Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

I worked with a client recently who had taken extraordinary steps to bring about change in their culture and ethos. So far, so good, right? One quarter later, they reversed everything. Why? And what happened there? The company had a growth target that they wanted to maintain, and to that point, they had slowed. If you wish to apply this to personal growth, it’s an easy match. Consider: We wanted to get into shape, so we established goals, began working gradually toward them, and at one point, decided we were dissatisfied with our rate of progress. So we took truly drastic measures, evaluated, and adjusted after a time.

Publicly traded companies have to show measurable progress or they get into trouble fast. So the popular idea was to do anything they had not tried so far. In truth, this is not necessarily a bad approach, though I recommend some research first. If you wanted to get into better shape and realized you hadn’t tried a high-sugar diet yet, that would qualify using that logic. However, it’s probable that it won’t help you reach the goal, something you’d most likely discover if you studied the current science in fitness. So trying anything different merely because it is different is not good enough. A fact that this company learned the hard way.

They took a creative, innovative culture and imposed a paramilitary psychology to its functions. Most people did not handle it well, and it backfired. There is an old truism that people are only motivated by the carrot or the stick–and sometimes a combination of the two. I’ve seen how particular job roles fall into specific points on that carrot-stick continuum. For example, salespeople, the truly excellent ones, seem oblivious to the stick. The carrot drives everything for the great ones. It is all about the commissions, the incentives, what they have to gain by doing their jobs well that excites them. Talk to them about consequences and you will lose the great ones. They don’t care, and know your speech isn’t about them.

Previously, using their sales team as an example, the incentives and high commissions were an effective carrot to entice the sales team to act. My observation included that there was more than sufficient focused activity to support this. In digging through their internal processes, I concluded that there were a number of intervening variables unnoticed to that point. For one, getting technical answers to customers’ pre-buying decisions was a convoluted, error-prone process. Even the most diligent salespeople could lose customer momentum as they struggled to answer reasonable questions. The organization has a back-office process that is easily described as amorphous, meaning there was no hard-and-fast set of answers to which a salesperson could turn.

The answer, as mentioned above, was to impose a bigger stick. New management was inserted over sales teams to impose a more menacing and fierce threat of consequences should the salesperson fail.

Since excellent salespeople tend to be oblivious to any such “stick”, they kept doing what they did…until their own driver, the carrot, was removed. The company, in an effort to control costs, reduced commissions, froze incentives, and in effect, also reduced the carrot. Now the excellent salespeople paid attention. And made plans to leave.

The company did not originally factor in which sales staff would leave, only expected attrition. They figured that this reduction in headcount would solve their problem. They initially viewed the high commissions as part of making the sale, itself. So in reducing commissions, they reasoned that their cost-per-sale would be reduced. Problem? They made fewer sales, so they saw no improvement. Why fewer sales? The excellent salespeople left for competitors, taking their customer relationships with them. The company now had a two-fold problem: a much less skilled sales staff and fewer established customer relationships. They predictably went into a tailspin.

We get what we reinforce. Remember that statement. If we reinforce and reward an excellent employee the way he or she defines “reward”, we will attract and keep excellent employees. Do this on a mass scale and we have a mass of excellent people.

Of course, there are other variables to consider, and I’ll explore those in other articles. But for this company, coming back from the brink meant attracting great talent, developing it, and keeping it. As well as learning which combination of “carrot and stick” work best with that employee. That enabled the company to reinforce the desired behaviors effectively and keep high performers performing at a high level.

Planned attrition is a bad idea where the workforce is skilled or specialized. You will keep the “bottom of the barrel” onboard as the top-level talent moves on, possibly to a competitor.

It’s also worth remembering that a radical shift in culture or company philosophy will need to cascade down to all employees or it will fail. If the change is something the high performers have requested, then it very well may be a great way to keep that talent onboard. However, if it feels like a step backward for those people, they may very well begin reevaluating the work relationship.

Nature and Future

Humans are a good many things by nature, and a good many more not so. For example, most of us would agree that “survival of the fittest” seems to hold true. Even those among us who don’t believe in Evolution per se likely agree that the creature best adapted to survival in an environment is more apt to do so than its less fortunate cohorts.

Fast-forward past a whole lot of human development, sociology on a Bullet train, if you will. Now consider how we exhibit this almost universally-recognized truth. Sure, we compete in business, in finance, in many ways, still. But we no longer allow the least suited to survival to perish. I’m oversimplifying and glossing over a good amount of work done by some remarkable thinkers. But all to make it clear that what Martin Heidegger called “thrownness” doesn’t appear to be the rule any longer. We no longer allow those dealt a bad hand, so to speak, to simply starve and extinguish. Put more nicely: Though relentless competition for resources used to shape humanity’s direction, we now have controlled for it, such that many of us get a second chance. And via the “social safety net”, those who can’t successfully compete, for whatever reason, can still survive.

Without going more deeply into that, as it’s only an example, we can now question something seemingly less serious: our mating habits. Again, please forgive what will amount to a vast oversimplification. By studying nature, it’s easy to make a case that human beings are not inherently monogamous. However, just as we overcame the do-or-die aspect of competition for survival, we have developed collaborative strategies in domestic affairs. We have formed societies that, from a self-interest in stability, support monogamy.

Perhaps because of the commonness of infidelity in ostensibly monogamous relationships, it’s easy to dispute my point. My ex-girlfriend did just that, in truth. Now if that wasn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is! Though I would say the same is true with survival of the fittest. We have passed laws against killing others just because we are stronger and can succeed in such an ugly endeavor. Some parts of the world have laws against marital infidelity as well. Though as norms go, most of us agree that it is wrong to betray a partner.

Despite this, of course, most of us have done just that at one point or another. Though the experience of that, including the aftermath, is sufficient for many of us to see the pain, the disruption, and chaos it can create.

The hope for a balanced person is to accept that infidelity, however biologically defensible (thank you, ex-girlfriend!), is societally undesirable. It undermines the stability of families and the overall forward-motion of individuals. But even if you prefer to agree where it applies to yourself, it is difficult to maintain a serious argument against the value of monogamy and stability in relationships within a society. The question therefore becomes whether biology rules us…and not perhaps even biology per se. But our instinct to mate frequently and with great diversity!

I myself, without making any attempt to seem pious or holier-than-Pao Gasol, have tended toward monogamy all my life. I learned early on that if all you want to do is kiss the girl, and you try to subsequently kiss every girl, all you will have accomplished, besides hurting some feelings, is a lot of kisses. I wanted more. I wanted to have a much more intense and intimate experience. I wanted to smell, to taste, to see and hear…and oh to feel very, very deeply and profoundly. That sort of thing, I learned, takes a little more time than getting a few kisses under the bleachers. Then I discovered the mental aspects of sex, and it was like a kid discovering Legos for the first time. There was simply no limit! Now, the prospect of merely kissing 100 girls fell flat. Even if the “kisses” were far more erotic and even life-changing, like, gads “going all the way” (remember, I was much younger, and that was a very, very big deal–as if it isn’t now!). But it was a generic experience with 100 girls. That just wasn’t enough, once I knew the depth and wonder of the female psyche and sexuality. Now I wanted to know the depth of a woman’s psyche, and this would command so much attention, that doing it with any more than one woman at a time would be impractical and ultimately, I would learn, improbable.

For someone who cared less about such profundity, perhaps just “going all the way” with 100 partners would feel like a real triumph. Like a true conqueror doing his or her conquest thing. I have to ask, however, of such a person: What else is on your bucket list? What else do you hope to accomplish before you die, or next year, or this year? Hell, what do you want to achieve this week? Did you have any difficulty coming up with an answer? Based on the feedback I get from readers and followers of this blog, I’m guessing most of them are still adding items to those lists, a minute or two after being prompted. My point is that if instead of kissing 100 girls (or boys, please forgive), you wanted to know them inside and out, enjoy the full sensory feast a lover could offer, would you choose to forego 100 kisses from 100 partners in order to go deeper…? Verrrrry deeeeeply…now. Doesn’t that sound better? Let that sit for a while and when you come up, consider that monogamy offers you a powerful and incredible experience that you could not enjoy without it.

Note to ex-girlfriend: In your face!

Forgiveness is FOR YOU

You deserve to be happy, as does everyone else. Actually, using the word “deserve” illustrates a common misconception, that happiness must be earned before any of us can have it. Though have you ever watched the very young at play? Whether human babies, puppies, kittens, just about any breathing thing is a great example. They all require so little to be happy. Give a kid a large box and he will have a blast. Give a kitten a piece of yarn and the same will invariably happen.

Though for many of us, this simple pleasure, being happy, becomes much more complicated somewhere along the way. Once we introduce rules into our happiness, conditions that never existed before, we make it much harder to be happy.

Then when we begin interacting with others, building relationships, happiness can seem even more elusive. Many of us develop rules that others must treat us a certain way, say particular things, and do specific things in order for us to be happy. When at one time, all it took was a cool cardboard box!

It is easy to give the keys to our bliss to someone else, and though it’s not the most ideal way – we are still all ultimately responsible for our own joy – but if we manage to find someone trustworthy, someone who loves us and will embrace joyfully the responsibility of helping us to be happy, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

The really difficult part happens when we set up rules for happiness, and then generalize them to others. To family members, to our inlaws, our coworkers, sometimes even to strangers on the street! Think about it, haven’t you had the experience of another driver cutting you off in traffic on the way to work? How happy were you about it? Most of us would likely say that we weren’t happy at all about it. But these things pass, right? So what about our being upset by that incident, not letting it fade, instead adding all sorts of self-talk that reinforces our having been wronged, insulted, attacked? What about working ourselves into a frenzy, so that by the time we get to the coffee shop, we share our less-than-stellar attitude with the barista, and other people in line? How helpful do you think that will make them?

Further, do we have the right to dump on someone else’s day just because we had a run-in with a bad driver? What if, as has possibly happened to you, you just had additional incidents, products of your frustration, irritation, impatience, and it just made it worse? Like spilling your coffee as soon as you got back into your car? Then getting to work and your attitude sets someone else off, and you again feel insulted, attacked. Before long, your entire day appears to be one disaster after another, a true “disasterpiece”, not the masterpiece it could be.

The same dynamic happens in families all the time. One person is careless with another’s feelings, perhaps takes her for granted, and she feels sleighted, attacked, insulted. She decides not to speak to the perceived offender, who perhaps doesn’t even notice how much angry energy he’s exuding. He in turn perceives her sleight, her rejection of his own feelings, as she defends herself.

Such toxicity is very easy to create, and as we do so, it’s like we’re soaking in our own toxic waste. But rather than climb out of it and clean up, many times we instead go on “autopilot”, take no responsibility for our own feelings and actions, and blame others rather than just forgive and move on.

Forgiveness is a powerful thing, and too often it’s incorrectly perceived as a weak gesture. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s the one who forgives that manages to let go of the negativity, pull himself (or herself) out of the toxicity, and find their happiness again. Though there’s something else to consider: when we forgive, we let go of the tension, the toxicity, the hurtful emotions. We begin, in essence, to heal ourselves.

Consider the holidays, which offer many opportunities to observe this. Family members may experience a falling out, perhaps even through one party’s actions. And perhaps they really were in the wrong. Does that blame have anything to do with our toxicity? Of course not! Whether I am to blame or you are, we’re both struggling through this, and not getting what we need. Our happiness is on hold until we can work out our feelings, sort through our pride, and just forgive.

A giant in the field of Neuro-linguistic Programming, Steve Andreas, wrote a powerful article years ago that makes a fantastic point – forgiveness is for you, not necessarily for the other party.

We mention that because people who cling to grudges often are the same ones who think forgiveness is a sign of weakness. They will argue that the other person is to blame, and therefore they must apologize. Only then will such people let the other person off the hook. But as we cling to a grudge, we aren’t really living. We aren’t happy, we are simply clinging to a moment of anger. That suspends our ability to live and to be happy. The point is to find the ability to forgive within you, let go of the grudge so that you can move on, and again to be happy.

A dear family member once told us that in order to make way for new things, you must get rid of the old. If you only have finite closet space, for instance, and you want a new wardrobe, you will need to pull out the old things you don’t wear anymore, give them to someone who needs them more, and then you have room for new clothes. Keep trying to add the new without the other part of that process and you will have closets so bursting at the seams that your home looks terrible and you can’t find anything. Our minds and hearts are the same way. Make room for greatness, for happiness, creativity, playfulness, and bliss by letting go of the old junk that doesn’t serve you. It’s time to forgive wrongs that others have dropped on you – no matter how wrong you just know they are! 

Why should you take the first step? Because this is your life and it’s too short to devote years to  being upset, angry, bitter, or sad. It’s time right now to figure out who you need to forgive in this world (and it may even be yourself…) and “make like Nike” — “just do it”.

If your relationship needs a bit of a jump-start, look very honestly at whether you might have an area or two in which you have the power to change it, whether there’s any place you could have already forgiven your partner, his or her parents, friends, anyone who you might perceive wronged you. You have this power. You can reclaim your happiness. It’s time.

Just Semantics – They’re Only Words

Consider the following two sentences:

Many of us have experienced the oddity of the emotional affair. We may have even been guilty of indulging in one.

I itilicize that word because our choice of predicates radically impacts how we feel about it. Language is powerful. Consider briefly how different you feel as you read the following sentences to yourself.

It is wrong to indulge in something decadent

It is good to soil yourself with something good.

Do you see the mixed messages in each? In English, we often consider predicates like indulge, decadent, forbidden, taboo, naughty, and so forth as exciting. In most cases, we might, putting our Puritan hat on, agree that they are wrong, wicked, negative (and let’s face it, the Puritans do have great hats!). Though these words radically affect how we feel about the subject of our sentence.

Sometimes a simple shift in word choice can make all the difference. In the example above, for instance, how do you feel about “indulging” in something? If you’re like many of us, an “indulgence” is something naughty, something you know you just shouldn’t do…but will be so wonderful that it’s worth just about any downside I could mention! This is not a new idea, as in the field of NLP we have been doing “submodalities” work for several decades. That is, carefully adjusting the aspects of our sensory perception to influence how we feel. Likewise, certain words have common submodalities or even anchored responses. Some call this an “emotional charge”, the effect the word has upon us as he hear or read it. Biologists and behaviorists are more apt to call it a conditioned response, but whatever you choose to call it, this is a powerful agent of influence that you can use in your own life, as well as in your daily communication with others.

How? Though the world around you will provide you with its own predicates, and if you pay attention when TV commercials come on, you might not that advertisers are hardly oblivious to what we’re talking about here, you can always shift the language in your own mind. That is, though I provide you with a frame of reference, leading your mind where I want it to go, you don’t have to follow through. Rather, as soon as you catch on, you can alter the language to suit your own purposes, instead of my own. While advertisers might prefer that you “indulge yourself” by purchasing their product, “luxuriating” in its wonder, and the moment the sticker shock occurs to you, they might urge you to consider, “aren’t you worth a little extravagance?”, you don’t have to leave it at that. Rather, you can challenge that statement or amend it. For instance, take the following three pitches and note the rephrasing or addition I’ve added in bold text:

Life is short. Have an affair. After all, stress, guilt, and broken hearts are what make a full, well-lived life, right?

Indulge yourself with a ______. (Now try substituting the word “indebt”, “impoverish”, or “punish” for the word “indulge.)

You deserve it! Treat yourself to a _______. Don’t you deserve it? Haven’t you been a bit of a shit lately? Go ahead, you deserve a little _____.

Just a couple of examples, but if you pay attention, examples crop up all around us. This is a pretty savvy world we live in, and a lot of smart people have made it their business to manipulate us. Whether they are after our buying power or our personal attention, others have a vested interest in influencing our decisions. How does this pertain to intimate relationships? Consider that the media is trying all the time to sell us a “better”, “more exotic”, “sexier” life. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by playing on our own expectations of what we deserve. Sure, there will be exceptions for those among us with esteem issues, but by and large, don’t most of us feel that we deserve the best?

Let’s say you’ve put decades, years, or even months (it’s all relative, remember, and every great lifetime-spanning relationship began with a single date) into our relationship. We’ve learned to blend our life maps and create a Relationship Map. We now have a relationship in which we can both be ourselves and be part of something larger than ourselves. In addition to always being you, yourself, you are now part of a…WE! You have someone to tell your silly stories, someone who will appreciate you, share intimate moments, to share, potentially, everything. Sounds wonderful until someone reframes that as “routine” or “boring”. Sound familiar? To someone in the business of selling exciting, new experiences, it might be quite a nuisance that you have this great relationship! Consider one of the examples above – Ashley Madison, who tried to convince us that “life being short” was some sort of good reason for “having an affair”. For someone selling that product, your stable, committed, strong relationship would be quite a nuisance indeed.

So as a smart consumer, to stick with the metaphor, you must make a decision. Is that product truly worth the price you would have to pay? And we’ll go ahead and state the obvious just to get it out of the way – an affair is not the answer if your relationship is waning. Ever. We can deal with that topic another time, but we mention it so our position on this topic is unambiguous. We view those “selling” an affair as being counter to our own interests. Simply put, purveyors of affairs are trying to steal something from you. Whether they’re running a web site to facilitate infidelity, actively trying to seduce you, or merely voicing support for the idea as you ask their opinion. Such people are trying to take something from you. There’s a litmus test that simplifies this and we offer it to you if you’re skeptical. When facing an action, a thought, anything at all, ask yourself: Is this bringing me closer to my partner or creating separation between us? You can ask it of anything, and if it’s innocuous, it will have no effect at all. For instance, if the question is your spending an hour organizing your prized collection of widgets, baseball cards, antique spoons, whatever the item might be, that hour might have no impact on your relationship at all. If not, and you’re sure of it, (your partner might not agree!), then it truly is harmless. Of course, if your partner needs some personal time, your choosing to organize your widgets might in fact bring you and your partner closer together. But let’s say the question is whether or not you will have a one night stand. NOW ask whether it will bring you and your partner closer together or create separation between you. Notice the difference? And if you are one of those people who thinks the deciding factor is whether or not your partner discovers your infidelity, you have, sad to say, much to learn.

Resolve today to focus on bringing your partner and yourself closer. Every action, every word, every decision, has the potential to affect this. Make it wisely and lovingly.

In Good Times As In Bad

It’s easy to be good to your partner when things are going well. When we’re happy, isn’t it easy to treat everyone around you well? Our partner is (hopefully) the closest person to us in the world. So he or she knows when something is wrong even before we tell them. They know our patterns, our customary behaviors, so they are perhaps best able to spot an anomaly.

Because of that closeness and familiarity, however, our partner is the person we are most likely to vent our frustrations onto. We sometimes call this “displaced aggression”. Think about it, your boss gives you a tough talking-to, you lose a major account, your car needs an expensive repair, the air conditioner or heater just went out, etc. Not knowing you personally, we can’t say for sure what could go wrong in your own world, but just imagine: It could be the worst day ever.

You can’t take it out on your boss, or most authority figures around us, now can we? In most cases, we wager not. So you return to the sanctity of your own home, and your partner greets you with a smile. Though instead of giving him or her the opportunity to talk with you, to help you cope, or to at least lend a sympathetic ear, you unload on them. You take all the frustration you feel toward your boss, the mechanic, the cop who pulled you over, the customer who dropped you, and so forth, and you direct all that energy toward your partner – who is ironically only wanting to help.

This is a common occurrence for many people, and if it sounds familiar, you have an opportunity before you. We challenge you to learn something new, to recognize the impact you have, through your words, your actions, your entire interaction with someone else, and to find the opportunity for intimacy in the challenges couples face. Clearly, this is one of those situations where it works best when both people have a high level of commitment. However, you might be surprised to learn just how readily people can be seduced into a more powerful state of mind, indeed, a more intimate state, by someone willing to leverage their energy, their power, their seductiveness, to lead them.

Recently I worked with a client complaining of this very scenario – her husband was frequently irritable and when something went wrong with his work day, it was her fault. As soon as they both got home from work, he took out his anger and frustration on her and the kids. She asked, “If I want him to act differently, why are you saying that I have to change?” This is a common complaint, so it wasn’t the first time we heard it, nor will it likely be the last. If you have not acted with power and precision before, it might seem strange that as part of a system, when we change, the rest of the system must as well – if only to maintain equilibrium.

We lead by doing, by example. Like hypnosis, you go first, then your subject follows. Sure, you may have to develop a skill, but then, that’s why we’re here, now isn’t it?

As with other articles on this site, I want to restrict the length, so we won’t delve too deeply into how in the first part. First, we will focus on why you would want to do this and what impact it will have. Then in Part II, we will look at techniques – though we may offer a taste just to get you started.

Imagine the above scenario  – you have had one of the worst days ever. You get home and your partner is already there, cheerfully unaware that you have superimposed a target on his or her chest. He or she is doing that irritating thing that always gets on your nerves, but tonight, that’s increased by a factor of ten.

Reading you, your partner says something that immediately stops you in your tracks. You suddenly don’t feel the same way and begin to feel waves of appreciation, of love, for this amazing person who’s stuck with you through the challenges as well as the parties (and of course, sometimes parties can become a challenge, and vice versa!).

Your whole perception has changed.

How did that happen?

Maybe more importantly, now that the two of your have begun sorting out your days in a spirit of love and appreciation, what sort of trouble can the two of you get into? Does it sound enticing yet? Or at least more fun than one of the other possible outcomes?

I suggest that the above turn of events is not only possible, but really easy once you make it a habit. Like anything new, it may seem a little awkward at first, but with some practice, can really lead to a beautiful shift in your relationship. Choose your own metaphor here: You might think of it as interior redecorating, or a reengineering, or an overhaul, of your mind. One that leads to more pleasure and happiness.

And it all begins with your making  a decision – that the life of your relationship is more important than the moment of frustration. And deserves to be treated accordingly. As do YOU!

Love, Honor and…Obey? Part 2

The “Love, Honor, and…Obey?” article seems to have created a considerable amount of concern among readers. I’ve been quite surprised by this, despite the worldwide publishing phenomenon from a few years ago (aka “The Decline and Fall of Western Literature”) known as the Fifty Shades trilogy. First a statement about those ridiculous books. I’m truly sorry if you love them, but BDSM/S&M romance is nothing new–so if your sole exposure to it is these really terribly written books, you would benefit from a few Amazon searches. That criticism is solely on the basis of literary merit, by the way.

Judging by the types of messages I got following that article, I see that my comment (“The kinky crowd…”) resonated with a good many of you. And hey, more power to you. I was referring to an inappropriate or nonconsensual context, nothing more.

That said, Stephen King thinks of himself as the Big Mac of literature (paraphrasing here). But if that’s so, Anne Rice is a red snapper Ponchartrain with a lobster tail on the side (suitably spiced, of course). This would make EL James, the person responsible for the Fifty Shades books, the green-tinted French Fry in a packet of otherwise wonderful fries that were served beside the Big Mac. A distorted, nearly counterfeit, revolting item that tries to pass itself off as one of the other wonderful fries. But can’t quite pull it off. We know–“maybe with enough ketchup”. No, not even then. But then a skilled marketing person comes along and reframes the green tint as a positive thing, and soon enough, green fries are all the rage!

Why the brutal rant against these books? One, because the author can’t speak English properly. “I’m like” should never begin a sentence in a book. Further, the lead character, if she shows no growth at all, is not a character, but a cardboard cutout.

Second, and this is why we didn’t just let badly written books go, we should not get messages asking us what’s wrong with “obedience” in a wife! This is not the 1950’s, and there’s no reason to pretend it’s made a comeback.

For the record, if you and your partner have a consensual relationship that is not so common, a bit left-of-center, we are no prudes. More power to you, seriously! Our criticism in that article had nothing to do with serious, committed BDSM-oriented, CONSENSUAL relationships. We believe strongly that if you are both truly happy and fulfilled, embrace what makes it so! You’ve found one of the paths to romantic bliss, and we applaud you! None of this is related in any way to justifying badly written prose.

Humankind has never flourished and advanced in fascist societies. The brave, nay, fearless exchange of ideas and the ready challenge to the status quo has propelled human progress countless times throughout history. We each as individuals have strengths and weaknesses. Companies hire people for those unique strengths and our intimate relationships similarly benefit from the individual strengths we each bring to that relationship. Therefore both people deserve respect and should be valued for what he or she brings to the relationship.

The key here, and the actual point of this article, is that you and your partner make up your own rules. We offer models of successful relationships, ideas that other couples have shared which they felt enabled their longevity and fulfillment. But ultimately what two consenting adults decide is right for them is well outside our right to comment upon or criticize. Perhaps the most significant thing we offer here, though models of success are arguably as important, is a framework. When you and your partner, in your own right minds, determine what form your relationship should take, how far, if at all, left-of-center you wish it to be, that is your decision alone. We can help with the practical, everyday stuff, but only you two can decide what form the relationship should take.

In fact, that is among the most fun, and at times perilous, aspects of a relationship: the negotiation. Anyone who thinks negotiation only belongs in business or politics has never had a serious romantic relationship. Each of us has needs, and for our romantic/intimate/companionship needs, we may seek out a partner. For many of us, though it’s not necessarily so, married life makes sense. We ourselves decided that marriage was ideal for us, so that was our choice. For you it may be different. What matters is that both of you are involved in this decision making process.

Badly-written though they are, the Fifty Shades books illustrate something relevant to this discussion. In the first book, the male lead compensates for his damaged psychology by controlling his environment to a pathological extent. This includes using BDSM in what we consider an unhealthy manner, as the female lead is young, impressionable, not fully aware of what she wants and what she can trust. This may be due to the author’s lack of skill, and the character coming across as two-dimensional, but the character as presented to the reader is clearly not self-aware to the degree necessary for this situation. We question whether the character consents, or if she had, whether she was capable of informed consent in the first place. This makes the relationship exploitative, not far removed from a grown man plying the affection and favors of an underage girl with wine coolers, attention, and assurances that she is special.

In order to have a relationship capable of fulfilling both parties, it must be consensual, and that includes both parties being capable of informed consent. Simply saying, “Yes–because you told me you love me!” is not sufficient.

The message is: If you and your partner both understand what you’re getting into, you both want it, you both continue to find it fulfilling, and you are both old enough, emotionally stable enough, sober enough, to make such decisions in the first place, then you two alone make the rules for your relationship. Please, borrow freely from the experience and successes of others. Those of us who have already tread the path you are embarking upon, already spotted the pitfalls, the potential challenges along the way, and insights that can make things work better, can offer advice that may save you a great deal of frustration and pain. So yes, borrow from that. But please always remember, the only thing any of us has a right to question is whether you or your partner really is informed enough to truly consent. Outside of that, you two decide.

Find happiness, depend on one another, and love each other with a passion and intensity such as there is no tomorrow.

Love, Honor, and…Obey? What Century Is This, Anyway?

People tend to get good at what we do frequently. Sounds obvious, right? Well in addition to studying a field, remaining current with new innovations, the really great practitioners tend to just love that field. We are continually looking at how a new contribution to the fields of interpersonal dynamics, the study of relationships, hoping to spot a great new contributor to that field.

The old adage, “separating the wheat from the chaffe” tends to apply in such pursuits. For every great new idea, there may be dozens, even hundreds, that are impractical, ineffective, misinformed, or even dangerous.

I was reading a marketing pitch for a therapist who was promoting his idea of winning back a partner…who didn’t want to be won. The idea was that when one partner in a relationship has decided that they no longer want it, the other partner can talk them into it.

Now we’re not talking about seduction, which we actually think has a place within a happy marriage. Think about it: Wouldn’t it be nice if your partner didn’t just “expect” sex on “sex night”? (And by the way, kudos to you if either concept in quotes seems silly to you!) Wouldn’t it be nice to be wanted, desired, and yes, seduced…? Of course it would. And statistically when people who cheat are asked why they did so, they typically cite “sex” as the cause. But when they’re pressed to provide details, (i.e. “Yes, but what will the sex DO for you?”), they wind up saying that they wanted to feel wanted. Desired. Coveted. Needed. So within a monogamous relationship, we believe seduction and playful foreplay is a very good thing.

That said, his technique focused on changing the partner’s mind, bringing them back in line with your thinking. As changework professionals, using tools like NLP and hypnosis, we would be hypocritical if we claimed that such a thing wasn’t possible. Of course it is. But overall, we would challenge the wisdom and intention of such a pursuit.

Moreover, the language the therapist chose causes us concern. He spoke of changing “even the most recalcitrant” partner.

Think about that for a moment. Merriam Webster (  defines “recalcitrant” as “stubbornly refusing to obey rules or orders. Full Definition of RECALCITRANT. 1. : obstinately defiant of authority or restraint.” You get the idea. The underlying presupposition is that your partner is not, in fact, your partner at all, but some mindless automaton awaiting your orders. That doesn’t sound very loving or respectful to us. Further, consider the implications of that statement – that your partner just doesn’t seem to remember who’s the boss! (S)he doesn’t want to conform to your “restraint and authority”! How dare (s)he! This definition just summons the image of an abusive spouse to us.

We firmly believe that you cannot have a long-term, love relationship that isn’t based on mutual respect. The word “recalcitrant” or arguably its antithesis, “obedience”, does not belong in any list of adjectives for either member of that relationship. If it fits your relationship, we challenge you to make it healthy, because right now, it’s not. (And you in the kinky crowd, just bear with us a moment!)

What does that word remind you of, however? Does anyone remember the antiquated marriage vow that included the word, “obey”? As in, “Do you take this man, ______, as your lawfully wedded husband, to love, honor, and obey him…”

Suddenly, we gave the therapist a bit of a break – after all, he wasn’t weird or some sort of pervert, he had apparently just forgotten which century we are in! However, we respectfully suggest that if he can’t even get the century right, his program is probably not one we ought to trust! He might afterward try to make you a great deal on one of those new “horseless carriages the young folks are so fond of!” Then muttering under his breath: “Dang contraptions’ll end up being the death of us all!”

It actually reminds us of another well-intentioned (though similarly out of touch) therapist we encountered and discussed in an earlier article, Abstinence to Make the Heart Grow Fonder? Maybe the two of these folks could meet up, enjoy a nice dinner, a bottle of wine, or whine, as the case may be, some soft music, moonlight, and perhaps they could in one another find the answers they both appear to need. Alright, enough about them.

As most of us learn how to be a partner, and how to participate in a relationship through life experience, we’re not surprised that earlier in life, relationships might take on such a simplistic, primitive air. But as we mature, learn more about how to make relationships work, we (hopefully) begin to learn that our partner deserves our love and respect. (S)he is a great person, or we wouldn’t have chosen them. And one of the easiest ways to lose them is to show them no respect.

It doesn’t stop there. This fellow even called it a “myth” to believe that to improve a challenged marriage, we need better communication skills. He completely misunderstood what is meant by “communication skills” in the context of a relationship. Communication does not refer to witty repartee, clever debate skills, and good volume and timbre to the voice. No. We’re talking, as is every other relationship coach or therapist we’ve ever observed, about the ability to both convey your own ideas, needs, fears, hurts, loves, in a manner clear enough for your partner to understand and accept. As importantly, meaning that first portion is meaningless if you miss out on this second part – you must be able to comprehend when your partner conveys their own such information. If either of you projects (referring to the Freudian defense mechanism in which we, disliking something we see in ourselves, search for it, or project it onto someone else) your own issues onto your partner, or if either of you is guilty of “premature closure” (our term referring to assuming that we understand the communication before it’s actually complete, and even sometimes before it has even been started!), then communication skills are lacking. Likewise if either of you just doesn’t pay attention, and really listen to what your partner is trying to say, communication halts. All of this sounds simple to do well, as we do it every day. However it takes real practice to do it correctly, deliberately, and with an attitude of respect, concern, and love.

Take any lingering conflict, say the ongoing Middle East crisis, in which Arab and Israeli people have been warring for seemingly forever. They have overcome the language barrier. They comprehend the semantics as each side speaks. Perhaps they even bother to actively listen and understand. But there is a tradition of mutual disrespect and lack of concern for the other party. Imagine how much worse it might be if as each side began to speak, the other just knew what he was going to say, (premature closure) and had begun considering his rebuttal.  Communication skills involves actively participating in a dialogue, which means that as the other person speaks, you invest energy into comprehending them. Then when it’s your turn, you consider what you’ll say, and only then do you speak.  And that therapist didn’t think we need that in relationships. Nice.

When we work with couples, the Big Three issues mentioned are: Finances, Sex, and “Feeling appreciated”. But when we begin to lift the covers, so to speak, it is rare the communication skills are so well developed that they have no deficiency in the area. Our reasoning is that if they had that one locked down, they could effectively resolve their differences on even the Big Three, find a workable compromise, and likely even a better solution than they’d previously tried – one that meets both people’s needs even better. Communication has a funny way, when done right, of making everything work better…or if handled badly, flushing it right down the–well you get it.

Never underestimate the importance of developing your communication skills, improving your ability to both understand your partner, and to effectively convey your own thoughts. Without that skill, you both will be drifting toward your own version of the Middle East crisis. And you only have to check the news to verify that is not where you want your relationship to be.

And lastly, remember that it all begins with love and respect. Even with effective communication at a semantic level, if either of you disrespects or does not care about the other, you will also find yourself wandering into your own version of the Gaza Strip, unable or unwilling to focus on positive solutions, looking for creative ways to solve problems, find opportunities, and make your relationship better. You’ll instead find yourselves in conflict like the eternally warring factions in that region. And you only have to check the news…

Appreciation and Gratitude: The Amazing Disappearing Good Thing

Appreciation can be such an elusive thing. On one hand, we all know what the word means. In the context of a relationship, it refers to experiencing and showing gratitude for someone else, perhaps for something specific they do. Perhaps for something as global as being wonderful.

The most insidious road to losing that sense of appreciation is taking someone for granted. Let’s say that your partner went out of their way to do something nice for you. Something you really love and, yes, appreciate. Now what if you became so accustomed to that nice something that you came to take it for granted? It’s easy to lose that sense of gratitude and appreciation for someone doing something that they seemingly do all the time. How special is it when it happens every day?

Well, the answer to that question is a personal choice we all make, whether we notice or not. After all, lots of things happen every day that make our lives better. The Earth orbited around the sun in just the right way that sunrise came when expected. You woke up and found that you were yet again alive and at least relatively healthy. You took a deep breath and noticed that yet again, you could breathe. We realize that there will be mild exceptions to this. I hear an objection from someone in the back who must cart around an oxygen tank. “I don’t wake up able to breathe”, he says. Yet, though he requires assistance from that oxygen tank, he is breathing. I drove past a cemetery the other day, and it was filled with people who were much less capable of breath than he. So let’s not nitpick! We’ll bet that there are a dozen great things in your life that happen every single day without fail. Just as your partner may do the same nice thing for you every day.

The next step is deciding what all that means. If it’s just something to take for granted, because it will always be there, you allow yourself to be robbed in two ways. First, your lack of appreciation is something others can see clearly in you. Who is going to continue doing nice things for you if you never show appreciation? Meaning that at some point, the thing you take for granted may very well disappear. Now I hear the refrain of “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” Very true – we often don’t.

But there’s that second thing being stolen from you when you take things for granted. A huge component of a happy and prosperous life is feeling, deeply and personally, appreciation, gratitude for all the wonderful things in your life. That incredible feeling of fulfillment, joy, satisfaction, of overflowing with happiness, can vanish as well. It can be taken from you and all you have to do to invite it is to take that gift, that gesture, that nice thing someone does for you for granted.

If you instead take a moment and, just choosing one of the things in your life for which you are grateful, you have taken charge of this process, and you can amplify your emotion, making your joy and fulfillment rise like boiling water in a kettle. If you keep it up, your life will be overflowing with excitement and happiness. There’s also been a good amount written already about how gratitude is the doorway to achieve more. 

Now back to what your partner feels in all this. Consider two distinct scenarios in which your partner has yet again done something nice for you. Let’s assume that he or she is not the sort of person who does such things solely for the kudos and the thanks. Sure, that’s nice, and most of us like to hear those things. But let’s assume that’s not the only reason. Mainly because it probably isn’t the only reason!

Maybe the first time the good deed goes unnoticed, they brush it off. Maybe the second or third, the same, they just let it roll of their back, and keep putting the energy into their kindness. But think about it, would you continue to expend effort, giving something for which you receive no acknowledgement, no thank you, no gratitude, no sense of having done something good? For various reasons, primarily that you’re human, let’s guess that you won’t. Like most people, you will stop doing something for which you’re not being reinforced on at least some level. It even works with animals.

Here’s the tough part – it also works on your partner. If you fail to acknowledge and express true gratitude, you can expect that behavior to eventually stop. It might take a while, or it might happen immediately. But sooner or later, as would any of us, your partner will stop doing that nice thing for you. Behaviorists call this extinction.

Working with couples, some of the interesting things we’ve heard come both sides of that discussion. In one situation, the young man was a building contractor and the young lady a realtor. She developed the habit of putting a Twinkie in her husband’s lunch box every morning. She knew that, despite his being very macho and “manly” in his attitude, he had a tremendous sweet tooth. He’d once told her how he’d loved Twinkies since he was a kid. With a desire to please him, she began adding a Twinkie every day. He at first was delighted, and while he admitted to wanting to thank her and kiss her for it, he repressed the urge. It just wasn’t “manly” to act that way.

Nonetheless, he came to expect that Twinkie, and he found himself looking forward to lunch specifically because of it. Though he was taking it for granted, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing to him. After all, she must know that he appreciates, it, right?

Meanwhile, she had been giddy, knowing that she had tickled a fancy that only she knew about. She delighted in packing his lunch box every morning, fully aware of how happy it would likely make him. She imagined how he would light up and beam, thanking her profusely, covering her with kisses, insisting that he make her dinner, and dozens of other possible gestures of gratitude she was soon to enjoy. So far, he had been reserved, but sooner or later, that grateful, excited little boy she knew was there would jump out and thank her. He just had do! Right? (Are you beginning to spot the incorrect assumptions, inherent?)

After awhile, she began to wonder about it. He never said anything, never thanked her, never mentioned the Twinkie. She began to lose all the joy she’d gotten from packing it, thinking that perhaps she had misunderstood. Maybe his “man of few words” approach to communication simply prevented him from stating what was, to her, becoming increasingly obvious – he had outgrown the Twinkies and probably gave them to someone else or even threw them away. The little boy had grown up, and just didn’t perhaps have the heart to tell her.

She confided that this truly hurt her feelings. After all, she’d expressed this gesture out of love for him, as a woman who could appreciate the little boy in him that loved sweets. For him to ignore her gesture wasn’t, obviously, just a rejection of the “creme”-filled golden sponge cake with the 500 year shelf life. She swore that once she saw an expiration date message stamped on the box which read, “Best if used before the Year 3000”. I chided her that she was imagining things – everyone knew that those things actually never expire. I was quite sure that those Twinkies would be just as fresh as they ever were, all the way through to the mid-4000’s.

(Disclaimer: I like Twinkies, despite not indulging in the. But there’s no denying that if you found a time machine, and you managed to go forward in time thousands of years after humanity dies off, you would still find Twinkies in their plastic packaging, their cardboard boxes long ago having rotted away. But once you opened the plastic, you’d find that the cakes were still edible! Or at least, as edible as they ever had been.)

But back to her feelings. His lack of appreciation told her that, whether he liked Twinkies anymore or not, he didn’t appreciate her gesture. The next step many of us take in our minds is the one she took next. She concluded that he didn’t actually appreciate her. 

So while she stopped packing Twinkies, with more than a bit of repressed resentment, she simultaneously felt the hurt within her growing.

This, by the way, is the part where most men become confused. All this is happening within her, and face it, with us explaining the process, kind of a play-by-play commentary, it makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet to a lot of men, taking the gesture for granted just doesn’t seem like a big deal. At least in the moment. And it’s that moment that counts.

So the “amazing, disappearing ‘good thing'” doesn’t just refer to gifts and treats like Twinkies. In reality, it refers to our relationship.

At the same time, to a lot of women, the lack of appreciation for her effort seems like not just a big deal, but a monumental one. After all, in the above example, she wasn’t just being rejected for her gesture. She herself was being rejected, taken for granted.

There are volumes we could explore about how to show appreciation to your partner. But let’s begin with this – look at any effort that person makes that is in any way out of the ordinary. Now narrow that list down by focusing in on the things that don’t directly benefit themselves. Maybe it’s a Twinkie in your lunch box. Maybe it’s taking the trash out without being asked. Maybe it’s being quiet when you take a nap, or rubbing your feet after a stressful day. Maybe it’s suggesting a “spa day” after a tough week. Whatever the gesture, recognize within it what it does for you. If they care about you, that is most likely a gesture they intend for you, to make your life better, to ease your stress, to make you smile, to make you feel loved. Assume positive intentions. This is your partner we’re talking about.

The irony is that the gesture might be breathtakingly impactful to you. Or it might be a subtle nicety. But it’s for you, and someone, out of their caring for you, is going to the effort to do it for you. How does it feel? Do you like it? Would you like it to continue?

If yes, use all your senses to say thank you until you find the right combination for your partner. Some of us want to hear “Thank you, that made me feel great!” Some of us want to be pulled close and kissed with gratitude. Some of us just want the grateful embrace, or to see a big smile as we are thanked. There is no universally wrong answer, and once you begin learning about NLP, you start to notice that there are some ways that will work better with your partner than others. There are some ways that, while not better overall, are indeed very much better for that person. And since the two of you have so much wrapped up in one another, what’s very much better for your partner, if you’re smart, will become very important to you.

Feel that gratitude. Show that gratitude. Experience that gratitude together. Connect with one another in a place of Gratitude. Let it fill your spirit and bless your relationship. Let it weave a sumptuous bond between you and your partner, holding you together even as the stresses of life and the people around you strive to pull you in separate directions.

Gratitude is one of the few gifts we can give simultaneously to one another and to ourselves. Give prodigiously!

In Sickness and in Health

The title for this article comes of course from a traditional line in a Western wedding vow. Yet how often do we consider each line of that vow prior to making it? A few years ago, I got an opportunity to experience this in my own life.

I had been involved in a serious car accident. Despite wearing a seat belt, and my car not actually moving (traffic was backed up, waiting for an opportunity to turn onto another street, and a driver in a car behind did not notice all the red brake lights ahead of him. Well, if the lights hadn’t tipped him off, I’m sure the abrupt STOP and accompanying crunch of metal and shattering of glass filled him in.

When we are hit where we live, a piece of ourselves vital to our everyday activities, is threatened, it can be very frightening. For a factory worker who loses a hand, a runner who injures a leg, or for someone like us who works with technical data and human behavioral strategies, our brains are very important to us. The resulting concussion was very frightening indeed. The brain has, in some ways, a great deal of resiliency, yet research has also shown that some aspects of brain-controlled or brain-managed function are actually quite fragile. Damage of certain types and of certain profundity can radically alter behavior, personality, and yes, skill.

This is not to blow this injury, which thankfully was temporary, out of proportion. All due respect to those who have suffered far worse. Yet it was every bit as frightening for us to consider the possibility that the injury would have devastating and far-reaching impact. No doctor could tell me in the first month how long it would take, or if complete healing would ever take place. There are no guarantees, we were told.

The medical answer was to take pain killers for the headaches, anti-nausea medication for the nausea and vertigo, and to get lots and lots of bed rest. Concentrating on anything at all, a book, a work-related activity, a movie, would lead to dizziness and severe headaches after an hour or two, at most.

If such an injury could threaten the career of someone who uses their brain for a living, consider as well the uncertainty that can accompany personality shifts, erratic behavior, much decreased patience and much shortened temper. This, we would suggest, certainly qualifies under the “in sickness…” part of the vow.

But every challenge we face, we don’t face alone. We face it with our partner, with our loved ones. We can choose to try and struggle with it alone as well – but once you’re in a relationship, nothing you do exists in a vacuum. Whether you choose to be strong and silent or not, your partner is suffering as well. All who care about you are suffering much of the same uncertainty, fear, anxiety, and though they also are worried about you, it’s only human to also consider the ramifications for themselves and for the relationship, the family unit, itself. If the person who’s been in the accident, or gotten sick, is a bread-winner, it is natural to wonder if that role is in jeopardy. Likewise if the person in the accident or sick is the sole person to put the kids to bed at night, it makes sense that if they can’t, who will? And will it be as effective, as any break in routine can be stressful at first.

You the couple however are the foundation of everything in your home. You are the core of the family unit, whether you have twenty kids or two point five, whether you gave birth to them or adopted them. Or whether you rescued them from the animal shelter! They all look to you to guide the family. The good news is that vow we mentioned earlier. It has the ability to bind you together, giving you each the confidence that you can do anything together (you might be surprised – you actually CAN do anything together). When we recommit actively to our partner and to our relationship, we reinvigorate it with our love and energy. That gives us the certainty that, to borrow another common phrase from that vow, in good times or bad, we can count on that person to stick with us, to help guide our family, and to make it through whatever challenges life throws our way.

There are a thousand methods for HOW to achieve this. What we are surprised to see around us at times is how few people even want to bother. But each of us in this world is a length of rope. We can be worn down, strengthened, distressed by the elements, even sealed against those elements. We are strong, yes, but with frustration and lack of care, we can also become brittle and easily torn. When we create a loving relationship, truly commit to it, and vow to care for it and nurture it, we are weaving our own rope with that of our partner. Each loving force we bring into the family, whether it’s kids, either the human or the four-legged kind, adds another length of rope to our braid. Soon, we have such a strong, resilient length of braided rope that it’s like those amazing ropes that hold huge boats to the dock. It seems that nothing can break them.

And when we find ourselves “in sickness”, that amazing rope can sustain us and reassure everyone in the family that we will survive this. Indeed, we are believers in looking for ways to grow stronger and more capable as a result of the injury. In much the same way as being exposed to a virus can help inoculate against the full blown illness, we believe that small, manageable tests can enhance the love relationship, what I often call the “loveadventure”. Even if in the middle of the stress, we can’t imagine how we will persevere, how we will survive it, either as individuals or as a family.

But survive you will because you have taken your vow seriously. Whether or not you are actually married to your partner, your energy is fully capable of doing all we have described here. It’s a beautiful thing, and one of the best things you can do for your own health.

I challenge you, when facing such a challenge, to pull together with your partner, to resist the temptation to lash out and vent your frustration or anger against the one person you can count on to be at your side. They deserve better than that. And when you consider the long term consequences of either building your rope or tearing it apart, so do you.

Emotional Infidelity: An Affair by Half Can Be the Whole Problem

Many of us have experienced an emotional affair. We may have even been guilty of indulging in one. Consider that coworker with whom you often flirt, the barista at the coffee bar with whom you have “a regular thing” when you show up, always at about the same time, to ensure he/she is there, or any other common scenario where you enjoy a private pleasure with little guilt.

Let’s just jump right into a litmus test for the innocence or guilt that’s appropriate here: Would you feel awkward if your partner knew everything about these encounters? Not just the surface communication, the actual words you and that other person actually exchange. But also the way that person winks at you, the way you offer something extra (or they do you), the body language you both exhibit, and even the illicit thoughts you have about the exchange. Now how innocent do you feel?

“I never actually had sex with her!” That’s the argument we often hear when we confront an emotional affair that we observe. As though the only qualification of intimacy is actual intercourse. Intimacy comes in many forms, and for couples in a relationship, it’s wonderful to explore and to utilize as many of these forms with which they’re comfortable. But that also means that just because you haven’t slept with your coworker, the barista, or the clerk at the store, you may very well be soliciting some form of intimacy with them. They may actually be doing the same. If you indulge it, on some level you are being erotically intimate with them. If your “primary” intimate relationship is exclusive (and we admit that we are biased toward that), then you are cheating when you share erotic intimacy with someone other than your partner.

Learning from the above paragraph, assuming you have and honor your committed relationship, is powerful. Because even if you are not guilty of soliciting or conducting an emotional affair, if you would argue against the accusation on the basis of not having slept with the other person, you do need to begin learning what constitutes an emotional affair. The first step is learning that intimacy comes in many forms. We’ve known couples that are faithful to one another, yet one or both does not appreciate the complexity of intimacy – as though it strictly means sexual intercourse. This robs the relationship of precious experiences, support, and nurturing. Intimacy is the water on your flower garden. Without it, you can have the best soil, excellent fertilizer, but your flowers, your relationship, will not survive. People often require or desire different types and degrees of intimacy, hence some people not even understanding it. Likewise, someone who doesn’t value or notice intimacy may be oblivious to the fact that their coworker always brings them their coffee just perfectly as a sign of erotic affection. Such a person may unwittingly return that request for intimacy by reinforcing the behavior in an unprofessional manner.

Emotional affairs can, however, develop into something that even the most obtuse among us couldn’t miss. You and a coworker may go on a business trip together. Staying in different rooms doesn’t neutralize this – if you spend all your social time together, the sex is not the issue. You are potentially building an intimate relationship with everything but the sex. Sex is of course wonderful, but that’s clearly not the only great thing about an intimate relationship! If you’re in a committed, exclusive intimate relationship, your partner, not the coworker, waitress, barista, clerk or anyone else, should be the sole recipient of that intimacy. Period.

“What’s the harm, as long as you don’t sleep with these other people?” Plenty. Our intimate relationship is a complex matrix of shared experiences, adventures, challenges, and triumphs, hence our calling the product a Relationship Map. When we divert experiences and shared jokes, tender words, even something as seemingly innocent as a flirtatious phrase, from our primary relationship, we weaken it. We instead begin building a Relationship Map with the other person. Now look at the long term effects of this. Do we really see any benefit to a partly-constructed relationship with a stranger? Do we at least get how stealing from our partner to build that partial construction is wrong? What about slowing the progress of building our own ideal relationship with our partner because we are taking those resources and giving them instead to someone else?

We’ve heard the argument that such emotional affairs can increase the “spice”of the primary relationship.

If you find you are lacking spice, try some habanero sauce.

You might, in that giddy moment, where you’re excited by the risk and damage you’re doing to your relationship, actually believe that you’re somehow benefiting your primary relationship. That’s an illusion. Further, the mature person with a balanced life learns that a relationship is at its best when you devote all your erotic love, all your intimate attention, to it. Diluting these by sharing them with others lessens the value that relationship can provide. But look at the other side of it – your emotional affairs are left with even less – so they can offer even less value. This generally winds up a confused mess, robbing us of time, energy, and life.

As we bring our lives into focus, we find that we not only enjoy more, but GET more. One intimate relationship. One career. One spirituality. One ___ (fill in the blank with whatever matters most to you). You will find that as you devote more to each single pursuit, you are able to get more from it.

The whole problem is often that we don’t commit enough to each thing that matters to us, just expecting it to run fine on “autopilot”. It won’t.

It’s up to you how much joy, how much success, how much love, how much intimacy, how much prosperity, you can receive in life. And it starts by deciding how much energy and attention you will give that one thing.

Commit to getting more from your relationship, and begin by committing to give your all to it. The only affairs you want are those you enjoy exclusively with your partner.