Team Cohesion

Cohesion: “The action or fact of forming a united whole.”

Do the teams in which you are currently active feel fragmented? Do you have each other’s back? Does conflict lead to more connection? Are there things unspoken that should be talked about? Does everyone have a voice? No, I am not fantasizing about a utopian vision of teams, I am speaking into a possibility. No team is perfect, and one of the things that will characterize a team is not if there are breakdowns, but rather how are they handled.

A well-defined set of a team’s cultural practices is the first step, but only a first step, a beginning. Best case, the team leader defines these practices in conversation with the team. Left to its own accord, team practices will define themselves, which can lead to team chaos; everyone playing their own game, lack of cohesion. The next step is team alignment to the practices. Full commitment to team practices means that even if one disagrees, there is still commitment to the practices with a positive mood about it. There would never be any intentional action to undercut or controvert the agreed upon practices. And if one is not willing, maybe it is not the right team for this person. This may seem rigid, but no, I suggest this is one of the fundamental necessities of world class teams. How long would a soccer player last on a team if they didn’t play by the rules of the game or refused to be a “team player?”

What does a cohesive team feel like? I say “feel” rather than look since from the outside, teams could look the same, but can certainly feel very different. In the teams you participant in, is there:

• Consistent upbeat, positive mood
• Personal accountability
• Informed, graceful leadership
• Ongoing support vs finger pointing
• Everyone has a voice
• Conflict is resolved quickly
• Honesty and authenticity
• Trust is ongoingly built on purpose

There is a look and feel on teams that are well structured. And it’s not just that team members get along or whether they are friends or not. It becomes more about respect for each other, support for each other, interest in each other, listening to each other, and let’s not leave out high levels of expertise, effective and efficient coordination, clarity or roles and responsibilities, and clarity of action both on the giving, receiving, and defining of actions. Everything mentioned here is a kind of practice or can be practiced, and when well defined and well trained, great things can happen. Well trained means that the defined coordination practices are practiced and refined on purpose, that the skills are supported through conscious recognition and application of support as needed. And support won’t always be technical, like defining the pragmatic structure of effective request, it will also look like the personal support of the Self when old issues get in the way. There is recognition that not everyone can do everything with ease and grace, that we sometimes must take on personal issues to develop an embodied competency.

It will never be a perfect ride. Humans make mistakes, we occasionally mess up, and we may inadvertently create breakdowns. It becomes a necessity with world class teams that assessments are regularly offered regarding performance and team behavior. Real time, straight forward, honest assessments with grounding: “It appears you are not being careful enough with your work, and I say that because you did this at this time, and you did this at this time, etc.” Issues are addressed as they occur, not once a year in a review (worst case scenario). This requires that the assessor be willing to step into what might be a difficult conversation, and the listener to be open and curious about what is being offered. It may not be easy or comfortable to attend to these kinds of things on a regular basis and keeping the air clear of unresolved issues can and will prevent frustrations and resentment and reduce stress levels.

A word about Mastery. This is the difference between good enough, which is totally reasonable in some domains, and an ongoing effort to be the very best. Mastery is only obtained by the latter. The process and effort of becoming the best is at the least a challenge and will ask the best of ourselves to be fully involved. But wouldn’t this be just a marvelous way to live life anyway?


What is a human being? Who are we really? There are so many ways to answer this question, so many different aspects of humanness to consider. There is our physicality, our physical bodies. There is our mental capacity, one of the things that define us as humans. There is our emotional state, moods and emotions that can gently affect us, or emotional states when we can feel frozen, panicked; where we can “lose it.” And there is an energetic self, the energy and aliveness that courses through us all the time, and there is a spiritual self. Why is this important for our “team” conversation?

Most of us reside most of the time inside of our “thinking self.” It is recurrently drilled into us subtly and overtly that our thinking is who we are and is clearly the most important part of ourselves. Without a doubt, the ability to think clearly, to be able to focus our thinking, to be able to think through problems and to innovate are all very positive skills and abilities which our thinking-self offers us. There is the power of effectiveness that comes from these skills and abilities. Because this is so important and is the domain where we often get the biggest rewards, it can be easy to minimize or ignore the rest of ourselves.

One of the biggest complaints when working virtually, is lack of human connection. Feeling isolated, alone, missing that touch on the arm, or a well-placed hug. For many, it was not noticed how important human connection is until it was gone.

I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” ~ Brené Brown

This is not something we can think into existence, this is a conscious, energetic practice. Having an energetic connection to others as a skill and requires a strong connection to our own energy, life force, aliveness, however you want to name it, and it is not a given that we are connected to our own energy. It is always there in us, but over this last few thousand years, humans have learned to disregard, minimize, or deny this aspect of our humanness. We have all met people for the first time and are immediate drawn to them. The opposite also, when we meet someone for the first time, and we are repelled in some way. That is mostly an energetic reaction.

When forming and constantly improving high performance teams, this underlying energetic connection is critical, and it can be created and lived in a conscious way. We can extend energy into every interaction and meeting to not only be smart, but to be intuitive and aligned with each other, to be able to “feel” when something is off, and to sense when it is appropriately accurate.

Managing our moods is a capacity humans have. It is a practiced skill, and it not about denying our pretending what is happening to us in the moment. And, we can bring forward the “appropriate” mood for the occasion. For example, I am in a meeting where the team commits to a decision that I fervently disagree with, and I am angry that this decision was made. Instead of being a complainer, or using one’s, “I told you so” voice, I put that mood into the background and bring forward an upbeat mood of commitment and alignment with the team for the sake of the success of the team.

Our moods and emotions are also part of the feedback loop of our humanness. Have you ever left home with that feeling you have forgotten something? Do you notice that it is a visceral feeling and not a thought? Feeling guilty is often a message suggesting the need for an apology, feeling resentment is suggesting the is an unfinished past action that has not be completed, and on and on. Deep ongoing connect to ourself is living our humanness.

Connection to the Natural World

In 2003 I had the opportunity to visit a hunter/gatherer tribe in Africa. Having already spent two and a half weeks in the bush, I was living in a beautiful hyperawareness, and as a Somatic observer (how people live in their bodies), I could see and feel that the people in this tribe are the forest they live in, there is no separation. It was the realization of the distance we, particularly as westerners, have come from an embodied connection with all life. It is clear there is a necessity for that connection as their life literally depends on it. I am not suggesting we all go back to living this way, our daily lives don’t require this as a necessity for survival, and the distance we have come from that connect has, among other things, allowed us to wreak havoc in the world. We suggest that part of our humanness is the capacity and role of caretakers of the world we live in.


Conflict is not an if, its a when. Conflict happens and regularly gets a bad rap, as our culture has mostly defined conflict as a negative. But is it?

Conflict: “A serious disagreement or argument, typically a protracted one.”

For a whole group of people, conflict can be much more encompassing. Even the slightest disagreement can feel like conflict with an associated negative, limiting response. How often have you experienced an over-the-top reaction to some statement or assessment you have offered? It is important to understand that everyone has an historically derived, built-in response or reaction to what will land on their Self as conflict. We can give a dictionary definition, but in reality, we’re all across the spectrum of diverse reactions in real life. Conflict is a kind of pressure or stress we feel coming at us. Under pressure and stress, we will react instinctively in one of several ways. Our reactions may be domain specific or determined by who we feel is pushing against us. Unmanaged, our reaction can range from moving away from conflict, moving against the conflict, acquiescing, or freezing. Our own individual, unmanaged reactiveness will most likely not resolve the conflict and will often just make things worse. As a likely cultural response, it is often assumed that conflict is negative and often our worse fears will surface.

Another “natural” response is to defend and explain. I use the word “natural” here due to seeing this human phenomenon show up almost everywhere, even in myself. But it is not a thing that happens in us for no reason, it has been infused into our personality from multiple directions.

So, what is the alternative? No conflict? Avoiding conflict? Pretending it’s not happening? I would suggest conflict is best addressed by walking into it. “Oh, boy!” you say, “fun!” And obviously not an automatically easy answer. Aikido offers the possibility to reinvent how we move with conflict, not against conflict. Is it easy? No. Will it be a skill that can be applied just because I know the idea of it? No. The reshaping of our individual and team practices related to conflict requires a focused practice and is a requirement of team cohesion with world class teams.

The first requirement is the practice of a new narrative. Our stories produce our reality, so let’s change the game:

Conflict is inevitable, useful, even generative, and can produce increased intimacy.

The new practice is to turn towards and face into the conflict. For most of us this is counterintuitive. And by turning into and facing, I do not mean pushing it away or fighting against it – now we’re in the old paradigm again. Part of the new practice is how we face into conflict, the mood with which we enter into the conflict. This new practice asks for patience, curiosity, empathy, and compassion. What?? In the face of what feels like an attack? Yes, that is exactly what I am suggesting. This also means that I am willing and able to take a stand for dignity and integrity in this moment. I am NOT becoming a target; I am offering an alternative to the clash of conflict. I am suggesting that we can learn to manage the automatic, limiting reactiveness and shift into our best Self.

There is also the skill of evaluative listening. Most conflict is espousing interpretations and opinions, also called assessments. A practice of curiosity will assist in deeper understanding of other’s viewpoints and maybe even shift one’s position. When dignity and integrity become the ground for difficult conversations, we refrain from meanness, from dumping our emotions on other, from name-calling and blaming, and from shutting out other people.

These skills won’t always come easy. We will often be faced with our own limitations that may have to be dealt with and shifted. One cannot just overlay a new practice over an old practice. What is required is the reshaping of the old practice into something new and different. This sense of reshaping is one of the keys to systemic, fundamental change either as an individual or as a team.

Accountability and Trust


Being accountable, holding others accountable, and clarity of actions occur as breakdowns for several reasons. There is often a lack of a uniform set of cultural standards and practices. While there is a consistent desire to do “a good job,” how to achieve this and having the necessary personal skills is often lacking. The gears and practices of good action are so normal for us that they are often overlooked. No one doesn’t know how to make a request, but few are imbued with the wisdom of the intricacies of request, offers, and promises where all possibilities get covered. Even when all the parts are known intellectually, people can run into themselves in the execution.

Even at the leadership level in organizations, it is frequent that I hear, “Well, it’s just quicker and easier if I just do it myself.” It often stems from the unwillingness to hold others accountable as the conversations could become heated and contentious. There are also the breakdowns of lack of learning from mistakes, lack of feedback, and, well, is there really time to do my job and someone else’s? These are issues of the Self, an historical shaping that makes these actions hard or impossible for some individuals to take.

The accountability breakdown can be solved by putting into place a set of practices relating to the daily activities of human coordination:

• Clarity of request before asking
• Clarity of what is being asked by both requestor and promisor
• Making clear promises
• Declaring completion
• Assessing and declaring satisfaction or dissatisfaction

Done well, this remedies the majority of the breakdowns of accountability, holding others accountable, and clarity of action. Personal skills that often require improvement can include:

• Willingness to commit to timelines and manage commitments
• Personal clarity – asking questions, negotiating outcomes
• The ability to be in courageous conversation
• The ability to say “no” and to accept a “no”
• Honoring competency and capacity, mine and others

When teams adopt and embody these practices, efficiency, effectiveness, satisfaction, and engagement will increase. Done well, trust between team members increases significantly.


Building trust with others is a skill. It is powerful to acknowledge and attend to embodied tendencies and be choiceful about how we want to be seen and assessed. What identity do we purposefully want to create both inside of and outside of our relationships related to having others trust us?

From our shaping, we will be more or less inclined to extend trust or limit trust. There is no right or wrong about this, and one of the values of knowing ourselves is to know this leaning. The knowing offers choice. When deciding trustworthy, we can use the skill of assessing and grounding our assessment in observable actions related to sincerity, reliability and competency.

Trust is intricately connected to safety. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety is a basic human need. Everyone, even if not on our conscious radar, seeks safety. If we bend to the will of our historical shaping, we are likely to fall to one end of the safety spectrum or the other. On one end, there must be proof of trustworthiness. Either trusting people or circumstances is difficult, as life experience leans more towards life (and people) are not safe. One’s radar is up and looking for ways and excuses NOT to trust, because obviously, the world is not trustworthy, look what it did to me! Originating from a basic need, this runs deep and is not exorcised easily. Whether or not something is safe or not, is not a truth, it is an assessment (interpretation) of what is going on. It may be easy for us to assess that a person with a gun is not safe. For some, when that person is a policeman, they will assess safety, or they may assess danger. The circumstance is the same, but the viewer will interpret through their experiences. The truth of the circumstance can be argued.
The opposite end of the trust spectrum is over-trusting. Everybody’s cool. Trust will happen until it is revealed as missing.


How is it going with your meetings? Really, another one? Is anything really going to get done? Is this a waste of my time? I have too much to do to attend another meeting!!

Sound familiar? To be clear, there are many meetings that go well and have a lot of value, and the opposite seems too often to be many people’s experience. An effective, efficient meeting is a set of skills. There are skills of the team leader and skills of participants, and there are many possible breakdowns in meetings. One of the most prevalent is that the nature or purpose of a meeting gets mixed and off topic with things left unfinished. There are numerous ways to name types of meetings. What we offer here is not “the” way, but “a” way that supports keeping things simple and clear. We recognize that there are specialize meetings for distinct purposes like a sales meeting, and specialized meeting will fall into one of these categories.

Here is our list of types of meetings and their purpose:

Innovation/Brainstorming Meetings

The purpose of these meeting is to discuss ideas and possibilities and for brainstorming. This is not where actions are directed or request or offers are made but they allow the flow of the widest range of possibilities. Some people are better at this than others, so knowing who is good at this on a team has value. It is also important to hear all voices, as it is clear it is easier for some to speak up in meetings than for others, and it becomes the responsibility of the team leader to allow all voices to be heard. It is not unusual for the quiet voices to have very creative and valuable ideas.

Planning/Action Meetings

These meeting are designed to assign actions, to make request, to make offers, and to make commitments. How this is done is vital as this part is the gears and mechanisms to get work done. Questions will arise to clarity, accountability, and trust.

First, clarity. When assigning actions or making request or offers, are the expectations clear? What does success look like? When receiving request, are you clear about what is being asked of you? Do you have a clear timeline, a clear by-when results are needed? For this to work well, there must be permission to ask for clarity of the request or offer, for it to be OK to counter-offer; basically, to negotiate what we call the “conditions of satisfaction.” It becomes important to be able to speak up, to have permission to decline, and to able to receive a decline. As an organization, declining has value and will impact over-work and over-promising which very often leads to lower quality of work.

The skill of being accountable and holding others accountable is one of the leading breakdowns in organizations. It is about making realistic promises and a commitment to fulfilling one’s promise. One possible reorientation is that the promise is not about the task, it is about making a commitment to a person, it is about building a relationship. Fulfilling promises and commitments on time builds trust.


This is when updates and current status conversations regarding projects and outstanding promises and commitments happen. Individuals are reporting, that is the overall purpose here. Per design, that is, by choice of the team and/or the team leader, this time could also be used for making requests and offers related to the report, declaring breakdowns (such as not meeting a timeline), complaining for action, or hearing questions or comments from the team. It becomes even more important to have attention on “straying” in the conversation. Items can always be tabled for later or for the appropriate kind of meeting. If a shift in the function of a meeting takes place, it is important that this is openly declared.

Process/Assessment Meetings

Breakdowns happen, we are human, and we make mistakes. How we handle our breakdowns and team breakdowns will make an immense difference in the overall mood of the team. Process and assessment meetings are not just about the mistakes, more likely they will be around the fallout. What incomplete or unspoken conversations or behaviors are not being discussed? Elephant in the room? Maybe a herd? The team supports clearing the air, not holding “stuff” with other people or processes. Assessments are offered with explicit grounding. The assessment is the interpretation of the event where we will express things like value or aesthetics and are never true or false, never right, or wrong. They are interpretations, opinions, verdicts, or judgements.

These meetings can be difficult for participants which is one of the reasons they are often delayed, or the necessity ignored. I have been in a number of these types of meetings, and are they difficult? Yes, but the outcome of clearing the air and being upfront, authentic, and honest with each other (in a good way) produces a relaxed and open atmosphere within which to work.

What can go wrong in meetings?

Straying off topic is one of the bigger breakdowns in meetings and can produce the feeling that meetings are a waste of time. Another breakdown is the loud voice gets all the attention. This is chronic in some organizations. I worked for someone once who could easily be attracted to high energy, and their listening would lean towards that person at the expense of listening to others. The result was a series of not so good decisions. What becomes useful is to limit how much any one person gets to express their views and to be sure the quieter people are asked their point of view.

These are mostly team leader skills. First to notice, then to reorient to the appropriate conversation. There is always the choice to stay on the straying conversation if deemed relevant, timely, and important to the function of the team.

Diverse Meetings in One Meeting

This is common and has value. What makes this work well is to clearly declare the shift in the type of meeting that is currently happening so everyone knows the terrain being crossed. What might begin as a brainstorming session, once complete, can easily and appropriately be shifted into an action meeting. The important thing is to name the change to allow participants to reorganize themselves from one way of being to another.

Recognizing Differences

The context I am speaking into here is about the relationship people have to their energetic self. Some people are great at getting ideas immediately, what I call “awakening” energy, and others take more time and are “processers.” The processer may not have an immediate response, but given time, their ideas are as good, sometimes better than the awakeners.

When these elements of teams and meetings are practiced, the outcomes I have seen and experienced has meetings be 30% to 50% shorter, and much more gets completed. In the best case, these practices have a shared agreement within the team, and there is a team commitment to the practices.


Do you ever find yourself musing, “I do this thing, I know I do it, I don’t want to do it, and I keep doing it anyway!” In the worst of times, we can find ourselves running on automatic and acting in ways that don’t further our lives or enrich others. In the best of times, our excellent Self will lead the way.

Self-management is the first and most important step when wanting to make changes in our life both personally and professionally. Our humanness demands that we create a “personality” with which to interact with the world. This construct is formed by multiple influences including but not limited to our primary family, the community we grow up in, the institutions we take part in, the historical forces and social context we swim in, and our relationship to “the big energy.” All the influences of this are put on us and happens mostly out of our control.

The part of our life that can be most affected by this shaping is what happens to us under pressure and stress. For some, this is where they shine, and shinning is more rare than being triggered into an automatic-ness of disappearing, fighting back, or acquiescing, and will most likely not be pretty. This moment is when we lose connection to ourselves and other and at the least, we will compromise ourselves, and at the worst it is possible to harm others. Lack of skill here, the skill being the developed ability of self-management, can be very harmful to team dynamics.
When there is a lack of self-control, a disrespect of other points of view and the absence of empathy and compassion, we lose our humanness and begin to see other as object. This will ultimately tear down a team.

One of the impacts of being part of teams that meet virtually, is the difficulty of the lack of human, in-person interaction. This is due in partly because of the venue – virtual – and partly due to lack of skill. High performance teams embody the skill of self-management, and blend together with curiosity, compassion, and dignity.

How We Became Who We Are – Shaping

The immediate “needs” of all of us are present at birth. These needs, referring to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we are naming as Connection/Affection, Belonging, Safety, and being valued or Dignity. These needs are so fundamental to us that we begin to develop our “personality” related to getting these needs met.

The body physically shapes related to our life experiences and getting our needs met in a process called armoring. For example: Consider a scenario in a family where children should be seen and not heard. At times, when the kids get a bit rambunctious, one of both parents get emotional and angry, often with consequences. One of the younger siblings is a target for the others when they get too excited. In other words, when passion and aliveness are expressed, they are marginalized or not safe, or both. A couple of things can happen. In reaction to all this, one can become louder, more demanding. This loudness gets attention, so at least there is attention even if not the best kind. Or, for safety reasons, better to get small and invisible. The former shape could be something like chin up, chest out in a defensive shape, voice loud, taking up too much space. Or the latter shape is somewhat slumped and quiet holding life’s energy tight.

We will all take the shape of our experiences, both positive and not so positive. Look at a group of adults and you will see all different shapes, not tall or short or wide or narrow, but rather how the head sits on the shoulders, is the pelvis recessed or pushed forward, what is the set of the face?

Conditioned Tendency

This term was inspired by Dr. Richard Strozzi-Heckler and relates to the embodied practice we developed in reaction to stress and pressure. Karen Horney suggests these three ways we might react: move away, move towards, or move against. This reaction moves on the instinctual level within us, faster than we can think, making it very difficult to interrupt or stop.

World Class Team Culture

Determining and defining a team culture is the ground upon which the team operates. I have worked with organizations and teams with no defined culture, no rules by which to play the game. Very often team members will then make up the rules which more than likely will be different for different people. Consistency serves, everyone plays by the same rules, no exceptions, and when there is alignment with the values of an organization great things can happen. Every person is different when it comes to, “playing by the rules.” Some will defy the rules, other acquiesce to their detriment, others play with dignity and integrity. Humans appreciate just enough structure, but left on its own, a culture will organize itself which often does not a pretty outcome.

Let’s think about this is a different way. Coming from the belief that a well-grounded culture is not just useful, but necessary, how can this be done? One way is to consider that a defined culture is a set of practices a group of people commit to embodying, and is revealed by day-to-day activities, behaviors and habits, and interactions with other team members. It is the aligned practices of effective coordination. The ground is always about holding the integrity and dignity of oneself, each other, and the organization. Who gets to decide the practices? The team leader or team members names the game, and there is always an openness to assessments about the cultural practices made by team members that can increase the value and effectiveness of the team. This is a component of a world class team, part of cultural practices: there is always not just permission or invitation, but a responsibility to speak up when relevant, useful, or necessary.

What is a practice. As used here, a practice is a commitment to a recurrent action. People have writing practices, music practices, fitness practices, dance practices, practices in so many domains in life. Some examples of cultural practices for teams:

• Be kind, be polite
• Be honest and authentic
• Live dignity and integrity
• All actions build trust
• Make promises and commitments – be accountable, hold others accountable
• Make effective request and offers
• Willingness to admit mistakes
• Everyone is responsible for the success of the team
• Provide grounded assessments where useful or necessary

Not everyone is naturally good at all these things. We could say the above list is a set of skills to be practiced and embodied, and for some, personal development can be very valuable. When a team begins to embody these skills, individual engagement increases, effectiveness increases, bottom line increases, do-overs are deceased substantially, meeting are shorter, quality of work is improved – the list goes on. It’s not about perfection, mistakes will be made.

An effective, defined, and embodied culture allows all players to play their best game.

Common Sense

“The basic level of practical knowledge and judgment.”

Where the heck did it go? I look around and it seems that common sense has left the building. I’ve been looking around for it and this is what I’ve found.

Common sense is a skill. We get trained, or not, in common sense, and this happens on many levels through our development. How was common sense being practiced while growing up? What was happening in the primary family? Whatever configuration you experienced, common sense was revealed to you in how it was being practiced around you. We have several possible responses to experiences: inherit, learn, and/or rebel.

We partially inherit the selves we are closest to growing up. Attitudes get absorbed, generational wounds seep in, and behaviors are adopted. When a pattern fills a basic need, we are attracted to that pattern. The culture, communities, institutions and social norms are the soup we swim in and become ingrained through a kind of osmosis. Through these things and some other factors, our own practice of common sense is formed.

It seems those having experienced hardships in life often come away with a better common sense. Sometimes it takes those kinds of occurences to beat a little sense into us. And that’s part of what happens. If we are paying attention, we will learn something, gain some sense. Other’s lives see little hardship, but this doesn’t mean no common sense. There are too many variables to be definitive.

The best practice related to common sense is to PAY ATTENTION! When the majority of our attention is inward, we just miss what’s going on around us. Assessing our situation has value. Not obsessive assessing, practical assessing. This means we look for proof, we ground our assessments and act accordingly. We don’t just accept things at face value or just because it fits into a scheme of what we want to be true.

When we feel the possibility for a response or action move in us, it becomes easier to trust that feeling through embodying the combination of paying attention, practical assessing, and past experiences. Like anything else, this requires practice, but “right practice.” What do I want to stop doing? What do I want to start doing? How do I interrupt a deep, old, well-practiced pattern?

There is no switch to flip to make this happen. It takes a good common sense approach to long term change.


Yes, uncertainty! We are so in it right now as almost never before in our lifetimes. As a kid growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, we lived through “duck and cover.” For those too young to remember, it was a cold war response to the possibility of a nuclear war, with every building that had a basement was adorned with a fallout shelter sign. I was too young to understand what it was all about, I just remember repeatedly practicing jumping under our desk at school and covering our heads. Like a lot of good that would have done!

So, it’s a different duck and cover now, and the uncertainty of these days affects us all. Some people are good with uncertainty and can navigate well through it. Most people remain in a state of freaked out. What happens to us in that state for a prolonged period of time? Well, to say the least, it’s not healthy. The point of this article is, “What do we do with it?”


One of my favorite quotes is, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl. This is extremely relevant for this time. We can all vote, this is an action we can take, and taking action is one of the cures for these times. The best action to take is what we do internally with ourselves. We have all heard of people in extreme life situations that maintain an amazingly optimistic and positive outlook in the face of what is affecting them. Easy for some, difficult for others.

When we lose our ground, be it through uncertainty, or fear, or the unknown, we have only our “self” to count on. Our individual historical shaping will determine our automatic response in this domain. So, it becomes relevant to understand our history and the “truth” that it thrust upon us. Our history is an interpretation of experiences based on getting our basic human needs met. It is not a truth. Every moment of our present experience is our truth, not our reaction or interpretation of it. In the moment we can self-correct, re-center, and re-ground ourselves into that “self” we want to be. This is a practice. We can practice reshaping ourselves into a positive, optimistic, life-affirming way of being, not once, but recurrently, moment to moment. Reshaping is the key. Moods of resignation, anxiety, shame, resentment, and frustration have a physical shape, as do moods of confidence, calm, pride, acceptance, and joy. If we can adhere to the notion that the body and self are indistinguishable, reshaping the body is reshaping the self. I have been using this practice supporting people in their lives for the past 25 years and it works. Practice these shapes: confidence, calm, pride, acceptance, and joy, and see what it offers you. It is not just a one-time practice, use it recurrently through your day and see the difference it can make.

So get out there and shape yourself into who and how you really want to be! This is the best support you will find in these times of uncertainty.

Personal Choice = Freedom

Behavioral choice is Freedom. Freedom of full expression of the essential self, that who we are destined to be in the world. Choosing to serve in one’s own unique way, choosing kindness over meanness, choosing to listen to how my body/self/intelligence is informing me, and listening to the deepest longing and urges and having the skill to move them forward is the best case outcome from doing our own personal work. The ability to choose who I am and how I act in the moment sets one’s soul free to be fully expressed.


How much choice do we really have? Has my fate and destiny already scripted my future? I choose to believe we have a combination of free will and destiny. But today let’s talk about choice.

Humans are historical animals. That is, we are the sum of all of our experiences up until this moment. Unexamined, our history will rule our behavior though a series of embodied habits and behaviors related to having our basic needs met throughout our childhood and beyond.  And even though our basic template of self will follow us throughout our life, we can make very big, fundamental shifts about who we are and what we embody.

One way to think about coaching: What if I can stop doing that thing I don’t want to do, that I know I do, and that I can’t stop doing? Ah, how refreshing that would be! So much more satisfying, feels so free! How can this happen? Through somatic coaching (and many other styles and structures), one becomes aware of what it is they are doing and how it is being done. Using this awareness and with a practice of interrupting old patterns and narratives with new stories and new practices, one can, over time, be different. Now, when an old automatic tendency shows up, there is a moment of centering around another possibility. One chooses to act differently; one chooses to be a different self. This also opens the possibility of a practice of deep listening, often obscured by historical clutter, which now has a stronger, clearer voice. All of this takes time and practice, there are no quick fixes altering fundamental patterns of behavior. One has to be committed to new practices over time.

The Art and Mastery of the Long Lasting Relationship – Conclusion

12 Aspects of Healthy Relationships – Conclusion

After reflecting on the aspects of a generative, healthy, long lasting relationships, the question becomes, “How do I get there?” Practice is the key. Just like in sports, music, dance, martial arts, or any activity that requires mastery, relationships, as we are speaking about here, require ongoing, rigorous practice throughout the time of the relationship. It will not serve to be in the conversation, “Been there, done that.” Disciplined practice will serve. Embodying these aspects of relationship requires practice over time; there is really no other way. Become the relationship you want to live, develop mastery in the skills. This is one of the benefits of having a partner. Partners can assist each other in the practices, remind each other when someone forgets, and help the relationship to stay on track. It will never be perfect, and it won’t help to expect perfection from your partner, as there will always be breakdowns, especially in the beginning. Have patience and practice until it becomes second nature.

Remember these things on the path:

  • Each individual has to take responsibility for their “stuff’ and commit to working on it. Two strong individuals will build a strong foundation for a long lasting relationship.
  • Begin by picking the right person. Make sure the “settling for” conversation is not happening. Everyone deserves the person who is right for them.
  • Commit to and stay in the practices. Like falling off the horse, when mistakes are made, recommit and start again – no judgment. Sometimes one partner will do better than the other. Remember you are there to support each other in their growth.
  • Make agreements that will support what you are looking for. Making and keeping promises is the best way to build trust in a relationship.
  • Keep talking! Take the time to have the necessary conversations to make agreements and handle issues and breakdowns. Stay with the conversation to completion, even if it takes weeks or months. Over processing is not resolution. Always move towards resolution.
  • Create a vision for the relationship you want then align the practices, conversations, and agreements accordingly.
  • Be kind to each other, even when it is hard. This, as much as anything, will get you through the difficulties.

And remember, the work is never completely done. Until you are able to count your relationship in decades, it is difficult to understand what can be achieved. The gift is living a fulfilling, satisfying relationship for the rest of your lives.


Mark and Madeline have a thriving coaching practice in Petaluma, California, serving clients from around the world. We are especially keen on supporting people in relationships that are committed for the long haul. You can contact us at, or


Aspects of Generative, Healthy Relationships

Life can be hard. For some, life’s not fun. Suffering happens to us, those around us, and throughout the world. And, we have been given the capacity to laugh, have fun, be playful, and silly. To create balance with this, it is important if not necessary to be playful and have some fun. It can also be a source or excitement and passion to support balance in our lives. Playfulness and having fun in a relationship is a necessity for long lasting relationships.

#12 Play

“Seriousness is too boring to the playful human condition. A heart of stone that has a long face can never express love.” Michael Bassey Johnson

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”- Plato

Humans have a wide capacity of ways of being. Everyone walks around in a predominate mood in life ranging from excitable, joyful, fearful, angry, and playful, to sad and numb. Predominate moods are organized by our historical shaping. It’s like all those shaping experiences are bundled together and spits out the background mood that we live in. The good news is that all our shapings were put on us and learned, which means we can work to shift many of the things we don’t like about ourselves, and our predominate mood is one of them.

Unless it was part of our historical shaping, which means it will seem easy or natural, being playful is a developed skill. To be playful, being playful has to be practiced. Working with many people over time, we find it curious how many people have no practice for fun. Frequently it shows up in the, “Well I used to…” have fun conversation, but then life took over, careers happened, and/or families developed. We have seen repeatedly that one of the characteristics of a generative relationship is partners having fun together, being playful together, and kidding around and pulling practical jokes on each other. Why not? Life is short, let’s have fun! And who is the person you spend most of your time with during your life?

And let’s be clear, many people have strong boundaries in place to insure time and energy for the things that they are passionate about. Wavy Gravy, the original Yippie, says’ “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s just not funny.” Historical shaping may be at play, being shaped in a way that life seems dangerous, or one receives “you have to work hard” messages, living religious repression, receiving personality inheritance from overly serious parents, growing up in repressive environments; all these things can limit the ability for play and fun.

Playfulness has the possibility to not only be an occasional remark, joke, or activity, it can also be a way of being. Everyone knows someone who seems playful most of the time, sometimes genuine, sometimes as a defense. Some people will have to dig deep to open up to and allow their playful side to be expressed. But consider what would happen in your relationship and in your life if your overall outlook was an approach that always looked for that spark of fun and lightness. This doesn’t mean we ignore seriousness when it is important to be serious, or that we joke about things when inappropriate or hurtful. It means we stay focused more of the time on the lighter side of life, the lighter side of our relationship.

We also believe humans have a responsibility to play and have fun. One view into life is to consider balance. How do we support balance if there is suffering in the world? One could say we are obligated and have a responsibility to practice fun and play in life. “What is satisfaction and fulfillment in life?” Are you satisfied with how much fun you have in life? Relationships are the perfect place to practice fun. Tie a knot in the sleeve of your partner’s sweater when they try to put it on. Do sneaky fun things with each other. Agree to always go to bed with a smile on your face. Hide their cookie and pretend you may have eaten it. Life by itself is not fun or miserable, it is neutral. We make life fun by practicing being playful and having fun. How do you practice fun in relationship? Go dancing, go for a hike, go listen to music, learn a new language together. And make a commitment with your partner for more fun in your life.


Get grounded in how playfulness shows up in your relationship both individually and together. If it is there, great. Have an explicit conversation about how it shows up and if playfulness can be improved. Are you satisfied with how fun and play shows up in your relationship? Is it too much? What new practices could you begin? If it is not there, take a look at what each person may be doing to not be practicing playfulness. Then open a conversation and make agreements about what playfulness could look like and how it will be brought into the relationship.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We love hearing about experiences, questions, and comments!



Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Equalization of Power is a basic concern in relationships. Often when power is unequal, one partner will end up subordinate to the other often causing anger, fear, and resentment. Unaddressed it becomes one of the bigger factors related to divorce, not power itself, but the conflict and resentment it causes between partners.

#11 Control/Power

“Unacknowledged power festers and destroys relationships.” Dr. Michael Aaron

“Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.”Mae West

In relationships, power is most often domain specific. One partner knows more, cares more, or exerts more influence about certain things in a relationship than the other. This is not necessarily a problem in itself. Unexamined, this can create problems and dysfunction.

How are you in your primary relationship related to power/control? You can think this through, feel into the question and see a certain set of examples. Do you feel equal overall? Do you feel your opinions matter? Do you feel you partner dignifies you? Do you feel resentment? Our feeling self, which includes moods, emotions, and our felt sense of things, is our ground for knowing ourselves. In language we can rationalize, fool ourselves, and even lie to ourselves. Our felt sense of ourselves can’t do that. What we feel in the moment is who we are, our truth in the moment. Learning to listen to this aspect of ourselves is a skill, and using this as a feedback loop of verifying our feelings related to how things play out in our life offers a glimpse into internal alignment.

The key to success related to power/control in a relationship is communication and respect. Take nothing for granted. Talk about it. The power conversation is optimally important in the beginning of relationships and useful anytime. Did things start off well and get weird? Bring it up, talk about it. One of the difficulties for conversations related to power is when the behaviors and structures are in place where one partner is exerting control over the other partner. The “controlled” can often feel powerless to speak up. Fearing the loss of the relationship, attack, projected anger, or any kind of real or imagined consequence can influence or halt the bringing up of the issue. This has the possibility of being shifted by using the communication suggestions in the section above. If communication around this issue breaks down and becomes impossible to resolve, there is nowhere to go and the relationship will most likely be in peril. As with many of the other issues related to relationships, one’s own personal work becomes one of the keys to resolution.

One of the keys to the power/control dilemma is respect. If there is a practice of respect within a relationship, power over other is only an issue as a mistake, not as a pattern.  So what does it mean to treat your partner with respect? Well, you could go with the “9 Valuable Principles,” or learn “How to Treat Others Fairly,” or learn “How to Treat People with Respect,” or learn “How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace.” All good tips! Most of us really already know what to do. Treat other like you want to be treated. It’s not about what you know, it is about what you do or don’t do. If there is an positive practice of resect in a relationship, most likely power and control will become secondary issues.


Have each partner look at their own issues related to control. What is easy and what is hard related to facing the issue. How are you contributing to imbalance? Even if there doesn’t seem to be an imbalance, this practice is useful. Are you seeing yourself clearly or rationalizing to be right? For each partner, what would equality of power in the relationship look like?

Come together for a conversation. Be curious about yourself and your partner and take nothing for granted. Live in the knowing that every issue has two sides and invisibility happens, and we can only see through our own lens of what is real and true. Be open to what you can’t see. Make agreements about how both partners want to live this, commit to the agreements, and gently hold each other accountable. If respect seems to be an issue, the practice is to make request about how your partner can show you more respect. Be clear about what you want and support having the conversation move to completion. Completion means that some form of a promise is made and there is clarity about what is being asked (See Communication blog). And as always, follow through on your promises.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome


Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Ah, yes, Change, the inevitable. How many people look at their relationship when it begins and is so glorious and hope it never changes? How many people in that same moment look at their relationship and look forward to its evolution? Many more in the former than the latter.

#10 Change

“Life is change.”~Heraclitus of Ephesus

“We die to each other daily. What we know of other people is only our memory of the moments during which we knew them. And they have changed since then. To pretend that they and we are the same is a useful and convenient social convention which must sometimes be broken. We must also remember that at every meeting we are meeting a stranger.”T.S. Eliot

Heraclitus lived from 535 BC – 475 BC and was a Greek philosopher known for his doctrine of change being central to the universe. Everything changes moment to moment so why would it be any different for us as humans? The self we are is the sum of all of our inherited and lived experiences up to this moment – no, wait, this moment, oh, and there goes another one. Every moment is an experience that may or may not change us, and the sum of these moments is who we are today, and maybe a different us tomorrow. We hear too often about one partner in a relationship resisting changes in their partner. We have seen people halt their own personal work for fear of loosing their partner if they themselves change too much. We also hear all too often, “this is just who I am” declining the possibility of change within themselves.

To live a long lasting relationship as art, embracing change is fundamental. We will change and our partner will change. What is your attitude about this? Resistance? Acceptance? Support? Encouragement?  We want to suggest support and encouragement. Do you really want to be with exactly the same person for the next 50 years? That just might get a bit dull and boring not to mention the holding back of a self-expression that is change can be damaging to our psyche.

Supporting partners comes in many forms. What we are speaking of here is supporting your partner in change, their personal process to better themselves as a person, and/or them dealing with their issues. One form support can take in a relationship is using the relationship as part of one’s path for conscious change. This is the person you are with daily and is THE thing (person) most likely to push your buttons. There is no escape, but then why would you want to? Instead of fighting it, use it.

Different parts of ourselves will change at different rates during our lifetime. Among other things, we physically age, we emotionally mature (hopefully), our energy level will shift, and our sexual expression will transform. All these things will happen. I checked and found many, many quotes on “growing old together.” What does that even mean? If you are choosing to be together for decades, it will be useful to be curious about what will it be like in 40 years? What you do now sets the stage for who you will be, and what your relationship will be like in the coming decades. To set that stage it will be useful to support how your partner wants to change. From early on, support each other’s growth, find a way to allow each other to take advantage of opportunities that arise in life even when it looks challenging to be able make it happen. Many times Madeline or I have remarked, “We’ll find a way to make this work.” What higher ideal than to want the best for your partner?


Set up a time to have a conversation with your partner. Before the conversation, each partner take some alone time to consider their ambitions in life personally (like personal growth) or professionally. Focus on individual ambitions even if there is some joint aspect such as family business ambitions. When you have the conversation, one partner speaks their ambitions while the other partner listens. Ask questions for clarification. Then ask the speaker, “How can I support you?” The speaker can then make request of support from the listener. You may request moral support, verbal support, monetary support, or any combination of these.  As the listener, don’t just arbitrarily agree. Make sure you can fulfill the promise you are making and follow through. Switch roles and move through the process again.

Have attention to how you are in this conversation in both roles. On the speaking end, be clear about your ambitions. Watch if your “stuff” attempts to undercut your real desires. Will you ask for what you really want? It may be that you have never spoken a particular ambition to your partner before, and it may be a surprise to them. Be bold. On the other side of this, make sure your ambition is realistic. There are conversations floating around that suggest, “You can be anything you want!” This has value in assisting us moving forward and being bold, and yet sometimes suggest moving towards something that is really not possible for us. I could have the ambition of being a lineman for the 49ers football team. Not gonna happen! I don’t like football, I’m too old, and I’m not big enough! Notice where you might hold yourself back or strive for things clearly out of your reach.

As a listener, you want to practice listening. Have attention to possibly wanting to make suggestions, to assess their ambitions, or to fix something. As listener you are practicing supporting your partner. There may be another time or place to have a further conversation about their ambitions. This is not that place. Even if you feel compelled, it’s not your job in this conversation to talk them out of it. If a request is made and a promise given, fulfill your promise.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome


Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Ah, yes, dealing with the issues of money in relationships. According to a study compiled by Wakefield Research for LongVest , as many as 25% of relationships end due to unresolved money issues. And maybe even more importantly, “a 2015 MONEY magazine poll found that across the generations, couples that have greater financial trust in each other and fewer money conflicts reported having better sex lives.” I hope we have built a case for the importance of resolving money issues.

#9 Money

“Money may not buy love, but fighting about it will bankrupt your relationship.”Michelle Singletary

Financial issues can be one of the big areas of conflict in relationships. Unresolved disagreements about all the differing aspects of money are a huge cause for stress. According to a study at Kansas State University: “Arguments about money is by far the top predictor of divorce,” said Sonya Britt, assistant professor of family studies and human services and program director of personal financial planning. “It’s not children, sex, in-laws or anything else. It’s money — for both men and women.” The study also suggests that unresolved money issues leads to “poor relationship satisfaction.”

The range of money issues can include things like being in debt, being secretive about spending, inequity in income, disagreement on how to spend, and not having enough money to pay the bills.

Like all the other aspects we are talking about in these blogs, most all of us bring a big suitcase of money issues with us into our primary relationship. Resolving these issues requires skill. Mostly it is the skills of commitment, generative communication, the ability to be in generative conflict, and connection. So if money issues require attention in your relationship, it may be useful to develop these skills before an attempt at resolution, or use the effort towards resolution as a way to practice these skills. And you don’t want to wait too long. Once you know you are partnering with someone, deal with this issues around money, get clear about how each partner deals with money. It is not a taboo issue, it’s just sometimes hard to talk about. Resolution around money offers the possibility of a secure and trusting foundation for the relationship.

A person’s attitudes, skills, habits, and behaviors related to money are shaped very early in each of us. The shaping is a combination of several factors:

  • How did money issue shape your family of origin?
  • In what socio-economic strata did you grow up?
  • How was money reflected within the institutions you lived in?
  • Social norms? How are you “supposed” to deal with money issues if you are a woman? Man? Rich? Poor? Red, black, white, yellow?

Some of the things to get clear about with each other regarding money includes knowing each other’s historical leanings, clarify spending habits and agreeing on what works for this relationship, is “my money, your money” going to be an issue, is saving a desire and/or a possibility and how will that be done, and having a family budget or not. This is the beginning of the list. What else is up for you in your relationship around money?

True freedom is freedom from our inherited past, freedom to respond related to our conscious choices, not our historical automaticness. Resolution of money issues and relationship satisfaction related to finances comes so much more easily when we deeply know ourselves and bring a willingness to partner on these issues early in our relationship.


Face into disagreements about money. First, name the issues. This requires a commitment of honesty and a willingness to hear and accept what one’s partner needs to bring up. If an issue is important to one person in the relationship, it is important to the relationship. Then prioritize the issues, that is, what is the most important issue(s) to address first? Use the practice from the “Communication” section to begin to address the issues. No practice will work perfectly, there will always be bumps and issues. Holding each other’s dignity and integrity in speech and action will assist in returning, repeatedly if necessary, to any difficult conversation.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We love hearing about your experiences, questions, and comments.


Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

So don’t fight us on this one! Dealing effectively with Conflict, large and small, can potentially offer a more relaxed atmosphere inside of a relationship with the knowing that any conflict can be resolved. The primary conflict in most relationships is the intersection of “their stuff” and “my stuff.” So acceptance, owning, and wisdom and knowledge of this dynamic within oneself and within the relationship is essential to gracefully resolve conflict. We look forward to hearing from you about this.

#8 Conflict

“Every couple needs to argue now and then. Just to prove that the relationship is strong enough to survive. Long-term relationships, the ones that matter, are all about weathering the peaks and the valleys.”Nicholas Sparks

Conflict is not an “if,” it is a when, it is part of life. This is recurrently seen in nature along the food chain, territorial disputes, competition for mating, and habitat destruction. Everyone has internal conflict and when this gets activated it often goes external. Conflict comes in degrees from a mild differing of points of view to an emotional or physical clash. Differing points of view are often fun and exciting to talk about – until one gets too stuck on their point. Open conflict when tempers erupt is not always bad, though it can be really uncomfortable feel very unsafe for some. Voices get loud, emotions are on the rise, and it gets worse when we loose ourselves to the conflict. So it becomes valuable in a relationship to have a conflict practice, basically meaning couples knows what to do when conflict occurs. Left to its own devices and unchecked habituated tendencies, a couple’s conflict pattern will become fixed and habituated into the relationship. Once this happens it can be difficult to re-pattern but not impossible. What becomes useful is when partners both know, own, and can interrupt limiting patterns of behavior. As remarked in the “Communication” section, a series of agreements and owning one’s own tendencies goes a long way to defuse conflict.

One of the ways conflict is handled in a relationship is ignoring. Like this isn’t too bad, so I will suffer in silence because the possibility of open conflict is worse. Take note if you find yourself thinking or declaring that there is no conflict in your relationship. There is a wall that can be erected relating to conflict, and here are several possibilities that can lead to a “no conflict” wall in a relationship. These are things like both partners being conflict adverse, one partner always gives over to the other, there is a negative threat from one partner, or disagreements are ignored.

Resisting or ignoring conflict can have big consequences in relationships. Unresolved issues will most likely result in resentment, and resentment will undermine the possibility of satisfying relationships as there will always be an undercurrent of stress from what is unresolved. There is also the possibility of overreacting to situations if an unresolved issue is provoked, even indirectly. This can result in a response of, “Where the heck did that come from?”

The positive power of conflict is one of the ways that conflict can elevate a relationship. Done well, conflict has a generative aspect, that is, it assists in clearing the air, lowering stress, and producing intimacy. This requires a new, embodied, and generative relationship to the practice of conflict. That differs from the “old” story that conflict is bad and should be avoided and will create distance in the relationship. The old story is most likely embodied from historical shaping and that the threat of conflict will often carry a legacy of danger. The new practice is to learn to move towards and into conflict as a possibility for intimacy and connection, regardless of the irrational fears that may intrude into one’s thinking.

Understanding, owning, healing, and reorganizing our personal internal conflict offers us distance from automatic confrontation, distance from shrinking from being pushed against, or from always taking action to make things “all right.” Sometimes things will just not be all right, and life is asking us to face into it. What would it be like for you to feel that initial trigger of conflict, settle yourself, and directly face into the conflict towards resolution? Through self-knowing and practice we can reframe our relationship with conflict into a generative skill.


Take the opportunity to notice both partners’ reaction to conflict without judgment. Name it and own it. Notice what it is that triggers you. Is it a look, a phrase, the energy of the moment? Remember that you are not to blame for your automatic reactions. Your history made you. And owning it means taking responsibility for what you now see about yourself.

Stand about 8-10 feet from your partner. Ask your partner to mimic what triggers you, fine-tuning and scripting your partner for maximum trigger (sound like fun??). Even though this is being purposefully set up, our soma, our self, will in almost all cases react as if the event is real. Noticing how you get triggered, then walk towards your partner, mimicking you moving into conflict. Again, notice your reaction to this. Hard? Easy? Reluctance? Freeze? Then practice walking into conflict from a place of ground, power, and dignity. It is most likely not going to be an exchange of this for that, but more like even though I have all this “stuff” going on, I will find ground, access my power, and stand for my dignity while maintaining dignity and integrity of your partner.

After learning your reaction, repeat this practice looking to center around developing the skill of moving towards conflict even in the face of your historical automatic reactions. What you then see about yourself reveals self-work to do in this area.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome


Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Communication is one of the more obvious breakdowns and useful skills in relationships. When we have the beginning conversation with couples we work with, this is the most recurrent theme we hear, the most publicly written about, and has the most offers of ways to organize and be skillful. A somatic and language based orientation is a valuable holistic practice for this important theme, and we could easily extend this theme into a whole book. Let us know if this has value for you.

#7 Communication – Speaking and Listening

“If you understood everything I said, you’d be me.”- Miles Davis

Well, here you are, face to face, and you’re going to have that conversation that has been waiting to happen, and neither of you knows how it’s going to turn out. Both have a lot a stake and feel tense and stressed, and one partner is frustrated and the other is fearful. OK, go for it!

Communication is not just about talking to each other; it is also about how partners have conversations and what is being talked about while practicing the skill of generative conversations. When we are coaching couples, effective communication is one of the first skills we support couples to learn. Among other things, it lays the foundation for moving relationships forward, making plans, addressing breakdowns, cleaning up unspoken assessments, and resolving trust issues. The practice of generative communication brings with it trust, choice, care, and connection.

Generative conversations begin with making agreements about how to have conversations, scheduling conversations, and what happens when the conversation becomes difficult. What do you do in the face of disagreement and conflict? The how of conversations and the agreements about them are not just useful, they are necessary, and defines the ground for being able to have any kind of necessary, and sometimes difficult conversation.

The results and outcomes of most conversations are agreements, decisions, requests, and offers. Also be clear about what satisfaction means related to agreements, decisions, requests, and offers. If you are making a request, think, “I will be satisfied when” this set of criteria has been successfully completed. If you are making an offer, what will satisfy your partner? This part of the conversation requires honesty, transparency, respect, and authenticity. With differing levels of intimacy in different domains, it is useful to pay attention to language, asking the question, “Is my choice of words and tone bring us together or create distance?”

Another skill to apply during conversations is mood management. This is a personal responsibility for both partners. Mood management is another important skill for relationships. Everyone has a trigger point, yes even you. Being triggered is natural and automatic and comes in several forms, and some level of self-management and self-control is valuable.

Good communication early in a relationship will build a solid foundation for growth. And if a more mature relationship finds itself lacking in useful agreements, it is never too late. It is not unusual that the discovery of a gap in agreements occurs in the midst of a new breakdown. It will serve your relationship to sooner or later have agreements about things like money, intimacy, type of relationship, expectations, and partner support, and there are many other areas for which conversations would be useful. The danger comes when things are not spoken about.


What conversation is either pending or being avoided that would be useful to complete. For the sake of this practice, it will be useful to choose a conversation that has limited importance with a minimum charge between partners.

The first step is to agree on the day and time for the conversation. If for any reason this needs to change, renegotiate day and time BEFORE the originally agreed upon time. Be prepared for the conversation by thinking through the outcome you would like to see happen as a result of the conversation. Come to the conversation in a mood of curiosity and openness to other points of view. Know the outcome you are looking for, but it won’t be useful to be fixated on that outcome. Be open to the possibility of compromise.

Throughout this practice, notice your inclinations. Do you want to be right? Are you giving up your stand before the conversation even starts, or do you give over to other too quickly? Do you move towards avoidance? There is no right or wrong way to be in this, just notice where you go and be honest about what is happening to you. Once complete ask yourself if you are satisfied with the conversation. If your response is yes, what made it satisfying? If your response is no, what made it dissatisfying?

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome


Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We are being very choiceful including Choice as a basic part of relationships (OK, couldn’t help myself). Often our automaticness precludes choice, not only in ourselves, but also in how we allow others to be in choice. How does choice play out in your relationship? How are you practicing choice? Let us know your thinking.

#6 Choice

“We are our choices.”Jean-Paul Sartre

How do you live with choice in your life? Do feel you have choice? Do you make conscious choices? How has your life experiences shaped you regarding having choice and being choiceful? Do you make your own choices in life, or does your life make your choices for you?

We bring our all habits, behaviors, and historical leanings around choice into our relationship. This can produce some great possibilities and also some frustrating patterns. Some people will use their own parent’s relationship style as a template for themselves without considering their own choicefulness. When these kinds of things are revealed to us, it often feels like an, “Oh, poo!” moment. Like am I really doing what my parents did? Unexamined, the subtleties and sub-conscious absorption of those experiences can sometimes look and appear as choice, but are more likely to live as unconscious patterns of non-choice. One clue is when pressed with a question like, “Why is this important to you?” there is difficulty in finding an answer. It becomes important to practice and become choiceful so we are not living by someone else’s standards. Being choiceful is part of the skill of knowing what you care about, why is important to us, and being able to act on it. If you want the kind of relationship you are really looking for, knowing your choices and being able to express them matters. There is always the usefulness of compromise in relationships, and compromise by choice is much cleaner than the resentment that can build by not thinking choice is a possibility or by feeling pressured to choose.

What things should be considered when choosing to live a long lasting primary relationship? We suggest the first, best consideration is the choice of partner. Pick the right person! This is all about choice rather than being compelled to act in a specific way. It can be the difference between allowing my history to make choices for me, or choosing to do the level of my own personal work that frees me to be able to make choices related to my life’s values, standards, and deep desires. Left to it’s own devices, one’s historical shaping will make decisions for us or possibly move us into indecision, which is an inability to feel our choices.

Living choice in relationship brings the possibility of balance, compromise, and a greater likelihood of getting what you want. First and foremost is the wisdom to know one’s own choices, to know likes and dislikes, and be willing to speak up, especially when it makes a difference to you. If this is difficult, what practice would allow you to know yourself better? Do you have a practice to hear yourself, your own truth? When a moment of choice shows up in a relationship, like making tough decisions together, or when it is just a decision of where to have dinner out, being authentic is most useful. Supporting each other in being choiceful begins with supporting each other expressing truth. Agreement in this moment is secondary, as honesty and authenticity breed trust and connection and is a form of intimacy.  Expressing opinions is just that, an expression of a perspective or inner knowing, it is not a decision or a fact.

Being choiceful is first, knowing one’s own truth. Second is a willingness to hear others truths without judgment or by making other wrong. Be open and curious, asking for other points of view and unspoken desires. When truthful choices are out in the open, it is much easier to make decisions, find compromise, and because you care, making sure your partner gets what they want.

This requires that each partner be able to manage possible automatic reactions such as always being right, victim (why don’t I get it my way?), don’t have a voice, push back, or fixing “them.” And it won’t be perfect. We get reactive sometimes, and catching that reactiveness and reeling it back in is possible and useful. And nobody always gets what they want. This is the art of compromise, the willingness to give over here, and receive over there. Some good habits to get into are things like it’s your turn to decide; it’s my birthday, I get to decide; let’s do what you want to do today; hey can we do what I want to do today? All of these things can be built in through practice to make choices fun and generative. It can be occasions to ”give “ to your partner, or just to rack up a few brownie points. As long as choices come from a good place, don’t become one-sided or lead to resentment, being choiceful together is fun and rewarding.


Note how you practice choice in your relationship. Who makes more of the relationship choices? Do you let your choice be known? As a practice, have a conversation with your partner about how choices are made in your relationship. Note if you are satisfied with what is discovered from this conversation.

To practice shared choices, pick a topic like dinners or another activity that is recurrent. With dinners, some relationships rely on one or the other partner to organize meals. As a way to practices choicefulness, have each partner pick an alternate night to decide what is going to be served for dinner. This is first about feeling into what you would like to have for dinner, knowing your own wants and desires, being able to hear them and speaking up about what you want. “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care,” are not acceptable responses. It is true that sometimes you may not care, or really not know, and the practice here is to search for your inclination for a certain choice whether it really matters or not. How is it for you to be clear and definitive about your choice? How are you at allowing other to make choices?

Another practice is around decisions, small and large. For each decision, allow each partner to offer their choice(s).  If you are not already, begin the practice of speaking up for your choices, and, if you are not already, begin the practice of listening and taking into consideration other’s choice.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We look forward to hearing from you with experiences, comments, and questions!

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome


Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

How do you express Care towards your partner? In what can seem obvious to many can also be seen as a skill to be developed. What level of care do you want in your relationship? What level of care do you offer? Is it balanced? We look forward to hearing your responses to this writing.

#5 Care

“Care is love in action,” Doc Childre, founder of Institute of HeartMath

 “There is greatness in doing something you hate for the sake of someone you love.” Shmuley Boteach

It seems obvious that partners will care for each other in a relationship. If you don’t care about each other, why would you be in the relationship? Making the hidden obvious is one of the ways that long lasting relationships are created. This issue is connected to the aspects of connection and intimacy and could be a part of either or both of those relationship concerns. Remember that generative, long lasting relationships almost never happens by accident. They happen by design. Are you being cared for the way you most desire? This is not the conversation of either partner having to “take care” of the other. This falls into the realm of assumptions.

For example, protection. One of the social norms we live in is that the man should “take care” of the woman. Mae West said, “Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.” Here we are talking about assumptions again. Our historical shaping will move us to act unconsciously, so better to know what our partner wants.

Research at the Institute of HeartMath finds that, “sincere and positive heart-focused feeling states, like care, boost the immune system, while negative emotions may suppress the immune response for up to six hours following the emotional experience.”

Care comes in many forms. There is having attention to a partner’s needs, like, “Can I bring that to you?” or, “Can I help you with that?” And there is the care that comes from necessity, like being ill or incapacitated in some way. Times like these can put one partner into a caretaker’s role, and can be expected to bounce back and forth between partners over time. There are also acts of care that go beyond these things. It is more like extending care when our partner needs it the most, the hard times, when our partner is struggling. They fall down and we stick with then and help them get back up. And on the more positive side, we allow our partner to be themselves and support their needs for growth and change.

When care goes bad, it can look like over care and controlling. Again from Heartmath, “The draining cycle of over care begins as we over-identify with a situation, an issue, or a person we care about. In other words, we identify too much. We begin to over care and want to see things go a certain way. We get over attached to how we want things to turn out.” In other words, we care more than our partner does.

Also be on the lookout for when caring turns into controlling. This can show up in things like one partner makes decisions for the other person, making it difficult to disagree with them, it’s never their fault, or when relationship rules are one-sided.

Caring and receiving care comes from knowing what care means to you. Know what and how you want to receive care, and make sure your partner knows it, too.


Know what care means to you and your partner and put it into practice. It will be useful for each partner to know how each other wants to be cared for. What does care mean to you and how would you like to see care happen in the relationship, both for you and for your partner? Notice if your individual care conversation has elements of, “They need to (have to) do this for me.” It will be most useful to be organizing around your wants and being choiceful rather than your historical needs.

Have each partner pick one way you want to have care extended to you, and one way you want to extend care to your partner. Make an agreement together about how this would look. The more specific you are about what you are looking for the more likely you will be receiving it. Be sensitive to what is easy and what is hard for each partner. There are many people who, from their historical patterns, have a difficult time asking for what they want. There can also be a pattern of difficulty in receiving. What you see here is where you work is.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.



Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

We all have a biological and psychological drive towards Intimacy. It seems like part of our DNA and is related to our deep desire for connection. Here we will look at different components of intimacy that can be practiced in our relationships.

#4 Intimacy

 “Nothing in this world was more difficult than love.”Gabriel García Márquez

Intimacy has many dimensions and domains and include: physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, spiritual intimacy, and energetic intimacy.

Physical intimacy includes lovemaking and touching. Touch includes things like snuggling, spooning, offering massages, hugging and kissing for no reason, and holding hands. Lovemaking is, well, making love. Humans crave touch. In an article by Dacher Keltner, “research is suggesting that touch is truly fundamental to human communication, bonding, and health.” Partners can make it a practice to touch, and touch in a good way. Random touch, when for no reason or occasion, can provide comfort and peace. Touching more can add to the aspects of trust, connection, and care.

Emotional intimacy is one of the ways to produce strong connection between partners. This is the sharing of feelings and emotional states, both as a kind of report, like sharing how the day was, and also as an expression of being authentic in the moment. Being in a regular practice of sharing “real” feelings offers both partners a clear insight into the emotional wellbeing (or not) of each other. It offers a closeness and connection that the lack of reporting and sharing can nullify. Having difficulty sharing with one’s partner is not unusual. It is not unusual that our historical shaping will organize us to have difficulty with authentic sharing.

Intellectual intimacy is the sharing and/or discussions of what you know intellectually with each other. Talking about the news of the day, or having conversations when finding out about things one might be curious about are examples. Intimacy is created here when this becomes a shared conversation, shared knowledge, and it is not unusual for one person to know more than the other in particular areas. Intellectual intimacy is not about having a one sided conversation or teaching the other person. It is best to include each other, asking for the others opinion or insight.

Spiritual intimacy means being in a spiritual practice together and sharing what it is to be in the practice individually and together. Many relationships share a spiritual practice, and many do not. What becomes important for intimacy is sharing. If the practice is jointly practiced, then it is best to practice together and to speak to each other about how the practice affects their life. If partners don’t share the same spiritual practice, it can still be shared and discussed. Breakdowns can happen when there is lack of acceptance, ignorance, a lack of sharing, and pressure for someone to change their practice or beliefs. Acceptance and honoring each other’s practice produces intimacy.

Energetic intimacy and connection shows up in our “felt sense” of things, often referred to as our sixth sense. That phrase has become analogous to a thinking that something mysterious and obtuse exists that we can’t understand, and can even discredited as non-existent. Energetic connection to others exists continuously. Energetic connection to all life exists continuously for all of us. Our western culture has worked very hard for millennia to disconnect us from our energetic self in favor of our intellectual self. We suggest energetic connection is a normal part of our existence as human beings and most of us have an experience of this on a regular basis. Like any other muscle, it requires practice to be used well. If partners assume it exists, then it can more easily be cultivated and used as a way to create more intimacy in relationships. This is the thing we feel with each other when we know something is off, and we can’t exactly place what it is. Intimacy is created when we acknowledge this “sense” we have about our partner and express it as a concern or as just a noticing. We might ask our partner if everything is OK, or if they are all right. We suggest this dimension of relationship be expressed as a natural part of what exist between partners.

Related to all the domains of intimacy, there is friendship. A “friend” is someone you know and trust, and then there are our “close friends.” Naming friendship as “close friends” goes beyond just knowing and trusting. It elevates the friendship to a much higher level of sharing that happens, a much higher level of support that is offered, and higher level of connection both when together and when apart. When deciding what kind of relationship you want to be in, it will be valuable to consider what will be expanded in the relationship if you are partners, lovers, AND friends.


For physical intimacy, touch more. My partner and I have a practice of kissing each other every time we part. It may be that one of us is just going to the store or running an errand. When we walk together, we almost always hold hands, and we have been together 40 years. What is your practice for physical contact?

Have a conversation about lovemaking. Are you both honestly satisfied? This is a practice for honesty, authenticity, and transparency. Try new things.

Share your feelings. Have a conversation about what you both want the sharing to look like. Some aspects of these kinds of conversations can be easier or harder for some people. Give your partner space if it is difficult, and be willing to allow some time for your partner to be fully expressive. Sometimes people will want to over-share. Be aware of what is too much and what is not enough, noticing what is easy and/or hard for you.

Have a conversation about your spiritual practice. Is it shared? Can you share it more? What ongoing practices do you want to be in together? Name them and decide when you will begin. If you don’t have a shared practice, is there a way you can share with each other what you practice and what it means to you? Is there common ground within the two practices that you can share? Notice when and where the sharing is easy or difficult. Also notice if there is openness and allowance of each other’s practice.

Practice your energetic connection. The more you stay in touch with your own aliveness, the more you will feel each other. If either or both partners are not connected to this aspect of themselves, make a commitment to learn. Practicing together is another good practice for intimacy. If you are connected, every so often either together or not, see if you can “feel” your partner. This practice will produce, over time, a deeper connection between partners. Have a conversation with your partner about what you notice. Note: This is a skill to develop. It may not be useful to assume that if you get a certain kind or hit or message about the other person that it is “true.” Check it out with each other.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

We would love to hear your experiences and comments about this!

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome