Improving Communication to Get What You Want

Improving Communication to Get What You Want

In a relationship, when we have a wish or a need for something to be different, most of us would like to feel that we can speak up, be heard, and see changes. And most of us have at least a few stories to tell about times that didn’t happen. Either we found it difficult to speak up for ourselves, didn’t feel that the other person really heard us, or didn’t experience a change.

It can be scary to speak up for yourself when you need or want something because it leaves you feeling more vulnerable to rejection. Conflict is hard for people to manage for a variety of reasons. By not addressing your needs, though, you’re not avoiding conflict. You still feel those needs. And they are still unmet. That’s a pretty great recipe for resentment. In the short term, it might seem easier not to voice your concerns, not to ask for something to change. The longer you keep quiet, the longer your needs stay unmet and the worse it feels.

So, what can you do to express what you need in a way that someone is likely to hear?

To start, speak in an even, calm tone that conveys respect. Most people won’t readily listen to (or care about) what is being asked of them if you are defensive, condescending, or attacking. A calm, respectful tone helps the listener to feel safer. When someone feels safe, they are much more likely to consider what is being communicated to them. Likewise, by keeping yourself calm, you are more likely to feel confident about what you are saying. When you feel confident, you don’t need to rely on a defensive or condescending tone. Win-win.

Remember I-statements? Use them. Tell me what you think sounds better to you:

A)   “What the hell?! I thought you said you were going to wash the dishes before you went to bed! Why are they still sitting here sixteen hours later?! You had time to play around on your iPad two hours, but you didn’t have time to do the dishes? How many times are we going to have to go through this before you decide to stop being so lazy?!”

B)   “I felt mad and disappointed when I went into the kitchen and saw the dirty dishes still sitting there. When you don’t do something you said you would do, I feel disregarded.”

Would A or B help you feel more receptive to what another person is saying? I guess most people would choose B. Example B doesn’t attack, doesn’t condescend, and clearly communicates the speaker’s experience.

Keep it solution-focused, not problem-focused. Solution-focused identifies strategies to try that would produce an ideal outcome. Problem-focused highlights what went wrong and is a slippery slope on the way to both of you feeling polarized on the subject. Solution-focused says, “Tonight, let’s decide who will cook dinner and who will wash the dishes. Whoever chooses to do dishes will uphold their end of the bargain by washing them before we sit down to watch Modern Family.” By focusing on how you would like the situation to play out, you are keeping a hopeful and positive perspective while addressing what isn’t working. When you focus only on what isn’t working, the other person can feel blamed and criticized.

By using these techniques, you can help create a safer environment for your loved one to hear feedback and foster a dynamic of responsibility and respect.


Love and Be Loved,

Getting What You Want and What You Need

Getting What You Want and What You Need

Recently, it was my dad’s birthday so, I took a road trip to visit my parents. When I’m there, we like to take a lot of walks together. On one of our walks, my dad noticed a herd of cattle. There were at least forty cows walking pretty close together across the pasture. My dad laughed and said, “They’re looking for greener pastures.” As the three of us talked about what we were watching, my dad said it reminded him of something similar he saw when he was a kid.

He observed a herd of cattle walking across a field. As they approached a barbed wire fence, he figured that they would turn around (or at least stop). But they kept going! The cows pushed their heads and chests through the barbed wire fence as they struggled to eat from the other side. Eventually, much of the herd was tangled in the barbs of the fence.

This struck me in a couple of different ways. First, I thought about how determined those cows must have been to plow through a fence riddled with tiny, jagged ends. The second thought I had was, “Woah that is a pretty serious example of what some of us are willing to put ourselves through for what seems like greener grass.”

Moving, changes in relationship status, switching jobs or careers are a few examples of where we can fall into “that grass over there is greener”- and into our proverbial barbed wire fence. While there are plenty of times when a change in location, relationships, or jobs can be totally healthy, there are also plenty of times when making a major life change is not the best antidote to a rut. How are you supposed to tell the difference?

It’s not always easy to be truthful with ourselves about what’s best for us; sometimes we’re afraid to be totally honest about what we need because we’re afraid it might be challenging or painful. So, here are a few questions we can ask ourselves to get a jump on figuring out our best course of action.

How do I tend to react to stressful situations?

If you’re a person who tends to base your decisions on your emotions, you might decide that, since you’re experiencing difficult emotions in a particular situation, it means that you’d be happier if you left that situation (relationship, job, neighborhood, etc.)It might take a bit longer for you to see that discomfort could be an indicator that something needs to shift, but that it’s not necessarily your current situation.

How do I react to uncertainty?

Life is full of uncertainty and people manage it in a variety of ways. Some people avoid the stress uncertainty brings by securing something else in their lives- getting engaged, going back to school, having children, buying a house, changing careers, etc.

What is the narrative I tell about myself?

People tell themselves all sorts of things about who they are. “I’m not good at school.” “I’m not interesting.” “I have no willpower.” “I am too damaged.” These negative beliefs get in the way of your ability to make decisions with which you’ll be happy. They’re fear-based; most people have difficulty identifying their choices when they feel insecure and will settle for whatever feels safest.

So, the next time you find yourself in a “greener pastures” moment, slow your roll a little bit and give yourself some time to answer these questions. Give yourself a chance to make the decision that’s best suited for you, not what feels the safest at the moment.


Love and Be Loved,

Live Deliberately While Managing Anxiety

Live Deliberately While Managing Anxiety

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life; living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.”

Henry David Thoreau (Walden; or, Life in the Woods)


I’ve always found this quote generative. It offers comfort and courage in difficult phases of life, excitement and wonder in the less complicated phases. There is a sense of permission granted, permission to make your choices, to embody fearlessness, and to share your lessons. There is perceptible encouragement to discover truth and authenticity in life, your own and the world around you.

It’s easy to get caught up in your feelings and understanding of what is happening around you. It starts to feel like those things are absolute. Everyone falls into this. Suddenly, you’re pretty sure that your relationship is going to end or that you’re going to be fired or that you’re not lovable or that whatever has just happened is the worst possible outcome ever.

You feel contracted and paralyzed. You might stop seeing your choices altogether and feel that fear and dread have taken over your life. This starts to seem like your truth.

But it’s an illusion. Fear and dread are lying to you. You can live as deliberately and passionately and audaciously as you want to live.

About nine posts back in my article titled “What You Need to Know Before You Break Up, Divorce, or Separate”, I talk about the emotion center of the brain (limbic system or “lizard brain”) and the role it plays in shutting down the executive center (prefrontal cortex). The limbic system tells you that a trigger is threatening and scary. The logic center doesn’t disagree because it’s shut down to give way to the fight-or-flight ability, which is governed by the limbic system. Anything can be a trigger so, anything can feel threatening. It might feel that way, but sometimes it’s a lie (actually, plenty of times).

The limbic system lives for comfort, but you don’t have to. So, gently take it by its jumpy little reptilian claw and show yourself that you can live in your awareness and intention and choice. For tips and strategies on how do to this, take a look at past articles titled “Learn to Calm Your Anxiety” and “Exploring Insecurity.” You can also contact me by calling (415) 794-5243 or emailing me at

What do you live for? What do you want to live for?


Love and Be Loved,

All Relationships Encounter Stress

All Relationships Encounter Stress

If you look online or ask around about effective strategies for stress management, you’ll find recommendations about what to eat, what to think, and what to drink. There are tips for physical fitness, connection to others, and relaxation.

All of these are important for a healthy lifestyle. Paying attention to what we need here helps us to cultivate equanimity. Most commonly, I am asked what people can do to strengthen their connection to others.

Emotional connection is a staple for stress management. Most of us thrive with a sense of belonging. We need a place to go to feel supported, understood, and appreciated, a place where we can celebrate and commiserate.

And, still, sometimes we find that the very stress we are looking to manage seems to stem directly from our connections with others. When something that usually brings us such stability starts to feel like it’s getting off kilter, it makes sense that the rest of our world experiences disturbance.

So what happens when our relationships stop feeding us in the same way and we notice a shift in tension?

If we’re in any relationship long enough, it will encounter all sorts of changes. People move, get new jobs, get new partners (with whom others don’t always get along), have kids, lose loved ones, and experience a myriad of other game-changers. Our capabilities and limitations fluctuate.

Here are some go-to anchors you can use that will help your relationship weather the storm so that the occasional rough waters will serve to strengthen your bond.

First things first- be mindful of your energy. If you tend to overcommit (to anything/anyone) be curious about how this impacts your energy source. Overcommitting doesn’t have to mean that you’re busy every second of every day; it simply means that you have signed on for more than your limits allow. This happens for many reasons, and it effects relationships. When you overcommit, you might start to feel resentful at others who want to spend time with you or at the very things that you (over-)committed to in the first place. Be honest with yourself about how much you can take on without feeling exhausted and overextended.

Up next is to pay attention to your boundaries. Similar to being honest with yourself about what you can realistically commit to is the honesty you engage in identifying how you like to be in relationship. How do you like to be treated? What do you expect out of your relationships? What makes you feel the most connected? Some people are satisfied with relationships in which there isn’t a lot of contact. When there is contact the bond feels as strong as ever. For others, this kind of relationship isn’t enough; they need more contact. Then there’s the content of the relationship; some people prefer a lot of deep conversation with their loved ones while others prefer not to (or for whom it doesn’t feel essential). When you honor your boundaries and are clear about them, you’re less likely to feel resentful toward the other person.

A third way to maintain and manage a relationship is to engage respect, make it your best friend. Respect a loved one’s time, boundaries, choices, struggles, feelings, and wants/needs. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with something that goes against your code; it means that you understand that this is a part of their process, regardless of whether you would behave the same. It doesn’t have to be clear to you.

Lastly, accept them. Accept the ones you love however, they are. Again, it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with them about every choice. It means that you are aware of their limits and flaws and choose to be in a relationship with them anyway. And when their limits conflict with your boundaries, be honest. Accepting someone as they are isn’t synonymous with sacrificing your needs. You can exist together as whole people, flaws and strengths and all.


Love and Be Loved,