Five Questions to Ask on Date Night This Week

Nearly every week couples ask me how to keep the passion alive in their long-term relationships. They see desire fatigue set in all around them, the more we build a comfortable stable life with someone, the less we connect with the fascination, intrigue, and spontaneity that usually comes so easily early in relationships.  

Those three elements fade away as we stop exploring ourselves and each other.  Over time we start assuming we know everything there is to know about our partner.  To that idea, I say:

How incredibly boring it must be to know everything about your love! How limiting it must be to have the person you desire think they know everything about you! 

I hope you never know everything there is to know about your partner. And if you really do, you're either spending too much time together (and need more independence) or aren't growing as humans (and need to start).

The simplest way to reconnect with that energy is to start getting curious about each other.  Start asking questions again and really answering one another.  No quick one-word responses.  No mumbled answers while scrolling your phone or playing a video game.  Turn towards one another with intention like you did way back when and start discovering one another again. 

You know I send out juicy questions to bring couples closer every week.  This week, try asking your honey these on date night:

  1. What do you daydream about most often?

  2. When do you fantasize about escape?

  3. What makes you cringe?

  4. What do you want more of in your daily life?

  5. What can I do to support you in making your dreams come true?


Gina Senarighi | :GBTQ Couples Counseling | LGBTQ Marriage Therapy

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.

Enhance Your Emotional Vocabulary

There are more words out there to describe how you feel besides sad, mad, and glad—in fact, there’s a whole world of words that can describe your emotions in incredibly specific ways. For most people, there's a significant deficit in our emotional vocabulary training growing up.

Having a rich emotional vocabulary means being able to recognize, label and understand feelings in ourselves and others.  Of course happy, sad, scared, and angry are four foundational emotions, but there are far more nuanced and complex emotions experienced regularly.

Having a solid emotional vocabulary helps us navigate complexity in relationships and deepen emotional intimacy.

Together the skills of identifying her emotions and reading and responding to other people’s emotions combine to create a skill known as emotional intelligence or emotional literacy.

Emotional literacy is necessary for us to regulate emotions, effectively connect with the people close to us, and manage social interactions successfully. The larger your emotional vocabulary the better equipped you are to discern different feelings, communicate your needs, and connect with the feelings of others. 

So how do you expand your emotional vocabulary?  Start by downloading this list. Use it for any of the activities below on your own or with someone you trust to expand your use and understanding of each word.  

How to use your feelings list

1) Choose one emotion each day and try to notice where you run into it throughout the day.  Maybe in a news story, or a book you're reading. Maybe someone talks about it on a podcast or you hear a story from a colleague at work. You might see it in a TV episode. Focus on noticing the places that emotion shows up for a day.

2) Choose one emotion at random and do a five-minute free write about where and when it has been present in your life. Think about the circumstances, players and resolution. Notice what physical sensations arise when focusing attention on this particular emotion. Notice if other emotions travel alongside the emotion you picked.

3) With someone you trust, randomly select an emotion from the list and tell a story about that emotion without naming the emotion itself. Have the other person guess what you're describing.  This practice helps you develop more effective empathetic communication.

4) Imagine the emotion as a living being and draw it. Give it a body and face and use color if helpful.  Notice if it's hairy or feathered, winged or legged. Most importantly, ask it what it wants most and how it might try to help you. Jot notes as needed to deepen your learning.  

5) Keep this list handy while you watch TV at night and during the commercial breaks try to guess what the main character is feeling using words from this list.  If you're watching with loved ones you can each choose a character to guess emotions for.

There are many other ways to deepen your emotional literacy but starting with these practices will help you expand your vocabulary and ultimately deepen your connection with yourself and those you love.  

If you'd like support deepening emotional intimacy and expanding your emotional vocabulary give me a call, I'd be happy to help.  

Gina Senarighi Relationship Coach | Couples Retreats Communication Skills

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.

Closer Relationships in Five Sentences

Every week I send out conversation starters for more meaningful connected relationships.  If you'd like to receive them enter your information here.

Vulnerability is the key to closeness in intimate relationships.  Most of us feel deeply connected to partners when they show us their most authentic selves.  We love the courage it takes to get real.

But most of us fear showing that same truth to others. My mentor, Brene Brown says "vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you, and the last thing I am willing to show in myself."  We fear sharing these pieces of ourselves because most of us have had bad experiences sharing them in unsafe environments. 

In order to create safer environments to show up authentically, we need to talk about vulnerability and support with specifics.  Getting more clarity will help you and the people around you show up authentically with greater safety.  

Finish the sentence stems below on your own and share responses with someone you care about this week.  I'd love to hear how it goes on my facebook page. 

I use these sentence stems not only with the romantic partners I support, but also in my work with business leaders and teams.  Vulnerability is the key to connection- and also invites space for innovation and growth.  you can use them in your workplace to cultivate greater authenticity too.

If you'd like support working through these in your partnership or on your team give me a call.  I'm here for you!

Finish these five sentences to bring you closer this week:

-       To me vulnerability is…

-       Vulnerability feels like…

-       I feel safer being vulnerable when…

-       What I learned about vulnerability growing up was…

-       To support me when I’m vulnerable you can…


Gina Senarighi | Relationship Coach | Couples Retreats | Team Facilitator

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.

36 Questions for Closeness in Relationships

Even if you’ve been with a partner for years, there is always something to learn about them. These questions came from a study by Arthur Aron and others designed to create interpersonal closeness. (You can see the entire study here). 

In the study, Aron worked with students to measure closeness and found with more meaningful conversation (initiated by these questions) they started to feel closer to those around them.  You can use the same questions below with your sweetheart, a colleague, or your kids to start feeling closer as well!

Set I

1. When was the last time you walked for more than an hour? Describe where you went and what you saw.
2. What was the best gift you ever received and why?
3. If you had to move from California where would you go, and what would you miss the most about California?
4. How did you celebrate last Halloween?
5. Do you read a newspaper often and which do you prefer? Why?
6. What is a good number of people to have in a student household and why?
7. If you could invent a new flavor of ice cream, what would it be?
8. What is the best restaurant you’ve been to in the last month that your partner hasn’t been to? Tell your partner about it.
9. Describe the last pet you owned.
10. What is your favorite holiday? Why?
11. Tell your partner the funniest thing that ever happened to you when you were with a small child.
12. What gifts did you receive on your last birthday?

Set II

13. Describe the last time you went to the zoo.
14. Tell the names and ages of your family members, include grandparents, aunts and uncles, and where they were born (to the extent you know this information).
15. One of you say a word, the next say a word that starts with the last letter of the word just said. Do this until you have said 50 words. Any words will do-you aren’t making a sentence.
16. Do you like to get up early or stay up late? Is there anything funny that has resulted from this?
17. Where are you from? Name all of the places you’ve lived.
18. What is your favorite class at UCSC so far? Why?
19. What did you do this summer?
20. What gifts did you receive last Christmas/Hanukkah?
21. Who is your favorite actor of your own gender? Describe a favorite scene in which this person has acted.
22. What was your impression of UCSC the first time you ever came here?
23. What is the best TV show you’ve seen in the last month that your partner hasn’t seen? Tell your partner about it.
24. What is your favorite holiday? Why?


25. Where did you go to high school? What was your high school like?
26. What is the best book you’ve read in the last three months that your partner hasn’t read? Tell your partner about it.
27. What foreign country would you most like to visit? What attracts you to this place?
28. Do you prefer digital watches and clocks or the kind with hands? Why?
29. Describe your mother’s best friend.
30. What are the advantages and disadvantages of artificial Christmas trees?
31. How often do you get your hair cut? Where do you go? Have you ever had a really bad haircut experience?
32. Did you have a class pet when you were in elementary school? Do you remember the pet’s name?
33. Do you think left-handed people are more creative than right-handed people?
34. What is the last concert you saw? How many of that band’s albums do you own? Had you seen them before? Where?
35. Do you subscribe to any magazines? Which ones? What have you subscribed to in the past?
36. Were you ever in a school play? What was your role? What was the plot of the play? Did anything funny ever happen when you were on stage?

Seven Critical Elements of Trust

Trust means far more than honesty.  If you're looking to build trust with a partner getting specific about which areas of trust you want to work on is key.  Ise the infographic below to identify your strengths and where you want to focus attention and grow.  

As always, if you want to talk more about trust in relationships give me a call, I'd love to chat with you.  

Seven Elements of rust PDF - Brene Brown Worksheet - Couples Worksheet

Authenticity in Relationships

Way back when I first moved to Portland and was re-starting my private practice, I watched Brene Brown's talk on authenticity and self-worth and it fundamentally shifted my life and my work with clients. 

I felt validated in my work and life's purpose like I had never experienced before.  Her speech talks about vulnerability, truth, and our deep longing for connection in relationships.  I'd been wrestling with all three in my own life- and had been helping others with those for years but had never heard them connected to shame before. 

I watched this video and dove headfirst into a new identity as a shameslayer- helping clients, friends, and myself show up and be seen in the world with authenticity and courage.  I trained with Brene that spring and have been bringing her work to retreats, groups, and clients ever since. 

If you're thinking about working with me, you're going to want to watch this video to help understand some of the foudnations of my work with clients.  

I have a few openings for new clients at the end of this month.  Let me know what you think of the video in a free consultation.  I'd love to chat with you!


relationship coach | portland healthy relationships | positive psychology and relationships | happy marriage

Gina Senarighi, MA, MS, CPC is a retired couples counselor and sex therapist, now full-time retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author.  Her twenty years working in communication and positive psychology she has transformed diverse relationships across the country. 

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.


Allegedly it only takes 36 questions to fall in love with anyone, but once you’re in love, well, it takes maintenance to stay connected for the long-haul.

Couples who share deep connection long-term share one simple secret: curiosity.  Most of us start out with a strong sense of intrigue and are so invested in getting to know each other we'll stay up talking all night. 

You know those silly beginning conversations, "You like broccoli?!? I like broccoli too!  We were meant to be!"  Silly as that example might sound, there's plenty of research that shows just how important enthusiastically engaging in getting to know your partner is for your relationship's longevity.

But once we're together a little while we stop getting curious and start assuming we know everything about our honey.  In our culture, lots of stories tell us it's good to be able to read our partner's mind.  But in reality, assumptions are a total relationship buzzkill. 

Once we're assuming there's no room for growth and no element of surprise or mystery.  And those are two critical ingredients for connection and desire.

Instead of letting the initial curiosity and fascination wane, they keep asking questions and investing in getting to know their sweetheart even when time has passed.  

If you’d like to try this approach out for yourself, here are 50 questions you can try asking instead of “how was your day?” You’ll be able to think of plenty of your own once you get warmed up. 

And if you'd like to get a free set of thirty questions to get to know your partner every month you can sign up right here and I'll send them to you!


  1. What made you laugh today?

  2. Can you tell me about a time when you were kind to someone today?

  3. Were you or anyone you know unkind today? What happened?

  4. Who do you wish you knew better at work?

  5. Who inspires you at work?

  6. What did you read today?

  7. What did you daydream about today?

  8. If we were on vacation today, where would we be?

  9. What did you do that was creative today?

  10. What problems did you solve?

  11. What is the best thing that happened in your day?

  12. Did you help anyone today?

  13. Did you say “thank you” to anyone today?

  14. Who did you have lunch with?

  15. What was the high and the low point of your day?

  16. What was your least favorite part of the day?

  17. Was anyone away today?

  18. Did you feel unsafe at any time?

  19. Did you learn anything that surprised you today?

  20. What’s something that happened that made you think?

  21. What do you know today that you didn’t know yesterday?

  22. What did you find challenging today?

  23. How did someone fill your bucket today?

  24. How did you fill someone else’s bucket?

  25. What are you most proud of from your day?

  26. What are you hoping to accomplish tomorrow?

  27. How would you rate your day from 1 to 10?

  28. How were you brave today?

  29. Where would you like to be more authentic tomorrow?

  30. What questions did you ask in class today?

  31. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

  32. Teach me something I don’t already know.

  33. If you could change something about your day, what would it be?

  34. How would you describe the sort of person you were today?

  35. What made you feel happy?

  36. What made you feel loved?

  37. What made you feel confident?

  38. What made you feel worried?

  39. What would you like to achieve before the holidays?

  40. If you could swap desks with someone, who would you choose and why?

  41. If you could be the boss for a day, what would you teach everyone?

  42. If you were the boss for a day, what rules would you make?

  43. If you could have any job in the world other than yours where would you work? What would you do?

  44. When you were a kid what did you dream your day would be like?

  45. How do you hope your day will be different ten years from now?

  46. How is your day different than it would have been ten years ago?

  47. What is your five year professional development plan?

  48. What would you do with one more free hour in each working day?

  49. How could I be of support to you in your daily life?

  50. Is there anything I could do to make your day easier?

relationships cpach | positive psychology and relationships | happy relationships

Gina Senarighi, MA, MS, CPC is a retired couples counselor and sex therapist, now full-time retreat coach, workshop facilitator, and author.  Her twenty years working in communication and positive psychology she has transformed diverse relationships across the country. 

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.

Know the Phases of Your Relationship

Within every long-term relationship lives multiple shorter relationships. Although we stay with the same person, different transformative phases of our time together shape our connection in meaningful ways.

For some, there are phases with children and without, others include dating, living together, and engagement. Changing jobs and locations impact our relationships in many significant ways.

Knowing and naming the phases you've been through and reviewing your learning together will help you move forward with clarity and purpose.  I've created a simple easy-download pdf to help you and your sweetheart walk through a little review of your relationship's phases and stages.  

Click here to download a copy of this free tool. 

If you'd like help diving deeper for this review give me a call, I'm happy to walk you through it.  

relationship coach | couples coach | couples retreats

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.

Vulnerability and Connection: Why I Love Brene Brown

I received the best compliment I have received in my counseling practice this week.  A client said, “Coming to see you is like watching Brene Brown’s TED Talk.  I always leave here inspired and walking in integrity.  You are just like her!”

If you don’t know, Brene Brown is one of my favorite authors and speakers.  She’s a researcher in Texas who studies shame, vulnerability, authenticity, and connection.  You can imagine she has had a LARGE impact on my work.  I have reread some of her books multiple times and suggest her TED Talks more than any others to clients.

What’s really great about Brene, greater than any of the other scholars I read to inform my practice, is that she truly walks her talk.  Throughout her writing she gives examples related to her own personal story, modeling the honesty and vulnerability she is requesting of the reader.  Her writing is beautiful to read and gives TONS of opportunities for self-reflection and examples to help you create a better life.  You may also be interested in her books, The Gift of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.

If you aren’t ready to commit to a book, I strongly recommend watching one of her talks.  In this one, she covers some of her research on vulnerability.  Vulnerability is essential to having connected authentic meaningful relationships.  She’s also a beautiful storyteller.

[ted id=1042]

You can see why I was flattered when compared to her, right?  Here are a few of my favorite highlights from her talk:

  •  “Connection is why we are here.  It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.” And, vulnerability is the key to connection.
  • You can’t selectively numb feelings.  To numb hard feelings is to turn off joy, love, passion, connection.
  • The people who have a sense of worthiness and a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.  This was the only factor that set them apart from others who had strong connection.
  • Children come into the world hardwired for struggle.  Struggle is in our DNA, and the greatest gift we can give our kids is not protection from struggle but the confidence that they can fail and stumble and still be worthy of love.

Change Your Life In Ten Minutes

At this time of year many of us "adults" are asked to give advice to younger people at graduation parties and other celebrations.  Think about a younger person you care for and share some of your wisdom.  Answer the following questions:

- Looking back on your own life, what advice would you give them on how to live a fulfilling vibrant, rich life?

- How should they bring more meaning and connection into their life?

- What would you have done differently in your days to bring in more abundance and love and joy?

Then write it down.  Whats your top ten list of how that young person could live life more fully?  











Well done.  That sounds like a life well-lived!

Now look at the list again.  Why aren't you doing the things you listed?  What could you do more of to make your life even more fulfilling?   How could you take steps today to live more vibrantly?  What tiny action could you take tomorrow to move your life in a more colorful meaningful way?

We can't expect the young people we love to move in a direction different from that which we model for them, now can we?  

Start now and go confidently in the direction of your dreams.

Online Dating Advice: Are Online Dating Sites Worth Trying?

Dear Gina, Are online dating sites worth trying?  Why or why not?  - DK

Hi DK!  Thank you for asking.  My answer is a solid: YES!  I have met so many strong couples and fabulous friendships that started online!  I think online dating is great for many reasons but before you put yourself out there its important you get clear, get honest, and get open.   Here’s a little prep work to do to be sure you are a great online dater:

First, online dating is great because it forces you to get very clear about what you are expecting and hoping for in your next dating adventure.  You HAVE to put something in writing, so it forces you to become more self-aware of your desires.

Remember to be realistic and honest about what people can expect from you.  Do you want a long-term romance, or are you open to new friendships?  Are you interested in affection, adventure, stability, conversation, one night stands or some combination of all of these?  Take a minute to reflect about the ideal outcome and draw or write out all of what you see.  Then pare it down to fit the parameters of the site you’re using.

Online dating also helps you reflect about who you are in a dating relationship and what impression you want to make.  What do you bring to this relationship?  Take a minute and write down ten positive comments you have received from friends or past partners.  What is so great about dating you?  Then, before you move online ask yourself what are your ten deal breakers (ten things you know right now will end a romance for you) and write them down.  Now look at the two, can you commit to offering those great qualities to your new connection?  Use these lists to form the “What I am Looking For” section of your online profile.

Finally, even if you don't meet the right person you are going to make new friends, business contacts, and you will see more of the city.  If you have a bad date it’s not the end of the world, maybe that's just not the right connection right now.  Treat it as an opportunity to learn to be a better dater yourself.  Take note of great restaurants, awesome conversation topics, and creative romantic happenings even if they don't work on the first try: dating is an experiment and it is practice in compassionate human relationship building for when you do meet someone you really connect with.


  1. Be crystal clear about your expectations
  2. Be honest about who you are
  3. Be open to whatever learning and opportunities may arise

So get out there and try it out!  If you’re new to dating let me know how it goes below.  Or, if you have tried online dating share one of your successes in the comments section!

Five TED Talks That Continue to Inspire

Chances are you have encountered a great TED Talk or two on your own by now.  TED Talks first were shared online in 2006, with the slogan "ideas worth spreading" and have successfully spread to over a billion watched since.  I often find myself inspired to change my thought after watching, but there are five I often email friends, suggest to clients, and watch repeatedly, seeing new applications to my life and work with each viewing.  I wonder if you will feel the same?

Shawn Achor, "The Happy Secret to Better Work"

"The lens through which you view the world shapes your reality.  If we can change the lens we can change your happiness."  Achor has spent years studying happiness all over the world and has compiled seven key principles to increase happiness in life.  

Your brain, when set to positive is more productive, faster, more accurate, than when you are in a negative, neutral, or stressed state.  Through meditation, gratitude, and supportive social network building we can re-train our brains for greater satisfaction and joy in life.  

Watch the talk, and I promise you will want to read the book, "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor.

Amanda Palmer, "The Art of Asking"

All too often we are afraid to ask for help, and even more, not to ask for what we need or want.  It is also really hard for most people to receive help or assistance even if we know it is well deserved.  Her talk focuses on her journey giving and receiving music, performance, love, and support.  

In the end she asks "How do we stop asking, 'how can we make people pay for music? and start asking how can we let people?'" which I reframe to you, how can you stop hoping to make people support you, and instead let people?

Katheryn Schultz, "On Being Wrong"

I once gave Katheryn's book to my girlfriend as a surprise.  I don't recommend you do the same without clearly stating your intention (see the next section).  In her talk, and in the book Schultz talks about the confidence that can happen when we are actually wrong.  

Being attached to our own rightness prevents us from avoiding mistakes and causes us to treat one another poorly.  She says "Our capacity to screw up is not some kind of embarrassing defect... it is fundamental to who we are..." reminding us to leave room for error, to be more productive and imaginative.  

How can embracing your wrongness help you move to more openness when you think you know whats happening and "something else happens instead?"

Simon Sinek, "How Great Leaders Inspire Action"

One of the most important lessons I learned in counselor training was to lead with intention.  Simon Sinek has spent years studying the best in business and nonprofits, starting with their "why," their core values, their intentions, their vision.  

It’s true in business and in your personal life, starting with your intention clarifies communication quickly and will bring you closer to those around you.  It also makes it much easier and more inspiring for them to join you for the long haul.

Steve Jobs, "How to Live Before you Die"

Okay, this isn't actually from a TED event, it was a Stanford graduation speech released on TED because it was so inspirational.  Jobs tells three stories from his life to help us all live a little more.  

"You can't connect the dots moving forward,  you can only connect them looking back... so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future... believing they will connect will give you the confidence to follow your heart even when it leaves you off a well-worn path." Do great work and love what you do.

Ten Fantastic Reads for Couples

People ask me for resources on healthy relationships all the time!  Below are my top ten go-to reads for couples.  I would love to see your recommendations in the comments!

1.  The Relationship Cure- John Gottman (at Powells Books) I recommend this book more often to clients than any other.  It outlines Gottman's 35 years of research with easy-to-understand examples and is full of activities to help you build better relationships in your life.  This book is also great because it focuses on the many different partnerships we have in our lives (at school, work, or home, in families, romance, friendships) to help connect solid communities of support all around you.

2. Mastery of Love- Don Miguel Ruiz (at Powells Books).  Have you read the Four Agreements?  if not, you may want to start there.  This is a follow-up book that really applies the messages of the first book to couples.  Its beautifully written and will help you build a foundation based in shared positive values.

3. I Thought We'd Never Speak Again- Laura Davis (at Powells Books) focuses on reconciliation in families and is a great guide for forgiveness- not only the forgiveness of others, but the ways we can forgive ourselves.  Even if you don't ever want to forgive someone else, this book can help you get clarity and closure to help you move forward.

4. Attached- Rachel Heller (at Powells Books) I have to be honest, I just started reading this and I already know it will be on my regular suggestions list.  Attachment theory looks at the patterns in our relationships (dating, family, and friendship) over our lifetimes and helps us become more aware of and intentional about the patterns we choose.

5. Nonviolent Communication- Marshall Rosenberg (at Powells Books) Compassionate communication based on Marshall Rosenberg's work is the foundation of many of my couples trainings.  Reading this book will help you clarify what you want and need and make clear requests of those around you.

6.  If the Buddha Married- Charlotte Kasl (at Powells Books) At my first Vipassana retreat one of the questions I asked my teacher was how to remain unattached and completely in love.  If you have ever wondered the same this is the book for you!

7. Fierce Conversations- Susan Scott (at Powells Books) was actually written with your workplace in mind, but the thing is - if it works in your multi-million dollar business exchanges, it's going to work at home.  Things can be a bit more emotionally intense around the house but you still have many separate parties (or two) negotiating with very different agendas.  This book will help you work through these conflicts with new tools.

8. The Five Love Languages- Gary Chapman (at Powells Books) Okay, I have already written about this one a few times.  The love languages give us all better ideas on how to express and receive love in our partnerships.

9. Seven Principles for Making a Marriage Work - John Gottman (at Powells Books) Okay, you have to forgive the title - I know marriage isn't for everyone and if you choose to read this one you may have to use a filter to replace "marriage" with "relationship" throughout.  That said, this guide gives real life examples that are very easy to understand on how to be better together in lone term relationships.

10. Hold Me Tight- Sue Johnson (at Powells Books)  Last but certainly not least, Sue Johnson has been teaching couples to connect on a deeper emotional level for years.  The conversations recommended in the book will give you greater insight into the defining principles of your togetherness and can help you create an even deeper bond.


Holiday Travel: Relationship Cures and Conflict

What pushed me over the edge to actually write the blog was a terrible customer service interaction at the United counter.  I will spare you the details of our holiday travel.  We were at the airport to check on our flight status.  When we reached the front of the line, I greeted the woman at the counter and said I had a quick question.  She actually growled and said, "That's not how it works."  I felt myself recoil from her angry tone.  I said, "I know you're really busy, I have one short question and then we can get out of your way."  She snapped again.  I felt myself lose hope.   We were off to a very bad start.

The woman at the counter continued to be unnecessarily rude, stubborn, and combative and ultimately I spoke with her supervisor.  I am not sure what she had faced before I walked up, but it was clear she was not in a place that moment, day, or possibly year to having a compassionate discussion.  I left the counter much more frustrated than when I arrived.  I doubt the woman felt god about our interaction.  I was so mad.

When my partner sweetly asked, "Whats wrong?"  I snapped, "The world would be a happier place if people started with compassion!"

In my practice I have come to see (and the research consistently shows) the basic principles of strong relationships hold true not only in romantic partnerships, but in all relationships.  Meaning, the skills and tricks necessary to fortify your marriage aren't actually that different from the ways you can foster a better relationship with your boss, or your daughter.   And the way to build these is relatively simple.

The airport counter experience I had is one small example of what John Gottman calls a "harsh startup."  According to his research 96% of the time a conversation will end the way it started.  So when the woman growled I knew it wasn't going to end well.  Luckily, my relationship with the customer service rep was a short one (I hope we don't run into each other again).  However, harsh startups can play a critical role in long term relationships.  According to Gottman's research, only 40 percent of the time do couples divorce because they are having frequent, devastating fights. More often marriages end because, to avoid constant skirmishes, husband and wife distance themselves so much that their friendship and sense of connection are lost.

Over time negative interactions build up and eat away at the positive regard that has been built between individuals.  In his book, The Relationship Cure, Gottman outlines how clearly this applies not only to romantic relationships, but also to colleagues, friends, neighbors, and classmates.  For example, I work with a colleague who believes she can determine the kind of day she will have based on the first interaction she has with her boss each morning.  On good days her boss greets everyone in the office with a cheerful hello and a 30-second check in about the news and their lives.  However, on bad days her boss will walk directly into her office without a greeting and wont speak until there is business at hand.  When they do speak, her boss begins by barking orders and questions.  These micro-harsh startups impact the assistant's entire day.

So how do you avoid a harsh startup?  Here are a few tips:

1. Start with your breath.  Take five deep breaths on your own before entering a conversation that could be difficult.

2. Ask yourself, "Is this the best time, place, and manner to have this conversation?"  Could it wait?  Would it be better if you were alone?  If it needs to happen then, thats fine, but if there is a more optimal location or time then plan ahead and make an appointment, or ask your partner to take a walk with your to discuss the topic at a set time.

3. Begin with gratitude.  Think of three things you enjoy, respect, or honor in the person you are speaking with.  What have they taught you?  Keeping these fresh in your mind will help you enter the discussion with greater compassion.

4. Avoid concrete or absolute language and soften your word choice whenever possible.   The woman at the counter repeatedly said "That's wrong" to me in the airport.  Had she said, "I am sorry you were misinformed, let me see how I can help you sort this out" I would have felt better even if receiving the same end result and information.  Try not to speak in either/or and avoid words like always, never, and forever.

5. Take a time out.  Don't be afraid to walk away for a minute, gather your thoughts, and take a few deep breaths.  Just remember to come back.

6.  Ask questions about the other person's experience.  Genuinely ask, "How was your day?" "what brought you here today?" etc to assess whats going on for the other person and get a sense of where they are coming from.

Its not foolproof.  We all have harsh startups now and again.  However, with a little intention and care, I do believe the world would be a happier place if first we start with compassion.