Sep 25

Division of Labor Challenges Couples

Conflict is inevitable in marriage, and how to divvy up chores is one of the most common conflicts. Virtually every couple I have seen for counseling over the last twenty years has argued about the division of labor in their marriage. Dr. Susan O’Grady

In addressing the topic of division of labor between coupled partners, journalist Oliver Burkeman (The Guardian) has cited a helpful term from Tiffany Dufu‘s book Drop the Ball: “Imaginary delegation” is “the all-too-familiar relationship pattern,” explains Burkeman, “whereby you see (or just think of) some household task that needs doing, mentally assign it to your partner, fail to inform them you’ve done so, then feel sincere outrage when they disregard the instructions you never gave them.”

Apparently Dufu views women as the more likely delegators, men the more likely mind-readers. While this may help us understand some heterosexual pairings better, what about gay/lesbian pairings?

Tracy Moore, Jezebel: “A small study looking at how gay and straight couples negotiate chores has found that (surprise) same-sex couples are better at discussing and negotiating a fair division of labor, which in turn leaves both parties more satisfied. Every straight woman may now look to your boyfriend/husband/roustabout and sigh with the soft resignation of knowing that your advanced capabilities, while deeply satisfying, in no way lead to greater happiness (or less work).”

Two basic ways different-sex couples can move forward are suggested by Susan Newman, PhD, Psychology Today:

  • Focus less on establishing an equal division of responsibilities and more on what works best within your relationship.
  • Don’t assign chores or responsibilities simply due to traditional or deeply-ingrained gender models or expectations for those roles.

Despite the problems over division of labor and tasks that both nongay and gay couples regularly present in therapy, there is often resistance to fixing them via the usual recommendation, i.e., increasing communication specifically about what each likes to do, what each is willing to do, and how to implement a plan accordingly.

Too bad about the resistance—because such communication would likely do the trick. As Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D., Psych Central, attests regarding the two-paycheck couple so prevalent today:

Couples who do the least arguing about housework are those who have talked about it and made choices together. As with many things in human relationships, there is no ‘right’ answer to how tasks should be distributed. What is essential is that both members of a couple make the effort to work the discussion all the way through to genuine agreement on a method for distributing or trading off the less desirable tasks of running a household.

Hartwell-Walker offers multiple checklists designed to measure a couple’s current state of conflict and the division of labor that exists inside and outside of the home as well as the division of child care and how relationships with family and friends are managed. Look for these checklists in her Psych Central article, then print them out and start making your lives less unnecessarily tense or conflict-ridden.

Sep 22

“Stronger”: Post-Traumatic Injury and Recovery

“Stronger” transcends your standard inspirational drama mostly through two fantastic performances, but also in the way it understands that trauma isn’t inspirational to the people who suffer it. Brian Tallerico,

Stronger is guaranteed to trigger our feelings about the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. However, the film focuses not on the events themselves but on the aftermath, particularly in the life of Jeff Bauman, who co-wrote a (same-titled) 2014 memoir with Brett Witter.

Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter, introduces the movie:

As Bauman, [Jake] Gyllenhaal is a likable clown: A wide-eyed, working class Bostonian, he’s an ordinary guy who screws up at work and then begs to be forgiven so he can catch the Red Sox game with his buddies. He lives with his demanding, alcoholic mother (Miranda Richardson), whom he finds in the bar watching the game with her equally drunk girlfriends. Jeff banters a bit with her as she falls off her stool. But his attention is fastened on his ex, Erin Hurley (Tatiana Maslany), whom he recently broke up with for the third time.

Erin is a runner prepping for the marathon and to win back her affection, he promises he will be waiting for her to cross the finish line. As she later points out to him, he never shows up when he’s supposed to — except this time, he does…

The trailer conveys a lot more:

Erin and Jeff

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “It’s through Erin that we watch Bauman’s medical and psychological battles in the first weeks after the bombing, and Maslany has a still, empathetic presence that can bring tears to your eyes — she’s the movie’s soul.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “He drinks, he yells, he cries, he misses therapy sessions, he reluctantly attends public events to be a mascot of hope for ‘Boston Strong,’ he hits his head a lot and he and Hurley’s relationship vacillates violently throughout — she moves in, they get back together, he disappoints again — culminating in a distressing shouting match in a car.”


Kate Erbland, IndieWire: “‘Stronger’ is not a film about Jeff coming to terms with his new body or learning how to walk again, but instead dealing with great personal pain while also struggling with the demands of a notoriety he never asked for. It’s a film about heroes and what we require from them, and why that often leads to wounds that may never heal.”

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist: “The most complex and convincing element of ‘Stronger’ is its consideration of what it means to be a hero. Further absorbing is Jeff’s struggle to reconcile the nation’s admiration for his resolve with his frustrations, guilt and his acute understanding that surviving a bombing isn’t what heroism is made of.”

Selected Reviews

Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times: “We’ve all seen plenty of inspirational recovery-from-injury dramas, but ‘Stronger’ is better than most — it mostly, if not entirely, avoids sentimental cliché — and provides an eloquent backstory to a moment many of us will recognize.”

Scott Tobias, NPR: “Stronger is an answer to inspirational dramas that treat the afflicted like the city of Boston treated Bauman after the bombing, as a victory lap instead of a human being. We may come away appreciating his effort, but with a much more clear-eyed view of what that effort entailed. It’s all the more inspirational for being accessible.”

Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press: “It is, in many ways, an anti-Hollywood movie with a fittingly complicated ending. The movie cuts off on a positive note in their relationship, with them together and expecting a child. In real life, Bauman and Hurley divorced earlier this year. But this movie is not a love story. It’s about the sometimes ugly truth behind a symbol. And the most powerful moment comes late in the film with the man in the cowboy hat.”

Sep 20

Dealing with Fear: Three Books

In chronological order of publication, the following are three popular books about dealing with fear:

I. The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence (1997) by Gavin de Becker.

An expert on both fear and the psychology of danger, de Becker teaches awareness of “pre-incident indicators (PINS) of violence.”

Practice respecting one’s intuition, he says, not denial, which he describes as “a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level, and it causes a constant low-grade anxiety. Millions of people suffer that anxiety, and denial keeps them from taking action that could reduce the risks (and the worry).”

Selected Quotes

Every day, people engaged in the clever defiance of their own intuition become, in mid-thought, victims of violence and accidents. So when we wonder why we are victims so often, the answer is clear: It is because we are so good at it.

Most men fear getting laughed at or humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death.

Worry is the fear we manufacture—it is not authentic. If you choose to worry about something, have at it, but do so knowing it’s a choice. Most often, we worry because it provides some secondary reward.

II. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm (2012) by Thich Nhat Hanh 

A top-ranking Amazon book on this topic, Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh offers the perspective of a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master.

Selected Quotes

The only way to ease our fear and be truly happy is to acknowledge our fear and look deeply at its source. Instead of trying to escape from our fear, we can invite it up to our awareness and look at it clearly and deeply.

We are very afraid of being powerless. But we have the power to look deeply at our fears, and then fear cannot control us.

Living mindfully in the present does not preclude making plans. It only means that you know there’s no use losing yourself in worries and fear concerning the future.

III. The Fear Cure: Cultivating Courage as Medicine for the Body, Mind, and Soul (2015) by Lissa Rankin, MD   

From the publisher’s blurb:

At the intersection of science and spirituality, The Fear Cure identifies the Four Fearful Assumptions that lie at the root of all fears—from the sense that we’re alone in the universe to the belief that we can’t handle losing what we love—and shifts them into Four Courage-Cultivating Truths that pave our way to not only physical well-being, but profound awakening.

Selected Quotes

Courage is not about being fearless; it’s about letting fear transform you so you come into right relationship with uncertainty, make peace with impermanence, and wake up to who you really are.

Studies show that most emotions last no longer than 90 seconds unless we attach stories to them. You have a feeling of being lonely—and this will pass through you quickly unless you make up a story about how you’re lonely because you’re unlovable and worthless and nobody will ever love you and you’re going to be alone forever…

In order to optimize health, the body needs to be in relaxation response the majority of the time so the body’s natural disease-fighting mechanisms can operate properly.

Sep 15

Emotional Affairs: How to Detect, Deal As a Couple

By getting tips from various therapists about emotional affairsBrittany Wong, HuffPost, compiled “seven signs your partner may be on the verge of emotional infidelity”:

  1. There’s something off in their physical and online encounters with the other person…
  2. They seem physically distant from you…
  3. They become obsessive with their phone…
  4. They say they’re “just friends…”
  5. They start to talk about your relationship in less certain terms…

  6. They don’t want to talk about the other person…
  7. You find out that they’ve told the other person a lot about your relationship…

Special note about number four. The point is, people in general don’t refer to their actual “just friends” as “just friends”—they’re your “friends.”

Dr. Shirley P. Glass (1936-2003) emphasized this in her book NOT “Just Friends” about the gamut of unfaithful behaviors. Her website provides an 8-question quiz, Just Friends or Emotional Affair?, to determine if your or your partner’s friendship may have passed into the emotional affair zone.

Regarding an emotional affair’s fallout, social work professor Wendy Lustbader‘s post “Emotional Affairs: Why They Hurt So Much” (Psychology Today) has a pertinent subheading, One partner feels wounded; the other feels falsely accused. 

In the stories I have heard from those who feel thus betrayed, the worst aspect of making this kind of discovery is trying to talk about it with the partner. Any expression of hurt or jealousy is taken as a challenge to the partner’s right to have friends outside the marriage, to have personal freedom. It’s just a friendship. To complain about such a valuable addition to the partner’s life is to be accused of being controlling, petty, and insecure. Questions about the nature of this relationship are met with defensive justifications that leave the other feeling worse. Instead of hoped-for reassurance, there is deep hurt.

If you need to confront your partner about the possibility of him or her having an emotional affair, Wong provides some things to consider.

  • Try to use a a calm, neutral voice…
  • Express concern over how things have changed.
  • Be prepared to tell your partner what you’d like to them to do.
  • Come in strong with emotional support and emotional intimacy.

If you’re the partner engaging in the emotional affair, Lustbader advises the following:

(1)    The ‘friendship’ you have been claiming as a right is making your partner suffer. Decide whether you want to preserve your marriage. If so, it is crucial to stop asserting that this outside relationship is harmless.

(2)    Tell your partner that their insecurity is not a personal defect but rather a natural response to feeling shut out of this ‘friendship’ and feeling threatened by it.

(3)    Acknowledge to your partner that emotional straying can be just as painful as sexual betrayal, because the barriers that now separate you as a couple are the same – secrets are being kept and certain things can’t be talked about freely any more.

(4)    If you are finding something in this ‘friendship’ you are not finding with your partner, talk about it openly. Give your partner a chance to address these missing pieces so that your emotional depth and intimacy as a couple can be rejuvenated. Couples counseling may be necessary for you to express what has been lacking in the marriage and for you both to move into a phase of mutual and respectful growth.

(5)    Explain to your ‘friend’ that you need some distance so as to give your marriage a chance to resume its primacy in your emotional life, e.g. that it endangers your marriage to continue building such a compelling closeness with someone else.

Sep 13

When Narcissism a Trait, Not Necessarily Disorder

Narcissism is an inflated sense of self. It is thinking that you are better than you actually are. It is a complicated trait with lots of different correlates to it, but it does include things like seeking fame, attention, vanity, and so on. However, its main characteristic is its self-centeredness. Jean M. Twenge (via Mutual Responsibility)

Several notable books, one brand new, take on the type of narcissism that is not necessarily a personality disorder but actually a relatively common personality trait.

I. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) by Drs. Jean M. Twenge, W. Keith Campbell 

The authors address such questions as, how is narcissism not just high self-esteem? One main difference, they say, is that narcissists lack the ability or interest in nurturing their relationships.

Mutual Responsibility quotes Twenge on other “signs of narcissism”:

  • Overconfidence
  • Being delusional about one’s own greatness
  • Over-optimism
  • Taking too many risks
  • An inflated, unrealistic sense of self
  • Alienation from other people
  • Entitlement, the expectation of having things handed to you without much effort
  • Not caring about others.

II. Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad–and Surprising Good–About Feeling Special (2015) by Craig Malkin

Rethinking Narcissism is about de-pathologizing the term. “The truth is,” states the book blurb, “that narcissists (all of us) fall on a spectrum somewhere between utter selflessness on the one side, and arrogance and grandiosity on the other. A healthy middle exhibits a strong sense of self. On the far end lies sociopathy.”

Find out where you stand by taking a brief test that’s available on psychologist Malkin’s website. Your results will provide an assessment of your degree of echoismhealthy narcissism, and extreme narcissism.

(When people have “echoism,” according to Dr. Malkin, they are “so fearful of attention or acknowledgment that they often seem to have no voice at all.”)

By the way, psychologist Leon F. Seltzer (Psychology Today) says the longer book version of Malkin’s self-test is “alone worth the price of the book.” (He also highly recommends Rethinking Narcissism as a whole.)

III. Everyday Narcissism: Yours, Mine, and Ours by Nancy Van Dyken (September 12, 2017)

In an interview with Psychology Today, author Van Dyken defines “everyday narcissism” as “a low-grade, garden-variety form of narcissism that most of us struggle with, often on a daily basis.” Reports Publishers Weekly, “everyday narcissism” includes “the resulting passivity, inability to discuss emotion, and self-denial” that arises from being taught certain myths from an early age.

These five myths have been typically handed down from one generation to another and are as follows:

  • We are responsible for—and have the power to control—how other people feel and behave.
  • Other people are responsible for—and have the power to control—the way we feel and behave.
  • The needs and wants of other people are more important than our own.
  • Following the rules is also more important than addressing our needs and feelings.
  • We are not lovable as we are; we can only become lovable through what we do and say.

One of Van Dyken’s various recommendations is to learn how to say no, which in her work as a therapist is “one of the hardest pieces of homework I give to people.” Her advice will go something like this: “I’d like you to say ‘no, that won’t work for me’ three times this week.” As she recently related to Mike Zimmerman,, “It might take someone 3 months to learn how to do that.”