self work

Questions to Ask When Deciding to Break Up

Making the decision to break up isn't easy. Most of you reading this have good reasons to both stay and go. For the most part, people felt super ambivalent about their relationships even if the decision seems pretty obvious. Most people have baseline dealbreakers that often go out the window when they meet someone and feel a strong chemical reaction.

Over time we start wondering if compromising those standards and some of our independence was really worth it.

Others start feeling stuck in unresolved conflict and unaddressed resentments that block our ability to deeply connect.

It’s hard to end a relationship for many reasons. If nothing else, there’s no way to end a relationship without facing the reality of loss and grief. But sometimes loss and grief are what you both need to build fuller, more enriching lives apart.

Questions to Ask When Deciding If You Should Break Up

Breaking up is obviously never easy. However, these 18 questions are designed to help you find some clarity if you're having difficulty deciding what to do:

  1. Have I been feeling unsafe, intimidated or threatened in this relationship?

  2. Have I been criticized, degraded or disrespected on a consistent basis?

  3. Have I been regularly interrogated about who I talk to, where I go, how much money I spend and related issues?

  4. Have I been walking on eggshells because I’m fearful or uncomfortable speaking my mind in this relationship?

  5. Does my partner always blame me or others for their problems or things that go wrong?

  6. Is my partner excessively possessive, calling or texting constantly, visiting expectantly to check up on me?

  7. Does my partner make me feel inadequate?

  8. How is this ending going to improve my life? The other person’s life?

  9. Does my partner keep their word or promises? Do I?

  10. Does my partner take responsibility for their actions? Do I?

  11. Is my partner willing to see things from my perspective? Will I see theirs?

  12. Does this person make me happy or would I be happier by myself?

  13. Have I asked for my needs to be met directly and respectfully?

  14. Am I expecting my partner to be the only one who changes - am I willing to make serious changes in order to make this work?

  15. Have we adequately tried to resolve conflicts and stuck points? Are we willing to hire help if needed?

  16. Do we have the same values and goals for the future?

  17. Am I ready to walk-away or am I going to end it and get back together?

  18. Can I handle being single and finding other supports for my grief through this break up?

At the end of the day, no one can decide what you should do about your relationship but you. But if you really take the time to think it over, you'll make the right decision for you.

If you want help sorting through this decision please give me a call for a consultation. I’ve supported hundreds of great folks as they decide to stay or go and I’d be happy to help you.

Gina Senarighi Madison Couples Counselor

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in healthy communication, passionate relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

She co-hosts the Swoon podcast and coaches clients online all over the world and leads retreats in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest United states.

When she’s not working she’s tending her urban garden, traveling with her partner, raising her toddler, listening to podcasts or walking her little dog, Frida in Madison, Wisconsin.

Relationship Advice: Keep Your Conversation Fresh

One of the most important things we can do in a couple is continue to learn about one another.  When we stop being curious and start making assumptions about the people in our lives we start running into problems.  

Take some time over the weekend to get to know this person in a new way by asking these ten simple questions.

Even if you think you know their answer, ask and see if their response has changed or grown since you last checked in.  Try to accept their answers with warmth (the goal is to create openness for more sharing).  

It might be exciting to learn how your partner has changed over time.  These work well on a first date too!

Ask your sweetie:

1.  Do you look more like your mother or father?  How?

2.  Which of your parents are you closer to?

3.  Whats the most important lesson your parents taught you?

4.  What qualities make a good parent?

5.  Do you wish anything were different about your relationship with your parents?

6.  Who mentored you as a child?

7. Who was your hero growing up?

8. What influence should our families have in our relationship?

9.  What values have you held onto from your upbringing?

10.  If you could change anything about your childhood, would you?  What would you change?

(Check out previous conversation starters here)

I am so excited to hear from you about the conversations these ignite.  Leave a comment below and let me know!

How to Stop Obsessing

If you constantly replay or obsess over negative situations, you're doing what's known as rumination. Your mind goes over and over a play-by-play of that horrific breakup, a fight with your mom, or your boss calling you out in a meeting.

Often getting stuck in these cyclical thought patterns only increases the frustration or anxiety you're feeling.

Reflecting on the past can be helpful in problem-solving but getting stuck in rumination takes it to the next level. Most often it serves to intensifies negative feelings and leaves us without any real solutions.

These thoughts keep us from being present or focusing- and stop us form moving forward. 

Over time, we become hyperfocused on the things that aren't going well instead of seeing the larger picture. 

How to stop ruminating

Here are some of my favorite tips to help you change your obsessive thought patterns.

Identify the underlying thought or fear. What is your biggest fear? Maybe you are afraid of getting fired or looking foolish in front of others. Try journaling to clarify and write out your list of big fears.  Putting words to worries often takes some of their power away.

Think about the worst-case scenario. This may sound like an awful suggestion, but we can often handle the worst-case scenario, which takes away the power of the original thought.  Again, putting worry into words takes their power away.

Ask yourself:  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Can I handle that?  Odds are in your favor- human beings are very resilient. Remember, sometimes our biggest hardships can turn into our biggest growth experiences. 

Let go of what you can’t control. Ask yourself “what can I change, if anything?” If you cannot change the situation, breathe to let it go. For things you can change, set up a list of small incremental goals and start to make the appropriate changes to move toward what you want (and away from fear).

Reinterpret mistakes as learning opportunities.   If you made a mistake ask yourself what you would do differently in the future.  Then look at what you can do to support yourself in making a different choice next time.  

For example, I once left my rain barrels in storm season and they flooded my basement. I felt terrible about the financial and emotional energy lost in the clean up and found myself ruminating about rainstorms.  Instead of ruminating, I researched drainage and set up the rain barrels on a different system so I wouldn't have to worry (I also apologized to my partner for all his hard work).  In time rumination went away.

In addition, frequently remind yourself how far you’ve come. Every time you make a mistake, you learn something new.

Schedule a worry break. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes a day to worry and make the most of it.  Write it out, entertain ridiculous thoughts, call a friend- whatever helps you get all the worry out in that time period. This allows for a time and place to think about all your biggest insecurities while containing it to a specific period of time.

At other times of the day, remind yourself that you will have time to contemplate later.  Save a journal page to write down worries that show up at other times of the day and tell them you'll get back to them during your worry appointment.

Exercise. Go for a walk. A change of scenery and fresh air can quickly interrupt our stuck thoughts and give new perspective.

Get help. If ruminative thoughts are interfering with living the life you want to live, consider meeting with a professional. Consulting an expert is a great way to learn how to use these techniques with the help and guidance of a trained professional.

positive psychology | couples retreat | couples coach | relationship coach

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.

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.


What Your Therapist is Re-reading: Rising Strong by Brene Brown

As you know, if you have read my previous blogs, Brene’ Brown’s best-selling “Daring Greatly” (2012) and the connected curriculum changed my life- and started changing client’s lives through my sessions and workshops a few years ago. 

That book focused on vulnerability and the difficult but rewarding process of stepping into the arena and letting yourself be seen. But many clients asked me, “what happens if I get out there and fail?”

Last year Brene’ released her new book “Rising Strong,” a guide to getting back up after trying and failing to answer those clients’ question.  I've read and re-read it since- the book is THAT GOOD.

In the book Brene outlines three main steps to getting back out there again after a hardship. Read more about the steps below.

I plan to start leading more workshops incorporating her three-step process for getting back up this fall.  If you can’t wait for a retreat read the brief outline below or call me for a consultation to apply it to your own life.

The Reckoning

The Reckoning means recognize and acknowledge our emotions, rather than denying them when we struggle, make mistakes, or fail. It doesn’t help us to offload them by acting out, shutting down, or getting hamstrung by shame.

To recognize our emotions associated with failure, we need to get curious. It takes vulnerability and uncertainty to get curious about ourselves- which isn’t always easy. It can be so much easier to get defensive, act superior, numb out, or overreact and give a quick response we’ll regret later.

It is a courageous act to acknowledge our feelings rather than deny them.

The Rumble

We all makeup stories about our struggles based on incomplete information. It’s critical we reality-check our stories with a little critical thinking. When we rumble with our story, we move from our gut responses and defenses to seek a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about who we are and how we engage with others.

First, Brene recommends we identify the story we are making up by writing out what she calls a “shitty first draft” (SFD). She says the value of writing down our thoughts and feelings helps us to organize the experience.

When writing the SFD its really important we don’t filter the experience or worry about how our story makes us look. We hold it lightly, using the SFD as a tool to search for the hidden story we’re telling ourselves about our emotions.

After we identify the story we’re making up with our SFD, it’s time to check our (often self-defeating) assumptions. Brene’ recommends asking these questions for a little critical analysis:

  • What do I know objectively?
  • What more do I need to learn and understand the other people in the story?
  • What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?

Then we can look for the delta – or space- between the story we make up and a more objective truth.

The Revolution

The Revolution is using the Rising Strong process to create a revolutionary, rather than incremental transformation.  This means making it a daily practice and way of engaging with the world to build u our skills and resiliency.

Brene’ says, “We know that rumbling is going to be tough, but we head straight into it because we know running [away] is harder. We wade into the brackish delta with open hearts and minds because we’ve come to learn that the wisdom in the stories of our falls makes us braver.”

We know avoiding the issue only means we'll have to face it later.  Learning to rumble with integrity and grace is the core of the Rising Strong and Daring Way curriculum.

positive psychology | life coach | 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.

Top Ten Reasons to See a Relationship Coach

Relationship coaching helps couples reflect and take intentional action to create relationships filled with happiness, connection, and shared vision.  It is a little different from couples counseling, only in that it is very forward thinking, positive, and action-oriented.  I blend counseling and coaching in my work

There are many reasons couples decide to start working with me.  Here are ten of the most common:

1.  Sweethearts considering marriage.

Pre-marital counseling and coaching is some of my favorite work.  You know you want to be together, now, the question is, HOW do you want to be together?  What kind of future do you want to build?  How will you navigate life changes with grace?  Working with a relationship coach can help you get clear about the life you want to build as a committed couple.

2.  Keeping the relationship fulfilling long term.  

You have probably heard me say it already, every relationship needs a tune up from time to time.  Keeping your relationship a priority amid the many responsibilities and obligations that come up can be difficult.  It's not uncommon to lose a little luster over time.   Couples coaching can help provide time to re-assess how to sustainably keep the home fires burning for a long long time.

3.  Getting back together after taking a break.

Little known fact: LOTS of couples break up and get back together.  When you are deciding to return to partnership it can be really helpful to work with a relationship coach to both repair any gaps from your break, and work on forgiveness.  Your relationship coach will also help you determine how you want to move forward together.

4.  Thinking about becoming parents.

Parenting is an amazing journey, but it isn't for everyone and co-parenting doesn't come naturally.  Who do you want to be as a parent?  Is parenting something you both really want?  When you and your partner are ready to start thinking about a family it can be a good time to bring in a coach as a facilitator to help guide you through the decision-making and planning processes.

5.  Starting a business with your life partner.  

So we know you and your partner have great ideas and can manage projects together well (that home remodel looks beautiful!) but are you ready to start a business together?  And if you are, how will you maintain your relationship strength as your business dreams come true?  Contact a relationship coach to help you as a consultant for your business partnership when it's also our romance partner!

6.  Opening your relationship to non-monogamy.

Polyamory and open relationships are much more common than people think.  However, because we have strong cultural taboos around talking about open relationships, most couples are without support as they begin conversations about openness.  You can find poly-friendly relationship coaches and couples or marriage counselors in the national Poly-friendly Professionals or the Open List.  You can find me there too!

7.  Adventuring in new sexual or sensual territory.

Dan Savage coined the phrase GGG meaning one should strive to be good in bed, giving "equal time and equal pleasure" to one's partner, and game "for anything—within reason."for things sexually and sensually.  For some people meeting this GGG standard is not easily done.  Working with a relationship coach or couples counselor could help you and your partner explore new sensual connections and be even stronger together in the bedroom (and wherever else these adventures take you).  Check the Kink-Aware Professionals national listing for a sex-positive (non-judgmental) provider near you.

8.  Repairing a relationship after an affair.  

An affair doesn't necessarily mean you have to end your relationship.  Many couples decide to stay together.  However, repairing from a violation of trust can require professional support.  Contact a relationship counselor or couples coach to help you rebuild connection and trust and decide if staying together is the best option for you.

9.  Re-imagining the relationship after things go blah.

Lets face it, relationships take work and it is not easy to razzle-dazzle your partner every day (nor is it a realistic expectation).  Work with a relationship coach or couples counselor to help reignite that spark and fascination that brought you together in the first place.

10.  Deciding to move in together.

I have worked with many couples deciding if and when to move in together.  Many people struggle with questions of balance  privacy, space, and independence during these conversations.  It can be very helpful to have a neutral party's support and guidance as you transition to or from living together.

The bottom line is, if you are going to stay together for a long time, you are going to weather many changes to your life and relationship.  Relationship coaching is like a vitamin boost for your relationship's health during times of stress and transition.  Why not give it a try?

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.

Relationship Advice: Be Wildly Enthusiastic About Your Partner

One of the most important things we can do in a couple is continue to learn about one another.  When we stop being curious and start making assumptions about the people in our lives we start running into problems.  Take some time over the weekend to get to know this person in a new way by asking these ten simple questions.

Even if you think you know their answer, ask and see if their response has changed or grown since you last checked in.  Try to accept their answers with warmth (the goal is to create openness for more sharing).  It might be exciting to learn how your partner has changed over time.

Ask your sweetie:

1.  How many serious past relationships have you had? What made them "serious"?

2.  What makes "a relationship" different from "dating" in your mind?

3.  Could your feelings of affection be revived with an ex even if you have strong commitments in another relationship?

4.  What made your past relationships successful?

5.  What did you learn from your last relationship?

6.  Who was your first love?

7.  What did you learn from your first love?

8.  Do you keep memorabilia from your past relationships?  Why or why not?

9.  Have you been violent in past relationships?  

10.  What are you most proud of in your dating history?

(Check out previous conversation starters here)

I am so excited to hear from you about the conversations these ignite.  Leave a comment below and let me know!

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.

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.

Making a Great First Impression: Eight Lessons From the Bachelorette Season 9

I'm coming clean.  It's been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time.  I justify watching the Bachelor and Bachelorette on ABC by thinking of this as research for my work as a couples counselor and relationship therapist.  Truthfully, I find something charming about this over-the-top "romance" show.  And honestly, I find important lessons that are applicable to many of my clients' lives.

This week, season 9 of the Bachelorette kicked off as Desiree Hartstock met her 25 suitors.  Every season the Bachelor or Bachelorette waits and greets every one of their potential soul mates (PSM) individually.  Each PSM exchanges a couple quick words with Des with the hope they will win a first impression rose, and get to stay another week.

It's a little hard to watch all these awkward first meetings- partially because it reminds me of the times I have felt similar social anxiety trying to be smooth on a first date.  I watched the show this week and thought of the advice I often give: how to make a great first impression.  Here are eight important tips to making a great first impression, learned in my Bachelor and Bachelorette fandom:

1. Look good and smell good

Okay, there wasn't a great example of anyone messing this up, but if you have watched previous seasons, you know there have been a few cringe-worthy moments here.  Before you even meet your PSM make sure you brush your teeth, shower, and dress to best present yourself.  Don't be afraid to ask a friend for advice if you need!

2.  Come prepared for small talk

Think quick: what makes you unique?  Think of five things that make you special you don't mind sharing with other people.  Now think of five unusual or interesting things you learned, read, or saw on the news this week.  Keep this ten topic list ready and be willing to share to keep the conversation going.  Keep it light and ask your PSM questions to keep them engaged.

3.  Don't get drunk

Almost every season in Bachelor/Bachelorette history drunkenness leads to embarrassment.  If you are going to drink on your first date remember that no one respects the cast of the Jersey Shore.

4.  Don't push your agenda

This year one of the contestants decided to make a first impression by inviting Des to the fantasy suite before she even knew his name.  She turned him down, and when he returned several times throughout the night to ask her again and again she sent him home- even before the rose ceremony.  Being so attached to getting laid got him sent home first this season.  Don't be that guy.

(side note: if you meet someone on grinder, or the NSA section of craigslist this may not apply in the same way.  You might be able to assume you are getting laid.  However, remember not to be too attached to one outcome for the evening.  You are far more likely to be disappointed that way)

5.  Keep it simple

Every year people perform all kinds of wacky tricks to impress the Bachelor or Bachelorette.  This year one sweet man tried to impress Des with a few dance moves.  Unfortunately for him, he tripped her and she ripped her dress.  Keep it simple, you are impressive even without fancy moves.

6. Be memorable, not ridiculous

In their attempts to be memorable amid the crowd of other PSMs, the contestants on the show sometimes put together terribly clumsy acts to leave an impression.  And while they do leave an impression (who can forget Lindsey meeting Shawn in her wedding gown?).  This season one of the guys wore a full suit of armor.  Be genuine, you don't need to hide behind some silly facade to be memorable- authenticity is key to lasting more than one episode (or date).

7. Let them go first

One of the most painful part of the first episode is the overwhelming nerves of 25 people who have never been on television acting out the anxiety natural to so many of us on first dates.  One of the most common ways people alleviate anxiety is by talking and all too many PSMs on the Bachelorette just plain talk too much.  Take a breath, wait, and let your date talk first once in a while.  It will bring you a lot closer a lot quicker.

8. Leave them wanting more

Speaking of talking too much, remember you don't have to say everything.  I am often shocked by the personal details PSMs on the Bachelor are willing to share within the first two hours of meeting someone.  Yes, be genuine.  Yes, talk about how interesting you are.  But there is no need to share your dating history, divorce baggage, childhood trauma, etc on national television or a first date (or both).  There will be time if needed.  For now, leave your date wondering a little bit about you- you don't have to put it all on the table right away.

Good luck to all the Bachelorette contestants.  I hope you find the love you are looking for.  If you want a relationship coach, please don't hesitate to contact me.  And the rest of you fabulous readers, share your tips for successful first impressions in the comments below!