Why Did I Decide To Be A Relationship Therapist?

 I found myself thinking the other day about why I do the kind of work I do.  It’s a good question to ask, I think.  I’m at the age now when I could at least begin to think about retirement, but for some reason it doesn’t even cross my mind.

This leads to the question of how I got here.  I love this work.  It feels important.  It feels to me that working with people and improving their relationships is the obvious culmination of all work I have done before.  This is where I was meant to “land”.  So what was the first step on my journey?

The first step on my career path was as a pre-school teacher.  This entailed getting a good understanding of child development and learning about the very first stages of becoming a human being.

Here is where the importance of relationship first entered my consciousness, and became a pivotal concept for me in my work…and in my life.

A child comes into the world literally through the process of his/her physical relationship to “mother”. Very quickly this helpless infant must bond to a mother or caregiver in order to just survive.  Relationship is survival. It is as simple as that, and yet as profound as that.

So…no wonder that early relationships in a child’s life have a profound and lasting effect on all subsequent relationships.

This is how it all started for me.  Studying the interactions of babies with their mothers/fathers/ caregivers/family and teachers laid the foundation for interest in all relationships of people as they interact and are interdependent all over the planet.

I began to realize that disruption, abuse, loss, or any kind of trauma in the early baby/caregiver bond set a blueprint for how a human is able to form necessary attachments throughout life. Secure attachments are the bedrock of healthy relationships throughout life. I’m still learning about this and trying to help people “re attach” successfully at all stages of their lives

This is the work that I do

Who Am I? Celebrating Ancestral Roots On Memorial Day 2017

A week ago I was walking casually through Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington Virginia when I made an unexpected discovery. Without any intention whatsoever, I ran across the gravestone of my Great Grandfather Augustus Fechteler. (pictured here) I was stunned.

I knew, of course, in a vague and abstract way that I had a great grandfather who was an Admiral in the US Navy, but I just was not expecting such concrete evidence at this particular moment.

It got me to thinking…

All of us have a past. It stretches out untold generations before we were born. Likewise…we all have a future. We may have children who will have children…but even if this is not the case we all have pieces of ourselves that continue on..long after we are no longer physically present. We leave traces of ourselves…always.

The truth of our enduring continuity as a ‘human” family strikes me this Memorial Day weekend as simple and yet incredibly profound. It reminds me that the totality of life extends way beyond my small occupancy in time and space.

I take comfort in this truth, and yet feel awed by a sense of responsibility to all who come after me. The beauty I see all around me is, after all, at least in part attributable to all of my ancestors.

I hope I can be worthy of this responsibility.

Thank you greatgrandfather Fechteler for your part in making my life possible


Is This Love For Real?


The experience of “falling In Love” is exciting and romantic. On a physical level, our bodies are infused with an intoxicating blend of “feel good” neurotransmitters that are pre-programmed for bonding and procreation. We are obsessed with our beloved. It certainly feels like love!!

Later on, the picture is not so rosy. We begin to see aspects of our partner that annoy and anger us. This is when the “honeymoon” is over and the “real work” of the relationship begins. Now we begin to have moments where we doubt our choice of partner. Our question now becomes:   “How do I know that this is “true love?” Or, “How do I know this love real and lasting?”


One way to explore this question is to ask yourself what your expectations of your partner are. Do you love him/her only when certain conditions are met…such as your partner continues to look a particular way or treat you a particular way? Does your love hinge on your partner agreeing to make “changes” that you deem to be in the best interests of creating YOUR ideal mate? Is your love possessive and controlling in some manner that demands your lover to be a certain way in order to receive love from you?

This is CONDITIONAL LOVE. It usually does not last.

There is an alternative that can last a lifetime


Authentic love is based on a fondness and admiration of the other person, which does not depend upon how they feel about you…even if you wish with all your heart that your love were reciprocated. When your love is authentic you can bravely declare it and not retreat into bitter vengeance when the one you love does not feel the same way. Authentic love exists of course in non-romantic settings as well…but is particularly sweet when Romance and Authentic love co-exist and are felt by both people in the relationship.

Now there is a love worth waiting for




Mastering The Art Of Deep Listening


I think it is fair to say that there is a deep socio/political divide in America right now. All around me it feels like there is evidence that we are not all on the same page about who we are as a people, what our values should be, and how we treat other people.

Underlying the “divide” is the collective emotion of FEAR. In my 25 years as a therapist it is my observation that fear often divides us as human beings. We struggle to connect, to understand each other, and to create harmonious, peaceful, nurturing relationships, but we often fall short. We fall short in our family relationships, in our community and institutional relationships, and even in our relationships as citizens of a particular country or of the world as a whole.

At this particular point in time I find the reality of the “disconnect” between people to be particularly distressing. How did this happen? I sometimes feel like I inhabit a different country than other people, and yet I somehow missed how different our realities really were. I guess I was afraid to really look.

It’s dawning on me recently that I am responsible for my part in creating this disconnect. I have been asleep. I have been complacent. I have surrounded myself with others who believe as I do and we have congratulated ourselves on how right and smart and compassionate we are. We are not. I am not.

For me, the reality is that I have not been listening. I have not been listening in a deep way. I have not been listening in a way that promotes deep understanding and empathy. I have not attempted to put myself into the reality of someone who does not share my view with the goal of just really “getting” them. The truth is I often enjoy the argument. I want to be “right”. I can’t solve the problems in the world as a whole, but I can change the way I listen to people regardless of weather or not they agree with me. This is the only way to begin to dispel the fear that continues to divide us.  It must begin with me. Below are the communication skills that I teach to couples when they have trouble communicating. I’m going to start using these skills all the time…. not just in my therapy room


  1. Suspend all preconceived notions you may have about the views held by the person you are trying to communicate with. Take the view that you are here to “learn” about a different point of view… a different reality. Zen people would call it “beginners mind”. Your job as “listener” is not to defend yourself, or prove the other wrong. Lay your weapons down.
  1. After you have heard the other person out without interruptions, ask “clarifying” questions. Basically this is not about refuting what you have heard. It’s about understanding what you have heard. When you feel you have a decent understanding, check it out. Repeat back what you think you heard and correct the parts that aren’t right.
  1. Part three is the most important. Try your best to find an empathy bridge to this other persons view. “I can see how you might feel this way” for example. Try to find a way to understand and communicate to this other person that their point of view makes sense

In an ideal world, the other person in your dialog would become your “listener” in the second part of this exercise. Sometimes this is not possible, and you are up against someone who does not have the empathy for you that you are able to have for him or her. I would argue however, that you are still better off. You have given the best possible opportunity for understanding and “breakthroughs” are possible and do happen. From these “breakthroughs” are created new and more inclusive points of view, and the world becomes one where there are not “winners” and “losers” (zero sum game), but multiple “winners” (non zero sum game

That’s the world I want to live in.






Giving Thanks For Friendships That Sustain Us


This Thanksgiving I want to give a giant “Shout Out” of thanks to the “Best” of my Best friends. So, who are these people? Over the years I have evolved a definition for exactly who they are, and who they are not. Here is what I have come up with: 

  1. I may have known you for a very short time, or for a very long time. Regardless of this, I know that you “see” me in the very fullest sense of this word. In your “seeing” of me you convey to me through word and deed that you “accept” all that you see.
  2. I understand, and I would like you to understand that fully “seeing” me does not mean that you always agree with me, or that you agree with a particular course of action I may have taken. Quite the contrary, I value you, and would hope that you value me for having the courage to tell me when you feel I am “off course”. I want to know when something I do or say does not “align” with who you think I am. I want to do the same for you. I want to know if I have “hurt” you in anyway….knowingly or unknowingly.
  3. Please do not ignore me when I have displeased or hurt you. Nothing is more insulting or “relationship killing” than a complete lack of communication when there has been a breach in our relationship. Even if you can’t talk to me right now, just tell me that. I can deal with that, rather than the feeling that I am invisible and have no impact on you. If you are doing this to punish me, then you have achieved your purpose, but you have also damaged our relationship.
  4. I find myself wanting to say “please don’t judge me”, but I catch myself wanting to amend this understandable sentiment. Lets be real. Let’s be authentic. You will judge me. I will judge you. Maybe the word “judgement” is the problem. What I want from you is an honest assessment, lovingly delivered, of how I “come across” from your standpoint. I want to know if you are concerned about this. Please…be my mirror…when my own mirror has become clouded or distorted. I will do the same for you. You have my word.

So, that’s it…my list of four essential characteristics of relationships in my life that have nurtured and sustained me. These are the resilient relationships I treasure. They are the ones that last and last, and are unaffected by the boundaries of time and space. I feel the lasting impact, even after death separates me physically from my loved one.

My wish for everyone is to have at least a few of these deep, connecting, and sustaining relationships in your life. You can never have too many, but you need at least a few



Transcendence In Our Most Important Relationships


On Sunday October 30th I attended the “Celebration Of Life” for a good friend and spiritual mentor, Dee Clutts. Dee made her transition on October 16th 2016.

The service was a beautiful, sacred, and inspirational coming together of Dee’s friends, family, and spiritual community. We were all there to honor and remember Dee, and this we did…through singing songs, telling stories, and prayer.

Reflecting upon Dees service in the days following, I realized that it had a purpose which was far greater than remembering and honoring Dee. In that holy place of gathering last Sunday, we were actually invoking Dee’s very presence, and affirming our relationship to her…both individually and collectively.

Yes…..Dee was there. The stories that were told about Dee’s tendency to “control” her environment, the songs that Dee loved, and the biblical passages and poems were all manifestations of Dee herself. She was there.

So….why is it important? Why is it important to invoke the presence of people, ( and other living beings) even when they are no longer with us in the physical form?

In my view the invocation is what creates the relationship within us. If we feel the presence, that means it exists for us, and there is truly no death ever for relationships that we chose to breathe life into.

Such relationships transcend the constraints of time and space, and can be nurtured by our attention to them in the quiet recesses of our hearts. We can call upon the wisdom and love we felt in these relationships whenever we want.

So…that’s where you are for me now, beloved Dee. You are safely tucked into my heart where I see you and feel you still.

Thank you for the gift of your presence





Waking Up…Good News About The Trump Obama Phenomena


I am not a fan of Donald Trump. I could use more colorful language but I think this captures my feelings accurately enough. Having said it, however, I’ve realized something pretty significant in the last couple of weeks. Bear with me on this.   Here goes:

In an odd, completely surprising and unexpected way, I am grateful that Mr. Trump has emerged out of the political and cultural landscape at this time. Why?

Well, first of all, I should offer the caveat that I can only say this because I have complete confidence that “The Donald” will not be president. If I’m wrong on this, all bets are off.

But, if I’m right I think the “fallout” from the Trump presidential campaign may be one of the best things that has happened in American culture in my lifetime.

In my view, this is because in Donald Trump we have such a clear and blatant “mirror” for so many things in the American character that are despicable and repugnant. He is helping us to see this part of our character so clearly that the reflection is unavoidable

Think of it. Where else, in one single “package” of a person can we find the absolute penultimate of conspicuous consumption, racism, sexism, rape culture, misogyny, and narcissism? It may exist, but not in the public spotlight, as he does.

And best of all…. its all right there! It’s not hidden, or disguised, but instead blasted right into our lives in away that cannot be avoided. Thank you for that Donald Trump. Because of your compete lack of shame or even awareness of your negative impact on people, we can’t help but react to you and reflect upon everything you represent. Each time you open your mouth, it just gets worse

So, why is this good? In my view it’s good because it is forcing us in this country to WAKE UP!  

Okay, okay…I will amend that. Some of us are not waking up, but rather “doubling down” on all the regressive, fascistic, rhetoric that at best is ludicrous, and at worst is a threat to our hard won democracy..

Be that as it may, I’m finding myself hopeful that the scary stuff will eventually die down and a better America will emerge. The pendulum will swing back to a reasonable place.

I believe this most strongly when I listen to Michelle Obama with her articulate and impassioned speeches about all that Trump represents. All the horror and threat of them. Would she have spoken with such passion and authenticity if there had been no Trump for her to react to? I wonder. For myself, I know that Michelle Obamas words were like a lightening rod for all that I have been feeling about social justice and particularly the oppression of women for many years. She cast a light on my feelings and helped me define them. I will forever thank her for that.

Michelle Obama spoke from her heart and told the truth. In doing so, she challenged men and women alike to speak their truth as well. She challenged us to see the truth of how things are, and how far we have to go. In my view, Michelle Obama delivered a message to everyone that we all have the responsibility to “go high” and live up to the promise of becoming the best that we can be…stronger together and in support of one another.

So, I am feeling the exhilaration and the huge responsibility of my own awakening and I feel grateful, ironically enough, to Donald Trump



Lessons From A Butterfly


I was inspired today by the following quote attributed to Ellen DeGeneres:

“ Life is short. If you don’t believe me, ask a butterfly. The average lifespan of a butterfly is 5 to 14 days.”

This got me to thinking. For sure, I thought. That’s true. The older I get, the shorter life seems to be. What can I do to make sure my lifespan hits closer to the “14 day mark”? I’ve come up with a few ideas. Its not only about how many years we’ve got, cause face it, that’s kind of out of our control. For me it’s more about expanding the time we have so it doesn’t just feel like time is “flying by”. How can we do that? Here are some ideas:

  1. Strive to spend some time each day immersing yourself completely in the “now”. If you are slowing yourself down, and using all five senses to experience each moment to the fullest, time will expand and create the illusion of “more”.
  1. Related to #1, time spent in quiet contemplation is time that “feels” longer because it has “meaning” attributed to it. I think this is because thinking about what we do, and who we are, adds richness and depth to the experience of being human. It just makes the time feel longer, bigger, and more.
  1. Say “Yes” to new experiences, even when you’re not sure how you are going to like them because they are out of your “comfort zone”.  I learned this lesson from my sister-in-law after she lost her husband of 45 years.  A wise friend told her that the way to begin a new chapter of life is to take the risk of doing something that is beyond what you might imagine you would like. It’s really the only way to stretch yourself into the new person you need to become.  A new and “novel” experience actually heighteners and lengthens our experience of time.  Besides, who knows where you might meet your new best friend, or the love of your life?”
  1. Practice gratitude every day for everything you are, everything you have, and all of your experiences. What seems clear to me now from the perspective of more advanced age, is that our labels of “good” and “bad” for particular experiences become meaningless as the experiences retreat into the past. We can see, for example, that an experience with domestic abuse paved the way for an increase in our self-esteem, and the appearance ultimately of a partner worthy of us. I also think that truly feeling grateful brings in more of what we actually long for. We are “happier” and more “content”, and in that state we actually will live longer.

So that’s it…. those are my thoughts.

Give flight to your butterfly,… live long and prosper

































Burning Man 2015…The Best and Worst Of Times

Burning Man 2015  The Best And Worst Of Times

A little over one week ago I returned home from Burning Man 2015. This was my second “burn”. I went back to Burning Man this year for many reasons…the creativity, the art,  the opportunity to be fully alive and authentically myself… and the amazing community of likeminded souls…. all of these unique qualities of this experience drew me back. Such an experience is simply not available anywhere else that I know of. That’s why I go. That’s why many go…year after year.

White out at BRCThe Worst Of Times

       There is a “catch” though…as I discovered more fully this year. The physical environment on the “playa” at Black Rock City (home of Burning Man) can be quite harsh and unforgiving. Wind and weather patterns are extremely changeable and unpredictable. This year brought with it nightmarish dust storms that occurred with greater frequency than usual…. the worst in 10 years…I was told by the “old timers”. If you have never experienced a “white out” in a dust storm. ..Trust me…. its no fun. The dust kicks up to such a frenzy that you literally cannot see more than a few feet in front of you. All the while you are just staying in one place trying to keep most of it from invading your eyes, mouth, and nose. This you accomplish with face masks, goggles, and scarves. You can do nothing but “wait it out”. Throughout all of the “whiteouts” of Burning Man 2015, I truly wondered about my sanity and judgment. Is this “fun I asked myself? In those moments my feelings were clear. No. This was not fun. This was unmistakably “the worst of times”…until it wasn’t. I will try to explain

IMG_0009Lifting the “veil” to reveal…The Best Of Times

So….here I am right in the midst of a “white out”. My patience is “tried” to the max. I’m miserable… to state it bluntly. Then…. slowly but surely a miracle begins to occur…. within me. Just because I have to…I let go. By this I mean…I just surrender to it. I begin to realize that the swirling dust has a life of its own and I become fascinated by the way it selectively reveals parts of the Playa. It’s a little bit like an “old school” photography darkroom when you watch a photograph begin to emerge in the final “developing” bath. I always thought that process was miraculous. Now it was happening to an entire landscape. There was the Man, and the Temple, and all of the amazing art and all of the unique citizens of Black Rock City. They were all there, hidden beneath the veil of dust that temporarily obscured them.

All Of This Natural and Man Made Wonder and Creativity Was There All Along

The “take away” lesson of 2015 Burning Man has to do with the way life is. Is it not true that in the midst of the “worst of times” for all of us…there is always the possibility, maybe even the inevitability, of a better tomorrow? For me…. it is comforting to imagine that the dust has already cleared in this “as yet unseen” future, and if I can see glimpses of it…even as I am still “suffering”…. I am already co-creating that better future.

I, myself am “lifting the veil”6 oclock

The Day Of The “Man Burn”….Burning Man 2015

The day the man burned at Burning Man 2015 was an absolutely perfect day. It was a purely and completely blissful day in every imaginable way. From morning till night…there was not a single dust storm and the temperature was ideal.

So…. here is another life’s lesson for me. This perfect day at Burning Man would not have been anywhere near as sweet without the difficult days that preceded it.

That’s just the way it is. How can we possibly appreciate bliss and euphoria if we have not also felt the polar opposite?

Will I go Back To Burning Man?

The truth is…I don’t know. As I contemplate the possibility and remember, the experience calls me back to a place that has become a part of my identity…and that is a strong pull indeed. When you get through the opening gate of Black Rock City you are greeted by greeters who declare “Welcome Home”…and that’s the way it is. If it has seeped into your soul, it simply never leaves.

We’ll see.


Rethinking “Betrayal In Love”…It Doesn’t Have To Mean Its Over

The Pain Of Betrayal

Three Stages of Long Term Relationship

Relationship experts tell us that long-term relationships typically move through three distinct stages. First, we fall “In Love” and feel a kind of euphoria… We are “complete and content” when in the presence of our beloved. When the “neuro chemistry” of early love subsides, however, relationships enter the “power struggle” stage. In this stage, the real “work” of long-term relationship begins. The “reward” of doing “the work” in the power struggle stage is to enter into the third stage. Which is “mature love”.

In mature love, the relationship may not be as exciting all the time…but, in a larger sense, it is possible to fall in love all over again.

Problems In The “Power Struggle”

We have a big problem in the United States with our high rate of divorce. Current statistics put the percentage up to 60%, keeping in mind that this statistic takes into account people who have been married multiple times. So what goes wrong in all these marriages? One way to view it is that one or the other member of a couple simply don’t want to do the work involved in solving the “power struggle”. The work can be difficult, as it involves each member of the couple finding a way to maintain a separate identity while still being part of a couple. In our culture of “quick fixes” and assumptions that we should always be “happy”, it can be easier to just “exit” the relationship.

Our most common Relationship Exits

Individuals who are part of a “couple” have two ways to exit the relationship, when the going gets tough. First, they can just decide to live parallel lives in the same household. There can be an unspoken agreement that family life is like a “business”. In such an agreement, the tasks of child rearing and household maintenance are achieved in an arrangement of “lovelessness” between the couple. Love can be, and often is, abundant for the children, while resentment seethes beneath the surface in the relationship. Divorce sometimes happens when the kids leave home

Affairs….the More Dramatic Destructive Relationship Exit

Infidelity expert Esther Perel points out that affairs have been a part of the relationship landscape since the beginning of marriage. The betrayal can be insurmountable, of course, particularly when the “cheater” wants to leave the “cheatee” immediately in order to experience the hormonal “passion bath” of new relationship. Dr. Perel has worked with many women and men who are trying to rebuild a life after being on the recipient end of a “cheater”. She believes we underestimate the trauma involved in “love betrayal”  Its literally one of the worst things that can happen to you, and can shake you to the very core of your being. Unfortunately, this type of betrayal has become so commonplace as to be minimized these days. We often hear, “Why can’t he/she just get “over it” and move on.?

Can There Be Hope…. After An Affair?

Contrary to popular belief, marriages can be rebuilt after an affair and even made stronger. Dr. Perel believes that its important to “reframe” the deeper meaning of the betrayal and begin to see it as an “expression of longing and loss”, …making the statement that an emotional connection has been broken in the relationship. The loss is felt by both the “cheater” and the “cheatee”…but for some reason it is acted upon by the “cheater”….maybe simply because of opportunity. Interestingly, affairs often happen in marriages after other, seemingly unrelated losses. Like job loss, early death of a child, or beloved grandparent. The affair can be an easy way to feel alive again.

Repair of Relationship After The Affair

Dr. Perel has a “formula” that she uses for relationship repair with her couples, which first and foremost involves the “affair perpetrator” taking full responsibility for the enormous harm he/she has done to his/her partner. This first step also involves compete severing of ties with the other party involved with the affair. Guilt and remorse must be repeatedly expressed…really for as long as it takes. Forgiveness can’t be forced, and may take a long time, but will  come in its own time.

The “affair perpetrator” will need to reassure and express remorse for as long as it takes, but Dr. Perel believes that its also important that the one “cheated upon” give up the obsessive need to dwell upon the details of the affair. This need, although very common, can only bring torture to both parties, and actually gives more power to a “third” party than is helpful.

Investigative Questions

It is more helpful, in trying to repair a relationship after an affair to ask “investigative questions”. What was happening to “us” when the affair began? How were we both feeling? What was the disconnect? Interestingly, exploring these kinds of questions can reveal as much about the discontent of the “Cheated upon” as it does about the “Cheater”. Actually, probably no one was happy. That’s the truth, and now we both get to talk about it

How Long Does It Take?

There is no easy answer to this question. It depends on the extent of the betrayal and it “takes as long as it takes” to repair .The issue may come up again and again over the course of a relationship, and will always be a “fault line”. To be reworked again and again.