Monday, July 25, 2011

THe Slippery Slope

Here's a quick test for how your relationship is doing. If love and peace and intimacy were moving forward, and conflict and judgment is moving backward, answer this question truthfully:

What direction is your relationship moving in, and at what speed?

When couples come to see us, they are often moving backward, in a viscous cycle. In this stage, communication easily slips into reactions to reactions to reactions. Each party sincerely believes that "as soon as the other person stops, I will." This is what seems fair because each party can name an incident which predates their reaction, that the other party did something wrong earlier.

Basically, the relationship has been reduced to the "he started it!" that parents and teachers hear from children so often.

But it does feel real. How can you respond lovingly to repeated affronts? Each partner can even name moments when they did try to forgive and forget, and got slammed anyway, so better to hold out for justice.

Of course, this strategy accounts for the backward motion of the relationship. Both parties are driving their part of the relationship looking only in the rearview mirror, waiting for their partner to rectify the past, before they feel safe to move on to new territory. But since both parties are using this same strategy, the relationship just keeps backing up over the same painful turf.

There comes a time when this backward motion develops a momentum. Even without trying, even little things seem to just slide back the wrong way. Worse, even when both parties decide to turn things around, it seems like the relationship is already careening down an incline too steep to stop, and so kicking and screaming, the whole family keeps sliding backwards down into chaos and conflict.

When I'm with a couple in this state, I can see the topography of their relationship like a hill that just keeps getting steeper and steeper. After a while it doesn't seem like it has anything to do with them, it is just the shape of the terrain.

And it is the shape of the terrain, but the surprising fact is that this particular terrain responds to us, even though it feels the other way around.

When you stop speaking in judgments and reactions, the ground levels out immediately.

Often by the end of the very first session (when I am translating their judgments into expressions of universal needs for them) both parties can feel the ground beneath them level out. Often during that first week at home they slide back down into their old strategy and blame the OTHER PERSON and the terrain slants back down again.

So let me make it really clear: when you feel the earth begin to slant away from your partner, when you feel yourself moving inexorably away from them, it's your point of view of the situation which is causing that.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

If Marriage Mediation is Right for You

So you've been reading my blog for a while, and you're wondering, "How can I get help?"

When my book, "Tired Of Having the Same Old Argument" comes out, it will be designed as a self-help process so many more of you can take advantage of the Teamwork Marriage Mediation Process.

Until then, here are some things you can do:

First, see if NVC, which is a major component of our work, helps you:

- Read Marshall Rosenberg's "NVC: A Language of Life." We learned NVC from this book. It's got short chapters, and exercises at the end of each chapter.

- Find an NVC Class. If you're in Philly, check out We publish all the NVC classes we know about in the greater Delaware Valley area, as well as NY and DC.

- Go to, the international NVC web site, and see if you can find a teacher or trainer or workshop.

- Take online NVC courses at NVC Academy

Find a way to work with us:

- Go to our web site: and see what’s available.

- If you’re in the Greater Philly area, contact Max and set up an appointment at

- If you live further away, contact Max about doing sessions via Skype.

Finally, if we can’t help you, try Googling “Marriage Mediation” and find someone near you.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Anger is a tricky emotion.

Anger is what I call a “you-focused, tertiary (meaning third-level) emotion.”

“You-focused” because the message of anger is that they did something to you that you didn’t deserve, and so they deserve your anger (meaning the punishment that your anger doles out). But other people don’t cause our feelings - our needs cause our feelings. So you’re punishing them for feelings which you created.

“Tertiary Feeling” because anger isn’t the feeling that your need created, since it’s about others and wrong-doing, and needs aren’t about other people.

Needs are about you, and your satisfaction and desire.

So if the situation stimulated a need, and the feelings that are generated by unmet needs are ones like sadness or loss:

How did you get to anger?

The answer is,

First, you had those softer feelings.

Then you felt uncomfortable about them

(that’s the secondary-feeling) and

Then you talked to yourself about it.

 (“They shouldn’t have done that to me, I was only trying to help!”) and

Then you had the tertiary feeling of anger.

So once again, you generated the anger - first from the need, second from the discomfort, and thirdly from your thinking.

The good news is…

Since all of this is you-generated,
you can do something about it. There are lots of places for interventions, so…

Let’s focus on the very first one: your fuse.

Since all interactions are about trying to get needs met, and since…

All needs are life-affirming, and positive in their intention.

The basic premise of anger: that other people are out to hurt you; is simply false.

I’m not saying that in the process of trying to actualize those positive intentions that everyone always chooses so wisely the positivity makes it all the way out to the other person every time. Some people make such bad choices, even they don’t experience the positive impact themselves (take drug addiction, for instance).

Those instances where the choices fall short are where good communication, mediation, negotiation and empathy play a role.

But before we get to setting the situation aright…

We have to get you back into a compassionate pose.

The time to start that is now, when you’re not angry.

Imagine someone you’re habitually angry at.

Notice the fuse you shove at them every time you even think about them. You probably think of them as a bad or difficult person.

But the truth is:

It’s just difficult for you to get your needs met around them.

Take that in. It’s not them.

It’s your needs that are the real fuse.

Now there’s nothing wrong with your needs.

They’re those positive, life-affirming satisfiers.

So feel the positivity of that truth in your body.

Then from that place of compassion for yourself…

Look out at the other person and feel the same thing for them.

Mediators say that we start at a “level table.” This means that everyone is equal, the same.

All are deserving of respect, even those we disagree with.

Feel your body relax into that truth.

Q4U: So are you able to de-fuse using this technique? Having trouble with it? Leave your successes and challenges as comments and I’ll help you with your situation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Mature Relationship

I believe that marriage is a three stage process: Infatuation, Difference and The Mature Relationship.
During infatuation, you both get all your needs met, without having to ask. I think of this as the sampler - you get to actually experience all that is available to you with this person.
It ends when you start to have to ask for what you need. That begins the Difference Stage. If done with the skills available through Teamwork Marriage Mediation, you quickly learn how to negotiate with each other and get the benefit of these differences you brought into your life because you needed them.
If you do it the way most people do, stage two feels more like the Conflict Stage.
Either way you do it, if your relationship survives, you get to stage three: The Mature Relationship. In some ways, it's exactly like the Infatuation Stage, except this time it's real. It's flexible, because both of you can talk about what you need, and negotiate ways to meet both your needs.
So how to say describe this stage, besides "like before only better?"

What comes to mind is that it is like the year or so that I kept the Sabbath according to the Jewish practice.
It often seems like the work week is your Life. Then you choose you take a break from all that, for 24 hours.

After a while, for me it flipped. Suddenly Shabbos became Life. It was like one of those optical illusions where the ground and subject switch and instead of a line drawing of a vase, you see two faces looking at each other in outline.

The silent background of peace is like a blank sheet of paper and the busyness and "to-do" lists are just the words we write on that perfect paper. After a while, if you get really good at it, each time you lift the pen, even during the work week, the peace shines through. So even just lifting it to dot an "I" or cross a "t" gives you a little, mini, Shabbos.

Right relationship is just like that.
Once you've started fighting, the other person shifts from Shabbos, the safe base, into another part of the work-week, stress. And the part of you that longs for rest in another's arms turns against you and blames them for not being the right arms.

So the second stage, the difference stage, where you take back your projections, and relax into the simple truth of your longings and desires, unhooks your other from the trappings of the stress. They float free again. "Hum, I wonder who that is?" you get to ask again. Your curiosity is reignited. And your desire.

Inviting another person into that Shalom, is phase three. 
The teacher in my first class was another butch, drill sargent, and she held her hand up to me in a "stop" motion as she went on with her tirade to the unwashed masses of her class: "Don't chump these speakers," she shouted, "They have jobs! I have a job, your other teachers have jobs! Here's your chance to learn about jobs!"

Then, her sermon done, she rushed out of the room without a word. In my mind's eye, I assumed to get a smoke and wash it down with bourbon.

The class, frozen in an artificial silence of jundgment, all eyes on me like deer caught in headlights (or was it like lions catching the scent of prey) turned to me.

I walked slowly to the front of the room and said, "You're not gonna chump me, are you? I don't quite know what it means, but I don't think I'd like it." They all let out a sigh of relief, and giggled. I wasn't going to be a problem. This might be fun.