Monday, September 30, 2013

Should I surrender, or should I fight on?

Should I surrender or should I fight on?


by Stephen Martin, MFT.


In May 1988 my father died of prostate cancer. His last words before his consciousness left his body were, “I’m distressed. Do I surrender, or do I fight on?” What a wonderful expression of the greatest dilemma we all face. At death, it becomes paramount. When do we surrender, and when do we fight on?


The Eastern philosophy tends to guide humans into acceptance, not into struggle. Surrender does release stress, but stress is essential for change. Change is traumatic. In times of change we cannot surrender; we have to fight on.


Of course there are two ways of fighting. Violence has been mankind’s default position for mastery over others and self-defense. However, nonviolence became popular with Gandhi and it worked magic forcing the British to leave India in the 20th century.


After Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King succeeded with nonviolence. Of course, such leaders were excessively persecuted, jailed and spied upon. Martin Luther King was placed in jail over 100 times just for asking for equality in this country, which promised liberty and justice for all. But in the original U.S. Constitution, those promises didn’t apply to women, slaves, homosexuals or non-land-owning human beings.

For my father, whether or not to continue to live on was his dilemma. Fighting on was difficult, as he was at the end stages of prostate cancer. He was a dead man walking. So at the end he mused aloud about whether to slip quietly into that long deep sleep of separation from his body and consciousness, or stay in the human form and fight on.


I believe Alcoholics Anonymous has the most accurate answer to this question. It’s called the Serenity Prayer, and the original version is often attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr.


God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life 
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.


What a beautiful description of dilemmas such as my father’s. The conflict is within us all — when to fight for change, and when to surrender to what is.




Stephen Martin is a marriage and family therapist with offices in Moss Beach. He can be reached at 650-726-1212 or by email at His website is

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Winter of our Days

The Winter of our Days

by Stephen Martin, MFT.


I know, I know.

·      “Growing old is not for sissies.”

·      “I have no energy.”

·      “My entire body aches.”


Yes, we have all heard the disconcerting comments about aging. And of course they are one side of the aging process. What is there to look forward to in the winter of our days?


The lessons we have learned are not truly formed until we reach the season of winter. First comes spring, a new birth. Then comes summer, the young adult phase. This is followed by autumn, the adult preparation time necessary for us to face the winter of our days.


Without spring, summer and autumn, winter would have no meaning. Winter can only be understood within the context of four seasons. It is the winter that it all begins to make sense and we begin to learn to finally live with ourselves.


Self-acceptance begins to sprout, and we feel more joy and love for others than we have ever felt before. It is not until the winter that we realize that every day really counts because there are fewer of them before we reach the end. The capacity to living in the “now” is one of life’s major lessons, and without that capacity, we will never truly with at peace with ourselves. For it is living in the present moment that allows everything to be sharper and clearer. We learn how to focus and truly enjoy “now” rather than multitasking and ending up doing nothing while going around in circles.


Winter is also a time for solitude and self-reflection — not so much solitude that we become fearful of other people, but enough that the time to think is completely available. It is during winter that the conclusions to all our stories finally arrive and the plot of our lives finally makes sense.


In winter, we as humans are less hostile. They say it is testosterone in the male that creates war. With age, testosterone decreases in the male. Maybe with aging we finally wake up to the utter stupidity of war, and the destructive competition where others are hurt just so we can feel like champions. Older people are nicer people. They are not looking for a fight.


The best part of the winter of our lives is spending time with our friends and family. Most people give and receive such love and support in their families and circle of friends. In winter, many of us find grand parenting. Being a grandparent is said to be one of life’s greatest joys.


In winter the concept of love is completed. Love is the fascination of poets, writers and singers. I have felt love for others and I have felt it from others. I assume everyone else has had the same experience. We cannot physically see this thing we call love, but we can feel it. It can motivate us to action. It can cause us great pain. Love is the ultimate glue that holds a group of people together, while war and fear are what drive us apart.


As we age, we generally yearn for peace. Gone are the days of outrage. Gone are the days of war. Old soldiers fade away and furious males become gentler.


It is in the winter of our days that it all finally comes together, it all begins to make sense, and we finally face the wall where our consciousness and our bodies are separated.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

The foundations of a good relationship

The Foundation of a Successful Relationship


What distinctions create a successful relationship. Is it luck, good karma, or are there some specific observable reasons a small minority of people find happiness with an intimate partnership?


Obviously luck and karma may play there part, but observation does indicate that good relationships have three essential components buried deep within them. Trust, honesty and complete communication are requirements if one wants  to find happiness in a relationship.


It amasses me that most couples would tell an outside friend information about intimate aspects of their lives before they can share this information with their partner. This unhealthy state exists because trust, honesty and complete truthfulness have not been established, or once the relationship progresses, fear hinders clean open communication. The problem usually goes back to judgments made between lovers, then defensiveness and fear enter the equation. When humans are intimate, it is essential that judgments be held in check. With judgments come disapproval and anger, hurt and defensiveness, all the negative qualities that deaden intimacy.


What to do if you are not honest, trusting and completely open with your partner? First question is this is an appropriate relationship for you? If not, then deal with that. If it is appropriate, and if you are feeling judgment or experiencing being judged by your partner, talk about it. Honest communication is essential for success. Without complete truthfulness, how can trust be established? Without trust, how can love survive? Without love, how can your intimacy continue?


I am sure you have heard the three rules for buying good real estate. “Location, location, location.” Relationship rules are similar. “Communicate, communicate, communicate.” Communication is not just what is said, but just as important it includes what is not said. If you have a breakdown in communication, it becomes essential that you immediately fix the problem. If you cannot fix it together, seek outside help. Mediation, spiritual counseling, marriage therapy are all possibilities to helping you get back on course.


Success in relationship occurs when you are in love with your best friend. And if they are your best friend, you can and will tell them everything. If you cannot share important data with your marital partner, you have a serious problem, and you need to do some hard soul searching to find a way to remedy that condition.


So, success is found in couples that can and do talk regularly about everything and anything. And if you cannot and will not talk to your best friend, find out what is the blockage and do something about the issue, before the matter strangles the love that is left between the two of you.

Parental Love

Parental Love.


Stephen Martin, MFT.


Nothing can teach you more about love than your children.


True love isn’t really about having a Valentine or a partner to enjoy life with. That is romantic love. Full of desire and passion, this form of love cannot compare to the love a parental figure gives to a child.


True selfless love is best seen in parents towards children. Adoption has taught us beyond any doubt that parents can love chosen children. And there are many humans who spend time mentoring children. This is all parental type love.


Love for the younger generation is a form of parental love. There is no better teacher about love than the relationship of a parent or mentor to a child. Giving selflessly to another is giving love. Receiving their love is perhaps the most delicious form of love we can experience.


Both the ‘giving’ and the ‘receiving’ of love are aspects we need to experience to experience true love.


Most parents would be willing to die for their children. Given the nature of survival, this makes this form of love within us a very powerful emotion.


I really enjoyed the movie Les Miserables. Some found it depressing. Everyone dies. But it is not about death and tragedy, it is about two stories. The first story is about forgiveness verses duty. This is played out by Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman. The second and most beautiful story is about the love of a father for a child. This love is the centerpiece of the story. And it is very hopeful, positive and anything but negative or depressing.  


The story addresses this most powerful of all emotions. “When you fall in love, you see the face of God” sings Hugh Jackman. And of course love hurts, love feels pain and suffering, but love also feels joy, accomplishment and purpose. Love is the greatest gift life has to offer us.


It is in the love we express to others that we find the deepest of all emotions. “Love is the answer, whatever the question” says the Book of Miracles. And the most selfless love, the most giving form of love is the love for a parent type figure and a child.


This is the way we leave something behind after we die. It is in the relationships we invest in that our true riches are found. Some chase money, while others find purpose and meaning in giving to others and this giving is an act of love.


When we finish our journey, the most important aspect of life will not be how many “things” we accumulated, but how well we have loved and the relationships we leave behind. If you have succeeded in love, dying will be much easier than if you die alone.


If you know of any greater purpose than love, I challenge you to prove it.

Many people have searched for purpose and meaning in life, and the vast majority of people who follow that road, end up “loving” as their contribution to life.



When we experience love, we are the most emotional full we can ever be. Loving another is the greatest gift life has to offer us. If not, I challenge you to find a greater purpose.



Biography at end of article.


Stephen Martin is a marriage and family therapist with offices in Moss Beach.

Stephen has been the past President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapist (the largest association of therapists in the world).

Stephen can be reached at (650) 726-1212 or by email at

Stephen’s web site is

How good is your marriage? Try his 5 minute web based free test on his web site for the strengths and weakness in your marriage.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why Good Marriages Fail

                                    WHY GOOD MARRIAGES FAIL:


                                          Stephen Martin, MS. MFT.

Having spent the past 32 years working as a therapist guiding marriages, I have watched too many good marriages turn sour. I continually ask myself what causes this disastrous turn of events. No one gets married thinking it will fail, yet the divorce rates are too high.

My observation is that three causes are the predominant reasons for the failure of otherwise good marriages. If these three aspects of a marriage are understood and negotiated, marriages can escape the disaster of a divorce. If however, you let your relationship drift into neglect, this could destroy your relationship whether you get a divorce or not. Many couples elect to have an unhappy, lonely marriage rather than find a solution to their issues or get a divorce.

Why do so many marriages fail? First observation is that married couples begin to lose sight of their common purpose, the reason they got married in the first place. The couple had solid reasons for their marriage when it began. Most people use their wisdom and intuition to select a partner. Some might call this intuition romance, but romance alone will not sustain a marriage for a lifetime. With the passing of time and the inevitable growing apart that all marriages experience, you can lose sight of your original purpose for marriage. Some people accept divorce as a natural conclusion to losing their purpose. Others, who wish to continue their marriages, fight to regain that purpose and in so doing they can negotiate their way back into harmony instead of the continuing power struggle that occurs when two people are not working as a team, but rather are competing with each other and fighting most of the time.

If you have children together that is an excellent reason to stay married. Family is the original noble purpose for marriage. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, it was fashionable to get divorced and assume the children would be better off if they witnessed their parents happy rather than unhappily married. The research doesn’t support that conclusion. Children are often emotionally crippled by divorce if they are less than 18 years of age. Children crave security, especially in an unsafe world. If their parents cannot work out their problems, how can they imagine they can work out their issues? Children are the silent victims of divorce, and the current research proves that to be true.

Secondly, the couple loses the gentle art of communication and begins to be nasty and dishonorable towards each other. Just look at the two party systems in politics in the USA today. There is not gentle communication in politics. It starts out mean and nasty and only gets worse. Political parties have become enemies. Politics is now an internal war. If America was a marriage, it would be need to be divorced. Both parties are equally responsible for this behavior. They blame the other and refuse to compromise, while saying they are both willing to co-operate. This is not good for the country, and is disaster for a marriage. 

Marriage requires a gentle loving communication system, not a make no compromise position that the current political system has descended into. Marriage requires romance and civility, kindness and respect. Romance isn’t a one way street. Men require romance and civility just as much as women. Something is rotting inside politics today and we all know it. If you run your marriage the way politics is run, you will have nothing left but hatred, anxiety and chaos. Politics is for the political junkies to watch, not quiet, civil people who want harmony and respect in their lives. Politics will bring you emotional pain and fatigue, and so will a marriage that uses the tactics of politics within their marriages.

Third, marriages start to lose trust and belief in the sincerity, compassion and the love of their partner. This distrust begins in small areas and over years can develop into complete distrust. But once distrust sets in, it is like termites infecting your house. Termites are everywhere, and if infected, your home will need a tent with heavy duty chemicals to remove the millions of infesting insects. Trust is hard to re-establish. It requires honest communication and complete transparency between the couple. But without trust, marriages will eventually fail.

So, if you wish to have a good marriage, go in the opposite direction to politics as it is currently practiced. Find and renew your common team vision as a marriage, speak kindly and lovingly with each other, and compromise with honest communication to rebuild the trust in your partnership. Finally, leave politics to the politicians and the political junkies and rather than follow their example, use them as a lighthouse deacon warning of dangerous rocks that can ship wreck your marriage.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Achieving New Year Resolutions

Three Keys To Achieving Your New Year’s Resolutions:

Now that the new year has arrived, many people are thinking about changes they want to make so that they can be happier or more effective — or just better people.A new year seems like a good time to begin assessing the coming 12 months, just like midlife is a good time to assess how you are doing with your life. New Year’s resolutions are common in our society and they can be very effective in producing change.So what changes do you want to produce this year? Do you have financial goals? Relationship issues you want to explore and change? Or are there dark sides to your nature that need to be examined, cared for and nurtured into a healthier place?New Year’s resolutions usually fail because most people do not give the goals and objectives much thought. They are merely a passing fancy. “I want to lose weight.” “I want to make more money.” The trouble with these types of statements is that they have no depth of intention, no specific details, no thoughtfulness or determination to produce results. It becomes like people buying lottery tickets and fantasizing they will win big and end all their financial troubles. Good plans must have character. They have intention, procedures, insight and follow-through.First, you must know what you want to achieve. That can often be hard, especially if you prefer to live in the moment and not plan for the future. Goals must be realistic, not pie-in-the-sky wishes. Remember, “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.” Make certain you have achievable goals that are measurable and realistic.Second, you must establish measurable steps that will carry you towards your ultimate goal. If you want to make more money, define the small steps that will lead to achievements along the way towards the ultimate goal; that way you can measure your progress. Once some small progress is made, the goal begins to have character and it gains momentum. Most goals aren’t achieved because they are too broad and too unrealistic, and there’s no plan of action to reach the end result.Finally, achieving resolutions requires visualization of the results and the unity of the unconscious and conscious mind working in harmony to produce the result you want. Always remember that the unconscious is the most powerful part of our consciousness. Setting the unconscious on course requires visualization, affirmations and daily meditation towards the success you want. No easy task. And that is precisely why most people fail in their resolutions. They do not have the determination or follow-through to achieve the objectives they think they want.So if you want to succeed this year with goals and objectives, make certain they are measurable and clear, that you have small goals to achieve before the big goal is reached, and that you work every day with both your conscious and especially your unconscious mind to achieve what you want for your life. Stephen Martin is a marriage and family therapist in Moss Beach. He has practiced on the Coastside for over 30 years. He can be reached at 650-726-1212 or by email at His website,, offers more information.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Psychology Today published chapter five of my book "The Everything Guide to a Happy Marriage".
The topic is fair fighting inside marriage.
Check out the article.
Also check out the free marital test at