8 Dates!

8 Dates!


That’s why John and Julie Gottman wrote Eight Dates. But reading the book isn’t enough on its own. You actually have to go on the dates and have the experiences, conversations, and follow-up sessions.

The Eight Dates Challenge was designed to help you do that.

The challenge includes:

  • Eight weekly emails guiding you through each date

  • Bonus downloadable handouts

  • Text/ Email/ Telehealth/ Virtual Visits also available with Elizabeth Mahaney

It’s more than just a challenge to go on eight dates. It’s a challenge to reclaim date night in your relationship.

Book an appointment and notate EIGHT DATES to start the challenge! www.southtampacounselor.com/bookappointment

Looking forward to meeting you both!

XxOo Liz

Text or call me: 813-240-3237

John Gottman and Brené Brown on Running Headlong Into Heartbreak

To a seasoned couples therapist, the telltale signs of a relationship in crisis are universal. While every marriage is unique, with distinct memories and stories that capture its essence, how it looks at its core, the anatomy so-to-speak, adheres to certain truths. The bones of love, what builds trust (and breaks it), what fosters connection (and disconnection) we have widely come to understand through the work of Dr. John Gottman.

Gottman, renowned for his research on marital stability and demise, and recognized as one of the ten most influential psychotherapists of the past quarter-century, has at this stage of his career amassed over 40 years of research with 3,000 participants. The quality and breadth of his studies are recognized as some of the finest and most exemplary data we have to date, and serve as an underpinning for how we understand what makes love work.

Enter Brené Brown, a self-described researcher, storyteller, and Texan. She’s gritty and funny, and like Gottman, a formidable researcher. Over the past two decades, Brown has studied shame, vulnerability, courage, and empathy. She’s published five New York Times #1 bestsellers, and over 40 million people have viewed her TED Talk on vulnerability. Her passion for living a wholehearted life is contagious and convincing. Her research has confirmed a core human need to belong and connect, and at a time when many of us are feeling the absence of such, she’s tapping a deep well—inspiring a tribe of the wholehearted, people committed to practicing shame-resilience, Daring Greatly, and embracing vulnerability.

Gottman coined the term “Masters of marriage” to describe the couples in his research whose relationships not only endure, but thrive. These are people who cultivate trust, commitment, responsiveness, and an ability to cherish their partner’s feelings throughout a lifetime. Brown speaks of the “wholehearted” individuals who engage their lives from a place of worthiness. They cultivate courage, compassion, and connection. Both groups, the masters of marriage and the wholehearted, display a host of traits that we now know are associated with health and thriving.

Having had the good fortune to train in both the Gottman Method and The Daring Way® (an experiential methodology based on the research of Brené Brown), I cannot help but wonder, what life would be like if we could take our cues from the masters of marriage and the wholehearted? How might this shape who we are as individuals in a partnership? What might the ripple effects be to our children and society at large if we aspire to love as Gottman and Brown are suggesting?

The implications of following in the footsteps of the masters and the wholehearted are huge. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the most extensive study of its kind, has taught us three things. First, that loneliness can kill as surely as smoking or alcoholism, and that when we are connected, we live longer and healthier lives. Second, the quality of our relationships matter. It’s not the number of friends we have, or whether or not we are in a committed relationship that predicts thriving. Being in a high-conflict marriage is bad for one’s health. It is worse than divorce. Third, good relationships don’t just protect our health. They protect our mind. Memory loss and cognitive decline are more prevalent in lives permeated by conflict and disconnection.

And if that is not compelling enough, Brown’s research on the implications of shame paints a similarly grim picture, depicting shame as correlated with loneliness, depression, suicidality, abuse, trauma, bullying, addiction, and anxiety.

So while love may not heal all wounds, it is undoubtedly a panacea for preventing them.

Gottman and Brown give us a map—a macro perspective of the wilderness of our hearts, and the wildness of love. It’s a rocky path, fraught with challenges and risk. But vulnerability is inherent in any stance that places courage above comfort. And should we decide to follow it, the destination it promises to take us to is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

The paradox of trust 

Gottman, in his book The Science of Trust, astutely asserts that loneliness is (in part) the inability to trust. And sadly, the failure to trust tends to perpetuate itself. For when we don’t trust, over time, we become less able to read other people and deficient in empathy. He states, “Lonely people are caught in a spiral that keeps them away from others, partly because they withdraw to avoid the potential hurt that could occur from trusting the wrong person. So they trust nobody, even the trustworthy.” 

According to both researchers, it’s the small interactions rather than grand gestures that build trust and break it. “Sliding door moments,” as Gottman calls them, are the seemingly inconsequential day-to-day interactions we have over breakfast, while riding in the car, or standing in the kitchen at 9 p.m. Within each act of communication, there is an opportunity to build a connection. And when we don’t seize it, an insidious erosion of trust ensues, slowly overtime.

Our relationships do not die from one swift blow. They die from the thousand tiny cuts that precede it.

But choosing to trust is all about tolerance for risk, and our histories (both in childhood and with our partners) can inform how much we are willing to gamble. Brown speaks to the paradox of trust: we must risk vulnerability in order to build trust, and simultaneously, it is the building of trust that inspires vulnerability. And she recommends cultivating a delicate balance, one where we are generous in our assumptions of others and simultaneously able to set firm boundaries as a means to afford such generosity—being soft and tough at the same time, no small feat. 

When our stories write us

According to Gottman, the final harbinger of a relationship ending is in how couples recall memories and the stories they tell. Memories, it turns out, are not static. They evolve, change, and are a living work-in-progress. When a relationship is nearing its end, at least one person is likely to carry a story inside themselves that no longer recollects the warm feelings they once had for their partner. 

Instead, a new narrative evolves, maximizing their partner’s negative traits, and quite likely, minimizing their own. “Self-righteous indignation” as Gottman aptly refers to it is a subtle form of contempt and is sulfuric acid for love. This story, laced with blame and bad memories, is the strongest indicator of an impending breakup or divorce.

But, as Brown cautions, “We are meaning-making machines wired for survival. Anytime something bad happens, we scramble to make up a story, and our brain does not care if the story is right or wrong, and most likely, it is wrong.” She points out that in research when a story has limited data points, it is a conspiracy, and a lie told honestly is a confabulation. 

In social psychology, this pre-wired bias is referred to as the fundamental attribution error (FAE). The FAE speaks to our tendency to believe that others do bad things because they are bad people, and to ignore evidence to the contrary while simultaneously having a blind spot that allows us to minimize or overlook what our behaviors say about our character. In short, we are partial to giving ourselves a pass while not extending the same generosity to others.

When our minds trick us into believing we know what our partner’s intentions, feelings, and motives are we enter a very dark wood—one where we truly can no longer see the forest for the trees. The ramifications of this are significant because the stories we tell ourselves dictate how we treat people.  

In portraying ourselves as a hero or victim, we no longer ally with the relationship, but rather, armor up and see our partner as the enemy. And if memory is malleable, and we’re prone to spinning conspiracies and confabulations, there is a strong likelihood that we run the risk of hurting ourselves and those we love in assuming this stance.

Acknowledging our tendencies towards mishaps and misperceptions is not easy. It requires a certain humility, grace, and intentionality. But as Stan Tatkin points out in his TED talk, Relationships are Hard, “We are mostly misunderstanding each other much of the time, and if we assume our communication, memory, and perception is the real truth, that is hubris.”

The wholehearted and masters of marriage bypass such hubris and navigate the terrain of relationships differently than those who get lost in the wood. If we want our relationships and quality of life to thrive, it’s essential we take our cues from them and cultivate new habits.

Embracing emotions (and the suck)

To do so, we must first expand our emotional repertoire to include a wide range of feelings, not just our go-to ones. “Emotion-embracing,” as Gottman calls it, is a central building block for healthy relationships. We are aiming for what Pixar’s Inside Out so brilliantly depicts: inviting sadness, joy, anger, disgust, and fear all to the table. 

Put simply, Brown suggests we “embrace the suck,” stating that the wholehearted demonstrate a capacity to recognize when they’re emotionally ensnared and get curious about their feelings and perceptions. 

Both Gottman and Brown draw on the Stone Center’s Strategies of Disconnection, which propose that people respond in one of three ways when hurt: by moving away, moving toward, or moving against that which feels painful. And what I find interesting is that while Gottman advocates for turning toward your partner when injured, and Brown speaks more to leaning into (and getting curious about) our own uncomfortable emotions, both are emotion-embracing and courageous stances that emphasize mutuality over individualism.

Unfortunately, most of us are not taught as children to embrace painful feelings. It’s counterintuitive and goes against our neurobiological wiring. If we have a traumatic history, all the more so. And our society by-and-large is an emotion-dismissing culture. But as Brown cautions, there’s a price to pay when we selectively numb emotions: when we numb our painful feelings, we also numb our positive ones. So, if we want the good things in life (and I think most of us want the good things), then it’s a package deal. 

Running toward heartbreak

If the most significant indicator that a relationship has reached a tipping point is a rewritten story devoid of fond memories, then it stands to reason that a narrative free from blame, interwoven with curiosity and even goodwill is indicative of love that will last. Therefore, one of the central tasks of any healthy relationship is to co-create stories from a lens of “we” versus “me.”

It involves little (and big) reckonings as Brown calls them, sliding door moments where we pause long enough to reflect and ask ourselves (and each other), “What is going on right now?” Together, we cultivate a broader understanding of a disagreement or hurt feelings, one not possible when left alone in our heads to spin narratives that defend our most vulnerable parts and simultaneously ensure that we will go to our grave more swiftly, lonely, and armored.

When I reflect on the lessons of Gottman and Brown, one concept stands out: we must run headlong into heartbreak because there are things far worse than having our hearts broken. Such as the harm we inflict on our loved ones when we disown pain and transmit it onto them. And the legacy of trauma that ripples into our children’s hearts and the generations to come—veiling us in a seemingly impermeable barrier to vulnerability and all the fruits that go with it.

And let us not forget the Harvard Study of Adult Development and the toll that a conflict-laden life combined with emotion-dismissing has on our health.

Yes, running headlong into heartbreak is running directly into vulnerability. It involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But, as Brown reminds us, vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. 

Should we choose this path, there will be moments (likely many) where we find ourselves facedown in the dirt because the road to wholeheartedness guarantees we will get our hearts broken—again and again. But, in choosing to embrace heartbreak, we empower ourselves to experience the myriad of ways love manifests itself and the beauty life affords us. In the end, it’s not a question of if we will experience heartbreak but of how.

What will you choose?


Ten Steps that Transform Anger into Compassionate Connection


Practicing Nonviolent Communication guides us to reframe the way we listen to others and express ourselves by focusing our consciousness on four areas: what we are observing, feeling, needing and what we are requesting to enrich our lives. In this context the word need defines those basic human needs we all share. The following is an abbreviated list of universal human needs as defined in Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (PuddleDancer Press, 1999):

  • Autonomy

  • Celebration

  • Integrity

  • Interdependence

  • Physical nurturing

  • Play

  • Spiritual communion

As we learn to focus our attention on how we can meet these needs we can begin to connect at that place within us where we are all essentially the same. This process helps us cultivate deep listening, respect, and empathy, which engenders a mutual desire to give from the heart, and allows our natural compassion to flourish.

The 10 Steps

When we feel angry, three things are happening. 1) We are upset because we are not getting our needs met. 2) We are blaming someone or something else for not getting what we want. 3) We are about to speak or act in such a way that will almost guarantee we will not get what we need, or that we will later regret.

When we are angry, we focus almost completely on what we don't want and our thinking is caught up in images of the wrongness of others that are involved. We have lost sight of what we really do want and need.

Using the following steps you will learn how to change this pattern and connect with the life-serving purpose of anger. You will discover where anger comes from and learn how to express it in ways that meet both your needs and the needs of others. Use these steps for re-focusing your attention during an angry conflict and learn to create outcomes that are satisfying for everyone involved.

Step 1: Think of anger as a red light on your dashboard.

Anger is like a warning light on your car's dashboard and if you attend to it promptly you're more likely to get where you want to go. Remember, when dealing with anger that the goal is not just to "turn off the red light". Anger can be a wonderful wake-up call to help you understand what you need and what you value. Like warning lights and gauges, your emotions and the felt-sense in your body are there to help you understand which of your needs are being met, or are not being met.

So, when tempers flare or violence looms, it helps to remember that you can make life enjoyable for yourself and others if you focus your attention on what you need and put aside any ideas of the other as "wrong" or images of them as the "enemy." Make it your goal to attend to your underlying needs and to aim for a resolution so satisfying that everyone involved has their needs met also.

Step 2: Look clearly at what happened.

Have you ever asked people what they are angry about? Most likely, they told you that someone said or did something wrong. One example might be an executive saying, "He's unprofessional! He ruined the presentation! He was disrespectful to everyone in the meeting!" Such statements say very little about what really happened. In this step you want to be like a detective, you want "Just the facts." Notice the difference in the quality of information in the previous statements and the following. The executive might have said, "He arrived twenty minutes later than the scheduled start time, and brought coffee-stained handouts."

In this step you take a clear look at what you are reacting to. When you can objectively describe what happened you are more likely to be clear about what you need. Other people are less likely to respond defensively because they can more easily agree with what you've said. So, the second step in dealing with a charged situation is to be able to state a clear observation of the situation itself.

Statements from an angry spouse such as: "You insulted me!" "You're a control freak!" "You're always trying to manipulate me!" imply wrongness, but they don't describe what actually happened. With the aim of making a clear observation you ask yourself, "What would a video camera have recorded?" With this perspective you might be able to describe the situation very differently. "I heard you say I'm a lazy slob." "You said you wouldn't go out with me unless I wore the red dress." "You said I always wear clothes that are out of style." Once you can clearly describe what you are reacting to, free of your interpretation or evaluation of it, other people are less likely to be defensive when they hear it.

Step 3: Take responsibility for how you feel.

Anger is also a signal that you've been distracted by judgmental or punitive thinking and that some precious need of yours is being ignored. Use your anger to remind yourself to stop, look under your hood and into your heart to find out what needs attention.

When your car's water temperature gauge is in the red, your engine's need for cooling is not being met. When your car's battery warning light is off, your charging system is doing fine. Like these indicators, your emotions and the felt-sense in your body are very powerful and accurate indicators of the conditions under your personal hood. They are designed to tell you very quickly and clearly, in each moment, which of your needs are not being met, or are being met.

Keep in mind that other people's actions can never "make" you feel any certain way. Feelings are your warning indicators. Your feelings always result from whether or not your needs are being met. Anger results from focusing your attention on what another person "should" or "shouldn't" do and judging them as "wrong" or "bad." As your attention shifts to identifying which of your needs aren't being satisfied in a situation, your feelings will shift also. When you discover that you didn't receive treatment that met your need for respect, you might feel hurt, or scared, or disappointed - but without "should" thinking and judgments of others as "wrong" you won't feel angry.

When your feelings have served their purpose - when your attention is fully focused on your needs and values - then anger melts away. This transformation is not the same as repression, and it's not the same as "calming down." The emotions you feel when you are in touch with your needs may be intense and may be very painful - but they will be different emotions than anger.

Step 4: "Name the blame" and get clear about what you feel.

In our culture most of us have been trained to ignore our own wants and to discount our needs. We've been called selfish for "wanting" and "needy" when we voice our deepest yearnings. But the fact is, everybody has needs, all the time. Every human being needs respect. Everyone needs nourishment, harmony, self-expression, and love (to name a few basic human needs). The only humans who don't have needs are dead.

When you're angry you are likely to have "blame thinking" going on in your head. Inside of "blame thinking" you have emotions and these are caused by unmet needs. When you can get conscious of your "blame statement" you can begin to explore your feelings and use these feelings to get clear about which of your needs are going unmet.

Every minute, every one of us
is alive with needs and values,
seeking expression.

For example, if your blame statement was, "She's always insulting me!" what emotion or body sense would you feel? Would you feel tense, scared, sad, anxious, confused? Naming our feelings is not as easy as it sounds! As a society we are trained to mix our evaluation with our feelings and this is what gives rise to "blame statements" in the first place. Separating your feelings from your judgment of others is an important part of getting clear about your needs and moving into action to get them met. You can use the feelings inventory in chapter four of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication to develop your vocabulary of feelings and learn how these feelings relate to your needs.

Step 5: Determine your need.

"Wait a minute, my reliability warning light is on!" The executive who thought the employee "ruined the presentation" remembered that his anger was just a warning. When he looked underneath his anger, translated his judgments and discovered his underlying needs, he realized that he values reliability, integrity, and trust very highly. Focusing on these needs brought a shift in the executive's state of mind. His anger dissolved. Instead, once in touch with these unmet needs, the executive felt worry and a pang of disappointment.

Even the harshest labels like "psychopath" are just veiled expressions of unmet needs. When a person calls someone a psychopath, it's tragic expression of his or her needs, possibly for predictability, trust, or safety. Tragic because the very act of calling someone a psychopath almost guarantees that the underlying needs will continue to go undiscovered, unexpressed, and unmet.

The beauty of being able to correctly interpret your feelings as warning signals is that once you discover what you need, you are back in a powerful position to act toward getting your need met! You can use the human needs inventory in chapter five of Nonviolent Communication to develop your vocabulary of needs.

Having named your need, spend a while really noticing how important reliability is to you, how you yearn for it, how much more satisfying life is when that need is satisfied.

You're Half Way There!

In the previous steps you've explored how you are. In Step 2, you took a more accurate look at what the other person did. In Step 3, you took responsibility for your feelings, and in Step 4, you took ownership of your thinking and began looking underneath at your natural feelings and needs. You chose to use your thinking powerfully, as a way to clarify what you value. In Step 5, you experience a fuller sense of self because you've gotten in touch with your needs.

In the following steps you will explore who can do what so everyone's needs will be met. With Step 6, you begin to envision actions that are in harmony with meeting those needs.

Step 6: Find the do behind the don't

When they are angry, people often focus on the behavior that they want the other person to stop. But this is similar to wanting your car to stop overheating. You can want your car to stop overheating but you're stuck with a car that overheats until you identify what needs to be fixed and take the actions needed to fix it.

The executive in the previous example may identify that he needs greater trust and reliability when it comes to presentations being made on time and with materials he enjoys using. If he has been trained the way most of us have, he may be tempted to think he wants to tell the other person, "Don't show up late and don't bring coffee stained handouts." The problem is that the person may not show up at all rather than being late, or show up without handouts rather than soiled ones.

He is much more likely to get his needs met if he can come to an agreement around a "positive" request that states clearly what actions would meet his needs. For example, "Would you agree to call me 30 minutes before the meeting so I know you will be on time and put the handouts in a protective envelope as soon as they are copied?" Place your focus on what you do want, not on what you don't want.

Step 7: Think of a clear action request.

Earlier, you saw that angry people think they're angry because other people made them angry. Now you harness the power to undo this misconception and focus on the power you, and others have - the power to deliberately make life more wonderful through the use of a "present tense" request.

"I want you to be reliable" is not a clear and doable request. In this step, the idea is to envision the other person doing or saying something right now that is in harmony with your desire and likely to meet your need. Ask yourself, "Right now, what could the other person say or do to honor my needs?"

For instance, a man passed over for a long expected promotion was keenly aware of his unmet needs for recognition and respect. He had already gotten clear about how to say what had happened, his feelings about it, and his needs. Only then did he consider making a very clear "positive action" request. He decided that the following would be a good beginning request for the dialogue he wanted to have with his boss: "Would you review at least two projects with me that I completed this year, and that you believe improved the company's market position?"

The man realized that his request was a "future request" and to really stay connected with his boss he wanted to make a "present action" request. To do this the man asked himself what action his boss could take in the moment he made his request.

He figured out two requests that his boss could respond to right now. The first was starting with, "Would you agree to..." This creates an agreement in this moment to do something in the future. It is something the other person can respond to immediately. He also added, "...within the next week". This request creates a definite time period during which the agreed upon action will take place. Now the complete request is positive in action language and in time. "Would you agree to review with me, within the next week, at least two projects that I completed this year, and that you believe improved the company's market position?"

Step 8: Name their feelings and needs.

Just like coins, every situation has at least two sides. If you really want to reliably meet your own needs, it is important to make sure that the other person's needs are met as well. This step is about demonstrating your understanding that your needs can never be fully met at someone else's expense. It is about shining the light of awareness on your own feelings, needs and requests and also shining it on people in your life as well.

Use steps 2 through 7 to guess in your mind what the other person is experiencing. The essential element is to guess without worrying about guessing accurately. This is your best attempt to imagine what the other person desires, what the other person needs when they are acting as they do.

Remember, you haven't started talking yet. You're thinking hard, but you haven't yet spoken to the other person.

So guess at their feelings. Translate the statement, "He's compulsive!" into what you imagine the other person does want. For example, maybe they crave beauty and order (and that's why they're after you to pick up the dirty socks on the floor), or maybe they are yearning to be nurtured, cared for, or loved (and that's why they complain about you spending time with your friends). At this point, even though you are not talking to the other person yet, you are seeing the person differently. You are replacing your "enemy" image of the other person with a vision of something beautiful and sweet - the vision of a human being with needs, who seeks to make life more enjoyable by satisfying those needs.

Step 9: Decide whose need you will talk about first.

Think big. Enjoy imagining that everybody's needs will be understood and honored - no one will "win" at someone else's expense. The process is complete only after both people have been heard and understood and walk away satisfied. You're not yet done when only one person has been heard and understood.

Only one person, however, can be heard at a time. So, now you ask yourself the following questions to determine who will be speak first and who will listen first. Do you want to express how you are and invite the other person's understanding? Or do you want to extend your understanding to the other person first? Who is in the greatest distress? Who has the greatest clarity? Consider what happens when the person with greater clarity chooses to focuses their attention first on hearing the feelings and needs of the person in greatest distress. Being heard in this way the other person will most likely experience relief and clarity, and be more willing to consider your needs.

Either way, you are the one focusing the light of awareness during the conversation. You will be the one who will focus on feelings, needs and values, and determining whose needs to explore first. If you choose to express, you'll be revealing your feelings, needs and requests, which you identified earlier. If you choose to receive, you'll invite the other person to reveal their feelings, needs and requests, which you guessed about in the previous step.

Step 10: Now start talking.

Ask yourself the following questions before you begin talking: Are you clear about what you're reacting to? Are you in touch with your feelings and needs? Do you have a hunch about the other person's feelings, needs and values? Do you know what you want to have happen next? Okay, now's the time to talk! Here are some suggestions about what to say (and what not to say).

First, don't say anything from Step 3. This is the blameful thinking that fueled the anger in the first place. Instead, stick to Step 2 and state a clear observation. ("I have been thinking about how you spend three nights a week with your friends.") Then jump to Step 4 and be open about how you are feeling. Remember to choose a feeling that comes from the heart or a body sensation like, "I feel lonely and sad." Watch out if you start by saying, "I feel that" or "I feel like you?" - remind yourself that what is likely to follow is analyzing or blaming, and that you are unlikely to get what you want by speaking this way. Remember: express emotions and body sensations, not analysis or blame.

Once you've named the feeling that replaced your anger when you got in touch with your needs, name your needs out loud. ("I realize I need more companionship than I'm getting.") Then make a request that invites a response from the other that will make life more fulfilling right now. ("Would you be willing to agree to spend every Tuesday and Saturday evening with me?")

The other person will also want understanding for their needs. But chances are, they won't have done all the internal work you just did. They will probably go straight to Step 3. They may be saying something out loud like, "You're so selfish, it's always about you isn't it?" Just the blameful sorts of things you've just refrained from saying to them! That's okay. You can handle it. Choose to empathically receive whatever they say. Move your attention to their feelings and needs. Guess what action they might like you to take. "So are you worried (feeling) about consideration for your needs (need) and want to know that I am willing to consider them as well (action)?"

Telling a person that you hear what they want is not the same as agreeing to do it. By hearing what they want, you make sure you understand clearly so you can let them know how you are about doing it. When you demonstrate that you really understand what they feel and need, you will be amazed how quickly they will trust that their needs are important to you, and as a result will be open to considering your needs in return. They are also likely to be more receptive to various strategies for meeting their needs.

So, let's recap.

In steps 1 through 3 you learned new ways of understanding and relating to feelings of anger.

In Step 1 you learned that anger is a valuable warning signal that tells you to stop and look under your "emotional hood" at your feelings and needs, and to begin to look for outcomes that would make life more satisfying.

In Step 2 you learned to identify "just the facts."

In Step 3 you learned that your feelings result from your needs being met, or not met, and are never the result of what another person does or doesn't do.In steps four through ten you practice new ways of relating to yourself and others.

In Step 4 you take ownership of your thinking and focus your attention on your feelings and needs.

In Step 5 you experience a fuller sense of self because you get in touch with your needs and realize that you can take positive action in meeting those needs.

In Step 6 and 7, you begin to envision positive actions that are in harmony with meeting your needs right now.

In Step 8 you refocus your awareness on the others involved, connect with their feelings and needs, and identify actions that might contribute to meeting their needs.

In Step 9 you choose who you would like to speak first, knowing that you can continue the dialog until everyone's needs are met through actions everyone is willing to take.

In Step 10, you finally put it all together and begin a dance of communication, where you take turns expressing how you are and receiving how the other person is. You stay focused on making clear requests and tuned in to how you feel about what is being requested of you. You continue to dance until everyone's needs are met through actions everyone agrees to take. Summing up.

Every minute, every one of us is alive with needs and values, seeking expression. You love to live in harmony with your values, and you love to contribute to others' experience of harmony, when you can do so with no element of coercion involved. Moment by moment, with honesty and empathy, you can meet your needs, and bring your values to life. Practicing these 10 Steps you truly can transform anger into compassionate connections.

Eight Dates Challenge!

The research is clear: couples who go on a weekly date have better relationships.

That’s why John and Julie Gottman wrote Eight Dates. But reading the book isn’t enough on its own. You actually have to go on the dates and have the experiences, conversations, and follow-up sessions.

The Eight Dates Challenge was designed to help you do that.

The challenge includes:

  • Eight weekly emails guiding you through each date in the book

  • Bonus downloadable handouts

  • Text/ Telehealth/ Virtual Visits with Elizabeth Mahaney

It’s more than just a challenge to go on eight dates. It’s a challenge to reclaim date night in your relationship.

Book an appointment and notate EIGHT DATES to start the challenge! www.southtampacounselor.com/bookappointment

Looking forward to meeting you both!

XxOo Liz

Text or call me: 813-240-3237

Best Friends and Lovers

Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship. In fact, a romantic relationship is really just “friendship plus nudity.”

And even though many people will say “I married my best friend,” it’s hard to think about what that looks like in practice.

What does friendship look like to you? How do you choose the people you stay friends with and how do you treat them?

Do the rules you apply to your friends also apply to your partner? For example, you might have a friend who is consistently 15 minutes late any time you get together and that’s “just the way they are.” Do you treat or regard their tardiness differently than your partner’s?

Friendships are a vital supplement to any romantic relationship, but it’s important not to forget to be a friend to your partner.

How can you be a better friend? How can you be the best friend?

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

1. “Enhance your love maps.” Love is in the details. That is, happy couples are very much familiar with their partner’s world. According to Gottman, these couples have “a richly detailed love map — my term for that part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life.” You know everything from your partner’s favorite movies to what’s currently stressing them out to some of their life dreams, and they know yours.

2. “Nurture your fondness and admiration.” Happy couples respect each other and have a general positive view of each other. Gottman says that fondness and admiration are two of the most important elements in a satisfying and long-term relationship. If these elements are completely missing, the marriage can’t be saved.

Gottman includes a helpful activity to remind couples of the partner they fell in love with called “I appreciate.” He suggests readers list three or more of their partner’s positive characteristics along with an incident that illustrates each quality. Then read your lists to each other.

3. “Turn toward each other instead of away.” Romance isn’t a Caribbean cruise, an expensive meal or a lavish gift. Rather, romance lives and thrives in the everyday, little things. According to Gottman, “[Real-life romance] is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life.”

For instance, romance is leaving an encouraging voicemail for your spouse when you know he’s having a bad day, Gottman says. Or romance is running late but taking a few minutes to listen to your wife’s bad dream and saying that you’ll discuss it later (instead of saying “I don’t have time”).

Gottman acknowledges that this might seem humdrum, but turning toward each other in these ways is the basis for connection and passion. Couples that turn toward each other have more in their “emotional bank account.” Gottman says that this account distinguishes happy marriages from miserable ones. Happy couples have more goodwill and positivity stored in their bank accounts, so when rough times hit, their emotional savings cushion conflicts and stressors.

4. “Let your partner influence you.” Happy couples are a team that considers each other’s perspective and feelings. They make decisions together and search out common ground. Letting your partner influence you isn’t about having one person hold the reins; it’s about honoring and respecting both people in the relationship.

5. “Solve your solvable problems.” Gottman says that there are two types of marital problems: conflicts that can be resolved and perpetual problems that can’t. It’s important for couples to determine which ones are which.

Sometimes, though, telling the difference can be tricky. According to Gottman, “One way to identify solvable problems is that they seem less painful, gut-wrenching, or intense than perpetual, gridlocked ones.” Solvable problems are situational, and there’s no underlying conflict.

Gottman devised a five-step model for resolving these conflicts:

  • In step 1, soften your startup, which simply means starting the conversation without criticism or contempt.

  • In step 2, make and receive “repair attempts.” Gottman defines repair attempts as any action or statement that deescalates tension.

  • In step 3, soothe yourself and then your partner. When you feel yourself getting heated during a conversation, let your partner know that you’re overwhelmed and take a 20-minute break. (That’s how long it takes for your body to calm down.) Then you might try closing your eyes, taking slow, deep breaths, relaxing your muscles and visualizing a calm place. After you’ve calmed down, you might help soothe your partner. Ask each other what’s most comforting and do that.

  • In step 4, compromise. The above steps prime couples for compromise because they create positivity, Gottman says. When conflicts arise, it’s important to take your partner’s thoughts and feelings into consideration. Here, Gottman includes a valuable exercise to help couples find common ground. He suggests that each partner draw two circles: a smaller one inside a larger one. In the smaller circle, make a list of your nonnegotiable points. In the bigger one, make a list of what you can compromise on. Share them with each other and look for common ground. Consider what you agree on, what your common goals and feelings are and how you can accomplish these goals.

  • In step 5, remember to be tolerant of each other’s faults. Gottman says that compromise is impossible until you can accept your partner’s flaws and get over the “if onlies.” (You know the ones: “If only he was this” “If only she was that.”)

6. “Overcome gridlock.” Gottman says that the goal with perpetual problems is for couples to “move from gridlock to dialogue.” What usually underlies gridlock is unfulfilled dreams. “Gridlock is a sign that you have dreams for your life that aren’t being addressed or respected by each other,” Gottman writes. Happy couples believe in the importance of helping each other realize their dreams.

So the first step in overcoming gridlock is to determine the dream or dreams that are causing your conflict. The next steps include talking to each other about your dreams, taking a break (since some of these talks can get stressful) and making peace with the problem.

“The goal is to ‘declaw’ the issue, to try to remove the hurt so the problem stops being a source of great pain,” Gottman writes.

7. “Create shared meaning.” “Marriage isn’t just about raising kids, splitting chores, and making love. It can also have a spiritual dimension that has to do with creating an inner life together — a culture rich with rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you, that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you have become,” Gottman says.

And that’s what it means to develop shared meaning. Happy couples create a family culture that includes both of their dreams. In being open to each other’s perspectives and opinions, happy couples naturally come together.

What to Expect During a Session with Elizabeth Mahaney, LMHC, MFT, NCC, DCC, Ph.D


Step 1 (To Do): Attune to Awarenesses

Awarenesses may start with researched assessments based on thousands of couples that will recognize cycles of conflict so issues can be stopped and transformed into moments for intimacy and connection. Receive a detailed analysis on your relationship style so you can turn your insecurity into opportunities for a deeper romantic bond. Miscommunication and disconnect happens when the lack of self-awareness could be part of the problem and partners don’t understand each other. My first task is to get you on the same page with yourself and loved ones. Let’s create a game plan and brainstorm agreements about how to start the process. This step can feel overwhelming but my goal is to help you focus and narrow down specific goals. We will approach the problems collaboratively with questions like: “How can life feel better?”, “How can each of you start positive changes intrinsically?”, “You are a subjective human and you can only feel and control you”. Therefore, all change happens intrinsically.

Step 2 (Doing): Attach to Agreements

Learn how to intentionally ask for what you feel and need in a way that gives your partner a way to express love. Create a culture of love and respect that builds trust and sexual passion. We will deal with perpetual problems, heal old wounds, and rekindle the spark of companionship together. Playfully explore ways to create a sexually fulling and passionate relationship. Let’s create more intimacy that brought you together in the first place, create new agreements that make life more enjoyable, and meet each other’s needs. I’ll offer you specific techniques, resources, interventions, tools, or activities that may work for you by brainstorming, collaborating, and developing the treatment plan together. I will also explain how to connect through communication by making specific actionable, immediately do-able, positive requests. Learn how to love your partner without losing yourself.

Step 3 (Done): Accountability for Lasting Change

I give you all the tools you need to understand what changes need to be made, avoid relapse and continue to build a meaningful relationship that gets better with time. I’ll also help hold you accountable for creating, trouble shooting, and maintaining sustainable intentional responses to “This Thing Called Life” and… changes along the way.


Moving Through & Beyond Grief and Loss

In my work as a mental health professional, I have seen many clients dealing with losses of all kinds-loss of loved ones through death and divorce, for instance. These experiences are difficult for everyone.

Personally, the month of May feels like an emotional rollercoaster saturated with sadness from the loss of my nephew and a longtime childhood BFF. Both of them born in May and left us in this same month way too early… My body remembers so much joy celebrating birthdays and also the trauma associated with their deaths. My daughter was also born in the midst of all the chaos that May has to offer which serves as a reminder that amongst the deep sadness, there is so much love and joy to be shared. Although, tears seem to hit me at times during the month, I like to focus on celebrating all of our May babies in any way that seems fit!

Stages of Recovery from Loss
There are some predictable stages that most people pass through after losing something or someone important. In her work on death and dying, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined five stages of grieving.

Shock and Denial: The first reaction to loss is often the inability to feel anything. This may include feeling numb, weak, overwhelmed, anxious, not yourself, or withdrawn.

Anger: Blaming yourself or others for the loss.

Bargaining: "If you'll just let him live, I'll promise to go to church every Sunday for the rest of my life."

Depression: Feeling deep sadness, disturbed sleep and eating patterns, thoughts of suicide, excessive crying.

Acceptance: Beginning to look for the lessons of the experience.

Kubler-Ross said that the grieving process involves experiencing all five stages, although not always in this order. She also said that people often cycle back and forth through a number of the stages before coming to the stage of acceptance.

Kinds of Losses
Some examples of significant losses are:
*    Loss of a person through death
*   Divorce
*    Job loss
*    Loss of your good health when you are diagnosed with a disease
*    Loss of a body part through accident or surgery
*    Loss of an ability, such as blindness
*    Loss of a friend who has moved
*    Loss of everything familiar when you move away

Each kind of loss affects each person in a different way, but the recovery process usually follows Kubler-Ross's five stages.

Recovering from Loss: Some Key Points
    1.    You are responsible for your own grief process. No one can tell you how to grieve, and no one will do your grieving for you. It is hard work and you must manage the process by yourself.
    2.    The grief process has a purpose. It is to help you learn to accept the reality of the loss and to learn from the experience.
    3.    Remind yourself that your grief will soften and may or may not end. Grief will change. You will not feel like this forever. You will keep healing. You may have good days and sad days…
    4.    Take care of your health. Grief is extremely stressful, and it requires energy to manage the stress.
    5.    Be careful with food and drink. While it may be tempting to numb the pain with food and drink, this can lead to the additional problems of alcohol dependence and weight gain. Also, numbing the pain means you are prolonging denial. This will make your grieving process longer.
    6.    Talk about the person who is no longer in your life. People sometimes avoid talking about the loss as a denial mechanism. However, this prolongs denial and the grieving process.
    7.    Take time to be alone. In the days and weeks following the loss of a loved one, there is often a flurry of activity with many visitors and phone calls. Added to the stress of your loss, this can be completely exhausting. People will understand if you don't answer the phone for an afternoon or go to your room and close the door for a while.
Don't make any important decisions until your life feels more balanced. It can be tempting to make some important changes right after a major loss as an effort to feel 
more in control.
    8.    Maintain a normal routine if you can. You have enough changes in your life right now. Try to get up in the morning, go to bed at night, and eat your meals at the same times you usually do.
    9.    Ask for help. You will need it. If you don't want to be alone, or if you want someone to take you somewhere, it is okay to ask. People don't expect you to be self-sufficient right now.
    10.    Let people help you. People want to help because it gives them a way to express their feelings. Staying connected with people is especially important now, and accepting help is a way of staying connected. As time passes, it is important to be assertive to ask yourself or others to meet your needs. No one is a mind reader. Be clear and specific to ask for what you would like to see happen in a positive way. This way, you will more likely get your need met. Often times, people focus on what is not working, what doesn’t feel good, and what they don’t like. This negative way of thinking and judging almost always guarantees miscommunication. Instead, create what you would like to see happen by asking for what you need.
    11.    Keep a journal of your feelings and experiences during the grieving process. Writing about your feelings helps you express them, rather than keeping them inside. It also gives you something to remember and review in the future, which you will appreciate.
    12.    Avoid making extreme life changes after a major loss. Don't make any important decisions until your life feels more balanced. It can be tempting to make some important changes right after a major loss as an effort to feel more in control. If you can, put off such changes and decisions until later.
    13.    Don't hurry your grief process. People sometimes want to put their feelings and memories behind them because they are painful. But grieving takes time, and there are no shortcuts.
    14.    Remind yourself that although grief hurts, it will not harm you. Grief is painful, but you will survive and even grow from the experience.
    15.    Expect to regress in your recovery process from time to time. This is normal. It may happen unexpectedly, but it probably won't last long.
    16.    Acknowledge the anniversary of your loss by taking the day off or doing something special. Have supportive people ready to be with you. It could be a difficult day and it's better not to be alone.

17. Not everyone in your immediate and extended family will grieve the same way. Compassion and empathy can help you support others while self-empathy and self-compassion will help facilitate your self-care. Try to remember that your whole family and friends are also grieving.

How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving
1.    Don't try to get them to feel or be anything but what they are. Simply hold space for anything that comes up…
2.    Don't reward them for acting cheerful or "like your old self." This teaches them to suppress their feelings around you.
3.    Don't avoid them. They need your support.
4.    Let them tell about the loss again and again, if they need to.
5.    Recognize that unexpected, perhaps inappropriate behavior is part of the grieving process. It means the bereaved person is moving forward.

Judgement, blame, shame, guilt and anger do not help anyone who is suffering. Instead, thoughtfulness, compassionate communication, and meeting your loved one where he or she is, without trying to change her feelings, can be super supportive. Empathy, holding space for one another, and reminiscing can facilitate connection and family cohesion. Try to remain non-judgmental and connected through difficult emotional times. Openness to meeting yourself and other’s where they are without judging the process can help meet everyone’s needs!

Suicide: Warning Signs and Treatment

It is reported that suicide, the act of deliberately ending one's own life, is a cause of death for about 30,000 people (including 5,000 between the ages of 15 to 24 years old) each year in the United States. Since many suicides are not reported as such, the actual number is most likely much higher. Suicide goes unreported because of its stigma or because family members find it too painful to confront the truth.
The rate of suicide in this country is about 12 per 100,000 people, making it the ninth leading cause of death in the United States during the years from 1993 to 1995. According to the American Association of Suicidology (which studies suicide and its prevention), there are between eight and 20 attempts at suicide for each death from suicide. This means that there are anywhere from 240,000 to 600,000 suicide attempts each year. This rate jumps to 200 attempts for every completed suicide when young people (ages 15 to 24) are involved.
Other Facts about Suicide
    In the U.S., Nevada has the highest rate of suicide.
    More suicides happen in the spring than at other times of the year.
    The most lethal days of the week are Monday and Friday.
    Rich people and poor people alike kill themselves. Suicide is an equal-opportunity killer, and is chosen by people from every group imaginable. The most common victims are white males aged 65 and older.
    More men than women kill themselves, but women are more likely to attempt suicide.
    60% of people who commit suicide do so with guns.
Why People Commit Suicide
There are many reasons why people kill themselves, and we seldom know why certain individuals choose this route. The following factors seem to play a role in many suicides, but none of them guarantees that a person will end his or her life. Often it is a combination of factors that seem to interact with a person's circumstances; the factors are unique for each person. Some of these factors include:
Clinical depression. This type of depression is much more than just a simple case of the blues; it is severe and debilitating. It may surprise you to know that people who suffer from depression are at the greatest risk for suicide after they have begun treatment and are beginning to feel better. The reason for this is that when a person is severely depressed, they may lack the energy to carry out suicide. When they begin to recover and feel better, their energy begins to return and they may carry it out then.
Alcoholism and drug abuse are associated with a higher suicide rate because these substances impair judgment. Over half of all adolescent suicides and suicide attempts are associated with alcohol. When a person is under the influence of alcohol, he or she has fewer inhibitions and may also think and act in ways that would never happen when sober. Alcoholism and drug abuse also create additional stresses in the lives of users and may result in depression and a tendency toward desperate behavior.
Mental illness. People who have certain disorders, such as schizophrenia, have a higher risk of suicide.
Physical illness, including terminal illness and the illnesses common as people age, is often a factor that contributes to people taking their own lives.
Feeling hopeless is very common among people who commit suicide. Hopelessness may be part of clinical depression, or it may be the result of an illness or other dire circumstance. When a person feels hopeless, he or she feels trapped, and suicide may seem like the only way out.
Anger motivates some people to commit suicide. After a long, unhappy relationship and years of building anger, these people see their suicide as a dramatic way to send a message of retribution.
A sudden loss may precipitate suicide in some people. The shock and grief of an enormous loss-of a person or a job-may drive a person to such an extreme.
Experiencing a scandal or extreme embarrassment leads some people to feel so trapped in their situation that they can think of no other way out.
Suicide Warning Signs
One expert says that eight out of 10 people who kill themselves have given clear warnings that they were considering suicide. While these warning signs can be evident for almost anyone at some point in their life, it is important to be aware of them and take them seriously when you see them.
    Making a threat of suicide, e.g., "I wish I were dead," "I'm going to end it."
    Expressing hopelessness
    Expressing helplessness
    Expressing worthlessness
    Talking about death
    Having previous suicide attempts
    Seeming depressed, moody, or angry
    Having trouble at school or at work
    Abusing alcohol or drugs
    Taking risks
    Withdrawing from other people
    Behaving differently or oddly
    Sleep difficulties
    Loss of appetite
    Giving away prized possessions.
    Suddenly seeming happy after exhibiting several of the behaviors listed above.
The treatment for a suicidal person varies, depending on severity and the underlying cause. Treatment can range from immediate hospitalization to weekly psychotherapy with a licensed mental health professional. It may also include antidepressant medication or treatment for drug or alcohol addiction.
What to Do if Someone Is Suicidal
Take action immediately. Depending on the urgency of the situation, call your doctor, hospital, mental health center, suicide hotline, or police emergency number (911).

Out-of-Network Insurance Claims Reimbursed with Ease Using BETTER


At South Tampa Therapy & Mediation, we know that dealing with payments and insurance can put a damper on the great work you accomplish during a session. That’s why we’ve partnered with Better, a company that makes it easy for out-of-network clients to get reimbursed.

Better accepts superbills directly from South Tampa Therapy, simplifying the process for both us and our clients. Once clients sign up, they take a photo of their superbill and email it to claims@getbetter.co