There‘s no question. We are all different. We organize differently, we see things differently, we react differently and we care for each other differently. We have much in common, but we are created to be different. Differences even occur within our own minds and hearts. So why do differences pose real problems for many of us?

Many view differences as synonymous with being in conflict. But really, conflict is the result of not being able to reconcile differences. Some differences may never be bridged. However, many differences can be bridged if we want to be bridge builders. Bridge builders are those people who value the relationship between themselves and others as much as they do their own opinions and needs. Bridge builders only strengthen the bridges between themselves and others by trying to understand where the other is coming from. Obviously, this isn’t an easy project for some of us.

Differences can actually lead to some synergy and creativity in getting things done. If differences are only seen as conflict then some of us will avoid them while others will push the differences creating more conflict for themselves and the relationship. We often consul people who are confusing differences with conflict. There’s a reason for the saying: “Two heads are better then one.” Black and white thinkers, hardheaded or hard-hearted people don’t believe this axiom. They frown on accommodating normal variations in human nature.

Somehow we need to learn to live with differences not messing with our souls. Most differences we see actually aren’t absolute differences at all, but rather misunderstandings of intentions or ways people have in stating their opinions, wants, and expectations. And so we create conflict while simply trying to deal with different opinions or approaches to mutual problems. Sometimes we create inner turmoil when we can’t reconcile differences within our very own minds and hearts.

Differences are normal, even when they are uncomfortable. This knowledge is itself a tool in resolving the stresses with others and within ourselves. While not an easy task, it’s done everyday by people who want it to happen. Be a bridge builder!


Continuing Professional Education

Shelly and Raye Isenberg continue their professional education to fulfill their licensing, board certification requirements and to ensure they keep up to date in meeting client needs

On March 18th Raye and Shelly attended an all day session on Challenges of Change in Couple Therapy sponsored by the Chicago Center for Family Health. Mona DeKoven Fishbane, PhD led the day focusing on the new neuroscience of relationships and how this knowledge can facilitate relational empowerment and personal growth in couple therapy.

Professional Speaking Engagements

On April 22nd,  Shelly spoke  in St. Charles on Adapting to Change: Reflections on Growing A Private Practice. Shelly spoke on what a 42-year career in private counseling practice had taught him about creatively practicing in the private sector. The talk was part of an all day symposium sponsored by Linden Oaks at Edward, a private psychiatric hospital in Naperville, with a facility in St. Charles.   The keynote speaker was Lynn Grodzki, a pioneer in the field of practice building.

What It Takes To Stay Married

It’s not easy to stay married in today’s world. We’ve been married and practiced together a long time now, raised a family with the full range of common and not so common issues, and have had many of the same personal and relationship problems our clients have. We’re not immune to life’s difficulties and have made our own mistakes in trying to make a life together. Even therapists have their pains, but we’ve also had our celebrations. As Paul Simon sang: “Still crazy after all these years.”

So what have we personally learned in these 46 “crazy” years together?What allows a man and a woman to still like and love each other, to laugh together and be actual friends? These are the ingredients to a not so secret brew:

• Stay curious about one another.
• Practice kindness and consideration.
• Notice the little things about each other you like and remember to tell your partner.
• Give your partner the benefit of doubt.
• Learn to live with and respect your differences.
• Allow for separate spaces and experiences.
• When fearful or angry seek clarification of the reality.
• Learn not to be frightened or angry by intense feelings.
• Don’t lie your way out of a bind, a lie, or a betrayal. Practice honesty.
• Use some discretion in what you say about your feelings and perceptions about your spouse, but have your voice heard.
• Forget that marriage is a 50/50 proposition in the short run, but it should feel like a fair deal in the long run.
• Be fair and just with each other.
• Commitment means a willingness to be unhappy for a while, but only for a while.
• Be involved with friends and community separately and together.
• Find ways to laugh with one another and at some of your problems together.
• Don’t be ashamed to cry together.
• Be sensual. Taste each other’s sweetness, open your eyes and ears to each other
and remember to take time to touch one another.
• Have more adventures together.
Find the timeless moments

Decline Found in Freshman’s Mental Health

A few weeks ago I noted a disturbing article in the Wall Street Journal (1/27/11) which reported the results of a national survey of 200,000 full-time first year students in 280 colleges and universities. That’s a hugh sample! It stated that their emotional health had fallen to the lowest level in a quarter of a century.

While 52% of first year college students rated their emotional health as above average, that’s down from 64% in 1985, the first year students were asked these questions. Unfortunately, the article had nothing to say about the numbers of average to below average percentages for our sons and daughters and how those numbers might have increased with the lowering of mental health in the above average category. I doubt only we over achievers read the Journal.

College administrators and counselors weren’t surprised as the decline has been going down through the past 25 years. One researcher said: “The trend has been more students coming to college who either have been diagnosed with mental health issues or who are proactive at seeking out help.” The article noted freshmen women face “emotional challenges at a higher rate than males” and are at a “much greater risk for depression.”

Well, the bright side is college kids seek out help, but the down side is they are hurting more, especially the girls. So why the decline in psychological resiliency to cope with the challenges of college life? And why are our daughters facing a tougher time? And what does this portend for later developmental changes like full-time jobs and careers, life with and without marriage and family life?

The article was based on the “Freshman Survey” administered by the Higher Education Research Institute of UCLA. We’ll share other news of note from the media that interest us, so stay in touch.

Pillow Talk

Many years ago one of my client’s talked of her realizing something had gone out of her marriage when she no longer experienced “pillow talk” with her husband. Conversations in bed, real talking with your spouse, seem to be a lost experience with so many couples.

People come to us because they have this and that problem, some very serious issues indeed, and some have to do with just losing that special feeling for one another. Coupling between men and women starts with some attraction that creates conversation. We all recall when we lost time in conversations with people we liked, even our spouses. Sometimes the problem we need to deal with is helping couple’s have conversations again, especially about the problems they face together. Counseling itself is simply a conversation about what matters, a conversation with someone who wants to listen to what you have to say.

What happened to conversations between husbands and wives? A conversation, which means something or is enjoyable or may untangle some problem because “two heads are better then one,” occurs between people who are friendly with each other. There is that likeability factor between friends, isn’t there? Between husbands and wives certain dislikes creep into a relationship because we are naturally different, or because we can’t meet each other’s expectations, or because…. so many because! With many couples, conversations just seep away with the years. Pillow talk, well forget that!

It is clear to me that our over-scheduled, over-wired, 24/7 life style is killing conversations. Who has the time? We all want to hear the point and move on. This is not a breeding ground for friendship or intimacy! It creates loneliness and very sad hearts. No wonder there are so many affairs. People who have affairs find and take the time to have conversations with one another. So where there’s a will there’s a way. Will the time to “be” with your spouse!

Here are some basic tools from the Isenberg tool chest.

• Once you both “will” that time, you need to individually try and actually listen to what your spouse is actually saying “as if” you were their best friend again. Open your heart.
• Try listening to a paragraph or two without rehearsing your answer or silently discounting their words. Open your ears.
• It also pays to look at your “partner” while listening because “seeing” the whole person helps in “hearing” them. Lovers do that. Real friends do that. Therapists do that. And you can do that. Open your eyes.

Willing it can lead to enjoying each other in renewed ways. You may even enjoy “pillow talk” again.

Shelly Isenberg, February 15, 2011

Labels Gloss Over Who We Are

I read Tim West’s Sun morning column on whether he is an old man at the age of 64. I must say this debate about whether those of us in our 60’s are old, and if not when that will be, is getting to be an” old” to this reader. You read about it all the time as some of us struggle with our aging and what that truly means to us. Certainly, that dreaded letter from AARP calls us consider who we are in relation to what aging means to us personally.

Perhaps like all dichotomies it overly simplifies who we think we are and why we have to think about whether we are this or that in black and white terms. I think we are too influenced by a way of thinking too prevalent and is even a useless way of thinking about others and ourselves that exists in our American culture. It dichotomies between people which puts us in little boxes that can be checked off.

Am I old or young and if aging am I a senior citizen yet, middle-aged still, a young oldster on the way to geezerhood? Am I a white man or a black man or an Asian and what should I call myself if I’m of mixed racial parentage? Am I Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, Agnostic and what should I call myself if my parents are of different religions? Am I a dreaded Liberal or a dreaded Conservative and could I have voted for Brady while voting for also for Obama? Am I heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or can I simply be a man. And if I’m a man, can I be sweet, kind, and relational without those qualities being called feminine? Can I be a member of the ACLU, but like to shoot guns and believe in the right to bear arms while also believing in gun control and giving the government certain powers to tap my phone to root out terrorists? Can I be a dreaded Zionist while advocating for Palestinian human rights?

What place is left in this country, this marketing culture, for people who refuse to be stereotyped in black and white terms? What place is left for the independent moderate thinker who looks at both sides and refuses to be branded wishy-washy by those who want to brand me in terms they can understand?

Certainly I’m aging, my body tells me so, but “old” or “young” is a frame of mind as is every other stereotype. I prefer to think of whether I still have a zest for life and for being spirited then what category I’m in. The push to segment me into this or that category may make life simpler for some people, but I think is killing the spirit of America. Because once you can put me into some little box that can be checked off, while useful for marketing purposes, is not very useful for understanding others and the way they think and feel being who they are. It kills off any useful discussion about what we really can do about the problems and possibilities of this country and our own personal lives.

So let’s stop the insanity of profiling ourselves and others and just get to know how we each actually experience our lives. Maybe we just might get to know each other and ourselves and give America a chance again.

Appeared in the Naperville Sun, Letters to the Editor, December 8, 2010


When is it that you’ll know when you have to do what you know you must do in spite of yourself?

We all want to change something about ourselves, our situation, and some of us do – some of the times. Most of us will put off that which can be put off and simply live with our difficulties as best as we can. Then something happens to us and we are impelled to act. True change is a very private internal matter and doesn’t happen until we feel “I can’t live this way anymore,” and we find a way to change.

Over the holidays I saw “True Grit” with a friend and with Raye I saw “The King’s Speech.” Both were morality tales about accomplishing what needed to be accomplished. They were also tales of the relationships we need to accomplish what’s essential to who we seek to be. In “True Grit’” Mattie Ross seeks to avenge the murder of her father. This requires the help of Rooster Cogburn, whose only apparent attachment before Mattie is with a bottle. He becomes attached and redeemed, becoming her Guardian Angel in a race with death. While “True Grit” is the classic Western, it’s in “The King’s Speech” where we can identity with the King or the Queen or, if a therapist like myself, also with the therapist who must work with himself to help his client.

The King, the Queen and Professor Logue all had “true grit”, a determination to get past whatever obstacles they had to face in themselves and each other so that the King could find his “voice” and lead a country in war. Clearly it wasn’t easy. It was an ordeal for the King to face his humiliation in stuttering and his fear of continuing a shameful family legacy. Professor Logue had to get past his own arrogance in his techniques and take responsibility for his mistakes before he could be helpful as a fellow human being. These two men could never have come together were it not for the Queen who never let her husband’s loss of faith diminish her own. That husband-wife love story was the powerful backdrop of the outward drama between two men.

Movies like “The King’s Speech” inspire because they ask us to face ourselves in the struggle to be more of who we desire to be. That takes true grit. In “True Grit” Rooster becomes a family man when buried by Mattie in the family burial grounds. In “The King’s Speech” the King moved beyond his personal history and became his own man. And what a woman the Queen was, wasn’t she? Between the three of them they made history.

Disappointment, Anger, Rage

Originally posted on The Naperville Sun
By Kristen Kucharski For The Sun Dec 1, 2010 9:20AM

When disrespected, a father throws his teenage son against the wall by his neck. When feeling intimate, a husband slams doors and storms around when shunned by his tired wife. When cut off by someone on the road, a man chases the driver down to tell him off. A senior executive punches the table during a meeting when he feels his employees are not listening. Are these examples of anger or rage?

“There is a defining moment when anger turns to rage,” said Sheldon Isenberg, of Isenberg Consulting in Naperville. He e-mailed The Sun in response to the Men’s Health Series article on mitral valve prolapse.

“This condition can contribute to anxiety symptoms. Symptoms such as jittering feelings, heart palpations, tightness in the chest, or feeling like you are coming out of your skin.

“Anger and hostility have a direct impact on the cardio system,” Isenberg says. “Sometimes just breathing deeply and getting oxygen to your brain can help you overcome worry and anxiety to help you think more clearly.”

“The person who takes everything too serious can be stereotyped as a Classic Type A personality. They may feel they can do things better than others, may be difficult to live with, simply cannot relax, are very ambitious without consideration, and are often critical of how others do things.”

Isenberg goes on to say, “this type of person may act out their anger; that action is the defining moment between feeling angry and physically expressing your anger.”

He continues to share an example of a disagreement between a father and son.

“The son may be upset because his father will not allow him to go to a certain social function. The son may begin to swear at his father in the midst of the argument. Here is the defining moment. Does the father ask the son to calm down and work through the argument with a level head, or does the father take action and pin his son against the wall to demand respect? Rage is that out-of-control moment when action takes place.”

So what brings men to the point of seeking help?

“Most men come to see me because something has happened and they have to, or their family has had enough and they feel the pressure of losing their spouse and children and are ready to make changes.”

It’s not just family issues.

“Some men come in because of work-related issues and are being told their behavior is inappropriate in the workplace; their job is threatened.”

Dr. Paul Capriotti, a psychiatrist in Lisle and Naperville, says “this economy has had a negative affect on a lot of men.”

“When I am diagnosing someone, it is not as simple as anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or depression,” Capriotti said. “Sometimes the anger and rage is situational and can be treated with therapy rather than medication.

“I find out what is causing the rage, what is the trigger point and how it is impacting their personal life.

“Sometimes a man can feel he is simply letting his children, spouse, significant others down all the time. Sometimes there is anger, resentment, disappointment and guilt after an emotional outburst. Get help before reaching the point where the action is out of control.”

Isenberg closes with a profound statement. “Money should never be a reason not to get help, maybe an excuse, but not an obstacle. Metropolitan Family Services at 630-784-4800 can offer services for free or on a sliding scale. There are many agencies sponsored by the United Way to offer assistance to a happier and more peaceful life.”

If you have a personal health journey and would like to contribute to the series on Men’s Health, please e-mail Kristen Kucharski at

This Little Light of Mine

This morning I awoke with a tune in my head which always has special meaning for me. I knew I was going to write my first blog for our new website for our new practice, Isenberg Counseling, LLC, which Raye and I began a few months ago. This is a season of new beginnings, of transition for the both of us. It is also the holiday season of new beginnings in a few of our religious traditions.

The tune I awoke humming was “This Little Light of Mine,” an African-American spiritual, which seems to relate to our having lit the candles the night before for our holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. I also knew of the recent Hindu festival of lights, called Diwali, and as Christmas approaches we think of the Star of Bethlehem leading the way for powerful Wise Men to a simple child in a manger.

Light symbolizes the energy of renewal, of rebirth, of rededication, of redemption, of hope and peace after darkness, In so many faith traditions we create light to warm and renew us, to remind us, to bring into awareness the inner light naturally within us.

We have the power within us to connect to that light by recalling the people and personal experiences which have inspired us to act in ways of personal integrity encouraging our heart-felt need to experience renewal throughout the seasons of our lives. In this joyous season of renewal I now recall how my personal little light has sometimes, through fear, grown faint and how that light, through integrity, has manifested itself to shine brightly.

In this season of lights and hope Raye and I wish you the power to sing with gusto (google for entire song):

This little light of mine
I’m going to let it shine

Ev’ry where I go
I’m going to let it shine

All in my house
I’m going to let it shine

I’m not going to make it shine
I’m just going to let it shine

Out in the dark
I’m going to let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.