Saturday, February 24, 2007

Abandonment Feelings

Much of human behavior is run unconsciously by the fear of abandonment.
Frankie Lane who died recently sang the High Noon song associated with the movie. “Do not forsake me oh my darling”. Frankie sang the song with such pathos that you felt alone just listening to the song. The song had a haunting experience of aloneness and isolation in the face of everything that was supposed to be good. “Do not forsake me oh my darling, on this our wedding day”. Ultimately this feeling runs human beings in the strangest of ways and we often act out these feelings without conscious control.

For example, the female astronaut who stalked a fellow astronaut and was arrested for her behavior was acting out abandonment feeling, without even understanding what she was doing. The media questioned the research NASA does when selecting such high powered people to explore space. They reasoned that psychological testing should have identified these bizarre behaviors she expressed ahead of time. But how can any psychological test predict the dark side of the abandonment feelings? They come when lest expected and can create bizarre behavior that is personally humiliating and even criminal as in the case of the female astronaut. Not only that, if we disqualify people when feelings of abandonment run amok, no one would ever achieve any high office anywhere. Certainly not politicians and religious leaders who have been publicly caught acting out their abandonment feelings having affairs with the most inappropriate people at the most inappropriate times.

Best to understand your dark side and know that we are all capable of acting out painful abandonment feelings. Ultimately they arise from being human. We are born without a clear purpose, without a real sense of belonging and we have to create family in the best way we can. If this is at all faulty in your past, when you least expect it, these feelings can create havoc in your life.

As a marriage and family therapist, I see these feelings expressed whenever the couple is at odds with each other and whenever they begin feeling lonely inside their marriage. Most affairs have their origin in these feelings, as sexuality is one of the prime addictions used by couples to salve the hurt that comes from the feelings of abandonment. If you have never felt alone inside an intimate relationship, perhaps you will not understand. In my experience most people feel totally alone from time to time, so if you have never recognized these feelings inside yourself, perhaps you are in denial about your unconscious mind and the tricks it is capable of playing.

Often sexual infidelity is blamed on drug and alcohol abuse. But under the mind-altering experience of wiping out your better sense of priority with drugs and alcohol, you will find the abandonment feeling lurking and waiting to create havoc. Handling the drug and alcohol abuse may be the first step in recovery, but ultimately if you are to understand yourself and exercise a measure of self-restraint, you will need to come to terms with abandonment feelings.

The Eastern philosophies tell us abandonment is an illusion. They say, we are all one; that we are all connected as a complete species. In their view, the illusion of being totally alone is the mind playing games within itself to darken the experience of living. If this philosophy is correct, then humans should never feel abandonment. But I have never met anyone who was self-observant who didn’t have a hard time from time to time dealing with feelings of abandonment.

Many young adults blame their parents for these feelings. They reason that because these feelings are so painful to cope with, there must be something mummy and daddy didn’t do that produced these feelings. Parents in our society are quick to criticize themselves, and often take on these guilt trips and then the feelings produce hurt and anguish within the family that if not understood can deaden the family spirit.

Truth is we all have these dark feelings to manage. Like greed, lust, jealousy, and the other negative feelings humans have to manage, these feelings can express themselves in self-destructive ways. To cope with the feelings it is best to look them straight in the eye. Do not run from them. Understand them. Learn how to manage them, and accept that all humans have feelings of isolation to deal with, and sometimes these feelings of isolation are hard and tough to cope with.

Why is Marriage So Difficult?

I love watching the Olympic Games. The best of the best compete for a gold medal. What is obvious is that winning a gold medal is extremely difficult. If everyone could win a gold medal, the Olympics would not be special. The same is true of marriage. If success were easy, the majority of marriages would be wonderful. First time marriages would not have a 50% divorce rate, and the majority of people who stay married for life would report marriage as ideal. However, the reverse is true.

Truth is most people fail at marriage. Success in marriage is like success in any arena of life, rather difficult and demanding. Being a full time marriage and family therapist in private practice, has lead me to conclude that no more than 10% of marriages are really successful. Success in marriage is where both parties report that their marriage is challenging but very rewarding. Good marriages balance the needs of the individuals without sacrificing the harmony of the couple. Truth is that may be as complicated as balancing on parallel bars, or running a successful marathon.

Human’s gravitate to groups and seek companionship. These needs are well served by marriage. However, creating harmony with another is complicated unless one member of the couple is totally dominant, and the other completely submissive. True marital harmony is a goal most profess to want; yet few attain. The compromises required for two strong people to be both individuals and a couple is an art form that only the few master. Just like the Olympics, the true masters make the sport look easy, when in truth they have practiced and practiced for years to gain success in just one small arena of life.

Why is marriage so difficult? Because opposites must be in balance. Because two becoming one is extremely demanding. Remember the three-legged race, when two people tie your inner legs together and try to run in harmony. Challenging and difficult. You must surrender personal ego and work as a team. But once accomplished, the task is meaningless, except as a metaphor.

The real problem for marriage today is that no one spells out the challenge. Society is more interested in saving the word “marriage” for heterosexuals than in accepting that marriage between two people whatever the sexual preferences is extremely challenging and very difficult. As long as we debate the form of marriage and not the substance of marriage we shall remain in the dark ages. Society spends mega bucks promoting the official party surrounding the wedding and does nothing to prepare for the hard work of marriage. This is like preparing for the Olympics by selecting the candidates based on outer garments and party preparations. Forget running preliminary races or having trials. Base everything on outer appearance. And then the rich would succeed at sports while the poor would not be invited. If this were how we prepared for the Olympics, not many gold medals would be forth coming. The gold belongs to those who have natural talent and who practice and train for many long years before going to the Olympics. Success in marriage doesn’t belong to those who throw the best wedding party, but rather to those who practice at the art of marriage.

Why do we believe that anyone who is heterosexual can succeed at marriage as long as they have the right send off, and get a legitimate license? Just look at all the politicians who want your vote. They all have perfect little families and happy marriages and they show them off at their national conventions. Marriage is simple according to the political parties that want your vote. All politicians have perfect families and perfect marriages, until the press gets wind of the outer illusion.

By now I hope I have made my case. Marriage is difficult. As difficult as winning at anything that is challenging. Marriage like life was never intended to be easy. It is not easy for heterosexuals or homosexuals. Marriage is not easy for Republicans or Democrats. Better marriages are not found in Christian or Muslim marriages. Marriage is hard work, and the truth is most people are too lazy to win a gold medal in sports, or have a successful marriage in life. Worst of all, society perpetuates the illusion that a marriage license is all you need to succeed in one of the most challenging aspects of life.

When our society places marriage and family issues for students to learn in school then I will know we are more committed to having successful marriages in our country. When we have more psychological services offered to families who struggle with violence, then I shall know we as a nation are more committed to what is possible in marriage. As long as we are worried about who can marry and who cannot marry, we remain in denial about the struggles and challenges within all marriages and we stay stuck with the empty form of marriage rather than striving to reach the gold medals available to the hard working few who search for perfection within the married state.

Solitude of The Self

Every now and then a true orator appears and inspires us in ways we have not been moved before. Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, Winston Churchill stand apart for the inspiration they were able to create in our generation. Few women have had the opportunity to reach such highs. But without a doubt one such woman was Elizabeth Cady Stanton. She was able to debate the rights of women in such eloquent words that no one could respond articulately to her arguments. They would ridicule, hate, malign, but no one could clearly address the issues she spoke about. My daughter recently came across her final address, and I found it so inspiring for all of us (men and women) that I would like to reproduce it for your consideration. The title is the solitude of self. Stanton was a mother, wife, lover, social activist and at the end of her life after her husband died, she spoke of the solitude of life so beautifully, so clearly, that I believe we can all gain from her insight.

Here is her final address to the National American Convention on January 18, 1892.

“No matter how much women prefer to lean, to be protected and supported, nor how much men prefer to have them do so, they must make the voyage of life alone, and for safety in an emergency they must know something of the laws of navigation….
The talk of sheltering women from the fierce storms of life is sheer mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, to conquer... Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life he cannot bear her burdens….(In) the tragedies and triumphs of human experience each mortal must stand alone.
The strongest reason why we ask for women a voice in the government under which she lives; in the religion she is asked to believe; equality in social life, where she is the chief factor; a place in the trades and professions, where she may earn her bread, is because of her birthright to self sovereignty; because as an individual, she must rely on herself.

In age, when the pleasures of youth are passed, children grown up, married and gone, the hurry and bustle of life in a measure over, when the hands are weary of active service, when the old armchair and the fireside are chosen resorts, then men and women alike must fall back on their own resources. There is a solitude which each and every one of us has always carried.... more inaccessible than the ice-cold mountains, more profound than the midnight sea; the solitude of self. Our inner being, which we call ourselves, no eye or touch of man or angel has ever pierced."

What are the Foundations of a Successful Marriage

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.

Surviving Divorce

A friend of mine who has been married for over 25 years wrote me this email today.

Guess I'd better get this over with. Told most of my friends and so here goes. I'm going to join the ranks of the newly divorced. My husband doesn't want to be married. He's really tried but he can't keep up this lie anymore. Don't have a whole lot to say but don't mind in the least answering questions. I'm still in that blessed numb state. But we have talked and talked and talked and I do understand it.

Yes we have talked to somebody, yes I will talk to somebody and I know we will both be alright and I also know we will stay friends. I'm just tired right now so write back and tell me what you think.

I wrote back. sorry to hear that it is your turn in the barrel. Divorce is a horrible process to go through....unfortunately probably necessary for far too many of us if we are going to be honest and live authentic lives. When so many people get divorced we have to ask what is wrong with the task, rather than what is wrong with the people. Not that mistakes have not been made. Rather, marriages do end, more often now before the death of one of the partners. When Paula and I got divorced my mother never blamed either one of us, she just expressed sadness about what was happening. She did not pick sides. She remained compassionately detached, which gave me the opportunity to work through my own feelings without having to work through family feelings as well.

Beware of blaming yourself, or your husband. That will only distract you from what you need to do right now. Blaming is useless, and merely perpetuates the simplistic game of victim and perpetrator. Life is never so simple as to find one person right and another person wrong. Blame goes on and on forever, never allowing you to come to peace and forgiveness. Perhaps the hardest person to forgive when divorce occurs is yourself. With blame, you are always opening yourself up for self hatred. The process is about forgiveness and letting go, not about making other people wrong, and continuing the anger. Eventually if the anger is not forgiven, it will eat you up inside.

After ten years, I have finally come to the place where I believe Paula and I had a fabulous marriage. We had troubles like all marriages have troubles, and we ended those struggles by the divorce process. But I now realize that we did marital relationship splendidly for 25 years and we are now great friends. It is the going through the adjustment of divorce that is hard. It is like pulling a fully grown tree out of the earth and replanting it. The tree suffers, goes into shock, but it is necessary for the survival of the tree, and so the tree endures. With age unfortunately comes sadness. We have to surrender the idealism of our youth and we have to accept reality as it is rather than as we wish it to be. With this surrender comes growth and new life, new awareness.

So you have embarked upon a journey that I found very difficult to travel, but after many years I have found it gratifying to have found so many lessons from such a difficult and painful process. What I have learnt that carries me forward is that if I can get through a divorce and be as loving and peaceful at the other end as I am towards myself and Paula about our marriage, then I have learnt something very special. I also know if I can endure a divorce, I can continue to grow no matter what the difficulty. I know you will also learn this truth. I know that on the other side of this pain is a joy that matches this hardship, because that is the way life is designed.

All my love,


Returning the Magic into the Relationship

If you have been in a committed relationship for any length of time, you have probably faced the loss of enchantment most relationships experience as time marches on. How to return the magic is a common question presented in marital therapy. What can be done?

Whenever I go to the circus I am always impressed with the work of the trapeze artists. Their grace and timing is impeccable. Their beauty mesmerizing. A group of people dancing in mid air with only a safety net to protect them from total disaster.

I see the beauty of the trapeze as a striking metaphor for couples who are willing to perfect their relationship. The ease and grace witnessed by the audience does not tell the complete story. The dedication to their work, and the amount of time they practice goes unnoticed once the circus begins. But we all can guess how hard they have worked.

Truth is they have practiced, practiced and then practiced some more. So with a good relationship, time is spent acquiring skills that gives them the beauty we all enjoy to behold. Practice is required to create a magical relationship. It never happens effortlessly, it just looks like it is without exertion. It happens out of dedication and resolution.

Magical relationships have the timing and grace of the trapeze artist. The timing comes from practice, learning new skills, and putting yourselves in the position where you can be couched. People ask me all the time, does therapy work for couples? The answer is yes, but it takes commitment, dedication and practice. I have seen many couples transform dysfunction systems into graceful works of art, but only with hard work, practice and good communication skills.

Couples therapy is only one of the tools available. I have seen spectacular results from marriage encounter weekends. Check with your local minister to find such weekend retreats for couples. I have seen seminars and workshops produce transformation. I have watched couples grow just by going to group sessions for couples. Any arena where you get to practice and learn new skills will improve your relationship.

The main point I want to make is that if you want to have a powerful relationship, you will have to work at it. Not just when you are in trouble. But before the magic wears thin. While you are still able to hold the special feelings of appreciation and love that create the magic in the first place.

Maybe having a great relationship is not important to you. Maybe the trapeze artist is a totally pointless craft. Maybe you prefer to just have an exchange of services in your marriage. If so, do nothing. But if you yearn for more, and if you long for the magic to return or increase, you will have to be committed, you will have to learn new skills and you will have to practice these skills within your relationship.

Supportive Relationships verses Competitive Relationships.

Supportive Relationships verses Competitive Relationships.

Is your relationship competitive or supportive? Do you have tension between the two of you that expresses itself as a constant battle, or are you both working in harmony to become the very best individuals and couple you can be? If you are competitive, you will tend to become fatigued and worn out by the constant fighting. If you are supportive, you will not grow as much from the tension, but you probably will be more content with each other.

Competitive relationships fight and struggle constantly with the goal of striving to better your partner, or win in some concocted competitive battle. The battle can be over anything. The real issues are not the issues you fight about, the issues are who wins and who loses. Then the game moves to assigning blame. Most competitive relationships do not even understand how they have developed these disruptive patterns. Often oldest children, who are programmed to be in control of their siblings, will get together and struggle for power among themselves just as they did in childhood. This can be a nasty arrangement.

A supportive relationship on the other hand is a relationship where both individuals want their partner to win at the game of life. They do not think in terms of competition with each other. They see themselves cooperating and helping whenever needed, rather than struggling to win and better their companion. The goal is to be as supportive as possible, so your partner can achieve everything they wish for themselves in this life.

Rumi the great Persian poet of the thirteenth century said, “When I love you, I love myself. When I love myself, I love you.” Very simple, yet so profound. If two people can do that in love, or a family could do it, and then a village, eventually the entire world could live that way and we would all be at peace. Cooperation in relationships is much healthier than competition.

Capitalism as an economic model thrives on competition. Capitalism is the equivalent of the animal kingdom, “eat or be eaten”. It strives for the few to get to the top and dominate the many who live under the kingmakers. Competition brings out the best in people economically; however, capitalism is a very poor model for human relationships.

What works well to produce wealth (capitalism) is often destructive in intimate relationships. Competitive principles work well in sports and business, but will create a lonely intimate relationship. Support and cooperation will produce feelings of harmony and tranquility.

The way out of a competitive relationship is to see the competitive game you play with your partner and learn new patterns of behavior that will shift the dynamic so that love can flourish and cooperation can shine. This requires couple examine the ways their relationship interacts. This becomes impossible if competition between the two of you is your primary objective, because to find these patterns demands a level of cooperation that will set the stage for growth and change.

Eventually competitive relationships wear themselves out. The fighting, the winning and losing, become very exhausting. Often, the relationship becomes so exhausting that the couple will seek help in finding ways to change the dynamic of their relationship. A good marriage counselor can help if you are willing to look at the nature of the relationship. In truth if the problem has existed for many years, you will probably find it impossible to break these bad habits without some outside intervention. Seeking intervention requires that both of you come to see the competition as destructive, and you find someone strong enough to engage your style, and suggest changes.

The Experience of the Mystical

The Experience Of The Mystical

“The most profound emotion is the experience of the mystical.” Albert Einstein.
The wisdom of Einstein is remarkable. The physical scientist who treasured the spiritual. The creative thinker who both pushed and understood the limits of human understanding. The most brilliant mind of the past century who asked us to appreciate the experience of the mystical.

To see life as ordinary is boring. It leaves one with a sense of meaninglessness. To look for the mystical, to search for the divine, gives hope and courage, purpose and aliveness. Of course to believe you can fully understand the mystical is arrogant and very shallow. Truth is, the best we can do is appreciate the questions, and be content with not knowing answers to the most important questions of our existence. But in the search of the mystical we place ourselves in appreciation of the magnificence of life, and become open to what has become known as “thinking outside the box”.

How do you search for the mystical? The mystical is all around us, if we have ‘eyes to see, and ears to hear’ as Jesus suggested we needed to develop. Watching plants grow is mystical. That is the secret within gardening. As a young boy I couldn’t understand why my father would go into the garden after work and pull weeds. A successful Judge by day, he would come home, put on old cloths and spend time in his beloved garden. Now with age I can understand what he was doing, because I have found the same love. He was not just “pulling the weeds” he was watching the plants grow, feeling the soil between his fingers, and taking in the entire experience of vegetation growing. It was watching life that intrigued him.Native American Indians have always been special to me. It is their spirituality that I admire most, their peacefulness with the cycle of life. They respectfully worshipped the animals they killed for food. They walked quietly upon the earth disturbing as little as possible. They lived with such dignity, even though they were no match for the weapons and savagery of the European who came from the East.

Mystery is all about us. It is in the sunset. It is in a babies smile. It is present when humans laugh. It is seeing the ordinary with fresh eyes. It is observing life and appreciating the majesty that is always present. Human emotions are mysterious. Permitting yourself to explore your feelings is one of the most joyful ways we can experience the mystical. Yet many of us are afraid of our feelings because we do not know how to handle the range of our feelings. We feel both harsh, angry feelings, and the soft and tender sides as well.

We fear vulnerability, not realizing that humans are strongest when they are vulnerable. Being vulnerable is being open to the mystical. To be open to life is to be vulnerable and strong, to attempt to control others is ultimately weak. To be totally present with everything that is happening is to experience the mystic. This I believe is what Einstein recommended. To be open to life and the magical forces that are present is the mystic’s path.

6 Infuriating Truths about Marriage Counseling that Drive Couples Crazy

“The Six Infuriating Truths About Marriage Counseling That Drive Couples Crazy”

I have practiced the art of marriage counseling for thirty years. During that time I have observed that several basic concepts that come up during marriage counseling seem to be difficult for many couples. The commonality of these issues makes them worth examining as they can be places of friction many marriages experience.

I do not believe in a trouble free marriage or partnership. Just as a beautiful garden is tended to by a diligent gardener, so a good marriage has unseen labor that produces the outcome we observe in good, easy relationships. The hallmark of a good relationship is the presence of trust, harmony, respect, good communication and of course love.

I have designated these six areas as “infuriating truths” not because I believe them to be truths, but rather because I see couples being irritated by the same issues, and so not knowing what else to call them, I have called them “truths”. Perhaps “concepts” is closer to the mark?

So here are the six issues.

1. The truth in a relationship has two viewpoints. Therapists are not “relationship police” who judge who is right and who is wrong. There is just your truth and your partner’s truth, and together the communal reality is an agreed-upon consensus. Finding a compromise that works for both is the process of achieving harmony and peace within your relationship. Demanding your partner accept your perception as “the truth” produces a power struggle.

2. Your greatest strengths and those of your partner are also your greatest weaknesses. We first fall in love with what we experience as the strengths in our partner, and then we experience the shadow side of these same qualities. For example, strong-willed people are first viewed as clear-minded and determined, but eventually this strength reveals its dark side as our awareness grows. The strength is then seen as stubbornness and inflexibility. Every coin has two sides. In truth we need both sides, for only with contrast can anything exist. Good is good because bad is bad. Beauty is beauty because ugly is ugly. Paradox demands tension between opposites. Handling the paradox is the key to contentment. Managing the tension determines a good relationship.

3. You are rarely angry about what you think you are angry about. Beneath the anger, hidden from your consciousness, is the feeling that must be dealt with. It is necessary to look under the anger to find the unseen feeling you need to resolve. Anger is more often fear or sadness, insecurity or despair. Expressing anger for most men is socially safe because our culture views anger as strong, while sadness is seen as insipid and weak. Getting in touch with your anger is far more important than expressing it. Once you understand why you are angry, you can handle the real issue and not strike out at the nearest target.

4. Emotions generally affect decision-making more than logic does. To handle conflicts you must first understand the emotions, then attempt to add “reasonable” to the equation. Most of us drift between emotion and reason and get confused in the process. Finding harmony within a relationship requires that you deal first with the emotions and then explore reasonable accommodation for the partnership. We need rules for fair fighting. We need boundaries around discussion. If you cannot provide yourself this safety, you will need an outside mediator to facilitate your discussions that generate deep emotional responses.

5. Jealousy is never proof of love. Jealousy is evidence of personal insecurity, and most couples avoid other relationships that trigger jealousy, thus submitting to insecurity. Love contains freedom and trust; jealousy is about control and ownership. Many people who experience jealousy want their partner to feel the same feeling believing that the jealousy proves love and desire, when in truth it is insecurity and a lack of trust. There are always two reasons trust does not exist. The evidence shows trust is inadvisable, or the one not trusting has lost their ability to trust anyone due to excessive pain from past traumas.

6. The purpose of marital therapy is not to change your partner. Rather, it is about accepting that which cannot be changed, and finding new ways that have more flexibility for the couple than the previous systems. Surrendering to who we are is the royal road to harmony. Harmony has greater value than being right or winning the argument. Competition may be good for capitalism, but it is destructive to a loving relationship.

Surviving in a Time of Anxiety

Surviving in this Time of Anxiety.

The millennium has begun with a lingering uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. The Y2K problem was a fizzle, but the stock market crash that began in March of 2000 was not. We have entered a time of anxiety and uncertainty. The economy hit a wall, job lay offs have arrived, tech companies are down and people’s retirement accounts have taken a serious hit. Just another small down turn or the beginnings of something far more serious? This is the question that produces the anxiety, and it is this anxiety that thoughtful people need to manage.

Scott McNielly, the head of Sun Microsystems, was recently asked if he saw a bottom to the turbulence. He responded, “how can you predict the bottom, when nobody saw the cliff”. And it was a cliff. The NASDAQ index and the technology stocks have been hit much harder than the general market and in real terms, the debacle for the NASDAQ has been worse than the stock fall during the great depression. What is happening? What is coming next?

Retirement income has been lost. Millionaires on paper with stock options that are now worthless have become ordinary people. Not that they were millionaires in reality, but it is a major lose to find yourself adjusting to a reality that you believed to be true. It is one thing to imagine and plan that you have assets, only to wake up one year latter and find that all those paper profits have disappeared. And for others, the paper profits are deeper wounds. Some have lost houses they purchased, retirement accounts that they saved for retirement, while others have financially been wounded so deeply that the anxiety has created serious depression and deep cynicism.

How to survive in this age of anxiety? How do you master the feelings that are associated with the uncertainty. These are the challenges that many people now have to face. Veterans of economy cycles have greater security than new comers. They prepared for the worst and hoped for the best. But in reality, everyone is confused about the future and all of us have to cope with feelings of insecurity. Even if we go untouched, we have to watch friends and family struggle. It is a lot easier to collectively ride the good times, than manage the downturns.

What is important is that we assess the situation and learn to accept what has already happened. Being angry with yourself because you didn’t foresee this downturn, and prepare accordingly is expecting you should be a perfect prophet. Very few people know when or how to ride the waves of economic upheaval, and believing you should have had such insight is to expect far too much from yourself. Such self anger leads to depression. Acceptance of the current situation as it is, and making adjustments is a much better use of your time.

These are times when resourcefulness is needed. Resourcefulness is the ability to respond quickly to changing times. Too many people allow the fear coming from the uncertainty to paralyze them. Assess the situation, take charge and act accordingly. Movement is imperative. No movement products depression.

When economic conditions become difficult, it is an opportunity to reassess priorities. Unfortunately the dark side of capitalism is the need to consume. But consumption in down times may be unwise. And thus the cycle can be prolonged, because capitalism to survive needs consumption. Tax cuts and lowered interest rates are designed to produce more consuming.

Prioritizing your assets, means you value love, hope, joy, friendship more importantly than “things” or possessions. Finding inner peace is coming to terms with what is, rather than struggling to accept what has already happened. Seasons of economic charge are inevitable. Winter follows summer, and the happiest among us learn to value all the seasons, and accept the beauty within every time of year. With winter comes cold, but the cold has within it an opportunity to produce inner family warmth.

Anxiety will come and go, but the transition from living abundance to conserving can produce inner balance. It is finding this balance that is important. When the movement within the transition is strongest, the anxiety is most powerful. Riding the waves of change is perhaps one the tasks of life. Mastery in handling the difficulties of changing seasons is perhaps course 101 in the university of life.

Victims are powerless

Perceiving Yourself as a Victim Creates Powerlessness

Nothing inhibits the potential for human change more than the concept that people are divided into victims and perpetrators. This mentality emasculates those who believe they are “victims”. Let me explain how this works against positive growth.

Once you experience yourself as a victim, you automatically create a perpetrator who has wronged you. The perpetrator then becomes the focus of your attention. Now you spend all your energy attempting to change the perpetrator, or having revenge, and forget that the only real potential for reorganization in your life is transformation within.

There is a powerful story I once heard about a woman who was raped. When asked if she was still angry about the crime committed, she replied, “that man took five minutes of my life, and that is all he will ever get.” Of course, she took the road less traveled, however for her this belief was empowering. I am not suggesting society should not seek redress for wrong doing, what I am suggesting is that focusing all your energy upon anger against wrong done to you, will keep you stuck and unhappy.

This concept works not only with individuals, but also for nations. I am incredibly impressed with the new government in South Africa. Rather than focus upon punishment for the past, and making perpetrators pay for their crimes, they established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission so that they could get on with building a new and better future. Of course this is a difficult course of action, but it is a revolutionary concept, and it is working. Crimes committed under apartheid are forgiven once acknowledged (truth), then there is reconciliation. This is an incredible paradigm shift in thinking.

Victimization focuses upon revenge. Moving on, is a process that builds positive spirit into the future. Desmond Tutu who lead the commission in South Africa explained that the process did not require the victims who forgave become friends with those who had done them wrong, rather he emphasized moving forward into a brighter future. Punishment and getting even, appear to make the perpetrator pay for their crimes, but in reality they produce years of hatred that we have witnessed in Kosovo between the different religious groups. Ireland has also wasted years of hatred between Catholics and Protestants. Unable to reconcile, the country has been consumed with violence.
On an individual level, it is disempowering to picture yourself as a victim of your parents. And yet many people continue to be stuck in this story of the past. Forgiving your parents is not about letting them off the hock for their crimes against you, rather it frees you up to have powerful relationships in the present. Anyone who harbors hatred against their parents cannot move into the future without a scare so deep that all their intimate relationships are affected. Of course, what needs to be done is teach human’s how to let go of the past, and how to reconcile with past perpetrators. That is the skillful art of psychotherapy.

Parenting as a Team

Parenting As A Team

Planning whom to marry is probably one of life’s most difficult tasks. What criteria do you use to make such a decision? I would suggest that the choice of a marriage partner is not as important as the choice of the partner you have children with. Marriage if troubled, can find a conclusion in divorce. However you are bound for the rest of your life to the person with whom you share children. You may get a divorce from your children’s other parent, but you must interact with them for the remainder of your life if you want your children to have a viable family after a divorce. Divorce ends a marriage; it does not end a family. Responsible parents, who need to get divorced while they have underage children, do so because they wish to save the family the burden created by a painful marriage. There is no more important task than parenting, and yet there is no training available for parents who unfortunately do not need to prepare before creating children.

I have watched over the past 25 years parenting styles change from being lenient, to strict, back to lenient, then back again to strict. Soft love, tough love, compassionate boundary setting, harsh discipline, it all changes from time to time. I have heard all sorts of experts tell us how to be a good parent. But parenting styles differ, and the secret to having a healthy family is in cooperating with each other as parents when guiding your children.

Where do you go to learn how to be an effective parent? We only have general principles to assist us in the task of parenting. For example, the most important rule of parenting is ‘love your children’. But it is pointless to state this, because parents either love or don’t love their children, and all the preaching in the world will not create parental love. Parental love occurs instantly at birth for the vast majority. We call this primal bonding. Some parents find love for a child at a later stage, if that parent is temporarily troubled and disoriented. But some parents are so emotionally disturbed that they never find love for their children. Such parents force their children to become their own parent and to learn to love themselves without parental love as a foundation.

Another general principle about parenting is ‘children need boundaries’. But who is to say where are the boundaries. A liberal household will have fewer boundaries than a conservative family. Is one right and the other wrong? How much control should a parent have? When do you begin to allow the child to make their own decisions, and when do you allow them to accept the consequences of their behavior? These are tough questions and the answers are varied. Parenting as a team necessitates that both of you agree on the broad framework of these issues.

Another basic principle about parenting is ‘children need attention and support while growing up’. But too much attention in the teen years can be very controlling, creating disobedience and defiance, while too little attention can produce humans who are hungry for love and then search for that love in all the wrong places. When do you surrender control and guidance, and when do you insert yourself right in the middle of their lives? Again, parents need to have general consensus in this area if you are going to work as a team teaching your children.

Parents in a troubled marriage will need to keep as much of the differences between them to private discussions. Children who sense that their parents do not respect each other will attempt to divide and conquer, thus invalidating their parents as their guides. This sets up a confusing family atmosphere. Better to be in some form of agreement around parenting values, even when two adults who share the responsibility of children cannot get along in other areas. Save your disagreements for private, and attempt to be a team even though you do not respect and like each other.

Parenting is a task no one is adequately prepared for, nor adequately trained for. Life does not begin with an owner’s manual. We are left to struggle with these issues. When we accept this, we have the best chance at being successful in the parenting game. It is normal for humans to feel overwhelmed by the task, uncertain how to proceed, and unsure that you are doing the right thing. But it is imperative that parents find as much agreement with each other as possible when dealing with their children.

Life in the Rear View Mirror

Life in the rear view mirror.

"And if life is just a highway, then the soul is just a car. And objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are"

Object in the rear view mirror always appear closer than they are. It is an optical illusion. It not only is an illusion when looking in a rear view mirror, it is as Meatloaf suggests, an illusion relevant to human life and our personal history. The incidents of the past appear closer than they are when you feel distressed and horrified by your personal history.

What are the issues associated with looking in the rear view mirror of life? Life must be directed by looking backwards to get some idea how we should operate in the present and future. Life is guided forwards, by looking backwards. But looking back has dangers that need to be understood and we need to remember that the perception of the past distorts the reality of the present, just as objects in the rear view mirror appear closer than they are.

As a psychotherapist with 26 years of hands on experience, I know you must look in the rear view mirror of life to heal. It is absolutely true that some digging into the past is essential for emotional healing. The issue is how much digging, and how much exploration is essential. And once begun, how do you stop the endless obsessing over the past having uncovered the secrets.

Woody Allen has made a career out of digging into his past. He has found the funny side of his neurosis and used it to make movies that are witty and entertaining. But how much of his behavior is valuable for the rest of us who have no need to make funny movies about neurotic people?

Why look backwards, and how far backwards do you need to look? Unless you have learnt from the past, you are bound to repeat the same mistakes. That is the human way. Unconscious behavior repeats itself over and over again, until we have integrated the lessons of the past and we no longer need to repeat them. This is the case for looking in the rear view mirror of life.

But having learnt from the past, when do we cease looking backwards? When do objects in the rear view mirror appear closer than they are? I suspect once you have become obsessed with the past you have gone too far. If the objective is emotional healing, and the behavior of searching through the past has become obsessional, then I would assume looking backwards has gone way too far.

In reality there is no past or future, there is only the present. Now is the present. The past is gone, and the future is undefined. There is nothing about the future that is real in the present. Yet we can become obsessed with the future and the past and miss the present moment. This is the great truth offered by Eastern religion. Western religion focuses upon the future (heaven and hell), while eastern philosophy teaches the value of living in the present moment, the “now”.

The concepts may be hard to grasp, but the consequences are large. All fear is a reaction to the past or the future. In present time nothing exists that needs to be feared. Yet we all live with fears. And all fears come from looking in the rear view mirror, where objects appear closer than they are. Fear is a clear distortion of reality, and it can only be healed by living in the present moment, which means giving up looking in the rear view mirror.
The important message to gain from this discussion is that while the past and the future may be intriguing, they are largely irrelevant. Present time is the only moment that exists and once you have gained that wisdom, you are capable of producing happiness for yourself. Without this understanding you are looking at life through the distortion of the rear view mirror. And you are driving your car forward while being distracted by the past.

Effective Communication

The Seventh Key Principle: Communication

The seventh and final key principle that all successful relationships exhibit is the art of good communication. Communication is sharing verbally and non verbally so that the message is accepted and understood by your partner. Communication is not always agreement, rather it is talking plus listening and understanding.

Communication has been broken down into three components; content, tone and non verbal. Seven percent of communication is content, thirty eighty percent is tone, and fifty five percent is non verbal. Most of us would assume the content is the most important component when in reality, the non verbal messages are by far the principle ingredient.

Communication is a skill that can be learnt. The best way to learn this is to practice what is called the 'SRA' exercise. 'S' stands for statement, 'R' stands for restatement, and 'A' represents Agreement. The exercise begins with one of the parties making a clear and concise statement, while the other partner listens. Once the first party has finished, the listener reports back what they think they have heard. If it is not correct, the first person repeats their statement until the other has clearly received their message. Then the listener, finds some agreement within what is said. Perhaps all they can agree to is that that is how their partner feels. Perhaps they can agree to all that is expressed. The exercise is designed to build places of agreement so that the relationship can get back on course.

After the first partner has spoken, you change sides, and the other begins with a statement, while their partner listens, then reports back and then finds some point of agreement.

The hard part of communication is delivering anger and conflict. In order to handle conflict effectively couples need to establish ground rules for fair fighting. Such rules include taking time outs when emotions get too hot. Another rule could be always speak in "I" messages as opposed to "You" messages. "I" messages are statements about how "I" feel, while "You" messages are accusative and judgmental about the other. Good communicators learn how to create and develop grounds rules for conflict and abide by these ground rules whenever conflict and anger is present in communication.

Good communication is also enhanced with a clearing process. Clearing processes are scheduled appointments when couples agree to communicate about topics that they would rather not address. These times should be scheduled approximately once or twice a month. Begin by asking and answering the following questions. "What undelivered communications do I have with you?". "What hasn't been said that needs to be said?". "What do I want to be acknowledged for?". Scheduling times when you talk about what is difficult to talk about keeps the relationship healthy and open. Communication breakdowns usually occur from what hasn't been said, more often that what has been said. It is important to keep communication open, free, and healthy, and the clearing process will ensure that happens.

All successful relationships have these seven key principles. Good communication is perhaps the hardest and most important predictor of a long, lasting relationship.

How To Forgive the Unforgivable

How to Forgive the Unforgivable

One of the most important keys to finding happiness is in learning the secret of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the art of letting your mind rest around issues that are troubling to you. When the mind is engaged with the tension about wrongs and hurts you have suffered in the past, your mind is in torment. And thus the ability to rest your thoughts about past hurts gives you inner peace and mental rest.

However, this begs the question, how do you learn to forgive? How do you bring your mind to rest about the past? How do you stop fearing the future? When in the past you have hurt another person, feeling guilt is the predominant emotion. When you believe others have hurt or wounded you, anger is the usual response. Either way, your mind is unsettled, and troubled. Forgiveness rests the mind and settles the past, allowing you to live in the present moment without the pain and the torment of those past hurts, and without fear of the future.

Many people successful use rituals to learn how to forgive. Some seek the use of confession. Others talk in therapy. Some write letters to people who have hurt them in the past, expressing all their feelings, and then never send the letter. This way, they can unburden their feelings about the past without involving all the people who have made up that past. Other rituals might be to dig a hole in the earth and shout your hurts into that hole, at the same time releasing the pain of that hurt. Then you can cover the hole, and send the hurt away. Such rituals are physical tasks to help you grasp the emotional aspect within the act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the mind letting go of the emotional turmoil you are holding onto.

But the real key to understanding forgiveness is to recognize that you as a human have no ability to forgive anyone but yourself. Only God can forgive people. You are not righteous enough, to forgive. As all religions express, we are human, sinners, and live in glass houses, thereby making us incapable of the divine capacity to forgive other humans. Your forgiving another is not about them at all, it is entirely about you and your mental process. You let go of the tension you hold in your mind about that person. You let go the inner turmoil you feel, and thus you allow yourself to experience emotional rest and mental peace. You don’t even need them to ask forgiveness, or to apologize.

This is so hard to grasp, because we have been taught that when another wrongs us, we have the power to forgive them. Not so. Only they can forgive themselves, as only you can forgive yourself. On a spiritual level, only God can forgive human’s of transgression. Not that we should not have the courtesy of a social interactions that when wronged, we ask another to apologize. Not that another cannot ask you to forgive them, or excuse them for a transgression they have made. It is just that forgiveness on the divine level is not within the capability of humans to do. And the miracle of this is that we do not need another to repent of their sins to forgive. For forgiveness is merely empting our minds of the obsessive thinking we run though our brain when angry and upset at others.

To forgive is to bless yourself. To forgive is to grant yourself freedom. To forgive is to give yourself the gift of happiness, because when you release the inner tension, you release your mind from the torment you have been carrying by not forgiving yourself or another. To forgive another does not require that they apologize, or repent. To forgive is to release the inner tension you carry when you hold hatred within your heart for those who have wronged you.

Forgiveness is letting go. Forgiveness is moving on. Letting go of the mental torment you have because you are unforgiving. The key to learning how to forgive is to learn how to let go of the anger and hurt, revenge and disgust you feel towards others. When your mind comes to this peace, you have learnt how to forgive, and you can then live in peace. At this point forgiveness is simply releasing your own inner torment you experience towards another you believe has wronged you.

Learning How to Communicate Gently

Learning to Communicate Gently

When young couples come into marriage counseling, I often shudder when I hear them
talk to each other. The power struggle stage of their relationship causes them to speak so
harshly, so dogmatically, so authoritatively that they are unaware of the damage they do
when they talk in this tone.

I ask the husband, “is she your princess ?” Invariably, he say “yes”. I reply, “Then why do
you talk that way to her”. They never have a good answer. They seem unconscious of
how harsh they sound. I then ask the wife, “Is he your prince ?” and of course I get the
same reaction.

Why would couples take a new love and deal with it so harshly ? Because they are in the
power struggle stage of their relationship. During this stage, both parties are struggling to
dominate, struggling to be recognized, struggling for independence. This is an important
adjustment stage most young couples visit. Most marriages stay in this power struggle
stage for years and do serious damage to their communication system by speaking from
anger and domination, rather than respect and honor.

Chances are one or both of the partners witnessed their parents speak in this tone to each
other. But in business, if employers spoke with such force, a lawsuit would be forth
coming, so I find it hard to believe couples do not know better. Bad habits and
unconscious behavior catch couples off guard.

If couples are unconscious about how they sound when talking to each other, I
recommend they tape record their disagreements and then listen to how they sound and
work towards finding new ways to speak that accomplish the task without destroying the
love. Football players watch replays so they can improve their skills, and if couples are
serious about building a better marriage, they could also use a replay system to improve
their communication.

No one would dream of taking a brand new baby and handling it harshly. The same
should be true for a new love. It is new, impressionable, and needs tenderness, care and
gentleness. Harsh communication from anger destroys love and builds resentment.
Caring communication needs to be present if you want your new love to grow.

How to Set Appropriate Boundaries in Relationships

Setting Boundaries

The trendy newest concept in psychotherapy is the issue of setting appropriate intimate boundaries in relationship with others. Boundaries are the border of your psyche as they come up against the emotional exterior of another. This is where you begin and another ends. Boundaries are the cup or container that holds the liquid. Boundaries are the fences that determine you as opposed to them.

The problems associated with boundaries usually occur within families, or between very close friends. Boundaries are an intimacy issue. Husband and wives frequently have trouble setting boundaries. Parents and children are notoriously troubled by inadequate boundaries, according to the latest thinking in psychotherapy.

The key element in this discussion of boundaries is always the distinction that there is a good and a bad boundary. Boundaries are either right or wrong, or using psychological language, appropriate verses inappropriate. This duality between right and wrong assumes someone knows what is appropriate and what is not. Socially, culture has developed very sophisticated boundaries for people so we can live in peace. Society has established these boundaries, and defines them as law. You are not allowed to harm another and avoid social consequences. It is only when we live in harmony that we can create a peaceful and prosperous society, so social boundaries have been defined by laws. But in families or with close intimate friendships, boundaries are not easily defined and are left to individual discretion to define.

What I find troubling in the current social discussion of boundaries is that one who criticizes another for inadequate boundaries is making the assumption that they know the difference between appropriate and inappropriate in intimacy. In matters of law this is clear. Society has established the rules that define appropriate and inappropriate over thousands of years of experience. But in family relationships, the area of contention is beyond the law.

Today each family member has to negotiate these troubled waters alone. Some families are described as ‘enmeshed’ (meaning the boundaries are porous and not firm), while others are very loose and distant. Enmeshment leads to fighting, while distance in relationship leads to feelings of not being special or loved. Who is to say what is appropriate if it does not harm another. Families often have disagreements about the topic of family boundaries.

For example, I had a client who was told by numerous people including psychotherapists that he idolized his mother, and that he needed to set stronger boundaries with her. They claimed he was lost inside the relationship with his mother. He concluded from this common wisdom that he should stop visiting his mother (he would see her one night a week), and only telephone her occasionally. His mother accepted this behavior but was confused by the logic. She felt sad missing the weekly visits, but resigned herself to this new behavior.

After pursuing this new behavior, the son sank into a deep depression. He had artificially withdrew from his mother because other people had convinced him to set stronger boundaries between himself and his mother. He felt while exercising these new boundaries with his mother withdrawn from all socializing. He felt emotional pain, sadness, and despair. Finally he asked himself “why I am doing this?” Realizing it was other people who were defining what was appropriate for him, rather than trusting his own instinct, he began to change back to the way things were. He began seeing his mother one night a week again.

After a few weeks his depression began to lift. His mother who was in her eighties also began experience more vitality, seeing her son every week. In time, my client realized that he and his mother were both happier. And so he concluded that this concept that he needed to establish firm boundaries with his mother was an individual choice, not a socially acceptable decision. Finally he realized that the real issue was that his wife didn’t like his closeness to his mother, and it was to please his wife that he had set boundaries that did not work for him or his mother. His wife was attempting to control his behavior using psychotherapy talk to change his behavior with his mother.

The point to this story is that boundaries are important, but be careful whom you listen to when attempting to find the appropriate boundary level with your family members. Outsiders do not always have the magic answers. Outsiders may have alternative motivation that needs to be understood when the discussion of boundaries is on the table. The key to finding what is right for you, is looking inside yourself and finding what is best for you and your family, rather than reacting to what others define as right and wrong for you.

Boundaries need to be understood. But the topic is not easily definable; so beware of outsiders who seem to have simplistic answers to complex relationships.

Sacred Sexuality

Sacred Sexuality

As a marriage and family therapist, I find the lack of responsible sexual education a national disgrace. By default, the entertainment industry has become the national creator and distributor of our sexual education. The Church has abandoned the job. School will not touch the topic for fear of parents. Parent’s claim it is their responsibility, yet do very little to teach their children about human sexuality. And thus by default, the Internet, movies and television fill the void. We learn more from entertainers like Britney Spears about human sexuality than we do from all the other experts in the field of human psychology. We have allowed the teaching of human sexuality to be the domain of Hollywood.

The Catholic Church teaches their 1.6 billion followers that sex for any purpose outside of procreation is a venal sin. A venal sin is a minor sin, not bad enough to assign you to hell, but certainly no sin is good. This means deeply religious Catholics cannot use birth control and can only have sexual intimacy if their purpose is procreation. Most Catholics do not follow their churches teachings, so the church has dismissed itself as a serious communicator of human sexuality in the 21st century. The Catholic Church also refuses to sanction the use of condoms by married men with their wives in Africa, who use condoms to prevent the spread of aids. Sexual ideology within the church takes precedence over human needs when it comes to teaching sexuality.

The remaining Christian Churches in America believe sex within marriage is permissible, but teach very little about the sacredness of sexuality. Rather than teach their people about a divine purpose for sexuality, most churches ignore that topic for what they consider to be a more important sexual issue, gay marriage.

So who is to teach human sexuality to our youth? Is sexuality only for procreation or is it also for our well being? Does it have a spiritual purpose beyond procreation? What is sexual intimacy really about? The entertainment industry is happy to fill the void. There is big money to be made in sexual content. Most of money made from sex is hidden from public consciousness. It is ‘dirty’ sexuality. Nasty. Bad. These are the current predominant sexual morals, created in Hollywood by our entertainment industry, and pushed upon the public through the media. Not that ‘nasty’ isn’t a fun sexual game to play, but when that is all you have, it becomes obvious that more substance is needed.

Eastern religions are not as repressed sexually as are Western religions. Western religions emphasis ownership in sexuality, rather than teaching pleasure and purpose. And thus all the rules of sexuality we have been taught by western religion are based on the principles of property rights and ownership. Eastern tantric sexuality is a centuries old discipline that teaches the purpose of sexuality is in exchanging male – female energy. Tantra teaches the male to exchange his maleness with the female, and the female her femininity with the male. This exchange of energy is healing and life sustaining. As a marriage counselor, I know that sexual intimacy is a critical healing tool for couples. Without sexuality, many marriages would not endure the difficult times. These couples find that when everything else is going wrong, at least they can communicate sexually, and let the other know how much they love each other.

Sacred sex, erotic loving, sexual healing, and divinity are all aspects of sexuality that need to be taught. Where are the serious advocates for sacred sexual intimacy? Where are the role models? Where are the examples? Where is the serious education? Hollywood has left us with Janet Jackson, Britney Spears and Madonna. Movies teach humans how to make love. The entertainment industry educates us about what men want and what women want sexually. Are we really certain we wish to abandon the responsibility for sexual education to Hollywood? Could not someone from a spiritual prospective step forward? Or is sexual education to be left to humorists, entertainers and the Internet?

Something is amiss within sexual education, and no one wishes to discuss the matter.

Marriage is like a three-legged race

Marriage: a Three-Legged Race.

When I was a child I remember picnics where we ran the three-legged race. Two people had their middle legs attached, and the objective was to run in unison with your middle legs tied together, so that between the two of you the couple had three legs. The race required coordination so the couple ran together in harmony. It was not an easy task, but eventually the couple learnt how to run together by coordinating their bodies as one.

Marriage requires a similar skill. Marriage is a team effort, where the two of you are stronger than each alone. A good marriage can be defined as a union where two people are stronger as a couple, than as two separate individuals. If however, the two are divisive, and competitive with each other, you weaken the team. And thus a poor marriage is where two are worse for being a couple, than being a coordinated team.

The secret to running as a three-legged team is collaboration. Being critical of your partner only slows the team down. It is like your right hand hitting your left hand and pretending your body is not hurt. When you attack your partner, you attack yourself. If after running a three-legged race, you lose and criticize your partner for not helping, you are guaranteeing that the team will fail. Better to look at the problems that caused you as a team to fail, than criticizing your partner individually. In a three-legged race you either win together or you lose together. So too in marriage. You either both succeed, or you both fail. Blaming your partner for a marriage failure is like the left leg criticizing the right leg for not winning the race. It may make the left leg feel better, but it will not remedy the failure.

Marriage is not for everyone. Some people prefer to be single than to work together as a team. Unfortunately we as a society have pathologies singleness. We assume single people are lonely, unhappy and looking for a marital partner. This is simply immature, excessively romantic and idealistic. I know many people who are happier as an individual than as a couple, and assuming this is unnatural for humans is ridiculous.

If you wish to be married, then you must work at becoming a team. You must learn how to be a couple, as two people have to learn how to run a three-legged race as one. The key to running a three-legged race is to move your combined middle feet together as a unit, not separately as an individual. This requires coordination, a spirit of teamwork, and patience as you learn how to support each other rather than criticize and tear each other down.

All team sports require the individuals give up most of their personal ego for the benefit of the team. For example, on a football team, it is imperative for a quarterback to be blocked by his front line. Every successful quarterback always congratulates his front line when they win, and when they lose they are very discrete about criticizing in public their team members. Successful football teams work together as a group. With group sport teams, they all succeed or they all fail together.

Marriage is the same as team sports. Team is the essence of marital success. The team cooperates, coordinates and collaborates. In so doing they either succeed together or they fail in their mission as a team.

Biography at end of article.
Stephen Martin, MS. MFT, has over 25 years experience as a licensed marriage and family therapist. In that time he’s helped thousands of couples heal their marriages. As a recognized leader in his field, Stephen Martin served a term as President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, the largest association of marriage and family therapists in the world.
Stephen can be reached at (650) 726-1212 or by email at