of reacting to our partners which goes on in negative cycles causing  pain, injury and despair. Couples often come into therapy feeling defeated and wondering if their relationship might be irreparable. However, couples therapy focuses on these patterns (or cycles) and aims to  change these negative interaction cycles into positive ones in a non-judgmental empathetic environment. Gradually, couples begin to recognize and eventually express their needs for love, support, protection and comfort that are often hidden or disguised by the harsh words used in arguments with each other.

Once feelings of connection are re-established, couples are better able to manage conflict and the painful feelings that will inevitably arise from time to time in a close relationship

Stages of Grief following a Break up

You fought to hold on to the relationship to the point of being all-consumed  You don’t want to believe it’s actually ending. You can’t believe it. Even if the relationship was awful, even unbearable at times, the idea of living without it is unacceptable. Still, it’s becoming clear that the two of you aren’t going to make it. You are finally starting to compute that it’s over. You’ve gone from, “Don’t leave!” to “Okay, I give up.” But you still feel anything but okay. The moment you get off the phone with your ex, or the texting finally stops, or you leave each other’s space, you experience withdrawal, and you are hit relentlessly by the reality of the loss. It can be a brutal process, and it can take a long time until you feel deserving of investing in your own independent, reshaped life path.

You may have known somewhere within you that this breakup was coming, even for months or years, and yet you are still blindsided. No matter how the lead-up has looked, now that the breakup is actually happening, you may be overwhelmed, immobilized and haunted by fear, loss and despair about life without this person. Following are some of the stages you can anticipate going through—they often occur all at once, or in varying orders at varying times during the process of letting go:

1. Desperate For Answers

The drive to know is consuming and can come at the expense of rational thoughts and behaviors. You must understand why this happened, maybe beyond anyone’s ability to explain it. You fixate on things your ex said at various times that you see as contradicting the breakup, and you hold onto them now as if they are gospel. Yet somewhere within, you have moments of clarity, too. You likely swing back and forth between foggy disbelief, the daily, moment by moment rediscovery of the magnitude of your loss, and flashes of painful clarity that of course it’s over. The pain, disorganization, and confusion can become all you think about, or talk about. But initially, you remain driven to understand what happened, at any cost. The desperation to make sense of something so jarring compels you to debate friends, family, coworkers, even strangers, about why the relationship ended, while you justify to them the reasons it shouldn’t have, as if convincing them it is equal to convincing your ex.

2. Denial

It can’t be true. This isn’t happening! You just cannot be without your ex. It feels like you’ve put everything you are into this relationship. It’s been your world, your life. You cannot accept that it’s over. You funnel every last hope into saving it, even at the expense of your well-being. You postpone your need to grieve its end, because it’s just too painful to face. In so doing, you temporarily derail the grieving process by replacing it with unrealistically inflated hope that the relationship can still be salvaged.

3. Bargaining

You are willing to do anything to avoid accepting it’s over. You’ll be a better, more attentive partner. Everything that’s been wrong, you’ll make right. The thought of being without your ex is so intolerable that you will make your own pain go away by winning him or her back, at any cost. Of course, you’re not logical at this point (and probably shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery). You are standing on the edge of what feels like an abyss, trying not to fall into the unknown. You cling to any hope you can, to prevent yourself from losing what you have come to depend on, for better or worse. However, during this phase, when you promise to fix all the problems between you, you are placing the entire burden of repairing, maintaining, and sustaining a relationship onto yourself. It’s as if the responsibility is yours and yours alone to make it work this time. Try your hardest during this phase not to lose sight of the fact that both participants in the relationship contributed to its end. You can’t possibly take responsibility for everything. Somewhere inside, you know that.

Bargaining can only briefly distract from the experience of loss. Reality inevitably comes crashing down, over and over again. Further, when you bargain, you are trying to take responsibility for why the relationship doesn’t work, which may give you the illusion that you have control over it, perpetuating the belief that it’s salvageable as long as you can just keep performing superhuman acts.

4. Relapse

Because the pain is so intolerable, you may actually be able to convince your ex to try again (this may not be the first breakup with this partner). You will temporarily relieve the agony of withdrawal. However, despite your best efforts, you will not be able to carry the relationship solo. I’m sorry to say, it probably won’t end well this time, either. Unfortunately, you may need to go through this process of breaking up and reconciling more than once before you’re absolutely convinced it’s time to let go.

5. Anger

Initially, you may not be able to connect with feelings of anger. Breaking up plummets you into the unknown, which can evoke immobilizing fear and dread. Fear, at that point, trumps anger. Therefore, when anger sets in, it’s because you have let go of some of your fear, at least temporarily. When you’re able to access anger, the experience can actually be empowering—because at the very least there are shades of remembering you matter too, of feeling justified in realizing that you deserve more from a relationship. Depending on your specific temperament, life, and family experiences, as well as your unique breakup, your anger may be directed at your partner, the situation, or yourself. The good news is that your anger, no matter where it’s directed, is meant to empower you, whether you choose to see it that way or not. When anger becomes accessible to you, it can provide direction and create a feeling of aliveness in a world that’s become deadened by loss. It can also remind you that you deserve more. Even anger at yourself, as paralyzing and self-defeating as it may be, is still part of the grieving process. The fact that you are on the trajectory of grieving the loss is a sign that you are working through. It indicates that somewhere within, you are creating enough internal discomfort to help shift your perspective about how the relationship has actually been, and it can compel you to make proactive changes, if you are ready to let it.

6. Initial Acceptance

This is the kind of acceptance that, when it happens early in the process, can feel more like surrender. You are holding up your end of the breakup because you have to, not because you want to. Either you or your ex has developed enough awareness and control at this point to recognize that you are not meant to be. Over time, this initial, often tenuous acceptance becomes more substantive, as both of you begin to recognize, independently, that there are boundaries that at least one of you must maintain in order for the breakup to stick, because it has to. You are finally grasping that’s it’s just not good for you to keep trying anymore.

7. Redirected Hope

You were leveled by the breakup and have had difficulty letting go, in part because it shattered your relationship with hope. As acceptance deepens, moving forward requires redirecting your feelings of hope—from the belief that you can singlehandedly save a failing relationship to the possibility that you just might be okay without your ex. It’s jarring when forced to redirect your hope from the known entity of the relationship into the abyss of the unknown. But this is an opportunity to redirect the life force of hope. Regardless, hope is somewhere in your reserves and you will access it again as you continue to allow some meaningful distance between you and your ex.

The , and then switch around without warning, leaving you feeling without foundation, especially in the beginning. You feel alien to yourself or cut off from the world. However, like any emotional amputation, continuing on in life means learning to live without that part of yourself, and finding ways to compensate for its loss. Furthermore, recognize that there is a method, and a structure of sorts to this chaotic grieving process. Knowing that you are not alone can help you ride it out. Your grieving is part of the human condition—without it, we would not be wired the way we are to handle the many pains and losses that occur in our lives. As the grieving process progresses you will begin to see your way through to a point at which you can let go in a more proactive and self-protective way—a way that you may eventually come to understand as a new beginning.