The Somehow Theory

The Somehow Theory is a story that holds me. I hope it offers you some holding and hope too....

The first time I remember asking, I'm five years old and we're sitting in a flower print swivel club chair in the mirrored living room. It's the early 80s.

I sit on grandpa’s lap, cuddle into him and trace the green tattooed numbers on his left forearm with my index finger, over and over just the same as I locate each freckle on his arm. These are his markings. I know them by heart. Perhaps what I know even more than anything is the love I feel sitting on his lap as I trace. This is my safe space. “Grandpa, what do these numbers mean?”

The Somehow Theory

“These numbers,” he tells me, this time and countless times to come, “are my story. And you, are my reason for living.” These are big words to land on the shoulders and in the heart of a child still small and innocent enough to nestle into grandpa’s lap for a journey into the stories that follow all the “why’s” I so naturally provoke him with.

He tells me he has so many stories in him but he’s promised himself not to share most of them with me. “You don’t need to know it all,” he says gently. He can’t bear for me to. After all, I'm his reason for living.

Over the years he tells me his stories in small bursts; about how the family was separated immediately after getting off the cattle cars at Aushwitz. One of my grandfather's brothers was carrying their invalid father, a WW1 hero, followed by his mother and two sisters. When they arrived, they were all sent to the left. My grandfather, on his own, was sent to the right. He survived. Later that day, he asked another prisoner when he'd see his family again. The prisoner responded by shouting to him, “Look up, you see that smoke," he said. "There they are." And so he knew. Not even twenty fours hours after entering the camp, he knew what was in store for them all.

He also shared so many stories about liberation. My grandfather and his two buddies, whom he’d bonded together and survived with in camp, went looking for a sister who they had heard survived at Bergen Belsen. They didn’t find her. Instead they met three women, among them my grandmother. The women were still living in the camp when they met. The men told them they’d be back when they had a place for them to live, then they'd marry them. The women laughed. Who were these men? These three newly liberated men used their moxie and somehow managed to obtain new suits from a local shopkeeper and then came back to woo the women. Again and again. Each time in new suits. And in no time the three couples married.

Girls my age had princesses but I had liberation as my love story.

I hold onto this love story, passed down from my grandparents, two holocaust survivors who rebuilt their lives on The Somehow Theory.

That somehow, if you believe enough, if you hope enough, it will work out.

No matter how hard it is.

As we watched the results of our presidential election roll in, my husband looked me in the eye and said, "We have to live each day. That's it. Don't succumb to fear. Live. Love." And that's what I'm planning on. Living and loving as much as I can every damn day. It's exactly the medicine my grandparents would have recommended. I invite you to join me.

The remedy for "not enoughness"

The Remedy for "Not Enoughness" - photo credit Rebecca Wong

I couldn’t sleep. I was feeling frustrated and unable to express my thoughts clearly on the written page. I’ve been observing processes and patterns in my clinical work with clients, consultations with colleagues, and in my personal life.

I’ve felt called to share these patterns with you, my community. But I was stuck and unable to find words to express my observations. I know that this too is a common thread, a through line between all of us who are experiencing and seeing great transformation but just can’t find the words to describe it all.

The thing is, when you are stuck, when you are in the messy murky ick of feeling not good enough, you can’t go around it. You can’t distract yourself away from it. You must go through it.

And, until you do move through your “not good enough” territory, you’re going to keep stumbling every time you try to skip over a certain line in your story. It’s a pattern that will keep showing up like a constant shadow until you find a way to heal.

So here I was, up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, quiet literally afraid of the shadow, of my own shadow. I couldn’t even turn off the Himalayan salt lamp that sits next to my bed. Its soft warm glow soothed me. And when my husband awoke and looked at me and asked me to turn off the lamp and cuddle in with him, I did and then I gave myself permission to cry.

This mess, this ick...this was me finding my through line. I had to feel my way into the shadow while I was wrapped in the darkness of an October night.

But after the darkest night, there’s always a morning

The next morning my friend and I met for a walk at Gatehouse Road. Hudson Valley locals will surely know this path with its canopy of trees and the tremendous views of the Mohonk tower that sits atop the Ridge. I parked my car at the head of the trail and as my dog Tova and I waited for my friend and her daughter to arrive, magic unfolded.

I have to back up a bit. The process of training Tova has become a touchstone for me,  I’m still quite a novice. She’s an amazing teacher but it’s taking awhile to understand what she needs of me. I’m learning, for example, that part of my role is to anticipate the approach of other dogs and read her body language well enough to step between them when needed. Some dogs will stop her in her tracks from 100 feet away. She’ll nose right up to some dogs in hopes of getting a good sniff. She drops directly into a play bow for some. And others will make her toss her ears back and raises her hackles. I’m learning what her body language means. I’m a good but slow study. That’s how I learn.

As Tova and I were waiting we came in contact with a few other dogs in a range of temperaments and it was good practice for us to rehearse our roles. We started to get good at her stepping behind and I in front. And during our dance rehearsal we happened to meet Joseph.

I say happened, but it’s quite literally like he was planted there for us to meet.

 

Joseph and I shared a connection. At first, it was over his painting and my dog, over the beauty of the day and the history of the gatehouse, and then, it went deeper. We talked about creativity and making and how he’d been a painter forever. We talked about my nearly forgotten art school background. He gave me permission to photograph his work and asked me to snap a few shots with his camera as well.

I thought I was just killing some time while waiting for a friend, but, something magical had just transpired. And I was so in the moment that I hadn’t noticed. A sleeping piece of me was waking up.

Waking up your flow, getting unstuck

I’ve been experiencing a lot of waking up lately. This seems to be how my creativity works: I don’t even realize I’d been sleeping until I experience a rather painful awakening. First I feel stuck and I stumble, I trip over the through line of feeling that shows me there’s something I need to learn, I need to pay attention to. As part of this cycle, I can see that “stuckness” is actually a natural ebb, a space for integration.

I didn’t know it yet, but Joseph was standing at the portal of my next awakening.

My friend and her daughter arrive. It’s time to say goodbye to the man with the brushes and the canvas. It’s time to pass through to something new.

My friend is a writer, a storyteller, a truth seeker. We cut through the fluff and dives fully into the infinite enoughness as we walk and talk and process together. We pause according to the needs of my dog and her toddler. Little mirrors, they take turns reflecting our energy in their antics.

We’re talking about a piece she’s editing for me. It’s the piece that haunted my sleepless night. All the feelings rush back: I’m stuck again. I’m not enough. I can’t write like she does and I can’t find my story. I’m just sharing my raw, unfiltered process and we know that the process alone won’t be enough to draw you in. And though the piece isn’t in front of us as we walk, we can still discuss it because it isn’t about anything I’ve written. It’s about this moment we’re having. It’s us feeling our way into something greater.

And then we step out of the shadows of the trees and into the pasture with the pigs dressed as cows --that’s what her daughter decided they were-- and the tears that shadowed the day dissolve into laughter.  We get it. We live in this AWE-FULL place with these god AWE-FULL views and this AWE-FULL company  and… We’re seeing the joke and the light in the midst of the negativity loop and we --no me-- this is my process. My friend has kindly stepped on board to keep me company, keep it flowing now simply to exaggerate it and make it more laughable. More of a punctuation mark on this moment.

In this moment I’m waking up. I’m seeing my friend as a companion who helps me see myself and Joseph as a magical mentor whose presence helped initiate a space for me to think and see a new way of being.

My friend is holding space, as if she too knows we are standing at this important juncture, she’s watching me wake up and she knows that what I need more than anything in this moment in time is to really show up and connect. And she knows that as I am feeling my connection to all these less secure parts of me, her presence grounds me. That's what relationships do. They allow us opportunities to see our own reflection --mess and all-- in another’s eyes. They hold us when we need holding.

As we return to our cars, Joseph is no longer there. I recognize how our brief interaction helped me slow down and tune in, to find my connection point. I had been so busy trying to write that I stopped feeling the message I was trying to share.

And here’s the magical turn of this story, you know that piece that kept me up at night, the one I couldn’t find the words for? It was exactly this: when we slow down and drop into the feelings and share our experiences with our trusted and dearest, the magic unfolds. The story reshapes itself.

You have to slow down and sit with yourself to feel.

Slowing down is what feeling the feelings is all about. Slowing down. Sitting with. Simply being. I know this, but I too get stuck. This process can’t be rushed or swept away in the flood of all the things you have to do.

Feelings aren’t something you do. They are what you are.

You have to make space to hold and feel. It will take time and attention. It’s a multi layered sensory experience. It’s all about seeing yourself. As you are. About accepting yourself and loving yourself. It’s about attending to and holding yourself. And in all that tending to, you uncover the medicine you need. Because without this self directed layer of attention you can’t take in love and attention from another.

You too can create a practice of slowing down, tuning in, sitting with and simply observing being you. And from the cultivation of that practice over time you create an inner dynamic that ripples out and creates an influx of Connectfulness in your life and relationships.

This topic is my emerging focus and it’s what we’re exploring on The Practice of Being Seen podcast that we are launching later this year.  I hope you’ll tune in and keep the discussion going with us!

Relationship Therapist Declares: Nobody's Got Time for Feelings.

time for feelings

Contribution by Robyn D’Angelo

Do you wear your wedding ring everyday?

I’m asking because I just took mine off, while sitting here working, typing away. The house is pretty quiet, other than Pandora spitting out the most random array of tunes.  I stopped typing and started kind of wringing my hands (like when you put lotion on, ya know what I mean?) And it was like taking a ride back in time...

Suddenly, I was feeling  "this is what single Robyn's hands felt like" and I got all these flashes of my past. Of working in the advertising world 15 years ago in Las Vegas. I saw grad school, parties in downtown San Diego with the girls, kissing random strangers in bars (I was known as the makeout-bandit back in my day), and I almost could feel the “freedom” of being single. It was so strange. And fun. And that felt a little naughty. (FYI: Robyn-the-Rule-Follower does not do naughty).

The Therapist and the Wedding Ring Converse

As a rogue therapist turned relationship coach who specializes in working with couples, I notice that when people sit across from me - when they are in pain, agony or just confused - they tend to fidget with their rings. It's almost like their subconscious is attempting to reconnect them to their love for their partner. It’s like the ring screaming to them, but in a whisper:

"Hey, I know you're hurting, mad, broken, betrayed, tired, whatever - but hang in there! Look at the person who put this on your finger. They’re right next to you - even if you no longer recognize them as that person. REMEMBER. It wasn't always bad. It wasn't always like THIS. It was good once. It was lovely, and easy, and fun, and sexy, and delicious once. Go back to that place. Go back to that time. NEVER. FORGET."

Sometimes I think our rings try to scream out to us and reconnect us.

Tonight, my ring wanted a vacation of sorts - maybe to reconnect me with my Self. With the "Robyn-Before-Brandon" to remind me that I am fully capable of being this kick-ass human, independently of the phenomenal man I call my husband.

Feeling the Feelings

Removing my ring tonight, and being zapped into my past was an incredibly confusing, semi-exciting experience. I was feeling all the feelings.

Usually, my brain does not slow enough to focus on feelings. How sad is that? I am a psychotherapist. A relationship and lifestyle coach. “The Happy Couple Expert” for God’s sake! And yet, I don’t often slow down enough to FEEL or even acknowledge my own feelings. Makes me a bit human, I suppose. Right?

“Nobody's got time for feelings - fuck ‘em!” was my first thought when typing this out. Jokingly of course. But, sort of not. More like, “Nobody MAKES time for feelings.”

Do you ever slow down enough to feel? I mean really, really feel your feelings?  Yeah, me neither. It’s sort of boring. I mean, in this “if-it-doesn’t-feel-good-immediately-don’t-do-it” world we live in, when will we ever see the value in feeling stuff? And not just the good stuff.  

The gross stuff. The prickly, cold, heavy, crushing stuff. I don’t want to feel that shit, and I don’t think you do either.  But, without it, can we really truly feel what our bare hands feel like? Can you even recognize your hand without that ring -  after you’ve worn it for months, years, decades?

When you feel into your past you can develop a new relationship with the present

There are feelings that zap us back in time and enable us to relive life. You know, the freezing midnight dips in the ocean, the beat taking your breath away in an underground club, and the hot tears soaking your top as you watch your first Brene Brown Ted Talk. Those moments.

So, rather than saying “fuck ‘em” the next time feelings happen - what if you just said “Rad, bring it. Let’s do this!” What if you just welcomed them?

Huh … who would have thought all that magic would come from taking off my wedding ring, and letting my fingers explore my bare”Single Robyn” hands? Rad.

Editors’ note: Did Robyn’s perspective help illuminate the ways you do or don't make time for feelings, to feel them? Tell us about it in the comments and please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

Broken Spaces: Lessons in Healing and Relationship

Broken Spaces

CONTRIBUTION BY ROBERT COX, MA

We all live in fear of the broken spaces - especially the interior broken spaces.  We accept the myth that those spaces keep us from being enough.  I used to fear that if I still had broken spaces it would make me less effective as a therapist.  That it was necessary for me to be perfected before I tried to help others heal.

If my clients knew I sometimes still hear the voice of my father questioning my value and ability, would it make my training and ability as a therapist less valuable?  How would they react if they knew I sometimes question whether I am worth the fees I charge?  Would they question who they were seeing for help if they knew I sometimes feel like an imposter who managed to b.s. his way through a master’s degree, how would it affect their belief in me?

Then one day I came across the term “potshard.”  It is exactly what it sounds like.  Just a broken piece of a pot… A shard.  

Pot·sherd - ˈpätˌSHərd/

noun

• a broken piece of ceramic material, especially one found on an archaeological site.

Most of us would see this as something to simply be discarded.  We wouldn’t give this broken piece of a pot a second glance.  Just a remnant of a failed attempt.

But the potter sees it in a different light.  The potter will take a broken piece with a unique edge and use it to create amazing designs and shapes in new pots.  The very brokenness of that shard gives it value in creating beauty in other pots.

Brokenness can become a tool that creates something new

I don’t make a habit of telling clients about my broken places because clients are not there for my healing.  

But it is my brokenness as a human being that makes me a better therapist. The wounds are useful.

My wounds are the potshards within that allow me to feel my clients’ losses.  They allow me to sit in the room as I listen for the broken places and empathize because I too have been broken.  I know hurt.  I know what it is to be forced to carry someone’s shame when it’s projected through acts of violence and rage.   I know fear and loss.  I know longing.  I know what it is to live with another’s brokenness and feel helpless in that struggle.

Love Dogs By Rumi Healing Relationship

The longing is like the  “whining of a dog for it’s master” Rumi says.  Longing is the connection, in this case. Not bliss. Not passion. Longing.  What a beautiful thought.  It makes my heart ache.

That silent whine is just under the surface.  This need for connection, for depth and realness drives us.  We all have it. And it leaves us longing….constantly.

Mindfulness holds space for longing

What helps me hold those wounded spaces without allowing them to overcome me is mindfulness.  I can sit with the longing and experience it for the gift it can be.  In my mindful practice this means allowing the emotion, the fear, the holes to open and bubble up without needing to push them back down.  To be able to observe them in the quiet spaces of my own soul without needing to fix them so that they can be fully experienced.  To simply acknowledge the ways I have been changed by the the pain of life...to feel the longing, to hear the whine without reacting.  To trust that the master potter will find usefulness in the broken potshards.

This is when the light starts to enter and real healing begins.

Healing Relationship where the light enters

But the wounds - the broken spaces that we all have -  are also the places that light flows out of us.  Healing begins in these illuminated broken spaces and then enables you to connect and be part of other people’s healing.  

Connection is at the root of healing

As human beings, we long for connection.  We were created for relationship with each other and, out of that, with the divine.  When we have experienced trauma and abuse, we fear the very connection we long for.  We so want to take the risk and reach outward, but fear being broken in the ways we have been before.  

Therapists are no different. I am no different.  It is my own broken spaces, the cracks that have healed and the ones that are still healing, that make me a better therapist.  As a psychoanalytic practitioner I make a habit of being very aware of those broken spaces and how they are playing out in that room with my client. I work to recognize how my client’s are pulling at my own values and beliefs that originate in  my own broken spaces.

My own wounds make me a better healer

Both my brokenness and my own healing process allow me to send light and grace out through those wounds and enable me to connect with people on that level of mutual vulnerability.  When two people are vulnerable and honest and trusting of one another, the connection gets real.  Healing begins.

Beautiful things take place in those broken spaces.  Forgiveness, grace, compassion, vulnerability all come out of those wounds.  They pour from you during the healing process and through grace enter into you when those close to you begin healing themselves.  Over time, they form connections that can be stronger than any nuclear bonds.

We share tears in the office as the light leaves and enters because they are opening the wound.  I know that opening.  Both the pain and the joy.

Relationship with each other and relationship with the divine are found in these spaces through which the light enters and leaves.  They are the fertile grounds where growth begins.

It is out of our errors, our mistakes, our blunders and our ability to hurt others that the opportunity for grace and forgiveness arises.  Without these places of hurt and darkness light would have no worth, no value.  A potshard would just be a broken piece of pottery.

Editors' note: Did Robert's perspective help illuminate the ways your own broken places actually help you heal and connect? Tell us about it in the comments and please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

Your Reason for Living

reason for living

The stories you’ve been told and relationships you’ve had throughout your life make up the heart of who you are. They become conditioned into your being, into who you are and how you relate. Your experiences and your connections also form all of the little unconscious ways you see and interact with daily life.

Stories become a relationship template that informs how you live, love, and relate. And you learn many of those stories from your elders. It’s not just the family lore they tell but the way they showed you how they felt about their own histories. You have learned so much from how they’ve nurtured themselves and nurtured you - and all the ways they haven’t.

Their stories make up your story, just as your experiences will shape the stories you pass onto to future generations. And your story may be one of fear, overwhelm and retreat. Or it may be one of seeking, creating new stories and diving in.

My own story is one of survival and making meaning

My family taught me what survival and meaning-making are. At least that is what I make of what I learned from watching and listening to them as I grew up. That’s the very part of the story that I want to sink my teeth into, chew on and spend the rest of my life digesting and recreating in my own way.

My paternal grandmother and grandfather were holocaust survivors. I recall sitting in my grandfather’s lap as a young girl tracing the faded green numbers tattooed on his left forearm and asking what these marks meant. The story I heard time and time again, was a gentle tale, a  loving tale. He told me that we - myself, my sister, my parents - were their reason for living.

My grandparents survived things I can’t even bring myself to imagine, and I know they wouldn’t want me to. But I also know that they wouldn’t want me to forget this central message.

The reason for living

To dedicate yourself to discovering your own reasons for living is the practice of Connectfulness. At least that’s what I call it. It’s a practice of calling into your awareness the stories of your ancestors, the stories of your life and relationships, and the stories you hope to pass down to your descendants.

Connectfulness is about your history, your present moment, and your legacies. It’s about how you experience all of the interconnected relationships of life.

I hold my own story of connection as a deeply rooted piece of who I am. It’s how I maintain connection with my own loved ones and ancestors who are no longer in their earthly bodies. It’s how I hold space for my children and future generations in a world of constant upheaval.

I share this with you today to inspire you to look into your own story, your reason for living. What ancestral story roots you in your own being and inspires the story of your legacy?

You may not ever have looked this deeply into the story that inspires and informs your history, life and legacy. But it's a part of you. You have a story and now is as good a time as ever to connect and root into it. Dare I suggest, now is THE time to root in.

The Practice Of Being Seen

Relationships after all are shaped by story and story is shaped by relationships.

My dear friend and storytelling coach, Marisa Goudy and I call this the Practice of Being Seen.  First, you recognize the roots of your own story and then you trace how it forms the core of who you are and branches out to support how you live your life, build your relationships, and do the work you’re meant to do in the world.

This fall, Marisa and I are launching a Practice of Being Seen podcast. We’re excited to dive in even deeper to our own stories along with the stories of our guests. And in doing so we hope tohelp you look at your roots, connect to the stories you live everyday, and  imagine your emotional, relational, creative legacy.

I’m incredibly excited to share this rare glimpse into the diversity of stories that inspire the human reason for living with you.I hope you are just as excited to stay tuned!

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P.S. Marisa and I have been building a community for like-minded therapists who want to root into their own stories. In addition to hosting powerful conversations in a private online group, we’ve also mentored colleagues as they shape their own stories into Connectfulness.com posts. (Have you read them yet? You can find them here.)

Indifference and Love

Elie Wiesel quote

I found myself contemplating this quote following the recent death of Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor, noble peace prize winner, author, and witness of suffering.  

When I look at my own relationships, and when I peer into the relationships my clients entrust me with, what I see is that every single one of us wants to feel that we matter. 

Really matter.

The kind of mattering that makes you feel like you are worthy. That you are enough. That you are seen, heard and understood. That you are desired.

This is what I have come to know as a relationship therapist. And also as human being.

I too want to feel desired, enough, worthy, seen, heard & understood. I want to know that my existence matters to the people I care most about.

Countless couples and adults come into my office every week and tell me the same. This is the stuff couples fight about. This is what children act out about. This is the essence of human relational connection.

This is the big secret.

If you want to live into powerful relationships that transform you into your best self, you must show up. Fully. But it’s not simply about your showing up, it’s also about really conveying to the others in your life that you're there for them.

This doesn’t mean that you always agree or that there is no conflict in your life. In fact, I might even suggest that conflict —in and of itself— is not a bad thing. That is, once you get comfortable managing it.

It's no secret that unmanaged conflict destroys relationships, but so too does indifference.

Indifference is what makes you (or your partner, child, friend, stranger, everyone) feel unworthy. That you aren't enough. That you're invisible, misunderstood, unheard and not desired. 

Chances are that if you are struggling in a relationship, then feeling like you matter, like your voice really matters, would mean the world to you. It would matter to the strength of your relationship.

Your struggle is a reminder to love.

Love is an act. A verb. A thing you do and experience. It's about seeing, hearing and understanding another and experiencing the reciprocity of feeling that returned towards yourself. 

Everyone wants to feel like they matter. 

Indifference is the opposite of love.

A note from the editors: if Rebecca's perspective on indifference and love resonated with you, please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

The Art of Compassionate Self Care

The art of compassionate self care

Contribution by Lanie Smith, MPS, ATR

My hand grabs the brush, dips the wet bristles into the fresh white paint and delights as the color is smudged across a sea of deep pthalo blue bleeding into aquamarine. This practice is what fuels my love for Abstract Expressionism. It’s the raw sensory satisfaction, so expressive that it doesn’t need shape or clear form to communicate. Color and texture capture the essence.

As an art therapist I see the world, my clients, and their healing through an artist’s lens and use art with the creative process to help clients reconnect with parts of themselves previously disowned, forgotten, or undiscovered.

Just the basic element of color can help me connect to my clients and their creative choices. When they pass me a sheet of watercolor paper, so weighted by materials, I can physically feel the load they have been carrying. I can see how trapped they might feel when they bind found objects. Even when words are too tangled to share, the materials speak.

I know this, not just from my training on the therapeutic use of art media and the neuroscience to support it, but because I discovered the value of artmaking when life was overwhelming for me. Before learning anything about Art Therapy, I sought safety through paint and large installations that could contain my vast emotion.  

Looking back, I see how much more comfortable it  was to paint maniacally than it was to experience the feelings in my body. I was adept at distracting myself from the discomfort of grief and pain.  

It took a physical diagnosis to fully tune me into the wisdom of my body. Because I was struggling with mounting fatigue, I had to quit making art at the rapid pace I once celebrated. Eventually, I  took a complete sabbatical from artmaking while learning to manage my health.  I granted myself permission to rest and be an art therapist who was NOT always making art.

Whoa...fraud alert...who the eff does that?! What decent art therapist stops making art?!’  

I was terrified someone would figure out I was a complete impostor or a fake wannabe artist turned art therapist. Even scarier: would I start to feel the pain that my art helped me manage?

Truth is, I did feel the pain when I stopped creating with such blind fervor. I still do sometimes. Fortunately, getting still allows me to heal more deeply than frantic painting ever did.  

Now, I let myself admit fear and feel loss, disappointment, rejection, or abandonment that used to terrify me. I am focused on inviting healing through gentle self compassion to comfort the child within and respect the limitations of my body.  

The rewards have been huge as I’ve learned to pay attention to my body  - including my heart. This is true self care.

A shift in my art practice: no more obligatory anything

Improving self care means doing what feels good, but it’s more than getting a massage or taking a vacation to manage stress. It’s also about looking at the source of the stress and evaluating ways to eradicate unnecessary stressors while increasing activities that make your heart dance.  Self care is an act of compassion that permits you to let go of obligatory tasks and commitments in order to follow your desire.  

When you have satisfied your own needs and desires you can give out of love rather than obligation. In my case, I have quit making art for anyone other than myself. Even if I am making hand painted cards for loved ones, I’m doing it is because I want and love to paint.  

After years of practice I am able to let go of the need to impress others. When I am creating art or moving through other aspects of life I grant myself permission to enjoy the process without concern for outcome.  This is the very invitation I offer my clients before every group, on every consultation call, and in each intake session. Now that I offer myself the same compassion as I extend my clients, I find myself less and less interested in collecting traditional art materials, creating a final product, or archiving its existence through photography and social media to prove I made something or to show others that I am still creative.

A shift in my daily practice: slow down

There are some days that are slow and quiet. Those days feel like a slice of heaven to my highly sensitive nervous system. Others are loud and busy with incoming calls, messages, and requests for my attention. It can feel like too much if I try to keep up, so I move slowly… slower than I have ever moved before. Literally, the more hectic things get, the slower I move.

One. Breath. At. A. Time.  And not short or shallow breaths but deep, wide, expansive breaths that create an almost trance-like state that enable you to observe automatic thoughts and feelings. Such mindfulness is instrumental in tuning into the present, tuning out unhelpful messages (both my inner judge and any external critics), and tuning up my ability to discover joy.  

I grant myself and my clients permission to do less. This means taking time to explore without pressure to achieve anything. Ironically, we often have the most creative ideas during this time because play is the antithesis of fear which cuts off the flow of imagination and problem-solving.

A shift in my private practice: connect with nature

For months after the autoimmune diagnosis that would change the way I approached all aspects of my life, all I wanted to do was stare at trees. The tears would flow as I allowed myself to just sit. Over time I discovered the tears wouldn’t last forever and I found joy on the other side of my sadness.

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More and more since I began this journey of living with chronic illness I have found that listening to the heart and following the desire to do what feels good often leads me and my clients outdoors more. Nature is healing and allows us to connect to our own natural selves free of our mind’s propensity for worry.

Nature has become my co-therapist too. I’ve moved my office into the mountains to help my clients - and myself - take advantage of the beautiful desert landscapes. It has also been necessary to change my business model to continually ensure I have the downtime I need to rest, read, write, play, and heal.  

Playing outdoors with natural media is rather simple. It doesn’t require any special knowledge of materials, but it allows me to feel like a child who is safe enough to explore. I can arrange flowers, rocks, or leaves between clients. I can take clients to do the same. We can stop in the mountains on a hike and form a cairn of stones. This has reinforced the practice of impermanence, non-attachment, and love since we can leave ephemeral works of art in their natural setting as a gift for others to enjoy as they pass.

Simplifying life and keeping it that way.

Chronic illness has become my biggest teacher with a lesson in simplifying my life. I’ve learned that the lower my stress load, the better I feel. The more white space I create; the more joy I experience by following my desire. I can be spontaneous and take inspired action. I aim to follow my heart instead of the fear in my gut.

Keeping things simple requires a commitment to simplicity as self-care. I say no to others more often now, so that I can say yes to myself. Saying no to opportunities that, while attractive and flattering, just don’t fuel me has led to a greater sense of peace and calm. I’ve learned to follow my passion by following what gives me energy rather than drains it. You can do the same. The more skilled you become at tuning in, the easier tuning out and tuning up can become.  

I’m still working toward remission, practicing greater self-­care, and being more compassionate with myself and others. I am slowly accepting my limitations and following my bliss.  

Ultimately, health and well-being stem from applying less pressure and more love. I gently strive to replace harsh, critical judgment of myself with gentle acceptance of what my heart is longing for. My passion is to guide others to do the same.

How do you apply less pressure and more love?

Whatever is calling to you... listen and respond. Use your desires as a compass that guides you toward joy and bliss.  

Get quiet and respect the whispers of your heart. I call this practice of trusting your body and your desires “tuning in, tuning out, and tuning up.”  It’s a process of stretching your intuitive muscles in order to find what makes you healthy and whole.  There are so many rewards inherent in this practice, but I must warn you that it also requires courage to step away from what you think you ‘should’ be doing and instead move toward what you actually want to do.

So, what do you long for and what could use more attention from you? How are you listening to your body? Are you tuning in regularly? What about tuning out unhelpful material and tuning up activities that bring you joy and bliss?

I'd love to hear where you are at in this journey, where you succeed, and where you might find yourself struggling a bit or in need of some help. Remember, practice makes progress, so please leave a comment and let us know how your practice of tuning in, out, and up is going!

From the editors: Did Lanie’s perspective on the art of self compassion shift the way you look at tuning in, tuning out and tuning up? If it resonated with you, please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

Part 6 | Play is Relationship Glue

Play is Relationship Glue

A note on the Reconnecting Parent Couples Series: These eight posts present  perspectives and advice from respected colleagues and experts from across the world. I’ll also weave in my personal and professional discoveries and introduce you to aspects of my evolving relationship practice: Connectfulness.   

>> PART 5 | WHAT IS PLAY? <<

When you’re deeply engaged in doing something you love, you experience a sense of flow and ease. You get lost in the moment and time feels fluid. You aren’t sure if things are moving faster or slower; you just simply loose track of time all together.

When I am in that state of flow with another person I tend to find myself feeling really groovy about our connection. And when that someone is my husband, well, that takes me back to where it all began.

My husband and I met on a rock climbing day trip with mutual friends. We slowly developed our relationship through lots of playtime. Rock climbing and snowboarding trips were our jam and it was on these trips that our interest in one another was piqued.

Now that we’ve been together for more than a decade, we still need to play. In fact, we probably need it even more. Because without play, all we have left is the busy work, the messy moments, and the juggling act of our daily life. We need play as individuals and we need playtime together as a couple.

Play is Relationship Glue

When your relationship is out of balance, when you feel unsafe, or when you struggle to be vulnerable with your partner, you probably feel less playful.

And, when play is denied over the long term, your mood darkens. You get depressed, irritable, your attempts to connect with the people you love may become more of a struggle, or worse, you stop trying to connect all together.

Play helps you find your way to security. When you feel more secure in your relationships, you have the strength to evolve in all aspects of your life.

You could say there’s a fascinating “chicken or the egg” scenario at work here. When you feel safe, you’re more available to play. The more you play, the easier it is to deepen intimacy.

When did play come more easily to you?

Remember when you were dating? Remember how it felt to simply be together in the days before you became parents?

It's hard to play and get back to those 'when we first met' moments. In fact, 70% of parenting couples report a decline in relationship satisfaction after the birth of their first child. Why is that? Here’s my hypothesis:

As a society, we take parenting too seriously. (We also take “adulting” too seriously. And childhood too for that matter).

You want to be the best parent you can be. You are biologically driven to tune into your child. You’re conditioned to put your own needs, and the needs of your partner on the back burner. And in doing so, you lose track of what it means to play and be playful.

“The defining factor among couples who were able to find romance again, and even to find new fields of emotional intimacy previously unexplored, was that they were able to find ways to play together. Those who played together, stayed together. Those who didn’t either split or, worse yet, simply endured an unhappy and dysfunctional relationship.

What has become clear to me now is how play can become the cornerstone of all personal relationships, from everyday interactions to long-term love. In fact, I would claim that sustained emotional intimacy is impossible without play.”

Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play

You evolve - or do not - through the success of your relationships

When relationships are playful, it feels safer to pause, lean in, and regroup when things feel rough.  In playful relationships, it feels a whole heck of a lot easier to lead with curiosity rather than defensiveness.

In the post, What is Play? we discussed how your relationship can be reshaped by simply playing with your attitude. Recent findings show that play actually creates new neural connections that are essential to the way information gets organized in your brain. During play, ideas and actions can be formed and tested safely because your survival is not at stake (I'm so grateful to Dr. Stuart Brown and his book, Play, for giving us these concepts).

It can be hard to imagine what that means. Do you remember the game RedRover, RedRover from grade school?

A brief review: it begins with two teams of equal size, each team holding hands, facing one another in two lines. One team starts by calling over a member of the other team “Red Rover, Red Rover, let __ come over!”

The team member who gets called out makes a rush for the other team’s line attempting to break through their linked hands. If he doesn’t break through, he joins their team, if he does, he selects one of their team member to join his team. Each team continues to call someone over until all the players are on the winning team.

This is play. Play is what happens when everyday rules are exchanged for a new set of rules that guide your interaction. But play is about more than switching up the rules. The profound shift takes place in each participant’s mindset.  

Play is what happens when you sit down with Jenga, a game of cards, Red Rover, a crossword puzzle, or whatever it is that connects you to your flow. Ultimately, however, play is about  how you approach situations, not the activity you’re engaged in.

Boost your pleasure, enjoyment & connection

Throughout your life, play helps to sculpt your brain and helps you enter into relationships more fully and freely. These playful relationships offer you a safe haven of security and can be a launching pad that enables you to go out and explore the world.

In play, it’s easier to stay connected and keep your attention on the people and things that matter most.

This makes sense when you think about your own children and what they need to learn and grow, right? You are wired in just the same way they are. Play, after all, has a purpose, it’s about connection and growth. Being willing to play is about being able to connect and fail together.

Sometimes it’s hard to play, it’s hard to be vulnerable. And that’s exactly when we need to really slow things down.

Slow down

Moments that challenge you to move out of your comfort zone also allow you to pause and learn something about how far you can go, what it means to regroup, and how you and the people you care about can carry on.

In play, it’s safe to fail and try again. This is the nature of play, experimentation and exploration. You don’t have to get it all right all the time, you just need to be willing to keep trying.

Play can become a safe space to pay attention to and test how safe you feel in your relationship. Where else do you have this kind of  access to see what does and doesn’t work and adapt accordingly?

While it can be challenging, healthy play stretches you to grow and mature. By its very nature this growth will be uncomfortable. That’s often where couples get caught up -  in the discomfort. To truly grow, and to grow together as a couple, you need to get comfortable in the uncomfortable. You need to challenge your partner and let them challenge you - playfully. .This the the stuff that makes for passion and desire. This is the stuff that pushes you outside your comfort zone, just so enough that you don’t stagnant. This is the powerful, beautiful part of pushing boundaries.

How to Rediscover Play

In small, slow doses, try playing with your awareness of how you tune into and sense connection between you and your partner (you can also try this with your kids and other loved ones, but I find that when partners deepen and develop these skills together it transforms everything in the family’s life).

Let’s start by playing with a simple meditation. Take a few breaths,in and out.

Focus on the direction of your breath. Pay attention to the sensation of your breath. Keep your awareness on your breathing. You can probably keep your attention on the direction of your breath for three breaths. But the longer you keep at it, somewhere between 3 breaths and 300, you’ll likely lose focus. Your mind will wander.

Every time your mind wanders, it’s a new opportunity for you to bring your awareness back to your breath. This is where the practice of meditation is honed; in the noticing of when your attention has strayed and in flexing the awareness muscle to come back. Every time you do this, your brain gets better at doing it again. You develop new pathways in your brain. That re-attention to your breath, if you do it gently, without criticism: that’s play.

Your relationship needs a similar sort of framework and mindset for play too. The willingness to notice and to bring your awareness and attention into coming back into balance and cultivating that safe, playful space. This is the Connectfulness Practice that is at the heart of what I offer my client and my community.

Over time, you’ll be able to observe how you stay connected and develop an awareness of where your disconnects occur. Eventually, when you notice these connections and disconnections, you’ll be able to practice pulling yourselves back into balance - and back into your relationship.

You can begin to develop your own Connectfulness Practice. Make it a game of relationship mindfulness in which you both explore your expectations and boundaries. Notice how you feel, deepen your awareness of your partner and practice the art of helping each other feel more secure and connected.

Have I inspired you to delve a teensy bit deeper into exploring your relational mindset and rediscovering play?

Sign up for the invite list for Respark, my upcoming audio course, to help couples rediscover your playful spark.  In this audio course you’ll have a chance to dive into these ideas in a dynamic, experiential way.

 

Sadness Is the Remedy for Depression

Contribution by Paul Lichtenberg, PhD

All too often, sadness is confused with depression.  But, what most don't realize is that sadness is actually  the opposite of depression. In fact, sadness -- I mean true sadness, the experience of bringing loss into your conscious awareness -- is the remedy for depression.I'm quite familiar with both depression and sadness, from both sides of the therapeutic relationship. Though as a child and young adult, I suffered from depression, depression saved my life. It buffered my childhood trauma until I was able to find sadness.  

How can depression save a life?

The first thing to understand about depression, as a response to trauma, is that it takes the emotional reactions -- fear, hurt, rage, helplessness -- and turns them inward. Then, like someone hiding their valuables in a safe, depression buries them away.  You see, to express these emotions would threaten one’s very survival.

The problem, as you might imagine, is that the very layer of numbness that protects you, also isolates you. You’re not necessarily physically alone, but you become emotionally disconnected from yourself and the world.  This pretty accurately described my life after my father died when I was twelve. My father was forty-six, a decorated war hero, and an alcoholic who was unable to function when he returned from the war.For my father, the war never ended, and his family reminded him of that everyday. This tragic fact of war became the basic wound of my childhood trauma. Trauma always has a face, and a story.I remember a night shortly before my father died. He was drunk and harassing my mother. I stood between them, pushed my father, pounded on his chest with my fists, and said, "Leave my mother alone. I hope you die."  And soon, he did. Like many children of my generation, I did not get therapeutic help. I never grieved. I didn't understand. I believed I killed my father. I turned inward. I closed myself off. I became depressed.  One way we can understand the experience of depression is to see it as the failure to properly grieve. We might say that “proper grieving” is the understanding of depression. We can see the context in which we became depressed, what triggers depression, as well as an awareness of the complex of emotions involved in this traumatic psychic injury.Simply put, grieving is the expression of sadness -- the psychic, energetic release of afflictive emotions surrounding loss.

And this can include any kind of loss, even disappointment. We might say that all losses, in the context of the life process, are necessary losses. Loss accompanies life at every turn. There is no way around it. And so, loss itself is never the problem. The problem is not learning how to transform loss into meaning.  

When we give meaning to loss, we awaken the deeper resources of our spiritual awareness and wisdom. When we give meaning to loss, we create the capacity to love and create, find peace and joy, and live fully.  This is where sadness comes in.

It's important to understand the vital role that sadness plays in life

I was so angry when my father died. I cursed his grave. I cursed his name. I called him a drunk. Then, one day, after years of psychoanalytic psychotherapy (which is now my own vocation, craft, and professional work), my analyst said to me, "You know Paul, your father was a war hero." It was as if something in the transmission of his words, very deep, dark, unimaginably heavy, and suffocating, was opened.  I started to cry, and then sob.  I cried often for years after that.  In those words, I found my sadness.  It was as if my analyst, through his deep caring, gave me permission to grieve, to openly release and express what was denied and taken many years before. And in that sadness, I found my father again.  He would visit my dreams and begin to guide me.  He became a real person who suffered greatly, and gave me the gift of meaning.  

There's an unexpected relationship between sadness and depression

And the deeper I went, I began to see this subtle and profound relationship between sadness and depression. Though they were always connected, they were radically different. Depression and sadness lived at opposite poles of awareness.  

My experience has taught me that sadness is actually the remedy for depression.  When you find that space in your heart that feels like the rising of a tide, and the tears are coming up, let them come. Honor them. Look at them in wonder and with gratitude.  

From the editors: Did Paul's perspective on sadness and depression shift the way you look grief and loss? If it resonated with you, please share this post with your family, friends, and community.

communication & the art of getting to know your partner

 

So many couples don't know how to talk to one another!

It's my mission, to help couples respark relationships by talking about stuff, all the stuff, the good stuff, the bad stuff the difficult stuff. The person you are married to is not the same person you married nor will they be the same person when you are 80 years old, nor are you. You have to keep the conversation flowing, that's the only way to really know one another.

To do that, you have to know yourself, your partner has to know themselves and then you can both open the discussion and keep learning one another. The most important part, is that at the end of the day you both feel seen, heard & understood. This is the stuff that creates deeply connected couples.

I'd love to hear one thing you choose to do today to open up and get to know your partner.

And if you can use a helpful little nudge, I may have just the thing for you...

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[button type="default" text="Reboot Your Relationship: a free 21-day series" url="https://connectfulness.com/relationship-reboot-free-21-day-series" open_new_tab="true"]

Do Less. Hold More.

Do Less Hold More

Do Less. Hold More.

This is a teeny little phrase I like to remind myself and also one I share with colleagues and clients alike.

We live in a pretty fast past, instant gratification world. Understandably, we’ve grown to expect that the answer to everything is at our fingertips.

And perhaps it is. But often, I find we humans get it all mixed up.

We need to do less.

We need to stop trying to fix, apologize for, and make better the pain others bring to us.

We need to hold more.

We need to be more present and attuned to our own needs and also the needs of those around us.

When your partner, child or client shares their pain -be it emotional or physical pain- with you, as much as you may wish you could be the superhero to remove all suffering, perhaps the most authentic and human exchange you can share with them is simply one of being.

Be present.

Show up.

See, hear and understand their pain. See, hear and understand them.

Hold them.

You don’t have to agree with them. It doesn’t have to feel good. Just hold. Healing happens in the holding.

In the bearing witness.

We all need to be held.

It’s a human need.

And if you'd like some holding as you explore your own Connectfulness practice of doing less and holding more, I may have just the thing for you...

[button type="default" text="the {Re}Spark e-course for couples" url="https://connectfulness.com/respark-ecourse-invite-list" open_new_tab="true"]

[button type="default" text="The Messy Parenthood Community" url="https://connectfulness.com/messy-parenthood-community" open_new_tab="true"]

[button type="default" text="The Practice of Being Seen, an exclusive group for therapists" url="https://connectfulness.com/the-practice-of-being-seen/" open_new_tab="true"]

INTENTIONAL INTIMACY: when your past meets your present

Lily Zehner

Contribution by Dr. Lily Zehner

Intimacy is a delicate and powerful force in all aspects of our lives - not just in the bedroom and not just with your romantic partner. Intimacy can be experienced in all relationships - even with your in-laws!

Intimacy is knowing we will be seen, heard, and accepted exactly as we are. It’s about trusting that you can show up - vulnerably, authentically, and wholeheartedly.

And yet, it can be terrifying.

This is a story about how I figured out how to intentionally create ideal intimacy with my in-laws and aligned our relationship with my needs and values.

Unspoken Hope

There was a disconnect with my in-laws, and it was starting to weigh heavily on my marriage - a relationship built on deep and sacred intimacy.

I craved a relationship with my in-laws that felt safe, reciprocal, and fulfilling.I love and care for them. They are generous, kind, and light-hearted. Yet, whenever we would all spend time together, I would leave feeling unfulfilled. For years, I couldn’t figure it out.

Every time I spent time with them, I hoped “this time it may be different.” That it would be nourishing on a deep level. That it would be reciprocal. That it would leave me feeling loved and received exactly as I am.

But then it all became clear to me. One of the things that draws me to my in-laws is the way they value humor and play. And yet, I was struggling  to meet them there. I was afraid that they would laugh at the real me or take something important about me too lightly. In my childhood it wasn’t safe to play and laughter was seldom kind.

Culture Clash

Suddenly I got it:  we had a culture clash. It wasn’t that they didn’t love me, it was that they showed love differently and I didn’t know how to receive it. It was like a language barrier.

And so, I needed to ask for what I wanted. What I craved were open-ended questions that went deeper than the moments we shared together. I wanted to reveal something more of myself, but they just didn’t seem to care.

Turns out, they did care.

I found out when I took a leap: I wrote a heartfelt letter. And I actually sent it. It felt like a brave thing to do. Even more important, it felt necessary. Yes, I was scared to do it, but I reminded myself that my husband and I had created a safe world together and this was the right thing to do for our relationship and for our relationship with his parents.

When they wrote back, they told me exactly what I had hoped to hear. Turns out, they wanted to create a relationship where everyone felt seen and truly comfortable too.

They felt like it was an act of love to avoid asking questions. I am the kind of person who feels loved when people want to know more about me.  

Months later, I continue to see proof in words and actions from my in-laws that shows that we can feel safe even when we’re being vulnerable. Now, I feel like I can show up authentically in every one of our phone calls, emails, and days spent together.

It Begins With You

Here’s the thing about intimacy: you have to first know what you need and desire. Once you are clear, it is up to you to communicate your needs with others. Often you have expectations of others’ love and are left wondering why they can’t provide you with what you want. The question is, have you ever shared this with them?  

I didn’t realize that the reason my in-laws weren’t loving me as I needed was because I never told them. They loved me as they knew how and I loved them how I knew how. None of us were wrong. We were just missing each other’s attempts to connect, doing the best we knew how.

Don’t Wait for Intimacy. Ask for It.

If you are feeling a disconnect from those you love, please take the time to get clear with your desires and needs. Find a way to share them whether in a dialogue, a letter, or otherwise.

In the end, the sweetness of intimacy is worth putting yourself out there, taking a risk, and being vulnerable. Know yourself. Build trust. Show up as yourself and allow yourself to be seen, heard, and accepted while offering the same to others - that’s what all the deep, nourishing connections in life are made of.

Dr. Lily Zehner has inspired you to expand your idea of intimacy and take steps to make it part of all of your most important relationships. Sign up for our newsletter for more insights into how you can practice loving Connectfulness in your life.

PLAY & CONNECTION | Episode 45 of The Couples Expert Podcast

HONEYMOON

Last week I had the pleasure of being interviewed (again) by Stuart Fensterheim, LCSW on The Couples Expert Podcast. We had a great conversation about how play is essential for connection and growth.

Play has a purpose. It helps us sustain healthy relationships. As I mentioned in the recent what is play post, play is a state of mind.  

In this episode Stuart and I talk about what play means and the purpose it holds, how playfulness can help you reconnect with your partner, how you can use play and a playful mindset to reset your relationship and how play can help you repair hurts and avoid common relationship pitfalls.

[button type="default" text="Listen to the Podcast Now" url="http://www.thecouplesexpertscottsdale.com/?powerpress_pinw=4867-podcast" open_new_tab="true"]

I'd love to hear your feedback!

Now that you’re inspired to play, make a date for it. Join my Valentine’s Day mid-day couples retreat in Accord, New York. Or sign up for the early interest list for the {Re}Spark e-course to help parenting couples rediscover their playful spark (I’ll be releasing it soon).

Adventures in Parental Monogamy | February 2016 Chronogram

If you regularly pick up the Chronogram, our 'regional magazine dedicated to stimulating and supporting the creative and cultural life of the Hudson Valley', you might happen to notice this article on page 28 of the February 2016 edition.

Adventures in Parental Monogamy

12670260_10153995113842216_1122271670616438655_n

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Hillary Harvey, the Chronogram's Kids & Family editor, last month. And this article contains much of what we discussed. And I must add that I am flattered to be quoted alongside some amazing colleagues, Cyndi Darnell,Lily ZehnerEsther Perel (I'm a bit starstruck to say the least).

This topic, modern parental monogamy, is much of the focus behind the e-course I'm creating, {re}spark. If this intrigues you, I hope you will check  out the article and then come back to post here, or email me.

I want to know what you want to discover and explore about this topic.I want to help you answer your own big questions and gain a deeper understanding of the intimacy you desire and the struggles you experience.

[button type="default" text="grab your {RE}SPARK INVITE here" url="https://connectfulness.com/respark/" open_new_tab="true"]

Or join my Valentine’s Day mid-day couples retreat in Accord, New York.

PART 5 | WHAT IS PLAY?

What is Play?

An 8-part blog series, helping parent couples reconnect.

A note on the Reconnecting Parent Couples Series: These eight posts present  perspectives and advice from respected colleagues and experts from across the world. I’ll also weave in my personal and professional discoveries and introduce you to aspects of my evolving relationship practice: Connectfulness.   

>> Part 4 | DISCONNECTION HAPPENS, OR, YES, HAPPY COUPLES FIGHT TOO! <<

When it is incorporated into your daily rhythm, play can fundamentally shift everything about how you and the people you love relate to one another...I find that’s especially important for parenting couples to keep in mind.

So what gives? Why does the word and concept of play totally stress people out? Perhaps you are unsure about what play looks like.

“Play's a little like pornography in that you know it when you see it.” Jill Vialet, the CEO of Playworks

Well, duh!  But that doesn’t exactly help you start adding more play into the connections that fuel your daily life, does it?

So, what is play?

Play is a state of mind rather than an activity.

When at play you’re in a state of enjoyment. Your sense of  self-consciousness and sense of time are both suspended. Whatever you are engaged in, you want to do it again and again. Though you may feel  like it’s  purposeless activity, something important and healing is happening…

Play can be hard to define. It can include  so much. Humor, flirtation, games, roughhousing, storytelling, fantasizing, collecting, movement, exploring, competing, directing, creating.

Play looks like different things to different people, but here is what we know:

Play is a natural and biologically driven social exploration. It helps you learn about, and experience your world and your relationships by encouraging discovery.and feeding curiosity.

Play is inhibited and shuts down when you don’t feel safe (In my practice, when my clients can’t or aren’t playing in  their relationships I want to know more about what doesn’t feel safe. And we slowly begin our exploration there).

Play allows you to practice essential life and relational skills. It is full of triumphs and failures and everything in between.

Play is magical, integrative, and healing. It allows you to process, digest, and gain understanding about your life and your relationships. 

And perhaps most importantly, play happens in your mind. In fact, recent findings in neuroscience are showing that nothing lights up our brains like play does.

Why do we need to play?

We adult humans keep forgetting about the purpose of play, or we simply don’t value play. I get that, it’s so easy to do. When you are in the flow of play, it feels totally purposeless. And part of being a grown up is to have a clear sense of purpose, right?

We push children of all ages to play less & sit more. We are placing value on decoding and recall rather than comprehension and collaboration. Children are missing out on the experiential learning that they can only absorb through the process of play.

But then, it’s no wonder that we’ve taken the play out of children’s education - adults have eliminated play from their busy lives. they don’t know how to model or pass on something as purposeless as “just playing.”

We often think that as adults we shouldn't play, that we should stay serious and focused all of the time and that couldn't be farther from the truth. When couples are really stuck in the thick of stress, I suggest bringing in some kind of play. It can allow partners to connect in a light hearted way. It can also be a great way to reminisce and re-live the earlier days of the relationship when things were less stressful and more fun. Dr. Lily A. Zehner

We are designed to play throughout our whole lifetime

Play is very much a pre-programed social mammalian skill. Watch a pack of puppies, or a litter of kittens. How do they interact with one another and learn appropriate social behaviors?

They play!

They wrestle with one another, they push and pull on boundaries and they either get redirected by one another or mamma when they’ve gone too far or they tire out in a happy exhausted pile, content with one another.

And it’s not different for us humans. We learn how to connect in play.

Your sense of safety and trust in relationship are established through play signals such as eye-contact, facial expression, voice tone, posture, gesturing, timing and intensity of response.

In play, it's safe to fail, to fall get up and try again.  Play makes it easier to adapt and stay connected.  

If you want to keep growing, you must keep playing

Stuart Brown, MD author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul and the founder of the National Institute for Play says that when we stop playing, “our behaviour becomes fixed. We are not interested in new and different things. We find fewer opportunities to take pleasure in the world around us.

If you want to do more than merely survive in your relationships, you need to play. Couples who thrive know how to play.

Play reminds us not to take life too seriously. Couples often get stuck on recycling the "bad stuff" in their relationships and stop making new, fun memories. An analogy I like to use is that people have two rooms where they keep their memories of their relationships. One room has all the "good" memories and the other room has all the "bad" ones. How we feel about our relationship is how much time we spend in each room. By playing together couples spend more time in the "good" room and also develop new, happy memories. Mark Vaughan MAMFT, AMFT

When you start to make play your mindset — the attitude you use to approach life situations — you get to practice how you perceive and respond to other's emotional states in a safe, no pressure way.

Play is the glue that connects people to one another. In my next post we’ll dive deeper into how you can rediscover play if you’ve lost it, stay tuned!

>> Part 6 | Play Is Relationship Glue <<

 

 

 

How do you find a good fit with your therapist?

Both clients and colleagues often ask me this question so often that I figured it warrants a post of it's own. There are many elements to be attentive to when seeking a therapist. And of all those elements, the one I encourage you to be the most attentive to, is fit. Why? When the stuff you are working through has to do with the delicate art of relationship with self, with other, a lack of satisfaction in relationships, feeling lonely... The healing of therapy is relationship. In the therapeutic relationship you work through the obstacles that hold you back in life this work may not be easy, in fact we can assume it will be challenging — your therapist's role is to help keep it manageable but we need you to be part of that process.

Imagine that you are shopping for a perfect pair of jeans.

You know, the ones that make you feel like a rock star, they fit just so perfectly.

I'd bet  you also know when you put on a pair and the fit’s sort-of deal-able and when it’s a no-go. I’m going to ask you to use that as a reference point.

Imagine that you are in a fitting room trying on a few pairs and I'm there offering you a selection to try on. You needn't show me each pair you try on, but I do need some feedback if I'm going to help you find the rockstar fit. Is the pair you are trying too big, too small, wrong cut, wrong wash, etc… eventually we will fine tune and find the right pair and you’ll know when we do!

We want you to feel like a rockstar in those jeans, and likewise in therapy. For therapy to work really well and for us to fit well together I need your constant feedback so we can adjust to meet your needs.

I need to know when things don’t fit. I need to know when things don’t feel good. When you are uncomfortable. When you feel too vulnerable or unheard. And that applies to both what happens in my office, and also what happens outside the office. We need to be mindful of these moments.

I'll interpret and reflect much in our work but that doesn’t mean my interpretation always fits. In fact, I expect it often won’t. That's why it is your role to tell me what doesn’t fit. If you don't tell me, I can’t know. So is also true in all of your relationships, we are simply honing that skill in our work.

All of your relationships are reflections of yourself.

Therapy is one of these relationships. My role is to be a mirror and to help you see yourself. Sometimes you might enjoy that reflection. At other times it may feel abrasive.

I ask for feedback so that we can talk about what that feedback looks like. Perhaps you don't feel like coming to therapy one day. Or you come but don't feel like talking. Or you are angry, or... (You get the drift.)

We'll come back to this time and again in our work.

This constant exploration of what fits is the work of relationships, and relationships are the work of therapy.

Ready to learn more? I offer FREE 15-minute phone consults.

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p.s. Visualizations often help people relate to and retain information better—which is to say that you are more likely to remember this perfect pair of jeans analogy. If you enjoy watching TED talks, check this one out. Pay attention to the Baker/baker paradox.

one thing during the holidays...

"If you think you're enlightened go spend a week with your family." Ram Dass

The holidays bring out the best and the worst in people. There is something magical about slowing down and focusing on the people you love most in the world. And, there is also something incredibly triggering about focusing on the people you love most in the world. Even for the most enlightened amongst us.

In family, as in all in intimate relationships, you are at your most vulnerable. You crave belonging, and that craving makes you vulnerable to rejection. After all, it’s a human drive to connect, to bond, to attach. In fact, research shows that we barely survive and certainly don’t thrive without it. Scientifically speaking, we refer to this intensely human drive as attachment.  It’s also the very place your vulnerability emerges from that drive to attach.  

During the holidays, just like everyday, your mind is busy trying to regulate this drive. You want to connect, but you don’t want to be rejected.

You, me, all of us...we make constant bids to connect. When these bids go well, you feel good. You feel heard, seen, and accepted. And this helps you feel safe and secure in the presence of the people you love. All this makes for good connection flow. But when these bids don’t go so well,  you feel defensive, invisible, that your thoughts and feelings don’t matter. That compromises connection. And often, it triggers a domino effect of reactions that disconnect you.

During the holiday season, you may find that you want more attention and connection from the people you love. Or, you may find that you withdraw. This is completely understandable if you aren’t use to your need for connection being satisfied or if you’ve experienced loss.

You're human seeking security.

What I’d like to help you shift your attention to this holiday season is that this is dance of connection and disconnection is true for all of us, in all intimate relationships (between couples, parent/child, siblings, the “just like family” friends, and colleagues).

And it’s true for me too as a relationship therapist. Yep, my skin gets prickly and I get triggered when I go home for the holidays too. Gasp. There I said it. I’m simply not that enlightened...yet.

Here’s one thing I know for sure: the beautiful mess of relationships, the desire for connection and reflection and learning in the missed opportunities -- it all offers awesome opportunities to tune in and find your {re}connection.

The painful, sticky less enlightened moments remind you to slow down and pay attention. By slowing down you take back control. You reset your focus and tune back into yourself in relationships and into what really matters to you.

Be thankful for these sweet-sticky moments; they guide you towards connection with the people you love most.

Part 4 | DISCONNECTION HAPPENS, OR, YES, HAPPY COUPLES FIGHT TOO!

An 8-part blog series, helping parent couples reconnect.

A note on the Reconnecting Parent Couples Series: These eight posts present  perspectives and advice from respected colleagues and experts from across the world. I’ll also weave in my personal and professional discoveries and introduce you to aspects of my evolving theory: Connectfulness.   

>> PART 3 | Intimacy Begins With You: 7 Ways To Reconnect With Yourself (And The People You Love) <<

You and your partner get caught  in a cycle of connection and disconnection. You know this cycle of “Withdrawal and Repair” all too well. (Though you may not call it that yet. Stay with me.)

It’s been three and half weeks since you had sex. Or three months. Or maybe you don't even remember the last time. How did that happen?  

You’re barely talking to your partner over dinner because you disagreed about...oh gosh, what was that fight about? Nevermind, the point is that you didn’t feel heard and understood. You didn't feel like you mattered.

You clashed over your parenting styles and now you are wondering how you could have ever thought raising a family together was a good idea in the first place.

We all like to think that we can avoid the mess of disconnection in relationships. But we can’t. The simple truth is that relationships are messy and disconnects happen.

You know this about relationships - after all, you watched your own parents (or caregivers) go through all of their own ups and downs.  They did their best, but perhaps they fell short on modeling healthy fights and disconnects for you. But if they couldn’t show you how to do the partnership dance in a healthy way, who was going to teach you this stuff?

Now that you’re a parent, you are more keenly aware of your struggle to ride these ups and downs, and you want to handle it all in a more graceful way. You know those little humans you are raising together are watching you and taking note...

All relationships go through cycles of connection and disconnection

Relationships don’t stagnate (that would be another kind of awful, but not the one we are talking about today). Relationships have an ebb and flow, moving through periods of connection and disconnection. In order to stay connected, you have to embrace these cycles.

As you and your partner seek a deeper, more sustainable connection, you must also allow often necessary and powerful times of disconnect - even when that’s horribly uncomfortable to do.

And you need to hold space for the discomfort in a mindful way. Otherwise, it will take hold of you and, with it, your relationship.

It can be painful to sustain the energy it takes to stay attuned and connected to your best friend and lover - particularly when your own tank is on empty.

Keep in mind, pain is information. When it hurts to stay attuned to your partner’s needs, it’s likely a sign that it’s ok to let go - at least for a little while.

You need to disconnect sometimes — make room for this healthy habit

Your need to connect co-exists with your need for separateness. These needs are inextricably linked.

To stay healthy, you need space to disconnect from all the distractions - even the people you love. You need this time to tune into you.

In the previous installment of this series, Intimacy begins with you, we talked about how sharing mutual growth offers tremendous opportunities for healing. We also explored how the greatest lessons are often concealed in a relationship’s pressure points.

(If you haven’t already read part 3, go do that now and then come back here, because it’s going to be nearly impossible to start to learn how to make these repairs and reconnect if you haven’t started with yourself.)

The not-so-secret secret about fighting with your sweetie

First, you have to be open to creating and holding space for that disconnects that inevitably going to happen. Then, you start to tune into when and how to initiate a reconnect. Relationship therapists call these reconnects “repairs.”

You and your loved one will start to see that there’s no conflict in noticing when either of you need space.

There's conflict when you don't notice.

Crazy thought, right?

Sometimes we need to fight.

Yes. Really. Sometimes conflict is exactly what you and your beloved need to refocus your attention on one another’s needs.

Say it out loud. Sometimes I'll say, "Howdy Stranger," when I realize my partner and I have been disconnected. This is a playful way of letting him know that I realize it and want it to be different.

I also let couples' know that fighting can be a really juicy way of reconnecting.

With disconnection we can get lost in the vacuum of our own thoughts and create resentments about our partners. Often, “turning toward” happens when that resentment has reached a limit and someone initiates a fight. If you see this as a positive development you can take it from there and start again from a place of more connection. Dr. Jessica Michaelson

If there is one thing you take away from reading this today, let this be it: happy couples fight. They just do a better job of it than unhappy couples. And a big part of that “better” lies in their repair skills.

You may need to fight, but only because you need the repairs that follow

When you both acknowledge and take responsibility for the disconnect you can also make a mindful effort to repair it.

You need to use your “relationship repair skills” when you’re not being mindful of taking your space for yourself. Or life gets in the way. Or the kids get sick. Or when one of you takes needed space and the other feels abandoned and resentful.

And, it’s in this repair process that we grow.

Repairs are messy and hard, but in the grand scheme of the relationship they teach us more about how we handle conflict and how we connect with each other - and they're necessary for moving forward! Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, Parent Coach

It’s in these moments when we reach out - beyond our autopilot reactions and responses - that real, relational healing happens.

It’s in the moments that come after the ick and the pain. And after the pause and regrouping.

This is the gold.

And even when you come to embrace disconnects as necessary and hone your repair skills, there will be moments when  disconnects just don’t feel good. This is  your humanness is shining through - and that’s going to happen, and that’s going to be ok.

So, what does repair look like?

Repair looks like taking responsibility - even if just for a small nugget of something that triggered your partner. In this repair conversation, you share what you need and feel.

If you can be honest and gentle in your communication with your partner, it can help get to the heart of the message that you want to communicate: you really miss your sweetie and you want to connect again.  

Being gentle is key, no one wants to be on the receiving end of a hurtful or nasty exchange. If talking about it causes you to be flooded with emotions, consider writing it down and share it with them. It also may be helpful to see a couples therapist.Dr. Lily Zehner MFT-C

A repair conversation isn’t about pointing your finger and telling your partner what you need them to do differently. It’s about taking personal responsibility for creating a safer relationship by keeping the focus on what you have influence over: you. And you also take responsibility for soothing yourself.

Self soothing is essential. It can also be simple. Consider taking a moment to pause. A deep inhale and cleansing exhale. Repeat if necessary. The benefits are profound.Dr. Lily Zehner MFT-C

When you shift your focus away from feeling disconnected and instead look at how you can reconnect and repair, it makes you feel safer - even in moments of disconnect. It makes being together, even in conflict, more tolerable.

Feeling safe with your partner gives you the freedom to say "I'm sorry, I messed up"' with the confidence that they will accept you and your apology. Dr. Agnes Wainman, Registered Psychologist

And while apologizing is a key repair tool, it’s not the only one.  The ability to step into your vulnerability is essential too.

From a place of vulnerability, for example, you’re able to share the awareness that the relationship is bigger than one particular conflict.

One of the most powerful moments in a relationship is when you can stop mid-argument, take a deep breath, (possibly eyes filled with tears) and just say 'What are we doing? We're on the same team. I love you. This hurts, this sucks and I don't want either of us to feel like this. Can we try this again?' Because it takes more love for your relationship (and less love for your ego) to do this. And that facilitates repairs tremendously. Robyn D'Angelo, LMFT, The Happy Couple Expert

The good news! Sixty-Nine Percent (69%) of the time, all our your relationship conflicts are going to be perpetually unresolvable.

They say that 78% of all statistics are made up on the spot, but this one is real - it comes out of decades of research by The Gottman Institute.

Seriously, when almost ¾ of all your your conflicts are unresolvable you need to shift the focus.

When you focus on disconnects, you live in a world of complaints, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Gottman’s research shows us that, over time, those habits kill relationships.

In order to really trust the stability of your relationship, you will need to be able to tolerate at least occasional disconnects from one another. It's in these disconnects that you’ll often find an opportunity to listen to yourself --tune in to your needs and feelings, soothe yourself-- and then come back together.

Relationship magic - and lasting repairs - happen when you embrace vulnerability

Relationships require constant work. Mindfulness. Attunement. The hardest part about living in relationship is managing the fear that comes with being intimately vulnerable with another human.  

Managing to stay in this space - in spite of the anxieties you and your partner both bring to your relationship - ultimately leads to compassionate love.

When we hide our hurt or sadness from our partner, we create a barrier between us. It takes a great deal of courage to reach out and share our deeper self with them, but when we do, we deepen the bond between us – and in seeking their comfort, invite them to do the same. Elly Taylor, Author of Becoming Us: 8 Steps to Grow a Family that Thrives

In order to really connect, you need to slow down

True connection depends on the quiet, intimate relationship magic that happens when nothing in particular is happening - except being together.

But in our “do it all/ there’s never enough” world it’s hard to slow down to make room for such moments. Making time to connect isn’t necessarily “productive” and it can be challenging.

There’s an app for everything, but there’s no tech solution that will strengthen intimate connections. The single best way to really connect is simple.

Just be together.

We're mammals, after all, and wired to connect, sync up with each other, and sleep in puppy piles.

When we're somatically aware, or tracking the subtle sensations of our bodies, we're more aware of the shifting tides of our emotions. Ours and our partners. We're more able to feel where our emotional blocks to connection are and to push past them in the most simple and heartfelt ways.

Firm supportive touch is one such way. Just laying a hand on your partner’s shoulder, or brushing their hair aside and creating a couple culture that allows for physical holding without the expectation of sexual contact (which is great when you're both there, but can feel like pressure and obligation when things are momentarily difficult).

Simple firm touch is something we're wired for as mammals. It both calms and heals our nervous systems and communicates connectivity without the need for words.

Simple, consistent, intentional touching keeps those important bonding hormones flowing and can form the backbone of moving forward together in a more and more connected manner. Victoria Wallace Schlicht, LMFT, SEP

Want to feel more connected to your partner? Develop a ritual of connection

As you start to tune in to your feelings and needs more often, you will also begin to notice when you need to consciously come together again.

It only takes a small gesture to start a ripple of connection. The problem most couples have: when one person attempts a reconnect, the partner may not notice.

It’s common for you or your partner to miss a “we need to connect” moment simply because you didn’t realize the other desired some extra support and attention. Now and then, it’s understandable, but when “little moments” repeatedly get missed, negative sentiment builds up.

You or your partner may wonder how the person you entrust with your deepest vulnerabilities can be so unavailable or unresponsive. Over time, one or both of you may begin to feel angry, panicked, and alone. This is not the space that healthy relationships live in.

The Gottmans talk a lot about this in their work. They calls these moments “bids for attention” and they reminds couples that not all bids are spoken or obvious. And missed bids are most often missed out of mindlessness (not malice).

A “ritual of connection” is just a shared moment

Remember those little moments we discussed in part 2? These are the things couples fight about most. That is to say, nothing in particular, just missed opportunities to connect are the heart of most arguments. That’s why making a mindful effort to connect is so powerful.

So, with that in mind, and in the spirit of connecting and being mindful of catching one another’s “bids,” I encourage you to pick something that feels good for both of you.

It could be something that you do when you’re walking by each other, like touching each other on the shoulder. It could be pinching each other on the behind. It could be ruffling each other’s hair. It could be what my husband and I like to do - a six-second kiss. It could be a deep hug until you relax or a simple firm touch.

Get creative. Yes, it may feel forced at first, that’s ok. The point is to make this a regular practice that can become a safe, playful and meaningful way to tune back into one another in the midst of your disconnects.

Release the need to stay in connection at every moment. Understand that you can manage the anxiety that arises when you fall out of connection. Practice the art of reestablishing your connection.

Trust that you can find your way back.

>> PART 5 | WHAT IS PLAY? <<

I'd love for you to share your ritual of connection (or what you might try to make into one) with me via email or post in the comments below.

 

Relationship Hack: Core Issues

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I have a small, little relationship hack for you.  

John Gottman says that 69 percent of the time, all of the fights that you have in your relationships are going to be perpetually unresolvable.  

What if instead of looking at fight, we look at the core issue underneath the fight?  What if we started noticing the things that you're really thinking, things that are triggering you?

Things like "I feel like I don't matter" or "I don't feel like I could ever do good enough."

What if we get down to those issues and we help you to tune into them yourself? And we help you to help your partner tune into what's really coming up for you.  How would that change the quality of your fights?  How would that change the dynamics between the two of you and help you both feel more heard and understood?

I hope you enjoyed this relationship hack, I'm hoping to make Relationship Hack into a regular video series and bring more of these little bits to you on the regular.

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

I invite you to share your input with me, let me know what resonates and what you want more of. And if there are any questions you want me to cover in future videos...ask!

And as always, please share the love by sharing with someone that you love.

Rituals of Connection

Last week I posted a vlog on mind reading & relationships and I spoke about how common it is for couples to miss some important communication and connecting steps, simply out of mindlessness. In this week's vlog I'm taking you a little deeper and we're talking about HOW to start rediscovering and maintaining your connections with one another. Let's talk about how to find your rituals of connection.

Wait, what's that? Watch this brief video or read the transcript that follows and then join me in the discussion below.

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I work with a lot of couples who feel like they miss each other, who feel like they aren’t able to tune into their partner or their partner is not able to tune into them.

Perhaps you can relate.

Something I tell my couples to do is to find something that they can make theirs, that becomes their regular ritual.

These are brief things.

These are things that take maybe one to six seconds in total. So, it’s really something you can do throughout the day.

I want you to pick something together that feels good for both of you.

You could both have something that’s a little different—that’s ok.

It could be something that you do when you’re walking by each other, like touching each other on the shoulder. It could be pinching each other on the behind. It could be ruffling each other’s hair. It could be what my husband and I like to do, which is a six-second kiss. It could be a lot of different things.

I want you to get really creative and come up with something that works for you.

I know at first it’s going to feel a little bit forced. And that’s ok.

The point here is that you’re really remembering to pause and to take notice of each other.

And to make that into something that you become really mindful of, so you’re becoming mindful of connecting with one another.

This is where it all begins.

Because when you can do this, then the next step is to start using it when you need something. The trick is going to be tuning into your own needs first. When you can do that, then you make a mindful effort to connect with your partner.

And then your partner makes the mindful effort to say, “Hey, what did you need?”

And that’s where you stop missing each other. 

Start with this little ritual. Just find something—anything, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be my thing. It can be your thing. But I want you to find something that allows you both to find each other.

So, whether it’s the six-second kiss, or it’s just caressing each other on the shoulder, or the behind, or the back, or ruffling each other’s hair—anything else you can think of—find your thing and start implementing it just when you’re passing by each other.

Just start making it your little ritual.

Come back and tell me how that goes for you.