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Wednesday, May 25 2011

Five Winners


       I love to think about relationship from a spiritual perspective.  I'm enchanted by the mystery of it all and intrigued by the notion that intimacy is a dance of uniqueness and oneness.  I'm inspired by the idea that every act of human love contributes to an expanding universe of Love, and I'm heartened to remember that, goofy as we are with each other at the level of personality, we're all madly in love with each other at the level of soul.


       In my work as a psychologist and relationship coach, I usually approach the subject more pragmatically.  I'm likely to focus on skillful communication and win-win problem solving strategies.  I invite clients, especially men, to consider the principle of "enlightened self-interest."  From this perspective, generosity is good business.  If we listen respectfully to our partners, honoring their needs as well as our own, we're much more likely to achieve our heart's desire.


       In The New Rules of Marriage, Terrence Real has written a powerfully practical book about intimate relationship.  In last week's posting, I reviewed five relational strategies that don't work.  Here are what Real calls: "The Five Winning Strategies."


·        Shifting from complaint to request – moving from a focus on what's negative in the past to positive possibilities for the future.  More specifically he advises:  "Don't criticize, ask! …  Criticizing what your partner has done wrong rarely engenders an attitude of increased generosity … Great relationships mean more assertion up front and less resentment on the back end."

·        Speaking out with love and savvy – remembering that you're talking to someone you love and being clear about what you want to accomplish.  He's speaking here about a deeply respectful style of assertion that empowers your partner and helps him/her give you what you want.  "A disempowered partner is seldom generous." 

·        Responding with generosity – listening to your partner with a generous heart, temporarily setting aside your own agenda, responding generously, being of service, giving what you can.  "When listening with generosity, points of contention become points of curiosity … When your partner confronts you about some behavior or character flaw, do a one-eighty on defensiveness.  Rather than deny whatever you can, admit whatever you can … Transform argument into acknowledgment."

·        Empowering each other – How can I give you what you want and help you give me what I want?  In relationship, we commit to teamwork, to helping each other succeed.  This, of course, requires overt conversation between partners about how to succeed with each other.  Terrence is not inviting a covert manipulation, as in:  How can I get you to do what I want?

·        Cherishing – cherishing what you have and keeping it strong, moving from appreciation deficiency to appreciation proficiency.  Focus on what you have rather than on what you have not.  Notice what you love about your partner.  Feed your connection.  According to John Gottman, healthy relationship requires that positive interactions outweigh the negative ones by a factor of at least five or six to one.  Sometimes it's a bit of a stretch for us to have it so good.  So, we need to ask ourselves:  How good can I stand it?



       Terrence Real summarizes this way:  "These winning strategies equip you to succeed in the critical tasks of getting, giving, and having.  The first two strategies, shifting from complaint to request and speaking out with love and savvy, help you get what you need.  The second two strategies, responding with generosity and empowering each other, help you give everything that you can to your partner and your relationship.  The last winning strategy, cherishing, helps you grow, sustain and honor all that you have."


       Works for me.

Posted by: AT 11:10 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Wednesday, May 18 2011



       Ordinarily, I'm not a big fan of self-help books.  Last week, I bumped into one, The New Rules of Marriage by Terrence Real, that really (pun discovered, not intended) speaks to me – and I've only read the first half.


       Terrence lists five relational strategies that don't work:


·        Needing to be right – trying to convince your partner that your point of view is the correct one.  Actually, who's right matters little in relationship.

·        Controlling your partner – almost always generates resistance, a great way to get stuck in power battles.

·        Un-bridled self-expression – often confused with honesty, letting it all hang out, without regard to the effect on your partner, usually does more harm than good.

·        Retaliation – when we get hurt in relationship, we often feel victimized and, perhaps, entitled to retaliate.  We tend to think that if we punish our offending partner, we're more likely to be safe from future "offenses".  Not true.  War begets war.

·        Withdrawal – when we withdraw emotionally or physically from connection with our partner, relationship withers.  There are times when we need to pull back to re-group, but that's always with the intention to re-engage.  There are also times when we make a conscious decision to accept some aspect of a relationship, rather than fight a losing battle.  This mature letting go is not a withdrawal of connection or affection.


       So, what does work?  Terrence Real presents a model he calls "relationship empowerment."  Here, we move past the personal empowerment model, where I advocate for me, you advocate for you, and we both presume this path will lead to a good result (which it sometimes does).  In the relationship empowerment model, we are invited, not to settle for "good", but to go for "great."  We honor the individual, we listen deeply to ourselves and to each other, and we work together to give birth to something larger than me or you – a relational entity, an "us".  We advocate for us.


       This is not a co-dependent model, where we assume responsibility for each other.  It's a partnership were we are responsible, together, for what we create.


       This level of partnership:  As an approach to marriage (and other unions), it has a nice "ring" to it.



PS.  Stay tuned.  Next week, I'll share some thoughts from the second half of the book, including five strategies that do work.


Posted by: AT 08:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 10 2011


Alone and All One


       As I approach the mystery, I see life – especially relational life – as a dance of uniqueness and oneness.  We are alone and all one.


       Here is a passage from the book, Who Dies, by Stephen Levine that speaks eloquently of life's invitation to embrace both aspects of being.  The Levine quote is followed by a poem I wrote years ago, Oddly One. 



       "As soon as the mind's conditioning to be someone arises, a kind of pain comes into our heart.  A feeling of being alone.  It is the loneliness of our separateness.  Our alienation from the universal.  But when we sit quietly with that loneliness and let it float in the mind, it dissolves into an 'aloneness' which is not lonely, but is rather a recognition that we are each alone in the One…. To change the intense loneliness of our personal isolation into an 'aloneness with God,' we must gently let go of control and stop re-creating the imagined self.  We must surrender our specialness, our competition, our comparing minds."  Stephen Levine.



Oddly One


If we follow

Our uniqueness,

We’re all

A bit weird.


Odd ducks

In God’s pond.


Oddly One.




Posted by: AT 10:33 am   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 03 2011


Weekend with Richard


       I just spent a delightful – literally full of light – weekend with master teacher and mentor, Richard Moss.  A private session on Sunday was sandwiched between workshops on Saturday and Monday.  Each experience was an inspiration, a healing, a heart-opening expansion of spirit.  Here's a small sample of the teaching, as I've incorporated it.



       Most of us have become masters in the art of poisoning ourselves over and over with a limited number of suffering stories that take us away from the center of being into judgments about ourselves, about others, about the past, or about the future.  To the extent we get caught up in these stories, our aliveness is diminished as we shrink into smaller versions of ourselves.


       The stories may feel true, but they're fictional in nature, an artifact of ego.  Don’t believe them.  Don't identify with them.  The only thing we know for sure that's real about these stories is the effect they have on us right now, the damage they do us. 


       With mindfulness and the techniques of "relaxed readiness" and "focused spaciousness," we can choose to let go of story and stay alive in the richness of sensation, feeling and creativity in the present moment.  "Spiritual muscle" is exercised by the discipline of gently and persistently bringing awareness back to our bodies and our immediate experience in the now.  As Richard says, "Who I am begins now."


       Presence in the now is a gateway to an inner spaciousness, the realization that we are much bigger than any story or problem we can have.  In compassionate spaciousness, we can create a "holding environment" for any human feeling or experience – observing it, making room for it, allowing it to move naturally within us and through us toward integration and transformation.  Thus, we become friends with ourselves, comfortable in our own skins, available for deeper connection with others and with all of life.


       Along with insight, compassion and a personal embodiment of these teachings, Richard offers practical methodology and tools for healing and expansion.  His teaching is uniquely accessible and powerfully relevant.  I encourage you to check out his website:   


       Maybe with a book, retreat or free e-course, you too can have a weekend with Richard.



Posted by: AT 10:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

 "James has a very welcoming presence and an easy going demeanor in addition to an excellent sense of humor . We are all free to be our own goofy selves."

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