On Pain and Suffering

On Pain and Suffering

When Ran was 8 years old his father was killed in during a military combat operation. His memories of his father were only from family trips and spending weekends at the pool. However, Ran learned that life moved on. His mother worked and raised him just like the other children in his neighborhood. Ran served in the army, graduated from college, married, and moved to the United States. He constantly thought about his father, and was jealous of children who had a father, but learned to keep his thoughts and feelings inside.

Recently, Ran started to feel physical and emotional pains. He underwent medical tests and the results turned out normal. His thoughts about his father returned, thinking on what he missed by not having a father. Ran rarely shared those thoughts with his wife because he did not want to hurt her. His primary physician suggested he should see a psychotherapist.

Most of us are familiar with the concepts of pain and suffering, and we tend to confuse between the two. Pain is defined as a sensory and emotional experience associated with an unpleasant bodily injury or mental injury. Pain is part of our lives, and sometimes the most important part of survival. Suffering is the perception of the pain experience. Suffering concerns our thoughts about pain, about what happened, and about what might have happened. Our mind becomes part of the pain experience. In sessions, hearing himself talk about his pain of having a life without a father, and about the loss he suppressed all his life, Ran began to unravel his emotions and cry. Ran understood that the pain of losing his father will always remain a part of his life but he does not need to suffer. Ran practiced mindfulness breathing to relax and become aware of what is happening inside his body and mind. Mindfulness approach helped him make a distinction between the pain and suffering he experienced in his life. He realized that he spent too much energy to ignore the pain, fight with it and that his suffering is related to his thoughts about a reality which does not necessarily exist. In reality he is a father to a son and his son has a father that he himself unfortunately never had.

You are not the pain. The pain is part of your life experience.

The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Secret to a Good Marriage Still a Secret?

Is the Secret to a Good Marriage Still a Secret?

Nancy and Michael called to set up an appointment. They are both in their 40s, married for 18 years with three children. Both complain of endless arguments about “silly things” and feelings of hopelessness. After several intense fights, Michael left the house only to return a week later. They both decided that they would like to stop fighting and just have a “happy and healthy” relationship.

What is a happy marriage? Does it even exist? Countless research and literature has been done exploring the things many of us wish for: feel good, be happy, and have fun. However, are these things even possible after years of marriage?

The short answer is ‘yes, it is possible but…”. During our sessions, Nancy and Michael were asked individually to describe what does happiness mean to them and how does it fit into their relationship. This was not a simple exercise, as we are dealing with two people with unique feelings, ideas, and thoughts that may not perfectly align together. The main way to address the underlining issues in the relationship is to start a dialogue where each partner openly listens to the other.

Professor John Goodman from the University of Washington conducted interviews with around 95 couples and concluded that:

  1. The more the couple viewed their relationship as positive, the more stable their marriage was. They did not necessarily fight less, but the way in which they dealt with the arguments was more constructive.
  2. Even couples that reported a healthy and loving marriage still experienced fights, but they did not let those fights take over the relationship and they were able to move on.

The psychologist Albert Ellis exclaimed that in marriage, each person has an inclination for irrational thinking which causes disappointments, rather than simply the behavior of the spouse. Nancy says: “Michael always forgets our anniversary. It doesn’t interest him”. While Michael says: “she is always promising that she will spend more time with me, but things always seem to pop up that are more urgent, I’m sick of her excuses”.

If Nancy and Michael understand, through therapy, that his thoughts are irrational due to the idea that “she must be with me” and her thoughts are irrational due to the idea that “it is awful that he forgets” they can change their irrational thinking to rational ones. For example, she will say to herself, “I wish that he would remember our anniversary and it disappointments when he doesn’t. However, that does not mean that he does not love me. I will talk to him before our anniversary comes around and we will plan something together”. Likewise, Michael will say “I would like to spend more time with Nancy. I know she is very busy so I will try to help her get the work done so we can spend time together”. A change in thinking even when dealing with the same behavior will create a more pleasant experience for both partners. Now going back to our original question if a happy marriage exists? Both partners’ definition of marriage is important, and maybe the answer is “good enough marriage”.

The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine

What Would You Do if Today Was Your Last Day on Earth?

What Would You Do if Today Was Your Last Day on Earth?

 

“What would you do if today was your last day on earth?” I ask Daniel (52). Daniel does not know how to respond to my question. “this is a hypothetical question, most likely it’s not my last day on earth, I don’t like to imagine things, I am a practical person.” He added, “anyways, let’s just pretend it was, what would I do? I would go to the beach, eat delicious ice cream, kiss my wife, hug my children, call my mother and sisters in Israel…”

I nodded my head and asked Daniel, “so what stops you from doing all those things today?”. It is important that you, the reader, should also ask yourself this question every once in a while.

Many people who were asked this same question described in their answer very basic activities, not necessarily related to money or social status, but rather personal relationships with the people they love.

Daniel was referred to me through an Employee Assistant Program in his work place after he complained about various pains and many sick days due to medical issues. Daniel underwent several medical evaluations that found no physical problems with his body. He came to me for several sessions to receive help and mental support. He told me that he was boring at job. The clock never seems to move while he’s at the office and work is repetitive. His co-workers do not interest him and he would have already quit his job, but he can’t because he isn’t young anymore and have responsibility to support his wife and kids. As a result, Daniel began to develop anxieties and stress which translated into actual physical pains and discomfort in his daily life. Together, we agreed that because he cannot leave his job, he must find ways to deal with his anxieties and make the correct changes in his life. We discussed how he could find the motivation and energy to enjoy what he does have, instead of only focusing on what’s missing from his life.

Through our sessions, Daniel understood that things he wished would happen and haven’t happened yet, such as life goals, will only happen if he actively works towards accomplishing them. Because he did not want to leave his job, it was now up to him to either feel stressed or make the decision to focus on the things outside of work that will bring him fulfillment and happiness, such as his wife and kids, or go on more vacations with his friends and family.

During his famous Stanford University commencement trip address, the late Steve Jobs began his speech with a similar question about life, “if today was my last day alive, would I be doing what I am currently doing today?” In his speech, he went on to say that he wakes up every morning asking himself this same question. If the answer is “no” for too many days, he knows that he must make a change. The realization that he might die any day is a vital tool that helps him make the important decisions in his life. Jobs said that fear, pride, failure, and shame all fizzle away in front of death. Your time on this planet is limited and you must not waste your days while you are still here. Strive to live every day doing what is truly important to you.

The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine

 

30s are not the new 20s

30s are not the new 20s

Roe (24) recently graduated from college, but is struggling to find himself and is unemployed. He claims that he mainly cares about earning a lot of money. However, currently, he lives at home and is supported financially by his parents. His father and him constantly fight and argue. His father thinks that Roe is “immature, unmotivated, and lacks a sense of responsibility.”

In today’s culture, the transition from your 20s to 30s has become complicated. Historically, people married, had children, and built a career at a much younger age. However, today’s young adults have so many options, and they often prefer to just have fun, live at home, and live “carefree.”  Simultaneously, there is still social pressure on people to be financially successful in an early age (for example, Mark Zuckerberg, the inventor of Facebook) and so many experience anxiety and fear of failure from this competitive environment.

Dr. Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Defining Decade”, argues in her book that a new transition stage from childhood to adulthood has been created in modern society, where young people refrain from making long term commitments and decisions about their lives such as career and relationships. However, she argues that a person’s 20s are a defining moment that will lay the foundation for the rest of their lives. Hence, it is a mistake for young people to take these vital years for granted, delay important life decisions, and hope that their 30s will be bring them answers. Inspired by Dr. Jay’s scientific research, my conversation with Roe focused on three issues. First, Roe was asked to attend our sessions without his father so he could view himself as an independent adult and was asked to share the payment for a third of the sessions out of his own pocket.

Second, Roe learned that he needs to practice making important life decisions. For example, Roe says that he is not ready for marriage and family life, but he should still seek out a relationship and intimacy with a partner to prepare him for a future long term relationship. He may not have yet found a professional career, but it is still important that he work and experience different employment environments that interest him instead of temporary ones that may bring more money in the present but will not help him gain professional skills for his future. To address this second issue, Roe and I discussed his professional interests and aspirations. Although a well-paid career is important, it is equally important to find a fulfilling and challenging career, as most of us will spend a significant amount of our day at work.

Third, Roe only interacts with people he already knows, and does not attempt to create new relationships and friendships.  For his “homework assignment”, Roe was asked to try and connect with a new person (or someone from his past that he has not seen in a long time) once a week. The ability to make friends and form new connections is very important for networking and advancing professionally.

 

The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine

 

Why Couples Fight

Why Couples Fight

The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine

 

“When we first met we had fun, we loved being together, everything was perfect between us, and there were no fights. After we moved in together, we had small disagreements about silly little things, but since we got married it became worth.” Does this sound familiar to you? Moses (42) and Marine (39) were married three years ago and are experiencing this same scenario. Marine approached me after a lecture I gave on a similar topic and asked if they could meet with me. Marie was worried about repeated disputes and difficulties in communication with her husband. We all want to take long romantic walks on the beach while embracing our loved ones. It feels incredible to be in love, but life usually creates additional challenges for us. Marine and Moses had witnessed arguments between other couples, but they never thought that it would happen to them. With all of the constant fights they go through, Moses started to lose hope and even considered marriage separation. Dr. John Gray, relationship expert and author (“Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”) indicates that one of the challenges between lovers is dealing with differences in opinions and disagreements.  Marine says that when they do not agree on something, the situation quickly escalates into an argument, followed by a fight where they insult and blame each other for things from the past. Eventually, they both feel hurt and beaten, and usually do not even remember what they were even fighting about.  In the case of Marine and Moses, we worked together using the approach of Dr. Gray: When we attack one another, we feel unloved, and this feeling prevents us from developing intimacy and trust with that person. “Men from Mars” are better able to deal with disputes when their emotional needs are met. Moses expresses that he does not feel loved, appreciated, or even wanted. Once Marine became aware of it, instead of attacking him when a disagreement arises, she can express how she feels when it happens. For example, instead of yelling at him ‘how did you forget to buy what I asked you?”, she can tell him that she is hurt when he forgets to do the things she asks of him. Such a response allows him freely and openly listen to her words and understand that she is angry with him. “Women from Venus ” have the need to feel justified, listened to, and cared for. So while they argue, it is important for Moses to admit that sometimes he does not notice his actions and that he is sorry for disappointing her. For example, “you are right. I understand that I disappointed you”. Then, only when she’s ready to listen to him, he should tell her the reasons for his actions.

It is possible to reduce the amount of fights and insults when each side understands the needs of the other person, and does not interpret actions as a personal insult. Differences in opinion do not hurt us, but rather the way in which we respond to them do. It is better to reach a mutual understanding and agreement than to blindly argue with the other person.

 

 

Does Marriage and Happiness Go Hand in Hand?

Does Marriage and Happiness Go Hand in Hand?

The article is based on an article I wrote in Hebrew published in Israpost Magazine

Not all marriages end up in divorce. However, research shows that 1 out of 2-3 couples will get divorced. Tamar and Jacob can not communicate without resulting in a fight, and it often starts with everyday things like who will clean the table after dinner, for how many years to take a mortgage, which school to send the kids, etc. Their communication is through confrontation and power struggle.

In the therapy sessions, Tamar says that she behaves as on “auto pilot” as soon as Jacob says something. Her mind is busy searching for an answer rather than to just listen to him. Jacob says he is not happy. Living with Tamar is not what he thought life would be like after he was married. His male friends simply tell him to get used to it as they do. Tamar and Jacob married nine years ago. They have been in a few couple therapy sessions few years ago, it helped for a short period of time, but they would start fighting again soon after.

What does marriage mean to you? What about happiness? A study conducted by Hoffman and colleagues showed that happiness does not happen in a vacuum, and in a relationship the happiness of one partner often depends on the happiness of the other spouse.

Tamar and Jacob share similar notions about marriage (“marriage is connection, love, commitment, responsibility, concern, longing”), but disagree on what is happiness in a marriage. Happiness in a marriage for Tamar is for example, knowing that Jacob loves her, that “he is always there for me”. For Jacob happiness in a marriage is different- the idea that Tamar doesn’t try to manage him and tell him what to do.

During the therapy sessions, listening and awareness to the different points of view of what happiness in a marriage is helped both of them to identify the source of the conflict. When Jacob blames Tamar, “I’m tired of you telling me what to say or do like I am a child” he started to be in touch with his feelings and than his reactions “I feel disrespected, humiliated and incapable. When I feel like this I start to be angry and aggressive”. Tamar learned to speak to Jacob in a way that he will not perceives as a command and react to it accordingly.

Conversely, Jacob learned that if he will ask for Tamar’s help and will not connect it automatically to “negative consequences” for example, ‘If you will not help me find the keys I’m not going out with you on Friday night “, Tamar will respond more positively and then he will react differently.

Research reveals that couples who share a mutual understanding of what happiness in marriage is, develop an open interpersonal communication characterized as generous, less aggressive and happier. Although a satisfied sex life was found to be a factor in many of these marriages, it was not a necessity for good marriage.