Monday, August 1, 2016

Marital Fitness

In this day and age, with the divorce rate around 50%, and having remained steady at that level for many, many years, it seems that a reconfiguration of the entire concept of marriage may be in order.  Or, more specifically, it may be that we need to reconsider where we put our energy, in regards to how we think of marriage.  In the 'good old days,' theoretically speaking, when a couple made a commitment to marry, it was generally accepted that the marriage would last, and that each person in the relationship would honor their commitment for a lifetime.  However, this is not necessarily the case anymore, and it seems that, at best, the odds of a couple honoring their commitment for a lifetime are 50/50.

In addition to the distress caused by a failed union, which we will discuss in more detail in a following paragraph, it is also important to consider the other ramifications of a failed union.  If one were to visit a financial advisor, prior to taking the vow of marriage, it is likely they would advise against the marriage, simply because of the fact that it is a gamble with 1:1 odds.  And, this gamble is not an empty gamble, from a financial point of view.  When someone agrees to marry, they accept, informed or not, the potential liability involved with a failed marriage.  Specifically, they agree to be indemnified for a claim for alimony that may be filed against them, as well as a claim for child support that may be filed against them.  Additionally, they agree to potentially giving up half or more of their retirement, and agree to potentially giving up half or more of any assets they own.

In addition to the financial risks involved with making a marital commitment, there is the emotional risk involved.  When one makes a commitment to marriage, they are bonding themselves with another individual, emotionally, and are essentially agreeing to going through any emotional difficulties their mate may have, and their mate is agreeing to go through any emotional difficulties the other is going through.  As well, they are committing to the emotional stress inherent in the joining of two souls; the insecurities, the worries, the jealousy, the hurt, the losses, etc.  And, should the marriage fail, they are agreeing to going through the fallout that follows a failed union; the sadness, the sense of loss, the feeling that the rug has been pulled out from under you, the feeling that of failure, the anger at the other, and potentially other emotions.

And, in addition to the emotional trauma a person experiences with a failed marriage, there is the emotional trauma on the children.  Children are fairly resilient, in many instances, and thus, some may be affected more than others.  For those who are affected, the damage can be substantial.  The child may feel anxiety about their own relationship with either or both of the parents, because they see how a supposedly solid relationship can end, meaning perhaps the relationship with one or both of the parents could end, for them, as well.  There is the sense of loss of a family unit, which can be very important for some children.  As well, there is the mourning of the loss of a mother and father who are together, which turns out to be very important to many children.  As well, there is the emotional stress of adapting to a two-household situation, and the emotional stress of adapting to a step-parent.  Further, many parents, once divorced, cannot stop themselves from attempting to convince the child or children that the other parent is horrible in one way or another, or not worthy of respect, or fatally flawed in one or more ways, etc, and the stress to the child is tremendous.

With everything just noted, it is a wonder that the idea of marriage is still so highly thought of, and it is a wonder that people keep getting into marriages blindly.  If this were a financial investment, and you were told that there was an equal chance that you could increase your financial security, or that you could lose it all, how many would jump at the chance?  What is it about marriage that is so attractive that so many people get into it, despite the poor odds?  Simply put, in my opinion, it is that idea of pure love, and that idea of the perfect family.  The possibility of achieving that pure love, and the idea of achieving the perfect family is so enticing that people are willing to take the (very high) chance that their relationship will not work out well.

When a smart person decides to take a risk, they tend to choose educated risks.  'Educated risks' are those risks that one takes that are based on collecting as much information as possible prior to taking the risk.  That is easy enough to do if you are investing money, or if you are deciding on buy a new business, or if you are choosing to purchase a house, or a car, or anything else relatively major.  All you have to do is look up information on the item, which you can find online, or in a book, etc.  Once you have collected all of the information you can, you then can make a decision on the risk based on the facts that you have collected.  But, what about when making a decision on a marriage?

What information is needed in order to make an educated decision on a marriage?  According to The Daily Beast (5/2010), some of the identified factors that increase the risk of divorce include:  weekly or more frequent arguments over finances, coming from parents of divorce, coming from parents who remarried after a divorce, one being a smoker while the other is not, if both you and your partner have had previous marriages, if you are a woman 2 or more years older than your husband, if you are below average intelligence, if you have twins or triplets, if you are a female serial cohabiter (lived with more than one mate prior to marriage), and if you are in a same sex marriage (particularly female-female).  According to Good, values and money are two of the main things that couples fight about, and regular church goers and those who made more than $125K/year had much lower divorce rates.  Another factor that predicted higher divorce rates was how important one or both thought their partners' appearance was.  Other factors, interestingly, according to Mary Gillen on, included how many people were at the wedding, with weddings including 150 or more people lowering the chance of divorce greatly.  As well, good communication was important.  Further, how many times someone has been the one to end a relationship was, not surprisingly, another factor.  According to Michael Fulwiler, quoting work done by Dr. Gottman, harsh, 'grinding down' sort of arguments, coupled with failed attempts to recover from them, and a build-up of bad memories about the other, or the relationship, are predictors of divorce.  It seems likely that harsh arguments are more likely to occur in situations in which values do not match up, there are huge stressors occurring in the relationship, or the behavior of one or both of the spouses is a cause for concern.  Also, it has been reported that if there are significant issues in the dating relationship, prior to the marriage, the marriage is much more likely to fail.  And, longer courtships seem to be predictive of a lower divorce rate.  According to Grover, et al. (1985),  "a longer period of dating was associated with a higher probability of a happy marriage."

In the final analysis, then, it seems that the necessary advice for a couple contemplating marriage and wanting to know whether their union will be successful, is the following:

Date for a long time (i.e., preferably more than 2 years).

Make sure you have similar values, and no values that are very important AND opposed to the other

Make sure you and your future spouse will be financially stable, and that you will have sufficient income to prevent disaster.

If you are dating someone who comes from a previous marriage, or marriages, tread carefully...they may have commitment problems.  You should probably insure that you date for a long time before making the leap.

If you are dating someone who comes from a family of divorce, be forewarned:  They may value commitment and the longevity of marriage less, and may be more likely to 'jump ship.'  Take your time, date for a long time, and really get to know their values in that area.

If you are dating someone who has always been, or has almost always been the one to end the relationship with those they have been with in the past, be forewarned:  These individuals likely take commitment less seriously, and are more likely to repeat their pattern than to change strategies.

If you are not attracted to your partner, or if your attraction waxes and wanes, AND attraction is an important value for you, do not make any long-term commitments; it is unlikely that you will be motivated to keep the commitment.

If you have significant stress in the relationship, before marriage, don't up the commitment level.  The chances that it will work out are much lower.  If you are determined to make the relationship work, insure that you have had a substantial amount of time (i.e., 1, 2,  or more years) without any significant stress, before going to the next level.

If both you and your partner are socially isolated, or if one of you is, and the other is not, understand that this is a risk factor:  People who are more socially isolated have less access to support from loved ones, and are more likely to be overly dependent on the relationship for their support. And, there may be a reason they are socially isolated, such as that they do not play well with others, which may be an indication of how things are going to go with you.

If you cannot resolve conflict well with the other person, do not make any long-term commitments until that is no longer the case, and has no longer been the case for a long time (i.e., 1 or 2 years minimum).

Also, if you want to know how your partner is going to be with you, your best predictor is how they were with the partners before you.  Yes, people can change, but often they don't, and they are much less likely to change if they think they were the victim.

And, consider Murphy's Law:  If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

If you would be interested in an assessment of your relationship, contact me on my website:


Anneli Rufus. (May 19, 2010).

Zawn Villines. (October 14, 2014).

Mary Gillen.

Michael Fulwiler. October 10, 2014.

Kaja Perina.  May 1, 2003.

Kelly J. Grover, Candyce S. Russell, Walter R. Schumm and Lois A. Paff-Bergen.    Mate Selection Processes and Marital Satisfaction.  Family Relations.  Vol. 34, No. 3 (Jul., 1985), pp. 383-386

Sunday, July 17, 2016


At some point, after you discover your mate is cheating on you, or that they cheated on you in the past, you are bound to wonder what will happen next.  And, a likely question, particularly if you are considering whether to remain in a relationship with that individual, is:  will they do it again?  And, if they have left you for the other person, will it last? 

Cheating is perhaps one of the more devastating types of betrayal we know as humans.  There is something about discovering that your mate was involved in a whole other relationship with another, while with you, that does not feel good, and does not feel right.  It is a very painful realization, and one that may take weeks, or months, or years, or perhaps a lifetime to get over.  People often develop Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder from these situations. 

It is not unusual for people to try to stay together, after finding out that their partner cheated on them.  However, relationships require trust, and once that trust has been broken, it is difficult to restore.  And, one of the reasons, though not the only reason that the trust is difficult to restore is that there is this question in the back of the persons’ mind:  Will they do it again?

There has been research in this area, to attempt to answer this question.  There is no precise answer, but there are ways to get to the most precise answer possible.  For one, knowing whether your partner will cheat again depends on the situation in which it occurred.  If your partner cheated while drunk, or otherwise intoxicated (we will term them ‘accidental cheaters’), then the odds are better that they might not do it again, as long as they take care of the issue with intoxication, and address any underlying issues related to their choice to cheat.  However, if your partner was not intoxicated when they cheated, or if they cheated over a period of time, rather than a one-night stand, the odds are against them, and you, regarding whether or not they will do it again.  Stated more clearly, the odds are that they will cheat again.  A research study conducted by Kayla Knopp at the University of Denver, presented at the APA Convention in 2015, indicated that cheaters were 3.5 times more likely to cheat again, compared to non-cheaters.  And, unfortunately, people who have been cheated on are more likely to get into another relationship where they will be cheated on. 

Some people want to know, if their relationship ends because of this, and the cheater tries to stay with the person they left you for, how likely is that new relationship to last. 
There is a term used within this area of thinking:  Poaching.  It is the idea that one gained their current partner by taking them from another relationship.  So, in this case, the poacher would be the person who approached your partner, and enticed them into a relationship.  According to Foster, et. Al (2014), “individuals who were poached by their current romantic partners were less committed, less satisfied, and less invested in their relationships. They also paid more attention to romantic alternatives, perceived their alternatives to be of higher quality, and engaged in higher rates of infidelity compared to non-poached participants.”  So, in other words, the person who took your partner from you now has to worry about being cheated on, themselves, by your partner.  And, more than likely, they WILL worry, because in the back of their head, they remember the way they got their partner; their partner needed to agree to leave the person they were with, through deception, in order to make it happen, and what is to say that they will not do this again? 

What was interesting to Foster, et al (2014) was that, contrary to conventional wisdom in this area, it was the introverts who were most likely to be ‘poachable;’ in other words, while they may not be the ones who are the most socially connected, and may not be the ones who most easily connect with others, they were the ones most likely to jump at an opportunity to start a new relationship, compared to extroverts.  It may be that they realize that, because of their introversion, they are less likely to have opportunities to move from one relationship to another, so when one of those scarce opportunities presents itself, they jump at it. 

If you are in a relationship with someone who cheated on you, it is probably not correct to ask:  Will they do it again?  Rather, it is probably more correct to ask:  Do I wish to be in a relationship in which I will have this uncertainty indefinitely?  Some solve the problem of the uncertainty by keeping one foot out the door, so to speak, but then the question becomes:  Do I want to be in a relationship in which I must keep one foot out the door in order to maintain my own emotional equilibrium in this situation?  As stated before, if the affair was more than a one-night-stand, and if alcohol or drugs cannot be used as an explanation for the infidelity (the ‘accidental cheater’), the odds that the cheater will cheat again go up.  If the cheater has a history of cheating in past relationships, this increases the odds that they will do it again in the future.  And, if the cheaters’ attitude towards the cheating is anything other than alarm and disgust at their own behavior, COUPLED WITH evidence that they took serious steps to insure that this never happened again, then the odds go up that they will in fact do it again.  So, if the cheater cheated in another relationship in the past, and if the cheating occurred for months, and if the cheater essentially did nothing to fix their problem (lip service to change is not enough; there needs to be evidence for a concerted effort, such as months of therapy, or a spiritual awakening followed by long-term commitment to that new awakening, or something else that was rather dramatic), then more than likely they will do it again; it is just a matter of time.  Knowing this, the question you probably should be asking yourself is:  Do I want to be in a relationship with that risk? 

There are partners who do learn to live in a relationship with that risk; probably the most successful approach to such an individual is to expect that they will cheat, and to insure that you are able to cope with this, emotionally, when it happens.  Again, as stated before, this may mean you have to keep one foot out the door, so that when the cheating occurs, you can regain your equilibrium by withdrawing from the relationship for whatever period of time you need to heal yourself.  Or, it may mean that you never agree to a monogamous relationship with the individual, and insist that they have other partners, so that the requirement for faithfulness is skipped.  This, of course, requires a very liberal mindset, and very liberal boundaries in a relationship, and most people are probably not interested in such a setup, because most people want a secure relationship where they know that the person is there only for them. 

Do you think that cheaters suffer from attacks of conscience, or from despair about their behavior?  Do they ‘get their karma?’  It is likely that they do experience anxiety and despair, when they are discovered, and everything falls apart.  However, it may well be that, for the serial cheater (as opposed to the ‘accidental cheater,’), the anxiety and despair is because they were caught, and they know they will face anger, and negativity, and their security and stability will likely decrease for a while.  And, now they have the memory of a horrible situation that they must somehow figure out how to repress, or rationalize, and they know that they will need to expend a great deal of emotional energy adjusting their thinking so that they can return to relative peace.  As well, they are likely worried that they are going to lose something important to them, such as possessions, or position, or something else that they value, including even perhaps the relationship with the person they cheated on.  It is far less likely that they are worried about losing the love of their life, because they have already convinced themselves that this is what they will be getting from the new person, rather than from their established relationship.  And, while it may be distressing for them to see their established partner in emotional pain, it is more than likely because they do not want to have to deal with this, rather than that they empathize with their partner.  One of the reasons that serial cheaters are serial cheaters is that they cannot love in the true sense of the word, and thus do not have that barrier to hurting another that someone who loves has.  What they call love is actually infatuation, or excitement over newness, or the passion of having a new lover, or the acquisition of yet another person in their life who craves them.  They confuse this feeling with the feeling of genuine love, and often do not seem to learn, despite multiple journeys down the same road, that they will never experience genuine love through this process.  In some ways, it is a sad life, because the serial cheater leaves behind them a path of destruction in relationships, builds up a list of enemies who may wish them harm, and never experience that feeling of true love that keeps you warm at night and gives you hope that life will get better and better as we go on. 

What do you get when you make somebody else’s partner your own? An analysis of relationships formed via mate poaching.
Foster, Joshua D.; Jonason, Peter K.; Shrira, Ilan; Campbell, W. Keith; Shiverdecker, Levi K.; Varner, Sydneyjane C.

Journal of Research in Personality, Vol 52, Oct 2014, 78-90.

Sunday, July 10, 2016


If there is one feeling, or one concept that is more important than most, or even the most important one, it would be HOPE.  If you think about it, hope is very necessary for a person to be able to go on, and the thing that is missing when someone gives up on life.  It is the hope that goals will be achieved, or that there will be something beautiful or wonderful in the future, or that happiness is just around the corner, or that love is just around the bend, or that fortune, or fame, or something else good or wonderful is coming soon, that keeps a person going.  When we need to give ourselves a reason to get up in the morning, or to go to work, or to do anything other than simply sit there and vegetate, it is hope that motivates us...hope for something.

It may sound like a simple thing, this thing we call hope, but it is essential.  Without hope, we are lost.

  Image result for quotes on hope

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What is Love?

This is another in what may perhaps become a series on Love.  I think that our society, and perhaps other societies, have an idealized view of love, or promote an idealized view of love, that simply is not obtainable on a permanent basis.  In my humble opinion, Love is a crescendo of emotions, brought on by a complex combination of emotions one feels for a person.  It is likely a combination of 'like,' respect, caring, interest, a feeling of being 'in sync' with the person, physical attraction, and appreciation/gratitude.  I do not think that 'true love' is something that starts with a bang, but rather, something that ends with a bang, decades later, when one or both die after years together.

There is another idea of love that has been promoted heavily for decades now; it is the idea of being 'in love.'  The problem with that ideal, however, is that it is short-lived.  By definition, puppy love, or infatuation, or 'falling in love' is a intense, passionate, but also very temporary feeling that comes about because the person, at least for a little while, sees the other through idealistic lenses, and thus does not have a realistic appraisal of the other.  As a result, they skip over the 'like' requirement, or the 'respect' requirement, or the 'caring' requirement, or perhaps even the feeling of being 'in sync,' and rely primarily on interest, physical attraction, and appreciation/gratitude.  The problem with that is, as the person slowly comes out of the spell, and begins to make a realistic appraisal of their mate, there may be problems with respect, or with 'like,' or with being able to be 'in sync,' etc.  As such, the relationship dies, because it was based on a foundation of quicksand, and was essentially doomed from the start.

Another thought:  One cannot love someone if one cannot feel love.  This may sound to be a simple truth, but the fact of the matter is, many people cannot feel true love.  If you are curious as to what this feels like, it is probably the most like the feeling one has for their child, although, again, there are many people who cannot truly feel love for their child, so that may not even be a useful comparison for some.  That feeling of love, which perhaps begins as a crescendo within the person, and not because they were already loving someone else, but because they have reached a point in their emotional evolution that they are able to experience such a feeling, is the necessary basic component of loving someone else.  If one is not able to feel that feeling of love (and I'm not talking about infatuation), then they cannot truly love another.  Oftentimes, people struggle to feel that feeling of love because of their own emotional issues; they may have negative emotions blocking the feeling, or emotional control problems (overcontrol, undercontrol) that make it hard for them to know what the feeling feels like.  Also, if someone is raised with an example of love that is skewed, or incorrect, they may not even know how to recognize the true feeling of love, and may have no clue how to get to that feeling.  And, many parents confuse their children by telling them that they love them, when in fact they do not, and the child grows up convinced that that 'not love' feeling that they feel is what love is.

I submit to you that one cannot truly love another, in the manner necessary to insure that a marriage will last to the end, or in a manner necessary to insure that the connection with your child continues to the end, unless you know what true love feels like, and unless you are able to consistently feel this feeling.  And, it seems, in this day and age, that the true feeling of love is much less prevalent than in the past, because we are all searching for that feeling of infatuation, and rejecting anything that does not meet that feeling.  In other words, because of our skewed definition of what love is, we are dooming ourselves to a live of insecurity and frequent transitions, as we 'fall out of love' and move on, again and again, to the next unhealthy relationship.

Monday, July 4, 2016


I would suggest reading my previous post, regarding Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder (PTRD) before reading this post.  It points out how a person can be traumatized by the ending of a relationship, which then sets the stage for considering whether or not divorce can be a form of abuse.

Before going any further, please understand that the views expressed in this blog entry, and in my blog, in general, are my views, and my opinions, and as such, not necessarily reflective of mainstream thought in psychology, or mainstream thought, in general.  Also, I admit to choosing a somewhat provocative title, deliberately, because I would like to, well, provoke thought.  I understand there are other viewpoints, and I welcome you to express those.

In considering the question, I think it is first important to consider what we define as abuse.  When you type in the word "abuse" in Google, Merriam-Webster does not have a definition of abuse that accounts for emotional or psychological abuse.  However, Wikipedia does have such a definition.  According to Wikipedia,  Psychological abuse (also referred to as psychological violenceemotional abuse or mental abuse) is a form of abuse, characterized by a person subjecting, or exposing, another person to behavior that may result in psychological trauma, including anxietychronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.[1][2][3] 

Based on this definition, it does not seem a stretch to conclude that divorce can, at least in some situations, be a form of psychological abuse, because it often results in psychological trauma, such as anxiety, or chronic depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (or what has been referred to as Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder).  The reason that I say that it is "at least in some situations," is that there are times when it is quite clear to anyone who analyzes the situation that a divorce was the proper approach to the situation, because the other person in the relationship was a victim of terroristic behavior (i.e. physical abuse, sexual abuse, significant emotional abuse, etc).  However, there are other times when it is not so clear, and in such cases, I believe it is fair game to consider the possibility that the person doing the divorce is being psychologically or emotionally abusive.

I think, before going any further, it is important to reflect on our current definition of psychological abuse.  It used to be that the definition was very narrow...perhaps it was only used in situations in which the victim was subjected to extreme emotional stress, such as perhaps that which might occur in a torture situation, or in an extreme interrogation session, etc.  However, as we, as a society, have explored this topic more, we have come up with a broader, and more inclusive definition of psychological abuse.  Now, it can be considered psychological abuse if a parent neglects their child, for instance neglecting to act when their child is being bullied in school, or neglecting to act when their child is being put under emotional stress by the other parent, or by another person, etc.  And, it is considered emotionally or psychologically abusive to call someone a bad name, or to tease them mercilessly, or to bully them verbally.  Racism, or other types of 'isms' can also be forms of psychological abuse.  If you agree with that, then it seems that we now consider it psychological abuse if we behave in a manner that causes the other to experience unnecessary or extreme emotional pain.  And, in your personal life, I am sure you can probably come up with other examples of what you would consider psychological or emotional abuse.  Or, perhaps you can think of a situation in our society, or somewhere in the world, where there is psychological or emotional abuse that has not been identified as of yet, or even that which has already been identified, but which was not mentioned here.

If one accepts that psychological abuse can come in various forms, and that it should be considered a possibility when the effect of the action of one person is that the other person is traumatized, then one may also want to consider that divorce can be, at least in some situations, a form of psychological abuse.

In many of the cases that I've come across, one of the people in the relationship does not want the divorce, while the other does.  We, as a society, have come to a point that divorce is an accepted part of a relationship; the legal system supports divorce, there is not a lot of resistance, on a society level, to divorce, and it is considered to be an acceptable solution to difficulties in a marriage.  No-one has to get approval for a divorce; one can get one even if the other person does not want it, and it is actually considered rather inappropriate or even sadistic to require a person to remain in a marriage if they want a divorce.  So, from a societal point of view, nothing is stopping someone from getting a divorce.  The sentiment is, I believe, that if it feels as if that is the right thing to do, then so be it.

However, what of the person who does not want the divorce?  What do we think, or feel, for that person?  Do we tell ourselves 'Well, they probably deserved it' and write it off in that manner?  Or, do we say, of the person who initiated the divorce,  'Good for them for not staying in a bad situation?'  Or, do we feel sadness for them, or does our heart go out for them?  Perhaps we make our decision about how to feel based on the information we have about the divorce.  If it sounds as if the person who did not want the divorce was a nasty person, then perhaps we feel no empathy for them, and decide they got what they deserved.  If it sounds as if the person who initiated the divorce was a victim, we may cheer for them and feel the other person was just getting their karma.  There are probably many ways in which we justify divorces, or absolve the person who initiated the divorce of any responsibility.  And, as I am sure some of you will argue, there are times when that is completely appropriate, and where there should be sympathy for the 'victim' and no sympathy for the 'perpetrator.'  However, in some of the other situations, is it fair to perhaps see the person who initiates the divorce as being the perpetrator, and the other person as being the victim?  And, in those cases, does it make sense that the person may develop Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder?

Some people use leaving, or ending a relationship, as a form of retaliation.  This seems to be an incontrovertible thought, in this writers' opinion, though certainly I am willing to entertain alternate viewpoints.  In my opinion, there are some who will 'punish' the other person for whatever slights or transgressions they have committed by withdrawing from the relationship.  And, in some instances, they do so by beginning another relationship while still in the marriage, and use their dissatisfaction with their mate as the justification for doing so; in other words, they let themselves off the hook for behavior that traumatizes the other, because they feel the other 'deserved' it.  However, cut the picture in half, and look only at how the 'leaver' is behaving towards their mate, and what do you see?  Cruel, uncaring, traumatizing behavior.  So, does the end justify the means?

I believe, in the final analysis, that anytime we get to a point, as a society, that we can brush aside trauma as being 'deserved' or 'expected' or necessary, then we become a bit more calloused, and a bit more cruel, and a bit more like those who we do not want to be like.   And, while one may tell oneself that it is ok for them to be that way, because of the circumstances, it is still cruelty, and it is still traumatizing.

One of the reasons it seems that this is a valid point of view is that the aftermath seems to be consistent with trauma.  In all too many cases, after a divorce, there is a protracted war of tit for tat.  One person fires the first shot, and the other returns fire, and this continues, back and forth, back and forth, sometimes for years.  The former couple uses the children, money, or property to harm the other, in this perpetual game of attack and retaliation.  And, if one traces the conflict back to its roots, at least in some instances, it starts with one of the people in the relationship feeling as if they have been harmed, and then justifying retaliation as the appropriate reaction to being harmed.  But in the process, what terrible things each person can do:  I have seen cases where the children are used as weapons to get at the other, perhaps by not letting the other see their kids, or perhaps by poisoning the children's thinking about the other, or perhaps by attempting to use custody limitations as a form of retaliation.  I have seen couples work hard to assassinate the character of the other, and who have done dastardly deeds in the name of being a victim.  I have seen couples who abuse the court system, with attacks and retaliation occurring between lawyers, over and over and over.  It seems clear to me, then, that there is deep hurt, and one person or both giving themselves permission to be cruel or terrible to the other, based on how they feel they were a victim.  So, it seems that if someone is convinced they are a victim of the other, such as if they have Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder, they do not feel any guilt for engaging in cruel, retaliatory behavior that they would otherwise find to be very wrong.

The solution?  That is not so easy.  We live in a country where free will is valued above most other things.  No-one should be forced, in my opinion, to remain in a situation they want desperately to escape.  However, I do believe we should raise our children to think in conciliatory ways, and we should teach them how to express themselves, set limits, and how to take care of themselves in a relationship, so that hopefully they do not reach a point that they feel they are a victim, or do not get to a point that they are a victim.  And, we should encourage them to think with caution when they begin to describe themselves as a victim, because there are situations in which it takes two to tango, and they should be aware of their side of the dance.  And, we should encourage our children not to go from feeling a victim, to giving themselves permission to be cruel, without at least some thought, and without at least some consideration of alternative approaches.  And, for ourselves, I think it is wise to attempt to devise methods of coping that do not involve cruelty, and that do not traumatize others, regardless of our justification.  And, when possible, we should make amends, with amends being more than just lip service to an ideal.  And, we would be wise to remember the saying that is popular in 12-Step programs:  Wherever you go, there you are.  

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Do you have to like your spouse/lover?

One of the things that I think psychology promotes, or at least many psychologists/mental health workers promotes, it the idea that you can dislike someone's behavior, but not the person.  That is something that is repeated, over and over, by many thought leaders in the field.  However, is it really doable?  Is it an advisable way of being?  Is it human?

The reality is that some personalities naturally gel well with other personalities, and some do not.  One could argue that there is some sort of 'ideal' personality, perhaps the one everyone aspires to be, that would be likable by everyone.  However, I do not believe that is a supportable goal.  Also, when one thinks of trying to become the most likable person around, one is usually thinking of getting into politics.  :)  But, for the rest of us, it is my (somewhat informed) opinion that it is natural that some will like us, and some will not, and you will like some people, and will not like other people.

One of the most famous psychologists in the field, B.F. Skinner, made a claim years ago that he could take anyone and change them into whatever was desired.  However, that is, in my opinion, a quite misinformed statement, and most definitely not likely to be able to be done.  And, even if it is possible to be done, it is not a desirable way of working with people, because the stress of being the agent of change is very high, and the stress on the individual who is being made to change is also very high.  And, typically, in high stress situations, people leave.  Thus, not only is trying to change someone stressful for both the changer and the changee, it is also quite likely to result in either the changer or the changee breaking off the connection between the two.

I think that one of the most dangerous applications of this type of thinking is in marriages or in long-term romantic relationships.  If you believe that you can 'make' your spouse likable to you by providing them with input, and by setting limits with them so that they only have success in their interactions with you if they keep working on themselves to be more likable to you, you are playing with fire, and more than likely headed towards a rupture in the relationship.  The fact of the matter is, given the choice between becoming more likable, and leaving, most will leave.

So, you may ask, what do I do when I am in a relationship with someone I do not like?  Does it mean that I have to just be with them, and continue to not like them?  Or, am I to leave them, because I do not like them?  What do I do?

In answer to that, first things first:  Why did you end up with someone you do not like?  How is it that you missed that little detail when you were making the decision to be with that person?  Why didn't you notice that, and stop yourself from getting into the relationship?  Because, in answer to the question about whether or not you should stay with someone you don't like, you do realize, don't you, that you would never have had to be confronted with that question if you had vetted your partner a bit better, in the beginning?  So, again, why didn't you do that?

I suppose, in the general scheme of things, it is not that unusual for two people to get together, who eventually learn that the do not like each other.  There are so many reasons this can happen, from unplanned pregnancies, lovers who are good at covering their unlikable traits, lovers who are unskilled in noticing unlikable traits in others, lovers who believe they can change the other, lovers who believe they can change their basic personality, lovers who lie, etc etc.

If you are in a relationship with someone you do not like, be prepared for a great deal of stress, a great deal of conflict, and the (probable) eventual ending of the relationship.  If this is distressing for you, I am so very sorry.  No-one plans to get into a relationship with the goal of ending the relationship.  However, the reality is, particularly in this day and age, there is so little encouragement for people to remain in an uncomfortable situation, and so much encouragement for people to not remain in a uncomfortable situation, that stressful relationships will most likely end.

Is it possible for people in an uncomfortable relationship to resolve this, and to actually reach a point that they are in a comfortable relationship, and able to get along well?  I believe so.  But, in order for that to happen, both people have to be committed to working on that which is problematic, and both have to have the resolve and 'stick-to-it-ness' to work on things until resolution has been reached.  And, one could argue that it is better to stick in a relationship that is uncomfortable (given that it is not a traumatic relationship, such as one in which one or both are traumatizing the other), because 50% of the uncomfortableness is coming from you, and thus, you probably have things you need to change about yourself.  So, if both you and the other person have the same attitude, and both work to eliminate the 50% they contribute to the relationship that is causing the relationship to be uncomfortable, then theoretically, the relationship should reach a point of comfort once each makes the changes necessary for that to happen.  Thus, in that way, it is possible that an unlikable person can become likable, on both ends.

If that sounds like too much work, or it that sounds sadistic to you, or masochistic, then by no means agree to the ideas promoted in the previous paragraph, and by no means have those sort of expectations on yourself.  The alternate approach to the approach suggested in the previous paragraph is to make a decision that you will not allow people in your life whom you do not like, and you will make sure that you become very good at not allowing someone to fool you into thinking they are someone you would like, when in fact they are not.  This means getting good at knowing what you like, and what you do not like, and becoming equally good at setting limits with someone once you realize you do not like them.  Pay attention to body cues that may let you know you do not like someone, such as, perhaps, stomach pains, or heart pains, or muscle twitches, etc...your body will let you know when you are stressed, and if you notice that your body always lets you know you are stressed whenever you are around a particular person, it probably means you don't like them, or, at the very least, they are causing you stress, which may in turn be a sign you do not like them.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Shame - Your Achilles Heel

As you may recall, the Achilles Heel is that one vulnerability that you have that can, if triggered, or exploited, bring you to your knees, emotionally.  For some, it is shame.  For a person for which their Achilles Heel is shame, one must only self-inflict shame, or someone else can inflict the shame, and the person is brought to their knees.  The problem is that shame is a relatively useless weakens a person much more than it possibly motivates them, and it lowers self-esteem every time it is used.  It is a powerful weapon in the 'right' hands, in that someone who knows how to use another's shame can keep that individual under tight control, and can keep the upper hand in the relationship. It is also sadistic to use shame to control someone, and demonstrates a lack of compassion or grace.  People who have been reared on shame both have this as their Achilles Heel, and inadvertently use the technique of delivering shame on others.  Two people in a relationship who are skilled in using this technique will 'grind each other down,' over time, until the relationship implodes.  A person who has had this technique used against them will suffer from low self-esteem, self-doubts, and perhaps depression and anxiety.  And, they will be resentful or angry, and will hold in them a desire to retaliate against the person who has used the shame technique.  Shame does not produce anything positive, and is not constructive.  For most people, it is unwittingly used; for a select few, it is a weapon of choice.  While shame can be a powerful method of retaliation against misdeeds or improper behavior, it comes at the cost of the relationship, and of the mental health of both the deliverer, and of the receiver.  It is akin to using a nuclear weapon to clean out the bugs in your will work, but at a terrible price.

If you are a deliverer of this technique, and wish to reform yourself, consider the situation, and the reason you wish to use this technique.  Then, re-check whether this is indeed what you wish to do, and think of other possible methods of addressing the situation.  Resist the urge to resort to shame, and challenge yourself to find another way.  Consider the possibility that the relationship is broken, if it seems that using shame is a good idea.  Try to learn how to avoid being in such situations, in the future, either by avoiding relationships where this comes up as a solution, or by avoiding frustrations that generate the desire to utilize this technique.  If the relationship is an important one to you, give yourself a rule that you will not use shame, and do your best not to deviate from this.  Consider the emotional cost of shame, both to yourself, and to the other person.   Delivering shame can be a form of abuse, and doing so costs you, in that you must allow dark feelings into your psyche, and must allow intense negativity to reside in your soul.   If you are the recipient of shame, turn it away, without considering its' merit, and ask the person delivering the shame to use a different way to communicate what they wish to communicate.  Protect yourself from those who seem to resort to this technique on a chronic basis; it can be a form of abuse.  Recognize the signs that you are being shamed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What Is Love?

It seems the word 'love' is thrown around a lot, but what exactly is it?  Lovers use that word, after they meet, to explain to the other the overflowing feeling of happiness and warmth they feel for the other.  Parents use the word to describe that feeling of devotion and attachment they feel for their children.  Married couples use the word to describe the sense of connection and attachment, and warmness they feel for their spouse.  Brother and sister use it to describe their attachment to each other, and to express their loyalty and dedication to family.  All around us, the word is used for so many relationships, and for so many purposes.

However, what is love?  Isn't love a feeling that is, by definition, a feeling that trumps all others...the final destination...the ultimate feeling?  Is it not THE feeling that we all crave, because it comes with it a promise of 'forever' and a steadiness that is unwavering?  Isn't it the strongest of all positive feelings; the one that does not change?

If love is all of these things, then why, so often, does it seem as if it does not live up to its' promise?  Is it that the concept is wrong?  Is it perhaps true that nothing lasts forever, including love?  Is it perhaps true that love is not the ultimate feeling, that love is not for forever, and that love is not really steadfast and unwavering?  Or, is it perhaps the case that the word is used too easily, and without a full understanding of what it is supposed to mean?  Perhaps in reality, a true feeling of love is rare, and people should really be using lesser variations of the concept, such as 'like,' or 'enjoy' or 'appreciate' or 'feel close to' or 'feel attached to,' etc.  Or, perhaps one should simply know that it is a feeling that develops over time, with work and commitment, and should not permit others to use the term so glibly when describing how they feel towards them.

Love, in my opinion, is an action as much as it is a feeling.  In order to love, one must reach out to the other, emotionally, and must put themselves in the others' shoes; they must feel a strong desire to give of their caring and warmness to the other; to make the well-being of the other as important as their own well-being; to wish for their success; to invest interest in the other, and time in the other; to want to protect the other, and to cherish the other.  Love is not something automatic, in my opinion, but an action that must be consciously made, and continuously made, forever.  It is something that must be always nourished, through consistent attention to it, and to the person for whom you have this feeling.  The feeling must be protected by both of those involved in the connection; actions or settings that harm the feeling must be avoided.  Love requires devotion, and without devotion, love cannot survive. It is not that one will do all of these actions if they love someone, but rather that one will probably love someone if one does all of these actions.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Situational Sociopathy

The term may or may not be new, but the concept is not.  Milgram (1963), developed an experiment in which he was able to obtain obedience from just about everyone he used, compelling them to shock a subject (or so they thought) until severe pain or death.  Ordinary people, with no claim to fame other than that they had been happening to walk past the experiment site, were recruited and demonstrated, unwittingly, that just about anyone can behave in a sociopathic manner. He did not, however, obtain 100% compliance, and there were those who would not continue with the experiment, regardless of what they were told.  Also, in all fairness, Milgram used props to manipulate the research subjects, such as having the researchers use lab coats, and use the most convincing of tones and dialogues, and doing other things to make the site look very official.  So, the participants were convinced this was a real situation, and that their compliance was important.  If they balked, the experimenter would intone "The experiment must go on."  The bottom line is, the majority of people, when put in a situation in which they are able to be convinced they must harm another, or must engage in behavior they would typically find reprehensible, will harm the other, or will engage in the reprehensible behavior.  I refer to this as 'Situational Sociopathy.'  For, for at least a brief time, the person behaves as a sociopath would, without being a sociopath.

What is a sociopath?  If you look at the wikipedia definition of it (, a sociopath is one who is bold, disinhibited, and mean.   They have low empathy, are cruel, and have destructive excitement-seeking.  They want instant gratification, and do not control their behavior well.   The majority of the population does not have these traits consistently; if they did,  they might be eligible for the diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder; perhaps you would run across one of these individuals in a federal penitentiary.   Or, you might find them running a large corporation, or running a particularly aggressive law practice.  However, the majority of individuals, in my opinion, who exhibit sociopathic behavior do so only some of the time, and perhaps have only behaved in this manner once in their life, and then never again.  This is why I use the term Situational Sociopath.  These are individuals who have, for whatever reason, given themselves permission to step into that realm.  The person may have done so because they feel they are a victim, or because they feel they must in order to punish someone who seems to 'deserve' it, or because the goal they are attempting to accomplish requires a brief foray into that realm and there is no other perceived way of getting there.  Most of the people who do this struggle afterwards; they are hit with extreme feelings of guilt or dysphoria, or regret, and they may work hard to reverse what they accomplished during their brief time as a sociopath.  However, there are some who do not go back, and instead attempt to dispel their thoughts and feelings regarding that situation.  However, it seems unlikely that this will work, long-term, because there are the memories, and there is the victim.  Also, those who venture into the territory of the sociopath repeatedly run the risk of becoming dependent on those forays as their main way of coping.  Eventually, they may be indistinguishable from a true sociopath, because they are essentially functioning as one.  However, the difference is there; while the true sociopath continues blithely on their way, year after year, perhaps stopped only by law enforcement or death, the chronic situational sociopath develops chronic medical issues or chronic mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, and slowly descends into their own personal hell.  It is not a desirable fate.  I've heard people say "Why doesn't that person get their karma?," but what they do not see is that the person HAS gotten their 'karma'...their Karma is their life, which, if examined closely, is not a life you or I would choose.

For those who have, at times, been a situational sociopath, all is not lost, in my opinion.  Because the majority of humans have probably been there, it is not outside of the normal human experience.  Learn from the experience, and evolve.  When you evolve, you develop an aversion to giving yourself permission to take a foray into the sociopathic realm, and instead, find other ways of accomplishing your goal.  Or, you modify your goal.  Sometimes the only thing that will stop self-destructive behavior is for the individual to no longer enjoy it, and instead to feel nothing but anxiety in such situations.  But that is only the beginning.  Watch the movie "Unbroken," and you will see what I am referring to...Compassion.  When one is able to feel compassion, AFTER they have reached a point in their life that they were feeling anxiety about their behavior, and after they have 'crashed and burned,' they will be able to feel true compassion.  But, IMO, it must be 'true' compassion, not the compassion a child feels for a bird with a broken wing, but the compassion an adult feels after they have been brought to their knees by life, repeatedly.  It is the compassion perhaps explained by the graphic of a soldier, wounded in battle, lying on the ground, reaching over to another soldier also lying on the ground, and trying to bandage their wound so that they can survive until the medic reaches them.  Compassion, it seems, overrides everything else, and is the emotion that seems to compel the person to rise above their basic human urges and behave a little better.

Monday, May 16, 2016

There is a parable I've told many times, over the years, which I think is very useful in understanding some aspects of human behavior.  It is the story of the frog and the scorpion.  The story goes like this:  Mr. Frog and Mr. Scorpion are standing by the edge of the river.  Mr. Scorpion wants to get to the other side, but of course, he cannot swim, so he is unable to cross.  He approaches Mr. Frog, and asks of Mr. Frog "Mr. Frog, might I catch a ride across the river on your back?"  Mr. Frog scoffs at the request, laughing, and stating "Of course not!  As soon as we get to the middle of the river, you will sting me, and we will both sink to the bottom of the river and drown."  Mr. Scorpion answers "Now, Mr. Frog, why would I do that?  I want to get to the other would be dumb of me to sting you, because then I wouldn't be able to accomplish my goal."  Mr. Frog stops for a minute, and thinks.  "Mr. Scorpion, you are would make no sense for you to sting me.  Hop on, and we will make the trip across the river together."  Mr. Scorpion hops on, and Mr. Frog begins the trip across the river.  At the half-way point, as predicted, Mr. Scorpion stings Mr. Frog.  As paralysis begins to set in, and both he and Mr. Scorpion start to drown, he cries out "Why, Mr. Scorpion, why?"  To which Mr. Scorpion replies, simply "It is in my nature."

The point, at least from the way I see it, is that it is our responsibility to know who will sting, and who will not sting.  And, it is our responsibility to avoid those who sting.  There is another saying I like:  Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.   Complaining about being stung, after you have been shown by life who will sting, probably won't get you much sympathy.  You should know.  And sympathy isn't what you need, probably, in the long run.  Sure, it feels nice, and is validating, but there is no strength in sympathy, and no strength in feeling the victim.  If you have been stung, there is no better response; no stronger rebuke, than shaking off the paralysis, bursting out of the water, and saying "NO MORE!"  Find your strength, find your way forward, and live an awesome life!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

I've been thinking more about the last post, about Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder (PTRD).  Again, while it is not an official diagnosis, it is something that I am convinced affects many people.  As a male, I have personally experienced this, and I have also talked to many clients, both male and female, who have experienced this trauma.  As with any trauma, repeated exposure to it tends to harden an individual, to the point that they become completely cynical and untrusting, and to the point that future trauma is all but guaranteed because of the lack of trust with which they approach relationships.  Sometimes, people with PTRD never again are able to maintain a long-term relationship, because there is so much unresolved trauma from the initial relationship that caused the PTRD.

And, another, perhaps much more controversial point, when it comes to PTRD.  In instances of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is typically a victim, and a perpetrator.  In war situations, it may be harder to identify a particular perpetrator, and we may simply refer to 'the war' as the source of the trauma.  However, in more personalized instances of trauma, such as instances in which an individual assaults another, there is a clear perpetrator, and a clear victim.  What of situations in which an individual develops PTRD?  Is there a perpetrator?

If an individual goes to court to get a PFA, they must identify a perpetrator they want to be protected from.  The court, from my understanding, will validate PFA's in situations in which there has been bodily harm, or threats of bodily harm.  There may be other forms of abuse the court recognizes, but I do not think they recognize relationship trauma as a form of abuse.  And yet, if one agrees that this type of trauma exists, there seems to be no protection for the victim...they must simply endure the trauma associated with the situation, and the stress of being re-exposed to the source of the trauma, over and over, without any response.  In a society that has evolved to the point that the goal is to prevent anyone from experiencing trauma, and to the point of punishing perpetrators of trauma, one wonders where this particular issue rests.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Of particular interest to me, of late, is a quasi-psychological diagnosis; Posttraumatic Relationship Disorder.  I say it is quasi-psychological because it is not an official diagnosis, and it is not necessarily something that is widely endorsed by the field.  Honestly, I do not know.  However, I will say that this is a diagnosis that makes much sense to me.   Google the symptoms for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder...PTSD involves witnessing, hearing of, or being involved in a traumatic incident, having some sort of remembrances of the trauma through dreams, or flashbacks, or intrusive thinking, having these memories triggered by sights or sounds, or places, or smells, or a touch, etc, finding the memories to be so distressing that one takes advanced steps to avoid having these remembrances, and emotional fallout from having this problem...disconnecting from others, having mood problems, having behavior problems, feeling disconnected or avoidant, etc etc.

In my experience, it is the case that some people, when they go through a relationship breakup, experience much of these symptoms.  The loss of a relationship can be so intensely painful, and so intensely devastating, that the person may develop a form of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder specific to this type of trauma.  In this disorder, the person may be brought to their knees, so to speak, by the emotional devastation caused by the loss of the relationship.  They may feel as if the other person died, or that they died, after the end of the relationship, because of the extreme distress they experience.  They may think obsessively about the loss, and may have trouble keeping it off their mind.  They may attempt to get it out of their mind, and they may become very good at knowing what is likely to trigger a memory.  For instance, a car that is red, just as the ex's was, and is more or less the same shape, may trigger flashbacks of the relationship complete with visuals, sounds, and feelings.  Activities that you participated in with the other may now cause devastating feelings of despair or pain.  Sleep may be interrupted by horrible dreams of the past, when you were together with that person.  Your mood may become constantly anxious, or depressed, or both.  You may struggle with maintaining a stable mood, and may have trouble staying focused on what you should be focusing on.

It can take weeks, or months, or even sometimes years for a person to finally get to the point that they no longer have debilitating symptoms in this area, in my opinion.  What helps, just as with your typical trauma disorder, is work on taking away the power of the trauma, work on improving your sense of mastery over possible similar future trauma, and work on regaining you emotional equilibrium.  There is hope.