Love Letters to Humans (no. 55) — on Punishment

Punishment: The relational fuckery of attempting to force, control, coerce, or manipulate someone (including yourself) into being different by making it painful, unpleasant, or impossible to exist as who they authentically are. (See also: abuse)

Regard, trust, and love grow and are chosen from a place of sovereignty. Control is the antithesis of love.

Not all connection is joyful. (Trauma bonding, co-dependence, and enmeshment can be very deep connection.) Abuse and punishment are ways to reinforce connection from a place of dependency and fear… wanting the carrot and avoiding the stick. Punishments and rewards are tools for controlling and manipulating behavior—our own and others’—and they are generally ineffective strategies for cultivating relational joy.

Punishment in our closest relationships might show up as: Reprimands • Emotional withdrawal • Dismissiveness • Withholding resources • Relentless criticism or disapproval • Name-calling • Shouting, yelling, or speaking harshly • Physical violence • Belittling or diminishment • Withholding emotional care • Threats of abandonment • Threats of violence • Retaliation for hurt feelings • Blame • Revenge • Isolation from support • Shunning • Shaming • Rejection

A little note: sometimes punishment and self-protection can look similar, like when we choose to disengage from an unhealthy dynamic. The difference lies in our intent: are we trying to change someone* by making life shittier for them unless they comply with our demands?

*We are “someone,” too.

We come by our relational fuckery honestly. We learn what we live. We are born into families, communities, and cultures that teach us to survive, achieve, and connect through external punishments and rewards.


We can learn new ways of connecting in sovereignty and relational joy. I want this for us.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 54) — on Sovereignty

Relational Joy Practice: Sovereignty

Self-governance; liberty to decide one’s own thoughts and actions; freedom from external control. *Antitheses: Domination; oppression; enthrallment; dependence

Relational sovereignty, like so many relational joy practices, is not for the faint of heart. It calls on us to take responsibility for our own choices… and for no one else’s. It can be a wildly uncomfortable practice—one that we’ve largely been conditioned to avoid under systems of oppression that hold so many of us as powerless, incapable, and in need of rescue. Squirming in the emotional consequences of our own choices is uncomfortable. Watching other people squirm in the emotional consequences of their own choices is uncomfortable.

This is not to say that we do not care for one another, that we do not communicate our wants and respond with generosity to the wants of others, or that we do not depend on one another for shared physical, spiritual, and emotional nourishment. Without mutual care and interdependence, our existence as social mammals becomes rather bleak.

I am suggesting this: imagining that we need someone else to be different than they are so that we can be okay is a recipe for struggling against them, not joyfully connecting with them. I am suggesting that other people—specifically the ones living their lives and engaging with us (or not) in ways that displease us—are not the reason we feel what we feel, think what we think, want what we want, and do what we do.

Holding someone else responsible for our feelings, thoughts, wants, and actions is an abdication of our sovereignty—we are giving away our power of self-governance and proclaiming our dependence on them to dictate how we will show up. Holding ourselves responsible for someone else’s feelings, thoughts, wants, and actions is an attempt to negate their sovereignty—we are assuming power over them and proclaiming their dependence on us.

If it sounds kinda gross, it feels gross, too. It’s a set up for manipulation, passive-aggression, people-pleasing, chasing, irreconcilable conflict, and potential abuse. If it is possible to have joyful, sustainable connection from a place of contempt and emotional dependency, I have neither witnessed nor experienced it.

I have witnessed and experienced joyful, sustainable connection created from a place of sovereignty, responsibility, and care—and I want this for us.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 53) — on Prioritizing Comfort

Right to comfort: The relational fuckery of insisting on our own intellectual, emotional, or physical comfort, even at the expense of someone else’s peace and labor—often coupled with punishment if they do not comply.

To clarify, comfort per se is not relational fuckery. The fuckery lies in prioritizing comfort over our own growth, over other people’s (or our own) well-being, and over the opportunity to connect joyfully and deeply with someone we say we love.

Right to comfort (with an occasional side order of punishment) might look like this:

Prioritizing comfort doesn’t always mean our own. Context matters. Sometimes we are the ones demanding comfort, and sometime we are the ones complying with the demand. (Again, comforting someone isn’t relational fuckery… prioritizing their demand for comfort over our own wellbeing is.) When we participate in prioritizing comfort we are making relationship agreements based on dependency, not sovereignty.

Right to comfort (with an occasional side order of punishment) might look like this:
Refusing to listen when someone questions our thinking • Anger when we are inconvenienced • Resentment when we are misunderstood • Expecting people close to us anticipate our emotional wants without us having to say what they are • Expecting people to withhold their big feelings and challenging thoughts around us • OR • Withholding our big feelings and challenging thoughts to avoid punishment or retaliation • Scrambling to anticipate someone else’s unspoken emotional wants and responses to avoid tension or conflict • Offering the labor of over-explaining or over-listening so that someone else won’t be upset • Disproportionate guilt at having inconvenienced someone • Refusal to question someone else’s or our own thinking

Relational Practice: Sovereignty

Where does your emotional comfort depend on someone else hiding who they are and what they have?

Where do you hide who you are and what you have to keep someone else from being uncomfortable?

What intimacy, trust, freedom, and joyful connection are possible when you risk discomfort?

This is the last of a series of posts drawing from Tema Okun’s article, “White Supremacy Culture,” which has contributed so much to my understanding of how oppressive contexts impact how we show up in our relationships. I’ll continue writing about other ways we participate in relational fuckery. Thank you for reading along and reaching out when something moves you. I’m so grateful to connect with other humans who care about nurturing right relationship.

Starting in February I’ll also be hosting a series of free 1:1 conversations, “The F-Word Conversations: Explorations of Forgiveness.” I want to hear from you what you’ve learned about forgiveness—what it is (and isn’t). I want to hear your stories and experiences of forgiving and being forgiven, not forgiving and not being forgiven.

Love Letters to Humans (no. 52) — Both+And

Relational joy practice: Both+And

The decision to regard and cherish complexity—to hold without judgment that multiple things can be true inside us at the same time—and to create possibilities for joyful connection from the apparent mess.

The practice of both+and lies in acknowledging what is true, asking the question “What now?”, listening for the possibilities available to us, and making decisions that serve us and our vision for the world we desire to live in.

Both+and is not for the faint of heart. It requires courage, capacity, and faith that there is more available to us than we recognize in this moment. It requires us to suspend judgment and open ourselves to a future that is different than the reality we currently inhabit. Both+and reveals the possibility of making a different choice than our habitual relational fuckery of either/or… and making a different choice after a lifetime of familiar choices can be scary.

Some of the ways both+and can show up in our most intimate relationships: I love you & I feel hurt by something you did • I want to spend time with you & I want to honor another commitment • I want to repair our relationship & I don’t know know how yet • I want to talk with you about something important to me & I feel very angry in this moment • I want [abc] & you want [xyz] • I want to trust myself & I carry a history of trauma/abuse • I expected [abc] to happen & [xyz] actually happened • I have gratitude & I have grief • I care about you & I have reached or exceeded my capacity for giving [time, attention, money, information, etc.] • I love you and enjoy your company & how you treat me does not meet my requirements for continuing to share this level of intimacy • I want to be understood & I fear saying what is true for me • I recognize your innate worthiness of love & I love myself without compromise

More than one thing can be true at the same time.

*** What now? ***

Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

If you want to dive deeper into your practice of right relationship in your life and your leadership this year, let’s talk. I have space for 1:1, couples/partners, and small team coaching (and I love it).

Love Letters to Humans (no. 51) — on Either/Or Thinking

Either/Or: The relational fuckery of dismissing all possibilities except a single, unlikely, win or lose scenario. Example: Either you change (good/I win) or I will not be okay (bad/I lose).

In either/or thinking, our primary motivation is to win, be good, or be right because our only other options are to lose, be bad, or be wrong. We also impose these judgments on other people, ideas, circumstances, and events: they are good or bad, right or wrong, for/with us or against us.

Some of the ways either/or thinking can show up in our relationships and conversations: Either you apologize or I will punish/withdraw • Either you reciprocate my affection or I am unworthy of love • Either you agree with me or one of us is wrong • Either I compromise myself or I disappoint you • Either you comply or you disappoint/hurt/fail me • Either I punish you or I pretend not to feel hurt • Either this relationship is perfect or it has to end • Either you change or I cannot be okay

When we’re caught up in the lies of either/or thinking, we forget complexity, grace, and possibility, we forget all the choices available to us, and we forget how much power we have to nurture trust, mutual care, and joyful connection.

Relational practice: Both+And

Where do you find yourself trying to win your relationships rather than cultivate them?

When you are hurt, afraid, upset, blaming yourself, or judging someone else… What else is also true? What else is possible? What choices might be available?

Relationship is. Right relationship nourishes.

If you want to dive deeper into your practice of right relationship in your life and your leadership this year, let’s talk. I have space for 1:1, couples/partners, and small team coaching (and I love it).

Love Letters to Humans (no. 50) — on Consent

Relational Joy Practice: Consent

Agreement. Harmony. (from: “sensing with”) Quite literally: feeling together.

Without presencing and regarding what is true for both of us, we do not have consent.

Let’s set aside our legal notions of consent as the bare minimum of agreeing to something without coercion, threats, blackmail, or violence. Consent isn’t nearly so basic. It is neither permission (I allow you or you allow me) nor compliance (one of us goes along to get along).

Let’s talk about consent as a harmony of wills—where your wants and my wants are in accord. Beyond permission. Beyond compliance. We want together.

Wanting together is one element of relational harmony and joyful connection.

The catch is this: We cannot achieve a harmony of wills without the awareness and presencing of our own desires. What some of us have been taught to call selfishness—knowing and communicating what we want—is a requirement for consent. What you want matters in right relationship.

AND… we cannot know what someone else wants without relating with them through inquiry and regard. Simply put: we ask and then really listen.

Tiny script for going after consent:

“I want [xyz]. What do you want?” [Listen very hard.] “Thank you. Now what?”

What do you want? Is there room for your wants in your most important relationships, including your relationship with yourself?

Where can you be more clear in communicating your own desires?

Where have you mistaken compliance or permission for consent?

Where can asking, listening, and regarding your desires and someone else’s make room for more possibility, less struggle, and more joyful connection?

Many, many thanks to Elinor Predota for our conversations and their teaching about consent. The best parts of this post are from them. The parts that I have gotten wrong are my own.

If you want to dive deeper into your practice of right relationship in your life and your leadership this year, let’s talk. I have space for 1:1, couples/partners, and small team coaching (and I love it).

Love Letters to Humans (no. 49) — on Paternalism

Paternalism: The relational fuckery of making decisions for someone else without regard for or understanding of their desires and our impact.

See also: Control, overprotectiveness, authoritarianism, condescension, saviorism

Underneath all of the ways paternalism manifests culturally and in our relationships lies contempt—believing our decisions for others are better than their decisions for themselves, believing we know better and understand better, usually without asking what they want, need, and know, without listening to them deeply and trusting that their answers are true… without relating.

Overt expressions of paternalism are easy to spot. Control, overprotectiveness, and condescension can be fairly obvious because they are blatantly obnoxious. The sneakier ways we participate in and perpetuate paternalism sometimes look a lot like people-pleasing and niceness. (Yeah… I didn’t see that one coming, either.)

We attempt to manage other people’s feelings and reactions, rather than asking what they want and trusting that they are responsible for their own emotional states. We discover that our well-intentioned decisions and our impact were woefully misaligned. We exhaust and upset ourselves trying to make other people happy. We resent doing so much that others don’t know about for so little appreciation. We caretake and give and make sure everyone has what *we* think they need, and we still don’t feel joyfully connected.

A desire to serve can be a beautiful aspect of relating deeply and joyfully. An attempt to manage, control, fix, protect, or even please another without relating with them isn’t service—it’s paternalism, and it rarely brings us the intimacy, peace, or joyful connection we’re looking for in our personal relationships and in the world.

Relational practice: Consent

Where do you attempt to serve, protect, manage, control, fix, help, or please others before understanding 1) what you really want and 2) what they really want?

What conversations do you need to have so that your intentions and impact are more likely to align?

If you want to dive deeper into your practice of right relationship in your life and your leadership this year, let’s talk. I have space for 1:1, couples/partners, and small team coaching (and I love it).

Love Letters to Humans (no. 48) — on Joining Through the Truth

Relational Joy Practice: Joining through the truth

I’ll say this first: in relationship there is no The Truth™️. You are having your experience of me/you/us/life, and your experience is true. I am having my own experience of me/you/us/life, and my experience is also true. We can hold these complexities as wondrous. We can also make them a cause of our suffering. We get to choose.

Also: the truths we want to share about ourselves and the truths we want to receive from and about someone else only rarely reside in facts. Facts are important -and- being right about the facts only means we’re right. Being right doesn’t necessarily lead us to right relationship. I am not talking about the facts of what was said or done. I am talking about the truth of what we want, believe, feel, observe, experience, and care about.

The work of joining through the truth is just that… it’s WORK. We choose to do this labor when and only because we want to, when we desire more joyful connection, not more distance and suffering.

What joining through the truth can look like:

• Being committed to listening to the truth of someone else’s experience—not to negate or disregard my own, but as a way to know them better, even/especially if they have accusations that I have hurt them.

• Choosing to courageously share the truth of my experience—not to negate or disregard theirs, but to allow them to know me.

• Choosing to tell potentially uncomfortable or unpleasant truths to someone I care about (with their consent and without cruelty)—not to abuse, punish, or fix them, but because they want to make informed decisions about their participation in our relationship.

• Choosing to receive potentially uncomfortable or unpleasant truths with grace—not to abuse, punish, or fix myself, but because I want to make informed decisions about my participation in our relationship.

What uncomfortable truth have you been holding back?

What uncomfortable truth do you refuse to listen to or pretend not to know?

What skills, practices, and capacities are you developing to make room for more truth, complexity, and difference—your own and others’?

What is possible when you make room?

Love Letters to Humans (no. 47) — on Fear of Open Conflict

Fear of open conflict: The relational fuckery of attempting to avoid unwanted consequences by disregarding another’s difference, or by hiding our own.

We come by this aversion to conflict and confrontation honestly in cultures where differences and disagreements are grounds for punishment, both real and imagined.

In our relationships, fear of open conflict can manifest as:

Holding back what we really think, feel, or want, even when it’s important to us • Managing or taking responsibility for other people’s feelings • Choosing politeness and resentment over honesty • Insisting we are incapable of understanding what someone is telling us if they are not civil, polite, or respectful (i.e. if they are expressing emotion with which we are uncomfortable) • Pretending not to recognize obvious differences (e.g. claiming racial “color-blindness”) • Passive-aggressive behavior • People-pleasing • Manipulating rather than asking for what we want • Extinguishing our curiosity about difference • Resenting or attempting to suppress the curiosity of others (like children and strangers) by labeling it as impolite • Making choices that compromise our integrity or harm ourselves in the interest of maintaining false peace • Expecting others to do the same

Relational practice: Joining through the truth

What are you pretending not to see, feel, be, know, think, notice, or care about be in order to maintain the status quo?

What do you expect others to pretend not to see, feel, be, know, think, notice, or care about in order to maintain the status quo?

Is maintaining the status quo getting you authenticity, depth, joyful connection, intimacy, trust, growth, healing, and nourishment in your most important relationships, including your relationship with yourself?

In Regard we explore some of the ways dominant, punitive, white supremacist patriarchal culture impacts the ways we have been conditioned to relate to ourselves and with one another… and how we can choose something different.

I LOVE private work with individuals, partners, and small groups. If you want to dive deeper and practice together in 2020, I do too… let’s talk. 🧡

Love Letters to Humans (no. 46) — on Curiosity

Relational Joy Practice: Curiosity

A desire to know or learn by asking, investigating, or exploring

See also: interest, regard

The desire to know another being—not fix, control, rescue, label, analyze, avoid, correct, debate, punish, or otherwise alter them—is (in my experience) one of the sweetest expressions of love we can offer or receive. Curiosity about ourselves and others is a declaration that we are innately worthy of regard.

Curiosity requires us to suspend both fear and contempt, along with any impulse we have to control or run away.

When people come to me with a desire for more awareness of their “emotional wake” in their relationships, they want to know if they are taking up too much space in a conversation, if what they have to share is harmful, or if their impact is being felt at all. They twist themselves into knots worrying about whether they are helping or harming others (as if it can be only one or the other). They obsess about their power to save or destroy a relationship, and miss the single, most effective way of finding out how their relationships are going: ASK.

Rather than playing out imaginary scenarios in our minds (Ben calls them fantasy knife fights) or guessing how someone is feeling or what they are thinking, we can have real conversations—with ourselves and with other people.

If you want to know what your relationships are like, ask yourself. Then listen to your answers. If you want to know what someone else is experiencing in their relationship with you, ask them. Then listen to the answer.

⁃ What is it like to be you in your most important relationships?

⁃ What assumptions do you make about other people’s relationships with you? Are you willing to be wrong to move toward right relationship?

⁃ How do you know what you know about other people’s experience of life? Have they told you? Have you asked?

I LOVE private work with individuals, partners, and small groups. If you want to dive deeper and practice together in 2020, I do too… let’s talk. 🧡