Wednesday, May 12, 2010


So often, we approach change from the standpoint of looking at what's wrong; we focus on the problem.  The children fight too much, our boss doesn't seem to notice or appreciate how hard we're working, our relationship isn't what it used to be, etc.  By focusing on problems, we find more of them; we emphasize and amplify them!  It's a vicious, exhausting and never ending cycle because there is always a problem to be solved!

An alternative approach to change is Appreciate Inquiry, which I was reminded of recently as I listened to my husband talk about a meeting that he was preparing to lead.  As I looked into the concept, I realized that this is what I teach couples right from the start as I get them to shift their focus from what's wrong in the relationship to what's right!  I do this by teaching a dialogue on Appreciation (see an earlier blog: The Power of A Fully Expressed Appreciation).    So I share with you what I discovered.

Appreciative Inquiry suggests that we approach change from the standpoint of looking for what is working in our life; the tangible result of the inquiry process is a series of statements that describe where we want to be based on the high moments of where we have been.  Because the statements are grounded in real experience and history, we know how to repeat our success.

Assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry (with respect to relationships):
  • In every relationship (group, family, couple) something works.
  • What we focus on becomes our reality.
  • Reality is created in the moment, and there are multiple realities.
  • The act of asking questions (of one's self and one's partner) influences the relationship in some way.
  • People have more confidence and comfort to journey to the future (the unknown) when they carry forward parts of the past/present (the known).
  • If we carry parts of the past forward, those parts should be what is best about the past/present.
  • It is important to value differences.
  • The language we use creates our reality.
The goal is to seek the root cause of success (not the root causes of failure).  In doing so, there are two points to remember:
  1. What you look for is what you get; the questions you ask determine the answers you get.
  2. Where you think you are going is where you end up.
Three principles to keep in mind are:
  1. If you look for problems, you find more problems.
  2. If you look for success, you find more success.
  3. If you have faith in your relationship and yourself, you can accomplish miracles.
So, here's a dialogue to have with your partner following the Appreciative Inquiry model of change.
Ask your partner if they are willing to dialogue with you about the future of your relationship and let them know that you want to investigate ways to enjoy it better together.
  • What I see as having worked well (past), or as working well (present), in our relationship is ...  
  • A specific experience I had/have with you was/is ...
  • The story I make up about what made/makes that experience possible (listing contributions of yourself and of your partner from your perspective) was/is ...
  • How I felt/feel when I had/have that experience with you was/is ...
  • When I had/have this experience with you, how I behaved/behave with you was/is ...
  • What I enjoyed/enjoy about that was/is ...
  • What I would like to experience more of with you is ...
  • How I might contribute to having more of that with you is ...
  • What might be challenging for me in doing that is ...
  • How I imagine you might be able to help me with that is ...
  • What I appreciate about you right now is ...
When I consider approaching change from a deficits perspective, I feel a loss of energy and some hopelessness.  When I consider approaching change from an appreciative perspective, I feel inspired, energized and hopeful.  It is my wish that you feel inspired to give it a go .. explore with your partner ways to make your relationship the best it can be.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Have you ever been flooded by a sense of appreciation for your partner? Maybe it was something they did for you or it was a way in which they were with you that touched you and made you feel a gush of love for them. Did you tell them with a simple "Thanks," or did you think it and feel it and keep it to yourself?

I was recently reminded of the power of a fully expressed appreciation.  

About a month ago, my husband and I were presenting a Getting the Love You Want workshop for couples and we volunteered to do a demonstration of an Appreciation Dialogue; I agreed to be the one appreciating him. To give you some history ... I'd been having trouble with my new computer and needed his help at the shop to explain the issue in techno-terminology. His schedule was really tight at work, but he managed to reschedule a meeting so that he could meet up with me and help get my problems all sorted. When it was all over, I could have said simply, "Thanks for the help today" and left it at that.  

Instead, I took this opportunity to fully appreciate him. I looked into his eyes and told him I appreciated him having taken the time to meet me at the store in the middle of his hectic day, that I knew he didn't have the space in his calendar and yet, by moving a meeting, he created the time to help me, and I really appreciated that. I appreciated that he'd been working really hard lately and that he'd been experiencing a lot of pressure from work, and so his effort to make the time to help me meant even more. I also appreciated that he did it all with an attitude of love and support and that what this told me about him as a person was that he is a generous and committed person. The feelings that came up for me as a result of all of this were that I felt gratitude, I felt loved, I felt important and special, I felt like a priority for him and like I really mattered to him. All of that was deeply healing for me; for many years in our marriage I longed to feel this way with him, and so each time I experience him this way, it moves me closer to feeling deeply secure in our relationship. Had I simply said, "Thanks", I would have missed the whole experience. I felt a deep connection and love for him in the moment of appreciating him so fully. We each got a little misty-eyed.

When we were done, someone commented on how much there was in my appreciation that is so often never spoken, and how much depth and connection seems possible as a result of going there; this was an eye-opener to them having seen the demonstration. My husband spoke up and talked about how meaningful it was for him to hear my full appreciation of his effort. It had indeed been a very difficult time at work and it was hard for him to make the time to meet up with me, that having done so and being so appreciated for it made all the difference in the world! He felt recognized and appreciated for his efforts. He spoke about how healing it was to experience me appreciating him so fully because he has often felt unappreciated in life (by me, the children, work, and by his parents as a young boy) for all that he does.  

I suspect you too have opportunities to experience the depth and connection that is possible when you experience moments of appreciation for your partner. To help you share your appreciation more fully, I offer this dialogue so that you can gush over them in a way that is healing and connecting for you both.

Let your partner know that you want to appreciate them for something so that you have their undivided attention. Sit comfortably across from each other so that you can look softly into each other eyes without straining. Take a few deep breaths to center yourself and to connect with the depth of your appreciation.  And say:
  • Something I appreciate about you is ...
  • What I really appreciate about that is ...
  • What that tells me about you, your character, is ...
  • When I experience you that way, what I feel is ... and what it heals in me is ...
  • How I'm feeling as I share this with you now is ...
Expressing an appreciation fully is as beneficial to the sender as it is to the receiver. It just feels good! Give it a go and comment on your experience!! I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Have you ever done something for your partner and felt that the effort fell flat and went unnoticed? 

We do things for our partner as an expression of our love for them.  Often, those expressions lack impact or go unnoticed because they are not expressions of love that speak to our partner; they are expressions of love that, if our partner did them for us, would speak to us!  Remember the Platinum Rule:  Do unto your partner as they would have you do unto them.

By learning your partner's love language, you can  increase the likelihood that your expressions of love will have the positive impact that you intend.

  • Affirmation / Words:  verbal compliments; words of appreciation; praise and encouragement; kind words; noticing and appreciating the others positive actions and qualities.
  • Attention / Quality Time:  being available; doing something enjoyable and interactive together; giving uninterrupted, undivided, and focused attention, quality conversation in which both talk and listen, creating memorable moments, self-reealing intimacy.
  • Action / Acts of Service:  willingly (not forcibly) doing things for the other; welcome helpfulness, timely and positive response to requests (not demands) of the other; acts of kindness, done with loving attitude (not fear, guilt or resentment); acts that reflect equality and partnership.
  • Affection / Physical Touch:  loving (never abusive) physical contact at appropriate times and places; tender hugs, touches, or pats on the arm, shoulder, or back:  back or foot rubs or massages, kissing, holding hands, holding while crying and comforting; intimate touch, caresses and sex.
  • Appreciation / Gifts:  tangible objects freely offered; symbols that you thought about; gifts of any size, shape, color or price; visual symbols of love without any strings attached (or to cover up failure); gifts given anytime, not just on special occasions.
To learn your partner's love language, ask them to click the link below and take the test; you do the same.  Then, have them write a list for you of the various things that you do or have done (maybe even could do, according to their love language) that, when you do/did them, they felt loved and cared for by you; make a list for your partner as well.  Now that you have your list, you can be sure that your expressions of love will have the impact you intend them to have!

Based on Garry Chapman's
The Five Love Languages

Thursday, December 31, 2009


An Ideal Way to Spend New Year's Eve

Sit quietly with your partner and share the following Dialogue with Mirroring, Validation and Empathy:

1a.  How did I add to your life this past year?
1b.  How would you like me to add to your life in the coming year?

2a.  What helped you feel loved and safe with me this past year?
2b.  What would help you feel loved and safe in the coming year?

3a.  What precious memories do you have from this past year?
3b.  What precious memories would you like to create in the coming year?

4a.  How did you see me grow in this past year?
4b.  In what ways would you like me to grow in the coming year?

5a.  What did you learn from me in this past year?
5b.  What would you like us to learn in the coming year?

Monday, December 14, 2009


'Tis the season for giving!

You remember the Golden Rule:  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  Well, it has just been upgraded to the Platinum Rule:  "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them."  If you are a gift-giving person during the holidays, this is a rule to keep in mind.

When we give a gift, our desire is to see the pleasure and surprise on the face of the person receiving the gift.  Quite often we are disappointed in their reaction and in our efforts to get it right.  We buy into the myth that if we really loved them or knew them, we would know exactly what it is that would bring about the desired reaction.

When you think about it, we gift gifts based on the Golden Rule; we give them what we then they would like, and since our loved one is not us, we miss the mark.  Sometimes we select gifts based on advertisements or what friends are giving their loved ones, and again, we miss the mark.  Honestly, it is like shooting arrows in the dark while blindfolded!

Have you ever notice that when a person asks for something specific and you give that to them, they are delighted at receiving it, and suddenly you are seeing the reaction of pleasure and appreciation that you were looking for?  That's because you followed the Platinum Rule !!  Kudos !!!

You might be thinking, "Well, hang on a minute; gifts are supposed to be a surprise!  Where is the surprise in giving what they ask for?"  You have a point.  So another way to give a gift that will surely bring about the desired result is to listen closely for what it is that they wish for ... and then surprise them with that!  The gift here is in the noticing, in paying attention and listening closely, taking an interest in the other to the point that you heard their wish and took action.

The Platinum Rule and the Imago Dialogue go hand in hand.  Since we are distinctly separate beings, we can not possibly know what an Other would like to receive; we must ask and listen.  The Intentional Dialogue is another excellent way of really hearing what it is that your partner wants in life.  

During this holiday season, give your partner the gift of truly listening.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I had a big learning at the Imago conference this year. Something I thought I'd learned some time ago, so maybe this was another layer of learning.

People want, and maybe even need,
to feel validated
at the place where they are right now,
and that this is a necessary step in the change/growth process.

Change is difficult. We are rooted in patterns of behavior that feel safe, patterns that we developed a long time ago in response to feeling vulnerable and unsafe, and so changing those behaviors is experienced as risky! And yet, growth / change is a big part of the ultimate purpose in intimate relationships!
Let's face it, change is inevitable. No two people remain unchanged throughout life! So how do we stretch into new behaviors when we experience change as threatening?

I think we first have to recognize the patterns of feelings and behaviors in relationship today and connect with how we felt and behaved similarly in childhood. We have to connect to the childhood piece because that is where we learned how to be in relationship, that is when our patterns of relating set in. It is very likely, however, that the circumstances around which we established those behaviors (for the purpose of establishing relational safety) were different to the circumstances we are in today, but there is enough of an unconscious similarity from then to now that we are living as if then is now! We have to become conscious of the emotional connection and of the circumstantial differences.

Once we understand the vulnerabilities around which the patterns were developed and how we are feeling similarly today, we can begin to experience compassion for ourselves. It is from that place that we begin to feel validated, we can begin to see the sense our behaviors make, recognizing the similarity of our feelings and behaviors between then (in childhood) and now. Deeply experienced feelings from childhood live in us today; we want to become curious as to how so. How are they triggered and how do they show up! This is often the crux of our struggles in adult relationships.

Given our unique set of life experiences, our imprint from birth to now, how we are in relationship (what we say and do), makes sense ... we want to be curious long enough to get the sense we make.
And it so happens that what worked well enough for us in childhood, in terms of our response to vulnerability, does not work so well in adulthood when we feel vulnerable. And, we usually want to experience something different in relationship today, something that enables us to feel a greater connection and a deeper, more mature and honest sense of safety in relationship.

So how do we step into that growth from where we are and what we are experiencing, to where we want to be and how we want to experience ourselves in relationship? How do we break out of the pattern of behavior and still feel safe and connected?

Example: For a long time in my marriage I resented any time that my husband spent away from the family or me that wasn't strictly work related. I figured if he wanted to be with us/me, he would choose to turn down offers for golf, etc. The pattern was that he would mention an invitation and I would instantly become reactive (sulk, stop speaking, become distant and cold), feel hurt and angry, and think I was not interesting or fun enough for him to want to stay home with. Of course, I didn't say all of this to him, I would just huff around the house. He, being a smart man, caught on to this pattern and would avoid telling me about an invitation for as long as possible for fear of the coldness that would ensue. It wasn't fun, but this was our pattern of behavior. Maybe you can relate.

Applying the theory, I
first connected with how I was feeling and acting in the adult relationship and connected it to a time when I had similar feelings and behaviors in childhood. I identified feeling alone, inadequate, and uninteresting; the story in my head (automatic thought) was that I was not enough to keep his interest or for him to want to be home with me; and the deepest associated feeling was fear!. If all this was true (and in my experience it was), my ultimate fear was that he would lose interest completely and we would eventually split. How did this connect to childhood? For me, it connected to a significant time when my family split apart, where my father and closest sister went one way and my mother and I and my littler sisters went another. In my little-person experience as the eldest and most responsible child, I felt I should have been able to hold us together. I schemed for a long time at how to bring the family back together and, of course, I was not successful. I even tried being ugly to my father and his new wife thinking that he would feel the sting of my words, the loss of my love, and come back home. This might sound like an extreme example or a far reach, but when I connected to the deepest feelings I was experiencing in the adult relationship, these were the feelings and the story that I immediately connected with from childhood. Of course, the experience of childhood was one of desperation and I noticed that same feeling as being at the root of what I was experiencing in my marriage.

All of a sudden my reactivity made sense, not only to me but also to my husband. We both felt instant compassion for the feelings and behaviors that occurred whenever I experienced him as choosing to be apart from me. From that place of understanding and compassion, a shift was possible. My circumstances today were certainly different from those of my childhood; I had no ability to affect the relationship of my parents but I do have the ability to improve my relationship today. And I began to feel a freedom from the unconscious hold that those feelings and behaviors and that story had on me. I was able to see how living from that story, from that fear and desperation, was creating a distance, and possibly a forgone conclusion, in my relationship today, and I did NOT want that! I was also able to feel my husband's understanding and compassion for my experience; I felt loved and more secure.

I know this: How I am with my partner has a huge impact on how he experiences me and therefore how he behaves with me. I can't change him, but I can change me and thereby change his experience of me and perhaps his way of being with me, which then influences my experience of him.

So my next step was to acknowledge how my contribution to that pattern of behavior between us was keeping me from getting what I ultimately wanted to experience in my relationship, which was to feel loved, seen, important, desirable, and secure. In order to enable that, I needed to behave differently in moments of insecurity. I decided that what I could do differently was to talk more with my husband about my feelings when they occurred, to allow him to see my vulnerability, and to give him a chance to respond. My hunch was that if I was able to do that, his response would be one of compassion, which would result in my feeling loved, secure, seen, important, etc.
I was right.

So I had to see the pattern of behavior, understand where it came from, develop compassion for the childhood piece, see the difference between then and now, and experience feeling understood and validated both within myself and from my husband. From that place, a shift happened and change and growth in connection was possible.

Thinking back to childhood, what I experienced in relationship as a little person (especially when I didn't feel safe, loved, accepted, seen, valued, secure, etc.) and what I learned to do to help myself feel safer in relationship, made sense. And because we do today what we learned to do then, what I am doing in relationship today when I experience insecurity makes sense. I just have to be curious and explore the connection to get the sense it makes.

And then I have to ask myself what it is that I ultimately want to experience in relationship today with my husband. My deepest desire is to feel loved, accepted, secure, safe, desirable, important, interesting, etc. I have longed to experience these aspects of relationship my whole life; how I have adapted to not always experiencing them makes sense and I want to honor my youthful wisdom and attempts at experiencing them. I want to appreciate the little person within who has gotten me this far in relationship. I want to have compassion for the aspects of myself that I want to change today, aspects which have helped me feel a sense of safety in relationship as a child but which are getting in the way of me achieving what it is that I ultimately want to experience in relationship today.

Then, I have to ask myself, "What is one thing that I can do to better ensure that I will be given love, acceptance, security, safety, etc.?" "How might I change my behavior in order to make it more likely that my partner will want to give me that love, acceptance, security and safety in relationship?"

And then step into that growth. And when I falter, to step back into growth.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


On my website, I have posted a link to a FREE list of suggestions that, when followed, will improve your intimate, committed relationship, guaranteed! This is based on the notion that couples often notice a slight improvement in their relationship between the time they make a call to set an appointment with a marriage therapist and the actual appointment. Why? Because the act of making the call, an intentional act, seems to set in motion a consciousness that positively influences behavior. When couples behave intentionally with one another, the relational space between them begins to shift for the better.

In every relationship there are two co-existing realities: the reality of negativity that exist between two people, and the reality of positivity that exists between two people. If one outweighs the other, it can feel as if the other doesn't exist at all! When things are going badly in a relationship, we can lose sight of the positive rather quickly, but it doesn't mean it's not there; our ability to see and experience it has gotten hijacked by the bad. I believe it is possible to balance our focus and to recognize when and where things are going well, even when things between us feel overwhelmingly bad .. and that takes intention!

John Gottman,
professor of psychology, researcher and author, says that happy couples follow the 5:1 Principle which says that they have five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. When one has said or done something negative to their partner, in order to bring their relationship back into balance they must then say or do five positive things to their partner! This, again, takes intention!! It's not easy, it's growth.

Couples don't generally go to see a marriage therapist until they are mired knee deep in negativity. When I begin working with a couple, one of the first things I aim to do is to help them bring their relationship back into balance where each person in the relationship can see and feel the good that exists alongside the bad. Bringing the relationship into as close a balance as is possible ensures that the work that needs to be done has a chance of being successful.

Whether or not you are considering marriage therapy, your relationship can benefit from the 5:1 Principle. As I said earlier, in every relationship there are two co-existing realities. W
hen you intentionally do any or all of the suggestions that are listed in Tips to Improve Your Committed Relationship, you will experience a shift in your relationship ... without ever stepping foot in a therapist's office. It won't make that which needs working on disappear, but it will bring your relationship into greater balance, making the work that lies ahead much easier.

Whatever we focus on grows; energy follows intention. When things feel difficult, we tend to focus only on the difficult. To bring a relationship into balance, one needs to also focus on the positive. Exercise intentionality in your relationship and order your free copy of Tips to Improve Your Committed Relationship, Guaranteed!

Let me know how you go. And remember: Where your focus goes, energy flows!