A 75-year longitudial study out of Harvard uncovered what creates a happy and purposeful life. What were the most important variables? Money? NOPE. Success? NOPE. What kind of car you drove? Nuh-uh. How much power you had? How much you achieved? What kind of jeans you wore? What wrinkle cream you used? How much you weighed? No. No. No. No.
The study found STRONG RELATIONSHIPS to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. There is a growing body of research that links social ties to longevity, lower stress levels, and overall well-being.
The interesting thing is that while most people will strongly agree that relationships are what matter most...it's usually where people are investing the least of their money.
Why everyone isn't running out and investing in therapy, marriage counseling, couples programs, and relationship coaching to improve themselves relationally is beyond me.
SERIOUSLY!! What do you want? Do you want your relationships to drain you? To feel uncertain about what you want and who you are? To feel exhausted? Stuck? At a loss? Hopeless? And have to wonder things like, "Are we harming our kids?"
7 out of 10 marriages, SEVEN OUT OF TEN marriages, aren't well.
I hope to help you create a relationship that energizes you: one your kids will want to EMULATE, one that will have a positive impact on you and a ripple effect on those around you, one that will encourage your growth and success, and help you to become the person you've always wanted to be.
Go ahead...ask people if they would want to have a marriage just like their parents'...a "YES" is so rare.
Cleaning up the things in yourself and your relationship that keep you feeling all knotted up inside isn't THAT hard. By the time people call me they're usually overwhelmed with what feels like a laundry list of issues, problems, and past hurts.
What I MOST ALWAYS find is that underneath this laundry list of issues is one or two underlying themes that need to be addressed, cleared up, cleaned out, unlearned, and then we need to get the supports in place in the form of new skills, strategies, mindsets, and the accountability to stay consistent so that you can get yourself out of this state again and again and again.
I had a woman in a new client call last week say, "It's hard for me to not think of this as failing."
WE ARE NEVER TAUGHT THIS STUFF. Everything I've learned about navigating tough conversations and close relationships with ease I've learned in adulthood. I learned A LOT about what I didn't want in my early years. I entered adulthood really clear about what I didn't want, but with no clue about how to create what I did want.
I spent years, and tens of thousands of dollars on my education and training to become a relationship expert, but you don't have to. You just have to get the support to do YOU really well.
To not sweep your own wants and needs under the rug in conflict.
To not act out on the people you love the most.
To peel back the layers to get to the root of what keeps you acting in ways that you cognitively KNOW don't behoove you.
To free yourself from your past and the unconscious limiting beliefs that now color your perspective.
To feel sure and confident and free.
How much is it worth to you to feel empowered to move through your relationships in a way that you know WORKS? To have, far and away the biggest variable when it comes to happiness, and therefore success, covered?
More than that big screen TV on your wall?
More than that extra 1000 square feet in your home?
More than that Caribbean vacation?
More than that snazzy 9x13 rug you've been lusting after for your living room?
I thought so. Your relationship is calling you to grow.
My Response to Kyle Benson's Articles Suggesting Emotionally Intelligent Husbands are the Secret to a Happy Marriage
Maybe you’ve seen the articles popping up in your social media feeds: one featured on The Gottman Institute’s website and the other on Business Insider.
Ladies are sharing them at rapid pace…perhaps hoping their less-than-emotionally-intelligent husbands will read it and somehow become more emotionally intelligent.
Kyle Benson and I (therapist and relationship coach) seem to have a common love for the research of Dr. John Gottman — therapist and leading researcher of relationships in our country. Dr. Gottman has published over 200 academic articles and written over 40 books on the subjects of love, relationships, communication, and emotional intelligence.
Benson uses Gottman’s research to support his claim that emotionally intelligent husbands are the missing link to happy marriages: “Statistically speaking, Dr. Gottman’s research shows there is an 81% chance that a marriage will self-implode when a man is unwilling to share power.”
Benson’s article reports that women seem to be better at “accepting influence” from their husbands than men are at accepting influence from their wives…even when the relationship isn’t well. Research supports this as well as my decade of experience of working with couples.
The problems I have with Benson’s articles start with the portrayal of men in his examples: drinking whiskey, watching football, and choosing to fix his truck instead of resolve issues with his partner. I don’t doubt some men do these things, but men also do things like read books, cook, and interact with their children. My husband is a football-watching, whiskey-drinking person and would balk at the gender stereotypes in this article. He also does the laundry in our house.
Another issue I have with this article is what seems to be a finger-wagging, lesson-teaching intent towards men who aren’t emotionally intelligent enough…which he’s clear will lead to failing marriages and being a less effective parent:
"The husband who lacks emotional intelligence rejects his wife’s influence because he fears a loss of power. And because he is unwilling to accept influence, he will not be influential.
The biggest problem I have with this article is that Benson fails to address the true change agent in this system: THE WOMAN. First, let’s talk about overfunctioning-underfunctioning reciprocity. The women in his examples seem to be overfunctioning in regards to the emotional side of the relationship to “keep the peace”. Basically, women are more likely to sweep their own wants and needs under the rug (withdraw their influence), for the sake of not engaging in conflict. This works in the short-run to keep conversations from escalating, but over time leads to growing resentment and decreasing emotional intimacy.
In systems where overfunctioning and underfunctioning exist, the power to create change lies with the overfunctioner. Overfunctioners inadvertently play a part in the problem by enabling or allowing the other person to underfunction.
Benson states: “My point is not to insult men. It takes two to make a marriage work and it is just as important for wives to treat their husbands with honor and respect.”
But I would wholeheartedly argue that if the woman in this article is tolerating being disrespected and treated as less than then there is a part of her that is in agreement and believes that she is inferior and doesn’t deserve respect. A more important piece of this puzzle is that the woman honors and respects herself.
The world treats you the way you treat you. You get what you tolerate.
I remember a time when hearing this ^^^ was hard! So irritating. Angering, even. It was so much easier for me to blame not feeling considered on other people. “Can’t he just KNOW that I want to be considered?!”
As women we’re taught we shouldn’t take up too much space, that we shouldn’t be a burden, and that we shouldn’t speak up for ourselves. The degree to which we buy into these shoulds is the degree to which we are part of the problem.
In order to have happier and healthier relationships I had to start giving everything I wanted from others to myself first. I want him to honor and respect me? Then I have to honor and respect me first. What does that even look like?
I had to stop putting other’s needs before my own, I had to stop being afraid of conflict, I had to quit being so goddamn accommodating, and I had to learn to draw firm boundaries and to say “NO” more. According to Brené Brown the most boundaried people are the most compassionate. We cannot give to others, what we don’t first give to ourselves.
Just because someone is good at stating and sticking to his opinions, doesn’t mean you don’t get to have one or that you don’t deserve to be heard. I had to stop taking personally his ability to use his voice. Doing all of these things consistently took years of practice.
And it turns out my husband isn’t emotionally unintelligent. Who wouldn’t want everything to be his way? The problem wasn’t that he wasn’t competent or capable of being emotionally intelligent…the problem was that I didn’t let him rise to the occasion.
No one taught him to not speak up, to not take up too much space, and to not have a voice.
The result? We have absolutely no unresolved issues under our relationship rug. Last night my husband was sitting at a bar with his friend surrounded by divorcees and unhappily married people. The divorced bartender said, “Seriously, who do you know that’s happily married?” and my husband raised a waiving hand.
To create change in your relationship you cannot seek to change your partner…or read articles convincing you even more that you are not part of the problem. We have to start focusing on the part we play in creating the dysfunction: it’s the only piece we have control over and it’s what we have to leverage to create systemic change.
You deserve happy relationships.
I feel like everyone and their brother has read that love languages book. There are so many things I like about the book, and many things I don't. It's one dude's take on the ways people show and feel love: something marriage therapists (including myself) have been addressing for decades.
When talking about the different ways each person feels loved, I joke with clients that I might write a book someday called, The Couples Therapist Who Doesn't Love Hugs. It's not that I dislike hugs, I just don't feel any more loved when I get them. My husband could hug me 450 times per day and I wouldn't feel any more loved.
And as a person who craves to feel deeply seen and understood, hugs feel especially incongruent when I've just woken up, when I have a mile-long to-do list, or when I'm in the middle of doing a complex task. "Don't you see me?"
Hugging in these moments makes as much sense to me as giving a drowning person a hug.
It's just not what I need.
My husband used to take this incredibly personally. He needs 2 less hours of sleep per night than I do and is the kind of person who can speak ENTIRE sentences the moment he wakes up. I do not understand this.
Upon waking I would shuffle, hunch-backed in my furry robe and fluffy slippers through the kitchen and he would stand in my path to the coffee pot, moving towards me for my forced morning hug.
My heart would sink. Irritation would boil, "Can't he see I'm dying (I'm very dramatic in the mornings)? He must not care how I feel. HE wants a hug, so HE insists on it. His needs matter and not mine."
It took time for me to be able to put words around the nonverbal communication I picked up from his demand for hugs first thing. And so for years, instead of communicating with my words I'd muster an irritated grunt and push past him to make my coffee.
Things got ugly.
I became less and less physically affectionate and he became less willing to connect emotionally.
I'm not sure exactly how long our differences in this department went unaddressed, but it was AT LEAST 6 years.
SIX YEARS of miscommunication. Six years of him thinking me not wanting to hug him in the mornings meant that I didn't care about him, and six years of me thinking that his forced hugs in the mornings meant he didn't care to see me deeply.
I think what's tough about this one is that on paper, hugs are GOOD, right? And those of you who feel loved through physical affection are reading this and thinking, "Jeez! She's such a bitch."
But when my emotional and spiritual needs are not being met within a relationship...when I don't feel like the other person takes the time to deeply understand who I am and how I am, hugs feel like a cop out. Like, "WEEELLLLLLL, I don't have time for all that it takes to REALLY care about you SOOOOoooo, here's a quick and easy hug. Buh-bye!"
Hugs start to feel less like, "I LOVE YOU!" and more like, "You're not worth it."
We snapped one morning. Years of hurt feelings erupted into name calling and acting out.
I took some time to decode what was really going on, the non-verbal communication I *heard* during forced hugs, and what I needed instead. I also took a minute to try to see the situation from my husband's perspective...If physical affection is an important way he feels loved, then maybe he's feeling like I just don't care.
That wasn't true for me. I adored my husband.
I started the conversation hoping to help him feel more understood, "I wonder if me not wanting to hug in the mornings makes you wonder if I even love you?"
He was clear that this was accurate. He didn't feel like a priority.
I used every skill I had to communicate under the surface of the problem: it wasn't about hugging or not hugging...it was about not deeply understanding our differences and the years of miscommunication and misperception that ensued.
The bottom line was that I wanted him to get his needs met, and he wanted me to get my needs met, but we both were clear that because we felt love in different ways it was not going to come naturally for us to give the other person what they needed.
There is ZERO part of my husband that craves to feel deeply seen and understood. Zero.
I had been trying on a new way of being for at least the last decade which was centered around a belief that I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR MY OWN HAPPINESS, but being responsible for getting my needs met had somehow slipped past me.
I was clear that if he needed hugs I wanted him to get them, but I was also clear that I could not want to give hugs in the morning. AND...I could not handle forced hugs. Something about that felt aggressive and made me angry. I've been known to use the term, "hug rape".
Fast-forward to now...I swear to you this is what 90% of our mornings look like:
I shuffle into the kitchen in my furry robe and fluffy slippers, my husband stands BESIDE my path to the coffee machine with his arms outstretched. Sometimes I shuffle into his chest and he hugs me while I stand there - a willing participant in being hugged, but not actively hugging, and sometimes I snarl and head right to the coffee machine. My husband might exclaim in a silly voice something like, "It's time for your huuuuuuug," or giggling, "I love your Grumpy Cat face in the mornings."
He might request a hug before he leaves, he might not, but knowing that I have a choice in the matter and that it's highly likely he won't take it personally and attach meaning to it that just isn't true for me (I don't love him, he's not important, etc.) has me resisting hugs a whole lot less. You guys, sometimes I even SPONTANEOUSLY give them now.
He really doesn't understand not being a morning person as much as I don't understand being one, but we are both now crystal clear that our differences have nothing to do with how much we love each other.
I've had to learn to say things like, "I need more words than that," and "What did you hear me say?" which come in especially handy when I've poured out what's in my soul for 8 minutes and I'm looking at him wide-eyed in anticipation of his deeply heart-felt response and he says something like, "Cool."
And, it's crazy, what I need is usually IN THERE SOMEWHERE it just doesn't occur to him to say it out loud.
Projecting the ways that we show love onto other people is really dangerous: If he REALLY cared he would listen, OR If she really cared she would hug me.
People pair because of their differences, but when misunderstood or taken personally it's what will drive you bonkers, create an emotional wedge, skew perceptions, and poison communications.
I think I'll go give him a hug now...
On this day of my second maternity leave with an infant and a toddler I had managed to make dinner. Between the screaming, the nursing, the wiping, the entertaining, the exhaustion, and the boo-boo kissing, with baby in sling I had skillfully juggled a baby, a toddler, and a kitchen knife the way only 2nd time mothers can do.
I felt like I actually had my act together and was so ready for my husband to walk through the door so that I could enjoy my perfectly-timed-between-feedings glass of beer, eat dinner, and have an adult conversation in 20 second bursts between child interruptions.
He walked through the door with the mail and gave me a kiss like he always does. And then he opened an envelope and started cursing. What?! We had been billed for taxes based on the assessed value of our lot and not the value of our lot AND new home so, SURPRISE!, we owed them (whomever they are) a few thousand more dollars.
I'm not sure my husband had all of this figured out in this moment, but he was irate and confused about the surprise bill and stormed off into another room to call the mortgage company, "I'll be right back, I have to figure this out."
This was not how I'd imagined our evening. My heart sank as quickly as it had risen when he walked through the door. I stood there, paused, with my boppy around my waist, a baby strapped to my body, getting ready to sink into the dinner chair at the set table to simultaneously nurse the baby and feed myself.
In a last ditch, and desperate effort to calm him down I said, "I don't think you're going to get a hold of anybody after 5. Why don't we just worry about it tomorrow?"
I ate dinner alone while he attempted to handle the situation. Nope. I take that back. Alone would have been better. I ate dinner juggling with no chance of extroverting. I was fuming.
Blame. It's the easiest route to take in this moment.
He's ruining my evening, right?
If HE would just calm down...I could have a nice evening!
And then the superiority kicked in and I wanted to teach him a lesson: "No amount of anger will change this situation by tomorrow, there's no point in feeling this way," which is basically saying, "You shouldn't feel the way you're feeling," >> a guaranteed fight starter.
In this moment I realized my happiness depended on his behavior: If he would just behave another way then I could feel better.
Years before I had committed to getting off the emotional roller-coaster that you ride when your happiness depends on another's behavior...or anything outside of yourself for that matter.
I had decided to take radical responsibility for my own happiness.
The seething desire to blame and teach him a lesson didn't mean I needed to lash out on him, it meant I was making him my problem and solution.
In this moment, I must admit, really letting someone have it can feel SO GOOD. It's just that I was clear that except for the tea-kettle-like release of tension it didn't ever get me more of what I needed .
So, what did I need?
Ugh, I needed a calm evening. I needed intellectual stimulation.
How could I give that to myself?
By the time my husband came out of the back bedroom I had cleared most of the table and surely and calmly began strapping my 2-month-old in his car seat (I skipped the beer, people).
Super surprised, he said, "Where are you going?"
I smiled gently, "I need to go for a while."
He, a little panicked, tried to explain, "But I'm not mad at you, I...."
I tried to be clear that my leaving wasn't about teaching him a lesson, "I know you're not mad at me. You have every right to feel the way you're feeling. I just need something else tonight. I'll be back in a little bit."
^^I statements out the wazoo.^^
I made room for both. It didn't have to be my way, and it didn't have to be his way. I made room for both.
I clicked the wide-eyed baby into the car and hit the nearest drive-thru ice cream place. I popped in my newest book on CD and drove on country roads for over an hour. I think we may have even hit up Target after he woke from his evening nap.
What about my husband? He had time to feel the way he needed to feel. By the time my son and I got home he had already put our oldest to bed, was folding laundry (one of his chores) and greeted us with a smile. He hadn't made any progress in finding a solution to the problem, but his feelings had naturally subsided.
He got to have the feelings he needed and I got to have mine.
And THIS is what I spent years being reluctant to believe: when I honor my feelings everyone wins.
And as I'm typing this I can hear your objections. What are they? What if you were your only problem, project, & solution? How does this make you feel? Angry? Free? Empowered? Irritated? All of the above?
Really, what are you thinking?
P.S. Feeling like you've lost the spark and aren't sure how to get back on track? I created a 1-hour(ish) online Training for Busy Couples. It's a love offering from me to you at a fraction of the price of my hourly rates. CLICK HERE to learn more. Emily (an AWESOME yoga instructor in St. Louis) attended the training and here's what she had to say:
I see you.
You're doing more than any one human should and simultaneously feeling guilt and shame about not doing more.
You're probably beating yourself up for not smiling more, not being more positive, not feeling more blessed, and that time you lashed out on your loved one earlier this week...and earlier today, and 5 minutes ago.
You're trapped by naps and meltdowns, or choosing to screw the schedule for the price of a meltdown, because hey...these days it seems like meltdowns are inevitable anyway.
You don't seem to ever check anything off of your never-ending to-do list, yet there hasn't been a moment today you have stopped moving, or holding, or swaying, or bouncing, or wiping, or worrying.
You are constantly deciding between getting something done, getting rest, staring into oblivion, or having fun. Having fun rarely, if ever, makes it on the list.
You have bodily fluids on your shirt that aren't yours.
The barrage of other people's needs that come at you throughout the day are slowly beginning to take a toll on your soul, because it all starts to sound like, "You're not doing enough," and, "You're not doing it right." You have no more room for complaints or requests and could blow if the other grown person you live with even insinuates needing anything from you.
I know that there are also some of the cutest, most dripping-with-love moments sprinkled in these short years filled with long days... and that you're probably wondering if something is wrong with you because you're too exhausted to enjoy them more.
The thought of hiring a babysitter just so you can take a nap unleashes a tirade from your inner critic about how you're probably the worst parent on the planet.
You're starting to wonder how anyone can like you, let alone love you.
Mama, I wish you could mama you...in that warm, ooey-gooey, unconditional, you-can't-do-it-wrong sort of way only the motheriest of mothers can do.
It took the impending arrival of our 3rd child for me to start mothering myself as a mother. I knew I couldn't do another infant in the way I had done it before and also be the kind of friend, mother, wife, and person I wanted to be.
I started nurturing myself. I started being easy on me.
I was jealous of everyone else's free family support, so I hired more support than I ever had.
I started examining my expectations of myself. Instead of judging myself and my feelings at hour 11 with an infant and a toddler, I realized I would never hire a babysitter for 11 hours because I would not expect a Mary Poppins attitude from any other person under these circumstances. So why would I expect that from me?
I started examining the expectations of our culture. If 7 out of 10 marriages in the U.S. aren't well, and divorce rates spike in the 7th year of marriage (typically after the small-children-in-the-home phase), then maybe I shouldn't just keep doing what everyone else is doing.
I stopped questioning myself and my feelings, and started questioning everyone on Facebook who made it look too easy.
That first year with a 3rd child was one of the best years of our marriage, and thus, I think (you'd have to ask our kids) one of the best years for our family.
Fighting for what I knew our family needed wasn't always easy. I was up against judgment from myself, from neighbors, from family members, and even my husband. The husband will now be the first to say that the decisions I pulled for that year were some of the best we've ever made.
I'll admit, this may have been easier for me. For hours of my day as a therapist with degrees in Marriage & Family Therapy I get to talk to people in an environment where they don't have to wear their "everything's fine" mask. My office is a space where people can be real...and when I sense you're not being real, I call you out on it. I'm trained not to do small talk.
I get to hear how people really feel. I get to hear what they're really afraid of. I have the honor and the privilege of people sharing the parts of themselves they're most terrified to show the world. I make room for heartache and sobbing and we get to sprinkle empathy all over that shame and the clusterfuck it creates.
And the Joneses? I've seen behind the curtain, they're never all they're cracked up to be...and I love them anyway.
I get to hear it from doctors, lawyers, stay-at-home moms, working moms, people with Ph.Ds, and those with millions of dollars in their bank account: how we do young children in this culture is HARD. Most families are not thriving.
I've had moments with clients where it felt like I got to peek into my own future, 10 years down the road, if I didn't start trusting and honoring my feelings...and it was scary.
You are not alone.
"But I have these friends who just seem so happy and like it's all so easy...and their husband travels and she never complains..." to which I say, "WHERE ARE THE REAL FRIENDS?!" Ah, perhaps they're hiding behind their mask?
Mama, fast-forward 30ish years...what would you want for your daughter if she were in this exact same circumstance, feeling exactly the way you're feeling? How would you nurture her? How would you help her? What would you say to her?
Shhhhh....it's the best kept parenting secret: the only way to be the kind of mother you want to be is to give all of that stuff you think great mothers give to you first. You want to be more nuturing? Nuture yourself more. You want to yell less? Stop beating yourself up so much. You want to be more attentive and present? Be more attentive to and conscious of your own needs.
I hope you can start giving more of ^THIS^ to you,
P.S. Feeling like you've lost the spark and aren't sure how to get back on track? I created a 1-hour(ish) online Training for Busy Couples. It's a love offering from me to you at a fraction of the price of my hourly rates. CLICK HERE to learn more. Emily (an AWESOME yoga instructor in St. Louis) attended the training and here's what she had to say:
I love you, I really do. I know there are a lot of folks out there who want to overcome you, squash you, get past you, and rid you completely from their psyche, but I'm not one of them.
Fear you, my friend, have kept me safe more times than I can count. You've kept me from touching hot stoves, driving too fast, and from getting in cars with people I should not be getting in cars with. You've kept me from getting close to cliff's edges, walking down dark alleys, and you probably partly fueled the beginnings of my career. Who isn't afraid of having a life full of dysfunctional relationships? Truly, you have served me well in so many ways.
Here's the thing though...I've noticed that when it comes to following dreams, or taking exciting next best steps, and stepping fully into who I am and what I want, I can hear you screaming loudly, using all your might to protect me from failure.
I think there was a time when my tender heart needed that...like when a baby first learns to walk and needs that big hand to steady herself.
I think there was a time when I needed to grow my supports, inside and out, to have the mindsets and resources to handle big growth and the change, criticism, praise, cheering, and booing that occur when all people do big things.
Remember the times when it felt like you took over every cell in my body as I decided to leave unhealthy relationships...and I created boundaries anyway?
Remember that time you were screaming so loud right before I was to walk down the aisle ...and I married him anyway?
Remember that time I was hired to teach at the University and you showed up immediately after I accepted the position with your stack of evidence for all of the reasons I shouldn't do it...and I did it anyway.
Fear, I'm not ignoring you. I've just noticed that sometimes when you're here it doesn't mean I'm in danger, it means I'm on the exact right track...because doing whatever is before me MEANS something to me.
But Fear, I've learned that failing at something that is important to me doesn't mean I'm a failure. It means I took the risk involved in loving and creating, which is always: I might get nothing in return. I am not owed anything, and what I get in return for doing and being what I love is nothing I have control over and is none of my business.
What some people call failure, other people call growth opportunities. I'm not sure I've been clear with you that I'm one of those other people now, and I'm sorry about that.
The pieces I do have control over are how I spend my time and how I feel: either doing and being things that I love or not.
No amount of praise, likes, dollars in my bank account, boos, hisses, people not liking me, or criticism can change my worth. I believe, deep down, that my worth is based on something much bigger than that. So, it's not that I don't value your input anymore, but I have the supports in place to operate on a whole new system.
Fear, I think maybe you've noticed that you don't have access to all the controls in this new system and that perhaps (I hope this doesn't sound accusatory) you've been showing up in disguise as Indecision.
While I understand that you love me, want to protect me, and want your voice to be heard I want to be clear that your input will no longer be considered in matters of perceived failure or depreciation of worth as a person.
I also want to be clear that your input in other matters like physical safety (dark alleys and approaching saber-toothed tigers, for instance) is so valuable to me and that I could not live with out it...literally. THIS, Fear, is your genius work.
We are in this together and I don't want to do this without you. I hope you understand your new role.
P.S. This letter was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear which, I just saw on the interwebs, comes out in paperback today! If you're a creative person in ANY capacity this book is SO fascinating, inspiring, and helpful. Also, I just can't get enough of Liz's (this is what I'll call her when we're BFFs and eat tacos together) podcast Magic Lessons. Try it out :) Write your very own letter to fear.
I will never forget the day my therapist said these words to me in her gentle, soothing voice as I listened between sobs, “Mika, you have to give up the hope that she can ever be the kind of mom you want and need her to be.”
Relief washed over me and grief sunk in. In this moment there was no great, feel-good next move. I could stay and be on my mom’s emotional roller-coaster believing that I could save her and that she could be better for me.
Surely, if she loved me, her only child…if I was enough, she’d work to get better, right?
Or I could get off the roller-coaster where at least I wasn’t alone and venture, unteathered, into a world of red hot loneliness.
I already knew the outcome of keeping my ticket to ride: drama, being lashed out on, never-ending arguments about perspective, tantrums, guilt trips, walking on egg shells, and feeling that nauseating tug that happens near your sternum when a person communicates 2 very different things simultaneously.
My mom seemed to communicate frequently (verbally and nonverbally) to the people she loved the most “I HATE YOU!” and “DON’T LEAVE ME,” all at the same time.
For as long as I can remember her hugs felt bad to me…like I was being slimed. Like she needed more from my little body, mind, and soul than I could give, like she wanted me to fill up a place in her that had no bottom. I wanted to pull away. I could never do enough.
By middle school I believed that I wasn’t enough and the anxiety and depression slunk in. We moved in my 7th grade year after my parents’ divorce because, as my mom would put it venomously, “I just CANNOT live in the same state as your father.”
Strangely, the divorce didn’t bother me. Maybe that speaks to the obviousness of the situation or the tumultuousness of their relationship. I really thought it might get better after the divorce, but when her unhappiness and personality disorder followed us to Missouri it seemed that I became the most available target at which she could aim her venom.
I remember the helpless feeling of having a perpetually unhappy, angry, and critical mother and the tension that I had to live in to survive. I remember the charade we’d put on in front of other people so that everyone would think we were fine. I remember people believing the charade, or at least putting on a convincing charade of their own, and wondering if I was the one that was crazy.
I started hiding. I was almost mute at my lunch table the entire 7th grade year.
I didn’t know what else to do, so I wrote a letter to God. At that time, God’s name was Oprah. In my handwritten letter I told Oprah about how hard my mom worked, how great of a mom she was, and how she deserved a vacation…or at least tickets to her show.
I guess I didn’t send it because years later, during a time I took a break from contact with my Mom, she sent me the letter. The envelope was dripping with psychic slime. Despite my feelings of dread and the tightness in my chest I opened the envelope.
There it was…my letter to God. I believe my mom sent me that letter so that I could remember a time when I thought she worked hard and had been a good mother. It seemed like she wanted to teach me a lesson. She wanted me to feel guilt or shame, or maybe both. I got that.
But all I could see was the words that were not on that page; my plea to God to help me save my Mother. All I could feel was the crushing weight of responsibility for an adult’s well-being on a 12-year-old’s shoulders.
This didn’t feel like a piece of evidence to put in the stack building the case for why I should have a relationship with her…in fact it felt like quite the opposite.
Our relationship break continued for many months after this. I had to build myself up and learn to let go of any and all expectations I had of her. Learning to give up the hope that my mom could be my mom has been one of the tangliest, most misunderstood, and loneliest things I’ve ever done.
You have a toxic relationship with crack and everyone’s on board with you kicking it to the curb. High fives all around. You have a toxic relationship with your mother and everyone’s saying things like, “You only have ONE mom,” and “What if something happens to her? You’ll never be able to forgive yourself.”
It has been, for me, the ultimate test in trusting myself.
Fast-forward to a night class in my Ph.D. program in Marriage and Family Counseling. I was trying my hardest to not be noticed. I didn’t want to make too much eye contact with the professor, and I didn’t want to make too little. Don’t sit too tall, and don’t sink too much. I hadn’t read the material assigned for class that night and the professor seemed to be fed up with most of our cohort’s lack of ability to add to the discussion.
The tough individually-directed questions started flying so that we could throw ourselves under the bus with our inability to answer or by fessing up to not doing the work.
I started feverishly skimming the material. Something about a study of monkeys and attachment. Wire mama monkeys, and cloth mama monkeys. Orphaned baby monkeys would attach to either wire or cloth mamas, but when given a choice would attach to the cloth mama monkey even when the wire monkey within close proximity provided milk.
Ok, so one finding was that touch was more important than taste in terms of attachment. Got it.
As I was skimming the next part of the summary of Harlow’s famous study the professor was speaking it out-loud like an echo in my brain: “The baby monkeys even bonded with cloth mama monkeys who would punch them at random. No matter what the torture, the babies would come back to the cloth monkey.”
I had made a great friend in the program who also struggled in her relationship with her mother. Realizing the deep implications for both of us, in that moment we completely failed to fly under the radar and each inhaled and swung our faces toward the other. If I could put words around our non-verbal communication it would have been, “Did you just fucking hear that?!”
We giggled at our identical response and found the other 6 people at the conference table staring in our direction.
What I know for sure is that love and attachment are powerful things. They can absolutely be wonderful things that nourish us. Sometimes love and attachment aren’t free and the cost can cause us to tolerate the most atrocious offenses.
One way or another love and attachment help us find our value. Whether it’s because our value is reflected back to us by the people we love the most, or because it’s not. If it’s not we often have to hit rock bottom and start believing in the possibility of our enoughness enough to say no to all that we have known and say yes to the unknown.
In the unknown there is great risk…we might find healthy love and belonging, but what if we don’t?
Love and belonging is a need, but it’s also a risk. We have to be willing to bet on ourselves. We have to be willing to fail. We have to know we deserve to have the supports in place to get back up. Relationships are holy, sacred things and have taught me everything I know about myself whether they were ’til death do us part or not.
No love ever fails. It just looks like it does.
I truly believe that people are in our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime and that I can’t pass judgments on other people’s boundaries with parents, spouses, or friends because the intent, not the boundary, is what’s important.
So, please, enough with the memes about how we “ONLY HAVE ONE MOM” and that we SHOULD be talking to her. Enough with the judgments about people not staying married forever. And, please, for the love of God (or Oprah?)…stop judging yourself for not having that gaggle of middle school friends that you still hang out with and need an 8-ft selfie stick just to get all of your joyous faces in the picture. You couldn’t see your value clearly enough back then to make friends you wouldn’t outgrow by now.
You deserve happy relationships…even if it means jumping into some red hot loneliness to get them.
Dear Everyone, Being a therapist does not mean I don't have icky emotions or bad days. It doesn't mean I'm perfect...in the perma-grin, stepford wife, all-is-well all-the-time, only good vibes and juju sense of the word.
Ew. I am not that.
I LOVE feelings of rage, anger, frustration, irritation, anxiety, sadness, hurt, and even guilt. I have learned to have a kind, loving, and even friendly relationship with these feelings...and it's ALWAYS easier to be friendly with these feelings when they live in others than when they set up shop within myself.
I am certain these feelings are an important part of our emotional guidance system. They let us know when things need to change, when a boundary needs to be made, when a coming to Jesus meeting needs to happen, when a perspective needs to shift, when a belief needs to be examined, when we need to be easier on ourselves, when we need more support, and when we just need a damn break.
What I think my work, and training, and scouring, and researching, and practicing has taught me is that my emotional guidance system isn't broken...and neither is most people's.
When I listen to mine I do things that are considered strange... like hiring an aupair from Spain when we had our 3rd child, downsizing and buying a stinky, dirty, old fixer-upper house to live in a community that has more...well, community, taking a 2-week trip to Spain with a few thousand dollar inheritance from my Grandmother, and the most recent is I hired a wife (more explanation on that one later)...the list goes on. Weird things.
And on each one of the weird things listed I want you to know my husband WAS NOT on board: "We don't need THAT" & "We can't do THAT!" And regarding each one of the things listed my husband has later exclaimed some form of, "Ugh, I'm so glad we did THAT."
There was a time when I listened to myself less. I needed a 12-person committee to make any decision bigger than which grade of gas to pump into my car. I used to ask for permission when it came to MY LIFE...a lot, "Do you think it'd be ok if....?" and "What do YOU think about .....?" Just a shifty glance from my husband about an idea I had would shut it all down.
Because growing up the way I did, with divorced parents and a dysfunctional family, it must mean my emotional guidance system is broken....and everyone else probably has this all figured out more than I do.
Last week I realized I had gained 17 pounds. Whoops. I blame all the elastic in the jeans these days. This realization sent me into a funk. I was bummed, I was pissed at myself, I was sad, I was worried, I was trying to figure it out...I knew I needed some clarity to take my next best steps. Was my eating off? Was I not working out enough? I've spent nearly 6 years of the last 9 pregnant or nursing...was I just used to consuming extra calories? Or was it too many carbs? Maybe I should carb-cycle?
Whoa, Nelly. I know. I'm not obese, this is not the end of the world, and no one died. But for me, 17 extra pounds is uncomfortable and I hate shopping so any chance NOT to buy new clothes will be taken.
I was pretty shocked by this number on the scale...and I'm not gonna lie, I was beating myself up a good bit and snarling at loved ones. I'm allowed to have a bad day. You are, too.
So much momentum came out of all those not-cheery feelings. I bought a SUPER COOL Blaze Fitbit Watch which has made me realize....I used to move A LOT more and was a lot more mindful about what I eat. The Fitbit even made me play soccer with my kids yesterday. I've also realized I do not deserve a treat for everyday I survive having 3 children ;-)
What I want you to know is....GROWTH AND CHANGE DO NOT COME WITHOUT DISCOMFORT. Period. Stop trying to shoo the discomfort away!
If we spend our energy avoiding the discomfort, "it's okay"ing our mediocre jobs, shoulding on ourselves to feel another way about a situation, and ignoring our crummy feelings in our relationships we miss all the opportunities for magic, better times, vulnerability, emotional intimacy, and fist-pumping victory laps.
Maybe perfection is something entirely different than what we've thought it was. Maybe perfection is all about getting off track and getting back on in a really transparent way so that everyone can stop feeling so ashamed and alone.
Years ago a couple came to see me twice. 6 months later they were back. As we got situated in our chairs I said, “So, what brings you in?” He said, “We want you to mediate our divorce.”
He said, “Well, we tried counseling and it didn’t work.”
Every time I tell this story my heart hurts. This is when I realized I hadn’t been clear with clients about what it takes to create lasting change.
What I knew, deep down, was that my clients who were consistent and committed to therapy saw the biggest results the quickest. Research supports this. Therapy is not unlike going to the gym…you can’t go twice and expect to drop 60 pounds.
I think a part of me hadn’t been clear about this because I assumed it was something people knew. I think a bigger part of me was reluctant to be clear about the consistency and commitment that's required for big results because I didn’t want to come off as salesy or pushy. I obviously benefit from my clients' commitment and consistency.
This day a fire was lit under me and I completely changed how I do business and how I serve my clients. It was more obvious than ever that being wishy-washy about what it takes to create lasting change wasn’t serving anyone. I knew I had to be clear from get-go in a really big way.
Around the same time I noticed that a lot of the people who were most craving change in their marriages were those with extra-full plates. The 7-year itch is a real thing, and those years with young kids are HARD on relationships. So the people who needed the consistency and commitment the most were the least able to make it happen.
It was incredibly frustrating to watch couples flounder while making it to my office maybe once per month – we’d take one step forward, then 2 steps back.
I created my programs for couples for lots of reasons, but these realizations are what pushed me over the proverbial edge and now I won’t work with couples any other way.
Great counseling is part psychoeducating on skills, strategies, and mindsets. It’s also part art: feeling out how to unravel the inconspicuous ways my clients have been programmed to see themselves and the world that are keeping them stuck.
I spent 2 years creating a more flexible option for busy couples. When I found myself saying things more than once in a week to my clients I would write it down on a sticky note and slap it on the wall of the hallway outside my office. My husband let me know I looked like a little bit of a mad scientist.
Years of training, schooling, reading, scouring relational and spiritual texts, attending conferences, living through my own dysfunctional family, my own personal therapy, and my own trial and error had become distilled down into very specific themes in my work now living in columns of sticky notes on my wall.
The LOVE, SEX, KIDS Course was born. I first offered it live with overwhelming positive response and then I created an online version that is now a part of my programs for couples - the flexibility makes consistency a lot more possible. You can work through the modules in your jammies at 9p at night if you want.
Surprisingly, I love the course as part of my programs for so many more reasons than the flexibility it provides…it also gives us some structure and a clear path to ensure we leave no relationship stone unturned. I’m proud to have created something so comprehensive and unique.
My programs offer structure and accountability that winging it in traditional therapy just doesn’t. The consistency required for big results is built-in. GAWD…I just heart them. If you want to learn more about them head to:
If you want results you've never gotten, you'll have to do things you've never done,
I love changing people's minds about therapy. Believe it or not, I used to be pretty anti-therapy. When I was in middle school and my parents were divorcing my mom asked me if I wanted to go see a counselor. I'm sure my look of disgust said it all and the "NOOOoooooOOOO!!!" was completely unnecessary.
That sounded just awful. Someone analyzing me?? Judging me? I was already doing enough of that myself. No, thank you.
And then I met a friend in high school whose mother was a therapist. She wasn't a counselor in my mind...she was just really easy to talk to, non-judgmental, and would ask me questions about my family that others wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. She also didn't make that icky pity face when I told the reason for moving to town was my parents' divorce. She just felt good. She was just Linda.
One of my goals for the RELATABLES video series is for you to get to see that all therapists aren't scary, that some of us truly love our job, and we're not all delighting in having the power of being your expert...we'd much prefer to help you find your own answers and power.
AND NO!! It's not FUN to get in front of a camera every week. BLECH! I do it because I know I can help more people by not hiding in my office. I realized not that long ago that a lot of the good, juicy stuff in life is outside of my comfort zone.
I realize I cannot be a good fit for everyone, I am not a jar of Nutella, but I do this for those of you who resonate with my words or the way I think about things. I do this for those of you who deserve happier relationships, for those of you who wonder if you're crazy, or defective, or broken, but are too scared to reach out for big support.
RELATABLES are also about giving you practical and actionable strategies to start creating relationships you LOVE. They're not just for couples...strange thing is, I see everything as a relationship: your relationship with your partner, your relationship with yourself, your relationship with your friends, your relationship with the relationship with your friends (that one might hurt your brain), your relationship with God/religion/spirituality/The Universe/The Earth, your relationship with your business....I could go on.
In this episode I had a request from Tamara who says she and her husband communicate quite a bit, but she wanted more info on the HOWs of effective communication to keep conversations from escalating or from sweeping issues under the rug. Watch this episode to hear me talk about one of the biggest miscommunications I see in couples that's one of the easiest to clean up.
Yes, I'm driving...yes, I'm sideways because my car phone holder only holds the phone this way...yes, I can talk and drive at the same time....no, I did not set the phone/camera up in the holder while driving......and, yes, my son video-bombed the whole time!
PSSSTT! You can help me change people's minds about therapy by liking, sharing, or tweeting this post! You don't have to have participated in therapy to show your support. Let your therapy-using friends know you think asking for support and reaching out for connection is COURAGEOUS!