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“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” — Hillel
My framework for emotional literacy: the masculine and feminine poles of love
In my framework for emotional literacy there are only two fundamental human needs, which branch off into infinite expressions and infinite emotions which source, guide and inform those expressions. The two fundamental human needs correlate with the masculine and feminine poles of love. I expand on this idea below, and also mention some other teachers whose ideas resonate with mine.
I want to say upfront that I am not certain how important it is to understand my emotional literacy framework for the effective practice of relational leadership. You will have to judge for yourself. Personally, I do find my frame useful as it helps me to be more emotionally present – as opposed to NVC, with its cumbersome list of 100 or so NVC-approved feelings and needs, which I personally do not find useful.
The masculine and feminine poles of love
The Hillel quote above I like very much, as it speaks to one of the fundamental problems of our humanity: the problem of living in correct balance between the masculine and feminine poles of love.
I am aware that “masculine” and “feminine” are somewhat dirty words in our world today, a world strongly influenced by what some have called “woke culture.” I might be wise to substitute the words “Yang” (masculine) and “Yin” (feminine). But for better or for worse, I don’t want to. What I am speaking about is beyond gender, I am referring to universal archetypes (or constellations of thoughts, feelings and needs) which everyone carries in a different mix. These archetypes are often misunderstood, and/or identified with one or the other gender, which is part of the reason for the push-back. I view these archetypes as the two faces of love, an idea which I am about to unpack.
Let me get back to the Hillel quote above, and why it speaks to me so powerfully.
What Hillel says, is that you cannot be fully human, or at minimum you can’t be effective as a human being, if you operate solely in one pole.
[quote]“If I am not for myself.” I, we, have a cosmic obligation to fully discover and express our individuality. In my frame, the desire for individuation and impactful self-expression and creative/effective action is part of the masculine pole of love. It’s the desire to “influence people” in a way that they want, a way which will improve their lives.
While at the same time, [quote]“If I am only for myself.” The expression of our individuality has no meaning or value outside of our relationship with other people and with the cosmos, and our contribution to the whole. The desire to feel connected to other people, part of a larger whole, and to surrender our individual preferences in service to others is part of the feminine pole of love.
To say this another way: self-expression without connection (or “care”, or awareness of your impact on others), is domination and/or violence. Understanding this idea is, practically speaking, very important in Circling (refer to Chapter 5, Section 6 on offering impact). And on the other hand, connection without self-expression (or without truth-telling, or emotional integrity), is co-dependence, collapse and self-victimization. Neither of these options are healthy expressions of power.
And finally [quote]“if not now, when.” There is an urgency here, both a personal urgency and a cosmic urgency. The personal urgency I feel is that it would be nice to meet God before I die. Or at minimum, find a base level of happiness, contentment, wisdom and contribution.
Remember: individuation and authentic self-expression are not only about your personal happiness. You, me, all of us have a cosmic obligation towards what Maslow calls “self-actualization.” It is what humans were designed to do. [quote]“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then do that. Because what the world needs, is people who have come alive.” [Howard Thurman].
I return to this idea below, in terms of the “contagiousness” of love and of authentic, creative self-expression. Truthfully, this is the only way forward.
Alternatively: [quote]“Let us then try what love can do to, mend a broken world.” [William Penn]. Note here, that William Penn is not saying, “love will solve all your problems.” He is saying: give it a try, take a chance, do the “unreasonable thing”, and see what happens. This idea is 100% consistent with the principles of Authentic Relating. I sometimes think that the early Quakers (and maybe early Christians too) did something not terribly different from Authentic Relating. George Fox famously said: “Then you will walk cheerfully over the earth, answering that of God in everyone.” To [quote]“answer that of God” means to seek, elicit and acknowledge the truth and beauty in every person and every expression. Even when you see much untruth and ugliness in them. That is, essentially, Authentic Relating.
The Yin and the Yang of Circling: Connection Intent vs. Developmental Intent
Given that the masculine and feminine poles of love are universal human archetypes, they occur again and again in human relationships. They occur in Circling too, of course. Bryan Bayer (the author of the first book on Circling, The Art of Circling) calls this “the Yin and the Yang of circling.”
There exists an inescapable tension within Circling, between on the one hand, being non-judgmentally open and accepting to whatever is arising (the so-called “relational meditation”); and on the other hand, being invested or attached to certain outcomes (such as feeling a sense of connection, having a transformative conversation, or just plain having fun). This is called “connection intent versus developmental intent.” Navigating this tension correctly is the essence of good circling.
Bryan Bayer has a model which I will draw from for the rest of this section. According to Bryan:
- The Yin of Circling (feminine aspect) is the more inclusive, embracing aspect of Circling – noticing, feeling and receiving the moment as it unfolds, with “nowhere to get to but more here” [Decker Cunov]. This might be the aspect of circling that primarily values “connection.”
- The Yang of Circling (masculine aspect) is the more transcendent, active, directive and challenging – it asks penetrating questions, expresses desires, exposes patterns, seeks to achieve closure or else transformative or illuminating outcomes. This is the aspect of circling that primarily values “truth.”
Bryan has a table comparing the type of processes or inquiries that each attitude will generate, and I will not repeat it here; only to say that “Yin” might include: noticing what’s present, opening up to and feeling and embracing another’s experience; while “Yang” might be more interested in naming what is missing (the possibility of having a deeper experience or discovering more truth), drilling in, stepping outside of patterns, enlarging perspective. These opposing and yet highly complementary attitudes might be summarized by “I get you and I am here for you” [Yin], versus “Here is what you are missing and how it could be better” [Yang].
The fundamental rule in circling is that Yin trumps Yang. This is in the nature of a “commitment to connection.” Connection is achieved primarily through Yin practices, while excessive Yang practices (such as challenging feedback or advice-giving that is not coming from a place of empathy and understanding) will destroy connection.
However, if we only do Yin practices such as empathy and appreciation, while withholding our truth that we are (perhaps) bored or feeling angry, then the group will be flat and generally unsatisfactory, or worse (because when we withhold our true feelings out of fear, or obligation to be “nice”, they often come out sideways and destructively later).
As always, there is no universal formula for navigating these waters. There are also some organizational preferences, with some circling schools (Integral-style circling) more focused on structure and group safety, while others (Circling Europe and Surrendered Leadership) being more willing to break structure even at the risk of creating un-safety. A group that is too Yin (no structure) can occur as going nowhere and possibly even abusive (since lack of guidelines means that people can dump their shit on you), whereas a group that is too Yang (overly structured) can occur as awkward, over-led and disconnected. To note, however, that all schools of circling would agree that “Yin trumps Yang” (otherwise it would not be Circling), so it’s more a question of the degree of intention that leaders put into one or the other dimensions of circling. Some schools (Circling Europe in particular) are more willing to “push the envelope” towards the Yin side.
My style of Circling tends to push the envelope towards the Yang side. This, by the way, is controversial in the community, which is why I no longer promote my courses or events as “circling.” You should try different styles (see Appendix A – Resources) and see what style of Circling resonates most with you.
Jerry Jud, “love is an intention”, and the Circler / Circlee dynamic
Jerry Jud was a mentor of mine, the founder of the Shalom Mountain Retreat Center in New York State, which is still operating. There is a powerful interview and article about him called “Love is an intention” which you can find on the web. Jerry Jud dedicated his life to the full expression of human potential through the art of intentional loving.
Jerry Jud’s idea is that love is an energetic exchange between two people in which both are fulfilled; however it has a directionality, always. Meaning that: love is, by definition, the willingness to fulfill somebody’s needs, for no other reason than the joy of it and the pleasure of giving. If you have to pay for it, or if there is an unspoken exchange contract, it’s not love.
Consequently, according to Jerry Jud, you can’t love a person who has no needs. It’s also difficult – although not impossible – to love a person who is not aware of their needs or does not express them (also known as vulnerability). “Not impossible” means that you CAN love a person who doesn’t express needs or who is unaware of them, simply by intuiting what they need and giving it to them, provided they be receptive to the offer; however, this is challenging. This reflects another fundamental idea of Jerry Jud’s (an idea which is shared by Scott Peck in his seminal book The Road Less Traveled) that mature love is action and intention, rather than a feeling. As such, Scott Peck would also agree that love has a directionality.
The idea that love has a directionality and that you can’t love a person who has no needs is controversial, and yet it is 100% consistent with the NVC notion of “needs as a gift”, and with the practice of Circling as well.
I find the idea important because one of the keys to Circling effectively, at least in my style, is to realize that at any given moment there is one Circlee (or receiver of love from the group). That role is either formal (in the practice of Focus Circles in which one individual has the attention of the whole group for a set time), or informal (in the practice of Flow Circles or Organic Circles in which the Circlee nominates themself through a vulnerable share).
This is useful to know, because in a Flow Circle or Organic Circle, when someone in a group is in a deep process, the discernment of when to come in with your own stuff is tricky as you are taking the group’s attention back on yourself. This is not necessarily a bad thing (your “stuff” is valuable and may well be of great interest to the group), but you need to do it with discernment.
Focused emotional attention has a directionality. This is the definition of “getting their world.” This type of structured, directional attention and communication is actually rare in the world, which is the ultimate reason that Circling is so effective. In the world, people tend to blab on endlessly about their own stuff with no awareness of the impact (or even interest) of their communications to other people, and/or of the time and attention they are taking from others. Many communications in the world are simply unconscious ploys for attention and validation from others. In Circling, we want to bring more attention to the impact of our communications, and we also want to be more revealing of the needs and desires which are driving these communications, in whatever role we happen to be in at the moment (i.e., Circler or Circlee).
Note that in advanced circles it may be difficult to identify a role, as the attention flows back and forth seamlessly and rapidly. However, there is always a Circlee. It might be fun for you to try and discern who the current Circlee is in a group, and name it. Or else – even more valuable – what role you are taking in the interaction. What is your motivation for sharing: are you wanting to make a contribution to the other person (the masculine pole of love) or are you wanting your own healing, empowerment, and feeling of closeness (the feminine pole of love). Both roles are important, and neither role could exist without the other.
It is really one of the tragedies of Western culture and its patriarchal framework, that the masculine role is seen as superior. “Riding solo into the sunset” as the ultimate form of empowerment, a myth which pervades much of the self-help industry, and which Brené Brown is doing much to change through her work with vulnerability.
Sexual Polarity according to David Deida and Victor Baranco
David Deida is a famous tantric author. His writings cover many topics, mostly related to having powerful and transformative sexual relationships through deliberately occupying one or the other polarity (which, incidentally, applies to non-heterosexual couples too, according to him). Both his teaching and his personality are quite controversial (I am personally not very fond of him), but I agree with most everything he says.
Deida makes a very compelling critique of modern-day sexual relationships, especially in America where “sexual polarity” has gone out of favor; mostly, in my opinion, because people identify it with gender-roles and cultural oppression around that, which is a misunderstanding of his ideas. Sexual polarity in Deida is a choice, maybe momentary; although he also says that there is a correlation between gender and one’s preferred polarity, the polarity that a person prefers to inhabit most of the time in relationship (not all the time! That would not be healthy). Your preferred polarity (should you choose to align with these ideas) is the polarity in which you are typically, happiest and most productive. You may also choose to vary your primary (or dominant) polarity according to the roles you play in the world. Or alternate them. It’s all good, it’s just a question of bringing more self-awareness into how you “be” with other people, of what polarity you are showing up in.
I am fairly critical of David Deida on a number of points, and I think he misses a lot in terms of having successful sexual relationships with real women. My main critique is that in my model, skill in the masculine and feminine poles of love are separate dimensions, rather than a “sexual polarity scale” with masculine on one end and feminine on the other; and hence the goal is to become skilled in both dimensions. I am not sure that Deida speaks to that, or is aware of it.
However, if you complement David Deida’s ideas with another of my mentors, Victor Baranco, you get a much more comprehensive and useful model for having powerful, transformative sexual relationships. Getting into that here would be out of scope, but if you Google “Authentic Singles, a lecture on sexual polarity” you can read about my ideas there.
These ideas actually do apply to Circling, as sexual tension and/or attraction will occasionally arise in circles. And also, obviously, sexual relationships being such an important part of our humanity, these issues will surface in circles.
The impact of large-scale developmental trauma
Circling is actually very powerful for healing what has come to be known as “developmental trauma.” We return later to this topic, but it is so important I want to give a summary of the problem here.
We are holding an enormous amount of pain, individually and collectively, and this is the indirect cause of almost all of the heartless, stupid and destructive things that we humans do. Unscrupulous leaders are able to use our unconscious pain and fear for political purposes and financial gain. They have done so throughout the ages, with the 20th and early 21st centuries being especially horrifying. Partly because modern tools of destruction are so much more powerful than they were before; and partly because the use of state-sponsored and media-created cult psychology has been so effective for both political and financial gain (an excellent documentary on the use of mass cult psychology for financial gain is the BBC documentary The Century of the Self, Part 1. You can find it on Vimeo).
The logical consequence of the all-pervasiveness of developmental trauma and cult psychology, is that we have a personal, moral and social obligation to clear, or at least effectively address, our individual and collective pain. We do this by getting with other people and talking about it. We have a moral obligation to clear our developmental trauma: because if we don’t, we are part of the problem rather than the solution.
Love, authentic happiness, and courageous, heartfelt self-expression are contagious. There are very, very strong reasons to create a world of authentically happy, self-expressed people. Happy people are naturally (for the most part) more generous, more creative and more free, and harder to manipulate. Authentic happiness is contagious. I actually view this fact (of the “contagiousness” of love) as our single greatest hope to save the planet. It might not be enough; but it is certain that without it, our children and grand-children are screwed.
We return to the topics of Developmental Trauma in Chapter “X” and to Cult Psychology in Chapter “X”.
Ideas, Story-telling, Advice-giving, and Coaching in Circling and Authentic Relating
We began this topic in an earlier chapter. The idea is that Circling is 100% a presence-based (or present-moment experience) practice; and yet ideas, plans, stories, coaching and even advice-giving are permissible in Circling and Authentic Relating, under certain circumstances which I will discuss here.
The “problem” is that ideas, stories and coaching can take us out of the moment and into our heads, and therefore need to be used with discernment in Circling groups, if at all. But here is a key distinction: given that ideas and stories are usually part of our present-moment experience of being “us”, whether they are expressed or not; and given that Circling is ultimately about the full expression of our humanity – we really can’t (and/or don’t want to) entirely suppress the expression of ideas, plans and stories.
Coaching, advice-giving and story-telling are especially problematic on another person’s focus circle. There are situations where this is permissible in Circling and Authentic Relating. With great discernment, however, as I will describe next.
This is a complex problem (how much story-telling, sharing of ideas and coaching is appropriate and permissible in Circling). However I will give you a rule-of-thumb: you can do and say whatever you want in Circling or Authentic Relating, provided you name it (and ideally, ask permission first). As in:
- “This may be a little coachy (or advicey), but let me say it…..”
- Or “I really want to share a story here (and I hope this is not too long or boring”).
- Or even more direct: “I feel so much like giving you advice here. Is it okay?.” This is called an “owned communication.” We return to this topic in the next chapter.
The situation occurs very commonly in beginner Circling groups (and even more frequently in the world), that people either go over-long into their stories, or coach without permission (also known as “teaching to no appetite”), or even give advice, tell you what they themselves have done to solve the problem in a similar situation (which may be irrelevant to you, because you are not them). These types of communications, and especially if they are not “owned” (i.e. they are spoken without naming them), will take the group out of presence.
Coaching and excessive story-telling will create distance, if the circlee is currently not open or interested in being coached. Meaning, the circlee may just want to be witnessed. It is especially not helpful in what’s called an “impact round” (this is when a circlee has expressed a willingness to hear other’s impacts on their share), for you to go into a long story about your own stuff, which may either be too long or of no interest to the circlee. This takes the attention off of the Circlee, which you really do not want to do, either in a formal circle, or in “Authentic Relating on the street” with a new person who has opened themselves up to you. This is the #1 relational mistake that people make: excessive story-telling, or bringing the attention back on themselves with unwanted story-telling or advice-giving.
Impact statements need to be short, ideally. And truthfully, all effective emotional communications ought to be as short as possible without losing anything important. This is one of the great skills of Circling and of good relational leadership.
The most powerful impact statements are empathy and appreciation, as already told chapter. However, coaching, advice-giving, and telling your own story of how you relate to the circlee, can be seen as impact statements too, although these types of communications are in a “gray zone” where effective human communication is concerned (in or out of formal circles). You need to be especially discerning when you are giving coaching or advice-giving, of how much time you are taking and whether this is actually welcome, or helpful, to the circlee (i.e., be aware of how this is “landing” on the circlee). In case of doubt, just be silent.
The nature of emotional charge and the practice of giving withholds
Understanding what I call “emotional charge” is extraordinarily important in effective emotional communication, especially with a person you are having an issue with. It is a concept that is actually not part of any Circling curriculum that I am aware of. But if you want to practice effective Authentic Relating in the world, you must understand this.
The basic idea I already shared in the NVC chapter, relating to inter-subjective reality: that our communications are not just words, they are energy. “Emotional charge” is any kind of [probably unspoken] upset, judgment, or make-wrong you have towards another person. This is called a “withhold.” Particularly a “negative withhold” – i.e. a negative emotion or judgment you have towards another person but which you have withheld, or not told them. Note however, that you can have “positive withholds” as well: such as your not sharing how important a person is to you, or how much you value something they have said and done for you.
Withholds, whether they be positive or negative, kill intimacy. I will say this again: withholds kill intimacy. You have to do something about your withholds towards other people, if you want to be close to them and them to you.
I will start with the problem of “positive withholds.” This problem is extremely easily solved by giving an appreciation, which is one of the two most powerful tools in the Authentic Relating arsenal (the other one being empathy). This can be scary, but you need to get over it in order to become an effective relational leader. We return to this topic in the next chapter, including the rare times where giving appreciation is inappropriate or not useful.
Negative withholds are more complex, for the following reason: if you attempt to initiate a clearing conversation with someone you have a “negative withhold” towards, but without awareness and/or consciousness of the judgments or make-wrongs or hurt feelings you are carrying towards them, it will usually not go well. The reason there being, as mentioned above, that it won’t even matter what you say, your words will be unimportant because the person won’t even hear them: all they will hear is the [unspoken] energy that you are bringing to the interaction, all the anger and judgments and make-wrongs you are thinking about them, and will very probably push-back.
If, in addition, you are coming into the conversation with a need or even demand that they hear you, and they respond instead with their own judgments and distancing, their push-back might enrage you further and lead to the opposite of what you want: more distance from this person and more anger and both sides.
The problem of communicating effectively with someone you are angry with is thorny, at best. Especially when the other person lacks emotional literacy.
Effective communication through anger is much easier if you both understand the nature of anger, if one or both of you does the practice of “giving withholds with shared context” with a third-party prior to speaking to your partner, or even if you begin your clearing conversation with a formal “giving withholds” practice (meaning, you can exchange withholds before even beginning the actual “negotiation”, as described below).
With an emotionally literate person you are close with but angry towards, starting the conversation with formal withholds might cut 80% of the time, difficulty and trauma of clearing your anger towards them (and/or their anger towards you).
There is a different practice called “giving withholds without shared context.” I will speak about that in Chapter “X”.
Understanding the nature of anger
Understanding the nature of anger within my framework for emotional literacy can be very valuable in resolving it. What I am about to say is an extension of Marshall Rosenberg’s ideas.
The way this works typically requires getting you and your partner in “shared reality” (or “shared context”) of what anger really is. Anger is (usually) a negative emotion arising from a need not being met (except when it’s not, which we already covered). If you accept the idea of the two fundamental human needs, to love and be loved (masculine and feminine aspects, respectively), then anger is a corrective emotion whose purpose is ultimately to restore love, the satisfying bi-directional flow of attention and understanding.
Once you fully understand the idea that anytime someone is angry towards you (or you are angry with them), it (usually) comes from a desire to restore closeness, it will fundamentally change your relationship to anger, yours and others. This is, however, a very high game. It’s also not an idea that you can merely understand intellectually (although understanding it intellectually will help). You have to “get it in your gut.”
Here is how this idea might work in a formal circle and with emotionally literate people.
In a formal circle, “connection intent” is a shared context. Everyone in the group knows, for instance (or ought to know) that if you get angry at another participant, and/or express your anger not-skillfully (which will happen, remember this is a training camp and mistakes ought to be welcome) – well, people in the group will know (or ought to know) that the reason you are expressing that anger is ultimately to get into connection with that person. You are angry because something has gone wrong with your inherent need for human connection, understanding and empathy. You are angry because you are feeling not-seen or not-heard or disrespected, you know that something needs to be said or done, but you are not sure exactly what needs to be done, yet. This is also called “being triggered”, which is something like a more mild, or gentle, version of outright anger (or hurt, or fear). Something has happened, but you may not be entirely sure what is happening to you inside, exactly, or what you should do about it. You just know you are feeling dis-ease, and probably some pressure to do something, such as defend yourself, counter-attack, or withdraw.
Expressing anger fulfills many needs, but the main one is typically the clarification of your internal limits and needs with respect to other people. Hence, underneath that expression of anger is the desire to clarify your limits, and underneath that impulse to clarify your limits is the desire to be close to this person again – a closeness which you felt, hopefully, before they pissed you off. Hence, expressing anger is, almost always, a desire to be close to another person.
In the real world (i.e., outside of a formal group), it is unlikely that the target of your anger (or even you) will be aware of this. Which basically means that the two of you are (most probably) communicating unconsciously. This is problematic.
The practice of giving withholds with a person you are close to is the easiest way to resolve that anger. Which doesn’t mean it is easy, none of this is usually easy. To “resolve anger” means to get clear on the reason that you are triggered, and what needs to be done about it, if anything.
[quote]You don’t need to get what you want if you can express what you want
An important caveat here relating to anger and “what needs to be done about it”: sometimes, simply expressing a feeling clears it, with no further action required, especially once you feel “gotten” or understood by another person. This idea mirrors the saying “you don’t need to get what you want, if you can express what you want” [Strephon Kaplan-Williams], which is one of the most powerful ideas in all of the theory of emotional communication.
It takes a great deal of maturity and experience to fully embody the idea of “you don’t need to get what you want, if you can express what you want.” You will, most likely, understand this experientially at some point: you will express a feeling or a need towards a partner or friend, feel “gotten” in that, and realize that being “gotten” is all you really wanted, and that you no longer need or even want the other person to change beyond that.
However, there is another, and even more advanced level: you express a feeling or desire towards someone, you are NOT gotten in that, and yet you are STILL happy (or proud) that you said it. This is a level of consciousness or emotional maturity which, I will confess, I personally have not yet mastered. I am working on it, however.
The practice of giving withholds (with shared context)
Giving withholds (with shared context) is an extraordinarily powerful practice, but one that is not taught anywhere that I am aware of, even inside Authentic Relating (I actually got it from Victor Baranco and Morehouse – for more information on that Google my article “Victor Baranco history”).
- Don’t do this with a stranger, or a person who is not emotionally literate.
- Don’t do it with someone who doesn’t understand the structure.
- (Probably) don’t do it with your intimate partner unless they are in a receptive place.
- Also: be cautious about doing this with someone towards whom you have a tremendous amount of emotional charge, or history (hence prior advice regarding your partner).
But with those caveats: Try it. You may both love it, and it may save much time and grief in processing emotional issues between you.
So what is a withhold? It’s an owned communication of emotional charge. You are communicating emotion (maybe anger) with an express desire to clear emotional charge in order to return to a space of love (or to clear emotional charge prior to beginning an actual negotiation). You are communicating emotions, thoughts and judgments – maybe even very harsh thoughts and judgments, which you would never say in a regular conversation or negotiation – with the implicit understanding that nothing you are saying is “true”, exactly. You are communicating things – maybe just momentary emotions such as “I hate you” – in order to release emotional charge, with the explicit goal of “clearing your head” so you can get to the truth of what you are really thinking and feeling in this situation (meaning: it is highly unlikely that you actually “hate” your partner. But saying it in a withhold structure may help you get clear on what you are really feeling).
Here is how it works:
- Get with the person you have withholds towards and ask them permission if you can share a few withholds. Make sure they understand the structure (in the previous paragraphs) and they are fully willing to give you their love, time and attention for a period of time.
- Give the first withhold (i.e., “I hate it when you answer your phone when we are having a conversation” or, “I love you for doing withholds with me”).
- Your partner responds with “thank you, is there more?” Your partner does not say anything else and attempts also to not give any non-verbal feedback. This is your withhold session, both of you know it’s 100% “your stuff” and that what you are saying may not even be true, or any more than a transitory emotion.
Then: You both repeat the previous two steps until you are done or the agreed time runs out. Normally (but not necessarily) you would switch roles and receive withholds from your partner.
That’s it. There is a further agreement to not bring up withhold content in a normal conversation without permission (it’s best to respond to withhold content through another withhold). Remember as well, that you will probably have positive withholds towards your friend or partner, things you have not told them of how much you love them and appreciate them. Don’t hold these back (such as in the example above).
Good luck with this. Let me know how it goes.