“For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”

~ Lev Grossman

What happens to the brain while in love?

Have you ever drifted into a dreamy thought of someone you recently met? You can’t explain why, but they just pop into your head. You feel a surge of joy, a slight queasiness in your stomach, and your face lights up with each playful thought of your new mate. A rush of neurochemicals stimulates this euphoric behavior.

Is this stage of love fleeting or can long-term committed relationships uphold blissful adoration?

The Stages of Modern Relationships

Whether you identify yourself as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bi-sexual, there are various stages to each relationship. According to research, during the initial meeting, it takes between 90 seconds and 4 minutes to decide if you want to move to dating and/or sex and not always in that particular order. During this lustful stage, testosterone and estrogen drive your behavior.

As your attraction deepens and you decide to become sexually exclusive or not, your stress response stimulates the release of the neurotransmitters; adrenaline, cortisol, dopamine, and serotonin.

Throughout this stage, your stress response is activated. Blood levels increase with adrenaline and cortisol, hormones secreted by the adrenal glands. The secretion of adrenaline and cortisol provide that rush of energy, increase in heart rate, sweaty palms, and dry mouth when you suddenly think of or startlingly bump into your new attraction.


The neurotransmitter, dopamine is increased with ‘love struck’ mates. Dopamine stimulates an intense rush of pleasure, triggering desire and reward. A brain on cocaine has the same effect.

“couples often show the signs of surging dopamine: increased energy, less need for sleep or food, focused attention and exquisite delight in smallest details of this novel relationship” ~ Helen Fisher


Serotonin plays a key role in this early stage of love. Low levels of serotonin explain those constant thoughts of your lover. According to Dr. Marazziti from the University of Pisa, blood samples of couples that claimed to be madly in love for less than six months were comparable to the blood samples of patients who have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

Furthermore, newly love-struck couples often idealize their partner, magnify their assets and overlook flaws.

“It’s very common to think they have a relationship that is closer and more special than anyone else’s.” ~ Ellen Berscheid


Next, a couple decides upon exclusivity, engagement, living together or marrying. The attachment of the twosome instigates the powerful hormone, oxytocin.

Oxytocin is released during childbirth and creates the bond between a mother and her child. The chemical is also secreted by both of the sexes during cuddling, hugging, and sex.

Oxytocin is important because couples that exhibit high doses of oxytocin have a strong bond and attachment that can withstand the ups and downs of life. For the release of oxytocin, it takes between 19 and 23 seconds. Thus to ensure your couplehood survives the test of time; hug, cuddle and have sex regularly.


Finally, vasopressin sets the stage for long-term committed couples. The hormone is released after sex and like oxytocin creates stable bonding with your partner. Vasopressin also creates the actions of devotion and protection.

The stages of a relationship change as do the release of chemicals in the brain. The surge of dopamine in the initial lustful state creates a rush of pleasure that stimulates, even more, desire and reward. Adrenaline causes the physical reaction of sweaty palms, racing heart, and dry-mouth.

Serotonin creates those compulsive, idealizing thoughts of your partner and oxytocin makes for strong bonds. Finally, vasopressin deepens the connection and generates long-lasting love.

Therefore it is possible to love and to be in love with your partner ‘til death to us part.’ Give your loved one a 30-second hug every day to ensure your love lasts.

If your bond is broken, your trust shattered, or your connection lost, couples counseling can help to mend bonds, build trust and connection again. Call (424) 258-5416 or email and let’s get started.

How to Manage the Angry Brain

The fourth communication taboo to avoid is uncontrolled anger.  Anger can range from mild irritation to out of control rage.

When anger is managed well, it can provide a healthy release, a motivator for change, or a self-empowering strategy.  Anger also is a protectant from underlying feelings of pain, fear, guilt, or shame.  It is a normal, human response and an indicator of pain and promoter of change.

When anger reaches an elevated state, the pre-frontal cortex, the thinking part of the brain is hijacked by the amygdala, the emotional, instinctual part of the brain that induces the fight, flight, or freeze response.  New information can no longer be received and defenses rise, demands persist, criticism overtakes, or vented venom leads to violence. It is at times when anger reaches an uncontrolled state of mind that a deliberate plan of action must take place.

What is uncontrolled anger?

Uncontrolled anger is an unrestrained fuel of fire with raised voices, yells of derogatory names, and can lead to physical violence; i.e. throwing dishes, shaking of your partner viciously, pushing, and beating.  If an interaction has reached this point, stop, take a deep breath, walk away, and reconvene when you have calmed down.  It’s important for the mutual interest of a committed relationship to talk in a normal tone all the while staying away from criticizing, demanding, and defensiveness.

What happens when the brain is angry?

An angry brain is overtaken by the limbic system.  The limbic system located in the lower part of the brain ignites the amygdala, a small structure that stores all emotional memories. The amygdala decides if the new information coming in warrants the fight-flight-freeze response or should continue on to the pre-frontal cortex. The depending factor is whether the new data triggers enough of an emotional charge or not.

When the pre-frontal cortex is hijacked by the amygdala, the stress hormone cortisol is released.  The process can last several minutes to several days but on average continues for  20 minutes.

When too much cortisol is freed, cells in the hippocampus short-circuit.  The misfiring of neurons stops new information from being received and makes it difficult to organize and obtain the full memory of the triggered event.

Emotional and physical responses also occur during anger.  The heart beats faster, the lungs hyperventilate, blood pressure rises, and nerve endings on the skin spring into action causing sweating and the hair on your body to stand tall.  Since the pre-frontal cortex is overridden by the amygdala, all thinking, assessing, or problem-solving skills come to a halt. Thus it is important to learn techniques to manage extreme anger.

Seven tips to cope with anger:

1.    Take a time-out and signal your need for a break to your partner
2.    Get physical — go for a walk, take several deep breaths, find an activity that gets your body moving.  Bodily activities release soothing endorphins to help calm the brain
3.    Notice and observe your thoughts – name your anger, externalize it and reframe your negative story with positive narratives
4. Expand your awareness to bodily sensations while paying attention to where anger resides in your body
5.   Learn acceptance tools — you are not your anger and this feeling is temporary.  This too shall pass.
6.    When you are calm, share your insights and experience of the event that triggered your anger.  Social support is essential for calming and letting go of anger
7.  Seek a professional if you are having difficulty managing anger on your own

While expressing your anger peacefully, use “I” statements and remember to stay within the confines of the rules of no criticizing, no demanding, no defending, and no vented anger.

If your communication is falling into the trap of uncontrolled anger, call me at (424) 258-5416 or email me at and let’s build a personal plan to manage your anger and build trust and intimacy again.

The Four Traps of Communication – Rule Number 3 – No Defending

Rule #3 – No Defending

Child saying noTalking effectively about feelings is an exercise that will strengthen trust and intimacy in a relationship. While talking is important, listening is just as crucial. Talking about and listening to certain events and issues must be presented in a comfortable environment that is committed to certain communication rules and understandings.

The role of the talker is to describe what emotions you are feeling; such as frustrated, angry, hurt, fearful, etc. Attach the emotion to a person, event, and how this affects how you feel about the relationship and about how you feel about yourself. An example is, “I feel hurt when you don’t listen. It makes me feel like you don’t care about my thoughts, opinions, or about me. It makes me feel like I’m invisible, I don’t’ matter, and I’m small.”

Next, explore what this might remind you of from earlier times in your life or previous relationships. For instance, “It reminds me when my father yelled at me as a child and continued to ask me to explain myself. I grew so scared while he yelled that I couldn’t think; my mind went blank. He continued to yell and I continued to retreat.”

Subsequently, explain what you need to help make you feel comfortable. This enables your partner to understand, empathize, and attune to your needs. With continued support from your partner, a loving connection and safe reliance grow.

The role of the listener is to put your feelings and perceptions aside, be fully present, engaged, and attentive. The listener is curious, asks questions, provides reflective statements and acknowledges your spouse’s perception of the event or issue. Another role of the listener is to ensure the four taboos of communication are avoided. They include:

1. Criticism
2. Demanding
3. Defensiveness
4. Angry outburst

I discussed rule number one, criticism and rule number two, no demands. Criticism and making a demand is a self-interested act that is demeaning and leads to a hostile environment causing distance, distrust, and defensiveness. The third rule is to avoid defensiveness.

What is Defensiveness?

Defensiveness is a reaction to justify your behavior and serves to protect. It is a function to make yourself feel better and make your partner wrong. Defensiveness usually results in blaming, criticizing, or counterattacking. The defense protects against pain, shame, guilt and fear.

The solution is to share your feelings about your inner world that was triggered during the event. Express how it makes you feel about yourself, the relationship, and what sensitive area from your past was ignited. At this point, it is the responsibility of the listener to keep in line with your role and put your feelings and perception aside. With practice, the process will become easier and your relationship will strengthen.

If your communication is falling into the trap of criticism, domination, defensiveness, and uncontrolled anger, call me at (424) 258-5416, email me at, or complete the contact form below and let’s begin a course of action so that you may build trust and intimacy again.




The Four Taboos of Communication: Rule #2 — No Demanding

Research has come a long way since the 1960’s when the book The Mirages of Marriage by Don Jackson and William Lederer expressed that distressed marriages lacked a contract based on rewards and positive feelings.  It was suggested that partners negotiate a contract based out of self-interest to arrive at the best deal. Therapy approaches also recommended couples to designate a day of thoughtful exchanges.

Couples therapists now recommend couples work together with mutual trust and with shared meaning and purpose. Psychologists suggest partners act nice to each other not out of self-interest but out of mutual interest.  Furthermore, professionals advise spouses to express emotions in a committed safe haven of trust, curiosity, and validation.

The ingredients for not only loving but being in love with your partner resides with good conflict-resolution skills and daily emotional connections; where calmly talking, listening, cuddling and saying, “I love you” with sincerity persists.  Cuddling is important because it secretes oxytocin, the chemical that creates bonding and a great sex life.

The components to creating a healthy, happy relationship may sound overwhelming. It’s really quite simple.  It starts with some basic communication rules.  The guidelines include staying away from the four taboos of communication.

1.    Criticism

2.    Demanding

3.    Defensiveness

4.    Angry outburst

I discussed the menaces of criticism and how it leads to a hostile environment causing distance, distrust, and defensiveness.  The second communication pitfall to avoid is making a demand.

What is a demand?

A demand is a forceful request based on self-interest.  The act of a demand is being domineering, controlling, and forceful.  Similar to criticism, demanding something of your spouse is not constructive and does not have the mutual interest of the relationship in mind.

Demanding actions of your significant other commonly results in a passive-aggressive partner.  Passive-aggressive behavior is a defense mechanism to punish you for your demands.  Relationships that resort to demanding and retorting passive-aggressive behavior turn into a vicious cycle of retaliation, intense anger, and distance.

The solution is to pause before speaking when a demand enters your mind.  You may ask for a time-out and express that you can reconvene in an hour or whatever particular timeframe you need to speak calmly and express what triggered the demand.   Give yourself plenty of nurturing time to think and assess what soft spot was hit that brought forth this demand.

When you are ready, ask respectfully to your partner when is a good time to talk.  When a time is set, make sure the setting is comfortable with no distractions.  Share your perception and feelings of the event and what feelings about yourself and the relationship come forward.  The more you express your inner world in a committed safe haven of curiosity, understanding, and empathy, the closer you become.

If your communication is falling into traps of demands and passive-aggressiveness, call me at (424) 258-5416 or email me at and let’s begin a course of action so that you may build trust and understanding again.


The Four Traps of Communication

Communication is key to unlocking a growing, adaptable relationship with trust, closeness, and intimacy. When communication goes array, at least one of the four taboos of interaction has taken place. The relationship becomes stuck in a rut and trust and affection is broken. He runs away and avoids conflict and she latches on with more force and power. The relationship is headed into a cat and mouse chase, separation, withdrawal, affair(s), or therapy.

While seeing a therapist, the four communication pitfalls can be addressed and the relationship can become close and intimate again.

The four pitfalls in communication include:

  1. Criticism
  2. Demanding
  3. Defensiveness
  4. Angry outburst

What is criticism?

Criticism is unconsciously belittling another. It is assessing and disapproving of another. Without awareness, you feel superior and your spouse feels condemned.

Sure, criticism can be rationalized as helpful advice, constructive feedback, or behavior modification, yet any perception of ‘improving’ another is based on an agenda to change and a need to be right. Judging and blaming preface criticism which all lead to distance, distrust, and defensiveness. The relationship stalls and doesn’t improve.

Criticism involves looking at your partner as an extension of you. Rejecting and forbidding your partner to be a separate, autonomous person is pathological and unhealthy. With an agenda to change and a need to be right, your self-esteem rises and your partners’ confidence deflates. Most often criticism continues because giving up your position would feel like you have to give up a portion of yourself, which can feel all consuming, dominating, and threatening.

The solution is not to criticize. Instead, talk from a feeling perspective about your inner world, about the event and the behavior that triggers such disapproval.

What is demanding?

Demanding is acting domineering, controlling, and ridiculing. Similar to criticism, being demanding is not constructive and does not benefit the receiver.

Demanding results most often in your partner becoming passive-aggressive and punishing you for your demands. It’s a vicious cycle of retaliation with intense anger and pushing away.

The solution is to pause when a demanding thought enters your brain and count from one to ten. Give yourself time to think before speaking and assess what soft spot was hit that brought forth this demand. Talk to your partner when you are calm and clear in your understanding of your inner world.

What is defensiveness?

Defensiveness is a reaction to justify your behavior and serves to protect. Most often it functions to make yourself feel better and make your partner wrong. The defensive behavior usually results in blaming, criticizing, or counterattacking. Defensiveness is vented with anger and protects against pain, shame, guilt and fear.

Defensiveness may also result in withdrawal. Similar to anger, isolation is used to protect you from feeling pain, shame, guilt, and fear. Withdrawal produces distance and disconnection.

The solution is to share your feelings about your internal psyche that was stirred-up during the particular event. Express how it made you feel about yourself, the relationship, and what sensitive area from your past was ignited.

What is uncontrolled anger?

Uncontrolled anger is vented with raised voices, yells of derogatory names, and can lead to physical violence – throwing dishes, grabbing and shaking, pushing, and beating. If an interaction has reached the point of vented anger, it is time to stop, take a break and reconvene when you have calmed down and can talk with a normal tone all the while staying away from criticizing, demanding, and defensiveness.

It is important to stay away from the four taboos of communication to develop an evolving, growing relationship with trust, closeness, and intimacy. Following the rules of communication couples can learn to understand, empathize, and attune respectfully to each other’s triggers.

If your communication is falling into the trap of criticism, domination, defensiveness, and uncontrolled anger, give me a call (424) 258-5416 or email me at and let’s begin a course of action so that you may find each other again.

My Travels to Italy


“If travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, in dimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” ~ Pico Iyer

I fly to Rome, Italy at the end of the month. It is my first trip to Italy and my first trip alone. I am feeling excited and nervous. I am thrilled to take a vacation finally. It has been over fifteen years since my last trip aboard.

My trip to Italy was fabulous. The memories, nostalgia, and excitement have stayed with me since last October. It’s coming up on a year, and I am hoping to travel again before the end of 2016. During my stay, I went to many of the tourist scenes including the Coliseum, the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and many other unexpected ventures along my long walks in the streets of Rome.

Florence was my second stop. I took the train from Rome to Florence and enjoyed the beautiful hills and valleys along the scenic ride. In Florence, I ate great food, drank fine wine, walked the cobblestone streets and gazed at the many artistic creations. I was inspired to begin painting again and dust off my creative talents.

The favorite part of my trip was a tourist bus route through various towns in Tuscany. I instantly fell in love with the green hills and slopes of lined grape vines. The towns are so peaceful, serene with exceptional beauty that I long for. Standing on the outskirts of town, I can see for miles the hilly terrain, beautiful cloud formations, and lush green of leafy deciduous trees and grassy landscapes. Colors of yellows, reds, pinks, and purples popped up in flowery blossoms trickled through the valleys of greens. Nature brings instant calmness and spirituality. I felt closer to God and my core being. I was quiet, content, and inspired by the landscape. I understand now why so many artists flourish in Florence.

My trip came to an end with a spectacular site of a rainbow just as I was about to leave for the train back to Rome before I departed the next day. There is no other natural site quite as spiritual as the sight of a rainbow. A rainbow symbolizes unification of heaven and earth, divinity, and connection. I interrupted the rainbow as a perfect ending to my solo Italian trip and a lasting spiritual connection and deeper understanding of my values for travel, art, and self-exploration.

When you see a rainbow, how do you interrupt the vibrant colors arched across the sky?