Autumn Leaves, Autumn Lives

Fr. GunzelmanFor just a few weeks of the year, our world looks stunningly different.  During most of the year the trees are either bare or green.  But for a short time, autumn showcases them with vivid golds and reds, dark browns and yellows.  We take trips just to "see the leaves."  Their beauty beckons us to go out for a walk and experience their impact. 

Leaves are the most beautiful at their finale, for they have fulfilled the reason for their existence.  It's as if they're crowned and celebrated.  They were taken for granted throughout the long summer, but come autumn we can't help being attracted to their presence.

It should be true of humans, too, that the seasons of our lives lead somewhere, toward a beauty, a completion, and a culmination when we have fulfilled the reason for our existence.  "The reason for our existence"--just what is that?  Leaves exist to collect nutrients, produce oxygen, and so on, to support the life of the tree and the environment.  What is the reason for human existence?  To collect a lot of money?  To become a celebrity, gain power over others, or stay young-looking forever?  To get a degree or become famous?  What is that purpose which, if we attain it, means that we have fulfilled the reason for our existence, and if we miss it, that we have failed?  The purpose of a knife is to cut, the purpose of a wristwatch is to keep time; what is the purpose of a human?

Psychologists say that we are here to develop from a state of self-centeredness to altruism, from being in orbit around only ourselves to going out of orbit and touching positively the lives of others.  Spiritually, we say the same thing.  We are here to learn how to love.  Saint Paul made this point so eloquently in his letter to the early Christians in the town of Corinth.  He told them that their lives would be only like sounding brass and tinkling symbals unless they learned how to love, that even faith and good works meant nothing without love.  An old, anonymous spiritual adage says, "When the evening of this life comes, we will all be judged on love."  When we reach our final season, love is what will make us more beautiful than autumn leaves.  Humans are made to be lovers.

The autumn colors come gradually, not all at once.  That's also true of love.  We start life with such a pull toward self-centeredness.  An infant is the center of its world.  When hungry, a baby cries out, expecting parents to respond.  Concern for others is beyond the capability of an infant.  We grow beyond infancy, of course, and over a lifetime, over many seasons, we learn to love.  As we grow and develop psychologically and spiritually, we come to realize that others have needs and feelings, too.  And if love begins, we freely choose to give of ourselves to another.  And if those choices to give of ourselves to others go on and on, we slowly become what we are choosing--we become loving, successful human beings.

We don't have to have loving people pointed out to us.  We instinctively recognize them, just as we readily notice the leaves of autumn.  Loving people have a sense of trueness or authenticity about them.  They don't point themselves out, they just are what they are.

Winter is a time of solitude, silhouettes, and shadows.  Spring is young and free and joyful.  Summer is mellow and carefree.  But autumn is rich, ripe, and complete; it nostalgically looks back over all that's gone before and is glad.  What a way to end the year, or a life!

This article was reprinted from the book Reflections for Living by Fr. Lou Guntzelman.   This book is currently out of print, however a few copies can be purchased at the following link: via @amazon

Posted in Individual Therapy, Spiritual Journey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Independence Day–2014





Posted in Short Form | Leave a comment

What is Character?

character picture  


Posted in Short Form | Leave a comment

A Talk About Death and Dying

connie & mick--croppedGrowing up in a small town in the Midwest during the nineteen fifties, my ideals were formed before I was smart enough to protest overmuch.  I learned that my parents were to be respected and my teachers were always right.   I also learned that confrontation was bad and that I should go along to get along.   In this same vein, I learned that if I wanted to keep my friends and remain an upstanding citizen, there were three things that I must never, ever talk about in public…..politics, religion and death.  

This culture instilled in most of us growing up at that time a deep respect for our elders and an acquired ability to hold our tongue…both virtues in today’s disrespectful, outspoken landscape.  On the other hand, through the years, I found that both politics and religion could be discussed openly and without malice if done so with an open and/or curious mindset.  Death, however, in the western world has increased its status as a forbidden topic in recent years.   In his book The Loneliness of Dying (1985), Norbert Elias states that one of the failures of developed societies is the tacit and early isolation of the aged and the dying, and consequently the removal of death from everyday consciousness.  And Patricia Lysaght in her article entitled “Visible Death: Attitudes to the Dying in Ireland” (1995) offers that avoidance and denial are the hallmarks of attitudes to death in the secular, developed society of the Western world in the twentieth century.   

Not only do most folks in the United States want to avoid any discussion about death, but many actively deny its inevitability.   Talk instead revolves around how many surgeries one has had and how many pills one takes to remain alive and active.  Note that I am not suggesting that prescription medications are bad and/or that needed surgeries to improve life should be avoided.  What I am saying is that if we do not acknowledge and accept death as the end stage of life, then we will fail to prepare ourselves both psychologically and spiritually for this final journey and sadly, we will also miss out on the joy of each precious, limited day. 

The truth is that human beings tend to take for granted everyday items that are in abundance, but simultaneously treasure and hold in high esteem the rare or limited item.    If death is not talked about—or even worse, not thought about-- then life becomes limitless and thus….undervalued and unappreciated.   On the other hand, if death could become a collective topic of conversation, then perhaps through the realization that our lives are limited….each of us would make positive changes in the way that we live each day.   This theory is supported by a study done at Stanford University with terminal cancer patients (2007).  Psychotherapist Irwin D. Yalom found that patients made the following changes after they were diagnosed with this dreaded disease.   

  •  A rearrangement of life’s priorities--trivializing the trivial
  • A sense of liberation—choosing not to do things that they didn’t want to do
  • An enhanced sense of living in the immediate present, rather than postponing life until retirement or some other point in the future
  • A vivid appreciation of the elemental facts of life—the changing seasons, the wind, falling leaves, the last Christmas, and so forth
  • A deeper communication with loved ones than before the crisis
  • Fewer interpersonal fears—less concern about rejection, greater willingness to take risks than before the crisis   

These patients were forced to face the reality that death is inevitable, but what a gift they received!   Each day became limited and thus….precious.   Priorities became crystal clear and with that clarity came the courage to discard the petty and insignificant and to concentrate on the important moments of life.   

Fortunately healthy individuals don’t have to wait until they are diagnosed with a terminal illness to re-evaluate their lives…to separate the meaningful from the superfluous and thus prepare to die with dignity and a sense of purpose in a life well-lived.  This evaluation can be done with a simple exercise.  Take one day and pretend that it is your last day on earth.   Do your priorities change?  Do you treat loved ones differently?  What becomes most important to you?   

I challenge each of us to look at death with new eyes…not as something to be avoided in polite conversation, but instead to be embraced so that the journey to this inevitable ending is filled with the joy of each precious day and death is met with no regrets….with fulfillment…and for all who believe in life after death….a new beginning.   


Posted in Death/Loss | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Clinical Study for Alzheimer’s Disease

connie & mick--cropped Did you ever wonder what it would be like to participate in a clinical study for Alzheimer’s disease?  Maybe you find the aging process interesting and would like to learn more about how the brain changes as you age, or you have a relative who’s been diagnosed with this monster called Alzheimer’s… or you just have extra time on your hands and want to help find a cure.  If you have ever thought about volunteering for a clinical study for any reason or if you are just a little curious about the process, read on because I am going to share details of my day spent as a clinical study participant. 

I signed up for a clinical trial because my father is an Alzheimer’s patient.   Over the years, I watched helplessly as he deteriorated both physically and mentally.   Upon learning about the many clinical trials being conducted throughout the United States, I decided that it was something concrete that I could do to help alleviate this horrible illness.  Note that I have no signs of Alzheimer’s disease except for the occasional word retrieval problem which—if I am correct—seems to be a normal phenomenon of the aging process.  I participated in this clinical study strictly as a “healthy volunteer”. 

My day started early—at 5:30am—when I stumbled out of bed, threw on some clothes and began my two hour commute to Indiana University where I met Eileen, a clinical research specialist.  I was immediately taken to the hospital lab where ten vials of blood were taken.  The blood is used for genetic and biomarker research tests including ApoE gene type and a ribonucleic acid (RNA) study which measures the activity of genes in the body.   So far, I felt good about my participation in the study.    The hospital staff even brought me a full breakfast at the conclusion of my “fasting” blood work. 

Next I was given a thorough eye exam which included all the normal testing plus several tests measuring peripheral vision.  These tests required looking into a cone-like contraption in a darkened room while holding my head completely still for several minutes as I pushed a button each time a light appeared.  This peripheral vision eye test was new to me and even though my neck and shoulders hurt slightly, I found the procedure to be interesting.   

For the next three hours I sat across from Eileen in her office as she tested my short term memory.  These tests started with a short list of unrelated items that Eileen verbalized and I repeated.  This process continued several times with Eileen adding a new word to the list each time until I could no longer remember all of the words.  An example of a word list might look like this:  apple, elephant, chair, toothbrush, table, banana, doctor, dog, melon, bed.  Once I failed to remember a significant number of the words, Eileen would then ask me to name only the animals listed or only the items of furniture listed.  This test was followed by picture cards which each had a common, everyday item shown and I had to name the item.  Next came lists of numbers….Eileen started with two numbers that I repeated back to her, then for each repetition, she would add another number.   I have no idea what is expected or “normal”, but found that I could remember up to seven numbers.   After seven, all of the numbers became a jumbled mess in my mind.   I finished up this cognitive testing by listening to short stories on a computer and repeating back all the details of the story that I could remember.      None of these tests were difficult, but because I wanted to do well—I certainly didn’t want to exhibit signs of Alzheimer’s—they were stressful.     

After a short lunch break, it was time to complete the last test of the day…a magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI for short.     The purpose of this scan was to obtain images of my brain’s anatomy or appearance and to look at the brain in action.   Once I was settled into the correct lying down position, sensors were placed on my arms and chest to measure heart rate, breathing, blood oxygen level and sweat gland activity.  Earplugs were placed in my ears for protection against the loud tapping noise of the scanner and I was given goggles and headphones in order to see and hear the memory tasks in the scanner.  Pads were placed under my shoulders and a warm blanket provided a cocoon of sorts for comfort.  Lastly a box with two buttons was placed into my right hand and I was instructed to lie perfectly still for the duration of the MRI.    For the next ninety minutes pictures appeared in the goggles and for each set of two pictures, I pushed  the top button on the box if the pictures shown were related to each other or the bottom button if they were not related to each other.   I was slightly uncomfortable remaining in the same position for ninety minutes, but my biggest challenge during this MRI was staying awake.  An early start to the day…numerous tests…a warm blanket…and I just wanted to sleep.  

My clinical study day was over at the conclusion of this MRI.  I was exhausted—both mentally and physically, but I also felt good about completing the day.  This feeling reminded me of my school days…at the end of finals, I was drained, but also felt great because it was over and I had completed something worthwhile. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are over one hundred and thirty Alzheimer’s clinical trials currently being conducted at five hundred trial sites across the United States.  And the greatest obstacle to developing the next generation of Alzheimer’s treatments, other than funding, is the recruiting and retaining of clinical trial participants.    Yes, it takes some effort and a few hours of your time, but maybe together we can obliterate this horrible monster that ravages the mind and destroys the self-worth of each victim.  If this article has peaked your interest, more information about Alzheimer’s disease and the clinical trials can be found at the Alzheimer’s Association online via



Posted in Dementia/Alzheimer's | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas and Yearning for Home

Fr. GunzelmanAn old movie depiction of human loneliness might show a solitary man sitting alone in an empty bar saying, “Here it is Christmas and I’m all by myself!”  Although Christians acknowledge Easter as the greater feast, Christmas arouses more feelings.  And those feelings are ambivalent.  They like Christmas and they don’t like it.  They get too depressed, and anxious, yet they still try to prepare for it, celebrate it, and involve themselves in it.  What is this Christmas phenomenon?

Most of the Christmas songs, rituals, and feelings floating around are about closeness, peacefulness, and being loved.  However, one of the major feelings beneath the surface at Christmas is a desire to go home again, to be at home.  We arrange to call home or actually be in our own home, but something else is present as well.  It’s as if we remember some great home or paradise we once had, then lost, and forever yearn to return to again.  Adults brush it off as sentimentality or memories of happy childhood days.

But isn’t it more than that, this yearning for home?  Did we actually lose a home or paradise before the beginning of childhood?  Were we somewhere wonderful before?  How could we sense that there is more, and how could this sense be so deeply embedded in us, unless we experienced it?  The people who wrote Genesis thought about this, and had an answer.  Thousands of years ago they wrote about a garden, or paradise, from which human beings were expelled.  They had the same feeling.

The deep powerful feelings of Christmas go back beyond toys and good times of childhood, for even in childhood we grew tired of our toys.  It is our spiritual “inner home” we are looking for, our union with God.  We lived there briefly as we started life.  We were inwardly at home with the universe and life.  Some spiritual writers call it a unitive state, a condition of union with the Creator and the created world.  We felt a security, an at-oneness with everything.  However, it was not a conscious unitive state.  It was as if at the beginning we were at home but our fuzzy intellects didn’t know it.  We just experienced it, and it preceded consciousness.  Now we faintly remember it.

We did not stay in that paradise, that comfortable, wonderful home.  God calls us to grow and reach an even greater home.  God calls us to become a conscious, unique individual who relates to others and creation.  God’s plan is not that we suck our thumbs and bask or vegetate in the comfort of early pleasantness.  God calls us to a challenging endeavor superior to personal comfort—we are called to learn how to love.  And love involves emptying ourselves for others rather than staying comfortable.  So we leave the early home of self-centered comfort and begin relating to others, to parents, siblings, friends, spouse—and give ourselves to them.

But once we have experienced, even preconsciously, this satisfying union, this being at home with God and existence, we are never cured of it.  No matter where we go in this world, or by whom we are loved, or how wealthy we become, we have a sense that there is still more.  There seems to be another home.  It keeps calling us to find it again.  We are basically homesick people.  Christmas reminds us of that fact.

If we don’t know what’s really going on within us, we can feel unduly depressed, disappointed, or shortchanged.  We can easily think that everyone else is much happier than we are.  But if we know what’s going on within us, our unfulfilled feelings can encourage us to keep on the road that will eventually bring us home.  For the true antidote for our ambiguous feelings is the spiritual meaning of Christmas.   God came here to tell us about the real home of paradise yet to come, and how to get there.  God said the road home is found in loving one another.  If we can only learn to love, then, in the words of T.S. Eliot:  We shall not cease from exploration…And the end of all our exploring…Will be to arrive where we started…And know the place for the first time.

Posted in Individual Therapy, Spiritual Journey | 1 Comment

If Only

Fr. GunzelmanOne of the first lessons in the art of living is to learn to cope with problems in a healthy way.  In general, we are to face our problems courageously, work through them, and come out on the other side better developed than before.  Ernest Hemingway put it like this:  “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

 Some of us, unfortunately, carry through life the impression that there aren’t supposed to be any problems.  We become agitated and anxious about problems because of the discomfort they cause. And we harbor additional anger because we have problems at all.  This resentment proves that we have not yet learned one of the fundamentals in the art of spiritual living.  Problems are not just inconveniences to be avoided or cursed, but mysteries to be lived.  To avoid dealing with problems is to refuse to enroll in the School of Life.

We humans grow in stages from lesser to greater maturity.  Problems are frequently the catalysts that nudge our growth along.  We often realize this only in hindsight.  We eventually recognize that we have become more established in our own individuality, more compassionate, more human and humble, because we have experienced our own difficult situations and struggles.  We learn to accept the fact that we cannot separate our lives from the situations in which we live them.  We cannot be a parent and then try to avoid all the problems of being a parent, or remain single and avoid the problems of living alone.  The moment we try to do so, we become unrealistic and inauthentic.  We start living an “if only” existence.

 In an “if only” existence, we persist in the belief that we would be happy and free of problems, and be delightful people, “if only” something were different.  If only I had a different spouse; if only I had a more understanding boss; if only I’d get a promotion; if only the people around me were more interesting; if only my health were better, my face and body more beautiful, my imperfections more controllable—then I would live a happy, fulfilled, useful life.  In the meantime, we neglect the opportunities for growth and fulfillment that are found in our own situation and struggles here and now.

 Living in an “if only” world turns us away from reality.  We become professional dreamers who never wake up.  We become experts at complaining because we cannot accept that we and our world are not perfect, that there are obstacles in our path.  We never come to see problems as an integral part of life, as mysteries that are involved paradoxically in our development.  We fail to appreciate what it means to be a human.

 When we’re “if only” people, we have the tendency to move a lot.  We try and avoid hard times by moving from spouse to spouse, job to job, house to house, friend to friend, unconsciously searching for a problem-free situation.  Our restless changing indicates that we are running from life, running from ourselves.   We will never find ourselves and become all we can be by running.  We can only discover and bring to birth our real selves by living life as fully and realistically as possible in the “now”, not in the “if only.”

 This article was reprinted from the book Reflections for Living by Fr. Lou Guntzelman.   This book is currently out of print, however a few copies can be purchased at the following link: via @amazon


Posted in Individual Therapy, Spiritual Journey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Still Alice … A New Look at Alzheimer’s Disease

Connie Nolan, MSW, LCSW

Connie Nolan, MSW, LCSW

At fifty years old, Alice—a Harvard professor--is at the top of her game…teaching, researching and giving talks all over the world.   Then she goes for a jog one day—in her own neighborhood-- and can’t find her way back home.  Her diagnosis is early-onset Alzheimer’s disease and her story in Still Alice—told from her viewpoint—is a powerful testament to the fury of this monster called Alzheimer’s.  But perhaps even more than that, it’s a testament to the tenacity and spirit of a woman who couldn’t stop the monster from stealing her mind, but refused to submit her soul.     She remains “Still Alice” cover to cover and I loved her for it. 

 Full disclosure demands that I admit this book also gave me quite a shake and provided a wake-up call that was long overdue.   My dad and two of his siblings are victims of this monster called Alzheimer’s.   I have seen up close and personal the devastation that the disease leaves in its wake…for the patient and for the caretakers.   I have seen my dad—with honor and temerity—struggle to win each small battle and I have seen my mother--dad’s primary caretaker--guard and protect his dignity through each skirmish.  As Alice and her three grown children grappled with the familial aspects of Alzheimer’s, I suddenly saw another layer to this terrible illness.  The monster is not content to devour its victim, but also attacks family members at an alarming rate.  Researchers have isolated two types of genes—risk genes and deterministic genes--both of which have a prominent role to play in the future health of family members of the Alzheimer patient.  In early onset Alzheimer’s, three deterministic genes have been discovered that establish a family member’s link to this ogre called Alzheimer’s.   And here’s where it gets really scary.  If a son or daughter does not have one of these three deterministic genes, they still have a fifty percent chance of getting early onset Alzheimer’s.  If a family member does have one of the three genes, the chances of acquiring Alzheimer’s increases to one hundred percent.   Holy Moly!  This information prompted me to find out more.  Fortunately, with one click to the Alzheimer's Association, I discovered that the deterministic genes are found only in the early onset cases (patients diagnosed prior to age 65) which account for approximately five percent of Alzheimer patients in the United States.   My dad and his siblings were not diagnosed until their early 70’s which places them in the ninety-five percent bracket of traditional Alzheimer cases.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that our family members are out of the woods yet.  The fact that three siblings from the same family were attacked by this monster seems to indicate a strong genetic link.  At this point, researchers are stating that only the risk genes are applicable to traditional Alzheimer patients.  Risk genes—when present in a family member--indicate an increase in the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s, but do not guarantee that it will happen.    

 My dad… and over five million other Americans are in the trenches every day…fighting this monster.  And if no cure is found...that number of patients will almost triple to 13.8 million by the year 2050—and that’s just in this country.   Fortunately, there is some hope.  Clinical research is adding to their arsenal of weapons every day as they learn more about the brain and how Alzheimer’s Disease forms its attack.   Unfortunately, in order to keep this momentum moving forward, these researchers need help from everyone.   Recruiting and retaining clinical trial participants is the greatest obstacle to beating this enemy called Alzheimer’s and winning the war.    If this article has peaked your interest about Alzheimer’s, detailed information about the disease and the clinical trials can be found at http://www.alzheimers.orgStill Alice can be found at your local library or purchased online at



Posted in Dementia/Alzheimer's | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Faith Journey…From Separation and Divorce to Reconciliation

connie & mick--cropped Life is difficult.   Those words---the first sentence in the book The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck—were ground zero for me in 1989 as I began a new journey as a single woman.   I was drowning in a puddle of self-absorption and pity when my future therapist (she had no appointments available until the next week) suggested that I read this book.  After seventeen years…my marriage was over… I was grasping for anything to hang on to as my life was spiraling out of control and I felt like a boat with no rudder or sense of direction.   In the beginning, this book was my lifeline…then my compass…and finally the foundation that Mike and I used to rebuild our broken relationship into a healthy re-marriage guided by the grace and love of God. 

In previous articles, I have talked about the brokenness of our marriage and the tools that we acquired through subsequent therapy sessions which allowed us to work around and through specific obstacles blocking our personal and relationship growth.  What I have not talked about, however, and what I intend to address here---in this article—is how we started this new journey by allowing our faith to take center stage.   Those three words “life is difficult” gave me the catalyst needed to look at life differently and thusly to take a new path…a path away from self-loathing and destruction and toward new growth and possibilities.  Of course those words were just the beginning, but they were enough to snag my heart and shake me up so that I continued reading into the night and the following day.  

The Road Less Traveled is about spiritual growth….a topic that I admit, wasn’t even on my radar until I opened the book.  By the time I turned the last page on the final chapter however, I knew that The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck would change my life.  For the remainder of that week and before I began formal therapy, it was my lifeline.  It gave me hope by offering a new and different approach to life.  Instead of complaining about the unfairness of my problems, and then ignoring or running away from them to seek  immediate gratification elsewhere, I accepted the universal truth that life is difficult and that life is full of problems.  Those problems do not go away by themselves nor do they disappear if not addressed.  Instead they linger…they grow bigger…and they follow you forever.    

In the following weeks, this book became a compass or a roadmap of sorts as I attended a myriad of therapy sessions and countless unscheduled….spur of the moment  rap sessions with like-minded friends and acquaintances who were all struggling with the same issues of separation, divorce, hopelessness and pain.    As we discussed each problem and then explored healthy coping skills, The Road Less Traveled was an invaluable source of additional information…and always confirmation… which then deepened my belief system and allowed me to continue on this path of personal and spiritual growth. 

 Mike and I married in 1971, separated in November of 1988, divorced in November of 1989 and then remarried each other in August of 1990.  This does not happen often…this occurrence of remarriage to the same spouse.  And I have been asked many times throughout the years how we did it….specifically, how did we let go of the pain and choose to love again?    That answer is two-fold and the first part is therapy.  Mike and I would not be married today if we had not made a conscious decision to begin therapy.    New Hope Family Life Center* provided a safe haven for us to grow as individuals, to learn from other folks on the journey with us and to be supported each step of the way.  But that is only part of the answer.    Why choose therapy at all? Why not just accept that the marriage is over and find someone new?  After all, therapy is a lot of work, but a new relationship is exciting and feels good.   And so…this is where the second part of the answer becomes important.  As I stated earlier, The Road Less Traveled changed my life.  It was a lifeline as I struggled to move away from the devastation of a ruined marriage and destructive path.  It was a roadmap of knowledge that distinguished dependency from love and above all…it was a foundation that Mike and I used to guide us through the hard and often painful process of change toward a higher level of self-understanding and spiritual growth.    And it was this foundation of love, forgiveness and God’s grace that tempered every therapy session, every chat with friends and every step that Mike and I took on our journey of faith. 

For specific information on the therapy sessions that helped Mike and I to overcome multiple obstacles and remarry each other, read my other articles found right here in this website.  And please leave a comment if this article or other articles are helpful.  I base future writings on the wants/needs of my readers.  You can also find more details about our journey through therapy at where you will find my book The Amazing Journey of a Relationship.   This book takes the reader step by step through our entire journey and also includes questions at the end of each chapter for a reading or study group. 

*Details about New Hope Family Life Center can be found in “The Three Stages of Every Relationship”, “ A Healthy Relationship Requires Two Whole Persons”, “Relationships—How Men and Women Problem-Solve”,  “A Journey to Truth” and “Love is a Choice, Not a Feeling”—all articles found under the "Relationships" tab in this website .  Thank you for your support of my writings and God bless you on your own personal journey to spiritual wholeness.



Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Love is a Choice….Not a Feeling

connie & mick--croppedMy husband and I separated in the fall of 1988, divorced in 1989…and then remarried each other in August of 1990.    

This was not then…nor is it now a normal cycle of events and in fact, when I tried to find statistics about remarriage to the same spouse, I could find none.  That’s probably because it rarely happens and I can tell you unequivocally—without a doubt—that it would not have happened for Mike and I either without therapy.     We attended lots of therapy sessions including individual, group, and community therapy—a monthly meeting that provided concrete coping skills for relationship problems.    

The great thing about community therapy is that it is completely non-threatening.  In our case, New Hope Family Life Center held a monthly meeting for folks like us….who were either going through a divorce or breakup…or thinking about a split…or were already there.  The relationship was over… and one or both of the partners was an emotional mess.  At each monthly meeting, Mary McRaith, the coordinator for New Hope, would share at least one idea about how to develop and maintain a healthy, life-giving relationship with another person.    

Love is a choice…not a feeling” was one of those ideas…and while I do address it at length in my book The Amazing Journey of a Relationship, I had no intention of writing a separate article about it here.  This idea of love being a choice instead of a feeling was brand new to me in 1988, but a quick google of it today showed seventy-nine references to those exact words.  Enough said…was my thought, but then…I found an interesting survey taken in 2003 and 2004 by researchers at the National Fatherhood Initiative.  The  researchers asked couples why they divorced and 73% of the participants stated that lack of commitment was the primary reason that they split up.   And thus…that statistic led me to wonder if there was more to be learned from the idea that love is a choice…not a feeling. 

On the surface, this idea is simple….once the romantic love fades, then couples make a choice to either love (or commit) to each other  or they split up because the “feeling” is gone.  Mike and I stayed married for seventeen years before we threw in the towel and opted for divorce.  Does that mean that we chose commitment or love for all those years?  Not at all!  The statement “love is a choice, not a feeling” goes much deeper than simply choosing real love over a sweat-filled, heart-thumping feeling.  For example, every time we had an emotional upheaval in our relationship—whether it was a simple disagreement, a verbal battle or a knock-down, drag-out screaming match, we settled it in one of two ways.  If it was minor or our daughters were present, Mike would attempt to lighten the mood by saying something like “look at your mom, girls—isn’t she cute when she’s angry?”  The girls would then begin laughing.  Mike would join in and it wasn’t long before I was laughing with them.    For the more serious issues, we simply walked away and played a silent game with each other.  The person who “gave in” and talked first lost this game, thus the partner who remained silent the longest won the battle.    

Those unhealthy coping skills that we developed and honed over seventeen years did nothing to strengthen our relationship and everything to cripple it.  Each time we chose a feeling—either feeling good in laughter or anger in the silent treatment, we lost an opportunity to resolve an issue and thus strengthen our commitment to one another.   Working through issues is not easy and it doesn’t feel good.  Being committed to another person in a relationship also is not easy.  Both become impossible without the right tools.   And so I wonder… if the participants in the aforementioned survey had been given all the tools for a healthy relationship…..would they have used them to grow and strengthen their marriage instead of becoming a divorce statistic. 

Love is a choice…not a feeling is one of the tools that Mike and I learned while attending therapy at New Hope Family Life Center.  More about this topic and all the other tools that allowed us to reconcile and remarry each other can be found in my book, The Amazing Journey of a Relationship found exclusively at  If this article has been helpful, please share it with others as my marketing department consists of only me…your humble author.


Posted in Relationships | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment