This Little Light Of Mine

New beginnings, renewal, and rededication are celebrated at this time of year. Though in practice for sometime now, well a real longtime now, our current practice is now only a year old as is this website and blog. To mark the occasion at this special time of year we are again posting our first Reflections blog, “This Little Light of Mine.” The message is a timeless and joyous one befitting the season. We’d welcome your comments which can be sent to us personally or posted on our Facebook page. In-Joy!

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.

Can Therapy Be A Spiritual Experience?

We are not human beings having spiritual experiences.
We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

Theilard deChardin

Whether you consider spirituality to be about accepting a higher power or becoming “whole,” whether it is the search for the meaning in life, having a sense of transcendence or simply following your heart, the sacred has profound impact on our lives. Throughout our lives, consciously or not, we are on a spiritual journey to make some sense of the universe and understand our place in it.

Therapy is about turning. Indeed, the therapeutic process can play a tremendous part in the journey. Many of our clients come for professional help to better connect with others around the problems in their lives or within themselves. A few are in conflict with their religious teaching. Some are not able to experience a unity with anything because they are rushing to keep up. They don’t hear their own heart.

As therapists, we have some skill and background of experience, which enables us to give guidance and coach people to get past how they disconnect, so that they can connect with what’s best in them and with others. Though we’ve never said we offer “spiritual services,” we believe our work has a spiritual dimension.

Therapy approaches spiritual dimensions when creative connections occur between the therapist and client or couple. These connections may be warm, humorous, sharp, angry or full of sorrow, but they are REAL. In our experience, clients sharing their realities and having them openly received has healing power.

Much of what goes on in counseling and coaching is about turning mistaken beliefs into affirming, curative beliefs and behaviors. Being present for another’s turning is both a joy and a humbling, spiritual experience for us as therapists.

Therapists and clergy often deal with similar human problems. Our training may differ, but we think the goals are similar; the alleviation of human suffering and the health of the human spirit. Human beings have a core need to know that they are not alone, that there is value to their existence and in their love of others, and that they and their loved ones can be redeemed and released from their conflict. These are the very deep spiritual issues that come into our office every day.

Dealing With Differences Part 2

Having differences is not synonymous with being in conflict. Conflict is the result of not being able to reconcile differences. Differences are inherent in the nature of any relationship. They co-exist with similarities. It is how we approach them that determine whether the process of dealing with our differences might actually improve the relationship. Dealing with differences can be a creative process between people. Here is a toolbox of skills to help you be more creative in your relationship:

• Hold judgment on what someone is saying and ask questions intended to improve your understanding of their different opinion. Clarify meaning by asking questions like “Did you mean…”

• Where you have differences of approach to a particular problem or decision, keep your focus on arriving at a joint decision or approach to a problem. Seek agreement without giving in.

• Be aware of whether you are only expounding your own view, rather than also being willing to listen to different opinions. When you listen to me I feel respected. When you don’t, I will fight your opinions.

• Give someone “the benefit of the doubt.”

• Listen for keywords, which is where you will find the heart of someone’s position. Speak and ask questions relating to those keywords. Watch your own tendency to avoid getting to the heart of your differences and getting lost in side issues.

• Be aware that the other person can sometimes emphasize differences and create distance, even anger. Diffuse this kind of emphasis by emphasizing common goals.

• Separate the person from the words. React to the differing opinion, not the person.

• When dealing with differences, move in closer. The closer you are, the more attention is being paid.

• Encourage feedback. What does the other person think you said?

• Shut out distractions. Control you own tendency to void the frustration of dealing with differences. Hang in there.

Now here is a secret of the therapist trade that I’ll let you in on if you’ve read this far. All the above tools are in the therapist toolbox for helping their clients. We use these tools to help clients with themselves and each other. These are the tools for creative listening and the resolving of issues that bedevil our clients. Using these tools properly will strengthen you as a person.

Dealing With Differences Part 1

Differences are unavoidable. They are part of what makes us human and what gives the tapestry of society texture and color. There is no question we are all different. We go about our daily lives differently, view the world differently, and react to changes differently. We even enjoy different hobbies and forms of entertainment. While it is true that some differences may never be bridged, it is also true that some differences can be welcomed if we realize how personal differences can actually add to the quality of our lives. Whether between individuals or within ourselves, how do we learn to deal with differences and find peace?

Sometimes when our differences cannot be reconciled we can experience great pain and consternation, particularly in relationships. Often times with couples, two of the most evident issues regarding differences involve money and sex, but many other differing values can cause conflict within a relationship.

Leaving these issues within the relationship unresolved can lead to stress, anger, denial, repression, resentment, and even feelings of betrayal. People can cut themselves off from each other because of the anger and helplessness they fell in bridging the differences between them. Decision-making can also become difficult, or even impossible, as the two people are too far apart in their perceptions of their mutual reality. Blaming can seem easier than finding ways to bridge the gap and live with differences.

Communication and empathy for understanding our differences are key to the process of dealing with differences. Clearly stating one’s concern, truly listening for meaning with full attention, and trying to se the way the other thinks, can give each person a perspective that will lead to acceptance and accommodation. From there, empathy and respect for the other’s point of view can pave the way to building tolerance and a good outcome for both parties.

In Dealing With Differences Part 2 we will provide some helpful suggestions on how to creatively and effectively bridge differences.

Making A Marriage Last

It’s the age-old question: what can I do to make my marriage last? All couples want to know what they can do to help ensure that they not only stay together, but also enjoy the journey of their relationship. While every couple is different and all marriages have specific needs, there are several pieces of practical advice that can help couples stay on track to keep keeping their marriage healthy and happy. Practice the following and discover your own life together.

1. Stay curious about one another. Curiosity feeds attraction and feeds the spirit. If you’re no longer curious about your partner what is closing your eyes and ears?

2. Small things DO matter. Gestures, considerations, and accommodations are essential ingredients to keeping love fresh.

3. Learn to live with and respect your differences rather than becoming frightened or embittered by them. Find ways to enjoy differences. Develop rules for engagement when you fight over differences that really bother you.

4. When fearful or angry seek clarification of the facts and of your assumptions. It takes courage to think when you want to run or fight. The structure of thinking helps when emotions get in the way.

5. Don’t be frightened by intense feelings, whether they be your own or those of your spouse. Within some range of what is normal (see your local therapist if you are not sure) going to some personal edge may be necessary for growth. Husbands and wives who are friends can find a way to talk about these changes. Growth is natural.

6. Don’t lie your way out of a bind, lie, or betrayal. Getting caught lying cuts deep into the muscle of a marriage. Lies take longer to heal than the truth. Trust is equal to love between partners. Don’t mess with trust/love by lying.

7. Use some discretion in what you say about your feelings and perceptions about your spouse, but say it. Just don’t hit below the belt where the pain won’t go away.

8. Forget that marriage is a 50/50 proposition in the sort-run, on specific issues. You should give at least 65% so as to make up for those times when you’ve got nothing to give at all. Remember that a good partner is one who gives their spouse credit.

9. Commitment means a willingness to be unhappy for a while, but only for a while. It helps to like your spouse even when he or she is being a jerk. We all get our turn to be a burden, so when you return to the human race, thank your spouse for tolerating you.

10. Find ways to laugh with one another, even at each other and at some of the problems you may be facing together. A humorless marriage is a dull one.

11. Have a few adventures in your life together. New experiences help you to grow personally and help you to grow in your marriage. Age is no barrier to adventure. We are endlessly given the capacity to renew ourselves.

12. Find ways to grasp the Infinite and Mysterious together. Remember life is so much larger than our life together.

Look forward to your life together!

Friendship In And Outside Of The Marriage

For a NAPERVILLE MAGAZINE article I was extensively quoted on the importance of friendship both in and out of the marriage. While not written by me and rather long, I think it makes a good blog on the importance of friendships at all levels. Enjoy!

Friendship Infusion
by Jessica Royer Ocken

You picked your partner for everything he or she has to offer: his laugh, her personality, all the things you like to do together, your similar goals and priorities in life. In short, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. “Friendship, in my opinion, forms the basis for any loving relationship,” notes Sheldon Isenberg, a Naperville couples therapist and founder (along with his wife, Raye) of Isenberg and Associates. So, when you’ve found the one who completes you, it’s natural to feel you’ve hit the companionship jackpot.

However, even though your spouse is the yin to your yang, the pals he’s packing may leave something to be desired. “Sometimes there’s an issue where couples haven’t been able to establish connections with other couples,” says Isenberg. “It’s a ‘these are your friends’ kind of thing. ‘You like him, but I don’t enjoy her. I don’t connect with these people. I’m trying, they’re your friends, but we don’t connect,'” he explains. “You marry each other, not necessarily the group you’re with.” And even if you like your amour’s amigos well enough, as years pass and life’s demands multiply, these relationships may lose out to an advancing career, the needs of young children or, well, where is it that the time goes?

Nevertheless, no matter how magnificently matched the partners may be, a dearth of outside friendships can eventually cause strain on a couple’s couplehood. “The majority of the time, the literature shows that when you don’t have a good social support system, the relational system you have will break down,” says David Cichocki, visiting assistant professor in the Department of Communication at University of Kentucky-Lexington and long-time relationship researcher.

This is no slam on the quality of your relationship, it’s just an aspect of togetherness. “I tell my students that after you’ve seen someone naked a thousand times, you have to talk to them,” he says. “And after you talk to them for three, four, five, seven years, you have to find something else to say.” Cichocki notes that it takes between seven and 10 years to really know someone. So for a full decade, your partner may have further facets of him or herself left to reveal. But your goal shouldn’t be to run this well dry. “Friendships can help people to grow,” he says. “You get new views and interests and become a more well-rounded person, staying active and interested in life. That’s how a marriage evolves.”

Cichocki relates a concept known as “dialectical tension – autonomy and connectedness. One can’t exist without the other,” he explains. Not only is your “connectedness,” or friendship with your partner, worth nurturing and expanding, so is your life as an individual. We learn things and expand our experiences by having friends, explains Isenberg. They may teach us to knit or water ski, but they can also show us how to forgive or survive a crisis. And as we grow, we bring new ideas and, heck, new topics of conversation, back to our core relationship.

Sure, there are times when friendships may seem a little superfluous, or like an indulgence you can’t afford. But these experts rank friendship as one of life’s essentials, no matter how busy you may be. “If you limit the growth of the individuals by just having you two, eventually you may run out of things to talk about, get dissatisfied with your lives, and look at your partner and say, ‘it’s your fault,'” Cichocki says. “You’ll fight over the toothpaste cap or ‘why don’t you ever cook?’…We’re better parents and better people by having experiences, continuing to be in the process of growth,” he continues. “And that’s better attained by interacting.”

Trusted friends at the ready may prove particularly invaluable if your relationship with your partner encounters a snag. “You have to have some other way of interacting with people, particularly if you get into a stuck place with your spouse, which everyone does,” says Isenberg. “It can be terribly isolating.” Although there aren’t many couples who schedule a session specifically to discuss the state of their friendships, “when people are lonely or depressed or feeling stuck with each other, I always ask what their social life is like,” Isenberg says. “Do they belong to any organizations? Do they go to church? What do they do for fun? There are a lot of sad couples out there who aren’t doing much except working.”

“Sometimes we need to encourage people to find people like themselves,” Isenberg continues. “Sometimes [people] get lost in their roles and forget outside life. Maybe a mom is too isolated at home. “What do you do besides work and go home?” I ask them. “What did you used to do? Why don’t you now?’ Then we start talking about getting lost in the shuffle of time commitments. No time for socializing sets you up for depression,” he explains. “People have been celebrating holidays from the time we were just in animal skins. It’s a common human experience…[and it’s] absolutely necessary to a sense of community. It’s different than with family, it’s with likeminded people. I consider that essential for a healthy life.”

OK, so developing yourself and building a support system via friendships is key, but what about friendships that enrich your lives as a couple directly, not just indirectly? This is the holy grail of friendship – a chance to interact with others and your spouse all at once. “How do you find two people you both like in the same couple?” Cichocki asks. This most precious sort of friendship can be difficult to track down. Many Naperville couples cite achieving the ideal foursome as an elusive prize: “It’s not that common that both guys and women all click equally as well,” says Kathy Berger. “Usually it’s I really like her and [my husband] Ted’s like ‘Eeeeehhhh’ or vice versa.” Berger’s neighbor Andrea LeRoy agrees. “We haven’t found that magic couple where I’m good friends with the woman and [my husband, Dennis,] really likes the guy,” she says. “His friends are nice enough, and we like them and get together, but that’s not the same as me choosing that person as my friend.”

Despite the challenge, it’s worth searching because when this fantastically compatible couple is finally revealed, the sky may open and heavenly voices sing. Just what is so fabulous? “You know you’re not alone,” Cichocki explains. “[You think,] we must be a good couple, because we’ve met these other people who are a good couple…After a while people start looking at you as a unit, not just an individual, so on a relational level, when you’re friends with other couples, that’s [the kind of validation] you get.” The process of finding these paired companions may be aided by exploring interests you and your spouse have in common. Chances are others are interested too. “We founded a synagogue when we were in our 30s,” Isenberg recalls. “We still have some of those friends. We were likeminded…that binds people together.”

Finally, despite all the benefits friendships can bring to your partnership, it’s not a contest to gather the most friends, or a call to make the quest for an active social life a burden that leaves room for nothing else. Instead, friendships are a journey that involves connecting and disconnecting at the right time. “Some friends seem to stand the test of time. They will be there, you will bury each other,” Isenberg says. “And other friends are not that way. It’s not that they’re fair weather (although there are those), but some friends are there for a period of time, and it’s not unusual to see some friends move on.”

And when they do, you’ve got your one and only, still standing by.

After An Affair: Can This Marriage Be Saved Part 2

Affairs happen! And couples can develop trust again! The spouse carrying out the affair needs to affirm to their partner that they genuinely want to end the affair and mend the relationship. This may be a brief process, but sometimes a lengthy one. The process of ending the affair is part of the healing process. When the affair has ended, a number of factors will determine the success of the recovery.

Can the unfaithful partner take responsibility for their choices and acknowledge the pain that has been inflicted on the spouse while exhibiting empathy instead of blame?

To begin the rebuilding process, the betrayed must feel that the unfaithful partner is truly contrite and empathetic. By accepting the blame for making an autonomous choice to stray, rather than shifting the blame to the betrayed. Only then can the healing of trust being.

Can the betrayed partner allow for the unfaithful partner to begin speaking of the flaws in the relationship that may have contributed to the affair?

The spouse who sought intimacy outside of the relationship must be allowed to begin to examine what in the new relationship was appealing. Could those feelings be brought to the marital relationship? Often, the betrayed spouse, like the unfaithful spouse, longs for a freer, more assertive, and emotionally open spouse. By examining the appeal of the affair, new possibilities for the marital relationship may appear.

Can the couple openly examine the affair in all its details, the trauma, and the contributing factors so that together they can overcome the pain and learn from the affair?

Both partners must be willing to go over the details of the affair openly and without blame. By examining what happened, the couple can begin to create a common understanding. Reviewing what happened helps build understanding, which in turn, moves those involved from victims to survivors who have gained some control over the circumstance.

Healing takes time, and couples who seek to stay together must be willing to invest as much time as it takes to work through identified problems as they work to rebuild their marriage.

This healing process can lead to a new level of commitment and provide the closeness, acknowledgement, and satisfaction that were missing. Healed couples are stronger and more loving couples.

After An Affair: Can My Marriage Be Saved? Part I

Why do affairs happen? Is there a way to save a marriage after an affair? Many people we see who have affairs feel their needs are not being met by their marriage. They may like what they are getting out of the marriage, but they also enjoy what they get from an affair.

Many affairs aren’t only about sex, though some are. Some are more about intimacy or self-esteem. Human beings need to feel excited, valued, appreciated, and acknowledged. Idealized love, the first phase of a relationship, is often what people seek outside the marriage after the marital relationship has lost it. Straying spouses report this.

The spouse who feels neglected, lonely, unappreciated, or bored is vulnerable and often ripe for an affair. This person may confide in a co-worker or friend about unhappiness in the marriage. They may seek recognition from another in hopes of finding the connection no longer felt at home. The intimacy that develops may be strictly emotional although the attraction can become sexual. A sympathetic ear becomes a regular drink after work, becomes a hug, becomes a kiss, and suddenly, boundaries come tumbling down.

Elements that seem constant in an affair are secrecy, emotional intimacy, and sexual chemistry. Even if the chemistry is not acted upon, the sexual tension and lure of the forbidden is a critical element in the relationship.

Most of the people we see are not philanderers who enjoy the adventure, sex addicts who use sex like a drug, or even people who feel entitled to extra-marital sex. Instead, most clients have engaged in an isolated lapse or long term entanglement, which leads to the affair. Couples who seek our counseling after an affair want to heal their confusion, confront the struggle of having been left for another, and come to terms with the betrayal they feel.

In our next blog, we’ll discuss how couples successfully recover from an affair.

On Joy

“There is a river of joy in my heart. It knows which way to go.”
– Lyrics by Jane Waskiewicz

We all need joy. Joy brightens our perspectives, refreshes and renews us and allows for hope by providing simple insights into ourselves, others and our situations.

But how can we find joy? Where do we find joy? The answer to these questions may differ greatly from person to person; however, it is true for each individual that in order to begin experiencing joy, one must be open to seeking and receiving it.

Whether you find joy in a connectedness with others, a solitary walk in nature or a particularly moving musical passage, heartfelt joy is a pure integration of our physical, emotional and spiritual energy. We are sensual beings, and by sharpening our senses we can use our eyes, ears, taste, touch, awareness, or intuition to bring us closer to finding and experiencing joy.

Joy can be felt through a sense of humor. When we laugh at that which is bothering us, we diminish its power to overwhelm us by making our problems more manageable. When we share humor with others, we can tap our collective strength to overcome what is troublesome.

Some people find joy in spiritual pursuits, which may vary from culture to culture. Some people seek silence, others seek raucous celebration. Within couples, joy may come with a sweeping “lost in love” feeling or from a quiet, deep, long-lasting sense of abiding love. Quiet or loud, still or moving, joy fills our hearts with pleasure. Our hearts literally need to feel joy (“heartfelt”) to be strong and survive.

Sometimes people are so lost in their own tensions that they build walls around themselves. It can be helpful to give ourselves permission to “take a vacation” from what is bothering and occupying us and to venture beyond our self-imposed walls. One way in which the journey to joy can begin is by simply putting aside the mundane of our day to day experiences and stepping away from our stressors or our walls. In doing so, we can find a connection, a sense of vitality, and the feeling of renewal, which strengthens us for the work of living a heartfelt life.

BRIDGING DIFFERENCES

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!