How a dog can help your autistic child

An autistic child can be a huge stressor for a family. An average of 1 out of 110 American children are diagnosed with some form autism, usually around the time social skills normally develop, from ages 3-5 ( On the low end of the autism spectrum, a child may have only mild social withdrawal and can function relatively normally in social situations. A severely autistic child may be completely unresponsive to human contact, not speak, and also have an intellectual disability. Autistic children and their families face tremendous challenges, especially in making marriage work. As parents, you may feel frustrated and powerless to penetrate into the world of your child who you love so much.

While looking for a video this week and perusing ones with dogs and babies (the ultimate cute overload) I came across this heartwarming documentary clip about an family all the way in Scotland. Dale is an autistic boy who suffered violent tantrums and was completely cut off from the world as a young child. His parents agonized over how to help him lead a happy, normal life for a little boy. Nothing seemed to get through to him. Then along came Henry, a golden retreiver puppy. Henry and Dale slowly bonded as Henry’s playful, always-cheerful presence helped Dale learn how to socialize. This wonderful dog turned their life around. Check out this video and prepare to feel moved and, perhaps, inspired!

If your family is touched by autism, you might also want to check out the book based on Dale’s journey, “A Friend Like Henry.” In addition to relationship counseling, when we are faced with challenges, it can be helpful to hear from others who have gone through the same situations. Some of my blogger friends run specific blogs dealing with the trials and joys of life with an autistic child. I highly recommend for everyone to check them out. They are fantastic writers and storytellers.

A solid plan for family safety

This weekend my house almost burned down. It was a big wakeup call for family safety.

We returned from a movie date with my parents to find half the power out. Some lights worked, some didn’t, and there was no heat. After checking the fuses were fine we went outside to look at the breaker. This is the box that contains the connection from the street power lines into the house. Everything seemed fine, but there was a strange metallic and warm plastic smell hovering around the box.

Luckily it wasn’t too late and our neighbor who is an ex-electrician came over to check the situation. He turned off the breaker and unplugged it. Behind it, one of the nodes was completely burnt out. Clearly something was failing with the whole thing. Our neighbor moved the breaker into one of the plugs next to it to see if that was working. He switched it on and off; nothing happened. Thinking we might as well have sporadic power than none at all, he moved it back into its original position.

As he switched the breaker back on a huge arch of raw electricity leapt up and the whole box burst into a football-sized orb of fire. All the power in the house flared for a second and the lights of the houses down the street flickered. There was a horrible loud rushing sound. The breaker had failed in exactly what it was meant to do: be a safety catch to prevent the raw electricity from the power lines from blowing up. Because it was an electrical fire of enormous power, there would be no stopping the fire from catching the house and quickly starting to burn. My father, in a flash of genius instinct, struck his rubber booted foot into the blaze and amazingly managed to catch the “off” latch of the breaker. The arch stopped and the fire went out.

We stood in shock for a while. The fire had been so intense that the breaker—metal and hard plastic—had melted.

It was a sobering night. My father and our neighbor had an electrical explosion right in their faces. We could have lost them, and our house could be gone. The kindness of the rest of our neighbors was heart warming. They offered us blankets, hot showers, computer access, and food while we waited out the next three days without electricity. Sitting wrapped up at night by the light of candles made me think of the Connecticut families who have been without power for weeks. I live in California where the winter is chilly but mild. We’re pretty lucky. At the same time, we’ve been having a string of little earthquakes here that remind me that the “Big One” could be coming any time.

This is a bit of a deviation from my normal online marriage counseling posts, at the same time it is so important. Accidents and some disasters happen with no warning. At the same time, all healthy relationships should be prepared. I visited Fema’s Emergency preparedness site to get the low down on what we can do to keep our family safe in an emergency. The easiest thing you can do for your family safety is to make and Emergency Kit. We definitely used ours this weekend. Be sure to keep your kit updated and replace any items that may expire. Make sure everyone in your family knows where it is. It’s also a good idea to have another version in all your cars, including blankets and extra clothes.



A basic emergency supply kit could include the following recommended items:

  • Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First aid kit (included at end)
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Manual can opener for food
  • Local maps
  • Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger

You may want to add to your basic emercency kit with the following items:

  • Prescription medications and glasses
  • Infant formula and diapers
  • Pet food and extra water for your pet
  • Special supplies needed for baby or elderly people
  • Cash or traveler’s checks and change
  • Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container. You can use the Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) (PDF – 977Kb) developed by Operation Hope, FEMA and Citizen Corps to help you organize your information.
  • Emergency reference material such as a first aid book or free information from this web site. (See Publications)
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
  • Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted, nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
  • Mess kits, paper cups, plates, paper towels and plastic utensils
  • Paper and pencil
  • Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Why Dating Your Spouse is Great Parenting

Spending time with our kids is good parenting. I mean, spending quality time with our kids, that is the best thing we can do for our families, right? But what if it isn’t? What if the best thing we can do for our family is to leave our kids with a reliable sitter so we can go out and have fun without them?

Dating is actually hard to do for most couples. The kids complain about being left out or being left at home. Dating often costs cold, hard cash. There are so many other things that need to be done. Maybe the most compelling argument is our own guilt: how can I take some of the precious free time we have as parents to spend away from our kids? We need more family togetherness, not less!

There are three important reasons why dating your child’s other parent is the best thing you can do for your child.

Your marriage is the trunk of your family tree. Keeping that trunk healthy is absolutely necessary for kids to be able to branch out healthy and strong. Did you (or anyone you know well) grow up in a family with a shaky trunk? That shakiness effects every day, every relationship those kids enter into. When children feel the strength of the trunk, they feel safe and connected and more able to succeed.

Happiness is a key ingredient to solid parenting, and relying on your children for all your happiness is risky. Our kids did not take a vow to cherish us or think of our wellbeing each day. That is the role of married people to one another. Spending fun, free time with your spouse should recharge your batteries, improve your communication, spice up your sex life. All of these will help you separate from your kids just a little so that you can have more of a sense of humor with them. Want to take your kids’ moods a little less personally? Enjoy your spouse, feel more like a team and you will have less of an urge to be a friend of your child’s.

If neither of these arguments is compelling to you, if you feel that your role as parent is more important than your role as spouse, then here is the best reason of all to date your spouse: Your child will look for a marriage that looks like yours. Since we want our kids to be happy in their marriage someday, we need to teach them by example how to enjoy being married! Show them how much fun it is to flirt, joke around with and appreciate your spouse.

Plan dates and talk to your kids about why you are doing this. Let them know how much you value your spouse. They will feel loved when they see how much you love their other parent!


About the author:

Dr. G is a Board Certified family physician, mother of four, and a professional parenting speaker and writer. Her signature individualized workshop, “How to Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate” captivates parents through her humorous straight talk, which lifts the guilt out of parenting. Her mission is to help parents raise children they can respect and admire.
You can check her out at:
Twitter: #AskDocG

Weight, women, men and relationships

Dr. Susan Heitler recently appeared on ABC News with Diane Sawyer to discuss a new study from Ohio State University.  The study found that changes in your relationship—specifically, marriage and divorce—can cause unhealthy changes in your weight. Previous studies on women, men and relationships have shown that marriage causes weight gain, and divorce causes weight loss. This new research reveals details about the effects and shows that divorce actually leads to weight gain.

Women tend to gain weight after marriage, while the combination of men and relationships is more complicated. Men gain less weight than women, and sometimes become healthier. This may be because women start taking on the responsibilities of running the household, including raising children, and find less time to take care of their health. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to participate in healthful behaviors such as doctors’ check-ups and better eating once they are no longer bachelors.

Divorce also leads to increased Body Bass Index (BMI). For men and relationships, divorce means the undoing of the health benefits of marriage and they may fall into old bad habits of singledom.

marriage and divorce can lead to weight gain
marriage and divorce can lead to weight gain

Dr. Heitler noted for the article that both events are times of immense life change and extreme emotions. Emotional exhaustion and stress may make it difficult to muster up the energy to be physically active. In addition, emotional eating may kick in. Depression, for example, is common after divorce. “There’s an impulse to self-soothe with food combined with a drop in self-control that comes with depression or grieving,” Heitler said. “People will think, ‘Not only do I feel like eating a candy bar, but I just don’t have the will power to say no.'”

Eating out of joy is also emotional eating. Newlywed couples may find themselves celebrating, sharing more meals together, and reflecting the happiness of their union in food. Men and relationships may also influence women to eat more like their husbands in terms of quantity and kind.

The solution? Pay attention to your body. Don’t let your focus on your health slip during emotional times of transition, says dietitian Keri Glassman. “Be aware and be mindful of all the different lifestyle factors going on for you at the time.”

Po2 in the workplace: Coaching skills


Hey everyone, this is Jesse, the tech-guy here at Power of Two!

Last week Naomi posted about how the skills taught in marriage counseling can translate into other areas of your life (read that post here). Here’s an article I wrote about another element of Power of Two that can really help you in the workplace: a good coach.


At Power of Two everyone on our team has a coach; someone to help them, guide them, and push them to greatness. The idea started because our core business is pairing online marriage counseling with individual coaching for couples in challenging relationships. We’ve applied the idea to ourselves and found it to be hugely valuable. Here’s some pointers on what to look for in a good “coach” in your workplace.

An effective coach answers questions that you may not have even thought to ask.

1. Review your work product. The purpose of a coach is to advance your understanding beyond what you can do on your own. this only works if they have information beyond what you tell them. A coach should review developer’s code, designer’s designs, writer’s words, a customer developer’s iteration plans and results, etc. A person who gives advice without reviewing your work product is simply a mentor. Mentor’s are helpful, and good for one’s morale, but they are not a coach.
2. Have deep respect. The amount your learn from your coach depends on how much expertise they bring to the table and whether or not you value the suggestions they make enough to act on their suggestions. If you don’t act on your coach’s advice then it’s all just a waist of time.
3. Pay for the time. When you give your coach work to review you are asking to spend their time for your benefit. This relationship is much simpler and more likely to succeed if there is a balanced exchange of value.
4. Ask stupid questions. Your coach works for you. They are there to help you with both complex and things that you might think are stupid. Often it is the questions that initially seem stupid that point to an gap in your knowledge base or skill set.
5. Be a bit scared. Your coach’s job is to tear into your work, expose the weaknesses and then help you address them. This is ego-busting stuff. If you aren’t a bit scared about sending work to your coach then it’s time to find a new coach. At the same time, you should feel empowered after addressing the shortcomings that your coach has identified.

Engaging with a good coach will accelerate your learning curve and get you to the top of your game. It’s an essential tool for success. Who do you look to as a coach in your life?

Is TV making marriage problems worse?

When I saw that NBC had just launched a second season of a show called “The Marriage Ref”, I jumped online to check it out. If you’re looking for Jerry Springer style drama, this is not that kind of show. Each episode features three regular couples each struggling with some sort of conflict. Again, these aren’t frying-pan-in-the-face kind of marriage problems. One, for example, had to do with the husband’s obsession with growing giant pumpkins. Another was over a mother-in-law’s tendency to visit in chunks of up to 6 months at a time.

The quirky couples and their cute/funny problems are great, but the true stars of the show are the panel of celebrities who judge the situations and make hilarious comments throughout. The season premier featured Julian Moore, Ricky Gervais, and Jerry Seinfeld. Once the panelists have decided who out of the couples is right, the show ends with an audience vote on the “rightest-of-the-right.” That person wins $25,000 and “a billboard in their hometown declaring they are right.”

In a television culture that constantly dramatizes and exaggerates (or idealizes) marriage, it is refreshing to see a light-hearted show featuring real people. The couples are very likeable and everyone can relate to the conflicts between the husbands and wives: the in-law who won’t leave you alone; your husband’s obsession that seems to replace you. The show treads a fine line between lighthearted joking and actually making fun of the couples.

All in all, very entertaining.

BUT. I have a serious problem with the premise. The show is based on the idea of black-and-white conflict, that there are two irreconcilable viewpoints and one of them is right while the other is wrong. Conflict is exciting, and the ability to say, “I was right!” is immensely satisfying. At the same time, this is not the right way to think for a healthy relationship! Believing that only one person can be right immediately creates a push-and-pull dynamic and sets you up for more conflicts in the future.

My advice to the Marriage Ref? Use a dash of Power of Two Win-win decision making skills. Make the show about finding satisfying solutions to marriage problems that address each person’s underlying concerns. This isn’t about making sacrifices, either. It’s about finding alternatives that both of you are happy with. (Click here for some examples). Remember, you and your spouse aren’t opponents! You’re on the same team!

Sure, collaborative decision making isn’t as exciting as a battle for marital supremacy, but it would set a much better example for healthy marriages. And if they really need some dramatic pizzazz, they could set off some crazy pyrotechnics at the end when a win-win resolution is set. KABOOM! CONFLICT RESOLVED.

Should parental divorce be made more difficult?

America has the highest divorce rate in the industrialized world, and a lot of people have been trying to figure out what to do about that. One idea of how to save a marriage is the Parental Divorce Reform Act, a new proposal drafted by a group of psychologists, lawyers, social workers, and other health professionals, intended to reduce the number of unnecessary divorces among couples with minor children. The act is based on a bevy of findings about the negative repercussions of divorce, most taken from the 8-decade Longevity study. For example:

• Parental divorce has negative impact on children’s longevity, standard of living, and physical and mental health

• Divorce has a negative impact on the divorcing parents’ mental and physical health

• One third of divorcing couples stated that they would be open to reconciliation and couple’s counseling if it were easily available

The act proposes that couples with children take a mandatory marriage education course and then wait an 8-month “reconciliation period” before going through with the divorce. The requirements would be waived in any case where domestic abuse or illegal activities were involved. You can read more about the details of the proposal here.


Obviously this is just one suggestion of how to save a marriage and has a long way to go before being enacted into law. But it sparks some interesting discussion. Henry Gornbein, a family law specialist, wrote an editorial on the law and its provisions for the Huffington Post. Gornbein supports the law and at the same time brings up some concerns. As mentioned above, the 8-month waiting period is waved in cases of domestic abuse. But how does one define domestic abuse? Power dynamics between couples is often uneven and each relationship has it’s own nuances. For example, he writes,

(3) What about situations where there has been a history of threats and coercion, but without actual physical violence?

(4) What about a situation where one spouse is using intimidation towards the other?

(5) What about the situation where there is emotional abuse, but no physical abuse?

(6) What if one spouse is using the children to relay messages or putting the children in a very uncomfortable position, but there is no physical abuse?

(7) What if one spouse is using economic abuse towards the other by failing to disclose assets, or keeping control of the finances?


These are all import aspects of abuse that often go ignored by those inside and outside such situations. This is certainly an issue that lawmakers and advisors will be thinking about if the proposal goes further.

Gornbein’s second concern is the cost of the mandatory divorce reconciliation program. This will supposedly be self-funding through increases in the cost of marriage licenses. However, as one commenter on the post pointed out, professional counseling services are often very expensive and this fund would soon run out. Well now…Power of Two would be an excellent solution to this problem! The Power of Two program is affordable, easily accessible (3 out of 4 Americans have internet access as of 2005), and provides a unique balance of personalized coaching and go-at-your-own-pace control.

As married couples, what do you think should be done about the divorce rates in the USA? Would you be open to mandatory marriage counseling before divorce?


Say it skills for software

I’m in charge of the tech team here at Power of Two and I’ve been amazed at how the principles of Power of Two are applicable in a much wider frame than just relationships. It’s even had a signficant impact on the the way we program our systems.

I recently wrote a blog post “Does your software talk like a four year old” which discusses how and why software needs to just say it. As Dr. Hirsch explains

The first principle in terms of talking is to say it. Say it is the basis for communication and information flow which in turn forms the foundation on which couples are able to make excellent collaborative-feeling decisions. And to keep a feeling of positivity and intimacy because they know what is on each others mind.

What does that have to do with software? Everything! When you work on a computer you are having a conversation. As you speak (type) to the computer it echoes the input back on the screen so that you know it has heard correctly. The conversation is even more apparent when you ask your computer doesn’t do something you want.

A windows alert popup box
Alert - we are having a conversation!


When software has good say it skills it says what it wants or needs. “Please insert the disk” or “Please enter your password”. Unfortunately a lot of the time software simply says what it doesn’t want or can’t do. “Unable to read this file” or “Invalid input”. This type of message creates frustration and anger because you are left with little idea of what to do next. This is exactly what happens when you use “don’t want” statements in real life. Luckily, we humans are still more subtle and complicated than a computer, and we can have productive conversations. So take advantage of it!


I certainly hope that none of our software creates such anger. And please, if you do hit something that creates frustration please tell your coach so that we can fix it.


Is cheating the solution to marriage problems? Not so fast!


Are you a Tom Sawyer Husband? How about a Workhorse Wife considering an Oreo Marriage? These are just a few of the types of couples outlined in Pamela Haag’s new book, Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting The Rules. Many of Haag’s categories are different ways of describing “so-so marriage,” where security, familiarity, and shared responsibilities are what keep couples together rather than love. “It’s these low-conflict, amiable, but sort of listless marriages that actually contribute the lion’s share to the divorce rate. It’s not the couples who are throwing dishes and screaming,” she said in the DailyMail.
Haag also wrote a guest article for In it she focuses on the “non-traditional” solutions couples may try to make their marriage work. These include: separate bedrooms; a “marriage sabbatical”; non-monogamy; and/or tolerating infidelity.

Well now! These two articles sure got us all stirred up.

“Pamela Haag has it oh-so-right. . . and oh-so-wrong.” Dr. Abigail Hirsch says.

“We love her descriptions of the ways marriages slip into semi-happiness.  Her categories are very true. And, her solution — to open things up to letting outsiders into your intimate life and maybe even the bedroom — is a lousy solution to spicing up marriage.

Can I be harsh?  Here it is.


How would you feel about a bike repair shop that told you, “oh, front tire flat?  We’ll just take it off and give it to someone else.  Your bike will work fine with one tire!”  Bad advice.


Same with marriage problems — if your marriage has some broken parts, like lackluster passion, missing romance, zero loving connection — the solution is (almost always) not to remove the possibility for deep, rewarding intimate connection — the solution is to FIX THE BROKEN PIECE.  If your love life is lacking, learn the skills to turn the spark back on.  If warmth and connection are a thing from the distant past, invest in learning how to make them a part of the future from today forwards.


Be proactive about bringing sex, passion, love, intimacy, and friendship into your day-to-day with your spouse if you want your marriage to sizzle. If you’d rather your marriage fizzle, then take your metaphorical tire elsewhere.”

In conclusion, never settle for solutions that make you feel less than satisfied. A joyous, loving, definitely not “so-so” marriage is a real possibility for everyone. You deserve to, and can, be happy!



Love is Funny: Tweets About Common Marriage Problems

From comic Dana Gould:

Good one Dana!  This is pretty funny, but is he right??   In the real world we would say no, on both counts.    Sometimes, in love, we DO have to say we’re sorry.  Its incredibly important to acknowledge when you’ve hurt someone, or done something to cause your partner to be upset.  And at the same time, even in a marriage, its not helpful to say you’re sorry for something when inside you don’t believe it.   Check out this worksheet about how to make up after a fight and learn the 5 steps to a productive apology.

From comic Patton Oswolt:

While Patton is poking fun at Charlie Sheen’s mantra, we are interested in the bigger question about “winning” battles in a relationship.  At Power of Two we believe that all conflicts and decisions can become WIN-WIN decisions, where both people feel like they’ve won.  Don’t believe us?   Check out Dr. Abigail’s Hirsch explanation of this conflict resolution technique with participants in her workshop.

From pop sensation Lady Gaga:

Good one, Gaga.   A little morbid, but we suppose you’re right – love can way you down or lift you up!   Its so easy for a relationship that has every reason to be full of love to become a source of unhappiness.   Basic communication skills make a huge difference in preventing small tensions from becoming major fights!   Enjoy this great article from Dr. Heitler about communication in marriage.