Posts Tagged ‘ram dass’

Three Keys to Creating an Extraordinary Relationship

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Click here to read my English Usage blogs.

While love can make us soar to new and giddy heights, it can also bring us to our knees. Love can be difficult, daunting, and more often than we wish, devastatingly painful. Ram Dass, one of my favorite Buddhist teachers who speaks truths with both lightheartedness and great compassion, has said that relationship is the hardest yoga of all. So maybe we shouldn’t think any more highly of a monk meditating on a mountaintop than we do of ourselves for having the courage to struggle with loving another human being.

Most of us have secretly believed, at one time or another (or frequently), that if we just changed partners, it would be SO much easier. And we may be right. The problem is that our hearts don’t always know if letting go is the answer or is simply an avoidance strategy. What if we pick the same person/problems in a new disguise? What if our partner is right and we’re the problem?

When couples come to counseling, they want to know what I think: Are they better off apart? Is the relationship worth salvaging? Will it get better? How much better? Will it ever be good enough? Relatively pain free? Do they even dare hope for happiness? When will they know when they’re “there”?

Even with 27 years of experience as a relationship coach, I am terrible at predicting the future of relationships. I worked with one couple who I would have bet wouldn’t last another six weeks past our first session. Ten years later, they still write me holiday cards with photos of them with their growing brood, their smiles real and joyful. They always write something that gives me way too much credit for their happiness. I laugh, mostly at myself and how wrong I secretly was about their chances.

Another couple, who seemed to have only minor issues, left their third (and final) session grateful, holding hands, reassuring each other of their mutual respect and love. The next I heard, only a few months later, one of them was living with a new partner. Like many of their friends, I murmured to myself, They seemed so good together.

USA Today, in an interview I did for them, gave me the title of relationship expert. I chuckle at that. Is there really such a thing? What are the qualifications for such an exalted title? Should expert status be conferred by statistics? Is it how many couples I have worked with who have stayed together? Or maybe how many couples I have helped split amicably, avoiding costly attorneys’ fees? Or should someone be dubbed a relationship expert who is a good predictor of a couple’s chances?

We have such high expectations of relationship: We want to feel loved, safe, heard, respected, supported, beautiful/handsome/sexy, and…we are inevitably disappointed when our partner isn’t a deep enough reservoir. Should we give up and move on? Can we do better? Will learning tools or increasing our self-awareness really help?

If there are tricks or theories or strategies or paradigms or sociological studies, how do you know which one(s) to pick or whom to trust? A numerologist will give you one set of parameters for finding and keeping your “perfect” partner; an astrologist, another paradigm; a psychologist, a third set of compatibility factors. A Buddhist guide might help you see relationship through the lens of karma. The psychic has spirit guides, tea leaves, or your palm at his/her disposal. Most of us take the smorgasbord approach: We try a little of this, a little of that, hoping to cobble together our own paradigm for success in relationship.

So, as USA Today’s relationship expert and, more truthfully, humble observer of hundreds of couples, let me add another morsel to your plate with my three keys to creating an extraordinary relationship. I believe that these are the “must have” tools that will help you find your way back to trust, intimacy, and friendship.

Jane’s Three Keys to Creating an Extraordinary Relationship

1. Ask open-ended questions. When people tell me what makes them feel most loved, they’ll mention roses, sex, cards, candlelight dinners, long walks, back rubs—all the usual stuff. They never mention being listened to. But I’ve found that it’s the act of love that is most appreciated, melts even the most cynical heart, and is a more potent aphrodisiac than chocolate or flowers.

2. Provide a safe haven. You know that Allstate insurance commercial with the two hands cupped together, palms up? When the chips are down for your partner, be that. Don’t judge or give advice; just gently hold their precious spirit in your hands. This is as close to unconditional love as one adult can ever offer another.

3. Offer truth, not just mere honesty. You may be honest if you tell your partner, “You were an inconsiderate boor” or “You’re an idiot.” Honesty can be hurtful to a relationship because it can contain judgments and assumptions. The difference between honesty and truth is that truth is nonjudgmental. I can say in truth, “I am really angry that you talked about my weight loss struggles in front of our friends. It felt humiliating.” When I teach couples this distinction, they sometimes argue that the truth sounds so much scarier because of the vulnerability required. I say, “Exactly! How do you expect to have intimacy without vulnerability?” It’s a choice—a courageous one. Truth is a form of love. When we are willing to tell the truth and hear it, we let our partner know that we are risking everything for the sake of the highest good of the relationship.

In my book, Enough Is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life, I offer many more tools that will minimize your pain and maximize the intimacy and joy in your relationship. But these three may be enough to get you out of your relationship rut and back to remembering why you were attracted to each other in the first place. Here’s to your courage, your vulnerability, and your compassionate intention!


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Spotting a UOF

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

(For my English usage blog, click here.)

No, this title isn’t a typo. I am not writing about UFOs. A UOF, unlike a UFO, has had millions of confirmed sightings and can be easily spotted. It is the Uh Oh Factor: the fears, self-judgments, and limiting beliefs that stop us dead in our tracks, generally right before or right after we take a risk.

You know how your mind works: You apply for a job and you pump yourself up for the interview, telling yourself that you are the right person—perhaps the most qualified candidate—and that they’d be fools to pass you up. You remind yourself of how well you have performed in your current position and how undervalued you have been, which is why you deserve that new position.

But then you no sooner submit your résumé and that little voice starts whispering in your ear, “What if I don’t get the job? What if it means I have to travel more? What if I don’t like my new boss? What if I don’t like my new colleagues? What if they don’t like me? What if I have to work longer hours?” And the worst what if of all is the one with the F word, “What if I fail?” (This mindset works similarly with dating.)

All of our what ifs create the Uh Oh Factor: the negative thinking that reminds us of each of our character flaws, every painfully embarrassing moment from our past, every fear that’s woken us up at 2:00 A.M. bathed in sweat. This Uh Oh Factor (UOF), untended to, can instantly overpower our tenuous hold on our still-delicate affirmations.

The volume of our UOF will only go up if we try to ignore it. In short order, we will hear the voices within shouting, “You’re so full of yourself. Who were you to think you could land this job? You’re a fraud, a phony. They’ll see right through you.” Try to push these negative thoughts away and it’s like playing Whack-A-Mole: you have to be on high alert looking for where and how they’re going to pop up again if you’re going to defeat them.

So what can you do when the UOF begins to override your confidence? As Ram Dass, a wonderfully funny Buddhist teacher says, you can practice thinking of your Uh Oh thoughts—those neurotic fears, self-judgments, and limiting beliefs—as little schmos. Then, instead of trying to bar them from entry, which is futile anyway, invite them in for tea.

Imagine this scene: Three little schmos, looking like Snow White’s dwarves, come knocking at your door. Instead of hiding in the coat closet, you welcome them in, escorting them to the dining room table. Without any need for small talk, you say to the one on your right, “I recognize you. You’re the schmo who tells me I’m not good enough.” Then you turn to your left. “And you’re the schmo who catalogues the imperfections of my body.” Now you look across the table at another one who is returning your grin and say, “And you, you’re the schmo who reminds me of all my mistakes.” Then, with an inclusive sweep of your arm, you announce, “Thank you all for having tea with me.” You look at your watch and then continue, “But tea time is over because, after all, I am a busy person.” You see your little schmos to the door, although they are reluctant to go because you’ve been such a good listener. When they ask if they can come back, you let them know that they needn’t worry; certainly you’ll hear them next time they come knocking. You wave to them as they retreat and then close the door with a sigh of relief.

What you do next is remember to feel grateful that you have learned how to say hello and goodbye to your little schmos. Then you restate your affirmations, call on your support system to remind you of your best qualities, demonstrate behaviors that make you feel good about the person you see in the mirror, and take a leap of faith that these practices will not only keep you sane but will provide you with the courage to take the next risk that your spirit urges you towards.


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About Jane Straus
Jane is a trusted life coach, dynamic keynote speaker, and the author of Enough Is Enough! Stop Enduring and Start Living Your Extraordinary Life. With humor and grace, Jane offers her clients and seminar participants insights and exercises to ensure that the next chapter of their lives is about thriving as the unique individuals they have always been and the extraordinary ones they are still becoming. She serves clients worldwide and invites you to visit her site, Here you will find excerpts from her book, more articles, TV and radio interviews, and clips from her presentations.

She is also the author of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation,, an award-winning online resource and workbook with easy-to-understand rules, real-world examples, and fun quizzes. Contact Jane at