Having a Conversation About Having a Conversation

Setting the stage: It’s more important than you think.

Linda: I had to learn this one the hard way. In the early years of my relationship with Charlie whenever there was something that I felt that we needed to discuss, particularly something that was bothering me, I would launch into a conversation, leading with my concerns, often before Charlie had any sense of what was going on. Not surprisingly, he often didn’t know what hit him. To put it mildly, this wasn’t the best way to begin the conversation. While I usually felt like I was just being honest about my feelings, Charlie often felt like he was being broadsided by a medium-sized truck. Consequently, the result was that I was now dealing not only with the initial disturbance that had motivated me to speak out in the first place, but in addition, with Charlie’s (understandable) defensiveness and reactivity. Over time (more than I care to admit), I came to realize that Charlie was interpreting my gestures to heal a rift between us as a surprise attack, which didn’t exactly predispose him to being open and conciliatory. I want him to feel that way, but I had no models from my past experience of how to initiate important conversations in a respectful way. I was ignorant of how crucial it is to set the stage for an important dialogue.


Just Hang in There—But For How Long?

Knowing when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em.

The opening line of the chorus of the Kenny Rogers song, “The Gambler”, goes: “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em.” How true! Sometimes there’s a lot of wisdom in Country Western music. The same could be said about marriage. One thing that most traditions do agree on is that marriage involves a commitment between two people. But traditional vows notwithstanding, it’s become quite obvious in these days of no-fault divorce, that “folding” is unquestionably seen as a legitimate option for any married couple. The question of course has to do with the nature of the commitment that both partners are agreeing to make, and for how long? Are there any conditions other than death that canjustify breaking that commitment? Apparently for many people, there are. At what point do we decide that a marriage is no longer viable?


Is There (Marital) Life After an Affair?

There is perhaps no greater threat to a marriage than infidelity. Years or even decades of hard-earned trust can be shattered when one partner, for any of a thousand reasons, violates the vow of sexual faithfulness. It's hard to understand how we can engage in such potentially destructive behaviors when the risks are as high as they are, and yet, vast numbers of us (some say the percentage of couples that have experienced some form of sexual infidelity is as high as 90%) are in marriages in which one partner or/and the other has had one or more affairs.

Yet, despite the odds, whatever they may actually be, as even the most pessimistic among us would have to admit, some marriages do survive affairs. In fact, of those that do, a significant number of individuals report that the quality of the relationship, is in fact greater than it was prior to the affair.


Does Your Relationship Have IDD? Part 2

Six steps to reverse it.

IDD (Intimacy Deficiency Disorder) is an insidious relationship-threatening condition that if unaddressed can undermine and severely damage even the most loving partnerships. In part one we identified the most prevalent symptoms of IDD that manifest themselves in relationships. In this...


Does Your Relationship Have IDD? Part 1

The 10 Early Warning Signals

No, it’s not a typo. We really did mean to write IDD rather than ADD. While IDD is a serious and potentially relationship-threatening condition, you won’t find it listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual). IDD or Intimacy Deficiency Disorder is a widespread phenomenon that affects vast numbers of couples in America and other industrialized nations.


The “I” Word

You don't have to be a Buddhist to become enlightened.
Charlie: I've been thinking a lot lately about the "I" word. Maybe it's because I've been noticing the places in the lives of others and in my own life where it's been out. The 'it' that's out is "integrity." I've been noticing the ways that I make it OK, by rationalizing and justifying lapses of integrity that I am guilty of and how I judge and react to that in others. “Co-incidentally”, there seems to be a relationship between these two phenomena. The Buddhists have a word for it. They call it "karma”. Although an entire religion has been based upon this principle, it can perhaps best be summarized by the commonly known simple five-word phrase: "What goes around comes around." Or to put it even more succinctly, to quote a friend "Nobody gets away with nothing."


Non-reactive Listening

Communication is about more than speaking; it's about listening.

Jules and Sue came into marriage counseling clueless as to why there was so much pain and suffering in their relationship. After listening to each of them describe their situation however, it became quite obvious what the problem was. Neither of them could say anything about the other without having their statements laced with harsh judgments and negative criticisms. They were both brought up in families in which such communication was practiced on an ongoing basis and neither of them had any idea that it was even possible to respond to hurtful or condemning words with anything other than counter-attack or defensiveness.


When He (or She) Just Doesn’t Want to Talk About It

Nasrudin was a mythical figure, a teacher from the Sufi tradition, who supposedly lived in what we now call the Middle East. One day one of his students walks into a room where Nasruddin was reaching into a bag of hot chili peppers and eating them one at a time. There were tears streaming down his face, his nose was running and his lips swollen and irritated. He was obviously in great pain. “Why don’t you stop eating those hot peppers?” the student asked. “I’m hoping to find a sweet one,” Nasrudin replied.