Healing The Coupledom: Neurobiology and Couples Therapy

The Refuge of Stories: Steve Almond, the son of therapists, author and writing workshop teacher, described in a New York Times Sunday magazine article the mushrooming popularity of today’s writing workshops, which he views as a version of the old “talk therapy”, so popular prior to the psychopharmacological and managed care revolutions in mental health. To be a student in a creative writing workshop today, according to Almond, does not carry the “stigmatizing” or “covert” nature of psychotherapy, yet it can serve a similar purpose as “talk therapy”: that of providing a sanctuary of sorts to tell an individual’s personal story. In his article, Why Talk Therapy is on the Wane and Writing Workshops On The Rise, Mr. Almond describes how “telling a story” is “the most reliable path to meaningand cites as examples, the world-class fiction authors Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner and J.D. Salinger as examples of writers who found a “refuge” for, as Faulkner puts it,the human heart in conflict with itself.” To underscore his point Almond cites as evidence Vonnegut’s response to a question posed shortly before his death, “What was the central topic of his works?” Mr. Vonnegut’s answer, “I write again and again about my family.” In one way or another, so do we all.

Telling Your Life Story Together: As a couples therapist, I have witnessed the powerful healing force that comes when individuals tell their personal stories, powerful anecdotes or snippets of momentous moments in their past, to me in the presence of their partner. To do the deep work of change that relationships in trouble often need, personal history is critical. And though couples share much of what they construe as the most relevant data about their past with their partner through the years, it is startling how much is missing. There are many reasons for the absence of shared, emotionally significant data; one most frequent is that many of the most profound memories remain submerged in a file hidden from day-to-day conscious awareness. However, in the safety of the therapy office, a place where archaeological digs psychological in nature are the expected and accepted format, stories unfold with imagery so true and uncensored that veils are lifted and vision returns to allow individuals to see themselves and each other in the touching and compassionate light of vulnerability that is at the core of human experience. Stories shared can shift perceptions and open new pathways for intimacy that are not about the marriage or even the courtship but center on earlier experiences that have shaped the adult next to you and are subterraneously impacting your relationship each day.

When Couples Share: Halting the “he said, she said, they said” counterpoint of many a couples session by digging into the history and the memory of the individual, while the other sits and listens, is an extraordinarily powerful tool for both partners, if the light of hope and a flicker of love remains in their Coupledom. Then something transformational and ultimately healing can occur with the reliving of experience through stories of conflict, pain, joy, celebration and confusion related in the presence of a partner, yet not about that partner. “Who I was then and am in part now is what you are hearing. But I am not telling the story because of you or for you. I am telling this story because the therapist asked me to.” Listening is possible, hearing and being heard can take place, because the threat is reduced. When adrenaline is pumping, triggered by the fight/flight state, our empathic listening device is turned off. When the story is not about “you” the hearing device with its attunement dial turned up can be a sensitive instrument indeed.

And today, through MRI and EEG imaging, we have scientific data that supports the long-held perception that interpersonal relationships influence the mind, the brain, the entire well-being of the individual and their relationship with the other.

Daniel Siegel and Interpersonal Neurobiology: Last weekend I attended a conference at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City entitled presented by Dr. Daniel Siegel, who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine, a man with so many areas of expertise that a quick synopsis here does an injustice to the depth and breadth of his knowledge about human experience. His work in attachment experiences, his continuing search for a definition of the “mind”, which he has achieved to his satisfaction, and his study of the neurobiology of health and interpersonal relations makes Dr. Siegel uniquely qualified to discuss how we humans impact each other in ways that affect the health of our brains (which is inclusive of our entire bodies) and our relational and natural world. With the availability of sophisticated brain imaging instruments, Dr. Siegel’s findings have been supported by hard science.

Rigidity and Chaos: Dr. Siegel aptly subsumes all illness as a consequence of and manifested by either chaos or rigidity in physical (neurological and all body systems) and emotional functioning (the two are inseparable.) Psychotic behavior is the most extreme example of chaos and Obsessional Compulsive Disorder an easily identifiable example of rigidity. Linkage and integration of all parts of body and being bestow health. Blockages and disconnections subvert health. The neurobiological findings of current scientific investigation support this model of how human functioning operates.

How Does Psychotherapy Work? These tenets of health, which include self-awareness, or as Dr. Siegel puts “How someone makes sense of their life” and their interconnectedness with another, couldn’t be more obvious or significant to me as a psychotherapist as when I am watching a couple pause in their “I” moments of fight/flight defensiveness to engage in the telling of or the listening to their partner’s story. The process of story telling offers a deepening personal awareness for the story teller, to quote Mr. Almond, who in telling, will find “the most reliable path to meaning” for themselves and an opportunity for linkage to the listening other who is integrating their partner’s “story” in a mind altering manner.

Impacting Each Other Through Our Brains: Studies show that psychotherapy as well as meditation and many other practices that increase awareness and allow for integration of self enhance brain functioning, peacefulness and health. And research studies over the years that have compared different schools of psychotherapy (such as psychoanalytic, psychodynamic or cognitive therapy) reveal that what heals and changes the individual for the better is not dependent on a particular philosophy or methodology at work, but the relationship between the psychotherapist and patient; the relationship is the healing tool.

The Healing Tool: Therefore, drawing from this hard data, it is clear that the healing tool(s) of couples therapy can draw from multiple sources: the relationship between patient and therapist; the relationship with the self through the awareness that comes from “story telling” which is facilitated by the patient/therapist bond; and the relationship between partners through knowing the other by their stories. Siegel defines integration as health, which occurs when blockages are opened up (for The Coupledom, that would mean rigid ways of knowing self and the other are no more) and chaos is reduced by allowing the linkages that now open to form a safe foundation of self with another “when present, flexibility and harmony result.”

The Unique Power and Potential of Couples Therapy: Couples that allocate both time, resources and courage to this expansive learning and healing process, from my experience, do something impressive and long lasting; they allow their vulnerabilities and histories to be voiced and heard together to form a cornerstone of intimacy, of being separate yet known, that supports a lifetime of “healthy love” and opens neural pathways of mutual caring. This is powerful stuff, believe me.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

News, and a Special Opportunity for My Readers

Dear Readers, as you well know, it has always been my intention to use my journey as a parent whose special needs child was “aging out of the system” to help others who were not yet on that path, or even as perspective for those who were. This was primarily because there are few, if any, guidebooks for a journey like this. (In fact, within days of my beginning these posts, Parade magazine carried an article about “aging out of the system”, recognizing it as a relatively new and increasing reality for so many of us.)

At some point along the journey, I began to be asked, “Are you planning on turning this into a book?” And while that was certainly not my intention when I started out, it began to grow on me that if I wanted to help others, a book made a lot of sense.

I am currently in the process of gathering these posts into a book. The final form is still under development, but it will be an e-Book, available for Kindle, Nook and iBooks, with a print-on-demand capability so that people or organizations that want hard copies can have them.

One thing the book allows me to do is to incorporate artwork and collages throughout that were created by our daughter. She is quite the artist, and the collage we have chosen for the cover is, in the words of one person involved in the project, “Better and more evocative than anything we could have asked an illustrator to come up with.”

My blogger guy and marketing guru has suggested that it is appropriate to offer you, my dear readers who have come along on this journey with me, the opportunity to buy the book at a discount, and I think that is a great idea. We don’t know how much the book will sell for yet, and we certainly are not ready to offer it for sale.

But with this series of posts ending, he felt that we should tell you about it before you moved on and we all lost touch with each other.

If you would like to be notified when the book is available, and to be given a discount on the book, please email me and let me know. And when we’re ready, I will send you an email letting you know the details.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

A Humbling Journey with Warts and Blemishes for All To See: Part 2: 3-27-12

Jeez What An Adjustment: Since our daughter moved into her CRS on August 1, 2011, I have struggled to define the parameters of my role as mother in the new order. The fact that as of July 1, 2012 our daughter has become the responsibility of the State of Connecticut and a client of Ability Beyond Disability who manages all aspects of her day to day living, while her parents, the legal guardians, live just eight miles away, has proven to be a challenging adjustment for me and one that revealed my many warts and blemishes for all to see. One could say that it has been a humbling journey.

Captain of The Ship: As the primary engine powering much of what has culminated with the successful launch of our daughter’s adult life, my focus over the two decades was not on my journey but rather on getting our daughter to her destination, and of equal importance, the impact of that journey on our other precious child, her brother, as well as my husband, our marriage and the family as a whole. Throughout these twenty plus years the message that I distilled from other parents, underscored by experience, was, “You are the expert on your child and her best advocate. Never leave anything solely up to others. You must be there at every turn.” It was up to me, as the designated parent who was in the trenches with our daughter day to day, to bring her to a place of safe happiness in adulthood, to protect her brother’s childhood and future adulthood and with my husband to provide some sort of safety net around our children, to the best of our ability, for the day we were no longer around, a goal common to all parents.

Unending Support: I was not alone in this journey. I have always had the unending support and wisdom of my husband, who handed over to me the power to lead the journey and the confidence to trust myself. I have been the grateful recipient of the unfailing love of extended family, and the excellent guidance provided by educators and therapists, angels and aids. But I learned in those first years, partially blindfolded by ignorance and stumbling in the dark, that I had to captain the ship and determine its course at all times. This role of “leadership” was new to me. The youngest of three girls, I had always taken direction from others. Now I had to determine direction for someone else where the stakes were so high and the terrain completely alien. This was my first major adjustment as a special needs parent and now, with the shift to parenting a special needs adult, has come another very complicated adjustment, which almost required unlearning all that preceded it.

A Guest In Our Daughter’s Home: Posting for “Parenting Adult Special Needs: One Day At A Time” these twelve months has yielded an unexpected and often startling window into a raw and often unattractive view of myself as I shifted from Captain of my daughter’s ship to being a Guest In Our Daughter’s Home. Sometimes I felt as if the last twenty years of training to be that ever present and alert parent of a child with disabilities had created a monster, a Mrs. Frankenstein of the special needs kingdom who made folks tremble when she came into view. All my warts and blemishes were on display as I shot off email after email questioning a minor lapse in our daughter’s care or schedule, some slippage or miscommunication related to a volunteer opportunity or a doctor’s visit.

Losing Control: Who is this nut? Yet I knew, and other special needs parents’ reminded me, this is being your special needs daughter’s mom. True. But also it was a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, also typical, I believe of parents like me. Twenty plus years of living with what could go wrong, and often did, dramatically, leaves tracks embedded in the visceral memory and as with PTSD, (I know, an overworked diagnostic category these days) at any moment, something in the present can trigger a reactive perception that the past is happening again. I was losing control of our daughter’s destiny and that filled me with anxiety, and I needed time to make that O.K.

Reality Again: There were many startling moments when that reality began to materialize. One of the first was when our residential coordinator diplomatically informed me, in anticipation of our daughter’s moving into her apartment, that it was best to call ahead and clear the schedule with staff before visiting our daughter’s home. We were now “guests in our daughter’s home” and required clearance; no pop-ins. We had married her off to ABD and the residential staff were a kind of spousal entity. I understood immediately. This is the respectful and appropriate behavior for any parent when their child moves out of the parental home into their own abode. As always, there was relief too as this boundary, parameter, marker was clarified. It freed me from some of my responsibility.

A Burial Plan? Another visceral pang of parenting change came when the same administrative staff person asked if our daughter had a burial plan, which was simply a question related to identifying any funds in our daughter’s name, which, if not handled properly with full disclosure, could jeopardize her entitlements. But it raised in me the question, who decides her final resting place, something I had actually never even thought about. The state? Her guardians? Yes, her guardians, perhaps a spouse even. Adjustments and a reality a bit too painful to integrate quickly.

The Blurred Edges of the Mother’s Role: There was much that wasn’t clear over the twelve months. The other mom and I picked out the apartment for the girls to reside in, as this was not a group home but a CRS (Continuous Residential Support), which allowed us to do so. We even have our names on the lease and went with our daughters to select the furniture that would became the bones of the home, set its decorative tone and represent our mutual tastes. However, once the girls moved in, it was staff who added the accessories, picked out a rug and curtains, initially asking our permission, and in fact, actually trying to help to take the pressure off of us. Yet it remained confusing. What if I didn’t like their choices? But if our daughter did, it was really no business of mine now. And then, who sets up doctors’ appointments, goes to the appointments? When do the parents get feedback on those appointments if they are not present? When should we visit our daughter, or set up dates to see her? Whom should I speak to about “issues” that our daughter has texted me about it, or called me in distress to register her anger or hurt? With the day staff who are present when I call or visit, or their coordinators? Do I try to find volunteer opportunities? Can I really leave it to others?

An Intensive, Microscopic Instrument of a Parent: Was the other mother like me? I don’t think so. So was it just me? My personality warts and blemishes surfaced, revealing myself to be a mom I often did not like: interfering, judging, stressed out and demanding. Ugh! What was the heart of the problem? I think I now know, after eight intensive months of adjustment – trust! As I wrote in an earlier post, it takes time to build trust that others will be knowledgeable enough about your child to keep her happy and safe, something I have attempted to do these last twenty-two years. And believe me, I have never felt “perfect” a day in my life, never. So did I expect “perfection” from them? No, but they did not know her as I did and that worried me. How long would it take them to know her? And would they feel what I have felt all these years: committed, determined and devoted to her care? Specials needs children require a fairly intensive microscopic instrument of a parent/persons to do the job well. Were these people up to the task? As it turns out, thankfully, they are!

Finally, Why Am I Writing About Me Here? These posts were written for the parents, are about “Parenting Adult Special Needs”, the parents’ quest to bring their child to the threshold of adulthood, safely and successfully. That has been the focus and purpose of the posts, and has led me to draw an honest picture of one family, one child, and most personally, one parent’s perceptions and experiences of that journey. I have been accused during this process of being too “I” oriented, selfish and narcissistic, and falling short of being the caring and devoted parent that a special needs child deserves and requires. I can understand how some pulled out that image of me and though it didn’t feel good, it felt honest and fair. I have behaved at moments insensitively and unfairly to others and I have apologized with sincere feelings of regret and remorse. But I know that when I felt threatened that our daughter might not be sufficiently protected, though my fears proved unfounded, my primitive response was fight, not flight. The stakes are high when you pass your child’s destiny over to others, for the rest of that child’s life. This was no summer camp or boarding school. This was adulthood; though not set in stone, still she was out of our arms and into the world, just like that!

Being a parent or a parent of special needs doesn’t mean being pure, always sacrificing and self-effacing. It just means striving to be the best you can be for that child, while still being a person in your own right, your own skin, with the weight of baggage from your pre-parental life in tow. We don’t come into this parenting business free of personal imperfections or inclinations. No way. It is an often heard yet ridiculous notion that just because you parent a special needs child that you are a saint or need to be one. My wish is that these posts have provided a practical template for a parent to use to aid them in their child’s journey, a portrait of sorts presented with all the warts and blemishes that make up even special needs parents, imperfect mortals that we may be.

Thank you all for taking the time to share our journey. The journey continues and may in fact bring me back to posting on it in the future. But for now, Adios.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

A Note from Jill’s “Blogger Guy”: This concludes the series of posts, Parenting Adult Special Needs One Day At A Time. We want to thank everyone who took the time to share Jill’s journey with her. Please check the blog tomorrow for a piece of news we hope you will find both interesting and exciting, and maybe even a little bit rewarding.

A Year’s Journey From All Sides Now: 03-26-12

All Sides Now: There is no easy way to end this series of posts on parenting adult special needs. Do I summarize, itemize, measure growth, anticipate challenge or celebrate accomplishment? Do I thank and applaud or alert and inform? Shouldn’t I be doing all of that? My hope is that I have done all of that during these twelve months of posting on our journey.

This is a story about one young lady who turned twenty-one in November of 2010 and aged out of her Connecticut school district that following June 2011, and her family as we made our way out of the child’s special needs world into the world of adult special needs, a day at a time. In the twelve months since these posts began, a thriving adulthood has been constructed for our daughter by a team who monitors all aspects of her daily life – a dedicated team who has seen our daughter from all sides now.

Never Static: And even as I try to summarize a year of effort, this team is busily at work improving on the model they constructed: new vocational settings are being screened for better hands-on opportunities and training; a book club component, suggested by our daughter, is scheduled to debut this coming week at the DSO (Day Services Option); a trial of a small dosage of the medication Focalin, to aid focus and increase job success, will be inaugurated next week with careful monitoring, this after extensive blood work measuring thyroid and other functions came back normal; the first weekend away as a CRS (apartment-mates and two staff) is scheduled in April to Mystic, CT. This is the proverbial “work in progress” model with no static “mission accomplished” endgame.

Increasing Independence: Adjustments and fine-tuning hopefully will remain a critical component of programming in response to our daughter’s maturing in the decades ahead. The goal of increased independence is a staple of the special needs world and spelled out in document after document over the two plus decades of our daughter’s life. But there are areas of dependency that may not change, ever. And by definition that is the meaning of the term “special needs” or “disabled”. Our daughter does not wake up to the fire alarm – ever. And, when alerted by staff to follow the protocol for the fire drill, she is resistant. Our daughter still looks at the ground when she walks through a trafficked area. How many years might it take for her eyes to scan properly and her brain to decide safety accurately? For a fire alarm to awaken her in time to follow the exit plan out of the building? Increasing independence is a goal but safety is the undisputed necessity for our daughter’s future.

A Good Decision That Hurt: It was only a year ago this March during spring break from her boarding school that our daughter and I had a conversation about the decision to end her post secondary education a year earlier than her peers and bring her back to her home state. We were in the car and she burst into angry tears telling me in no uncertain terms that it wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t her decision and it wasn’t right that we didn’t consult her when making the final decision. I was waiting for this moment.

Emotion Trumps Preparation: The last year and a half leading up to this discharge of feeling, our daughter visited residential settings, attended interviews with potential service agencies, raising questions about where do the kids live and what activities do they participate in. She met several times with her case manager, and had regular visits with her school guidance counselor to discuss her feelings about leaving school and moving toward “independent” adulthood. She even participated, at her request, in a support group whose purpose was to share feelings about leaving school in June. Since the Thanksgiving before this, she had been spending time with her future apartment-mate whenever both girls were home from their boarding schools, the families becoming acquainted as well. In fact, she used the phrase over and over with anyone who asked what her future plans were, that she was coming back to Connecticut because her parents could not “pay out of pocket” to send her for the third and final year of her post secondary program, Grow. And she understood what was happening.

The Reality of Loss: But all the preparation in the world is never enough to trump the reality of loss and the fear of change. Frankly, I was glad to see and hear her powerful expression of pain and outrage. It reminded me of when her brother was two and one half and attending sibling class at the local hospital to “prepare” him for brotherhood. Well, it didn’t prepare him, no matter how many dolls he held or how much teachers claimed he enjoyed the baby room at his twice a week daycare. When the real thing arrived, he was just as happy to leave her at the hospital or drop her off in the garbage on the way out, both feelings he expressed to mom and dad. Reality of change or loss, no matter how much we think we are ready for it, can sneak up on the best of us.

I agreed with our daughter on all counts, twisting in my own emotional tangle of guilt while simultaneously celebrating her clarity and honest expression of the injustice of it all. I was sincere in my expression of empathy for her pain, and together we came up with a plan to meet with her case manager and the director of her future ABD program so that she could tell them some of her feelings. And we did that the next day, which helped mightily to further forge a bond of trust between her and them.

The Wheels Were Rolling: And though I felt almost cruel, the wheels were rolling forward because they had to, timing was critical to allow our daughter to receive the optimal funding for residential support and if we waited another six months, even that opportunity, and this has proven to be the case, would be threatened. She was twenty-one and on July 1, 2011 she would officially “age out” of her school district and be just another special needs adult who was seeking housing and funding for services. At that moment she was at the top of the list for priority housing because she was returning to her home state after five years at boarding school, but six months later, she would tumble down the list to who knows where. This was the indisputable fact that ordered all my thinking, no matter what other longings were in play.

Transition To Adulthood: I have no regrets here. Our family received excellent advice and that grounded us in our determination to make this move happen immediately. What has strengthened that feeling is seeing how quickly our daughter has adjusted to her new life. As we had hoped, our daughter’s transition has been remarkably smooth because fundamentally her new life is more similar than different from her previous life.

The Plan Worked: Attending boarding school for five years, beginning at age sixteen, (the last two years for the post-secondary/vocational component), and prior to that four summers of sleep-away camp, begun at age thirteen, were preparation for this moment. All this planning that went into easing our daughter into “independent living” over the eight years, seems to have paid off. The structure provided by Ability Beyond Disability with 24/7 staffing alternating schedules, the daily programs, non-negotiable routines and residential life with peers, replicated the atmosphere and expectations of boarding school life. Both our daughter and her apartment-mate and their families had experienced the wrenching jolt and adjustment of separation years earlier so that trauma, quite frankly, was long past. And the young ladies have experienced only two bouts of significant interpersonal conflict so far, the first marking the end of the “honeymoon phase” this past Fall and lasting twelve hideous days, and the most recent, a mere two days last week. Their mutual compatibility is partly because they actually find living with just one other female a stark and relieving contrast to the “drama in the dorm” atmosphere of multiple females inhabiting one “home” that marked their boarding school years. This cohabiting, in contrast, is a “peace” of cake.

The Surprise: Our daughter’s adjustment to her new life has been swift and relatively smooth. She has never complained about returning to Connecticut since that Spring Break car ride a year ago. She has never asked to return to her boarding school though at times she speaks of missing her friends or the Cape. When questioned by family or friends on how she feels living in Ridgefield, Connecticut her answer is immediate and consistent “ I love it.” No, it is not our daughter who had a difficult adjustment to the new life. It was her mom.

Part 2: Tomorrow I will post on mom’s adjustment, one that was not so smooth. A journey for which I was not prepared, and one that I hope to make easier in some ways for others, simply by relating my own tale. Stay tuned and let me know what you think.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

Getting Married? How To Stay Sexy Together From The Inside Out

A Gift Of A Mind-Set: The wedding date is approaching and you and your partner may already be residing together. Or you may be living apart but have enjoyed sexual intimacy for sometime. Perhaps the two of you have delayed that most intimate of connections for your wedding night. Then again, you may be amongst those trying marriage again, with the experience of disappointment or loss behind you. Amongst the many gifts you will be receiving from family and friends, include this one, a gift of a mind-set, an attitude, a useful belief system to share for the remainder of your lives together. Nothing will be more useful or worthwhile. Consider it a down payment on securing a successful life together.

Planning A Wedding? That is a big job. Planning a life, even bigger. A critical aspect of marital life is sexual intimacy, yet unlike choosing where to live, or worship or rent, there is no template to follow to ensure ongoing satisfaction in your conjugal coupling. Our culture, despite endless media coverage and reams of online and print articles on sexual allure and romance, seems to adhere to the view that sex should be a spontaneous, non-reflective, libidinous adventure more along the lines of two crystalline bubbles magically floating towards each other, merging briefly without bursting or dissolving, exiting as two, intact and ready for more. Resembling the mating of hummingbirds, but with the modifications of foreplay and utterances of love and encouragement. In other words, the chemistry that drew us together should keep us together, despite the vicissitudes of daily living, the distractions of children, economics, and hormones. Yes, and if pigs had wings, they could fly too.

Mind-Readers: What is the secret to staying sexy together, sustaining the confidence of mutual attraction and interest that serves multiple purposes of healthy living: enhancing self-worth; releasing stress; providing opportunity to give and receive love both profound and playful, and keeping connected to your sensual self? Well, it is not mind reading. Many wish it were.

What Are They Thinking: “If only he knew that I need more kissing and for him to say he loves me, so I can feel it. But I am too embarrassed to tell him. Makes me sound so needy and demanding.” “She should know by now that I can’t be turned on when she is in sweats. I would like to make to love to her but I feel like that is her signal for ‘not interested’ so I don’t even try, way too humiliating, better just turn over and go to sleep.” “I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I wish he knew that the way he tries to bring me to orgasm makes me feel so self-conscious. That would be insulting, right, hurt his male ego? It’s like he is performing, which is a turn off for me. Feels forced and disconnected. But I am afraid to embarrass him.” “If her touch felt more sincere, not so robotic, or if she just seemed more into pleasing me. I know she is trying. But it looks like work for her. What could I possible say that wouldn’t be hurtful?” “He says he doesn’t like to kiss. I don’t get that. How can he love me and not want to kiss me when we are having sex?” “I just wonder what she is thinking about. One minute she is into it, the next, she just seems bored.” “How can he expect me to be turned on when I never see him and then I’m suppose to just feel warm and cozy towards him, with the snap of his fingers.” “I can’t do that.”

Performance Is Anti-Intimacy: Couples express frustration that their partner is not picking up clues or “intuiting” that something is missing in either the sexual act itself or the atmosphere around it. But you can’t bank on either clues or intuition to message your needs or wants. It won’t work. The very first lesson in staying sexy together is to toss out the notion of the “mind reading” spouse. Minds don’t read. We may think that we are picking up signals but in reality we are projecting our own concerns onto the other, and reading them as our partner’s feelings. At these times we all wish that minds could read so that we would not have to risk exposing our feelings, seeing reactions to our requests, expressing embarrassing statements of need, or disappointments around an area so personal as sexual attraction, desire and performance.

Mission Accomplished? Even the word “performance”, one of the most non-intimate in the English language, sets off alarms. “Performance” works when personal vulnerability with another is avoided, on stage or while taking the SAT’s, when the focus is on the job at hand, not the person next to you. The audience is an ism, something whose attention you need to draw to you, a faux connection to the individual in the front row is required, concentration is on the act and art of peak performance, on the self, only checking in on the other to see “how am I doing? But our rather self-conscious culture of sexual coupling on camera, in the mirror or on the screen, can confuse “orgasmic outcome” with couple intimacy…mission accomplished. Perhaps, but what about the fakes, as when President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and implied with his immortal words, “Mission Accomplished” that the war in Iraq was over. Mission accomplished or an orgasmic moment for our 43rd President? Staying sexy together needs the real thing, honest intimacy, no substitute will work.

From The Inside Out: How do you attain and sustain a deeper level of sexual intimacy, if the performance and mind-reading approaches don’t work? From The Inside Out. What does that mean? Individuals need to develop a different sort of sexual tool, the tool of tolerance for hearing how the other experiences intimacy; listening, learning and reflecting on the inner feelings that your partner reveals without fear or judgment. But what partner has the guts to reveal themselves except in the heat of a fight with withering words of anger, jealousy and distrust or muttered quietly and then quickly dropped at the first anxious or mocking glance from a threatened spouse. Our sexual selves are not as “cocky” (forgive the pun) as we would like. We tend to be an insecure bunch who teeter often on the brink of feeling rejected, repulsive, not cool or competent in that “sexy way.” Weight, age, and the loss of the instantaneous heat that initial coupling relies on allow more of the old fears to surface and new concerns to poke holes in what was once a sure thing, rocking each other’s boat.

History: Old fears that even predate this coupling and were never fully allayed may be triggered when work hours and children gobble up time together, fatigue snuffs out desire and comparisons with other couples, real or fictitious, insinuate insecurity and self-doubt where confident assumptions about shared desire once resided. We tend to be clueless about how to make the intimacy conversation a regular part of the couple arsenal of tools for fortifying the marital bond, though we see bonding opportunities in, let’s say, cutting down the Christmas tree together or exchanging gifts on wedding anniversaries. Yet exchanging emotions and perceptions in a tolerant atmosphere is the rarity rather than the ritual that it should be for many couples.

Flexibility: An essential component of the intimacy chat is to achieve a flexible attitude – not just physically but mentally. Think how to modify or adapt or add something knew to the sexual moments that will more closely meet each other’s needs. Rigid adherence to a conventional template is a sure means to take the sensual out of the sexual. If that means one partner is going to lose something enjoyable, substitute something else. If you need help, read some books or seek out the aid of a psychotherapist who specializes in sex therapy. The goal is to feel safe and loving together, which may be best achieved by occasionally making adjustments. This too can be fun, if you take the anxiety out of the exchange and replace it with discovery and humor.

Sexy Together Is Not Forever, Unless: This is not a one-conversation foray. Establishing and maintaining the intimate connection that a good sexual alliance offers, does not work unless there is an open-ended invitation for communication over the lifetime of the relationship. Start now, with your marriage vows, to introduce the new normal, sharing what is working in your sensual, sexual co-mingling, what could be better, what might be changing, not clinically but with affection, humor and honesty. Our sexuality is not a static entity that never changes. Periodically we need to update the data. Appetites change, sensitivities develop, hormones shift. Agree to develop the muscle of tolerance, where very personal information can be shared without crushing outcomes or egos.

The Threat: The suggestion of having an honest conversation about “our sex life” can at first sound threatening and alarming to an individual. Their reaction might be anger or insults, all defenses, which are likely invoked to camouflage fears of inadequacy. Practice over time is the only way to extinguish that association. What may be perceived initially as awkward, sharing personal needs in a mutually tolerant environment, is actually the essential currency of connection for couples to feel safe and sexy with each other. And have fun. Sexual comfort and closeness is only a component of intimacy. What I am suggesting relates to a deeper component, being honest with another and allowing them to be honest with you. This is the sacred key to lasting intimacy.

Time As A Factor: Profound sexual intimacy does not happen on the honeymoon, or even in the first year of marriage. Rather it develops with time and practice, over the years, weaving together an emotional net that cloaks each partner with a sense of worth and safety that they take with them into the larger world.

A Vow Worth Making: We vow that we will develop the courage and practice of sharing our intimate feelings and needs with the other, many times over many years, in tolerance and understanding. That we look not for perfection either in ourselves or the other, but for honesty and safety in our love, from the inside out.

To The Courageous Coupledom: Congratulations!

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

Closing In On A Year & Building Trust: 3-12-12

March 30, 2011: In a little more than two weeks it will be a year since the first post on Parenting Adult Special Needs: One Day At A Time. Last week our daughter’s entire team of staff members from ABD (Ability Beyond Disability) and her DDS (Connecticut Department of Developmental Services) case manager sat down at a conference table with our daughter and her parents to review the last seven months of residential, Day Service Options and vocational placement. (The meeting was originally planned for the prior week but a brief snowstorm caused a cancellation.) The meeting began with our daughter presenting her views on the last months, including likes and dislikes. She was unequivocally positive about her apartment-mate and staff, their many outings, which included going to the Museum of Natural History, the Bronx Zoo and an upcoming overnight trip to Mystic, Connecticut. Regarding her vocational life, she was less thrilled with the cleaning chores that accompany her volunteer work at ROAR and The Complete Cat Clinic. Following our daughter’s presentation, staff and parents engaged in a review of vocational options, residential strategies, and day services activities, exploring with our daughter her preferences for future programming. A thick packet of write-ups from each of the coordinators of the various groups was handed to my husband and to me. Later I read through the packet, which revealed that staff had a good understanding of our daughter’s workings.

Coming Up: Residential and vocational staff have come to know our daughter well. Based on their knowledge of her strengths, staff is looking at job settings that tap into her substantial social skills, as well as her love of animals. Since that meeting a possibility has been uncovered at an animal daycare that might afford her more hands on time with the animals and more social interaction with customers than is available at her current sites. She is also invited to assist in leading a tour of potential client families visiting the ABD headquarters next month. In addition, she and her apartment-mate will greet guests at the ABD Gala on April 28th, and will be staying for the evening. Our daughter is familiar with formal fundraising galas from her years at Riverview School, which hosts hundreds of people under a gorgeous tent on the campus. She is so savvy that she asked if the ABD Gala was having a silent auction. (They are.) Nothing passes this girl’s notice.

Book Club: What is also clear is what is hard for our daughter. Especially at Day Service Options, which is the social group she attends two days a week. During the winter members often bowled, played board games and cards, all activities that are very hard for our daughter. My husband and I offered ideas such as having a group that views films together, followed by an informal discussion, something our daughter is skilled at, critiquing theater and film, talking about characters and plot. When asked by her father what sort of programming she would like to do with her peers, she said “A book club.” What a wonderful idea. She reads well and particularly enjoys biographies. There is a series of fourth and fifth grade level readers that include the life stories of historical figures ranging from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Helen Keller and Rosa Parks. Our daughter has read many of them and can be a member in a lively discussion which could incorporate the very world around them. Living in a colonial area where a revolutionary encampment took place (Putnam Park), field trips could be taken by the DSO group based on their readings. Helen Keller lived for some time in the town of Easton, which is close by. And Mark Twain, aka Samuel Clemens, built a house and resided in our daughter’s hometown of Redding two years before his demise and founded the town library, The Mark Twain Library.

Future Education: Our daughter is clear that she would like to continue her formal education in some format and staff have agreed to look for or create learning possibilities. Their understanding of her drive to learn and their wish to help her accomplish this is a hopeful sign. Not only is our daughter maturing, but this agency as well is reaching out and expanding to meet the needs of its new “age-outs” in impressive ways.

Building Trust: Starting last Spring, our family has been dependent on ABD to create a world of safety and stimulation for our daughter. We are almost a year into signing over responsibility for so much of our daughter’s future to them. This has been hard for me as her mother. Trust takes time to build and though our daughter felt comfortable almost immediately, with transient moments of dissatisfaction, for her mother this was a slower process. This past week I have reviewed my own journey and can say that trust, though a living thing and open to change, has been established. The ABD staff understands how difficult it is for families to “let go” when for decades they have been the lynch pin that holds their special needs child’s life together. There is no question that they have earned our trust through their professional and very personal care and dedication to our daughter. And though we have given others responsibility for the care and safety of our daughter before, both at sleep away camp and boarding school, never was it so inclusive and “legalized” and never was she so close to home that the ambiguities of our roles were a source of confusion. Distance adds a kind of clarity that proximity does not offer.

The End Of The Era Of Transition: My next post, on Monday, March Twenty Sixth, will be the last for this series of “Parenting Special Needs: One Day At A Time.” In the meantime, I hope that if anyone has thoughts they would like to share, please do so on the blog. All comments are welcomed. The transition from parenting a special needs child to an adult with special needs will continue but the first leg of the trip is certainly over. Thank you for accompanying us on it. And please check in on my final post in two weeks.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

The Un-Romantic Bed

Bill Maher: If ever there were an unromantic guy, it is Bill Maher with his surgeon-like skill to slice away all artifice and get to the earthy or seamy underbelly of so much of life, political and otherwise. Recently, he made a comment about sleep which got me thinking about the unromantic aspect of sleeping together or apart.

But first, his comment. Mr. Maher, in an interview with guest Dr. Drew Pinsky on his HBO talk show Real Time while discussing the demise of Whitney Houston, made this observation about celebrities and drugs “…one thing you can’t command, any of us, is sleep.” In Maher’s opinion, “A lot of these deaths (referring to celebrity deaths) are about sleep.” In that context Mr. Maher reached as far back as Elvis, who, he believes, died in pursuit of a good night’s sleep. Mr. Maher and Dr. Drew were in agreement that prescription drugs, readily available to the rich and powerful, are often the pathway to untimely and tragic death. Why? Mega stars have entourages, including physicians whose role is to gratify their clients every whim. In Mr. Maher’s view, no one has the magic spell that brings “on demand” the elusive state of sleep without relying on a potentially lethal potion of chemicals and alcohol that ultimately can make sleep permanent. And no one can guess, neither those who may provide the drugs or drink, nor the imbibers, when that potion might take the lethal turn.

Sleep Over Romance: Mr. Maher speaks the truth when he says, ”No one can command sleep.” But almost anything can interrupt it for many. It is this conundrum of shared bedding that often puts even the best of compatible Coupledoms in a quandary over how to stay intimate and spoon in the double, queen or king-size realm, and still get a decent night’s sleep. Snoring, insomnia, spouses who talk or groan in their sleep, toss and turn and even strike out an arm or a leg sometimes smacking their unsuspecting partner, steal sheets, need the T.V. on, turn on a light to read, leave the bed several times to pee, get hot flashes and rip off the covers or their PJ’s in middle of the night, fight over windows open or closed: these are just some of the interruptions that can lead to serious sleep deprivation. Those are challenges enough to Coupledom sleep compatibility without adding the great sleep challenge that child rearing brings to the art of achieving a peaceful night’s sleep “together.” (See my previously published post on the subject, Musical Beds: Bedtime And The Coupledom).

In a blog published in the Wall Street Journal in 2009, the “sleeping separately” solution for those who cannot achieve sleep while sharing a bed with their partner is outed and normalized as a reasonable alternative to serious sleep deprivation. Perhaps a different issue than the celebrity search for a restful night, which may be complicated by serious emotional issues, a lifestyle of erratic hours, and drug dependency, the typical Coupledom may be suffering from the social pressure to appear “happily married” by co-existing nightly under the same set of sheets at the price of sleep loss, a potentially serious medical threat to one’s health and a surefire way to reduce emotional tolerance in any relationship.

Sex, Vacations and Visitors: We are a culture that tries to conform to conventional images that portray happiness and health. Isn’t that what advertising is all about? Happy couples in separate beds or bedrooms have not been pictured in catalogs, movies or television shows since Lucy and Desi. Yet, despite media displays of marital bliss as one bed, two spooning bodies, many couples sleep apart not because they are alienated from each other, but because they cannot forgo another night of sleep without losing all pleasure in living. When on vacation these same couples are challenged to find affordable options for separate rooms, and when visitors come to their home, they are faced with revealing this “anomaly” of coupling or spending a few nights back in the sack together sleepless again. That sexual contact is associated with sharing a bed is countered by anecdotes from many a couple who remain in the same bed while experiencing serious emotional and sexual alienation even to the point of seeing a divorce attorney. Bedding down together each night is no guarantee that intimacy of any kind is actually taking place.

Children: I have yet to find scholarly research on the impact on children of parents sleeping either in separate beds or bedrooms. Emphasis in blog posts and articles is on the relationship between spouses while they are awake ,which more fully tells their children the story of their parents’ relationship than who sleeps where. It is also useful to be clear why separate bedrooms work if the child raises the topic or has some questions. Children are not particularly eager to hear about their parents’ sex life, so a general sense that all is well is conveyed by affectionate displays and real life observations that their parents enjoy each other’s company, rather than grunts and groans heard through bedroom walls.

However, I did come across an article for parents who are getting divorced that includes an easy guide to understanding from a developmental perspective how children of different ages view their familial world, published by North Carolina State University. Understanding the stages of child awareness at all ages can help parents separate fears from facts.

The Un-Romantic Bed: My unromantic poster boy, Bill Maher, has the knack for flushing out hidden shame on many subjects. That sleep is important is not a new idea. But that in the search for a peaceful sleep, some succumb to the temptations that an “elixir” of sorts can, like the long sought fountain of youth, bring eternal happiness is exposed for the ruse that it is. And that “shameful fact” that many couples cannot achieve nocturnal bliss side-by-side should be outed as well, rather than guffawed over or sneered at as some skeleton in the marital closet. Perhaps Mr. Maher can out that fact as well? With all Coupledom issues, what is healthy is truth, earthy, often unromantic but not shameful. A good night’s sleep for each partner makes for a better Coupledom.

Have That Conversation. It is very personal but it is also very practical.

Sweet dreams.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

Couples Counseling: A Tool For Life?

Checking In: When a couple comes in for counseling, they are motivated by a personal crisis, either within The Coupledom or one pressing on the Coupledom. Typical triggers are a particularly volatile fight, an encounter with relatives/in-laws that leads to a clash of attitudes, a financial crisis, a child’s acting-out, loss, an affair, a suspected affair, addiction or illness, sexual discontent, an impending retirement, or other significant life changes. I have worked with couples on the eve of their wedding where one questions the decision to marry. Couples, only a few months post-wedding, where one member of The Coupledom is behaving in a most “unmarried” fashion. And the therapy can last for several months or several years. But what really makes for the greatest certainty of sustained improvement is when couples use therapy whenever one or both see themselves stuck at an important crossroad or drifting apart with ever-widening chasms between them. The “return” to a trusted couples psychotherapist who is familiar with the individuals and their history can be an enormous asset to any marriage.

Undermining Attitudes: I am often puzzled by the association many in our society continue to make when considering professional help with marital issues (or any relational or psychological challenge). Despite the fact that psychotherapy and counseling are everyday terms in today’s culture, with television and radio shows providing therapeutic interventions to openly distressed individuals within view of wide audiences, in the private sector there remains a belief that asking for help signals crisis, catastrophe, humiliating weakness, or a first step to divorce. Frequently a spouse will call to inquire about counseling with the caveat “my husband/wife doesn’t know I am making this call” because they anticipate that the spouse will be alarmed and resistant. Often the first appointment or first few appointments are focused on helping the spouse find the courage and the skills to have the conversation that will lead their partner to the needed couples therapy.

Improvement as Incentive: All psychotherapy, to be useful, requires a gradual lowering of one’s guard, defenses or whatever armor we all use to appear invulnerable to others or to reassure ourselves that we are in control. Couples therapy provides witnesses to this shedding of layers of protective covering, not just in the presence of a stranger, the therapist, but also someone very familiar, with whom one lives: the spouse. These are powerful dynamics and can lead to powerful and positive changes for the relationship. When a couple emerges from their first round of therapy, feeling a sense of relief and renewed intimacy, what prevents them from returning when old habits sneak back in? Or new stresses arouse old issues?

Regression: Regression is a normal part of life when challenges arise and couples often regress back to former destructive or alienating behaviors when one or both of the members of The Coupledom are having a rough time. Job loss, illness, retirement, adding another child to the family, or children leaving home, hormonal changes, a death, mid-life transitions and moves are just a few of life’s passages that introduce elements of concern and readjustment. Sliding back to habits that become distancing is typical as well. The energy that it takes to stay involved and interested in even someone we love can be trumped by work ambition, child rearing demands and personality traits characterized by self-absorption and avoidance. Yet a return to couples therapy is often last on the list of options and sometimes even too late. Why? Because therapy makes us look at our pain and that is hard to do. It is that simple. Pain, as in fear of failure, of loss, of imperfection, of powerlessness or anger, of insecurity and suspicion, of hurt and helplessness. Painful feelings that we don’t like to address unless we are bleeding. And sometimes that is too late for The Coupledom.

A Tool For Life: I work with couples that return to therapy when they hit a bump in life’s road. They don’t see couples therapy as a one shot only, make it or break it deal. They view therapy as a resource to turn to whenever they need it. If one of The Coupledom says, “Let’s go,” the other says, “Fine.” It is an acceptable option for both partners. I see this as evidence that a good relationship never stops growing or improving, especially when both partners are able to say, “Hey, let’s look at this and see what we can do to make it better. Why don’t you call and make an appointment?” “Will do.”

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

Social Graces and Seven Months: 2-27-12

Demo Day: Saturday our family attended “Demo Day” at the Pegasus Equestrian Center in Brewster, New York, where our daughter, along with other students, demonstrated her equine knowledge and skill acquired in their “Horse & Me” winter “unmounted” program. At the stable, each student in her class stood by a horse while they and their families engaged in a game of guessing horse girth, height and age. Afterwards, families followed the students and volunteers down the hill to the indoor arena where the students led their horses around orange cones, offered them toys and received ribbons for their achievements. Our daughter received a satiny pink ribbon and beamed with pride and pleasure in being a part of that horsey world. In another week she will return to the “mounted” program and ride through the Spring session.

Social Skills Training: Later that evening our family celebrated a birthday with sixty friends at a private room in a neighborhood restaurant. Our daughter and her apartment-mate attended. One of our daughter’s older cousins came with her new beau. According to this cousin, our daughter went over to the gentleman, extended her hand, introduced herself and welcomed him to the party. Five years of boarding school training and an innate social acuity combine to make our daughter impressively skilled at making newcomers feel welcomed. Riverview, her Cape Cod boarding school, placed a great deal of importance on their students offering a warm handshake and welcome to all visitors, many of whom, potential candidates for admission, came for an overnight stay in the dorms as a preparatory method of determining if the student, their family and the school were a good match.

Trained Educators Make The Difference: A critical piece of the special needs education is offering a template for social interaction. Our daughter excelled in this area of her education and has maintained these skills especially as her innate curiosity and interest in others are fostered by this acquired confidence in her ability to engage them appropriately in conversation. Prior to this 24/7 training at her school, our daughter would experience a great deal of anxiety anticipating such a social evening and in the past would have refused to attend. Repeated practice and training in a residential setting over five years laid a foundation of comfort for a lifetime. It is impressive what trained educators can do, if allowed, that makes the future of a special needs individual shift from gloomy to glorious. Riverview School is a model for this type of educational intervention. And we are grateful to them every day of our lives.

Seven Months Down and A Six Month Review: On Friday we mark seven months of adult residential life for our daughter and her apartment-mate. Wednesday, Leap Year Day, I meet with her State of Connecticut DDS (Department of Developmental Services) case manager and her Ability Beyond Disability team to review the first six months. My focus is on the vocational piece. I am able to assess from afar how the residential and social components of her program are progressing but have little information regarding our daughter’s vocational development.

Sharing Lives: Almost all sixty of the attendees at the party celebration this past weekend have known our children their entire lives. Eight of the women are parent members of our daughter’s baby group/book club that has thrived and survived intact these twenty-two years. Two of the women are grandmothers; many have older children who have wedded in recent years. And all of us have twenty-two year olds born within a six month period who now are on the threshold of adulthood, most recent college graduates or soon to be. Only our daughter is more or less “established” in her adult life. She cannot wander through her early twenties in search of her true self, not quite in the same way. Her special needs life requires more definition and supervision; her entitlements impose order and rules; her deficits depend on organization and management. Uncertainty as a daily diet is unacceptable here. The irony of all that cannot be lost on anyone. Certainly not on me.

Often there is an upside to life’s hardships and this is one of them – our daughter is safe and happy in this early stage of her adulthood, and that brings to her family great peace of mind.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012

Do You Need an Education to Stay Married?

The National Marriage Project: The State of Our Unions is a joint publication of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and The Center for Marriage and Families at The Institute of American Values. I have provided a link to download a PDF of the study above and urge everyone to scroll through the document. This publication is an astonishing depiction of the trends in our country that highlight both the ever-increasing disparity between the affluent and the less affluent and the “highly educated” from the “moderately educated” to the “least educated” social classes and the impact on the institution of marriage.

The Terms: Though I cannot offer an easy summation of their findings, I can focus on the role of education and marital health. The term “highly educated” refers to those who receive a college education. For the “moderately educated” high school graduation completes their formal education. The least educated drop out of high school.

The title of this year’s “State of the Union” publication, “When Marriage Disappears: The Retreat From Marriage In Middle America”, does not then refer to “middle America” as a political or geographic section of our country, rather to the educational level and lifestyle choices of the largest segment of the American population, those with a high school only education. Historically this group was deeply tied to the institution of marriage but increasingly has chosen other options. They also have a rising divorce rate and non-marital childbearing rate both significantly higher than their more educated peers, as well as being less likely to use birth control and more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than their highly educated peer group.

The statistics for this group are rapidly mirroring those of the least educated, the high school dropouts in our culture, which leads us to the question, “Do You Need an Education To Stay Married?” Apparently the greater the educational achievement, the more likely you and your partner ascribe to values that help to sustain marriages.

The Success Sequence or The Soul Mate: The study identifies two different concepts of the role marriage plays in our lives. “The Success Sequence” incorporates the bourgeois values and virtues of delayed gratification, self-control, focus on education, and temperance which follows a sequence whose first step is the acquisition of an education, then work opportunities, followed by marriage, and finally childbearing. In general this is the pathway chosen by the highly educated. The moderately educated are trending toward the “The Soul Mate” model of marital partnership which is couple-centered, where the relationship is viewed as the vehicle for personal growth, rather than personal growth leading to partner selection, and whose survival is based on the happiness of both partners without the requisite sequencing steps of the highly educated model. Both models are couple-centered and value happiness but the “Soul Mate” model does not have the economic foundation nor the opportunities of the “success sequence” model and is therefore more vulnerable to the vicissitudes of financial instability such as unemployment, unplanned pregnancy, substance abuse, infidelity and divorce.

Process and Communication: I am neither a sociologist nor a political scientist. The relevance of this study for my work as a psychotherapist rests on an examination of the attributes outlined in the study that act to strengthen marital stability and satisfaction. Four emerge that match my observations clinically:

  1. The ability to delay immediate gratification (a cornerstone of “the success sequence model) in the journey to reach a longer-term goal;
  2. The role of education which in my view, enhances both conceptual thinking and communication–that is, the exercise of expanding understanding and the requirement of communicating knowledge and understanding to others;
  3. The involvement in process leading to outcome over time (again the success sequence model) which relies on the ability to await results and the belief that working at something over time bears fruit;
  4. Later marriage and childbearing, and in that order, all leading to more secure employment and financial stability which reduces stresses that challenge marital stability.

Couples Therapy: Couples therapy relies on the values of and belief in communication and process, as well as the ability to delay immediate gratification, i.e. not finding solutions quickly. When I see a couple able to handle the anxiety of strife and the pain of hurtful words and realities in the session, while allowing me as a therapist to act as a translator who explains to one the emotions and notions of the other, I know that these folks have the necessary “muscle” to use therapy to better their marriage, over time. All marriages or relationships get into trouble at some point or points. Those Coupledoms that have developed expressive language skills can more easily learn to identify and clarify feelings with each other, in their homes or in a therapist’s office, and can ride out very difficult times without seeking immediate relief either in a substance or another person. Those who have few experiences with the virtues of process or have no faith in the benefits of delaying gratification are more likely to take flight from problems before reparative tools can be tried.

Encourage Your Children To Stay In School: I have written about the importance of education in a prior post. The disturbing findings of this report reveal that those who are members of the lesser educated middle America”grouping suffer greater disruption in their family lives with significant negative impact on their children’s future. All this is carefully documented with statistics in the report. Not surprisingly, the attributes that enable couples to profit from couples therapy match those that enable families to stay together, sustain marriages and have a great chance of avoiding the destructive consequences of substance abuse, unemployment and severe financial distress. That middle America has lost faith in marriage as a protective and useful institution, and the highly educated are leaning the other way, toward preserving their marriages more now than even ten years ago, speaks to many factors. But whatever the beliefs that underlie these trends, the results are clear: higher education is a hedge against some of the most harmful forces impacting family life.

Unequal Opportunities: Our country does not offer equal access to higher education. That vicious cycle of affluence leading to more affluence, and less to less, is often at play here as in many other aspects of our culture. However, valuing the attributes noted above can raise the likelihood that a family can provide a stabilizing environment needed to allow even the less affluent to reach educational goals in spite of the obstacles. Delaying gratification, utilizing the “success sequence model” and eschewing immediate gratification are attributes anyone can acquire, with the right guidance and values in place in the home.

©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012