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The official blog of familyWORKZ™

May 19, 2010

Valuable Arguments

Filed under: Couples,divorce,Families — Tags: — admin @ 12:23 pm

One thing we all have in common is that we don’t always get along with everyone. While our wildest dreams can imagine that we “should” get along with everyone all of the time, such dreams never come true.

So, what we know is that sooner or later, likely when we least expect it, a wedge will be driven between ourselves and another person. Typically the wedge issue erupts into an argument. That is, we will disagree.

Now, the problem with arguments is not that we have them, but that they often lead to further disruption and bad feelings. In this way, the arguments have a way of driving the wedge even deeper. What drives the wedge down is our tendency to judge the other person. When our minds go into “judgment mode,” we stop learning. Stated another way, when our mind judges, it closes down and, in this way, our mind stops working. That is, when the mind has made up its mind, it believes itself to be right and becomes stuck with its knowledge of knowing that it is right.

When the wedge becomes obvious, the key is to do the opposite of what the mind always does. Instead of closing down and becoming judgmental, it is important to open up our minds and learn. In this way, learning is the opposite of judging. When an arguments arises, try opening up your mind and try something valuable – try doing what is best for the relationship.

February 11, 2010


Filed under: Couples,Families — admin @ 11:57 am

Referencing Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass. When Alice asks Humpty Dumpty what he meant by “glory,” he replies, “I meant there’s a nice knock-down argument for you.” Alice protests that this isn’t the meaning of “glory.” “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty answers, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

Sound familiar?

In the context of relationships, many times, when one person says something (sends a communication signal), the other person improperly receives the message – resulting in a disconnection or invalidation or both.

Once disconnected, either or both people have a tendency to become disjointed, annoyed, frustrated, or otherwise psychologically distressed. What we desire most during these times of disconnection is connection and help. What we often receive, by contrast, is further distance and isolation.

Stated another way, instead of turning to the wisdom of Humpty Dumpty (stand up for self without putting the other person down or meaning what we say without becoming mean), we experience mounting intolerance and end up feeling like either jumping off the wall ourselves or wanting to push the other person off the wall. Either way, someone is bound to have a great fall.

November 19, 2009


Filed under: Individual,Uncategorized — admin @ 8:00 pm

The word “jinx” originates from the southeastern U.S. bird that supposedly had the ability to predict the future. Most unfortunately, the bird proved less competent in accurately predicting favorable events but had a unique ability to see the bad things coming. It is from this reputation of being able to predict unfavorable events that today we associate the word “jinx” with any person or thing that brings about bad luck.

This word has a unique type of stickiness to it. We learn this word very young. It is the perfect word to use when, engaged in a child’s game, you try to bestow bad luck upon your opponent or restore a bit a good luck in your direction. Yet, as adults, this word rarely makes an appearance.


Does this word somehow lose its perfectness? I argue that it is not the word that changes. Instead, it is us that loosens our grip on the power of this word and its magical properties. What changes is our ability to remain playful with our lives, our situation, and ourselves. In this sense, as adults, we take ourselves far too seriously.

When bad things happen, typically, we either blame the external world or ourselves. It’s as if we are left with only two choices – attack others or attack ourselves. Either way, we attack.

What ever happened to simply blaming our situation on bad luck?

Next time you find yourself in a situation that is not going your way, turn the tables by saying out loud, “Jinx!” See what happens.

My guess is that by putting yourself back into the frame of mind of your youth, you’re likely to take your problem, your situation, even yourself, a bit less seriously. That’s got to bring a smirk to your face.

October 11, 2009

Upsetting the Apple Cart

Filed under: General psychology — admin @ 9:08 am

What if:

Frogs, in fact, do NOT rest peacefully in lukewarm water waiting to be boiled.

Or, fish do NOT rot from the head down.

Or, low-hanging fruit should NOT be picked first.

And, what if the best playing fields are NOT level.

If these truisms are tipped over and end up being false, does the world change?

Lesson: When your life becomes overrun by stuff, try taking your apple cart and tip it over. Then, pick up one of the apples and heave it as far as you can. See what happens. Check out how it feels. See if you make a new memory.

Memories, after all, is what life is all about.

Crisis of Infidelity

Filed under: Couples — admin @ 8:40 am

Within every marriage lies an agreement that is mutually cultivated and serves as the foundation from which the relationship begins, prospers and, when neglected or broken, fails. The roots of this agreement are cultivated under a wide assortment of conditions: active discussion, constructive negotiation, or passionate play. The voices exercised when developing this agreement can range wide: soft and caring, sober and calculated, or just simply reasonable. This agreement conveys the very essence of the couple and it is what bonds the twosome together uniquely. The agreement is trust – that basic understanding that frames the couple’s relational code of confidentiality. In this sense, trust is meant to convey something more than just the rules of the couple’s contextual and intimate interplay (i.e., rules of engagement). With greater complexity, yet with graceful and economic motive, trust begins in earnest at that moment when the couple defines themselves more as “we” than separate and distinguishable “I’s.”

With the prodigal status of trust being bracketed in the manner described above, it follows that the ultimate breach in a relationship is when this trust is dishonored. This phenomenon can be referred to as a “crisis of infidelity,” a phrase that expressively and plainly captures the crisis “in the breaking of whatever agreement has been accepted by both partners in the marriage.” In short, it can be argued, infidelity is much bigger than adultery. It is less about one person’s error in judgment, with or without intent, and much more about a relational trauma at a very deep and intimately contextual level that leaves behind an attachment scar.

Infidelity is that hurt that is unspoken brought on by the one person who communicates with you best when not speaking.

In an article entitled “Secrets of the Marriage Doctors,” in the premiere issue of My Generation, Scott M. Stanley, PhD, clinical psychologist, codirector of the Center for Marital & Family Studies at the University of Denver writes: “80% of the problems people deal with do not need to be solved, just well discussed.” Allow this just-let-it-soak-in message to ruminate in your brain for awhile, then ask yourself the following questions.

1. When the extramarital affair becomes public, is this therapeutically disastrous? Is the couple unfathomably broken and does it spell the end of the relationship?

2. When trust is breached, it would seem that the couple has entered into a room without any exits. Does this type of situation implicate long term therapy? It would seem that affectional abandonment leads to attitude entrenchment difficulties (e.g., “What did I do to deserve this,” After all these years of faithful commitment look what I get in return,” and, on the other side of the coin, “She drove me into the other person’s arms when she stopped loving me a long time ago.”).

3. Can relational forgiveness occur without a spiritual reference or guidepost? This question is prompted by the comment that “intimacy in marriages is developed through confessions, explanations, and soul-searchings.” Clearly, whether intended or otherwise, this observation has a tone of religiosity.

4. Do possessiveness and intimacy always inversely correlate? Continually? Or can there exist episodic “healthy” pockets of this type of dueling? It seems that that both of these concepts are measured along a common axis (distance), but with disproportionate degrees of mutuality. That is, possessiveness involves closeness that is “commanded” by one person who speaks from a position of control. Intimacy, on the other hand, involves closeness that is “embraced” mutually.

Divorce Questions

Filed under: divorce — admin @ 8:32 am

Families are uniquely encrypted with a private code, a secret language that speaks of an underlying eternal structure. Ideally speaking, nesting snuggly within the bosom of the nuclear family is a clear boundary separating the protection and comforts of the family bond from the uncertainties and cheerlessness of rest of the world. Divorce denotes that specific cultural moment when the family’s secret is broken and the line between them and us becomes blurred, when substance and meaning are eternally altered.

In the September 25, 2000 edition of Time magazine, the cover story raised the now aged-old dilemma concerning divorce: Should a couple stay together for the sake of the kids?” The author points out that, “for adults, divorce is a conclusion, but for children it’s the beginning of uncertainty.” This statement is exceptionally insightful and speaks directly to one of the therapeutic messages delivered in the Walsh et al. chapter: “it is important for clinicians to normalize the initial post-divorce crisis period as transitional, framing problems in relation to the process and identifying common issues that are likely to arise.” Following on the heels of this accommodating and supportive posture I would qualify that there is no “normal” or “common” divorce. Just as each family has its own private code, so to does this secret language uniquely and contextually influence the transactional process of divorce.

With the exception of a family contaminated by substance or physical abuse, clearly, there is no good time for divorce. Divorce is a “culturally unscheduled event.” It can happen at any point in the marital career and family life cycle. Moreover, divorce typically is not announced by invitation. Can you imagine?

Dear Children & Extended Family Members…

We request the honor of your presence at the divorce of your parents on the seventh of February two thousand and one at two o’clock in the afternoon.

Nor is divorce politely discussed among family members around the dinner table: “Hey Sis, Dad just told me about the affair he’s been having for the last few months. How long do you think he should be grounded?”

They say that wisdom is provoked through questioning one’s reality. If so, then contemplate the following questions and see what wisdom rises to the surface.

Remember, every divorce is exceptional, extraordinarily.

1. Does a lousy marriage beat a great divorce?

2. How does that same great divorce stack up against a “good enough” marriage?

3. Is there such a thing as a “good enough” divorce?

4. Does time heal all wounds? Or does the legacy of divorce pathologically prevail?

5. Is the therapist a benevolent healer or agent of social change?

6. What is the value of children in the divorce equation? To what extent does their stake in the family count? Does their pain matter? To what extent should responsible adults be expected to negotiate, compromise, and sacrifice their personal happiness for the sake of the children?

7. Can parents “parent” effectively when there are two households and a divided parental unit?

8. If divorce is saturated by private shame, public failure, and social embarrassment, what are the odds of making a full recovery? What does the recovery process involve? Is there such a thing as a “valuable divorce?”

September 18, 2009

What’s the Question?

Filed under: Couples,divorce,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 12:58 pm

The kinds of unspoken questions we ask ourselves can stimulate curiosity, inspire new discoveries, and compel us to move in the direction of success. When this happens, our unspoken questions help make our world bigger.  Or, our private and innermost questions can invite despair, inactivity, and failure. These types of questions make our world small.

When our private questions shrink the world, our tendency is to shift into survival mode, seek safety, and refrain from taking chances. Paradoxically, it is our willingness to become daring and vulnerable that opens our world up to new possibilities and discoveries.

If your future continues to be a recycled version of your past, then the process of thinking about the way you think and, next, observing your thinking in real-time can together help your find a different path out of your situation.

Based on the above, the real question is, “When the moment becomes the ‘moment,’ what questions are you asking yourself?”

Is your question blame-oriented? – “Why is this person such a loser?”

Is your question dark and gloomy? – “Why do bad things always happen to me?”

Does your question make you selfish and unlikable? – “How can I prove I’m right?”

Does your question create dead-ends? – “How can I lose this time?”

Does your question end all hope? – “What’s the point of going on?”

The point becomes evident when your mind intentionally and consciously turns toward questioning your thinking instead of being a know-it-all and believing every thought your having is correct and worthy of trusting. When our minds have made up their minds, then we believe that what we know is right and we stop looking into the situation. Put another way, we stop learning. Since the purpose of our mind is to make sense out of what doesn’t make sense (the mind is puzzle master), when our minds have settled on an answer, reached a conclusion, or merely given up, psychologically we remove ourselves from the situation. The end result is we become stuck.

In the service of becoming UNSTUCK, let’s try asking different types of questions:

What works?

What am I responsible for?

What are the facts?

What’s the big picture?

What are my choices?

What can I learn?

What can I unlearn?

What’s useful about this?

What’s possible?

What is the other person feeling, needing, wanting?

August 25, 2009

The Value of Time

Filed under: Couples,Families,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 11:21 pm

Values are beliefs that influence people’s behavior and decision-making tendencies. That which is important in our lives, directly and silently guides our actions.

At one level, on the surface, we know what is important. It is likely our children, our family, our spouse, or our pets come to mind. Yet, at a much deeper level, when we are pressured or stressed, that which is most important is not readily reflected in our actions or behaviors. Under stress, our kindness toward those we most value interestingly diminishes. This conflict illustrates one of our uniquely human frailties – selfishness. That is, while “others” are highly valued most of the time, when things get tough our minds rapidly retreat back to our “self.”

Don’t beat yourself up if this is happening to you. Instead, take a breath, examine your values, and then ask yourself,” What am I willing to do about this situation?”

If you experiencing a conflict between your stated values and your actions, then reflect on The Value of Your Time. This is done by becoming more conscious about how your values and time collide. Here is an exercise to rebalance yourself.

Exercise: Over the next week, consider your values (e.g., work, important relationships, leisure time activities, community, family, spirituality) and ask where you are willing to DEVOTE MORE TIME, DEVOTE LESS TIME, and DEVOTE THE SAME TIME. By doing so, it is likely you will be more “in-control” of your values, rather than being “controlled” by time.

August 4, 2009

Tough Times, Tough People & Tough Issues

Filed under: General psychology — Tags: — admin @ 3:24 pm

Being tough on issues and tender on people is tricky stuff. Learning how to have a difficult conversation with an otherwise reasonable person or having an otherwise reasonable conversation with a difficult person requires the willingness to “get out of our minds” and begin thinking about the situation in a way not previously considered.

If we stay in our usual minds, the problem doesn’t go away. In fact, more often than not, things get worse. Why? Because our default way of dealing with problems, likely emboldened by evolutionary thrust, is to make the other person the problem rather than making the problem the problem.

If you needed to think twice about this last thought, then you likely had a moment when you were out of your mind. This is not bad place to be. In fact, it is where we do most of our best learning. Unfortunately, when our minds already have made up their minds, then they close down, no longer being interested in learning anything new. Who knew?

When you strike tough times with a tough person involving a tough issue, dare yourself to have a second thought instead of remaining hyper-focused on the first thought that came to your mind.

July 29, 2009

Big Money – The Power of Context

Filed under: Couples,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 6:47 am

Most of the time what couples fight about, what families quarrel about, what individuals complain about is what is right in front of them. Whatever is up close and personal, perhaps it’s a lack of money or a spouse coming home late or a child using an ugly word – this is what gets our immediate attention. And, this is what grabs our energy. With the child we might say sternly, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again!” When money runs low we might say to ourselves, “Why can’t I ever get ahead; what’s wrong with me?” To the tardy spouse we might say, “If you’re going to be late again, don’t bother coming home at all!” All of these thoughts end up in the same place – being disconnecting.

Why? Because all of these responses makes someone the problem, instead of making the problem the problem.

So – how do we change this situation?

The short answer is by looking past the problem into the background. Let me share a story about “Big Money” to help you understand the power of context, which is best explained as that which is going on in the background, not the foreground.

A small child, let’s say she is four-years-old, goes to the hairdresser with her mother, who is kind of in a grumpy and distracted mode. The child is given a seat in the front of the beauty salon where she can pretty much see everything that is going on. So, the child does what she does best at four years old – she pretty much watches everything that is going on while she pretends to be looking at a book.

When the child’s mother is finished and comes to the register to pay, the child says, “Mommy, you look beautiful.” The mother responds with a smile from this collision with an unexpected compliment. But the smile goes away quickly and the mother returns to her routine and pays for the hairstyling. At the very end of this transaction, the mother reaches into her purse and gives a dollar to her daughter and asks her to give it to the hairdresser. Not understanding the purpose of this extra step, the daughter asks what the money is for and the mother says it’s a tip. The daughter, true to her observant form, asks “What’s a tip?” The mother replies, “It’s something you give a person when they make you feel good.”

Instead of walking directly to the hairdresser, the child detours back to her seat and reaches into her sparkly pink purse for something. After fishing around for a long moment, the child finds what she is looking for and then goes to the hairdresser and gives her the dollar and a quarter.

Becoming curious about this transaction, the mother asks the daughter what the quarter was for and the child replies, “I liked the way she made me feel when she turned you beautiful so I gave her the “biggest” money I could find.

Obviously, this child has a poor concept of the value of money. Or, does she?

Perhaps the child’s ability to see what is going on in the background allows her to more fully and honestly appreciate the “context” of the moment. By comparison with the mother’s tip, which was given out of habit, the child’s gift was more proportionally generous because it was given from a different context, it was given from her perspective of big-hearted generosity.

How might the concept of “big money” change your point of view as related to a lack of money, a husband who comes home late, or a child that uses an ugly word?

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