NY State Bishops Pen Pastoral Letter on Mental Illness.

Praise God for this incredibly important step toward better pastoral care for all Catholics–and all people–with mental illness. It’s very brief but completely worth the read.  I hope you’ll take a moment to look it over and then meet back here to discuss it.  My thanks to Deacon Greg for alerting us all to the exciting things happening in his neck of the woods. Here’s a sample….

Our society has made great strides in our understanding and treatment of mental illness. But in many cases the labels and fears remain, continuing to influence public policies related to how people access the services they need to reach their full potential in society. For example, our society continues to assume mentally ill individuals are prone to violence, either directed against themselves or others. Yet, fewer than 5 percent of violent acts are committed by people with serious mental illness. Persons with mental illness are more often victims than perpetrators of violent acts, and they also are more likely to be victims of sexual abuse.

While a small percentage of individuals with very severe and untreated mental illness may be at an elevated risk of violence, especially when substance abuse is involved, this risk diminishes significantly with medication and treatment. Still, fear of violence and the unspeakably tragic examples of mass shooting by untreated mentally individuals perpetuate a stigma that threatens public support for continued movement toward a community-based model of treatment.  READ IT ALL HERE.


Happily Ever After–Dr. Greg and Lisa Interviewed in National Review on New Book, “Just Married.”

Kathryn Lopez posted her interview with Lisa and I on what it takes to make marriage last a lifetime. 

‘All the research says that a good marriage has little to do with where you and your mate come from and everything to do with whether you are willing to learn the skills it takes to have a good marriage — and to learn about each other to build your unique marriage,” husband and wife Gregory and Lisa Popcak write in their new book, Just Married: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage. They are directors of an active telecounseling practice, the Pastoral Solutions Institute, dedicated to helping people work through marriage and family challenges. They discuss the realities of marriage and Just Married with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: “No newly married couple knows what they are doing when it comes to marriage. No one.” Not one?

Greg Popcak: Really, no. You might know your parents’ marriage. Or your friend’s. You might know the marriage you want, but no one knows what it’s going to take to make the marriage you are trying to have with this person work

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that they were either born to have a good marriage or not. Or they think their partner was born to have one or not. Then, when things don’t work out they say, “I married the wrong person” or “There was something wrong with me.” All the research says that a good marriage has little to do with where you and your mate come from and everything to do with whether you are willing to learn the skills it takes to have a good marriage — and to learn about each other to build your unique marriage.

Lisa Popcak: Neither of us was destined to have a great marriage. Nothing in our backgrounds would suggest that either of us has any special talent when it comes to having a wonderful relationship. But I think our faith helps us be humble enough to know what we don’t know and our commitment to each other makes us willing to learn what we need to learn to do better.

Lopez: You mention the phrase “great love story” more than once. What is such a thing? How is it possible? Does it exist in the world today? You and Lisa sound perfect, but can it exist even in marriages that may not feel perfect?

Lisa: That’s funny! I hope it doesn’t sound like we’re perfect. It’s true we’ve been blessed in our relationship, but we’ve not always been there for each other like we should, and there are times we’ve hurt each other very seriously. Not on purpose. But you can’t try to “make two into one” without the worst parts of each other mixing and blowing up in each other’s faces now and again.

Greg: A great love story isn’t a perfect love story. That’s boring. Did you ever see a good love story without some drama? Some fear? Some sense that it could all be torn apart any minute? Of course not. Don’t get me wrong. A great love story also isn’t “all drama all the time.” That’s as crazy as a perfect life is boring. But a great love story — to my mind — is any love story where two ordinary, broken, hurting people somehow find the strength to stand in the face of all the stuff life throws at them and create something powerful, long-lasting, and beautiful together. It’s about hanging in there and fighting, and loving, and being willing to be humble enough to say, “I don’t know, please teach me” when you don’t know how to reach through the walls you’ve built to protect yourselves. It’s about being willing to wake up every morning and say “I do” all over again, whether yesterday was good, bad, or otherwise.

Lopez: You also repeat in various ways that loving feelings follow from loving actions. What if I don’t feel very loving and he doesn’t deserve loving actions?

Greg: Ultimately being loving is as much about you as it is the other person. You can choose to not be loving if “he doesn’t deserve it,” but that’s going to turn you into a walled-off, bitter person in pretty short order. In my book For Better . . . Forever, I have a section called “A selfish person’s guide to love.” Spoiler alert: I’m the selfish person I’m referring to. There are days I don’t wake up feeling particularly loving, or maybe I (erroneously) think Lisa didn’t “earn” my loving effort, but I also know that if I don’t choose to act as lovingly as I can manage, then I don’t like the person I start becoming, almost immediately. I start feeling bitter and cut off. Not a great way to start any day. But if I choose to be loving anyway, more often than not I feel better both about myself and about her.

Lisa: A lot of times people withhold love to try to say, “There’s a problem. I’m not happy and we need to fix that.” But there are more effective ways to do that. If I’m frustrated about something, I could choose to still do loving things and, in the context of being loving, bring my concerns directly to Greg and say, “Hey, look, I’m really trying to take care of you, but such and such isn’t working for me.” If I do that, my attempts to address the problem will have a lot more credibility than if I first spend a couple days moping and passive-aggressively not being loving to try to make him as miserable as I am.  READ THE REST HERE…

From Russia with Love

Of course you all know what today is….  That’s right!  Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day!

On the official Church calendar, we do not celebrate St Valentine, but rather,  the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius, evangelists to the Slavs, on February 14th.  You might ask, “Why does the Church promote devotion to Sts. Cyril and Methodius on the same day as St. Valentine’s Day?  Well, the answer is quite simple.

There is an ancient saying in the Church, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi”  As the Church prays, the Church believes.  In other words, if we ever want to know what the Church thinks about something, a quick way to ascertain the answer is to look to the prayers and the liturgical life of the Church.  This saying makes it possible to see that that the Church intentionally promotes devotion to Sts. Cyril and Methodius on February 14th as a way of definitively asserting to the world that Slovaks–and the Slavic peoples in general–make the best lovers!

Roma Locuta Est, Causa finita est!  The Church says it, and I believe it.

So…Happy Sts. Cyril and Methodius Day.  Don’t forget to share a traditional heart-shaped pierogi with the one you love!

Couple Conflict: Quality of Argument Less Important than Quality of Relationship

The way a couple treats each other outside of their arguments is the best predictor of the couple’s ability to get something positive out of their arguments–even if they’re more heated than they ought to be.  Obviously, no couple likes to argue, but some couples seem to weather it better than others.  Therapists often think that the best way to deal with arguments is to avoid them, but is it possible to help teach couples to not be overwhelmed by bad arguments when they happen–and even be able to get something good from them?

The answer would appear to be “Yes.”  The solution?  Work harder at taking care of each other when you’re not arguing, says a new study from Baylor University.

“People in satisfying relationships resolved their conflicts regardless of whether they used negative communication or not. In contrast, people in unhappy relationships tended to have big conflicts, and they tended to have trouble resolving their conflicts — and this was often true regardless of the type of communication they used.”

To the extent that negative communication played any role, it appeared to be detrimental for resolution, but this effect was mostly negligible, Sanford said.

“A person’s level of relationship satisfaction was, by and large, a much stronger predictor of progress toward conflict resolution,” he said.  READ THE REST HERE.

These findings are consistent what what we teach couples we see in the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s tele-counseling practice.  Of course we work hard to teach couples to adopt more efficient and respectful models of conflict resolution, but I and my associates also expend a lot of effort trying to help couples become “conflict proof”  by focusing on the quality of the couple’s overall relationship.  The reality is that we all have bad days.  No couple is going to be able to mind their p’s and q’s in conflict every time–or even most of the time.  Counseling that focuses exclusively on “fair fighting” strategies is doomed to fail because couples will often forget to use these strategies, at least at first.  Better to take a “both/and” approach that teaches conflict management but also makes the couple more resilient–more able to bounce back from the more volatile arguments that will inevitably happen when the couple forgets the skills they’ve learned in counseling.

The takeaway, of course, is if you want to have better  arguments–or, at least, a better experience of your arguments–the best thing to do might be to put more energy into taking care of each other, making time for each other, and being loving and thoughtful to each other when you’re not in conflict!

To learn more about creating a resilient relationship, check out For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, or  The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples.  And if you need more personal support, don’t hesitate to learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s tele-counseling practice can help you create a stronger, more loving relationship.   We’re here to help you experience the love and peace God has in store for your marriage.


How About A Little HOLY SEX for Valentines Day? (And other gift ideas)

Elizabeth Scalia has her Last Minute Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas post up.  By all means check it out.  My favorite recommendation of hers was this little gem…

Also, keeping with the books for a minute,  Dr. Gregory Popčak’s classic, Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving. It is indeed something special. It is everything the world doesn’t get about Catholic teaching on sex, but it’s funny, warm and — as everyone I have ever talked to about it has said, “just the best”. That’s because it is a most human, and honest and helpful sort of guidebook.

She had some other great ideas there too, including Simcha Fischer’s new book and a new release from Fr. Dwight Longnecker.  Check it, thou out.

But while we’re on the subject of resources to make your relationship everything it can be this Valentine’s Day, don’t forget to look up these resources as well!

     For Better…FOREVER!  A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage.  –Every married couple is on a journey…but not every couple is heading in the right direction.  Marriage and family therapist Gregory Popcak shows couples where they are on The Relationship Pathway and, more importantly, how to turn things around if they aren’t experiencing the marital bliss they anticipated on their wedding days. He reveals the secrets employed by couples who are in truly exceptional marriages and offers practical suggestions that can help husbands and wives achieve that same level of passionate, sacramental love. Dr. Popcak draws from his extensive experience with real-life couples, studies conducted by numerous authorities on the marital relationship, Catholic philosophy and his own experiences as a husband to teach couples how to get on the road to “happily ever after.”

Popcak brings a marriage counselor’s heart and a comedian’s wit to this resource on love and marriage. Any couple wanting to improve their marriage will benefit.”— CBA Marketplace

   The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples.If roughly 50 percent of marriages fail, what about the other 50 percent? Are those couples who stay together necessarily happy? No. In fact, many marriages that remain intact are miserable, some are just mediocre, and some are only pretty good. A mere 7 percent are really great–in fact, exceptional.

If less-than-exceptional marriages are formed by men from Mars and women from Venus, what planet do exceptional couples come from? What do exceptional couples know or do that others don’t? And can what they know be taught? Most marriage research and writing has focused on analyzing bad marriages and finding ways to help couples in trouble. This book, on the other hand, looks at the happiest, most successful couples and exposes their secrets so that others can learn and benefit.

The Exceptional Seven Percent is about the rules, attitudes, and behaviors practiced in exceptional marriages, based on solid research, validated by the author’s own professional observations, and ultimately tested in his own marriage with fabulous results. It helps couples take an okay or pretty good marriage and make it extraordinary. Each chapter examines in detail one of the nine basic characteristics of exceptional couples and explains how to make that trait flourish in one’s own marriage. Quizzes and worksheets in each chapter help direct couples to areas in their marriage that need the most work.

The secrets are out–all nine of them. Let the good lovin’ begin!

From Publishers WeeklyWith a mature style that is intellectually appealing, Popcak shares his inspiring conviction that marriage can be a powerfully actualizing enterprise. Like Stephen Covey and Abraham Harold Maslow, Popcak focuses on the refinement of peak performance. Offering engaging exercises and checklists to help readers clarify their aims and progress along his theoretical pathway to self-actualization, he challenges conventional couples to recognize how much better their marriage could be with a few attitude adjustments and priority clarifications. Self-improvement aficionados will find his approach a welcome and refreshing addition to the genre.

  Just Married:  A Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First 5 Years of Marriage.Recent research shows that now, more than ever, couples doubt their ability to create a marriage that will withstand the test of time. In their newest book, Catholic therapist Greg Popcak and family life coach Lisa Popcak offer their own story and a master plan for creating and sustaining a Catholic marriage that will last a lifetime. Readers will be heartened to see that despite the odds, every couple has the capacity to live happily ever after. They need only commit to learning the critical skills of the first five years of marriage, including: praying together, conflict resolution, stress management, and holy sex.

“I share a deep affinity with the Popcaks and the way they present the faith. Their latest book, Just Married, is loaded with their typical winsome wisdom and advice. They help newly married couples unpack the great mystery of marriage and discover the divine love story that is behind their own. Every married couple–newly married or otherwise–will benefit from this book.”
Christopher West,


Breaking Up is Hard to Do–There’s more going on than meets the eye with heartbreak

Breaking up is always hard, but some people rebound more easily than others.  According to new research, it turns out a person’s ability to recover from a break-up has even more to do about their attachment style than it does with the depth of feeling for the object of one’s unrequited affections.  

New research shows that people with secure attachment styles handle breakups much more efficiently than those with less secure attachment styles.  There are 4 basic attachment styles (Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied,  Anxious-Avoidant, Dismissive-Avoidant) that dictate our basic attitudes and behavior in relationship.  We learn these styles based upon how promptly, consistently, and compassionately our parents responded to our needs as children.  These patterns of engagement between parent and child form our deep-seated attitudes about our relationship for the rest of our lives.

4 Basic Attachment Styles

People who are Securely Attached tend to be comfortable in relationship and by themselves.  They are capable of both being appropriately vulnerable and setting appropriate relationships in relationship.  Securely attached adults tend to experience the most stable and satisfying relationships.  People with secure attachment were raised in homes where parents responded to their needs promptly, consistently, and compassionately.

Those who exhibit an Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style tend to be somewhat nervous in relationship.  These folks value their relationships a great deal but tend to be preoccupied by fears that they might do something to alienate the other person or cause the other to want to leave them.  They tend to take the blame for any relationship problems whether they should or not and they often need a lot of reassurance that things are really OK between them and the other.  They often struggle with being alone and can be somewhat dependent or emotionally needy. People with an Anxious-Preoccupied attachment style were raised in homes where there parents tended to ignore initial cries and requests for help. Ultimately, the child’s needs would be met, but only after the child was made to work for it by crying a little harder and longer, or asking one more time.  In this model, the parent was a benevolent god who required some degree of supplication before favors were granted.  These individuals are at higher risk for anxiety disorders.

Those who exhibit an Anxious-Avoidant attachment style like the idea of being in a relationship, but tend to have a hard time opening up in relationship.  They can communicate their feelings but they typically don’t do so willingly or without a great deal of effort.  They tend to send mixed messages to the people they are in relationship with insofar as they want the other to be close to them, but they don’t want to return the closeness.  They fear being hurt or left so they often remain aloof even when it would be safe to open up.  People with an Anxious-Avoidant attachment style were raised by parents who only met those needs the parents felt were worth meeting and only when the parents felt it was worth meeting them.  Often, the decision to meet or not meet a child’s needs would be based more on how the parent was feeling in the moment rather than any discernible logic, so the child is left with the impression that relationships are a mystery that they have no direct control over.  These people tend to be suspicious of the motivations of others and often read negative intentions into even unintentional slights.  They have a strong tendency toward depression and substance abuse issues.

Finally, those with a Dismissive-Avoidant attachment style are lone wolves.  They can take or leave relationships.  They tend to be fairly out of touch emotionally and don’t do vulnerability. They can be very task oriented and accomplished in their lives because all of the energy other people spend on relationship they save for achievement.  These individuals were raised in homes where needs were largely ignored.  The child learned to rely almost entirely on his or herself and to believe that needing others at all was a weakness not a strength.  Because these individuals are largely unable to get any joy or satisfaction from being close to people, they have a much greater tendency toward substance abuse and other compulsive behaviors (sex, gambling).

Attachment Style and Coping with Break-ups

So, what does all this have to do with ability to recover from romantic breakups?  Quite a bit.

According to new research by Cornell University, Those with a secure attachment style usually have the healthiest response to break-ups. They are more likely to turn to close friends and family for support as opposed to using drugs or alcohol as a means of coping. They are more open to authentically grieving the loss, and are better able to understand, or empathize with their partner’s reasons for the break-up which allows them to respond in a less hostile manner. And—this is important in regard to future relationships—they are less likely to blame themselves for the relationship ending.

People who have an anxious attachment style are more likely to turn to unhealthy coping strategies, such as abusing drugs or alcohol in the wake of an emotionally distressing situation such as a break up. They are prone to jealousy after the end of a relationship, particularly if they are not the ones who ended it, and they will be more likely to try to re-establish the relationship, even if the relationship wasn’t a healthy one. Some research suggests that those with an anxious attachment style would be the most likely to engage in unwanted pursuit behaviours such as stalking, threatening, or even attempting to physically harm their previous partner.

Those with an avoidant attachment style tend to turn less to friends and family after a break-up, and are more likely to use drugs or alcohol as a means of coping. They may avoid the former partner, sometimes going so far as to change jobs or schools, consistent with the inclination to suppress distressing thoughts, or in this case any reminders of their former relationship.  READ MORE HERE.

The takeaway for those grieving the loss of a relationship is that your reaction may have more to do with what’s going on inside of you than your feelings about the other person.  If you are having difficulties recovering from a breakup that are affecting your well-being, seeking help can empower you to heal a less-than-secure attachment style.  Look for someone trained in  Mindfulness Based Therapy which has been shown to be effective at helping to heal damaged attachment styles.  If you’re looking for help, the Pastoral Solutions Institute Catholic Tele-Counseling service can help you find healing.

The takeaway for parents is that attaching to your child by meeting your child’s needs promptly, consistently, and compassionately does more than help your relationship with your child.  It gives your child relationship and coping skills that can last a lifetime.  To learn more about how you can give your  child everything he or she needs to have healthy adult relationships and strong coping skills, check out Parenting with Grace: A Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids.


Martha Sears Invites Dr. Greg Popcak to Serve on Attachment Parenting International–Resource Advisory Council

I was genuinely honored today to receive an invitation from internationally-recognized parenting expert/author, Martha Sears,  and  Attachment Parenting International Board President, Janet Jendron, to become a member of API’s Resource Advisory Council. 

Dear Greg,

I am happy to inform you that the Board of Directors for Attachment Parenting International has voted to ask you to become one of our advisors on the API Resource Advisory Council.  Having you as a resource, as an advisor, for the work API does will be valuable in many ways.  You will bring a much needed expertise to API, and we appreciate that you have been a friend of API for a long time.

We are looking forward to your acceptance and your increased involvement with the important task we all have to help parents be the best parents for the children they have in their care.  We thank you so much for considering this, as we have enjoyed the writing and media work you and Lisa do.

All best,  Martha Sears

I look forward to lending my professional support to API and helping them continue their excellent work of helping moms and dads raise truly remarkable children.  To learn more about attachment parenting and applying the principles of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body to parenting and family life, check out the many great resources at the Attachment Parenting International website, as well as my and Lisa’s books, Parenting with Grace and Beyond the Birds and the Bees.

A Screwtape Letter to An Unappreciated Mom

The original Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis reveals a series of fictitious letters between Screwtape, a senior demon, and his nephew, Wormwood, a demon-in-training, about the tricks of the demonic trade of tempting a “patient” (i.e., Christian) away from “the Enemy” (i.e., God).    In this tremendous adaptation, a blogger reveals a previously undiscovered letter from Screwtape to Wormwood about how to undermine the faith, marriage, and confidence of  “an unappreciated mom.”  It’s powerful stuff, and if you’re a mom whose feeling a little demoralized these days (or know someone who is) it’s essential reading. Here’s a sample…

My Dear Wormwood,

I was thrilled to hear you have been making progress with the mother.  You have a good lead, from what I hear.  She’s feels over-worked, unappreciated, and discouraged?  I’m so glad to hear it.  If you tread carefully, this can be a great opportunity.  With the kids waking her up every hour last night, we already have an advantage.  A tired Mom makes for a more emotional Mom, and an emotional Mom is a vulnerable one.

I do have a few tips.  First, aim your best efforts at her marriage.

As you know, we cannot do much with a unified marriage.  Luckily for us, a cranky and exhausted wife can do wonders to change that.  We must convince her that her husband is no longer the friend and ally she first married.  Instead, we must reveal every sin and selfish habit, especially drawing attention to his thoughtless actions (mal-intended or not) against her.

Sometimes it’s the less obvious things, things the husband doesn’t even realize, that we can use to offend her the most.  When he comes home from work and dumps his things on the counter nearest the door (instead of hanging his coat or putting away his keys), let her think of it as a direct assault on her work as a homekeeper.  When he treks mud in with his shoes, let her think it is because he does not love her.  Such extremes of thought may seem ridiculous to you or I, but to the exhausted mortal woman, it can seem possible.  Your goal is to make her think the husband does not notice, or even better, that he does not care about her efforts at home.

Secondly, do what you can to keep her focused on  her troubles and pains.  Remind her how much her back aches, how draining the children were all day, and how many undone tasks still beckon her.  Do not let her wonder what difficulties her husband faced that day or whether his back might also be aching.  Valuing others above oneself is one of those silly, though strangely effective, tactics of the Enemy.  If she stops to make him a cup of coffee, the next thing you know she’ll be rubbing his shoulders and flirting with him on the couch.  It can progress out of your control if you’re not careful.

Along those lines, be sure the Mother starts to value productivity above everything else.  Have her wake up early and work non-stop until bedtime.  If the husband relaxes in the evening with an hour of computer gaming, be sure the wife notices the pile of unfolded laundry or unswept floors.  Do not let her grab a book and relax alongside her husband.  Diligence, often one of the Enemy’s virtues, when overdone can be used to our advantage as well.  Convince her that as long as there is a shred of work to be done (and there always is), no one should be resting.  Then, as she folds and sweeps and he sits, you can introduce the sweet bitterness of resentment.

A word of caution here.  Remember, the love of a husband can be dangerous to our cause.  If he senses her unhappiness, he may begin to help or (even worse) show her affection.  This is where previously planted seeds of resentment can be guided into full bloom.  Make her think that his displays of affection are because he “only wants one thing”.  Do not let her view his help with the dishes (or kisses or cuddling) as having pure motives.  If he shows his desire for her, convince her that she is being used…READ THE REST HERE.

We discussed this letter on the radio program today as part of a wider discussion of the lies Satan tells us and how to fight back against those lies with the truths that will set us free.  For those of you who would like to learn how you can discover the lies that are undermining your ability to receive the abundant life God wants to give you, check out my book,  God Help Me, This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy.  It’s a powerful look at everything you need to know to break free from the falsehoods holding you back and start living the life God has in store for you.