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Dec 04 2014

You. Me. We. Wow!

Published by under Knowing Relationships BLOG



A Relationship Has a Mind of It’s Own.

You’ve probably intuited this, sensed it vaguely. When you reach a certain level of maturity  you can really see this. But it takes effort.

When my collaborator, Marilyn Bronstein, and I interviewed really successful couples, this is what we saw: they not only had a significant amount of self-respect (The “Me” mind) and they not only had a genuine and intelligent appreciation for their partner (The “You” mind), they also had a reasonably solid sense of how the two of them fit together into a “We.” And more than that, the loved the “We.” Sometimes they thought the “We” was so cool they were blown away in awe.(Wow!)  You. Me. We. Wow.  That’s how great relationships seem to work.

So let’s look at the We.

(This is a little abstract, but it’s a start.)

A relationship is a shared mental process. In fact, at times couples aren’t sure who thought what, i.e., “Was that my idea or yours?”

  • A relationship has a presence, a personality and an emotional impact. If one partner has an intense emotion – anger, lust, sadness, pick one – the other person feels it. An emotion is alike a rope both people are holding; it can and will make demands on both partners. It shapes how partners see each other.  It is a lens through which partners understand each other. When there’s lust, they see each other as attractive, when there is anger, they see each other as dangerous, and so on.    Send article as PDF   

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Apr 25 2009

Random Post:
Men, Women and Dancing

Published by under Miscellaneous

You have to imagine this scene; 500 men and women in sexy, casual dress at a big conference hotel for three days of socializing, flirting and dancing to swing music. This was the annual Boston Tea Party at the Framingham, MA, Sheraton, There are weekends like this all year long, all with the same format: lessons all day Friday and Saturday, dancing all night, until three or four in the morning, more of the same on Sunday.

For the lessons, the huge hotel ballrooms are cut in half by fold-out walls and about seventy five couples are arranged in a line snaking up and down, up and down. Skilled teachers with big personalities and cordless headset mikes lead the crowd through new steps asking the couples to change partners every two minutes. By the end of the lesson every leader has danced with every follower. It’s like non-verbal speed dating.

A good rule for meeting someone interesting is to make the first encounter brief and pleasant. Then, when you meet them the second time, they already know you. They are more open. Dancing with someone in a lesson makes it easier to ask them to dance later, at the open dances. By the end of the days’ lessons, people have had a hundred or so brief encounters. Talk about working a room.

The evenings are for dancing, performances, contests and more dancing. Two different ballrooms, one with old fashioned, welcoming swing from the thirties, forties, and fifties, and the other room thumping with glitzy, do-you-want-to-do-me, eighties and nineties disco music. It’s a study in flirtation.    Send article as PDF   

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Men, Women and Dancing

Oct 02 2014

Reinventing Yourself

Published by under Knowing Relationships BLOG

escher hands



Sometimes I find the same basic idea in contemporary psychology and also ancient wisdom. So then I think there is a lot of truth in it. And then, when I find it in a quote by an artist I admire, I feel that I’ve found something especially trustworthy.   Here is the quote:

“We have to invent and reinvent who we are until we arrive at a self we can bear to live with and die with.”

It’s by the poet, Stanley Kunitz and I don’t know how he discovered the principle. I hadn’t heard it elsewhere. Usually what I hear is “Be true to yourself.” How do we reconcile those two thoughts? How do we reconcile “being true,” with “reinventing?”

Kunitz died in 2006 at age 101. He was twice named as U.S. poet laureate.  Younger poets made pilgrimages to be with him. I’m sure he practiced what he preached. In the quote, he was talking about how he became a good poet.

The more I thought about what he said, the more I felt that it also applied to becoming a good  partner. If you have a love relationship and the two of you are building a life together, all that he said about being a poet is also true for being a partner.  What’s true of creating is also true of co-creating.    Send article as PDF   

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Sep 17 2014

Anger, Betrayal and Giving Up: How Break-ups Work and Don’t Work

Film director John Cassavettes said, “Life is a series of attempts to avoid being exposed as a fool. But in the effort to do this we make even bigger fools of ourselves.  Most of the arguments between men and women are based on someone’s inability to express what they really mean. “

Ending a romance that isn’t working anymore is like killing a pet to put it out of its misery. Almost everyone I know has had to do this. How do you cope with it?
There is a range of responses.
Dorothy Parker, at midlife, once said that every new relationship is a shade paler than the previous one. She always had a way of making her bitterness funny.
I have a good friend who owns a small business with eight employees. Over five years he’s had to fire several people. “And yet,” he said, “every time I been able to find someone better, and as result my business improved.”

Takes Two to Not Tango

Unlike putting a pet to “sleep,” a break-up is almost always a joint decision.
There’s some superficial maneuvering between the partners about who pulls the plug and takes the blame. But when you look carefully, you can see how they did it together, how his refusal met her refusal and her refusal met his.
If they can see only this much, then they have a good chance of remaining friends afterwards; otherwise, not so much.
Painful break ups are often good for both partners and less painful than continuing. Like repairing a broken mirror, it’s better to abandon it than cut yourself up trying to fix it.
People who have once loved each other dearly don’t break up lightly; but they do break up. The test of how wise the people are is not whether or not they’ve stayed together but whether, after the break up, they see why it was a good idea for both of them.
A break up means one of two things was true about the relationship.

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Sep 10 2014

“Live with Purpose” or “Live one day at a time.” Which will it be?

Published by under Knowing Relationships BLOG

teeter totter



I had a very interesting conversation over the weekend with a man I’d just met. The conversation was so good that  we ended up with a better question than an answer. It’s always very satisfying to walk away with something to think about. I’ll share the question first, then the story of how we got there, then how I think I’ve answered it.

First, here’s the question:  How can you live your life according to your highest purpose and also live in the moment? And this wasn’t an idle question. It had serious consequences.

It all started on a Sunday afternoon in late August in one of Montreal’s most beautiful city parks. There was a lake with ducks, people wandering the paths around the lake, a white lodge with a café on the terrace serving lunch under the trees, a man playing accordion near the lunch tables, a great lawn with many picnic tables and grown-ups and kids and dogs all over the place, everyone very happy. Cyclists and joggers passed by one the paths and mountainous clouds passed by overhead.    Send article as PDF   

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Jul 22 2014

How love writes its truths on your soul, and how you can read what it has written.


I was at a funeral. This woman who died was one of those heroically wonderful women one meets only some times.  She was beautiful and brilliant and a great mother and an athlete and light-hearted and friendly and dearly loved her husband and her life with him.  He was handsome, successful, good-hearted and very much in love with her. They were generous people. They had three children and adopted a fourth. It was a picture too good to be true, it seemed, and in her late forties when she went for her yearly check-up, they discovered a brain tumor.

“We will remove it,” they said, “But when it comes back, and it will because it’s that kind of cancer, you will only have months to live. So prepare yourself.”  Brain cancer.  I remember speaking to her in her final months. She was all puffed up from her medications.  She said to me, “Well, I’ve lost my ability to listen to classical music. My brain can’t handle it. Dying is so weird.”

I share all this with you because, at her funeral, her husband, who wanted us to understand who they were to each other and why he loved her so, shared the story of the moment he knew that he was going to fall in love with her. It’s an amazing story and it is the perfect example of what I wish to share with you in this writing.    Send article as PDF   

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Jun 09 2014

Internet Dating and Sociopaths.

Published by under Advice



(So, I’m taking a break from talking about really, really good relationships and I’m going to talk about really bad ones that usually don’t last.)

I saw a great TED talk. If you’re considering websites and online dating, as many are, this talk is very helpful.

However, the main reason I mention this talk is that she tells a very dark, funny-but-dark story of a first date, arranged on line, and the guy turns out to be a sociopath. Only a small surprise.  The internet dating scene is filled with such folks and my experience as a coach in these realms has included hearing many such stories.

I got close to this sociopath stuff with the most popular blog I ever wrote.  “Is your boyfriend a Werewolf?”  But the guys in that article were basically good guys with a dark side. When it comes to sociopaths, I’m not so sure. But maybe it’s the belief that he’s not so bad, really that tempts people.  There is a cartoon in the New Yorker that I love that shows a woman introducing her boyfriend to her parents and the boyfriend is obviously a vampire. He has those long teeth and his hair comes to a point and the woman is saying, “I know, but I think I can change him.”  Good joke.    Send article as PDF   

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May 06 2014

Can A Relationship Be Sacred To One But Not To The Other?

cat and horse


Let’s look more closely at this and we’ll start with the least sacred way of thinking I can imagine: cold, impersonal, chemical interactions inside the brain. Ah, psychology has a way of getting to the heart of things, don’t you think? The presence of loved and loving partner, may I say, “the sacred presence,” triggers a specific brain chemical called oxytocin.


Now it would be a great mistake, if not a modern one, to reduce all this to oxytocin and say, “Well Really, it’s just a change in brain chemistry.”  I cringe. That would be like saying that the chemical level is the only level that really matters. But still, in the presence of the Sacred, we do have a change in brain chemistry and this change makes a change in the way we experience life. Oxytocin makes us get personal and gushy. Oxytocin is the cuddle neurochemical. It appears in the brains of babies and mothers during nursing. It’s in lovers in their sweet afterglow. It appears in the brain when two become as one. It appears when we become part of something bigger than just ourselves.    Send article as PDF   

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May 06 2014

How the Sacred Appears in Intimate Relationships.

spring waterI was going to call this post, “How to make a relationship sacred,” but that can’t be done. You can’t make something sacred. You can recognize, or discover it. You can’t make it. And there is something sacred within some relationships. However it exists independently of you or your wishes and schemes, and that’s partly what makes it sacred.

What you can do, in response to that sacred something is honor and protect it, or desecrate it. Either/or. I don’t think there is a neutral position.

But first, I’m going to try to define the sacred without using words like “God” and “Spirituality,” words that are equally mysterious and poetic. (I am trying find ways to think about my experience of these things that feels fresh and personal. I don’t want to just listen to elders without including my own voice, especially now that I’ve become elder myself.)

What does it mean when I say something is sacred? I was fascinated to learn that the Hebrew word for “blessing” was very close to the word for a fresh water spring. It also means something set apart.

I like looking at how humans first start using a word. I helps me understand the deep meanings of that word. Maybe the old word for holiness is an ancient metaphor. Suppose we lived in a desert and one day, one of us found a fresh water bubbling up, a spring. Imagine that, water, the stuff of life, coming up out of nowhere right in the middle of a desert! We’d all stop and look and remember this place forever, something we discovered that changed our life for the better. That is want it’s like to find something sacred.    Send article as PDF   

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Oct 30 2013

Our Response to the Contest to Name “Hot” Rabbi Couples:

Ronnie and Karen by Kitra

We told friends we were submitting an article to “” in response to their “Hottest Rabbi Couple” contest. They said, “You’re kidding.” We heard those exact same words a year ago when we told them the title of our book.

Our book, “Rabbis in Love” is a book of conversations with rabbi couples who are very much in love. The picture above is a picture of Rabbi Ronnie Cahana and his wife of 35 years, Karen, taken by their daughter, Kitra, in the hospital as Ronnie recovered from his stroke. ( They are the first couple in the book, the one who inspired us to do the book.

Reb Leibish and Deena Hundert, another couple in the book, gave us a story about sexual curiosity that comes from the Talmud, surprise! A Rabbinic student hides under his teacher’s bed to observe how his teacher makes love to his wife. The punch line comes after he gets caught. He explains, “This, too, is Torah I need to learn.” The point of the Talmud story is that earthly love and spirituality embrace each other. Being romantic and passionate is a high calling for Jews. Doing the book, for us, was a modern version of hiding under the bed.

We interviewed ten couples and included nine in the book. One couple felt they had revealed too much and they backed out. These conversations are about what really happens between the partners when they are alone. It’s about how they figure out how to love each other across time.    Send article as PDF   

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Oct 16 2013

Sacred Space. Yet Not Alone.


For many spiritual traditions, sacred space is a place to be alone. Big churches, a man alone with a flute, an empty forest, a woman doing meditation, these were the images of sacred space offered up by a Google search.

However, for many of us, sacred space is also a place to not be alone.

My colleague, Marilyn Bronstein, and I just finished a three-year project interviewing couples who loved each other deeply and who were also committed to a spiritual practice. One or both of them was a Rabbi. (Read all about it “Rabbis in Love,” available soon on Amazon or at Sacred space was part of how they loved each other. They created sacred space for their relationship. It was a great lesson and very touching. The book was full of “I-want-that-in-my-life” moments and this was certainly one of them.

Rabbi Ronnie and Karen Cahana talked about Sabbath. For them, it was a sacred space that was also a sacred time. Every week, on Sabbath, they set aside a time only for them, away from what Rabbi Ronnie called, “the bluster of the void.” (By that I think he meant all that busy-business we get caught up in. )

Within that special time, they “raised each other up,” as he put it. I understood him to mean that they appreciated each other, in doing that they increased their value both to themselves and each other. They cherished each other, loved each other, and revealed to each other their most tender secrets.    Send article as PDF   

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