Laughter is the best medicine. That’s absolutely true. And laughter is medicinal in ways other than that which you can presently imagine. Far more.

Laughter signals our brains to release chemicals into our bodies that are in themselves medicinal. Flooding our systems with the chemical equivalent of positive, healing energy. The effect of these chemicals on disease have been heavily researched and the impact is widely recognized. However we have seen this effect in other contexts as well.

Consider a “stuck state”. You know what this is intuitively, even if the phrase made you furrow your brow. And we’re sure you’ve experienced one of these moments with a loved one. This is where you are facing a challenge, and at some point, you just get stuck. You try to push through the invisible barrier, but to no avail. As you try in vain to overcome the challenge, you just find yourself right back where you started, increasingly frustrated the second, and third, times around. Stuck states aren’t any fun, and the irony is that while we can’t miss the fact we are in one when by ourselves, we often do when with a partner. Think about a time when you faced a challenge and, if even for a moment, you got stuck. Was there any confusion about the fact? Did you have any trouble noticing that you were nowhere closer to solving the problem? Our guess is that no, you had no trouble spotting this fact. Yet when we are struggling through something with our partner, oftentimes we fail to notice our own stuck state and assume that it is just a difference of opinions. Or worse, that you are right, and your partner is wrong. As you both maintain your positions, you might have the illusion that it’s a battle of wills (more on that phrase in a later post). If you believe you are correct and the other person less so, you might think that’s all that’s taking place.

Basic negotiation theory tells us that an impasse is typically much more than two opposing sides being stubborn. There is often a need on one side or both sides that is being either ignored or challenged. Therefore the problem really is about understanding the other person’s needs, their Map of the World, how they are trying to meet their own needs through the discussion. As we remain wrapped up in our own such Map, ignoring that of the other person, we find ourselves in a stuck state.

Just as a dinosaur might get stuck in a tar-pit, struggling to escape, only to inevitably sink further into the muck, we have the ability to remain stuck. We have a big advantage over the dinosaur, however. We have consciousness at two levels at least. Our conscious and unconscious minds continually strive to help us solve problems, even ones like how to escape a proverbial tar pit. So dare to recognize the stuck state for what it is, a smelly, rancid prison. It grips you and clings, threatening to keep you stuck in place, unable to move, unable to escape, unable to function.

Now aren’t you glad you’re not a dinosaur?

So we can enlist both our conscious and subconscious minds to free ourselves from that stinking, gripping tar-pit of a stuck state. One of the easiest ways to do this is to find humor in the situation. Laughter provides us with the chemical lift needed to do the extraordinary. It does things unconsciously that immediately release us from that stuck state’s clutches and moves us to solid ground, where we can then maneuver freely.

Look at a quick example of this. You are having a discussion with your significant other and each has taken an opposing position. You do not agree, and are beginning to feel the tension in your body that signals a fight is likely coming. You don’t want to escalate it that way, and imagine that neither does your partner. But you don’t really have a choice, do you? After all, you’re both stuck. Doesn’t it inevitably follow that you must hurt one another, insult each other, and leave your relationship damaged for it? Well, isn’t it?

And then one of you becomes sane for just an instant. And points out something absurd and comical, breaking the tension. Suddenly, should you agree to laugh together, you find yourselves magically freed from the tar-pit, the stuck state. There is a trick to navigating out of such states, and we see it in change work of all kinds. Briefly, most of us, particularly in a heightened emotional state, are unable to transition too drastically away from that state, in a short period of time. Say that in the example above, you are absolutely furious with your partner, and rather than discuss it with you, he or she makes some silly joke! Are you tempted to suspect he or she doesn’t respect your feelings, or your opinion? Maybe he or she doesn’t even respect you! Do you see how that could actually make things worse, even though we are advocating humor in such situations? That’s because it’s too extreme a transition. You may both need to create a gradual enough transition that it doesn’t make the other feel disrespected or overlooked. Perhaps from rage to anger. Then from anger to annoyance, perhaps testing the water, so to speak, before moving into humor and cooperation.

Sam and Marcy have been discussing what to do with their vacation time from work. She wants to visit her parents, and he wants to go to Disney World. He argues that the kids will enjoy Disney more, and they will all likely have more fun. Marcy knows that since Sam doesn’t really like her parents, that probably is his real reason. She argues however that it will be good for the kids to see Grandma and Grandpa. The kids actually agree…until given the alternative of Disney World! “Sorry, Gramps, but Mickey is more fun!” Marcy holds her ground, fueled by her anger that Sam would use the kids to justify his own position. Sam, for his part, is equally stuck, fueled by his discomfort with his in-laws. Rational discussion breaks down, and neither is interested in the other’s position.

At that moment, they both hear a light thud on the window, and they look. A bird has somehow relieved itself against the glass, possibly during flight. As the mess slips slowly down the glass in sickly green, white, and yellow streaks, they both burst out laughing.  Marcy thinks first and points out this discussion had “gone to shit” anyway, and apparently the bird made his judgment, as though they were on some reality show and were being kicked off the proverbial island. Between fits of laughter, she says, “I guess our conflict wasn’t interesting enough for the television audience, so we got splatted.”

Sam laughs even harder, noticing that while he was sure he’d been angry and frustrated only moments ago, he now saw little but the humor of the situation. He realized in a flash how much he loved and appreciated Marcy’s quick wit, her easy laugh. He looked once more at the mess on the window, added, “What shitty timing!” and they both roared with laughter.

Tears filling both their eyes, Sam said to Marcy, “I love you, baby! I’m so sorry I got stuck like that.”

Still laughing herself, Marcy said, “Me too, Sam. I don’t mean to get so frustrated, but I just sometimes think you’ll do anything to avoid my parents.”

With an embarrassed chuckle, Sam admitted, “Well, yeah, I think you’re right about that. I just don’t enjoy being around them. And I don’t think they like me very much, either.”

Still smiling, Marcy thought of something else. “Look, Sam, I know they don’t always welcome you the way I’d like. But they’re my parents. I want them to have a relationship with me, with the kids…and with you. I guess I’m kind of the odd one out, because I really do see where you’re coming from. I think I need your help here.”

Sam’s eyebrows rose. This was an entirely different problem from the one that got them stuck. They were in agreement that perhaps there was some tension between him and her parents. But that wasn’t the actual problem. Redefined now, the problem clearly was, How can their family, Sam, Marcy, and their children, have a relationship with Marcy’s parents?

They had a week of vacation and Sam was the first to suggest a compromise. He admitted freely that he would not have thought of this had he still been stuck in what he perceived to be an all-or-nothing situation. They would spend three days at Disney World, then fly out to see Marcy’s parents, and spend three days with them. Then they’d fly home and recuperate from their two vacations. They both realized that this was going to be tough, that they would likely be very tired from all the travel. Though it offered not just a compromise, but also a deeper solution. They could nurture a relationship with Marcy’s parents, though with only three days, the “newness” wouldn’t have time to “wear off”. Marcy and Sam explored the previous visits with her parents and realized that on the first day or two, everything was fine. It was once they got comfortable that tensions typically arose. The abbreviated visit would enable them to spend time with Marcy’s parents, though not so much that difficulties had enough time to rise. All would still be on their “best behavior”.

Using laughter, Marcy and Sam were able to release themselves from what past experience told them would have been a “stuck state”. They were then free to seek out new opportunities and possibilities. They were magically unstuck via the healing power of laughter.

As mentioned previously, however, this was a very rapid transition, one that may not work in all situations. In those, you may very well need a more gradual transition, enabling both people to make the transition to a more productive, positive place, while inoculating against feeling that the other’s laughter was reflective of the level of respect each partner was showing the other. This particular example does occasionally present itself, and let’s face it, in the midst of an intense discussion, few things can so quickly loosen up our stuck positions than nature flinging an actual turd our way.

The trick for us is to spot those opportunities when they arise. And if they don’t appear, gauge how intense the emotional level is, which can dictate the speed of our attempted transition into something more function for us.

Dare to find the humor in the situation, and if there is none, act as if it were possible, and then locate the hypothetical humor to keep your communication and your loving energy fluid, never stuck. With some practice, you and your partner will likely experience these “stuck state” far more rarely, and you may even begin to notice your unconscious minds beginning to look for the humor, to apply the best medicine, in order to keep you in that “ever after” experience. To learn more, take a look at Chapter 14 of our book, “Happily Ever Laughter”, coming soon!

Until then, look for such “stuck states” in yourself. When you spot them, take responsibility for them and change them. This person with whom you’re speaking, after all, is pretty important, and he or she deserves the very best you can offer. You might be surprised at what such a gift can inspire in your partner!

Values determine what your priority will be in any given situation. Think of it as a checklist of criteria we apply to every situation where we decide it fits. You may have such a list of values that pertain to your work. This list may include: “fair pay”, “reasonable expectations”, “work-life balance”, “opportunity for growth and advancement”, “interesting challenges”, and other criteria that your experiences have made important for you. This article asks you to make conscious some of the values that govern your choices when you and your partner find yourselves in an uncomfortable disagreement. Stop for a moment and consider the workplace values example. Let’s take a hypothetical employee for whom those values are in fact all he or she is concerned about in a job. Let’s say we asked that employee to rank those values from least to most important. There’s no wrong answer – each item is ranked based on that individual’s values. Your own are likely to be quite different.

Let’s say our fictional employee ranked these values in this order:

  1. “interesting challenges”
  2. “opportunity for growth and advancement”
  3. “reasonable expectations”
  4. “fair pay”
  5. “work-life balance”

First of all, what can you infer about this employee? Is this person likely willing to work late nights and weekends if he or she finds the project exciting or challenging? We would suggest yes, as “interesting challenges” appears at the top of the list and “work-life balance” is at the bottom. Consider a different question, however: Would this same employee likely take on a less interesting project that offers little challenge, little likelihood for growth and advancement, merely because they would have more time at home with their family? Not likely, again based on how that person ranks their values in this area.

What is the relationship to…intimate relationships? Glad you asked. Let’s say that employee’s work day is done, and before going home, ranks his or her values for home life or life overall, and the list looks something like this:

  1. Making my partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy
  2. Finding a lot to laugh about
  3. Having plenty of recreational time with family
  4. Being active in the back yard with the family
  5. Having everyone recognize my wisdom  (I’m almost always “right” so it’s important that everyone knows it)

Take a look at that last item on the list. For this person, being “right” in an argument might at times seem important, though not as much as the other items ranked above that on the list. We actually like this ranking fine, because such a person is unlikely to let their ego-based needs (such as feeling “right” and “wise”) to challenge such items as making their partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy. That alone makes it unlikely that this person will get caught in an argument with their spouse just because they cannot let go of the fight. That need to be “right” and acknowledged as such simply doesn’t rank as high as the other, more supportive values.

Now consider your own values. No doubt you have some variation on the lists above. But when you look at your own rankings, do you see any potential problems? If  you regularly get caught up over the need to be “right”, you likely have such a conflict in your values. If when you communicate with your partner, you find yourselves at a point where each has plainly and exhaustively made your point, but you still can’t let it go, take a closer look. It’s time to ask why that might be. Is it because though your partner can verify that they received your message, understood your point, and can either repeat it back you accurately or paraphrase it, while maintaining your intended meaning, they have not admitted their fault? Is it because they have not (yet) acknowledged how right you were (and conversely how wrong they were)? And that if you persist, you will eventually “win” and they will surrender, admitting just how wrong they were (and the juiciest part, just how right you were!)?

This is where we want to reconsider our values because while you might derive satisfaction from assigning labels like “right”, “wrong”, and the corresponding gloating or head-hanging reactions, it’s not likely helping your relationship. Nor is it likely making your partner feel good about you or about being with you. There are many ways to shift the priority of your values in such lists, and we’ll explore that throughout this site. But the first step is to simply acknowledge that it might be good for you to do so. Though the hypothetical questions we asked above, such as “with a values ranking like this…would the person be likely to…?” what we are also doing is demystifying human behavior. That behavior will be remarkably congruent with an individual’s values. We can understand the person by inferring their values…which in turn we learn by watching what that person chooses. Even if that person is us.

And once we figure out that the reason we often bang our heads in frustration, stuck in unproductive arguments, may in fact be due to a values ranking that isn’t truly serving us, we can take charge of that ranking and change it. Think about it for a minute. If you figure out that in the second list above, y0u prioritize “Having everyone recognize my wisdom” or “being right” is number one, and “Making my partner feel loved, appreciated, and happy” is way down on the list, you are beginning to gain control of your experience.

Consider this: What might happen if you were to swap those two items on your values ranking? What if making your partner feel loved becomes magically more important to you now than was “being right”…just imagine what wonderful things might grow from that…

The “Love, Honor, and…Obey?” article from almost two years ago (!) seems to have created a considerable amount of concern among readers. We’ve been quite surprised by this, despite the worldwide publishing phenomenon (aka “The Decline and Fall of Western Literature”) known as the Fifty Shades trilogy. First a statement about those ridiculous books. We’re truly sorry if you love them, but BDSM/S&M romance is nothing new–so if your sole exposure to it is these really terribly written books, you need to do a few Amazon searches. That criticism is solely on the basis of literary merit, by the way.

Stephen King (of whom Chris is a long-time admirer) says that he thinks of himself as the Big Mac of literature (paraphrasing here). But if that’s so, Anne Rice is a red snapper Ponchartrain with a lobster tail on the side (suitably spiced, of course). This would make EL James, the person responsible for the Fifty Shades books, the green-tinted French Fry in a packet of otherwise wonderful fries that were served beside the Big Mac. A distorted, nearly counterfeit, revolting item that tries to pass itself off as one of the other wonderful fries. But can’t quite pull it off. We know–“maybe with enough ketchup”. No, not even then. But then a skilled marketing person comes along and reframes the green tint as a positive thing, and soon enough, green fries are all the rage!

Why the brutal rant against these books? One, because the author can’t speak English properly. “I’m like” should never begin a sentence in a book. Further, the lead character, if she shows no growth at all, is not a character, but a cardboard cutout.

Second, and this is why we didn’t just let badly written books go, we should not get messages asking us what’s wrong with “obedience” in a wife! This is not the 1950’s, and there’s no reason to pretend it’s made a comeback.

For the record, if you and your partner have a consensual relationship that is not so common, a bit left-of-center, we are no prudes. More power to you, seriously! Our criticism in that article had nothing to do with serious, committed BDSM-oriented, CONSENSUAL relationships. We believe strongly that if you are both truly happy and fulfilled, embrace what makes it so! You’ve found one of the paths to romantic bliss, and we applaud you! None of this is related in any way to justifying badly written prose.

Humankind has never flourished and advanced in fascist societies. The brave, nay, fearless exchange of ideas and the ready challenge to the status quo has propelled human progress countless times throughout history. We each as individuals have strengths and weaknesses. Companies hire people for those unique strengths and our intimate relationships similarly benefit from the individual strengths we each bring to that relationship. Therefore both people deserve respect and should be valued for what he or she brings to the relationship.

The key here, and the actual point of this article, is that you and your partner make up your own rules. We offer models of successful relationships, ideas that other couples have shared which they felt enabled their longevity and fulfillment. But ultimately what two consenting adults decide is right for them is well outside our right to comment upon or criticize. Perhaps the most significant thing we offer here, though models of success are arguably as important, is a framework. When you and your partner, in your own right minds, determine what form your relationship should take, how far, if at all, left-of-center you wish it to be, that is your decision alone. We can help with the practical, everyday stuff, but only you two can decide what form the relationship should take.

In fact, that is among the most fun, and at times perilous, aspects of a relationship: the negotiation. Anyone who thinks negotiation only belongs in business or politics has never had a serious romantic relationship. Each of us has needs, and for our romantic/intimate/companionship needs, we may seek out a partner. For many of us, though it’s not necessarily so, married life makes sense. We ourselves decided that marriage was ideal for us, so that was our choice. For you it may be different. What matters is that both of you are involved in this decision making process.

Badly-written though they are, the Fifty Shades books illustrate something relevant to this discussion. In the first book, the male lead compensates for his damaged psychology by controlling his environment to a pathological extent. This includes using BDSM in what we consider an unhealthy manner, as the female lead is young, impressionable, not fully aware of what she wants and what she can trust. This may be due to the author’s lack of skill, and the character coming across as two-dimensional, but the character as presented to the reader is clearly not self-aware to the degree necessary for this situation. We question whether the character consents, or if she had, whether she was capable of informed consent in the first place. This makes the relationship exploitative, not far removed from a grown man plying the affection and favors of an underage girl with wine coolers, attention, and assurances that she is special.

In order to have a relationship capable of fulfilling both parties, it must be consensual, and that includes both parties being capable of informed consent. Simply saying, “Yes–because you told me you love me!” is not sufficient.

The message is: If you and your partner both understand what you’re getting into, you both want it, you both continue to find it fulfilling, and you are both old enough, emotionally stable enough, sober enough, to make such decisions in the first place, then you two alone make the rules for your relationship. Please, borrow freely from the experience and successes of others. Those of us who have already tread the path you are embarking upon, already spotted the pitfalls, the potential challenges along the way, and insights that can make things work better, can offer advice that may save you a great deal of frustration and pain. So yes, borrow from that. But please always remember, the only thing any of us has a right to question is whether you or your partner really is informed enough to truly consent. Outside of that, you two decide.

Find happiness, depend on one another, and love each other with a passion and intensity such as there is no tomorrow.


In Good Times As In Bad

It’s easy to be good to your partner when things are going well. When we’re happy, isn’t it easy to treat everyone around you well? Our partner is (hopefully) the closest person to us in the world. So he or she knows when something is wrong even before we tell them. They know our patterns, our customary behaviors, so they are perhaps best able to spot an anomaly.

Because of that closeness and familiarity, however, our partner is the person we are most likely to vent our frustrations onto. We sometimes call this “displaced aggression”. Think about it, your boss gives you a tough talking-to, you lose a major account, your car needs an expensive repair, the air conditioner or heater just went out, etc. Not knowing you personally, we can’t say for sure what could go wrong in your own world, but just imagine: It could be the worst day ever.

You can’t take it out on your boss, or most authority figures around us, now can we? In most cases, we wager not. So you return to the sanctity of your own home, and your partner greets you with a smile. Though instead of giving him or her the opportunity to talk with you, to help you cope, or to at least lend a sympathetic ear, you unload on them. You take all the frustration you feel toward your boss, the mechanic, the cop who pulled you over, the customer who dropped you, and so forth, and you direct all that energy toward your partner – who is ironically only wanting to help.

This is a common occurrence for many people, and if it sounds familiar, you have an opportunity before you. We challenge you to learn something new, to recognize the impact you have, through your words, your actions, your entire interaction with someone else, and to find the opportunity for intimacy in the challenges couples face. Clearly, this is one of those situations where it works best when both people have a high level of commitment. However, you might be surprised to learn just how readily people can be seduced into a more powerful state of mind, indeed, a more intimate state, by someone willing to leverage their energy, their power, their seductiveness, to lead them.

Recently we worked with a client complaining of this very scenario – her husband was frequently irritable and when something went wrong with his work day, it was her fault. As soon as they both got home from work, he took out his anger and frustration on her and the kids. She asked, “If I want him to act differently, why are you saying that I have to change?” This is a common complaint, so it wasn’t the first time we heard it, nor will it likely be the last. If you have not acted with power and precision before, it might seem strange that as part of a system, when we change, the rest of the system must as well – if only to maintain equilibrium.

We lead by doing, by example. Like hypnosis, you go first, then your subject follows. Sure, you may have to develop a skill, but then, that’s why we’re here, now isn’t it?

As with other articles on this site, we want to restrict the length, so we won’t delve too deeply into how in the first part. First, we will focus on why you would want to do this and what impact it will have. Then in Part II, we will look at techniques – though we may offer a taste just to get you started. Actually, Keli wrote a really great article about a powerful strategy for doing just this (“5 Steps for Stopping a Fight and Reconnecting Instantly” in the May, 2013 archive). If you haven’t read it until today, you’ve been missing out.

Imagine the above scenario  – you have had one of the worst days ever. You get home and your partner is already there, cheerfully unaware that you have superimposed a target on his or her chest. He or she is doing that irritating thing that always gets on your nerves, but tonight, that’s increased by a factor of ten.

Reading you, your partner says something that immediately stops you in your tracks. You suddenly don’t feel the same way and begin to feel waves of appreciation, of love, for this amazing person who’s stuck with you through the challenges as well as the parties (and of course, sometimes parties can become a challenge, and vice versa!).

Your whole perception has changed.

How did that happen?

Maybe more importantly, now that the two of your have begun sorting out your days in a spirit of love and appreciation, what sort of trouble can the two of you get into? Does it sound enticing yet? Or at least more fun than one of the other possible outcomes?

We suggest that the above turn of events is not only possible, but really easy once you make it a habit. Like anything new, it may seem a little awkward at first, but with some practice, can really lead to a beautiful shift in your relationship. Choose your own metaphor here: You might think of it as interior redecorating, or a reengineering, or an overhaul, of your mind. One that leads to more pleasure and happiness.

And it all begins with your making  a decision – that the life of your relationship is more important than the moment of frustration. And deserves to be treated accordingly. As do YOU!

Consider the first two sentences in a prior article:

Many of us have experienced the oddity of the emotional affair. We may have even been guilty of indulging in one.

We itilicized that word because our choice of predicates radically impacts how we feel about it. Language is powerful. Consider briefly how different you feel as you read the following sentences to yourself.

It is wrong to indulge in something decadent

It is good to soil yourself with something good.

Do you see the mixed messages in each? In English, we often consider predicates like indulge, decadent, forbidden, taboo, naughty, and so forth as exciting. In most cases, we might, putting our Puritan hat on, agree that they are wrong, wicked, negative (and let’s face it, the Puritans do have great hats!). Though these words radically affect how we feel about the subject of our sentence.

Sometimes a simple shift in word choice can make all the difference. In the example above, for instance, how do you feel about “indulging” in something? If you’re like many of us, an “indulgence” is something naughty, something you know you just shouldn’t do…but will be so wonderful that it’s worth just about any downside I could mention! This is not a new idea, as in the field of NLP we have been doing “submodalities” work for several decades. That is, carefully adjusting the aspects of our sensory perception to influence how we feel. Likewise, certain words have common submodalities or even anchored responses. Some call this an “emotional charge”, the effect the word has upon us as he hear or read it. Biologists and behaviorists are more apt to call it a conditioned response, but whatever you choose to call it, this is a powerful agent of influence that you can use in your own life, as well as in your daily communication with others.

How? Though the world around you will provide you with its own predicates, and if you pay attention when TV commercials come on, you might not that advertisers are hardly oblivious to what we’re talking about here, you can always shift the language in your own mind. That is, though I provide you with a frame of reference, leading your mind where I want it to go, you don’t have to follow through. Rather, as soon as you catch on, you can alter the language to suit your own purposes, instead of my own. While advertisers might prefer that you “indulge yourself” by purchasing their product, “luxuriating” in its wonder, and the moment the sticker shock occurs to you, they might urge you to consider, “aren’t you worth a little extravagance?”, you don’t have to leave it at that. Rather, you can challenge that statement or amend it. For instance, take the following three pitches and note the rephrasing or addition I’ve added in bold text:

Life is short. Have an affair. After all, stress, guilt, and broken hearts are what make a full, well-lived life, right?

Indulge yourself with a ______. (Now try substituting the word “indebt”, “impoverish”, or “punish” for the word “indulge.)

You deserve it! Treat yourself to a _______. Don’t you deserve it? Haven’t you been a bit of a shit lately? Go ahead, you deserve a little _____.

Just a couple of examples, but if you pay attention, examples crop up all around us. This is a pretty savvy world we live in, and a lot of smart people have made it their business to manipulate us. Whether they are after our buying power or our personal attention, others have a vested interest in influencing our decisions. How does this pertain to intimate relationships? Consider that the media is trying all the time to sell us a “better”, “more exotic”, “sexier” life. One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is by playing on our own expectations of what we deserve. Sure, there will be exceptions for those among us with esteem issues, but by and large, don’t most of us feel that we deserve the best?

Let’s say you’ve put decades, years, or even months (it’s all relative, remember, and every great lifetime-spanning relationship began with a single date) into our relationship. We’ve learned to blend our life maps and create a Relationship Map™. We now have a relationship in which we can both be ourselves and be part of something larger than ourselves. In addition to always being you, yourself, you are now part of a…WE! You have someone to tell your silly stories, someone who will appreciate you, share intimate moments, to share, potentially, everything. Sounds wonderful until someone reframes that as “routine” or “boring”. Sound familiar? To someone in the business of selling exciting, new experiences, it might be quite a nuisance that you have this great relationship! Consider one of the examples above – Ashley Madison, who tried to convince us that “life being short” was some sort of good reason for “having an affair”. For someone selling that product, your stable, committed, strong relationship would be quite a nuisance indeed.

So as a smart consumer, to stick with the metaphor, you must make a decision. Is that product truly worth the price you would have to pay? And we’ll go ahead and state the obvious just to get it out of the way – an affair is not the answer if your relationship is waning. Ever. We can deal with that topic another time, but we mention it so our position on this topic is unambiguous. We view those “selling” an affair as being counter to our own interests. Simply put, purveyors of affairs are trying to steal something from you. Whether they’re running a web site to facilitate infidelity, actively trying to seduce you, or merely voicing support for the idea as you ask their opinion. Such people are trying to take something from you. There’s a litmus test that simplifies this and we offer it to you if you’re skeptical. When facing an action, a thought, anything at all, ask yourself: Is this bringing me closer to my partner or creating separation between us? You can ask it of anything, and if it’s innocuous, it will have no effect at all. For instance, if the question is your spending an hour organizing your prized collection of widgets, baseball cards, antique spoons, whatever the item might be, that hour might have no impact on your relationship at all. If not, and you’re sure of it, (your partner might not agree!), then it truly is harmless. Of course, if your partner needs some personal time, your choosing to organize your widgets might in fact bring you and your partner closer together. But let’s say the question is whether or not you will have a one night stand. NOW ask whether it will bring you and your partner closer together or create separation between you. Notice the difference? And if you are one of those people who thinks the deciding factor is whether or not your partner discovers your infidelity, you have, sad to say, much to learn.

Resolve today to focus on bringing your partner and yourself closer. Every action, every word, every decision, has the potential to affect this. Make it wisely and lovingly.

We previously explored the concept of Assuming Intention, a technique that more often than not does not turn out to be accurate. It’s difficult to know someone so precisely that we know without fail what they are thinking, and what their actions meant. This is a form of what Milton H. Erickson called “mind reading”, and generally robs us of the richness of our relationships’ interactions.

There is an exception to the rule, as explored in Part I, assuming a positive intention. That is, if a person’s actions appear ambiguous to us, and we don’t know what was meant, we can assume a positive intention (API), even in the lack of evidence, just as we can assume a negative intention (ANI). In everyday language, we may call this giving the “benefit of the doubt.”.

Hold on! We talked previously about how Erickson’s “mind reading” is a bad thing, why are we now saying that it might be otherwise? In NLP, we learn and teach that beliefs are exceptionally useful tools. We can use them in our daily lives to enable ourselves, prop up a struggling will, equip us to grow beyond where we think we are, and more. The irony is that beliefs themselves, in order to be all those things and more, need not even be “true”. Consider a very basic belief: I can do this. You haven’t, we assume, finished doing it, or you wouldn’t need the belief. Beliefs, after all, exist in the absence of facts. If you already know you can do it because you have just completed “it”, then there is no need for belief – the results speak for themselves.

But where you have not YET completed the task, technically you don’t actually KNOW you can do it, you only either believe you can or believe you can’t. The fun part there is that the belief itself contains powerful creative energy. With a belief that you CAN, that energy may very well be the key you previously lacked. You can be trained expertly to perform the task, have every confidence in your abilities, but if you decide to embrace a believe that you CAN’T, you might be surprised at how quickly the belief can invade all that confidence, the training, the skill, and bore through it like termites through a tree.

Fortunately, the opposite is also true. If you instead choose a belief that you CAN, that energy can permeate every fiber of your confidence, your attitude, abilities, coalescing your skill into an unstoppable force that the world cannot resist. Ok, sounds a little better, but what does this have to do with assuming intention, whether positive (API) or negative (ANI)?

Simple, the assumption shared by each of those acronyms is itself derived from a belief, You might argue that in fact it IS a belief.

Think of it this way – what if, regardless of what your partner just did, you assumed a malicious or negative intention? What if, every time he or she did something nice for you, you presumed it was because they had some bad news to break, something to confess, and they were only trying to manipulate you, to lessen your angry response? Seriously, think about it. Now what if on an entirely different day you chose to respond differently? What if no matter how irritating or offensive your partner had behaved toward you, you assumed a positive or loving intention? It’s not so far-fetched – haven’t we all, at some time, had the very best of intentions, and yet our actions just didn’t match up to that intent? Of course we have! And your partner is no different. So it’s entirely possible that he or she meant well, truly was acting out of love or consideration, and they were unsuccessful in their “finish”. Would you likely view those two scenarios a bit differently? Wouldn’t anyone?

Understanding, of course, that any time we assume anything, we leave room to be wrong. It’s clear that we won’t just perfectly gauge or calibrate  someone’s intention. Maybe every now and then, maybe even frequently, but all the time? Not likely. So if that’s true, what’s the point? Wouldn’t Assuming Positive Intention (API) be just as bad as Assuming Negative Intention (ANI)?

The answer to that question lies more in the function than in the facts. That is, if we can agree to suspend “truth” and “verifiability” for just a moment, we might explore something in a somewhat different way. Okay. Got that pesky “true/false” criterion paused for a moment? Great! Now ask yourself a different question – what behavioral flexibility will the assumption likely lend you?

Our suggestion here is that if you assume the best, you will often be right. Sure, you will at times be wrong as well. But we’re more interested in the effect the belief has upon you. What are you able to do with the belief? What does the belief encourage you to do?

One answer to these questions is so obvious that you might find yourself feeling silly for not having considered it. If you haven’t felt silly before, rest assured, you will. Life gives each of us learning experiences that at first make us feel silly. The trick is to laugh along with everyone else, get over it, and take the learning with you.

What answer? When we assume the best, and are primed and ready for it, we create a feeling of acceptance for the other person. We invite them to be themselves and to share, because we ourselves have laid out the proverbial red carpet for them. We are assuming their positive intention and are ready to reciprocate with our own positive intention. This often works with strangers – just imagine how well it will work with someone who loves you and has committed to being with you!

So API with your significant other, filter their response through your positive energy, your love, your respect, your high regard for them. Bathe them in an overwhelming aura of love and acceptance, make them feel so loved they can’t help but smile. It might sound funny now, but consider the likely outcome of the opposite – ANI. If instead you bathe your partner in negative energy, disdain, contempt, jealousy, anger, whatever form your negative intentions have taken in the past, how do you think that will affect them? Most of us don’t enjoy receiving those emotions, particularly from someone we love, trust, and count on to be our friend. In our experience, assuming negative intention poisons whatever good you had going, destroying it from within.

And if it does make you feel just a bit silly, isn’t that a pretty small sacrifice to make for the one you love?

Many of us have experienced the oddity of the emotional affair. We may have even been guilty of indulging in one. Consider that coworker with whom you often flirt, the barista at the coffee bar with whom you have “a regular thing” when you show up, always at about the same time, to ensure he/she is there, or any other common scenario where you enjoy a private pleasure with little guilt.

Let’s just jump right into a litmus test for the innocence or guilt that’s appropriate here: Would you feel awkward if your partner knew everything about these encounters? Not just the surface communication, the actual words you and that other person actually exchange. But also the way that person winks at you, the way you offer something extra (or they do you), the body language you both exhibit, and even the illicit thoughts you have about the exchange. Now how innocent do you feel?

“I never actually had sex with her!” That’s the argument we often hear when we confront an emotional affair that we observe. As though the only qualification of intimacy is actual intercourse. Intimacy comes in many forms, and for couples in a relationship, it’s wonderful to explore and to utilize as many of these forms with which they’re comfortable. But that also means that just because you haven’t slept with your coworker, the barista, or the clerk at the store, you may very well be soliciting some form of intimacy with them. They may actually be doing the same. If you indulge it, on some level you are being erotically intimate with them. If your “primary” intimate relationship is exclusive (and we admit that we are biased toward that), then you are cheating when you share erotic intimacy with someone other than your partner.

Learning from the above paragraph, assuming you have and honor your committed relationship, is powerful. Because even if you are not guilty of soliciting or conducting an emotional affair, if you would argue against the accusation on the basis of not having slept with the other person, you do need to begin learning what constitutes an emotional affair. The first step is learning that intimacy comes in many forms. We’ve known couples that are faithful to one another, yet one or both does not appreciate the complexity of intimacy – as though it strictly means sexual intercourse. This robs the relationship of precious experiences, support, and nurturing. Intimacy is the water on your flower garden. Without it, you can have the best soil, excellent fertilizer, but your flowers, your relationship, will not survive. People often require or desire different types and degrees of intimacy, hence some people not even understanding it. Likewise, someone who doesn’t value or notice intimacy may be oblivious to the fact that their coworker always brings them their coffee just perfectly as a sign of erotic affection. Such a person may unwittingly return that request for intimacy by reinforcing the behavior in an unprofessional manner.

Emotional affairs can, however, develop into something that even the most obtuse among us couldn’t miss. You and a coworker may go on a business trip together. Staying in different rooms doesn’t neutralize this – if you spend all your social time together, the sex is not the issue. You are potentially building an intimate relationship with everything but the sex. Sex is of course wonderful, but that’s clearly not the only great thing about an intimate relationship! If you’re in a committed, exclusive intimate relationship, your partner, not the coworker, waitress, barista, clerk or anyone else, should be the sole recipient of that intimacy. Period.

“What’s the harm, as long as you don’t sleep with these other people?” Plenty. Our intimate relationship is a complex matrix of shared experiences, adventures, challenges, and triumphs, hence our calling the product a Relationship Map™. When we divert experiences and shared jokes, tender words, even something as seemingly innocent as a flirtatious phrase, from our primary relationship, we weaken it. We instead begin building a Relationship Map™ with the other person. Now look at the long term effects of this. Do we really see any benefit to a partly-constructed relationship with a stranger? Do we at least get how stealing from our partner to build that partial construction is wrong? What about slowing the progress of building our own ideal relationship with our partner because we are taking those resources and giving them instead to someone else?

We’ve heard the argument that such emotional affairs can increase the “spice”of the primary relationship.

If you find you are lacking spice, try some habanero sauce.

You might, in that giddy moment, where you’re excited by the risk and damage you’re doing to your relationship, actually believe that you’re somehow benefiting your primary relationship. That’s an illusion. Further, the mature person with a balanced life learns that a relationship is at its best when you devote all your erotic love, all your intimate attention, to it. Diluting these by sharing them with others lessens the value that relationship can provide. But look at the other side of it – your emotional affairs are left with even less – so they can offer even less value. This generally winds up a confused mess, robbing us of time, energy, and life.

As we bring our lives into focus, we find that we not only enjoy more, but GET more. One intimate relationship. One career. One spirituality. One ___ (fill in the blank with whatever matters most to you). You will find that as you devote more to each single pursuit, you are able to get more from it.

The whole problem is often that we don’t commit enough to each thing that matters to us, just expecting it to run fine on “autopilot”. It won’t.

It’s up to you how much joy, how much success, how much love, how much intimacy, how much prosperity, you can receive in life. And it starts by deciding how much energy and attention you will give that one thing.

Commit to getting more from your relationship, and begin by committing to give your all to it. The only affairs you want are those you enjoy exclusively with your partner.