5 Winning Strategies in Relationships

In one of my last articles, I outlined five interactions which are useless and damaging to your relationships, especially in our close loving partnerships. Here are five winning strategies, as Terry Real describes in his recording, “Fierce Intimacy”.

  1. Go After What You Want – Express Your Needs 

Express what you want and need and be assertive about getting it. Terry Real calls it “daring to rock the boat”, which is scary at times, especially when we seem to be cruising along smoothly. If we are overidentified with our Pleaser Part or our Peaceful Part, because we received the message during childhood that we will only be loved if we go along with everything, it can be terrifying to rock the boat. There are two things to consider. Firstly, it is your birthright to be in an equal cherishing relationship in which both partner’s needs are met. The second thing to realize is that if you do not find your voice and speak up for your needs and wants, resentment begins to grow, and resentment is a poison that slowly erodes the love between you and your partner. To stay with our metaphor, resentment drills little holes into your relationship boat.

Sometimes we have this idea that we should not have to ask for what we want and need and that our partner should just know what our needs are if he/she really loved us. Our partner is not a mind reader. We set them and ourselves up for failure with this attitude!

Furthermore, help your partner to succeed by telling him or her up front what you need or want instead of waiting for them to fail. Be encouraging and affirm your partner’s efforts by giving positive feedback. Terry Real calls this “celebrating the glass being 15% full”. If the glass was 5% full beforehand, this is a reason to celebrate and thus encourage your partner to keep going. With our children, we naturally do that. If your son or daughter made an improvement in school from a D to a C, you give them reinforcement to keep going and to eventually get to a B.

 

  1. Speak to Make Things Better 

Speak to your partner with love. Before you speak, drop down into your heart and speak from there. If you are too triggered to do that, take a time out until you are able to interact from a more centred place. Remind yourself that you want to speak to make repairs not to make things worse. Learn how to be assertive and loving at the same time. Make sure your partner knows that you love them but that you also need to respect yourself and your needs and feelings.

Make very clear requests using I-statements. There is nothing you need to say that cannot be phrased as a subjective I statement. This helps us to stay away from judgments or accusing the other person. One method for good communication is the five steps of the non-violent communication by Marshall Rosenberg as described in my article “Having Our Needs met in Relationships“.

Speak respectfully and be prepared that not all your requests will be met. You could say “I would like to talk to you about… Is this a good time?” We need to be able to also tolerate small disappointments. Your partner might reply, “I am tired right now. Can we talk about this tomorrow?” Terry Real even takes it so far as to say we need to “celebrate the no”. Celebrating the no means to be proud of your partner when they say “no” to take care of themselves and meet their own needs, and be proud of yourself for being adaptable and grow-up when you don’t get everything you want in the moment when you want it.

 

  1. Listen to understand 

Before we can respond, we need to really listen. Getting defensive, whether that is out loud or in our heads, is not true listening. We need to put our own feelings aside while we are listening. Listening is also not about arguing about the facts and wanting to be right. Wanting to be right is one of the 5 losing strategies. Listening means entering into your partner’s subjective experience. What do they feel and how do they see things? Be a friendly interviewer who really wants to understand the perspective of the other person.

Remember that as a couple, you are in each other’s care. Or keep Terry Real’s analogy in mind that you are at a customer service or support desk. When a customer complains that their new electric kettle does not work, they don’t want to hear from you that your toaster does not work. Your only concern is to listen to them and tend to their issue in that moment in time, until it is your turn at the customer service window. When your partner comes to you in a state of upset, you are in their service.

Remember that nobody thinks they are irrational. Their feelings and interpretations of reality make sense to them. It is your job to be curious about what makes sense to them. It is your job to help your distraught partner to get back into harmony and closeness with you because that is good for your relationship and therefore is also good for you. Terry Real calls this stance “Enlightened Self-Interest”.

 

  1. Respond with Generosity 

Our first impulse might be to deny that we have done something or to explain why we have done something. That way of responding was termed “leading with an argument” by Terry Real, because it usually is the beginning of an argument. Instead, acknowledge your partner’s experience or feelings and take responsibility for your part in the issue. You might need to lead with a sincere apology, or at least an honest acknowledgement of what you have done or not done.

Image by JenDigitalArt from Pixabay

That disarms your partner, deescalates the conflict, and allows you to make repairs. Terry Real calls this skill “relational jujitsu”. You don’t oppose the force. You yield to the energy coming at you and turn it into a more harmonic energy. Admittedly, that is not an easy feast to accomplish, because we have been taught to respond to power with equal or greater aggression. When we meet aggression and respond with generosity and gentleness, the aggression runs into emptiness.

On the side of the partner who receives an apology or an attempt to improve, “responding with generosity” means to gracefully accept the repair. This is not the moment to be picky. You might not get all you wanted, but if you get 70% of what you have been asking for, that is a sign that your partner wants to cooperate and make peace. Accept the peace offering! Respond with a “thank you” for listening to you and meeting your requests.

The next step is to ask what you can give your partner. Find out what they need from you to make the changes you have asked for. You are on the same team, so you want to help them come through for you. This is relational empowerment rather than personal empowerment. Our society tends to encourage personal empowerment at the expense of our relationships. I am of course not saying that our personal growth and empowerment is not important, but we need a balance in order to live well functioning relationships.

 

  1. Cherish what you have 

Cherishing is a powerful change agent. Terry Real believes “this one winning strategy is equal in potential to all of the other strategies combined”. The best way to get more of what you want in a relationship is by appreciating what you are already getting. Whatever we give energy to, or pay attention to, grows and becomes more. We have the choice to focus on the steps forward, on the progress.

Why is that sometimes so hard?

Real intimacy, closeness and vulnerability can be scary for many of us. Fights can serve as a distance regulator. Complaining about what we are not getting helps to keep the distance between us and our partner, instead of truly opening up our heart and acknowledging everything we are getting. Fights keep us tied into each other but at a certain distance. The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. Fights are an opportunity to experience that the other one cares enough to be triggered by us and to feel close but not so close and enmeshed that it creates fear or panic. So what if, instead of starting a fight each time our inner child feels too vulnerable, we would express that we feel scared or that we need a bit of distance?

Terry Real calls the lack of gratitude towards our partner “having ADD, Appreciation Deficiency Disorder”. The ratio of negative feedback to positive appreciation is often out of balance in relationships. We need to engage in active appreciation several times each day.

Once our partner starts to give us more of what we have asked for, the challenge is to receive it gracefully and to cherish what we are getting. So if you hear yourself disqualifying what they are giving, e.g. “you are not doing it right”, or “you are only doing it because I asked for it”, or “you are doing it now but you didn’t do it then or you won’t do it in the future”, be curious about what is actually going on.

Sometimes we also have an attachment or belief system that keeps us from having happy and healthy relationships. We do something that Terry Real calls “keeping a parent spiritual company” by living in the same world they live in, e.g. being mistrustful like your father, or being passive aggressive like your mother, or overidentified with independence like your father, or overemotional like your mother, or too easygoing and disconnected from our own needs like your father and so on. When we try to move beyond that it might feel disloyal to the respective parent.

At other times, we might be invested in not wanting to be like one (or both) of our parents at all costs. For example, not wanting to take advantage of your spouse like you experienced your mother doing, or not wanting to abuse power like your father did and so on. When we identify with the opposite of an energy we are equally not whole and not able to create a balanced relationship. Moving into happiness in all those cases is synonymous with separating from our family. That’s were belief change techniques like PSYCH-K® and Shadow Energetics come in to change our subconscious programs.

If you dare to move beyond your parents and you dare to be happier, more vulnerable and more intimate than they were able to be, you are forging into new territory for your whole ancestral line. You are changing the future for your children and grandchildren, who will receive a different legacy because they now have new role models.

 

For individual sessions or couples sessions, please contact

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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Expressing Criticism So It Can Be Heard

I had an interesting talk with a client the other day. He shared: “When I first met my wife, I really appreciated her telling me what impact my behaviour had on her. I learned, for example, how it affected her when I was late and I worked hard to change my time management skills. However, about a year or two into the relationship, I gave up. Somehow I felt I couldn’t change enough and it felt like I was constantly being watched for a misstep. Each time she pointed something out to me that she had noticed about me, it felt like I was being stabbed in the heart.”

Why does criticism so often feel like we are being stabbed in the heart? Why does it make us feel fearful and defensive? Historically, being criticized and found lacking could lead to being ostracised from our tribe, and that could mean death, as we as humans were unable to survive by ourselves.

Even though a part of us knows criticism does not mean rejection and death, the more instinctive parts of our brain kick in and our nervous system goes into high arousal. Relationships require us to communicate honestly and to handle criticism constructively. If we stuff down our feelings and needs, they will either come back up in passive aggressive ways or will be kept down by methods of avoidance like addictions. In the first case, the person can’t help but make little digs, use sarcasm or putdowns, or worst of all, talk negatively about their partner behind their back. The avoidance methods take many different forms: physical symptoms like tension headaches or fatigue, addictions like drinking, gambling, overworking, having affairs, to name a few.

How does one express a complaint in a way that it can be easily heard and does not feel like being stabbed in the heart? The two main rules of constructive criticism are

  1. Tone of Voice

Your partner is more likely to be able to remain open if you use a soft, gentle, respectful and appreciative tone of voice. You are going to be more successful if you can approach him or her with affection, interest in their intent or experience, positive physical touch, smiles and even humour and laughter.

  1. Appreciations Need to Outbalance the Complaints

Gottman emphasizes the Magic Relationship Ratio of 5:1. That means for each complaint or criticism we need to receive five positive or appreciative statements. Other experts speak about similar ratios.

 

How do we ensure that ratio and help our partner remain open and continue to feel safe with us instead of watched? Warren Farrell, author of “Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say”, offers two methods of successfully delivering criticism.

The first method is what he calls the “Plan Ahead Method of Giving Criticism”:

Step 1: Write Down Your Complaints

To figure out what the most important concerns are, it helps to write down our complaints on index cards and to put them in a box. The mere act of writing them down releases some of the negative energy. It also frees us from the need to keep reviewing the complaint in our mind. However, most importantly this helps us to sort out which complaints are the ones worth bringing up.

Step 2: Set a Predictable Time Each Week to Share

Gottman recommends a “State of the Union Meeting” every week to talk about what went well and what is not going so well in the relationship. Farrell calls it a “Sharing and Caring Evening”. Once you have set a predictable time each week, stick to it and turn the rest of the week into a “no-complaint zone”.

Step 3: Share at Least 4 Positive Feelings Before Each Complaint

During your meeting share at least four positive feelings with each negative. In order to do that make positive notes throughout the week whenever you appreciate something your partner is doing. An extra incentive is to do the positive notes ahead of time and leave these little notes for your partner as you notice it. That trains our “gratitude muscle” and shifts our focus to noticing the positive.

Step 4: Incorporate Humour and Romance

For your “Sharing and Caring Evening,” turn on music, light candles, face each other, touch and look into each other’s eyes. Share your 4-5 positives and then make one request for improvement or change. Then alternate; let your partner share in kind. Do three to five rounds of this depending on how much you have to share. Because you feel so understood, you might want to make love, but always return to completing the process after love making. Otherwise, the rest of the week as a complaint free zone might disintegrate.

 

It would be ideal, of course, if we could always just give criticism by using this Plan Ahead Method but sometimes a talk has to happen right in the moment. Farrell also provides steps for “The Spontaneous Method of Giving Criticism”:

Step 1: Identify Your Loved One’s Best Intent

Let’s say your partner is late because they got caught up in solving a problem for work. He lost track of time because he wanted to complete and finish a project. You might feel tempted of diving right into your own disappointment about him being late, or you can instead acknowledge his best intent, e.g. “I know that you are really responsible and I can see how you were trying to do your best to complete the task at work.”

Step 2: Identify Your Partner’s Dilemma or Struggle

Most of us are caught in a dilemma and when our partner can empathize with our inner struggle, we feel heard and understood. In our example, you could say, “I imagine you feel caught between wanting to be on time for me and feeling you need to finish and complete the work.”

Step 3: Identify the Feeling Behind Your Partner’s Dilemma

Empathy with our feeling experience also makes us feel seen and appreciated. “It must be stressful to have in the back of your mind that I am waiting for you.”

Step 4: Identify the positive character traits your partner exhibited in her or his handling of this situation

By doing that we show that their underlying character traits are not in question. They do not need to defend their values. “I imagine it is also hard to leave a project unfinished when you value responsibility and reliability as you do. I am always grateful when I can rely on you completing a project for me.”

Step 5: Recall relevant past conversations and use them to make your partner feel more understood

Instead of using past incidents to argue your own point and for ammunition against the other person, empathize even more. The rule for love relationships is, the more arguments we win, the more love we lose. “I remember how torn you were when your colleague left on vacation and you had to finish the project you were both working on over the weekend. He is really lucky you did that.”

After using the five steps, your partner feels understood and appreciated. They are still open and receptive. Instead of having to defend their values and choices, they can take a step towards you to resolve the problem together. Now it is time to gently share the impact the situation has on you and to work out a compromise which works for both of you.

Farrell points out that learning relationship language is the best hope of re-stabilizing our relationships and families which technology has destabilized and affected negatively. When we teach debate skills in schools, we teach listening for the purpose of uncovering the other team’s faulty analysis. In our private one-on-one relationships, especially our intimate relationship, this way of listening and arguing is like a termite is to wood. It slowly erodes the relationship. “Teaching children to debate without teaching children to listen is divorce training” (Warren Farrell).

 

To read more about how to receive criticism,

please read “Getting to the Complaint Underneath the Criticism“.

To learn relationship language and how to handle criticism,

contact me for

individual coaching sessions, couples’ sessions or workshops.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

 

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Getting to the Complaint Underneath the Criticism

A couple of weeks ago a client was coming in for his session and he wanted to talk about our coach-client relationship. He needed me to listen to a complaint he had. He felt I was being unfair by putting all the responsibility for his relationships with his family members onto him. After all, the other family members should be given half of the responsibility. Part of me wanted to say “But that’s not what I meant…” and jump into an explanation and justification. I had to tell myself to breathe and to really be present with his words.

I needed to listen carefully to hear that he was feeling unsupported by me as his coach. I had to ask myself if there was a shadow showing up for me with this particular client. Was there an energy mirrored back to me by him that I wasn’t comfortable with and was I therefore rushing him to shift out of it? Was I pushing him too hard because I experienced him as a conscious man and had higher expectations of him than of an average client? Or was the approach and tools not the right ones for him? How was I being unfair to him and unsupportive?

I am very grateful to this client for speaking up and making me aware that there was a shadow projection going on. It would have been easier for him to just not return for the next session because it requires courage to speak up. He had the courage to bring it up and I was able to realize that I perceived him as not taking enough responsibility for his part in most of his relationships because he reminded me of somebody I know. So I was focusing on what he could do better instead of focusing on his progress.

Whether with a client, or in any of our other relationships, it is not always easy to respond to criticism without defensiveness and to stay open to hearing the complaint underneath. As mammals, we are hardwired to want to feel good in comparison to others and to not be rejected by others, so that we are not abandoned by our tribe, who we need for survival. So we have an inbuilt physiological response to being criticized. Stephen Porges speaks about how our body tenses up and how being criticized can shift our autonomic nervous system into defense mode as if we are being attacked. We experience a physical and emotional constriction.

Gottman highlights the importance for the speaking partner to make productive complaints rather than being critical and for the listening partner not to get defensive. Criticism and defensiveness are two of the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” who slowly erode our relationships.

The person who has a complaint needs to remember to deliver their complaint without blame or anger and as diplomatically and gently as they possibly can. But what about the person who is at the receiving end? Sadly, in our human interactions, it is unusual for the person who is being criticized to respond with curiosity and wanting to understand, rather than defensiveness. So, what can you do when your partner or somebody else criticizes you?

I find it helps to remember to breathe and self-regulate, so that we can truly listen and get to the complaint underneath the criticism. Dr. Kelly McGonigal recommends to “breathe with all your senses”. She reminds herself to “breathe with her ears”. You can feel how your body feels and strive to have a posture of openness. Drop your shoulders, come into your body and notice your breathing. “Lean in” as much as possible instead of shrinking away and protecting yourself. Leaning in translates into your body language and fascial expression and shows the other person that you are willing to listen and take their feelings and thoughts seriously.

Dr Rick Hansen talks about tracking moment to moment that your body is still okay and that you are not in mortal danger, you are not dying, even though our primitive brain might be under the impression that we are in danger. Dr Joan Borysenko even suggests to use a mantra like “All is well” to calm ourselves down when we feel attacked by criticism.

Instead of going on the defence due to our own feelings of inadequacy, which tend to get triggered, we need to just be quiet and listen properly. We need to be curious about what the other person has to teach us or needs from us. It can help to be honest and say, “I feel defensive right now but I don’t think this will help you or me so I am trying to stay open to what you are saying.” The admission of your own defensiveness, allows the speaker to feel heard and to explain a bit more how you can meet their needs.

Have the attitude to turn criticism that is usually hurtful into something actionable. Remember that underneath a criticism is a longing. Here are some examples:

Complaint: You never hold hands with me anymore.

Longing: I need some affection and holding hands makes me feel loved and connected.

Complaint: Why is it so hard for you to say thank you?

Longing: I feel unappreciated and would really love if you told me more often that you are grateful for what I do.

Complaint: You always overreact when I tell you bad news.

Longing: It would be much easier for me to tell you bad news if you stayed calm. Can you please take some deep breaths and not respond right away.

Complaint: You don’t know at all what I like!

Longing: I wish you would listen more when I express my likes and dislikes and show that you care what I like.

For more examples click here.

Next time your partner criticizes you, take some deep breaths, let them know you are doing your best not to get defensive, so that they know what you are struggling with and perhaps they can reassure you that they love you. Then listen very carefully for the longing. Be curious what you can learn.

Contact me for more information on either couple’s coaching or individual sessions to help you deal with criticism and defensiveness.

Angelika

905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

If you are enjoying my articles, you can subscribe to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to enter your email address in the field on the left side of the bar. Thank you for your support!

You can also join me for this meditation to practice staying open instead of getting defensive

Let’s look at one another

Our Town

These are one of the last lines the character Emily from the play “Our Town” by Thornton Wilder says in the last act, after she has crossed over to the world of the non-living.

“Our Town”, written in 1938 and set at the turn of the century, is the second most performed show in North America and one of my favourite plays. It is currently playing in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Even though I have seen it unfold in different artistic versions many times over the last 40 years, it still gets to me each time; it touches me deeply and makes me reach for a Kleenex because it so beautifully captures the simple truth.

In the third and final act, Emily, who has just died in childbirth, misses life and wants to go back to relive a day. The other souls who have crossed over long ago urge her not to do it, but she has to experience this for herself. She chooses to go back to her twelfth birthday, when all her family was still together. It strikes her how young her parents look and that her brother is still alive. They all go about their mundane lives with ignorance for what the future brings. Going back with the awareness Emily now has, she can’t bear how they are not looking at each other, not really, how they are not quite present to the beauty and sacredness of each moment.

Her soul cries out: “Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. I’m dead, you are a grandmother, Mama. I married George Gibbs, Mama. Wally’s dead too. Mama, his appendix burst on a camping trip to North Conway. We felt just terrible about it—don’t you remember? But just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another.”

No matter whether we live in a small town in New Hampshire at the turn of the century, or in a big city in present day North America, how often do we actually stop and look at each other? Really look into each others timeless souls? We always have this “to do” list; we are caught up in one thing or another. When do we make time to just be; to see, hear, smell and feel each moment with each other? How often do we realize in all those ordinary moments the extraordinary fact of being alive?

Charlie Gallant as George Gibbs, Kate Besworth as Emily, Patrick Galligan as Dr. Gibbs, Catherine McGregor as Mrs. Gibbs and Benedict Campbell as the narrator/Stage Manager

As Shaw Director Molly Smith writes in her Director’s notes about the play, “There are so many reasons why Our Town is one of the greatest American plays. It’s plainspoken and is a deep meditation on love, family, marriage and death.”

What if we created more meditative moments with those we love, with our partners, our parents and our children, and even with a stranger on the street, to really see and know each other at a heart level? It takes awareness and courage to do that. The courage to stop running for a while towards some imaginary goal, the courage to drop meaningless conversations about material belongings in exchange for deeper communications, and most of all, it takes listening; really listening from your heart, allowing yourself to be fully interested in the other person.

 

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Marty, The Richest Man in Town

My friend Karen mentioned an inspirational book a while ago which is one of her favourite books. Not feeling well the other day, I grabbed the book as an easy read. My! It was an easy read, but am I glad I had a big box of Kleenex near by!

“The Richest Man in Town” is the story of Marty, a man in his seventies, who worked at Wal-Mart in a small town in South Dakota. What made Marty so remarkable that the author V.J.Smith decided to write about him?

Marty Martinson

Marty wasn’t like other cashiers. He loved people. He greeted every customer and really connected with them through listening, asking them interested questions or saying something nice to them, always coming from a truly authentic place. At the end, when the customers handed him money, he counted out the change, he “placed the change in his left hand, walked around the counter to the customer, and extended his right hand in an act of friendship. As their hands met, the old cashier looked the customer in the eyes. “I sure want to thank you for shopping here today, he told them. ‘You have a great day. Bye-bye.’”

His line up was always the longest. He made everybody feel special. People didn’t mind waiting for a friendly word, a handshake, or even a hug if they wanted one and a true connection from one caring human to another human. Marty spent about two minutes with each customer but he made those two minutes count. For those two minutes, the respective person—whether old or young, whether a cute little girl or a tough biker covered in tattoos—was the only person in Marty’s Universe. He treated everybody with respect and dignity.

Marty handshake

Marty was born in 1926, grew up during the great depression, served in World War II, and never had a lot of money throughout his entire life. He had a wife, who he still at 76 felt was the prettiest girl he had ever met, and four children. He was humble, kind and compassionate. He lived in a trailer, yet was one of the happiest people. He had understood some simple truths:

  1. Try to do a little more.
  2. Only you can make you happy.
  3. Relationships matter most in life.

If we just assume for a moment that this simple man had the simple knowledge to live a happy fulfilling life independent from his outer circumstances, we really have to ask ourselves honestly, “Am I giving other people or outer circumstances the responsibility for how I feel? Or am I taking full responsibility for my own happiness?” and “If relationships matter most in life, do I put enough time and love into my relationships?”

Marty - Goethe quote

Personally, I find that I have to re-adjust my priorities every so often. It is so easy to get caught up in working, networking or superficial social contacts. All this is important but when I am on my death bed what will truly matter? The moments of real connections, the ways in which I have touched somebody else in their heart, the times in which somebody else felt seen, heard and accepted.

The entire town seemed to know Marty because he had a friendly word for everybody who came through his line at Wal-Mart. And Marty was human and liked that people remembered him for his kindness and friendliness. However, it seems Marty also cared in the same way about his own family. Sometimes we care so much how strangers see us that we forget that the people closest to us are the ones who matter most. Did I take that extra moment to be truly present with my child as he or she was talking? Did I connect with my spouse today? Did I hold that loving space of just listening for my mother when she called? Have I given somebody the gift today to be the only person in my Universe for a few moments?

Being compassionate and caring is not necessarily about fixing problems for others. First and foremost it is about listening, acknowledging the other person and their feelings and showing them that they matter. Even if they choose to feel less than positive, can we hold that space without fixing? Holding the space does not mean commiserating with them and confirming for them that they are a victim of a situation. Holding the space means trusting that they are whole, complete and resourceful. It means knowing for them that they can and will change their experience and how they feel—in their own time and in their own way.

marty - Make every moment count

Choosing to do what matters most, to be fully present with every person you encounter, creates happiness for them and for yourself. Make each moment count. The happiness you give comes back to you. That’s why Marty, a simple man without money or college education, was the richest man in town.

Angelika

Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

If you enjoy my posts, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.