Happy Relationships Blog

Archive for January 2009

Relationship Rescue 
by Phillip C. McGraw, PhD.


A book that clearly demonstrates the lack of understanding of the successful relationship is Relationship Rescue by Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D. What is so sad about this book is that he is so close to the answer yet still unable to understand. Today he is the highest profile psychologist in the industry but that doesn’t mean he comes close to really helping troubled relationships.

Because of his profile, though, he is the most colorful in his words and his writing. Unfortunately for his audience, he is even more emphatic about his beliefs, which turn out to be even more illogical than many of his competitors. This fact is most obvious in his section defining the myths of the relationship. Yes, even the esteemed Dr. Phil falls into this trap with his relationship book. In the book Dr. Phil first assumes that yes every relationship includes arguments. 


For example, he explains that it is “completely naïve and fanciful thinking” to believe serious disagreements can be resolved and that “In the twenty five years that I have been doing work in the field of human behavior, I have seen few if any genuine relationship conflicts ever get resolved.” Yes, it appears he is admitting that he has not solved one conflict in twenty-five years of practice!

So is he saying we just move on without any possibility of reconciling differences in relationships? His “logic” is that “If arguing is done in accordance with some very simple rules of engagement, it can actually help the quality and longevity of the relationship in a number of ways.” He cites numerous times throughout the book this belief. “…Whether you have arguments is not what determines the long-term success or failure of your relationship. It’s how you argue.”

In most of the rest of the book he elaborates on these very simple rules of how to argue as his new revelations. Without a platform of common sense, the logic of arguments is followed by suppression of the negative feelings behind the discontent, without any psychological explanation for the source of these negative feelings.

He also mentions, “Men are going to be men and women are going to be women, and no therapist can change it.” Dr. Phil actually reveals that therapy is not directed towards men by stating in a letter written to men at the back of the book, “I’m assuming that this letter is the first thing you’re reading in this book.”

On the positive side, this book begins his quest to help individuals become happy by explaining the path to overcome the troubles is the responsibility of the reader. Individuals must be happy with themselves before they can make the relationship happy.

In a section where he comes oh so close to discovering the positive relationship is a section entitled “Make yourself happy rather than right”. Ironically, in this section he cites one of the few case studies of a chief master sergeant father and a rebellious son in exhibiting the differences between being right and happy. Again, this is one of the few case studies cited. 

The father comments his son should obey him “because I’m the father, by God, and as long as he’s living under my roof, eating my food, and spending my money, I’ve got the right to tell him what to do and how to do it.” Does Dr. Phil follow up with successfully helping the father’s perspective? No. Two and a half weeks after this session the son dies playing basketball. Now of all of the examples he must have seen in his “twenty five” years in practice this is the only example he could come up with? Why wouldn’t he give an example of an unhappy man and wife with whom he was able to convey this message?

Dr. Phil has given up on relationship therapy as he mentioned on Oprah, though, because he realizes there isn’t anything he can do. He does try sometimes now that he has his own show. David Letterman even ribs Dr. Phil nightly on his show: Words of Wisdom From Dr. Phil, “I don’t know what I am doing,” “I’ll beat the crap out of you.” “Call your wife a bitch.” “90% of people are stupid.” Apparently Dr. Phil has now become an entertainer instead of a psychologist, sort of a Jerry Springer with a diploma.


Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus                       
By John Gray, PhD.


Prejudice. One of the greatest gifts that has been discovered because of our wonderful system of democracy is the problem caused by having prejudicial beliefs. Prejudice breeds ignorance and contempt, results in anger, produces an overwhelming urge for power, blinds individuals from seeing the path to happiness, and in reality is the cause for the troubles within our relationships. Unfortunately, this concept has not yet breached the walls of the ivory tower of the psychology industry.

The very theme of the granddaddy of modern relationship books, Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus by John Gray, Ph.D., is the prejudice that men and women are different. In essence, what Dr. Gray is claiming is the key to the successful relationship is that men and women are different, if you want to be happy then you must realize this and simply get over it. Sadly, he couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Ah yes, say the critics of this prejudicial perspective.  The formative Dr. Gray is merely propagating a perspective that men and women should simply accept these differences, that tolerance will lead to loving and caring for each other through the understanding of these differences.  The only problem with this perspective is that it promotes prejudices between men and women.  Unfortunately Dr. Gray isn’t a fan of history, or he would have known this. We have a perfect example that completely debunks his platform, the famous “separate but equal” decision in 1896 that kept African Americans and White Americans “separate but equal” until it was overturned in 1954 with the Brown v The Board of Education decision. 

The only difference is instead of different drinking fountains and restaurants we have different households, with our current culture of divorce. In fact, this book has probably done more than any other to help propagate our culture of divorce. 

Yes the idealism of tolerance and acceptance makes sense intellectually but unfortunately is impossible to implement. Promoting the difference between people only promotes the underlying fear of those differences.


Ironically, he begins the book by claiming, “I do not directly address the question of why men and women are different,” which would add profound insight as to how to overcome those differences. Throughout the book it becomes extremely clear what those differences are. In his world, men only think and women only feel, which may be true of relationships in the nineteenth century but does nothing to help relationships in the twenty-first century.

In fact, to really help troubled relationships requires an understanding of the reverse that men can also feel and that women can also think. He does, though, contradict this logic, as he does with much of his “circular” logic, by stating that sometimes men do learn to feel “in order to become more loving and nurturing,” and that women do learn to think, “in order to earn a living in a work force.” His logic goes something like this; “Men mistakenly expect women to think…women mistakenly expect men to feel.” But can’t men feel and women think?

In fact, if this book is read with a critical eye the reader would actually feel incredulous over his logic. For women his comment that “Their egos are dependent not on looking ‘competent,’” says it all. He is asking women not to think as part of the relationship. So his advice for women is to forget their ability to think. After all, that is man’s work.

And he does the same for men with feelings. “When having a conversation with him at home, it seems as if only 5 percent of his mind is available for the relationship while the other 95 percent is still at work,” the place where men are supposed to think. In other words, Dr. Gray is trying to convince the reader men have only 5 percent of their brains available for feelings. He goes even further by stating, in essence, if men are not thinking then “he is drawn to solving little problems, like reading the news, watching T.V., driving his car, doing physical exercise, watching a football game, playing basketball, and so forth,” all behaviors that replace his feelings within the relationship. He even goes so far as to say that when a woman wants to engage in a discussion of feelings with a man, asking him “What’s the matter, honey?…he may feel insulted or repulsed.”

His advice for the reader then follows the logic that “Men need to remember that when women seem upset and talk about problems is not the time to offer solutions,” while “women need to remember that unsolicited advice or criticism…make him feel unloved and controlled.” In other words, the key to the happy relationship is for men to do their thinking but not associate with the women’s feelings and women can feel but helping a man think makes him somehow weak.

He uses this same logic when he explains that a man needs to periodically sink into his cave when he is upset while a woman retreats to her corner. What is true about his logic is when a couple argues a man does revert into the mode of thinking while a woman reverts back into the mode of feeling. Explaining this does not help couples overcome arguing. And again, he defends this point when he claims women want respect, respect for their feelings, while men want trust, trust that they can think. But don’t men want respect, and women want trust as well. Not according to Dr. Gray. This circular logic is repeated throughout the entire book.

The rest of the book is spent giving behavior advice, just like all of the others. Dr. Gray even goes as far as explaining a point system, both positive and negative, that men and women should use to keep score of their different behaviors. Does he explain the causes of behavior? No, like he states initially he doesn’t even discuss the “why”. He doesn’t even attempt to! So without the why, how can he provide an inkling of a solution? Again, he doesn’t.

Well, he did sell over 20 million copies. Why did his book sell so well? People in troubled relationships identify with his description of the problem. How many copies do you think he would have sold if he wrote a book entitled, Men Are From Earth Women Are From Earth?

Book reviewer Jacqueline Jung says the disintegration of a love affair sent relationship author Tim Kellis on a quest to figure out why-as well as how he could ultimately experience a blissful relationship.

According to Jung’s review published in NightsAndWeekends.com, Kellis found some answers and proceeded to write EQUALITY: The Quest for the Happy Marriage.

And why not? Jung writes in her book review. According to Kellis, today’s psychologists just don’t get it. They don’t address the reasons behind feelings and behavior, nor do relationship books written by ‘experts.’ They aren’t logical. In the court case of the United States vs. Microsoft, the discussion always stayed logical. Accordingly, successful resolution of disagreements doesn’t come from arguing but from coming up with a common sense solution. You see, the key to a successful relationship is common sense. It’s that simple… at least to Kellis, she writes.

In his 400-plus-page book, readers learn history lessons about everything from Adam and Eve to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Hitler and even Matthew Perry, said Jung. Kellis covers religion, prejudice, Freud, the evolution of today’s education, and Carl Jung.

In EQUALITY: The Quest for the Happy Marriage, author Kellis talks about his own quest to discover the root causes of rocky relationships for which the fault is not be in our stars, but in ourselves.


Another media inquiry regarding handling conflicts:

I’m not a yeller. I never have been. When my sister and I had knock-down fights as kids, she screamed and I talked or cried (or both). Actually, that’s how our fights play out these days. I also never yelled when arguing with my parents, and the one and only time I got in a bit of a “tiff” with a colleague, she yelled and I, well, spoke. I’m the same way with dates. Recently, I had my first-ever argument with a non-yeller. It was weird — very weird. And I almost laughed in the middle because it didn’t feel like a fight. So was it? Does emotional release occur if you don’t yell? Is the fight as effective or productive? Do two people who are non-yellers accomplish anything while fighting? What about two screamers? The Times Union is a 150,000-circulation daily paper in the capital of New York state. We are Hearst-owned, and our stories run on the NY Times and Hearst wires after they appear in our paper. This is for my Sunday Life 3.0 column. 

Your question really gets to the heart of the difference between positive and negative relationships.  Again, the real question here is how to handle the inevitable conflicts that are certainly a part of every relationship when you bring 2 different people together with 2 completely different backgrounds. 

The problem with our understanding of arguments is we have yet to elaborate on the emotional toll and psychological reaction to them.  The objective, on the other hand, is to handle these conflicts through disagreements, not arguments.  One of the most significant sections of my book is my section on Dr. Martin Luther King because he taught us the proper way to handle conflicts, what he called civil disobedience, a term he learned from a French philosopher by the name of Thoreau.  In other words, when faced with conflicts that you disagree with it is okay to be disobedient, to disagree, just be civil about it. 

The problem with arguments is the emotional toll on the 2 involved and the unfortunate break down in communications which is the result of disagreements that turn into arguments.  The key difference between disagreements and arguments is disagreements take place on a logical plane while arguments take place on an emotional plane, which is not logical and solutions to these conflicts becomes extremely difficult if not impossible.  

Unfortunately, modern psychology tries to convince us that if you don’t release your emotional anxieties that underlie all conflicts then you suppress them, where in time the suppressed anxieties eventually explode.  What is missing here is the concept of not suppressing the underlying emotional anxieties but instead discussing them with your partner in life, who should provide an outside, objective perspective, barring your partner’s personal insecurities causing a subjective perspective in his or her response.  The goal is to talk through the insecurities so that the fear underlying the emotional anxieties can be released in a positive manner. 

And the reality is that as soon as you cross the plane of disagreements and enter the plane of arguments communications break down.  With disagreements the logic, which is understood and could be either the logic of the thoughts or the logic of the feelings, is eventually comprehended by both parties where a solution then becomes possible.  Unfortunately there are no real solutions behind emotional arguments. Not only are they not logical but in reality are the result of the effort by one party to enforce his or her subjective perspective, at the cost of a better objective solution for both within a relationship.  


I am just now getting back to my blog.  I wanted to begin by posting a media inquiry that I responded to recently on the challenges when your spouse makes a drastic life change.  See below:
For an article I’m writing for CNN.com, I’m seeking both nationally known relationship experts as well as “real” people to talk about this topic: when the person you married or fell in love with makes a drastic life change. Perhaps she used to love burgers, but then became a strict vegan and now pushes tofu down your throat. Or maybe he was an anything-goes kind of guy, but five years into the marriage became a Scientologist. Or maybe your wife used to be carefree about the environment, and now she’s militant about recycling *everything*. I’m looking for both the light and serious side of what happens when you wake up and realize the person you love has changed in significant ways.

In positive relationships, as individuals within a marriage grow and develop new interests, hobbies, outlooks on life, religion, etc both get to live through this change in a positive manner where the change is understood and most importantly, appreciated.  Obviously, the change is within one of the two and it is important that this change not be enforced onto the other, because the change is intended for one, not both. 

Problems, though, occur within the negative relationship when this change is used as a further wedge between the two, a wedge that had already been developed with the other unresolved issues within the marriage.  Then it becomes another brick in the path of the destruction of the marriage. 

Then it becomes a, or quite possibly the, issue that finally pushes the couple apart to the point of the thud of complacency within negative marriages, or divorce.  Then it becomes a problem. 

What is needed in this situation is to understand and appreciate the changes within the individual. 

For example, if one of the two within a marriage decides to become much more religious, then the other partner needs to understand this as part of the maturing process, and accept and appreciate this change.  The one who has found religion cannot enforce this change onto the other.  Then it becomes a wedge in the relationship.  


January 2009
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