Marriage and Family

  • What Predicts Divorce vs. a Successful Marriage
  • 10 Rules for Healthy Love
  • Dealing with Difficult People
  • Brain Sex
  • Children in Divorce
  • Healthy Divorcing
  • Domestic Violence Basics
  • Divorce
  • Love Addiction
  • Marriage Life Stages
  • The Psychology of Attraction
  • Un-Coupling

Grief Resources

The following is an excerpt of the information presented in Megan Johntz’ seminar What Predicts Divorce? and brings together many individuals' research into one seminar. For more information on the full workshop, contact Megan Johntz at, or 314.378.3384.


John Gottman, Ph.D.




More positivity than negativity (5:1). This means for every negative statement there are 5 positive statements, or behaviors

Repair attempts (attempts to get back into a loving, intimate interaction) received often

Perceive partner’s negative actions as an oddity

Keep no record of wrongs

Know how to soothe each other and self-soothe, especially the male self-soothing after a fight

Take breaks (physical or emotional) from an argument when reach an intense arousal state



More negativity than positivity (.8 to 1)

Repair attempts fail or are not received well by partner

Perceive partner’s negative actions as a character trait

Maintain a running score of wrongs and/or gifts and favors

Male stays vigilant, aroused, and feeds distress-maintaining thoughts after an argument

Don’t take breaks, or if they do, the male uses the time to rehearse distress-maintaining thoughts

Male has heart beat over 100 bpm even when resting after an argument (inability to self-soothe or receive soothing from her)

Male doesn’t have a good “marital poop detector” (high Negativity Threshold - definition below)

Male refuses to accept influence from female, often due to a fear of losing control, resulting in his emotional withdrawal, or controlling with defensiveness & contempt plus either belligerence or domination

Existence of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and/or stonewalling

Negative Affect Reciprocity: best divorce indicator - definition below

Distance and Isolation Cascade occurs: Flooding leads to Seeing Problems as Severe, leading to a pattern of Working Out Problems Alone, leading to Living Parallel Lives, ending in Loneliness



Negativity Threshold: the point at which a person becomes so uncomfortable with a problem in the relationship they will do something about it. Having a low threshold (talking about issues early) predicts a stable, happy relationship, but only when the male does it.

Negative Affect Reciprocity: the increased probability that one person’s emotions will be negative right after a negative statement from the partner. But negative affect reciprocity in-kind (anger met with anger, etc.) doesn’t predict divorce, and exists in every relationship. However, negative affect reciprocity escalating, for example, from anger into criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or stonewalling is what predicts divorce.

Flooding: a state of being “shell-shocked” by your partner’s expression of negativity. Flooded individuals often report their partner’s negativity is random, frequent, and they would do anything to stop it.

Seeing the Problem as Severe: seeing problems as severe, instead of “glorifying the struggle”.

Working Out Problems Alone: a belief that discussing the problems will be unproductive.

Living Parallel Lives: arranging your life so that it doesn’t intersect very much with your partner’s life.

Loneliness: especially for men who report minimal social support outside marriage. Loneliness (growing apart) is the number one reason most couples report for getting divorced.

Females criticize more; males stonewall (withhold interaction, especially emotions) more.

Negativity exists in every relationship and does not predict divorce or a stable, happy relationship.

A Pursuer-Distancer pattern exists in all relationships -- the female is typically the pursuer, which increases in ailing marriages.  If the male brings up issues/problems, it is predictive of a long-term, healthy relationship.

Even in the most distressed relationships, repair attempts occur on average every three minutes.

His facial expressions predict the occurrence of infectious diseases she will develop in the next 4 years.

Affairs, miscommunication, arguments, and poor conflict resolution skills do not cause divorce.

FIVE LANGUAGES FOR LOVE                                     Me                                         My Spouse   

  • Acts of Service

  • Words of Encouragement

  • Gift-giving

  • Quality Time

  • Physical Touch and Closeness

By Walter Trobish


Are we able to share together? Do I want to make my partner happy? Or do I want to become happy?


Does our love give us new strength and fill us with creative energy? Or does it take away our strength and energy?


Do we truly respect each other? Are we proud of one another? Do we want to introduce each other to friends and associates? Do we respect each other's opinions and desires?


Do we really accept one another as we are, with all our habits and shortcomings?


Are we willing and able to forgive each other and forget? Are we willing to give in to each other, or does one person do most of the giving? Do we have healthy and similar definitions of forgiveness?


Has our love been tested by time? Have we known each other long enough to permit our love to be tested by the variety of circumstance which we will face in our married life?




            Immaturity                                                               Maturity                            .

- inability to compromise                                 - realistic: sees life, self, others as they are

- mentally or physically cruel                            - flexible: able to adjust to changes

- misuse of authority                                     - self-control: able to control emotions,

- too dependent upon feelings                                   words, and behavior

- self-pity                                                     - able to give of self in an intimate friendship

- compulsive revenge-taker                                      

- self-defensive                                                

- violent quarreling

- irresponsible




    financial debt


    in-law and family of origin issues


    space invaders (i.e.: jealousy, low self-esteem, etc.)

    alcohol or drug abuse

    other addictions (i.e.: pornography, gambling, etc.)


    business failure

    business success

    married too young


    Successful partners do not take their relationship for granted.                                    

    Successful partners make their relationship an important priority.           

    Successful partners actively seek to meet each other's needs.                          

    Successful partners know when and when not to change in response to the other.

    Successful partners value themselves.                                                                  

    Successful partners love each other, not their idealization of each other.              

    Successful partners tolerate what they cannot change.                                    

    Successful partners are open with each other.                                                  

    Successful partners make good times together and grow through the bad ones.   

    Successful partners do unto each other as they would have the other do unto them.

           MEGAN A. JOHNTZ, M.S., L.P.C.


    Gentle, compassionate, friendly

    Wants the best for the other



    Giving, seeking the other's interest

    Understanding, enjoys and encourages laughter


    Seeks out and enjoys good, positive things

    Puts God first, unifying the couple under one common belief, set of life goals, and source of power and comfort

    Provides safety, physically, emotionally, and spiritually

    Expects, assumes, and imagines the relationship will flourish

    Is persistent

    You can count on it - rest comfortably in it.

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Ten Rules for Healthy Love

Sternberg (1988)

In all my work with couples, I find this to be one of the best and simplest pictures of healthy love. For more information on presentations dealing with men and women, either at the office or at the breakfast table, contact Megan Johntz.

·    Successful partners do not take their relationship for granted.

·    Successful partners make their relationship an important priority.

·    Successful partners actively seek to meet each other's needs.

·    Successful partners know when and when not to change in response to the other.

·    Successful partners value themselves.

·    Successful partners love each other, not their idealization of each other.

·    Successful partners tolerate what they cannot change.

·    Successful partners are open with each other.

·    Successful partners make good times together and grow through the bad ones.

·    Successful partners do unto each other as they would have the other  

      do unto them.

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Dealing with Difficult People

The following is a brief look at some of the major points in Megan Johntz’s seminar, Snake Charming: PsychTools for Dealing with Difficult People. For more information, contact Megan at 314.378.3384 or by email:



  • Don't be a Perp

         Perps refuse to take responsibility for their behavior

         Perps refuse to notice the negative impact of their actions

         Perps refuse to make restitution

  • Prepare them well in advance of the bad news

  • Stay ahead of them - anticipate, but stay mentally flexible

  • Mirror their non-verbals and paraverbals

  • Empathy galore (not sympathy)



  • Preparation / rehearsal

  • Timing

         Day of the week is important

         Time of the day is important

         Pay attention to your mood and timing

         Good news first?

  • Humor

  • Timing

  • Humor backfires sometimes

  • There is a difference between assertiveness and aggressiveness




  • S.O.L.V.E. the problem

  • Reality check to get perspective

  • You may need to do some Anger Work so you don’t take it out on co-workers or spouses

  • Self-care - take time for all of your basic 5 levels

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Brain Sex

The following is an excerpt from Megan Johntz’s presentation on the differences between men and women in the workplace and home. For more information on booking Megan for your organization, or for information on Executive Coaching Programs, contact Johntz Presentations.)

            I’m a female with a fairly male brain. No I won’t be visiting Oprah or Jerry Springer.   Did you know brains have genders? The sex of your brain may have more to do with your behavior than how mommy potty-trained you. Men don’t ask for directions and women can’t parallel park because their brains function differently.

            We all start out female, but at 6-7 weeks the developing fetus has a literally mind-altering process take place: a hormone bath drenches only little boy fetuses. When that testosterone hits the developing male’s brain, everything changes. Quite literally the male becomes brain damaged.

            The two hemispheres of our brains are connected by a bundle of nerves and other neat stuff, allowing one half to talk to the other. The male hormone bath destroys some of those connecting nerves, a.k.a. brain damage. Therefore the two halves don’t talk as much. You want him to express his feelings? Open up? Unfortunately his brain has a much more difficult time connecting the emotion center on one side with the language center on the other, so he becomes frustrated with your request. And you become frustrated with his “stubbornness” or “insensitivity”, because of course he enjoys intimate conversations about your relationship as much as you do. After all, you’ve never been male, so all you know is how females process the world. The frightening flip side is he believes you think like him! This brain difference is why men can compartmentalize so well. If a man’s in work mode, he usually doesn’t ponder possible anniversary gifts. Ladies, he’s not insensitive, he’s just compartmentalizing. 

            Female brains don’t get very much testosterone, so women aren’t brain damaged, just slightly schizophrenic. The female nerve bundle is left intact, allowing rapid flipping from one side of the brain to the other. But similar to schizophrenics, who take in huge amounts of information but don’t know which pieces are important, women absorb much more data from all five senses. This sometimes leads to overload. A woman having marriage difficulties brings it to work, because she’s flipping from the logical to the emotional hemisphere frequently.  Men, she’s not “flighty”, she’s just in many different modes at one time.

            Men read maps and women read character. For example, females often detect an office affair before it even commences. “Women’s intuition” may simply be the female’s heightened sensitivity to all kinds of verbal and non-verbal information. Women have such greater sensitivity to physical touch, the bell curves between men and women don’t even overlap when testing tactile sensitivity. Remember third grade when Jimmy thwapped you on the arm? When you complained, he struck himself with the same intensity, while saying, “Oh, that didn’t hurt.” The reason it didn’t hurt Jimmy is because his brain doesn’t register as much skin sensitivity.

Let’s take a look at some of the other differences between typical male and female brains:


  • Less verbal (about 2000 words a day)

  • Work in a hierarchy, trying to establish their position

  • Better spatial ability

  • Better depth perception

  • More aggressive

  • Define themselves by ability to achieve results

  • Solve problems alone

  • Hear the facts

  • Better eye-hand coordination

  • More sensitive to shrill whistle sounds/voices



  • More verbal (about 4000 words per day)

  • Work in groups and prefer building harmony

  • Make decisions by talking to others

  • More receptive on all five senses

  • Six times more likely to be able to sing on tune

  • Wider peripheral vision

  • Concentrate more on the needs of others

  • Greater resistance to long-term pain

  • See better in the dark

  • Judge character better


            The most discouraging aspect of sex differences is that some characteristics receive preferential treatment. Women sometimes attempt to force themselves into an unnatural mold in order to compete in a male environment. I wonder what would happen if we recognized that women are not men, and men are not women. And further, what if we realize the two genders compliment each other -- both bringing necessary skills at different times. When working with couples, I encourage each to find their strengths and stuck points. Then renegotiating the relationship is based on combining individual strengths to make a more complete whole.

Based on the work of:  Anne Moir and David Jessel.

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Children in Divorce

There is so much conflicting information out there on divorce and its effects on children. Just this week the CBS Evening News reported on a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association saying that childhood trauma can make it more likely a person will smoke as an adult, and make it harder for that person to quit. One of the traumas cited was if a child’s parents got divorced. As I’ve read the studies over the years, I’ve found some themes, but that by no means makes this the absolute truth. You must look at your own situation in light of the current research. Some of the research on children of divorce indicates that children:


  • are often better off after the divorce as opposed to staying in a continually conflicted household.
  • usually believe the conflict/divorce is their fault, especially when younger. Younger children also exaggerate the possibility of parental reconciliation, as well as feelings of abandonment.
  • are often triangulated or triangulate themselves to take the pressure off the conflict between mom and dad.
  • can learn to manipulate well during the first few years after the divorce, playing off of anger between the parents, or parental fears of losing their children.
  • report lower self-esteem than those in healthier, non-divorced families, but higher than children in continually conflicted two-parent houses.  The later only occurs about a year after the divorce, and through that first year, boys especially evidence more problems than those in continually conflicted two-parent homes.
  • boys tend to have more difficulty with their mothers after a divorce, than do girls with their fathers. respond to the grief with anger, depression, fear, and guilt especially within the first year.

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 The following is one of the exercises from Megan Johntz’ workshop on Healthy Divorcing. For more information, contact Megan at 314.378.3384 or email


The following basic information on divorce seems full of negatives. But there are some positives -- it depends on what you do with it.

  •      Divorced men and women have higher incidences of psychological difficulties, accidental death, and death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, pneumonia, and cirrhosis of the liver.
  •      The suicide rate for divorced or separated women is almost three and a half times greater.
  •      Divorced adults' households are considerably more disorganized.
  •      Divorced parents don't communicate as well with the children, show less affection, and discipline inconsistently.
  •      Divorce trauma is greatest for older women, who have been married longer, have two or more children, whose husband initiated the divorce, and who still have positive feelings toward their husbands or want to punish them.
  •      Fathers usually see their children as much right after the divorce, but quickly drop off.
  •      Women tend to see that the marriage is not working about ten years prior to its actual breakup, whereas men become aware of the marital distress on average three years before the divorce.
  •      Women report a greater awareness of the problems within a marriage, which may explain why most divorces today are instigated by the female.
  •      Young divorced people, especially females, report a greater sense of independence and self-esteem once they adjust to the divorce.
  •      Divorced individuals are more likely to divorce again as compared to those in first marriages.

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 The Grand Jury in Dallas, Texas became concerned with domestic violence issues, and asked Megan Johntz for some information regarding the subject. The following is Ms. Johntz’ brief on Domestic Violence. If you would like more information, all requests will be kept strictly confidential, and information can be emailed, sent to a secure location, or given over the phone. Megan can be reached at 314.378.3384 or email

Domestic Violence

Approximately two percent of the US population classifies as habitual batterers. The following cycle typically occurs in approximately two-thirds of domestic violence incidents:

Stage One:

Tension-Building Phase

Minor battering occurs. Verbal abuse and psychological warfare increases. She tries to soothe or stay away. She allows minor abuse often to prevent major abuse, but this is a double-edged sword because her docile behavior legitimizes his belief that he has the right to batter her. She covers up for his bad behavior which increases her isolation. Tension in the home increases. Sometimes she even provokes the fight to get it over, because the verbal and psychological abuse coupled with "waiting for the other shoe to fall" is too much tension.  She often reports in this waiting stage, "I'll go crazy if this goes on much longer".

Stage Two:

Acute Battering Stage

Unpredictable violence in its nature, time, or reasons for stopping. She knows she can't reason with him and develops psychological distance from him and the abuse. It's often wise for her to just give up at this stage because:  he is stronger, the rage is random and could hurt bystanders/children, this is a very lethal time as corroborated by police statistics of domestic violence calls being one of the most dangerous. Often she won't seek medical attention for days after the incident, if at all. She suffers symptoms similar to victims of other trauma: depression, anxiety, emotional collapse days or weeks after the event.

Stage Three:

Honeymoon Stage

Relief and tranquility. He's warm and nurturing, loving, tries to atone, promises, begs forgiveness. She may join him in this illusion, "This is the real man". She is often his only link to the outside world or sanity, and sensing his isolation and despair she feels responsible for his well-being. Paradoxically his chances of seeking help are much better after she leaves. But 10% of batterers do kill themselves after she leaves, which indicates her hunch about his needing her for his sanity, well-being, etc. may be fairly on target. Most abusers will reinforce this bond with statements such as, "I can't live without you," "You're the only one who understands/can help me," or "I'd kill myself if you left".  This phase locks them together because in many ways they need each other, and often they are the only adults who know about the violence problem. Many women who kill their abuser actually start out trying to commit suicide as she believe it's the only way out of this locked-in relationship. The Honeymoon Stage ends, and the cycle begins again.

Lenore Walker's opinion is that the female should leave, because the physical and psychological abuse will never improve. Murray Straus says that approximately one-third of abusive men stop spontaneously, without police intervention. The research shows that if she does leave, it's better for her and worse for him psychologically, mentally, and socially. She obviously stays for social, economic, religious, and family reasons, but let's take a look at some of the stronger, and less well known, reasons behind why she stays.



The above question assumes that it will get better if she just walks away. But battered women know something the general population may not:  it is precisely when she leaves that she is most at risk for serious bodily harm and death.  She stays in part because she knows what he would do if she left, and statistically she is correct. He is most lethal when she leaves. This does not mean she should stay – only that she needs to plan her escape, utilizing friends, family, law enforcement, domestic violence shelters, and/or counselors. Her leaving is also statistically the time when most men seek help, because they finally realize the severity of their problem.

She stays in part because the abuse is intermittently reinforced. If I want to teach you to be scared of me very quickly, I will harm you at random intervals. If I only hit you every Tuesday at 11:30, you'd be able to prepare for it, as well as safely let down your guard and relax all the other times.  The random or intermittent nature of the abuse keeps her ever hyper- vigilant and confused. One week he likes her to hold his hand, the next week he slaps her for it. She is never sure when to be scared, or what behavior is triggering the abuse, so she remains confused and perpetually frightened. Behaviors are learned rapidly through intermittent reinforcement, but they also last longer than behaviors learned by predictable reinforcement.  She learns quickly that he is in control, and her brain locks in that "truth" for even years after the end of the relationship.

She also stays because we as animals learn our lessons a little too well.  The phenomenon of "Learned Helplessness" (Martin Seligman) happens when she is having harm forced upon her and cannot escape over and over again.  Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania placed dogs in a cage on a metal grid, and shocked them repeatedly.  At first the dogs tried to escape, but after a while gave up. They didn't try to get out, even when the cage door was wide open.  They learned they were helpless. Researchers then dragged them to the exit, and eventually the dogs re-learned how to escape.

When you look at learned helplessness in domestic violence, you see women who've been told by fathers, mothers, teachers, boyfriends, etc. that they can't do it, that others' problems are their fault, that they are not worth very much, etc. She starts to believe it, and can look very passive in abusive relationships.  But there is a curious pattern when you look beneath the "passive" behavior of the dogs, and also the women.  The dogs looked like they had just given up, but they were actually doing things like lying in their own excrement because it cut the electric shock just the tiniest fraction. Researchers also found the dogs were staying on the portion of the grid that provided the least amount of shock.  They actually were still trying to save themselves even when looking very passive.  With battered women, she huddles up on the kitchen floor, not because she likes it, or she's stupid, but because she knows her compliance will shorten the episode, or prevent her children from being involved, or maybe he won't raise his voice and alarm the neighbors.

            The equivalent in domestic violence of dragging the passive dog to the exit until he learns to save himself, is cognitive-behavioral training. She is trapped by the false belief that she cannot escape, he holds all the power, she has no where to go, she caused the abuse, etc., so it is imperative to change her reality by giving her accurate information about the abuse cycle. When she realizes she can leave, something a lot of people erroneously expect her to do naturally after years of programming, she does. Learned Helplessness is one of the main reasons why she stays.

Another reason she stays is simply because she, like many Vietnam War veterans, is suffering the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is characterized by re-experiencing the events, increased arousal/anxiety at thoughts of, or triggers for, the events, and a pattern of trying to avoid the events (which holds her in a passive mode).  Cognitive functioning and decision making are impaired after suffering through a traumatic event. Depression and panic attacks are common.

Childhood factors correlated with adult involvement in an abusive relationship:

  • ·        witnessing or experiencing battering in the home
  • ·        sexual abuse or molestation as a child or teen
  • ·        critical periods during which the child experienced non-contingent control. Non-contingent control is where they really do have some control over the situation, but believe they do not
  • ·        stereotyped sex role socialization supporting rigid traditions
  • ·        health problems or chronic illness


Adult factors correlated with adult involvement in an abusive relationship:

  • pattern of violence
  • sexual abuse of the woman
  • jealousy, over-possessiveness, intrusiveness by the abuser, isolation of the female
  • threats of death or harm
  • psychological torture, which as defined by Amnesty International is:

            verbal degradation

            denial of powers


            monopolizing perceptions

            occasional indulgences (remember intermittent reinforcement)


            threats to kill

            induced debility

            drugs or alcohol

  • she knows about his violence against others including children, pets, or objects
  • alcohol or drug abuse by male or female


There are three different kinds of men who abuse women. More research on women who batter is needed.

Cyclical / Emotionally  Volatile  Abuser

About 30% of men who batter fall into this category. They look like Mr. Perfect on the outside, but become angry and violent only with women they feel emotionally attached to. This Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde batterer is often loved by those in his social or work life, and rarely becomes violent in public. When outsiders comment "What a great guy" she reinforces in her own mind that the abuse must be her fault, because everyone else seems to love him.

These men have a high fear of abandonment and anything in her life (job, friends, family, pregnancy, school) that he perceives as taking her away from him, he becomes enraged at. He spends a great deal of his verbal abuse on the themes of isolating her away from the world,  and making her believe she can't do life without him. In studies where these men watch couples arguing on videotape, they perceive significantly more abandonment in the scenes than men with no abuse history, and abusive men of the other two types. The Cyclical abuser also became more fearful and angrier at watching the tapes than did the control groups.

This type of batterer displays Borderline Personality Disorder characteristics, which is characterized by a pattern of instability and impulsivity, and is characterized by violent swings between love and hate in relationships, impulsivity such as self harm episodes, reckless driving, etc., intense mood swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, and identity disturbances. The higher he scores on scales of Borderline Personality Disorder, the more acute his abuse. There is also a direct correlation between alcohol abuse and  Borderline characteristics.

This abuser often displays many trauma symptoms such as depression, anxiety attacks, sleep disturbances, and dissociation ("zoning out"). These men usually have formed ambivalent attachments in early childhood and typically have suffered child abuse, shaming parents, and weak attachments to their primary caregivers.

The  Overcontrolled  Abuser

The second type of batterer is termed Overcontrolled, and about 30% of batterers fall into this category. They often keep a low profile, and can be heard to say to the few acquaintances they have, "I just want to be left alone to work on my truck." Anger builds up in these men from unexpressed thoughts, ideas, and feelings. In fact they usually report not even knowing what they think or feel. They score high on passive-aggressive and avoidance scales on psychological tests.

There are two subsets of Overcontrolled batterers, and both score very high on measures of dominance and rigid adherence to sex roles. The first subset is the active type, characterized by a blatant need to control.  They are often very perfectionistic and domineering, even counting every penny she has in her wallet, or demanding full documentation of all her spending. The second subset if the passive type. He remains very emotionally distant from his wife and they often argue about intimacy. Both of these subsets batter from a need to dominate and control their world.

The  Psychopathic  Abuser

The third type of abuser is extremely frightening for many reasons. The Psychopathic Abuser accounts for about 40% of all men who abuse others. These men have little or no conscience, show a very shallow emotional response, have unrealistic scenarios of the future, and are literally unwilling to examine past problems. They don't go through any justification for their actions, or try to blame others to reduce the shame they feel for battering, because they don't feel the shame. They have no remorse for their actions, and cannot feel the impact of their abuse on their victims.

These abusers do not learn from their mistakes, and therefore have a very poor treatment outcome. The MRI's of these men show just a small level of activity in their brains, near the brain stem. When researchers showed these MRI's to a group of physicians, the M.D.'s laughed and said, "Those patients must be nearly dead." This type of abuser is frequently violent outside the home as well as with his family, and is often arrested for non-violent crimes. If they steal, they'll say, "They've got insurance. They didn't get hurt at all. I'm the one who got hurt here."

There is a subgroup of these Psychopathic Batterers that has been termed the "velociraptors of intimate violence". Neil S. Jacobson found that these "Vagal Reactors" do not become physiologically aroused when in an argument. In fact the opposite occurs: they become very calm physiologically, but they look enraged on the outside. During the abuse these men have heart rates of a 20-year-old marathon runner in deep sleep, when the normal male heart would be pounding through his chest. These Vagal Reactors are much like trained martial artists, focusing all their energy and attention on their victim in order to produce the maximum effect. These are the most belligerent and contemptuous, are most likely to report violence in their family of origin, and have the highest rates of violence outside the home.  

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The following is an excerpt from Megan Johntz’s workshop on Divorce Recovery. For more information contact Megan at 314.378.3384, or email


A Primer

            So many things happen emotionally, spiritually, socially, financially, psychologically, mentally, and even physically when we leave a husband or wife. In the next several minutes, take some time to simply think through some of the following questions and information. If you’re like most divorcing people, your mind will wander from this task many times before you’re done with it, so give yourself permission to take it slowly. Like one of my clients, you may find you’ve put your purse in the microwave, because almost every aspect of your life is in turmoil right now.

Let’s take a quick look at why this event is so traumatic, and how to get through it as smoothly as possible. This will not be all the information you’ll need, in the least, but it’s a good starting place.

            Ask yourself these questions, and you may want to jot down a few thought or feelings as you go. One of the best tools for healing I’ve found, is journaling; most people gain great relief from pain, and great insight by simply writing.

  • What does it feel like to be divorced or separated?

  • How do you feel right now?

  • What do you expect to gain from divorcing or separating?

  • What percentage of you wants to get back together?

  • How will you know you are "recovered" from the divorce?

  • How long do you expect this process to take?

  • What can you do to slow down your healing?

  • How is this affecting you mentally?

  • How is this affecting you physically?

  • How is this affecting you spiritually?

  • How is this affecting you financially?

  • How is this affecting you socially?

  • How is this affecting you emotionally?

    Types of divorce:

  • third-party divorce (aka: the other lover divorce) the affair is often a symptom of other marital distress
  • problem divorce - an on-going problem like alcoholism drives a wedge between the two
  • identity or changing role divorce - one or both of the two has an identity crisis, or someone’s role has changed and is now undesirable to the other
  • annulment divorce - there are extenuating circumstances as to why the two married
  • family divorce - either family of origin came between the two
  • ambivalent divorce - two people have lead separate lives for a period of time, in essence emotionally divorcing long ago
  • Divorce / Healthy Divorcing

    At first you just survive. Shock is common, and can be good. The four major tasks of a divorcing person:

  • survival
  • dealing with emotions
  • forming an identity without your spouse
  • setting new goals


    There is a very specific process couples go through to start a relationship, and there is a very specific process couples go through to uncouple. (See the Uncoupling page.)



    Your emotions are probably running amok like an unruly child. Or you may go through periods of no feeling at all - totally numb. You may feel excited or happy at times, and then feel guilty that you’re feeling happy at such a tumultuous time. Most people when asked “What do you feel right now?” can’t identify the feeling. It’s necessary to identify feelings, because they can lead you to behave in certain ways, some of which you may not want to do. If you can catch yourself when you, for example, start feeling angry, you can deal with it productively instead of it getting out of control, and you end up kicking the cat.

    It’s also important to identify what your emotions are doing for health reasons. Science is just now finding out what a dramatic role emotions play in our physical health. When struggling to decipher your feelings, I’ve found it works well with most people to simplify it, especially during times of high stress, like during a divorce. Several times an hour ask yourself what you’re feeling. Distill it down into one of the basic four.

    There are basically four main emotions:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Happiness
  • Most people do well to keep a log or journal of their emotions during the day. It helps speed recovery through traumatic times. At the end of the day, write when you felt the above basic four feelings. As a side note, one of the benefits of going through a tumultuous time like divorce, is that you get to know yourself a lot better! Try not to miss the opportunity to turn something painful into a great learning experience. I don’t wish pain on anyone, but try to get as much good out of a bad situation as you can!


    Letting Go

                There are five elements to grief. You’ll usually hear them called the five stages of grief, but that can mislead people into thinking you go through stage 1, then stage 2, and so on. The five elements of grief are normally described as:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance
  • Again, you’ll hit all of these several times a day, usually. Please give yourself permission to grieve, instead of doing the Academy-Award Grief. People who fake it and tell everyone how wonderful they’re doing, take much longer to heal from divorce, and find themselves more isolated than ever, because they’ve let no one in.


    Adjusting the framework

                One of the most beneficial tools a divorcing person can master is taking charge of the head. Your head affects your heart and your hands - what you feel and what you do. Watch what your mind tells you about your worth, your future, your ability to survive or prosper, etc. It’s almost like some people have a comforting, encouraging advocate talking to them all day long, and some people have a punitive, condemning schoolteacher in their heads. Any idea which person will prosper through a bad situation and which will struggle? Their situations may be the same, but the talk inside their heads is what makes the difference. Take a while and think through these areas of headwork:


    • What does it mean to truly forgive someone, or forgive yourself?

    • What framework am I working under? "I'm OK - but my ex isn't", “My ex is OK, but I’m not.”

    Adjustments to single life

    • What are the advantages?

    • What are the disadvantages?

    • What are the good characteristics I have that others will see in dating me?

    • What are the basic personality characteristics I need in a mate?

    • Do I want to meet people yet?

    • When will I know when it’s time for me to date?

    • What are the advantages / disadvantages of dating again?

    Moving on

    • What motivates me?

    • What have I learned from my past experiences that will help me in this current situation?

    • What is my part in the dissolution of the relationship? Taking responsibility for your part allows you to work on it, become a more flexible and balanced person, and then leave those mistakes in the past relationship. Your next relationship will mimic your last one, unless you hunt down and kill your own monsters.


    Some Basics

                Even through a rough divorce, you can follow some simple guidelines and get as much good out of a bad situation as possible. A good starting place:

    • Put a child's welfare above any differences with the ex-spouse. Put the child's welfare above any personal difficulties.

    • Increase outside support systems, since most often it will decrease as mutual friends disappear. 

    • Talk about the full range of emotions and thoughts with safe people, and realize the process of grieving a marriage takes from one to three years.

    • Learn how to communicate effectively, honestly and clearly with your ex-partner.  Those who do report less parenting troubles as well as an easier time moving on to other relationships.

    • Take special care to eat well, exercise regularly and get 8-10 hours of sleep.  These three things can dramatically reduce the incidence of depression and anxiety attacks.

    • Realize this may also be an opportunity to learn more about better relationships and life goals.

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Addicted to Love

"Might as well face it, you're addicted to love..."  - Robert Palmer

             Can you be addicted to love? Anything in bloated portions can be dangerous, even something as wonderful as a good relationship. Some people have stayed in a relationship until it literally killed them, just for love. Take the short quiz below, as it illustrates many of the signs and symptoms of love gone bad.

If seven or more of the following describe you, the danger of love addiction is very real.


  • come from a family in which emotional needs were not met;
  • assumed a caretaker/pleaser role to gain approval;
  • are attracted to people who don't treat you well;
  • find loving, kind, stable people boring;
  • are very tolerant of others and spend a long time hoping for something different;
  • make excuses for his/her behavior, holding out for the way it used to be, or could be;
  • have a low self-image: you believe you have to earn happiness;
  • are terrified of abandonment and being alone;
  • control or manage your partner's life in an effort to help him/her;
  • have other addictive tendencies: overeating, too much TV, working too much, etc.;
  • fear disapproval so much you rarely say 'no', or express your true opinion for fear of displeasing or losing your partner.
  •             Sternberg (1988) identified ten indicators of healthy love.  As you read over the following list, keep your marriage and other personal relationships in mind, but also asses your professional liaisons as well.
  • Successful partners:
  • do not take their relationship for granted;
  • actively seek to meet each other's needs;
  • know when and when not to change in response to the other;
  • value themselves;
  • tolerate what they cannot change;
  • are open with each other;
  • make good times together and grow through the bad ones;
  •             As you have been reading this column, rivers and streams are slowly eroding mountains of solid rock. But you would have great difficulty detecting the process because of its gradual, quiet destruction. Similarly, relationship addiction slowly erodes intimacy by imposing unhealthy demands, crossing various boundaries, and ignoring vital information.

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Marriage Life Stages

The following is an excerpt form Megan Johntz’s workshop on PsychTools for Marriage in the twenty-first century. This section is just one topic covered in the workshop. For information on all the topics covered, contact Megan at 314.378.3384, or


"When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition until death do them part."

~  George Bernard Shaw


"The first forty years of life furnish the text, while the

remaining thirty supply the commentary."



"All men should strive to learn before they die

What they are running from, and to, and why.

~  James Thurber,

The Shore and the Sea, 1956


"Middle age is when your age starts to

show around your middle."

Bob Hope


            You’ll probably go through a very specific pattern in your marriage. The problem is, most people don’t know the progression, so pains and problems blindside them. Let’s take a look at what most couples go through at each major stage of the marriage process, so you’ll be able to anticipate and handle effectively the “hidden” curveballs of marriage. We’ll learn some exercises to warm up your brain, so no matter what life stage you’re going through, you’ll be able to form creative solutions. You’ll learn how to keep your brain from staring straight ahead.




Family of origin (FOO) clashes:

            Problem:  Putting your foot in your brain.  His mom taught him to make a peanut butter & jelly sandwich one way, and her dad taught her to make it another. Expectations aren't met, leading to conflicts. 

            Goal: Flexible partners.

            Tool: Explore FOO operations manual for each partner, especially what they expect marriage to look like.  Build flexibility by focusing on how clues may be misleading. We use clues to make conclusions - sometimes using the same clues over and over.

            Tool: What clues are you using to make that conclusion?

Reality Check

            Problem: As the relationship ages, "for better - for worse" becomes the latter.

            Goal: Work the real problem instead of solving the side issues.

            Tool: Go hunting for the real problem.


            You are waiting for the bus, and once again, you find you don't have the correct change. Is the problem:

  • how are you going to get the exact change before the bus comes?
  • what can you do after you get on the bus without correct change?
  • how can you get there another way?
  • how can you make this trip later?
  • how can I prevent this from happening again?
  • why do I procrastinate getting change made?


    "Where did I/We go?"
    •             Problem: Diminished time spent on couple activities and individual time.
    •             Goal: Balance.
    •             Tool: In through the out door. Starting at the end and solving backwards provides creative solutions.  First you have to know the priorities of each - how much alone time do you need to feel connected to him?  How much time do you need away from the children in order to feed your adult self?

    Parenting Styles
    •             Problem: He says a swift swat on the rump is what taught him respect for authority. She's a trauma survivor and sees spanking as physical violence.
    •             Goal: Learn to see out of the corner of your brain.
    •             Tool: Relative logic.


    "Is this my hat, or yours?"
    •             Problem: Tim wants Tim Jr. to wear a bowler hat like all the men before him, but Tim Jr. comes in wearing a do-rag.
    •             Goal: Parents and teens learn appropriate boundaries.
    •             Tool: Getting out of your own way. You used to give a lot of attention to how you did simple things and now you give almost none, because you've become so used to doing it. Allow parents to explore their natural behaviors, challenging them to adjust to the changing boundary needs of individuating adolescents.
    •             Tool: Temporarily alter restrictions - play "What if?"

    "I heard you the 789th time you said that!"

    •             Problem: Finishing before starting because you're in a relating rut. 
    •             Goal: Relate in a more flexible, productive style.
    •             Tool: Don't fall for what pops in first. Throw out the first, maybe even the second,  comment, solution, or assumption that comes to mind. 


    Reconstituted relationship
    •             Problem: After the spotlight on children dies down, a couple may find little reason to stay together.
    •             Goal: Refocus on, and rediscover various aspects of relationship.
    •             Tool: List before you look. Lists help look at things in a different way, and look at more things. List who you think your spouse is, and then look for a week, asking why. List old hurts, and rate intensity today. 

    What now?

    •             Problem: One of a parents' main jobs is to work themselves out of a job, but when that happens mom or dad may not know what they want to do.
    •             Goal: Redirect energies formerly available for childrearing to individual, couple, and/or community interests.
    •             Tool: Sharpen your senses again to tune into you. Exercise the ability to know your desires and strengths/weaknesses.
    • Learn your own needs to gain the answers to important life questions:
    • Dr. Samuel Johnson had to have a purring cat, orange peel, and tea to concentrate.
    • Mozart needed to exercise.
    • Immanuel Kant like to work in bed at times, with the blankets arranged in his own special way.
    • Johann Schiller needed to fill his desk with rotten apples.

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    put PsychTools to work for your organization's success.

    The following is a look at some of the topics covered in Megan Johntz’s workshop/keynote, “The Psychology of Attraction (aka: Why Him?)”. For more information on training your organization in healthy relationships, contact Megan Johntz at 314.378.3384,

    The Psychology of Attraction


    WHY  HIM?

                It may be more than his blue eyes and that sexy ’82 Pinto he drove on your first date. Attraction theories say you might have picked him because he reminds you of dad or mom. One theory even says we marry the worst parts of our parents! If so, it allows you the unique opportunity of having similar conflicts as in childhood, but this time you’re more well-equip. Being attracted to a mini-mom or pseudo-dad can clean up unfinished business. One dear woman in my practice had a very emotionally distant father, and when she worked through that same issue with her husband, her depression subsided. As an adult, she was able to have more productive conversations than as a dependent child.

                Or you may be attracted to those exactly opposite your parents as a way of escaping the difficulties of those early relationships. Warning:  if you go 180 degrees from any point, you’re still on the same level, so relationships with “the exact opposite” produce similar results. For example a young girl chooses a conflict-avoidant mate after growing up with a rage-aholic father. She now has her wish: no screaming, no slamming doors. But a closer look reveals similar environments:  both families don’t know healthy anger expression, and children from both families become anger-phobic. Two seemingly opposite ends produce similar results. On a more positive note, your attractions may lead you toward someone just like your parents because those relationships were safe and satisfying. 

                However, opposites do present unique opportunities to expand your repertoire and balance you out. Often extraverts and introverts are attracted to one another as they realize each style has benefits. Opposites attracting may be a growing person’s search for a guide into uncharted territory.

                So why do those initially attractive characteristics often transform into the most aggravating? His sense of humor was attractively free and uninhibited, but now it’s annoying and overbearing. Consider this: you’ve (probably) only been one person. Therefore you believe your life rules are normal, and it feels safer if everyone obeys your norms.  Problem: he’s different.  He doesn’t stack the dishwasher the “right” way, and Argument #388 starts again. Conflicts continue endlessly as we attempt to tutor others on the correct way to do life.

                However many of these conflicts drown in the wake of education, through knowledge about, and respect for, personality differences. As a counselor one of the most rewarding moments comes when the light bulb clicks on, and he realizes she doesn’t “do that on purpose,” it’s simply that “she has a different personality.”

                When two become one, personalities don’t melt together. One of the biggest intimacy fallacies is that couples should have the same thoughts, feelings, likes, habits and neuroses. Truly intimate couples honor differences and have less regurgitated argument as a result. Take a look at the Myers-Briggs Personality Types below and identify your personality type and your partner’s, because the first step toward honoring differences is to find them.


    Focus on, and draw energy from, the outer world of people and external environment. Do it instead of thinking about it.


    Focus on, and are energized by, their own inner world. Understand the world before experiencing it.


    Gain information through the five senses, allowing them to see life's realities. Practical, deal in the here-and-now, and are good with facts.


    Gain information through intuition. See meanings, relationships and possibilities beyond the facts.


    Make decisions objectively, by analyzing evidence, facts and probable outcomes. Comfortable with objective truth. Can pinpoint what is wrong.


    Make decisions based on values held by themselves and others effected by the decision. Are comfortable deciding against the most logical choice, as long as they stay true to their values. Good with people. Empathetic and tactful.


    Live in a systematic, orderly manner. Desire closure: set goal, attain goal and go on.


    Live in a flexible, open-ended manner. Continuously gather information, in an effort to understand the world instead of control it. Adaptable and open to spontaneity.


                In this day of microwave relationships and easy outs, many couples struggle with basic intimacy as a safety issue.  Why open up to someone completely, if there’s a 50-50 chance he’ll be gone in five years. (And that’s just if you make it to the alter.)  Many conflicts arise as couples desire true intimacy, but run from it for self-protection. In an increasingly frightening world, fear of abandonment abounds, and one effective, but costly, protection against rejection is to practice perpetual conflict.

                Another popular tool for perpetuating conflict is staying stuck in the problem. By blaming, distorting truth, and being problem-oriented, you could keep Argument #338 alive from dating ‘til death. Do something, anything, different. Stay when you normally walk out. Smile or laugh when you would’ve hit. Have a written argument sitting at the kitchen table. Break the cycle. Also learn from the past; what did you do differently during your last productive argument?


    Some of the topics covered in the workshop include:

  • The Mystery of Attraction
  • The Brain on a Date
  • Childhood Ow-eez and the Band-Aids that don't Work
  • Your Imago
  • Re-romanticizing
  • Your Relationship Vision
  • Marriage Killers

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    put PsychTools to work for your organization's success.


    How You Get From "TilDeath" to Divorce

    The process by which two people separate from one another is much like the dating/marriage progression in reverse. There is an easily identifiable pattern to couples breaking up, although it must not be seen as completely black and white, or like a conveyor belt that you can't stop or turn around.


    The typical pattern to breaking up includes:

    • The person who wants out - the "initiator" - begins to psychologically distance.  His or her partner usually reports not being aware this was going on.

    • Initiators seek outside confidants, whether friends, a lover, counselors, or family.

    • Initiators begin creating a new world separate from the partner, as they test the waters to see what life without the partner would be like.  They may take vacations alone, insist that the partner does not share a new-found hobby, read works divergent from previously held beliefs or beliefs held by the partner, etc.

    • As the uncoupling increases, the partner becomes aware that something is wrong and may become frightened or angry.  At this point a confrontation usually arises, instigated by some distancing behavior on the part of the initiator.  This stage is the first time the couple will discuss openly the troubles in the marriage, even though the initiator has to a large extent already disengaged.

    • The partner feels betrayed, shocked, angry, scared, sad, etc. as he or she realizes the full truth in a short amount of time. The initiator has also felt those same feelings - just earlier in the process - so he or she is further along in dealing with them.

    • Often at this stage the partner wants to, and makes attempts to, "fix" the relationship.  Some partners and initiators succeed at turning the process around, but only when both are invested.

    • Successful uncoupling is attained when both have created worlds that do not include the other physically or for the most part, mentally and emotionally. Some people however never reach this stage, and carry unresolved feelings of love, anger, grief, etc. for the rest of their lives.

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