Marriage Is A Growth Experience

This is the third installment about a young couple, Jordan and Mimi, whose marriage was about to be derailed. Last week, we got to know Mimi a little better and this week is Jordan’s turn. Jordan is a smart, reserved boy who loves his work. He is one of a large family, the sixth of eleven children. Perhaps he became quiet because there was already too much noise in the house! Or perhaps that is just his personality. It would have been easy for Jordan to be lost in the middle but he saved himself from that by becoming quite self-sufficient. At ten, he could put a piece of cheese on a piece of bread and pop it into the microwave and call it a meal. He could eat his sandwich, and then do his homework. It gave him a sense of pride that he could take care of all his needs and not bother his overworked mother. Because he was nearly always at the top of his class, he was not asked to do too much in the house other than keep his own room neat, which he did. As a result, although Jordan was a pleasant guy, he was not too tuned into others; they did their thing and he did his. This meant that when he got married, he was pretty unprepared to “read” women in general and certainly not a young lady who dazzled him when they were dating but turned out to be needy underneath. He didn’t even know what a needy person was like. Could Jordan step up to the plate as a husband?...

How To Fix Low Self-Esteem In Your Marriage

Last week, we met Mimi and Jordan, a lovely young couple whose dating relationship was marked by Mimi being attracted to Jordan precisely because he did not fawn over her. Mimi, although very pretty, smart, and nice, had low self-esteem. She kept that well-hidden with great social skills but in her heart of hearts she did not believe in herself; she felt weak and unsure. Therefore, if a boy would be too admiring, she foolishly felt that it could only mean one thing: He would expect her to take leadership in the relationship and that was something she didn’t feel she could do. Jordan was reserved. He was a responsible person and a hard worker and did not seem to expect anything from Mimi except to be there for him. Oddly enough, once the marriage got underway, Mimi felt the absence of the very thing she had been afraid of in other boys — attention. Actually, this makes sense: The attention made her insecure while dating but once married she felt needy because of her own insecurities. The more she complained to Jordan, the more irritated he felt; she was no longer the same sweet girl he had been dating. Now that Mimi and Jordan have been married for six months and the marriage seems to be heading to that unnecessary and terrible place starting with the word “d,” is there a way to avert this tragic next step? Of course there is. Mimi and Jordan engaged in a short course of counseling to address three issues: Mimi, Jordan, and them. Issue #1: Mimi: Mimi needed a little time...

The Most Important Thing You Must Do When Dating

Mimi was all excited. She was getting ready for a first date with Jordan. She was looking forward to the date because she had heard such glowing reports about him from all his references: He was smart, likable, and a great earner. Jordan was punctual, a good quality. He smiled very pleasantly at Mimi as she opened the door. Jordan took Mimi to a coffee shop inside a hotel lobby not terribly far away. He was very proper; he did the polite things like opening doors for her but he also held himself back a little, too. When there were those awkward silences over coffee, Jordan didn’t seem to need to rush in to fill the silence or smile with embarrassment. He simply sipped his coffee slowly and carefully and waited patiently until one of them would think of something to say. Mimi, herself felt somewhat uncomfortable with those moments and Jordan didn’t rush in to salvage her from them. It felt to Mimi, in a strange sort of way, good: He was giving her space to be who she was, awkward and all. She would look up and be the one with the nervous smile. At the end of the date Mimi honestly didn’t know whether she had impressed this boy favorably or not. That was unusual; generally, they made it clear that they found her interesting and attractive. Instead of enjoying all that admiration, it would unsettle Mimi; if a boy needed her, then whom did she lean on? But Jordan was different; he held himself back and this was another example of it. As a result,...

When Grandparents Interfere With Parenting

Ettie could not believe her eyes or her ears. As she walked into her eight-year old daughter’s room, her mother was telling Beth, her daughter, “You don’t have to listen to mommy; you can stay up because I’m visiting.” Beth was a good girl who would not have thought of defying her mother on such a major issue. Luckily, mommy came to the rescue. Ettie only had to raise her eyebrows in question; Grammy knew she was caught. Grammy decided that the best thing to do to save face AND get her way was to be confrontational. “Isn’t that right, mommy?” Grammy went on, “Since I am your mommy and you have to listen to me, Beth can stay up late tonight?” Now, Ettie was in a pickle. If she was defiant, what would she be teaching her daughter? If she agreed with her mother, Beth would be having a hard time getting up in the morning. But a light bulb went off in Ettie’s head and she replied: “Ah, mom,” Ettie said, “I think that is a great idea. And you can wake Beth and get her off to school in the morning, too!” She chuckled so that it was clear to everyone that she was joking. However, her mom was not to be easily outdone. “Nonsense!” said Grammy. “She doesn’t have to go to school tomorrow. I’m visiting, after all. How often do I come in anyway? She can learn her subjects later on, but she only gets this moment to connect with her Grammy.” Ettie started to remember why she moved to the other side of...

The Rules Of Privacy In Therapy

We were all seated at large round tables enjoying a celebration of a dear friend’s son. We guests went around the table introducing ourselves. A woman across the table stared at me after she announced her name. “You look familiar she said.” I smiled at her. I knew very well how she knew me but I did not want to say. “When I look at you,” she continued, “I get this good feeling.” Her voice trailed off. I discreetly got up and went to the ladies room. Sure enough, she followed me. “You know, don’t you?” she said, looking at me, mystified. “Yes,” I told her, “You came to see me for therapy last year. And I’m glad you didn’t blurt that out at the table!” “Ohhhhh.” She replied, remembering. “I’m glad you had a good feeling,” I kidded. That wasn’t the first or only time there were awkward moments encountering clients in public situations. Generally, I pretend I don’t know the person at all if I am in front of others. Why do I do that? Every kind of therapist has to abide by a code of ethics. And we do. Or should. So, for example, The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has a Code of Ethics which reads, in part: “Principle II  Confidentiality Marriage and family therapists have unique confidentiality concerns because the client in a therapeutic relationship may be more than one person. Therapists respect and guard the confidences of each individual client. 2.2 Written Authorization to Release Client Information. Marriage and family therapists do not disclose client confidences except by written authorization or...

Using Hypnosis In Trauma Treatment

Last week I introduced you to three people and their stories with the idea in mind of understanding trauma a little better — and what to do about it. The common element in trauma is that a person is shocked and overwhelmed by a great loss. That feeling of shock is important. It means that the new event can’t easily be integrated into one’s expectations of what is “normal.” For example, a picture of “normal” would not include a terrorist running into a store and killing people. A traumatized person might replay that scene over and over in his mind, unable to comprehend such a thing. Replaying the tape does not make the event easier to accept or to understand. A well-known therapist, Bessel van der Kolk, tells the story of this trauma repetition in the case of a Vietnam veteran who lit up a cigarette one night during his period of fighting the Viet Cong. The cigarette gave away his and his buddies’ location and the enemy fired, killing one man. As van der Kolk tells it, “From 1969 to 1986, on the exact anniversary of the death, to the hour and minute, he yearly committed ‘armed robbery’ by putting a finger in his pocket and staging a ‘holdup,’ in order to provoke gunfire from the police. The compulsive re-enactment ceased when he came to understand its meaning.” Replaying or a sense of reliving an incomprehensible and disturbing event is one symptom of trauma. Others include poor sleep fear avoidance of being in a certain location or with specific people flashbacks extreme preoccupation blocking out the memory of...

It Might Be Trauma

Lilly was ten. When she was in school, she could dig into her work and her mind could entertain itself with whatever the subjects were; she loved school. It was when she came home that the problems began. Her father had a temper that would erupt easily. Lilly could not know what would bring it on. Her mother didn’t know either. Her mother’s response was to beg her father not to hit the little girl. Her father might push her mother out of the way as he came after Lilly. Lilly knew that she could find a hiding place in the back of her closet. Her father would stomp off if he didn’t grab her before she fled into hiding. That’s why, as she got just a little bit older, she found the greatest refuge in school. She could always find some reason to stay late — library research, a team practice, helping a friend. When Lilly reached adulthood she got a very well-paying job on Wall Street. She was pretty happy there until there was a shuffle in her department and a new boss took over. He had a temper. Lilly could not understand for the longest time why his temper would send her home crying and shaking on the railroad. She was ready to quit her job. Was Lilly suffering from trauma? Joe remembers living in a happy family. He, his three brothers and sister got along, played, did their school work, and generally lived uneventfully. At 18, his mother received a scary diagnosis and before the family could gather their wits about them, she died. Things...

How Not To Be In Denial

   “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it” Roy kept saying. He was sitting at his desk in the corner of his office, alone in the dark. He was looking at his records and the unimpeachable truth was staring him in the face: Benjamin clearly had been doctoring the books. For years. Roy put his hand to his heart. He was not ready to calculate the cost that this amounted to. He was dazed and remembered to try to just breathe. Hours went by. “How had this happened?” he asked himself. Roy slowly moved his eyes off his screen and stared out the window, seeing the distant past. He recalled the first time he met Benjamin. What a nice young man! That was many years ago, but Roy still remembered the wonderful appearance he gave. He was so neat, so polite, so careful with his speech. So what happened? Where had things gone wrong? There was that incident five years ago that Roy brushed off. One of the managers had come to him, a bit concerned about a shipment that he, the manager, had never ordered. There was an amount of money on the books for it — and no merchandise. The money was unaccounted for. Roy remembered clearly that incident. He had waved his hand at the manger saying, “Benjamin will find it.” And when Benjamin didn’t report anything, he actually brought the matter to his attention. Later on, Benjamin reported it had been “taken care of” but that manager — what was his name? long since gone — told him that there was no indication it...

6 Tips To Handle Difficult People

Let me tell you about Penny and Kenny. Living with Kenny would test anybody’s patience. How can Penny handle it? Kenny thinks he can voice his opinion in the strongest possible terms, even to the degree that he insults others. He also doesn’t think he has to apologize because he should voice those very opinions; they need to be said. His wife, Penny, has tried to get him to understand the damage he does that way, but he was stubbornly clinging to his position when we peeked in on their lives. Penny has some very specific expectations of her husband. There are all the “shoulds”: He should be more sensitive to others; he should not argue; he should see other people’s positions; and so forth. Unfortunately, that is not the husband she got. And, what’s more, if she were only to let go of these expectations, she actually has a chance to help her husband to become the person she wants him to become. You see, people stiffen their positions when they feel backed up against a wall. They leave no room for compromise when others convey their expectations – and they don’t meet them. On the other hand, when Penny told her husband, “I know in my heart that you are a good person,” she conveyed helpful expectations. If he is already a good person, then acting good should not be too hard for him. Statements like this soften others’ positions. However, when she said, “I get that you think my brother’s feelings shouldn’t be hurt since you didn’t mean to call him a murderer in your stupid...

Do We Have To Be Honest With Children?

My school-age grandson was filled with the importance of the story he was telling me. He paused as someone flew a paper airplane over our heads and their mother had to put a stop to that. She made a remark; I made another one back, and before you knew it, my grandson’s conversation got derailed. “Gram!” He said, with a note of irritation in his voice, “you aren’t listening to me!” It is right here that we all have a choice to make. Do we protect our egos or take a hit? “You are right!” I replied, “I am so sorry. Go on with what you were saying.” Here are some wrong choices: “Can’t you see I’m talking to mommy?” “Oh, all right. What did you want?” (irritated tone) The worst choice, of course, is to not even hear him, to not notice his existence and just go on as if he weren’t there. How many of you are guilty of any of those? What these last three options all do is de-value the person in his own eyes. You see, to a child, your view of the world, is like God’s view. They don’t have a concept of questioning and critical thinking yet. They certainly may – and will – object to mistreatment, but they don’t know why they’re objecting. They don’t realize that YOU have actually done something wrong and that they have been ignored, dismissed, invalidated, and minimized. So instead of realizing YOU mistreated them, your response holds up to them a mirror of who they are. That’s not good because in this case the mirror...
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