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August 2020


At first, I thought Dr. Sandra Wilson’s editor made a mistake– the title of her book is “Hurt People Hurt People.” It wasn’t long before I figured it out: Hurt people can’t help going around and hurting other people. Specifically, her book is about being hurt by the hurt people in your family. The idea is that, if get close enough to a hurt person, it is just a matter of time before that hurt person hurts you.

But, what are you going to do, you have to be around people that you love? According to Wilson the trick is to only stay far enough away from a hurt person to prevent them from hurting you.

Knowing where the boundary is between too close and too far can make the difference between a relationship that hurts and one that doesn’t. Are there hurting people in your life that you need to establish boundaries with?


One of the handouts I have used many times in marriage therapy over the years came from the mind of the late, great Dr. Gary Smalley. He calls the handout “The Stress Continuum.” Smalley theorized that stress is largely a function of expectation and reality. The closer they are, the less stress you will feel, the further apart the more stress you will feel.

Let’s suppose you had no idea that your grandchild has a morbid dislike for restaurants until you took him to one and he had a melt down. The stress could be overwhelming. Now, suppose you take him to a restaurant and you expect him to have a melt down and he does. In which situation will you feel more stressed out?

The moral of the story is you can better manage your stress if you align your expectation to reality.


I was looking up “anger” on the internet recently and was surprised to see no consensus on whether anger is a secondary or a primary emotion.

I am thinking it is both.

If I am just an angry person, I could consider that anger is a primary emotion. But, if I am angry about another emotion, then anger is secondary. For example, I could feel guilty (primary) that I am a failure, and that may make me angry (secondary).

It makes a difference when, on the road to managing our emotions, we try to understand them. The best way to understand an emotion is to determine if it is a primary emotion (one that is a reflection on ourselves) or a secondary emotion (an emotion due to a primary emotion). If we can nail that down, we will better understand our emotions which will prepare us to manage our emotions. If you need help figuring out what your primary emotion is, please leave a message on the contact page.


There are many definitions for emotional maturity, but they boil down to the ability to understand and manage your emotions. It would make sense, if emotional maturity is a key predictor of marriage satisfaction, to assess people who are unsatisfied with their marriages for emotional maturity.

Emotion is at the heart of emotional maturity. If I can understand what I am feeling, then I can learn to manage what I am feeling. Rarely is this emotion a surface emotion. Surface emotions are the ones that don’t answer the question, “What is it about this that upsets me?” Anger, frustration, and resentment are surface, or secondary, emotions. In other words they are the forward facing feelings behind which a primary emotion lies. After we get past the secondary emotion, we can zoom-in on the primary emotion and manage that. Primary emotions are things like envy, jealousy, and shame.

Here is an example. A husband says to me, “I am very frustrated (secondary emotion) with my wife.”

“What is wrong?”

“She keeps judging our daughter for mistakes she has made in her life.”

“How does that frustrate you?”

“Because I want to protect my daughter and I can’t.”

“Let’s assume that your wife is not the problem, but that there is something going on inside of you that spilling over into your relationship. Are you ashamed (a primary emotion) of your wife?”

“No, if anything I am ashamed of myself.”

“How did you get there?”

“When my wife does that, it is a reflection on me that after all the years of marriage I haven’t been able to keep her from doing that. When it comes to changing her, I have failed.”

“Do you really think it is your job to change your wife? God and us are the only ones who can change us. I think if you were to stop playing God, you will be relieved of the duty and sense of failure for what your wife does and therefore mitigate the shame because what she does will no longer reflect on you.”

If this husband can track this trail of thinking, he will be better able to understand how he feels, manage how he feels, become more emotionally mature, and find greater satisfaction in his marriage.

Could it be that what is going on between you and your spouse is actually what is going on inside of each of you?