Posts Tagged ‘Anger’

Dr. Cunningham often hears couples come to marriage counseling and relationship counseling with issues related to anger. Each partner often begins couples counseling with a wish for the therapist to “fix” the other.  Counseling aims to help each partner increase their capacity to visualize their own part in the dance. This increased self-responsility to at once be true to expressing your feelings to your intimate other and, still, to decrease blaming him/her is an overarching goal of most psychotherapy within my model, no matter what the presenting problems.

In his book entitled TO A DANCING GOD: NOTES OF A SPIRITUAL TRAVELER, Sam Keen has a dialogue with anger (pp. 114-119).  Anger says, “If you doubt that I am the companion of love, remember the ecstasy of the reconciliation that comes after fighting. After a good expression of clean anger, lovers have established the integrity of their separateness, and they may come together without fearing that either will be eradicated by the act of love. If you can’t fight, you can’t love.”

Interestingly, this quote from Keen has been backed up by specific research in the field. John Gottman’s research disspelled a prevalent myth about marriage. He found that fighting is not predictive of divorce. If couples are engaged with one another and learn principles of “fair” fighting, learning more effective ways to resolve conflict can, in fact, lead the way to deepening relational growth. Notably, important work by John Gottman identified lethal forms of communication between partners that were predictive of divorce and he called them the four “Horsemen of the Apocalypse” (stonewalling, criticism, contempt, and defensiveness). He found that these communication patterns in relationships were dangerous to holding relationships on a course of stability and longevity.

Thus, Keen’s quote is backed up by Gottman’s empirical findings.  Anger that is not expressed or held back may be classified as a kind of stonewalling. So-called happy couples may be ignoring or hiding the anger that exists within and between them. Marital partners who are more able to express anger in a timely, reflective, and respectful manner, especially with a Gottman technique that he referrs to as “soft startups,”  may be more adept at repair attempts and thus are more likely to stay together in a more fulfilling way.

Anger has to be a respected member of the partnership. If not, the couple may not be genuine with themselves or with each other. Furthermore, anger unrecognized or in disguise may be more dangerous than when it is out in the open and dischargeable. Hidden anger can lead to sudden disruptions, including failure in the marriage, a damaged sex life, domestic violence, and anxious child-rearing that may even lead to child abuse. When unconscious and unexpressed anger festers, it grows and becomes regressively more primitive.

If one considers the tasks of loving from the perspective of  Bowen Family Systems Theory, lovers must also be able to establish the integrity of their separateness if they are to remain connected as effective marital partners. If partners are fused too tightly, they will not be able to come together without fearing eradication by the other. Bowen would wholeheartedly agree with Keen that lovers who can cleanly express their anger are likely to be more engaged lovers. Lovers must have a bottom line and be differentiated enough to not “cave in” or accommodate to another just because they fear losing the relationship if they do not give in. Those who can make a move for “self” are also able to freely choose to make a move for “other” instead of just going along, with resentment following closely behind. They are able to be at choice about when they wish to be separate and when they wish to be connected while, at the same, they have a greater capacity to respect a differing need for closeness and/or distance at various times in their partner.

Makeup sex often occurs without a clear resolution to existing problems. It occurs because the couple just gets tired of fighting and feeling all the  negative energy and want to restore the illusion that they are really doing ok without necessarily doing the work to get there. In my view, an accurate description of problems brought to therapy always addresses the reciprocity between a couple and one’s ability to identify or visualize one’s own part in a dynamic. The “automatic” impulse is to focus on what is wrong with other instead of working to see what one’s own part may be and then moving toward changing it. Part of the work in “fair” fighting, from my perspective, then,  is the capacity to “step up” and see what you can do to shift the unhelpful dynamic that led to the fight. Makeup sex can feel goodin the moment, but may be a mere escape from taking responsibility on your end to make things better in the longterm. Makeup sex that does not include each partner’s effort to change can feel euphoric, but without the promise of future increased connectedness. Some people have compared the feeling to getting high on cocaine.

The more you love, the more susceptible you are to being hurt. When a person is hurt, the natural response is anger in some form or other. While anger is a painful emotion, it also brings wakefulness, alertness, and, if it does not burn out of control, can even lead to clearer thinking and action about one’s own functioning in relation to important others. Anger is an emotion creeping into many of our expressions. Problems are tackled, obstacles are attacked, roadblocks are smashed, fears are conquered, and skills are mastered. I believe that it is not enough to be angry about some things.  If you can be aware of your anger, express it with an eye to including in your expression what you have done to trigger such anger-provoking behavior in another, and fight fairly, then you will discover that you can love better and not be in a state of chronic festering resentment Anger needs to be expressed and recognized as an integral part of life and living. At one time or another, it  is part of being transparent to a significant other. Being emotionally “naked” with another is difficult;  the process of this effort describes the challenges in the journey toward increasing transparency. As David Schnarch noted in his book entitled PASSIONATE MARRIAGE, this capacity to increase transparency can lead to what he refers to as ” wall socket sex.”  Certainly, the expression of anger in a nonblaming manner with an eye to what one has done to trigger the other to behave in ways that inspire anger is a helpful, systemic approach to conflict resolution. 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 phone consultation.

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“Anger is a signal, and one worth listening to.” Harriet Lerner

Dr. Barbara Cunningham, licensed marriage and family therapist in San Diego, CA, sees many couples who complain that chronic anger has eaten away at their relationship or marriage over time. What follows are some of  her thoughts on how negative feelings can cut into relational quality.

Anger is an emotion that can erode an individual’s quality of life and play havoc with the dynamic in one’s most important relationships. In my clinical practice, I see many couples who complain that anger has infected their relationship satisfaction. The roller coaster quality of living with someone who has trouble managing his/her anger can be devastating. At http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, Dr. Cunningham works on helping people learn new tools and apply new principles to their relationships that can help them lead calmer, more satisfying lives. 

Dr. Cunningham, for example, emphasizes that it is important to be clear about one’s bottom line. What will you do and what won’t you do for the other person? Consider your “yes-es” as carefully as you consider your “no’s.” If you accommodate and give in again and again, over time, resentment toward your partner may build. Then as normal day-to-day stresses of life accumulate, a person with anger management problems may explode and hurt those he or she loves deeply.

A person with anger management problems needs to learn that they can shape their world rather than being at the mercy of outside forces. They need to increase their sense that they can become the CEO of their own life instead of exerting energy upon trying to control others. If a person can become aware of triggers that make them say yes when they really want to say no (or conversely, make them say no when they really want to say yes), they will know where they stop and the other begins.

People who work on developing this type of “emotional muscle” will not be quite as governed by the responses of others. This simple yet difficult self-management skill can help curb resentment toward an important other. When one works on managing one’s own boundaries more carefully, it can help to control the risk of festering and growing resentment and anger. Such an effort can empower people to become long distance runners in the art of intimacy. Dr. Cunningham sees individuals and couples for relationship counseling on issues of all kinds. To learn more, visit her web site at http://www.cunninghamtherapy.com or call for a complimentary phone consultation at 619 9906203.

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At Affordable Relationship Counseling in San Diego, I specialize in counseling couples for many problems, including infidelity. Recently, I had cause to reflect on the growing effects of social media on relationship functioning in today’s technologically-dominated world. In the May, 2012 issue of ATLANTIC, Stephen Marche states that “We are living in an isolation that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors, and yet we have never been more accessible. Over the past three decades, technology has delivered to us a world in which we need not be out of contact for a fraction of a moment…Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. ..We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are.”

In my practice, I often treat couples who complain of the ruptured bond between them. Some people look to escape their grief and loss instead of facing it head on. In fact, research has found that a couple waits an average of six years before seeking marriage counseling.

One of the many ways that people escape their growing sense of alienation with one another is by becoming more active on sites such as Facebook. or chatting late into the nite in internet chat rooms. Marche observes that “What Facebook has revealed about human nature…is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world.” On the internet, one can be social while still being free of the challenges inherent in relationship functioning between truly bonded people. It can be a way to feel as if one has developed an intimate relationship with someone else and yet this is a delusion. There is no need to do more than preen one’s presentation feathers and one rarely has to deal with the stuff of real relationship challenges. It is as if one is creating a flattering mirror through which to see oneself in the eyes of others who also occupy the ethernet.

Years ago, I saw a couple who came in to therapy because one of the spouses finally relinquished a “connection” which had developed over two years on the internet. The spouse involved in the internet, emotional affair had been communicating with her for years and had, in fact, never met the object of his affection. This was a key focus of the sessions. He had finally freed himself of this escape from his grief about the fracture in his primary relationship and was now ready to work on restoring a connection to his marriage. In early therapy, the wife wanted to talk about the affair and would obsess on the who, the what, and they why of how it happened and whether she could trust him ever again. This was encouraged and allowed in order to rebuild trust as the wife could observe the husband’s (encouraged) efforts at increasing his transparency, even about a subject as difficult as disclosing the details of his affair. The husband wanted to “move on” and put the affair into the past where he said “it belonged.” Such polarized efforts to deal with an affair are common. Therapy helped the husband understand the nature of healing as a process, and the import of increasing his capacity for vulnerability in front of other instead of a focus upon covering content. I allowed the couple sufficient time to process their respective thoughts, feelings, fears, and regrets.

Eventually, I suggested that a proper focus of treatment would be to get at the factors in their marriage which contributed to the affair. It was important to key in on the affair as a trauma that required healing and that each person played a part in how the marriage become susceptible to such traumatic symptomology. Questions are asked which should generate more questions. Increasing the capacity to be transparent in front of one another and to decrease defensiveness is central. A safe holding environment is created by having each partner talk through the therapist. I asked each partner to discuss what they think contributed to the affair. I wondered aloud how long there had been unspoken (and spoken) marital tension and was this a contributing factor to each person running away from facing their part in the tension as well as the reality of the broken primary bond? In what ways did the wife look to criticize and blame her spouse, in a last ditch effort to get him to connect to her? How did the other spouse accommodate and give in when it was merely to avoid “ruffling her feathers?” Could these behaviors be fertile breeding grounds for growing resentment and alienation between them? How did the cheating spouse decide to stop the affair? How long had the other spouse ignored her part in the procrastination of dealing with the growing problem of a hardened distance and rift in the marriage? How could the couple join hands to provide future immunity from affairs? What does having an affair/ignoring one’s part in criticalness, emotional distancing or blame say about the emotional maturity of each partner’s former capacity to face their relationship challenges head on? Might not coming to therapy be an opportunity to congratulate one another on their increased emotional maturity and newfound capacity to address existing problems in the maintenance and nurture of their bond? Each partner was called upon to monitor their own “automatic” tendencies to withdraw, pursue, and/or become critical and blaming. The reciprocity of accommodation and pursuit were considered as cul-de-sacs leading to growing resentment and alientation. Over time, this couple began to grow in their confidence to at once regulate themselves as individuals while at the same time maintaining connection and safety within their relationship. The work emphasized regulating self to insure the viability of the relationship connection rather than using the relationship to insure that the individual would feel like a valid human being. The rewards of therapy led them to become increasingly confident that they could continue to insure the integrity of their relationship connection .

Social media offers an ineffective and dangerous avenue of escape to people feeling the grief and loss borne of a growing disconnect from their most significant other. People who are disconnected from their primary significant other may at one time or another look to meet their connectedness needs on the internet. The avenue leads to a deadend. 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 phone consultation.

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An enduring and fulfilling marriage reflects emotional maturity and mastery on the part of both partners. Is it healthy to express anger in your marriage? In TO A DANCING GOD, Sam Keen says “Yes.” He has a dialogue with anger (pp. 114-119). Writing in the persona of anger, he says, “If you doubt that I am the companion of love, remember the ecstasy of the reconciliation that comes after fighting. After a good expression of clean anger, lovers have established the integrity of their separateness, and they may come together without fearing that either will be eradicated by the act of love. If you can’t fight, you can’t love.”  I do not completely completely agree with Keen in his connecting the expression of anger with healthy partnership. I believe it IS important to hold onto oneself in a partnership. There are contexts in which it is perfectly valid to be angry at another. At other times, one is merely “spewing” one’s own anxiety about self onto other and/or one has an “agenda” to get the other person to change-to “fix” what is wrong with THEM. Good couples therapy assists each partner in their effort to identify and then change their part in an unhelpful dynamic.

In other places on my blog, I have emphasized that two strong “I’s make the most enduring and stable “we.” Whether the anger is really reactivity aimed at manipulating or changing another to suit you is the question one needs to ask oneself when angry. While a lot of people will swear to the heightened pleasure they feel from “make up sex,” this pleasure may be had without any real effort to arrive at increased mutual understanding and compassion for what each other may be up against. It may be based upon coming together after fearing the growing distance between you. It may be less about the healthiness of a clean expression of anger and more about soothing anxiety after the distance from a fight. The couple come back together and enjoy the momentary warm and fuzzy return to closeness. However, the intimacy is illusory and not based on resolution of any  of the issues that created an impasse and led to the explosive argument. In fact, nothing has been addressed and resolved. Is your anger  valid ?  Or is it an attempt to make the other person change instead of owning up to what YOU need to do to make things better in the relationship?

Reactivity in any form, including anger, may or may not be a reliable indicator of one’s true position after calming down and really thinking through what is going on between you. The propensity to blame another for the situation ignores the systemic and co-determined nature of troublesome dynamics.

Make no mistake.  Anger is real. It is powerful. A good rule of thumb:  Do not act upon it until you buy some time.  Take time to cool down. Self-soothe. Think. Reconsider. Then reconsider again. Try to see your own part in the dynamic. Take on these challenges. Then revisit the problem.

I agree with marriage and family pioneers, Michael Kerr and Murray Bowen. In their classic work entitled FAMILY EVALUATION (1988), the reader is called upon to consider the uses of anger in a close relationship. Is someone “angry” because they are merely emotionally reactive to another or are they taking a reflectively determined posture for self? As Kerr and Bowen (1988) assert, “Everybody proclaims the importance of being a self, but much of what is done under that rubric is selfish and fails to respect others. Many so-called ‘I’ positions are really attempts to get others to change or are attempts to pry oneself loose from emotionally intense situations” (p. 108). Such efforts may reflect an inability to see one’s own part in the problem or an unwillingness to take responsiblity for one’s own contribution to a reactive dynamic.  Anxiety that gathers steam between two people often produces polarizing postures that are critical and blaming (or even revert to contempt) of one another. This propensity toward blame is a red flag for people who are getting stuck in the mire of relationship trouble. They are unable to see their contribution to the co-determined dysfunctional dynamic.

An effort toward differentiation of self puts no pressure on others to change. There is a realization that the more one pressures another to change, the more that person will “push back” and remain the same. Most importantly, being a principle-driven self is not conditional–it does not require the other person’s cooperation. It is not about, “Well, if only HE would begin to (fill in the blank), then I COULD (fill in the blank).  It is key to realize that differentiated positions are not fueled by anger or righteous postures. As Kerr and Bowen insightfully point out (p. 108), “Anger can sometimes be a stimulus to clarify one’s thinking, but it is not a reliable guide for action. When someone angrily and dogmatically claims to be a ‘self,’ he is usually unsure of his position and is blaming others for his plight in life….Differentiation is a product of a way of thinking that translates into a way of being. It is not a therapeutic technique. Techniques are borne out of efforts to change others.” Amen.

Dr. Cunningham practices in the heart of Mission Valley and offers evening hours and a complimentary phone consultation. To get more information, call her at 619 9906203 or visit her at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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See full size image Relationship counseling and marriage counseling are offered with both daytime and evening hours in the heart of San Diego by Dr. Barbara Cunningham, a licensed marriage and family therapist with her doctorate in marriage and family therapy. In her practice with couples and individuals, she offers people the opportunity to maximize their potential in the context of their relationships. Following is a list of ten tips to improve your relationship functioning:

1. See if you can identify a repetitive cycle that is not useful in your relationship. For example, you may be a pursuer while your partner distances. Of you may overfunction while your partner underfunctions.

2. Try to see if you can identify your part in how this stuck dynamic continues and change it up!

3. Keep your eye on what IS working in the relationship and notice it, both internally and in vocalizing it to your partner.

4. Go on regular and, at least, weekly date nights. Take turns planning and executing the date night–making “surprise” a key element for your partner.

5. In the words of Ghandi, be the change you wish to see.

6. Choose your words carefully, taking special care to avoid blame, criticalness, contemptuousness, or stonewalling (Thanks, John Gottman).

7. Practice self care. The more you model that you love yourself, the more loveable you become!

8. Be a self. Know where you stop and he/she begins. Be willing to risk disapproval in the service of keeping connected and engaged. Just choose your words in a way that will minimize a defensive reaction in your partner. Make your statements from an “I” perspective instead of “You should/shouldn’t” perspective.

9. Play with your partner!

10. Work WITH your partner. Be more interested in being connected rather than in being right!

To learn more about Dr. Cunningham’s model of practice and how relationship counseling can be useful, visit her website at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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Often, couples come into therapy looking for the therapist to fix their partner. They want their partner to say and do things to make them feel as if they are loved and valued. Every one wants to feel loved and valued. However, sometimes we go about getting the love we want in a backwards way.

Mistakenly, many people think love needs to be proven by action. Instead of getting busy loving, many people are checking to see if they are getting the love they want. These misguided couples may be hypervigilant in looking to see whether their partner has done something wrong, or they are hypercritical of everything the partner says or does not say to them about their value or their attractiveness or anything else. This is the wrong approach!

I tell my clients to think of love as an action, as a verb. Erich Fromm, in his classic entitled THE ART OF LOVING, points out that love is an art. He asserts that to truly love, one must possess maturity, self-knowledge and courage. What this looks like in real life varies. However, one facet of this behavior is to be able to hear difficult material from your partner without clobbering him or her for being authentic. It is in being transparent–in being able to be naked emotionally when one wants to be “seen”–that wall socket connections to important others can be made. Love is a developmental triumph. It takes self-discipline, creativity, and courage. As Katherine Hepburn once said, “Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get–only with what you are expecting to give–which is everything.” To learn more about my model of practice, visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 99906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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Initial assessment must evaluate for the presence of any safety issues.  For example, if significant depression is part of the presenting picture, I routinely assess for suicidal ideation, and, if present, evaluate the lethality of the threat.  Symptoms may require a medical evaluation to rule out serious physical problems.  Elder abuse, child abuse, neglect, and domestic violence must be addressed if relevant in initial assessment protocols.

From a life cycle perspective, I want to “. . . track family patterns over time, noting particularly those transitions at which families tend to be more vulnerable because of the necessary readjustments in relationships. . . . Problems are most likely to appear when there is an interruption or dislocation in the family life cycle, whether because an untimely death, a chronic illness, a divorce, or a migration forces family members to separate or because a family is unable to launch a child or tolerate the entry of a new in-law grandchild” (McGoldrick, 1995, p. 31).   It is important to be aware of the typical triangles and issues at each stage of family life (McGoldrick & Carter, 2001).  

From the perspective of my model of practice at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com, which is heavily informed by Bowen Family Systems Therapy, outcome is viewed very differently from other theories. A small change in one person may significantly change his/her life course, and such a small change cannot be implemented without therapy that may last several years.  Also, a small change in one person may not be reflected in the family system for three or more generations.  Kerr and Bowen (1988) state that “The more generations of a family included in an assessment, the greater will be the divergence in functioning. . .  Given sufficient generations, every family will produce people from the extreme of remarkably high functioning to schizophrenia” (p. 221).   Kerr and Bowen clarify that “. . .  the most extreme forms of manic-depression, alcoholism, and obsessive-compulsive neurosis, for example, develop over the course of at least several generations. . . . Most distinctions between diagnostic categories may eventually be discarded in favor of a continuum ranging from mild occasional depression to chronic psychosis. . . so saying that the intensity of symptoms is generations deep does not necessarily mean that the actual symptoms have been present in preceding generations.  It means that basic levels of differentiation are generations deep” (p. 241). 

It is important to understand that all people diagnosed with a specific disorder are not the same emotionally (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).  As Kerr and Bowen explain, “There may be an inherited predispositon (genetic or otherwise) to [a disease like] manic-depression, but all people who have such symptoms are not equally adaptive. Those with low levels of differentiation have lives that are usually unstable in most aspects. . . those with higher levels of differentiation may have only one or two [episodes] in a lifetime. . . . The age of onset, severity and impairment of life functioning associated with all psychiatric diagnoses can be understood in the context of the multigenerational emotional process” (pp. 240-41).   Some instances involve a combination of markedly impaired adaptiveness and fairly minimal life stress and produce a psychosis.  In other instances, a combination of strong adaptiveness and extreme life stress can precipitate a psychosis.   Kerr and Bowen explain that “Whether the potential for psychosis is actually part of everyone is difficult to determine. . . because there are so many other ways people manage anxiety.  For example, there may be learned or genetically based psychological as well as biological tendencies that determine that a given individual will, when under stress, develop serious physical or social symptoms rather than emotional ones.  This does not mean that the potential for psychosis is absent. . . . It just means he manages his anxiety, even when under extreme stress, in a different way” (p. 240). 

The Bowen therapist is concerned with assessing intensity in relationship.  Papero (1990) describes an intense interaction as “. . . one in which strong feeling states are produced and very rapidly transmitted among the participants to the exchange. . . . Intense anxiety is a strong fear of real or imagined events.  The more intense an interaction, the greater the likelihood that individuals involved will behave automatically, that is in response to the emotional system with the intellectual system being overriden” (p. 41).  Such automatic behavior is viewed as reactivity. 

Since Bowen family systems is based in natural systems rather than cybernetic systems, the focus in not on homeostasis so much as it is focused on reciprocity.  Thus, if one person’s functioning declines, another person’s functioning may rise. As such, it is possible, for example, that one sibling’s success may predict another sibling’s failure.  Similarly, if an overfunctioning spouse decreases his/her functioning, the underfunctioning spouse should improve.

Kerr and Bowen (1988) state, “It is the basic level of differentiation that is largely determined by the degree of emotional separation a person achieves from his family of origin. . . basic level is fairly well established by the time a child reaches adolescence and usually remains fixed for life, although unusual life experiences or a structured effort to increase basic level at a point later in life can lead to some change in it” (p.98).  A given sibling will have a slightly greater or lesser amount of differentiation than his/her parents. 

As opposed to basic differentiation, functional differentiation is dependent on the relationship process.  As such, people with very different basic levels can, under favorable circumstances, have similar functional levels (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).  Related to functional differentiation is the concept of pseudo-self, which refers to “. . . knowledge and beliefs acquired from others that are incorporated by the intellect and are negotiable in relationships with others.  Pseudo-self is created by emotional pressure and can be modified by emotional pressure” (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).

  Kerr and Bowen (1988) explain, “Assessment of the basic level of differentiation of a multigenerational family is one component of the assessment of basic level of differentiation of an individual.  A second component is the impression about the individual’s awareness of the  self in relationship.  Change can occur when people apply their will to their own self-differentiation rather than trying to will others to change.  In this way, one can change one’s position in his/her family system.

Bowen (1978) did not consider the interpretation of transference as the way to change. Instead, Bowen thought that “. . . the therapist should try to stay out of the transference as much as possible by functioning in a detriangled manner that kept it fulminating within the family in front of him” (Friedman, 1991, p. 154).  I agree, and coach clients to resolve transference directly with family members, especially within their primary triangles.  In clients’ one-to-one meetings with siblings and parents, the effort is to develop an adult-to-adult relationship with each individual family member.  By taking problems back to their original sources, the client is on a direct route to altering the etiological factors giving rise to current problems.  Through revisiting one’s position, especially in his/her primary triangle, and by reviewing childhood distortions, the client’s perceptions become more realistic.  In this way, family cutoffs can be repaired and fused positions can be shifted, which diminishes family anxiety.  It is in this context that the client can change from a focus on others to a focus on self-in-relation.

Bowen (Kerr & Bowen, 1988) believed that the process of change takes time.  Change is not equated with symptom relief or even feeling better, but with an increase in the level of differentiation of the family.  Long-term therapy increases the depth with which the client addresses multigenerational processes (Friedman, 1991), and this requires a commitment to therapy that may last several years.  Change occurs outside of therapy, as the Bowen coach sends clients back to work with their families of origin.

To affect change in the system, I work with the person most motivated to change, who often is the overfunctioner.  The goal of the work with this person is to develop a differentiated leader, one who can lead the family in a way that will have a positive effect on all members.

Horizontal and vertical stressors challenge the system in varying degrees, depending on the level of differentiation in the individual and in the family.  By raising levels of differentiation, more flexible and adaptive responses to change can increase Bowen, 1978).

Marked upward or downward changes in differentiation from one generation to the next are uncommon.  Each sibling may have a little bit more or a little bit less differentiation than may his/her parents.  Children that are focused upon more heavily are not as differentiated as those left freer to grow and develop (Kerr & Bowen, 1988).  Thus, the position of each sibling in his/her family of origin may be more or less fortunate, leading to small but varying differentiation in lines of the family.  Much as it takes several variables all lined up correctly to spawn a hurricane, so it is with negative outcomes in the human being and his/her family system.  If only one variable is changed, it can prevent the storm that might otherwise have occurred.

 Bowen (1978) bypassed the marital fusion of the nuclear family in favor of focusing on at least three generations of the extended family (Titelman, 1987).  Bowen (1978) concluded that “. . . families in which the focus is on the differentiation of self in the families of origin automatically make as much or more progress in working out the relationship system with spouses and children as families seen in formal family therapy in which there is a principal focus on the interdependence in the marriage” (p. 545).

I believe that people are doing the best they can with the tools that they have at any given time.  I also view the principles of psychic determinism (Freud, 1924; Brenner, 1973) and evolution as complementary.  One thing follows naturally from another. To attend to the evolving process between people while at the same time analyzing the evolving process within people is the heart and soul of my theory of change.

To learn more about my model of practice and pick up some free tips just by visiting the web site, visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation!

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See full size imageAt my marriage counseling practice in San Diego, I encourage couples to make their relationship their number one priority. Often times, couples’ reality needs and daily demands create a gaping hole in the social life of the couple. I recommend weekly date nights to keep the couple’s relationship at the top of the hierarchy of things to do. Below is a list of free dates couples can enjoy in our beautiful San Diego playground, as cited by San Diego.Org:

1. Head to San Diego’s many beaches, all free to the public, to swim, body surf or hang-ten. Play in the sand, collect seashells or just bask in the sun.

2. Visit La Jolla Cove and see the magnificent sunset on the ocean. La Jolla Cove is one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world.

3. Visit downtown San Diego’s Seaport Village for hours of free entertainment, leisurely strolling and window-shopping. Enjoy a laid-back day of hanging out in the grass and watching the many passing yachts and ships on picturesque San Diego Bay, or take in the sights from one of the many bay-view eateries.

4. Stroll through the 16½-block historic Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego and view the renovated turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, home to boutiques, art galleries, specialty shops and more.

5. Fly a kite along the grassy field in the Tecolote Shores of Mission Bay Park, a 4,600-acre aquatic park. Here, away from trees and overhead wires, friends and family gather to launch colorful kites into the bay breezes.

6. Enjoy free organ concerts at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Spreckels Organ Pavillion in Balboa Park. The Organ Pavillion features one of world’s largest outdoor pipe organs, a San Diego landmark since 1914, where organists play traditional favorites, waltzes and show tunes on enormous 32-foot pipes.

7. Visit Old Town and witness the living legacy of San Diego history. Guests are also invited to wander free through Old Town’s historic buildings, including the blacksmith shop, Seeley Stables, Stewart House, Estudillo House and the oldest schoolhouse in San Diego.

8. Bike or jog along Mission Bay Park’s many trails. Joggers and walkers share more than 20 miles of scenic running paths that wind through sunlight and shade near the shoreline and feature workout courses at planned stations along the route.

9. Visit the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista for a free tour of the 150-acre facility, including training fields and tracks, athlete dorms and the Otay Lake Reservoir. Tours are offered daily from the Copley Visitor Center between 10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m-3 p.m. on Sunday.

10. Stargaze outside the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park on the first Wednesday of every month. The San Diego Astronomy Association sets up huge telescopes to offer guests a great view of all the stars in the night sky.

11. Take a scenic, one-hour drive to Mt. Laguna. Once there, hop out for an invigorating hike and enjoy the fresh mountain air whispering through the pines.

12. Step back in time with a stop in Julian, a century-old gold mining town in the Cuyamaca Mountains. Pick up a free map at the Chamber of Commerce for a self-guided walking tour of the area’s historic sites and later enjoy a slice of homemade apple pie – a Julian specialty!

13. Grab your picnic basket and head to Torrey Pines State Park where you can watch talented and daring hang-gliders do tricks in the strong winds that sweep along the coastline cliffs.

14. The 59 Mile Scenic Drive allows travelers to take in all of the must-see places in San Diego.

15. Rollerblade, skateboard or bicycle along the Mission Beach Boardwalk, a scenic 3-mile boardwalk along picturesque Mission and Pacific Beaches.

16. Visit Mission Trails Regional Park to explore the cultural, historical and recreational aspects of San Diego. Stop at the Visitor’s Center and learn about the wonders of nature and the people who once lived on the land. Or, roam through the park’s 40 miles of natural and developed hiking and biking trails.

17. Go scuba diving or snorkeling off San Diego’s shores and see spectacular creatures of the sea. La Jolla Cove offers some of the clearest waters on the California coast, as well as miles of protected underwater preserves to explore.

18. Go bird watching at the Torrey Pines State Reserve. Located high above Torrey Pines State Beach, the area is home of the rare and ancient Torrey Pine as well as a beautiful protected habitat for swifts, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrentits.

19. Stroll through Balboa Park and marvel at its beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. While there, take advantage of the park’s variety of offerings, including 15 museums (select museums free on Tuesdays for San Diego residents), free daily park tours, public organ concerts (Sundays), and spectacular gardens (seven are free daily).

20. Visit other museums around town that offer similar free days. In its La Jolla facility, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is free on the third Tuesday of each month; the downtown facility is free daily.

21. Gather family, friends and firewood for a cozy beach bonfire at one of the beaches in San Diego County, including Coronado Beach, La Jolla Shores and Mission Beach.

22. Explore the tidepools in Point Loma at low tide and get up close and personal with flowery anemones, scampering shore crabs, elusive octopus, spongy deadman’s fingers and many other magnificent sea creatures.

23. Drive to the top of Mt. Soledad in La Jolla for breathtaking, 360-degree views of San Diego, including the gently curving La Jolla coastline and Mission Bay. Spectacular views of San Diego’s East County communities also await guests at the top of Mt. Helix.

24. Visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and experience the natural beauty of the desert. The 600,000-acre park is one of the largest state parks in the United States and each spring, following winter rains, explodes into a rainbow of colorful wildflower blossoms.

25. Take a scenic walk along The Big Bay, San Diego’s “largest attraction.” With 27 miles of waterfront featuring bayside parks, marinas, hundreds of shops and restaurants, and miles of promenades and bikeways, the Big Bay appeals to all ages and interests.

Date nights are an important part of any conscientious couples’s week. It is important to care and nurture your relationship, just as you care and nurture your children.To learn more about my effective model of practice, visit me on the web at http:www.Cunninghamtherapy.com and get some free tips just for stopping!

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In my marriage counseling practice, I often have couples ask me to teach them communication skills in order to improve their marriage. I always tell them that people can make more long lasting progress in improving their relationship when they focus on their own part in driving the reactive emotional process running between them rather than on learning new communication techniques. Yes, it is helpful to learn tools, such as how to initiate what John Gottman calls “soft startups.” If you want your partner to be able to “hear” you, for example, it is important to set the stage for a positive exchange. Open with a genuine compliment before you make a request. Learn ways to make effective repair attempts once embroiled in a heated discussion. Research by Markman and Notarius (1994) found that relationships can withstand significant conflict as long as it is offset by much more positive communication, through expressions of love, appreciation, respect, and enjoyable interaction. John Gottman’s research identifies four lethal forms of communication: stonewalling, contemptuousness, criticalness, or defensiveness. He identifies these communication styles as the “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse.” In reality, couples fight because of  a real or perceived threat to attachment safety. Thus, learning “techniques” does not get at the underlying emotional issues. To learn more about my model of practice and get some free tips just for stopping, visit my web site at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com

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How is it that some people are able to make their marriages or relationships grow and flourish  year after year? Oftentimes, when people break up, they truly believe that they just chose the wrong partner. In many cases, this is simply not true! People who believe that the problem in their relationship is with the other person lose opportunities for self-reflection and personal growth. Even more, people with an anxious focus on changing the other may make the problem in the relationship remain. The very things that are feared may be created in the anxiety of trying to work on the problem through changing the other person.The following 8 tips may help you to keep your eye on yourself and thus increase your chances to optimize your chances of staying together:

1. Be present and accountable in having important conversations about emotional issues in your relationship in a timely fashion. Do not avoid talking about difficult topics or feelings will fester and get expressed in dysfunctional ways.

2. Keep your focus on yourself rather than on identifying what is wrong with your partner. Do not expect your partner to change in order to make your life more emotionally comfortable. Instead, see what changes YOU can make in how you interact to shift the negative dynamic.

3. Strive to be as genuine as possible in your communication.

4. Avoid blame and criticalness. Stick to making I statements and try to look at your part at all times.

5. Know your bottom line-what you will and won’t tolerate in a relationship with your partner. Work at noticing when you are just giving in and avoid doing so, to prevent resentment from infecting the relationship.

6. Create some of your own traditions. Traditions are part of the glue in your relationship.

7. Do not try to manage your partner’s relationships with other family members.

8. Do not talk about your relational issues with other family members. Intimacy is between two people and triangling in others may relieve you in the short run. In the long run, it chips away at your special, intimate bond.

To learn more, visit me at http://www.Cunninghamtherapy.com or call me at 619 9906203 for a complimentary phone consultation.

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