Sunday, June 9, 2013

Till Death Do Us Part . . . ish.

Photo by bigjom
 Here we are in the month of June.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and couples all over are spending tens of thousands of dollars to create the ultimate perfect nuptial experience. 

What I like is that in recent years I have seen an increase in clients who come in for pre-marital counseling.  It feels wrong on some level to poke around with these couples and try to find the issues that could be their ultimate undoing.  What's scary is that it's not hard.  Oftentimes they have been living together for some period of time and are already bickering about money and the division of household responsibility.  So, I try to set the stage for future work.  At least they already have the phone number.  The young people I see tend to fall into one of two categories:  either they are from horrific families where there was nothing but conflict and have no idea about healthy relationship skills, or they are from families where there was NO conflict because everyone liked everything pretty much the same way . . . and they have no idea about healthy relationship skills when there IS conflict.

I wondered, as I thought about this blog, why June? Here's what I found out:
  • Once upon a time it was considered lucky to honor the Roman goddess of marriage by celebrating a wedding in the month named for her.
  • Apparently, the druid spirits were busy getting frisky in May, and nobody wanted to risk getting them angry by interfering earlier in the spring.
  • When the weather started getting warmer, it was time to think about your annual bath. By June, you were still pretty fresh.
  • Always practical, if conception occurred immediately, babies would be born in early spring. What that meant, ladies, was that we'd be up and around in time to help out with the harvest instead of lounging around caring for an infant or waddling around inconveniently pregnant.
Read about some interesting roots for those romantic wedding traditions here

Here's my favorite stock
image couple,
demonstrating bliss.
In history, marriage was practical.  It was a business deal between men, generally, and had to do more with keeping track of who owned the camels and the fields than who loved whom.  I remind myself that divorce is a relatively recent phenomenon in the world, and that for centuries, young people may not have even had the freedom to choose their own spouse.  Historically, brides may have been abducted, forced into marriage, and have had no recourse to get out no matter how bad it was.  Then again, historically the relationships were different and women did not expect much from their husbands besides bringing home the bacon and being generally less than abusive.  If you happened to wind up with a husband who was kind?  Well that was just a bonus.  Back in the day, marriage was all about commitment and responsibility.  It was just what you did to keep the community going.  That being said, the community tended to take action when someone was acting in an abusive manner in a marriage.  There were consequences for infidelity (for women that is . . . in many cultures men were expected to do what is now considered "cheating") and abuse that aren't there today.  There were things that you just DID NOT DO because good people didn't.  And frankly?  People had a better sense of community and were more interested in treating each other well.  Because if you beat your wife, and you had to depend on your wife's brother for something you needed, you might not be treated well in that transaction.  Yeah it has selfish motives.  But we're animals.  We want to survive. 

Seriously. There's a hundred
pictures of these two.
 These days, the idea of marriage has become a romantic fantasy.  It's not.  Marriage is not that first giddy year of relationship where everything is hearts and flowers.  That's courtship, which is another relatively recent phenomenon.  Marriage is where the rubber meets the road.  It's choosing to compromise and work together as a "we" rather than two "I's."  Marriage is a choice.  And a responsibility.  Today, we have more choices.  We don't HAVE to get married.  Women can own their own stuff and don't need a man to bring home the bacon.  We don't HAVE to stay married to someone who is abusive, or even annoying.  However, we lack the necessary skills to create a partnership.  Some marriages are abusive.  Most marriages that end in divorce don't quite fall into that category.  The biggest culprit I see for divorce is disrespect.  Over time, couples who once would go to the ends of the earth for their love now will not go to the end of the couch.  Disrespect builds out of resentment, resentment builds out of misunderstanding and poor communication.  By the time couples come to my office in trouble?  We're in relationship ICU on a ventilator, and the couple wants a band-aid in the first session to fix it without having to do anything hard. 
Photo by Johnathan Fitch

We live in a throw-away society where it's easier to just start over than fix what's broken.  People get married, get stuck, get sick of each other and get divorced in hopes of moving on to find that ONE PERSON with whom there is never any conflict and live happily ever after. 

Bad news. That's not the way it works.   5 years later, a lot of them are back in my office with a new partner, in exactly the same relationship.

So I'm going to write about the 3 things in traditional marriage vows that, in my humble opinion, keep a marriage going.  If you can do these 3 things, you've got it nailed and you can start planning for your 50th anniversary.  Stop doing any one of them and you're toast.   

Stay tuned.

*images courtesy of 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

How to effectively ignore the fact that you have a body.

This is going to be one of those "do as I say, not as I do" posts. (Just ignore the fact that it took me 2 weeks to finish it)

It's month end.  As I write this, I really should be finishing up my billing for the month so that I can get it out in the mail tomorrow.  Instead, I'm reflecting on what a crazy week it's been and how tired I am.  I worked late last night, you see.  My choice - I own it.  I had a couple in my office who was really in the thick of doing some great work and my last session ran long.  I love those sessions.  After that, I started working on billing.  Long story short, I haven't gotten enough sleep over the last few days and my body was quite assertive this morning about letting me know all the ways that's not ok. 

As usual, animals do a better job.  When they are
tired, they sleep.  Go figure. 
Bodies do that, you know.  They're designed to give us the heads up that we're running on empty.  Ideally, we would listen to this alert, and get some rest, but NOOOOOOO.  What do we do?  Keep going.  Going harder most of the time.  So even with my years of clinical experience, and practice paying attention to and (mostly) respecting what my body tells me, my first reaction to my gritty eyes and heavy eyelids this morning was "I wonder if they make some kind of drops that make your eyes not feel tired??"  Then I chuckled at how my first reaction is to find some way to ignore my body so that I can keep going. 

That's what medications are about, by and large.  We take Sudafed so we don't have to feel the symptoms of our cold.  We take Advil so we can ignore pain and inflamation.  We take Tylenol to reduce fever . . . even though fever often has a very important function in fighting off illness.  We pride ourselves on getting to work when we feel awful.  A couple of years ago I took my daughter in to the doctor with a nasty sinus infection.  She had had a cold.  But for 2 weeks, she'd been coughing all night and running around with dark circles under her eyes.  Yep, he said.  It's a sinus infection all right.  I WENT to the doctor because I was ready to circumvent nature and use Western medicine.  I would rather have had my daughter stay home from school, rest a lot, drink fluids and let her body heal.  Unfortunately, the public school system does not seem to share that opinion.  And so, I sought antibiotics.  Imagine my surprise when I was told that "we don't treat sinus infections with antibiotics."  I agreed.  And I asked for a note excusing my daughter from school and schoolwork for the length of time she would need to let her body rest and heal because I was unwilling to continue to ask her to go to school looking like something out of "Night of the Living Dead."  I got the prescription. 

Antidepressants?  Anti-anxiety medications?  Same thing in my book.  They allow us to ignore the messages our body sends about needing to develop better coping skills, find better life balance, and deal with "negative" emotions.  That being said, we have to live in the world we're in.  Jobs don't respond well to a request for time off to regain life balance.  That happens in other countries better than it does here. 

So while we may choose to seek "better living through chemistry," it's important not to lose sight of what we are doing.  The more you learn about how your brain and body work, the more able you are to take "symptoms" as information and address the root cause rather than continuously have to mask symptoms and keep going until our bodies give out and we finally HAVE to listen.  Of course by that point the problem is bigger and takes longer to fix. 

LISTEN to your body.  Regularly, but especially when you're feeling symptoms, sleep. eat well, drink a lot of water.  If you have to turn to something outside your body to get through a tough time, do it.  Don't lose your job or relationships because you can't function.  Don't fight taking an antidepressant on principle, but don't get dependent on it either because sooner or later, your stress level exceeds your medication's ability to cope too. Use medication to function until the crisis resolves, and then build coping skills and self-care to keep from getting back to that place again.

Take home message?  Early identification and attention to the information our bodies are happy to give us without fear or the need to label emotional experience as "WEAK" or "CRAZY" leads to overall better functioning and a less crisis-oriented band-aid approach to treatment! 
(might this apply to government too???  ponder.)