First Dates Do’s and Don’ts

Going on a first date with someone can feel exciting and scary all at once. Sometimes when we are feeling anxious and not grounded we make choices, do and/or say things we might not have had we been anchored and connected to ourselves. So here are some thoughts about how to have a great first date.


Yes, I know that is easier said than done. Pretend you are going to meet a friend for coffee and notice how that feels in your body. Feel the ease with which you would approach that kind of date. Anchor that feeling in your body. If you can connect with the feeling of ease and relaxation in your body you will be able to recreate those feelings when you begin to feel yourself get anxious.

Have a short first date

This is especially true if you have never met the person before. Plan to meet at a café (or some other public place) for an hour. Have something planned afterwards. If you feel comfortable with the person and want to spend more time with them, you can always plan a second date.


It is easy to get distracted and preoccupied when you are anxious. But you will get a lot of information about the person if you keep your attention on your date and really listen to them. What do they talk about? What is important to them? How do they talk about their life? How do they connect with and include you in the conversation?

Pay attention to yourself

How do you feel when you are with this new person? Can you relax? Can you stay connected to yourself when you are with them? Is there room for you?

If you have non-negotiables put them on the table

Most people will tell you not to ask about things like marriage and children on the first date. However talking about things that are non-negotiable for you might be an important way for you to take care of yourself. If you know that your goal in dating is to meet a life partner and the person you are on a date with has no interest in a long term commitment doesn’t it make sense for you to know that right from the beginning? If you are dedicated to polyamory and the person you are on a date with only wants a monogamous relationship, don’t you want to know? If you have a dream of having children and the person you are on a date with doesn’t want or can’t have children for one reason or another, don’t you want to know now?


Valentine’s Day Reimagined

Some of you may have read what I wrote specifically to those of you who long for a partner but have not found the right person. I encouraged you to give love and attention to yourself the way you would to your sweetheart. I’m curious if anyone tried that. What was it like?

This year, as Valentine’s Day approaches I want to write to those of you in relationship who are thinking about what you want to do for your beloved on February 14th.

We live in such funny times where there is so much emphasis on the material world: what you look like, what you own, what you wear. So many people buy roses or jewelry or candy for their valentine and think that is a wonderful representation of their love.

I want to challenge all you Valentines out there to dig a little deeper this year and give your Valentine a non-material gift. Give the gift of time. Time spent just being together, talking and enjoying each other may be the most loving gift you can give.

Here are a few gift ideas for your sweetheart that will say “I love you” more than a box of chocolate or a bouquet of flowers:

  1. Give a whole day to your partner. Do whatever they want to do. No questions asked.
  2. Take your loved one to a beautiful place in nature that is special to you. Best if it is a surprise—somewhere they have never been, that you love. Sharing that special place and taking time to be there together is a beautiful gift.
  3. Plan to go on an adventure that neither of you have ever been on together. If you don’t do the actual adventure close to 2/14, make sure the date is untouchable in your calendar.
  4. Sign up for a class together: dancing, art class, cooking, or a Good Vibrations class.
  5. Give your beloved a handmade book of coupons for massages or other special treats.
  6. Make your Valentine a handmade card. Take time to make it beautiful, elaborate, unusual and particular. Get inspiration here
  7. Spend the day doing something creative together. You set it up and have all the materials ready for your partner to enjoy.
  8. Give the gift that keeps on giving- Plant a tree, or a garden with your sweetheart.

I am sure you can come up with some of your own wonderful Valentine’s gifts that are about spending time with your sweetheart. Write and tell me what you did and how your Valentine responded.


Valentine’s Day

Ahh Valentine’s Day… Martyred saints, bloody pagan rituals – Valentine’s Day has a long fascinating history way before Hallmark got a hold of it. These days most people either love it or hate it. The lovers are, well, usually the lovers. The haters are often single people who don’t want their noses rubbed in their aloneness, and partners who forget (or don’t care) about this holiday.

For those of you who are in the second category, I am writing to you. If you are single and want to be in a relationship, I have some ideas for you this Valentine’s Day. Instead of moping around and feeling sad that you don’t have a sweetheart, take this day as an invitation for self-love. Do something special for yourself: get a massage, buy a bouquet of beautiful flowers, go out to dinner at your favorite restaurant with a dear friend, take some time to be in nature and get some perspective on your life and situation. I want you to give to yourself what you will give to your lover when you have one. Love your self the way you want to love and be loved!

And one more thing…remember back in elementary school when you made little valentines for everyone in the class. I want to reinstate that ritual in the adult world. Make simple, sweet valentines to give to the people around you whom you love and even like. Spread the love: co-workers, the person who makes your latte every morning, the person who delivers your mail, friends and family. Let’s bring back Valentine’s Day as an inclusive, loving holiday.


Good Habits Build Great Relationships

As couples therapist and relationship coach my desire is to help people create solid, sustainable relationships from the beginning. Part of that is making good choices about who to date and develop intimacy with and part of it is being aware of how solid relationships are formed and what helps keep them healthy and sustainable.

It turns out that people do research on this stuff so we have some experts to turn to. In particular John Gottman who works out of the University of Washington ( has studied thousands of couples and has some very good ideas about what creates strong, loving relationships that last. Drawing from of Gottman’s principles and my experience as a therapist, I have created this list of good habits. Here are the first two.

Good Habit #1: Be nice.

Kindness goes a long way in supporting relationships. Every time you act with meanness or mal intent toward your partner you make it harder to create trust and intimacy. Meanness causes scar tissue and too much scar tissue makes it hard to recover from small things and almost impossible to recover from big things. Likewise, every act of kindness in money in your relationship bank.

If you are not sure what meanness is I will spell it out here: Name calling, belittling, eye rolling. Lying. Yelling in a way that scares your partner, throwing things, breaking or destroying things that matter to your partner. Putdowns, expressing lack of confidence in your partner, making fun of your partner. I think you get the idea. All of these behaviors are mean spirited and corrosive to your relationship.

Good Habit #2: Care about your partner and love them for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

Know what your partner loves to do, loves to eat, where they love to go for fun. Know their dreams and hopes and help them come true even if you don’t benefit. Notice the way they are in the world and appreciate them for that. Loving someone just because they love you often isn’t enough. It’s important to love and respect them for them, not just for what they do for you.

Good Habit #3: Create shared meaning.

There’s a quote I like that speaks to this idea:

“Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Airman’s Odyssey

Sometimes couples create shared meaning through raising children, having shared interests, working together on projects. There are two levels of creating shared meaning. One is about what I just talked about. But the other is what will carry you through in the long haul. It has more to do with shared values—what the two of you really care about, what you want your lives to be about, how you find meaning in your life.

I think this is especially helpful to couples who are planning to raise a family. Once the kids are grown and out of the house, couples often look at each other and wonder what to do next. If their relationship has meaning above and beyond raising children (a noble and worthy pursuit) they will have a stronger relationship when they are, so called, “empty nesters”.

Habit # 4: Share Power

An imbalance of power in a relationship is corrosive over time. It’s not that the power has to be equal all the time but that it is important that both people feel powerful in the relationship. Allow your partner to influence you. Practice being more powerful in areas of your relationship where you under-function. This mixes up the power dynamic in a positive way. For example, if you usually wait for your partner to initiate sex, try initiating and see what happens. If you are often the one that makes decisions (what to do Friday night, what movie to see etc.) let you partner step forward to make that decision. If you feel that there is a big imbalance of power in your relationship talk with your partner and see if, together, you can even it out.

Habit #5: Fight fair and kind

Conflict is inevitable and often healthy in relationships. It’s how we resolve conflict and disagreements that make a big difference to the quality of a relationship. How do you approach your partner when you are unhappy about something or you need to bring up a difficult topic? Gottman talks about the “soft start-up” and points out that most arguments end the way they start. If you approach your partner gently, without attack or criticism, chances are you will have a more positive outcome.

Also consider what you are fighting for. Do you just want to be “right” or “win”? Or, do you feel strongly about something that really impacts you? How can you communicate your need in a way that your partner can hear? I can guarantee that shouting at them doesn’t help them hear your point.

If you feel so frustrated that you want to yell, take a break. Walk around the block (tell your partner that is what you are doing—don’t just walk out), drink a glass of water, put on some music that relaxes you. Do something that will ground you and deescalate the conflict.

Mean fighting creates scar tissue and everybody loses. Remember too, that if you have children they are learning from you about how to resolve their own conflicts. They will most likely do what you do, so stay conscious about what you are teaching your kids about how to resolve disagreements.

Habit # 6 Appreciate your partner more than you criticize

I have been hearing a lot about the concept of a “feedback sandwich” lately where you start with the positive, talk about the behavior that you hope to change and then end with a final, positive, encouraging word. People tend to respond better when they don’t just hear criticism. Gottman says that in successful relationships the ratio is about 5:1. For every negative word or criticism you say to your partner you should say five positive things.

If this is difficult for you to do, start slowly. Appreciate one thing about your partner every day for a week. Then notice two things every day that you appreciate. Keep doing this until you can think of five things that you appreciate. It’s like a muscle. As you practice appreciating your partner it will become easier to notice and to say your appreciations out loud.

While you’re at it, you might want to appreciate yourself too. Sometimes we have a hard time giving to others what we can’t give to ourselves.

Habit #7 Make Dedicated time to be together

It’s the curse of modern society that we pride ourselves on how busy we are. Make sure in all that busy-ness that you remember to set aside dedicated time to attend to your relationship. Being with each other in a relaxed, unhurried way is a gift that you can give each other at least once a week. Making time for each other will support all your other interactions.

Habit #8 Show love and affection often

Having great loving, connected sex is one way of showing love and being affectionate, but small gestures of affection have a big impact. Loving touch even a quick hug or kiss creates a fabric of love and good will. Rather than run out of the house to get to your meeting on time, take a moment and kiss your partner good bye. Home late and exhausted from your day? Greet your partner with a hug before you collapse in front of the TV. You are at a crowded party each catching up with friends. Take a moments and check in with your partner: a wink, a quick squeeze of the hand—these little gestures can keep you connected.

Habit #9 Make time to be apart-have a healthy independent life

At the beginning of a relationship (aka love jail) it can feel great to be with each other 24/7. Don’t be fooled, that’s just hormones impacting your judgement. Sometimes time apart can be as important as time together. Developing independent friendships, hobbies or interests can add vitality and liveliness to a relationship. Try to have some balance from the beginning. Having a healthy independent life will ultimately make you more attractive to your partner, give you a healthy foundation for your relationship and give you time to take care of yourself outside of time with your partner.

Habit #10 Be creative together

Creativity is sexy! Make things, build things, design things together. This can be part of #3 (creating shared meaning) or it can just be about creating things together that mean something different for each of you. Also, supporting your partner in their creativity is a very loving thing to do. Singing, dancing, drawing, knitting, sewing, welding, candle making, gardening, programming, cooking are all generative acts. Enjoy them together.