Category Archives: Relationships

Finding Your Marital North Star

premarital counseling charleston scOften times when I work with premarital couples I ask them what characteristics they would like to see in their marriage. I encourage these couples to take time to think about what is important to them in a relationship, write it down and look back on in frequently.  I then talked to couples about using this list as their North Star that will guide their behavior in their marriage.


During the good times we don’t need this list as a guide. We can easily see the good in our partner and are open and loving. But when things become difficult we quickly lose sight of what is important to us and we get pulled off course.


In difficult times many people will begin to use their partner’s behavior as a guide for their own behavior (i.e. you hurt me so I will hurt you back, you are disrespectful to me so I will be disrespectful back, you withhold from me so I will withhold from you). One can see how this would become a vicious cycle for disaster.


We get pulled away from what we really want in our relationship if we base our behavior on someone else’s behavior.  This is because behavior is not a constant in any relationship. Additionally, our perception of behavior is not constant so all it would take is our perception being off for us to be pulled off course.



I was having brunch with an unmarried pregnant friend recently. During the course of brunch she was telling me that she was in a difficult position about what last name to give her baby who was soon to be born. She was no longer with the baby’s father in the romantic sense and she was not happy with all of his life choices.


On the one hand she was not particularly attached to her last name and she did not feel compelled to give the baby her name for any personal reason.  But, on the other hand she was not sure if she wanted to give her baby the father’s last name because she felt as if she was rewarding him with that honor.


We talked about it a little and I asked her if she wanted a friend answer or a therapist answer. She said she would like to hear both. As her friend I told her, “F- him” we laughed and than I told her about what I talked about above.


I asked her to think about what kind of relationship she would ideally like to have. What characteristics would it have? I encouraged her to use these as a guide during these difficult times so she did not get pulled away from what she really wanted in her relationship.


There is one mistake that people commonly make with this exercise. They make their list and then expect their partner to do it. Or, they give these things only if they feel their partner is doing the same thing.


What ever you want in your relationship give it to your partner, but give it freely with no expectation of getting it back or needing it back. When we need to get the behavior back in order to give it we fall into the trap of using our partner’s behavior as our guide. This will lead us off course.



There is one phrase that helps me when making difficult decisions in my life and I use this as my guide in all my relationships, whether personal or professional. My go-to phrase that helps me is “Is it loving?”


This phrase helps me when I get off course and even though I am not behaviorally perfect and forget this phrase, it is always there to help when I am ready and open to accept its strength and wisdom.


The phrase, “Is it loving?” does not mean I become a doormat in every situation. It might be more loving to leave a situation then it would be to stay. If I am married to someone who hits me and my children the most loving thing might be to leave. This person hitting me cannot see that there is a better way to live. As long as I stay I may be holding them back from seeing another way to manage their anger.


It might be more loving to stop giving financial support to my child so they can learn how strong they really are. It might be more loving to let my child struggle with the consequences of poor decisions. Being expelled from school and grounded for drinking at school helps the child learn appropriate behavior. It may also keep them from progressing their behavior of drinking that later develops into driving under the influence and killing someone else.



“Is it loving” can also be applied to the thoughts I think about other people. Thinking unloving thoughts about any one has a direct effect on me. I don’t like the way I feel when I think of someone else being the “bad guy”. When we can see the innocence in another it has a different effect. When I can see the person as doing the best they can in that circumstance the emotional pressure is released.



Examples of Characteristics People Report Using as Their North Star in Their Marriage:



  • Respect
  • Listen to understand not to dispute
  • Kindness
  • Forgiveness
  • Understanding
  • Not nitpicking faults
  • Open to suggestions
  • Giving partner space to be exactly the way they are
  • Taking responsibility for behavior
  • Willing to admit when they make a mistake

Does Knowing Yourself Affect Your Relationship


Does Knowing Yourself Affect Your Relationship

Who are you?

What makes you, you? Does having a good understanding of yourself affect how you relate to others?  All great questions that can be tricky to answer.

If you are out on a first date getting to know someone else we are likely to ask a series of questions in hopes of getting to know the other individual. We ask about favorite foods, hobbies, interests, likes, and dislikes. We may walk away from the date feeling we have a pretty good grasp on the other person.


We could describe our date be saying: Sally is a fun-loving woman who enjoys hiking with her dog Welton. She grew up in Western Massachusetts  with her mother and father. She studied Art and Teaching at Columbia University and after graduating started working at a high school.


This is all well and good. It tells a great story of Sally’s life but it does not say who is doing all of these wonderful activities. What’s more, we could take away any of these events and we would not say that Sally goes out of existence.  If Sally for some reason did not attend Columbia University she would not have disappeared. For this reason we can not say that Sally is any of these things. These things describes what Sally has experienced.


One might argue that Sally is her mind or thoughts, even her memory. Ok this seems to be headed in a better direction. But for arguments sake let’s say Sally is in an accident and loses her memory. Does Sally stop existing when she lost her memory? Of course not – she just can’t remember her life up until this point.  What if she went crazy and “lost her mind”, so to speak – would she stop being Sally? Again, no dice.


Perhaps Sally is her personality. She is smart, funny, the life of the party, a great friend, a wonderful mother, a kind daughter.  These qualities must be what defines Sally. After all, we spend so much energy getting attached to them and trying to perfect each one. Alas, no again.  She doesn’t go out of existence just because she is no longer considered one of these arbitrary qualities.


We could argue that she is her body. But every seven years we  essentially have a new body due to our cell’ s regeneration.  Sally’s body is in a constant state of change. She does not have the same body she had at the age of 2, nor does she have the same body she will have at 90.


So what makes Sally, Sally?



Who are you? Consider the statement “The eye can not see the eye seeing”. This is a difficult image to wrap your head around but with a little effort we can understand it. The eye can see but it would not witness itself seeing the world- it would have to be outside itself to do this. To see the eye seeing you would have to be the observer of the eye.


Let’s take this idea one step farther and apply it to ourselves. You are able to observe labels of yourself such as smart, funny, good cook, etc. If you are able to observe these qualities we then cannot be these qualities.  Something must be outside of us for us to observe it. It is easy to understand that the subject observes the object.


Michael A. Singer (author of The Untethered Soul – Journey Beyond Yourself) gave an interesting example on observation of subject and object relationship.  He says to imagine you have three objects out in front of you. Let’s say a birthday hat, a candle and a coffee cup are laid out. Point to the object that is “you”.  This is not possible and a bit crazy. You are the one looking at the objects so how could you possibly be one of these objects. You can’t.


You can’t be one of these objects the same way you cannot be your emotions, mind, body, relationships, etc. You are not your personal qualities such as honest, loyal, kind-hearted because 1) you can observe these qualities and, 2) if you lost any of these qualities you would still be here, so to speak.


So what are you then if you are not all these things? You are the observer of the qualities. You are what is conscious of these qualities. You are what is able to experience the world through your senses, thoughts and emotions but you are not these elements- all these elements can disappear and you would still exist. This is why you can never know yourself, you can only know what you are not.




Our attachment to our labels and the trouble it causes us.

As seen above we have a number of labels that we become identified with and automatically assume that these are our identity. We cling desperately to maintain our appearance of intelligence, wealth, status, and wit. We put a great amount of effort into getting other people to believe these things about us.  Why are these qualities so important if they are not essentially who we are, only labels or identities we take on?


Identifying with these labels causes us great trouble. If we can live up to the label, we (temporarily) feel alright, but it can take a large amount of energy to keep up our appearance. When we feel we cannot live up to the labels we have for ourselves, we become stressed and uneasy.


You know what label you are attached to by looking at what hurts you. If someone insults your intelligence and you feel wounded you may be attached to being seen as intelligent.  If some one tells you that you are a lousy pope most likely you would not be offended as much as if they said you were a bad lover.  Since most of us will never be the pope we do not identify as closely with the idea and thus we are not hurt if someone says something off-color.


Being seen as a good lover is something many of us cling to so it is a lot easier to be hurt when someone attacks this. When you realize that you are the observer of your labels and not your labels you free yourself from getting hurt with every off-color comment.  Your feeling of self worth doesn’t shift with the ever-changing situation.  When you are begin to notice that you are not your thoughts or emotions but the observer of your thoughts you become more centered and no longer get pulled from the wild ride that our emotions can take us on.