The Cosmic Clash of Jesus’ death

We know what it’s like to wait for something to happen, to feel that that familiar internal pressure and energy of a pending experience. This was the emotional atmosphere that developed around Jesus as he journeyed from Galilee toward Jerusalem for the annual Passover holiday. He had warned his disciples it would mean a deadly confrontation, and it’s these events the Christian church around the world remembers each Holy Week.

Passover celebrates the day, centuries before, when Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt by the miraculous intervention of God. It was a religious as well as political holiday that for many Jews held powerful connotations for their present day: would God ever help them rise up to cast the Romans off their backs? Provided by Rome with social and political stability but at enormous human cost, Jews were heavily taxed, forcing many into poverty. Would God one day raise up a new King, who would defeat the massive empire, just as young king David once felled Goliath?

Tensions in the city were high. The entire region was part of the Empire, and locally controlled by a governor named Pilate. Rome allowed local religious authorities some measure of influence and control, and in this city, that was the Jewish council who oversaw religious life. The strained version of peaceful power maintained in the city was easily threatened by upstart charismatic leaders like Jesus.

Jesus chose to enter the city on the back of a colt, in stark contrast to the warhorses and chariots of Roman armies. As he approached, people tore palm branches and laid them down as carpet, shouting welcome and Hosanna (Please save us!) as he rode. During the next few days, he went to the Temple and overturned the money changers in the courtyard who cheated the religious pilgrims. He taught his followers in public. He met with his core disciples for the Passover meal and asked them to remember him later with bread and wine. As the pressure built, he laid awake in prayer through the night, begging God for a different path. And then one of his central followers betrayed him to the Jewish leaders for a bag of silver.

That betrayal then cascaded to a confused arrest, beating, and questioning by Pilate, who by then anticipated rioting. Placing the beaten and silent Jesus before the mass of pilgrims gathered outside his palace, the crowds cheered for his crucifixion. That Friday before the Sabbath, he was executed by Rome, nailed to a cross through his wrists and ankles. There he rapidly bled, suffocated, and died, a warning to the nation to fear the power of empires, religious and political. His remaining friends took his body and buried him in a borrowed tomb. It seemed such a violent and senseless defeat.

For centuries since, people have pondered why Jesus was killed. The one who healed so many: couldn’t he have saved himself? With his followers present, and all the political resistance to Rome, why did he not call for a revolt, or at least shout his innocence? If he was the Messiah, why did God not intervene somehow? What was the point of his life if it led just to this?

Quite early in the Christian proclamation, his death was understood as a human sacrifice in the same way that animal sacrifices were made at the temple for generations. Trying to make sense of this loss, early confessions of the church declared that Jesus was a substitution for human sin, to satisfy God’s demand for our righteousness. You can read this confession in various parts of our New Testament and preached vigorously everywhere today.

But Jesus did not remain dead. Something so impossible happened that his disciples were completely changed and declared that this dead one was now alive again. Incredible! What in the world just happened? They called a resurrection, and that experience changed history.

What if a better way to understand this mystery is to proclaim instead that Jesus’ death and resurrection was a cosmic clash between human power and God’s kingdom? Between the brutal will to own and dominate verses the eternal, expansive power that love creates? This is how I have come to believe what is celebrated in both the cross and empty tomb. That in this failure to grasp his own power, Jesus chose to surrender himself to God’s kingdom. He allowed human power to destroy him, and God’s mysterious power to resurrect him.

This is the Christian proclamation of Easter: love is stronger than death. God’s kingdom of mercy, healing, and love, while seemingly vulnerable to human powers, is the eternal light that overcomes darkness. All the brutality that humans do to one another – betrayals, wars, genocide, all of it – is not the last word. God’s love is bigger than human hatred. This is the central confession of our faith: Jesus has died, and Jesus is alive. The power of love overcomes all death. Amazing! Thanks be to God.

Is a Vaccine at Odds with the Christian Faith?

The Christian faith is all about loving God and neighbor. Get immune, save and love your neighbor and their children. Get the Covid vaccine.

Perhaps it’s never been possible to have agreement on the definition of a faith tradition; ideas about what it means to follow a religion have always been fluid and contentious. I read a news article this week that a settlement was reached in an employment religious discrimination lawsuit, granting a Minnesota man $65,000 in back pay and damages from his former employer over his refusal to be fingerprinted for a required background check. He said it was against his Christian faith to do so.

Henry Harrington claimed that his employer, Ascension Point Recovery Services (APRS), a debt collection company, had failed to make the required accommodation for his belief and fired him. A similar employment case was filed four years ago in Pennsylvania, when a local school bus driver refused fingerprinting as part of her background check, claiming that the process would leave the “mark of the devil” on her, preventing her future entrance to heaven. That’s news to me.

Many more of these religious objection cases have been filed across the country in recent years as social and legal changes have pressed up against long held personal beliefs about social responsibility, employment requirements, privacy rights and our own physical autonomy.

Can a life insurance company, considering you for a new policy, require you to release to them your full physical and mental health record, disclose your family medical history, take your blood pressure and a sample of your blood? Might they also review the public filing of your divorce decree from 10 years back? They have been doing such things legally for decades. Can a federal employer take your photo, driver’s license number, Passport information as well fingerprints to screen you for a job? Will it search for any records of arrest or legal charges brought against you in national data bases? Most certainly it will.

As more information about our individual lives is collected and shared, many of us are pushing back. Where does my right to security of person and property end and legal or social demands begin? And when we must make arguments for protecting those intuitive, personal boundaries, it’s no wonder that issues of faith, meaning and core values come front and center.

These same issues, it seems to me, are at the center of the debate around Covid vaccine mandates. For most of 2020, we prayed and hoped for the miracle of a safe and effective vaccine to be created by our nation’s research scientists, folks who have been steadily working on similar virus strains of influenza, bird flu, and SARS for decades. Because of the previous research, the vaccines came quickly, tentatively released after multiple trials with eager volunteers, giving us hope that it would snuff out the pandemic and its possible mutations with our majority immunity.

The vaccine is free for all. Now anyone over 12 can get immunized! And even after weeks and months of pleading and even cash incentives, 20% of eligible Americans have refused this life-saving medicine.

I have come to understand this refusal by so many as the result of all the loss of privacy many of us feel over the last two generations mentioned earlier. Some people, claiming conflicts with the vaccine and their faith practices, have received exemptions from vaccination in the past few months, risking their own health and the life and wellbeing of those around them.  Even when such exemptions don’t seem to be wise or practical, current law does allow such freedom when it comes to boundaries set by a person’s sincere religious practice.

But people are still dying, children are still not protected, and our medical personnel are traumatized by the continuing demands on their health and stamina. As new mandates are announced, reluctant employees are claiming a religious exemption, requesting letters of support from their Christian clergy. I want to go on the record with this admonition: Don’t ask your pastor for such a letter. Your pastor can’t make a coherent faith argument against receiving an approved vaccination that will save your life and the life of those around you.

Why? Because, quite simply, the Christian faith is centered on the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. And if there is a central theme to his life and teaching, it is love of God and love of neighbor. In this, Jesus taught, is all the Law and the Prophets. It’s not about creating a cover for your distrust of government, or resentment that you are expected to take medicine because someone else says so. It is not so you can live your life exactly on your own terms, shouting “freedom” until you are hoarse. Every day of his life, Jesus spoke and demonstrated his gospel, that as God loves us, so we are called to that same love of one another. To take proven medicine when you can, to save your own life as well as the life of the weak, young or vulnerable, is discipleship work. There is no religious excuse that makes any sense to me. Love Jesus? Love your neighbor. And get your shots.

 

(Written for The Savage Pacer, Spiritual Reflection column; Published Saturday, 9/18/21)

 

 

We Need an Emotional Revolution

How we deal with these difficult emotional experiences becomes critical to the way we move through our lives, adding to life’s satisfactions or burdening us with chronic distress.

Oh, 2020. The problems that we all face during this terrible, remarkable year continue.

It’s completely normal for us all to be dealing with very strong emotions; mounting isolation, anger, frustrations and fear can overrun even our favorite coping skills. How we deal with these difficult emotional experiences becomes critical to the way we move through our lives, adding to life’s satisfactions or burdening us with chronic distress.

It seems to me that learning to manage ourselves is the work of a lifetime and our earliest teachers are parents, siblings, grandparents and other close relationships who model how to deal with life’s challenges.

As we move toward the expanding social network of school and neighborhood, we inevitably take one of two emotional directions: we either gain the skills of self-management of distress tolerance and cognitive emotional understanding (sometimes chronically soothing our pain with less-helpful substances like alcohol) or, we seek relief by pushing our pain onto others. That displacement looks like blame, denial, verbal or physical intimidation, bullying, or violence.

No doubt you’ve noticed as I have a recent cultural shift toward externalizing fear and frustration that fuels the rhetoric of division, cynicism, judgment and hate. Whether it is the dangerous rise in hate groups, shootings and public violence against others or the distrust and bitterness of partisan politics in governing, none of us have been spared the real results of people who don’t deal well with frustration and pain.

This cultural and personal failure to manage our struggles has dangerous, real life consequences. Minimizing public health science has meant we have continuing, dangerous exposure to pandemic. Not acknowledging our national bias toward white, European history and our legacy of slavery means people of color are still judged as less worthy, less human and experience bias and bigotry every day. Not being willing to look at the mythology of capitalism and the American Dream means the rich keep getting richer and the poor poorer — the poorest ending up homeless on our streets, in our neighborhood parks and our prisons.

Social psychologists like Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind, The Happiness Hypothesis and The Coddling of the American Mind) study moral reasoning and ethical leadership. They research and study the way we behave together. They have helped me better understand just what has been stoking our country’s increasing violent speech and actions in recent years. And it is no one person or political party’s fault.

One of the most shocking findings of their research is the way social media has impacted our shift toward emotional acting out and political extremism. Social media platforms are designed to keep us spending time on the site as a way to generate income (in the way of paid advertising) for the media companies.

How have sites like Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and Pinterest been engineering our attention? By creating easy ways to form interest groups and ways for us to react to one another with comments, like buttons, emojis and post sharing, all rapid emotional reactions that tend to fuel more responses.

The recent Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, describes this strategy with candid interviews with the engineers who designed these sites. For the last 10 years, millions of us have spent untold hours reading, reacting and sharing information online, and now bad actors, including foreign governments, are exploiting these sites to stoke anger, despair and distrust during this bitter election and pandemic.

So, what can you do about it? Take a look at how you communicate. How do you manage your interactions in real life as well as online? If there is ever a time in our lives when we all need to hold ourselves accountable for our emotions, for the way we think, comment and react to other people and their ideas, it is now.

Assess how you show up in public spaces. You are in charge of your emotional responses, in person and virtually. Bring your best self to your Facebook page, your news article comments, the internet memes you share.

It’s time for an emotional revolution. One that values honestly, humility, toleration and facts. We can turn our national mood around, but it will take every one of us to grow up and manage hard emotions better.

Originally written for “Spiritual Reflections,” a weekly column appearing in the Savage Pacer newspaper.

Video You Should NOT Be Watching

Smart cellphones are everywhere, and ever since the advent of very high definition small lenses and amazing software, so are self-made video clips. Everything from stupid pet tricks to police high speed chases are there on YouTube, FaceBook, Instagram and any number of other social and media platforms.

But just because they are watch-able, doesn’t mean you should be watching them.

Today on the Minneapolis StarTribune website was posted a caught-on-tape — from one lane over — a high speed rear-end collision of a heavy dump truck hitting a line of cars stopped at a light in my neck of the cities. Now: I am, like many adults, the victim of a violent car crash, caused by a drunk driver. It was, in fact, the central trauma of my young life and while I have found significant healing from its effects, that event reshaped my life in profound ways. I have never expected driving to be perfectly safe. I worry about car accidents while trying each day to be a relaxed driver. I have to mentally work to trust that my family can make it home safely from the roads every day.

I saw that video come up on the site today. And though a part of me was curious, along with over half a million other viewers of the video were, I knew that another part of me would be re-traumatized seeing that clip. (And I bet you expected me to post a link to that very video: Nope, I’m not going to.) A great deal of traumatic experience is processed through our eyes and into our bodies in an instant. To run that clip was to reinforce a part of my brain I have worked so hard to heal. It is not worth days of increased anxiety, hyper-vigilance, or plain worry just as our young adult daughter starts her new job she has to drive to in St. Paul. So I didn’t watch. That was a choice of good self care.

I know that today, 9/11, there are those that are remembering by watching those twin towers fall again and again. Or recalling the heroes aboard the flight that crashed in the fields of Pennsylvania instead of Washington, DC. You don’t need to re-watch the video of that awful day to be a proud American.

Are there experiences in your life that have caused serious harm to you or loved ones that arise in videos, TV series or films? Pay attention. You may not need to participate in those visual experiences, even though they are many steps removed from you. Your emotional system has a life-long memory, and awakening the dragons of our past isn’t always the best medicine. As the old bible camp song goes, “Be careful little eyes what you see….”

 

13 Reasons Why NOT

13 Reasons Why is a video series available on Netflix. If you’ve been told you NEED to watch this drama in order to understand teens now, I want to argue the opposite. I don’t believe that watching this series is necessary in order to understand teen cultures. Many viewers make this series sound as if it is presented as a documentary; it is not. It is a sensationalized, emotionally wrought fictional presentation of hours and hours of teen suffering and feels voyeuristic in its brutal and graphic portrayal of suicide. I managed to watch about 15 seconds of that scene and was so repulsed I turned it off.

Fictional, video streaming accounts of high school are not the way that our youth  their own experience their lives. Parts of it, yes. Intense, highly edited with a powerful sound track? No. What this series does, I’m afraid, is double down on the visual trauma our youth are exposed to regularly. And we wonder why they are anxious, depressed, afraid and suicidal in greater and greater numbers?

If parents or counselors are curious, then watch a half hour or so. You won’t need any more exposure than that. I suggest it is completely unsuited for anyone, never mind teens. Watchers of any age are participating in reinforcing trauma. As a pastoral counselor and family therapist, I see the effects of too much trauma exposure daily. It’s very difficult to heal.

Core Long-Term Marriage Skills

One of my couple clients asked me to create a summary of our work together. I know these skills apply to nearly every long-term marriage, so I share them here.

1. Assume positive intent from your spouse. Trust him/her. Build positive interactions. Look for the good. Notice it, appreciate it. Stop trying to control the outcome of every interaction so that you feel less vulnerable. Protect yourself less, be open to one another more.

2. Self-focus: always pay more attention to how you are managing your own emotions/behaviors/words/tones than you are to your partner’s. Think: what can I do to improve our relationship? Journaling, prayer, ritual, reading about emotions/relationships/family of origin patterns.

3. Make every effort to improve your conflict conversations.
Don’t ignore important pain. If you find you are doing a lot of internalizing, mind reading, and stuffing emotions, it’s time to talk.  Bring up pain as complaints (about the issue – “I feel”) not criticism (about the other person – “You are”).

Start a conversation gently, “low and slow.”

Expect your partner to initially defend. Wait until that strong reaction passes before you respond. Ask your partner to lower their defense so they can listen, if necessary.

Listen for one another’s point of view. Appreciate whatever truth you can in your partner’s POV. Repeat it to them so they know they have been heard. Share your POV. Check to see if your partner gets what you are trying to say.

If conflict begins to hurt, STOP. Don’t escalate. Take some time out to calm down and return again to the conversation.

4. Cultivate your marital friendship. Remember, however well you think you know your partner, don’t assume you can no longer be surprised. Make asking questions of your partner’s day, experiences, dreams, hopes, memories, plans and pains a regular habit. Do some new things together. Allow one another the emotional room to do things independently. Too much intensity can be just as hard on a marriage as too much distance.

5. Flexible people are more satisfied in their marriages. Recognize and reflect on the fact that the that details of our lives we take for granted as we become adults – our bodies, minds, work, relationships with children, hobbies, friendships, emotions, goals – are changing all the time. Especially make peace with the ongoing aging of your body.

6. Keep emotion primary in your experience of life and one another since emotion is the way our bodies and minds give us moment by moment information. Continue to grow in your ability to notice, name, manage and understand your emotional life. Remember that your spouse is doing the very same thing. Think emotion before you attempt to use logic in hard conversations.

7. Know that the past never leaves us, but we can find creative ways to manage how it informs our present. Holding resentments or secrets is poison to healthy long-term relationships. When someone injures another, the healthiest couples use their spiritual resources of remorse, repentance, renewal and forgiveness to experience the hurt, commit to the healing of the injury and press on.

8. Build a positive appreciation for touch, smiles, eye contact, and physical proximity as expressions of affection and sexuality. Use your creativity to express sexual energy and desire in ways that work for both of you. Be sure to talk to one another during sexual activity so that you are clearer about what works and what doesn’t. If there is a difference in levels of drive and desire, work to blend masturbation and some kind of mutual sexual activity.

9. Share the leadership of your family/couple. Appreciate one another’s unique skills and allow for growth and change. Make decisions together, and think of your marriage as a team, a unit, even as you are always individuals.

10. Remember that life is short, and grows even shorter as we age. Set a daily intention to do the best you can as a person and a partner. Cultivate your spirituality and your sense of humor. Stop threatening divorce; take the word out of your imagination and vocabulary. Re-commit to your shared future; appreciate and marvel at all that you have already endured and experienced together.

Have some advice you’d like to share with long-married couples? Comment below!

Do People Ever Really Change?

The final episode of the season of AMC’s Mad Men has aired, and many of us who have watched the series have spent some time in reflection on its many observations about human behavior. The main character Don Draper, a premier ad man in New York City during the 1960’s, is such a deeply flawed character, it was often painful for me to watch. But with such wonderful writing, I was compelled to watch hour after hour, as I would read a great novel.

One of the lasting questions of this masterpiece of television is an astute observation about the nature of human development and the possibility of change. Since I am in the business of helping people achieve some measure of self understanding, often leading to attempts at change, I was struck by the perfectly wrought words of one television critic, Matt Zoler Seitz, as he wrote his piece about the finale for the online site, Vulture. In sum, yes, people can change. But it takes more sustained effort and energy than most of us may want to muster. (Hence, our need for help, i.e., psychotherapy.) Here’s the core of his essay. I couldn’t have said it any better myself.

“… Mad Men was never so cynical as to say people are never capable of deep and lasting change, only that it requires more sustained concentration, work, and self-inquiry than most of us can manage. The show’s characters tended to be comfort-driven creatures who didn’t know themselves well enough, or understand psychology deeply enough, to repair the damage done by conditioning and trauma, much less the dedication required to follow through on anything they did figure out.

If anything, the series excelled at showing us how people think they’re moving forward, yet keep ending up in a place that looks eerily familiar…

A lot of epiphanies don’t stick, but one that often does is the realization that other people are in just as much pain as we are at times, and that by reaching out, we momentarily heal ourselves as well as them. Once you’ve learned that lesson, you don’t forget it. It colors all the other problems that you continue to deal with, and suggest solutions to them. Whether you decide to pursue them is, of course, entirely up to you.”

Matt Zoller Seitz, Vulture: “Mad Men Understood Human Behavior Better Than Any Show on TV”

When Empathy Goes Awry : Mirror Touch Synesthesia

How do we come to understand another person’s emotions?

Within our brain are a cluster of nerve cells that scientists call “mirror neurons.” These cells and circuits turn on and develop when, as infants and toddlers, our primary caregivers express on their own faces what they sense in us. We are wailing because we are in pain? A caring parent has some of that same suffering in their facial expressions. We laugh and smile when we begin to recognize our mother’s face, and our mother smiles and laughs with us. This is how the human baby begins the long process of understand the self, what s/he is experiencing, and who others are, and what they are experiencing.

Most human beings have adequate care as children; their caregivers give more or less consistent emotional feedback to them day-to-day, and the emotional skills of knowing how we feel and how other might be feeling develop naturally. Those children who suffer early life deprivation (e.g., orphans in mass care settings, like those in China) may never completely catch up with their peers who were raised in small family groups. Others, who may have the terrible fortune to be born to uncaring, chemically addicted or violent parents, will suffer personality changes that will hamper their natural capacity to feel their own emotions and care about others for the rest of their lives. Those early life experiences of caring, love and emotion are that important to normal human development.

But that is the normal or mainstream human experience of noticing emotion in others, understanding what they might be feeling, and sharing human experience. What if those mirror neurons don’t stop developing? What if those experiences of feeling another person’s pain actually become your own body feeling not your own emotions, but those of people you see and feel?

That is the extremely rare and the terrible lost-self experience of those with Mirror Touch Synesthesia. These folks have mirror neuron circuits that in some mysterious way over-developed. Out among people, they “catch” the emotional experiences of others in such deep ways that it is hard for them to know what is their own emotion and not the experience of others. This disorder seems to run in families, and has the capacity to ruin not only individual experience, but the relationships that person tries to maintain.

Want to hear more, including an interview with a woman who suffers from MTS? The new NPR podcast “Invisibilia” just included a story on this phenomenon — here’s the link for the January 29, 2015 broadcast:

http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510307/invisibilia

It’s fascinating, and disturbing. As it turns out, helpful empathy, the kind we want our parents, friends, teachers, chaplains and therapists to cultivate in themselves, has normal limits. None of us, it turns out, wants to so inhabit the emotional lives of others that we don’t know exactly what it is we are feeling. Because what we feel is the center of who we are.

What Every Wife Ought to Know about Marriage Conflict

If I had the opportunity to share one essential marital tool with every wife in America, I know exactly what I would say:

Learn to bring up difficult topics with your partner in a calm, quiet and focused voice.

Marital researcher Dr. John Gottman has studied tens of thousands of marital conversations over 30 + years. He has found that there are 4 distinct communication habits that are poison to happy relationships. He calls them the “Four Horsemen,” like the biblical horsemen that bring in the end of times in the book of Revelation.

He has learned that men have a faster body response of adrenaline (increased heart rate, blood flow to the extremities, tunnel focus of attention) than most women to partner conflict. That means that when many women are just getting into the meat of their problem, their partner has become ready to run, fight and defend. It makes it very hard for men to stay focused and listen calmly without enormous effort.

If every woman could develop the personal skill of bringing up difficult discussions with their partner in a calmer way, their male partner is less apt to “flood,” focus and defend. And the conversation is more likely to be productive and problem-solving.

It’s a skill we practice in therapy all the time. Are you able to bring difficult topics up to your partner in a calm, cooperative way? If not, you may want to start working on this skill.

What is it that I wish I could tell every husband in America? Well, that’s for next time.

Men Have Emotions, Too

“Men seem to have a mental file drawer where they can store unpleasant experience. Open it up, drop it in, slam it shut. Done.” One of my friends was talking about her own experience in her marriage, and wondered if I agreed.

Well, it’s complicated. I do think that in western culture, men are expected to be problem solvers: movers, shakers, thinkers. This is what it takes to succeed in a market economy, where competition for work and other resources parallels the competition for food, shelter and safety of our earliest human ancestors. This ability to compartmentalize their lives? I see it as a psychological defense. Men are taught early in life that boys don’t cry, that when in pain they should shake it off, and that they need to be prepared to bring themselves, if not their families, and their communities to the front lines of life’s battles every day. And if their life battle isn’t a literal one, it certainly is core male metaphor.

That old saw, biology is destiny, is rather real. Men don’t bear children; women do. And women’s bodies and brains have for tens of thousands of years shaped women’s experiences of themselves as child bearer, child protector and nurturer. Women’s brains (recent fMRI imaging bears this out) have been primed to first see the world through relationship and emotional perspective. Men have brains that have developed to give a stronger preference to problem solving.

No wonder we can have trouble talking to and with each other. Women complain that their men don’t listen to them; that they simply hear every conversation with their partner as a plea for information, solution or fix. Men complain that they don’t know what their women partners want from them, if it isn’t what they are naturally good at.

I see this difference in my work as a therapist, but I see it as much through a cultural and family lens as I do a biological or neurological one. Yes, human beings have had gendered roles around children and family life as long as we have recorded history. Yes, we inherit strong personality traits from our parents, who themselves have inherited similar traits from their families. Yes, our culture has deep, anxiously held gender meanings for men (witness the current chaos that transgendered or gender-queer youth have when trying to play high school sport of their gender preference, not their biology) and you will begin to understand how hard it is for men to be really comfortable with their emotional lives.

But men, like women, are people. And we human beings all have these biological responses to the world called emotions that give us information and neurological action split seconds BEFORE our brains kick in to gear with thinking. Men are just taught to rush through them to get to their preferred way of being, thinking. Women are encouraged by biology and culture to notice emotion and better integrate it into their thought.

How can we get through this gendered issue to a better, more satisfying way of being with each other? I teach my clients to reach for their emotional reactions first. I ask men to think about looking for their female partner’s emotional experience, to respond to that, before they begin to problem solve. “Empathy first,” I intone, time and time again. And for women, I teach them tolerance for their partner’s (perceived) emotional dismissal, and patience as they must ask time and time again for their husband to listen and understand them first before they tell them what they ought to do.

We are in this together, men and women. We are all emotional beings, whose preferences with those experiences seem to differ fundamentally. But we are also creative, plastic, changeable beings, too. We can learn to better dance together. Couples who have adjusted to one another in this fundamental way can find a continuous, subtle joy in talking with and sharing life with each other.