Battling Happiness In Your Relationships

Toshiba Digital CameraHave you ever wondered what you can do differently in order to make a failing relationship work? Do you feel like you’ve tried everything, but nothing seems to help? You’re not alone. I would venture to say almost every household has at least one relationship that seems to have struggles, no matter what those in it try to do.

I write this as I prepare to fly to Utah to work in the desert with at risk youth. As part of my preparation I read Leadership and Self Deception, as well as The Anatomy Of Peace, both written by the Arbinger Institute. In it, the books describe why actions alone don’t change anything, unless you change your “way of being”. I’ll go on to explain this in further detail in a moment, but first think about one relationship, whether it’s at home, at work, at school or other that causes you sorrow.

Have you tried to reason with the other, compromise, ignore, even say I’m sorry and has any of that worked? Chances are it hasn’t because you haven’t changed your way of being in relation to the other.

I think about my kids as an example.

Prior to 2007 I was a stay at home mom of four beautiful children. I had a great relationship with each of them and I would dare to say we were inseparable. During the year of 2007 I went through a divorce and almost like a light switch was alienated from my kids. During the process I did everything I can to fight for them, win their love again and reason with their father and my kids. None of it worked.

Looking back I realized I did what everyone does in an attempt to “fix” something they perceive as broken, as wrong. They forget one very important element; the other.

There are many ways alienation happens. The act itself is abusive and wrong. Stopping it and turning it around on the other hand cannot be achieved by behavior alone.

The tool my ex used to alienate my kids from me was religion. As I fought for my kids to stay with me I did everything I could to convince them the way of life they were beginning to choose was wrong. I tried to show them examples. I even tried to do whatever they wanted and accept them. All that did was draw them further away from me, until they wanted nothing to do with me.

I realized later a key factor that drew me further away from my kids was my own discomfort with their way of life. I began to view them differently and made them “wrong”, even when I accepted them outwardly.

IMG_1812It was not until I truly saw my kids as who they were, as people and fully began to listen to them that I was able to begin healing our relationship. My kids and I still don’t live together, but when we do see each other it’s a loving experience. I’ve learned to let go of how things “have to be” and allowed the way things are currently. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know that every exchange I have with them is done through a sense of learning about them, rather than trying to fix them.

When I tried to “save” them and keep them living with me I viewed my kids as being unreasonable, being coerced into a life they didn’t want. Whether all that is true didn’t help.

Many times people do things that are wrong, such as my ex who essentially took the kids from me, but trying to fix the situation, whether it would be through fighting with the courts, crying to my kids about the “truth” of their father or even ignoring and trying to accept the situation won’t keep it from happening or getting worse.

My example is an extreme example but think about it. Do you know anyone who likes to get criticized? What about the time you apologized to stop an argument but didn’t mean it? Did it work? Probably not and in many cases most likely escalated the situation.

Here’s the “secret” to changing this cycle.

Very simply put, the key is to understand you are part of the problem. You are the one that needs to change first. We are so busy trying to change others, blaming them for all the problems and we wonder why nothing changes. Even if we take partial responsibility many times we still wait for the other to change. As long as we do that nothing will change. We need to stop waiting for the other and look at ourselves. Arbinger refers to this as being in the “box”. As long as we are in our box we don’t see the other completely and we won’t be open to changing ourselves and therefore our relationship. If we leave the box that’s when the magic happens.

The next thing we need to do is look at the other as a person. Many times all we care about is our agenda. For example all I wanted was my kids to like me and stay with me as before. I forgot to look at them and see who they were completely. As long as we try to fix someone we don’t see them as a person, but rather as an object or something inferior to ourselves. The very act of criticism means you don’t see the other. Contrary to popular belief there’s no such thing as constructive criticism.  As I said before no one responds well to any form of criticism. No one wants to feel that they’re broken and, when you share anything the other person should do to “fix” the problem you are basically telling them they are broken and you don’t see them as a whole person.


Listen to them. I mean really listen to them completely. Try to understand not just what they are saying, but what they are feeling. Feel it with them and don’t correct them. Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People shares this as one of the most powerful habits to change any relationship. We don’t listen. We correct. We bring our own two sense in. We share our side. But we don’t listen. Most relationship issues are as a result of not being heard.

I’ll never forget what my oldest daughter Dalia told me, during that fateful year of the divorce, after I pleaded with her to reconsider her extreme religious way of life. She said,

“Ima, you never listen to me.”

It still brings chills to my body. I always thought of myself as a good listener and I think I was. But the closer a relationship means to you. The more important it is, the more we fight to protect it and many times not in a constructive way. And so I did, without realizing I was just pulling her further away from me.

Ariella in camp 2004 g

This is not to say when someone does something wrong or illegal there shouldn’t be consequences. Of course there should be, but if you apply consequence, while seeing the other as a real person, with complete love and no anger than change will happen automatically. Think of it this way. Have you ever been punished by 2 people; one you would’ve done anything for and the other you couldn’t wait to pay him back? Which person’s punishment worked? Probably the person who you admired.

An example of this was when I was in 6th grade my principle came into my class with a very stern look on his face. That particular year we had a lot of bullying and after many attempts to stop the bullying nothing worked. He came in and in a low subdued town told us we all had Sunday school indefinitely. The look of disappoint was written all over his face. We all idolized him. We loved him and every admonishment her gave us had so much love written all over it, we didn’t take it as “we are bad”. We took it as, “I can’t disappoint this man again”. When he walked out we all looked at eachother and began to hug one another. The bullying stopped almost immediately.

In contrast we had a teacher, named Mrs. McDonald who spent almost the whole class telling us how we were the worst class she ever had. All this did was provoke us in finding new ways to torture her. It got so out of hand that one day I found myself standing on my chair and began a chorus of, “Old McDonald had a farm”. The whole class chimed in. She ran out horrified.

There’s a big difference in criticism, punishment and creating lasting change. It’s all on how you view the other that will make the change you seek.

In conclusion every relationship gives us an opportunity to leave our “box”, our justifying, critical way of being with others. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, angry and critical of any person in your life there’s a chance you feel that way often and about many other people. You now have a chance to leave your box and begin to change your way of being and find happiness withing yourself and all those around you.

Listen To Me Dammit

IMG_20140308_131255~2 One of the key things to a thriving, happy relationship is the art of Listening. From the time we are born we are taught to walk, speak, play, write, do math and many other important skills. But almost no one is taught how to communicate effectively, how to listen and how to create a lasting relationship.

So many of us think that a happy relationship is about doing things for people, “being” there for our beloved and they reciprocating the same thing. Although those are powerful contributing factors to a strong relationship it is not key to one. Learning to listen to making sure your partner feels understood and feels safe to share his or her most intimate feelings is key. Without that ingredient you will find yourself replaying the same arguments, the same frustration and the same heartbreak. Without learning to listen the unending storm will never be able to pass.


According to “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People”, by Stephen Covey he talks about the power of what true listening can do. When we listen openly, allow ourselves to be influenced by the other person, then and only then can we truly have an influence on the other. Most people do it backwards. They prepare their side, why it’s right and find strategies to convince the other to come to their side, without ever truly giving their partner a chance to be heard.

If you think about it, what do you usually do when you are listening to someone? Think about it for a second. 1.Are you simply there just listening? 2. Are you letting your mind wander to why that person is right or wrong,  3.or are you perhaps forming your reply?

Most people are either doing 2 or 3 or perhaps both. When you behave in this way you are not listening and you are definitely not open, not allowing yourself to be influenced.

Most people that call me for coaching, begin their conversation with their amazement by how horrible their partner’s behavior has been. They go on and on by all they have done, how they’ve been there for them and how their partner has hurt them.  Most of those client’s bitterness was a result of lack of communication and connection. Without that resentment brews because we all want to be heard and understood, especially by our beloved.

Suggestions in implementing authentic listening.

Take the time to practice this skill together and teach it to your children, friends and co workers. This skill is life changing for any relationship.

Sit with your partner and let him or her begin to speak. Everything that is said you respond by reflection, not by correction, advice ect.. When feeling is relayed reflection becomes even more key.

For example,

Jane talks to her husband Jack. She frustrated by his lack of care in keeping the house tidy. She begins her conversation,

Jane: “I’m really frustrated. The house seems to be always messy no matter how much I clean.”

Jack: reflects. ” You’re really frustrated by the messiness of the house..”.

Jane:, “Yea, I know how busy you are and stressed. I wished you could help out more.”

Jack: “You’re upset because I don’t help out enough?”

Jane: “Well yea. You do a lot. I know you do. I guess maybe I wish we had a little more help. What do you think about getting a maid once a week?”

At this point, because all Jack did was reflect and gently listen to her without judgement and defensiveness Jane naturally came up with a possible solution where Jack might not feel pressured. When we truly listen, without preparing a response, without feeling defensive, even if some of those feelings are directed at us the one who’s talking will feel safe enough and begin to find a possible solution on their own.

The art of listening takes practice so take the time during a night out for dinner, sitting on a park bench or simply relaxing on your living room coach. By practicing this powerful tool you will set yourself up to a long lasting, loving relationship.

Forgiveness; A New Beginning

Forgiveness is something we all like to think we can easily practice, yet many times struggle with in the course of our lives. No matter how trivial or astronomical of a problem, we tend to hold onto our judgements, anger and even hatred.

Why is that, when most of us think of ourselves as loving and easy going individuals?

We have a hard time with forgiveness because our mind gets in the way. The hypothalamus, an ancient part of our brain that’s programmed for survival kicks in when it feels it’s being attacked. It doesn’t know the difference between a physical attack or mental attack. All it knows is “this is wrong” and it will do everything to stop it. They hypothalamus is not programmed for us to be happy, at peace or thrive. It’s meant to help us survive. That’s it!

Forgiveness comes from below the brain, the heart. When we turn off the part of our mind that over analyzes why we are right, or plans an attack, or finds more reasons to feel sorry for ourselves we have a chance to experience

Forgiveness takes an understanding that we forgive, not by condoning one’s actions, but by letting go of the pain, the past, the story attached to it. We forgive so we can move on. Without forgiveness there is no way we truly let go of the event, and in essence we relive the pain over and over again, through our anger, justification and hurt. Through forgiveness we can finally move on from the pain that brought us there. We are freed. In essence we forgive for us, not for the person that committed the “wrong doing.” We can only be freed from forgiveness if we truly forgive, rather than simply saying “ I forgive you.” and hope the pain will go away. Many of us go through the motions but don’t have any heart in
what we’re doing. The magic only happens when we truly let go.

Letting go comes from an understanding that no matter how painful of a situation, no matter how wrong it seems the person who acted “unjustly” was acting from a place where he or she was trying to meet a critical need of his or hers and had no knowledge of how to accomplish this in any other way. Perhaps that was the only way they knew how to get the job done.

You see, everything we do, every action we take is to meet one of our basic human needs. The higher the need is to us the stronger our actions will be to fulfill them. Another way to let go and come to forgiveness is to see yourself in this person, and similar actions you might’ve done. Everything and everyone in our life is a mirror. We can’t see something in someone if it’s not true in ourselves. This is true with constructive and destructive behavior as well. Perhaps we haven’t committed the behavior in the extremity you experienced, but if it’s in our lives, if we see it in others than we have it to.

For example, take a child who’s being abused by her parent. Chances are she doesn’t go around beating her parent back, but she might go to school and bully a classmate or act out in class. She has similar behavior to her parent.

Esther On Pikes Peak

Eva Mozes Kor, an Auschwitz survivor, one who was subject to Dr. Mengela’s inhumane experiments was one of the first known woman to openly forgive her persecutors. She explained there’s no other way to live than to forgive. Holding onto anger and judgement poisons the body and weakens the soul. She never condoned they’re actions and even went onto building a holocaust museum. She taught, in the most eloquent, harmonious way what the power of forgiveness can do.

Immaculée Ilibagiza, a Ruwandan holocaust survivor wrote a book entitled Left To Tell where she talks about the horrors of the holocaust and how she came to forgive the killers of her family and village. She explained that by not forgiving she was no different than the killers of her family. A devout catholic, she turned to her prayers for answers and in it she realized the only way toward God and peace was through forgiveness.

I too had a chance to practice forgiveness in my life. Although not as dramatic, I had a hard time forgiving my father, who almost killed me several times in my life and later my abusive husband. I was able to forgive them by coming to an understanding that everyone that comes into our lives, no matter how briefly, as an angel and is there to help us with something; whether it’s to understand a difficult concept or to experience something our soul perhaps wanted to experience. The more I realized this, the easier the process was for me to forgive.

Esther Dance Pic

With the New Year just behind us, there is still a lot of built up anger, fear and grief over family conflicts, the stress of debt accumulation and the anxiety of finding a way to make this year better than the last. It’s an end but also a new beginning and with that an opportunity to let go of some long built up anger and pain.

I have a saying.

“To Every End Despite How Tragic Is The Light To A Beautiful Beginning”

I think of 9/11 as a great example of how the country, even the world seemed to come together. The tragedy was monumental, but seeing the kindness of strangers from around the world come to together with support made me focus on that, rather than the horror of that day. It was in this way I was able to let go of my anger and fear from terrorist acts by changing my focus. If we can forgive and let go of anger from the most vicious killers than perhaps we can begin to forgive our family, friends, clients and partners.


A great exercise in bringing forgiveness closer to you is to write a letter to the person. You don’t ever have to send it, but write down all your thoughts, all your hurt and then begin to write why you’re forgiving this person, how he or she is your angel and why you are thankful for the situation.

In closing forgiveness is a process. For most of us it doesn’t happen overnight and that’s ok. But if you really want to forgive by finding the blessings, the angel behind the demon and theunderstanding you are ready to be freed of the story, the easier and quicker forgiveness will happen.

Holding onto debilitating thoughts


Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about coping and handling injustices in life.

What I’ve found to be true in life is, The way we do anything is the way we do everything.

When struggles and what we deem injustices happen we all react and handle them differently. The truth is the way we react to these situations is exactly how we act and better yet react to every life situation. This huge challenge is just another opportunity for us to do the same thing or to make a new change in how we approach the situation.

For example,

We were talking about my situation in dealing with Parental Alienation and how to not only help me but my kids through it. My friend became furious for me at the injustice of the situation and kept demanding I force my kids to be more in my life, since I’m the mother.

I explained to her that using that approach would only bring psychological trauma to my kids and would not bring them closer to me, but by me constantly being there for them, letting them know how much I love them and still living the best life I can for me, would not only serve as a great example to my kids on how to live in joy but it would give them the room to think on their own and enter my life on their accord.

I also explained that approaching a situation from anger, disgust and helplessness will only create caos in your mind and lead to more of that.

Rather when you approach every situation from a place of distance compassion, acceptance and love it leaves room to heal and to find other alternatives to help the situation. In truth, real love is not about receiving, but about giving what’s inside of you as an expression of an overflow of who you are. Our children whether they are in your life and living in a happy family setting or whether you are experiencing conflict you always have the opportunity to find love and acceptance in the situation. This doesn’t mean condoning actions that cause pain but an acceptance of what is.

In all honesty it took me a long time to gain this perspective. The alienation I went through was probably the hardest and most painful thing I’ve ever been through. I had a choice to live in misery and pain and eventually live a life of emotional death or find the blessings, opportunities and love in the situation.

Through the acceptance of my situation I’ve been able to publish a book, become a national speaker and trainer and coach people toward a healthy and loving relationship. It was through my unbearing pain and thirst for loving relationship that I created happiness.

You always have a choice on how you approach every situation. You can either find the injustice and pain or you can find the opportunities and truth, otherwise known as love through the life circumstance. Love is the strongest thing in the universe.

If I Wanted To Leave, Then Why Do I Feel So Horrible?

Divorce is one of the greatest stressors experienced today. What many people don’t realize is even though it’s something they wanted, grief is a natural response. The simple reason that it’s new, different and maybe putting the divorcee in many unknown beginnings. This alone will create sheer terror. Fear is a result of walking into the unknown. Knowledge is the most powerful conqueror of fear. If we understand what’s in front of us, we are better prepared for it.

Mark Twain said it best,
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

When going through a divorce our life is thrown upside down, inside out and backwards. It’s hard for us to see the floor, let alone take a step forward, but understanding that fear is a normal emotional response to what is happening is a beginning step to moving through it. The first thing to understand is that what you might be feeling is anticipation or excitement. In fact there is a similar chemical reaction produced by the body when experiencing excitement and fear. Divorce can be an exciting time, a chance for a new beginning. Although there are unknowns, the possibilities are endless. Embracing the possibilities can help you find your footing and take the steps necessary to better your life.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)

Think of a time that you were scared to do something, perhaps when you were a child, maybe it was getting on that two wheeler for the first time, or letting go of floating devices in a pool. Think about how it felt when you moved through that fear. What lies on the other side of fear is excitement and celebration. If we can take steps to move through our fears, knowing that on the other side is a big splashy celebration, it will be easier to arrive at our destination. The definition of fear, is the anticipation of pain. If we think we will experience pain before it actually happens, then we are either living in a past experiencing, where we felt pain, or living in an unrealized future. By knowing this, we can gently bring ourselves back to the present moment and know that there’s nothing to fear but fear itself. Know that you can create a better life, a happier you and a healthier environment for yourself and your children, if you have any. By understanding fear as a natural response to divorce, facing it and moving through it, you will begin to discover your true power and unlimited possibilities for your future.

Losing A Love & Combatting Loneliness

Are you frightened to be alone? I know many people are frightened to be alone. We are social creatures who thrive on the company and comfort of others. My transformation from married life to single life included learning to understand what it meant to be alone and to embrace it.

What does the word alone really mean?

I’ve felt alone my whole life even though I’ve been surrounded by people. Some of those people actually loved me, like my mom and my grandparents. Feeling lonely does not always mean that you’re alone in the true sense of the word, or even that you’re not loved. I know for a fact that my children love me and that I have friends that love me too. This feeling of being alone is the feeling that you are not part of something, someone, or a group. It’s the feeling that when you die, very few people will notice and you won’t be missed. It’s feeling like you have no true support during hard times; that there’s no one to hold you, comfort you, or talk you out of doing something stupid. I used to go into screaming-and-crying fits, especially during the end of my marriage. The fits used to last for hours and freaked the hell out of me because I truly thought I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The reason they happened was I sensed and saw I was losing my kids.

It’s like losing a part of your beingness. The thought of not being with my children or them not wanting to be with me was too painful to handle. The only comfort I had during my marriage was the illusion that my husband was there for me. He sometimes actually did come through. Sometimes, after two hours or more of me screaming, he came and held me and calmed me down. Sometimes I fell asleep in my drool on the cold hard floor of my basement. I needed to be okay with truly being alone. The illusion that I had someone at my side was shattered and it was terrifying to me. Even though I knew divorce was the best thing for everyone, that didn’t make it less painful. I had quickly learned that doing the right thing did not necessarily mean it wouldn’t be painful. In fact, sometimes it’s the most painful thing to do; but it’s what needs to be done and the result will eventually be rewarding, or so we hope. When we go in for surgery, it’s necessary but painful. The results are a healthier heart,liver, ankle, or whatever; but it does not mean the process wasn’t horribly disruptive to your life, physically, as well as emotionally devastating.

Grief and loss provide the same experience. We tend to not consider how normal and healthy it is to allow the process of healing, because most Americans are scared of emotions. They, right away, say that there is something “wrong” with the person if he or she is crying over a loss or change in their life. People are so quick to judge when it comes to an emotional event in another person’s life. Physical events you can see. It’s hard to not notice a bandage on someone’s head or someone in a wheelchair; but when it comes to emotional pain and healing, people tend to call it dysfunctional. “She needs medication” or “He’s not normal.”

Feeling alone is an emotional pain that is normal and very common. But in our society, we shun emotions and instead deal with pain by drinking or drugging ourselves in order for us to not feel it or deal with it. I had learned that drugs can be a very effective means to deal with physical pain when I was going through childbirth, and in 2008, from ankle surgery; but I never even considered using drugs for any emotional pain. There are people that flip that around and, for emotional pain, use drugs and/or alcohol, but say they would rather not use any medication for colds, injuries, or physical pain. It’s their way of fooling themselves into believing they are leading a healthy lifestyle. But I’ve learned that everything physical starts with our emotional life. If we numb our emotions, how will our physical life manifest itself eventually?

In truth, you are never alone. Feeling alone is feeling separate from who you really are. We are all connected to everything and everyone. We are Divine beings, spiritual, expressing ourselves in human form. When one experiences solitude, a true gift is formed, where one can deeply connect back to their divinity and hear their true voice.

A great exercise to do, when you find yourself feeling lonely is connect to nature in some way, either by taking a trip to the mountains or taking a walk in a park. Sit with nature. Listen to the water, the trees, the birds. Feel the breeze, the rain or snow on your face. Connect to nature with every sense. In this way you can turn your loneliness into a time of solitude. Reflect on yourself. Give yourself some time alone, some love and some space. This special time with yourself can be very healing, soothing yourself through nature.

Another way to spend your alone time is going out alone to a theater, a restaurant or cafe. Sit and observe what’s around you. Observe other people’s behavior. Two things can happen. 1. You’ll learn a lot about behavior and relate it to yourself;what works and what doesn’t. 2. You might also meet new people you’d otherwise never meet if you’d be with a group, a friend or a loved one. Being alone brings new opportunities that are not open to attached people. By changing the way you view loneliness or aloneness you will change your experience with it. Change your perception and your perception changes.

New Beginnings

Episode 18
New Beginnings

Listen to several short podcasts as one man fights with his painful past, learning to forgive himself and move on, while another learns to let go of the pain inflicted on him over 40 years ago.
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Mental Health Illness Misconceptions

Episode 14
Mental Health Illness Misconceptions

Listen as I interview a small group of homeless women, share their struggles of homelessness and mental health disorders, the judgements and misconceptions they face and what we “normy’s” can do about it
Episode 14 Download
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