Archive for the ‘Relationship Dynamics’ Category

Does my Ex Still Love Me?

Lets catch up

Mike opened up another card.  His mother had died recently and he was still receiving sympathy cards from friends, family and acquaintances. This card was from a woman he had not seen in over 25 years – an old flame from his university years. He had not thought of her in years.  He started reminiscing about those times and the fun they had together.  He tried to remember what had gone wrong between them and why he had married his current wife instead of her. He looked back down at the card.  She’d included her phone number and an invitation to ‘catch up’ with each other.  Should he call?

The divorce rate for first marriages is close to 50% and even higher for second and third marriages. The divorce rate for marriages of old flames who marry after 15, 20 and 30+ years is only 3-4%.  According to Nancy Kalish, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at California State University who is studying former lovers who reunite, 60% of reunions last.

We are drawn to the familiar.  We don’t have to get to know a former lover, an old flame knows us and we know them.  We already know their history and who they are.  We always remember the younger person we fell in love with.  In a new relationship we will never know the younger person inside the way we know a former lover.

We are living much longer now so it’s possible to have a marriage of 20-25 years, get divorced and have another marriage of 20-25 years.  Many people are looking up an old love at reunions and on the Internet.  Modern technology makes it so easy today.

Often though, when we remember an old love, we remember the part of the relationship that was good. This is especially true if we are unhappily married, or alone and longing for a love and companionship. So it’s important to remember why that relationship broke up – what went wrong. If neither of you has changed, then you might recreate the problems that were there before and be hurt again.

Dr. Kalish warns that rekindled relationship are intense. Before you do your search on Facebook or go to a reunion think it through.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Does your Relationship Suffer from these 3 Common Errors in Communication?


Error 1. Interrupting.

Couples who interrupt each other a lot have difficulty understanding each other and solving problems.  Often they end up arguing about who is right and who is wrong.  The intent of the message to each other gets lost. Being right about the facts or circumstances may not do any good.  [If you’re in an accident on the highway and you are killed, it does you no good to be right.]

Solution: Listen more, only asking for clarification if needed.  Look at the issue from your partner’s perspective.

Good communication happens when each listens to the other without correcting them and figures out what their partner is thinking, feeling, and doing/not doing, about what they are talking about.  It really means putting yourself in your partner’s place and looking at the issue through their eyes. Your partner will appreciate that you’ve heard their point of view.

Error 2. Jumping to solutions.

Normally at work, people figure out what’s at the heart of the problem before they try and fix it.  They don’t want to waste time, resources and money. But in relationships, one or both partners usually jump to solutions before they know what the real problem is. Often your partner does not want a solution, he or she wants to bounce something off you or just connect with you.  Other times they want to be understood and known by you on a deeper level.

Solution: Listen intently and dig deeper into what your partner is bringing to your attention.

Be patient, slowing down may help resolve an issue faster. Figure out what is at the heart of the issue before you suggest solutions.

Error 3. Analyzing each other.

Couples often analyze their partner’s feelings, opinions and behaviors.  For instance, “You’re just insecure.” ” You’re just like your father.” or ” You’re just trying to get out of doing your part.”  The analysis may be right, but saying so can really hurt the relationship.

Solution: Stick to your partner’s behaviors that bother you and ask for change.

Keep your analysis to yourself.    If there is good will in the relationship you will probably get the change you want.  If you don’t get it, maintain good will yourself and figure out ways that you can change.  Change in one partner impacts upon the other, who often responds to change with change. When you make changes you don’t have to wait for your partner to make them.

Start right now improving your communication.  Don’t wait for your partner.  Positive efforts are likely to pay off.  You will be happier because you feel good about yourself.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 3: Why Kids Fight.

triangulation 3

Children fight for many reasons.  One of the major reasons they fight is to engage parent(s).

Years ago I can remember being busy in the kitchen.  My two boys, around ages 3 and 5, were playing in the living room.  Then they started fighting. Without saying a word, I stopped what I was doing and went into the bathroom.  Within seconds, they had joined forces and were banging on the bathroom door trying to get me to come out.

Children like to have their parents involved with them. Before children start to misbehave or fight with each other, they usually ask parents to play with them, read to them, or just go for a walk or bike ride. Often they offer to help.  Lots of time children will play well together waiting for the parents to  finish their work. If none of these positive ways to get attention work, they will find negative ways.  Mostly, I don’t think children do it consciously.  I believe, for them, any kind of involvement is better than no involvement.  They need the adult contact.

Often parents are legitimately busy since there is so much to do.  Other times, parents just don’t want to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they’ve already spent a good chunk of time with the children.  Maybe they are tired, sick or distracted with other things. If children keep getting put off, then they start to do things that will bug the parents until they get involved.

A parent will usually get involved in their children’s fighting by “rescuing” the more vulnerable child. Usually, it’s the youngest, but not always.  Some younger children are more vibrant and determined than their older siblings.  Some older siblings are passive.  Rescuing one sibling from the other can create a dynamic of VICTIM-BULLY-ARBITRATOR.  The weaker child learns he or she can get the parent’s attention  by being a victim. The stronger child learns that he or she  can get the parent’s attention by being a bully.  The parent feels needed as the rescuer/arbitrator. Children mistakenly think they have to have parents to settle disputes and parents, lacking faith in their children,  believe they are not able to get along.

Most of the time weaker children do need to be protected from stronger siblings.  HOW parents do that is a key to maintaining good relationships between the siblings and between the parent and each child.

When parents are aware of the dynamics of triangulation they have more options in handling it. In any case, without judging treat both children the same. 

Choose to be a part of the triangle:

  • Remove from both children what they are fighting over, e.g. a game, activity or toy.
  • Help the children negotiate and brainstorm with each other. Make sure each child has a turn to speak.
  • Ignore the fighting and suggest that you all do an activity together – work or play.

Decline to be a part of the triangle:

  • Send both children to their rooms or to different parts of the home for a specified time.
  • Send both children outside. Children’s play usually improves when they are sent outside.
  • Express your faith in your children that they can work things out for themselves.
  • Remove yourself from the situation.

Of course, all of the above suggestions depend on the situation.  Some will work in some situations, but not in all.  Parents need to consider the circumstances and choose the best option.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 2: That’s between the Two of You

triangulation 2

Shawna, a 30 year old woman and her father are enjoying dinner in a restaurant. Father’s cell phone rings and he answers it. It’s his wife. She angrily demands to know when he will be home. He gets flustered. He hands the cell phone to his daughter, saying he can’t hear his wife. Shawna gets exasperated with her mother for once again putting pressure on her father. Most of her life, Shawna has tried to protect her father from her mother’s domination. She grabs the phone, yells at her mother to leave her father alone and hangs up. Her father gets upset because he knows his wife will be furious with him when he gets home. He can no longer enjoy his time with his daughter. His daughter can no longer enjoy her time with her father.  The rest of their conversation is spent talking about Dad’s relationship with Mom. They focus so much on Mom, it’s like she’s there with them.

What happened is triangulation.

In this scenario there is ongoing tension between the mother and father.  Both father and mother triangulate the daughter – mother by phoning and interrupting the father-daughter time, and  father by giving his daughter the cell phone and telling her he can’t understand the mother. The daughter allows herself to be triangulated by taking the phone and getting angry at the mother.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Possibility 1: Mother does an activity by herself or with someone else.  She does not call.

Possibility 2: Father turns off his cell phone, or lets it go to voice mail.

Possibility 3: Father answers the call and deals with it himself, does not involve their daughter.

Possibility 4:  Daughter does not accept the cell phone when father holds it out to her.  She refuses to be hooked in and reassures her father that he can handle it. She says, “This is between you and Mom.  I’m going to stay out of it. You can handle it.” Father deals with the call. Father and daughter continue their time together, not talking about mother.

Mother and Father will reorganize their relationship differently if they stop triangulating – or are unable to triangulate  their daughter.  That would be healthy for all concerned.

Be aware of triangulation in your relationships.   Once aware, you can choose to be involved or you can respectfully decline.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Triangulation Part 1: Understanding Family Dynamics

2 (640x426)

Gladys hear the familiar voices.  They were getting louder and Louder.  This was nothing new. It happened all the time.  “I wonder what it is about this time”, she asked herself.  She wandered towards the sounds making sure she wasn’t making any noise. Then she heard another familiar voice – her brother’s. As usual he was coming to his mother defense.  He’d been doing this for as long as she could remember.  She watched as they all argued.  There was no point in her doing anything because they never listened to her. She slipped away back to her room.  They didn’t even notice she had been there.

What happened is triangulation.

When there is tension between two family members, a third family member is often drawn into the issue. When one child gets involved, the other children often feel “off the hook”, and they remain passive or just ignore their parents.  The function of triangulation is to diffuse the tension between the two who are stressed with each other.  The downside is that the dynamics between family members can become unhealthy for all members of a family.

In healthy families parents avoid triangulating the children when they are stressed with each other.  They tell their child that the issue is between them, and they will take care of it. Parents would remove themselves from the children’s earshot, or they would tell the children to go to their rooms or go outside and stay out of it. They would work it out themselves if possible. By the parents keeping their differences between themselves, the family dynamic remains healthy. The parents are a unit and the children know it.

Sometimes triangulation happens between parent and child and the other parent is drawn in.


Arlie and her son were arguing about his playing rugby.  She didn’t want him to play because she was afraid he’d get injured.  Stan intervened on behalf of his son and all three argued. Mom felt unsupported and angry at dad. The issue shifted from playing rugby to who was going to have their way.

A better approach (avoiding triangulation):

Stan lets his wife and son have their conversation. Later, when they are alone, Stan discusses the issue with his wife. The issue remains about playing rugby and mom’s concerns about her son getting injured. It does not become about the dynamics of their relationship with each other.

When is it NOT triangulation?

Family members can have a discussion about an issue without triangulation if the discussion remains about the topic and does not become about the dynamics between them, such as who is right/who is wrong or who is allied with whom.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 7: Instant Replay


When people have a negative interaction with each other, one or the other can ask for a replay of the interaction, during which they each alter their exchange in a positive way.


  • Let’s start over.
  • Let’s re-do this.
  • Let’s try this again.

Yesterday I saw a couple for the first time.  They are a feisty couple, very engaged with each other, but at this point in their relationship, not in a good way. In the session, I was able to get them to take responsibility for what each was doing that was not working for them.  I asked each to take responsibility for what they were doing in their interaction and work to change themselves rather than trying to change the other.  We discussed specific ways they could change. Both are strong-willed yet still open to change.  They were desperate for change and willing to try something different.

At the end of the session, while I was writing out the receipt, the couple had a small interaction that was their usual way of reacting to each other.  Each was assuming the negative about the other. They realized what they had just done and were smiling at catching themselves doing it. [This type of smile is called the recognition reflex]. Neither knew what to do next.

So I said to them, “Let’s back up and do this interaction again – only differently.”

The original interaction:

Joe was smiling because he felt good about how the session went.  He was looking at Amanda wondering how she was feeling about the session, but he did not say anything.  He was apprehensive that her reaction would be negative.

Amanda saw the look on Joe’s face and said to him, “When you crinkled your face up like that it makes me feel insecure about how the session went.”

The new interaction:

I said to Joe – Smile again at Amanda, and tell her how you were feeling about the session.

Smiling, Joe said to Amanda, “I feel good about how the session went.”

With a warm smile, Amanda readily responded, “So do I.”

Both smiled even more.  The positive emotional connection between them was clearly evident.

I thought,   “This couple is fun to work with.”

Couples, and others, can learn to shift their interactions from negative to positive by backing up, redoing them differently.  They just need to learn what to say that would work.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 6: Turn your questions into statements.

question mark

People often ask questions when they are really making statements.

Sometimes this is intentional, but mostly people don’t even realize they are communicating in this way. At face value a question is a request for information or clarification. A statement disguised as a question is about the dynamics between the sender and the receiver.


  • a) Do you feel like seeing a movie tonight?

May actually mean:

I want to see a movie tonight, and I want someone to go with me.


I want to do something, but I’m reluctant to ask you directly because you might reject me.

  • b) Are you leaving now?

May actually mean:

I don’t want you to leave now, but I am shy about saying so.

  • c) Don’t you have to be somewhere at 8:00?

May actually mean:

I want you to leave now so I can get back to what I was doing.

  • d) Did you take out the garbage?

May actually mean:

I want you to take out the garbage.

  • e) Are you coming to bed soon?

May actually mean:

I’m feeling randy, and I’m hoping I can entice you into making love.

  • f) Have you done your homework?

May actually mean:

If you have not done your homework, you’re going to be in trouble, because I need you to do well in school.

  • g) What are you doing?

Usually means:

I don’t like what you’re doing!

But depending on the tone, it could mean:

I really like what you are doing!

Usually the person being asked this kind of question takes it at face value, as a request for information, and answers accordingly.  This may develop into an argument that neither want to have on a topic that is not the real issue.

If a husband asks his wife “Do you have to go out tonight?” she may explain that she has made a commitment and needs to keep it. “I promised Janie I’d have coffee with her.” or “ I need to get groceries.” The conversation may escalate into an argument about whether or not she really has to go or that she is going out too much. Perhaps the husband feels neglected and perhaps she feels he’s trying to control her.

What the husband is may be saying is “We’ve both been really busy lately, and I would like to spend some time with you.”  If he had made this statement, his wife would know what is really going on with him and be able to respond to the real issue.  She could generate options. She could set up a time to be together soon.  She could come home early.  She could put off what she was going to do to another time.  Depending on the situation, she could invite him to go with her.  Now the couple is communicating clearly with each other.  Each feels cared about rather than frustrated.


All too often the person asking the questions already knows the answer.

  • a)   Did you eat a cookie? (In a harsh tone to a child with cookie crumbs on her face.)

The child, sensing the parent is angry, denies it. This sets the child up to lie. Now the issue shifts from cookie eating to lying – harmful to the relationship.

It is better to make a statement:  I see cookie crumbs on your face.  This sets children up to tell the truth and maintain good relations between adult and child.


  • b)   Were you in my workshop? (In an accusing tone knowing spouse had rearranged things.)

A question asked this way means: The workshop is my domain, and I do not want you to do anything to it.

Better to make a clear statement: You cleaned up my workshop.  I appreciate the intent, but I want you to leave that to me.  I like to organize it the way that I want.


Usually a question is just a question – a request for information. But many questions are really disguised statements with the sender’s real message hidden within them. When that happens people can feel interrogated, manipulated, attacked or put on the spot. When questions are disguised statements a person can feel set up and get defensive. These kinds of questions create resentment which leads to lots of arguments and poor communication. After awhile others become wary of any questions. Before long relationships deteriorate.

By making statements instead of asking questions communication remains clear. The real issues are more likely to get addressed in a friendly, respectful and even caring manner.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 5: Talk with Me not at Me

talk at me

Dialogues, in which the conversation flows back and forth, create connection between people.

As I was packing up my gear from my tennis lesson today the fellow who had next session came into the court. We’d met before. To be friendly and make a bid for connection, I said to him, “It’s sure great weather for tennis.” He started talking at me about how he had solved the weather question. He kept going on and on about why people should not even bother commenting about the weather. I continued to put my tennis racquet away, thinking to myself – I was just being friendly. I grabbed my jacket and towel, found a moment when he took a breath, then remarked, “That’s how people make bids for connection” (I couldn’t resist even though I didn’t think he would get it.)  He continued to go on mentioning that the French had figured it out. By this time, I no longer knew what he was talking about, nor did I care, because I had tuned him out. It was not the first time that he greeted me with a monologue on a topic that I did not relate to. I thanked my tennis instructor, waved good-bye and left. I thought to myself, I have no interest in connecting to him if he is going to talk AT me.

Earlier, during my tennis lesson, my instructor and I had had a very engaging talk about the rivalry between, Federer and Nadal, the top two men in tennis. Federer had just beaten Nadal in Madrid, and the French Open was just about to start. We were both interested in the topic and what each other thought about it. The conversation went back and forth as we responded to each other and expressed our thoughts. It was an engaging conversation. What a different experience!

Talking AT is a monologue. It is a one-way conversation, even if there is an exchange with others.

When people are talking AT you they are telling you about their opinions, their points of view, what they think you should do or not do, their knowledge and expertise. They want you to hear and believe them. They want to influence you to do, or not do, what they want. They do not want your input – they only want you to ask them about what they think.

How can you tell if someone is talking AT you?

You tend to experience boredom, annoyance or restlessness. You tend to tune out the talker and think your own thoughts about what’s going on. You feel separate and detached from the talker. You easily get distracted. You might want to find an excuse to exit. You might also feel disrespected and put down.

Talking WITH is a dialogue. It is a shared conversational exchange about a topic or situation.

When people are talking WITH you they are sharing a conversation with you. They are open to your response(s) and want your input. They are engaged with you, and the conversation is mutually satisfactory or relevant. This holds true even if the dialogue is difficult.

How do you tell if someone is talking WITH you?

You experience involvement with the other person. You feel a connection to them. You feel paid attention to. You are usually interested in and focused on the topic or situation. You feel your input is wanted and welcomed. You feel respected and valued no matter what age you are.

Do you talk AT people or WITH them?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 4: Make the Fuzzy Clear.


Too often in conversations and interactions people assume they know what the other person is talking about or doing. Without checking out their assumptions they act as if what they assume is true or fact. Sometimes their assumptions are indeed true and communication is clear. However, when their assumptions are incorrect communication tends to go sideways.

In relationships we know our partners well. Usually we know what they think, feel, value, expect, get upset and excited about. Sometimes though, knowing each other too well creates blind spots. Clarifying can help navigate the blind spots.


Pronouns often make communication fuzzy: I, mine, he, she, his, hers, they, them, you, yours, we, us, one, it, this, that, these, those, other(s), etc.

Example A:

Bob’s mother and her sister are coming for dinner.

  • Bob: My mom said my aunt is a little unsure that you want her to come. She wants you to give her a call.
  • Ann: (thinking the ‘her’ referred to is Bob’s aunt) I don’t feel comfortable calling her.
  • Bob: (for Bob the ‘her’ is his mother) What’s the big deal? Give her a call.
  • Ann: (feels pressured and wants to avoid) It’s your family. You do it. I bought the groceries, and I’m making the dinner. You haven’t done much at all.

THE FIGHT IS ON. Now the issue shifts away from making a phone call.

Make the fuzzy clear:

  • Bob: My mom said my aunt is a little unsure that you want her to come.  She wants you to give her a call.
  • Ann: Who, your mom or your aunt?

Example B:

Greg in conversation with a friend.

  • Greg to a friend: Yesterday I really impressed my boss with what I did. You know, when you get an opportunity to make more of an impact you should go for it.

[When people say “you” they could be referring to you,themselves, or everyone one in general.]

Make the fuzzy clear:

  • Friend to Greg: When you say “you” do you mean yourself, everyone or me?

Knowing specifically who or what is involved helps you make decisions that work out better for you:

Example C:

  • Siggie to Jane: We’re going to Joan’s for a dinner. Do you want to come?

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Jane to Siggie: (Thinking – It depends on who is going and whether she will have to do anything or not.) Who is “we”?   Is it potluck or not?

Example D:

  • Joe to John: I’m working late every night next week. The week after I’m going out of town for 3 days. It gets more and more difficult.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • John to Joe: (What is the “it'”? Working a lot? Traveling? Keeping up? Getting enough time with family?) What is it that is gets more difficult for you?”

Fewer misunderstandings lead to easier relationships.


Words that qualify can have different meaning for different people.

Sometimes, early/late, in a little while, high/low, hard/soft, big/small, strong/weak, fast/slow, positive/negative, mostly/slightly, more/less, helpful/not helpful, harmful, safe/dangerous etc.

When people communicate they often have different ideas in mind. It is often helpful to inquire more about what someone is thinking or intending before you respond. What is difficult for one person may seem easy to another. What is slightly stressful for one person may be really stressful for another.

Example E:

  • Lindsay to Sam:  I’m going to be late tomorrow night.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Sam to Lindsay: When you say you will be late, how late is late?

Example F: 

  • Kim to Julie: I want to earn more money.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Julie to Kim: How much more do you have in mind?

Example G:

  • Fred to Mike: Stop doing that, it’s harmful.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Mike to Fred: How do you see it as harmful’? (Mike thinks he knows, but perhaps it is not what he expects.)

The key here is the word YOU. The receiver may or may not see it as harmful, but to the sender it is harmful. Rather than argue about whether or not it is harmful, inquire how the sender views it, or experiences it as harmful.


People often use the same words or expressions but have different meanings for them. Often the meanings are only slightly different, but sometimes they are vastly different.

Take the word ‘drunk’ for instance. We all have a common meaning for ‘drunk’. Yet a person who had a parent who was a mean drunk when they were growing up has a different additional meaning for ‘drunk’ than a person who had a parent who occasionally got drunk and was funny when they did.

Example H (Words):

  • My Tennis Instructor: “I no longer trust Federer.” (Federer is a top tennis player)

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Me: In what way don’t you trust him? (I was inquiring about what he meant by the word ‘trust’.)

Example I (Phrases):

‘Losing it’ refers to a range of behaviours varying from almost nothing to extreme violence. For some people ‘losing it’ means saying something or doing something when usually they say or do nothing. Some people use this expression when they just mean that they lost their focus. For others ‘losing it’ means they became physical, either with only themselves (punched a hole in the wall), or with someone else (punched someone else). ‘Losing it’ could also mean becoming emotional. For some people this could mean showing a few tears while for others it means they became hysterical.

  • Jim to Rick: Boy, I lost it with my manager yesterday.

Make the Fuzzy Clear:

  • Rick to Jim: When you say you ‘lost it’ what exactly did you say and do?

Inquiring early in a conversation keeps communication clear. Clarifying leads to clearer understanding, effective communication, and less reactivity. Fewer misunderstandings lead to easier relationships.

I encourage all of you to assume less and clarify more.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Communication Skill 3: How to Handle Mixed Messages

Mixed messages

Mixed messages cause lots of communication problems in intimate relationships and in relationships in general.

A mixed message (or double message) is communication that sends conflicting information, verbally and/or non-verbally.

First of all, you need to know when you are receiving a mixed message. The way you know is by your feelings (confused) and your thoughts (puzzled). These feelings and thoughts are your cues to guide what you say and do in response.

When messages do not match they are incongruent and come in various forms:

  • 1. What a person says conflicts with what they said previously.
  • 2. What a person does conflicts with what they did previously.
  • 3. What a person says conflicts with what they do.
  • 4. What a person says conflicts with their body language.

How to respond

When you receive a mixed message, without expectation or demand for change, send both messages back to the sender. Share your confusion of thoughts and feelings. Report what was said, what was observed and describe behaviors. When you communicate in this way, the sender is more likely to respond in a positive, reasonable way. If you respond in an attacking, blaming, contemptuous or sarcastic manner, the sender is most likely to be hurt, angry and defensive.

You cannot control how the sender receives your feedback; you can only control how you deliver it.



  • 1. I’m puzzled.  Last week you said you think mothers should stay home with their babies (words), and now you’re saying mothers should work outside the home to be good role models for their children (words). I’m wondering which you believe or if you believe both.
  • 2. I’m having trouble figuring this out. You just told me you love me very much (words), and now you’re saying you need some space from me (words).


  • 1. I don’t get it. You complain about me not helping (words), yet you re-do everything I do (behaviors).
  • 2. I’m not sure what to do. You say you want me to be affectionate (words), yet when I touch you, you push me away (behaviors).
  • 3. I’m confused. You said you would help me (words), but now you’re going to the store.
  • 4. I’m puzzled. You said you wanted to spend more time with your kids (words), but when they are here, you spend a lot of time on your phone (behaviors).


  • 1.  You say you’re fine (words), yet you look sad (body language).
  • 2. I’m not sure what to believe. You said you like my plans for Saturday night (words), yet the tone of your voice has an angry edge to it (body language).
  • 3. You say you’re listening to me (words), but you have not looked at me (body language), so I’m not sure.

You cannot stop or prevent others from sending you mixed messages. What you can do is change how you respond to them. By telling the other person about your confusion, you are letting them know the impact of their behavior on you. This has the potential to improve connection.

When the other knows they are sending mixed messages, they can clarify. It could be that they are not really conflicted and don’t realize they are sounding or acting like they are.

If the sender is truly conflicted, however, your feedback brings their incongruence to their attention. It’s like holding a mirror up to them so that they can more clearly see themselves. Now, if they want, they can address it. This too, has the potential to improve connection.

Experiment with this skill and see how communication and connection shifts.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea


Can I Please have Another Helping of Self-Esteem? Understanding Self-Estseem and How it Develops

self-esteem mirroe


People tend to think of self-esteem almost as if it is a product you can buy. Perhaps it is because of all the advertising which shows people smiling and feeling good when they use the products. Or, they think of it as a condition, like needing more iron in their diet or getting more rest.

Self-esteem is the result or outcome of one’s relationship with one’s self.  It is a by-product of how a person treats him or herself.


How do people develop a relationship with self?

Children are not born having a relationship with self.  It starts with their relationship with others.  Parents do things to them and with them.  Babies and toddlers respond and react to the ways in which they are handled and cared for.  Over time they develop a relationship with self from how they are treated by others. The quality of those interactions is a major factor in determining the quality of relationship a child develops with himself.

Children are not born loving themselves.  They learn they are loveable (or not) by the experiences of being loved by those that look after them.  At first, love comes externally. If they feel loveable, over time children internalize the love they experience and in this way they learn to love themselves.

 How do children determine whether they are loved and valued or not?


Billy knew he was loved.  As a baby, his mother’s eyes lit-up when she saw him.  She talked to him a lot.  She was always affectionate with him and took very good care of him.

His father smiled at him frequently.  He spent time with him: playing roughhousing, sports and games.  He taught him many things about the world and the way it worked.  If Billy had any questions or problems, he knew he could always go to either parent. They stood up for him whenever they thought he needed support and gave him constant guidance. His parents did not have much money, yet they created a safe fun environment.

Billy felt loved, valued, understood, protected, and accepted.  He felt cherished, just because he existed. He felt he belonged in his family. He felt good about himself, confident in himself and his abilities.  To him, the world was an amazing place.

Scenario 2

Sammy was not sure if he was loved or not.  He had a sad mother. She took care of him, but she rarely smiled at him. She often did not look at him directly as she cared for him.  She was impatient, yelling a lot. She was seldom affectionate, and she seemed to resent the time she spent with him.  She read a lot.  Sometimes she was okay, even telling him she loved him. But Sammy did not feel loved.

Dad was away half the time, and when he was home he was tired and distracted.  He did not have time or energy for Sammy.  When he heard his parents arguing, it was always about him.  He felt like it was his fault, that he was bad, but he wasn’t sure how. The family had money, and it seemed to Sammy that money is what mattered, not him.

Sammy did not feel loved or valued. He felt he was a burden on his mother and father.  He tried to be as good as he could to please his parents, but it rarely worked.  He didn’t really feel he belonged to this family, more like he was visiting and it would soon end.  He did not feel good about himself.   He was unsure of how to be and how to act.  The world was a scary place that he had to figure out on his own.

Each child comes to conclusions about themselves from their experiences of interactions with parents and others in their childhood. These conclusions may be accurate or inaccurate. Children do not even realize they come to conclusions; they are just living their lives. Some adults report specific memories of decisions they deliberately made as a young child. But most of the time, these conclusions are made without realizing it, get buried in the subconscious and operate out of awareness.

When a child has felt loved, valued and connected to the significant people in his life, he is more likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have high self- esteem. Conversely, when a child experiences lack of love and belonging, he is less likely to love and value himself, that is, he is more likely to have low self-esteem.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Strategies on positively influencing others’ tardiness by changing your own behaviour .


look at watch

When getting along with others, there are times when things do not go well.  You address the person(s) involved with the hope and expectation of coming to a mutually satisfying resolution.  Lots of time this works.   An example is choosing a designated driver when drinking and driving is involved.

However, sometimes it does not work, or works for a while and then reverts back.  When the situation is ongoing, a different approach is needed.  Developing strategies is one way to address the situation.

Strategy Development:

The goal of the strategy is to change the relationship in a way that enhances the relationship (win-win).

The strategy is to provide a reasonable consequence that motivates positive change.

The person(s) developing the strategy choose behaviours that are congruent with who she or he is.

Consistency is imperative to success.  You need to be consistent (in this case leave after 30 minutes) in carrying out the strategy to avoid giving mixed messages to the other person.

NOTE:  How the strategy is carried out is critical to its effectiveness.  The delivery and the intent needs to be in a warmly matter-of-fact attitude with the genuine goal of enhancing the relationship(s). If it is carried out with anger or a negative “I’ll show you.” attitude, the consequence intended turns into punishment. This will backfire and likely destroy relationships.

Developing a strategy for lateness:

Occasional lateness is not a problem.  Life is life and sometimes tardiness cannot be helped or people just mess up.  The problem occurs when someone is consistently late and will not respond positively to complaints about it.  Usually they dismiss or discount the complaints with accusations of over-reacting and over sensitivity.

Cynthia’s friend Rhonda is chronically late.  Cynthia decides how long she is willing to wait past the agreed upon time without getting resentful. She decides on 30 minutes.  For example, if they agree to meet at 6:30 pm, Cynthia is willing to wait until 7:00 pm without being resentful.  After that, if Rhonda has still not come, she is going to carry out her Plan B for the evening.

The next time Cynthia and Rhonda agree to meet up, Cynthia tells her in a friendly manor that she is OK with waiting up to 30 minutes longer than the time they agree on.  If Rhonda arrives within that time frame Cynthia expresses her appreciation.  If Rhonda is longer than 30 minutes, Cynthia leaves and carries out her plans on her own.  Cynthia is to carry on her relationship with Rhonda as usual.  She is not to complain or explain to Rhonda.  If Rhonda asks her what happened, Cynthia is to say in a friendly manner she waited the 30 minutes,and then left because she was not sure Rhonda would come.  If Rhonda is angry, Cynthia is not to get caught up in her anger.  Cynthia can again express that their relationship is important to her.  Cynthia has let Rhonda know she will act on her word.  Cynthia no longer feels powerless; she is no longer resentful.

How Rhonda responds or reacts lets Cynthia know if Rhonda values their relationship as much as she does.  If Rhonda values their relationship and wants to be sure she meets up with Cynthia, she will be there within the 30-minute window, maybe even on time.  If Rhonda continues to be too late, Cynthia will realize that Rhonda does not value their relationship.  She may choose not to be friends any more.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea




How Pornography can Damage Your Sex Life – or Not.

I just recently (June 2010) attended the AAGT (Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy) conference in Philadelphia.  I attended an interesting and informative workshop, titled: Sex & Brain and Gestalt Therapy, given by Dr. Marta Helliesen, a sex therapist [and former neuroscientist] in New York.

I know that pornography is creating problems for both men and women in relationships in different ways.  I know that some people who look at pornography develop difficulty relating to a partner, but I did not know what created the problem.  Because I could not explain why it happened, I was often dismissed as   ‘just a woman’ and ‘not understanding men’.   Dr. Helliesen helped me understand how pornography can get in the way of normal sexual functioning with a partner.

People who look at pornography are primarily using their visual sense, in a heightened way.  The brain has a need for novelty and through pornography, especially on the Internet, it is quick and easy to get new and more graphic pictures.  This means that arousal and organism are quickly and easily achieved.  During these times men are not using their other senses of smell, sound, taste and touch that are normally involved during sexual encounters with a partner.  Without realizing it, they start to ‘turn off’ these senses and only focus on the visual.  This creates difficulty when they are with a partner. They find it more difficult to experience arousal and orgasm through smell, taste, sound and touch.  Because pornography so quickly arouses them and satisfies their interest and sexual urges, they become impatient with interactions with their partner.

It is possible, although difficult, for people to look at pornography and not shut down their other senses. They are still able to enjoy sexual arousal and orgasm with a partner.  They are able to still find novelty in the nuances of touch, taste, sound and smell and experience pleasure in the time spent. They are able to connect emotionally to their partners and relate through sexual interaction.

Healthy sexual functioning and healthy sexual relationships are important to most people.  It is helpful to know what can go wrong and why.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

“I feel like I don’t live anywhere.” The Problem with 50-50 Custody.

Recently one of my clients talked about the confusion and distress her teenage son was experiencing at going back and forth between his mom’s home and his dad’s home.   She said her heart went out to him when he said to her, “I feel like I don’t live anywhere.”  She responded to his plight by telling him that he could live with her and that he could visit his father anytime he wanted.  Fortunately, for the adolescent, the parents worked well around custody and access.  The mother discussed with her ex-husband their son’s distress and he agreed that the son could live full time with his mother.  She said her son’s confusions and distress lessened once he  settle down full time at her place. He continued to see his father a lot.


It’s always all about you. Part 1


Jackie collapsed on the sofa after yet another major fight with her husband. They have the same fight over and over again.  Jackie wants to spend more time with her husband.  He is always busy with work and several projects he has on the go.  She invites or suggests things to do together and he almost always has a reason or excuse not to accept.  Finally, when being friendly and inviting does not work, she complains to him that he makes other people a priority over her.   He feels attacked.  He defends himself by attacking her back, accusing her of doing the same thing – making her family more important than him.  She tried to tell him she only spent so much time with her family because he is never available, but he would not listen; he continues to attack and blame her.  He gets more and more angry. He complains about her time with her family, her time with her friends, her time studying photography.  He claims he was the one who compromises and sacrifices in their relationship.   He is the one not getting his needs met and she is to blame.  At the end of these fights they go to the opposite corners of their home.  Jackie feels alone – totally disconnect from her husband – the opposite of what she wants.


Triangulation Part 4: In a Bind

I was cooking up some dinner for my two year old grandson as I happily awaited his arrival.  We were going to hangout together while mom and dad took in a movie.  I don’t think of it as babysitting, because I love to spend time with him and he loves to spend time with me.

I buzzed them in.  My grandson, came running through the open door holding out something he wanted me to see –  a sticker of a car.  As usual, my son followed with their dog.  He put the dog out on the deck, put fresh water in the dog’s dish and then got ready to leave.

Then something unusual started to happen.  My son started to question his son about whether he wanted to stay with Nana or go with him.  I was confused because I was sure he was staying with me.  I could see that my grandson was confused.  I got the impression that there had been some kind of exchange between the two of them about his wanting or not wanting to stay with me.  My son kept grilling him.  “Do you want to stay with Nana ?” My grandson went from being happy and bubbly to quiet.  He nodded his head.  His dad’s tone of voice was unusual – there was an edge to it. That was not enough for my son, he kept asking, “Do you want to stay with Nana?”   I looked at my grandson.  He was clearly confused and not sure what to do.  He slowly walked toward the front door thinking he had to leave.  Again, his father asked him,  “Do you want to stay with Nana?” Again, my grandson nodded his head.

I couldn’t watch this anymore and stay silent.  I said to my son, “He nodded his head.  He has answered you.”  My son responded, “He’s got to say it.”  I said, “You’re putting him a bind.”  I looked at my grandson and smiled at him trying to reassure him.  He smiled back at me.  Finally, my son stopped, hugged his son and left.  Then my grandson turned back into his happy self, delighted to be with me.

There was tension between father and son.  I could see it, hear it and feel it.  I couldn’t believe that my son would put his son – a two year old – on the spot like this.  I was surprised because my son is a fantastic dad.  He loves his son and his son adores his dad.

At first I was just an observer.  Then I got hooked in the interaction. By advocating for my grandson, I became part of a triangle.

In hindsight, I wish I had avoided becoming part of the triangle.  I know my son is a super dad. Instead of criticizing him, I wish I had expressed more faith in him.  What I wish I’d said to my son was, “I don’t know what is going on between you two, but I’m sure you will handle it OK. ” Then, I would have gone back to my cooking and let them work it out.


Triangulation occurs in relationships when there is tension between two people, and a third person gets hooked into the interaction, creating  a triangle.

Triangulation happens in families all the time.  If you are not aware of triangulation and how it works, you usually do not even realize how or why you’ve been drawn into an interaction.

By understanding and being aware of the relationship dynamics in triangulation, you have a choice to become involved or not.  There are times when it is appropriate to get involved and times when it is appropriate and healthy not to engage.

If you choose NOT to become involved,  there are diplomatic ways NOT to engage. (Triangulation Pt. 2 and Pt.3)

If you do choose to become involved, then HOW you get involved is what matters.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How to Talk about the Past in a Way that Brings Family Together

When someone in your family tells you a memory, pay close attention. They are sharing their modus operandi for life with you. If there are unhealed traumas from the past, talking about painful memories can help your family member heal.

Memories are blue prints for how to do life.

Children have millions of experiences by the time they are around five to six years old but they only remember a few of them. Why do they remember only a few and why those particular ones? When children are born into this world they quickly have to figure out how to survive, emotionally and physically. It is the emotion surrounding an event that determines meaning. With their limited knowledge and experience of life they come to conclusions about self, others and life. Then they live their life according to the conclusions they’ve come to, whether those conclusions are conscious or unconscious. Memories after the age of 6 are important as well; they tend to confirm or disconfirm previous conclusions.

How to talk about memories.

1.       Listen to the memories without interrupting. Your parent, spouse, child, sibling, cousin or other relative is telling you something important about themselves. Paying attention to them shows them you are interested in them and care about them.

2.       Memories can be happy, neutral or unhappy/painful. Enjoy the happy ones, be curious about the neutral ones and be empathetic with the painful ones. Often, healing can occur through the expression of feelings alone. It is possible for a child and an adult to heal emotionally from talking to a caring person about an experience they had as a child or young adult.

3.       Validate their experiences and the meaning they make of them. Do not argue about whether the events happened or not.  Just because you don’t remember an event does not mean it did not happen.  Or, if you remember the same event differently, it means you made different meaning out of it. Do not be concerned about the truth or facts of the memory. It may or may not be accurate. It is not about the facts; it is about the meaning the person made of their experience and the facts.

4.       Do not assume you know what their memory means. Ask “What do you make of that?” Say, “Tell me more about that.” Invite your family member to say more by being curious about it.

5.       Validate the feelings generated in the memory, positive and/or negative.

6.       If you want to share memories of your own, wait until they are finished.

Note:  Memories are not static.  As a person ages and their circumstances change, their memories may change, or even be forgotten completely.

Reminiscing is healthy if family members are open to listening to each other.

The above holds true of people who are non-family members as well.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Good News and Bad News about Fighting in the Family

What is considered fighting?

Joey comes into the kitchen wanting a cookie.  It’s just before dinner and the smell of dinner is adding to Joey’s hunger.  Dad is cooking dinner and knows if he gives Joey a cookie it will take the edge off his appetite for dinner.  They argue about whether or not Joey can have a cookie.  Would you consider this a fight?

What is fighting for some people is not fighting for others.  Raised voices –  yelling  – hitting – which of these is your definition of fighting?

When asked for their definition of fighting, parents of preschoolers responded with answers such as – conflicted communication, not listening, not hearing, arguing, punching, hitting, yelling,  arguing in a strong way beyond reason and logic, walking away from the issue, misunderstandings, disagreements, raised blood pressure, lots of anger and frustration, loss of rational thought,  high stress and more.

In this post fighting is considered any conflict, from a minor squabble to a physical battle.

What is good about fighting in a family?

Fighting prepares children for conflict in life, both at home in the family and in the world at large.  Children who grow up in families where there never is any fighting, or parents hide fighting from the children or fighting is not allowed, are not prepared to deal with conflict whether it be with family members or with other people outside the family.  Children need to experience fighting to learn how to handle it.  Then they can better protect themselves and those they care about through life.

Because there will always be conflicts in families, it is not a question of if but how members of a family fight.  There are different ways to fight and it is really beneficial for children to learn to fight in a healthy constructive ways.

What is unhealthy fighting?

In unhealthy fighting parents and children try to get what they want from each other and do not care if they hurt, inconvenience or harm each other. They argue and yell, but they never get to a better place.  After the fight is over there are just bad feelings and a sense of frustration. No resolution. No positive change.

I call these the merry-go-round fights.  It’s like getting on a merry-go-round, going round and round, and when you get off you’re no further ahead than before you got on.  At first you’re willing to get on the merry-go-round, that is, you’re willing to engage in a fight, but after awhile you realize that there is no point in spending the time and energy because you will be in the same place, maybe even worse, after it’s over.  So you stop engaging in fighting.  You withdraw. You disengage from whoever it is you’re fighting with – maybe others as well.

Fighting that is loud, excessive, violent or out of control is terrifying for children.  Yelling terrifies children and makes their bodies cringe in distress. They can get so traumatized from it that they avoid conflict at all costs or become bullies themselves.  They often grow up to be fearful adults or bullies and are emotionally handicapped.

What is healthy fighting?

In healthy fighting parents and children stand up for themselves and consider each other as they are do so.  They try to find win/win outcomes. The fight gets resolved and the relationship improves.  Everyone feels good about the outcome.  The fight is worthwhile.

It’s really helpful for children to watch their parent have a fight with each other and resolve the fight in a productive way.  They learn from this that fighting, even though it may be distressful, is normal and can be constructive.  They learn how a marriage and couple relationship works – that there will be fighting and that it can be resolved.

Healthy fighting prepares children for life.  They experience it and learn to tolerate it.  They learn to take part and work toward constructive outcomes.  They learn, through experience and modeling of their parents that fighting can make for better relationships and a better life.

To learn to handle differences and resolve problems see the protocol: Sooner Better than Later. It is designed for couples but is appropriate for family members too.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea


Anything that Can be Done Can be Overdone. How to Stop your Good Intentions from Going Bad

You can love too much. You can be too generous. You can be too helpful. You can try too hard. You can be too responsible. You can be too kind. You can work too much. You can be too considerate. You can give too much. You can be too loyal. You can be too truthful. You can over function. You can compromise too much. You can be too affectionate. You can sacrifice too much. And more. There are books written about this problem, Too Good for Your Own Good by Claudio Bebko and Jo-Ann Krestan, Too Nice for Your own Good by Duke Robinson.

All of these behaviors are positive – loving, generous, trying, responsible, kind, working, considerate, giving, loyalty, truthful, affectionate etc. There is a continuum along which these ways of being can be carried out and be positive- up to a point! Beyond that point they are counterproductive. Loving someone too much can be smothering and stifling for the loved one. Working too much can make you sick and less effective. Giving too much can make others feel obligated or uncomfortable in other ways. Being too truthful can impact relationships in negative ways. Helping too much can make others do less for themselves – it’s called enabling.

There is no manual that tells you where that point is – that point where what you’re doing turns from positive to ineffectual, or even harmful. To find that point you need to

Pay attention to how your behavior/attitude impacts others.

Mary’s daughter Melissa was shy, so Mary would help her by doing things for her that Melissa couldn’t or wouldn’t do for herself. Mary would talk to her teacher for her; she would phone her friends’ mothers to arrange playdates for her; she would talk to her friends for her; she would shop for her and take back items to the store for her; she would lie for her saying Melissa was sick when she wasn’t.

Mary saw her daughter withdrawing more and more. She realized that what she was doing was actually making Melissa’s shyness worse. So Mary changed what she was doing. She stopped doing things for her and started expressing her belief that Melissa could do things herself even though it was difficult. Sometimes Mary would role play how to handle situations and then let Melissa handle them, [or not handle them] herself. Melissa was angry with her mother for not doing things for her anymore. Mary found it hard to handle the pain of watching her daughter struggle. She did not like Melissa to be mad at her; she missed their close relationship.

Gradually, Melissa’s own desire to fit in and belong motivated her to try things herself. As she learned how to do things and got more practice doing them, she felt better about herself. Her increased confidence helped her to attempt more things. Even though she was angry with her mother, on some level she knew that what her mother was doing was in her own best interests.

If what you intend to make happen is not actually happening, either stop doing it, or change what you are doing so it does happen.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Sometimes Marriage is like being in a Boat on a very Rough Sea

The boat is pitching so hard that each one has to cling onto the boat to prevent being thrown overboard. They cannot hang onto each other.  Each feels alone. Each struggles to survive. When the ocean calms down, then they can comfort and reassure each other. Then they can reconnect.

Sometimes life gets really rough – financial difficulties, overwork, illness, aging relatives, death and disaster. In really dark times there is usually more than one area of life that is deeply troubled. In times like these, people use up their resources, both externally and internally.  Some people get depressed and go quiet. Others get depressed and become cranky – anger is the only way they know how to survive emotionally. Love and attention is experienced as a burden or a demand at a time when they have the least to give.

This is very difficult on loved ones. When they try to love, their partner cannot receive. When they try to get loved, their partners cannot respond.  Everyone suffers.

Bad times test relationships but couples don’t stop loving each other just because times are bad. It’s how the couple handles the bad times that determine whether their relationship will survive or not.  Couples who overcome adversity develop strong bonds.

Scenario: Jay was going through a difficult time financially. He was in danger of losing his business and worried about paying the mortgage. He had people on his case for money all the time. One day a writ server drove into his carport, left his engine running, hammered a nail into his front door, hung papers on it and then peeled away. He was deeply depressed and had trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. He dreaded facing another day. It was all he could do to keep going.

Samantha knew Jay was stressed and she was too. She was patient and understanding for awhile, but she felt really distant from him. She tried to get close to him. She asked him for hugs. She initiated love-making. But Jay did not respond in kind. He knew she wanted reassurance but he could not give it to her. He also knew she wanted to help but he did not want to worry her with the problems. He withdrew from her. When he asked for space, she would panic and cling to him. The thought of losing him was unbearable. After many incidents of him calmly asking for space and Samantha’s inability to give him any, he got cranky. Usually Jay was a reasonable man who did not like to fight. Now he was exhausted and emotionally drained. He had nothing left for himself much less anything for Samantha. The more Jay withdrew from her the more frightened and alone Samantha felt. The more disconnected she felt, the more she sought out contact with Jay. But he was emotionally bankrupt. It was a vicious cycle.

Jay was just trying to survive. His wife’s requests for reassurance and connection felt like demands. He felt if he got close to her she would swallow him up. If that happened, as crazy as it seemed, he felt like he would cease to exist. He did not understand this himself so he could not explain it to her. He could only be angry.

In this case the purpose of anger is to help Jay maintain his sense of self. He loves Samantha and does not want her to go away, just back off. Anger helped him to hold himself together in these difficult times.

Samantha had been talking to a couple of her most trusted friends about her fears and hurt. Finally she was able to stop clinging to him. They gave her the support she needed while her husband did what he had to do to survive. He was able to save his business and get his life back in order.  When he felt more in control he reached out to his wife. Together they decided to seek couples counseling to help them talk through what each had experienced.  They were able to reconnect.

What to do?

If you are the one who is angry and pushing your loved one away, reach out to someone you trust, someone who will keep what you say confidential.  Or, seek out professional help and get the support you need.

If your partner is the one who is angry, offer help but do not push or pressure.  Seek out others that you can trust to support you until your partner is able to reconnect.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How Little Things Cause Big Blowups. What Everyone Should Know about Anger. Pt. 2

Scenario: Mary sighed. She’d blown her top – again. After the last time she’d promised herself that she would not do it anymore. It hadn’t happened in a long while, yet she’d just lost it again.

Mary had been cleaning the home for a couple of hours. Ralph had come home from soccer and was in the shower. She walked into the bedroom to get something and there on the floor was a pile of sweaty stinky clothes that he’d just stripped off.  Annoyed Mary swept up the clothes and put them where they should go. This is an ongoing struggle between them. Mary had asked him many times to put his dirty clothes in the clothes hamper. She got what she had come for and went back to cleaning the home. After half an hour later she walked into the bathroom and saw his wet towel lying on the bathroom floor. She lost it!  She went into a rage. She grabbed the towel and stomped off to find him.  He was resting on the patio drinking some water. Seeing him resting infuriated her even more. She threw the towel at him all the while screaming. She yelled obscenities at him. She assassinated his character. She said many hurtful things. Spittle flew from out of her mouth. Finally, she stomped off. Ralph sat there in shock and confusion wondering what had just happened.

Often there is a cycle to anger and peace. A person blow ups and then there is a period of peace. But life is life. Things happen. They often are not even big things. A small annoying event will happen and it will get dismissed. There is tension. Another irritating event happens – it gets pushed under the rug because the event is not considered significant enough to make a fuss about. Tension increases. Another frustrating event – anger is pushed aside. More tension. Another event – the anger is swallowed. Tension builds. After several more frustrating events, (none of which, in the whole scheme of things, is a big deal) a small event happens and a person blows up in rage. Usually there is confusion because the nature of the event did not warrant the intensity of the anger. How could you get so mad about that? However, the tension is released. Now there is peace again – at least for a while. The building process starts again. It’s like a stack of coins. Each coin is like a frustrating event. The stack gets high, then one more coin is put on the stack and the whole stack falls over.

For Mary, it was not just the wet towel on the bathroom floor.  It was the many wet towels left on the bathroom floor or the bedroom floor, the dirty socks on the floor, the jacket hung over the back of the kitchen chair instead of hung up in the closet, the newspapers scattered on the floor by the couch, the scattered shoes at the door, dirty dishes on the coffee table, the cleaning she’d just done all morning while he was playing soccer, all of her efforts to keep a tidy home that did not seem to matter to Ralph.

Underneath the anger Mary felt out of control and unappreciated.  She tried everything she could think of to get Ralph’s cooperation in keeping their home clean and tidy.  When the home was in order Mary felt calm inside.  She could relax.  If there was something that needed doing she could not rest.  She wanted a pleasant environment that they all could enjoy.  She felt resentment that Ralph was ‘playing’ while she was working. It seemed to her that she did the major share of keeping the home in order.  Finally, she snapped and went into a rant.

Blow ups happen because of ongoing difficulties that are not resolved. There is a buildup of tension that is not released.  At some point, the buildup gets so intense that it cannot be contained.  Mount St. Helen’s erupts.

How to make change.

Make change by interrupting the cycle at some point.  Bring up unresolved issues during the phase when  tension is building.

Mary could feel her annoyance and frustration building.  She did not want to get angry.  She did not want to blow up.  She did not like herself when she acted like that.  But each incident seemed so trivial and she told herself other people handle these things easily, so she could too.  Besides, she did not want to break the peace.

Finally, she realized that if she did not address this with Ralph she was going to blow up again.  She could feel the tension building. She asked him to set a time when could talk.  Together they picked a time both were available. Mary felt less frustrated just knowing that the problem was going to be addressed.  When the time came, they sat down together and explored the issue.  They did not come with solutions before they figured out what the real problem was between them.  This helped them feel connected to each other.  Once connected emotionally, they came up with solutions to experiment with.  Each felt better about the other.  (Ralph could have initiated the discussion with Mary.)

Each partner has a part in the cycle.

No one person is at fault. Whatever is going on between them is co-created by the two of them.  Each needs to take responsibility for his/her part in the negative cycle.

When issues have been discussed unsuccessfully before, couples need to change how they address issues.  The exercise “Sooner Rather than Later” is a useful tool that gives couples a protocol to follow when addressing and resolving issues.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

How Parents (and others) Can Avoid Power Struggles with Children

Parents and children get into power struggles all the time.  Parents want to feel in control of their children and children like autonomy.  When kids get too feisty and parents start to feel out of control they start to fight with their kids in order to regain control.  Kids rebel when parents get too controlling.  When kids rebel, parents feel they are losing control and come down harder on the kids.  The kids react by acting out and misbehaving. The more the kids act out the more the parents feel out of control and come down on the kids.  The more they come down on the kids the more the kids act out. This is a vicious cycle which can escalate to dangerous levels.

It takes two to fight.  Wise parents withdraw from the fight but do not abdicate their authority.  They switch to strategies carried out with a matter-of-fact attitude.  The key to success is the matter-of-fact attitude. The goal – everyone’s best interests are at heart.  Here are a couple of examples of everyday events handled using strategies.

NOTE:  If you really want to dominate and control your children do not switch to strategies.  When parents interact with their children using an attitude of I’m-the-boss-you-better-do-what-I-say-or-else, strategies do not work, they backfire.  Your power struggles with your children will only get worse.

Scenario 1: Having to go when the child does want to.

Janice needed to go grocery shopping with her two preschoolers, Joey age 4 and Lesley age 2.  Joey did not want to go shopping; he wanted to stay home and play but there was on one to stay home with. As they were getting ready to go out the door Joey refused to put on his shoes and jacket.  Not wanting to fight with him, Janice told him he did not have to wear them if he did not want to.  Without anger, Janice picked up a bag and put Joey’s shoes and jacket in the bag to take with them.  She told Joey that if he wanted them they were in the bag.   When Joey realized he was going to have to go, he put on his jacket and shoes.

Scenario 2:  Tidying up at bedtime.

At the end of every day George’s children left their toys, books, sports gear all over the place.  In a friendly way, George encouraged them to put their stuff away.  That did not work.  George’s voice got louder and he ordered the kids to put their stuff away.  That did not work.  Then George started barking at his kids. He angrily shouted threats at them if they didn’t put their stuff away.  The kids cried, complained and put their stuff away.  Everyone was miserable.  Going to bed became a nightly battle.

George did not like what was happening between him and the kids.  What he was doing was not working for him or for the kids.  So he decided to change.  He told the kids that he was tired of yelling at them to put their stuff away at night and he was not going to yell any more.  He said anything that was left out after the kids were in bed would be put away for 2 days and then they could have it back.  The kids listened to him and enjoyed not having dad yell at them when bedtime came.  After the kids were in bed George quickly picked up everything and put it away.  When the kids got up in the morning they looked for their stuff but they could not find it.  They asked their dad for it.  Without anger (or I-told-you-so-attitude) he told them that, since what they wanted had been left out, he had put it away.  He told them they could have their stuff in 2 days.  The kids begged, whined, cried and stomped for their stuff.  George was firm but not mean about it.  He repeated that they could have it back in 2 days.

That night when bedtime came George did not remind, nag, shout or make threats about putting stuff away.  Again, after the kids were in bed he picked up everything left out.  It did not take him long and it was a lot less stressful than making them do it.  Again in the morning the kids wanted their stuff.  George told them they could have it in 2 days.  The third evening when bedtime came, George did not remind.  He noticed that without being told, the kids were picking up some of their stuff and putting it away.  After they were in bed he picked up the rest.  The next morning he gave back to them the stuff that had been put away after the first night.  He did not say anything to them about putting it away the next time.  The kids were happy to have their stuff back.

Once the new routine had been in place for a week the kids quickly learned to pick up and put away anything that was important to them.  They just left the stuff they did not care about.  This was fine for George.  The kids were sorting out what was value to them and what was not.  George gave away or threw out the stuff that the kids had outgrown and did not want anymore.  One time George found a bag of stuff that had been put away many months ago.  On a rainy day he gave it to the kids. For them it was like new stuff and they enjoyed it for awhile.  George now enjoyed bedtime and his improved relationship with his kids.

Take any problematic situation that is ongoing and develop a strategy for it.  You may have to tweak it a bit to get it to work well.  Be consistant in carrying it out.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Couple Dynamics: The Jokester and the Serious One

Scenario: In courtship Gerry was always teasing Jenny in an affectionate way. He loved to kibitz around and crack jokes.  At home, growing up, when things got tense he learned he could break the tension by joking.  In school, being the class clown worked well too, and made him lots of friends.  He loved that he could make Jenny laugh.  Jenny loved it.  It helped her not take herself and life so seriously. She grew up in a family that rarely laughed.

Gerry and Jenny had a lot of fun together and laughter was a big part of their relationship. After they married, when they had problems he would laugh them off.  At first it worked, but it did not solve the problems. Jenny got frustrated because she could not get him to address issues in a serious way. The more he used jokes to divert from addressing problems the more serious Jenny became.  The more serious she became the more he tried to lighten things up.  The more he tried to lighten things up the more serious and resentful she became. He accused her not having a sense of humor.  She accused him of being a flake. The relationship became in danger of breaking up because they had no way to resolve their differences.

Finally, when Gerry realized that he might lose Jenny he became serious.  Although it was difficult for him to hang in with her through the tension and negative feelings, he was able to do it.  When Jenny was able to get Gerry to resolve problems she relaxed and lightened up.  This helped Gerry.  Jenny realized that she could be too serious and she changed how she approached Gerry with a problem.  Gerry started to bring problems to Jenny instead of laughing them off. When they learned how to be serious and solve their differences, the fun and laughter returned to their relationship.

The Joking/Serious Theme

As couples do, once living together the partners settle into the dynamics that they are going to play out with each other, often for a lifetime. The first year of living together is about sorting out this dynamic. Every couple develops their own idiosyncratic style.

There is power in the ability to influence people through laughter. People who love to joke are attracted to serious partners.  They love to make them laugh.  Serious Ones are attracted to Jokers because they brighten them up and make them less serious. Courtship goes well because they complement each other.  The Serious One can be playful because they know the Joker has a serious side, demonstrated by the progression of the relationship through to marriage and/or living together.  As long as the Joker continues to have a serious side and the Serious One does not get overly serious, the positive interactive cycle between them continues.  They can develop their own unique style of resolving issues and problems that is perfect for them.

Be serious occasionally and you will laugh lots.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Couple Dynamics: The Attacker and the Defensive One

Actually both partners are defensive but they have very different styles. The expression The Best Defense is a Good Offense describes the style of the Attacker. When the Defensive One brings an issue or problem up to their spouse, the Attacker feels attacked and defends him or herself by attacking the Defensive One with real or imagined wrongs. The Defensive One defends himself. The interaction between them shifts from the Defensive One trying to resolve a problem between them to the Defensive One ‘on the ropes’ explaining and defending what their spouse has just accused them of. The original issue the Defensive One brought forward gets lost. The Attacker has deflected the issue so he or she no longer has to deal with it.

Scenario 1) In his business Randy does a lot of entertaining of business associates, mostly in restaurants, but often dinners at home as well. His wife Erin does not mind this although it is a lot of work. What really bothers her is that Randy changes as soon as his business associates enter the home. To her, he treats her and the children like second-class citizens. When Erin complains to Randy, he accuses her of not wanting to help him in his business and of not being a supportive wife. Erin reacts by denying his accusations. She can never get him to acknowledge her complaint so it can never be addressed. His behavior does not change. She starts to resent entertaining for her husband and resents him. Intimacy suffers.

Scenario 2) George was concerned about his children. He felt Mary was too hard on them and he tried in many different ways to bring his concern to Mary. He also felt she was too hard on him but he was more concerned about the children than himself. Every time he tried to address his concern with her she felt attacked as a mother and defended herself by attacking him. She accused him of being too lenient with the children. George knew this was true because he was trying to compensate for what he thought was her harshness and usually defended his actions. She accused him of undermining her as a parent and not standing with her as a team. She attacked his character, accusing him of being a wimp and a poor role model for the children. She attacked him for not being a good husband. If things escalated further then she attacked his family and his friends. George would end up defending himself, the kids, his family and friends. His issue got lost. He felt resentful and withdrew from the relationship. Intimacy suffered.

The Defensive One is confused. They usually do not understand what just happened. After many interactions like this one the Defensive One no longer wants to bring up an issue because they know it will be turned around on them. Now there is no way for them to address an issue. Intimacy suffers.

The Defensive One needs to shift from being defensive to standing their ground when they are attacked. This is much easier said than done. It helps if the Defensive One realizes that the Attacker is feeling vulnerable too yet is hiding it in the attack. If one does not feel vulnerable there is no reason to avoid issues your spouse brings to you.

Scenario 1) Erin learned to change how she was reacting to her husband when he attacked her. She stopped defending herself. She told him that whatever issues he has with her can be addressed another time. Right now, she was dealing with the issue of how he changed when business associates came into the home. At first Randy kept attacking her but she held her ground by saying , “That may be so but right now I’m talking to you about how you change when you have business associates over. I’m not going to address your concerns right now, I am willing to address them later. Right now I bring up an important issue that is of concern to me. I need you to hear me.”

Finally, when Randy’s attacking did not work, he reluctantly listened to what Erin had to say. During the talk he had difficult acknowledging that he was doing what she was complaining about yet after their talk, he did change. Erin was appreciative of the efforts he made to change. She was more affectionate with Randy and he really like that.

Scenario 2) George finally understood that Mary took his concerns as an attack on her as a mother. When he brought up his concerns with her he reassured her that he thought she was a good mother and he had concerns about her trying too hard to be a good mother. At first, Mary kept attacking him but George did not shift into defending himself. He stayed on the issue he was bringing up. He did not get derailed although it was very difficult for him not to shift into defending himself or just give up. Eventually Mary could hear his reassurance. She finally was able to consider George’s concerns. Mary did soften her stance with the children and George showed his appreciation with more affection and attention. Mary felt closer to him as a result. She also had more respect for him.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense is one of the most difficult dynamics between spouses to change. First, you have to realize what is going on. Awareness is the key to change. You cannot change what you do not know. If you are always defending yourself and your issues keep getting lost, this dynamic may be going on in your relationship.

When each spouse realizes their part in perpetuating the dynamic and takes responsibility for it, change is possible. Change yourself. Change your HOW. After an initial escalation, spouses usually respond to positive change with positive change, as long as there is good will in the relationship.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to do When Your Partner doesn’t Listen to Reason.

reasoning - unreasonable person - strategies


Partners who are both reasonable are likely to get along well. They are not likely to need couples counseling, or if they do, it may be their mutual reasoning that guides them to seek counseling. They collaborate and feel good about each other as a result.

However, there are many couples in which one partner is reasonable and the other is not. I see them in my practice. The reasonable one continues to reason even though reasoning does not work. The unreasonable one continues to do (or not do) what they want. The relationship deteriorates. Intimacy suffers.

But it does not mean that the couple should not be together. It means they need to work differently.

Scenario 1) Barbara noticed the railing was loose on the balcony of their home. She brought it to the attention of her husband, Drew. He was busy with work and said it was OK. Barbara knew he was busy and gave him some time. She was concerned though that someone could get hurt if the railing gave way. She kept bringing it to his attention, reasoning with him that someone could get hurt and they could be liable. Barbara had to be vigilant that the children and visitors stayed away from the railing. Drew said she was overreacting.

Scenario 2) Brian kept track of the finances. He noticed that his wife’s spending was exceeding their budget and he complained to her about it. He reasoned with her that if overspending continued, they would get into serious financial difficulties. Cindy heard his words yet continued to overspend, justifying her purchases or hiding them from Brian. He felt out of control about their debt and pulled away from Cindy, spending more time with his family.

Couples tend to do the same thing over and over with each other even though it does not work. If they did the same thing at work they would get seriously reprimanded or even fired. But many couples frustrate each other by playing out the same dynamic repeatedly.

What is the function of unreasonableness? Why would a spouse be unreasonable?

To be reasonable is to be open to change. Unreasonable people do not want to change. By not being open to reason they can continue to do what they want and not do what they do not want to do. Also, to be reasonable increases intimacy, which some people have difficulty handling even though they want it.

When reasoning does not work, shift to strategies.

Reasoning is a good way to start out addressing an issue with your partner. If they respond positively, great, you can work through the problem. If they respond in the same old way, then shift to strategies.

Consequences effect change. How to achieve change is to figure out a strategy that has consequences built into it.

Scenario 1) Without anger and in a matter-of-fact tone Barbara told Brian that she was going to give him until the end of the month to fix the railing. If it was not done by then she was going to hire someone to repair it. When the end of the month came and the railing was still not fixed, Barbara got a couple of estimates to have the railing repaired. She showed the estimates to Drew. She told him she was going to choose one of them and get the railing fixed. When Drew realized that she was serious about getting the railing repaired, he found time to fix it himself. He wanted to do it himself to be sure it was done right. Barbara offered her help and did what she could to make it happen. They had fun doing it together and each was please once it was done. They felt warm toward each other.

Scenario 2) Brian realized that reasoning with Cindy was having no effect. He consulted with someone at the bank about possible changes he could make. Without anger and in a matter-of-fact manner he told her that he was concerned about their financial situation and because he cared about their relationship, he was going to take steps to bring the finances under control. He gave her a time frame of two months and said if she continued to over spend he would put all of their credit cards in the bank safety deposit box and they would operate with cash only. After two months it was clear that Cindy still was overspending so Brian followed through and put the cards away. This forced Cindy to deal with the reality of the situation. When talking it through, an underlying problem came to light – Cindy was resentful of all the time Brian spent with his family. They then addressed directly the issue of spending time together.

HOW you handle the shift from reasoning to planning and carrying out strategies is critical to making the change successful and relationship enhancing. If you want to show your spouse who is in control or you want teach your spouse a lesson, then expect a negative response to even the best strategy you could offer. Resentful spouses tend to sabotage even when they know they will hurt themselves.

If you proceed with good will and with the intent to make life for all better, strategies have a very good chance of working. Because your partner knows your doing it out of caring for him or her (and the family), they tend to cooperate and collaborate. Intimacy grows.

With Care and Concern,

Dr. Bea

How the Talker and the Quiet One can make Changes.

Healthy couples have differences that complement each other. The Talker and the Quiet One are attracted to each other. In courtship, this dynamic works as each enjoys the other – a Positive Interactive Cycle.

Often what attracts us to our partner in the first place may be the very thing that we complain about later. The Talkers says it’s like pulling teeth to find out what the Quiet Ones are thinking and feeling. The Quiet Ones complains that the Talkers talks too much and they cannot get a word in edgewise. The Quiet Ones say they are always being interrupted and they cannot finish a thought. The Talkers complain that the Quiet Ones are withholding; they say so little and take too long to say it.

Communication between couples becomes troubled when the dynamic between the couple shifts into a Negative Interactive Cycle. The Talker talks too much and the Quiet One says too little.

How can a couple change this dynamic? First of all, each needs to be willing to take responsibility for their part in the cycle and let go of their partner’s part of the cycle. The only person you can really change is yourself, however, you may be able to influence your partner. When you change, usually your partner changes in response to your change. If each one is changing in positive ways it is possible to get back to a Positive Interactive Cycle.

Second, couples need to allow for experimentation; they need to risk trying new things. Then, they keep what works and forgive and let go of what does not work.

Changes the Talker can make: Be more passive and less active.

1. The Talker can put a period at the end of a sentence and wait for a response.

2. Be more patient and comfortable with silence. Do not view your partner’s silence as an invitation to talk more.

3. Do not interrupt or talk over your partner. When your partner does talk, try reflecting back to them what they are saying. This encourages your partner to say more because they know you are paying attention to their feelings and their point of view.

4. Say it once (or at the most twice). Repeating the same thing in many different ways because you think your partner does not understand is counter-productive. Trust that your partner understands or that they will ask if they don’t.

5. In a warm matter-of-fact tone let your partner know you are waiting for a response rather than start talking again when your partner has not responded yet. You could try the communication skill: Put the Inside Outside by saying, “I’m tempted to start talking again but I’m going to wait for your response.”.

Changes the Silent One can make: Be more active and less passive.

1. Talk sooner. That is, do not take so long to respond. Your partner tends to view your silence as a non-verbal invitation to talk more. Even if you do not know what to say you can start with words like ‘um’, ‘Let me think for a moment’, ‘I’m not sure what to say yet’.

2. Interrupt the Talker using gestures or words; for example, politely hold up your hand. Many Quiet Ones say they never get a chance to talk. What they need to realize is that the Talker is often talking because they are uncomfortable with silence or they are trying to help the Quiet One talk. Many Talkers welcome the Silent One talking because it is a relief for them to stop talking.

3. Reflective Listen. Reflecting back to your partner their point of view and how they feel about it is a way to let your partner know you have understood. When your partner is repeating the same thing in different ways it does not mean they are being condescending, it usually means they want you to understand. Reflective Listening lets them know you got their point and are engaged with them in the conversation.

4. Create the conditions that help make talking easier for you. Approach your partner to talk and ask him or her to listen for a while without interrupting. Chose a time and place that is comfortable for you. Always waiting for your partner to bring up issues causes problems in the relationship. Use the Communication Skill: After the Fact.

5. Share more about yourself. Let your partner know what makes you happy. If you do, your partner will more likely make those things happen. Let your partner know what troubles you. If you don’t, things will build up and you may blindside your partner with an blow-up over a small incident. If you’re not objecting, your partner may believe that what they are doing is OK. This creates resentment for each of you.

With good will and practice the Talker and the Quiet One can get back to a Positive Interactive Cycle.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

Couple Dynamics: The Talker and the Quiet One

I had an unusual request via email from a couple in England who had seen my website and were interested in couples counseling. Jasper and his wife were visiting family in Vancouver on their way to holiday in Thailand. I was intrigued by the request and agreed to meet them for a two-hour session. I was skeptical that they would even come.

Surprisingly, Jasper and Melinda did come. They left their daughter with her grandparents and came alone. They said they have been fighting a lot and had fought all the way here.

It quickly became clear that he was the ‘Talker’ and she was the ‘Quiet One’. I facilitated a dialogue between them. I could see that the more he talked the more she silently retreated within herself. The further she retreated the more he talked. The more he talked the more he leaned forward. The more he leaned forward and talked, the more she pulled back and said little. Each was distressed and frustrated. In Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy this dynamic is termed the Negative Interactive Cycle. Once it gets going it gains momentum. It is difficult for the couple to break out of it. Each needs to do something different but they usually don’t know what.

At this point I usually facilitate reflective listening between the couple so they can have a new way to handle the same old stuff. Due to time constraints and the fact that I probably would never see this couple again, I decided that I would try an experiment. I told the couple that when each one talked I would feed the other the words to say in response. In other words, I would supply accurate reflective listening.

As the dialogue preceded it be came clear that when Jasper felt lonely and disconnected from Melinda he would talk a lot to her but he would not tell her that he felt lonely. He talked of other things, sometimes blaming her and analyzing her. Feeling bad about herself Melinda would retreat inside and wonder, “What does he want from me?” She would try to figure it out by herself. Through the reflective listening what each one felt was made explicit. When Jasper reflective listened to Melinda she felt heard and understood. She started talking. He was surprised and pleased. He talked less and she talked more. When Melinda realized that Jasper felt lonely she reached out to him. At one point when she was talking freely I looked at him sitting back on the couch happily listening to her and said, “Do you see how freely she is talking?” He only nodded with a smile on his face because he did not want to stop her. When Melinda reflective listened to Jasper, he knew she finally understood his loneliness so he didn’t need to say more.

What I was really pleased about was that the couple did not mechanically parrot my words. They repeated exactly what I said but they put their own inflection into the words. What they said and how they said it was congruent with how they felt.

At the end of the session, as I was writing out the receipt in the waiting room, I could see them out of the corner of my eye, still in my office hugging and kissing . I gave them some handouts and wished them well.

After a few months I decided to follow up with an email. I was curious to see if such a session could have a significant impact. We therapists often work in the dark.

Jasper quickly responded and told me that they had been doing really well since the session. He said they had not done any of the exercises that I had given them. They had put them in a drawer in case they needed them sometime in the future

. He thanked me.

The couple was emotionally connected again.

With care and concern
Dr. Bea

The names and circumstances of the people in this post have been altered.

There is a type of Selfishness that is Healthy.


It’s all about me, not you.

One way is to be selfish is to think only about yourself and not care about others.You do what you want to do and not do what you don’t want to do. You stand up for yourself and to heck with others. You take care of yourself. You go where you want. You are number one and everyone else comes after you. You don’t care who is inconvenienced by your wants and needs. You don’t care who is hurt, troubled or made sick by your actions. You don’t consider others as you go about taking care of you, unless of course, they can be useful to you. This is unhealthy selfishness.

It’s about me, and I consider you too.

Healthy selfishness is taking care of yourself and considering other people as you do so. You do what you want and don’t do what you don’t want, considering others while you do so. You stand up for yourself in such a way that is respectful of others. You hold your own with others in firm diplomatic ways. You keep clear boundaries between you and others in a respectful manner. You collaborate with others so they get what they want too.

It is important to look after yourself. When you travel on an airplane the flight attendants say, “If the oxygen masks drop down, parents are to put on their own masks before they help their children.” In others words, parents can best help their children if they take care of themselves first.If you really want to take care of others take good care of yourself first, you will be better able to do so.

When people are selfish and don’t consider others there is a negative ripple effect outward that impacts everyone around them. When you are selfish in a healthy way, however,  there is a positive ripple effect outward from yourself to others. You have a positive impact upon everyone around you, close family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, acquaintances and strangers. Others are more likely to be positive in response. It’s a win-win situation.

It’s not at all about me, only you.

Selflessness is about losing oneself by making others a priority. Selfless people do not take care of themselves. They neglect themselves by always thinking of others and what they can do for them, what they can give them. They sacrifice their time, energy, hopes and dreams so others can have what they want. Selfless people often get sick because they don’t take care of themselves. Selfless people often become resentful because they sacrifice so much for others and others do not reciprocate.

Take care of yourself,

Dr. Bea

Husbands, Rate Your Wives (social norms from the 1930’s)

Husbands, rate your wives is an article from the American Psychological Association (APA) that shows an interesting glimpse into the social norms of the 1930s—and early attempts to improve marriages through scientific assessment and matchmaking.

“Some of psychology’s most interesting artifacts reflect not only the zeitgeist of the times but the personalities of the psychologists behind them. One such example is the “Marital Rating Scale—Wife’s Chart,” a test developed in the late 1930s by George W. Crane, MD, PhD, (1901–95) of Northwestern University, who ran a counseling practice, wrote a syndicated national newspaper column called “The Worry Clinic” and started his own matchmaking service.”

marital scale test

Husbands, rate your wives
By Nick Joyce and David B. Baker, PhD
Monitor on Psychology Volume 39, No. 5 May 2008 (p.1


Share your reactions to this article with us.

Sometime it helps to gain perspective on your life by looking at history. Here are the expectations (demands?) a doctor/counselor had of wives 70 years ago.

Share your thoughts on this with us.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Make Relationship Changes Now (Pt. 3): Don’t Agree to do Anything that You Really Don’t want to do.

It’s a given that people in relationship need things from one another. Sometimes you want to do what is needed to be done. Sometimes you don’t want to, but you don’t mind doing it. Occasionally you really do not want to do what your partner needs you to do.

It is important to know two truths:

Saying ‘no’ to your partner does not mean you do not love him or her.

Saying ‘no’ to your partner can actually make your relationship better by avoiding problems.

How to avoid backing yourself into a corner.

1) Ask for time before you agree.

When your spouse asks you to do something that you are not sure you want to do, ask for time.

Example: “Let me think about that and get back to you.”

2) If you can’t keep your promise, inform your partner ASAP

Example 1:

“Last week when I promised to ………, I forgot that my brother is coming into town so I can’t do it.”

3) Renegotiate with Your Partner ASAP

When you have already agreed to do something that later you realize you really do not want to do, use the After-the-Fact Communication skill with you partner.

Through discussion the couple can come up with another solution that each feels OK about.

Example 1:

“I know that yesterday I agreed to do …………… but I’ve had a chance to think about it and I really don’t want to do it. Let’s talk about it.”

Scenario 1: Yesterday Fran had promised she would make dinner today for Eddie and herself. During the day she realized it was going to be too stressful for her to do that. She phoned Eddie and says I’ve had chance to think about it and I would rather meet you for a drink at Bottoms Up and then go for seafood at Kettle of Fish. It’s on me. Are you OK with that?

Scenario 1:

Susan and Bill have a schedule about who picks up the children from daycare. Susan has been asking Bill to pick up the children on her days more and more often. While he is OK about doing it occasionally for her, doing it too often interferes with his work. He began feeling stressed and resentful toward her. Bill told Susan what he felt and through discussion they found another option – Susan’s mother was able to pick up the children one day a week which alleviated Susan ‘s stress level and tight schedule.


Susan may say she did not realize that she was doing this. She may have thought Bill was OK with it because he never complained. She may ask him to pick up the kids today but she will make more of an effort to keep her commitments in the future.


Marriage and long-term relationships require a lot of collaboration. Couples are always asking each other for help, for favors, for support, for input, for backup and to do work. Couples who work together as a team feel good about each other and the good feelings they have help them deal more easily with what issues and problems they have. Each feels connected to the other and not alone in the world. This is the ideal.

In courtship this is often the way it is. Lovers in love want to all sorts of things for each other. Making the your lover’s life easier gives you pleasure. You enjoy their appreciation. When you lover does something for you, you feel loved and valued. You want to return the good will. A positive interactive cycle develops between the couple and gains momentum. As long as the giving and receiving is reciprocal, all is right with the world. The couple will work well together.

As relationships shift from courtship into permanent on-going day-to-day living, couples settle into patterns with each other. The first year of living together is about developing these patterns, some of which are conscious and some of which are unconscious.

Life is life. Things happen. Life busy. Sometimes we agree to do something for our partner without thinking about it. Perhaps we just want to ease their life. Other times we want to avoid an argument and our partner’s wrath. We could be distracted when we agree to do something and not think it through before we agree.

What happens when we agree to do something that we realize that we can’t follow through on? Well that’s easy. As soon as we realize the problem, we can use the After-the-Fact Communication skill to go back to our partner and let them know.

But what happens when we agree to do something that afterwards we do not want to do? Perhaps we even realize we don’t want to do it when we agree to it but we don’t say so.

Some people will go ahead and do it because they’ve given their word. If they do not feel resentful about it, there is no problem. But they realize that for their own good and that of the relationship they need to say ‘no’ to something that they really do not want to do.

But all too often what happens is the person does not go to their partner with the problem. They intend to do what they agreed to, but they procrastinate and procrastinate and procrastinate. Now there is a new problem between the couple.

“You said you would ……… and you haven’t. You’ve let me down. You’ve made be look foolish. You’ve caused me more work. I can’t count on you. I can’t trust you. You lied to me.”

Avoid these problems. Don’t agree to do something that you really don’t want to do.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay