Category Archives: Blog


Our Five Basic Relationship Needs


When we experience traumatic events in our lives such as the loss of a loved one, severe health issues, the loss of our job or our home, many of us come face to face with needs that I call basic relationship needs. As a relationship coach I define them as 1) feeling physically (including sexually) safe 2) feeling accepted for who we are 3) feeling connected 4) feeling supported and cared for, and 5) feeling appreciated. I summarize these basic needs in two categories, feeling physically safe (1) and feeling emotionally safe (2-5).

Life, however, does not have to be so challenging for these basic relationship needs to arise. We are born with them and they stay with us throughout our lives. I dare say, it is only when all our basic relationship needs are being met that we can be at our best. So will our partnerships and other important relationships in our lives. It contributes to our emotional and physical health.

In an example, a friend of mine wanted to get divorced because she did not feel emotionally safe with her husband. Unfortunately, he was not open to relationship coaching or any form of marriage counseling/therapy that may have helped them as a couple. Too often she had been ridiculed by him for having certain feelings and too often she had been accused of being incompetent. She did not feel accepted for who she was. Feeling unappreciated and disrespected finally became unbearable. They had daily arguments and it began to affect her health. At that point, she felt her only option was divorce.

My friend’s example illustrates how crucial it is for those of us in a partnership to get our “five basic relationship needs” met. It is not enough to satisfy two or three of them if you want a lasting, growing partnership. It also demonstrates that when we look at what is behind our arguments, we often will find unmet basic relationship needs. When we learn to recognize and express those needs directly, our chances that they will be met will increase.

Whether we are in a partnership or not, it is important to be able to satisfy those basic relationship needs in ourselves. For various reasons, our partners or friends are not always able to meet our needs. Learning to be our own best friend before entering a partnership is extremely helpful. However, no matter how good we get at fulfilling those basic relationship needs for ourselves, we still need to feel physically and emotionally safe with others, especially our partners.

In my first blog on relationships I made the comparison of relationships being like a garden in which we get to choose what to plant and what not. In my last three blogs, I explained why trust, vulnerability, and getting our five basic relationship needs met are important “fertilizers” to grow healthy and thriving relationships and how they work in synergy with each other. Vulnerability allows us to be in touch with our basic relationship needs. Meeting each other’s basic relationship needs builds trust. The result is that “flowers” such as “intimacy” and “positivity” in our relationships will continue to bloom and we as individuals along with them.



Intimacy, Part II


In my last blog I wrote that there cannot be intimacy without vulnerability. Today I want to add that without trust there is no vulnerability or intimacy. Trust is the foundation for both. When we do not trust our partners, intimacy has no chance to deepen.

There may have been instances when our trust was broken or even destroyed by someone with whom we were close. Some of those stories can go back to our childhood including traumatic events such as physical violence or sexual abuse. Or, they can be as seemingly innocuous as broken promises. They can destroy our trust so completely that some of us may need therapy in order to process those events and heal from them. But let us have a look at what promotes trust in our partnership and what breaks it, starting with what can break it.

The process of trust breaking down between partners often begins when we discover they have lied to us or have not kept their promises or agreements. Because partners play such a significant part in our lives, we are far more impacted by their actions than by the actions of others. Being lied to, having to deal with broken promises and agreements can quickly feel like betrayal. When we cannot address and resolve these issues with one another, we emotionally distance ourselves from our partners in order to avoid being hurt again. Being shamed, criticized, ridiculed or any other form of judgment can also affect trust negatively. If we are consistently put down or feel rejected by our partners and they do not change their behavior, it can destroy our trust to a degree where separation might become inevitable. Feeling physically threatened and unsafe can result in separation as well. Broken trust can be restored, while trust completely destroyed sometimes cannot be repaired. In any case, it will take much effort, time, courage and willingness on both sides to make it happen.

If we want to create a healthy and thriving partnership, it is crucial that we build trust with each other. What helps us to do that? Like many other things in life it starts with small steps. I remember when I met my husband for the first time and we decided to expand our conversation into a hike and dinner. He was a single dad and he told me that he had to call his daughter to let her know. I was impressed. Every time he could not keep a date with me or was running late, I also appreciated that he would let me know. Small things like that made him trustworthy to me. I believe that we all have specific needs that have to be met by others in order to be able to trust. Those needs can vary and are personal to each of us.

Trust between partners is something that is earned and continuously built upon. We cannot expect blind trust from each other. We have to be transparent in our actions and sensitive to our partner’s needs. Keeping trust demands continuous respect and should never be abused or manipulated for personal gain.

Being honest is another wonderful trust builder. It is better to acknowledge our shortcomings and mistakes than to try and cover them up. The truth will out and most of the time our partners will learn about our deception anyway. It makes no sense to put our relationship in jeopardy for the relief of a momentary avoidance, so why not be honest from the beginning? The higher the level of trust in our partnership, the more comfortable we are with showing our vulnerability which, in turn, will naturally deepen our connection and intimacy.

In summary, feeling physically and emotionally safe with our partners is built on establishing trust. That is what allows us to be close and at our most vulnerable, which results in deepened intimacy and sexuality.





In one of my previous blogs I touched on the subject of vulnerability in relationships. Since vulnerability plays such a key role in creating connection and intimacy with one another and because this subject is so close to my heart, I decided to look at it in more depth.

A lot of adults consider showing vulnerability a weakness. Being in control, staying cool and not showing much emotion is still highly valued in our society, not only among teenagers. And yet, when I see clients in my practice, most of them are longing for more connection and intimacy. They may not specifically say that but express it instead in terms of “wanting to improve their communication skills” or are perhaps looking for some pointers on how to deal with frustration and anger in relationships. They might want to discuss if staying together makes sense. As paradoxical as this might sound, I consider showing vulnerability a strength.

Being in control and not showing much emotion may be critical skills for a fire fighter, a surgeon, a member of a first response team, or a soldier at war. But when we are in less extreme job situations or in our personal relationships, being controlled and staying cool can become obstacles to creating connection and intimacy, because they keep us distant from one another. The fear of vulnerability often prevents us from fully engaging with each other. If we have to keep parts of ourselves hidden or are on guard, we cannot connect on a deep level.

Everyone feels vulnerable in their own way. Some people enter vulnerable territory by admitting they don’t know something. Asking for help may make others feel vulnerable. For most of us, it is challenging to acknowledge that we are feeling hurt, angry, hopeless, small, sad, disappointed, scared or aroused. If we were shamed as children when we showed those feelings, we learned to hide them well. Acknowledging those feelings now can be too risky, because we feel too exposed. We are afraid of being rejected or judged. That is the reason why it often takes a lot of trust and courage to show our vulnerabilities. It is important that we carefully choose when and to whom we are vulnerable. When we feel safe with someone and trust that person, it is easier to move out of our comfort zone and share emotions or needs that make us feel vulnerable. Being able to do so will open up the space for unlimited connection and intimacy.

I recently heard a cool definition of the term intimacy, “into me see”. It illustrates beautifully that without vulnerability there is no intimacy, because you have to be able to allow your partner to see into you uncensored.

It is my wish that all of us are able to find people and circumstances in which we can embrace our vulnerability. It makes us human and is liberating. Most of all in intimate partnerships, where there are always new layers and new levels of intimacy that can be discovered. Intimacy can and will happen naturally when we feel safe to be ourselves. Staying away from any form of judgement helps when you want to reveal your vulnerabilities to each other. Replace judgment with acceptance and curiosity by opening your heart and your mind. The more you can accept your own feelings of vulnerability, the easier it is for you to accept vulnerability in your partner.



Valentines Day


In the West, according to the definition in Wikipedia, Valentine’s Day is the traditional day on which lovers and others express their love for each other by sending cards, presenting flowers, or offering confectionaries.

Valentine’s Day, similar to other holidays and birthdays, is a day that can trigger all kinds of expectations among couples. Expectations that can turn into disappointments, especially when we let ourselves be influenced too much by the commercial aspect of the day. I would like to invite you to celebrate part or all of Valentine’s Day outside of the commercial or expected avenues.

This year, take a closer look at what love means to you in a partnership and what makes you feel loved and appreciated the most. For fun, I asked different people, men and women, in Willits “What does love mean to you?” Here are some of their answers:

Love means

… compromise and tenderness.

… complete acceptance and respect for another person.

… sacrifice, joy, pain and suffering, silver lining.

… flannel sheets.

… devotion, continuity, loyalty.

… putting up with everything, good or bad.

… my husband, my children, and laughter.

… never giving up.

… understanding somebody else’s soul.

… uninhibited acts of kindness.

… flowing together.

… always forgive.

… unconditional chocolate.

… being married to my best friend.

… opening my heart and letting myself be filled.

… being comfortable, supported, nurtured, and challenged to grow into new parts of myself.

With your partner, take a moment on Valentine’s Day and play with the following questions at home, after the children are in bed, outside on a walk, in your favorite restaurant, or whatever works best for you. First, ask each other the same question, “What does love mean for you?”

Allow your answer(s) to come more from your gut and heart than your brain and share them with each other. They do not have to sound good or be profound. They can be funny, or surprising, like the flannel sheets or the unconditional chocolate mentioned above. Pick the answer that is most important to you and then ask yourselves (I am using the flannel sheets as an example), “When and how does our relationship feel like flannel sheets?” Discuss how you can create more “flannel sheet” moments in your relationship. Make sure you both take a turn with your answer.

Afterward, reflect together on what was new for you, what touched you the most to hear. Last, but very important, come up with a concrete first step the two of you can practice to make a difference in your relationship as a result of this conversation. Starting today is always best.

My point of view is that it is important to express your love more than one day a year on Valentine’s Day. Having expectations can actually get in the way of expressing and receiving love genuinely. You are the expert on what love means to you. You might want to use this exercise to learn how you can deepen your love for each other all the time. Love has no price and never has to cost a dime.

Happy Valentines’s Day! 



Dreaming Together


As I mentioned in my first blog in 2013, similar to a garden, it is good to know what you want to cultivate in your partnership.

When we fall in love, or when a relationship is young, it seems so natural to dream about each other, the future, and the relationship itself. When the relationship gets older and more established, we have a tendency to forget to take the time to dream together. It seems especially hard to remember to do that, when we have young children, run a business together, or when both of us work full time. And yet, it is vital for the evolution of our partnerships that we can dream together. How do we want our partnership to be, what wishes do we have for ourselves and us as a couple? Dreaming together is a source of rejuvenation and guidance for any relationship.

Although we are already weeks into the new year, it is still the perfect moment to do a New Year’s Resolution for your partnership, if you haven’t yet done so. Some people prefer to dream about their partnership with a professional at their side, who facilitates the process and creates a safe space for them. Others are more comfortable to dream only with each other.

Looking back at 2013 and forward into 2014 is a way of celebrating your partnership. Discussing what the highlights were for you as a couple, what were the challenges and how you overcame them can be interesting and enlightening. You may have to acknowledge that you are still struggling with certain issues. I recommend you decide together, what aspects of your relationship you would prefer to let go of and leave behind in 2013, and what you would like to replace them with in 2014. For example, if you notice that you have a high level of stress in your partnership, you may want to replace it with becoming more supportive of each other, including looking for outside support. Dreaming into the future and talking about wishes and hopes you have for your partnership, including those you might never have shared, can be surprising and inspirational. Discovering the dream(s) you both would like to blossom in 2014 can be energizing and fun. It is important to discuss what the first step might be for manifesting that dream, so you both can commit to the process and get started.

A word of advice: If you decide to make this New Year’s Resolution for your partnership without assistance, make sure you have at least one hour of uninterrupted time to yourselves when working on it. Listen to each other with an open heart. Do not get upset if the dreams of your partner are different from yours. Those dreams may come to fit in later in the relationship. Work on what you both are comfortable committing to now. Although I am writing about romantic partnerships, making a New Year’s Resolution is not limited to only intimate ones. It can be fun and beneficial for any relationship, including business partnerships and friendships.

I wish from the bottom of my heart that you will be able to manifest the shared dream(s) you have for your partnership in 2014!

If you would like to schedule a special session around this theme with me, I will offer it to you at a reduced rate until February 12th.



Happy Holidays


Thanksgiving and Hannukah have passed and Christmas and the New Years are ahead. This is a time for family, friends, celebration, and peace. It is also a time when many of us experience extra tension or stress in our relationships and the holidays can feel like we’re entering a mine field of unexpected blow ups.

Holidays can trigger feelings and produce expectations in you that you might not even be aware of. It does not mean that anything is wrong with your relationship if you find yourself all of a sudden in the middle of an argument with your partner. It could happen at the most innocuous times, while you are preparing your holiday dinner for example, or when engaged in other activities together. In fact, unexpected arguments are quite common during this time of the year.

Be extra gentle and understanding with yourself and one another. Avoid picking at each other and getting into an argument. Express what makes you unhappy, stressed or fearful. Put energy into discussing what you need from each other right now and what would be helpful. Again, give yourself and your partner some extra slack. It will help to keep you from taking things too personally. Remember, it is the time of the year that is stressful, not necessarily your relationship that is causing stress! If you have children, be extra loving with them as well. Holidays come with a certain amount of built-in stress that we need to be aware of and counterbalance. A good way to do that is by increasing the positivity in your relationship. Experiment with going out of your way to notice and express what you appreciate and like about your partner and your partnership. It can be small things like how much you liked the way he or she looked at you. But it makes a huge difference whether you just keep your thoughts to yourself or whether you express them out loud. It might make you both feel so good that you will decide to keep doing it and make it a habit for the New Year.

If you have the same arguments that come up every year, maybe now is the moment to come up with a preventive strategy or a plan beforehand so you do not step into the same traps over and over again? Make your relationship your first priority. Relax, take time to sit together with a cup of tea, a glass of wine, or go for a walk. Share your hot spots and trigger points. Learn what kind of extra support you need from each other. Remember, it is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about discovering how the holidays can be more enjoyable for both of you and the whole family. It is about being in touch with what is meaningful to you and what you value.

If you are alone during the holidays, have a little pow wow with yourself. Acknowledge what is difficult for you around these days. Remember what actions have helped you in the past or envision how you would like your holidays to look and who could be your ally. It can be fun to do something completely different. You might even consider inventing a new holiday tradition.

For those folks who don’t grapple with the above issues and cannot relate to what I am writing about, simply enjoy the holidays with your family, friends and partners.



The Three Choices Around Conflicts


Last month I had the honor to be the guest speaker at the North County Women in Business Network in Willits. I used the opportunity to reflect on my coaching work and my focus on conflict resolution in relationships, teaching people how to handle conflict with ease. When I was preparing my speech, I gained more clarity regarding the three choices we have when we are experiencing a conflict with another person, and what the implications are. In this blog I will present a summary of my latest discoveries.

In my practice, I encourage my clients to learn to embrace conflicts instead of being afraid or in denial, because I believe that conflict can be a doorway to the next level of intimacy. It can be used to enhance our personal growth, mutual understanding, creativity, and development of our relationships. I encourage people to choose consciously which issues to bring up and which one’s to let go. I call this making your first choice. The next significant choices come right after that, if you have chosen to address the issue. Will you follow the common “power struggle” path where no one can “win” but both parties involved end up feeling more disconnected, hurt and frustrated than before? Or as a third choice, will you choose path number two, which will lead to deeper mutual understanding, feeling more connected than before, and finding solutions? Choosing path number two is not easy for most of us, because it brings us to an inner edge, that we will have to cross, if we want to stay on this path. Despite our disagreements, we will have to stay curious and available to one another. Our brains will naturally want to slip back into old patterns of defensiveness or attack mode around conflicts, which is part of our primal survival instincts as neuroscience has proven now. But luckily, we also have a secondary system working for us, which helps us make conscious and appropriate decisions. Once we understand this phenomena, it is easier for us to access that secondary system.

Let me explain more about the differences between path one and path two. On path number one the main question is “Who is right and who is wrong?”, meaning I am right and you are wrong. Path one is “I”- centered, often you against me. On path number two, the main questions are “What does our relationship need?” “What do I need?” “What does my partner need?” On path two, it is about “We” as true partners.

As you can see, each path’s questions point to either “my way or the highway”, or to “let’s work this out for the greater good.” The communication styles are very different. On path one you will find the toxic communication styles that I have discussed in a previous blog such as blaming, name calling, criticism, defensiveness, and shutting down. Each party is struggling for power over the other. Often there is a lot of drama. On path two, each person is far less defensive and is able to talk about what is really going on. They share their needs, fears, disappointments, and dreams. They are able to stay open to one another, listening and asking questions. If they get triggered during the discussion they can take a break, in order to calm themselves down. Choosing path two will ensure that the dialogue will continue because the goal is to find a solution or at least acknowledge each other’s differences in needs and perspective. The principal interest is to share power and empower each other. They know that not only will they as individuals profit, their relationship will profit and grow too.

I chose a long time ago to practice path two and explore my options there. I am sharing this with you so you become aware that when in conflict with someone you too have these choices.



I am right and you are wrong!


How often have you thought or felt that you were right and the other person was wrong?

It is perhaps one of the most common traps that causes disconnection and conflict in relationships. Although I am familiar with this trap, I had an interesting experience while visiting my dad in Switzerland this summer. An experience that clearly illustrates the truth of the following: Everyone is right from their own perspective.

My dad had recently moved into an apartment for elders and asked me to help him hang some of his treasures from Africa on a wall. Since he is not allowed to put any nails into the walls himself, he wanted me to play with the display on the floor, then make a drawing afterwards for the maintenance man. We were sitting about three feet apart when he told me where I should place the items on the floor. I put an object down and sat back on my chair, before I placed the next one on the floor. When all the items were arranged, I again sat back on my chair. We looked at the final display and he pointed out that the fly chaser, an object with an animal tail, needed to be turned more to the left. I first insisted that the way I had put it down was correct. But my dad was not at all happy and continued to say that I was wrong. I decided that it was not worth getting into an argument with my 88 year old father, whom I only see once a year, about who was right and who was wrong. In order to disperse the tension and feel emotionally closer again, I instinctively moved my chair next to him. Only when I was sitting right next to him, did I understand what had just happened. We were both right. From where he was sitting, the way he wanted the object placed looked correct. From where I had been sitting, three feet away, it looked correct as well. We were both right from our different perspectives. We laughed about it in the end and my dad now has everything up on his wall exactly the way he wanted it. He is happy and so am I.

This story demonstrates how easily we can get into fights about the question, who is right and who is wrong. It also shows that fighting about who is right and who is wrong is useless. We would be much better off, to remember to “put our chairs” next to one other, so we can see the things in front of us from the same point of view. Another possibility is to put ourselves into the other person’s position to see how things look from their perspective. This can make all the difference in the world and our relationships would benefit greatly. 




Appreciating Each Other, Part II


While most of us probably know how to show appreciation, even the thought of asking for appreciation or acknowledgment might feel awkward and weird. You might say,” Why should I have to ask for appreciation? If I have to do that, isn’t the appreciation being coerced?” That is how I felt when I first became aware of this concept. Of course it is nice to get appreciated without having to ask for it. Let me explain why, with this attitude, you may miss out on something you might enjoy in your partnership and why the ability to ask for appreciation can prevent resentment from building.

We all are very busy with our life challenges and we are not always as present for each other as we would like or need to be. Most of us can not read our partner’s mind, which I believe is not our job anyway. Therefore, it is actually a thoughtful and necessary act to let our partners know, what it is we would like to be acknowledged or appreciated for.

At the beginning, it might feel strange, or even a bit risky to ask your partner for appreciation. It is true that you will enter more vulnerable territory. Some of you might think this means that you are weak and needy and this is childish. But, throughout all our lives, there are certain moments, when we just need acknowledgement and recognition. If we don not receive appreciation in those moments we are at risk of building resentment, which is toxic to a relationship. Let me give you an example. There were times in my marriage when I was the only bread winner. When I came home after a long day, I was exhausted. We had an agreement that my husband would cook dinner for us. There were some evenings where he forgot to prepare dinner because he was so engrossed with writing a book. Without thinking, I would jump in and cook. I ended up feeling grumpy and irritated. What I needed was his acknowledgement and appreciation in those moments. But of course he couldn’t know. It took me a while to learn to ask for what I needed. It helped us stay connected, which allowed us to look for better solutions.

When you ask for acknowledgement and appreciation, make sure you are coming from a loving place. If you are not able to let go of irritation or frustration you may make it impossible for your partner or spouse to give you what you are asking for. All your partner will hear is your whining or your critique. Allow yourself to be vulnerable instead and share from your heart. In my situation, all I needed was a hug and a thank you, which was easy for my husband to give me, once he knew. It can be that simple and it made all the difference in the world.

Who would not be happy to fulfill such a need in a relationship unless he or she is needy for acknowledgment themselves or something else is going on? I would like to encourage you to dare to show your partner your true needs. It does not mean that they will be always fulfilled, but I think once your partner is aware of your specific need, he or she can easily give it to you. Because it simply feels good to make one’s partner happy. And you as a couple will feel closer and more connected.



Dependency Or Fear Of Attachment?


During my last Explore-Shop, “Turning Frustration Into More Intimacy”, one of the participants came up with an interesting question.

I was talking about the five basic needs we all have in a committed relationship, regardless of whether we are children or adults: 1)feeling connected and close; 2)feeling emotionally and physically safe 3)being accepted; 4)being supported and cared for; and 5)being appreciated and validated. I am not talking about relationships in which there is physical or emotional abuse going on, or in which one or both partners have a severe addiction problem. I think that these types of relationships are unable to provide those human basic needs, especially 1) and 2) above, and that the couple should seek professional therapy.

While everyone was in agreement that children have the right to have these five needs met by their parents, one of the participants asked whether those needs might create unhealthy dependencies and/or over-attachments as adults. He was concerned that if he allows himself to become so close and integrated with his partner, it could make him weak, and he might lose his independence. This is a fear I can totally understand and relate to.

I would like to use his fear to tell you a story, to which a number of you of a certain age may relate, and have a deeper look at his question. When I was twenty years old, in the circles where I hung out in Switzerland, women demanded loudly and openly equal rights for all women. I was surrounded by some women, whose utmost goals were to be financially, physically, and emotionally independent from men. A lot of them were heterosexual and some of them were even planning to raise their children on their own using men just as breeders. A similar movement was going on among men. They too were seeking emotional and physical independence from their female partners. I strongly resonated with the women’s movement and their fight for equal rights. I still do. But back then, it was all very confusing to me. In certain circles, holding hands in public or appearing obviously recognizable as a couple was considered uncool. Having just one sexual partner was considered uncool. I suffered greatly, because, if I was honest with myself, I needed commitment and emotional safety in a partnership. These needs were rarely met, because they were considered uncool and old fashioned.

When I look back at those times I think the relational experimentation that took place was very important and necessary and continues to be today. As an adult in my later 50’s, I have more clarity and a different perspective. I think some of us took the desire for independence too far. We wanted to become grown ups that were completely self-sufficient on all levels. However, we left a very important aspect out of the equation: We all are relational beings and our basic relational needs do not stop or change when we become adults. In order to continue to grow and evolve, we need closeness with others. We need to feel their commitment, their comfort and reassurance when life becomes too challenging, and we need to be able to bounce our ideas off each other, without being judged. In other words we still need to be in nurturing and supportive relationships, that make us feel safe. There is one significant difference between a child and a grown up. As adults we are responsible for our own happiness and quality of life and we will never be able to delegate that. We need to continue to do our own inner work if we want to be in a healthy partnership and be a healthy partner. I believe that in a relationship it is healthy to allow ourselves to get attached to one another and therefore feel vulnerable.

I think it is more important than ever that we strive for mutually nurturing relationships, that fulfill our basic relational needs as human beings. Relationships that help us grow and heal on a personal level and on a global level as well. Marriage or committed partnerships can be a truly fulfilling and satisfying endeavor between two individuals, who share many of the same needs despite their differences. Especially if the couple is open and vulnerable with each other and willing to do the necessary work. I know that a lot of people look at their own vulnerability and those of others as a weakness or as something that scares them. I view it as a strength and as the best way to create real intimacy and connection, something most of us desire. I know from experience that feeling vulnerable and being able to express it is crucial when you want to create intimacy and trust. Acknowledging that we have relational needs is the first step.


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