Archive for the ‘Communication Skills’ Category

Does your Relationship Suffer from these 3 Common Errors in Communication?


Error 1. Interrupting.

Couples who interrupt each other a lot have difficulty understanding each other and solving problems.  Often they end up arguing about who is right and who is wrong.  The intent of the message to each other gets lost. Being right about the facts or circumstances may not do any good.  [If you’re in an accident on the highway and you are killed, it does you no good to be right.]

Solution: Listen more, only asking for clarification if needed.  Look at the issue from your partner’s perspective.

Good communication happens when each listens to the other without correcting them and figures out what their partner is thinking, feeling, and doing/not doing, about what they are talking about.  It really means putting yourself in your partner’s place and looking at the issue through their eyes. Your partner will appreciate that you’ve heard their point of view.

Error 2. Jumping to solutions.

Normally at work, people figure out what’s at the heart of the problem before they try and fix it.  They don’t want to waste time, resources and money. But in relationships, one or both partners usually jump to solutions before they know what the real problem is. Often your partner does not want a solution, he or she wants to bounce something off you or just connect with you.  Other times they want to be understood and known by you on a deeper level.

Solution: Listen intently and dig deeper into what your partner is bringing to your attention.

Be patient, slowing down may help resolve an issue faster. Figure out what is at the heart of the issue before you suggest solutions.

Error 3. Analyzing each other.

Couples often analyze their partner’s feelings, opinions and behaviors.  For instance, “You’re just insecure.” ” You’re just like your father.” or ” You’re just trying to get out of doing your part.”  The analysis may be right, but saying so can really hurt the relationship.

Solution: Stick to your partner’s behaviors that bother you and ask for change.

Keep your analysis to yourself.    If there is good will in the relationship you will probably get the change you want.  If you don’t get it, maintain good will yourself and figure out ways that you can change.  Change in one partner impacts upon the other, who often responds to change with change. When you make changes you don’t have to wait for your partner to make them.

Start right now improving your communication.  Don’t wait for your partner.  Positive efforts are likely to pay off.  You will be happier because you feel good about yourself.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 3: Why Kids Fight.

triangulation 3

Children fight for many reasons.  One of the major reasons they fight is to engage parent(s).

Years ago I can remember being busy in the kitchen.  My two boys, around ages 3 and 5, were playing in the living room.  Then they started fighting. Without saying a word, I stopped what I was doing and went into the bathroom.  Within seconds, they had joined forces and were banging on the bathroom door trying to get me to come out.

Children like to have their parents involved with them. Before children start to misbehave or fight with each other, they usually ask parents to play with them, read to them, or just go for a walk or bike ride. Often they offer to help.  Lots of time children will play well together waiting for the parents to  finish their work. If none of these positive ways to get attention work, they will find negative ways.  Mostly, I don’t think children do it consciously.  I believe, for them, any kind of involvement is better than no involvement.  They need the adult contact.

Often parents are legitimately busy since there is so much to do.  Other times, parents just don’t want to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve already spent a good chunk of time with the children.  Maybe they are tired, sick or distracted with other things. If children keep getting put off, then they start to do things that will bug the parents until they get involved.

A parent will usually get involved in their children’s fighting by “rescuing” the more vulnerable child. Usually, it’s the youngest, but not always.  Some younger children are more vibrant and determined than their older siblings.  Some older siblings are passive.  Rescuing one sibling from the other can create a dynamic of VICTIM-BULLY-ARBITRATOR.  The weaker child learns he or she can get the parent’s attention  by being a victim. The stronger child learns that he or she  can get the parent’s attention by being a bully.  The parent feels needed as the rescuer/arbitrator. Children mistakenly think they have to have parents to settle disputes and parents, lacking faith in their children,  believe they are not able to get along.

Most of the time weaker children do need to be protected from stronger siblings.  HOW parents do that is a key to maintaining good relationships between the siblings and between the parent and each child.

When parents are aware of the dynamics of triangulation they have more options in handling it. In any case, without judging treat both children the same. 

Choose to be a part of the triangle:

  • Remove from both children what they are fighting over, e.g. a game, activity or toy.
  • Help the children negotiate and brainstorm with each other. Make sure each child has a turn to speak.
  • Ignore the fighting and suggest that you all do an activity together – work or play.

Decline to be a part of the triangle:

  • Send both children to their rooms or to different parts of the home for a specified time.
  • Send both children outside. Children’s play usually improves when they are sent outside.
  • Express your faith in your children that they can work things out for themselves.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.

Of course, all of the above suggestions depend on the situation.  Some will work in some situations, but not in all.  Parents need to consider the circumstances and choose the best option.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 1: Understanding Family Dynamics

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Gladys hear the familiar voices.  They were getting louder and Louder.  This was nothing new. It happened all the time.  “I wonder what it is about this time”, she asked herself.  She wandered towards the sounds making sure she wasn’t making any noise. Then she heard another familiar voice – her brother’s. As usual he was coming to his mother defense.  He’d been doing this for as long as she could remember.  She watched as they all argued.  There was no point in her doing anything because they never listened to her. She slipped away back to her room.  They didn’t even notice she had been there.

What happened is triangulation.

When there is tension between two family members, a third family member is often drawn into the issue. When one child gets involved, the other children often feel “off the hook”, and they remain passive or just ignore their parents.  The function of triangulation is to diffuse the tension between the two who are stressed with each other.  The downside is that the dynamics between family members can become unhealthy for all members of a family.

In healthy families parents avoid triangulating the children when they are stressed with each other.  They tell their child that the issue is between them, and they will take care of it. Parents would remove themselves from the children’s earshot, or they would tell the children to go to their rooms or go outside and stay out of it. They would work it out themselves if possible. By the parents keeping their differences between themselves, the family dynamic remains healthy. The parents are a unit and the children know it.

Sometimes triangulation happens between parent and child and the other parent is drawn in.


Arlie and her son were arguing about his playing rugby.  She didn’t want him to play because she was afraid he’d get injured.  Stan intervened on behalf of his son and all three argued. Mom felt unsupported and angry at dad. The issue shifted from playing rugby to who was going to have their way.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Stan lets his wife and son have their conversation. Later, when they are alone, Stan discusses the issue with his wife. The issue remains about playing rugby and mom’s concerns about her son getting injured. It does not become about the dynamics of their relationship with each other.

When is it NOT triangulation?

Family members can have a discussion about an issue without triangulation if the discussion remains about the topic and does not become about the dynamics between them, such as who is right/who is wrong or who is allied with whom.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 8: Reflective listening

reflective listening

One of the most powerful communication skills is Mirroring, also called Reflective Listening. As a mirror reflects back one’s image, the receiver verbally reflects back to the sender words that let the sender know for sure that the message sent was the message received.

Mirroring is difficult to learn but well worth the time and effort. It pays off big time in developing solid connections between partners. For that matter, it works with people in general. Often when couples I work with learn this skill, one or both will report back how mirroring was effective in a situation at work, with one of their children or with a friend.

Reflecting Listening is NOT repeating the message word for word. That is called parroting. Parroting is useful at times, such as making an appointment or date.

Mirroring is NOT repeating or even remembering all the details of what was said. People think that just because they can repeat back everything that was said means they were listening. Hearing the words is not enough. Hearing the message the words are conveying, and saying that message back to the sender, is mirroring.

Mirroring is NOT saying “I understand.” Or “I get it.” The receiver may or may not understand, but the sender has no way to gauge whether they do or not. If the receiver actually does not understand, things could get worse later. “But I thought you understood!”

Mirroring involves the receiver putting his or her own viewpoint aside and letting the sender know in words that they see or know the sender’s point of view.

The receiver puts into words what the sender:

  • thinks and believes
  • feels (emotions)
  • has done, has not done, is doing or wants to do (behaviors)
  • wants and needs
  • values
  • wants you to understand


  • Stan: I expected you back from your trip yesterday morning. I had made plans for us. I was really looking forward to going out together. I can’t believe you would not let me know you’d been delayed.
  • Cindy: (instead of getting defensive she reflective listens to Stan) You’re really disappointed that I didn’t get back yesterday. You missed me.
  • Stan: (relieved) I sure did. I’m glad your back.
  • Cindy: I’m sorry I didn’t let you know about the delay. I understand you’re disappointed, and I’m glad to know you missed me.

Stan had not said he was disappointed or that he missed Cindy. Cindy picked his feelings up and mirrored back to Stan how he felt. Even if Stan had actually forgotten that she had told him she would be late, Cindy is better off doing what she did, reflective listening, rather than arguing, defending herself or withdrawing in silence. As a result of Cindy’s reflective listening, what stood out for both of them was the positive connection between them – he missed her and she likes that he missed her.

Couples who are positively emotionally connected to each other have relationships that are strong through the good times and the bad times.

Caution: When mirroring, reflect back only the message sent. Do not add more than was said or try to put your own message into your response. That is, don’t put a spin on your response. That wont work, and it could easily make communication worse. Wait for your turn to say what you want to say.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 7: Instant Replay


When people have a negative interaction with each other, one or the other can ask for a replay of the interaction, during which they each alter their exchange in a positive way.


  • Let’s start over.
  • Let’s re-do this.
  • Let’s try this again.

Yesterday I saw a couple for the first time.  They are a feisty couple, very engaged with each other, but at this point in their relationship, not in a good way. In the session, I was able to get them to take responsibility for what each was doing that was not working for them.  I asked each to take responsibility for what they were doing in their interaction and work to change themselves rather than trying to change the other.  We discussed specific ways they could change. Both are strong-willed yet still open to change.  They were desperate for change and willing to try something different.

At the end of the session, while I was writing out the receipt, the couple had a small interaction that was their usual way of reacting to each other.  Each was assuming the negative about the other. They realized what they had just done and were smiling at catching themselves doing it. [This type of smile is called the recognition reflex]. Neither knew what to do next.

So I said to them, “Let’s back up and do this interaction again – only differently.”

The original interaction:

Joe was smiling because he felt good about how the session went.  He was looking at Amanda wondering how she was feeling about the session, but he did not say anything.  He was apprehensive that her reaction would be negative.

Amanda saw the look on Joe’s face and said to him, “When you crinkled your face up like that it makes me feel insecure about how the session went.”

The new interaction:

I said to Joe – Smile again at Amanda, and tell her how you were feeling about the session.

Smiling, Joe said to Amanda, “I feel good about how the session went.”

With a warm smile, Amanda readily responded, “So do I.”

Both smiled even more.  The positive emotional connection between them was clearly evident.

I thought,   “This couple is fun to work with.”

Couples, and others, can learn to shift their interactions from negative to positive by backing up, redoing them differently.  They just need to learn what to say that would work.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 6: Turn your questions into statements.

question mark

People often ask questions when they are really making statements.

Sometimes this is intentional, but mostly people don’t even realize they are communicating in this way. At face value a question is a request for information or clarification. A statement disguised as a question is about the dynamics between the sender and the receiver.


  • a) Do you feel like seeing a movie tonight?

May actually mean:

I want to see a movie tonight, and I want someone to go with me.


I want to do something, but I’m reluctant to ask you directly because you might reject me.

  • b) Are you leaving now?

May actually mean:

I don’t want you to leave now, but I am shy about saying so.

  • c) Don’t you have to be somewhere at 8:00?

May actually mean:

I want you to leave now so I can get back to what I was doing.

  • d) Did you take out the garbage?

May actually mean:

I want you to take out the garbage.

  • e) Are you coming to bed soon?

May actually mean:

I’m feeling randy, and I’m hoping I can entice you into making love.

  • f) Have you done your homework?

May actually mean:

If you have not done your homework, you’re going to be in trouble, because I need you to do well in school.

  • g) What are you doing?

Usually means:

I don’t like what you’re doing!

But depending on the tone, it could mean:

I really like what you are doing!

Usually the person being asked this kind of question takes it at face value, as a request for information, and answers accordingly.  This may develop into an argument that neither want to have on a topic that is not the real issue.

If a husband asks his wife “Do you have to go out tonight?” she may explain that she has made a commitment and needs to keep it. “I promised Janie I’d have coffee with her.” or “ I need to get groceries.” The conversation may escalate into an argument about whether or not she really has to go or that she is going out too much. Perhaps the husband feels neglected and perhaps she feels he’s trying to control her.

What the husband is may be saying is “We’ve both been really busy lately, and I would like to spend some time with you.”  If he had made this statement, his wife would know what is really going on with him and be able to respond to the real issue.  She could generate options. She could set up a time to be together soon.  She could come home early.  She could put off what she was going to do to another time.  Depending on the situation, she could invite him to go with her.  Now the couple is communicating clearly with each other.  Each feels cared about rather than frustrated.


All too often the person asking the questions already knows the answer.

  • a)   Did you eat a cookie? (In a harsh tone to a child with cookie crumbs on her face.)

The child, sensing the parent is angry, denies it. This sets the child up to lie. Now the issue shifts from cookie eating to lying – harmful to the relationship.

It is better to make a statement:  I see cookie crumbs on your face.  This sets children up to tell the truth and maintain good relations between adult and child.


  • b)   Were you in my workshop? (In an accusing tone knowing spouse had rearranged things.)

A question asked this way means: The workshop is my domain, and I do not want you to do anything to it.

Better to make a clear statement: You cleaned up my workshop.  I appreciate the intent, but I want you to leave that to me.  I like to organize it the way that I want.


Usually a question is just a question – a request for information. But many questions are really disguised statements with the sender’s real message hidden within them. When that happens people can feel interrogated, manipulated, attacked or put on the spot. When questions are disguised statements a person can feel set up and get defensive. These kinds of questions create resentment which leads to lots of arguments and poor communication. After awhile others become wary of any questions. Before long relationships deteriorate.

By making statements instead of asking questions communication remains clear. The real issues are more likely to get addressed in a friendly, respectful and even caring manner.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 5: Talk with Me not at Me

talk at me

Dialogues, in which the conversation flows back and forth, create connection between people.

As I was packing up my gear from my tennis lesson today the fellow who had next session came into the court. We’d met before. To be friendly and make a bid for connection, I said to him, “It’s sure great weather for tennis.” He started talking at me about how he had solved the weather question. He kept going on and on about why people should not even bother commenting about the weather. I continued to put my tennis racquet away, thinking to myself – I was just being friendly. I grabbed my jacket and towel, found a moment when he took a breath, then remarked, “That’s how people make bids for connection” (I couldn’t resist even though I didn’t think he would get it.)  He continued to go on mentioning that the French had figured it out. By this time, I no longer knew what he was talking about, nor did I care, because I had tuned him out. It was not the first time that he greeted me with a monologue on a topic that I did not relate to. I thanked my tennis instructor, waved good-bye and left. I thought to myself, I have no interest in connecting to him if he is going to talk AT me.

Earlier, during my tennis lesson, my instructor and I had had a very engaging talk about the rivalry between, Federer and Nadal, the top two men in tennis. Federer had just beaten Nadal in Madrid, and the French Open was just about to start. We were both interested in the topic and what each other thought about it. The conversation went back and forth as we responded to each other and expressed our thoughts. It was an engaging conversation. What a different experience!

Talking AT is a monologue. It is a one-way conversation, even if there is an exchange with others.

When people are talking AT you they are telling you about their opinions, their points of view, what they think you should do or not do, their knowledge and expertise. They want you to hear and believe them. They want to influence you to do, or not do, what they want. They do not want your input – they only want you to ask them about what they think.

How can you tell if someone is talking AT you?

You tend to experience boredom, annoyance or restlessness. You tend to tune out the talker and think your own thoughts about what’s going on. You feel separate and detached from the talker. You easily get distracted. You might want to find an excuse to exit. You might also feel disrespected and put down.

Talking WITH is a dialogue. It is a shared conversational exchange about a topic or situation.

When people are talking WITH you they are sharing a conversation with you. They are open to your response(s) and want your input. They are engaged with you, and the conversation is mutually satisfactory or relevant. This holds true even if the dialogue is difficult.

How do you tell if someone is talking WITH you?

You experience involvement with the other person. You feel a connection to them. You feel paid attention to. You are usually interested in and focused on the topic or situation. You feel your input is wanted and welcomed. You feel respected and valued no matter what age you are.

Do you talk AT people or WITH them?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 4: Make the Fuzzy Clear.


Too often in conversations and interactions people assume they know what the other person is talking about or doing. Without checking out their assumptions they act as if what they assume is true or fact. Sometimes their assumptions are indeed true and communication is clear. However, when their assumptions are incorrect communication tends to go sideways.

In relationships we know our partners well. Usually we know what they think, feel, value, expect, get upset and excited about. Sometimes though, knowing each other too well creates blind spots. Clarifying can help navigate the blind spots.


Pronouns often make communication fuzzy: I, mine, he, she, his, hers, they, them, you, yours, we, us, one, it, this, that, these, those, other(s), etc.

Example A:

Bob’s mother and her sister are coming for dinner.

  • Bob: My mom said my aunt is a little unsure that you want her to come. She wants you to give her a call.
  • Ann: (thinking the ‘her’ referred to is Bob’s aunt) I don’t feel comfortable calling her.
  • Bob: (for Bob the ‘her’ is his mother) What’s the big deal? Give her a call.
  • Ann: (feels pressured and wants to avoid) It’s your family. You do it. I bought the groceries, and I’m making the dinner. You haven’t done much at all.

THE FIGHT IS ON. Now the issue shifts away from making a phone call.

Make the fuzzy clear:

  • Bob: My mom said my aunt is a little unsure that you want her to come.  She wants you to give her a call.
  • Ann: Who, your mom or your aunt?

Example B:

Greg in conversation with a friend.

  • Greg to a friend: Yesterday I really impressed my boss with what I did. You know, when you get an opportunity to make more of an impact you should go for it.

[When people say “you” they could be referring to you,themselves, or everyone one in general.]

Make the fuzzy clear:

  • Friend to Greg: When you say “you” do you mean yourself, everyone or me?

Knowing specifically who or what is involved helps you make decisions that work out better for you:

Example C:

  • Siggie to Jane: We’re going to Joan’s for a dinner. Do you want to come?

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Jane to Siggie: (Thinking – It depends on who is going and whether she will have to do anything or not.) Who is “we”?   Is it potluck or not?

Example D:

  • Joe to John: I’m working late every night next week. The week after I’m going out of town for 3 days. It gets more and more difficult.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • John to Joe: (What is the “it'”? Working a lot? Traveling? Keeping up? Getting enough time with family?) What is it that is gets more difficult for you?”

Fewer misunderstandings lead to easier relationships.


Words that qualify can have different meaning for different people.

Sometimes, early/late, in a little while, high/low, hard/soft, big/small, strong/weak, fast/slow, positive/negative, mostly/slightly, more/less, helpful/not helpful, harmful, safe/dangerous etc.

When people communicate they often have different ideas in mind. It is often helpful to inquire more about what someone is thinking or intending before you respond. What is difficult for one person may seem easy to another. What is slightly stressful for one person may be really stressful for another.

Example E:

  • Lindsay to Sam:  I’m going to be late tomorrow night.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Sam to Lindsay: When you say you will be late, how late is late?

Example F: 

  • Kim to Julie: I want to earn more money.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Julie to Kim: How much more do you have in mind?

Example G:

  • Fred to Mike: Stop doing that, it’s harmful.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Mike to Fred: How do you see it as harmful’? (Mike thinks he knows, but perhaps it is not what he expects.)

The key here is the word YOU. The receiver may or may not see it as harmful, but to the sender it is harmful. Rather than argue about whether or not it is harmful, inquire how the sender views it, or experiences it as harmful.


People often use the same words or expressions but have different meanings for them. Often the meanings are only slightly different, but sometimes they are vastly different.

Take the word ‘drunk’ for instance. We all have a common meaning for ‘drunk’. Yet a person who had a parent who was a mean drunk when they were growing up has a different additional meaning for ‘drunk’ than a person who had a parent who occasionally got drunk and was funny when they did.

Example H (Words):

  • My Tennis Instructor: “I no longer trust Federer.” (Federer is a top tennis player)

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Me: In what way don’t you trust him? (I was inquiring about what he meant by the word ‘trust’.)

Example I (Phrases):

‘Losing it’ refers to a range of behaviours varying from almost nothing to extreme violence. For some people ‘losing it’ means saying something or doing something when usually they say or do nothing. Some people use this expression when they just mean that they lost their focus. For others ‘losing it’ means they became physical, either with only themselves (punched a hole in the wall), or with someone else (punched someone else). ‘Losing it’ could also mean becoming emotional. For some people this could mean showing a few tears while for others it means they became hysterical.

  • Jim to Rick: Boy, I lost it with my manager yesterday.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Rick to Jim: When you say you ‘lost it’ what exactly did you say and do?

Inquiring early in a conversation keeps communication clear. Clarifying leads to clearer understanding, effective communication, and less reactivity. Fewer misunderstandings lead to easier relationships.

I encourage all of you to assume less and clarify more.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 3: How to Handle Mixed Messages

Mixed messages

Mixed messages cause lots of communication problems in intimate relationships and in relationships in general.

A mixed message (or double message) is communication that sends conflicting information, verbally and/or non-verbally.

First of all, you need to know when you are receiving a mixed message. The way you know is by your feelings (confused) and your thoughts (puzzled). These feelings and thoughts are your cues to guide what you say and do in response.

When messages do not match they are incongruent and come in various forms:

  • 1. What a person says conflicts with what they said previously.
  • 2. What a person does conflicts with what they did previously.
  • 3. What a person says conflicts with what they do.
  • 4. What a person says conflicts with their body language.

How to respond

When you receive a mixed message, without expectation or demand for change, send both messages back to the sender. Share your confusion of thoughts and feelings. Report what was said, what was observed and describe behaviors. When you communicate in this way, the sender is more likely to respond in a positive, reasonable way. If you respond in an attacking, blaming, contemptuous or sarcastic manner, the sender is most likely to be hurt, angry and defensive.

You cannot control how the sender receives your feedback; you can only control how you deliver it.



  • 1. I’m puzzled.  Last week you said you think mothers should stay home with their babies (words), and now you’re saying mothers should work outside the home to be good role models for their children (words). I’m wondering which you believe or if you believe both.
  • 2. I’m having trouble figuring this out. You just told me you love me very much (words), and now you’re saying you need some space from me (words).


  • 1. I don’t get it. You complain about me not helping (words), yet you re-do everything I do (behaviors).
  • 2. I’m not sure what to do. You say you want me to be affectionate (words), yet when I touch you, you push me away (behaviors).
  • 3. I’m confused. You said you would help me (words), but now you’re going to the store.
  • 4. I’m puzzled. You said you wanted to spend more time with your kids (words), but when they are here, you spend a lot of time on your phone (behaviors).


  • 1.  You say you’re fine (words), yet you look sad (body language).
  • 2. I’m not sure what to believe. You said you like my plans for Saturday night (words), yet the tone of your voice has an angry edge to it (body language).
  • 3. You say you’re listening to me (words), but you have not looked at me (body language), so I’m not sure.

You cannot stop or prevent others from sending you mixed messages. What you can do is change how you respond to them. By telling the other person about your confusion, you are letting them know the impact of their behavior on you. This has the potential to improve connection.

When the other knows they are sending mixed messages, they can clarify. It could be that they are not really conflicted and don’t realize they are sounding or acting like they are.

If the sender is truly conflicted, however, your feedback brings their incongruence to their attention. It’s like holding a mirror up to them so that they can more clearly see themselves. Now, if they want, they can address it. This too, has the potential to improve connection.

Experiment with this skill and see how communication and connection shifts.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea


Communication Skill 2: After the Fact


It is not always possible to think of what to say or do in the moment. Sometimes people are distracted with something or someone else. When people are anxious they often cannot think, so they say or do nothing. Or, they may blurt out something they don’t mean or something that is not even relevant. Sometimes people laugh nervously in situations which are tense which can be awkward or embarrassing, and the laughter is usually misunderstood.

People often do not realize they can clarify or change what they said, what they agreed to, or simply change their minds. They act as if what they said and did was etched in stone. The good new is that it is easy to set things straight by speaking up after the fact.

This communication skill can be used with anyone: family, friends, bosses, co-workers, children, grocery clerks and others.


  • a) Parent to child:  You know yesterday when I got upset with you when you told me you’d broken you grandmother’s china plate.  Well, I want you to know that it was great that you told me the truth and did not try to hide it.  It took courage for you to tell me.  I want you to be able to tell me the truth even though it may be hard.
  • b) Employee to Boss:  I told you this morning I’d have the project finished by today, but I want to let you know now I won’t get the information I need until tomorrow afternoon.
  • c) Friend to friend:  Last year we  put this trip together, and I bailed at the last minute.  I’m sorry about doing that.  I want to plan it again this year, and this time for sure I won’t cancel.


The After the Fact communication skill is one of the many communication skills that I teach couples. It is a very useful skill that facilitates connection between partners.

Many couples tell me that during a discussion, argument or fight they often cannot think of what to say in the moment but then later, they come up with what they could have or should have said. They find this very frustrating.  For some reason, spouses often think if they missed out saying or doing something in the moment, that nothing can be done. So they do nothing. Often they stew or ruminate about it, but it does not occur to them that they could possibly remedy the situation.  In ongoing relationships it is always possible to bring up an issue later. Later can be minutes, hours, days or even years. This keeps the lines of communication open and strengthens the connection between couples.


  • a) A while ago you said… to me. I was surprised and didn’t know what to say. Well, now that I’ve had a chance to think about it…
  • b) You know yesterday when we were talking about… I kind of blurted out… I didn’t mean it. What I wished I’d said to you was…
  • c) I’ve been thinking about what we talked about last week, you know, about you agreeing to take on that 3 months  project overseas. I want to add that I’ve talked to my boss and he is open to letting me pick up extra hours so that we do not feel so strapped for cash. This could be an alternative to you leaving. I want to let you know that it’s important to me that we discuss financial opportunities together before making decisions that affect our family.
  • d) It’s been a month since we had that fight about you not wanting to have my parents over for the holidays. It is still bothering me. Let’s talk about it again.
  • e) When we married, 10 years ago, you said you never wanted to have kids. I want to know if that is still true for you.

When people use the After the Fact communication skill frequently, the time between the incident and the delayed communication tends to shorten. Gradually, the time becomes so short that partners are better able to think of what they want to say or do what they want to do in the moment. It’s not essential to occur in the moment, After the Fact is just fine.

The After the Fact skill is extremely helpful to keep a couple emotionally connected with positive feedback and behaviors.


  • a) I really had a good time last night. (One partner to another about making love.)
  • b) You know, last week when we went to the concert I was so focused on getting there on time I didn’t tell you how great you looked.
  • c) The last time my parents were over you treated them really well. I appreciate how welcome you made them feel.

The more you use the After the Fact communication skill, the better you get at it.  This practice helps you become better at saying what you need to say and do, right in the moment.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea


Communication Skill 1: Put the Inside Outside


Put the Inside Outside is a communication skill that I teach clients in both individual and couples sessions.

When people talk to each other they often think thoughts or have feelings that they do not reveal to others. Most of the time this is perfectly OK. It certainly would not be appropriate to say everything one is thinking or feeling. Yet often, when more information is given there are fewer misunderstandings and a greater connection.

It can be as simple as letting others know you are feeling pressured for time. In a session with client(s) if I’m running late, I often start to speak faster and may interrupt my clients, especially when working with couples. When I notice myself doing that I will say to clients, “The session is almost over and I’m feeling pressured for time to complete what we’re doing.” This helps them understand what is going on with me, and lets them know that I’m not impatient with them. They experience how it feels to be informed and usually want to cooperate. I am also teaching them the skill of Put the Inside Outside by modeling it.

When working with couples, I often find that partners do not let each other know what is going on inside of them, positive or negative. They do not give each other feedback.  It leaves each partner guessing and hoping that the impact of what they said is what they meant.

Example: In a couple’s session.

  • Wife to husband: I appreciate how you help with the kids when you get home.
  • Husband: Well I always do that.
  • Dr. Bea: Your wife just told you something that she appreciated about you. What was that like?
  • Husband: What do you mean?
  • Dr. Bea: Well, did you like her telling you that?
  • Husband: Yeah, it felt good.
  • Dr. Bea: Let her know.
  • Husband to wife: It felt good to hear you appreciate what I do.
  • Dr. Bea to wife: What was it like to hear that from him.
  • Wife: It felt really good.
  • We all laugh.

Often it is the simple things that people communicate to each other that can make a big difference to their connection with each other.

Other examples:

a) I want to tell you something, but I’m afraid of hurting your feelings.

b) It’s hard for me to let you know how much I like you.

c) I just imagined kissing you, and I’m hesitant to act on it.

d) I’m confused, I’m not sure if I should take you seriously.

e) I’m finding it very difficult to take in your compliment, but I’m working on it.

Sharing your inner thoughts and feelings is more likely to create to a stronger connection.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Safety First: How to Reduce Kids Fighting when Driving in the Car.



Safety is first and foremost when driving a vehicle.

Fighting and goofing around are distracting to the driver.  It is also dangerous for the drivers to be upset and yelling at their passengers.  The best thing to do is develop a strategy for safe driving.

When my kids were young, we spent a lot of time driving from one activity to another.  We lived several miles from most activities so there was lots of time spent in the car.  When they would fight or noisily goof around, I found it distracting.  Yelling didn’t work, and besides I hated yelling and nagging at them.

I decided to stop trying to make them stop.  I developing a strategy.  I told them it was not safe for me to drive when there is fighting going on.  I told them I would pull over to the side of the road as soon as it was safe to do so and wait until they stopped.  They didn’t believe me, but I knew they wouldn’t until I followed through on what I had said I’d do.

So I began to do it.  At first it happened quite a lot.  I kept my word – I pulled over as soon as it was safe to do so and waited until they quieted down.  In the beginning it seemed like a game to them.  I was careful to keep my body language neutral and matter-of-fact, no eye rolling, no heavy sighs, no tense clipped speech.  One time, they took a particularly long time to quiet down.  So instead of “losing it” I stepped out of the vehicle and stood beside it.  I never left the boys alone in the vehicle.  When they finally quieted down, I got back in the car and without saying a word, started driving again.  They didn’t like just sitting in the car and not getting where they were going whether it was school, soccer or home.  So they started quieting down sooner.  Eventually, when they realized I was slowing down to pull off to the side of the road, they would quickly quiet down.  Without saying a word, I would pull back onto the road and speed up.

Somewhere along the way, it became a non-issue, without anyone discussing it.  Being noisy in the car just seemed to hardly happen at all.

This was accomplished without me yelling, getting upset, reasoning, pleading, nagging, threatening, guilt-tripping, being impatient or getting angry.  Having a strategy really helped me remain calm.  I felt in control of the situation in a way that was positive for the boys.


Consistency when carrying out a strategy is imperative to its success.

It may take some time for the plan to take effect so be prepared to be patient.  The plan may even have to be tweaked a bit.

The attitude used to implement the strategy is also key to a successful outcome.

The same strategy used with an angry negative delivery could turn into a power struggle.  This could make the dynamics between all persons involved worse.


Do you have a need to be right?



It is OK to want to be right.  It is OK to like to be right.  It is a problem to need to be right.


Cynthia was upset.  She was disappointed in her friend, Rhonda, because last night for the umpteenth time, Rhonda had kept her waiting for over an hour before finally showing up.  Cynthia called her friend, Brenda, to talk about her frustration and hurt.  She told Brenda that she has talked to Rhonda about her always being late but it has made no difference.  Each time Rhonda would accuse Cynthia of over-reacting and making a big deal over nothing. Rhonda believed she was doing nothing wrong.  Cynthia felt disrespected.  Brenda suggested that she stop trying to explain and reason with Rhonda and change what she is doing.  But Cynthia said she believed that talking things through was the right thing to do so she saw no reason to change since she was doing nothing wrong.  Brenda agreed that talking things through was the right thing to do, however, that was clearly not working for Cynthia.  Brenda asked Cynthia if she had a need to be right?  Cynthia said, “No, but I have a need to be respected”.  Brenda suggested that instead of talking to Rhonda, Cynthia develop a strategy for the next time they meet.  Together, Brenda and Cynthia developed a strategy with Cynthia standing up for herself while maintaining and enhancing the relationship.  Example of strategy:

How do you know if you have a need to be right?

  • You feel threatened.
  • You are rigid.
  • You feel like you’re in a battle and you need to win.
  • You back up your position with authority.  (My religious leader agrees with me.  We always did it this way in our family, My mother/father says I’m right. My therapist says I’m right. Your best friend thinks I’m right. The Bible/Koran says it is so. etc)
  • You accuse the other person(s) of needing to be right and you want to prove them wrong.


How do you know if you do not have a need to be right?

  • You do not feel threatened.
  • You are flexible.
  • You stay focused on the issue without any argument or hassle, just the discussion (could be a heated discussion).
  • For you, who is right or wrong is a non issue.  Addressing the issue is the focus for you.
  • You recognize other(s) have a need to be right and it does not bother you.  You can let them be right.  It is no way makes you feel unimportant or wrong.
  • You focus on the issue and find a way that works for you.  They feel they are right and that is perfectly OK for you.
  • You use their need to be right to get a mutually satisfactory resolution.
  • You do not need to back up your position with authority figures or symbols.
  • You think in different terms than right or wrong. Such as, whether this is working or not.
  • You say things like “You might be right, yet your solution does not work for me.  Let’s find a solution that works for both of us.


Think of rules as guidelines that are flexible and not carved in stone.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea





Communication Skill: Talk WITH me not AT me.

Good News and Bad News about Fighting in the Family

What is considered fighting?

Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie.  It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger.  Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner.  They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie.  Would you consider this a fight?

What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others.  Raised voices –  yelling  – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?

When asked for their definition of fighting, parents of preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, yelling,  arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, disagreements, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought,  high stress and more.

In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.

What is good about fighting in a family?

Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large.  Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal with conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family.  Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it.  Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.

Because there will always be conflicts in families, it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight.  There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.

What is unhealthy fighting?

In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place.  After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.

I call these the merry-go-round fights.  It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on.  At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over.  So you stop engaging in fighting.  You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.

Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children.  Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves.  They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.

What is healthy fighting?

In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so.  They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves.  Everyone feels good about the outcome.  The fight is worthwhile.

It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way.  They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive.  They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.

Healthy fighting prepares children for life.  They experience it and learn to tolerate it.  They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes.  They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.

To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea


Anything that Can be Done Can be Overdone. How to Stop your Good Intentions from Going Bad

You can love too much. You can be too generous. You can be too helpful. You can try too hard. You can be too responsible. You can be too kind. You can work too much. You can be too considerate. You can give too much. You can be too loyal. You can be too truthful. You can over function. You can compromise too much. You can be too affectionate. You can sacrifice too much. And more. There are books written about this problem, Too Good for Your Own Good by Claudio Bebko and Jo-Ann Krestan, Too Nice for Your own Good by Duke Robinson.

All of these behaviors are positive – loving, generous, trying, responsible, kind, working, considerate, giving, loyalty, truthful, affectionate etc. There is a continuum along which these ways of being can be carried out and be positive- up to a point! Beyond that point they are counterproductive. Loving someone too much can be smothering and stifling for the loved one. Working too much can make you sick and less effective. Giving too much can make others feel obligated or uncomfortable in other ways. Being too truthful can impact relationships in negative ways. Helping too much can make others do less for themselves – it’s called enabling.

There is no manual that tells you where that point is – that point where what you’re doing turns from positive to ineffectual, or even harmful. To find that point you need to

Pay attention to how your behavior/attitude impacts others.

Mary’s daughter Melissa was shy, so Mary would help her by doing things for her that Melissa couldn’t or wouldn’t do for herself. Mary would talk to her teacher for her; she would phone her friends’ mothers to arrange playdates for her; she would talk to her friends for her; she would shop for her and take back items to the store for her; she would lie for her saying Melissa was sick when she wasn’t.

Mary saw her daughter withdrawing more and more. She realized that what she was doing was actually making Melissa’s shyness worse. So Mary changed what she was doing. She stopped doing things for her and started expressing her belief that Melissa could do things herself even though it was difficult. Sometimes Mary would role play how to handle situations and then let Melissa handle them, [or not handle them] herself. Melissa was angry with her mother for not doing things for her anymore. Mary found it hard to handle the pain of watching her daughter struggle. She did not like Melissa to be mad at her; she missed their close relationship.

Gradually, Melissa’s own desire to fit in and belong motivated her to try things herself. As she learned how to do things and got more practice doing them, she felt better about herself. Her increased confidence helped her to attempt more things. Even though she was angry with her mother, on some level she knew that what her mother was doing was in her own best interests.

If what you intend to make happen is not actually happening, either stop doing it, or change what you are doing so it does happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to Say and Do if your Child Threatens to Run Away.

On Friday, November 14, I was watching the news report on the tragic death of a teenage boy who ran away from home after fighting with his parents about his over-use of a video game.  He’d been missing for many days. He apparently died from a fall from a tree.

Fighting between parents and kids happens all the time. There are some unfortunate children for whom home is truly a horrible place to be and when they are old enough they take their chances on the street.

But in most cases the homes are safe and the families are loving.  When children passionately want to do (or not do) something and they run up against parents who pressure or block them, they often think of running away.  Some threaten to run away.  Few act on it.

This news story was one of those ordinary family struggles that turned extraordinary when the boy accidentally died.  The parents and the boy got into a power struggle about his video game behavior.  He threatened to leave home and his father helped him pack his knapsack.

When children actually run away, they usually realize, in a relatively short time, that not living at home is uncomfortable and scary.  They come back with a new respect and appreciation of home.  The parents are relieved their child is home safe.  Each is changed by the experience. They figure things out.  In this family’s case, the outcome was tragic.  The family never got the chance to reconcile.

Realistically, parents cannot stop their children from running away. Yes, parents can confine them to their rooms, but not forever.  When children are determined to run away, they will figure out how and when to do it. They are usually hurt and angry. They feel unloved. They feel powerless to influence their parents.  In an attempt to regain power,  they run away.

Some children will put themselves at risk to prove a point.

What to say and do if your child threatens to run away.

1.  Take seriously repeated threats to runaway.  Ignore frivolous threats.

2.  Parents need to extricate themselves from the power struggle. It takes two to fight.  When children are passionate about what is going on, most are unable to stop fighting. Parents are the ones that need to make the shift.  They need to stop fighting without abdicating their authority.  Not easy to do. Then children are less likely to actually leave.

3.  As best you can, let go of your anger.  If you are unable to, then talk about it.  Children need to know they are cared for and it is difficult for them to feel loved when parents are angry.

4. Tell your children in words that you do not want them to go.  They need to hear it.

5. Acknowledge that you cannot stop them from going.  By acknowledging your child’s power they do not have to push so hard to prove to you they have it. This means they no longer need to fight.  They can now choose to stay.

6. NEVER CALL A CHILD’S BLUFF.  Doing this escalates the power struggle and backs the child into a corner.  They are more likely to leave even though they do not want to.  They are more likely to do   something that puts them at risk.  NEVER HELP THEM PACK or do anything that makes them feel unwanted. It makes it harder for a child to come back home and save face when they do.


Parent(s), “I don’t want you to go.  I want you to stay and work this out with me (us). I really care about you and I worry about your safety and well-being if you go.”

Parent(s), “I wish you would not go.  I do not like your decision, but I respect it.”

Parent(s), “I know I’m angry.  It’s because you are really important to me.  If I didn’t care about you I would not be angry.”

Parent(s), “I will be really sad if you go.”

Parent(s), “If you want to stay with your friend Jimmy or your grandmother for awhile, let’s arrange it.

Parent(s), “No matter what happens, you are always welcome to come back.”

Parent(s), “When you come back we will work things out so we can live together in a way that works for all of us.”

Parent(s), “I’m glad you’re back. Let’s just enjoy today and talk about things tomorrow.”

Parenting is not easy.  Few parents are prepared to handle situations like this.  As children get older, the stakes get higher.  My hope is that parents learn to handle power struggles in a healthy way and fewer tragedies happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to do When a Breakup Turns Ugly.

Breaking up is especially difficult when only one wants to end the relationship.  The one who is left is in a great deal of emotional pain from the grief and loss.  He or she also feels powerless to do anything about their circumstances.  Often they do not know how to handle the pain, which feels unbearable and seems never ending.  For some people, shifting into anger seems to alleviate their pain.  Actually, anger just masks pain.  But masking the pain may be preferable to feeling it.  The pain does not go away; it just goes underground and influences behaviors in negative ways.

Sometimes breakups turn ugly.  One or both parties start behaving in ways that are inappropriate, perhaps even frightening.  Behaviors such as stalking, threatening verbally and physically, name calling, complaining to your friends/co-workers, making unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted text messaging and emails, damaging property, stealing from your partner and worse, make a breakup ugly.

Scenario 1) John finally ended his two year and half relationship with Mary after months of vacillating back and forth. It was not working out for him and he did not want to invest any more of himself in it.  Mary was devastated and she pleaded with John to give her another chance. John’s resolve weakened and they did reconcile for a few months.  But the same unpleasant dynamics between them repeated, so he ended it again. Mary refused to accept the breakup.  She kept calling John and begging him to reconcile.  She kept driving by his home.  She left messages on his car.  She called his friends trying to solicit their help.  She sent him ecards, long hysterical emails and emotional text messages.  John felt sorry for her and would take her calls and answer her messages.  He kept explaining in a caring way that the relationship was over for him.  When John was nice to Mary, her hopes for reconciliation increased.  She tried harder to have contact with John.  She knew that her behavior was harming what little relationship they had left, yet she could not stop herself.  John’s compassion for her shifted into disgust.  He felt badgered and victimized.  He avoided all contact with her and after several months Mary gave up.

Scenario 2) After breaking up and reconciling five times, Judy decided to end her 4 year relationship with Marty for good.  As before, Marty begged and pleaded with her to take him back.  When she wouldn’t, Marty became angry and bitter.  He started making phone calls and hanging up.  He started threatening her.  At first he would make statements such as ‘You better watch out.”  Then the statements escalated into “I’m going to kill you.”  Judy was frightened and did not know what to do.  She was afraid to talk to her parents. She talked to all of her friends trying to figure out what to do.  She talked to him and told him that he was frightening her, but it did no good.  Sometimes he would switch from bitterness to apology but when she would not agree to give him another chance he shifted back into anger and rage.  He wanted her to hurt as much as he was hurting.  When he saw the fear in her eyes and heard the fear in her voice, he knew he was still able to have an impact on her.  It was not the impact he wanted to have but it was better than feeling powerless. One time when he saw her going into a pub with another guy he keyed her car.  The destructive action gave him some relief from the pain of seeing her with another guy. (All scenarios are fictitious).

The same recommendations apply here as in How to Handle a Breakup

Additional recommendations:

Be pleasantly matter-of-fact

If you have to have contact, be pleasantly matter-of-fact.  There may be many reasons that you have contact during and after a breakup.  People build defenses against loving and angry behaviors, but they do not build defenses against pleasant matter-of-fact behaviors.  When you talk to your ex-partner in a neutral tone that does not have an edge to your voice, you are more likely to influence him or her in a positive way, perhaps not in the moment, but later.

Keep contact to a minimum.

Do not receive or respond to phone calls, emails or text messages. Turn off your cell phone at night, even during the day, if necessary.  If your ex-partner arrives at your door at 3:00 am do not let him or her in.  The less contact you have with your ex-partner, the less either of you will be upset.  Ignoring contact tends to lessen contact.  There are certain phone calls you have to take, in particular, around custody and access of children/pets and financial matters. Make contact only when necessary.

Keep responses to a minimum.

Make short simple statements and repeat without adding more. Do not keep explaining repeatedly in the hope that your ex-partner will understand.  Most hurt partners do not want to understand. When you have contact, make precise simple statements that are to the point and repeat them in a matter-of-fact manner without adding anything more.


Getting back together is not a possibility.

I’m not willing to try again.

The relationship no longer works for me.

I want what is best for the children.

It’s not OK to say things like that.

Take all threats seriously.

Realize that your ex-lover is in a great deal of grief and loss and that the threats are coming out of the pain.  However, that does not make what they are saying or doing OK.  While you need to take all threats seriously, if your ex-lover has no history of violent behavior it is unlikely that he or she will become violent.

NOTE: If you ex-lover does have a history of violence then you should take great care to protect yourself and avoid contact.  You should also keep a low profile for many months, as seeing you get on with your life without him or her may fuel their grief/rage.

Mute your own emotions during contact.

As best you can, do not show hurt, fear or anger.  Ex-partners, who are being nasty, want to influence you; if they cannot do it in a positive way they will resign themselves to achieving it in a negative way.  For them, any influence is better than none.

Downplay threatening behavior.

If at all possible, ignore inappropriate, hurtful and nasty behaviors. You do not want to fuel behavior that is not OK.  If your ex-lover treats you badly in any way, the best way to handle this behavior is to ignore it.  If you have to respond, make a brief matter-of-fact statement, such as “It’s not OK to behave that way.” Do not add anything more. Repeat if necessary, then ignore.

Seek out resources among your family, friends and community.

Set up a friend, family member or counselor to call.  When you are in emotional pain it is natural to miss you ex-partner whether you initiated the breakup or your partner did.  Men find it helpful to call a female friend when they are struggling with their emotions. Do not call your ex-partner when you are in pain, lonely or missing them.  If you have someone that you have arranged to call when you are in distress, you are less likely to call your ex-partner.

Reach out.  When you are worried by your own behavior or your ex-lover’s behavior, it is wise to talk to and be with someone you trust  – a person who will help you handle yourself and the breakup in a healthy way.

Look after yourself

However your breakup unfolds, look after yourself by connecting with those you love and trust.  See professional help if you need to.  You do not want to repeat any of your behaviors that are unhealthy in a new relationship.  Now is the time to learn about yourself and make the changes you need to make.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Couple Dynamics: The Attacker and the Defensive One

Actually both partners are defensive but they have very different styles. The expression The Best Defense is a Good Offense describes the style of the Attacker. When the Defensive One brings an issue or problem up to their spouse, the Attacker feels attacked and defends him or herself by attacking the Defensive One with real or imagined wrongs. The Defensive One defends himself. The interaction between them shifts from the Defensive One trying to resolve a problem between them to the Defensive One ‘on the ropes’ explaining and defending what their spouse has just accused them of. The original issue the Defensive One brought forward gets lost. The Attacker has deflected the issue so he or she no longer has to deal with it.

Scenario 1) In his business Randy does a lot of entertaining of business associates, mostly in restaurants, but often dinners at home as well. His wife Erin does not mind this although it is a lot of work. What really bothers her is that Randy changes as soon as his business associates enter the home. To her, he treats her and the children like second-class citizens. When Erin complains to Randy, he accuses her of not wanting to help him in his business and of not being a supportive wife. Erin reacts by denying his accusations. She can never get him to acknowledge her complaint so it can never be addressed. His behavior does not change. She starts to resent entertaining for her husband and resents him. Intimacy suffers.

Scenario 2) George was concerned about his children. He felt Mary was too hard on them and he tried in many different ways to bring his concern to Mary. He also felt she was too hard on him but he was more concerned about the children than himself. Every time he tried to address his concern with her she felt attacked as a mother and defended herself by attacking him. She accused him of being too lenient with the children. George knew this was true because he was trying to compensate for what he thought was her harshness and usually defended his actions. She accused him of undermining her as a parent and not standing with her as a team. She attacked his character, accusing him of being a wimp and a poor role model for the children. She attacked him for not being a good husband. If things escalated further then she attacked his family and his friends. George would end up defending himself, the kids, his family and friends. His issue got lost. He felt resentful and withdrew from the relationship. Intimacy suffered.

The Defensive One is confused. They usually do not understand what just happened. After many interactions like this one the Defensive One no longer wants to bring up an issue because they know it will be turned around on them. Now there is no way for them to address an issue. Intimacy suffers.

The Defensive One needs to shift from being defensive to standing their ground when they are attacked. This is much easier said than done. It helps if the Defensive One realizes that the Attacker is feeling vulnerable too yet is hiding it in the attack. If one does not feel vulnerable there is no reason to avoid issues your spouse brings to you.

Scenario 1) Erin learned to change how she was reacting to her husband when he attacked her. She stopped defending herself. She told him that whatever issues he has with her can be addressed another time. Right now, she was dealing with the issue of how he changed when business associates came into the home. At first Randy kept attacking her but she held her ground by saying , “That may be so but right now I’m talking to you about how you change when you have business associates over. I’m not going to address your concerns right now, I am willing to address them later. Right now I bring up an important issue that is of concern to me. I need you to hear me.”

Finally, when Randy’s attacking did not work, he reluctantly listened to what Erin had to say. During the talk he had difficult acknowledging that he was doing what she was complaining about yet after their talk, he did change. Erin was appreciative of the efforts he made to change. She was more affectionate with Randy and he really like that.

Scenario 2) George finally understood that Mary took his concerns as an attack on her as a mother. When he brought up his concerns with her he reassured her that he thought she was a good mother and he had concerns about her trying too hard to be a good mother. At first, Mary kept attacking him but George did not shift into defending himself. He stayed on the issue he was bringing up. He did not get derailed although it was very difficult for him not to shift into defending himself or just give up. Eventually Mary could hear his reassurance. She finally was able to consider George’s concerns. Mary did soften her stance with the children and George showed his appreciation with more affection and attention. Mary felt closer to him as a result. She also had more respect for him.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense is one of the most difficult dynamics between spouses to change. First, you have to realize what is going on. Awareness is the key to change. You cannot change what you do not know. If you are always defending yourself and your issues keep getting lost, this dynamic may be going on in your relationship.

When each spouse realizes their part in perpetuating the dynamic and takes responsibility for it, change is possible. Change yourself. Change your HOW. After an initial escalation, spouses usually respond to positive change with positive change, as long as there is good will in the relationship.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How the Talker and the Quiet One can make Changes.

Healthy couples have differences that complement each other. The Talker and the Quiet One are attracted to each other. In courtship, this dynamic works as each enjoys the other – a Positive Interactive Cycle.

Often what attracts us to our partner in the first place may be the very thing that we complain about later. The Talkers says it’s like pulling teeth to find out what the Quiet Ones are thinking and feeling. The Quiet Ones complains that the Talkers talks too much and they cannot get a word in edgewise. The Quiet Ones say they are always being interrupted and they cannot finish a thought. The Talkers complain that the Quiet Ones are withholding; they say so little and take too long to say it.

Communication between couples becomes troubled when the dynamic between the couple shifts into a Negative Interactive Cycle. The Talker talks too much and the Quiet One says too little.

How can a couple change this dynamic? First of all, each needs to be willing to take responsibility for their part in the cycle and let go of their partner’s part of the cycle. The only person you can really change is yourself, however, you may be able to influence your partner. When you change, usually your partner changes in response to your change. If each one is changing in positive ways it is possible to get back to a Positive Interactive Cycle.

Second, couples need to allow for experimentation; they need to risk trying new things. Then, they keep what works and forgive and let go of what does not work.

Changes the Talker can make: Be more passive and less active.

1. The Talker can put a period at the end of a sentence and wait for a response.

2. Be more patient and comfortable with silence. Do not view your partner’s silence as an invitation to talk more.

3. Do not interrupt or talk over your partner. When your partner does talk, try reflecting back to them what they are saying. This encourages your partner to say more because they know you are paying attention to their feelings and their point of view.

4. Say it once (or at the most twice). Repeating the same thing in many different ways because you think your partner does not understand is counter-productive. Trust that your partner understands or that they will ask if they don’t.

5. In a warm matter-of-fact tone let your partner know you are waiting for a response rather than start talking again when your partner has not responded yet. You could try the communication skill: Put the Inside Outside by saying, “I’m tempted to start talking again but I’m going to wait for your response.”.

Changes the Silent One can make: Be more active and less passive.

1. Talk sooner. That is, do not take so long to respond. Your partner tends to view your silence as a non-verbal invitation to talk more. Even if you do not know what to say you can start with words like ‘um’, ‘Let me think for a moment’, ‘I’m not sure what to say yet’.

2. Interrupt the Talker using gestures or words; for example, politely hold up your hand. Many Quiet Ones say they never get a chance to talk. What they need to realize is that the Talker is often talking because they are uncomfortable with silence or they are trying to help the Quiet One talk. Many Talkers welcome the Silent One talking because it is a relief for them to stop talking.

3. Reflective Listen. Reflecting back to your partner their point of view and how they feel about it is a way to let your partner know you have understood. When your partner is repeating the same thing in different ways it does not mean they are being condescending, it usually means they want you to understand. Reflective Listening lets them know you got their point and are engaged with them in the conversation.

4. Create the conditions that help make talking easier for you. Approach your partner to talk and ask him or her to listen for a while without interrupting. Chose a time and place that is comfortable for you. Always waiting for your partner to bring up issues causes problems in the relationship. Use the Communication Skill: After the Fact.

5. Share more about yourself. Let your partner know what makes you happy. If you do, your partner will more likely make those things happen. Let your partner know what troubles you. If you don’t, things will build up and you may blindside your partner with an blow-up over a small incident. If you’re not objecting, your partner may believe that what they are doing is OK. This creates resentment for each of you.

With good will and practice the Talker and the Quiet One can get back to a Positive Interactive Cycle.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Couple Dynamics: The Talker and the Quiet One

I had an unusual request via email from a couple in England who had seen my website and were interested in couples counseling. Jasper and his wife were visiting family in Vancouver on their way to holiday in Thailand. I was intrigued by the request and agreed to meet them for a two-hour session. I was skeptical that they would even come.

Surprisingly, Jasper and Melinda did come. They left their daughter with her grandparents and came alone. They said they have been fighting a lot and had fought all the way here.

It quickly became clear that he was the ‘Talker’ and she was the ‘Quiet One’. I facilitated a dialogue between them. I could see that the more he talked the more she silently retreated within herself. The further she retreated the more he talked. The more he talked the more he leaned forward. The more he leaned forward and talked, the more she pulled back and said little. Each was distressed and frustrated. In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy this dynamic is termed the Negative Interactive Cycle. Once it gets going it gains momentum. It is difficult for the couple to break out of it. Each needs to do something different but they usually don’t know what.

At this point I usually facilitate reflective listening between the couple so they can have a new way to handle the same old stuff. Due to time constraints and the fact that I probably would never see this couple again, I decided that I would try an experiment. I told the couple that when each one talked I would feed the other the words to say in response. In other words, I would supply accurate reflective listening.

As the dialogue preceded it be came clear that when Jasper felt lonely and disconnected from Melinda he would talk a lot to her but he would not tell her that he felt lonely. He talked of other things, sometimes blaming her and analyzing her. Feeling bad about herself Melinda would retreat inside and wonder, “What does he want from me?” She would try to figure it out by herself. Through the reflective listening what each one felt was made explicit. When Jasper reflective listened to Melinda she felt heard and understood. She started talking. He was surprised and pleased. He talked less and she talked more. When Melinda realized that Jasper felt lonely she reached out to him. At one point when she was talking freely I looked at him sitting back on the couch happily listening to her and said, “Do you see how freely she is talking?” He only nodded with a smile on his face because he did not want to stop her. When Melinda reflective listened to Jasper, he knew she finally understood his loneliness so he didn’t need to say more.

What I was really pleased about was that the couple did not mechanically parrot my words. They repeated exactly what I said but they put their own inflection into the words. What they said and how they said it was congruent with how they felt.

At the end of the session, as I was writing out the receipt in the waiting room, I could see them out of the corner of my eye, still in my office hugging and kissing . I gave them some handouts and wished them well.

After a few months I decided to follow up with an email. I was curious to see if such a session could have a significant impact. We therapists often work in the dark.

Jasper quickly responded and told me that they had been doing really well since the session. He said they had not done any of the exercises that I had given them. They had put them in a drawer in case they needed them sometime in the future

. He thanked me.

The couple was emotionally connected again.

With care and concern
Dr. Bea

The names and circumstances of the people in this post have been altered.

Chatting on the Tennis Court about Left Brain and Right Brain.

Last week during my tennis lesson my instructor and I had a chat about left-brain and right-brain functioning. He’d sent me a video clip and wanted to know my thoughts on it. The video clip is a talk by Dr. Jill Bolt Taylor, a researcher of the brain, about her experience of her right and left brain functioning while she was undergoing a stroke. It is a first hand explanation of how the right and left brains functions differently from someone who knows what she is talking about.

We both found Dr. Taylor’s experience fascinating and chatted about what it meant to each of us in our work. I talked to him about working with clients, helping them to shift from left-brain to right-brain so that they can process their emotions and experience. He told me how he had always been trained to suppress his feelings and about 10 years ago figured out himself, after hearing about Andre Agassi seeking psychological help, that it is beneficial to express feelings. He uses what he learned to teach his students, not just about feelings but about skills as well. He taught me to keep my eyes on the ball by focusing on the color and seeing the lines (right brain). He taught me to feel my body in the correct position for each stroke (right brain) rather than think about the correct position (left brain).

We both enjoyed this chat and how we learn from each other. Well-spent time on the court.

Does right brain and left brain function have meaning in your life?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

There is a type of Selfishness that is Healthy.


It’s all about me, not you.

One way is to be selfish is to think only about yourself and not care about others.You do what you want to do and not do what you don’t want to do. You stand up for yourself and to heck with others. You take care of yourself. You go where you want. You are number one and everyone else comes after you. You don’t care who is inconvenienced by your wants and needs. You don’t care who is hurt, troubled or made sick by your actions. You don’t consider others as you go about taking care of you, unless of course, they can be useful to you. This is unhealthy selfishness.

It’s about me, and I consider you too.

Healthy selfishness is taking care of yourself and considering other people as you do so. You do what you want and don’t do what you don’t want, considering others while you do so. You stand up for yourself in such a way that is respectful of others. You hold your own with others in firm diplomatic ways. You keep clear boundaries between you and others in a respectful manner. You collaborate with others so they get what they want too.

It is important to look after yourself. When you travel on an airplane the flight attendants say, “If the oxygen masks drop down, parents are to put on their own masks before they help their children.” In others words, parents can best help their children if they take care of themselves first.If you really want to take care of others take good care of yourself first, you will be better able to do so.

When people are selfish and don’t consider others there is a negative ripple effect outward that impacts everyone around them. When you are selfish in a healthy way, however,  there is a positive ripple effect outward from yourself to others. You have a positive impact upon everyone around you, close family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers. Others are more likely to be positive in response. It’s a win-win situation.

It’s not at all about me, only you.

Selflessness is about losing oneself by making others a priority. Selfless people do not take care of themselves. They neglect themselves by always thinking of others and what they can do for them, what they can give them. They sacrifice their time, energy, hopes and dreams so others can have what they want. Selfless people often get sick because they don’t take care of themselves. Selfless people often become resentful because they sacrifice so much for others and others do not reciprocate.

Take care of yourself,

Dr. Bea

Make Relationship Changes Now (Pt. 3): Don’t Agree to do Anything that You Really Don’t want to do.

It’s a given that people in relationship need things from one another. Sometimes you want to do what is needed to be done. Sometimes you don’t want to, but you don’t mind doing it. Occasionally you really do not want to do what your partner needs you to do.

It is important to know two truths:

Saying ‘no’ to your partner does not mean you do not love him or her.

Saying ‘no’ to your partner can actually make your relationship better by avoiding problems.

How to avoid backing yourself into a corner.

1) Ask for time before you agree.

When your spouse asks you to do something that you are not sure you want to do, ask for time.

Example: “Let me think about that and get back to you.”

2) If you can’t keep your promise, inform your partner ASAP

Example 1:

“Last week when I promised to ………, I forgot that my brother is coming into town so I can’t do it.”

3) Renegotiate with Your Partner ASAP

When you have already agreed to do something that later you realize you really do not want to do, use the After-the-Fact Communication skill with you partner.

Through discussion the couple can come up with another solution that each feels OK about.

Example 1:

“I know that yesterday I agreed to do …………… but I’ve had a chance to think about it and I really don’t want to do it. Let’s talk about it.”

Scenario 1: Yesterday Fran had promised she would make dinner today for Eddie and herself. During the day she realized it was going to be too stressful for her to do that. She phoned Eddie and says I’ve had chance to think about it and I would rather meet you for a drink at Bottoms Up and then go for seafood at Kettle of Fish. It’s on me. Are you OK with that?

Scenario 1:

Susan and Bill have a schedule about who picks up the children from daycare. Susan has been asking Bill to pick up the children on her days more and more often. While he is OK about doing it occasionally for her, doing it too often interferes with his work. He began feeling stressed and resentful toward her. Bill told Susan what he felt and through discussion they found another option – Susan’s mother was able to pick up the children one day a week which alleviated Susan ‘s stress level and tight schedule.


Susan may say she did not realize that she was doing this. She may have thought Bill was OK with it because he never complained. She may ask him to pick up the kids today but she will make more of an effort to keep her commitments in the future.


Marriage and long-term relationships require a lot of collaboration. Couples are always asking each other for help, for favors, for support, for input, for backup and to do work. Couples who work together as a team feel good about each other and the good feelings they have help them deal more easily with what issues and problems they have. Each feels connected to the other and not alone in the world. This is the ideal.

In courtship this is often the way it is. Lovers in love want to all sorts of things for each other. Making the your lover’s life easier gives you pleasure. You enjoy their appreciation. When you lover does something for you, you feel loved and valued. You want to return the good will. A positive interactive cycle develops between the couple and gains momentum. As long as the giving and receiving is reciprocal, all is right with the world. The couple will work well together.

As relationships shift from courtship into permanent on-going day-to-day living, couples settle into patterns with each other. The first year of living together is about developing these patterns, some of which are conscious and some of which are unconscious.

Life is life. Things happen. Life busy. Sometimes we agree to do something for our partner without thinking about it. Perhaps we just want to ease their life. Other times we want to avoid an argument and our partner’s wrath. We could be distracted when we agree to do something and not think it through before we agree.

What happens when we agree to do something that we realize that we can’t follow through on? Well that’s easy. As soon as we realize the problem, we can use the After-the-Fact Communication skill to go back to our partner and let them know.

But what happens when we agree to do something that afterwards we do not want to do? Perhaps we even realize we don’t want to do it when we agree to it but we don’t say so.

Some people will go ahead and do it because they’ve given their word. If they do not feel resentful about it, there is no problem. But they realize that for their own good and that of the relationship they need to say ‘no’ to something that they really do not want to do.

But all too often what happens is the person does not go to their partner with the problem. They intend to do what they agreed to, but they procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate. Now there is a new problem between the couple.

“You said you would ……… and you haven’t. You’ve let me down. You’ve made be look foolish. You’ve caused me more work. I can’t count on you. I can’t trust you. You lied to me.”

Avoid these problems. Don’t agree to do something that you really don’t want to do.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

10 Memory Tips for Handling Life’s Little Lapses.

The following is Part 1 of a previously published article that I wrote.

I see and hear more and more people criticizing themselves when they forget a name, a word, or forget what they were going to say or do. Criticism is unnecessary and counterproductive to both feeling good about yourself, and remembering your intent. I’d like to help people of all ages minimize these common mental ‘lapses in life’.

Young people have moments. They lose their train of thought, forget where they put things, or can’t remember names or common words. They walk into a room or open a cupboard and forget what they were going to do or get. Because it does not happen too often, they dismiss them.

I was 22 when I got married. I put my marriage license in a ‘safe’ place. I have never found it to this day. I never thought that I was losing my mind or that I was stupid. I was just frustrated that I could not find it when I needed it.

These moments happen more often as we age. We’ve accumulated so much information through our lifetime of experiences. When we forget, we get anxious and think we are ‘losing it’. We scare ourselves into thinking we might be going senile. We doubt our own mental functioning. And, with a focus on youth, we are afraid other people are judging our mental capabilities.

For most of my adult life I’ve put items on the stairs to take up (or down) to another level. Then, for some reason when I need to go upstairs, I grab the things on the stairs and put them away. Distracted, I forget the reason I was originally went upstairs.

How we handle these moments can determine how long they last, how often they happen and how we feel about ourselves. More importantly, we can influence whether we remember or forget.

1 Be kind to yourself. Judging and criticizing yourself for forgetting is the worst thing you can do. People are often self-effacing, making remarks such as “I’m must have Alzheimer’s”. Beating yourself up short-circuits the remembering process. It creates anxiety. It makes you feel badly about yourself. You are now focusing on forgetting instead remembering. It’s counter productive. What you need and want to do is remember.

2 Take deep breath. Anxiety is the biggest culprit when it comes to forgetting. A little anxiousness can be helpful but when anxiety gets too high it interferes with thinking. Taking a deep breath reduces your anxiety so that you are more likely to remember what you want to say or do.

3 Stop. Look. Wait. Taking a moment to pause allows the mind to remember. People are often thinking and doing several things at one time. The key is not to think while you’re waiting. If you open a cupboard and can’t remember what you wanted: Stop. Gaze at the items in the cupboard. Wait. Most of the time what you were looking for will pop back into your mind. If you are in the middle of a conversation and you lose your train of thought – Stop. Be quiet. Wait. It may take from 5-30 seconds. If no one talks for these moments you are more likely to recall what you were going to say.

4 Mentally retrace your thoughts. If you are in a conversation and forget your train of thought, take a few moments to think back to what you were saying just before you lost your train of thought. If possible, get the person or people to help you with this process. As you do that, often you will suddenly remember what you were saying. When my clients (of all ages) forget what they were going to tell me I remind them of what we were talking about just before they lost their train of thought. Most of the time this process triggers their memory.

5 Retrace your behaviors, mentally and literally. If you go to do something and then forget what you were about to do, pause and stand still. Mentally review what you were doing just before. Back up in your mind to an earlier point. Then imagine all the actions you did up until this moment. This usually works. If this still does not trigger your memory, then actually go back to an earlier point and retrace your steps. As you retrace your steps often what you were about to do will suddenly come to you.

6 Cue word. If you remember what you are going to say or do but cannot say it or do it immediately because of circumstances, conger up a cue word that will remind you. If possible – SAY IT OUT LOUD or write it down.

7 Let it come later. You can try too hard to remember. Let go. Go on to something else. Let it bubble up. The word or name will probably come to you when you are in the middle of something else.

8 Reassure. Everyone forgets. Helping others remember helps them to relax and be less anxious. Share that you frequently forget too. This is called normalizing. When people know that they are not the only ones who have this problem they feel normal. Then they relax and are more likely to remember. You will feel good about helping them. When you help others in this way you will more likely be able to reassure and be kind to yourself when you forget.

9 Be patient. When someone is talking to you and they forget a word or a name tell them to take their time. Then wait. This helps the person relax and be less anxious. They are more likely to remember because they are less likely to feel judged or criticized. They are able to focus more on remembering than worrying about what you think of them. If you are uncomfortable with the silence, your anxiety will affect them and it will be more difficult for them to recall. When you are patient with others in this way you will more likely to be patient with yourself when you forget.

10 Laugh in fun. Good-natured laughter helps people relax. There is warm reassuring laughter that stems from a kind heart and good intent. Then there is teasing that makes fun of someone else. Avoid teasing others as they more likely to take the negative side to a joke than the fun side. People who feel secure within themselves usually are able to laugh things off and not take it seriously. People who are insecure often feel mocked or put down.

You can change how you treat yourself and how you respond to others. Treat yourself well and you will feel better about yourself. You will feel less anxious. You will be happier. These lapses will be shorter, less frequent, and less threatening. Then they will remain what they should be – only minor nuisances in life.

© Bea Mackay, Ph.D. 2004

How to Improve Your Relationships in the Present by Talking about the Past. Part 2:


Reframing is taking an same event (or circumstance) and giving it a new and different meaning. That is, looking at old stuff in a new way.

I worked with a man in his 30’s who had come for help with work issues. During the work it became clear that he did not feel good about himself. He recalled a vivid memory of an event that happened when he was 19. He was sitting in a diner with friends enjoying a hamburger and fries when his distressed father came into the restaurant and told him that one of his younger sisters had been hit by a bus and killed. He said he did not feel bad when he heard the news. All he thought about was how good the fries and ketchup tasted.

Soon after he felt very guilty about thinking about the taste of food when something so tragic had happened. He concluded that he must not care about his sister. He judged himself harshly – that he was a bad brother and a bad person. I told him that if that were true, he would not be bothered about his reaction to this event and probably would not even have remembered it. But this statement had no impact on him.

Then reframed the situation and circumstances. I told him I saw it in a different way. How I saw it was that he was shocked by the terrible news and went numb. Then he focused on the taste of the fries because the moment before he heard the terrible news, life was very good. A part of him went into denial and just wanted life to be as it had been just moments before he heard the news. He focused on the taste because he did not want the news to be true.

The client resonated with my reframing of the circumstances. Immediately, he felt tremendous relief. The meaning I gave for his behavior matched his experience. (If it had not matched his experience he would not have had this response.)

He could now let go of the guilt he’d felt for years. His old conclusion dissolved because it was now obvious to him how deeply he cared about his sister. He came to a new conclusion that made him feel good about himself, increasing his self-esteem. The increase in his self-esteem translated into the work issues that he had originally come to counseling for.

Taking the same event from the past and looking at it with new eyes is another way to change the present.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

How to Improve Your Relationships in the Present (and Future) by Talking about the Past: Part:1

Getting More Information About the Past

Many people say, “There is no use talking about the past, you can’t change it.” I think it is their idea of how they and other people recover from an event or events that were traumatic. Perhaps it is the only way they know how to deal with difficult painful events and circumstances.

It’s true. You cannot change events that happened in the past. But what you can change by talking about the past is how you think and feel in the present. When you think and feel differently in the present then the future has new possibilities.

There are many ways that talking about the past helps change the present. One way is to get new information about the past.

An example of this happens in the movie “The Mermaid Chair”. A woman who’s beloved father died when she was 9 goes back to care for her troubled mother. At the time of his death, she was told that her father had died when his boat exploded out at sea. She was not told that,in fact, her father had been terminally ill with a debilitating disease and that he killed himself. Her mother and several other people colluded with each other to assist in his suicide and make it look like an accident. The reason for their secrecy was that the father did not want to live and yet did not want his daughter to think that he abandoned her. (I’m not saying it’s a good movie but the plot makes for a good example). What the young girl had concluded was that she was to blame for his death because, against her mother’s wishes she had given her father a pipe. He would smoke his pipe when he went out on the boat with her. She created a fantasy about how the sparks from his pipe had caused the explosion. Over time, her fantasy became her truth. Because she had disobeyed her mother she never told anyone that she thought his death was her fault.

While she was helping her troubled mother she found the pipe in her mother’s belongings. With this new evidence she realized that she had not been responsible for his death. Her mother and the others told her the truth about his death. All those years she had carried the burden of his death on her shoulders unnecessarily. Finding out the real truth from the past changed how she felt about herself in the present and would influence how she lived in the future.

Thus getting new information by talking about the past can change the present. This can be healing.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

How to Shift Guilt into Positive Action

Guilt is a tremendous waste of energy. It does no one any good.

Guilt is all about feeling bad. Using guilt, you can make yourself feel bad, make someone else feel bad, manipulate yourself into doing something that you don’t want to say or do, manipulate others into saying or doing things they don’t want to say or do. Using guilt, if you let them, others will manipulate you into doing something that you don’t want or need to say or do.

Guilt is grounded in standards and values. Standards and values are expressed with words such as – must, have to, ought to, obligated to, vowed to, should, responsible for, etc. The most used word is ‘should’.

I should work harder. I mustn’t talk so much. I should lose 10 pounds. I have to exercise more. I ought to drink less. I should go to church more often.

You can ‘should’ on yourself and you can ‘should’ on others. It’s a guaranteed way to make yourself and others feel bad.

Wants and needs are expressed with words that describe what we want or don’t want, what we need or don’t need, our preferences, passions, interests, tastes, etc.

I want to work with people. I need to feel wanted. I love music. I am fascinated with antique cars. I need some exercise. I need quiet to focus. I love holding my grandson. I hate licorice. I don’t want to travel any more. I don’t need as much sleep as I used to. I’m crazy about tennis.

When we feel guilt, either of our own making or from what others say or do to us, it is often because our (or someone else’s) standards and values are opposed to our wants and needs.

E.g. I should visit my friend in the hospital more often.

You may not like hospitals so you avoid visiting your friend. You are also busy in your life and have difficulty finding the time to go. You value your friend and have a standard of how friends interact so you make yourself feel guilty for not acting accordingly. Or, you use the guilt to make yourself visit your friend. People often do or say things, not because they want or need to but in order to stop or avoid feeling guilty.

Sometime guilt is employed to avoid confrontation or to control your own impulses. Perhaps you’re mad at someone but you feel it is risky or unsafe to be angry with that person so you turn the anger back on yourself. Only you experience the anger as guilt. “I should not be angry. I’m a bad person. There must be something wrong with me.” There is less danger of confrontation; there’s less danger of losing control of your own impulses. And, you feel bad.

Guilt is energy. When you feel guilty, turn that energy into productive action:

If you are religious or spiritual shift the energy of guilt into prayer. Prayer is the action of sending energy to God. You can pray for God to help you. You can pray for God to help others.

For example, When you feel guilty about not visiting your friend in the hospital shift from feeling guilty into praying for your friend.

Prayer is something you can do for your friend, no matter where you are or what you are doing. Praying for your friend will help you feel good about yourself. Guilt is passive, it does not do your friend any good. Prayer is active and may help your friend. There have been scientific studies that show that prayer is effective. Guilt is negative energy going round and round inside your head and body. Prayer is positive energy going outward into the universe.

This does not mean that you wont visit your friend. When you feel better about yourself you are more likely to visit, or contact in some other way (phone, email, card, flowers), because you want to, not because you should.

If you are not religious then consider how the universe is made up of energy. The sun is energy. Gravity is a force. Wind is energy. X-Rays give off energy. The human body emanates heat.

When you feel guilty turn the energy of guilt into positive vibes and send them out into the universe or send them to yourself. Sending positive vibes makes you feel good about yourself and about others.

This is using your energy productively, effectively and wisely. When people feel good about themselves, they are more likely to live by the standards and values that they hold. They don’t need guilt to make them do it.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Communication skills: How to handle mixed messages & RETURN TO SENDER

A mixed message is a message that can be taken different ways. Mixed messages cause lots of communication problems in intimate relationships and in relationships in general.

First of all, you need to know when you’re are getting a double or mixed message. The way you know is by your feelings (confused) and your thoughts (puzzled). These feelings and thoughts are your cues to guide what you say and do in response.

When messages do not match they are incongruent and come in various forms.

1. What a person says conflicts with what they said previously.

2. What a person does conflicts with what they did previously.

3. What a person says conflicts with what they do.

4. What a person says conflicts with their body language.

When you receive a double or mixed message, without expectation or demand for change, send both messages back to the sender. Give both message back as feedback to the sender. Report what was said, what was observed and describe behaviors. When you communicate in this way, the sender is more likely to respond in a positive reasonable way. If you respond in an attacking, blaming, contemptuous or sarcastic manner then the sender is mostly likely to be hurt, angry and defensive.

You cannot control how the sender receives your feedback; you can only control how you deliver it.

WHEN WORDS DO NOT MATCH WORDS: Examples of what to say.

1. Last week you said your think mothers should stay home with their babies (words) and now you’re saying mothers should work outside the home to be good role models for their children (words). I’m wondering which you believe or if you believe both.

2. I’m having trouble figuring this out. You just told me you love me very much (words) and now you’re saying you need some space from me (words).

WHEN WORD DO NOT MATCH BEHAVIORS: Examples of what to say.

1. I don’t get it. You complain about me not helping (words) yet you re-do everything I do (behaviors).

2. I’m confused. You say you want me to be affectionate (words) yet when I touch you, you push me away (behaviors).

3. I’m confused. You said you would help me (words) but now you’re going to the store.

4. I’m puzzled. You said you wanted to spend more time with your kids (words) but when they are here, you often go off by yourself (behaviors).


1. I’m puzzled. You say you’re fine (words) yet you look sad (body language).

2. I’m confused. You said you like my plans for Saturday night (words) yet the tone of your voice has an angry edge to it (body language).

3. You say you’re listening to me (words) but you have not looked at me (body language), so I’m not sure.

You cannot stop or prevent your partner from sending you mixed messages. What you can do is change how you respond to them. By telling the other about your confusion you are letting them know the impact of their behavior on you. This has the potential to improve communication.

When the other knows they are sending mixed messages, they can clarify. It could be that they are not really conflicted and don’t realize they are sounding or acting like they are.

If the sender is truly conflicted, however, your feedback brings their incongruence to their attention. It’s like holding a mirror up to them so that they can more clearly see themselves. Now, if they want, they can address it. This too, has the potential to improve communication.

Experiment with this skill and see how communication shifts.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay.

Relationship Communication Skills: Put the Inside Outside

Put the Inside Outside is another communication skill that I teach clients in both individuals and couples sessions.

When people talk to each other they often think thoughts or have feelings that they do not reveal to others. Most of the time this is perfectly OK. It certainly would not be appropriate to say everything one is thinking or feeling. Yet often, when more information is given there are fewer misunderstandings and a greater connection.

It can be as simple as letting others know you are feeling pressured for time. In a session with client(s) if I’m running late, I often start to speak faster and may interrupt my clients, especially when working with couples. When I notice myself doing that I will say to clients, “The session is almost over and I’m feeling pressured for time to complete what we’re doing.” This helps them understand what is going on with me and lets them know that I’m not impatient with them. They experience how it feels to be informed and usually want to cooperate. I am also teaching them the skill of Put the Inside Outside by modeling it.

When working with couples I often find that partners do not let each other know what is going on inside of them, positive or negative. They do not give each other feedback. It leaves each partner guessing and hoping that the impact of what they said is what they meant.

Example: In a couples session.

Wife to husband, “I appreciate how you help with the kids when you get home.”

Husband, “Well I always do that.”

Dr. Bea, ” Your wife just told you something that she appreciated about you. What was that like?”

Husband, “What do you mean?”

Dr. Bea, “Well, did you like her telling you that?”

Husband, “Yeah, it felt good.”

Dr. Bea, “Let her know.”

Husband to wife, “It felt good to hear you appreciate what I do.”

Dr. Bea to wife, “What was it like to hear that from him.”

Wife, “It felt really good.”

We all laugh.

Often it is the simple things that people communicate to each other that can make a big difference in their communication and their connection with each other.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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