“Peace At Any Price” is Often The Wrong Strategy

Jeffrey was a beleaguered husband. Married for 15 years, he reported that his wife criticized him for nearly everything without giving him any recognition or credit for the good things he did for her and the family. He felt he could do nothing right, despite the fact that he was a very good provider, he was very engaged with his children, he was well-respected in his community and he had never done anything “awful” to her in their fifteen years together. Yet, he says he gets yelled at or criticized for all kinds  of little things like forgetting to take out some trash on trash pickup day, not answering one of her questions correctly or quickly enough, asking for sex after a 60 day dry spell, or forgetting to pick up supplies at a store for their son needed for a school project.

When I asked him how he responded to her, he replied : ” I just keep quiet most of the time, but then I blow up every once in a while when I can’t take it anymore.” At this point, he maintains that his wife accuses him of being both “passive aggressive,” and also having “anger control issues.” When asked what he thought about that, he replies: “I often clam up because I just want to keep the peace.” When asked how well that strategy is working, he had to admit that often his silence or withdrawal makes things worse.

Assertive Communication
In therapy we are teaching this husband the skill of assertive communication in dealing with his obviously angry wife. Assertive communication is Tool Number 5 in our 8-tools model of anger management used in our local classes and our online anger programs. In marriage, it means respectfully but firmly standing up for yourself by communciating how you feel and what your limits are for tolerating disrespecful behavior from your partner. Asserting yourself also means to calmly and rationally explain your point of view on things and the fact that you have a right to your opinion also. To be assertive, Jeffrey needed to learn how to honestly tell his partner how her remarks or criticism makes him feel and how  it creates more emotional distance in the marriage.

Finally, assertive behavior clearly communicates what you will or won’t tolerate in the future and involves giving alternatives of communicating that will work better for you. For instance, “your sarcasm turns me off and makes me not want to do it; but, if you ask me nicely, I’ll be more than happy to do it.”

What Assertive Communciation Is  NOT
Many people confuse assertive behavior with aggression or being “mean” to their partner. Nothing could be further from the truth! Assertive yourself DOES NOT mean attacking back, name-calling, getting revenge, becoming aggressive, threatening, or making wild accusations. It simply means honestly communicating how you feel, how their behavior is affecting you, and how you would want them to communicate to you differently. It also gives the message  that you deserve respect in the relationship, just as your partner does.

People who practice “peace at any price” instead of assertiveness in relationships often build resentment which then “explodes” periodically or creates emotional distance in the relationship. It is the elephant in the room that no one wants to acknowledge, yet it is there. As I tell my clients and I explain in our online marriage class program, you can be honest now and deal with it( even if it is painful), or put it off and deal with it later(again, it may be painful), but deal with it you must at some point in time. Of course, sometimes it IS best to let thing slide, but doing so for long periods of time allowing resentment and frustration to build often makes things worse.

Assert yourself before Peace At Any Price turns into War Without Borders!

How Important is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?

In a recent session, 65 year old Dan, a retired insurance manager, was reflecting on mistakes he had made in his life. At the top of his list was an incident twenty years earlier when he received a home visit from a corporate V.P. who was vetting him for a large promotion as a district manager of a large insurance company. Things were going smoothly and the promotion seemed like it was going to be a shoo-in, at least in Dan’ s eyes. Then, came the subtle test which Dan didn’t even realize was a test: The V.P. asked Dan if  it would be possible to drive him to another office, about 100 miles away, the next day so he wouldn’t have to rent a car. Dan politely declined, pleading work obligations at his current office. In his mind, Dan thought the V.P would be impressed that he was so dedicated to the more important office tasks on the job instead of wasting time driving 200 miles (round trip)  the next day.

As time went, Dan learned that he was being blocked from promotion by one vote. He never did get his promotion and to this day he is certain that this was due to the fact that he completely mis-read the real “test” that the V.P. had exposed him to. It was a failed test he could never recover from. Dan, like many people, lacked a quality for both business, personal, and marriage success called “emotional intelligence” or “EQ.” It differs from “IQ” (regular intelligence) in that it deals with one’s people skills, sensitivity to emotional isses srrounding factual issues, the ability to understand the emotions and feelings of others, social sensitivity, and accurate perception of how your actions are perceived by others.

Dan did not understand that the V.P. was probably testing Dan’s loyalty to him, Dan’s ability to be a “team,” player, or possibly Dan’s sense of priorities. Dan was completely unaware that his decision would be viewed negatively by the V.P. and did not even perceive the subtle change in the V.P.’s demeanor and attitude after being refused the special favor he had asked for.

In my experience as a marriage therapist, consultant, and anger coach, lack of or limited emotional intelligence leads to conflicts in the workplace, in relationships and in families. Often  people with low EQ don’t realize they have low EQ, and honestly can’t figure out why people react so negatively to them. Take the example of a couple I had worked with in marriage counseling. Thirty five year old Dorothy was pregnant for the first time. In session, she said to her husband, “I am fearful that I won’t be a good mother.” Instead of reassuring her, his response was: “Why?  that’s a dumb thing to be worried about.” You could see the change of emotion in her face when she heard that, but her husband didn’t have a clue that his remark might upset her.

In our anger classes we teach the skills of empathy and social awareness to increase a person’s emotional intelligence. In short, one way to increase EQ is to step back and see your behavior or response from the viewpoint of the other person. It is the ability to realize how you might be coming across to others and how your remark or behavior might or might not be seen or heard from their point of view – not yours.

Persons with high EQ are sensitive to the feelings of others and look beneath just the content of a question or behavior to the underlying emotional issues – and then responds to these emotional issues. Had Dan had higher EQ he would have asked himself how his refusal might be seen by his V.P. That interchange wasn’t about his getting to his next appointment. It was about trust, loyalty and priorities. Likewise, the pregnant wife was really communicating insecurity and also asking if she could count on him for help and support.

Work on increasing your emotional intelligence and you might be surprised that your life will work better for you. It is worth the effort because research shows that persons with high EQ are more successful, have better relationships, and are actually healthier than others.

Anger At Home is Contagious

Mad and Angry Mental Health Service Dog fit in the family

Have you noticed that in some homes anger spreads like wildfire. Sometimes it starts with a spark and slowly spreads. Other times it starts with an explosion and spreads quickly like an out of control forest fire. Either way, family anger often creates an uncomfortable, oppressive atmosphere in the home, like storm clouds suddenly spoiling a perfectly sunny day.

It can start with any family member who tends to be the “mood setter” of the house. In my family of origin, the mood setter was definitely my father. If he was angry, we all had to somehow cope with it, usually by avoiding him and walking around gingerly as if on eggshells. After the explosion, he “felt better” and was ready to be pleasant with all of us, but unfortunately the emotional damage was done resulting in an attitude that the last thing we wanted at that point was to be with him. It is hard to un-ring a bell! Once the words are said, the insult delivered, or the derisive name  called, the effects of these angry actions will not automatically dissipate because the offender himself or herself feels better having released it.

The Case of Tanya and her family
Any family member, of course, can be the mood-setter. Often it is an adolescent or even a younger child  that sets things off in any number of ways. Take Andrea, a 15 year old child of Tanya, and step-child of her husband Edwardo.  Tanya is what we would call a high maintenance child, always needing things, doing poorly in school, and having an “attitude” that creates constant tension in the home. Tanya ignores Edwardo most of the time; won’t even say “hello” as they pass each other in the hallway. This infuriates Edwardo who is paying all the bills for a very comfortable life style. He knows that if he “blows up,” however, it will seriously disrupt his relationship with his wife Andrea whom he believes is far too tolerant of her daughter’s behavior. As a result, most of the time he suppresses (sits on) his anger. But, every once in a while he can no longer contain himself and explodes at Tanya for a relatively minor offense., which starts a whole cycle of negativity, yelling and screaming, threats, and general family chaos and angst.

Five Tips to Stop Family Anger In Its Tracks:
Often a professional therapist is needed to help seriously dysfunctional family members learn to cope with each other. Before taking that step, however, the following five self-help tips may help:

1. While it is always the responsibility of the angry person to learn to manage their angry feelings better (as we teach in our local anger management classes as well as our online anger classes, it is also true that the family’s response to the angry person has something to do with its continuance or escalation. Try different responses to the anger (as long as it is not physical or horribly abusive) and see if your new response de-escalates the anger. Sometimes the response could be something like “I feel disresped when you talk to me or our daughter that way and I don’t appreciate it,” or “I know what you mean; I feel that way too; let’s sit down and talk about it.” Sometimes the response should be a physical (non- violent) action. For instance, in my childhood home, when my father raged, my mother would go around and close all the windows of the house protecting my father  so the neighbor’s wouldn’t hear. Do you think this increased or decreased the probability that he would rage again?   There are many ways you can respond differently to get a different result; try one of them!

Click here for a video on how to respond differently.

2. Get parenting help from a professional, if most fights or conflicts revolve around a child or the children. Be consistent with your parenting; if you promised a negative consequence to their bad behavior, FOLLOW-THROUGH. The concept is called “tough-love” and sometimes you just have to do it, even if it breaks your heart.  Your children already have their friends; your role, if you must choose, should be to be a parent – not a “friend” if that means letting them treat you like a peer.

3. Give the angry person some “space” instead of demanding immediate resolution of the issue. In our system of anger management, we call this tool “retreat and think things over.” Remember that different people have different nervous system and thus have different ways of dealing with stressful issues. Some people (especially teenagers) need alone time to figure things out. Give it to them, instead of escalating things by following them around the house demanding answers! You may be overwhelming them.

4. De-Stress Yourself before dealing with family conflict. The simplest way is to simply take in five deep breaths. It is amazing how this can calm you down. Your calmness can do a lot to de-stress other family members, too. Other suggestions would include taking a walk, listening to soothing music, or simply being alone for a while.

5. Be a good role model on how to handle conflicts  as well as the anger of other family members. Don’t expect your children to handle anger well if they have no role-models in their home. Knowing how to handle human conflicts that arise in all families is a skill that some people have much more than others. Think in terms of “how do we handle this conflict” and how can we parents deal with the conflict in a way that will teach our children how to do it.

Is Forgiveness Manly?

The following article is reprinted with permission from The Art of Manliness. Of course, forgiveness is tool #7 in our toolkit of anger management tools in both our local classes and in our online programs. Click here to watch our video of forgiveness as well as our other anger management videos, then read the following article which deals with the question of “Is it manly to forgive?


Is It Manly To Forgive?

“No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick — on account of the dampness of the catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I reerected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!”

In the Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allen Poe paints a haunting picture of one man’s mission of revenge. After bearing a “thousand injuries” and a grievous insult, Montresor decides he must punish his antagonist, Fortunato, “with impunity.” “A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser, says Montresor. “It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

And so under the guise of seeking his opinion on some amontillado, Montresor lures Fortunato deep into the cold, damp catacombs. When they arrive at a niche in the walls, Montresor chains Fortunato to a rock and slowly begins to wall up the enclave brick by brick, leaving the stunned and confused nobleman inside to die a slow and agonizing death. Montresor’s revenge is complete.


The idea of justified revenge is one of the most common themes in masculine literature, movies, comic books, and video games. From the Count of Monte Cristo, to The Punisher, to Red Dead Revolver, revenge is often the driving force behind our most popular stories.

For thousands of years we have cheered the manly and heroic character who personally sought to avenge the wrong done to him or to his loved ones. The more perfect and complete his plot for revenge, the colder the dish served, the more delicious and admirable we find it. When the evil doers finally get their comeuppance, we are filled with vicarious satisfaction.

The great satisfaction we derive from stories of revenge is quite understandable. Revenge played a healthy role for much of our evolutionary history. Within tribes, revenge ensured that misdeeds were punished and deterred would be wrong-doers from committing egregious acts in the first place. Eye for an eye. It was a rudimentary but effective way to mete out justice. And since it was men carrying out this basic form of law enforcement, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that our brains appear to be hard-wired for revenge.

So if the desire to seek revenge comes so naturally, why should we attempt forgiveness? Is forgiveness even manly?

What Does It Mean to Forgive?

As men I think we often resist the idea of forgiveness both because it seems contrary to the idea of justice and because it seems like an action born of weakness. After all, many people equate forgiveness with letting someone off the hook for their crime and allowing them to get away with wrongdoing. Doesn’t the lack of just punishment encourage the person to commit the same act again and put us in the position of condoning their crime? And if so, is forgiveness for suckas? For whipped push-overs?

But true forgiveness shouldn’t involve ignoring the issues of justice. It does not preclude justified anger. It shouldn’t be a get out of jail free card you bestow upon everyone willy nilly. It is not something you agree to simply to avoid conflict. It should not involve being a doormat who allows someone to hurt you over and over again. It is not the same as reconciliation, and it does not mean that you forget what has happened, nor that you automatically trust a person again.

What it does mean is that you let go of both your ill-feelings towards the offender and your need to personally balance the scales of justice. It’s a process whereby the antagonism you feel for the offender is replaced with compassion.

Sound sissy? It’s not. In fact, summoning the strength to forgive someone can increase your manliness is a variety of ways-


Shows Maturity

The reason it’s easy to cheer for revenge in a movie is that typically the plot is set up in a very black and white way. The hero is an admirable and virtuous guy; the villain is pure evil and kills the hero’s family simply because his heart is a black lump of coal.

Of course the real world is rarely so simplistic. Seeing things in black and white is generally reserved for children.

At a certain point the boy must become a man. Maturity involves the ability to step into another person’s shoes and see things from a different perspective. It requires a mind that understands the human condition and recognizes people as truly complex creatures, with frailties, failures, and checkered histories.

You need not condone the wrong someone did, but you should try to understand it, and them. Okay, your dad was a dick, but why was that? Probably because his dad was a dick to him and that’s all he knows about being a father.

Did your friend do something completely out of character? What was going on at the time? Was he acting out of the hurt of his recent break-up?

Sometimes people do wrong us randomly. And perhaps these offenses are the most difficult to deal with. But even then the person typically has a screw loose; something is just not right upstairs.

Forgiveness can change your whole perspective on life and people. We come to see others as fellow travelers in this world; everyone’s walking around with various wounds and various capabilities for dealing with those hurts and angers. They’re not evil villains who are out to get you, but people stumbling around, trying to do the right thing, and sometimes failing miserably. Kind of like….you.

Involves Taking Personal Responsibility and Shunning Victimhood

Being a man means taking personal responsibility for your life. But we often hold onto our grudges because they make for handy excuses, excuses that keep us from finally growing up. We can’t forgive our dad for what he did to us because when we do we will no longer be able to use that as an excuse for our personal failures. We’ll have to move forward and accept full responsibility for our lives. And that can be scary.

When we hold onto a grudge, we hold onto our identity as victims. We let someone else’s actions define us. When we forgive, we decide that we define who we are.

Puts You in Control

By withholding forgiveness you feel like you’ve got the upper hand on someone. You can dangle reconciliation on a string, make them continually grovel with contrition. Grudges thus offer the illusion of power and control. Yet they can’t fulfill that promise.

Because ironically, the offender is still the one holding your puppet strings. Your mental state is dependent on them. You’ve made your happiness contingent on another person: you need to show me X and treat me like X for me to be happy. If we wait until the other person is sorry, we’re giving them control over us-we’re waiting on them. Don’t give them that power. When you choose to forgive you embrace your free choice and agency-no one can make you feel like shiz without your permission.

Grants You Freedom

When we hold grudges and plot our revenge, we limit our freedom. Yes, we get to keep the other person in prison and wield that power. But what we don’t realize is that we’re stuck in jail with them, having to play the role of the ever vigilant warden. You can put someone in the doghouse, but you better make room for two. Or as a Chinese proverb says, “He who seeks revenge should remember to dig two graves.”

Revenge eats us up from the inside. It’s a pile of coals that we hold in our hands, giving off heat while it burns our body. Once you let the other person go, you’re not just releasing them, but you’re releasing yourself, breaking free from the rotting prison and moving forward.

Allows You to Grow

What people usually won’t say out loud is that resentment and anger make us feel good-powerful, tough, untouchable. And having an enemy and plotting revenge gives our life purpose, a tent pole for our thoughts to revolve around. Where would superheroes be and what would they spend their time doing without an archnemesis?

But this kind of purpose is a dead end and a waste of our valuable energy, consuming us and retarding our progress.

When you come to a place of forgiveness, you can start to find meaning in your suffering. You figure out what you’ll do differently next time and come to an understanding of how the pain helped you grow and become a better man. Forgiveness can become a platform for leaping forward in life.

Requires Bravery and Confronting Pain

Blame and bitterness might make you feel powerful and tough, but they’re often a cover for the inability to face pain head on. Holding a grudge against your ex-wife, thinking about how much of a she-devil she is every time she crosses your mind is a coping mechanism. Continually drinking from the well of anger keeps the pain from the dissolution of your marriage at bay.

We use bitterness as a way to keep ourselves from having to mourn a loss. Once we let go of the anger, we’re forced to confront the pain directly. Forgiveness involves taking a risk; we have to open ourselves up to the past hurt and the potential of being hurt again. And that takes courage.

Creates a Manly Legacy

Perhaps the manliest benefit of forgiveness is the way it enables you to not only free yourself from being locked inside bitterness, but how it creates a powerful legacy for those who come after you. You may come from a family where generation after generation has been hurting each other and keeping those feelings locked up, sickening the men from the inside.

Instead of making the same mistakes with your kids as your parents did with you, forgiveness says, “The buck stops here with me.” You have the courage to acknowledge and feel the pain and then to let it go instead of passing it on. You have the power to weld a new link in the chain of generations, and manliness.

Is Your Child Being Bullied?

Hardly a day goes by without a news story about the consequences of bullying in our country, especially among school children. In a national study of bullying, the researchers found that nearly 30% of sixth through tenth grade students reported moderate to frequent involvement in bullying, either as a bully themselves, the victim of bullying, as both bullies and victims.

Bullying can involve physical actions such as fighting, shoving, kicking or hitting. But, it can also manifest in activities such as harrassing (either in person or electronically), rejecting, excluding, gossiping, threatening, intimidating, embarrassing, degrading, spreding rumors, making fun of or name-calling.

Research has further shown that students who are bully-victims are at increased risk for negative outcomes throughout childhood and adulthood including feeling lonely and avoiding wanting to attend school. They are also at greater risk for anxiety and suicidal thoughts which can persist into adulthood. Bullies themselves are more likely to exhibit conduct problems and delinquency, to be physically aggressive with their dating partners and to be convicted of crimes in adulthood.

Our schools and state governments are responding to bullying in various ways with numerous interventions. Many states have enacted bullying legislation and most schools have implemented some sort of program to deal with this growing problem. Many programs are modeled after the work of Norwegian researcher Dr. Dan Olweus, who developed one of the most popular anti-bullying programs. Research on the effectiveness of his programs show mixed results, however, with the majority of intervention outcomes showing no meaningful change in bullying.

Another approach is being used by psychologist Izzy Kalman who developed a program called Bullies to Buddies. He basically believes that instead of involving governments and school-wide intervention programs, (which he believes makes things worse), we should instead simply empower victims to respond more effectively to the bully. This is very consistent with our approach to anger management: even if provoked to be angry, it is the responsibility of the angry person to deal with his angry feelings and to find ways to deal with the “problem-person or” problem-situation” more effectively.

There are limitations to this approach, of course. It certainly doesn’t apply if there is a vast power difference between the bully and the bully-victim (such as a normal person picking on a developmentally disabled child or a 17 year old picking on a 4 year old); it also doesn’t apply if there is severe physcial violence, assault or child  sexual harrassment issues.

But, for the vast majority of bullying, according to Mr. Kalman, a school psychologist, research has shown that there are a number of characteristics and behaviors that put children at risk for victimization. Teaching children how to change these behaviors and characteristics often eliminates the bullying problem immediately. More specifically, there is mounting evidence that helping bully-victims should involve the following two components:

  • Respond differently to the bully (instead of the usual response of fear, defensiveness, anger, or retaliation) Examples would include avoiding signs of weakness (like pouting, crying, whining) as these responses are often what the bully is looking for. The easiest thing to do is to simply walk away, or to react calmly to bullying. Often, if the child responds with behavior indicating he doesn’t care that much, the bully’s wind is taken out of his/her sails. Empower your child with role plays that teach her body language and verbal tools she can use to deter a would-be bully. “No! Back off! Stop bugging me!” can help communicate a level of assertiveness that will make a child less of a viable target.

  • Change your child’s perception of himself/herself so he/she doesn’t perceive himself as a helpless victim of the bully. This may involve improving your child’s self-esteem, and helping him/or develop a more optimistic/empowered attitude toward their ability to deal with adversity and stress.

For a parent/child consultation with Dr Fiore for help in developing strategies to help your child deal with a bully (or if your child IS the bully), call 714-745-1393 or email Dr Fiore at drtony@ Consultations available in both Long Beach and Orange.

Related Blogs and resources:

Dr Fiore Video on Dealing with Stress

Dr Fiore Video on How To Respond Instead of React

Dr Fiore Video on Assertive Communciation

Humorous song by Izzy Kalman on Anti-bullying programs

Can’t change your partner? Try Looking in The Mirror!

Anger is an emotion. But, angry emotions often trigger a specific behavior (like yelling, throwing things, hitting, insulting someone, etc) which causes problems for you either at home, at work, on the road, or in your family. Most people in our anger classes tell us that one of the reasons they exhibit the angry behavior is because they want to change someone or something, they want somebody to think a certain way (or not)  or to do something (or not).

That is another way of saying that the angry person is trying to somehow “influence” the behavior or thinking of another. Unfortunately, angry behavior usually does not work; even if it does, the cost is so high that it almost always just isn’t worth it. We teach that there are better ways to influence others without getting angry or antagonizing others. But, where to start?

Questions to ask yourself:
The place to start is by looking in the mirror. As painful as it might be, ask yourself if you are behaving in ways that increase the probability of getting what you need and want from your partner? In other words, you have a lot more influence than you might think in terms of getting different responses from your partner. Ask yourself, how do other partners behave that do get what they want or need? (I know what you are thinking: “The reason they get more of what they need is because they have a better partner.” That may be true, or partially true,  but it also may not be. So, better to first ask, “Do I behave like people that do get more of what they want or need ” and then see what happens if you change.

Case study
Jose and Maria have been married for ten years. Jose has his own business; Maria is a stay- at- home mom. Jose sees Maria as lazy because she often does not prepare meals regularly, she does not clean the house up to Jose’s standards, and she often is too exhausted to do fun things in the evenings. Worse, according to Jose, Maria rarely ackowledges his great contributions to the marriage (he is very successful in business, and he is a good dad) ), she rarely shows affection, and praise of any kind is very rarely given.

Jose handles his frustration by yelling at Maria, calling her horrible names related to laziness, and accusing her of using a diagnosis of depression as an excuse for  not doing the things, in his mind,  she should  be doing. As I asked Jose in one of our sessions, what does he think the probability is of getting her to do more around the house by yelling, calling her names, and criticizing? Research shows, I told him,  that yelling, name-calling and criticizing decreases the probability of change in partners.

Jose decided to try to change things by applying the tool of  Respond Instead of React (The third tool of anger management in our system- Video; Respond Instead of React). Next morning, the kids were screaming, he needed help and his wife was still in bed. But, instead of yelling at her as usual, he went upstairs and calmly told her, “Honey, I need your help. I am overwhelmed down here.” Guess what? Maria at first did not stir, but five minutes later she came down the stairs and pitched in. Now this was not an earth-shaking change, but it was a start and it meant a lot to Jose.

There are ways to influence the behavior of someone that work much better than other ways. These ways can be called “relationship habits.” Just like you should copy the golf swings habits of golf champions if you want to improve your golf game, or the financial habits of very successful people if you want more financial success, you should copy the habits of those that may be more successful in relationships than you may be. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks- and often they should!

Related Articles and Blogs:

How to tank your relationship – Part 1
How to tank you relationship – Part 2
How to tank your relationship – Part 3

    Is Marriage like a Rorschach Test?

    Have you ever noticed that you and your partner sometimes see things very differently? The very same things. Reminds me of the classic Woody Allen film “Annie Hall” with Woody himself (“Alvy Singer”) and Diane Keaton (“Annie Hall”), in which we see a split screen with both of them talking to their separate therapists about sex:

    Alvy Singer’s Therapist: How often do you sleep together?
    Annie Hall’s Therapist: Do you have sex often?
    Alvy Singer: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.
    Annie Hall: [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week

    Fact is, most marital conflicts arise not so much out of the outlandish behavior of one or both partners, as out of each partner’s perception of the “meaning” of the behavior.

    As Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach discovered in the 1940’s, rather than perceiving things objectively, we tend to “project’ our needs, personality, motivations, and backgrounds into how we see things. He developed a test, the Rorschach test, (or “Inkblot” test, as it is sometimes called)  to diagnose mental and personality disorders and to better understand and analyze how a person mentally functions.

    Recently, Cartoonist Chato Stewart made up his own “ink blot” test as shown above.

    Test Yourself
    Just for fun, let’ s test this principal! What do you see in the above ink blot? Does it differ from what your partner sees? Click here to go to a web page where you can list what you see. I will report the group results in the next newsletter. Would you predict that there will be a wide variety of responses?

    Seeing the behavior of your partner in a  different light
    According to marriage therapist and writer Brent Atkinson, Ph.D. (http://www.thecouplesclinic.com), “A hallmark of people who are re good at getting their partners to treat them well is that they know that when they get upset with their partners, it doesn’t necessarily mean that their partners have done something wrong. They realize that there are many different ways of prioritizing things that can work in relationships. People who are less effective in their relationships don’t realize this.”

    Seeing the behavior of your partner in a different light can drastically change how upset you get over it! See it one way and you might go ballistic. See the same behavior from another perspective and you may be much more tolerant, understanding, and conciliatory.

    So, what are these different “lights” under which you can interpret your partner’s behavior that upsets you? One way to do it, according to Dr. Atkinson, is to see their behavior as a way to calm their nervous system. Research shows that there are five specific differences in nervous system wiring that most often result in partners becoming critical of each other. Briefly they are:

    (1) Independence First vs Togetherness First
    One partner prefers to engage in activities and tasks independently. Often is critical of other by saying things like “You want me to read your mind. You expect too much. You’re  too needy.” If the other prefers to engage in activities and tasks together (“togetherness first”)  , they criticize by saying thing like “You live in your own little world! You are selfish. Any moron would have realized that I needed help. I shouldn’t have asked.”

    (2) Invest in The Future First vs Live for the Moment First
    One partner believes in “work first, then play.” Other partner believes in living for the moment first. The “work first’ partner often criticizes the other as “being lazy,” and irresponsible or says : “You are like a child who has to have everything right now.” On the other hand, The “play first” partner criticizes the other by saying thing s like “You’re anal, neurotic, anxious.”

    (3) Predictability First vs Spontaneity First
    One partner seeks security, predictability and order first, then feels safe to experiment within the safe parameters. The other seeks adventure, creativity, open-mindedness. The “safe” partner may criticize the other by saying things like “You’re reckless.” The adventurous one may see the other as boring, or even create conflict by saying something like “you’re a coward.”

    (4) Slow to Upset vs Readily Upset
    One partner feels that getting upset doesn’t help anything. He/she doesn’t make a big deal of things, thinking “It’ s not the end of the world if everything doesn’t go the way you want it to.”  The other partner may  think it is normal to feel upset when something seems wrong, deficient or less than it should be, thinking, “If nobody gets upset, nothing changes.” In this scenario, the slow- to- upset person criticizes the other by saying things like “You are never satisfied. You’re a negative person. You’re not happy unless you have something to be upset about.” In defense, the readily upset partner fights back with criticisms such as “You’re a fake. Underneath it all, you get just as upset as I do. You’re just afraid of a little conflict! You’re a wimp!”

    (5) Problem Solving First vs Understanding First
    One partner feels better by doing something about the upsetting situation with the philosophy “solve the problem or make a plan and you’ll feel better.” Unfortunately they often criticize their “understanding first” partner by saying things like: “You’re a hopelessly negative person, a whiner, a victim. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get over it. “ The “understanding first” partner fees better by feeling understood.  However, they often criticize their “problem-solving” partner by saying things like “You could care less about how I feel! You just want to pretend the whole thing never happened.”


    As we teach in our local anger management classes, in our private marriage therapy sessions, and in our distance learning programs, realizing and accepting that you and your partner may have different ways of “doing” life” goes a long way toward marital happiness and less conflict.

    For more information, be sure to visit our websites and resources listed below:

    Dr Fiore website

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    Financial Infidelity: Are you dishonest about money?

    As the economy tightens, handling of finances in families is increasingly at the core of family fights and conflicts presented to therapists. Financial strain may greatly increase family stress which in turn affects all aspects of the relationship and family life. Even worse, is the introduction of what therapists are now calling “financial infidelity” – not being truthful with your spouse about money earned, money spent, or assets you be holding.

    A survey that lawyers.com and Redbook magazine commissioned from HarrisInteractive in 2005 tells the tale. Harris interviewed 1,796 adults, ages 25 to 55, who were married, engaged or living together. Among the findings:

    • Virtually all the people interviewed (96%) said it was both partners’ responsibility to be completely honest about financial issues.
    • Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) believed so strongly in this principle that they said openness about money is more important than being faithful. (As lawyers.com legal editor Alan Kopit put it, “They’re saying, ‘It’s one thing to fool around. It’s another thing to fool around with my hard-earned cash!'”)
    • Still, almost one in three (29%) admitted they had lied to their partner about finances, most often about personal spending (21%) or spending on the kids (12%).
    • One in four (25%) said a partner has withheld financial information — again, usually about personal spending (20%) and spending on children (11%).
    What we lie about
    Spending on ourselves 21% How much we make 6%
    Spending on children 12% Our investments 4%
    Household finances 9% Our retirement accounts 2%

    Source: HarrisInteractive

    When financial indiscretions are discovered by the partner, the usual reactions are similar to discovering sexual infidelity: feeling violated, having your “trust” foundation shaken, wondering what else you may have been lied to about, having doubts about wanting to be with a person who lied to you, and perhaps feeling foolish that you didn’t see it happening when perhaps it should have been obvious.

    In my experience as a marital therapist , most people who “cheat’ feel justified in doing so. They justify and rationalize their behavior to “make it right” in their own minds, so they don’ t have to feel guilty. It is like their “self-talk” goes astray. For instance, they tell themselves their behavior was OK because:

    • “I spent the  money on the children or the family;”
    • “My own parents or a relative  needed the money;”
    • “My  partner is a miser; I’ll repay it later;”
    • “Since my partner bought so and so, I deserve to buy this for myself; he/she didn’t tell me- why should I tell them? ” ( a balance-the-scale expenditure)
    • I have to drive the old car, so I’ll buy myself a $2000 _____” (a revenge expenditure)
    • “It is my money; I’ll spend it any way I like” (The entitlement expenditure)

    Some people, however, financially cheat because they are addicted to alcohol or drugs, to gambling,  to shopping,  to an expensive hobby or interest, or to costly sex. Or, perhaps they simply are dishonest people with poor character. They really can’t justify their actions. They know it is wrong, but either don’t want to change, or can’t change without professional help. Persons at this level of financial infidelity often ultimately destroy the relationship if the behavior continues. After all, partners can only put up with so much; at a certain point, they say “enough” and either end the relationship or establish firm boundaries around financial issues within the relationship. Persons who knowingly allow severe financial abuse to continue probably suffer from low self-esteem.

    Fixing Financial Infidelity:
    So, how do you fix financial infidelity? As we teach in our local marriage therapy sessions, and in our new Online Marriage Education Program, many marriage problems such as this are born of not aligning expectations to begin with (including setting boundaries) and not assertively and honestly communicating with each other around financial issues. Couples should have serious discussions around the following financial topics:

    • What are the ground rules?
    • What is joint money vs. personal money?
    • What are the parameters for spending? For instance, “we consult with each other before spending over $100”)
    • Do “personal money” expenditures need to be reported to the other?
    • Do we blend money or keep earned money separate?
    • Who physically pays the bills ?
    • Should one or both partners be placed on an “allowance?”
    • Should one partner who is better with money “control” the family expenditures?”

    Often a skilled therapist is needed to help couples deal with these issues because most financial issues have a strong emotional component attached to them. As one couple told me recently, “It isn’t about money itself; it is about power and control in our relationship.” In other instances, money conflicts are about clashing financial values, colliding life goals or dreams, or perhaps the inability of the couple to be flexible enough to deal with changing life circumstances (e.g., loss of employment, illness, etc).

    Some Financial Thoughts by Benjamin Franklin:

    Here are some thoughts to chew on as you and your partner discuss financial expectations and financial values:

    • A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets, keep his nose all his life to the grindstone, and die not worth a groat at last
    • Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship
    • Buy what thou hast no need of, and before long thou shalt sell thy necessaries
    • A fat kitchen makes a lean will
    • Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to the bottom
    • When you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty
    • The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt

    Is Empathy Declining?

    Empathy is defined as the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, to understand their feelings and feel them yourself, and to see the world as they do. Theodore Roosevelt said:

    “A very large share of the rancor of political and social strife arises from sheer misunderstanding by one section, or by one class, of another, or else from the fact that the two sections, or two classes, are so cut off from each other that neither appreciates the other’s passions, prejudices, and, indeed, point of view, while they are both entirely ignorant of their community of feeling as regards the essentials of manhood and humanity.”

    Developing the skill of empathy is a key tool for anger management, for better marriage communication, for improved family relationships, and for less conflict in the world in general. Yet, unfortunately, it is a skill that seems to be declining in our world. According to studies that have been tracking this since 1979, college students are 40% less empathetic than their counterparts 30 years ago. (This was brought to my attention in a link sent to me by a former anger management student. The link is a fascinating website called “The Art of Manliness.” which recently featured an article titled ” Our Disembodied Selves and the Decline of Empathy” written by Brett and Kate Mckay.

    For many people, it is amazingly difficult to be empathetic. Seems that more men fall in this category than women, but there are many, many exceptions to this statement. Some men are much more empathetic than some women, but as a group, empathy is unfortunately considered a more “feminine” than “masculine” trait. There may be a genetic basis for this gender difference, as some studies show that the differences between males and females are seen in newborn babies. Girl babies are more likely to cry when they hear another baby cry than boy babies are, and two year old girls exhibit more concern for those who are distressed than two year old boys do. Other research shows that as men and women get older, the empathy gap narrows.

    Neuroscientists are even in the news recently in reference to empathy. Seems that we have something called “mirror neurons” in our brains. This means that when I am performing a task or feeling an emotion and you are observing me do so, the same neurons that are being lit up in my brain by actually having the experience, are the ones that light up in your brain just from watching me.

    Wow! This may mean that physically being with someone (like your partner, or a family member) and watching them actually increases your empathy for them. Close physical proximity allows you to more easily put yourself in their shoes! Contrariwise,  it is much easier to NOT be understanding of others if they are not in front of us. The McKays give the following example:

    “Have you ever been incredibly angry at another person, stewing and brooding about it all day? But then when you finally met up with the person face-to-face and talked to them, the anger just melted away? In the presence of their physical self, those puppy dog eyes, your empathy kicked in. In th absence of these real encounters, minor slights can multiply themselves many times over. One of the reasons long-distance relationships rarely work out.”

    To increase empathy in our technology-driven world, we must balance our lives with real physical body-to-body, face-to-face interactions with people we care about or want to understand better. This includes marriage partners, family members, neighbors, workplace colleagues, etc. Even better, to increase empathy try changing places with them – that is, do what they have to do and see if that doesn’t change your perspective of things.

    I recently had a personal example of this when I took a month vacation to South America  where I was hospitalized briefly for an intense intestinal distress. Admitted to a strange hospital in Quito, Ecuador where hardly anyone spoke English, I had to navigate the admissions process and explain to 10 doctors my symptoms and medical history in Spanish! Only problem was that my Spanish was nowhere near that level of sophistication, and besides, I was in no shape to speak even English, much less Spanish.

    All I could think of were the times I had become impatient with local immigrants in Southern California who were struggling with their English, while trying to explain things the best they could. Since then, I have become much more understanding and tolerant of how difficult it is to learn another language, especially at an older age,  under stressful conditions.

    To summarize,the trait of empathy is probably “hard-wired” in our brains, but we can enhance it with practice (just like breathing is hard-wired but breathing exercises make us feel better and improve performance). This “practice” involves first becoming aware of how important empathy is. Then, physically be in the presence more often of the persons you want to develop more empathy toward, and actually watch them as you interact with them. Finally, try literally putting yourself in their shoes, if you can, to develop more empathy for their lives, their outlook, or their attitudes.

    Dealing With Life Stress: Should We Use a Scale or a Broom?


    This cartoon illustrates how stressful life can be, even in normal  situations like family life. (By the way, if you enjoy mental health humor, visit (http://blogs.psychcentral.com/humor) for more.) In our anger management programs, we teach specific methods to handle stress as one of our anger control tools, because stress and anger are very much connected and related.

    Is stress control about achieving life balance? Perhaps. Maybe not. In the words of our humorist Chato,

    “If you’re seeking balance because your life is a mess, then you’re looking at the wrong thing. What you need to be seeking…….is a broom!”

    My experience is that sometimes we might need both a scale and a broom. A scale to keep things in balance and proportion and a broom to sweep out all the stuff that is irrelevant to your life goals and dreams and may be bogging you down, like trying to walk through wet cement.

    Lets start with the scale:


    Many personal development coaches teach clients to make a pie chart like this……………

    pie chart

    ……..and then teach clients to put a label on each piece of the pie representing life areas where time and energy and spent. Typical categories would be work, family, community, religion, leisure, etc. Then, by keeping track of how much time or effort you spend in activities related to each category, you can easily see if your life is out of balance or not.

    Take the case of a 43 year old small business owner who worked 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. He slept eight hours a day, leaving only 6 hours  a day for everything else including his marriage, his family, personal time, etc. Soon, he felt overwhelmed and burned-out and then he felt  “used” by almost everyone because his needs outside of work were not even close to being satisfied or fulfilled. Often people like this have a classic “type A” personality and are seen as “driven.” One client we saw had had three heart attacks by age 33 and still was unable to slow down or add balance to his life.

    Is happiness higher in people who have a more balanced life? Are these people less stressed? I’m not sure that this has even been directly researched, but it seems intuitively true from observation of happy and relaxed people. Balance comes not only from how you spend your time, but also in terms of  how purposeful or meaningful what you do seems to you. Do what your love and your life will not feel out of balance to you (although others may not see it the same way). Spending much effort doing what you feel you have to do without counter-balancing it with enjoyable or meaningful or rewarding things will lead to much stress and unhappiness. We all have to spend some time on things we don’t like or things we don’t want to do; but happier people balance these things with doing at least one enjoyable or rewarding  thing each day – something they can “look forward to”

    Now The Broom…..


    Life activities, thoughts, focus on the unimportant or focus on that which cannot be changed can clutter our minds just like stacks of old newspapers can clutter a room in your house. Both types of clutter make it difficult to navigate life because they bog us down, and occupy space that could be much better used. Mind clutter may include things like:

    • Focusing on trivia or the unimportant while missing the bigger, more important issue (for instance, happily straightening the deck chairs on the Titanic, while being oblivious to the fact that the ship is sinking)
    • Devoting significant portions of your life to changing that which cannot be changed instead of focusing on that which can be. This includes people as well as causes or issues.
    • Staying  stuck in a life style or life situation you stopped liking long ago, but yet you stay in it or keep on doing it. Being preoccupied with the negative clogs your mind and your perspective to try new solutions or try new life styles that may be less stressful and bring more happiness. Think: “If I am not part of the solution, I am part of the problem.”
    • Thinking certain self-talk or holding certain beliefs about yourself or the world which may not be true, yet stop you from pursuing or achieving some life dreams that may still be within you reach.
    • Holding resentments or grievances which poison you inside like a cancer and block your potential for happiness or fulfillment.