Archive for March, 2015

“Live Like You Were Dying”: A Message To Be Heard!

Sunday, March 29th, 2015

You probably have heard Tim McGraw singing these imperative words from his heart?  McGraw’s popular song reflects in part his loneliness of growing up without his father, Tug McGraw, major league pitcher.  Tim finally connected with Tug when he was an adult, only to have him die of cancer at age fifty-eight.   McGraw says one of the lessons learned by not having a father around was to be sure to be there for his three kids. He says, “being a father is the most important job you’ll ever have” and that he wants “to make sure I’m a lot better dad than I had.”

I can really relate to that since I had a Dad who was working most of the time and came down with Alzheimers at fifty-five. I never got to know that man.  What a shame – for both of us.

A few years ago I ran into someone I had known in a prior life while assisting the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Joe was close to eighty when I caught up with him.  He spoke of his wife contracting cancer and having only a year to live.  He asked her what she wanted to do with this final stage of her life.  “I want to live til I die” she said to him.  Thus they spent that final year traveling throughout theUnited Statesper her wishes.  Joe said that was a very special year, in which they had a lot of fun and closeness while staving off the final call.

Some people go through life just existing, coasting into the final stop.   Others live vigorously and joyfully without whining about aging infirmities.  Which type might you be?  How would you characterize those people with whom you spend much of your time?

My mother is ninety four years young.  She spends her days on the computer, reading, playing Bridge and other card games, and doing crossword puzzles.    In her latter years she traveled to Russia, Greece, Ireland, in addition to Vail, Park City, and Beaver Creek on ski vacations with us.  She helped found the local Alzheimer’s chapter inGreen Bayafter my father died from it.  She played tennis and golf till close to eighty. She lives with us now and maintains a positive spirit and a consistent smile What a role model!

Do you need to turn off snooze control, get off the couch, and put the pedal to the metal to participate more fully in life?  Are you just going through the motions of everyday boring routine?  What might invigorate your life with extra zest?  Is there something you are aching to do but not sure if you have the energy or money to do? May you not be in a position toward the end of your life when you might say, “I wish I had done X Y or Z. This is not a dress rehearsal. Carpe diem – “Live like you were dying!”


P.S. Trying to “practice what I preach”. Just returned from a wonderful week in Costa Rica celebrating my wife Sherry’s birthday!


Do You Bring “Sunday Morning Sunshine” To Your Mate?

Friday, March 20th, 2015

Music is important to me. I use it for inspiration and mood movement. Since I am not particularly a “morning person” (am I the only one? I think not!) I often listen to music to get me up and going on a positive energetic note.

One of the songs I use for early rising mood setting is “Sunday Morning Sunshine” by Harry Chapin. One of the lyric stanzas goes like this:

“You brought your Sunday Morning Sunshine

Here into my Monday morning rain.

You taught me happiness …

It keeps on coming back again.”

The lyric strikes a positive chord (catch the pun?) for a couple of reasons – “morning” and “sunshine”.

As admitted, I am groggy in the morning, slow to warm up to where I want to be – both for myself and for my wife. My wife, Sherry, on the other hand, is the total opposite. She truly is “Sunday morning sunshine” everyday. She wakes up happy, smiley, and eager to connect. I am grateful that she restrains these gifts of her “sunshine” until I can open up the curtains of my mind and mood to be receptive.

Respected Reader, you may ask, “where is he going with this”? My message is threefold:

  1. It is important to know yourself well, which would include knowing what your moods are at various times and what you may need to do to alter them, both for your own well being as well as what you bring forth to your partner and others who are special to you.
  2. Music can be a vehicle to help you get there. Find music that brings you fuller into life, that evokes a smile, a happy feeling.
  3. It is incumbent on you to attempt to bring your best self, your “sunshine” to your partner. Do you do it? When you go to your job I’ll bet you do a pretty good job of turning up your positive style to others, no matter how you feel. Otherwise you may well get fired. Does your significant other deserve less effort?

I am blessed to be married to a positive person who consistently brings her “sunshine” to me in many different forms. I attempt to reciprocate. I have a long ways to go, but I’m working on it every day!

Maybe tomorrow, I will surprise Sherry with these lyrics from “Good Morning, Sunshine”:

“Good morning sunshine,

I wish for your heart.

You’re a symbol to all that you meet,

‘Cause you keep on shining.

You’re extraordinary”

Oh wait, I can’t sing. Guess I’ll just read it to her – after my cup of coffee! I need to give it my best shot because this week she celebrates a significant birthday!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”      Socrates

Do You Have “Wiggle Room” In Your Relationship?

Friday, March 13th, 2015

Have you ever been in a situation where you told your spouse something and later s/he said that you did not?  Also, has your spouse said to you that s/he told you something and you swear s/he did not?  What couple has not experienced this communication mis-hit?

Much of the counseling that I do with couples involved listening to each of them telling me what was said or what happened between them.  Both proclaim that they were right and the other was wrong.  I don’t let this kind of “he said, she said” go on very long.   I tell them that if they cannot bring in the video tape, we won’t discuss it. Subjective revisionist history is a waste of time and money.

Each person has a view of reality – his or her perception of what has gone on between them.  Each then has ego investment in it and the couple has a power struggle that can only end up in a win-lose condition, or severe argument where both people get mad. Neither wants to lose.

In order to avoid such destructive communication battles, I encourage people to give each other “wiggle room.”  When a couple disagrees about what was said or done, each person can say: “I thought I said or did that, maybe I did not.”  The other gives “wiggle room” by saying: “maybe you did say or do that; maybe I missed it.”

When you give “wiggle room” you give the other person respect and thus lower the other’s defenses.  This communication adjustment eliminates someone being righteously victorious or demeaned into defeat.

Usually the “he said, she said” differences of opinion are about trivial things, sometimes more serious.  The most important element involved, however, is the RELATIONSHIP.  No difference of opinion or communication failure should get in the way of the relationship staying on track.  That is why a couple dare not let the different perceptual reality escalate into an argument.  It isn’t worth it!

For those couples that have trouble giving “wiggle room” and continue with ugly communication, I offer another suggestion.  If you know a topic to be discussed is volatile, then turn on the video or audio recorder, and proceed.  Knowing that the conversation will be recorded greatly influences the way each person talks to the other.  Even if you are in the middle of a “hot one,” one of you could have the presence of mind to turn it on.  That will change the tenor of the communication!

“Wiggle room” and/or a recorder can help when communication reflects different views of reality.  Try these suggestions and you won’t argue as much or as heatedly.  It doesn’t pay to “win” or “be right” at the expense of the other person’s dignity or of the relationship.



“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates


Are Any Of These Your Relationship Approach Style? Beware!

Sunday, March 8th, 2015

Relationship counseling is one of the elements of my profession that I enjoy immensely. Helping individuals to find a relationship that fits their persona and that has a high probability for future success is meaningful and rewarding. I have a process I use to help people do their “due diligence” to examine if a particular person is a “good fit” for future relationship success.

Recently I came across an interesting article that focused on “approach style” presented by Dr. Randi Gunther, a marriage counselor. I would like to share her perspective with you in hopes that you will recognize your maladaptive style or that of someone who approaches you for a relationship.

Relationship approach elements consist of body language, verbal phrases used, sound of voice, and behaviors. Dr. Gunther lists nine relationship approaches. She lists the “goal, partners who are likely to be attracted to them, and the likely outcome.” A thumb nail version follows, with my added comments.

  1. MISSIONARIES:  “I have come into your life to show you a better way to live. I only want the best for you and I know you will be happier if you’ll just learn to see things as I do.”  Goal is “to gain control and take responsibility for partners who want to be led . Partners attracted to them are those who have lost faith in their own direction. Outcome is negative. “Parent-Child” relationships don’t work.
  2. PERFORMERS: “I love being the center of attention because I’m usually the most interesting person around.”                              Goal is “keeping their audience/partner appreciative and attentive”. Partners attracted to them are those who are shy, nervous, and insecure about their ability to attract admirers.                                                                                                                     Outcome is negative. The act gets old and boring.
  3. CONQUERORS: “I love convincing new partners to let me take the lead. … I’m the boss”.  Goal is domination and staying in charge. Partners attracted to them are those comfortable submitting to control and power.  Outcome is negative. Conqueror ultimately tires of non contributing partner.
  4. RESCUERS: “I just can’t pass up an attractive partner whose life isn’t working. … I can solve their problems – a natural caretaker”. Goal is nurturing and effective problem-solving. Partners attracted to them are frequently in some kind of difficult situation. Outcome is negative. Rescuers do get tired of rescuing.
  5. ANTHROPOLOGISTS: “I believe you should never try to change anyone.” Goal is to accept people exactly as they are. Also means that the anthropologist does not need to change at all to accommodate the partner.                                                     Partners attracted to them are people very set in their ways and very attached to their behaviors and opinions. A rigidity exists. Outcome is negative. Too many gaps and not enough compromise.
  6. PESSIMISTS: “No matter how hard I try, I just can’t seem to find the right relationship. … I don’t have much hope I’ll ever get what I want.” Goal is to be with someone who is not turned off by their cynical attitude and negativity.   Partners attracted to them and “sunny, high-energy, “cheerleaders” who believe in their hearts that anyone can find happiness. They minimize problems and exaggerate solutions, never daunted in their quests to make things better.                                              Outcome is negative. Cheerleader gets worn out.
  7. HIT AND RUN PARTNERS: “I love the excitement of a new relationship. … Partners want more. I get tapped out and know it’s time to go.”  Partners attracted to them are people intrigued by those who embrace and chase fun.   Outcome is negative. Relationship ends when “time to move on” occurs.
  8. LOVE ADDICTS: “Love is like a drug to me and my current partner is my welcome pusher. When I’m high on connection, sexy experiences, and emotional closeness, I’m a great person.”                                                                                                                   Goal is to make sure the current partner is readily willing and able to meet whatever needs expressed.                                           Partners attracted to them are those who are drawn to soothing the addict’s pain and are transformed when they get their partner’s “high” on the love they provide. Outcome is negative. The demands begin to outweigh the availability. The gap widens.
  9. COMPULSIVE GIVERS: “I give everything I have up front. … I am too gullible. … I’m not going to stop being a nice person just because there are so many people who take advantage.”                                                                                                                         Goal is to never give up searching for a wonderful person who will take my generosity and love, and return it with even more. Partners attracted to them are often selfish users who take and not reciprocate. Outcome is negative. Disillusionment and martyrdom, and ultimately giver is dumped.

As a relationship therapist I have met up with all of these types, both the “approachers” and the responders. Perhaps, Respected Reader, you have seen a part of yourself in one of these types or been involved with one. “Caveat emptor”!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates


Alcohol In Marriage And Family Life

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

As part of my practice I do a lot of marriage counseling.  Besides the typical issues of communication, kids, finances and sex there is another area that is often a source of conflict that comes up – alcohol consumption.  Sometimes it is the most difficult of all the issues to solve. DENIAL being the main culprit.

We live in a social society where drinking alcohol is a part of the ingredient for “having a good time”. Unfortunately for far too many a “good time” involves excess consumption of alcohol.  This “over serving” leads to trouble – in marriages, within families, occasionally the work place, and sometimes with the Law.

For some individuals moderate use of alcohol is a stress reducer, social lubricant, and health benefiter. For others alcohol is a destroyer of marriages, family, and health.

In marriage counseling a wife may say, “He drinks too much which embarrasses me with my friends.  Also it adds to his unattractive beer belly which turns me off. Who wants to have sex with a horny inebriated fatso!” She pulls away and regularly sleeps in a separate bedroom.

Or a husband may say, “When she drinks she makes a fool of herself, saying stupid stuff, flirts inappropriately, and looks like a floozy. I don’t like or trust her when she drinks.” He is repulsed and gets very critical of her.

Kids are not a part of this writing (a whole other subject), but when I do talk with them they are embarrassed, frightened, and angry at a parent who over indulges, depending on their age and temperament. Such a great role model for kids!

Some people have a genetic, family history, lineage of alcohol predisposition.  For this and possibly other reasons, they cannot drink.  They are alcoholics often unable to stop and one or two drinks. Many a binger has said to me, once they acknowledged their drinking problem, “John, if I open a bottle of wine I need to finish it.”

Denial is the big “elephant in the room” defense mechanism that stops individuals from addressing their alcohol abuse.  With the help of other objective family members and/or friends I usually am able to cut through this defense and get the person to “own” the problem. That is the first step, admitting it.

However, there is more to be done. Many people who admit that they have an alcohol problem believe that they can moderate, or quit, their drinking on their own.  Very few can or do!

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) to the rescue.  People that commit to AA, with its meetings that provide insight and support, have a much better chance of ridding themselves of this destructive behavior. For some an extensive period in a rehabilitation facility is in order.

As for the spouse of the alcoholic, Alanon is available. These meeting offer both support, insight, and guidance as to how best a spouse can assist the loved one toward a life of sobriety.

Alcohol consumption is a main factor in destroying marriage. May this writing help those who need raised awareness of the negative effects of alcohol on their life and their marriage. Who wins, alcohol abuse or a loving marriage.  They are incompatible!

“The unexamined life is not worth living”   Socrates