Big Little Liars

BIG LITTLE LIARS

Jessica Grose

‘My 6-year-old told his acting teacher his parents were dead and he’s home-schooled.’

A lot of parenting questions boil down to: Is this a thing, or is something wrong? We’re doing an occasional series explaining why certain things seem to happen to your kid (or to your body or to your relationships) as your child grows. This week, we’re talking about why children lie. Read previous “Is this a thing?” newsletters here. If you have a question for a future “Is this a thing?” email us.

Q: My 6-year-old told his acting teacher his parents were dead and he’s home-schooled. All lies. Is this a thing?

— Megan Kilb, Charleston, S.C.

A: First, let me congratulate you on your magnificently creative lil’ liar. But to answer your question, yes: This is regular kid behavior, according to the four psychologists I spoke to for this column. Almost all children in all cultures lie by the age of 7.

Neurotypical children develop the cognitive ability to tell lies in preschool. That’s when they establish something called “theory of mind,” which has come up in previous columns — it’s the concept that other people have thoughts that are separate from your own thoughts. To lie, children also need to develop executive function, said Kang Lee, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, which means they have the ability to hold back the truth, and then tell a lie instead.

However, a child is not lying because he is “morally corrupt and will grow up to be a criminal,” Dr. Lee said. He is probably lying for a concrete reason, and the most common motivations are to get out of trouble, to make himself look better or to make someone else feel good (known as a “pro-social lie”), Dr. Lee said. The only time you should be concerned about a child under 7 lying is if it is clustered with other issues, like oppositional, defiant or aggressive behavior, said Victoria Talwar, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at McGill University in Montreal; if you see lying along with those other behaviors, you should seek professional advice.

So, what should you do if your child tells the occasional whopper?

Don’t overreact. “Responding angrily, or even with shock, isn’t the answer,” said Dunya Poltorak, Ph.D., a pediatric medical psychologist in private practice in Birmingham, Mich. Jumping straight to condemnation or punishment may make your little one lie even more, because he feels guilty — and is afraid of you.

Label the truth. If your child is still in preschool, it’s best to respond to him plainly with the inconsistencies in his story, said Sally Beville Hunter, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. So for example, if your child is telling you he did not eat that cookie and you see the chocolate ringing his mouth, you can say something like, “Oh, that’s strange, you have chocolate around your mouth. How did that get there? Let’s go to the mirror and look at your face.” You can keep it lighthearted, Dr. Hunter said.

Dr. Hunter cautioned that if your child is particularly anxious in temperament and would melt down at this kind of questioning, you might want to say something like: “I want to know the truth about the cookie, let’s figure this out together.”

Get to the bottom of the lie. As children reach kindergarten age, their verbal abilities increase, Dr. Poltorak said, so you want to explore why they told the lie in the first place. In the case of your child’s gothic story about his dead parents, you should ask him why he said it, and in listening to his explanation, try to pinpoint the motivation behind the lie — he could simply be craving extra attention from his teacher, but you won’t know until you have the conversation.

Once you figure out the reason, work with your child to come up with different responses to his issue that don’t involve lying. Instead of punishing the child, teaching him skills to deal with uncomfortable feelings will do more to prevent lying down the road, Dr. Poltorak said.

Praise honesty. A body of research has shown that praising children for their honesty is far more effective than punishing them for their lies. In the Times’s Sunday Review in 2018, the writer Alex Stone summarized research that Dr. Lee did with Dr. Talwar, where they told classic morality tales about honesty to a group 268 children between the ages of 3 and 7 to see if any of them actually inspired children to be more truthful.

Researchers left children alone in a room and told them not to peek at a toy. After the researchers returned, they read the children one of three stories: “Pinocchio,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” or “George Washington and the Cherry Tree.” (The control group was read “The Tortoise and the Hare.”) The only story that got children to be honest about peeking at the toy was “George Washington and the Cherry Tree,” wherein George admits to cutting down a cherry tree, and his father forgives him because he tells the truth when confronted. Stories showing that lying makes your nose grow (“Pinocchio”) or leads to being eaten by wolves (“The Boy Who Cried Wolf”) did not motivate truth-telling in the same way.

The moral of this story is that your kid is in the right place — acting class. His natural storytelling ability will serve him well onstage.

How to Find Yourself When You Feel Like You’ve Lost Your Way

HOW TO FIND YOURSELF WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’VE LOST YOUR WAY

Brett Larabie

You don’t need to be middle-aged to have a life crisis anymore. If you feel lost, read on if you need to know how to find yourself again.

If we’re honest, I’m only 23. I’ve had far more life crises than I should have at this point. It seems like on an almost daily basis, something goes wrong that makes me question everything. So, I know what it means to figure out how to find yourself again.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve changed my mind about my career. In high school, I said I was going to be a teacher. Then in my final year, college applications started to go out and I completely changed directions. I didn’t even apply to teacher’s college. I actually applied to an Environmental Science course.

Little secret? I’m graduating from Public Relations in a couple of months. That’s a bit of a jump, I suppose. I went down one path in life, and thought it was for me. Then, a year after graduation, I realized I needed to return to school because things just didn’t make sense anymore.

I was lost. I needed to find myself. Maybe you feel the same way now? We all have our moments in life when things just stop making sense. You need to find yourself, and you may need to find yourself several times in your lifetime. Find relief in the fact that this experience will happen to you again and again, but you’ll always find yourself again in the process.

How to know when you need to find yourself

Learning how to find yourself is one of the most challenging parts of life, but one of the more challenging parts is recognizing when it is necessary.

Feeling “stuck” is a sign you need a change of pace. Usually this means you strayed from who you truly are. You need to begin the task of finding yourself.

This could happen after the death of a loved one or a failed career move, or maybe after a physical move to a new city. Whatever it is, a big change in our lives often leads us to feeling lost and insecure.

The feeling is different for all of us. Once you tune into yourself and recognize that feeling, you never need to worry about it again. You immediately notice when you start to stray off your path and begin the journey to find yourself once more.

How to find yourself when you feel lost

Trust in the fact that your true self is still inside of you somewhere. They aren’t gone forever. It takes some work to find your roots, but rest assured that you will get there.

Repeat this process to find yourself time and time again but knowing who you are is something very valuable. Nobody can ever take that away from you. Never fear the process. Each time you find yourself again, you find new and exciting parts that you didn’t know existed before.

Life is all about rediscovering who you are as part of this big, wide world.

#1 Reconnect with your roots. Go back to square one, where it all began. That means something different for everybody. For me, it’s my family. Specifically, my mom. Who or what makes you feel like your truest form of yourself? This is usually where your values stem from, which, for a lot of people, means their families as well.

But for others, it could mean God, nature, an old friend, or in their childhood home. Whatever it is for you, reconnect with that piece of you.

#2 Reflect on who you are today. Would six-year-old you be proud? I know we hear this question a lot, but if you really sit down and reflect on this question, you may be surprised at the answers. Life is ever-evolving, and so are we. You will change, and that’s okay, but your roots should stay the same.

Think about who you used to be, in the purest state of your life as a child. Were you loud and confident, but now ashamed and afraid of expressing yourself? Did you use to be conservative and quiet, and now feel like you need to be obnoxious to be heard? Always revert back to six-year-old you when finding yourself.

#3 Do you enjoy spending time with yourself? You spend a lot of time with yourself in your lifetime. In fact, you are who you will spend the most time with. You should really consider this fact when you say and do things.

At the end of the day, can you sit alone in a room with yourself and enjoy the present company? If the answer is no, it’s time to find yourself, because you’ve lost your way somewhere along the line. The goal is to enjoy the quiet spaces between the busyness of life.

#4 Meditate. This is a rather eccentric idea to some, when it comes to knowing how to find yourself but it works. I’ve really seen the benefits of meditation, and it really is an excellent tool in the journey to finding your true self. If you can’t enjoy time spent with yourself, then nobody else can either.

Learn to appreciate your own thoughts and find direction through meditation. This is a great way to make life’s hardest decision seem like a walk in the park. Through meditation, you clear up the foggiest paths in your life at the present moment.

#5 Invest time in yourself. You can spend the rest of your life investing in high-profile businesses, but if you don’t invest in yourself, you will be the poorest person on earth. Again, you’re stuck with you, so you really need to make it mean something.

Take 30 minutes at the end of each day and devote it to yourself. Read a book, write in a journal, shut off your phone, drink tea, whatever you need to feel like yourself. Allow yourself to be selfish for 30 minutes each day, because we all know that the rest of the day is spent taking care of everyone around you. Maybe that’s exactly why you lost yourself in the first place—you didn’t cherish the person looking at you in the mirror.

#6 Get outside and enjoy nature. Some say that they are at their purest form when they are surrounded by nature. Leave the phone at home for one day and hit the trails. Bring your dog or a friend with you. Go for a hike, and bring a picnic with you. Go alone, or with friends, but regardless, get outside and breathe in the fresh air. It won’t do you any harm, I promise.

#7 Read self-improvement books. I know this is super 90’s, and seems like a cry for help, but there are countless books that are genuinely helpful for those who have lost their way.

There is an entire section at most book stores devoted to understanding how to find yourself. Clearly, people are buying these books! Don’t be ashamed to buy or read these books, because they could change your life.

#8 Write it out. Every counselor on the face of the planet tells you to “write about your feelings.” You probably put on a half-hearted grin and say “okay.” We both know you will write on the first page of a journal then leave it on your bedside table untouched for weeks. It’s not a popular tactic, because talking about our problems isn’t something we like to do.

If you want to truly understand how to find yourself, dig deeper. Figure out why you are lost in the first place, and writing is genuinely a wonderful way to do this. Yes, it’s hard, I’m not going to lie to you. But all things in life worth doing, aren’t easy things to do.

#9 Unplug. Technology has been a huge obstacle in our lives, let’s just be honest. Social media is crowded with negative interactions that literally drain you of your energy. It’s so easy to get lost in the online world, because we only show the world the parts of us that we genuinely like.

We lose the parts of ourselves that nobody claps for, but those are still part of us. Each and every part of us, makes us who we are. We can’t just throw away the parts we don’t like. Unplug from social media and technology in general for a little while, and completely immerse yourself in real-life conversations with people who appreciate every part of you.

#10 Make a change. I know I said that drastic life changes lead to us feeling lost, but sometimes change is what we need to pull us out of that state. If you feel like you just go through the motions then chances are you aren’t living up to your full potential. Change is a good thing, embrace it. Change might be exactly what you need to find yourself again.

#11 Call your “person.” Maybe it’s just me, but when I have a mini life crisis, I call my mom. My mom knows me best, and that’s great. Also, my mom isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m being a lunatic.

Sometimes, we freak out for nothing. We think our lives are falling apart before our eyes, when really things are falling into place. We all have that person that tells us like it is. Whoever that person is for you, call them and tell them what’s going on.

Before long, they remind you that you are a strong person who is freaking out over nothing, and everything is going to be okay. Sometimes we just need to hear that things are going to be okay.

It’s normal if you feel lost sometimes, but just remember that it is always possible to learn how to find yourself and get back to who you really are.

How to Get Out of a Toxic Relationship with Your Dignity Intact

HOW TO GET OUT OF A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR DIGNITY INTACT

Natasha Ivanovic

Learning how to get out of a toxic relationship and not go back is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Ending it isn’t as easy as you may think.

If you’re at the point where you know you need to learn how to get out of a toxic relationship, well, you overcame a huge step. But now, it’s the time to take action. Get yourself out of the relationship. But like I said before, it is easier said than done.

So, if you’re feeling stuck at this point, don’t. I have a couple ways for you to get yourself out of the relationship in a healthy way and maybe with your dignity intact. You may be leaving a toxic relationship, but you don’t want to bring that toxicity with you on your way out the door.

How to get out of a toxic relationship

I had a bad string of relationships where I just couldn’t seem to break the pattern of being with someone who didn’t respect me. Of course, it wasn’t just them. In essence, I didn’t respect myself because I allowed them to treat me this way. Now, you’ve probably received advice from people and most of them say, “just end it.” But is it that simple? Of course, it’s not.

Firstly, people with toxic partners don’t necessarily realize it until much later on in the relationship. Secondly, when you have feelings for someone, ending the relationship is hard to do even when you know it’s the right thing. Doing what’s good for you isn’t always easy. You need to end the toxicity.

#1 Accept your part in the relationship. It takes two to tango, right? What I’m trying to say is you need to accept your role in the relationship. Though you may not have done things that you think were as bad as your partner, you’re certainly not blameless.

Reflect and think about your behavior. But also make a commitment to yourself that you won’t let yourself get sucked back into an unhealthy relationship.

#2 Stop making excuses. I know it’s hard to leave a relationship. Honestly, most of us stay in unhealthy relationships because we become accustomed to them. Simply, we’re comfortable. But stop making excuses as to why you’re in the relationship. You need to ask yourself some questions. Do I want to spend time with x? Do I feel good after spending time with x? Do I genuinely like x? These are simple yet important questions to answer yourself.

#3 What are the benefits? Even the shitty relationships have some benefits. There’s a reason why you’re staying with this person. Now, you need to figure out what those reasons are before you try figuring out how to get out of a toxic relationship. Maybe they make you feel attractive or is a good parent towards your children. There are reasons why we stay with people who are inherently bad for us. Figure out what those reasons are.

#4 Fill those benefits. You’re staying with this person for specific reasons, right? But you do know that they’re not the only person that can provide you with those benefits. You have the power to give those positive feelings to yourself. This is where self-reflection and self-love come in. Find alternative ways to make yourself feel whole.

#5 Stop all contact. Yes, I know, this is going to be really hard. But you have to do this. If you really want out of the relationship, then be very strict regarding the contact you have with your ex. If you have children with them, then you’ll have to have contact, but keep it at a minimum. If you’re single, well, then just cut them out, and do it cold turkey.

#6 Surround yourself with love. You need to make sure you’re surrounded by a strong support system that loves you. This will help you when you’re experiencing hard moments after leaving your toxic relationship. When you’re surrounded with support, the likelihood of going back to them reduces. You’re able to start living a healthy life.

#7 Remember your value. Through all of this, remember who you are and what you’re worth. It’s easy to go back to a toxic relationship when you forget what you’re worth. To leave a toxic relationship, you need to always remember what you can offer and who you are.

Of course, you’re going to have moments where you’re going to miss your ex, but just because you miss them doesn’t mean they were good for you.

#8 Focus on your emotional states. You’re probably going through various emotions. One day you’re sad, the other you’re angry. This is all normal when you’re planning on leaving a relationship. But you need to be able to recognize the emotion and where it’s coming from. That way, you understand your feelings in hopes of being able to express them openly.

#9 Express your feelings. You still may be with your partner or just recently broke up with them. Whatever state your relationship is in, it’s important to express your feelings. If you avoid expressing your emotions, they’ll build up and you’ll resent your partner. If you want to leave the relationship in a positive way, repressing your feelings won’t help you.

#10 You’re going to go through self-healing. As much as we try to push these feelings down, many of the adult problems we suffer from are due to childhood trauma. Now, rid yourself of the shame that we have when leaving a toxic relationship, dig down deep within yourself.

Look at what brought you to get involved in a toxic relationship. If you look hard enough, you’ll find the answer.

#11 Forgive your ex. This isn’t for them, this is for you. If you want to fully move on from your partner and leave the relationship, then you need to forgive them and their part of the relationship. If you’re holding feelings of anger, sadness, or regret, then you’re only going to hurt yourself. In order to completely leave the relationship, you’ll have to let go. Otherwise, you’ll still mentally be connected to them.Now that you know how to get out of a toxic relationship, what are you waiting for? It’s time to move onto something healthy and new.

What Is a Toxic Relationship? 16 Signs to Recognize It and Get Out

WHAT IS A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP? 16 SIGNS TO RECOGNIZE IT AND GET OUT

Natasha Ivanovic

The person you thought would be your partner is slowly becoming your worst nightmare. It is time to stop wondering what a toxic relationship is and get out.

I would love to say that I’ve no personal experience to answer the ‘what is a toxic relationship’ question and that all my previous dating experiences have been a walk in the park. Of course, that would be lying. In reality, I come from a long history of failed relationships—most of them toxic.

Either the guy was using me, manipulating or degrading me, or my self-esteem was so low that I chose to stick around. Those were definitely dark times.

In those moments, it’s hard to think about what you deserve and how to get it. If anything, you assume this is the best you’re going to get. That’s really the saddest part. You settle.

16 answers to the question: What is a toxic relationship?

In my first serious relationship, I dated someone who you would call a verbally abusive alcoholic. In the beginning, it was fun, but there were clear warning signs I ignored. And trust me, there are always signs. The only difference is whether you’re paying attention to them or not. And this just gets worse if you’re not sure what a toxic relationship is in the first place.

No matter how much you love your partner, keep your eyes open for the signs. If not, you run the risk of losing yourself. Coming back to your normal self isn’t easy. If you’re not sure what is a toxic relationship or what it looks like, well, here are the signs to help you figure it out.

Not all relationships are healthy ones.

#1 Passive aggressive. I think we’re all guilty of being passive-aggressive at times. It’s not easy talking openly about your feelings and emotions. But if passive-aggression is their middle name, it’s time to take a second look at your relationship. Not talking about your feelings is a sign of immaturity, and can lead down a dangerous road.

#2 Jealousy. A little bit of jealousy isn’t necessarily bad. Unfortunately, the line is very thin, and people assume excessive jealousy as a positive trait. If you can’t leave the house without them becoming jealous, or if they’re searching your phone for an incriminating text or picture, you’re in trouble.

#3 The blame game. I’m all too familiar with the blame game. My ex would give me percentages of how much I’m to blame versus him. Can you believe it? Natasha, in this fight, you’re 80% to blame; I’m 20%. If your partner never takes responsibility for their actions and blames everything on you, that’s toxicity at its best.

#4 Avoidance. You basically tolerate each other’s presence, which is pretty messed up considering you’re in a relationship. What will happen if you get married? You won’t spend time with your spouse? Avoidance is the first sign that the relationship has run its course.

#5 You don’t feel like yourself. You can’t make the jokes you’d normally make or watch TV without feeling like you’re doing something wrong. And you’re not doing anything wrong; you’re yourself. But if your partner doesn’t appreciate who you are, they’ll try to change you. And this is what’s happening.

#6 Arguing. It’s normal for couples to argue. Don’t think because you argue you’re in a toxic relationship. But there’s a difference between arguing and communicating and straight-up yelling without any resolution. If they’re just yelling at you, it’s not going to get anywhere.

#7 Negative vibes. People underestimate the power of energy. Every animal on this earth is made up of energy. If you’re constantly feeling uncomfortable or anxious around your partner, there’s a reason why. You’re reacting to the energy they’re giving out. Negative energy emotionally drains you and breaks you down.

#8 You only make them happy. When you’re with your partner, they don’t care about your happiness. Instead, you spend most of your time trying to please them. You eat what they want, do what they want; you’re basically their personal slave. They don’t ask you how your day was or what you’d like to do.

#9 You can’t grow. When someone grows in a relationship, that’s a positive thing. You want your partner to grow and develop, and you want to do the same. If you want more, but your partner likes things the way they are, well, that’s not good. They’re holding you back from achieving your life goals because they don’t want to develop.

#10 You don’t feel like fighting for the relationship. When two people love each other, they’ll go above and beyond to make things work. They will fight as hard as they can for the relationship. But with you, you stopped caring a long time ago and so did your partner. You feel like there’s no point; the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

#11 You’re not happy. When was the last time you laughed with your partner? When was the last time you felt really happy by their side? You’ll know when you’re in a toxic relationship because you won’t be happy anymore. Something inside of you is telling you to move on for a reason.

#12 The drama never ends. But really, it never ends. Every day there’s something wrong in their life, and it’s usually around something you did wrong, even if you did nothing! They live for the drama because it distracts them from their own failures.

#13 You never do anything right. At least in their eyes. Everything you do comes with criticism and loads of it. At the end of the day, you feel like a complete failure and unworthy of their love. But that’s not true. They’re not worthy of your love and affection since they don’t appreciate it.

#14 You feel like the worst version of you. When you’re with someone you love, they usually bring out the best in you. And that’s when you know you’re with the right person. But if you’re becoming someone you don’t recognize, you need to think hard about your relationship. Is this really someone you want to be with?

#15 Your friends and family don’t like them. Listen, I know you don’t want people to dislike someone you chose to be with, but sometimes your friends and family are right. If they tell you that you’ve changed and your partner is toxic, listen. Your friends and family love you and want the best for you.

#16 They’re stuck in the past. Instead of thinking about their future with you, they constantly remind you about the past. “The good times you had,” runs out of their mouth often, and it makes you wonder if they’re enjoying the relationship now. But they’re not; they’re stuck in the past.

After reading the signs, what do you think? Can you answer what is a toxic relationship? If you feel that you are in one, it’s time for you to make a change.

Choose a Partner You Can Be Playful With

CHOOSE A PARTNER YOU CAN BE PLAYFUL WITH

Hannah Eaton

As children, many of us were encouraged to play and create as we took in the novel world around us with a sense of wonder and awe. Our playful and frolicsome spirits were often celebrated, delighting caregivers and strangers alike and bringing a bit more joy into their worlds.

As we grow older, more often than not, we are encouraged to subdue playful tendencies and to replace them with a more serious and professional air, as we strive to have it all figured out. We are discouraged from climbing trees, swinging on monkey bars, building sand castles, messily finger painting nonsensical artwork, or dancing freely when the music moves us. Our culture conditions us that publicly pursuing childlike activities may run the risk of appearing foolish or unprofessional. We are taught that you only dance when it is appropriate, like during dance classes, in a club, or at a wedding.

And yet, deep down, I believe we all yearn to experience that deep sense of joy and delight we often see on the faces of young children, when they are creatively playing, or dancing freely anywhere they hear music.

I can’t help but to think back to a conversation I had with my dad as a senior in high school, as I was preparing to leave for college the following year. “Life will be really difficult at times,” he said, “which is why it is so important to choose a partner who can be playful with you, and will make you laugh. This element of our marriage has brought your mother and me through some difficult seasons.” While my life had not been all that difficult up to that point, I was fully aware that my father had experienced many family tragedies, so I must have ingrained these words deep into my subconscious.

As an “adult,” I have been fortunate to find a partner who embraces this sense of playfulness in our relationship. Through the inevitable ups and downs of our relationship thus far, we have understood the value of pursuing some “childlike” characteristics. We seek to see the world with a beginner’s mind, delighting together in the novelties of everyday life. We pursue activities that are playful and nourishing to our minds, bodies, and spirits, deliberately encouraging one another that “it doesn’t matter if people give us weird looks.” We support one another by fostering the artists within each other, even if that involves exploring means of creative expression which don’t fit the traditional box of “art.”

Dancing together has been one such powerful means to help cultivate this culture of novelty, play, and creativity in our marriage.

Novelty, or the Beginner’s Mind

In going through the grinds of daily life and the inevitable high and low seasons, it is healthy and nourishing to find new, shared activities as a couple. As children, there is excitement in the abundant novelties we are surrounded by, but as we get older and may feel we have a better understanding of the world around us, we may lose some of our ability to see the world and our experiences from a beginner’s mind.

However, there is great power and potential in strengthening your beginner’s mind as you seek out novel experiences as a couple, or engage in familiar experiences with a fresh set of eyes. Dancing can do this naturally, as every step is a new, endless opportunity.

Research has shown that engaging in novel experiences as a couple activates the brain’s reward system, which can produce favorable benefits for couples. Dr. Arthur Aron and his colleagues conducted experiments and revealed that couples who go on “exciting” and novel date nights, or engage in fun and challenging activities, have higher relationship satisfaction. Such novel experiences release dopamine and norepinephrine, the same chemicals which are released during early romantic courtship.

As a couple, one of the beautiful and powerful elements of dancing with your partner is that you have the opportunity to continually experience novelty together as you learn more about dance in general, and your unique dance as partners. This process can help deepen your friendship and sense of shared meaning, both of which Drs. John and Julie Gottman indicate are key to happy and healthy relationships.

Play, or Twistin’ and Groovin’

As you engage in new experiences or forms of dance as a couple, it gives you abundant opportunities to play and explore with a sense of wonder. During our dance lessons at Flow Studios, we learn new techniques or concepts each week, and then we are given the freedom to play with the ideas and one another as we make the dance our own.

During a recent lesson, our dance teacher, Michael, encouraged us to bring out more of our playful sides. “I want to see you flirting with each other more!” he shouted over the music.

After a long, somewhat stressful day, this type of playful connection is just what I needed. As we began to “flirt” and playfully explore our movements together, I could feel any remaining stress and worries melt away.

Throughout our dance, we continued to make bids for this type of playful and joyful connection, and we had abundant opportunities to choose to turn toward one another in a spirit of childlike play. We may have looked somewhat foolish as we giggled and ruthlessly spun one another in circles, but these types of playful interactions are endlessly freeing.

In recognizing the joy and freedom that comes from dancing, we have been purposeful to take this type of playful connection outside of the dance studio and to move together wherever the music moves us. While our bodies may feel the urge to dance when we hear fun music, we have had to train our brains to let them know that it’s okay, and actually liberating, to dance like children in public at city parks or on the beach.

Creativity, or the Blank Canvas

Dancing as a couple also opens you to a world of endless creative possibilities. Your dance, like your relationship, is unique and an ever-unfolding artistic process. The dance floor is your blank canvas, and you, as a couple, are artists purposefully collaborating and creating something that has never been done before.

This creative process is one you can choose to explore and embrace as a couple. It does not have to be perfect, flashy, or entirely graceful like the dancers we see on “So You Think You Can Dance,” or “Dancing with the Stars.” In fact, your dance may never be so polished. But if you can let go of the notion that art is “over there” (in museums, on TV, on stages), you may begin to see yourself and your partner in this artistic light.

Instead, you can choose to recognize that moving together through space, moment by moment, is a continuously exploratory form of artistic expression as a couple. You can purposefully move across the dance floor or in public parks or, really, anywhere for the sake of creating and pursuing beauty together.

When we shift our perception of art, we have limitless opportunities to create together.

Since we have been taking dance lessons, it has provided us the weekly opportunity to pursue and strengthen a culture of novelty, play, and creativity in our marriage. We eagerly look forward to those evenings where we purposefully let go of the expectations and pressures, learn new tools to navigate life together with creative beauty, and literally alter our brain chemistry for the better.

And, as a bonus, we get to dance.

9 Sexiest Foreplay Tips You Can Ever Use in Bed!

9 SEXIEST FOREPLAY TIPS YOU CAN EVER USE IN BED!

Sarah Summer

Is sex turning boring or predictable? Try these 9 sexiest foreplay tips for men and women and you’ll feel like a frisky horny teen all the time!

Sex is fun and exciting.

Well, it is, at least for the first few months.

And somewhere along the way, it starts to get just a little predictable and just a little boring.

And when you get there, and still don’t do anything to keep the sexual frenzy on a high, it’s only a matter of time before it starts to feel a chore!

Sexual foreplay tips for men and women

You may not realize this, but sexual intimacy is just like romance.

It’s always heart pumping at the beginning, until it runs out of steam and turns predictable and less-than-adrenalin-inducing over time.

And just like you’d rely on gestures and surprises in romance, you need to keep the excitement alive in bed too, by constantly recreating the wheel of sexual passion.

When you’re making love for the first time, as you place your lips on your lover’s body, the sexual tension feels electric. And all you’d need to do is slip your hands into your partner’s shorts to see that they’re all ready and raring to go.

It’s all fun and dandy the first few times, and you won’t have to rely on fancy foreplay to arouse your lover.

But as time goes by, and both of you start to feel just a little more numb to each other’s sexual touches, it’s time to rekindle the passion by arousing the sexual tension straight in each other’s minds.

The right way to sexual foreplay

Remember, as much as it’s worked before, foreplay isn’t just about slipping your hands over your lover’s strategic regions and letting it wriggle about for a few minutes!

If that’s your idea of foreplay, you’re definitely not doing justice to the deed that follows, especially if you’ve been in a relationship for over a few months.

In a seasoned relationship, sexual foreplay is the art of arousing your lover without even getting your hands anywhere near each other’s privates.

If you can master that art, you’d always have the mojo to arouse your lover and keep sex just as exciting as it was the first few times.

The 9 sexiest foreplay tips to burn the sheets in bed!

Does the thought of foreplay in bed stress you out? Or do you wonder what you can do to stimulate your lover and experience the mad rush of passionate sex like a horny one night stand?

Try these 9 foreplay tips, and you’ll see that these tips are not just easy, they’ll explode your mind with sexual ideas and naughty thoughts every time you’re in bed with your sexy other.

#1 Outside the bedroom. Sex is predictable when it’s initiated within the walls of the bedroom. Every now and then, initiate sex outside the bedroom. You don’t have to sit close and slip your hands into your lover’s shorts out of the blue. That’s just predictable again!

Instead, get closer innocently and sit down for a few minutes while watching the television together. Just stroke your lover’s hands or play with their fingers, and when you feel the tingle of love, kiss your partner or cozy up under a blanket. Before you know it, both of you would be having spontaneous sex without even realizing it.

#2 Shock each other. It’s easy to feel sexually desensitized when you see the same package or pair every day, all the time, and at times, even in the most unflattering of circumstances *toilet?*. But by doing something unique and sexually risqué, you can change the numb sensation into a sexual frenzy instantly.

Show your assets off, but shock and awe your partner while doing it. Give your lover a sneak peek in public, sext each other, grind each other on the dance floor, or undress yourself slowly and ask your partner to make love to you while you’re leaning against your bedroom window!

#3 Learn to kiss passionately. Those quick sparrow pecks of goodbye kisses may work while saying goodbye and rushing to office in the mornings. But in bed, that’s one of the biggest sexual turn offs.

Take your time. Even if you’ve kissed your lover a million times, a slow and sensual kiss can still feel just as intimate and sexy as a first kiss. Close your eyes, place your lips on your lover’s lips and play along, while moving your lips softly, slowly and purposefully. Breathe into each other slowly, and just experience the sensation. After all, there is nothing that feels as sexy as a perfect kiss with a lover who knows to kiss you just the way you want to be kissed.

#4 Explore their body. Don’t be in a hurry. As you kiss your lover, run your hands along their back or over their arms or shoulders. Penetration doesn’t have to be the only sexy thing you do in bed. Gently kiss your partner’s neck, their arms and the rest of their body. If your partner moans or relaxes their body, they probably like what you’re doing.

Let your hands linger all over their body, but as you do that, close your eyes and run your lips over the rest of the body. Just experience the way your lover’s body feels against your lips. It’s sensual and arousing, and it’ll surely make both of you feel really horny!

#5 Dirty talk. This is one of the sexiest things in you do in bed. And the best part about dirty talking in bed is that it can help you talk about your darkest sexual fantasies without the fear of being judged by your lover. It’ll bring both of you closer, make both of you feel more intimate, and it’ll open a new door of sexual bliss that’ll make sex feel as exciting as the first time, all the time.

You can talk dirty anywhere, in bed or even in the living room. Just talk about something naughty, be it an incident or a fantasy of yours. All it takes is a few sentences before both of you feel stiff around the loins!

#6 Use a mirror. It’s surprising just how many people find mirrors exciting and fun. Prop a long mirror horizontally on the bed, right next to the both of you. Get naked and play with each other’s bodies while watching each other in the mirror. Just watching your partner getting stroked and teased in the mirror is a huge turn on that’s definitely worth experiencing. And having sex while watching yourselves in the mirror? Well, that just gets even better!

#7 Watch a movie. Sometimes, the stress of foreplay can make sex feel awkward and forced. You know you have to indulge in foreplay, and your partner knows it too. And all the drama and the stress of foreplay can just make you dislike it. So try something else that’ll play the part of good foreplay.

Watch a good porn movie, with a plot that both of you would enjoy. Just slip under the blanket, watch the movie and run your hands against each other. And at some point in the movie, both of you would be more than ready to do the deed yourselves. And then, you get to have sex, watch a sexy porn movie, talk about the acts they’re doing on the movie, and orgasm on a crescendo all at once. Isn’t that just perfect?!

#8 Enact your fantasies. Foreplay is fun for both lovers only when both of you enjoy it. And if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing, you may end up hating foreplay and start avoiding sex just to skip the foreplay.

So try something that you know will excite you and your lover at the same time. Do you have a sexual fantasy that makes you feel horny each time you’re alone? Talk about it with your partner, or enact it with them. It could be something sexually taboo, or a role playing idea or something that you’ve always wanted to do in bed. Talk about it with your lover while stroking each other, and try it. As long it arouses both of you, it’s something that’ll help both of you experience a sexual fantasy and make sex more exciting at the same time.

#9 Naughty games. There’s nothing like a bit of fun in bed to take the stress off sexual foreplay and make sex feel naughtier, kinkier and a lot sexier. Don’t focus on foreplay, and don’t think of sex. On a lazy afternoon or evening, just get into bed, and play a few dirty games. And once you start enjoying these games, you’d want to play them every single day!

Sex can truly be the sexiest thing on earth, even if you’ve been doing it with the same person for several years. All it takes is a few naughty twists to make it as exciting as the first time, every few months.

And if you use these 9 sexual foreplay tips for men and women the next time in bed, you’ll realize how dirty and naughty each of these tips can really be. And you’ll learn just how easy it is to improvise on these 9 ideas and create a new personal sexual foreplay tip yourself!

Couples Who Play Together, Stay in Love Together

COUPLES WHO PLAY TOGETHER, STAY IN LOVE TOGETHER

Kyle Benson

I want you to meet Mr. Rubber Ducky and Mrs. Fabulous Flamingo.

Play is the air that keeps their love inflated.

Without it, both partners would deflate emotionally and feel stuck in a flat relationship.

Dr. Gottman’s research states that 70% of a relationship’s satisfaction is determined by the couple’s friendship. This is true for both men and women.

The couples who found ways to play together at every stage of their relationship stayed together. The couples who didn’t eventually separated or endured an unhappy relationship.

Play makes emotional connection easy and enjoyable. It invites both partners to open up emotionally. Play is a form of intimacy, because it requires an intimate knowledge of your partner’s inner world. A playful friendship with one another creates a strong relationship.

Maybe you grew up struggling with the concept of play. I know I did. I always felt that it came second to winning prizes or achievements.

Your play style is a reflection of the emotional security you were offered as a kid. It remains true for adults. Couples who create an emotionally secure relationship are often more playful than insecure couples.

Couples who lack trust or commitment tend to be kidnapped by their insecurities, thus blocking the part of the brain that activates play.

Learning to play well with each other is also what helps us fight well. Stan Tatkin, PsyD states that “secure couples know that a good fight stays within the play zone.” In other words, the conflict isn’t allowed to get nasty. Since both partners are committed to each other for the long haul, they are able to keep their walls down.

Part of cultivating an Intentionally Intimate Relationship is creating a culture of play.

Here are 3 Ways to Increase Play in Your Relationship:

#1 Try New and Unfamiliar Activities: Psychologist Arthur Aron recruited 53 middle-aged couples to study novelty and boredom in long-term relationships. The couples were asked to do one of three things: (1) engage in activities that were familiar and enjoyable, (2) change nothing about their routine, or (3) to find something new to do together.

After ten weeks, who do you think had a better relationship?

You’re correct!

The couples who did new and unfamiliar activities had a much higher satisfaction in their relationship than the couples who spent their time doing familiar things.

Here are some ideas for you:

  • Take a walk in a different part of town or venture to a new park together.
  • Visit a new restaurant in town.
  • Try a new activity such as indoor rock climbing, roller skating, bowling, or mini golf.
  • Take a day trip. Get in the car and drive. Stop whenever you feel like getting out and exploring.

#2 Reinvent Date Night: My partner and I recently tried a date night box called “Night in Boxes.” The theme was called “blind date.” We were asked to create an obstacle course, and then lead our blindfolded partner through the course using only verbal instructions.

It was a great way to connect and be playful with one another without leaving the comfort of our home. I highly recommend it!

Here are some other ideas:

  • Get dressed up and take a class together, such as salsa dancing, or a paint and wine workshop
  • Bike to a coffee shop to sip warm drinks and chat
  • Take a tour in your hometown that you’ve never been on

#3 Participate in the 7-Day Emotional Connection Challenge: I’m taking a select group of couples on an exciting seven-day virtual adventure—but in the comfort of their own home. Get ready to reconnect with your partner in a very playful way! Check your email tomorrow for more details.

Play is essential to making love last. It is created by both partners and requires intentionality as an adult, since it might not come as naturally as it once did when we were children. Like scheduling sex and date night, we need to schedule time for play, exploration, and adventures. These activities revitalize our love life and deepen our emotional connection.

Without play, partners tend to drift apart from each other, making it impossible to sustain emotional intimacy.

To prevent this, Mr. Rubber Ducky and Mrs. Fabulous Flamingo tether to each other with a long rope. That way if they drift too far apart, they can intentionally pull each other closer and reconnect through playful activities and adventures. Shouldn’t you do the same?

7 Assumptions We Need to Stop Making About Other People

7 ASSUMPTIONS WE NEED TO STOP MAKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE

Marc Chernoff

Never underestimate a person’s challenges. Everyone is struggling. Some are just better at hiding it than others.

Too often we judge people too quickly, or too subjectively. We tell ourselves stories about them without thinking it through—our perceptions and biases get the best of us. I was reminded of this today when I received the following in an email (I’m sharing this with permission):

“…I learned the hard way that a smile can hide so much—that when you look at a person you never know what their story is or what’s truly going on in their life. This harsh reality became evident to me this morning when I found out one of my top students—always straight A’s, a positive attitude, and a smile on her face—died by suicide last night. Why? Nobody seems to know. And it’s killing me inside.”

Talk about a reality check, right?

What we tell ourselves about others—what we think we know—is often far from the truth.

And with that in mind, I’m sitting here reflecting on all the little things we have to stop assuming about other people, for their sake and ours…

  1. We need to stop assuming that the happiest people are simply the ones who smile the most. – Behind the polite smiles and greetings people give you, some are hurting and lonely. Don’t just come and go. See them. Care. Share. Listen. Love. We can’t always see people’s pain, but they can always feel our kindness. So be kinder than necessary.
  2. We need to stop assuming that the people we love and respect won’t disappoint us. – When we expect perfection we tend to overlook goodness. And the truth is, no one is perfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the informed second-guess what they know. It happens to all of us too. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we fall sometimes. But that’s the worst of it… we have our moments. Most of the time we’re pretty darn good, despite our flaws. So treat the people you love accordingly—give them the space to be human.
  3. We need to stop assuming that the people who are doing things differently are doing things wrong. – We all take different roads seeking fulfillment, joy, and success. Just because someone isn’t on your road, doesn’t mean they are lost.
  4. We need to stop assuming that the people we disagree with don’t deserve our compassion and kindness. – The exact opposite is true. The way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion, kindness and humility. 
  5. We need to stop assuming that we can’t trust people we don’t know. – Some people build too many walls in their lives and not enough bridges. Don’t be one of them. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people. Let them prove your doubts wrong, gradually, over time.
  6. We need to stop assuming that the rude people of the world are personally targeting us. – We can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of us. They do things because of them. And there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to us when we detach from other people’s behaviors. So just remember, the way others treat you is their problem, how you react is yours.
  7. We need to stop assuming that other people are our reason for being unhappy, unsuccessful, etc. – We may not be able control all the things people say and do to us, but we can decide not to be reduced by them. We can choose to forgive, or we can choose to forget. We can choose to stay, or we can choose to go. We can choose whatever helps us grow. There’s always a positive choice to make. Thus, the only real, lasting conflict you will ever have in your life won’t be with others, but with yourself… and how you choose to respond… and the daily rituals you choose to follow. 

Dealing with People Who Deeply Offend Us

Some of the points above (like numbers 4 and 6 for example) potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about terribly distasteful things, and so forth.

These people violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us.

But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.

So what can we do?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are two strategies Angel and I often recommend:

  • Be bigger, think bigger. – Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at this moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small, momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things that 2-year-old could do to be happy. Sure, that’s easy for us to say—we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again—this small, momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream. We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger, we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
  • Mentally hug them and wish them better days. – This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either—they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.

Try one of these strategies the next time someone offends you. And then smile and breathe, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.

Your turn…

How have your judgments and expectations of others affected your life and relationships?

14 Tips to Get Your Partner to Open Up about Sex

14 TIPS TO GET YOUR PARTNER TO OPEN UP ABOUT SEX

Christopher Villa

Do you want your partner or spouse to open up and talk about sex, their interests and the things they want to try in bed? Well, here’s the right way!

Are you having a hard time talking about sex with your partner?

Sometimes, talking about sex is always an awkward moment, especially if you’re in a new relationship.

And at other times, you could be in a seasoned relationship and still feel uncomfortable discussing sex because you’re afraid you may be judged.

If you want to take an initiate to talk about sex, but your partner seems too embarrassed to discuss their ideas and thoughts with you, fret not.

14 tips to get your partner to open up and talk about sex

You can turn even the most prudish of lovers with locked up secrets into a serial confessor using these 14 tips on how you can get your lover to start talking about sex.

Start slow, and take a few baby steps using these tips.

And before you know it, you’ll feel closer to your partner.

And your sex life will feel more awesome and fresh with every passing day!

#1 Past experiences. Don’t confess about your past experiences, especially if your partner doesn’t know just how sexually liberated and active you’ve been before you met your lover. Surprisingly, most partners prefer to stay in the dark instead of hearing their partner’s confession about their kinky past.

If you’re sure your partner would be able to handle your past, slip a few details now and then and watch how they react to it over a couple of weeks.

But if you want your partner to open up about sex talk, let your lover know that you’ve had partners before, and that you’re open to trying new things if it could make both your sex lives more interesting and fascinating!

#2 Avoid the serious talk. ‘We need to talk about sex’ is the last thing you should say if you want to broach the topic of sex and sexual fantasies. Well, that’s unless one of you say something that offends the other.

The best time to talk about sex is when both of you are in bed. The second best time to talk about it is when both of you are just fooling around or relaxing around the house. The third best time to talk about it is when the opportune moment crops up, either because of something a friend said or something you saw on the telly or in a magazine *or in Lovepanky!*

#3 Speak in third person. If you’re feeling terribly awkward about the impending sexual conversation, talk about a *friend of yours* who likes a particular fantasy or has indulged in a particular sexual act.

It’s easier to talk in third person, and if your partner likes the idea, you can always smile sheepishly and confess that you were talking about yourself!

#4 Naughty questions. Want to explore sexual ideas and fantasies without feeling awkward about it? There’s no better way to do that than by using our list of dirty questions. Try them, and you’ll see just how much both of you can learn about each other’s sexual interests in under an hour!

#5 Don’t push it. Don’t go overboard while trying to please your partner, or to prove that you love their idea even if you don’t. Just because your partner enjoys something doesn’t mean they expect you to enjoy the same things. Sometimes, it takes a compromise between sexual interests. And at other times, it has to be a complete no-no.

Talk to your partner about your sexual interests, or hear theirs out. Take some time for the ideas to sink in, and if it’s something you just can’t do, be frank and tell your lover about it *without making them feel judged!*

#6 Delay penetration. What do you do when you get into bed to make love? Do you rush into the act because you find your lover irresistible? Well, stop and take it slow the next few times you’re in bed with them.

Taking it slow in bed, and talking about things either of you enjoy can be a revelation that can make your sex life a lot more interesting. Take time to explore each other, talk about things both of you enjoy and try new things that feel good in bed.

#7 Start the conversation with a confession. But don’t go overboard just yet. If you’ve been trying to ask your partner what they enjoy, and your partner just blushes coyly or pretends like they’re interested in nothing but the missionary, don’t push them on.

Instead, make a small and calculated confession. Brush the surface of something you enjoy and tell your partner about it. And see how your boyfriend or girlfriend reacts to your little confession. Taking it slow can help your partner test their own boundaries without assuming you’re a sexual deviant!

#8 Talk dirty in bed. Dirty talk kicks butt, especially when both of you are completely comfortable to explore each other’s sexual minds without feeling inhibited by it.

If you want your partner to open up to you and talk about the things they enjoy sexually, just start talking about something naughty or dirty while having sex with each other. One thing would lead to another, and before you know it, you’ll unleash a wildcat. And oh yes, the sex will blow your mind too!

#9 Don’t clam up. Don’t judge your partner. Just because your partner says they’ve fantasized about having a threesome or that they like the idea of public flashing doesn’t make them a bad person. All of us have our own sexual fantasies, and as tame as yours may seem to you, there’s a big chance you’ll shock many with your own imagination!

If your partner trusts you enough to share their deepest, darkest fantasies with you, the least you can do is let your partner know you accept them for who they are. On the other hand, if you clam up and appear shocked or annoyed, your partner may feel ashamed and never ever open up to you again!

#10 That annoying feeling. If something your partner says bothers you or pricks you hard, sit down with your partner. Calmly and cautiously, tell them how you feel, all the while reassuring them that you’re not judging them but just trying to understand their sexual side better.

On the other hand, if your partner’s sex talk or sexual fantasies arouse or interest you, ask your partner to elaborate so you can add your own dark experiences and interests into the conversation.

#11 Sex suggestions aren’t criticisms. Understand this well, and remember it. If your partner tells you something in bed that offends you, even for a moment, you need to realize that your partner is revealing it to you only to make both your sex lives better. And your partner isn’t saying it just to hurt you or make you feel humiliated in bed.

Accept criticisms in bed gracefully, or even laugh about it. But make sure you remember it so your partner can feel comfortable enough to share their secrets with you in future too.

#12 The right time. Don’t say the wrong things at the wrong time. If your partner talks dirty or shares a fantasy that you don’t particularly appreciate while having sex, don’t stop the to-and-fro midway and stare at your partner with a shocked expression. And talking about something embarrassing or awkward immediately after having sex isn’t advisable either.

If you really want to go into details about a particular fantasy of your lover’s, talk to them about it a while after they mention it, so they don’t feel judged or insulted by your question.

#13 Be open to the conversation. Ask open ended questions when you’re talking about sex secrets with your husband or wife, and try to see things from their perspective before making judgments.

Discuss things both of you enjoy, and take baby steps into the world of exploring sexual fantasies and dirty ideas together. If it works and something makes both of you super horny, well, good for you guys! And if it doesn’t excite you or your partner, move on, there are enough sexual ideas to set your sexual passion on fire! And it all starts with communication.

#14 Don’t be a prude. Look, if you want to talk about sex and kinky ideas, you might as well throw prudishness out of the window, and prepare yourself for a wild ride of sexual exploration. Reveal your fantasies, get kinky and start by telling the truth about the things you enjoy and the new things you want to try in bed.

Holding your sexual thoughts close to your heart and expecting sex to magically get better with each passing day as the infatuation wears off is like asking for a miracle every time you have sex.

Open your mind, and explore the world of sexual fantasies and dark desires together. And as kinky or as naughty as you may think an idea is, believe me, it’s all been said and done by someone else before!

Use these 14 tips to get your partner to open up and talk about sex effortlessly. And most importantly, you have to remember that we live in a world full of sexual fantasies and deviant thoughts. And as freaky as you think you are, your fantasy isn’t as unique or shocking as you think. So don’t be ashamed. You’re never alone!

How We Used The Aftermath of a Fight to Repair Our Relationship

HOW WE USED THE AFTERMATH OF A FIGHT TO REPAIR OUR RELATIONSHIP

Kyle Benson

My partner and I got into a huge fight about our cat’s litter box.

I know this sounds ridiculous, but hear me out.

We both said things we didn’t mean. She told me I didn’t care about our cat and that my work mattered more to me than the well-being of Miss Rexy. I told her she was irresponsible for sleeping in and leaving the litter box to me as she bolted out the door late for work.

How could we get mad at that face, right?

As John Gottman’s research has shown, it’s not what you fight about that matters, but how you repair when your inevitable differences in personality, perspective, and needs collide.

If you don’t process these conflicts, then you may both find yourselves feeling disrespected, lonely, and neglected—drifting away from each other like two ships without anchors.

According to Julie Gottman, when couples come to therapy, partners “often sit side-by-side like enemy ships, war-torn but still afloat. Many have fired rounds at each other, and there’s been damage done.”

Often these wounds are left open. They’re so painful that we tell ourselves “never again will I let my partner see that vulnerable side of me.”

The problem is no matter how much we want to suppress our hurt feelings, they don’t go away. The avoidant strategy of “just get over it and move on” only works temporarily, at best. In fact, this approach to conflict is often a learned response from the internalized belief that no one will ever be there for you when you need them, so it’s better not to even attempt to discuss things.

Unfortunately, regrettable incidents that haven’t been addressed melt away the positive connection in a relationship, creating a chasm between partners.

The Mask of Unresolved Pain

As humans, we struggle to let go of a memory until we’ve emotionally digested it. It’s likely this has led to our survival as a species. Our brains remain hypervigilant to the things we deem unsafe.

According to neuroscientist Evan Gordan, our brain is constantly scanning the world around us, asking: Is it safe or dangerous right now?

With significant unresolved problems, it becomes nearly impossible to make the safe emotional connection necessary for a secure relationship.

As a result, we often perpetuate insecurity in our relationship, even over things like a cat’s litter box, because we don’t feel safe enough to express our deeper, more vulnerable emotions like sadness, hurt, loneliness, fear of abandonment or rejection, and shame of not being “enough” or being “too much.”

Instead, our partners see a different side of us. They see our anger, jealousy, resentment, and frustration. We hide our softer emotions behind a mask of the harder, more reactive emotions as our poor communication habits continue to wreak havoc on our emotional connection, making it harder for our partner to hear our longing for love and connection.

The good news is learning how to process regrettable incidents makes it easier for us to reconnect and ultimately grow.

In the Love Lab, John Gottman noticed that couples who were able to process past hurtful events were able to build a relationship as strong as steel. Discussing the regrettable incident became the fire through which they forged a stronger bond.

aftermath

Here’s how to do this for your relationship.

The Aftermath of a Fight

If this is your first time using The Aftermath of a Fight exercise, start by asking yourself the following questions.

  1. Am I ready to process this regrettable incident? According to Julie Gottman, “processing” means that you can talk about the incident without getting back into it again.
  2. Have my emotions been calm today and can I have a calm conversation about this incident? It’s helpful to think of watching this incident on your TV. This can help create some emotional distance necessary to discuss what occurred.
  3. Am I willing to seek to understand my partner’s experience of the event and validate that each of our emotional realities are legitimate? Hint: Don’t focus on “the facts.”
  4. Am I willing to speak from my experience without trying to persuade my partner?
  5. Am I willing to ATTUNE to my partner’s feelings and what the event meant to them?
  6. Are we in a distraction free space where we can be fully present with each other?

When my partner and I are both able to respond yes to all of these questions, we begin processing our regrettable incident using the five steps outlined below. For a more detailed version, purchase your copy of The Aftermath of a Fight Guide here.

Conflict Resolution

Step 1: Express How You Felt During This Event

The goal of this step is to only list the feelings you felt during this event. Do not share why you felt this way and do not comment on your partner’s feelings.

My partner went first and explained that when we fought over the litter box, she felt angry, unloved, not cared about, and overwhelmed.

I shared that I felt misunderstood, unappreciated, and taken for granted, and that these feelings had made me stubborn.

For a list of feelings, you can use the “I Feel…” deck in the Gottman Card Decks App here or The Aftermath of a Fight Guide here.

Step 2: Share Your Realities and Validate Each Other

The next step is to choose a speaker and a listener. As the speaker, your goal is to share your own reality of what occurred during the regrettable event. Focus on using “I” statements and what you noticed (“I heard…,” not “you told me”) and what you needed during the event. Avoid criticizing your partner.

As the listener, focus on seeking to understand your partner’s unique experience. Then summarize what you heard them say, not what you believed they meant, and validate their experience by saying things like, “When I see things from your perspective, it makes perfect sense why you were so upset.”

After you validate your partner’s experience, ask them, “Did I get it right?”

If not, ask them to share what you’re not understanding and continue to validate until they say yes. As Julie Gottman reminds us, “Validation doesn’t mean you agree, but that you can understand even a part of your partner’s experience of the incident.”

It’s also important to ask, “Is there more to this for you?” This may uncover deeper meanings or other aspects of this event that they have yet to discuss. Remember, the goal is to make your partner feel completely understood. This makes them feel safe and loved, which makes it easier for you to repair and build a stronger connection.

Then switch roles. Do not move onto the next step until both partners feel understood.

My partner started as the speaker and shared that she felt overwhelmed because her cat who had been in her family for 13 years was dying, and she was probably going to have to put her down soon. She also felt unloved and angry because, from her perspective, I had refused to clean the litter box and instead chose finishing work over caring for our cat.

Even though I really wanted to defend myself as my partner was sharing, I bit my tongue and focused on truly understanding her experience. I reflected what I heard back to her: “So you felt overwhelmed because you are facing the tough decision of when to put your beloved cat down after so many years. I also hear that you noticed I was working and telling you I did not have time to clean the litter box, which caused you to feel like I didn’t care about Rexy. Is that correct?”

After my partner agreed that I had it right, I asked her, “Is there more to this?” After a few more exchanges, she felt like I completely understood her experience and we switched roles.

I shared how I felt unappreciated because I had done many other things to help with Rexy, including taking her to the vet while my partner was at work. I also felt my “working hours” were taken for granted since my office is in our home and that I was expected to drop everything I was doing to do what my partner wanted in that moment. I also mentioned to my partner that she probably was unaware that I had 15-minutes to finish two important emails before I needed to leave for my personal therapy session across town.

My partner validated my experience and I felt she completely understood me.

Step 3: Disclose Your Triggers

Beneath difficult conflicts, even silly things like a litter box, are emotional triggers. These sensitivities stem from personal histories and often make minor events quickly transform into major blowups.

During this step, take turns as a speaker and listener and disclose what triggered a big reaction in you. Add any previous experiences of when you felt similar in the past, including during your early history or childhood, and share that with your partner, so your partner can understand this sensitivity.

My partner shared that she felt helpless and alone, something she knows all too well. Ever since high school, she’s been one of the primary caregivers for her father who has severe Parkinson’s disease. With her mother and brother on the other side of the country, she has felt alone and abandoned in the moments when she needed her family most. She shared that the idea of losing our cat and not caring for her well during these last days of her life stirred up these deeper feelings.

I validated her triggers, and since I’ve sat next to my partner while she has cried over this very thing many times before. I understood what she meant and shared that understanding with her.

I then shared my triggers, which include a sensitivity to feeling disrespected or like my needs don’t matter. As an anxious lover, I’ve often neglected my personal needs over the needs of others. Because of this, I have often ended up feeling inadequate and like my needs don’t matter. Over time, this has made me wary. When my partner requested that I stop working and instantly take care of our cat, I felt like my needs didn’t matter.

My partner asked more questions about this sensitivity and learned more about my history of not asking for what I need and the difficulty I’ve had in asserting my boundaries. She came to understand that this is something I’ve spent years of therapy working on.

Step 4: Take Ownership for Your Role

If we lived in a perfect world, it’s unlikely this regrettable incident would have even occurred because we would have already felt emotionally calm, connected to each other, and fully accepted and loved.

Unfortunately, we get stressed and feel unappreciated by our partner, which makes it easier for us to have regrettable incidents. It’s helpful to acknowledge the things that set us up for miscommunicating with each other, take ownership, and apologize.

This step is about taking responsibility for your part in the conflict. My partner shared that she had been stressed, irritable, and overly sensitive lately. She then mentioned that she regretted how critical she was of me and how she spoke to me. She then apologized for overreacting and attacking me.

I shared that I had been turning away more and had been very preoccupied with work and running on empty lately. I regretted responding defensively and accusing my partner of being lazy. I then apologized for being defensive and attacking my partner’s character.

We both accepted each other’s apologies and acknowledged that things got out of hand.

If the apologies are not accepted when you are doing this with your partner, each of you should say what you still need.

Step 5: Preventative Planning

Have an open conversation with your partner and share one thing you could do to make discussing this issue better next time, and then share one thing you think your partner can do to make it better. Remember to make this a positive and actionable request, such as “I need to know more about what has been stressing you out lately,” not “I need you to stop being a jerk.”

It’s important to ask, “What do we need to do to put this incident to rest so we can move on?”

Focus on what you can agree on together.

My partner and I agreed to get back in the habit of our stress reducing conversation, so we can continue to check in with each other about our cat and the stress we’ve both been holding inside recently.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict as an Opportunity for Intimacy

Every conflict, even the regrettable ones, offers an opportunity for a deeper understanding of each other. While this fight about a litter box seems silly, it highlights how often little things can become big things because of the underlying feelings and meanings beneath.

The problem with these incidents is that we do not repair or take proactive steps to prevent them from escalating in the future. Going through The Aftermath of a Fight Guide has been something my partner and I have had to do time and time again.

Even Julie Gottman admits that she and her husband, John Gottman, have “been married for nearly 30 years with too many [regrettable incidents] to count!”

Constructing a great relationship is hard work and requires growth from both partners. At times this will mean processing difficult events and tolerating discomfort. The good news is these regrettable incidents, when processed, can be used to build a stronger and more meaningful relationship.