Dr. Hurd vs. Dr. Phil (Part 1 of 2)

Readers of The Daily Dose of Reason and Life’s a Beach have repeatedly asked for Dr. Hurd’s opinions of celebrity psychologist Dr. Phil McGraw, popularly known as ‘Dr. Phil.’ Here, Dr. Hurd replies to some of Dr. Phil’s comments as they appear in the famed psychologist’s own words, based on his website and interviews over the years.

Dr. Phil.: ‘You will not solve your relationship problems by becoming more alike in your thinking. Men and women are wired differently. Attempting to blur your fundamentally different viewpoints is unnatural and even dangerous.’

D.H.: Of course there are differences between men and women; but you’re overstating these differences. Men and women ultimately have the same need to love and be loved; to experience love physically as well as emotionally. When they approach each other as if from different planets, the stage is set for conflict, poor communication and emotional withdrawal. It’s true that a mind can’t be forced to think, and that it’s often unrealistic to expect your partner to think exactly as you do; but reason, facts, logic and communication can go a long way towards bridging the gap. Dr. Phil, you’re encouraging people to cynically give up. So long as millions listen to this advice, the divorce rate will stay where it is—or even climb higher.

D.P.: ‘Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you and your partner can’t be happy if you can’t resolve your serious disagreements. Ninety percent of problems in a relationship are not solvable.’

D.H.: Again, Dr. Phil’why so negative?! Don’t you think there’s a reason why people choose to stay together, to commit to living together or getting married? Are people that stupid? They generally are looking for similar values, attitudes and takes on life. They generally want to spend time with someone who desires the same basic things out of life. They’re right to seek out this common territory; otherwise, why not simply stay single? A relationship is supposed to add to your life. To give up and conclude that no relationship can do such a thing turns marriage and family into selfless, unhappy and unfulfilling burdens.

D.P.: ‘There are things that you and your partner disagree about and will continue to disagree about. Why can’t you once and for all resolve these issues? Because in order to do so, one of you would have to sacrifice your values and beliefs.’

D.H.: If you’re saying that neither partner should sacrifice his values and beliefs, then you’re right. If you’re implying that the partners have to suck it up and live with even very fundamental, irreconcilable differences, then you’re inviting misery, disaster, and ultimate divorce—only now, after years of ‘sucking it up,’ children have probably entered the picture.

D.P.: ‘You can simply agree to disagree and reach ’emotional closure’ even though you haven’t reached closure on the issue.’

D.H.: Some disagreements cannot be resolved, and they should be left alone. He wants Chinese for dinner, she wants Italian. It’s not a deal breaker. However, other disagreements should result in the end of the relationship. He wants children; she doesn’t. It will be a sacrifice of his personal happiness to give up having children; it will be a sacrifice of her personal happiness to have children. It’s a deal breaker, and no kind of ’emotional closure’ is possible except by going your separate ways.

D.P.: ‘There is nothing wrong with your relationship if you don’t share common interests and activities.’

D.H.: Nonsense! The best relationships are the ones based on friendship. An excellent romantic partner is someone with whom you would also be friends, although you’re much more than friends. Friends have common interests and activities. I see no reason why married spouses can’t have common interests and activities as well. Get real, Dr. Phil!

D.P.: ‘If approached properly, arguing can actually help the relationship by (a) releasing tension and (b) instilling the sense of peace and trust that comes from knowing you can release
feelings without being abandoned or humiliated.’

D.H.: This can be true, but it’s crucial to know what you mean, exactly, by ‘arguing.’ Many people, during arguments, say nasty and rude things designed not to strengthen their point but simply to hurt the other person. I maintain that the accumulation of these things said over time contributes, more than any other single factor, to the erosion of goodwill in a romantic relationship, and even to its ultimate demise. You have to be careful about advocating arguing, because this is how most people argue. At the same time, I know it’s good to stop pretending you agree when actually you don’t. The key is to expose this pretense rationally and with respect for the other person. If not, morale is undercut and the goodwill, and ultimately the love, within the relationship slowly fades away.

D.P.: ‘Getting things off your chest might feel good, but when you blurt something out in the heat of the moment, you risk damaging your relationship permanently. Many relationships are destroyed when one partner can’t forgive something that was said during uncensored venting.’

D.H.: But, Dr. Phil, I thought arguing was good?

D.P.: ‘There is no definitive ‘right way’ to be a good spouse, good parent, or to handle any relationship challenge that life throws you.’

D.H.: Oh, no? Then what’s the point of a Dr. Phil website? Or television show? Isn’t the core of your popularity, Dr. Phil, that you provide straightforward advice, always openly stating (or at least implying) what’s ‘right’ and what’s ‘wrong’ to do in various life situations? Dr. Phil, don’t be a hypocrite!

D.P.: ‘Do what works for you rather than following some standards you might have read in a book or heard from a well-meaning friend.’

D.H.: Why does blindly following advice fall into the same category as looking at a set of standards, applying them and continuing to subscribe to them if they work in daily life? Why must we all reinvent the wheel? More than that, if there’s no objective ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ then by what standard are we to figure out what makes sense, whether the ideas come from Dr. Phil, Dr. Hurd, our next-door neighbor or ourselves?

Concluded in Friday’s column.