Archive for March, 2011

March 31, 2011

Couples who are too close…….

by Rod Smith

Edwin Friedman – a pioneer in family therapy, writer, teacher, and rabbi and who was trained by Murray Bowen who is considered the “father” of family therapy and “Bowen Theory” – wrote about helping couples to separate, establish space, maintain individuality and secure room to breathe and room to move in order to help the couple avoid radical separation (divorce) in their future. Friedman suggested sometimes couples were “too close” meaning that everything done one or both persons seemed to unsettle or rock the world of the other or both.

Identifying couples who are “fused” or who are too close:

1. Every thought, move, glance, blink of the eye, every gesture is interpreted to mean something by the other person and the meaning is usually negative.

2. Mind reading is at its most intense. What is damaging is that what is “read” or interpreted is believed as fact. “I know exactly what you are thinking when you look at me like that.”

3. There’s no room for change or growth because there’s no emotional “wiggle room.” If one person is convinced that he or she knows exactly what the other person will do and will think there is no room for anything new to occur.

I have named these writers to facilitate reading beyond this column.

March 30, 2011

Your comment about suicide is profound…….

by Rod Smith

Good morning/evening, Rod

If you do find time to respond to this message I would be most grateful. If not, I understand. You must be inundated daily.

Your comment ‘Suicide is perhaps the strongest and most powerful form of prayer I have ever encountered’ is profound. It is a belief I share and I would welcome information as to its origin. Is it a personal philosophy or is there reading that would embellish?

It is a very brave thing to do ….juxtapose suicide and prayer and declare them compatible in pursuit of relief. I have been directly and intimately involved with the death of two 15-year-old boys … one my son and the other the son of a close friend who also hung himself five months later. The latter action I cannot for the life of me fathom, but in my search for understanding with my own child, I came to one conclusion that it was an act of bravery in pursuit of that which life could not offer. I do understand that viewed from another vantage point it could equally be regarded as an act of folly ie that something that ‘seems impossible’ need not necessarily be so.

Any available reading you could direct me to in this regard would be sincerely appreciated.


Dear Tony:

While it is true that I am inundated with mail I cannot move on without answering you directly. Your letter moved me. I was making my bed when the “ping” came through and I sat on the same bed and wondered at the pain you must endure in the light of your losses.

My own children are downstairs “fighting” over the remote for the TV and your letter made me so very grateful for their boyish squabbles.

I have been in the midst of several suicides and encountered it as a professional, a minister, a school counselor, and as a neighbor (I am – have been – all of the above).

I am sad and distressed when suicide is framed as a sin, a way out, or a cop out — this is not my understanding from many one-on-one encounters with desperate people. As for reading, I can offer none. Some of the bravest men and women I have ever known have been days from taking their own lives.

Your son and the other child to whom you refer, would have been embraced by me (a stranger to each) were they to have arrived at my door asking for absolutely anything. I would have given them each a home with full rights to the house and my life in every way – this I did already with my two children (adopted from birth).

If I, a sinful, lousy, struggling man could do this — how much more would a loving God not do the same.

Your boys are safe and happy and I believe they’d want you to miss them but to also be comforted.

Please let me know you got this – even if it is not what you expected. Keep in touch. I am not “brave” as you say. I am just sick of the BS people spew in the light of the pain others encounter when they, themselves, have only watched it all from a distance.

Keep in touch.


March 30, 2011

My wife left me for a man she knew when she was 15…

by Rod Smith

“My wife left me for a man she dated when she was fifteen. They were in love. The children still stay with her. I chose to exit like a gentleman. I still helped; was still dad. It was tough on me in the early days but it got better. My wife on the other hand is in a living hell. She is really off balance. The man has no job; he’s unfaithful and left another woman with a ten-month-old child. My ex wife has lost her luster the last time I saw her she looked very stressed. She’s up all night checking his phone and crying. My daughters tell me she looks like a zombie under mind control. Her dream has turned into a nightmare. Life is funny. I have become a better father. I am truly happy. My children and I enjoy life. The last time my ex I told her that I forgave her and that she needs to forgive herself.” (Edited)

Your response to your ex-wife and her complications appears gracious. A tough situation, which could have resulted in your becoming vengeful and angry, has resulted in your growth. You have demonstrated that the question is not “should I go or stay,” but HOW a person goes or stays.

March 29, 2011

How do you explain suicide to a child?

by Rod Smith

“I struggle with what I told the little one’s in my family of the death of their young and vibrant ‘Aunt L.’ She had been really sick and took her own life in the end. I just could not tell these little one’s that she committed suicide – how would they understand, ranging in age from 9 to 2 years old. I just told them she got sick and she died – her body and her spirit were tired. I am so afraid of them finding out the truth one day. We all have continued to grieve our loss. All of the children attended the funeral and memorial services and we all take an active role in remembering her life. But how do you explain suicide of a very close loved one to a child?”

Attraction is only enduringly poss

Your chidren will understand

Relax. You have done well. Of course what you faced was difficult and, once the children are old enough to know the truth, I believe they will understand the reasons you have said what you have said. Suicide is perhaps the strongest and most powerful form of prayer I have ever encountered – giving ultimate relief in dying, what seemed impossible while living. “Aunt L”, I believe, has found in death what she could not find in life.

March 28, 2011

Children and death of a loved-one

by Rod Smith

1. Tell the truth, even to young children, as lovingly and directly as possible.

2. Avoid meaningless nonsense like “uncle has gone to America” – use words like “he died” and “dead.” “Gone away” or “passed away” are meaningless terms and only add to confusion.

3. Avoid nonsense like “God needed a helper and so God took your aunty.” Not only is this theological claptrap, it is likely to make a child wonder how an all-powerful God can need a beloved relative in Heaven more than a helpless child needs the same person on Earth.

4. Allow grief and mourning to freely occur for you and the child. Crying and wailing is helpful in the light of loss – stopping it up, blocking it, holding it in, will only allow natural grief to fester and transform into something unhelpful (anger, resentment) in the future.

5. If a child does not appear to be upset, don’t push the child toward your own grief. Allow the child to handle loss in his or her unique way.

6. I am of the opinion that it is helpful for children to attend funerals and to see the body. Of course I am aware that there are many who disagree and, of course, there are exceptions which include violent deaths, suicides, and so forth.

March 27, 2011

He says I am boring and unattractive…..

by Rod Smith

“My husband hasn’t come right out and said he does not love me but for the last thirty years we rarely talk; we don’t go out, he says I’m boring and unattractive. He stopped having sex with me thirty years ago. He said it was too much work for so little. I feel like I’m a thorn in his side. I’ve been miserable all these years to the point where most of my friends don’t know I’m married. He says he didn’t like marriage so he just ignores it and me. We are like flat-dwellers: I have the upstairs and he has the downstairs. He is not gay or into porn. I have the only computer and the only phone in the house and they go where I go. He doesn’t go any where except the grocery store and doctors. He chooses to not have friends.”

It is easy to assume that is your husband who has the problem.

You have abdicated responsibility for your life to a man who is unwilling to handle it.

Take your future into your own hands. Stop blaming your husband for your failure to show up for yourself.

March 24, 2011

Ubuntu, inspiration, and thanks to the TAX man…..

by Rod Smith

Friday challenge, inspiration, and thanks…..

The word “ubuntu” is bandied about even in the USA. While I have read what Bishop Tutu says about it, and while I am very familiar with the spirit of Ubuntu, I challenge readers to write a 195-word non-fiction event in their lives where they saw ubuntu in action. Please keep to the word limit. Please refrain from using abbreviated or “text” language. I delete almost all mail that is in “text” style. The best “ubuntu” story will win a R200 gift card to Exclusive Books. I am the sole judge! You have a week to submit your story.

My quote of the week comes from Clint Morck of Durban: “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” Thanks, Clint. You inspired and amused me.

If the South African Receiver Services (SARS) is anything like the USA tax services then it is impersonal, rigid, and humorless. This is not my experience. During this past week, a man whom I only know as Akesh demonstrated that there is reasonableness where and when it is least expected. Akesh helped me, via my sister, to do the impossible, and this brief acknowledgment is to thank him indeed. I now have a SARS tax number!

March 23, 2011

Achieving MUCH with YOUR life is a profound act of mothering

by Rod Smith

1. Enriched is the woman who does not lose herself to her marriage or motherhood. She has a strong spirit of independence while being a loving wife and mother.

2. Enriched is the woman who does not accommodate poor manners (being taken for granted or being victimized) from anyone (not husband, children, in-laws, siblings, or her parents).

3. Enriched is the woman who lives above manipulation, domination, and intimidation. Her relationships are pure and open; her boundaries are defined, secure, and strong.

4. Enriched is the woman who does not participate in unwanted sexual activity. She honors her body as her private temple and shares it, even in marriage, only by her own deliberate choice.

5. Enriched is the woman who has developed a strong, clear, identity. She regularly articulates who she is, what she wants, and what she will and will not do. She is unafraid of defining herself.

6. Enriched is the woman who knows that pursuing her dreams to be educated, to work, to accomplish much, to expect much from her life, are profound acts of partnership in marriage and profound acts of mothering. She knows that the woman who “takes up her life” does more for herself, her husband, and her children than the one who surrenders it.

March 22, 2011

Do I speak up or suffer in silence?

by Rod Smith

“My sister and her husband constantly belittle our lives. We, my husband and I, are not as wealthy, we are not as successful in our careers, but at least we are 100% honest. While they are not blatantly dishonest they do make their living in questionable ways that and it pays them very well. The point is that my husband is now disinclined to spend time with my extended family. Do I speak up or just suffer in silence? Do I insist my husband joins me at family events or do I go alone and make an excuse for him?”

Suffer in silence? Never. Speak up? Of course you speak up. I’d suggest you gently tell both your sister and her husband (together) your truth. Tell them whether they are able to hear you or not. Since their “questionable” pursuits are none of your business, I’d suggest they are not worth mentioning.

Attend any family event you want whether your husband wants to go or not. Don’t push him. Don’t determine his level of involvement with your family or allow him to determine yours. If anyone wants to know where he is or why he is not with you suggest that person ask your husband his or her questions directly.

March 21, 2011

Tug-of-war over daughter…..

by Rod Smith

Two families met in my office with the young girl (12) who was at the center of their conflict. Dad and his new wife, mom and her new husband, with both biological parents insisting they wanted primary custody of the child. In earlier meetings dad and mom had shared (without the other parent or the daughter present) how the other parent was irresponsible, uncaring, and unfit for anything more than visits.

Getting everyone in the same room (new spouses and child included) was no walk in the park but I insisted and the families ultimately agreed.

Having established that neither parent was the demon the other portrayed and that both step parents were invested in the wellbeing of the daughter whom all were now co-parenting, I risked asking the child to stand in the center of the room.

I requested mom and step-dad pull the child by the right arm while dad and stepmother pulled her left so we could see who could pull harder and “win” the daughter in the tug-of war.

“You are a cruel man,” said the dad, as the daughter cried and the illustration hit home.

“Not really,” I replied, “I’m simply showing you what you both do to her every weekend of her life.”