Blog by Miriam

Caring or Careful?

I was speaking to a wife some years back who was talking about a newly found feeling of caringshe was feeling for her husband. Their conflict had been increasing over the previous 2 years about sex. He wanted it and was the only one to initiate it. She loved him and enjoyed sex, but it just didn’t cross her mind a whole lot. He was increasingly confused about what he felt was her lack of interest, and he grew increasingly withdrawn, moody, and hurt. The more he behaved in this way, the more uninterested she became, the more he behaved this way.

After their last blow up, he calmed down and started talking to her about himself. Normally he complained to her about her apparent lack of interest. This time, he was complaining about his part in the problem—the ways he was stuck and couldn’t see a way out. She felt like she understood him better—understood that it wasn’t just about sex for him but also about affection. After this, the two were enjoying the kind of honeymoon that occurs after this kind of settling down to talk. But in listening to her I wondered, was she being caring or careful?

Caring is a fairly high ideal when it comes to married life. Sometimes…OK…a lot of times it can be hard to do—and very quickly turns into being careful. Especially when the kind of tug of war around sex comes up like the couple above. If it’s not a tug of war around sex, it’s around sharing loving feelings (you never tell me you love me) or giving gifts (you never think of ME in your choice of gifts) or spending quality time (we might actually get a divorce because I want to spend more time with you and you won’t freaking initiate it—ever!!!). When we realize we’ve hurt or could hurt our spouse’s feelings (or they could hurt ours), we tend to start being careful around them, rather than caring.

It’s a joint process that creates more and more distance in the relationship. The more you are careful, the more your spouse is careful, the more you are careful, etc. And the more careful we become, the more distance creeps into the relationship.

But before you go trying to get closer to your spouse to remedy the situation, consider this: The opposite of distance isn’t closeness. It’s calm.

 Closeness vs. Calm

When stress and anxiety are low, couples seem to be more capable of caring. When stress or anxiety are high or chronic, couples get into being careful with each other. And being careful, is about being distant.

During the high stress/low resilience cycles, couples start down a black hole of sorts, feeling like they must have married the wrong guy or gal, or like the situation is hopeless. It’s hard to step back to a more objective view where we can see that the feelings are related to an automatic process of sorts, and not to your spouse being a sorry-son-of-a fill in the blank.

When we think in terms of process, the scope of the problem broadens. It’s not about a lack of love or about something we should take personally. It’s about a process of anxiety and what happens between 2 or more people on an automatic, unconscious level.

If you are caught in a cycle of high conflict with your spouse, consider how much stress is skewing your view of him or her or the situation. Consider that the actual stress in your life—whatever the source—is making you see things in highly subjective and possibly inaccurate ways. After all, your spouse has a side too.

 

Women, Leadership, and Marriage

The Future is Female?

So, I have to admit, I’m energized by the women’s movement…by the activism I see on the internet, in our streets and in our political races. This idea that the future could be “female” makes me feel stronger and more hopeful about life. Wonder Woman, #metoo, and Alabama’s recent election all demonstrate that women are taking the lead in ways that are important to them. But what do folks mean by “female” when they say the future is female? Are they mistakenly equating “female” with inherently ecological, empathetic, and egalitarian, as if women have cornered the market on these attributes? And what place would males and “maleness” have in a future that is “female”? And…AND…what in the world does this have to do with marriage counseling?

Politics Aside

Since this is a marriage counseling blog, and you’re subscribed because you want thoughts on marriage and stuff…I’ll address that part. What does everything that’s going on politically and with many women across the country have to with marriage? And especially, with YOUR marriage?

Well, possibly nothing. But could it? Is this a time for women—for you—to begin to see the biases in our culture and how they may have become part of your standard operating procedures as a result? The biases that leave you always comparing yourself to the male standard and unsure of what’s right for you? That perhaps could be part of what challenges or cripples you in terms of taking on a leadership role at home?

But first things first…

Leadership in Marriage

What the heck does leadership in your marriage mean? The answer is: I don’t know. Same as I don’t know what you should DO in your marriage. The very definition of leadership, regardless of whether you are male of female, as I see it, requires that a person…in a challenging circumstance… embody what it is they stand for (not what they stand against…but for) and that they decide for themselves what they think is important to do rather than being directed by a paid expert…or by my blog…amazing as it may be. ;)

Got that? It’s pretty darn important. Deciding for oneself, based in as objective of a position as is possible for us humans, and taking a leap of faith in…oneself…in a process…in an idea…are key factors in leadership in a marriage.

Leadership is not antagonism. It’s about being “a believer.”

“It’s not about what you deserve. It’s about what you believe.”

                                                                                                            -Wonder Woman

But where might biases get in the way of your leadership at home? Perhaps in how you think about money or in how much ‘say’ you exercise in that arena? Or in how you think about going to the doctor/taking care of your health (you know about the medical field’s male standard in research and training, right)? How do health issues and health care play out in your marriage? Or perhaps in the mental health arena. Do you either get diagnosed or diagnose yourself as “crazy” or “depressed” or “codependent”?

Depression and Women

Women are diagnosed with depression significantly more than men. With the mental health industry’s declaration that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (for which there is zero evidence), and their definition of depression as a mental illness, one might be led to ask the question, What’s wrong with women’s brains? Or What is wrong with women?

And you would then be right along side the many psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists, who for decades, and perhaps much more than that, have been asking the same question…What’s wrong with women? And when that’s your question, you will certainly create answers. Lot and lots of answers.

Carol Tavris, in The Mismeasure of Woman, writes that every few years there is a rush of best-sellers sweeping over the United States that aim to tell women the origins of their unhappiness. In the 1950’s, Tavris explains, it was said to be a woman’s inherent masochism, “an idea that derived from Freud’s theory that female psychology includes an unconscious need for, and pleasure in, suffering.” Then in the 1960’s Matina Horner said that “the problem is women’s fear of success.” Wrong. Tavris recounts the work of Marabel Morgan and many religious conservatives in the 1970’s who said “The problem is that women want success, when they should be spending their energies being obedient to God and husband.” Wrong, said Colette Dowling in 1981. She says the real problem with women is that they have a “Cinderella Complex” which she defined as a secret fear of independence. From there it went from “women say yes when they mean no” to “women love too much” to “they don’t love too much…they just love the wrong men.” Then, to Melody Beattie in the late 80’s saying that “the poor guys aren’t to blame, because they are sick. Women love too much because they are codependent—addicted to addicts, addicted to bad relationships.” Men tend to have “problems.” Women tend to have “mental illness.” And well meaning author after therapist after expert tell us how and why.

Despite the waves of popularity of these various notions (and their subsequent “solutions”) over the years, one has to ask…how is it that year after year, decade after decade, these alleged inherent flaws in women are constantly being reworked? And how is it that no matter how women keep being diagnosed, the corresponding therapies and solutions fail to work? But fail they do. We are still disproportionately suffering with depression and anxiety. Is this just more evidence that something is wrong with women…or is it evidence that the question itself is problematic? And is it evidence that perhaps women have problems too, and that defining them as mental illness or chemical imbalance has led so many in circles?

Biases

Do you find yourself impacted by this bias from the mental health industry? It has seeped deeply into our American culture. The idea that if you are depressed, something is wrong with you…rather than the idea that depression is an appropriate response to real problems—real disconnections from important relationships or meaningful work or from our values, or many other things that are fundamental to human happiness. Are there real problems in your marriage? Are there real problems in your work life that require attention? Is there social isolation? Is there loss of community? Women’s real problems have a real impact on us all.

When a disproportionate number of women are being fed heaping piles of something-is-wrong-with-you, rather than being empowered to think through and then solve the real problems in their lives…they get more and more and more depressed and less thought and creativity are applied to real problems. And our leadership at home diminishes.

What has this post stirred in you? What questions? What emotions? How would you think and act differently if you thought of your depression as a normal reaction to real problems?

(I can’t recommend Tavris’ book enough. And if you want the truth about depression, have a look at a book called Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—and the Unexpected Solutions, by journalist Johann Hari. We need perspective. We need facts. We need to be a part of real change. And for many of us, it starts at home.)

Sex Therapy 101: Rolling in the “Deep”

Keeping this one a little shorter than normal. I know you guys have some serious wrapping to do! (As do I!)

Rolling in the “Deep”

Going “deep” in relationships can be like the revenge lyrics in Adele’s song, Rolling in the Deep. Ugly. Angry. Heavy. Yet we have some serious fantasies about going “deep” in our important relationships. We think that our intimacy problems can be solved by going deep. We think that if our spouses would just go deep, our marital difficulties will go away. And so we pursue the deep, dark, corners and crevices of our spouse’s minds and hearts. Or we wish they would pursue ours. We seek out sex therapy or marriage counseling hoping the therapist will help us go “deep”—or at least our spouses.

An Emotional Bloodletting

But what do we really mean by going “deep?” I think in my field it often means a kind of emotional bloodletting. If we can just get them to cry…They’ll release the stuff they’ve been holding onto for so long…They’ll open up…They’ll be able to be intimate. And, surely enough, sometimes when people finally cry, they open up. They have a release. And this can lead to a few days, weeks, and rarely—but sometimes—months of greater openness in the relationship where marriage difficulties once ran rampant.

I love it when it happens in a session with a couple that hasn’t talked to each other in a very long time. I’m glad for the relief they feel in that moment. But I’m also keenly aware that this is not the end, and it’s barely a beginning for them, if at all. Because the work that gets folks to long term happiness and stability isn’t something that happens in an emotional moment in a marriage counseling session. It isn’t about going deep. It’s about a slow opening. An emergence. That takes place over years and years of thought and observation.

Getting Open vs. Going Deep

The work that gets folks to long term happiness and stability (and a better sex life!) is sober work. Perhaps you think I’m just mincing words, but I think there is a big difference between the emotional process of going deep and the emotional and intellectual process of learning to be open. Deep is emotional. Open is emotional AND intellectual. Deep entangles your spouse. Open sets them (and you) free. Deep often entails begging. Open entails including.

older couple hugging

Rolling in the Sheets

Do you wish you were rolling in the sheets with your beloved? Consider giving up your efforts to get them to go deep with you. Getting connected isn’t about an emotional release. Slow and steady wins the race. Slow, methodical, purposeful step-after-step. Your own opening is what’s important here. Your own relaxation. Your own focused, peaceful, beautifully emotional, and thoughtful opening. Oh, and don’t forget to laugh along the way. A little laughter at your own expense goes a very long way.

 

Stay tuned for the first blog series of 2018 on Women and Leadership. I can’t wait to start writing!