Tools to manage the tension in relationships

From HEARTBREAK to getting your needs met healthfully! A blog for Moms part one.

So my amazing friend and colleague Betsy Chasse asked me to write a column on her, as the token guys perspective about relationships for moms.

First you have to know Betsy is a class act. Her productions are Top Shelf. So it was an honor that comes with a little pressure to bring my best work.

Happily I began the process researching and focusing on what is most important in relationships for the mother who is busy raising children and leading families in every area of life. It is an honor to be asked to be a part of something I really believe in, and as I sat down to write this article. I slowly came to the realization that I was speaking to the core of all civilization. It was an overwhelming feeling of humble gratitude and a little anxiety. So here is the first installment, which I hope will lead to many follow-ups.

Think of all the different relationships moms have! Each one of these is a topic for an entire book the size of a dictionary complete with it’s own delicate and complicated expectations and often shamed based advice coming from mostly unsolicited perspectives on how to participate, or just survive being a mother. These include and are not limited to:  romance, sexual health, raising children (an often flippant phrase that includes everything from birthing to college applications not to mention mothering a mother, father or both! and dealing with grandchildren), parents, in-laws, teachers, car pool partners, other moms and their partners, siblings, co-workers, bosses, spiritual leaders, critics, coaches, bullies, neighbors, and oh yea self care! TALK ABOUT A COMPLICATED SUBJECT!

So lets start with the basics of surviving the inevitable heart break that comes with being a mother and the path to learning how to ask for you’re needs to be met from as seen from a guy, this token guy who is willing to admit he would probably not make a very good mother. ;->

First where does heartbreak come from? Ultimately it comes from a tension in a relationship that is not managed well. Most Moms intuitively know that conflict is a tension to be managed and not a problem to be solved.

If you read Marla Keller’s most recent article in this magazine you may remember that every relationship has a control / abandonment cycle and you know what that looks like cause well, you’re a Mom. Like when your otherwise well behaved one year old starts saying “NO” with real rebellion force and runs away with the pieces of the plant you have been trying to keep alive for years, that is abandonment. This abandoned feeling is familiar from the series of people who have set expectations of you then failed to support you.  So the natural response is to attempt to control, like chasing the child and striping the plant leaves out of the tiny hands and setting a firm boundary, along with moving the plant. That is the control side. Only with most relationships it is not so easy to identify the controller vs. the abandoner because we all switch roles when it suites our “needs.”  And the kicker is that we don’t even have to be abandoned or controlled to get “triggered” into our favorite “Mode” we just have to be fearful of being controlled or abandoned, as illustrated by Passion Provokers Feeling Wheel. I have included the entire wheel at the bottom of this article as a tool for learning how to speak our feelings in daily communication, and therefor teaching those around us to do so as well.  The nine feelings in the wheel represent the modes we use to deal with issues and all the feelings on the wheel represent possible triggers. Here is the hub of the wheel so you can see that shame (the only toxic feeling) is the core of these “north side” modes that we use to protect ourselves from an unjust world. The goal of the Feeling Wheel is to help us drain the shame out of the core and replace it with love therefore taking all the toxicity out of all our feelings.



At the core of managing this is this control vs. abandonment cycle, meaning one person tends to abandon and the other tends to control and we all do both even though we often have  “favorite.”

It is either getting better or worse and either way it always requires some focused effort and much forgiveness to shift across to Peace and Joy with power being the activator instead of fear.


A quick note about the person a mom claims as a lover.  After working with thousands of couples we have realized that people tend to seek partners within 11 points of our I.Q. and with matching emotional issues, not the same issues, issues that “fit together.” These areas where we have been confused or hurt sometime prior to the current relationship require that we manage the tension that these issues generate.

Conflict is usually a tension to be managed and not problems to be solved and traditionally Moms are the masters of managing tensions. The benefit of successfully managing a tension is that you get a new level of intimacy. This is very rewarding and it comes with a new set of tensions to match, and it goes on for a lifetime if done well.

With our partners things start off well and happy, with the risk of having affections being returned and slowly a familiar tension builds and needs to be released. Tension is what makes the relationship work, without it relationships are boring, and ideally it is met with curiosity, intrigue, and open communication. That is speaking your feelings clearly and with confidence, accepting the others feelings and point of view without sacrificing your own. When it is not managed well it leads us to an ever-increasing conflict. Ever increasing that is, until there are some healthier boundaries or serious heartbreak.

Mom’s know life is rarely ideal, being a father and husband just observing the process of becoming a mother is rife with unsatisfied desires, pain and hard work, really hard work. So most commonly this tension is eventually met with frustration, snappy answers, and confusion. Or all to often they are met with open hostility that leads to more unmanaged tension and dirty fighting. Dirty Fighting is the topic of the next token guy article. For now Dirty Fighting is anything that is done with a mean attitude, even if it is “following the rules.”  This ranges from blaming to all out yelling matches. Marla and I have a short video giving a brief overview. (this one is from Betsy’s back yard)


The other way to explain power on the Feeling Wheel is humility or what we call humble power. Every mom knows this when they see it and it is often seen as sex appeal. George Clooney, Brad Pitt or Harry Styles give off the image of humble power. You know that confident, strong and sort of innocent, bashful energy that is difficult to resist.

Please hear me beautiful mother, know that you are not alone and there are tools that will help you manage this tension in every relationship.

Start here now!

  • Start observing your relationships looking for who is the controller and who is the abandoner. Just notice your own heart if you are wanting to run away, either emotionally or actually then you might be the abandoner (and it is ok sometimes getting some distance is good, just be as aware as you can about when you are doing it for now)
  • Start tracking your patterns, either in a journal or in an app like “Feeling Wheel” where you can simply start gaining some insight about with who and how often you are having these feelings. The purpose here is to learn how to be intentional about what you want to communicate instead of what maybe happening by accident.
  • Give yourself a break!! You are a Mom! You get to take care of yourself as well as you care for everyone else. The best self care skills are simple and free. Ten minute walks every two hours, a daily five to ten minute journal that focuses on your highest goals (actually goal setting is #4 and we will get to that topic as well), your worst pain and a few things that you are grateful for is a great place to start and these two things have been proven to make you more productive and happier!


So Mom, know that you have all of my respect and while I am only one man, I hope that we will get to hang out often and focus on what is most important to you. By doing these three things, you will be taking steps towards learning how to ask for your needs to be met in the moment that will have the best chance to actually getting real results. I deeply regret that I have no magic way to make it happen faster or easier because you are worthy of having these things already.

feeling wheel1

Till next time, take a deep breath and just know you are a good Mom.




Jami Keller is an executive Relationship Coach for with twenty one years of relationship coaching experience, has been married to his wife and coaching partner, Marla, for 28 years and has two adult daughters, and one awesome son-in-law.



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