Tag Archives: attachment

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

Look For Loving In All The Wrong Places: Rekindling love in your marriage

Your task is not to seek for love, but to seek and find all the barriers that you have built against it. Love is your natural state. Your only problem lies in covering it up with cheap substitutes. Our need to be right, expectations of how we think something should be, judgments we project upon others all block our loving nature.


During the first stage of falling in love we get a glimpse of our loving nature. Take a minute to think of a time when you first fell in love. If one sits and puts themselves back at this time they will begin to experience a taste of love welling up.


When you first fall in love you experience this unspeakable feeling of joy, peace, life all tumbled together into one unit. This feeling permeates us and we begin to feel it in all aspects of our life. We aren’t just in love with the person we found but we are in love with squirrels, and plants and spoons, and coffee and anything else we come in contact with. We are in love with life itself.


Falling in love is wonderful and it feels so natural to us that we want to hang on to it desperately. What we fail to realize is that it is not coming from the other person. You will discover this when you take a good look at the situation.


When you are in love and have this amazing feeling do you only feel it when that person is present in the same room with you? Of course not. You could still feel it if they were in Timbuktu. The feeling is present when they are there and still present when they are not. This is the case for one simple reason. The feeling of love you feel is coming directly from you.


When you are open you shine and experience your own natural light. We experience this light in the form of what we call love. But when we think that what we are feeling is coming from the other person we become frightened and want to hang on to this feeling of love. We try to hang on to it by trying to control the other person in various ways.


We set up expectations in an attempt to get in touch with this feeling once again. You listen to me so I feel love. You desire me so that I feel this love. You notice me so I feel this love. You show me respect so I feel this love. Listening, desire, attention and respect are all great elements to have in a relationship but you do not need them to experience that love you are looking for.


No one can take their love away from you.  When you close off, hold resentments, judge others, have expectations of how a someone or a situation should be you end up cutting yourself off from your natural light.


When you look outside yourself for love it will fail and end up hurting you.  It will end up hurting you not because it has the power to hurt you but because you have given it the power to hurt you. You have made the proclamation to yourself that you need ____________(fill in the blank with your perceived need or desire) and that is what follows. “I need your attention to be happy”. “I need you to desire me to feel love”. “I need you to be calm for me to be at peace”.


What you are looking for in your partner you already have.  You have just, for a brief moment in time, forgotten. Welcome what is and your light will shine on all you see.


“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere. They’re in each other all along.”

– Rumi


Working On Internal Peace to Experience External Peace.

AYP1224744In this entry I will not be telling anything you don’t already know.  Think of this entry not as something novel but as a reminder of the obviousness that is all around us. We can witness evidence of the following commentary in our every experience.


It is your direct experience that you must listen to, not the writing. Wait for the message to ring true for you. If it does not resonate with you, move away without judging the encounter.



I do not respond to anything directly, but rather to my interpretation of the event. Many people tend to understand this statement on a general surface level but where most stop is the application of it.  We tend to forget the meaning of this statement when we encounter something that triggers an emotional charge for us. When we are experiencing the event, it appears that what is causing us trouble is outside of us.  In truth, it is our own filter that effects how we see something.


We then use our interpretation of the event to justify our response to the event. When one truly understands that they do not respond to anything directly but to their interpretation of it, they will understand that what is causing them trouble is not outside of them.  This can be liberating for many people because at this point they stop trying to control other people to find peace.



The interpretation of an event is always coming from me, therefore the grievance I perceive is coming from me.


The next step involves looking at where I am hoping to influence change. Most of us get caught up in the old pattern of trying to change another’s behavior so that you feel better.


Listen to me more so I feel different.

Desire me so I feel different.

Stand up for me more so I feel different.

Start helping with the housework more so I feel different.

Dress sexier so I feel different.

Don’t yell at me so I feel different.


There is a pattern here. The only reason we ever want people to be different is so that we feel different. There is a problem in this thinking. 1) I have no control over another person. 2) Refer back to the statement “I do not respond to anything directly but to my interpretation of it”. The problem is not in the other person it is in your perception of that other person.


For some this way of thinking is very frustrating. “Are you telling me that my partner does not have to listen to me or show me respect?!?!?”,  is a comment some will retaliate with. When I hear this retort I know that they have not yet comprehended what I am attempting to communicate.


We often will not interpret a situation correctly because we are looking through an old filter. Instead of seeing what is in front of us we look for evidence that supports a belief we already have.


If I have a belief that I am unlovable I will be seeing the world through this filter and look for evidence to support this belief. A lot of time we will be completely unaware of our internal beliefs. If someone were to say to you, “You have the belief that you are unlovable”, you’d might say, “You’re nuts”.


We have a difficult time seeing what beliefs are influencing us because they are so engrained. It’s like noticing the air, or a fish noticing water.


We see our unconscious belief by the way we interpret our external world. You can always tell how a person feels about themselves by how they talk/feel about others. 


We color our world by our internal beliefs. Everything in this world that happens is a fact, it does turn good, bad, happy, sad until it goes through my own filter of interpretation. Here is an example of what I mean:


Fact: You tell your husband about an event that is important to you. Your husband does not look up from his newspaper or respond to what you just said.


Event seen through one filter: He never listens. He is rude for not listening to something that is important to me.  I don’t understand why I bother to share important things with him.


Same event seen through a different filter:  He does not appear to be listening to me.  He might need this time to decompress. Him not listening to me is not a personal attack.


The way we interpret an event has everything to do with what is going on in our internal world. I am not saying that it isn’t great to have a partner who listens, is supportive, and helps. What I am saying is that we often will base our emotional stability on something that we have no control over, another’s behavior. Additionally, what I am saying is that your happiness is not dependent on the other person being different.



Cleaning off our emotional filters is key. We begin to do this when we begin to see what is happening and how we are pulling into our old belief system time and time again.


You can begin to clean out old emotional baggage when you start to see that you are not responding to the event, but your interpretation of the event. Then, when you forgive the person for what they are not actually doing. What I mean by this is, what is causing you difficulty is not their behavior but your own filter.


They might tell you they just cheated on you with your best friend, but even in this situation what is giving you trouble is your interpretation of the event. This does not necessarily mean that you stay in any situation. What it does mean is that your emotional wellbeing can stay intact regardless of what appears to be going on outside of you.



When you see the innocence in another you are reminded of your own innocence.  When you are reminded of your own innocence you will remind yourself of your true nature, which is whole, complete and infinitely lovable. When you remember your true nature you will not fear what you perceive going on outside of you.


Should You Accept Your Partner’s Bad Habit?: How accepting your partner benefits you

Many people are afraid that if they fully accept their partner, bad habits and all,  that the act of acceptance will leave them open to being taking advantage of or becoming a doormat. They are worried that if they accept a person the way they are that it will mean giving up a part of themselves. Or they may worried that if they turn the other cheek, so to speak, that they will become vulnerable to being used. relationship counseling


For numerous people accepting someone exactly the way they are is frightening.  Many are afraid of really look at acceptance because of what they think it means.  Without taking a closer look at acceptance and what it means the whole idea will remain a touchy subject.


Why accept my partner the way they are, warts and all?

On the surface acceptance of our partner looks as if it is to benefit them and while the other person may experience some a positive effect from our non-judgment of them there is an additional bonus for us.


When we accept something just as it is, without judgment, with out manipulating it to be something else or without a label, we experience peace. Think for a moment about a time you found yourself enjoying nature. You may have been hiking in the woods, or looking at a river or the ocean.

Nature can help us experience peace because we don’t have expectations for how it should be. We don’t look at a babbling brook and think it should be flowing the other way. No, we just see it for what it is.

We don’t find a rotting tree in the forest and think this should not be. No, we see the dying tree as it is. We don’t judge it as bad because it is in a particular part of its life cycle.

We don’t stand on the edge of the ocean and complain that it is too big, too salty or not quiet enough. When we find ourselves at peace it is because we are accepting the situation as it is without judgment.

We can have the same peace in our relationship when we learn to accept our partner’s behavior without judgment or without trying to change them in some way. Letting go of our expectations of how we think they should be sets us free and we experience peace.



Do I have a hidden expectation?


Often times I encourage people to look at the expectations they have for a situation or relationship. And, often times I will hear the person say, “I didn’t have an expectation. I just wanted them to_________” (fill in the blank with your choice phrase- we all have one).

It can be very difficult to see our expectations when we are so close to the situation. They can sneak in without us recognizing it.  A few tell tail signs that we actually had an expectation leak in is if we are disappointed, angry, feel rejected, fearful or even annoyed.  If you feel any of these emotions (or something similar to one of them) it might help to ask yourself one question-“How is he/she supposed to be?”.

When we ask ourselves, “How is he/she supposed to be?”, we can quickly identify what our expectations actually are.  There are a number of ways people usually answer this question and they often times try to justify their response.

-She should not be so selfish.

-He should take out that trash when I have had such a hard day.

-She should wash the baby.   After all, my mother just died.

-The price of gas should not be going up.

-They should not cheat on me.

-It should be warm for my vacation.

-They should not be drinking so much.

Does accepting my partner the way they are mean I have to put up with their behavior?

Just because we accept a person as they are does not mean that there won’t be times when we have to move away from unconscious behavior.  You can accept the fact that the forest is on fire but it does not mean you have to stay in the forest and become consumed by the flames.

The same is true in a relationship. Your partner may be acting unconsciously and it may be putting you and your family in danger of being hurt physically or it may be causing some other form of damage. You can accept the person fully and what they are going through while still moving away from harmful behavior.

A strong message in many religions teaches us the message of loving the sinner and hating the sin. Love the person, see through their unconscious behavior to their true nature, which is innocent.

Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if we need to move away from a situation or just take a different perspective on it.


Acceptance can help facilitate change.

Have you ever felt like someone was trying to make you do something or forcing you into something you weren’t ready to do? Spend more time with them, have more sex with them, be cleaner, stop drinking are just a few that come up in therapy.


When we feel like someone is forcing us into something, we often times force our heels into the ground and refuse to budge.  Or maybe we grudgingly give in just to shut the other person up, but it is not a long-term change.


What happens when we feel like the pressure is off of us and someone is not trying to get us to change?  Acceptance creates a space around another person. In this space healing or change is easier for that person. We feel it is much safer to change when we are accepted as a whole and not because we act in a particular way.


In truth, you can’t change your partner. 

There is nothing you can do to change your partner. If there was a way to make them do something most people would have figured it out by now. After all, most of us spend enough time trying to get them to change.

It is craziness trying to get someone to do something. You can’t change them. The only power you have lies in your acceptance of them.


We are all doing the best we can. 

The idea that our partners are doing the best they can do is difficult for many people to grasp. But the truth is we are all doing the best we can do at anytime.

Our life experiences up until this point affect how well we handle stress and what we do to when faced with fear. Swami Dayananda Saraswati says:

“Accommodation (of others) is an understanding that the other person behaves as he or she does because the person cannot act contrary to his or her background. You have no right to expect something different from someone just because it suits your needs. If you think you have the right to ask someone to change, then that person equally has the right to ask you to let him or her live as he or she does.  In fact, only by accommodating others, allowing them to be what they are, do you gain relative freedom in your day-to-day life”.

Our life experiences and temperament predict how well equipped we are to handle certain stressors that present themselves. Some people drink to handle the difficult situation, while other people lose themselves in work or children or their role as a helper.

People use all kinds of things to help them when they experience fear. For many people it is terrifying to give up that buffer. Things naturally fall away when we don’t need them anymore. Just as you outgrew the toys you played with as a child, people outgrow their vices when they no longer need them.

Don’t ever give up anything before you feel ready to give it up. It may still be serving a purpose.  If you give up something before you are ready you will find something else to substitute in its place.

Don’t try to force someone to give up something before they are ready. You can’t make them give it up until they are ready. This may mean that you need to work on acceptance and at times move away from unconscious behavior.