“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that is in itself a choice.” – William James

Choosing not to choose is a choice. You are abdicating your preferences, leaving others to choose for you. They normally do not choose what you want, and then, you are disappointed. Our brain is tricky, and turns that disappointment into resentment of the other person, and that is a bad omen, especially for relationships. I see this frequently. One person thinks if they do not speak up, the other person will be happy, and that, in turn, will make them happy. Instead, they are disappointed, frustrated, and do not like whatever the other person has decided. The brain turns this into, “They are so selfish. They do not care about me at all.” This resentment then erupts into harsh fights, and eventually, the end of the relationship, if not treated.
Instead, speak up, start gently. Ask for your preference. Open that conversation. People who love you truly want to know. 

Find Out Rather Than Suppose

“It is wiser to find out than to suppose”—Mark Twain

This makes sense, yet we often presume things about others, especially our mates, causing many misunderstandings. This is a common thought distortion we practice called, Jumping To Conclusions. Its subsets are Mind Reading – presuming to know what the other person is really thinking, and Fortune Telling – presuming to know how this is going to turn out. These cause us to stop really listening to others. Instead, how about simply asking what the other person thinks and feels about a situation, a thought, a process?  You may be delightfully surprised by their answers, and learn quite a bit about the other person. This is called listening to learn, versus listening to retort or dismiss. It forges a closer relationship between you and the other person, and halts many would-be arguments because of our preconceived notions.

An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

How we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.

Source: An Age-By-Age Guide to Helping Kids Manage Emotions

“In other words, how we react to our kids’ emotions has an impact on the development of their emotional intelligence.” Absolutely correct. Here is a great article on helping your children to learn about their emotions and learn how to handle them appropriately.  Children who learn how to do this tend to be much more successful in life. This may be helpful for adults, as well. We teach our children to handle emotions through how we handle ours, so it behooves us to become more emotionally healthy.

Journeys Are The Midwives of Thought – Turning Inward

Thought of the day: “Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains.” – Alain de Botton
Where do you grab your time to turn inward? Do you take those moments to reflect, to work out a problem, to daydream? Do you take the quiet time and fill it with busy work? Do you read a book? Or, does being alone with yourself unnerve you? Part of having optimal brain function is to turn inward, even if it is for 5 minutes per day. Find that time to enjoy being alone.

Surround Yourself With Healthy Couples And Friends

Whenever we find ourselves falling into cruise control, we’re reminded that even the best relationships require regular maintenance.

Here is a great article from the Gottman Institute. I think this also applies to single people and friends. Surround yourselves with healthy people, not ones who are negative, not ones who drag you down. Be with friends and couples who elevate you, have the same goals, who encourage you to grow.

Source: Surround Yourself With Healthy Couples

The 7 Daily Essentials for Brain Health

The 7 Daily Essentials for Optimal Brain Health

Dr. Dan Siegel saw that the US Dept of Agriculture replaced the food pyramid with a plate to remind people of what a healthy diet looked like, and he thought, how about doing that for optimal brain function? So, he designed a plate with the 7 essentials daily essentials we need for optimal brain health and sense of well being. They are: Sleep, Physical Time, Focus Time, Connecting Time, Play Time, Down Time, and Time In. We need to have a bit of each of these in our lives each day.  Here are his brief definitions of each category. He also had a great suggestion. He suggested that you map out an average day and see what amounts of time you spend in each essential mental activity. Are you lacking in one area? Two? Is one area taking up way too much of your plate? How about mapping a day, where you felt fantastic? How did it look on this plate? During this and next week, I will explore each of these categories more, to give you more ideas of how to achieve optimal brain health.

Seven daily essential mental activities to optimize brain matter and create well-being

Focus Time When we closely focus on tasks in a goal-oriented way, we take on challenges that make deep connections in the brain.
Play Time When we allow ourselves to be spontaneous or creative, playfully enjoying novel experiences, we help make new connections in the brain.
Connecting Time When we connect with other people, ideally in person, and when we take time to appreciate our connection to the natural world around us, we activate and reinforce the brain’s relational circuitry.
Physical Time When we move our bodies, aerobically if medically possible, we strengthen the brain in many ways.
Time In When we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings and thoughts, we help to better integrate the brain.
Down Time When we are non-focused, without any specific goal, and let our mind wander or simply relax, we help the brain recharge.
Sleep Time When we give the brain the rest it needs, we consolidate learning and recover from the experiences of the day.

Great Resource

Here is a great resource for all sorts of help and groups in the area – Trident United Way’s 2-1-1 helpline. It is open 24 hours a day,seven days a week.


Why Does Couple’s Counseling Sometimes Fail?

I was recently posed a question, as to why couple’s therapy does not always work, even if one person, or both, may want it to. I thought it an excellent question. Here is my response to that person, and I thank them for the opportunity to discuss this.

Being happily married for over 25 years, and being a couple’s counselor, my hope is that I can help salvage every relationship that comes through my door. That being said, I also know that some relationships cannot be saved, and some should not, such as cases where there is characterological domestic violence, ongoing addictions that are not being addressed, numerous betrayals of trust in a relationship, or abdication of marital responsibilities.

Many people walk into my office, hoping I will tell them to stay or leave. I cannot and will not do that. It is not my marriage; it is theirs. They have to look deep into themselves, explore what their needs, hopes, and expectations are, and whether they are willing to change, and what if their partner does not. They make their own decisions.  If there is danger to the client, such as in domestic violence, then I do have a duty to warn them that if they stay, their life may be in jeopardy, and they need a safety plan.

So why does couple’s therapy sometimes fail?

Couple’s therapy requires a suspension of the belief, “I’m right, you are not.” It requires people to stop blaming and criticizing, and to learn new tools to have a conversation. It requires bringing up the past hurts and wrongs, so they can be addressed, rectified, and put to rest. It requires people to really listen to learn, and to discuss their feelings, to tune in to each other. Unfortunately, a person may not want to expose their vulnerabilities or do the hard work, and therapy will not work.

Another answer is that trust has been broken and cannot be repaired. As Gottman points out, “A committed relationship is a contract of mutual trust, respect, nurturance, and protection.” Brain research into Affective Neurology (Panksepp, Maté), and research into Attachment Theory (Johnson, Siegel) certainly support this, as well.

What breaks trust? Research from John Gottman, and experience along the way say the following: Sexual Affairs; Non Sexual Affairs; Conditional Commitment; Lying; Absenteeism or Coldness – one partner not being there, emotionally, for the other; Disrespect; Unfairness; Selfishness; Breaking Promises; and forming a coalition with a parent against the other partner, and always siding with the parent.

Here is the more gradual death of a relationship, and why couple’s counseling does not work. It is too late.  The commitment died.  It may have worked, if done years earlier, but it wasn’t. These are the saddest cases. Usually, a problem has been occurring for, on average, 7 years, before a couple walks into my office.  Loneliness in a relationship is a major factor. One, or both partners, feels they are not important to the other person, not a priority in that person’s world, not respected and not appreciated. This causes the friendship to break down in a marriage and people stop being able to turn to each other. It erodes the trust in the relationship, and the commitment. Arguing increases as bids for affection, attention, and reassurance are routinely missed or ignored. The person asking for couple’s counseling is ignored, or it is started, but never goes beyond a few sessions. Problems do not get solved, as a negative view of each other is now ruling the relationship. People will not be responsive to the other’s needs if they feel that the person does not have their best interests at heart. They do not see their partner as being there for them.  Fun goes flying out of the window. The person feels abandoned and alone. They grow tired of the loneliness, living parallel lives, and the commitment to the relationship dies. This is when people leave.

I do referrals for legal and financial advice, frequently, if the clients request it. I try to give 3 names, and encourage them to get referrals from friends, and to discuss their situation with the legal or financial professional. That way, they receive accurate information as to what they can and cannot do. Some clients have met with attorneys and have been quickly dissuaded from their notions, and decided it would be better to work things out. Others have decided to proceed. It is not my decision. That decision belongs with the individual.

Even Pets Are Victimized By Domestic Violence

Puppy Abandoned in Airport Bathroom with Devastating Note Because There Was ‘No Other Option’

Here is a sad story with a happy ending. A puppy, abandoned in a bathroom because the owner could not afford to take him with her, as she was fleeing an abusive situation, finds a good Samaritan and a forever home. This puppy is lucky. Many others are not. They either end up severely injured, or killed, or in a shelter, where they often are not adoptable, due to their fear responses.

Venting your anger pushes people away. Blaming others solves nothing. Reach inward to your primary, vulnerable emotions. They are your path to what you crave and need, which is true intimacy and bonding.

If you are the person committing acts of emotional and/or physical violence towards your family, please seek help right away. It is costing you everything you value, to include your freedoms.

To the victims, the abuser does not get better without professional intervention, and it becomes increasingly worse over time, to the point of death for some women. The abuse is not your fault, and there is nothing you can do to make it not happen. What you can do is get help and keep yourself and your children and pets safe.