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

waronpovertyfail

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

ROOT FOR SOMEONE FAMOUS TO BECOME DISABLED THIS MONTH

I was just reading the Screen Actors Guild’s 2005 study of how few representations of people with disabilities were scripted into tv shows — less than .5% even had speaking roles.

Five years later, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) noted essentially the same thing. Using media to capture Americans’ attention (film, video, print, cyber) is well-suited to our short attention span and overall sense of unreality about the really real world, where visible or invisible disability can be turned off, deleted, or disregarded.  Where we communicate about disability on-line rather than in-person.

hear no evil 2 How pitiful is it when we ride on the coattails of someone famous’ disability, metaphorically pointing at our chests, crying “me, too!”?

Visible and invisible disabilities like Nelson Mandela’s cancer, Michael J. Fox’s and Linda Ronstadt’s Parkinson’s, Catherine Zeta Jones’ bipolar disorder, Ann Romney’s M.S., Glenn Campbell’s Alzheimer’s are all well-known and forgiven because they’re beautiful, charming, entertaining, or people dear to us in other ways.  “Oh, how courageous they are,” we say, “and what a shame.”  Even those of us who are disabled ourselves are sad for the afflicted-famous!   Does someone famous earn more points for being disabled?  Is it a bigger deal?  And how come we feel bad for the misfortune of people who usually have the means by which to be disabled more comfortably than we ourselves have?

I’m not looking for pity, just parity.

As in years past, President Obama again established October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month.  The spirit of it is lofty and disability awareness monthtouching.  But business generally runs on what’s concrete, not what’s moral.  Even more to the point, it can be expensive to hire disabled workers: accommodating to special needs isn’t cheap (widening doorways, re-designing rest rooms, installing elevators, etc.) and unless the federal government is handing out money or tax incentives to businesses, hiring the disabled isn’t good business.

Furthermore, if businesses have to be induced by other than moral means to hire this population, it’s like asking a restaurant to serve a customer gratis, just because he’s hungry.

Won’t happen, nor should it.

The fact is that the people who do the hiring are just people, members of a society that has difficulty having the disabled around in the first place.  Employers are no less prejudicial about disability than they are about age, gender, national origin, or sexual preference.

It’s perplexing that the morality play of the President’s proclamation would be presented in an economic climate like that which exists in the world today, where corporations like Siemens lay off 15,000 workers at a swipe.

I suppose none of them were disabled.bigstock-Group-of-tiny-people-walking-i-36380644 (1)

It’s insulting that the plight of the disabled worker should be highlighted when they are only part of the millions of other Americans who are hungry for work, If inclusion is sought, singling out any one portion of the population defeats the stated purpose.

The proclamation belongs in The Truman Show, where it’s always sunny, there are never problems, and life is always fair. Happily deluded.

But hey, thanks for giving the nation a heads-up that employing the disabled is the right thing to do.  I do believe that now, finally, things will change. (wink, wink)

Kathe Skinner is a Colorado-based Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in work with couples, especially those whose relationship is affected by invisible disability. She is in private practice where she can arrange her environment to meet her continually changing physical needs.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.