April 17, 2017
Talk about what you would like to do more as a family and what would we prefer to do less as a family. The list may include monumental challenges that take years to address. The list may include things that can be changed in an instant.
Talk about what you would each like to do more, and less, as individuals in the family. As above, some may be really easy and some may take seemingly forever.
Plan something meaningful and unusual (“off the charts”) that the family agrees to work toward. This may be a trip, a building project, or entering as a family into a race.
Discuss (according to age, ability, and appropriateness) topics that are usually taboo like death, sex, finances, and family secrets. Discuss why they are taboo in the first place. When and why and how did the secret become a secret. Who decides what is and what is not a secret?
Consult a professional who is able to construct a Genogram with your family. Request that it span three generations. This will (potentially) alert family members to troublesome trends and urges that pre-exist within the family system and therefore (potentially) equip members to face them if and when they emerge again. Nothing in families is new!
July 17, 2012
Is found in our connection with others (a connection sufficiently powerful so that we are not alone) and can therefore give and receive strength to and from each other. It is yet separate enough so that we not drain each other of the adventure of being unique and distinct beings. This is one of the greatest blessings accompanying our humanity and, when it fails, it becomes the source of exceedingly powerful pain.
April 23, 2011
“I have been an unfaithful wife and my husband is tired of it. He has given me a fresh start on three or four occasions but this time he refuses. He says his trust well is empty and that he has to move on with his life. How do I convince him that one more chance is all I need? Please help.”
Your husband appears
Take responsibility for your actions
to be taking an option necessary for his well being. I’d suggest you move full force into recovery from serial infidelity.
Unfaithfulness can hardly leave you with good feelings about yourself and I’d suggest you get professional help to delve into its origins in your life.
While his actions are painful for you, I’d suggest he has not had a painless journey.
If your husband were consulting me I’d attempt to solicit from him the level of his desire to remain married. Given any suggestion that he’d prefer to stay married, I’d encourage him to embark on an extended separation to allow you to get your troubled house in order.
Unfaithfulness is an individual pursuit. There’s nothing anyone can do to make you unfaithful. It’s not your spouse or any of your multiple cohorts. It is you who needs the help – get it. Allow him, in the mean time, to do whatever it is he needs to do.
April 21, 2011
“My husband says I am obsessed with our children. He says they take up all my time and leave little for him. I tell him that is what it means to be a good mother. We discuss this a lot. Please comment.” (Synthesized from a very long letter)
I see several good
Mutuality is a challenge
signs: your husband is speaking his mind; you are listening enough to write for my opinion; you are able to have some reasonable dialogue on the topic without either of you closing down to the other.
I am in no position to comment on your particular relationship but I have seen women hide from their husbands in the name of being a good mother. I have seen women bury themselves in the children in order to escape the call of mutual, respectful, and equal relationships with other adults. Likewise, of course, men can also “hide” from wives – they can hide behind children, careers, and sports.
While a woman is enmeshed with her children she will rob herself, her husband, and her children of the beauty and freedom that comes with respecting the space and the distance everyone needs in order to grow.
Even trees cannot reach full height if they are planted too close to each other. Give your children some space and face whatever it is that makes them a useful shield. It will do you all a service.
March 31, 2011
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 29, 2011
“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?”
Relax. You have done well.
Your chidren will understand
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.
December 28, 2010
I am thoroughly aware that some cultures
Fully live (women, too!)
do not “allow” women to have a voice, make choices, speak up to husbands – having regularly addressed men and women from such cultures for years. I remain convinced that this robs said cultures of half of its creative capital.
Keeping women “down” must be consistently challenged. Thus my suggestion the woman in yesterday’s column (12-28-2010) define herself to her husband. Of course it flies in the face of many cultures – but if she is to give of her best to herself, her husband, to anyone, speaking up to all in her context is the place to start.
What can be so threatening for some men that some are terrified if women (whom they love) makes their full contribution?
Yes. It will more than ruffle the marriage. Rather a ruffled marriage than a life-time of control, submission, manipulation, leading to intimidation, then domination – not that all men in said cultures are this way at all.
If he really “treats her like a queen” he will also grow. If not, he will reject her; even leave her. At least she’d have expressed herself as a woman and be able to achieve, albeit at great cost, her selfhood as a woman and will have discovered she requires permission from no one to BE.
PS: I have delivered lectures in several Asian countries where it seems women are strongly discouraged from expressing their voices. While trying to be as culturally sensitive as possible, I did not water down my message at all and called on all men and all women to encourage all men and all women to find, express, and use their voices. While I have had some strong kick-backs (some rejection and exclusion) I have always been invited back. I’ve even asked leaders and organizers the reasons I am invited back despite my contrary message. I am told, “Yes. Your message is dangerous for us but we still need to hear it.”
August 15, 2010
Rage is never pretty
– not in you, me, nor in the man in the moon. It has no upside. It produces nothing worth having. It reduces everyone in its environment to a victim. It scares children. There’s nothing redeeming about rage. It causes physiological distress, psychological pain, and accelerates physical exhaustion. It hurts relationships. Rage is always ugly, always destructive.
Rage is never helpful
I’ve witnessed rage erupt in clients during therapy where there’s a sudden burst of rage over a matter that might appear inconsequential to the observer. I’ve seen it while I am engaged in the give and take of life – a woman loses it with her child in public, a man yells uncontrollably in the traffic, a teenager storms off from a parent in the mall.
Regretfully, I’ve felt it in me. Forces collide, my world feels out of control, I resort to blaming others for whatever I perceive as having gone wrong. Something primal snaps. I’m momentarily blind, deaf to reason. Then, I breathe deeply. I hold onto myself. Reason returns. Logic prevails. I get my focus off others. I look at myself. I take responsibility for myself. Do I always catch it? Handle it well? Of course not.
How is a person to handle a moment of rage in a loved one? Keep a level head. Walk away. Try not to react. Don’t personalize it. It’s not about you. You may participate in the precipitating event, but you don’t cause the outburst. In the moment of his or her fury don’t try to reason, negotiate, or restrain.
This too shall pass.
July 13, 2010
“Can abusive behavior like controlling behavior, badgering, jealousy about other relationships, monitoring things like a partner’s phone, and physical pushing, shoving behavior and even more violent outbursts stop?”
[Yes – but often not within the same entanglement. With close counsel and strong third party monitoring (at least for a period of time) the perpetrator can gain insight, grow, and self-monitor his or her use of unhelpful and destructive interpersonal behaviors.
While it is NEVER the victim’s responsibility (no one is sufficiently powerful to make another abusive) a lot can hinge on the degree of “fed-up-ness” within the victim.
Abuse (all categories) continues and intensifies when the victim covers for the perpetrator, “rewrites” the behavior, excuses it, or when the victim feels he or she deserves to be poorly treated.
Most perpetrators will back off (at least temporarily) when met with a sound and early refusal to allow an abusive repertoire within the relationship’s behavior cycle.
It is never the victim who causes the abusive behavior, but the victim must immediately remove him or herself from the abuse (which is seldom easy because people are attracted to persons who are similarly relationally mature or immature) or the behavior will intensify.