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A Better Relationship is Only a Lesson Away

December 23, 2015

Our dog was a bundle of undirected puppy energy when we got him. My wife and I knew nothing about training a dog. He was our first. We attended group training classes and proceeded through the school’s five levels of training. The process took a year and cost about $1,500.00.

Without training, we know his behavior would have been a mess. We have met many other dog owners who somehow or other seemed to instinctively know how to manage and direct their pet’s behavior. Most of these people grew up with dogs in the home and saw their parents manage the family pet. Truth is, what seemed instinctive to them was actually the result of the casual learning that came from observing their parents with the family pet.

With our being taught to care and manage our dog, “Kugle” has since been a well mannered little boy who knows when to sit and listen and knows when he can run off his energy. He is so good in fact that he is certified as a Therapy Dog through St John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program.

As a social worker, I see many couple who, no fault of their own, do not as yet possess the skills to maintain their relationship with each other and/or parent the children to facilitate them achieving their potential. They haven’t been taught.

Scratch the surface and I learn that their parents also didn’t possess the full range of skills providing for mutually satisfying relationships or child management. Their own parents were ill-equipped for relationships and parenting. The casual learning that was transmitted didn’t provide for appropriate lessons. This is not to blame, but only to explain.

The folks I work with therefore feel or experience their own blame, shame, inadequacy, conflict and turmoil.

“Therapy” that dwells on those distressing feelings only serves to keep people immersed in the negative feeling and does nothing to provide or equip them with the tangible skills that could provide for more satisfying outcomes. There is a belief by some therapists that we all possess those skills and that by empathetic and non-judgmental listening, people will unlock their hidden skill set and manage better. I beg to differ.

Skills can be taught. If one teaches and facilitates skill development directly, you improve the likelihood of persons adopting new behaviors which in turn leads to improved outcomes – more satisfying relationships and better parenting.

So many people come to me asking to learn “the tools”. They have attended other therapies in the past that either provided non-judgmental reflective listening or quite frankly, grandiose and colorful statements as to how life should be. Nice, but not necessarily helpful.

I am of the view that therapy can quickly connect the dots, help people understand and appreciate the impact of formative experiences and then move towards skill development, which through practice changes the trajectory of their life for the better.

One cannot provide a cup of happiness. There is no magic cool aid to drink. However, feeling better in the present can be achieved as an outcome of relationship or parenting skill development. There are tools. We can provide them. It begins by acknowledging our shortcoming and need for help.

I couldn’t train a dog to save my life. My wife was actually afraid of dogs. We invested in ourselves. Attending lessons was our “date”. The outcome was our fun as a couple; a common approach to the care and management of our family pet; my wife now comfortable with virtually any dog; and a well behaved little boy who delights elders on visits to the senior’s residence.

What we don’t know, we can learn.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW


Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. I must  say  thanks for the valuable information  received from you for 2015.Looking forward to 2016!! Have a Merry Christmas when it comes – enjoy you and familly 


    Best Wishes Kenneth Barnes Social Worker Citize Security &Justice Programme 6 Oxford Road,Oxford House Kingston 5 Tel.: (876) 906-8676 (Office) ,(876) 430-7825

  2. Thanks Kenneth. Pleased to know my articles are appreciated and of service. A very Merry Christmas to you as well.

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