Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Social Network

The Social Network, ultra-modern, cutting edge Revenge of the Nerds, made me think of Dolly Levi’s famous line in The Matchmaker (Hello Dolly for musical theatre buffs). … “And on those cold nights, Horace Vandergelder, you can snuggle up to your cash register.” This movie has so much to say about our culture and relationships, but for now I will focus on friendship.

The term “friend” has taken on a strange meaning. Facebook “friends” are not exactly friends, in the traditional sense of the word.

The Social Network leaves you pondering a lot of questions: What does one do when a close friend is going to be a drag professionally? When a loyal buddy has a different professional vision than you do? When the friend has less talent? Then what? Does the friendship have to go or are there other alternatives?

The characters from The Social Network (and in real life):

Eduardo Saverin was old-school, privileged, conservative, bottom lined possessed. He was “cool” in the Harvard sense--- he was in the Phoenix Club, after all.

Sean Parker was savvy, ultra-hip, paranoid and so eager to get what he wanted that he would have thrown his own grandmother under the bus, and smiled while he was doing it.

Mark Zukerberg was the brilliant, socially inept, driven talent behind the operation. But what was the driving force? Not money or success, per se, but subtle, twisted revenge against the “cool” people, the socially adept folks, the good-looking, big-man-on-campus types. The homecoming kings, the popular kids who were invited to join the important clubs. Yeah…. that was the fire behind Facebook.

In an ideal world, the talents of Saverin, Parker, and Zuckerberg would have been the perfect blend of brains, practicality, and savvy to give birth to and sustain the digital social networking giant. Unfortunately, it takes maturity to negotiate the relationship challenges that faced them. Instead of employing loyalty, emotional intelligence and teamwork, they expelled the unsuspecting Saverin.

Relationships that endure over decades are a great gift that we can only give ourselves by small, day-to-day behaviors that enable them to grow and develop. The idea that such relationships are of great value would not enter the minds of most 20-somethings, including our Facebook trio. Many are cavalier about friends, thinking that like a subway, another one will be coming along any moment, so why bother?

Young people like Saverin, Parker, and Zuckerberg are brilliant, but wisdom takes time to grow. The wise know that relationships are worth fighting for.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

FREE Talk on Relational Mindfulness: The Heart and Soul of Your New Life by Terry Real, LCSW

Bring your friends and family to hear this inspiring FREE talk about relationships.

Relational Mindfulness:

The Heart & Soul of Your New Life

Expert: Terry Real, LCSW
Rare opportunity to listen to and speak with renowned Couples Therapist who is transforming marriages and relationships across the country, ABC’s Good Morning America Relationship Expert, Terry Real.

Terrence Real, the best-selling author of I Don't Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, and the straight talking, How Can I Get Through To You?,, and his latest book, The New Rules Of Marriage. A family therapist and teacher for over twenty years, he will speak about new breakthroughs in successful relationships.

Terry's work, with its rigorous commonsense approach, speaks to both men and women. His ideas on men's issues and couples therapy have been celebrated in venues from the Today Show, 20/20, to Oprah and The New York Times.

Where: St John Fisher Church 5448 Crest Road, Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275

When: Friday night, November 5, 2010 Time: 7:00-8:30 PM

R.S.V.P./Questions Call Dr. Bonnie Kennan (310) 265-6644

Email: DrBonnieKennan@gmail.com

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Linsdsay & Paris, Just Say No?

Lindsay Lohan is back to jail, back to rehab, back to square one. I imagine that having one’s sobriety as a focus of national concern would complicate the already complex problem of kicking substances. Especially at age 24. I hope the best for Miss Lohan (and Paris Hilton, for that matter) and believe that the best for both of these ladies will include abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I don’t know how they will get there, that is not my job. Recovery is a deeply personal process and there are many paths to sobriety. These highly public figures who struggle serve the function of bringing these issues into the public conversation. We all have an opinion….

I look at most issues through the lens of relationship. Addiction is no exception. For the moment, I will leave the genetic aspects of alcoholism/addiction aside and focus instead on the relational ones.

Addiction is a disease of isolation from self and others. It also relates to having a problem regulating emotions. People turn to drugs and alcohol because experiences with others have proven to be unreliable, disappointing, and unpredictable. The drugs and booze are at least predictable. Furthermore, addicts/alcoholics don’t really trust themselves to handle life without the substance. They are alienated from themselves.

A big part of recovery is learning how to relate to people effectively, how to find balance between negotiating healthy intimacy and being reasonably autonomous. Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Moderation is so delicate, isn’t it?

So why is it so hard? Not to beat up on Lindsay and Paris again, but girls, enough already! Aren’t you sufficiently motivated? Aren’t the consequences of your actions evidence that you have a problem? Just do it…. It is so easy to lose patience with the addicts in our lives.

Building a meaningful recovery means coming to terms with very unruly parts of the self. It is a sobering process. No pun intended.

Giving up the drugs and booze means giving up one’s self-centeredness and becoming willing to turn to other people and humbly ask for help. It means risking rejection. It means being disappointed when people are just human, when they have their own needs. Recovery means feeling vulnerable. It means longing and needing and wanting. It means giving up grandiosity and the belief that one is above the rules. It means getting honest. And it means learning how to rely on others in healthy ways. It means building healthy, nourishing, wholesome relationships.

I have a little cartoon that has a doctor talking to his patient saying “take two friends and call me in the morning.” Cute, yes, but profound. Our interpersonal relationships give our lives meaning and purpose. They help us to regulate our emotions. They heal us. And yes, effective relationships are part of recovery. Whatever your drug of choice.

There is a reason for optimism, however. Recovery is hip. Some of the hottest spots in town are AA meetings. “Cool” people are hanging out there. If you think it’s embarrassing to go to a 12-step meeting, remember the old joke about the whorehouse. Everyone is there for the same reason.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Jet Blue Flight Attendant's Big Moment vs. Boundaries and Moderation?

The Jet Blue Flight Attendant and His Fifteen Minutes of Fame

We all love big moments where the underdog tells the perpetrator off, and tells them off in a big way. In the movie Network, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” or when an exhausted and disgusted Rhett Butler tells Scarlett O’Hara “Frankly, my darling, I don’t give a damn.” And yes, when Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant went postal, and told the rude customer (and entire plane) off once and for all. He then grabbed some beer, inflated the inflatable slide (those things really inflate?) and made his dramatic exit. Now, he will likely lose his profession and have some pretty significant legal problems, but he has become something of a hero to the average American.

Okay, I understand the wish for the big moment. But, there might be a more moderate way to express oneself and get ones needs met. My guess is that Mr. Slater enjoyed his work as a flight attendant and just wanted to be respected and appreciated for his hard work. When he was faced with entitlement, hostility, and aggression from an unappreciative passenger, it was the last straw.

We all have close intimate relationships where the principle of moderation is necessary and appropriate. (I’ll write about that later). It also applies to workplace relationships with colleagues or the public. Face it; we are all in some kind of service industry. We are all selling something. Therefore, we have to negotiate those little relationship dilemmas of everyday life, including a minor but hostile attack with a suitcase from a tired and irritable passenger. In Slater’s case, a customer, who, paid his salary.

I use the metaphor of a pressure cooker. Life is intense, the pressure is always building. We need to have that little escape valve, so the pressure is being released in a slow and steady way. And when the pressure gets stuck, the pot blows up. (I am remembering an ugly image of peaches splashed all over the walls when the pressure release valve got stuck).

To navigate the ups and downs of the daily pressure cooker, I recommend approaching relationships as a practice, something you do a little at a time, one day at a time, and one moment at a time. Part of relationship practice is working your boundaries. Boundaries enable us to be safe in relationships. We have a protective boundary, which is like an imaginary shield. If an unwarranted insult comes our way, we have this boundary in place, and the insult just bounces off. We give it no power. We also need a containing boundary. This is something like a wetsuit that holds in the emotions until we can process them and let them pass. The containing boundary keeps us from being offensive.

To function effectively in relationships, we all need protective and containing boundaries. They help us to live moderately. Mr. Slater seems to have had a broken pressure release valve. Now he has the media spotlight, but he also has a big nasty mess of blown up peaches that will surely outlast his fifteen minutes of fame. Moderate relational living with healthy, clear protective and containing boundaries will not likely get you national media attention, like Mr. Slater got. But face it, how many of the “big moments” where we tell them off, get us the attention we really want? They usually leave us alone, lonely, and sometimes unemployed.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What Can We Learn About Choosing from The Bachelor/Bachelorette?

What are we going to do about The Bachelor/Bachelorette?

Here we go again. We have a beautiful new couple that is the result of the ABC TV series, The Bachelorette. The country is on pins and needles. Will they last longer than six months or will we soon be hearing horror stories of post-limelight breakup? Idealized fantasies of love and romance die hard. I suppose that is why so many millions tune in and can immediately put faces to the names “Ali and Roberto” … or “Trista and Ryan” or “Vienna and Jake.”

The Bachelor shows are an idealized version of the dating and mating dilemma. Dating is a necessary step in the formation of couples and eventually families, so why not do it on national TV if one gets a chance? I only wish the contestants were required to read John Van Epp’s How To Avoid Falling In Love With a Jerk prior to taping. Clearly they don’t, though, because most of the relationship lessons found in the Bachelor shows are about what not to do.

For example, our most recent blissful couple: Jake, the Dudley-do-right airline pilot from Texas. He was our hero, the last of a dying breed of good guys. Jake, old boy, I thought we could count on you to choose a woman who was ready to be cherished. What happened? He chose the woman who gets my vote as “the hottie least ready to take home to your mother” that the show has ever produced, Vienna. Now, how did the discerning viewer predict the short-lived nature of this romance? Among many conspicuous concerns, Vienna was hated by all of the female contestants with whom she shared the house. She even seemed to enjoy being hated and cared only about winning. This leads to the first rule for ordinary, non-TV couples: Crowds have wisdom. If everyone in your circle hates the person you are dating, chances are good they see something to which hormones are blinding you.

A second glaring issue presented in living color by Vienna: she had no girlfriends in the house. If you are with a person who has no same sex friends, he/she will probably have a very narrow way of dealing with stress when it hits. Strong friendships outside of your marriage ultimately protect your relationship from unnecessary pressures.

I’m sure that we will get back to The Bachelor/Bachelorette later. It is my favorite reality train wreck, and I simply can’t help watching. For now, the message is this: when you are choosing a partner, do so carefully. I usually see couples when they are disillusioned with marriage. A great deal of pain could be avoided by paying more attention up front.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Mel Gibson Got it Right . . . 28 Years Ago

Oh, Mel, what’s happened to you?

Of course I’m referring to Mel Gibson. The same Mel Gibson with magnificent blue eyes and the face of a romance novel hero who used to leave women swooning at his feet. The same Mel Gibson who raised seven children with a wife he’d adored for 20-plus years. The same Mel Gibson who won sexiest man of the year and went to mass every Sunday.

This Mel Gibson now screams at us from the television, in scratchy recordings. He rages at the mother of his child, gasping tortured gulps of air in a vain attempt at calming down. He rants in a frightening voice, the decibel level that is terrifying even to hear as a curious listener. He uses so much profanity that a mechanical bleep obscures every other word.

It is disturbing, of course, to hear anybody scream at his partner with such venom, to say such ugly things to her, to be so terribly out of control. Mel was already Enemy No. 1 after his anti-Semitic, drunken rant from 2006. These tapes don’t help him. Now he’s the most hated man in America.


I can’t possibly defend Mel Gibson. Who could? But … yes, there is a but. As a therapist, I am more intrigued by his wife, Robin – the woman to whom he was married for 28 years, the woman who defends him and says she never saw any bad behavior from him all those years they were married. It takes courage to stand up and defend a soon-to-be ex-husband in his darkest hour.

Whatever troubles became the Gibsons’ undoing, there appears to have been a solid partnership for 28+ years. Mel seems to have chosen wisely when he was selecting a life partner. One of Mel’s wiser life decisions was choosing to marry Robin, I suspect.

I see couples and often wonder how in the world they chose each other. What made these two people think this pairing was a good idea? The choice of a marital partner is one of the most critical ones a person makes. This simple choice sets many aspects of life into motion. What traits do you look for when you are deciding whom to marry?

Psychologist Robert Sternberg suggests that when passion, intimacy, and commitment are all sustained at high levels, the ideal pattern---consummate love----is the result. Understanding your relationship in terms of passion, intimacy, and commitment can help you know which areas are strong and which ones need work.

For example, if you have high passion, but little intimacy or commitment, you have infatuation. While this is exciting, it doesn’t last. Or when a love is based on commitment, such as in an arranged marriage, the result is empty love. It lacks the passion of sexual desire, and the intimacy of knowing each other well. And, a marriage that is based on deep affection and commitment, but lacks passion, is a companionate love.

If you are trying to make a decision about a partner, or to improve a partnership you are already in, look at your passion, intimacy, and commitment. Is one area lower than the others? Think about how you can make improvements in the weakest area. An infatuation, companionate love, or empty love could develop into a consummate love, with the right two people making effort.

Back to Mel and Robin: I don’t know if it is too late for them. But from this outside perspective, my guess is that at one time they had high levels of passion, intimacy and commitment. Twenty-eight years of marriage is nothing to sneeze at. Don’t stone me because I am saying something nice about Mel. I don't know what's up with him right now; but 28 years ago, he did something right.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Who Needs Another Blog?

So, what’s a self-respecting therapist doing writing a blog? Aren’t therapists supposed to be serious people who analyze the deep, dark souls of their clients and dazzle those same clients with insight?

Well, not exactly.

I’ve decided to blog because of what I see in the world around me. I work mostly with couples. I watch them struggle to discover how to get along, fight fair, face tough problems. I also live outside my office and see dozens of examples of relationships in pop culture. Some examples stun me with their grace. Barack and Michele Obama appear to walk the tightrope of the white house and still smile at each other across the room of a state dinner. Other examples are less stellar. The nightly news screams out about the infidelity of the week – yet another famous politician or celebrity who’s admitted to an affair. The paparazzi “catch” a starlet in a compromising position. A 40-year marriage dissolves because the couple “grew apart.”

Pop culture is full of examples of relationship dilemmas just like yours and mine. Whether it's reality TV, movies, books, or celebrity gossip, people's lives overflow with relationship lessons. We can learn from them – what to do and what not to do. Maybe we'll even find a lesson in The Bachelorette?

That’s why I’m writing a blog - to explore the wide, wonderful mud puddle we live in and see what’s out there.