I’M SICK OF RELATIONSHIP ADVICE.

Being in the business of providing relationship counsel, you’d think I’d be saying the opposite.  But even I’m up to here with reading about communication and sex Finding Love Book Shows Relationship Adviceand date nights.

Aren’t you?

People who read relationship advice are unhappy in the relationship they have.  Duh.  They stay that way, too, because if all that advice worked the problem would be solved and no one would need to write all those how to’s.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t think relationship pain is dislodged by advice.

Saving a relationship is about more than a cartful of communication, sex, and date nights.  All those things are necessary, to be sure, but too often the true reason for distress is rooted deep in each partner.  And it’s portable, too.  People arrive at a new marriage – and the next marriage and the next one after that — with all their luggage packed up and trailing behind.

Each of us is responsible for self-fumigation:  get rid of the dead bugs, black mold, and outdated newspapers that are part of what trails behind us.  The clutter comes from way, way back and is responsible for putting thoughts in our heads.  Whether taught or told, exploring what we came to believe about ourselves, each other, and the world of relationships is not only an interesting exercise, but a necessary one.

You may decide that those spoon-fed automatic thoughts no longer fit.   Be warned:  challenging automatic thinking is lifelong work.

For example, when I see crumbs on the kitchen floor the automatic thought is David’s the one who’s been sloppy.   And I’m the one who has to clean up the mess.  Again.  Children’s beliefs about themselves arise from what they’re taught by caregivers — parents, usually. The you-as-a-child won’t, can’t, challenge that thinking but you-as-an-adult can.

In the example of crumbs on the kitchen floor, the early message to me was that I was responsible for cleaning up a mess, whether I’d caused it or not.  I grew up critical of myself and others – they made a mess I had to clean up – thereby maintaining the emotionally-reasoned automatic thought that the actions of others came down on me especially since I never ever make a mess.

Always being right is lonely.  Thinking of myself as a “victim” created and perpetuated continual anger, disappointment, defensiveness, and resentment while bringing about the disregard I most dreaded.

And that’s just my baggage.  Relationship advice is about the two of you only because each of you carries baggage into it – guaranteeing you stub your toe not once, but twice.  I know, I sometimes still do.

No amount of relationship advice will budge that luggage until you unpack and put away your own stuff.

Kathe Skinner has been a Marriage & Family Therapist for over 20 years.  Her private practice focuses on working with the baggage people bring to their lives.  She and her husband-of-the-crumbs have been married for 30 years and share their Colorado Springs’ home with hooligan cats Petey and Lucy.  You can read more about what’s behind Kathe’s work at www.coupleswhotalk.com where you can sign up for a free weekly curated newsletter.

copyright, 2016, Being Heard, LLC

 

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