Archive for the ‘Troubled Relationship’ Category

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 4: An Affair to Forget

triangulation 4

Elizabeth was in her late 20s.  She came to therapy because she was married and having an affair for 5 years.  She wanted to have children, but knew she couldn’t until she resolved her current dilemma.  It went against her own standards and values to be having an affair.  She had tried to stop it, but she had not been able to.  She was conflicted about leaving her marriage.  During Two-You Work around her conflict, an early recollection emerged.  At age 4, she remembers attending her younger sister’s funeral.  Across the graveside, she could see the pain etched on her father’s face.  Her father had accidentally backed over her sister with the car and killed her.  Somehow, as a 4 year old,  she decided not to have children because if ever she lost one, the pain would be too great.  By having the affair she was in effect blocking her natural desire to have children of her own.  Once this early recollection was brought to her awareness and was processed, Elizabeth was able to make changes in her life.  She left her husband and explored a permanent relationship with her lover. This did not work out.  She and her husband reconciled.  When Elizabeth quit therapy she was pregnant and happily expecting her first child.

An affair is often the result of triangulation.  In Elizabeth’s case, she triangulated a lover to unconsciously prevent her from having children.  Her injunction about not having children resulted from a repressed trauma at age 4.  She had never healed from the trauma and operated out of her awareness.  She could not do anything about what she did not know.

This example shows how important it is to access and heal traumas from the past.  This can be done in part by talking about the past.

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

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

Self-Esteem is a by-product of how you treat yourself.

self esteem girl

Everyone has a relationship with him or her self.  It is the quality of that relationship that determines the level of one’s self-esteem.

If you listen to people when they talk, you can detect whether they value themselves or not:

  • I’m mad at myself for forgetting to ……..
  • I’m pleased with myself.  I figured out how to do it on my own.
  • I’m such a coward.  I can’t face………
  • What do I know, I’m just a silly old woman.
  • I feel really good about myself for sticking to my exercise program.
  • I’m such a loser!
  • I feel more confident now that I have completed my course.
  • I can be really hard on myself.
  • I have a difficult time accepting positive feedback.

Self-esteem can also be observed in body language:

  • Sue wraps her arms around herself when she’s scared.
  • Jack slaps the top of his head when he’s annoyed with himself.
  • Jaime soothes herself by stroking her hair.
  • Andrew twists the hair on the top of his head when he is nervous.
  • Sam calms himself by stroking his beard.

We are so close to ourselves it is hard to have clear perspective on ourselves. It is easier to see how others treat themselves than it is to be aware of how we treat ourselves.  Our relationship happens in our heads with words and images and in our bodies with sensations. Hold the palm of your hand an inch from your nose.  You can see your hand, but it is a blur. Gradually pull your hand away until your hand comes into focus. Now you can see your hand in clear detail.

This is what happens with your relationship with yourself. To be aware of the quality of your relationship with yourself, it helps to gain some perspective.  You may know that you are hard on yourself or that you feel guilty a lot of the time, but you may not realize how you make that happen inside your head.


To increase your awareness of how you treat yourself start by noticing:

  • What you say about yourself (your choice of words and the metaphors you use).
  • How you say it (the tone of voice, body language).
  • What  images you see.

That’s it for now,   Just notice.

Next post:  What to do next.

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

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.


Don’t Kiss and Tell. One Way to Save your Relationship after an Affair.

In an article, May 2009, in MORE Magazine, called After the Affair, Wendy B. seeks complete honesty from her straying husband when she stumbles upon an email to his lover.  Yet later, as they work toward putting their marriage back together, she regretted it.  She says, “At the time I felt I had to know;  now I wish I could block out some of those details.”

Breach of trust creates the most damage when an affair happens. When a couple is attempting to recover from the deception and lies that occurred, honesty seems to be front and center of their focus.  In trying to regain trust the injured partner usually asks a million questions about the affair. The offending partner usually answers them honestly with the hope that they will regain trust.

It’s what partners do with the details that causes problems and can get in the way of reconciliation.  Usually partners, male and female, dwell on the details creating scenarios with them in their heads over and over again. The hurt goes on and on.  Sometimes the smallest details about the relationship and the sex can cause deep anguish.  Wendy B. says. “Hearing about how she had stepped in to help him buy our family’s food bothered me almost as much as the thought of the two of them naked together.”

A loving thing to do is to be honest with your partner but not give specific details of interactions with a former lover. This will create different problems but ones that are less difficult to recover from.  If reconciliation is not possible because of refusing to disclose details then it probably would not be possible if you did. As everyone knows, there are no guarantees.

If you are the one that strayed and you want a chance at reconciliation, do not disclose details because you love your partner and because you don’t want to hurt him or her anymore than you already have.

If you are the one that was betrayed, do not ask your partner to disclose details because you don’t want to be hurt any more than you already have been and because you want a chance to reconcile.

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


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

The Secret. What Everyone Should Know about Anger? Part 1

Scenario: James watched as his son, a talented goalie, let in a goal that lost the game. Exasperated he let out a cry of disgust. As James and his son walked away from the hockey rink James berated him for not trying hard enough. His discouraged son emphatically tried to convince him that he had tried as hard as he could – to no avail. Both felt badly.

Anger is usually a secondary feeling.

Underlying the anger there is another feeling – a vulnerable feeling – that acts like an engine fueling the anger and driving the behavior. Any vulnerable feeling can fuel anger. Some people get angry when they feel hurt.  Some people get angry when they feel threatened. Anyone can get angry when they feel out of control. Some people get angry when they feel pressured. Most people get irritable when they are hungry or tired.  There are many vulnerable feelings: abandoned, put down, shamed, embarrassed, exposed, challenged, disappointed, hopeless, controlled, rejected, blocked, misunderstood, and more.
In James’ case, underneath his anger was disappointed. When his son did well he felt proud and important, almost as if he’d achieved it himself. He enjoyed the compliments from coaches and other parents. When his son did not do well he felt like a failure. He hated feeling like a failure so he shifted into anger and got on his son’s case.
Vulnerable feelings can range from slight to extreme. No one likes to feel vulnerable so most people behave in ways that attempt to avoid or deflect from the feeling. They may get busy talking about something else, they may focus on a task, they may worry about aches or pains they have or they may get angry.
Why get angry? When people shift into anger they stop feeling the vulnerable feeling. It does not go away; it just goes into the background. Feeling angry is better than feeling humiliated, rejected or some other vulnerable feeling. When people feel angry they feel powerful, not vulnerable. With anger it may be possible to change what is going on.

Anger has a purpose.

When people get angry it helps them make happen what they want to happen or to prevent or stop happening what they do not want to happen.
James needed his son to do well so that he felt good about himself. He got angry at his son to pressure him into trying harder. Most children feel uncomfortable when their parents are angry so they try to do whatever it is that will stop the anger, whether it is good for them or not. They become more focused on what their parents are feeling than on the activity. That makes it harder for them to do well.
What could James do to achieve his goals? First of all, James needs to be aware that he feels disappointed. He probably shifts into anger so quickly that he does not even realize it. Secondly, he needs to realize that his disappointed is about himself, not his son; he is trying to get his needs met vicariously through his son’s efforts and abilities. Once he is aware, he can 1) do things in his own life to achieve a sense of accomplishment and importance 2) give his son positive feedback about what he is doing well so his son stays focused on the sport. Then his son is more likely to enjoy the activity and perform at his best. Result? Both feel good – his son about himself, James about himself and his parenting.
When parents figure out the engine (vulnerable feeling) driving their anger they have more choices. They may continue to handle situations in the same way or they may find more effective ways, without getting angry, that are positive for everyone concerned.

Explore the feelings underlying your anger.  What did you feel just before you got angry?

What is the purpose of your anger?  Is there a better way to achieve it than getting angry?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

What to do When a Breakup Turns Ugly.

Breaking up is especially difficult when only one wants to end the relationship.  The one who is left is in a great deal of emotional pain from the grief and loss.  He or she also feels powerless to do anything about their circumstances.  Often they do not know how to handle the pain, which feels unbearable and seems never ending.  For some people, shifting into anger seems to alleviate their pain.  Actually, anger just masks pain.  But masking the pain may be preferable to feeling it.  The pain does not go away; it just goes underground and influences behaviors in negative ways.

Sometimes breakups turn ugly.  One or both parties start behaving in ways that are inappropriate, perhaps even frightening.  Behaviors such as stalking, threatening verbally and physically, name calling, complaining to your friends/co-workers, making unwanted phone calls, sending unwanted text messaging and emails, damaging property, stealing from your partner and worse, make a breakup ugly.

Scenario 1) John finally ended his two year and half relationship with Mary after months of vacillating back and forth. It was not working out for him and he did not want to invest any more of himself in it.  Mary was devastated and she pleaded with John to give her another chance. John’s resolve weakened and they did reconcile for a few months.  But the same unpleasant dynamics between them repeated, so he ended it again. Mary refused to accept the breakup.  She kept calling John and begging him to reconcile.  She kept driving by his home.  She left messages on his car.  She called his friends trying to solicit their help.  She sent him ecards, long hysterical emails and emotional text messages.  John felt sorry for her and would take her calls and answer her messages.  He kept explaining in a caring way that the relationship was over for him.  When John was nice to Mary, her hopes for reconciliation increased.  She tried harder to have contact with John.  She knew that her behavior was harming what little relationship they had left, yet she could not stop herself.  John’s compassion for her shifted into disgust.  He felt badgered and victimized.  He avoided all contact with her and after several months Mary gave up.

Scenario 2) After breaking up and reconciling five times, Judy decided to end her 4 year relationship with Marty for good.  As before, Marty begged and pleaded with her to take him back.  When she wouldn’t, Marty became angry and bitter.  He started making phone calls and hanging up.  He started threatening her.  At first he would make statements such as ‘You better watch out.”  Then the statements escalated into “I’m going to kill you.”  Judy was frightened and did not know what to do.  She was afraid to talk to her parents. She talked to all of her friends trying to figure out what to do.  She talked to him and told him that he was frightening her, but it did no good.  Sometimes he would switch from bitterness to apology but when she would not agree to give him another chance he shifted back into anger and rage.  He wanted her to hurt as much as he was hurting.  When he saw the fear in her eyes and heard the fear in her voice, he knew he was still able to have an impact on her.  It was not the impact he wanted to have but it was better than feeling powerless. One time when he saw her going into a pub with another guy he keyed her car.  The destructive action gave him some relief from the pain of seeing her with another guy. (All scenarios are fictitious).

The same recommendations apply here as in How to Handle a Breakup

Additional recommendations:

Be pleasantly matter-of-fact

If you have to have contact, be pleasantly matter-of-fact.  There may be many reasons that you have contact during and after a breakup.  People build defenses against loving and angry behaviors, but they do not build defenses against pleasant matter-of-fact behaviors.  When you talk to your ex-partner in a neutral tone that does not have an edge to your voice, you are more likely to influence him or her in a positive way, perhaps not in the moment, but later.

Keep contact to a minimum.

Do not receive or respond to phone calls, emails or text messages. Turn off your cell phone at night, even during the day, if necessary.  If your ex-partner arrives at your door at 3:00 am do not let him or her in.  The less contact you have with your ex-partner, the less either of you will be upset.  Ignoring contact tends to lessen contact.  There are certain phone calls you have to take, in particular, around custody and access of children/pets and financial matters. Make contact only when necessary.

Keep responses to a minimum.

Make short simple statements and repeat without adding more. Do not keep explaining repeatedly in the hope that your ex-partner will understand.  Most hurt partners do not want to understand. When you have contact, make precise simple statements that are to the point and repeat them in a matter-of-fact manner without adding anything more.


Getting back together is not a possibility.

I’m not willing to try again.

The relationship no longer works for me.

I want what is best for the children.

It’s not OK to say things like that.

Take all threats seriously.

Realize that your ex-lover is in a great deal of grief and loss and that the threats are coming out of the pain.  However, that does not make what they are saying or doing OK.  While you need to take all threats seriously, if your ex-lover has no history of violent behavior it is unlikely that he or she will become violent.

NOTE: If you ex-lover does have a history of violence then you should take great care to protect yourself and avoid contact.  You should also keep a low profile for many months, as seeing you get on with your life without him or her may fuel their grief/rage.

Mute your own emotions during contact.

As best you can, do not show hurt, fear or anger.  Ex-partners, who are being nasty, want to influence you; if they cannot do it in a positive way they will resign themselves to achieving it in a negative way.  For them, any influence is better than none.

Downplay threatening behavior.

If at all possible, ignore inappropriate, hurtful and nasty behaviors. You do not want to fuel behavior that is not OK.  If your ex-lover treats you badly in any way, the best way to handle this behavior is to ignore it.  If you have to respond, make a brief matter-of-fact statement, such as “It’s not OK to behave that way.” Do not add anything more. Repeat if necessary, then ignore.

Seek out resources among your family, friends and community.

Set up a friend, family member or counselor to call.  When you are in emotional pain it is natural to miss you ex-partner whether you initiated the breakup or your partner did.  Men find it helpful to call a female friend when they are struggling with their emotions. Do not call your ex-partner when you are in pain, lonely or missing them.  If you have someone that you have arranged to call when you are in distress, you are less likely to call your ex-partner.

Reach out.  When you are worried by your own behavior or your ex-lover’s behavior, it is wise to talk to and be with someone you trust  – a person who will help you handle yourself and the breakup in a healthy way.

Look after yourself

However your breakup unfolds, look after yourself by connecting with those you love and trust.  See professional help if you need to.  You do not want to repeat any of your behaviors that are unhealthy in a new relationship.  Now is the time to learn about yourself and make the changes you need to make.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

How to Handle a Breakup.

Breaking up is difficult to do even when it is mutual. Usually both partners are in emotional pain and miss the other.  Often they still love each other but in spite of trying so hard, just cannot make it work.  Both feel like fish out of water because they are not in a relationship yet not ready to be single either.  People, newly broken up, do not know how to be with family and friends, and family and friends are not sure how to handle family members who are newly broken up.  What if they reconcile?   It is a confusing time when one’s personal life goes from order into chaos.


Be respectful

Respect is important during relationships and while ending them.  Respectful behavior is less likely to provoke hurtful, inappropriate or nasty behavior.  Also, you want to know that regardless how difficult the situation is you can look in the mirror and respect yourself for how you handle the breakup.

Trust in your ex-lover’s inner resources

People are very resourceful. Believe, given time, he or she will recover and get on with their lives.  Most people are in a new relationship within two to four years.  If you believe this, even if you don’t say anything to your partner, you will convey to him or her that you believe they have resources. This will help them believe in themselves, help them believe that they can recover and move on.

Do not send mixed messages

Because there are always good parts to every relationship people usually still have some loving feelings for their ex-partner when they end a relationship.  If not loving feelings, then feelings of concern for them.  Partners who do not want the relationship to end will focus on any message that indicates a possibility of reconciliation. When you end a relationship, give your ex-lover only the message that the relationship is over.

Do not try to be friends – yet

A romantic relationship needs to fully end before a friends-only relationship can begin.  Take time apart before you attempt to re-engage as friends.  This way, you will more likely be able to salvage the friendship.

Confide in a trustworthy person

People who talk about their experiences during a breakup do better than those who do not. It helps to articulate what you are thinking and feeling, as well as get feedback.

Choose wisely who you to talk to?  It could be a best friend or family member who can be trusted to keep confidences.  However, sometimes friends and family are not able to act as confidants for various reasons.  Perhaps they cannot keep what you say confidential.  It could be that it’s too difficult to see their loved one in pain.  Perhaps it is shaking up their own relationship.  Or, it may be that they have an agenda about your breakup.  Also, if there is a possibility of reconciliation, family and friends may view you and/or your partner differently because of what you told them.

Seeing a counselor or psychologist is an option.  It allows you to explore and express yourself without concern of negative judgment or how it will impact on your other relationships.  What you disclose will not come back to bite you.

Reach out

Keep busy without burying yourself in work.  Now is the time to do things and have contact with other people even if you do not want to.  Call family and friends you’ve neglected, learn new skills, take courses, and hang out with those that care about you.

Look after yourself.

Dr. Bea

Note:  Handling breakups respectfully speaks well of you to future partners.

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

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

Communication skills: How to handle mixed messages & RETURN TO SENDER

A mixed message is a message that can be taken different ways. Mixed messages cause lots of communication problems in intimate relationships and in relationships in general.

First of all, you need to know when you’re are getting a double or 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.

When you receive a double or mixed message, without expectation or demand for change, send both messages back to the sender. Give both message back as feedback to the sender. 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 then the sender is mostly likely to be hurt, angry and defensive.

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

WHEN WORDS DO NOT MATCH WORDS: Examples of what to say.

1. Last week you said your 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).

WHEN WORD DO NOT MATCH BEHAVIORS: Examples of what to say.

1. I don’t get it. You complain about me not helping (words) yet you re-do everything I do (behaviors).

2. I’m confused. 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 often go off by yourself (behaviors).


1. I’m puzzled. You say you’re fine (words) yet you look sad (body language).

2. I’m confused. 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 your partner from sending you mixed messages. What you can do is change how you respond to them. By telling the other about your confusion you are letting them know the impact of their behavior on you. This has the potential to improve communication.

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 communication.

Experiment with this skill and see how communication shifts.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay.

Relationships Blindsided by Ambivalent Love

A new client came to see me. Sally was distraught because her spouse had suddenly told her that he wanted out of the relationship. She pulled two cards out of her purse. Her spouse had given them to her in the last 6 months. One card was given to her in November on their anniversary. In it, he wrote how much he loved, valued and appreciated her. In the more recent card, given to her three months later on Valentine’s Day  he expressed his love for her just as passionately.

Sally was shocked that he could go from being so in love with her, so solidly in the marriage, to suddenly wanting to end it. She was in despair that he did not want to try to repair the relationship or even give her a chance. She was bewildered at how this could have happened to her. She did not see it coming.

Most of this session focused on her shock and bafflement at how this situation could have happened. She claimed this was totally out of the blue. She was still in denial that her marriage was threatened and it was too soon to accept the reality. Her trust in herself had been shattered. Her self-esteem had suffered a serious blow.

Toward the end of the session she started to mention times that she had sensed that something was just not quite right. Most of those times she simply dismissed her doubts. There were so many positive indicators that everything was solid between them. Occasionally, she would approach her spouse with the mixed message she was getting from him and he would reassure her. She said she would think of the cards he’d given her and dismiss any doubts she might have.

Sally was getting conflicting messages from her spouse but she did not notice. Aside from minor ups and downs, her experience was that the marriage was going well. Mostly she would only hear one of the messages – the one she wanted to hear – that things were good between them. Occasionally she would hear both messages and check it out with her spouse. Again, she got from him what she wanted – reassurance that their relationship was solid. She based her way of being in the relationship on it.

This is an extreme case of one spouse being ambivalent in a relationship and the other being 100% committed. I have not seen situations like this often, yet often enough to know that it probably happens more frequently than we realize. In this case, Sally’s spouse was able to hide his ambivalence by doing all the ‘right’ things at all the ‘right’ times.

Most couples in troubled relationships do not go through what Sally and her spouse experienced. It is more common for both partners to be aware that one or both partners are ambivalent about their relationship. Mixed message are frequent and vary with where each is on the Pendulum Swing – just thinking about staying/leaving and acting on staying/leaving.

Some spouses know their relationship is in serious trouble and deliberately ignore the negative part of the mixed messages. They do not do anything to change the situation.

Fearing confrontation they put their head in the sand. They assume it is just a bad patch and hope things will get better soon.

Other couples regularly fight about the mixed messages. Focus is on the negative message sent, usually escalating the distress between them.

One thing is for sure, any partner who is ambivalent about his or her relationship sends mixed messages. There is a range of mixed messages between obvious and subtle. There will be lots of double messages in unhealthy relationships. Even in healthy relationships, while going through the transition from one developmental stage to another, one or both partners may feel ambivalent until the couple consolidates their changes at the next stage.

How the partners handle their own ambivalence and/or their partner’s ambivalence is what is important. Unless there are unusual circumstances it is not healthy to hide your ambivalence about your relationship. I have seen so many people who have not told their partners what is troubling them about their relationships. They have just assumed that nothing can be done and they start to disengage. Their partner does not even have a chance to address the issues because they are not aware that one exists.

When issues are effectively dealt with, many relationships can be repaired .

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Note: Clients referred to in this entry are fictitious.

What Goes on During Repeated Relationship Breakups and Reconciliations?

Often when couples are in a troubled relationship they break up and get back together again many times. There are good aspects of the relationship that keep couples coming back to each other. Once they are reconciled the issues or problems of the relationship come to the foreground and the couple, still unable to resolve them, break up again. In the April 2008 issue of Psychology Today, the article On-again, Off-Again states the reason for this pattern stems from relationships that deep down are probably not right. Fundamentally, there are differences in standards and values that the couple cannot resolve such as dishonesty, irresponsibility, unfaithfulness, abuse and life-style. Or, there are differences in wants and needs such as sex, intimacy, companionship, comfort and security.

Temporary separations are not necessarily a bad thing. Many couples have separated over the course of their relationship at some time or another. Sometimes the separations are overt and other times they are disguised as holidays (sometimes as short as a couple of days), visits to extended family, or work related. A temporary separation can help a couple reorganize their relationship.

Couples develop dynamics between each other over time. When that dynamic is troubled separating can throw the dynamic into chaos. Out of the chaos partners, who still care about each other, can develop a new dynamic that works for them. This means that each partner changes permanently. For example: A couple break up because their fighting escalates to the point where an incident of physical abuse occurs. Then they reconcile with the agreed premise that physical abuse is crossing the line that neither want to ever cross again. Each changes in how they fight and resolve issues.

Most couples in troubled relationships break up and reconcile one or more times before the final break up. This stems from the emotional pain caused in breaking up. Often, each is in such pain that they reconcile to stop the pain. Then once they are back in the relationship the intolerable problems of the relationship push them to separate again. The emotional pain in ending a relationship and breaking up a family unit can be excruciating. Some couples stay together to avoid this pain.

There are couples who love each other passionately yet cannot live together. They cannot find a way to resolve their differences. There are celebrity couples who demonstrate this. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married and divorced twice. Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee also married and divorced twice.

Reconciliation often occurs because starting over is difficult and uncomfortable. Very few relationships are all bad. Partners often hang on to the good aspects of the relationship because they cannot face starting over or they cannot tolerate being alone.

Often partners confuse the emotional pain of separation for love. One or both partners may think, “If I am in so much emotional pain it must mean I still love my partner”. This can be true and a separation may make this realization possible. If it is mutual, the couple reconcile with renewed commitment to each other. However, often it is grief, not love, that is experienced when couples break up. Grief for the loss of the bond that forms when partners live together and marry as well as when they form family units. Grief for the loss of the good parts of the relationship that they may never find again with anyone else. Grief for the loss of the hopes and dreams that once were a part of the relationship.

It is healthy to grieve the losses. They are significant. It is important to grieve because individuals who grieve recover fully and are able to engage in life again.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do It Yourself Relationship Help at

How I Help Couples Improve their Intimate Relationships

When I am working with couples I find that partners hear the words each other says but they do not hear the messages sent by the words. They interrupt each other. Some talk over each other. Some feel attacked and defend their positions. Others defend themselves by attacking and accusing the other. The talker talks more and often louder. The quiet one talks less and withdraws even further. The fixer tries to fix. Neither seems to be willing to listen to the other’s point of view until they have had their point of view heard. Often each is caught up in the need to be right or the partner who hates confrontation often caves in in the face of heated emotion.

To help couples change how they interact I facilitate a dialogue between the partners by using myself as a filter. If a couple tells me about an argument or fight they had outside the therapy office I do not know what went on. I did not hear the words. I did not see the body language or the behaviors. In my office, I can see and hear what is going on. I hear the words. I see the body language. I can see what is working well in the relationship and I can build on that. I also can see what is getting in the way. I can intervene and address the problematic interactions right then.

I ask one partner to start to talk to the other about a contentious issue but to do it through me. I listen very carefully to what is said and then I take what is said and reflect it to his or her partner. Sometimes I use the same words and sometimes I say the same thing only using different words. Then I ask their partner to respond to what was said. I do the same thing; I listen carefully, then I take what was said and reflect it back to their partner.

I block interruptions. This forces them to sit and listen to their partner twice, once when their partner is talking and once while I am talking. This forces them to truly listen instead of thinking of their rebuttal while their partner is still talking. Then they get to respond and say whatever they want.

I discourage solutions at this point because the real problem has not been identified. It is counter productive to try to solve a problem when you don’t know if there is a problem or what the problem really is.

The dialogue continues back and forth. Through this process things start to shift. Partners begin to hear the messages the other is sending. They start to understand their partner’s point of view. They learn new things about their partners. Misunderstandings get clarified.

Through this process we are able to discover what the real problem is. Once identified we can explore what changes are possible.

I ask each partner to stop trying to change other. I tell them that the one person you can change is yourself. If you change, your partner will usually respond to your change with change. Of course there is no guarantee that your partner will change or even change in a positive way, but most of the time partners do respond to change with change. Change is what is needed.

I work with each partner right there and then to find changes they can make and are willing to make. I check with their spouse to see that he or she will respond positively to those changes.

Each one is to be responsible for his or her own changes. Each one is to work on their own changes regardless of whether their partner does or not. If their partner does not work on their changes they are to bring that complaint to the next session.

Now something different can happen between the couple. They are to come back next session and report what worked well and what was problematic. We build on what went well and address what is still not working.

With care and concern.

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

The Merry-go-round Fights

Scenario 1: Bill said he would be home for dinner at 7:00. He gets tied up with a client at work and forgets to phone Susan. He arrives home tired and hungry at 9:00 pm. Susan is upset. She asks, “Why didn’t you call and let me know?” Susan feels unimportant not not considered. Bill feels justified, he was working hard for his family. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario 2: Bill takes the kids for a hike. They have a great day and are gone longer than intended. They are expected at Susan’s parents for dinner. When they get home they all need to get cleaned up. They are tired and cranky. They are late getting to her parents. Susan feels stressed. She’s angry at Bill for taking so long. Bill feels unjustly criticized, he was being a good dad. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario 3: Bill and Susan go to a party with friends. About an hour and a half into the party Susan is looking for Bill and cannot find him anywhere. She asks around but no one has seen him. Another hour later Bill comes back with his friend who had also been at the party. Bill tells Susan that his friend asked for his advice about his car and they had been out back tinkering with it. Susan feels alone. Bill feels justified, he was being helpful. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario 4: Bill and Susan have friends over for dinner. Bill is a great host. But, as soon as the guests walk in the door Susan feels that he is treating her and the children differently – like they don’t matter. Susan feels like she and the children are second class citizens. Bill feels unjustifiably accused. He was being a good host. They fight about it but do not resolve.

Scenario: xxx: They fight about it but do not resolve.

Couples have differences. There are always problems to address. Couples discuss. They fight. Early in a relationship when an issue comes up, a couple will take it on, discuss it, argue and fight about it. Each tries to get his or her view point across to the other. Each tries to resolve it. Lots of times they are able to resolve it, sometimes in a healthy way, sometimes in an unhealthy way. But other times they are not able to get to a workable outcome. When this happens the issue gets dropped and some how the couple get over it or beyond it. Then the next problem comes up and the same thing happens. Each tries to resolve it yet neither are able to. It does not go away, it just goes under the carpet. This happens over and over again. There is a building of unresolved issues. There is a backlog of hurt and resentment.

I call these fights the Merry-go-round fights. It’s like riding a merry-go-round at the amusement park. An issue comes up. Couples jump on the merry-go-round. They go round and round. They go up and down. And, when they get off they are in exactly the same spot as they were before they got on. Nothing has changed. Neither feels good.

The next issue comes up. Again, they hop on the merry-go-round. They go round and round. They go up and down. When they get off, they are still in the same place. This pattern repeats again and again.

At first, couples are eager to hop on the merry-go-round. They are eager to resolve the issues. They care about each other. They have lots of energy for it. They try hard. Then they try harder. Yet, they are still unable to resolve. It does not seem to matter how hard they try. The rides usually escalate and get longer and more difficult. Eventually, one gets tired of going on the merry-go-round. An issue or problem will come up and one wants to fight, the other doesn’t. What for? He or she knows that they will go for a ride and nothing will change. When the ride is over they get off at the same place once gain. There is no point. Why waste the energy? They don’t want to waste the time. No one wants to fight until three in the morning and not get anywhere, especially if they have to go to work the next day. Both just feel worse – discouraged and hopeless. Eventually, neither wants to fight. The couple gradually falls into a funk and disconnect from each other. Over time the relationship goes numb or dead. Couples may stay together this way or they may break up.

Healthy couples are able to find a way to resolve their issues and problems. They listen to each others concerns and complaints. They are willing to see their partner’s point of view. They are open to seeing things from a different perspective. They brainstorm possible solutions and come up with changes to try. Then each make changes. They keep what works. They discard what doesn’t. They fine tune the changes until they are mutually satisfied with the results. Then they feel good about what they achieved together. They feel like a team working well together. The fight may have been difficult but it is productive. They are in a new better place! The fight was worth the time and energy. The couple feel connected to each other. They have developed a good working relationship. Partners who feel good about each other are more easily able to resolve issues.

No more merry-go-round rides!

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

Living inside my head.

“The city goes to bed and I can live inside my head,
Although I know it’s only in my mind that I’m talking to myself and not to him.”

Eponine in Les Miserable

One of the ways that people cope in an unhappy relationship is to avoid the reality of the life they are living. They develop a fantasy world where they go to feel happy. This world can be about a past lover – a once real relationship that did not work out for one reason or another. The daydreaming is about what might have happened if it had worked out. It could be a world about having a relationship with a real life celebrity. Or, it can be a totally fictitious relationship with an imaginary lover. People are creative. There are many variations on this theme.

In this fantasy world the dreamer has total control. They can make happen what they want, make happen what they long for. He or she can enter this world any time they want and when they do they leave behind the pain of reality. They get respite from the emotional pain. All the while they are in the daydream they are having fun, may be madly in love, pleased, excited, content and happy. They feel valuable and important to someone. Often it is the only time they are happy.

The problem is when they come out of their fantasy world and have to face reality again. It is hard to give up the good feelings. It is difficult to re-experience the real life painful feelings again or the numbness they go into. They want to find another time soon to escape back into the fantasy. It’s kind of like an addiction.

Eventually, this fantasy world wears thin and the pain of coming out of this imaginary world becomes so distressful that something has got to change. Unhealthy people may become suicidal, turn to alcohol and drugs, or other destructive behaviors.

Healthy people will choose to stop entering the fantasy world. They will start making changes in their real world – in their real marriage. They will address the problems in their relationship and either make things better or end the relationship. To help them, they seek out resources in the community in the form of family, friends and counseling.

Living in a fantasy world is very isolating and people are meant to live in community.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

Note to readers: I invite you to send in your stories of how you lived inside your head and how you got out of it.

The Dreaded Valentine’s Day

For people who are conflicted about remaining in their relationship, Valentine’s Day can be a day to dread, along with anniversaries and family holidays. The conflict people already feel is escalated trying to figure out what to do about it.

Do you try to ignore it? Maybe arrange to be out of town on business or visiting relatives. Do you fake it – pretend everything is fine in the relationship? Buy a loving card, gift and arrange to eat out? Send flowers? But that means giving your partner false hope. You don’t want to do that either. But mostly, you don’t want to fight about it because that will just be painful.

What to do? What to do? What to do?

If you were my client I would work with you to find out what works best for you given your situation. However, since that is not an option, here is another possibiltiy.

Be congruent. It is usually best to be congruent. Tell your partner that you are not feeling good about the relationship right now and you would like to be low key about how the two of you celebrate it. Suggest that you go to a (non romantic) movie together.

For today, get through the day as best you can. For tomorrow, (i.e. the near future), what you need to do is resolve your inner conflict about your relationship. Try your best to repair it, because if you are able to, it will be worth it. Couples who overcome adversity have stronger happier marriages. And, if you are unable to, you will know you did everything you could before you gave up. Then start taking the actions required to end it.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

Pendulum Swing

What’s it like to be conflicted in a relationship?

People who are conflicted are constantly thinking about the pros and cons of leaving and the pros and cons of staying. They constantly question what they think and what they feel. As well, most of the time they are feeling pain and distress that varies from mild to severe. They try all sorts of things to improve the relationship – reasoning, convincing, pleading, buying things, going on holidays, adapting, adjusting, individual and couple counselling, etc. Some people blame their partners and some blame themselves.

When people who are conflicted still cannot get their needs met they often give up and resign themselves to the relationship the way it is. To endure it, they do many things to distract from the pain and sense of powerlessness. If there are children they will focus on them. Many people turn to their children and pets for love and affection because they cannot get those needs met from their spouse. They may work longer hours, go out often with friends, spend more time doing hobbies such as sports, gardening, chess, music, video games and partying. If there is no love in the relationship they may experience grief and loss of ever finding love and happiness. They may numb out the pain with affairs, gambling, drinking and/or drugging.

Thinking about breaking up and actually breaking up are two different things. At one time the pendulum swings toward breaking up. An unhappy spouse will think and think and think about breaking up and finally get to the point where action is required. To take the actions necessary to break up is very difficult. Taking action creates conflict and emotional pain. It evokes fears. The pendulum swings back again, giving relief from the potential stress.

Most people are conflicted about staying in or ending their relationship at one time or another. Even people who remain married or in relationship for the rest of their lives still go through natural developmental stages that bring into question whether or not to stay together. Couples that have developed a good working relationship usually are able to negotiated these times easily. Their relationship remains healthy and evolves to the next stage. But couples who have not been able to develop a way to handle differences and resolve problems have a much more difficult time going these stages. Their relationships are more likely to become unhealthy and get stuck at one stage or another. When relationships get stuck, one or both members of the couple then tend to swing back and forth, like a pendulum, between staying and leaving.

Relationships and marriages are rarely all bad. When they are, there is no decision about whether or not to end it, it is a matter of, if it is possible, and if so, when. In very abusive relationships it may be dangerous to leave. Research shows that in such marriages a spouse is most likely to be harmed when he or she tries to leave the relationship. Children are often at risk during this time as well.

Relationships may be a ratio of 80/20% bad to good or 60/40% bad to good, or even 70/30% good to bad. When an unhappy spouse thinks of leaving what comes to the foreground is the grief and loss about the good in the relationship that they have to give up. No one wants to give up the good stuff! They fear that they may never find it again. They often confuse grief and loss with love. That’s when the pendulum starts to swing the other way. As they start to think again about staying, the grief and loss dissipates. Now they continue to swing toward staying and again investing themselves in the marriage. But then the difficulties in the relationship come to the foreground. They feel the pain of ongoing interactions that are painful and stressful. They start to dread certain times such as coming home and spending time together. They dread special days such as Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. They may fantasize about their spouse having a fatal car accident or dying of a disease. When it gets to be more than they can stand the pendulum starts to swing back the other way. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. Sometimes the pendulum goes slowly back and forth. Sometimes a particular event or interaction may trigger the pendulum to swing quickly from one side to the other.

It takes action to change this distressful pattern – actions that invest oneself again in the relationship and either attempts to make the relationship better or just tolerate it the way it is. And, it requires actions to exit.

When people do take actions often their lives go into chaos. The old patterns, routines and habits are shaken up. While shaking up a stuck relationship is required to reorganize, it is extremely stressful for all involved. During this stage many people will reconcile, not because they want the relationship, but because they want to stop the confusion, stress, fear and emotional pain. They long for the familiar even that is stressful too. At least they know that stress. The pendulum swings back again.

Couples often break up and reconcile several times before they finally make the changes needed to stay together. Some people change only when the stakes are high. In marriage break up, the stakes can be very high. Or, before they finally break up for good.

It is very difficult to take the actions needed to stop the pendulum from swinging.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

Make Relationship Changes Now: (Pt 2) Be Nicer

Research shows that in courtship there are 20-50 positive interactions to every one negative interaction. That is a lot of nice behaviors! No wonder courtship is so enjoyable. In happy marriages there are 5 positive interactions to every one negative interaction. In unhappy relationships there are many more negative interactions to each positive interaction. When there are more positive interactions than negative interactions it is easier to over come or recover from difficulties in a relationship.

Relationships are interactive. You and your partner co-create the dynamics in your relationship. You cannot create what happens between you and your partner all by yourself. Believe this, even if your partner is constantly letting you know in various ways that “It’s all your fault.”

On the other hand, you can make changes all by yourself and those changes will impact upon your partner. Your partner usually, I repeat usually, responds to your changes with their changes. Maybe the change will be positive. Maybe the change will be negative. But be sure, that there will be some kind of change. Keep the behaviors that enhance the relationship and discard those that make it worse.

Begin with small positive interactions. Too much too soon can feel awkward and uncomfortable for each partner.

To be nice is to be kind, considerate, thoughtful, appreciative, helpful, affectionate, caring, thankful, tender and warm. It is also to acknowledge your partners efforts, abilities, talents, skills, sorrows, struggles and hardships.

When you start making changes be prepared for some resistance. Relationships develop repetitive patterns and each partner will have habitual ways of maintaining the status quo. Often when one person changes the other will respond with behaviors that attempt to get their partner to return to the old behaviors. That’s normal because we all like familiarity and find change unsettling. Don’t hold that against your spouse.

Don’t expect positive change from your partner any time soon. Once a partner realizes that the change is for real, he or she will adjust. So be patient. If, your true intent is to control or manipulate your partner, or to show you are better than your partner, then your relationship will become more troubled than it already is. If, in your heart, you are motivated by love for your partner and a genuine desire for a better connection, then the changes will most likely enhance your relationship. Only you can decide the quality of your intent.

Often one partner starts being nice (or nicer) again to their spouse only to find there is no reciprocation. Or worse, the reaction is sarcasm, as in, “Oh, you’re sooo sweet.”. Or just silence. Or skepticism, as in, “What do you want from me?” Or sabotage, as in “Cut the crap.” After a short while the one who initiated change gives up and goes back to the old ways, feeling powerless and even more discouraged.

When you want change, decide to be nicer to your partner without any demand or expectation that they respond in the same way. This is key! If they respond to niceness with niceness – Great! But if they don’t, it probably means they are wary of being taken in and afraid of being hurt (again). By continuing to behave according to your goal of enhancing your relationship, in spite of your partners negative reactions, you will be doing what you want to do. You will feel good about yourself. You will be able to look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I know I am trying by best”. Over time your partner experiences your efforts as genuine and enduring – i.e. believable, not just a flash in the pan. Over time, ongoing positive behaviors are likely to soften resentment, heal hurts and demonstrate genuine intent to improve the relationship.

Whether your relationship endures or not, you have nothing to lose by being nicer to your partner and a lot to gain.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

The Invisible Ring

I was doing the after-Christmas-shopping thing picking up discounted deals on wrap etc. I was in the checkout line waiting for my turn with the cashier. There was a man a couple of customers ahead of me who had his hand on the counter. I noticed that his ring finger on his left hand was bare but there was an indent where a ring had been. The depth of the indent on his finger struck me. It had obviously been there a long long time.

I looked at what he was buying – sheets and pillow cases. Hmmmmm. I guessed he has just separated from his wife (maybe family too) and is now setting up his own place. I could not see his face as he had his back to me. I felt sad. I thought that he is probably in a lot of pain (even if he is the one who wanted out). As that old song says, “Breaking up is hard to do”.

I know marriage shapes us. This was proof, small but dramatic, of how marriage can impact us physically not just emotionally.

I wonder how long it will take for his finger to recover its original shape?

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

A little help can go a long way.

Many years ago when I was a new counsellor, a woman came to see me. It was her first session with me and the first time ever seeing a therapist. She was stiff and anxious. It was very clear to me that she did not want to be here. She blurted out, “My 14 year old daughter from my first marriage is trying to break up my second marriage.” I wanted to put her issue with her daughter aside for the moment so I asked her to tell me about her marriage. To help her talk in depth about it I asked her to sit in a different chair and tell me only what was negative about it. She had lots of complaints. I listened and validated her feelings. To tease out the positive from the negative I asked her to switch to different chair and tell me only about the positive things in the marriage. She did not usually think much about the positive so this was not as easy for her. As she told me about the positives she became teary and sad. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something about how she was missing the good things in the relationship. She acknowledge that was true. Then I told her what I thought was going on for her – that she was very lonely in the marriage. When I said this she cried deeply. I helped her access and express her lonliness in depth.

At the end of the session I addressed her issue with her daughter that she had started the session with. I told her that I did not think her daughter was trying to break up her marriage so much as her daughter was very attuned to her unhappiness and was concerned about her. I did not give her any directions. We booked another session.

The next week she came back. Without preamble, she brusquely said to me, “I did not need to come today.” It kind of took me aback. Then she told me what had happened after last week’s session. She said when her husband came home from work she asked him to come into the living room. She said they started to talk and their discussion got loud. Her daughter came out of her bedroom to see what was going on. She told her daughter that she was taking care of this and to go back into her bedroom. Her daughter did as she was told. She said they continued to talk and that they talked with each other in a way they had never done before. They talked heart to heart about many things. They would argue, yet keep talking. She said they cleared up many incorrect assumptions that each had made about the other. Later in the week, to her surprise, her husband attended a parent/teacher’s meeting with her for the first time. She thought he did not care about her three daughters. He told her he thought she did not want him involved with them so he had just backed off.

She was pleased and relieved. In her curt manner she said she did not need to come again. I validated her efforts to make change and her courage in reaching out for professional help. I did not say so, but I also thought she enjoyed sharing her success with me and perhaps I was the only one she could share it with.

I thanked her for coming back to tell me what happened when she did not need to. I told her that if she had not come back I would have thought the session had not been helpful to her.

I never saw her again.

As a counsellor new to the work, this client taught me something I’ve never forgotten – that it is possible to facilitate significant change in a first session and in a single session. If a client does not come back, it MAY mean the session was not productive and that they did not connect with me, OR it may mean it was productive and that they do not need to come back or could not afford to come back. That has proved true over the years.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

Doing couples counseling on your own.

Sometimes a partner is not ready to go to counselling with their partner or sometimes they have asked their partner to go with them and their partner refuses.

It is possible to do couples counseling on your own. Why? Because relationships are interactive. What one partner does impacts upon the other. Couples co-create their relationship. No one person is responsible for what is going right in a relationship and no one person is responsible for what is going wrong.
Each person is partly responsible for what is going wrong in a relationship. You can go to counselling and work on your part. You may not know how to change your part and that is what the counselling is to help you figure out – how to change in ways that are likely to enhance the relationship. When you change your part of the interaction your partner usually (not always but usually)responds to change with change. You don’t know what that change is going to be – maybe it will makes things better and maybe not – but the important thing is that there will be change. By taking responsibilty for your part and acting on it you have the power to make changes in your life.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at

To do or not do couples counseling?

I believe that couples have nothing to lose by trying to improve their relationship through counseling. If the counseling works then that is great! Couples who overcome adversity in their relationship develop stronger deeper relationships. (Because relationships are interactive it is also possible for one member of a couple to work on his or her relationship and make changes in positive ways. I have worked with many individuals and helped them turn their troubled relationships around without ever seeing their partners.)

What does it mean – if the counseling works?

My role in couples counseling is to help couples develop a good working relationship with each other. When a couple has a good working relationship they can successfully deal with their differences and more easily resolve problems. I am amazed how creatively and easily couples are able to resolve problems when they have a good working relationship!

With a good working relationship many couples are able to come together in a new way – a healthy loving way that they have never been able to achieve before. This can help them reclaim the loving way they used to be with each other earlier in their relationship and allow their love to grow into something deeper and more meaningful. Staying in a healthy marriage/relationship is emotionally enriching and financially wise.

What if counseling doesn’t work?

If the counseling does not work then each member of the couple will know that they gave it one last shot before giving up. When I work with a couple I ask each to invest in the process of counseling whether his or her partner does or not. The counseling is more likely to work then. But if it still does not work, then the partners who invested in the process know that they gave it an genuine effort before they gave up. They didn’t just go through the motions. Although going through a break up is painful and difficult they will be able to face it better knowing in their own heart that they tried their best.

Even if counseling does not work each partner will gain new awareness of self, as well as new knowledge and skills that they can use in future relationships and in their life in general. So there is a lot to gain.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

Do it Yourself Relationship Help at