1. Tell us a little about yourself and your journey and lesson (that you are willing to share) that inspired you to become a relationship coach in uncovering the mysteries of what makes a great relationships work?
When I was 27 I was in a relationship for 5 years that I got engaged, and it was sort of at that moment that I woke up. And it was more like in that moment I recognized I’ve been on the bus that a lot of people were on, you know that construct we were all taught and you get married by 25 and you have kids by 30, and if you don’t do that, there’s something extraordinarily wrong with you.
And I think the hard part too was that the woman I was engaged to was really a fantastic person. There was something that I’ve been feeling was off for probably a couple of years, and I just didn’t know what it was, and the day I got engaged it just became clear to me that I’ve been really avoiding having conversation that I should’ve been having and I wasn’t recognizing that I wanted to.. you know the journey had not ended yet, because it was not until this moment that I learned it, what I needed to learn.
And that day I got engaged made me realize that I was taking someone down the same path that by being selfish and not having the conversations I should’ve been having I was taking another person with me. And that was the day I really realized that I was choosing everything in my life.
(Theresa) What was off?
Mark – I just had an intuitive feeling, I didn’t necessarily know what that feeling was, so there was that exploration.. and I kept trying to explore it. It was more of a feeling of just knowing that I was unsure about the relationship. And I think that pressure of you need to be married, or you need to have kids and this is the journey we are all taught, and men are just afraid of commitments.
All these stories that become rules that we live by, that are not real, they are created by culture, religion, society, whatever construct you want to pick. And for me, I was going down a road that didn’t really feel right, that’s really essentially it. I was out of alignment.
(Theresa) And you talked about conversations that you kept within you that maybe you should’ve talked about during your relationships, what are those key conversations that people should have when they are in a relationship.
Mark- A key aspect with one of my learnings was I looked back at my relationship and I thought to myself, how did I get to where I am? and how do I never get to this place again? Not engagement but I mean to the place of misalignment and untruth. And what became really clear to me was, for a long time, I had not talked about the things I was afraid to talk about, because it scared me, and it could’ve resulted in hurting someone else.
So I think that was one of the most guiding lessons from that experiences, and I made a rule then, that I would always talk about the things I didn’t want to because those were the things I had to, and that has been one of the hardest rules for me to live by.
And also the timing of that conversation being very important. Because we can know intuitively that something is off, and it’s really a great partner is able to hear you when you say, “Hey, you know what, I don’t know what it is about this experience, but something is off about it for me”
And as you communicate and as you talk with the other person you will realize that what it is,. It will be come clear. But I just hid from that feeling. And I think a lot of people can probably relate, that becomes a really painful feeling, because we become so out of alignment with who we are, and what we want, and we just start go down a path of just resenting that person, which is the whole irony.
So how did this inspire me to become a relationship mentor? I think it was just in that moment, I saw everyone struggling around me. In that moment, I saw everyone living by rules they didn’t want, that they were given, and there was a lot of settling going on.
I think it’s like you are driving, like you go buy a new car, and you don’t think anyone has that car, and then you buy it and you see a thousand of them within the block of your house. It’s almost like in the moment I got that awareness, all of sudden can see other people in that experience, and that was hard for me to see. Because I thought, Wow, I am experiencing so much freedom for myself now, and I wish other people can experience that.
(Theresa) yea. I want to recognize you for having the courage to have that conversation and breaking off the engagement to be true to yourself.
It wasn’t easy that’s for sure. It’s definitely one of the hardest conversations I’ve had to had in my life. Especially for the fear of what other people would think of me too.
Well, I think that there’s one innate feeling that I come back to a lot when I’m dating and or meeting someone new. It is that when the feeling you know you can’t really put words to. You know we all know that feeling when you get with someone, butterflies or whatever. It can be so foreign to us when its not around, like it’s almost like we are looking for it, but when it is there, we know its there.
So I think initially in the first part of dating, there is, when is there, you are not asking if it is. It’s like when you have that feeling of elation, fun, joy, butterflies you are not wondering is it there.
But when they have great job, family and all the great things on the check list, then you are looking for it. But then the connection is not here. And so I think its very interesting we create the list that we want, and we don’t often put connection on the list. Like a strong beautiful butterflies, whatever you want to call it, and we’ll forego connection for the list, but we won’t forego things on the list for the connection.
In that we are so busy and focused on the material aspect of the list that we don’t really focus on the connection. It should always come with the connection first and then we figure it out. And the decision to be with someone is really easy. Do I want to be with you? Yes or No? And that should be hell yes, or then it’s a maybe, or a no.
Like Mark Manson says in his article, if you are in the grey zone, then you are already kinda gone. And I think the follow up question then becomes how do we make this work? Which can be the hard part. So I think you innately know deep down, if someone really is truly for you.
The knowing.. it’s so hard to put in to words, and its probably a different experience for everybody. But for me, it’s really if I go on a first date with someone, I know I want to go on a second date. I don’t just go for a second date with somebody because I have a free Friday. But a lot of people might choose that, and that’s totally fine. But I don’t do that.
And it has never failed me because any women that I dated in my life, I’ve had that experience with and I am so grateful for that. And that’s why I can never not honor that experience, I could never now look at my past and in my past relationships, and If I dated someone that I didn’t have that connection, I’d be dismissing all the experiences of my life and all the learnings.
Lust is that animal drive, that desire, sexual drive, and I think that co-exist with love. And I think science and research would suggest we move from this passionate honeymoon sort of love into this compassionate, more partner based friendship love over time.
I don’t buy into stories like, if you are married so you just don’t have sex as much, there’s plenty of couples that still have a lot sex when they are married, when they’ve been married for years and years and years. So I don’t really buy into that. I more buy into the idea you can maintain sexual attraction and sexual chemistry through the work, through keeping things new, through keeping things exciting, through also making and effort and making your partner feel loved and appreciated. So I think lust on that physical lust, we can pursue purely out of attraction.
And then love I think can exist in a friendship sense too. But I believe when you can combine those things you know I can speak for myself I’ve experienced lustful experiences that didn’t have a whole lot of long term emotional love. I am after all from a place where the Calgary Stampede so I know that well. But I think in the other sense though, when you do have a sexual experience with someone that you truly care for, it’s one of those experiences that trumps the lustful emptiness of any other one.
I think it’s when people are independent, when they have a certain sense of self. I think there is a very large value to understanding between aloneness, and loneliness. With loneliness there’s this misconception that someone else can fill you up, and that someone else is going to fill the void. And when you are alone, you experience the beauty of your own company.
I think that’s why mindfulness or meditation is such a hot buzz word in the corporate world these days, and for good reason. I think that the ability to sit in your own thoughts is a skill that’s really important, and it contributes to a healthy relationship, because we are able to have an emotional conversation that can trigger a lot of things.
You can say something to me like “hey, I’m just not happy with how you went about whatever.. like you forgot to take the garbage out or something .” And I can get emotionally triggered and see that as criticism. But if I was being mindful, I can step out of the experience and understand that maybe for you that meant you don’t feel like I cared. So I think that level of awareness is very important for a healthy relationship, and it is a skill that we build.
And so I think a loving and healthy relationship involves that. It also involves from that definition of that sense of self, and it involves having our own dreams, our own desires, and our own life, and putting the pressure on someone else to be that for us is not a fair pressure. And I think being able to communicate in a way that is non-triggering. Obviously everyone says communication is key. And truthfully it absolutely is.
I was working at this retreat not long ago, and I asked some of the people there, and I asked some of the people there if they’ve asked what their partners what their greatest fear was? And they were like no. I haven’t.. And I thought man, that is one of the biggest form, avenues to connection is sharing such a vulnerability, Or what is your greatest dream? Or what do you most dream of? And a lot of people don’t have that conversation.
(Theresa) Or what do you not want me to know about you.
Yea..truthfully and being able to tell me and what your greatest fear is really opening up some of the deepest part of vulnerability which you know Brene Brown nails in our head is the key to connection.
6. What is a communication practice every couple can do more of to create a trusting and loving relationship?
I recently read an article in NY times, how to love with anyone or how to get anyone to fall in love with you. It was a study that was done, and I want to say they had people who didn’t know each other ask each other 36 questions and then they had to eye gaze.. and I might be sighting it wrong…but I think it was 4 minutes of unspoken eye gazing. And the 36 questions are really great.
For people who normally know how to engage in vulnerable conversation, and again it's developed skill. And to build those connections, I think these questions are a really good place to start.
The other one I think is one of the most important practices to do is to really check in with each other periodically. I read this in a book. There's this couple and they put the kids to bed and they pour themselves a glass of wine. And then the husband in this example starts the conversation and says, on a scale of 1-10 what sort of husband was I this week? And of course that can open a lot of things... and she said, you were a 7.
And one thing that is really quite clear in the research is that the couples that generally don't fair well. And if we are going to say 'fair well' as being having a fulfilling successful relationship and stay together, really see feedback as criticism. So here's the opportunity for you to hear, you are a 7 or even a 4 out of 10, (which really sounds kinda shitty to be called a 4 out of 10). But what I really love about this example is that it really shows this is an opportunity for feedback. And the husband's follow up question was, what would make me a 10 out of 10.
(Theresa) And its part of creating that awareness.
Yea and I think its such a difference between seeing stuff as criticism vs. seeing things as an opportunity for feedback. Our partners is almost like the gift to our evolution, like they shine light on the spots we don't see, and the only way to get there is for your partner to say to you like, Hey this is what I see that you don't see.
And for me to be able to receive that information and be like, Wow this is just going to make me a better human. Which is a very uncomfortable place to be put in and therby showing up for your partner in the same way. It wasn't just the husband asking the wife, on a scale of 1-10, the question is also asked by the wife.
I think what is beautiful about that experience is that, what makes you a 10 out of 10 the day you start dating as a partner vs. what makes you a 10 out of 10 six months later as a husband/ a wife when you get married, and as parents. It's going to constantly evolve and if you are doing this weekly, it's a practice that will really make it stronger. I mean traditionally partners grow apart, but with this it offers the opportunity to grow together. You might separate a little bit and you come back and it's really about great rituals.
(Theresa) So for the couples that are out there, or for those who want to get feedback or is trying to give feedback but the partner seems to be defensive whenever he/she is giving feedback how do you break that mode within that relationship.
Well, there’s probably a constant story that’s being re-lived because these patterns of communication generally (in my opinion) are, there’s usually a common way that the couple communicates. And it’s almost like these emotional spikes. And its like a mini fight each time they communicate, or massive fight. And they don’t really check in on their tone, and their word use.
It’s how you argue that is really important. In John Gottman’s research, he found that successful couples have about 5 positive interactions to every one negative. And that really shows you the word choice because if you think throughout the day, what sort of interaction are you having with your partner? Are you using positive language? And we also can be automatically triggered just by a series of events and it can become a pattern of our communication to always be feeding criticism, to be avoidant and to put up walls, which are all signs of really bad communication patterns.
I think the thing to be really aware of though is that once we learn these things, we almost like hold ourselves accountable to that. When I first started reading about those communication techniques, and a lot of that research, I remember thinking to myself, I definitely did that in my past relationships.
But what is great about knowing that is I can forgive myself for that. And I can say that, you know what moving forward though, I commit to a different pattern of behavior, and as you communicate more, you slowly catch yourself doing those things and then change it.
You catch yourself communicating in old ways and John Gotham has this sayings that we have these sliding door moments within our conversation and he calls them that because there’s these seconds, where the doors open, and we can choose a different behavior and if we don’t, the door closes, and that opportunity is gone. And what I love about that is it’s truly these adding of moments that allow us to choose the way to communicate.
(Theresa) Yea so what you are saying is to be present, and to notice what triggers you, and call yourself out on those triggers, and maybe even have a conversation and talk to your partner about it, like admit to your triggers and give them permission to call you out if they notice you’ve been triggered, say ‘hey, I noticed your energy shifted when I did this.. or said this..’ and then have a conscious conversation about what just happened and maybe together you guys can create a game out of it, or some sort of antidote.
Mark – yea, when I look at my own experience, and look at my evolution as a person, and I can see myself not having hard conversations, I really ran from the tough stuff, and I was not open necessarily to feedback all the time.
And I think to have a successful relationship, you have to be able to create a safe environment to hear feedback and you have to be willing to give feedback too.
And I don’t know if it’s just a moment we all of a sudden get it, and we remove from that victim mindset. You know often it takes us a really big rock bottom to sort of say what I’m doing isn’t working. And I don’t want to call my engagement a rock bottom because it certainly wasn’t, because she’s a tremendous human being so I don’t want to associate that language with it.
I think for me it was just the moment that I hit my emotional rock bottom, in that I was like man, I’m not showing up in life. And this is a short life and I better figure this shit out or I’m going to keep going down these paths and bringing people with me.
You use that perfect association of awareness and it’s that moment where we really see, and we have to take that responsibility for everything we do, and everything in your life that is on your plate, I love that quote from Danielle Laporte, ‘Everything that is on your life that is on your plate got there because you said yes to it’ and that was really the difference between me pre-engaged, and me post–engaged just all of a sudden.. And maybe not completely, I just mean by that day I was like holy shit, I’ve done this. I chose this. And it’s the day when we choose not to be a victim anymore, that we take control.
I think the hard part of accepting that you are in control of everything and you choose everything, then we hold ourselves responsible for all the choices we’ve made, and that can be very daunting. Because all of a sudden we think, well if I choosed everything, why would I choose this, this and this. And what I think is important when you learn about communication and realized you’ve done shitty things and said shitty things is the same thing with life choices. Yea, you were doing the best you could do, so now moving forward if you choose everything, you’re your lessons, what are you going to choose? What sort of life do you really want? What relationship do you want? Because no one is going to show up and give you all of that stuff.
I think really understanding your emotional state. There’s obviously going to be many types of relationships that people are going to be asking but for me, when I was engaged I was asked a very provocative question by a lady who asked me, can someone else love her better?
And it was a very hard question for me to hear. Because I was like yup, someone could. And I didn’t want to answer yup, because it really meant I wasn’t really doing very good and that she deserved much more. And it was probably one of the biggest life changing questions that I’ve ever been asked, because it really puts into reality the selfishness I was existing in by not acknowledging how I felt.
So I think if someone is in a relationship and they are uncertain about it, I don’t think it’s just about dismissing it and moving away. And I think for some people, the answer to that question doesn’t mean you have to leave the relationship. I think the follow up insight that you have to step into is- if yes, why? If someone else can love them better, why aren’t you doing the work?
Because that means you are not doing the best you can. And that’s fine. It’s more like why? And for me in that moment, it was my truth, which was I knew innately then that I had to let that relationship go. But I do think that question at least offers the opportunity to figure out, do you want to?
And just GET REAL with yourself. At the end of the day you just have to get real with yourself because you already know all the answer. And if you don’t know, go talk to someone, to help you navigate through all the clutter. Because truthfully there is the truth in there for you and its just about letting go of the fears, no matter what those fears are, it could be staying and it could be going….
I remember I got advice from a girl when I was about 26 and she said to me, I make all my life choices very selfishly. She said, ‘If I thought about it, that none of my choices affected anyone around me’, (which is obviously a very selfish way of thinking) she said, ‘that’s my truth and I do that.’
And that was really, that right away I was like.. oh shit what would I do if my choices affected no one? And that really comes back to are you what you love? or what loves you? Are you the things and do you want the life that you want, or are you all about living your life for other people?
Because I would argue that a lot of people’s lives are a reflection of the map they were given or the choices they make, because I’ve done it. And still sometimes do it, because I catch myself and I ask myself, am I doing this for me, or am I doing this for other people? So you know.. Like how long have you been existing in this stagnant relationship? Some people have been in it for 50 years… are you not having a conversation just because you are afraid to hurt someone? Again, that is a selfish way of living.
So I think it’s hard to like just give you black and white on how to do it, but hopefully that provides some insight to help people that have helped me.
8. What advice would you give to readers who is looking to open up their hearts again to love courageously but is afraid of getting hurt?
Well if we are operating from the fear being worried about loving again, welcome to being human. I think there’s a lot of blame we give ourselves. Like we are the only ones, but you are not! I don’t mean to dismiss the feeling. It’s a very common feeling, and again I’ve lived it myself.
I think first it is about letting things go. Because there’s some sort of weight that holds people down that doesn’t allow them to move forward to open up again. Something that hasn’t been dealt with. I think one of the windows to that, we‘ve talked about awareness, mindfulness, meditation which is a very big avenue into what thoughts you have.
There’s a quote that says “If all your garbage doesn’t come up when you are meditating, you are not doing it right” And I totally agree. And that’s why it’s so hard to sit through the storm. If we took meditation and made it an example, much like being alone, there’s a lot of people who can’t be alone. I think they are two in the same. I bet the people who can’t be alone, probably don’t meditate. Because there’s a lot of fear about existing in our thoughts and aloneness. It’s hard to keep yourself company. And once you learn how to, you realize that you are your best company. So I think a lot of it is about letting it go.
There’s a very key aspect of being able to look at our past relationships and see the strengths it provides for us. And I think that’s probably one of (for me) was the most transformative experiences looking at my life, and asking myself and instead of that simple victim mindset- why does this keep happening to me?
That’s very common, we’ve all done it. I think its our default natural state, especially after something immediately happens, like we get dumped or immediately cheated on, we automatically are like why?!
Instead change the wording to how did this happen for me? And what is beautiful about that is, you exchange valuable moments of your life to be in relationships and you have these people you share these journeys with and sometimes that journey are not that fun. Sometimes that journey has a lot of painful lessons. But they are lessons, and they are gifts, and you are exchanging time for them. You better figure out what they are.
So that distinction of how did this happen for me, is that it allows you to look at it and say, yea..maybe I go cheated on, maybe whatever happened, what is the gift, what am I learning? And I also invite people how did I contribute to the outcome? Because we all choose it. which sounds really awful right? And it’s like why would you ever choose some of these experiences? But there’s a reason and it’s about understanding those patterns so that we an choose differently and understand, okay, I don’t want to date people who makes me feel this way anymore so I’d like to learn what the friggin lesson is so I don’t have to do it 12 more times.
So I think that is probably the best way to open yourself and then its really about taking the leap. I write about this a lot, having a dream relationship it is really no different then having a dream job because they are all about taking the leap, and not knowing what’s about to happen.
My mentor Kyle always says “we can always measure what we are going to lose, but we can never measure what we are going to gain.” And what I love about that is, it’s so true.
Everything is measurable based on how we feel in this moment. But we can’t see all the amazingness that is going to come about. We can’t see that the greatest job, or the greatest relationship is just about taking the leap, which again is really easy to tell people and give them that advice, and it’s a whole other thing to do it. And no one can do the work for you. It’s really about trusting.
Well I think the word hack is very indicative of the world we are in today. How do we get a short cut to whatever so if I define the word ‘hack’ as maybe what’s the best love skill, I think I am going to have to side with Brene Brown on this. I think its about vulnerability, showing who you are.
The reason I believe that is probably the bridge to everything is that when you are vulnerable, and when you are showing who you truly are, and maybe that’s even a more safe term, especially for men to hear, as if you are truly just being who you are and existing from that space of authenticity then you are able to show up without a mask on. It takes energy to pretend to be someone else, and when we get to be vulnerable in our natural state and share these things, our fears, and passions, we connect with other people but it really at the end of the day it comes back to connecting with ourselves, which I think everyone says.
So it’s almost a bit cheezy but it’s really the truth. It’s all about how connected within with ourselves, so that we can then show up in our relationships as the best version of us. That’s why making other people more important than us is probably the biggest relationship ‘un’hack you can have.
Well speaking for all men out there, I think any phrase or word you love hearing is something to do with sex, but outside of sex, it will be some sort of compliment, love, appreciation, and understood.
It would be "Find People Who Love You Like You Do” – Unknown.
I love it because it’s so indicative, we will spend our whole lives trying to convince people to love like us, instead of communicating, how we love and then offering the opportunity for compromise and to meet in the middle or whatever that means. But a lot of the times, we’d try to force the way we want on other people and that just doesn’t work. So, I love it because it’s just simplistic. Hey just find people who are like you, and quit trying to convince people to be like you.
(Theresa) I know it’s funny how as human beings... Life is actually quite simple, but we like to overcomplicate things on so many different levels.
12. Any final thoughts or announcements you’d like to share that’s going on with Create the Love You Want?
I have a singles retreat that’s going on at the end of April. You can go to www.sweatyourselfretreats.com to check it out. And that’s for fitness combined with conversations about relationships. It’s a personal growth weekend course on love. And that’s going to have an in house chef, myself and Vienna Pharaon who runs the instagram Mindful MFT, which stands for Marriage, Family Therapy. She’s a psychologist from Manhattan, NY and there’s also going to be the chef is going to be Mikaela Reuben and there’s a lady named Danielle Rosati who is the yoga instructor so it’s going to be awesome. Lots of fitness stuff and lots of good conversations. And you can always connect with me online, on facebook or instagram.