In Conversation with Don Rosenthal, Part I

“The mind’s habit of closing the heart is tenacious, and the ego will persist in its ancient ways. You will doubtless stumble on the path many times. Nonetheless, change eventually begins …”
– Don Rosenthal in Learning to Love

“The truth is, although the mind will say It’s not safe to love, there’s never a good reason to keep the heart closed.”
– Martha Rosenthal in Learning to Love

Psychotherapist Don Rosenthal and his wife Martha, a mind/body/spirit healing practitioner, are the authors of a number of books for couples, including Learning to Love, a marriage manual that leaves all others in the dust. What’s radically different about their approach is the premise that couplehood is both a spiritual journey and an unparalleled opportunity for personal growth. They teach effective means of self-examination and communication to resolve problems that could lead to breakup.

Don and Martha counsel couples in private practice and conduct weekend retreats in which they encourage couples to explore the roots of any personal pain that might be creating conflict in their relationships. They also teach partners how to be mindfully present to each other even when the partner’s message is hard to hear.

Recently Don Rosenthal took the time to answer Wanda Waterman’s questions about the origins and foundations of their remarkable life’s work.

Why a Career in Psychology?
“In my ten years in Alaska I realized that I had placed great limits on the possibilities of consciousness. Living in isolation and simplicity for some time, I explored the mind and found it fascinating. I learned some things about the workings of mind. I discovered that I had a natural aptitude and interest in helping others see within more clearly, although I couldn’t picture myself within a traditional setting and methodology.

“One day in my late forties I realized I could do it my way, with a spiritual component and more emphasis on the fruits of mindfulness and on what I can do now rather than on how I got here. I went to graduate school in psychotherapy and got an MA.”

Why Couples Therapy?
There is a special quality to the work when I see people’s lives being directly demonstrated before me in the way they relate, as opposed to hearing their lives described. Also, there is in my view a notable lack of spiritual wisdom for those who want to be equal partners on the spiritual journey.

“The traditional religious views are filled with exhortations to be more loving, kind, and forgiving, and this can seem shallow to those caught in the grip of strong negativity. There’s room for much new creativity in spiritual psychology. This being said, I also do a fair amount of work individually.”

The School of Personal Demons and the World Beyond Them
“My greatest educational experiences were confronting my demons in my own marriage and observing myself, to my surprise, loving unconditionally as a father. Both had a profound effect on my sense of who I am and what is possible. In terms of outside influences, Krishnamurti played an important role in first pointing to something beyond, as well as Nisargedatta. A Course in Miracles and Emmanuel opened up the heart component for me without sacrificing clarity.”

A Sharing of Deep Purpose
“I see a successful marriage as a union in which two people share a deep purpose in being together and are committed to being allies on their journey, a union wherein they’re able to celebrate the enjoyable moments, investigate the difficult ones, and learn what’s needed to release the obstacles to love. I believe they’re successful when they keep learning and ripening together.”

What is Openhearted Listening and Why Does it Work So Well?
“Martha and I wanted to learn together to develop communication skills by which we could both count on being emotionally understood about even the most difficult issues. I wanted us to be able to put ourselves emotionally in the other’s place, applying these tools when It’s most difficult rather than getting defensive.

“Openhearted listening is a commitment to responding without defensiveness when your partner tells you about something you did that didn’t work for him or her. You empathise and show that his or her feeling about what happened makes sense to you under the circumstances. This is called validation.

“This I can do even if I disagree with my partner’s story about what happened, or her interpretation. In order to validate I put my own feelings and interpretations completely on the back burner.”

(To be continued)

Feel free to contact DonRosenthal at

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