Have you ever heard the notion, popularized by anthropologist Franz Boas, that there are 50 Inuit words for ‘snow’?  In my practice I like to say that there should be that many words for ‘love’.  Lately, I’ve begun to think there should be that many words for ‘marriage’.

We live in an amazing time for marriage.  It is now possible to get married in the United States, no matter what gender you are or whom you love.  The recent growth of conversations about polyamory (yes, that means more than one person with whom to share amor) have led us to question all kinds of old notions about love and marriage.  And now there is a book by a therapist I love, named Terrence Real, called The New Rules of Marriage.

I am often inspired to write book reviews on my blog so here I go again.  Terry Real captured my heart with I Don’t Want To Talk About It in 2007.  In it he talks about why so many men don’t talk about their feelings.  The New Rules of Marriage expands his reach and makes this groundbreaking statement to women married to men.  “Women, you are not crazy.  It is OK to want more connection.”  (I’m paraphrasing.)  Whew!  It’s really helping me make that point in my couples’ sessions.  Thanks, Terry.

My mentors – beautifully married therapists Rita Resnick Ph.D. and Robert Resnick Ph.D. out of GATLA (Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) – taught me that human beings are always seeking both connection and separateness.  I love helping couples manage that tension.  But I think what I love most is telling people that marriage – if we want to do it for the extraordinarily long amount of time our culture seems to value – requires some serious work.  Work!

It’s a piece of cake (albeit a tasteless piece of cake) to stay married without any emotional work – so long as you want to stay stuck in all the patterns you bring from your parents’ marriages and your own fears and anxieties.

To stay vitally married is an active process of learning about new tools, sharpening them and practicing their use.  I do believe this.  Even though there is obviously a conflict of interest here.  Such notions will keep me in business helping couples define all their words for marriage.  But having just finished a beautiful session a hour ago with a couple who are rebuilding their marriage after separation and infidelity, wow, what an amazing business it is.




The Brain on Play-Doh

Have you ever thought, “I don’t want to go to therapy and talk about what’s ‘wrong’ with me!”? Yeah, you and the rest of the world. We could say that stigma exists because of the medical model that says you go to docs to get cured of a malady, rather than to improve existing health. By extension, most therapists get lumped in with that medical model and, why not? We want our therapists to understand what is happening to us bio-medically, so if they’re meeting our needs they will be part of that medical model.

As our medical model evolves with modern science however we learn that there is indeed, nothing wrong with us. Everything that is happening in the brain is a reaction to a set of circumstances and sometimes we need to tweak the system – get a tune-up, if you will.

A book I highly recommend by Norman Doidge, MD, The Brain that Changes Itself, will wow you with stories about how the brain continues to change and grow throughout the lifespan, making it possible for the elderly to exercise their memories (not just by playing more scrabble, folks), the compulsive to learn new brain patterns (bye-bye excessive handwashing), and stroke victims to play tennis, ride motorcycles and ski.

Doidge shares how the brain is plastic, meaning that like a blob of play-doh, it is shaped by every experience it has. Every experience. So you don’t escape your experiences (“Oh, that trauma? That didn’t affect me”), but you have endless opportunities to change them!

All intelligent therapists know this and that is why we believe in what we do. We know the brain can keep changing itself as it finds new ways to think, and makes sense of what has already happened. We help people take full advantage of those opportunities to shape your brain into a more efficient machine. Happiness is simply a pleasant side-effect.

When Teen Girls Need Counseling

Teen girls seem to struggle with emotions rising and falling constantly. It’s helpful to remember that their brains are flooded with hormones that overactivate the emotion centers in their noggins. So when she snaps at you like you just ruined her life, don’t worry. She’s just trying to keep from drowning in her own emotions.

Teen girls want to be understood, but more importantly, they want to understand themselves.

If you think the teen girl in your life may actually be struggling more than is normal – or you just want to find out if she falls into the “normal” category – she may benefit from some counseling. Teen years are often when you need to recruit more people to the parenting team.

If you’re not sure that conversation will go over too well, try dropping hints that she check out this website from the Center for Young Women’s Health at Children’s Hospital in Boston.

It’s got loads of good information and this link goes straight to the part that helps teen girls figure out if they might need counseling. She might be intrigued by the notion she could actually understand herself better.

Just remember that when she comes to you saying, “I think I want you to call someone for counseling” you choke back that “It’s OK, honey – it’s just your hormones.” So long as you like your eardrums intact.