Five Essential Disciplines

December 12, 2006

Psychologist/author Stephen Judah ’72 has integrated the science and theology of relationships for couples and the business world.

THE EPIPHANY THAT TRANSFORMED Steve Judah’s counseling practice also saved his marriage.

In 1993, he was founder of a thriving practice in a multistory complex in Columbus, Ohio, treating everything from eating disorders to end-of-life issues. Asked to attend a conference in Norway on integrating faith and psychology, Judah was in a plane over France when he began to read Harville Hendrix’s Getting the Love You Want.

"It was a landmark synthesis," Judah says. "Hendrix was the first person to approach marital therapy from a comprehensive, integrated perspective."

Marriage and couples counseling had been Judah’s entree into counseling years earlier. But reading Hendrix and, later that week, hearing conference speaker Graham Grey talk of the "theology of relationships" reinvigorated the former Wabash psychology major/ religion minor whose Christian faith had long been the center of his life.

"It was a transformational moment for me," Judah recalls. "I had the science of relationships from Hendrix and the theology of relationships from Grey. I came back and announced that my career was going to be relationships."

He began with the relationship most important to him. At the time, Judah’s now-35-year marriage to his high school sweetheart was near a tipping point.

"Sharon and I really had a high conflict relationship early on," Judah recalls. "During one argument, I actually pushed her against the wall."

Judah was jolted by his actions.

"I did my own inventory," he says, reciting the steps he often leads couples through today. "I asked,‘What are you? Out of control, negative, and part of the problem. What do you really want to be? In control, positive, and part of the solution. At that moment, I made the decision to be that, and our relationship changed."

Judah downsized his practice, meeting with clients in his office at home and providing counseling, consulting, and training for teens, couples, and businesses. He helped develop the Reiss Relationship Profile, an online assessment of couple’s compatibility.And he began what he calls the "integrative reductionism" that led him to a new approach to his work.

"I saw some ways that Harville Hendrix’s imago therapy could be simplified, extended, and integrated with other competing theories," Judah says. Inspired by the Apple Macintosh and its consistent user interface, Judah saw that the many different perspectives about couples and relationships was analogous to the unique approaches people had to computer software.

"So I set out to create a consistent user interface for all the competing methodologies of couples stuff," Judah explains. "I began formulating what I call the Essential Disciplines—the irreducible relationship foundational pieces."

1. Refine

For Judah, the first Essential Discipline is "refine."

"This is really all about character, commitment, and the individual," Judah says. "Until a person makes a decision to be his or her best self, changing a relationship is an almost impossible battle.

"Often in relationships, people react so much to the other person that they lose track of themselves. I help each person in the relationship see who he or she wants to be, to realize they are not being that person because they are reacting to the other person. I challenge them to refine themselves, and to be that person, regardless of what’s going on with their partner.

"Most marital interventions lack this element, and it’s a glaring deficit in their system, if you ask me," Judah adds. In his work with business, he applies "refine" to employee selection, performance reviews, and staff and leadership development.

2. Share

"The second Essential Discipline is ‘share’—communication and understanding and valuing the other person," Judah says. "In a marriage, that’s your husband or wife. In a business, that’s your customer or your colleague.

"But sharing is ultimately about understanding, being understood, and valuing the other person."

3. Reconcile

"The third Essential Discipline is ‘reconcile,’ which is about exploring a problem and generating a solution," Judah says. "This discipline deals with conflict resolution.

"Most of that which is negative in a relationship can be addressed by these first three disciplines—people deciding to be their best, understanding one another, and having a methodology to work through conflict. So I’m absolutely dogged about getting those three disciplines functional, because I believe they are the irreducible necessities."

4. Enhance

"With the fourth Discipline—‘enhance’—we move from the negative to the positive," Judah says. "Business is very big on improvement, but couples tend not to think that way. Their resources are so tied up in survival that they rarely get into enhancement methodology. But it’s important to identify what’s really good in a relationship and to ask one another how this could be even better."

5. Envision

"The last piece is envisioning—creating the possible," Judah says. "It’s about finding one’s calling, passion, and purpose—exploring one another’s dreams and creating plans to reach them in career, in family, and in life."

WHILE JUDAH HAS BEEN APPLYING his Essential Disciplines for couples and businesses for several years, their use in the crucible of marital situations—infidelity—is drawing worldwide attention.

From his guest appearance on ABC’s "The View" to requests for translations from international distributors, Judah’s book—Staying Together When an Affair Pulls You Apart—is generating a media buzz. With a 40 to 76 percent likelihood of American men and women having an affair at some point in their marriage and the federal government shelling out millions in grants for strong marriage initiatives, the book couldn’t come at a better time. And Judah’s success rate recommends it; of the couples he’s worked with where a spouse has had an affair, 87 percent have been able to rebuild their marriages, Judah says.

It’s been rewarding work for the therapist, who sees the book as one way to introduce his Essential Disciplines methodology through "a lightning rod topic."

"I see the world as a battlefield between good and evil and the choice that we make to be people who are either whole or broken," he says. "I’m just making a contribution to help navigate that difficult space, particularly in the world of relationships."

Read more about Judah at

Read about Judah’s appearance on "The View" at WM Online.


"The last person I’d recommend for grad school"

Wabash professors are known for writing great letters of recommendation. But one of the College’s best-known psychologists couldn’t get one.

Combine that with an awful experience as a freshman pledge in 1968 that left him "a dysfunctional student" and you’ll understand why Steve Judah’s memories of Wabash are bittersweet.

"Later in life, when I got in touch with how traumatic my freshman year had been, I was very resentful," says Judah, who completed all four years at the College. "I really had to climb out of a hole after that first year."

Judah recovered well enough to graduate, while at the same time assisting the youth group at Woodland Heights Christian Church—the genesis of his vocation. He began to consider graduate school in psychology and stopped by his faculty advisor’s office to request a letter of recommendation.

"I still don’t know exactly why, but I remember his words: ‘You are the last person in the world I’d recommend for grad school.’"

So Judah went to work for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, began counseling couples at a United Methodist Church as they prepared for marriage, and eventually earned his PhD at Ohio State University.

Still, Judah says, "I deeply value my liberal arts education. My book actually draws from my coursework at Wabash College."

He describes the apical meristem (the growing tip of a plant) that he learned about from biology professor Bob Petty. He uses it today as a metaphor for the discipline of refining oneself.

"Just as a gardener shapes the apical meristem, when you refine yourself, you control the growth process so that you have a yield that is adaptable to the environment and stunning to behold.

"My experience with this sociological phenomenon of pledgeship was terrible, but I learned a lot at the same time," Judah says. "The knowledge base I gained is irrefutable. I’m grateful for the generous scholarship that permitted me to attend."



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