Success of Relationships

Was asked recently by a student, “How long do you think a couple should be together before they get married?”  There’s no way to give a full answer to this in a blog, but think it important, and would like to put out some fundamental ideas that I don’t think we can ignore.  Seems to me that this is not only about “knowing” when, or even the success of a romantic relationship- would suggest that some of these ideas are about all relationships.  What follows is my response:

Would offer that it’s not a question of how long.  The reason we think in terms of time, is because something is supposed to happen during that period, but we never say what it is!

Oversimplifying, first and foremost, my philosophy is that both persons should be self-supporting mentally, emotionally, physically, and “spiritually” (not necessarily religious, but not necessarily excluding it).  They should be able to see, and assess these things about one another.  It’s much deeper than it seems- mentally: responsible for one’s own critical thinking, memory, organization, prioritization, intellectual curiosity.  Emotionally: responsible not only for one’s own happiness, but one’s own sorrows and fears and shames and hurts as well (even if caused by others- this is really important).  Physically: responsible at least for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, diet/sleep/exercise.  “Spiritually”: responsible for one’s own connection to one or more communities, also for one’s own sense of place and purpose.  Short of that, the relationship becomes responsible for one or more of these things missing, and is diminished.

In more detail, any of these things absent weighs on the relationship.  One partner inevitably becomes resentful at having to “pick up the slack” for one or more of these things absent, or tries to get the other person to take up their responsibility, or withdraws, etc.  This shows up a lot for instance, in these examples:

One person bears on the other due to “insecurity”/low self esteem.  (emotional, “spiritual”)

One person struggles with providing their own needs for food/clothing/shelter/medical care etc.  (physical)

One person depends on the other as their sole source for community or purpose (sometimes, simply by providing community when the other doesn’t have it).  (“spiritual”)

One person expects or needs the other for reminders of appointments, choicemaking about how to spend money, interests about the world.  (mental)

Am sure everyone can come up with many more.

It takes varying amounts of time to know if someone is able to do these things, because it takes varying kinds of circumstances to have them come up.  Even discussed in a “principled” way as I’ve tried to above, there’s a lot of things to be considered.  When someone dies, does the person “deal” with it gracefully (grieves), or do they get intoxicated or treat others poorly?  When they get sick, do they have the means and do they do the work to do some of the effort to care for themselves?  Does this person avoid talking about feelings in general, or have a maladaptive way of dealing with them?  Do they have hobbies, interests, and do they occasionally get new ones?  Do they provide for themselves long-term?  Do they maintain relationships long-term?  How do they handle their successes?  These are all circumstances that often take a protracted amount of time to show up.

These things are also not simple for individuals.  As such, would argue that without having/knowing these things about ourselves, these qualities are difficult to identify in other people.  It takes a chunk of time, usually beyond adulthood, to really have a method and examination of knowing these things.

Attitude of Platitude

Talking with a client the other day, the subject of platitudes came up.  Many of us use them routinely.  Whether opining about inferences made, used polemically, or giving feedback to a friend or loved one, they’re used fairly often in all different kinds of discourse.  These certainly occur in therapy, twelve step programs (Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Co-Da, ACA, Overeaters Anonymous, etc).  We hear them at church/synagogue.  They’re used copiously in political speeches and discussions.

Many years ago, a friend began saying to me when discussing platitudes, “Cliche alert!  Cliche alert!” ala the robot from “Lost in Space”.  It was his way of indicating that the user was often either not really saying anything, and/or wasn’t really aware of the content or context of the cliche being used.

One of my favorite quotes is from Gandhi: “It is because we have at this present moment everybody claiming the right of conscience without going through any discipline whatsoever that there is so much untruth being delivered to a bewildered world.”  What I think he was getting at was pretty fundamental, and horror-producing… we all claim a right to truths and perceptions without really going through any real self or “concept” examination, and impose a subsequent template on the world in its wake.

That’s a fantastic way to create and/or perpetuate problems.  Am bringing it up because it seems that platitudes are a common ways this occurs.  Not that many platitudes or cliches aren’t true, just that we often don’t seem to examine if we’re using them, truly understand them, use them in context and the like.  I often see therapists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use cliches and platitudes simply because they don’t know what else to say.

Going back to twelve step programs, one cliche that is often used is “attitude of gratitude”.  With equal measure, it seems that an “attitude of platitude” is what is often in use.  Ideas like “just do what you’re doing”, “keep it simple”, “I decide for me, you decide for you, we decide for us”, and more are arguably great ideas.  These ideas even have utility for depression, relationships, self esteem, addiction, grief, loss and more.  However, our command of the language doesn’t necessarily indicate a real handle on what they mean or how/when/what context to use them and make them practical.

You can find out more about Petar at: April30th.org

Recognition for Partners in Recovery

Last Monday (9-26-11), Judy McGehee MFT, Melissa Lamoureux MS, Erika Gayoso MA, Ted Aaselund PsyD, Michael Cardenas, Jeffrey Craig, Jessica Wilson, Elvia Cortes MA and myself were recognized by the board of the Glendora Unified School District at their monthly meeting.  Formally, the agency is called “Partners in Recovery”, a nonprofit organization of clinicians providing services in Glendora and surrounding communities.

Judy, and I have been providing clinical supervision (a necessary component for grads and soon-to-be grads to get their “hours of experience” to sit for licensure as therapists or social workers) for the above mentioned interns and trainees.  Trainees are obtaining hours to graduate with their Masters degrees, interns are working on their hours (3000 hours of service over 104 weeks) to sit for the licensing examination with the Board of Behavioral Sciences.  In turn, the supervisees (the ones above and others from previous years) have provided thousands of hours of free services to the Glendora Unified School district, from elementary thru high school.  The supervisees from Partners have been assisting with issues of depression, abuse, family discord, eating disorders, suicide, addiction, grief and loss, bullying, self esteem, anxiety problems and more.

The program has been running since 2009 with Judy at the helm, and will continue at least through this year.  Judy, Ted, and the interns/trainees are all highly skilled clinicians.  It is a fantastic way for people to get services that might not have otherwise.  Nicely done everybody.

New Office Space

Have to start here with some gratitude. As many of you know, The Work is really a mission of sorts for me- trying to put myself out of a job so to speak. So many have been so kind and encouraging about my work. Clients, colleagues, friends. It’s really important to me to have a clearsighted and organized way of being a partner with people in eliminating suffering, having principles… preferably both.

Left doing inpatient full time in April, in favor of doing private practice full time. The folk above (and more) have responded by sending a lot of folk my way to do service with/for. As a result, my longtime office space with Brendan Thyne MA, and his dad Rick Thyne MFT (Patrick Thyne and Associates) became too small (time wise) to accommodate my clients.

Noting this because getting a new space wasn’t just a task- it is a loss in a lot of ways. Brendan and Rick are relatives (of choice and affiliation)- and fantastic therapists. The space across the street from Pasadena City Hall has been beautiful, and I really enjoy the surroundings. Between losing the familial contact and the space, is a big deal.

That said though, have found a fantastic space to do The Work in. Am hoping that it will bring an energy and space that can be filled with whatever it is that people need. Want to send some appreciation specifically for Yvonne, my dad, Judy McGehee LMFT, Erika Gayoso/Michael Cardenas/Ted Aaselund and Elvia Cortes. Also appreciation to Jeff Boxer Esq, David Wolf, Ed Wilson PhD, Sue Stauffer, Barbara Waldman PhD, Barbara O’Connor MFT, Tricia Hill, of course Lali and Sadie. A special note for my clients though- you all continue to humble me deeply, and have been fantastic supporters of my work.

Here’s a pic of the new space- near the end of the 110, the 134/210. New address is 547 S. Marengo Ave, Pasadena, 91101:

Clinical Supervision/Partners in Recovery

Quick note from Partners in Recovery about the work we’ve been doing. They can now be found on Facebook:

“Petar Sardelich, MFT, MAC, LPT, has joined Judy McGehee, MFT in supervising La Verne University Trainees, and Interns, in the Glendora Schools Internship Program. Since September 2009, interns, therapists and trainees have been offering 40 hours per week of probono mental health counseling and education in the community. This includes Whitcomb High School, Glendora High, Sandburg and Goodard Jr. High. Community and Parent nights have educated participants about drug and alcohol abuse, building communication between parents and teens, and in March, 2011, information regarding bullying and helping individuals in combatting this behavior. PIR is a non-profit organization where volunteer therapists and board members provide mental health services and referrals in the community.”

Partners in Recovery website:
Judy McGeehee/Partners in Recovery

Preaching Prudence but Practicing Evasion

Just by virtue of having eyes and ears, we have emotional responses to everything. When we have experiences that create loss, damage, violate our sense of self or ethics (prompt an experience of feeling “less than” or being broken, also known as “shame”), frighten us or etc, we have to do something with how that feels. Just like falling off a bike and skinning our knee, we hurt in part because that’s the healing process in action. Many therapists and others refer to these unresolved hurts as “issues”.

If we don’t have a means of healing/dealing with these, there are lots of unintended consequences. Not healing “hurts” (shame, fear, sadness, etc) causes “neurotic” behavior. “Acting out”, drug use, manipulation, self-ful-ness, isolation, “codependent” behavior, “anxiety”, avoidant behaviors, etc. Long term and in the wake of continued losses/traumas, these can turn into more serious problems- depression, relationship issues, “mental illnesses”, addictions and etc.

Sometimes these other problems and behaviors are simply ways of surviving or “coping” with our feelings about things, sometimes they become problems in and of themselves. Exercise, church (etc), self-help books, “will”, diet and nutrition, hobbies etc are all efforts that can be helpful in varying degrees, but for reasons too long for a blog post, they’re insufficient and/or incomplete for this task. Some of these things sometimes turn into means of avoiding our feelings as well.

If we don’t have a fairly organized (and effective) means of transforming or eradicating our experience in this way, as above, we create or perpetuate problems in our lives. Different therapists have different “tools” suggested to help resolve or diminish the intensity of these issues. My sense of this process though, goes something like this:

List the behaviors we use that put distance between us and how we feel. Some of these are external- but some are internal. Some examples are food, alcohol, work, spending, sex, focus on others, perfectionism (whether imposed on ourselves or others), TV, turning our feelings into anger, etc.

Diminish (or preferably, maybe necessarily) or stop those behaviors. There’s many, many ways of making this happen- see my blog “Wanting to Stop” for some suggestions. As has been said in other blogs, “letting go” means little for something we are not fully letting ourselves “have” in the first place.

Give the feelings we’re experiencing/left with as simple, and common a name as possible. I encourage mad, sad, glad (happy), afraid, ashamed, and/or hurt. And/or because we can certainly feel more than one at a time. Simple, because we often use euphemistic or complicated language as just another means to dissociate (separate) us from our feelings.

Share those feelings, as much as possible with the person we’re having the feelings about, as close to the time we experience them. It’s also really important that we’re actually allowing ourselves to have the feelings as we’re expressing them. Of course this isn’t always appropriate because of time or circumstance. Sometimes, it’s not appropriate because of the person we’re with. Be careful though not to “preach prudence when practicing evasion”.

As has been said by many, “you can’t heal what you can’t feel”. This process is assisted by doing it with a professional who has has both education and experience in doing so not just as a therapist, but hopefully as a person as well. We are trained in various means that facilitate some really important parts of this process that are sometimes not intuitive to our friends, families, loved ones. Am getting at a fairly simple list of ideas here- stop doing what we do to not feel, have an organized way of naming and letting go of or diminishing their intensity.

Therapy is Not the Answer

This is sort of a PSA for clients and therapists alike.  Therapy is not the answer to our problems of relationships, depression, grief/loss, addiction, taking food from others, communication, our sense of broken-ness/low self worth/shame, loneliness, etc.  Therapy isn’t just a way of being either.  It’s probably a way of being that solves these problems, and can prevent many in the future as a result.  The only exception, if seen in a particular light, might be around issues of safety that require immediate intervention.

Therapy should be a space where we work through the feelings we’re carrying with us that prevent us from coming to these answers on our own.  It’s an activity that should prompt us to be without our defenses and distractions as much as is possible, with a guide that has done enough of their own work that we can be taught how to live gracefully with these feelings, let go of them/transform them, and provide us principles and ideas that will help us not make some of these mistakes in the future.

We certainly should be giving direction about how to handle some circumstances, communicate more effectively, learning parenting and relationship skills, symptom management, relapse prevention and etc.  There should be an organized body of material to assist with these things.  They will all be rendered useless though, in absence of a principled way of operating, and or in the presence of enough emotional intensity that the tools cannot be used or we cannot see “answers” clearly or the simple consequences of not having these feelings gracefully end up exacerbating problems.

So, a suggestion.  Learn some survival skills that lend themselves to our ability to get some new ways of operating.  Have enough support from family, friends, and professionals that will enable surviving the process.  Deal with the feelings that come up, then set about “solving” things.

Communication With Adolescents? Communication With Everybody.

Got to do a talk with the aforementioned Judy McGehee MA, LMFT (www.mcgeheepartners.org) tonight at the “Parent Summit” organized by the Glendora School District. There were breakout sessions with different professionals and agencies providing talks on different topics. Dr. Mary Suzuki (wife of Dr. Dan Suzuki) began the session with Captain Rob Castro of Glendora PD, who discussed a previous summit focusing on adolescents and use of pharmaceuticals (illicitly).

Judy and I did a talk entitled “How to Talk so Your Kids Will Listen, How to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk”. As we discussed in our PowerPoint presentation, it became pretty clear that this was a misnomer- not only because it has more to do with relationships with kids, and further, much of the skills we discussed were relevant for most relationships in general.

During her talk, Judy identified the importance of being interested in your kids, not letting technology like cell phones and iPods get in the way of communication, ideas about developmental stages, roadblocks to communication and more. The parents and professionals who attended asked her a lot of questions about different types of age-appropriate communication, problem-solving specific issues and etc.

My talk endeavored a practical approach that highlighted suggestions to put me out of a job (one of my personal goals), principled ideas for use in communication, and some adolescent/child specific tools. We also discussed problem-solving issues like when/when not to intervene between siblings, children (who were sometimes adults in the examples) “stonewalling”, giving short and/or avoidant responses, even what might be described as resentful feelings prompting one or another to not talk all together. The details of these are of course beyond a blog.

That said though, will copy/paste some of the suggestions I had here. Any questions, ideas, encouragements etc are welcome. Again, would offer that many of these are useful in communicating with all types of people, in all different types of relationships. Here’s the abbreviated list:

• Don’t yell.
• Don’t be critical and/or judgmental.
• Don’t try to change others’ mind or behavior.
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t only have feelings of fear or anger, or not have feelings at all.
• Be graceful with the feelings you do have.
• Don’t interrogate. *only be a parent* (meaning, resist the temptation to be a police officer, financial adviser, career counselor, etc)
• Don’t interrupt.
• Don’t say one thing, then do another.
• If someone says something you don’t understand, ask them to explain it.
• If someone starts yelling, speak quietly.
• Avoid power struggles.
(Here is where some of the adolescent specific ideas began)
• It might be a good answer to them.
• Don’t be afraid of technology. Learn to text. Email.
• Ask their opinion.
• Tell them you love them, and what you like about them.
• Learn their language. You don’t have to use it. (www.urbandictionary.com)
• Use the “rule of five”, particularly in crisis. Five words a sentence, five letters a word.
• Find a way to be interested in them- what they think, what they like and care about, and why.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list. It also doesn’t address some of the principles that might otherwise be employed, doesn’t give some answers in context, and doesn’t explain why some of these tools might be important. Those ideas, as a rule, have to be discussed, processed. They also don’t address specifics about working through problems or issues. Most of these things are best done with a professional, over time. Hope some of these can be helpful.

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