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If It’s Hysterical, It’s Historical :)

We’re not crazy; we’re just trying to survive. In many cases, however, the survival skills, while brilliantly effective in childhood (we made it out of there!) are unconsciously running the show in our adult relationship, and not in the greatest possible way. In fact, it can be bewildering and destructive.

First, we need to understand that our brain is a crude detector of real versus perceived danger. This can help us understand why we sometimes react the way we do. When we *perceive* danger; e.g. a tone of voice or facial expression, our amygdala fires up the nervous system, hijacks us and causes us to react the same as if we were being chased by a crocodile. So we fight, flee or freak out, which of course triggers partner’s fear and they do something equally scary for us.

The problem is this part of our brain has no calendar or timekeeping device. It doesn’t know how old, how tall or successful we are. And it doesn’t know that our partner is not the critical or dismissive person who hurt us when we were little. And this explains the outburst, which made sense when we were two years old, but makes little to no sense when we’re trying to communicate about the conflict du jour. When we’re triggered, we don’t run the data through our cerebral brain; we just freak out. Or withdraw, or say mean, hurtful things. Or whatever. We regress and momentarily become the child we once were.

That’s why we way “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical”.

We do have a resource we may not be using, though, and it’s both free and available at any time. It’s the exhale. A deep breath and a long exhale stimulates the vagus nerve, which then activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which returns us to homeostasis. In other words, we are highly capable of self-regulation and return to our higher functioning adult self.

Very handy indeed.

Happy New Year!

Preparing for and Receiving the Greatest Benefit from Couples Therapy.

The four C’s:  commitment, curiosity, compassion and communication.

Commitment means going all in, letting go of other options for at least three months, while we work on restoring your relationship.  Commitment to a new way of communicating, listening, understanding. For best results, commit to the *process*, along with commitment to ending negativity, and accepting the fruitful challenge growth.  It’s not easy, but it is so worth the effort.

Are you willing to commit to 3 months of working with me in weekly or bi-weekly sessions, following through on homework assignments, attending a workshop, all with the goal of truly giving this process a chance to work?

Curiosity is an extremely helpful construct to replace judgment.  Your judgment of each other is part of the problem, as it triggers negativity and defensive reactivity.  If you find that you’re not understanding your partner, try cultivating curiosity as you attempt to learn more about your partner’s world.

Likely you are both hurt.  Compassion for each other’s pain, and the pain you’ve caused is healing.  Your ability to to take responsibility for your words / behaviors that have hurt your partner is necessary for your own growth, and healing in the relationship.

Will you commit to curiosity and compassion?

Are you willing to communicate using the hallmark of Imago Relationship Therapy, the intentional dialogue?

If the answers to these questions are yes, you are good candidates for Imago Therapy, and I can assure you that you will begin seeing improvement early in our work together.

It is my honor to work with you, and look forward to seeing the results of your commitment!



Why You Should Immediately Begin Eliminating Negativity

I call it “negativity creep”.  It’s toxic and addictive, and it can seem like it crept in sometime in the night.  First we were in love, and the next thing you know, we seem to get triggered over even the most insignificant things.

During “romantic love”, we believed nothing could ever come between us.  The chemistry of romantic love is a “high” that feels amazing.  During this time, we project all kinds of beautiful, amazing qualities onto our love interest.

After a while, the feelings fade because the chemistry fades.  But not realizing this, we mistakenly think our partner has changed.  Think about it; isn’t the frustration you now have some variation on what you fell in love with?  Carefree eventually became irresponsible, or attentive became controlling.  It’s the same quality, just with a different focus.

At this point, the survival part of your brain begins reacting as if you’re in danger, so it signals for more cortisol to help you fight or flee.  The increase is this toxic hormone causes you to be more irritable and perhaps critical or defensive. This sparks your partner’s defense. And the next round of fighting begins. And now both of you are triggered.

If this is as pattern happening over and over, consider the consequences:

  • It’s impacting your health. The effects of stress (and related cortisol) are well documented.
  • It’s not only damaging your body, but also your relationship,
  • your lifestyle,
  • your outlook,
  • your ability to enjoy the benefits of companionship and connection.
  • If you have children, be aware that you are modeling for them what a relationship looks like. Surely we can teach them a better way.
  • On top of all that, it’s a complete waste of priceless time, love and energy.
  • It’s addictive.  The longer we do anything, the more habitual it becomes.

We were made with the ability to fight or flee, but it should not be a lifestyle and your partner is hopefully not your predator. But it can seem that way if negativity has crept in.

If you are in chronic need to fight or flee in your relationship, it is time to get help.  My goal for your relationship is for you to feel alive again.  To fully understand and be understood is to feel connected, positive, joyful, sexy, romantic and juicy.

Believe it or not, negativity creep is really not the end of your relationship; it’s signal for a new beginning. It’s not the relationship that needs to end; it’s the negativity.  Yes there is more.  There IS a better way.  Let’s talk.  #eliminatingnegativity


Recovering from an Affair

Is anything more painful than betrayal?  Perhaps not, at least on the topic of relationship.  Though common (one fourth to one half, depending on who you ask), this type of rupture is excruciating, and often fatal to the relationship.

Most often, the betrayal seems insurmountable at first.  Reactions are understandably strong and absolute; e.g., “I could never be with you again”.  “I will always be angry and resentful”.

Healing from an affair does take time, but it is possible, if both people are willing to do the work.  How long it takes depends on a number of variables, but I have found on average that two years is a fair estimate.  Obviously, for some it takes longer, and others dig deep and work it out sooner.  Much of it depends on motivation and willingness to listen and understand.

In the couples with whom I have worked successfully, the repair work actually improved the relationship beyond where it was prior to the affair.  How so?  Because they both deeply wanted the relationship to heal, they did the work.  Telling the truth, no matter how painful.  Taking responsibility.  Listening to understand.  Patiently answering questions over and over again.  Compassion.  Curiosity.  Grace. Replacing negatives with positives.  Choosing a response.  Big things.  Little things. Both people.  Believing it could happen.  And when it did, both people were able to acknowledge the other’s hard work.  Ultimately, the repair work can lead to a deeper connection than ever before,.

I most often recommend that couples read After the Affair, by Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D.  The book is helpful in normalizing feelings, and offering help in understanding what is going on on both sides.  According to Spring, the recovery process is as follows:

Stage one:

Normalizing feelings

Reacting to the Affair.

Dealing with trauma and loss.

The unfaithful partner and choices.

Stage two:

Should we or shouldn’t we stay?

Exploring what love means to you.

Confronting doubts and fears

Stage three:


Learning from the infidelity

Restoring trust

Talking about what happened

Sex again

Learning to forgive.

Regardless of whether or not the relationship can survive the rupture, we hopefully and eventually learn to forgive.  This is possible when we are willing to let go of the armor that is anger and resentment.  We learn that trust has a deeper and more rewarding meaning when we do the internal work of forgiving, and letting love flow again.

Ten + Reasons to Attend Getting the Love You Want Weekend Workshop

  1. It is powerfully connecting in only two days.
  2. It’s economical.  You save thousands, because it is comparable to MONTHS of private sessions.
  3. You learn new things about yourself.
  4. You learn new things about your partner.
  5. Learning together is actually fun.  The
  6. By Sunday afternoon, you have dramatically improved your communication.
  7. It gets you out of the power struggle and on the path to the new way to love.
  8. It’s low risk / high reward.  You don’t have to share anything with anyone except your partner.
  9. It saves marriages.  If I had dollar for every time a couple told me it saved their marriage…
  10. It’s 100% positive.  We replace judgment of self / others with curiosity.
  11. Oh, and it is VERY connecting.  🙂  And when you’re connected, who cares who’s turn it is to take out the garbage!

Don’t wait to do this.  Most couples say they wish they had done this years ago.

When the Relationship Falls Apart

The condition of being “in Love” is among the strongest of all tugs we can experience. We are drawn like zombies into this state with reckless abandon, eschewing common sense or otherwise typical characteristics of decision making. But it is no wonder, really, when you consider what is happening in our brain: the blissful glow sought the world over overtakes us. We feel alive, complete, full of joy. We feel sexy, romantic, hyper-focused on our sensual experience. We are in LOVE!

This stage of relationship is an altered state. The drug was not ingested, except through your senses, but this limbic activity has made you deliriously happy (if high) in the company of your lover.

So here’s our brain on the love drugs: dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, phenethylamine (PEA), norepinephrine, and others! We feel amazing, and If that person made me feel this good, then sign me up for life!

Eventually, however, we habituate to the drug. Once it wears off, we want another hit, right? Of course! So how to go about getting our partner to love us the way they did the first few months we were together?

You would think that one would try to be seductive, listening, attending, complimenting, attractive, warm, welcoming, smiling, thoughtful and considerate.

But actually, we get mad, pout, cry, yell, throw a tantrum, withdraw and expect someone to come along and fix it for us. We do this unconsciously and irrationally. It doesn’t work, obviously.

We call this stage the power struggle, and it is also an altered state, except this time, it’s a bad, bad trip. What was in that stuff? We feel awful. We want out, and we become desperate to end the pain.

Here are our options:

Stay in this state. Not an option without something to ease the pain, right??

Leave and start over with someone new. Is this really a good option? Please accept this is a gentle reminder that it’s not about who we’re with; it’s about what we need to learn from this. Or else we’ll just go repeat the pattern with someone new.

Work through it and get to the good place together. The place where we grow, and can language our needs effectively. The place where we can hear and be heard.

Getting the Love You Want is a workshop for couples who want to journey out of the power struggle and into the stage of conscious love. This is the third and most satisfying stage of the relationship, because it involves waking up and growing together into a completely different and more desirable place, where we can actually get our needs met. The secret is full awareness that there are two of us; we are a we; not a me. The other secret involves learning the skills and abilities to grow toward happiness, using effective communication, and loving more intentionally without defenses. Listening, hearing, understanding, and caring.

Learn how in the next workshop September 18-20, 2015 at DuBose Conference Center in Monteagle, Tennessee. I would love to be your tour guide as we take this journey together.

The weekend is safe; you will never have to talk publicly about your personal relationship. No dirty laundry! I teach by leading discussions that are completely optional, and perhaps more importantly by giving you dialogues which are done in breakout I deliver the workshop with your privacy in mind at all times.

This will be my 41st workshop, and in all 40 workshops, I have never had anyone who said anything negative about it. Most common words are “safe”, “warm” “amazing” and “connected”. The most recent workshop yielded this comment in the evaluation: “This workshop saved my marriage”.

If you have questions or want to register, you can visit my website or contact me personally.



When is the Right Time for Therapy?

Couples often live in unhappy relationships several years before seeking therapy. Like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water, the unconscious defensiveness (read protective behaviors) and negativity creep in without notice, until one day we realize “I’m not happy in my relationship” and “I’m tired of the pain”. Or “I’m tired of being the source of my partner’s pain”. “How can we be happy again”? Often one person is smothering the other, trying to recover the lost connection. This leads to the other person withdrawing due to the smothering anxiety, which is excruciating and feels a lot like abandonment to the other.

These painful dynamics are reactive and unconscious, and can perpetuate for years, but they don’t have to.

If you and your partner are not talking, or the talking is negative, it’s time to see the couples counselor. If you and your partner are living like roommates instead of lovers, it’s time for therapy. If negativity has crept in, and you can’t seem to resolve it, it’s time. If attempts to communicate result in the same frustrating patterns over and over, it’s time. If your belief is “We’ve fallen ‘out of love'”, it’s time for therapy. If you’re fighting over money, kids, or sex; or if you’re just fighting, period, make an appointment with someone who can help. And CERTAINLY if feelings, fantasies or flirting with another are how you cope, by all means, this is a warning sign. It is NOT a signal that you should be with someone else. That is folly; you’ll just end up creating the same pattern over again.

This “power struggle” stage of your relationship, like the romantic honeymoon, is not meant to last. It’s meant for learning to interact differently, and now is the right time. Give me a call so I can help you create a conscious relationship. Don’t live in unnecessary pain. More couples than not leave my office feeling better after the first session.

The Journey

long-long-journey-19280606It has been said that life is a journey. So is love. We start out somewhat naively on this journey, and like anything we first try, we probably struggle at first.

What if we hadn’t continued to try when we were learning to walk, talk, use the potty, or read or write? We kept trying, and eventually we learned. We learned to do mundane tasks, like tying shoes. The struggle is how we learn. Though I can’t know for sure, I suspect that learning is the purpose of struggle.

At times, the struggle is painful and seemingly impossible. I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I gave up during a struggle, believing it to be impossible. Even that offers an opportunity to learn.

This is life, and it’s also love. In love, the fruit of all that labor is that we learn to love another. An other. Some other being who has different ideas, perhaps, tempting you to into the struggle. Simply put, learning to love an other — perspective differences and all — is the portal into our own growth. Another growth edge many of us experience is learning to let the love in; in other words, learning to live and love without defensiveness. Too many of us feel so uncomfortable with the vulnerability in intimacy that we would rather live without it. Have you ever heard the quote: “I would rather live in a predictable hell than have a taste of heaven and lose it?

Why is it so easy in the beginning?

The chemistry of romantic love causes temporary blindness to vulnerability as well as potential conflict. The differences create the chemistry. Then a short time later, when the chemistry fades, we begin to struggle. What is the learning opportunity in this?

The lessons are:

      Relationship is journey in which we eventually learn that we live with an other person (who is not us).

That person sees things differently from us, and this fact does not constitute wrongness on either side. No one has an accurate perception of reality.

What we fell in love with is usually what annoys us the most. It may also be a part of us that we only see projected onto our partner. Either way, it’s the code we need for growth and improvement.

We are lovable, and when we are willing to drop the defensive behaviors, we allow our partner to love us again. This can be scary; yet vulnerability is what allows for intimacy. Intimacy is that taste of heaven.

We must learn to love another in spite of our fear of intimacy. Courage is not an absence of fear; it’s feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Listening to understand (rather than defend, react or reply) creates connection. Feeling understand is powerfully connecting. Listening to understand also creates space in the relationship for more than one perspective. This is good, since there are more than one of you, and both are valid.

Love is more than romance.

Love is listening, understanding, supporting, advocating.

Love is willingness to validate another perspective.

Love is learning that we are not always “right”.

Love is patience when we feel annoyed.

Love is helping each other shine.

Love is indeed a journey in which we make many discoveries, and improve our self in the process.

Along the journey, focus on helping your partner feel loved and cared about. This will create the safety that allows both of you to experience true and lasting love.

Falling in love is easy…Staying in love..?

Stay in love is a matter of behavior, actually. Here is how you fell in love: You were intrigued by someone who is different. You were fun, playful, thoughtful and adventurous. You shared your thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. You smiled a lot. You made eye contact. When you touched, even casually, you felt it. When you kissed, you made it count. You made sure you were safe, approachable and attractive. You weren’t trying to change that person; you weren’t accusing him or her of anything. Oh, and you opened up and let yourself experience what it felt like to be loved without defenses. In all honesty, what is going to hurt to simply try being all of that today? I’ll wager that if you did, you’d have a better relationship by tomorrow. Why not give it a whirl? Thoughts and behaviors create feelings — not the other way around. Be the love, Jeannie PS – If you or someone you know would like to dramatically improve communication and connection in relationship, please consider my next weekend workshop January 5-6 in Atlanta.

Considering Divorce

Contemplating divorce?  It’s understandable.

The relationship has become a frustrating place to live. Your partner is obviously capable of showing generous love to the dog or cat as you witness the affection you long for. You cannot remember the last time your partner asked about you, your day orexpressed any interest in you or any aspect of your life.   It’s been years since you fell in love and now, at best you feel like you’re living with a roommate, and at worst, you’re “sleeping the enemy”.

It hurts to live with someone who is resentful and shows contempt instead of love, and seems to go out of the way to avoid you.   Here is one of my favorite quotes: “resentment is like eating rat poison and waiting for the rat to die”. It’s likely your partner sees similar resentment or contempt in you.

But how do you not feel distant when both of you are so resentful and have been so hurt? How do you forgive and be happy again? “It’s not like a light switch”, you are thinking.

Before we go there, let’s talk about what has occurred so far in your relationship:

1.You met each other.
2.You unconsciously saw intriguing aspects of your partner (your partner was not you).
3.You unconsciously projected many of your own positive qualities onto your partner, and vice versa.
4.You unconsciously projected many of your parents’ traits onto your partner.
5.You both saw potential for mutual beneficence.
6.You committed.
7.The things you fell in love became annoying.
8.Item 2 above became source of conflict.
9.You unconsciously projected many of your own negative qualities onto your partner and vice versa. “You are so critical”, for example.
10.You began to relive your childhood pain.
11.In pain, you reached for protective measures learned in childhood(distancing, avoiding, pursuing, criticizing, blaming, fighting) which hurt your partner.
12.In pain, your partner reached for similar protective measures, which hurt you.
13.This mutual pain replaced sexual attraction, bliss, joy, fun and hope.
14.You lost hope, and began fantasizing about a life without each other.

And here we are. And here are your options:

1.Stay and fight.
2.Stay and live cold parallel lives as roommates.
3.Leave (and start over with someone new).
4.Get conscious and intentional. In the process, you will grow, and grow up.

Conflict is growth trying to happen. You cannot change your partner, but you CAN and should change your treatment of your partner. The interesting thing about this is that when you begin to treat your partner with behavioral, caring love and respect, expressing appreciations, and a desire to be a better person, your partner likely begins to change, also.

Understand you are both trying to get your needs met, the first one being safety. Be that source of safety and watch what happens. Maybe not immediately, but eventually, you will see the defensiveness be replaced by appreciation and caring behaviors, as well.

But don’t do it for the reason of seeing your partner change. Do it because it’s the high road. Remember, this is growth trying to happen. Growth looks like you being the most patient, loving, caring, tender, respectful, considerate, thoughtful, safe person you can be for your partner. This is the high road, and it becomes you, I promise you.

Yes, you can divorce.  You can split up your home, your friends, your assets, fight for custody, spend $30K – $50K starting over, only to learn the same lesson with someone new. Or you can spend a FRACTION of that in a workshop or an Imago Therapist’s office, learning to communicate your needs in ways that don’t hurt your partner.

This is not about finding the right person; it’s about becoming a better person.

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