More parenting thoughts

I have been away from the blog for a while, and I want to let you know why, and thank you for your interest and kind words. I always hope the articles I post can be useful, and hope you can share them with others. For the past few months I have been dealing with some health issues that have altered my days. I have begun chemotherapy for cancer treatment, and have found a true “holy ground” as I have met fellow patients and a wonderful group of medical professionals, who amazingly always have encouragement and optimism available to share. Optimism is like oxygen, you know…

But, I am now ready to do more writing. For a while now, I have been sharing chapters from my book…. Marriage Minutes… available from (a tip by the way, if you go there to look for it, put,,, marriage minutes ford ,,, in the search engine. Obviously, if you use my name only, you will get the books by the more famous Gerald Ford.) I have only a few more chapters I wish to share from the book, and then I want to explore some other areas. So, I hope you will join me, pray with me, and share your comments with me, and the articles with others.

Marriage Minute # 148 Mirror, Hero, and Twin

We depended on our parents and other caregivers for several things, and hopefully they finished much of their job. But, some patterns of unfinished business rightly continue throughout our life, and we begin to look for similar things in other relationships. Let’s take a look at these things. For a background I am thankful to Ikar Kalogjera and his colleagues at the Milwaukee Group for the advancement of Self-Psychology. (Writing in, The Disordered Couple, edited by Jon Carlson and Len Sperry)
Many theorists about childhood assert that we need, among other things, some early psychological experience with three “things”, a mirror, a hero, and a twin. First, we need to “see” ourselves in our parents. They need to reflect pride (not just theirs, but our own pride) in our accomplishments, and the ability to accommodate with growth (not shame) when we find that we need to change. This is where we first learn to enjoy physical and mental activities, and pursue goals. Later, we can continue to “mirror” with our own experience, and with selected individuals in friendships and/or mentoring relationships. Without “mirroring”, we may find ourselves feeling empty, inadequate, and in constant need of reassurance.
Secondly, we need a hero. The hero of our childhood is often one, or hopefully both, parents. Idealizing gives us a sense of consistency, security, and a sort of optimism about values and purpose. We learn to regulate ourselves, soothe and calm ourselves, and pursue ideals with commitment. (This is not the same as being driven by guilt or fear of a “giant”. It is the drawing power of a hero.) Later, we find heroes in our adult life. Healthy relationships with God, and with other people, provide more idealizing influence. A marriage needs the mutual admiration, the wonder, the curiosity, and the security of this experience.
Third, the child needs a twin. This isn’t about whether or not we ought to be our child’s friend. This is about whether we encourage our children, and help them see that they can also become the “hero” they have seen demonstrated. Will we be heirs of the good giants who raised us? Can we be heirs of God? Will we be able to be a “hero” to others and live as a contributing person in the world? Can we successfully become a person with “empathy, creativeness, humor, wisdom, and acceptance of one’s transience”? (p. 218) After all, a hero that I cannot become “like” is a useless hero in the long run. Marriage, similarly, should be a relationship where we support each other’s growth, and thereby our own. Sadly, many marriages are places where people try to make themselves superior by making the other inferior. Personhood, realized, needs twinship.
In fact, personhood needs all three of these things, the mirror, the hero, and the twin. To be able to say, “I am loved and worth love, I can value and understand love, and I can love and be lovable.” These three needs may also be understood as the needs to be seen, valued, and joined with in building the relationship.
A warning is in order. The Narcissistic person will horribly abuse this whole issue. They will demand a mirror, but they won’t be one for others. They will claim to be a giant, but will do all they can to deny any peerage, nor will they have any heroes but themselves. They will refuse twinship, because that would mean their personhood might depend upon relationship, and upon growth, cure, change, and mutuality.
The one who chooses to love, finds personhood, and makes it available.

Marriage Minute # 149 Elephants

Let’s talk about elephants. Years ago there was an overpopulation of elephants at an African game preserve. The solution offered by those who managed the preserve was to move the baby elephants to another preserve. Some people objected, saying that the babies would not survive, but this was not the outcome. The young ones survived and thrived. In a manner, they thrived, but another problem soon arose. The rhinoceros population began to die off. Something was killing them. Property was being destroyed. People who lived around the preserve reported being charged by the elephants. It turned out that the young elephants were behind all these problems, even though this was not the characteristic behavior usually seen in elephants.
It was feared that the herd would have to be sacrificed, but a rather bold thing was tried first. Several adult elephants were transported to the area, including some quite old elephants. Soon the problems ceased. Almost immediately, the young elephants took notice of their new role models, and these “parents and grandparents” started showing the young ones how to live in their world. The news show, “60 Minutes”, called the elephants’ social system complex, interconnected, and elegant.
Years later, in a place far away, humans were discovered discussing whether parents were necessary or not. Some of them had become obsessed with getting away from their own parents. Some had become obsessed with finding ways to get away from their own children more often. When parents and grandparents became marginalized in children’s lives, behavioral problems began to occur. One “noted” specialist even recommended that children be taken away from parents at a certain age and raised by government owned and operated training schools, later to be returned to parents as finished products. He said that child-raising was too important to be trusted to unprofessional and untrained parents. He spoke of reinforcing this behavior or that one, and showed how humans could be conformed from the outside. But, problems continued, and even worsened.
The truth re-discovered in both places is that children need parents, and they need grandparents. Children need to see behavior modeled, not just reinforced. Even more than that, they need to be helped in the discovery that they can choose, and are responsible for choosing responsible behavior, from the inside of themselves, not the outside alone. Parents need to show their children how they have been able to renegotiate a relationship with their parents, now that they are grown. They can demonstrate that parents and adult children don’t have to relate in terms of rebellion and power struggles. Children can learn to contribute to the family, and to the human community, from their childhood up, and then how to let their contribution change with age, but not go away.
I didn’t know my grandparents well before they were gone, but I did have several older family members who contributed a lot to my life. Chief among them was a great uncle and his son, who were sort of the family story tellers, and guess what I do now.

Marriage Minute # 150 Free the Cell Phone!

How many uses are there for a cell phone? They take pictures and can send e-mails and texts, and connect to the Internet, they provide books in new forms, and do many other things. Despite the wonderful things they can do for us, parents have begun to use them for a purpose for which they were not designed. They are using them to extort chores and other bits of behavior from their teenagers. If the room doesn’t get clean, the cell phone gets taken away for a few days. If the kid doesn’t get home on time, the cell phone gets taken away for a few days. If grades suffer, the cell phone gets taken away for a few days. No, I’m not trying to give out ideas for how to get your kid to do things, I am trying to say these ideas don’t work, for a number of reasons.
First, losing a cell phone won’t teach the value of a clean house, of punctuality, or of a good education. Discipline needs to be a natural or logical response to the actual nature of the problem. If you lost your cell phone, would you go sit down with an academic book and study hard for that next test? If someone stole your cell phone, would you suddenly feel a compulsion to go home and clean your room? I guess you could hide their cell phone in their room and tell them to clean the room to find it (only joking). Value is taught by example, by experience, and by connection to what is truly good in life and relationships. Discipline that is not natural or logical will produce more behavior that is not what you want to see.
Second, holding a cell phone (or other object) hostage, when the cell phone is not really the problem (i.e. misuse of the phone, going over minutes, etc.), will teach a dangerous lesson. You might see the kid threatening to disturb the peace in the family unless they get their way. Sadly, bribery hurts both ways. When a person threatens a tantrum unless their demands are met, it’s bribery, no matter how old or young they are.
I know that some kids will cooperate, but that doesn’t mean that the hostage taking really worked. The person who cooperates with this type of discipline would probably have cooperated with a better form of discipline, anyway, and everyone involved would have had a better experience from it all. In fact, the child that is cooperative, who wants to be in a good relationship with the family, will be discouraged by any discipline that doesn’t give them the credit they deserve.
By the way, I watched with interest, a few years ago, as Prince Charles dealt with Prince Harry’s insensitivity in wearing the Nazi uniform to a party. He sent him to tour Auschwitz, and hear the story of the horrors committed there. Now, that is discipline that is directly (naturally/ logically) related to the nature of the problem. I don’t know about the rest of Charles’ parenting, but he got this one right.
The best way to raise adults is to present kids with two good adult examples. Do parents cooperate with each other, respect others, and do they accept influence from each other in solving problems? Or, do parents bribe each other? Free the captive cell phone.

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The Parental Cloak

Do your children ever see you without your parenting cloak on? If not, they may not really know you.

Marriage Minute # 147 The Parental Cloak
(from my book Marriage Minutes, available on

Virginia Satir asked this interesting question of parents. Can you take off your “parental cloak” when you’re not using it? Do we depend on the power we get from parenting to make us who we are? Or, can we be other things, like ourselves, or a spouse, or a person at the job, or another person discovering new things about life, and living our own life?
Satir suggested that many parents wear their cloak (parental role) as a cover for their own insecurities, and their wish for power. She illustrates this by describing three “linings” for this cloak; a Boss lining, a Leader and Guide lining, and a Pal lining. These sound like the labels of Authoritarian (giving orders), Authoritative (giving guidance), and Permissive (giving in) parenting styles. The person wearing the Boss lining may be the one who has the hardest time putting the cloak aside, to let their family know who they really are.
One day Satir was so tired of hearing parents say to children that there was only one way, their way, of doing things (these adults often tell each other the same thing), that she took up an interesting project to illustrate a point. She heard about the “right way” so many times that she investigated and found that there were approximately 247 ways to wash the dishes. These ways included such things as whether you sort them first, or whether you rinse them first, or which item you wash first, and so on. Her point is that raising children who understand reasons and purpose, and children who have common sense and good judgment is good parenting. And, this parental cloak can be put aside when it is time to do so.
“People who are around a tyrant, suffer insult, constantly”, says Satir. Not only this, but they are often looking for more and more effective ways of working around the tyrant, or escaping them. Not much real parenting gets done.
Parents who are “more than parents” do better parenting. The cloak for them is not the main thing. I noticed this a few years ago when talking with a younger friend of mine who commented on how much I apparently Love my career life. (I am in my third career, and I still have the other two, as well.) This friend said he grew up in a home where his father and mother hardly ever had a kind word to say about their jobs. He said he envisioned adult life being this place where they dragged you off to the salt mines every morning and dropped you off at the curb every night. Caring for yourself is not selfish, enjoying life together with your children is not impossible, and it just may teach your children an important lesson, just by letting them see you live a satisfying life.

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Scholarship Alert… a look at what Paul really said

Marriage Minute # 144 From my book, Marriage Minutes, available from

An Egalitarian looks at I Timothy 2:12

This will be about marriage by the time I am through with it. It is already about marriage since it is about the nature of women and men in the eyes of God. And, it is a needed discussion in this book since it is one of the most misinterpreted verses in the entire Bible. It is used to keep women out of church leadership, and as an intentional by-product, to keep women out of equality in homes and marriages. This scripture is misused in bolstering what is called Masculine Protest, a belief that men have certain unearned privileges, simply by virtue of being born male, privileges generally denied to women. Here is the verse, in the New American Standard Version…
But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.

I will give what I consider a better translation at the end of the article. I prefer the New American Standard in most cases, but like most other translations the NASB has missed the mark. Here is why I say this…
The troublesome word in this verse is the one usually translated “to exercise authority”. It is the Greek word, αὐθεντεῖν, authentein, an infinitive form of a quite rare Greek word. In fact, in all of scripture, it only appears here in this verse. When Paul and all the other writers refer to authority in any other verse, they use some other word, and all the other words for authority are well known, well used, and well defined. So, if we want to know the meaning of the word we must go to other Greek documents of the time period. Even in doing this, the search is difficult.
I am very grateful for the scholarship of several people, especially in this verse. A few years ago several scholars compiled a computerized databank of Greek words, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, found at the University of California-Irvine. Words were catalogued from practically all the extant sources that could be found. Books, letters, poetry, signs, legal documents, and other sorts of Greek writings were sorted in this databank in order to give us a look at how the words were used in each context. This lexicon records such usages from the 8th century B.C. all the way through A.D. 1453, around 2200 years of the history of the Greek language.
I am also indebted to Leland Wilshire and his excellent book, Insight Into Two Biblical Passages.
A thorough look at this history reveals that the word “authentein” was a word that originally meant “one who with his own hand kills either others or himself”. Fragment 645 by the Greek writer Euripides uses the word to mean “murderous ruling desires”. Another reference points to “Saturn as the Ruler of the soul…”. Still another reference is found in the worship of an Archangel, proclaimed as “the Ruling Sun”. Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-95) employs the word in only two places in Jewish Wars to describe the perpetrator of a crime. It is not until the end of the second century, A.D., that the word appears as a signifier of “authority”, in the writings of Clement of Alexandria, and Clement uses the word in most occasions to signify criminal behavior and abuse of power. His majority usage is “to take it upon one’s self to commit murder with impunity”. His additional usage of the word to simply mean “authority” does not, in my opinion of the context, suggest any particular legitimacy to the authority. The full bifurcation of the word into tracts of legitimate as well as illegitimate authority does not appear until the fourth century. Furthermore, it is not translated into an English form, Author, any sooner that the 13th century.
So, why does Paul deviate from his usual collection of words for authority and, in this one verse, use this obscure word for “murderous rule”? I suggest that the answer is found in Paul’s original premise for writing this letter to Timothy. See I Timothy 1: 3 “As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines,…” (NASB). Paul and Timothy were contending with teachers of false doctrine, chiefly the forms of Legalism, and Gnosticism found in Ephesus. While written chronicles of Gnostic doctrine do not proliferate until many years later, Paul’s frequent use of certain phrases found in Gnosticism, which he employs in his effort to disapprove of them, suggests that Gnosticism, at least in oral tradition, was flowering in the first century. I will refer to some of these terms below, and I suggest that this word, authentein= murderous rule, is one of those terms.
A particular strain of Gnostics, now known as Ophitic Gnostics, taught a number of heretical beliefs, among them that,
• The god who created the mind was superior to the god who created the body,
• The god who created Woman acted prior to the creation of Adam, and some Ophitic Gnostics taught that different gods created the two people, Adam and Eve,
• That, according to a group within Gnosticism, the god who created the material Earth including the human and animal body, was a female deity thereby giving the power to “rule” to females of each species,
• That a superior god was the savior of the mind and soul, while a lesser god was the savior of the body,
• That Adam was deceived into thinking that he was created first, and further deceived into thinking that he was superior to Eve,
• That the sin of Adam was different from the lesser sin of Eve, and
• That Eve was actually the one who was to have power over the human race by virtue of being female, and that she could enforce this power by any means necessary,
• But that she was to refuse childbearing, except in highly controlled situations , because childbearing would mean that she was taking part in creating evil and fallen flesh and losing her control (and her salvation),

Let’s revisit the text now. I Timothy 2:12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority….. [murderous rule]….. over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. …..[this is Paul refuting the idea that Eve was created first, and that she was created separately by a different god] …..14 And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, …..[refuting the idea that Adam was deceived]…..fell into transgression. …..[the same transgression] 15 But (women) will be preserved through the bearing of children …..[refuting the idea that childbearing meant the loss of salvation]…..if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.

It should be becoming clear by now that Paul was fighting Gnostics, and not fighting women. May I suggest the following expanded translation based upon the information I have presented.
I Timothy 2:12
“But I do not allow a woman to teach murderous rule, or to exercise murderous rule over a man, but to remain in a teachable spirit . Because it was Adam who was created first and then Eve right along with him, and by the same (and only) God. Furthermore, Adam was not deceived but the woman being deceived fell into the same transgression even as did Adam. But, she is preserved through the bearing of children (the call to have families did not become the enemy with Eve), if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

Here, we come to that great theological question, “What does this have to do with anything?”
If Paul is arguing against Ophitic Gnosticism, and not against women, does the verse have any usage in the life of the 21st century believer. It does have a use, but it is not the usage that many people make of it. It is commonly used 1) to keep women out of ministry, and 2) to keep women in other inferior positions in life. Both of these usages have no justification if we look at this passage in the light of the full evidence about authentein and the evidence about the culture of Gnosticism. Paul had no intention to say what many people think he said, and I believe that he would be shocked and utterly dismayed to find out how so many people have misinterpreted him.
Legitimate usage of this verse is found in at least four admonitions:
• That God did not intend any battle between the sexes, especially one that involves “murderous rule”
• That men and women were created by the same God, created in His Image, to live in healthy relationships,
• That both men and women are to conduct themselves in love, without wrath, dissension, or a clamorous spirit,
• That we are not to fear the normal life of the healthy family, marrying and having children, and that this family should not be seen as an arena for power struggles about salvation, or about personal power (especially abusive power)

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To my dear marriage counseling client…

To my dear marriage counseling client…

You seem to be intent on telling me several indicting things about your spouse (the person sitting next to you on my couch), and perhaps you are trying to convince me of these things. You may also be trying to hurt them in some way. You are succeeding at the latter, but not at the former. Do you believe, if you convince me of how awful they are, that they will be declared guilty, and as though by magic, they will be returned to you, thoroughly scolded, and transformed back into the dutiful and compliant spouse you thought you were getting so long ago? That’s not how this whole thing works.

As you vent, I think you may have some valid points about your spouse, but I wonder at the same time. How much of what you are saying are you hearing for the first time, and how much is your spouse hearing for the first time? More so, I wonder how much of it is true. What truth are you not telling me? Do you tell each other the truth?

It also matters what you are trying to do with the truth. The truth can sometimes hurt, but wanting to hurt someone, and using the truth to do it is another. Thelonious Monk said, “There are no wrong notes on the piano, but it matters when and how you use them.”

The truth is… your spouse wants to feel significant, and so do you. But, how people get to significance is often thwarted by mistaken and misapplied theology. Men are offered the idea that they can and must be leaders in the home. Leading is one way of finding significance, and after all, there are a lot of decisions to be made in a home, and a lot of problems to be solved. Yet, that is not the real issue. The real issue is whether the husband will be in that leadership position alone. Does he really need to feel threatened by a strong woman wanting to share leadership? Is he really in danger from her? Does he believe the world’s message of shame? If he is threatened by the prospect of an open and intimate life with an equal, then he is probably not seeking significance, but is instead seeking superiority… an appeal to human pride and avarice. Do you tell the truth about what you are wanting from your spouse? Are all your wants O.K.?

The truth is… your spouse wants to feel significant, and so do you. Women hear the “inferiority” message and in many ways feel a great sense of shame. People who feel shame often inflict shame. She was often taught to use Spite Talk, as her husband was taught to use Fight Talk. Sadly, significance is still elusive. No one wins. She becomes angry over this “one-down” position, many of us understand the anger, but none of this brings significance. The truth is, neither superiority nor inferiority really fit anyone. Neither of them were really God’s original plan. Only the Significance Plan works, and true intimacy doesn’t need someone in charge.

The truth is… your spouse wants to feel significant, and so do you. God wants us to repent, with all the mind change and emotional shift that goes with it. But, many in theological circles preach scorn and shame. Scorn and shame are not the same as repentance. We don’t get the ability to repent from other people, we can only get it from God. Check sometime the words of Paul in II Corinthians 7, in which he compares the sorrow of the world (scorn and shame) with the sorrow he calls Godly Sorrow.

So,… there you are on my couch, recognizing pain (and I understand that) but not the whole truth. You can’t make somebody do better by making them feel worse. (Jane Nelsen) It is not “worse” that your spouse needs to feel… it is responsible that they need to feel, and repentant if there has been some wrong done. They need to feel zealousness for change. If you only see your spouse as someone to be controlled, or punished, or avoided, or used… then you don’t know all the truth about them. Humiliation is about shame, and humility is about the truth… and they are not the same thing. The truth is that your spouse is someone for whom Christ died, and so are you. If they can’t see you and themselves in that perspective, then you aren’t dealing with all the truth, and hope will be slim, but if they can… they are more likely to be changed. If we turn in the names we call ourselves, and the names we call each other, and we receive from Christ the names, and the characters he has for us, then in Him, we have significance, and we can validate it in others.

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Dreams Can Come True

By the way… my next Couple Communication Workshop is September 18-19. Give us a call at 281-277-8811 to find out more.

This is from Emily Dickinson. I share this with concurrent thoughts about the shared dreams and other life-goals of individuals in a marriage. Will it matter what we were? …can I be a part of my spouse’s quest to fulfill dreams?

“Each life converges to some centre
Expressed or still:
Exists in every human nature
A goal

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,
Too fair
For credibility’s temerity
To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,
To reach
Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment
To touch

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;
How high
Unto the saints’ slow diligence
The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life’s low venture,
But then,
Eternity enables the endeavoring

All of a person’s behavior is aimed at the same set of personal goals, what Dickinson refers to as “some centre expressed or still.” Our marriages and all of our relationships will fare better if we attend to the purposes we have behind them, energizing them. They also work best when both people have the same motives. “Surer for the distance”, the highest motives for marriage will produce the best marriages.
But, it is this same set of goals that says so much about us in all of our life. A person with poor goals in one area of life will have this same quality of goals in other areas.
The writer, Pat Gundry, said it well. “It is not the perfection of the original match that will make or break your marriage. Rather, it is the kind of person you decide to be, every morning, for the rest of your life.”
It is likely that if your goal in one part of life is to just get by with the least possible effort, your marriage will be drawn by that same goal. If your goal is to only do what you “feel like”, your marriage will have the same disastrous results as you will see in your other areas of life. The good news is that excellent goals for responsible living will contribute to a good marriage, provided both partners have these goals within themselves.

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Marriage Minute # 95 Heathcliff and Catherine
from my book, Marriage Minutes, available from

I won’t spoil the story for you if you haven’t read it. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte, has much to say about the strangeness of relationships, misplaced values, prejudice, and the madness of trying to control other people’s lives.
Heathcliff and Catherine love each other, and they are actually much like each other. They are well suited for each other, and they both go to great sacrifice to be with each other. They seem made for each other, except for one tragic difference, and that is, all the other things they love. Catherine is too much in love with good breeding and social position. Heathcliff becomes too much in love with revenge.
Catherine has another problem. She believes Heathcliff should be able to bring her the moon, or do other amazing things to make her happy. She is like those people today who believe that if they are unhappy, it must be because they are not effectively loved. Expectations of mind-reading, of always being understood, and always being served by others, become the plague of relationship misery. The woman who is sad because she has little of no relationship has a valid complaint. Yet, the woman who is sad because her relationship doesn’t do everything for her that her soul will ever need, will have only sadness because relationships will never replace the healthy and growing personal self. “Become successful and I will be happy”, she might say to her husband, but it will not be so.
Heathcliff had another problem. He believed that he could steer the rest of the world by his fervor for Catherine. If he only knew how little he controls in this life, he might have made some different choices, and would have had more real control, of himself. Letting himself be judged “unworthy” by unworthy judges, he tried every plan he could think of, but his plans didn’t have the cooperation of all those around him. Imagine that. Yet, today men are still are still trying to “prove” themselves by proving more than will ever be true, especially without the good relationships we need in this life.
Bronte does much in her book (of wonderful prose, by the way) to warn against the false images of men and women that still plague the world of love. Each generation seems to have to re-invent the process with the same mistakes. It’s a shame that good experience doesn’t always get passed down. Bronte called Wuthering Heights a “misanthrope’s heaven.” Can you imagine heaven for people who hate people? Most of us would call it something else.
Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister, described well the missing element in the lives at Wuthering Heights. In spite of the passion, the supposed love, and all the human effort at creating the world in their own image, the missing element was “kindness.”
Charlotte said, concerning Emily, “… nothing moved her more than any insinuation that the faithfulness and clemency, the long-suffering and loving-kindness which are esteemed virtues in the daughters of Eve, become foibles in the sons of Adam. She held that great mercy and forgiveness are the most divine attributes of the great being who made both man and woman, and that what clothes the Godhead in glory, can disgrace no form of feeble humanity.”

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How things are Not supposed to be.

Marriage Minute # 94 Macbeth  (a hard lesson)  from my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

Let’s take a minute and visit that great marriage and family therapist of many years ago. I speak of none other than William Shakespeare, himself. He told us about Macbeth and his wife, and how things are Not supposed to be.

Act one, scene seven, opens with Macbeth struggling within himself about the thoughts of murdering the king. His conscience is about to win out, when the struggle gets harder. He considers this royal friend of his, Duncan, one who has a reputation for kindness, but where has the kindness gotten him. He is about to be executed. Will Macbeth keep his own kindness? Will he give up on what doesn’t seem to be working for others? But, he cannot possibly murder the king. Enter Lady Macbeth. Finding that Macbeth is feeling virtuous, again, she attacks him with accusations of cowardliness; this Macbeth who is an honored and valiant warrior. Yet, this one person’s opinion seems to affect Macbeth beyond measure. It is then that Macbeth makes one of his greatest statements…

“I dare do all that may become a man; who does do more is none.”

Sadly, this may have been the last time he would say such a fine truth. Lady Macbeth begins to excoriate him with words meant to bring about shame. Isn’t he a “real man”, after all? Doesn’t he “love” her? These thoughts will seem familiar to the modern mind since coercion and emotional bribery are still part of the perverted views of marriage that some “modern” people still hold.

Yes, Macbeth will stab Duncan when he is unguarded and he will smear the blood upon the innocent chamberlains. Macbeth becomes someone he has never been, and hides his true self, saying, “false face must hide what false heart doth know.”

Every time Macbeth begins to waver, Lady Macbeth gives him a speech about, of all things, manhood. She appears mild and gentle to the world, but behind the scenes she is vicious. “Now, be a good boy, and go out there and kill the king!” (No, that wasn’t Shakespeare, but it could have been how she said it.)

This kind of interchange can sound painfully like some modern discussions. They happen when a man believes that true manhood must be discovered in the eyes and estimates of one or more other persons, rather than discovered in the true meanings of goodness, They happen when a woman believes that true womanhood must be discovered and played out in secret games, rather than discovered in the true meanings of goodness.

This same Macbethian crime occurs when a man or a woman uses love to coerce and bribe another person. When they use shame as a weapon they ignore the fact that true love need never be more important than conscience, since true love doesn’t tempt one to do evil.

Among other things, this story also shows that true manhood and true womanhood cannot be defined by appearances. Macbeth and the Lady looked like such a fine and noble couple. She seemed so nice and he seemed so good. But, appearances don’t tell the whole story. When kindness doesn’t seem “manly”, and when honesty doesn’t seem “womanly”, perhaps we have gone beyond what “becomes” a man or woman.

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The Curse of Creative Listening

Marriage Minute # 93 Psych—ed (From my book, Marriage Minutes, available at

Around 1910 an interesting play, “Psych—ed”, was written by Hughes Mearns, containing this odd line of dialog.
“As I was climbing up the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there.
He wasn’t there again today,
I wish, I wish he’d stay away.”

In a recent interview I was asked about the most difficult type of marriage counseling that I encounter, and I thought of this verse by Mearns. One of the most difficult marital problems we deal with, is the problem that doesn’t really exist. The person just isn’t happy, and they think it is the marriage that makes them that way, but it is not because of the marriage, at all.
Their spouse hears accusations of failure and, if they are mature, they look honestly to see if the accusations are valid. But, then they see that the accusations are just the thrashing around of an unhappy soul; one who dares not take responsibility for their own happiness.
Real happiness has a lot to do with living up to our own standards, and living out our purpose, rather than having someone else “make” us happy. It is magical thinking to believe that the core of our happiness has its foundation in someone else, or that the décor of our life is dependent upon someone else’s artistry. It’s the problem that isn’t there, not on the stair, at least, and it is the problem that won’t go away due to someone else’s effort, because this nebulous unhappiness is self-inflicted.
Please understand, there are many problems that are created by someone else, and many marriages fail because of the behaviors of the other person. But, this is a different creature. Let’s be careful not to make our spouse the person they become. Day after day of demanding that they “make the world go away”, can make any spouse consider going away.
Thinking back, we may find that the person who seems to blame their marriage for all the problems of life had blamed someone else before the marriage. Perhaps the single adult should watch out for the person who seems unhappy with a lot of people. They may not be looking for a rescue; they may be looking for the next person to blame.
Have you heard the joke about the man who was speaking to his wife on his cell phone when she told him to drive carefully, because she heard on the radio that someone was driving on the wrong side of the freeway. He replied, “It’s worse than that. Everyone out here, but me, is on the wrong side of the road.” The first thing to do with a problem on the stair may be to make sure it isn’t ourselves we are meeting.

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What Do You Mean, “Love”?

Marriage Minute # 91 What Do You Mean, “Love”?
(From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on
You go out for a walk in the woods because a friend told you that these woods are full of beautiful songbirds. Because of the unpaved trail, the weather outdoors, the bugs, and other attitudes you walk into the woods while yelling about how awful things are. When the birds don’t show up, you get confused and you get demanding. You scream, “Sing to me.” You soon storm out of the woods, calling your friend some new names. Why did your gentle friend hear the birds, while you do not? This walk in the woods just wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.
Maybe you should hire a birdwatcher.
You go into a marriage because you have always heard how wonderful it is. But soon, you start to wonder why this other person is not cooperating with you, and why they haven’t made you deliriously happy. You decide that marriage doesn’t feel the same as going out with your friends most nights of the week. Maybe you want to be left alone more than you are, or maybe you are left alone, too much. You don’t hear what you want to hear, and you scream, “Sing to me.” Or, maybe it’s the other way around- maybe your spouse talks, and you had not considered this possibility.
Maybe you should interview the fellow who scared the birds away. This is the story of the man or woman who is called, ”not the marrying kind.”
Or, consider Christelle Demichel, a French woman whose fiancé died seventeen months prior to the wedding. Apparently, this is no great problem for the French, in whose country it is legal to marry someone who is deceased. The law went into effect in 1959 so that a fiancé would still be able to inherit from the deceased.
Demichel appeared wearing black, carrying yellow roses, and stood alone. She said the wedding was loads of fun, just like a wedding is supposed to be. (Was it really how she thought it should be?) Most of us want a wedding to have more to it.
I’m not a birdwatcher, but I have been a people-watcher for a long time. It does seem to me that something gets lost in the translation from wedding to marriage, and from expectation to understanding and participation.
Harriet Lerner said it well in her book, The Dance of Connection. She said, “Falling in love tells us absolutely nothing about whether a particular relationship is healthy or good for us.” She points out that it doesn’t matter if we call it “love or sauerkraut”, The main question is not about the intensity of love, but whether or not the relationship is about what is good, and about whether or not we are navigating “our part of it in a solid way.” Does this love increase or inhibit our ability to be authentic and self-disclosing? Are we committed to these two things? If the answer is No, then perhaps several answers should be No.

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Skills Aren’t Enough

Marriage Minute # 83 Skills Aren’t Enough

From my book, Marriage Minutes, available on

I recently heard a friend mention one those wry bits of wisdom that we all ought to know. He pointed out that when it comes to marriage, or parenting, or work, we certainly do need skills, but good skills are never enough by themselves. “After all”, my friend said, “Thelma and Louise were both good drivers.” As you likely remember, Thelma and Louise end it all with a giant but insufficient leap into the canyon.
If you liked the movie, but want a different and satisfying ending, try the movie “Leaving Normal” with Christine Lahti and Meg Tilly. I think both the movie and the ending are better.
Back to my topic, my friend has a point about the many skills available to a couple that often go unused, even though people know about them. I remember an ald joke about the farmer who was asked why he wasn’t going to the Grange Hall to see the new film about how to be a better farmer. He replied that he already knew how to be a better farmer and wasn’t using what he knew. There has to be some “want-to” in most everything we do, or all the skills in the world won’t help.
Good marriage also requires that we want the right things. While there can be many optional preferences that not ever couple needs, there are some things that we all need. (In fact, we need them if we are single.) Qualities of honesty, genuine respect of others, commitment, and certain other “must-haves” are at the core of good relationships. Yet, many marital problems, and many books about improving marriage are more about moral and ethical issues than they are about mental health or skills. One of the troubling things that we deal with after observing marriages for a while is that many troubled, even violent marriages, are in the mess they are in because of “skills”. By this, I mean skills for manipulating, for confusing their partner, for abusing in cunning ways. A “smarter devil” is a devil just the same.
I’m not recommending any of the imposed sets of rules, or phony role lists that many people place on marriage. Bertrand Russell, in his classic article about Morals and Marriage, warned that moralism and legalism in marriage is used to control other people, rather than build good lives together. And, if you study ethics, you find that few things are really written in stone. What I’m recommending is a love that is both objective and passionate; a love that is dedicated to controlling itself and guiding itself in building a nurturing relationship.
So, let’s don’t put Thelma and Louise in the driver’s seat.

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