One thing that bothers me about therapy and self-help books is their focus on nice, tidy stories and methods that neatly tie up experiences and outcomes. Cue music! Cue lights! It is as if the authors are saying, if you follow my step by step program, you will be cured! They might as well put a cherry on top.

conflict management

In real life, therapy is often sloppy and painful. It rarely follows follows the formula: “Here’s my issue” to “Now cure me!” At the same time it can be absolutely revelatory. It is startling on occasion when someone comes into my office and discloses what fills them with shame, and I can quickly offer them a few research-based facts about their particular situation that will begin to dispel some of their worst self-beliefs, usually about how abnormal or terrible they believe themselves to be. In these cases, facts are the cherry on top!


For example, in working with a traumatized young man, it was news to him that family friends are most often the perpetrators of sexual violence. The myth being, of course, that it is strangers who most often perpetrate sexual assault. By the way, this a “safe” myth that many prefer, but it isn’t reality. Facts like this are validating. 

Up to 90% of abusers are individuals the child knows. This data is collected by organizations such as Darkness to Light. Children get caught, literally, in the trap set by the attacker, that they will be bad, or cast out of their family if they reveal the secret. Or they are held hostage by the perpetrator with the knowledge that their sibling(s) will be next if they do not cooperate. Or the child is told that they have a “special” relationship with this person that no one must know about. Just knowing a statistic like this can relieve a person’s worst belief that they were somehow responsible for what happened to them. As in, facts are the cherry on top!

Another frequent example is found in couples therapy. Communication over ‘stuck’ issues nearly always presents itself. Sometimes these issues are ongoing, perpetual problems. These are entrenched beliefs or habits that a person has about a particular topic which are not likely to change dramatically, or are features of your partner’s personality. One simple example of this might be how they typically react in heavy traffic, involving a middle finger and much muttering. More entrenched beliefs often revolve around parenting or financial issues.


Data gathered by John Gottman, Ph.D., a noted relationship statistician and researcher, says that 69% of issues are perpetual. And this is in healthy relationships! Only 31% of disagreements are about solvable problems. How successful relationships navigate these perpetual issues is with grace, humor and compassion, and yes–it is mixed with occasional irritation. All relationships contain conflict. It is how it is approached that signals the difference. This statistic really makes a couple say hmmm….perhaps we are not so terribly dysfunctional. It gives them essential hope. It can be that you simply never had the opportunity to learn healthy communication strategies. The circular dance of anger can be interrupted–even repaired.

My reason for offering you this perspective is that I don’t want you to give up too easily, on yourself, or your relationships. You really do need to step back and slow down on occasion to do the change work necessary to achieve what is worthwhile. Our give-it-to-me-now, fix-me-quick society often does not leave much room for this reality.

  • Is gaining a sense of day-to-day peace what you seek?
  • Is having a relationship with someone who has your back a dream?
  • Is mastering your fear so that it no longer dominates your daily life what you want? 

Then work at it. Don’t leave this earth with the regret of never trying. It is worth it. But please don’t come into the room wanting your dessert with a cherry on top in a self-help to-go container. Your local yogurt shop can help with that.