The 3 Biggest Reasons That Couples Collapse: Reason #2…

Last week, I shared with you the 3rd biggest reason that couples collapse (if you missed it, click here).
This week, I want to share the second biggest reason that relationships break down.

Here’s a hint – to the average person, it looks something like this:

“But I said I was sorry – why can’t you just let it go?”

“Why can’t you just forgive and forget?”

“Why are you always bringing up the past?”

First, I want to be clear that questions like, “Why can’t you let it go?” are the symptoms – not the source – of the problem.

The problem is this:
So many people don’t appreciate the difference between an apology…and meaningful accountability.

An apology can be summed up with the words, “I’m sorry”. Of course, there are times when “I’m sorry” is all you need to move you past a mistake that someone has made in the relationship.

But if it’s a big mistake – or one that has occurred before or even repeatedly – “I’m sorry” frequently cannot move you through the choppy waters of hurt feelings, disappointment, or betrayal. However, meaningful accountability can provide us with a way to leverage even the most painful mistakes into reconciliation and transformation. Unlike “I’m sorry”, meaningful accountability is something we do, not just something we say.

Meaningful accountability means taking responsibility for our actions and – most importantly – changing our behaviour. If you want to have deep, lasting connections, it is essential to have a clear framework for demonstrating meaningful accountability.

If you don’t have a clear framework for practicing meaningful accountability, you will struggle unnecessarily to move through mistakes, conflicts, and foot-in-mouth moments. This is because, without meaningful accountability, the past never gets resolved. In other words, without it, you never actually move beyond the mistake.

This is why it can feel like someone isn’t “letting go of the past” – because no one can let go of the past when it’s unresolved! Unresolved grievances fester as deep resentment and mistrust. Hurt feelings get pushed aside only to come out later when you are triggered, defensive, hurt (again), or simply no longer able to repress your authentic feelings about what has happened.

Here’s the good news: if you do have a clear, step-by-step framework for meaningful accountability, your missteps can be transformed…into stepping stones for reflection, growth, and greater connection as you move forward – together. And right now, I want to share with you my 5-step framework for practicing meaningful accountability!

5 Steps to Meaningful Accountability (aka, “Don’t be sorry – be S.A.R.A.H!”)

Each letter of S.A.R.A.H. represents one of the steps of my meaningful accountability framework. If you miss even one; or if you get them out of order; you will struggle unnecessarily.

So what does S.A.R.A.H. stand for?

1)    Sincerity

2)    Acknowledgement of your mistake

3)    Reflection upon how your mistake may have been difficult for the other person

4)    Ask (for forgiveness)

5)    Honor (by listening to them with genuine curiosity)

1) Beginning from sincerity is crucial. How do you generate sincerity?

Summon your sincerity by first observing any defensiveness or urge to sweep your mistake under the rug by deflecting, minimizing, or denying your misstep.

Simply put, meaningful accountability cannot occur when there is defensiveness (hint: defensiveness may arise as an urge to blame someone else for what you did in order to avoid taking responsibility). If you are feeling defensive, know that’s just your ego trying to create more conflict. Notice the urge to be defensive. Observe it thoroughly – but don’t indulge it!

Once you’ve stepped back from the temptation to deflect, minimize, or defend what you did, you’re halfway to sincerely inviting a constructive conversation about what happened.

The other 50% of sincerity is honest willingness to reconnect.

And I don’t have to tell you, reconnecting after an argument feels much better than either defensiveness or the lingering tension of unresolved “stuff”.

So: now you’ve summoned your sincerity! Next…

2) Acknowledge your mistake (keep this simple).

For example, “Sweetheart, I know that I spoke to you abruptly and I want to acknowledge that”.

3) After acknowledgement comes reflection.

You pause, consider, and then share a few thoughts about how your misstep might have been difficult for the other person. Utilize your imagination – think about how you might feel if you were on the receiving end of the mistake you made. Or, think about how you typically feel when someone pushes your buttons. A reflection like this might look like, “I think that when I spoke to you in that tone, it might have felt hurtful, abrupt, or unfair to you”.

4) Ask (for forgiveness): “Please forgive me”; or, “I want to ask for your forgiveness”.

Simple, but powerful.

Asking forgiveness aligns you with humility – and this demonstrates the kind of maturity that says, “I take ownership of my mistakes with integrity”. Asking for forgiveness also demonstrates that the other person’s active participation is essential to this process moving forward together. Together is the key: without the other person’s active participation and willingness to forgive, the process of moving forward becomes stalled.

(Hint: if you have a hard time with extending forgiveness to others, check out my blog on the subject).

5) Honor. The final component in this 5-step formula for meaningful accountability is honoring the other person by listening with genuine curiosity to them as they share their experience of your mistake. 

Honoring makes space for the other person to speak while it simultaneously stimulates empathy in you for their experience – and empathy is one of the most powerful and transformative ingredients we need to change our behaviour.

Let’s face it: changing behaviour is often easier said than done!

But by mobilizing these 5-steps to meaningful accountability in the right order, you arrive at empathy as a very natural extension of the cumulative effects of sincerity, acknowledgment, reflection, asking for forgiveness, and honoring the other person’s experience with genuine curiosity.

Empathy inspires us to deeply integrate what we’ve learned through practicing meaningful accountability. In other words, empathy allows us to be impacted by the process.

And this is how we let it change us…and our behaviour!

By practicing this 5-step framework for meaningful accountability, you can feel confident that mistakes and missteps can be leveraged into reconciliation and transformation – because you will feel transformed by this process that empowers you to move forward together. And if you want to take another massive, step toward rebooting your relationships – right now – then register for one of my Summer, 2013, Speaking Tour workshops!

If you live in Toronto, Ottawa, Barrie, or Guelph, I’m offering you the opportunity to get in a room with me and hear my best thinking on the most massive mistakes people in committed relationships make that keep them disconnected, fighting all the time, and feeling totally alone.

Tickets are just $20 at the door, BUT…you can receive a complimentary ticket! 

Simply click here, and you will be redirected to the event page where you can pre-register for…

The 3 Most Massive Mistakes Women in Committed Relationships Make that Keep Them Disconnected, ?Arguing All the Time, & Feeling Totally Alone

Dates for upcoming Ontario events:

OTTAWA: Monday, August 26th, 2013, 7pm-10pm 

BARRIE: Thursday, August 29th, 2013, 7pm-10pm 

TORONTO: Tuesday, September 10th, 2013, 7pm-10pm 

Space is limited, so pre-register now!

I can’t wait to see you there!


The 3 Biggest Reasons Couples Collapse: Reason #3…

“I think this girl’s The One”, said my client.

I nod, bearing in mind that he has said this about three different women during our previous coaching sessions.

Later, I gently pointed out to my client that his enchantment with the enchantment of new relationships was holding him back from experiencing the remarkable growth, intimacy, and beauty of the kind of long-term relationship he said he wanted to be in.

It’s a familiar story. You know how it goes.

All starry-eyed and flush with feel-good oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’ produced by your brain), couples start out feeling like this new connection has the potential to meet every hope they have for an enduring relationship.

Everything feels easy, from the sex to the sleep-deprivation-inducing, late night phone conversations about everything under the sun.

You feel seen. You feel heard. You feel connected.

It’s delicious. It’s what you’ve been waiting for!

But whether it’s one month later or twelve, eventually, you come (singly or together) to the conclusion that things just don’t feel easy anymore.

You start arguing more often. Perhaps one of you withdraws while the other tries to cling tighter to your bond. Someone asks for space. Doubts multiply.

Or, you both withdraw from the relationships in a pre-emptive move to prevent the pain of the anticipated breakup.

Sometimes, you simply deny that there is a problem – hoping that if you pretend hard enough, wait long enough, or sacrifice deeply enough, your relationship can go back to feeling the way it did in the beginning…but it never does.

Why does this happen?

In my relationship coaching with couples and individuals, I see three, clear reasons why couples commonly collapse.

The 3rd biggest reason that couples collapse is that they wait for a crisis to arise before they prioritize working on this thing called relationship.

This is like allowing a plant to die before you remember to water it!

It can also lead to what I call, “don’t-rock-the-boat syndrome”.

This is when couples get stuck in a loop that looks something like this: crisis followed by a period of relative peace…followed by crisis…followed by period of relative peace…you get the idea.

When things are relatively peaceful, you don’t want to rock the boat – so you avoid working on the relationship because you’re afraid the relative peace will dissolve into conflict if you bring up the issues that caused the crisis!

Don’t-rock-the-boat syndrome robs us of the very best parts of relationship. And worse, it makes us hold ourselves in – as if we were waiting to exhale, indefinitely.

But there’s a way out!

Imagine: what if you didn’t wait for a post-honeymoon crisis (or crises) to arise before you talked about what your personal and collective relationship values are?

What if you consciously collaborated in establishing a foundation for connection early in your relationship – one that you could return to when things aren’t easy? A foundation that is built out of shared, honest disclosure about: 

  • What your strengths and weaknesses are in relationships.
  • How you react to conflict.
  • What activates you (i.e. what are the triggers that sometimes make you over-react?).
  • What makes you feel small.
  • What you need to be open-hearted with a partner.
  • How can you build acknowledgement, space for connection, and time apart into your relationship?

This is just the beginning of a longer list of relationship-boosting dialogues that can nurture, nourish, and grow your relationship.

Because it’s never too early (or too late) to craft a foundation for your relationship that gives it the best chance to flourish – and each of you the greatest opportunity to thrive as individuals in the relationship.

Next week, I’m going to share The 2nd Biggest Reason Couples Collapse. 

However, if you want to take a BIG, relationship-boosting step right now, I’m going to make it super easy for you: this summer, I’m going to be traveling around Ontario holding workshops.

That’s right: I’m offering you the opportunity to get in a room with me and hear my best thinking on the most massive mistakes people in committed relationships make that keep them disconnected, fighting all the time, and feeling totally alone.

Tickets are just $20 at the door, BUT…you can receive a complimentary ticket if you pre-register! 

Simply click here, and you will be redirected to the event page where you can pre-register for…

The 3 Most Massive Mistakes Women in Committed Relationships Make that Keep Them Disconnected, Fighting All the Time, & Feeling Totally Alone

Dates for Ontario Events!

Toronto: Wednesday, June 26th, 2013, 7pm-10pm – venue TBA

Barrie: Thursday, July 4th, 2013, 7pm-10pm – venue TBA

Ottawa: Tuesday, July 9th, 2013, 7pm-10pm – venue TBA

Guelph: Tuesday, July 16th, 2013, 7pm-10pm – venue TBA

Toronto: Thursday, August 8th, 2013, 7pm-10pm – venue TBA

The Difference Between Change & Growth: Or, How Do You Spring Clean Your Relationships?

The difference between change…and growth!

Or…How do you ‘spring clean’ your relationships?

(ANSWER: you don’t).

You say, “What?”. Stay with me, now.

Let’s face it: struggles in relationships are as common as, well…dirt! Worse, we exhaust ourselves trying to figure it all out alone. In my coaching work and seminars, I help folks who are just plain tired of being tired from trying to outrun, out smart, or outlast the root causes of conflict, disconnection, and loneliness in their relationships.

In order deal with the source of the fights, fears, and loneliness that arise in our relationships, we have to clear away the fog that’s obscuring the true origin of the problems we’re experiencing with friends, partners, or family.

But, it’s so easy to become bogged down, focusing on the symptoms of drama, conflict, and dissatisfaction…isn’t it?

Stepping out of this vortex of conflicting, confusing distraction empowers us to generate the perspective we need to transform conflict into connection; loneliness into security; and fears into foundations that support the kind of relationships we want to be in.

Imagine…having the tools to become the change that your relationships need in order to grow.

How would your life be different? How much bigger would your life feel?

How much more energy, support, and freedom would you have to evolve in your career? In your passions? Your contribution to the world?

What could you do with all the mental and emotional energy that you currently lose to being worried, confused, conflicted, upset, or lonely?

Right now, in this moment, I want to offer you a bit of help that will empower you to take a look under the rug (you know, the one under which people sweep stuff they really don’t want to look at?). Yeah. That rug! The What, Why, & How…of the Difference Between Change and Growth Change is about altering or replacing the content of a relationship. You change your partner. You replace your friends. You adopt a chosen family. You limit your time with certain folks.

Watch me now: change matters.

It does. We should value it. However, when compared to growth, change – in and of itself – will not transform, heal, or fundamentally alter anything that’s under the surface. And that’s where the roots of relationship conflict, dissatisfaction, and dissolution LIVE!

In contrast, growth is about fundamentally transforming the structures and foundations that determine the shape, feeling, and sustainability of your relationships.

Let me offer you an example to flesh this out a bit.

Imagine you have a house – and it’s just not working for you. So, you decide to do some redecorating – repainting your house; getting new flooring; new furniture; new curtains. It will make your house feel different, it’s true. But if you want a space – a container – for a fundamentally different kind of place and a different way to live…you need an altogether different blueprint than the one you started with. Did you know you have a relationship blueprint? Do you know where it comes from? Do you know it’s influencing every single problem you experience in relationships – from conflicts over money to who walks the dog?

When we don’t know about the relationship blueprint, all of our efforts to change what’s not working in our relationships will be cosmetic changes – but they won’t enable us to leverage conflict and crisis into growth!

When we don’t know about the relationship blueprint, it’s like spring cleaning your home: everybody thinks they have to do it! And for awhile, the house feels good and airy and welcoming again – until it doesn’t.

The dust bunnies return.

The upholstery gets dirty again.

Clutter builds.

You feel like all your time and effort didn’t really pay off in lasting transformation of the place where you live.

And guess what? Your relationships are like your home: because in very real ways, they are the place where you live.

So how do we nurture growth in our relationships?


Join me for a FREE, live teleclass April 27thth, 10am-12pm – and I’ll show you how to get started!

To get on the call, you must pre-register here.

I can’t wait to “hear” you there!

With all my love and brightest blessings,

Erin Bentley, MA, PhD (candidate)
Total Relationship Coach, Author, Workshop Leader

5 Ways You Can Know You’re Getting It Right!

Happy New Year – 2013 is here!

You made it through 2012…

Phew! The world didn’t end – although for some, it came close to feeling that way, what with all the massive challenges, losses, and struggles of this Great Transition we’re experiencing here in our little corner of the Universe.

And with the turning of yet another calendar year comes what, perhaps, might feel like an unpleasant surprise: there’s more transition ahead.

There. I said it.

“What?”, you say. “Erin, I’ve been working my tail off on personal transformation, meditation, self-care, working on myself – what DO YOU MEAN there’s more transition coming?”

It’s true. We’re not done.

But here’s what I really want to convey to you as lovingly and as joyfully as I can: you didn’t get it wrong. There’s more healing, integrating, and transformation ahead – but it’s not because you’re getting it wrong. It’s because you’re getting it right!


Here’s 5 ways you can know that you’re getting it right:

1) You feel uncomfortable

I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. However, first, if you can allow yourself to feel discomfort, this indicates that you are tuned into yourself. And chances are, you’ve had to do some work to get here! Moreover, every time we feel discomfort, there’s a big opportunity wrapped in red bow underneath it. As you become practiced as leaning into discomfort gently, the sensation becomes less terrifying. It tells you that you are beginning to trace the contours of something that was previously invisible in order to bring it into the light of your consciousness. This is opportunity + blessing + divine raspberry (or zerbert, if you prefer) – right in the middle of your forehead!

2) Relationships are shifting dramatically or ending.

There’s no way around it: when your inner landscape changes, the outer landscape must change, also. It can be no other way. This can be very painful – devastating, even. If you’ve gone through a break-up with a friend or partner, please, please beautiful soul, don’t assume you’re getting it wrong. Shifts in our relationships are one of the SUREST ways we know that we are doing deep, transformative work. You are not alone, I promise. And as sure as you might be that you will never, ever find someone wonderful to fill that space in your life, you will. Indeed, something must ultimately occupy the space that has opened up in your world – because the Universe abhors a vacuum. And here’s the good news: you get to decide who, what, and how that space will be filled. Hang in there.

3) You notice when you are straying away from living consciously.

Over the holidays, I was at some friends’ house chatting with new people. One of the folks there was talking about how she really needed to get back to meditating; and how she wasn’t using all the tools for consciousness that she’d worked so hard to cultivate. Then, she said, “I know I’m just not living my life consciously”. Gently, I suggested, “Maybe. But a person has to be at least somewhat conscious in order to recognize that they’re not living their life consciously, right?”. ‘Nuff said.

4) You find yourself going over old ground again (and again) in your spiritual journey

Here’s another one that sounds like a paradox. How can I be making progress if I keep returning to work over the same old issues? Imagine an eagle perched on a tree branch. She takes flight and begins to circle around and around, higher and higher – yet going over the same ground as she circles in her upward spiral. She is going over the same ground, but gradually and persistently, each time she passes over the tree branch from which she began, it’s from a higher perspective. Even if you seem to be going over the same ground, consider that you may be doing this from a new level of awareness – and that means new opportunities for growth, empowerment and transformation are available to you!

5) You are experiencing moments of kismet, serendipity, coincidence.

I had a friend who used to refer to coincidences as “god winks”. I don’t believe in coincidences anymore. I interpret these as signposts from the Universe that provide affirmation of my direction or a dose of knowing-smile-inducing, divine encouragement. Coincidence = affirmation. Serendipity = flow. Kismet = divine magic at your disposal for creating miracles! I’m also including, here, moments when folks come up to you and say things like, “You seem happier! You’re more approachable! You seem really settled in your life”, etc. Stop and notice how your life is feeling – acknowledge that things are a bit easier. More joyful. More peaceful. And take a moment to express your gratitude.

Hoping you feel all my love and encouragement for 2013 – and beyond,


Why Your Communication Problem Isn’t the Problem

Like most couples, my wife and I sometimes rehearse the same disagreements over and over again.

If your relationship is anything like ours, you know there’s a familiar rhythm to these episodes. The conversation could be about money, the kid(s), or whose turn it is to take the dog out.

The content of the disagreement is interchangeable.
Often you can feel yourselves gearing up for a ride on this tired, old merry-go-round.

On one occasion, we were having a very familiar disagreement on the topic of walking our dog. It was something about me not walking the dog often enough, early enough in the day, or something like that. As we stood facing each other in the kitchen, I was trying very hard to breathe, stay present, and not let my frustration take over. It can be really hard to remain curious about what your partner has to say when you’ve had the same discussion umpteen times. I don’t always do this well. However, on this particular day, I was really, really trying. After going back and forth for a while, she said, “You’re not hearing me.” Now, in fairness, my sweetheart sometimes (or even often) needs to remind me to not jump ahead of her when she’s speaking because I assume I know what she’s going to say. She’s usually bang on when she reminds me to listen to her story instead of for a story.**

However, on this particular day, something extraordinary happened when I took in those words, “You’re not listening to me!”. Poof! I had a flash of insight. Maybe it’s because I was really working to stay present. Maybe focusing partially on my breathing helped. Maybe it was a lightening bolt of assistance from what Rob Brezsny calls, “the Divine Wow”. Whatever the case, I looked into my partner’s eyes – her beautiful, warm brown eyes – and said from my heart:

“Honey, it isn’t that I’m not hearing you. It isn’t that I’m not listening to you. The thing is that, I just don’t agree with you. That’s different from not listening to you. And it’s not my job to agree with you in order to prove to you that I have heard you”.

In that moment, recognizing the distinction between not listening vs. not being in agreement over a particular issue felt like an enormous revelation! Our conversation took a different trajectory and we began to find our way to accepting each other’s perspective without feeling compelled to force a false consensus. Even better, we’ve been able to apply this insight to avoid a lot of conflict since!

To put it another way, what we’d been unconsciously doing as we went back and forth on this issue was using words and sentences in order to coerce the other person into agreeing with a particular position.

We had infused our communication with emotion, repetition, baggage, rhetoric, and other tactics – assuming the moral high ground, digging in heels, withdrawing from the discussion, etc. I don’t have to tell you that none of these fosters connection. Taking up a position about which we feel morally certain and brow-beating someone into agreement doesn’t make the space of the relationship feel safe – it makes it feel unsafe. And this doesn’t inspire us to lean into the space or move towards our loved one.

But we had been so locked in the back and forth that we didn’t notice that we were communicating clearly. Information was being transmitted and received. Yet, even though this predictable ritual got us nowhere… we repeated it until that day. We finally recognized that this was not a communication problem. It was a connection problem!

Like many couples, we lost sight of the fact that communication is supposed to be a means by which we – not the goal itself. Let me say it again: the purpose of communication is connection. And here’s the thing: so many issues in relationship get labeled ‘miscommunication’ when, in fact, communication isn’t really the problem.

What if, instead of polishing our rhetoric, massaging our message, or repeating our entrenched position one more time…what if we paused and asked:

  • Do I feel connected to my partner right now?
  • Do I feel connected to myself?
  • Do I feel connected to my love for this person? My admiration? My respect?
  • Do I feel connected to my highest vision of myself, my values, how I want to experience myself in relation to this other human being?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then the very next question could be, “How can I get reconnected to x, y, z”?

In a nutshell, what I began to discover on that day was that – when we prioritize ‘being right’ over resolution, closeness, or how our connection with another feels – everyone feels more alone in the relationship.

I believe that ‘being right’ is about the loneliest place you can be in relation to another human being.

It’s a hollow victory – and the costs are high, too high: insecurity, distance, resentment, mistrust. I could go on. I see it often in my private coaching work with couples. So now, I try to think of it this way when I’m tempted to run for that moral high ground: there’s only room for ONE person up there. And I’d rather spread out a blanket at the base of that high ground and have a picnic with my sweetheart – together.

And do you know what?

I don’t miss the view from up there. No matter how sweet I think the lofty heights of that moral high ground will feel…the truth is that there’s no one up there with me to share the view.

And that’s everything.

PS – I have a lot more to say on this subject (and I will) at my January 28 the workshop, Why Your Communication Problem Isn’t the Problem – 3 Keys to Total Relationship. Just click the workshop title for details!

I hope I get to see you there!

** This distinction between listening to a story vs. for a story is one I am grateful to have learned from the amazing, feminist social scientist, Karen Norum in her article, “Black (w)Holes: A Researcher’s Place in Her Research (2000)”.