Pete Pearson

I am writing from Hawaii, Ellyn’s and my favorite place to reorganize, reprioritize, and regenerate.

I was walking back to our unit and stopped to watch a gardener climb a very tall and quite thin palm tree to prune some dying branches at the top.

He used spikes on his shoes and a rope around the tree trunk. 

He climbed and cut gracefully and fearlessly with a very sharp machete.  

When he returned to terra firma, I asked him how long it took to become fearless in this job.

“Three months.”

Then I asked if anyone taught him.

“No, I learned it myself.”

Like most curious folks, I had to ask how he did this.

He said, “When I started climbing, I could not look down or my legs would begin shaking. I had to keep looking at the top of the tree. 

After about three months I could climb the really tall ones, over 100 feet, even if they were bent from strong trade winds.”  

I asked if he was told this was going to be part of his job when he was hired. He nodded affirmatively – and added that was thirty-five years ago. 

He is the only tree trimmer at this resort, which has a lot of trees. 

It looked like he had about 2% body fat and I commented he looked like he didn’t need to go to the gym, and he laughed at that preposterous idea. 

The lesson for most marriages 

A key principle to overcome fear of conversations going south and crashing is to keep your focus on the positive outcome you seek for yourself AND your partner. Think about what is required for YOU to create that outcome. 

Here’s one way to keep your eye on the prize.

On an index card or piece of paper, write down 3-4 qualities you aspire to in order to create a constructive conversation. Keep the card where you can find it in a moment’s notice.

You might write:

  • Listen
  • Ask questions for clarity
  • Recap what I’m hearing because that may be different than what my partner intends to say. 
  • Speak up without blaming, shaming, or guilting.
  • Look for and express areas of agreement.
  • Breathe deeply and often. I’ll get more oxygen to my brain and think more clearly.

This is the equivalent of looking at the tree top because that is where you need to go. 

Don’t bring up negatives from the past. That is the same as looking down. Don’t look down when climbing.

Be patient – it took three months of climbing every day for the palm tree trimmer to get comfortable. 

As you become a better “climber,” you will be able to prune some baggage memories, and once again you will be swaying gracefully even in strong winds.   


A Glossary of Terms that are sometimes Confusing

Couples Therapy is a counseling procedure that seeks to improve the adjustment of two people who have created an interdependent relationship. There are no standard procedures to help two people improve their adjustments to each other. Generally, a more experienced therapist will offer more perspectives and tools to a couple. Length of treatment will depend on severity of problems, motivation and skills of the therapist. A couple can be dating, living together, married or separating and may be gay, lesbian or heterosexual.

Marriage Therapy is a term often used interchangeably with marriage counseling. The term marriage implies two people have created a union sanctioned by a government or religious institution. The methods used in marriage counseling, marriage therapy and couples therapy are interchangeable and depend more on the specific challenges of each unique couple.

Psychotherapy is one or more processes to help improve psychological and emotional functioning. Examples are psychoanalysis, cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, Gestalt therapy, Transactional Analysis, Rational-Emotive therapy, or group therapy. Many forms of psychotherapy are blends of different approaches. For example, newer forms of psychotherapy called energy psychology draw upon recent advances in brain and neuroscience. These approaches often build on cognitive behavioral methods.

Clinical Psychologist. After graduating from college, it usually takes about five years of graduate school to get a Ph.D. in Psycholgy. It then requires an additional two years of supervision and passing a written (and often) an oral exam. There are a few states that allow psychologists to prescribe medications (with additional training) but that is uncommon.

Psychiatrist. After graduation from medical school, there is a generally a 4-year psychiatric residency. After the completion of this training, psychiatrists must pass an exam issued by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology to obtain certification and legally practice in the field. Psychiatrists can prescribe medications.

Clinical Social Worker. This profession usually requires two years of study after obtaining an undergraduate degree. While specific licensure requirements vary by state, most require clinical social workers to obtain 3,000 hours or 2 years of supervised clinical experience, after obtaining a Masters degree. Social workers can also specialize in diverse fields such as human services management, social welfare analysis, community organizing, social and community development, and social and political research.

Marriage and Family Therapist. Obtaining this license requires a Masters degree which takes approximately two years of post graduate study. The license also requires 3000 hours of supervised work and passing written exams.

The Couples Institute. We have assembled a group of top notch therapists at The Couples Institute. Whatever marriage help or marriage advice you are looking for, we are here to serve you. While most other therapists see only a few couples a week, we specialize in marriage and couples relationships, working to develop and bring you the most current and effective approaches to couples therapy. For more information about couples therapy or marriage counseling, see our couples therapy section.

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7 months ago


7 months ago

Great story & helpful analogy!

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