What Builders, Boomers, Millennials, and Gen-Y Have In Common

generation boy


Point and click just about anywhere on the web and you’ll find an article about the animosities, antagonisms, or incompatibilities of people of different ages. People born in the 1930s and 1940s see life differently than those born in the 1950s and 1960s who see life differently than those born in the 1970s and 1980s who see life differently than those born in the 1990s and 2000s. Rather than rehash all the ways people of varying generations see life differently here’s a list of what people of all ages have in common.

We all like feeling good. While our activities, foods, clothing styles and entertainments differ, we all share the pursuit of happiness.

We all like avoiding pain. There are very few locations where generations mingle. The exception is for medical needs: Emergency Rooms, doctors’ and dentists’ waiting rooms, and hospitals. Age differences vanish when it comes to toothaches, broken bones, or appendicitis.

We all want to be “liked.” Teens count their Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and Instagram “likes,” and elderly shut-ins count the number of visits they get. Even scoundrels, criminals, and cads prefer negative attention to no attention.

We all want meaningful lives. What fuels the pursuit of religion, science, hobbies, sports, work, money, or fame? A desire to feel like our lives matter.  People have different pathways to meaning but the motive is same: an aversion to obscurity, futility, and wasted lives.

We all want kindness, respect, love, affirmation. My clients range from 12 to 80. What they have in common is an aversion to conflict and a desire to create healthy relationships.

We all love air. Artists, novelists, poets, musicians, film makers, and marketers want to create content that will be the next “big thing,” smash hit, or viral Youtube video. But in reality the only thing humanity universally embraces is breathing. This being the case it makes more sense to  view younger and older generations as fellow passengers on space ship earth rather than aliens.

“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.” George Orwell

“Every generation laughs at the old fashions, but follows religiously the new.” Henry David Thoreau

“Rather than seeing different generations as square pegs in round holes let’s enlarge the hole.” Erik Johnson



Annoyances in Marriage, Pt. 3 (and a free book!)

Managing Marital Irritations.cover

Glynn Wolfe might win the prize for history’s most irritable husband. According to his daughter in law, Vikki Wolfe, Glynn left his wife because she ate sunflower seeds in bed. But wait, there’s more. Wolfe divorced another wife for using his toothbrush. But wait, there’s still more. Wolfe is famous for being a wife collector. All counted, he married and divorced a total of 29 wives. Click here for his bizarre story. I’m not sure who needed counseling more, him or his 29 wives!

If you’ve asked your partner to quit eating sunflower seeds in bed or using your toothbrush and they refuse you can do like Wolfe did and file for divorce.

Or, you can become more tolerant of your partner’s irritating mannerisms. If you can’t change your partner, change yourself. Here are some tips.

1. List the things your partner does that irritate you.

2. Ask them to list the things you do that irritate them.

3. Compare lists and negotiate. “I’ll put down the toilet seat if you stay within our budget.”

4. Don’t give your partner negative labels. If you’re convinced your partner is a “self absorbed, cheating, immature, lying, slob” you’ll look for evidence to back up the label…and of course you’ll find it.

5. Re-examine the stories you tell yourself about your partner’s bad habits. Our interpretations play a bigger role in our frustrations than our partner’s behaviors. “As a man or woman thinks, so are they.” Here are some common stories that deserve challenging.

  • “My partner irritates me on purpose.” This might not be true. They could be mindless, automatic behaviors. Don’t you ever do things without thinking? Give grace and the benefit of the doubt.
  • “I take this personally!” If we treat their actions as a sign they don’t care about us, isn’t prioritizing us, or doesn’t love us, we’ve turned a benign action (like how to load a dishwasher) into a moral issue.
  • “If you really loved me you’d stop driving me crazy with all your irritating habits.” To which your partner could answer, “If you really loved me you’d let me do what I do without nagging.”
  • “They should know what I like. I don’t need to tell them.” Maybe it never occurred to your partner that it bothers you. They aren’t mind readers.
  • “My partner is one big irritation.” Is that their only redeeming trait? Won’t you miss that irritating habit once they’re gone? If the marriage is that dysfunctional there are bigger problems than crumbs on the counter or leaving wet towels on the floor.
  • “They don’t respect me.” Maybe they do respect you but just don’t have the same passion for when dishes get washed, bills get paid, or floors get vacuumed. They could just as easily say you don’t respect their way of doing things.
  • “If they don’t load the dishwasher right I’ll leave!” That’s why divorce attorneys call marriage a three ring circus–engagement ring, wedding ring, and suffering.
  • “Reasoning hasn’t worked. Time to explode!” Two wrongs don’t make a right.
  • “I’ll fight fire with fire! If they don’t take out the trash, I won’t talk!” Welcome to the walled off marriage. Hard to be close to someone you punish with silence.
  • “Any request my partner makes is an attempt to control me.” Really? Where did you learn that? From a demanding parent, grandparent, or ex?
  • “Differences are not allowed in this relationship!” Um, oneness does not mean sameness.

Click here Managing Marital Irritations.1 for a free book, Managing Marital Irritations. (This book contains Bible references).

When Optimists and Pessimists Marry

glass half full

“The glass is half empty AND half full!”

Some people are genetically endowed with an optimistic bias. Either by training or temperament they:

  • Walk around feeling lucky, blessed, cheerful.
  • Don’t need to be told they are lucky. They already feel it.
  • Look on the bright side of everything.
  • Are resilient when things go awry.
  • Dodge depression, illness, and anxiety.
  • Live longer, take better care of their health, adapt to hardship more readily than pessimists.
  • Take greater risks in business, invention, and investments.
  • Think failure happens to others, not them.
  • Inspire morale in employees, loan officers, family, and friends.
  • Are persistent in the face of obstacles.

But not all is rosy in optimistic land. Optimists also tend to:

  • View the world more benign than it actually is.
  • View their attributes more favorably than they actually are.
  • Think goals are more achievable than they actually are.
  • Exaggerate their ability to forecast the future and predict outcomes.
  • Think they are being prudent and cautious when they are not.
  • Gamble more than most.
  • Throw good money after bad.
  • Confuse optimism with delusions.

Some famous optimists: Pollyanna “Let’s play the glad game,” Winnie the Pooh, “Oh joy, oh rapture” and Baloo, “Accentuate the positive.” Some famous pessimists: Eeyore and Puddleglum.

When optimists marry optimists both are happy. When pessimists marry pessimists both are happy.

But in a mixed marriage the pessimist says to the optimist, “You’re so unrealistic!”

And the optimist says to the pessimist, “You’re such a downer!”

Solution? Mutual influence. Optimists do well to let the realism of the pessimist temper their over confidence, and pessimists do well to let the hope of the optimists temper their doom and gloom.

When optimists and pessimists work together they see a half empty glass as full and a full glass as half empty.

Five Options for Marital Disagreements


What does a couple do if one spouse wants to vacation on the beach in the sunshine and the other wants to go skiing? Or if one wants sex and the other doesn’t  Or if one wants kids and the other doesn’t? Or if one wants to save for retirement and the other wants to spend like there’s no tomorrow? Or if one wants to be vegan and the other wants to eat cows, pigs, and chickens? These and a zillion other possible conflicting desires have disabled more than one couple.

Here are the five options for a couple grappling with marital disagreements.

FORCE. The biggest, strongest, and more persuasive spouse wins and the other loses. As obviously counter productive as this is, it’s surprising how often some couples use this option. The partner who, for example, says no to sex wins and thereby forces their partner to lose. The problem of course is that the loser can become bitter, resentful, and angry. The dilemma for the forceful spouse: they may win but their partner won’t like it. You can either win or be happily married, you often can’t have both.

SACRIFICE. In this case one spouse chooses to back down and lets the other win. This option works if it’s a “low stakes” issue and the accommodating partner really doesn’t care who wins. The problem of course is that some issues are “high stakes” issues and acquiescing isn’t really an option. It’s unwise to put up with abuse, addiction, affairs, or abandonment. But even if the issues are not so dramatic the partner who never has influence, never gets a voice or a choice, and never gets to “win” has a heavy cross to bear.

ACCEPT. Couples who choose this option agree to disagree. James Carville and Mary Matalin, an apparently happily married couple with polar opposite political views, have learned to accept each other’s differences and instead they focus on their shared values. Again, this isn’t optimal because in some cases it often means one spouse will not get their way. How does one “accept” mismatched sexual desires, different financial goals, or a stubborn intolerance in matters of faith, clutter, parenting, or personal habits?

WAIT. This option involves accepting some differences for a limited time only. That is, they hope and pray that either they or their partner eventually will back down, cave in, and sacrifice. If being happy together is a high priority this is often the best option. If you’re tempted to say, “If you really loved me you’d do things my way,” remember: they’re probably saying the same thing! One party doesn’t automatically get to win just because of gender, age, or income.

COMPROMISE. This is easy if the issue is vacations (“we take turns”), restaurants (“this week you pick, next week I pick”), or spending (“we each get an equal amount of mad money that fits our budget”), and so forth. But how do you compromise on sex? Kids? Retirement? You either have sex or you don’t, have kids or don’t, retire in Washington or southern California. Retiring in Oregon means both parties are unhappy! A compromise might mean one partner gives in on one issue and wins in another.

When competing desires threaten to implode a marriage it’s helpful to remember that at some point every couple experiences tensions like this. It doesn’t mean you’re bad; it means you’re breathing. It’s during stretching moments like these that our true character is shaped, our vows to love, honor, and cherish are put to the test, and we find out if we really prefer to be a “we” or an “I.” My advice: don’t let a tug ‘o war tempt you to quit. Do you think your next partner will never have competing desires? Instead, welcome this vexing problem as an opportunity to grow.

Differences in Marriage: Not A Bad Thing


“I know there are differences but I’m going to change him.”


With all the slogans promoting marriage oneness (“Be of one mind,” “Two shall become one flesh,” “How can two walk together unless they be agreed?”), it may come as a surprise to hear that differences in marriage can be a good thing. Look over the following statements and pick several to discuss with your mate. Get ready for some possible differences of opinion!

1. When “two become one” it means “one flesh” (sex, kids) not “one soul in two bodies.”

2. Jesus said marriage only lasts until death and that there is no marriage in heaven.

3. Technically, your partner is not your soul mate. You were complete even before you found your other half (a term I’m not especially fond of). You are a whole person whether married or single.

4. Allowing no difference in a marriage means either one forces the other to merge, or one voluntarily merges with the other. In both cases, the individual is lost.

5. When we die and go to heaven as individuals not as a couple.

6. There is a rhythm in marriage, get close and be separate. We need to be separate and connect; not get stuck in either extreme.

7. If one person loses them themselves to merge with the other, at some point they’re going to say, “Hey! When do I get a say in our decisions?”

8. If being in a relationship means you having to no longer be you, that defeats the purpose. If husband and wife are identical, one of you won’t be necessary.

9. Many marriage problems occur NOT because the couple is too separate but because they’re too close. There are no emotional boundaries. One person never gets to separate and miss the other person.

10. Couples that are emotionally fused (like a blue and yellow crayon melted into one green blob) never feel connected. There’s no place where they can emotionally touch each other since they’ve merged.

11. Boundaries not only separate two countries, they are also the place where two countries touch, like the US/Canada border. Emotional boundaries are where two people touch. But if you’re fused there’s no place to touch.

12. Individuals eager to eradicate differences between me and my partner never learn how to tolerate differences.

13. People who fear abandonment hate differences.

14. People who fear being engulfed hate fusion.

15. How we deal with differences is more important than what those differences are. If one partner wants differences and the other wants no differences, there’s a difference! And thus a conflict!

16. To some, differences sound like criticism or betrayal. “If you really loved me you’d agree with my ideas, tastes, and opinions.”

17. Some are so afraid of isolation that they refuse to talk about differences. Conflicts focus on the details of some issue rather than the more global and philosophical discussion of the existence (and importance) of differences. A good question to discuss, “How many differences can this marriage handle?”

18. Many a partner claim to be okay with differences…until their mate makes a decision contrary to the unspoken rule, “We must agree on everything.”

19. To remove differences we either say, “I’ll become like you and lose me,” or “You become like me and lose you.”

20. Fights usually aren’t about surface issues but the more subtle issue of whose view of differences will prevail.

21. Some differences in marriage shouldn’t be tolerated. If one thinks infidelity, drug abuse, addiction, or abuse are good and the other thinks they’re bad, that may be a difference too large to tolerate. What are the deal breakers in your relationship? Unconditional love and sacred marriage vows do not mean any misbehavior can be tolerated. Best to hash this out prior to marriage.

How Our Family of Origin Influences Marriage Satisfaction and Dissatisfaction


Subconscious needs in marriage can be as confusing as an optical illusion!

These ideas originated from Dr. Gary Brainerd in a Cross Country Education workshop entitled, Counseling for Couples: Understanding and Improving Love Relationships. © 2012 Gary Brainerd.

Rather than just blowing away the smoke of marital conflict, we want to put out the fire, the source of marital conflict. And one of the biggest sources of marital conflict is what we learned or didn’t learn, got or didn’t get, while growing up. Here’s how our early care givers continue to affect us today.

If, during the critical ages of fifteen months to three years, our primary care givers were overly smothering (hovering like helicopters, emotionally enmeshed, clingy and needy) we develop an extra strong need for independence, separation, autonomy, and we become ISOLATORS. If our primary care givers were negligent (absent, distant, or mean) we develop an extra strong need for closeness and we become PURSUERS. We bring those strong tendencies into adulthood and base our mate selection on a subconscious desire to maintain those levels of independence or closeness, to get what we didn’t get growing up, or to replicate the emotional life style (values, rules) we’re used to. Familiar and family come from the same root.

When ISOLATORS marry ISOLATORS they are both comfortable with lots of alone time.

When PURSUERS marry PURSUERS they are both comfortable with lots of together time.

This comfortableness is maintained as long as both ISOLATORS stay ISOLATORS or both PURSUERS stay PURSUERS. But guess what? People change!

Furthermore, when an ISOLATOR marries a PURSUER tensions erupt. The more the ISOLATOR feels smothered the more they need space and freedom. The ISOLATOR distances themselves from the PURSUER. That activates the PURSUER’S wound of feeling neglected so they pursue, cling, and chase even harder. The ISOLATOR feels smothered and the PURSUER feels abandoned. A vicious negative feedback loop is set up. Which of these partners is the evil one? Neither! It’s the result of family of origin patterns established early on.

Stages of Marriage

ROMANCE. When we find Mr. or Ms. Right, the pleasure centers of our brain light up like fire works! Infatuation, bliss, and the goose bumpy feeling of finding the perfect fit is a dream come true! We’re going to live happily ever after! Our endorphin saturated brain is on love drugs and we overlook our partner’s flaws, quirks, and mannerisms. We may even think those mannerisms are cute.

POWER STRUGGLE. Once those brain chemicals wear off we get irritated, impatient, and the differences between us and our spouse becomes a major problem. It turns out our partners have different values, rules, beliefs, and culture than ours. They can’t (or won’t) replicate our family of origin. Our expectations are dashed. Ninety percent of our marital hurt and sensitivity is due to history—these subconscious patterns, expectations, and unmet needs from childhood. We think we’re fighting about money, sex, kids, and hobbies when in fact we’re troubled by things we’re not even aware of. If our partner’s words, actions, and behaviors cause a strong, emotional, knee jerk reactions it’s probably one hundred percent due to history. When this happens it’s appropriate to say, “You touched my wound and caused my hurt but you didn’t cause the wound.” However, few of us say that. Instead, our partner becomes the culprit for touching an already bruised emotion. By the way, our spouse’s endorphins are wearing off, too, thus creating a perfect classroom in which to grow love. Your childhood strategies to deal with hurts trigger your partner’s defensiveness and their childhood strategies trigger yours. Welcome to the power struggle!

COMMITMENT. At this point each partner must decide if they’re willing to do the hard work of relating, meeting our partner’s needs for closeness/separateness, and responding calmly when our needs for closeness/separateness aren’t met. It’s not the power struggle that torpedoes marriages, it’s figuring out whose power will prevail. Most divorces happen when one partner refuses to make this commitment.

TRANSFORMATION. Here’s where the hard work comes in. Instead of trying to change our marriage or our partner we should let the marriage change us from blaming to responsibility, from hurt to healer, from perpetuating self limiting, subconscious habits to engaging in intelligent behaviors. Learning skills and specific processes assist in this transformation. Worksheets include My Unconscious Relationship Agenda, Conscious Dialogue Exercise, Finding Agreement, and Communicating Our Frustrations Without Demanding.

KNOWLEDGE/AWAKENING. In this stage we realize how many of our responses and reactions are automatic and habitual. And we awaken to the fact that our partner isn’t the enemy but a gift to help us grow and become better people. Meeting our partner’s needs requires us to grow, adapt, and learn new things.

REAL LOVE. This kind of love doesn’t depend on brain chemicals but on intelligent choices. Love occurs when our partner’s needs are equal to or even greater than our own needs. Love is a behavior, not a feeling.