Dr. Jackie Black

on Improving Relationships
Author of Meeting Your Match: Cracking the Code to Successful Relationships

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Exclusive Interview

Dr. Jackie Black on Improving Relationships

Perhaps you’ve heard Jackie Black, Ph.D., tackle controversial relationship topics on terrestrial radio, or maybe you’ve read about her in SELF magazine and other publications. Black—better known as Dr. Jackie among her clients—rose to fame as a relationship expert, educator and coach who offers private relationship coaching services for individuals, couples and families. Recently, her teachings have gone high-tech through her online radio show, blog, podcasts and TeleLearning Center program, which offers real-time classes and lectures via telephone. Her first book, Meeting Your Match: Cracking the Code to Successful Relationships, is due out in fall 2007. We asked her for her tips on the first 30 days of improving any relationship.

How did you become an expert on relationships?

I’m a psychologist and I was in private practice for many years, with bereavement, loss and life-threatening and chronic illness as my sub-specialties. In 1999, through a confluence of events, I became a coach and eventually shut down my therapy practice to coach full time. Relationships evolved to be the things that I wanted to focus on as a coach: At the end of the day, the most important things are our relationships, first with self, then with significant others, family, friends and colleagues.

If you wanted to improve your relationship with a spouse, boss or friend, what should you know?

The first thing I’d want to know is what’s working. Answer these questions: “What do you love about this relationship? How does this relationship affirm you? How you do feel being in the presence of this person? What do you want more of?” I love the idea of actively celebrating and deliberately drinking in and receiving the good things we have in our relationships.

Next, I would want to know what’s not working. You’re really going on an adventure when you explore what needs are not being met. Ask, “What do I want to improve? What needs to shift or change? What am I not getting or giving? Am I stopped, blocked or shut down in some area?” Relationships are like a mirror: When we explore what’s not working, we can begin to look within. Unless I know what I want to change, I can’t invite the other person in.

Is it possible to improve a relationship by yourself or do you need the other party?

Yes and no. If you and I were doing the foxtrot and I suddenly changed the step, we would still be dancing, but we would no longer be doing the foxtrot. Often, in the beginning of changing a relationship, one person comes into recognition and risks making changes first. Ultimately, in order to sustain a long-term, lasting relationship, we have to be doing the same steps. But, initially, one person can decide to begin the change.

What type of self-awareness do you need in order to improve your relationships?

You need to believe that you can. You need to believe that your feelings, thoughts and desires for the relationship are legitimate. We won’t ask for anything if we don’t believe that the things we want and need are legitimate.

How can people truly succeed during the first 30 days, not just “get through?”

You need a willingness to risk, to be self-disclosing and vulnerable and have a willingness to listen. “Elegant listening” is a critical relationship skill that very few people have. With elegant listening, we listen for three things: feelings, repair (or problem solving) and information. In relationships, it’s always helpful to let the listener know what we want. For example, “I really need you to listen for my feelings,” or “I want you to help me figure this out so I can solve this problem,” or “I want you to listen for information. And at the end I want you to hear and understand that I need you to go to the cleaners because I need my suit for an important meeting tomorrow.”

How do men and women listen differently?

Men need to understand specifically what is required from them. The only reason men don’t listen is because they don’t know how. I’d say 99.5% of men, no matter how old they are or where they live, know how to listen to repair only. Sometimes women don’t want men to fix situations, they just want to be heard in a particular way. If women talk about the three ways of listening and let men know which way we want them to listen, they can and will do it.

How do our past relationships affect the success of present and future relationships?

Every single person brings baggage into a relationship. There are two things we should ask about baggage: First, “How has past baggage formed your choices as an emotionally intelligent, alert, mindful adult in this relationship?” Second, “What are the lessons of the baggage?”

What surprising emotions might crop up during the first 30 days of improving any relationship?

Expect to be in pain. Expect to be frustrated. Expect to get angry, because when we change, we’re still learning, exploring and experimenting. Be willing to be a good observer of yourself and other people. In the first 30 days of any change, understand that you’re going to have “conscious incompetence.” That means you’ll know you’re not doing it well, but that’s okay because you’re learning. Most adults are uncomfortable with how conscious incompetence feels. Instead, you should expect it and embrace it. Don’t be surprised by it. Be respectful and patient with yourself.


What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?

I believe the definition of self-esteem is that we can positively influence, impact and affect people and events. When we shift from powerlessness or the position of victim to a place of knowing and believing that we can positively influence, impact and effect people and events, our world changes forever. That power starts from change and that change starts from within me. It has nothing to do with the other person.

The best thing about change is…

…all of the possibilities.

What’s the best change you have ever made?

The best change I’ve ever worked through in my life was believing that I had rights and legitimate feelings. I finally realized I could do things to get my needs met and that I could take care of myself. I could ask, request and have influence.

For more information on Dr. Jackie Black, visit drjackieblack.com.


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Advice on Change

1. Making Sense of the Dating Process: Dating is a process with a beginning, a middle and an end. Very importantly, the process is different depending on why you are dating.

If you are dating to find your ideal partner, be crystal clear about it; the more you know what you want the more likely you will be successful finding your ideal partner. If you are dating for friendship or to create social opportunities take the time to find the right words to let the men or women you are dating know that is why you are dating; be clear about not being ready for a committed relationship.

Be a good observer of your feelings and behavior. Be willing to let the people you date experience you, in the places in which you are the most comfortable doing the things that you most love to do.

If your goal is to find your ideal partner, then stop dating the person you are dating as soon as you recognize that s/he is not your ideal match; don’t keep dating just because it is convenient. Approach dating as a process of discovery, realizing that the end of the process is discovering your ideal match; it will save you lots of wear and tear on your emotions.

2. Identifying Your Ideal Match: We create our life and our love life through our beliefs, intentions and the actions we take in the world. Vision, Needs/Values, Life Purpose and Mission are the four corners, the foundational pieces of each person’s inner life.

The more you know what you want in your life, the more successful you will be, so create an image of your life with your ideal partner that includes anything and everything you ever wanted, using as many rich details as you can.

Become an expert on BOTH you and your ideal partner by identifying major life areas that are important to you both, then imagine how you might like your ideal match to express herself/himself in each area.

Bring a fresh curiosity to each new person you meet. Hear, see, and react to him or her; and not to an old image of a previous experience. Appreciate yourself for your courage and trust that your efforts will be richly rewarded.

3. Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say: Most of us know how to speak. Many of us have never learned how to communicate.

To communicate clearly and effectively you must understand there are two sides to every communication – the one who sends the communication and the one who receives it. Likewise, there are two methods of communication--verbal and non-verbal communication. Just because you may not be speaking, doesn’t mean you are not saying something.

Speaking from the “I” position is very useful for helping you assertively and accurately express what is going on inside you and express scary or negative feelings or thoughts to someone else. An “I’ message has three parts: a feeling or a request; a factual description of the situation or event; and the impact, effect or result it has/had on you.

Complaining is a healthy way to convey your grievances and objections when your desires and needs go unmet. Request a change after you have aired your complaint.

4. Listening With More Than Your Ears: Most of us know how to hear. Many of us have never learned how to listen.

Effective listening is the ability to receive, attend to, interpret and respond appropriately to the purpose of the sender. Pay attention to what isn't said—to feelings, facial expressions, gestures, posture and other nonverbal cues. Listen to the facial expression and body language as well as the words.

Respond with verbal and nonverbal cues that let the person who is speaking know—actually prove—that the listener is listening and understanding. The sender wants to be understood! Make eye contact, settle down, breathe deeply to ground yourself and become a receiver of information, thoughts and feelings being expressed by the sender.

Let go of your own agenda, opinions, advice and judgments while you are listening. Ask clarifying questions when things aren't clear. Invite the sender to say more. Offer your understanding when you really “get it” by nodding, mirroring or reflecting back what you heard or understood, asking a relevant question or gesturing in some subtle way that you get it!

5. Setting Boundaries, Making Commitments and Crafting Elegant Agreements: Three essential life skills and absolute requirements of a loving, lasting relationship.

Setting personal boundaries requires that you have knowledge about your needs, values, attitudes, beliefs, likes, dislikes and preferences. As you choose to set and maintain your boundaries, do so with intention and with deliberate words and actions.

Making and keeping agreements and commitments comprise fundamental ingredients of any relationship. Not honoring the agreements or commitments you make with people is a betrayal of your relationship with that person.

Crafting elegant agreements is a process that includes three essential keys: (1) know who you are and what you need, want, value and believe; (2) become willing and able to honor who you are and ask for what you want; and, (3) find your courage and accurately articulate all that to another person.

“Giving up” and “Giving in” are signs that you feel powerless and undeserving. Settling for less is often the result of not recognizing that your thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, needs and wants are legitimate. When appropriate, use compromise as a middle way between two extremes. Compromising and negotiating can only occur when you honor and respect your thoughts, attitudes, values, beliefs, needs and wants, hopes and dreams and deem them legitimate.

About Dr. Jackie Black

Jackie Black, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized relationship educator, author and coach who inspires and encourages people to risk again; to move through the challenges and pitfalls of dating, loving and building long-lasting, committed relationships in today's fast-paced world.

Dr. Jackie serves men and women who are Single Again, Pre-married, Newly-married, New Parents, divorcing or divorced, widowed or in a committed relationship that is challenging and just doesn’t met your needs yet!

In addition to her private relationship coaching services, Dr. Jackie offers on-going Coaching Groups focusing on specific areas of relationship life.

Dr. Jackie’s book, Meeting Your Match: Cracking the Code to Successful Relationships is the book for everyone who is ready to identify what you are looking for in a partner; ready to know yourself so that you can recognize the right life partner; and ready to do what you can do to build the kind of relationship we all long to have. Meeting Your Match is your guide to how to make a relationship work, and navigate the world of dating.

She is a popular newspaper, magazine and Internet syndicated columnist, radio personality and a veteran lecturer and educator. Dr. Jackie is an experienced TeleClass leader and offers teleLearning opportunities from time to time. Her high-content and fast-paced Internet streaming radio shows and downloadable PodCasts focus on current, and sometimes controversial, relationship-driven issues.

Dr. Jackie is a frequent guest expert on radio stations throughout the U.S. and Canada and on Internet radio; and is regularly cited in major magazines: Cosmopolitan USA and Cosmopolitan UK, Men’s Health Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine, Maxim Magazine, SELF Magazine, The NEST Magazine, Match.com and Politico.

In addition to her Relationship Coaching business, Dr. Jackie is on the faculty of Coach Training Alliance, one of the top 10 coach training organizations in the world.

Dr. Jackie is the former president of BuildingYourIdealPractice.com and the former Director of Practice Development for the Relationship Coaching Institute, where she provided training and support to entrepreneurs and sole practitioners in building their private practices.

Meeting Your Match: Cracking the Code to Successful Relationships


Stories and case studies from Dr. Black's experiences combine to offer knowledge on how to make a relationship work well....