The Wonder of Compatability

“The Wonder of Compatibility”

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

 They were just being served their salads as my 12 year old daughter, Hunter Rose, and I were being seated at our favorite Italian restaurant last Friday.  I noticed them out of the corner of my eye sitting across from one another at a small, cozy table.   I thought to myself, “What a sweet elderly couple,” as our waitress handed me a menu.

After we ordered, my eyes kept drifting to over to them.  I figured them in their mid 70’s; Hunter Rose had them somewhat younger as we observed her sipping her white wine and him pouring his beer from bottle to glass.  Her light blue, high collared, casual dress and his khaki pants with short sleeve, plaid shirt seemed to accentuate their age.  They both were wearing bifocals, slid halfway down their respective noses.  Both wore slim, gold wedding bands.

As we munched on our bread sticks, it was on my fourth look to their table that I realized they had not said a single word to one another.  They were into their main course.  Her eyes and focus were on the delicacies on her plate.  She hardly looked up or at him.   With each forkful of food he delivered to his mouth, he was people watching around the dining room and observing nature outside the nearby window.  Their contrast in style was attention getting.

For the next 70 minutes and until our check was paid, there were many glances over to observe their continued, vigilant silence.  They were still leisurely enjoying coffee and dessert as we headed for the exit.

On the drive home, we could not stop discussing and wondering how this couple, that we imagined had been married for numerous decades,  preferred to experience their dinner date in quiet and without eye contact.  We pondered how that worked for them.  But, we both agreed that we had felt a strong unconditional love that flowed between them.

We asked ourselves, “What is the secret to compatibility over a lifelong marriage?”  And, paradoxically, what causes the pleasurable compatibility that couples believe they have on their wedding day to vanish into divorce?

Why do so many couples throw the towel in when they seemingly have so much to build upon while others cherish and continue their commitment when they seem to have so little in common?

If asked, we would all say that couple “compatibility” is a necessary element of a successful long-term marriage.  But, what exactly does that mean?  How will we define it in our existing or future love relationship?  How will we explain it to our dating children?

These questions call for…

“POD WISDOM”

Let’s take it upon ourselves as an Association to answer them.  Go to the “Forum” accompanying this blog and share your thoughts what defines “compatibility” in a successful marriage relationship.  And, weigh in on our new “Compatibility Poll.”  We’ll share our combined wisdom on the subject with the world!

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What To Do About the Mental Health of an Ex?

“What To Do About the Mental Health of an Ex?”

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

 A POD member asked for information about his ex-spouse having a substantial and sudden change in mental condition.

It is obvious that whether we are considering a commitment in a pre-marriage situation, a current marriage relationship, or in divorce situations in which minor children are involved, the mental health of both partners is essential to the health and joy of relationship interaction.

A relationship can only be as good and satisfying as what the individuals bring into it.  In my clinical practice, over 85% of the couples who come to me for marriage/relationship counseling involve mental illness in one or both of the partners.  What is most shocking is that over 50% of those who present with such disorder report that they have never been psychologically evaluated, diagnosed, or treated!  And, a vast majority of these folks are in significant denial that there is anything wrong with them.

When these couples come for counseling, they tell the therapist that the relationship is “the problem.” What emerges in the therapy is that the problems are caused by the mental disorder existing in one or both of the partners.

Psychologically unhealthy humans rarely create healthy relationships over time.  Undiagnosed and untreated physical illness can also lead to relationship breakdown.

Any psychological disorder can and will negatively impact relationship.  The relationship killer in people with psychological disorders is FEAR.  Fear negates the experience of LOVE.  It is impossible to allow one’s self to be vulnerable in a relationship when frightened.

The most frequent diagnoses that I observe people in couples’ counseling present with…

  • Undiagnosed and untreated or ineffectively treated post traumatic stress.  This usually manifests from  sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse, in soldiers with battle experience, in police and other law enforcement personnel and firefighters who witness trauma and/or have near-death experiences,  and in EMT’s, Emergency Room and other health care professionals who are exposed to patient trauma.  These individuals find it very difficult to feel safe in relationship and have trouble being emotionally present/available in relationship because their pattern of suppressing the painful emotion of the unresolved trauma will present as either emotional avoidance or instability/volatility.
  • Addictions.  Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex/porn, food, shopping – whatever.  These patterns consume time and resources and cause people to be inattentive in relationship.  The addiction is presented as more valuable than relationships.  Remember, many addictions, especially drugs and alcohol, are self-medication efforts for other conditions.
  • Anxiety of any type.  People who suffer from anxiety make choices based on what worries and frightens them.   Social anxiety, which makes it impossible for a person to enjoy interactions with people who are unfamiliar, will quickly breakdown a relationship in which their partner enjoys social interaction and meeting new people.
  • Chronic Pain/Pain Disorders.  Enjoying anything is hard when a person is in pain.  To the extent a person is consumed by pain, they cannot be present in relationship.  When pain increases during sexual activity, it is difficult for people to fully engage and enjoy a sexual encounter.

Psychological health can deteriorate quickly as our associate has noticed in his ex-spouse.  Trauma, grief (over the loss of a loved one, job, etc.), financial problems, post-partum depression, and physical conditions including pain, thyroid dysfunction, hormonal imbalances, and many other situations can cause sudden psychological distress which results in change in relating.

As POD’s, our first concern of mental health should be our own.  If I know I am psychologically struggling, I must have the courage to be evaluated by a qualified and competent mental health provider, ensure accurate diagnosis, and get effective treatment.  It is irresponsible to try establish and maintain a pleasurable love relationship if we are not psychologically healthy.

When dating, it is imperative that we are certain of our potential partner’s psychological health.  I meet too many people who enter committed relationships knowing that their partner has a psychological disorder not under control.  Many engage with the false hope that the relationship itself will make their partner better, only to learn later that the responsibility of performing well in the relationship causes them to get worse.

If you are in a relationship in which you know your partner is suffering from a diagnosable mental disorder, do not choose the path of relationship counseling first.  Focusing the problem on the relationship will distract your partner from what is their primary responsibility – to get themselves healthy.  Their pathology that shows up in the relationship counseling, if not individually treated, will cause the relationship counseling to fail.

In a divorce situation, an ex-spouses mental health deterioration, especially when that results in abusive, inattentive, negligent, or unhealthy parenting of minor children, must be addressed.  May times the healthy spouse will balk at addressing the issue with the ex to avoid generating increased conflict.  But, this is a situation in which the well-being of the children must be priority.

A progressive process of getting your ex’s attention to their psychological condition can be followed:

  • A direct attempt to get our ex’s attention to address the issue is the best first move.  A private, face-to-face disclosure of your concerns is optimal.   A letter that defines your concerns can be effective also.  Remember to be empathic and compassionate – not blaming or accusatory.  Do not speak or write about psychological diagnoses.  It is best to communicate actual observations of behavior and/or mood (i.e. excessive anger, etc.) and the negative impact that was observed on others (i.e. the children, etc.).
  • If a direct communication fails, securing the attention and support of ex-in-laws can be an effective next step.  It can be much easier to “hear it” from loving family members.
  • Securing the support of clergy that has a good relationship with an ex is another option.
  • If an ex refuses to address unhealthy behavior and mood and children are being negatively impacted, the involvement of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) through the family court system may be necessary.  Communicating the situation to your family law attorney to get advice on how to proceed or contacting a recommended GAL in your county is recommended.

In such a situation, the only thing that is not recommended is doing nothing.  It may take several attempts and much effort and expense, but having the children and your ex at increasing risk due to mental illness in not acceptable.

We will have many conversations and discussions about mental health as we support one another in our goal of…

Never Again!

What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)

What To Do With an Angry COD (Child of Divorce)

by Bill Schacht, MS, LSCW

On our free monthly pod cast this week for members who have taken our KIDS-IN-A-BREAK: Providing the Necessary Support for Your Child of Divorce seminar,  POD member Tara shared that her 10 year old son is exhibiting an intermittent pattern of anger and tantrum in a variety of situations including when he wants something, when he does not want to do what is asked of him, when he does not get what he wants, and in certain performance situations.  She asked, “What can I do, Bill?”

Any useful answer requires careful consideration of the many factors that are causing her son’s angry mood and correlated behavior.

Anger issues are present in many families that divorce.  Tara shared that she and her ex engaged in many anger-fueled arguments that her son witnessed.  So, knowing something about anger is a good starting point.

Anger is an emotion.  But, it is not a primary response.  Anger is usually either fear turned outward, misdirected passion, caused by hormonal change, or a combination of these.

When a dog becomes frightened, it will do one of two things.  It may cower or roll on its back in a submissive position.  It is communicating to the attacker, “Don’t hurt me.”  Or, the dog will convert its fear to anger and growl and show its teeth in an attempt to keep the threat at a distance.

Humans, when frightened, will many times do the same.  They will non-consciously convert their fear to anger and express that to the scary person or situation.  An example of this is when a person gets cut off on the expressway by another driver in a way that an accident in barely avoided.  A knee-jerk reaction of rage response is a quick conversion of high level fear into an anger response.

COD’s have many fears in family separation situations.  And, many suppress their fears.  Then, it squirts out as anger.

So, one way to effectively respond to child’s or adult’s anger is to ask, “Is there something that is frightening you?”  This simple question will many times deflect the anger and cause the person who is angry to get to the primary cause – something that is frightening.

Anger as “misdirected passion” is when people are not experiencing enough positive stimulation.  They are just not having enough fun.  All humans require stimulation; we need to be aroused.  What we get from arousal is releases of dopamine, adrenaline, and endorphins – all neuro-chemicals that get us to feel good.  When we do not generate enough arousal through healthy and fun activity, the human system can begin to seek arousal through creating mischief.  And, getting angry is one way to get a significant shot of adrenaline up our spine.

When a couple in relationship counseling begins by telling me that they “fight all the time,” I immediately ask, “Can you tell what the two of you have done together in the past two months for fun and pleasure?”   In 90% of the couples the response is, “Not much,” and many declare little or no sexual activity.

So, with an angry son or a battling spouse, it is good to ask if that person is having enough fun – getting the positive arousal they need.  I see many COD’s expressing anger when their parents are not playing with them enough or just not doing enough fun stuff with them.

The hormonal factor of anger can be a rapid fluctuation of estrogen (menstrual cycle related in women) or a build-up of testosterone in a male (not enough sexual release).  We’ll eliminate this in Tara’s son’s case.

If Tara’s son did observe many episodes of his parents fighting with dad or both parents in a high anger state, we can hypothesize that his behavior is simply learned.  If children see that adults respond to not getting what they want, trying to get what they want, or to avoid responsibility or natural consequences by becoming very angry, they will come to believe that anger is the appropriate response in those situations.

Next time you are feeling angry, ask yourself…

Is there something frightening me?

Am I not having enough fun?

Is it my cycle or not having sexual release?

If your child is angry, check the first two and ponder how much anger and fighting your child may have been exposed to in your family.  Please share your wisdom and experiences with the rest of the Association.

WE need your “POD Wisdom”

Introducing a New Blog Category – “POD WISDOM”

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

 

Time to tap into our Association value!

Our next blog posted will be the introduction of a new blog category…

“POD WISDOM”

Although, as the 60 million people of divorce in America, we represent all the not-so-clever things we did to end up divorced, collectively we also have more experience and  insights into what causes marriages to fail, what happens to families after divorce , and what can be done to optimally recover from family separation and recreate a joyful daily life.

We may not think we have all the answers.  But, if we ask the right questions of ourselves and one another and we dig deeply inside of ourselves for the answers, our wisdom will emerge.  Combined, this wisdom will be profound.

The Association’s role will be to compile and organize the wisdom contributed by each of us and get it back out to the membership.

Each POD WISDOM blog will pose a question reported as common to many of us.   A FORUM on the topic will simultaneously be posted with a format and guidelines to submit your personal wisdom on the subject. A composite report will tie all of our wisdom together and be posted as an article.

My plan is to simultaneously pose the same question being addressed to a number of  “experts” in the field of divorce to compare our natural wisdom with that of the pros.

It is not the wisdom of any one of us that holds the potential; it is the wisdom of all of us that can magnificently guide our futures.

Share your wisdom…PLEASE!

How Will I Know When I Am Ready To Start Dating Again?

“How Will I Know When I Am Ready To Start Dating Again?”

By Bill Schacht, MS, LCSW

This blog begs for…

“POD WISDOM”

I can’t tell you how many people of divorce have asked me the “How will I know…” question.  With 2 million new adult divorcees each year and “guestimating” that the majority of us who go back at begin somewhere between 6 and 36 months post the death of marriage day, we can assume there are about 5,000,000 inquiry circling in their software.

The existential standard answer of, “Don’t worry, you’ll just know,” does not seem intuitively correct and holds way too much potential to have the blind staying blind.

The question offers fertile ground for us to generate an answer as a membership.  We all have notions about this subject.  So, let’s get them out there!

Here is our challenge, members…

Go to the POD FORUM entitled, “How Will I Know…?

Post a comment that begins as follows:  “One way a POD know he/she is ready to begin dating is:???

You fill in the ending.  We will keep track of member responses and create a list of them.  We will vote on each one to determine if it should be included on our “POD WISDOM GUIDE” under the topic “You know you are ready to start dating when….!”

Your posts should be serious in nature with the intention of helping each other.

Simultaneously, I will be asking some relationship experts the same question.  We’ll see who presents the best wisdom!

Share your thought, please!

Adult POD Children, Holiday Complexity

“Adult POD Children,  Holiday Complexity”

Family separation and divorce bestows upon the involved children unforeseen, complex, life challenges for most of their remaining lives.  These inevitable situations many times get dumped into the laps of the kids with the divorced parents oblivious to the negative impact on the children’s lives and relationships.

There is no manual for these situations; no protocols, no “right way” to go about it.  Even as adults, these children are afraid to seriously discuss such situations with their parents.  And, when they marry, their spouses often adopt that fear and avoid addressing the issues, even when they cause serious problems within their marriage.

As members of PEOPLE OF DIVORCE – The Association, our value to each other is to report and discuss these complex situations.  This allows the membership to share what remedies they have tried that have succeeded or failed.

Consider the current situation of Elisha and James.  This married, 30ish couple has two young children.

James’ parents divorced when he was 8 years old.  But, the family was always very close and spent much time together.  Even after his mother and father remarried, gatherings in both new households continue to host weekly family interactions. Elisha will say that there is so much socializing within James’ family that, if unchecked, every weekend and some week nights would be spent in the company of his mother’s or father’s extended families.

Elisha’s parents married young and have a solid marriage of 40 years. Her family gets together, but not nearly as much as her husband’s.   Elisha’s family members enjoy their interactions, but are they are not as close and interdependent as James’ family.

James’ wants to spend as much time with his family as possible.  Elisha says she fights all the time with James for time to spend with him alone, together with their kids, and with her family.  The amount of time they spend with James’ family also has reduced their socialization with other couples and friends to almost zilch.

So, where is the real complexity?  Christmas.

James asserts that, because his mom and dad have different families, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day time should be split 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3.  Elisha demands that this time be a 50-50 time divide between her family and his two.  Elisha asks James why her parents should be penalized by losing time with their grandchildren at Christmas for maintaining a happy marriage. She asks James to consider if her parents were also divorced and remarried, would he not be agreeable to splitting the holiday 25-25-25-25 across the four parent households?

Neither will budge on the issue.  Lack of resolution has resulted in other aspects of their relationship to break down.  The problem extends to children’s birthdays and other holidays.

Because  James and Elisha refuse to discuss the issue with their parents, they are clueless to the impact of it on their kids’ marriage.

Elisha is to the point of believing that, if James’ cannot “let go” of his family a little bit and they don’t crack this nut, it could cause them to divorce.

Imagine that two more kids could end up becoming children of divorce because their parents could not agree on with whom they will spend Christmas!

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?  But, it is a real example of the unintended consequences and natural complexity of POD children.

If you have had a similar experience, post a comment.  Share what you have done to remedy such situations.  What do you think should be the protocol in this circumstance?  Let’s talk about it in the POD community and help Elisha and James work it out!