Best Money I Ever Spent

I’m writing a book.

Actually, I’m well into the process and expect for it to be available in August.  I have titled it Divorce (or Not): A Guide, and its 300+ pages will cover much of what I have pondered, and learned, professionally over the past 40 years.  Each step in the process of conceiving, creating and honing this book has been rich with the gems I have Cover.1uncovered about both how to approach such a project and, well,  my own darned self.  For anyone who has felt they wanted to write a book, but has not put fingertip to keyboard, here is a brief description of my experience.

1.  Conception:  Many of us have at least one book marinating inside our heads.  If you have ever said, “I’d like to write a book,” then you’ve got one resting comfortably inside your cranium.  That is step one.

2.  Blurting: I finally goosed myself into writing when I sat down in April, 2014 and prepared a Table of Contents, which was a good outline for what I wanted to say.  Then, I just blurted.  I spent about five months simply getting it out of my head and into my computer.  I knew it did not matter how it sounded because nobody was going to see it but me.

3.  First Refinement Phase(s):  Once out there, I started to laboriously review, reorganize and clean up what I had written.  Again, this was for my eyes only.

4.  First Feedback Phase:  Once I felt okay with it, I sent my work product out to a handful of dear, and smart, friends for feedback.  I was initially nervous about this step, but had recently bought a great book Thanks for the Feedback – The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well and it helped gird my loins for external comment on my baby.  People were generous and spot-on with a number of their comments.  In response, I put the book through a massive re-organization and re-write.  I shared the new approach with a smaller group of people because, to be honest, I was afraid of burning people out.  After all, it is quite the gift of time and energy to read someone else’s work and give thoughtful, cogent feedback.  After positive comment, I was ready to find an editor.

5.  Working With an Editor:  Thus, the title of this blog post.  A web search brought me to the site of the Northwest Independent Editors Guild, and after a fairly thorough vetting process I chose my current favorite person in the entire world (FPITEW) other than my wife and daughter (FPITEWOTMWAD), Jennifer D. Munro.  Last week, I finished  reviewing her comments and I don’t think a day went by that I failed to send her an ardent appreciative email.  A good editor projects such care onto your creation.  The process of improving the work product while maintaining the writer’s voice is challenging and if you are lucky, you will find that combination of skill and kindness.  (It didn’t hurt that Jennifer liked my sense of humor.)  I believe I am an excellent writer.  I enjoy the process and for years have received uniformly positive feedback.  I believe this affirmation gave me the confidence to embark on the project in the first place.  Yet, I have learned a great deal about writing and the places I can improve, markedly,  through Jennifer’s kind and rapier-sharp feedback.  There were many places throughout my review of her “track changes” comments that I thought, “This comment is appropriate and helpful.  I can imagine it having been made by someone with a harsher hand and instead of learning an important lesson I can use in the future, I would have been chagrined, embarrassed, defensive and dispirited.  I’d had enough of that kind of treatment in my first year in law school many years ago.”

So here’s to you Jennifer Munro.  Every cent I pay you for your service is the best money I ever spent.

If I End Up With Alzheimer’s…….

When we baby boomers get together, I find that the conversation often migrates over to talk consistent with our age and stage in life.  Our bodies are no longer taken for granted, as they are with my daughter and other young people we are blessed to know (all in their 20’s and 30’s).  High on the list of topics is the frightening specter of Alzheimer’s, which can slowly rob us of our identity.  No other organ can fail and strip us of our sense of self like our Sandy.Bembrains.  In a brilliantly written, deeply felt and penetrating piece in the 5/17/15 New York Times Magazine, Robin Marantz Henig tracks the degeneration of Sandy Bem, a woman of unfathomable life force who was diagnosed at the age of 65.   Upon presentation with the unalterable diag – and prog-nosis, she made the decision that when she had deteriorated to the point of being completely dependent and unable to “be myself,” she would voluntarily end her own life.

I cannot count the times I have heard friends and comrades in my generation utter with complete assurance that if they were diagnosed with a degenerative dementia, they would choose to end their lives before they reached a certain point of cognitive deterioration.  I have known people in my parents’ generation who said the same thing, and who invariably failed to do so.  Such a statement is like the thoughts that ease the pain of depression – “I could kill myself.”  Yet such thoughts, which promise relief from the pounding, dominating inner pain, are not, in themselves, a plan to suicide.  Similar is the, “If I get Alzheimer’s, I’ll…..” statement.  Sandy Bem, however, followed through in a thoughtful and very focused manner.  The story is one of fortitude, grief, and devotion.

I have never rSandy.Bem.2ead, in so short a space, a clearer portrait of the unrelenting loss of person-hood.  As her time for action on her commitment approached, her husband (from whom she had been separated, but never divorced) was her constant companion.  Her adult daughter resisted the decision and wanted one more year – one more month – whatever she could get – for her mother to spend time with her baby.  I have a good friend, Don Desonier, who has transitioned from a family lawyer and mediator to a caregiver/coach and family mediator for families struggling with this dark and painful challenge.  He was a long-time caregiver for his wife, Nancy, who died two years ago after her losing battle with dementia.

There are many changes that our society will experience in the coming decades.  My daughter’s whip-smart boyfriend said over dinner this weekend that the political landscape will be completely different in 20 years.  As we have come to accept – actually embrace – same sex unions, I believe we will accept – even embrace – conscious dying, as we struggle as a culture to address the new challenges wrought by longevity and medicine’s maintenance of the physical body.  The New York Times essay, together with the most affecting piece I have ever read  (in which Katy Butler describes the mental deterioration of her brilliant father who had been a professor at Wesleyan University) are but two of a growing number of personal reflections which wrestle with one of the great personal, familial and cultural challenges of our age.

Living the Good Life ?

A New York Times article appeared on April 27th featuring the struggles faced by recent law school graduates, 20% of whom, according to one survey, are not working at a job weatlh.1that requires a license to practice law.  This rather desperate state of affairs was introduced by the story of 29 year old Jonathan Wang, a Columbia Law School graduate who is quoted as saying, “I would spend three years at school in New York, then work for a big law firm and make $160,000 a year, and someday, I would become a partner and live the good life.”

Really?

So what is the “good life” that Jonathan and his cohorts strive to achieve?   It sounds an awful lot like making a lot of money and then enjoying all the money he made.  I don’t hear him talking about a deeply satisfying work life which responds to whatever inner calling he brings with him – be it service to a population he is attracted to, intellectual curiosity, deep engagement in the machinery that makes this society just and workable.  Does the “good life” include time with his family – the chance to spend leisurely weekend mornings lazing in bed with his kid(s) crawling all over him or the loving rituals he will share with his partner that will keep them secure and bonded?  Does “the good life” include a spiritual calling – be it a membership in an embracing congregation, or the awe he might experience in moments of private reflection?  Does it include doing good works for no compensation other than the knowledge that you have contributed to the well-being of others?

This mwealth.2ay be very generational, but I really don’t understand it when young people say they want to retire when they are 50, or even 40.  I never hear (it may be said, but I’m not hearing it) that these people, who wish to sacrifice their early adult years for a “good life” later, speak of what they want to do with this good life other than spend the money they have sacrificed to amass.  Meanwhile, they will likely find they must spend a lot of time, emotional energy  (and money) attempting to reweave the bonds with their loved ones which have frayed and stretched as they have become embedded in a culture of striving for great financial reward.  We should not forget that lawyers have a unique and valuable role in our society.  No other profession studies the way a society works – how common disputes can be resolved in a productive way.  It has been said that doctors are healers of the body; ministers are healers of the soul and lawyers are the healers of the society.  It is a bit of a perversion to see the practice of law as an avenue to riches.  It has become sadly common to think of it that way.  Yet, we can’t escape the fact that lawyers have a frighteningly high proportion of their population suffering from depression.  Google “lawyers” and “depression” and you’ll see what I’m talking about.  It’s good, actually, that the practice of law may no longer be a gilded path to wealth.  Hopefully, this will result in a greater number of young people not succumbing to the siren call of some “good life” and who may choose, instead, to contribute their skill, knowledge and earned wisdom so we can all live a good life.

 

And the Winner for Most Ridiculous Ad Message is……..

I was watching some sporting event over the weekend and was jolted alert by a Cadillac ad which carried one of the most offensive messages I had ever heard blurt through my speakers.  “A weak man urges compromise,” said the narrator as a brand spanking new, full loaded Caddy rolled into view.cadillac-logo-wallpaper

Seriously?  Who were the people that cooked up that piece of rancid filet mignon?  In my experience, refusal to compromise has led to governments that shut down, rampaging armies that blow across a distant desert and, on a more personal level, couples that explode in pain and acrimony.   Compromise is actually a sign of confidence and inner strength.  Compromise is a sign of resilience.  We all have our ideas of the way our lives should go and what we’d like others to do in order to satisfy our needs.  Those things aren’t going to happen much of the time.  Why?  Because almost always, those other people have different, sometimes incompatible needs. This comes up all the time in mediation.  That’s why mediators are so valuable.  Two (or more) people with deeply felt and important competing needs are challenged by the necessity of resolving their conflict.  How do you think that’s going to work when one or both are thinking, “To compromise is to display weakness”?

Compromise does not mean loss.  One of the most inaccurate and destructive adages I have heard (and I have heard it frequently from litigating lawyers) is that, “the best settlement is one in which both sides feel equally bad.”  Compromise does not mean you are giving up something that pains you to abandon.  Rather, it means that you have chosen to relax your insistence that every element of your collection of needs is so important that you will experience pain upon their relinquishment.  That is not true for people who can summon up the resilience to understand that all needs are not based on unbreakable principle and a personal goal may be compromised in order to fulfill the needs of the other person(s).  Compromise is not a sign of weakness.  Effective mediators are also valuable in that positions which one feels they cannot compromise, can be translated (transformed) into “interests” which can be satisfied in a variety of ways.  Positions force us to draw lines in the sand.  These positions are always, always, supported by needs and interests which can often be satisfied in ways that will allow the other person(s) to experience acknowledgment of their own needs and interests.

Compromise reflecting weakness?  Far from it.  Shame on you, Cadillac, for projecting this painful myth.  Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Therapy Thoughts – How Often to Come In?

There was a time when I would be very accommodating to couples who wanted to come in every other week or every three weeks.  The reasons calendar.were certainly understandable.  Finances are always a consideration.  Many couples are very busy and have to work to squeeze in a couples therapy appointment when they can.  Two jobs and children will do that to you!  Then, a while ago, I realized that this was a big mistake and a disservice to my couples.  Here’s why –

Albert Einstein shared this brilliant insight: We cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that created the problem.  No better words could describe effective relationship therapy. In a prior post I discussed the rule that what couples are talking about really isn’t what they are talking about.  To repeat what I said there, people come into a therapist’s office locked into this repeated disagreement that is driving them nuts.  A very common example many of us have experienced involves division of household chores.  The woman, usually, complains (often bitterly) that he does not help around the house.  She feels like his maid and she is very angry about that.  The man will often respond that this is just not so.  Why, just two days ago, he did all the dishes after dinner and she gives him no credit for the mowing, gutter work and other chores he performs.  Her exasperated reply is that he doesn’t understand.  It’s the day-to-day chores that keep the house running that all fall on her.  He gets defensive and comes up with more evidence of his own contributions.    Many maddening couples’ conflicts look like debates.  One person states their side.  The other responds by stating their side.  The first repeats what they said to begin with, maybe trying to say it a different way, maybe ladling on more supportive evidence.  Whatever the words that spill forth, these conflicts usually reduce down to “I’m right,.”  “No, I’m right.” “No, I’m right.”   Like I said earlier, it drives these poor people nuts.  The chance of a satisfying resolution falls just behind that of Donald Trump converting to Islam and losing the wig.

One of the keys to effective Emotionally Focused Therapy is the dawning understanding by each partner that the process of their conflict is what needs healing.  They will never resolve the content of their disagreements without understanding and finding the safety to share the needs that underlie the cycle of conflict.  The content is a proxy for what’s really eating at each of them.  Understanding their particular cycle will almost always lower the anxiety and energy which fuels the intense and painful conflicts they endure.  Yet, this is a new way of thinking.  Without consistent reminders and the efforts of a therapist who can point out who the raging disputes over……whatever is upsetting them, a couple will fall back into the thinking that brought them into the therapist’s office to start with.  Thus, if couples only come in once every two or three or four weeks during the initial phase of this work, they will almost never get it.  They will spin round and round in their cycle.  They’ll maybe get it during a particular meeting, but then completely lose the thread if the gap is greater than a week.  So, really, in this kind of work, any schedule for meetings that extends beyond one week, is, I believe, a waste of time and money.  My recommendation – don’t engage in relationship counseling (particularly Emotionally Focused Therapy) unless you are willing to devote the first three or four months to weekly meetings.

Therapy Thoughts – The Importance and Elusiveness of Self-Compassion

You may have heard.  The Seahawks lost.  They didn’t just lose – they tore out the heart of a region with a poorly called or poorly executed or poorly blessed play at the end of the Seahawk.cryingSuper Bowl.  If you haven’t heard, then you’re not reading this and are probably foraging for breakfast on your deserted island.  As for the rest of us….wow!  Wow wow wow wow.  On Monday after the game, I processed this hardly imaginable disaster with a few friends and none of them had slept on Sunday night.  My wife, who doesn’t give a hoot for sports, recovered about five seconds after Butler’s interception.  I usually pity her for not being able to get excited about the drama of good sports contests, but this week I envied her.  Seriously, this was a visceral blow to those of us who were all engaged with this scintillating drama.

Then again, it wasn’t Ebola.  It wasn’t a suicide bomb detonating at our place of worship.  Tanks aren’t rolling down our street to crush dissent.  My family is healthy and secure.  Really, in the big picture, it IS a game and three days later, I’m just glad I’m not one of the team members.  Now, they must be having a real hard time right now.  Still, their families are safe and they  will be able to cash their checks.  This all got me to thinking about people in therapy who have suffered emotionally in their lives and who dismiss their pain by saying, often glibly, “What right have I to complain?  I’m not blind.  I’m not a starving child in Africa.”  Well, that’s true.  Our distress can often be easily dismissed as “First World Problems,” but to do this matter-of-factly really misses what I think is a very important point.

People who struggle emotionally have a really heartbreaking paucity of self-compassion.  There seems to be this either/or duality in our thinking, so that we think that the choice is (a) wring our hands and cry “woe is me,” collapsing into a mound of self-pitying protoplasm, or (b) dismiss our pain because we have two functioning legs (and others don’t) or two functioning eyes (and others don’t), etc.  However, I do believe that many of us hold fear, shame, grief and other honest and very real feelings inside (and usually have for a long, long time).  When we first experienced the violations or wounds that caused us to experience these, we also reasoned with our youthful brains that we could never show the world, or ourselves, the horrible pain or the belief that a powerful force outside ourselves (adult parental figures) were wrong or uncontrollable.  That would be intolerably confusing and frightening.  So we hold it inside and when we get older dismiss our deepest wounds with off-hand comments like, “What do I have to complain about…”   In dealing with most of the world, that’s a smart decision.  But in our closest relationships, or in therapy, by thinking these thoughts, we deny ourselves the care we have longed for and, at the same time, found so risky.  I have sat in amazement and great sadness watching the determined energy with which  people bat away truly caring statements from their partners in couples therapy – or me in individual work.  We are so many things in our lives – filled with such an array of feelings.  Many such feelings are safe to show to the world.  Others, comprising an essential and intense core, are very risky.  Chief among them is the grief we harbor for the love we needed and the anger, neglect and judgment we received in its stead.  For many of us, it’s part of our personality and isn’t going to simply evaporate over time.  We need to embrace it – embrace ourselves – and allow others to embrace us as well – to embrace our hearts while we are experiencing this grief.  Yes, we have both eyes or both legs – and we also have weeping hearts that we shield from ourselves and others.  If we can be able to say to ourselves, “It’s okay.  That part of myself is there along with all the other parts. I can grieve for the embracing love I needed and didn’t receive” I think we can experience our world more fully and freely – more joyously.    No one is a “victim” unless they choose to be – and that won’t ever get you anywhere.  There’s a difference, though, between embracing our own hearts and letting ourselves be cared for, now, and being a victim.  Self-compassion is one of the great gifts of personal therapy, actually.  Even New England Patriot fans deserve that  in their lives.

The Uncomplicated, Beautiful “Go Hawks”

When I was a kid in L.A., I loved the Dodgers.  It was the era of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills (Perranoski, Fairly, Tommy and Willie Davis – if you were there, you know what I’m talkin’ about) – World Series appearances in ’59, ’63, ’65 and ’66 and a heartbreaking near miss in ’62.  Players didn’t make astronomical salaries and stayed with the same team (and city) throughout their careers.  Ernie  Banks died this week and he was a wonderful man who played with grace and joy for an atrocious Chicago Cubs team for his entire professional life.  It was a nice fantasy – that these guys were playing for us and our neighbors.  Of coSeahawksurse, there was its own brand of injustice to this sweet ideal that a 12 year old boy clutched to his heart.  Professional athletes were forced to stay with the same team by a “reserve clause” in every contract and got paid pretty much what the owners wanted to pay them.

Well, the pendulum has swung to the other pole now with whiplash-inducing velocity.  When Alex Rodriguez signed a 2001 contract paying him $25 million dollars per year, he banked more in 2 days than most fans made in an entire year (over $130,000).  The minimum salary for the major league baseball player who may spend most of the year riding the bench is now $500,000. (Who do you know that makes anywhere near that kind of money?  Few, I would guess.) When a contract is completed, they go to the highest bidder – with an annual salary of $8 million dollars not being good enough if they can make $10 million per year somewhere else.  The days when a pro athlete could remotely be considered “one of us” are long dead and buried.  So has my love for following sport waned – only to pick up if the current team, composed of some familiar and some new, big contract guys start winning.  Owners, like Howard Schultz, unload a “civic institution” like the Seattle Sonics on a group that immediately moves them to Oklahoma City because the place they play can’t accommodate wealthy business people and their hunger for luxury suites.  Professional football players are forced to play a game on Thursday night, given just three days rest after taking a beating equivalent to a mugging with a steel pipe.  Why?  More wealth for the already wealthy.  Boy, talk about the corruption of money in American life – look no further than the world of sports.

And then the Seahawks stage a miraculous comeback and land in their second straight Super Bowl, to be played in three days.  I just received an e-mail from a therapist I don’t know commenting on a piece I just wrote for a local therapists’ newsletter and she ended her message with “Go Hawks!”  I had a couple I work with in therapy end their session two nights ago with the same exhortation.  Drive through Seattle or Bellevue and you can’t go more than two blocks without seeing a “12” banner, signifying the Twelfth Man – the team’s fans.  It doesn’t matter if you are black or white, rich or poor or even freakin’ red blooded or blue blooded.  Everyone around here is pumped and an entire civic culture is joined around two words “Go Hawks.”  If Russell, Marshawn, Richard, Doug, Bobby and the rest of the Legion of Boom win on Sunday, strangers will beam with unalloyed joy at one another for weeks afterward.  If Brady and his crew of talented cheaters prevail, the disappointment well be joined, a great ride having been shared.  So for all the corruption of values inherent in modern sports, the gift to a community – of unity around a goal is refreshing, lifting spirits around this region – regardless of politics, station in life or present circumstances.  When it’s all over, weeks or months from now, we can all go back to our old divisions and gripes. For now, though….Go Hawks!

Therapy Thoughts – Ending Sessions

door.closeCouples therapy sessions last anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes.  Any less than an hour isn’t enough time for themes to develop in the room and people given enough space to explore them together to a satisfying resolution.   Plenty of times, an important subject isn’t raised, or sensitive button pushed, until midway through a meeting and ending on the 50 minute or hour mark feels like an abrupt and unsettling “hard stop.”  More frequently than I, or other couples therapists, would like to admit or experience, even the 90 minute duration won’t end in a nice feeling of something valuable having been tied up, with the clients released back into their world carrying a helpful insight into each other or with a meaningful connection made.  I think one difference between an experienced couples therapist and a newer professional is the ability to manage our own anxiety when a session ends with that unsettling static still in the air.  One person may be holding back (more) tears.  The other may be get up from their seat and hand you their payment in stony silence.  A worry passes through the therapist’s mind, “Will they come back?  Did I blow it somehow?”  Well, welcome to the world of the therapist as a living, breathing person.  We want to help – that’s why we’re in this business.  So, you can imagine the uneasiness when a couples session ends with simmering anger and complicated feelings still spinning within and between the partners.  It’s important for everyone to take a deep breath and realize that these harsh-feeling endings are not a disaster for clients or the work you are doing.  Almost never will a couple feel so distressed after a session that they will decide to abandon the couples therapy altogether.  In fact, oftentimes, couples return the next week and report that they found a way to work through that difficult patch and, while the therapist is all ready to continue with the theme that ended the last session, the people have come in with something entirely different to talk about.  While it is important for therapists not to become anxious about unfinished endings, it is equally important for couples who emerge from such sessions to understand that it’s okay and normal in the world of couples work to periodically end on an off-note.  It happens.  It will be okay.

Divorce and the Holidays

What a rough time for so many of us!  This particularly true if we are newly separated.  A wonderful colleague, Karen Bonnell, was recently on a local television show discussing the challenges parents face during this time.  It is well worth watching, as Karen gives us, in five minutes, a set of very helpful suggestions.  I’d like to highlight a couple of them and add a few thoughts of my own.  HOlidays.2

Probably the most important bit of advice is take care of yourself.  The holidays are such a sad and challenging time for the newly separated.  Even if this is the 2nd, 3rd or even 5th holiday after your transition out of the family you once had, you may find yourself dipping into (in Karen’s words) a “River of Grief.”  Of course, this is especially true if you are not spending time with your little ones.  It is a particularly important time not to be alone.  Let your friends take care of you.  Find your family in those who love you – even if you aren’t feeling so lovable right about now.   Even if you aren’t going to be with your children on Christmas, know that they are going to beHolidays.1 excited to have their own Christmas with you, some time after December 25th and the best thing for a kid other than having Christmas, is having two  Christmases.  Hannukah, of course, gives you the chance to spend a few of the 8 nights with them.  While it is often too easy during this time to ruminate on the losses and sadness, it will serve you and your kids to be able to find the warmth,  friendship and loving-kindness around you.  If your children know that you are okay, it will free them to enjoy their holiday  season.  Your kids will worry  about you if you aren’t happy.  For sure, they’ll know it.  Children have incredibly acute antennae  trained on  their parents’ sense of their own well-being.  If mom or dad aren’t happy, children will invest plenty of energy trying to  take care of  you.  Another interesting suggestion Karen made was that, if you are newly separated, it would be good for children if  you planned  to take a brief, clearly defined, period to celebrate the holiday together with your separated partner and them.  While,  over time, this  will not be something they will need (and you most likely will not want to subject yourself to the intensely mixed  feelings this will  engender), for the first time after separation, it may provide them with a sense of stability that will calm them.

 

The Talking Stick

During the weekend of October 24-26, I attended the annual conference of the International Academy of Collaborative Professstick.talkingionals (IACP) in Vancouver.  I was fortunate to be accepted as a speaker and received a gift which upon returning home, I opened to find a talking stick.  It is a beautiful piece of art with feathers tied to an end with a leather thong.  For those unfamiliar with the talking stick, many indigenous American cultures use this tool when a group of people are meeting to discuss…..well, just about anything.  The stick is passed around and when it is in a person’s grasp, only he or she may speak.  There can be no interruptions, side-talk or other distractions.  There is one person who speaks and the role of all others is to listen.   This process – of providing space for people to express themselves without interruption – is essential to any dispute resolution process – be it couples therapy, divorce mediation or a larger group process.   I always tell people who sit in my office – so full of anxiety about the specter of conflict that hovers in the room – that I will keep the other from interrupting so that each has a space to speak.  I have not hesitated to get up in between people if the sparks start to fly.  “You can do this – you have done this – quite well on your own.  You don’t need to pay me to do this in my office.  My role here is to keep this place safe, so if you are listening to what the other is saying and you believe it is not accurate or you need to defend yourself, please hold it and you will have your opportunity.”  This rule, together with a chiding reminder that conflict is made safer and resolvable when each person talks about their own experience, helps move a process which initially may seem frightening or overwhelming to a platform of acceptance.