Smart Marriages 2009

This year’s Smart Marriages Conference (www.smartmarriages.com) was in Orlando, Florida at the Shingle Creek Resort. To save on costs, we traded our Marriott timeshares for two weeks in Orlando as the timeshare dates and the conference dates didn’t quite lineup. This was my fourth conference and Suzie’s second one. The pre-conference institutes were one to three day events from July 6 – 8, the conference from July 7 – 11, and the post-conference institutes on July 12.

Our first event was a banquet with the first keynote of the conference, Dr. Gary Chapman (http://www.garychapman.org/). He wasn’t as funny as last year, but he had his moments. His latest book is The Five Languages of Apology. When he began the research for the book, he wasn’t looking for the number five, but it turned out that way. He is the author of the Five Love Languages series. The five languages of apology are (in no particular order): expressing regret, accepting responsibility, making restitution, genuinely repenting, and requesting forgiveness. If an apology is made that does not fit that person’s language of apology and if it a big transgression, then the apology will not be emotionally accepted, even if the person says it is.

We attended the pre-conference institute, one day, Fireproof Marriage Ministries (http://www.fireproofmymarriage.com/). We learned a lot about how a church in Georgia got into the movie making business and produced a box office hit called Fireproof, starring Kirk Cameron. His co-star was also an accomplished actress, but that’s where the professionalism ended. The script was written and directed by two brothers who are associate pastors at the church. The producers are the four clergy members of the church. a lot of the actors are parishioners. The Senior Pastor said, "We made this with retired people and stay-at-home moms." They received the Smart Marriages Impact Award at the luncheon that day. Their story was inspirational. Couples lives have changed after seeing the movie. Fireproof will likely come to Our Saviour in early 2010.

The opening plenary had the Smart Marriages director and founder Diane Sollee and Dr. Howard Markham of the University of Denver. Howard’s remarks was mainly a cheerleading session for getting couples educated about relationships, which was a shame, because he is one of the leading marriage researchers in the country. He did say that 60% of couples significantly improve their relationship with marriage education. That 9 – 20 sessions is best. Anything less than that or more than that has diminishing returns.

The next morning plenary had Howard Markham’s colleagues, Dr. Scott Stanley and Dr. Galena Rhodes both of the University of Denver talking about living with cohabitation. They gave all the reasons why cohabitation is a bad idea and there are many reasons. But they said that in the U.S., it is pervasive. And it is not going away. 20% of US children will live in a cohabitating household. Cohabiting lasts less than two years. There are significant gender differences in attitudes with cohabiting. Males tend to find it a convenience while women are likely to expect it to turn into marriage. 60 -70% of couples cohabit before marriage. They also noted that cohabitation makes it harder for couples to breakup due to inertia. I don’t have the space to explain the inertia effect on cohabitating couples. But their study can be found at www.tandf.co.uk/journals/wcrt.

The first workshop I attended was Michelle Weiner-Davis’ Divorce Busting (http://www.divorcebusting.com/). Michelle has been on TV many times, including Oprah. Her programs should be waiting for us when we get home. She believes in setting goals, being solution oriented, and helping couples discover the strengths they already possess. She says that couples go through predictable stages that she calls a marriage map. They are: 1) passion prevails, 2) what was I thinking, 3) everything would be great if you changed, 4) that’s just the way s/he is, and 5) together, at last.

The next plenary had Syble Solomon, MEd then Barbara Whitehead, PhD (http://www.moneyhabitudes.com/). Syble promoted her Money Habitudes program. It is comprised of a deck of special cards that helps couples identify their attitudes and preferences toward money. Barbara disappointed all of us with her announcement that she was retiring. Barbara is a leading marriage researcher at Rutgers University. She talked about money and thrift. She said that good stewardship is to hold what we have in trust for future generations.

The next workshop I took was Genograms by Rita DeMaria, PhD (http://www.marriagedoctor.com/). Many people have different ways of doing genograms, but I liked Rita’s methods of mapping family history. It is easy to use, but I found my genogram incomplete, because I know nothing about my great-grandparents. They, like my grandparents, were born in Europe, but there were no family stories about them. Perhaps they died too young for my parents to know them. Rita says a genogram promotes empathy of self and partner’s needs. There are five types of genograms. She uses the My Mother, My Father, Myself model. I am curious as to how to incorporate this into what I now do with couples, particularly with PREPARE/ENRICH. Especially after hearing Sue Johnson say that there is no such thing as an unconnected couple — a term used in PREPARE/ENRICH.

The next plenary was by Steven Beach, PhD, Frank Finchham, PhD, and Tera Hunt, PhD. They talked about prayer in marriage. They noted that 90% of Americans pray at least occasionally, 75% weekly. People who pray for their partner are more forgiving. Prayer increases gratitude, which leads to better mental health. So, prayer decreases infidelity. They also noted that prayer enhances marriage education programs. Papers are this subject can be found at www.fincham.info.

The Thursday banquet was keynoted by John Gray, PhD (http://home.marsvenus.com/). The ever controversial John Gray actually addressed his critics, in a way. For the first time in four years, I heard him acknowledge his critics as he would send them to the back of the line when he signs books. His topic this time was Mars and Venus in the Bedroom, which just happens to be the title of one of his many books. He did have a buy one get three books free deal for the conference. More books, no bookshelf room. John focuses on the differences between men and women and feels vindicated by current research that confirms his suppositions. There are different brain chemistry differences. Hormones work in men and women is differently. Most of what he said, he said last year. But he is very entertaining.

The next morning plenary was Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, PhD (http://www.estherperel.com/), and Couples Sexual Styles by Barry McCarthy, PhD (http://www1.american.edu/academic.depts/cas/psych/bm-info.html). Perel said that improved relationships do not translate to the bedroom. She talked about ways that couples can make themselves more drawn by their partner, which is mainly gender specific. She also talked about children being killers of desire. McCarthy said that desire is the core issue. He advocated making sex an integral part of working with couples. He then talked about couples’ primary sexual styles: complimentary, traditional, soul mate, and emotionally expressive. Details can be found in his book co-written with his wife, Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style. He suggested couples balance intimacy and eroticism.

Not by design, my next workshop was with Esther Perel, Rethinking Infidelity. She said, currently, we want our partner to be a trusted friend, a confidant, and a lover. Much of this used to be the function of the village. These are unrealistic expectations of our partners. Americans, alone in the world, believe happiness is a right. These forces create an atmosphere for infidelity. In the U.S., we tolerate divorce and not infidelity, whereas, it is the opposite in the rest of the world. She says that we put to much trust in trust. Trust is impossible to establish. Affairs are often triggered by loss. The erotic makes us feel alive. Affairs are always harmful. Most people in the west have two or three marriages in their lifetime and sometimes with the same person. In a post-modern world, monogamy needs to be negotiated rather than assumed. I think this is a key insight. When working with young premarital couples, this subject needs to be brought out in the open.

The next plenary had Dave Carder, PhD (http://www.tornasunder.org/) talking about Close Calls and Michelle Weiner-Davis (see above) talking about Infidelity Busting. Michelle said affairs don’t just happen despite what people may say. Healing takes time and is not a straight line. She also offered things that the betrayed spouse needs to do and what the philanderer needs to do. Sharing details, but not all the dirty details, is important. The philanderer must do whatever the betrayed spouse says that s/he needs the other to do. Every couple is different. Dave says that surprise affairs come from close calls. He listed 19 situations that can lead to a close call when something innocent can transform into an affair. Oftentimes, stress leads to an infatuation explosion, which leads to a close call.

Suzie’s morning workshop was Sherrod’s Squares with Dr. Sherrod Miller. She liked it so much that she joined me in the afternoon for THRIVE by Sherrod Miller, PhD (http://www.couplecommunication.com/). THRIVE is a reflectment tool that creates a THRIVE Sphere that matches each person’s responses to 67 inventory items grouped into seven sectors. Sherrod is very explicit that this is not an assessment. The scale is one to nine. The couple receives their individual results and their couple results. It is up to the couple to interpret their own responses. The counselor may make inferences, but each person owns her or his responses. The couples take the inventory online. Each counselor gets their own web page on the couple communication web site. It is a seven-plane mirror that reflects the whole person. It helps couples identify their own strengths and issues.

We skipped the next plenary to check-in to our second timeshare of the trip. But we had to wait for hurricane strength winds and rain. It looked just like the pictures we would see on TV during a hurricane. It was fruitless to leave until it settled down. We did leave after the wind was not so strong. Water came into the Shingle Springs building in several places. We returned in time for the California Healthy Marriages Coalition reception, which we used for dinner. This means we missed Pat Love, PhD and Steven Stosny, PhD talk about Marriage: An Inside Job.

In the evening, we heard Harville Hendrix, PhD and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD (http://gettingtheloveyouwant.com/) in their plenary about IMAGO Dialogue. Dialogue was demonstrated and we had the opportunity to practice dialogue. It was the first time Suzie experienced IMAGO dialogue. She liked it. Want to know more about a way to increase intimacy through dialogue? Couplehood As a Spiritual Path is coming to Our Saviour in October.

The next morning plenary was Sue Johnson, PhD (www.holdmetightcom) with Hold Me Tight II. She introduced her book of the same name last year in San Francisco. This year, she expanded her seminal work of applying Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT). EFT can move couples from despair into loving, bonding interactions 70% of the time. Based on Attachment Theory, EFT says that when we feel disconnection, we panic. If the partner reaches out then we respond by feeling at home and have increased love. This is Effective Dependency. Effective Dependency makes us stronger. To give forgiveness, we need to see the hurt in the the other. (More is posted below.)

The next workshop I attended was about recruitment by two people each from the the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative and the University of Central Florida. I don’t have any notes. They talked about recruiting marriage education program attendees from county welfare offices. That’s not anything we have done yet in El Dorado County, but it is intriguing. It also requires a staff of full time people and the El Dorado Healthy Marriages Coalition is a part-tine volunteer organization, currently.

The next plenary was with Blaine Fowers, PhD (http://www.education.miami.edu/facultystaff/CVs/30.pdf) talking about Shared Goals and Terry Hargrave, PhD (http://www.terryhargrave.com/) talking about Boomers on the Edge. Blaine talked about goal setting for individuals and couples. see more at www.lastinglove.com. The relationship is always more important than conflict. Conflict resolution is a shared goal. Terry painted a dire future for us baby boomers. Retirement is going to be an unattainable goal for most of us. Multi-generational households will multiply. The world is going to change profoundly and what we recently experienced in growth and wealth will likely never return. But he ended with a long poem from memory that was one of the most beautiful things I ever heard.

The next workshop was At the Movies by Tom Rinoski, MEd, CFLE. Tom uses movie clips in his classes to illustrate his points to his students. He provided examples and emphasized the importance setting up the clips before showing them. If used for educational purposes, movie clips are legal. I got a book of describing useful marriage related clips with narrative and setups. The law does state that the DVD clip must not be copied to a hard drive. So, DVDs must be swapped in and out. There are web sites that provide clips for a fee.

The next workshop Diane Sollee calls a seminar. These are open to the public for a nominal fee. I attended Are You Media Ready by Dave Currie, PhD. Dave has a marriage relationship show on PBS and is hoping to be picked up by a network for the next season. His show is called Marriage Uncensored. He provided advice on how to do interviews, how to be interviewed, and how we don’t know how to talk about relationships to young people. Most of what he talked about was applicable to TV, but he also mentioned radio and other media. I did pick up some tips for my radio show, Healthy Marriages and Families, on KFOK, 95.1 FM (www.kfok.org).

It was raining again. No strong winds this time, but about three inches fell with some of that water re-entering the Shingle Springs Resort. No wonder there was no space shuttle launch.

The last plenary of the conference was the Marriage Rally Teach In with Julie Baumgartner, MS, CFLE, Nisa Muhammad, and Marc Payan. Marc led off demonstrating web sites emphasizing social networking. This is how we are going reach couples. Nisa talked about her work in Washington, DC. Julie really didn’t have anything new since last year and it showed.

The highlight of the conference for me was the Sunday institute, Hold Me Tight – EFT with Dr. Sue Johnson (www.iceeft.com). Sue is the EFT guru in the world. I have seven pages of notes from the all day institute. I am not going to share all of that here. I found Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) to make a whole lot of sense. It is based on Attachment Theory. Attachment Theory states that our basic human and mammalian impulse is be with an other. When this attachment is threatened or even perceived, the amygdala part of the brain takes over, suspending the pre-frontal cortex (the rational part of the brain). We panic. We want and need a secure connection. The map of Attachment Theory is a landscape of love. This leads to EFT. Most feelings are about fear (a loss of attachment). Feelings have a reason. They are rational. When one partner panics, that person’s response to his/her partner creates withdrawal. Withdrawal creates greater panic, provoking a stronger response, causing more withdrawal. EFT helps couples see this cycle and how it is harming their relationship. There are specific therapeutic steps that an EFT therapist uses with couples that typically helps a couple solve their issues in 20 sessions. One thing Sue emphasized is, "The therapist is a process consultant." All of this makes way too much sense to me. If you are looking for a couple’s therapist, I would recommend an EFT therapist. Sue’s network of trainings and EFT therapists is growing. We have one in El Dorado Hills (though not certified yet). Sue also has created the Hold Me Tight marriage education course that we obtained and need to schedule.

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