Needs and communication in relationships

Couple’s therapy. I always admire people who decide to go into couple’s therapy. That is a sign that they want to work on their relationship and understand each other.

I suppose you may already have noticed that all relationships require work. It does not matter if we are talking about friendships or love relationships or work relationships or partnerships. They all need work. They need time spent together; they need experiences experienced together. They need the stories, discussions, and reflections about the experiences lived together – debriefing. All these events are making relationships last or break.

If you pay attention, all these words end with “ship”: relation + ship, friend + ship, partner + ship. It is like there is a boat floating on the sea. A ship that carries all the people involved in that “ship”. For that boat/ship to sail, collaboration and work is needed.

Have you ever thought about how much time and resources do you invest in the people around you? What is it that you do to maintain the boats/ships you navigate in your everyday life? How much of yourself do you put into them?

I have noticed that most people tend to take family and friends for granted, that they will always be there. If that is true, why are so many divorces and so many broken families? Why aren’t children speak with their parents, or friends lose each other during time? None of this would happen if those people were there unconditionally. Not all of them are, and they don’t have to be either. Because people change over time, and it isn’t easy to keep close with all the people we would like. They change too. Life changes them in the same way it changes us. To maintain some of these relation + ships during time and space takes more effort than others do, and some can be toxic. It is good to become aware of the wrong relationships and let these people go even if they are blood relatives.

It is interesting how people are making so much more effort to maintain business clients and business relationships than they work to maintain a family. I’ve heard somewhere that we should treat family as they were our best business clients. Much more easily said than done, because there is so much more history and feelings involved in family relationships than in business relationships.

In marriages, for instance, which are based on being close every day and living under the same roof, and sharing a bed, it is still challenging to know very well the other. We think around 50 to 60 000 thoughts every single day. It is hard to share all of them with our partners. There is no need, either. We have assumptions based on previous experiences we had had before we were a couple. Some of the thoughts may hurt others if we share them.

In my therapy room, I find that this is a big challenge for the people who come to see me.

To give one example, I find that most women need reassurance. They need more attention from their partners, and they expect their masculine partner to understand that without being told. Unfortunately, few of us can read minds. Therefore, people do not know what we need if we do not tell them.

Men consider that if they stick to the relationship and do nothing more than just that, it is enough. Well, that is not entirely true. Some men need to contribute to the relationship every day and give that attention and reassurance their partner needs.

Metaphorically speaking, it is not enough for some women that their man gives them a huge bunch of flowers once. They need ONE flower every day. The challenge is that most women do not know how to ask their partner to give them a flower every day. Learning how to express needs can be an advantage.

Often, expressions like: “I need you to….” Or “ I would be pleased if….” or “could you please do me a favor and…” or “I would love if you….” Are much more helpful than “You never…..” or “you always…” or “you’re such and such…”

In our modern times, some women may not necessarily want flowers, but something that gives them the reassurance and attention they need. Such as cooking once a week, or every day, cleaning the house, take care of kids, arrange surprise dates every couple of months, wash her car and take it to the garage, buy flowers if that is what she likes, talk to her if she likes good conversations, and so on. When the woman in the partnership does not know how to ask for her needs to be met, then the man needs to pay attention to her habits and her everyday reactions. That also requires effort.

How all this information fits into your life and your experience with relationships?

How do you relate to all these efforts relationships need to resist time and sometimes space? Space, especially when we are living abroad and family and friends are miles apart.


Anger is one of the primary feelings we have, and it is meant to protect us. 

Anger is the emotion we feel in the present moment, and it has to do with the trespassing of personal boundaries or territories. When our values or something essential for us is threatened, we get angry and irritated. We are willing to defend whatever it is crucial for us: things, people, ideas, opinions, identity, etc. If we do not control this Anger, it can lead to violence (verbal or/and physical), and we end up hurting people we love, including ourselves. 

It is also a feeling that covers all the other emotions we have. We’d rather be angry than deal with all the different feelings we can have; we never thought about working through them and calling them by their names. 

In my therapy room, Anger shows up a good deal. People are angry or irritated. 

Angry at their parents, mad at their kids, mad at their boss, angry at their jobs, angry at their friends, angry for no apparent reason. 

Some tell me that they get angry and they don’t know what to do with that Anger. Some do not see how they react to Anger; they do not know how to identify it and what people around them see or hear. 

We have different reactions to Anger. 

Perhaps you’ve heard about freeze, fight, flight? And Flop and Friend? They are reactions human bodies can have when they feel threatened and when we are angry. 

Freeze is when you chock, and you feel you cannot open your mouth, not even to speak, or to scream, or to say anything at all. Something is blocking your through, and you barely breathe. The body feels paralyzed and unable to move. If it moves, you can think that it is doing movements you have no control over. Perhaps you have heard someone saying, “I don’t even remember how I’ve got out of there”, or maybe you have experienced a situation like this yourself. 

It is because your body was paralyzed and reacting instinctively, programmed by the brain to protect and get you out of danger. Yet, you have no memory of when did you moved. 

This situation is only dangerous to yourself if you cannot come out of a challenging situation.

Fight is when your first reaction to threats is to shout, yell, or to hit something or someone. Words are coming out of your mouth without control. It doesn’t matter who hears you or who do you shout at. The person just happened to be there. Your body can shake and moves without control, either hitting someone or something or hearting yourself (squeezes the fist until the nails are hurting the palm, bit your tongue, you grit your teeth). The breathing is either heavily and fast, or stops altogether, or remains on the top of the chest, just enough to keep the body alive. 

This reaction to Anger is dangerous both for ourselves and for the people around us, especially if they do not cause our Anger. Often we tend to “kill” the messenger who brings us bad news, and we have a hard time distinguishing the context. 

Flight is when you just run away from the situation or the threatening people that made you angry. It is difficult to speak, like in the Freeze case. You prefer to walk away; you go for a walk to calm yourself down and regain your senses and speech. 

Flop is when you do not react in any way when you’re angry. You act as nothing is happening. This is the most “wanted” reaction, and it is considered mature. Yet, it doesn’t mean you are not affected at all. The stress is still there, just that your body has learned to block it and not feel it. Eventually, it shows up later in the form of physical pain or illness in the body. It can only hurt yourself. 

Friend is when you laugh when you are angry. It is better to hide the Anger behind a smile or a joke. Laughter is also a defense mechanism that says, “please don’t kill me” to the situation or the threatening person. This, too, is a preferred reaction to Anger. It is more agreeable for people around you to see a smiling face than an angry one. It is suitable for yourself as well, as long as you can laugh at the situation that makes you angry. But if it is only a facade, and the laughter is not genuine, the effect is the same as in Flop: it shows up later in the form of physical pain or illness in the body.

Anger hides many feelings. It is like the tip of the iceberg, that comes up first above the water. Underneath the water, usually, there are many complicated feelings and emotions that people are not aware of. To name a few of them is overworked/very tired/burned down, working a job you don’t like, being hungry, unhappy with your achievements or life situation, etc. Anger covers them all. 

The best way to deal with Anger is actually to name it when it shows up. Recent neuroscience research shows that when we are putting words to the feelings passing through our bodies, we overpower them. We know their names, and we can own them. To acknowledge Anger is a big step. Naming the emotions and feeling them in the body is an excellent way to deal with them. When Anger is named and felt within the body, it tends to go away, and we can get in touch with the other feelings hidden under the water. 

I am putting here a picture I like and which represents the Ager Iceberg, so you can have a visualization of how your emotions can look like. 

How therapy works

©ssstocker –

When I say that I have therapy praxis, I notice different reactions from people. Some stop for some seconds and try to digest what they’ve heard. Others answer with long: “Ooooookeeeeyyy!” or “Interesting”. And the conversation stops there.

With time I realized that people around me have a different understanding of what “therapy” means than I do.

For me, therapy is a word that expresses a process someone is willing to go through together with a trained person within the field of psychology. The purpose of this process is to have a more fulfilled and easier life. A process, which allows people to discover themselves and see a bigger and perhaps a different picture of the world they are living in. It’s a process of growth and becoming.

Yet, for many other people, “therapy” means something very scary. It means that you are mentally ill, diagnosed, and in serious trouble. I have no idea why it is like that. Just is, and those people think for themselves: “I am fine. I don’t need therapy. I’m not crazy. Other people have it worse than me”, which is called “denial” in technical terms.

Many are going out and speak under the influence of a famous “therapist” who goes by different names: “Wine”, “Beer”, “Scotch”, “Vodka” and many others. I’m sure you know who I mean. There is also a saying “What happens to a party, stays at the party” and one can say that the “confidentiality” agreement is in place. Although, images and films we see on the internet these days, say otherwise.

All good. Speaking with family and friends under influence or not, is great. These people are precious. At the same time, they have their own issues and their own emotions to deal with when they hear your problems. Most likely, their advice will come with good intentions; yet, they are not in your shoes. I have seen enough broken relationships because people cannot manage their own feelings when they find out how the other person really feels. And it’s also a kind of tabu to speak about feelings. 

Therefore, let me explain how therapy works.

If you’ve been to therapy and you didn’t like it, it’s ok. It’s not for everybody. For people who realize that they need this kind of help is good if they try several therapists/psychologists until they find one, they resonate with.

When they found that person, it will take six to eight or ten sessions to feel progress. Unfortunately, their problems are not going to be fixed overnight. The therapist is a good support through the process, with knowledge, compassion, guidelines, and questions, while they are doing the job. Nobody can fix other people but themselves.

If you do not want to be fixed, or if you are not willing to put in the work, nobody can do that for you. Nobody else can feel your feelings or think your thoughts for you.

Working with yourself is not like working with pottery, or cooking, or carpentry, where you actually “see” or “touch” the progress. When you work with yourself, you need to feel it in your daily life, in the time between therapy sessions. You feel it in the behavior patterns you have towards yourself and others.

With the therapist, who is bound to confidentiality, you can speak about everything without being afraid of being judged or nailed to the ground because of who you really are. Managing to speak about issues you’ve never shared with anyone, in a safe place, can change your perspectives over your life. More than that, after you’ve experienced putting words on difficult situations or feelings, in that safe place, it is much easier to talk about outside the therapist’s office. You learn how to use words, and how to express your needs in a way that is comfortable both for you and for those who hear them.  

Where else can you do this? In today’s society, when we’re supposed to be “perfect,” where is it that YOU can take the freedom to be yourself with all that you are?

If you should be interested sign up on the link, to get your free therapy session, and see for yourself how it feels like:

Migration of Emotion

Fra FB

Behind the decision of moving, working and living in another country always lies a feeling; one that gives us the necessary energy to proceed with the action.

I like to call it Migration of Emotion because we take with us our feelings about how it is going to be in the new place to which we have decided (willingly or unwillingly) to move and live. I have identified five big categories of feelings people act upon when they take this decision:

  1. LOVE: And here there a couple of more sub-categories:
  • People marry a person from another country and they decide to follow their spouse.
  • One spouse gets a job in another country, and they bring their family along.
  • One is a refugee in another country and then the family follows.
  1. COMFORT—material or emotional:
  • Material comfort is when people cannot find jobs that pay enough in their own countries and they travel to another country where their skills are appreciated and rewarded accordingly. They earn money and they feel good about themselves. With this money, they also help their families in their country of origin and that makes them feel good about themselves as well. Feeling good about yourself because you manage to provide material comfort to yourself and for others always feels nice.
  • Emotional comfort is the next level. It is when people travel to live in another country, not because they do not earn enough in their country of origin, but because they do not like how they are treated as human beings. Many call it “civilization,” which is more than just money. It is the way people behave with each other; how they speak and how careful they are with each other’s feelings. It is the way the political, economic and social system works, and how are the rules respected. Is your opinion as a human being at least listened to, and then, perhaps, taken into consideration, or does your voice not matter as long as you do not have money? There is a lot to be said here; I know that there is no perfect system or perfect people. At the same time, in some countries these values stand stronger.
  1. SAFETY—included here are the most vulnerable people of all; those who are experiencing war or an extreme dictatorship. The first thing they want is to know that they can live and their life is safe. Being able to still breathe the next second becomes the biggest priority. The need to feel safe becomes the biggest drive in their process of fleeing. The emotional luggage they carry with them is the biggest and rawest of all.
  2. Study abroad also comes with feelings of FUN and INSPIRATION. These can be the feelings behind the decision to study abroad. A degree or some credits acquired in a different system and a different educational culture and another language can count when it comes to showing flexibility in a potential future job. After all, we live in a more globalized world than we like to admit.
  3. EXCITEMENT induced by the travel experience is another feeling, the last on my list, for which people decide to travel. I include here tourism, backpacking, nomadism, and Interrail. People just decide to see what it is like in other places/countries in the world. They either go on holiday or decide to stay, or they travel from place to place, then find something/someone they like in one particular place and decide to stay. As simple as that.

As you can see, when we decide to travel—to move to another country—we all carry with us an invisible luggage: all these feelings, and we may or not be aware of them. Most people are not aware of them, because we don’t really think about them. We just feel them and act upon them.

What makes/made you move to another country?

The Invisible Luggage

man in bus
Photo by Pixabay on

People move a lot, generally. Move from a house to another, from a city to another, from one country to another. But why do they do that? What is it that makes them choose “the moving” move?

In my experience people move because they believe that somewhere else they will feel better. They will have a better job, better friends, better living standards, better experiences, and so on. For many though, moving, does not necessarily mean a change for the better. When you move, you don’t take with you just the visible luggage such as suitcases or parcels sent by post, you also take invisible luggage such as culture, values and past experiences.

Some experiences are good to have whilst others are best left behind. Sometimes we need to just put them aside until the right time comes to be taken out again, as we need to heal and say good-bye to them for good, if we don’t want them to stand in our way. How do we manage to do that? To leave behind experiences, habits, ways of being? It is like one would be asked to leave behind a foot or a hand. All the invisible parts of us are just as painful to let go as it is to have a limb cut off.

When a visible wound appears, one needs time and patience for healing. People go to the doctor and take painkillers, in order take away the symptoms.  But when it comes to feelings, ideas, culture, experiences, behavior, which are “invisible”, things get complicated. Even with the right support from people around us, sometimes we are unable to accept the support. We can be toughest judges of ourselves. We can be stuck and full of invisible old patterns that we do not manage to take in new ones. Just like a cup. In order to be filled up, it must be emptied out first. If we are already “full”, how can we take in new knowledge and experiences? What if the things that fill us are invisible? As they are invisible, we do not go to see a therapist who can help us empty the cup.

Observing people around me, the invisible stuff can be just as painful as a physical wound. But instead of letting that pain out, and live it despite the hurt, people prefer to hide it deeply into their hearts, and cover it with different distractions: wine, food, cigarettes, laughter, smiles, drugs, shopping, traveling, and other things which make us feel good. The illusion of feeling good and coping, makes us believe that everything is fine, and we never speak of them.

If they are spoken about, they can become ways in which we accuse others. It is the other’s fault. It is easier to point the finger at others than face our own invisible wound.

This invisible luggage tends to create the new reality in the new country, and somehow it shapes the new environment. Some may feel that the only thing they changed is their geographical place on the map, or the language, or the system of rules to follow in the working world. Otherwise, the experiences they run from stay the same. The histories repeat themselves even thousands of miles away from the country of origin, in another language, and with other people.

To avoid this, some groups stick together. Usually these are people who did not learn nor they can speak the language of the new country that well. It is easier that way. To gather and be together, to create a similar environment with the one experienced in the country of origin, makes the adjustment to a new country much easier. Here, at safety, old values keep on living longer. People do not entirely disregard the values in their new country but they keep judging and comparing themselves using the values they had in the country of origin.

For some this is a good thing, as it keeps them alive and sane. Having a platform where you are validated according to what you know, is a creative way of surviving in a “hostile” environment where even if you speak the language so that you can function, it is still difficult to understand the underling values.

Have you ever thought about your invisible luggage that you carried from your country of origin to the adoptive one? Is it easy to find it within yourself?  I know it wasn’t easy to find mine.

The Child King : food for thought

Child King Emma

The concept of children as “Kings” and “Queens” is a special one. We do not often come across it, even if it makes sense. Children are our future. The way we take care of them shows how we take care of our future. Therefore, the way we raise our children is important. Norway and Scandinavia are generally very aware of this and are known to be countries where children are raised in particular ways.

We, who grew up in former communist countries, need to keep in mind that our cultures were deliberately held back in many areas of study such as psychology and parenting, for instance.

Following the Second World War, Western Europe and Scandinavia rebuilt their societies in freedom while our countries experienced communism almost like a form of social experiment. We also experienced the Cold War too.

In 2004, as I arrived in Norway for study, I quickly noticed the difference in mentality and way of thinking between students from the former Communist Bloc, North America, Latin America, Africa, and those coming from Western Europe and the Nordic countries. At the time, it felt to me that many of the Western and Nordic students seemed waaay too sensitive. I couldn’t quite grasp what it was.

Later, once I made Norwegian friends, I asked them questions that helped me understand why everything was so different from what I’d known before. With time, I realized that it was linked to the way they were brought up. My friends explained the Norwegian Law and the child protection system which are well developed. When they are ten years old, children find out at school about their rights. They also know that the law protects them if something wrong happens at home. Children are told about sexual abuse, physical violence, addiction, alcohol consumption and many other issues.

Moreover, teachers and educational staff are obliged by law to inform the authorities if they believe that something of concern might happen in a child’s family. At that point, the Child Protection gets involved with the family and sometimes this might lead to the children being removed from their parents. Child protection is an aspect which is taken very seriously in Norway.

In my communist childhood, I have witnessed violence, both at school and in people’s homes. The socio-political system often used violence to keep people under control, and being silent meant “being good” and staying safe, for fear of the system. Although Nordic countries have their ways of keeping people silent, direct and blunt violence is not something people are silent about.

Here the “fear” is about other people’s opinion about you, or being left out of social groups. In a country with a few million people, social isolation is an important issue, unlike in other countries with tens of millions of people who live and work in the same space. Another Nordic way to maintain silence is by giving everybody a roof over their head and a full stomach. As long as everybody has their primary needs met, the need to protest is not that urgent.

As I was getting to understand why the culture here was so different in this particular aspect, (child upbringing, and sensitivity), I came across one of most prominent child psychologists in the world and some of the books she wrote. As I read some the books and her personal story, all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me. Her name is Alice Miller, and she is the first psychologist to write about how it is like to be a child and about the various feelings a child experiences.

I remember growing up with the notion that “children should be seen, but not heard,” with violence and bullying at school and at home. It felt as if children were not human beings, but just “something” with no feelings, “something” born only because the system required it. During the Cold War, abortions were illegal in Romania, while mothers who had given birth to at least four children were acknowledged as “heroine mothers”. It was the way women contributed to growing the country’s labor force. This was a different kind of “baby boom” from the rest of Europe; ordered by the communist state in 1966.

Scandinavia was not much different either. If you talk to people older than 60, some even younger, and if they open up about their lives, you can hear many stories of child abuse, domestic abuse, oppression, and colonization of indigenous people. These things are part of history and we cannot deny nor avoid them.

However, the difference here is that, during the ‘80s, people in the medical system came across Alice Miller’s books and took them seriously. The newfound knowledge and understanding were implemented and embedded into the social system. It resulted in a child protection system that puts children first. This can confuse many immigrants for whom children’s rights are a foreign notion.

For those curious to find and read Alice Miller’s books, you will find research she did on people who shaped history. Hitler and Ceausescu are among them, and Alice Miller explains how their childhood trauma had influenced their behavior as adults. If you understand Norwegian, you can search for a TV show produced by the Norwegian National Television (NRK) about Alice Miller. Her experience as a survivor during the WWII determined her to study psychology.

Nothing is lost, but changed




Recently, I’ve been asked how living in Norway has changed me?

Well, it changed me in many ways. I have learned a lot about myself and about others. I have learned what it means to be a human being and what it means to be tolerant. The concept of “tolerance” doesn’t really exist in practice in my country of origin.

I have learned that I don’t have to be perfect, that perfection is impossible, and trying and failing is a part of the winning process.  

I have learned that people can help each other out of the need of helping. The need of contributing to the welfare of their neighbour.  

I have learned what it means to be grateful also in fact, and not only in speech.

Norway has been a poor land until about 60 years ago. It was a hard life being a farmer or a fisherman. That’s why people have learned to be grateful for everything they had, or came to them. 

There was none or little rich or noble people, therefore class distinctions were less visible. Each farmer or fisherman was a king on his/her land and in his/her house. Everybody was proud of what they did and about what they had. They didn’t need to kneel in front of anyone. When the time came to be independent from Sweden, they reached to Denmark for a king.

Equality among people is a high-priced value. At all the dinners I’ve been invited, I have seen how chefs, waiters and people who helped would be praised and brought in front to be seen. This kind of work is not taken for granted. There is always a “thank you for the food” speech. This is something I have rarely seen in my country of origin. If there is, I didn’t come across, not in this way. 

In my experience, being nice is important at all levels of society. The word of a kitchen made can be just as valuable as the word of the director. It is important that someone else knows you as a human being, besides your trained skills. Doesn’t matter how good you may be at your job, and how many qualifications you’ve acquired, if you are not behaving like a human being, you may lose quite a lot.

People talk and sometimes the experience of it can be felt like “Everything you say can and will be used against you” which we see in American movies when someone is arrested. This is also because the number of inhabitants was always small, and everyone was heard when spoke, even if the voice was not very loud.

This is not something I was used to from my culture. When growing up with many people around us, we needed to shout louder to be heard. Small intonations wouldn’t be heard. It is not always happening here. Words spoken without thinking and which would be overheard otherwise, will be heard here. Of course, this has advantages and disadvantages, in the same time, the system is built in such a way that there are always ways for everybody to be heard, even without shouting.

I’ve noticed that some times, a good way of fighting a fight is just to remove yourself from the situation, and things will sort themselves out, better than if you are in the midle of them. Letting people to come to their own conclusions can be a far better way of communication. You may have the pleasant surprise that the conclusions they come to are also your own, or even better for the given situation. All you need to do is breath and let “everything fix itself” or “alt ordener seg” as Norwegians say, and use THE TIME to help you. 

Speak the words, but not the culture

Words have Power

Learning Norwegian was difficult. It still is. At the beginning, listening to the sound of it, it reminded me of a stone avalanche. Thousands of big and small rocks falling down a mountain. I realized that it would not be easy to learn.

I took evening classes and I spent many hours memorizing words, irregular verbs and expressions that change meaning with the context they are used in. I was frustrated about it for a long time. In my experience, it felt as if there were few rules and a lot of exceptions in language. Every time I thought I would have a good and grammatically correct sentence to say, a big fit of laughter came from my Norwegian friends. After so many years, they still tease me about the things I used to say or write incorrectly.

What I’ve noticed about a foreign language (I speak a couple of them) is that one learns it in layers. Moreover, with time, it gets deeper and deeper, it enters your subconscious until you eventually manage to master it bit by bit. Although my accent still betrays me, my understanding has become more complex.

For instance, at the beginning you only speak the words and it is easy to trick yourself. Just because you speak the words, sometimes repeating them like a parrot, it does not mean you know what you are saying. The words you put together with the understanding and the syntax from your mother tongue do not lead to formulating the same meaning as the native speakers have.

If open-minded, a native speaker might guess that, most of the time, you don’t mean what you are saying, and would help you through it. Otherwise, it might be a challenge to explain what you mean. Culturally, this might be a dangerous issue. In my experience, the native speaker expects that you understand much more than they are willing to explain. The reason for not being willing to explain is not because they do not want to; they don’t know how to, perhaps because they never had to speak about it before. To locals, there isn’t an easy way of explaining their own culture and the things they grew up with and have been part of them for generations. It is the same in every culture though. Just think for a minute. If you are asked why people in your own culture do things in the way they do, do you find it easy to explain?

Many misunderstandings emerge from the fact that we, the foreigners, speak the language of the country we live in by translating word for word our native tongue while expecting the same result as in our culture of origin.

For instance, when I was a student, we had a colleague from Bangladesh. Every time he made a new acquaintance, he would say, “It gives me pleasure” instead of “Nice to meet you.” At first, we laughed about it, then a woman took him aside and explained that his way of greeting people he met for the first time could be misunderstood. He understood the point but, on reflection, he was not saying anything wrong. He just translated word for word the phrases he used as greeting in his native language.

It takes time to understand the Norwegian culture, and other cultures as well. I believe that in wherever one choses to live, there are social and cultural codes rooted in the culture, as well as specific ways of using words and making meaning. If we do not relate to them, it is because they never constituted an issue in our culture, therefore, there was no need for those words or expressions. Sometimes when I am with friends who speak the same languages as me, we use words from the language we find that best describes a feeling or a situation.

Yet, I find that the more languages and cultures one manages to know, the richer one becomes..