Communication: Something Most of Us Have Never Done

17068-a-woman-and-older-man-sitting-at-a-table-pvIn the more than 30 years that I have been working with couples I can unreservedly say that by far the most critical factor determining whether a couple will stay together and how happy and fulfilled they will be with each other is their ability to communicate. If a relationship cannot talk about itself, that is if one or both persons cannot or do not talk about their actual experience of it, the relationship and the love in it will hit a glass ceiling above which they cannot rise. Both the relationship and the love between the partners must become ever expansive and refreshed if they are to remain vital, alive and rewarding over time.

For this to occur the skill and art of communication must be worked on and fine-tuned the way a master woodworker hallows a delicate and beautiful bowl out of a standard, spindly, rough-hewn piece of wood. From my observation the number of us that have the ability to effectively communicate is dramatically less than the number of artisans who can create a work of art out of ordinary materials.

What most people consider to be communication is not communication at all. It is accusation and attack. It is being right and making the other feel bad and wrong. It is portraying oneself as the victim and assigning the exclusive role of the offender to the other. Ultimately the unspoken intention that lies behind these imposters to real communication is separation not union, and attack and defense not forgiveness and compassion.

The net result of every single interaction that you have with a loved one is that the intimacy, trust and goodwill that you have with each other will either expand or contract. There is nothing in between. This means that relationships are dynamic. They never stand still. They grow or die with every single exchange.

If either person in any interaction in a relationship is left feeling blamed, guilty, bad, wrong, put down or flawed, not only has communication failed but the relationship has been set back, rendering the liklihood of future success in communicating even more remote.

In my view to call what you are doing when you open your mouth and speak words communication, the person who is talking must embody four particular traits or features in their delivery. To personalize them they can be stated as follows:

1) Am I honest?
2) Am I vulnerable?
3) Am I humble?
4) Are all of my statements self-referential?

If you are not honest, vulnerable, humble and self-referential when you speak it would be wiser, in my opinion, to keep your mouth shut. It just won’t work! The only unknown will be how much the speaker is actually setting the relationships backwards.

Let’s delve further into these courageous, brilliant and beautiful ways to make it safe for another person to be in communication with you:

1. Am I honest? – Am I being congruent with what is going on inside of me? Am I willing to be known? Am I courageously sharing my truths, feelings, needs and wants without making demands on the other person and with few or no expectations?

2. Am I vulnerable? – Am I open? Transparent? Real? Am I showing my humanity and frailties or concealing them behind a false show of certainty or strength or self-righteousness or power? Do I feel defensive or defenseless, closed-hearted or open-hearted when I share? More importantly still, even if I am convinced that I am vulnerable as I speak, how does my significant other experience me?

3. Am I humble? – Am I tentative rather than authoritarian in my delivery? Do I realize that whatever I am saying is based on the flimsiness and narrowness of my viewpoint only? Do I realize that what I am sharing are my perceptions, interpretations and conclusions only and not the Laws of the Land? How badly do I have to have the last word or final say?

4. Am I self-referential? – Am I only talking about myself? Using “I..” statements instead of statements that begin with “You..”, or “You are…”, or “These are your issues”, or ” I feel that you…”.

Communication is a discipline and a skill and, like any other discipline and skill in life worth having, it is not achieved easily or overnight. Hundreds, if not thousands, of repetitions are required to become good at it. Failure and feelings of inadequacy are guaranteed. The goal is for both people to feel good after the communication and actually be happy that it took place. Not easy. Not common. But how badly do you want to keep the other person in your life? And how much do you want to share a life of peace, joy and abiding closeness with him or her? I call what I do with couples the Work of Love. It lives up to its name.

Forgiveness: It Has Nothing To Do With the Other Person

14957032599_62bb39d273_b A relationship ends and you feel angry, hurt, even betrayed. A friend does not remember an important occasion in your personal or family life, and consequently does not ask you about it and share your joy. A colleague makes a scheduling mistake and, for the second time, stands you up for lunch. How do you maintain your inner peace? How do you cleanse and release the negative feelings that may now be residing, perhaps even growing, inside you? How do you restore the lost trust, harmony, and good will in your relationship with the other person?

We human beings are an imperfect lot. We lead extremely busy lives. We have a lot going on in our minds and thoughts, rendering us off-kilter, distracted, and, often innocently, self-absorbed. At the same time we are very sensitive creations – our feelings can be easily hurt, our egos easily bruised. We can hurt or disappoint others without even knowing it. We can fail to meet their private, unspoken expectations, unintentionally and without malice or rudeness. In anger or fear, we can utter cutting, demeaning words hastily, unfeelingly, regretfully. We are all capable of these small but consequential acts of man’s inhumanity to man.

There is no higher act of love that we can bring to our bodies and health, our relationships and our world than our mutual need for forgiveness. No one, and I mean no one walking this earth, is exempt from the need to forgive and be forgiven. And yet what truly is forgiveness?

Forgiveness is not between two people. Nor is it in anyway for the benefit of the person being forgiven. It is a spiritual practice, rising from a humbled, softening, sincere heart, that releases me from the pain and pressure that my unforgiving and unloving thoughts are causing me. The resentments, judgments and grievances that I hold on to are only hurting me – my health, body, moods, sleep and peace of mind and my relationship with others. Forgiveness is about the quality of my life. Holding onto my grievances is exactly the same as my drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Holding on to rage and bitterness about them is like carrying a hot coal in my palm. Whether I only think about doing it or actually throw it, it won’t land anywhere else with the damage it is already causing me.

Two of the lessons from the three hundred and sixty-five that comprise the Workbook for A Course In Miracles are: “I am affected only by my thoughts” and ” I can be hurt by nothing by my thoughts“. Wholeheartedly practicing and applying these lessons shows us that, though it may look as if the world “is coming at me”, in truth, it “is coming from me.” In its entirety, I create my experience of the world. It is my thoughts and my thoughts alone that entrap and frighten me. It is my thoughts and my thoughts alone that can set me free and give me peace.

If these spiritual principles are true, I don’t even have to tell the other person I have forgiven them for it to work. At the core, what I am really doing is forgiving myself for the resentments and attack thoughts that I am generating, that are eating me up inside. Forgiveness is letting go of what’s hurting me. In essence then, all forgiveness is forgiveness of oneself.

Forgiveness also has nothing to do with behavior. It has nothing to do with being nice. Or being the better of the two people involved and pardoning the spiritually inferior or less evolved other person. That is just more ego nonsense. A Course In Miracles calls that “forgiveness-to-destroy”. Instead it is realizing, at a very deep level, that “I am the other person ” – that I too can be manipulative or competitive or jealous or petty or insensitive or inconsiderate or self-centered, or whatever I am supposedly seeing and reacting to in the other person’s behavior. I, too, can and have hurt other people. I, too, will hurt other people again. I, too, can feel, say and do things that are mean and short-sighted when I am overcome by fear or anger, when I am riddled with pain or anguish. To emphasize this once more, who amongst us, if we are being totally honest with ourselves, cannot acknowledge the “secret sins and hidden hates”(ACIM) that we try so hard to pretend are not really there deep within us? What is love for humanity but our mutual and urgent need to forgive and be forgiven?

One more thing. You do not have to hang out with the person you have forgiven, if that is something that you do not choose to do. You may still leave your marriage. You might elect to communicate your feelings of hurt or disappointment to that friend who forgot your important event, but you might also decide to no longer confide in that friend or trust them with tender and personal matters-of-the-heart. You might elect to go to lunch with a different colleague. It is not about the behavior – what you do or don’t do. It is about the complete relinquishment of being anyone’s victim, of having been “done to”. It is about the total release of antagonism and ill-will. It is about the shedding of any moral or spiritual superiority over the other person that you may have granted yourself. It is about seeing and, if you are truly willing, experiencing your shared oneness and your shared humanity with them. It is about touching that place inside of you that realizes that it is not even “you” who forgives. You can only go as far as handing your grievances over. Then, in silence, trust and willingness, you might discover that “God is the love in which I forgive”. (ACIM, Workbook Lesson 46)

Explaining The Madness of Our Relationships : Your Love Code and the Child Behind It


10556898075_4567588606_zBabies and youngsters are often described as little bundles of love and joy. Even the most jaded and hard-bitten of us who have had a baby placed in our arms have watched in awe as our defenses melt and a mystical and magical aura envelopes us.  We somehow know that we are in the presence of a love that is limitless and supernatural. We are humbled to be in the company of an absolutely egoless, non-judgmental being, a “little buddha”, one whose heart is fully open, whose mind is still and whose beauty and worth is unquestionable. Babies and youngsters are examples of the magnificent head start we all get at being human.

Yet even today few children or adolescents make it through their formative years and enter adulthood knowing, trusting and being able to fully give themselves over to love. And, as a result, our adult love lives become problematic, dysfunctional and even destructive. The heartbreak, cynicism and withdrawal from life that result from broken relationships can shape or moreover tragically misshape many lives.

To be able to survive our formative years with an undiminished and unsullied capacity for true and lasting intimacy with another to remain intact, we had to have four emotional conditions met by our caregivers. In childhood – the most defenseless, vulnerable and dependent time of  our lives – we had to feel reliably and consistently safe, loved, valued and known. Let’s examine these fundamental ingredients more closely now, because their presence or absence in our developing consciousness has determined our Love Code, the subject of this blog, and the critical (yet almost totally unconscious) factor in what determines our love lives.

Safe – Growing up you had to feel safe in every imaginable definition of that term. You had to feel physically safe. You had to feel sexually safe. You had to feel emotionally safe to even develop the awareness and learn to communicate your authentic feelings, needs and wants to your trusted caregivers.

Loved – You had to feel understood, accepted and loved for simply being here and for being just who you are. You had to know and experience that your intrinsic worth and beauty were not tied into any external or worldly measures of success – grades, looks, athletic performance, intelligence or popularity contests. You had to have at least one parent who was always there for you, who protected you, who had “your back”.

Valued – Every child has an intrinsic emotional and spiritual dependency need to be the object of rejoicing. To be celebrated and honored as a gift of inestimable value by their parents and family. To be loved not for what they are but for that they are.

Known – All of us, perhaps even more so children, are constantly feeling and going through one thing or another. Did someone pick on you today at school? Did your “best friend” elect to play with someone new instead of you? Did your teacher or classmate say a mean thing to you or someone else? The need to have at least one parent able and willing to non-judgmentally enter your inner world, understand it and support you through it was indispensable to your sense of security in the world.

Now let’s move to an examination of how your key experiences as a child in these areas form your Love Code, the unconscious template and matrix of beliefs that you, as an adult, unknowingly use to define love, select a partner and participate in a relationship.

For illustrative purposes, let’s be extremely generous and favorable in assessing how often in your childhood you felt totally safe, loved, valued and known by your caregivers. Let’s say that you experienced this kind of individual attention and care 5 moments out of every 10. That is to say 5 moments out of every 10 your fundamental dependency needs were met, while 5 moments out of 10 they were not.  This becomes what you know love to be – a benevolent force or presence in your life that is characterized by its erratic and confusing lack of dependability.

Let’s flash ahead twenty years. You are now an attractive and charismatic young adult at a party, open to romance. Behind and beneath the chemistry and interest you are developing for someone at that party,   you will be attracted to someone who has the capacity to make you feel safe, loved, valued and known 5 moments out of every 10. Someone who could offer this to you 8 or 9 or 10 moments out of every 10 you will find boring, dull, not quite “your type”. But someone with a little edge, someone who is more dramatic, someone who could and will vehemently accept and reject you down the road will be your perfect “cup of tea”. Why? Because they can and will love you 5 moments out of every 10 and this ratio is your comfort zone or Love Code.

One other restrictive aspect of your Love Code really seals the deal. Even if you are drawn to someone who has the capacity and desire to love you 10 moments out of every 10, you will only be able to allow love in 5 moments out of every 10. Unconsciously you will have developed walls and barriers within yourself that will reduce the full torrent of love’s presence to a small trickle because it is what you know best and are most comfortable with. Inevitably your partner will be blamed for the restrictive and intermittent love that you are experiencing and you will decide that you must move on to find someone new who could love you more (while taking your identical Love Code with you). Can you see the hidden roots of how repetitively maddening and exasperating our relationships can be?

Conventional wisdom often suggests that men marry some version of their mothers and women some version of their fathers. More penetrating observers begin to see that even if we don’t marry some version of our mothers or fathers, we turn them into these emotional replicas. Behind and beneath the appearance of all this, what we are really marrying is some version of our Love Code.

One final question at this point begs to be answered from disillusioned and disheartened lovers everywhere: Can you change your Love Code? The answer is a definite “Yes”. Inner work, the path of individual emotional and spiritual healing, is one way to do that. I will have more to say about this therapeutic undertaking and possibility in a future blog.