Listen, Learn, and Love - 3 Keys to Harmony

Dr. Joan's Advice

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Dr. Joan's Advice

Date: 04/08/2014

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Conflict in Relationships Creates Inner Tension

Dear Ev:

I’ve changed your circumstances to protect your anonymity, as I always do, but you will recognize my answer as being zeroed in on your frustrating situation with your co-worker. I will call her Debbie. You told Debbie your problems in confidence and she revealed everything to another co-worker. You found out because the second person offered to help you and you were shocked to realize she knew about your personal situation. You wanted to keep your problems quiet at work because they could affect your employment. You TRUSTED Debbie and she broke your confidence. When you confronted Debbie, she argued with you, saying she just wanted to get help for you and that is why she told the other co-worker.

You and Debbie are not speaking. You are in conflict. This conflict at work, along with your personal problems at home, has ramped up your inner tension. It is imperative you take immediate steps to reduce your stress. You can take these steps, independently from Debbie. Forget Debbie for now and focus on releasing your inner tension. Here are my four suggestions:

STEP ONE: Relax your shoulders and take a deep breath. Do it again. Say to yourself: “I release all animosity and frustration NOW.”

STEP TWO: Quit blaming others for your situation. Don’t even blame Debbie. YOU are in charge. YOU are taking steps now to change your circumstances. Say to yourself, “I am in control of my life.”

STEP THREE: Recognize your strengths. Physically make a list your strengths and praise yourself OUTLOUD for each strength. Say to yourself, “I can depend on my strengths.”

STEP FOUR: Write down one change you will make today. It could be as simple as making your voice softer the next time you speak to someone. Say to yourself, “I will change this one thing today.”

My thoughts are with you, Ev. This is your day! Make the most of it.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Tension is like a wound-up snake. Release it before it strikes.

Date: 03/25/2014

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Secret Addictions Cause Confusion in Relationships

Dear One and All:

Here at Harmony Keys, we have responded to two different types of addiction issues and how they affect relationships. One problem was about how to keep your word to your partner when you promise to kick a habit. Another problem was about how to relate to an addicted family member who argues a lot.

Now I want to address the problem of secret or closet addictions in relationships.

Most of us have some type of addiction/dependency that we keep secret to ourselves. For me, I try to hide the fact that I eat sugary snacks when I know they are harmful to me. I am aware that food and drinks containing processed fructose can be debilitating to my body, but I sneak the snacks when I am alone, all the while remembering that my adult children have counseled me against such behavior. I won’t go into detail about problem sugars, but you can check out a clear resource here:

What about you? What is your hidden addiction? Is it alcohol? Do you hide your bottle in the car? OR are you caught up in prescribed painkillers which you no longer need for the original symptoms? Are you succumbing to sneaky or illegal ways to get your painkillers and trying to hide your activities? OR is your secret addiction to tobacco? Do you smoke at work and clean your breath before you go home?

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Our secret addictions are NOT really secret at all. Most likely, our families, friends, and co-workers all know about our covert activities. When we try to hide our addictions, what we are doing is creating confusion in our relationships. We are hiding behind a foggy screen of half-truths, untruths, and downright deceit. In my case, my adult children know what I do about sugar when I’m alone, and it is clear to me they’re frustrated with my behavior. In my heart, I know their motivation is that they’re concerned about my over all wellness.

So here’s the HOT question: What action can you and I take regarding our closet addictions that will help clear the air in our relationships? I don’t know about you, but my immediate plan is to come clean and talk openly with my family, clear the air, so to speak, and seek their guidance, once again, in withdrawing from undesirable forms of sugar. And you? What is your plan? Please write to me and let me know what actions you’re taking about your closet addictions and your relationships.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Discover your own strength.

Date: 02/28/2014

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Absorbing the Pain of Grief

Dear Drowning in Grief:

Oh, dear one, my heart is with you. The sudden loss of your fine husband has wrenched your normal equilibrium. You say you feel as though you’re in a roiling whirlpool and can’t swim out to dry land.

Here are three basic thoughts which might help. Please try them.

THOUGHT ONE: I AM ALLOWED TO FEEL THE PAIN. During the many years you and your husband shared a life, you reared children, kept a home, made friends, worked, wept, and loved. Now, without warning, with no inkling that he would leave you, he is physically gone. You are in pain: waves, swirls, and torrents of it. Acknowledge your struggles as legitimate emotions, embrace them, and slowly absorb them. You must feel the pain in order to gradually adjust to the radical change in your circumstances.

THOUGHT TWO: I CAN MAKE DECISIONS. One of the most difficult tasks for the bereaved is making choices about what to do next. Just know that you are capable within yourself of making any decision you need to make. Prove it to yourself. Be aware each time you make a choice, even as seemingly simple as choosing to take a walk. Praise yourself for each decision. Of course, you may seek advice for large decisions like moving to another location or changing your financial strategy. But remember, you are capable within yourself to evaluate all choices.

THOUGHT THREE: I AM NEEDED BY OTHERS. You gave your love to your partner of many years and suddenly he’s gone. Now what do you do with the love you gave him? Look around. There are others who need your friendship and caring. If you have no immediate family, search your friends and see who could use some attention and perhaps your help. If you need to widen your circle, go to the nearest daycare or school and volunteer. Children always need a friend and they give so much in return. You are needed.

Dear friend, please look at the resource written by Susan Wheeler-Roy, EdD, and Bernard A. Amyot, MS, MA, published by the NY State Office of Mental Health. You’ll be glad you did.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: My heavy heart weeps that you are gone from my arms. My yearning heart remembers our sharing. My grateful heart gives thanks for having loved you.

Date: 02/11/2014

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Addiction and Relationships

Dear Scared Sister:

You say you need help understanding your relationship with your addicted sister. You ask if you are supposed to keep reaching out to her OR if you should stay out of the way because the two of you always end up in an argument.

Your dilemma rests on two major topics: Addiction and Relationships. We can’t get into depth here, but we can give you some basic pointers that might help you pursue more complete answers.

Let’s start with addiction. I’m no expert, but I have read that humans become addicted, let’s say to drugs, alcohol, or things like chocolate, because they feel a strong push or pull to satisfy the part of the brain that demands immediate gratification. Your sister’s brain may be yelling at her to seek instant gratification and she chooses street drugs to satisfy that push/pull in her brain. Your brain may be wired differently than hers and you don’t have that same need, or you may have higher resistance to it. Please study this idea and see if the information you discover helps you to understand your sister a bit better.

Now on to your relationship with your sister. I can’t observe the two of you in action together, but I can predict that your sister needs to know that you value her and love her. When she argues with you, whatever the topic, always verbalize ... tell her ... that you value her sistership and you love her. Tell her these things quietly, softly, and repeatedly. Therefore, in answer to your question about whether to keep interacting with your sister, I give you a loud YES. She needs to know she is valued and loved.

Finally, keep looking for little opportunities to introduce your sister to OTHER ways for satisfying her brain’s push/pull for instant gratification. There ARE other ways, such as: take a brisk walk in a beautiful forest, see a movie, listen to a favorite piece of music, learn to play guitar and get it out every time the push/pull strikes, go for a swim, visit a children’s hospital and take training to be a volunteer, call a friend and ask how her day is going. You might want to suggest to your sister that you would love to take up guitar with her, or join her in any alternative activity she selects.

Good luck, my dear, to you and your sister. And remember, the healing process, for anything, takes time.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Patience has rich rewards.

Date: 01/15/2014

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Boyfriend Labels Her as Childish

Dear Stunned:

Just because you go home for family gatherings doesn’t mean you are childish. To the contrary, your close contact with family shows you are loving and considerate. Keep right on doing what you normally do in terms of family visits. Sounds as though you reap great emotional reward.

At least you know exactly what your boyfriend is thinking. If he says you are childish because you are close to your family, one has to wonder about his relationship to his own family. Does he visit his parents and siblings? Does he call them? Does he exchange any type of communication with them?

Chances are Boyfriend is jealous of the warm family harmony you enjoy with your parents, sisters, and brother. Or it could be he is fretting over something else, perhaps in his professional life, and he doesn’t like losing your closeness to him when you leave to visit your family. In either case, he may need to improve his circle of loved ones who provide emotional support. Finally, it seems that Boyfriend needs to increase his ability to give positive emotional support and understanding to others, including to you.

Whatever the reason for his criticism of you, here are my suggestions:

If you wish to continue your relationship with Boyfriend it is imperative you find out about his contact level with his family. Depending on what you discover, and if it seems safe and reasonable, try to gently move him toward increased contact with his parents and other family members. You must meet them yourself and get to know them. Also, arrange for him to meet your family. Let him feel the delight of a warm family embrace.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Hug your loved ones with all your might.

Date: 01/04/2014

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Take a NEW STEP in Your Life

Dear Wedding Bells:

Good wishes are coming your way for your new marriage. You took the plunge. You stepped out of your comfort zone and married a man who is younger than you.

Some people would call your decision “risky.” Well, the reality of life is that we have to take risks to move ahead, to change things up, to step out of our box, to quicken the movement of life, to step over the threshold of boredom and into a more fulfilling existence.

Others might say you made a mistake. In fact, you indicated your adult children from your first marriage warned that you were making a “mistake” to marry your young fiancé. Again I proclaim: Mistakes are part of life. Even if we never take any new, bold steps we will still make mistakes because we are human. Mistakes happen. And if you find in the future that you made a mistake marrying this young man, then you can take other steps and make different choices.

Meanwhile, here are my three simple suggestions for your recent marriage:

Tip 1: Immediately start to practice the art of listening. Set aside 15 minutes each day to TAKE TURNS talking/listening to each other.

Tip 2: Learn all you can about each other in all facets of your lives. Some of what you learn will come from talking/listening; some will come from observing.

Tip 3: Love each other with all your hearts. Speak and show your love.

These three suggestions are not meant to exclude your adult children. You will always listen to them, learn about them, and love them too, but your new husband will be your main focus.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Have faith that each NEW step is a NEW beginning.

Date: 12/25/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Husband's Moods Disrupt Family Harmony

Dear Moody Man:

Right off the bat, stop calling yourself names. If you call yourself “Moody Man” you are reinforcing negative feelings and perhaps making yourself more sad, more mad, more distant from your family. What we tell ourselves resounds throughout our minds and bodies. So, here are four simple ideas to say to yourself which may lift your spirits and help improve the harmonious atmosphere within your family unit:

Idea 1: I PROVIDE for my family’s physical needs, to the best of my ability, with shelter, food, education, and protection. These are specific ways I provide:

Idea 2: I am a NURTURING husband and father. I nurture family members in demonstrable ways by spending time together, by talking about events, plans, and dreams, by solving problems together, by having fun together, etc. These are the specific ways I nurture:

Idea 3: I LISTEN TO and LEARN MORE about each member of my family in specific, notable ways. These are the ways I listen and learn:

Idea 4: I LOVE my family and my family loves me. I SPEAK OF MY LOVE in some way each day, at least to some of my family members, if not all of them. These are the things I say about my love:

Memorize these ideas. Say them on your way to work. Say them each night as you go to sleep. In your journal, dedicate a section for each idea and make daily notes about how you put each idea to work for you and your family.

You can expect that as you learn and practice these behaviors, they will become habitual. You, in turn, may notice a difference in how you feel about yourself and how you react to members of your family. You may hear a new harmony in your family which will be music to your ears.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: If your moods are rocking the boat, change your sail.

Date: 12/21/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Keep the Spark in Your Marriage

Dear Gracie:

You and your husband have been together 38 years and the spark has gone out of your marriage. I’m assuming you and he might be in your late 50s or early 60s. When we age, we are essentially “growing” just as we did in our youth. We grew up as kids and we are still growing as adults. David Schnarch is the author of the classic book “Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships” On his website he writes “Marriage is a natural people-growing process ... Emotionally committed relationships become contentious because these growth processes surface ...” I would rephrase slightly and say that the atmosphere in our marriages and partnerships can become strained because each partner is growing and changing, but the growth rates may not coincide between partners. Your husband may be changing faster or slower than you are.

You indicate that you have become “snarky” with each other. When you tell him that his remarks hurt you, he says he’s trying to be funny and wonders why you can’t take a joke any more. On your side, you admit you are easily annoyed, more irritable, and often in a nagging mood.

Overtime, in long term relationships, the tendency to develop careless conversation is huge. We may let remarks slip out that seem testy. There are ways to cut the criticism and ignite the spark in your marriage once again. Let’s begin with you. Here are three check points you can try with yourself:

Check Point 1: Speak with respect. Chose your words carefully before you speak.
Check Point 2: Compliment your husband at least once a day. Tell him what pleases you about him.
Check Point 3: In your husband’s presence, make five positive comments about anything at all, or let him see you taking five positive actions each day.

In Check Point 3, the number “five” is important. Author John Gottman wrote the book “Why Marriages Fail” and in his research he found that the more often partners are critical or negative, the higher the possibility their marriage will fail. Gottman was very specific in recommending that for every negative remark or action, there should be five positive remarks or actions.

So Gracie, try the Check Points and let me know what happens. You may be very happy to find out your husband is pleasantly caught up in your new behaviors and he reduces or erases his “snarky” remarks as a result. The spark in your marriage may light up the sky!

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Positive words and actions are like sparks that start the fire of love.

Date: 12/06/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Being DIFFERENT Isn't Funny

Dear Miffed:

You say that your daughter wishes to withdraw from school. She feels insulted by two upper-grade students. A recent school event caused the two to make fun of a type of Asian eye structure. They directed their comments to your daughter who is one of the few Asian Americans in her school.

As I understand it, her middle school sponsored a spirit rally. Students were instructed to dress and act like members of ancient Asian tribes. The purpose was to increase appreciation of the accomplishments of early Asian peoples and the immense value of their contributions to world cultural development. Dressing as explorers, pioneers, emperors, scientists, farmers, weavers, and traders, students also wore makeup to change their facial appearances. The two older students poked fun at your daughter’s eye structure, laughing, and saying they could take their “slant eye” makeup off and she could not.

Instead of allowing your daughter to withdraw from school, which teaches her to flee from controversy, why not teach her to confront those who have offended her? Your additional job will be to talk to school authorities and suggest ways children can be taught tolerance and avoid stereotypic thinking.

Here are some TOOLS to try:

SMILE TOOL: Teach your daughter to smile at people who make ignorant comparisons.

STARE TOOL: Teach her to look directly into the eyes of the other persons.

WORD TOOL: Using statements, you and your daughter could practice what to say in situations like the one she experienced. Here are examples, but you will want to make up your own:
“I like my eyes.”
“You must like my eyes if you drew them on your own face.”
“I was born with these eyes.”
“I didn’t choose them, but I love them.”
“My eyes work just like yours.”
“I’m lucky to have eyes that work, and so are you.”
“Eyes are portals to the brain.”

WALK-AWAY TOOL: Teach her to turn and walk away.

Finally, make an appointment with your daughter’s homeroom teacher. Discuss the situation. Ask the teacher to go with you to meet with the principal or other school authority. Give positive, concrete suggestions for teaching tolerance and building healthy relationships among students. For example: form a student committee to organize school-wide unity activities. For helpful ideas visit Finally, if your schedule allows, offer to assist with school tolerance projects.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Poking fun is never funny.

Date: 11/25/2013

By: Dr. Joan

Subject: Turn Disappointment into Thankfulness to Strengthen Bond with Children

Dear Disappointed:

Yes, I agree, it is disappointing when you find your child has deceived you. And the actions you took sound appropriate. Here’s the question: what next?

My opinion may sound too simple, but I’ll risk sharing it anyway, in the form of TWO STEPS:

1. LET GO OF DISAPPOINTMENT. What happened is over. Release it. When we continue to dwell on the past, we waste time because we can’t change it. We only have power over the present moment.

2. GIVE THANKS FOR YOUR CHILD TODAY, RIGHT NOW. This is your child who is growing daily and observing everything YOU DO. Let your child HEAR YOU giving thanks for her life, her smile, her intelligence, her beauty, her kindness, her faithfulness, her loyalty, her love. Put your hands on her shoulders, look into her eyes, and tell her you trust her judgment. Tell her you love her. Hug her, strongly. Do this often and strengthen your bond with your child.

That’s all, dear friend. I wish you good speed in turning your disappointment into thankfulness.

Dr. Joan’s Harmony Key: Let your tears disappear into the CAVE OF DISAPPOINTMENT; then move to the fresh WELL OF THANKFULNESS and drink from it.

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