A Simple Trick To Stop Fighting

    Robert woke up grumpy. Why shouldn’t he? He and Evelyn went round and round til past 1 AM, not resolving the issue even at that late hour, and they both went to bed in a grouchy mood. Maybe she could get over it quick, he thought, but he couldn’t. Nevertheless, on his way out the door for work, he took out the garbage, more out of habit than anything else. Evelyn’s reaction to his helpfulness was, “What’s the big deal about taking out the garbage? He should do that,” although in the interest of not inflaming the fight further, she didn’t say anything. She was still annoyed about the fight—she did not get over it—and this was compounded by his grumpiness. In fact, his helpful act was totally undone by the bad mood. As a therapist hearing this story, I would have some trouble trying to persuade Evelyn to appreciate his help. After all, if Evelyn is still in a bad mood herself, I would never get through to her. What do I do to help this couple? We Have To Recognize The Good That Others Do This concept in the present case makes more sense than “gratitude.” Evelyn can’t “appreciate” Robert’s taking out the garbage. As she herself says, it’s something he ought to do. She certainly would not deign to show him gratitude for this un-special, every-day act. However, the landscape changes when we replace the word “gratitude” with “recognizing the good.” You see, I’m only asking Evelyn to catalogue a behavior, to make an unemotional assessment of Robert’s behavior: Is taking out the garbage a...

I Hate My Partner!

Forget about love being gone. You’re way past that. You hate your partner and you want out.  You hate your partner because he/she: stifles your identity; you feel crushed; you no longer know who you are is cheating says things that really cut, often insisting he/she didn’t mean to hurt you neglects you; you feel invisible controls everything until you have no energy left to stand up for yourself I am here to tell you three things: First, your feelings are normal. Second, underneath your hate is love. Third, you have the power to transform the relationship. FIRST, YOUR FEELINGS ARE NORMAL If you believe in evolution, you could say that we must survive. In order to survive, we must protect our Self. In order to do that, we must reject whatever is toxic to that Self. That means that if we perceive that we are being mistreated, that’s a good first step. It identifies the toxic substance. To perceive it and then reject it makes perfect sense. That’s basic survival. From a spiritual perspective, it’s even clearer: Your soul has been injured and as the Talmudic statement goes, “Words from the heart enter the heart.” This is true for kind words and mean ones. They are potent healers and they can be incredibly corrosive. Corrosiveness kindles hate just as healing kindles love. This is how our most basic emotions function. SECOND, UNDERNEATH YOUR HATE IS LOVE Love is composed of many things. Hate is also composed of many things but “the absence of love” is not one of them. A feeling cannot be the absence of something–with the...

DrDeb’s Book Review: Difficult Conversations

“Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most” by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen are from the Harvard Business School, of all things! But that is precisely why we can benefit from listening to what they have to say. Let me explain. We can be sloppy with how we talk to our loved ones. We feel we have to be “honest,” right? And then what happens? Well, I don’t have to tell you: It generally doesn’t work out so well. But business! Ah, that’s a different thing. When money is on the table, everyone wants to be careful. Not only careful as in “diplomatic,” but careful as in “getting the outcome that I want.” Yeah, in business, we are usually smart. If we want to make a sale, we nurse the customer. But with our families, we are just as liable to shoot ourselves in the foot, unfortunately. So what can these three people tell us about conversations that we didn’t already know? A lot, apparently. I have to tell you *I* was impressed because they break down conversations even more than I thought I did. (Yup. That’s right. I don’t have to have a big ego about this.) As a manual of how to work with people — or your family — it is great. Let me give you a bunch of great examples, pages I dog-eared just for you. “When Blame Is the Goal Understanding Is the Casualty” (p. 64) “Even in situations that require a clear assignment of blame, there is a cost. Once the specter of punishment – legal or otherwise – is...

What The Narcissist Needs

  I was shocked. This guy was giving me the missing key, the key to why some people’s marriages get better and some people’s don’t. Why hadn’t I thought of this? One simple, not so easy, but simple, nevertheless, solution. I was telling him, “Think about it. Think about how your wife would feel when you say those things to her.” And he said, “I usually don’t think about things like that.” “Yes, I hear you. You don’t usually think about people’s feelings and how they would react to things. I get that. But you want things better in your marriage, so I’m asking you to think about it.” “Well, what am I supposed to think about?” he asked, genuinely puzzled. “You’ve told me it hurts her feelings and I don’t see why it would. What else should I think about?” Now, I was puzzled. He is obviously not one of those people who loses sleep at night worrying about what other people think of him or his deeds. He doesn’t lose sleep at night saying to himself, “If I had done this, then maybe they would have done that.” He doesn’t wonder what will happen going forward, either; he doesn’t toss different scenarios around in his mind at 3 AM thinking that what he really needs to do is X. Or maybe it should be Y. Or maybe Z. He doesn’t worry. Well, that’s good, right? Not to be a worrier? Well, sure, but… There are extremes of everything. Worrying about the future when it’s basically out of your control is a foolish expense of psychic energy. Worrying in...

Why “Communication” Doesn’t Work

The caller had that dull tone in her voice that comes from having gotten to the end of her rope. “My marriage is at the end. Basically, it’s over,” she explained, “because I can’t take another day of the way I’m being treated. We are strangers. And I’ve told him over and over what needs to change and it is not happening.” “I understand,” I said. “Why did you call me, then?” “Well,” the caller sighed. We have children. I – I could never forgive myself if I didn’t at least say I tried everything.” “You know,” I replied, “I could see you for a time or two to see if there really is hope, but, honestly, if you don’t re-commit to the idea of your marriage before you come in, it will be wasted effort.” Now it was my caller’s turn to put me on the spot. “Why should I?” she asked. “So as to come crashing down all over again? Get my hopes up and then – splat! Down they go!” “You’re right,” I said, nodding although she couldn’t see that. “You don’t want to be emotionally vulnerable and then get hurt; you don’t want to pile disappointment upon disappointment, and I understand that. But a lot of times, there really is hope. That’s what my specialty is: putting marriages back on track that were on the brink of divorce. I don’t advocate divorce no matter how many “experts” have told you it’s the way to go. “You can go look at my blog for all the reasons why even divorce attorneys don’t recommend it. A lot...

You Think You Can’t Change?

If I hear another person sitting in my office say, “I can’t change!” or “He (or she) will never change!” I am going to scream. No, I won’t scream. Don’t worry. But I do not get how people can make statements that are directly against everything science has shown. Of course we change. We also learn. We grow. What you really mean when you say that you can’t change is that you don’t want to. Fair enough. That is at least an honest statement. But then what are you doing in my office?! Oh, oh, I get it. You can’t (don’t want to) change, but you want to change HER! Ha. I see. No, I don’t see. People “can’t” change, so how can she? You are sighing. “You’re right, Dr. Deb. She can’t change either. I don’t know why I’m here. I guess I’m depressed about the whole thing.” Uh-uh. You’re not allowed to be depressed either; that’s not living a “good life.” You chose this partner for a reason. What is it you will learn from this mate of yours? What will you learn about yourself, your choices, your style, your attitude, the things you have taken for granted as true that may not be true? Is there something you’ve learned that may help you face tomorrow? Can you make a plan for doing things differently? You can? Well, guess what? If you can do things differently or at least see them differently, that’s change. That is the very change you said you can’t do. “But it is so hard, Dr. Deb.” Yes, it is. I will be the...

Why Divorce Is Worse Than The Alternative

Someone asked me recently if I believed in pre-marital counseling for young couples with strife in their relationship. I said, “Absolutely not; they should break up.” If they are in pain and they have not yet gotten married I can only assume that one or the other does not have the tools to get along. The tempers, the blame, the second guessing, the lack of patience, and other behaviors like that are not good. Why should a young person start a new life with pain? Why should a young person introduce a child into a home of hurt? And most important, why should a young person be responsible for correcting the flaws in another person who is a stranger? But once people are married, everything changes. One does become responsible for the other; one is the friend of the other. If you are on the end of receiving pain from a spouse, then you have two reasons to help this spouse: first, to stop your own pain, and second, to encourage this other person to take steps to be a better person. “But, Dr. Deb,” you want to ask, “can anyone really change another person?” Here’s my answer: The myth is that we can’t change others, only ourselves. Our own stories tell us the opposite. Have you not been affected by a good article? A mind-opening discussion? Music? Prayer? Of course we have! Once years ago, when I was going through a long period in which I thought I was too busy with children to pray, I went to a tea during which some women spoke. One recited a poem...

What’s Love?

How is it possible to love someone you never met, never saw, and know nothing about? It happens every day to hundreds of thousands of people. Just ask a pregnant woman how she feels about her unborn baby. Even more strange is how is it possible for a couple who is adopting a child they did not know to love that child? But they do. Why do grandparents fall madly in love with babies that they did not carry for nine months and do not get up to feed in the middle of the night? All the answers are the same: Beyond being a feeling, love is a decision. And just what are you deciding about when you decide to love that baby? Obviously, you are not governing your feelings by the loudness of the crying, the night’s sleep lost, the colic or the colds. Actually, some people are governed that way. They don’t react well to their babies’ cries; they take it out on the children and are called abusers. Which proves my point even more: You can focus on the good or focus on the bad. The choice is yours and the feeling follows. Take that and apply it to any close family member. Do you focus on the things that annoy you or the things that charm you? There are pitfalls and positives with both. Pitfalls of Focusing On The Good You would think that we ought to always focus on the good. That’s what giving the benefit of the doubt means. And that is absolutely correct. What’s more, we should overlook the injury our friend...
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