Because I am certified to provide imago therapy, and I help couples unravel how they become an imago match when a couple comes to me for help with their relationship, one of the first things I ask is, “What did you have for dinner last night?” It is amazing how much I can learn from this question, unearthing volumes of information about the couple without their even realizing it.
Uh, you know I’m not being serious, right? While my obsession with relationships stems as far back as I can remember, my desire for couples-counseling-super-powers started when I read this book: Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. This book changed everything. It was just one of those moments where I knew. I knew exactly who I was, who I was to become, and the path I needed to walk. I was immediately fascinated by the power of understanding our imago match, and how imago therapy can help improve relationships.
That’s the thing about therapy – it’s easy to believe that anything a therapist says. I tend to be that way with mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and web designers. I generally assume that if this is their specialty, they know what they are talking about. Sometimes, however, like the time I had my transmission “fixed,” specialists are not so special after all.
What you want to be sure of is that your therapist has some additional training (beyond their counseling degree), that is specifically focused on relationship counseling. This is a specialty in itself. Certifications to look for are – Imago Certified Therapist, Gottman Certified Therapists, and EFT Certified Therapists. I happen to be Certified in Imago therapy and Gottman trained with partial EFT training that I plan to continue pursuing (because if I long to have couples-counseling-super-powers). I am also a Discernment Counselor, but that’s for couples who don’t want couples counseling; instead, they want to “discern” whether or not they want to make their relationship work before actually committing to couples counseling.
I returned to the School of Social Work for my MSW, and for nearly two decades now, I am still as passionate about the Imago theory, and about working with couples – maybe even more so!
The Imago theory is explained in the book, Getting the Love You Want, and the more you understand the theory, the more you realize how easy it is to answer the following four questions:
With what type of person am I most likely to create a passionate relationship?
With what type of person am I most likely to feel safe in a relationship?’
What do I most want to experience in my relationships that my partner has the most trouble helping me experience?
How do I participate in NOT getting the love that I want
See if this Imago formula will help you begin to find answers to these questions. I’d love to hear your feedback!
Once you decide to take the step to begin medically supervised HRT, getting an HRT referral letter is necessary. The Standards of Care is the primary guide for professionals working with transsexual, transgender, and gender nonconforming people. The standards are self-described as providing “safe and effective pathways to achieving lasting personal comfort with their gendered selves, in order to maximize their overall health, psychological well-being, and self-fulfillment.”To begin HRT, you will first need to have an assessment by a mental health professional, which is someone with a master’s degree in a clinical behavioral science (such as a licensed MSW, a clinical sexologist, a licensed counselor or a psychologist) with specific expertise and knowledge about gender dysphoria. If you are currently working with a therapist and you do not feel like he or she is knowledgeable about gender care, here are some important questions to ask – even if (especially if) you have already been working with them for a while. If they are not able to answer these questions effectively, you may wish to seek alternative care.
CRITERIA FOR HRT
Persistent, well-documented gender dysphoria;
Capacity to make a fully informed decision and to consent to treatment;
Age of majority in a given country (if younger, follow the Standards of Care outlined in section VI);
If significant medical or mental health concerns are present, they must be reasonably well- controlled
CRITERIA FOR GENDER DYSPHORIA
In requirement one listed above, it is essential to meet the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5an. Getting an HRT referral letter requires that you are experiencing at least two of the following conditions for at least the last six consecutive months or longer (American Psychiatric Association, 2013):
Noticeable incongruence between the how you see your gender, and the gender you were classified at birth
An intense need to do away with your primary (breasts and genitals) or secondary (hair, voice, body fat distribution, etc). sex features
An intense desire to have the primary or secondary sex features of the other gender, and to be of the other gender
A profound need for society to treat and view you as another gender (or some alternative gender different from the one you were assigned at birth)
A feeling that you have the typical feelings and reactions of another gender
These experiences cause you clinical distress and affect you socially, at work, and/or in other important life areas
In some cases, you may find that you meet all of the criteria outlined above, yet there are still obstacles preventing you from getting an HRT referral letter. Once you start HRT it is not advisable to discontinue use. Therefore, it is important that you are in a life situation that will support the continuation of HRT use once you begin. Therefore, if you are dependent on others financially and they are not aware of your usage of HRT, you are at risk of having your financial support withheld if they respond poorly to this discovery. In this case, you can either do the work of coming out to those on whom you depend financially, or you can make choices to be financially independent of others.Another similar concern is if you are married and your spouse is unaware of your desire to pursue HRT. If your relationship is important to you, it is essential to communicate your intent to start HRT before starting so that you are not faced with a relationship crisis once it is revealed that you are on HRT.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
A typical assessment process for me will range from one to three sessions. Rarely does an assessment, or getting an HRT referral letter more than two sessions. As long as you meet the criteria outlined above, and you are capable of affording HRT, and you have sufficiently made peace with your decision to feminize or masculinize your body, you are likely to have no obstacles getting a letter. If you are already living full-time in your desired gender, or you have done a lot of work toward coming out and integrating your gender prior to getting an HRT referral letter, you will likely qualify for a one-session quick-assess where the assessment and letter are provided in the same day.To get an estimate of how long it will take for you to get a letter of referral for HRT, simplycomplete this form and I will give you a very accurate estimate of what to expect when working with me.
____Make a list of 100 things that bring me joy. ____Tell (email, call, write) 3 people and thank them for being them. ____Learn how to train my mind to work for me, not against me. (Sign up for The Law of Attractionclass / register here)
____Become more authentic and actually be who I really am. (Sign up for Michele’s Brand New class – DML Radically Authentic). ____Do at least one thing from my 100 joys list everyday. ____Smile more. ____Leave everything (people, places, and things) in better shape than you find them. ____Follow your gut. ____Encourage others. (Tell my lesbian couples friends to attend Michele’s Lesbian Couples workshop on Jan 13-14th because it’s just good for them. ____Give someone a hug everyday (be sure they are consenting)! ____Learn something new, anything. ____Be more curious, less judgmental.
This should get you off to get your life pointed in a good direction, for a better year, starting today.
36 Questions To Fall in Love went viral, but does it work?
By now you have probably heard that there are 36 questions to fall in love with anyone. This idea was given a public platform January 9, 2015, in a New York Times articletitled, To Fall in Love with Anyone, Do This, by Mandy Len Catron. This idea went viral. It’s not surprising in our culture of quick fixes and fast solutions, that a 36-Question guarantee to fall in love would spread like wildfire. Who wouldn’t want to have that sort of love potion, with ingredients accessible to every last one of us…by simply asking 36 questions to fall in love, or make someone fall in love with us.
If you missed the original article by Mandy Len Catron, here’s a brief backstory that will help put this in perspective. In the article, Catron explained that she would occasionally run into a “university acquaintance” while at the climbing gym. In one of her random encounters with the climbing-gym-aquaintance, the two struck up a conversation. To her readers, she confessed to having had a pre-existing curiosity about him, saying she wondered, “what if?” after having “a glimpse into his days on Instagram.”
Wittingly, Catron found a way to weave into her conversation with this fellow-climber, a story about a research study she had read by Dr. Arthur Aron. The study, she explained to him, “tried making people fall in love” by having research participants ask and answer 36 questions. This study was published in 1997, and it is the original home of the 36 Questions to Fall in Love. Next she explained to fellow-climber, “I’ve always wanted to try it.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I consider this some pretty advanced-level flirting. I’m impressed.
Predictably, fellow-climber-guy took the bait, and responded by suggesting that they try the questions together. They met at a local bar over drinks. With iPhone in hand, Mandy cued up the 36 questions, and they passed the phone back and forth, taking turns answering each one. By design, the questions progress from less revealing to more and more personal. Clearly, doing this experiment over drinks at a bar, with someone you have an existing curiosity about, is significantly different than the lab research by Dr. Aron. However, the spirit of the research is kept alive, as Catron observes, “We all have a narrative of ourselves that we offer up to strangers and acquaintances, but Dr. Aron’s questions make it impossible to rely on that narrative.” She alludes to how the questions forced her out of her safe zone where she could manage how she was being perceived, and took her into territories that required greater vulnerability. As the questions intensify, the road ahead becomes less familiar, and this 36 questions adventure invites more and more self-disclosure.
Taking much longer than the 45 minutes allotted for Dr. Aron’s research participants, Catron and her climber-guy decide to do a suggested activity involving 4 silent minutes of eye contact with one another at the conclusion of asking and answering all 36 questions. Preferring more privacy than the bar allowed, they decide to walk to a nearby bridge, stand on the highest point, and exchange four minutes of silent eye contact. As Catron brings her story to a close, she reveals that she and climber-guy started dating after that night, and as of last report, they are still dating.
While it’s a more fun to think Cupid’s arrow was built with these 36 Questions, a quick look at the facts tells us we are going to need more than 36 questions to fall in love (and though I have 1,000 more questions if you wish to ask them, I’m not talking about more questions. There are great lessons we can learn from Catron, though, about how we can effectively improve our own search for love, as well as our efforts to nourish the love we have. What strikes me as important pieces of Catron and fellow-climber-now-boyfriend’s love story are these things:
Curiosity. This is how all real connection begins – having an interest in someone.
Reciprocation. When curiosity is reciprocated, the potential for a spark exists. It doesn’t work if it’s only one-way.
Vulnerability. This is the risk-taking part, that opens us to hurt, yet also forms a foundation of trust and intimacy for a relationship to grow.
Take action. To build love we must do something. Love isn’t a thing we have, it’s a thing we do – so to find it, grow it, and maintain it, we must take action. Love is a practice that never ends, because love is the practice and the practice is the love.
If you want to be an epic sparkster (spark starter) like Catron, here’s a challenge that will give you the perfect opportunity to take a risk to get to know someone better (or to better your knowing of someone you love) – THE 36 QUESTIONS CHALLENGE.
Speaking of practicing love, this recent Style video from the New York Times Modern Love video series, is a perfect ending to this post. Enjoy this quick video that highlights three long-term couples who ask one another the 36 questions to fall in love. Their experiences are captured in this touching video. You will see the unfolding of exactly how curiosity and vulnerability combine to make the perfect intimacy cocktail, and their answers highlight the fact that love is a practice, a thing we do.
The 36 Questions Challenge is an invitation to connect to someone… to anyone. These are the same 36 Questions that went viral in 2015 after Mandy Len Catron shared a story about how her and her now boyfriend, used these 36 questions as an experiment, and they fell in love. While there are no promises that you will fall in love, the odds are really, really high that you will feel significantly closer to any person with whom you do this exercise.
Give it a try… what do you have to lose?
Suggestions for how to use this 4 minute video of The 36 Questions Challenge:
Invite someone you have a crush on to take the 36 Questions challenge with you. You can do this in person or online. (Yes, I’ve made it easy for you to duplicate the clever strategy used by Mandy Len Catron).
Bring this up with a group of friends and pass the questions in a circle, with each answering one then passing to the next person to ask a question, then the next, until all 36 questions are answered by someone.
Exchange these questions with your current partner to see how up-to-date you are on her!
Use this at your next family gathering to generate some fun and create some meaningful conversation.
Try this out on a stranger – maybe you have layover at the airport and time to kill, take a risk and invite a stranger to do the 36 questions challenge with you.
When should I start dating again, after a break up?
When a relationship ends, one of two things is typically happening. One, you are being spared something (such as a life with someone who is not well-suited to be your partner); or you are being prepared for something new (learning lessons that will prove invaluable to you in your next relationship).
Unfortunately, though, no matter how good a break up might be FOR you, they rarely FEEL good to you. That’s okay. Not everything that’s good for us feels good. For that matter, not everything that feels good is good for us, either.
There is a period of natural grieving and heartache for both partners, even if you are the one who ended the relationship! If you move on too quickly with hopes of sidestepping the pain (commonly known as a “rebound relationship”), this grief will find you later, somehow, often when you least expect it. Sometimes a partner will grieve the relationship before ending it. Which leaves the unsuspecting partner very hurt by her partner’s seeming “coldness” about the breakup. “Why doesn’t she feel sad?” “Why is she so cold?” “How come I’m the only one feeling anything here?” Typically this occurs when one partner does the work of grieving the relationship BEFORE ending the relationship.
Contrary to popular opinion, when it comes to dating again, opposites do not attract. Like attracts like. Sure, she may like to play football and you might like to shop – but I promise you this: you are both equally broken, and you are both equally healed. At least you start that way.
I like to say,
“You deserve every relationship you choose.”
You cannot attract a partner who is healthier than you. Ever. It defies logic. No one is fooling anyone when it comes to love…we get what we are. Like attracts like. If you find this notion intolerable, or unacceptable – it’s probably time to take a closer look at your relationship. If you are certain that you are healthier than your partner, ask yourself this: “If I am so much healthier than she is, what am I doing here?” Sure, sometimes we attract partners that do not mirror our emotional health – and that’s why those relationships don’t last. It may just take a minute to figure it out.
Your issues may not be the same, but they are disabling to the same degree. She may drink and yell too much, and to the same degree she is not taking care of herself, you are also not taking care of yourself by tolerating or enabling this. The focus of your issues may be different, but the degree is always the same.
Humans are like stock in the stock market. Sometimes our value is higher than others. When you are taking care of yourself, eating right, exercising, spiritually balanced, mentally stimulated, socially active, and feeling good – your stock values are at their peak. When you are heart broken, sleeping a lot, or not sleeping at all, eating poorly or not at all, crying, drinking, under-performing at work, and generally not on top of your game your stock values are low, low, low.
Relationships are the best vehicle around to help us become the best version possible of ourselves. The very best thing you can ever do for your relationship is to focus on how to live your life with as much health and happiness as possible. There is no greater gift you can give your partnership than a healthy you! Before you break up, because you think your partner is too unhealthy, work on getting as healthy as possible yourself and see if he or she rises to the occassion with you! Lose the judgement and criticism and help one another grow. If you give it your best shot and it still doesn’t help, then it’s time to dig out that life vest and swim for the shore. Some times the choice to break up is the best choice available. The point is, do your work first, then decide.
People often ask, “how long should I wait before dating again?” I think about dating again in terms of healing, not time. You are the very leverage that you can rely on to attract a partner. If you are not feeling good about yourself or about life, then work on getting your game back before you think about playing the field. No matter how recent or distant your breakup, when you feel good about yourself, genuinely good about yourself, get out there and start dating. Until then, do the next right thing that will lead you to feeling stronger, more interesting, more alive, and more loveable.
When you attract a partner at your lowest point, you are attracting a partner who findsyour low-point desirable. This is not ideal. The risk is that your low-point is her high point. As you start to heal, she will become less appealing to you. This is what accounts for many “rebound” relationships. When you “rebound” the issue isn’t the speed with which you move after your breakup, it’s where you are emotionally and what you have to offer when you start your relationship. When we are broken, we attract broken. And broken doesn’t last as long as whole.
In a nutshell, when you feel good about who you are and what you have to offer get out there and begin dating again. Until then, don’t worry about the amount of time it takes – focus on your next step to feeling better. When the time comes, you’ll be oh so glad you waited to dip your toe into the pool of dating.
One of the things I love to do in my spare time is peruse new houses on the market, visit new model homes, and drive through new and different neighborhoods. And of course I also enjoy HGTV house shows.
Lately I started thinking about the ways in which house shopping is, and isn’t, like relationship shopping. I can’t help myself. All of my neural pathways seem to lead right back to relationships.
What I have come to realize is that shopping for a relationship has one significant advantage over shopping for a house. Dating allows both parties the opportunity to try the relationship on – to assess the other’s suitability as a partner before a commitment is necessary.
With a house you are pretty much expected to make the second largest investment you’ll make, with just a couple of visits, an appraisal, and a 3-4 hour inspection. You might seek approval from friends and family, then just like that you commit. No sleep over, no test drive, no mowing the lawn or cleaning the house to see how long it takes, and no trial run to see if your life fits well in the new house. Wait, maybe that isn’t much different than lesbian dating afterall?
If a house is the second largest investment, what’s the largest investment we make? Right – our primary relationship! And like houses, they can be difficult to maintain, and even harder to renovate.
The good news about lesbian dating though, is that dating allows you the opportunity to not only try on one relationship, but to try on as many as you’d like. There’s no penalty for shopping around, and in fact you may even be able to rule out some potential partners who are not comfortable with your wish to do so. Women are not houses. You are allowed to have more than a couple of visits, and a 3-4 hour inspection before you commit. The appraisal? Well, that’s on you. Which is why it is important to spend time dating.
How do you appraise a new potential partner?
When we shop for a relationship, we are looking for a partner with whom we consider suitable to share our life.
My Realtor is big on the importance of liking the layout of a home. He says you can change the colors, carpet, landscaping, and improve the appliances, etc… but the layout is the layout. I think the translation for this when it comes to dating is, be sure you are investing in the kind of woman that you like, just as she is. Do not invest in potential. When lesbian dating, be sure to invest in a relationship that is already what you appreciate and desire, rather than what you think it CAN be.
Unlike houses, fixer-uppers do not make good relationship investments. Be sure the relationship you are attracting is already good enough. Do not be lured into a commitment by the potential of what could be.
So spread the word, ladies. Share this public service announcement with as many lesbians as possible.
P.S. People are not like houses – so never, ever, ever invest in a fixer-upper, unless it’s a house.
I consider the five love languages, described by Gary Chapman in his book, The Five Love Languages, to be essential reading for all couples. Yet, something is missing. Read on to learn about five more languages that will help you communicate love.
I am a big fan of the five love languages. I actually used these five languages to honor my dad’s life when I spoke at his funeral (which you can read about here), However, I am often left feeling like something is missing from this universally-used handbook for understanding how to communicate love in a way that works.
It’s as if the five love languages offer wonderful ingredients (touch, gifts, service, words and time) and even insights about how to recognize which ones to use, and when, but there is still something missing. Sometimes, you can speak the precise language your partner has taught you to speak, yet without the right dialect, it’s as if the message does not seem to register. It’s no different, I suppose, then having all of the right ingredients for the perfect dish, yet the end product will vary greatly, depending on how much of each ingredient you use, when and how you include them, the temperature and cooking technique used, and on and on.
We can have all of our favorite foods, (or languages of love, in this case) but ultimately, it is a certain experience we are desiring – not the actual behavior. What we are most interested in is feeling a certain way, just as we want our food to taste a certain way. To simply touch her, talk to her, do things for her, spend time with her, or give her gifts – these feel like ingredients that are designed to create a feeling, to communicate love. Without the heat, the food isn’t cooked. Without patience or timing, the food can burn or be undercooked. Without balance, the taste can be overbearing or underwhelming. Just as, when we behave in certain ways, the separate ingredients used to communicate love, whether we touch, talk to, do for, give to, or be with her, we may need heat, we need spice, we need timing, patience, and balance.
When I think about the most powerful language of love, I think of energy. Food is energy. People are energy. Love is energy. This energy is part of who we are. Therefore, the language of love has to do with how we treat, manage, hold, express and exchange this love-energy, and how we mix and blend this love-energy with the others.
I posted a quote on social media recently with the quote that speaks to this, from a book called, The Tao of Relationships by Ray Grigg. I’ll include a fresh version here.
Ultimately, we partner to feel a certain way.
Because of this, I believe, rather than asking how to feel loved (by way of a particular behavior), it is first useful to understand what being loved actually feels like to you.
What is the feeling you hope to experience by being in love with another?
It isn’t the action, the gift, the words, or the touch that we crave, it’s how we anticipate those things will make us feel that we desire. It isn’t the clean house, or the heartfelt card, or the passionate kiss, it’s the way these things make us feel. Therefore, the important question to ask the one you love is:
“How do you want to feel?” and “What makes you feel that way?”
For example, I want to feel understood, accepted, alive, inspired, worthy, playful and connected. What makes me feel this way is not easily found in the five love languages. The ultimate way to feel love for me is less about these tangible things (words, gifts, time, service, and touch) and more about being known, sensing that she “get’s me,” and feeling accepted, and I need to experience the positive energetic and chemical connection that can only be felt, not described.
The magic of love is that it’s experienced so intensely, it can inspire and fulfill dreams, create hope, give birth to, and save, lives, soothe the soul, and so much more. Yet we can not see it, the actual love itself – this powerful force, this indescribable ingredient. We only see what it can do. As with energy, we do not see the energy itself. We see the shape it takes and how it is used.
Just as energy is inseparable from who we are, love is inseparable from the lover, the one who loves. I’ve come to see love as a part of the actual energy that makes us who we are. Just as we can not see the energy of who we are, we can see the physical form that the energy makes, and yet, the energy is more than what we see, and can be experienced without words or labels. Love is a kind of energy. Love is energy that can be expanded or contracted, grown or diminished. Another question, (I do like my questions), is:
“How can we grow love?”
I think if I were to write the book, 5 More Languages of Love, I would describe these languages as personality characteristics; these languages are a part of the person, not a thing they do. I would use the 5 Languages to describe the lover, the one who holds the energy of love, and how that love is experienced, expressed and grown. Because there is no one way to love or feel loved, we all end up being responsible for teaching others how to speak our unique language of love. After some thought, here is the dialect of my personal language of love. I hope by reading this, you are inspired to consider your own language, as well as the languages of those you love.
For me, the most powerful love languages are less about what you do, and more about who you are, how you are, and the way you express the energy of love. The following five characteristics of love, speak most clearly to me:
To me, curiosity is the engine of love.It encourages engagement, sparks interest, and fuels an active desire to know and understand the one you love. Curiosity is an openness to one another that does not base understanding on assumptions, stories, or projections. Curiosity communicates desire. Curiosity says, “You interest me, and I want to know you.”
Allowing creates the feeling of acceptance. Allowing is not permission to misbehave, it is permission to simply be who you are; all of who you are, without fear that you will be judged, criticized, rejected or otherwise disconnected because of who you are.
Allowing is how I imagine the sky is to clouds. The sky seems so graceful and accepting of whatever the clouds may do – always a steady backdrop, creating room for what unfolds, and never can I imagine a time when the sky would say to the clouds, “you look a little too puffy today.”
Because we are human, we are certain to make mistakes. Forgiving is the safety net of love. It is like a trampoline of sorts, offering a kind landing if we should falter, and just enough oomph to help us back up. To be forgiving is to ensure there is enough wiggle room to make mistakes, learn how to do it better next time, and feel better for having had the opportunity to learn.
The sentiment I am trying to capture here is hard to put into just one word – it’s probably a concept that does not yet have a word, and yet it’s one of the most important languages to me. I feel most loved when I am in a positive, kind, playful, environment with laughter, silliness, vulnerability, and ease. It’s an energy, for sure, and like love, it’s much easier to feel than it is to describe. There is some way that energy speaks louder than actions, and for me to feel love, that energy needs to be positive and kind.
The one ingredient that seems to capture the essence of this part of love languages for me is a basic human kindness. Kindness is the sort of energetic vibration that radiates out to all beings, and it is consistent and true. Where there is kindness, oxygen seems to fill my lungs more easily, interactions go more smoothly. Kindness is a form of gratitude, a gentle appreciation for all that is good by tending to the energy we pour into the world around us; a sensitivity to and appreciation for, the power of our own energy’s effect on those around us. Kindness allows us to breathe in hopefully and exhale peacefully. To feel loved, I need to experience a sincere sense of kindness in the company of the one I love. It is not enough that I sense their kindness toward me; trusting this love means I see this same kindness directed to others. It is a way of being in the world, a part of who you are.
For some, the sentiment I’m reaching for here is talked about in terms of loyalty, fidelity, honesty, or even commitment. While related, they are not the same. To me, the characteristic of being true means that you are true to yourself, that you know and understand and love yourself, TRUTH IS ABOUT AUTHENTICITY. In the words of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, “I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself.” When you are true to yourself, I know you can be true to me. The feeling this provides is safety and security. If you know yourself, and you know how you feel, and it is deeply true to who you are, then I can trust that when you extend your love to me, it is true. This gives me the feeling that, no matter what happens, I am safe with you. The emphasis isn’t on ensuring that you stay, or knowing that you’ll never lie to me. The emphasis is on knowing that you will live a life that is true to who you really are and that your first commitment is to you so that the you I think is loving me, is the you to whom you are most true.