healthy boundaries

What is Conscious Uncoupling?

Some of the people who begin this process of discernment realize they want to end part of their relationship and still stay in loving compassionate partnership or friendship at the same time.

There’s not a lot of support in our culture for more creative relationship transformations, but that is often what folks are seeking when we talk about conscious uncoupling.

Conscious Uncoupling Expertise from the Source

Watch this Wanderlust talk by Katherine Woodward Thomas, author of the book Conscious Uncoupling about what this means if you think that may be a path forward for you.

Here are the basics of Conscious Uncoupling:

  • It is natural to want to stay in connection with past lovers. Historically we stayed in lifelong connections with interconnections rather than end relationships without any further contact.

  • It is possible to have a loving happy post-divorce (or break up) family if all partners are committed to that vision.

  • With clear intention, self regulation and support you can share generous care for your partner- even if your relationship evolves more into friendship than romantic partnership.

Questions to Ask When Deciding to Break Up

Making the decision to break up isn't easy. Most of you reading this have good reasons to both stay and go. For the most part, people felt super ambivalent about their relationships even if the decision seems pretty obvious. Most people have baseline dealbreakers that often go out the window when they meet someone and feel a strong chemical reaction.

Over time we start wondering if compromising those standards and some of our independence was really worth it.

Others start feeling stuck in unresolved conflict and unaddressed resentments that block our ability to deeply connect.

It’s hard to end a relationship for many reasons. If nothing else, there’s no way to end a relationship without facing the reality of loss and grief. But sometimes loss and grief are what you both need to build fuller, more enriching lives apart.

Questions to Ask When Deciding If You Should Break Up

Breaking up is obviously never easy. However, these 18 questions are designed to help you find some clarity if you're having difficulty deciding what to do:

  1. Have I been feeling unsafe, intimidated or threatened in this relationship?

  2. Have I been criticized, degraded or disrespected on a consistent basis?

  3. Have I been regularly interrogated about who I talk to, where I go, how much money I spend and related issues?

  4. Have I been walking on eggshells because I’m fearful or uncomfortable speaking my mind in this relationship?

  5. Does my partner always blame me or others for their problems or things that go wrong?

  6. Is my partner excessively possessive, calling or texting constantly, visiting expectantly to check up on me?

  7. Does my partner make me feel inadequate?

  8. How is this ending going to improve my life? The other person’s life?

  9. Does my partner keep their word or promises? Do I?

  10. Does my partner take responsibility for their actions? Do I?

  11. Is my partner willing to see things from my perspective? Will I see theirs?

  12. Does this person make me happy or would I be happier by myself?

  13. Have I asked for my needs to be met directly and respectfully?

  14. Am I expecting my partner to be the only one who changes - am I willing to make serious changes in order to make this work?

  15. Have we adequately tried to resolve conflicts and stuck points? Are we willing to hire help if needed?

  16. Do we have the same values and goals for the future?

  17. Am I ready to walk-away or am I going to end it and get back together?

  18. Can I handle being single and finding other supports for my grief through this break up?

At the end of the day, no one can decide what you should do about your relationship but you. But if you really take the time to think it over, you'll make the right decision for you.

If you want help sorting through this decision please give me a call for a consultation. I’ve supported hundreds of great folks as they decide to stay or go and I’d be happy to help you.

Gina Senarighi Madison Couples Counselor

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in healthy communication, passionate relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

She co-hosts the Swoon podcast and coaches clients online all over the world and leads retreats in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest United states.

When she’s not working she’s tending her urban garden, traveling with her partner, raising her toddler, listening to podcasts or walking her little dog, Frida in Madison, Wisconsin.

Seven Critical Elements of Trust

Trust means far more than honesty.  If you're looking to build trust with a partner getting specific about which areas of trust you want to work on is key.  Ise the infographic below to identify your strengths and where you want to focus attention and grow.  

As always, if you want to talk more about trust in relationships give me a call, I'd love to chat with you.  

Seven Elements of rust PDF - Brene Brown Worksheet - Couples Worksheet

Four Great Articles on Boundaries in Relationships

Every week I read (often saving and re-reading) great materials from others about healthy relationships and strong relationship boundaries.  Here's a quick list of four of my all-time favorites.

Six Steps to Setting Boundaries in Relationships by Jennifer Twardowski

For all of you wanting a step-by-step guide to making boundaries work this is the basic primer for you.  Jennifer spells it out in six easy steps to get clear and ask for what you need.

Healthy Relationships: Setting Boundaries from Love is Respect

Love is respect is FULL of great resources on healthy relationships.  I strongly recommend checking out just about everything on their site.  If you want one easy to read starting place this article is great for outlining the kinds of spaces to consider boundaries (in-person and online in particular).  Start here and then use the rest of their site to dive deeper in relationship 101. 

How to Set Healthy Boundaries: 3 Critical First Stepsfrom Tiny Buddha

Tiny Buddha is always a great resource for personal narratives and self-reflection.  I love this post because it outlines three great ways to get clear internally and do a little self-assessment when considering boundaries with other people.

Boundaries in Relationships from Life Esteem

Life esteem may not be the prettiest site out there, but for all of you wondering why setting boundaries is so dang hard, this article literally spells it out.  If you keep wondering why boundaries are tripping you up, there might be some useful tips in here.

If you want help setting and maintaining boundaries that work for you in relationships give me a call for a free consultation.  I'm happy to support you in creating healthy boundaries that work for you and your loved ones.

positive psychology | life coach | relationship coach | couples coach | couples retreats

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC has helped thousands of couples review their growth together, and renew their connection moving forward. 

For nearly 15 years she's specialized in strengths-focused, positive psychology-based relationship advice and coaching to nurture lasting joy and and resilience in her client's relationships.  

She will help you:

  • develop a shared vision and goals- and create actionable steps to move in that direction
  • overcome outdated patterns and establish new intentional, healthy ones
  • strengthen trust or repair it after infidelity or dishonesty
  • connect in meaningful ways during and well after life transitions
  • design rituals of connection that will keep you close for many years
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns and learn new skills 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

How to Stop Obsessing

If you constantly replay or obsess over negative situations, you're doing what's known as rumination. Your mind goes over and over a play-by-play of that horrific breakup, a fight with your mom, or your boss calling you out in a meeting.

Often getting stuck in these cyclical thought patterns only increases the frustration or anxiety you're feeling.

Reflecting on the past can be helpful in problem-solving but getting stuck in rumination takes it to the next level. Most often it serves to intensifies negative feelings and leaves us without any real solutions.

These thoughts keep us from being present or focusing- and stop us form moving forward. 

Over time, we become hyperfocused on the things that aren't going well instead of seeing the larger picture. 

How to stop ruminating

Here are some of my favorite tips to help you change your obsessive thought patterns.

Identify the underlying thought or fear. What is your biggest fear? Maybe you are afraid of getting fired or looking foolish in front of others. Try journaling to clarify and write out your list of big fears.  Putting words to worries often takes some of their power away.

Think about the worst-case scenario. This may sound like an awful suggestion, but we can often handle the worst-case scenario, which takes away the power of the original thought.  Again, putting worry into words takes their power away.

Ask yourself:  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Can I handle that?  Odds are in your favor- human beings are very resilient. Remember, sometimes our biggest hardships can turn into our biggest growth experiences. 

Let go of what you can’t control. Ask yourself “what can I change, if anything?” If you cannot change the situation, breathe to let it go. For things you can change, set up a list of small incremental goals and start to make the appropriate changes to move toward what you want (and away from fear).

Reinterpret mistakes as learning opportunities.   If you made a mistake ask yourself what you would do differently in the future.  Then look at what you can do to support yourself in making a different choice next time.  

For example, I once left my rain barrels in storm season and they flooded my basement. I felt terrible about the financial and emotional energy lost in the clean up and found myself ruminating about rainstorms.  Instead of ruminating, I researched drainage and set up the rain barrels on a different system so I wouldn't have to worry (I also apologized to my partner for all his hard work).  In time rumination went away.

In addition, frequently remind yourself how far you’ve come. Every time you make a mistake, you learn something new.

Schedule a worry break. Schedule 20 to 30 minutes a day to worry and make the most of it.  Write it out, entertain ridiculous thoughts, call a friend- whatever helps you get all the worry out in that time period. This allows for a time and place to think about all your biggest insecurities while containing it to a specific period of time.

At other times of the day, remind yourself that you will have time to contemplate later.  Save a journal page to write down worries that show up at other times of the day and tell them you'll get back to them during your worry appointment.

Exercise. Go for a walk. A change of scenery and fresh air can quickly interrupt our stuck thoughts and give new perspective.

Get help. If ruminative thoughts are interfering with living the life you want to live, consider meeting with a professional. Consulting an expert is a great way to learn how to use these techniques with the help and guidance of a trained professional.

positive psychology | couples retreat | couples coach | relationship coach

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC has helped thousands of couples review their growth together, and renew their connection moving forward. 

For nearly 15 years she's specialized in strengths-focused, positive psychology-based relationship advice and coaching to nurture lasting joy and and resilience in her client's relationships.  

She will help you:

  • develop a shared vision and goals- and create actionable steps to move in that direction
  • overcome outdated patterns and establish new intentional, healthy ones
  • strengthen trust or repair it after infidelity or dishonesty
  • connect in meaningful ways during and well after life transitions
  • design rituals of connection that will keep you close for many years
  • break stale or unhealthy communication patterns and learn new skills 

Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.

Five Questions for Clarity: Kiss it Goodbye or Kiss and Make Up?

Part of working with beautifully complex couples means working through really difficult problems.  I have seen it all, break ups, affairs, forgiveness, and reconciliation.  People often ask me if I believe they can make it through these difficult times.  It would be so much easier if there was one right answer.

I have seen people make it through unbelievably challenging situations with remarkably resilient relationships after everyone in their support network gave up and I've watched pairs with great support networks and resources and kindness choose not to be together and build beautiful divorces.  And I have seen people make messy choices along the way that make reconciliation extremely unlikely.

I believe it's especially beneficial to work with a coach or counselor in emotionally heated times but while I can try to make predictions, the truth has to come from within the couple.  Prediction isn't really in the counseling job description anyway.

So how do you know if you can forgive?  Here are five questions I recommend asking yourself to help clarify if reconciliation is something you want.  Let me emphasize before you read these that relationships are not all or nothing, they are continually redefined and renegotiated and just because you decide reconciliation is not the best choice right now DOES NOT mean there will never be a time or space for forgiveness.  It just means now may not be the time to try to continue as things were.  Ask yourself:

1. Can you stay in this relationship and maintain self-respect? 

Trust your gut.  if you aren't able to feel good about yourself when sticking with a friendship, partnership, roommate relationship or any other relationship after some distance, disagreement, or concern you need to move on.  Take time to heal on your own, turn to your community of support, talk to a counselor or mentor and be gentle to yourself as you move on.

Remember, a no answer may mean now is not the time to proceed as things were.  Take some more time (read #3 below) and take care of yourself right now.

2.  How important is this relationship in your life?  

What level of priority is this commitment in your life?  Do you see this person daily?  Do you have shared responsibilities?  Do you share enough history and community with this person to work through the difficulties?

It's important to get clear about which areas of your life are connected to this person, these elements can help inform your decision to reconcile and how to redefine your commitments to one another.

3.  Have you worked through your own anger and pain in this situation to really move toward this person in a new way?

My favorite relationship expert, John Gottman talks about something called the "harsh start-up" and its negative impacts on couples conflicts.  Research has shown entering into conversation with an abrasive, sarcastic, critical, or resentment-laden energy will likely end on a negative note.  96% of the time you can predict the outcome of a conversation by the first 20% of the time spent talking (three minutes out of a fifteen minute interaction).  Taking care of some of your own anger and time to heal, rest and refuel will greatly increase the success in your reconnection attempt.

4.  Is there potential for this relationship to evolve into something new and different from what it was before?

Your relationship will likely never be the same again.  That doesn't mean it won't be good again, but the question is; are you open to creating something new with this person?  Can you detach from the ideas you had about what you were and look forward on new horizons of what you could be now?  And, will the relationship be worth is to you even if it doesn't change?

5.  Do you have the time, energy, and support resources necessary to really invest in rebuilding this partnership?

Despite what my favorite rom-coms might show, rebuilding a connection after a conflict can be very difficult and will take time.  There is no fade away scene at the end, there is some remaining awkwardness, some distance, and some grief that can come with major relationship evolution.  Ask yourself what resources you have to support you each individually and in your partnership moving forward.  If you need professional help, I am happy to step in or refer you to a great provider.

The decision whether or not to reconcile is personal.  The decision can also differ greatly within your partnership.  Be gentle with yourselves and take plenty of time to reflect individually and discuss together.  Remember, follow your heart, and take your brain with you.

Making a Great First Impression: Eight Lessons From the Bachelorette Season 9

I'm coming clean.  It's been a guilty pleasure of mine for a long time.  I justify watching the Bachelor and Bachelorette on ABC by thinking of this as research for my work as a couples counselor and relationship therapist.  Truthfully, I find something charming about this over-the-top "romance" show.  And honestly, I find important lessons that are applicable to many of my clients' lives.

This week, season 9 of the Bachelorette kicked off as Desiree Hartstock met her 25 suitors.  Every season the Bachelor or Bachelorette waits and greets every one of their potential soul mates (PSM) individually.  Each PSM exchanges a couple quick words with Des with the hope they will win a first impression rose, and get to stay another week.

It's a little hard to watch all these awkward first meetings- partially because it reminds me of the times I have felt similar social anxiety trying to be smooth on a first date.  I watched the show this week and thought of the advice I often give: how to make a great first impression.  Here are eight important tips to making a great first impression, learned in my Bachelor and Bachelorette fandom:

1. Look good and smell good

Okay, there wasn't a great example of anyone messing this up, but if you have watched previous seasons, you know there have been a few cringe-worthy moments here.  Before you even meet your PSM make sure you brush your teeth, shower, and dress to best present yourself.  Don't be afraid to ask a friend for advice if you need!

2.  Come prepared for small talk

Think quick: what makes you unique?  Think of five things that make you special you don't mind sharing with other people.  Now think of five unusual or interesting things you learned, read, or saw on the news this week.  Keep this ten topic list ready and be willing to share to keep the conversation going.  Keep it light and ask your PSM questions to keep them engaged.

3.  Don't get drunk

Almost every season in Bachelor/Bachelorette history drunkenness leads to embarrassment.  If you are going to drink on your first date remember that no one respects the cast of the Jersey Shore.

4.  Don't push your agenda

This year one of the contestants decided to make a first impression by inviting Des to the fantasy suite before she even knew his name.  She turned him down, and when he returned several times throughout the night to ask her again and again she sent him home- even before the rose ceremony.  Being so attached to getting laid got him sent home first this season.  Don't be that guy.

(side note: if you meet someone on grinder, or the NSA section of craigslist this may not apply in the same way.  You might be able to assume you are getting laid.  However, remember not to be too attached to one outcome for the evening.  You are far more likely to be disappointed that way)

5.  Keep it simple

Every year people perform all kinds of wacky tricks to impress the Bachelor or Bachelorette.  This year one sweet man tried to impress Des with a few dance moves.  Unfortunately for him, he tripped her and she ripped her dress.  Keep it simple, you are impressive even without fancy moves.

6. Be memorable, not ridiculous

In their attempts to be memorable amid the crowd of other PSMs, the contestants on the show sometimes put together terribly clumsy acts to leave an impression.  And while they do leave an impression (who can forget Lindsey meeting Shawn in her wedding gown?).  This season one of the guys wore a full suit of armor.  Be genuine, you don't need to hide behind some silly facade to be memorable- authenticity is key to lasting more than one episode (or date).

7. Let them go first

One of the most painful part of the first episode is the overwhelming nerves of 25 people who have never been on television acting out the anxiety natural to so many of us on first dates.  One of the most common ways people alleviate anxiety is by talking and all too many PSMs on the Bachelorette just plain talk too much.  Take a breath, wait, and let your date talk first once in a while.  It will bring you a lot closer a lot quicker.

8. Leave them wanting more

Speaking of talking too much, remember you don't have to say everything.  I am often shocked by the personal details PSMs on the Bachelor are willing to share within the first two hours of meeting someone.  Yes, be genuine.  Yes, talk about how interesting you are.  But there is no need to share your dating history, divorce baggage, childhood trauma, etc on national television or a first date (or both).  There will be time if needed.  For now, leave your date wondering a little bit about you- you don't have to put it all on the table right away.

Good luck to all the Bachelorette contestants.  I hope you find the love you are looking for.  If you want a relationship coach, please don't hesitate to contact me.  And the rest of you fabulous readers, share your tips for successful first impressions in the comments below!