Thursday, October 22, 2015


Advice of the day: If you really want to know what or how someone is thinking or feeling, or you are wondering how you should interpret their behavior in the absence of clarity...before you jump to conclusions and risk harming the relationship, **just ask them**. 
Be direct. Be honest. Own your shit. Say "this is how that seemed to me; what did it mean to you?" and give them the opportunity to correct your interpretation if indeed you were mistaken. 
I almost always do this. It's taken practice, and sometimes I wait too long and things get messier than they need to, but overall my relationships are far stronger as a result. But you would be surprised how unusual it is. Very often, when people are complaining about someone, I'll ask "okay, did you tell them you felt that way?" and 9 times out of 10 the answer is no. WTF? How do you expect people to stop doing things you don't like or to start responding differently if you don't actually talk to them about it? 
I've said this before, but it bears repeating: PEOPLE CANNOT READ YOUR MIND. The very worst thing you can possibly do in a situation like that is to just draw your own conclusions, and behave as if your version is true. It usually is not.

I love you too much to have this conversation right now.

Advice of the day: 
For those of you inclined to lose your temper and lash out in anger at people you love, I'm going to offer you my most valuable piece of advice ever. I won't even charge you my standard rate for it, but you're welcome for potentially saving your marriage or relationship (or friendship, or whatever) from some unnecessary damage. It's definitely saved mine a time or two, because while I am definitely slow to anger, once I get there it can be ugly. 
So, when you are angry, and you feel yourself at that threshold beyond which you KNOW you're going to say a lot of shit you don't mean and/or should never say, instead form your mouth (or fingers, if god forbid it's via text) around these words immediately: 
"I love you too much to have this conversation right now." 
And step away. Or set the phone down. Or whatever you need to do. Wait until your heart slows, the shaking stops, your core temperature returns to normal, and you are once again able to think clearly. Then, think about why you reacted that way. What did the situation trigger for you? What were you feeling in that moment? Then, respond thoughtfully and with intention. Then, you can say, "The reason that made me angry was because _______" and go from there. 
Never, I repeat, never speak to someone you love when you're angry if you can possibly help it. It's okay to have conflict; sometimes conflict is necessary for growth, as painful as it can be. However, while it is okay to disagree or have conflict, it is not okay to be harmful. 
Practice so that this line enters your lexicon and becomes a reflexive response to anger: "I love you too much to have this conversation right now."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thoughts on the Ashley Madison information leaks

August, 2015 

(This was written in response to an online article about all the people who have committed suicide after it leaked that they were involved in the "cheating website" Ashley Madison. I can't find the article now but I'll update this post later if I find it. My points remain the same.) 

So. Infidelity is a complex thing that's much more nuanced than "s/he is a cheater". I may have unique insight given that I do a lot of marriage counseling post-affair and as such I get access to deep reflection on how and why infidelity occurs. And I'll say that it's almost always complicated. 

Both personally and professionally, I tend to not be judgmental of people who have affairs, because most of the time, happy people don't cheat. Most of the time, infidelity occurs as a symptom of a gap in connection or as the result of an unattended wound in a relationship. It rarely is *just* because somebody wanted to have sex with someone else or because they are a callous person who intends to harm their spouse/partner. And if it were simply about wanting to have sex with someone else, I would still not be terribly judgmental because I also think we do people a disservice by culturally enforcing the idea that monogamy is a one-size-fits-all recipe for a happy life. For some people it's simply not, but they try it anyway, and then fail because it does not suit them or they do not actually want to live that way.

All of that is to say, generally speaking (**although I'll admit to some smug satisfaction with people like Josh Duggar being outed because it's just icing on the hypocritical cake that is his faux-religious life**) I think the outing of the AM users is much more negative and damaging than it could ever be "just" or "right". Living in alignment with one's publicly stated values is important, as is honoring the commitments one has made, but so is privacy and the right to self-determine one's life without such public shaming.

The moralizing around this leak is gross to me. Basically everyone has something in their past or present that they'd prefer not get out, something that paints them in an unflattering light, or about which they are not proud. I would venture a guess that nearly all of the people who are tsk tsking and finger-wagging from their high moral ground live in a glass house and probably shouldn't be throwing stones. Shaming people for shit we ourselves do or have done or might do someday is a shallow source of satisfaction.

The idea that people have committed suicide over this information leak is also troubling and sad. I hope that for most of the outed AM users, this will be an opportunity to more wholly live their truths and own up to whatever they haven't been owning up to, whether that be about sex or love or connection or power or whatever. Hopefully at least some of the marriages will end up stronger, and the ones that don't will end as amicably and painlessly and shame-free as possible.

be brave enough to break your own heart.

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solo adventures!

I talk about this all the time. I am an advocate of solo adventures. People often express reluctance to go do things if they don't have a person (****even when they don't enjoy that person's company, they would still just rather not be alone- this is how many people end up staying in relationships way too long, but that's another story).
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"this is what you shall do…"

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

-Walt Whitman

Relationships as Agreements

My (personal and professional) feeling about relationships is that they are basically just agreements. And like all agreements, the terms may occasionally need to be revisited in order to ensure that all parties are having their needs met within the context of the agreement. This goes for friendships, intimate relationships, marriages, and even familial relationships.
So, if you are in a relationship of any kind that is decidedly not meeting your stated needs, you have ***every right*** to negotiate the terms of the agreement. You do not have the right to be harmful or disrespectful, but likewise you are not obliged to continue participating in a relationship that is harmful or disrespectful to you.
Yes, even if you are married and have committed yourself before God and all your people, even if the person you're being harmed by is your blood relative, even if the person is a lifelong friend. A relationship is still a reciprocal, dynamic, fluid thing and requires attention and occasional modifications. Whether the other person believes they need to change anything or not, the terms of a healthy relationship are always open to negotiation. You are not stuck. You are not required to participate in an arrangement you do not agree to.
I say this because I know too many people who languish in unhappy or unhealthy friendships or "love" relationships and never quite feel empowered to address the disconnect they feel. So they stay, and they agree to be miserable. I say this to remind you that you have agency over your life and the way you are treated and the agreements you make. I say this because you are entitled to happiness, and have more authority than you may believe to cultivate it in your life.


You may not even know who in your life is an introvert. Sometimes we are hiding in plain sight! You can deduce that I am one because of these telltale signs: I love to be in my pjs at home alone, I go out to breakfast alone (on purpose) several times a week, I take myself to movies, I sneak out of yoga class first so I don't have to chat anyone, I avoid parties, prefer small group interaction, and I cancel plans sometimes because I just literally can't deal with anything. But if you didn't know (thanks to my oversharing on FB) that I did these things, you might not know that I'm an introvert, because I also chat strangers at the grocery store, make friends everywhere I go, go on dates all the time, provide therapy to strangers, sing in public, am on a nonprofit board, and am generally (mostly) socially competent.
Introverts are not always shy, or socially phobic, or awkward. In fact, I know a lot of introverts who do public speaking or are performing artists or who are in leadership positions. Instead, it just means that introverts are energized by quiet and solitude and downtime, and are drained of energy by social interaction or constant stimulation. Introverts need to "recharge the batteries" at some point in order to continue performing at optimum capacity. This is true to varying degrees for all introverts, but some are more or less equipped to handle long stretches of energetic exertion. Introverts need to have coping strategies for these times, and it helps for the extraverts in their life to understand how they work and what they need.
I worry specifically about my introverted working parents. When do you get time to recharge if you're working around people all day, and then coming home to care for children and a partner and fulfilling household responsibilities? One thing that can help is for couples to negotiate for the introverted parent to get 15-20 minutes of quiet (a nap or some mindless activity) when they get home before they are thrust into family life. That small window of downtime can be the difference between cranky, overwhelmed introverted parent and patient, loving introverted parent. (If both parents are introverts, you may need to alternate or find ways for both parents to get this sort of respite.)
If your child is an introvert, try to not correct, embarrass, chastise, or even excessively praise them in front of people. Take them aside and discuss privately whatever the thing is. If they prefer to warm up slowly to strangers, don't make them hug or kiss someone they don't know well. If they prefer to play alone, don't try and force them to interact with other children all the time. If they get overstimulated at a crowded event and start to melt down, move them somewhere quieter and let them chill for a few minutes. If they ask you to not tell everyone at the restaurant that it's their birthday because it freaks them out when strangers come gather around and sing, honor that. We don't often pay attention to these needs in children because historically, American childhood is sort of designed for extraverted kids, but introverted kids will do better in slightly modified environments and we will honor our children's unique ways of being by being mindful of these things.
If your romantic partner is an introvert, make sure you give them the opportunity to be alone sometimes without making it about you. Don't give them a guilt trip if they're like, "I know we had plans to hang out tonight, but I really need some quiet time. Can we reschedule?" That has nothing to do with you or not wanting to be with you. That is an act of self-care. That is your introverted partner saying "I am overstimulated and would not be good company." But if you make an introvert feel badly enough and they go ahead and spend time with you despite feeling this way, they will probably resent you and be weird and quiet anyway, so you might as well just give them the space they're requesting. Once they've recharged, they can reconnect and you'll get a better, more rested version of them.
Don't make your introverted partner go to a bunch of parties or events or gatherings if they really don't like or are uncomfortable with that sort of thing. Prioritize the ones that are legitimately important to you, and request their presence at those events with the explanation that you would really appreciate if they would go with you. Understand that not wanting to go to every single event isn't a rejection of your (family/work/friends) so much as a deep discomfort in large groups. Instead, if there are people in your life that you'd really like your introverted partner to get to know, plan smaller, more intimate gatherings. Dinner parties of 4-8 people are ideal. Your introverted partner will likely be more comfortable, more authentic, and better able to connect with people. Introverts tend to be uncomfortable making small talk for any extended lengths of time, so any opportunity they have to avoid it and instead engage in meaningful dialogue will be enthusiastically taken. They will also appreciate that you understand this about them.
Give an introvert processing time. If you're trying to have an important or heavy emotional discussion, an introvert can sometimes get overwhelmed and not feel able to respond adequately in the moment. Be patient. Let them formulate their responses and do not interrupt while they're expressing themselves. Extraverts often want to get it all out immediately, and will become frustrated at an introvert's pace. If you wish to have a healthy, happy relationship with an introvert, it would behoove you to be mindful of giving them equal floor time in discussions even if it takes a moment to get there.
Understand that quiet does not equal unhappy. You don't need to ask an introvert 835 times if they are okay just because you've noticed they are being quiet. Sometimes they are just listening and observing and thinking, all of which are actually engagements of a sort. They are just internal engagement that you cannot see. Sometimes it means nothing at all that an introvert is being quiet. That said, sometimes it may mean they are overstimulated and are attempting to recalibrate within the environment. If you sense that your introverted partner may be overwhelmed, instead of asking another time if they're okay, simply offer to step outside with them.
(I have often been known to retreat to the restroom for a few moments when I feel overstimulated at an event, or in a crowd, or when there is a great deal of noise.)
Introverts often feel like the world isn't made for them, and struggle to balance everything they have to do and all the people they have to talk to despite sometimes just wanting to spend days at a time alone in their homes without human contact. It helps to have people around who understand and appreciate that there isn't anything *wrong* with introverts. They just process things differently and have different needs than extraverts.
Introverts often really appreciate having extraverts around to do some of the social heavy lifting. Personally, I love having an extraverted partner or friend around. It takes so much pressure off of me. (I'll write one of these for them in a bit).
There are a million other tips I could give for how to love an introvert, but I know the longer the post gets, the less likely people are to read it. smile emoticon This comes up in my client sessions a lot, though, because so many people don't even know they're introverts, much less how to explain that to the people in their lives. Hope this helps!

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Men & Sex.

Many of you know from my previous posts that I think men are fascinating creatures and I am deeply intellectually curious about maleness and masculinity. Many of my best friends and many of my clients are men, and so I've had the privilege of digging deeply into some issues pertinent to men that as a woman I might otherwise have never realized were there. I'm also interested in sex (in general) and work with a lot of clients (and talk to my friends) in this area as well. Most commonly, I will say that women report dissatisfaction with something about the *actual sex*, whereas men report dissatisfaction with the frequency. When there seems to be a disconnect in a couples' sexual desire or enjoyment or basic compatibility, I find that it often is actually rooted in some emotional disconnect.
I've written before that I think our culture does men innumerable grave disservices when it comes to socialization around the expression of feelings and development of emotional intelligence. They also receive mixed messages as to what is expected of them. We women often inadvertently contribute to the confusion they report feeling: we want men to be tough, but tender. Emotional, but not too much. Be there for us, but not smothering. Nurturing, but still "a man" (whatever that means).
Walk an impossible tightrope, but make sure you stand up straight and don't cry while you're (inevitably) falling off.
I've also written before that I believe men have the same capacity for love, empathy, emotional responsiveness, sensuality, and tenderness (etc) that women have, but that we often fail to teach them how to access them, much less how to healthily express themselves in these ways. This can result in myriad dysfunctions including deep unhappiness, anger, frustration, and/or this profound sense of emptiness/loneliness many men report experiencing. I opine that it impacts the sexual relationship between men and women as well. (I am sure it also impacts same-sex relationships in both similar and different ways, but for the purposes of this post, I am referring specifically to hetero sex).
My thoughts are that in general, we don't do a good job of socializing men to be able to genuinely connect with women sexually. This becomes problematic in relationships because for many women, emotions and sex are inextricable. So when a woman feels emotionally disconnected, sex is likely to be less enjoyable (and become less of a priority, because why bother if it doesn't feel good?)
Many men do not realize that they could/should be doing sex with an eye to the ways it specifically works best for women, or to be intuitive and flexible and to pay attention to each woman's *unique* sexual energy. Like it or not, women's bodies are mysterious and wonderful things that are far less straightforward in their responses and their needs/wants/desires than men. What worked perfectly for one woman may leave another woman completely unsatisfied, and thus, relying on one's "tried and true methods" is often a recipe for disappointment.
Because of the pressures they feel in the world and the way they are programmed to behave out there, I find that men often don't know how to dramatically shift gears in their intimate relationships. Men can have a tendency to approach sex as if it is a "performance" (thereby placing too much pressure on outcome at the expense of being fully present) or as if it is a list of tasks to be completed (rendering sexual contact transactional at best).
Too, whether they are conscious of it or not, it is true that some men have absorbed (to greater or lesser extents) the mores of the porn industry and a misogynistic culture that teaches men that women are there to provide pleasure for them. Unfortunately, nothing about porn is relevant to real sex, and misogyny is a fully dysfunctional lens through which to view heterosexual sexuality. As such, men have to essentially undo most of what they are taught. Men also have to basically start with a fully blank slate with each new female partner in order to connect sexually with women in a way that legitimately prioritizes **her** and how she feels. I think that men also (simultaneously) have to consciously reject the idea that tenderness and generosity in a sexual context isn't "masculine".
Anecdotally, it seems to me that most women do not enjoy aggressive or rough sex all of the time (some do, of course, but I always wonder if that is inherent or whether that's somehow related to how we are socialized to do it the way we think men like it?) but then again, as a result of their personal lived experiences of sex, many women also probably think that's just how sex is. This is a vicious cycle considering many men do not know how to access the more intuitive, emotional aspects of themselves that would permit deep intimacy, and many women do not know how to ask for it or that it is even there. I have often said that sex is easy, but intimacy is hard.
From what I have gathered from my work and my personal life, it seems fair to say that a man who is great in bed is one who makes her feel like his female partner's pleasure is *the* most important thing to him. It's a win-win, because women who feel respected and adored and prioritized are more likely to be open and generous lovers in return. And frankly, men are *most likely* going to get theirs regardless. (No, it's not as easy for some men as it is for others, but hopefully we can agree that as a general rule, male orgasm is a less complex and elusive thing than the female orgasm). Because 70%+ of women can't get off from intercourse alone, sometimes women end up feeling like there is something wrong with us because it takes more/longer/different than it takes men. And I will say that some men are very attached to the idea that their penis should make every woman automatically fully satisfied. It is simply not possible for many women, so for men to be disappointed (or worse, to make her feel it's a failing on her part) is a complete waste of energy and a guaranteed way to interrupt the potential for deep sexual connection.
It also seems like a major component to sexual dissatisfaction is the simple fact that a lot of men have internalized the idea that male sexuality is the norm, and female the aberration. In fact, this only speaks to the socialization/indoctrination of and by a male-dominated world, not actual reality. I feel like if we taught men how to more easily access their emotions, they might find it easier to accept a shift towards connecting a more "feminine" way, and to pay attention to their female partners in a deeper way.
Please note: nothing I've said is intended to criticize men; again, it's largely a result of a culture-wide acceptance of male sexuality as the norm coupled with our unreasonable/inconsistent expectations of men that causes this disconnect.


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Do you ever feel just sort of generally off? As if you are out of alignment in some fundamental way? As if you are somehow out of step with the people around you, or with your career, or in your Relationship?
I use the word "alignment" a lot in my counseling practice. It's something I started thinking about specifically in my yoga practice, but which has analogously expanded to account for much of the unhappiness I see in the people around me.
In yoga, there is great emphasis placed on proper alignment of the body in the postures. In my early years of practicing, I tried to follow the instruction to the letter, because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I thought that was how to "do it right". I thought my body was wrong, and yoga was right, and that I needed to re-shape my natural physical tendencies in order to "be good at" yoga. Consequently, I practiced for years without consideration to the needs of *my particular body,* and as a result actually created new dis-ease and discomfort and even injury.
What I learned over time (and after several minor injuries that required me to modify my movements) was that the alignment instruction is a guideline. It's a prescriptive set of instructions that is generically designed for the human body *in general*. Not every body is going to be able to do every posture the same way. I had to learn through mindfulness which instructions worked for me and which caused me discomfort, and do it the way it works for me. The teacher is there as a guide and a support, but ultimately I am completely responsible for how I move my body, and for keeping it safe, and I honor it much more by listening to it. Just because (for example) most people keep their leg straight during a pose doesn't mean I don't need a microbend in my knee to achieve the pose safely.
Get what I'm saying? Once I figured out that *my* correct alignment was specific to me and my body, and I stopped trying to force myself into every pose the way you're "supposed" to, I found a great deal more freedom and movement and relief of the pain I was feeling.
It has been my experience that much human discontent is born of similar misalignment, but of the spirit rather than the body. When people report feeling unhappy, or restless, or even just vaguely dissatisfied with their job or relationship or Life, and we dig into what's going on, we often find that the problem is that they are not quite on the right path *for them*. They may have done all the "right" things, and be making a lot of money, or have an attractive spouse, or live in a large home, or whatever, but that does not equate to "happiness" for many people.
With prescriptive ideas in our culture about the "right" way to go about thing or the "traditional" trajectory of life, many of us just agree to do it the way it's done because we don't even know there's another way. But at some point, if we are out of alignment with our true nature, we will begin to feel it. It will begin to show up just beneath the surface. We may feel edgy, or impatient, or irritable, or depressed, but not really know why. We may act out. We may cheat on our spouses or use harsh words with our children. We may over-eat or drink too much or become addicted to sex or pornography. In my experience, most behavior like that (especially around mid-life) is probably symptomatic of misalignment.
Oftentimes, people who are very sensitive and emotional get messages early on that they shouldn't be that way. So they push aside their feelings and they "toughen up". They stop responding in the ways that have been called "sensitive" or "emotional." But that doesn't actually make them less sensitive. Instead, it just stunts their growth. In denying a fundamental part of themselves, the way they develop then naturally fails to equip them with coping strategies for their sensitivity, because it's become buried and is not welcome as an outward display. These people will likely have a reduced tolerance for emotional discomfort and be either very emotionally cut off or extremely volatile. They literally may not recognize themselves in descriptions like "sensitive" or "emotional" because they have spent their lives fighting their basic nature and building a new, more acceptable version of themselves. That is an example of misalignment.
Or, oftentimes people who are very creative get messages early on that being creative is not very "practical" or that they will "never make any money that way". The thing that they are very good at or love dearly may be (consciously or unconsciously) devalued by the people around them who believe in the traditional trajectory of life, and so these creative people may begin to see how they will not receive the approval they may seek by pursuing those "less practical" fields. So they may abandon their creative endeavors and go into business or banking or become lawyers, despite the fact that they are actually not that interested in those fields. They may be very successful at lawyering or banking, but lingering beneath the surface is a vague dissatisfaction, because what they were *made* to be was a writer, or an artist, or a musician. So their whole life is sort of vaguely infused with a sense of being in the wrong place. And these people may make a lot of money, and have a lifestyle that requires them to continue along this path, but they can't shake that feeling that this isn't where they really want to be. This is another example of misalignment.
So. Think of the ways in which you may be living out of alignment. Are there places in your life that you keep forcing yourself to "fit" that you just don't? Are there relationships that you feel out of synch in? Is your career a good fit for your temperament? Do you feel satisfied when you look at your achievements? Did you forge your own path or are you following one you felt pressured to follow? Are you in the right place *for you*? Do you tune in to yourself when those vague inklings of dissatisfaction pop up? Take an inventory: are there places you can make adjustments that might move you into closer alignment with your true nature? You will feel great relief if you are able to do this. It's like when you get used to a chronic pain or discomfort to the point that you don't even notice until it suddenly goes away and you are like "OH MY GOD I FORGOT HOW GOOD I COULD FEEL."
You can tell you're in perfect alignment when what you're doing or who you're doing it with feels natural, comfortable, safe, and does not require extreme energy expenditure to maintain. When you feel as if you can breathe and move freely and authentically. If that's not how you feel, aspire to it. It's possible.