Creatures so close to each other as husband and wife, or a mother and children, have powers of making each other happy or miserable with which no public coercion can deal.

G.K. Chesterton

Power has many faces. It exerts itself through avenues including politics, relationships, art, science, and nature. Power itself is morally neutral and can be used to further causes for good or evil. Political power is often hard to ignore; it is loud; it is in your face. Power in relationships is shared to some degree between lovers, friends, and family members. It can intensify feelings of love just as easily as it can deepen a sense of betrayal. Power is displayed through paint and song, rousing both tears and laughter. Power lifts rockets to other worlds and emits blasts that level cities. The awesome power of nature directs atoms and galaxies alike and never ceases to amaze those who seek to understand it.


We should be very careful how we seek power. Feeding a desire for power is like tending a fire. If we respect the power of fire, we light a small amount of kindling and slowly add sticks and logs to gradually build a fire that stays bright and warm. Likewise, a healthy pursuit of power is founded in respect for others, humility, and a desire to bring light and warmth to dark and cold places. If we don’t respect the power of fire, we may take a match to huge amounts of straw, sticks, and wood doused with gasoline, igniting an explosion that burns and destroys. Similarly, an impatient, greedy, lustful desire for power brings devastating ruin.  

Power Processes

Happiness and misery are not the products of power, rather, they are consequences of how power is pursued and wielded.

The parent-child relationship offers a telling context where we can observe how power can be used to bring harmony or conflict. The best parents realize they do not have control over their children, only over their children’s access to resources. Parents who understand this use power to influence their children, not to micromanage them. In the marriage and family therapy field, we call this an authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parents are warm, loving, and set clear boundaries by helping children understand the consequences of their actions. Authoritative parents of a fussy eater would say something like, “I love you and want you to eat healthy. If you don’t finish your vegetables, I won’t give you any dessert.” Authoritarian parents, on the other hand, wield power like a dictator. These parents will engage in power struggles with their children because they forget that their kids cannot be forced to bend to their will. Authoritarian parents of a fussy eater would say something like “You better eat those vegetables before I make you eat them! Do you want a spanking? That’s it, give me that spoon, I’ll feed you myself. Hey, don’t you run away from me! GET BACK HERE OR ELSE!” Authoritarian parenting increases distress through unproductive conflict whereas authoritative parenting increases understanding through boundary setting.

All of Us Have Power

We should not forget that everyone has power. Even the most helpless among us, an infant, reminds us of this with the power of a cry. Admittedly, it is easy for many of us to forget we have power when we compare ourselves to the few among us who live in the public spotlight. Yet, we must remember that power comes in many forms. And if we want the world to be a better place, the worst thing we can do is convince ourselves that we have no power and do nothing.

When we are discouraged by the world, we can show strength by setting a good example. If we are oppressed, we can display power through resilience. If we are privileged, we can use our position to partner with the persecuted. If we are wronged, we can show strength through forgiveness. If we have wealth, we can feed and thus empower the hungry. We need to remember that power has no agenda and it can be used even more effectively for good than for evil. Using power to effect change for the better is not without its trials, but it remains a holy and noble calling.

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor.

G. K. Chesterton


This declared indifference, but, as I must think, real, covert zeal, for the spread of slavery, I cannot but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world, enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites, causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.

Abraham Lincoln’s Reply to Senator Douglas at Peoria, Illinois, 1854.

Everyone has the ability to influence others. The size and scope of one’s influence does, of course, vary greatly, but the fact remains that all of us have the power to influence those around us.

Lincoln saw it as his moral responsibility to try to influence others to embrace freedom and justice for all and end slavery. He knew that influence itself could be used to effect change for good or evil and did his best to use his influence for good. When Lincoln shared these thoughts in 1854 he did not hold a political office and that would be the case until he was sworn in as president in 1861 (he lost bids for the Senate in 1855 and 1858). He could have allowed his lack of political position to silence his voice, but fortunately for all of us, he used what influence he had to shape policy from afar and put himself in position to be nominated as the Republican candidate for president in 1860.

Systems and Influence

In this age of celebrity and social media, it is easy to become enamored with the individual. Entertainers, athletes, politicians, and other dominant personalities take center stage and we can be quick to forget how interrelated the world is. If we are not one of the few who have developed a large following, we may feel powerless, as if we have no influence on the world around us.  

In the 1940s, mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and scientists developed a theory that recognized the world was made up of complex systems, not isolated individuals. Systems theory has since become foundational to work that cuts across disciplines including psychology, cybernetics, biology, sociology, and engineering.

One of the assumptions of systems theory is that all members of a system influence one another. When we look at humanity as a huge interrelated system with billions of members, this means that even the youngest, oldest, and quietest people influence those around them. Babies compel their parents to action with a cry. A child redirects classroom conversation with the raising of a hand. The artist alters a gallery’s perspective with a splash of color. The politician sways public opinion with words spoken from a lectern. If you weren’t aware that you influence others, it is worthwhile to ask yourself what kind of impact you are having on the people around you.


Our values play a significant role in determining what kind of influence we have on the world. If we think highly of hard work, we will do our best in all things while exhorting others to do the same. If we appreciate beauty, we will likely lift the spirits of our friends with paint, clay, poetry, or song. If we do to others as we would have them do to us, we cause love to grow in the hearts of not just our neighbors but also our enemies. When we value love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we influence others for good. When we live a life of love, we cast light in the darkest parts of our home, neighborhood, city, and world.

The Election

This November, many of us in the United States will influence the outcome of the presidential election. It is difficult to grasp, but history teaches us that every vote is important. I admit it has been discouraging at times to see how candidates treat one another and to hear the vitriolic din of some of the electorate. Still, I am grateful to live in a country where freedom of speech lifts the voices of its people and democracy allows the individual to influence the direction of the nation.


He’s doing it again. I can’t believe it. He knows it drives me crazy when he stops talking to me!

“Now you’re going to just sit there and pretend you don’t hear me? Is that really what you’ve become—can’t even stand up for yourself? Pathetic. That’s right, walk away like you always do. You’re such a loser.”

If he won’t talk to me, I’ll text him: “Why don’t you grow up and have a conversation like an adult? Is our marriage that unimportant to you?

If that doesn’t do something, if he doesn’t answer that in the next minute, I will lose it!

Stonewalling occurs when one partner withdraws from an argument without letting his or her partner know. Stonewalling can be displayed passively with the absence of verbal and physical cues that one partner is still listening. It can also be overt, as is the case when one partner storms out of the room and slams the door without letting the other partner know if or when he or she will return. As with all of Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Relational Apocalypse, stonewalling, whether passive or overt, is one of the most destructive behaviors attributed to break-up and divorce.

The Flight of Stonewallers

Unlike the other Four Horsemen, criticism, contempt, and defensiveness, which appear to be tied to the instinctual fight response to conflict, stonewalling is linked to the flight response to conflict. When seen through this lens, stonewalling is not a sign of stubbornness or disrespect, it is evidence that someone is completely overcome, at a loss for words, and without any idea how to proceed in an argument. It is a desire to escape that leads people to stonewall.

Because of the emotionally intense nature of couple conflict, many partners fail to recognize stonewalling as a sign that someone is feeling not only angry, but also powerless, defenseless, and impotent. When partners fail to recognize stonewalling as a sign that their partner is overwhelmed, they tend to react by criticizing and pursuing when they should instead give their partner space. According to Susan Johnson, acclaimed relationship researcher and founder of emotionally focused couple therapy, the criticize-pursue response to the withdrawal of a partner (i.e., stonewalling) fails to meet the emotional needs of the couple, which creates and unproductive cycle that escalates conflict (Johnson, 2008).

Learning to Self-Soothe

“The antidote for stonewalling is self-soothing to reduce one’s own physiological arousal and staying emotionally engaged” (Gottman & Gottman, 2008, p. 146). This means that partners need to make a point to be aware of their physical and emotional states during conflict. The goal is to avoid becoming emotionally flooded and physically overwhelmed. Emotional flooding occurs when manageable feelings like frustration, sadness, and regret become rage, hopelessness, and shame. Signs of being physically overwhelmed include accelerated heart rate, heavy breathing, muscle tension (e.g., clenched jaw), flushed skin, and sweating. When people are on the cusp of being emotionally flooded and physically overwhelmed during an argument, they need to find ways to calm down, because fights between partners in these states too often involve stonewalling and the rest of The Four Horsemen.

Time Out

Taking a time out can help partners avoid stonewalling. A time out is a time-limited break from a fight. The difference between a time out and stonewalling is that one verbally states the length of the break. Taking a time out should sound something like “I’m about to lose it! I don’t want to do that because I love you. I am going to take a 15 minute time out to calm down.” Time outs can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours, though I recommend that they not exceed 24 hours. Even though it is one partner who asks for a time out, it is the couple that benefits. Once a time out has been taken, both partners need to leave one another alone for the set time limit. Both partners should use relaxation techniques to calm their bodies. Both partners should spend some time thinking about other things (like how much they love one another) to ease their nerves.

It is important that partners honor the parameters of the time out and return to the discussion after it is over. If someone gets emotionally flooded and physically overwhelmed after resuming the conversation, another time out should be taken. The strategy here is to break a fight up into productive bursts when partners are able to manage their emotions and are relatively relaxed. If couples use time outs appropriately, they have a greater likelihood of resolving conflict because they will avoid the knock-down-drag-out, unproductive arguments that occur when couples are flooded and overwhelmed.

Breaking Down Walls

When a couple is committed to avoiding the use of stonewalling in addition to criticism, defensiveness, and contempt, fights feel different and become fertile ground for constructive discussion and growth in the relationship.

“Babe, I love you and I have to tell you that I need a break. I need a half hour. I am getting really upset and I don’t want to say anything I’ll regret.”

“Are you serious? I so don’t want to do that right now, but I believe you. Gosh, I wish you could keep talking because I want to figure this out. I love you, too, though, so I know that I have to give you some space.”

“I know. I’m sorry. Thanks for understanding. I will come back in 30 minutes and we’ll try again. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”


You’re calling me a failure? You think I’ve failed at my job? You should try to work for an ungrateful, clueless boss sometime. Just try it and see if you get a promotion. And you’re saying that I’ve failed this marriage? If you want to know whose fault our failed marriage is you should look in the mirror, baby, because I’m only dishing out what you’ve been serving me since the day after our engagement. Yeah, that is when I think things started to go downhill. All through our engagement you cared more about our wedding day than our marriage. Oh, and remember what I said about working for someone who is ungrateful and clueless? You are the expert on being ungrateful and clueless. You have no idea what I do for you and our children. If you think I’m a failure, it’s only because you backed me into a little corner I can’t get out of, a corner where you can do no wrong and I can do no right. Don’t you dare tell me I’m a failure unless you want to hear exactly what I think about you. You may have started this fight but I’ll finish it! Just try me!

Defensiveness is an attempt to ward off a perceived attack from someone. Gottman describes defensiveness as “a form of self-protection through whining (“innocent victim” stance) or counterattacking (“righteous indignation” stance).” (p. 145). As with all of the Four Horsemen of the Relational Apocalypse, defensiveness is a common component of the unproductive, harsh, back-and-forth arguments that lead partners to break-up or divorce.

The Urge to Defend

When our partner disapproves of our behavior or claims that we are at fault for a problem in the relationship, we tend to respond automatically with defensiveness. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. Verbal arguments trigger a response in our brain that is similar to the fight-or-flight response we would have if we were being attacked by a bear in the woods.  In the wild, survival depends in part on an animal’s ability to fend off predators. For thousands and thousands of years, our ancestors have habitually used defensiveness against threats to survival. The problem with using defensiveness in arguments with a spouse or partner is that it is a tool forged to fight off a physical attack and it is not designed to effectively increase understanding, build trust, and strengthen love in a relationship. In order to avoid falling into the trap of using defensiveness in arguments with others, we need to learn how to respond differently to the fight-or-flight response that is triggered during relationship conflict.  


Murray Bowen, one of the early pioneers of marriage and family therapy, noticed that people can develop the capacity to separate thought from feeling, allowing them to avoid responding automatically to emotionally charged situations such as relationship conflict. He described people who are able to maintain composure during stressful circumstances as differentiated. Developing a high level of differentiation is a critical step toward learning how to avoid using defensiveness in relationship conflict.

In couple therapy, the work often starts with me teaching clients how to be more differentiated. Becoming more differentiated is crucial because it allows partners to be poised, clear headed, and self-controlled even when their emotions run high.


When have become differentiated enough to respond non-defensively to criticism from our partner, it can be helpful to empathize with him or her before we say anything. This can take no more than a second or two, during which the inner monologue in our head would sound something like “Wow, she is really upset. Look how mad she is. Even though I think she’s totally wrong for saying what she just said, I think I’ll try to understand her point of view” or “Well, that hurts. My gosh, he is being entirely unreasonable. My guess is that he’s overwhelmed at the moment and will probably regret saying things this way after he has calmed down. Obviously, we don’t agree about this but I think I will remind him that I love him and try to understand things from his perspective.” Empathizing with someone who has hurt or criticized us tends to soften the anger we feel toward that person and prepares us to respond in a productive manner.


Gottman described the antidote to defensiveness as “…taking responsibility for even a small part of the problem” (p. 145). Accepting responsibility could range from taking on 100% fault for the problem (e.g., “You’re right, I forgot to pick up the prescriptions. I’m sorry.”) to admitting a failure to see situation from a partner’s point of view (e.g., “Even though I didn’t see it at the time, I realize now that you were hurt by my actions. I apologize. I won’t do that again.”). When partners get in the habit of sharing responsibility for problems in the relationship, conflict rarely escalates to an unmanageable level.

Look at how the vignette at the beginning of this post reads differently when I replace the defensive, contemptuous, and critical language with conflict communication that works:

It breaks my heart to know you’re disappointed with me. I feel angry, too. Please let me know what I can to do to make life easier and our relationship stronger. Honestly, I think we need to figure out a way to fight better. I feel hurt when we fight like this and I know that I’ve hurt you, too. I’m sorry. I can do better. Even now I realize that I haven’t told you today how much I love and appreciate you. I do love you, babe. I want to impress you. I want to be with you. I’m committed to making things work. Now, even if we end up disagreeing, I at least want to understand where you’re coming from. Can we talk about things now?


Let me explain this to you because you’re clearly not getting it: You—are—a—failure. You’ve failed at your job. You’ve failed as a parent. You’re failing in this marriage. Oh, and if I had written that last statement you’d see that y-o-u-‘-r-e means “you are.” Y-o-u-r tells someone what belongs to you, like, the problems in our marriage are y-o-u-r your fault! Remember that and maybe you won’t look like such an idiot on Facebook like you always do.

It should not surprise anyone to learn that relationship researcher John Gottman and his colleagues have identified contempt as the most powerful predictor of relationship dissolution. Contempt is just that awful. Contempt is conveyed in “a statement made from a position of superiority that often includes sarcasm, direct insults, or name-calling, or something more subtle (e.g., correcting someone’s grammar when he or she is angry)” (Gottman & Gottman, 2008, p. 145). Even though we are quick to admit the problems caused by contempt in relationships, if we are honest, most of us will confess to having said something contemptuous in the past.

In this second blog post in The Four Horsemen of the Relational Apocalypse, we will examine contempt and how to avoid using it when arguing with our partner.

Contempt Comes Naturally

Contempt is an attack. It is a way of hitting without having to throw a punch and allows us to inflict an injury without lifting a finger. It is deviously satisfying in the moment and devastating to a relationship. In a twisted, terrible way, contempt is one of the ways we inherently try to tell others that we are hurt when we are overwhelmed by anger. As with all of The Four Horsemen, contempt is a response to heightened, uncontrolled negative emotions that are stirred up by conflict. When humans become emotionally overwhelmed in a fight, we default into a fight-or-flight mode that leads us to attack our partners (usually verbally), defend ourselves, or run away. Outside of acts of physical abuse, expressions of contempt are the worst of the untamed and unhelpful fight-or-flight responses to relationship conflict.

Contempt is so destructive to relationships that it should never be used when we argue with our partner. Gottman’s research has shown that “masters” of relationships may use low levels of the other four horsemen (criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling) during arguments, but they rarely ever show contempt. The “disasters” of relationships, however, regularly express contempt when they fight. Because it is difficult for partners to move past statements of contempt, arguments become unproductive when it is used and couples rarely resolve their problems.

Replace Contempt With Appreciation and Respect

In order for relationships to heal after a couple has fallen into a pattern of using contempt during fights, Gottman says that partners need to establish a “culture of appreciation and admiration” in their relationship. Building this culture of appreciation replaces contempt with respect. When partners appreciate one another, they are able to be honest with their complaints during arguments without a conversation devolving into exchanges of name-calling, blame, and character assassination. This means that in order for conflict to be productive, partners need to get in the habit of regularly expressing gratitude and love both verbally and non-verbally (e.g., kisses, hugs, sex, thank you notes, acts of service, etc.). When couples take the time to express love for one another during their fights, they feel respected.

One of the most telling of Gottman’s discoveries is that during conflict, stable couples showed 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction compared to 0.8 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction for unstable couples. Many of the couples identified as masters of relationship had positive to negative interaction ratios that were far greater than 5:1. When arguments themselves are overwhelmingly positive, couples do not become emotionally overwhelmed and are much more likely to resolve conflict.

Making a Different Kind of Argument

We need to remember that all couples fight. People do not always see eye to eye and even the masters of relationships have disagreements. Conflict does not have to lead to relationship dissatisfaction or a break-up. If we take the time to build a culture of appreciation, if we learn how to avoid using criticism and contempt in arguments, fights take on a different tone entirely:

Know that I love you, baby, and that I am committed to figuring this out. I want us to support one another. I want us to work together to raise our children. I don’t want our marriage to fail. Make no mistake, I am really pissed right now, but that doesn’t change the fact that I love you and care for you and want to be married to you. I just don’t want us to have the marriage that we have now. Our marriage has sucked for the both of us for a long time. I want it to get better. I think we both need to make a lot of changes. Can we talk about the things that we need to change? I love you too much not to at least understand where you’re coming from.


You’re so wrapped up in yourself that I don’t even know if you’re capable of listening to me, let alone understanding me. It’s like you’re living in your own world. Yes, we’re married and you say you love me. But what’s the good of you loving me or of us being married if you only think of yourself all of the time. I used to think you had such a big heart. Where is it now? What keeps blood pumping through those veins of yours? Remember when I would rest my head on your chest in bed and listen to your heartbeat? I don’t think I’d hear anything now, not that you’d let me try given that you’ve taken sex out of the equation for the past six months. We’re drowning in this relationship and you’re the anchor.

The Four Horsemen of the Relational Apocalypse

This is the first in a new series of blog posts on four of the most destructive behaviors to relationships: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. The toxic relationship effects of these behaviors, dubbed “The Four Horsemen” by relationship researcher John Gottman, have revealed that these behaviors are four of the most powerful predictors of relationship dissatisfaction and divorce.

If The Four Horsemen are all too familiar to you (and your partner), my hope is that reading this blog series will provide some clarity about why these behaviors are so common and how a relationship can heal from their devastating effects.

Masters and Disasters

One of the more comforting of Gottman’s discoveries is that all couples fight, even those couples whose relationships remain stable and comparatively happy over time. This means that conflict on some level is unavoidable and should not be interpreted as a death knell for a relationship. Therefore, Gottman and his colleagues have shown that it is not if couples fight, but how couples fight that distinguishes the “masters and disasters of relationships.”

The Criticism Reflex

When we get into a fight with our significant other, it is natural to fall into an attack-defend conflict style. Because most of us do not resort to physical violence in these fights, one of the more common ways we attack our partner is to criticize him/her. Unfortunately, criticism is not an effective conflict resolution strategy. In the context of partner conflict, Gottman has defined criticism as stating a problem in the relationship as a defect in the partner. Since criticism and the attack-defend conflict style are tied to our hardwired fight-or-flight instinct, it can be difficult to learn new ways of responding to conflict.

Complain Without Blame

Instead of criticizing our partner during a fight, we need to learn how to complain without blaming our partner. As incredibly difficult as this skill can be to learn, it is well worth the effort. Complaining without blame transforms hurtful and hopeless fight dialogue in to productive—albeit intense—conversation. The following are some examples of criticism turned into a complaint.

Criticism Complaint
1. You’re clueless! No wonder you were an hour late picking up the kids. This can’t keep happening. I need to know that you will be there on time to pick up the kids.
2. Talk about somebody who is fatally flawed. You wouldn’t know how to love me if I spelled it out for you! We’re just not on the same page. I want to feel loved. Will you work with me on this?
3. If you would just figure out how to talk to me, we’d be fine. I’d like to share few things that you can say to me when we fight that I think will make things better. Is that all right?


I have had many conversations with clients about how difficult it is to stop using criticism in fights. Many of us struggle mightily at first to learn how to complain without blame. In these moments I remind my clients that as difficult as it may be to learn how to overcome the urge to criticize, it is far more difficult for us if we fail to do so. Gottman’s research has shown that there is little reason to hope that a relationship will be satisfying if partners regularly criticize one another.

Once we do learn how to change the way we fight, avoiding the use of criticism at all costs, conflict sounds and feels much different:

I don’t think we understand each other anymore. It feels like we’re living in separate worlds. I’m glad you say that you love me. Please know that I love you, too. It’s just so confusing because of where we’re at now. I hate what we’ve become. It would be great if you checked in with me more. I don’t think we really talk, at least not about things that bring us closer. I want things to get better. I believe you do, too. I miss spending time together. I miss having sex with you. Remember when I would rest my head on your chest in bed and listen to your heartbeat? It was so good. I want to hear it again with my head on your chest, knowing that you feel loved by me and that I feel loved by you. Let’s work on this together.


Herr Nels, the hotel keeper who wore an imperial in the style of Napoleon III, and who had lived in Lorraine, told me he remembered when all men wore their hair long and that it was only the Prussians who had their hair cropped short. He said he was very pleased that Paris was again returning to this fashion. At the barber shop where I went the barber was very particular to try and get the fashion correct and took a great interest. He had seen it in Italian illustrated papers, he said. Not everyone could wear it, he said, but he was glad to see it coming back. He thought it was a revolt against the years of war. A sound and good thing.

Later he told me several of the other young men of the village were having their hair cut in the same style although it did not show to any great advantage yet. Could he ask how long mine had been growing?

“About three months.”

“Then they must be patient. They all wish it to grow below the ears over night.”

“It takes patience,” I said.

“And when will yours be the length the mode requires?”

“In six months, who knows exactly?”

A Movable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

Whether it is waiting for hair to grow, finding that special someone, or finally getting that promotion, the world seems to find ways to test our patience. When we want something, we tend to want it as quickly as possible. We don’t say, “I really want this thing now but I think I’ll make myself wait for it.” This is why most of us are reluctantly patient, if at all.

All of us have moments when we must perform through pain, deal with delays, or sit through suffering. Because life doesn’t let us skip out on its unpleasantries, we must choose to be patient or allow ourselves to be angry, frustrated, restless, or annoyed. It is impatience that piles angst on top of hardship. It is patience that protects us from misery while we wait for those things that will only come to us in time.

The Patient Mind

Patience comes from a state of mind that we can teach ourselves to enter into. John Adams, in a letter that he wrote to his wife, Abigail, three months prior to becoming President of the United States, said “I have had a good education to patience in public affairs, and can look at a storm with some composure. The approaching one looks black and thick enough: but I have confidence in the sense, spirit and resources of this country, which few other men in the world know so well…” President Adams had learned to adopt a patient mind. Because of this, he was able to face troubles with “composure” and “confidence” at a time when his country’s stability and security were far from assured. Instead of dwelling on the approaching storm, his patience led Adams to focus on the strengths of the land that he loved and the people he served. Without patience, he would not have been able to take on the gargantuan task of leading a nation with the poise and conviction his position required.

Becoming Patient

In a perfect world, we would be born with patience. We would naturally remain calm when things don’t go our way. We would see the unknown as an opportunity to learn instead of a reason to panic. Coming across someone with a differing point of view would make us curious instead of frustrated. For many of us, even though we admit that patience is a virtue, we struggle to overcome our natural tendency to be impatient. Therefore, we need to learn how to think, behave, and manage our emotions in ways that transform us into patient people.

When we are being patient, our inner monologue sounds something like:

  • I really want that right now but I know that it will take some time to get it.
  • If I am going to reach my goal, I need to focus more on what I can change than on what is outside of my control.
  • Others do not define my worth, my values and work ethic do. I am a whole and valuable person whether the world recognizes it or not.
  • I am going to work as hard as I can no matter how discouraged I may be.

Failure, Adversity, Patience, and Greatness

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin speak. She is one of my favorite authors, so I was very excited. She talked about what she has learned over decades spent researching and writing about presidents Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, and Johnson. One of the themes of her talk (and also a theme in her writing) is that all of these great leaders had to overcome adversity numerous times over the course of their lives. Patience was one of the virtues that helped these men endure.

President Lincoln is one of the more powerful examples of someone whose patience and will were tested in a difficult life. He grew up in poverty; his first love died, as did two of his children; he lost two elections for U.S. Senate; his wife suffered long bouts of depression and mental unrest; and he served as president during the bloodiest, most horrific years in the nation’s history. I can only imagine the patience it took to live through this without breaking. If you read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals, you will learn that he nearly did. Fortunately, Lincoln’s patience helped him stay the course and he carried his country out of the depths of self-destruction. He is an example for us all.


About The Author

Dave Morgan, Ed.D., LMFT, is the author of this week’s blog post on grief. Dr. Morgan is a core faculty member in the marriage and family therapy program at Lipscomb University and formerly held the title of Director of Testing Services for the Lipscomb University Counseling Center. He received his Doctor of Education degree from Vanderbilt University. He is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a Clinical Fellow with the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. In addition, he holds the designation of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Master Practitioner.

A Tragic Loss

On a Saturday morning several years ago, my best friend of over thirty years joined a club that no one wants to join. His wife, also a cherished friend of mine, passed away without warning in her sleep. Young, energetic, seemingly full of life...and she just did not wake up that morning. A husband, three young children, a church, and an entire community were left to grieve.

My mind raced as I traveled to be with my friend. By the time I arrived at his house, much of the community was already on the scene; every room was full of concerned friends and family. I made my way to the back porch where I found my oldest and dearest friend, surrounded by loved ones, sitting on a swing trying to absorb the reality that should not have been. As I sat beside him on that swing, through long silences and immeasurable tears, he asked me a question: Is any of your education helpful right now? It wasn't. And I told him so. Then we sat together on that swing for a long, long time.

You Sit

For years following that tragic loss, that same friend and I presented a session on grief as part of a university-sponsored lectureship. We asked the attendees if they agreed with the old saying that time heals all wounds. Over 90% did not. What we found, upon further discussion, is many of us take issue with the idea that time, in and of itself, is a healing agent. Indeed, there may be nothing supernatural in the mere passage of time. What time can do, however, is allow space for healing to occur. Tedeschi and Calhoun (2004) identify several positive outcomes which can develop as time passes following traumatic loss, including:

  • An increased appreciation of life in general and a sense of what is really important,
  • Closer and more meaningful relationships,
  • A general sense of greater personal strength,
  • An identification of new possibilities for a person’s life, and
  • Spiritual growth.

According to the authors, “this is an ongoing process, not a static outcome” (2004, p. 1). As opposed to something that can be achieved quickly, those who are grieving may have to sit for a long time as life returns to a new and different normal.

You Swing

Following the January 2011 shooting of 19 people, including U.S. Representative Gabriele Giffords, in Tucson, AZ, an article entitled New Ways to Think About Grief was published in Time Magazine. The author, Ruth Davis Konigsberg, provides a valuable history of how we have come to think about the grief process, including the original context of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's development of her well know stages of grief (i.e., denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness, and acceptance). Regarding the notion that we proceed through grief in a series of predictable steps, Konigsberg cites the Genevro (2003) report commissioned by the Center for Advancing Health which "concluded that the information being used to help the bereaved was misaligned with the latest research, which increasingly indicates that grief is not a series of steps that ultimately deposit us at a psychological finish line but rather a grab bag of symptoms that come and go and, eventually, simply lift." (2011, p. 2).

Such has been my experience with grief. Many of the challenging emotions we associate with grief— anger, sadness, confusion, fear— will come, though not necessarily in any foreseeable pattern. And there may surprisingly be comforting moments of peace, hope, or even joy in the midst of the grief process. The emotional swings can be disorienting and represent the only constant in the otherwise unpredictable grief process.

Space on the Swing

Sitting through a season of grief requires patience with one’s self. Swinging through the unpredictable experiences of grief requires grace for one’s self. Those who are grieving can help themselves by refusing to rush through grief and not forcing it to fit a paradigm. Of course, it also helps when grief is shared. So there’s space on the swing for those who will extend patience and grace, who won't minimize losses or force others to meet false expectations, who are willing to sit and swing for a long, long time.

(The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the author alone and do not represent those of J. Gregory Briggs, Ph.D., LMFT. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this post are not guaranteed. I, J. Gregory Briggs, accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with him.)


A woman lent a small fortune to a man. When it came time for him to repay the money, he was unable to, for he had made foolish investments and lost everything. The woman, having worked hard for the money she had lent, told the man that he now owed her interest on top of his original debt.

Days and weeks passed and the man was unable to pay back the woman. Her anger grew steadily. She put great time and energy into pursuing what she was rightfully owed. She sometimes called the man multiple times a day. She arranged meetings with him several times a week. The man’s failure to repay her occupied her thoughts during the day and kept her awake at night. She was so filled with righteous indignation that she could no longer enjoy the finer things in life.

After talking with a wise counselor, she did something astonishing. She drafted a formal cancellation of debt and personally delivered it to the man.

“I don’t understand. Why would you cancel my debt?”

“It’s obvious that you are unable to repay me. I have become an angry person. I have been a slave to the debt you owe me.”

“So I do not owe you anything? Are you serious?”

“We will likely never do business again, but you owe me nothing. All is forgiven.”

As the words left her lips, she felt better than she had felt in a long time. She had learned that not all debts will be repaid. For the first time, she understood that forgiveness is as much a gift for the forgiver as it is for the forgiven.

Last week, I wrote about revenge. This week, I write about forgiveness.

It can be hard to forgive. Stories like this, however, remind us that it is much harder on us if we don’t.

Wrongs Remain Wrong

It may be so hard to forgive because we mistake forgiveness for exoneration, the act of finding someone innocent. Forgiveness does not undo the past or somehow turn a wrong into a right. Forgiveness is not saying, “It’s okay” when someone has hurt us. An act of evil is never okay and we should never give anyone the impression that we think it is. Forgiveness does not whitewash wickedness, immorality, or depravity.

Forgiveness frees us from taking on the futile task of trying to balance the scales of history. Forgiveness reminds us that no act of revenge will ever make up for a wrong committed against us.


Forgiveness should not prevent us from exercising wisdom in our relationships; when we forgive, we may still find it necessary to change the boundaries in the relationship we had with the person who wronged us. In the vignette at the beginning of this post, the woman found it necessary to terminate her business relationship with the man after he was unable to repay her. She would be an unwise businesswoman if she did not. There are times when it would be incredibly foolish to remain in relationship with someone even after we have forgiven that person. Forgiveness does not repair all marriages after an affair. Forgiveness does not restore all friendships broken by betrayal. Relationships can be irreparably damaged even if we forgive.

Forgiveness, Goodness, and the Fight Against Evil

Forgiveness is one of the weapons the good use in the fight against evil. In 1967, Dr. King taught us of the futility of violent revenge, forgiveness’s mortal enemy, “Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate…Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” In the fight against evil, acts of mercy, kindness, perseverance, and forgiveness keep a good society from devolving into the very thing it is fighting against.

The Exercise Of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process, not a moment. I tell my clients that they will know they are in the process of forgiveness when thoughts of the wrongs committed against them become reminders to forgive. Forgiveness asks us to redirect our thoughts that wish bad things on those who have hurt us. Forgiveness tells us that it is futile to pursue debts that cannot be repaid. Forgiveness saves us from the darker aspects of our nature that seek to fight violence with violence, lies with lies, and evil with evil. Forgiveness requires us to starve our desire for revenge with grace, hope, and love.


A farmer, who bore a grudge against a fox for robbing his poultry yard, caught him at last, and being determined to take an ample revenge, tied some rope well soaked in oil to his tail, and set it on fire. The fox by a strange fatality rushed to the fields of the farmer who had captured him. It was the time of the wheat harvest; but the farmer reaped nothing that year and returned home grieving sorely.

The Farmer and the Fox, Aesop’s Fables

Revenge, and its promise of retribution, is one of the most compelling of all lies. Any pleasure gained from an act of revenge is momentary. And as with any form of pleasure gained from the suffering of another, the “joy” experienced after exacting revenge is a form of sadism. The farmer, who must have felt the sinister thrill of revenge for a few seconds, quickly learned that revenge hurts not only its target, but also the one who seeks it.

An Argument for Revenge

Some researchers argue that revenge isn’t such a bad thing. McCullough et al. (2013) contend that revenge can be beneficial when it prevents an aggressor from hurting the victim in the future. If victims become avengers, responding to attacks in ways that inflict damage, it may cause aggressors to think twice before attacking them again. McCullough et al. (2013) also highlight the benefit of having a reputation for revenge: it prevents attacks from potential aggressors. For example, if John (a former victim) had developed a reputation as an avenger, then Tim (a potential aggressor) might avoid attacking John based on the damage John had done to previous attackers. From this perspective, revenge is good whenever it successfully prevents an attack.

Revenge, Punishment, and Self-Defense

McCullough et al. (2013) make a reasonable argument; however, I don’t think their definition of revenge mirrors the common understanding of it and it is certainly different from the revenge portrayed in Aesop’s fable. What they call revenge oftentimes resembles punishment, a fact they freely admit (p. 4). In addition to punishment, they would also mistake self-defense for revenge because of its ability to deter an aggressor from making future attacks on a victim. Yet, revenge is not the same as punishment, nor is it self-defense. There was a reason the word revenge was used to describe the farmer’s actions; revenge embodies a darkness that punishment and self-defense do not. Aesop’s fable would not have been remembered if it had described acts of punishment or self-defense. No one would have faulted the farmer if he had captured the fox and released it elsewhere as punishment for its thievery. We would have understood if the farmer had quickly dispatched the fox with an arrow. But Aesop’s fable is a story of revenge and it is because of this darkness it portrays and the lesson it teaches that it has survived these thousands of years.

The differences between revenge, punishment, and self-defense lie in the intent of the victim. The intent behind punishment is justice. The intent behind self-defense is survival. The intent that fuels revenge is the desire to inflict pain. Revenge is not satisfied with justice or survival. It is greedy. It comes from a place of unchecked anger and has no empathy for its target. Revenge, though understandable, is altogether evil.

Consequences of Revenge

Revenge is always accompanied by collateral damage. In the case of the farmer, his wheat crop—his livelihood—was destroyed. His act of revenge could very well have cost him his life and the lives of those who depended on him. In this way, revenge is like an atomic bomb: its immediate effects are incredibly destructive, like the bomb’s blast, but it also has far reaching effects like those of radiation that cause damage long after detonation.

Revenge begets revenge. This is the case with blood feuds and gang violence, for example. One life cannot be paid for with another. The contagion of revenge acts by addition, not subtraction. It enhances pain without ever relieving it.

The consequences of revenge are not limited to material possessions and lives, they also include damage to the minds and hearts of those who seek it. A life bent on revenge leaves no room for love, joy, peace, healing, or happiness.

If Not Revenge, Then What?

It is natural to want to retaliate after being hurt by someone. I think this is why revenge is such a tempting response to being wronged; it plays on this natural desire. Revenge may be even more tempting when other responses like discipline, punishment, and legal recourse are not readily available to us. This is often the case when we are hurt by people who sit in positions of power over us (e.g., a boss).

The next time we are wronged and it appears that revenge is our only option, we should remember that one alternative is available to us. I will be discussing what this alternative is in next week’s blog. I hope you have the chance to read it.


Jim’s motto was “You only live once.” He didn’t want to miss out on a good time. If there was fun to be had, Jim wanted his share of it. He made his decisions based on what felt right in the moment. He ate, drank, smoked, and otherwise ingested what he wanted whenever he could get his hands on it. He stayed up late. He refused to wake up early. He went to every party he could find. He was an adrenaline junky, never backing down from a dare. He slept with anyone who would have him. He chased whatever his body craved. He had more fun than anyone he knew.

Deep down, Jim did want a stable job, family, home, and all those “normal” things someday, but he told himself that there would be plenty of time for all of that later. While he was young, he was going to make the most of every second and try to pack as much fun in as possible.

Jim’s teens and twenties were a blur. He amassed an unrivaled collection of empty bottles and pop-tops and was quite proud of the notches on his bedpost.

By the time Jim was 30, he was having as much “fun” as ever and he was also miserable. Casual sex offered no more than a quick high, leaving him unsatisfied over the long run. He could mix a great cocktail and drink and smoke with the best, but he also had a long list of substance-induced problems that made him question if it was all worth it. Jim’s finances were a mess and his professional prospects were even worse. He was in considerable debt and spent his money as soon as he made it. He could manage to get an entry-level job, but was beaten out for every promotion by someone who, if he allowed himself to admit it, was more reliable and qualified. He knew a lot of people but didn’t have many real friends. His happiest friends, the people he admired most, had slowed way down and he rarely ever ran into them at parties anymore.

Jim admitted he was lost. In his pursuit of fun he had missed out on joy. He realized he had been chasing a mirage. By living for today he had failed to consider what his life would be like tomorrow.

He knew it was time to reconsider things.

Jim’s mistake is a common one. It is easy to fall into a pattern of pursuing short-term pleasure at the expense of our long-term contentment.

Living a happy, loving, and deeply gratifying life requires prudence. Lewis defined prudence as “taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come out of it.” Prudence protects us from seeking out those things that are sweet but not satisfying, teaching us that not all types of fun are ultimately fulfilling. 

Professional Success

However one defines a successful career (e.g., money earned, records set, people served, etc.), it is unlikely that any of us will be successful unless we are prudent. Yes, having talent is also important but it only sets the stage for success, it does not get anyone there on its own. A professional athlete who can run faster, jump higher, and throw farther than any other will not find success if he is not forward thinking enough to eat well, exercise, practice, and refine his abilities by learning from coaches. Success will elude the businesswoman with incredible intelligence and great ideas if she does not plan, strategize, and consider both the short and long-term effects of her decisions. In professional settings, prudence optimizes our chances of success by compelling us to make wise decisions that help us make the most of our talents.

Quality of Life

Cordova et al. (2007) wrote an article on quality of life that speaks to the important role prudence plays in helping people get their needs met and improving their well-being. They not only identified human needs and values that determine quality of life, but they also identified the various ways these needs are satisfied. For example, the human need for subsistence (i.e., food, shelter, and other life sustaining services) is met through cooperation with others, application of knowledge and physical labor, and the availability of resources. Without prudence, humans are not thoughtful, strategic, and collaborative in ways that help in the search for food, construction of shelter, and establishment of stability. Other needs like security (e.g., rules of conduct) and participation (i.e., making meaningful contributions to the world) are also more easily met with the thoughtfulness and wisdom that characterize a prudent life.

Developing Prudence

Although it may be a struggle, we can learn to adopt the considerate, reflective, shrewd, and farsighted characteristics of a prudent person. We become prudent by considering the future and avoiding the temptation to be reckless, careless, and lazy. Any struggles we face and sacrifices we make during this process will be well worth it. For if we are successful in becoming more prudent, we will likely find happiness and success that can only be achieved when we learn to make the most of the moment while keeping one eye on what is ahead.


Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love's pure light,
Radiant beams from
thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Grace is a gift. It’s not earned, not owed. It is a present, given willingly and lovingly. Grace is the cousin of mercy. But where mercy spares us from getting what we deserve, grace is itself an undeserved gift.

Grace and Christmas

For Christians, Christmas is the celebration not only of the birth of Christ, but of the grace made available through Him. When we accept grace through Christ, we must love honestly and hate evil, overcoming it with good; when people hate and persecute us, we are called to give up our desire for vengeance. We are to be hopeful, patient, sincere, hardworking, and hospitable to strangers. We should overflow with thanksgiving and be compelled to rejoice, for grace is the enemy of bitterness. Grace helps us overcome weakness. Grace gives us comfort in our time of need. Grace spurs us to serve one another according to our strengths and talents. Grace works through humility and teaches us to live dutiful, self-controlled, upright, and godly lives.*

Christmas marks the turning point in history when God became man and grace was made available to all who accept it and follow Christ. Christians are called to respond to the grace they have received with a love that is evident in all aspects of their lives.

Grace and Family

One week from today, millions of families and friends will gather together to celebrate Christmas. Loved ones will joyfully reunite after spending years apart. Beloved and familiar faces will seem more beautiful under soft, twinkling lights on a tree. Anticipation will make it hard to sleep. Normally late risers will awake at dawn. Generosity will abound as presents are exchanged. Small gestures will take on deep meaning. Children will leap for joy. Parents will remember once again why it is better to give than to receive. Good cheer will become infectious. Cheeks will be sore from so much smiling. Families and friends will eat together, sip cocoa together, laugh and be merry together.

This Christmas, a resurgence of grace will envelope the lives of those who allow it to do its mysterious and wondrous work. Estranged family members will make peace. Cold and shrunken hearts—like the Grinch’s—will be made whole again by expressions of love and mercy. Benevolence and charity will beget gratitude. Gracious acts will lift spirits. Debts will be canceled. Those made tired by resentment will find rest in forgiveness. The hurt will be comforted by the kindness of friends. The desperate will find hope in the love and life of Christ.

Christ and Christmas

The birth of Christ turned the world on its end. The first became last and the last became first. The poor and meek became blessed. Wealth was no longer defined by material possessions, but by the condition of the soul. Loving enemies became an order and being charitable an obligation. Forgiveness was made available to all those who ask for it. The first Christmas truly was “the dawn of redeeming grace.”*

Merry Christmas

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season. This time of year brings joy to so many and I am grateful for the opportunity to remember the birth of Christ and to spend time with family. My hope for all of you is that you will have a loving, generous, and peaceful holiday. 

No. 10: Mystery

She’s not answering her phone! It’s going straight to voicemail. What if she’s hurt? What if her date is a bad guy? How could I have been so naïve as to think it was okay for her to date at 16? I never thought that was too young, but now, I don’t know.

Not knowing is killing me! I’m her father, isn’t it my job to protect her? If she’s hurt I’ll never forgive myself.

She’s fifteen minutes past her curfew now! Where is she? This is unbearable!

My phone is buzzing! Unknown number! This is it. Something happened! Somebody is calling to tell me that something bad has happened to my daughter!


“Dad it’s me. Jason and I are stuck on the freeway. There was an accident and they’ve shut down the road. We’re stuck between exits, so we’re not going anywhere for a while. I’m sorry.”

“Why didn’t you call sooner?”

“My phone died and Jason’s broke last week. There’s a lady stopped in the lane next to us. Everyone is out of their cars standing on the freeway. She let me borrow her phone when I said that I needed to call you. I’m so sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m just glad you’re okay.”

Life is so much better when we don’t break down in the face of mystery. Unfortunately, few learn how to take on the unknown with confidence. For many, mystery triggers dread, frustration, and repetitive thoughts of the worst-case scenario. Others go into denial, refusing to believe anything they cannot understand. In a world as complex as ours, mystery abounds. Making peace with the unknown, therefore, is an important step on the path to a productive and fulfilling life.


To the anxious person, the mysterious and the catastrophic are indistinguishable. When the unknown feeds anxiety, the body enters into a fight or flight response: the muscles tense, the body trembles, breathing accelerates, and the mind becomes overwhelmed by a state of panic. When forced to take on the unknown, the anxious are overcome by their concerns, they become restless, and their greatest fears appear to be inescapable.

We can learn how to calm our fears in moments of uncertainty. When we are honest about our fears and express them for safe amounts of time, in safe places, with a safe people, we make peace with the unknown and keep it from turning our unease into anxiety.

When we relinquish our need to be in control, when we no longer have to have all of the answers, a mystery can become exciting. The unknown sparks our curiosity. We find that we are no longer slaves to anxiety and surrounded by the terrible. We instead realize that we are residents of a wonderful and mind-boggling universe with countless questions to answer, intriguing journeys to take, and beguiling riddles to solve.

Mystery and Knowledge

The greatest thinkers know that there is nothing more thrilling than engaging in a mystery. They do not fear unanswered questions and take them on without the promise of finding the answers. Theologians study ancient texts and people whose origins and histories are often clouded by time. In their journey to understand the nature of God, they learn from the mistakes and wisdom of their ancestors, keeping alive the voices of the dead. Philosophers use logic and reason in their quest to uncover the nature of everything. Their thoughts have led to revolution and enlightenment and continue to push the limits of human understanding. Scientists observe and experiment in a natural world that is incomprehensibly vast and staggeringly complex. Their discoveries are astounding, their inventions are remarkable, and the universe they unveil is more extraordinary than we could ever have imagined.  

Enjoying Mystery

In spite of the best efforts of great thinkers everywhere, in all likelihood the human race will cease to exist long before all mysteries are solved. Rather than being discouraged by this, we should be grateful.

A life without mystery is a boring life indeed. Without mystery there would be no excitement on a first date, no thrill in the pages of new book, and no journey worth taking. We are never more courageous than when we step into the unknown with confidence, reminding ourselves that a good mystery stretches the mind and rouses the soul.

No. 9: Trust

The new general manager, Juan, was nervous. He was actually in charge. Knowing that made him feel good and uncomfortable at the same time.

He looked at his watch. The store would open its doors in 45 minutes. His floor managers would be arriving any minute.

Juan made eye contact with a man coming out of the break room.

The man walked toward him. “You must be the new GM. Hi, I’m Jake,” the man said warmly.

“Oh, yes, I am. My name’s Juan.” He noticed Jake’s tie and vest. “You must be one of my two FMs.”

“Yes, sir. Madeline is the other FM. She’ll be here in exactly 5 minutes.”

“Really? Exactly? You tracking her on your phone or something? How could you know that?” Juan said playfully.

Jake smiled, “You’ll find out. Maddie and I have worked together for seven years. Every day she has walked through those front doors at exactly 20 after ready to work. And I do mean every day at exactly 20 after. She’s as reliable as a Swiss watch. Trust me.”

Juan talked with Jake in the final minutes before the workday began. Juan was curious now and kept one eye shifting between the front door and his watch. Jake told him all about the store, about how he and Maddie liked to run the floor. Juan found it easy to like Jake.

Juan heard the front doors open as he looked at his watch. It was exactly 20 after.

Maddie walked in, straightening her tie.

“Unbelievable. You were right,” Juan said grinning, incredulous.

“Told you. You’ll love her. Maddie is the best. I’d trust her with just about anything.”

Few experiences bring us more comfort than when we find someone we can trust. Humans are social creatures and we want to know that our family, friends, and coworkers are reliable and have our best interest at heart. Being in relationships with people we can trust gives us a sense of security that can only come from support we can count on.

The Many Layers of Trust

Trust is a multifaceted concept. Researchers Jason Colquitt, Brent Scott, and Jeffery LePine investigated two features of trust. The first, trustworthiness, embodies one’s ability, benevolence, and integrity. This means that when people are trustworthy, they are loyal, want to do good for others, they are consistent, and they fulfill their promises. The second, trust propensity, is defined by one’s willingness to rely on others before they have had a chance to prove they are trustworthy. People with high trust propensities will be more open to cooperating with others and to believing what others say. Because trust is a many-layered construct, it is not always easy to know when it is a good idea to trust someone.

Building Trust

We know we can trust people when they have shown consistency over time. This does not necessarily mean that we have to know people for a long time before we begin to trust them. It depends on what we trust them with. Going on a first date is not inherently risky. Having sex with someone is much riskier. The levels of trust in the first date relationship and the sexual relationship should be much different. The same can be said of other types of relationships. Medical degrees, licenses, certifications, and endorsements are awarded to people who have shown a consistent ability to perform over time. Certified nursing assistants (CNAs) receive 4-6 weeks of training. Registered nurses (RNs) are awarded their license after earning their college degree and passing a board exam. Doctors become board certified after four years of college, four years of medical school, five years of residency, and passing exams. Patients put different levels of trust in each of these medical professionals. CNAs provide patients with basic care like bathing. RNs are highly skilled and perform complex tasks under doctors’ orders. Doctors diagnose patients and carry out incredibly complex medical procedures. It is wise to trust those who have earned it and incredibly risky to trust those who have not.

Dealing With “Trust Issues”

Most of us have been disappointed and hurt by people we have trusted. Some of us respond to being betrayed by distrusting everyone. This is usually what my clients mean when they tell me they have “trust issues.” They refuse to put trust in anyone in an attempt to keep people from being able to hurt them. The problem with this strategy is that it keeps them from experiencing one of life’s greatest joys: a safe, supportive, stable, and trusting relationship with another.

When my clients and I work on “trust issues,” we identify ways of figuring out when it is safe to trust someone and it no longer makes sense to keep him or her at a distance. Establishing clear expectations in a relationship is a part of this process because it sets a standard by which someone’s reliability can be measured. I also talk with them about the importance of being willing to discuss potential pitfalls in the relationship and looking out for red flags like broken promises. As scary as learning how to trust again can be, many of my clients find the prospect of being in relationship with trustworthy people to be well worth the risk.

No. 8: Tolerance

In a familiar land not too far away, there were two towns that bordered one another. The town to the north was called Beauty View and was perched atop a mountain plateau. The people of Beauty View worshipped in a building on 1st Street and were members of the political party whose regional headquarters was on 2nd Street. The town to the south was called Sunny Glen and was built along a winding river in the valley beneath the mountain plateau. The people of Sunny Glen didn’t believe in any god at all and were members of the political party whose regional headquarters was on Main Street.

The people of Beauty View and Sunny Glen were enemies. When forced to talk with one another, they quickly got into fights. Beauty View natives said they could not understand why anyone wouldn’t worship their god, vote for their party, or choose to live anywhere other than their mountaintop town with its spectacular views. Citizens of Sunny Glen said they were insulted at the thought of worshiping any god, took personal offense at a vote for another party, and dismissed anyone who chose to live outside their glorious riverside town.

One thing the townspeople of Beauty View and Sunny Glen shared was a mutual disapproval of the only known friendship between two of their residents.

The friends were an artist from Beauty View and a scientist from Sunny Glen. They disagreed on the existence of god yet still sought to understand each other’s beliefs. They were good listeners. When they talked about their political differences, they did so without calling each other names or ridiculing one another’s opinions. Like the other residents of Beauty View, the Artist preferred to live in the mountains and, like the townspeople of Sunny Glen, the Scientist favored life in the valley. Even so, neither of them demeaned the other’s hometown.

The friends treated one another with kindness in the face of disagreement and bonded over a mutual desire to understand one another. What allowed the artist and the scientist to be friends? They were tolerant.

They were the happiest people in the land.

Peace and Diversity

Tolerance is the world’s only hope for peace. Tolerance is what allows us to treat people with love, respect, and equity when they do not share our demographic characteristics, opinions, values, and ways of behaving. Peaceful coexistence in the midst of diversity is the hallmark of tolerance. This world has over 7 billion people with as many opinions. In order to get along with one another, we must be able to tolerate ideas, beliefs, values, and behaviors we find appalling.

Tolerance and Acceptance

It is understandable when people use the terms tolerance and acceptance interchangeably because the behaviors fueled by both look nearly identical. Acts of kindness, courtesy, and respect can be fueled by tolerance or acceptance. They do not mean the same thing, however.

Acceptance is defined as agreement with a belief, idea, opinion, or behavior. Finding a group of people who welcome you because they share your views and values feels wonderful and reminds us that we’re not alone. This inclusion on the basis of similarity is the feature that distinguishes acceptance from tolerance.

Tolerance, by definition, can only be expressed when there is disagreement between people. Consequently, the acts of kindness, courtesy, and respect that emerge from tolerance do not come as easily as those that flow from acceptance. We must train ourselves to be tolerant. Showing tolerance requires us to summon strength from a deep and deliberate love, a love that we extend even to our enemies.


Unfortunately, there are people who have no interest whatsoever in being tolerant and try to force their beliefs on others using violence. People who seek to kill and destroy those who disagree with them are practicing the worst form of bigotry.

Tolerance does not preclude us from protecting ourselves against physical violence. Tolerant societies will go to war against violent enemies and will imprison the barbaric with a clear conscience. Tolerant societies will not revel in violence, however, and will do everything they can to extend grace and show mercy whenever possible.  

Persecution and Evasion

When people are not tolerant they will belittle, condemn, or altogether avoid interacting with people who are different from them. Persecution and evasion are bigotry’s other attributes. Bigotry, therefore, is the absence of tolerance and leads people to harass or ignore unfamiliar people with divergent points of view. People fueled by bigotry are some of the most miserable in the world.


Two colleagues and I recently published an article that reviewed Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT), a type of therapy designed to help seriously and chronically distressed couples improve their relationships. After careful examination, we concluded that therapists should strongly consider using IBCT with highly distressed couples because research has reliably shown that IBCT helps couples communicate better and increase their relationship satisfaction.

One of the goals of IBCT is to help couples build tolerance, especially when solutions are hard to come by and compromise is not possible. All couples argue. Partners will not always agree. This is why tolerance is so important. IBCT helps partners learn to convey empathy and compassion without blaming or making accusations, even when they are fighting about “unsolvable” problems. Tolerance allows a relationship to be loving and satisfying even when partners strongly disagree. The result of building tolerance through IBCT is that many seriously and chronically distressed couples see their relationship improve.

As a therapist, I find this effect of tolerance to be incredibly exciting and it gives me hope for a better world.

No. 7: Mistakes

He looked at his therapist with tears in his eyes, his skin flushed, hands trembling.

“I’m a failure. I’ve done too many bad things in my life, hurt too many people,” he said, sounding defeated.

His eyes fell to the floor. He breathed deeply, an attempt at composing himself, before he began to talk once again. Despair infiltrated his every word.

“At this point, I’m just getting what I deserve. Karma sucks. How can I expect different? I’ve been bad most of my life. I’ve made too many mistakes.”

When mistakes are allowed to define who we are, there is no escaping them. Mistakes don’t have to be anchors that keep us from breaking away from the most desperate, depressing, and miserable moments of our lives.

Getting Past Mistakes

Mistakes can be sticky. I’m a loser. She’s a cheater. I’m a failure. He’s a liar. Statements like these are usually tied to mistakes. When mistakes define who we are, they preoccupy our minds and shackle our hearts. To make matters worse, our mistakes can dictate our reputations in the eyes of others.

In order to move past mistakes we need to learn from them and accept responsibility for our actions without beating ourselves up. We need to do these things even if others seem to hate us and constantly remind us of what we’ve done wrong. This, of course, is not easy. Accepting responsibility for mistakes without beating ourselves up for them requires forgiveness. Forgiving yourself can be incredibly difficult. It is tempting to look at forgiveness as a way of avoiding responsibility and making light what we’ve done wrong. This is not what forgiveness does. Forgiveness comes from the realization that no amount of persecution or self-loathing will ever make up for our mistakes. Without forgiveness, we are infused with shame, we see ourselves as a failure, and we are of no help to others. When we forgive ourselves, we accept responsibility for our actions while making a promise to live a better life. Forgiveness does not erase our past it releases us from it. We will still feel regret when we think about our mistakes, but forgiveness allows us to move forward.

Moving Forward

In order to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again, we need to know where we went wrong and how to do better next time.

In the early years of the NASA space program, scientists built—and crashed—rocket after rocket before successfully launching one into space. Some of the early rockets exploded spectacularly upon ignition before they even had time to clear the launch tower. As frustrating as these failed attempts were, the scientists at NASA used them as opportunities for learning. They gathered all the evidence and reexamined failed rockets to identify where the mistakes were made. Because of their willingness to learn from their mistakes, in the span of just over a decade, NASA rockets progressed from exploding on the launch pad to successfully carrying six teams of astronauts to the surface of the moon and back.

When we learn from our mistakes the seemingly impossible becomes possible.

Making Changes

Therapy can help us understand why we make mistakes and show us where we need to make changes. My clients and I work to identify the triggers and temptations that lead to poor choices. When clients come to a better understanding of who they are and what they need to do to avoid making mistakes, they find that they are able to stop the cycle of poor decision making. They put up boundaries in their lives that help them minimize missteps and accomplish their goals. Removing alcohol from the home and avoiding bars helps reduce relapse for those addicted to alcohol. Putting blocking software on internet devices and establishing an accountability network helps curtail pornography use. Learning to recognize the physiological signs of rage and taking much needed time-outs helps people manage and express their anger in more productive ways. My clients find making lifestyle changes to be hard but repeatedly making the same mistakes in life to be even harder.


We can achieve progress. We cannot achieve perfection. All of us will make mistakes. If perfection is our goal then we are guaranteeing failure. If progress is our goal, we allow for mistakes without excusing them and move ever forward toward a better and more satisfying life.

No. 6: Supervision

I must be getting old. How can I have a daughter who is old enough to babysit? Isn’t twelve too young? How old was I when I first babysat? Oh, geez, I was twelve!

Her dad and I need to figure this out. If we let her, she’d be watching a five year old and a four year old this Saturday from 2:30 to 5:30. That’s not a big deal, right? She gets along great with those kids. They seem to listen to her. She’s quite the little taskmaster, actually. I’ve heard how she barks orders at them when they are playing house in the neighbors’ back yard. Honestly, she sounds like me. She’s more responsible than I was at her age.

She really wouldn’t be on her own. I’ll be at my sister’s baby shower but her dad will be here right next door. If anything serious happened, he’d be there. He can keep an eye and ear out for her. That makes me feel better. She’ll have supervision.


It can be a struggle for parents to know how much supervision their children need. Anxious, obsessive parents rarely let their children out of their sight. As well intentioned as this parenting strategy is (i.e., it is usually an attempt to keep children safe), obsessive parenting will not protect a child from sickness and injury and evidence suggests that providing too much supervision and setting overly strict rules may contribute to the development of major mental health issues in adulthood such as obsessive compulsive disorder (Timpano et al., 2010). The other end of the parenting extreme is also problematic. When children have overly permissive parents who don’t model healthy behaviors or provide sufficient supervision, they are more likely to pick up bad habits like smoking and abusing alcohol and they also struggle more in their relationships (e.g., listen to this Freakonomics podcast for an overview of the influence parents have on their children).

When I work with parents, I remind them that the reward for good parenting is that their children will leave them. Of course, I am not telling them that if they do a good job their children won’t want to talk with them, will no longer love them, or will refuse to come visit on weekends and holidays. I am saying something else entirely. Good parenting teaches children how to live a life of their own, one that does not require regular parental supervision. When children become well-adjusted adults, they usually have loving relationships with their parents and deeply value the time they spend with them. Yes, a typical result of good parenting is that children eventually leave the home; good parents, in addition to feeling some sadness when their children leave, find the experience to be strangely fulfilling. More often than not, they discover that they remain an important part of their children’s lives.


It is common for therapists-in-training to receive between two and three hours of weekly clinical supervision. It is in supervision that therapists synthesize 20-30 hours of weekly academic work with 10-20 hours of weekly clinical experience. Supervision is a place where therapists receive feedback and work with their peers and supervisor to develop treatment plans for their clients. Just as a little exercise goes a long way toward improving physical health, a relatively brief weekly supervision meeting can make a huge impact on therapists’ development and the effectiveness of their work with clients.

Good supervision experiences allow therapists to grow personally while they develop technical skills. One study of therapy trainees’ best and worst supervision experiences revealed that the best supervisors were those who welcomed creativity, were accessible and open to feedback, taught practical skills, were respectful, accepted mistakes as part of the learning experience, were direct and straightforward, and provided regular praise and encouragement. The best supervisors adopted a leadership style that was neither micromanaging nor laissez-faire. As long as they were not the emphasis of supervision, therapy trainees said they appreciated when their supervisor made them aware of their skill-deficits and called them on their resistance to the learning process. This shows that good supervision favors discussion of individual strengths without avoiding discussion of growth areas.

Supervision is Essential

A good supervisor is a teacher, encourager, and protector. All of us need supervision from time to time. Under the supervision of parents, teachers, and mentors we learn life’s most important lessons that keep us safe, broaden our minds, grant us wisdom, show us how to love, and teach us how to guide the next generation.

No. 5: Therapy

We were talking. I was nervous. But at least we were talking. My biggest fear was that we’d be staring at each other with blank expressions. At least that wasn’t happening.

He told me his parents’ names. I made a point to remember those. He was probably going to talk about his parents a lot, right? Hadn’t I read that in a book somewhere?

I wasn’t that much older than he was. Was my age going to be a deal breaker?

We seemed to be getting along. How long had we been in session at that point? Fifteen minutes? That was good, wasn’t it? Getting along with a new client—a first client—after 15 minutes had to be a good sign.

Well, whatever the signs were pointing to, there was no doubt that it had started. He was my first client. We were working together. Our collaboration wasn’t like other working relationships. It was therapy.

Therapy can be intimidating, especially for inexperienced therapists. As nervous as we were, my first client and I ended up working well together.

I don’t remember talking with him about his parents as often as I thought we would that first session, but we did find ways of helping him manage feelings of anxiety and anger. Prior to therapy, these feelings were causing him to seclude himself from others and explode in fits of rage. After a few months of therapy, we had both acquired new skills and he experienced significant reductions in feelings of anxiety and anger and he no longer had explosive outbursts.

Therapy Works

Therapy has a long and impressive track record of helping people overcome a wide range of mental health and relationship issues (Lamber & Ogles, 2004; Lebow, 2012; Shadish & Baldwin, 2003; Smith & Glass, 1979; Sprenkle, 2002). When a therapist is well trained and a client is open to feedback and motivated to change, the effects of therapy can be incredible. I have seen good therapy help clients overcome severe depression, crippling anxiety, staggeringly high couple conflict, and a litany of other serious mental health and relationship issues.

Don’t Wait

People often live in misery for years before seeking therapy. One study showed that distressed couples wait 6 years on average before scheduling their first session with a therapist (Notarius & Buongiorno, 1992). Statistics like this one ring true in my private practice. My clients commonly come to me after struggling with the same problems for years before asking for help. Rather than putting off treatment, I encourage people to come to therapy as soon as they notice problems. Treating mental health or relationship issues early in their development is usually quicker and easier than facing off with them after they have had years to grow and take hold of people’s lives.

Be Proactive

Therapy is a process that requires time and significant energy. Therapy does not work like an injection or medication. Sick patients usually don’t have to do much after taking a shot or swallowing a pill in order for them to feel better. During sessions, therapists provide their clients with valuable information and teach them new skills. What happens in the therapy room is a critical part of its success. It is not everything, however. For therapy to work, clients usually have to make significant changes to their life outside of their sessions. The relationship clients have with their therapist is similar to the relationship weigh-loss patients have with their dietician. The best therapists and dieticians cannot help people unless they make significant lifestyle changes at home.

Find the Right Therapist for You

As many people have learned the hard way, not all therapists are as effective as others. It is terrible when I hear my clients talk about awful experiences they have had with what sound like bad therapists. Therapist quality is determined, in part, by a therapist’s skill level, quality of training, belief in treatment, emotional well-being, adaptability (e.g., to culture and client values), friendliness, and ability to work collaboratively with the clients (Blow et al., 2007). Because some therapists are better than others, it is important for people to have high standards when choosing their therapist.

After client factors like a readiness to change and willingness to work hard, the most important predictor of therapy effectiveness is the quality of the relationship between the therapist and client (i.e., the therapeutic alliance). Great therapy outcomes are nearly always accompanied by a strong therapeutic alliance. When therapists and clients don’t connect, therapy is rarely helpful (Sprenkle et al., 2009).

If you are looking for a therapist, the important thing to remember is that the best therapists are well trained, intelligent, and, most importantly, easy to like. Giving a therapist a call and checking out his or her website can be a good first step to making an informed decision about who to work with in therapy. When people ask me how to find a therapist, I tell them to talk with people they know who have been in therapy. Most of my clients choose to work with me on the recommendation of a trusted friend, family member, or coworker. When you do find a skilled therapist you admire, respect, and trust, feel free to get your hopes up—you will already be well on your way to a beneficial and potentially life-altering therapy experience. 

No. 4: Family

"Now, we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's Gang. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood." Everybody was willing. So Tom got out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he mustn't eat and he mustn't sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn't belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued; and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever.

Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said some of it, but the rest was out of pirate-books and robber-books, and every gang that was high-toned had it.

Some thought it would be good to kill the families of boys that told the secrets. Tom said it was a good idea, so he took a pencil and wrote it in. Then Ben Rogers says:

"Here's Huck Finn, he hain't got no family; what you going
to do 'bout him?"

"Well, hain't he got a father?" says Tom Sawyer.

"Yes, he's got a father, but you can't never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain't been seen in these parts for a year or more."

They talked it over, and they was going to rule me out, because they said every boy must have a family or somebody to kill, or else it wouldn't be fair and square for the others. Well, nobody could think of anything to do—everybody was stumped, and set still. I was most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I offered them Miss Watson—they could kill her. Everybody said:

"Oh, she'll do. That's all right. Huck can come in."

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Family is a loaded word. Family can be loving, loyal, caring. Family can be cruel, distant, apathetic. Family can define us. Family can confuse us. For better or worse, our families are inescapable.

Who’s in Your Family?

It was a good thing for Huck and his wish to join Sawyer’s gang that his friends defined family broadly enough to include Miss Watson, a woman not related to him by blood who, along with her sister, took him under their care. Huck and his friends are just one example of how deciding who is family isn’t always easy. Family definitions vary from person to person and from culture to culture.

Family of Origin

All of us have a family of origin. We all come from somewhere and are shaped in part by the genes we inherited and the people who raised us. We don’t choose our family of origin; it is thrust upon us through blood, marriage, and our environment.

The experiences we have with our family of origin span the emotional gamut. Our happiest moments and most hurtful memories often involve the same cast of family members.

The ties that bind us to our family of origin are immeasurable. They span time, borders, language, religion, and culture. The connection we have with our family of origin stays with us from conception to the grave and its degree of influence affects each individual differently and profoundly.

Family of Choice

As we grow older, our family tends to evolve. Instead of our family being limited to the members of our family of origin, it is reshaped by the addition of a spouse, in-laws, and friends. Family systems, like fingerprints, are as unique as the individuals within them.

Understanding Your Family

It is important for us to understand the role family has played in shaping who we are and how we live. If we grew up in a loving, healthy, stable family, we need to know what made it that way so we can continue to nurture our family system as we take on new roles such as spouse, parent, and grandparent. If we grew up in a family defined by conflict and chaos, it is critical that we make sense of where things went wrong before we can break the negative cycle and do our part to make our family stronger.

It is not easy to move past a painful family history; yet, with help, we can learn from our family’s mistakes instead of repeating them. Memories of difficult family experiences will never completely go away but we can change the meaning we ascribe to them (see Martinson et al., 2010). This requires us to grieve the loss of what could have been and open ourselves up for a different future. We need to act in ways that disrupt family patterns of destructive behavior. When we do this by responding to difficult family experiences with forgiveness instead of vengeance, we take away an opportunity for misery to take hold of our life. When we set boundaries by removing ourselves from hostile situations, we refuse to contribute to the crippling effects of family aggression. When we commit to being more loving, kind, peaceful, and self-controlled, we are being a much needed spark in the darkness that is a dysfunctional family system.

No. 3: Marriage

The August sun was relentless. The baked ground radiated. The oven-like air was still, offering no breeze for relief. The birds of the air and beasts of the earth, built for the intense desert climate, had taken shelter in what little shade they could find. Yet, there I stood outside wearing a dark suit, sweat pouring down my spine on a sweltering late afternoon in Texas.

Incredibly, the heat didn’t faze me. My mind was focused elsewhere: she was going to walk down the aisle at any moment and we were going to be married.

My wife and I remember that day fondly. We stood before a group of our family and friends and pledged to live the rest of our lives together. Our decision to get married was life altering and it has been wonderful.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: as far as the government is concerned, we weren’t married that blazing hot day in Texas. According to our marriage license, the only wedding that mattered was the legal one that took place three days before in the back room of a church in Illinois (as Illinois residents at the time it was much easier for us to obtain a license and be legally married in our home state).

Why People Marry

Marriage definitions and practices have changed and evolved throughout history (see Coontz, 2004, for a review). For some people, marriage has been a way of generating economic advantage (e.g., dowry) and political power (e.g., arranged marriages between the children of monarchs). For other people, and most people today, marriage is the response to romantic love (see Berscheid, 2010). From an evolutionary perspective, getting married is an expression of the instinctual desire to bond for life with one sexual partner. And although the desire for a monogamous lifestyle often competes with the desire for multiple sex partners, research shows that the vast majority of people choose to be married and remain sexually faithful to their spouse (Blow & Hartnett, 2005; Goodwin et al., 2009).

The Makings of a Marriage

My wife and I celebrate our anniversary three days after our legal wedding anniversary. For us, our marriage did not begin until we pledged our lives to one another in front of our friends and family. Because of our values, marriage is defined by more than its legal recognition and the other aspects of marriage carry far more meaning to us.

Let me be clear: I do not want to diminish the significance of legal marriage. The effects of legal marriage are wide reaching and, depending on where someone lives, impact federal, state, and employee benefits received; inheritance; family decision-making privileges; legal residency; health coverage; child custody; and many other aspects of life. However, when it comes to what defines a thriving marriage, its legal status seems to play an insignificant role.

A Healthy Marriage

In his book, Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman, one of my favorite researchers, summarized decades of relationship research that reveal key features of healthy and fulfilling marriages. In satisfying marriages couples develop intimacy by remembering their partner’s likes, dislikes, values, and beliefs. In healthy marriages, couples cultivate a sense of fondness and admiration for one another, not because they do not have disagreements, but because they choose to express love and admiration far more often than contempt and criticism. Even when spouses in strong marriages disagree, they take the time to understand, honor, and respect their partner’s opinion. Gottman’s research has shown that healthy and fulfilling marriages are the result of ways of thinking and behaving that bring spouses closer together.

Building a Happy Marriage

My clients and I focus on the psychological, emotional, and behavioral aspects of marriage in therapy because these matter most when determining marital satisfaction and stability. Some of the couples I work with feel psychologically close but sexually disconnected. Others have strong feelings of love for one another but know very little about their partner. Still other couples run psychologically and emotionally hot and cold, and are filled with passionate love for each other one day and deep contempt for one other the next. Fortunately, therapy can help struggling couples build a healthy, satisfying, stable marriage.

Happy marriages aren’t born, they’re built. If couples feed their marriage with loving words, caring thoughts, and kind actions it will grow. This takes time. I often tell my clients that many of the things that make a marriage strong don’t come naturally at first. Building a strong marriage requires patience, forgiveness, humility, and a willingness to learn. If we remember that marriage is multifaceted and take the time to focus on each of its elements, many of us find that there is no relationship more satisfying than the one we have with our spouse.