I ALREADY SAID “SORRY”.

Antarctic penguins on ice - digital artwork

You can make your relationship better by apologizing the right way.  An 18-year-old blogger already gets it and laments that her Boyfriend doesn’t.

The distress inspiring that young woman’s post mirrors what I find doing therapy with older-than-18 couples — neither knows what the other wants, needs, or is saying.  The resulting misunderstanding, frustration, and hurt are the main reasons arguments — fights — happen.

1.  First of all, demonstrate good will.  Starting to apologize means not being defensive, not arguing back or denying your partner’s reality, not attacking, not disappearing.

2.  It’s not (always) about what happened.  Personal experience shows me that my reactions have less to do with what actually happens than with what gets triggered in me when that something happens.  When David drives fast and tailgates it triggers a long-ago feeling of disregard for my (emotional) safety.  True apology happens by understanding the “back story”.

3.  Refocus attention away from yourself.  After all, apology is about your partner’s hurt, not yours.  “You’re not the only one who’s hurting” or “You think that’s bad . . .” or “What about me?” may have merit later, but in the moment are fighting words, not caring ones.

4.  Be sincere.  There’s nothing worse than making amends as a way of pacifying your partner, or when you really don’t believe you should have to.  The upshot is that you’ll continue to behave in a way that makes your partner crazy, proving your initial apology was insincere. Before long, no amends you make are believed.

5. Put action to an apology only when you understand what’s meaningful to your partner. Don’t know?  Both of you can benefit from Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages.   For example, a woman might disdain getting flowers as an apology because she sees it as impersonal, and thus meaningless.  Meantime, her partner moans that she doesn’t get that it took effort, time, and money to get those flowers.

Your partner isn’t you; apologizing your way is likely to fuel more hurt; we’ve all been stuck in that vicious cycle.  Apologizing by putting yourself aside for the moment benefits your partner, thus the relationship.  Knowing what that looks like shows good will, kindness, thoughtfulness, and love.  Funny, you’ll find your partner doing the same for you.

Find Kathe Skinner in Colorado Springs where she specializes working with couples.  With husband David, Kathe also teaches a Secular Couple Communication Workshop.  Find out more! 

copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC

COUNSELING CAN REVIVE YOUR DYING MARRIAGE.

love hearts abstract

Ever feel like the love is gone? 

  • Your partner isn’t the person you fell in love with. 
  • The communication gap between you widens every day.
  • Your partner won’t talk about it.
  • You’ve been unhappy for so long it feels like it’s too late. 
  • Your relationship feels dead.

Since you’re reading this article, it’s likely you still care enough about your partner and your relationship to want to help it — if you only knew how.  

Most marriages should be given a chance to succeed.

Marriage counseling can help you restore the trust and intimacy your relationship once enjoyed so that you’ll both have a secure place to learn techniques and tools that can actually make a difference.  

  • Resolve past hurts and painful memories
  • Put an end to endless arguments
  • Overcome differences in parenting styles
  • Improve your intimacy and sex life
  • Heal from an affair
  • Grow closer together
  • Take an active, involved and interested role in the life you’ve created together

Behavioral research is often focused on the clinical effectiveness of couples therapy but the subject of couples therapy is in the out-loud American mainstream, too.  Attention runs the gamut from on-line and print articles, to films like Couples Retreat, to playing supportive roles in television dramas like The Sopranos.  

Most marriage counselors would agree that a couple’s motivation to make their relationship work is the single most important factor in determining the success of couples counseling.  Beware the seduction of obtaining a promise from your partner to “work on the relationship” if one of their feet is out the door.  Breaking up is hard to do, there’s enough hurt to go around, so sometimes one partner “buys time” by agreeing to couples counseling.  Therapy also seems to be less successful for couples who wait too long before seeking help.  Unfortunately, the average number of years a distressed couple waits before seeking help is 6 years.

If you and your partner are serious about creating the best relationship possible, marriage counseling is an excellent way to explore your relationship and help each of you uncover and overcome destructive relational patterns.  Hopefully, before 6 years go by. 

Kathe Skinner has been a Marriage & Family Therapist for 20 years.  She specializes in couples work, especially with relationships where invisible disability is part of the mix.  She and her husband David have been married for 29 years and together provide a Secular Couple Communication Workshop throughout the year.  They live with their 2 hooligan cats in Colorado Springs.

A FATHER’S DAY FANTASY

hefner and twinsFantasy’s a powerful thing.  It fuels the head trip of desire and compels the illusion of feeling good, even when there are no hands on.   Multi-billion dollar industries – from publishing to prostitution to porn – start here first.   

But how does the brain distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined?   Scientists’ hypotheses point to the involvement of different areas of the brain and the multi-directional processing among them.  

Sexual fantasies are a solo adventure usually leading to release through orgasm.  For some the mind’s eye is enough to induce a significant physical event like orgasm.  Actual visual stimulation is so powerful that doctors’ offices getting sperm samples provide men with sexually explicit magazines as a way for patients to get it up and over with.   Humans are not alone:  Species that are down the evolutionary ladder from us also purposely seek out ways to feel good “down there”.  Elephants rub, monkeys twiddle away the hours masturbating, and male dogs lust after people’s legs.

Sometimes fantasy goes wild and boundaries are blurred, creating a new “reality”.  One example is the substitution of social bonds created by in-person interaction with texting, sexting, and hook-up sites.  We’ve always looked for love in the wrong places but it’s easier now; you don’t have to take a shower to “chat”.  Carried to extreme, fantasy never becomes reality:  the lure of being anyone you choose, often without consequence, is a strong inducement to stay impersonal.

It’s long been known that our brains are hardwired for pleasure, with specific neural pathways acting as highways.  As with anything pleasurable, the possibility of overindulgence, abuse, is possible.  While most brains have stopping, or surfeit, mechanisms, other brains are glitched to go wild.  Especially worrisome is the effect on young brains of unrelenting and ever-more-present societal messages about sex.  Young brains are not yet equipped with that Jiminy-Cricket-battle between the super-ego and the id; with this age group (and for some adults), the id wins almost every time.  Understandably there is concern for young people among parents, educators, and the mental health community.

The mental health and medical communities are concerned about the rise within the broader population of sexually identified mental health diagnoses as well as the rise in sexually transmitted disease.  It’s no longer unusual to know someone with herpes; it’s even been authoritatively predicted that in ten years over half of women and 40% of men will have contracted genital herpes.

Fantasy enables our addiction to the belief that if we can imagine it, we can make it real.  It sounds snappy when Sony says it, but those are dangerous words.  Not only because that’s not always true, but because it shouldn’t always be true..  Powerful as it is, sexual fantasy is just that.  Many of us are still hanging with Freud rather than updating our belief that it’s abnormal not to fantasize when bringing about orgasm. 

In praise of sexual fantasy: 

  • Leads to sexual activity, conjoint or solo, and that’s a good thing;

  • By inducing orgasm the body rids itself of stale sperm, an evolutionary advantage;

  • Orgasm reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, counts as exercise, lowers heart attack risk, lessens pain;

  • Can infuse a dulled relationship with newness;

  • Takes us on a journey we probably otherwise wouldn’t be capable of;

  • Stimulates creative thinking;

  • Enables us to practice social skills;

  • Offers an escape from criticism that may induce self-consciousness or an inability to function sexually;

  • Makes us feel good about ourselves, powerful, potent, and desirable;

  • Enhances relationship;

  • Mostly, sexual fantasy Is fun.

Sex is the adult version of play and fantasy is our way of looking forward to playing.  As thinking beings we need fantasy, daydreaming, and imagination as a pathway to our best self.  Fantasy is a pleasure in itself. 

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability or illness for whom sexuality is often a significant issue.  It’s probable that childhood exposure to an overly enthusiastic dog is the reason she’s a cat person.  Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  With their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, she and her husband David live in Colorado Springs where she maintains a private practice and where she and David co-instruct Couple Communication Workshops.  

Copyright 2015, Being Heard, LLC

GENGHIS KHAN GOT A DIVORCE

genghis Khan

It’s not that I don’t love you, Gengy.  I do.  But things just aren’t the same.

Used to be we’d talk ’til the yaks came home.  We don’t talk like that anymore.  Actually, we don’t talk at all.  You’re distant and quiet, even with the kids.  You’re never home at dinnertime and I can’t remember the last time we had a date night.

Other gals say it’s the same with them.  You and your horde come home after conquering and slaughtering and a year’s gone by and you act like some bigshot who’s gonna take over where you left off, but guess what? everybody’s been used to fending without you. Know what else? we’ve done pretty good, too.

Whoa, Gengy; don’t get your temper up!  You’re such a control freak, but you’re not gonna bully me anymore.  I love you, I do. But I can’t — no, I won’t — keep taking it.  You come off as so studly but I’m tired of sleeping by myself while you get wasted on that fermented crap.  I’m really sick of all those concubines hanging off you.  And I’m tired of entertaining all those brutes you call generals.  Gengy, I’m just. plain. tired.

I’m done.  I mean it this time.

Your moods don’t bother me anymore.  I don’t give an ox’s ass about all that blood on your hands and those nightmares you have.  Man up, Genghis!  It’s a brutal world out there for all of us; but the Great Khan wants us to feel sorry for him like nobody else matters.

The saying is “love conquers all”, not “Genghis Khan conquers all.”  Try thinking about somebody else besides yourself for a change!

It’s beyond me how you can get one end of your empire to communicate with the other but you’re in the dark when it comes to communicating with me.  What do I want?  I’ll tell you:  I want you to tell me dinner was good.  That I look nice.  Tell me about your day; you know, like how’d it go out on the steppes. Some funny story about one of your generals.  Like that.

Yeah, yeah, I know all about all the great stuff you do.  You keep telling me, don’t you?  You don’t listen, not to anybody.  You do what you want, you get what you want, and thousands of people get hurt.  If you put half as much effort into us as you do into work, we wouldn’t be so far apart.

Look, Gengy, we’ve been together a long time, since we were 12. Pretty good for an arranged marriage, huh?  Remember our first night — all those stars! the music of shuffling ponies.  And you couldn’t . . . well, that’s ancient history.  After all, you were only twelve.

You once said you’d give me the known world but I didn’t think it meant you’d be gone all the time.  It’s like you’re trying to prove something with all this conquering.  And being so fearsome; what’s that about?  Sometimes you even scare me.  You don’t have to be a therapist to see what having a tyrant for a father did to you. And the way you treat me? Just like your father treated your mother.  She took it for all those years, but I don’t have to.

I’m sorry; bringing your mother into it, that was a low blow.

Listen.  Mongolia doesn’t feel like home anymore.  You’re never around and when you are you’re all inside your head about who you and the boys are going to pillage next.  The kids don’t need me; they’re all grown and scattered to the winds.  You don’t need me, and I’m tired of doing this marriage by myself.  I’ve got to think about me for a change.  I’ve always wanted to travel —  maybe China; I hear their silks are to die for.

Don’t act surprised, Gengy.  We’ve both known this was coming. As brutal as you are, you never laid a hand on me.  This is gonna sound strange, but you know what?  I almost wish you had.  At least that way you would’ve touched me.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those couples whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability.  She lives in Colorado with her husband David (whose latest conquered territory is the garage) and their two pampered yak-ity cats, Petey and Lucy.  She and David hold a Couples Communication Workshop throughout the year.  Check it out all the Workshops offered @ www.coupleswhotalk.com

Copyright, 2015 Being Heard, LLC

SOMETIMES YOU OUGHTA BE SCARED

clown hugBells should go off in your head if you’re walking in the woods and a clown in a bunker’s offering free hugs.  

Or when your guy grabs your shirt, slams you up against the wall, and says you don’t wanna make him angry.

And the whole theater’s screaming at that dumb young thing not to open up when the doorbell rings at midnight and nobody’s expected.

I’m not generally an alarmist although my husband David would disagree.  I do worry about fire starting in a trash barrel where he’s dumped grass clippings.  Or being afraid things are gonna blow up.  Or when I feel eyes on me when I’m working late by the open window in my first floor office and I can’t help myself I just have to look.

One summer my panties started disappearing off the clothesline, hang-up calls began right after my soon-to-be-ex left the house, and the guy across the street would make a racket so I’d look up to see him standing naked in his doorway.  When the phone rang at 2 one morning and the soon-to-be hustled me into the dark backyard I thought yeah, sure, I’m gonna get whacked — he had lots of, uh, connections; I didn’t for a second believe the police were evacuating the neighborhood.  But they were.  That spooky ass guy shot a neighbor who was coming home from shift work.

A bit after I rented out my condo, the woman whose doorway was a few feet away from mine was strangled at home then dumped in the woods. The daughter’s boyfriend went to prison for murder in a sordid story worthy of a bestseller.

Like people in an abusive marriage or those who return from war, I can talk about what’s happened to me as if it had happened to someone else.  Traumatic stress is often numbing and, whether the stress is long- or short-term, the need for self-protection can make us look (and be) detached and dispassionate.

Danger exists in trusting others even as protection is so desperately needed.  Laying down the guise, being vulnerable and exposed, is almost literally a deadly challenge that many won’t choose.

Traumatic stress is so often unexpected — who would set themselves up to be traumatized? — we cannot prepare or protect our psyches from it.  A system-wide shock indicates that everything in our world — most especially those to whom we are vulnerable like spouses, parents, children, friends as well as surroundings that once felt safe — is now suspect.  Add to that the invisibility of chronic, traumatic stress and the difficulty of  recognizing or relating to it adds to misunderstanding and further isolation and loneliness.

Traumatic stress can be vigilance run amok.

The experiencing, fearing, seeing, remembering of violence and harm can derail our thoughts and emotions, often forever.  Like someone who puts and keeps themselves in line for abuse, or those who think themselves immune to repeated horror, all of us need to realize that horror commands a price.  Similarly, we need to know that sometimes, not always, we can predict nasty experiences and seek to avoid them.  Problem is, the invisibility of stress disorders can mean that some people are less in control than it seems.  The creed of healthcare workers, protectors of public safety, combatants, and others who serve reinforces our expectations — and their own — about invulnerability.

Sometimes, vigilance is underrated.

Putting ourselves in charge, like not hanging out with somebody who slams you against a wall, is a proactive step to avoiding traumatic stress in the first place.  And when you can’t avoid getting bummed out, talking with a professional helper can expiate what may be stuck in your head.  That’s necessary if you want to be able to live your life without looking over your shoulder for clowns.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability — like PTSD — is part of their relationship’s mix. She and her husband David hold Couples Communication Workshops that help inoculate couples from the stress that a poor relationship can bring.  Register now for the lateswt workshop at www.BeingHeardNow.com

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC