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Commitment is described and honored by many great authors:

"In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare.  Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced." 
 ~Robert Sexton

"I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach."
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

"True love stories never have endings."
~Richard Bach

"When you're in love you never really know whether your elation comes from the qualities of the one you love, or if it attributes them to her; whether the light which surrounds her like a halo comes from you, from her, or from the meeting of your sparks."
~Natalie Clifford Barney

Finding the Right Partner

Whether you believe in soul mates, we are mostly gregarious and social by nature. We enjoy being with others, for in others, we see ourselves.  Sometimes the mirror reflects back exactly what we are hoping and expecting to see.  At other times, that mirror reflects back things that we would rather not see or know about ourselves.

Finding the right partner for relationship depends in large part, on how healthy you are!  By cleaning house and clearing the deck for a new relationship, you know that you are inviting the healthiest mate to join you on the next leg of your journey.  If, instead, you choose to move from one unhealthy or disappointing relationship, back into the dating game, it’s pretty likely that you’ll carry your reactions and disillusionments from one relationship into the next.

In addition to resolving any past concerns or issues, finding the right partner is easier when you come to know your true self as well as you can.  Learning to live the life that you want to live allows you to identify what components, qualities and traits would provide both complementarity and similarity for your relationship.  While we can all enjoy the intense sparks of a fully complementary relationship (as in, opposites attract- and how!), it is impossible to maintain such a relationship over the long term.  Relationships that are built solely on opposite components (you like Summer, he likes Winter) tend to be passionate, but burn out rather quickly.  Long-term commitment requires similarity. When we cherish the same values, share like opinions, and enjoy similar sports and events, it allows us to build together, in a synchronistic way.  So, if you’re just looking for a good time, without much commitment, by all means, select someone that is wildly attractive to you, that intrigues you, and that like you, wants little more than a night here or there.  But, if you’re looking to create a life with someone, take particular care to look for that person in all the right places!

Personal relationship coaching and psychotherapy both allow you to come to know yourself, and to know exactly what you want in a partner, and in a relationship!

Relationship Health & Development

"Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction."
~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

We like to believe that LOVE is the answer.  We invest millions of dollars per year in the fantasy that if we love a partner enough, that person will be and do everything that we expect and desire.  Most of us truly believe that love will carry any relationship through whatever obstacles come our way.  Unfortunately, that’s all it is: a fantasy.  Healthy relationships require work every day.  And, in order to feel motivated to do that kind of daily work on ourselves and in the relationship, we must achieve and maintain unwaivering faith and commitment to one another. 

In addition to that foundation, there are also some additional components that all healthy marriages can incorporate to help weather the storm:

  • Individuality:
    • the process by which a person develops a sense of self and maintains him/herself as a separate but interactive individual.  More simply, individuality allows the person to be independent but connected.
  • Acceptance (of self and others):
    • Acceptance of self includes the recognition of one’s strengths and deficits, of one’s values, beliefs, and opinions, and of one’s feelings and thoughts.  It refers to the acceptance of responsibility for the feelings one has, the actions one takes and the consequences one must manage…. Acceptance of another refers to not taking responsibility for the other person’s feelings, thoughts and actions.  Accepting your partner’s quirks, habits, and style doesn’t mean that you agree with what s/he does or says, it means that you accept his/her right to be separate and equal.
  • Honesty:
    • In order to be honest with someone else, it is imperative that the individual be honest him/herself.  It is so easy to lie to ourselves and to “snow white” the truth, so that we don’t have to face the hard stuff.  It is so much easier to accept, if we only need to accept the positive.  It is often much more difficult to own up to the negative realties that may be part of our current and past lives…. When both parties are able to be honest with themselves, they can learn to be honest with each other…. Honesty within the relationship allows each partner to be respect by the other, even when the truth may be difficult to swallow.
  • Respect:
    • An individual who develops respect for oneself learns that positive qualities and actions increase a sense of self-esteem.  This esteem inhibits an individual from putting oneself at risk and is a reminder that he or she is worth protecting.
  • Consideration:
    • When an individual respects his or her partner, he or she is considerate of the partner’s beliefs, interests, values, needs, desires, goals (to name a few things); and tries to avoid putting the partner down, making fun of him or her, or minimizing his or her importance.
    • Consideration refers to the honest attention paid to oneself and to others.
  • Communication & Understanding:
    • One way that couples can learn to be considerate of one another’s needs, desires, thoughts, and feelings is through open, honest, assertive communication.  Clear communication permits each party to maintain his/her own opinions and thoughts and to share them with another who agrees to respect them.  Additionally, communication between the partners can promote understanding (both within each individual and between the partners).
  • Trust:
    • When the relationship promotes individuality, acceptance, honesty, respect, consideration and assertive communication, it will also likely enhance trust between the partners.  As with acceptance and respect, the individual must first learn to trust him/herself before real trust can be invested in a partner.  In order to trust oneself, one must know one’s boundaries and be able to predict one’s behavior.
    • Trust develops from understanding and accepting one’s values, beliefs, feelings and position in the world…. The trust that is developed between two people can allow them to become vulnerable with one another, to reveal their true selves and to be affected by one another.
  • Vulnerability:
    • Physical and emotional vulnerability are some of the hardest components of intimacy to achieve in a relationship.  It requires trust, strength, and risk from both partners and demands that control be shared rather than placed within one individual or the other.  It means agreeing to be open to the impact that another person may have on one’s life and being.
  • Mutual Sexual Interaction:
    • Mutual sexual interaction can provide some of the best nourishment, play, and replenishment that a committed relationship can offer.
    • Five basic conditions need to exist between two individuals for a healthy sexual relationship to develop.  These include consent, equality, respect, trust and safety- all of which are required for the creation of intimacy between partners. For the promotion of healthy sexuality, partners must be compatible on a number of different levels:
      • Sexual orientations must be compatible, although they may not be the same.
      • Both partners must be aware of the level of sexual emergence of their partner and this must be in accordance with the desires of each person.
      • Sexual interests of the couple must be equitable.  This means that the types of sexual interactions, degree of involvement, and use of sexual enhancement aids must be agreed upon prior to the sexual interaction.
      • Finally, couples must agree on rules and boundaries of their sexual relationship for sexual activity to be healthy and nourishing.
  • Empathy:
    • Empathy must exist for oneself as well as for one’s partner.  Empathy for self may involve looking at a part of oneself and allowing emotions to surface and be accepted…. Learning to empathize with another individual involves taking his/her perspective for the purpose of experiencing and being sensitive to the emotions associated with that perspective.
    • When shame and emotional pain are overwhelming, the idea that someone is willing to walk around in your shoes for even a moment, in order to get closer to you and to help ease your pain, is often more reading than the most expensive material gift.
  • Compassion:
    • Compassion, much like empathy, allows the individual to become more nurturing to self and others.  Compassion refers to the experience of emotions which power acts of assistance, concern and love.
  • Congruence
    • When a relationship has all of these qualities and attributes, it has a greater chance of enduring bad times and good.  And, given some kind of congruence, or mutual interests, desires, values and beliefs, this kind of relationship can promote health and happiness over the ages, and to adapt to the transitions and countertransitions that both partners experience. 

Developing these components of healthy relationship may take a lifetime of being together. But, if you and your partner are committed to keeping your love healthy and alive, it will be worth the effort! 

Relationship coaching and counseling can provide a nurturing and objective environment to review the current structure and function of your relationship.  Together, we can determine the health of your relational foundation, and revise anything that doesn’t support health and happiness together. Whether you’ve been together for a few months, a few years, a few decades or more, relationship coaching and counseling can enable you to enhance what you have together.

These foundational elements of relationship are provided in Dr. de Beixedon Breslin’s book, Lovers & Survivors: Living with and Loving a Sexual Abuse Survivor by deBeixedon, S. (1995).  Band, OR: RDR Publishers. This book, as well as other resources, can be purchased in the Clinical Boutique on this website!

Listening & Being Heard: Assertive Communication at its Best!

We like to believe that what we have to say is important.  Yet, so much of what we say, is less important than what we do, according to research.  According to these studies, 85% of our communication is received non-verbally, leaving a measly 15% actually being heard. And, given that being heard is one of our core reasons for being in relationship, we may be sorely disappointed if our repeated words fail to hit their mark.

But, panic not: there are ways to improve the chances that you’ll be heard:

  • Assertive communication can be learned easily and is highly effective.
  • Listening skills (though they may appear to be non-verbal forms of communication) are also easy to improve.

Altering your non-verbal skills may require a little more effort! 

Communication is the art and skill of receiving a message that has been sent by another, and effectively responding to that message.

Often, when we communicate, we are misunderstood, not because we haven’t spoken clearly, but because we haven’t really heard what was said.

We also know that how you listen may affect your understanding of others.  We all have different sensory modalities that we use to listen and interpret what has been communicated to us.  There are a number of modalities that we use to understand and communicate with one another.  These include:

  • Verbal
  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Olfactory
  • Taste
  • Kinesthetic
  • Sensate 

Determining how you listen and interpret messages from others will enable you to better understand miscommunications when they occur.  Additionally, if you and your partner do not share the same primary sensory modality, or simpler, if you hears messages differently, then you may want to invest some time in learning to speak one another’s language!

Once we have a grasp of how we listen, we must learn to apply effective listening skills.

Following these steps in order to listen optimally:

  • Use good basic listening habits:
    • Pay attention (to both the spoken, and unspoken messages)
    • Listen to the whole message (Zip it!)
    • Hear the message before evaluating or judging it (Breathe deeply and allow your partner to share the entire message).
    • Paraphrase what you’ve heard for verification of the message (Reflect back what you have heard in your own words).
  • Avoid bad listening habits
    • “selective attention”: listening when it suits you won’t improve your partner’s sense of feeling “heard”
    • “Pseudolistening”: listening when you’re attending to other tasks increases the likelihood that you will miss important data, and that you will provide your partner with only some of your attention.
    • Listening without hearing: when you are engaged in determining what you’re going to say next, or rehearsing your response or argument to your partner’s position, you won’t gain a clear understanding of what has been said (and it will show through!).
    • Interrupting: our grandmothers and first grade teachers couldn’t all have been wrong about the impacts of this bad habit!
    • Disclosing too much too soon: this bad habit can both overwhelm the speaker and may also reflect your urge to respond before the entire story has been told.
  • Define the issue
    • Why is the issue being addressed?
    • Has this issue been addressed before?
    • If so, was the issue resolved before?
  • Use passive listening skills at first:
    • Let your partner do the talking
    • Be aware of how your partner is communicating in addition to what is being said
    • Keep your opinions to yourself for now!
    • Empathize with your partner
  • Use active listening skills after the issue has been reviewed
    • Your questions can help avoid or resolve possible misunderstandings.  In order for your questions to be well-received, use the following techniques:
  • Paraphrasing
    • Put into your own words, what you believe you have heard
  • Clarification
    • Ask questions to identify and improve your understanding of what has been said
  • Personalization
    • Offer personal examples of how you can relate to help your partner feel less isolated and to experienced your understanding of the issue.  But remember, this is to assist your partner to feel heard and understood.  It is not an opportunity for you to shift the attention to yourself!

Some additional helpful tips for achieving clear communication include:

  • Explore the problem
  • Ask open-ended questions (Avoid those questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”)
  • Avoid “leading” questions (These are really just efforts on your part to impart your own opinions!)
  • Make sure that your non-verbal communication matches your spoken message
  • Together, identify solutions for the issue
  • After you’re reached resolution, review the process that you went through together

By definition, assertive communication:

  • Is open, honest, direct and appropriate expression of one’s thoughts, wishes, feelings and opinions.
  • Does not violate one’s own rights or those of another to be treated respectfully.
  • Does not cause undue anxiety or guilt.

Many people get confused between aggressive communication and assertive communication.  To clarify:

  • Non-aggressive behavior disregards what you want/are
  • Aggressive behavior disregards what your partner wants/is
  • Assertive behavior considers what each party wants/is

As was mentioned previously, much of what is communicated is expressed non-verbally.  So, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to assume the assertive stance!  Make sure that your posture matches your message.The assertive posture requires that you:

  • Stand tall, shoulders back, head up
  • Make consistent eye contact
  • Keep your voice steady in pitch and volume
  • Make sure that your gestures match your message
  • Keep your body “open” rather than “closed”
  • Keep your hands and feet calm

You may also want to try thinking assertively!

  • Focus on positive expressions of your message
  • Don’t negate yourself or your needs.

In order to really espouse the assertiveness that will enable you to get all that you desire, it will also benefit you to assume the assertive emotional stance:

  • Regulate your co-dependence
    • Co-dependence refers to the state of one’s self-esteem relying on the thoughts, feelings, opinions, or actions of another human being
    • Read self-help books
    • Watch Oprah!
    • See a therapist (OK- I’m biased!)
    • Join CoDependents Anonymous (CoDA)
  • Use your Bill of Rights to remind yourself what you deserve!

We all have the following rights:

  • I have the right to change my mind.
  • I have the right to say “no!”
  • I have the right to ask for favors.
  • I have the right to ask for emotional support.
  • I have the right to spend time doing what I want to do.
  • I have the right to disagree with others.
  • I have the right to be treated with respect.
  • I have the right to make my own decisions.
  • I have the right to reject others’ advice or suggestions.
  • I have the right to say “yes!” to things I want to do.
  • I have the right to take a vacation or day off.
  • I have the right to put my needs and wants ahead of those of others.
  • I have the right to express my feelings.
  • I have the right to compliment myself.
  • I have the right to accept or reject others’ criticisms of me.
  • I have the right to accept others’ compliments of me.
  • I have the right to be close to others.
  • I have the right to be physically and emotionally healthy.
  • I have the right to be sexually fulfilled.
  • I have the right to desire great things.

In concert with your assertive emotional and physical stance, assertive communication requires healthy verbal expression.  Some of the skills which may improve your chances of being heard and respected include the following:

  • Language
    • Don’t apologize
    • Use direct, simple, clear language that is at the level of your audience or “target”
  • Style
    • Approach your task with the attitude that you “can” rather than that you “can’t”
  • Protocol:

When in doubt, use the Assertive Communication Template:

  • Describe
  • When you…
  • Express
  • I feel…
  • Specify
  • I want… would like… would appreciate…
  • Consequences
  • If you do… (state the reward)
  • If you don’t (state the action you will carry out)

Using all the tools in your toolbox will surely allow you to be heard!  And, if you need a little bit more coaching to get your message across to one another, consultation can provide objective evaluation of your communication skills, as well as role modeling and skill building.

Many of these communication techniques are available in Dr. de Beixedon Breslin’s eBook, The Secret to Conception.  This resource, as well as many others, are available in the Clinical Boutique on this website!

Boundary Setting

Many of us share the belief that if our relationship is truly healthy and loving, we don’t ever have to set boundaries with one another.  Unfortunately, that particular fantasy can get us in a LOT of trouble!

Boundaries constitute the guidelines for the relationship.  They help us understand where we stop and the other person begins.  Boundaries provide us with personal privacy, since not every experience is something we share in the relationship.  Boundaries need not be harsh- they are simply indicators for what is healthy for our function, as well as for the function of the relationship.

Many people grew up in homes or with early relationships in which personal boundaries were not recognized.  Relationships in which there is significant expression of control over others, or in which there is physical, emotional or sexual abuse of others, promote boundaryless survival.  When those who have grown up with this dynamic enter adult relationships, setting and maintain boundaries is often unfamiliar, and can even be scary.  Many who have been denied boundaries in their early years were also threatened that if they attempted to set boundaries (for instance, with a perpetrator or highly controlling parent), negative consequences would ensue.  In adult relationships, the mere existence of boundaries may leave these survivors with a sense of dread.

Within the population that grew up without boundaries, or was exposed to ambiguous boundaries, there are many individuals who develop Borderline Personality Disorder.  This personality structure typically develops as a result of exposure to invalidating environments in which the individual is both required to assume power and responsibility but also criticized for efforts to do so.  As a result, the individual learns to express control, but also comes away with the feeling that no matter what s/he does, it won’t be right or good enough.  The individual’s world becomes polarized and those around him or her are experienced as either all good or all bad. The emotional intensity is expressed as interpersonal drama, with severe highs and lows. Frustration tolerance is very limited, and the experience of boredom can be excruciating.  And, the experience of interpersonal boundaries of any kind is experienced as rejection and abandonement, eliciting extreme rage, especially at loved ones.

Both individual and couples counseling can provide an opportunity to look at these elements in a loving environment.  New therapies such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy can provide new hope for those with Borderline Personality Disorder as they access more personal empowerment and learn how to have relationships with others, that are satisfying and based on healthy foundations rather than archaic invalidating ones.



It strikes me as odd that when we are in the workplace, we don’t expect others to read our minds.  We don’t actually believe that we’ll enter the boardroom and others will simply bow down and do whatever we say.  The idea that we’d walk into an acquisition or a contract negotiation and simply ask for what we desire, and get it, is, for the most part, preposterous.

So, why then, do we expect our intimate relationships to function in drastically different ways?  While we may have significantly greater affection for and maybe more experience with our intimate partners than we do with our colleagues, the actual function of love relationships is not all that different than those in the workplace.

While certainly we might like our partners to read our minds, and give us what we desire, even if we don’t ask for it, the chances of that are really pretty slim.  In intimate partnership, there exists two separate and unique indviduals.  We each have our own minds, preferences, goals and dreams.  Coming together in relationship, is much like the union of two great rivers.  Two rivers, moving swiftly down parallel paths, begin to move towards one another.  And, when those two rivers meet, the massive churning, crashing, tumult is nothing less than extraordinary- perhaps even a little scary.  But, quickly, the turmoil settles and the rivers have joined into a single, strong body- perhaps with elements of each of the individual rivers, but now unified into something greater than either.

Marriage and intimate partnership are really no different.  We cannot expect a sweet, peaceful union without some really bumps along the road, and without considerable negotiation.  What’s that you say?  Negotiation?  This isn’t a business deal!  This is LOVE!  OK, grow up.  Love isn’t enough to make or maintain a relationship.  Love requires constant negotiation and collaboration.
Couples consultation and coaching can provide both instruction and role playing in the art of negotiation.  Together, we develop scripts, explore various communication styles, and practice negotiation, so that when you leave, you take with you all that you need to navigate and negotiate through whatever treacherous waters you enter.

Domestic Violence

Be advised: If you are, or anyone you know, is currently in a violent relationship, it is nothing to take lightly.  While that there is nothing that says that intimate partner violence must be permanent, the effects of even a single, push, shove or blow, can last a lifetime.

A few statistics

Research indicates that one of every two women will be abused in her lifetime. Of the women who are abused, more than half are victimized prior to age 18. The remainder of these women is assaulted in their adult homes and workday lives. Simple math suggests that one to two million women in the United States being are abused in their intimate partnerships per year. By other estimates, those numbers could soar to as high as 4 million female victims per year at the hands of their intimate partners. Of those that are abused, about 17% report physical and/or sexual abuse by their partner during a pregnancy, and of spousal abuse victims, approximately four women are murdered each day in the United States by their intimate partners.

If you have experienced violence in your intimate relationship, you are not alone.

While, the focus in the research has been on the women who are abused in their relationships, this in no way suggests that men cannot be victimized. It simply recognizes that women are violated far more often than men, and thus that phenomenon has been studied to a much greater extent.With the advent of the Women's Movement, the installation of Battered Women's shelters, improved screening protocols in healthcare facilities and the increased legal protection of women in violent relationships, awareness and reporting of domestic violence against women has increased significantly. This has likely allowed for a more accurate statistic or accounting with regards to the number of women victimized each year.

Because men are less likely to identify or report incidents of domestic violence when they have been victimized, our understanding of the scope and incidence involving male victims is minimal at best. Even with the limited resources in use for identifying male victims of violence, research suggests that one in seven men is sexually abused in his lifetime. More recent research posits that if greater inquiry were made on the origin of men's injuries, accounts of domestic violence against men would increase by 200%. That computes roughly to one in four men being victimized by those they have come to know and trust.

If you are a man, and are reading these words, know that you are not alone, and the violence can, and must, stop.  Your gender did not protect you, but with some assistance, you can learn to protect yourself against any further violence.

People tend to think that domestic violence doesn't happen to folks like them. "That only happens to other people," is a common thought. But, violence happens to people just like us, no matter who we are. Domestic violence is experienced by those in every age group, race, ethnicity, culture, social class and sexual orientation. And, whether the parties involved are married and living in the same home, or just dating more casually, violence knows no boundaries. Intimate partner violence is an equal opportunity phenomenon.

The violent partnership

While there is nothing that excuses intimate partner violence, it is important that we come to understand the elements which increase the likelihood of violence erupting in a relationship.  There are both individual and relational factors associated with relationship violence. 

Some of the individual characteristics, qualities, or historical elements associated with those who batter and abuse their mates include:

  • General acceptance or tolerance of violence against women
  • Exposure to violence in their homes as children, either as primary victims or as witnesses to violence against others in the home
  • Experience of parental rejection or shaming as a child
  • Insecure attachment to mother as a child
  • Chronic alcohol use or abuse
  • Poor communication skills and low levels of assertiveness
  • Chronic anger

Some of the relationship qualities or circumstances that may increase the likelihood of intimate partner violence include:

  • High levels of relationship conflict
  • Lower socioeconomic status
  • Unemployed status of perpetrator of violence
  • Large power or status differential between batterer and victim
  • Isolation and lack of resources of victim

When one or both partners have become violent, their relationship often shows telltale signs. Some of those red flags may include:

  • Constant blaming
  • Control and power struggles
  • Rigid roles maintained by each partner
  • Efforts by one partner to isolate the other

The cycle of violence

Lenore Walker (2000) is one of the foremost experts in the area of domestic violence. Her groundbreaking research with battered women shed light on the silent phenomena and impacted victims, families and support teams.

Walker's research identified an important pattern that has been named Walker's Cycle Theory of Violence. Walker suggested that every violent relationship followed certain patterns in order to reduce the tension experienced by one or both parties in the relationship.  She posited that the cycle incorporated three phases: 1) tension building, 2) acute battering and 3) loving-contrition.

During the tension-building phase, the conflict and tension gradually rises, accompanied by minor verbal and physical assaults. The victim does all that s/he can to reduce the stress and strain in the relationship, and the fact that s/he is moderately successful leads him/her to believe that s/he has some control over the events which occur in the partnership. Unfortunately, the tension eventually escalates to a point at which the batterer can no longer tolerate his/her internal state, and s/he seeks to divest this tension by acting violently.

The acute battering phase may incorporate any and all forms of violence and will last until the batterer feels adequately divested of his/her internal discomfort. If the intimate partner violence is repeated many times, the victim may become able to predict the point of inevitability: the point from which the violence will happen without direct intervention. Due to the anxiety associated with awaiting this point of inevitability, the victim may actually provoke his/her partner in order to "get the abuse over with". This is another way in which the victim may gain an inaccurate sense of control within the relationship. According to Walker's research, women in violent relationships actually score higher on items which measure locus of control, seeing themselves as controlling events and elements in their environments far more often than women in non-violent relationships!

The third and final phase is the "loving-contrition" phase, also known as the "honeymoon" phase. This phase is marked by the batterer's remorse, acts of kindness and warmth and the absence of tension in the relationship. Even if the batterer is not outwardly affectionate, as long as s/he is not abusive, the victim may experience this phase as sufficient reinforcement to remain in the relationship. In the event that the batterer does not show signs of remorse nor returns to baseline behavior or attitude, it is an indication of increased lethality.

Are you in a violent relationship?

You might think that the moment an individual is pushed, slapped, or struck in a relationship, s/he exits immediately.  Certainly this might be the healthiest response, but it is still not the most common response.  There are many reasons why people stay in relationships that have become violent, not the least of which is distorted perception.

A victim's perception of the violence in the relationship has a huge impact on whether or not s/he remains in the partnership. Unless a victim is asked to graph the violence in the relationship, it is likely that s/he will vastly underestimate the level and frequency of the violence. Victims typically minimize and deny the violence in their relationships due to shame, embarrassment and even fear that the perpetrator will discover their "awareness" of the violence.

If you are in a violent relationship, you may want to consider the following questions:

  • Has your partner become more controlling lately?
  • Has your partner become increasingly jealous or accused you of having an affair?
  • Has the violence in your relationship intensified or have you experienced more violent incidents lately?
  • Has your partner been more violent towards your children lately?
  • Does your partner have access to a gun?
  • Has your partner been violent outside your relationship?
  • Has your partner ever tried to strangle you?
  • Do you believe your partner is capable of killing you?
  • Has your partner threatened or tried to kill you or others close to you (even pets)?
  • Has your partner threatened to harm him/herself?
  • Does your partner use drugs or abuse alcohol?
  • Are you planning to leave/divorce your partner? When do you think you'd leave? What would enable you to make that decision?
  • Is your partner aware of your plans to leave or divorce? If s/he were aware of those plans, what do you think your partner would do?

If you found yourself responding to these questions with “yes” responses, it is likely that the violence is escalating.  It is time to seriously consider the idea that this relationship might end with your death, or the death of your children. 

It may be time to get out.

Getting out of a violent relationship

It's as if perpetrators have a sixth sense when they are about to lose access to the targets of their tension-reducing rage. When a victim takes control of his/her life and begins to plan for departure from the violent relationship, the perpetrator seems to gain a heightened awareness, increasing the danger for the victim. As such, it is imperative that the victim have a way to communicate with supportive others to enact a safety plan, as it might become an emergent plan rather than a deliberate one.

If you are in a violent relationship, and you are ready to get out, there are certain items that you’ll want to compile prior to your departure.  However, do only what you can without getting caught.  Removable ceiling tiles and crawl spaces make fairly good private storage, but remember to replace covers as they were for your own protection.

The following items will prove useful to have upon departure:

  • Personal papers (deed to the home, passport, birth certificate, insurance information, divorce decree, custody paperwork)
  • Car keys
  • Important phone numbers, address book, PDS, or Blackberry
  • Medications or prescriptions
  • Change of clothes (for self and/or children)
  • Toiletries
  • Copy of restraining or protective order (if one has been issued)

Exiting a violent relationship takes courage, strength, faith and incredible will.  If you are able to take this first step towards health, you will be able to create a new life for yourself.  Know that no matter how much you love your partner, your partner will never change until you allow him or her to do so.  Stepping out of the violent dynamics not only propel you towards greater health and safety, but will enable your partner to finally question his/her own health, values, and choices.

If you are in a violent relationship and need support and guidance, don’t hesitate to contact us.  You are not alone.

Verbal Violence

What Lenore Walker didn’t study in her groundbreaking research of domestic violence was what Michael Johnson (1995) eventually described as “common couple violence”. While physical and sexual violence is certainly a mainstay in partnerships dominated by “patriarchal terrorists”, it is less prevalent in the majority of relationships. What is far more common is relationships in which one, or generally both, parties express their stress and frustration in the form of verbal or physical violence against one another. And, while it is generally believed that physical violence is significantly more detrimental to the relationship than are verbal insults, the insidiousness of verbal violence in relationship may be vastly underestimated. That old phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be one of our greatest myths in relationship.

Clearly, anyone who’s been at the receiving end of verbal violence knows that the sting is really no less than that of a back-hand blow. Even worse, most of us question our reactions to such insults, put-downs, and criticisms. Verbal violence, especially in its more subtle form, is “crazy-making”. Because it does not carry the weight of brute force or strangulation, we question its voracity. Partners with greater insecurity or lower self-esteem even wonder if they’ve done something to bring it on!

Verbal violence, like incest, carries with it not only a deep sense of betrayal, but a pervasive subtlety that may invoke far greater damage than the occasional closed fist. When you don’t see it coming, and you fail to prepare for the blow, the traumatic sequelae (aftermath) can be far-reaching.

Partners in such relationships may become deadened to the cues to some degree. Because they unconsciously recognize that these behaviors occur in a cycle, they begin to numb themselves to the actual insults. The tension builds, and builds, and when the dam breaks in these relationships, there is an element of surprise, betrayal and resentment which may not have existed in the relationships that Lenore Walker originally studied. In these couples, the eruption may occur, and within days or hours, one or both partners may initiate reparation techniques similar to those described by John Gottman (1999) in his research about successful coupling. And, whether the reparation comes in the form of an apology, a “post-mortem” discussion, or great “make-up sex”, the cycle doesn’t end there. Couples who become desensitized to this level of violence in their relationship cease to even recognize that their behaviors are cyclical. To them, the post-game wrap-up, or mind-blowing make-up sex will resolve it all. They are generally oblivious to the reality that the cycle continues, and is but months, weeks, days or even moments away from that “re-start button”.

If you are in a relationship in which you or your partner, or both of you, do not maintain respect for one another as well as the relationship itself, then it may be time to get some relationship counseling or coaching.


We live in an era during which couples seem to end their marriages almost as often as they enter them. Sixty years ago, faith, culture and logistics inhibited divorce. Now, with $330 and some paperwork, couples can head to the courthouse and file for divorce without much effort.

But, creating an amicable divorce takes some work. For couples without children, divorce becomes primarily about fairly separating assets and debts. For those with children, the court can become a battlefield if certain steps are not taken to avoid that disaster.

The healthy divorce, no matter who leaves who, is a process by which two people not only separate their worldly belongings, but also develop mutual agreement about where and with whom their children will spend time. But, there's the rub- often people divorce because they can't seem to get on the same page, and they can't seem to agree on much. So, how do you get two people, who aren't communicating well enough to stay married, to create agreement about who and how their children will be raised?

Divorce counseling is a terrific strategy for averting divorce disaster. Through a series of counseling sessions, couples are coached through the primary decisions that must be made about home, finances, belongings and kids. Most divorce counseling inhibits all discussion about past failures and dramas, and instead emphasizes the ways in which couples can employ their skills to manage the present and future.

Divorce counseling typically incorporates:

  • Instruction in communication and negotiation skills
  • Assertiveness training
  • Basic behavior modification (how to avoid bad habits with one another)
  • Basic parenting skills
  • Divorce procedures 101
    • Determining whether or not an attorney or mediator is needed
    • Documenting the inventory of the shared home (digital camera and a spreadsheet are a requirement!)
    • Identifying desires and needs of each partner and of the children
    • Determining where each party will live and what will become of the family home
    • Preparing appropriate court documents
    • Consulting with a Financial Planner for the equitable division of assets
As with the end of any relationship, the goal of divorce is amicable separation with the least amount of negativity. Despite whatever urge you may have to exact revenge on your former partner, using divorce to do so will only really hurt you. Your divorce is an opportunity to begin a new life, one that you can design and implement. No matter how you feel at the outset, independence and freedom can be liberating and enjoyable!

Losing your Partner

We all come into this world alone and we all leave alone. But, if we're really lucky, in between those two points, we enjoy some wonderful people along the way. Some folks move through life sampling, never really resting too long in any one place or relationship. For others, the search for a soulmate or life partner becomes tantamount. And, when two people find one another, they often struggle with the depths they are willing to reach together. They negotiate with themselves and one another to determine how vulnerable they can safely be in relationship. Eventually, they co-author an agreement about how they will be together.

Once couples have navigated those waters, they begin to stretch their wings. Each interaction furthers their commitment to one another, as well as the depth and breadth of their union. Eventually, they sample the relational sweetness that we all crave, and they are locked, mid-flight, in love. Once tasted, it's nearly incomprehensible to give it up.

Losing a partner can be one of the most painful experiences we manage during our lives. Through that transition, we not only lose our mate, but we also lose all of the thoughts and fantasies of the future we have dreamed together. Suddenly, our heads are as empty as our arms. We feel ungrounded, and confused by the loss of direction. It's as if our internal compass no longer has a true North.

Surviving the loss of a love requires that we accept the emotions that we experience as they come, without judgment. No matter what role we have played, who we have been, or how stoic and strong we have been in the past, losing a loved one can bring us to our knees. Emotional, and even sometimes physical, pain is inevitable. If you are able to embrace it, you will not waste your energy on resisting that reality. You'll need your energy for far more important things than trying to avoid feeling pain.

The other really important element is obtaining support. If you have friends or family that love and support you through your loss, terrific. If you don't have that kind of support available, grief counseling can provide a good alternative. While many survivors select individual psychotherapy first, they are often encouraged to join grief groups, where they can give and receive support from others who have also survived the loss of a loved one.

Coping Skills for Grief

As we age, it becomes far more likely with every passing year that we will lose those that are close to us. In our early years, it is "off-time" to experience the death of loved ones- it's as if it's not supposed to happen to us before we can really understand what it means for someone to die, and gain the support of our peers. But, as we age, the death of family members and friends becomes more and more common, not only for us, but for our peers as well.

That being said, even a sense of imminence and an awareness that death is an eventuality, does not really prepare us for the reality of death. The best we can hope for is to assemble a set of tools that eases our pain and enables us to better manage loss.

Essential skills for coping wth loss

  1. Unwaivering faith Fear of the unknown is one of the most common issues addressed in therapy. Death, for most people, constitutes The Great Unknown, and therefore may be steeped with fear. Yet, just as easily as we might make an assumption that the unknown is bad or scary, we can develop a belief that the unknown is exciting or even blissful.

    One of the most helpful tools we can possess in our coping toolkit is the belief that there is nothing to fear in death. Whatever your faith may be, it can carry you forward to that peaceful resting place. And, if you don't believe in a God or gods, consider a little physics: imagine that you are just a bundle of energy in a body. Now, the body is gone and your energy can connect with all of the other energy around you. You are free, yet embraced by all. You are now one with everything. How could that be scary?
  2. Love never dies Whether or not you believe in the Afterlife or reincarnation, you can rest assured that love never dies. We are not our bodies: we are the consciousness that lives in our bodies. Therefore, when our bodies expire, there is a consciousness that remains. What happens to that spirit or soul following the death of body has been in hot debate for thousands of years. And, no matter who's right about what happens to the soul after death, it is clear that love is not part of our bodies- it is somehow connected to the spirit. As such, love, by nature, is eternal.

    And, if you're willing to accept that we do not need a body to connect or communicate with one another, then great comfort can be experienced in the awareness that you can continue to experience the love of friends and family long after they've passed.
  3. Free expression of emotion Often, folks believe that they need to be stoic- either because they are themselves uncomfortable with the expression of emotion, or because they believe that they need to be strong for others around them. Parents frequently restrict their emotions because they believe that their children should not see them cry. Why they think that I have no idea.

    Loss is painful for most. Even in situations where death comes as a great relief after a long dying process or following horrific physical pain, survivors feel a mixture of emotions. As feelings arise, they need to be expressed. The alternative is that the feelings just accumulate, and one day, when you're not looking, they jump you! Consider that those feelings might even arise when you think it's most inconvenient. But, hey, you won't be in control at that point, so you choose. Feel them now, feel them later, just feel them.

    As for kids, one of the most important things we can teach children is to listen to their bodies and to pay attention to their experiences. Children cannot be fooled- if you are experiencing strong emotions, kids can feel those emotions like vibrations on a tuning fork. If they ask you if you are sad and you respond that you are FINE, and you are not, your children will be learning how to lie, not how to manage grief. If you are sad, and your children see you cry, they will ask what's going on. If you are able to identify your feelings, at the level that they can understand, you will actively be teaching your children that:

    1. It's OK to feel.
    2. Feelings- even strong ones- won't kill you and are not to fear.
    3. Feelings are unique and have their own separate labels (e.g. sad, mad, worried).
    4. Feelings aren't forever- you may feel sad and cry, but eventually the tears will stop and you will return to what you were doing.
  4. Talk it out We like to believe that grief is a private matter. So, many of us just keep it to ourselves. Bottled up, nowhere to go, grief expands like a gas trapped in a bottle. Eventually, the grief will choke the bottleneck and you won't have a choice- you'll either make yourself sick, or you'll have to start talking it out.

    Who you talk to is up to you. Sometimes speaking with friends and family works well. If the loss is communal- a family member or a friend that many people knew- then there will be lots of folks in the same position as you- grieving and needing to share feelings and memories.

    Sometimes, it isn't comfortable to share grief with family or friends. Losing a lover that no one knew about, or losing a friend to suicide are both circumstances which may not lend themselves well to family discussion. In these cases, and other situations in which it might be ill-advised to share wih friends or family, professional listeners can be a great alternative. In addition to therapists and counselors, community as well as private grief groups are often available. If you've lost a loved one to Cancer, for instance, both the American Cancer Society as well as local hospitals offer support groups to those who have lost others to Cancer.

    But, what if you're just not willing to share your innermost thoughts and feelings with another human being? You are still not alone. There is nothing that says that you have to talk to a human about your loss. There may be equal if not greater, benefit to reaching out to the loved one that you've lost! Whether you speak out loud to your loved one, or share your feelings in sleep or meditative time, or even write your loved one a letter, all of these avenues are wonderful ways to give your grief a channel for expression.

  5. Write, right? Probably second best to talking it out, is expressing your grief on paper (OK- computer screen if you must!). It can be as private or public as you make it: whether you write in a personal journal or blog your grief for the world to see, or any version on between, the flow of emotion from heart to hand can be a phenomenal release. And, if you're afraid that someone will find your journal, feel free to write on any form of paper, then take it to the fireplace and set the paper aflame. No one said you had to keep what you write- just let it out.

  6. Creative flow For many people, the expression of emotion isn't facilitated by left brained activities like written or verbal communication. For this crowd, grief may be better managed through creative flow. Musicians may find it comforting to play or listen to music. Dancers may find relief in moving their bodies. Those who find joy in the creation or production of art may ease their pain by putting paint to paper, or through doodling, sketching, or coloring. Even scrapbooking and collage-making can liberate the self to express and articulate all that has welled up inside following loss.

  7. Move that body! Despite the fact that you may want to just curl up and die after the loss of a loved one, you will eventually need to get up and move your body. While the signs and symptoms of depression may accompany grief (including but not limited to hopelessness, the desire to isolate, and the feeling that you are slogging through mud), it is important for your well-being that you make efforts to reinvigorate at some point. In addition to the methods identified above, simply moving around can provide some relief for your grief.

    If you are an athlete, engage in your sport, but let go of any and all expectations that your performance will be anything close to optimal. During grief, movement will generate some pleasant endorphins and will remind you of who you are, but not what you can do. As the experience of grief moves through, most athletes begin to experience restoration to optimal performance.

    If you are not an athlete but can exercise, use your favorite form of exercise to get those endorphins to kick in. In your waves of grief you're not going to feel much like doing your least favorite form of exercise, so please don't try!

Transitioning from death to life

While it may seem impossible to believe, at some point in time, the transition of your loved one will be complete and it will be your time to transition- back to life.

Grief has many stages. Kubler-Ross identified stages of sadness, anger, bargaining with God, desolation and acceptance and suggested that all who move through grief experience these stages- though not always in the same order. In addition to the stages that Kubler-Ross postulated, consider some additional stages of grief:

  • Keening
    In tribal communities, one a member of the tribe dies, all gather together for a period of 24 hours during which they grieve, wail, and cry with reckless abandon. No matter how close the relationship between the deceased and the survivor, all engage in the keening. Following the all-encompassing expression of grief, the tribe gathers to celebrate the departed in a joyous feast! The process is both efficient and effective. Remaining members of the tribe are not distracted by their efforts to hide or express their grief and can be fully functional in the present. Those that have been lost are honored, and life moves on.

    Consider what your life would be like if you gave in to your grief. If you took the time and energy to let all those feelings come up and out, and honored, instead of judged, them, imagine the energy freed by the process! And, if you were joined in the process by others who had experienced the loss, imagine the sense of support and connection you might feel, rather than the desperate loneliness that often accompanies loss.

  • Resolution
    After the active stage of keening is finished and you are left to a less intense, wave-like process of emotional experience, you will begin to contemplate what things will be like after grief has passed. The loss will be real, and denial of the death will recede. This is when things get taken care of- wills are read, trusts are reviewed, homes are emptied and sold, and personal effects are explored and distributed amongst survivors.

    In this stage, you may feel a desperate desire to be close to the departed and may treasure items associated with that person, or you may want to frequently visit a place special to both of you. Allow yourself the freedom to engage in the activities that allow you to manage the process, no matter how silly it might seem to others.

  • Releasing
    • When all has been said and done, the active phase of grief will end. The need to keep your loved one close through objects or memories will fade. It is at that time that real release begins.
    • Resolving valence-
    • Many people who have lost a loved one dscribe a sense that the loved one is near, even after they have passed. Some even see or smell their loved ones. Most express comfort through these experiences, though some are unsettled.
    • Consider the idea that our loved ones create an energetic tie to us during their lives- perhaps like a lifeline. When the person dies, the lifeline remains, until we willingly and intentionally detach the lifeline and release our loved one to the Divine. That lifeline is like a magnetic valence- our attachment to the person who's passed inhibits their departure from this world.
    • When you have stabilized in your grief and you are ready to let go, choose a time and space to really connect with the one that you've lost- either through meditation or memory. Then ask any questions that remain, and say your final goodbyes. Then imagine them embraced in a beautiful platinum light until they shimmer and are consumed in the light. Allow yourself to experience the exhiliration of their complete union with the Divine, and know that as they complete this transition, they will be able to return to you in the silence whenever they choose. Remember, love never dies, and you are never alone.