Is My Marriage Worth It?

Conflict and relationships go together. A conflict-free marriage is an oxymoron.

Why? People mature at different rates; they have different values (some they don’t even know they have); and people see and experience the world differently. And all of this leads to tension that can result in conflict. And sometimes we wonder if marriage is worth it.

These are the kinds of issues my clients bring to couple therapy. Think about these questions for you and your marriage.

• If you had to create a short list of people you could spend the day with, would your spouse be on that list? Do you genuinely enjoy each other’s company? Do you laugh when you’re together?
• Do you have the same or similar values, goals and interests? Do you and your spouse enjoy doing some or lots of things together? Do the two of you want the same things out of life?
• Do you express a lot of affection and appreciation for each other? Or is there mostly indifference, negativity and hostility in your relationship?
• Do you feel understood when you are talking with your partner? Does your spouse try to see your point of view? When discussing things, does your husband or wife listen to what you have to say?
• Is your relationship usually based on fairness? Does your spouse see you as an equal? Do you feel you are treated with respect? Or do you feel used, exploited, or taken for granted?
Do you feel that your spouse will be there for you in a time of need? Can you count on your spouse for help when the going gets tough?
• Do you feel comfortable sharing your private thoughts with your spouse? How easy is it for you to talk to your spouse about sensitive issues?
• When you disagree with each other, do the two of you work together and try to resolve your differences? Or is there a lot of hostility, disregard and contempt when disagreements arise?
• Does your spouse care for you sexually? Do you make love pretty regularly? Or are you disappointed or frustrated with your affection?

The pain can be huge. This happens when conflict spikes and shared pleasures plummet. And even at these times, working on your marriage is always worth it.

Mental Illness: A Parent’s Journey (Stu Ducklow)

Stella_Ducklow

The following article was written by my brother about his daughter. Both have given permission for this to be re-posted on my blog. Stu said it was okay “as long as Stella gets all the credit” — that’s like my brother.

I have previously posted about Stella’s depression and struggle with mental illness (please see below).


Like most parents, we thought our first-born child was extraordinary, and we hovered over her as much as any helicopter parent.

She seemed to need more attention than most. When she nearly died of anaphylactic shock at age 4, we sought help from specialists ranging from a pediatric immunologist to Reiki practitioners. When eczema kept her from sleeping, we covered her with creams and dosed her with prescription meds.  When she was hospitalized for asthma, we gave away our four cats.

When she had trouble in Grade 1, we enrolled her in a private school where students were expected to learn to read via the ‘whole language’ process which spurned phonics and spelling. When she still couldn’t read, we took her to an after-school program that drilled her in the very same phonics and spelling that we were paying the other school to avoid. Stella was reading above grade level in a few months.

But we couldn’t come up with a solution for the all-day crying jags, cutting and constant dieting that began at about the age of 16. We turned to the provincial mental health system for help. We had a lot to learn. While mental health professionals are nearly always kind and well-meaning, the system they work for seems designed to serve administrators more than the patients.

For example, Stella was confined to her unit during one short stay because staff was thinking of moving her to another unit and they wanted her available at short notice. This meant that our daily one-hour drive around Halifax, the high point of her day, was forbidden. Fortunately a good-hearted nurse bent the rules when I promised to deliver her within ten minutes of a call to my cell phone.

Over the next ten years we got used to waiting up to 16 hours in emergency wards when Stella felt suicidal or overcome with anxiety or depression. In contrast, she was seen immediately for a fractured ankle, though broken bones aren’t nearly as harmful as suicidal thoughts.

She was admitted at least ten times for short stays of about a week. Though she saw many psychiatrists, they confined themselves to adjusting her meds. Requests for some form of psychotherapy were met with blank stares. She was given a regular outpatient worker who she met with for about a year but that person was hostile to us as parents and dismissive of Stella’s chances of recovery once she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. 

Read More

The Wisdom of Tenderness

In October 2007, Krista Tippett interviewed Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche. Tippett is the host of “Speaking of Faith” on American Public Media, one of my favourite blog sites and a source of great spiritual-theological gain for me.

Of all of Tippett’s interviews, this interview with Jean Vanier is spectacular — I would say life transforming!

The 90 minute video is a much better investment than watching another edition of “House” (also a favourite of mine!) and you can also download an abbreviated version for your iPod so you can listen to Vanier’s “wisdom of tenderness” while walking or working out at the gym.

Find the interview at http://vimeo.com/462130.

What Motivates You? (Our Triple-A “Drivers”)

We are driven by needs. Many think that we are motivated by values and many of us are some of the time. But all of us are motivated by pressing needs or “drivers.” Consider these drivers in your marriage or family, or in your business or church.

Acceptance (to be counted in). Who gets to be “in?” This is the issue here. Some attend a church for years without essentially being counted in. They feel like “strangers in a strange land.” And acceptance is pretty easy; just treat people like people you don’t know and would like to, and say “hello and welcome.”

Acknowledgement (to be known). Once you are accepted (or at least feel accepted) you will want someone to know your name and remember it when you return. The simple saying of your name and perhaps attaching some affection to it is the motivator called “acknowledgement.”

Affirmation (to succeed). We all want to feel that we have succeeded in who we are and what we do. When we are affirmed we feel that we “fit” – like a key for a lock. We know our strengths and gifts and work out of them. Success is easy then; it is who we are.

These triple-A drivers are motivators for all of us. Of the three, what motivates you the most?

Would You Like to Super-Size That?

Size matters in emotions. Some spouses bark, bully, blame and belittle with the noisier suppressing the other by volume and spite. Others may coerce their partners and kids to “submit” thinking they have some theological “right to respect” (which they clearly don’t!). Kids up-turn power into tantrums and tyranny. And then lots of families “tiptoe” their lives, waiting for the next tsunami. Yes, size matters especially the size of noise and especially again the noise of coercion. It is as if we “super-size” our emotions, pumping up insanity to defeat an enemy that used to be friends and family.

“I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time,” she said to her husband of 7 years, clients of mine for several months. As I write this, I am listening to Tim McGraw singing “Angry All the Time” and that comment is the refrain: “I don’t know why you’ve got to be angry all the time.” (You can hear / watch this on You Tube. This is a tiptoe marriage, like my client friends, with super-sized emotions.

I have come from a week of super-sized emotions; watching super-sized partners push and prod while their tiptoe spouses lose voice, hiding and hoping for anything else. You know of course, that it is not either men or women who coerce – in some families it is both.

I want to tell you about a conflict questionnaire that I have used over the years in my teaching and consulting. I would love it if you became an expert in understanding conflict (not necessarily doing it!). The “Thomas Kilmann Conflict Inventory” is resourceful for people who want to understand conflict and why it perpetuates.

I can provide this assessment for you. Please contact me.

Parents and Teens: A Few More Comments (Part 2)

I think a big part of parenting teenagers is self-control as in controlling oneself, not trying to control one’s near adult. If I can be more resilient as a parent then maybe I can parent more effectively. Psychologists call this “differentiation” and it is the ability to separate emotions from thoughts. When  thinking becomes clouded by emotional responses, we become undifferentiated. Families with lots of emotionally reactive reasoning used to be called “undifferentiated ego mass.” Lovely description of a family isn’t it?

Back to some comments about parenting teens with an understanding that no one does this perfectly. So first,

— Give up on being a perfect parent or having a perfect kid. Reality is more helpful than perfectionism.

— Don’t push your power, your age or your wisdom. Just because you own the mortgage on the home does not mean that you have the right to coerce or pummel your teens into compliance.

— Believe in your teen’s hyperbole. Exaggeration and overstatement is a favourite in adolescent communication. You don’t need to correct her. Anyway, she might just be the best Math student on the planet.

— You don’t have to be your kids’ friend. Accept yourself as a parent and learn to be good at it.

— Value what he or she has to say even when you disagree or have a different opinion.

— Speak quietly especially when the tension is rising. Tension goes up, voices go quieter and everybody listens more intently.

— Be careful of quick decisions. Quick conclusions are soon problems.

— Admit when you don’t know something. This is easier to do than you think. And your kid will appreciate your incompetence and see it as common ground.

So you might ask, “Did you do all these things?” Uh, no. I just did my best like you. But I wish that someone told me some of this while I was an undifferentiated ego mass.

Parents and Teens — Some Comments (Part 1)

For 5 years when I first started my work as a Psychologist, I worked for Family Services in West Vancouver where I focused on dysfunctional families referred through the public school system, police and probation.

I thought of these kids as “BC’s best” and mostly they were hopeful, resilient, and crafty and making the best out of some tough and tense circumstances at home and at school. They were also hard to handle – it was easy for me to talk with them as they got to skip school to “go see the shrink.” I remember one parent who asked if I knew of a monastery in Africa where he could send his 16-year old son. (Didn’t know of one.)

Some of the parents were excellent in loving and guiding their kids and some were clearly working out their own difficulties in marriage and life through their offspring. Some of these kids became the “Identified Problems” of the greater family tension.

Along the way, I worked up some principles for parents living with teens. These days I am having a resurgence of parents seeking help with their kids and I thought this list might make some sense to some. If nothing else, it might help parents remember what they hoped for when they were teens.

So for parents, in random order as it occurs to me…

— Be careful about criticism of anything. Even when you think you are only making a comment, it may well be experienced as another of a long list of judgments.

— Focus on your teen’s emotions. Kids “naturally” emotionally reason and this can seem illogical to you as a parent.

— Think about what depression looks like in a teen. Sometimes it is in withdrawal and sometimes it is in acting out aggressively. When your child is acting hurt and harmed, wonder about how his inner life is going.

— Say as little as possible and especially about your own experience, unless asked. When kids talk they want to talk and not listen to your thoughts.

— Don’t believe in “teachable” moments. Let your kid talk without your interruption.

— Ask questions that can be answered. Questions like, “Do you want to suggest with me 3 or 4 ideas from which you can choose?”

— Experiment in thinking in non-absolutes. If you have a 70% good relationship with your kids, then celebrate that. Don’t overly prod and provoke the 30% that is not the best.

Okay, that’s enough for today. In fact, that’s probably enough for a few days. I will post a few other ideas in a bit.

My Arms Tell My Story (Stella Marcia Ducklow)

This article is written by my lovely niece Stella Ducklow on osted in MindVine and it speaks of the bodily geography of self harm. Stella is my older brother’s daughter from Halifax. I don’t get to see her much but I think that we usually “click” in spite of my middle-classness. You see Stella is edgy, a tattoo canvas, an artist and writer, a former student at Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in photography, an advocate for the mentally ill, a roller derby player — not middle class at all. Initially, photography was a hobby and a way to get closer to her father who is also a photographer. It quickly became Stella’s medium for expressing her struggles with mental illness, for helping others through teaching photography and for raising awareness.Here is the piece she wrote for Ontario’s MindVine:

I recently had an awkward experience where my cafe manager caught a glimpse of my forearms and thought I had been in a recent accident. She held my wrist and glanced at the row of keloid scars and said ‘my dear, did you scratch yourself?’ I just  shrugged and  responded ‘no, those have always been there’ and went to fix the milk stand. I think we were both kind of embarrassed.

There isn’t really a social etiquette for this type of thing yet, it’s like goiters and nose jobs, the unwritten code is that although you can see it is not proper to address it.

It’s not a secret whatsoever that I’ve had a long battle with self harm. My arms tell that story. Too often I let the scars speak for me, because it’s easier to have people accept or reject me upon appearance than it is to actually risk talking about it. Because, like everyone else: I am afraid. I have cultivated a well honed persona that makes me appear outgoing, braised, and unaffected by stares of others. However, to this day I cannot utter the words ‘cutter’ ‘self harm’ or ‘stitches’ without having my stomach drop with shame.

To read more of this article click here and to read more of Stella click here.

Thanks Stella for writing. I admire you dear one. (Uncle Paddy)

It is Where I Belong

Someone asked me the other day why church is important to me. For me, it is sort of like asking why my family is important to me. It is where I belong.

I know lots of people and many I know well. Some of these people I may tell my story to and I listen to their experience too. But in church, like in my family, there is so much I don’t have to say to be known and know that my belonging is not questioned.

This is probably obvious but psychological research finds that a sense of belonging increases meaningfulness of life. We feel our lives are meaningful when we feel we belong. I think that this is one of the reasons why people marry (rather than “live together”) and why they marry when they discover they are pregnant. “I want my child to know she belongs” is what is often said.

Here is an idea: close your eyes for a minute and think of two people or groups to which you really belong. Now consider how much meaning you feel in your life. (I just did this with the thought of my two grandsons – our granddaughter is due any day now – and “out of the blue” I feel my life has meaning.)

Note: this is not about what others give me (recognition say) or provide for me (a place to be known); it is what I am when I am with them. Now I can clearly see this with Jasper and Lucas – I am Poppa. I know who I am, where I belong, and in the mystery of our shared “us,” I have meaning.

Some people don’t know they belong. I had 2 clients yesterday who basically said that to me. One was married (and she with 2 kids) and one was single, 37 years old and into weekend hooking up when what he really wants is to be married with kids and to belong.

I want them to have family, I want them to have church.

“Bid Theory” and the Spirit of Marriage

Of all the people who marry, only 30 per cent grow towards a quality of marriage that they hoped for when they started out. So says Ty Tashiro in his book, “The Science of Happily Ever After.” A lot of us divorce or separate, and many maintain a “just reasonably content” compromise, and a few of us are “happily ever after.”

By the way, this is true if one is a faith-follower or if one is something else from the spiritual-psychological neighbourhood.

Seattle’s John Gottman, the current marital-parenting guru, has studied married couples for four decades and distilled the nature of their success – and it is completely ordinary. “Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity or contempt, criticism, and hostility?”

According to Gottman, people whose relationships thrived “scanned the social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully.” Those who gave up on their marriages more than often scanned for their partner’s mistakes.

This part of Gottman’s research is obvious to those who identify gratitude as an evidence of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-20).

Gottman found the key to success in the everyday interactions between couples. He calls them “bids.” Say my partner makes a thoughtful and generous dinner for the family and asks for my response with the hope of some appreciation. I thank her blankly, because I’m immersed in my own thing. She has made a “bid,” according to Gottman, for my attention and appreciation and I didn’t deliver. And neither do the kids for that matter.

Did you know that the majority of “bids” between unhappy couples go unanswered or worse, dismissed with contempt?

Here is something interesting: when Gottman examined the decades of marital data, he found divorcing couples responded to bids only infrequently, less than a third of the time. What about couples that thrived? They approached and appreciated the bids nearly 90% of the time. They had “emotional intelligence.”

Seems simple enough but sometimes hard to do.

(Adapted from a July 2014 Vancouver Sun article by Michael Pond.)

Page 4 of 15« First...23456...10...Last »