CAN COUNSELING SAVE A DYING MARRIAGE?

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Does it feel like the feeling’s 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

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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

3 WORDS MEN HATE TO HEAR

 

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Women, can you think of the last time your man brought up something that bugged him about you?

Maybe it was that you talked to your friends too much, your mother too much, or him too much.

But unless really, really pushed – like during an argument – men aren’t usually relationship-complainers; at least mine isn’t.

It’s not that women do more talking than men – that truism got debunked (by male researchers, interestingly enough) – it’s how and what they talk aboutthat seems to make a difference.  Follow a husband and wife through any department store:  listen to what each points out and the descriptive words each uses.  Are both genders equally engaged and expressive?  I hang with my husband at Home Depot but the reverse isn’t true at Ross Dress for Less.

Men are finicky about stupid things, like artichokes or wearing turtlenecks.  Lots of things aggravate women, too, starting with men’s inability to recall what they do that women don’t want them to do anymore.   Hence the phrase “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Now, I couldn’t swear to it, but I’d bet my last carton of yogurt that men forget things on purpose, even at the risk of appearing stupid, which is actually pretty smart.

How else to explain men who feign ignorance about where the kitchen towels go when enlisted in putting away the wash?

Or men who fix diesel engines but can’t remember to put down the seat?

While the splash of a fanny hitting the water at 3 a.m. isn’t enough to strike fear in a man, three words are:  Can we talk?

That same carton of yogurt rides on my belief that when a woman says those words, it’s like a guy’s thrown into the deep end with shackles binding his wrists and ankles.  It’s not that women bowl guys over with the quantity of words – the sexes actually say about the same number of words in a day.  It’s the kinds of words used, the language that’s spoken.

Women generally have it over men in “feeling-speak”.  So when a woman wants to talk, bet your yogurt it’s in the language of feelings.  And even if both partners are talking about the same thing  their understanding and expression of it are very different.

Just like being in a strange land where we don’t sprechen the language, we show our frustration with each other in the same ineffective ways:

  • Talk louder and louder;
  • Throw up our hands in disgust;
  • Think how dense the other person is;
  • Walk away, muttering.

Just as tourists in a different land need more than passports and sensible shoes, couples often leave behind what’s most basic to their enjoyment and success.   Translator app, anyone?

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in couples work, especially with those relationships impacted by invisible disability.  She has a firm belief that the quality of a couple’s communication skills have a significant impact on their own, and their family’s, health.  Kathe and David have been married for almost 30 years and live in Colorado where they teach Couple Communication Workshops and continue to unravel Petey’s and Lucy’s cat-speak.  Discover more about Kathe Skinner and the Couples Communication Workshops at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com and be sure to check out more of Kathe’s blogs at ilikebeingsickanddisabled.com.

©2014, Being Heard, LLC

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50 YEARS LATER: IS MARRIAGE A WEAPON IN THE WAR ON POVERTY?

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If nothing else, after 50 years fighting poverty, one thing’s clear:  America hasn’t found the right WMD.

Poverty’s still the winner.

Among the most ill-advised social programs developed to counteract the effects of single parenthood on women is one that promoted marriage as an effective weapon.   While it’s true that a healthy, stable marriage between two committed people helps in the battle against hopelessness and helplessness, there may be a population not committed to marriage in the first place.   

Whoever conceptualized that encouraging the chronically ill-prepared to otherwise marry was delusional at best; a bureaucratic butt-kisser at worst.

What were they thinking?

Not in doubt is that solid relationships can be beacons, gateways to education, employment, mental and physical health.  The kicker is that such relationships can’t just be imagined, wished for, or expected without knowing how solid relationship works and passing it on, for at least 5 generations that adopt healthy marital functioning.

Marriage, itself, is a complicated construct that, in the hard sense, pre-exists poverty.  Lack of knowledge is a set-up to failure to anything (imagine wiring a house without knowledge of electricity), especially regarding something as profoundly complicated as building a better relationship.  Put bluntly, how can anyone expect that partners raised in dysfunctional families would, by dint only of wanting to, create a functional one?  That marriage is imbued with such magical powers that, by its very existence, an intricate human condition is untangled?  Or that the people who inhabit those relationships remain, generation after generation, committed to their marriages?

Welcome to the Magic Kingdom.

Children learn what they see.  Further, children seek more than anything to belong and to be loved.  When the cost of having that is withstanding an environment that is counter to family/relationship health — e.g. abusive, withdrawing, uncommitted, adulterous, enabling, permissive, angry, addicted or violent – children often choose unhealthy over healthy.  Immature brains learn that this is what marriage and family looks like.   Even people who strongly react against their upbringing stand the risk of riding the pendulum to the other extreme, becoming overly compliant, accommodating, permissive, rigid, pious, rule-bound.

The knottiness of relationship is that each of us brings a perspective on these experiences that are often different from our partner’s. Often explosive, this confluence paves the way for increasingly unhealthy negative behaviors for each partner as well as the relationship.

Marital success is promoted when partners participate in learning relationship skills.  Partial participation, which seems the rule, doesn’t count; it’s like being “sort of” dead.  Besides, when a parent is struggling to provide the basics of life, little, if any, focus is given to the hard work needed to sustain a healthy union during formal couples education, let alone past its end.

Abraham Maslow put it elegantly when describing what needs to be in place before someone can even minimally “become”.   The condition of being poor, pregnant and female plays out on a stage of basic needs where relationship improvement is trumped by paying the rent.  In the same way, one wonders if self-esteem can be extrinsically motivated in generations raised dysfunctionally.

Poverty in America is generations-old; institutionalized; a mind-set.  It would stand to reason that any upward movement on the psychosocioeconomic ladder would also be a lengthy process.  A multidimensional process.  And a difficult one.   As we see development of the New Poor, Americans’ marital behavior will be interesting to track.  Will there be a relinquishment of the values that inspire healthy relationship?  Will difficulty bind people closer together?  And what will happen to the trillions of dollars spent on social welfare programs that, fifty years out, have been unsuccessful in eliminating poverty?

That social success in other countries is not surprising given the unique social structure and size of the United States.  While a nation as small as Finland, for example, may be socialistic success in reducing the strife of single parenthood, Finland is not the United States. Not in vastness of size, diversity, political structure, and multiculturalism.  Even in the best of situations, marriage is no less multidimensional or difficult; with behavioral and attitudinal improvement also measured in generations.

While I offer no resolution to the multiple dimensions encompassing poverty (my magic wand is broken) better minds than mine have tried and failed.

I do know that a uni-dimensional solution to single mothers’ poverty through marriage insults the problem and ignores the complexity of the fix itself.

For more insights, read Julie Baumgardner’s response to the Council on Contemporary Marriages position on this subject.  Ms. Baumgardner is the Chair of the National Association for Relationship and Marriage Education.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Colorado.  Over almost two decades, she has seen low percentages of middle-class couples who have engaged in relationship education continue to apply what they learn.  She calls the ones who have, like Adam and Leslie, “Super Stars” and their existence is cause for a smile every day.  For almost 30 years, Kathe and her husband, David, have been committed to each other and to their marriage.  As Jethro Tull once said, nothing is easy.  Read more about their programs for couples at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.
 
©2014, Being Heard, LLC

NASA’S PHOTO: PROOF OF GOD’S EXISTENCE?

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NASA/JPL-Caltech/McGill

What’s a hand doing in deep space?

And what’s it attached to?

Is God just a big hand?

Wait a minute.  Is that a hand at all?

The so-called “Hand of God” is the result of a combination of NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuStar, combined with Chandra X-ray Observatory’s imaging.   God (and Superman) only knows what that pulsaristic, X-ray, and magnetic energy stuff’s about.

That we humans jump quickly to proof of what we so desperately want proof of is telling.

When familiar objects are seen in otherwise vague ways, a phenomenon known as pareidolia is at work.  Examples include seeing the face of Jesus in an apple core or your neighbor’s poodle in a cloud.  When the need to believe is strong enough, we “see” what reinforces what we believe.  Those who are especially adept at recognizing and interpreting such “signs” are attributed with magical abilities that enable them to  understand the past, explain the present, and foresee the future.  They’re called shamans, therapists, or witches, and every culture has them.

Anyone who holds the hand of God is powerful indeed.

Our fervency at making a disconnected connection can be seen everywhere in our lives, not just in questions about transcendence. When we’re always looking for signs, signs are always found.  For some of us, magical thinking beats realism every time:  I’m always a bit miffed when my husband can “explain scientifically” what tingles to believe.  Like yeti or synchronicity.

A peek at the animal kingdom demonstrates how natural it is to go for  glitzy — brightly colored and smiling is more alluring than earth-toned and frowning.  If you still aren’t convinced, go to Vegas.  Shake its pockets and the likely fallout will be all manner of charms, amulets and carved stones.  If you’ve ever played anniversary or birth dates in the lotto, you’re exercising the same belief in magical power.

How powerful is it to “know”?

People have been hung or burned alive for failing to share explanations we want, figure they have, but would rather die than tell. Curiously, we never fault our dysfunctional thinking when plague continues after we’ve roasted all the cats.

Distressed couples or the chronically ill may get caught up in the myths of “other reasons”, blaming themselves or those around them for what is ultimately ours to carry, even when understanding is absent.  Better communication in marriage or the development of chronic illness are examples.

Nevertheless, many of us feel helpless when comprehension fails.  So far-reaching is our need to know that we look outside ourselves for a “magic cure”, “quick fix”, or to blame.  It’s as if we were cognitively incapable of apprehending knowledge by ourselves, alone.

Facing the Great Unknown is frightening.

We call for help that protects, soothes, and explains.

And that’s as good a reason as any to search out the Hand of God.  

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Specialist.   She’s especially keen on working with couples whose relationship includes invisible disability (e.g., cancer, lupus, hearing loss, depression).  Kathe and her husband, David, live in Colorado with their two cats, Petey and Lucy.  They know that holding the hand of god is as easy as adopting a pet.    
 
©BeingHeard LLC, 2014