Are You Listening

I work with couples and they often come in saying that they want to work on their communication with one another or learn how to fight fair.  As we begin the work, what I notice is that it’s not that they aren’t sharing how they feel, what they want or their perception of what is going on- it is that they aren’t able to step out of their own belief of what happened and hear their partner’s experience or perception.

It is already so hard to share how we are feeling with our partner.  Thoughts race through our minds: what will they think, will they be upset, will they understand, will they support me, will they leave me, etc.  So when someone shares their experience and their partner tells them “no, that isn’t what you meant, how you felt, your intentions”; it causes that partner to shut down because nothing they say is going to get through.  This leads to less sharing and more disconnection.  What the person sharing was afraid would happen is coming true; they have shared what is real for them and they are being dismissed or defended against.  And so the cycle goes on- and the thing they are asking for, “please talk to me, I want to hear your thoughts” isn’t going to happen because when they do, they are shut down by their partner.  

This is such a hard space to be in.  On one end, the partner that is dismissing or defending is just sharing how they are feeling, the hard that they are going through, the messages they are telling themselves, and we are supposed to share, right.  But what happens when your partner shares and instead of leaning into their experience and trying to understand or make sense of it we defend and go into our position is that our partner feels unheard and like they are wasting their time and energy if whatever they say is going to be challenged.  The person that is dismissing or defending has good reason they are feeling the way they are feeling and may struggle to make sense of what their partner is saying.  It’s scary to trust what they are saying because that would mean that they have to lower their guard and believe the best in the other person.  This is really hard to do when you feel you have been wronged.  

Y’all- I am a therapist, this is the work I do and I won’t lie to you- I get caught in this cycle too.  I want to believe that how I am feeling is right, that I can explain or justify why my partner is wrong, how they meant it.  But I’m not them, I’m not in their brain, I’m not feeling the feelings they are feeling and the only way I will know what that is, is if I listen to what they tell me.  I can stay in that place of “I’m right/you’re wrong” but what does it get me?  I feel alone, misunderstood, wronged, upset/angry- there is no winner in this scenario, only two losers left feeling defeated and disconnected.  

Our best case scenario is to be able to listen to our partner, believe they have our best intentions at heart, and even if we don’t agree with it and request that the behavior change, that we can still lean in enough to make sense of it/hear what our partner is saying.  We need to feel safe and secure to share with our partner and if we don’t the intimacy and connection between us will break down.

If you are struggling with communicating with your partner, I’d love to help you learn your negative cycles, why you are making the moves you are making,  and help you shift how you interact with your partner. 


  I heard this song on the radio yesterday and it hit me. I was a mess of emotion and tears for myself but also thinking about how many of us are feeling this way.  Country has a way of doing that, doesn’t it:).  But seriously- it had such a powerful message about how many of us are living, myself included, with the ability to see the beauty in others but can’t see it within ourselves.  The song is Self-Love by Avery Anna and there are so many messages in it that really hit home.  She talks about how we will tell strangers that they are pretty, stay friends with those that have hurt us, reach out to friends to check on them because we are supposed to be nice to others- but how we aren’t doing this with ourselves.  When she says, “what it must be like to be, on the other side of me”- phew- it shook me.  We give so much of ourselves to others, but aren’t always receiving it back, so we need to ask for it but also give it to ourselves.  

  We are taught to look after others, their emotions, build them up, smile and be kind to others.  On the other side of that, as we are growing up we watch people in our lives say things like, “I’m fat, my hair looks horrible, this outfit makes my (legs, butt, stomach…) look bad, I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough, etc.  Criticize ourselves but boosting others up is modeled for us.  We are told to hide our feelings, not to put them on people because it might burden them, that our feelings don’t matter (how many times have you heard an adult tell a child- “don’t cry, there’s nothing to cry about”).  We are shown that prioritizing others needs and wants is acceptable but that we are selfish if we do the same for ourselves.  We are taught to tell others all their great qualities but if we come into a room and say- don’t you love: my hair, this dress, talk about our accomplishments- then we are conceited.  

  I’m here, at 45 years old, still doing the hard work to love myself while supporting others in their journey to do this for themselves.  It is a struggle everyday to put myself first.  I question if I’m being nice or hurting someone’s feelings, if I’m doing too much for myself and how that impacts my boys, if my limits/boundaries are too much.  I am constantly challenging and justifying the things that I do, balancing what I am giving to others and what I am giving to myself.  I’ve gotten to the point where I am realizing that if I can’t be there for myself, I will not be able to be there for my boys, friends, family, and clients, and so each day I try to be kind to myself and appreciate who I am/what I have instead of tearing down the things that I don’t have yet.  

  I hope that you check out the song and see how it hits you and that this blog helps you to be more intentional about giving to yourself what you give to others.  Side note- not being able to come up with 10 things you like about yourself doesn’t say anything negative about therapy- it says the work is not yet done; therapy isn’t a three sessions and your fixed or advice giving practice.  If this is something you struggle with and you want to find a way to give love to yourself in the same way that you give it to others; I’m here to help.

The Vulnerability of Sharing- “I didn’t know that”

As I sit in my office and listen to couples as they share with one another, I keep hearing the same statement after someone has shared something really vulnerable- “I didn’t know that”. It’s amazing the things that we think our partner knows about us, even a friend, that we have never shared. We assume that they already know (they’ve heard me say it a thousand times, you knew that), or based on our own view of self- we assume that they hold a certain perception of us (I’m not important, I’m not worthy, I’m unlovable), or based on our view of them- we feel that they will respond a certain way (“I don’t want to talk about this”, “this isn’t a big deal”, “why are we talking about this?”). It’s so powerful to see people discussing something they didn’t know the other felt for the first time: the curiosity, the empathy, their ability to really listen and hear the message.

I’m going to give you a personal example because I think it makes me realize how easy it is to fall into this trap and how it ends up holding us in a place that we may have created for ourselves. It also lets you know that just because we are therapists, doesn’t mean that we are perfect. I’m going to let you see that I too am human and that constantly working on myself, as my clients do, helps me to see things more clearly.

I recently went to visit a close friend, someone I had known since I was in college, someone I had dated for many years when we were in college, someone I really thought I knew and who knew me, someone I thought at one point in time that I would marry. As we navigate our friendship after having dated, there have been things that have always been difficult to bring up, but we have been getting better at it and on this last visit I really felt like we made a breakthrough and did quite a bit of sharing. On this trip I learned that he thought I was confident back in college (ha- maybe that is how I expressed myself outwardly but inside I was an insecure, scared little girl). As I listened to our beliefs about what we knew about one another, I realized that as much as we thought we knew one another- we really weren’t sharing some of the deepest parts of ourselves.

I went home, processed it all for a few days and decided to call him and share something really vulnerable with him. Something I had shared on the surface but never went into how it impacted me deeply and was something I was still holding onto. When we dated, I had always felt like his family and friends were not very welcoming to me and it made me feel like they didn’t think that I was good enough for him. He had never really stood up for me and when we didn’t get married, I then told myself that he didn’t think I was good enough either. This is so important- I didn’t ask him if he thought I was good enough, or why he wasn’t ready to get married (in our early 20’s:); I just assumed it was the reasons I had placed on it.

Here we are 20 years later, talking about how much it hurt for him not to fight for me, what it all meant, the messages I told myself- really having a conversation about it and hearing one another instead of just going with our assumptions. I was hearing how he didn’t feel comfortable challenging his friends or family, didn’t know that I was hurting, didn’t know that I felt like he wasn’t choosing me or didn’t feel that I wasn’t good enough. There was no intention to make me feel that way, he didn’t want me to feel that way, and he didn’t feel like I wasn’t good enough (we were just young and not ready for something that big). After having this conversation, it was like a huge weight had been lifted off of me, I suddenly felt even more comfortable sharing with him, it felt safe. There’s part of me that wants to be happy that we are in this great place where we can be so open with one another and there’s this other part of me that is sad that it took us this long. I had lived in that hurt, carrying so much pain for 20 years.

So why did I wait, what made it so hard to share that part of me? There are so many things that can get in the way: our fear about the response, rejection, our view of self or view of the other, assumptions, our own perception of the situation. I was afraid, afraid that he would tell me I wasn’t good enough to marry, that I wasn’t worth fighting for, not hear my hurt- not listen or be willing to listen. These are the stories we tell ourselves, that keep us from sharing our truth, and sometime they are easier to tell ourselves than the possibility of what the response could be- it’s scary!

I challenge you to start sharing your truth, to let others know who you are, what you are thinking, your hurts- take that risk. Think of all the powerful conversations that could have been had, all the times this person could have sat with you in your pain (and you for them), the connection you can form with those that you do this with.

Warning: This isn’t something to do with someone you just met, you need to feel safe, secure, and trust this person or be working on this. Yes, be authentic, be you when meeting new people, but this sharing is for those that you have known and want to deepen that bond with, those that know you and it feels safe to share with. And if sharing is hard, maybe start with talking about how sharing can be hard and see how that goes before going into topics that are more vulnerable. We all jump in where we are ready.

Good luck taking the leap and know that there is support if you need help.

Will you love me anyway?

There is this song by Pink and Chris Stapleton called “Love me anyway?”. Every time I hear this song, I think about how so many people feel in their relationships. Not just relationships that are romantic, all relationships, parent/child, friendships, etc. As we walk through life, many people are worried about or searching for that external validation from others. We want to know that others like what we are doing, saying, wearing, how we look, etc. Social media has become a place for us to advertise the best of ourselves, to show the world what we are up to and for some, the number of likes or comments they get can determine how they feel about themselves.

In our society, this message of, “you aren’t enough” is everywhere we look. We aren’t thin enough because there is someone thinner, we aren’t happy enough because someone else looks happier, we aren’t rich enough because we don’t have all that someone else has. But imagine how good it would feel to believe that you are enough and to feel that support from others that you are enough. We want to know that we are enough, that we are safe in the relationships that we have with others, that they are going to be there for us, that they will love us anyway.

In relationships, sometimes we don’t share the deepest darkest parts of ourselves out of fear that we won’t be accepted or worse, that the person will no longer like or want to be with you. That fear or belief that we will not be accepted keeps us from sharing those deep connections that let others know our lived selves, the experiences that have shaped who we are, and explain why we react or behave in certain ways. It keeps us from truly connecting in a deep and meaningful way and feeling safe in the relationship.

I get it, its hard, its scary, you’re afraid. But you aren’t alone. If you’d like to work on having more meaningful and connected relationships, to feel safe and supported by those that are lucky enough to be called your partner, friend, parent, child…., then I’m here to help you do the work to get there.

Amanda Samuels

Put the Phone Down!

It’s an exciting time, the world is opening back up, we are able to go out and have a meal at a restaurant with family and friends. Yet while we have been longing for social interaction with other, somehow we are still unable to disconnect with our electronics. We see it all the time, or maybe we do it ourselves, people at a restaurant sitting across from one another and both are on their phones. It takes away from the conversations they could be having, the connections they could be making.

With the invention of technology and the strong presence of social media, we are losing our connection with the ones we are with because we are too busy connecting with others or other content. It’s become so common that most aren’t even offended by it anymore. But we are losing that connection with those that we want it with the most, the ones we spend the most time with. We need to start thinking about how it is affecting our relationships, how we would feel if we were mid conversation and the person talking just stopped talking (often mid-sentence, yes- this has happened to me) to check their text/phone. Imagine how unimportant the person listening must feel.

This goes for the kids too. So often we see kids at a table on the parents phone or tablets, tuned out from what is going on around them. I challenge you to make meal times an electronic free time and model having conversations with your children. This will help them to make connections with others in a more present way. You are their example- so model it by doing it yourself and showing them that there isn’t anything that can’t wait until after dinner.

There are so many ways that we can be more intentional about the time that we are spending with others and the attention that we are giving them. One of these ways is to reduce our use of electronics while with others. This isn’t always possible, but if you try these tips- it may improve the quality of the relationships that you have.

Put the Phone Down
If you are out somewhere, doing something social, with someone- just put the phone down. This can be hard, you may want to look up things to do or something you are talking about- if this is the case, look it up together, sharing the information while sitting next to one another vs. across the table.

Change your notifications
We are so used to getting notifications and are no longer delaying gratification and waiting until we are alone or sometimes even done with a sentence! If you change your settings so that you aren’t notified every time you get a text, message, email, etc.- it will cut down on the time you spend looking at your phone. Bonus: If you wear a watch that notifies you- you will get less dings there too!

Silence your phone
Have you ever turned the ringer to your phone off and forgotten to turn it back on? It’s amazing the time you have to enjoy things or the things you can get done when you aren’t always hearing it ring, ding, buzz.

Making these little changes can free up a lot of time in your life and also let those that you are with know that you have held that time and space for them, that they are important to you and your value the time they are sharing with you.

If you want to strengthen the connections you have with others, I’d love to help you!

Amanda Samuels

Communication…It’s not just talking

“Constantly talking isn’t necessarily communicating”- Jim Carey in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

This is one of my favorite movies and one of my favorite quotes from it. It’s a love story that shows the exhilaration you feel when you first meet someone, the problems that you go through as a couple, the frustrations you may feel with your partner, the words you wish you never said, the hurt that you can feel at the loss of a relationship, and the longing for the person even after the relationship is over.

We all communicate in different ways- the spoken word isn’t the only way to communicate and just because you are talking, doesn’t mean that you are getting your message across. Just as most people try to express their love for others in the way they would like their partner to show they love, we often try to communicate in the way we would like our partner to communicate with us.
Think of all the ways that your partners communicates with you, a touch of your shoulder to show that they are there for you, a look from across the room to express interest, curiosity, romance, or even saying nothing and turning away from you or leaving the room when they are upset. You understand what your partner is saying and this gives you clues of how they communicate, how we all communicate in different ways.

Often we get so wrapped up in the conversation that we are having with someone and getting our message across that we forget to listen and hear the message our partner is trying to express, in the method that works best for them. Listen and look for clues of what your partner is trying to tell you, to repeat back what you heard them say. This shows your partner that you are listening and want to understand their message.

If your partner is asking for time or a pause, it may be because they are feeling overwhelmed by the conversation, want to take time to think about it more before coming to the conversation, or don’t have the time and attention to give at that time. Try to be patient with your partner, if they ask for time before discussing it, it is okay to ask to discuss it at a later time. The only condition is that a time to come back to it needs to be decided, preferably within a 24 hour time frame so that your partner knows you are coming back to finish the discussion.

If you are having trouble communicating with your partner, listening and hearing one another- I can help. Contact me to set up your appointment today.

Amanda Samuels

Can we expect everything from one person?

Esther Perel talks about how the expectations of marriage are different today then they were in the past. In the past, marriage was an economic decision, children were created so that they could help the family, and the needs of the family were met through the community, the village. Today, we marry for love, children are an addition to the family that create meaning, and we are more isolated as a family unit. This isolation has caused us to want our partners to be our everything- our partner/spouse, lover, best friend, parent to our children, confidant, provider, etc. All of these things can add to the stress of a relationship and shows how much we can’t depend on one person for everything.

She also talks about the need for us to keep the mystery in our relationship, that we need space in order for us to keep the erotic in our relationship. This allows us to miss the other person, not know everything so we can continue to learn something new even after being together for long periods of time. Think about how you feel when your partner leaves to go out of town, you have a chance to miss them, to realize what its like without them, how they are such a big part of your life. Sometimes, especially now, we are with someone so much that the appreciation of all that they do or how important they are to us can get lost. Those breaks in time together gives us that reminder that we need to make a reach to reconnect which then leads us to feel that the other views the relationship as meaningful. This space or time to do their own thing lets each partner have pieces of themselves that are just for them, which encourages individuality and having others that can be a support to them. Yet, while we need this individuality, we also need to know that our partner is going to be there for us.

Which brings us to what most are questioning in their relationships. The messages I hear as I listen to couples talk are: “Do you want to be with me?”, “Am I enough?”, “Will you be here for me?”, “Can I trust you to be here for me?”, “Can I show you who I am, will you accept me?” These are questions that come from many different places in a person (we all have our own lived experiences), that they often aren’t even aware of, and are often not even an indication of things that have occurred in the relationship. We want to know that we are connected to the person we are with and that they will be there for us.

So the next time your partner appears to be questioning you or seems to be saying something that indicates a lack of trust- instead of getting upset and defensive, get curious as to why. Ask them to tell you what’s going on, be compassionate to where they may be coming from- your interest and concern will show how much you care, that you are there for and with them and will help form a deeper connection in the relationship.

If you’re interested in reconnecting and forming a deeper connection with your partner, reach out, I’d love to help you on your journey of rediscovering and rebuilding your relationship.

A Tale of a Misunderstanding…

I recently took a continuing education on self-regulation for children and was surprised at how it improved my communication with my son. I hadn’t realized that his reactions to things could be due to his perception and interpretation of the situation. I’ll give you an example so that you can see how powerful this can be, not just in communications with children, but with anyone…a partner, co-worker, friend, family member, etc.

So, after taking this class, I was so excited to give it a try. It talked about how we often don’t hear the message that someone is trying to send us, or misinterpret actions. Another way to think about this is that often a perception that someone’s reaction is crazy or out of line/control is because we don’t know how what is going on is impacting them. Most reactions or behaviors are completely understandable once you hear how the other person viewed it and how it affected them.

I’m going to break this down for you so that you have a clear example. It was a Tuesday evening. I had picked my boys up from school, they did their homework, then had Hebrew, then we had to quickly get dinner in before hockey practice. Stressful, right?! So, I’m getting their dinner together, I have a picky eater, so I making him his usual cheese tortellini, with butter and parmesan cheese. He has told me before that he likes to put the parmesan cheese on his pasta but I was in a rush, so I did it for him. He comes to the table, looks down at his food, huffs and gets up and goes to the refrigerator. I’m still in the kitchen, so I ask him what he needs. He tells me the parmesan cheese and I hand it too him. He eats but I can tell he is frustrated. Unfortunately, we have to eat and get out the door. I feel bad that I can’t address it in the moment but know we will have time to talk during my other son’s hockey practice. It ends up being a good move, it gave him time to calm down. He was overwhelmed and frustrated in that moment and needed time to come back down to a place where he could express himself.

Once I dropped off my hockey player, I was able to ask my younger son if we could talk about what happened at dinner and explained that I wanted to understand it so that if there was something I was doing that frustrated him that I could change that behavior and do better. I did two things there: I asked his permission to talk about it and I let him know that it wasn’t my intention to upset him and wanted to understand his reaction. This made him more receptive to the talk because he could hear that

I wanted to understand so that I could make changes and wasn’t accusing him of “acting crazy”.
He told me that he had already told me before that he likes to put the parmesan cheese on his pasta himself. I explained that I know that but was in a hurry. I asked him to explain why it is important that he put the parmesan cheese on his pasta. It could have been: I’m old enough to do it myself, you put too much/too little on, I just like to do it myself- these were all thoughts I had. But it was none of those. He explained that if I put the parmesan cheese on and it sits then in sinks into the pasta and butter and then its not “fluffy”, and he likes it “fluffy”- think pillows of parmesan cheese sitting on top of the pasta- he likes a lot. I never would have figured this out without getting curious about his reactions (the huffing, getting up and getting more parmesan cheese, etc.).

I could take this two different ways and it would get me two different results. The first way is to say, “well, I was in a rush and have to do it myself sometimes and you need to get over it”. This tells him I’m not listening to him or his message hasn’t been heard, that his feelings aren’t important, and that I don’t care and will do things my way because I’m the adult and I’m in charge. I didn’t take this route. Instead, I let him reset so he could be open, I asked him if we could talk instead of telling him we needed to talk, I asked him why it was important to him (because why I did it doesn’t matter and invalidates his feelings), and then I said I was sorry and that I could understand and would do my best to do better. I asked him if he could be patient with me if I make a mistake and let me know that I’ve made the mistake so that I can keep trying and let him know that I am always trying to do my best just like I know he is always trying to do his best.

This same misunderstanding could happen with anyone, and its important to realize that often when we think that someone has done something to wrong us or isn’t listening, that it isn’t because they don’t want to hear our words but that there was just a miss in the message received.

If you are finding yourself having trouble in your relationships, I’d like to help you learn to work through these misses so that you can have happier, healthier relationships with others.

Exploring your own sexuality

I recently participated in an Esther Perel Forbidden Conversations Webinar on Sex. It really made me think about how we view sexuality and how those views or beliefs affect our relationships.

We often look at sexuality as what someone does to us, putting it on the other person. I’d instead ask you to look within and ask yourself the questions you need answers to, that will help guide your partner (or yourself during self exploration) to meet your sexual needs.

Here are some of the questions/thoughts that she talks about as a framework for sexuality:
1. What does sexuality mean to you?
2. Tell me who you are erotically?
3. Tell me about who you are sexually? This question speaks to who you are- quiet, aggressive, adventurous…fill in the blank_____.
This is confusing because we think of erotic and sexual as the same thing- they are not. Erotic is our imagination, the exploration in your mind, fantasies. Sex is just sex- it could be for stress release, procreation, intimacy, pleasure, you get the idea).
4. Tell me how you were loved and I’ll tell you how you make love
If you were taught that sex is only to make children, not for pleasure- you may treat it more like a job, something to just get through, so you are not an active participant in the act.
5. Love and desire- relate and conflict
Love is to have; Desire is to want. We have our partners, the relationship, the routines of the life with share together. We want (adventure, passion, excitement, mystery…
-Is sex something you do (your duty to your partner) or a place you go?

I hope that this has given you something to think about.
If you are having issues with your own sexuality and want to talk, I’d love to explore this with you.

“I assumed”…Communication Problems in Relationships

I’m always amazed when I hear someone say, “I assumed” as a response to any human interaction. I was recently talking with a friend and asked about the communication that her and one of her friends had about how the friendship would continue on as her friend moved away to a different state. The assumption is that we are good enough friends, that we will put the effort into maintaining the friendship, but that it might not continue as it has when they lived in the same state. This isn’t communication, its one person feeling that it will go one way and assuming that the other person is on the same page.

I use this example because when we assume that we know what someone else is thinking or is going to do, we are often let down when that doesn’t happen. I see this with my clients, when they believe that their partner or friend “should know”, “knows how I feel”, or “has the same beliefs as I do”. There is such a disconnect from what is and what we think is in our relationships and it ends up causing a lot of unnecessary hurts.

We need to talk with our partners and friends about our views/beliefs/values and express why we feel that way so that they have a clear understanding of these things and hopefully it encourages a conversation about their own views/beliefs/values. This does not mean that we have to agree, there may be things that we are not okay with and in these situations there may either need to be compromises made or a decision that while we don’t support these ideals, that we still support the person. This isn’t an option if these things are not discussed.

In having these conversations; we are hearing the other person, how they feel/beliefs, and why it is important to them which will lead to a greater understanding of that person. And what I find most whether it’s my friends, family, or clients is that we all want to know that we are being heard, that we are supported by those we have in our lives, and that our feelings are important to them.

If you are having communication issues with people you are in relationships with, I’d like to help you work through this to create healthier, more supportive relationships.