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The Things That Make Us Happy Are the Things that Make Us Wise

When I first read “the things that make us happy are the things that make us wise” in Little, Big, a brilliant novel by John Crowley, it hit me like a ton of happy bricks! “Shut up!” I said to myself. For most of my life, I had heard that wisdom came with the pain of life with a large dose of suffering for flavoring. Wisdom coming from the things that make us happy was not the primary message from MY religious upbringing!

However, if you believe as I do that our essential nature is happiness, this makes a lot of sense.

jumping for joy

What if the things that lead to our true happiness
are also steps on our path to wisdom?

We are not talking here about addictions and aversions, which may seem to make us happy for a while and inevitably disappoint us. Good work, real love, true friends, a willingness to see the beauty that is in us and all around us are some of the things that make me happy. More and more I trust that these things lead to wisdom, even when wisdom seems excruciatingly slow in coming.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Taking Action In Your Relationship – No More Shame, Blame or Criticism

When people have been in a committed relationship for a number of years, they usually each have a fairly accurate map of how the other needs to grow and change. It’s one of the benefits of being in a longer term relationship; that our partner has this unique perspective on our personal landscape and they do not hesitate to tell us, whether we want to hear it or not. They are often better able to see us than we are able to see ourselves.

We should be eternally grateful to them for their pointed observations. Right?


variety of relationship emotions

The problem is that more often than not, our maps contain “BASEBALL BATS” of shame, blame and criticism, which we use to beat each other up.

“Read my map!”
“No! You read my map!”


We need to take the bats out of our maps and leave them out for good. No more shame, blame or criticism. Then our partners may be able to read our maps, which often are useful and accurate representations of how they need to grow. And who knows? If they do the same, we just may be willing to look at their maps of ourselves as well!

Have you found yourself using the “BASEBALL BATS” of shame, blame and criticism in your relationship? What have you done to stop this action?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Men and Women: Equal Opportunity Offenders

Men and women, when behaving badly with each other, are basically “equal opportunity offenders.”

That’s right!

They will each get their digs in and twist the knife a little bit when they get the opportunity.

However, there is a basic difference.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

When behaving poorly, men usually scare women and women shame men. Take your choice? Both suck! The difference is that it takes much longer to recover from being scared than it does from being shamed.

Here’s how this seems to work: Men hate being shamed. It reminds many men of how they were controlled as children by parents, teachers or other adults in their lives. Usually when the shaming stops (“Oh no, John, it never stops,” I can hear some men saying), men recover relatively quickly. When women are scared by the men in their lives, the recovery time generally takes much longer. It just takes longer to recover from fear.

This helps to explain why, when both individuals are behaving better, the woman may hold on to her hesitation or reluctance to be close again a lot longer than the man does. It can be very difficult for the man to understand that even though he has ceased his scary behavior, she is still holding him off. She just may need more time to recover than he does.

Hang in there, guys. More often than not your patience will be rewarded, and your changed behavior will be much appreciated.

Chime in with your thoughts: When behaving poorly, do you agree men tend to scare women and women typically shame men?

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Guy School: Enculturation of Raising Boys Into Men

I recently came across an article from The Meadows that stated “trauma is anything less than nurturing.”

man learning to recognize emotionsWow!

This led me to think about how “guy school,” the almost universal cultural training for the raising of boys into men, is in many ways traumatic. Boys learn, from early on, that they can be mad or they can be glad, but it is not OK to be sad or scared.

The latter feelings are not manly. So a man may think he is in touch with his feelings because he can get angry easily.

Not so fast!

Unless a man can also be in touch with his sad feelings and is able to admit when he is scared, he is still very much under the influence of his “guy school” training.

I was recently talking to a man who said he hates the idea of being in therapy, but he could deal a lot better with the idea of being in recovery. I said yeah, we are both “recovering guys,” learning to embrace all of our feelings: in particular, feelings of being sad and scared. And in the process leaving guy school, healing our trauma and becoming more human.

What are your thoughts about “guy school?”  Share your comments below.

By John Mariner,
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

The Spiritual/Life Journey as Surfing

Just yesterday, a client came up with the metaphor of surfing for what it is like to be on the journey of life.  Though I’ve never surfed, it makes a lot of sense to me.  We really aren’t in control of what waves life sends our way.  We do have the choice of whether to fight them, sink, or do the best we can to ride them with as much grace as possible! To ride them, we must be aware and attuned both to the wave and to ourselves, and have the courage to jump into the flow.

AND, we will not always catch it just right.  We may frequently get unceremoniously dumped and even beat up a bit – or a lot.  Still, we can choose how we react to the experience.  We can wallow in self-blame or self-pity, we can sink under the water and refuse to play again. Or, we can swim to shore, find our bearings and say, “Well, THAT didn’t work!  What can I do different next time? “  We might need to nurse our bruises for a while, but hopefully, eventually we’ll find the courage and confidence to try to catch the next wave a little more gracefully.

Mary Simon, Psy.D.

Moving Beyond the Power Struggle


Remember the song that said “For everything…, turn, turn turn, there is a season…, turn turn, turn.”  This is a phrase from Ecclesiastes that provides deep reflection on some automatic behaviors in relationships.   After the “Romantic Stage” of all relationships there comes a period in which the partners feel hurt and betrayed by each other.  This is often referred to as the “Power Struggle”.  At this time conflicts are not resolved and resentments begin to build up inside both partners. 

Many people handle this stage by turning away from the other person.  It just feels safer and less fraught with frustration and grief.  The endless repetitions of all too familiar fights are avoided by shutting down, stonewalling the conversation, and turning inward.  This can have devastating effects on a love relationship.

Unbeknownst to you, your partner feels lost and abandoned.  S/he feels unimportant and unloved by you as you stop talking and control your own reactivity through silence.  What you are doing to feel secure and to avoid the conflict feels provocative and offensive to your partner.  Obviously this is not going to move the relationship closer.

 What is required here feels counter-intuitive.  You must stop your retreat and turn toward your partner.  You must abandon the security of your fortress of silence and approach your partner with an open hand and a curious mind set.  What you say is not as important as making the approach with warmth and a desire to be closer to your friend.

~ Dr. Howard Lambert





One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, once posed the poetic question, “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?” I have found this to be a wonder-filled, thought and action-provoking question, and one that is particularly poignant as we leap into 2012 (which coincidently happens to be a Leap Year).  Another similarly provocative question that I like to ponder around the New Year is, ‘What would you do if you had no fear and you knew that you could not fail?’

A colleague of mine (and an excellent writing coach), Andrea Costantine, recently asked the question, “What would it take to make 2012 your best year yet?”  As I consider my answer to this question, I recall the notion that what you focus on expands. In other words, if I focus on what I fear, or what I don’t want (my “NO”), I will tend to move in that direction, and that will play a large role in determining what I create and draw into my life. If, on the other hand, I focus on what I love, on what is life-affirming, and on what I do want in my life (my ‘YES!’), that will be the direction I will tend to move. As my daughter, at age 4 wisely proclaimed, “Peace attracts peace.”

 With this in mind, I challenge you to consider the following questions:

  • What is your vision of the best year ever?
  • What would you do if you were to focus on what you truly want in your life in 2012? How might that look, feel, sound?
  • Who is the person you will need to be or become in order to bring this vision into reality?
  • What support might be helpful (e.g. a friend or relative, a coach, a therapist) as you stretch into your new vision?

 As you enter the portal of this New (Leap) Year, I invite you to discover your “YES!!!” and then take the leap!

~ Suzanne Mariner 










We have probably all had the experience of being in the middle of a fight with our partner and thinking to our self… “That is absurd. How can you possibly think that? You have got it all wrong.” It is my contention that those thoughts are an indication that I have totally lost my neutrality and that my non-verbal behavior is about to become dismissive, invalidating and maybe even condescending.
I generally know my partner to be thoughtful and reasonable. Why do I doubt that now? Well it is probably because she is disagreeing with me. She sees something differently from me. My sense of self is threatened and I feel an urge to fight back and assert my superior knowledge or right to my own opinion. It is actually my own insecurity that is taking command of the ship.
If I presume that everything she says, thinks and does makes total sense (to her) from within her own perspective I would never look down on her and become arrogant and dismissive. If her ideas do not make sense to me it means that I have not taken the time to inquire into her world view to see how it makes sense to her. That needs to be my next job at those moments.
When I say, “You are not making sense!” I am actually saying, “You are not making MY sense.” How pompous I must sound at those moments.
~ Dr. Howard Lambert

Our Vision of the Growth Path

What are the advantages of describing a growth path as moving from Adapted Child to a mature Adult state – in compari son to other, perhaps more familiar, ways of looking at change and growth? 

The first thing that comes to mind is that Adapted Child is synymous with the ways we learned to survive.   Survival is both a personal, individual issues and an issue for cultures and societies.  That is to say that individuals must learn how to adapt in order to survive in our families, culture and society.  At the same time, cultures and societies strive to survive in a world of inter-related, and sometimes competing, cultures and societies. 

The process of moving from and Adapted Child to a more mature Adult state both honors how we have learned to survive and exhorts us to move beyond our survival adaptations.  In order to function well in an increasingly relational and interdependent world, individuals, cultures and societies must be able to value both their own and others’ ways of being.  This is only possible when we can access the most mature, Adult capacities available to us as human beings. 

Thus, one of the advantages of describing a growth path in this way is that it enables us to see individual growth in the context of larger cultural and societal issues.

This is important because what we have classically and historically done for survival, both indivividually and culturally, now is destructive to the very  survival it was intended to ensure.  We now recognize that our old short-term survival strategies are most likely to lead to long-term extinction.  

Another advantage we see to this way of describing growth is that it combines a descriptive with a prescriptive ways of looking at this rich and complex subject.  More about this next time.

Growing Up #5

The Adapted Child, or survival, ego state is driven primarily by fear.  There are different levels at which this fear operates.  There can be fear of physical survival, not usually an issue in most of our lives.  There can be fear of the unknown or the “different”.  We can be afraid of not “fitting in,” being socially unacceptable.  We can be afraid of losing support from, or connection with, others.  We can be afraid of being seen as “less than” others, or of being shamed.

The Adapted Child state also tends to be able to see only two options – either you OR me, either us OR them, either right OR wrong, good OR bad – you get the point.  For this reason, all conflicts are viewed as “win/lose.”  It is very difficult to value and respect both myself AND others when I see everything in these terms.  Others’ wants, needs and ideas appear to be in competition with mine.  Fear can easily kick in – fear that, if they get what they want (win), I will, of course, lose; fear that, if they are “right”, I will be wrong.  And on it goes!

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