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Photo credit: Hian Oliveira

This quarantine can be particularly stressful on relationships. Maybe you’re living in close quarters with others. Or you’re only relating to people at a distance — or it’s the stress of these crazy times. It’s always important to relate to others as skillfully as possible, but that’s become even more important right now.

Relationship guidance from David J. Leiberman, Ph.D.

Lieberman has nine great suggestions for how to drastically improve any kind of relationship. They’re from his book, Make Peace with Anyone. Specifically, they’re from the chapter called, “The 9 Rules to Drastically Improve Any Relationship of Any Kind.”

These pointers will help you to improve your relationships — whether romantic, familial, platonic, professional, or any other type. None of them should come as a surprise, but it’s nice to have them laid out in a list like this. I’m not just going to tell you about these suggestions though. I’m going share what they look like in my life so you can see them applied.

Entangled bunch of carrots
Entangled bunch of carrots
You can get out of enmeshed relationships!

Being enmeshed means that you’re so connected to your family or another person that you don’t know where you end and they begin. Getting out of enmeshment requires that you set boundaries around your life. This enables you to take care of yourself, rather than taking care of others.

Enmeshed people don’t feel free to make choices about their own preferences. They don’t feel free to choose how they live their lives, what habits they form, their hobbies, their careers, their partners, where they live, etc.

Sometimes enmeshed people don’t know they’re enmeshed because they don’t know anything different. They might believe they’re “close” to their family or that “this is intimacy.” But true intimacy allows for the parties involved to be their real selves with others. …

If you’ve been seeking and not finding, I get it.

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photo credit: Isaac Davis

If you’ve been on a journey of self-discovery for years and are wondering, “Is this all there is?” I get it. If you’ve gotten temporary relief from acute emotional pain, but the pain keeps coming back and you’re wondering, “why does this keep happening?” I get that too. That was me before I got into 12 step recovery. We have two sayings in 12 step recovery that address these issues.

“Discovery is not recovery” and “Relief is not recovery.”

They refer to the fact that deep, lasting change that deals with causes rather than symptoms is possible. Recovery has been the cause of deep, lasting changes for many, including me. I’ll get into all that by first sharing why I think recovery works. Then I’ll share a bit about me to illustrate these concepts, and dive into what I mean by “discovery” and “relief” as opposed to “recovery.” Hopefully, this will help you understand why the discovery phase you’ve been in for years hasn’t worked. Or, why the relief you’ve gotten is temporary and the pain keeps coming back. …

Some frameworks to improve your internal dialogue

Mountain and sky scene with Emerson quote that says, “You become what you think about all day long.”
Mountain and sky scene with Emerson quote that says, “You become what you think about all day long.”
Photo credit: Samuele Errico Piccarini

Managing our thoughts and our minds is the most powerful way to change our lives. We’ve been taught what to think and why, but not really how to think. When we let our mind go on autopilot, the results can be disastrous. In this article, I illustrate several ways for how to think, and especially how to change your thinking. These frames for “thought work” take very little effort, with monumental payoff. What you think, you become.

A metaphor for the mind.

Imagine the reservoir that provides the water supply in your community being dosed with poison 10 times every day for 20 years. That’s 730,000 doses of poison! Now, imagine you find out that you were the one poisoning the reservoir! Would you stop? Of course! …

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Photo credit: Shingi Rice

Intense relationships can sometimes be mistaken for “intimate” relationships, but they’re not. Intense relationships are often dysfunctional and chaotic. Emotionally intimate relationships are typically not. If you want true intimacy, it requires being vulnerable, which requires trust. We can only build trust over time through seeing patterns of behavior.

It’s possible to learn how to get away from intense relationships. It’s also possible to build intimate relationships even if you’ve never had one. I’m living proof! I’ve been in 29 relationships, 11 of which I considered to be boyfriends. I’ve been in love eight times and have cohabitated with five partners. Until my current relationship of two years, I’ve never had an intimate romantic relationship. I credit 12-step recovery with my ability to create that intimacy. I simply wasn’t capable of intimacy before that. …

Girl appearing to release something invisible to the wind with her eyes closed
Girl appearing to release something invisible to the wind with her eyes closed
Forgiveness allows us to release years of pent up resentment (photo credit: Gabriel Benois)

Many people carry resentment and anger toward others they could get rid of if they learned to forgive. But there isn’t a lot of information out there about how to forgive. Most of the information I came across in my years of trying to forgive was on why to forgive. I also had a lot of misconceptions about what forgiveness is and is not, maybe you do too. Those misconceptions often get in the way of our forgiveness of others.

I eventually learned that forgiveness is all about compassion. You might be resistant to the idea of having compassion for someone who did you wrong. That’s completely understandable. …

Silhouette of racially and gender ambiguous person staring off in introspection
Silhouette of racially and gender ambiguous person staring off in introspection
Keep the Focus on Yourself (photo credit: Mohamed Abdelgaffar)

Are you filled with tension and anxiety and don’t know why?

Maybe you know something needs to change, but don’t know what. You’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work, at least not long-term. That was me before 12 step recovery. I’ve learned to do something that has improved my life drastically, including in my relationships and work:

Keeping the focus on myself in the here and now, instead of on others, the outside world, the past or the future.

That’s because the only thing in this world I can control is myself in the current moment. Learning to keep the focus on yourself is much more complex than it may sound. You can’t just decide to do it and then do it. …

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Learn how to ask for help, even if you’ve never done it (photo credit: Gustavo Fring).

I somehow grew up with the notion that asking for help was not okay. In fact, I was the giver of help, not the receiver. It felt like a duty. When I got into 12 step recovery, one of the most important lessons I learned was to reach out for help from others. The process of learning how to do this, and why it wasn’t an option before, was very enlightening. I hope that reading this will enable you to start asking for help, or asking for help more often.

Reaching out for help is not that easy.

One might think that learning to ask for help is as simple as deciding to do it, then doing it. But if you were socialized to not ask for help, it’s not that simple. I was someone who helped others. In fact, you might say I “rescued” others (though I did plenty of just plain “helping” too!). Some of this stemmed from the patterns of codependency I developed in my family of origin. …

Image of finger pressing a “pause” button on an audio or video player.
Image of finger pressing a “pause” button on an audio or video player.
Press “pause” when doubtful or agitated.

If you’re interested in self-development, learning how to pause when you’re distressed is an important and effective tool in changing your ways. I would argue it’s the most effective tool. You can’t use other tools without first pausing to assess the situation. The inability to pause acts like a gatekeeper for all other tools of self-development. Once you learn to pause, it has a cascade effect on your life. It enables you to use other tools like asking for information or support, researching best practices, or making reasoned assessments of your options.

Pausing is much more likely to result in a well-lived, purposeful life than reacting will. I’m going to list the many benefits of pausing. Then I’ll describe my process to learn how to pause after years of being a reactor. This will give you an idea of what that process might look like for you. I’ll also give you some sample phrases to use to let others (and yourself!) know that you need to pause. Then I’ll give a couple of concrete examples of how pausing improved my life. …

Lessons learned from my 20-year practice

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My 35 gratitude journals from 20 years of gratitude journaling.

Today is my 20th anniversary of keeping a nightly gratitude journal. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to share what that practice has done for me. It’s caused me to shift my focus from negative things to positive things, and to appreciate things I long took for granted. I’ll share more details on the rewards of practicing gratitude, then some personal stories to illustrate those rewards. Then I’ll go into a few suggestions for starting your own gratitude practice. I’ll present several strategies, in case the way I’ve done it doesn’t appeal to you.

The rewards of a gratitude practice.


Barb Nangle

Creator of the podcast, “Fragmented to Whole: Life Lessons from 12 Step Recovery" who writes, speaks and coaches about healing & growth.

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