Training – When Religion Gets Sick: A Guide for Therapists

Here’s the info for an upcoming workshop I’ll be presenting.  (Please see the end of this post for a 1 hour, abbreviated version I’ll be offering for NAMI on September 17.)

When Religion Gets Sick: A Guide for Therapists
3 CEUs
  • Date: Tuesday, September 30, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. (soft drinks provided – participants are welcome to bring their dinner)
  • Location: National Lloyds Building (corner of 9th and Austin), 4th floor
  • 3 CEUs
  • Sponsored by The Waco Partnership for Psychological and Spiritual Care
  • Facilitator: Wes Eades, PhD
  • Cost: $35, which includes a copy of Wes’s book Whirlwind: Journey’s with Job through Grief, Anxiety and Pain.
  • To register and pay via PayPal, please click: PayPal button

Dr. Wes Eades has spent all of his career as a psychotherapist with a focused interest in the role of religion and spirituality in mental health. He has been particularly drawn to the destructive role religion can sometimes play in the suffering of persons.

Wes, and his friend, Dr. Milton Horne, have recently published Whirlwind: Journeys with Job through Grief, Anxiety, and Pain. Milton began his study of Job many years ago with his doctoral dissertation at Oxford, and has continued to wrestle with this enigmatic, and often confusing, story throughout his career as a professor of religion.

In Whirlwind Wes and Milt bring together a scholarly treatment of Job with the practice of psychotherapy to illustrate how religious beliefs can confound and compound suffering. Our central premise:

“We hold the assumption that real spiritual transformation occurs when people move from expecting God to take care of them, to realizing that peace is possible regardless of circumstances. Our observation is that people often use religion to try to control the uncontrollable, which, in turn, magnifies suffering.” ( from page ix of Whirlwind)

In this seminar Wes will discuss how this central premise plays out in his work with clients. Vignettes from Whirlwind will be used to foster discussion on the many ways that religious ideas can create fog in therapy, and to consider therapeutic approaches to working with the faith and spirituality of clients.

To register and pay via PayPal, please click: PayPal button

9-17-14 Lunch & Learn

I’ve also been invited by NAMI to provide a 1 hour “Lunch & Learn” on this topic on September 17 from 12:00 to 1:00. This presentation will be at the Cenikor office at 3015 Herring. The cost is $10 for 1 CEU plus $5 if you want lunch. The money goes to support the work of NAMI.

Pre-registration for Lunch and Learn is at this link

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Secret #4: It Doesn’t Matter If He Doesn’t Dance

The principle seems to make sense: find someone with whom you share interests or hobbies and you’ll be happy together. It’s also one of the tritest pieces of relationship and dating advice out there.

Reva Seth, First Comes Marriage

In this chapter Seth makes the important point that shared values are far more important than shared interests when it comes to marriage. I would say that shared interests often form the foundation of friendships, and there’s nothing wrong with spouses being “best friends.” The problem is when a person begins to believe that he or she must be with the wrong person if his or her spouse is not also that best friend. My observation is that frustration around a lack of shared interests is a fertile seedbed for resentment. But please understand that such resentment will only take root if you’ve allowed your mind to believe that shared interests are critical to a good marriage.

One way of thinking about this dilemma is through what I call the Abandonment/Fusion continuum. Here’s the handout I use with my clients:

HO - Fusion-Enmeshment Continuum Handout

Key points:

  • We all have a need for both independence and closeness.
  • We all have a range in between independence and closeness in which we are comfortable.
  • No one’s range is identical to anyone else’s.
  • This range will effect the sorts of things we enjoy doing together and independently.
  • We all do well to work at expanding that range.

This plays out in such wonderfully frustrating ways in marriage! For instance, imagine that all Susan needs to feel close to Bob is to simply be in the same room with him. Imagine that for Bob to feel close to Susan he wants her to be sitting in his lap, staring deeply into eyes. Susan is psychologically oriented toward independence. Bob is more oriented towards connection. As Bob moves to get comfortably close to Susan, she begins to feel suffocated. As Susan seeks a bit more comfortable distance, Bob feels more and more isolated. Throw in a lack of self-awareness and poor communication skills, and the fireworks unfold:

“Gawd! Do we always have to be holding hands?”
“Why are you so terrified of intimacy?”
“I’m NOT terrified of intimacy! I’d just like to be left in peace to read my damn book sometimes!”
“You always want to read your damn book! You never want to take a walk with me!”
“It’s freakin’ 104 degrees outside! REALLY?!”
“You are SO just like your mother! No wonder your Dad stepped out!”
“You’re gonna go there? Because I want to read my book without you pawing at me?”

Sadly, many of you know that this fictional conversation is not all that exaggerated. This is a painful expression of a couple trying to come to terms with a simple fact: We are two different people who have different interests. We may want to use words like “needs” or “desires” rather than “interests,” but, to me, it all comes down to the same thing. However, when the small self begins to get anxious, and entitled, things unravel quickly. What gets lost is that Bob and Susan are both good parents and hard workers. They are both generous with their time and resources, and the world is a better place because of their efforts. Sure, Bob would benefit from learning how to parent his own small self a little more effectively, and it wouldn’t hurt Susan to be a little more mindful of Bob’s “love language. But when we feel like we’re not getting what we want in the moment, it is easy to forget everything that works about our connection.

So, if you find yourself frustrated that your marriage does not have as much “friendship” as you’d like, here’s a few questions to consider:

  • Do my spouse and I share core values regarding what’s most important in our lives?
  • Are the ways I “wish” my spouse was different really have much to do with these core values?
  • Why do I care so much, or feel threatened by, the ways my spouse and I are different?



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Secret #3: Commitment Is the Opposite of Constraint

Unless you’ve just returned from a decade-long trip to Mars, our societal lack of commitment to relationships and marriage shouldn’t be all that surprising to you.

Reva Seth, First Comes Marriage

I’ve been reflecting on Reva Seth’s book, First Comes Marriage, with a goal of applying her ideas to those of us who are already married. This particular chapter has my mind heading off in all sorts of directions…

To summarize, Seth makes the rather obvious point that a marriages flourish best within a context of total commitment. She correctly observes that we live in a commitment-phobic culture, and tend to associate commitment with being trapped. From there her logic gets a bit squishy to me. I hear her saying that within the arranged marriage community the idea that “divorce is not an option” is taken more seriously than it is with us romance-based relationship nuts. I don’t think that’s true (I’m sure some people head the altar with the attitude of, “Well, if this one doesn’t work out I can just trade it in for a different model,” but I haven’t met many of them). What I DO think is true is that people in arranged marriages start out with almost none of the romance-based fog that creates impossible expectations.

The truth is, commitment IS constraint. What’s hard for our anxious selves to trust is that it is a constraint that can be worth it, so long as it reflects a wise and thoughtful commitment. In the arranged marriage community, this sort of thoughtfulness is left in the hands of the “grown-ups,” not the twenty-year-olds. This makes a lot of sense to me, but my attempts to relate this to us already marrieds takes my mind off in several trails. I’ll follow just one of those here….

My economist friend, Scott Cunningham, first helped me understand the concept of “sunk costs” in business. To summarize, sunk costs refer to the investments we’ve made in a project in order to get it off the ground. These are resources we will lose if the project fails. Psychologically, the more we’ve invested in a project, the harder it is for us to admit that it’s not going to work. Sunk costs are what keep people hanging on to bad stocks as they watch their investment go down the drain. I suspect you can see how this can work in marriage. The more years we have in, the more kids we have, and the greater the financial entanglements, the harder it is to admit, “This is not working!” And it’s rarely “good” when we can’t admit to what we are thinking and feeling.

Those of you who are stock-brokers are no doubt familiar with the dictum: If you wouldn’t buy a stock today, then you shouldn’t own that stock today. This is the broker’s way of combating the psychology of sunk costs. Don’t keep losing just because you can’t make peace with what you’ve already lost! Sadly, some people begin to apply this way of thinking to their marriages (“If I wouldn’t marry this person today then I shouldn’t be married to this person today.”) This way of thinking especially takes hold when couples have ignored the issues in the marriage for long enough to move all the way through anger to disaffection (see the Alienation Cycle here).

So, let’s see if I can pull this together… I’m agreeing with Seth that the commitment of marriage can lead to a very rich life. I’m quibbling a bit with her contention that commitment isn’t constraint, because it is. It only begins to be a painful constraint when we’ve not tended to hard work of weeding the marriage garden of unrealistic expectations and anger.


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Secret #2: The Musts are All that Matter

 In essence , my message is to be the person you’re looking for.

Reva Seth, First Comes Marriage

Given the billions of conversations we’ve forgotten, isn’t it fascinating to consider the ones we remember? This little nugget has been lodged in my mind for nearly 40 years:

Marvin: “You’re the kind of guy I hope my daughter marries.”
Me: “Come on Marvin. You wouldn’t want your daughter to date me.”
Marvin: “You’re right. I wouldn’t want her to date you. I’d want her to marry you after she’s gotten dating out of her system.”

Marvin was my rather hippie boss who, by the way, didn’t have any kids. He was just letting me know that he considered me stable, responsible… and boring. Even Marvin, with his rather pot-muddled brain, could intuit what makes for a positive life-long commitment.

Seth, in this chapter, encourages women to distinguish between their marriage “musts” and their marriage “wants.” She describes the “just for now” syndrome in which people spend time together without any intention of it becoming serious. However, things often continue to slide towards emotional enmeshment and practical entanglements. If we aren’t clear about our long-term “musts,” then we’ll choose based on our short-term “wants.” Seth seems to be echoing the advice I imagine Marvin would give to his daughter: “If you’ve got to have some dating adventures, just don’t lose sight of what really matters.”

Seth tells the story of one woman who dodged a bullet. This woman was dating a guy who was a lot of fun, but who lost his job. When he couldn’t pay for his apartment any longer, she agreed to let him move in “for a little while.” She was jarred awake at their engagement party when her finance’ toasted her with something like, “Thanks to this little lady, I’ll never have to worry about paying bills.” In a moment of clarity and wisdom, sadly often missing these days, she called off the wedding.

A situation like this would almost never develop in the arranged marriage model. Trusted family members take responsibility for the “musts.” In our romance based model, we each have to be thoughtful about such things or we will end up asking ourselves, “How in the world did I end up here?”

So, as I try to shine a light on what this means for those of us who are already married, here’s a few questions:

  • What has your marriage revealed about your “musts” and “wants?”
  • To what degree does your spouse embody your “musts.”
  • To what degree have you allowed your disappointment over “wants” to infect your respect and admiration for your spouse?
  • How angry are you that your spouse has actually turned out to be the person he or she seemed to be when you were dating?

Let’s keep muddling on…







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Secret #1: Your Spouse Doesn’t Have to Be Your Best Friend

According to Dr. Scott Haltzman, author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men, “If you hold to an ideal that may never be met, you lose the opportunity to appreciate the good qualities of what’s already in front of you.”

Seth, Reva, First Comes Marriage

I’ve been reading Reva Seth’s book on arranged marriage, First Comes Marriage, which is basically a handbook for women who are seeking marriage. She offers wisdom from the age old tradition of arranged marriages to help women think about what they are looking for in a husband.

Seth has me asking the question, “But what about all of us who are already married?” She is helping me see the unreasonably high expectations I brought into my marriage. I’m playing with how her advice might be applied to undo some of the damage I’ve inflicted, and find a place of deeper contentment. In a previous post I suggested that you reflect on the expectations you brought to your marriage, and see if you could begin to let go of many of them, in a spirit of grace. Seth’s 7 secrets of arranged marriages are all connected to the importance of letting go of expectations.

Her first secret is: Don’t expect your spouse to be your best friend.

This simple secret has stirred up more memories than I can keep up with. For instance, when Holly and I first married I had already developed an interest in running. Being the incredibly wise and older spouse in our relationship, I brilliantly concluded that Holly needed to be interested in running also. I didn’t just ask her to run with me. I pushed her… goaded her… into running with me. My memory is that she didn’t really enjoy it, but she did it. I recall that some of our biggest fights started while we were running. But, she ran with me. And guess what, she eventually began to love running. However, she did not begin to love it until she stopped running with me!

When we moved to Louisville Holly began to teach at a little private school where she met a couple of other teachers who were runners. She enjoyed running with them MORE THAN ME! Thirty years later she has a few half-marathons and marathons under her belt, along with a triathalon. Very few of the many miles she has logged had me at her side. She runs with her friends, and many of them become her best friends. It took me years to realize that it was just fine for me not to be one of those friends. Of equal interest to me, being a guy who still enjoys running, is my discovery that I don’t like running with people, at all! Running has become one of my very favorite solitary activities.

This is only one of a myriad of examples regarding how my definition of best friend set me up for frustration. And I think Holly would agree that the same is true from her side. She has expressed much sadness and anger over the years when I’ve lacked enthusiasm for participating in various activities that were important to her.

Is this an issue in your marriage? Are you frustrated by the lack of shared interests you and your spouse have? If so, here’s a question: Even though my spouse and I don’t have many shared interests, do we have shared values? It seems that couples can do without much of the former if they are solid on the latter.

I can see now that at least a portion of the glue that has held Holly and I together over the years has been shared values. Much of our conflict has come from how we prioritize these values differently, but we generally hold the same values. For example, we would both agree we both value invigorating experiences AND financial responsibility. We just tend to define and prioritize these values a bit differently.

I don’t know of a couple who couldn’t benefit from discussing these two questions:

  • What are our values?
  • How do we prioritize them?


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The Seven Secrets of Arranged Marriages We Can All Learn From

I’ve been blogging on From First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice from the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages by Reva Seth. If you’ve been reading my previous posts, then you know that I’m intrigued by this book. I find myself coming up with many questions that I’m hoping she’ll respond to in time (and I’ve already decided I’ll get in touch with her if need be).

Here’s a listing of her 7 secrets (slightly edited):

  • Secret #1: Your Spouse Doesn’t Have to Be Your Best Friend
  • Secret #2: The Musts Are All That Matter
  • Secret #3: Commitment Is the Opposite of Constraint
  • Secret #4: It Doesn’t Matter If He Doesn’t Dance
  • Secret #5: Romance Needs a Rewrite
  • Secret #6: Sex Appeal? It’s All About You!
  • Secret #7: Family Matters

 I’ve already mentioned that a key component of arranged marriages that seems to get them off on the right foot is:  Low Epectations! Actually, a fairer way to put this would be: Reasonable Expectations! Seth insists that we modern, affluent, mobile Americans want something from marriage that has never been expected in the history of humankind. Namely, an all encompassing romantic experience that scratches all of our itches. People in arranged marriages would scoff at such inflated expectations!

What keeps coming to mind for me, however, it that there is one bedrock expectation that is necessary to all satisfying marriages: My spouse will keep promises. Neither good marriages, nor good friendships, can last without promises. Furthermore, relationships are shaped by the capacity of each person to make wise and thoughtful promises. Alas, here’s the rub for us romance based hitchers! Usually, at a very young, and healthy, age, we stand up in front of God and everybody and promise to always be there, say, in sickness and in health. We make that promise without the slightest understanding of what a chronic illness might mean for us.

Although I don’t see Seth speaking to the place of keeping promises directly, she does allude to it in many ways. For instance, the only expectation a woman brings to an arranged marriage is financial stability and children. However, if she can trust that her family has vetted her future spouse properly, she can be fairly assured that he will be on board. In other words, the initial promises made are very clear, and very concrete.

So, I keep reflecting on all the expectations of Holly I’ve carried over the years, and recognizing how I’ve allowed them to feed my discontent, and hers. I’m realizing, also, that it’s a lot easier to start with few expectations than to let go of unwise ones that have taken root!



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Moving from Waco to Austin, via Hollywood

(don’t worry…. I’m not moving… it’s one of them metaphor things….)

Tina: “I’ll be honest: I’ve wanted a family since, like, oh, forever!” she admits. Tina is from a large, close family and she wants at least three kids. “Obviously, I’m just waiting to find the right man,” she says. “Someone who’ll be a good father, a best friend for me, my intellectual and professional equal, someone who’ll be exciting, share my love of literature, give me a good lifestyle, get on with my sisters, and, of course, create a hot sex life!” And she adds as an afterthought, “And he’ll be someone who gives me a sense of inner peace and calm.” Does it strike you that Tina is asking for a lot? Could any real human being ever measure up?

Seth, Reva (2008-06-03). First Comes Marriage (p. 17).

When I read vignettes like this I often wonder how much the author shaped the words to make a point. When I read this one, I thought, “Wow, that really fits me!” or, at least it fits the me I remember 30 years ago. Seth talks about the importance of letting go of the fantasy lover. But even getting acquainted with that illusory figure is difficult. Using spiritual language, I find it very consistent with how I talk to clients about getting know one’s “small self,” that rather scared and immature aspect of our inner worlds that is often driving the car more than we know.

Here’s another quote:

Arranged marriages are based on the belief that a strong marriage can be created by bringing together two similar and complementary people who have common goals and aspirations, as well as a shared approach to making the relationship work over the long term. It (always!) bears repeating that half of that long-term success is up to you. Since women in arranged marriages don’t expect to be marrying their soul mates, they enter into the relationships with far more manageable and realistic expectations about both their husbands and the relationship. They view their husbands not as their primary source of happiness or as a means of rescue, but instead, as life partners, friends, and men who will provide them with support, companionship, children, and a family life.

Seth, Reva (2008-06-03). First Comes Marriage (p. 28).

Seth is not suggesting that our culture abandon our approach to relationships and marriage. But I do hear her inviting us to consider the aspects of arranged marriages that can help us… Here’s the image that comes to mind:

Waco Hollywood Austin

It’s pretty easy to move from Waco to Austin, if that’s where you want to be. Just load up and drive 100 miles south on good ol’, and newly expanded, Interstate 35. No one in their right mind would take the route through Hollywood, would they? Certainly not… unless of course, one was convinced there was something in Hollywood that just HAD to be picked up during the trip! (And it’s not lost on me the number of work zones indicated on the map if you take the long route. LOL)

Again, what are those pesky expectations the make up your fantasy lover?


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So, Arranged Marriages are more Successful?

As Dr. Robert Epstein, editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, commented in a 2003 Psychology Today article: “Research suggests… that many people in arranged marriages fall in love over time. A study by Gupta and Singh, for example, shows that love in romantic marriages declines steadily over a ten-year period , but that love in arranged marriages increases over the same period, surpassing that of romantic marriages after about five years. So the experience of people in arranged marriages shows that love can be learned.”

Seth, Reva. First Comes Marriage (p. 8). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

Philosopher Alain de Boton even asserts that low expectations are one of the major predictors of happiness —the lower your expectations, the more likely your life is to exceed them!

Seth, Reva. First Comes Marriage (p. 9). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

I mentioned in my last post that my wife and I have begun reading First Comes Marriage by Reva Seth. I continue to find my views about marriage and romance challenged on every front.  Seth cites a 2005 USA Today article that suggests that, even though divorce is down in the USA, it still hovers around 50%. She then cites research suggesting that the divorce rate for arranged marriages is around 5%-7%. This by no means proves that arranged marriages are happier, since there are many cultural factors that could explain the low divorce rate. But, 50% compared to 7%  cries out for a bit of thoughtful reflection!

The concept of LOW EXPECTATIONS seems especially important to me. When I look back on what I now know I expected my marriage to do for me, I’m flat out embarrassed. As wonderful of a young woman as Holly was, I can see now how she was the cheerleader, homecoming queen, and all around fox that I always wanted to date in high school. By gosh, she was going to prove to my ego that I was that cool guy after-all! And I’m only naming one of the many expectations I’ve realized I had of her. She never stood a chance! Add to that the conversations we’ve had about how her choice of me would hopefully “solve” a number of perceived problems she had… well… I’m more and more amazed that we’re still together!

Part of our survival over the years, we see now, has come from a letting go of expectations. However, this letting go has often been infused with a fair amount of resentment. I’ve long realized that “making peace” and “giving up” can feel very much alike. I discovered too often that my choices to let go of expectations became peppered with feelings of anger. So far Seth is helping me see the wisdom of starting with low expectations (which is not the same as no expectations).

I often ask my clients, “How much time are you going to spend being angry that your spouse has actually turned out to be… your spouse?”

What would it be like for you to take a fresh look at the expectations you’ve had of your partner that seem to keep stirring up pain? I’m not saying we should let go of all expectations, but how many are you holding on to that really don’t make that much of a difference?


An aside: It’s not been lost on me that Milton and I are making a similar argument when it comes to a relationship with God (See Whirlwind in the column to the right). We believe that a fair amount of our suffering comes from us having expectations of God that God never signed on for….

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What if We’re all in Arranged Marriages?

Now, I have to be honest here. Id grown up around arranged marriages that seemed quite happy, so I suspected that there was more to it than I understood or had been led to believe by the common portrayal of them. So it wasn’t a complete surprise to come across some really positive aspects of arranged marriage during my initial interviews but I really hadn’t thought that romance would be among them.

From First Comes Marriage: Modern Relationship Advice from the Wisdom of Arranged Marriages by Reva Seth

I’ve always been upfront about what a struggle my marriage of nearly 33 years has been. Holly and I have been guilty of about about every marriage bungle in the books, and yet still managed to raise 3 pretty cool kids, who seem headed towards creative lives of love and work. It’s almost weird to think that we’ve done this while often frustrating the hell out of each other over unmet expectations and a fair amount of resentment.

During a recent rough patch I asked Holly if she would read a book with me. She agreed. I had a book or two in mind, but came across First Comes Marriage in which Seth draws on interviews with 300 couples whose nuptials were arranged by families. My initial forays into the book revealed an interesting deconstruction of our Western expectations of marriage. She then offers some core insights into what makes arranged marriages work.

And somewhere in there it hit me: I’m in an arranged marriage also! Only my marriage was arranged by the subconscious needs of my small self, and my wife’s. We have spent our lives trying to move forward, using the equally subconscious paradigm, of Western Romantic Love.

I’m looking forward to reading this book, and discussing it with Holly. I’m a very inconsistent blogger, but my intention will be to fill you in on where this goes for us….




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Running in Circles

When pummeled by too many thoughts a long walk would cure me of the punch-drunk feeling of lifelessness. The normal route led along open fields, and not infrequently I would see a man walking his four Kerry blue terriers. These were amazing dogs. Bounding energy, elastic grace, and electric speed, they coursed and leapt through open fields. It was invigorating just to watch these muscular stretches of freedom race along. Three of the four dogs did this, I should say. The fourth stayed behind and, off to the side of its owner, ran in tight circles. I could never understand why it did this; it had all the room in the world to leap and bound. One day I was bold enough to ask the owner, “Why does your dog do that? Why does it run in little circles instead of running with the others?” He explained that before he acquired the dog, it had lived practically all its life in a cage and could only exercise by running in circles. For this dog, to run meant to run in tight circles. So instead of bounding through the open fields that surrounded it, it ran in circles.

from Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation by Martin Laird

I’m so grateful for the images and metaphors that shine a little extra light into the corners of my soul. I’m often challenging my clients to open their eyes and see that the “real” world is a much larger place than the ones they’ve created. Yet, when I read about a pup, running in circles, I have to admit that my wounds still dog me (no pun intended?).

Loving God, please help me run in a little larger circle today than the one I ran in yesterday. Amen.

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