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Wise Counsel Interview Transcript: An Interview with William and Carlene Glasser on Happier Marriages

David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
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David Van Nuys: Welcome to "Wise Counsel", a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Doctor David Van Nuys I am a clinical psychiatrist and your host.

On today's show we will be talking with William Glasser M.D. and his wife Carlene Glasser M.A. who are authors of the 2007 book "Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage."

William Glasser M.D. is a world renowned psychiatrist who lectures widely. His numerous books have sold 1.7 million copies and he has trained thousand's of counselors in his Choice Theory and Reality Therapy approaches. He's also president of the William Glasser Institute in Los Angeles.

Carlene Glasser M.A. is a senior instructor at the William Glasser Institute and the author of two books for children. Now here's the interview.

David: William and Carlene Glasser welcome to the "Wise Counsel" podcast.

William Glasser: Well, thank you we feel very happy to be talking to you.

Carlene Glasser: We are really pleased to be here, it's incredible.

David: Yeah, great it's wonderful to have both of you on the call. Now Doctor William Glasser you're probably best known for your book on Reality Therapy which came out in the 70's. That was a very popular book which I remember reading and being influenced by it at the time and since then you've gone on to write quite a few other books. What is the count up to now looks like it's getting up around 20 books?

William: Well I don't really count them but I think it's about 22, 23, 24, or something like that. I don't actually make a count.

David: Yeah really you've been pretty prolific.

William: This is our latest one just published 19, the 2007 year.

Carlene: Yeah it came out about the middle of July; it's in book stores now. This is Bill and my third book that we co-authored.

David: I think that's wonderful that you two are able to collaborate on books. I'll be commenting on that a bit more later. Now over the years Reality Therapy seems to have morphed into something you're calling Choice Theory and perhaps you can take us through the basic first of Reality Therapy and then how that lead to Choice Theory.

Carlene: Well Reality Therapy was a counseling modality that Bill developed and it's widely used. Basically he had the tenet that he would teach people to take more responsibility for their own lives and their own happiness. When they got unhappy as he called it or had symptoms of some kind of mental disorder of some sort. They tended to blame everybody else and you know it was everybody else's fault, some of these people outside themselves fault and it was their mother's fault or somebody's fault.

So what he's basically saying in Reality Therapy is to examine your own behavior and see how you can change that to get your needs met and he calls needs love and work at that time. Which have morphed as you say into the Choice Theory which is love and belonging and power and freedom and fun and of course survival are the basic needs.

David: I see, so basically you have expanded the original model and extended it a bit further it sounds like.

William: Yes, it's just evolved that way because Choice Theory has this major premise that we choose everything we do. From birth to death, everything we do is a choice. And Choice Theory says that we have to understand that it's our choice and that we can learn to make more effective choices. And now I don't even so much call what I do counseling, as I kind of explained it's teaching.

You teach people based on what they're choosing to do to make more effective choices. Choices that bring people closer together and I believe we're all social creatures we need each other and we make choices that bring us closer and this book on marriage is one of the least effective choices. Most people choose who they marry but they don't really understand that it's a choice, and they continually try to blame others and say, "You're at fault that the marriage is going badly, " and things like that.

David: Yes. Well, let's talk about your most recent book, which the two of you wrote together, "Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage". What motivated you to write the book?

William: Well, I'd been thinking about it for a long time, and I started kind of writing it myself and roughed it out. And then Carlene got involved with me because, as we teach and lecture, literally all over the world, people always bring up the question of marriage and how marriage is unhappy.

Most people right now, all over the world, as I say in the first few sentences in the book, essentially, everyone gets married. And when they get married, they then hope it'll be happily forever after. But it isn't happily forever after.

They begin to have difficulty with each other. There's the honeymoon period where everything is wonderful. And then after the honeymoon period, something creeps into their life, which is, basically, one of the first lessons of the book: external control can kill your marriage.

And external control is a world psychology that everyone in the world practices. And basically, it says that we can control other people. And so, when a marriage shows difficulty, it's because the husband's trying to control the wife, the wife's trying to control the husband. You're both trying to control each other, blaming each other, pointing to each other and things like that.

And each lesson of the eight lessons, starting with the lesson "get external control out of your marriage, " each lesson then goes on to all the ways that we can remove external control from our marriage. Because, essentially, for most people, as they live their life and deal with other people, external control has become common sense, unfortunately.

David: Yes, yes. Now, you advocate that married couples read the book together. Do you see this as a substitute for marriage counseling?

Carlene: No, it's not a substitute, if people want to have someone else be a mediator or a moderator of the process or something like that, but it's a start. If people see that their marriage isn't as happy as they would like it to be, then they can read this book and get some ideas on what to do about that and see if they can make and improve on their own.

Bill and I wrote the book together because we're married, and we believe in marriage, or we wouldn't have gotten married. And we use these ideas. And it's kind of like we have a vintage love now, and we have been together for a while.

But it doesn't matter whether you're newlywed or whether you've been together for 30 years, or however long you've been together: problems crop up in every marriage. And at least 50 percent of all the people who get married end up getting divorced. It's just a sad situation that hurts the children in the families. And it hurts more than just the couple.

David: Sure.

William: Many people don't get divorced, and they hang together grimly for years and years because they believe that they shouldn't get divorced. And I'm not in favor of divorce; I'm in favor of learning how to get along with each other better. And that's what the book is all about.

David: Yes. In fact, I noticed that you seem to feel that working on the relationship is a better option than divorce. And you give some statistics in the book to support that, in terms of... I think there was a statistic that--what was it--that second marriages don't last as long as people who stick together in the first marriage? Do you remember that statistic?

William: No, I don't remember it. Maybe Carlene does. Maybe we said it. Maybe you heard it someplace else.

Carlene: Well, we said, basically, that second marriages, people may or may not tend to learn from their mistakes of the first marriage. And if they realize that they made some mistakes in their first marriage or that they could have done things better, sometimes they'll try that in their second marriage.

But there's no guarantee that anybody's marriage is going to last, unless you actually work at it and try. Because very few people just have such a wonderful love and relationship that it stays like the infatuation stage the rest of the marriage. Cold, hard reality hits you, and it could be from finances, it could be from any aspect of your living together, and just the simplest things, the little irritations of life.

And if you learn how to deal with each other in a way that... In Choice Theory we recommend that people ask themselves a simple question: If I say or do this with my partner, is it going to bring us closer together or is it going to drive us further apart?

David: Mmm hmm.

Carlene: And if the answer...and you know the answer. If the answer is, it's going to drive us further apart, then you have the choice to use that or not, to do that, to choose that behavior or not. And what we're advocating is that we get caught up in the heat of the moment and we forget about our marriage. We forget that we're married and the marriage is the entity we need to preserve.

The marriage takes precedence in essence over each of us individually. Me getting what I think is right for us and him getting what he thinks is right and we just get into these power struggles and battles over who's right, who's wrong. And we forget that we have to nurture this marriage, we have to focus on the marriage and both of us decide to use the behaviors and do the things that we know will help the marriage and bring us closer together.

David: Yes. And by the way I found that statistic that I was reaching for. No wonder you didn't remember it. It's in the Forward that was written by John Carlson. And what he says on page...well it's roman numerals, I won't try to decode the roman numerals, but what he says is "Recent research shows that three out of four divorcing couples who decide to stay married report satisfaction in their relationship five years later." So that was the statistic that had kind of impressed me.

Carlene: That does prove what we're saying, that if you follow these eight lessons for a happier marriage in this book, and it's a really short book, it's a little over a hundred pages. So it's not...but couples are busy nowadays. They're all doing their own thing, they've got their jobs, they've got pressures from the children, pressures from everywhere else in the real world, they're on the Internet, and it's a fast paced world for married couples.

And if they have to read a long book, it's just not going to happen. So we wrote a short book that could help them to take a look...if it's their second marriage or even the third, the statistics show that if you stick it out in a marriage and really work at it, you can create a stronger union, you can create a better marriage, and that's what we're trying to say to people in this book.

David. Yes.

Carlene: Say if you learn some things that you actually want to do that will help your marriage, you really have a good chance of making it not only happier but really happy.

David: Yes, and I was struck by the fact that the book was only a hundred pages long which is rare these days, and certainly makes it easier on me as an interviewer [laughs] to go through a hundred page book rather than a three hundred and fifty page book which most are today.

And indeed I was struck by the realistic tone that you two set at the outset acknowledging the difficulties of marriages being beset by obstacles such as infidelity and constant bickering and so on.

And yet you're fairly optimistic that if there's any thread of a connection there, there's something that people can work on. And I wanted to share a quote from page 69 where you really do note how tough marriage can be.

You say, "there are kids, step-kids, blended families, aging parents, in-laws, pets to be cared for, disagreeable neighbors, and there's giving money when you can't afford it, or borrowing money when you hate to do it. These difficult situations take a lot of work." I really liked that quote because it really acknowledges the tough things that do crop up after that phase of infatuation.

Carlene: Well, that's the reality of it, isn't it. Anyone who's married can attest to that. We all know our own personal problems that we have to deal with in life. And Bill and I are very, very happily married because we understand Choice Theory and we both use it, but there are things that happen.

You know, people die, my Dad just passed away and illnesses and things like that. Things are hard enough, but if you stick together and you are very committed to being there for one another and helping one another through the hard times.

David: Yes. Now, Bill, you were talking earlier on about external control and how most people function from a basis of thinking that they can control their partner. What's the antidote to external control? How does one get over that?

William: The antidote is Choice Theory. Choice Theory would replace external control. Choice Theory is an alternate way to live your life, to remove yourself from the external control world that's kind of teaching all the time. When you say to little children, "Now behave yourself" and things like that.

When I was four years old, my parents said behave myself, I still remember saying to myself, I am behaving, and I'm behaving myself. But they're not saying "You're to behave yourself, " they're saying change what you're doing to what we want.

David: Yeah.

William: That's how children are raised, and I didn't happen to raise my children that way. I wasn't married to Carlene then, but still they came out pretty well.

David: You go so hmm.

Carlene: And one thing about the book that people could be assured of is when they open it up, like you say, it's not three hundred and fifty pages it's a hundred pages, but also a hundred pages of good information that they can understand. It's not full of a bunch of psycho-babble and words that only psychologists and psychiatrists use.

David: That's true, that's true. And you go so far, Bill, as to say we choose all of our behavior. Don't most people think that some of their behavior is dictated by circumstances or by genetics and so on?

William: Well, a lot of people believe that, but basically...I mean I say in the beginning of the book that, if the phone rings, why do you answer the phone? And people say, well, because it rang. That's external control. No phone makes you answer it. You answer the phone because you choose to. Or you can turn on the answering machine, or you can yell to someone in the house to answer it, or you can pull the plug out of the wall. These are all choices.

David: Mmm hmm.

William: And it goes on to everything in your life. Everything you do is a choice, because when people don't like what they choose they tend to blame it on other people. If they're married they blame it on their mate. So what we try to do is explain right in the beginning that we choose all our own behavior. That's in Lesson No. Two.

And then it goes on to Lesson three that we never use the Deadly Habits which are all chosen. The Deadly Habits for example are criticism. Myself I think that's the deadliest of all habits, but there are seven of them.

If you take just criticism out of your marriage, I was talking to someone the other day, if you just take criticism out of your marriage, immediately, in a day or two, if you're a husband you tell your wife, "I've learned not to criticize, it harms my marriage to you, so I'm going to stop." And the wife says, "Well I'll believe it when I see it." Say, "Well that's true. You will believe it when you see it. And you'll see it, and if I slip and start criticizing you, you tell me and I'll apologize."

And the wife says, "Well do you expect me to stop criticizing you?" "No. That's the whole secret of the whole book. I don't expect you to do anything but do what you choose. I am going to choose to stop criticizing you whether you criticize me or not." That idea follows through the whole book, that we each one of us choose our own behavior. We should stop trying to tell other people what to do.

David: Yes. Now what I find to be so terribly challenging in my own marriage and I think other people do as well, is to be mindful enough, conscious enough to make the choice rather than responding on automatic. Because we can trigger each other in the marriage just...we have this kind of automatic responses that have been rehearsed.

William: It's like a computer. Automatic is the default and the computer...

David: Right.

William: We all have defaults: "Well, it's not my fault, it's somebody else's." What we have to say is: "If I'm unhappy, it's my choices, I have to change." And we change the default and this will: "Look, sure." And if it works, then you have a much, much better marriage and by the time you get through the eighth chapter then you've just got all those little things.

They're not really big things, they're all easily understandable and usable and they're explained in detail in every chapter then you certainly will be rewarded by a much happier marriage than the one you have now.

David: Yes.

Carlene: But David, I know what you mean by you feel like it's not a choice. You feel like: "Oh, my gosh. I can't help this." I'm so angry or I'm so hurt, or I'm so whatever and the emotion takes over. And we discussed that in the book. We discussed it in the chapter when we talked about the total behavior -- understanding total behavior.

We have four components to our behavior -- feeling and physiology, and acting and thinking. But the acting and thinking in parts of our behavior are the only parts that we can control. The feelings and physiology, we can't control those directly but if we change what we do, acting and thinking, we can indirectly also change how we feel and how our physiology is reacting towards the upset.

And so, using more effective behaviors help you feel better and using ineffective behaviors is like throwing gasoline on a fire that was started with gasoline. It doesn't help to get angry and lash out. You can get angry, feel the anger inside but you always have the choices as to what to do about it.

David: Yes. I...

Carlene: You can lash and hit yourself or you can sit down and talk about it when you're calmed down.

David: Definitely. I totally agree with what you're saying. My point was that I guess that the physiology of it, say anger for example, that the moment of choice can pass so quickly unless one's really aware and alert that response can happen just so fast that you missed the moment of choice. And I'm sure with practice, you can learn to see that and seize that moment of choice and that's part of what your book is encouraging people to do.

Carlene: Exactly. What we're talking about here is not so much counseling as teaching. Teaching people a new way...teaching people that when that moment of choice comes they understand why they need to make that choice. Because we explain the whole concept of human behavior to them and why people behave the way they do.

Why your wife said such a thing. Why your husband did such a thing.

And all about how they get needs met and what the strength of their needs are. Why you're compatible in certain areas and you're not compatible in other areas. All this is covered in this very short book and it's very useful, concise information that people can access immediately.

David: Yes. Now, Bill mentioned criticism as one of the seven deadly habits in a marriage. What are some of the other deadly habits?

William: Well, it starts with criticism and goes on to blaming -- blaming is a very common thing; we blame each other. And then we complain a lot. Criticizing, blaming, complaining, I think are the big three. But then going on to nagging and after nagging, we go into threatening. Then from threatening, bribing: "You know, if you treat me well, I'll go just take you shopping tonight" and things like that. And then finally, rewarding to control, that's the very...well, bribing is rewarding to control.

Carlene: Well, he missed punishing.

William: Punishing, yeah.

Carlene: It's criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening, punishing and rewarding someone to control them. You can give people a reward all day long, but if you just give it out of the goodness of your heart, a [indecipherable] whatever but if you're giving them a gift so that you could control their behavior and that happens a lot, then you're really doing something that is external control.

These are all the "Seven Deadly Habits of External Control" or the way Bill says, it's the "Seven Deadly Habits of Highly Miserable People".

David: You say...

Carlene: They create their own misery by using these behaviors.

William: Yeah. I've studied societies all over the world and every society uses these seven deadly habits.

David: Isn't that interesting?

William: It's a human thing and we do what we do because, and the book explains it a little bit but, because unlike other creatures, human beings, unlike your dog or cat and things like that. And there's a chapter in the book on that called "At Your Discretion, Share What You Are Doing for Your Marriage, with Your Children" and we talk about how your dog and cat, they get along with each other because they have the need for love and belonging and they have the need for freedom and they have need for fun and they have need for survival.

Those four needs are shared by all mammals but human beings are the only living creature in the world that I know of and I've really studied this a lot and no one has ever disputed this with me because if they think about it, it's probably something that's very true. Human beings have the need for power, whether it's a war in Iraq or whether it's fighting in your own family or things like that.

Human beings have a need for power and power really means: "I want to control you and if I can't control you, I'll kill you". And that's been in human history for thousands and thousands of year, it just repeats itself over and over again; we don't learn from it and if we now at an age of atomic energy and atomic bombs and things like that, if we don't learn and we have this need for power, we're not going to be much longer on the face of this earth.

David: Well, I certainly agree with you on that one. You also advocate that the partners need to let each other in on their "Quality World". Now, what is this "Quality World"?

Carlene: Well, the "Quality World" is kind of a part of our memory or our imagination, in our minds, where we put the most need satisfying, people, places and things and systems of beliefs. We put all those -- the ideal. It's like our own personal Shangri-La. And I believe that when people fall in love, they truly put each other in their Quality World. They had a picture in their mind of the kind of person they wanted to be with. And that was their picture and that's a Quality World picture.

And when they find the match to that picture, when they find the right person, the right guy or the right girl, it's: "She really matches my picture" and then you fall in love. Well, that falling in love means that you put that -- literally put that person in your Quality World. It's the need satisfying person, it's someone that you really don't want to live life without and then not kind of what a true marriage or a good relationship is all about; people putting each other in their Quality World.

And when people get divorced, they tend to take each other out of their Quality World because we have control of our Quality World. We can put things in, we can take them out. Not easily but once we put something in, we, all of our behavior is driven to get that picture met. And whenever we experience what we picture in our mind: "It's the way he want things to be" and then when we experience it in the real world and it's not matching our picture, that's when we're unhappy.

And so, when we see our husband or our wife not matching our picture of them in our Quality World, then we get frustrated and unhappy with them and we want to correct that, so that the picture will then match. So, it's a very important component of a marriage, for people to understand that -- you know, I'll give you a short example:

When I married Bill, he was married 46 years to the woman who passed away, his first wife and I moved in to their home when I moved out to California to marry Bill, and the house was a different, you know, it was their house and it looked like their house and I wanted it to look like our house.

David: Mmm hmm.

Carlene: Because in my Quality World I wanted the colors to be different from the colors they were. And you know the furniture to look different, and I wanted it to be our own home. And, I just explained it to Bill, he was very resistant at first because it was the place he'd lived for all these years and he didn't want to change anything.

And all I had to say was, "Gee, you know I had the picture in my Quality World of having the house look such and such and so that it's more our house, our own very house." And he got it. He got it immediately. He realized the value that I was placing on this, because it was really a picture in my Quality World. I could visualize it. I could see the way I wanted it to look. And so he said "OK, then let's do this."

William: And I told Carlene, I said I just have a little trouble writing big checks...

David: [laughs]

William: if you'll write big checks I'll have no problem at all. And she had no trouble writing big checks and we have a beautiful home now.

Carlene: [laughs]

William: Much more beautiful than it was before.

David: Yeah.

William: Because I just didn't want to leave the home, we're in this home now, fifty-four years and we're probably going to go out together in this home. But it's just nice to have a place but Carlene created the home we have now. I didn't have this home, but now it is a really beautiful place.

David: So, really it sounds like the Quality World part is about sharing your deepest most important fantasies but doing it in a way that's not threatening.

Carlene: Exactly. Exactly. And sharing pictures. When we do couples counseling or just training with couples in workshops and things we have them draw a vin diagram, you know two circles that overlap?

David: Yeah.

Carlene: And we say the circle on the left is just the wife's Quality World, and the circle on the right is just the husband's Quality World. It doesn't matter it could be either way wherever the couple is sitting opposite one another. But that center part that overlaps, that's the Quality World that you share. And the bigger that center part, and the more your Quality World overlaps, the better it is.

David: Yeah, that makes sense to me. You also have a chapter on creativity and say it's important to keep a marriage alive, that creativity is important. And in a way that seems like very standard marital advice. I wonder if you have something different in mind.

William: Well I believe each of us is creative. We have something in our brain that makes us creative. Probably even other creatures are maybe somewhat creative, but human beings are extremely creative and sometimes we really don't use our creativity as much in our marriage. We say the same thing over and again. We complain about you make me take the garbage out, or you forgot to put the toilet seat down. There's nothing creative about that.

So when you say something creative in your marriage, you say 'Well maybe I don't put the toilet seat down, but I'll go out tonight and I'll put a beautiful meal on the table, you don't have to make and take you out to dinner and everything like that. So I may forget the toilet seat, but I won't forget how much we enjoyed this dinner.' Well, that's a little bit more creative than most people are. So creativity is not a big deal, but it's an important part of not doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a better result. That's what a creative person never does that.

David: OK, well you've been very generous in sharing a lot about the book here and I don't want to go over every detail because people really need to go out and get this book and read it together as a couple. I wonder if there are any last words you'd like to leave our audience with?

Carlene: Well I would like to leave the audience with wishes for their happiness and that's the reason why we wrote this book is to help people learn some new information. It may seem like, 'Oh gosh, I've heard this before and it's not new.' But we say it in a way that it makes sense why they need to focus on fixing the things that they can fix in their marriage, and you know really hone in on the problem areas and not pay attention so much to the small stuff.

Work on the relationship. Work on that marriage. And that marriage is the entity that's the important thing to look at and try to help, because if you keep selfishly figuring out "what I want, what I want, what I want, " and not worrying about what the marriage needs, then you're destined to a life of unhappy marriage.

William: Look around. There's plenty of unhappy marriages. There's very little to learn from most of the marriages you see, or you see them in the movies and plays and things like that. In fact, most love movies center around human misery. We just saw one on the television last night, something on HBO, where the people were miserable, miserable, miserable. And finally, a little bit in the end, they learned to be a little happier.

And it was just a very interesting movie, but had the people had any idea of Choice Theory before, they never would have even written this movie, because people wouldn't behave that way. But every single book, movie, or play in the world is all written about the perils of external control; operas end up that way and everything else. So we're trying to move people in the direction of a new way to live their life, and we recommend Choice Theory.

Maybe it's not the best way, but one that works for us, and we're teaching it. And we enjoyed writing the book, and we would enjoy hearing from anyone that reads the book. There's ways to email us, and we answer all the questions. I love answering questions, because I get a big kick out of people saying, "But I never thought I did things that way!" And say, "Well, what you've got to do now is just learn from what you did." And that's the whole point of what we're trying to teach.

Carlene: Well, also, just finally what we are teaching is don't give up. Don't give up. Keep working on it. Or at least don't give up easily. It's worth saving. And stay with it. Don't give up.

David: OK. Well, I will be sure to put the web address of your institute in the show notes, and so that if people want to send you email, they'll be able to do that through the institute.

Carlene: Oh, great.

David: So, William and Carlene Glasser, thanks so much for being my guests today on "Wise Counsel."

Carlene: You're welcome.

William: Yes, welcome very much.

Carlene: Thank you for having us.

[musical interlude]

David: I hope you enjoyed this interview with my guests, William and Carlene Glasser. You'll find their institute's home page at And Glasser is spelled G-L-A-S-S-E-R. There's an email address on that page. And as you heard, Dr. Glasser would welcome your comments on this interview, or on their book, which, by the way, is available at low cost in paperback. It's published by Harper.

You've been listening to "Wise Counsel, " a podcast interview series sponsored by CenterSite, LLC. If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit sponsored by CenterSite, LLC, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the sponsored by CenterSite, LLC home page.

If you like "Wise Counsel, " you might also like "Shrink Rap Radio, " my other interview podcast series, which is available online at And "rap" is spelled R-A-P.

Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to "Wise Counsel."