Relationship Drama - Part II

More Relationship Drama People Bloom Counseling Redmond

It takes two

In my last post, I wrote about the relationship drama from the lens of a pursuer. It takes two to dance; two to make a relationship work. Often times, couples come into my office and they see their partner as the problem. “She’s always nagging me!” “He’s like a brick wall; I can’t get through to him!” Both look to me to change their partner so that things can be better. And even if each of them can see their part in it, there’s always the push of, “You change first!” “No, you first!”

To see that pursuers are not the only one in the relationship dynamic, consider this Lacoste ad:

Dramatic, but it’s true.

When a desire for closeness looks different

Here, Paul Hamy portrays a young man reaching for his first kiss. On the outside, he looks hesitant and shy. On the inside, we see this reach as synonymous as leaping out of a tall building. SO much vulnerability. SO much risk in moving towards his partner and wondering if she’ll take him in; if she’ll catch him and reach back.

“What’s the big deal?” you might think, until you recall what it was like to move towards your partner. To your partner, you try to look cool and collected. Internally, you know the risk and you’re already protecting yourself, “If it doesn’t work out, it’s not that big of a deal!”

Introducing withdrawers

For every pursuer in a relationship, there’s a withdrawer. While sometimes it’s not so clear cut, withdrawers tend to be the quieter ones in the relationship. They might be analytical, quick to problem solve, and when that doesn’t work, they withdraw.

You might be a withdrawer if you respond to your partner by:

  • offering solutions
  • talking rationally
  • becoming defensive
  • avoiding conflict or shutting down

On the surface you feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • judged or criticized
  • angry
  • shame

While this is not easily accessible, underneath you feel:

  • inadequate
  • unsafe
  • rejected or unimportant
  • fear of losing your partner

What you really want is:

  • acceptance
  • significance
  • peace in the relationship

If that’s you, what you’re experiencing is very normal.

Your experience makes sense to me

Some of the closest people in my life tend towards withdrawing and I get you. You feel like, “I can’t do anything right!” and it’s hard to let your partner down. Your retreating might be a way to protect yourself from criticism and your relationship from getting worse. You don’t want to rock the boat and you’re afraid that reengagement might start the fight, “All over again.” On the outside you seem unaffected, but really, you’re not having the time of your life either. Perhaps you haven’t learned what it’s like to come close and be totally accepted. Or perhaps it felt okay as a kid and then life happened and it no longer feels safe to do so.

If that’s you, you don’t have to stay that way.

Healing from your partner

What we know from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) literature is that challenges from the distant or recent past can be met with healing in your most intimate relationship now. You don’t have to hold onto the hurt of feeling inadequate or insignificant. You don’t have to do this and that in order to be loved. In a committed relationship, I can help you learn to BE and find your partner here with you, reaching back.

Let me know if I can help!


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. One of their longest stroll was along the Kirkland Corridor all the way to Bellevue and back. Not used to walking that distance, they slept really well that night.

Relationship Drama – Part I

Relationship Drama People Bloom Counseling Redmond

Pop culture

I’m not the most caught up when it comes to pop culture but was recently directed to this music video, “Say Something.” It’s a piece re-recorded by Christina Aguilera in 2013. Yes, that’s exactly how not caught up I am. But the thing is, the message of love doesn’t grow old. With Ian Axel on the piano (all of this information courtesy of Google search), we sense the push and pull that’s a part of relationship drama:  

Our need for closeness in relationships

One way to interpret this piece of music is our longing for connection and engagement with a significant other. We’re desperate for our partner to say something, to let us know they’re still here for us. We DON’T want to quit, we DON’T want to leave or say goodbye, but it hurts TOO much to stay and NOT get a response. When we can’t get to our partner, we feel small. We feel pain, a sense of loss and loneliness in the relationship. It may come out as agitation, criticism and overtime, resignation, but really, it’s about feeling deprived, unloved and uncared for. 

Sounds dramatic? It is. To feel safe and close in our intimate relationships is a basic human need. I tear up when I consider well-meaning couples who miss each other in how they communicate love and closeness. It’s sad to see couples continue in an old pattern of relating until it’s too late and they do have to say goodbye. 

If this song speaks to you, I wonder if this could be you? 

Introducing pursuers

While there are different ways to be in relationships, a common relationship pattern is one of pursuer-withdrawer. We all yearn for connection in our relationships and pursuers try to meet that need, you guessed it, by pursuing their partner. 

You might be a pursuer if you try to get your partner’s attention and it comes out as: 

  • criticizing or complaining
  • demanding or accusing
  • controlling or close monitoring

On the surface, you feel:

  • frustrated, angry or critical
  • confused
  • desperate
  • anxious

Underneath all that “protest,” you feel: 

  • unloved, undesired or uncared for 
  • unimportant, not valued, not special 
  • alone and abandoned
  • disconnected

What you really want is: 

  • emotional connection
  • to be seen and heard 
  • to be appreciated and loved

If you look at these pointers and you say to yourself, “That sounds about right!” what are you to do?

Your responses are understandable

Know that this is NOT about what you should or shouldn’t do. Rather, your responses make a LOT of sense given the circumstances. You’re trying SO hard to reach your partner and when you don’t get the response you want, you try harder. You do more of the same because that’s all you know how. Overtime, you’re exhausted and you give up. Like the music video, you’re just too burnt out to continue and you don’t know what else to do.

If that's you, I get you. 

Speaking to your underlying fears and needs

If you’re in a safe and secure relationship, you can more easily speak to how an interaction made you feel and what it brings up for you. However, even in the absence of domestic violence, couples still feel that it’s not safe to show a more vulnerable side of themselves. That’s like me asking you to go out on a limb, and after years of practice, you’ve learned to cope and get by in your relationship without taking such risks. 

But, there’s hope. You don’t have to go at it alone. 

I help build that sense of safety

I can help you and your partner feel more safe in the relationship so you can talk about the difficult stuff. You can learn to more effectively reach for your partner in a way that doesn’t push them away. You can find closeness and connection in your relationship; it’s not too late. 

Let me know when you’re ready for the ride. And stay tune for a post about your partner, the withdrawer. 


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. Their last stroll was in the Quad admiring full bloom cherry blossoms. They were definitely not alone.

When Depression & Anxiety Come with Cancer

Let's face it. It's enough to go through cancer diagnosis and treatment, let alone the emotional ups and downs that often come with it.

Questions that might trouble you

As a result of your cancer, sometimes you have questions about the past: "Did I do something wrong to cause this cancer? Could I have prevented it?" "What if I had __________________ before it got to be too stressful? Would that have made a difference?"

Other times you might have questions about the future: "My neck hurts. Is that cancer?" Will I be able to see my granddaughter graduate from 2nd grade?" "How will my family be without me?"

While it's normal to ask these questions, often times there really isn't a way to answer them. These questions might linger if you struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Depression and anxiety post cancer

What we know from cancer research is that depression and anxiety are common symptoms during and post cancer treatment. While depression might dissipate with time, anxiety lingers as you're reminded of your cancer everyday. 

Some of these symptoms might be treatment related, but could this be you? 

You might be struggling with depression if you experience the following: 

  • feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • having little interests in things you used to enjoy
  • sleeping too much or too little or have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • having low energy 
  • having little appetite or want to empty the fridge
  • feeling irritable 
  • experiencing mood swings 
  • having trouble concentrating 
  • withdrawing from friends and family 
  • feeling hopeless, guilty and/or angry
  • having thoughts about being better off dead or hurting yourself 

You might be struggling with anxiety if you experience the following: 

  • feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
  • feeling like you cannot stop or control your worries
  • finding yourself worrying too much about different things
  • having trouble relaxing
  • feeling restless and it's difficult to sit still
  • feeling easily annoyed or irritable 
  • anticipating worse case scenarios

Sometimes anxiety is felt in your body. You might be struggling with panic symptoms if you experience the following: 

  • pounding heart 
  • sweating 
  • trembling or shaking
  • shortness of breath 
  • feelings of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • dizziness/light headed
  • chills or heat sensations
  • muscle tension 
  • feel out of control 
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of dying

Life after cancer

If you identify with these symptoms that go beyond an occasional sad day or feeling stressed out about something, there is hope! You don't have to settle and let cancer drag your down. Rather than cancer driving your life, you can make meaning choices in the face of cancer. That way, depression and anxiety symptoms, even when they arise, won't bother you as much. 

If you need help putting cancer in the passenger seat, I'll be here


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Ada Pang

Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and cancer patients. That can also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about couples and cancer, she is cognizant about choices that make for a meaningful life. This often involves food. 

How to Overcome Barriers by Cultivating 1:1 Relationships

My new pet peeve

So I go to yoga about two times a week, preferably three. I love the studio; love the teachers. It’s a great community there. It’s like 83 degrees inside and people sweat bullets, or more like puddles. I’m fine with feeling my own sweat and wiping it but I discovered a new pet peeve: I don’t like stepping on other people’s sweat. There’s something about my bare feet touching someone else’s bodily fluids that makes me cringe. The mood lighting does not help as I navigate my way around the studio after class. 

How I’ve coped

As with most pet peeves, we find a way to cope with them or to otherwise avoid them. I’d scoot around the studio after class, using what little lighting there is to side-step shiny liquid reflections. If I’ve landed on a puddle, my towel is just a reach away. This was my coping strategy, until one day, my world was turned around. 

Sweat has a name

It was a usual Wednesday evening class with teacher Aaron and he asked us to do something out of the ordinary. After some power vinyasa routine where we were dripping wet, he asked us to find a partner to do this strap exercise. It looks difficult enough: you’re doing some backbend with your leg behind you strapped to your hands overhead. Your partner is spotting you. “Bob” and I were the only ones without partners and I jumped to my feet to join him.

We met in the middle of a matless area and started doing the pose with me spotting him. He talked about not being very flexible and fell over. Fa-thud! I’m not a very good spotter, am I?! Someone then recommended that we do it on a mat and we walked over to his mat. He had a towel spread over it and it was soaking wet. “Bob” was noticeably embarrassed. He started wiping the outskirts of the mat where his sweat puddles formed. He might have apologized for how damp his towel was, but I don’t remember.

None of that mattered. I was about to spot him again so he could do his backbend, hopefully without falling. And I had a few turns and realized the pose was easier than it looked. We chit chatted for a bit while waiting for Aaron to gather us in. We shook hands, shared our names and I eventually went back to my mat. 

Why wasn’t I bothered?

My feet were damp and I wiped them off but I didn’t feel the usual disgust. Why? It could be that I was distracted by the pose or engaged with “Bob.” In retrospect, I think it had more to do with the fact that sweat has a name and it belonged to “Bob” and he was kind and personable. “Bob’s sweat” didn’t bother me because “Bob” is a human being I have come to know, for all of ten-minutes. It’s no longer a nameless sweaty pile on the floor that I tip toe around. 

Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch to say that “Bob” and I have formed a friendship, but he sure is no stranger. He wasn’t in class this past week; otherwise I would’ve waved. The human-to-human connection changed the way I feel about something I used to dread. While I can’t say I’m now free to glide through the yoga studio in the dark without holding back, I am a step closer to that direction because of “Bob”. 

So why am I telling you this story? 

Relationships break barriers

When I think about my experience, that human touch made a difference for me. It’s after all easier to stay on our “mats” or “pair up” with people we already know and feel comfortable with. But we then miss out on opportunities to get to know an “other,” someone different than you; someone different than me. When we do take that time, what might happen? What beliefs might be challenged? What relationship might come of that? 

At the core of who we are, we’re human beings who breathe, sleep, eat, pee, poop and yes, sweat. We all feel glad, sad, mad, fear, disgust, shame/guilt, surprise, and interest. We are all a brother, a sister, a daughter, a son, a friend to someone, somewhere. Our humanity is our common denominator. And, we can be each other’s guide through the discomforts of life if we allow each other in. 

If you ever need help leaving your “mat,” you know where to find me


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. At the heart of what she does, she’s about helping people flourish and live compassionate and vital lives. She can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.

A Roadmap Through Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)

Reprinted by permission from the ICEEFT Newsletter: The EFT Community News, 9th ISSUE, Spring 2011. Written by Pat LaDouceur, PhD, LMFT and Veronica Kallos-Lilly, PhD, R.Psych.

Sometimes couples wonder “where they are” in the therapy process. We wanted to create a guide to Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy that would help couples see their gains, understand the rough spots, and know what to look forward to. The following is one such roadmap:

STAGE 1 – UNDERSTAND YOUR STRENGTHS AND THE PATTERNS THAT KEEP YOU STUCK

  • Step 1: Set goals for counseling. Understand some of the ways your relationship history affects your relationship now.
  • Step 2: Discover and describe the negative patterns of interaction you get stuck in. You and your therapist will track your interactions with your partner and identify where and how your communication breaks down.
  • Step 3: Emotions are stirred up in your relationship, especially when you get stuck in these negative cycles of interaction. Emotions also drive the cycle. You may first be aware of anger, frustration, anxiety, numbness or even withdrawal. Notice inside what other feelings are beneath these initial feelings, such as hurt, sadness or fear. Begin to share these “underneath” feelings with your partner. It is OK if this process feels “bumpy” – it helps diffuse the cycle sometimes, but not always.
  • Step 4: Describe your cycle and recognize what the triggers are. Understand how the things that you do to protect yourself and your relationship affect and may even threaten your partner. Notice how you co-create the cycle: “we’re doing that thing again…the more I go after you, the more you withdraw because you’re feeling hurt…” Slow down your conversations so that you can tap into the feelings that are beneath the surface. Catch your own thoughts (“She doesn’t care”; “I don’t matter”) before acting on them. You might notice that you can hold back your knee-jerk reactions to avoid the cycle. You might not know yet how to pull each other close and you might be afraid the “old way” will come back. However, when you discover that this negative cycle is the source of unhappiness in your relationship, you realize that your partner is not the enemy. You can then work together to gain control over this negative cycle and that already feels infinitely better.

STAGE 2 – CREATE A NEW, INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP BOND; CHANGE YOUR COMMUNICATION PATTERNS

  • Step 5: Both of you are now able to talk calmly about your feelings that get triggered by the negative cycle, including things you might not have been able to say before. With less friction and more compassion between you, there is safety to explore your experience more deeply. We all have doubts about ourselves at times and may also have fears about depending on others. You may struggle with personal fears or insecurities in this relationship. You may have had life experiences that make it difficult to trust others to be there for you. With the help of your therapist, you can take turns and begin to share these “raw spots” with your partner. As you take these risks, your partner begins to truly see and understand where you are coming from, which creates empathy.
  • Step 6: This step involves staying engaged and listening to your partner’s disclosures. Your partner may share feelings that take you by surprise. You may feel disoriented or even hurt that you have not heard your partner share so personally like this before. It is OK to experience a mixture of emotions. Start by trying to understand at an emotional level what your partner is saying, without needing to change his/her experience or take responsibility for it yourself. Stay open to the possibility of experiencing and understanding your partner in a new way. Allow yourself to be moved by your partner’s new disclosures.
  • Step 7: Explore what helps you feel deeply connected, what is most important for you in this relationship. In this stage of therapy your therapist helps you find ways to ask for your needs in the relationship in a way that is both caring and direct. You can lean into and reach for your partner and he/she is able to reach back in a loving way. You have found a new way to relate when one of you feels stressed, hurt or insecure. The bond between you shifts, becoming closer and more intimate. You can check out your perceptions and talk about feelings. You can listen with an open heart, be curious about one another and offer reassurance when needed. Both of you have a felt sense of “being there” for each other.

STAGE 3 – USE NEW COMMUNICATION PATTERNS TO SOLVE PROBLEMS AND MAINTAIN INTIMACY

  • Step 8: Revisit old problems or decisions that have been put on hold (e.g., parenting, finances, sex, family issues, health concerns, etc.) while staying emotionally connected. They don’t seem as loaded now that you feel heard, valued, close and secure. Focus on staying accessible, responsive, and engaged while talking about practical issues. Together, you can face any of life’s challenges more easily.
  • Step 9: Congratulations! You have reshaped your relationship. Or perhaps this is the first time in your relationship that you have felt a profound bond with one another. You have worked hard to get here, so it’s important to celebrate it and put safeguards in place to protect it. Create rituals together that privilege your relationship. Find ways of keeping this new way of relating strong.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy has helped many couples build stronger, more rewarding relationships.

Are YOU ready to take this next step in YOUR relationship? Give me a call!


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. She's going through intensive training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy and gets regular consultation in her work with couples. While she's serious about helping her couples feel close and connected, she does laugh a lot. If that's not already obvious. 

Two Approaches to Dealing with your Fears

I was born a little skittish. I get startled easily when I see and hear something I don’t expect. I had to tell my husband early on in our marriage to make noises as he enters the room. Otherwise, I’d scream bloody murder, which would freak him out. Oh, and I don’t like scary movies. Husband got into a kick recently and watched the three original Alien movies while I was out-of-town. Good, cuz it ain’t happening when I’m home.

The thing is, we’re all wired a certain way, along the continuum of higher versus lower threshold for fear. It’s not a right or wrong, good or bad. It just is. But, what’s the point of fear? Is it even necessary? Ever wondered where fear came from?

The origin of fear

Too many million years ago during the age of saber-tooth tigers, wonderful men hunted and awesome women gathered. Whether they were out in the fields or back at the shelter, they had to be on hyper alert for wildlife. They were either going to have lunch or be lunch. With that hard-wired alert for danger, those who were careful and watchful procreated and lived on. Those who had a low radar for fear and lived a carefree life did not.

What does this mean for us in 2017?

Real threats

Though we’re no longer living amongst saber-tooth tigers, some threats in our lives are very real. It could be a life threatening illness, an accident, any other traumatic events or threats to our dignity as people. During these moments, our fears make sense and fit the facts of the situation. These threats ought to make us have the automatic reactions of fight, flight or freeze. When our fears are justified, we should take action to effect change where we can. This is for our survival and the survival of people we care deeply about.

Perceived threats

There are real threats and then there are perceived threats. Perceived threats are when you’re no longer in the car accident, in the abusive relationship, in the situation that made you feel so threatened and yet, you live as though you’re still in that life-threatening event. Or, your fears are not tied to something that has happened, but a fear that something might happen. You then avoid places, people and activities that might remind you of your fears, examples being you do less because you fear failing or embarrassing yourself in public. When checking the facts of the situation, you realize the probability of something bad happening is very low, or your fears may be unpleasant, but they’re not life-threatening. What are you to do?

Facing perceived threats one of two ways

When your fears are not justified, it is important that you learn to face your fears. I share two approaches here:

  1. Whatever you’re afraid of doing, do it over and over again.* Not kidding you. When there is little evidence for why you should be afraid of something that has occurred in the past or might occur in the future, the way to overcome that fear is to face it head on. Do the very things you want to avoid with consistency. Is it public speaking? Getting behind the steering wheel? Watching certain shows that might be triggering? Take baby steps to overcome your fears by approaching, rather than withdrawing. Overtime, you’ll feel more in control over your fears.
  2. Harry Potter shows us another way to face our fears during a boggart lesson:

We can have a different relationship with our fears.** Put in its original context, Ron’s afraid of spiders, Harry Dementors, and Professor Lupin a full moon. When they cast the spell Riddikulus and envision something humorous, the shape-shifting boggart assumes a comical form. Followed by outright laughter, they had the power to make the boggart disappear!

While we don’t have this power at our disposal during current times, Professor Lupin’s lesson is for all of us. Can we see our fears differently, and therefore, relate with them differently? What if a natural disaster turned into a ribbon twirling performance, social humiliation took the form of people high fiving you, and the car accident transformed into a scene from Fantasia?

Facing your fears together

Don’t let the fears of your fears hold you back! If you need help facing your fears or otherwise make them ridiculous, well, you know where to find me.

* Borrowed from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavior Therapy
** Borrowed from Acceptance Commitment Therapy


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She mostly helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. She also loves helping people address fears that hold them back in life. Her favorite Harry Potter films are the Order of the Phoenix and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Her worse fears are, well, she can identify with Ron. 

Why Valentine’s Day is not Always Happy for Couples and What you can Do about it

Ordinary Tuesday

It was an ordinary Tuesday when I finished up with my last client. “You must be in a hurry to get home” and I was like, “No, you’re good.” I was still wrapping up my case notes when my husband sent me an emoji rose. Husband is not the romantic type and I was like, “What’s with the rose?” I was then reminded that today was Valentine’s Day. Husband implied that he brought home dinner and I was more excited about that! As I was leaving the building, I realized how unusually dead the office was. Valentine’s Day must be a thing.

Who took the happy out of Valentine’s Day?

If you’ve read one of my earlier posts, you’d know how deeply I feel about this “Show-love-to-your-partner-or-you’re-screwed” Day. This day is supposed to be happy. It is a celebration of love; often a narrow definition of love. For couples, this set date that comes on the 14th of every February is a reminder of where your relationship is, which is not always where you’d want it to be.

Situations change, patterns do not

Regardless of whether you had an amazing time with your partner, it was like any other day, or you had the hardest time, this Valentine’s Day is a reflection of where you already are in your relationship. A commercialized day filled with the expectation of card, sweets, expensive jewelry or flower exchange will not unearth a long standing pattern in your relationship. I often say to my clients, “Situations change, patterns do not,” unless you intentionally and consistently work at undoing the pattern. The situation could be a move, a vacation, an extravagant gift, _______________________. How you relate is still how you relate.

If your Valentine’s Day was indeed unhappy, what to do about that?

What makes for happy and close relationships?

As you can tell, I’m biased against any one day in the calendar deciding for us how we ought to be. If it’s a value or a desire we have, I believe we should strive for it everyday. If having a close, loving relationship with your partner is something you long for, consider how you can relate differently:

  1. Speak to your perceptions – How you see your partner will affect how you feel and how you respond. If you think your partner doesn’t care about you, you might see the dirty dishes as proof, whereas if you think your partner got sidetracked, used pots and pans don’t rub you the same way.

  2. Dig into your feelings – Anger is usually the emotion that bubbles onto the surface. What’s buried underneath are usually more vulnerable emotions such as hurt, humiliation, fear, and rejection. These deeper emotions, when shared, usually bring out a more tender part in our partner.

  3. Clarify your intentions – Sometimes your intentions do not come out as perceived. When that happens, it’s important to clarify where you were coming from. “Wow, I was late in picking you up and you thought I didn’t care that your bladder was about to explode! If I had known you needed to go pee, I would’ve stepped on it!” (Officers reading this, I’m not encouraging speed limit violation. This is about the comfort we feel when we realize our partner is willing to go out of their way for us).

  4. Notice and own your vulnerabilities – Are you sensitive to anger because your grew up in a home with an explosive parent? Is it hard when your husband shuts down because your previous partner frequently walked off without an explanation? Have you learned to keep stress to yourself, only to lash out when you’re at your wits end because you haven’t learned to cope any other way? These are examples of sensitivities that partners bring to the relationship. It helps to be aware of them.

  5. Share your vulnerabilities with your partner – Let your partner know that particular words and behaviors are triggering for you, NOT because your partner is your enemy, but because we all come with a history. Ironically, we’re often attracted to partners who remind us of our family growing up. Awesome or not; it’s familiar to us.

  6. Acknowledge your needs and wants in the relationship – The reason you get worked up in your relationship is because your partner matters to you. If you’re only doing life with a roommate, there’s less at stake. The weight of this relationship has you longing from your partner love, closeness, comfort, appreciation, and acceptance. It’s okay to ask for these things from your intimate partner.

  7. Bring it all together – As you share your perceptions, deeper feelings, intentions, vulnerabilities, and relationship needs, let your partner have a turn. After all, it takes two to make love work.

Daily loving

Let’s not wait until the next event, the next anniversary, the next “situation” to show your partner she matters, you love her, and you have her back. You can practice daily loving as a part of living daily. If you need help nurturing a close, loving relationship with your partner, let me know!


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and breast cancer patients. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves hanging out with her husband. On an ordinary day when they’re both working long hours from home, she likes to go give him a hug and a kiss and tell him, quite literally, “I’m here to connect with you.” 

The Great Divide. I’m not having it.

The Great Divide People Bloom Counseling.png

Way to start the New Year’s

I woke up on Sat Jan 28, 2017 to the start of Jan 1, 2017 on the Chinese lunar calendar. I happened to be in Vancouver, BC, Canada for a two-day training prior to the festivities and stayed with my folks. I had a rather slow morning and came downstairs to my Mama’s homemade CNY brunch. My aunt came over, my sister and niece have spent the night and all was well until I got a text from my husband.

He was asking when I’d be home. Later in the eve, I conveyed, not knowing what’s the hurry. He then mentioned some executive order that Trump has signed that morning. I looked it up and it was f*cking unbelievable.

I am a Hong Kong-born Canadian citizen green card holder living in America and I was shocked. I cannot imagine what it is like for refugees and Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.

I felt very uneasy and after a late lunch, left for the border. For the first time, I didn’t know what to expect. While Canada and the US are allies and I have all my documentation, a “Muslim ban” from selective Muslim-majority countries has me wondering what’s next.

Back on US soil

The border was uneventful, as if nothing has happened. I almost wish that something was different because this is NOT okay. I’m now back on US soil. And for the first time in my 15.5 years of living in the US, I felt different, like I don’t belong here. My countries of origin and naturalization aren’t even on the blacklist. I’m not even Muslim. But to exclude immigrants and non-citizens is to exclude me and to exclude people like me. I realize to make America great again is make America white again.

Pulling away

During my 2-hour drive home, I became increasingly aware of my “other-ness”. I feel threatened by the future possibility of not being welcomed in this country. I find myself emotionally pulling away from my white community. I picture the faces of these people I have come to know and like, and already, I feel further from them.

Suddenly, I realize what was happening. There is a great divide in our country and around the world and to pull away is to concede. In Trump’s promotion of all people white, male, straight, Christian, middle and upper class, able bodied and Euro American, he is shutting down those who don’t fit the bill.

I’m not having it.

Leaning into America

When I realized this, I made a conscious decision to lean in, instead of pull away. It helped that when I got home, my husband, who is 4th-generation Japanese American, hugged me for a long time. It helped that protests rose up at airports and city streets around the country as we stand with each other. It helped that I connected with my community the next day and saw how they were also affected by this news.

It helped that this is not the end; rather, the beginning.

We CAN find safety and shelter in each other. Notice where this was filmed:


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond therapy practice in WA. At the heart of what she does, she’s about helping people flourish and live compassionate and vital lives. She can be found at PeopleBloomCounseling.com.

Creating Deep and Lasting Changes in your Marriage

Shallow change

Last fall, husband and I had a chance to visit Kauai. We were there with family and we also got some time to ourselves. With little hesitation, we rented snorkel gear and stand up paddle boards on the first day. We ended up doing little of both because of the strong waves. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop us from trying.

We drove to Poipu Beach Park which is on the south end of the island. We saw some amazing sea creatures, but something else was bothering me: my goggles. It kept leaking water in. I’d be in the water for no more than 30 seconds and my astonishment would be put out by the gradual overflowing of salt water that threatened my eyes and I’d have to re-surface. My husband came and checked on me a few times and I kept trying to make it work: I tightened my goggles, I breathed in to suck the goggles to my face, I tried to remove every trace of hair that might have been in the way. Some of you reading this can come up with yet a 4th way I could’ve tried to make it work, but by now, my forehead was turning purple and I wasn’t having any fun. The changes I was making were not working.

Deeper change

We finally decided to cut the trip short and went back to Snorkel Bob’s to exchange for a new pair of goggles. The next day, we headed to Salt Pond Park. In the back of my mind, I couldn’t help but to wonder, “Are my goggles going to work?” I took a moment to adjust to the water temperature and dove in. I was expecting water to slowly fill up. Nothing. I paddled around for a bit longer and ta-da! My goggles were water proof, as goggles should be! We enjoyed the rest of our snorkeling experience and saw for the first time, trumpetfish!

Shallow changes in intimate relationships

So why am I telling you this story? I believe that we often try to make shallow changes in our intimate relationships, changes we call “first order change” in family systems theory. First order change is when patterns of interactions are changed at the surface level and they usually involve changes in behaviors. Let’s say you and your partner are not getting along. Well, you should learn to communicate better, use “I” statements, carve out time to go on date nights or address a fair share of household chores.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for these changes, except I don’t believe that’s really the problem. These surface level changes will improve things momentarily, probably for longer than 30 seconds. But they don’t change the fact that something more is likely going on that’s causing the “leak” in your relationship. These problems might be surfacing because of deeper underlying issues in your marriage.

Deeper changes in couple relationships

So what is this deeper change and how is it possible? Yes, you guessed it: it’s called “second order change.” Second order change is when your relationship itself changes based on feedback from each other and hopefully, for the better. Underlying rules and beliefs about the relationship is called into question and altered. Let’s come back to your relationship.

Where you’re stuck in your relationship

Same problem: you’re not getting along. Your partner is super defensive when you bring something up and ends up hiding out at work. You become more frustrated every time you approach him and all he hears is your anger. You want to feel loved, accepted, important, and connected and it’s not happening. Your partner feels criticized, misunderstood, like he can’t do anything right. He also feels scared about rocking the boat, because he doesn’t want to make things worse. His feelings of inadequacy makes him withdraw even more. Sounds familiar? Are you tell me that this is just a communication problem and you can fix it by throwing solutions at it?

Want to feel close and connected with your partner?

The thing is, deeper changes lie in each of you recognizing that you have a part to play in the dance. As one of you pursues, often times out of desperation seen as anger, the other gets defensive and withdraws, often due to feelings of incompetence and shame. It’s not as simple as asking you to stop pursuing and the other to stop running away. After all, you have reasons for why you do what you do. Rather, it’s about recognizing that this dance is not working and it’s time to put on a different set of music. We’d still go snorkeling, but let’s switch out the goggles.

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT)

Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFCT) is a heavily research-based model for the treatment of couples. It gets at the underlying needs for couples to feel close, desired, and accepted in their intimate relationship. It focuses on how each partner influences the other and whatever rules or beliefs you had about your relationship will naturally shift as you experience your partner in new ways.

This is hard work and it’s not for the faint of heart. Let me know when you’re ready to trade in your goggles. I'll be here. 


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps distressed couples and breast cancer patients. That can also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about couples and cancer, she loves to go play with her husband! Her favorite sea creature while snorkeling in Hawaii will always be the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a. 

The Guide to Surviving Breast Cancer Screening and Diagnostic MRI

Last month, I wrote about the guide to surviving mammograms. When your breasts* are temporarily smashed, to the point where you didn’t think they could be flattened any further, there is nothing fun about that. Breast cancer patients tend to talk about surviving cancer and not about getting through these imaging appointments. Today, I’d like to touch on ways to survive a diagnostic breast MRI, which is sometimes used in breast screening to supplement a mammogram.

Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Breast MRI uses powerful magnets to generate detailed pictures of your boobies. You’re to lie tummy down, hands over your head on a moveable flat table, with your boobs hanging into an opening. After you’ve been situated as comfortably as possible on this hard, narrow table, you, along with the table, will slide into a large cylinder-shaped tube. This procedure will last approximately 18 minutes, during which you’ll hear a constant sound of jack hammer, with some breaks in between. You’re to hold completely still to insure accuracy. Once inside the tube, you’ll feel alone in a tight space.

You might be given the choice of music to occupy your mind, but the music would have to be really loud to drown out the construction noise. Near the beginning of the scan, a contrast material will be injected into your arm through an IV to help outline breast tissue details. The technologist will speak to you through a speaker if any communication is to be had. These 18 minutes can feel like forever. How can you survive it?

Do’s and don’ts during a breast MRI

DO ask a friend or family member to come along. Even just knowing that your loved one is near can be comforting.

DON’T be afraid to ask questions or interrupt the process if something is really bothering you. The technologist can help you adjust your position or let you take a break as needed.

DO focus on your breathing. Notice the natural rising and falling of your body as you lay there. Come back to your breath over and over again.

DON’T scratch an itch or move around. If you pay close enough attention, you will feel some level of discomfort. Unless you're in pain or you're super uncomfortable, know that these feelings will pass.

DO close your eyes if it can help forget that you’re in a tube. Instead, imagine you’re in open space.

DON’T tense up your muscles. Notice when you feel tension in your body, from your face, arms, shoulders, torso, gluts to your legs. Invite relaxation into those muscles and let your body fall heavy on the table.

DO hum or speak softly to yourself. You can hardly hear yourself but you can feel what you’re saying. Soothe yourself with your own voice.

DON’T say to yourself, “I can’t wait for this to be over!” This will likely lead to further impatience and frustration. Your scan will take as long as it takes.

D0 think about what you plan to do to reward yourself after you leave the clinic. Perhaps it is a, “Jenny, you did it!” or a mocha waiting for you down the street.

DON’T try to calculate how long it has been. Chances are, it hasn’t been as long as you think.

Bonus tip on surviving a breast MRI: self-touch

No, I’m not asking you to think kinky thoughts as you lay inside an enclosed tube. Rather, remember your arms overhead? Your hands could be touching each other. In fact, before the machine starts, bring your hands to touch, one on top of the other. Feel the warmth of your hand, the texture of your skin. Notice what it is like to be touched, to be cared for, to be comforted, by you. Much like the touch of a loved one can help lower your cortisol level, so here you are, lowering your own stress level because you’re loving you.

Loving yourself through cancer

It’s hard enough going through cancer, your body does NOT need another, “Hurry up and get this over with!” moment. Instead, consider how you can love yourself through it all. If you need help getting through cancer care and life thereafter, let me know!

*Breasts are used in plural form with full awareness and respect that this might not be true for everyone


Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps distressed couples and breast cancer patients. That can also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about couples and cancer, she has found yoga to be a wonderful practice to nurture present moment, self-love and self-compassion. She has grown pretty fond of her toes recently. She says hi to them every time she passes them by.