Tag Archives: relationships

Forest, Trees. Clouds, Crystals. A Micro-Macro Meditation.

Monday afternoon I was sitting in the window seat of a plane flying toward Minneapolis.  During take off preparations, some of the shiny chrome trim on the tarmac equipment caught a reflective beam of sunlight and sent it directly into my eye; so, I had shut the window cover.   But now I was curious.  I wanted to see the view, to look around and say hello to the sky.

 

Ice crystals. Some of them looked like tiny caterpillars or stands of mitochondria.

 

When I lifted the plastic shade I was met with a view of tiny ice crystals that had been forming on the outside of my window.  I examined them and looked for purpose or replication in their pattern.  I thought about Minnesota and wondered if the quilted jacket I had with me was enough to keep the cold air at bay.  My thoughts turned toward the conference.  It had been a long day, so I reached up to once again close the shade and try to nap.  I had been up since 4 a.m. and had a long night of preparations still in front of me.

Just as my arm started the downward motion to close the shade, something caught my eye.  I stopped and took in the “skyscape” moment,  visually tracking the long blanket of cloud cover beneath the plane all the way to the horizon.  I’ve seen the clouds before, but I almost missed them this time.

 

Oh, HEY clouds. Good to see you!

I had allowed what was right in front of my eyes to be all that I considered.  I then wondered, who had I done that same thing to today? Yesterday? This week?  So my hope for you today is:

 

Remember to also step back, take in the whole person, and enjoy or consider their sum.  After all, their whole being is always so much more than the sum of their individual parts.

Happy skyscaping,

Red Dirt Kelly

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

We’re All Human Beans; Let’s Find Common Grounds

Sometimes I think a blogger has to be vulnerable with their community in order for important messages to resonate.  That’s why today’s “Relationships” post includes a personal story.  Two of them.

When I was bullied

I grew up in a fairly rural community surrounded by independent and small farms.  I can always recall the year of any grade level during my youth because I was in kindergarten (grade “zero”) in 1970.  Life was fairly stable and slow-paced during my early childhood.  The definitions of the community I knew as a youngster were changed, however, when the social breezes turned into troubled storms.

Desegregation busing was in full swing by 1974 and my hometown was close enough to Oklahoma’s largest metropolitan school districts to become a haven for what has become known over the years as white flight. I can’t blame any family or individual for how they reacted to change.  People are scared of what they don’t know.  I can say, however, that I was affected by the change in our own community.  There was an influx of “city kids” into our country town, and with that change in our landscape came some challenges for both populations.

I experienced new emotions, unfamiliar to me until that time period in my life.  I was met with students who were socialized differently, whose wardrobes were by and large purchased from department stores, and whose houses were larger with more amenities than the previous norm.  I’m sure the incoming students were met with challenges as well.  They had moved into a new town with new rules; it must have been difficult for them.  I know it was for me.

I frequently became the recipient of comments about my hand-me-downs, about my hair cut, and about the way I talked.  New “street smart” lingo was wielded like weaponry in the halls and my wounds got deeper as the weeks passed.  In hind sight, I can now see that much of the behavior I encountered was a form of bullying.  Unfortunately, my response to this was to become a bully.  I’ll never forget one day on our playground in either the sixth or seventh grade.  I had worked hard to gain the acceptance of some of the newer kids and seemed to finally be making some headway.

When I became a bully

Standing with the group, their attention turned toward a weaker individual in our class.  She was socially less skilled and struggled with grades.  The group began taunting her and I joined in.  I was now the bully, not the one being bullied.  At some point she began shouting back, and in an attempt to protect my new status as a cooler kid, I stepped toward her and pushed her backwards.  I must have pushed pretty hard because she fell to the ground.  What’s worse, she tried to get up once and I pushed her backwards again.  She stayed put the second time.  Those who I stood with began to laugh at her and call her names.  My face flushed…this girl was a “country kid” and I had just hurt one of my own.

Over twenty years later I tracked her down and apologized for that day.  The guilt from my physical aggression weighed heavily on me and I needed to make amends.  Interestingly, she didn’t even remember that day or what happened.  So, the act of reconciliation was basically for my own healing I suppose.  I’m sharing this illustration with you because “bullying” seems to be in the air on the national news, we continue to have bullying problems and Safe Schools programming challenges here in Oklahoma, and bullying is a social problem that happens across races, cultures, social classes…and even within our family trees.

As I watched a few of the “It Gets Bettervideos this past week, I was reminded that human beings respond to their own pain many times by taking it out on others.  The thing is, though, those they take it out on are human beings too.  They were born, they have some form of a family most of the time, and…they have feelings and hopes and dreams.  Just like you.  Just like me.

So today my message for you is this:  Whether you are being bullied or are the bully, try to step back, take a fresh look, and find common ground if possible.  If you can’t stop hurting people, there is help.  We’ll help you find some at the RDC if you don’t know where to look.  If you are scared and hurting because people can’t stop hurting you – same thing.  Everyone is valuable and you’re no exception.

We’re “human beans”…so let’s find some “common grounds.”

I’m going to get a cup of coffee now…Ciao.

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?

Ha, Ha, Ha! = I Love You

I’ve had this cartoon hanging on the outside of my university office door for about three years.  That side of my door is plastered with quotes, thoughts, cartoons, etc.  My thesis advisor used to plaster his door and he’s now retired.  Somebody’s got to pick up the hallway humor and I figure it might as well be me.

I change the quotes out periodically, but this one has stuck for a while now.  Just about the time I think it’s time to take it down, I’ll see a person look at it, pause, then smile.  Sometimes they are with another person and they comment to each other.  So, I guess it will stay put for a bit longer.  The cartoon does, however, remind me of something that I think about a great deal:  humor within relationships.

Humor in the classroom has shown to have positive effects in terms of students’ perceptions that they are learning more.  Humor in the military is a tried and true coping mechanism – a mainstay of comrades helping each other get through extremely stressful situations.  Attraction science measures “type of humor” as one of the highest factors in selection criteria when young couples begin pairing up for potential marriages.  And, humor is even considered a type of power among same-gendered groups.  In other words, he or she who has the humor, has the power.  Social scientists continue to be interested in the secret to humor and how it is useful (or not) within our relationships.

Sometimes when I think about my husband during the day, I catch myself thinking about a joke or a laugh we’ve recently shared together.  In fact, our entire 25 year marital history is now a complex and interwoven “secret language” of inside humor, insider stories and meanings or narratives that only the two of us would fully understand.  But I also wonder why it’s the laughs that I use as a memory resource.  Are the laughs a reserve, perhaps, like the old emotional bank account adage of deposits and withdrawals? Big laughs certainly punctuate our human bodies with nice doses of hormones which are helpful to our emotional well being.  Maybe returning to those memories is like “going back to the pool” for second dip.  It’s a good thing.

This post isn’t meant to be a long drawn out literature review on humor and relationships so much as it’s meant to ask you a simple question:  Are you laughing?  Are those with whom you are close sharing laughter occasionally?  Do you feel supported or connected because of those humorous moments?  If yes – good!  Keep it up!

If not, then here is your prescription today:  Take one joke before each meal, three times daily.  Share with those you love.  And start building your happy memories.