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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA, Dr. Barbara Cunningham emphasizes resilience as a core treatment goal in her model of practice. During periods of darkness, it is the stars that come out to shine. The recession offers a challenge to our resilient nature. Whether the economic downturn has the power to negatively impact your relationship or not has much to do with a couple’s ability to generate creative solutions in times of stress. Those who engage with the problems….in effect, move into the problem instead of shrinking away to avoid dealing with it in a thoughtful and reflective way….will become sparkling stars in their own night skies. Their successful effort to creatively problem solve and then compromise can strengthen a couples’ pride in their ability to weather a storm like a recession together and become stronger, not in spite of an economic problem but because of it! Whether in the context of economic problems or other problems, resilience is the ability to bounce forward, not just back! Marriages that are strong may reflect agreed upon values and practical ways to weather a crisis like a recession. For example, a couple who are effective planners for the future may have saved a nest egg to weather a storm like a recession. Strong couples with safe attachment bonds find strength in their unity and do not feel alone or isolated.

Fights about money are rarely about money. There are intergenerational scripts about money and often people bring opposing narratives about money from their respective families of origin. Such polarized views may be the source of conflict. For example, I see a couple wherein the man is the penny pincher and the woman is a spendthrift. Both partners claim that they were more moderate in their respective relationships with money before marrying one another. The couple essentially are in reaction to one another and become increasingly extreme in their reactivity as they watch their spouse be more extreme in theirs. They co-create their problematic dynamic around money. Thus, underlying emotional issues may underlie money battles. And though Howard Markman, Ph.D. and director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, states that “Money is the number one thing that couples fight about in America,” what is surprising is that for many couples, money fights are not a function of much money you have or don’t have. I have a very wealthy couple in my practice, for example, that fight about money day in and day out. They have more money than they or their children can possibly spend. Yet they argue about money daily.

Money problems encountered in the Great Recession of the early Twenty First Century may, nevertheless, reflect a lowered divorce rate. People may not be able to afford two households. They may put off divorce. One couple in my practice (http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com) came in for counseling to help them deal with this situation. They wanted to divorce, could not afford it, and were forced to live together till more money came in. In their work with me, they developed a new-found pride in their ability to compromise and make co-habitation work. They are renewing their wedding vows next month.

In other situations, people who become unemployed may find themselves at home together more often. In this increased togetherness, they may experience stress at the change. The delicate balance has been disturbed…a small change can tip the balance and topple stability within a couple’s dynamic.

In my practice at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, I have seen the increased economic stress resulting from joblessness lead to an increase in alcohol and drug abuse. Some of my colleagues are also reporting an increase in cases of domestic violence alongside unemployment rates. Unemployment undoubtedly causes stress, leads to depression and can lead to explosive situations.

Interestingly, newly unemployed partners may move away from traditional gender roles. Research shows that marriages with more egalitarian rather than traditional gender roles fare better. It is useful for couples to take the emotion out of the busy-ness and draw up an agreed-upon list dividing the household and parenting duties in an equitable manner.

In terms of recession and economic stress to a marriage or relationship, the more relevant question to ask is whether or not the marriage is made up of two emotionally mature individuals who do not resort to blame and recrimination in the face of stressors, but rather can unite around finding creative solutions to economic problems. For example, a return to school to increase one’s skills while unemployed may be one example of such a solution. Dr. Cunningham believes that therapy can increase productivity and one’s ability to generate solutions as less energy/anxiety is bound up in the relationship system. Visit her web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com to explore whether or not her model of practice may be right for you and your spouse. For those who cannot afford therapy, there are not-for-profit agencies that offer very low-fee services with clinical interns.

DR. CUNNINGHAM’S 8 TIPS TO DEAL WITH THE IMPACT OF THE RECESSION ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP:

1. Do not judge each other’s spending choices too harshly. Do not treat your spouse like a child by telling him/her that his purchase is not necessary or is foolish. This will never resolve spending dilemmas and will only increase resentment and conflict. Instead, strive to respect each other’s adulthood and individuality. Each partner comes from a family that may have a different culture of spending.

2. Listen carefully to your partner’s concerns and ideas about possible solutions. Remain open-minded. Be open to a new re-evaluation of priorities. Learn to negotiate with each other about money issues.

3. Remember that in unity, there is strength. But also remember that respecting difference makes for a stronger sense of unity. Harsh storms weathered together can strengthen a relationship. Successful compromise breeds increased pride in accomplishment.

4. Now may be the perfect time to introduce children to the importance of cooperation, viewing themselves as family team members. Instead of responding with an “automatic” kneejerk response to one another in a stressful economic situation, children can observe the adults managing themselves by talking to one another in a respectful manner and agreeing upon viable solutions.

5. Be aware that our relationship to money may be merely mirroring our parents’ relationship with money or, conversely, we may be reacting to our parents’ relationship with money in a manner that is outside our awareness.

6. Start having open talks about money with each other. Be curious about how your experiences in childhood informed your ideas about money. Let go of “right” and “wrong.” The important goal is to respect your partner’s differences. Look deeper.

7. Share equally the responsibilities of budgeting, investing and saving money. Divide up the tasks. Meet weekly. Don’t fight. Share information. Make collaborative decisions.

8. Each partner should save some autonomy by maintaining a small personal account for their own spending.

At http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, couples get practice in respecting difference and still staying connected. Call 619 9906203 for a complimentary consultation.

I am an MFT at the doctoral level. In my work at Affordable Relationship Counseling, I encourage clients to work on their current relational challenges by researching their multigenerational family stories. Over the holidays, I picked up a novel entitled BREAD GIVERS by Anzia Yezierska. I opened it without any more interest than that it was set in 1920’s Lower East Side New York and that, like the earlier experience of my maternal grandparents, it described the Jewish journey of immigrating to the U.S. from Russia during that historical period. Little did I know that within these pages, it would seem as if my mother was communicating with me from heaven about what it was really like for her as a young, Jewish girl and as a teenager. Fiction and nonfiction merged in my brain and my eyes were awash as I imagined how important the sense of belonging and material safety must have been to children of immigrants.

To differentiate a self as protagonist Sara Smolinsky did eluded my mom. Mom was a redheaded beauty. Appearances were of prime importance as providing carte blanche to becoming a successful homemaker with the means to be comfortable. My mother was the third of four. She had one sister, twelve years her senior, a brother who was nine years older and a brother three years younger.

Life was tough in NY for Jewish immigrants like the Smolinskys. Like my grandfather, Sara’s father was pious (he was an Orthodox rabbi) and also very poor. Like Sara’s mother, my maternal Bubbe did not want her daughters to waste time or money to educate themselves. She worried about them having a good life. A secure life, unlike her own hand-to-mouth struggle from day to day. She hoped that her girls’ future would be secured by a good marriage to a successful, Jewish man. This chronic anxiety about her daughters’ mating outcomes had a multigenerationally transmitted quality and, as theoretically predicted, my mother had transmitted it to me in spades. Such anxiety is rarely useful when one is of the age to settle down and be of calm enough mind to intelligently choose a mate.

After I read the last page of this novel, my understanding about so many mysteries about the marital failures in my own family had deepened. It was as if this piece of historical fiction offered me the insight I might have gained if I had gone back to visit my Mom in a Time Machine. Thank you, Anzia Yezierska!

For more information about Dr. Cunningham‘s model of practice, call 619 9906203 0r visit www.cunninghamtherapy.com

Last Picture Mom and My Brothers were Photographed Together

LAST Photo of Family Together Left, My deceased brother, Jeffrey (9 months before his suicide and four months before his only marriage); Ex-husband, Ric; Me, Brother, Gary; nephew, Caden (Gary’s grandson); and the matriarch and glue of the family, Edythe Mark, celebrating a remarkable run of leading her family for 90 years. The occasion was a birthday surprise party for her, planned by my devoted daughters, Nicole and Allison.

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Tonight marks three years since my sweet, younger brother gave up all hope for joy and a future. Instead, he broke all our hearts and ended his life. He struggled with the monkey on his back since he was thirteen. We were a middle class family, and Jeff was the youngest kid on a block of kids that stuck together like Gorilla Glue. He wanted desperately to fit in with his older brother, Gary, and the other cool boys who traveled together like a pack. As vulnerable to peer pressure as he was to pleasing his parents, my baby brother would cop an attitude and try to act the part of a street smart teen. In reality, the more the others made fun of him for being “Jargus” or called him pejorative names like “Blockhead,” the more determined he became to win acceptance by taking more and more risks.

Like teens everywhere, it was important to Jeff to belong. He never outgrew the need to be accepted to the point that he would sacrifice himself to do so. He took other people’s temperatures to determine how he should feel. His “selfhood” was defined not by his own ideas and values so much as by what he thought other important people expected of him or what he could do to belong and gain acceptance. The amount of energy he and his parents put into one another and into him determined how much he would depend upon relationship in later life to survive. He never grew away from a profound need to be cared for and nurtured to the same level he experienced with his parents as a child. It created in him extreme relationship dependence. If he believed, for example, that a teacher disliked him, he could not perform. Relationship environments that were warm and nurturing were crucial to his functioning.

Jeffrey entered the world of heroin addiction at thirteen. While the other boys experimented with heroin, Jeff married her. In fact, my brother took heroin as his mistress till the end of his life at 56 years old. His escapist behavior reflected a high level of anxiety, borne of unresolved emotional attachment to his parents. He remained a child in relation to both of them….never related adult to adult, even as an elderly man. It was difficult for him to know, for example, when one of his decisions was more reactive to someone telling him what to do ( an authority figure or even a girlfriend or the mother of his child) or when a decision was truly a reflective one. In other words, Jeff could not easily distinguish between his thoughts and his feelings. It was difficult for him to know when he was merely acting in reaction to being told what to do or when he truly was acting out of a thought out or reflective response.

As a very young child, Jeff had frequent petite mal seizures. His parents worried and took him to Mayo Clinic and myriad doctors to try to figure out what was going on and to alleviate the physical symptoms. They may have inadvertently created many of his emotional symptoms by allowing him to bend and break the rules, lest he become upset from the same consequences the other two received as a matter of course-and suffer another seizure! Because his well meaning but anxious mother and father believed his bad temper could create medical crisis, he held inordinate power in the home. Medical crisis was most certainly created anyway…the terminal illness, however, was not epilepsy, but addiction to opiates. Anxiety was ubiquitous in the household, passed frantically back and forth among family members like a hot potato.

Jeff enjoyed being indulged, yet resented Gary and Barbara as being favored for their academic achievement. Even at his mother’s 90th birthday, he made a toast to his beloved mother and publicly and proudly referred to himself as “your baby boy.”

Jeff was not permitted to learn from struggle. His parents meant well. But they overhelped, making it a foregone conclusion that he would underhelp himself when it came to overcoming his dependence upon heroin. If he had potential trouble with the law, they would hover, rushing in to rescue and to alleviate the very pain that motivates people to change. They believed they were doing the best by him, but, in reality, their parenting choices were made to calm themselves and, in the process, unwittingly rob their youngest son of normal growth and development. He would not mature, and heroin was the crutch that allowed him to ignore this developmental lag. His parents needed to maintain their anxious focus just as much as Jeff needed to fulfill their dark expectations. It was a reciprocal feedback loop. The same template of intensity…of neediness…would follow him in his adult romantic relationships. And theory suggests he would settle down with a woman needing about the same amount of attention as he needed.

Jeffrey worked with his father in the multigenerational family scrap metal business and proved himself to  be a talented-nay a gifted- entrepreneur. Money was a commodity he knew how to create and to increase. Still,the intensity between father and son was as strong as the fusion between mother and son. As the child most tied in to the family system…the epileptic one, the addicted one, and the one in the family business….the baby of the family was thus less free to grow and develop.He was always the anxious focus of his parents. The anxiety has a contagion. It is never helpful.

The individuals in this family prided themselves in being ‘”close.” Yet being very close can stifle the spirit and ultimately predict emotional cutoff. Drugs are one way people cut off from one another and even from themselves. In our family, we were so undifferentiated that if one person had an itch, everyone else scratched. It was hard to know where one family member started and the  other one ended.

When people give up “self” to the group, it is normal to feel an anxiety borne of the fear that one has allowed themselves to disappear….to be incorporated into the group. It is a survival instinct then to cut off from others if one becomes too aware that there is no “self” left. Similarly, the one who cuts off creates a reactivity in the “left” one and the distancer/pursuer dance may begin.

To some extent, we all struggle to carve a bit of individuality out of all the togetherness that is part of being a family. There are many ways people cope with the anxiety borne of this fear of being incorporated or swallowed up into a system. Some people use substance to escape their fear that they are alienated from themselves, that they are broken….broken in love.

The lack of capacity to remain connected is paradoxically related to one’s inability to hold on to oneself in relationship to important others. Furthermore, the indulged grown child may lack a belief in their own personal agency and self efficacy. Often they believe they are at the mercy of the universe and there is a desperate kind of effort to escape the inner, chronic pain of disconnection and escalating ruptured relationships. Denial and defensiveness keep these people stuck and lonely.

Jeff’s life was defined by repeated efforts to overcome opiate dependence with the accompanying crisis and relationship loss. Bridges were burned beyond repair before his fiftieth year. When complete contact with his one child was severed…a beautiful, bright,thirteen year old daughter who adored him…his life took a lethal turn for the worse. Stints in prison and debilitating depression followed that emotional cutoff, which occurred, not coincidentally, the year following his father’s death in 1997.

Jeff panicked at the prospect of losing his mother to death. He had grieved inconsolably for years, for he had lost his most prized relationship-his thirteen-year-old daughter. Additionally, he had lost huge amounts of money, reputation, a beautiful home, the freedom to live near his family in California, and, sadly, the love of his life and the mother of his daughter. After his latest stint in prison, he met a random woman in a bar and invested his heart, soul, and wallet into winning her. She was a rough woman, many years his junior. He would marry her thirteen months prior to his mother’s death.

In the end, he believed the woman exploited him. Against the advice of friends and family, he had rushed to marry her , fearing he was aging and anticipating being “utterly and completely alone.” When that marriage went South, he became frightened. Humiliated. A desperado. He packed it in. By marrying her, he had tried one last time to find an adult relational home and recoup his myriad losses over his life course. But his tendency toward fusion made him too anxious to allow himself to love or be loved. So it all went from bad to worse.  This final loss was more than he could bear. Life became stripped of meaning. No relational home seemed available to Jeff. He was terrified at the prospect of being alone.

Murray Bowen, one of the foremost pioneers of marriage and family therapy, believed family members profoundly affect one another and that death is one example of this profound interdependence. Ripple effects or emotional shock waves can usually be observed in members closest to the ill or dying member. Changes such as marriages, divorces, obesity, alcoholism, drug addiction, or even workaholism all provide escape from the emotional  processes swirling about the family system. Physical illness and even death may follow after the death of a spouse or child. Bowen defined the ” ‘Emotional Shock Wave’ as a network of underground aftershocks…occurring most often after the death or threatened death of a significant family member.” (1978). The connectedness of major life events following serious illness and death may stimulate vigorous denial of any connection between the death and the events. He believed that this denial and subsequent occurance of serious life events occurred most frequently in families with a high degree of fusion or emotional “oneness.”Grief and loss work in the form of family of origin research can help people become a bit more aware of these tendencies to be reactive to the “undifferentiated ego mass” of the family and to operate within the fusion.The effort can help them move through the grief process in a timely and healing manner and also gain more basic self in the process.

As the person in the family system who apparently absorbed much of the anxiety for the system and accommodated more than was healthy for him to do in life, Jeffrey dealt with his relational crises/mental health challenges through self medication. He had struggled since his early teens, becoming stuck in a cycle of addiction, subsequent relationship heartbreaks,and repeated incarcerations.Shame, rejection, and regret haunted him most days of his life. He tried and failed to kick over and over again, in expensive rehab after expensive rehab.

The stigma our society has placed upon seeking mental health services is dangerous, especially in a shrinking world of escalating changes occurring at breakneck speed. Suicide is a genuine health issue, like cancer or diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the tenth most common cause of death in the United States. About 30,000 people  die by suicide every year–more people than by murder or HIV.

For sibling survivors of suicide, there is never closure–only reduced frequency and intensity over time. Sibling loss is not honored as much as parental loss; yet a sibling should be in our lives longer than anyone else. It is a profound loss to be the remainder…the surviving sibling, who shares fifty per cent of our DNA and huge amounts of life experience.

My dear brother, Jeff,  had physically left the premises on a hot July night in 2012. I found his suicide note in my mailbox upon arriving home from work after nine one night, and I remember my cry sounding less than human-more like an animal howl. I knew my mother would not be much longer for this world, because they were so close as to be like one organism. She had two more years for us to love her and cherish her.

Since Jeff died on July 19, 2012 and since Mom died in March of last year, family members close to Jeff have also experienced huge changes. There have been babies born, talk of divorce, real estate deals, major moves,weight loss, new romantic partnerships, an emotional cutoff, and returns to college. Mother’s caregiver of twenty five years has suddenly developed serious cardiac problems.

Changes in reaction to entrances and exits from the family system reflect the notion that change always is accompanied by stress. The intense emotional process that defines a family system in the face of illness and death demands that individuals closest to the deceased take especially good care of themselves in the months and even years following life threatening illness and death.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham‘s systemic model of marriage and family therapy practice, visit her website at www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation. If you or someone you know is in suicidal crisis, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

San Diego Relationship and Marriage Counseling

Model of Therapy and Theory of Change: Underlying Philosophy and Theoretical Assumptions

My guiding principle as a clinician is Bowen family systems theory (BFST).  I believe that family dysfunction is rooted in the extended family system.  Unresolved conflicts from past generations and from childhood continue to be acted out in relationships in the nuclear family.  It is assumed that external systems often determine intrapsychic feeling states, and that it is important to understand both the “. . .historical process in the family and the larger social context in order to transform family relationships in the present” (McGoldrick & Carter, 2001, p. 282). Furthermore, it is assumed that “. . . if one person changes her or his emotional functioning in the family, the system will eventually change.  In this framework, family relationships are forever, and it never makes sense to write off a family member once and for all” (McGoldrick…

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Affordable Marriage Counseling San Diego

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist, urges couples to seek marriage counseling sooner rather than later. Here are three reasons why:

1.: Research suggests that couples do better when they do not “stonewall” or turn away from one another when upset about an issue. Counseling provides a safe “holding” environment to discuss and process the “tough” stuff in a way to move your relationship forward instead of getting stuck in the mire.

2. Marriage is worthy of your best effort. It is not “automatic” to succeed at marriage. If it were, there would not be such a high divorce rate. Get professional help to give your partnership the best odds of success.

3. Marriage involves going from independence to interdependence. This may require a bit of coaching during the first year.

Barbara is happy to answer any questions you may have by phone to see if it makes sense to book an initial appointment. Call her at 619 9906203 or visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com for more information

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling, licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, specializes in issues of grief and loss. Death, divorce, breakups, pet loss, homicide, suicide, career transitions, moves and many other changes all may herald in a period that the client may experience grief and loss. Dr. Cunningham emphasizes that all people belong to an emotional system. Emotional systems are made up of individuals, all of whom are interdependent upon one another to a greater or lesser degree. Thus, exits from the family system may create a kind of “emotional shock wave effect,” wherein relationships shift among members upon the death of an important family member.

As Dr. Cunningham experiences just such a change…the serious illness of her own mother…she is observant of the emotional process swirling about her and within her. She often advises clients not to make major decisions or changes for a year following the death of an important family member or after a divorce. This is a cautious way to insure that the brain calms down enough to make a rational decision. Homo sapiens are a social species. When we lose a profound attachment, it is an automatic impulse to grieve and even to look for a replacement love object to comfort us in our loss. The idea of doing so is normal…letting the passage of time occur to insure the decision is made with reflection is good insurance. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, CA , licensed marriage and family therapist, Dr. Barbara Cunningham, often sees clients who present with issues of loneliness around the holidays. It seems that people feel a heightened sense of loss around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Television, movies, magazines, and advertisments seem to emphasize pictures of happy families that are a stark contrast to what people wish they had in their own lives. Often times burned bridges and broken dreams come into bold relief at this time of the year and make it most difficult for people to get through the days of gift giving, Christmas carols, and holiday mirth. Allowing people a safe holding environment to process feelings of vulnerability may be a beginning point.  It takes courage to begin the therapy process. Talk therapy is a proven way to begin. Research has shown that isolation is not good for one’s overall health. If one is not connected, or feels isolated, one is at risk for myriad health problems. Human beings are a social species.  Adaptation to loss can, over time, bring increased integrity and deeper meaning to life. To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s strength based model of practice, call 619 9906203 or visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com to get more information.

Sex addiction is on the rise in India“Families with multiple generations of addiction often tell ‘war stories’ about the previous generation. Frequently, stories are told as jokes because they are so improbable. If grandpa was so drunk he missed the garage and drove into the living room, the family laughs as a defense against the tragedy and chaos of the event. For a child listening , such pandemonium can be concerning, but the child’s reality is everyone is laughing. The incongruity may make it hard for the child to ask questions. After all, if the situation is scary to you, but funny to everyone else, then there must be something wrong with your perceptions.”

-Dr. Patrick Carnes, Recovery Zone, Vol 1. (Pg 137)

Since San Diego’s Mayor Bob Filner has been a heated subject of controversy, the topic of sex addiction has dominated the air waves in our town. I have often depicted sex addiction as a disease of intimacy. Like all forms of addiction, I consider it an escape from uncomfortable emotions associated with close relationships with significant others. Addictive patterns that trigger compulsive behaviors often result in surges of neurochemical highs, whether from behaviors such as sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling, eating, etc., and such behavioral habits can rarely be addressed in short term behavioral therapy. It took a long time for people to be wired by their formative experiences and it will take a long time to rewire their brains to react differently.

Make no mistake, I am a great believer in the transformative power of psychotherapy. I just do not believe in tips, tricks, tools and techniques…psychotherapy should not be “showtime.” It is process. I ask my clients to trust in the process. I ask them to be patient with the process. Developing insight takes time. Hard work. Asking the right questions should generate more questions. Sex addiction, like other addictions, is an ineffective coping mechanism used to self soothe and to escape from the discomfort of intimacy.  Those who would have sex without considering longterm, potential consequences to their behavior have an opportunity to look for ways to heal the wound within, so they can, over time and with a lot of hard work,  increase their capacity for intimacy. To learn more about Dr. Barbara Cunningham, MFT, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

At Affordable Relationship Counseling, , Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers couples counseling to couples expecting their first child. She encourages new parents to seek counseling as insurance, knowing that such transitions can add stress and create challenges going forward into new roles and responsibilities. With evening hours to accommodate working couples and affordable rates, Dr. Cunningham can work with couples to get them onto a path assuring success. As wonderful and miraculous as a new baby is to both parents, all change brings with it accompanying adjustment and resultant stress. To learn more about her expert marriage counseling services, visit her website at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

At Affordable Couples Counseling in San Diego, California, licensed marriage and family therapist Dr. Barbara Cunningham offers couples the opportunity to strengthen the foundation upon which their relationship rests. Research suggests that couples wait an average of six years before seeking help when their relationship is in trouble. The stigma attached to seeking professional help is still ever present in our society. Yet it is far cheaper and the course of therapy may be significantly shorter if couples begin sooner rather than later when their relationship becomes “stuck” in unhelpful patterns.

Premarital therapy offers couples opportunities to discuss hot button issues in a safe, holding environment with a neutral third party. Professionals can facilitate discussion and encourage the respect for difference typified in the healthiest of marriages.

Interestingly, one of the least happy times in marriage may be after the birth of the first child. Often times, the father may feel pushed to the “outside” with the demands of a newborn. Working on the marriage during the pregnancy and preparing for the birth may be a wise investment. A division of labor generated in advance, for example, is one idea that may be helpful.

Distancer/pursuer cycles can create chronic problems that increase the intensity of dissatisfaction on both sides. Such problems are better addressed early on.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s marriage counseling and couples counseling services, visit her website at http://wwww.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call her at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist, often suggests books to her clients that may be an accompaniment to aspects of their treatment journey in couples counseling or individual counseling. One such recommendation to clients exploring existential themes has been EINSTEINS DREAMS by Alan Lightman. Below is a review of Lightman’s novel.

IMAGINING TIME

In the novel entitled EINSTEINS DREAMS, Alan Lightman challenges the reader with the possibilities within each of us for imagining time, existence, and relativity. Thirty dated vignettes describe notions of time imagined during young Einstein’s dream states. These entries are introduced by a prologue wherein the reader meets Einstein at precisely six ten a.m. at the patent office in Berne, Switzerland, his place of employment. It is on this morning in late June of 1905 that the protagonist submits his electrifying paper on the Special Theory of Relativity to a typist. The novel spans only three hours, ending when the typist arrives at the office. Sandwiched between are the thirty dreams and three interludes that predate the prologue and epilogue, during which time Einstein obsessed on his theory and dreamed of myriad temporal worlds through the prismatic lens of human experience. It is fitting that LIghtman uses Einstein as a vehicle through which to paint the existential dilemmas and joys of human existence, and the reader-clinician who has a systemic orientation may draw many parallels between the imaginary worlds and exigencies of real life within individual and family life cycles of development.

Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity ushered in an era that challenged linear ways of viewing the universe in many disciplines, not the least of which was psychology. Einstein shattered previous thought when he proved that time is not an absolute. What he discovered was that if you sat on a train that is either stationery or moving at a constant speed and look at another passing train without viewing the landscape, you will not be able to ascertain which train is moving and which train is at rest; you can only say that each train moves past the other at a certain relative speed. Similarly, in the psychological world of relativistic (circular) causality, no reality exists in a vacuum, but rather depends on the interconnectedness of people and events as they move through time. A second for one person may feel different than a second for another, and the view that one person sees may be quite different from that seen by another. The idea that distance and time are not absolute and depend on the motion of the observer is akin to the idea that members of a family can only be viewed in their roles in relation to one another, to the times that precede them generationally, to the times in which they live, and to the individual and shared goals they may have for the future. In addition to the fact that the normative and non-normative changes within the normal family life cycle have a circular causality, there is also a constant dialectic action and a holistic reality, wherein the family is greater than the sum total of all its members. Culturally-directed timetables, familial, intergenerational interpretation of those timeframes, and individual developmental rhythms shape the personalities, behavior, thoughts, and outcomes of people, families, and nations. Indeed, various issues cogent to the clinician in the field of marriage and family therapy must be considered against the backdrop of time.

Subjective time is dramatically different from the mechanical time upon which most societies base their members’ lives. To spend a month on a surfboard on the island of Tavarua in the Fiji Islands might seem like a shorter month than to spend a month awaiting results of a biopsy. A jetlagged individual can attest to the relativity of temporal perception. Such a dichotomy is a dialectical phenomenon that exists in our lives continuously and is described as a literal fantasy in young Einstein’s entry dated 24 April 1905 (“There are two times, mechanical and body”). To analyze the meanings of subjective and objective time is to realize the impact of time on human behavior: the rewards, consequences, limitations, possibilities, attitudes, values, belief systems, and lifestyles. And, as in the novel, everything is connected and relative to other variables, not the least of which is human reactions to the passage of time. Some worlds in the novel are bustling and chock full of action; in others, there is little that happens. In most of Lightman’s imagined worlds, the concept of linear continuity, which defines our sense of time, does not exist. What is common to all the worlds in EINSTEIN’S DREAMS is that the characters’ lives are defined by the limits the nature of time places on what is possible.

In fragmented time, relationships cannot develop. In backwards time, life demands a loss of achievement and knowledge. In fact, in a world where one dies to be born, the conventional birth mother would be seen not as the giver of life, but as the taker of life. It is interesting to consider, for example, how this might change attachment or object relations theory. The child would avoid the primary caregiver and avoid attachment to her as the woman who would signal the end of life.Death would not be the dreaded villain, but the welcomed friend. The thought of “life after death” would be looked upon with horror.

Lightman is himself an example of the dialectical nature of existence. He is a distinguished physicist and professor of creative writing at MIT, seemingly paradoxical interests. Similarly, Eisnstein discovers a theory about the outside world, even though he is a loner who lives primarily in an inner world. Indeed, EINSTEIN’S DREAMS is less a reflection of many worlds and more a reflection of all the lenses through which an individual could view his own world.

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s couples counseling practice, visit her website at www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary telephone consultation.

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