The Differences Between Healthy Conflict + Emotional Abuse

He was yelling AT her. Not a skillful show of anger, but a litany of blame and complaints about her. About how she's getting it wrong. Not letting her respond or speak. Forcing her to listen to him yell at her. 

Since it was a public place, I was overhearing this whole thing and it made my skin crawl and my heart hurt. I've been there. And it made me realize I needed to write this piece.

Let me be really clear here about what's abusive versus what's actually healthy conflict.

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Evaluating Whether it Works, The Courage to Love, + The Perfect Ideal

Evaluating Whether it Works, The Courage to Love, + The Perfect Ideal

As a culture, we've invested SO much into The Perfect Ideal that I often hear/see people making lists of their non-negotiables in relationships.

They've gotta be as spiritual as you are (of course). They've gotta work out. Have a meditation practice. Eat organic. Go to therapy. Communicate well. Be financially secure. Weigh no more than a certain standard.

You must be this tall to ride this ride.

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How to Manage Your Fear of Intimacy

How to Manage Your Fear of Intimacy

Avoiding intimacy. It's what you do (usually unconsciously) when getting close to someone feels threatening, whether you're aware of those feelings or not.

If you're anything like most of us, you have a sweet spot of tolerance---a place internally when connection feels enlivening and nourishing---and also a point at which the intimacy begins to feel threatening and another point where too much space begins to feel threatening.

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It's Relationship Review Time---7 Q's to Consider

It's Relationship Review Time---7 Q's to Consider

Are you feeling the relationship pain too? It seems like there's conflict, chaos, and confusion in the air right now and that our most meaningful relationships are up for review, so to speak.

Marriages feeling fragile. Close friendships suddenly imploding or feeling a new kind of rub that needs addressing. Truth speaking that winds up not going very well despite your best intentions. A mis-match in terms of desires around moving a new relationship forward. Business relationships turning sour.

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Are You Listening to Your Kids? They'll Teach You How to Keep Your Marriage Together.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The key to happy, healthy, long-lasting relationships isn’t what you probably think it is. You might be guessing it’s communication skills, listening, good sex, or the ever-vague concept of compatibility. You’d have good reason to believe that because for years couples therapists have been teaching that it’s all about communication. Nope.

John Gottman, a famous psychologist, has been studying marriage and relationships for 40 years and he found that good communication isn't what determines success or failure.

Here’s the truth. The single most important skill in committed relationships is what I call The Zone of Play.

I first heard the term "Zone of Play" from my mentor, David Sawyer.

So what is it? The Zone of Play is most clearly observed by watching children play together.

Say two kids are building a fort with chairs and blankets. They’re having a good time laughing and playing and being enchanted together. They’re in the flow, agreeing that the family dog is the guard for their fort and no one else knows they’re there.

Perhaps one child wants one thing, and another wants something else. If they’re in the zone, they can often find their way through that disagreement.

The more they play well together, the more their connection grows. They get closer.

Periodically, and naturally, one of them will fall out of The Zone of Play. They’ve lost their rhythm together, perhaps because they disagree about how many doors the fort should have or who gets to use the flashlight.

Sometimes, this off-rhythm moment is just a blip and the kids find their way again. But sometimes, when they can’t regain the flow, their play ends in tears and running to mom to intervene.

The same thing happens as adults. Hopefully we don't run to mom, but we might walk away, stonewall, or otherwise sever the connection.

Successful couples know how to stay in and return to The Zone of Play.

This co-created flow state helps build trust and connection over time. Small moments of play and flow provide opportunities for profound connection. Being in the rhythm together feels good and builds trust.

(comic from

Here's how.

So how do you support The Zone of Play? Here are some practices to help you keep your rhythm together:

  • Say “Yes.” Agree. Note that agreement and compliance are different, because agreeing doesn’t require you to give up part of yourself. Saying yes is “I’d love to do that with you!” “Sure, that sounds great.” “Yes, I like that idea.”
  • Seek repair. Be willing to reconnect after a fight when you're ready. Choose intimacy.
  • Prioritize connection by recognizing which fights need to be had and which don’t. (Hint: conflict that’s about a fundamental difference in your personalities is useful for your relationship vs a fight resulting from your bad day at work).
  • Prioritize connection by opting for affection, touch, lust, play, silliness, adventure, spontaneity, or exploration. When your partner goes there, take the invitation.
  • Be a good leader and a good follower (More on that in a future post. Don’t miss it.)
  • Don't make your partner wrong. If you notice yourself doing it, either get curious and ask a question, or practice acceptance of how they're being.
  • Lighten up and don’t take everything so seriously. Choosing play is good for you.

Try it! Which of these suggestions do you need the most practice at? Leave me a comment below and let me know. Then, start playing with it today.

And if this was useful to you, please share it on Facebook!

Here's to more Yee-haw,




How to Fight With Your Partner


Arguments. Conflict. Fights. Disputes. Disagreements. They're an inevitable part of romantic partnership. And often they can be the part of relationship you hate the most. Especially those fights that are repetitive, never get anywhere, and just don't ever feel resolved. Ugh. I had a front-row seat to one such argument recently. My partner and I were on a 3-hour flight sitting directly behind a couple having a very heated dispute. I could hear almost every word and was struck by the way they fought. They did everything wrong!

See, conflict can serve to distance us from each other and potentially drive a permanent wedge between us (thus the repetitive fights as we try to resolve it), or it can actually be a doorway to more intimacy and bring us closer to one another. In fact, I believe that's actually the purpose of conflict in relationships and it's why we fight. It's an opportunity to go deeper and get even closer, challenging though it is. But the frustrating part is that no one ever taught us how to do conflict well!

So, my friends, here it is. The process and ground rules for how to fight with your partner:

1. Name the Moment

As soon as possible and without judgement, pause the conversation and name what you're feeling in the air: that there's tension, an edge, it's getting heated, or that you feel like you're fighting. "Hang on. {breathe} Something is happening here."

2. Drop the Content

Whatever you were talking or arguing about can wait. Drop it. No really, drooooop it. (This is one of the hardest parts). Now, you do NOT need your partner to also drop the content, nor do you need to wait for them to agree to proceed in this way. They can still be fighting you. You drop it. Instead, check in with yourself and see how you're feeling.

3. Share Feelings and Impact

From a place of being in touch with your own heart, share your experience in feelings and impact. These are statements that can't be argued. "I feel defensive and sad and protective" not "I feel like you're not listening."

4. Share with Neutrality

The purpose of you sharing your feelings is not to get the other person to stop "making you sad." Detach from needing them to be different so you can feel better. You'll never be able to control them anyway. The purpose of sharing is to reveal yourself vulnerably to the other person, opening your heart so you're beginning to pave the way for being available for connection.

5. Listen with Neutrality

Your partner will be speaking about their experience. Even if in the past they've shared that to try to manipulate you into acting differently, be willing to listen to them now. Hear them and bring your curiosity. What must it be like for them to be feeling defensive and sad and protective? Do you know how that feels? (Note: this step is receptive and is pretty hard to do if you're feeling a lot of intensity. It's a practice. Keep practicing.)

6. Be Rigorously in Your Heart

Arguments are compelling. They can suck you in FAST. Be rigorous about staying in your heart, dropping the content (it'll keep weaseling its way in if you let it), sharing yourself, and listening.

7. Consider...

Not making your partner wrong or blaming them. Assume that there's a positive intent behind how they're being.

You are not the authority on their experience. You only know what they're experiencing or feeling or doing if you ask.

They're arguing or pushing back because they're hurting or feeling unsafe, unheard, etc. They're likely hurting just as much as you are because you're fighting.

It's highly likely that both of you would prefer to feel connected, intimate, playful, heard, attracted (or whatever other yummy stuff) rather than in conflict with each other.

If your partner is repeating themselves or says they don't feel heard or gotten, you're not getting them. See if you can ask directly for them to show you where you're missing them. Be willing to attempt hearing them until they agree you've got it.

Asking to be seen or understood about something about yourself is totally fair game and can create opening.

Look for connection points. Seek shared reality. "Does it seem to you like neither of us want to be fighting?"

Track the flavor and intensity of your disconnection or connection. If you keep connection in your sight and if something you say or do seems to create more disconnection, change course. Hone in on that which creates connection and learn from it.

Practice seeing where you're fighting nastily (guilt tripping, blaming, avoiding, etc) and name it.

Finally, learn where your boundaries and edges are. As you practice this, you'll at times draw too much into yourself or extend too far out beyond your capacity. Practice. Keep practicing.

I hope this helps! Leave a comment and let me know how it's going. Wishing you productive conflict.