Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking for the Good - The Road Less Traveled

In Robert Frost’s poignant poem “The Road Not Taken” he ends with the famous lines:
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

There are many interpretations of what the road less traveled is. It can be a career choice, a romantic choice or a series of choices that lead to a positive result. However, as we approach the new year and are thinking about resolutions and goals, I would like to suggest that we look at the road less traveled as a whole mind-set or attitude of looking for the good.

In every relationship and in every person, we can choose to notice and focus on faults and short-comings. We all have them. Every relationship has them. They are easy to find and plenty to go around. We certainly can choose to take this “road”. However, we need to realize that by choosing this “road” of focusing on faults, it will make “all the difference” in the quality of our relationships.

Now, of course, there are some “faults”, such as blatant abuse of any kind, that certainly need to be addressed and should not be ignored. However, there are also a multitude of other “faults” that may not only be deteriorating to our relationships if we allow ourselves to dwell on them, but may also block our view from seeing the good that is also in every person and every relationship.

The reality is none of us, or our relationships, are completely perfect or completely awful. We are a mixture of good and bad, strengths and weaknesses.

Just as we can choose the “road” of focusing on faults, we can also choose the “road less traveled”, the “road” of looking for the good, of accentuating the positive, of strengthening our relationships. That road, though less traveled, is just as real and just as possible for us to take. And choosing to take it will make “all the difference” in the quality of our relationships.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Simplify and Live More Fully - The True Meaning of Christmas

As I was visiting with Jim and Linda (not their real names), the discussion evolved into one where each began articulating what was really important to them. It turned out it wasn’t having a nicer home, an expensive vacation or even more income – all concerns they had voiced previously.

What was really important to them, it turned out, was just spending time together – talking about ideas and enjoying each other’s company. In fact, as they reminisced, it turned out they had been happiest when they had less because they were focused less on things and more on enjoying each other and valuing their relationship.

At Christmas-time, it seems that we often get caught up in the business of the season – putting up grand displays of lights and decorations, letting ourselves be enticed by all the advertisements, believing we need the newest tool, gadget, or appliance. And yet, what is the meaning of Christmas? What is the true purpose of the occasion we celebrate on December 25th?

Isn’t it a story of a very humble birth, a very simple occasion? Yes, there were angels singing and wise men bringing gifts, but with reverence and focused attention on the divine birth. Shepherds and their sheep were also there. Isn’t Christmas a time to remember the message of the babe that was born? We are not here just to accumulate things but rather to learn to love and value each other. Indeed, as Jim and Linda realized – to simplify and live more fully.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Male and Female Brains

Couples will often comment “We just don’t think the same way.” And they’re right. Men and women’s brains are different. They literally do not function the same way.

For example, from infancy girl brains are more interested in people and communicating while boy brains are more interested in objects and actions. The fact that these differences show up early in infancy
means they are not learned but are “hard-wired”.

Women also have more “connectors” between the left and right hemispheres of the brain so it is easier for them to access both parts of their brain. It has been said that navigating between the right and left brains in women is like a four-lane freeway, whereas in men it is like a winding country road or even a pathway in the woods.

These brain differences explain why men have a harder time accessing their feelings and why women are more concerned about relationships. Both feelings and relationships are a function of the right brain. Because men have a harder time accessing both hemispheres, they generally operate from their left brain which is more task-oriented and logical.

It is good for husbands to understand these differences - that their wives are not just being “over-emotional”, for example, they simply have more access to their emotions. It is also good for wives to understand that their husbands are not “uncaring”, it is simply harder for them to access their emotions. Both husbands and wives need to be patient and willing to learn from each other. Our brains really are different.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Next week we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday that has come to mean getting together with our families and loved ones, enjoying the traditional turkey dinner and giving thanks.

It is a good time also to reflect back on that first Thanksgiving in 1621 when the Pilgrims and Indians gathered together to give thanks for their bountiful harvest. The year before nearly half of the Pilgrims died from hunger and disease after a very difficult journey to America.

Fortunately, the Pilgrims found friendly and helpful Native Americans (Indians) in this new land who taught them how to build houses, hunt for food, plant corn and other crops and literally to survive.

As we gather with our families for Thanksgiving, it would be good for us to reflect on this first Thanksgiving. Just like the Pilgrims and Indians, we can learn so very much from each other as husbands and wives if we are willing to share new ideas and receive new ways of doing things. In fact, that is what marriage is – sharing and growing together – not just “me” and “you” but “us”.

No matter how long we’ve been in this “new land of marriage” there are always things we can learn from each other. And as we are willing to continually be open to this, our marriages will not only survive, but will grow and prosper.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Phases of the Moon

My husband and I enjoy going for walks at night. I love to look up at the sky and see the stars and the moon as we walk. We’ve seen full moons, half moons and crescent moons. However, the last few nights we haven’t been able to see the moon at all. It’s been disappointing. Of course, we know the moon is not really gone – it is always orbiting around the earth – it’s just out of our view for now.

So it is with feelings of love. Sometimes they’re full and robust like the full moon. Other times they’re less intense, more like the half moon. And at other times our feelings are like the crescent moon, barely noticeable at all. But as long as we can feel anything we seem to be OK.

Sometimes, though, just like the “moonless sky”, we don’t feel anything at all. Couples who come in for counseling frequently lament that they just don’t have “those feelings” anymore. “They’re gone”, they say. It’s interesting that as they complain about the different problems in their relationship, the thing that often stands out the most to them is that they just don’t have “those feelings” anymore. The implication seems to be that even if they were to improve their relationship – work on overcoming their problems – the feelings would still be permanently, irretrievably gone.

The truth is, though, feelings change all the time and absolutely can and do come back. What we need to do during those times when we don’t feel anything (when we can’t see the moon) is to just continue walking by the light of the stars, having faith that as we continue to put one foot in front of the other - keeping our commitments - our feelings of love will come back, just like the phases of the moon.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Every October we celebrate Halloween and see children (and others) wearing an assortment of costumes and masks. Featured are monsters, witches, goblins and ghosts as well as favorite cartoon characters, movie heroes and beautiful smiling princesses.

It’s interesting how often we wear masks, not just at Halloween but throughout the year. Sometimes we wear monster masks to scare children. “Clean your room now or you’ll be grounded for a month!” Other times we wear smiling beautiful princess masks. “Everything is just fine” (but underneath is a very sad and lonely face).

And sometimes we change masks several times during the day depending on the occasion and with whom we’re talking. We may start out in the morning as a witch, later change into our Cinderella mask, put on the monster mask when the kids come home from school, and our beautiful smiling princess mask as we greet friends in the evening. It’s amazing how adept we can be at changing masks throughout the day. Masks can be fun and perhaps, at times even serve some useful purpose, as long as we know that’s what they are – masks - not us.

However, therein lies the problem. Sometimes others and even we ourselves don’t realize all we’re doing is wearing masks. If work isn’t done on the inside, the lonely sad face will continue, no matter how faithfully we wear the smiling princess mask. And sometimes if that is all we allow others to see, we don’t give them the chance to help us smile on the inside too.

It can take tremendous courage to remove our masks and risk whether we will be loved and accepted for who we really are. This may involve coming into an “awful recognition” of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. How tempting to put the mask back on! And yet, only as we are vulnerable and real are we able to truly give and receive love. Only as we remove our masks are we able to feel real joy.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Healing Emotional Wounds - Part 2 - "It Takes Time"

When Jill and Fred (not their real names, of course) came in for counseling, Jill talked about how she was still hurting because of something Fred had done. Fred quickly pointed out, rather impatiently, that he had apologized for that. The implication seemed to be that since he had apologized, Jill should not be talking about her pain anymore (and maybe not even feeling her pain anymore).

Wouldn’t it be lovely if it were that easy!

“I’m sorry that you tripped over my brief case and cut your head open. And now that I have apologized, it should no longer hurt and let’s just move on to other things.”

Of course, that’s ludicrous. No one would say that. We all know intuitively (and probably from experience) that physical wounds take time to heal and often continue to hurt even after the appropriate dressing has been applied. We are sensitive to this when our loved ones are hurt physically. We treat them with kindness and tenderness and go out of our way to be there for them until their wound is healed.

And yet, emotional wounds also take time to heal. A sincere apology may be like dressing a physical wound. It is very important – even vital - in the process of healing but it does not negate the need for time in the healing process. It also does not ensure that the wound won’t still hurt for a while. A wise and loving spouse will recognize this and give his or her partner the time and support that is needed for healing. With this patience, love and support, the wound is not only allowed to fully heal but the relationship is strengthened as well.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Healing Emotional Wounds

A good way to understand emotional wounds is to simply compare them to physical wounds. First of all, they hurt. How helpful is it if we are physically hurt – say we’ve sprained an ankle – for someone to say “Don’t feel hurt” or “You shouldn’t feel hurt”? That definitely does not ease the pain. What does help is for someone to say “Where does it hurt?” or “What can I do to help?” or “I’m so sorry you’re hurt.”

These are such “no brainers” for physical hurts and wounds but why do we treat emotional wounds so callously? Probably the main reason is because emotional wounds involve relationships. When you go to the doctor with a physical wound, his or her only concern is taking care of your wound. However, when you go to your spouse with an emotional wound, what often happens is that the wound becomes secondary to the defenses given for not causing it (or not intending to cause it). Meanwhile, like the sprained ankle, you’re hurting.

The Bible tells us that when we’re offended (emotionally wounded) we should go to the one who offends us. This includes spouses. How helpful is it when we do this if our spouse denies our feelings (“you’re being overly sensitive” or “you shouldn’t be offended”) or gives reasons why he or she is not to blame? This response does not help the pain and certainly does not facilitate healing.

A much better response when your spouse comes to you with an emotional wound is to simply and sincerely say “Thank you so much for sharing that with me” – no defensiveness, no denying of feelings, but rather focusing on the wound and the desire to heal it. Another step, of course, is to say “I’m so sorry” and “What can I do to help?” You may have a hundred reasons why you did not cause the wound or did not intend to but the fact is your spouse is hurting – the wound needs attention now.

Husbands and wives can be very effective “doctors” for each other by focusing on what needs to happen to facilitate healing rather than denial or defensiveness. And healing is what we all really want.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Is Your Spouse Your Best Friend?

After my husband and I had been dating for a while, I sensed that my roommate was feeling a little left out because of all the time I was spending with this “new guy”. My feeling was that tried and true friendships are so much more important than relationships with guys that may not even last more than a few dates. So I was all prepared to tell this “new guy” in my life that I thought we should stop seeing each other. I planned to tell him right after our date. But then something happened that I will never forget. As he got out of the car and walked around to open my door, something occurred to me. This “new guy” was my friend. He wasn’t just another guy. He, like my roommate, had become my good friend. Needless to say, I didn’t tell him we should stop seeing each other and the rest is history. He now is not only my husband but my best friend.

Ask yourself, is your spouse your best friend? And if so (and even if not so), how do best friends think and behave? For starters, best friends back each other up. They give each other the benefit of the doubt. They know that each has the other’s best interest in mind. They are honest with each other, even at times when it’s hard to be, because they know the honesty is based on genuine love and caring.

Best friends share sorrows and joys. They know and accept each other – warts and all. They don’t give up on each other. They hang in there. They value and respect each other’s opinions and perspectives. They sometimes mess up but they apologize and forgive because they are best friends.

Best friends also put each other first in their lives. They take the time and the thought and the energy to nurture their friendship. And as they do this, their friendship becomes a sort of buffer so that disappointments and frustrations in other areas of their lives (even other relationships) don’t hurt as much. They derive strength from each other and they give strength to each other.

At this point, you may be tempted to say, “My spouse doesn’t do all those things for me.” That may be true, but the expression “to have a friend, be a friend” is as important in marriage as in any other relationship. Ask yourself, what can you do to improve your friendship with your spouse? What can you do to truly become best friends?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mt. Shasta - Going North Instead of South

A few weeks ago we drove north on I-5. Up to this time, we had always driven south and did it pretty much on auto-pilot. But this time, we went north. We were headed to Crater Lake National park, somewhere we had never been before. The drive was delightful! Long before we got to our destination, we were thrilled to see the beautiful snow-peaked Mt. Shasta, something we hadn’t expected. It seemed to rise in majesty as we drove and at times, its beauty and grandeur was almost breath-taking. The whole drive was spectacular. I reflected on how often I had driven on I-5 and never enjoyed such views because I had never gone north. I had always gone south.

Too often we live our lives on “auto-pilot” – doing the same things over and over, out of habit. Sometimes our marriages are like that too. In fact, our whole view of marriage is sometimes based on our own “auto-pilots” which too often include habits like reacting to criticism with defensiveness, being competitive instead of cooperative and assuming things will never get better. And sometimes we might even wonder if marriage is really worth it.

And yet, just by choosing to go another direction – to choose to listen for underlying feelings instead of becoming defensive, to choose to learn from each other instead of competing, to choose to hope for the best instead of assuming the worst – whole new vistas can open up, even feelings of love and joy we never expected.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dear Readers,

It's been almost a year now since I began writing this blog. I have appreciated your comments and hope you have found it helpful. I have been encouraged to make it available to anyone (to go public) rather than limiting it to invitation only. I think that's a good idea and have decided to do that. After this post I will no longer be sending invitations and my blog will be available for anyone to read at

Please feel free to share this information with your family and friends.

I hope this will be helpful. Best wishes always!

Gloria Hubble

Friday, July 30, 2010

Our Precious Time - Part 3 - Expressing Appreciation

One of the first questions I ask couples when they come for counseling is what they appreciate about each other. If they can’t think of anything at the time (which sometimes happens), I ask them to think back about when they first met, what attracted them to each other, what they appreciated then. I get a sense sometimes that they think this is a waste of time and that their time would be better spent getting right to the pressing issues they have to resolve. But usually they bear with me.

It’s interesting how often a husband will say something he appreciates about his wife (or vice versa) and the other one will be very surprised, saying something like, “I didn’t know you even noticed that” or “I’m really glad to know that’s important to you. I didn’t know.” Other times their eyes will fill with tears (both husbands and wives) and they will say simply “Why don’t you ever tell me?” followed by “I thought you knew” and then a shake of the head, “No, I didn’t.”

It is tempting to think that when we are busy with “very important” things to do and problems to resolve, that we don’t have time or can’t afford to take time to express appreciation. However, when you think about it, there are few things that are a better use of our precious time than expressing appreciation. For one thing, expressing appreciation helps us to focus on what’s good in our lives, rather than dwelling on the negatives. As we share that important information with others, it helps them to know that their efforts make a difference, that they are valued. This is especially true when the appreciation is expressed in specific ways.

We all need to feel that we have worth, that we are valued; and that worth and value is best expressed in relation to another, especially one that we have chosen to share our lives with.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Precious Time - Part 2 - "I'm Bored"

I kind of cringe whenever I hear someone say “I’m bored”. When children say it, the implication is that as an adult I need to find something more interesting for them to do. When teenagers say it, it’s more like a judgment they’re making, often said with emphasis: “bor-ing”. Adults – we may yawn or make excuses to do something else – usually we’re not as direct as children or teenagers. However, our actions say it just as clearly.

I think what really makes me cringe when I hear people say “I’m bored”, though, is the fact that with so many amazing things to be discovered about the world, ourselves and each other, the choice to be bored is such a misguided use of our “precious” time.

The other day I found myself in a situation where I had to wait for a longer period of time than I anticipated. Not having anything to read or write or a cel-phone to text or people to visit with, I found myself beginning to have feelings of boredom (and yes, I cringed at myself). Refusing to give in to these feelings, I looked around to find something I could do to make better use of my time.

My eyes finally settled on a painting on the wall – one that I had seen at least a hundred times before. I decided to really look at it this time – to study the details – to learn something more about it. It was amazing! As I began to look more closely at this painting (that I had literally seen a hundred times before) I found a figure I had never noticed before. I saw the expression in his eyes, the yearning, the hope. I saw the details of the background – the shapes and colors - I had never noticed before. And as I studied these details, I began to think more about the artist and I felt a twinge of sadness that in the hundred times I had seen this painting, I had missed so much of what he had worked so diligently to convey. But I also felt joy that I had finally seen these important details and gained a new-found appreciation for this painting - as though I were seeing it for the first time.

In the same way, instead of choosing to be bored, we can also choose to look more carefully, to pay more attention to the important details in the lives of our loved ones. We can choose to notice what they are so diligently trying to convey to us and as we do this, we can begin to see them with new eyes as though we were seeing them for the first time.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Our Precious Time

I was helping my 7-year old granddaughter neatly print a return address on a letter we were getting ready to send. Before writing on the actual envelope, I had her practice writing it several times on another piece of paper, emphasizing how important it was that the printing was neat so the mail carrier could read it, explaining the purpose of the return address. As I complimented her on the good job she was doing and how the practicing had really helped, she exclaimed, “but it’s taking so much of my precious time when I could be playing.”

My granddaughter had a good point. Our time is precious. We all only have 24 hours in a day. How are we using our precious time? As I shared with my granddaughter, practicing and improving a skill is an excellent use of our precious time. For months or even years, I resisted learning how to use new technology. I just didn’t think I had time but finally I realized it was a really good use of my time to learn these new skills – that the benefits really outweigh the time it takes to learn them. In fact, I’ve come to realize that just having the mind-set to be willing to learn new things is a tremendous benefit in and of itself!

Improving ourselves and our skills does take a little more time initially but when you think about it, how much time do we waste just “spinning our wheels”, staying in the same old rut, making the same mistakes over and over again and not really getting anywhere? When we think we don’t have time to improve a skill, especially a relationship skill, what can we honestly say we are doing that is more important, that is more lasting, that is of more value? Yes, our time is precious and there are many good things we can be doing with our time but very few things, if any, are more important than improving and strengthening relationships.

My granddaughter was not wasting her precious time improving her printing skills. It was a good use of her time. It was also a good use of my time - supporting her, encouraging her and complimenting her. In fact, it was a magnificent use of my time!

How are you using your precious time?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Getting to Know You

I visited with a couple who just had a big argument. The husband (I’ll call Harry) had made an important decision without consulting his wife (Mary). When Mary found out, she was furious. I asked Harry why he hadn’t talked to his wife before making this decision. He answered that he knew she would disagree but he felt it was the right decision. As we visited more, it turned out that Mary actually agreed with the decision. She was just upset about not being consulted, about not being part of the decision making. Apparently Harry didn’t know his wife as well as he thought he did.

How well do you know your spouse? Sometimes we get so caught up in our own world that we don’t really take the time to get to know who the person is that we married. Sometimes we assume they think just like we do and if they don’t, they're wrong. And yet, we didn’t marry “ourself”. We married someone else. In fact, we chose someone who had qualities we believed (either consciously or unconsciously) would help us grow and develop and become a more complete person.

Sometimes we assume we know our spouses but maybe we don't really know them as well as we think we do. When was the last time, for example, that you asked your husband for his opinion or your wife for her input? When they answered (if they weren’t completely speechless) did you listen to learn – genuinely wanting to know how they felt about things? And, if they felt differently than you, did you carefully consider what you could learn from them?

Marriage is a wonderful opportunity to become more together than either of us could become separately. It’s grafting two plants into one to make a stronger, healthier, sweeter fruit.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose

I love seeing all the flowers that are in bloom – the pink and red roses, the purple pansies, the yellow daisies and so many more! It’s amazing how many different kinds and colors of flowers there are! Each one has its own charm and together they bring a special kind of gladness to our hearts.

It’s interesting that as we look at flowers, we never say “Red rose, you should be violet. What’s wrong with you?” or “Daffodils, why can’t you be more like tulips?” We never say or even think things like that. We just enjoy the flowers as they are. Of course, if we see flowers that aren’t blossoming and healthy, we may think “They need more water or sunlight or some kind of caring attention.” But we don’t want or expect them to be a different kind of flower than they are.

Just like flowers, we all look different from each other and have different talents and personalities. Some of us are roses, some are tulips, some are daffodils. But we all have the potential to gladden the hearts of others and to bring beauty into the world. It seems like we spend so much time and energy comparing ourselves (and our loved ones) with others. “I wish I could be as smart as she is” or “Why doesn’t my husband buy me nice things like her husband does?” We may or may not say these things out loud but too often, we think them. And as we spend our time and energy comparing in this way, we miss out on the exquisite and unique beauty each has to offer.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could accept and appreciate ourselves and each other for who we are – like we do with flowers -- rather than comparing ourselves (or our loved ones) with others.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Organizing Drawers and Life

Yesterday I spent some time organizing a drawer. I had set a goal this year to organize all my drawers. It’s been interesting what I’ve found. This drawer was particularly interesting. I found some memorabilia that I really wanted to keep and enjoyed going through it and reliving the fond memories. I also found gadgets I had absolutely no use for and in honestly thinking about it, I doubted anyone else had any use for them either. In fact, they were really just cluttering up my drawer. They ended up in the trash. I also found some things that needed some fixing up but that I wanted to keep. I put them in a place where I would see them more often so I would remember to take care of them.

It’s interesting how we take time to organize things – like the contents of drawers - but how often do we take time to look at and organize our thoughts, our memories, our hearts? Are there some memories of good times and happier days that have been tucked away and almost forgotten? How about taking some time to bring them forward and relive them now?

And as we honestly look at our thoughts, are there some thoughts that we really have no use for – that just clutter our minds? Maybe they’re left-over thoughts from childhood that don’t apply any more but for some reason we’ve been holding onto them. Maybe they’re thoughts of blaming or holding grudges or comparing ourselves to others. Just like organizing drawers, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this thought really something I want to keep? Does it serve any useful purpose?” If the answer is “no”, then we can let it go – throw it away. It’s our choice. It’s our “drawer” - our mind.

And finally, as we take time to look at our thoughts and hearts, can we see that some things, maybe even relationships, are really worth keeping? They just need some fixing up. And maybe some of the fixing up is something we can do. Maybe we can be a little kinder, a little more patient. As we become more aware, we can make an effort to put these thoughts in the forefront of our mind so we can remember to pay attention to them.

It's a worthwhile thing to go through drawers, thoughts and hearts from time to time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


A couple came into counseling and told me this would be their last session. I listened intently as they explained why - hoping that it wasn’t because they were giving up and had decided to go their separate ways.

Fortunately, their explanation for no longer needing counseling was because they were doing so much better. (Yea!) Of course, I wanted to know what had worked for them, what had made the difference.

Their explanation was simple and profound. They said they had finally caught the vision of how important marriage really was. And, they recognized that as they looked to God, He would help them. With that vision and realization, they said they were able to make the changes they both needed to make.

Instead of looking down or even all around, they were now looking up. And that made all the difference.

Marriage, like plants, needs sunshine to grow - a power greater than itself.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Roots: A Secure Base

When you plant a seed, roots begin to develop in the ground. This happens before you see anything – stem, leaves, blossoms - above the ground. Why is this? What is the purpose of roots?

Roots basically do two things for plants. They absorb nutrients from the soil which are essential for plants to grow and develop. And, they provide an anchor for plants. We take for granted, for example, that giant oak trees have a mature root structure underneath them. Otherwise, we would be terrified to walk among them for fear they would fall over and land on us!

While they are growing and alive, plants need roots – whether they are little pansies or giant oak trees. Without roots and the nourishment and anchoring they provide, plants cannot live.

Just like plants, we also need roots to anchor and nourish us, not just physically but emotionally, especially emotionally. As a baby, each time our mother fed us when we were hungry or changed our diaper when it was wet or held us when we were frightened, a new “root hair” was formed. It took time but we began to feel secure (anchored) because she responded to our needs. We learned that we could count on her. And with this security we were able to grow and develop, to explore, to try new things. As our root system continued to develop, we found that we could go a little longer without checking in with her, not because we didn’t need her but because we knew she would be there when we did need her. We felt secure, anchored.

As we grew into adults, we found that we still needed this kind of security, this root structure to anchor us (although we may have bought into some philosophies that would have us believe we didn’t need anyone. That makes about as much sense as a giant oak tree not needing a healthy root structure to keep it anchored). But we learned that we could receive this base of nourishment and anchoring from other sources – from God as we saw how He was there for us and answered our prayers - and from very special others in our lives that we learned we could count on and we could rely on when we needed them. Eventually we chose one special person to join our lives with. We got married and found that we were able to nourish and anchor (be roots for) each other.

And our roots continue to develop in marriage. Each time we gaze at each other lovingly or speak fond words to each other or go out of our way to get that special gift or just do the dishes because we know it means a lot to the other, we are developing another “root hair”. And as we continue to do this, one act, one word, one kind gesture at a time, we, like the giant oak tree, will develop a healthy, secure root structure that will keep us anchored and nourished.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Deeper Pruning

Some mistakes are annoying but we learn from them and usually end up laughing about them later on. Other mistakes, however, are hurtful to those we love and to our relationships. These hurtful mistakes may be unintentional but they cause emotional pain. They make us question whether we are valued by our loved one or whether we can count on him or her to be there for us when we need them. They are not corrected with a friendly smile but rather with tears or sometimes, anger. And sometimes they are not even corrected because the hurt is so painful. These kinds of mistakes must be addressed and appropriately responded to in order for the relationship to heal.

The first step in addressing these mistakes is to allow yourself to feel the pain, including the pain that is underneath the anger. It is much easier to feel angry but anger is always divisive. Anger does exactly what we don’t want. It causes us to feel more alienated and alone. When we are willing to feel the real pain, the next step is to recognize that this pain must be shared to begin the healing process. And that takes a lot of courage.

Unfortunately, sometimes when the real hurt is shared, the response from the loved one is simply that it was unintentional or “I didn’t mean to” with the attitude of “so let’s just move on”. The problem is that the hurt partner has an emotional injury. They can’t just move on, anymore than someone who has a broken leg can “just move on.” The cause of the broken leg may have been unintentional (or accidental) but it still hurts and it still needs to be healed and that takes time and appropriate attention.

The first step in responding to your loved one when you have made a hurtful mistake is to acknowledge that you have caused pain, even though it may not have been intentional. Show your loved one that you care about their pain, just as you would if you had unintentionally caused a physical injury. Be with them and feel with them and certainly express remorse for what happened (again, whether or not it was intentional). This is how the healing process begins. You are now answering those questions positively which were left unanswered before: “Do you value me? Can I count on you to be there for me when I need you?” "Yes. Yes".

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Friendly Pruning

The other day I made a mistake in an assignment I was doing. I was told of my mistake and felt kind of foolish at first because I thought I knew better. However, as I interacted later with the person who had corrected me, I realized he thought no less of me. In fact, even when he corrected me, it was done with a smile. As I felt his support and good will towards me, my feelings of foolishness soon left and I was able to focus on what I could learn from my mistake. Perhaps, I had taken some things for granted that I could now pay more attention to. Or perhaps, I really didn’t know better and needed to learn and practice more. Or maybe I just needed to realize that we all make mistakes from time to time and chalk it up to being human.

Because I felt my “corrector’s” friendliness and support, I could focus my energies on learning from my mistake. How different it would have been if he had looked down on me, frowned instead of smiled or shook his head disapprovingly at me. Then my energies more likely would have been focused on how foolish I was, how I didn’t like working in this “hostile environment” or what was wrong with me that I should make such a mistake. In other words, my energies would have been focused on feeling bad about myself or the other person instead of learning from my mistake.

The fact is, we do and will always make mistakes because we are human and we are continually learning, growing and developing. However, the likelihood of actually learning from our mistakes so we will make them less often, increases significantly when our mistakes are corrected with warmth and support rather than coldness and disdain. This is true in work relationships, parent-child relationships, husband-wife relationships and even in the words we say to ourselves.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ocean Waves and Relationships

We recently returned from a family reunion cruise. It was a great way to bond as a family and enjoy the sites at the different ports as well as the entertainment on the ship.

One of my favorite things to do was to observe the ocean waves. Their rhythm, grace and consistency were both soothing and inspiring. The water was always moving - sometimes the waves were big and quite dramatic and other times they were just little ripples but there was always movement.

Just like the ocean waves, relationships also have their own rhythmic movement. Sometimes the “waves” seem pretty big and couples wonder if it’s worth it or if they married the wrong person. However, research has shown that in most cases, if they just give it more time, things naturally improve. Just like the ocean, big waves turn into smaller waves and smaller waves turn into little ripples. But there is always movement – problems to solve, challenges to face, opportunities to grow and learn from. That’s the nature of relationships. That’s the nature of life. And just like ocean waves, we can’t change that. But we can learn to be more aware, accepting and appreciative of the rhythm, grace and consistency in our own lives and relationships.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Something Better than a Gold Medal

What a thrill it was to watch the Olympics that just ended in Vancouver and share the euphoria of winning with each champion!

The grace and beauty of Kim Yu-Na’s figure skating was breathtaking! The courage of Lindsey Vonn in skiing even when it was painful was inspiring! And, of course, Joannie Rochette gave us all pause as she skated so elegantly even while grieving the recent death of her mother.

The Olympics were inspiring and mesmerizing to watch but for the Olympians, there was something more important than winning medals. For Kim Yu-Na, it was pleasing her country that was counting on her. For Lindsey Vonn, it was being wrapped in the arms of her husband and sharing their joy together. And for Joannie Rochette, it was looking heavenward to her mother and giving her all for her.

Better than winning a gold medal (or any other success) is having a loved one (or loved country) to share it with.

Monday, February 22, 2010


The dictionary definition of stonewalling is “to behave in an obstructive manner, as by withholding information etc.”

This definition seems to imply that a stonewaller is intentionally trying to obstruct or prevent progress by withholding information etc. Often his or her actions and words (or usually lack of actions or words) are seen as not caring or being involved in the relationship. “Why won’t you say something?” is a common complaint about a stonewaller.

Interestingly enough, however, when questioned a little further, what I have found is that stonewallers almost always withhold information or withdraw not because they don’t care but, in fact, because they do care. What has happened is that they have come to the conclusion that virtually anything they say is probably going to make things worse. Therefore, they have chosen to protect the relationship from getting worse by not saying anything.

An alternative for stonewalling, then, is to simply verbalize those thoughts and feelings. “I know it bothers you when I don’t talk but it seems like whenever I say something it makes things worse. I do care about you and our relationship and I don’t want it to get worse.” That would be a first and very important step for a stonewaller, especially the acknowledgement of caring, which most likely, the other spouse has not seen.

Hopefully, with that sincere explanation, the other spouse will be a little more patient and understanding so that when the stonewaller does muster up the courage to say something else, it will be better received and he or she won’t feel the need to withdraw further.

The most important thing in relationships is not whether spouses say the right words or don’t say the wrong words. Rather, it’s an understanding and a feeling or belief that each truly cares about the other and the relationship.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Other Horsemen (Weed Control)

I have offered alternatives and antidotes to criticism and defensiveness, two of the destructive “horsemen” Gottman referred to that would destroy marriages (see post “Other Destructive Weeds”, November 6, 2009 as well as following posts). But what about contempt and stonewalling, the other two “horsemen”?

First, contempt. The dictionary definition of contempt states: “the feeling one has toward somebody or something one considers low, worthless, etc.” In other words, when we feel contempt, we don’t just criticize the actions of the other, we criticize their character, the essence of who they are. It is also important to note that whereas criticizing is something we do, contempt is something we feel.

It is important to understand that feelings are only as real or true as the thoughts that precede them. Just because we feel that a person is worthless, a jerk, a low-life etc., does not mean that they really are. In fact, it has much more to do with our perception, either of the other person or of our relationship (particularly hurts, unintentional or not, that we have received). In fact, sometimes a spouse will state something to the effect that he or she wasn’t there when they needed them or in a really honest moment “Why wouldn’t they fight for me?”

To change our feelings, we need to first change our thoughts. So alternatives and antidotes for contempt are really the same as those for criticism and defensiveness –addressing the real underlying hurts and concerns, choosing to focus more on the positive, having “goodwill”, empathy etc. We can also try to remember how we felt when we first met and were getting to know each other, what attracted us to each other then and choose to focus more on those thoughts and feelings now.

Friday, February 5, 2010


We had an experience recently that really helped me see the problems that defensiveness creates as well as the healing power of empathy.

We were at the airport prepared to take our return flight home and in checking departure times, saw that our flight had been cancelled. No one had notified us and when we checked it, everything was as scheduled. This was disturbing news, of course, and when we went to the gate counter to inquire about this (admittedly with some frustration), the attendant coolly explained that it was weather related so not their fault (no free meal) and that our “travel agent” (which was an on-line service) should have notified us. The more she explained and defended the airline, the more frustrated we became. It was obvious she didn’t care about us. (That is generally the feeling we have when someone acts defensively – that they don’t care about us, they are more interested in defending their position. We feel alienated).

On the positive side, after we ate breakfast (since we had plenty of time), we went back to the gate counter and found a different attendant was there. We explained our situation to her with the same amount of frustration but this attendant said one word that made all the difference - “bummer”. She said it sincerely and then made an effort to help us, to check what flights were available etc. We appreciated her helpfulness and especially her empathy. We felt that she cared about us, that she was on our side.

The question we may want to ask ourselves when we’re tempted to act defensively is “What is our goal?” We can always find reasons to defend ourselves but do we want to be alienated or connected? Defensiveness alienates us from each other. Empathy, seeing things from the other’s perspective and expressing that, makes us feel cared for and connected.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Disarming Technique: An Alternative to Defensiveness

John Gottman, in his study and observation of marriages, has pointed out four behaviors that he says, if left uncorrected, will destroy marriages. He calls them the “4 horsemen of the apocalypse”. They are criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.
(see “Other Destructive Weeds”, Nov. 6, 2009 post to this blog).

Previous posts have dealt with alternatives to criticism. There are, no doubt, many other alternatives as well and I would encourage you to come up with some of your own. However, I have decided to move on to the next “horseman” and describe an alternative to defensiveness.

When we feel threatened or attacked, our first impulse is almost always to defend ourselves. However, this usually ends up moving us further away from our loved one and ends up making both of us feel even less connected, exactly what we don’t want.

So the first alternative to defensiveness is rather than to defend yourself, to actually look for and find something you can agree with. This takes a lot of courage, humility and will power but is very effective. David Burns, in his book, Feeling Good, refers to it as “the disarming technique” because it emotionally “disarms” the other person.

If someone accuses you of being rude, for example, instead of pointing out that you were not being rude and explaining, justifying (defending) your behavior, you can simply say, “You know, I agree. That probably did sound pretty rude when I said that. Thank you for letting me know.” What can the other person say? He or she was probably all geared up for a fight but with your response, there’s nothing to fight about anymore. And you’ve opened up the dialogue so you can talk and work together as friends and allies, rather than as opponents and enemies.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Year's Resolution: Celebrate Success!

When I work with couples (or even individuals) I often hear complaints, as you would expect. Almost always, though, within the complaint is an acknowledgement of some success. Usually, the “successes” are down-played and the “failures” are emphasized. However, the fact that they (the successes) are even mentioned shows that they are noted, just dismissed.

My suggestion (and new year’s resolution) is to pay more attention to successes, to progress along the way. The reality is, it will take quite a while to obtain perfection in relationships or in anything. Even when we feel one area has improved, there’s always the next area. So when do we celebrate? Certainly, waiting for perfection is a very long wait! So why not just celebrate along the way? Celebrate each success, each little bit of progress, each effort!

Let’s make 2010 a year to celebrate!