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.

Thankful Stress

esther-adler-19November is upon us and with it comes the stream of holidays. I’ve already seen Christmas decorations up and Thanksgiving hasn’t even come and passed. The holidays swings everyone into a rush of conflicting emotions,  joy, love and for many stress and depression. The holiday season is a reminder of what we have to be thankful for, connection to our family and for those in grief a reminder of what and whom we’ve lost. It’s no coincidence that this time of year has the highest suicide rate. It’s not so much the cold, gray weather but more so the loneliness and grief so many feel during the festivities all around them. It’s a time that so many feel even lonelier amongst the chaos and bustling surrounding them.

The holidays also tend to create more stress in relationships. With the pressure of family get togethers, added cooking, and buying gifts, couples that otherwise have healthy relationships can find themselves at each others throats. Many separations take place during this time. The cracks in the relationship cause small stresses to spiral out of control.

What can you do to ensure you and your loved ones enjoy a truly happy and Thankful season?

I once saw a talk that Tony Robbins gave on the day of the September 11th attacks. It was during a conference he was leading in Hawaii and he first thought of cancelling the seminar, but then decided to use the trauma as a learning experience for all.

One of the first things he began with was making the audience aware that whatever emotions they were feeling were their “go to” emotions. If they were angry because of the attacks they got angry at every chance in other areas of their life as well. If they were grief stricken and sad then those same people found reasons to be sad before any other emotions emerged. The people who felt guilty also felt guilty before the attacks and so on. In other words the attacks were just another reason to get sad, angry, afraid and so on. Your primary emotion is something you feel whenever something happens in life. There’s a reason this happens. It’s to fill a need, whether it’s significance, certainty, or love and connection.

Understanding your “go to” emotions will help you see how you deal with stress. It will also tell you which need is your primary need and what vehicles you use to acquire it. If you experience anger before sadness. You seek out significance and certainty in life above all else. If you get sad first then love and connection is your primary need. This does not mean the needs you choose to experience are your chore needs. They are just the ones you are acting on at the moment.

IMG_1812When stressful events happens in life, the desire to get your primary needs met becomes more intense. If you’re highest need is certainty and you’re going through a divorce you might work harder, eat out less, and fight tooth and nail with your ex to ensure the same style of life you lived when together.

If your highest need is love and connection and you are going through a divorce you might seek out peaceful resolution or start a war with your ex. You might seek out old friends or create new ones.

We all have productive and destructive ways of meeting our needs, but when going through stress many of us turn to a more destructive way of getting the job done. Our emotions take over and we will do anything we can to ensure our needs are met.

During the talk I saw with Tony Robbins he brought two men together, one an Arab from Pakistan and one a Jew from Brooklyn. They both hated each other at first, especially given the circumstances of 9/11. During a process Tony put them through he helped them to realize how alike they were and that they both had the same needs and desires. They ended the day as friends and even created a foundation together to help teach peace amongst Arabs and Jews.

When you find yourself fighting with your spouse, feeling alone and overwhelmed with grief take a moment to understand what are the benefits you are gaining from those intense emotions. Make a list to see the benefits that anger, grief, sadness is giving you. Understand what arguing with your spouse provides.

Maybe you are seeking connection and the only way you know how is by starting an argument. Perhaps you lost someone close to you and the only way to keep them alive in your mind is to go over and over how much you miss them. Maybe you’re dealing with a separation and the only way to feel significant is by making the process painful for your ex.

When we become aware of what needs we are acting on we can begin to choose vehicles that will better serve us and help us get to our chore needs, which for most of us is love and connection.

If you’ve lost someone this year, the holidays can be especially difficult. It’s important to surround yourself with friends, family who support you and a guide, counselor or coach who can help you deal with your conflicting emotions that come up. It’s normal to at first feel like you’re dealing with things well and then a surge of emotions seem to come out of nowhere. It’s during these times that support is essential. Not everyone has the “Sex And The City” group of friends or a sister or mother to talk to. If you don’t have it you need to create it.

On the other side of a stressful fall and winter holiday season is the peace and solace that holiday magic can bring. Getting to a place where you can enjoy the gifts around you is possible no matter what your story is. It’s a matter of setting yourself up to enjoy it.

Parents Worst Nightmare Turned Into Purpose

One of my goals is how can you take something most would look at as terrible, horrific, a tragedy and turn it into terrific, life changing, inspirational? My goal is to share how you can do it with anything, no matter how insane it looks, how impossible. Let me share with you what is deemed as a parent’s worst nightmare and how I turned it into my life’s purpose.

I recently came across two women who left the orthodox Jewish way of life, as well as abusive husbands and were alienated from their children. In both cases the community ganged up against them, making it near to impossible to get them back. Parent alienation happens to both fathers and mothers. The effects are equally damaging for the parent and children, but there seems to be a weird trend linking alienation from a mother using religion as a tool.

One of the two women, now an actress and model was recently on Dr. Phil, calling the Jewish religion a cult, while the other is an author, who published her very sought after book Unorthodox. She was fortunate to eventually getting her two year old son back. The age of the child plays a key role in the alienation process. The younger the child, the faster the process, but the less damage is done, therefore making it easier to retain custody of the child. The older the children the more time it takes, but the deeper the mark, therefore making it much more difficult to reclaim the children into their mother’s lives. I have met many others in passing who left the ultra orthodox way of life, losing their money, identity and children in the midst. There seems to be a pattern where if a woman in an ultra religious setting chooses to end the marriage, she is ostracized from the community and shunned from her children.

Because I came from an ultra Orthodox Jewish background myself, I was particularly interested in these stories and what the women took from it. I too was alienated by my children from my husband and his new community who were very much part of the process.

This scenario happens in every major religious organization. Women have fewer rights then men, are usually owned or subservient to the man’s wishes and when they try to make changes to their lives, take more control of their destiny, their husband, if abusive will continue his abuse in the form of alienation. This fear alone tends to keep many women stuck in a unhealthy pattern. Many develop severe depression even before the process happens. They feel imprisoned to their circumstance. They don’t see a way out.

For many years I felt chained as well. I felt damned if I left and damned if I didn’t. As long as I was in the marriage I would be with my kids. I didn’t really believe I would lose my children, but there was always something, a feeling, an intuition, a gnawing fear that a part of me would die.

It didn’t happen right away. My kids were older. We were all non observant Jews at the end of the marriage. In order to use the religion as a tool they had to be probed and taught to join the religion again. As soon as we began the separation process the alienation began. One by one my kids joined the ultra religious way of life, starting with my oldest, until finally reaching my youngest 3 years later. Almost as soon as they became religious they changed the way they interacted with me. They stopped communicating with me, found every excuse to stay away from my house, even when it was my week with them. They stopped eating the food in my house, claiming it wasn’t kosher, even though I kept a kosher home since I was born. I had no way of mothering them. Every attempt to connect, love or even discipline was met with hatred. They eventually shared how they wanted to just live with their dad.

After fighting with my ex, trying to convince my children how they need me, asking for advice from countless “experts” and answering countless motions my former husband brought against me I finally realized what needed to be done.

I gave my children what they wanted, one home with their dad, one way of life and true peace. I understood the power of surrender and acceptance. I knew that by me giving them what they clearly wanted everyone would be happier, including me. I knew I wasn’t abandoning them. I was loving them completely, as well as teaching them what self love is, putting a stop to the abuse going on in my house. I understood they were taught to hate me, but with me continuing the fighting it brought strain, pain and more hate rather than peace. The motions left penniless and I felt no control over my life and children. I knew for now this was the only way.

I looked at my situation as a new beginning. I knew if I reclaimed my life and worked on me, when or if my children wanted a relationship with me again I’d be in a secure financial situation to help them. I knew if I allowed myself to heal and constantly remained committed to loving my children and making sure they knew that, that perhaps one day they would know the truth and want more of a relationship with me. I began to trust, become really present and focus on how I can turn this into something good. There were months and months of agony, screaming, sheer pain from being away from my children, but I also knew, just as you heal from a broken bone it hurts, so too does healing a broken heart.

As soon as my children and I separated the relationship I had with most of my children began to heal.
The three youngest and I began skyping immediately. Every time we talk, even now all we experience is love. They are happier in their religious way of life for now and by me accepting them fully I show them the power of true love.

I now travel the country sharing my book Breaking The Chains To Freedom, and share my story of how I broke out of my own chains, how I took my pain and turned it into my purpose. I became a national speaker and life coach. My pain, which turned into purpose has helped many others heal from their pain.

When i recently visiting a domestic abuse shelter in NJ and shared with them my story of healing one of the women asked what the situation with my children are. When I explained to them they are still with their father and why. She looked at me and said,

“Perhaps your children are with their dad so you can do the work you’re doing. We need to hear your words of hope and inspiration.”

This was something I knew, but how wonderful to hear it from a stranger.

So how can one heal, move on and turn pain in purpose? It’s simple but one of the hardest things to do. If you simply change your perception and begin to look at all the possibilities rather than what you are missing, those possibilities turn into your purpose, your passion and your mission. Your pain can turn into you changing yourself, your community and even the world.

The other thing to always remember is

The Only Constant In Life Is Change!

My children in a day, a week, a year can call me up and tell me they want to stay with me now. They might or might not, but the important thing to remember is my constant love for them and acceptance to the present will not just help my own family but everyone I touch. It’s our perception that causes our suffering, never the event.

Comedy, Motivation Where You Least Expect It: From Prison to Poetry

Episode 19
This enlightening podcast will bring you to tears as you listen to this heartfelt man who shares his difficult past, in and out of prison, bringing hope, comedy and poetry wherever he goes. He will motivate you to be bigger than you are. He reads several of his heartfelt poems to us, bringing me to tears.
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A Welcome Change

Episode 17
A Welcome Change

In this short podcast, listen as two different women, with very different pasts share the pain they fled abuse and through admitting it how they are moving on they are healing despite the fear, anger and depression they face everyday.

Episode 17 Download
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From Abuse, Hopelessness to a New Life

Episode 9
From Abuse, Hopelessness to a New Life

A group of women discuss how they ended up in a shelter, what life is like in a shelter, their fears, hopes and pains. This podcasts has elements of laughter, playfulness as well as moments hearing the emotional plight of a victim of abuse.
Episode 12 Download
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Lonely Valentine

Valentine is a funny day. Don’t you think? It produces so many different emotions; ecstasy when you’re in love, anger or relief when you’ve ended a relationship, sadness and depression when you’re recovering from a break up and sometimes peace when you’re alone. The key to these emotions is how you deal with being alone.

When I first got divorced I was officially alone for the first time in my life. I didn’t realize how scary that was for me. I was unsure if I should throw a party and celebrate or cry from the emptiness I felt. Interestingly enough I had felt alone during my childhood and my whole marriage. I was surrounded by people but felt alone. As I later evolved I pondered that idea. How can one feel so alone surrounded by people and others experience no loneliness when there’s no one else around? I realized that the feeling of loneliness comes from within. As human beings we all need human contact and human connection, but some of us don’t seem to need as much. Does it come from self confidence, security or is it simply a characteristic? From what I’ve learned and experienced I believe it’s a bit of all of the above. Self confidence and security plays a role in how we feel and act around others and when we’re by ourselves. When healing from a divorce many of us experience a drop in our self esteem. This can cause us to act from grief, pain and desperation. We might be acting extremely friendly and warm but the energy that encompasses us is pain and grief. People feel that and we might not realize how our behavior can push people away. I was always flabbergasted with how many people seemed to like me, but very few seemed to want hang out with me. This left me feeling extraordinarily lonely. It wasn’t until I began to reflect on my own behavior that I was able to shift this phenomenon. I realized I was scared of being alone and until I learned to be ok with this the feeling of connection would continue to elude me.

I began to create special “Esther Time” events, whether it was taking myself out to see a play, going to a nice restaurant, taking a hot bath and listening to some music or simply giving myself the attention and love I deserved. When I opened myself up to being ok with being alone I inevitably always met someone amazing who either became a good friend or simply created an entertaining experience. The key to shifting from loneliness to peace in your alone time is enveloping yourself with what you need and want, without searching for it outside of yourself. When you enjoy yourself, just being with yourself and treat yourself how you want to be treated people will show up and help you along the way. It might not show up immediately the way you’d expect but if you keep enjoying yourself, letting go of needing it from the outside that energy alone will surround you with the connection we all want and thrive by.

Double Your Dating- With Ceil Hansen

Episode 10
Double Your Dating

Here I talk with my good friend Coach Ceil Hansen, a dating coach who not just helps singles find new love after divorce but saves long term relationships and marriages. We giggle like high school girls, share insightful ideas about relationships. Coach Ceil gives us advice on how we can strengthen our existing relationships now. To learn more about Coach Ceil go to
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Climbing With Uncertainty

Life is full of uncertainty, full of stop and do not enter signs, obstacles and anything you can imagine to keep you from climbing toward your goals. When we are in a painful situation, we sometimes can see a stairway, but because we can’t see what on the top of it, we stay where we are. We make up excuses by saying, “but there was a do not enter sign there.”

I never thought in a million years I’d be doing what I’m doing, writing a book,traveling the country to shelters inspiring women to step out of their pain, becoming a keynote speaker for corporations, mental health institutions and producing my own one woman show. The reason why I’m doing all of this is because I chose to climb up the stairs, even though I didn’t see the top. I took the unknown as a thrill. Yes I was scared. In fact there were times I was so scared I thought I was going to die. I still have moments of fear, but I keep going. You see, what I learned is that there will always be things to be scared about. That won’t change. How you handle the fear can change.

One of the amazing things I’ve seen during my visits to the shelters in California is the women I spoke to all understood they were in control of changing their life. They realized that no matter what happened to them, whether they caused themselves to end up in a shelter or circumstances caused it, they knew they can change things by changing themselves. They all seemed very aware of that. I was humbled by their stories, of pain, hope and for many fearlessness. These women are heroes of spirit.

One of the places I visited and spoke at was a hospital mental health program. Most of the audience were men. I at first wondered if I would connect to a mostly male audience, but I climbed the stairs, knowing that what was at the top I couldn’t see. I knew I had to be there and that group needed to hear me. I was amazed at the profound results.

At the end of the talk, many of the boys and men came up to me and shared their stories. They were truly taken by my talk and grateful for my time with them. And yes… They very much related to me and my message because I let go and what needed to be said just came through me that night.
The women in the audience also came over to me. One was crying. It turned out she was going through something similar to what I went through a few years back with my ex husband. She was still recovering from his abuse and was touched to see what I was doing as a result of what I’ve been through. What I learned from that night was by truly letting go and allowing your feelings, of whatever they are to be, whether it’s fear, anger, sadness or whatever come through you and trust that the stairs will take you to somewhere spectacular you will get there and touch a lot of people along the way.