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...

Why Bad Things Happen To Good People – Another Thought

I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. Why would a perfectly innocent little child be born into a house where she is put down, beaten, or worse? Not only don’t I know, but this particular problem has brought me to tell people that this is a difficult and painful world. I don’t like saying that. Okay, it’s true. But I still don’t like saying that. I want to believe that this is a good world. I believe people are good. And I believe God is good. So it seems very contradictory to say both God is good and the world is bad. It makes no sense. And I’m tired of being caught in this particular place. Yet it comes up so often in my work that it seems like I ought to have a better answer. That’s what I was thinking recently when this idea hit me. When I look at my own life, the bad that happened in it makes perfect sense to me now because I learned so much. What I learned, I wouldn’t trade for the world. I’m awfully sorry I was such a slow learner, but ’tis what it ’tis; no sense beating myself up over it. Besides, it’s really a good thing that it took me so long because that way I can tell clients, “What are you complaining about? Look how long it took me to learn what I learned.” I can be a wonderful example to them of being slow to “get it” and yet, here I am, having finally made sense of my life and my place in...

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...

5 Sets of Marriage Tips from Around The Web

Hey, don’t just take my word for it! Let’s see what my colleagues around the web are advising you on the topic “marriage tips.”     1. Marriage Max http://www.marriagemax.com/tip.asp Mort Fertel is not a marriage counselor — and he’s proud of it. He considers himself an alternative because he doesn’t care for the advice that counselors give to unhappy individuals that encourages the breakup of their marriage. I don’t blame him. His point is right on target. What’s more, his advice is sound. His tips change from time to time so you may not find the same one that I found. But the one I found asks the question: If you’re sick and tired of your spouse’s cheating, drinking, neglect, using drugs, or some other terrible habit, should you declare an ultimatum? Fertel says “No” because it won’t help. It will just cause you to feel a momentary feeling of power. What you have not done is give your spouse a reason to care about your ultimatum. What he (or she) will care about, however, is if you are connected to him. This presents its own problem because if he is disconnected from you, chances are you don’t have better tools than he does to be connected. You both found someone like yourselves –who is disconnected. Just to put in my own 2 cents, the above scenario is certainly possible. Others are also possible. It can be that in the beginning, one person is a connector and is attracted to another because she (let’s say) admires that ability in the other to be able to be alone. The...

Overcoming “Mental Illness”

Overcoming mental illness may be started best by no longer thinking of it as “mental illness.” Or “disease,” or a “sickness.” In the world of marriage and parenting, it’s important to think how you will deal with certain problems. If your spouse or child seems to “have” a mental illness, then please read on. So why do I say that you shouldn’t think of it as mental illness, disease, or sickness? There are three reasons why I’m putting it in these terms. The Concept is Made Up; They Only Describe; They Can’t Ascribe If we look back in history, people who heard voices were thought of as prophets at one time. In a different era, they were considered possessed by the devil. At present, if you compare the European diagnostic code with ours, you learn that the Europeans have fewer categories and ever since World War II are really, really hesitant to put labels on people. In the psychology world today, diagnostics are considered a “construct.” This means that we made up the idea because it seems useful to have it. We constructed it. Unfortunately, putting people into the “correct” diagnostic category is impossible because there is no objective measure of what the correct category would be. Yes, there are many rules as to what sorts of behaviors we are looking for but people don’t actually fall within the neat rules that the panel that composes the series of books on it have arbitrarily created. Unlike diagnosing a broken arm (which takes place with the help of an X-ray) or whether a person hit a D# (which takes place...
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