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Do these ten things to have better conversations

We all have arguments and disagreements. It seems to me in the past, we have decided to stop having uncomfortable conversations because they typically go wrong. Here are ten skills that you can start incorporating into difficult conversations right away. I believe they will help us all have better difficult conversations.

  1. Seek to understand the other person's emotions (and your own). For as much as emotions infiltrate our actions and conversations, it amazes me how little attention we give them. When you can begin to understand your emotions and the other person's emotions, you can respond to them. This allows your response to be more complete. It gives you a better opportunity to answer them holistically.
  2. Talk about what you believe. So often, we want to talk about why the other person is wrong, rather than talk about what we believe. Focus on what you believe in the conversation. Talk about why you believe it. Don't get stuck in a battle nit-picking points of disagreement. If you are talking about what you believe and striving to understand what the other person believes your conversations will improve. In this situation, you can search for areas of agreement rather than focusing on disagreements.
  3. Measure the cost; Do you value relationships or being right more? What is more important to you? Being right or the relationship. Most of the time, I believe we should seek to solve whatever the problem(s) are and protect the relationship. There are times, where we have to be willing to risk the relationship and there are relationships that we probably should end, but the majority of our disagreements will be with people who we want to stay in relationship with.  Therefore we have to measure the cost and the potential cost of what we are doing. Sometimes, it is good to walk away. Sometimes, it is good to dig in. Wisdom is needed in such situations.
  4. Seek points of agreement. As mentioned in skill number 2, we should seek points of agreement.  So often we agree with a person on a majority of issues, but we focus on the minority of disagreements we have with a person. To have intimacy we must fight against our cultural propensity for all or nothing thinking.  If everyone agrees on everything, someone isn't needed. Perhaps, it is in our disagreements, that we can find true intimacy. TelemedicineCover3
  5. Avoid using inflammatory words. I would think this would be obvious, but it isn't. There is never a reason to be unkind. There is never a reason to be mean. We don't have to use words that are attacking to discuss and debate our ideas. So many times, we use words that we know are designed to hurt or fan the flames of anger. To be good communicators we must resist this temptation.
  6. Understand there is a difference between hurtful and harmful words. Sometimes, we need to hear words that are hurtful but we should always attempt to avoid harmful words. Telling someone that they are engaging in an activity that needs to change can be hurtful. Attacking who someone's being is harmful. I once was talking with a woman who had been dating a man for about eight years. Her complaint was his lack of ambition and maturity. When I asked her if she ever told him about her concerns, she emphatically said no. She didn't want to hurt his feelings. But without risking hurting his feelings, how would he ever become aware of her frustrations? Most likely, in unhealthy ways.
  7. Be willing to be wrong. Again, this one seems fairly obvious to me.  Be willing, no be ok with being wrong. How else will we ever grow in our understanding of things if we are not willing and comfortable with being wrong? How do you make changes without first admitting you were wrong?
  8. Look at the bigger picture. So many people are willing to fight over things that they don't even remember a short time after the fight. We need to be people that see the bigger picture. Who do you want to be? If you're standing over the other person's grave or facing your own does the argument you're having matter? If not, why does it matter now?
  9. Expect all emotions in the conversation to run amok. Just plan on it. Emotions are like plastic bags caught in the wind, they often float to and fro throughout numerous conversations.
  10. Verify your information. Please make sure the information your sharing is accurate. I know this is both frustrating and hard in today's world. So much conflicting information out there and figuring out who we can trust is incredibly hard but it must be done. 

If you'd like to hear the podcast version of this, feel free to search The Joe Martino Show in your favorite podcast player

Those who disagree with us are not our enemies.

"Can I ask you a question?" This question about asking me a question came at the end of my session with Joshua.*

"Sure," was my quick response. Questions at the end of a session can take many forms. They can range from personal to professional sometimes circling back to a moment in the session and sometimes feeling as though they came from nowhere.

Joshua cleared his throat and asked, "Are you a Trump supporter?"

Welcome to the where did that come from category.

"What does that mean? How would that impact your therapy?"
Something of a blank face stared back at me. Well, I mean I think there is a difference between being a Republican and being a Trump supporter. He's been so mean and the things he says..."

"Well, I have a friend that is a surgeon and he's a huge Trump supporter if you needed surgery would you not want him to do it?" I asked.

"No, no I would..."

Our conversation continued.

But I was sad.

I was saddened by this conversation, not because I necessarily think Josh is wrong for asking it. I'm saddened because we've come to the place where we struggle to be friends and interact with people who think differently than we do.

Especially about politics.

We've come to the place where anyone across the aisle is not just wrong, they are evil. Don't believe me? Ask someone who supports more liberal ideology about Trump or ask someone who supports Trump about Nancy Pelosi. Find two people who disagree about the efficacy of cloth face masks or whether or not the nearly nationwide quarantine was necessary. Sooner or later one or both parties will just dismiss the other person as evil. 

Both sides will invoke their own moral superiority.  The other side just wants people to die.  Why can't the other side just be less selfish and see the value in sacrificing for the good of _____________? Depending on who is talking, you'll need to fill in that blank.

I used to think this was just the bane of my friends who were on the right. I believed this because I heard my friends on the left talk about tolerance and I naively thought they meant it.

We have simultaneously positioned ourselves as the moral and intellectual superior person in almost every debate and elevated feelings to the place of logic.

The result is the mess we have in our country when it comes to politics. And if right now, you're more interested in understanding how this post applies to those you disagree with than it does to you, you're failing this very short pop-quiz. IMG_1651

We've simultaneously tried to legislate conflict and disagreement from our society. We've failed.

We have to develop the ability to hold two things in our minds at once.  I pray that we return to being people who value questions. We need to step away from our identity politics and embrace that those who disagree with us are also people just like us.  We have to fight against our normal nature of craving certainty. Certainty is good until it becomes the thing destroying us.  There is no such thing as a life or a relationship without danger and disagreement.

Conflict and disagreement are necessary for healthy living and healthy relationships. May we actually embrace tolerance as a virtue for our living and not just something we demand of others.

By not engaging in conflict and disagreement we haven't actually solved anything, we've just allowed our muscles necessary for those endeavors to atrophy. And that atrophy is killing our society.

We have to slay the dragon of all or nothing thinking. The idea that someone must agree with 100% of the time or they are a traitor to our humanity is devouring our world. We need heroes to stand up to this pandemic. We need warriors to raise swords of truth and be willing to question the narratives being force-fed to us.

Seek out friends that disagree with you. Converse with them. While you're doing with that, look for all of the ways you agree and connect.

Our world will be better when we learn that a Trump supporter can be good friends with an Obama supporter.

So what do I tell my clients when they ask me who I support. I don't. Instead, I tell them that I support the Constitution. I evaluate Presidents from looking at their policies. I have never met a POTUS, so I have no idea what I think of them as a person. I do know what I think about their policies.

I'd like to think that I could have dinner with both Trump and Biden. And perhaps, all three of us would leave that dinner better for the interaction.

Those who disagree with you are not the enemy. That idea is the enemy.

Let us all be better.


*Not his real name. Nor is he the only one to ask similar questions.






Maybe you should walk away from Facebook for a second.

I feel like I've been talking to so many people lately who feel like they have some sort of bad experience on Facebook because they got caught in some sort of argument with another person. Most of the time, I enjoy Facebook and view it as something akin to free TV, and yet I do have some rules to govern my interactions on Facebook.

I believe you could adopt these, your own experiences might improve.

What is the likely outcome?

One of the questions I often ask myself is what is the likely outcome if I interact with this person/post/idea. There are things we see all of the time that we disagree with, and many people just keep strolling on. In my home town, there is a group of people who stand on a street corner with signs yelling something every Wednesday in the summers. Most people drive on by.

But when those same people see something on Facebook, they seem incapable of not engaging. Often, because they focus on the disagreement, not on the fact that the likely outcome is just them being upset or irritated.

Am I wasting my time? Does this take me off task/mission?

Following the likely outcome question, I will ask myself if this interaction will or did take me off task or mission. Did it waste my time?

At one point, this past summer I was engaged with a man and a woman in a group for counselors. The man had just recently found the group and "was trying to wrap his mind around both its existence and its purpose." He then started expounding on what he believed to be true about private practice and the agency work he had found. Most of what he said, I believe, was inaccurate. I asked some clarifying questions. I told him I disagreed. Someone else (the woman who had a previous professional relationship with him) started explaining how I was wrong. All in all, I thought the disagreement was fine. At some point, the guy decided he was uncomfortable with the interaction and stopped.

Not only did I stop, but I also left the group. Why? Because it was a waste of my time. It took me off the task of cutting my grass and yard work for that day. More importantly, it took me off the task of what I wanted to get done with my life. 

Life is so short. I refuse to spend it arguing with people on issues that don't matter for what I want to get done with my life. I know people who have been hired to work where this guy was recruiting for, and they disagreed with him and called me to tell me. But so what? I knew I was right because I could do simple math. I knew that the guy I was disagreeing with wasn't lying, but he wasn't accurate. His own words were, "I'm fairly confident...." 

He really believed (probably still does) what he was saying. Apply the first question here. How likely is that I was going to change his mind? Not very likely. How likely was he to change my mind? Not very likely. 

But that doesn't mean he was lying. It merely means he believed something that I think to not be accurate. There is a difference between inaccurate and lying.

Does this add value to my life? As I was evaluating the interaction, I had to ask myself some questions. Why did it fire me up so much? I think it is because I felt he was spreading information that was going to make my job and life more difficult. I also thought that it takes zero courage but some huptza to make salary claims on a board like that and not have hard cold numbers to back them up.

But that's his choice.

Which brings me to this question. The interaction didn't add value to my life. I learned that someone else in this field values her worth at a higher amount than anyone is actually willing to pay her. Which again, is her choice. Engaging her was a waste of my time that did not add value to my life.

In fact, I came to the conclusion that being in the group didn't add value to my life or help me to add value to other's lives, so I left the group. Which doesn't mean that the group can't bring value to other people, but it doesn't for me; therefore, engaging in it doesn't seem to make sense. 


That's it. That's how many minutes you get in every day. For me, wasting them in arguments on Facebook that doesn't improve or add value to those minutes seems like a complete waste of time to me. So I disengage so that I can spend my time in other places where I find more value.

To be clear, I like the guy in this story. If the opportunity to have lunch with him came up, I'd probably do it. But life is complicated and messy. I realized in this interaction that I have very little time for people who tried private practice and walked away from it, telling me how it works. What I do with that is one hundred percent on me.

I also like Facebook. I will engage in discussions and debates with friends as I am fortunate to have friends from many walks of life. We don't agree on every issue, and typically we are good at navigating those disagreements. A general rule of thumb that I have is that I will not engage with someone virtually who I would not engage with in real life. If the last 2 or 3 interactions have gone poorly, I'll just stay out of it.

Very few minds have ever been changed on Facebook. That's unlikely to change any time soon. Facebook is a great tool to connect with people to see pictures of people's lives, and it can help friends cover many miles.

It's a tool. We have to be wise in how we utilize it.


Author's Note: I wrote this post quite a few months ago. In this current time of quarantine and the previously unexperienced situations around the world, I think the ideas behind it are as salient today as they have ever been.

I'm still not a part of that group, and to be honest, I'm glad. I know people that are and there it remains something that I am not interested in engaging in at the expense of the things that I need/want to get done for my life.


And the woman I was interacting with? She's out of private practice. I share that not to gloat, but to illustrate how I would have been wasting my time if I had continued to go back and forth with her.


One last thought: You don't have to attend every argument that you invited to join. No one makes you fight. You choose every single time.



How do we develop our feelings?

If I asked you how a person came to feelings, you would probably believe that the following steps are the process for how we go from an event to a feeling is something like this:

  1. Something happens
  2. I have a belief about what happened.
  3. I have an emotional reaction (a feeling or emotion) to what happened.

But there is an inherent problem in this idea. If this is actually the way that we get to an emotion, the only way we can change our emotions is to change what happened. This is problematic because often the things that happen in our life are often on our square and not on our circle. 

The process actually goes something more like this:

  1. Something happens.
  2. I have a belief about what happened.
  3. I have an emotional reaction to what I believe about what happened.   Foal-Bucolic-Horse-Prairie-Eat-Field-Flowers-3644868

In order to change our emotions, we have to change what we believe about what happened. The beauty of this is that we 100% control our beliefs because beliefs are a result of our thinking. For more on that, see my post regarding the circle and the square here.

So often we under value the impact our beliefs about a situation have on our feelings and emotions.  Albert Ellis is, of course, famous for his thoughts and writings on these types of issues.

Think of the young mother who is yelling at her children. If asked almost immediately after the event, she will tell you that she didn't mean to yell or that she feels terrible for yelling.
So why did she yell?

The answer is not because her children were being disrespectful.

The answer is actually (typically) what she believes their disrespect means about her life. When interviewed, most parents state things about what they think their child's behavior means about them. 

They're a bad parent, or at least other people will think that they are a bad parent is the most common thought.

They can't control their children (or other people...).

They're just frustrated because it shouldn't be this hard. But who determines how hard something should be?

So what does this mean for us? 

Well, the next time you're frustrated or angry about something, ask yourself what you believe about what is happening. Then ask yourself what you could change about what you believe. 

How might you help the parent in the above example change what they believe about what is happening?                                                                

If you had a friend that talked to you like you do, would you still be friends?

I have a serious question for you. 

If you had a friend that talked to you like you talk to you, would you still be friends?

I've talked and written in the past about the importance of talking to yourself over listening to yourself. It's imperative that you take an active  role in directing the thoughts that run your through your head.  My friend and colleague, Marissa Stevens (Nae Freyling) wrote a post about that quote here regarding her journey with cancer and life. 

Which brings me back to my questions for you.

Q. What do you say to yourself when you do something silly like drop a container of laundry soap?  Is it, "I'm such an idiot!" or some other disparaging remark? 

Q. What do you say to yourself when opportunity for success and therefore failure presents itself?

Q. What do you way to yourself when you dream?

Q. What do you say to yourself when someone pays you a compliment?  Do you mentally catalogue all of your shortcomings? 

Q. What do you say to yourself when someone offers you criticism? Do you flat out reject as hate or do you pile on top of it moving well beyond the original thought of the person ?

Your answers matter because your life will be driven by your thoughts. Like a hidden steering wheel, our brain controls much of how our body responds to the world around us. 

This is not a post about some Pollyanna like false talk. It is not a post about some sort of false pie in the sky hope. 

It is a post about being honest about your worth. It is a post about believing you have worth simply because you exist. You bring something to the world that no on else brings it.Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 6.39.18 PM

You're not an idiot because something bad happened like you lost $100 that you can't afford to lose. You're not shameful because someone molested or raped you as a child. You didn't deserve to be raped because you were drunk at a party. Your worth isn't diminished because your father didn't know how to adequately love you. You're not worthless because your mom took every chance she could to remind you that you were an accident that wasn't planned.

I do not believe you are an accident. I do believe you have worth.

And at least part of my mission to convince you of the same thing. Our world seems caught between unfettered narcissism and overwhelming self loathing. 

Troubles come for us all, but they do not have to define any of us. 

Which brings me back to my first question. Would you be friends with someone who talked to you like you talk to yourself? 
If they answer to that is no, why do you talk to yourself that way?

What would happen if you started to talking to yourself in a different way? What would happen if you started talking to yourself in an honest and encouraging way?

Why not run an experiment and find out?



The Emotionally Secure Couple: Chapter One

As you may know I recently published a book called, The Emotionally Secure Couple: The Key to Everything You want in a Healthy Relationship. Front Cover

I believe this book can change your life and your relationships. It's full of the information and methods that I use in session with my clients. I know other therapists that have adopted these methods with their clients and they have reported an increase in their clients progress. I want to share chapter one with you today.

If you like what you read and think that it can help you in your own relationship, you can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here.


Chapter 1: What If?

Derek sat on the couch in my office. His Adam’s apple moved up and down in rhythm with his labored breathing. He was obviously distressed. The first few moments of the first session are like a dance: the two partners don’t know how to act without any music to guide them. Therapist and client must listen for the music that is not there and end up in synchrony.

Derek looked at me and said, “My wife and I just can’t get on the same page. Forget communication—we can’t even agree on what we need to communicate!”

I said, “But what if I could teach you how to talk to her and how she could talk to you and move you through your conflict? What if you could engage conflict in a way that improved your relationship? What if you and your wife could actually repair your marriage?”

Derek and Ruby had been married for a few years when they walked into my office. Things started to fall apart quickly. Derek moved out and into an apartment. Ruby begged him to come home. Derek stayed away. She begged some more.

Until she stopped.

After begging, she became incensed. First, she was hurt. Then she was angry. Rage and bitterness followed next. Finally, she flirted with contempt. Overarching these emotions was numbness.

She clung to numbness to protect her heart. At a different time, Ruby sat in my office and told me, “I’m not mad at Derek. I’m not. I’m not angry, I’m not sad; I’m not . . . anything. I’m just really tired.”

If I were going to help them, I would have to challenge her numbness and teach them both a way to talk that moved their relationship forward. I worried that I would run out of time before I could help them.

And I almost did.

One day, Derek walked in and told me that Ruby had decided she was done. She wanted a divorce. “The worst part is that she thinks I was drunk, and I swear to you I wasn’t. I hadn’t even had three beers in two days!”

Derek was angry. I asked him how he responded to Ruby.

“Respond? I just kind of walked away.”

“What if you could change that?” I asked.

What if, indeed!

About a week later, Derek and Ruby walked into my office and she told me, “I want to make our relationship work.”

I asked why she had changed her mind. Derek responded for her.

Derek had gone over to her house and rather than shrinking in the face of her typical haze-and-raze approach to their conflict, he engaged her. He used the same principles that I’ve written in this book to begin the healing process of their relationship. He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t caustic. He was direct. He told her how he felt. He engaged his feelings while validating hers. He told her that he loved her, but he gave her the freedom to leave and walk away. For maybe the first time in their life as a married couple, he stopped trying to control her and gave their relationship the opportunity to grow or fail.

This is one of the keys to a healthy relationship: allowing it the opportunity to fail. We’ll talk more about this later, but for Derek, it was revolutionary. It saved his marriage. And you’ll need to embrace it to create the relationship you want.

I’ll ask you the same question: What if you didn’t have to go through Derek’s situation? What if you could create habits in your life that would create a healthy relationship as a byproduct? What if you could learn new strategies to create a healthy marriage?

I believe you can do exactly that, and this book is my attempt to help you create those habits.

We will come back to Derek and Ruby later to see how they navigated these habits. By the way, as of the writing of this book, they are expecting their first baby.

Are You Contributing?

Eric and Emily had called my office and had asked to meet with me at a coffee shop. I agreed. Their relationship was in real trouble.

They knew it.

Sadly, no one else knew.

From the outside, they had done everything right. They had been friends before dating. They dated for almost a year before he proposed. A year later, they were married.

Twenty months later, they were sitting in that coffee shop with me surrounded by a throng of hipsters listening to indie music while wearing knit hats in the summer.

Both had great jobs. Both wanted their relationship to work—at least in the beginning.

Tears flowed down Emily’s face as she told her side of the story. Eric sat with a face carved from granite as she talked about her infidelity. She cried. He withdrew. She stressed that no sexual activity happened—besides a few light kisses and the occasional hug. Her assurances did nothing to thaw Eric’s face or emotions. “It just happened. I wasn’t looking for it,” she implored.

At that line, I saw my first glimpse of Eric’s emotions. He was angry. Of course, that’s understandable. What I was about to ask him, though, would start a fire in our conversation.

“Eric, what do you think you did to contribute to this situation?”

Raw, white anger boiled across his face.


“He was just never home. He just wasn’t . . . there.” Emily slowly and deliberately pushed the words out for me. Eric’s response told me that this was not the first time they had had this conversation. His shoulders rolled and his head shook, his face screaming contempt without a word escaping his mouth.

Both had come from homes where their parents and grandparents had divorced and remarried, with one parent on both sides being remarried multiple times. Emily was the result of her mom’s first affair.

She was horrified at the prospect of having become a cheater. Despite whatever reasons she had to justify her actions, she felt as though she had become the very thing she always wanted to avoid.

Eric’s father was a good provider but was never present emotionally.

Perhaps this was the hardest pill for them to swallow: they had become the parent they most struggled with in their own childhood. This is, of course, very common. Children learn what they live, and live what they learn.

As with most things in couples counseling, this principle seems to be so plain, so obvious that it almost seems not to warrant utterance.

And yet, often the most basic things are the ones we overlook the most. Our parents, or primary caregivers as children, blueprint us for how we will interact emotionally as adults. They give us the plan that we utilize, often without us realizing that we are repeating what they do.

We often default to the patterns of living we learned in childhood. This is true even if we have intellectually rejected them. Rejecting them without replacing them only creates a vacuum that we often don’t know how to fill, so we return to what we know.

Eric and Emily had been taught how to save money, take care of a home, and provide all of life’s basic necessities. They had never been taught how to answer the core questions that haunt us all.

They had never been taught how to best pursue each other. Neither had ever been asked what it would mean for them to sell out to the idea of making their marriage work.

Neither had ever asked what they would be willing to pay or risk to get what they want out of their marriage.

They had never actually considered what the point of their marriage was or should be.

I told Eric and Emily, “It is my belief that any couple can come back from anything. They simply need to learn how to build the most important ingredient into their relationship and answer some basic questions every day.”

The Other Side of Pain

I’ve worked with couples who had multiple affairs—with pens ready to sign divorce papers—and they came back from those terrible situations. One husband cheated on his wife with one of her best friends while she was in the hospital with their newborn baby.

Not only are they together today, but they will tell you that they are best friends.

How does that happen?

How does a couple caught in the deepest hurt move from the most significant pain of feeling the widest gulf between them to being best friends? It happens by both individuals being committed to healing and hope. When both people are willing to move toward each other and invite the other person to walk beside them, healing occurs.

But this process is painful. It doesn’t feel good. I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me, “But I don’t feel like it should be this hard!” or “I don’t feel like I should have to endure this pain.”

Eric and Emily both said that to me. I told them the same thing I always say at those moments: “This hard” is subjective and they are correct in believing that they do not have to endure the pain. But no matter what they choose to do, there will be pain, especially if kids are involved. And if they want their marriage to work, they have to walk through the pain. One of the biggest lies we allow our brains to tell us is that we do not have a choice in a situation. Whenever people tell me they “shouldn’t have to endure pain” or “they don’t have to go through the pain,” I tell them I agree with them. They can always choose to exclude a particular pain from their life. There is a catch, though.

Everything in life that is worth having is almost always on the other side of pain. By avoiding the thing that scares us, we avoid the things we want to be in our life. We succeed in avoiding one pain only to invite and welcome another pain into our life. There is always pain.

Eric and Emily had what many would consider to be a big problem in their marriage. There was infidelity—emotionally, if not physically—and it was this giant life-sucking hole that permeated every area of their relationship. They had a much bigger problem, though. This giant problem would allow them to ignore the many smaller problems that had led them to this point.

Emily was not being completely honest that day, and there was more to the story (there often is). And Eric had some secrets of his own to share. They were both holding onto their secrets because they had failed to create a safe place to share the hard things about their life.

We all have these traumas in our relationships. Our screw-ups sit in the back corner of our brain, taunting us. They expose our shame and demand we hide it. They bark loudly and obnoxiously until we acquiesce and hide them. In hiding our shame, we hide ourselves. We retreat our true inner being to the shadows where the shame can grow into its own dragon, seeking to slay us.

Then we try to soothe our pain. We try to soothe it by working out or making millions of dollars or getting involved in church. We try to outdo our shame, falsely believing that we can outrun it through activity. The net result becomes a heaping of shame on top of shame. Our activity does not do away with our shame; instead, it numbs our response to it. A numb soul tends to be numb to everything. This causes us to pick activities that keep us from connecting with someone else, which causes us to experience more shame.

Sometimes, maybe often, we try to deny our shame by simply retreating and not doing anything. This can lead to clinical depression. We keep the blinds in the house down and lose all sense of meaning for life. Our zest fades like the dying light of late autumn.

Most of the time, we strike an uneasy balance between those two extremes and we still fail to heal. Our world spins faster and faster as we scramble to catch up. We don’t find satisfaction in what should be our deepest and most significant relationship, all the while failing to realize that one of the biggest contributing factors to a failed marriage is overlooking a truly safe place to be all-in with our whole body.

This book will give you the tools to be able to create such a space for your loved ones. A space where complete safety can grow and blossom. The challenge for you will be engaging your greatest fears as you seek that which you desire the most.

Square or Circle: Finding Peace in a world that can feel out of control

Have you ever been frustrated with someone doing something that you didn't want them to do?

Have you ever searched every crevice of your brain to try and figure out a way to say something to someone so that they wouldn't act in a certain way toward you?

Maybe you wanted to understand how to talk to them so they wouldn't get mad. Circle square illustrated
Maybe you wanted your teenage son to understand the importance of taking his dirty dishes out of his room.

Maybe you wanted your parents to understand how they hurt you.

Whatever it is, if it didn't work, I'm guessing, you were frustrated. I want to share with you something that may help alleviate that frustration. 

Find a piece of paper.

Draw a stick figure. This stick figure is you.
Now, draw a circle around the stick figure and a square around the circle.

Your drawing should look something like the picture embedded in this post.

Now, consider this: Everything on the square happens to you, but you have little to no control over it. When your partner does something you don't like, that's on your square. If you try to have a conversation with them about your sex life and they start to yell and get mad? That's on your square and their circle.  You're not responsible for how they act or react; they are.

That's the good news.

How you act is on your circle. You are 100% responsible for how you act.

Most of the time, when you try to control something on someone else's circle (your square), you are manipulating.

This is often a great source of emotional frustration and angst for people. I will often ask clients, "Circle or Square?" when they are talking about a frustration.  The question is designed to get them to explore what they control or are trying to control.

Too often, people will be at one end of two extremes.

The first end is, "I must be doing it wrong, because my husband always gets mad no matter what I do or how I say it." The opposite end is "What my husband is doing is wrong therefore I have an excuse for my poor behavior."

Both extremes are wrong.

Simply because your spouse feels angry with you or reacts poorly to something you've done does not mean that you've done anything wrong. Yes, you can and should examine how you approached the issue. You can even ask them how you might have said whatever it was you wanted to communicate in a way that they would not have been upset/angry, etc over. 

But there reaction is 100% on their circle (they control it) and 100% on your square (you are not in control of it).

Conversely, if your spouse is engaging in poor behavior, that's on their circle (they're control) and your square (not your control.

Your reaction is still on your circle and their poor behavior does not ever excuse your own poor behavior.

I am always amazed at people who would never accept, "Well, they did it first" from their children and use the same excuse for why they treat their spouse poorly.

A natural question is what about feelings?

Feelings live in the place between our circle and square. We don't often control their creation. They happen faster than we can process.

But we absolutely control what we do with those emotions and feelings. We control what do after those feelings are created.   Simply because we're mad, doesn't mean we have to yell or be mean. We control our actions and what we do.

So the next time you are frustrated or angry, ask yourself if you're trying to control something that's on your square or circle.

If it's out on the square, you're probably going to be stuck for as long as you try to control it.

So much of our energy is spent trying to control things we do not and cannot control that we fail to utilize the energy we do have to control our own lives.

If we want to find true satisfaction, we will have to start with controlling the things we control and accepting the fact that we don't control everything. Energy spent trying to control things we can't control is energy wasted.  Energy wasted will not move us toward peace.

Find some time today, make your lists. Examine what's going on in your life. What do you control? What don't you control?






Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic coming to West Michigan

In the near future, our office will be opening an Urgent Care Mental Health Clinic. We believe it will be the first of this type of service for our area.  I want to take a moment today and share with you why we are doing this and what we hope to accomplish with such a clinic.

I once heard a clinician brag about charging client's extra in order to see them on the weekend.

That is something we have never done or embraced here at JMCN.  Over the years, I've seen clients in crisis whenever possible, including weekends.  I know that is also true of other therapists in our network.

Just last weekend, one of our therapist came in on a Saturday morning to see a client who was in crisis.

But, we can't all be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

And yet, there are always going to be times when someone needs help, now. JMCN Urgent Care

We want to attempt to meet that need. This clinic is our attempt to do that. The Urgent Care Center at JMCN will provide urgent care mental health therapy for people who feel they are in a mental health crisis  but cannot see their normal clinician for a period of time. We also want to serve those who do not have a normal clinician and cannot get in to see their preferred clinician in a timely manner.

Take for instance, my friend Bob.*  He and I were talking about this a few days ago. His wife Sarah has a regular therapist that she sees three to four times a month. She is dealing with some significant losses recently in her personal life and the grief that accompanies those losses.

Two weeks ago, a beloved pet passed away unexpectedly. Sarah was frantic to see her therapist. The only problem was that her therapist does not see client's on Mondays. On Tuesday, her therapist left for a two week vacation.

Bob felt that having some place where Sarah could have gone to talk about her grief would have been important and helpful.

Or consider for a moment, if you will Wendy and Dave.*

They've been having trouble communicating lately and late last week they had a fight that they both felt might have put their relationship over the edge into a downward death spiral from which it might never recover.  As they desperately call around the area looking for a marriage or relationship therapist to help them, they discover that they have a minimum of a one week wait.

We see this Urgent Care clinic as a potential resource for all the Dave and Wendy's of the area.

And for anyone who is feeling depressed and lost...or hurt and abandoned. We want to help.

You can find more information about our Mental Health Urgent Care Clinic by clicking here.




*Not real name.

If you want to start something new, you'll need to stop something old

I often meet people who tell me about their wishes.

Sometimes, they call these wishes goals and I call them wishes.

They want to do this thing they're talking about....

......build a business

    ......start a non-profit

        .......go back to school CreativeCost1

            .....write a novel

                ......get healthier

                    ....do something they are not currently doing.


When I ask them what is keeping them from doing the thing they want to be doing, I usually hear one of two things. Sometimes, I hear both.

"I don't have the time," they say with dour seriousness.

"I don't have the resources," gets expressed with equal chagrin.

I often push back and ask them how important their wish is to them. They often tell me that it's really important.  I will ask them how important again and they will express some agitation at me asking the same question a second time.

I often tell them that I find that question to be the most important because I believe that people do what they want to do when they want to do it.

I often find that people fail at starting something new because they are unwilling to say no to something that they are currently doing but find unsatisfying.

You want to have a family? Well, that's going to impact the amount of times you can hang out with your "bros".

You want to get healthier? Well, that's going to force you to change your eating, and sleep habits.

You want to have an intimate relationship? Well, that's going to force you to change how you draw your boundaries and deploy your personal amour.

No matter what you do, you'll have to stop doing something else. 

I have found it helpful to judge people's seriousness about an endeavor by making one seemingly weird suggestion.

When they suggest to me that they are under-resourced, I'll suggest they cut their cable or phone bill.

The reactions are almost comical.

It's as though by suggesting they cut out their cable that I am asking for a limb.

"But, if you're going to get where you want to go, you'll need to change something," I prod. "What do you want to change?"

"I can't. I'm stuck,"

To that I say, "Hogwash!"

The journey from where you are to where you want to be is going to be hard.  Everything in life worth having is hard.

Life is hard because it's supposed to be hard, because that is how we learn.

What about you? What do you want to do that you're not doing? What is keeping you from chasing that thing? Is is fear? What are you willing to pay to get it done? Think beyond terms of monetary payments here. Are you willing to pay engaging your fear? Are you willing to risk failure (maybe public)? Are you willing pay people telling you it won't work? Are you willing to lose sleep? Are you willing to delay gratification?

Here's another truth for another post but remember that today what you do is because you're choosing to do it. If you don't like the results you're getting, start making plans to make different choices.