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Orange text on a white background that reads "Donald Sterling Fiasco: a Couples Counseling Perspective" above a photo which shows a close up pair of white hands on an open notebook. The hands appear to belong to a therapist who has their notebook on their lap. in the top right of the photo, you can see two pairs of feet and a couch out of focus, which appears to be the couple in counseling.

Donald Sterling Fiasco: a Couples Counseling Perspective

Los Angeles Clippers fans got it right as the Clippers beat the Golden State Warriors this week: “We are One!” There has been so much thoughtful conversation coming out of this Donald Sterling racism fiasco. It is hopeful to see so much collective revulsion to Sterling’s racist remarks and behavior. The more we talk about quiet forms of racism that exist, the more power we have to fight it.

In addition to the important central topic of racism in our society, as a Couples Counselor, I also wonder about the relationship dynamics of Donald Sterling with both his wife, Rochelle Sterling, and his girlfriend, V. Stiviano.

What can we learn about the trail of pain and destruction in Sterling’s wake?

Denver Couples Counseling

Photo credit: zennie62 / Foter / CC BY-ND

Donald Sterling’s wife

Donald Sterling’s marriage has been in trouble for a long time. There was a previous affair, and there are varying reports about whether Sterling was separated from Rochelle Sterling when his relationship with V. Stiviano began. Whenever there is an affair, there’s a good chance some kind of relationship struggle preceded it. Affairs happen for many reasons. While we can only speculate about the particular dynamics between Donald Sterling and his wife, there are common themes when affairs occur. These include:
• Failed attempts to increase closeness or intimacy
• One or both partner’s difficulty expressing feelings
• Betraying partner’s experience of sharing feelings and not getting any response or a negative response
• Betraying partner’s tendency to go outside the relationship through work, drug/alcohol use, friends, etc.
• Common negative cycles that prevent closeness such as blame/withdraw, criticize/shut down, or mutual blame

Whatever the dynamics, we can assume that some kind of unhappiness led to Donald Sterling to having a relationship with V. Stiviano. Statistically speaking, his relationship with V. has really low odds of succeeding. Bottom line, affairs never heal what’s hurting in a person’s relationship. At best it is a temporary Band-Aid, at worst, it is destructive to many and prolongs the pain.

In fact, many times, the partner having the affair will just carry their negative relationship patterns forward into the affair relationship.  The phone recording points to big problems underfoot in the relationship between Sterling and Stiviano.

Donald Sterling’s girlfriend

When I listened to the audio recording of Sterling’s racist remarks, I hear many painful relationship difficulties between V. Stiviano and him. He seems jealous and controlling of her. My guess is if we explored the feelings below his racist and jealous comments, we would find fears about their relationship.

Whenever we voice fears via angry statements, criticism or attacks, we are likely to get defensiveness from our partner and feel not one bit less afraid. In fact, Sterling’s racist comments to his biracial girlfriend likely pushed her all the way out of the relationship, possibly even to the point of betraying him.

As a Counselor, I know that “hurt people hurt people.” But I also know from experience that vulnerable sharing between two people can heal those deep hurts and fears. There are better ways to deal with insecure or afraid feelings than Donald Sterling chose.

Couples counseling can help couples effectively communicate things like “I’m afraid you don’t love me and you are so important to me.” “I feel insecure sometimes and I want your reassurance.” We can even learn how to acknowledge, “I know I get critical and controlling, but underneath I’m feeling scared.”

We must all do our part to put an end to the Racism, Discrimination and Patriarchy that clearly still runs through our society. We have a long way to go, but the unity and love expressed by so many Americans in the wake of the Donald Sterling fiasco gives hope to a future of growing unity and love for our fellow man and woman.

I wish that those who feel similar distress and fears in their relationships seek out couples counseling now and avoid the path of destruction that has followed Donald Sterling. Call me at 303-513-8975 or use my handy appointment scheduler.

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