My Blog

Just like it takes so many musical notes from so many instruments to make up a beautiful symphony

so too each of us has just a single piece of the truth that is music to our ears - everyone has unique insights that is their truth from their perspective - but when we each appreciate, respect and share together our perspectives then we each produce together exquisite music - a whole truth and not just separate one-sided indifferent pieces of it!

The brilliance and beauty of a diamond is its many facets - just one facet alone is bland and boring! Sharing our perspectives and respecting why we think differently only adds to our brilliance! That's the purpose of this blog....




Identifying Schemas about Your Partner

Bill observes that his wife is usually the first to pull away from a hug, that she speaks at times in a clipped and hurried style, that she frequently withdraws into crossword puzzles or a computer game at night, and that she rarely initiates sexual contact. He has put these behaviors into a category labeled “cold.” And the schema* of his wife as a cold person now influences him in many ways – from the amount he spends on her birthday present to his recent temptation to have an affair.

The more events there are supporting a particular schema, the stronger its influence becomes. On three or four occasions Jill observed Andy getting angry and shouting at the kids. She began to suspect that he had a hard time understanding and empathizing with them. Some years and many angry episodes later, Jill saw Andy as an un-empathic man. With each angry episode, the schema got stronger and more malignant. These days, Jill’s picture of Andy as un-empathic has begun to include a sense that he’s uncaring as well. Her own anger is increasing. She feels less generous toward Andy and less desire to be with him at all.

Perhaps the most destructive of all schemas is the belief that your partner doesn’t love you. “If he loved me, he’d make time to be alone together.” “If she loved me, she’d wear something that turned me on.” “If there was any love at all, I’d see a little sacrifice.” These beliefs hurt. But that’s true of all negative schemas. They account for a tremendous amount of the pain in intimate relationships. Yet they are so often built on conjecture, on assumptions and fantasies that are no more real than the Wicked Witch of Oz.

The purpose of this couples’ skill is to help identify some of your most influential schemas. Then, with a greater conscious understanding of these pictures you have formed, you can see more clearly how they affect your feelings and behavior. Later, there will be an exercise to determine the accuracy of some of your more potent schemas. You can literally “check out” many of the beliefs you’ve formed. Finally, there will be an exercise to develop alternative explanations for behavior you’ve labeled with your schemas. Through a process called accurate empathy, you can take a softer, more accepting view of some of your partner’s habits. You can begin to explore how your partner’s behavior is truly his or her best effort to cope.


Your partner exists in your mind. The real person is locked inside a psyche that you can never enter, never directly know. So you watch from the outside. You listen, you observe behavior, you remember. And over time you develop a set of summary conclusions called schemas that make up a psychological portrait of the person you’re with.

Many schemas are simply the names of traits that you use to explain your partner’s behavior and describe his or her personal qualities.

Negative schemas such as lazy, stupid, pigheaded, cruel, hard, vain, incompetent, flakey, dangerous, crazy, and the like have enormous power. Schemas are your only reality. What you believe to be true is the only truth you can ever have. The schemas you use to explain and interpret what your partner does, the labels that describe and fix a partner’s identity for you, influence every dimension of the relationship. What you feel, what you give, what you ask for, and how you communicate are tremendously affected by how you’ve labeled your partner.

Negative schemas about your partner’s motivations, intentions, feelings, and judgments about you can be enormously destructive. They are usually formed and supported by a great deal of mind reading. It begins with some ambiguous behavior that you interpret negatively. Once you’ve made the interpretation (“She thinks I’m boring”), all future related behavior tends to get labeled in the same way (“She’s looking away ... She’s spent the whole evening talking to Simone ... She’s always buried in a book . . . She’s changed the subject – I guess I’m boring her”).

Other examples: “She’s trying to control me” . . . “It’s all ego” … “He’s trying to build himself up by tearing me down” ... “She’s trying to shut me off from my friends” . . . “He’s only nice when he wants to get laid” … “She’s tired of me” ... “Underneath it all, he’s angry” …“She thinks I’m unstable” ... “He’s decided I’m incompetent.”

Over time these schemas develop. And it becomes every bit as real and believable as your knowledge that the sky is blue. The schema grows into a painful thorn; more and more of your partner’s behavior is explained by it. And more and more of your behavior is determined by it.



Why Schemas are Enduring

Once you’ve established a schema about your partner’s personality or intentions, there are two processes that tend to perpetuate it. The first is called confirmatory bias. This is the tendency to pay attention only to events that support the schema. There is a natural propensity to ignore and filter out anything that doesn’t fit with your preconceptions.


Remember Bill’s belief about his wife’s coldness? He kept track of anything that even remotely could be interpreted as cold behavior. But he conveniently forgot her backrubs, how she took his hand when they walked, the “1 love you” note in his suitcase on the last business trip, and the very sweet kisses when they were in line at the ballet. Because these events were ignored, they never had a chance to soften Bill’s “coldness” schema.


There’s a reason for this. There’s just no room in a negative schema for any positive data. The favorable facts don’t fit. Therefore, they aren’t remembered with the same clarity as the negative events. Sylvia labeled Arthur as selfish. Yet Arthur took Sylvia skiing even though he hated to be cold. He edited a long paper she wrote in a comparative religion class. He walked the dog every night, even though it was her pet and he found poodles “entirely too bouncy.” Sylvia never included these sacrifices and favors in her “selfish” schema because she paid attention only to behavior that confirmed her preset picture of Arthur. She could remember everything that “proved” her belief, but little that might prove a different view.


Mental grooving is the second reason why schemas are so enduring. The mind often plays the same thoughts over and over – like a closed-loop tape. These psychological ruts are particularly seductive when you are under stress or facing an ambiguous situation. If you can’t figure out what’s going on, you tend to become anxious. Then you start the natural process of searching for memories or assumptions that will help you understand what’s happening and respond appropriately. Your schemas are the assumptions that you most often use to explain ambiguous behavior from your partner.


When Bill’s wife folded her arms and grimaced slightly during a conversation about his mother, Bill struggled for a moment to interpret the signals. But the moment of uncertainty passed quickly when he found his old mental groove – the “coldness” schema. In truth, his wife had an upset stomach, but Bill’s schema never gave him a chance to find out. He “knew” what the reason was already.


Sylvia was puzzled when Arthur sold some of his prized first editions. But the “selfishness” schema helped her to explain it. He probably wanted the money for some expensive new hobby. The truth was that Arthur wanted money to build a new family room, but mental grooving kept Sylvia from imagining the slightest altruism.


The Vacuum Effect

Because people tend to use schemas to explain ambiguous situations and behavior, schemas have a vacuum effect. Negative schemas about your partner are often used to explain a lot of behavior that you just plain don’t understand. And because much of what anyone does is ambiguous when viewed from the outside, a lot of your partner’s innocent or irrelevant behavior may get sucked into a negative schema.


And the stronger a negative schema, the more memories it contains, the greater will be its suction power. After a while, Sylvia could explain nearly everything, even Arthur’s fondness for suspenders, as some form of selfishness.


Schemas and Calibrated Communication

Negative schemas generate something really deadly to intimacy – calibrated communication. Here’s how it works: Your partner does or says something that you falsely interpret with a negative schema. This assumption leads you to respond in inappropriate (often angry) ways. In turn, your partner has a defensive, angry reaction. By calibrated increments, your exchange moves further and further from the real facts of the situation. A great deal of hostility and hurt may get built on that first false assumption.


Time for Mastery

A competent counselor can show you in a single session or two what you need to know. After the session I leave you with a 10 page handout that explains all that you need to do. It will take you a two-week assessment period to identify your more important schemas. The process of testing your schemas and developing alternative explanations could take as little as one or as much as sixteen weeks. It depends on the number and strength of the schemas you decide to test.

All of this can be done on your own and then you can attend some follow-up sessions if you need.


Good Advice

Put twenty minutes a day of uninterrupted communication with your spouse as a top priority on your list. To think that after five, ten. fifteen or more years of marriage you have absolutely nothing to say to your spouse for even twenty minutes is frightening. How could it be? When you first got married you were enthralled with each other. But over time, you invested yourselves in your job. your extended family, your children, your synagogue, your community, your spiritual enhancement and elevation, but you didn’t invest enough in each other. How sad.

Outwardly you might appear happy, professional, and successful. However, if you haven’t done something positive each day to strengthen your marriage, be it a telephone call just to ask “How are you?”  or a small, inexpensive gift, or a gesture of caring and affection, you’ve wasted that day. You’ve relinquished an opportunity to strengthen your most precious relationship, and in the end, you’ve lost.


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Effective Keys to a Happier Marriage

Key One – Understanding Childhood Influences

Our childhoods are most important in marriage because at any given moment each marriage partner is still extremely influenced by that “child within.” These childhood feelings and attitudes influence and, to a great degree, determine the quality of our adult relationships. Every marriage, in fact, is comprised not of two individuals but of four: the girl she was and the woman she has become; the boy he was and the man he is now.

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Couple Skills # 8 – Assessing and Changing Aversive Strategies

Aversive strategies often yield very good short-term results: a partner is hurt or intimidated into giving you what you want. But over time, aversive strategies cease to work. People become numb and unaffected, or rebellious, or deeply alienated. Intimacy and trust are replaced with anger, detachment, or resistance. It’s a high price. In this workshop you will learn to identify the eight aversive strategies most frequently used to control others in relationships.

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What is a friend? How much should I reveal to a friend? Everything – even the negative stuff about me they don’t yet know? Or only the good stuff? Well – you may say, “If I reveal everything about me – even the awful stuff - I'm afraid they will reject me! Isn't it better to be cautious and not get hurt?

I think it's really sad when the only time someone will open up to talk about who they really are is when they have to pay for it, like when they go to their counselor. Of course I'm not against going to a counselor for help - after all I counsel people for a living – and it's important to go when you're in need. But you should at least have one friend that you can open up and tell everything to - your great points as well as your weaknesses.

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