Showing posts with label relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label relationships. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Long Term Marriages are Different

From Madeleine L'Engle's Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage: 

Speaking of her 40 year marriage to her husband Hugh Franklin:

"We were not a latter-day Heloise and Abelard, Pelleas and Melisande when we married. For one thing, the Heloises and Abelards, the Pelleases and Melisandes, do not get married and stay married for forty years. A love which depends solely on romance, on the combustion of two attracting chemistries, tends to fizzle out. The famous lovers usually end up dead. A long term marriage has to move beyond chemistry to compatibility, to friendship, to companionship. It is certainly not that passion disappears, but that it is conjoined with other ways of love.

Of course, the culture tends to glorify the passionate whirlwind romance, rather than the steady committed marriage. Anyone fortunate enough to share in the latter, to enjoy true love, realizes how empty is the former." 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Touching Home Base

Over ten years ago, during the most difficult part of my career as a parish pastor, I took a quick summer trip back East with my two young children to visit my family. We flew in, and my parents picked us up from the airport. Toward the end of that visit, I coerced my parents into taking the 100 mile trip from their home to the town of my childhood. Though we had talked about it weeks before on the telephone (and what seemed at the time, promises were made), it took several tries before I could get at least one of them to agree to go along.

I'd love to see Fairfield again, I said. I haven't been back since high school, over 30 years ago. As I talked, I could see from their faces that my desire struck them as odd. Though my grandparents on my mother's side had continued to live there long after we left, and lived in their home until their deaths many, many years later, the relatively close town of my childhood held little interest for my parents. I pushed. Finally we agree to go on the Friday before our departure home. No, don't take our car, my father decided; I'll drive us all.

In the flurry of that morning, I explained again to my children where we were going, and why. How I had spent the first 12 years or so of my life in a quiet town on the shore of Long Island Sound. That I remember long, humid days of summer spent on the beach. How I learned to swim in those salty waters, and how I watched the yearly fireworks in the growing dark, wrapped in a heavy sweatshirt with my feet in the still-warm sand. They weren't all that interested, of course.

How long will it take to get there? What are we going to do once we're there? How long do we have to stay? I knew the moment my father started the car that I was surrounded by obliging parents and resigned children. With my husband back in Minnesota, I was on this return journey more or less alone.

The miles clipped by with my lead-footed father at the wheel, dodging in and out of traffic as if he had a plane to catch. Time and again I closed my eyes in prayer as I saw how closely he cut some of his lane changes. I told him a couple of times that there was no rush; he snapped back that he was trying to get ahead of the traffic. My mother looked relaxed as she sat up front watching the miles go by. I smiled at my children, who were doing their very best just to fit into their mom's plan ; we looked out the back seat windows at the passing towns.

When we arrived in town, I did my level best to Pay Attention and Remember. We drove by the post office, the high school, the railroad underpass near downtown. We had lunch at our family's old favorite hot dog restaurant, still grilling dogs after 40 years. I shared greasy french fries with my children who hate relish, onion and mustard. We left there to find our old neighborhood. A place of sweeping mental vistas shrank down to a portion of town with tight, old roads and tiny Cape Cod houses. As we drove down a street, I was startled to realize my father, the man who was certain of everything, didn't remember our old address. I did. We slowed, and looked.

We got out and even found our former neighbor at home, home bound, in a wheelchair. When she saw me, she called me by my mother's name. I was amazed at her memory. We smiled together for a few minutes, marveling at the years that had passed.

Back into the car, the kids were asking me about the beach. The beach. We headed that way, passing by one of my elementary schools, and the site of the life-altering car accident my parents and their children survived. When we drove by it, I glanced at my parents whose jaws seem set against the memory. I took a deep breath. Here it was. And here I am again.

The beach road took us to a small, pot-holed blacktop parking lot in front of a old, but well-loved town beach house. The afternoon had heated up, and we climbed out of the car ready to just relax for a while. I had come prepared with my bathing suit under my clothes, and offered my children their suits. They declined. Suit yourself, I said with a smile. My mother, who had spent those countless days hauling her three children to and from this beach for years on summer breaks seemed unfazed. I was excited, and began to walk with our small group up the steps and through the sand-polished, gritty open deck to the stairs down to the beach.

Perhaps it was the trick of memory, or the natural erosion of water upon the land, but the beach was quite narrow, and comprised of more pebbles than sand.  We joined a dozen or so families of small children on the beach as I turned to look at the horizon, the view I had seen countless times before. A wide expanse of moving blue-gray water. Seagulls. A cargo ship. I walked down to the water's edge and stepped in; it was warm. I stood still, and thanked God for the moment: touching home base.



My father stayed on a bench by the beach house with my first-born who refused to come onto the sand. My daughter and mother walked the shoreline for awhile, picking up shells and talking together as they looked at me out of the corner of their eyes. I dropped my hand into the water, and licked my fingers, tasting the old, familiar salt of the Sound. The moment was passing. I looked for the blurry brown of horizon where five miles out was another beach front on Long Island, New York. I breathed the salty, warm air. I could feel my family waiting me out behind me. I turned to take in the Connecticut shoreline, the houses, piers, boats and bathers I could see. I walked slowly out of the water, and turned once more toward the Sound. I liked what I saw. And it was time to leave.

We shuttled back to the car, ready for a couple more hours of driving back to the other side of the state. We'd be home before dinner time. As the conversation in the car turned toward other things, and what we saw and would see as we drove, I thought about what it means to go home again, to return to a favorite place in early memory. It's not that you can't go home again, I think. You just have to want to go and be able to see your memories, and the present, as two separate visions of the very same thing.




Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"I Forgot My Phone" : short film


Yes, I believe many of us are more smitten with our smartphones than each other. I'm wondering when that will finally feel painful enough to control ourselves. Not soon enough.





Monday, November 12, 2012

I Need Help NOW

Several of my clients are suffering with destructive moods, relationships, jobs or unemployment at the moment.


I understand what that vortex feels like: overwhelming physical tension, unclear thinking, rushed or confused decision making, hair-trigger temper, uneasy sleep. During times like this in life, it's very hard to trust that you can find a way to hang on. The present is so unpleasant it seems endless.

When times like this come to us (and believe me, they will come to us all, at one time or another), I like to focus on two aspects of help: making the NOW better each day, and focusing o
n the small decisions we make so that we can create a more hopeful FUTURE.

The Now: There is a great deal we all can do every day to soothe our bodies and minds for optimum wellness even when in an emotional storm. They are aspects of daily self care, but few of us practice them with enough patience that they make a difference. Here are the basics I talk to all my clients about. What are you willing to work on each day to improve your own functioning?

1. Exercise. Absolutely, the most important addition to the self care tool box. The benefits of moving our bodies regularly, at a moderate level, for 30 minutes a day include lower blood pressure and blood sugar, a lowering of muscle tension, clearer thinking, better sleep. If ever there was a "magic potion" for wellness, daily exercise is it.

2. Nutrition. Along with exercise, what we eat has an immediate and lasting impact on our body's ability to get through the day with less stress. Less processed foods, less alcohol, and more real foods like vegetables, fruits, dairy, whole grains, lean meats, beans and fish will better nourish the body and brain.

3. Meditation/relaxation/guided imagery/breathing/prayer/ritual. A stressed mind and body needs to practice being relaxed. At times of high stress, the nervous system doesn't easily recover from tension. 20-30 minutes, every day, of quiet time that helps the mind quiet, slow, and focus will create a relaxation response in the body that promotes healing. Many people complain to me that they have tried meditation, breathing, or imagery and "it doesn't work." These are skills that take time to practice and learn. If you are patient, these skills can change your life.

4. Core relationships. When we are stressed by terrible strife at work, home or community, we can turn inward and neglect the other relationships that support us. We don't want to burden others with our struggles, yet it's exactly at this point we need the love and support of friends, extended family, pets, neighbors and healthy colleagues. Make time for these happier relationships, and don't spend every minute talking about yourself. Listen, laugh, relax with others. Relationships need to be balanced, even in stress.

Taking time to focus on what can be done TODAY will help lift the weight of life's struggles off your mind. Commit yourself to helping your body, mind and relationships be healthy, flexible and strong. It makes the now so much less destructive. In my next post, I'll talk about the mental skill of hopefulness that can draw us forward.

In the meantime, be well.

 
 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Monogamy: It's Not for Everybody

Back in the day when I performed weddings, starry-eyed couples would come to my church office to do premarital counseling and plan their (elaborate) wedding ceremony. I guess I never stopped to consider it much, but I assumed, as did they, that the promise to be "faithful until death parts us" was seriously considered and solemnly promised before and during the wedding service. They only had eyes for one another.

Yet, I knew that about half of all the weddings I would perform over the years would end in divorce. That statistic didn't stop anybody, it seemed, from being certain about themselves. We can do it, the couple assumed. We can be each others' partner for life.

I now have been in the marriage counseling field for 8 years, and practicing full-time for 6. It's not a lot of experience, but believe me: it's enough. Enough to feel like I have a new sense of the difficulties of pledging a life-long partnership, and the challenge of not only growing and aging in some kind of parallel line with one another, but often raising children, dealing with work demands, managing health issues, sometimes moving across town or across country, or going to war, or dealing with trauma and grief.

I now think that it's pretty awesome that 50 percent of those marriages make it a life time. In fact, I think that is nearly close to miraculous.

I've been thinking about the various, very human, reasons that marriages don't make it a lifetime. And the list keeps piling up. Now, granted, my sample of the human spectrum is rather narrow, since happy couples are generally not calling me for appointments. And I do practice in a very narrow economic and cultural range in Dakota County, MN. So, that said, here are a few thoughts on the matter. I hope to write some more about it later.

1. Monogamy, sexual exclusivity with one partner, isn't for everyone. I used to think that monogamy was just a choice, and that adults could manage it. I now believe that some of the most devoted of husbands and wives suffer from sexual struggles around having just one partner for ever. And that sexual simplicity drives them to have affairs, or other kinds of sexual acting out. What I once thought of as a cop-out I now consider a simple fact of human sexual life. Not everyone will enjoy monogamy. Many people get around this not by having affairs, but having multiple marriages, amounting to a serial monogamy with several marital partners. Half of all marriages go this way.

2. When partner family of origin preferences are very different, whether around matters of alcohol, or vacations, or habits around conflict or gender roles, or religious practice, child rearing or politics, I see those habits beat out intention more times than not. The power of family habits is hard to resist.

3. Personalities are notoriously hard to change. We are individually shaped by our genetics, our nurturing by parenting, good, bad or indifferent, in families, and all the unique things that happen to us in our lives. Many people marry their partners, despite clear problems and pain, believing that they will change their partner for the better. While we do influence our partners all the time, I have never seen a marriage based on the belief that "marriage will change them" work. Never. EVER.

With all the things getting in the way of a successful lifelong partnership, I have become a person who sees the 50% success as a definitely glass-half-FULL issue. It's amazing that that many people getting married stay married, and say they are happy. If you are one of them, congratulations. You are a relationship rock star.








Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Personality: Does Birth Order Matter?

     For generations, family members have noted the differences that naturally arise in children raised in the same family. How is it that John, the first born and only boy, seems to have such different personality characteristics than his younger brother, raised in the same house by the same parents just two years apart?  Good question!

     Theories of personality abound. You may be familiar with some of the more popular models, often used in work or educational settings. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on the four major personality styles described by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, is a favorite. The Enneagram, a model developed in religious communities and often used in spiritual direction, and other forms of personal discovery, is another.  These are models that seek to describe common types of personalities. Other models, such as the Big Five theory, attempt to describe personalities using the idea of common traits shared by human beings across the world, such as extraversion or neuroticism.
    
    Whichever way makes more sense to you to describe human beings, by types or common traits, we have a collective curiosity about how people become who they are, and how much we can or should adapt ourselves to others and our environment.

     How did I get to be the way I am? When my clients ask me this question, I answer this way:  our personality is constituted like a recipe, with three primary ingredients. The first main ingredient is our individual nature. We are born with a particular style of personality, inherited from our parents and our larger family system. It’s part of our genetic code, and forms the basis of who we become.  Our general sense of the world, our innate optimism or pessimism, our sense of humor; this basic personality is another thing we have inherited.

     The second main ingredient of our personality is formed by the way we are cared for by our parents; it’s the nurture part of the recipe. Was our mother well nourished, healthy, and ready to become pregnant? Were our parents free from addiction, major illness or injury? Was our birth relatively normal? Were we welcomed into the world with joy and cared for with love? The way our parents meet our vulnerability, suffering and growing sense of self makes up the great majority of our personality relationship style.

     If our parents or primary caregivers have enough sense of self that they can sacrifice and respond to our needs consistently, we learn to trust that others will meet our needs, and that others are trustworthy. We offer ourselves to them, and get care and love in return. In the research done on this concept of emotional attachment, about half of us get just what we need to feel secure. The rest of us learn some combination of security, anxiety and withdrawal to cope with inconsistent parenting.

     The third part of our personality is made up of all the unique, individual experience we have in life and what we do with it. It’s the fall you took in second grade from school jungle gym, the trip to the hospital, and the cast that you had to wear through the summer. How did that fall affect you? How did it shape the way you think, feel and respond to the world? What happens, and how you chose to respond, makes up a large part of your personality.

     What about birth order? I think it fits in this third “what happens to us” category of personality development. While research is still battling it out whether first born children actually are more independent than their second born siblings, therapists and other social scientists have found a common pattern in family position that seems to fit many families, at least in Western cultures. In general, first born and only children are commonly more self determined and disciplined, having been born into an adult system and most closely associated to adults, even as infants. The second born child is less connected to the adults in the family, and if followed by a third child, may feel a bit lost in their parents’ strong relationship to the first born and emotional focus on the baby of the family. The farther away from the parent system, the more independent and even rebellious that child may become (Sulloway, 1997). Additionally, the more older siblings a child has, the more accustomed they often become to letting other people lead, and can more easily go “with the flow” than those born first.

     Family therapists differ in the amount of importance they place in this theory of birth order, but most will inquire about how a client’s family is constituted, and where in the family their client “fits.” Why it matters at all is that it may help people better understand some of their unconscious preferences for friendships, marriage partners, relationship styles, and even how they may connect to or discipline their own children. It’s all just part of our individual personality recipes.


Sulloway, F. J. (1997) Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives. New York:
     Vintage.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Losing the Boundaries

I've been reading about blogging, and it seems that I'm not doing it right.

Those in the know about such things tell us writers, mostly in their blogs, that to blog is to create a personal online community, one which is thirsty for the writer's words and self revelations; writing that steps toward the daily Diary or Journal, and away from more sedate Opinion or Editorial. The most successful of blogs these days - and it seems to change every day - drone on and on about the personal trials of having a newborn, or looking for a job, or recreating the work place, or reinventing the government, or the economy, or the Church. Again. These exemplars are often writing on the fly, with nary a concern for punctuation, spelling, brevity, or privacy. It's all about capturing the reader, and capturing as many as possible.

You may have noticed that I'm not much of a rebel when it comes to the niceties of the published essay. I have spent far too many years putting words into sentences to drop punctuation or spelling for the sake of being current. In fact, I hate it when I find a mistake after I hit the Publish Post button. And having a couple of deadlines to meet (in newsprint and online) makes me very unlikely to post here too often.

But for this writer/preacher/therapist to blur the boundary between self and audience, to say more than is prudent, to share information that I've been asked to hold as private: that's a scary thought. 

To have good human relationships, in part, means to know that there is a real difference between me and you. And the differences need to have breathing room, space to breathe, and respect from each of us to flourish. If I blather on and on about just myself in this space between us, there isn't any room for you. If you trust me with personal, sensitive information and I write about it, I've broken your trust. Even if someone else wants to read about it for the drama of it all. Even if it seems entertaining.

So, I guess I'll be at the back of the blogging pack on this one. I won't write specifically about any of my clients. I won't share anything of my family without thinking several times and then asking permission. I'm going to stay away from the most personal in order to say more about the shared. I'm going to be a blogger who posts less frequently, does more editing, and points more often beyond my little life to the world beyond.

Call me a slacker. It's just how I roll. Or write. :-)

Monday, February 1, 2010

Helplessness & Haiti

It's been over two weeks since the earthquake devastated the people of Haiti.

Tens of thousands have died, including people you may know. And along with a desire to help, and a deepening sense of helplessness as we watch that impoverish nation respond, I am struck by a familiar conflict, or perhaps it is an observation about human life.

I continue to wonder how my life can go on in its normal way while massive, untold despair, suffering and death occurs around me. It's the same experience those who suffer grief describe: how does the world continue on its way while my life seems to have stopped?

I struggle with a low-grade angst; not a guilt exactly, but close to it. As if I have witnessed a massive car crash from the safety of my own vehicle and go careening by, with just a glance in my rear view mirror. I continue on, glad it wasn't me in that car, confident someone more capable is responding.

I believe this soft anguish reflects this existential truth: we are single human beings. We are separate from one another at birth, and will die that way. In between, we live daily life as multiple connections. When connections are broken, by suffering we cannot solve, or death we cannot stop, we are brought up short by the truth of our singleness of self.

What is grief but the crashing in of this solitude, and the choice to risk connecting again?

Kyrie eleison.    Lord, have mercy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How To Marry Well

The best marriages are made by people who begin their relationship as friends and use friendship as their marriage model.

Do you know how to make and keep a friendship? Listen and talk, share work and pleasure, respond to a friend's bids for attention, and get some attention back? Laugh and enjoy each other, be flexible when things don't work out, fix your disagreements, stay loyal but open to other people in your friend's life?  If you do, and can keep these skills going with people your own age, you already know how to sustain a marriage.

The dramatic stuff of romantic attachment, the wash of sexual attraction, the focused desire for only that one partner: that biological experience, which is the core of nearly every popular song or relationship movie made in the last 50 years, is a piece of human experience, too. But it is crushingly brief. Most of us will only sustain that brain and body phase for 12-18 months. After that, we begin to readjust to a steady attachment that looks and behaves more like a close friendship than any other relationship we have. Friend with benefits? That's what a solid, happy, sustainable marriage is.


The best advice I give people (when they ask for it) about how to make a successful marriage is to take their time. I know that if they begin their relationship well, move into the infatuation phase, and begin to resolve that roller coaster with a deeper, more loyal friendship intact, they have a good running start on a happy union. This means that ideally, we should know our partner for a year or two before we marry. A lot can happen in two years. Exactly the kind of things that test the best of friendships, and expose our strengths and vulnerabilities to one another.

The best preparation for a happy marriage is not a long dating history, a series of broken engagements, or even one marriage after the other. The best marriages are made by those who have learned how to make and keep friendship relationships. Who'll will stand by you in difficult times, visit you when you're sick, and share their ice cream? That's who you want at your side when the real rubber meets the road: a dear friend. Your spouse.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Returning

It's been awhile since I was up north, to Duluth and beyond. I'm going to visit today.

I worked in northern Wisconsin for 12 years as a pastor of three different parishes. I loved many of the people I served, but none more than the friend I am going to see. We have held ourselves together through teenagers (hers), a wedding (mine), work system nightmares (both), cancer, deaths and funerals, births (my children, her grandchildren) chronic health problems, educational endeavors (both of us), aging and the general pressures of time and distance. We love looking at the world together, and from quite different points of view. We are blessed to have found each other and to have remained friends for over two decades. 

Who in your life is the same kind of gift of God, a similar lens through which you see yourself and the world more gracefully, more lightly than you do alone?

Give thanks to God for them. Cherish your relationship enough to go out of your way to stay connected. Oulu is out of the way. But I'll be there, returning, remembering. More whole, more myself. Trusting the same for her.