A new definition of couple’s therapy

April 7th, 2008

I was thinking of you….

March 25th, 2008

One of the major issues that couples face is how they communicate what they want and what they need.  Some do it quite well.  Some do it quite poorly complete with mega-conflicts, and at times, ugly incidents.  Others don’t do it at all.  They choose to just work on  the “you know” principle–that is my partner should know what I what and need.  “If s/he were in tune with me, s/he’d know what to do” is a common line that I hear in my office.

In order to communicate, couples can use request language to guide their partner to fulfilling their wants and needs.  It’s the language of being in a  restaurant–“I would appreciate it if you could do this” or “it would make me happy if you did this”(or didn’t do this).  They could also use my personal favorite, actually discovered at a restaurant–“Would it be possible for you to….”  This language system works because people  are  making requests, not demands.  They are not attacking their partner.  They are asking for something that would be helpful.  Once these requests are delivered, the obvious next communication is the “thank you”.

In my office,  I get to hear from  couples who don’t wish to use request language because “if I tell him and he does it, it hasn’t proved anything anyway….”   These relationships are usually  filled with anger/resentment, at times betrayal, and a lack of trust.  For these kinds of relationships, the words are meaningless.  It’s more in the “show me, not tell me”.  So how would a person show their partner how they feel?

They would enter the “I was thinking of you….” place. (IWTWP) This place is quite simple and the decision by the partner to go there in the first place is  good example of the  show me state(not Missouri).  Upon entering, the person would do something to show their partner that they were thinking of them!  There is an endless number of possible things that a person could do that would show the distrustful partner that they were indeed thinking of them.  Some of these might be trivial(a favorite flower, or favorite food).  Some may be more meaningful –(the completion of that nagging household chore) or could be very intimate(a written note or letter about the person’s feelings towards his/her partner).   One note:  The partner who enters the IWTYP cannot have an expectation that this will be the ticket towards  an improved   relationship. If s/he does, and it doesn’t  go that way, this could lead to an equal and opposite reaction of anger and  disappointment.  Going  to IWTYP needs to happen in the spirit of doing something different to improve the relationship —period. 

The I was thinking of you place is an infinite location of partner pleases and pleasures.  It can be a great building block towards rebuilding even the most distrustful of relationships.  Combined with request language, can lead to better “doing” in the relationship. 

What Really Happens After Couple’s Counseling

February 11th, 2008

You Cannot Have A Rainbow without A Storm

February 8th, 2008

During the holiday season I was blessed to get a new book by Charles Grodin entitled  If I only knew then…  The gist of the book is that friends of Charles Grodin, actors, actresses, politicians etc. described a situation in which they made a mistake. They then added  what they learned from that mistake.

One person, John Hope Bryant, the CEO of Operation Hope, shared his experience and summarized it with “You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first”.  This quote just hit me in the head–WOW!! How fitting for a day, a week, a month, a year in my office!!  How many storms do I get to see  within the 4 walls and 2 couches of my office?  How many of these storms are more like nor’easters with heavy winds blowing and lots of accumulation? And what about the rainbows?  How unexpected are those? And when they happen, WOW.

I mean last week alone there 2 such rainbows in my office–2 clients sharing about their pregnancy stories on the same day!  What are the odds that  3 hours apart  in my office  I got to hear about their infertilities and then their subsequent  doctor visit  to learn of their conceptions?

 And what about the storms? My favorite of those occurred on a summer friday when thunder and lightening storms are the norm for the evening rush hour.  This young women decided to break her silence about her mother’s treatment of her on this day.  And we had all of nature’s pyrotechnics–loud thunder/viscious, dangerous lightening/ lights flickering in my office as the backdrop to the client’s teary story of pain/hurt/anguish/guilt/anger.  When she got better some time later, this story was part of the history of our meetings  “do you remember the night when you talked about your mom?”

 I have had many colleagues who have said to clients, “It has to get worse before it gets better” and although there is truth to that, I’ve always hated that phrase because it sounds so hopeless and dark.   What an improvement “You cannot have a rainbow without a storm first” is because I have experiened both in my office.  The hopefulness of this statement can lead to much more encouragement through the pain knowing that the rainbow can be on the other side.

Lies, Lies, and More Lies

January 17th, 2008

What do politicians, certain entertainers and Roger Clemens have in common?  They lie!!!!  Some more than others, but always for a purpose.

According to the online dictionary a lie is:

1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.

2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

Clearly this is an accurate definition of what a lie is, but to me  it’s missing something.  Most people that I see who tell a lie have a reason why they are lying .    Some may  have an addictive disorder with the hallmark of addiction being the use of defense mechanisms to protect the person from the reality of their behavior.  Do addictive people tell lies?  Of course they do–they have to!!!  Others might be having an affair and lie to their spouse that they are not.  Again they are protecting themselves from their true feelings( guilt/shame remorse/self-loathing/fear) and are  using this non-truth to “get away with” something they’re not supposed to be doing.  Am I making excuses for lying–No.  Are we looking at  understanding this behavior, yes. 

 Ok Let’s go further–What’s missing in the above definition, I think is the person’s motive–Is the lie malicious?  Is the goal of the person having the affair to delibertly hurt their spouse?  Is the goal of the addictive person to hurt their loved ones?  In these 2 examples the motive is self-protection.  Are there lies that occur where the motive is totally malicious?  Absolutely!!!    For example, let’s say a boss told you to discuss with a co-worker a certain topic related to a project that you were both working on. The boss of course knows that this is a sensitive issue for the co-worker but sends you in head on to address the issue.  When the co-worker gets upset with you, you are the one with egg on your face.  The boss has a smirky “got you smile” on his.  His passive-aggressive lie was clearly a way to get you and he succeeded!!!  To me these types of lies are much more dangerous and hurtful than the protective ones of infidelity and addictive.  Am I saying that the people who get lied to as a result of addiction and infidelity are not hurt?  Of course not.  I’ve seen many of these people in my office as they shared their stories of great pain about their significant others consistant and persistant lies.  What I am saying is that all lies were not created equally.  Some have malicious intent,  some are protective in nature.  They all hurt, but when working through the hurt, it’s useful to ask the question about the person’s motive for the lie.  This motive asking can be useful in the healing of the pain caused by the lie since it begins to separate the person from their behavior. 

Obviously if everyone were honest then we’d have no lies.  If that were the case, this would have been a ridiculuous entry!!!!  Regardless of the motive, lots of people lie.  It becomes important however to look at the “why” of the lie, not the lie itself.

Difficulties of the trade

December 16th, 2007

A few of my favorites

December 5th, 2007

As the holiday season rolls upon us,  I thought I would give some thoughts, ideas, and recommendations regarding  some of my favorite books about change.  Why write about this as we are steaming our way through December, you might ask?  Is this some cheesy way to get out of writing about something new? Well yes….and… no.  Sure who wants to get on a creative roll with great new ideas when we have a whole new years worth of columns to write!!!!   BUT no–the end of the year is the perfect time to examine the previous year or years, and look towards the next year.  And since change can occur at any time, why not now.  Do you we really have to start to change using those dopey New Year’s Resolutions filled with grandiosity and half-truths?  No,  change can happen before January 1, 2008. 

 The first book that I’d love to recommend is my personal all time favorite–Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More.  This book was groundbreaking when it came out, and  some 20 years later, still shakes people out of their caretaking, controlling and overcompensating behaviors. Beattie’s 10 page assessment of Codependency is usually an eye opener.  Her validating and empowering style is one that many people have benefitted from.

Next on our holiday list are 2 books that do very helpful  things for people with disorders.   The Anxiety Workbook and the Depression Workbook both identify the problems and give step by step suggestions for change.  Its workbook format is quite beneficial since  people can write and reflect upon their answers.

The next book is also a workbook.  The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook  is a long time favorite of mine. I’m pleased to say that I have owned every edition of this now 5th edition helper.  This book is the buffet table of workbooks.  Open it up, figure out your symptom(s), find the strategies, use the tools, practice the tools  and feel better.  The best part about the book is that every technique in it works.

And one more gem for the holiday season.  This is a combo, it has a book and workbook. Entitled Stop Walking on Eggshells, this  is  an eyeopening  book for anyone who lives with a person that has Borderline Personality Disorder(BPD).  This book helps the person identify the disorder as well as the effects on the non-BPDer.  It also has useful guidelines for change as well as an excellent set of references for further reading, discovery, and change.

 So there you have 5 books that have helped  many people change.  And since change is possible, good helpful books can be a great start to this process.  Enjoy the books and the beginning of the holiday season.

Dry Sponge Theory

November 6th, 2007

OK indulge me on this one.  Pretend that you are a sponge sitting on the edge of a sink.  Everyday, someone does the dishes, and you can hear and see the water running.  But not a drop touches you.  Everyday you long for that 1 drop of water that will make you feel better, but everyday none comes your way.  You feel worse and worse, drier and drier and drier.  You feel worthless and hopeless and recognize that you will never ever get that drop that you need.  One day, someone decides to get you wet and immediately you feel incredible relief, yelling out “ah this is what I’ve needed all these years. This is the thing that makes me feel whole.  This is the thing that make me feel good about me”

 When people have unmet needs they feel like the dry sponge.  They go out searching for something  or somebody to fill that need.  The need could be anything–love, security, attention, approval etc.  They could seek out this fulfillment in healhy ways, but more times than not, they use addictive-like behaviors to fill the need.  Once that need is fulfilled they sound like the dry sponge   “ah this is what I’ve needed all these years. This is the thing that makes me feel whole.  This is the thing that make me feel good about me”.  And just like the sponge, once that need has been filled, they want it again & again & again.  The dry sponge theory is in full operation.

Obviously, sponges are not that important in our daily lives–they sell them in cellophane in stores often in packages of 4.  Our “dryness” or unmet needs can not be replaced by a new sponge–it needs work.  It needs honesty. It needs discovery.  It needs change.  These changes are hard to do  without an impartial other to hear them.  If I had a great awareness of an unmet need, I could work on it myself,  and do whatever exercises might be appropriate to make change effective.  This however assumes  that I know what that need is. If in my best efforts to fill a need I keep doing a particular behavior and don’t like the outcome, I might need a third person to ask the obvious question. “why do you keep doing  what you are doing since you have such pain about it afterwards?”.  That objective third person might be able to guide me through the awareness and the opportunities for change.  The biggest changes however need to come from the inside out, not the outside in!!  I can’t keep looking for “the water” to make the  sponge wet.  I need to find a way to make my own “water”–examining how I can fill that need in healthy, productive, mature, and rational ways.  In what ways can I affirm and validate myself as a good, healthy person without others or other things doing it for me.  Ultimately we need to have an unlimited supply of water, that is self created in order to fulfill ourselves.  Once we have  done this we can use sponges for cleaning up dirty sinks.

The Music Must Change

October 19th, 2007

Imagine a radio station that plays the same song over and over–(I don’t mean the way FM radio is now where you hear the same songs over and over.)  I mean 1 song repeating and repeating and repeating.  Imagine that song being a steady diet of thoughts/feelings of guilt, shame, remorse and self-loathing(GSRSL).  Imagine the endless supply of obsessive thinking and compulsive replays of the thing(s) you did to create or activate these thoughts.  Yes it’s time to change the station–the music must change!!!

People get involved in all kinds of self-defeating/self destructive behaviors.  There are numerous reasons for this–the top ones that I see are:  addictive disorders/mood disorders/self-sabotaging behavioral and personality traits.  The GSRSL may begin before, during, or after the behavior.  The more of the GSRSL, the greater the need for the behavior, the greater the GSRSL etc.  For example– lets says I decide to  smoke a joint.  Afterwards, I feel a lot of GSRSL.  So what do I do?–exactly, smoke another joint, only to feel more GSRSL–isn’t this just a great way to spend an afternoon?!!!    If you want to complicate this example a little, imagine if I had an addictive disorder, knew that it went against all my teachings to smoke the joint, and then smoked it anyway–I would have the trifecta GSRSL of before, during and after-The music must definitely change!!!!

But how does a person change this music? It’s easy to change a radio station, but something this ingrained, obsessive & compulsive is much harder.  Part of stopping this music is recognizing:  1) this is going to be hard to do  2) that I have been doing this for a while, and 3)its going to take some time to stop it.   The key word that descirbes this is permission –  I have to give myself permission to take the time it’s going to take to make this major change.  I’m also going to need to use a variety of approaches to change this thought and this feeling–(i.e. thought stopping, disputing irrational beliefs, identifying affirmations and using them regularly, and finding gratitude despite the pain).   Using this total package will be a first step in a long process of turning down the music of the GSRSL and moving to something considerably better.  I may need to also speak to a therapist to examine why I do these behaviors and what they are “wired” to.  If in fact there is something biologically based, there may be a need for medication to “tune” these thoughts/feelings into healthier ones.  Yes the music can change and although this change is possible its going to take a lot time and hard work. 


October 3rd, 2007

On Saturday Night after winning the Middleweight title,  boxer Kelly Pavlik, in a post fight interview, was asked, “what were you thoughts after almost getting knocked out in round 2?’  He stated “sh*t it’s going to be a long night!!!!”

We’ve all had days like this.  In fact, after my own recent  fiasco’s with electricians, light bulbs that didn’t work, fixtures that didn’t work, etc., I could have said the exact same thing.  However a funny thought came through my mind–“you need to accept the things you cannot change”.  This line from the Serenity Prayer

(…to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference)

did exactly what it was suppose to do.  It brought me right to acceptance.  Instantly a great feeling of calm came over me.

The potency and calming effect of  this one line becomes a great coping tool for all situations that are out of our control.  It can become a meditative statement to say over and over.  As I’ve said to more than one client, “it’s a line 1 problem”.(Accept the things you cannot change)   This statement becomes a great shorthand solution for all the agonizing over life’s hassles.  (interesting enough it’s line 2–changing what can be changed is even more potent, but that’s a discussion for another day)

Many years ago, a client of mine was struggling with dealing with family issues.  I introduced her to this whole acceptance concept.  Initially she misinterpreted  the meaning of the word acceptance.  In her mind it meant agreement.  I said you don’t have to agree with how they do things, you just need to accept that that’s how they do them.  With that, magic happened and the same calm I described earlier just engulfed her.  Accept became her favorite word.  It allowed her to literally accept what she could not change.

Fortunately, most of us are not prizefighters trying to avoid getting  knocked out by an onslaught of ferocious punches.  We can duck and weave our irrational thoughts and overwhelming feelings just by using some good coping statements.  Acceptance, using the serenity prayer, is one of the best ways to do this.