Why Stepping Back Could Be The ONLY Thing That Moves Your Relationship Forward

Recently, a former coaching client of mine from, oh, maybe seven years ago was reminiscing about our work together. She said, “Your advice that I needed to step back in my relationship with my daughter – in order to make room for her to step forward – this completely changed my life. It completely changed our relationship. When I stepped back a little bit, she totally stepped up”.

Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea: what I recommended to this client was not that she turn her back on her daughter or cut off contact. Nor did I encourage her to deliver an ultimatum, make a long-winded speech about why she was going to step back, or stop speaking to her child.

However, there are times when the ONE thing that can move your relationship forward is stepping back with love. This is absolutely, positively NOT the same as turning your back on someone, throwing up your hands in a dramatic gesture, or trying to manipulate someone into doing what you want by threatening to dissolve your relationship. No.

The problem in a situation like this is two-fold:

1) A daughter is struggling

2) The relationship between mother and daughter is STUCK in a push-pull dynamic they can’t seem to get out of – one that is characterized by a loving, worried mom trying to help her daughter who resists, rejects or runs away from suggestions for change.

To be clear, everyone in this dynamic was in a lot of pain. The daughter was in distress because of the challenges she was experiencing. But mom, too, was in tremendous pain because she was watching her daughter struggle while unsuccessfully attempting to alleviate her daughter’s suffering.

What I suggested to my client was this: she would continue to spend time with her daughter whenever she could. But, while they were together, I invited my client to quietly shift this key dynamic: avoid offering advice, suggestions, or other thoughts about what her daughter could do to create more stability in her life.

If asked, mom could offer insight, wisdom, or knowledge – but only then. Otherwise, mom’s task was to listen, to witness, and to just be there, loving her kid like crazy. I suggested that by stepping back from offering helpful advice – advice her daughter didn’t or couldn’t (yet) welcome – she might open up some space between them.

This space might allow something new to enter their relationship. In particular, this new space could create an opportunity for her daughter to step forward and step up. Here’s the thing: my client knew her advice was really on point. She’s as loving and wise a mom as any of us could wish for. And she knew deeply that her daughter could experience her life in a completely new way if she made some different decisions.

But whether it’s your relationship with your child, partner, or best friend…there are times when stepping back with love is the only thing that can get you unstuck – beyond a cycle of push-and-pull that’s giving you both whiplash.

If any of this sounds at all familiar, I want to ask you this:

Are you trying to fix, rescue, or save another person?
Are you trying to carry the other person (or your relationship) on your back toward a finish line only you can see?
Do you feel like you continually reach out – only to have the other person pull further away (and as a result, you’re walking on eggshells trying to avoid conflict)?

No question, this is a tough place to be. However, sometimes, our loved ones become so unconscious to their own knee-jerk rejection of our reaching out to them…that our attempts to offer really thoughtful, loving support can actually push them further away.

If you continue in this way, you run the risk that the other person may become entirely alienated from you – and from the support you genuinely wish to offer them. So, how do you know it’s time to step back with love?

When you experience the subtle, uncomfortable feeling that your advice is being actively disregarded, dismissed, or declined…NOTICE your urge to lobby harder for your point of view – and quietly, gently step back from it.

Other tell tale signs that it might be time to step back with love include:

Your spouse, partner, or child is often impatient, abrupt, or has a short fuse whenever you switch into here’s-what-I-think-you-should-do mode.
They look away from you pointedly when you’re offering advice.
They turn the tables on you, pointing out mistakes you’ve made in a reactive counter-attack to what they perceive as criticism from you.

And this is the golden key to stepping back with love: it’s not the other person you’re stepping back from. You remain available to share support, connection, and insight if it is asked for clearly and directly – e.g. “Mom, what do you think I should do?”.

However, when you step back with love, you gently distance yourself from your own conviction that you know what the other person needs, what would serve them, what they should do…even better than they do. THIS is what you’re stepping back from – and here’s why: when someone is struggling with their shame demons, their mistakes, or their pain, they are very susceptible to feeling criticized, blamed, or even attacked.

In a situation like this, you can sometimes serve them best by being a soft place for them to land: a place where they know they’ll feel heard and seen, a place where they are understood and held in a loving gaze that silently mirrors to them their innate goodness – and your belief that they will come to know this in themselves again when the storms have passed.

Lest you worry you’re abandoning the other person, remember: it’s your love that permeates the space you’ve created for the other person to step forward into.
If and when they do step forward, it’s your love that will meet them there, in the space you’ve created by stepping back with love.

Because you may be right about what they need – but you may as well be wrong if they’re pushing back against your help. The result is the same. They stay in the difficult, painful place you desperately want to see them leave far, far behind. And as painful as it is to watch, a person you love may need to struggle, to flail, even to hit bottom. Sometimes it’s when we hit bottom…that we finally find our feet after months or years of free fall. If you find yourself in a situation like this one – but you’re not sure if it’s time to step back with love – I’d like to help.


If you’re curious about how Total Relationship Coaching can transform your relationships – whether you’re single, content in your relationship, or struggling through a rough patch – I’m offering you a chance to get me one-on-one for a complimentary, 45-minute Relationship Reboot Strategy Session.

Saddle up your biggest relationship wish – and let’s get you on track. Send me an email at erin@erinbentley.com right now and we’ll schedule your session in a hot minute!

Note: I only offer two of these Relationship Reboot Strategy Sessions per week and exclusively to professionals who are serious about creating loving, lasting, healthy relationships. If that is you, shoot me an email right now so we can get you scheduled in. Talk to you soon!

Being(s) of Service & the Right to be Wrong

In the interests of transparency, I want to utter a word or three about being of service. This expression, “being of service” has gotten fairly popular in the circles I move in, so it seems worthwhile to throw my hat into the discussion.

For starters, I do not think that being of service to another person means helping, rescuing, or fixing – as such.

These 3 words all imply some kind of agenda, expectation, or attachment to outcome; and they also imply that I can do something for someone that they can’t do for themselves. In turn, agendas, expectations, and attachments to outcomes have a knack for closing doors that I want to have the option of stepping through with a client. Too, sometimes being of service means knowing something, and just holding the awareness of that knowing – without offering advice, telling my story, etc.

Being of service can also mean holding the space and being a witness for someone as they get clear about where they are – and why they think they’ve arrived there. My approach to being of service certainly involves listening to what’s not being said: listening energetically to what our spirits are saying through our emotions; and looking through the mask of the ego to help illuminate, with my attention, the higher awareness behind the ego.

Perhaps most importantly, though, I think that being of service involves moving out of limited concepts of “right” and “wrong”, and coming into the present moment to see what it’s offering us. Because sometimes, there can be immense perfection in ‘being wrong’. If we tune into the feeling of unquiet inside us that ‘being wrong’ always stirs up, we will realize we possess a tool for helping us do it differently in the future – because that feeling of unquiet is a powerful resource for determining what will and will not serve us as we move forward.

Yup. I’m suggesting that we embrace ‘getting it wrong’.

Perhaps even more radically, I want to propose that – if we take something forward with us after examining how ‘being wrong’ has the potential to offer us insight, confidence, and wisdom – maybe we didn’t really get it wrong at all. Maybe we created exactly the circumstances we needed in order to expand our awareness, refine our choices, and move into closer alignment with who we say we want to be in the world.

So why do we fear ‘being wrong’?

In his near-legendary Ted talks, Sir Ken Robinson talks about how schools condition children to fear getting the wrong answer – and how this is completely contrary to a child’s natural inclination to problem-solve, persist, and find novel approaches, interpretations, and meaning in their experience of the world.

Indeed, our schools are increasingly pressured by various levels of government to offer standardized, pre-determined, freeze-dried curricula – all so students’ rightness or wrongness can be assessed via exams. This is just one example of how, as a culture, we’ve institutionalized the aversion to ‘being wrong’.

Kathryn Schultz also takes up this notion in her fabulous TED lecture, “On Being Wrong”. I particularly love her assertion that,

“The miracle of your mind isn’t that  you can see the world as it is – but that you can see the world as it isn’t”.

In other words, our capacity to get it wrong, to see it differently than others, isn’t something we should try to downplay. She argues that the capacity to make mistakes is a source of continual astonishment, creativity, innovation, and, yes, even delight – because “it’s how we rediscover wonder“.

In spite of this, however, because most of us have been conditioned to avoid being ‘wrong’, we tend to become incredibly uncomfortable when we make a mistake. This feeling of intense discomfort signals that the ego is interpreting the situation as a threat to its existence.

Oh, the ego and its need to be right!

The ego loves to make others wrong to affirm its petty superiority complex. Which means that, when we entertain the notion that we have made an error (or that someone has committed an error at our expense), the ego’s self-defense mechanisms come online with a vengeance!

It seems to me that this is one of the most corrosive and destructive barriers to authentic, human connection: the often debilitating shame, remorse, guilt, or defensiveness that arises in us in response to human mistakes can stop us from moving forward – and presents an obstacle to meaningful accountability, if this is required.

But…what would happen if we embraced our mistakes?

How different would we feel in our lives if we tenderly regarded ourselves – and our mistakes – with a view to excavating valuable knowledge of where we stepped away from who we want to be in the world?

How much easier would it be to make heartfelt amends if we weren’t choking on our discomfort about having been ‘wrong’ in the first place?

What would happen if I asserted that I have a right to be wrong, sometimes?

If we gave ourselves just a bit of permission to sometimes step on toes, misunderstand, act out, or just plain get it all ass-backwards…how much time, bad feeling, conflict, guilt, and defensiveness could we spare ourselves and others? Well, for starters, we could redirect all that energy to figuring out what our mistakes can teach us!

Now, I’m not proposing that we deliberately bulldoze our way through conversations or use other people as guinea pigs while we figure ourselves out.


But I am suggesting we extend ourselves some pre-emptive forgiveness for the mistakes we will inevitably make in life. Then maybe we’ll have room to ask better questions of ourselves when we reflect on our errors in judgement, missteps, and faux-pas.

Here’s some examples of questions I ask myself and my clients when walking through the process of reflecting on mistakes:

  • Did I tune into my feelings just before I made that choice?
  • Was my spidey-sense tingling – but I ignored it when I opened my mouth to speak?
  • How did my body feel just before, during, and after I acted or spoke? Was there tension in my body?
  • Was I speaking from my heart, or was my ego in the driver’s seat?
  • Was I somehow performing a role (e.g. the guru, the enlightened one, the healer, the teacher, the parent, the helpful friend, etc.) – instead of authentically responding to what the moment was calling forth from me?
  • Was I paying attention to all the circumstances – not just the ones my ego was highlighting in its never-ending quest to be right and make others wrong?

By focusing on what our mistakes can teach us, I help clients who are grappling with a heavy burden of guilt or remorse about who they’ve been, what they’ve done, etc. And by helping them to step away from suffocating concepts of ‘right vs wrong’, I can redirect their attention to what their higher awareness has to say about it all.

Here’s why this is important:

Awareness does not judge. It rests, patient and accepting, in the warmth of our grace.

In other words, awareness affirms our always-already, connected humanity – our fundamentally entangled, co-existence with All That Is. From this perspective, ultimately, my brother’s mistakes belong to me, and mine to him.

But here’s what’s really cool about avoiding the quicksand of right vs. wrong: if we can be more generous and forgiving of ourselves…are we then also be able to be more forgiving of others’ mistakes?

You betcha!

And guess what? By bringing this radically, pro-active forgiveness (of ourselves and others) with us, we’re being of service, just by bringing this awareness along with us wherever we go.

And then? Then we are doing more than ‘being of service’ in reaction to certain people and situations. By interacting from a place of already-forgiving awareness, we create an immense space for everyone to get it right.

This is when we become beings of service!

Why Forgiveness Makes Us Shiny…

xA few years back when “The Secret” was featured on the Oprah Winfrey show, I heard something that made me begin to reconsider what I’ve since come to call “unforgiveness”.

Lisa Nichols was one of the featured speakers for that episode, and she shared her definition of forgivness. She said, “Forgiveness is letting go of the hope that the past could have been different”.

I nearly went bananas when I heard her say this because it resonated with me so deeply. There are many things I love about this way of describing forgiveness. For example, it doesn’t let us off the hook for what we do when we get it wrong; it doesn’t sound like an obligation; it’s not presented as something we should do in order to purchase God’s approval.

What it does do, however, is position forgiveness as something we can do for ourselves. It’s a letting go. And yes, it puts the responsibility for importing the past into the present squarely on us.

It does all of this while preserving space for meaningful accountability – something I value a great deal (more about that another time!).

In other words, the definition Lisa Nichols offered was one that I found empowering. It’s not about being a doormat or a martyr. It’s not about being a saint. It’s about freeing ourselves from the burden of old stories / pain / emotional baggage, etc. so that we can make a space inside us where joy can live. Or kindness. Or tenderness. Or creativity. Or whatever good stuff you want more of in your life.

Do you ever replay negative scenarios in your head?

You know, that argument you had way back when? Or that thing that happened to you in high school that still makes you cringe when you think about it? Or that road-raging-twit whose hand was stuck to his / her horn in traffic today?

Yup. Me, too.

I used to do this whenever I was in the shower. Go figure, right? Seriously, I would replay what I call “mental movies” of all the shitty things that other people had done or said to me in my life. And given that I felt like an outsider for the first 30 or so years of my life, I had a lot of mental movies to provide variety.

Except, in the shower, I always re-wrote the script. I said that witty thing that put that other person in their place. Or I used all my powers of persuasion to change their mind about what they were doing, making them see the error of their ways. Or, if I was remembering getting bullied as a child, I would imagine busting out a ninja move that would make them sorry for every bit of torment they ever tried to visit on me.

Oh, yeah. I pitied the fools.

Even when I started to notice that I was doing this “mental movies” thing – in the shower or out of it – I couldn’t seem to stop doing it. And it always put me in a crappy mood.

This is because rehearsing painful events in our minds activates the emotions that accompanied these experiences: the grief, loss, humiliation, unworthiness, etc.

Before I saw that episode of Oprah, I had already begun to notice that keeping my resentment, bitterness, victimization, anger, pain, rage, and been-done-wrong feelings alive didn’t serve me.

What it did do was allow my ego the illusion that it can change the past. Seriously, the ego has delusions of grandeur, and this is one of them. Ego says, “If I just rehearse that past event again and again, I can change it!”.

Then the Universe put me in front of the television on the day that Lisa Nichols spoke her truth about forgiveness. Man, if I ever meet her, I am going to give her one big, squishy, grateful hug of thanks. She gave me a key piece of the puzzle on my journey to this realization:

I am not the things that have happened to me.

Once this thought arose in me, I started to ask myself if maybe I needed to forgive the folks who had treated me badly by letting go of my hope that the past could have been different.

And I discovered that I really, really didn’t want to forgive the people in my past who had caused me pain.

I wanted to hold onto my righteous victimhood.

I wanted to keep making them wrong, over and over again, in my mind – as if that could somehow even the score.

I wanted to cling to my moral certainty that the other person or people who had wronged me were less than me.

I wanted to preserve my belief that those other people who had been cruel or mean spirited or abusive didn’t deserve the time of day – let alone my forgiveness.

In effect, I was creating a victim-identity for myself out of my past, painful experiences. This was an identity I could use to position myself as morally superior. This is because, in the stories I was drawing on for the foundations of this victim identity, the other person was always the bad guy.

This meant that, in my mind, I got to be the good one – the one who was deserving of approval, love, respect, recognition, worthiness, and all the things I thought other people could withhold from me.

Over time, I created a forgiveness ritual for myself.

I find some time and space for stillness, close my eyes, and say something like this:

“Thank you, Universe, for helping me to surrender and release any unforgiveness towards myself and (person’s name) for what happened in x y z situation. I surrender and release this to you now, and I thank you for taking it from me”.

As I say this – giving it my fullest attention – I visualize the unforgiveness (read: bitterness, resentment, anger, grudge, etc.) leaving me.

Then, I say,

“And in the space I have made within by releasing this unforgiveness, thank you Universe for helping me to bring in _______”. I then bring in whatever feels appropriate on that day – peace, discernment, compassion, gratitude, grace, understanding, joy, etc. – to fill the space within me that used to be occupied by my unforgiveness about that event / person.

Now, this is my personal forgiveness ritual. Feel free to use it, change it, discard it and / or create your own. But I recommend having one. It sounds simple, but it’s deeply transformative. By practicing this little ritual myself, I’ve let go of a lot of anger, grief, loss, resentment, frustration, anger, shame, guilt, remorse, etc.

Guess what happened along the way?

Because I gradually but persistently put down my unforgiveness…I became more open.

I became more comfortable in my skin.

I became more aware of opportunities to offer kindness day to day.

I became more accountable to myself for the experiences I was creating, and more grateful for what I was learning about myself, my choices, my boundaries, etc.

I became less judgmental and more watchful for opportunities to be compassionate towards others who – like me – sometimes made mistakes, acted badly, or somehow showed up as less than they were for one reason or another.

And, boy, let me tell you…did I ever become less angry.

Most importantly, I became more…me.

Instead of carrying these victim stories, I became more reflective and creative in my self definition (instead of being reactive to what others thought about me).

For example, instead of mentally saying, “I’m not your doormat / emotional scratching post / target!”, I started saying, “Who do I want to be in the world?” – and then choosing that, acting and behaving and relating to others in ways that were more consistent with that.

Without the weight of all those grudges and grievances about being an outsider, a victim, misunderstood, or badly treated weighing me down, I had more room in my mind and heart to say, “what can that experience teach me about myself? About who I am? About who I want to be in relation to that person / circumstance / event?”.

I felt more empowered to make conscious choices, instead of feeling like a victim of my life.

And instead of creating mental movies where I re-lived all the stuff other people had done “to me”, I started using that mental energy to imagine how I wanted my life to feel.

This is very, very joyful. Because, yes, when we put down all that anger, fear, and pain…

We can create a space inside where joy can live and thrive and shine.

So what’s so shiny about shining? Because that’s when our REAL beauty emerges into the world, effortlessly. For real.

Click here to read my last post, “All Experience Is Generous”.