All posts by Red Dirt Kelly

Alphabet Relationships: What A, H and M Shapes Mean

Some people are visual learners.  Some people are “repeat the information over and over and I’ll finally get it” learners.  And some people touch things or are walk-around-and-think learners.   Visual, auditory, tactile or a blend of all three…which are you?

What I’ve noticed in working with couples over the years is that many times the same message or intervention needs to be implemented using two different methods in order for both of them to really get it.  That’s because they each learn or process information in slightly (or vastly) different ways.  The context, process and perspective of each person has to be understood in the therapy room, as well as how it looks when they are together.

This is why although therapists utilize their theory of therapy to guide, assess and manage what goes on in a room with couples, they also make occasional trips to their “Toolbox.”  A therapist’s toolbox can include actual “tools” such as games, figures, assessments or other manipulatives to use in session, or ideas and resources.  Today I’m going to share a resource that I seem to use at least once or twice per year because some couples (or individuals) are visual learners.  The lesson for them with this tool is understanding the difference between “unhealthy dependence” versus “healthy interdependence.”  Here is a copy of what I summarize on a white board or provide them to take home. I apologize for the tilted view. CLICK CHART TO SEE LARGE VIEW:

An “A” shaped relationship is frequently seen in those with co- “needy” behaviors.  A couple might get together because one is the life of the party (filling a need for the other’s wish to be expressive) and one is structured and responsible (filling a need for the other’s wish to be respected or mature).

We often see this in co-addictive relationships involving substance abuse, but we also see it in couples who sometimes describe themselves as acting like a “parent and child” or “victim and rescuer.”  These couples will ultimately get their real needs met when they find their own self-actualization; their own individual happiness.  If they continue to lean on each other because of their unmet illegitimate needs, the tension becomes too great (the bar in the A breaks) and they fall (which would happen to both sides when the bar was no longer there).

A, H or M...which one represents your couple relationship?

An “H” shaped relationship is very common in the U.S.  We especially see this pattern in “DINK” couples (double income, no kids).  The independence they feel from meeting their own needs to such an extent, and avoiding engaging their partner in asking for legitimate needs to be met, distances the couple over time.  If you look at the H shape you’ll see that the middle bar could eventually be broken due to extreme independence and distance (pulling away), but both sides would remain “standing” as “I”s…still themselves, but certainly not a couple.

And finally, the “M” shaped relationship is a type that most couples find they can grow and thrive within best.  They each have a healthy identity for themselves, but they also engage each other in requesting and meeting needs.  Their relationship with one another can develop and strengthen over time because they support each other in ways that don’t rob the “self” of either individual.  This dynamic is very powerful and is a worthy goal of couples who might find themselves in a different part of the alphabet.

Dependence, Independence or Interdependence.  A, H or M.  Which are you?

Signing off on R-day (relationships), K-E-L-L-Y.

Note:  Most of the basis for this information and the chart come from “Illusion and Disillusion: The Self in Love and Marriage,” by John Fulling Crosby, 1991, Chapter 2.

The Ping of Your Relational Sonar

I liked this photo so much that I decided to use it and give nanukphotos.com a free ad shout-out. While I'm not in the mood to pay $60.00 for the rights to use it (we do our own photography, although I do purchase iStock photos occasionally), I am willing to reference back to them and their very cool work. The photo shows the same sky type of sky mentioned in this essay.

It’s about 9:00 p.m. Labor Day night and I’m putting the last check into the last envelope as I finish paying my monthly bills.  The day has been a long one with the majority of my time spent in my office reading and working on my statistics homework.  I get up from my chair, stretch, grab the stamped envelopes on my desk and head to the mailbox.

I head down the long slope of the paved driveway.  It’s getting dark and my mind switches from wondering if my bare feet are going to find a wayward stone (protective-mode thoughts) to the overwhelmingly beautiful twilight sky (refreshing, happy thoughts).  My pace slows and I remember that my hair is pulled up into a ponytail, bound with a brown velvet scrunchie; perfect for a little pillow to rest my head on the concrete.  I drop to the warm pavement, lay down, breathe in the cooling air and take a few moments to study the sky more closely.

It’s beautiful out tonight.  The sun has dropped below the horizon so far that only the slightest hint of light shows along the western line.  From there sweeping upward is light blue, medium blue, dark blue and the deepest midnight blue right over my head.  The stars are beginning to show and as I lay still and focus, more and more tiny lights begin to peek out of the deep blue.  I can now see about 30-40 stars, but one in particular catches my eye.  It’s brighter than the rest and seems to be moving.  I assume at this point that it’s a satellite and I watch it travel ever-so-slowly across my view.

My body begins to relax as I start realizing how many layers of sound are filling up my ears.  I can hear the distant click of a katydid, intermittent bursts of cicadas, a constant tree frog sound, and another rhythmic frog sound over that.  There is a dog somewhere in the distance that barks occasionally and every three or four minutes a car passes down the street, headed toward their homes for the evening.  I look around for the satellite and find it again.  I started thinking about my husband.

On the way down to the mailbox, I had hugged him goodnight because he was heading to bed.  He gets up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to go to work.  I had said, “I missed you today.”  He said, “I missed you too.”  We talked a bit about the homework I was doing and said goodnight.

I watch the satellite another minute more and my mind drifts back to a conversation I had last week with a colleague.  He had written a blog entry for contract work we do over the topic of “checking in” with your spouse during the day.  I’m watching the satellite and thinking about that topic when I link a thought about the sonar pings made by satellites, submarines or other devices that also “check in” with those monitoring their progress.  I begin to play that sound in my head and think about parents monitoring their children as they grow and develop, spouses checking-in with each other to make sure all is good between them, leaders checking in with their team members in places of employment.  Ping, ping, ping.  The satellite has now passed two stars as I watch it continue to creep across the sky.

I start thinking about satellite orbits and how they decay over time.  Without the sonar or other monitoring devices, there could be no awareness of how that orbit had decayed or whether it was stable and in good working order.  Mother mammals of tiny babies constantly check to see if all their offspring are accounted for, birds guard their nests, alpha males of various species watch over their herds in case they are threatened.

I want to think about this balance or out-of-balance checking in between couples just a bit more so I reluctantly get up, walk the rest of the way to the mailbox (I only step on one small pebble), and head back to my office.  On my way back up the driveway I hear a car leave our neighbor’s driveway, muffled rap music coming from the interior.  I wonder what type of sonar is going on between he and his parents as he drives down the road.  I get to my office and begin searching for sound files of sonar pings.  I find some cool files of a WW II submarine sonar.  CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE SOUND.

While I’m playing with these sonar sound files I begin thinking, “They sound a little bit like a heartbeat.”  My mind drifts back to all my relatives who have been in the hospital with heart monitoring devices…ping,  ping,  beat…beat.  I think about the inordinate amount of journal articles I’ve been reading the past six months over a person’s physical well being and how it relates to their relational well being.  People who are stressed because of unhealthy relationships actually have different vagal tones when on a heart monitor than when their relationships are better, or when they feel closer to their partners.

I make a mental note of this thought process and head back into the bedroom to tell Mick goodnight a second time.  I need to check in with him and make sure our orbit is not in decay.  He’s fine.  We’re fine.   I’m glad I check, however.  He tells me goodnight a second time and that “All systems are go.”

How about yours?

Labor Day Weekend In Oklahoma, 1960

I don’t envy the library employees who labored to document, scan and archive electronic images of The Daily Oklahoman from the day OPUBCO opened its doors.  But I sure do appreciate them.

Last year I was doing some research that led me to discover this feat had been accomplished, so last night I logged on to do some more.  This time for the Chronicles.  I wanted to see what Labor Day Weekend was like in Red Dirt country fifty years ago.

Italian sweater jersey dresses were $21.00; John A. Brown's was having a "door buster" sale - shirts for $1.00

What I found was a slice of life that made me laugh, frown, send a clipping to my colleague at OSU and think about my friends who are politically active.  I experienced quite an array of emotions for the hour I perused the September 1st, 2nd and 3rd issues of the paper.  Then I tried to decide how I would put all that information into a small Friday morning blog posting.

The decision I arrived at was to provide you bullet points of what stood out to me, provide you with a few visuals, then encourage you to try this type of exercise on your own if you enjoyed it.  Here we go…

  • The Oklahoma local and county fair scene was being announced in several sections.  In Beaver, OK they were announcing festivities in a recently completed complex that cost $150,000 to construct.
  • H.E. Bailey and group were doing the final studies to put in a turnpike to travel eastward.  I’m sure the Tulsa World reported the project as traveling westward.
  • Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee  were preparing to “tie the knot.”
  • OU and OSU were gearing up for their first football games of the year to be held later in September.  OSU was celebrating being voted into the Big 8 conference; 1960 would be their first year to compete although they had petitioned many years prior.  OU had just finished a pre-game scrimmage and was concerned about two injuries they sustained during the contest.  They did win the scrimmage, however.
  • An OU professor was being investigated.  He was under suspicion for being a “Red.”  The “Red” theme was all over the paper.  “Red China” was the title they used for that country in a national headline.  This professor story was sad to me.  From what I could tell, all they knew at this point was that he and his wife had “legally updated their passports while in Moscow” on an academic trip.
  • And speaking of Moscow, Khrushchev was in the news because the US had refused to provide him an actual red carpet to walk on into the United Nations building due to a classification of his status “being one of the 60 states represented” rather than “a dignitary.”  There was another international article wherein a student from Africa was warning her fellow students back in her home country not to attend a Russian university, as she had, because of extreme derogatory names she was called while there.
  • People were gearing up for their Labor Day weekend cookouts.  Sound familiar?  I’ll bet you wish we had 1960 grocery prices!
  • In fashion, the new fall line was being introduced at Peyton-Marcus in downtown Oklahoma City.
  • People were getting married, people were dying and babies were being born.
  • The weather was exceptionally hot for this time of year.
  • "Er, I ran into a door!" - political cartoons changed? Not much.

    And, Governor Edmondson was trying his best to educate the state about several legislative measures going to a vote of the people very soon.

  • I noticed that in the business section there were many announcements from local business and industries about new hires or new appointments to management.  All of the names were male.
  • A young pro golfer had been found murdered in Lawton.  There were other crimes and murders as well.
  • And, I read a nice recipe in the food section on how to prepare garlic bread with a clove of garlic, butter and Parmesan cheese.

So I wonder…what has changed?  The Oklahoma culture is still here:  Football season, Labor Day cookouts (standard across our country), the local and county fairs, community, politics and the news.

Milnot: Make it a NO Labor Day!

It seems that most of what has changed, besides the fashion, are socio-political factors.  There isn’t a “Red” scare any more…but there are others, right?  Are people of various skin colors still being threatened with persecution and derogatory name calling?

Okay.  Perhaps not all that much has changed.

However, the technology to retrieve this information is a huge difference.  People will cook with technology that wasn’t invented in 1960.  The football games will have real-time updates on the internet and entertain the crowd with multimillion dollar big screen “wow factors.”  Brides-to-be will be utilizing event management software by an account set up online within their wedding planner’s website.  People will take digital photographs of their fair entries and send them to their family around the country.

There are differences.  Perhaps a bit of the socio-political paranoia is gone…maybe.

But there sure are similarities as well.

"The Big Red Will Rise Again" (Article in the Dec. 2nd edition, AFTER the football season was completed) Click for larger view.
"Rattlesnake Roundups," fair news, stock shows and rodeos...News from Around the State.

Nemo, Normandy and the mind-NUMBING Magical Power of the Sistah + Bro-hood Wedding Planners

My clinical supervisor once gave me some advice that plays over in my thoughts from time to time.  She said, “You don’t really have to guess at what people are thinking.  Usually, whatever comes out of their mouth is what is at the top of their mind.  And context?  Wherever they live and whatever they’re surrounded by are clear determining factors of what they’ll be bringing with them into the therapy office.”

I was thinking about this message last week because I was wondering why weddings have been occupying so much of my thinking lately.  I didn’t have to wonder too long, however, because my supervisor was right.  I’ve been attending weddings because it’s the summer “wedding season” of 2010 and I work at a university populated with students.  These students are generally of the age to begin wedding hopes, dreams and plans…and also host or attend wedding ceremonies. Finally, my children are 18 and 23, which means THEIR friends are also thinking about and participating in weddings.

I’m immersed.  Immersed in “dreamy-hopeful-lovey-cool-fun-startingoutonournewjourney” land. The upside of this immersion is having the chance to observe magical moments at each and every ceremony.  This particular story is about magic.  The magical power of a network of friends – focused, purposed and amazing.

And speaking of being immersed…I’ll begin the story by considering Nemo.  “Finding Nemo” was a Disney masterpiece chock-full of important life lessons.  The illustration I’d like to highlight is the “SWIM DOWN – KEEP SWIMMING!!” scene.  Do you remember it?  Nemo and Dory were almost home from Sidney when Dory was scooped up along with a massive school of fish into a fisherman’s net.

As the net began an upward ascent, pulled by a hydralic lift aboard the boat, the fish began to panic. That’s when the magic happened.  Nemo and his father began spreading the message to all the fish to swim downward.  It would only work if they ALL swam together.  Here’s a visually rough clip of the scene.  I get goosebumps when watching it.  Take a look….

Amazing things were accomplished when all the fish focused toward one goal.  And ONLY because they planned together (Nemo and his father agreed on the plan) and worked together.

Another example?  Amazing things were accomplished when hundreds of thousands coallition troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and paratrooped from the sky to turn the tide during WWII. And ONLY because they planned together and worked together.

And, amazing things were accomplished by a powerfully cohesive and supportive group of friends at Ryan and Elissa’s wedding in Stillwater, OK – Fall of 2008.  And ONLY because they planned together worked together.  Here’s what I witnessed when attending this wedding of my nephew Ryan and his lovely bride, Elissa:

I walked into the church before it began and was met with a visual of thirty or so college aged attendees greeting each other, opening the doors for guests arriving, suggesting to those just arriving that they sign the guest book, walking through the sanctuary of the church and meeting and greeting those seated.

What I immediately noticed was a warm and inviting environment that seemed to be completely manged by the bride and groom’s peers.  “Interesting,” I thought.  “They all seem invested in this process, and genuinely engaged in helping the guests feel welcome.”  I found my seat, said hello to my family and made my second observation:

The bride and groom’s friends were basically running the ceremony.  Although they had the traditional pastor-types leading the ceremony, the fingerprints of the wedding party were everywhere.  They sang and accompanied several songs, the groomsmen pulled out matching sunglasses on a particular cue, the bridesmaids walked as if they knew each other and didn’t miss a beat whenever the bride’s dress needed arranging or the flowers needed to be held. Hmm.

This group was synchronized like a well oiled support machine.  My next observation?

After the ceremony, the entire wedding party had exited to music played by their group. As I stood up to leave the sanctuary something caught my eye.  In a flash, the bridesmaids came back into the emptying auditorium and began to spread out.  They had a purpose but I didn’t yet understand what they were doing.  I watched with intrigue as they began to quickly pick up all the wedding flower decorations, speak with the groomsmen who were tearing down the musical equipment authoritatively, talk with each other about “who cleaned out the dressings rooms and did they do a final check on all the lights,” and other efficient and responsible dialogue.

What was UP with this group??  At other weddings I had witnessed planners and/or bride or groom relatives do this same kind of task.  But THIS was entirely the wedding party.  Before I could really process this modern-day “Elves and the Shoemaker” magic, the auditorium was spotless.  The work was DONE.  And…we all headed to the reception.  What did I find there?  I’m sure you can guess…

The groom’s friends DJ’d the party.  The bride’s friends escorted her outside when she got hot, and responded to the groom’s request of a drink for his bride.  The group danced with the groom’s grandfather, they danced together, and they danced with each other.  And, every time I turned around, one of them was talking to another guest – engaged in a genuine conversation and getting to know someone they had only met that night.

HERE IS A SHOT OF THE BRIDE AND HER MOTHER GETTING THEIR HAIR AND MAKEUP DONE BY TWO OF “THE GROUP.” ELISSA’S MOTHER HAS RHOMBERG’S DISEASE AND GETTING A MAKEOVER WAS A SPECIAL TREAT. ELISSA SHARED WITH ME THAT THIS WAS ONE OF HER FAVORITE SHOTS OF THE WEDDING…SHE AND HER MOM TOGETHER, GETTING READY WITH THE SUPPORT OF HER FRIENDS.

This group dynamic was the most powerful I’ve witnessed at a wedding of that age group (22-28ish).  Later I found out the bride’s friends did the photography for the wedding, did the hair and make-up for the bride and her mother, and did the flower decorations and arrangments for the church and reception.  When I asked the bride about the role of the “group” she said: “I truly do have a great group of friends that allowed us to have a magnificent wedding on a small budget. My hair, set-up of everything, photography and flower and decor arrangement was done by tons of our little helpers.”

So what is to be gained from learning about this group?  Are groups important?  Do they provide a social safety net for young couple stress and for setting norms about the institution of marriage itself?  The short answer is yes. What a culture or society “agrees to” is extremely influential regarding how people think and feel about a particular issue.  So the answers as to what can be gained are these validating life lessons, taught by group instruction:

When you need support, we’re here.
When you need diversity and creativity, we’re here.
We were beside you when you were married, so we’re in this together.
You’re worth our time and attention.
We believe in you, your marriage and your future.

When a group “blesses” a wedding, it’s a powerful thing.  I would say it’s magic.  And in this particular case, it was the mind-numbing magical power of the “sistah and bro-hood” wedding planners extraordinaire.

They were there when it started and I have a sneaking suspicion that when Elissa and Ryan celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, they will already know who to call to plan their party.

A Lifetime Lesson Within a 45 Second Prayer

I’m not sure how many weddings I’ve attended in my lifetime.  When I was very young, I paid attention to how comfortable the seating was and how long the service “droned on.” As an adolescent I paid attention to the dresses, hair and makeup of the bride and her party.  In college I paid attention to the ideas of the service, cake, programs and invitations as I began to plan my own wedding.  And now, having been married 25 years and been a family therapist for almost ten, I pay attention to the system.
I am fascinated by the rhythm of certain weddings, the families involved and the styles or personalities of the combined group of “his and hers” parties and guests.  Simply sitting back and taking it all in is pure joy, especially when I notice the one thing that I want to take away as food for thought.  Two weeks ago, I enjoyed an especially flavorful bite…maybe dessert.  I didn’t attend the reception, but felt as though I already got my wedding cake.  Here’s the story:
The chapel was filling with people.  The daughter of my childhood church camp friend was getting married and we arrived only a few minutes before the service began.  We were seated near the back and I was later very grateful for that particular vantage point.  Normally I want to sit close so I can really soak in the action.  However a seat in the back gives wedding guests a different perspective; a bit removed, but also broadened.My husband watched his former college roommate, the father of the bride, walk his daughter down the aisle.  Next, I watched my dear friend light one of the family tapers for the unity candle ritual.  It was because of the bride’s mother and father that my husband and I had met.  They introduced us my sophomore year in college.  As I sat there, I began to think about being in their wedding, and then they participating in ours.  I broke out the Kleenex at least 15 minutes earlier than my normal crying point. I really love my friend and was excited for her daughter to experience this big day.

As the service began to get started with introductions and welcomes my mind turned to those getting married rather than those giving the bride away.  The pastors and the betrothed were smiling occasionally, and some of the narrative was interjected with talk of “wedding day jitters.”  At one point, one of the pastors made a comment about the groom feeling anxious and excited about their big day.  I noticed that both the bride and the groom’s body language matched the conversation.  My mind flashed back to my niece’s wedding last year where she bounced slightly and swayed from side to side during the wedding because of her sheer happiness and excitement.  Her body movements kept us entertained the entire service.

These particular wedding day jitters weren’t that overt, but they were definitely a part of the discussion.  I smiled again as the groom agreed about being excited for the wedding as the speaker noted his visibly heightened mood.

The message to the audience and the exchange of vows passed quickly and the unity candle ritual followed.  As the music for this portion began, the bride and groom lit the larger candle, took communion and then repositioned themselves in the middle of the stage.  While the music continued, they began to talk a bit and I saw the groom bouncing slightly.  As the seconds ticked by and they continued chatting with each other, you could see their energy or anxiety build a bit as they laughed and tried to wait through the song.  Just then, I saw the groom ask a question.  I could tell this by the slight tilting of his head.  I saw the bride respond by looking at him, smiling, and nodding in agreement.  They took each other’s hands, bowed their heads and he began to pray.  She was clearly in sync with him because you could see her head occasionally moving as he uttered a phrase, or she would smile and nod intermittently.

This shot shows the bride and and groom just as they began to pray together.  Her grip is tight, his face is flushed and they aren’t quite centered yet…still approaching God through their prayer.

I was grateful for the length of the song because I was witnessing something amazing.  As the prayer continued, his head bowed slightly more, the flushing on his face disappeared and his body got quiet.  Her shoulders relaxed, her elbows dropped a bit and a peaceful smile replaced the smile of excitement there only a minute before.  Their heads leaned in a bit closer and my sense was that the chapel full of people were disappearing in their minds.  It was just the bride, the groom and God.  There must have been an “amen” because they both took a deep breath and lifted their heads – more sure of themselves, relaxed and ready for whatever would meet them next.

This shot was taken close to the end of the song and their prayer.  Kiley’s face and arms are relaxed, Josh’s shoulders and neck are relaxed and even the maid of honor is quiet and focused.

Long after the introductions of the newly married couple and the recessional of the wedding party, the prayer scene played over in my mind.

As a therapist, I had witnessed a “symmetrical to complementary shift” take place…the individual and couple anxiety that had been rapidly cycling was released over to a higher power they trusted to manage their next steps.  As a Biblical scholar, I thought of the numerous examples I’ve read about in the scriptures of godly men or women wrestling with an issue, praying it through and then celebrating their relief as they are redirected with a renewed purpose or vision.  As a family scientist, I was glad they had spirituality as a core element and resource in their relationship – a strength that would get them through many times of anxiety or stress they would face down the road.  And as a friend, I was grateful (and emotional) about the thought that the children of our younger selves were growing up and prepared to begin their own lives.

What can we learn from Kiley and Josh, the praying newlyweds?  Well, I suppose that when we’re considering our own food for thought, prayer is certainly an excellent ingredient for a well balanced relationship.  After all, wouldn’t most of us appreciate a way to externalize our anxiety and place it on shoulders much bigger than our own?  Knowing God carries what they can’t is a sure-fire way new couples can walk with confidence through their newly-wedded life.

And for me, I suppose another thing I’ve learned is that when attending the weddings of my friend’s children, carry the super jumbo pack of tissues.  If this generation continues to teach me lessons such as I witnessed this time, I’ll be keeping Kimberly Clark in business for a good, long while.