ERP 129: How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love – Part Three [Transcript]

ERP 129: How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love, Part III

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Welcome to The Empowered Relationship Podcast, helping you turn relationship challenges into opportunities and setting you up for relationship success. Your host, Dr. Jessica Higgins, is a licensed psychologist and relationship coach who shares valuable tips, tools and resources for you to dramatically improve your relationship.

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Hi, thank you for joining today’s podcast episode. Today’s episode is 129, “How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love, Part III.” If you have been listening to my recent podcast episodes, you have heard me possibly talk about a 25-day challenge to strengthening your love through kindness; it’s essentially an experiment, and the goal is to do one kindness gesture or action that you demonstrate towards your partner a day, for 25 days.

As I’m recording this, this is December 7th, and my intention was if you joined me in starting this 25-day experiment today, this would lead us into the New Year, and hopefully giving our relationship a good, increasing the warmth, the positivity and the love through kindness.

To support this 25-day challenge, I created a two-page PDF graphic. If you’d like to download this, you can visit my website,, click on Podcast, and you can find today’s episode there at the top, which is 129, “How Kindness Can Strengthen Your Love.” There you’ll find an opportunity to download this graphic. It’s essentially two pages. The first is 25 spots that are empty, and each day you will write one kindness action or gesture that you intended or completed. The second page is all the 25 recommendations that I’m in the process of sharing with you.

In part one I talked about the first five, which were:

1. Doing a loving-kindness meditation

2. Be a person of increase

3. Give unsolicited attention

4. Speak positively about your partner

5. Be playful.

With each one of those, I offer explanations, stories and examples. In part two I went over the next five tips, which are:

6. Celebrate wins

7. Be thoughtful

8. Express affection

9. Treat your partner with manners

10. Give your partner the benefit of the doubt.

In today’s episode we are gonna go over the next five suggestions. Going back to this PDF download, if you’re using this guide to support your 25-day experiment, you will basically have all of this for you as a resource as you choose one a day. I hope you join me.
Before we get started in today’s podcast episode, I wanna just encourage us to all put our mind and our heart and our being around the intention of the Empowered Relationship Podcast conversations, and ultimately that is to grow ourselves, develop our relationships knowing there’s a complex terrain when we talk about long-term, lasting intimacy… That we will feel challenged greatly in the lows of the difficult areas, and we may also be challenged in the expansion of love, intimacy and connection; we might reach an upper limit there.

We also wanna be mindful of the day in and the day out stability and consistency and safety of the relationship, and this is a lot to be attending to. More than anything, the purpose is to use relationship and where we get activated as a source of curriculum to grow ourselves to the best of our ability.

Let’s get started with today’s show. We are gonna go through five more tips around how to demonstrate kindness in relationship. Number eleven — again, this is picking up off of part one and part two. Learn how to address issues. Most of us do not feel comfortable with conflict, and definitely do not feel confident in addressing a conflictual topic. Okay, so that’s two different things. One is just being involved in conflict, the other is initiating a conflictual topic where we would go in and actually initiate something that we knew was a hot topic. And I say “many of us” because a lot of us have experienced pain, perhaps in family, upbringing or in previous relationships where conflict was scary, or unsafe even, or we’ve had difficulty having resolution. It’s just this back and forth and looping and downward spiral where there’s misunderstandings and escalation and it doesn’t go anywhere.

The message that we take away from those experiences is often “I don’t wanna do that again”, so unconsciously we make a decision to avoid these sensitive topics. Cultural norms also reinforce this avoidant tactic; we’re taught to not bring up provocative topics with friends and loved ones. I don’t believe that we actually get a lot of repetition or practice to experiment and learn how to do conflict well.

In the personal growth field and psychology and other areas, leaders and teachers will encourage us to get back to our sense of truth and authenticity, and that might mean having a difficult conversation with someone, to be true to ourselves. Again, not without tact and not to be inconsiderate, but to not lose our truth and not lose our sense of self. There is a balance here for sure, as you basically assess “Do I wanna address this conflict?”

a) You may not wanna invest time and energy with everyone. I would recommend not doing that. You will reserve and wanna reserve your energy of addressing a conflictual topic for the people that you’re very close with, that you intend to have a lasting relationship with, and that you would like to deepen in your intimacy with. These are people that are in your inner circle, someone that you wanna have around for a while and that you actually wanna deepen in the connection.

b) You will want to get in touch with what’s true, but you will also wanna be able to practice that tact and consideration. The balance there is “Where am I?” and then “How am I honoring the relationship?” So “How do I honor myself, and how do I honor the relationship and the other person?”

c) You will wanna develop skill in addressing an issue. Like anything, there’s a learning curve towards developing any skill, and it does not come without learning and practice. It is mind-blowing to me that we expect ourselves to do conflict well in relationship when we have had very little opportunity to learn and practice. I also think it’s one of the most tricky areas to develop skill in, because it does require us to tolerate some of our most uncomfortable emotions, as it relates to fear, anger, and insecurity in the deepest parts of our being… Our sense of love and connection, emotional bond.

Additionally, in relationship we often don’t have a safe practice ground. When you are learning to drive, did your parent ever take you to the country or an abandoned parking lot to practice? The idea here is that you have a safe place to fumble around, practice getting acquainted with all of the mechanics, without the high risk of hurting someone else or something.

I don’t know that we have this practice ground in a relationship. It often feels real-time, live, and like “do or die.” We don’t set the parameter that “Hey, I haven’t done a lot of this, I’m not entirely confident here… Can you just be a little flexible with me? Can you cut me some slack? I’m trying things out.” We feel pressure to do it right, and then we’re managing our feelings and we’re managing what we perceive our partner and how they’re reacting. There’s a lot going on, and not to mention that your partner’s skill level around addressing conflict matters greatly in this equation as well, whether or not they can manage their emotional reactivity, their insecurities. Do they take things personally? Do they assume the worst? Do they get protective, defensive or blamy?

Also, avoiding doesn’t work either. Unfortunately, I see way too many couples that come to me after a period of time of being together, and one of the partners is at a great loss, because they have the experience of having lost themselves, whether or not they have basically let their partner’s preferences and desires dominate, or whether or not they didn’t know how to bring themselves forward. Either they get in a position where they don’t feel as though they love their partner anymore, or that the relationship represents them, or that it serves them, and they question “Do I really wanna be in this relationship?” It’s sad to me, because it’s not necessarily about the other person; it’s this cumulative effect of avoiding bringing themselves to the relationship and advocating for themselves, and essentially co-creating relationship. This looks like many different flavors, I have many couples that experience this.

Just the other day I was working with a couple and I have for a  couple of months, as they have been in the heat of  a crisis, and it’s essentially this dynamic. The wife in the marriage in this session just a few days ago was telling her husband “I wanna divorce.” And it’s heart-breaking, because again, I’m looking at them as a couple and I see how the dynamic could be entirely different. I see the possibility of her growing herself, and them having a different experience in their way of relating to each other. I see her pain of feeling like she doesn’t know and has to work at getting back in touch with herself, and feeling as though “I don’t know how to do that with you.” And seeing his upset and his heartbreak, and just the devastation of what they’ve invested together, and that essentially is being called off. And it’s not my role to tell somebody what to do, it’s my role to really help facilitate and really listen to what each person’s needing and reflect that back, and really offer up opportunities and practices. At the end of the day, people have their choice of what they wanna engage in and what they don’t wanna engage in.

So I really, more than anything, just wanna encourage how important it is to not avoid these sensitive topics, to learn how to address a difficult topic. I was actually talking to my grandmother, because I actually felt deeply saddened by this session, and more than anything I just was feeling with them, and trying to support them to the best of my ability… And I was just talking more general; I don’t share great details about my sessions – obviously, those are confidential – but I was talking to my grandmother and my mom, we were doing this joint call, and I was just… My mom was basically saying — I’ve been really busy and working a lot, and my grandmother doesn’t quite understand what a podcast means, or having programs, and my mom was trying to simplify and basically just saying “She really helps couples when they’re experiencing challenges”, and my grandmother was giggling and she was like “You’ve got your work cut out for you”, and I said “Yes”, and my heart was pretty heavy, having just experienced this session… I said, “Yeah, it’s really sad when I see the potential, and yet one or both don’t wanna continue”, and my grandmother made a comment, she was like “That’s the easy way out”, and… I don’t know, it just struck me around such wisdom, and yet at the same time it’s not my place to say that to somebody, and at the same time, my goal is to really help people see the path of this type of development and doing the work.

On a side note, if you’re interested in developing these skills for yourself and in your relationship, I would encourage you to consider the Connected Couple program. There are 12 modules that basically give you start to finish the system of these principles and practices of doing this relational work. The way it’s designed is to do a module at some form of frequency. I’ve had couples do this one module a week, so that essentially is a three-month, but most recently I’ve had couples that have been doing it at a slower pace, and essentially as we’re approaching this new year, 12 modules, 12 months, it could be a really great opportunity to start the new year with the intention of investing proactively and learning these skills and breaking up this curriculum so that it’s doable and bite-sized, because there’s actually quite a bit of content. So not waiting to a crisis to try to learn this, because it’s a lot to learn… And really, what I find most useful is when people are in crises, they actually get coaching, because there’s so much that can be laser-focused when there’s a guide and there’s a teacher and there’s a facilitator or a therapist or a coach.

If you’re self-teaching, some of this stuff you just have to really build and find your way, so the system of the program gives you the whole process, but it’s gonna be at a slower pace. So just think about it. If you wanna do something in a really kind of structured, paced way and be engaged without this intensiveness to it, consider possibly taking the Connected Couple program. You can find the link on today’s show notes. Again, that’s on my website,, and you can find the link there. If you wanna go directly to the information page, it’s actually on I also have many podcasts on how to approach conflict, I have a podcast on anger… So feel free to look those up as well.

Closing out this tip, number 11, learn how to address an issue… I’m gonna quote Julie Gottman (John Gottman’s wife):

Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger, but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.

Number 12 – Practice respect during conflict. This is very similar to number 11, Learn how to address an issue. Practicing respect during conflict does take some practice and some intention and skill. And first, awareness. When push comes to shove, do you step up or do you step away? Typically, people have a natural style, so you might look at what you were like when you were young… Did you buck up or did you back down?

When I look at my past when I was young, I tended to step up. One of the examples that came to mind in reflection was one when I was serving as an AmeriCorps member with the I Have A Dream Foundation. Before I share this story, I just wanna say I have many stories where I have stepped up; some have gotten me injured, in trouble, and were not very flattering and I’m not proud of. Others, like the one I’m about to share – who knows if it was smart or not, but it had really good intentions. I was feeling protective and trying to help.

As I mentioned, I was a service member in AmeriCorps with the I Have A Dream Foundation. This foundation essentially works in schools with under-served youth, and the focus of the program is to mentor the students who are in the program, and statistically help them be more likely to graduate high school by investing in them, helping them with their academics, tutoring them, giving them new experiences, helping them develop extracurricular activities, being a positive source of support and encouragement, helping them think bigger… Again, having new experiences, developing self-confidence, and expanding just their understanding of the world.

I believe this was midway through the year and I was in our home base classroom. We had a classroom in the school and it was on the second floor. I was in between mentoring sessions, and I heard some yelling out in the hallway, screams, so I went immediately out and I was looking in the hallway, and I found this group of people, and I was like “Oh god, it’s a fight…”, so I walked up and I saw these two young men – I think they were on the basketball team – and they were basically fighting each other.

This was right in front of the English teacher’s room, so he came out and he was attempting to break it up… And he was trying to hold one of the students back, but I immediately saw that this allowed for the other student to have free shots, and I could tell that this was gonna be dangerous, and that the English teacher needed help. So he was either gonna get hurt, or this fight was really gonna escalate and be dangerous. So without even thinking, I run over, amongst all the chaos, and I grab the other guy from behind. I honestly have no idea how I was able to do this – maybe it was adrenaline, but I was able to hold him back. After a few moments, the intensity calmed and they decided to stop, and the other guy walked off.

The young man who I was holding looked at me, and I think to his surprise shoved me off like a bug, like I’m not that tall and I’m not that big… It was kind of a little humorous, and I’m sure he was like, “What…?!” But when I came back to the room and I had a few other fellow AmeriCorps members witness this and we were debriefing it with the leaders of our direct team, I was actually scolded for getting involved… It could have been very dangerous, someone could have had a weapon, and I didn’t necessarily have a ton of training around how to de-escalate these types of situations. And while this was true, I remember what it looked like seeing that English teacher struggling alone with these two young men, and I couldn’t sit back and watch.

As I share this story with you, it’s just one of the examples of where I just jump in, and I’ve actually had to work quite hard to calm my reactions and temper my impulses, especially as it comes to relationship in my younger years in high school; I remember arguing with my boyfriend, and just the intensity level, and really regretting some of the things that I had said or some of the things that I had done in the way of reactivity.

In my 20’s, as I mentioned, I worked pretty hard to begin to develop my inner strength, maturity and character when it comes to conflict… Thinking before I speak, not lashing out, trying to be more objective and considerate in my languaging, not being so defensive when I feel attacked.

One of the keys here is just to understand what’s your natural impulse; is your impulse to turn away and back away, or is it to jump in? Both have pros and cons, right? Some people might have to work more towards coming to the table. Their impulse is to step away and distance themselves, or get passive-aggressive, maybe ignore, reject and cut people off. Stepping up and stepping away can both be done in disrespectful ways. Again, knowing your tendency is helpful to understand what your inclination is when you are in conflict. Also, where do you go when you’re not at your best? What things do you engage in when you’re not at your best in conflict? Most likely, these will be good indicators of what you might do that’s not fully respectful.

As I mentioned, I’m being really honest that learning how to be respectful during conflict took me a while, because I think that I would go toe to toe, and if there was cutting remarks, I would jump in the ring and say cutting remarks in return. It was this upping the ante and escalating, and again, nothing good would come of it and I felt terrible afterwards.

One of the key principles for me, that really helped me along the way was practicing respect as a form of my own character and my own integrity. So not measuring the standard based on the person I’m interacting with, because if they’re willing to go low, hit below the belt, am I just then gonna follow suit or do I have my own measure around what I’m willing to engage in, of disrespectful behavior?

That allowed me to really hold myself accountable, rather than externally what was going on in my environment. As I practiced and I treated people with respect and a level of civility… It wasn’t that I was being overly delightful or pleasant and gracious, it was more objective and tactful, but I could walk away feeling as though I was clean and clear in my consciousness. I could feel good about myself. It was also way more motivating, because the interaction was way more constructive. A lot of the times when we enter into this disrespect, there’s a tremendous amount of damage control, and it’s sometimes extremely difficult to recover from. Sometimes some of the things that are said and done, you can’t. Or it takes an incredibly long time to build that trust and that safety back up.

With the goal of my own self-integrity and my own standard of character, or treating people with respect to the best of my ability when in conflict, I then shifted my focus to “What do I need to accomplish that goal?” and sometimes it meant I need to remove myself from the dynamic, or I need to set a boundary, or I need to calm down before I can actually engage with you.

If practicing respect during conflict is relatively new for you – I’m not imagining it is, but if it is, I wanna give you a couple tips to consider. One is to be objective and fair in the recounting of the story. To the best of your ability, sticking to the facts. This is extremely difficult, because we are emotional, and we have a pretty good sense of why somebody did what they did, and how they injured us, and we tend to have a whole speech and all the evidence to support that speech already developed. So the narrative is weighted to support our experience, but often times our partner can feel greatly hurt and offended, and unfairly characterized. So to the best of your ability, being objective and fair will show respect and kindness, and your partner will wanna engage in that. They’ll recognize, “Okay, you’re not just trying to attack me here, you’re trying to address this constructively, and that’s something I can be interested in.”

A second point around how to practice respect in conflict is have tact. The definition of tact that I like comes from The Virtues Project. This is curriculum around building character, and they have I believe 52 character qualities and traits, and so they have definitions and they have curriculum to work with students in schools, in homes… I like the purpose of what they’re doing. Their definition of tact:

Tact is telling the truth kindly, considerate of how your words affect other’s feelings. Think before you speak. Knowing what is better left unsaid. When you are tactful, others find it easier to hear what you have to say. Tact builds bridges.”

This is definitely in a place of conflict… But the ultimate goal is really to work together to get through the conflict. It’s not about beating each other up and who can have the upper hand. It can feel like that at times.

Another suggestion is being considerate. This is similar to tact, but… Your partner has a perspective and a position as well, and can you make room for their experience? So sharing the space. Sometimes it’s hard, and we just wanna feel listened to… Like, “Can you take time to hear my side? Can you understand me? Can you empathize with my part? Can you put yourself in my shoes?” Yes, and can you give and be considerate that your partner also has their experience?

The fourth thing and the last thing I’ll suggest here when it comes to respect and conflict is starting the conversation gently, instead of waiting for things to reach a boiling point, and then perhaps your partner is completely taken off-guard by the intensity of your start; they just are more aware of and possibly freaked out about the response and emotion that’s coming towards them. I actually have a podcast about this, something to the effect of How To Be Gentle When Approaching Your Partner.

In the way of respect during conflict – this is something that I’ve also worked with with my husband… He tends to need a little more time to reflect, to get clear and to be ready to process something that we’ve experienced that’s a challenge. His pace of doing that is slower than mine; initially, I was ready to talk and would press a little. “Let’s talk now. Why not now?” That is actually understandable in some sense, because I’m ready and I wanna talk and I’m advocating, but on the other sense it isn’t respectful in that he’s not ready. So there are times where my husband’s not in a position to continue the conversation, so when he wants to end the conversation or put a pause to it, for me to not pull at him… Because really, my ultimate goal is to resolve, so if he’s not ready, it’s not likely that it’s gonna have a  positive outcome.

In the article that I mentioned in the last two episodes, Emily Esfahani Smith in The Atlantic – and that’s one of the things that prompted this whole topic… And really they’re talking about Gottman’s research, and that kindness and emotional stability are one of the most important factors for a stable, happy, lasting marriage. And quoting her, she says:

The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.”

Number 13, Strive for the 5 to 1 ratio. Again this comes from John Gottman’s research. If you are familiar, you may have come across the 5 to 1 ratio. This is essentially for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable, happy marriage has five or more positive interactions. Basically, the principle here is that kindness should greatly outweigh negativity. In those cases, happiness results.

It’s common and human to have some type of transactional analysis going on… “Am I giving more than I’m actually receiving? Are they adding to my life, or are they taking away from me? Is our relationship equitable?” Granted, relationships can’t be always 50/50 – we go through phases – however, it’s understandable to have a response to the balance of giving and receiving in a relationship.

Through John Gottman’s research and observation, they realized the masters of marriage, the happy, stable marriages – they were doing something important. So even though they may argue or be expressing anger, they were also laughing and teasing and doing bids of repair, and they would have ways of emotionally connecting together, despite the difficult terrain. On the other hand, they observed unhappy couples, that engaged in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. Their positive to negative ratio looked more like one to one, or even less… And based on their research, they’ve deemed that this is actually unhealthy, and indicates the couple is teetering on the edge of divorce. Negative interactions are things such as criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling and contempt. They all contribute to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and desire for breaking up.

And they note that the negative interactions have a lot of emotional power. So non-verbal negative interactions such as mocking, or making fun of, or eye-rolling, or even sarcasm are potent, and that it actually takes five positives to counteract the one negative, hence the 5 to 1 as a minimum. In happy marriages, people expect to feel safe, and when a negative interaction occurs, it is quickly repaired with understanding, validation, empathy and other positive ways of engaging.

So possibly, if you’re relatively good at practicing respect during a conflict, another level here is to add a layer of positivity, lighten the mood, perhaps tease or gently touch in a warm way, or smile, or crack a joke with your partner when there’s a difficult topic being discussed.

Number 14, Offer reassurance. There will be times when your partner feels insecure, afraid and uncertain. Unfortunately, your partner may not have the capacity to tell you explicitly that they are feeling scared, anxious and worried. Whether or not their doubts relate to their career, family, friends or your relationship, you as their partner have a powerful opportunity to remind them of their value and their goodness. Sometimes the kindest thing we can offer is genuine sentiments of belief and reassurance. So if your partner is experiencing self-doubt, offering affirmation, what they’re good at, reminding them of their strengths, telling them you believe in them, and that you know that they can do it and that you’re confident in them… Or perhaps they’re having doubts about a circumstance. Maybe even saying “It’s all gonna be okay.” You don’t know how things are gonna play out, you don’t know if what they’re striving for is actually gonna end positively, but you can also say “You’re gonna be okay. It’s all gonna be okay. If this door closes, another one will open. You’ve got this.”

When I was thinking about this tip of offering reassurance, actually the movie Jerry Maguire popped in my mind. There were a couple scenes in that movie… I think the opening scene was Jerry Maguire and his girlfriend at the time – he was experiencing some moment of doubt and she was pumping him up by reminding him who he is, and really trying to point out his strengths and really get him into that positive state. And another one – I actually tried to find that clip, and then this one I actually found… This is the clip where Jerry Maguire in the movie is pumping up Rod Tidwell, before the draft; I’ll put that in the show notes. It’s a short little clip, it’s like 52 seconds, but it’s essentially — he’s like “What am I doing here? I feel like a big chump and I feel like I’m five days late to the prom.” Jerry is like, “No”, and he starts reminding him and really putting in his mind, like “You’re the best-kept secret…” It was funny, he was like waving him on, like “Keep it coming, this is working.” We can do this for each other in relationship, and it can be incredibly powerful, because again, we are most likely gonna share with our significant other the places where we are most tender and vulnerable. So if we can hold that space of belief and offer that reassurance when it’s genuine, it can be a really beautiful place of strength.

Number 15, Forgive your partner’s shortcomings. Typically, when our partner does something off-putting, it’s easy to feel offended and perhaps even hold a grudge, yet holding a grudge usually does not help us feel better, nor does it bring any resolution or resolve with our partner. Even with attempts to resolve the issue through a conversation, we can still hold issue with the partner and their actions, as if punishing them would somehow change the situation.

It’s almost as if sometimes we believe – and I know this is natural; I’m sure I’ve had this thought a time or two as well, that our partner serves the purpose of fulfilling us solely… We forget how we can be difficult and have shortcomings as well, and that we lose sight of that mutual give and take.

If the pattern of holding grudges continues, we can develop a way of withholding our affection and growing distant from our partner. We might become passive aggressive and critical. We start to see them as the issue, rather than a person, our partner, our trusted ally.

In the forgiveness podcast episode I believe I did over a year ago at this point, I remember using an analogy. It’s basically talking about the importance of doing emotional hygiene. I talked about a car, and let’s say you are on a road trip and driving for great distances; it’s likely you will get dirt, and perhaps bugs, and all kinds of stuff on your windshield, and for you to be able to see clearly, you will wanna clean your windshield for that level of visibility. Similar for our hearts… There’s gonna be certain offenses, irritants, issues, and for us to be clear in our heart space and have an active forgiveness practice…

Not that long ago I interviewed Dr. Fred Luskin on the topic of forgiveness, and he has a very important stance in the way of forgiveness. It’s how to make peace with what was. And in relationship, he talks about preemptively forgiving your partner, knowing they’re gonna have weaknesses, perhaps even character flaws, or they’re gonna make mistakes, as will you. If we offer that sense of grace and forgiveness ahead of time, we would have more openness in our heart, we would able to be more vulnerable with our own insecurity and own pain, and we would be able to have more of that connection, because we wouldn’t have those grudges, we wouldn’t have that bitterness, we wouldn’t have those wedges that create that disconnect. If you haven’t checked that out, I encourage you to do so.

What would it be like to let go of that grudge, be vulnerable about your pain, be open to reconciling, and again, choosing that open heart, making peace with the circumstances and really having the intention to work with your partner.

To recap today’s five tips that I’m offering you:

11. Learn how to address an issue.

12. Practice respect during a conflict.

13. Strive for a 5 to 1 ratio.

14. Offer reassurance.

15. Forgive your partner’s shortcomings.

If you would like access to the guide, 25 Days To Strengthening Your Love Through Kindness, I encourage you to check out today’s show notes that can be found on my website,, click on Podcast, and you can find today’s episode (129) there at the top, as well as the show notes and other links that I have mentioned.

If you participate in this 25-day practice, I encourage you to go to the Facebook page Empowered Relationship and share your experience. I’ll be posting there and I look forward to hearing any of your comments if you choose to share on that page.

Until next time, I hope you take great care.

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