How Avoiding People or Things Means Rejecting Ourselves.

When we avoid dealing or responding to a situation or person, we
are really saying no to the hard things that are coming up within ourselves
when dealing with that situation. *Whether we are conscious of these hard feelings or not.*

This is really unfortunate, because those hard feelings can be a great
opportunity for us to understand those parts of ourselves — what’s
really going on? Why does this suck so much? How do I make peace and
embrace this part of myself? Or how do I grieve this pain I’m feeling?

While there may not be any obvious, tangible consequences when we just
let time gloss over the things we avoid,  the true consequence lies in rejecting and burying pieces of who we are. When we reject & bury hard feelings that come up by avoiding hard situations, it’s hard for us to live from a place of truly being ourselves and letting others know who we are as well (i.e. not really giving people we care about the chance to love us as a whole – just the fragmented parts we choose to engage with).

So…where does the avoidance strategy come from?

Often people who choose avoidance as a strategy when the hard stuff comes up are acting from a pattern they developed waaaaay back when they were an infant. Adult avoiders were typically parented by people who were dismissing of emotional attachment in relationships. These parents would often normalize all experiences as being “excellent, or normal” without supporting those statements with concrete experiences/evidence and in some cases, stating contradictory support of these “normalizing” statements. When talking about emotions or attachment, their parents would tend to be brief and only highlight the “normal or good”, while not attending to the bad. When caregivers do this over time, the child learns to have a non-emotional attachment to their parent, not distressing when their parents come or leave and not attaching to them to meet their emotional needs. These children will often turn to toys or the environment to preoccupy their time and seek enjoyment. Additionally, avoidant children are likely to become dismissing adults, whose children will also likely be avoidant.

When the avoidant child becomes an adult, this translates into struggling to develop deeper emotional (and at times physical) intimacy with a partner or letting yourself be really seen by others for both the good and bad parts. Adult avoiders often unintentionally become dismissive of their own and others negative emotional experiences. These adult avoiders can even seem like the “happy-go-lucky” people who are always happy, but somehow hardly ever show their angry or sad parts when hard things happen. In the end, adult avoiders often don’t give others the gift of authenticity and full acceptance, annnnnd they also don’t give themselves that gift either. They essentially reject all unpleasant parts and build their lives on only the positive or neutral pieces.

Now, many of us struggle with avoidance from time-to-time, and temporary avoidance can be a healthy thing– like when we are overwhelmed and need time and space to process through complex emotions. However, if that avoidance becomes a long-term strategy and our go-to for any of the hard stuff, we may want to start questioning why it is so difficult for us to face the hard stuff and even consider working with a professional to do so.

Because at the end of the day, living a full, authentic and healthy life that also fosters intimacy and connection with those we love means facing ourselves, facing others, and embracing the good and bad of us all. ❤


How Hugs Can Transform Your Relationship

Plenty of couples spend time, energy, and money trying to fix relationship problems, increase intimacy, or simply kick things up a notch in their relationship.

Well, there is a free way to do all of the above that is often overlooked and underrated:


Yes, hugging helps all of the problems listed above because when done as a regular practice (and in the right ways) helps couples via the release of oxytocin.

Oxytocin has some really awesome side-effects, including:

  • Increasing feelings of bonding and comfort
  • Decreasing levels of cortisol (i.e. stress relief!)
  • Increasing levels of sexual interest and arousal between couples

Now, to get these awesome benefits you first must learn how to hug in a way that releases oxytocin and feels good to both partners.

Here’s some guidelines to do just that:

  • Hug for at least 10 seconds (count Mississippi’s or make that 20 fast counts), hugging briefly doesn’t give the same benefits.
  • Hug in a way that supports you and your partner… that is, don’t lean into them to the point where you would fall without their support, and don’t be so distant that all but your arms are touching. A good hug embraces both people (the self and other) and may take some practice to master — but is totally worth it with someone you feel safe with (and hopefully that someone IS your partner).
  • Do this at least once a day. Some couples report getting a lot of benefit from doing this first thing in the morning and then when they meet with each other again in the evening.

I challenge you to try hugging this week and see if it helps your stress levels go down and increases your feelings of generosity towards others. If you don’t have a partner, don’t dismay — you can also do this with a close friend you trust or a family member. This challenge is pretty cool because it doesn’t just benefit you, but also your partner. Also, you may want to tell them what you’re up to before you do it so they’re not too caught off guard. 😉

When Your Loved One Hurts You

We’ve all been there. We are talking with a loved one and out of the blue something inside of us gets triggered by what they say. Our thoughts and body begin moving faster than we can process and we get that feeling of discomfort deep in our gut or a racing in our chest.

“What did they mean by that?” “Are they trying to say that it’s my fault?” “Are we on the same team or are they seeing me as the bad guy?”

Our defenses go off. Many of us instinctively go to one or a combo of the following:

1. Avoid. I’ll just pretend like it didn’t bother me until this feeling goes away.

2. Fight or defense. I’ll try to defend myself with logic, attack them, or bring the focus to their faults to take the pressure off of me.

3. Flee. I’ll remove myself physically or mentally from the situation. I’ll go to the door, or change the topic, or check out in my head. It’s better to run from these issues than to fight about them.

However, these approaches aren’t connecting or healing in the long run. In fact, when couples get caught in these types of responses they create distance and disconnection to protect themselves and decrease their ability to be real and intimate with each other. It’s hard to be close to someone when our walls are up, or we run the moment things get uncomfortable.

So what can couples do in those “heated moments” to increase connection?

Name it to tame it. This concept was popularized by relationship researcher and neuroscientist Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Dan Siegel. When we are triggered by our partners, one way to increase closeness is to get real with them. Let them know that for whatever reason things are moving fast and something feels not okay. Name our emotion, to tame it. The research shows that it’s empowering and calming for us as humans to own and describe our feelings (good and bad) to another person.

An example might be saying something like, “Honey, for some reason that comment just felt bad/icky/uncomfortable to me and I’m not sure why… could we try slowing things down and talking in a way that feels safe for the both of us?”

Doing this slows the conversation down and increases our personal feelings of calmness and chances for understanding & connection with our partner…

What about when we feel REALLY heated and sophisticated words go out the window?

Then it may be a good time to take a self time-out and calm yourself before going through the name it to tame it process. An example would be saying, “I’m sorry honey. I need a self time-out, things are feeling blah right now… Let’s talk about this in 10 or 20 mins after I’m able to feel more grounded.” In that 10-20 min space, you can take time to do something that is self-soothing to you (cleaning, going for a walk, reading, a bath, video games, etc.) until you’re feeling a bit more calm and able to think and THEN try to name your emotion and express those feelings when you and your partner come back together and you’re able to think more clearly.

Like the scenario above, leaving a situation isn’t always a bad thing,  especially when you are feeling extra flooded (that feeling of really intense emotion that impacts your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes or problem-solve). The difference here is that there’s a safety net of telling your partner when you’ll come back to the conversation and that it won’t be something that’s left unresolved.

Naming our hurt or discomfort gives our partner the chance to understand and know that part of us. On the receiving end, it feels good to have our partner open up to us about their triggers and give us the opportunity to re-word things or let them know that we are on their side even if we disagree. It’s not that healthy couples don’t fight or disagree, but that they use those moments to practice care for a person’s differences and to embrace the messier parts of each other. In doing this, we are able to increase intimacy and our feelings of “I can really be myself around my partner, the parts I feel good about and the more insecure parts”.  For being able to really be ourselves, and love someone when they are trying to heal and understand their messier parts is a beautiful thing that every human deserves.



On Infidelity and Staying Together.

Infidelity in relationships is often misunderstood. By the victim, by outsiders, by society as a whole. And understanding this has been pivotal in my work with couples.

Infidelity is NOT about a partner’s lack of sexual appeal, relationship boredom, or because the perpetrator is a terrible, awful, no-good person.

Here’s the more likely causes:

  • The affair serves as a thing that a person turns to (like alcohol or video games) when the emotional tension and anxiety between partners becomes overwhelming.
  • It can also be something that is sparked by recent loss or changes (death of a loved one, big moves, loss of career) when big life questions are sparked, “Is this it? Am I enough? Will I ever feel that thing again?”
  • It can also be a desire for attention, to feel special, or to feel important. As Esther Perel expertly puts it, “Affairs are less about sex, and a lot more about desire”.

So, the other thing people aren’t talking about: How common are affairs and what do most couples do? Depending on the definition of cheating (from viewing pornographic material to having sex with another person) the percentages range from 25-75%, and most couples do in fact stay — even though, in society most people respond that they would tell people to leave a person, and most people experience a feeling of shame for staying.

However, staying can be a great thing. Infidelity in a relationship can become an opportunity for growth and for the relationship to reach a new level of honesty and openness that wasn’t there before. It can actually strengthen and better a relationship. Although it isn’t recommended, similar to how I wouldn’t recommend a terminal illness or alcoholism, these experiences when they do occur can be a thing that cripples a couple or becomes a generative experience.

Some specific things couple’s can do to heal from an affair:

  • If you are the perpetrator, acknowledge your wrong doing and end it. It is crucial that you express guilt or remorse for your actions and the hurt it has caused your partner. You could also become the person to bring up these conversations and be the protector of boundaries to build safety and decrease paranoia in your partner.
  • As the victim, do things that you really enjoy and that bring back a sense of identity, security, and joy into your life. Also, try not to ask about the tiny details of the affair because that will only cause re-traumatization and pain.
  • Together, uncover the meaning, motives, and other relationship anxieties that have been kept under the rug. Ensure space for trust to be rebuilt and for the perpetrator to work on the parts of self they are longing for or struggling against.
  • Seek therapy and additional help. Going through an affair can be incredibly painful, self-defeating, and hard to do alone. Seeking help to work on both personal and interpersonal relationship issues can ensure that you are addressing the roots to the affair and the roles both partner’s may have played in their relationship dynamic. It can also help the perpetrator identify the anxieties they are struggling with within themselves and their relationship that fuel them to seek outside resources (i.e. relationships) to alleviate their anxieties.

At the end of the day, neglect, indifference, violence, and a partner’s withdrawal to alcohol or something as harmless as video games can be other forms of betrayal in a relationship. Good can come out of addressing affairs and it’s totally worth it and okay to stay. As a hopeful, shameless therapist, I hope that any such hard experiences in your life (affairs, illnesses, or the like) can be sources of growth and intimacy for you and your loved ones.