Shame: The Insidious Love-Killer

by Jami and Marla Keller, Cofounders and Relationship Experts

This week we need to start by talking about shame. Yes, this is a really different kind of conversation for some of us. (Jami) Men, we benefit from knowing what shame is so that we are able to deal with it in our hearts and minds and defeat anger which allows us to be open about it with those we love. Sidenote: Anger turned inward is depression and outward is rage. To be clear, rage is NOT a healthy way to express your anger and there is a definite difference in how it’s done. We need to step up and teach our children and our communities to deal with shame in love and kindness. (Don’t worry, men. It’s not all on you but it is so important for you to understand and acknowledge. Marla addresses women below..)

In her book Daring Greatly she goes on to say,

“When shame becomes a management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity, and innovation. When it comes to parenting, the practice of framing mothers and fathers as good or bad is both rampant and corrosive—it turns parenting into a shame minefield. The real questions for parents should be: ‘Are you engaged? Are you paying attention?’ If so, plan to make lots of mistakes and bad decisions. Imperfect parenting moments turn into gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.”

The truth is that I let my shame issues get in the way of my relationship with Marla in the ’90s, and recently I nearly lost it all. I thought I was above it. The truth is without a connected group of accountable and authentic men consistently in my life, I again let fear and isolation take me down an ugly road. It is so easy to believe the lie that if I share with even my best friends that I will lose something. Credibility? My career? My wife (a very real fear)? And maybe even my life? Yes, when we are accountable and connected in honest ways we only lose isolation, depression, fear, and hate. Sadly there is so much fear and hate coming from men these days and we must band together and find better ways! Please do not let the fear of being honest keep you down as I did. I got lucky and didn’t end up losing everything I love, especially the love of my life, Marla. She has stuck with me through thick and thin and I am forever grateful and a much better man because of her. 

(Marla) I am certainly not without my own shame web, and it has been a nasty, sticky web indeed. It was in 1995 that I  began to realize that I had been living a life based on my shame. Everything I said and did I carefully adjusted to make sure that I would not be disapproved of (can you relate, girlfriends?). My core shame created this belief in me that I was not enough, therefore I needed to perform, be perfect in all areas, and do it with such finesse that I would never be “found out” for the fraud I was. This was all very unconscious at the time, but as I began to embark on the journey of healing, I came face to face with my addictions. No, I was not addicted to drugs, alcohol, medications, sex, work or rage. I was addicted to approval. Ughh. I was addicted to perfectionism (creating the façade that everything around me was “perfect”). I was addicted to being right. More ugghhh. And I literally felt unsafe whenever I was wrong. These are the things I did to keep from being vulnerable; to keep from letting anyone know who I really was:

  • I kept my house spotless. You could have eaten off of the floors at any time, even though Kayla and Ariel were just little kiddos. My. House. Was. Perfect. If it wasn’t, I would break into crazy mode, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. Following the girls and Jami picking up crumbs, toys, socks…You get the picture (and it’s certainly not a pretty one).
  • I was afraid of what people thought about me.
  • I dissociated. I checked out emotionally, but not as you might think. I checked out by being busy; by constantly thinking about the next thing on my calendar. Not. Even. Close to present.
  • I had a deep need for certainty. Translation: I was a control freak!
  • I constantly compared myself to others, especially my body. I had a love-hate relationship with my body, but mostly it was hate. “Never pretty enough” plagued me. 
  • Exhaustion was my status symbol. I was a fantastic martyr.
  • Productivity made me feel worthy, if but for a moment.
  • Anxiety and chaos were a lifestyle choice for me. Sometimes mine, but mostly everybody else’s anxiety and chaos. I had completely lost myself because my shame kept saying to me that I was unworthy unless I was the best wife, the best mother, the best daughter, the best sister, the best friend, etc., etc.
  • I was constantly “shoulding” on myself. “I should be thinner…I should be a better mom…I should have sex with my husband every day…I should never make a mistake…I should always look just right…I should always be in control…I should be cooler…” And on, and on, and on.

Ladies (and maybe most of you reading this) can you relate to any of these statements? If so, you are also struggling with your core shame. (And for those of you who can’t relate at all, you may need to read the definition of “denial” because, from what Brené Brown’s research says, we ALL have shame at our core. Men, as Jami mentioned above it may look a little differently for you. Something like “I should never be weak…I should always be strong…I should be a good provider…”) The cool, and hopeful, thing is that you can have healing and relief from this dangerous place. I have. I’m certainly not completely rid of my shame, but it continues to get better and better. I am more full of joy and peace today than anything else, but to be honest Jami’s struggle that he gives a nod to above just about killed me and sent me straight back to this core shame for a time. It was horrible, earthshattering, paradigm-shifting, heart-crushing and also allowed me another run at cleaning out this very deeply-seeded shame. For this I am grateful.

(Jami) Marla and I have developed the Feeling Wheel 5.0 to help all of us learn better strategies for relationships. Because…well…shame.

The core of the wheel has three feelings: Shame, Forgiveness, and Love. This is the center of all our conflicts. All our behaviors are related to how we deal with these three feelings. Think of Shame as the giant lie that you are not worthy of love. This is why Marla and I put Shame across from Love. It is because it is the only toxic feeling on the wheel, and it is, in fact, based on a lie; the lie when any person believes that they are a bad person. And because of the nature of Shame, it sticks to other feelings like Fear, Anger, Jealousy and even Peace (worry much?) and Joy (have sexual shame?). All feelings free from shame are healthy feelings. Feelings are raw information. Our brains are highly efficient at making connections with how events in our life make us feel. We then develop strategies and we repeat what gets us what we expect, which is not necessarily the best outcome.

Just outside the core of the wheel are six feelings that we reference as ”modes.” A mode is a pattern of behavior solidified to help us function and communicate. Think of it as an autopilot program that gets activated in certain situations, designed to protect your heart. Most often we don’t think much about doing these things, we just do them often without much conscious thought. These are often packages of behaviors that once served us well and helped us survive, but are now needing to be updated to serve us better.

The question this week is where does your life hurt? What do you avoid? Why? Can you find a pattern of your behavior that is contributing to the pain? Let’s talk about how we can help each other and get better results for our families and communities. Schedule your Free Discovery Session today HERE.

Three Tools for Creating and Fostering a Deeply Intimate Coupleship (Both Emotionally and Sexually)

by Jami and Marla Keller

After nearly twenty-five years of working with couples, there are three things that we have found to make the biggest difference in connection and long-term happiness. It turns out that neuroscience backs up these tools which we, crazy as it sounds, have 100% success with when each person does the work we prescribe. And guess what research finds is the most important attribute to foster a deeply intimate coupleship (both emotionally and sexually)? Emotional safety. And the three things we address below are the skills to create and keep this attribute in your coupleship for a lifetime. According to The Gottman Institute current research in neurobiology “shows that emotional safety is one of the most important aspects of a satisfying connection in a loving relationship. We need to feel safe before we’re able to be vulnerable, and as Brené Brown reminds us, ‘Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.’”

We all need to sharpen the tools we use to manage the tensions in our coupleships by connecting our hearts with our brains (and/or vice versa!). So what are the three things that you can do right now to train your brain and heart to turn towards your spouse, limit the negativity, and improve feelings of safety, connection, and undying love?

  1. Your Feelings Are Real and Only You Are Responsible for Taking Care of Them 

It seems ridiculously simple (it is simple, it’s just not always easy!), and when it is humbly addressed and you each take turns letting your partner’s feelings be real, everything changes and the connection grows deeper and deeper. Agreements are mostly made silently and are often out of date. Updating your basic coupleship agreements revitalizes your coupleship, and yet most couples rarely update even one agreement. What does this look like? (Marla) For me one of the silent agreements I had with Jami was since I was a stay-at-home mom I would do all of the domestic chores and take care of the kids and Jami would bring home the money. It worked pretty well until I began to resent it, but I didn’t have the tools to share my resentment and it became passive-aggressive comments and control. And Jami’s response was to lash back at me with, “I go to work and pay our bills and being a mom is your job, not mine” and then he’d check-out, sometimes physically but mostly emotionally, leaving me feeling utterly abandoned. This left us both resentful, hurt, and confused. In our consulting practice, and in our relationship, we start with a fundamental agreement that my feelings are real and Jami’s feelings are real and although we care about each other we are not going to take care of our partner’s feelings. We need to take care of ours first, recognizing what we are actually feeling (see this blog) and humbly sharing what they are. In our two-hour online course on Sundays from 1-3 pm, Jami and I model ways of doing this in a loving way that generates healing and emotional safety instead of instigating more of the same argument.

  1. Have a Common Language for Your Feelings 

(Jami) You might have seen our Feeling Wheel 5.0. Men (or anyone who tends to avoid feelings, particularly feeling words, like me) who take a few minutes to understand how to use the wheel love it and it changes everything! It gives a couple a quick and easy way to know where the other is at and this makes it much easier to ask for what you want. I used to be terrible about expressing my feelings because let’s face it, I didn’t have a clue about what emotion/s I was feeling. When you’re told “Shut-up or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “big boys don’t cry” you learn very early not to share what you’re really feeling unless it’s happy and easy for the people around you. The deepest hurts in our coupleship have come from both Marla and I growing up with this faulty thinking about feelings. Marla’s emotional shutdown looked more like “Just relax; you’re fine” but the emotional outcome was the same leaving her feeling responsible to make everyone happy all the while losing herself. Even with this faulty foundation, Marla and I have learned to address our feelings rather than go on and on with a story (usually with angry undertones and words) about how hurt we are. This tool is also expanded on in our short online course with specific skills to overcome your triggered response to conflict within your relationship. The outcome of practicing this skill daily is an emotional safe coupleship full of deeper intimacy.

  1. Know Your Partner’s Sensory Preference 

There are three primary sensory preferences: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. These seem obvious but what often happens is that both you and your spouse have been using old strategies to meet these needs and you are both totally frustrated and don’t even realize why. (Marla) I am highly visual and Jami is highly kinesthetic which, you can imagine, led to a lot of frustration and even hostility. Jami would leave his socks or pants or whatever article of dirty clothing right next to the laundry basket and step right over it to leave the room. I would seethe and tell him to please put them into the basket. It happened often, and every time I would feel disrespected and unheard. I just thought he was being a jerk. We learned this concept in 1996 and it was eye-opening, to say the least! Jami wasn’t disrespecting me; he actually didn’t see the laundry on the floor. Mind blown. And when he understood the importance of my visual space being neat he stepped up his visual game and started dropping his dirty laundry into the basket. For Jami when I wouldn’t connect with him through touch he felt disrespected and unloved. You can imagine the painful conversations that ensued because of it… When I realized how important physical touch is to him I began to be intentional about it. All of our physical and emotional shifts made a huge difference in our emotional safety and connection!

Getting to what we call “together, together” on these three things will take a ho-hum relationship to a stellar connection for eternity. This is why we have developed a two-hour interactive course full of great tools and live coaching for all individuals (singles and couples) that puts these three foundational principles into clear and easy to talk about strategies so everyone is completely happy with each other. Classes are on Sunday afternoons from one to three so sign up today and find out how you can connect like never before! (If you aren’t on Facebook where the tickets to the course are sold please follow THIS LINK to pay directly–$49 for individuals and $79 for couples.)

Note: Often one person in a coupleship finds reasons not do start learning about these things… it is natural to resist change and if your partner is doing this there are two things to do: First, ask them why it is they “don’t want to,” and just listen, and when they are finished put what they said into a feeling; what do you hear? Frustration, skepticism, criticism, fear? And let them know that those feelings are real and you understand. You also have feelings and would really appreciate them joining you in making your relationship better, and having tools for these feelings might make a big difference in both your happiness. The second thing to do? If showing empathy for their resistance does not help them choose to join you simply come to class and learn the tools and slowly integrate them into your coupleship. You both will be happier than ever!

Joy in the (Fair) Fight

by Jami and Marla Keller

(Marla) Dirty fighting almost killed our coupleship, but here we are! Jami was really good and being emotionally distant and abandoning me (both emotionally and physically) and I was really good at using all Jami’s past disgretions against him. Not cool. We were on the verge of divorce and miraculously learned how to stop the dirty fighting. It was strange, uncomfortable, hard, and confusing but it has been so worth it! You can have this, too.

The key to managing the tension in your coupleship, and actually any relationship in your life, is to remember that most issues are not problems to solve, rather they are tensions to manage. Managing tensions works really well when you can know what your core feelings are about an issue and communicate them in a kind and respectful way. This is called “speaking your truth in love.” It is truly helpful if you can make the agreement with your partner that both of your feelings are important and real, no matter what they are, and it is each person’s responsibility to share those feelings regularly. This is a general guide to follow (notice that it also generates more joy in your life!)…

1. Track Your Feelings

The very best way to become free from difficult emotions is to  f e e l  them and move through them. What does this look like? If you are angry, feel the anger (where is it in your body, what color is it, what shape is it) and then visualize releasing it from your body.

2. Journal

I know, I know, journaling is so annoying… And it is powerful for letting JOY in! Here’s a quick way to do it: a) Write out the positive feelings you’d like to experience throughout the day, b) Write out the negative feelings you felt yesterday, and c) Write out what you are grateful for. When you take this time away from the craziness off life. It’s that simple.

3. Forgive

Yikes, really??! Yep, for real. We promise that it will transform your life. Forgiveness is a choice way before it’s a feeling, and it is for you and not for the other person. Forgiveness is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the person(s) who harmed you. They are still accountable for their actions. And it does not mean that you need to reconnect with those who have hurt you. You’ve got this!

4. Speak Your Truth

Are you worried about being disapproved of if you speak your truth? Don’t worry about what others think about you because they rarely do… How does that resonate with your heart? When you’ve been able to dive in to Steps 1-3 you’re totally ready for Step #4. You’re worth it!

It takes at least 21 days to create a new habit and then 60 days or more to solidify it so keep on keeping on and see how your life changes for the better! If you find that this isn’t working for you then it may be time to get some support. You can schedule your Free Discovery Session today!

Stop the Dirty Fighting and Change Your Coupleship Story

by Jami and Marla Keller, Cofounders

Are you tired of having the same old fight over and over again? You’re not alone; it happens to every couple. It’s time to change your coupleship story today and forever! It turns out that in relationships there are really very few problems to be solved. Most issues are tensions to manage, and without tension, there can be no passion. The attitude you use to manage the tensions in your coupleship will create passion or provoke a fight. Most of what we do in our coaching/mentoring/consulting is helping couples find the old way of managing this tension so couples can move from the same old dirty fighting and replace it with new tools that help every coupleship succeed. 

(Marla) Most of our learning about conflict resolution comes from our parents. Maybe you were like Jami and saw many fights between your parents that were highly volatile and frightening at times. Or like me who saw my parents have “loud discussions” that usually ended with my father getting what he wanted. At least that was my perception. Other people we have coached have said that they never even saw their parents fight with each other. And you might think that your parents’ not fighting in front of you was better, but that assumption would be wrong. Dead wrong. Oftentimes, a person who has never seen their parents fight and a person whose parents fought very dirty get together and, boy, the fur starts to fly! Here are some dirty fighting techniques we have come across over the past twenty-four years of working with couples: 

  • Expressing “you” statements–“You make me so angry!” When you address frustration with “I” statements and then talk about your specific feelings, you end up having a more productive conversation that probably won’t meltdown into a knock-down-drag-out.
    • Quick Fix–Shift the conversation by saying instead, “I feel frustrated when you leave your dirty socks in the middle of the floor” instead of “You are so lazy!” 
  • Using “always” and “never” which overstates and exaggerates the situation–“I am always the one who has to take care of the kids! You never help me.” Be very aware when you use these two words. “Always” and “never” are always about the past (childhood) and never about today. Obviously you are triggered in the moment by your partner but the trigger is old.
    • Quick Fix–Take a moment to assess times when you use these words and identify the first time you felt that feeling. Journal this out so that you have more clarity, and then journal about the event. You will find that this keeps you from going to that place when things get heated again.
  • Ghosting your partnerPsychotherapist and professor Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. writes, “Ghosting isn’t new—people have long engaged in disappearing acts—but years ago this kind of behavior was considered limited to a certain type of scoundrel…being ghosted is a phenomenon that approximately 50 percent of men and women have experienced—and an almost equal number have done the ghosting. Despite how common ghosting is, the emotional effects can be devastating, and particularly damaging to those who already have fragile self-esteem.” The core of ghosting is abandonment through silence, not texting or calling back, saying things like “My phone was dead,” etc.
    • Quick Fix–Choose connection over distance when you are tempted to ignore your partner by responding consistently to them in kindness when they reach out to you. 
  • Escalating from the issue to attacking your partner’s personality, and then asking whether or not a relationship with this person is worth it, and verbalizing the possibility of divorce or break-up– When you love someone your intention is not to hurt them. But when things get heated, the easiest thing to want to do is lash out and be mean. 
    • Quick Fix–Stop. Look. Listen. Take ten seconds before speaking so that you won’t end up saying something you will regret later. 
  • Coming at your partner at a time when they are unable to take the time to work on the problem appropriately–Examples of this would be picking a fight or bringing up something hurtful right when they are walking out the door, immediately before guests arrive, or promptly before driving into the parking lot at a community event. 
    • Quick Fix–Make sure that you are bringing up important conversations at a time that will allow for the discussion to be thorough and not volatile.
  • Crucializing–Saying something like, “If you really loved me, you would do this to make me happy.” Or, “This just proves that you never loved me.” Be careful about rash statements, or guilt-inducing statements. These will only create more pain. 
    • Quick Fix–Instead, take time to think about why you are in love with your partner or better yet why you fell in love with them in the first place. Again, ten seconds can really help! Even a time-out would be appropriate, but make sure it isn’t more than 30 minutes and that you state you are not abandoning your partner but are taking a breather from the conflict to get your heart in a better place. 
  • Kitchen-sinking–Bombarding your partner with everything that they have ever done in the past and then exclaiming that they will never change because of this “proof” that you have just expressed is kitchen-sinking. Remember Rafiki in The Lion King when he hits Simba upside the head with his staff and an incensed Simba says, “Hey! What was that for?” Rafiki replies, “It doesn’t matter. It’s in the past.” Let the past go through forgiveness and move beyond the kitchen sink!
    • Quick Fix–You need to forgive the things of the past and let them stay there. It’s not fair to bring things up that have been forgiven. You are allowed to call a “foul” when this happens during a fight.
  • Telling your spouse that they must be right and that there really isn’t any hope for you–This throws them completely off guard and makes you into the poor martyr. And it’s manipulative and passive-aggressive because you know you don’t really mean it. You just want them to feel sorry for you and back-off.
    • Quick Fix– Instead of playing the martyr, swallow your pride and express your feelings without manipulation or control using “I” statements. 
  • Twisting the blame around–As soon as they address an issue with you, you come right back at them with an issue you have with them. “I didn’t call the insurance company, but you didn’t pick up your socks that you stepped right over on your way to the shower.” Now, this is just childish. A tit-for-tat is not going to create a healthy dynamic.
    • Quick Fix–Take responsibility for your own behaviors. Buck it up, and move on. You know when you have made a mistake, so own it and forgive yourself. And forgive your spouse for bringing up your shortfall. The more you respond appropriately when conflict arises, the fewer conflicts come up, and they will diminish over time.
  • Never taking responsibility for your actions–Using excuses like “I forgot” or “I didn’t hear you say that” or whatever else allows you to avoid responsibility and might even stop the conversation right there. 
    • Quick Fix–Again, grow up and take responsibility for your own actions. 
  • Trying to find the “solution” and not listening–Many people uncomfortable with emotion will move the conversation immediately to making things work through some type of solution instead of simply listening and allowing their spouse to express themselves. This creates frustration and eventually resentment in your partner and will eventually lead to disconnection and discontent in the coupleship.
    • Quick Fix–The first rule of thumb is to listen to your partner and their frustrations. An appropriate question to ask would be, “What do you need from me?” This helps your spouse clarify what it is that they might need, but also allows them to thank you for listening because that allowed them the time and space to figure it out on their own. Or they simply feel better because they got it off of their chest. (Marla) For many years now since learning this Jami will ask me “Are you looking for a solution or do you simply want me to listen?” And it works like magic!
  • Abandoning your spouse by physically leaving the room or by “checking out” emotionally–This will cause the person being abandoned to try harder to control you through raising their voice higher or using any number of the above techniques.
    • Quick Fix–Again, if you feel the desire to abandon because things have gotten out of hand, ask for a time-out and let your partner know that you need 15-30 minutes to process and then you will come back to the conversation. Remember to tell them clearly that you are not abandoning them, you simply need some time to cool-off and process quietly.
  • And last, but not least, Gaslighting your significant other–This is actually the most insidious dirty fighting technique of all of the ones listed above. Relationship expert Susan Winter’s definition is “[G]aslighting occurs when someone tries to control someone else through manipulation by making them doubt themselves, their intuition and their reality. Note that the purpose is to make someone question their reality. It’s a specific form of abuse that can cause people to feel like they’re going crazy.” What does gaslighting look like? Lying about everything and then telling you that you’re “crazy,” blame, denial, ghosting, never taking personal accountability, twisting the truth, crucializing, and attacking your personality or character.
    • Quick Fix–These are also indications of clinical narcissism, and if you find yourself identifying with most or all of these symptoms we highly recommend finding help to healthfully extract yourself from the coupleship. A great resource is the book Disarming the Narcissist by Wendy Behary.

It is probably pretty clear to you which of these techniques you have perfected. Take some time to process them with your partner at a time when you are both in a good space emotionally. Avoid pointing out which ones they do since this is about you and transforming your story, not about helping your significant other see their deficiencies. And if you are still unable to resolve healthfully come see us for your Free Discovery Session; it will be well worth your time and money!