Category Archives: Family

Marriage and Family Therapy offered in the mid-western Michigan region.  The emphasis is upon relational, interpersonal systems within which we all live, work and play.

Areas served include the communities of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, North Muskegon, Grand Haven, Ferrysburg, Spring Lake, Fruitport, Ravenna, Bridgeton, Twin Lake, Dalton, Whitehall, and beyond.

Learned Optimism


It is amazing to me how we often define words like “optimism”.  To the optimist, the word means that you believe the best.  To the realist, the optimist is still in touch with reality; but, just barely.  To the pessimist, the optimist has totally broken with things as they are and is slipping into delusional thinking.  Seeing the glass half-empty or half-full is a more considerate way of explaining the difference.

Martin Seligman has spent a lifetime studying the contrast between optimism and pessimism.  You may remember his early studies on “Learned Helplessness“.  He contends that optimism is a learned behavior that can help people overcome depression, anxiety and a host of other disorders.  In the second edition of his book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life (Seligman, 2006), Seligman takes on the ‘self esteem’ movement in our culture and its shortcomings.  Just a quick read of the preface to this edition is both insightful and convincing.

Optimism is defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is: “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.”

I believe that God is an optimist.  A primary example is His relationship to Israel.

“For he remembered his holy promise given to his servant Abraham. He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws.” (Psalm 45:42-45)

In this psalm the author recalls the great works of God as He brought His people out from the land of Egypt, concluding with the prequel to their entrance into Canaan and the result. Canaan was a land that had been prepared for them on account of at least two things: 1) God’s promise to Abraham and 2) the wickedness of the nations that had lived there before them.  Moses made it clear to them that it was not because of Israel’s righteousness or because they were better than anyone else (Deut. 9:4-6). Yet, he gave them this land to that they would “keep his precepts and observe his laws.”


Anyone who is familiar to Israel’s history knows of the difficulty they had keeping His precepts and observing His laws.  How many times did God, the eternal optimist, tell Israel, in essence: ‘C’mon, trust me.  You can do it.  I’ll help you.’  Knowing that they would fail, that they would pursue other gods and that they would disobey Him, He still chose to believe in them.

Parents often beat themselves up because their children chose to live in ways that disrespect their upbringing.  Plagued with guilt, they wonder what they did wrong, how they missed the boat and what they could have done differently.

Sure, there are things we could have done differently.  Sometimes things work out beautifully, in spite of a child’s parents whose parenting skills were horrible.  Sometimes ‘perfect’ parents have children that just do not seem to have any regard for their family’s beliefs, values and morals.

In the midst of that, all parents have an opportunity to make a choice: “Am I going to deal with my disappointments and hope for the best or anticipate the worst?”  Without going into all of the reasons, in the end, I would recommend TrumanQuotethe course of optimism because that is the course God has chosen.

In other words, when you hope for the best, even when your kids demonstrate that they presently have no intention of moving in that direction, you are in good company with the God of high hopes and a broken heart:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Luke 13:34)



IMG_0542Change is one of those love/hate necessities of life that, right now, I don’t like very much.  It really messes with my environmental predictability engineering!

To explain, I switched health clubs a couple of weeks ago because the new one has a lap pool.  From 7th grade through college I have been on swimming teams; so, naturally, I have been excited.

However, the change has meant more than a simple adjustment in wardrobe.  Because they don’t rent lockers I now have to carry all of my gear to the gym every time.  Forget one thing and you have to make a decision about whether to continue on without that one thing or go home.

We dislike change because it means we have to do things differently.  Some of us find adapting easier to do while others will fight and resist to the bitter end.

The key is that, at some point along the way we usually adapt to the change and make it part of our daily routines.  Then life becomes, once again, predictable.  This is nice because it means I won’t be forgetting things as much and that my routines will help me mindlessly stumble through packing my bag and getting dressed at 4:30 in the morningFamilyHomeostatis.

Families go through natural, predictable changes and adaptations over time.  Family life cycle examples include when a couple marries, has children, changes locations or jobs, deals with aging parents and struggles through their own aging and health issues.  At each of those points of adaptation (among so many countless other adaptations we are called upon to make) every person in the family must go through the tension of new situations.  This includes their attempts to deal with them, the attempts of other family members to deal with them, and their final acceptance of the changes that were required.

Some do well with the changes while others struggle with their own attempts to cope…which requires that the rest of the family figure out how to cope with the one who has had trouble coping.  As a result, an open ended, system failure begins to heighten the tension and remove the balance for which everyone is striving.thermostats

In Family Therapy we call that the struggle for homeostasis.  Like a thermostat that turns on the air conditioning when it’s too warm in the house or turns on the heat when it is too cold, so, also, interpersonal relationships go through the same struggle to maintain a ‘normal’ environment.  When people start pressing through the boundaries things can really get uncomfortable, troublesome and terribly dysfunctional.  In families, not only does the one who has started coloring outside of the lines create problems but the family’s attempts to control the family member can lead to problem behaviors as well.

This dynamic is all part of marriage and family systems theory.  While there is value in trying to understand the genesis of a family member’s ‘bad’ behaviors, how they got started, how they maintain themselves, families usually are most interested in making them stop…or change…or adapt so everyone can get on with life.  Marriage and Family Therapists specialize in helping families work through these transitions, overcoming the obstacles that often arise.  The goal, of course, is helping everyone move to the new level of functioning so that predictability can emerge and people can be liberated to reach out for their potential once again.


Heavy Holidays

happy-holidays-greeting-santa-claus-17263657Holiday advertisers would have us think of this time of year as a happy, care-free time to live extravagantly, to buy things and to eat well.  This is supposed to be a time to kiss the blues goodbye, to celebrate family, to be filled with good cheer, to let go of the past and to look to the future with joy, hope and a sense of glorious anticipation.

For most, this is a time of celebration and good cheer.  For others, however, this time of year can be filled with heavy challenges that contribute to the holiday blues.  What’s more, having a tough time when everyone is expected to be happy can increase the sense of isolation and intensify  the depression.  Here are some examples.

Death and Dying – Hospitals and funeral homes don’t close over the holidays because people still have accidents, get sick and pass away.  It is not necessary to detail all of the things that can go wrong; we all know too well that struggling through the first Thanksgiving or Christmas without a loved one can turn a festive occasion into a time of mourning.

Unproductive Conflict – Sometimes conflict is a good thing when people obey some basic rules and focus on learning to appreciate differences of perception and opinion.  At other times conflict can be painful and very difficult.  Old family issues, deep personal wounds and other skeletons in the closet can surface when families come together.  If those matters are not addressed in an open, healthy dialogue, they can often deteriorate into painfully predictable patterns of conflict that dishearten those who ‘just wanted everyone to be happy.’

High Expectations – During the holidays it is easy to get hopes up that this year it will be different than it has been in years past.  When anticipations for joyous homecomings border on wishful thinking, the let down can be particularly discouraging when reality shatters hopes for change.  We all have a sense for how things ‘ought’ to be….

Divorce and Step-Family Tensions – So many issues can arise when families have to cope with child visitation agreements and step-family dynamics.  Broken agreements, unilateral pronouncements and favoritism–whether perceived or real–can introduce real pain in situations where anger, resentment and bitterness already hang over a home like a dark thundercloud.  Forced smiles mask the deep hurts that lie beneath the surface where kids fall victim to a couple’s ongoing retaliation against their former spouses.stressful-family

These and other matters can uniquely arise with interpersonal relationships as best intentions are misinterpreted and reality shatters hopeful anticipations.  The holidays can, indeed, be discouraging; even heart-breaking.  Even when everyone is relatively happy, one family member who struggles with depression–whatever its root cause–can cast a pall that brings everyone else down.  This, in turn, can add to the sense of isolation, guilt and even shame that already burdens someone who ‘just can’t get over it.’

Marriage and Family Therapists are specially trained to help couples and families discover ways to cope within the context of interpersonal realities and individual differences.  Many times a simple listening ear of someone who stands outside of the family dynamics can clarify issues, foster an inner resolve and fortify coping skills that, many times, clients already possess but may have forgotten or got lost in the fragmentation that is happening around them.  So many families become locked into dysfunctional patterns that sometimes need  ‘simple’ interventions to get back to the normal patterns that are familiar, helpful and hopeful.



a6370c1c-e33f-4a44-a422-809bfa964584_155x114With the announcement of Detroit’s bankruptcy has come a host of other observations about this once, great city.  An example of this fascination with the effects of a metropolitan city in collapse is a series of pictures taken of several buildings that are in decay entitled Modern Ruins of Abandoned Detroit.

Symbolizing the dramatic decline of Motor City, many buildings and structures in the former manufacturing mecca of Detroit, Mich. lay in crumbling and weather-beaten ruins. In his bestselling book, “The World Without Us,” Alan Weisman (who has reported from abandoned cities such as Chernobyl, Ukraine and Varosha, Cyprus) wrote that structures crumble as weather does unrepaired damage and other life forms create new habitats. A common structure would begin to fall apart as water eventually leaks into the roof, erodes the wood and rusts the nail, he wrote. Without intervention, many of Detroit’s abandoned structures would eventually succumb to nature’s elements.

This simple observation of deterioration of buildings that are neglected over time is a principle that applies to many things, including relationships.  More specifically, in a marriage and family context, relationships require maintenance to avoid deterioration from the wear and tear of life’s events.

For example, preventive maintenance is very important for helping the building serve the purpose for which it was designed.  When filters are not changed, heating and cooling systems are ignored, machinery is not oiled, software updates are not downloaded, things eventually begin to require repair that could have been avoided or postponed by regular maintenance schedules.

Pressing the metaphor, sometimes it requires proactive initiatives to accommodate growth,  enhance the surroundings, anticipate security needs or adjust to changing demands.  Seeing change ahead, to ignore the warning signs may lead to overcrowding, outdated decor, or real damage to the structure.

Finally, there are those times when emergency repairs are necessary due to weather damage, a shifting foundation, vandalism and defacement of property.  At these times, the imperative is to make the repairs to avoid further damage or to keep up the value of the property.

Ignore the need for preventive maintenance, proactive opportunities and emergency repairs and the building becomes a shell of what it once was; an inhabitable structure that deteriorates and, eventually, collapses upon itself.

In terms of human relations the dynamic is much the same.  Prevention often comes in the form of cultivating relationships with positive exchanges that enhance and enrich, encouraging a feedback loop of positive behaviors and fond memories that give strength and resilience.

Over the life of a family that strength and resilience will be tested with adversity.  When those challenges are anticipated during the family life cycle steps can be taken to adjust the moral compass for children, creation of new habits and discontinuing problematic ones.  It’s the surprises that demand emergency attention from sudden tragedies brought on by bad choices, inappropriate behaviors, or damaging trauma that will forever alter the course of one’s life or one’s relationships that can break the bonds of trust and security.

All relationships worth preserving require preventive maintenance, proactive initiatives and emergency repairs.  Denial of the need to adapt and change while ignoring opportunities for growth can lead to devastating consequences and collapse.   Being alert to those needs and applying the correct measures in a timely way can lead to flourishing resilience in those times of opportunity and challenge.  



Brief Marriage and Family Therapy

Signature:2a0f6d0366f291694bd9cc422bff24b12e1d3afd88bc0ed09c9a8814df3c0837People are often surprised when I tell them I can usually schedule an appointment within a day or two.  Part of the reason this is possible is because of the nature of my practice of Brief Marriage and Family Therapy.  Another expression used to describe this approach is “solution-focused” therapy or strategic, goal-directed therapy.

Therapy begins by focusing upon defining the problem as it functions within the family system and examining what a solution to the problem would look like.  Beginning with the goal in mind, I will often make a proposal for how we might be able to get there during the first session.*  Stated simply, we know we have finished therapy when the goal is achieved, usually within less than ten sessions.

Marriage and Family Therapy is optimistic about marriages and families.  The reason we believe that marriage and family therapy should be brief is because a core belief is that families mostly get along fairly well most of the time, even though all families struggle with problems.  From the budgeting of time, moneycoupleestranged and other resources to making simple choices such as what to have for breakfast and prioritizing to-do lists, the very fabric of marriage and family life is woven with choices and decisions.

But, every once-in-a-while, families get stuck, marriages go into crisis and relationships become difficult and even unmanageable.  The role of the marriage and family therapist is not necessarily to re-write the family script by keeping them locked into a therapeutic contract for extended periods of time.  The key is to focus on the present challenge, find out how it functions in the marriage and family and help everyone involved devise a strategy for change that can help the family move on.

Because we are solution-focused we don’t normally spend a great of time working through childhood issues, trying to determine who is right or wrong, good or bad, or at fault.  Nor do we typically spend a great deal of time reviewing family histories.

As fascinating and informative as these approaches to marriage and family therapy can be, this is not to say that these things are not important.  Furthermore, there are times when it is important to give more attention to these aspects of family life because of the bearing they  have upon the present circumstances of the family.  This is especially true when couples and their children are intensely involved in conflict and challenge within their families of origin and their relationships with other relatives.

Stated very simply, individuals, couples and families come to Marriage and Family Therapists because they want to relate to each other better; but, something is in the way of helping them achieve their goal.  Often they feel stuck or stagnant.  At other times someone is caught up in a behavior or perception that is having a negative impact on others, threatening the stability of the relationships involved.

My goal as a brief, solution-focused, strategic Marriage and Family Therapist is to help them solve the problem and to get on with life.

So, to answer the original question, the reason I can schedule clients with fairly short notice has something to do with the fact that my practice is all about helping families solve their problems and then getting out of the way.

Logo for the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

For more information why not set up a first appointment and we can discuss how this approach may help you address some areas in which you wish to move forward but…..  The first appointment is always free.

Stephen has been a Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1991 and he is Licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist  in the State of Michigan.


Reflections From Father’s Day

Arnold and Wanda waiting on the bus in front of the train terminal in Helsinki.

Father’s Day is a relatively new event, signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1972.  While there are no ‘official’ job descriptions for fathers, there is a general consensus about what they are supposed to do.  Much of this is anchored in Scripture and goes back to the ultimate, perfect Father who set the bar for the rest of us.

I have been contemplating this concept since celebrating my own father’s holiday last Sunday and pulled together some reflections based upon my observations of his life with my mom.

Family First – When I think of dad I think of mom, too.  I never really saw them take much “me time” with the girls or with the guys.  They were all about ‘us time’.  On our little farm in Plymouth, Michigan there were always chores to do, animals to care for and projects to complete.  Cleaning brick for the patio, tearing down an old house, cleaning out the stalls of the horses, sweating copper pipe joints for the baseboard heating, working in the garden….most all of these tasks had one thing in common: we did them, usually, together. 

Integrity – Even if there was a cost involved, doing the right thing was always the right thing to do.  Sure, there were agonizing moments but, in the end, the clarity of conviction and principle won the day, trumping short cuts and easy answers.  I can remember dad having to file extensions every year for his taxes with receipts all over the dining room table because he would not take a deduction unless he could verify it with a receipt.  It used to drive all of us crazy!

Industrious – Need something done? Sure, we can try.  Where are the manuals.  So many things I learned about cars and home maintenance and construction came from working alongside my father as we learned, together, how to lay brick, how to build a sauna, how to sweat pipe, and so much more.  The spirit of “I can do it” helped me venture into packing the bearings on my bike’s wheels, design a diving bell for exploring the local pond (it didn’t work, by the way!) and, now, to rebuild an old car from the ground up, build a garage and take on projects for the first time.

Gallimore School Sign
Dad Was The Principal Here In The 1960’s.

Creative – Out of the box thinking, willing to go against convention and try new things, innovate, change, forge ahead.  Taking advantage of a neglected forrest area behind Gallimore School he pushed forward and transformed it into a nature trail with an amphitheater, walking trail and nature experiments.  Just getting the Road Runner as mascot for the school required contacting Warner Brother’s for copyright permission.  As a kid I can remember the excitement I felt when dad received the letter granting permission, coming from Warner Brother’s studios itself!

Faithful – On the farm there will be accidents, bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes and blood spilled.  This is not a place for the squeemish, the faint or the timid.  On the farm, you see it all, smell it all, and experience life, front and center.  Truly, the farm is a great place to raise a family to prepare them for the world.  Great place to learn that if you don’t feed the animals, the animals don’t get fed.  If you don’t clean out the stalls, the animals have to…well, you get the picture.  So much of the farm’s functioning depends upon it’s owners being regular, predictable…faithful.  Never had a question about whether or not he was devoted to be faithful to his marriage or his family because he was there all of the time when not at work, helping us do what had to be done.

Spiritual – The underpinnings of my faith have undergone significant transformation over the years but it began by watching my dad faithfully, dutifully, make sure that our family attended church every Sunday.  Even when we were on the road on vacation, our priority was to find a church on Sundays and Wednesdays where we could meet with the saints.  Serving each other communion in the woods while hunting in northern Michigan or dressing for Sunday service in the pop-up camper before going to church…these memories

Arnie’s Army – 1976 AIC Champions

are embedded in my consciousness.  But it was more than that.  My dad’s fastidiousness with church attendance was matched by his spiritual journey that I have watched over the years.  Immersed in legalism in our early family life, we, as a family, have all grown together–at varying rates of progression–in our appreciation for God’s grace.  Much of this was initiated when my father and mother made the decision to uproot our family from Michigan as the drugs began to flood the schools and move us to Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas where he would earn a reputation as a spiritual swimming coach for  Arnie’s Army.


While much more can be said about fathers and the legacy they leave behind, my personal reflections serve to remind me of the things I hope to pass along to my family in the years to come.  Some of our fathers never had the opportunity to learn from great examples and they had to make it up as they went along.  Some fathers fail miserably,  passing along their dysfunctions to generations;  trouble that only the brave and resolute will correct.  My hat is off to those who have chosen to be good fathers in spite of their experiences.

For most, however, we look up to fathers who did their best.  In most cases, this quality rings true through all of the incredible variety of challenges and experiences we will face over the years, testing our resolve, our commitment, our principles and our values to our very core.  Need a good role model in those desperate times?  Look to God and seek out someone who knows Him well and you will be well on your way to being the father that your children will cherish.


The Double Bind

Man Scratching HeadThe Double Bind is defined as “…a psychological predicament in which a person receives from a single source conflicting messages that allow no appropriate response to be made” ( correctly credits Gregory Bateson with the exploration of the concept back in the 1950s as systems theory began to form the basis for Marriage and Family Therapy.

For example, the mother who complains because her son does not demonstrate his love for her, pushes him away when he reaches out to give her a hug.  It is a type of schizophrenic messaging that leaves the child confused about correct responses that will please his parent.

In reality we all give off double-bind messages to one degree or another.  Wanting a child to do his or her chores is one thing.  Insisting that they enjoy doing their chores may not be an effective strategy for making sure the job gets done.  Or asking someone to choose where to go out to eat and then shooting down every suggestion they make puts the person in a double bind; i.e., no right answer.

Families taking pride in their openness and transparency can sometimes discourage the very thing they want.  This can often be because of poor listening skills that unintentionally communicate very different values.

Alcoholic families often wrestle with these mixed messages.  For example, the father who comes home drunk explodes in anger over the most insignificant infractions in the family; sometimes over nothing at all.  At the same time he might totally ignore the most horrendous behaviors among family members. Add a healthy dose of unpredictability and the family is constantly in a state of confusion about family rules for day-to-day functioning and simple tasks.  These patterns of behavior can become so entrenched in families that, long after substance abuse has stopped, the alcoholic family dynamics and belief systems persist for generations.

To the outside observer, the family’s attempts to cope with these double-bind situations of mixed messaging and unpredictability look illogical and even irrational.  Within the family system, however, the unusual behaviors actually make sense at some level.  Try those unusual behaviors in other settings, however, where predictable, logical rules are applied in a consistent way and the unusual behaviors don’t make any sense at all.

The most common reaction in these situations, it seems to me, is to withdraw and isolate one’s self from the tensions they perceive in the family.  People get quiet, go underground, retreat, stuff their feelings and even slump into depression.  On the other hand, family members who attempt to confront the family’s system are sometimes ostracized and labeled as “the problem.”

The double bind is just one of many examples of the types of challenges Marriage and Family Therapists address frequently.  It is all part of how relationships work in marriages and families.  But, more than that, you can also see these dynamics in many social structures such as in church, government, the workplace or school.  In whatever setting, there are things that can be done to confront the double bind systems that we deal with every day, encouraging healthy communication and consistent messaging while also reconciling conflicting ideas and addressing cross purposes.


Parenting is Tough

Dad with little son outdoors at oceanParenting is tough.  While children go through their developmental changes, each with their own unique personalities and temperaments, parents must morph their parenting tools to adapt and change.  Not only must the techniques and tools change with developmental stages but, at the same time, they must further adapt to the uniqueness of each child.  I sometimes wonder who must change the most during these transitions: the child or the parent!?

Wise parents use a complex, dynamic arsenal of tools to help their children move from the cradle to differentiated lives as adults. We use rewards to encourage good choices and punishment to discourage bad choices.  At other times we ignore behaviors in hopes that they will stop for lack of reinforcement while we redirect their focus of attention to encourage positive feedback loops and new interests.

There are parents who do not have a clue about how to use these tools equitably and their kids still live successful lives. At the same time there are others who apply them with wisdom only to watch their offspring make horrible choices with painful consequences.People & Cross

As the ultimate Parent, God, the Father of Israel, worked to shape the lives of His children over hundreds of years of history with punishments, rewards, forgiveness and blessings and so much more…but they still killed his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

Parenting is tough…just ask God.

And when you struggle with the choices your kids make, remember: God wrestles with the choices we make as well, in spite of everything He has done for us.  Yet, our failures do not mean He is a failure, nor do our children’s wrong choices necessarily mean that we are bad parents.

Children will make wrong choices, just like you and I did!

Here is the kicker: bad choices are often made because we choose to make them, not because God let us down.  It’s the same with our kids.  Sure, unlike God, we have all made parenting mistakes…some of us more than others.  But at some point we must realize that our children are free to make their own choices and to suffer their own consequences for those choices.  Like us, our hope for them is that their choices become learning opportunities that open the door to better choices in the future.

So, give yourself a break now and then and stop beating yourself up for the mistakes your kids make.  Parenting is tough and perhaps the biggest lesson to learn along the way is that the maturing process may have more to do with what we learn as parents than what our kids learn under our watchful eye.  Perhaps just as important as what our kids learn in the process of life is discovering what we are learning as parents who are hoping for the best in the process.

Struggling with parenting? You are in good company!

Hosea 11:1-4

1 “When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called,
the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals
and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize
it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed them.


Anger, Healthy Choices And The Holidays

“His anger was offensive. He ought to be more considerate.  It is a choice.  After all, it is Thanksgiving!”

“Why can’t she be thoughtful about the fact that I want the kids on Christmas eve?”

“When are my parents going to realize that I have to think about my spouse’s parents, too.  They want to see their grand kids on Christmas morning also!”

We all have a sense for how people should behave.  When they behave differently than our expectations we have choices to make about how we are going to process their choices and react.  Part of the challenge is discerning between those matters that are under our control and those that are not under our control.  Covey calls these ‘Circles of Influence.” The prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, often recited in recovery group meetings can be helpful:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. 
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

 God has gifted each of us with rational minds that can make choices that are logical and defensible.  He has not equipped us with the ability to cause others to think rationally and to make logical and defensible decisions.  Speaking only of probabilities, we can influence others–to the extent that they allow us to do so–but, in the end, everyone must make their choices and deal with the consequences of those decisions.

Just because someone reacts negatively to my logical and rational decision to allow relatives to enjoy Christmas morning every other year with their grandchildren does not mean that I must give in to their overreaction.  In fact, it makes sense to be even more determined to address the issue equitably rather than to give in so that everyone understands that your decision is not to be based upon pressure and fear.  It is an attempt to work from a position of common sense and rational  Peace at all costs often leads to more wars and conflict because people realize that getting what they want is tied to how strongly they react, no matter how illogical and unreasonable their position.  The desire to avoid conflict, in itself, can plant the seeds for further conflict rather than bring about the desired effect of reducing it.

In the end, the only prescription may be to do the right thing insofar as you can do so with objectivity and follow through with your decision, giving others the freedom to decide how they wish to respond.  You may be surprised to realize that they respect your decisions and appreciate the lack of mixed messages that often come with pressured choices and vacillating principles.

In the end, the best way to move through some of those tough choices can begin with three steps.  1) Take a moment to consider the most logical and equitable choice.  2) Discern between those things over which you have control in contrast to those over which you do not have control.  3) Count the cost and be ready to face the consequences of your choices and the irrational reactions you may have to face.  These three simple steps may be an important part of bringing peace and harmony to those tough times for families during the holidays…or they may not.  The key, in the end, may be that you considered the options and made a decision for which you were prepared to deal with the consequences.  In other words, you did the best you could under the circumstances.


Grief, Loss & Marriage and Family Therapy

When we exclaim “Happy Holidays!” to one another we are assuming that the holidays are happy times for others.  Yet, we all realize that the this time of year can be very challenging times for people for a variety of reasons.  Necessary, unavoidable losses in life can present real hurdles to overcome during the holidays.

Death of a Loved One can be devastating to a family, whenever it happens; but, during the holidays the intensity of the grief can be magnified.  Often we think of older people who were the center of the family who will no longer prepare the Thanksgiving meal or pass out presents from under the tree.  This is also a time to remember those who have miscarried or lost infants or young children.  The finality of death can be brutal during those first times through traditional holidays without their loved one.

Separation and Divorce can impose a fog of depression upon normally happy times for families and relatives.  When children are involved the holidays can often mean scheduled qui pro quo arrangements to assure equitable opportunities to be with different families where animosities and hurt feelings can overrule the hope for peace and mutual affection.  The grief that infuses the breakup of a family and its seasonal traditions is sometimes ignored or minimized so that everyone else can pretend everything is just fine.

The Loss of a Job can compound the grief experience of a family during the holidays because of the economic impact and the difficulty of looking for work in a depressed economy.  At the same time there are valiant attempts to be optimistic, keep their spirits high, to weather through the storms and to welcome change.  Nonetheless, when unemployment is extended and benefits run out the family may have to prepare for further losses as houses foreclose, cars go back to the dealers and bankruptcy becomes the only option to keep the creditors at bay.

Each family is unique in its adjustment to necessary losses and sometimes a therapist can help over the specially difficult transition points along the way.  In solution-focused marriage and family therapy we quickly define the goal and move at the family’s pace to achieve it so the family can move through their transitions.  The key is the transitions as families evolve beyond their losses and begin learning how to exist with the new constellation of relationships and responsibilities.

Whatever the challenge, Marriage and Family Therapists are specially trained to work with family members…in whole or in part…to work through the changes and move on to accepting the reality of their loss and lay out a plan for the future.

During the holidays, Stephen’s hours will be extended through weekends (including Sunday afternoon and evenings) in order to accommodate family members with conflicting work schedules.  Availability begins the weekend of November 17-18 and continues on into the new year as needed.  For more information you may confidentially contact Stephen by email at or by phone at