Panning For Gold In Complicated Relationships

I’ve been asked countless times, “How do I know if I should stay or leave a complicated relationship?”

It’s such a vulnerable question, and one that is best to ask (and explore) before leaving the relationship to prevent regret.

It’s one that presents feelings of anxiety and confusion, alongside a desire to make the best decision or avoid making a regrettable one. We can easily imagine vacillating between positive relationship experiences and difficult ones, and then it feels like making up an answer to a long-division problem.

Let’s first break the sentence down into three parts.

Part I - “How do I know”

Part II - “stay or leave”

Part III - “a complicated relationship”



Not knowing can lead to serious discomfort at times with a worry of never getting an answer. Feeling helpless can follow, and if the slope is slippery then what happens next could be lashing out in anger, dissociating and drifting off into a work project, plunging into addictive behaviors like drugs/alcohol/sugar/porn/social media, or some spiritual bypass.  

Let’s not and say we did.

Instead, begin by noticing the noisy mind that spins tales of self-blame. It may likely say “I’m supposed to know; it’s not okay to not have the answers; don’t be caught without being fully prepared; a real man/woman doesn’t get lost.”

If you do say this to yourself, ask yourself “where did I learn this from? Whose voice does this remind me of? Was I ever ridiculed for not knowing an answer? Or, today how are those with all the right answers treated?” Asking these questions is sort of like panning for gold. Here we’re hoping to separate our inner wisdom from the outdated blame-training. If we’re successful we arrive at loving self-acceptance for not having our next best move sorted out.

Now that we’re slightly less contracted because we’re not forcing ourselves to have a clear answer, we can more successfully explore all our feelings and needs in the situation. Now this self-talk may now sound like, “I’m tired and overwhelmed with heartache, and I crave some harmony and ease with my partner. I don’t know what to do right now and this is hard. Truthfully, I notice I’m scared and sad too.”

Self-connection. Check.



“Stay or leave.” When quizzed about our greatest fears, being alone lands on top. A core human need is connection and this commonly shows up as companionship and friendship. Though we instinctively know this, the neuroscience data proves that we are wired to connect with others, so it’s natural to fear being alone, although it’s highly unlikely. Meanwhile, a good question to ask is, “where do we have additional opportunities for connection in other areas of our life?”

A false dilemma is a fallacy in which something is claimed to be an "either/or" situation, when in fact there is at least one additional option. Equally as interesting is that a false dilemma can arise when attempting to force a choice or outcome. Are staying or leaving our only options? We may push away creative solutions when asking the question this way.



“A Complicated relationship.” I wonder if they’re secretly saying “my partner is complicated.” The speaker is likely judging both themselves and their partner, and this judgment of their partner is the root cause of the relationship breakdown. The gold can only be found if our eyes are wide open, so our sights mustn't be restricted by the inherent limitation of judgments.  

Again, it’s imperative to sort through old limiting beliefs to see if any are running the show. There are many myths about the complexity of relationships such as “relationships shouldn’t be hard work” or “if I can’t tell right away then it’s probably not the right relationship.”

When I hear “complicated,” I imagine this person wants kindness and ease when communicating with their partner, and needs support in understanding what’s been going on for so long.

The answer to this person’s question is quite simple:

I don’t know when to leave but I surely know when not to. You’re not ready for departure before you’re certain that you’ve heard your partner fully in the way they want to be heard, and vice versa. This is very different from saying all that you want to say.

We can only fully understand the whole relationship once we’ve truly listened to ourselves and the other person. This takes time, commitment, skills, patience, and vulnerability. We must be clear about all our feelings, needs, and requests before making a big decision. When we take into account someone’s sensitivities, proclivities, and their past hurts before we met them, we can listen with unique ears. Plus, we’re less likely to see them as complicated and instead as products of their real life experiences. Listening is a meditation.

This communication nerd just broke down a one-sentence question, and you don’t have to.

When our relationships appear “complicated” and we don’t know which way is up, the truth is that it’s an opportunity for us to slow down, get curious about our needs, as well as those of our partners, before taking any steps we may regret in the future.


What No One Tells You About Anger

On this beautifully crisp weekend morning the fields were full of young people kicking a soccer ball with parents and coaches on the peripheral. The little feet were bursting up and down the grass with seemingly endless energy while the adult reactions were quite mixed.

In the morning there had been vastly divergent scenes as children prepared for their big game. For some adults, a presidential speech followed by an Olympic-level warm-up routine was enough to get lil’ Jodi ready. For some kids, their arrival in the right jersey with both shoes was enough to deserve a post-game ice-cream sundae.

Decades of personal history couldn’t help but come along for the ride. There was a ball game laid in front of us, but how much was that simple fact buried under? On the surface it appeared to be just fun, but underneath there was much more. What pain, longing, memories, and meaning-making are unconsciously projected to that four-foot tall toothy-grin who only wanted to chase and be chased, see and be seen?  

WOAH! Now, one particular energy stood out from afar. In my peripheral was a pace of intensity, a voice of struggle, and arms flailing in anger. On a nearby field a coach was yelling at his wide-eyed team of 8 year-olds. Though the onlookers shook their heads at the coach offering their personal disapproval, I imagine they’re frozen and plagued with society’s conditioning that suggests he’s oh-so-bad, and that it is disrespectful or inappropriate to speak up.

Although I feel some of that same conditioning of “politeness” inside of me, nonetheless, I felt called to offer love’s interruption to this stranger, and walk directly toward the outburst.

Though I didn’t know anyone over there, there wasn’t a doubt or a pause in me about what I was there for. The kids were frozen and the coach was struggling. I walked up slowly and stood directly behind the kids sitting on the bench, and as I faced the flustered coach I offered a gentle smile and deep breath. Then, to help me understand why anger seemed to surface in him, and to open my heart to him, I made silent empathetic guesses to what mattered most to him …

does this coach want SO badly to make a positive impact?

is he scared because he doesn’t have as many opportunities to succeed in life as he wants, and this one seems fleeting?

is he longing to be seen and celebrated as someone who cares or is effective and competent?

is he struggling to show the care and love that’s inside him?

By stretching toward compassion, I was free to see the beautiful human standing before me, not a gruff old man.

And then something shifted ...

he paused his thought, changed his language, and slowed his pace. He was slightly softer then and began to phrase questions rather than insults or rhetoric.  

The kids ran onto the field to begin the second half of the game. I walked up closely and placed a friendly hand lightly on his shoulder, “It’s tough to be a coach sometimes, huh? I can tell how much you care. I’m also worried that they aren’t responding the way you’d like because they’re afraid of the response they’ll get. My guess is if they don’t feel shameful for making mistakes then they’ll be more responsive to your coaching. And remember, they’re young and learning. Good luck, coach.”

He didn’t say anything aloud to me, and he remained fixed on each child’s move. Though I wasn’t sure how he received what I said, when walking away I felt simple, true, and clear. My honest self expression was all I could give, and now I could be more present to my son’s game.

An hour later in the parking lot he approached me and said, “thanks man, I realize I might not be cut out to be a coach.” Maybe that day was the impetus for him to get future help for his anger.  

I learned yet again that when we move toward the enemy with kindness and softness, something shifts. We are likely to find that the underbelly of a dragon is soft. I don’t know what came over me, and I don’t always have that clarity, but when I do it can have big impacts on the world.

What no one tells you about anger is this.

It wants to protect something personally valuable. Anger is an expression that says, "Where are my boundaries, my strength, and my sense of self?!" It's trying its hardest to speak its truth. Anger is trying to take a stance on something important, and while it may have nasty tones, inside it longs for kindness and peace, yet will keep fighting because it thinks it must. Without useful tools it keeps on wrecking things and scaring others, yet it too is just trying its damnedest to meet its needs. Anger, like all feelings, comes forth to point us back home.

As Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, "respecting the native intelligence of others and simply using your empathic skills can prevent one from moving all their furniture into other people's emotional lives." I suppose you could say that I was hoping to protect the kid's playroom.

Tag You're It!

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, set out to ask what makes a good life? A 75-year-old study on adult development gave more proof to what we already know: the quality of our relationships are the most important overall factor to our happiness and longevity.

But that isn’t what this article is about. That’s just to say that ever since I reorganized my schedule to prioritize uninterrupted and unfettered playtime with my eight-year-old son, I’ve been clearer, lighter and happier. Whether you have kids or not, tighten your Adidas and get to a playground or dog park!

This is a story about what I found on the playground.

At our community parks we find both new kids each week and high-five the regs. Among them are the small and the slightly smaller, the speedy and the learning how to run, the shy and the bold. My son must have been born to help the bashful ones out. He is a Leo, known as a dominant, spontaneous, creative and extroverted character, and he’s best known for being self-confident and frankly hilarious.

So between my openness - heck yes you can play with us! and his boldness - hey, you wanna play tag? we recruit larger-than-life moments among strangers. Single children quickly become part of a large family for the hour. Siblings get along, adults sitting down now feel relieved that their youth are actively engaged, and what was two persons becomes three then five and we grow.

There are always different sizes, abilities, and speeds of players in our games of chase. Some join in that hardly know the difference between chaser and being chased, they just love the action. Counting down from ten, chasing, laughing, screeching, sweating, this is also a game of self-discovery of abilities and strategies.

What I begin to notice next subtly blows my mind …

After a young person tries and tries to catch someone their speed or faster without any luck, they scan the playground for a simple catch, for a four or five-year-old perhaps. At the pressure point of continuously being “unsuccessful” and feeling alone as the one who is “it”, they catch the easy prey. As I sit atop of a slide ready to escape, I continue to watch this pattern of hard work followed by their use of an easy back door when exhausted.

This opens my heart more compassionately to the strategies adults may go to for escape when disoriented or stuck. These kids are indirectly telling me that it’s not mal-intent, but rather instinctual and from our reptilian brain that we all want ease and power. It’s like I hear them saying "it matters a lot to me to feel included and relaxed and safe when needed."

I leave with a smile on my face and a small and sweaty palm grasped in my hand. I make conversation with my son about what he noticed, enjoyed, and was challenged by.

Together we’re learning about life. Together we’re doing all that we know how to meet our needs.      

I am sorry women

In light of the conversations and pain lately around women, men and sexism, I want to say that I'm sorry. *And* I'm scared. I'm scared of standing up with feminism and saying the wrong thing. I'm scared of getting my ass kicked or being called sexist based on the actions of centuries of men. And truthfully, sometimes I am frozen in shame because I know that on some younger days I related a women to a man, rather than being blasted away by her light and giving that light independence, so I'm scared I don't deserve forgiveness. 

I am so truly sorry women that the world you live in doesn't fully make room for you. That I haven't either. 

My heart is wrestling with so much brokenness in men and women alike. Sometimes I feel small though I want to be my big self. Today I am clear - woman rock!, we need each other, and as men we got some makin' up to do. 

I hope I find spaces today in which I can care for women and they can already know that I see their wholeness. I hope I find ways to hold them with care and at the same time hold my own good heart.

Now I am committed to asking females, "what do you want? What precisely can I do that allows space for you to be here fully? I want all of you here. I need you."

And please, when I fall short, don't bang on me. Be soft and redirect my heart. Though the patriarchy is NOT fair, please play fair with me here right now. I'm your ally. I see you. I will speak up for you when needed.

Men, show your tender and loving partnership. Right. Now.

Wait not a moment longer. Men, we've been lied to. We've been hooked up to the tube that says we must be tough and push others away, including women. We've been taught that to be cared for, we have to be mean and on top. Stop. Arrive. Love equally now.

Give every female nothing less than your whole heart.

Men, yes, I know, I too was pummeled as a little guy if I wasn't perfect. I too learned to shut off my feelings, so it makes sense to push down women along with your confusing and overwhelming feelings. 

I gently invite you to make those feelings known. Come out and be seen.

As you notice parts of your old self that haven't played big, don't let a sea of shame take you under. If you haven't given women their full space, you still get to hold your heart today. You're good. I'm good. We're in this together. The women aren't out to get us, they are just hurting too. And they deserve to be - it's a f*cked up and unequal world out there!

Hold your heart in one hand. And their hand in your other. 



Who am I?

These are the first words ever written. Here that is. Post numero uno. So I'll tell you about the journey of getting this website successfully out to sea, and how it helped me find a speck of clarity for the direction of my compass.

Be kind and rewind six years and you'll find me getting axed from a job that I clearly didn't want in the first place. Forget that I didn't know there were other options in life. I thought that life was in opposition to one's career, and that work was supposed to be just bearable. From that place, I became good at doing just enough to get by. Give my whole self? No way! Is Friday here yet? I got a Friday ticket all right. Strike three Stringa, you're outta here!

Rinse and repeat the above experience two years later. Pema Chodron says, "nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know." I wouldn't come to understand this until years later. So what I know now is that when I'm not inspired from my own heart, not connected to something bigger than me, and when those around me seem like zombies waiting for lunch break, then Leif doesn't fully show up. I felt dampened so I raised a ruckus. Maybe more like shed a coat that didn't fit in the first place. I knew that I was much more than I appeared, yet my soul was locked in cultural conditioning of fake smiles, fancy suits, and hard work regardless of the low degree of personal satisfaction.

Tired of feeling my full energy, creativity, intelligence, and the ability to connect to people tucked away, life gave me what would become my three best friends and most steady allies. Me an alien meeting other aliens. Thank God! Right away our hard work, research, authenticity, not-so-clear action plan, love for snacks, and commitment for providing people with a framework for healthy love relationships, led me to finally know that a meaningful career was possible for me.

So as I once again stared at the cliché, "if you could do anything you wanted, what would you do?", a friend intelligently reframed it into a not-so-cliché, "the real question is what are you good at? If you do what you're good at you'll positively impact people because you enjoy it."

So I played in the dirty garden box of what I new wanted to grow from my heart.

I decided once-and-for-all to remove my nametag as that employee on the widget factory line.

I co-facilitated my first workshops to young people giving them a framework and set of tools to choose wisely in love relationships.

Nearly two years following this I facilitated my first introduction to nonviolent communication in a warm room of 24, and I've continued forward ever since. Learning, falling down, getting feedback, tweaking, growing, and giving more. My heart was full. I had more energy at the end than at the beginning!

Today I work with a variety of audiences, learn stuff every hour, and completely love what I do. But how the heck do I organize and communicate all that on a webpage?

With support, that's how.

I brain-dumped my squirrely lyrics then asked for support from my allies that make beautiful sentences. They generously said yep. You know who you are - thank you with applesauce on top. I've gotten better every day at asking for support.

So yes, I am pleased. I do feel proud. I feel vulnerable putting myself out here like this. And I'm doing it in the name of love. Of truth. Of service. I wonder what parts of these pages will reach folks. I wonder if I've made any sense of what I love to do. Your feedback is welcome. Love to you.

Yours truly,

Leif Goddard Stringer