Wednesday, October 31, 2018


One of America's most beloved authors just told us her 'number one life hack' for lasting relationships

Dr. Brené Brown

Anybody who's been in — or out of — a relationship can tell you that they're full of miscommunications, misreadings, and other misunderstandings. 

You say one thing, they hear something else. Better yet, you project motivations onto them, drawing out conclusions about their behavior that they can't even understand.

Thankfully, "Daring Greatly" author Brené Brown — whose Ted Talk on vulnerability has over 21 million views— has been through it.

As she talks about in her new book about resilience, "Rising Strong, "a simple life hack can help anybody in relationship be better understood.

"If I could give men and women in relationship and leaders and parents one hack, I would give them, 'the story I'm making up,'" Brown told Tech Insider. "Basically, you're telling the other person your reading of the situation — and simultaneously admitting that you know it can't be 100% accurate."

It's a life-saver for a few reasons, she says: It's honest, it's transparent, and it's vulnerable.

According to Brown and the scores of interviews she did for "Daring Greatly" and "Rising Strong," vulnerability essentially provides the bandwidth for two people to relate and trust one another.

When you say "the story I'm making up," Brown says that it conveys "I want you to see me and understand me and hear me, and knowing what you really mean is more important to me than being right or self-protecting."

With those five words, you check the narrative in your head.

In "Rising Strong," Brown supplies a very vivid example of "the story I'm making up right now" in action.

One summer, she and her husband Steve took a long-awaited vacation with the kids in a lake in the Hill Country of Texas. The two of them go for a swim in the lake, and feeling taken with the deep joy of the moment, Brown says something very sweet — and very vulnerable — to her spouse.

"I'm so glad we decided to do this together," she says. "It's beautiful out here."

Her husband, she shares, is way better than her at putting himself out there, so she expected him to reply to her romantic bid with an equal force of affection.

But instead:

"Yeah, water's good," he replied.

She felt embarrassed, ashamed. And going against her conflict-oriented upbringing, she decided to make another bid for connection.

"This is so great," she said. "I love that we're doing this. I feel so close to you."

Again, deaf ears.

"Yep, good swim," he replied before swimming away.

Brown was nonplussed. This is "total horseshit," she remembers thinking. What's going on? I don't know if I'm supposed to feel humiliated or hostile.

Before they got out, she asked him to stop — saying that she kept trying to connect with him and he kept blowing her off.

Then, instead of being aggressive and self-protective, she opted for being kind. And she relied on a certain life hack she learned in her research.

"I feel like you're blowing me off," she said, "and the story I'm making up is either you looked at me while I was swimming and thought, Man, she's getting old. She can't even swim freestyle anymore. Or you saw me and thought, She sure as hell doesn't rock a Speedo like she did twenty-five years ago."

After a little time, Steve replied. He wasn't being distant to spite her; he said that he had been trying to fight off a panic attack the whole swim.

He explained that the night before, he had a dream where he was with their kids on a raft when a speedboat came screaming toward them, and he had to pull all the children into the water so they wouldn't get killed by the raging vessel. He didn't even know what his wife was saying to him while they swam; he was just trying to concentrate on his swimming and make it back to the dock.

Suddenly, it made sense to her: People on the lake do tend to get drunk on boats, and everybody who grows up around water hears about tragic boating accidents. And he felt like she would think less of him for not being able to prevent one.

After a little more conversation, it became clear to both of them: Brené was stuck in a "shame story" that she wasn't fit or pretty enough for Steve, and Steve was stuck in a "shame story" that he wasn't strong or capable enough for Brené.

But with making the leap of vulnerability symbolized in the story I'm making up, they were able to let go of the narrative they were telling themselves about the situation and actually see one another's perspective.

Five little words. Big difference.

Written by: Drake Baer of Tech Insider 

Dr. Brené Brown (born November 18, 1965) is a research Professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past sixteen years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy and is the author of four #1 New York Times bestsellers – The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and The Courage to Stand Alone. Brown's TED talk – The Power of Vulnerability – is one of the top five most viewed TED talks in the world with over 30 million views. Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their children, Ellen and Charlie.

Monday, June 18, 2018


Affairs always cause pain, but what I’m looking for is where exactly did the knife twist?

No story of betrayal is simple; it focuses on the story of Saskia and Amin.  They are a couple, married for 11 years with 3 young children. I met them one year after Saskia discovered Amin’s year-long affair with a co-worker.

When I sit with a couple, there are always two types of stories present in the room; the spoken and the unspoken. The first manifests in dialogue and what we can hear, see and feel. The second is what is unspoken — private personal dialogues, hidden assumptions and covert motivations.

For every deceived partner, there is a particular pain point that is unique to them.  In the session, Saskia seemed numb and frozen – tears streamed down her face without her even knowing it.  My challenge was to understand what was beyond the fortress of her silent pain.  At first glance, one would say, “of course she’s been hurt, he cheated”.  In one sense that’s true - an affair is a fundamental violation of trust.  But the story doesn’t end there.

Saskia had a traumatic history in a politically turbulent country. Where she came from, women were attacked, raped, abused, and labeled “meat” by men because they could be used and discarded so easily.

She chose her husband Amin because he didn’t fit the profile of what she knew men to be. He was a good guy, with good values. She believed that she of all women had found a man who wouldn’t hurt her and could redeem her of her dim view of men. Amin, unknowingly, had been scripted into the role of the “golden apple”.  But then Amin had an affair.

You will hear people say, “it’s not that you cheated, it’s that you lied”. For her, this complaint was expressed in sharp relief. By putting another woman ahead of her, Amin made her feel invisible. For Saskia, who viewed Amin as the one potential mate who would not violate this unwritten code, this was devastating. 

Likewise, Amin’s reasons for cheating were no less complicated than his wife’s feelings about betrayal. He talks openly of feeling lonely and abandoned by his wife. He says that a lack of communication and the years-long misunderstandings between them has pushed them apart, so he sought comfort elsewhere.

But he too has a piece of the iceberg that is not visible to me. Alongside his feelings of discontent, Amin had learned in his childhood to keep a part of himself secret. Amin, because of his upbringing, had mastered the art of the double life; compliant at home, and rebellious on the outside. This layer was helpful for me to place his actions in context — another piece of the story.

Having conversations they’ve never had before

Amin’s affair took place at the end of a long period of distancing for the couple, which accelerated after the births of their children. By the time Amin turned to another, the couple’s sex life was, in both of their recollections, “terrible”. More importantly, their communication had deteriorated. Their story was one of loneliness and their communication had become a race to the bottom.

Saskia and Amin had both been sexually unfulfilled for years. But post-affair, they were refreshingly honest about their sex life for the first time.
For many couples a betrayal is the first time they talk about core issues in a relationship, during what I call the meaning-making phase. After the crisis phase has died down, they begin to try to figure out what went wrong.

Once trust is broken, can it be healed?

For many couples, infidelity isn’t the ultimate deal breaker. And whether or not infidelity ends the relationship, it acts as powerful alarm system that often jolts a couple out of complacency and makes them realize what they stand to lose, or what they have already lost.
For Saskia and Amin, this session did not have a happy ending with the bow on top to match. However, they did begin to talk about topics and feelings that had laid dormant up to and in the wake of the affair. The road is not always a straight line.

This article was written by Esther Perel, author of The State of Affairs and Mating in Captivity.

Esther Perel (born 1958) is a Belgian psychotherapist notable for exploring the tension between the need for security (love, belonging and closeness) and the need for freedom (erotic desire, adventure and distance) in human relationships.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Is Unconditional Love Possible?

What we're really asking each other for, and what we should seek instead.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were loved and accepted exactly as we are? Many times during psychotherapy sessions, my clients have uttered some version of, “I just want to be unconditionally loved! I want someone who can accept me with my flaws and foibles.”

I’m very sympathetic to the desire for a partner who is not prone to fixing and changing us.  As psychologist Harville Hendrix has stated, one purpose of adult relationships is to heal old childhood wounds.  A common wound is not feeling seen and accepted as we are. Love relationships can help heal childhood deficits by allowing us feel welcomed, wanted, and embraced as we are.
Each individual, however, has their own set of vulnerabilities and needs; there is a limit to what others can accept about us. Clinging to a demand that we be unconditionally loved might give us license to be self-centered or destructive. If we have affairs or are emotionally abusive, can we expect our partner to keep tolerating such damaging behavior?
It’s a pleasant fantasy to desire someone always to be there for us, regardless of how obnoxious we might be. Could our plea for unconditional love be a convenient way to use romantic or spiritual language as a way to cling to our narcissism and avoid noticing how we affect others?
What Self Do We Want Others to Love?
Sure, we want to be accepted for who we are. But are we truly being who we really are? Or are we being a self that has been defensively constructed to avoid the vulnerable aspects of who we are? Have we built walls of defenses and mistakenly taken this fabricated self to be our authentic self?  And then proudly insist that people accept and love this distorted, reactive self?
The notion of unconditional love raises tricky questions. Are we expecting our partner to love our nasty, prickly self? Is being angry and critical hiding something deeper that we don’t want to face or feel? Might our aggressive outbursts reflect a defensive pattern whereby we hide more tender parts of ourselves?
Criticism and contempt have been identified by researcher John Gottman as reliable predictors of relationship distress and divorce. If we have a pattern of lashing out in anger when we don’t get our way, we may insist that we want to be accepted for that. But how might you feel if your partner lashed out unpredictably, perhaps when you’re feeling most vulnerable? Even a saint would have difficulty experiencing love during such moments. 
We may hide our true feelings because we don’t want to feel uncomfortably exposed. Consequently, our feelings may come out indirectly. Distancing from what is alive inside us may explain why we feel irritable, moody, or angry sometimes… It takes a quiet inner strength to expose what is vulnerably alive inside us. We can relate to others in a more direct, fulfilling way as we become mindful of what we’re really experiencing and show our true feelings and wants without misdirection, games, or shame about who we really are.
I have found Eugene Gendlin's research-based approach known as Focusing to be especially helpful in uncovering deeper feelings.
Dancing with a Difficult Partner
You want to be loved as you are? That’s understandable. You want to be accepted with your human flaws and limitations? Of course! It’s easier to garner compassion if your partner can trust that you’re making a sincere effort to become more aware of your true feelings and longings.
If you have a challenging partner, you might recognize their tendency to be reactive and critical. Your love might prompt you to explore this together rather than separate, which includes looking at your possible contribution to cycles of conflict. But it would be unrealistic to practice unconditional love in the sense of accepting hurtful behaviors without voicing how they affect you and asserting that it’s not okay to be treated this way. This would be self-neglect, not unconditional love. In some situations, it might be easier to love unconditionally from a distance rather than remain in a partnership that is destructive.
If your partner pleads with you to seek help through couples therapy, you might want to consider it. Perhaps see this as an invitation to uncover and reveal more of who you really are—and to learn how to do so together in a constructive way. It’s difficult to see ourselves and our interactional dynamics clearly without reflections back from a wise, caring guide. I have found the research-based approach of Emotionally Focused Therapy  for couples (developed by Dr. Sue Johnson ) to be particularly beneficial. As the sage Rumi suggested, “Without a guide it will take you two hundred years for a journey of two years.”

Children need our unconditional love. But mature love is nourished through mutuality. Just as our garden needs ample sunshine and watering, we are sustained by respect, understanding, and nurturing.

John Amodeo, Ph.D., MFT, is author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships  

If you like this article or know someone who may be interested in it, please feel free to forward it to them.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Love is Within Reach

By Dr. Sue Johnson

Marriage may be on the rise but that doesn’t mean we’re getting any better at relationships. Now research shows that love may be less of a mystery, a frenzy of sex and emotion and instead the result of behavior that we can apply logic to.

As a clinical psychologist and researcher for over 25 years, it’s become clear that two things make or break relationships: the ability to respond emotionally and offer support when it’s needed.
Numerous studies, including my own research on how couples successfully repair their love relationships, confirm that the ability to respond to a lover’s emotional signals builds secure and lasting bonds. These studies are part of the revolutionary new science that has, in the last 15 years, outlined the laws and logic of love. This science has progressed to the point where we cannot only help a couple move into satisfaction, but build the kind of secure connection where simply holding a partner’s hand calms your brain and lessens pain, even in the face of the threat of electric shock.

When logic and science show us the way, we can shape and heal romantic bonds. Using an intervention called emotionally focused therapy (EFT), we’ve found that 70 to 73% of couples can completely repair their relationship and 86% can make significant and lasting improvements to their bond. During EFT, we show couples how the habitual way they send out signals to their partner triggers wired-in threat responses, so that neither partner feels safe enough to reach for the other. We then help them identify their emotional needs for belonging and support, and communicate them in a way that pulls their partner close.

A typical couple I see are like Paul and Amy. Paul is a smart, focused man in his mid-forties who has made a fortune with his cutting edge computer company. He walks into my office with his wife, Amy, who has announced that, after 10 years and two kids, she is about to leave him. He tells me, “I can figure anything out, but I just don’t get why she is so angry with me. I do all the tasks and solve the problems around the house. But I never get it right. She is never happy with me. It’s like I have no tools—my head can’t figure this one out.”

I tell him. “You know how to focus and pay attention; you know how to put things together in a way that makes sense. It is just a question of changing the program a little.”  He smiles. Amy looks at me, doubt all over her face. But four months later, she too is smiling. What has Paul learned?

He learned that love is an exquisitely logical survival code designed to keep special others we can depend on close to us and that his intellectual explanations and emotional distancing were danger cues for his lonely wife. He learned to let his wife know when her criticism hurt rather than exiting into logic and distance. Reading the research of Nancy Eisenberger from UCLA helped him grasp how his brain coded rejection from his wife as a threat to survival, responding in the exact same way as to physical pain, cueing his freeze and flee response.

He discovered how to tune into the emotional channel, share his fears of rejection and explicitly ask for the reassurance he needed, and encourage his wife to do that same. We call this a Hold Me Tight conversation and across nine studies it consistently predicted successful relationship repair.

Paul had the usual reservations about asking for caring. He, like the rest of us had been taught that needing loving connection was somehow a weakness or a sign of immaturity. Research shows that those of us who can effectively turn to others for support are the most confident, resistant to stress, most able to risk, explore and reach career goals, and also the ones who have the most positive sense of self.  The new research on mirror neurons fascinated him and persuaded him that it was important to turn towards and look directly into Amy’s face to trigger these neurons in his brain and allow him to directly feel in his body the emotions he saw in her face. This way he could grasp her emotional reality, read her intentions, and move in harmony with her.

He told Amy that he shut down to deal with his sense of bewilderment about how to respond to her and that he needed her support. “And I get that I have to stay in the emotional channel and let you know I am there for you,” he began. “That is what matters in love. I don’t always have to have the answer or solve the problem. Just really being there and helping each other with our emotions is the solution.”