Category Archives: Love

Love Skills

Earlier this week Rita and I got to talk about love for 90 minutes with Dr. Tim Nicolls and his Honors class titled “Love” at the University of Montana. It’s a fun gig. We get to tell stories about our own romantic history, weave in Alfred Adler’s many amazing love quotations, and walk though Julie and John Gottman’s six predictors of divorce, along with six strategies for addressing and shrinking those predictors.

Back in our courting days Rita lured me up onto the underside of Orange Street bridge in Missoula. We’re so old that we were courting long before they blocked off the underside to romancing couples. Rita—being a balance-beam genius in a previous life—started walking comfortably along an 18 inch wide steel beam about 40 feet above the shallows of the Clark Fork river. Being naïve and adopting the good constructivist mindset of not knowing, I followed. She just kept on walking as if there were no particular danger. I looked down at the rocks and water. By the time she turned to peek back at me, I was on my hands and knees and crawling very slowly along the beam.

To this day, Rita insists I’m afraid of heights. Of course, that’s not true. I’m not afraid of heights, but I am afraid of falling. I believe I was simply showing good judgment and trying to avoid dying during our courtship.

Our romantic bridge story links well to the classic social psychology bridge study on the misattribution of arousal. You can read the abstract here: https://doi.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fh0037031. Rita insists that she didn’t learn about how easily male college students can be manipulated into misattributing their fear-related arousal to romantic arousal until AFTER she led me onto the Orange Street bridge.

We like to call our lecture “Love Skills,” because of our mutual belief that although love usually involves passion, lasting love also includes a generous array of relationship skills. As Adler pointed out, long ago, long-term romantic relationships also require the right attitude. He wrote:

“There are too many people in our society who take, and [who] have great expectations, and too few who give. It seems that too much of human kind is caught in a love and marriage formula that states: Because I love you, you must obey me!”

 In case you’re interested, here’s the link to our Love Skills powerpoints.

And here’s my favorite Adler relationship quotation:

“Each partner must be more interested in the other than in himself (sic). This is the only basis on which love and marriage can be successful.” (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 432)

Not Money, Not Power, Just Happiness

 “Never work just for money or for power. They won’t save your soul or help you sleep at night.” – Marian Wright Edelman

Recently, I was struck by the concept of influencer. As far as I can tell, influencers are all about working for money and power; maybe most of all, they’re working for attention.

Today on NPR, I listened to a woman talk about vision boards. I won’t mention her name. She said lots of influencers are using vision boards. Vision boards are all about envisioning what you want to get it to manifest. Other than the fact that vision boards are extremely self-centered, I’ll keep my comments about vision boards out of this blog. I wasn’t surprised that influencers are using all the woo-woo powers they can to get what they want. Okay. I know. I’ll stop talking about vision boards and influencers.

Or maybe not. At least I should acknowledge that all this is terribly Adlerian. When people don’t feel useful, or as if they belong, they can get overly preoccupied with attention, power/money, and revenge. I’m sure Adler would have had something to say about vision boards, had they been around in the early-to-mid 1900s.

Of course, I’m jealous of influencers. Beginning in high school, I had a wish to be featured, as a professional football player, on a United Way advertising. At the time, the NFL and the United Way had a collaborative thing going and I loved the idea of promoting the United Way from a place of power and influence. Of course, my football-playing days ended in 1979, but my fantasies of being able to reach people with the message that mostly we should focus on helping each other still deeply resonates in my soul. It’s too bad so many influencers are all about superficial qualities like fashion and appearance.

I do have tiny bits of influence here and there and I hope I try to wield that influence in ways consistent with my initial wishes to be in one of those old United Way adverts.

For this week and next week, you’ll likely see my pathetic efforts to be an influencer. I want people to enroll in our Art & Science of Happiness course at the University of Montana. I believe engaging in the class can make people not only feel happier, but also begin experiencing less depression and more engagement in meaningful lives. Here are a few comments from previous course participants.

From a young man who described himself as depressed: “After a couple of weeks of participating and attending class I noticed that the slides and the activities really helped me out. I was able to finally have someone explain what feelings I was going through, why I felt this way, and what we could possibly do to improve. At first, I didn’t think any of this was going to work, but after trying meditating and positive thinking I noticed my overall mood was changing.”

From a young woman who really loved savoring: “One of the most influential activities for me was the activity on savoring. I found that mutual reminiscing had a really positive effect on me. After mutual reminiscing with my friends, I gained a lot of gratitude and appreciation for my friends and the experiences I have had in my life. This activity had a really positive influence on me and is something that I plan to try and do often after leaving this class.”

From a young woman with plans to be a teacher: “This semester of the happiness class has been really wonderful for me. I have two big take-aways. The first applies to my personal life. In class, we learned about how to build new habits, something that has helped me to progress this semester. The second take-away relates to my career. I am pursuing life as a teacher, and being in this class helped me expand my ideas about what we can teach.”

From a young man missing his family during a lockdown: “COVID-19 pandemic changed many things in my life. It changed how I was learning and prevented me from joining my family during Ramadan. But, looking at my situation: I am isolating partly to protect my health and mainly for other peoples’ health. And that is one of the pillars for being happy when you believe that others matter.”

From a 30-something woman who likened the course as a trip down the Yellow Brick Road: “I have grown as a person that was made all the more valuable because I was able to do it with the help of so many. I deeply appreciate the people I came to know through this process. This class will only help people as it gives us the knowledge and skills to appreciate ourselves and the others in our life as we gain a better understanding of what true happiness looks like.”

This last testimonial reminds me of something I said last year. That is, you should consider signing up for happiness class with a friend. Or maybe not. Because if you don’t sign up with a friend, you’re likely to leave with one.

Here’s are the deets on the class and how to enroll:

When

The course is offered “live” on Tuesdays/Thursdays from 1pm to 2:20pm, beginning on January 18, 2022, ending the week of May 9, 2022. However, because the course is fully online via Zoom, you can also take the course asynchronously.

How to Enroll

To enroll as a community member, go to: https://www.campusce.net/umextended/course/course.aspx?C=627&pc=30&mc=&sc and follow the instructions.

To enroll for University of Montana credit, login to Cyberbear: https://www.umt.edu/registrar/Registration/Class%20Schedules.php. The course is COUN 195. The CRN is: 33330.

Let’s Go Rita!

This morning, being behind not only on my grading, course planning, writing, and housecleaning, I also found myself behind on current events. As a consequence, I was forced (not literally, of course) to do an internet search to understand the meaning of the “Let’s go Brandon” catchphrase or meme or whatever we’re calling such things in our contemporary and ever-changing vernacular.

What I found was—on its face—disturbing. After having won his first NASCAR event, a man named Brandon is being interviewed by an NBC reporter. He looks so young, so happy, and so excited to talk about his first victory. In the background, there is chanting. Although not PERFECTLY clear, if you listen closely and look at the video clip, some in the crowd are shouting, “Fuck Joe Biden.” The reporter, in an effort to weave the chanting into her interview, explicitly interprets the chanting as “Let’s go Brandon!”

At a deeper level, the chants, their interpretation, their re-interpretation, and their current use as a method for mocking and insulting President Biden, represent a deep, sad, and pathetic powerlessness. We all feel it. We all want to shout out our own beliefs, because, of course, we think our own beliefs are the best beliefs and the right beliefs and the beliefs that should be heard above the roar of the crowd.

What saddens me the most is that it also represents not only the deep divisions in our country (and the world), but that it has become viral fodder for confirmation bias and spinning. People see whatever they’re inclined to see in the chant. Is it evidence of fake news or disrespect for the presidency? Have we caught the press intentionally remaking reality or have we caught Trump supporters in their anti-patriotic hypocrisy? The facts don’t matter much anymore. Polarizing is the thing. Sloganizing is the thing. It’s not so much about what unites us; it’s about what divides us.

Like many, I feel a paradox. I care about the deep divisions. I wish I could bridge them. At the same time, I don’t care for people stoking deep divisions. I wish to ignore them.

All this brings me to something that I unequivocally and unapologetically wish would go viral . . . instead of the popular outrage and mockery.

After discovering and lamenting the Let’s Go Brandon mockery, I read Rita Sommers-Flanagan’s Sunday morning blog post. Hers are the messages I wish would catch fire on the internet.

She wrote:

“God,” I whisper, awake and facing morning, “You know I’d like to extend my reach; do things that make me feel important and complete. I’d like to turn the tide of hate into an ocean of love. I’d like to make the fear go away.”

This is the call for unity, love, and peace that SHOULD be in my newsfeed.

Here’s another line: “I am of your doing, and you of mine.” Just spectacular.

Rita’s blog is titled, “Short visits with an honest God.” Should you be interested in deeper unity, here’s the link to her blog: https://godcomesby.com/ . . .

And here’s the link to this morning’s post: https://godcomesby.com/2021/11/14/the-long-gray-bird/?fbclid=IwAR1kYlUDhLOUdj0lV-9001MnEIeK3XCsCd-FjkAmlZinBTMp7z1lq0NkEyw

A Short Video on Love: Featuring Max and Paula Sommers

This afternoon, Rita and I are doing a short lecture for the University of Montana Honors College course (HONR 391) titled “Love.” Dr. Timothy Nichols, Dean of the Honors College is teaching the course. They’ve covered a ton of very cool stuff (academic speak here) and Rita and I are getting a chance to throw 2 of our cents in.

While putting together the powerpoints, I also discovered and captured a 4 minute video of my parents talking about love and their relationship. The video was produced on Valentine’s Day of 2008 by Regence Blue Shield of Oregon. I contacted them and they said, of course, I could share the video . . . so, here it is:

2020 Dreams from My Mother

Mom in Chair

By most estimates, moms have had it rough this year. Day care centers are closed and moms are working from home; at the same time they’re homeschooling, keeping their children from watching porn on the internet, and sanitizing everything. And then there’s that former reality television star who perpetually gets himself in the news, rambling in front of cameras about treating the novel coronavirus with disinfectants in the body. In an optimal world, mothers would get celebrated way more than once a year. In a decent world, they’d be able to protect their children from exposure to Donald Trump.

Looking back 50 years or so, my own mother—she’s in a care facility now—was a mysteriously effective role model. She was more submissive than dominant, never hit me or raised her voice, didn’t directly boss anyone around, but indirectly gave my sisters and me VERY CLEAR guidance on what behaviors were expected in our home, and out in the world.

Rarely did my mother explicitly tell us how to behave. But once, when an African American family moved into our all-white neighborhood, she proactively, quietly, and firmly sat my sisters and me down and told us we would always treat them with respect. We did. When my mom got serious, we never questioned her authority.

One time, she was driving and a car squealed past us in a no-passing zone. She sighed, glanced over at me, and said, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever drive like that.” For the next 5 decades, including my teen years, my friends and family have ridiculed me for my slow, conservative driving. I watch my speedometer, stop at yellow lights, and slow down at uncontrolled intersections. My mother said it once, I remembered what she said, and I still don’t want to disappoint her.

Without a stern word, my mother taught us to love our neighbors (even when they were annoying), showed us how to treat everyone with kindness and respect (even when they didn’t deserve it), and modeled how we could be generous with our time and energy by focusing on the needs and interests of others.

Once, when the family was out watching Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a sex scene started. Immediately, my mom elbowed my dad, and I was ushered from the theater. My mom didn’t want me to see or hear things that might lead me down the wrong path. She would cover my eyes and ears (literally) to stop me from being exposed to negative influences.

All this leads me to wonder how my mother would handle the disastrous role-model-in-chief. Mr. Trump is a mother’s nightmare, spewing out perverted values on a daily basis.

My mother’s first strategy would be to not let me hear whatever terrible ideas Trump gets out of his brain and into his mouth. She would have blocked me from watching news pieces about Mr. Trump’s playboy models, paid off porn stars, shitholes, Pocahontas, pussy-grabbing, gold star families, and references to women as pigs.

As much as my mother would have hated Mr. Trump’s sexist and racist words, she would be even more apoplectic about his poor character. If we saw or heard Mr. Trump counterattacking his critics, she would have sat us down, and talked about how an eye for an eye will leave us all blind.

If my mother caught us reading Trump’s tweets, she would have gathered us around the kitchen table for a spelling lesson. She would explain, “there’s no such word as unpresidented,” the phrase “twitter massages” makes no sense, “smocking guns” is just wrong, “the Prince of Whales” is from Wales, and journalists cannot win the “Noble prize.” She would never allow us to utter the word covfefe in our house.

My mother would be deeply offended by Mr. Trump’s incessant lying. If she were parenting us right now, every day she’d find a way to show us how we should admit our mistakes, take personal responsibility, and resist the temptation to blame others. She would talk about truth-telling. She would explain that Mr. Trump being President is a tragic mistake and that we should all work very hard to make sure this tragic mistake ends, so this malevolent man cannot continue to abuse women, minorities, and the American people.

But, for parents like my mother, Mr. Trump offers small advantages. As a teaching device, horrendous role models work quite well. In the end, and with one sentence, my mother would steal away all of Trump’s past and future influence. She would say, “I’ll be very disappointed if you ever act like that man.”

And we wouldn’t.

 

A Letter to My Happiness Class on Why I Called BS on the So-Called Law of Attraction

Adler Heart Brain

[This is a letter to my happiness class]

Hello Happy People,

When happiness class ends, sometimes I wish we could continue in conversation. You may not feel that way. You might be thinking, “Thank-you Universe! Class is finally over.” But as a long-time professor-type, on many days I wish we could keep on talking and learning. I know that it may not surprise you to hear that I’m feeling like I’ve got more to say:).

This week (Tuesday, February 11) was one of those days. Many of you made great comments and asked big questions. But, given that time is a pesky driver of everything, I/we couldn’t go as deep as we might have. Here’s an example of a question I loved, but that I felt I didn’t go deep enough with:

“Do you believe in the Law of Attraction?”

This is a fascinating question with deep and profound contemporary relevance. At the time, if you recall, I had dissed inspirational statements like, “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it” as “just bullshit.” Then, in response to the question of whether I believe in the so-called Law of Attraction, I said something like “I don’t completely disbelieve it” . . . and then pretended that I was in possession of a scientific mental calculator and said something like, “I believe things like imagining the positive can have a positive effect, but it might contribute about 3% of the variation to what happens to people in the future.”

Not surprisingly, upon reflection, I’m thinking that my use of the word “bullshit” and my overconfident estimation of “3% of the variation” deserve further explanation. Why? Because if I don’t back up what I say with at least a little science, then I’m doing no better than the folks who write wacky stuff like, “You can if you think you can.” In other words, how can you know if what I say isn’t “just bullshit” too?

At this point I’d like to express my apologies to Dr. Norman Vincent Peale for referring to one of his book titles as “wacky stuff.” However, in my defense, I read the book and I still can’t do whatever I think I can do . . . so there’s that . . . but that’s only a personal anecdote.

Okay. Back to science. Here’s why I said that positive thinking, as in the so-called “Law of Attraction” might account for only about 3% of the variation in life outcomes.

Back in the 1980s, I did my thesis and dissertation on personality and prediction. At the time I had four roommates and I felt I could predict their behaviors quite easily on the basis of their personalities. However, much to my surprise, I discovered that social psychology research didn’t support personality as a very good predictor of behavior. Turns out, personality only correlates with behavioral outcomes at about r = 0.3 or r = 0.4. You might think that sounds big, because you might think that r = 0.3 means 30%. But that’s not how it works. If you do the math and multiply the correlational coefficient by itself (as in 3 x 3 or 4 x 4) you get what statisticians call the coefficient of determination (in this case, 3 x 3 = 9% and 4 x 4 = 16%). The coefficient of determination is an error-filled effort to predict specific future events, as in, if your r = 0.3, then, if you know r, then you can be about 9% accurate in predicting an outcome.

Please note that everything is error-filled, including science, and including me and my shoot from the hip efforts at estimation and prediction. When I say error-filled, I’m not disrespecting science, I’m just acknowledging its limitations.

Okay. Back to the so-called Law of Attraction. In class I was calculating in my mind that if well-measured personality traits like extraversion or introversion only account for about 9-16% of the variation in behavioral outcomes, then the so-called Law (which I’m inclined to rename as the Hypothesis of Attraction) would likely account for significantly less variation . . . so I quickly did some mental math and “3%” popped out of my mouth. What I should have said is that humans are remarkably unpredictable and that personality barely predicts behavior and situations barely predict behavior and so when we hypothesize what might influence our future, we should be careful and underestimate, lest we appear foolishly overconfident, like many television pundits.

Somewhere around this time, someone asked if I thought the authors of books who advocated things like the law of attraction really believed in what they wrote or just wrote their books for profit. My response there was something like, “I don’t know. Maybe a bit of both.” To be perfectly honest—which I’m trying to be—one of my big concerns about things like the law of attraction is that they’re used to increase hope and expectations and typically come at a price. I don’t like the idea of people with profit-driven motives luring vulnerable people with big hopes into paying and then being disappointed. Sometimes I ask myself, “If someone has their life together so much that they discovered a secret to becoming wealthy by visualizing wealth, then they should already be so damn rich that they should just share their secret for free with everyone in an effort to improve people’s lives and the state of the planet!” The corollary to that thought is that if somebody says they’ve got a powerful secret AND THEY WANT TO CHARGE YOU FOR IT, my bullshit spidey sense sounds an alarm. Go ahead, call me suspicious and cynical.

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big fan of positive thinking. A huge fan. I believe positive thinking can give you an edge, and I believe it can make you happier. But I also think life is deeper than that and multiple factors are involved in how our lives turn out. I don’t want to pretend I’ve got a secret that I can share with you that will result in you living happily ever after with all the money you ever wished for. On the other hand, I do want to encourage everyone to embrace as much as you can the positivity and gratitude and kindness and visions of your best self that we’re talking about and reading about for our happiness class. I want you to have that edge or advantage. I want you to harness that 3% (okay, maybe it could be 7%) and make your lives more like your hopes and dreams.

Later, another student asked how we can know if we’re just fooling ourselves with irrational positivity. Wow. What an amazing question. At the time, I said, we need to scrutinize ourselves and bounce our self-statements or beliefs off of other people—people whom we trust—so we can get feedback. One thing I’d add to what I said in class is that we should also gather scientific information to help us determine whether we’re off in the tulips or thinking rationally. Self-scrutiny, feedback from trusted others, and pursuit of science. . . I think that’s a pretty good recipe for lots of things. It reminds me of what Alfred Adler once wrote about love. . . something like, “Follow your heart, but don’t forget your brain!”

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I hope your weekend is a fabulous mix of following your heart, and hanging onto the science.

John SF

Upcoming Workshops on Love and Couple Counseling at the University of Montana

Starting on February 27, 2015, the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Montana will be offering a “LOVE” Workshop Series on campus in Missoula. This workshop series will include four different full-day trainings. The dates, topics and presenters for this series is below . . . and a registration form is attached. Registration form LOVE – Final

Session I: Friday, February 27, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Part One: Facilitating Intimate Conversations
Presented by: Veronica Johnson, Ed.D. and Kirsten Murray, Ph.D. – University of Montana

In American culture, romantic partners are taught to dread having serious relationship talks. This workshop focuses on helping couples build positive expectations and effective skills for communicating directly about their relationship and relationship issues like sex, money, and in-laws.

Part Two: The Business of Working with Couples
Presented by: Jana Staton, Ph.D. – Independent Practice – Marriage Works

Although helping couples have happier and healthier relationships is intrinsically rewarding, if you’re a professional counselor or therapist, you probably want to get paid too. In this workshop, Jana Staton, Ph.D. will offer tips for maximizing the efficiency of the business side of your couples counseling practice.

Session II: Friday, March 20, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Romantic Relationships as Healthy Partnerships:
Adlerian Approaches to Couple Counseling and Education
Presented by: Jon Carlson, Psy.D., Ed.D. – Governor’s State University

In this workshop, Jon Carlson, Psy.D., Ed.D., author of 60 books and producer of over 300 counseling and psychotherapy training videos, will provide training on the Adlerian approach to couple counseling. His presentation will include two main parts: (a) a discussion of the relationship enhancement activities of TIME (Training in Marriage Enrichment), and (b) a focus on the principles and practices of Adlerian couple counseling (including a live case demonstration!).

Session III: Friday, April 24, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Emotion-Focused Couple Counseling
Presented by: Mark Young, Ph.D., Gonzaga University

Based on a foundation of attachment theory, emotion-focused couples therapy is currently one of the most popular and scientifically-supported approaches to working effectively with romantic couples. In this workshop, Mark Young, Ph.D., will help you understand the theoretical foundations and learn practical skills necessary to using emotion-focused couples therapy in your practice.

Session IV: Friday, May 8, 2015, 8:30-4:30
Part One: Complications of Love: The Challenge of Parenting
Presented by: Sara Polanchek, Ed.D. and John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.

Researchers consistently report that romantic relationship satisfaction decreases with the birth of the first child and continues to decrease for about the next 20 years. The focus of this workshop will be on how parents can parent as partners and sustain their love and romance through the childrearing years.

Part Two: Complications of Love: Aging Well Together
Presented by: Catherine Jenni, Ph.D. and Jana Staton, Ph.D.

Recent research has surprising scientific findings from neuroscience, health outcome studies, and clinical trials about the effects of interactions with those we love on our immune, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. This workshop will include tips and best practices on how to keep a couple relationship alive, even in the face of declining health, aging, or illness.