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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.

October 11, 2009

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?

July 15, 2009

Is Divorce Correctable?

Filed under: divorce — admin @ 3:11 pm

Divorce is an unsettling blend of chaos – stress, disequilibrium, and crisis – with a dash of hope. The challenge inherent in working with a system that is divided into opposites is the lack of a consistent and positive focus. When perceptions shift rapidly between the certainty that blame engenders and the curiosity of the unknown, an imbalance is created. Once imbalanced, our human tendency is to return to our default mode of operating by doing the same thing over and over. Typically, our first reaction is to protect our self and not give up our turf. In a word, we become “tough.”

By reputation, divorce is a dramatic event braided by a slow process of drearily repetitive attacks and counterattacks of negativity. When the interactional dynamic becomes saturated by one partner’s tendency to give off more negative than positive energy, the other partner will be unknowingly influenced by this force and, without conscious awareness, become increasingly negative. In this way, negativity begets negativity (a process called negative affect reciprocity). The end result is an interactional cascade bundled with increasingly intolerable, undiscussable, and unimaginable tension. Without resolution, the problems remain unchanged as resentments soar and the cycle of unending misery persists.

The good news is that if “it” (the divorce and its trailing ugliness) was human made, then it is human correctable.

The biggest threat to a divorce-soaked family is chaos. In this way, the divorced couple easily, even understandably, loses sight of their core business – to bring value to that which they most value, their family. These thoughts reflect the foundational principles associated with the concept of valuableDIVORCE. If interested in learning more about this process, visit the familyWORKZ homepage and see if something, anything, surprises you. The key to inducing change to occur is to first get the other person’s attention. Then, if you are willing and able to combine imagination, guts and courage, then you might have a chance. But, be forewarned, you will have to become a different type of “tough.”

July 7, 2009

Day-to-Day Shocks

Filed under: Couples,divorce,Individual,parenting,Uncategorized — admin @ 2:43 pm

When life goes “according to plan” there isn’t much to complain about. In fact, one might argue, under such conditions, life is good. But is it really?

Think about all that you most remember. Do you recall with vivid detail those moments when life is undisturbed by disappointment, frustration, or rejection? When life is running its course and the expression “smooth sailing” best describes your situation, are flashbulbs going off capturing these events? The answer is most likely “no.”

Why is it that when we are sailing along and perhaps “on top of the world” our brains aren’t enjoying the high life with detailed recollection of such grand times? The short answer is that when life remains the same, regardless of its quality or lack thereof, our minds begin to shut down because it already knows what it knows and there is no reason to remain interested or active. Stated differently, consider that are minds are basically pattern-recognition machines. They look for information against which to compare against what it already knows – a template. When sensory information is collected, even a small piece, that appears to match a previous experience, it’s as if the mind says “voila” and it goes back to its resting position. Think about, for example, two simple dots drawn on a blank piece of paper. One might believe that it is a straight line that is being contemplated. However, the mind remains uncertain. However, when a third dot is introduced that is equal distance from each other, the mind sees the outline of a geometric figure and the person responds by saying “triangle.” Once the mind becomes convinced that it is right, it goes on to other things. In this way, when our lives are doused with comfort, our minds respond by going off-line or at least transform into a more acquiescent state.

Turning our attention to relationships, which is where most of our human drama occurs, if it is true that our minds are keenly interested in differences, change, and adjustment, why is that this is the same stuff that most upsets relationships? This conundrum can be explained referencing the Doom Loop. Think about our lives being arranged along two axes, which comprises a 2×2 matrix. On axis-X, there are two situations: “what I like” and “what I don’t like.” On axis-Y, there is “what I’m good at” and “what I’m not good at.” When “what I like” intersects with “what I’m not good at” the outcome is excitement. When we apply ourselves in this zone and eventually acquire some skills, then we move into the “Comfort Zone,” which is made up of “what I like” and “what I’m good at.” However, when we stay in this zone too long, we eventually stop liking whatever it is that once gave us comfort. In this way, we move from the comfort zone into the Boredom Zone. It is in this zone that trouble begins brewing. If we don’t do anything constructive about the situation, then we shift from the boredom zone into the Doom Zone – consisting of the combination of “what I don’t like” and “what I’m not good at.” Returning to the issue of relationship dynamics, think about a situation in your life that is best described by the Boredom Zone.

Perhaps you have been playing golf your whole life and the luster of this game no longer appeals to you like it once did. In a word, you have become “bored.” Once bored, it is easy to take your eye off the ball, lose your concentration, and your score begins to noticeably suffer. In this way, you have entered the Doom Zone. Similarly, relationships can be measured in accordance with the zone you most find yourself in – Excitement, Comfort, Boredom, or Doom. It is in the comfort and boredom zones where our minds begin to shut down. Interestingly, by comparison, it is in the Excitement and Doom Zones where our minds become most active. Related to this phenomenon, it appears, at least to the mind, that there is not much difference between these two zones. In fact, the distance between the two zones is really a matter of perception and attitude. The difference is made clear when what you “like” and “don’t like” is analyzed carefully.

Using this concept of our mind’s pattern-matching predisposition, when the day-to-day shocks of life’s uncertainties confront you, contemplate which direction your mind leans. Does it become excited for the challenge and remain in a learning mode? Or, does it become frightened and defensive, preferring to judge the situation and, thus, become closed minded.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn to be more in-control of life’s day-to-day shocks, instead of being controlled by them? The difference lies in one’s state of mind – having a mind that is either in learning mode or judgment mode. In both cases, according to how our minds make memories, flashbulbs will likely be popping. Your role in these momentous events is to determine whether the memory is worth savoring or will end up being more unsavory.

What kind of flashbulbs have been “POPPING” in your life lately?

May 26, 2009


Filed under: divorce,Individual — admin @ 6:25 am

When life gets complicated, fills with tension, and a problem pushes you to the brink, you’re entitled to be confused; you’re entitled to feel guilty; you’re entitled to be scared; you’re entitled to want to stop hurting; you’re entitled to want to escape; you’re entitled to hope things don’t get worse; you’re also entitled to want the best for yourself. 

Entitlements are essentially those things that make us uniquely but not fully human. Adding one more dimension to this existential puzzle completes the picture of our humanity, taking our capacity to become a better version of ourselves to a new level – you’re also entitled to think how your entitlements impact others.

March 17, 2009

What’s Next?

Filed under: divorce — Tags: — admin @ 7:40 pm

The whole concept of divorce is easier to swallow than digest. 

Think about being in the middle of a relationship that has reached its breaking point. You’ve tried everything, yet the level of emotional distress remains intolerable. When daily hassles mount and the strain of life’s difficulties become impossible, what we lose is our connection with one of life’s most precious gifts – HOPE.  When this happens, the one thing people begin to set their sights on is RELIEF. The quickest and most decisive form of relief comes about by splitting apart. When separated, the most pressing problems end. However, after separation, what happens to the family?

“What’s next?”

A critical point in divorce that most people confuse is that it is so easy to forget that the person you divorce is the same person you married. The difference is that amidst divorce more personality shows up. In fact, when stress becomes uninterrupted and people reach their elastic limit, by nature, people go back to their default mode of functioning, they go back to life’s most basic survival skill – self defense. This is where personality takes over. When we feel eternally misunderstood or mistreated it is only natural to defend ourselves. This defense shows up in the form a wide spectrum of dark emotions – anger, anxiety, fright, guilt, shame, sadness, and disgust. Having this inner experience of emotional turmoil, we must get it out. We must express our inner reality. This is done provocatively and effectively by turning on our personality. Now, when our personality is out front and center, typically the other person has no idea how to interact with us. So, “what’s next?” If you are the person being confronted by the other person’s personality, don’t insist that that person seek individual therapy. Instead, seek counsel yourself for the sole purpose of learning how to connect with that personality so that you can rediscover the humanity of the individual you once loved.

February 21, 2009

Relational Apraxia

Filed under: Couples,divorce — admin @ 2:26 am

Countless books have been written to help explain the enormously complex dynamics of relationships. Some popular thinkers emphasize the differences between sexes (think: Venus & Mars). Social researchers tend to focus more closely on communication and interaction styles. Big thinkers, sometimes called philosophers, often turn their attention to morality – right versus wrong, good versus bad. While still others satisfy themselves by thinking less about causes and prefer to offer shovelfuls of solutions.

While any and all of this information has its place and value, a pattern of interactional dynamics is often overlooked – which I refer to as “relational apraxia.”

Constructional apraxia is a neuropsychological term defined as an inability to physically or mentally combine parts of something into a coherent whole. It’s sometimes considered a disorder of gestalt, in that afflicted people can (metaphorically) see the trees but not the forest. When the concept of “apraxia” is applied to relationships, what is noticed is a tendency for one person in the relationship to be extremely sensitive to detail (tree-huggers), while the other person is more big picture oriented (forest-lovers). This difference of perception helps explain many moments of conflict. 

To help diagnose your preference, think of the following common occurrence. Children who are forced to grow up fast because of their circumstances (think parental alcoholism, divorce, abuse, general neglect, or parents that are just too busy and preoccupied) tend to become quite sensitive to the needs of OTHER people, while being extremely insensitive to their own needs. These people learn to see the big picture as a result of needing to make sense out of what doesn’t make sense. Such people become blind to the tree as a result of staring too long at the forest. Unfortunately, when this person realizes, consciously or otherwise, that their emotional or psychological needs are not being met, they can become quite unreasonable. Often, forest-lovers start fights abruptly and air their complaints in an “out of nowhere” fashion. Big picture people are like thunderstorms on a summer day. They zoom in from nowhere, blast everything in sight, and then vanish.

By contrast, children who are over-protected (think hover-mothers, nervous and scared parents, over-structured schedules, permissive parenting styles, and emotionally-dependent relationships) tend to become unusually sensitive to their OWN needs at the expense of understanding the needs of other people. These people love their tree and don’t see that their are other trees in the forest. These people love detail. In a conflict situation, tree-lovers can recite specific incidences of being wronged. They hold grudges and have ample evidence to back up their reasoning.

The notion of trees and forests can help people deal more effectively with difficult moments inside important relationships. It only takes one person to move toward the gestalt of seeing both the tree and the forest at the same time. Think of the situation during a moment of conflict when one person says to the other something like, “There isn’t a tree in sight in my forest.” This is gestalt thinking. This type of thinking is equivalent to giving the relationship a voice. Beware, seeing both the forest and the tree at the same time isn’t hard, but it is very tricky.

February 11, 2009

Power Play

Filed under: divorce — Tags: — admin @ 3:30 am

I’m going to go out on a limb here by suggesting that most of the tension inside divorce is fueled by a sustained imbalance of power. One person has more of something that the other person wants, prefers or desires. Hence, the struggle over power. 

For instance, if one person has won over the marital friends, this person retains greater social power. When one person has more money and controls the purse strings, this is financial power. When one person enjoys greater connection with the children, this is parental power. 

While power inside an important and meaningful role creates confidence, the lack of power creates doubt, insecurity, and fear. Further, too much power creates something extending unappealingly beyond confidence – arrogance. The lack of balance of power between ex-spouses creates more than just tension. When arrogance collides with fear, sometimes, what is produced is hate. This concept of hate, which is not an unfamiliar emotion within the fabric of the divorce process, takes time and psychic work. In this sense, hate doesn’t just happen, nor is it something that just is. Hate happens because one person wants to hate the other person. Obviously, this person likely has good reasons to rationalize their hatred. Yet, by hanging onto the hate, an imbalance of power surely will become the status quo. And, the status quo inside divorce is rarely beneficial to any party. Alternatively, it is the intentional recalibration of power that corrects the assymetry of post-marital hostility. This is not achieved easily. It requires gaining a new perspective, achieving an enhanced appreciation for personal balance, and the trusting that the complexity of a divorce relationships can be untied just a bit. Stated differently, difficult divorces only regain a simplicity and, thus, improved workability, if and when one party is willing to be strategically vulnerable. 

One word of caution. Remember that the person who cares the most has the least amount of power. Notwithstanding, only when someone is willing to go back to SQUARE ONE that the family stands a chance of enjoying of restructured peace.

February 7, 2009

Liquid Morality

Filed under: Couples,divorce,Individual,parenting — Tags: — admin @ 7:39 pm

Increasing one’s flexibility toward being concerned about issues beyond self requires expanding one’s perspective about the world, how one fits into the world, what one can offer the world, and what the world can offer right back. 

Stepping into our maturity requires learning how to balance self needs with the needs of others. When our background provides us love only through conditional channels, the lesson we learn is that the needs of others are more important than others (others>self). When our past babies us, protects us from all harm, and disallows us from facing hard times, the lesson learned is that the only thing that really counts is self, and the needs of other people takes a backseat (self>others). Alternatively, if life provides us a balance of protection and freedom, transparency and mystery, familiarity and spontaneity, the perspective we learn allows us to balance the needs of both self and others (self=others), which provides us sufficient resiliency to deal with life’s struggles and enough gumption to go out into the world and dazzle. 

Liquid morality involves the perspective that others are needed in order to develop self, and an authentic self is required to be available to satisfy the needs of others. This ebb and flow of self to others, others to self is what helps move us toward our true potential. In a sense, by being open to going with the flow of liquid morality what is gained is an opportunity to be more of who you really are and less of who you think you need to be.

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