How to Find the Perfect Man (or Woman)

HOW TO FIND THE PERFECT MAN (OR WOMAN)

Marc Chernoff

This morning, over coffee, one of my good friends spilled her guts to me about all of her failed attempts to find the perfect man.  Although her story is about her unique personal experiences, I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard the same story told by others in completely different circumstances a hundred times before.

It’s a heartbreaking tale about the endless quest for perfection that so many of us are on…

The Perfect Woman

Once upon a time, an intelligent, attractive, self-sufficient woman in her mid-thirties decided she wanted to settle down and find a husband.  So she journeyed out into the world to search for the perfect man.

She met him in New York City at a bar in a fancy hotel lobby.  He was handsome and well-spoken.  In fact, she had a hard time keeping her eyes off of him.  He intrigued her.  It was the curves of his cheek bones, the confidence in his voice, and the comfort of his warm, steady hands.  But after only a short time, she broke things off.  “We just didn’t share the same religious views,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Austin a few months later.  This time, he was an entrepreneur who owned a small, successful record label that assisted local musicians with booking gigs and promoting their music.  And she learned, during an unforgettable night, that not only did they share the same religious views, but he could also make her laugh for hours on end.  “But I just wasn’t that physically attracted to him,” she said.  So she continued on her journey.

She met him again in Miami at a beachside café.  He was a sports medicine doctor for the Miami Dolphins, but he easily could have been an underwear model for Calvin Klein.  For a little while, she was certain he was the one!  And all of her friends loved him too.  “He’s the perfect catch,” they told her.  “But we didn’t hang in the same social circles, and his high-profile job consumed way too much of his time and attention,” she said.  So she cut things off and continued on her journey.

Finally, at a corporate business conference in San Diego, she met the perfect man.  He possessed every quality she had been searching for.  Intelligent, handsome, spiritual, similar social circles, and a strong emotional and physical connection—absolutely perfect!  She was ready to spend the rest of her life with him.  “But unfortunately, he was looking for the ‘perfect’ woman,” she said.

Everything We’ve Ever Hoped For

As human beings, we often chase hypothetical, static states of perfection.  We do so when we are searching for the perfect house, job, friend, or lover.

The problem, of course, is that perfection doesn’t exist in a static state.  Because life is a continual journey, constantly evolving and changing.  What is here today is not exactly the same tomorrow.

That perfect house, job, friend, or lover will eventually fade to a state of imperfection.  Thus, the closest we can get to perfection is the experience itself—the snapshot of a single moment or vision held forever in our minds—never evolving, never growing.  And that’s not really what we want.  We want something real!  And when it’s real, it won’t ever be perfect.  But if we’re willing to work at it and open up, it could be everything we’ve ever hoped for.

That Imperfect Man (or Woman)

The truth is, when it comes to finding the “perfect man” or “perfect woman” or “perfect relationship,” the journey starts with letting the fantasy of “perfect” GO!  In the real world, you don’t love and appreciate someone because they’re perfect, you love and appreciate them in spite of the fact that they are not.  Likewise, your goal shouldn’t be to create a perfect life, but to live an imperfect life in radical amazement.

And when an intimate relationship gets difficult, it’s not an immediate sign that you’re doing it wrong.  Intimate relationships are intricate, and are often toughest when you’re doing them right—when you’re dedicating time, having the hard conversations, compromising, and making daily sacrifices.  Resisting the tough moments—the real moments—and seeing them as immediate evidence that something is wrong, or that you’re with the wrong person, only exacerbates the difficulties.  By contrast, viewing difficulties in a relationship as normal and necessary will give you and your partner the best chance to thrive together in the long run.

Again, there is no “perfect.”  To say that one waits a lifetime for their perfect soulmate to come around is an absolute paradox.  People eventually get tired of waiting, so they take a chance on someone, and by the powers of love, compromise and commitment they become soulmates, which takes nearly a lifetime to perfect.

This concept truly relates to almost everything in life too.  With a little patience and an open mind, over time, I bet that imperfect house evolves into a comfortable home.  That imperfect job evolves into a rewarding career.  That imperfect friend evolves into a steady shoulder to lean on.  And… that imperfect man or woman evolves into a “perfect” lifelong companion.

Now, it’s your turn…

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think of this short essay.

What resonated?  Any other thoughts on perfectionism’s harmful role in relationships?

I’d love to hear from YOU.  🙂

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock That Harms Relationships

4 STEPS TO OVERCOME GRIDLOCK THAT HARMS RELATIONSHIPS

Kyle Benson

All couples are bound to have arguments. When they struggle to manage these ongoing disagreements with constructive conflict conversations, the result is what Dr. John Gottman calls “gridlock.”

Gridlock is like a Chinese Finger Trap. Each partner pulls for his or her position, making compromise impossible.

finger-trap

My Dreams Are Becoming My Worst Nightmare

Our dreams are full of aspirations and wishes that are core to our identity and give our life purpose and meaning. Gridlock is a sign that each partner has dreams that the other hasn’t accepted, doesn’t respect, or isn’t aware of.

Some dreams are practical, like obtaining a certain amount of savings, while others are profound, like owning a beach house in Hawaii. The profound dreams often remain hidden beneath the practical ones.

For example, Kurt wants to make a seven-figure income, but why is that so important to him? Underneath his dream is a deep need for financial security.

When couples are in gridlock, it is only by uncovering the hidden dreams and symbolic meanings that they can get out of the Chinese Finger Trap.

Overcoming Gridlock

The way out is to first identify the dream within conflict. When partners are gridlocked, they see each other as the source of difficulty. They tend to ignore their part in creating the conflict because it’s hidden from view.

If you find yourself saying, “the only problem is his lack of intelligence,” that’s probably not the whole story.

Uncovering a hidden dream is a challenge and it won’t emerge until you feel the relationship is a safe place to talk about it. If you don’t feel comfortable enough to open up, focus on the first three principles in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.

My Dreams Are Silly

Personal dreams often go unmentioned because people worry they will burden their partner or negatively impact the relationship. It’s common for partners not to feel entitled to their dreams, but when you bury a dream, it can lead to resentment and ultimately gridlock.

When you share your dreams with your partner, you give your marriage the opportunity to have a profound purpose and sense of shared meaning. As Dr. Gottman explains in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, “couples who are demanding of their marriage are more likely to have deeply satisfying unions than those who lower their expectations.”

4 Steps to Overcome Gridlock

When you begin to uncover the dreams beneath your gridlock, the problems in your marriage will not immediately go away. It may actually seem to worsen rather than improve. Be patient. The very nature of gridlock is that dreams are in opposition.

Step 1: Explore Each Other’s Dreams

Pick an issue that you both feel causes gridlock in your marriage. Take time to reflect on the hidden dreams that may underlie your position. Talk about it with your partner by using Dr. Gottman’s Conflict Blueprint for a truly effective conflict conversation. Focus on understanding your partner’s position.

What not to say:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: First of all, we can’t afford something like that. I can’t think of anything more stressful than trying to upkeep a property in the middle of the ocean. Think of all the wear and tear we will need to replace.
Kris: Forget it…

What to say instead:
Kris: I’ve always dreamed of buying a beach house in Hawaii.
Kurt: Tell me more about what it means to own a beach house in Hawaii. What would it do for you?
Kris: It would be heaven on earth. My family and I used to go every year and my parents always said they wanted to buy a beach house. I’d feel such a sense of accomplishment and we’d be able to invite my parents over! They’d be so proud.

Acknowledging and respecting each other’s deepest most personal hopes and dreams is key to saving and enriching your marriage.

Step 2: Soothe Yourself and Each Other
Discussing deeply held dreams that are in opposition can be stressful. Pay attention to your stress levels. If flooding occurs, stop the conversation, take a break, and use repairs.

Step 3: Reach a Temporary Compromise
Now it’s time to make peace with this issue (for now) by accepting your differences and establishing some kind of initial compromise. Understand that this problem may never go away. The goal is to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of pain.
To do this, refer to the Conflict Blueprint to separate the issue into two categories:

  1. Non-negotiable areas: Aspects of the issue that you are unwilling to give up on because it will violate your basic needs or core values. Try to make this section as small as possible.
  2. Areas of flexibility: Parts of the issue where you can be flexible. Try to make this section as large as possible.

Share your list with your partner and work together to come up with a temporary compromise. This compromise should last about three months. Afterwards, you can review where both of you stand. Don’t expect to solve the problem yet. Your goal here is only to live with it more peacefully. After all, 69% of all problems in a relationship are unsolvable.

Here’s what Kris and Kurt did:

  1. They defined minimal core areas they are unwilling to change. Kris says she must have a house in Hawaii. Kurt says he must save $40,000 in order to feel financially secure.
  2. They defined areas of flexibility. Kris says she can settle for a condo, rather than a beachfront house. Even though she wants to buy now, she is willing to wait 3 years as long as they can work together to make it happen. Kurt says he can be flexible about how quickly they save, as long as he knows both of them are working towards this goal. They decide that 5% of their income goes into this savings account.
  3. They found a temporary compromise that honors both of their needs. They will buy a condo, but not for another three years. Meanwhile, they will devote half of their savings to a down payment and half into a mutual fund. In three months, they will review this plan and decide if it’s working or not.

Both Kris and Kurt realize that the underlying perpetual problem will never go away. Kris will always be the visionary, imagining a life on a beach, and Kurt is going to worry about their financial security. By learning to work with each other, both partners are able to cope with their differences, avoid gridlock, and work support each other in achieving their dreams.

Step 4: Give Thanks
Overcoming financial gridlock requires more than just one discussion about the issues that have deeply troubled your marriage. The goal with this step is to cultivate a culture of appreciation in which you express your gratitude for all you have. This will feel difficult after talking about such an emotionally charged issue, but that’s all the more reason to make effort to end the conflict conversation on a positive note.

The best way to cope with financial gridlock is to avoid it in the first place. Don’t wait until resentment has set in to ask your partner about their dreams – Dr. Gottman suggests becoming a “dream detective.”

By building your Love Maps, turning towards each other, and cultivating fondness and admiration, you will build trust and deeply understand each other. As you do this, you’ll discover the disagreements that once overwhelmed your relationship actually bring you closer together over time.

5 Rules for Having Constructive Relationship Conflict Conversation

5 RULES FOR HAVING CONSTRUCTIVE RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT CONVERSATION

Kyle Benson

How do you fight with your partner? Do you argue with them over how to love you or criticize them for their flaws?

Conflict conversations  in a relationship are not about the conflict. Most arguments are about nothing more than what the event means to each person in the relationship. It is the differences in personality, values, and perception, not the conflict, that are the root of disagreements.

So how do you work on those differences?

The Destructive Nature of Conflict Conversations

Have you ever felt like your partner was the enemy? In 1969, George Bach felt that way when he published The Intimate Enemy. Bach believed that relationships failed because partners didn’t air their resentments, so he encouraged couples to “let it all out.”

He gave couples foam rubber bats and encouraged partners to take turns saying what they resented about the other person. One partner might say, “I resent you for spending our money on a stupid boat we never use,” followed by a whack with the bat. Then the other partner might say, “I resent you for never having sex with me,” accompanied with a whack.

It turns out this method only made couples feel more resentful toward one another. “Letting it all out” is not the solution.

It’s important to reframe your approach toward a conflict conversation. Happy couples start conflict conversations gently and allow their partner to influence them. They work with each other to compromise and find a solution. In this way, anger and frustration can actually be a catalyst for profound growth in a relationship. Conflicts can be used to reconstruct the way we love each other over time.

How to Have a Constructive Conflict Conversation

Before you even have a conflict conversation in your relationship, I recommend reading Are Love Laws Throwing You in Relationship Jail? Below are five guidelines for making a conflict conversation work:
1. Be on the Same Team
People often perceive their partner as dissimilar to them, especially during conflict. They believe they have all the positive qualities and their partner only has a few or lots of negative traits.

When you give your partner a negative quality in your thoughts, try to see that same quality in yourself. And when you identify a positive quality in yourself, try to see that same quality in your partner. The assumption of similarity is what keeps The Story of Us focused on we-ness, not me-ness.

2. Stop if You’re Flooded
Couples can only have a constructive conflict conversation if they can manage their own physiological flooding. At its peak, flooding can cause couples to verbally attack each other. Any conversation you have while being flooded will be useless, if not damaging. Regrettable words will be said and partners will put up walls as they defend themselves against one another.

Dr. John Gottman’s research has shown that a simple 20 to 30 minute break can really help you calm yourself down. During that time, do things that help you relax like taking a walk or listening to your favorite music.

3. Postpone Persuasion
Trying to persuade your partner to compromise before both of you have stated your position will lead to resentment and an unfair solution. If your partner feels unheard, they will unlikely to be motivated to open up and hear your side of the story. It is only when both partners feel understood by each other that you can begin to work together to find a compromise.

If your partner does not feel understood and accepts your persuasion, over time they may resent you or undermine the solution you set.

Slow down, understand each other, and the solution will last.

4. Express Your Needs
As a speaker, it’s your responsibility to express your needs in a way that your partner can do something about that will be successful for you. The trap most people fall into is only expressing how they want to feel: “I want to feel more loved.”

The problem is that it gives your partner no clue how to help you feel that way. A better way to ask for more love is, “I need a romantic date night once a week and an overnight to a bed and breakfast every two months.” Be as specific as you can.

5. Believe Both Points of View are Valid
When partners believe there is only one truth, they argue tooth and nail for their own position. That belief is a dead end.

There is only one essential assumption that will make the conversation about hurt feelings or the aftermath of a fight workout constructively: that in every disagreement or miscommunication, there are always two points of view, and they are both valid.

Once you accept that idea, it’s no longer necessary to argue for your own position. Now you can focus on understanding and validating your partner’s position.

Note: Validation and understanding are not the same as compliance or agreement.
This process will only work if both partners agree that there are two valid viewpoints, and if BOTH partners are not focused  on “facts” but on understanding the other’s side of the event.

These five rules will guide you to stop fighting and start connecting in your relationship. If you find you and your partner’s core needs are at war with each other, don’t fret. Check out the 4 Steps to Overcome Relationship Gridlock here.

Additionally, Dr. John Gottman’s 40 years of research with thousands of couples has revealed an effective conflict blueprint that provides both the speaker and listener with responsibilities for making the conversation constructive.

This exercise has been proven to be the most effective way to use conflicts as a catalyst for increasing the romance, affection, and appreciation in your relationship.

If you stopped believing in love, read this essay now

IF YOU STOPPED BELIEVING IN LOVE, READ THIS ESSAY NOW

Karen Salmansohn

Have you endured a lot of heartbreak, and now you’ve stopped believing in love? I’m here to give you the courage and insights you need to trust love one more time. Read on…

It’s always fascinating to me the responses I receive when I tell women that if they want to break their Prince Harming patterns, then they must stop overly prioritizing finding a man who is sexy and successful.

They must ALSO prioritize finding a man who:

  • values growing
  • revels in open, honest communication
  • displays 20/20 listening skills
  • shows a  Gumby-like flexibility for compromise

Often women wind up laughing heartily at my description of this evolved kind of man.

They insist this type of man does not exist!

“You’re a female chauvinist! I’ve called these women.

I then further explain to these women how prejudiced they are being – because they cannot believe it’s possible for men to be emotionally evolved.

It’s no wonder these women have stopped believing in love!

How can they believe in love – when they have stopped believing there are men out there who are capable of communicating honestly and deeply from their hearts?

“You’re basically saying that all men are emotional bimbos,” I tell these women.

Usually the combo of the words “female chauvinist” and “emotional bimbo” shock these women into a fuller awareness of how gender-prejudiced they’re being.

Next up…

I tell these women that they must stop being “negative evidence collectors,” seeking proof that all men are “emotional bimbos.

Plus I warn these women about how they can accidentally encourage a self-fulfilling prophecy of bad behavior from their man –   if they treat a good man to their bad attitude toward him.

The solution?

I instruct these women to become “positive evidence collectors.

Their assignment: They must mindfully start to look for proof of the plentiful, wonderful Prince Charming–esque guys who are out there.

  • These good men could be married to or dating their lucky girlfriends.
  • Or they could be written up in the news.
  • Maybe they are working alongside them at their offices.
  • Plus they could even be in the very bed with them – right beside them!

Finally…

I warn women against using the words “always” and “never” – in either reference to their love life or men as a category.

Two examples:

  • “I will never find a man who values growing.”
  • “I always meet guys who cheat.”

Any time you create a sentence with an “always” and/or “never” you set yourself up with a limiting belief that can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and gloom.

Basically when you use “always” and/or “never” in a sentence, you put yourself in a hopeless, depressed frame of mind.

In fact…

Whenever I’m with someone who says they’re depressed, I assign them to jackhammer-drill down to find and dump their pesky “always” and/or “never.”

Usually one of these two words is at the root of their depression – draining them of faith and vitality.

The words “Always” and “Never” are liars.

They whisper mean beliefs into your subconscious and conscious mind, about how you will forever be unable to change your situation.

Psychologists call these beliefs “permanent” and “pervasive.”

They are wildly dangerous to your spirit and your potential for a happily ever after destiny.

The truth is:

It’s very rare that there’s a “never” or an “always” in someone’s life.

Have you stopped believing in love?

  • If so, try to locate your “always” and “never” limiting beliefs.
  • Try to understand the root of these beliefs. Do they come from your childhood and/or a series of bad experiences?
  • Next, be willing to unblock these limiting beliefs. Be open to the possibility that you can find a good partner – someone who truly has lots of emotionally evolved qualities!
  • This brings us to lawyer time. Pretend you’re a lawyer! Find proof that your “always” and “never” are liars!
  • Finally – get yourself to fully accept that good partners are very much walking around on this planet! Once you believe in the existence of these good quality people – you will be more likely to find them!!

It’s amazing how powerful changing your belief system can be. When you change the way you look at men and love, you wind up changing what you notice and find.

If you have (or had) toxic relationships of any kind, read this now!

IF YOU HAVE (OR HAD) TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS OF ANY KIND, READ THIS NOW!

Karen Salmansohn

This is a vulnerable story – about an unconventional therapist I saw – who helped me to learn how to get out of bad toxic relationships.

About a decade and a half ago I used to joke that for me all dating should be re-named ‘blind-dating” – and instead of saying I was “seeing someone right now” – I should be more honest, and say, “I’m dimly viewing someone.”

I remember I was once “dimly viewing” this particular guy. I’ve written about him before.

I explained how every time I said this guy’s name, my girlfriends would sing the theme song to Batman. Not because this man looked great in black Spandex tights. No, no. It was because he was a bad man.

“Dadadadadadada Bad-man! Bad-man!” my girlfriends would sing, right after I’d finish telling a particularly bad Bad-man episode—of which there were many.

Let’s call this ex of mine “Bruce Wayne” – to protect his not-so-innocent secret identity.

Today I want to share something I never told you about Bruce.

Ready?

Bruce’s “dadadadadada bad-behavior” began very early on – a few weeks into our relationship.

Yep, right out of the gate Bruce displayed what I felt were highly controlling and jealous behaviors, products of paranoia.

Yet I continued to date him.

I even went away with Bruce for a weeklong vacation in Turkey – where we had a very big fight one evening.  I made a silly joke to our Turkish waiter – who then laughed – and touched my shoulder before he left our table. Bruce then became convinced that I was flirting with this Turkish waiter.

Bruce specifically wanted to know if I’d rather be dating this Turkish waiter – a man who could barely speak English – plus lived well beyond a 5,000 mile radius of my zip code.

I kept reassuring Bruce I was not the teeniest bit interested in this Turkish dude – yet Bruce refused to talk to me for a full two days of our vacation!

When I came home from vacation, I sought out therapy.

I found a nice older psychotherapist, named Sid, who eventually became like a “grandfather from another great-grand-mother.” I adored Sid.

“You’ll never believe what Bruce said/did last night,” I’d begin each and every therapy session. And then I’d launch into another “Dadadadadadada Bad-man Episode”!

  • “Bruce said he doesn’t want me to have brunch with girlfriends on weekends anymore – unless he comes along.”
  • “Plus, he doesn’t want me to take an evening painting class – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.”
  • “Also, he doesn’t want me to go to the gym  – because he thinks I just want to meet someone.
  • “Aaaaannnd…he told me he doesn’t like it when I come home happy from work – because he worries I enjoy work more than him! He actually became angry the other day because I came home so happy!”

Each week I’d tell Sid story after story – quickly followed by rationalization after rationalization – always explaining why I should stay with Bruce.

“You know what your problem is Karen?” Sid asked me one session.  “You’re so smart, you’re stupid.”

I laughed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You are able to over-think things so much – that you wind up talking yourself out of what you already know.”

“So you think I should break up with Bruce?” I asked.

Sid sighed loudly. “I’m a therapist. I’m not supposed to tell you what to do. But if you want my honest opinion… I can’t believe you’re gonna stay with him, when he’s an asshole.”

“Wow! I can’t believe you just called Bruce an a***hole,” I said. “But you’re right, he is an a**hole.”

“Actually, I didn’t call HIM an a**hole! I called YOU an a**hole. You heard me wrong. I said, ‘If you continue to stay with Bruce, then YOU are an a**hole.’”

“What? I’m not the a**hole! Bruce is the a**hole!”

“At this point, Karen, if you stay with Bruce knowing what you know – then YOU are the a**hole.”

“I’m the a**hole?”

I repeated this word out loud – a word as opposite in content as a mantra could ever be – but alas, more powerful than any mantra I’d ever used.

This word “a**hole” became my wakeup call!

Sid was right. If I stayed with someone who was so very toxic to my wellbeing  – then I became the A**hole to me – for allowing this soul-crushing, freedom-squelching relationship to continue!

“Listen, Karen,” Sid said, “at this point in therapy we are simply wasting time talking about Bruce – and how messed up he is. Quite frankly, you are only using stories about Bruce to distract yourself from your real issues – and the important inner work you have to do on yourself. It’s time we talk about the white elephant in the room: your wounds! There’s obviously something so wounded inside of you, that you feel the need to stay with Bruce – when he is so toxic.

Although this story about toxic relationships happened well over a decade ago, I think about it often.

I particularly think about it whenever I’ve found myself starting to enter into what I intuit might be a toxic relationship – be it in love, business or friendship.

I feel if we’re not careful we can all find ourselves wasting a lot of precious tick-tocking time complaining about how badly someone is behaving towards us.

If you’re dealing with bad toxic relationships, you need to stop asking…

“Why is this person treating me this way?”  

“Why did this person do that crappy thing to me?”

“What is wrong with this person?”

“Are they an a**hole?”

“Sociopath?”

“Narcissist?”

“Isn’t this person simply just a terrible person?”

The really important questions to ask… so you can move on from bad toxic relationships…

“What did I miss in the vetting process that I allowed this person into my life?”

“What is wounded inside me that I choose/chose to stay with this person for as long as I do/did?”

“How can I grow from this experience – so it doesn’t repeat itself into a bad pattern?”

“Do I want to make this a story about how I was a victim – or how I became a victor?”

“Do I want to waste my time, thoughts and energy on toxicity or use it for a higher purpose?”

“Aren’t I wise and strong for how I moved on to be with better people and live better days?”

If you’re presently caught up in telling stories about the toxic misbehaviors of someone – the time has come to stop getting caught up in name-calling, contempt and blame.

The time has come to recognize you’re just distracting yourself with all the drama, chaos and static!

Yep, the more you stay with and/or complain about a toxic person, the more you’re merely delaying doing the important inner work you need to do – to heal your wounds, expand your limiting beliefs, and show yourself far more love and respect.

All of this time expended on them could be time spent on expanding you – growing who you are!

My lesson/your lesson:

  • Don’t be an a**hole to yourself.
  • Stop staying with (and/or complaining about) toxic people.
  • Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.

Heal and move on from toxic relationships.

When times are hard, remember this one thing

WHEN TIMES ARE HARD, REMEMBER THIS ONE THING

Angel Chernoff

One of the most important moments in life is the moment you finally find the courage and determination to let go of what can’t be changed. Because, when you are no longer able to change a situation, you are challenged to change yourself… to grow beyond the unchangeable. And that changes everything.

Of course, when hard times hit there’s a default human tendency to hold on—to extrapolate and assume the future holds more of the same. This doesn’t happen as often when things are going well. A laugh, a smile, and a warm fuzzy feeling are fleeting and we know it. We take the good times at face value in the moment for all they’re worth and then we let them go. But when we’re depressed, struggling, or fearful, it’s easy to heap on more pain by assuming tomorrow will be exactly like today. This is a cyclical, self-fulfilling prophecy. Know this! If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your present and future through that same dirty lens, and nothing will be able to focus your foggy judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that is worn out and false.

But make no mistake, this is more than simply accepting that life will improve as time passes. Yes, “time heals wounds,” but yours is not a passive role in the process of healing and moving past pain. The question is: where are your present steps taking you?

It doesn’t matter what’s been done; what truly matters is what YOU DO from here.

Realize that most people make themselves miserable simply by finding it impossible to accept life just as it is presenting itself right now.

Don’t be one of them!

Let go of your fantasies. This letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about something or someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself, in this moment.

The best action you can take right now is changing your thinking, instead of trying to change the broken world around you.

And there is a path. Marc and I have walked this path ourselves many times. A decade ago, in quick succession, we dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back, including losing my brother to suicide, losing a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, financial unrest, and more. Trials and tragedies strike indiscriminately and nobody is guaranteed safety. But, by changing your thinking, bad times and rocky patches can become the proving ground for achieving renewed happiness.

The key is to understand that no matter what happens, you can choose your response, which dictates pretty much everything that happens next. Truly, the greatest weapon you have against anxiety, negativity and stress is your ability to choose one present thought over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.

Yes, YOU CAN change the way you think! And once you do, you can master a new way to be.

Significant Mother

SIGNIFICANT MOTHER

Robert Landon

Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I share a home with her?

Beth and I first lived under the same roof in 1982, when I was 13. My father, who was 47 at the time, invited Beth, then 23, to spend the summer in the Maine lake house he and I had fixed up the summer before. I refused to leave my room the night she arrived.

Without laying eyes on her, I knew she would be another of Dad’s interchangeable “little chickies” as he called them — the skinny, busty former students he liked to date.

The next morning, I was eating Honey Nut Cheerios when I heard her coming down the stairs. My father had already retreated to his desk upstairs, purportedly to work on a lecture on Puritan literature, but mostly to take hits from a hidden bottle of vodka.

I planned to freeze Beth out of existence with my thoughts — a superpower every gay boy needed in the 80s. But instead of making awkward chitchat, Beth just smiled, picked up her copy of “Crime and Punishment,” and ate her own Cheerios in silence.

When done, she asked if I liked the book I was reading — stories by John Cheever. Dad asked such questions only to hear his own opinion. Beth was actually curious to know mine. She was making me like her before I had the chance to hate her.

Soon on sunny afternoons, Beth and I lay on the dock together, tanning and lightening our hair with lemon juice, as one did in the 80s. Neither mentioned a shared lust for a neighbor — a combination seminarian and jock — who joined us for a swim from time to time.

Dad and Beth married the following September. By May, two semesters later, my father’s tantrums had driven her away. Amazingly, he never once had an ill word to say about Beth. And this was a man who in five minutes could convince you Gandhi was a narcissist and Jesus a sociopath.

He did have bad things to say about his first wife, my mother. And she gave him reasons. Beneath her charms lay inchoate storms of hurt and aggression. As Dad was leaving her for the last time — I was 12, a year before Dad met Beth — she told him she was going to take me to “Luna,” a recent Bertolucci film. A terrible look came over his face, not rage this time but horror.

After he left, I was too terrified to look at the art house flyer taped to the fridge. My mother never did take me to see the movie, but a few years later, “Luna returned for a Bertolucci retrospective. This time I did read the flyer and wished I hadn’t. “Luna,” it turned out, was “the story of the incestuous relationship between a mother and her teenage son.”

To be clear, my mother had never acted on the themes of the film, but she craved an emotional closeness that was too much for a son to give.

At 17, I went as far away as I could, first to college in California and then on to a journalistic career I kept undercutting with debt-fueled geographic cures that never worked for long — not Los Angeles, not Paris, not even Rio de Janeiro.

At first, Beth and I stayed in touch, but like me, she kept moving. She married again, had a daughter, divorced and, as a social worker/actress, constantly chased cheap New York City rents. By around 1995, the handwritten phone numbers in our respective address books were no longer valid.

When Dad died in 2005, the vodka finally having wiped out his liver, my sister tracked down Beth’s email and cc’d me. I was living in Rio, where I thought I’d found both happiness and a mate for life. Right away, Beth and I were yakking the way we had on the dock. Soon, I was visiting her for weeks at a time, ostensibly to work on a screenplay but mostly just to be together.

In 2013, a Supreme Court decision legalized same-sex marriage, enabling my Brazilian husband, 14 years my junior, to immigrate to the United States as my spouse. We moved to Upper Manhattan — two blocks from Beth. The Brazilian complained that she and I analyzed movies to death. We both thought, but we live to analyze movies to death.

One afternoon, I left him on the couch playing video games and texting bar plans that I no longer wanted to be part of. I walked to Beth’s, where she and I talked about substantive things — books, movies, joys, griefs. On the way back, I realized I wasn’t just bored at home. I was also lonely.

It was the Brazilian who left in the end. Beth comforted me as neither of my parents nor the Brazilian could have — she was patient, protective but never pitying, sure of my strength.

Suddenly, she and I were both single and struggling to pay Manhattan rents. Why shouldn’t she move into my extra bedroom? I hesitated, ostensibly because of her clutter problem. I once left some junk mail on her coffee table, only to find it in the same place when I returned six months later. When I threw it away, she was actually a little sad. I, by contrast, strove for the modernist austerity of the homes I wrote about for architecture magazines, and threw away not only clutter but even things I actually needed.

However, clutter was just cover for a deeper fear. By living with my father’s former wife, would the incestuous waves, at last, pull me under?

In 2010, Mom learned that her gut discomfort was stage-four colon cancer. “Forgive me …,” she said nine months later, from her hospice bed. Whether because of the pain, the morphine, or her own hesitation, she couldn’t name the thing to be forgiven. “For … for … well, you know,” she said.

I had found peace with my dying mother, but was still haunted by her earlier avatar — the Medea willing to psychically drown her son. Beth was my ex-stepmother, but “mother” was still a part of her title. Could I really share a home with her?

Then when I was 47, I lost my biggest freelance client. My finances were in free fall. Two months later, Beth, by then 57, moved in. I gave her the master bedroom and the two largest closets. In return, she ceded all aesthetic control of common spaces.

The clutter problem turned out to be only a minor annoyance. When her things piled up, I placed them on her bed while she was out.

The Mommy issues took longer. I would share details of my own peccadilloes, but plugged my ears and hummed when Beth did the same. “So you can talk about sex and I can’t?” she asked. “I guess that’s another one of your double standards, sweetie.”

Like aversion therapy, this controlled exposure has had marvelously curative effects. Now, Beth can get as graphic as she wants, and it is fine — at least tolerable. And gradually I have come to see my mother as a charming, cultured woman who, in 1980s Baltimore, kept up with Italian cinema.

Beth and I still analyze movies to death, but now from the comfort of the sectional couch I bought with the Brazilian. I am still regrouping for my next foray into love and marriage, but most days that question seems moot.

I’m still learning that a happy home is constructed not with Modernist furnishings but emotional safety — a language that, after nearly four decades, Beth is still teaching me to speak.

Broken Toes

BROKEN TOES

Bruce Muzik

Before I share about the night I spent in jail (and how it relates to your marriage), I want to remind you that…

…there was a time when my wife and I could have described our relationship history like this:

Jerk meets Pain-In-The-Ass…

They fall in love…

They destroy each other fighting…

The End.

We couldn’t last longer than three days without a blowup.

We’d point fingers at each other.

She’d retreat to the bedroom. I’d storm out exasperated.

This went on and on, over and over again.

Yet, beneath our angry exteriors, both of us were in pain – hurt, sad and lonely – longing for comfort and connection.

You get the picture?

How did we get past all of that to being a great team together?

One of the big contributing factors was that we stopped trying to change each other and began accepting our differences.

There are skills needed to bring acceptance to your marriage:

1. Assume a Positive Intention
2. Appreciate How Your Differences Benefit You
3. Awareness of Broken Toes

Imagine that your relationship is like a partner dance with one of you leading and the other following.

In order to dance elegantly, you need to coordinate your steps.

Now, imagine that you each have a broken toe.

When you dance together, you both scream out in pain as you bump up against each other’s broken toes.

Of course, neither of you are aware of your own broken toe, so you push your partner away yelling,

“What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you just hurt me?”

Sound familiar?

What are broken toes?

They’re emotionally sensitive spots created in your past.

Here’s one from my past.

As a teenager I spent a night in jail for a crime I didn’t commit.

I was arrested for ‘stealing a car.’

The short version of the story is that I just happened to be near a car that was being stolen.

The police arrived out of nowhere and arrested me along with the thieves (assuming that I was one of them).

Ever since then, I’ve been hypersensitive to being wrongly accused.

It makes sense that I’d be hypersensitive after having gone to jail for something I didn’t do, right?

Knowing this about my past, my wife is sensitive to this ‘broken toe’ and is understanding of my overreaction when I perceive that she has wrongly accused me.

When she recognizes that my overreaction comes from my ‘jail-time’ broken toe, she doesn’t feel the need to defend herself.

Instead, she just holds me. Her gentle touch helps pull me out of the past and back into the present moment.

Make sense?

Your ability to build emotional safety between you and your wife is directly proportionate to your awareness (and respect) of her broken toes.

I Got Married in Jeans but Our Marriage Got Serious

I GOT MARRIED IN JEANS BUT OUR MARRIAGE GOT SERIOUS

Luke Dani Blue

Editor’s Note: We’ve been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman Institute. Submit your Real Relationship story here.

Last February, my sister-in-law asked my partner, Migueltzinta, “Do you and Luke ever think of getting married?” At the time, Tzinta and I had been married for four years.

It’s not so surprising that she would have forgotten. Tzinta and I got married as we do all things: on our own, impulsive terms and with a (dignified) F-you to social expectations. In this case, at a courthouse under a papier-mache Valentine’s Day heart, with a diner breakfast as a celebratory chaser. Migueltzinta wore a tie. I’m pretty sure I was wearing jeans.

We’d been together for three and a half years, and already agreed we wanted to be together for life, when we ordered our fateful seafood molcajete on the balcony of a touristy restaurant in southern Guadalajara. Octopus tentacles sizzled in the lava rock, the green salsa bubbled, and the tortillas were soft as worn-in denim. Food that good merited a dramatic gesture. 

“Should we get married?” I asked. “Okay,” he said. We exchanged a look—I dare youNo, dare you—and grinned at each other. Hetero couples and families strolled in the courtyard below the balcony. We were invisible up there in the dark, savoring the dish too large and messy for most people to bother ordering, suddenly engaged. Although we were the only people to whom any of this was a shock, we loved the feeling of our own outrageousness. How dare we betray expectations by doing the one thing most expected of any couple, and yet with so little apparent regard for what it was supposed to mean?

The thing was, we both said “married” and “wedding” with fingers crooked into quotes. It’s not exactly that we were too cool for marriage. We were too skeptical. We were trans people who had spent our childhoods deconstructing girlhood and our adulthoods questioning and violating the rules of manhood. Tzinta regularly posted nude pictures on the internet, hashtagging them #ManPussy. I cringed involuntarily when anyone referred to me with either male or female pronouns, but was going through a long hair and skirts phase. Because of the vagaries of identification laws, my revised birth certificate had an ‘M’ on it and butch Tzinta’s had an ‘F’, meaning that legally, we were straight. This, especially, titillated us. Marriage was a fancy house we hadn’t been invited into and we wanted to dance on the sofa in muddy shoes.

We had no plans to be monogamous, wear rings, change our names, or label either of ourselves husband or wife or some cutesy genderqueered alternative (wifeband? Hufe?). We also weren’t going to pretend that stamping our relationship with a “MARRIED” sticker changed its fundamental makeup, gave it a fresh beginning, or made it safer. Break-ups still happened to married people, as did jealousy, betrayal, and loneliness. All marriage meant, really, was that we could visit each other in the hospital and that no cop or court or interfering parent could split us up. That felt like one big gay freedom.


This past November, Tzinta fell in love with a trans guy who lives far away. Swiftly, the rest of our relationship seemed to collapse too: trust, plans for the future, our ability to laugh audaciously at the same jokes.

I binged on therapy podcasts, stayed up all night doing online quizzes about attachment trauma, and checked out piles of relationship books from the library. Even the best of them (the ones by Harriet Lerner, the Gottmans, and Esther Perel) tended to describe predictable behavior dynamics between a male and female partner. The men, it seemed, were supposed to evade intimacy and seek independence. The women in the case studies tended to get clingy, dread abandonment, and over-accommodate.

Hungry for any help at all, I tried my best to apply the examples to our relationship. Which of us is the man? I found myself wondering. Also, which of us is the woman? Tzinta is, without question, very manly. He loves western wear, has a well-oiled beard and when lost in thought, which is often, frowns with crossed arms, gazing into the middle distance. Like the men in the books, Tzinta kept telling me he wanted more space and more silence. He wanted to do a solo three-month road trip and camp the whole way. He wanted lots of sex, with other guys. He wanted to run. It seemed like lately all he wanted to do was run. Man, man, man.

All wanted lately was his approval and attention. I wanted him to walk in the door excited to see me. I wanted to be enough for him. This qualified me for the woman role. Maybe. Except that earlier in our relationship, I’d fallen for someone else too and all I’d wanted then was to push Tzinta away. I’d fantasized about moving into a studio apartment and single-mindedly pursuing my career with a few lovers on the side for entertainment. Man?

The fact was, Tzinta fit the “woman” role better than I did. Besides the stereotypical stuff—he loves clothes, especially glittery or tight ones; he cries a lot; he’s extremely empathetic—the reasons he was mad at me were “woman” reasons: I didn’t make him feel pretty, I didn’t support him, I wasn’t a good listener, I shut down in the face of his feelings, he was tired of sacrificing his personal desires for mine.

Defeated, I pushed aside the pile of books and closed the computer. It was late. Exhaustion beat hotly against the insides of my eyelids. Tzinta was asleep downstairs but he felt a million miles away. Any other time in our relationship, I could have savored this joke, knowing I’d share it with him in the morning. “I realized,” I would say, “that you just have more gender than I do.” It would have been hilarious to think that Tzinta was both more of a man and more of a woman than I was, if I hadn’t been terrified that I was about to lose him.


Tzinta was going away for a long weekend. Our goodbye was chilly. He pushed me away, then cried and wanted me to come close again. It was the same hot-cold stuff that had been going on for months. I felt like a spaceship leaving earth’s orbit, Tzinta’s pain and frustration winking far below before being swept into blackness. I thought, how much more of this can I take? Tzinta kissed me and the dog, got in the car, and drove away. 

As soon as he was gone, the blackness of outer space turned out to be a hurt larger than comprehension. It kept sneaking up and pouncing. I’d thrash on the floor until the mauling stopped, then get up and continue whatever I’d been doing. It took five hours to do laundry. 

We didn’t talk or text that weekend. Instead, we contemplated life without one another. It turned out, as it always seems to, that my life would go on without him. I didn’t like it, but it was imaginable. 

Do fights ever end or do they just go to sleep? Does love? Maybe, I thought, getting older is knowing that there is no exit. I could lose Tzinta or not but I would still be wedded to myself. Still circling my own fears and wounds with whoever else was on hand.

On Monday, Tzinta came back. I let him in. We talked. For the first time in a long, long while, we also listened.


The darkest period in our eight-year relationship has, I hope, passed. For reasons of their own, Tzinta and his lover broke up. It didn’t make our problems go away. It didn’t make the things I’ve done over the years that hurt Tzinta magically erase themselves and it didn’t make the ways he’s hurt me this year not matter.

Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about our courthouse wedding. Particularly, about this thing that happened while we were responding to the courthouse-provided vows. “I do,” said Tzinta, tears rolling down his cheeks. My hands stiffened in his. I felt pure fear. Not over the commitment—I had committed to him in my heart months before—but because of his tears. I had thought getting married didn’t mean anything other than a beautiful dare, a crazy joyride through heteronormative convention. But when Tzinta cried, it dawned on me that I missed something. Some complexity, some reason it could make him weep.

At the time, I thought I was just embarrassed about my jeans and lack of tears—the general discomfort of not matching Tzinta’s intensity. Now, though, I wonder if I was, simply, sad. After all, I had missed the opportunity to make the symbol of marriage my own.


I still don’t believe that marriage is inherently meaningful or that the four years Tzinta and I have been married can really be distinguished from the four years we weren’t. In my mind, the clock of us begins on my birthday in 2011, when we were two near-strangers shyly grinding in a sweaty queer bar in Mexico City. Each year since then has added a layer of complexity. 

Now, in this pit of difficulty, love, and effort, is the most married we have ever been. By which I mean, I think, we’ve done the most growing into and through our emotional bond. That would be just as true without a piece of paper from Alameda County.

But I wish we had some vows to fall back on, rather than a list of negatives, like “not monogamous,” “not embracing false security,” and “not becoming our parents.” In the dark, it’s good to have a light to circle back to. Something to remind you who the two of you are together. Even a rule or two would be nice, so long as they were good ones, like “remember to give compliments” or “go on dates.”

Recently, I said to Tzinta, “Maybe we should have a real wedding.” He considered that but said it would feel like we were trying to start over. He didn’t want to start over, he said. It had been enough work to get to where we were. Hearing that, I again felt the sadness of a missed opportunity. A weight began to resettle on my chest.

“Let’s do a huge party for our tenth anniversary instead,” he suggested. And because he is still him, and I am still me, I said, impulsively, willingly, full of a sense of brightness, “Okay.” And then, “What food are we going to serve?”

What Does Trust and Commitment Look Like in a Relationship?

WHAT DOES TRUST AND COMMITMENT LOOK LIKE IN A RELATIONSHIP?

Mary Beth George

With bellies miserably full of Thai beef and noodles, he washed the dishes and I dried. “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran was playing in the background.

When your legs don’t work like they used to before
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love
Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks

“We’ll start our low carb diet tomorrow. This time for real,” I said with conviction to my husband, Sean.

He nodded in agreement. He’s heard it before. But he knows my weaknesses after 25 years together, noodles being at the top of the list. I overeat and then complain.

Instead of judging me, he grabbed a bottle of wine and some dark chocolate (this man really knows me) and sat down at the table to continue our quiet, stay-at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

“So, who wants to go first?” he asked.

Earlier in the day, I told him I wanted to have the first date from John and Julie Gottman’s new book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Each date is focused on a topic crucial to a healthy relationship.

“I do!” I said, not giving him a chance to respond.

Date One is “Lean on Me: Trust and Commitment.” Conversation topics include: What does trust and commitment look like in our relationship? How can we make each other feel safe? What are our agreements about trust and commitment?

After reading that chapter earlier in the day, I followed the directions in the book and compiled a list of things I cherish about Sean. While there were many things on my list, there were ten that stood out. I envisioned sharing in David Letterman Top 10 List fashion.

Trust, Cherishing, and Commitment

When we cherish our partner, we feel that they’re irreplaceable. We simply cannot imagine our lives without them, even when times are rough. We find ways to tell them that we appreciate them, and do that often. This builds trust in the relationship.

Cherishing and commitment go together, but they’re different. Commitment is really a verb because it is the actions we take daily to let our partner know we are with them, and that we make decisions with them in mind.  

When we choose commitment, we resist temptation to betray our partner. We create trust and safety by turning towards them to work out our differences. Gratitude is nurtured by knowing what we have rather than focusing on what we don’t have. There is no gossiping or trashing of our partner to others.  

Commitment in Action

Sean and I have had our share of difficult times, that’s for sure. When our son was a colicky infant we leaned on each other for support despite being sleep deprived and cranky with one another. When my mother and beloved dog both died in the same year, I had a hard time shaking off my depression. We argued more than ever and found ourselves in couples counseling. Despite these and other challenges, we never gave up on one another.

The thing that sealed the deal for me was when I had a major health crisis 12 years ago. My mysterious illness had my doctors stumped and I was terrified. Our lives were turned upside down for months on end with scary symptoms and no treatment. My life and my outlook were forever changed. It wasn’t until I got a diagnosis and learned to manage my chronic symptoms that I could reflect on how it changed us as a couple.

I had been too absorbed in my own fear to recognize how scared my husband was, too. His life was also forever changed. But instead of complaining, he expressed cherishing and commitment by supporting me through my illness in ways that I took for granted at the time.

He rubbed my back when I was scared. He drove me to the Emergency Room in the middle of the night on countless occasions. When I had to change my diet, he joined me. He developed a patience with me that had not been there before. He was less quick to anger over small stuff and he started leaving love notes for me.

While he never came out and said it, almost losing me made him realize how much I meant to him. I felt loved and cared for. We now joke that my near-death experience is the secret to our healthy marriage.

Thinking Out Loud

As I compiled my Top 10 List for our date, I realized I was describing our everyday life. I wrote down things like playing and laughing together, and that we get each other’s sense of humor.

I wrote down raising a child and dogs together, a connection that is precious to us but was often fraught with stress, cleaning up bodily functions and money we could have spent in far more fun ways.

I wrote down being comfortable to be myself with Sean and having my faults and bad habits accepted. And that includes binge eating noodles, knowing full well I will complain about it afterwards.  

The song was still playing as I started reading my list to him.

So honey now
Take me into your loving arms
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars
Place your head on my beating heart
I’m thinking out loud
Maybe we found love right where we are

Yes, I believe we have found love right where we are. And I could hardly wait to tell him.

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