Tag Archives: marriage counseling

Healing my Secondary Friend-Drama-Trauma by Canning Peach Preserves

*Originally written in 2012; re-running due to a stellar Oklahoma peach season — RDK

During the past twelve months I’ve supervised three therapists who have staffed a variety of cases in session, some of which were clients who began treatment because of extramarital affairs.  I keep a caseload of only two or three couples per week, but generally one of the three is an “affair” case.  I’ve had three friends who have experienced family and marital turmoil this past year because of affairs, and two friends whose marriages suffered a great deal because one of them within the marriage was involved in an “online affair.”

I realized in June of this year that the secondary and tertiary trauma of all these affairs was getting to me.  I came to this realization as I stood: bare feet on our hard Terracotta tile kitchen floor, knife in my hand, covered in juice up to my elbows, peach peelings piling high…with peach pits, boiling water, mixing bowls and sparkling glass jars on every side of me.

I was right in the middle of putting up the early crop of peaches my husband had so eagerly given me earlier that day.  He knew I am a sucker for fresh Oklahoma grown peaches and had schemed with our next door neighbor to get me a box when he was out in Eastern Oklahoma on a business trip.  Some women get flowers.  I get a crate of peaches. But believe me, the scent of preserves or pies made from the frozen fruit I put away “blooms” all year long.

My friend Cathy has a saying that she uses when telling me stories.  She says, “So there I was, see, (fill in with the story of the day).”  I had one of those moments right in the middle of making peach preserves.  So there I was, see, going through the process of preparing the fruit.  You have to perform this task quickly while keeping the peaches bright and unoxidized before putting them into the sugar mixture.  Allow me to provide a guided tour…

First you gently drop three or four peaches into a vat of boiling water.  Within approximately 15 seconds they need to be scooped out with a slotted spoon and dumped into a vat of ice water.  They can rest there for a few minutes until you’re either ready to slip off the peach skins or put more fruit into the boiling water.  Boil, ice, skin…then I cut the peach in half, take out the pit, quickly cube up the fruit into bite sized pieces and repeat the process.  All the way to the bottom of the box.

So there I was, see, about a third of the way down through the box of those heavenly smelling peaches when my body sort of went into “automatic peach prepping mode” and my mind began to wander.  It took a left turn and began to dwell on something that I wasn’t really in the mood to think about, but obviously needed to because it had popped into my head.  I was hurting for my friends who were experiencing an affair.

After all the affairs I had heard about, treated, staffed or consulted over this year I had finally reached my limit.  On a cognitive level I knew that almost every couple goes through the same cycle of shock, disbelief, paranoia, feelings of abandonment and fear that it will happen again, rejection…I knew this.  I know what to tell couples to expect and that people can get through these situations.  I know that they don’t believe they will ever be able to touch each other or be intimate again.  I know that there is pain where children are involved, pain with employers if they get involved and pain with anyone who is involved in any close way.

I know this.  I know this, and I KNEW this as I tossed three more peaches into the boiling water and thought, “That’s what hearing about an affair feels like.  And that’s what telling a spouse that you’ve had an affair is like.  It’s like being scalded.”

I lifted up the peaches and put them into the cold water and thought, “That’s what they experience, what their family experiences.  It’s like shock…like an ice-cold shock to their lives.”

I pulled the peaches out of the water, taking the skins off and thought about this scene in C.S. Lewis’ book “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”  Aslan, the lion, walks up to Eustace who had turned into a dragon (his knobbly skinned appearance resembled his dark leathery heart).  Aslan lifts his sharp claw and slits open the boy’s skin all the way to the ground and his knobbly, dark self falls away.  It stung Eustace, but his brand new self – clean and fresh – was revealed.  I knew that peeling off the layers of hurt, wounding, lies, harmful behaviors…layer by layer…would sting, but there would also be the hope of a new marriage or life underneath for those couples who could get through the process.

Then I split open the peaches revealing the pit.  The core.  Some were clean, easy to pull out, ready to reshape into a new product for my family.  Others had cores that were dark.  I knew that some of the couples I was carrying in my head would have to work extremely hard and get right down to the core.  Right down to the very essence of everything they were together.  They might have to redo things.  They might have to rebuild their lives completely.  But if they allowed themselves to go all the way to the core it was possible.

There I was, see, standing there on the hard tile floor and I was crying.

I was sick of affairs.  I hated that couples had to experience them.  I hated that I knew all the steps every couple would have to take yet it was brand new and horrible to every single one of them.  I was thinking words like “hated, mad, horrible” and I realized that none of what I was thinking was happening to me.  It was only my clients, or the clients of my supervisees.  Or my friends.  But it didn’t matter.  Secondary trauma is real.  Tertiary trauma is real.  The impact of an affair travels past the two involved, through any children that exist, through any extended family or workplaces that are involved and through any friends who care about those dear souls who are hurting…through their heads and hearts and it comes right out into the peaches they are putting up in June.

I felt tired.  I worked a long time, probably longer than it would have taken me normally, to finish preparing my peaches.  I thought, “And couples have to work really hard, and be persistent, and get right down to the very last peach that needs to be skinned before they’re ready to make something new.”  The breaking down process is tedious work.  The building trust process is tedious and time-consuming.  It takes patience on the part of everyone involved.  I put my peaches into a large kettle, measured the sugar and began making the preserves.

As the mixture began to bubble and the sugar began to melt a warm, sweet, peachy, fresh smell filled the kitchen.  I was re-energized by this beautiful aroma and began lining up my jars for filling.  Once the preserves are ready, the process goes very quickly.  I called Mick in to help me.  Fill, wipe, put the lid on, put the ring on.  Repeat.  Again.  And again.

Nineteen jars.  Done.

I turned off the gas flames and sat down to drink a glass of iced tea.

So there I was, see, sitting in my armchair drinking my tea when I heard a metallic “ping!”  Then two more.  The jars were beginning to seal.  They were officially preparing themselves for the long haul.  They were a new product that could be used for all kinds of purposes.  A beautiful product – golden, sweet and ready for their new lives: to be used for fresh bread, to top someone’s ice cream, to stir into someone’s yogurt, to be the “jelly” in a PBJ.  Nineteen jars would last a long time, or go a long way for gifts to friends.

So there I was see, listening to the jars seal one after another, and I thought to myself, “Maybe I should write this down and give a jar of peach preserves to my friends for encouragement.”  That was in June.  I wasn’t ready to write my thoughts then, but now I am.  It’s time to begin giving my preserves away.  I had to take time to make sure that I was okay, and that my family was okay, before I began to give things away again.  We had to eat some of our own preserves…or, perhaps we needed (and I needed) to store up my emotional reserves.

We did.  I am.  It’s time.

So there’ll I’ll be, see, bringing a jar to my friends or to my supervisees…with a copy of this essay, letting them know that sometimes tearing everything down is the only chance to build something brand new again.  And when they do, the very best thing they can do is share their renewal with others who will need it from them someday…passing along the peaches.

So there they’ll be, see, passing along the hope.

At least, that is my hope.

Twelve Ways to Get PREPARE’d for Long Term Commitment

Calling all couples who are past the DTR talk and are now considering long term commitment such as engagement, marriage or an alternative long-term relationship: this essay is for YOU.

You now have more choices than ever before in terms of taking smart, educational and healthy steps in a “prevention” way to invest in “relationship insurance,” so to speak. Regardless of what you call it, taking the time to get your relationship fine-tuned is one of the biggest gifts you can give each other.

Research shows that depending upon the program you choose, preventative education or premarital counseling can help your relationship stay together, on average, 3-8 years longer than couples who did nothing. This finding isn’t saying that your relationship is simply going to break down at a later date; it means that you’ve helped your relationship beat the divorce or break-up odds by taking 8-12 hours of time together –  to think through plans, skills, and meanings of what you’re getting ready to begin. In other words, the odds will be even MORE in your favor than before.

In other-other words? Premarital or pre-commitment preparation is a no-brainer. A hard core, serious, bona fide NO-BRAINER!

Continue reading Twelve Ways to Get PREPARE’d for Long Term Commitment

Seven Things You Should Expect From a Couples or Family Therapist

From Moonstruck

I.
Rose: Do you love him, Loretta?
Loretta Castorini: No.
Rose: Good. When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can.

II.
Rose: Do you love him, Loretta?
Loretta Castorini: Aw, ma, I love him awful.
Rose: Oh, God, that’s too bad.

***

Early February serves as a reminder to consider those you love platonically, as well as those with whom you are in a romantic relationship.  National Marriage Week is celebrated during Valentine’s Day season, and we see lots of information on television and the internet about how people enjoy their special time together, all in the name of Love.  What also happens, however, is that Valentine’s Day sometimes brings to the front of our minds things that aren’t going so well.  This is because, for some, the thought or events surrounding the season inevitably point them back home…where the heart is….or, where the heart MIGHT be if it weren’t for the fact that they were arguing all the time.

For those of you who plan to go out and have a wonderful time during the upcoming “week of love,” we wish you the best.  But for those of you who might be considering the possibility of getting some positive change in an unhealthy relationship, I want to make sure you have this list.  I’ve practiced therapy for ten years now and have summarized a list of standards you should expect if you decide to get counseling for your relationship. The list is based upon discussions with my own clients, and also from cases I’ve supervised:

Continue reading Seven Things You Should Expect From a Couples or Family Therapist

The Roach Motel has an Emergency Exit

I sat in the dark, staring up at the aging, Jewish researcher sporting his yarmulke and hunkering over the lectern on stage.  He had the rapt attention of 3,500 marriage and family therapists as he intertwined his lifetime of research, vulnerable and human stories of his own marriage, and a joke here or there.  John Gottman was on a roll.

I had heard most of his speech before, but noticed that his personal examples were getting more poignant.  He had peeled back a few layers of caution; a nice trait you rarely see in addresses to such large audiences.  I was about to lean over to my colleague, Suzanne, for the twentieth time (we had been whispering back and forth, making those “aww” noises when he would say something heartfelt…you know, the classic therapist speaker-interaction behavior), when Gottman’s words stopped me.  He was saying, “You know…getting into one of those really crazy intense conflicts with a partner is like checking into a roach motel.”

I forgot what I was going to whisper to Suzanne and began to search frantically for my Blackberry instead.  Digging around in my purse proved rather noisy and I received three “shame-on-you” glares by the time I found the thing.  I didn’t care.  The Memo Pad on my phone needed a notation.  I pulled up my “Relationship” file and typed in: “Negative conflictual escalation like a roach motel…check in, but can’t check out…runnin, dark, worst selves”

The fact that I correctly typed all words but “running” in the dark on that tiny keypad pleasantly surprised me.  I hit “save” and turned my attention back to the spotlighted man on stage.  He was already into something else cool and I had missed half of the lead-in.  I decided not to ask Suzanne to catch me up lest I receive more glares from those around me.

I made six more notes before the speech ended, but my mind kept jumping back to the Roach Motel metaphor.  It was true.  Roaches follow the bait into a place they really shouldn’t go.  They can’t get out and really have no idea how they got there in the first place.  They enter quickly, into a dark and sticky place and become immobilized.  Stuck there with the others who did the same thing.  Not a pretty sight.

Couples do this.  People do this.  Someone drops the “bait,” another begins to follow the trail and before they know it they’re both stuck in dark and sticky fight they can’t leave.  Once those involved engage in a negative and escalating sequence, the fight usually builds until it explodes…or until it dies down and simmers for a very long time.  Neither of these potential endings are desirable.

Gottman went on to say that at any given time, based upon everything else going on in a person’s life, the probability that one person in a relationship can be “emotionally available” or “attuned” to their partner is 50%.  Put that with another person who is also attuned at a 50% probability level, multiply them together and the result becomes this:  At any given time a couple is together, they might BOTH be emotionally aware or available to their partner 25% of the time.  The other 75% of the time could potentially end up in a dark, sticky place with both trying desperately to get out of what they just entered.

I’ve been there.  Have you?  In the middle of a conflict with someone you love and you just can’t get out?  So where’s the “Emergency Exit?”  Gottman called these times “Sliding Door Moments.”  He coined the phrase from a Gwenyth Paltrow movie that Suzanne said ‘wasn’t really that good, but must have had redeeming values to provide this metaphor.’  (Yes, she whispered that to me during the speech.) Sliding Door moments basically boil down to a split-second of time where you reach out, slide away the glass and open up yourself to the other person in the fight.

Gottman described one of these moments wherein he noticed his wife was sad.  He began brushing her hair and asked, “What’s the matter, baby?”  She disclosed to him that her mother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she couldn’t grasp the fact that she was going to die in such a difficult manner.  He said that the moment before he “attuned” to her sad face, he wanted his own needs met.  He chose, instead, to ask her about the look on her face.   He wasn’t in a conflict with her at the time, but they were definitely in that 25% time where neither were really regarding the other.  An escalation could have easily happened.

So how do you find a Sliding Door moment in the middle of a Roach Motel fight?  Look at their face.  Your partner is hurting, they’re sad, they’re angry, they’re alone…they need something.  You stop, slide the door open, and think about what they’re really trying to say to you.  You might not necessarily have to pick up the hairbrush and begin stroking their hair, but you CAN connect with them and ask, “What’s really the matter, baby?” Some people call it a time out.  Some people call this slowing things down.  I call it realizing your partner is a human being with feelings and thoughts.

Chances are, they’ll look into your eyes and see the exit.  Isn’t it nice how Emergency Exit signs illuminate a dark place?

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.