Friday, February 17, 2017

Are We Able to Learn from Each Person? An Essay by Alan Singer

Teachers are empowered to transmit knowledge to students in their classrooms. Mr. Kreisberg, my science teacher, taught me that the pursuit of knowledge can be an adventure. Mrs. Greenberg, my English teacher, demonstrated that literature can be mind-expanding. And Dr. Hershkowitz’s semester of social psychology inspired me to change my career track.
          You don’t have to pay tuition to a prestigious school to encounter great teachers. The subject titled, Lessons for Your Life is taught to me frequently in Penn Station by Croissant Man, AM-New York man, and Guitar man. Croissant Man wants to sell you something, AM-New York man wants to give you something, and Guitar Man wants a donation from you.
          Whenever a morning person greets Croissant Man with, Hi Jim, how are you doing? He responds, “Another day”. I feel the intense boredom in his monotonal response.  But he brings himself to work every day in this stressful economy and I do respect him for that. Another day can be something you have to drag yourself through or another day can be the opportunity of your lifetime. “Rabbi Tarfon would say: The day is short and the work is considerable” (Pirkei Avos Ch. 2). If you skipped work for a day and only did Gimilut Chasadim (good deeds) for your family, friends and neighbors, think of how much you’d accomplish in one day. The take-home lesson: time, not money, is the real use it or lose it.
          AM-New York Man has a completely different attitude as he enthusiastically proclaims, “Good morning to you. Trust me….if you’re breathing, it’s a good morning!” How often do I step off my commuter train in the morning and express thanks to the Almighty that I am breathing? I am usually late for an appointment and some guy’s duffel bag just rolled over my foot as I jog to the subway, which probably just left the station. AM-New York Man gives me a lot more than a free paper each morning. When you have your health and another day, you have the world. The take-home lesson is the Dayenu principle of life, as explained by my life-long teacher Rabbi Shlomo Riskin: Zero in on what you have in life; not what you’re missing.
          Guitar Man sings rock and roll music all day long and never exhausts. His open guitar case has some coins, some dollar bills, and a sign that reads, “I’m a street musician - too weird to live, too mean to die.” I don’t know what his sign means and I have never recognized even one of his tunes. 
          I have never seen such perseverance in a man and that inspires me. He stands in his corner of Penn Station, enthusiastically singing and strumming from sun-up to sun-down, even if his audience is only one person. I admire passion when I see it and doing what you love all day is a display of passion. As I put a dollar bill in his guitar case, he smiles and sings the words, “Thank you brother, now you go have some fun….promise me”. The take-home lesson: persevere in what you love.
          Although my walking by the three professors of Penn Station is random, I found that the sequence of their messages is meaningful:  
Do I use my time wisely?
Do I appreciate what I have?
Am I passionate about what I do?
I have accomplished a lot, and it is not even 9 AM. I never imagined my daily commute could be so stimulating. What an unlikely school in which to encounter such exemplary teachers. Ben Zoma asks: Who is wise? The one who learns from every person; as it is written (Psalms 119:99) I have gained understanding from all my teachers (Pirkei Avos Ch. 4).
Dr. Alan Singer is a marriage and family therapist in New Jersey and New York City. He has an 80% success rate in saving marriages of couples on the brink. He is listed on the National Registry of Marriage-Friendly Therapists. He counsels via Skype, blogs at and is the author of Creating Your Perfect Family Size (Wiley)Married for thirty-nine years, he and his wife are the parents of four grown children  (732) 572-2707

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Turbulent Marriages Are Threatened by Trump vs. Clinton Feuding


A growing number of unhappy couples are having heated arguments about Trump versus Clinton and, as a result are now making appointments for marriage counseling. It is no surprise given that the American Psychological Association just concluded that half of U.S. adults say this election is a significant source of stress. In fact, half of the couples I counsel place political arguments at the top of their sparring list. ‎ I haven't seen this many political arguments in my career as a couple’s therapist. There has not been so much dissatisfaction and stress as with presidential candidates Trump and Clinton. The problem is not as simple as spouses stating, let's just agree to disagree. If it were, marriage counseling wouldn’t be needed. Here’s how I have tailored my guidance for conflict resolution skills for these couples.

The fundamental truth is that each couple has the instinctive skills to solve their own problems and cultivating and nurturing those skills may be my most important role as a therapist.It is imperative to change the habitual patterns of unfair arguments. Most couples know how to de-escalate as well as how to escalate a disagreement. These Clinton/Trump disagreements turn into raging arguments that go for weeks and escalate at the risk of causing long-term damage. The wife yells at her husband, you are an arrogant thick conservative just like your father, and the husband sneers back, it’s no wonder you support Hillary because you are both lying liberals. When she shouts, he is insane and I don't know how I ever married him and they question each other's character, the situation spirals out of control. What started as a disagreement over political viewpoints is threatening the fabric of their marriage.
The first priority is for me to assess their communication. I ask them to continue their argument in front of me for 20 minutes while I study their facial expressions, body language, tone and the volume of their voices. After a glimpse of their sparring style, it is time to get to work and tone down the harmful rhetoric. 

These are the four treatment steps that seem to be most helpful:
Number 1: Teach couples how to de-escalate by calling a time-out when things get heated and they both get flooded. A time-out can’t be for five minutes because that is not enough time to calm down. Try an hour or a day or a week or just table the whole discussion and lock it in a cabinet. If the couple doesn’t calm down quickly and speak in a normal tone of voice, I apply some pressure by asking, you have ten years invested in your marriage and two children and you are ready to flush it down the drain for political differences? Last, who dreamed up that you have to resolve all your marital differences before bedtime each night? It is preferable for couples not to go to sleep angry, but resolving all differences is an unrealistic goal. Do you know what spouses should do each night? Express respect, affection, and appreciation to each other; tomorrow is another day.
Number 2: I re-focus the couple back to the topic of politics and not each other's character. I establish a ground rule: No personal attacks on your spouse in any shape or form. Otherwise this “external” conflict devolves into an “internal” struggle. Keep it on the outside; keep it external. It cannot be allowed into the inner sanctum where you store feelings, emotions, hopes, and dreams for you, your spouse and family. 
Number 3: I insist couples understand the difference between a disagreement and an argument. Disagreements are normal and common in healthy long-lasting marriages. ‎ Arguments, especially those that are scorching, are not. I reference the indispensable research of Psychologist Dr. Jon Gottman. Gottman found that two thirds of relationship issues in normal couples are perpetual. Examples of the most common disagreements are: parenting, money, work stress, intimacy, in-laws, and household chores. In his "love lab", Gottman discovered that it is the "regulation" of conflict not the "resolution" of conflict that is critical. 
Number 4: I remind each couple of the marital commitment they made in front of family, friends, and God. It is not a commitment as-long-as the love is strong, or as-long-as our political views remain in-sync rather it is a commitment No Matter What. Too often these days, commitments are like Velcro, it holds well but is easy to pull apart (Professor Bill Doherty).  Commitment is crucial as we humans are evolving and dynamic. Circumstances change; life happens. Just because you don’t have an in-law issue this year, doesn't mean you won’t next year. After all, your mother-in-law might move in with you. You don't argue about parenting your toddlers currently, but have you prepared yourself for adolescence? Not arguing about finances now is great, but what if you are laid off in an economic downturn?
As a last resort ‎I give couples an ultimatum that they must tone down the rhetoric, halt the character attacks, and start repairing immediately. I don't have a crystal ball, but I will predict that if you both continue down this road, you will likely destroy your marriage. The consequences of that choice not only impacts you both but doubles the chances that your children will get divorced.
Final note: This is a disagreement that will not end on November 8 with the presidential election. One candidate will be the winner; the other the loser. In a scorekeeping relationship which is as common as it is detrimental, one spouse will believe that he/she is the winner of the argument. ‎If the losing spouse rubs it in for months with quotes like I told you this is the kind of president she will be, it is a recipe for continued provocation and friction. Also, keep in mind that marriage is not a 50-50 arrangement. Do you know how to really win big? By giving more in your marriage, not by taking more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Can you Guess The Secrets of a 50 Year Marriage?

This is one heck of a sweet story from the Boston Globe. Click here to read the article. This is not a research study, it's just some wonderful quotes from some long-term married folks. Said Rosemary Kreder (91) about her husband, "His jokes are so bad that they're actually funny. And he always waits for the laugh."

Spoiler Alert: what are the two most common responses? Humor and Laughter. No surprise there. Not sure who first said it but....Take what you do seriously; don't take yourself too seriously. YES....inject humor and levity into your marriage...a well as your well as your well as your life! Laughter has been shown to be therapeutic, just like smiling is contagious. That's my conclusion and as Steven Wright says: A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Extended Family Moving Closer? Sounds Great for Marriage

According to a recent New York Times article, the typical adult now lives only 18 miles from his/her mother. Over the last few decades, Americans have become less mobile. Extended family nearby is a terrific indicator for healthy marriages because it means we’re becoming a country of close-knit families. Members of multiple generations can lean on one another for financial and practical support. And close proximity to Grandchildren = Priceless.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

NPR-Cincinnati...My Favorite Book-Related Radio Interview

When the NPR producer called me regarding their national series on family size, he was kind in saying "Well, you wrote the book Dr. Singer." NPR is so chill; what a pleasant experience. They give you time to think and time to answer during the interview (and such a distinguished panel of experts-not too shabby). With the TV promotion of my book, all of life was compressed into 3.5 minute segments. I finally realized that the interviewer is going to ask me 3 questions and that's it.

One NPR caller to this show asked....When there are 7 billion people in the world, why have any children? I responded: It is totally your decision; in my entire career spanning over 3 decades I never encouraged couples or suggested, that what they need for their marriage is a child, or another child.

The most asked question of my book: So, Dr. Singer, what really is the perfect family size?  My book has 92 self-test questions that assist couples in making the best decision for themselves. Couples shouldn't ask, What is the ideal number of children to have? They should ask: Are we both ready to have another child now (regardless of gender)?

Click here to enjoy the interview .......and please support your local public radio station.