A New Journey

It has been quite some time since I have blogged.  I must admit that I have been so busy traveling, speaking, conducting marriage intensives, and time with my wonderful bride, I have put it on the shelf.  Well, now I am back.  I have spent time doing doing Facebook Live vlogs and have had some good success.  However, I must get back to writing.  Today, was the second day of a marriage intensive with a couple.  I am here in Woodstock, Virginia (Shenendoah Valley folks!!!) and conducted a marriage seminar for a few churches and also worked with this couple.  It was a great honor to serve the church and this couples.  It is always a pleasure to see a marriage go from feeling helpless and hopeless, to hopeful, inspired, and empowered.

A moment of your time for an update.  As of March 1, 2019, Louella and I have ventured out on our own, full time, under our nonprofit, ConnectUS 4 Life, Inc. (DBA Marriage for Life).  Our website is http://www.marriageforlife.org.  We are excited about this new journey and what possibilities come our way.  We hope to increase our speaking opportunities and our ability to work with couples through relationship coaching and marriage intensives.  I have also started to reach out to the culture directly and to mental health professionals in an effort to teach our work in developing healthy, loving, and mature relationship principles and skills.  We call our new program “RelateWell.”  RelateWell is a nine session relationship skills program that helps individuals and couples develop the skills for goodwill, respect, humility and empathy, which are the four protective traits of a relationship, any relationship.  These four traits I sought to develop in  myself as I sought to transform myself from an unhealthy emotional child into a healthy mature adult.  These skills I learned over time became the RelateWell process.  I am honored and proud of this journey over the past 25 years and what I have learned and these principles and skills are the foundation for my teaching and helping others who are in relational turmoil and simply want to learn to better themselves.

If you are a therapist and desire to implement RelateWell into your clinlical practice, or a pastoral counselor, you can take the online training (CEs provided by National Marriage Seminars).  You can take the online training at http://www.relatewellinstitute.com.

Stay tuned for more blogs here at Rick’s reMarks.  If you have questions or comments, contact me direct.

Your Brain, Relationships and the Bible

Were you aware that your brain does everything for you.  We can not exist if our brain did not work.  And though each part of the brain has a biological function, they also have a social and relational function.  Check out this teaching video where I discuss the parts of the brain, their social and biological functions, and how this relates to teaching from Scripture.


Legalism Reveals Inability to Think

Ever been around someone that is not teachable?  It is challenging to say the least.  Folks that are not teachable have revealed their pride and lack of humility.  Humility precedes a teachable spirit.  And yet, some folks, choose to live a life whereby their way of thinking, their brand of Christian thought, is THE ONLY brand.  I had a mentor share with me quite a few years ago that people do not defend their Bible, they are actually defending their systematic theology.  So true.  Tongues or no tongues.  Calvinism or not.  You get the idea.  And yet the issues that divide us have zero bearing on eternity.  No wonder denomination is simply another word for division.  And what divides us are the things that do not keep people from being redeemed.  As I recall, confess with one’s mouth and believe in one’s heart that Christ died, and one shall be saved.  Seems pretty simple to me.  Maybe that is why the Lord said we were to come to Him with a simple faith, much like a child possesses.

Yet, legalism in Christian thought can be compared to the Pharisees of old.  I am right.  You are wrong.  And this form of thinking creates a sense of power and control over others.  It breeds arrogance.  It creates contempt for those who do not believe the same as the legalist.  And what is most sad, this is the experience culture has with much of the church today.  Could it be that the remedy of legalism is humility?  I think so.  It is in humility we fully understand the finiteness of our minds and that His thoughts and not our thoughts.  It is in grace I can move to compassion and empathy.  Which means I can not live with a sense of I am right and you are wrong, which is really, a way for me to feel more power over you.

It is in humility we admit we admit we do not really know much and move to a teachable spirit.  We understand that Abba Father ways WAY more knowledge than I and that I am only able to tap into that knowledge in humility.  It is in humility that I realize i am able to live powerfully.  Legalism is really rooted in arrogance and pride and divides and breaks relationship.  Legalists, then, in reality, live in weakness (though they can not see it for themselves).

Live in humility.  It is a powerful way to live.  And I learn so much more about life, God, others, and most important, myself.  Remember, arrogant people do not know they are arrogant.  Their arrogance blinds them to their arrogance.

Relationship Skills Transformed My Counseling

Bob and Sandy (not their real names) sat in my office for their initial appointment.  Both looked helpless and hopeless.  I would be their third counselor.  Bob was tired of counseling as he felt it had made things worse.

“I know all the reasons why we are where we are, Dr. Rick.  But we still can’t seem to make things work.  I am frustrated.  The other counselors have blamed us saying its our fault that we do not make the changes.  I don’t feel that they are right, but now I am second guessing myself.”

Sandy nods in agreement.

I ask, “Bob, did any of your counselors show you and Sandy what to do different?  Did they show you how to communicate, how to listen and how to emotionally regulate yourselves?”

“No, Doc.  Just kept pointing out to us our feelings and providing input.  I have so much insight into myself and my family history and my marriage I am sick of it.  It has not changed a thing.”

I could hear his frustration emerging again.  So, I intervened.  “Bob, it sounds like you feel stuck; like you do not know how to create the relationship you both want, and I sense you both want.  Yet, no one has shown you how to do it and to make what you want possible.  Would that be accurate?”

“Dr. Rick, we don’t know what to do!  And we heard you can show us how to make our marriage strong and healthy.”  Sandy nods her head in agreement.  She then speaks up.

“Dr. Rick, we love each other.  We both have felt trapped.  One counselor told us to divorce since we could not get along.  I was so angry at her.  We go to counseling to save a marriage and then get told to divorce!  We just need help from someone who can help us make our marriage work.  We have the love.  We need the help.”

“I can help Sandy.  And Bob, I can show you the how.  What we have learned is that many couples do not know how to create the marriage that they desire.  We will teach you the skills necessary for a loving, vibrant, and caring relationship and the skills to emotionally regulate your brain, so that in conflict, you do not hurt each other or your relationship.  How does that sound?”

“When do we begin?” Sandy asks with relief.  Six months later Bob and Sandy created the marriage they wanted because they were given the skills for bonding, attachment, communication and problem solving, emotional regulation and the skills for forgiveness and caring.  With these skills, they created the marriage they wanted.

This scenario is something we have seen countless times over the past two decades.  We have couples come to us from around the country to save their marriage, most with years of counseling and multiple counselors.  How do we do it?  We learned that what most couples really need is  relationship education (the skills and tools to make healthy marriages) as a key component of their counseling process.

My professional background is a PhD in Counseling and two Master’s degrees; one in marriage and family therapy and one in education.  I was prepared very well academically.  But one thing I  learned over 25 years of counseling couples is that theory only takes couples so far, and really, in the long run, is not enough to save a marriage.  So, I sought to find the things that do work, that empower couples to create for themselves the marriages they seek.  This journey took me to the leaders such as Scott Stanley, PhD, Howard Markman, PhD, Lori Gordon, PhD, Michelle Weiner-Davis, Bernard Guerney, PhD to name a few.  I sat under their teaching and leadership.  All would share the same themes about helping couples: if you do not provide couples with  tools and relationship skills, they will find it quite difficult to create the marriage they seek.

In 2002, I wrote a faith-based version to Dr. Lori Gordon’s work, PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills).  I also started working for her in 2004 through 2009 and became a PAIRS master teacher of their semester course.  I learned from Dr. Gordon that through incorporating relationship education into therapy, I would find greater success, happier couples, , and couples empowered to develop and create the love and intimacy they sought.  And I could do it much quicker than traditional marriage counseling.  Through teaching couple’s skills, they discovered the ability to get unstuck for themselves.  What I learned is that couples may get insights into the problems they have through therapists, but still do not have the skills for love and intimacy.  By teaching them these skills, they knew what to do different, and that difference made all the difference.

I got involved in the yearly annual Smartmarriage conferences from 1998 until they ended in the mid-2000s.  I taught workshops and was invited to be a Plenary speaker one year.  The focus of the Smartmarriage movement was the integration of relationship skills education into organizations and communities.  It also encouraged incorporating relationship skills education into marriage and family therapy.  I took this thinking seriously and began to teach couples skills as a regular part of my marriage therapy.  I was amazed at the results.

In 2005, I stared a three-day, relationship skills intensive for highly disconnected couples who were separated or divorcing.  From our internal follow up with couples from 2005 through 2010, 85% of the couples that attended our HOPE Weekend intensives that were divorcing or separated stayed together even after two years.  Today, HOPE Weekends  are a monthly relational repair intensive that is both an educational process and  highly therapeutic.  I learned from my teachers and mentors in the educational skills section of the marriage therapy field, that we empower couples when we teach them the skills for success.  The outcomes speak for themselves.

Today, I strongly encourage marriage and family therapists to get trained in research-based relationship skills programs and integrate these programs into their clinical practice.  I have also learned that marriage mentor couples in faith-based organizations, trained in these programs, help numerous couples before they get to me.  If that sounds troubling, it can be if we think of ourselves as the only ones who can save marriages.  Yet, if we are so adept at saving marriages, why do most couples who attend marriage therapy end up divorced?  You can learn more about this from Bill Doherty, PhD and his research on what he terms, “therapist assisted marital suicide.”  I admit, I was at first angered by this title.  Yet, thinking about it logically and according to the data, it is true.  So, I began the journey to get certified in PAIRS, PREP, Family Wellness, Couples Connection, and the Compassion programs by Steve Stosney, PhD. To name a few.  These researchers and leaders in the marriage education and therapy field, empowered me towards greater results and much happier couples.  Finally, we created our own research-based relationship curriculum, partnered with Lori Gordon, PhD, titled Adventures in Marriage.  This nine-hour relationship skills program has wonderful results based on the research by Florida State University’s Dr. Frank Fincham, the independent researcher who evaluated   this program over a 5 year period.

The Smartmarriage annual conferences ceased in 2010.  But the good news!

The National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education (NARME) picked up that mantle and now is the leader in providing the premier annual conference whereby we can learn from leaders in the field and get certified in some of the leading relationship and marriage education programs.  I have been at each NARME conference and teach workshops and network and get my CEUs for my LPC. I get to network with others and learn best practices to integrate into my marriage counseling and coaching of couples.  This year the annual conference for NARME will be held in Florida!  NARME is coming to Orlando July 18-20 with presummit certification trainings from July 15-18.  Yes, you too can get certified in one of these leading programs to incorporate into your clinical practice.  NARME brings in leading researchers from around the country to speak in the plenary sessions and best practices from those in the field to teach the breakout workshops that you can choose from.  Tailor your NARME training experience to your needs like I do.  Plan now to join me at NARME.  I hope to see you there.  And yes, I will be teaching our Adventures in Marriage program for those that are wondering.  But remember, there are many other wonderful research based programs to train in as well.  To learn more about the NARME Summit in Orlando, go to http://www.narme.org

Live Powerfully. Live Humbly

Ever notice that mature people are rarely triggered into negative emotional states? Ever notice that mature people handle conflict with dignity, respect, goodwill and with the goal of being cooperative rather than competitive? Ever notice that mature people and teachable? I have. And I will also tell you what else I observed. What is behind all that behavior is humility. Not humiliation. Humility.

People who live a life of humility are powerful people. They do not need to be noticed and they know when to put suspend their ego. They understand that being able to understand others, to be teachable, and to be willing to look in the mirror takes humility. People who are living a life of humility do acts of kindness anonymously. They think more about the “We” rather than the “Me.”

What differences would be in your life if you decided to live a life of humility? More on this later.


Dr. Rick

32 Christmas’ With You

A note to my wife, friend, confidant, lover, and encourager (Yes, it’s Louella!)

I was sitting back this day thinking about two of our children being home for the holidays, and one traveling around Israel at the moment.  I thought about how much joy they have brought us and how many years we were entrusted to raise them, love them, support them and encourage them.  I thought about all the moves, the hurts, the joys, the challenges, the inspirations, the peaceful times, passionate times, and simple times that we have shared together and as a family.  All of this over 32 Christmas’.  32!  The first as an engaged couple, then the following 31 married, as an US.  And I must say, I would live them all over again with you.

As I reflect on these 32 Christmas’, we have experienced them in Florida, Texas, and Virginia.  They have been in times of plenty and in want.  However, all have been joyous occasions because we were together, a family.  This year will be the first that some changes have been made for us.  Not all our children will be home.  Your dad is no longer with us and we can not share our traditional Christmas Eve dinner with him.  And in thinking all this through one particular word kept creeping up in my mind: Change.  Life is about change.  Nothing really stays the same.  We raise our children to launch them to God’s purpose in their lives.  Death is a part of life and so is loss.  And so is gain.  God has brought others into our lives to encourage and support.

But one thing is for sure.  You and i will be together Christmas’ to come. And I so look forward to 33, 34, 35, 36… and so on with you.

I am blessed to be in your life and you in mine.  I love you much.

You Can’t Stop Doing What You’re Doing

Ever noticed that when  you are impatient its difficult to stop being impatient?  Or when you recognize that when you are being unkind to someone, and you recognize it, it gets difficult to stop being what you are being?  I have.  And I came to a realization: You can’t stop being what you are being!  You have to be something different, or you have to DO something different.  In other words, when I am in a Walmart and out of 20 check out lanes they only have ONE open (you know that feeling), you can either choose to be patient or impatient.  And which ever you decide to BE, will send out either a loving or unloving energy around you.  And I have also become keenly aware when I am in negative energy (think a sinful state such as impatience) I will affect others.  My way of BEING will either send a loving energy or an unloving energy to those around me.

So, here is some help I would like to provide you.  Since you can not just STOP BEING what you are being, you must shift and BE something different.  I have provided for you what do BE different in the following negative ways of BEING.  Check this out:

NEGATIVE WAY                           POSITIVE WAY

  Impatient                                              Patient

              Judgemental                                         Approving

              Controlling                                            Respectful

              Critical                                                     Accepting/Supportive

               Unkind                                                     Kind

You get the idea.  Hope this helps.  How you are as a way of BEING is still a choice!  Choose loving and mature ways of being…




Three Components to Love? Yes!

Dr. Sternberg’s research on love and its components is some of the best I have read.  Rather than a spiritual approach to love, he really sought to understand love from a practical standpoint and found that love has three components, or traits.  These are:

  1. Intimacy – which has to do with the friendship and closeness in a relationship
  2. Passion – this includes the desire for and romantic attraction of love; hes this means sex too…
  3. Decision/Commitment – this is a definite decision to enter into a loving relationship with another and a sense of commitment to them and the relationship.

I found his theory wonderful as this allows us to understand love in any relationship.  The following graphic provides insight into love from its various traits and what it looks like with select traits lacking.  Love has its greatest meaning when all three components are present, or what he calls Consummate love.  If only Intimacy is present, he points out that these folks simply like each other.  Love devoid of passion and intimacy is empty love.  And passion without intimacy and commitment is infatuation.

This might help us understand why many relationships break up and fall apart as they lose one or two of these components.  For example, couples who cohabitate tend to have passion and intimacy but no commitment.  Thus the reason that if these couples marry the majority divorce.  Why, commitment was not a part of the relationship.

I will leave the graphic for you to consider.  Good day…