Newsletter #5
August 2003

From the Editor
Relationships have taken on new meaning in the face of our increasingly complicated and changing times. Divorce among heterosexuals is running at 50%. How we define family and intimacy is undergoing a sea change. We as a society are beginning to understand that the Ozzie and Harriet concept of relationships may not have been what we imagined and that the concept does not meet our needs today. With increasing acceptance of same sex relationships and their families, cross cultural or interracial relationships, and blended families, our relationships are taking on new flavors and colors that, I believe, will bring a richer texture to our lives and our society. I am including some writings that I hope will be stimulating and helpful in whatever relationships you choose to pursue. Here's to your health.

Psychological Tasks for a Good Marriage

  • "To separate emotionally from the family of one's childhood so as to invest fully in the marriage, and at the same time, to redefine the lines of connection with both families of origin."
  • "Building togetherness based on mutual identification, shared intimacy and an expanded conscience that includes both partners, while at the same time setting boundaries to protect each partner's autonomy."
  • "To establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and to protect it from the incursions of the workplace and family obligations."
  • For those with children, embracing the daunting roles of parenthood and absorbing the impact of a baby's entrance into the relationship. The couple must learn to continue the work of protecting their own privacy.
  • Confronting and mastering the inevitable crises of life.
  • Maintaining the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity.
  • Use of humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
  • Nurturing and comforting each other, satisfying each partner's needs for dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support.
  • Keeping alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time.
  • Wallerstein emphasized that these nine tasks are not assigned from outside of the relationship, but are inherent in the relationship. They do not represent a chart to be hung on the kitchen wall and checked off daily.

-adapted from American Psychological Association, 1996. 
Dr. Wallerstein's book is referenced on p. 5.

Six Tips for Living with a Depressed Person

  • Try to be considerate, thoughtful, and emphatic. If your spouse had a broken leg, you would expect that their abilities and energy would be restricted, that they would be in pain at times and that they couldn't heal themselves more quickly just because you wanted them to. Think about depression the same way.
  • Don't be provocative. Every relationship has the little hot buttons that can start a fight at any time. Dirty socks on the floor, the remote control misplaced, the car low on gas. You know what your partner's buttons are. Don't push them while he/she is in a depressed state.
  • Small acts of kindness are appreciated, and do help, even if the recipient doesn't reciprocate. When I retreat to bed, my wife makes a point of breaking in to kiss me goodnight. Even though I don't usually act very glad to see her, I would feel worse, lonely and unloved, without her attention.
  • Easing your partner's burden in small ways can help a great deal. Offer to do the shopping, empty the garbage, do the laundry, take the kids out for pizza. It communicates more than words the feeling that you understand how difficult these mundane chores can seem at times.
  • "Advance directives" can be a contract loved ones arrange while the sufferer is not depressed, describing what to do when depression sets in. It can be in stages: stage 1, leave me alone; stage 2, be kind, patient, and attentive; stage 3, insist I call my therapist; stage 4, take me to the hospital. One patient loses her ability to see color when depression sets in. From experience, she has learned to let her husband know when this happens, because she won't let him know when it gets worse.
  • Take the trouble to educate yourself. Learn all you can about depression. Be willing to talk to your friend's therapist. It's amazing how seeing it in print, or hearing it from an authority, can change your perspective. Even if you believe you understand that depression is a disease, that the patient doesn't choose to be depressed, etc, etc., you need all the education you can get. These are facts we don't want to believe. Learning the facts helps you help your friend, and also shows that you care enough to take some trouble.

-Richard O'Connor, 2001-2003. Used with permission. Dr. O'Connor's book is referenced on p. 5.

It's Fear of Intimacy, Not Lack of Time

...For many years couples have focused on how the lack of time in their beleaguered lives is the primary reason why their marriages have lacked intimacy. Of course, the chronic pattern of pushing marital needs to the end of lengthy "TO DO" lists sabotages closeness and partnership. But is it simply a lack of time or is it just another way to deal with the scariest aspect of relationships?

Intimacy is very risky. It requires making such a serious commitment to the relationship that each person will experience a sense of dependency on the other. To admit to needing someone else is to risk loss and deep hurt. For ALL of us, this is difficult. Dependency is a negative concept in our society. Men, especially, are taught to strive for independence. The joke about men not asking for directions is not really very funny when you realize it is embedded into the training of most males not to admit to needing help. Dependency has been feminized over the years and inappropriately labeled as a weakness. This is part of how society's messages affects its members.

Intimacy is more that admitting to needing others. It also requires a sharing of one's fears and dreams, a process that contributes to a strong feeling of vulnerability. Each of us carries enough
self-doubt, guilt, and shame to make the process of sharing our private worlds scary. It is hard for most of us to believe that if someone else REALLY knows us, they will still love us. The very nature of falling in love contributes significantly to this problem. We idealize our partner when our hearts shape our visions and expectations of this special person. Ultimately we become trapped in the curse of not being able to live up to those unrealistic expectations. 

In this context, it is even more difficult to admit to our failings and fears.

When couples face these fears, on their own or with the help of a therapist, it is often amazing how they can make changes that result in increased intimacy. They may arrange to go to bed at the same time, find a way to have an occasional meal alone, talk to each other more frequently, make love more frequently, stop allowing children to dominate their marriage, or simply admit they really need and want each other. The fighting decreases because it is no longer needed to protect their "secrets." The time factor, while still a challenge, is no longer the excuse for a poor relationship. In fact a contradiction often occurs. Spending more time as a couple ends up saving time. Their relationship, as spouses and parents, becomes more efficient because they are in sync. So don't get stuck in saying there's not enough time for the relationship. Think about other reasons why getting close might be scary. Then do something to change it.

-Kal Heller, Ph.D. Used with permission

Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we learned here. -Marianne Williamson

Start Forgiving

While forgiveness isn't easy, it can be one of the best gifts you give yourself. Take a look at the steps below and consider beginning your own journey toward forgiveness.

Recognize and accept that someone or something has hurt you. "When we forgive, we start by honestly acknowledging the hurt," says Charlotte van Oyen Witliet, Ph.D. "Forgiving is a lot like grieving. We have lost something- a relationship, trust or a reputation. Hurt and anger are normal." One way to begin that recognition is to measure how much energy you spend thinking about the person and the hurt he inflicted. Do you dream about her or find yourself thinking about her when you're driving or watching TV? Is she there when you wake at night, interrupting your sleep?

Commit to Forgiving. In order to forgive, says Robert Enright, Ph.D., you have to make a conscious choice to do so. It isn't something that happens simply because the hurt fades or because you forget. In a sense, forgiveness is a decision to recognize that anger isn't working. You're choosing to take back the power this person or incident has robbed from your life.

See the hurtful person anew. "When you as the victim can begin to understand the limitations of your victimizer, you can also begin to recognize his humanity," says Terry Hargrave, Ph.D. "You put yourself in his shoes. 'This didn't happen because he hated me or because he was a monster. He was acting out because of his [issues].' When you make that identification, it relieves some of the pain." In other words, you begin to separate the person from what he did.

Wish the other person well. Once you are able to remember more about the person that the hurt he caused, it becomes easier to show mercy, to hope he's not ill or wish him well in a new job, for example. Hargrave tells the story of a woman who with her sons honored her late, but once-molesting, father with a graveside ceremony. "That was her gift to her dad," he says. "Afterward, her self-esteem went up, and she became less depressed. She said, 'I still get angry, but the anger no longer controls me."
                  --Dorothy Foltz-Gray. from Arthritis Today, 9-10/2002.

We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.
-Somerset Maugham

Selected Reading

Chapman, Gary. The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Northfield Publishing, 1992.

Enright, Robert. Forgiveness is a Choice. APA Life Tools, Am Psychological Assn, 2001.

Foltz-Gray, Dorothy. The Journey to Forgiveness. Arthritis Today. Sept-October, 2002.

Gottman, John, Ph.D. and Silver, Nan. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Three Rivers Press, 1999.

Hargrave, Terry, Ph.D. Forgiving the Devil. Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, 2001.

Luskin, Fred, Ph.D. Forgive for Good. Harper San Francisco, 2001.

Niven, David, Ph.D. The 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships. Harper Collins, 2003.

O'Connor, Richard, Ph.D. Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn't Teach You and Medication Can't Give You.

Wallerstein, Judith. The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Internet Sites for Your Health

Georgia Psychological Association. 
Local referral and general mental health information.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Family Facts for Families

Get Mental Help, Inc.