Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Linear Relationships

As I am sure you know, people are not always what they seem, which is part of what makes this all so much fun.

Here is another, very typical, very irrational scenario, which I am sure many of you have experienced. It is the kind that repeats itself often in my office. I call it linear relationships.

A linear relationship is the kind often referred to in country and western songs. It happens when A finds themselves hopelessly in love with B, but B yearns to give her heart to C, and so it continues down the line.

Today I was sitting in my office with a woman who represented B in this diagram. The somewhat surprising part is that this woman is in her early fifties, had been married once, along time ago, and was not, at least by her appearance, the kind who stimulated great feelings of lust in a casual observer. Yet, she sat across from me relating how two men, one very successful, and one very handsome were in hot pursuit of her. She described several steamy nights with each of them, and how they felt they could not get enough of her. In fact, her cell phone went off four times during the hour we spent together, as they each clamored in vain for her attention.

Yet, she said that although both of these men treated her like a queen, she was crushed by her inability to win the heart of another man. This was a man she had been with briefly, but he quickly moved on to another woman. Still she and he had remained friends, and he seemed to imply that soon he would come back to her.

In fact he had left that other woman, but before B could get her arms securely around him, he had suddenly been smitten by yet another woman. Sometimes he would come back to B, and allow himself to be seduced by her, since somehow, she was good at this (you really never can tell). But then he would tell B, as he was leaving her, how he was so frustrated because he could not get this new woman, who we will call E, out of his mind.

E, had a passion of her own, and this man could see it. It was shopping, and often with his money.

So, these unrequited loves continue. They go one for reasons that are very complicated and never reasonable. If any one of these people would turn around and appreciate the affection being thrown at them the whole linear equation would fall apart.

But the unattainable aspect of all of this yearning seems to be a crucial ingredient.
Yearning for the ideal that is in your head often seems to be much more satisfying than accepting the reality that is in your life. Or making the effort to make that reality better.

Reality, unfortunately, is full of real people. People who do not look like movies stars, who are a little selfish, sloppy, disorganized, insensitive, demanding, worried, whose teeth hurt, feet hurt, backs hurt, or (God forbid) turn out to be Yankee fans.

And yet they love you.

Monday, February 26, 2007

He's gone

First I want to thank all of you who have been following along, even if you don't leave comments. I want to thank those who do comment. It is helpful just to get reactions. I am sorry I don't always react to your postings, although I find them fascinating. I find I would rather read many of your on-going sagas and thoughts than most novels. You are all living lives and trying to make sense out of them, and your insights are as valid as anyone, you just don't all have good agents.
more importantly, it isn't the goal to be a celebrity, or to cash-in on every idea. It is most important to try and say what you mean, to figure it out and get life to make some sense. I revel in all of your efforts.

But, it ends.

Today I saw a couple who have been married less than two years. They are an older couple and this is his first marriage, begun in his late forties. So, he isn't accustomed to having to include anyone else in his decision making process.

But before they could get the marriage functioning well his father started to slip. So the newly married couple moved in with him. That was the right thing to do for him, and morally, and helpfully, but it was tough on the new marriage.

Now, sixteen months later, he died, at 87. It is sad, but understandable.

They can't openly admit that they are relieved, and that now they can really get the marriage started. So what we talked about today was the old man, and all his stuff.

The man was a good guy, but he had lived through the time when money and stuff was scarce. He had also been a soldier, so he knew how the world could be scary and mean. He had never said much, but he did many good things for friends and family.

But now they were left with his stuff. Lots of stuff. Furniture he made, that was good, but not really that good. Bags of rubber-bands. Draws full of empty margarine tubs. Six broken cameras. Twenty undershirts, still in packages, made by a company that has been out of business for fifteen years. Forty pairs of socks.


There was a time when stuff was handed down and treasured. Stuff now is made to be replaced. It's Ikea instead of mahogany. Kids want to buy their own stuff, even if they call it retro, or mid-century modern.

Lives, like the ones you all write about, and the one I am living, are obviously very ephemeral. The people we remember in the history books are the ones who did more than others to fucked-up the world.

That's why I try to do what I try to do. I don't want people, including myself, to waste too much of the short time of their existence suffering. Some suffering is unavoidable.

If you can though, avoid it. Have fun.

Friday, February 23, 2007

She cried

She cried the entire hour.

I didn't have to say anything in the beginning. She just sat down, began to cry. Then she began to sob and then to wail.

It was OK. It was in the evening. The building was pretty empty.

She cried because her boyfriend had died. The boyfriend's family, and his live-in girlfriend pulled the plug because his brain was smashed. Her husband doesn't want her to go to the funeral because he thinks she will embarrass him.

She had told her husband he had to leave on the weekend but it was during the week that the car had crashed. Now, her husband won't leave, and he is acting like he is doing her a favor.

His family is angry at her. Her family, what there is of it, is angry at her. The family of the man who died, acts as if they don't know who she is, even though she is a sister-in-law. Even though someday soon they will find a box in the back of his closet with all her stuff in it.

She is afraid to be alone. She doesn't know if people ever recover from feeling the way she feels now. If her husband leaves she doesn't trust what she might do to herself. If he stays she isn't sure what she may do to him.

She has no one else to talk to; she doesn't want to tell anyone else the story.

It helps that she is very capable and very attractive. That means that eventually, despite the guilt from her husband's family, the memory of her dead lover, and the guilt from her crazy religious mother, she will go on.

She will leave her husband, who is probably gay, and see what else life has to offer.
It certainly holds no guarantees, you all certainly know that.

This will take two years. The next few sessions will just be crying.

Oh, and I'm in favor of gay marriage. It's just more problematic when only one of the partners is gay.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Correct. Right. Indeed, Exactly. That's what I'm talking about, what Amanda said.

If all we needed was to have the right things written out for us then all we would need would be Dr. Phil. He is smart enough, and knows that right things to say. He gets problems solved in an hour.

80% of the people who come to see me know what the matter is with them, and they know what they should do about it. They come to see me to figure out why they don't and how they can.

Hey, if you're overweight -- go on a diet and exercise.

If your boyfriend is mean to you, blow him off; get rid of him.

If you're in debt, stop spending so much money.

Panic attacks -- relax, take a deep breath.

Almost everyone knows these things. And they are rediscovered every five years as if they are a major break-through.

The conclusion is that people are not rational. They are not even close. All of us, for our own reason, go off in our own wrong directions and stay there.

But, as psychologists, we are scientists. We are supposed to know why.

Yes, for everyone it is different. We all are a set of unique interactions between genetic make-up, physical development, interpersonal interactions, environmental conditions, and culture, plus others stuff.

But, the point I am making, is that you can't ask anyone why they do the things they do. They can give you a rationalization, but not the whole reason. It's not rational. It's not logical. People really don't act in ways that are in their best interest, even when they think they are.

It's not close.

After we accept that, we can begin to figure out what is really going on.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Basics 2

I don't mean to get too pedantic here but...

If there are three basic things that our evolutionary history requires us to do: protect, nourish and procreate, then, as we all know, much of our difficulties come when these things get out of balance, or are taken to an extreme.

If you over do the protection part you can become paranoid, Like L, who is having trouble finding shoes that are not switched after she buys them. Or you can go around punching people who appear to be threats, or you can classify threats as anyone who does not look, or think the way you do.

All this makes for trouble.

You can get messed up on the nourishing part, as many in this country obviously have. We have many people who, given our land of plenty, can't stop eating. We have many who over-control what they eat. We get the anorexics, or the binge and purgers, who suffer greatly from an imbalance of nourishment. Related to these are the hoarders who can't let anything go, the collectors and the acquirers.

Also, this country has become obsessed with money. Money represents security and the ability to find what you need, so that mostly, you won't be hungry. But we have quite lost our way here. Money has become the score-card by which people judge their success. How much can you get? I doesn't really matter how you get it. How much can you spend? Even how much can you give away?

Certainly, ours is not the first society to lose its way over " stuff." But we are certainly doing it up big. And, judging from the trends I see in my practice, there are many people who need to keep up with "stuff" so they have a huge amount of debt, and soon they may be hungry.

The procreation part is the one that most often brings people into my office. And, from reading many of the blogs out there, and many that link to those who have read this one, it is clear that the search love, lust, attachment and intimacy are the major causes of heartbreak, depression, anxiety and self-doubt.

Looking for love in all the wrong places. Holding on when love is gone. Trying again after your nose has been broken, after all the dishes are broken, after the kids are terrified. Not because you think you should, but for the deeper unconscious longing to find enough love to make a family and keep the species going.

Feeling safe, feeling secure, and feeling loved, are really all everyone looks for. But we all feel threatened in some, or all of those areas, and most of the pathology out there is a feverish, well-meaning attempt to put everything back into place.

The solution of course, goes back to Aristotle (and is also the favorite quote of my wife) "Everything in moderation."

Including, obviously, moderation itself.

Monday, February 19, 2007


So, lets start at the beginning.

I'm going to take a clear position here and say that we, as people, have evolved from parts of many things that came before us. Billions of years ago the slime led to the cells that led to the slightly more complex. Millions of years ago creatures were breathing and moving, and long, long after that, things, somewhat like us, were walking around in groups, chasing down things to kill and eat. One to two million years later, here we are writing blogs.

What all of these creatures have in common, the basics, that we all need, are three things. We need protection from those things that would destroy us, whether they want to eat us, or are just stumbling by and trample us. We need some kind of nourisment to keep us alive and going, and we need some way to reproduce and to try and ensure that our offspring survive.

That's it. That's what we all do. That's what it is all about. It's true of plants. It's true for worms. It's true for ducks and it's true of Sunday School teachers and professional quarterbacks who may have gotten their girlfriends pregnant before the more beautiful model came along.

Everything else we do is really a variation on one of those three themes. We build houses for protection. We work to get food. We fall in love to have sex and make babies. Now, not every member of the species does everything to keep the species going. Some saplings get sucked into the river; some turtles get eaten by sea gulls. Also some couple now are gay, and they don't directly have too many children, but there are also ways around that.

Even basketball is a sport, and sport is a derivative of war, which comes from the protection of the tribe and its resources.

All of our emotions relate to those three things: Anger and anxiety are for protection; satisfaction and pride relate to nourishment and lust and love help with reproduction.

Reason, when we use it, can help us meet all of these needs, but reason isn't always necessary, and many people don't depend upon to any great extent.

Reason, thought, planning, insight and reflection are all very useful in the process of psychotherapy. But psychotherapy doesn't work for everyone.

So, that's the starting point. It may be a bit of an over-simplification, but not that much. Soon I will continue showing how this relates to why so many of the people I see continue to suffer with those they have loved.

AND I'm not at all against country music. I think it offers real insights with simple chord progressions.

Oprah and her "energy fields" are more than a bit much.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

First Try

This isn't going to make a lot of sense at first, because I'm not really clear what I am thinking. Aren't blogs wonderful that way?

I am beginning to formulate answers to the questions that I have been asking for thirty some years. This attempt begins this way:

On Tuesday, when I return to work, I will see a gentleman for the second time. I have seen him once when he came in at the behest of his wife. She told him he needed help badly, and she could no longer endure being around him. She told him that over two years ago. Two weeks ago, when the divorce papers arrived, he called my office.

When he came in he told me that he had been married over twenty years, and he knew he wasn't perfect. But he didn't drink, he wasn't physically abusive, and he was a hard worker. He thought that if his wife threw this marriage away she was just being stupid and wasting a lot of money. Also, things would be a lot better if they began having sex again. She had cut him off soon after she told him he was hopelessly nuts, and by doing that she was only making things worse.

His wife came in the next week and described a twenty year marriage to the typical "bad husband." Yes he worked hard and gave the family some money but he spent more on boats, trucks and quads than on his kids. His indulgences have only led to one bankruptcy.

It seems that his child raising philosophy was to scream and swear at the four of them, especially if they were in a Little League game and missed a pitch, or if he was watching TV and they were talking in the other room, or if his daughter was talking to a boy.

Besides sex, she feels the major reason he has a wife is to blame her for everything that has gone wrong in his life. That includes the jobs he has lost, or promotions he missed, or family fights, or his mother's illness.

OK, you have the picture. I have seen hundred of similar couples. That's what I want to talk about. These couples, married, unmarried, straight, gay, white, black, Muslim, born-again, Jewish, Catholic, even Yankee fans, go through this. They battle for years and stay together. Maybe not forever, but usually for twenty, thirty or even forty years.

There is something to this that is more than just financial worries, concerns about the kids, low self-esteem, issues with fathers or mothers, or other losses in childhood. Those are bogus rationalizations the mind makes up to stay in hell for another day, week, month and then years.

I think there is something in our evolutionary make-up that makes our brains want to hold these relationships together, especially once they have become emotionally and sexually intimate.

I've been reading about attachment theory, mirror neurons, the levels and formation of consciousness, and interpersonal psychology, among other things ( I read a lot when I'm not getting in shape for the up-coming softball season -- but more on that later).

Something happens in brains that doesn't let go. I don't know what it is; I really have no direct way of finding out so it is all bullshit science, like the kind you get on Oprah. But I do have years and years of anecdotal evidence, like the above mentioned couple. It certainly isn't anything rational, we know that. It happens to people who seem intelligent and competent, and it happens to fools.

Yes, I know people do get divorced, and do part, that's why we have country and western songs, but it is never easy, and never without deep psychic scars. These losses hurt deeply and have long lasting psychological effects.

I will work on making sense out of this in the coming days.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Him and her and him, but not

Yesterday, driving home in the snow the ambulance passed going the other way. It was a tough night to be driving, accidents were everywhere.

Today, at eleven o'clock a woman sat in front of me and spoke to me about how she was taking care of her neighbor's daughter because the neighbor's boyfriend was in the hospital with a serious head injury suffered last night as the result of an accident he had while driving home in the snow. They doubted he would survive.

At six PM I saw the Dave, man who I had spoken about a while ago (Feb 2) as the guy who was being dumped by his wife. As he sat in front of me tonight he was more animated and much more expressive. He spoke to me about things that I had wondered about but not known.

Dave told me that one reason he could not become all the things that she was asking him to become was that he felt that she had already chosen the next man she was going to be with. Sadly, it was his step-brother. The son of the man his mother had been married to since he was fifteen and that man was nineteen. Dave had told me that that man, Rex, had been after his wife almost since their relationship had begun. The wife had always been attractive, and Rex couldn't believe that she would settle for Dave. In fact, in their session together they had told me that early in the relationship she had been unfaithful. She had actually left for a month with some other guy, but they said, that was all over now. She had chosen to come back to Dave.

They didn't tell me that the guy was a step-brother. And she didn't let on, to me or Dave, that their connection never stayed severed for long.

Now, as you have figured out, Rex is dying in the hospital. His live-in girlfriend is at his bedside. The woman he is having an affair with, who everyone else thinks is just his sister-in-law, is in tears on the other side of the bed. Dave is there, comforting his wife. Now, he seems to feel much closer to her.

He is upset that his step-brother will soon die, but he acknowledges there is some ambivalence in the way he feels. He is not clear what will happen next.

She called me soon after the appointment I had with Dave. She said she would like to talk to me by herself. She said she had a lot of things to figure out.

If I saw this on TV I wouldn't believe it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


A few times people have expressed reservations about my use of client descriptions on this bog.

That is an important point because strict confidentiality is crucial to doing therapy. If people thought what they were saying or thinking was being spread out over the virtual world I am sure they would feel quite betrayed.

Yet, case material is the essence of teaching, demonstrating and discussing. Almost all books, web pages or blogs about psychotherapy cite case material.

So first, let me say, that I certainly never use anyone's real name, or even an accurate description. All identifying details are altered so that, while a person may recognize the kind of problem being discussed as similar to their own, they would never be able to say that the material is actually about them.

Also, very few of you know who I am, and where I practice. And none of you would recognize any of the people I speak about here, under any circumstances, except maybe our President and Manny Ramirez.

I present the stuff here for many reason. The first of which is that after all of these years I want to be able to draw some conclusions about how and why people do things, and what can help them lead happier, healthier, more productive lives.

The second is that I have come to see life, hour after hour, as a marvelous kaleidoscope, that when held up to the light, reveals various colorful, intricate, many faceted patterns, that change each time they are twisted, moved and resettled. I want to give the people who stop by at this blog the sense of my enchantment with the rich variety of how our species treats themselves and each other.

Third, my wife is tired of listening to all this. She thinks I just deal in the miserable end of the spectrum. But that isn't so. I want to convey my feeling that everyone, with or without some kind of approved diagnosis, is just struggling to find their way through a world that offers no clear or certain path to success or happiness. In fact, there isn't even an agreed upon definition of success or happiness.

I hope that puts you all at ease, and keeps the lawyers away.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A day back

Interesting, getting back into it.

9:00, She did bring home a cat. Should she keep it, knowing she will turn her life over to it?

10:00 Family fights all over the place, started by the sister's boyfriend, ended by the ex-husband coming in and breaking someone's nose. She wonders why she still has panic attacks. But, she has resolved to get everyone but her daughter out of the house. I will stay on her to do so.

!!:00 He does have a job interview arranged. He got another speeding ticket and has to take a class. He wonders how strange he really is.

Noon: Laura, after three weeks sober. I went away. She felt so in control of her life she treated herself to two drinks. Called him up, had three days of drinking, fighting and screwing. I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed.

!:00 Came last Monday,while I was away. Forgot this week.

2:00 She got more work done while I was away than I expected (she runs her own business) She didn't pursue him, but found two other guys to go out with to fill the time. Can she do without him? Them?

3:00 He began to tell the live-in mother of his child that he expected her to pay for some of the groceries, especially now that she is paying for the $30K car. He finally expressed himself. She moved to a different bedroom and isn't talking.

4:00 The kid admits that when he is playing video games, and he loses, which happens every day for three weeks until he can win the game, he is angry and frustrated and he takes it out on his family. Mother says she can't get him off the game and has caught him at 2 AM yelling at the screen. Games banned until April vacation.

5:00 34 year-old realizing that he has gone a month without talking to mother and he is beginning to feel almost adequate. The guilt remains, but is less intense.

Came home to learn that I had to finish the laundry from the trip. Wife had cooked the meal, my job to clean up. Daughter and son safely returned from various corners of USA. (Knowledge came through text messages). No one seemed to be in a good mood.

I will explain the deep psychological and physiological etiology of all of this in future posts. Now I am going to bed.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Leaving the desert by plane. Went to the airport. The line for security screening snakes around corners and weaved up and back, each curve only revealing the next one. It was worse than the line for Pirates of the Caribbean twenty years ago at Disney World, long before the movie. It was a long process. One guy fainted. The security folks were not sympathetic. They said we should come to the airport three days early to make sure we make the flight. It took us an hour and fifteen minutes.

I did not feel safe because of all of this. I was able to smuggle toothpaste past them.

The desert and the mountains are marvelous and magical. The valleys are now full of homes that are bunched cheek to jowl and wrapped around curves and into cul-de-sacs. People are moving there by the hundreds each day. They can't build the Wal*Marts, Best Buys, Targets, and others Superstores fast enough. A green-gray haze hangs over the valley. You can see it from the mountain side.

I flew home. We made the plane by two minutes. It is 24 degrees here, but that's OK. I had a good time. I was away. I wandered the sandy hillside and stood with the Saguaro and we held up arms up to the sun. I would post a picture but i dropped my camera (I haven't posted any pictures anyway).

I came back to 23 phone messages, only five from L. I don't think anyone went into the hospital, which is good. The rest can be sorted out tomorrow. Vacation is a good and necessary thing. It keeps the life in balance. We even spent time with friends and saw their kids, and their kids' kids, which is a whole other story, because everyone has a story. It's inevitable, you can't get away without one. And everyone's is complex and convoluted and very important, at least to them.

And now, with blogs, we are all stars in the Milky Way.

I am eager to get back to the stories I left. Did the people I see stay calm, find work, stay sober, get along, sleep well, avoid panic attacks, get their work done, keep their room clear, keep their spending in check, sell some snakes, not bring home any new cats, or any new men.

I will begin to find out, tomorrow at nine.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

just me, on vacation

It's dark out here in the desert. The stars are out, but they don't help much. The temperature drops to half what it was during the day. It is different than wher I live. I am certainly far away.

We have kind of a push/pull vacation. I like to wander among the cacti and the hard desert floor. I like to push myself up the sudden brown dirt peaks that rise out of nowhere and point to the sky. My wife likes to sit by the pool and have fancy meals at high end resorts and restaurants. So, we try to do both. part of the day here, part there.

We just had a big meal that cost more than the electric bill one of my last clients needed to pay,or else they would shut her off in the middle of the cold snap. She was about to ask uncle Bill for the money when I left town. But here we blew the dough on a very well designed and well executed meal, and a couple of shots of bourbon.

It always amazes me when I go away. What amazes me most is that wherever I go there are people living there who seem to be having fine, interesting, fulfilling lives, with the same ups and downs, stresses and successes as everywhere else. I mean, here I am in the desert, last trip I was up in Iceland, and both of those places seemed fascinating. Everyone looked interesting. What do they do? What do they think? What are their goals and struggles?

I realize that I would like to live in each place and see what it's like. I always pick up some real estate guides and mostly see that houses cost less every place else. I could buy a house half way up that hill and still have some money left to live on.

But I don't live here. I live there. And that's frustrating. What would my life be like? Who would be my friends? How different would it be? Why can't I get another chance?

I mean, here I am, middle aged (at least). I am pretty much who I am going to be, and that's fine. No, it's even better than that. I have a good marriage, a good practice, good grown kids. I like what I do. I have a couple of bucks in the bank. I wouldn't trade it.

But, that's what it is. I can't go back and be something else, just for variety. Maybe I could spend a couple of years with that hot-blooded senorita, and get drunk and have fights and leave her when she gets fat. Maybe I could speculate in gas-drilling leases and pay off a couple of Republican Congressman and we can all be filthy rich on ill-gotten gains, play golf and drink more bourbon than I do now.

But I won't do that. I am going to wander the desert for a couple of days and go back to the life I have constructed, piece by piece, line by line, mistakes and blemishes, successes and achievements.

I can see why the idea of reincarnation is so attractive. I just can't see how anyone can really believe in crap like that. I mean, it's a fun idea, but seriously?

One shot at it. That's all you get. Enjoy it as much as you can.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


So, I'm off.

I'm going away, not seeing any clients for a week. My wife and I are getting out of here just as the temperature sinks into the single digits. I will slink through airport security, trying do do my best impression of a gray haired middle aged man, not a terrorist. I can probably pull that off one more time.

We are headed Southwest, to the desert. My son is leaving for the high Rockies to ski, my daughter and her husband are going south to the sun, to be pampered. It's a family vacation taking place in every corner of the country but this one.

It was my wife who told me we have to go. I wouldn't have. I was just hitting my stride after the Holiday Season. This will throw me off schedule. The two week people have to wait three weeks. Some of the regulars are reaching critical junctures and they have to follow through, and I won't be there to prod, bully and cajole.

Of course, let's be realistic. They have all survived without me before, and certainly will now. Even L will make a list of everything that is damaged while I am gone.

I know that the tools of a therapist, especially one that doesn't push drugs, intense relaxation skills, or bio-feedback, are limited. All I can really do is listen, and then mumble something now and then. Of course, over the years, I have become a black-belt in words that pierce to the core of the matter, and in words that illuminate the mysteries of the life-span. But still, they are just words. Those are most of my tools.

I can also lean up or back at critical times. I can make eye-contact or look away. I also make strange noises that represent sympathy.

It is all part of forming a relationship. It is relationships that change people's lives. Almost all of the problems I have to deal with are basically the result of a relationship gone awry. Some way over the line, some just questionable -- but those questions can be very difficult to answer. No matter what medical, physical, metaphysical or even psychological diagnosis they come in with, most of what knocked them over was a relationship: their spouse, parent,child, sibling, boss, friend, neighbor,teacher, student, colleague, peer, or virtual-blog-communicator. It is that interpersonal connection that brings the most pleasure or pain.

But I will leave all that for a week. I will go with my long-time wife who, after all these years knows unconsciously how to bring ecstasy or despair with the just the curl of her lip. Of course, over time the reactions moderate, and sometimes I can skip the emotional part and just go buy dinner, but the power is still there.

We will see a couple of friends. I will also wander around where there is no one. I will let my mind expand to the rim of the canyons. Then I will hug some saguaro. They will remind me of some of the well-defended, somewhat prickly people I have met.

But at least I won't have to worry about whether or not they will change.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Him and her

I like to see couples in treatment. It's different. It's much more process and much more interactive. It's hard to make it as probing, or to get into the personal deep shit. Sometimes that happens, but mostly the idea is to get them to interact and to learn a more successful negotiating process. Like individuals, couples get stuck.

This week of the 36 hours, six were couples.

One thing I've gotten very good at is that I can tell in twenty minutes if both people in the couple really want to stay together, or if one has already turned off and emotionally moved away.

It happened this week. I only waited to the third session before I pulled the plug. It was what I call a "dump." That means one of them was here to say: "when I leave, this person sitting next to me is going to fall apart and I am here so that you, Mr. Therapist, can hold them together while I get away."

I feel that's a fair request. I'll do that.

This time it was her dumping him. It runs pretty evenly both ways. This time I'm pretty sure she doesn't have anyone lined up. That isn't always the case. More often than not there is someone waiting in the wings. Everyone knows it's bad and wrong, and people are usually a bit embarrassed about it, but it certainly makes the transition easier.

With this couple it was clear. They were both attractive. It was easy to tell what brought them together, but he couldn't keep up with her. He really didn't want to. He was happy staying home, being with the kid and the dog, fixing stuff. He was happy she was making money. He never got in her way. He didn't expect her to do everything; he even hardly even expected sex, which insulted and angered her.

She was beginning to rip up the world. She was making investments, started a second business, meeting people, and got herself back in shape after an illness.

It was once she really felt she was looking good (without any added enhancements) that she realized that other men were looking at her in a way that her own husband wasn't. The contrast between him and the other men-on-the-go she was meeting became too clear to her. They were ambitious; he was solid. They were exciting; he was boring.

She gave him a chance. She was pretty clear about what she needed from him. But the chance was really over before they got to me. He couldn't do what she wanted. He didn't come close.

At our meetings she repeated everything, all the requests, all the expectations,for me to hear, just to let me know that she had tried. She didn't want to feel totally selfish and guilty.

But it didn't take long. I got the message. The next appointment will be for just him. I may have to teach him how to balance a checkbook, or he may be back home with Mom, but he will be an emotional mess. I know it won't be fatal. It will be my job to help him get his act back together.

I'm not sure that she will find what she is looking for. But she has to try, or else she will be depressed for years, and impossible to live with.

Too bad. They looked good together.