Friday, March 28, 2014

Esther Perel: The secret to desire in a long-term relationship

Okay, so this is 19 minutes...but a really great investment if you want to learn about how to keep sex alive in the familiarity of marriage.  Can't believe that I am finally reading her book Mating in Captivity.  Foreplay is not something you do five minutes before the real thing...Responsibility and desire butt heads... Passionate couples have demystified the myth of spontaneity...committed sex is premeditated sex,it's focused and intentional...If you have been married more then five days, this is totally worth watching.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Shirley and Jenny: Two Elephants Reunited After More Than 20 Years

Comrades...survivors in a captive world.  With Jenny by her side, Shirley stands to face her future.  Home at last, they will lie out their days together...

The joyful reunion...attachment and they lumber off to live their life together...

Hoping this visual will help remove the chains and give a sweet picture of  hope for the future of all our marriages.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Anna and Mr. Bates are Getting Wrong

Oooh, I am tearing my hair out! If only I were the marital therapist for Anna and Mr.Bates.  They are such an incredibly lovely couple but they are really getting this  all wrong.

The short version of the back story goes like this in case you are one of the few people on the face of the earth not watching Downton Abbey.  I understand such people do exist.

Anna and Mr. Bates are possibly one of the nicest, noblest couples on the face of the earth.  In a world fraught with secrets and civility, Anna and Mr. Bate's love and integrity is a shining example. I won't bore you with the details of how his ex-wife framed Mr. Bates for murdering her by killing herself and how Anna, with the help of the Crawley family, unravels the plot and saves Mr.Bates from hanging for a crime that he did not commit.

 From a clinical perspective, the trauma that this couple has survived helps explain some of the mistakes they make later in their marriage.  From a moral perspective, Thomas - the creepy butler-  is hellbent on collecting the dirt on the other servants. He considers Anna incorruptible.  You could say the same about Mr. Bates. In a world of good guys and bad guys, you know exactly where Anna and Mr. Bates stand.

When Anna is viciously raped by Mr. Gillingham's valet, Mr. Green, Anna is clearly traumatized, dazed and depressed.  It is not a bad depiction of the impact of rape on a woman.  Mrs. Hughes stumbles across Anna in the servant's quarters and finds her tattered and bruised. Anna tells Mrs. Hughes the truth but swears her to secrecy.  Here is where Anna makes her first mistake.  She does not disclose the rape to her husband.

She is clearly depressed, she goes so far as to move out of her home with Mr. Bates. Mr. Bates, obviously gets that something is amiss but he does not have a clue.  Exactly.

Out of fear that her husband will kill Mr. Green, Anna keeps the rape to herself.  It is a strangely protective strategy which does not work.

If only Anna and Mr. Bates were in marital therapy.  I would have encouraged her to disclose directly to Mr. Bates what happened.  They could have wept, grieved, gnashed their teeth and perhaps sought justice for this crime together. Talking in a safe context- always helps in marriage - especially when it comes to disclosing something huge that has violated the marriage and traumatized one of the partners. Surviving a terrible tragedy together can draw couples together and strengthen the bond.

 By not disclosing the rape to her husband,  the tension mounts between Anna and  Mr. Bates.  Mr. Bates finally wheedles part of the story out of Mrs. Hughes but in his own weird protective strategy does not tell Anna what he knows.  Meanwhile you can tell that Mr. Bates is seething with unexpressed rage.  Neither of them has disclosed the whole story to one another which - although incredibly painful - would have helped them to grieve and dissipate the rage.

Fast forward when Mr. Green, the rapist, turns up dead in the street on the same day that Mr. Bates has taken a leave from work, things are looking bad for Mr. Bates.  Has Anna's worst nightmare come true? Stay tuned.

The moral of this story so far is -- don't keep secrets.  I hate to speak in absolutes so I  will do my best. Secrets almost always come out- in one way or another. It is much healthier to disclose them directly.  Even well intentioned  secrets can wreck havoc on true intimacy in a marriage.

And talk.  Talking - in a safe context- is almost always a preferable alternative to keeping things to yourself. Anna and Mr. Bates are living proof of that. Gee- I hope he didn't do it.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Things Couples Should Say More Often - Guaranteed to Improve Your Marriage

 I LOVED the previous video Twenty Things We Should Say More Often.  It cracked me up and kept me giggling all day.  I could feel my endorphin's kicking in.  I quoted them to couples who I work with and giggled every time I did.  Check out the previous post if you missed it last week - More Wisdom From the Mouths of Babes.

The truth is that saying nice things in a nice tone of voice is guaranteed to improve your marriage.  Saying grumpy - if honest- critical, judgmental or harsh statements is guaranteed to make it worse. Research by John Gottman will back me up on this if you are the type that needs footnotes.  Otherwise, trust me.

Positive reinforcement is much more potent then negative and can change reactive, negative patterns.

Try using the following in your marriage and see what happens.

Thank you * sends a message of love and respect. It says that you value and appreciate the person.  Instead of nagging or kvetching about something you do not like about your spouse, try thanking them for something you do appreciate. Guaranteed to work.

Excuse me * similar to thank you.  It's Civility 101 in a marriage.

I'm sorry* should be an everyday part of the vocabulary of a married couple. It is simply impossible to live intimately with another person and not annoy or hurt one another.  Taking responsibility - even if you are only 1% wrong is appropriate and disarming in a marital conflict. You heard me right. Even if you are only 1% wrong -  own up to it.

I forgive you* is probably the single most important ingredient for a happy marriage.  Wrongs, offenses and hurt feelings are an inevitable part of married life.  Letting go of those feelings is critical.  This is not the same as cheap grace or excusing unacceptable behavior.  Forgiveness of life's everyday slights and hurts is part of maturity and a growing marriage.

More thoughts on 20 Things We Should Say More Often to come. Try these.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

More Wisdom for Couples from the Mouths of Babes...

I love this kid...I could write a blog post about each of his 20 things we should say more often....I especially love this one for couples,  It's okay to disagree just don't be mean about it.  Stay tuned to my follow-up to these wise words.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks Revisited

Moved by the psychological lessons in Saving Mr. Banks, my husband and I schlepped off to see the movie again on a frigid Chicago night.  Generally, one viewing per movie is my limit. I schlepped off to see the movie a second time because I thought I had more to learn from it.

This movie is about PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and her relationship with Walt Disney.  PL Travers had an alcoholic father who died when she was 7 and a depressed, suicidal mother. Interestingly enough, Walt Disney,too, had a difficult childhood with a father who could be characterized as emotionally abusive.  it is not uncommon to find married couples who each have had painful childhoods fraught with trauma.

What stood out to me in my second viewing were the personality traits of Mrs. Travers that are characteristic of adults who have grown up in an alcoholic family.  To say that Mrs. Travers had profound difficulty with flexibility and trust would be an understatement.  From the moment that she steps on the plane to the US, she it totally unable to accept help from anyone for something as simple as stowing her baggage in the overhead compartment.  Repeatedly her chilly response to anyone kindly offering her assistance is, "No thank you. I'm perfectly capable myself."  

Being forced to assume super-human amounts of responsibility as children, ACOAs develop a shell of pseudo independence that is tough to penetrate, and I might add, to love. A peek into the childhood of PL Travers reveals heartbreaking scenes. Ultimately, she feels that she is responsible for the survival of both parents.  That is a load to heavy for any child to bear.  Mrs. Travers inability to accept warmth and help and her controlling nature have evolved from her childhood experience where life was totally out of control.
There were no big people around to shoulder the horrific emotional blows and losses that Mrs. Travers experienced as a child.  

If you understand Mrs. Travers in the context of her childhood,it is much easier to have compassion and understanding for her.  Although it may be a very sanctified picture of Walt Disney in this flick, he does a terrific job of getting Mrs. Travers and relating to her in a productive and gently confronting way.

Whether you are a Mrs. Travers yourself or married to one, understanding yourself or your spouse in the context of the pain that either they or you grew up in will always help. Don't psychoanalyze your spouse or pepper them with interpretations about their childhood.  That is an understandable impulse but a terrible idea. Trust me, it never works.  But seeing yourself or your spouse through eyes of understanding and empathy will always help. It's a tall order but it works.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Are you married to an ACOA or are one yourself? You gotta see Saving Mr. Banks...

 Saving Mr. Banks is a powerful and poignant portrait of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. Flashbacks to the childhood of this formal and crotchety British author provide  profound insight into the inflexible and rigid  Mrs. Travers.  Her alcoholic father was alternately warm, generous,loving and vicious and cruel. Her mother wears the weary mask of the wife of an alcoholic. In a scene that takes your breath away, she walks into the lake in a suicide attempt. Fortunately PL Travers' mother is rescued by her hyper -vigilant daughter.

The movie flows gracefully between the past and the present.  Mrs. Travers struggles with the songwriters as they attempt to transform Mary Poppins to a Disney movie.  Having grown up in trauma, loss and chaos she does not surrender control easily if at all.  Control struggles and an unyielding sense of always being right are pretty typical symptoms of adults whose childhood was more or less out of control.

Walt Disney who discloses to Mrs. Travers about his own painful childhood astutely intuits what Mrs. Travers needs.  Although she vigorously protests, a day in Disney World is precisely the find of fun and leisure that Mrs. Travers sorely lacked as a child.  ACOA's often do not do well with fun and leisure and like Mrs. Travers have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

My favorite line in the movie is by Walt Disney.  Our stories are redemptive, he says. That's what we story tellers do. We restore order with imagination.  We instill hope again and again and again. Both P.L.Travers and Walt Disney found redemption and healing for their childhood pain through telling their stories through the magical lenses of their characters.  

What does all this have to do with marriage therapy, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself.  Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful lesson in empathy.  If you are married to someone like P.L.Travers  or recognize a bit of her in yourself try seeing your spouse or yourself through the lens of their childhood trauma.

Underneath the brittle exterior is often a frightened child who is terrified of change.  If, like Walt Disney, you can avoid control battles with the adult child of an alcoholic and comfort the frightened child who is cowering within that exterior of control you can go a long way towards making a connection.