Tag Archives: help seeking

Seeking H-E-L-P Can Be H-E-Double Toothpicks

A small farm town is great for overhearing comments like these:  “Oh, he has heart trouble?  Better not let him out on that tractor during harvest.  You won’t know if he’s had any chest pains until he gets every last acre of that crop in!”  Then everyone around bursts into laughter, nods their heads, and asks to hear more about Farmer Brown’s cardiac condition. However…

It’s a human law of nature, isn’t it?  We laugh the loudest at that which rings the greatest truths?

Over the last ten years or so, I’ve studied one area about relationships more than others, and it’s because I know so many “Farmer Browns” in Oklahoma:  the phenomenon of seeking help.  Some of the reasons I began researching this topic are personal.  My own husband and I struggled with seeking outside assistance when we were having marital issues around the third year of our marriage.  When we finally DID access couples therapy services, however, it only took two sessions for both of us to realize that our marriage was much greater than the two of us sitting in the room.  It took longer for our emotions toward each other to repair, but once we made the decision to stick out our relationship we looked at all our other decisions in a very different way.  And, recently celebrating our 25th anniversary felt really great.

Another reason I’ve spent so much time researching this topic is because it’s such a pervasive problem.  I’ve only found one paper over the years by an anthropologist who wrote specifically about Oklahomans’ inability to ask for help when they need it, but through my own research and that of my colleagues, I’ve found out a little more.  Here’s what I know about folks in Red Dirt Country (AND for the rest of the US…I have national data sets as well).:

1) It’s easier for people to tell their friends to go get help than it is for them to go themselves.  A full 95% of respondents from one of my surveys stated that they would “encourage their friends to seek premarital or marital education,” or “therapy.”  However, around 60-70% of most populations said they thought they might try it themselves – many of that population responded “only when it’s the last option.”  It’s easier to suggest to others than take our own advice, it seems.

2) The number one constraint to seeking marital education OR therapy services among Oklahomans in 2003 was the concern about “getting the other person in the relationship to agree to the idea.”  In other words, it wasn’t the individual’s attitude or belief about seeking help as much as it was their fear or anxiety about bringing up the discussion, or anticipating how their partner might respond to their request.  So it seems that sometimes what we think about others, or how they might react, is even more powerful than what we believe for ourselves.

3) On a better note, however, a greater majority of people were more willing to get couples counseling, attend marriage or relationship education, or other type of couples service (retreat, take an inventory, etc), than they were to seek individual help or education for themselves.  So, they are thinking of others or their relationship over themselves, for the most part.  This is important information – knowing that someone might make a decision for the sake of another over themselves is valuable when we’re talking about relationships.


These are just a few tiny bits of data out of a very large amount of information but I think they might be useful for a couple of reasons.  First of all, what this information tells us is that it’s NORMAL to feel conflicted, worried or resistant to opening up our relationship to outside help.  Some even feel that going to an educational workshop over relationship skills will “make things worse;” that if they just ignore the issue and keep the boat steady, maybe things will blow over.

Others feel ill-equipped to know where to begin when asking their partner to go with them.  This is NORMAL too!  If you’ve been arguing or the two of you readily step into “blaming mode,” then it’s easy to see how something well-intended could turn sour quickly.  The very best way to bring up a topic like this is to make sure to “own your own wishes” (say, “I’d really like for you to go with me.  Here’s what we can learn.  Would you please think about this?”)  and resist the urge to blame or to criticize, or make things personal (for example, “Maybe this will keep us from arguing about the dogs.”)  If you talk about what you can GAIN, and avoid bringing up what is WRONG, chances are the conversation will go better.

Telling your partner about skills the two of you can learn is a much clearer message than telling them what’s been wrong.  They already know what’s gone wrong; reiteration isn’t needed in a committed relationship.  You know each other very well.

Finally, if you happen to be the one who is thinking about inviting your partner to begin therapy or attend a relationship education workshop, having the information handy is also important.  Don’t know where to start?  I’ve got four links for you I’ll share at the end of this article – you can look up the information right now!

So, what have we learned?  Seeking help is hard.  People are scared to ask their partners to go with them.  People are willing to do something for others over themselves.  How does this work together?  Well, the fact that “people are willing to do something for others” actually increases the chances that your partner will accept an invitation from you.  Now, all you have to do is ask.  Good luck…and let us know if you need extra support.

Here are those links I mention:

For marriage or relationships education for all adults, ages 18 or over:  http://www.okmarriage.org/

For a national resource, check out this directory of programs: http://www.smartmarriages.com/app/Directory.BrowsePrograms

To find a couple or relationship therapist:  http://www.therapistlocator.net/index.asp

Or, to look into an online community about couples, go here: http://twoofus.org/index.aspx

For more information about help seeking or for citations to the research used in this article, please contact:  kelly.m.roberts@okstate.edu

Me Do It Myself: The Toddler Syndrome

Thank you for all the positive feedback on my first post.  Here we go again, folks!

“ME DO IT MYSELF, MOMMA!”

"Me do it myself, momma..." Even as a baby, Nolan loved to try and brush his own teeth!

I hear this statement from my 2 year old multiple times every day.  Whatever the activity – wrestling with his shoes as we’re hurrying out the door, opening a carton of applesauce at dinner, or brushing his pearly whites before bed – it’s the same old song and dance.When I’m in a hurry and desperately trying to meet whatever deadline is looming, I am frustrated by the seemingly silly process of letting him attempt a task that I know good and well will end in tears of frustration.  Why doesn’t he just let me help?

Even though this independence comes with the toddler territory, I’m just as guilty of possessing the “Me do it myself!” mentality.  I don’t need anyone’s help because I can handle it. In fact, I will reject every offer of help – politely, of course – even if I truly desire the support.  An example:

Some really thoughtful person says, “I’ll watch the kids if you guys wanna go to a movie sometime.”

I think, Awesome, we sooooo need it!  When are you free? There’s a movie I’ve been dying to see that’s playing this weekend. Oh, and maybe we could even grab a bite to eat beforehand!

But I actually say, “Oh, that’s so sweet.  We’re usually so busy during the week that we just like to do stuff around the house on weekends.  Plus, ya know, we have Netflix.  Soooo, how’s that project you’ve been working on?”

And, scene.

In contrast to my own actions, I know quite a bit about the importance of establishing a personal community to support someone during both good and bad times.  Further, we’ve all heard that African proverb about how it takes a village to raise a child.

To my knowledge, there’s no proverb that warns against accepting an outstretched hand or advises braving the journey alone at all costs.  If assistance from others is a necessary piece of life’s puzzle, why is it so difficult to accept goodwill?  This is an especially intriguing question when compared to how easily most of us reach out to others when we know THEY need something we can easily provide.  So, why the paradox?

Maybe receiving assistance is perceived as weakness.  Perhaps we worry that the offer is not genuine and acceptance will be met with awkwardness or hardship.  Or maybe we are simply unsure how to adequately show our appreciation, so avoidance seems far easier.  I don’t know about you, but I claim all of the above.

I recently heard someone equate acts of service to gifts received at a birthday party.  A gift is a gift, regardless of its form.   And, it is almost always given with love and careful thought behind it.

When the package is opened, the only acceptable response is “thank you.”  The recipient wouldn’t return the present with an eloquent speech about not needing the item for this reason or that, so how is it any better to decline the gift of support when it is offered with the very same sentiment?  This way of viewing the issue makes me feel badly about all those times I’ve said no to others.  In reality, I deprived them of an important opportunity to share something meaningful with me.  In fact, they probably thought the very same thing I do when my son displays his stubbornness…..why won’t she just let me help, for goodness sake?

So, I know what I have to do.  I have to start saying YES.

Need help with the kids?  YES!  Can I carry that box for you?  Sure!

Will you join me?  Just Say Yes.  Actually, it feels kind of good.

Mrs. Reagan, I do believe there’s a new motto in town.

Thanks, Nolan, for helping me learn not to act like a toddler...Just Say Yes!