Category Archives: Communication


How to Have a Better Conversation and Connect With Others

When we think about the ways in which we communicate with others on a daily basis, the act of actually speaking and sharing conversation with people may not be as high on the list as it once was. Instead, we find that most of our communication is digital – text, email, liking or commenting on status updates. While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with staying connected though technology, it does leave gaps in our human connection – without speaking with someone face to face, how close can we really be to them?

In the below video, Celeste Headlee tackles this issue head on by bringing to light the problems we have directly talking to one another and maintaining non-offensive and worthwhile conversation. Watch below and come back for an exploration of the ten tips she describes for being a better conversationalist – we’ll be exploring these though the lens of how they apply to our most personal relationships.

Now that we’ve heard about these tips, let’s consider how they work in our closest relationships – those with our partners, children, and dearest loved ones.

  1. Don’t multitask – This means that in order to truly connect, we must dedicate ourselves to focusing on the conversation and only that. It can be hard to do, especially when we live busy lives! What we don’t want is for our partners to think that they aren’t a priority – we need to make sure those we care about know that we care enough to invest our time with them.
  2. Don’t pontificate – Meaning holding back opinions that we feel are right, and being open to learning. This may be one of the most important tips in the context of personal relationships, because it allows us the space in a conversation to see potential for compromise and a willingness to hear the opinions of others.
  3. Ask open-ended questions – This is a wonderful tip for bringing out more fruitful conversation with someone whom we are trying to build (or rebuild) a relationship with. By giving someone else the space to think carefully about their responses with who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, and for us to listen to their answers, we dive much more deeply into their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
  4. Go with the flow – Don’t stop listening because you’ve thought of something you’d like to say or ask. Let your loved one talk. If it’s that important, bring it up in a later conversation. Don’t disrupt the flow of speaking to someone else with your own agenda.
  5. Say “I don’t know” – Maintain your credibility with loved ones by being open when you don’t have the answer to something. Better yet, make a commitment to finding answers if possible and working through unknowns together.
  6. Don’t equate your experience with theirs – When a loved one opens up to you about something they are experiencing, they aren’t seeking an understanding of the circumstances – they are seeking an acceptance of their feelings. Focus on the feelings and provide support to those when you feel the urge to compare stories.
  7. Don’t repeat yourself – At best, this can make it seem as though you aren’t paying attention; at worst, that you are being condescending. Trust your loved ones to hear you the first time and only repeat yourself when it’s clear that hasn’t happened.
  8. Stay out of the weeds – Again, when it isn’t needed, avoid oversharing details that someone doesn’t really care about. Focus on the big picture and answer questions about “the weeds” if they arise.
  9. Listen – Pay attention to the person speaking. Carefully think about their words until they are done speaking, and give them time to finish their thoughts without cutting them off. Give your energy to this and avoid “filling in the blanks” with your own thoughts and beliefs.
  10. Be brief – While this may not always be the case, your time with loved ones may be limited – make sure you spend your time in conversation wisely, using it to build deeper connections and help them to feel the support you provide them.

When couples come to therapy, one of the greatest complaints is the feeling of lost connection, often as a result of not taking the time to have conversation. With the above, you can start rebuilding this in your own relationship or prevent lost connection in the future.

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When We Blame First: How Do We Let Go of This?

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When we experience a negative event in our lives, how many of us find ourselves reacting immediately with placing blame on others? Why do we do this and what are the negative impacts of this on ourselves and our relationships? In this post, we’ll be exploring the blame process and why this reaction comes so easily for people, the detrimental impacts of this, and what we can do to shut this reaction down more readily over time.

To understand why we blame others, let’s take a look at this brief video featuring Brene Brown. Here, she openly shares her own struggles with blaming and provides valuable insight as to why we do this.

From this, we see two important points about why we blame:

  1. It is a way that we attempt to find some reason for why something unexpected happens; therefore, we are creating a semblance of control for our minds in uncontrollable circumstances.
  2. It is a projection of our anger and pain, a quick way of expressing these emotions without the trouble of holding ourselves or someone else accountable.

There are a few problems with the “quick-to-blame” mentality. First, we aren’t addressing the root of our problem – by first blaming others when something bad happens, we are putting a stopper on reasonable and effective communication. Second, we put others in the position of dealing with the mental hurdles that we’ve navigated to place blame on them, hurdles that may not make sense to anyone but ourselves. When we don’t clearly explain why we are upset about something, and instead point fingers at our loved ones for things seemingly out of their control, we further reinforce the walls we have in our relationships. Both of these things have the potential to contribute to more and more relationship problems, such as stonewalling, anger, and a refusal to hear our partner’s side of things.

If you find yourself jumping to blame first, consider the following strategies to prevent this reaction:

  • Stop and breathe: When something unexpected happens, take a moment to process before saying anything. Analyze your thoughts. Are you already starting to place blame? Is the blame process logical or rooted in a place of anger and frustration?
  • Consider the source: If blame is coming from a place of anger, what caused this anger in the first place? For example, in Brene’s scenario, it wasn’t the spilled coffee – it was that her partner was late to return home. What might be happening in your relationship that’s causing negative feelings that you haven’t shared?
  • Discuss how you feel: While it may not be productive or enjoyable to feel the need to blame, it is a sign that there is something bothering you that you haven’t communicated. When this happens, take the time to engage in self-reflection and figure out what you need to communicate; then, do it without placing blame. Try to hold yourself accountable to holding others accountable in a respectful and empathetic way.

Through the need to blame, we are given the opportunity to peek into the issues facing our relationship – while letting go of blame, let’s commit to working towards more effective ways of communicating out needs and feelings with our partners.


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Embedding Acceptance Into Your Partnership

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

Of the many things we hear about making a marriage happy, the goal of accepting our partners for who they are is often listed as a necessity. But what does this actually mean? And how will we know when we’ve reached acceptance? In this article, we explore what acceptance actually is and how it can shift the direction and nature of our partnerships to a more positive and healthy place.

Acceptance is defined as the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered; of being received as adequate or suitable. In the couple’s relationship, acceptance means inclusion, approval, security, safety, and being happy with one’s flaws. One of the biggest shifts offered by acceptance versus other partnership traits is the idea that we must be accepting of others as they are. This can be a challenge, because in order to do this effectively, it requires that we also admit that we are flawed and less than perfect. From this, we must be willing to take on our partner’s perspective and understand where they are coming from, realizing that we are not going to change our partners, that they are a different person that we are, and that those differences are okay.

The above video shares a fantastic example of building acceptance into the way you communicate with your partner. By approaching your partner with an attitude of “they are who they are,” without interjecting judgment or disapproval, it allows you to work together towards a more joyous and equitable relationship. Once we’ve achieved acceptance, we can establish togetherness, commit to agreed goals, improve communication, and feel calmer and worthier in the presence of our partner.

To move to achieving acceptance, consider the following questions:

  • What might be motivating the values that your partner holds?
  • How do the differences between you and your partner create struggles in your relationship?
  • How do the differences between you are your partner create strength in your relationship?

Remember, acceptance doesn’t mean always seeing eye to eye; it means approaching arguments with accepting that your partner is and always will be different from you, that they hold their own perspective, and that there is nothing wrong with how they think or feel. To truly move forward together, we must accept that our partner is a different person from us and that those differences are what give our relationship the balance and fortitude to last in the long-term.

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Conflict: Use It, Don’t Diffuse It

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When you hear the word “conflict,” what are some of the images that come to mind? Fighting? Arguing? Anger? While conflict may not be most comfortable thing to deal with in a relationship, the truth is that it happens. Every couple will experience moments of conflict, of disagreement, of different perspectives. Conflict in itself isn’t a bad thing – it is how we deal with conflict that can make a situation positive or negative. Before diving into some self-assessment, take a look at the following video to learn more about conflict and how we can re-purpose this issue to work in our favor.

Now that we have a better understanding of conflict, let’s consider the following questions. This exercise can be done individually or in a conversation with your partner. The purpose is to learn more about your personal conflict styles and how these can be used to make conflict work for your relationship.

  • Reflect on your childhood and earliest experiences of conflict. How was conflict modeled for you growing up? What happened when you engaged in conflict as a child?
  • Think about a recent conflict you’ve experienced. What feelings arose in you during this?
  • What is your approach to dealing with conflict day to day? Do you prefer to avoid it, escalate it, or engage with it?
  • What are your personal triggers for the fight, flight, or freeze response? What kinds of situations cause these, and do you react in different ways in different circumstances?
  • In your relationship, do you or your partner actively avoid or diffuse conflict frequently? Has this resulted in disengagement from the relationship?
  • In what ways do you and your partner commit to being vulnerable and curious when experiencing conflict? How can you embed these strategies into future conflicts and hold each other accountable to trying them more often?

By taking the time to reflect and have an open conversation about conflict, you and your partner are already engaging in curiosity and vulnerability. What does that feel like for each of you? It probably isn’t as bad as you’d expect! Next time you see conflict rising, remember to keep your mind and heart open, communicate your feelings and needs, and be ready to hear a different perspective (and share yours as well).

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How Do You Fight For Love?

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

How do you fight for love? The question might put some people off – when you’re in love, aren’t you supposed to get along? But fighting as we often think of it – the hurt feelings, the anger, the pain – doesn’t need to be unproductive. In fact, conflict – the times when we don’t get along well with our partners – is necessary for a partnership to grow and evolve toward long-term, sustained happiness.

In this video, Bruce Muzik from Love At First Fight shares with us the myth that conflict is something to be avoided in our relationships. The truth, we discover, is that conflict is simply a natural power struggle that happens in every relationship. Watch the video below to learn more about how we can shift our perception of conflict and use this experience to strengthen our relationships.

To really embrace the change needed to make conflict a positive experience in your relationship, it requires both partners to take ownership, have insight, and trust that the other partner is “in the fight” with them, not against them. Consider the following questions for yourself and your partner as you reflect on the message of the video:

  • What messages did you and your partner receive about conflict growing up? How was handling conflict modeled for you by the adults in your lives?
  • What are the typical triggers for the conflicts you engage in the most? What are the underlying fears associated with these triggers?
  • What is your fighting style? What is your partner’s? (You can view the pdf hand-out on the fighting styles here)
  • How can you and your partner work together to prevent reactive conflict?
  • Practice having a conscious fight – how is that experience different from a reactive fight? How can you keep these conflicts productive and meaningful?
  • How can you remind each other to focus on the principles of conscious fighting when a reactive fight is happening?

With these keys in mind, couples can work together to ease the pain of conflict and move past the power struggle stage. Use the hand-out from the Love at First Fight page to explore this concept further and practice these principles in your day-to-day interactions. And remember:


Falling in Love is Easy… Sustaining Love is Hard

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

In 1997, Art Aron and his team of researchers published a study outlining the effects of asking a series of 36 questions to a stranger and having a conversation around each participant’s answers. The goal was to increase feelings of interpersonal closeness, but what researchers found was much more – participants reported falling in love.

Since then, multiple researchers and love experts have examined the 36 questions, seeking how these can be used not just to build trust in new relationships, but to reestablish it for long-term partners, and how the effects of the questions can be sustained long-term.

In this TedTalk, Mandy Catron shares with the audience her experience with the 36 questions and the unanticipated consequences of publicizing this information.

Mandy emphasizes that there isn’t a magic formula that makes these questions so effective – it’s the experience of being forced to open up, be vulnerable, and be heard. No matter how easy it is to fall in love, keeping that love, sustaining that love, isn’t as simple as just learning about and listening to one another. Consider these questions for yourself:

  • How do you decide who deserves your love?
  • How to do stay in love when times get tough?
  • How do you know when to walk away from love when it isn’t healthy?
  • How do you live with the fear and doubt that eventually enters your life when you’ve made the decision to open yourself up to love?

To read more about the 36 questions, take a look at this New York Times article. While you may not be experimenting to create love with a stranger, these are still fantastic questions to build intimacy with your partner.


Thoughts on the Six Keys to Relationship Success

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

When researchers look at the root of what makes some relationships successful and what causes others to fail, themes around life circumstances, personal qualities, and the nature of the relationship begin to emerge. In a brief video featuring Art Aron, Anatomy of Love has beautifully articulated the six keys to relationship success that research has shown again and again to work. Take a moment to visit their page and watch the video, then come on back for some thoughts on this.

Now that you’ve seen what the six keys are, let’s think about how they can apply in your own relationship. Review the below and answer the questions as honestly as you can:

  1. What levels of stress do you and your partner currently experience? What stress is caused by external forces out of your control, and what is caused by things you CAN control? Do you and your partner take circumstantial stress out on each other? Are you actively working to reduce and cope with your stress in healthy ways?
  2. Who supports your relationship? Who can you turn to for help or guidance when you need it? Are you and your partner actively sustaining friendships and relationships with important people in your lives? If not, how can you make the time and commit to doing this?
  3. Are either you or your partner experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns at any level? If so, how is this being treated? Are you engaged in taking care of yourself and supporting your partner to do the same?
  4. How satisfied are each of you with the others’ communication style? How do you feel when a conflict is resolved? Do you take the time to improve your communication together? If not, what is something you could commit to doing to work on this skill?
  5. Are you capitalizing in your relationship by taking the time to learn about and celebrate the successes of your partner? Do you make the time to be proud of your partner’s achievements?
  6. Do you and your partner make the time to try new things together consistently? What’s the last thing you did together that was a new experience for both of you? When was the last time this happened? How can you make the time to enjoy making new memories more often?

By answering the above, you should have a better sense of your relationship strengths and some areas that may need a little work. Consider next where your relationship is at: Have you achieved “okay”? Are you each ready to move beyond that and thrive?


The Art of Listening – Inspiration for Connection From Tara Brach

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

Tara Brach, renowned psychologist and meditation expert, shares with us in the following video the importance of intentional listening and, through humor, understanding, and acceptance, shows how this skill can create an atmosphere of love that improves our bonding and connection to our partners.

She describes listening as “the vehicle to a true connection.” How does this resonate in your own life? For many of us, feeling heard by our partners is one of the keys to a successful relationship. When we are listened to, we feel that our beliefs are validated, that our partner’s have a deeper understanding of where we are coming from, and that our loved ones are more closely connected to who we are as individuals. Listening gives us the space to connect with our partners as well, to hear and validate their feelings just as we wish for them to do for us.

Listening is not the same as hearing – it is an active and cultivated skill. It requires intent and courage. As you listen to the below talk, consider how you apply the following principles of effective listening in your own relationship:

  • Committing to cultivating a presence: Do you make the time to listen without interruptions?
  • Listening without planning a response: Are you listening to the words of the other person, or do you find yourself thinking of how you will respond before they are finished speaking?
  • Listening without judgement: Do you listen with a clear mind, without making assumptions about what is being shared? Or do you find yourself crafting an opinion or theory about what the speaker is saying?
  • Listening with your heart: Do you make active efforts to understand the feelings behind the words you hear? Are you allowing yourself the vulnerability to connect with your loved on a deeper level?



How Empathy Can Improve Bonding and Connection in Your Relationship

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

A couple comes in for marriage counseling to improve their communication and intimacy. After some time, the wife says, “My husband doesn’t appreciate everything I do for our family.” The husband immediately becomes defensive and replies: “She doesn’t understand how hard I work and what I go through.”

There’s an issue here, but not necessarily a lack of appreciation or gratitude. The problem is deeper – the couple’s ability to empathize with one another. Without empathy, the problems of this couple can multiply, leading to long-term consequences for their relationship. In this article, we’ll take a look at the concept of empathy and how you can use this to build up your partnership and increase intimacy, understanding, and togetherness.

Defining Empathy

According to Gottman, empathy is about understanding someone else’s emotions.  It means stepping away from your own perception and embracing the experience of someone else’s life.

When empathy is used effectively, when we truly step into the perspective of another, we reap considerable benefits. A study by Duncan and Jowette found that perceived empathy among 149 couples was positively associated with relationship satisfaction and negatively associated with depression and conflict. It’s something that every couple can use to improve or repair a struggling relationship – but it requires commitment and hard work.

The terms empathy and sympathy are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Sympathy is marked by an attempt to recognize the emotions of another, to feel sorry, and to be impacted by those feelings. Empathy is a much deeper action, as it requires one to change their perspective and share another’s experience vicariously, as if they were in their place. Let’s take a deeper look at the differences here:

Components of an Empathetic Relationship

A study by Pristang, Picoiotto and Barker examined 18 couples’ communication of empathy during the transition to parenthood. They concluded that couples showed high empathy levels when:

  • They checked out and explored their partners’ meaning of their concerns: When there is a problem or disagreement, this means taking a moment to rationally discuss the issue at hand without getting defensive or avoidant. What is the disagreement? Do both partners agree to the issue and what it entails? What stance does each partner take and why?
  • They acknowledged their partner’s concerns: Each partner recognizes and validates that there is a disagreement and values the difference of opinions that exist around the issue.
  • They articulated the meaning or summarized the partner’s issues: After listening and hearing the voice of their partner, the other partner is capable of understanding where that person is coming from.
  • They offered solutions: Instead of avoiding or stonewalling, each partner shares mutual solutions that demonstrate an understanding of each’s experience and live in the spirit of compromise and mutual respect.
  • They agreed on a mutual, shared experience: Partners commit to a solution together, continuing to check in with one another about the steps taken and make agreed upon adjustments as needed.

Are You Embracing Empathy in Your Relationship?

imagesDr. Gottman describes empathy as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared. He cites it as the key to attunement with your partner, as well as essential to the emotional coaching style of parenting. Take a look at the questions below and consider how often they apply in your own relationship:

  • How often do you and your partner take each others’ perspectives? Even when your partner isn’t willing to, how often do you hear their words and place yourself in their shoes?
  • When having a conversation where your partner is facing an issue, how often do you keep advice, opinions, and consolations out of your words? Instead, how often do you allow yourself to simply “be there” for your partner?
  • When your partner is expressing a concern, how often do you look for the deeper meaning and emotion underlying the problem first, versus attempting to argue or solve the problem?
  • How often do you validate your partner’s feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, or any other feelings they may be experiencing, without telling them that they are wrong to feel that way, getting defensive about your actions, or trying to “cheer them up”?

To truly embrace empathy, both partners in a relationship should answer the above questions with “often” or “frequently.” If these actions rarely or never take place, empathy in the relationship is lacking and the partnership may suffer.

Integrating Empathy Into Your Partnership

So what can we do to use empathy more effectively in our relationships? Couples can try the following techniques to increase their empathetic communication and, thus, their bonding and relationship satisfaction.

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  • Give your partner loving attention every day: Spend treasured moments together, greet one another with happiness, and take the time to share openly about feelings.
  • Pay attention to your partner’s feelings: Especially when couples are first starting out with building empathy, partners may not feel comfortable openly sharing their feelings. You can begin by paying attention to your partner’s moods and ask questions: “You seem to be feeling sad – am I correct or misinterpreting?”
  • Validate your partner’s feelings when they are shared: One of the greatest keys to empathy is this – all feelings are okay. Feelings are simply feelings. While you may not have the same feeling in a similar circumstance, the fact your partner feels a certain way is a result of their own personhood, and nothing about that is wrong. When your partner shares how they are feeling, simply validate: “Thank you for sharing that you are feeling angry – I appreciate your trust in me to tell me that.” Do not try to dissuade, convince, or fix the feeling – be okay sitting with that emotion.
  • Work together to overcome problems: Once a shared respect of feelings is established with empathy, continue to use this tool to come to mutually-derived solutions. “What can I do to help you experience this feeling less in our relationship?” “How can I bring more joy into your life?” “What solution to this issue would cause both of us the most joy?”

Empathy has the power to transform the feelings of togetherness, understanding, and love between partners when used effectively. It brings the friendship back into a partnership, where both partners know they have each others’ back.

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How To Make Love Last In The Age Of Instant Gratification: A Speech by Dr. Sue Johnson

By Orly Katz, LCPC at Everyday Counseling and Coaching Services

“Nothing grows people like love.” – Dr. Sue Johnson

What a remarkable and inspiring presentation by Dr. Sue Johnson, renowned psychologist and expert on love in modern relationships. In this speech, Dr. Johnson presents her theory on the science of love and intimacy. Through decades of research, she has come to the conclusion that love is an evolutionary adaptation, one that gives us enormous strength and resiliency, but also can make us vulnerable to feelings of fear and rejection.

As you watch this speech, consider the following key points and how they might resonate in your own relationship:

  • When a couple fights, it isn’t about a power struggle – it’s an expression of the grief and frustration that comes with feeling a loss of connection with one’s partner.
  • For someone in love, being criticized by their partner feels no different in the brain than feeling tremendous physical pain – both are threats.
  • Healthy couples understand that with love, there are moments of fear. That partners are capable of scaring one another. The couple who thrives acknowledges these moments, steps back, and soothes one another.
  • Healthy couples hold each other tight, give comfort, and are kind to each other.

Consider… is the answer to the question, “ARE you there for me?” a resounding YES in your own partnership?

Is your partner accessible to you?

Will your partner respond to you when you turn to them?

Does your partner give the attention you need and provide you comfort?