Monday, August 18, 2014

New website!

The Baltimore Therapy Center is now open for business!  Check out our website at www.baltimoretherapycenter.com - and tell your friends!  We specialize in relationship issues of all kinds, including marital and premarital counseling, dealing with parents, problems with children, and adoption issues.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Not Your Average Advice Column Response

This provides a little levity in the family therapy field (check out Amy's response). At the same time, it's a bit sad. (This is just the kind of case I help with, if you find yourself in a similar situation...)
Dear Amy: Every fall, my sister, cousins and a cousin’s sister-in-law have a weekend shopping excursion in our home city. We stay in a hotel, treat ourselves, shop for our children and go out for lunches and dinners. It is a great time to reconnect.
I have a sister “Wendy,” who we do not invite. She is offended to the point of tears when she finds we have not invited her...
http://amydickinson.com/post/85115023030/sisterly-exclusion-makes-one-sis-a-horrible-person

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

New book available!

My third children's book is now available on Amazon.com!  Aptly titled "Sisters," it's meant to address some of the challenges (and benefits!) of having an older or younger sister. Sibling rivalry is a fact of life, but I think bringing it out into the open and discussing frankly with children what is hard and what is fun about sibling relationships is a good way to help ease the tensions.

Check it out here!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I Follow My Own Marriage Advice - part II

How did I do it?  How did I get mad at my wife (see previous post) and get an apology in return instead of a retaliation?  Let’s take a look at why people often offer resistance rather than a deserved “sorry.”

When we apologize for something, we are admitting that we are wrong. We made a mistake.  It is a blow to our ego.  Nobody likes to feel dumb, stupid, inferior, etc.  Of course, intellectually we all know that making a mistake doesn’t make us bad or stupid – everyone makes mistakes!  But emotionally we are not always living with that reality.  Making a mistake can feel really crummy. And when someone else is witness to our mistake, we are embarrassed.

So we try to puff ourselves up, put on a strong appearance, lest we look and feel weak.  Hence, if you want to avoid a defensive reaction, you have to make your partner feel strong in general so that s/he will not feel weak when s/he makes mistakes.  (You will note here that the answer to my opening question turns out not to be a “technique” or a clever turn of phrase – it is an answer that encompasses the whole relationship. Shoulda seen that coming, right?)  So how do you make your partner feel strong?  S/he must know and feel that you respect him/her.  This means that you have to tell him/her that – through compliments, praise, and encouragement.  (These are subjects for a post in their own right.)  You must respect and convey respect to your partner.  Because my wife knows I respect her, she does not feel lowly when she makes a mistake.  And she knows that I will love and respect her regardless of this mistake.   

Respecting your partner also means accepting that s/he will, of course, mess up from time to time. That means that once a problem is resolved, you let it go, because s/he is just another human being who makes mistakes.  My wife knows that I am not going bring this episode up over and over again in the future (except to blog about it to a public audience of friends and strangers); therefore she did not feel she had to neutralize a potential weapon in my hands by proving that she was in fact not wrong.  If you are going to refer back to this mistake over and over in the future (“Oh yeah, well what about that time you did XYZ!” “Sorry, I’m not doing [blank] for you, not after you did XYZ…”), you can bet that your significant other is going to try to wiggle out of accepting responsibility for the error, lest s/he have to face these kind of consequences.

And now we come to some of the more situation-specific pointers, comments about how you say it when the issue comes up.  Number one, you can’t be wildly emotional or out of control when you tell your partner about the issue.  If you do, that can be scary, thus eliciting a retreat; it can be perceived as an attack, thus provoking a counter-attack; and it can also simply engender a parallel response from him/her (in accordance with the function of mirror neurons, which, in brief, make it that people are likely to reflect back to someone the emotion they are being shown - as Shlomo HaMelech says, kamayim hapanim lapanim, ken lev ha'adam la'adam).

Number two, do not insult or put your partner down.  Again, you are asking for a protected response if you do, and that is not your goal.  (If your goal is to hurt your spouse’s feelings, then go right ahead. But then it is probably the case that you are juvenile, or else sadistic.)

Number three, you must address the behavior, not the person.  “I am disappointed that you forgot [blank],” not “You’re an idiot.”  In my case, I said to my wife about what had happened, “this was poor judgment,” not “you have poor judgment.”  See the difference?

There’s a lot more to say on this, and I’m sure we’ll come back to the topic in the future.  But here we have laid out some of the underlying ideas that help a couple to weather each other’s mistakes and even to get angry about them, as well as some of the specifics of effectively expressing that anger.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

I Follow My Own Marriage Advice

One of the points I often make when talking about marriage is the critical importance of not talking about something that made you madright after it happens.  You cannot possibly accomplish anything productive at that moment and you can only make things worse. So let me tell you a story.

A few days ago, my wife did something that absolutely infuriated me.  I was totally incensed.  I couldn’t believe she had had the poor judgment to do what she did.  When the actual incident occurred, she wasn’t there – she had set things in motion from elsewhere – so right after it happened I started thinking of all the angry, nasty things I wanted to say and/or do.  And I didn’t move.  I allowed myself to spend some time fuming and stewing, but I firmly told myself I would not actually say anything until the next day.

Many ideas came into my mind. Sharp, angry rants, clever passive-aggressive maneuvers, or plain old blowing my top.  But I didn’t move. I didn’t open my mouth. I told myself I could better deal with it the next day.

I waited all day the next day without whispering a word about it.  Eventually, that evening, we had a calm moment in the car where we could speak. In a very calm voice, I told her what had happened that upset me and that I was very angry with her for causing it. I expressed shock at her lack of judgment.

She acknowledged her mistake.  She accepted my anger.  She apologized. And then we were done.  I no longer needed to get back at her, or yell, or blow off steam.  It was okay.  She got it.

So I do practice what I preach.  And I continue to preach it, because it works.  This incident could have caused a huge ruckus, a lot of anguish, a distancing in the relationship – but instead, it passed over uneventfully. As a matter of fact, it even brought us closer, because it provided yet another demonstration that we can share our anger with each other, that we can make mistakes, and that whatever the problem, we have a way to address and resolve it.
And you can learn to do it too. Step one: don’t talk about something that made you mad right after it happens!

 

Postscript: I wonder if many readers are thinking, “Well, that’s all well and good, but the problem is that my spouse would never just apologize. S/he always has to argue/be defensive/get mad/etc.”  In the next post I hope to write a little bit about how to make your relationship a place where that doesn’t have to happen, and where both parties can feel safe both expressing anger and offering an apology.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

FrumCounselor has moved to Baltimore!

I have left New Jersey for the Baltimore area. I am still seeing clients around the world on Skype, but in-person meetings are now in Baltimore. Hope to see you soon!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Parenting Help for the Common Parent

The following is a true story.

My three-year-old was having a little attitude attack as my wife and I were trying to coax her into joining me in bed for a nap.  She was loudly insisting that my wife obey her every command.  “DON’T GO THERE! TAKE THIS! DON’T MOVE!” As Mom casually went about her business in spite of these directives, the little one got increasingly upset, and a tantrum started to boil.

What would you have done?

Some people might have tried reasoning with the child, explaining why yelling is bad, or napping is good.  This approach may be successful here and there, but the truth is that three-year-olds don’t have much of a sense of logic, and trying to reason with them often leads to frustration on the part of both parties.  In general I would not recommend reasoning as the method of choice at this age.

Others might simply have gotten angry and yelled, or perhaps spanked.  You can muscle your way into compliance, but it’s not a great long-term strategy.  This is because children become habituated and are no longer deterred by the same levels of force and anger, and also because they age, meaning that after a certain point they’re bigger than you anyway.  Additionally, yelling is usually what you do when you have lost control, and that’s not where you want to be, parenting-wise.

I chose to employ a classic and indispensable parenting technique, namely, distraction.  Read on:

“Mommy,” I said sweetly, did I ever tell you about the time I went to the jungle?” Mommy looked at me skeptically, but played along. “No Daddy, what happened?”  Meanwhile, the revved-up three-year-old was still pointing at my wife a grimace that would curdle milk.  “Well, I saw LIONS in the jungle!  They were big and scary and they had big manes!” Mommy kept it up: “Really, Daddy?” “Oh yes.”  The grimace lightened ever so slightly, almost unnoticeably.  “And you know what else I saw? MONKEYS.  There was a daddy monkey, and a mommy monkey, and a baby monkey!”

In the blink of an eye the grimace was replaced by a look of genuine concern: “Where was the sister monkey?” she questioned urgently, turning towards me.  “Oh, she was out playing. And what do you think she was playing? Come over here and tell me!” I opened my arms and beckoned to her from the comfort of my bed.  And she toddled right into my embrace and lay down as she thought about it.  “Go Fish!” she concluded.  I carried on with my story, naming animals I had seen in the jungle and garnering her input as I went.  (Note: I have never actually been to the jungle, and you don’t have to have been either to make this technique work for you.)
 
Some lessons to learn from this incident: first of all, distraction is a great technique to prevent/avoid tantrums, arguments, and other typical unwanted behaviors your three-year-old has in his/her repertoire.  Second, distraction might mean more than just pointing out the window and saying, “Look! A bird!” – although that is certainly something that works too at times (usually if the situation has not heated up so much yet, or if your young one particularly loves birds, or if there’s actually something really unusual out the window to see, like if the bird in question is, say, an emu).

Finally, you see from this story that you don’t even have to be terribly creative.  The trick is grabbing the child’s interest.  Your child is probably interested in many of the same things mine is – animals, trains, water, and so on.  Cite those things in a story (which obviously does not need to be of literary quality, or even realistic), a question, or a list to shift your child’s focus.  Anyone can pull this off – give it a shot!

Will this technique always work?  Of course not.  It’s just one of many tools you can try.  No tool will work every single time, but as you read above, a good distraction maneuver can be surprisingly effective.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My Books Are Back... with a Vengeance


I don't quite know how to explain this, but I just discovered that the two children's books I wrote are now selling for under $4 on Amazon.com.  What a steal! Just wanted to spread the word in case you always wanted a copy but couldn't afford $6...

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Masturbation

I thought this article was excellent. It discusses the issue of talking about masturbation with Orthodox boys, which I think is tragically shied away from for obvious reasons, leaving our youth to struggle with it in silence.  As you are probably aware by now, I am not a fan of the head-in-the-sand approach.

http://blogs.forward.com/sisterhood-blog/194864/why-rabbis-must-talk-to-orthodox-boys-about-mastur/

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happiness 101

I thought this video had a number of very helpful ideas.  Tal Ben-Shachar is one of the leading figures in Positive Psychology today (and, interestingly enough, he's Israeli).



Thursday, April 24, 2014

Back to the Grind

Okay, we are back from our extended break over Pesach and Chol HaMoed. I hope your holidays went reasonably well and that you are refreshed to get back to your regularly scheduled broadcast instead of drained.

The truth is that the holidays tend to be stressful times for many. Jewish social service agencies often report an uptick in calls from people seeking help around this time.  If you need to get some stuff off your chest, or want to do some couples or family work (in-laws, anyone?), be in touch and let me know how I can help you!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pearls of Wisdom

I was talking with a client tonight about his relationship with his wife. In the past we had come up with the idea for him to begin each evening when he came home from work with a five-minute period of quiet time with his wife, as a means of changing their pattern from the old walk-in-and-start-bickering to something more peaceful. Both he and his wife were most agreeable to this and after implementing it for a few days they decided it was really quite helpful.
 
Tonight he confessed that they really hadn’t kept this up, despite finding it a really beneficial practice.  He said now that things between them are better, it seemed like the practice wasn’t needed.  And this elicited from me the following Pearl of Wisdom:
 
It is much less expensive to maintain a car than it is to repair it.
 
That is to say, it’s hard work implementing new practices to fix a broken relationship.  Very hard work.  It is significantly less work – although not by any means no work – to maintain one.  Spending five minutes a day in quiet togetherness is much easier to pull off when there is no tension between the two parties than when both are upset and irritated with each other. Hence, I recommended that they push themselves to keep up with this practice even though, and in fact because, things have been so good between them.
 
Remember, it is much less expensive to maintain a relationship than it is to repair it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jewish Standard article

The Jewish Standard did a nice piece last week on domestic violence and the work of Project S.A.R.A.H.  (Yours truly is mentioned therein, but it would be a good article even without that.)

http://jstandard.com/index.php/content/item/30254/

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Think of the Good Things

Look, we all have our imperfections. Our spouses do too. And since it is unlikely that either of you will ever achieve perfection, how can you deal with mistakes and missteps that you can bet will not be going away any time soon?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Digital Decisions

More on the topic of teenagers and technology - here's a nifty video created by thatsnotcool.com, which is a great resource for getting teens to think about their digital behavior.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Kajeet!

I just discovered Kajeet.com and, despite not having any idea what the name is about, I am already a big giant fan. It is a cell phone company designed for parents to use with their children.  THIS IS VERY MUCH NEEDED!  On one hand we've all come to expect that we will be able to reach people we need to talk to most of the time, that there will be a phone on hand in case of emergency, etc. - and who needs to be reachable more than our kids? Knowing where they are and who they're with has always been something parents have needed, and now that cell phones are so accessible to everyone, it seems like using them with our kids can bring us a lot of peace of mind.

At the same time, there are obviously downsides and even dangers to kids having cell phones.  Using them at inappropriate times (such as in school) is a concern; so is running up a huge bill on talking or texting if you don't have an unlimited plan.  Moreover, there is the significant risk of children walking around with internet-ready devices in the palms of their hands, able to access the worst kinds of material without anyone having a clue.

Enter Kajeet.  Their system allows you to determine which services (talk, text, web) your child will have on his phone; which sites are accessible to him on the internet; even who pays for the various services (for older children who are ready to learn about budgeting).  You can decide when the phone can and cannot be used, who is allowed to call the phone, and much more. You can even use the GPS tracking feature to find out where your child is, or to get alerts when he arrives at school, home etc.

I gotta say, I think this is brilliant, and much needed for the safety of our children. (Note: I'm not being paid by Kajeet!)  Philip Rosenthal, a noted expert on the internet and cybercrime, puts it nicely: Parents who consider giving their teenager unrestricted and unsupervised Internet access may as well buy them a gun. They’re likely to do less damage.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mental Illness in the Jewish Community

This article came out recently in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, and I think it is absolutely right on the money.  It's called, unabashedly, "I Have Bipolar Disorder." Take a look.
http://jstandard.com/content/item/i_have_bipolar_disorder

Sunday, February 9, 2014

One More Day

Another easier-said-than-done tip to help avoid those conflicts that never really needed to happen. To make it easier to do, too - start practicing now.