Let's Talk About Sex: A Review of Total Intimacy by Douglas Rosenau and Deborah Neel


Do you and your spouse have a hard time communicating about sexual intimacy?  Do you feel like your sex life is kind of blah?  Are you dealing with the aftereffects of trauma or betrayal and want to ease into sexual intimacy with your partner in a way that feels safe?

Doug Rosenau and Deborah Neel are Christian sex therapists that specialize in helping couples have more satisfying sex lives.  In their slim volume Total Intimacy: A Guide to Loving By Color, they offer a practical approach to talking with your spouse about sex and improving the quality of your intimacy.

We long to be in an intimate relationship with someone, especially a mate, who will pursue us, fully know, love, and accept us.
— Doug Rosenau and Deborah Neel 

What is Total Intimacy?

“Total intimacy,” as the authors define it, approaches sexual intimacy on three distinct levels.  Each of these levels involves three-dimensional connecting, involving the mind, body, and heart or emotions.  The authors liken the balance between these three levels to a healthy diet with all necessary food groups.  Emotional and sexual intimacy are intertwined and work together.

The three distinct levels are represented by colors: green, purple, and orange.  Each color exists on a continuum of depth ranging from lighter to darker shades, representing the depth of interaction at each level.  Knowing and understanding the meaning of these colors can help you use them as a playful way to communicate your desires.

Understanding the Colors


Green representing bonding in the relationship, where you and your spouse are “intimate companions.”  Connecting with one another and sharing emotions builds intimacy, as in other friendships.  Experiencing Green intimacy, or marital friendship is required to establish safety before you can move onto the more intense colors of Purple and Orange.

To grow your Green, revisit activities you enjoyed when you were dating.  Get to know your spouse again using Gottman’s Love Maps exercises.  Make time for date nights or other intentional time together.  Lean into vulnerability in communicating honestly about your feelings, which can often be difficult.

When dealing with broken trust or betrayal, as in the case of sex and love addiction, Green behaviors are essential to re-establishing trust and safety.  The addict must show actions that line up with words in order to grow trust, and the later colors of Purple or Orange may not feel safe for the partner until that trust is rebuilt. 


Purple represents the coupling level, or becoming “sensuous lovers.”  Purple actions go beyond friendship into romance, using flirtation and affection to communicate closeness.  This color is often most neglected in marriage, as romantic cuddling or kissing becomes just a step toward sex.  But skipping over physical touch and affection for the sake of enjoying one another leads to missing out on the intimacy that comes in the Purple stage.

Purple activities are sensory in nature, requiring you to use all five senses to create a romantic experience.  It is necessary to practice mindfulness in this stage, remaining in the present moment and enjoying that experience.  This level of affection may trigger arousal, but the goal of Purple behaviors isn’t orgasm, simply to enjoy the romantic connection.

Purple intimacy is eroticism with boundaries – sensuality that may be arousing, yet not having to lead anywhere.
— Douglas Rosenau and Deborah Neel


Finally, the orange level is associated with igniting as “erotic playmates.”  This can include a range of sexual experiences that does not always require orgasm, but focuses instead on mutual pleasure rather than self-seeking or self-focused pleasure.  In order to make orange intimacy safe, refusals have to be practiced and accepted, as you must be able to say no in order to say yes authentically.

In the book, Rosenau and Neel talk about becoming more comfortable around sexual intimacy, especially for Christians who have received messages of shame about erotic sexuality and sexual desires.  Sexual intimacy was created by God as a reflection of His love.  Communicating about this orange level of intimacy and naming wants and desires can break through this stigma.

As a couple, increase your knowledge about the differences between male and female sexuality, instead of just basing your awareness on stereotypes or expectations.  Know that it is normal to have a range of different satisfaction levels with intimacy, and seek to understand what makes it an enjoyable experience for each of you through learning about you partner’s turn-ons and turn-offs.

Helpful Tips

Sprinkled throughout the text, Rosenau and Neel put in sidebars that give extra tips if there are wounds for either spouse.  This acknowledges the reality that when there has been sexual abuse, sexual assault, or lack of trust due to an affair or betrayal, that has effects. The theme in these sidebars is to allow for intimacy to grow more slowly, create for more communication around intimacy, and talk about safe touch.

I also love how the authors encourage women to find their sexual voices.  The book reminds women to take up space, communicate, and ask for what they want.  The emphasis on learning to refuse sex within marriage is important as well, because being unable to say “no” can set up an unhealthy dynamic where she can feel silenced.

The book also normalizes that a healthy sex life takes time and practice, instead of happening naturally.  Often newlyweds expect that sex will be natural and easy.  However, that is often not the case.  The book also breaks through the faulty assumption that sex doesn’t need to be discussed, when the opposite is true in order to have a mutually satisfying sex life.  I appreciate the practical exercises and discussion questions in the book that will help you and your spouse communicate together about your sex life.

A Few Criticisms

As much as I love the concepts of this book and their practical applications, there are a few criticisms related to style and some commentary that need to be acknowledged.  There is quite a bit of cheesy language and gender stereotyping that may be difficult to look past.

As the focus is for a Christian audience, the principles are supported by Scripture and references to God are made often through the text.  However, I believe the concepts still stand even for couples who aren’t Christians.

Finally, some of the language around forgiveness in the book may be difficult for partners of sex and love addicts to read, because offering forgiveness isn’t so simple in their experiences. 

All in all, however, I believe that learning to love by color can greatly enhance your comfort in talking about sexual intimacy and creating conversation about likes and dislikes, and I’d encourage you to start conversations about these principles in your marriage.


Are you feeling dissatisfied in your sex life and wanting to learn how to communicate with your spouse better?  Are you unsatisfied with your sexual intimacy?  Do you tend to argue about sex and feel stuck?  At Restored Hope, I offer supportive couples counseling to help you learn to communicate more effectively in all areas and grow more intimate connections.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to schedule your first appointment.

One Game-Changing Tool to Approach Arguments as Opportunities for Intimacy in Marriage


It’s a typical Saturday afternoon, and you’re wrapped in up in cleaning the house, watching a pot of soup on the stove, and attempting to keep your kids entertained.  Your spouse walks in the door to see Legos scattered around the floor, the debris left over from one of your many attempts at distraction.  Your spouse gives you a look that communicates, “did a bomb go off in here?”

You immediately feel a flood of anger coursing through your veins.  You snap at your spouse, irritated with their nonverbal insensitivity and criticism.  You start defending yourself, and meanwhile your spouse looks completely bewildered and caught off guard, like a deer in the headlights.

Little did you know in that moment, but that particular look on your spouse’s face was exactly the same as the look your father used to give you before he launched into a tirade about your irresponsibility and immaturity.  For a moment, your father’s face flashed before your eyes, not your spouse’s, and you were brought right back to the feeling of being a chastised child.

What is a trigger?

You’ve likely experienced moments like these in your life, where you’ve had an intense and strong emotional reaction to something that didn’t make sense.   These moments, referred to as triggers, are moments when you experience an intense and extreme emotional reaction that is disproportionate to the event that occurred.  Typically, these are brought on by memories of past experiences where you felt hurt, ashamed, guilty, or a range of other negative emotions.  Most often, triggers differ from person to person and are not easily predicted, and therefore can lead to arguments or miscommunication in marriage.

Talking about triggers is an integral part of learning to communicate more effectively in your relationships and have arguments that lead you to become more intimately connected with one another.

Wait a second – arguments that cause you to become more intimately connected?  That sounds like a mistake.

Guess what?  It’s not.

John Gottman, marriage researcher, prefers to talk about the concept of conflict “management” rather than conflict “resolution.”  Why’s that?  He found that 69% of conflicts couples have in their marriage are unresolvable – meaning that conflict resolution is a myth in 69% of arguments.

Instead, couples need to come to a place of compromise in their arguments.  The process of getting to compromise involves learning more about triggers in order to grow to understand your partner’s past.  As you get to know your partner’s experience, you’ll become more adaptive and empathetic to their needs, and more willing to make a compromise.  You’ll also feel known and understood as they learn your side of the story.

Sounds like a win-win after all!

How can I tell when I’m being triggered?

Step one to understanding triggers is understanding when you’ve been triggered.  This involves becoming aware of your emotional and physical reactions.  In the example above, you had no idea why you jumped from relatively neutral to raging in less than 3.6 seconds at the look on your spouse’s face.

If you were able to take a step back a little later when you had calmed your emotional arousal, you may have been able to gain more awareness of what emotion came up.  In the example above, you may have felt fear or defensiveness.  Triggers typically involve emotions or beliefs that are deeper under the surface, so uncovering them is a crucial process.

When you identify the emotion, ask yourself: what message does this emotion communicate to me?  If I could give the emotion a voice, what would it be saying?  In the example, the fear of defensiveness is saying that I’m worthless or not good enough.

Then, take a moment to ask yourself this question: when was the first time I remember feeling that way?  What is a significant time in my past when I remember having those thoughts?

Alternatively, think of that emotion or that belief and rewind the tape of your life back – what moments stand out to you as times when you truly believed that thought?  When that emotion was felt?

How do I communicate about triggers with my spouse?

Once you’ve calmed down enough to identify that trigger, then it’s time to communicate the trigger to your spouse.  This process mirrors Gottman’s Aftermath of a Fight exercise, allowing you to name what you need.

First, talk to your spouse about how you felt in the moment about what happened. “I felt angry when you came home because it seemed as though you were judging me for the state of the house.”

Next, identify why that particular reaction was triggering to you.  “The look on your face reminded me of a look my father used to give me before yelling at me about how irresponsible I was.  Back then, I would feel afraid and believe that I was worthless and not good enough.”

Then, take responsibility for the disproportionate reaction: “I responded out of fear and defensiveness to you, even though you are not my father, and I don’t believe those words were what you were trying to communicate to me.  I am sorry for snapping at you and criticizing you.”

Finally, communicate what you will do in the future, as well as asking your spouse for help.  As an option, you can invite your spouse to suggest an idea for him or her to carry out.  “In the future, I will do my best to remind myself that you are not my father and that you are not commenting on my worth or value.  If you’re willing, it would be helpful for me to hear you say that you love me or offer to help.  Is that something you’re willing to try?”

Notice how the interation above invites intimacy.  You have to step into the risk of sharing vulnerably a difficult part of your story that allows your spouse to get to know you better.  You humbly take responsibility for your fault in the matter, as none of us are without blame.   And it gives a solution-focused response on how to approach those conflicts in the future.

My hope is that you’ll begin to see your arguments with your spouse not as a signal that your relationship is falling apart, but as an opportunity to grow closer to one another and connect to one another’s worlds.


Do you find yourself caught in a pattern of getting triggered every time you and your spouse have a conflict?  Have you been completely unaware of where those triggers are coming from?  Are you looking for help with creating intimacy with your spouse through fighting well?  At Restored Hope, I believe in the power of intimacy-building in relationships through honesty, vulnerability, and open communication.  I offer couples counseling at my Ann Arbor therapy offices – give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me to set up an appointment today.

Why Honesty Is So Important In Addiction Recovery


Did you ever lie about anything when you were a kid?  Maybe you broke your mother’s favorite vase.  Maybe you snuck out of the house in the wee hours of the night.  Or maybe you just took an extra cookie out of the cookie jar.

Check out how this kid responds to being found out.  Did this ever happen to you?

Why do you think this little boy lied about eating the sprinkles?  It’s obvious to everyone else around him that he’s lying – the evidence is right there on his face and between his teeth.  I imagine he probably felt ashamed about what he had done.  He didn’t want to be found out, and he figured that since his mother didn’t see him eating the sprinkles, she probably wouldn’t know he had done it.  I wonder if, by the end, he’d been lying about the sprinkles for so long that he actually believed he hadn’t done anything wrong.

Notice the boy’s response when his mom does confront him about the sprinkles on his face.  He continues to deny that he ate them, and he slowly backs away from her.  Have you ever done this?  When you’ve been caught in a lie, do you hide?  I wonder if he was afraid of punishment.  Maybe he wanted to be a “good boy.”   Or maybe he worried about what his mom would think of him, if she would still love him.

When you’ve been caught in a lie, do you hide?

This pattern of deception, denial, and eventually getting found out characterizes the stories of most sex addicts.  Addicts likely feel shame about their behaviors, so they hide from their spouses or loved ones as long as possible.  This pattern of deception continues to the point that the addict begins to believe his or her justifications for the lies, and may begin to forget or discount the consequences of his or her behavior.  Particularly for women, hiding is common because sex addiction is perceived as a male-dominated issue and can carry intense messages of shame for women.

Eventually, addicts get found out.  Whether the shame of living in addiction eventually becomes too much, or the addict is discovered, the spouse or their friends will eventually discover how the addict’s behavior affects them.  But even after being found out, addicts often continue to hide, either through denial (which makes their spouse feel crazy) or only telling parts of their story.

Particularly for women, hiding is common because sex addiction is perceived as a male-dominated issue and can carry intense messages of shame for women.

I recently read a memoir written by a female sex addict in which she talked about the pivotal moment of her recovery coming when she chose to be honest about a relapse.  In the past, it would’ve been easy for her to hide instead of coming clean about what she had done.  However, when she did share in the midst of her 12 Step meeting, she was met with kindness and grace from the fellow members of the group.

Honesty is the first principle tied to the 12 Step program for a reason.  There is no recovery when there is continuing deception.  We need to learn to be honest.  If we deceive ourselves and others through denial, justification, and entitlement, we will never experience healing.  We need to admit that we are powerless over our addictions in order to grow.  Chances are, someone in your accountability group or 12 Step program has probably already suspected that you might be lying or hiding information.  Just like the boy in the video, we give cues and often later realize that others knew more than we thought.

There is no recovery when there is continuing deception. 

And yet, honesty is often one of the most vulnerable places we can find ourselves in.  When we choose to be honest, particularly about behaviors or desires tied to addiction, we often are admitting flaws or areas of intense, overwhelming shame.  Shame thrives in isolation.  As we continue to hide and run away from others because of fear that they will see us as flawed and broken, we confirm the message to ourselves that we are unlovable. 

As Brené Brown says in her TED talk about vulnerability, we must connect with others in order to move through shame.  And the only way we can connect with others is to be honest with them.  Honesty invites intimacy.  Imagine the life you could be living in freedom from your addiction.  In order to grow in this freedom, it is crucial to be honest with ourselves and with others in the process of recovery.

As we continue to hide and run away from others because of fear that they will see us as flawed and broken, we confirm the message to ourselves that we are unlovable. 

My challenge to you this week is to be honest with someone safe in your life, like a sponsor or accountability partner.  Maybe there’s an area of your addictive behavior that feels too shameful to admit.  Maybe there’s an area you’ve been in denial about for years, and you’re starting to believe that you might be more impacted by it than you realize.  Maybe there’s a dark side to your desire that frightens you.

Open up.  Share that weakness with a trusted confidante.  It will be vulnerable, and it likely will be painful.  But as you open up with others in your life, you’ll be able to experience genuine connection, intimacy, grace, forgiveness, and love.


Do you live in fear of someone finding out your long-held secret of sexual addiction?  Are you terrified of your spouse finding your secret stash?  Are you worried that freedom from the pull of addiction is impossible for you?  At Restored Hope, I believe that you can experience freedom from addiction and that you are not alone.  I offer counseling services at my Ann Arbor therapy office to treat sex and love addiction, particularly for women who are affected by it.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to hear more about how I can help. 

Tired of Destroying Your Marriage? Four Antidotes to Heal a Hurting Relationship

Have you ever had a huge fight with your spouse, but then realize you have no idea what started the argument?  Are you sick and tired of exploding into anger and insults in conversations with your partner?  Maybe you walk away from discussions with a sinking feeling that something in your marriage isn’t working. Or instead of arguing, you notice yourself or your spouse muttering passive-aggressive comments, and your mutual respect and understanding is slowly slipping away.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the four communication habits that destroy marriages, as researched by John Gottman.  Luckily, Gottman has found an antidote to each of these behaviors that can help you to reverse your downward spiral into these four destructive habits.  Let’s take a look.

Instead of criticism?  Use gentle start-up.

Remember how Gottman can watch 10 minutes of a couple’s conversation and predict with surprising accuracy if that couple will divorce?  In the first three minutes of every conflict conversation, certain indicators will predict how the rest of the conversation will go.

You’ve likely seen this in your own relationship.  If you bring up a topic with your partner that begins with an accusatory “you,” your partner immediately goes on the defensive.

Instead, state your personal feelings, reactions, and needs.  The magic formula for authentic communication is founded upon naming a personal emotion you’re experiencing, expressing what you saw or heard that led to that emotion, and naming a positive need.  By expressing yourself in this way, you allow your partner to see the effect his or her actions have on you, but you also provide a solution.

  • Destructive tactic: “You never follow-through with what you say you’re going to do, I can’t count on you for anything.”

  • Antidote: “I feel ignored and hurt when I ask you to help me out with a task, but it doesn’t get done. I need to know what timeline you have for completing that task. Can we create a schedule?”

Instead of contempt?  Practice fondness and appreciation.

Contempt takes criticism a step further and is born out of a place of seeing your partner as less than, or looking down on them.  One way to diagnose contempt in your relationship by asking if your partner ever feels “small” or like a child when you criticize them. 

If you notice contempt is an issue for you, seek to remember the things you love about your partner and what attracted you to them in the beginning of the relationship.  Notice their strengths and abilities, particularly in areas where you aren’t as strong.  Pay attention to their contributions to your relationship or your family. 

Valuing your spouse by building up your fondness and admiration system leads to a more solid foundation of friendship and respect in your marriage.  In general, practicing gratitude and seeking to accept your present circumstances with contentment can have a multitude of benefits for your mental and relational health.

  • Destructive tactic: “Only an idiot would forget about our daughter’s soccer game.”

  • Antidote: “I can see why this slipped through the cracks. You’ve been working long hours for your promotion at work. I’m thankful that you’re hard-working and dedicated to providing for our family.”

Instead of defensiveness? Try taking responsibility.

When you’re feeling criticized or your spouse is pointing out your weaknesses, it can feel self-protective to fight back and point out their not-so-great qualities.  Our natural bent is toward defensiveness, especially if we’re feeling guilt or shame about our behaviors.

In reality, none of us are perfect.  We all make mistakes from time to time, lose patience with our loved ones, or forget to do something we’re asked to do.  Before immediately reacting to your partner’s feedback and expression of needs, slow down and pay attention to what’s going on emotionally and in your body.  If you’re noticing feelings of guilt or shame, think through any weaknesses or faults you may be struggling to admit.

In some cases, your partner may have been triggered by something you did or said that you didn’t realize would affect them so strongly.  When you didn’t intend to hurt them, it can be helpful to acknowledge the trigger and what made it difficult for your partner and ask, “How can I support you better the next time something like this comes up?”

  • Destructive tactic: “You would go out gambling too if your life was anywhere near as stressful as mine is.”

  • Antidote: “You’re right. I should have cleared it with you first before I spent our money at the casino. How can we work together to approach this differently in the future?”

Instead of stonewalling? Practice self-soothing.

Stonewalling is usually accompanied by an experience Gottman calls “flooding,” which is a state of physiological arousal, the commonly known “fight-or-flight” response, where the brain is unable to process additional information.  Responding to flooding by calming your body’s natural response allows you to re-enter the conversation with greater presence of mind and ability to listen and respond to what is being shared.

There are a few different ways to respond to stonewalling.  Self-soothing exercises, such as mindfulness breathing exercises, are designed to help you focus on the present moment and sensations in your body.  The rhythm of deep breathing calms your sympathetic nervous system that has you in fight-or-flight mode, instead telling your body that you are safe.

Another strategy is to give yourself a break of at least 20 minutes from the conversation.  During this time, do whatever it takes to take your mind off of the argument.  Ruminating about what was said and what you wish you would have said only continues the state of flooding.  After this 20-minute break, come back together for another try at the discussion. 

  • Destructive tactic: Zoning out, checking out of the conversation, or not listening.

  • Antidote: “I’m feeling flooded right now, and I’m having a hard time being able to listen well because of it. Can we take a 20-minute break to cool off and then come back to finish talking?”

My hope is that, as you begin to use these antidotes, you’ll be able to experience greater connection and more productive experiences of conflict management with your partner.

Have you and your partner hit a rut in your communication where every conversation ends in a fight?  Have you become so accustomed to using destructive strategies that you aren’t even sure what the antidotes would look like in your life?  At Restored Hope, I use Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help couples achieve greater connection and intimacy, solid strategies for effective communication, and overall satisfaction with their marriages.  I offer couples counseling at my Ann Arbor location.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out my form here to talk with me today.

Empathy in the Face of Vulnerability: Responding to Authentic Communication

Last week on the blog, we talked about a formula on how to communicate authentically about your feelings with people in your life: “I feel _________ about/because of ____________, and what I need is __________.”  In light of that, it seems fitting this week to take a look at how to respond when you’re on the receiving end of this style of communication.  How do you respond when someone expresses difficult thoughts or feelings to you?

For most of us, it is unusual for someone to communicate emotions directly and in an assertive way like this.  We can feel insecure or uncertain of how to respond.  We want to be empathetic, but sometimes we worry that our words will be trite or dismissing.  Or maybe we’re uncomfortable with the fact that they shared this information with us in the first place, and managing that discomfort takes all of our attention.

We tend toward a few possible ways to respond when someone approaches us to share their emotions.  In general, we can be uncomfortable around negative or painful emotions.  We might avoid painful emotions in our own lives, so seeing or hearing someone express an emotion vulnerably might lead us to put pressure on ourselves to put a positive spin on it.  Or we can become defensive, particularly if the emotions being expressed are in response to something we’ve done.  Perhaps the person’s vulnerability in sharing feelings or needs from us require us to apologize or identify changes we need to make in our own lives.

What holds you back from responding with empathy?

Ultimately, expressing emotions and responding with empathy to others is vulnerable, in that we have to connect with uncomfortable or painful emotions inside ourselves in order to understand them in others.

In order for us to truly empathize with someone else, we have to step into their shoes and look at the world through their perspective.  We may not fully understand, as we may not have had the same experience in our story.  But as they share emotions of anger, sadness, fear, or hurt, we can look at ways we’ve felt those same emotions before to get a picture of what they’re going through.

Brené Brown, a well-known researcher on shame and empathy, briefly explains the difference between empathy and sympathy here:

I love how she underlines the idea of “silver-lining” someone’s pain – looking for the “at least” or the message.  In Christian circles, we can sometimes jump too quickly to platitudes like “God works all things together for good.”  While that does hold truth, it can silence any emotion or pain the individual is experiencing.  True empathy creates space for emotions to be felt.

How have you tried to “silver lining” someone’s pain?

In relationships, John Gottman talks about the importance of validating one another’s perspective in order to create intimacy.  Couples in conflict tend to get stuck in push and pull arguments that become battles to win or lose.  Slowing down and engaging in this practice of empathy rather than seeking to make your partner feel better or stop feeling the negative emotion creates intimacy in your relationships.

Take time to validate your partner.  Validation involves responding to another’s expression of feelings and experiences in a way that communicates you understand or you can see from their perspective.  In so doing, you don’t necessarily have to agree with them.  For example, your partner might interpret you forgetting to take out the trash as disrespecting him or her.  Even if that wasn’t your intention, you can still respond by expressing that you understand that feeling and how it might have affected them.  This diffuses the tension, as your partner will likely feel more heard and understood.

Here’s some examples of validating responses:

  • I can see why you felt this way.

  • I understand how my actions communicated that.

  • It makes sense to me why you responded that way, knowing what you were thinking and feeling.

There is no perfect response here: you can’t say any magic words that will instantly fix any problems you have in your relationships.  But the more you are able to validate and empathize with the experiences of others, the more likely you are to build strong relationships where your loved ones feel safe sharing difficult emotions and experiences with you.

“Rarely can a response make something better.  What makes something better is connection.” – Brené Brown

At Restored Hope, we know relationships can be messy.  Whether you’re noticing conflict in your marriage that feels like a battle between winning and losing, or if you’re having trouble empathizing with others around you because of difficult emotions in your own life, I’d love to talk with you and support you in your desire for authentic relationships. Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor based therapy office where I focus on skills and strategies to improve your relationships, as well as gain greater insight into your own emotions and needs.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to talk with me today.

The Importance of Being Instead of Doing

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase, “being instead of doing”?

We live in a culture and a country that prizes achievement and success, which we attribute to working hard.  The “American dream” promises that hard work and sacrifice will bring you happiness and fulfillment.  I think about all the books and blogs out there about productivity and getting things done.  We are encouraged to “hustle.”  We wear 50 to 60-hour work-weeks as badges of pride.  “Doing,” and always “doing more,” is glorified. When something is broken, we want to find a solution, fix it, and make it better.

“Doing” can also look like filling our time to escape from painful emotions or experiences. You can numb out by watching TV, eating, shopping, or any other type of behavior that takes your mind off your present reality, but those behaviors often still leave you feeling drained.  You may not be achieving goals, but you’re still not allowing yourself to “be.”

I am someone who struggles with the idea of resting or waiting.  I feel much more secure and in control when I do something productive.

What are some ways you tend to get caught up in this attitude of “doing”?

As a therapist in private practice, I feel this pressure to “hustle,” both for the sake of my business and for the best care for my clients.  This drive to achieve can be a good thing in small doses – until I push it beyond what I can handle.  It can warp into pressure to work hard that can either paralyze me or drive me into the ground.  It can lead to perfectionism, overwork, and ultimately to burnout.

Like most behaviors we come back to in our lives, keeping busy with work serves us somehow.  We wouldn’t do it if there weren’t some benefit.  Maybe it’s the pride of accomplishment, the sense of control and order it gives us, or the approval of others.  Or maybe you’re constantly doing something because you’re running or avoiding.

How might you fill in this blank: “If I constantly keep myself busy, I won’t have time to stop and think about _________”?  You can run away from your own awareness of your weakness and neediness by chasing achievement and accolades.  You can run away from your loneliness or desires by working for the approval of others.  You can even run away from the responsibility that comes with success by filling your time with purposeless activity.

What might you be running from when you’re “doing”?

As I sit, listen, and “be” with my clients, what I notice is I am much more alive and authentic than I would be if I were trying to fix them.  I often find that my clients can perceive this attitude, and they are more willing to be genuine themselves. This idea applies with relationships in your life as well.  As you sit and empathize with friends or family, being present with them instead of thinking of what you’ll say next or what advice you’ll give them, you are bringing more of your true self and presence to the conversation.  This can extend to work too: how many times have you puzzled over the solution to a problem for hours, and the answer comes to you when you’re not thinking about it?

As a therapist, I can feel pressure to be perfect or “enough” for my clients.  To say exactly the right words, or to offer the perfect response.  I can feel the pressure to have all the right training and education, to have the PhD, or to know all the answers.  There is freedom in realizing that I will never be perfect.  On my own strength, I will never be enough for my clients or for the people around me.  And when I give up trying to be perfect and instead offer myself as a fellow traveler and support to clients or to other relationships in my life, I’m much more genuine and authentic to my true identity.

How would it change your relationships if you could be more authentic with the people you love?

We have to make an intentional choice to “be” instead of “do.”  Personally, I had to make this choice while writing this post.  My original intention was to stay up late and get it done so that I’d have it completed by my deadline.  But in order to do that, I’d be missing needed sleep and down time.  Instead, I chose to spend the evening relaxing and wrote the post the next day, even thought that means it’ll be posted later than I intended.

How can you start to make this intentional choice in your life?  Practice mindfulness.  Rest.  Play.  Take a nap.  Read a book.  Take a leisurely walk.  Pray.  Sleep in.  Give yourself permission to take a break, to simply “be.”

What does it look like in your life to “be” instead of “do”?  How can you embody this in your life this week? 


At Restored Hope, I believe it is important for you to be able to have a place where your identity is not defined by your performance or your success.  I want to offer a space where you can bring your true self, with all your insecurities and weaknesses, and feel safe and supported. Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor counseling office designed to help you cultivate a more wholehearted and vibrant life.  Give me a call today at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to get started.

The Power of Vulnerability: Ted Talk by Brené Brown

When you think of the word “vulnerable,” what immediately comes to mind?  For some of us, it might include connotations of being naïve, easy to take advantage of, or weak.  In research, we talk about “vulnerable populations” as people who are disadvantaged and who don’t have resources readily available to them to protect themselves.  Defining oneself as vulnerable lies in direct contrast with our individualized American culture’s values: independence, strength, and confidence.  When we think of character traits we’d like ourselves to embody, vulnerability isn’t necessarily one that we’d put high on the list.

When we inevitably begin to see vulnerabilities in ourselves, we often begin to experience shame.  Brené Brown defines shame as “the fear of disconnection.”  We fear that our weaknesses and vulnerabilities will turn others away, and we may find evidence of broken relationships in our past that occurred once we revealed our weakness.  We fear that we’ll be “found out.”  We are afraid that we won’t be enough.

Where do you feel like you are not enough?

In her TED talk, Brené Brown goes into depth about her research on shame and how it influenced her into experiencing this vulnerability in her own relationships with others.

Think for a moment about the last time someone was honest with you about a weakness of theirs: and when I mean honest, think brutally honest.  For some, it may have been a conscious choice to risk in sharing with you, as they valued your relationship highly and trusted you to stick with them through it.  Or perhaps it was a situation where they couldn’t help but show the pain they were feeling, as it spilled out almost unconsciously.  What did it feel to be entrusted with that information from a friend?

Sharing our weaknesses with others puts us in a vulnerable place by risking rejection, pain, or misunderstanding.  We reveal the darker side of ourselves in a way that could have negative consequences.

But when we risk showing weakness and being vulnerable in relationships, we invite connection and intimacy.

Brené defined those individuals who could resist shame as experiencing “wholehearted living.”  She connects this to a fundamental belief in their own worthiness, specified as believing they are “worthy of love and belonging.”  When that fundamental belief is in place, these people aren’t afraid of connecting with others and showing their true selves: why should they be, if they know they are worthy of love?

What would be different in your life if you believed you were worthy of love and belonging?

In exploring commonalities between these shame-resilient people in her research, here are the aspects of wholehearted people that stood out for Brené:

Courage, Compassion, Connection…and Vulnerability.

Here, vulnerability is held up as an ideal instead of a flaw or something to hide.  But why is that?  I believe it’s based in the fact that we all live in an uncertain world.  We’d have to hide under a rock to remain completely safe, free of risk, and without pain.  Since we all experience this uncertainty, there is power in being able to admit the ways in which we are weak.  When we open ourselves up in relationships and admit the ways in which we aren’t perfect, we allow others to see us as human.  They can see similarities in their own experience that lead them to feel as if they aren’t alone, and they are drawn to us in relationship as a result.

Take some time to listen to this TED talk below. After doing that, my challenge for you is to spend some time thinking about how you might choose to risk being vulnerable in relationships instead of choosing to cover over your shame with numbing and avoiding.  How might you take a step to embrace your vulnerability and invite intimacy today?

It can feel terrifying to think about revealing vulnerabilities or weaknesses in your relationships with others (or even with yourself!).  If vulnerability feels impossible to you in this season of life, and shame feels like a familiar friend, Ii’d love to help you break free from shame.  Restored Hope is an Ann Arbor therapy office that offers counseling and support for individuals who are stuck in repetitive patterns that are causing pain and unhappiness in their lives.  I’d love to support you on your walk into greater freedom and a more wholehearted life.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here to contact me.

Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong (According to Johann Hari)

What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you hear the word addict?

“Why can’t they just stop?  All addicts are a lost cause.  Rehab doesn’t help.  They don’t take responsibility for themselves.  Anything I do to help them just enables them to keep going back to their addiction.”

Let’s take that a step further – what about a sex and love addict?

“There must be something wrong with them.  They’re a danger to my children.  They’re dirty, perverted, immoral, disgusting, or (fill-in-the-blank with the derogatory term of your choice).”

When we look at these cruel stereotypes, the conclusion made by many is to avoid those who struggle with addiction, or heap shame on them for their behaviors.  Even worse, if you are an addict, you may believe these words to be true of yourself, which can add fuel to the fire of loneliness and shame that feeds the addictive cycle.

Here’s the problem with these beliefs: in many ways, they only cause the individual who struggles with addiction to withdraw and become more isolated from resources that can help.

In the Ted Talk below, Johann Hari speaks about research that turns our view of addiction upside down.  He connects the human need to connect as a motivating factor both in addiction and in recovery and treatment.  He states:

“Human beings have a natural and innate need to bond. When we’re happy and healthy, we bond and connect with each other. But if you can’t do that because you’re traumatized or isolated or beaten down by life, you will bond with something that will give you some sense of relief.”

Sex and love addiction works in much the same way.  Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the field of sex and love addiction, categorizes addiction as an intimacy disorder.  In effect, sex and love addiction is both caused by and perpetuates experiences of isolation, loneliness, and poor experiences in relationships.  The addiction itself creates more isolation, and shaming words or beliefs about the addict can make freedom or recovery feel impossible.

“A core part of addiction…is not being able to bear to be present in your own life.”

Whether you struggle with addiction yourself, or you know someone else who does, take some time to watch the video below and hear more about how we might approach treating addiction differently.


“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety.  The opposite of addiction is connection.”


My goal at Restored Hope is to a give you a space where you can come at any stage in your struggles with sex and love addiction and find that you are not alone and there is help for you.  I offer individual therapy and group recovery work that can help you on your personal journey.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or fill out the form here today to talk and hear how I can help.