Betty Lukas

Peninsula therapist Randi Gunther

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Randi Gunther

Dr. Randi Gunther writes about the behaviors that undermine love.

When Randi Gunther was young, she didn’t have time for college; when she got married at 18 and worked to help her college student husband, she didn’t have time for college; and when she was a mother, devoting her energy to prepare her three daughters for college, she didn’t have time for college.

But things are different now.

Soon to be 75, Dr. Randi Gunther has finally come into her own: Her first book, “Relationship Saboteurs: Overcoming the 10 Behaviors That Undermine Love,” has just been published. And her work of more than 40 years as a psychologist and marriage counselor, listening to others share their struggles, has emerged into a how-to book on “self-accountability,” which she claims holds the answer to relationship problems.

“Being willing to face our own limitations,” she writes in her book, “and work diligently to become the best people we can be, despite our legitimate sorrows, is the only path to genuine fulfillment that I know, and a prerequisite to creating successful relationships.”

Dr. Gunther maintains that the book’s contents are “specifically gender-free,” and “its uniqueness lay in the seven exercises it contains.”

She found the publisher, New Harbinger Publications in Oakland, via her agent. The publisher, she explained, focuses on 200-page how-to books.

“They bought it in August of 2009,” she added, “and here it is.”

And now it’s her turn.

Patiently waiting until she was past 30, Dr. Gunther decided to put all the pent-up energy, information and curiosity that had swirled around in her head for all those years to work, and she enrolled at Harbor College.

“I hadn’t thought of myself until mid-life,” she said. “I was focused on an education for my husband and for my three girls – an education I had never gotten.”

“At first, I thought I might become an educator,” she explained during a recent interview in her serene Lomita office on Palos Verdes Drive North, where she has practiced for 39 years, “but the college, as it serendipitously turned out, was just starting a human relations program, and I happened to become head of the counseling center. Maybe it was my age, but it was there that I discovered my passion for working with people.

“I had this insatiable hunger to learn, although it was hard to leave my teenage girls at home, but my husband was wonderfully supportive all during the time I was in school.”

With his support, Dr. Gunther went on to enroll at Cal State Dominguez Hills, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in psychology – in one year!

“I took 28 units, because I was determined to catch up,” she explained.

And catch up she did. She continued to earn her master’s degree in counseling psychology at Chapman College — where she taught for a year — and then to USC for her doctorate.

“I had a 4.0 GPA at all three schools,” she added, with justifiable pride. “By then I was 39.”

Of her career as a psychologist and its obvious success, Dr. Gunther explained that “I love the puzzle of people’s lives. I’m basically an anthropologist. I look at each client as a brand new culture, which makes people feel as if they matter. And they do.”

She works four 12-hour days a week, allowing the other three for writing and time with her husband and family.

“He brings my lunch every day that I’m working, so we have a special mid-day time together.”

As for her clients, she said she sees about 150 a month.

“About 50 percent are men,” she noted, adding that several teenagers of both genders spend time with her as well.

And it is when she speaks of them, that the first frown of the day clouds her face.

“I’ve never before been as worried about kids on the Hill. They’ve left their parents behind,” she said.

She cited the Internet and a word she coined, “affluenza,” as being primary responsible for the condition.

“The 12-and-13-year-olds are having sex with multiple partners — and doing drugs.”

“I’m not here to moralize,” she said. “What I try to do is give them [her young clients] another way of looking at an experience.”

She described her style of working with clients this way: “I’m a practical idealist.” In psychological terms, she calls herself a “humanistic existentialist.”

Despite the demands of her professional and personal life, she is quick to recall her youth and vividly remembers those years growing up in West Los Angeles where her father was “a barber to the stars,” and her mother, a homemaker and astrologist/graphologist with a “psychic sensibility,” who was “always a seeker of truth.”

Her parents had immigrated separately from England and Russia, and met and married in Los Angeles, where Dr. Gunther and her brother were born.

She had the opportunity and the excitement of meeting her father’s clients — Frank Sinatra, Tony Martin and Josh Logan, to name just a few, and she spent a lot of time on movie sets.

“There was never any talk of college,” she said, although she was a student leader and excelled in her classes at Fairfax High School.

“I was working [after school] at 15, and never thought about it,” she added, “and they didn’t, either.”

But during her teens, she also met Grant, her future husband, and after high school graduation followed him to UC Berkeley where they married — she was 18 — and where he obtained a degree in engineering.

And now, after 58 years of marriage, how have they managed to sustain their love and commitment? The answer seems to be cooperation and communication. He cooks, she cooks, they eat out — and they talk a lot.

“When he retired 18 years ago, he became involved in an Internet writing group that he continues to manage, so it keeps him very busy – and he critiques my writing.

“I write, he critiques. We work side by side on everything I write. It’s a mutual career — he’s part of it. We’ve had marvelous arguments all during this writing process.”

The urge to write, she said, arose “because I was bored with myself. I felt that I had to do something. You know, you’ve got to have something that is just beyond reach. I felt I had accumulated so much knowledge…”

And now she looks around at her successful career, her successful marriage and her successful daughters — two are physicians and the other, according to her mother, is “a humanitarian changing the world.” All of their daughters attended Peninsula schools, where the family has lived in Rolling Hills Estates for 39 years.

Dr. Gunther spends what little free time she has with her husband, daughter and four granddaughters, along with “learning about anything.”

Oh, yes, she’s also completed a second book, “When Love Stumbles: When People Stop Loving,” with the same publisher, who bought it this past January. And then, in the back of her mind, there’s still that third book, the one she wrote several years ago.

With that thought, she beamed in anticipation and smiled broadly. “I’ve got a brand new career!” PEN

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