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How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships

image taken from daniellepearsblog.wordpress

image taken from daniellepearsblog.wordpress

How to Cultivate Meaningful Relationships With Others

 As a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Certified Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve been honored to work with countless individuals, couples, families, and athletes over the years.  In addition, I’ve had the privilege to facilitate a Men’s Group, a Women’s group, a Facilitation Skills Support Group, athletic teams, and business teams too.  As I’ve counseled and coached others, I’ve often sensed that many of my clients are longing to cultivate more meaningful relationships in their lives.

Many of my clients  feel ill-equipped to do so, however,  and many others feel weary and disillusioned with the shallow, superficial friendships or romantic partnerships they have that leave them feeling empty, unfulfilled, and disconnected, and alone even after they’ve have spent a lot of time in their friend or lover’s company.   I was recently asked by one man in the Men’s group that I facilitate, ” How can I develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with my friends and/or potential romantic partners?”

After a lot of reflection and thought, I wrote this article in the hopes of shedding some light on many of the ways all of us can cultivate the kinds of relationships in our lives that feel deeply enriching.  As you read my article, please note that I do not profess to know all of the ways that people can go about co-creating rich, meaningful relationships.  I do believe, however, that the ideas I’ve shared in my article cover many ways to achieve this goal.  With this in mind, I want to invite you to read this article and consider my suggestions so that you find yourself, sooner than later, surrounded by friends, family members, and romantic partners that provide you the sense of belonging, significance, and authentic connection that you long to have in your life.

I’ve shared with you my thoughts on how to cultivate meaningful relationships with others below.  Please note that some of my suggestions may sound familiar in some ways to other suggestions that I’ve made in this article.  While some of my ideas may appear to overlap with others, please note that each suggestion that I make is unique and different, no matter how subtly.  Alas, please carve out some time for yourself to read this article if you’re longing to acquire the insights, knowledge, and skills that will assist you in manifesting the kinds of meaningful and lasting relationships that you want to have in your life.

  • In Order To Have A Successful Friendship Or Romantic Partnership, Befriend Yourself First.

In your endeavor to cultivate deeper relationships with others in your life , I invite you to first engage in a “befriending practice” for yourself:  Take a few moments to imagine you are being nourished by something larger than yourself. Nature, god, love, anything that is not you, breathe that force in, imagine it filling you up, like the most delicious meal or warm golden sunshine. If your logical mind says, “Bull,” ask it, “Did I make gravity that is holding me to the earth? The oxygen I am breathing? I am part of the larger whole, I am always supported and I can consciously draw on that support to befriend myself.” Relax into life, and delight in the deliciousness of who you are and who you’re becoming.

  • Engage In Constant and Never Ending Improvement. 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, and Dharma Life Coach, I wholeheartedly resonate with the spirit behind  Tony Robbins’s acronym, CANI, which stands for Constant And Never Ending Improvement.  As you endeavor to invest time in your own personal growth, you will acquire the relationship tools, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and even more solid sense of self to forge meaningful bonds and relationships with others.  In addition, you are far more likely to feel as though you’re brimming over with with self-confidence, self-love, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and an intrinsic sense of self-worth.  As you feel whole, grounded, and self-assured, you will  respond to the challenges that arise in new friendships or partnerships without becoming reactive and saying or doing regrettable things that will undermine the spirit of safety, trust, and goodwill that you’ve been cultivating with that person

  • Become Emotionally, Psychologically, And Spiritually Independent.

According to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there is a maturity continuum that people fall under.  The most immature people are highly dependent on others to feel worthwhile, lovable, and safe. Dependent people also rely on others to get their needs met, and they engage in learned helplessness to compel others to rescue them and/or take care of them.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist,  Master NLP Practitioner,Group Therapist, and Certified Dharma Life Coach, I have found that the people that are emotionally, psychologically, and  spiritually independent represent the next giant leap on the maturity spectrum.  These people are resourceful, proactive, self-aware, emotionally intelligent, emotionally articulate, self-motivated, empathetic, self-disciplined, capable of regulating their emotions, and lead purpose-driven and principle-centered lives.

The third and final spot on the maturity continuum represent those people that are interdependent.  Interdependence is a phase of maturity that reigns supreme over the other two.  In order to engage in synergistic, interdependent relationships with friends and romantic partners, however, one must be emotionally and psychologically independent first.  Independence precedes interdependence.

A lot of people who are dependent wish to skip over the process of becoming independent and throw themselves head first into an interdependent relationship.  Unfortunately, this attempt to bypass the independent state of personal development will doom a person’s attempt to participate in a healthy, interdependent relationship. That person and his or her friend or partner will soon discover that they’re engaged in a parent-child dynamic or co-dependent relationship, and their endeavor to grow closer will quickly turn into a lose-lose proposition.

  •  Friendliness Begets Friendliness.  

According to Dale CarnegieAmerican writer, lecturer, and developer of famous courses on self-improvement and interpersonal relationships who wrote the world famous book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, always begin your new friendships and/or potential romantic partnerships by being kind.  Smile.  Be happy to see him or her, and show a genuine interest in that person.  Never neglect a kindness, and look for ways to do or say something nice.

  • Emphasize Areas Of Agreement.

If you and your new friend and/or new lover have a disagreement, make an effort to de-escalate the potential conflict first by emphasizing the areas in which you both agree. When you’re both in a more receptive, non-defensive, and resourceful state, you’ll have an opportunity to explore the areas in which you disagree and make mutually agreeable compromises.

  • Turn Towards, Not Away.

According to John Gottman, PhD and author of the research based book on marriages called The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work, it is imperative that friends, romantic partners, and husbands and wives turn toward each other when their feelings are hurt, they want to air a grievance, they have needs that are not being met, they are struggling to reconcile their different perspectives on a matter, etc.  When friends and romantic partners turn towards each other to resolve conflicts, or at the very least have a dialogue to “declaw” a conflict, they are actually strengthening the bond of their relationship.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, a courageous willingness to turn toward your friend or partner and work through conflicts will bring the two of you closer together. More often than not, breakdowns precede breakthroughs!!  On the other hands, when friends or potential romantic partners turn away from each other and become cold, distant, and uncommunicative, they are burying their thoughts and feelings alive.  In turn, their buried thoughts and feelings become reincarnated and morph into feelings of resentment, contempt, and a wish to emotionally cut their deepening friendship or romantic partnership off.  The person that turns away will likely have thoughts of innocent victimization or righteous indignation, and soon enough he or she will create a negative internal script or dark narrative about his friend or partner that provides them the justification they’re seeking to abruptly end a relationship that may very well have enriched their lives.

  •  Be Open, Honest, and Real!

We may think we have to present a faultless picture of ourselves to the rest of the world, but why? No one wants to be friends with someone who is perfect!! We simply need to be our best selves and allow people to know the real us.

  • Be Discriminating and Discerning.

It is imperative that you be discriminating and discerning as it pertains to who you choose to spend your valuable time with.  George Washington offered some wise words about friendship when he said, “Be courteous to all, but intimate with few; and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” I would like to add that as you endeavor to cultivate meaningful relationships with others, take note of how they treat others, how they treat themselves, how they treat their family members, how they respond to moments of adversity, etc.

By doing so, you will learn about their character, values, behavioral patterns, and guiding principles. If someone mistreats others, refrain from falling into the common trap that misleads you to believe that you’ll be the exception to the rule and that you will treat you differently by that person than everyone else.  In the beginning, that new friend or lover may treat you differently than they treat others, but it will only be a matter of time before they turn on you too.  If their character and integrity is questionable, you’re barking up the wrong tree, and you’ll be trying in vain to cultivate a meaningful relationship with someone who may be incapable of having one in the first place.

Finally, please keep in mind that your friends and/or romantic partners have the potential to shape your character, behaviors, emotions, and beliefs for the better or for the worse.  Surround yourself with friends and potential romantic partners who lift your consciousness up.  According to the Universal Law of Perpetual Transmutation of Energy and Vibration, higher consciousness has the power to transform and convert lower consciousness.  Likewise, people of lower consciousness can potentially pull you down and erode the essence of who you truly are.

  •  Build on Common Interests.

Take advantage of the common activities and interests that you share with others, and be sure to carve out time in your schedule to engage in these activities with new friends and/or potential romantic partners.   If you and a friend both like to exercise, go work out together!!  If you both like to read, go to the bookstore together to pick out your next book, grab some coffee, and talk about the last book you read and what you loved about it.  Welcome in the energies of levity, joy, laughter, and fun into your new friendship and/or partnership.  It’s important that your potential friend or partner associate you with feelings of joy and fun.

Please bear in mind that if the two of you only remain in the deep end of the emotional pool and speak only about traumas, losses, and other heavy topics, your friend or potential romantic partner will likely associate being in your company with feeling flooded, weighed down, and uncomfortable.  In time, that person may dread seeing you because they are anticipating that their mind, body, emotions, and spirit will feel spent during and after your get-together.  It’s imperative that you be mindful to find a healthy balance between talking about substantial topics and cheerily chatting about things that lead to shared laughter, levity, and joy.

  • Appreciate The Differences In Others.

Variety is the spice of life. I’m so glad that when I walk into an ice cream store, vanilla isn’t the only option! I’m glad, too, that our universe created people with a variety of personalities, talents, and interests. Each one of us is a unique creation.  If you and your new friend or potential romantic partner have different perspectives or paradigms about some things, see those differences as opportunities to potentially to learn and perhaps even see some aspects of the world anew. John Gottman refers to this openness to your friend or partner’s different thoughts, feelings, beliefs, values, guiding principles, and paradigms as “being open to another’s influence.”

If you remain stubbornly entrenched in your worldview and discount everything your friend or romantic partner is saying, then you are unwittingly dismissing his or her unique “map of the world” outright.  If you choose to disregard your friend or new romantic partner’s different perspectives on life, then that person will inevitably feel unheard, shut out, disconnected, invalidated, insignificant, and painfully alone; your  relationship that was busy being born will soon be busy dying. If you happen to unequivocally disagree with your friend or partner’s point of view, then I invite you to agree to disagree agreeably with him or her.  It’s important to remember John Gottman’s research based assertion that 69% of the problems in our relationships are unresolvable.  Learning to make peace with and accept your differences is the more enlightened path to take.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I would like you to please note, however, that if your values, beliefs, and paradigms are too dissimilar, then it is quite likely that you and your potential new friend and/or new romantic partner have incompatible maps of the world.  In turn, the two of you will likely clash more often than not, and your relationship will be bereft of synergy, connection, and harmony.  In these instances I would strongly encourage you to move on and find friends or potential romantic partners that share worldviews, core beliefs, and values that are more similar to yours.

  • Treat Others As They Would Want To Be Treated

There’s an old adage that encourages people to “treat others as you would want to be treated.”  To some degree, this adage is right on the money.  For example, in light of the fact that I wouldn’t want to be cheated on or gossiped about behind my back, it would serve my relationship well to offer my friend or partner the same degree of fidelity and loyalty that I would want in return.  That being said, there are times when it will serve your relationships even better if you treat your friends or romantic partners as they would want to be treated.

For example, you might prefer to resolve conflicts in the heat of the moment and presume that your friend or romantic partner would like to do the same.  Its’ entirely possible, however, that your friend or partner would rather have space to pause, reflect, and calm down before making an effort to resolve whatever conflict has arisen between the two of you.  If this is what your friend or partner needs or wants, I would encourage you to honor their conflict-resolution style and give them the time and space they  and/or prefer to process things first before reuniting to work through your disagreement or conflict.

If your love languages are time spent together and physical touch, and  your friend or romantic partner’s predominant love language is words of affirmation, then it may very well backfire on you to  empathize with that person by giving him or her a hug and offering to take a day off from work to spend time together. Instead, I’d encourage you to  support your friend or lover by offering him or her words of  reassurance and affirmation. In this instance, you would be supporting or loving him or her in a way that resonates with him or her the most.

  • Be Loyal.

Loyalty is a rare commodity in today’s world, but it’s an absolute requirement in deep, meaningful, and long-lasting friendships or romantic partnerships.  When you are loyal to your  friend, you  prove ourselves worthy of many. One way you can show your loyalty is through your words — or lack thereof. In fact, a key to being loyal is keeping a tight rein on your tongues.

When we choose to be loyal, we won’t tear our friends down behind their backs or share their personal stories without their permission.  If someone else passes judgment on our friends romantic partners, we can demonstrate our loyalty in these moments by sticking up for him or her. In romantic relationships, it is imperative that we remain loyal to our partner and make a choice to remain exclusively intimate with him or her.  If a person chooses to stray,that person is actively undermining the trust and safety in his or her  relationship.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I can tell you that mutual feelings of trust and safety are two of the most important cornerstones that support the foundation of thriving relationships.  Without trust and safety, your friendship and/or romantic partnership will be fraught with mistrust, insecurity, jealousy, volatility, contempt, withdrawal, distance, and isolation. Making an effort to win back the trust of your partner may prove to be an unwinnable and insurmountable task. In addition to being loyal with your words and your deeds, I also want to encourage you to pay less attention to attractive others. When you conspicuously turn your head and notice other attractive men and women, you’re inviting that other person’s energy into the sanctuary of your exclusive relationship.  Although it’s certainly not comparable to the breach of trust that takes place if you choose to be sexual with someone else, it is a subtle breach of trust or a sign of disrespect to your partner never-the-less.  The kind of commitment that appears in flourishing relationships activates an implicit “attentional block” against the allure of attractive alternative partners.

  • Refrain From Passing Judgment on Your New friend or New Romantic Partner.

In other words, be a light, not a judge.  Be a model, not a critic.  Furthermore, if you feel judgmental towards your friend or romantic partner, embrace whatever “charge” you’re having with him or her and see it as an opportunity to reflect and discover how he or she is a mirror for your own frailties, shadows, or parts of yourself that you dislike and would like to disown.  It is very likely that when you feel compelled to judge your partner, you are projecting onto him or her traits or behaviors in yourself that you don’t particularly like. In light of this, kindly consider that your friend or romantic partner has actually gifted you with an opportunity to engage in introspection, develop even greater self-awareness, and actively participate in doing additional personal growth work.

  •  Take A Genuine Interest In Others.

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” As we listen to others and show an interest in what is important to them, we begin to truly love and understand them. Every person has an invisible sign around his or her neck that reads, “I want to feel important.” Everyone has something to offer this world. We need to search for it, find it, and bring it to the surface.

One author suggested that scheduling an “Other’s Hour” is a good way to make time to be attentive to others. What is an “Other’s Hour”? It’s a sixty minute period of time that we can choose to reserve on our schedules each week to focus solely on our friends and their needs. I know that for a lot of people, if something is not on their calendar, it typically doesn’t happen. An “Other’s Hour” is a time when we can write a note, make a call, deliver a gift, or do a favor on behalf of our new friend or partner.

  •  Be An Active, Empathetic, and Inferential listener.  

To become a Master Listener, listen to what your friend or lover is saying between the lines.  Listen, for example, for unspoken emotions, unmet needs, unaired grievances, etc.  In addition, take the time to reflect back to your friend or partner what you’ve heard him or her say, and make a sincere effort to validate his or her feelings, experiences, grievances, etc.  Please note that when you validate another person’s experience,  you are not saying necessarily saying that you agree with their point of view.  You can validate and empathize with their feelings, experiences, and grievances while  holding your sacred ground and maintaining that their experience is not yours, and that while you hear, understand. and genuinely empathize with their feelings and grievances (given their vantage point), you have your own thoughts and feelings about the very same matter, given your vantage point.

  • Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood.  

Seeking first to understand, then to be understood is a principle championed by Stephen R. Covey, educator, businessman, keynote speaker and author of the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Covey is essentially saying that one significant component to building rapport and cultivating meaningful relationships with others requires of you a willingness to “Hold Space” and listen first to him or her, if you want to be heard.  Active and empathic listening requires you to listen without judgment and without defensiveness, seeking instead  to hear other’s point of view and  let the other person know that you understand the content of what they are saying as well as the feeling behind it.  It is often helpful to reflect back to your friend or potential new romantic partner what you’ve heard them say, what you’ve heard them reveal about how they’re feeling, and what you’ve come to understand more about who they are, what they’re wanting, what their dream is within a conflict, etc. To actively listen to a friend:

  • Get rid of distractions. (No multitasking with reading a menu or looking at your phone while your friend is talking.)
  • Watch for what is said, how it is said, and what’s not being said. (Communication is verbal and nonverbal. In order to pick up on the nonverbal, you need to watch as well as listen.)
  • Clear out preconceived notions of what you think your friend is going to say. (This is especially important between people that have known each other a long time, because you’ve probably heard them talk about things a bunch of times   and think you know them. To truly listen, pretend you’ve just met them.)
  • Before commenting or offering advice, determine if your friend is asking for this. (They might just want to vent and figure it out without your help.)
  • Go with your gut. (Is something off about what your friend is saying? Are they using a tone that isn’t like them? Are they failing to mention something but you can’t put your finger on it?
  • Spend some time on reflection. What did you miss when your friend was talking? What was implied?
  • Ask him or her for clarification if you don’t understand something that they’ve shared with you.
  • Be Thoughtful.

This includes offering your emotional, psychological, physical, and spiritual support to someone that you would like to potentially cultivate a meaningful relationship with.  If you sense that the person could use some emotional or psychological support, offer to sit down with them, “hold space”, empathize with them, and seek to understand, hear, and see them.  If that person mentions a book they’ve been meaning to purchase or a movie they’ve really wanted to go to, take the initiative to purchase the book for them or treat that person to the movie that they mentioned in passing that they’ve been wanting to see.  Being thoughtful goes a long way toward making a profound impression on someone; your thoughtfulness will separate you from most people that are prone to thinking only about themselves.

  •   Remember.

This principle overlaps with the principle of being thoughtful.  If a potential friend or potential lover shares something with you, take the time to remember what they’ve shared. Remember the name of their dog, or remember that their dog has been feeling sick or is undergoing an operation.  Remember their names, even if you’ve only met them once; A person’s name sounds beautiful to them.  Remember that your potential friend or lover said he’s vegetarian, for example, and therefore treat him to lunch at a vegetarian restaurant.  Remember that they were playing in a tennis match two weekends ago or that they were visiting their parents on the East Coast, and ask them how it went.  People often feel invisible or easily forgotten in society today.  When you take the time to remember the details of their lives, no matter how big or small, you’re likely to sow the seeds to a meaningful friendship or partnership sooner than later.

  •  Be Inquisitive.

Ask your new friend or potential romantic partner  questions about themselves, their lives, their work, their family, their passions, their dreams, their childhood, their greatest accomplishments, etc.  Be mindful to be curious and inquisitive without overstepping your boundaries and playing “therapist”, being judgmental, trying to rescue him or her, or creating a parent-child dynamic between the two of you.  Be inquisitive and curious about their lives, their feelings, their dreams, their gifts, at a slow and steady pace.  If you ask too many deep questions about their inner world too soon, you may unwittingly push that person away.  Timing is everything as you deepen your relationship with someone else.  You must establish a rapport and cultivate a feeling of mutual safety and trust with your friend or partner before asking him or really personal questions.

  •   Be Authentic.

In other words, be yourself through and through and stand your sacred ground in your relationships.  If you shrink, puff up, engage in people pleasing, appeasing, become a chameleon, walking on eggshells, or repressing your true thoughts and feelings with your friend or partner, you’re creating an in-authentic friendship or partnership that isn’t worth cultivating in the first place.  Seek out like-minded people who value your thoughts, feelings, values, and guiding principles.  In turn, you will feel safe to be yourself.  If you choose to befriend someone or  partner with someone who has views, values, thoughts, feelings, and guiding principles that are diametrically opposed to yours, be sure that person is capable of honoring your different paradigms.  It is worth noting that two people can experience the same thing, see and/or experience it entirely differently, and still both be right; it’s not logical, it’s psychological!!

  •  Seek Out People Who Actively Participate In Reciprocal Relationships.

As you offer your time, attention, words of affirmation, fondness, admiration, thoughtful gifts, and acts of service to someone you’re growing closer to, be mindful that your new friend and/or potential partner shows you that he or she is capable of and wants to reciprocate these openhearted overtures back to you.

  •   Be Mindful That The Two Of You Put Deposits In The Emotional Bank Account Of Your Growing Friendship/Partnership.

As you make deposits, your relationship with inevitably deepen and the level of safety, trust, loyalty, care, concern, warmth, and love will grow exponentially.  Deposits in a relationship’s emotional bank account create a commerce between two hearts.  Emotional deposits include spending time with your friend or partner, offering him or words of affirmation, buying them little gifts, offering them acts of service, and being physically affectionate. Too many withdrawals from your relationship’s emotional bank account can lead to an overdrawn bank account, and sooner or later your relationship will be overrun by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  These 4 Horsemen lead friends or partners to feel hostile, lonely, isolated, and disengaged.  With an overdrawn emotional bank account,  the smallest problems in relationships become exaggerated out of proportion, and one or both people find themselves drowning in puddles.

  •   Keep The 4 Horsemen Of The Apocalypse At Bay in Your Relationships. 

According to John GottmanThe 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse that often corrode the goodwill in relationships include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  In addition to the 4 Horseman of the Apocalypse, Stephen Covey encourages people in relationships to refrain from allowing the 5 metastasizing emotional cancers into their relationships.  These cancers include criticizing, comparing, contending, competing, and being cynical.

  • Communicate With Courage and Consideration.  

The truth doesn’t need to hurt.  You can speak your truth openly and honestly while still being considerate of the other person’s feelings.  I strongly invite you to do so!!  In addition, when you have a grievance with your friend or partner, address their behavior, not their character.  In other words, it’s far more effective to say, ” You’re behavior was hurtful rather than say, “You are hurtful.”  I imagine that it would be far more effective and considerate to say, ” You made a mistake” rather than say, ” You are a mistake.”  According to John Gottman, When you address a person’s behavior rather than criticize their essence, you are making a healthy complaint vs. making a harmful complaint.

  •   Be Proactive And “At Cause”  In your Friendship And/Or Partnership.

In other words, take accountability for your mistakes, listen non-defensively, and refrain from being at “The Effect” of another person, blaming him or her for how they are “making you feel.” According to Stephen Covey, when you take responsibility for your actions, your mistakes, your choices, and seek out opportunities to grow from the inside out, you are choosing to be “at cause” for what you’re manifesting in your life.  This approach will leave you feeling empowered because you can only control how you show up in the world; you cannot make your friends or lovers change if they don’t wish to. When you endeavor to introspect and choose to learn and grow from your experiences, you are taking an “inside-out” approach to life; you are recognizing that  you “create our own reality, and you are responsible for what you create.”  In the event that you feel that you are “the effect” of someone else’s behavior, I invite you to become resourceful and make new choices to that you can be “at cause” for your life as soon as possible.

  • Be Vulnerable When The Timing Is Right.

In other words, I invite you to share your thoughts, dreams, feelings, painful memories, etc. with your potential friend and/or lover.  Be mindful, however,  that you’ve established enough rapport, trust, safety, and goodwill to be vulnerable with that person.  If you’re too vulnerable too soon in the beginning of your relationship, the other person may run for the hills. They may feel overwhelmed by too much of your vulnerability coming too soon.  In turn, they may wonder if you’re not emotionally self-reliant enough, or they may fear that you may have  emotional wounds and scars that haven’t healed enough yet, compelling you to turn them into your confidante, counselor, life coach, etc.  If you flood them with your vulnerabilities too soon, they may feel weighed down by your disclosures. I believe that in the early stages of cultivating new relationships, it is wise to share vulnerabilities with someone in droplets at first.   That being said, renown speaker and author of the book, Men, Women & Worthiness, Brene Brown, has astutely said that “vulnerability is the birthplace of connection.” When there are opportunities to let that person into your inner world and share your vulnerabilities, courageously do so!!

  •  Engage in Self-disclosure.

When you talk about your own frailties, “failures,'” family conflicts, triumphant moments, etc. you are giving your potential friend and/or romantic partner permission to do the same.  Your willingness to engage in self-disclosure is incredibly disarming to people.  They realize that they, in turn, can  share their frailties, regrets, losses,  and traumas with you.  Give yourself permission to share your triumphs, proudest moments, greatest accomplishments, and peak life experiences with them too.  In turn, they will likely share the most joyous moments of their lives with you in return. When you self-disclose about challenging times in your life, however, I’d invite you to remember to share how you’ve grown from your past trials and tribulations.  Share what you learned from those experiences, how you’ve grown and evolved, and how the vicissitudes and challenges in your life have strengthened you.  If you disclose something of a very personal nature and sound frozen in time, your potential friend and/or lover will strongly suspect that your past wounds remains wide open.  In turn, that person will wonder how those wounds and the pain you carry with you from those past experiences will manifest in your current relationship.

  •  Be Honest.

It is better to be trusted than liked, and it’s far more likely that you will be liked when someone trusts you implicitly.  Therefore, refrain from justifying your behavior, rationalizing away your behavior, minimizing your behavior, and/or lying about your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  People are forgiving by nature, especially when someone is humble enough to acknowledge their mistakes and take full and complete responsibility for them.  On the other hand, people have little patience and tolerance for deflection, blaming others for their actions, conjuring up excuses for their behaviors, and lying.

Be forthcoming instead.  Your potential friend and/or lover will appreciate your humility and honesty, and they will more than likely forgive your mistakes if you take full ownership of them. In addition to being honest, I implore you to show up in your relationships with integrity so that you demonstrate that you are trustworthy.  In other words, be sure that your intentions, words, and actions are in alignment.  If you choose to live a double life, cheat, betray your friend or romantic partner partner’s confidences, say things you don’t really mean just to appease, placate, or win the favor of someone else, then you are building your new relationship on top of a hollow and broken foundation.  In addition to being honest with your friend or partner, earn their safety, respect, and trust by being trustworthy.

  •  Say, “I’m Sorry.”

Summon the courage and strength of character to say that you’re sorry when you’ve erred or hurt your potential friend or lover’s feelings.  When you sincerely apologize, your potential friend and/or lover will appreciate your humility and character.  In addition, you will earn their trust because you’ve demonstrated your capacity for humility, introspection, self-awareness, and emotional attunement as it pertains to how your words and actions impact others.

  • Be fair.

When you’re cultivating a potentially meaningful relationship with someone else, always be mindful to be fair with them.  In other words, do your best to arrive at win-win solutions, co-create agreements that feel good to both of you, and create limits, boundaries, and parameters for your friendship or romantic relationship that you both feel good about.

  • Be A giver, Not A Taker.

When you give to your friend or partner, you’re showing that person that you’re a giver and not a taker.  Takers tend to exploit others, use them, objectify them, etc.  When you’re a giver, that person is likely to give back in kind.  This aligns with the Law of Reciprocity.  We receive back from others what we put out. Be a giver, though who enjoys receiving back as well.  If you are giving to a friend or potential lover but refuse to receive in kind,  you are demonstrating an unwillingness to unwrap the gift of kindness and thoughtfulness that your friend or lover has given you.  In turn, you are denying that person the joy that accompanies giving.  This denial can arrest the bi-directional flow of your growing relationship.

  • Say Thank You.

Express your gratitude  and appreciation for an overture that your friend and/or lover has made on your behalf.   People yearn to be appreciated.  When another person’s overture is greeted with your silence, they will feel unappreciated and unacknowledged.  In turn, they will no longer make efforts on your behalf, and a stone wall of resentment and disconnection will rise between the two of you.

  •  Support Your Friend Or Partner’s Dreams.

Take a moment and encourage your friend or romantic partner to keep going after their dreams; affirm their courage, praise their persistence, applaud their willingness to march to the beat of their own drum, and acknowledge what’s laudable and praiseworthy about the dream they’re going after.

  •  Affirm Your friend And/Or Lover.

When your friend or lover says or does something praiseworthy, offer that person words of affirmation.  Reflect back to them the gold you see in them, and acknowledge their gifts, talents, and anything else that you think is beautiful about their essence or character.   Your new friend and/or lover will feel truly seen and valued.  As they feel cherished, they will want to share more and more about themselves with you.  As you affirm and bless them, they will also want to spend more and more of their time with you.  Sooner or later, I don’t know when, the two of you will be well on your way to co-creating a deep and meaningful relationship.

  • Share Your Own Needs And Wants In A Burgeoning Friendship And/Or Partnership.

In addition, honor the needs and wants of the other person.  If their needs and wants feel unreasonable to you, then find your voice and communicate with courage and consideration how come those needs and wants don’t resonate with you. Ultimately, you and your friend and/or partner want to feel free to in your relationship.  Do your best to encourage that person to fly.  If you spend too much time clipping their wings, they will fly away before their wings are entirely gone and they find themselves dying on impact as they hit the hard, unforgiving ground below.

  • Focus On Humility.

Just as courage is the Father of all virtues, humility is the Mother.  Those who keep their ego in check are more attractive and are evaluated more positively by potential friends and partners.  According to research done by Daryl Van Ton-geren at Hope College, “humility may be an important ingredient for relationship success.  In addition, humility is tied to forgiveness, a powerful tool in happy unions.”

  • Treat People As Though They Have The Virtues That You Wish They Possessed.  Give Them a Reputation To Live Up To, And They Will Work Like Crazy To Live Up To It.  

When you’re cultivating a meaningful relationship with a new friend and/or potential new lover, that person may behave in ways that you find unsettling, irksome, or out of integrity.  If you believe the relationship is worth investing in and cultivating never-the-less, I invite you to speak to their higher self and reflect back to them with effortless conviction that you see the gold glimmering brightly inside of them.  If your new friend is prone to drinking excessively, reflect back to them that you wholeheartedly know that they have the self-discipline and desire to stop drinking so that they can be fully present in their lives because, after all, you know that they want to realize the fullest potential.

If your new friend or romantic partner is prone to being stoic and guarded, reflect back to them that you have a very strong intuition that the deeper truth is that they are sensitive, deeply connected to their hearts, and possess all the courage in the world to let their walls down because, after all, you both would agree that he or she yearns for and richly deserves deeper connections with people.  As you speak to that person’s higher self with an unwavering confidence that you know who they truly are, he or she will feel inspired, and they will come to see themselves through your eyes and show up in your relationship in ways that align with their most praiseworthy values, conscience, and optimal set of guiding principles.

In conclusion, I want to share with you that there are countless ways to cultivate rich, deep, and meaningful relationships with others.  My hope is that I have touched on many ways to do so that you haven’t thought of or considered until now. While most people are capable of creating superficial connections with others, they often struggle to deepen and strengthen those connections.  In turn, their shallow relationships often leave them feeling hungry for something more.  As you learn how to cultivate more meaningful, substantial, and authentic connections with others, you will discover that your life has been enriched ten-fold.

Thank you for taking the time to read my article on how to cultivate meaningful relationships.  I hope that you found it informative and illuminating.

Warmly, John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

(Master NLP Practitioner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Certified Dharma Life Coach & Sports Psychology Consultant)

Healthy Complaining Vs. Harmful Complaining in Relationships

Healthy Complaining Vs. Harmful Complaining in Relationships

 

photo taken from clipartguide.com

photo taken from clipartguide.com

As a Licensed Marriage and family Therapist, Master NLP Practitioner, Certified Hypnotherapist, Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology Consultant, I wholeheartedly agree with John Gottman’s assertion that it’s a myth that happily married people don’t complain about each other’s behaviors.  The reality in partnerships and marriages is that we all have our own idiosyncratic needs, rhythms, desires, and habits.  Inevitably, sometimes our different needs and desires can collide.  Given that it’s inevitable that partners in relationships inevitably have complaints about each other, it’s incredibly helpful for the vitality and well-being of your relationship to know how to engage in healthy complaining vs. harmful complaining

One strategy that simply won’t work, however, is stifling your complaints and burying them alive.  This well-intentioned strategy or fear-based endeavor only serves to create “negative sentiment override.”  In other words, over time your bad thoughts about your partner override your positive thoughts about your partner, and you eventually associate him or her with feelings of pain, resentment, anger, or loneliness.  When you stockpile your grievances, your bad feelings fester and grow, and sooner or later you find yourself distancing yourself emotionally from him or her to avoid feeling pain, or you might lash out at your partner while he or she feels blindsided because your silence has left them clueless and in the dark.  When your offending partner is in the dark, he or she can’t improve his ability to meet your needs because he doesn’t know what is wrong until after you’ve already hit your limit and exploded with a barrage of criticisms.

In a moment, I’m going to share with you examples of harmful complaining, and then I’m going to then share with you healthy ways to complain to your partner instead.

Harmful Complaining

 

Harmful Complaining:  Describe your perception of the problem as an absolute truth:  “Anyone can see that…”

Harmful complaining:  Stockpiling complaints

Harmful complaining:  Make broad, sweeping statements using always or never:  You never take me anywhere…

Harmful Complaining:  Digging up grievances from the past

Harmful Complaining:  Don’t complain:  Expect your partner to mind read and guess your needs and desires…

Harmful Complaining:  Criticize your partner’s personality or character

Harmful Complaining:  Give your partner unsolicited advice, telling him what he  should or shouldn’t do, say, behave, appear, etc.

 

Harmful Ways to Respond to a Complaint

 

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Ignore the complaint, stonewall, be dismissive of the complaint, become defensive, and/or counterattack.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Belittle or criticize your partner for complaining, become sarcastic, condescending, critical, or contemptuous.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Defend yourself; find justifications and rationalizations for your behavior, your lapses in integrity, your broken agreements, etc.

Harmful Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Deny responsibility for the problem and deflect the blame back on the other person.  Ultimately, we must remember that we are responsible for how we choose to respond to people, regardless of how they treat us.

 

Healthy Complaining

 

Healthy Complaining:  Express your needs and/or complain in ways that are clear, respectful, specific, and immediate.  Your partner is more likely to hear your complaint and respond to it when you share your complaint in this manner; this approach leads to problem solving, building intimacy, and strengthening your relationship.

Healthy complaining:  Share responsibility for the problem vs. blame problem on other person

Healthy complaining:   Describe the problem in terms of your perception, opinion, or style:

Healthy Complaining:  Focus on a specific problem, tackling each problem one at a time

Healthy Complaining:  Focus on the present

Healthy Complaining: Focus on your partner’s actions and share how they make you feel (“when you do…, I feel…”)

Healthy Complaining:  Tell your partner about your needs, longings, and desires

Healthy Complaining:  Ask your partner for what you want rather than focus on what you don’t want.  Address his or her behavior instead of his or her character.

Healthy Complaining:  Ask your partner first if he or she is open to hearing your complaint and/or constructive feedback; Asking him or her first respects your partner’s autonomy and opens their hearts to being more receptive to what you wish to share.

Healthy Complaining:  Preface your complaint by first sharing your positive intention and positive desired outcome for  sharing your complaint in the first place.

Healthy Ways to Respond to a Complaint

 

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint: Rephrase your partner’s complaint so your partner feels heard, acknowledged, and trusts that you understand what he or she is saying

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Ask questions for to understand your partner’s frame of reference more.  Ask open-ended questions to give him or her room to elaborate and share even more about what’s weighing on his or her mind.

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Acknowledge and empathize with the feelings behind your partner’s complaint, even if you don’t agree with what he or she is complaining about

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Take ownership for your actions and apologize when an apology is warranted.

Healthy Way to Respond to a Complaint:  Take responsibility for your contribution to the problem

Healthy way to Respond to a Complaint:  Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  In other words, listen first, talk second.

Healthy way to Respond to a Complaint:  Be mindful of your body language, and respond with a receptive, soft tone of voice

Please keep in mind that it’s not uncommon that one or both partners in a relationship are highly sensitive to complaints and criticism. People who are highly sensitive to complaints and criticism likely developed these patterns in childhood:  usually this heightened sensitivity stems from growing up in homes where there was substance abuse, emotional, sexual, or physical abuse, abandonment, or emotional neglect.  Small Children are naturally Egocentric and falsely believe their actions cause family problems or instability. They feel responsible for the unfortunate circumstances going on in their lives that are beyond their control.  In turn, they are prone to blaming themselves for their parent’s divorce, the death of a loved one, their parent’s abrupt departure to fight in wars, etc.  As they grow up, they feel compelled to defend themselves, to say constantly, “It’s not my fault.” If they hear a complaint, they automatically brace themselves and prepare to fight back, whether they’re under attack or not.

This can be a real struggle in a close partnership or marriage.  What starts out as one person sharing his needs can quickly devolve into a full-fledged battle.  The highly sensitive partner might be prone to jumping to distorted conclusions about what his or her partner is saying and presume that he or she is being deliberately hurtful or malicious when this may not be the case at all.  The antidote or solution to this pattern is for the highly sensitive partner is to listen carefully to the words his partner is saying when he is stating a need or a making request; your partner may not be as critical as you first think.  Be particularly aware of times that you automatically react by defending yourself.  Think or imagine a different response instead, and mentally rehearse that new response in your mind’s eye repeatedly so that you’re more likely to respond in kind the next time you feel emotionally criticized. Take a deep breath, pause, and courageously challenge yourself to agree to anything that your partner says that rings true.  If you wish, you can also summon the courage to ask your partner to tell you more about his need or complaint.

If your partner is highly sensitive, take extra care to avoid criticism when stating your needs.  If your partner responds defensively, avoid responding the same way; respond to defensiveness by clarifying your statement of need.

Thank you for taking your time to read this blog.  I hope that you found it illuminating and helpful.

Sincerely,

John Boesky, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

( MNLP/CHT/Dharma Life Coach & Sports Psychology Consultant)

 

The Magic 5 Hours

The 5 Magic HoursAs a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Master NLP Practitoner, Hypnotherapist, Certified Dharma Life Coach, and Sports Psychology consultant, I’ve worked with countless couples that come in to see me because criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling have overshadowed and/or  overtaken the past spirit of goodwill and friendship that once contributed to the health and well being of  their relationships.  Although I offer the couples that I work with valuable insights, teaching pieces, and engage them in eye-opening experiential exercises that are designed to strengthen their connection and re-awaken their love and passion for one another, I also encourage them to do the Magic 5 Hours exercise that John Gottman recommends in his highly regarded, research-based book, The 7 Principles For Making Marriage Work.

The action steps that make up the Magic 5 Hours are to be done by each partner on a daily basis, and by the end of each week the total amount of time these daily actions take will be a mere 5 hours!!  The intention behind these daily actions are to deepen the connection and friendship between both partners so that they’re relationship’s emotional bank account is in the black instead of being in the red or overdrawn.

Alas, the Magic 5 Hours consist of the following 5 daily actions:

1. Partings in mornings:  Learn about one thing going on in each other’s day.  For example, ask your husband, wife, or partner if there is something in particular they’re looking forward to doing or experiencing that day, or ask him or her if there is something in particular that they worry will be be particularly daunting or challenging.  After turning toward your partner and learning one thing about their day, I want to invite you to ask him or her, “Is there anything in particular that I can do that would feel supportive to you while we’re apart today?”  ” Would you like me to call and check in and see how you’re doing?”  “Would you like me to send you an encouraging text or a reminder that I’m in your corner and thinking about you?”

2. Reunions: Engage in stress reducing conversations at the end of each work day.  These conversations will give each person in a relationship an opportunity to “hold space” and give “psychological air” to her or her partner, which will in turn allow the partner to vent, process his or her feelings, feel heard, understood, etc.  Beware of trying to offer unsolicited solutions or “fixes” to whatever mental, emotional, physical, or work-related challenges he or she is sharing with you.  Instead, offer your partner empathic listening, and listen to your partner’s feelings and be attuned to the meaning that is implied between the lines of what  your partner is saying.

3.  Admiration and appreciation  express each day

4: affection: kiss, hold, grab touch each other during time you’re together : kiss each other before going to sleep: lace kiss with tenderness and forgiveness for yourself and for your partner, letting go of minor irritations built up over day.

5.  Weekly date to stay connected and update your love maps:  turn towards each other or use dates to talk out a marital issue.  Think of questions to ask your spouse:  u still thinking of redecorating your bedroom?  How are you feeling about your boss these days?  Where should we take our next vacation?  Time: two hours once a week

HOW TO SAY I’M SORRY

Image taken from cardboiled.com

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve worked with individuals, couples, groups, and athletes, and from time to time one of my clients owes someone in their lives a sincere apology.  I’ve seen husbands and wives call each other mean-spirited names, for example, and I’ve also met with couples who have even gone so far as to become physically abusive with their spouses!!  I’ve also had couples who have come in for couple’s marriage and family therapy to rebuild trust after one partner was unfaithful to the other.

As a group facilitator, I’ve occasionally witnessed a group member judge or shame another group member, leaving them feeling belittled and small.  In my individual work with clients, I’ve had people come in to see me for family counseling because their relationships with their parents or siblings have become strained as a result of a betrayal that they’ve committed, like stealing money from a loved one or using drugs while living in their parent’s home.

As a Sports Psychology Consultant, I’ve worked with coaches who have mistreated their athletes or shown favoritism to some athletes on their team over others.  Finally, I’ve worked with some athletes who have hazed their teammates or given up on their team during an important game.  In all of the scenarios mentioned above, the perpetrators have owed their victims a sincere apology to begin the repair work needed to rebuild the trust and safety that serve as the foundation and pillars for thriving relationships.

Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t comfortable uttering the words, “I’m sorry.”  I’ve had clients concede to me that apologizing to someone else feels like a form of weakness to them, and they’re simply too proud to go there.  Other clients of mine have lacked the courage to be vulnerable enough to acknowledge to their victim that they’ve made a mistake, and so they choose to sweep their perpetration under the rug in the false hope that time will heals all wounds.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve also noticed that some of my clients simply don’t know how to go about the process of apologizing to someone else.  As a result, their apologies sound insincere, halfhearted, and incomplete.  In light of all of this, I’ve decided to write a blog detailing how to offer a sincere and thorough apology to someone you’ve hurt and want to make amends with.

To begin with, I want to strongly encourage you to engage in some introspection and self-reflection before you apologize so that you know what you’re apologizing for in the first place!!   Humbly and courageously acknowledge to yourself what specific actions, in-actions, words, deeds, and any other ways where you believe that you have faltered that warrants an apology to someone else.  Take this valuable time to pause and deeply understand what fears, shadows, beliefs, and behavioral patterns compelled you to hurt someone else, knowingly or unknowingly.  These insights will help you to grow emotionally and spiritually, and they’ll demonstrate to your victim as well as and reassure him or her that you have more self-awareness now and are therefore unlikely to act or repeat your hurtful actions again.

After you’ve acknowledged to yourself what you’ve said or done to someone else that warrants an apology, and after you’ve engaged in some meaningful self- reflection, ask the person you wish to apologize to if they’re open to sitting down with you and talking about what you did that led to your hurting their feelings and creating disconnection between the two of you.  Asking that person if they’re open to talking and if so, when, shows a willingness to honor their autonomy and free will as well as demonstrates that you want to be sensitive to whether or not the person you’ve hurt is ready to hear your apology.  Sometimes a person’s wounds are still too raw, and they’re just not ready yet to hear your apology, let alone accept it and offer you their forgiveness.

If the person you’ve hurt agrees to hear you out, I’d encourage you to be mindful of the tone in your voice as well as your body language.  The tone in our voice makes up %38 of our communication, and our body language accounts for 55% of our communication.  With this in mind, imagine that your voice and body is an instrument, and be sure that you’re instrument is finely tuned so that what you say resonates from your heart and vibrates genuine remorse while your body visibly reflects sincere contrition.

Speaking of your tone and body language, I want to invite you to make the tone in your voice soft, gentle, humble, and remorseful, and I’d encourage you to make your body language open and receptive to whatever your victim might have to say after you’ve said that you’re sorry.  If your arms are folded across your chest and your rolling your eyes while you’re saying you’re sorry, for example, you’re likely showing  signs of reluctance on your part to say that you’re sorry, or you may be unconsciously showing signs that you’re feeling guarded, proud, or too afraid vulnerably speak of your mistakes.

These body language cues often demonstrate a fear of vulnerability on your part, or they show a lack of emotional maturity.  After all, we are all imperfect and prone to intentionally or unintentionally hurting those we care about, and so summoning the humility, vulnerability, and courage to say that you’re sorry to someone speaks volumes about your character. If your arms, legs, and heart are open and you maintain gentle eye contact, the recipient of your apology will feel safe to hear what you’d like to say. He or she will likely admire your humility, courage and character as well, and they consequently  be far readier than before to accept your apology and reconcile with you.

As you’re apologizing, I implore you to take 100 percent ownership for what you’ve said or done that you believe warrants an apology in the first place.  Identify and articulate the specific ways that you fear that you’ve harmed your victim.  Avoid at all costs minimizing, rationalizing, justifying, or sugar coating your hurtful behavior.  Also, do not look to blame that person or anyone else for what you’ve said or done.

All of the above tactics merely dilute your apology and show that you’re either too proud or too fragile to summon the courage to take full responsibility for your actions.  In turn, the person you’re halfheartedly apologizing to will get an unsettling window into your character and learn that he or she really can’t trust that you won’t repeat your behavior again.  After all, you have just tainted your apology by your countless attempts to deflect accountability from the actions that you’ve committed.

In addition to avoiding in engaging in the deflection tactics that I’ve mentioned above, avoid using “distancing language.”  For example, don’t say, “I’m sorry for the things that happened” or “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you in any way.”  Again, it’s important to take personal ownership for the specific ways you’ve hurt someone.  The two attempts at apologizing that I just referenced sound vague and generic, and they lack personal accountability.  If a person says, “I’m sorry for the things that happened”, they’re not acknowledging what specifically happened?  The truth is, their behaviors didn’t just happen, as if they somehow fell out of the sky and into their lives.  Instead, they chose to do or say something very specific that caused someone else harm.

When a perpetrator says “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you in some way,” the word “if” implies that they’re not really sure what they have said or done that warrants an apology in the first place.  I’m addition, imagining that they have hurt their victim in “some way” implies that they don’t even know specifically what they’re apologizing for.  If this is the case, then it’s really not worth taking the time to offer a hollow apology in the first place.

After you’ve said that you’re sorry, taken 100% accountability for your specific actions, and shown through your tone, body language, and words genuine remorse, I want to invite you to go the extra mile and summon the courage to ask your victim  if there’s anything else they feel that you owe them an apology for that you may have missed. Seeking this additional feedback from the person you’ve hurt shows a sincere interest on your part to make things right and take ownership for every last drop of your hurtful behavior.

If the person you’ve hurt takes you up on your offer and shares new information that they believe warrants an additional apology, acknowledge ( if their additional feedback rings true for you) that you overlooked that piece and take ownership for those parts as well.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve seen this gesture help victims  feel deeply  validated  and heard, and they will deeply appreciate your willingness to  give them the time and space to voice any additional pain that’s been been festering  inside their hearts.

At this point, it’d be a very gracious overture on your part to ask how your behavior impacted the person that you hurt.  As you listen to him or her share their thoughts and feelings, be compassionate and empathetic.  Offer them your undivided attention, and acknowledge and validate how your behavior has impacted them.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I always encourage my clients to use active listening skills that reflect back to their victim, for example,”I truly hear that when I called you a nobody you felt belittled and degraded, and I’m deeply sorry for that.  Truthfully, I would feel belittled and degraded too if someone I cared about called me a nobody.”  Following your empathetic words, take this opportunity to reassure the person that you’ve hurt how you really feel about them.  For example, you might want to say,   “I want to reassure you, though, that I don’t feel that way about you at all.  On the contrary, I value you very much and I hold you in very high regard.”

After you’ve given your victim the time and space to share how your actions impacted him, and after you’ve offered them genuine compassion and empathy for the pain you’ve caused them, and after you’ve reassured them how you truly feel about them, take a moment and ask them if there’s any way that you can support them now and going forward to help them heal from the pain that they’re feeling.  In addition, you may even want to ask them if there’s some act of service you can do for them that will symbolically show them that you really want to move forward in repairing your relationship.

If and/or after you’ve mutually agreed on a specific act of service or gesture that will help to rebuild the trust and safety in your relationship, take a moment to reassure the person that you’ll continue to actively work on developing your own self- awareness so that you make every effort to never hurt that person in the same way again. You may even want to let them know something specifically that you’ll be doing to ensure that it’s your sincere intention to never repeat your hurtful behavior.  For example, you might say, “By the way, in my resolve to make sure I never call you belittling names again, I’m going to be seeing a therapist weekly for the next 6 months.”  Or you might say, ” To ensure that I don’t drink too much and black out and embarrass you again, I’m going to get sober and attend AA meetings at least 3 days a week.”

As a marriage and Family Therapist, I believe that such actions show the person that you’ve hurt that you’re willing to back up your apology with specific personal growth steps to ensure that you don’t hurt them again. When you do this, you’re immediately beginning the process of getting back into integrity with that person as well as filling them up with an increased sense of safety, trust, and reassurance that you’re going to be taking active measures to grow as a man or woman so that you treat that person and everyone else in your life in ways that are in alignment with your highest self and your core values.

After you’ve participated in an act of service to rebuild the person’s faith in you, and after you’ve offered them reassurance that you intend to take specific actions to ensure that you don’t repeat your hurtful behavior again, rest assured that a very significant and meaningful part of your journey to make amends and say that you’re sorry is finally over!!  In many ways, though, your journey to make amends has also just begun because it takes time to rebuild the trust and safety that you broke when you hurt someone else.  In addition, your journey to repair your relationship has  just begun because you must now follow through on your pledge to take specific actions to grow and evolve as a person so that you do everything in your power to not re-injure your colleague, friend, family member, or lover again.

If opening your heart and learning to be vulnerable and accountable enough to say that you’re sorry to someone that you’ve hurt is challenging for you, I want to take this opportunity to invite you to visit with me so that I can help you to learn the art of offering someone else a heart-felt apology.  I trust that you’ll find that learning this art form will serve as a tremendous catalyst for your personal grown, and it will help you to repair relationships that you want to salvage much sooner than later.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.  I sincerely hope that you found it enlightening and useful.

Warmly,

John Boesky, LMFT

Marriage and Family Therapist

 

 

 

 

THE PERFECT RECIPE FOR SUCCESSFUL GROUP THERAPY

image taken from mehealthyliving.com

image taken from mehealthyliving.com

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating Men’s groups, Women’s groups, co-ed groups, Sports Psychology groups, and groups for therapists and life coaches looking to support each other in learning new ways to facilitate growth in their clients.  Along the way, I’ve discovered that great groups don’t just  come together by chance.  Instead, great groups have a balance of both structure and flexibility in them.  In addition, I use my family therapy skills to incorporate rituals, metaphors, transformational  vocabulary, experiential exercises, and interactive group exercises to bring group members together and create a strong rapport among them.

In addition, I strongly encourage group participants to be mindful of how important it is to create a feeling of safety within the group container that we’re co-creating together.  With this in mind, shaming, judging, blaming, and attacking others have no place in a group therapy setting.  Instead, group members are encouraged to actively listen to one another, deeply see one another, and be as emotionally attuned to one another as humanly possible.  They’re also asked to validate one another, empathize with one another, offer each other words of affirmation, and be respectful of one another’s different temperaments, belief systems, values, etc.  It’s also important that group members allow for moments of silence, which often allows someone to process or integrate a new learning more deeply.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I believe that vulnerability is the birthplace of self-acceptance, self-compassion, and self-forgiveness.  Therefore, I encourage my clients to be courageous enough to tell the story of who they are, warts and all.  I also encourage them to be compassionate towards one another, patient, flexible, open-minded,sensitive, curious, and fully present.  In addition, I encourage each group participant to be authentic, to be accountable for their actions, to be in integrity with their word, to own their projections onto others, to own their shadows, and to own their gold.  Group members are also encouraged to be resourceful, creative, and imaginative. I believe that everyone is full of wisdom, so I also encourage each group member to share their wisdom with their peers.  If someone has something to say to another group member that he or she believes will be helpful,  I remind that person to ask  first if the other group member is open to receiving  feedback. I remind them that it’s always important to honor and respect another person’s autonomy, and asking permission to share an observation or thought-provoking question does just that.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve often encountered group members who seem more focused on fixing other group members or calling them out on their stuff than on working on themselves.  This is often a way of feeding one’s ego and hiding from oneself at the same time. In addition to all of the other aforementioned ingredients that lead to successful group therapy experiences, it’s very important that each group member understand that first and foremost they’ve elected to participate in a group setting to work on themselves!!  By doing so, they will be stretching outside of their comfort zones and stepping into the light, and this is where the greatest growth occurs.

If this article has piqued your interest in participating in one of my groups,  please call e-mail me or call me at (619)280-8099 and let me know.  In my experience, group therapy settings become sanctuaries inside which personal growth and transformation inevitably take place.

I hope you enjoyed reading this article on groups!!

Your Marriage and Family Therapist,

John Boesky, LMFT

 

 

GROUP THERAPY MAGIC

A Group

Image from montrosecounselingcenter.org

As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, I’ve facilitated Men’s groups, Women’s groups, Sports Psychology groups, Therapist/Life Coach Training groups, etc. I’ve found time and time again that there’s a magical self-transcendence that takes place in them. Individuals are no longer islands unto themselves privately working one-on-one with a therapist. Instead, they become part of a larger collective, and they develop a sense of kinship and belonging with their peers that they don’t have with their closest friends. This is because groups, when capably facilitated, become safe, sacred sanctuaries where people can take off their masks, shed their personas, and become truly vulnerable and authentic. When this happens, people develop self-love, self-compassion, and self-acceptance which in turn frees them to experience the grounded joy that comes from connection to themselves and others.

The common misconception that group therapy provides a forum for self-pity, whining, and passivity couldn’t be further from the truth. On the contrary, group therapy is a very dynamic experience. Group members compassionately challenge each other to stretch beyond their comfort zones in order to expand and grow. As for me, I ask my clients to participate in experiential exercises that get them to think and feel and act in new ways that will serve them most in their lives. I also offer my group members teaching pieces on mindfulness, communication, active listening, etc. Most importantly, I make it my top priority to have my clients feel deeply seen and truly understood. Before you know it, everyone is learning how to deeply see, understand, and validate each other. Group members become co-creators, challengers, coaches, confidantes, and great friends.

If you’re looking to grow emotionally, psychologically, and/or spiritually, a therapy group is definitely one place where you can do this. As a matter of fact, in my experience as a Marriage and Family Therapist, Self-transcendence and self-transformation often take place faster in groups than they do in individual or couple’s therapy alone. In light of this, if you’ve ever wondered about participating in a therapy group, by all means give me a call!!  I look forward to hearing from you 🙂  John Boesky, LMFT

COALS COMMUNICATION

Communicate with Positive IntentionAs a Marriage and Family Therapist, it’s imperative that I model effective active listening and communication skills for my clients.  I also choose to take these active listening and communication skills home with me to my wife and family, so that I not only talk the talk but walk the walk.  I want my intentions, words, and actions to be aligned with one another.  This way, I can proudly declare that I’m a man of integrity.

Family therapists often see couples or families who are accusatory, defensive, hostile, and withdrawing in their communication with their loved ones.  Instead of engaging in these counterproductive communication patterns, I encourage my clients to take deep breaths when they’re feeling triggered, and then to be the following in their communication with others:  Curious, Open, Accepting, Loving, and Listening.  The acronym for this is COALS.  When a client has the presence of mind to follow the COALS approach to communication, they emerge from their communication endeavors with others triumphant. The COALS approach lets the light in.  It creates space for two people to be heard, understood, and validated.

It takes self-discipline, mental rehearsal, and practice to enter into a COALS state of mind when communicating with others.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist and communication expert, I encourage you to give it a try.  You’ll love what happens next!!

Sincerely,

John Boesky, LMFT

(Master NLP Practitioner/Certified Hypnotherapist/Dharma Life Coach/& Sports Psychology Consultant)

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

Image from nitezola.wordpress.com

Image from nitezola.wordpress.com

 

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, communication is key to building rapport with clients.  Communication is the key that unlocks the doors behind which people often hide.  Communication is the key that opens their hearts.  There are many facets and dimensions to effective communication.  In this blog post, I will share with you one facet to effective communication that will hopefully be enlightening and thought-provoking for you:  Communication has little to do with the words that we say.  That’s right.  According to tons of data and research, the words we use make up only 7% of our communication.  Another 38% of our communication consists of our tone.  Last but certainly not least, the remaining 55% of our communication stems from our body language, or physiology.

As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I can teach you the kinds of words to use when speaking with your business partner, friend, lover, etc.  Although words only make up 7% of communication, do no let this statistic mislead you.  Words carry a lot of weight, and they can make or break a conversation.  In addition to words we use, Family Therapists also know that the tone a person uses in his communication with others is instrumental in bringing either harmony or discord between two people.  If a person’s tone is abrasive or indifferent, for example, the communication between two people can go South very fast.  Finally, a family therapist like myself knows that our body language communicates an incredible amount of valuable information to whomever we’re speaking to.  Heck, police interrogators watch a person’s body language far more closely than a suspect’s words.  This is precisely because they know that a person’s body language reveals so much about a person’s true feelings, intentions, motives, etc.

If you’re struggling to communicate effectively to the significant people in your lives, I want to invite you to visit with me or any highly capable Marriage and Family Therapist or NLP Practitioner.  Communication is, after all, an art form, and to become a talented artist takes mentoring, time, and practice.  In the meantime, remember that to be a better communicator, you must be mindful of your words, your tone, and your body language.

John Boesky

LMFT/MNLP/CHT

Please read more articles on the Self-help Articles page.

 

ACTIVE LISTENING SKILLS

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active listening skillsActive Listening is a very successful set of listening skills and techniques which enable the listener to accurately construe what the speaker is intending to say. In turn, the speaker feels heard, and understood. Soon the communication between the speaker and listener flows smoothly, free of messy misunderstandings. Consequently, the people in communication stand a far greater chance at solving problems, resolving conflicts, fostering deeper intimacy, and creating a more loving, harmonious relationship.

Active Listening skills and techniques include the following: Using your body language effectively; Incorporating Reflective Listening and Paraphrasing techniques into every day conversation; asking “Clarifying Questions” to make sure he or she accurately hears what the speaker is trying to communicate; and making astute “Content to Process shifts, “which enables the listener to hear the many layers of thoughts and feelings that lie beneath the surface of what is being said out loud.

How we hold our bodies when communicating with others can tellingly reveal how we feel about what he or she is saying. For example, it is pretty evident that when someone begins rolling their eyes while someone is saying something to him, he is likely feeling frustrated, or bored. Yawning incessantly can certainly communicate boredom as well. Closing one’s eyes can reflect apathy or disinterest, and so can slouching one’s shoulders and drooping one’s head towards the floor. Moving your hands restlessly can indicate that you’re distracted, and not paying much attention to what is being said. Clenching your jaw and puffing out your chest can reveal that you are feeling angry with the speaker, or even defensive. Breathing shallowly can indicate that you may be feeling anxious, and avoiding eye contact may show that you feel intimidated. As you can imagine, the list goes on and on when it comes to the many ways our bodies don’t serve us in our communications with others.

In order to use your body effectively when listening to someone, do your best to breathe deeply, and offer the person good eye contact. Meaning, soften your eyes, so they appear receptive to what the person is saying, and non-threatening. Do your best to make sure that your body appears relaxed, so that you appear open to what the person is saying to you. Be still if you can, so that you don’t appear distracted or preoccupied by other things going on around you. Finally, nod your head from time to time, so that the person talking knows that you are following what he or she is saying. There are, of course, many other non-verbal ways to communicate to the person speaking that you are open and receptive to what is being said. When you make a conscious effort to use your body language in these ways, you will likely find that your verbal exchanges with others become more fluid, more respectful, and more productive as well.

“Reflective Listening” is a technique that encourages the listener to repeat back to the speaker exactly what he or she has said, in their own words. For example, take the following exchange: A man appears exasperated because he believes his girlfriend rarely hears what he is saying. So he tells her, “I’m sick and tired of your not listening to me, and not caring enough to understand my feelings!! I want our kids to go to Church three times a week!! Going once a week won’t do!!”

Clearly this man rarely feels that his girlfriend gets the gist of what he is saying. But one way for his wife to diffuse his anger and frustration would be to reflect back to him precisely what he has said. Using the reflective listening technique, she would say: “I hear you saying that you are sick and tired of me not listening to you. Moreover, you think that I don’t care enough to understand your feelings. You would like our children to go to Church three times a week, and that going once a week won’t do.

Often time’s two very intelligent people don’t accurately hear what one another is saying. The listener may simply hear what he wants to hear, and disregard the rest. Or he may make an inaccurate interpretation of what has just been said. Or intense feelings that are aroused in our interactions with others make it difficult for us to hear much of anything at all!! One way to lower the margin for error and significantly increase the likelihood that a speaker is heard involves mirroring back precisely what he or she has said, word for word.

“Paraphrasing” is an active listening technique that challenges the listener to accurately capture and paraphrase back the essence of what has been communicated to him or her. In this instance, he must do so in his own words. Doing so demonstrates that he truly gets the over all gist of what has been said. In turn, the person sharing his thoughts and feelings feels heard, and sufficiently understood.

Take the aforementioned example with regards to the man, his wife, and their kids: Remember, the man has said the following: “I’m sick and tired of your not listening to me, and not caring enough to understand my feelings!! I want our kids to go to Church three times a week!! Going once a week won’t do!!”

In this instance, the wife might paraphrase back to him the following: “Honey, you’re angry with me because you don’t think that I care enough to listen to you, and that I don’t even bother to understand your feelings. An example of this would be when it comes to our children, and how often they attend church. I get that you feel adamantly about our children attending church three times a week, and that you don’t believe that going to church once a week is nearly enough.”

In this instance, the girlfriend has communicated to he boyfriend what she has heard him say, but in her own words. In her communication to him, she uses her intuition and insight as well, and shares with him her own sense of what he is likely feeling. For example, she speculates that he is feeling angry with her. When she reads between the lines and names what he is feeling, his anger will likely dissipate, and his tone of voice will likely soften, for he will feel accurately seen and heard by her. When she lets him know that she understands that he feels adamantly about this issue, he will once again feel as though she gets how important this matter is to him.

“Clarifying Questions” are asked in order to gain a deeper and more accurate understanding for what has been said. Such questions lessen the chances that a listener will walk away from a conversation feeling unsure of what the speaker has said. Therapists, for example, often ask clarifying questions, for they do not want to make assumptions about what their client is thinking and/or feeling. Instead they want to accurately distill what the client is saying, and they want to learn more about their clients’ thoughts and feelings as well.

Take, for example, the following exchange. Jack and Jill are boyfriend and girlfriend, and they are taking a walk along the ocean on a cold, wintry day. Jack owns a beautiful cashmere sweater, and he happens to be wearing it. Noticing that Jill appears cold, he offers her his sweater. As he hands it to her, he says,” Just remember to give it back to me when you’re done using it.”

Suddenly Jill appears sour, and glum, and begins to tear up. She wraps the sweater up in her hand, and defiantly tries to give it back to Jack. In turn, Jack feels confused, and hurt. He doesn’t understand what in the world has upset Jill. In his mind, all he is guilty of is lovingly and selflessly offering his girlfriend his cashmere sweater, as she appeared cold to him.

In his confusion, Jack could choose to respond to her strange reaction with anger: He could say, “What is wrong with you!! You’re such a brat!! Why do you act like such a baby for no reason? I try to be nice to you, and what do I get in return? I get frowns, and scowls, and bad looks….You’re nuts!!”

While Jack could go on a verbal tirade of his own, and go on to condemn her actions, and shame her, he probably knows that such a diatribe will get them nowhere. He’ll feel angry, and she’ll feel shamed, and hurt, and perhaps angry as well. The two will quickly reach an impasse, and neither will speak to each other. A silent treatment will likely ensue, the romantic walk will abruptly end, and their relationship will suddenly be on the rocks. Soon they will break up, and neither will know what in the world happened on their walk along the ocean. Jack will conclude that Jill is crazy, and Jill will conclude that Jack is an insensitive jerk.

Perhaps Jack and Jill could have salvaged their relationship had Jack asked Jill a clarifying question? What if he asked Jill, “Jill, what’s wrong? You look mad at me, and hurt? I’m at a loss. What have I done to upset you? Help me to understand how my behavior has affected you, so that I can be more sensitive to your feelings from here on out? What about my lending you my sweater upset you? I can assure you that my intentions were good. What’s going on?”

To Jack’s surprise, Jill might say, “I was hurt when you asked me to remember to give it back to you. I thought you were questioning my integrity, insinuating that I’m the kind of person that would try to steal it from you. I felt like you didn’t trust me to give it back to you, like you were questioning my integrity. I’m not a thief, you know. You don’t need to remind me to give things back to you. Besides, in my family, what’s somebody’s is everybody’s. Everyone shares. There are no boundaries between people. ”

Alas!! Jill has given Jack some insight into how she experienced him when he reminded her to return his sweater back to him at some point. Moreover, she revealed to him some of her beliefs around giving, and how her family had shaped some of those beliefs. She also let him know how insecure she can be, and how she is liable to perceive criticism from others, and negative evaluations, even when such evaluations are not present. By asking Jill a clarifying question, Jack in turn learned a lot about his girlfriend, and how she processes things.

Armed with this new awareness of Jill, Jack would then able to understand her ill-tempered reaction, and not take it so personally. And by not taking it so personally, he would likely feel less angry with her. He might likely feel some compassion for her instead. He would have an opportunity to reassure her that he doesn’t question her integrity at all. Moreover, he could tell her that he cares for her deeply, and can now appreciate better how exquisitely sensitive she can be at times.

When a listener successfully makes a “Content to Process shift, he has been able to hear the hidden message that lies beneath the surface of what has been said out loud. Often, when two or more people communicate, the words that are spoken, or the content, don’t tell the whole story. In fact, what has been said can be misleading, and can get the listener to lose sight of what the speaker is really meaning to say. Take, for example, a woman who scoffs at her boyfriend, and says, “You’ve become such a workaholic. All you care about is your work, and making money.”

If the boyfriend in this instance listens only to what is being said (the content), than he will likely become defensive and angry. He might offer a rebuttal and say, “I do not work all of the time. And I am not only interested in making money.” In this moment, he may feel attacked, and misunderstood. However, I ask you, what do you think the woman is really trying to say? What process is going on here?

Active listeners would know better. They would be able to see through her anger and frustration, and understand that more than likely she is trying to say, “I wish you wouldn’t work so much. I miss you. I want to spend more time together with you. I want to feel like I’m still a priority in your life, and that you still love me, and want to be with me.”

If the gentleman in this instance had the presence of mind to address her sadness, her insecurity, her self-doubts, and her anxiety, she in turn might feel attended to, heard, and cared for. The conflict between these two would resolve itself, and they would likely feel closer than they did before their altercation.

In conclusion, “Active Listening” skills play a significant role in helping people solve problems, resolve conflicts, foster deeper intimacy, and create more loving, harmonious relationships. These skills also help people to have more empathy for whomever is speaking, for they are better able to get into the other person’s shoes, and listen to their perspective on things, and understand how reasonable it might be for him or her to feel and/pr think the way they do. Active listening skills also enable a listener to show that while they may not agree with the other person, they value his or her own unique point of view. People feel seen and heard, understood, and cared for. Needless tensions fall by the way side, and a sense of harmony and mutual respect between people take their place.