Access to Her Inner World with Open Communication | Couples Quickies #2

Access to Her Inner World with Open Communication | Couples Quickies #2

Do you have access to her inner world?

Open Door vs. Closed Door Communication 

Couple’s Quickie #2

There are two types of communication: open-door and closed-door.

Open-door communication is a direct and vulnerable sharing of your feelings, which gives the listener access to your inner world.

Closed-door communication is a self-protective way to share feelings by using protective behaviors such as criticisms, making up stories, accusations, explanations, and defensiveness.

If your partner shares a feeling with you, she is giving you a glimpse inside a world to which only she holds the key. When she unlocks this door for you, it is a gift. The views into her inner world may not always reflect back to you what you wish to see.

The gift is not about what you find inside her inner world.

The gift is that you are trusted with access to her inner world.

Imagine your workload is doubled and you have to work twice as much for a temporary period of time. Likely, both you and your wife will have feelings about this situation. If you are committed to open-door communication, you will come to each other from a vulnerable place and express your feelings in a direct and genuine way.

Open-door communication might sound like: “I miss you. Lately, I have been feeling lonely since you’ve had to work more.”

Closed-door communication might sound like this: “You work too much. I feel like you don’t care that I am alone all of the time.”

While the closed-door message is coming from the same vulnerable source of pain, the delivery is harder to hear. She is letting you know there is something going on in her inner world, but she’s keeping the door shut by using criticisms, in an effort to protect herself.

If she says she feels something, then she feels something. Unfortunately, it is a common communication mistake to hear feelings as complaints, disappointments, and criticisms. For example, the first statement, “I miss you,” might be heard as a complaint or a criticism.  You may hear it as if you are doing something wrong. That you should be home more than you are. This interpretation of “I miss you,” will likely provoke defensiveness.

When you interpret her feelings as a complaint, you are more likely to respond with a closed-door, such as: “I have no choice. I have to work.” This response misses the feeling she is expressing. This is a closed-door response to open-door communication.

If you heard “I miss you,” as a validation of your importance to her, you might respond with more softness. An open-door response may be as simple as, “I miss you, too. I can’t wait for work to slow down. Thank you for sharing that you feel the same way I do.”

It is not sufficient to add the word “feel” to your statements. When you say, “I feel THAT you…” or, “I feel LIKE you….” these are not feelings. These are opinions, stories, accusations, or potential criticisms. To truly share your feelings, you must be the subject of what you are sharing, not your wife or partner. A feeling statement will include a feeling word… I feel __________ (feeling word).

Feelings are never wrong, though they do change. They are also not accusations or criticisms. Sometimes we don’t fully understand our own feelings and all of the factors that contribute to them. The very best way to respond to your partner’s feelings is with open-door communication.

If she opens the door, appreciate and take good care of the access she is giving you to her inner world.

Got Questions?

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ABOUT Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D.

Relationships are my thing. Some would say, my obsession. While I only scored an 83.75% on my own "How Lesbian Are You" test,  don't let that fool you. Since returning to school in the '90s for my MSW, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: help lesbian couples grow love. 

I am that person who has built her life around one thing: lesbian relationships and women loving women. For fun, I do things like create online quizzes at asklesbians.com, to learn more about real lesbians. Or I write books. like, "Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship," to give couples an easy way to communicate. (www.1000question.app) And, now that our boys are young men, my love, and my wife, Kristen, and I are growing lesbian love through Lesbian Couples Retreats and The Lesbian Roadshow throughout the U.S. in awesome destinations where our motto is, "love out loud" with Adventures in Love.  You can learn more about those at lesbiancouples.co.

Lesbian Couples Quickies: Validation, Not Education

Lesbian Couples Quickies: Validation, Not Education

LESBIAN COUPLES QUICKIES:  VALIDATION, NOT EDUCATION

Couples Quickies #1

When your girl expresses a concern, need or frustration in her life (not about you), do not mistake this as her request for you to fix the situation, or fix her. If you are someone who often responds by telling her what you think, and what she should do, this quickie is especially for you.

In general, when we are hurting and we go to our spouse / partner with a painful situation, we are not asking for solutions, we are asking for support. We want to feel less alone with our pain. Often, we just want reassurance that we are okay.

lesbian couples, validation, validate, listen

Here’s a roadmap for those of you who are unsure how this might sound:

Let her talk. Don’t interrupt. Keep your questions to a minimum.

 

1. Let her know you’ve heard her.

“It sounds like … <repeat the highlights that you heard her share so she knows you were listening – don’t add your opinions or thoughts, just reflect back to her what you heard>”
 

2. Validate her feelings.

Let her know that when you look at the situation the way she’s looking at it (not the way you are), her feelings make sense (even if you disagree).

“Based on how you’ve described things, it makes sense that you feel <insert how she says she is feeling>, because <insert meaningful points she has shared that let her know that you were listening and validate why she’s feeling the way she is>…
 

3. Reassure her. 

Remind her that you are here for her. Reinforce that you are a safe person for her to talk with when she is struggling, and that even if you see things differently, your ultimate goal is to be a safe and supportive person for her to talk to.
 

“I see this situation a little differently than you do, but what matters to me the most is how I can be here for you, and make you feel supported.”

4. Inquire if she wants your perspective.

 

“Would you like to know my thoughts about this, or is it best for me to just listen?”

5. Share with her consent.

IF she says she wants your perspective, THEN, and only THEN, share your perspective.

 

“How I see this situation is … “

Focus more on understanding, less on being “right.” Remember, she has come to you to feel better, not worse.

Got Questions?

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ABOUT Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D.

Relationships are my thing. Some would say, my obsession. While I only scored an 83.75% on my own "How Lesbian Are You" test,  don't let that fool you. Since returning to school in the '90s for my MSW, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: help lesbian couples grow love. 

I am that person who has built her life around one thing: lesbian relationships and women loving women. For fun, I do things like create online quizzes at asklesbians.com, to learn more about real lesbians. Or I write books. like, "Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship," to give couples an easy way to communicate. (www.1000question.app) And, now that our boys are young men, my love, and my wife, Kristen, and I are growing lesbian love through Lesbian Couples Retreats and The Lesbian Roadshow throughout the U.S. in awesome destinations where our motto is, "love out loud" with Adventures in Love.  You can learn more about those at lesbiancouples.co.

The Secret to New Year’s Resolutions that Last Longer than A Diet

The Secret to New Year’s Resolutions that Last Longer than A Diet

The Secret to Creating New Year’s Resolutions that Last Longer than A Diet

 

New Year’s Resolutions are a fancy way of committing to change. Unfortunately, resolutions are a lot like diets. They are well-intended, often very prescribed or specific, and they are treated as a challenge, or a task to be accomplished. Both diets and resolutions are pursued with the hope of an overall positive outcome or to reach a particular goal. Unfortunately, resolutions, like diets, are usually not sustainable. Don’t fret, if you are a resolution-maker, I have a four-step process to help you transform your resolutions into meaningful and lasting strategies for long-lasting change.

Resolutions are designed to move you toward an improved feeling or life experience. More specifically, they are intended to shift the way you FEEL about yourself and your life experiences. Resolutions are the roadmap you create to move you toward what it is you want. The biggest problem with the most common resolutions is that they are not focused on how we wish to feel, they are concentrated on what we think we need to do. Common resolutions focus on tasks like, stop smoking, save money, and exercise. For a resolution to be effective, it must focus on the way we wish to feel rather than target the things we do.

New Year’s Resolutions are designed to scratch an itch. To be effective, you must first identify what itches. Resolutions are an effort to change something with the belief that it will lead to feeling a certain way. We decide, for example, if I lose weight, I will feel better. What “better” means to one person, however, is not the same as what “better” means to another person. If what is making you feel worse is related to stress at work or in your relationship, there are not enough carrots in the world that you can eat to make your relationship better or your work less stressful. Therefore, the resolution to lose weight may not actually be the best roadmap to reach the end goal of “feeling better.”

The resolution “to exercise” is like a scratch. The goal is to make resolutions that address the itch, not the scratch. Saving money is another scratch. It’s a strategy — a how-to — that we think will lead to feeling a certain way when we achieve this goal. Sometimes the goal to exercise is not even about how we feel about ourselves, it’s about how we think others feel about us, our body, and how we look. (See how this gets complicated)? Examples of different end goals or ways of feeling, that people want to experience through exercise may include: feel healthier and more energized, feel more powerful /physically stronger, feel sexier, feel more comfortable in your clothes, feel more desirable, feel good enough, feel more likable and feel better about yourself.

The secret to sustainable New Year’s Resolutions is in your awareness of and connection to how you wish to feel. If your goal is to feel healthier and more energized, what happens if you exercise every day for three months and still don’t feel more energized, or healthier? (Answer: you will stop exercising!) If, for example, you have trouble setting boundaries with others and you overextend yourself or surround yourself with people who are emotionally draining, you may not achieve your desired end goal of feeling more energized and healthier by merely exercising. There is no amount of exercise that will keep others from draining you. You may also need to learn to say “no,” to pay attention to what is energizing you and what is draining you, develop better sleep patterns, and get exercise. This is why most Resolutions are short-sighted and may miss the mark if they are focused on what we do instead of how we wish to feel.

New Year's resolutions

 

A Four-Step Formula to Creating More Effective New Year’s Resolutions

 

⦿ STEP 1: Identify goals that target the specific feeling you wish to experience.

Rather than making your goal specific to diet changes and weight loss (your preconceived notion about how to feel more energized), create a more flexible resolution that can grow and change with you. Take any of your New Year’s Resolutions and ask yourself: “How do I think I will feel by accomplishing this?” If you have not created resolutions yet, simply ask yourself, “How do I wish to feel?” 

To give you an example of how to build a resolution, we will use the goal of experiencing more energy. In this example, the focus of the resolution will be to feel more energized.

⦿ STEP 2: Notice what is already present, as well as that which adds to and takes away from the focus-feeling/end goal.

For your own resolution-making, ask yourself, “When do I feel <desired feeling>, and when do I feel <undesired feeling>?” This expands the developing New Year’s Resolutions to now include: to notice what increases my energy and what drains my energy.

⦿ STEP 3: Identify an action to respond to what you notice

Consider this question, “How can I experience more <desired feeling>?”in our example of feeling more energized, now that we have included noticing what expands our energy and what diminishes our energy, it makes sense to add an action step to do more of what expands our energy and less of what decreases our energy. Here is one way to say that: notice and lean into that which increase my energy and I notice and lean away from that which drains my energy. This is flexible and allows us to respond to how we are feeling in many different situations, which is the goal of a sustainable New Year’s Resolutions.

⦿ STEP 4: Describe your intention as if it is already a part of how you think and behave.

Creating present-tense New Year’s Resolutions treats your resolution as a reality that is happening right now rather than a target to reach. The final resolution becomes:“I notice and lean into that which increases my energy, and I notice and lean away from that which drains my energy.” 

If you want to take steps to feel better in the New Year, treat your resolutions like a journey, not a destination. Pay attention to the ride and course correct as needed along the way. Cheers to a wonderful journey in the coming year!

………………………………………………………………………………………

❤️ Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D.is an expert lesbian relationship coach (www.lesbiancouples.coach) with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes/Google play. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations, and you can learn more about those here.

Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for Five Common Issues

Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for Five Common Issues

Relationship advice for lesbian couples

Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples

Lesbian couples are different in many ways from their heterosexual and gay male couple peers. However, lesbian couples are not particularly different from one another. There are some very common issues among female pairings, and I will be offering Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for five of the most common issues.

Despite the endless stereotyping about what a lesbian is, women who love women are impressively diverse. If you find yourself doubting that, it’s because those who don’t meet the stereotype of a lesbian go unnoticed. When it comes to lesbian relationships, however, we are remarkably similar in the types of issues we experience.

Unlike heterosexual women, lesbians do not have easy access to information about what a typical lesbian relationship looks like. Rare is the lesbian who finds herself in the break room at work, sharing stories about her wife and their relationship. Additionally, the experiences that heterosexual women describe are often not relatable for lesbians. For example, how many heterosexual women do you hear expressing concern that her husband is best friends with the girlfriend he had before he married her? Or, how often have you heard a heterosexual woman express concern that her husband is constantly trying to read her mind and worries non-stop about whether or she’s feeling okay?

So, here’s today’s Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples. Rather than putting our focus on the common relationship problems, however, we will get right to the fixes for these issues. After all, we move in the direction we think — so let’s think solutions.

#1 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Allow Your Partner to Feel

It is okay if she is experiencing sadness, hurt, frustration or any other emotion that you find yourself wanting to fix or understand. As long as emotions are not used to communicate something (that’s good old fashioned passive-aggressiveness), let her feel what she feels without making it about you. The purpose of our emotions is to alert us to that which is joyful, dangerous, missing, violating, or any other situation that requires our attention. When you personalize how she is feeling, you interrupt an important and necessary process designed to help her clarify things for herself. Communicate with words and behaviors. Feelings are not a verb. We don’t anger. We express anger. Clarify what you are feeling. Then communicate with words or actions.

#2 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Facts are Your Friends, Stories Not so Much

I am sure you have a superpower. It’s just not mind reading. Trust me on this. When you are certain you know what she is thinking, feeling, wanting or not wanting, fact check. Believe her if she says you are misunderstanding her, or that what you are perceiving is wrong. They are her thoughts and feelings, so she really does have the final say about what is true for her. Even if she changes her mind later, believe her now. Focus on your feelings and thoughts, share those, and let her do the same when she’s ready.

 

#3 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Keep Your Friends, Not Your Exes

Independence is the first thing to go in lesbian relationships. If you want your new relationship to be your best, invest yourself fully and cut your emotional ties with your ex.

#4 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Forgive

If you are holding on to resentments that occurred more than one year ago, they have officially expired. Holding on to hurt as a way to protect yourself causes more hurt than good. If you are choosing this relationship, then you are choosing all of it, not just the parts that feel good. Deal with old hurts and resentments then let them go.

#5 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Flirt with her

My research tells us that lesbians want to be having more sex with their partner, but a lot of women do not want to initiate it. In the quest to commit, dating, flirting, romancing and all the good stuff gets rushed and sometimes neglected altogether. Time to go old school on your gal. Romance her. Flirt. Let her know you desire her. So get out your pretties, your boyfriend briefs, boxers or whatever does the trick for her and show some interest.

 

Got Questions?

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Why You Find Yourself Saying What You Don’t Mean

Why You Find Yourself Saying What You Don’t Mean

Do you ever find yourself saying what you don’t mean?

 

Have you ever noticed that when we are most afraid of getting emotionally hurt, our natural instinct is to behave in ways that actually make things worse, not better? 

When we feel we are being blamed, our instinct is to blame the other and often this involves saying what you don’t mean.

  • When our feelings are hurt, our instinct is to hurt the other’s feelings
  • When we feel rejected, our instinct is to reject the other
  • When we are feeling ignored, our instinct is to ignore the other
  • When anything makes us uncomfortably vulnerable, our instinct is to protect ourselves


So much for “two wrongs don’t make a right.” 

Saying what you don't mean
Saying what you don’t mean happens for a reason, and there is actually an explanation for how we can KNOW one thing (I know I don’t want to leave her.) and say or do another (tell her I’m over this, we are done.)? We actually have two different kinds of “knowing” that we experience. 

  • LOGICAL/CONSCIOUS KNOWING – One part of knowing occurs in our conscious mind, also called our cerebral cortex. This part of our brain is logical, conscious, and the problem-solving part of our brain. We hold conversations with ourselves here (it’s our inside voice).

 

  • INSTINCTIVE/UNCONSCIOUS KNOWING – The second kind of knowledge comes from our reptilian brain. This part of our brain is unconscious. There is no inside voice here. The unconscious mind is responsible for our instinctive reactions. This is like a massive network of shortcuts that our brain has been programmed with to ensure our ability to respond quickly in a crisis.


The unconscious reptilian brain is reactive and acts quickly without consulting our logical mind. This part of our brain is famous for it’s limited, but the speedy-fast selection of coping responses that include: fight, flight, freeze, play dead or submit.

For example, some unconscious programming may look like this:

  • touch hot stove > move hand away quickly
  • car driving toward you > leap out of the way
  • baseball flying toward your face > put your hand up to protect face or dodge the ball
  • someone is yelling at you > *depends on early programming
  • you fear rejection > * depends on early programming
  • your feelings are hurt > *depends on early programming

* When it comes to perceived threats such as someone using a raised voice with you, how you respond is based on how you learned to respond to this behavior as a child. Everyone’s experiences shape their responses according to what you learned was most effective with the people around you. The opposite of this is an open and curious mind. (Do you have an open and curious mind? Read more here.)

Your early life experiences taught you through trial and error how to negotiate different moods, behaviors, personalities, etc. to get what you wanted or needed to feel emotionally or physically safe. Once our brain identifies the best response (the one that results in what we want or need to survive), we will use this response repeatedly and without thinking about it, when we are in a similar future situation. We will continue using this response until we realize with BOTH parts of our brain (logical and instinctive) that this response is no longer working. 

Our logical mind and our automatic brain each have their own version of “knowing.” The cerebral cortex knows what it is taught, and this knowledge is cognitive, intellectual, and conceptual. Our reptilian brain, which is unconscious, knows what has worked in the past to keep us alive. This knowing is intuitive, felt, sensed, also learned, and automatic. Sometimes what we learn logically does not match what our unconscious brain learned instinctively a long, long time ago. 

For example, imagine that growing up you frequently heard your parents have loud conflicts. You felt your heart rate pounding in your chest, and you felt sick to your stomach with fear about what might happen. Eventually, one of them would then leave the house for an unexpected length of time after these fights. As a child, upon your parent’s return, you expressed your disapproval, hurt and feelings of abandonment by not engaging with the parent who left; by shutting them out. 

Eventually, either your parent would respond in a way that helped calm your system (come to you, apologize and reassure you that everything is okay) or the silence was useful in creating enough distance from the source of your pain that you could calm your system and you could eventually reenter a connection with that parent. The successful resolution of your pain by being silent sent your brain the message that this was a good strategy. Now your brain is wired with the shortcut: raised voices > silence.

Fast forward to adulthood. Imagine that your partner raises their voice. Your system is alerted to danger. When this happens, your body quickly releases a chemical cocktail designed to protect you. Your body is suddenly sweating, your heart is racing, and you feel sick to your stomach (look for a future message about this chemical process, and how affects you). Your logical brain may be telling you that your partner isn’t mad at you, she’s just trying to share her feelings with you. But soon your instinct is to shut down, to be silent. So you do, and you stay quiet until your system feels safe again.  

It doesn’t matter to you if you are saying what you don’t mean, even if you know that you are making things worse for your relationship. At this moment, your system is more concerned about surviving this PERCEIVED EMOTIONAL THREAT than it is concerned with responding to the issues being communicated with a raised voice.  

What’s important about this information is:

• We are all operating with two parts of our brain at the same time: one conscious, one unconscious, and both are designed to help keep us alive and feeling emotionally safe.

• When we become activated or feel unsafe, we are at risk of responding with the same skills we learned at age 6 or 12 or 15, etc. when our automatic responses were first programmed

• Our failed efforts to protect ourselves from hurt are a clue that we are allowing our unconscious brain to lead the show. What we learned as a child to keep us safe now needs to be updated because it’s no longer useful.

• Being sensitive to, and patient with ourselves and our partner will improve our ability to grow into new and improved responses to our pain. Believe them when they say they didn’t mean what they said… it’s likely true.

• Though you can not communicate directly with your reptilian/ unconscious brain, you can observe your body’s reactions/sensation and notice when you are responding with behaviors that don’t seem to work. For example, my heart rate increased when her voice got louder, and I had an overwhelming urge to disengage and be silent.

• With these observations, you can ask yourself this simple question, “When have I felt this way before?” The answers will give you insight into what kind of programming is filed in your unconscious brain.

• Once you get clarity about the trigger (raised voice), and you notice how you respond (silence), you can be more CONSCIOUS (that’s the key) of this dance you engage in and begin practicing new responses to see what will work better now that you are an adult and have access to more coping response options.

Do you know what your imago is and how it can help your relationship?

Imago Therapy and my Imago Match

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!

The Gottman Method

John Gottman's method of couples therapy draws from over two decades of relationship research in Gottman's Love Labs. This theory relies on an extensive relationship assessment designed to identify and eliminate toxic behaviors. Once replaced with new skills, focus turns to developing a shared meaning and closer friendship among the couple.

Emotionally Focused Therapy

 Dr. Sue Johnson is the author of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). Key books that expand on her theory include: Hold Me Tight, and Love Sense. The goal in EFT is to help couples become conscious of your secondary emotions by examining and interrupting your negative communication and interaction cycles.

Imago Relationship Therapy

In Getting the Love You Want, by Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt, introduced Imago Therapy in the late 1990s. With an emphasis on fail-proof communication, this theory leans into the importance of understanding and addressing the influence our separate life histories have on how we related to our partner or spouse today.

ABOUT Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D.

Relationships are my thing. Some would say, my obsession. While I only scored an 83.75% on my own "How Lesbian Are You" test,  don't let that fool you. Since returning to school in the '90s for my MSW, I knew exactly what I wanted to do: help lesbian couples grow love. 

I am that person who has built her life around one thing: lesbian relationships and women loving women. For fun, I do things like create online quizzes at asklesbians.com, to learn more about real lesbians. Or I write books. like, "Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship," to give couples an easy way to communicate. (www.1000question.app) And, now that our boys are young men, my love, and my wife, Kristen, and I are growing lesbian love through Lesbian Couples Retreats and The Lesbian Roadshow throughout the U.S. in awesome destinations where our motto is, "love out loud" with Adventures in Love.  You can learn more about those at lesbiancouples.co.

Got Questions?

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