Books I Recommend

Starting to work on your relationship? Here are some helpful book for you to consider. The highly recommended books deal with a more science based approach to relationships which I think is most helpful.

Men and women are NOT from Mars and Venus and science offers us a tremendous opportunity to understand ourselves and improve our relationships.

Click on the links for more information.


Highly recommended:

For better:  The science of a good marriage

A General Theory of Love

Wired for Love

Attached: The new science of adult attachment

Couples Skills

Neural Path Therapy




The Relationship Cure

The Five Languages of Love

10 Lessons to Transform your Marriage

Intimacy and Desire

Passionate Marriage

Why talk about brain research and relationships?

My work as a therapist is informed by current scientific research, especially neuroscience.

Researchers have done a wonderful job helping us understand how and why we think, feel and behave. So, I place a lot of importance on helping clients learn as much about this as possible.

The first stage of a relationship is called the “honeymoon stage.” Things are blissful and it’s hard to be apart for any length of time. The person and relationship are idealized, the sex is great and being together is most important. Couples move in together, get married, and make commitments during the honeymoon stage.

It’s only after the “honeymoon stage” where couples begin to experience problems. Couples begin to get more easily irritated, sexual intimacy diminishes, conflicts occur and reoccur with no resolution. It’s this stage where couples seek therapy knowing they need help to deal with problems.

For myself, it’s been important to find a way to simplify the complex role the brain plays in our thoughts, feelings and behavior. The most simple way I begin to explain the impact of the brain is the story of Pandora’s box.

We’ve all heard the saying, “don’t open Pandora’s box!” But what does it really mean? Myths like Pandora’s box are ancient stories which have multiple levels of meaning. The most obvious meaning is there are things we shouldn’t really talk about. Couples often decide to ignore some problems because they seem to create more distress. In this way, they follow what appears to be a message of the myth of Pandora.

In this myth, Pandora is told not to open the box, but her curiosity gets the best of her. She opens the box and all the negative aspects of the world, like illness, death, suffering, evil flies out of the box entering the common experience of human beings.In this version of  myth, the only thing  Pandora does not release from the box is “hope.” So, in the face of all this devastation, humans can hold onto hope.

Search for images of Pandora opening the box on the internet. The range and quality of the images are fascinating.

When viewing images of Pandora opening the box, we have two versions. One version shows images of death, disease, war, all the negative and evil aspects of life. In this version, it’s said Pandora closed the box in time to contain “hope” a necessary quality to deal with life’s adversity.

One has the sense Pandora becomes aware she may have done something wrong. All the forces of evil are flowing into the world of humans and will wreck havoc on their lives.

There is another version of this myth which I think is more reflective of our humanity and remarkably more consistent with contemporary neuroscience teaches us about the role of the brain in our lives.

This version of the myth suggests to us the message “don’t open Pandora’s box” is a paradox. The myth tellers understood Pandora would not be able to keep the lid of the box closed, just like humans could not avoid the misery and suffering caused by illness, disease, conflict, etc.

So, in opening the box, Pandora is simply reflecting the vulnerability of being human. We all have to face the challenges life brings us, no matter how devastating.

But there is an important facet to this more human version of the myth. Hope is not trapped in the bottom of the box, like in the first version. Hope lives at the bottom of the box and is accessed when human beings face and begin to address the challenges they face. It’s not what happens to us; it’s what we do with it that’s important.

In this version, hope is always available to us in facing challenges and the process of working through these human events will make us stronger. We can even say, spiritually stronger. Not in a religious way, but more in a way of creating meaning in our lives.

This second version is more life affirming and realistic. It’s impossible for human beings to avoid any of the distress and tragedy occurring during one’s lifetime. So, to be human is to experience life events that will cause all sorts of emotions, all of which we will have to identify, understand, express and resolve.

There is a third image related to the hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box, portrayed humorously as a light in a toolbox. (Google Pandora’s box, tool box with hope light.) I think this image hits the nail on the head! (pun intended)


Here are key concepts and links to definitions you need to know to build a healthy relationship;

emotional and psychological trauma

emotional hijacking

implicit memory


explicit memory

state dependent memory

context dependent memory


Stress is a part of all our lives. You have heard this before-there’s good stress and bad stress.

Good stress is when we are facing a challenge which is daunting, but doable. With some time, practice, help, we can take care of what we’re worrying about and feel good about it later.

Bad stress is the sort of thing which can be bad for our physical and mental health. There are many examples like physical, emotional and sexual abuse, exposure to violence, war, accidents, threats of bodily harm and others.

Bad stress can be overwhelming, especially when it occurs when we are young. As human beings we are not equipped to deal with bad stress. It damages ability to develop into happy, healthy adults.

If you experienced some type of abuse or neglect, it’s likely you have been dealing with the effects of that for your entire life.

Abuse and neglect can dramatically alter the physical development of our brains. Our brains develop based on the parts that are stimulated.

If our families care for us in a loving way, our brains develop in a healthy way allowing us to feel happy, peaceful and loved.

On the other hand, if we experience abuse and neglect, our brains can develop in a very defensive way, always hyper-vigilant for threats.

The -fight-flight-freeze process becomes a way of life for us. It can be repetitive cycle of ups and downs, trying to avoid problems, but always seeming to find them.

So, learning about stress and the impact on the brain and our thoughts, feelings and behavior is a great first step.


Science of Stress

Amygdala & Stress

Panic Attacks

Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems

Understanding Explicit and Implicit Memory 1

Understanding Explicit and Implicit Memory 2

Understanding Explicit and Implicit Memory 3

Learning to Ride a Bike: An Example of Implicit Memory

State Dependent Memory 1  (this video shows how subjects remember more when they are asked to remember in the place (state) in which they learned the information

State-Dependent Memory 2

Brain Structure

Cell communication


Building Brains 

Couple Arguing

Joseph LeD0ux and Implicit Memory/Amygdala

Couple Communicating

Jim Hopper

Brown University Recovered Memory Project

Ken Pope


False Memory Syndrome Foundation

Academy for Guided Imagery

Speaking Mistake: Blaming

If you are blaming your partner, it’s time to find a new way of understanding and explaining your thoughts, feelings and wants.

Blaming damages relationships. It’s pretty simple.

I remember hearing a story about a couple who started therapy. After the first session, the therapist met with each partner individually to get a chance to hear each person’s story more fully.

When the therapist met with the husband, all he could do was complain his wife was the cause of all his problems.

She was “this and that and then some more.”

The therapist was accustomed to this process, so she gently asked the husband if he could hear how negative he was being towards his wife.

The husband looked at the therapist and saw a glimmer of the light.

How could his wife ever feel safe, comfortable, an intimate with him holding so many negative judgments and feelings toward her?

The path to better communication and happier relationships starts with each partner learning to accept personal responsibility and stop blaming the other.

There are many therapy exercises, like cognitive restructuring and the continuum exercise, that help partners take a deeper look at themselves, and begin the process of building happier and more intimate emotional and physical relationships.

It takes work, but it works, if you work it.

Listening Mistake: Rehearsing

How do you like it when you are upset about something and your partner won’t even let you finish your train of thought.

They already have their denial or rebuttal already organized and “come at you” with their rationale about why you are wrong.

This is called rehearsal, and it means exactly what it sounds like. The person you want to understand you isn’t really listening.

Rehearsing is a very common listening mistake.

It’s pretty easy to spot too. The listener’s eyes tend to trail off and you can almost see their mind sorting through how they can defend themselves from what they feel is your attack.

Of course, you are only expressing your thoughts and feelings, which ultimately is more important to both of you than who is right.

Worried You May be a Problem Drinker? Here is A 4-Step Method to Evaluate Your Alcohol Use

A common presenting problem in therapy is whether someone drinks too much or not.

It is pretty easy for professionals to evaluate this during an interview; it can take much longer, maybe years and years, before someone is able to face this challenging problem themselves.

If you have some concerns, here are some tools for you to use to begin the evaluation process…

Step 1. Alcohol

I suggest you click on the above link and complete the evaluation. It will only take you about 5-10 minutes to complete. Do it alone and answer the questions honestly.The evaluation will score itself, so you will have a beginning idea of how problematic your drinking may be.
Step 2. MAST/Michigan Alcoholism Screening Test

ThE MAST is another self-scoring evaluation asking questions to evaluate your drinking. It will give you a score quickly about whether your drinking is considered a problem or not. This is an evaluation tool that has been used for many, many years and is reliability is very well researched.

Step 3. Complete the CAGE Evaluation.

Step. 4.  Complete

Step 4. Construct and evaluate your personal drinking history.
Sometimes referred to as the Lifetime Drinking Survey, a detailed personal drinking history along with the MAST and Alcohol Screening tools will offer you a very good look at your use of alcohol.

For the personal drinking history, follow these guidelines:
Begin by getting some paper and writing materials.

The general focus of this history is:

  • focus on when you began to drink regularly
  • and detail the frequency and number of drinks per drinking episode
  • type of alcohol
  • how often you drink alone or with others
  • any changes in your mood before or� while drinking
  • and any special life events that may have had some influence on your level of drinking.

Keep these ideas in mind as you write. Be detailed…one drink equals one beer or a glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of alcohol.

So, when did you first begin to drink on a regular basis?

How often during the week would you drink?

How many drinks would you have during each drinking episode?

What time of the day would you normally begin drinking?

Would there be any particular life event that would influence your drinking?

Did you drink alone? or usually with others?

How has your drinking changed over the years, especially from adolescence to adulthood?
If you remember some unusual event, feel free to make a few notes about it. Such events include getting into some type of trouble, blacking out, or engaging in risky behavior.
Review the history and make sure it is as complete as you can remember.

In looking at the results of your screening tests and your personal drinking history, you should be able to get a better idea as to the degree with which your drinking may be a problem.

Contact me or someone else who can help, if you think you may have a problem.

It can be a great start to making your life more healthy and happy.

Listening Mistake: Defensive Listening

Yes,  but! How many times have you experienced this? We are talking about an idea we have and someone else has to tell us we are wrong.

In an intimate relationship, we need to be good listeners. We can’t just disagree and blast our partners by telling them they’re wrong.

We can disagree and still give our partners time to fully express themselves and then respectfully ask them to listen to “your side” of the story.

However, this is where the reflective listening process is so important. We show our partner we are listening by reflecting back what they are saying to us, not what we think of what they are saying.

Speaking Mistakes: Criticizing

Criticizing is when the speaker points out the negative in another person.

Often explained as  “I am only telling the truth”,  criticism often leaves the listener feeling hurt, angry and possibly demeaned.

Here is an example: A husband is depressed over the state of the economy and how much money his family has lost.

His wife is tired of hearing about this, so one evening she says,

“You are chronically disappointed!”

Obviously, her husband knows he is depressed and is struggling to recover.

He will likely experience his wife’s comments as a personal attack. This can lead to an argument where both leave feeling angry and hurt.

The better response by the wife might sound like this:

“I know you are struggling with all this and I really understand how hard it is for you. Maybe we can do something to help you get your mind off this for now.”

She is acknowledging her husband’s feelings, not taking them too personally, and making a suggestion that can affirm her love for him and help her husband cope with the stress in his life.

When the husband hears the affirming message, he may see his wife as a source of support and love…which is a good thing.