Weed Pulling

               My friend and colleague  Dr. Samuel Raj taught me to think about marriage as a garden. In this garden of your relationship he would say “you have to pull the weeds that are coming up and choking it”.  A weed refers to something that grows quickly and is not wanted, in other words, weeds are conflicts.   Resolving conflicts in your relationship require a very special kind of dialogue.  This particular dialogue was developed by psychologist and couples therapist Dr. Elyn Bader.  In this dialogue one of you will initiate the discussion and one of you will be the active listener. If you are the initiator you get to freely disclose what is bothering you, including some of your thoughts about your partner.  If you are the active listener you will accept what is being said with no verbalized judgment toward your partner.  If you do this each of you will feel emotionally safe and this will allow for open and honest communication.  From this, mutual understanding is possible.  It sounds too easydoesn’t it?  Let’s look more closely at how it works.

               If you are the active listener you will listen calmly without taking what you hear personally or becoming defensive.  You will ask questions, acting curious and interested so you can better understand your partner’s experience.  It is important to remember during this dialogue that you don’t own the problem being discussed and only you can manage your own reactions.  You then provide a re-cap of what you heard to ensure the information you received is accurate and your partner feels understood.  When this point is reached you, as the listener do your best to put yourself in your partner’s place and respond with empathy until a soothing moment occurs between you.  You will know it when you see it because when someone is understood in a difficult circumstance they often cry or have some sort of emotional reaction.  Remember that you can hold on to your own perspective and still imagine what it’s like for your partner.  Also remember that your partner is a separate person with their own feelings, thoughts, personality and family history.  You only need to listen, not look for solutions.

If you are the initiator you reveal yourself and focus on one issue.  Be clear on what your main concern is and make sure your partner is ready to listen.  Stay on track as you describe what you want.  Express your feelings and thoughts.  Go to the deeper emotions that show your partner your most vulnerable self.  For example, you could say, “I have acted angry over this issue but I am really scared because I’m afraid we are going to hurt our children emotionally”.  In this way you own this problem because it is an expression of who you are.  Of course, you will avoid blaming, accusing or name calling because blaming stops you from knowing yourself.  You also maximize your chance of being heard.  As you share, be open to self discovery by exploring your personal, inner experience, going deeper into how you feel.  You tell yourself, “this process is about my willingness to take a risk to speak or discover my truth.  It’s also about increasing my ability to tolerate the expression of our differences.

So that is how you can deal with conflict.  You’ll notice that in this process neither of you are right nor wrong.  The problem is not even totally solved.  This is a journey and you and your partner are both on it together.  There is no room for right or wrong.  If you believe that you require more assistance with managing conflict in your relationship I encourage you to contact me so I can help you in this process. Happy weed pulling!

About “Table Talk and Pillow Talk” by Dr. Samuel Raj


As my readers know, I am a social worker in private practice specializing in couple’s therapy.  I started seeing couples in 2002.  At that time and for ten years hence I shared an office with Dr. Raj.  Dr. Raj has launched his first book entitled “Table Talk and Pillow Talk”.  It is a compilation of most of his 160 articles written on a quarterly basis for his clients and referral sources since 1986.  The articles have been subdivided under appropriate chapter headings so that one can easily find the area they want to read more about.  I heartily endorse this book and recommend it to “anyone” because there is something of relevance to “everyone”.  The book is available through Amazon and other publishing websites and will be available on eBook tablets soon.

Whether you are in a good relationship, a bad relationship, getting dumped, dumping someone or starting a new relationship, this book can help you.  Dr. Raj stresses the importance of self-love and total commitment to your partner.  He also challenges us to accept that we are moral beings and capable of treating each other very well.  He is not judgmental however, and not overly technical in his suggestions and insights.  He trained as a marital therapist later in life.  He had already earned several degrees and has a world of knowledge in many disciplines.  I value his knowledge and approach to couple’s therapy so much, I make this book available to my clients to support and enhance what we are covering in sessions together.  Often I actually read parts of a chapter from his book during a session and often send couples home to read a specific chapter before the next session.  I trust that you will enjoy this book as well.


Brian Wilson, MSW/RSW


Hurting During the Holidays?

               Christmas is a stressful time; presents to buy, people to see, food to prepare and, kids to keep entertained through the holidays.  Oh – what’s that you say – you and your partner are thinking about calling it quits?  That’s all you need right now.   If this sounds like your plight, please read on.  If you know someone in this situation, please read on.  If you want to avoid being in this situation, please read on.  

               If you and your partner have reached this point, it’s safe to say you are both starving emotionally.  You are not feeding each other with emotional support, intimacy or, practical caring.  This will not change overnight so it’s not reasonable to expect it to improve much in the three or four weeks of the Christmas season.  What you can do, is agree to not make things worse.  

               To begin, one of you suggest to the other that you have a meeting in a quiet neutral place outside the home; preferably a coffee shop, or a room in a friend or family member’s house.  In this meeting, one of you will propose that you agree to see a couples counsellor right after the holidays.  You can discuss your feelings about how things are between you but make no accusations of the other and don’t bring up any new issues.  You are only trying to establish that outside help is needed.  One of you will then volunteer to look into counsellors available in your area.  Google, Bing or other search engines are a great place to start.  Using key words such as: couples; counselling; and your location, you will get enough results to start “shopping”  What this action does is give you a reprieve from having to think about what is going to happen to your relationship over the holidays.  You have effectively put the decision on hold.

               In this way, you can choose to act in your most adult way to provide your family; kids, parents, siblings, with the best “you” possible.  You and your partner can negotiate what activities can be tolerated for the sake of the family given your depleted emotional energy.  As simple as this advice may sound, it will be very difficult to execute.  May you do your very best to get what you need and deserve this holiday season.  Help awaits when you are ready.

What you can expect from your first couples counselling session.

Let’s say, you have decided to see me for couples counselling.  It hasn’t been easy.  You have been fighting constantly for months.  You are both at the end of your rope.  If something doesn’t change soon one of you will be out of here. Does this sound like your story?  Don’t worry, help has arrived.  You have made a good decision to seek help.

One thing is for sure; neither of you are getting fed emotionally by the other.  Your needs are not getting met, nor are you meeting your partner’s needs.  In the first session I will ask each of you to explain in your own way what has gone wrong.  Where does the source of your pain in this relationship lie?  I will then ask you both to share your deepest need in this relationship.  Next, I’ll ask for a few examples of how each partner can meet that particular need in terms of specific behaviours. After agreeing to meet each other’s needs in these ways I will ask you to talk about happier times in the relationship, or recall how you first met and how you decided “this is the one for me”.  With some goodwill being shared between you I will then ask if you can tell each other that you are committed to the process of repairing your relationship.  This is sometimes when a hug or a tender comment between you can be shared.  Depending on the flow of the session I will either start out asking or ask you near the end of session about  earlier experiences in your family of origins and other relationships.  This is where you can gain insights into your dynamics as a couple because what you experience in your early life and how you adapted to it is brought into your current relationships.

Lastly, I give you each a questionnaire to complete and bring back to me at the second session.  It asks for more details about your health and family background, your educational and occupational experience, your own assessment of the relationship problem, and your goals for therapy.  This is to be completed on your own and not shared with your partner so that you can be completely honest.  I hope this helps you know better what to expect when you come for your first session.  Let’s get started…

A Special Resource for you from Hand in Hand Parenting – Hand in Hand Parenting

A Special Resource for you from Hand in Hand Parenting – Hand in Hand Parenting.

Honesty and Accountability in Relationships

Ottawa Couples TherapyBy Pia Melody, Author and Educator on relationships and addiction issues
From her, newsletter, “Meadowlark”, Winter edition 2004.

“What is this thing called love?” The title of an old song is still a persistent question. We would like to believe that love is the essential ingredient in relationships and that love will get us through all difficulties. Unfortunately, while love is important and makes it all seem worthwhile, the nuts and bolts of relationship longevity are more about value systems, boundaries, honesty and accountability.

If I am honest and accountable, I will keep my word and commitments, accepting responsibility for my behavior without trying to justify it based on another’s behavior. It is, of course, appropriate to confront the other’s behavior and to own our feelings about that behavior. It is very different to say, “When I witnessed this behavior, I had this feeling,” than to say, “Your behavior caused me to feel this or caused me to behave in this manner.” Inappropriate behavior is inappropriate. If my boundary system and self-discipline are so poor that I rage, demean, call names, etc., it is my responsibility to protect you from me. My emotional reaction to you or to a situation does not lessen my responsibility to be appropriate. Blaming and whining are close relatives. It is manipulation if I try to affect the outcome by blaming others or by trying to evoke pity so that I am not held accountable and consequences disappear.

Making apologies and amends, essential in a personal recovery program, does not mitigate the normal consequences of our actions. If the offended person chooses to lessen the consequences after we apologize, that is part of his program. Accepting responsibility and being accountable can set the stage for better times in the future. Establishing a record of being moderate and appropriate is certainly a major To believe that the power balance in a relationship is even is naïve. Value is constant; power fluctuates. One person always will have more power than the other. The balance is not the same in all situations, so one may have more influence around money and the other around social issues. It is important to recognize this and to know that, while one has more power in an area, that the other does not lose value in the exchange. If you know more about a subject, mutual respect will allow that knowledge to come to prominence. If one demeans the other about the difference, that is a boundary violation; it is abusive and serves as a major contaminant to intimacy.

Honesty and accountability are particularly important in the battles we have with partners. It is illogical to think that we enter into a fight with any intention other than to win. If we are not in a battle to win, we are not in a battle. Arguments are not fights; they may turn into fights, but they do not evoke the emotional energy that a fight does. When we fight, we tend to throw caution to the wind, saying and doing things that are neither in our personal long-term best interest or in the best interest of the relationship. Arguing and discussing become fighting when one or both parties discover that territory is being threatened, a feeling of abandonment takes over, or one feels insulted or belittled by the other.

This is about verbal fighting. If there is physical violence in the relationship, it is an entirely different matter. In such cases, the priority is to establish a condition whereby physical harm will not happen. This entails taking whatever action is necessary to assure personal safety. In the general course of a fight, one person takes offense at the words or actions of the other, and then engages. If the other engages, too, the battle is on. The issue is hotly debated, then disappears as each party drags up data from the past and tries to inflict as much emotional pain as possible. At this point, one or the other decides to disengage and walks out or goes silent in an emotional walkout. In either case, the issue remains unsettled and joins the pile of other unresolved issues festering within the relationship.

If couples agree to a basic set of rules of engagement for their battles, positive – rather than negative – effects may be attained.

Don’t walk out on a fight! If we stay in there and don’t walk out, we find that we can maintain a high level of negative intensity for a relatively short time. (There are times when the intensity is out of control, and it is necessary to take a five- or 10-minute break to let it subside. This is not walking out; it is just recognizing that you need to cool off a little.) After the intensity dies down, the issue reappears and several things can happen. We can agree to a course of action, we can try to get more data to clarify the situation, we can offer each other positive regard and carefully listen to each other’s view of the problem, or we can agree to disagree and accept that the other has a right to believe as he or she chooses. That is acceptable even if it is not comfortable.

Don’t keep score! We cannot justify our present behavior by citing the past behavior of another. We must learn to accept that the consequences we experience are the results of our own behavior – and not because of someone else’s behavior. This is true even when it is the same behavior. You being late for an appointment with me last week doesn’t justify me being late today. If I had feelings about your lateness last week, I should have dealt with it last week. Keeping score prevents us from learning to be accountable for our own behavior and sets up a fertile area on which we tend to grow resentments.

Establish boundaries! Arguments often start in places that don’t have enough physical space for us to feel safe. Bathrooms and cars are examples of places that are too small to contain the energy developed in the conflict. In such cases, if the couple agrees to move into a bigger room or to stop the car and get out, they can respectfully ask for more personal space without walking out.

Emotional and intellectual boundaries are essential to effective fighting. Each person must perceive that his or her personal worth and integrity are being challenged by the other. Without effective boundaries, each person starts to doubt his or her own worth, and self-esteem drops precipitously. Perceptions of worth – of oneself and of the other – are usually what the conflict is really about. If we allow what the other says to challenge our beliefs in our own worth, we are losing the internal battle. Most of our important battles are fought between our ears; if we can learn to consistently win those, and not drop into self-doubt, we are better prepared for the less important fights with our mates.

Don’t argue facts! Once each person has related his/her version of the facts, there is nothing else to say on the subject. We can argue about the meaning of the facts and how we interpret the probable outcome of a situation. Repeating facts does not change anything but does heat up the discussion. If two people agree to meet at a restaurant and each remembers it – and shows up – at a different restaurant, , the pain is about the feelings of rejection and abandonment. Yelling the name that each remembers does nothing. Recognizing the error and not having to establish blame solves the problem and allows for mutual tolerance to develop.

Agree to disagree! Sometimes we come to the realization that we have had the same fight over and over and that we are not reaching a solution. Usually this happens over a difference in value systems. Often it is over matters such as how to spend discretionary money, rear children, deal with in-laws, etc. When the conversation is so repetitive that either of us can recite both sides without the other being there, it is time to look at it as a subject on which progress will not be made. The choices available are to agree to disagree or to ask a third party (preferably a therapist) to mediate, and then to either accept the recommendations or decide to let go. This really becomes problematic when the value in dispute is of a very serious nature or held very highly by one or both parties.

If, for instance, there is a difference in spiritual paths – one parent wants the children to be born-again Christians while the other holds fast to the ancient rites of Zororaster – a non-negotiable situation will end in divorce, a decision to not have children or continued conflict.

No fight zones. Some places are not safe for fighting. Cars, small airplanes, small boats, etc. Any place in which the energy of arguing increases the danger of the activity. Agree not to fight in these kinds of places. When a fight starts, put it on hold until you arrive at a safe place. This is not as hard as it sounds, and it gets easier with practice.

Delay a fight. Sometimes a fight is just inconvenient. We can’t expect our mates to miss a plane or important appointment to finish a fight. At this point, a delay is in order, and an agreement to finish later is made. If this is done with respect and a sense of personal worth, it works. Often the subject seems less important later, but the two people have made a decision as a couple that the delay was necessary, and no disrespect was intended.

If we are honest and accountable in relationships, we will find that trust is implicit and that, in the final analysis, we are both on the same side. The mutual goal is to support each other without losing individuality. We accept the other for whom they are, and we use boundaries to protect ourselves and for containment to protect the other.

Counselling Influences

Orleans ON Family Therapy

The following books have had a great influence on the development and growth of Brian Wilson Counselling Services:

Hold Me Tight by Susan Johnson, 2008; She takes the reader through seven key conversations that a couple must have to transform their relationship from a source of pain to a source of pleasure and safety for the couple. Sue Johnson stresses the importance of working with our emotions when trying to re-relate to our partner rather than avoiding them or amplifying beyond our partner’s ability to understand them. It is easy to read and a great guide for couples and therapists alike.

Getting The Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., 1988 stands today as an excellent resource for couples and individuals alike to understand how their early experiences in life influence and shape their adult behaviour and affect their relationships. Like Susan’s book he gives a guide for communicating with your partner in an emotionally safe way to maximize their potential for healing their relationship. He includes a number of interesting and effective exercises for couples to use to work through in order to better understand themselves and each other.

The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce by Judith Wallerstein et al., 2000, is a powerful portrayal of the effects of divorce on children from the time of separation and well into adulthood. She has followed children of Divorce in a longitudinal strudy spanning twenty-five years and compared and contrasted their life with children of in tact families who grew up at the same time and in the same neighbourhood as these children. It has motivated me to work even harder to keep couples together except where abuse and criminal activity is apparent because of the devastating affects a divorce has on the children well into their adult years affecting not only them but another generation or two after them.