Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Doing the same things and expecting different results

It has been a staple of American thought for decades and fodder for late night TV to summarize a person with bad habits as "insane" because they "Do the same things over and over and expect different results."

After decades of counseling people, especially couples, I have decided that helping people to get out of the rut of bad habits that do not work is quite simple but extremely difficult. It is like telling people to stop eating and writing with the right hand. When I reflexively pick up an item with my right hand I am acting from long habit rather than a conscious decision. That is hard to change.

When a woman viciously attacks the man she loves because he forgot to bring home a gallon of milk on the way work it is habit speaking. She is automatically doing what she has always done and it seems right for her to keep doing it.

But when that habit pattern destroys what she really wants, love, then she needs to stop it and develop a new habit. That seems simple enough but most people look at me as if I had told them to stop gravity when I suggest it.

When a man habitually comes home from work late and is unavailable to help his wife and kids it surely upsets the apple cart. He knows it is a bad habit but he just keeps doing the same thing over and over until his wife and kids are disgusted with him. But when I suggest ways he could be on time he is shocked at the possibility of a change.

Here is a simple formula:

If what you are doing helps you get what you want-keep doing it.

If what you are doing is not working-stop doing it.

In the first year of so of my marriage to Karen I had a great suggestion for how she should wash her hair. (This was in the era of curlers and so forth.)Karen was already fed up with my arrogance and superior airs but this was the last straw. She exploded and, looking around to find something to hit me with that was not fatal, picked up a pile of freshly washed towels and smacked me with them.

That was enough to help me see that telling my wife how to do things was not working!!! (I was pretty smart, eh?) I did not completely stop my long habit of arrogance immediately but over time I have gotten better. Why?? Because it was not working. It did not build peace, harmony and romance in our tiny little apartment in Mt. Vernon, Illinois.

Conflict is inevitable but misery is optional. Stop stuff that causes you and your family misery. "Wise up, son!" as my daddy would say.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Help The Needy

Dope and Dopers

One out of every 12 full-time workers in the United States admit illegal drug use in the past month according to a new survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Among those who admitted using illegal drugs in the past month:

19.0% were ages 18 to 25
10.3% were ages 26 to 34
7.0% were ages 35 to 49
2.6% were ages 50 to 64

The ways parents relate with each other has a great effect on kids. If you want to promote alcohol and drug abuse by your children make sure you and your spouse also drink and smoke dope. And, fight a lot so your children are very insecure.

Drugs and alcohol are highly correlated with poverty, mental and emotional illness and violence. If you really want to see your kids and grand kids sick, poor and violent you can do it by making a mess of your own life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Our New Focus

We are in the midst of changing the name and focus of our non-profit organization. It has always been Life Way Inc but in the future shall be called, Sweeten Life Systems.

The old name is too confusing for people. Many get us confused with the Southern Baptists who operate a group with the Lifeway name and others with Life Way Counseling.

So, get used to the new name, Sweeten Life Systems. Sweeten, of course, is my family name and it makes confusion about who this is less likely.

Second, our focus is on Life Systems. Family systems, organizational systems and educational systems. That means we know something about the ways groups act and not just individuals. For example, the way Mom and Dad treat each other and their own parents may have more to do with the way Junior acts than how they treat him directly.

Systemic Thinking goes back many thousands of years. The holy books of the Jews and Christians are primarily written from a systemic perspective. They say, for example, "Honor your father and mother so you will live a long time on this earth." You might ask, "How does my attitude toward my Dad affect my long term health?"

Recent research shows a very clear and very strong correlation between Adverse Childhood Events and later Adult Diseases. In other words, kids who lose a parent to drugs, divorce, prison, etc are much more likely to develop a chronic disease. People whose lives are filled with grief, anger, hurts and bitterness do not live as long as others.

If you are interested in this research, write me at gsweeten@cinci.rr.com

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Foolish Freedom of the Press

The New York Times, the once proud "paper of record," has fallen far from its lofty position atop the news media pyramid. It has made some ridiculous claims in recent years but perhaps the most ludicrous was in last Sunday's paper. The article was a review of a book on economics that suggested that people who resisted promiscuous sex were really causing AIDS.

Here is their blurb:

"It's true: AIDS is nature's awful retribution for our tolerance of immoderate and socially irresponsible sexual behavior. The epidemic is the price of our permissive attitudes toward monogamy, chastity, and other forms of extreme sexual conservatism. You've read elsewhere about the sin of promiscuity. Let me tell you about the sin of self-restraint.

Consider Martin, a charming and generally prudent young man with a limited sexual history, who has been gently flirting with his coworker Joan. As last week's office party approached, both Joan and Martin silently and separately entertained the prospect that they just might be going home together. Unfortunately, Fate, through its agents at the Centers for Disease Control, intervened. The morning of the party, Martin happened to notice one of those CDC-sponsored subway ads touting the virtues of abstinence. Chastened, he decided to stay home. In Martin's absence, Joan hooked up with the equally charming but considerably less prudent Maxwell - and Joan got AIDS.

When the cautious Martin withdraws from the mating game, he makes it easier for the reckless Maxwell to prey on the hapless Joan. If those subway ads are more effective against Martin than against Maxwell, they are a threat to Joan's safety. This is especially so when they displace Calvin Klein ads, which might have put Martin in a more socially beneficent mood."

The author, Mr. Landsburg, says: "If multiple partnerships save lives, then monogamy can be deadly. Martin's chastity is a form of pollution -- chastity pollutes the sexual environment by reducing the fraction of relatively safe partners in the dating pool. Factory owners pollute too much because they have to breathe only a fraction of their own pollution; Martin stays home alone too much because he bears only a fraction of the consequences."

I love it. Now I can say that the reason I have flunked my diet is because so many others are failing to eat all the food and leave just enough for me to survive. All those skinny, self controlled folks have led me to be fat against my will.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Anger Inventory

As children, many of us made choices about the way we were going to relate to our feelings. These early decisions may still shape our emotional life today.

Answer the following questions about your childhood experiences with anger. If you didn't grow-up with a mother and/or a father, substitute the name of someone who took care of you as a child.

When my mother got angry, she __________________________________

When my father got angry, he ___________________________________

When __________ another household or family member got angry, he/she


When I got angry (as a child), I _____________________________________________

Based on my experiences while growing up, I think that anger is: ____________________________________________________________________

Now, when I get angry, I ___________________________________________

Now, when someone else gets angry with me, I ______________________________________________________________

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Marital Cross Roads

Couples come to a critical path in the road of marital togetherness. If they turn the positive way and travel along that path, the marriage will grow. If not, it will dissolve.

That fork in the road is called, attack or attend. If one of the mates begins to personally attack the other, the marriage is in real danger. If, however, they find a way to attend to each other the marriage will grow. Christian attacks are as traumatic as a non-Christian attack.

This research looks at the changes in a mate's heart rate, breathing and other physical manifestations of anxiety as shown on monitors. It is not based on self-reports or observations. It is very accurate in predicting present and future problems.

Gottman and his colleagues have gathered and sorted data about thousands of marriages. They correlated that data with marital satisfaction and marital disillusion and have a good record at sensing when a couple is in trouble.

I adapted the Gottman information into a simple, seven-point scale, which can be used to assess the level of a couple’s marital stress. The scale is useful for teaching couples how to assess their own level of resiliency or danger. It also offers suggestions for taking appropriate action at each stage of the scale. Gottman’s insights, and my adaptation of it, can be used to prepare couples to avoid the attack marriage and emphasize attending skills.

I presented these materials and discussed my scale at a recent conference in Taiwan. Before the talk, I received a note from a person whose husband had left her for another woman. She asked How do I deal with this man now that we are divorced? Should I allow him to our children? I think he will damage the children. She was thinking like a victim rather than a victor. Such thinking can destroy her and her children.

After seeing the conflict chart, she wrote another note. I now know why my husband wanted to be with someone else. I never gave him a chance to tell his side of things and I attacked him about a lot of issues. Thanks for teaching. I am going to ask him for forgiveness and tell him that he can see the children.

Many see themselves as the innocent parties in a divorce or serious marital conflict. Since they never committed adultery or another gross sin, they perceive themselves to be the good guys and their partners to have been the bad guys. However, the sins of the mouth can be as damaging as the sins of sex to our intimate relationships.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Be Healthy and Happy

There is no doubt that a stable family life is a great contributor to healthy lives. According to Family in America, experiencing parental divorce is associated with a 44% increase in mortality risk, shortening the life span of a white male child by an average of 4.5 years.

Marriage and family life are strong medicine for steering young people and adults, especially males, away from destructive life styles. Fewer married men drink, smoke and do other drugs. They also avoid dangerous sexual practices and other risky behavior. Marriage is healthy for the adults and for the children. Divorce is unhealthy for everybody.

There is good news about the family. Ken Bryson, co-author of a recent report on family trends, says, The perceived decline of the American family is vanishing and the '90s represents a stabilization period. For example, the percentage of married couples with children fell from 50 percent to 37 percent of all families between 1970 and 1990. It only dropped 1 percentage point (to 36 percent) since then.

According to Policy Review, about two-thirds of all divorces is the result of what they call low-level conflict rather than trauma or long term abuse. A key to successful coupleling is learning how to resolve these conflicts before it is too late.

If you are unhappy in marriage, call for help. If you are fed up with conflict, do not despair. Help is on the way. It is not hopeless.