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.


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.

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

Narcissist’s Verbally Abusive Tactics

Verbal abuse is a favorite tactic of narcissists. It very quickly intimidates the target while simultaneously establishing their dominance and superiority. The attack usually catches the target off-guard thus assuring victory. All of this is done to gain control and manipulate a person into doing something.

The pattern is similar whether the narcissist is a spouse, parent, employer, coach, manager, or preacher. It first begins in secret, is infrequent, is mild in tone with minimal use of abusive language, and sometimes is followed by a shallow apology. Then it escalates to public humiliation, is more frequent, shifts blame to the victim, and is excessive in tone while denying abusive words.

Narcissists use the volume and tone of their voice to subconsciously establish dominance. They do this through two extremes. One way is to increase the volume by yelling, screaming, and raging. The second is equally effective through complete silence, ignoring, and refusing to respond. Their tone reiterates the abusiveness by combining petulance and pompousness.
Words have meaning beyond their definition.

For a narcissist, words are used to instill fear, intimidate, manipulate, oppress and constrain. Swearing and threatening language comes easily to the narcissist when the person refuses to do what they want. But if the victim tries to use the same method, the narcissistic verbal assault will amplify.

The manner of a narcissist’s speech is argumentative, competitive, sarcastic and demanding. They will frequently interrupt, talk over a person, withhold key information, bully and interrogate. Many times the verbal assault will be so rapid that the victim does not have the time or energy to fight point by point. This is precisely what they want.

Mixed in with the assault will be personal attacks such as name calling, mocking responses, defaming character, berating feelings, and judging opinions. To further add to the confusion, the narcissist will mix some truth with a lot of criticism. This condemning tactic leaves the victim feeling inferior and defeated.

A narcissist will do anything to avoid embarrassment, including going on the defensive over minor infractions by blocking and diverting casual remarks. Their self-inflated perception is so skewed that they frequently accuse the victim of making them look bad. When they perceive an attack, they refuse to take responsibility, become hostile, invalidate or dismiss feelings, lie, and conveniently forget promises or commitments.

Narcissists are masters at the blame game; anything that goes wrong is the other person’s fault. They accuse the victim of being too sensitive, are overly critical of other’s reactions, “one-up” feelings and oppose opinions. In essence, the victim is to blame for the negative condition in which they find themselves.

Typical sayings include: “I’m critical for your own good,” “I was only joking when I said that…,” “If only you would…, then I won’t have to be this way,” “You don’t know how to take a joke,” “The problem with you is…,” and “That (verbal abuse) didn’t really happen.”

As a result of the verbal abuse, the victim feels they can’t ever win, are always in the wrong, have a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, constantly walk on eggshells, are fearful of their response, and are embarrassed by their behavior.

Verbal abuse is real and can leave a person confused and frustrated. If you are suffering from being in a relationship with a narcissist, there is a good chance therapy may help you learn coping skills and about creating healthy boundaries.