Daddy, I’m getting married!!!

Remember the movie, Guess Who is Coming to Dinner?

Remember the song by Paul Simon, Slip-sliding Away?

Remember the movie, Fiddler on the Roof?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me his daughter (with fiancé) made that announcement, “Daddy, I’m getting married! Isn’t that great!”

My friend is divorced, successful business man, father of two children (a boy and a girl). His daughter is in the third year of college and intends to go to graduate school. She is a good student and expects (and is expected) to do well in grad school. She believes she will not have trouble finding employment after school. Her skills are and will continue to be in high demand.  She is also known as a serious, deliberate person; one who thinks through her decisions.

Her fiancé is 3 years older and a recent college graduate who is well established locally with strong working relationships with other colleagues in his field, in the area. He is a hard worker, has initiative and is eager to prove himself.

They dated on and off in high school. They have been dating steady for the past three years; since she began college. She loves him and all indications are that he loves her. They have been through some tough times and worked through them together, staying together as they worked through them.

All indications are that they are a level-headed couple with a bright future ahead of them.

Now….for those of you who are in this situation or fear being in it (a divorced parent of marrying aged children), this is a moment of great pause.

What do you say?

She/he wants you to say, “Wonderful. I am so happy for you!”  You may want to say, “Wonderful. I am so happy for you!” It would be easy to say, “Wonderful. I am so happy for you!”

But you hesitate. Why? Because….you are divorced. You have been there, done that. And you found out how life has a way of living itself, whether you notice it or not.  Life has a way of changing things. And no one told you about that. And yet, you are still responsible…for the consequences of those changes, for your reactions, despite your lack of experience in such situations,

What do you say then to this, “Daddy, I’m getting married!”

After A LOT of consideration, something like this occurred to me:

“Darling, I am so happy for you. You will make a beautiful bride and _____ will make a very handsome groom. You are in love and your futures look so bright!

I wish for you and _____ all the happiness in the world.

I also wish for you time for consideration about the decision you are about to make. The decision you are about to make is unlike any decision you have ever made before. It will be both a private and public decision that will affect you for the rest of your life. You will think about this decision nearly every day of your life…judge yourself by it and imagine others judging you by it.

You are going to change as you age. _____ will also. Despite these unknown changes, you will expect yourself to love and remain with _____. And he, you. Further, no one knows how you will change and you can’t prepare for such changing.

There will be times in marriage that you can’t see your partner; nor he, you; won’t know your partner, nor he, you; won’t know the right thing to do; can’t give any more despite there is more to be done; and can’t see a way around obstacles in your way.

It is in our very nature to pair off and everyone enters marriage this way.

If you want my permission or my blessing to marry, know that there is a big part of me inside saying, “No, don’t” because of what I have learned about marriage.  This is too big of an issue for you to ask someone else’s direction. It is your decision and your decision alone. All I can tell you is to consider what I have said about marriage and if you still feel the right choice is to marry, than know that I will support you, win or lose.”

Marriage in the Middle

This is a reproduction of an article, “The View”, (by Belinda Luscombe), from the February 19, 2018 edition of Time Magazine.  It describes two books about marriage, targeting midlife marriage.  “The Rough Patch”, by Daphne de Marneffe, and “Happy Together”, by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski.

I decided to highlight this article because the article and books address something I see in my office frequently, midlife marriage and more recognizably, midlife crisis.  These are difficult, painful, and too-easily ignored topics.

Enjoy the article and consider the books.

Everyone who just got married is psyched about it.  It’s a new adventure with their best friend.  Everyone who has been married for 50 years or more is psyched about it.  They’re living with their closest companion—it’s been a trip, totally worth it.

But the people in the middle?  They’re, you know, they’re fine.  They perhaps didn’t expect marriage to be quite as much work as it is.  Not just the child care and the housekeeping and the paying of the bills but the parts that are supposed to be fun—the talking, the planning, the throwing a leg over.  They had been led to believe it would feel easier, more natural.  The thing about walking off into the sunset together is that then it gets dark and people stumble over each other.

Two new books seek to solve just this midlife marital ennui:  The Rough Patch, by San Francisco clinical psychologist Daphne de Marneffe, and Happy Together, by husband-and-wife marital educators Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski.

The midlife crisis is an old cliché, with little support in research, but when we dismiss the happiness dip that people experience in their middle years, “we are actually trying to disarm the intensity of the forces we are grappling with,” de Marneffe writes.  “The midpoint of life represents the moment of maximal conflict between our drive to seek external solutions to our emotional dilemmas and our recognition that ultimately they don’t work.”  It’s also often the point where our tenacity falters and the neat selvages of our certainties about who we are and whom we chose start to fray.

Being married, as Ben Affleck memorably implied while accepting an Oscar for Argo, can be like pretending to make a film in a hostile land.  There’s a lot of negotiation, a lot of compromise and, sometimes, a hasty exit.  And yet a 2017 analysis of tens of thousands of Britons found that marriage really keeps people happier, especially if they’re best friends.  So how do couples find a way through?

Happy Together’s co-authors, who claim theirs is the first book to apply the principles of positive psychology to romance, advise “building and broadening” –expanding the life you have together—and “lengthening and strengthening,” which sounds like a shampoo commercial but is about savoring the good things you have, a sort of slow-food movement for feelings.  It’s an old marital chestnut that couples in it for the long haul should find new things to do together and new things to do apart.  Perhaps positive psychology might propel couples to try.

De Marneffe’s book is situated in the highly therapized air of San Francisco.  She too offers a two-pronged approach, which she calls “feeling with and thinking about.”  The response spouses need from each other, she claims, is one that is empathetic and then helpful.  When a child comes home with a scrape, good parents don’t just coo sympathetically.  Nor do they just turn away and reach for antiseptic.  They do one, then the other.  Similarly, relationships thrive when partners can acknowledge each other’s existence and feelings and troubles, then improve them.  This also means that saying to your spouse, “I just want you to listen, not help,” is actually depriving them of half the ways they can show love.

Ultimately, both books agree, the best way to right a marriage is everybody’s least favorite: hold up your end of the couch.  The Pawelskis spend half their book on cultivating character, becoming someone to whom another might like to be married.  De Marneffe offers specifics:  you become such a person by “facing authentic emotion and vulnerability.”  She encourages her patients not to settle, to have unflinching conversations about sex, money, drinking, bodies, desires, the whole mess.

If the only advantage of growing older is greater self-knowledge, then it follows that growing older with another offers a still richer source of feedback.  (Presented, one hopes, with compassion.)  And yet self-knowledge is not the point of spending life as a twosome.  Marriage’s chief promise is another-knowledge, a decades-long exploration, as de Marneffe says, of “a distinct being whose contour and interior you have yet to truly know.”  Like so many things, marriage is better when it’s between good friends.

Real(istic) Holidays

On Christmas, I spent a few hours with my family having dinner and my daughters got me a number of grand gifts but MY Christmas present was making and eating Christmas brunch with them.

I went to bed on New Year’s Eve at 10:00 and slept well that night.  On New Year’s Day, I took a 3 hour nap and spent a few hours just reading.

I have had many sad and painful sessions with people lamenting the holidays because…..they were alone.

Personally, I think this a matter of perspective and maturity.  Would I like to celebrate Christmas in a beautiful house (AKA, Downton Abbey), have a 10 ft. Christmas tree, go to Vail Colorado and ski on Christmas Eve, bring in the New Year with group of young and beautiful friends with champagne and caviar and kiss my 6 ft. blonde girlfriend at the stroke of midnight?  Yes, of course.  Are these things going to happen (I am holding out for the 6 ft. blonde girlfriend!)?  No…or I highly doubt it.

Why am I not sad and despondent?  Perspective and Maturity.

Perspective:  I have what I have and don’t have what I don’t have.  I could focus on what I don’t have and have focused on this in the past.  What I got when I focused on that was……depressed.  You recall that saying your mother or father used to say…something like “Count your Blessings”?  Well, I have learned it is true.  When I focus on what I have and can reasonably obtain, I am happier than when I have focused on what I didn’t have and told myself I needed to have.

Maturity:  Someday I am going to die.  Do I want to look back on what I didn’t have and obsessed about or what I had, and shared and took pleasure from?  Obviously, the latter.  It is my belief that those who obsess about what they don’t have and continually strive for never think about their mortality….the fact that they will someday die and will, in a short amount of time, be forgotten.  It is not that I am morbid or negativistic.  It is that I am realistic.  This death will come for us all.  I am only recognizing it and deciding how I want to spend the time I have today…by taking a (3 hour) nap, reading a book I have been looking forward to (instead of doing a lot of other quasi-necessary housework) or simply accepting what I have and making the best of it (instead of obsessing over what I don’t have and feeling miserable).

Depression in the Workplace

Signs Employees Are Suffering From Depression and How Employers Can Help

The mental health of employees is imperative to the success of any organization. Sadly, mental health of employees is often overlooked in the corporate world. Employees are expected to give their best, and talking about depression is not really encouraged. A lot of managers have no idea how to deal with employees who are suffering from depression. Globally, 300 million people are affected by depression and 80 percent of this number don’t have the courage to seek help.

According to a resource published by Mind.org, many employees choose not to talk about their mental health because they are afraid of losing their jobs, and are concerned about confidentiality. A lot of employees are also unaware of the fact that they are depressed or fear that their insurance won’t cover the costs of treatment. Reports show that workplace depression is a huge problem for economies worldwide, costing billions to organizations annually. Research carried out by Mental Health America revealed that in the United States, when depression is left untreated, it costs over $51 billion dollars in absenteeism from work, and lost productivity, compared to $26 billion in direct treatment costs.

Employees with depression find it difficult to function properly. Even great artists like Van Gogh, when faced with depression struggled to find motivation to work. Research proves that early identification and treatment is important to productivity and recovery. It is important for managers to look out for the mental health of their employees. Here are some signs that managers should look out for:

Loss of motivation ― Depression is usually characterized by low motivation. Is your employee suddenly unenthusiastic about tasks?

Increased Frequency of Sick Days – Is your employee visiting the doctor more often but refuses to tell you the issue, even under confidence?

Decreased Productivity ― If your employee is constantly missing deadlines and doing sloppy work, it might be a sign of a greater problem.

Change of Social Behavior in the Work Place – The sociable employee becomes withdrawn; the cooperative behavior is now argumentative.

Absenteeism –– If they suddenly start taking sick days of more than usual, they might be dealing with a problem.

Tardiness –– Are they constantly late to work? Do they look cheerless when they get to work?

Tiredness ― Do they complain about being tired after doing the most basic of tasks?

 How managers can help depressed employees

Depression can easily be misinterpreted as laziness or poor work ethic. You can’t treat depression with threats or a pep talk. Chances are, you’re probably making it worse. If your employee is depressed, here are some steps that you can take.

 Create an open environment

Encourage workers to talk to you about any stress, anxiety or depression that they face. Create a culture of support where employees understand that they are not alone, and you will work with them to get through their depression.

Respect their confidentiality

Always remember that mental health information is highly sensitive. If an employee opens up to, it means they trust you enough to do so. Don’t pass on information to others except they give you permission to do so.

Don’t assume

Respect your employee enough to understand that the symptoms they display may not affect their ability to do their job. Don’t talk to them like they’re suddenly incapable ― a lot of depressed people are able to manage their conditions and perform their roles well. Instead, ask how you can help and explore options to make their work easier with them.

Offer flexible work options

If your employee is depressed, your priority should be their mental health. Give them flexible work options. Allow them to work from home, take naps at work or work lesser hours. Let them take a few days off when they don’t feel too good. Encourage them to take only tasks that they can handle and give them a chance to reduce their workload.

Check up on them

Offer a friendly shoulder and ask them how they’re doing every now and then. Don’t pressure them to talk, but make sure they understand that you are available to listen. Include them in activities with their co-workers when the feel up to it, and make them feel supported.

Managers have the responsibility of ensuring that workplaces are filled with positive energy, and employees feel safe. Standing by an employee when they are dealing with mental health problems reflects your organization’s values. As a leader, you should be heavily invested in the mental health of your employees and take steps to encourage them to take care of their mental health.

Depression (major depressive disorder)

Overview

Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.

More than just a bout of the blues, depression isn’t a weakness and you can’t simply “snap out” of it. Depression may require long-term treatment. But don’t get discouraged. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychotherapy or both.

Symptoms

Although depression may occur only once during your life, people typically have multiple episodes. During these episodes, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day and may include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Some people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.

Depression symptoms in children and teens

Common signs and symptoms of depression in children and teenagers are similar to those of adults, but there can be some differences.

  • In younger children, symptoms of depression may include sadness, irritability, clinginess, worry, aches and pains, refusing to go to school, or being underweight.
  • In teens, symptoms may include sadness, irritability, feeling negative and worthless, anger, poor performance or poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood and extremely sensitive, using recreational drugs or alcohol, eating or sleeping too much, self-harm, loss of interest in normal activities, and avoidance of social interaction.

Depression symptoms in older adults

Depression is not a normal part of growing older, and it should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated in older adults, and they may feel reluctant to seek help. Symptoms of depression may be different or less obvious in older adults, such as:

  • Memory difficulties or personality changes
  • Physical aches or pain
  • Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems or loss of interest in sex — not caused by a medical condition or medication
  • Often wanting to stay at home, rather than going out to socialize or doing new things
  • Suicidal thinking or feelings, especially in older men

Risk factors

Depression often begins in the teens, 20s or 30s, but it can happen at any age. More women than men are diagnosed with depression, but this may be due in part because women are more likely to seek treatment.

Factors that seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering depression include:

  • Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem and being too dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
  • Traumatic or stressful events, such as physical or sexual abuse, the death or loss of a loved one, a difficult relationship, or financial problems
  • Blood relatives with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, alcoholism or suicide
  • History of other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorder, eating disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Serious or chronic illness, including cancer, stroke, chronic pain or heart disease
  • Certain medications, such as some high blood pressure medications or sleeping pills (talk to your doctor before stopping any medication)

Complications

Depression is a serious disorder that can take a terrible toll on you and your family. Depression often gets worse if it isn’t treated, resulting in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your life.

Examples of complications associated with depression include:

  • Excess weight or obesity, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes
  • Pain or physical illness
  • Alcohol or drug misuse
  • Anxiety, panic disorder or social phobia
  • Family conflicts, relationship difficulties, and work or school problems
  • Social isolation
  • Suicidal feelings, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Self-mutilation, such as cutting
  • Premature death from medical conditions

Types of Depression

  • Depressive disorders come in many different types, and while there are many similarities to each type of depression, each has its own unique set of symptoms.
  • The most commonly diagnosed form of depression is Major Depressive Disorder, a condition whose primary symptom is an overwhelming depressed mood for more than two weeks. The depressed mood affects all facets of the person’s life, including work, home life, relationships and friendships. A person with this kind of depression often finds it difficult to do much of anything or get motivated, so even going to seek treatment for this condition can be challenging.
  • Another type of depression is called. Dysthymia is similar to Major Depressive Disorder, but the symptoms occur over a much longer period of time – more than 2 years. This is considered a chronic form of depression, and treatment can be challenging as an individual with Dysthymia has often already tried all manner of treatment. Individuals diagnosed with this condition can also suffer from occasional bouts of Major Depressive Disorder.
  • A third type of depression is referred to as Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood. This condition is diagnosed when a person is adjusting to some new facet or change in their lives that has caused a great deal of stress. This disorder can even be diagnosed when a person is experiencing a good event in their life – such as a new marriage or a baby being born. Because the individual usually just needs a little additional support in their lives during this stressful time, treatment is time-limited and simple.
  • While there are many types of depression, some kinds of this condition seem to be related to changes in the length of days or seasonality. A seasonal depression is called Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD). People with Seasonal Affective Disorder suffer the symptoms of a Major Depressive Disorder only during a specific time of year, usually winter. This appears to be related to the shorter days of winter, and the lack of sunlight in many parts of the country.
  • Depression is also a symptom of other disorders, such as Bipolar DisorderBipolardisorder is sometimes considered a “mood disorder,” but is not a form of depression. Bipolar disorder is characterized by swings of a person’s mood from depression to mania (mania is when a person is feeling lots of energy — like they are on top of the world and can do almost anything, often trying to do just that). The cycling mood changes from severe highs (mania) and lows (depression) can sometimes be dramatic and rapid in some people, but most often they are gradual.
  • After pregnancy, hormonal changes in a woman’s body may trigger symptoms of depression. More than half of the women suffering from Postpartum Depressionwill experience it again with the birth of another child. It is critical to identify this danger and treat it early. During pregnancy, the amount of two female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in a woman’s body increases greatly. In the first 24 hours after childbirth, the amount of these hormones rapidly drops back down to their normal non-pregnant levels. Researchers think the fast change in hormone levels may lead to depression, just as smaller changes in hormones can affect a woman’s moods before she gets her menstrual period.

Kids and Smartphones

In the November 6, 2017 edition of Time magazine, there is an article: We Need to Talk about Kids and Smartphones authored by Markham Heid.  I displayed this article in my waiting room. I’ve had so many parents comment on it, I decided to post the tips from the article.

  1. Keep devices out of kids’ bedrooms.

There is strong data linking bedroom screen time with a variety of risks-particularly sleep loss, says David Hill, director of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Even among adults, before-bed media use is associated with insomnia.  And kids need more sleep than grownups. Taking away a child’s phone at bedtime can be a battle, but it’s worth the fight.

  1. Set online firewalls and data cutoffs.

It’s unrealistic to expect teens to stay away from illicit content or to moderate their social-media use, says Frances Jensen, chair of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania.  A young person’s brain is wired for exploration and to some extent, thrill-seeking- not restraint.  Most devices and internet providers, as well as some apps, offer parenting tools that restrict access to problematic content and curt data use.  Take advantage of them.

  1. Create a device contract.

This is something you create with your child that details rules around their device use,” says Yaida Uhis, an assistant adjunct professor at UCLA and the author of Media Moms and Digital Dads. These rules could include no smartphones at the dinner table or no more than an hour of social media use after school.  If a child violates the rules, he or she should lose the phone for a period of time.

  1. Model healthy device behaviors.

Just as kids struggle to stay off their phones, so do parents.  And if you’re a phone junkie yourself, you can’t expect your kids to be any different, says, Jensen. Apart from putting your own phone away while driving or mealtimes, it’s important to recognize that your kids see what you put online.  If you’re criticizing another parent on Facebook or slamming someone’s political beliefs on Twitter, your kids will follow suit.

  1. Consider old-school flip phones.

Or try a smartphone without a data plan.  This may seem like overkill for some parents-especially those of older teens.  But unconnected phones still allow teens to call or text, says Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of iGen. And kids can access social media or videos from home computers and tablets during their free time. But when they’re out in the world, they won’t be tempted with all-the-time access to screen-based distractions.

Marital Infidelity…another look.

In the November 6, 2017 edition of Time, there is a book review by Belinda Luscombe. The review is entitled, Affairs are only human, which is no excuse to have one.  Ms. Luscombe reviews the book, The State of Affairs by controversial couple’s therapist and TED Talk star, Esther Perel.

Be aware, I did not read this book.  This blog is about some of the comments Ms. Luscombe made in her review about marriage and affairs. Also, be aware, my comments today are not intended to minimize the pain anyone has felt by an affair or to justify having an affair. After I read the review, I found myself thinking about Ms. Luscombe’s comments, over and over. I decided to share my thoughts.

Ms. Luscombe quotes the author: “Sometimes, when we seek the gaze of another, it’s not our partner we are turning away from, but the person WE have become.”

I find this comment to be so true from years in my office. The person who cheated commenting that their infidelity is not who they are, is not what they believe in. Yet, there they sit; “How could I have done this!” they say. I believe them. (Yes, I’m sure I’ve been duped at times.) The person’s comments speak to the unconscious ways we change as we age in marriage as we engage in our primary relationship, creating a life with another person, raising kids, responding to all the different challenges we face as we get older. Any married person will attest to the fact that when you say “I do!” you agree to a multitude of things you have no idea will occur. Likewise, most people say they know who they are and what they stand for.  Yet, a lot of people have affairs and I believe this is, in part, due to a loss of connect with who we TRULY are, what we are truly capable of (given the right circumstances). One of the reasons we lose this connection is because we WANT to live up to proper, mature behavior and we forget we are human and will fail at times. Our society only promotes being in control, in charge, perfect and socially appropriate. It DOESN’T promote acknowledging faults or failings, much less discussing or learning from them.

What can be done to address this?

1) Recognize you are not as invulnerable as you think!

2) Examine your life….on an ongoing basis. Think about how you act and how you SAY you’d act in such situations. Frequently, I will ask after someone admits to doing something childish or immature, “Is that the man/woman you want to be?” Often, the answer is no, and then the follow up is “What is the man/woman you want to be and how can you be that person the next time this situation occurs?”

3) Establish a support system, such as one or more confidential and mature individuals, you can talk to HONESTLY about your behavior, thoughts, impulses, etc. and get feedback from on your behavior. A therapist would also fit into this group. By using such, you can keep an eye on the person you are becoming and try, when necessary, to make changes to be the person you want to be.

Another point in the review: “The simple question at the heart of committing to somebody till death is whether you can value that person’s needs ahead of your own.  The answer is often no…. because we’re only human. But to love is to make the attempt.” I truly believe that; that to love someone one, truly love them, one must let them make the decisions they feel is best and in doing so, recognizing that such a decision could mean that they could/might leave us….causing us untold pain.

This “love” is NOT being “in love”, that initial phase of a relationship when you believe the other person is perfect and wonderful and you simply can’t live without them. The love that is being referred to above occurs when you resume living life with your partner and they still have their own hopes and dreams, beyond the relationship. The challenge in truly loving them means surrendering any holds you have on your loved one and letting them decide what is best to do with those dreams. This is why most movies, in the US, are about falling in love versus life thereafter.

The review ends with a poignant statement: “Perhaps the greatest value of Perel’s book is as an invitation to resist judging other couple’s marital car crashes. A failure of fidelity can be less an opportunity for gawking and more a chance to applaud those who spin out but decide to keep aiming for the checkered flag.” Interesting!

“The Day the Earth Stood Still”….Contemplating Divorce

I recently (re-)watched this film.  I watched the remake with Keanu Reeves and John Cleese.

In the film, the alien (played by Reeves) has a conversation with a physicist (played by Cleese).  Reeves has just explained that he/his race will kill all the earth’s inhabitants because humans are killing the earth (in addition to each other).  Below is their dialog.

I ask that you read this with the idea of a couple contemplating divorce in mind.  Think of the Reeves character as a marital therapist or that part of a person who doesn’t want to divorce.  Think of the Cleese character as the couple, responding to Reeves.

Reeves:  “Your problem is not technology…it’s you.  You lack the will to change.”

Cleese:  “Then help us change.”

Reeves:  “I cannot change your nature.  You treat the world as you treat each other.”

Cleese:  “But every civilization reaches a crisis point eventually.”

Reeves:  “Most of them do not make it.”

Cleese:  “Yours did. How?”

Reeves:  “Our sun was dying.  We had to evolve in order to survive.”

Cleese:  “So, it was only when your world was threatened with destructions that you

became what you are now.”

Reeves:  “Yes.”

Cleese:  “Well, that is where we are now.  You say we are on the brink of destruction

and you are right, but it is only on the brink that people find the will to

change.  Only at the precipice do we evolve.  This is our moment.  Don’t

take it from us.  We are close to an answer.”

Obviously, I don’t threaten couples I see with destruction and there are those couples that divorce is the best option.

The gold in this dialog is the fact that the people must be willing to change to avoid divorce…but further, that married life demands that each person change…evolve…become a different person if the marriage is to succeed.  People expect the therapist to change them.  We can’t do that.  We can only help them look at themselves, what they are considering doing and what the possible consequences of the decision to divorce, in an attempt to help them decide if divorce is the best move.

Another important point in this conversation is that the only place where one finds the motivation to avoid divorce is on the brink of divorce.  Not uncommon in life…to find life’s answers in the most inconvenient places.  It requires that we, each of us, have the maturity to not react to life but to think our way through it, even in its most painful of time

The Attitude of an Adolescent Boy

A few weeks ago, a mother brought her 14 year old son in to see me.  The presenting concern is the boy’s oppositional behavior, i.e., arguing over chores and not being as respectful, getting a couple “F’s” recently, staying in his room a lot and plays video-games “all the time”. He’d stopped inviting friends over and recently, when angry, he’ll hit a wall, putting a hole in it.  She did report, however, that he does keep his room clean, catches the school bus every morning and has been staying out of his room when asked without arguing.

The parents are divorced and both remarried. The son lives with mom primarily (and stepfather and 2 full siblings).  He visits dad (and stepmom and 1 step-sibling) once a week and every other weekend.

The son is the oldest of the children in both, his mother’s and father’s homes.

The father is described as impatient and easily angered. The step mother is also described as controlling; she is said to be “in-charge” of their household. The boy does not display the oppositional behavior at his father’s as much as at his mother’s.  The boy complains that at his dad’s, he is expected/made to do more chores than his step-sibling.

The mother reports she tends to worry too much about her kids; “If they have a problem, then I have to help them fix it. I don’t want them to fail.” She acknowledges she tends to “nudge” him to do things too much.

The mother believes their divorce was/is hardest on her son, of all the children, because of his having to go back and forth between the two households, the different atmospheres in the two different homes, the fact that he just began high school and the fact that she (mom) is pregnant.

There were no signs of depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, etc.

After discussing the situation with both, mom and the son, I made a number of suggestions:

To the mother:

  1. Stop “nudging”. Ask him to do something once, maybe twice. If he does it, great! Thank him. If he doesn’t, give a (natural and logical) consequence, non-emotionally, and move on.
  1. His problems are not your problems. I understand your want for him to succeed but he can, will and needs to fail….at times. This is how we learn.   It is never easy to watch this?  It is never clear when to intervene in a situation when your child is struggling.  But if you know you “nudge” too much, back off!
  1. Speaking of “nudging….ask him if he wants a reminder to do things when you see he’s not done things that he is responsible for. This reflects you are trying to show him respect. Also, ask him how he wants to be reminded and try to remind him that way.
  1. Acknowledge/praise when he does things when asked and when he does things without being asked.
  1. Consider his developmental stage. His body is growing tremendously right now; sexually, physically, etc….and he feels this. He is not accustom to feeling the physical strength he feels right now and he doesn’t yet know how to channel it yet.  Further, our society/media tells him he should be “in control” of all situations at all time.  So, his body is telling him he’s a mess (when he hits a wall when he is angry) and society is telling him he’s a mess as well (because if he was really in control, he wouldn’t let his mom tell him what to do…..Yeah, Right!) .  So, grant him some leeway.  Punching a wall is never acceptable but an occasional verbal outburst can be overlooked if you feel he is trying.

He needs education on how his body is making him feel, how this feeling is effecting how he acts and on how to channel these actions.  For                      example, you let him cuss in his bedroom, nowhere else in the house but just his bedroom. While I have some reservations about this method, I              suggested you gently remind him of this when you see him getting mad, encourage him to go to his room and yell and cuss until he calms down.           Also, consider you and he sit down, brainstorm some other ways to help him express his emotional energy physically when he’s upset….like                     riding his bike, shooting hoops, running, working out, etc.  These are excellent ways to channel one’s anger/emotions.

  1. When you say “No”, you needs to be firm and rational with him. If you are emotional, indirect or wishy-washy, he will begin to learn that women, important women in his life, are like this and will not learn to respect their responses. Fast-forward 3 or 5 years, he’s on a date and suggests doing something sexually; it is my belief that if he has had a strong/firm woman in his life, he is more likely to respect that “No”.

To the son I suggested:

  1. If you are taking the anger you have for your dad out on your mom because she’s an easy target, stop it! That’s like beating up the class wimp because you got bullied by someone else at lunch. How do feel about yourself when you bully your mom, especially when you are mad at your dad or step mom.
  1. I will do role-plays with him in session….helping him to stand up for himself and present his point, reasonably, with his parents/stepparents. Learning to speak up for one’s self is a learned skill. Yet, part of this skill is accepting “No” when that’s the answer.
  1. I listen to him in session and have him re-word what he is saying to his mother in more adult language. This will help develop the skill I spoke of above and get him in touch with how selfish he can appear as he examines how he thinks and speaks presently.
  2. I told him punching a wall when he is mad is NOT ACCEPTABLE behavior for a young man. I’ll ask him how he feels about himself every time he looks at the hole and explain that our behavior can strongly effect how we view ourselves. If we are in a tough situation and we handle it well, we will feel good about ourselves even when we did not get our way.

More later……

What’s the matter?

I recently sat with a couple struggling with communication.

He said she gets mad when he asks her how she is doing. She said he’s always asking her “What is wrong?”

This is very common amongst couples and it speaks to critical differences between men and women.

For the women:

You need to understand most men are like puppies: We are scared to death of you and yet we want to please you.  He doesn’t understand you and is afraid that he did something wrong that made you mad. If you don’t know, men like to be in control. But he is not where you are concerned.  When he does something wrong, frequently, you will not say it directly (for fear of being seen as a bitch) but you let him know by your looks or actions.  This freaks him out because he doesn’t know what he did wrong and you won’t say so he is left guessing and out of control. Going back to the puppies comment….he wants to please you and is scared to death of you (If you don’t understand this, imagine what it might be like to live and sleep with an angry woman.).

So to resolve all this, he asks, “What is wrong?” This question, by the way, has “man” written all over it: It is direct; It is focused on the problem; It is action oriented (Let’s figure out what the problem is to solve it.), etc.

For the men:

The problem with this comment, however, is that it implies there is a problem and that the woman has it. Women don’t like this….they don’t want their man, or anyone, assuming they have a problem. Further, if there is a problem, most women assume that you should know what the problem is because we talked about it… at some point in the past.

What to do:

Men: STOP asking “What is wrong”! Engage her in another way, “What are you thinking?”, “How are you feeling?”, and “What is your mood?” Further, accept the fact that she may be mad but she may not be mad at you and even if she is, she has been mad at you in the past and you didn’t die.  Talk with her about it. If you forgot to do something, admit it and go on.  That won’t make you less of a man and you are not the first man who has forgotten for do something and this won’t be the first time you forget something in your life with her. Further, if you did what you thought was right, say that. You have a right to stand up for yourself and your decisions. If you tend to forget too much, you need to take responsibility for this.  Many men have to write things down about agreements with their spouse about important things, i.e., how to do the laundry, etc.

Women: Tell him directly what is bothering you and/or what he did wrong. Be aware that the aforementioned puppy analogy exists. We are concerned if you are mad and we don’t want you to be mad at us.  Be aware that men can’t always tell the difference between your angry face and that face you have when you are concentrating.

A Therapist’s Guide to Arguments with your Spouse

Recently, I had a couple come in. They’d been arguing….a lot. We discussed a number of aspects about the dynamics of communications between couples that I think were part of their problem.

In most couples, there is usually one person who wants to discuss an issue to its completion, win or lose. They are the “Approach” person. Their partner however, usually prefers to avoid a fight. They are the “Avoidance” person.

Approach people have been known to follow the Avoidance person throughout the house, trying to continue the discussion/fight.  They have also been known to provoke the Avoidance person to get them to engage in the fight, so they can finish it. They may also bring the topic/issue up again and again, in hopes the fight will be finished.  The Avoidance person is known for walking away from the Approach person; literally, in the middle of the discussion/fight. And they continually walk away from the Approach person if the Approach person follows them around the house.

What to do:

First. This is a common dynamic in couples. This is NOT an indication that they two people are fundamentally incompatible as a couple. In fact, some therapists suggest the “one approaches/one avoids” dynamic is more stable than both being avoiders or approachers.

Second. I suggest they agree to take a break when one or both feel they are getting too upset in the fight to listen to what their partner is saying. This usually is toughest for the approach person. Either person can suggest this…taking a break.  If the avoider is always the one to suggest it, the approacher may feel the avoider is just using a break to avoid the fight. So, I suggest both take on the responsibility to suggest taking a break.

Third. There is a right way to take a break; most reports doing it the wrong way when they first come into my office. The proper way is (something like): “I need to take a break.  I am going to go outside for about 30 minutes. When I come in, I will find you and we will decide if we are both at a point where we can continue this or if we need more time to calm down before talking.” Don’t just walk off. Most couples need to practice this when they are not fighting to be able to do it when they are fighting.  Yes, you will feel silly practicing this; but who said you would not feel silly doing a lot of the things we have to do in life?!!!

Fourth. Guys generally are physically bigger, stronger, have a deeper voice than women.  Women, on the other hand, generally, can think faster, talk faster and talk longer than men. Consider these aspects (how they play out) in your relationship. If you are the man and the Avoider, do you use your size to intimidate her to back off?  Does she then need to scream at you to get your attention?   If you are the woman and the approacher, do you overwhelm him with how much you say, how fast you talk, etc. Does he withdraw because of how overwhelming you are?

Fifth. Consider your partner’s background. If your partner has told you their mother/father used to yell a lot or if they have told you that they don’t like yelling, if you really want to communicate with them, you must not yell or raise your voice. Conversely, if your partner tells you your father/mother never stood up for themselves or if they have told you they want you to be honest with you and speak up, walking away from them during a fight or discussion because you are uncomfortable is not going to help the relationship.

Sixth. When I was in my twenties and thirties (and married), I was not mature enough to make myself stop/take a break during fights. What helped me learn to stop/take a break was years of seeing the consequences of my persistence of making my point in a fight…. my ex-wife withdrawing from me for hours and days. After a while, it began to dawn on me that that was not what I wanted (….but by then, I had done considerable damage to our relationship).

If you are having difficulty taking breaks during fights, perhaps you don’t see the damage you are doing to your partner and your relationship. Or perhaps you don’t care if you hurt your partner or damage your relationship.

More later…