therapy

Seven Principles for Making Your Relationship Work

Hi!  I found a great summary of one of my all-time favorite relationship books, so I wanted to be sure to share it with you. 

Seven Principles of Making Your Marriage Work by John Gottman is excellent even if you're a couple who plans never to marry.  His 40+ years researching couples in everyday environments has build a critical foundation for understanding what makes love last. 

Check it out:

 

I'd love to hear what you think after watching or reading.  Pop over to my facebook page and leave a comment, or call me for a consultation to learn how to apply these principles in your own relationship.

 

Four Powerful Relationship Tips from Esther Perel's SXSW Keynote

"The quality of your relationships is what determines the quality of your life."

- Esther Perel, SXSW 2018

 

As you know I hold a deep love and respect for the work of Esther Perel.  So I was very excited to hear she was speaking at this year's South by Southwest event. 

As usual, her talk was provocative and incredibly informative.  I'm outlining a few of my favorite takeaways for you below.  I'd love to talk with you more about it if you're interested give me a call.

 

Conversations are the heart of relationships.

But most of us are shying away from direct communication, complex conversations, and fully present connections.  We text instead of call, we back out instead of showing up, and we dive into distraction every chance we get.

If we want to combat the epidemic of loneliness our culture is facing we need to start showing up more courageously in meaningful conversations.

 

The tension between change and stability is key to relationship success

Thriving relationships can reconcile these two fundamentally different needs (security and safety vs exploration and adventure).  Some of us emerge from families needing more autonomy and some needing more safety.  Which leads to one of us more afraid of losing the other and the other more afraid of losing themselves.

The more we can name and work through this tension together, the closer we become.  Couples and partnerships who can hold this tension and carefully balance it (not too much of either end of the spectrum of autonomy vs connection) build more fulfilling relationships.

 

"Soulmate" is a new concept

How do I know I have found the one?  My one and only.  We want one person to meet the needs that a whole village used to provide.  Soulmate used to be god, and many of us have replaced religion with expectations on a partner.  

 

When we listen deeply to the experiences of another we end up standing in front of a mirror.

And we get inspiration for the kinds of courage we need to have in our own lives. Prioritize relationship work, intimacy, and repair in order to combat loneliness.

We need complex and nuanced conversations to transform the nature of relationships.  To modernize relationship structures as we have outgrown the old paradigms of binary gender. Shifting the roles of men and supporting their complex emotional experiences will create opportunities for wholeness in relationships.

And in order to change the future of intimacy and connection in our society, we all need to courageously tend and show up in more of our relationships.

 

Watch the full talk below:

Please participate with the blindfold activity by closing your eyes.  


Gina Senarighi | Couples Retreats | Communication Workshop | Relationship Coach

Gina Senarighi has been supporting loving couples and healthy teams for nearly twenty years. As a former couples therapist turned retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author she's transformed partnerships, leaders and communication strategy all over the world.  

Her uniquely non-judgmental, inclusive approach to couples work puts even the most concerned participants at ease.  She's not your average sit-and-nod supporter- she'll hold hope even when it's hard and always help you grow. 

Call for a consultation to see how she can help you deepen connection, communicate effectively, and passionately reignite your relationship.

What to Read When You're Going Through Tough Times

We all face hard times and it can be especially difficult to find connection when things are the worst.  These are my four favorite books to read in hard times.

The Impossible Will Take a Little While

If you need a reminder of possibility amid sadness that feels global this book could be the help you need.  Paul Loeb collected essays from world leaders on how to create change, dig deep, and deal with the really hard stuff.  It could help you find hope- or at least peace.

Hyperbole and a Half

I have never seen a better description of the feeling of deep depression than the images shared by Allie Brosch.  If you want to know you're not alone in feeling deeply sad, numb, and overwhelmed (and you're also open to a little humor) read this book.  

Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide

Kate Bornstein write this treasure a while back for all the "teens, freaks, and other outlaws" who might be pushed to their limits.  The book lists  lots of ways to distract yourself, practice self-care, reach out, or just do anything other than kill yourself.  

With humor and charm and a multi-level rating system this book could help you in the darkest of times.

Tiny Beautiful Things

Cheryl Strayed wrote an advice column as Dear Sugar for a few years and compiled her best in this book.  The whole thing made me cry happy, sad, shameful, and compassionate tears.  Read it when you need the voice of that best friend who really sees you as whole and imperfect.


 couples retreat | couples coach | relationship coach | relationship retreat 

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC has helped thousands of couples review their growth together, and renew their connection moving forward. 

For nearly 15 years she's specialized in strengths-focused, positive psychology-based relationship advice and coaching to nurture lasting joy and and resilience in her client's relationships.  

She will help you:

  • develop a shared vision and goals- and create actionable steps to move in that direction
  • overcome outdated patterns and establish new intentional, healthy ones
  • strengthen trust or repair it after infidelity or dishonesty
  • connect in meaningful ways during and well after life transitions
  • design rituals of connection that will keep you close for many years
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns and learn new skills 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

 

Solution Focused Therapy Might Be For You...

What is Solution-Focused Brief Therapy?

(SFBT) is an evidence-based approach to psychotherapy, which has been studied since the early 1980s.  In fact, it is one of the few approaches in psychotherapy that began as “evidence-based,” vs.  being “theory-driven” as most other models were. 

Its developers, Steve de Shazer and Insoo Berg and their team would observe sessions and noted what the therapist did that helped the client move in the direction of their goal, and then had the therapist to do more of that.

Over the next ten years, a clinical style emerged that could best be described as collegial, collaborative, and focused on solution descriptions — as opposed to more analytic or confrontative, and focused on problem description.

This approach, rather than the more common deductive one that led to most other therapies, became the standard practice of SFBT. 

 

What does the research say about Solution-Focused Therapy?

SFBT has had a large number of empirical studies, in fact enough to have been examined in two recent meta-analyses and to be officially supported as evidenced-based by numerous federal and state agencies and institutions, such as SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs & Practices (NREPP). 

The over-all conclusion of the most recent scholarly work on SFBT, is that Solution-Focused Brief Therapy is an effective approach to the treatment of psychological problems, with effect sizes similar to other evidenced-based approaches, such as CBT and IPT, but that these effects are found in fewer average sessions, and using an approach style that is more benign.

That is, the more collegial and collaborative approach of SFBT does not involve confrontation or interpretation, nor does it even require the acceptance of the underlying tenets, as do most other models of psychotherapy.  Given its equivalent effectiveness, shorter duration, and more benign approach, SFBT is considered to be an excellent first-choice evidenced-based psychotherapy approach for most psychological, behavioral, and relational problems.

Read more about Solution Focused Brief Therapy here. 


 couples retreat | couples coach | relationship coach | relationship retreat

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC has helped thousands of couples review their growth together, and renew their connection moving forward. 

For nearly 15 years she's specialized in strengths-focused, positive psychology-based relationship advice and coaching to nurture lasting joy and and resilience in her client's relationships.  

She will help you:

  • develop a shared vision and goals- and create actionable steps to move in that direction
  • overcome outdated patterns and establish new intentional, healthy ones
  • strengthen trust or repair it after infidelity or dishonesty
  • connect in meaningful ways during and well after life transitions
  • design rituals of connection that will keep you close for many years
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns and learn new skills 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Tragedy Far Away: How to Deal With the Orlando Shooting

I've been speaking with clients and friends all day about the sensitive emotions we're feeling in LGBTQ community after the Orlando Pulse incident.  

So many people feeling intense sadness, fear, and anger about the shootings and so many lovely people asking me "What's wrong with me?" and  "Do I have a right to feel anything even so far away from the tragedy?"

I wanted to write this across the sky for my queer family today, so I thought I would write it here to start.  I wanted to begin by addressing the second question "Do I have a right to feel anything?"

Yes, you have every right to feel intense emotions after an intense incident. 

Yes, you have every right to feel scared after seeing someone experience something scary. 

Yes, you have every right to feel shock and disbelief at something so completely disturbing.

Yes, you have every right to feel anger when witnessing such incredible injustice.

Yes, you have every right to feel your feelings.

 

Your suffering may not be the same as those more closely related to the victims at the Pulse, but your suffering is real and valid.  An attack on any one part of our LGBTQ community is an attack on all of us.

You are feeling powerful feelings because this event was like no other.

Your feelings, your empathy, comes from the deep sweet part of you most able to connect with others.  When we lose touch with our ability to empathize we lose power as a community.  

But being empathetically connected to others during a tragedy is heartbreaking.  It is totally normal to feel many different things.  Here are some common reactions:

Shock

Shock is like extreme surprise and is a person's emotional protection from being too overwhelmed by the actual event. You may be stunned, numb, or in disbelief.  You might not know what to say or think.  You might not feel anything at all. 

There is nothing wrong with experiencing shock.  

Sadness

The most common feeling found following traumatic events like this. It may become quite intense and be experienced as emptiness or despair.  

This most recent incident is especially personal to LGBTQ communities and can bring up all kinds of sadness about safety, acceptance, and belonging.  Give your sadness space.  

Anger

Anger is a common response to feeling powerless, frustrated, or even abandoned.  You might notice it when reading your facebook feed or it might show up in traffic.  

It's not uncommon for couples to bicker more after a tragedy.  Anger is a perfectly valid reaction, but notice if irritability is showing up for you before it impacts your relationship.

Anxiety

Anxiety ranges from basic insecurity to full-blown panic attacks.You might notice yourself start feeling overly cautious about leaving the house, attending Pride, or going to other events.  You might worry about friends or family.  You might start to fear coming out at all. 

Fear and anxiety can be the most paralyzing after an event like the Orlando murders.  And there can be added pressure to attend vigils or go out to demonstrate solidarity.  

Finding supportive community can be especially healing- but remember, you get to choose when and where feels safe for you.  Start small if you need to when overcoming fear and anxiety.

Here's some more information on "normal" responses to tragedy.

Some things you might want to do to help get through the tragedy:

  • Keep busy. Focus on your projects and classroom assignments. Research indicates keeping focused on day to day required tasks or routines helps mitigate the effects of stress.
  • Seek out people who care. Share your reactions, thoughts and how the experience impacted you.  Listen, ask for hugs, and connect with people who love you.
  • Know that the reactions to trauma listed here are normal responses to a very abnormal experience. They occur in varying degrees of severity and type for each person.  There's no one right way to react.
  • Prioritize self-care: eat well, get your sleep, drink lots of water, go for a walk.  Do all the most nurturing things.
  • Express your feelings with art.  When we write, Draw, paint it can help to manage the feelings related to trauma.  Consider writing a journal of your experience or feelings.
  • Spend time with quiet.  Use meditation, reading, spiritual reflection, yoga to help you stay healthy and spiritually connected.
  • Find a way to help.  Helping others is often the healthiest way to manage our own feelings of powerlessness.  Donate blood, money, food or send messages to people most impacted by the incident.  

Talking about it can help

Seek counseling if your reactions stick around a long time or significantly impact your day-to-day life.  If you can't make it to work, stop checking facebook, keep worrying endlessly, are afraid to leave the house, or stop taking good care of yourself these might be signs you could use someone to talk with.

If the feelings don't go away

It’s normal to feel sad, numb, or angry following something this upsetting- even if you don't know anyone in Orlando.  As time passes, these emotions will become less intense as you start to move forward.

But if you aren’t feeling better over time, or your grief is getting worse, it may be a sign that your grief is growing- and again, it's a good time to reach out for help.  


 couples retreat | couples coach | relationship coach | online couples counseling 

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC has helped thousands of couples review their growth together, and renew their connection moving forward. 

For nearly 15 years she's specialized in strengths-focused, positive psychology-based relationship advice and coaching to nurture lasting joy and and resilience in her client's relationships.  

She will help you:

  • develop a shared vision and goals- and create actionable steps to move in that direction
  • overcome outdated patterns and establish new intentional, healthy ones
  • strengthen trust or repair it after infidelity or dishonesty
  • connect in meaningful ways during and well after life transitions
  • design rituals of connection that will keep you close for many years
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns and learn new skills 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Five Tips to Overcome Social Anxiety

Everyone experiences a little social anxiety from time to time, but every once in a while it can be overwhelming.  Social anxiety can show up when you meet with other people, on a first date, at a networking event, hosting a family gathering, and even in online forums.  It can leave you feeling nervous, shy, and awkward.  It can causes unnecessary stress and can leave us cut off from the great experiences that bring fulfillment and joy in life.

Fortunately, there are some simple things you can do to decrease social anxiety   Here are five easy tips to ease social anxiety and have a great time when you head out into busy social spaces.

1.  Prepare yourself

Take a minute to prepare yourself before you head out.  Make sure you read the full invitation for the event so you don't miss any preparation details (when does it start and do you need a costume).  Plan plenty of time to get there (traffic and parking may only increase stress), and check the guest list to see if there is anyone you know attending.

Not only do you want to prepare for the event logistics  but you want to prepare yourself for small talk.  Practice your elevator speech in your head (where are you from, what interests you, what do you hope to do with your life) so you are prepared to give a clear impression.

You will also want to talk about something other than yourself.  In the days before the event listen to your favorite podcast, read the news, or catch up on a few favorite blog posts.  This way when conversation dims you can bring up something interesting you recently read which both tells your new friends a little about your passions, and stokes the conversation fires.

Plan out a few unobtrusive questions to ask others in polite conversation.  Most people enjoy talking about themselves and if you have a few questions at the ready (and are prepared to listen) you can make new friends just by being open and curious.  Ask where people came from, how they know the host, what drew them to this event, what they think of the artwork/music/performance/cake.

2.  Set the stage

Get specific and realistic about your expectations before you go.  Ask what you hope will happen.  Do you want to meet a professional collaborator?  Are you hoping to give out three sets of business cards?  Do you want to get laid?  Check to ensure your expectations are realistic and keep the in mind as you set out for your event.

Then imagine yourself as the calm and confident party-goer you have always dreamed of being.  Envision yourself meeting your expectation.  Think about what you look like, feel like, talk like in that space.  Imagine it with detail.  Keep this image handy and picture it just before entering your event and throughout the night when you slip away for quiet.

3.  Case the joint

Arrive early.  Even if you are the first to arrive, go early and gather a little information: where are the bathrooms and exits?  Where are the refreshments?  Get to know the lay of the land.  You can always leave and come back.

Introduce yourself to the event host as early as possible.  This is key and will be helpful for both of you!  Even the most experienced event managers can use assistance from time to time, ask them how you can help, or better yet  offer to help with a specific task.   Maybe you can take coats, pour drinks, or hang decorations.  Having a role can help you focus nervous energy and will guarantee you interaction with others as they arrive.  Plus the host is likely to introduce you around later.

4.  Have an exit strategy

Before you leave for the event have some idea what you will do afterward and what time you would like to leave.  It can be helpful to have an escape plan just in case you do feel too uncomfortable and need to leave.  If you experience a lot of social anxiety it can be especially important to have an after-care plan in place including how you will wind-down from the event.

It's also helpful to have a few segues in mind to help you out of tricky situations.  When you get cornered by someone who blabs on and on without clarity you can politely say "Excuse me, I need to refresh my drink." or "I really need to step outside for some air." to help you leave the moment with grace.

5.  Follow up

Try to thank your host before you leave for the night and make sure you follow-up with them after the event with gratitude for the invitation.  Don't forget to send a quick message to the other people you meet, or collect business cards from.   These follow-up messages may lead to greater collaboration in business, additional events, or deeper friendships later on.

Finally, follow-up with yourself.  Remember those expectations you set early on?  What went well tonight?   What were your successes?  It's so very important to recharge our brains with positive energy after attending something stressful.  You did it!  You went there, you met someone, and that was a step in the right direction!

These simple steps have helped so many of my clients, I hope they will make meeting new people easier for you too!  Leave a comment below and let me know how these work for you!

Revenge to Compassion: Six Steps to Repair Hurt Hearts

One of the best books on forgiveness and reconciliation is Laura Davis's "I Thought We'd Never Speak Again"  I have read it and recommended it so many times to clients and readers in difficult places.   Although the book focuses on the experience of abuse survivors and their families, there are really amazing lessons on compassion for all of us regardless of our survived traumas.   It has helped my clients with break-ups, moves, family relationships and bad bosses.

I am not suggesting reconciliation is always the answer (neither does this author), only that it is very important to move from pain toward compassion over time .  More and more scientific research is showing that carrying pain and resentment has real effects on our health and well-being.  It is critical to our ability to create new partnerships, friendships, and lead in organizations.

So how do you move toward compassion when you're in a place of hurt?  Pause and reflect on these six steps in a conflict in your own life and then move with warmth and openness (I can't emphasize this part enough)  in each step when you are ready:

1.  Speak out.

Shame often comes to visit either or both party after a disagreement and can work to isolate us further.  The greatest antidote to shame is to reach out to another for support, or to offer a genuine apology.  It can be helpful to acknowledge how hard it is to reach out, and share that you still really want the connection even though its hard.  The more transparent and consistent you can be the better.   Even if time and shame have kept you apart reaching out (with warmth and openness) directly can help to repair broken bonds.

2. Humanize each other.

Remember that everyone carries some hurt and often conflict comes out of misunderstood pain.  Listen authentically to the story of  other party (with warmth and openness).  Demonstrate your listening by offering to paraphrase back what you hear to be sure you are really getting it and don't rush.  Some hurts can take a bit to surface clearly so be patient.  Remember the sweetness, good humor, and shared values that brought you together in the first place.

3. Consider the ways you have demonstrated behavior similar to your "enemy."

It's not easy to do, but we must remember that in certain circumstances we all have the capacity to do the wrong thing.  We have all made mistakes in friendships and relationships.  Remembering this and forgiving ourselves for past similar wrong doing  helps us move forward.

4. Connect with sadness.

You cannot bandage a wound without looking at it and you cannot repair a relationship without looking at the sadness that happens when someone is hurt.  It is important for both parties to acknowledge and really connect with their sadness (no matter how small it may seem) in order to move forward with confidence.

5. Honor your memories.

Honor the greatness that you have in the past with care.  Some couples do this informally over conversation, some partners have shared memory books, one set of roommates I worked with painted memories on the walls of their co-op before moving on to a new place after much strife.  Whether formal or informal, honor your shared history before moving on to your next chapter.

6. Commit to future acts of service and/or creation.

Planning to make something beautiful or invest in others together can be a great way to heal together and individually.  These can be acts of service and creation within the relationship (planting a garden together, planning a trip) and acts directed towards your external community (hosting a dinner party, volunteering for a cause you care about .  Setting future positive plans together will change the nature of your time together fundamentally.

These steps can be taken on your own or in relationship.  It can be very helpful to build compassion on your own even if you never decide to connect with the other person.  Sharing your story with an empathetic ear, humanizing your "enemy," honoring grief and memories, and taking part in service and creative acts will help your heart heal on its own and will help free you from the weight of contempt that builds without compassion.

These steps will work differently for each and every reader who visits my post.  Let me know how they apply for you below.

Tame Your Self-Critic: Stop Should-ing All Over Yourself

I received the best advice of my life when I was in Coaching School in 2007.  I was overwhelmed, had just left a dreary job, was in the middle of one I didn't know how to manage, was leaving my sweet six-year dream relationship, and had just started another round of graduate school.  I used a string of "shoulds" while explaining a missed assignment when my instructor cut me off.

"What would your life be like if you stopped should-ing all over yourself?"  She asked.  It was all I needed to ignite serious change in my life.  I began to notice how often I did things not because I wanted to, but because I thought I should.  It became clear how often I thought the word or acted on shoulds without even saying them out loud.

She was right, it was time for a change.

I am not saying it got easier that moment.  I had to do a lot of work to realign my life to my values and vision.  But that one question helped me loosen up my relationship with my strong self critic and be a little more gentle with myself.

Instead of making decisions because I felt obligated (the kinds of decisions that build resentment), or to avoid something, I was making decisions because I wanted to, and because they fulfilled one of my core values.  At every cross roads I would ask myself if this decision would lead to greater integrity or health.  if I couldn't answer absolute yes, I would make myself say no.

So now I ask clients, How would your life be different without all the shoulds?  What values would you like to move towards?   How can I help you stop shoulding all over yourself?

Boost Your Resilience: Four Ways to Get Through Tough Times

Every one of us goes through difficult times now and again.  Some of us are more resilient and weather the storm with grace.   I have been reading about resilience thinking about my own life and the lives of the amazing clients I get to work with.  Five key themes emerged:

1.  Resilient people are resourceful and have good problem solving skills.

A large part of my work with clients focuses on getting people out of a rut and on a different track.  This can be very difficult to do on your own.  If you don't want to hire a consultant like me, sit down with a friend and host an improvement brainstorm.  Write or draw the issue in the middle of a large piece of paper and brainstorm every possible solution- even list the ones you have already tried, those you have already considered (and possibly ruled out), and those that seem completely ridiculous or impossible.  Draw or list as many as you can (take a snack break if you need to) and then walk away for a day.  Let these great ideas marinate.  Just by putting them down on paper and sharing them with a friend you are helping change your pattern by doing something different.  New possibilities will arise!

2.  Resilient people ask for help.

One of the hardest things to do is ask for help.  I am reading Brene' Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection about shame, vulnerability, and resilience and in it she says "You have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs."  We all go through difficult times, and  often feel great shame about our struggles.  We think we should have it all together.  The truth is, no one has it all together.  Shame isolates us when we need the kindness of others most (see #4).  The only cure for this kind of shame is to do exactly what seems most scary: share it with someone else.  Find someone safe and supportive, authentic and grounded and tell them whats going on for you right now.  Then ask them for specific help.  Maybe you need help brainstorming solutions, with childcare, cooking dinners, or maybe you just need an empathetic ear.  Get clear about the help you need and be brave enough to ask for it.

3.  People with greater resilience believe they can cope.

No matter what you are going through remember: THIS IS TEMPORARY.  You will get through it.  You really will, the question is how do you want to get there?  What do you want to see on the other side of this issue?  A year from now how will you want to remember moving through it?  Envision yourself persevering with grace and build belief that you will get there.

4.  Resilient people have built support networks.

Facing something difficult is bad enough- why do it alone?  All too often I work with clients who let shame, numbing, and pain create isolation in addition to the issue that brought them into my office in the first place.  It's important to build and maintain a strong support network of family and friends every day and it will sustain you through trying times.  One way my clients and I have fortified our networks is through daily gratitude practice.  Pick a format that works well for you (my partner does drawings, I write postcards, a colleague sends emails) and write or say one genuine thank you each day to the people in your support network, who inspire you.  This helps recognize the people around you for their great friendship, and helps you remember all the people who love you when you need it most.

I hope this helps you build stronger resilience to get through difficulties.   Of course it's not easy.  I don't want you to go through difficult times alone, and am here to help.  If you'd like to schedule a free consultation to boost your resilience set it up here.

If you have had successes facing challenges in the past please share with us.  Post a comment below and tell us: how have you boosted your resilience?

Three Books to Help Heal Your Heartache

A good friend of mine wrote the other day asking for suggested reading after her recent break up from her sweetheart of years.  Breakups can be so painful, and it can help to have reliable words to lean on when you are going through difficult times.  Here are the books I recommended she read.  I hope they might help you through difficult times.

These first three are best for you if you just need to heal your heart and move on.  They can help, but the best remedy is a combination of time, friendship, good self care, and coaching (call me if you want help with that last one).

Comfortable with Uncertainty- Pema Chodron

One of the more troubling parts of a break up is the loss of an imagines future you planned to share with your loved one.  You may have felt very sure things were heading in one direction only to be surprised that they are headed down a very different path.  This fantastic book can help you work through

Happiness - Thich Nhat Hanh

One of the hardest things to get through is grief and loss surrounding a break up.  This book will guide you through daily actions you can take to re-orient yourself toward happiness without avoiding the emotions connected to your loss.

The Happiness Advantage- Shawn Achor

Its not easy to think about happiness after a big heartache.  Give yourself some time, and know that when you are ready to start rebuilding this book has some simple actions you can take to help get you there.

Remember to give it time, and focus on your feelings first.  As one of my great mentors used to say, you can't force anything good.  If you find you are trying to force yourself to move on too quickly stop, slow down, and spend a little time just being gentle with yourself.

You'll get there, I promise.

Five Questions for Clarity: Kiss it Goodbye or Kiss and Make Up?

Part of working with beautifully complex couples means working through really difficult problems.  I have seen it all, break ups, affairs, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  People often ask me if I believe they can make it through these difficult times.  It would be so much easier if there was one right answer.

I have seen people make it through unbelievably challenging situations with remarkably resilient relationships after everyone in their support network gave up and I've watched pairs with great support networks and resources and kindness choose not to be together and build beautiful divorces.  And I have seen people make messy choices along the way that make reconciliation extremely unlikely.

I believe it's especially beneficial to work with a coach or counselor in emotionally heated times but while I can try to make predictions, the truth has to come from within the couple.  Prediction isn't really in the counseling job description anyway.

So how do you know if you can forgive?  Here are five questions I recommend asking yourself to help clarify if reconciliation is something you want.  Let me emphasize before you read these that relationships are not all or nothing, they are continually redefined and renegotiated and just because you decide reconciliation is not the best choice right now DOES NOT mean there will never be a time or space for forgiveness.  It just means now may not be the time to try to continue as things were.  Ask yourself:

1. Can you stay in this relationship and maintain self-respect? 

Trust your gut.  if you aren't able to feel good about yourself when sticking with a friendship, partnership, roommate relationship or any other relationship after some distance, disagreement, or concern you need to move on.  Take time to heal on your own, turn to your community of support, talk to a counselor or mentor and be gentle to yourself as you move on.

Remember, a no answer may mean now is not the time to proceed as things were.  Take some more time (read #3 below) and take care of yourself right now.

2.  How important is this relationship in your life?  

What level of priority is this commitment in your life?  Do you see this person daily?  Do you have shared responsibilities?  Do you share enough history and community with this person to work through the difficulties?

It's important to get clear about which areas of your life are connected to this person, these elements can help inform your decision to reconcile and how to redefine your commitments to one another.

3.  Have you worked through your own anger and pain in this situation to really move toward this person in a new way?

My favorite relationship expert, John Gottman talks about something called the "harsh start-up" and its negative impacts on couples conflicts.  Research has shown entering into conversation with an abrasive, sarcastic, critical, or resentment-laden energy will likely end on a negative note.  96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation by the first 20% of the time spent talking (three minutes out of a fifteen minute interaction).  Taking care of some of your own anger and time to heal, rest and refuel will greatly increase the success in your reconnection attempt.

4.  Is there potential for this relationship to evolve into something new and different from what it was before?

Your relationship will likely never be the same again.  That doesn't mean it won't be good again, but the question is; are you open to creating something new with this person?  Can you detach from the ideas you had about what you were and look forward on new horizons of what you could be now?  And, will the relationship be worth is to you even if it doesn't change?

5.  Do you have the time, energy, and support resources necessary to really invest in rebuilding this partnership?

Despite what my favorite rom-coms might show, rebuilding a connection after a conflict can be very difficult and will take time.  There is no fade away scene at the end, there is some remaining awkwardness, some distance, and some grief that can come with major relationship evolution.  Ask yourself what resources you have to support you each individually and in your partnership moving forward.  If you need professional help, I am happy to step in or refer you to a great provider.

The decision whether or not to reconcile is personal.  The decision can also differ greatly within your partnership.  Be gentle with yourselves and take plenty of time to reflect individually and discuss together.  Remember, follow your heart, and take your brain with you.