Those Papers

I turned 70 last November…..and we’re moving.  Change is in the air.  I feel it in October every year.  Deep Fall colors and the vitality in the crispness.  We will be out of our home of 23 years and it’s time to coalesce and discard.

I have boxes full of photocopied law review articles.  I haven’t counted them, but I’d guess they total more than 100.  They cover topics like mediation, ethics, lawyers’ well being, legal history and similar articles.  I’m going to get it all recycled.  I have no further need for them…yet, to cut them loose feels significant to me.   Those topics have been so important to me over the years.  I wrote about lawyers’ well-being for years in a column in the King County Bar Journal.  I developed and taught the first few years of a class on starting and maintaining your own law practice at U.W. Law School.  Those articles partly informed those endeavors, as well as the book I wrote, Divorce or Not: A Guide.  I guess I have held onto all those (often wonderfully written) pieces because I might write a book or article about some of those topics in the future.

But hey!  Did I say I turned 70 last November?  It has been a trip to move into this decade.  One piece of it is that I’m starting to come to terms with the reality that there are some things I’ll never do in this life. I don’t have the interest in it that I once did.  Plus, I envy the energy possessed by youth.  People have asked if I’m “retiring” and I’m bemused by that notion.  If you are lucky enough to love what you do that generates income for you, then why stop doing it?  Maybe do it less but continue the privilege of sharing part of people’s journey with them.

One of my oldest, closest friends (I met him in the 10th grade) told me that his therapist told him once, “I hold your story.”  I love that.

So….if anybody wants 100 photocopied articles on mediation, ethics, lawyers’ well being, legal history and the like, shoot me an email by September 30

and they’re yours.

Have Mercy

Now is a time that we need to look within the stillness of our hearts and find the mercy that resides there.  Since biblical times, we human beings have convinced ourselves that we can exercise our dominion over the earth – over nature.  And countless times we have been harshly, frighteningly rebuked.  Be it from volcanic explosions, storms, droughts, conflagrations of all sorts.  Life is fragile.  We are now experiencing another of mankind’s many plagues.  If we have a God, we are asking that God for mercy.  As well we should.  We all need mercy.  But if we can’t give each other mercy, how can we expect a divine force to give it?

The same is true in our most intimate relationships.  Just this past week, I heard how a couple tore each other to shreds  because they disagreed about the way to get their daughter home from college.  I heard how she needed her partner’s care because she was so scared and I heard how he needed to feel heard and not dictated to by her and not to feel erased.  I suggested the underlying pain – and need – to each of them, but they are very early in this work and it is hard, yet, to not feel frightened and defended.  They cannot gift the other with mercy, because it is such a leap – such a risk.  Each needs that from the other so wrenchingly.

Maybe this time can be a gift.  The mercy we beseech from our own almighty, we can offer our partner…and ourselves.

This is a frightening time and here in Seattle/Bellevue the losses are starting and will likely grow.  The next month or two will be unlike any of us have ever conceived of, much less experienced.  However, mankind has experienced deep loss and has recovered….with mercy.

My deepest wishes to anyone who reads this blogpost for safety, health and love in this unsettling time.  Love is the only thing that eventually saves us.

Returning to the Blog

This blog has been a real story for me.  i enjoyed blogging for a few years and, for a while, I didn’t bother to look at the Comments.  Then, one night a long time age, I decided to check out the Comments.  They were stupendous!  I had never ever imagined the kinds things people were saying to me about my work.  “Wonderful blog!  I have learned very much from your offerings!”  “Excellent.  I will return to you blog in the future.”  “Etc.”

I ran to my wife and dragged her to my computer – “You have GOT to see this!”  After she read three or four comments, she was equally impressed.  It’s nice to have your partner impressed by something you’ve done.  (That’s a pretty universal sentiment right there, I’d think.)

A few days later, I decided to read more comments to get my ego up.  I mean, there were 360 of them.  (It had been a long time that I hadn’t even thought of looking at Comments.)  Down around the 10th one, I noticed the second Comment that said, “Wonderful blog!  I have learned very much from your offerings!”  Hmm.  Not such a great sign.  So I did a search for the phrase “Wonderful blog!” and something like 25 of the Comments were identical.  Then I started searching other phrases.  Every time I got a handful (or a basket-full) of the same phrase (mostly from businesses who were trying to manufacture traffic, I deleted the Comments.  At the end, I was left with exactly zero original replies to my comments.  Zero.  My wife and I laughed about that for a long time.  Oh well, lessons learned.

But, I began to wonder if anyone read my blogs and if nobody did, I figured I’d put my energy into other stuff.  (Plus, in the very beginning, I had used a photo of a golf ball going into the cup to illustrate one blog post and 5 years later I got a letter from a law firm saying I had violated somebody’s copyright and, of course I had, without thinking about it, and suddenly I was paying a few hundred dollars I hadn’t anticipated.  Thus does the world of blogging erect hazards to the unsuspecting.)  But, back to the Comments – I eased off on my posts – my practice was doing fine and generating Google traffic with “new content” didn’t seem worth the effort for the reward achieved.  I seem to be doing fine without having people see me on Page One of a Google search of, say, “Bellevue Mediators” or “Couples Therapist” or “Joe Shaub.”

But then in the last month or two, I’ve had some people who come in to my office, comment (or should I say Comment) that they had read my website and blog and my brain said, “WHAT?? Someone is reading my blog?”  So, with renewed belief that maybe one person is reading this, I think I’ll start tapping these out again.  What’s the worst thing that can happen?  Maybe I’ll generate 20,000 Comments from Russian bots in the next 9 months.

The Constitutional Convention and Mediation

This will probably end up being the first of a bunch of posts on the United States Constitution.

About two years ago, I was struck by how much people were talking about The Constitution.  I have always been a sucker for U.S. History and I realized that I really didn’t know anything about those four months in the Summer of 1787 and a whole lot of people were going on about Constitution this and Constitution that.  While I had taken a Con Law class as both an undergraduate and a law student, my interest has been more personal than academic.

In October, 2017, I was lucky enough to come across Richard Beeman’s Plain, Honest Men (I brought an arm-load of books on the convention home from the library and Beeman’s book grabbed me from the first paragraph).  I was so taken by his beautiful prose and great skill as a story teller that I tried to find him on the web.  I wanted to send him an email thanking him.  Sadly, I learned that he had died after a long struggle with ALS in 2016.  I was more saddened by the death of someone I hadn’t even known about than I ever had been before.

My first impression upon reading Beeman’s account of the Federal Convention (as it was known then) was that the 55 men who came to Philadelphia represented people who had radical and conflicting beliefs and visions for the United States.  As the convention progressed, I became ever more aware of the skills and processes employed by mediators, today – without which, a compact would never have emerged in September.  I was so taken by this realization that I prepared a talk on Mediation Skills Used by the Framers.  The accompanying paper is a reflection of my thinking on the subject.  You can access my paper on Mediation and the Constitutional Convention, here.

A 3-hour CLE Program has been approved on this topic and will be provided in Bellevue on Monday, August 26, 2019.  You may access the registration page here.

Well, that’s enough for a first post on a pretty big subject!

The Great Debate

Anybody who does something long enough will draw their own conclusions – make their own connections between events & experiences.  No description of the therapy experience could be more apt.  Nothing could be a better example of this series of observations than The Great Debate that enters my office over and again.  So many times, I have sat with two people who seek help with “communication issues” and when I have a chance to experience these frustrating communication conundrums (bet you didn’t think you’d read that  phrase today!) I so often see people descending into their Great Debate.  One person has something they want to get across and after he has laid it out, he will sit back with the hope and expectation that his partner will get it.  Yet, what does she do?  Almost invariably she will respond with her position, hoping that she will be able to communicate  her point of view.  My early trainers and teachers in Emotionally Focused Therapy would continually admonish us not to “go down the content tube.”  With every issue that confronts a couple (sharing housework, dealing with money, struggling over parenting issues, where to go for vacation, etc. etc.) there is his side and her side (or her side and her side or his side and his side).  When people bring these struggles into my office I am shown The Great Debate and invariably (I mean invariably), each person gives up, exhausted and deflated.  As well they would be!!!  

So here’s the way out of this frustrating circle.  Realize that the chances of convincing the other person that you are right and they are wrong will be very slim.  The second step, that is so crucial, is to understand and appreciate that there is something else that feels vital that underlays The Great Debate.  It may be about having a crucial emotional need recognized. It may be about being seen and valued by your partner.  Usually, these needs (which are what the Debate is about on the most fundamental level) are outside of our awareness, yet they spark our intensity.  Needless to say, this devolution into Debate, is a particular interpersonal hazard for those trained in law.  The mistake is to seek to persuade the other.  This will almost always spark the Debate and steer us away from understanding and ultimate agreement – in whatever form that may take.

Struggling with Emotion in Emotionally Focused Therapy

Intimate bonds may be about many different things – shared goals and interests, a “contract” is honored by both partners, “fair fighting” rules and many other elements discussed over the years by a wide array of experts and observers.  However, one thing that sets a committed intimate relationship apart from almost every other relationship is its ability to touch our deepest emotions.  Many is the time I have heard a partner in the depth of distressbrake – experiencing fear, anger or shattering confusion – say to their partner, “I don’t get this way with anyone else!”  That is no doubt true.  Yet, the statement is not so much a reflection of what is wrong with the relationship as it is of what is important about the relationship.  To be human is to be vulnerable.  No mammal is vulnerable as an infant for a longer time than humans beings.  Also, because of our unique and massive brains – particularly the prefrontal cortex (right behind our forehead), we have a fundamental need for emotional attunement from our primary caregivers.  Just look at this video about the “Still Face Experiment” to get an idea of the power of this need.  We can amass all of the money and power available, and maybe by doing this, we never have to acknowledge and visit this vulnerable space inside of us – a vulnerability that comes with our humanity.

Jigsaw Puzzles – Part Deux

During the holiday season over the last three years, I have begun my own little tradition of putting together a work of great art jigsaw puzzle.  The first was Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.  I did it with my daughter and her then-boyfriend and I was going to frame it when we finished and give it to him…then I lost a piece in transit!  That was a bummer, but the puzzle was loads of fun to do.  I had these insights (for me) during the puzzle construction process that I had all over again last year when I did Van Gogh’s Cafe in Arles.  (Seen here.)  And again this year while I’m working on a super hard painting by Renoir.  Like,

  1. I am so grateful for my sense of sight.  Doing a puzzle of a great master of art gets me into the fine details of what these guys were doing.  What looks on first glance like a blazing yellow awning, upon the closer examination a jigsaw puzzle requires, displays flashes of red or different shades of yellow and white.   It is a real treat for the eyes.
  2. There are times when I really, really want a piece to fit.  As hard as I will it, there’s just no fit.  And I want to jam the piece in, but know that’s silly because – it doesn’t fit.  Move on.  Find the piece that fits. You’re not going to force your desired outcome.
  3. The puzzle and I are in a mano a mano competition.  I am trying to fit the pieces together and the puzzle frustrates my efforts.  I put a piece where I know it will fit – and it doesn’t.  “You won that one, puzzle.”  Then I find the piece that fits, and popping it in place is just so satisfying.  “Gotcha!”   In the beginning, the puzzle has its greatest advantage.  No piece is fit together.  I’ve got to figure out where each of these different colored and shaped pieces go.  The process is methodical and slow.  The puzzle laughs  at me.  But ever so slowly, the pieces fall into place and the shapes make the puzzle a little easier – until, finally, I pop in the last piece.  “Good game, puzzle.”  It feels like a competition.  A friendly competition.

I am now done for the holidays.  My Renoir painting is only about 10% finished.  I have slid it onto a board and put it under my bed….until next Thanksgiving.  And then it’s you and me, puzzle.  Just you and me.

It’s Not That What You Did Was Really, Really Bad…

It’s not that what you did was really really bad…it’s that what you did really, really hurt me.

We human creatures are creatures after all.  Staying away from danger is what all creatures do by instinct and we have a lot of nerve endings exposed to our loved one.  We all have “raw spots” as Dr. Sue Johnson elegantly phrases it.  All of us.  Some, because of early ravages may have very sensitive places within and it really doesn’t take a lot of threatening or hurtful contact to make us collapse in self protection like a sea anemone.

If we fight about whether “you did something wrong” and “I demand an apology” we are going to spin ourselves up (and away from each other) very quickly.  I can try again and again to try to get you to see (and admit) that you did something really, really bad.  Yet, you either start to justify yourself or get angry back at me, or both.  I get so mad back at you because you refuse to acknowledge what you did.  And on it goes.

I believe that the way out of this self perpetuating and exhausting (and dispiriting and lonely) cycle is to shift to a true statement that the other person may be able to hear and respond to in a way that makes them feel safe to you again.  That statement would run something like this, “What you did really, really hurt me.”  You’ve got to let your partner see where your sensitive places are. Over and over, I have seen, and read about, and spoken to colleagues about intimate partners in stress and conflict who shift their thinking and speaking in this way who settle down.    They begin to allow the natural attractive force of their bond to overcome the centrifugal force of the conflict.  That shift needs to take time and usually it’s best to do this with the help of a couples therapist.  These are ubersensitive places for us.  We need to approach them cautiously and with respect.  The real stuff down there is (pick one) fragile, scary, raw, threatening…the opposite  of comfortable.  We’ve got to protect ourselves, and if the sensitivity seems big, then the self-protection will be big too.  It’s not easy to say “you hurt me” when the hurt is so deep.  It’s way safer to say “what you did is incredibly bad.”  That won’t get us closer, though and usually we will need a calm guide to help us find those words – find that emotion and talk about it.  That’s why it’s called Emotionally Focused Therapy and not something else.

Cutting Yourself Off from a Toxic Family Member

Many of us are forced to navigate the very turbulent waters of a relationship with a toxic family member.  It can be a parent, a sibling or, even more heartbreaking, a child.  I have noticed over the years that therapists are far more encouraging of such a cutoff than is society, as a whole.  As a therapist, I must say I, also, fall squarely on the side of those who support cutoff, when necessary.

The work of Murray Bowen was central to my education and early training in the field.  Bowen was a brilliant and very original thinker and spent a goodly amount of energy exploring the magnetic psychological relationships within one’s family of origin.  There are 8 essential precepts of Bowenian thought and one of them involves the discouragement of emotional cutoff.  In Bowen’s world, cutoff prevents us from working through and resolving the earliest of our emotional relationships, leaving us vulnerable to being upended when these relationships – or their echo in our current lives – assert themselves. I have come to believe that this position is not tenable.  Just as the orthodox Freudian can wrongly attribute deep distress only to childhood fantasies, Bowen, I believe, under-appreciates the freedom and relief that can be experienced by stopping a relationship with a toxic family member.  While “society” may bombard us with its incessant “shoulds,” as in, “How can you abandon your parent? sibling? child?” – the answer is quite simply, “I must do it so that I can flourish in my own life and not be derailed by the consistent drama and pain associated with a relationship which, after all, is not voluntary.

This insight was clearly and eloquently stated in a recent Washington Post opinion piece by Harriet Brown, a Syracuse University journalism professor.  I encourage you to hear what she has to say.  There is enormous freedom in the voluntary estrangement from the toxic family member who brings you grief.  This will almost always be difficult, as the exceedingly strong force of guilt pushes you back into a destructive and distracting relationship.  This is where a counselor who can support you in your quest for freedom and self-actualization may be the most important person for you during this journey.

Couples Therapy – The Easy Stuff

Good couples therapy is complex, demanding and very, very rewarding.  I’ve been at it for many years, now, and the gratification that comes with helping two people in conflict and deep distress find each other again and re-bond is just immense.  Yet, what I have found, as well, is that many parts of helping couples is pretty straightforward and kind of easy.  Noting, and reflecting back to people, some of the natural errors of thinking – their mistaken expectations – which only gets them in trouble comes up all the time.  Here are some examples:

  • Many times, a person will say or do something that is incredibly hurtful to their partner and their defense is often, “I didn’t do it on purpose.”  That comment never mollifies the wounded partner.  After all, if a person did miss the anniversary or leave a mess in the kitchen (despite the pleas of the other to be more aware of that), then they are either very angry (which needs to be talked about) or they are simply a sociopath (which means that the relationship is fundamentally destructive and the wounded person has some serious deciding to do).  The part that hurts is the sense of neglect and not being valuable or cared for.  That’s the issue to be addressed.  It doesn’t help that the behavior wasn’t intentional.
  • Many people still believe that “if I have to ask for it, it doesn’t mean anything.”  They labor under the inevitably heartbreaking belief that to be truly loved means the other person can anticipate your needs, they know you that well.  Maybe one day in the far distant future pre-marital counseling will include a procedure which permits us to mind read our partner (although I don’t think anybody would really want that).  In any event, that capacity does not currently exist and it is not how adult people show love to each other.  To expect love to be shown by knowing what we need without us having to tell you about it is, I believe, part of the magical thinking of childhood and that’s where we get this sadly deceptive belief.  The honest to goodness truth is that many loving partners are overjoyed at the prospect of providing something to their lover, if they knew what was needed.  We do have to ask for what we need.  The disappointment comes when we are clear about our need and our partner refuses to provide.  Again, that may be a result of anger or high defensiveness (which needs to be talked about), but from what I’ve seen, people want to show their love.
  • Many couples let their connection just slip away.  They take their relationship for granted.  I have witnessed this frequently.  Bill Doherty Ph.D., perhaps the Dean of American couples therapists has written an excellent book, Take Back Your Marriage, which is built around this very theme.  Take back your marriage from your children, from work, from the computer, etc.  I am lucky enough to practice in Bellevue, WA, where many couples are high functioning and extremely busy.  I will often ask them to recount their interactions over the past week and they will say that they were so busy that there isn’t much to report.  They hardly saw each other during the week.  If people allow this to disconnect to become embedded into their relationship, they will drift away from each other and the next time they look up, their partner will be so far away that they will lose hope of ever getting them close again.  That’s when the discussion of consistent “marital rituals” comes in and that, too, is a pretty easy problem to identify and discuss.