My Mother, My Wife, My Marriage: How Inherited Family Trauma Can Impact Our Relationships

y1a40z2ntru-tanja-heffnerOne of the greatest joys in my life is my 36-year marriage to Carlin. But it wasn’t easy for either of us getting to this time in our lives where we feel fully engaged in our relationship, feel loving and in love. Each of us was married twice before and have children from our previous marriages. Both of us wondered whether there was something in our lives that was preventing us from having the joyful, long-lasting, relationship we both wanted. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs, deep connections and times where we felt estranged, periods of ease and periods where there was great deal of dis-ease.

One of the things that was very important in understanding the ups and downs in our marriage was looking honestly at the past and the impact of childhood trauma on our health, well-being, and marriage. As a therapist for more than forty years, I like to look ahead. I don’t want to get caught up in endless recriminations about what people didn’t get from their mothers or fathers or the trauma they may have experienced as children. Yet I’ve found we do need to heal the past if we’re going to have a healthy relationship that lasts. But we don’t have to take years mucking around in our troubled past. We can do it relatively quickly and easily and the effort is worth it.

Here’s why. According the new research on the science of love, understanding the wounds most of us experienced from the past is essential to having a truly healthy, loving marriage that lasts through time. I’ve found that most of the problems I have in my love life have roots that go back to unhealed wounds from my family life.

Marriage and family experts Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt offer the following summary in their book, Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship-Saving Truths, “About 90 percent of the frustrations your partner has with you [and you have with your partner], are really about their [and your] issues from childhood…Love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents, but for the best possible reason! Doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so they can be healed.” [Read more…]

The 5 Love Secrets Your Therapist Never Told You About

Love SecretsI’ll admit it. I’m a hopeless romantic. I cry at weddings and read Nicholas Sparks novels. I watch romantic movies and still get choked up remembering Titanic, Dirty Dancing, When Harry Met Sally, and Casablanca. I make up holidays so I can bring my wife flowers. But it’s taken me a long time to figure out how to have a romantic relationship that lasts. My first two marriages ended in divorce and Carlin and are still learning about love after being married for 36 years. Our book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, is a guide for those who still believe in love, but don’t have a lot of time to waste.

We all pick our profession for a variety of reasons. I’m sure that part of the reason I wanted to become a marriage and family counselor was to better understand my family life—my parents divorced when I was five years old. My father was become increasingly more irritable, angry, and depressed. My mother was always anxious and worried and pre-occupied with death. I wanted to learn the secrets of love so that I could have a passionate, powerful, and satisfying relationship that lasted a lifetime. But to master the secrets of love, we must let go of some of our most cherished beliefs.

  • Love Secret #1: Love is not exclusive.

We all understand that we can have many “loved ones.” We can love our children, our parents, even friends and relatives we rarely see, in addition to our spouse or lover. But we believe that love is limited to a small group and that we can have only one “great love of our lives.” Often when we’re single we long for that special someone who we will fall madly in love with and love forever. [Read more…]

Third Time’s The Charm: One Man’s Love Story of His 36 Year Marriage

real-lasting-loveGrowing up I had a confused understanding of love and marriage. We had a cute little house in the San Fernando Valley, but my father was often away and my mother constantly worried. When he was home his emotions vacillated greatly (later I learned he suffered from bipolar or manic-depressive disorder). One minute he was joyful and rode me around on his shoulders. The next minute he was irritable, angry, and depressed.

I was an independent kid and during the summers I would take the bus into Hollywood and sit alone at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and watch romantic movies–Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Three Coins in a Foundation, The African Queen, and From Here to Eternity. I practiced love lines I heard in the movies like this one by Montgomery Clift to Elizabeth Taylor: “I guess I loved you before I ever saw you.”

I met my first wife at U.C. Santa Barbara. I was a senior and she was a freshman. She reminded me of Janis Joplin—Cute, wild, creative, edgy, dangerous. We went to Monterey on our honey-moon, not knowing the Monterey Pop Festival was going on. No rooms were to be had anywhere in Monterey, but we found a room in Carmel when I was able to talk the landlady into taking us in since we were newly married. She knew the organizers and was able to help get us tickets.

The music reflected our hopes, dreams, longings, craziness, and the times: [Read more…]

5 Steps to Becoming a Love Warrior

love-wariorA few days ago my friend John gave me a copy of the book, Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton. “I just got this,” he told me, “but you need to read it first.” I wasn’t sure why he had given it to me, but I opened the cover to these words:

 Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out—three happy children, doting spouse, and a writing career so successful that her first book catapulted to the top of the New York Times bestseller list—her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed.

I thought, “Oh no, another tragic love story.” As a marriage and family therapist for more than 40 years I’ve heard more than my share. My book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, was just out and I was ready for a break from the roller-coaster we call love. But I started reading and I got hooked. This is no ordinary love story and it resonated with my own struggles with addictions, mental illness, eating disorders, infidelity, open marriage, telling the truth, and looking for love in all the wrong places.

It also resonated with me as a writer. After the success of my book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Overcoming Romantic and Sexual Addictions, I was sure I’d finally made it to the big time. My next book, The Warrior’s Journey Home: Healing Men, Healing the Planet, had been bought by Bantam Books, a division of Random House, and I was sure it would be a world-wide best-seller. But my editor left the company before the book was published and The Warrior’s Journey Home was left in limbo. When it was finally published by a small California publisher, New Harbinger, it had missed the market and didn’t sell well.

Glennon’s book resonates with me because, at its core, it’s about becoming a spiritual warrior. At a time in our history where we seem to be on the brink of blowing ourselves up with one war after the other, we need to find a new way to become warriors and a new way to overcome the fears that keep us from having real, lasting love. [Read more…]

The One Thing We Need That Will Either Make or Break Your Relationship

make-or-break-picThis is a special year for me and I’d like to share it with you. I’m 72 this year. My wife Carlin and I have been together for 36 years. She teaches a class called “The Perks of Aging” where she explores the upsides of getting older. I’m continually reminded of the challenges of aging. I’m just recovering from a leg injury that has kept me from enjoying my usual physical activities. I had a small cancer removed from my nose and I look a bit weird with a nose bandage. And there are more serious challenges. A number of friends our age are dealing with life-threatening illnesses.

One of the upsides of aging is having a successful, long-term relationship. As a marriage and family counselor I’ve always been disturbed by the statistics that tell us that around 50% of first marriages end in divorce. I was a part of that statistical group when my ten year marriage ended. Like most people I went through the grieving process, got back out there eventually, fell in love again, and re-married. That marriage lasted less than three years. I joined another discouraging statistical group. 66% of second marriages end in divorce.

Before giving it another try I decided there were some things I needed to learn. I was determined not to be one of the 73% of third marriages that failed. I read everything I could on what makes a successful marriage. I interviewed couples. More importantly I went back through my relationship history, all the way back to the family I grew up in, and began to see a pattern that I was subconsciously repeating.

My parents divorced when I was five years old. My father had been suffering from bipolar depression, which eventually lead to his attempted suicide. My mother suffered from constant worry and anxiety. Getting a better understanding of my relationship roots helped me heal some of the old wounds. Therapy was helpful, even for a therapist like me who thought he had all the answers.

After 36 years of learning and growing together, Carlin and I share what we learned in my new book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, and a new course, The Enlightened Marriage Master Class. It’s not easy to capture the core practices that can turn good marriages into great ones and get shaky ones back on track, but I’ve found that there are eight effective ways you can connect with your lover and fix problems in any relationship. Here they are: [Read more…]

How to Know if It’s Time to Go: 10 Signs You Should Leave Your Relationship

I’ve been helping men and women improve their love lives for more than 40 years. Most everyone I know wants a long-term committed relationship. But most everyone finds it difficult to achieve. We know that around 50% of first marriages end in divorce and 75-80% of men and women who have a failed first marriage will remarry, usually within five years. But 66% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.

Too many relationships fail when they could be saved. Most couples have a faulty love map and so get lost on their way to finding real, lasting love. In my book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, I describe five stages for having the joyful, intimate, juicy, sexy, comfortable, adventurous, relationship most people long to have:

  1. Falling in Love
  2. Deepening Love and Making a Life Together
  3. Disillusionment and Incompatibility
  4. Real, Lasting Love
  5. Finding Your Calling as a Couple

Stage 3 is the most misunderstood stage and without guidance too many relationships falter and go under at this time. I’ve developed an on-line program to help people get through to real, lasting love. I’ve learned that most marriages can be saved, but some are beyond repair. Here are the signs that your relationship is unlikely to be healed:

  1. Love has turned to hate.

Many couples will tell me there are times they feel like killing their spouse, but they still love them. Others say love has been lost, but they still care and want love to return. But if love has turned to hate, the relationship may need to end.

  1. Blame and shame rule the relationship.

Care and respect are key components of a good marriage. Troubled relationships often fall into blaming the other partner and putting them down or calling them names. [Read more…]

Love 4.0: Five Surprising Discoveries About Love That Can Save Your Relationship

3320409558_0b46b90f4c_zWe all know the feeling. When we least expect it, we fall in love. Our hearts pound and we only have eyes for that special someone. We’re ecstatic and alive in the presence of our loved one. When we’re apart we experience agonies of longing. We obsess about every detail of our time together and our nights are full of dreams of togetherness. This is love 1.0.

If we’re lucky, the one we fall in love with is “a keeper.” We hope its “love” we’re feeling and not “love addiction.” In my article “Is It Love or Love Addiction?” I offer twenty-one ways to distinguish the two. Love nourishes our lives, love addiction leaves us feeling depressed and can even cause our hearts to function improperly. If it’s love, not love addiction, we experience of comfort and joy of Love 2.0 as we build a life together.

But even the best relationships have trouble in Stage 3 when we go through disillusionments and wonder “Who is this person I’m with?” The things that used to be so endearing to us, now feel like irritations that drive us up the wall. We wonder where our loving partner went and why they’ve turned into Mr. Hyde or the Wicked Witch of the West. Many people bail out of relationships during this stage, but it’s really love 3.0, which I describe in my book The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Stages of Relationships Why the Best is Still to Come.

We want to believe that our love is real and everlasting when we fall in love in Stage 1 and we start a life together in Stage 2, but if we’re honest with ourselves we realize that we haven’t fallen in love with a real person, but with the hopes, desires, and illusions we project onto them. We aren’t seeing the whole person, but the ideal that captures all our dreams of that perfect mate that will love us like we’ve never been loved before and make up for the wounds we have experienced in our past love lives, going back to the family we grew up in. We’re, inevitably, disappointed and often feel betrayed. [Read more…]

7 Reasons Calling is Better Than Texting in Dating and Relationships

4151102238_5b5b5f4df2_oI’ve been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. Though the times and technologies have changed, the basics of dating and mating haven’t. The new science of love demonstrates that there are 5 stages for having a great relationship that lasts through time:

  • Stage 1: Falling In Love
  • Stage 2: Becoming a Couple
  • Stage 3: Disillusionment
  • Stage 4: Creating Real, Lasting Love
  • Stage 5: Finding Your Calling as a Couple

All five stages work best when we communicate with all parts of ourselves. There is an old saying, going back to biblical times, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” In our fast-paced, hyper-kinetic world, we increasingly use technologies to help us save time and be more efficient. Texting is one of those technologies. When we’re in a hurry we can communicate with a few quick strokes and get a message through.

Texting may be more efficient, and there are times when efficiency serves our purpose, but in the area of dating, mating, sex, and love, too much texting and too little direct contact can undermine our deepest desires. The reason is simple and straight forward, but we often fail to understand these facts of life:

  • Human connection requires that we use all our senses. We need to see each other, hear each other, touch each other, taste each other, and yes, smell each other.
  • Our conscious mind may think we’re connecting when we text our feelings in words, but our bodies, spirits, and souls know we’re missing vital elements.

In her book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D., says “You use the phone, email, and increasingly texts or Facebook, and it’s important to do so. Yet your body, sculpted by the forces of natural selection over millennia, was not designed for the abstractions of long distance love, the XOXs and LOLs. Your body hungers for more. It hungers for moments of oneness.”

Without real connection we feel lonely and disconnected. We often become more anxious and depressed. As I say in my book, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, “Without real connections we get hooked on love addiction rather than real love. Healthy love creates life. Addictive love creates melodramas.” So here are the reasons I believe calling is better than texting at all stages of relationship: [Read more…]

The Birth of The Enlightened Marriage: Would You Like to Be a God-Parent?

Book CoverI have 17 children and a new one is on the way. Well, not exactly. Let me explain. When my first wife and I were in college we decided that when we got married we would have one child and then adopt a child. Even back in 1964 we knew the world was getting crowded and we wanted to do our part by fulfilling our dream to have our own biological child, but to take a child to love that needed a home. Ten years later the marriage was on the rocks and I became a single parent. When I met and married Carlin, she had three children. We ended up raising her son and my daughter together, but together we count five children. So where did the other twelve come from?

They are my literary children. As a writer I dream about the next conception. The gestation period can be many years and the birth is just the first in a series of steps as the child makes its way in the world. My first literary child was born on June 22, 1983. His name is Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man (I know, not your typical child’s name) and he turned thirty-three a few days ago.

Each of these literary children has multiple God-parents. These are people who feel a great love for this child, give guidance, and help them find their place in the world. Here’s what a few of the Inside Out God-parents had to say:

“We know the personal is political—feminists have proved that point—yet few, (if any) men have had the courage to be as vulnerable as Jed Diamond.” Natalie Rogers, author of Emerging Woman.

  “Through his own vividly revealed experiences Jed shows us just where the sexual revolution took a wrong turn toward the unexamined doctrine of obligatory ‘openness.’” George Leonard, author of The End of Sex: Erotic Love After the Sexual Revolution.

[Read more…]

Confessions of a Twice Divorced Marriage Counselor

6734544555_9389e751a6_zI became a marriage counselor to help families stay together through difficult times, to keep love alive during times of stress. I wanted to help men and women avoid what I experienced growing up in a family obsessed with death.

When my mother got pregnant she told stories about her anxiety and worry. “I would walk down the streets of Greenwich village terrified I would lose the child. I tiptoed everywhere. I was afraid I’d lose you, even before you were born.” After my birth she was afraid to let my father hold me, believing he was clumsy and might drop me. She was also convinced she would die before I was out of high school and bought a life insurance policy she couldn’t afford so I’d have money after she was gone. She also got a life insurance policy for me when I turned five, insisting you could never start too soon to take care of your family after you’re gone. When I started nursery school she was already preparing for my life after she was dead and for the life of my wife and family after I died.

My father struggled to make a living as a playwright and actor in New York. After moving to California to try his luck in the emerging television industry, he became increasingly overwhelmed and depressed. The last entry in his journal which I found later as an adult read:

“November 8th:

A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. 

I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

[Read more…]