What I Learned from (Losing) My Brother

As a writer, one of the scariest places to go is deciding how close to the edge of your personal life you choose to go and share.

But I just had a profound moment that I knew I had to write about. As I was reflecting on extraordinary love and my experience of it, I couldn't help but want to digress off topic from romantic relationships, and make an exception. I would like to talk about family, and I'm dedicating this post to it.

Let's call it (non-romantic) extraordinary love. It's a league of it's own, yet so influential to how we learn to express and experience love, that as a relationship coach, it's nearly impossible to talk about someone's romantic life without exploring family dynamics...be it our own, our partner's, and often, both.

After all, it was my brother who suggested I teach people about love and compassion because that's one of the things he learned from me. I was surprised when he told me that, and it ranks as one of the most heartfelt compliments I've ever received. It was an influential moment that nudged me down this path, and for that, I'm grateful everyday.

Anyway, back to my story...I had just made dinner, and I sat down with a semi-conscious attempt to be present with myself. Only a few moments has passed when I said the title of this post out loud. Hearing those words made  tear up, and I've done enough work to know that it was something I needed to explore. So, I decided to write about it. I reached for my laptop, began a draft, and here I am.

Over the last six months, I've lost my relationship with my brother. Despite typical sibling rivalry, I was lucky enough to also know him as one of my best friends. Over the last year, he's decided to explore himself outside of his identity as a brother and a son. I respect his journey, though to say that it has been devastating is an understatement. 

To offer some context, he expressed that our family has been so closely-knit that the only way he could establish himself as a man, on his own, was to be completely removed. We still talk; though much less often, and much more strained. The change has been drastic enough that I wonder if we'll ever really be close again.

The thing is...as any one who considers their sibling as one of their best friends can understand...your relationship may fade, but your bond never goes away. It hasn't been years yet, but I know that will never be completely gone. 

In light of allowing our pain and heartache to drop our guard, and to allow myself to explore (and even choose to express) my vulnerability...here I am.

This is what I've learned about love from (losing) my brother:

  1. No matter how much it hurts, you always want the best for them. I want him to be happy, and that will always take precedence. I would never want to interfere with what makes him truly happy.
  2. Linear time does not apply. A year can feel as long as a decade...just as 10 years can pass, and you can pick up right where you left off. Time is fascinating that way, isn't it?
  3. You hope one day things will change. As much as you know things will never be the same, there's always the part of you that holds on to the possibility that one day, things will be different. From time to time, you wonder what that day would/will be like.
  4. You know things will never go back to the way they were. At the same time, you know that your relationship will forever be different for what has happened. There's no going back.
  5. You realize your limits as a human being. When you've done all you can, there comes a point at the end of the day when you have to accept that you are enough. This is a beautiful blessing in disguise. 
  6. You have to choose how your heartache defines you. The past is the past. What keeps it alive is how we choose to let it define us. Our heartache is a teacher, if we're willing to take a step back, and see things differently.
  7. Every loss is a lesson in love, acceptance and forgiveness. There are nuances to losing someone, be whether it is temporary, forever, or somewhere in between. It is in these painful experiences that no matter what, we have the opportunity to delve into what love, acceptance, and forgiveness truly is. It is a way in which we become more closely acquainted with ourselves, and the human experience.
  8. Never short yourself the opportunity to grieve. Healing is only possible through feeling the feelings, sitting with them, and allowing them to exist. It's true...we have to feel them to heal them. It can be terrifying at first, but you will reach the other side, and from there, you'll know it was worth it. 
  9. You may never stop missing them. It's ok that the void doesn't fully go away. It's a sign of the love that was once, still is, and will always be there.
  10. Part of resilience is honoring your pain by giving yourself full permission to live. The only way I've found strength to move on from trauma, heartbreak, and tragedy is by choosing to live MORE. I refuse to let my capacity to feel love, joy, and excitement be hindered by pain endured. Blessing in disguise #2: The pain has also made the depth of incredible experiences that much greater.

I hope by sharing this with you that my story may connect with someone who maybe has or is currently experiencing something similar.  

As an older sibling, your love and sense of responsibility for your younger sibling(s) becomes a part of who you are.  It shapes us in countless ways. A sibling relationship is complicated at best. There are layers upon layers. I felt responsible for him, resented him, yet loved him, and growing up, thought tone of the only important things in the world was making sure he was ok. Then I'd be so annoyed with him I could scream (and I certainly did on occasion). For so long, I put so much pressure on myself to be a good example, and when I crumbled, I was disappointed in myself, but even more, I was disappointed in what it may mean in the context of him looking up to me. I had pride in that, and having that feel jeopardized has felt like 1000 life lessons in one. 

If you're reading this, and reflecting on your relationship with your family, I'd encourage you to reach out and connect with them. Honor the moments you get to spend with them. Appreciate that you can reach out to them, and know everything is ok. If it's not, I'd suggest asking yourself if there's anything you feel compelled to mend. You'll know when the time is right. That doesn't mean your heart won't race, or you won't feel scared to reach out and have a conversation, but that begins to feel worth it when you get to trade in not knowing for knowing even a little bit more. 

Each day is a new beginning. I choose to forgive myself. Forgive others. See the beauty in who we are. Each morning, I honor myself, my life, and those in it by consciously deciding that I choose love.

What about you?

Five Things We Can Do for Ourselves That Also Make Us Better Partners

One of the cornerstone theories I coach by is: If we focus on being our best, our relationships automatically benefit.

Most relationship issues stem from one or both individuals having a personal struggle that then strains the relationship. This stress compromises communication, and can throw us into crisis mode. When we're amidst our fight-or-flight response, everything that doesn't help us either fight or run away is physically suppressed.  This limited resource state can be the opposite of what we need to constructively problem solve, and shift into action to resolve the issue at hand.

While this may vary for everyone, what I personally strive for is to participate in a relationship dynamic wherein we can trust each other to handle  our own stuff, and we also know we can count on each other to tackle life's challenges together. I think of it as a flow between making decisions collaboratively and independently. Some couples like to make all their decisions together, and others focus on sharing the important ones...what matters most is what's best for you, and your relationship.

While the art of navigating relationships involves weaving between interdependence and autonomy, much of what helps us create successful relationships is connected to the ever evolving relationship we cultivate with ourselves. 

Here are five areas where what we do for ourselves also benefits our relationships:

  1. Personal hygiene - I'm beginning here because physical affection reflects extraordinary love.  When hygiene and pheromones are just right...the way your partner smells to you is intoxicating (in a good way). No reason to jeopardize that by letting yourself slide in the self-care department. Personal hygiene is indicative of one's self-esteem, so assess whether your daily habits reflect you at your best. If being close to someone is something you want, being the self-respecting person who takes pride in taking care of him/herself is a great way to honor yourself and your relationship.
  2. Your state of mind regarding your career - Yes, there are elements of our jobs that we simply don't like, but they come with the territory. So, we either do them, or hire them out; the choice is ours. Our job satisfaction can vary greatly on the perspective we bring to the work we do. If you're in a job you do not like, it may be time for an accept/reject conversation. The accept segment involves recognizing that there are reasons why you are doing what you're doing, and there's an acceptance that lies in acknowledging your reasons. The reject segment pertains to the things you refuse to accept, and decide to change. That would include beginning to look for another job, or committing to creating supplemental areas of income, so you begin to step into the possibilities available to you. Complaining about work, and bringing that home every day is not only taxing on you and your soul, but it can also damper your relationship. Also, if we're complaining and hyper-focused on the negative, we are often negating or neglecting other positive elements in our lives. So if we need a reminder, remember there's this person you care about who has chosen to spend their days with you; what do you want your influence on your time together to be?
  3. Fun (Yay!) - Are you having enough fun? You most likely knew the answer to that before you even finished reading the question :)  If you're a YES, you're a rock star, proceed to #4. If you're a no, you have plans to make! What can you do to bring more fun into your life? In what ways can you have more FUN together?
  4. Kindness towards ourselves - We tend to be our own toughest critic, so it can take a concerted effort to give ourselves some grace. Being kind to ourselves generates good energy, which then radiates to those we're around. Can you think of how it feels different when we're around someone who's in a positive state of mind versus someone who's in a negative energetic state? Which would you rather spend more time with? The person we spend all of our time with is ourselves, so pick your roommate accordingly ;)
  5. Knowledge of our passions - You know when you do something that excites you and you feel an amazing rush? What are a few of the things you do that engage you with your passion? Not only do our passions bring a richness to our lives, but they also amp up our personal magnetism. We are naturally drawn to passionate people. There is a distinct vibrancy to them and how they live their lives. It doesn't have to be all the time, but we do need to make time for the things we're excited about. Have you had a moment when you fell a little bit more in love with someone by seeing them do what they love? That's the feeling we create as we engage in our passions and share them with the world.

Now I'd like to hear from you! What other things have you noticed that make you feel good, and also enhance your relationships? Please share your experience in the comments below.

To the art of interdependence and independence xx


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The Makings of Extraordinary Love

I started this blog with the intention of sharing stories about real-life relationships that shared the love most of us dream about, crave, and hope exists.

As I started researching and interviewing people, I realized I was learning a lot more about things that compromise love in relationships rather than the love that's shared. So, this will be the first in a two-part entry that discusses the elements that allow extraordinary love to be possible, and then those that often lead to its detriment.

When I was sixteen, I believed that I, too, would someday fall madly in love with the love of my life. Twelve years later, there's a part of me that is still holding out for that. My notions of what love is have also evolved and expanded quite a bit.

Extraordinary love, to me, is two people strongly committed to creating the most loving relationship they possibly can. Furthermore, it's the conscious effort to make each other feel special, to meet each other’s needs, and to truly want to be better together.

The last article I wrote was about infidelity and animosity in marriages. I'd argue that both are symptoms of the breakdown of love in the relationship. That is to say they love each other, but stopped feeling loving and loved somewhere along the way. It's a glorious oversimplification, but it's most likely true.

These are some of the elements that enhance, and are characteristic of extraordinary love within a relationship:

  • The way you look at each other; you know the “look”
  • Being conscientious; do you anticipate and seek to meet each other’s needs?
  • Affection, physical connection
  • Laughter; do you enjoy each other? At the end of the day, can you let things go and enjoy silly moments together?
  • Spontaneity; do you still surprise each other?
  • Deeply knowing one another, and seeking to continuously know more
  • Giving and receiving; do you give freely? Do you receive and thank your partner for what they give to you? 
  • Support of each other’s dreams and endeavors; do you believe in them?
  • Shared dreams; do you have a vision you've co-created for your life together?
  • Respect; do you protect each other’s integrity?
  • Trust; can you trust that you'll be there for each other? Do you mean what you say? Do your actions follow suit?
  • Making agreements; do you discuss decisions together? Do you establish to hear each other out and be respectful of each other’s opinions? Have you resolved to figure things out together?
  • Compliments; do you notice and share what you like about each other?
  • Acceptance; do you criticize each other or recognize your frustration, and lovingly accept that we’re imperfect human beings?
  • Forgiveness; do you choose to apologize, forgive, and move forward? 
  • Intentions; do you trust each other's intentions? 
  • Willingness to re-evaluate; are you willing to be wrong?  Are you willing to admit it, and seek resolution?
  • Loyalty; would you fight for your partner? Do you know you have each other's back? 
  • Daily collaboration; how do you work together? Do you regularly handle situations as a team?
  • Graciousness; do you truly want to do things for each other?
  • Appreciation; do you recognize the ways in which you appreciate each other?
  • Love and like; do you love each other? Do you like each other? Do your actions towards one another reflect that you do?

As you reflect on these 22 elements, which do you feel strong in? Which would you like to improve?

Anything you'd add? Let me know by mentioning it in the comments below.

Extraordinary love begins with the desire to be better. To decide to notice more. To be more conscious of how you show up in your relationship. The fact that you're here shows that it's something you're willing to create, and the sooner the better, so go make extraordinary love.



Our Wives Hate Us

I met a group of men in Vegas three days ago, and a comment they made when they asked what I did for work has been haunting me ever since...

When they found out that I help people with their dating and relationship dynamics, they said, "We need you. Our wives hate us."

Our wives hate us.

I'm quite certain none of us marries someone with the intent to hate them, so how do we get there?

I had met the one of the four guys who wasn't married, and was then introduced to his colleagues as they were all in town together for a work conference. One of the four men was dealing with infidelity and attempting to rebuild his marriage. Another of their colleagues had been sleeping all day because his marriage was in the midst of unraveling, also due to infidelity.

I couldn't help but wonder what was going on here. It seemed heightened, but also reflects estimated rates of infidelity. 

I'm writing about it now because the flip side of extraordinary love is dealing with heartbreak and devastation. These are some of the things that put our love, trust, and relationships to hell and back. I'd argue that knowing how to navigate this emotional terrain could be the difference between saving a marriage and having a marriage that never recovers.

Now I have just as many questions as you do when it comes to the course of action to take, but I will say this: I'm willing to talk about this because I personally believe that part of why marriages struggle is the shame and hiding associated with thoughts, behaviors, and feelings we're not proud of.

I want to set aside pride, ego, and keeping up appearances for the next several minutes. We're going to go into observation mode because it's the only way to see such an emotionally charged experience with any sort of clarity.

Bare with me...I realize I'm taking an incredibly complex issue and exploring it in a short discussion, but I want to maximize our time here by getting down to the heart of the issue as quickly as we can. I believe in learning as quickly as possible, so we can bounce back before getting stuck much too deep. So, let's go, shall we?

Here are nine questions to ask in the midst of a relationship conflict:

  1. What is at stake? 
  2. What do I need?
  3. What does my partner need?
  4. Are we sorry?
  5. Are we willing to change?
  6. Are we willing to forgive?
  7. Do I still love you?
  8. How do we rebuild trust and respect?
  9. Do we want to rebuild?

*Upon writing these questions, I've decided I'll elaborate on what each of them entails on my next blog, so stay tuned for part ii

If at the end of the day this is the person I want to share a life with, and him/her with me, then there are compromises, negotiations, mistakes, apologies, and forgiveness that will come along with it. Knowing this, and being honest with ourselves about it at least prepares us to anticipate how to effectively deal with conflict. If we have no idea it's out there, and do not see it coming, there's no way we'll have the tools, let alone have them accessible, when we need them most.

Extraordinary love is a continual process to expand the expression of our heart, and to seek to learn, love, and understand, rather than to destroy. By acknowledging your behavior, feeling you feelings, and getting familiar with navigating them, you're not only becoming more self-aware, but you're also building resilience that will come to prove beneficial as you tackle life's problems.

We're here to love each other, and heal the hate. That's my purpose of being here anyway...because I don't think hate and relationships are the expression of our greatest work. We can do better. Let's be better together.

When Loves Hurts | Part II

I'm not certain that Liam Neeson even said this...I tried finding the original interview to no avail...nonetheless whoever wrote it has a solid point.

When our relationship with love is distorted or broken, is it often because somewhere along the line, we associated feelings such as loneliness, rejection, loss, and envy with our experience of love. When in truth, they have little, if anything, to do with love...they are the shadow side. Now, if we can recognize that that is simply what they are, we can then distinguish what are our fears, and what love actually is. 

One of the reasons I specialize in emotional awareness and emotional intelligence, specifically in the context of relationships is because love is the ultimate transformative experience

But what does that even mean? One of the theories I hold is that loneliness, judgement, criticism, addiction, disgust, and the like are nearly impossible to overcome without an experience of love. Love for oneself, love for others, and love from others. 

What makes love extraordinary is its ability to affect and change things in a more profound way that anything else. Mostly because it allows something to become greater, rather than to become compromised. Like anything great, yes, there are risks; however, consequences are different in the light of love.

Another theory I hold is that if we knew how to love better, more fully, we would! However, we learn what our parents pass on, which oftentimes comes from their parents' experience of love, and then  we combine them with our own experiences plus the rules and generalizations we collect along the way. Part of the work we do as adults is to consciously create the experience of love that is ours, and not simply adopted from someone else. Nothing is wrong with this, it's simply how things are. 

With that said, if we want to experience love in a different capacity, it requires evaluating our beliefs and experiences. Then,  becoming aware of what they are, and what meaning we have derived from them.

If you're having the experiences that align with what you want, then keep doing what you're doing, and revel in that. If you're not happy, or fed up with the dynamics you have in your life, then take some time to look at how these dynamics are fueled, and get curious about your role, how you participate, and what is keeping what you don't want in place.

It's likely reading this because you've associated love and pain quite closely at some point, and you're curious about it. So, keep going. Keep being curious. Wake up each day, and set out to be curious about who you are, and who those around you are.

There's a beauty in acknowledging who you are and who someone else is, and doing it with a sense of curiosity rather than judgement. Sure, if you're deciding whether to spend more time with someone, call on your judgement, but also let your heart have a say. Does this bring me up, or does this bring me down? Does this feel right? Regardless of what we choose, everyone benefits when we're acting in accordance to our gut feelings. Just as I have and trust my gut feelings, I honor and respect that you do too. That's how we coexist respectfully, with love.

So, the next time you're in the midst of a decision, take a moment to reflect on this: 

How do I see this with love? Am I able to distinguish between what is painful, hurtful, etc., and what love truly is?

This simple shift will change everything, and it will always bring you back to your heart. Never forget, love is good, and if it doesn't feel good, call out whatever it is that's getting in the way. Know that whatever has been learned can seen in new light. In that, what light would you like to bring to your life? What experience of love would you like to have? Feel it, believe it, treat it as truth. Live in that space until it becomes so true that you forget that you ever had to try at all.