Couples Coping with Bad Child Behavior

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Many of us may remember the critical moments before giving birth to a long awaited child.  But do we remember our thoughts, prayers, wishes and dreams concerning that child?  We want our new baby to be healthy and beautiful.  We even plan to count the toes and fingers.  Yet how many of us actually hope for a child to be well behaved, obedient and full of joy?  And as the child develops, we consider the education that could lead to gainful employment.  Yet, we tend to ignore seeking the type of environment that would result in a well mannered child who brings peace and joy to the home.

Perhaps the lack of emphasis on child behavior has been a great contributor the high degree of reports of unruly children wreaking havoc in homes across the globe.  There are many different perspectives concerning the causes of bad behavior in children.  For example, one study reports that they found evidence that children who have trouble sleeping are more likely to have behavioral problems.   Another study concludes that mothers exposed to a certain amount of exhaust fumes are more likely experience bad behavior in children.  Whether the problem is poor sleeping habits or the results from exhaust fumes, experts are proposing a growing number of solutions to address misbehavior in children.  However, regardless of the causes for a child’s bad behavior, the solutions seldom address the adverse impact on a marital relationship.

 WHOSE FAULT IS IT?

One of the greatest responses that can contribute to hurting the marital relationship- where the couple is struggling with bad child behavior- is the tendency to look for opportunities to assess blame.  In too many cases, the couple blames each other  (just as much if not) more than they blame the child.  The father may blame the mother for poor health choices during pregnancy.  On the other hand, the mother may blame the father for not affording them the access to better child development resources, such as good day care facilities, or developmental toys and gadgets.

While there are vast arrays of resources available that claim to address bad child
behavior, there appears to be few resources that offer to repair the damaged marital relationships resulting from dealing with their child’s bad behavior.  The strain on relationships where bad child behavior is present may even result from underlying issues that simply had not yet surfaced.  In any case, there needs to be an intentional effort to seek support and adequate counseling for the couple who may not see their own adverse behavioral issues as significant in light of their child’s.

For couples who may be experiencing the stress of having a child with bad behavior issues, here are 7 responses to avoid along with 7 responses to apply.  Both 7 Responses lists below can be used by couples in order to help them to maintain their relationships as they seek solutions regarding their child’s behavior.

7 RESPONSES TO AVOID WHEN DEALING WITH BAD CHILD BEHAVIOR

1-      Avoid placing blame (especially on yourself or each other) or seeing yourselves as failures and bad parents.

2-      Avoid being angry and yelling at each other- especially in response to the child’s behavior.

3-      Avoid misdirecting punishment towards each other.

4-      Avoid telling others and declaring that you have a “bad child.” (Words have power.)

5-      Avoid trying to guess what is wrong with your child. (Seek expert assessment and counsel through schools, clergy, and/or mental health professionals.)

6-      Avoid going into debt through pursuing knee jerk responses to possible solutions.

7-      Avoid using substances such as illicit drugs, drunkenness, etc. as coping mechanisms.

7 RESPONSES TO APPLY WHEN DEALING WITH BAD CHLD BEHAVIOR

1-      Remind each other often how much you love and need each other.

2-      Be a good and concerned listener for each other.

3-      Take your time with discussing your options for solutions and insist on getting the clarity and understanding that you need –realizing that either of you may need to have solutions explained over again.

4-      Forgive the words said by your spouse or the problem child in times of frustration.

5-      Intentionally find ways to get away together to enjoy each other as often as possible.

6-      Remain hopeful that your situation will improve as you continue to seek solutions.

7-      Above all, pray for love, peace and divine guidance to abound in your household.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

In a world that is vastly different from the one that I remember growing up in, I am confident that the children of this age are facing far different challenges than I remember facing as a child. However, even during the times that I grew up in, it was clear that a lot of parents were not certain about how to deal with their children. The stress from feeling helpless in dealing with a difficult child can also wear on a marriage. However, the short answer to the entitled questions is “yes.” Your marriage can survive the journey of raising a difficult child.
After years of counseling couples, I have developed a number of constants but I am very careful to avoid projecting what worked for one couple on to each of the other couples as though it is a principled method for resolving their problems.  I believe “Principles” should be presented as universal and applicable to every aspect of life. Similar to many philosophies, principles are like musicals. They cannot simply be performed, they must also be rehearsed in order to reach desired goals.

Please give consideration to these insights- not as life principles but as thoughtful insights -with the intent of arming you with more tools in your tool belt of resources that can help you along your journey.

DON’T MAKE COMPARISONS

1) A constant that I have learned and share often with couples is that it is far more important to learn how to love the spouse you have than to struggle with the question “Did I marry the right person?” Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages” is a great resource to use to discover best approaches toward satisfying and reshaping expectations within your marriage. When seeking resources to help you deal with your difficult child it is also appropriate to begin learning to love the child you have and avoid fruitless comparisons to other children within your family or outside of your family structure.

BEWARE OF COPYCAT-ING

2) It may be necessary to take an honest assessment of your marriage to determine if you have projected some of the behaviors or root causes for the behavior manifesting in your child.  This assessment is not to find blame or fault, but to frame solutions.

Children are often little “copycats” that mirror their parents as they understand. “Do as I say and not as I do” strategies are conflicting and not effective for child development. Your children need to see you consistently handle stressful circumstances calmly and with restraint to learn that there are better responses to what will happen to them as well.  Discuss what you feel like even when you are using restraint to validate that the emotions that your child is feeling are not weird. “That really makes me feel angry when…” should not be used as an excuse to behave poorly and the more your child sees your example of handling stress with effective coping skills, then the better the odds are for them to develop better coping mechanisms.  On the other hand, if you retreat to a cigarette, profanity laced rants, or drinking as a coping mechanism then the odds are pretty good that your behavior will be copied.

LIES AND BROKEN TRUSTS

3) Avoid lying in any case but especially in front of your children. This avoids setting up a standard that lying is acceptable in certain situations. I believe it is even more important to avoid lying and breaking promises to your children. Broken trusts can be very traumatic for children and will often provoke behaviors that are reactions to those broken trusts.

Broken trusts tax any relationship and children are often acting out because of trust issues while they lack the communication skills to effectively express their feelings or to begin building that trust again. Apologies can go a long way in helping a child to learn that mutual relationships can hit the reset button and begin again on a clean slate.

DISPLAY GOOD TREATMENT TOWARDS EACH OTHER

4) Primary to the family structure is the health of your marriage. Take time out to de-stress and to build an affectionate atmosphere. If you are affectionate to each other and to your children these can develop constants that guard against negative behaviors. On the other hand, if your marriage has grown contentious where you are screaming venomous statements at each other, the children often view their family as unstable, embarrassing and insecure. Young children often thrive in affirming and affectionate atmospheres. Teens usually go through a period of adjustment where they may resist public displays of affection.  However, if you give them some space and remain receptive, they often come back to what made them feel secure in your love after the adjustment.

Early in my current marriage I had a discussion with our oldest daughter following an argument I had with my wife and looked her straight in the eye and promised her that divorce was not an option and that I was not going anywhere. I saw that she relaxed with the assurance that her family was not spitting up and I apologized for exposing her to that argument. Additionally, I explained that sometimes we say things just because we were upset at the time, but we would try to do better at treating each other better because we really loved each other.

That brief exchange with her added to the importance of my acknowledging how our verbal exchanges affected our children. We have since learned a great deal more about those dynamics. However, I must admit we made mistakes and were not always as responsible as we should have been it providing the best atmosphere in our home for our family.

Our children have endorsed our model of marriage as a great one often and that is a great reward on its own. However, difficult children are not a product of genes and every family dynamic must seek what is needed for their unique set of circumstances. Professional help is often an aid and sometimes the help of great friends can also provide great support through trying times.

ENFORCING PRINCIPLES VS. PUNISHMENT

5) Principles related to consequences are vastly different from punishment and defining the difference is critical to a healthy attitude about the correction that is required in guiding a child. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” is not a bad principle but I do believe that the principle has been misused and abused to excuse methods of disciplining children.  Whereas I do not believe that the government has the capacity to offer “best alternatives” for children that are suffering through “abuse” I am aware that many parents mean well in their attempts to discipline their children but sometimes go way overboard in trying to use force to bring their child into compliance. In this case, it is necessary for those in authority to intervene.

Anger begets anger. Diffusing your own anger before levying consequences will avoid inflicting your child with suffering for their actions. Consequences do not have to be viewed as suffering to be effective. Suffering results more in shame and humiliation which rarely leads to positive results in the development of character. Providing consequences that target additional chores, losing benefits or money are better examples of appropriate consequences. Each of us will have to deal with consequences at some point of our lives. Facilitating suffering is not a teachable moment. Survival instincts can often drive the child into deceptive practices to avoid suffering punishment.  Building trust of your parental love is still viable even in the midst of a child experiencing consequences for inappropriate behavior.

CHOICE WORDS

6) Affirmation that is intentional and even exaggerated for every positive behavior breeds an appetite for more affirmation and often inspires the child to provoke you to higher levels of satisfaction and appreciation for their deeds. Negative responses are usually intense and leave long lasting impressions in the mind of the children. Ideally, negative responses should come far less frequent than positive ones. However, if they must come, let them be measured and not as a life sentence.  Avoid letting your negative response become as a label like “Lazy!” or “Irresponsible!” or even worse, “Loser!” Additionally, past behavior should not become a basis for each incident of inappropriate behavior. Fresh starts should truly be fresh starts.

PLAYING BY YOUR OWN RULES

7) Establish consistent ground rules that establish respect between you and your child. Require your child to be respectful and polite and avoid being rude to the child as well. Your role in the family is not a democratic role that requires a vote of acceptance. You are the parent and they are the child. Just as you are required to learn how to love the child you have, so should the child learn to love the parent they have. This love cannot be based solely on performance and should not become threatened even in the midst of poor behavior. You telling your child that you hate them or can’t stand them is not acceptable any more than your child screaming “I hate you” in response to your ground rules.

Resist being manipulated by the child, forcing you to choose sides between them and your spouse. Make it clear that you are a united front that loves them. You will not be divided nor will your union be threatened by their manipulation. Stand firm! Ask questions: “Does your mother/father know about this?” “Tell me exactly what s/he told you” should also follow along with a promise to discuss this with the spouse.

Finally, let your children hear you praying for them in a positive way. Don’t use family prayer as a platform to gossip and complain about your child’s behavior.  Allowing the child to witness your humility in front of God is a great model for your child to learn from.

The Impact of Unemployment on Marriages

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Can you guess what the men all have in common in the following movies: John Q, Cinderella Man, The Jacksons (An American Dream), Selena and The Pursuit of Happyness? The answer is that each of these men had to face the reaction of their
wives from their being unemployed.  Of all these movies, the ones that put lumps in my throat were the Cinderella Man and The Pursuit of Happiness.

The scene in The Pursuit of happiness where Will Smith pleads with his wife to stay with him was simply gut wrenching to me.  While I understood his wife’s concern, I wanted him to have the type of companion that would help him through this extremely difficult time.  Even though this movie show a wife leaving her husband, a not too distant study indicated that the divorce rate actually declined during a recession.  A Huffington Post article offers the following interesting insight into the expected connection between divorce and unemployment, “…divorce decreases when unemployment rates climb because couples are not ready to give up their standard of living by having to pay for one extra household with one less salary.”

At the same time, staying together in strife and discontentment is no good either. Perhaps, if spouses would take the time to examine the emotional impact of job loss, there might be more compassion towards the unemployed partner.  I have come to understand that unemployment can induce a highly paralyzing state of mind.  It can greatly reduce a once thriving and confident person into a confused mindset, who learns to doubt everything.

However in order to get hired, the unemployed person actually needs to have a heightened since of awareness and strategic thinking in order to compete for employment.  Unfortunately, additional pressure from home only diminishes the ability to think clearly enough to plan strategies that could result in gainful employment.

It appears that many spouses who look to their partners for financial stability are often unskilled with encouraging the types of provocation that could help them to succeed.  Perhaps they feel that pressuring the spouse to do something” will result in immediate income.  However, many times the pressure leads to their spouses considering options that were previously unthinkable.  Additionally, once the spouse has been made to feel unvalued, it is difficult gain a level of proficiency and confidence that could attract an employer.

This attitude of defeatism can be quite taxing on a marriage.  The feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness are also magnified through the debt collectors and financial obligations that refuse to go away.   Anyone who is constantly faced with such challenges may easily find it difficult to be good company.  However, during this time of financial stress, there is even greater need for encouragement and reassurance.  Financial hardship is a time when the strength of a loving relationship will be exactly what is needed to overcome the growing urge to simply give up.

Ultimately, as in the Cinderella Man movie, a family will be able to reflect upon the great blessing of love and perseverance that actually withstood a great test.  Such challenges can uncover and even develop the true character of a couple that will make their relationship even stronger.  Couples should do their best to reflect upon and recommit to the promise to remain in their marriage- through “richer or poorer”.

Spouses should also encourage each other one to share their feelings that may be causing stress, while striving to give attention to what blessings they still have.  I have learned that everything has a season and hardship does not deserve the worry that it receives. Couples must learn to find ways to comfort each other until the trying season of unemployment passes.  And I truly believe that the more an unemployed spouse is fed encouragement, the sooner the season of worrying about finances will be over.

Broken Trust-How much time is needed to fix it?

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

During a recent live broadcast of our I Do Me 2 Blog Talk Radio (BTR) show, a person in our BTR chat room typed about how trust impacts forgiveness and even sexual relations.  After more discussion, my husband and I realized that this topic really struck a chord with a number of couples.  We received some significant feedback and decided to address the issue of trust in our next blog.

HOW CAN TRUST BE EARNED?

Approaching the topic of trust, I recognized that there was still the need for me to first define what trust means.  I tend to need a little more clarity about a subject that appears to ignite uneasiness when discussed.  This issue of trust certainly appears to be a sore spot in many relationships.  Having stated this, I find it necessary to first declare that I do not agree that trust is earned.  Please read on to learn why.

Morpheus in the Matrix played by Laurence Fishburne.

Every time I hear or read the statement that “trust is earned”, something nags at me as Morpheous (in the Matrix) put it “like a splinter in your brain.”  My experience and observations have led me to believe that people tend to not really understand what trust means to others.  This is exemplified by how often a person responds to a partner with “I thought you trusted me” or “I thought I could trust you.”  It appears that trust is as unique and personal as the one who has it.  With such universal misunderstanding, I doubt that either party in a relationship can truly determine at what point trust is actually earned.  Even in observing someone’s actions, you still lack the knowledge of the purpose, motivation and intent of the heart.

SO MANY  “TRUST” QUESTIONS

How many times have we heard, someone declare (usually after getting busted),  “if you trusted me then…”  while thinking “I don’t agree with that”?  How can someone work to earn something that they do not understand?  How do you know that you have truly earned someone’s trust?  What is the evidence that trust has been earned?  Likewise, how do you know that trust has been broken?  I mean, what if trust was never whole or solid from the beginning of the relationship?  The splinter is getting deeper.

Frankly, I was not too sure about how to define trust, so I went straight to the
cyberspace reservoir of information, known as the Internet.     I ran an online search for the word trust, that returned 1,170,000,000 instances.  After reading each one  (just kidding),  the information overload about trust made the splinter began to grow painful.  From the legal to the emotional, to the logical, the different spins on trust led me back to my first conclusion, which is described in the above paragraph.   So I settled upon first sharing what trust in marriage means, before addressing what to do about breaking and fixing it.

THE TRUST EXPERIMENT

I am reminded of that Trust Experiment where you are told to stand in front of someone, with your back to the person.  You are then instructed to simply fall back, trusting that the person will catch you.  I must admit that I did not always follow logic.  Even if the person was smaller than me and appeared to be weaker, I would close my eyes and try it anyway.  Fortunately, I was never dropped.  But in my mind, it was more about curiosity than trust.  I just wanted to see what the other person was capable of doing.  At the same time, I am certain that I would never try it again if I was dropped and got hurt.

TRUSTING NOT TO BE HURT

I think that it is too much to expect that my spouse will never hurt me.  In our 30 plus years of marriage we have experienced quite a few situations that resulted in our saying and doing things that hurt the other one.  However, I believe that my husband has demonstrated that (in his right mind) he would not intentionally hurt me.  I make the distinction of being in his right mind and intentionally because it is my belief that his love for me produces a desire to protect me from being hurt.    However his wrong, messed up mind might just want to do or say something to defend himself or show me how much I have hurt him.

Likewise, I will admit that there have been times that I felt like I wanted my husband to hurt  and feel some pain in response to my feeling wronged or mistreated in some way.  With this wrong and messed up mind, I intentionally said something or did something that I knew would upset him.    However, he still helps me to feel that he trusts me.   I realize that having confidence in his trust for me greatly influences my trust in him.  (Check out the How Much Can You Trust Your Spouse? Quiz)

EARNING DISTRUST

I am much more confident in people being able to earn distrust than trust.  I see distrust in marriage as when one believes that the spouse is not dependable and not committed to refraining from intentionally inflicting pain and discomfort.  This would certainly qualify for broken trust  in that it is void of being a solid trust.  However, I do not think that there is anything that can be done to truly prove that it is time to trust a person who is viewed us untrustworthy.

I believe that trust is a state of mind held by someone who is voluntarily becoming vulnerable to someone or something.  Trust includes expectation of outcomes and responses that a person believes will occur.  I think people direct their trust to whomever they chose regardless of how much others may lack the evidence that they are trustworthy.   I further believe that people learn to trust rather than accepting that another has earned their trust.  With this in mind, I believe that it is much too difficult to assess whether or not people are actually  projecting their own untrustworthiness onto their spouses.  Perhaps they see something of themselves that makes it impossible for them to imagine that anyone could be trustworthy.  Or maybe they have experienced deep wounds from care givers or former relationships that prevent the ability to give trust to others.  Whatever the hindrance, this could indicate that the trust in their marriage never even had a chance to be broken, because one or both of them never had trust from the beginning.

IN CONCLUSION

There are several areas  in our marriage where I choose to apply my trust.   For me, trust in marriage is believing that my spouse will not intentionally hurt me.  Trust is also believing that I can depend on my spouse when I think that I need support.  Most of all, I trust that he loves me and wants to stay married to me beyond any and every challenge.  He cannot prove this to me because we have not experienced any and every challenge.  However I have learned  that the better I am with reassuring my husband that I trust him, the more he will try to live up to my expectations.  I think that like the Trust Experiment described earlier, sometimes it is best to ignore logic, close your eyes and try it anyway.   And if (or when) the trust is somehow broken to the degree that my husband has earned my distrust, I still believe that I have the (God-given) choice and the control to give my trust to him again at any time.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

STAYING IN MARRIAGE THROUGH BROKEN TRUSTS

Sitting in a small room with the door closed and the blinds drawn closed is a young man staring at his wedding band, asking questions that only God can truly answer. One more sleepless night and the tears continue to flow. His self-contentedness has surrendered to humility. He picks up a pen to  write, but can only write the words; “How long…?”.

Realizing he has no right to dictate the terms or time it takes for his wife to work through the pain he caused, he cries out “Lord! What do I have to do?” He has
prayed fervently and is now confident that God’s mercy has covered him and that God forgives him.  He even believes that his wife has forgiven him for what he did. However, there is this nagging cloud over their home where even in the midst of their intimate moments, there appears to be something that was once familiar but now is being held back.

He murmurs to himself that he was stupid to have broken the promise he broke and must have been insane to do it again. However, the most difficult thing for him to deal with is really not the “what” but “how long”. How long will it take to regain the priceless trust that was once his?

FOR BETTER OR WORSE

In most relationship settings outside of marriage, broken trusts are often a death sentence. However, in marriage, due to the incredible volume and depths of investment and vows there is an inherent motivation to try and recover. Most wedding vows include the statement “for better or for worse” without the couple truly calculating what “worse” might feel like for them. It is a blanket statement that is often used to cover the unimaginable offense. But even if the spouse agrees not to divorce, regaining trust may prove to be a painful journey with volatile progress. Often the lashing out that accompanies a wounded heart provokes a pattern of bitter, verbal exchanges that reminds the offender of what he or she has done repeatedly. Some have expressed the need for retribution in order to convince the offender not to take what happened lightly.

There is no way to actually make up for the events that frame the weight and magnitude of this offense. Additionally, the healing and restoring process is usually undefined and unique to the couple and the situation surrounding the broken trust. However, time is a necessary element of the restoring process. For the injured spouse, letting it go rather than obsessing over what happened is healthier and promotes a better atmosphere for you to heal. The injured spouse must be allowed to express her/his pain and the offending spouse must acknowledge the fact that s/he caused the pain.

For the offender, patience is a required posture. Apologize but remember your injured spouse is likely navigating through a mountain of emotions that conflict with their previous picture of who they believed you were. Those emotions often act like noise that blurs the vision and filters the hearing of your injured spouse. However, emotions like volcanoes erupt and eventually cool off. A remorseful spouse is often willing to listen past the exaggerated words that are framed by anger and disappointment.  Avoid switching into a defensive posture to reduce your sentence. Once the eruption has subsided, set mutual goals that have short-term results.

It is better to not count in minutes, hours or days, but in months and years for this process. It is a slow recovery process toward regaining the sure footed assumptions that often accompany trust-filled relationships. But rejoice and note each step of progress. Remember the blissful mountain from which you fell. However, refrain from requesting a re-assessment of your relationship too soon. You may find that your spouse has not come to the same conclusion as you for the accumulated “brownie points” you believe you have earned. It is better to be patient and earn more than you thought you had than to rush into a review that leaves you woefully off in your self assessment of your progress in earning trust.

When couples calculate the various things that they may have to go through with their spouse, it is difficult to accurately grasp the pain and devastation of broken promises during courting stages. It is only after you have truly placed your trusts and fragile heart in the hands of your spouse that you become vulnerable enough to be totally blindsided by a blow to the gut that leaves you gasping for air and wondering if you can ever recover.

FACING DEVASTATING BREACHES

Infidelity is among the most devastating breaches of trust. However, there are other breaches that also present formidable challenges to move beyond. When a spouse has misused finances through reckless gambling, or investment without the consent of the spouse that results in loss of home, life style, and/or savings preserved for the children’s education that can also be a breech that feels insurmountable.

Among the most difficult breaches of trust I have ever heard of is the one regarding child sexual molestation. This offense is one that crosses so many lines on so many dimensions that even with the help of professionals it is sometimes too difficult to regain even a reasonable level of trust.

REGAINING TRUST

Regaining trust is possible but the injured spouse must be allowed to share their pain. The offender spouse must acknowledge that they caused the pain. Affirm that you know this will be difficult and will take time but that you are committed toward being there through the journey in order to earn the trust back.

If by chance you say something that seems to re-injure your spouse, sincerely apologize for it without defending your motives. Especially through the early times, the injured spouse needs to have their pain validated by you.  If that doesn’t happen, you may find them seeking validation from friends, counselors, pastors, or just about anyone.

For men, it is especially difficult to have their private matters aired in public. There is a much higher probability for recovery when the communication has sustained a respectful level of discretion. Avoid public outbursts that can draw in uninformed bystanders.

IN CONCLUSION

Seek out good counseling while choosing a counselor you mutually decide upon to avoid agitating or giving room for more distrust. A good counselor will use a scalpel like a skilled surgeon to address only what must be resolved for this matter before muddying the waters with other unrelated past issues.

Above all…. Pray, and pray more. There is a time to heal; A time to break down, And a time to build up; A time to weep, And a time to laugh; A time to mourn, And a time to dance.

Sex is Better When You’re Married – Reason #4

CLICK TO LISTEN TO OUR PARTY LINE BLOG TALK RADIO
DISCUSSION ABOUT THIS BLOG TOPIC.

 

 

This blog entry is the fourth follow up to our challenge to develop top 10 Reasons to Stay Married.

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

My husband and I discussed this a bit before agreeing to make this topic the next entry in our follow-up blog series regarding the top 10 Reasons to Stay Married.  Sex was among my husband’s top 10 Reasons to Stay Married, and I thoroughly agree.

This may be one of those articles that our children would rather not read, but we both agree that it is a topic worth our time and effort.  Both of our backgrounds include (perhaps too many) opportunities to make a reasonable comparison about sexual relations with and without the marital bond.

  • FROM HAVING SEX TO MAKING LOVE

There is little that my husband and I have not experienced in relationships, which allows us to speak from experiential perspectives.  I realize that there is really no way to prove to others that sex is better in a good marriage than with being single.  And I also realize that it is still up to the couple to maximize their marital relationship.  However, I have found that as love grows deeper in marriage, everything needed for great sexual relations is also developed.

We understand and appreciate the gift of sexual gratification that results from our love for each other.  After so many years of experiencing his selfless contributions towards pleasing me, I have absolutely no desire to explore any sexual relationship with anyone other than my husband. I certainly hope that my husband feels the same way about me.  However it took time to arrive at this realization.  The  type of sexual bliss that we now have took time to develop.  My youthful lust was gradually replaced by deep love, passionate engagement and sincere enjoyment that continues to grow for my husband.

  • SINGLE SEX VS. MARRIED SEX

There are those who might argue that sex outside of marriage is just as good.  I have no inclination to argue with someone who wants to think that way.  I simply know from my own experience that there is no way that I would welcome a return to that lifestyle.  One of the greatest reasons is that without the security of a marital relationship, sex tends to remain open to possibilities outside of the couple.  I believe that this openness causes distractions that prevent the opportunity to experience the holistic bond that occurs through long term monogamy.   This holistic bond is what has significantly enhanced our sexual relationship.  And our enhanced sexual relationship has other benefits as well.  It helps relieve stress and really aids our weight management and health regimen.

Although many unmarried people are able to be dedicated to one partner at a time,  other people will tend to view them as available.  Until there is a declaration of commitment through marriage, unmarried people are considered fair game.  They may even be hounded by those looking to “get lucky.”

I also have found that for many single people, sex may even be a source of stress and fear.  Single people are often more concerned with performance and competition (stress)as well as what disease their partners might have (fear) than married people.

  • TIME WASTING SEX

Sex outside of my marriage would be a waste of valuable time and effort.  I already know that my husband excites and stimulates me.  There is no need nor desire for pretense or performance.    I never feel guilty, cheated or bored with regards to having sex with my husband.  I also know that even if something is not quite right, we can talk about it and try again.  I believe that the state of deeply enjoyable and gratifying sexuality is most achievable in a relationship that is free of outside interference and distractions that occur when outside relationships are involved.

I am not impressed nor appreciative when people express that they consider me to be “sexy.”  Being sexy simply means that someone thinks that you would make an enjoyable sex partner.  I believe that anyone at any given time could wear that label.  However, I am impressed that one man wants to have a thriving sexual relationship with me after so many years of marriage.  I am very impressed that he cares enough about me to discuss and explore what makes us both happy.

  • A HIGH YIELD INVESTMENT

While growing in our marriage, we are also learning how to navigate the timing.  I am still learning how to manage my time in a way that keeps me from being too tired when my husband is especially desiring intimacy with me.  Likewise, I know that I have an open invitation to engage my husband’s full participation in satisfying my sexual desires.  I am grateful that my husband spends the time to learn about my needs and desires as well.  We have both invested the time to learn about each other’s sexuality.  We trust and care about each other enough to inquire about what is good and what is not good.

I find that investing deep love and commitment into our marriage continues to produce highly gratifying physical rewards.  However, I  must add that  there is also the element of spiritual investment that further contributes to our enjoyment.  For example, I pray for my husband to find pleasure with me in every way.   I also pray that we grow in our love and that we only desire each other.  Then I am mindful to give thanks to God for blessing us with the ability to enjoy each other with such totality.

  • IN CONCLUSION

I believe that truly great sex begins with a great marriage.  This is why I agree with my husband that sex should be listed among the top 10 reasons to stay married.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

God’s Perfect Design for Intimacy

  •  Passion, Rhythm and Grace

The lights dim and a sultry acoustic guitar begins to strum a simple but compelling latin rhythm of Jose Feliciano’s rendition of Light My Fire. A single spot light fades in and directs the audience’s eyes toward the center of the room.  An attractive couple embraces each other with the man positioned behind the woman and arms wrapped around her. They begin moving in perfect rhythm, synchronized to this slow latin rhumba. Their eyes gaze in to each other, however, no words are spoken. They anticipate each others moves and engage into a sensual dance celebrating their passion of their relationship.

The man is graceful and yet masculine as his guiding hands lead his elegant and sensual partner through a series of twists, and turns that culminates in a very close embrace. Their breathing seems exaggerated and intentionally synched with the beat of the song. The woman flirtatiously pulls away from him only to be pulled back in with a firm and controlling grip. She surrenders because there is no competition here during this moment.

Both appear determined to please one another producing a synergy of passion, rhythm and hot breathing in an intimate and familiar zone that provides a refreshing and entertaining rhumba dance.  The audience applauds with each turn and gasp in awe like voyeurs peeping into a private encounter of passion. The song ends with the couple facing each other wrapped tightly in each other’s arms.  They thank each other and then bow toward the audience in appreciation of the applause of the audience.

It would be wonderful if this type of synchronization and synergy characterized the sexual encounters of every married couples. However, many married couples would state a different story regarding their own intimate encounters. On the other hand, the statistics state that there are more married couples that enjoy this intimacy with more frequency than their single counter parts.

Studies show that 40-50% of married people claim their sex lives are satisfying compared to 20-25% of the single and cohabiting counterparts.  (Maggie Gallagher and  researcher/co-author Linda J. Waite  of The Case for Marriage (2001))  Of course there are those that would challenge the accuracy of the study. However, the crowded bars, clubs and frequent prowling of people seeking companionship suggest that finding a partner is not an easy chore. Additionally, the familiarity, trust and selflessness that is rooted within the structure of marriage frames a far more favorable setting for enjoyable intimacy.

  • Risky Business

Dating encounters that are often filled with clumsy pick up lines, and awkward conversations that are intended to lure the targets into a sexual relationship are rarely presented accurately in today’s TV sitcoms and movies. There are no second takes for the guy that approaches the woman that he has been lusting for the past half an hour only to forget his name while introducing him self before he begins to tell a story about something that has no barring on who he is or what she likes. Despite the level of mystery and intrigue of dating, I think there is little chance of this encounter reaching the levels of intimacy and satisfaction I have grown accustomed to within my marriage.

I agree there are a number of distractions and pressures that tend to plague and even hijack the spontaneous lust filled encounters that steamy movies and TV shows tend to profile. Even in a solid marriage, it is not easy for a man that has just experienced a humiliating and hard day at work, or a woman that fought her way through traffic to get home from her job early enough to make a dinner and pick up the kids to turn on the flirtatious and sensual non-verbal communicators that inspire an atmosphere for intimacy.

On the other hand, the seasoned couple that finds a way to develop the rhythm and synchronization needed to anticipate the moves and moods of their partner are far more likely to experience more frequent and satisfying sexual encounters. This seasoned couple has progressed beyond the awkward stages of clumsy experimentations. They have discovered a set of tried and true satisfying practices they can rely upon. They still experiment and are open for spontaneity, however, they can also do those things that continue to deliver satisfaction without worry of growing bored. I find it hard to fathom ever growing tired of the frequency and heights of satisfaction I share with my wife. The prelude is not often the same but the resolve always leaves us spent and satisfied. That’s not an experience I could count on during dating episodes before I married my wife.

  • Passion Sanctioned by God 

Personally, I believe this type of intimacy is protected and designed by God Almighty for  the heart’s desire of married couples.  I can’t imagine anything I have ever done proving worthy enough to justify the level of intimacy and enjoyment I experience with my beautiful wife. We have what we have through His grace and mercy.  Hallelujah!

In the Bible, we read; ” Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled”. I interpret that verse of Scripture to mean that my union with my wife is righteous in the site of  God and that whatever we decide to do in bed is permitted. We are allowed to be creative, spontaneous, to moan as a quiet storm or scream as a loud volcano and God is alright with that. I will refrain from any other illustrations in order to keep this fit for family reading. However, the point I am making is I believe that what we do in the privacy of our bedroom is without regret, guilt or blame. That is one of the many reasons that I can look forward to the morning after our making love rather than my single, or cohabiting counterparts.

I heard it said that chocolate tastes better if you had to steal it, however, when it comes to my wife, I believe our intimacy is better because she is mine. I would never trade my plentiful gift from heaven for a risky night of being a thief.  We hold nothing back during our intimacy and the reward is consistently  satisfying.

The Biblical model for marriage makes a provision for frequency as a safe guard:

1 Corinthians 7:3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

This provision is not a license for either partner to abuse the other. It is the framework of trusting one’s own body into the hands and motives of your partner. It frames an offering toward the prolonged satisfaction of your partner. The authority over your partner’s body should be rooted in love and not lust. Love is sacrificial. Lust is self seeking.

For those that continue to insist that they enjoy a greater level of frequency and satisfaction because they are single or cohabiting, I am willing to consider that you may not know what you don’t know. Additionally, I believe there is no chance at all of my ever becoming a candidate to join your ranks.

  • Hazardous Hunting Grounds

On the other hand I have counseled a number of single and cohabiting adults that I have deep compassion for.  The volume of social networks, dating sites,  and singles clubs tell me that there are extremely large numbers of people that are hoping to “get lucky.”  Their hunting grounds are dangerous, full of predators, STDs, and unknown challenges that are often deceitful, disappointing and under-deliver on their promises to satisfy.

Unfortunately, failed marriages may make the loudest noise regarding their dissatisfaction. However, my experience (and those of the couples that I know are happy), tend to avoid boasts about how great and or how frequent the levels of our intimacy meet or exceed satisfaction. It’s not a secret, but the intimate details should remain between us. We should never become arrogant or prideful.

  • Sharing Your Burning Passions for Each Other

In closing, I want to revisit the example of the dance partners I used in the beginning of this blog. The very graceful and exciting couples that win in dance competitions require training, practice, and a healthy level of boldness. Likewise, married couples must develop those things that work best for them. That level of communication requires trust, honesty, patience, sensitivity, confidence, a sincere desire to satisfy your spouse and a very active prayer life to protect your thought life and motives. If those lines of communication are active and proficient it is probable that this couple has learned and even established a consistent ritual of satisfying intimacy.

My wife and I often pray to only have desire for each other. I ask that God will help me to hold captive every thought obedient to Christ. If my mind, my heart and my spirit are all in line with God’s perfect design for intimacy, the results are always extraordinary. We always thank God for our marriage and the gift of intimacy He has designed for us.

  • IN CONCLUSION

I completely agree with the Scripture : “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”

Is Love Reason Enough to Stay Married?

CLICK TO LISTEN TO ONLINE RADIO DISCUSSION ABOUT THIS TOPIC. LISTEN , CHAT OR CALL IN AT (213) 943-3673

This blog entry is the third follow up to our challenge to develop top 10 Reasons to Stay Married.

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

Roberta Flack and Donnie Hathaway sang the questions, “Where is the love you said was mine all mine, till the end of time?  Was it just a line?  Where is the love?”

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway

In reflecting upon those questions, I have wondered if when we promise to love someone, we actually have a good idea about what love is.  For example, think about the last time that you said “I love you” to your spouse.  Now try to think


about exactly what you meant by that statement.    Then think about times that you did not feel the love.  Where did it go?  Before you really try to meditate on your answer to those questions, please continue reading.

After having an argument about love with my husband, I decided to do some research on love to be ready when we later continue our argument.   That may seem strange or funny, but that’s what we do.   Anyway, I tried to uncover a true meaning of love that agreed with how I feel about love.  This was actually quite a challenge that was beginning to frustrate me.  I was beginning to hate my search for the true meaning of love.  There were so many opinions and insights about love that seemed to keep me bouncing around a virtual pin ball table of perspectives.  Finally, I decided that I would settle upon the Scriptural foundation of love since this is what is used to develop widely accepted marriage vows.  Although I do not consider myself very religious, I strongly believe that there are spiritual laws which influence and govern our existence.  Whether or not you agree, I trust that you will find the results interesting enough to consider.

  • LOVE AS A WORD

Basically, there are various language influences in Bible versions that include both Old and New Testaments.  I tend to refer to the Hebrew and Aramaic texts because it makes sense to me that they are closer to authenticity.  However, I respect that many others prefer King James and other translations.  As a show of concession my statements will consider what I believe are points of agreement.

An area of agreement regarding love appears to reside within the Old Testament of the Scriptures.  There is only one word for love in the Old Testament which is derived from the Hebrew term.  The following is taken from an article that I believe sums this up best.  “With respect to words for love, it resembles our languages like English or German: there is one and only one word for love (the verb ahav and the noun ahava) which covers the concept as broadly as our modern word “love”. God’s love (Jr.31:3), love of God (Dt.6:4), love of the fellow man (Lv.19:18), love of a friend (2Sam.1:26), love of a girl (Gen.29:20), mere sex (Prov.7:18), love of money (Eccl.5:9), and love of vanity (Ps.4:3) are all called by the same name.” http://www.lrz.de/~hr/bible/loves.html

  • WHERE DOES LOVE ORIGINATE?

I find that when it comes to marriage, there is love and there is the idea of love.  The idea of love can be superficial and can easily fluctuate according to how one may feel from moment to moment.  However I believe that love comes from God and that it is a spiritual gift.  I further believe that the acquired gift of love resides within a person’s spirit that transcends what is rational or able to be fully understood.   This gift of love is developed according to how and how much it is used.

I believe that love itself does not fluctuate and does not come in varieties.  This means that if you have this spirit of love that the love flows to everyone, because love does what love is.  I am convinced that love is consistent and not contingent upon the whims of those who possess it.  I believe that we choose how we use love and tend to combine it with other influences such as physical attraction, enjoyment, etc.   I do not believe that there are different types of love, but only different ways that we apply and process love.

  • MY PERSPECTIVE OF WHAT LOVE DOES

Now with so much discussion about the makeup of love there is still the question of what love does.  I believe that love is the essence of what is good.  It is the spiritual element of our existence that causes us to ultimately feel good about others and about life.  When I say that I love someone, I am willing to see and feel the good in and about that person.  I am also willing to overlook any bad or perceived faults when I am in the active state of love.  In the state of love, I easily forgive because I want what is good.

However, I am also of the opinion that many people are engaged with the idea of love which can easily fluctuate according to how they feel.  When people are able to stop loving someone, I believe that they actually quench the spirit of love.  I believe that love can be managed or even channeled.  But the choice not to love is controlled by the beholder more than the influence of the receiver.   My love for my husband is not contingent upon how he feels about me because my love is a gift from God that flows from my being a loving person.

  • IN CONCLUSION

I believe that God is the originator of love and that God is Love.   I further believe that the state of love is defined by the originator of love and is described and defined in the spiritual reference of the Holy Scriptures.  I have this scripturally based love for my husband and believe that this is the love that he has for me.  With this love, I am able to overcome the times that I might feel hurt by his words or actions.  This love compels me to forgive him and even want what is best for him.  It so happens that I believe that being married to me is included in what I believe is best and good for my husband.  Since I also believe that my husband loves me, I am confident that he realizes how much he is included in what is best and good for me.  We are able to make it through the tough challenges that we face in marriage because our love compels us to want what is best and good for each other.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

If a couple has to count reasons for them to stay married, then love’s ability to motivate and inspire has probably been severely challenged.  However, one of the most powerful attributes about love is its resilience.  Rekindling love is almost always a strategy to stimulate the memory; to reignite that “reckless, nobody but you will do” type of feeling you once had about your mate.

Some may say they have fallen out of love of their spouse. I believe that there are seasons that are less romantic in a relationship. I also believe that your relationship may require a defibrillator and some resuscitation but most relationships are worthy of another vigilant try.  This marriage was probably initiated and founded on love and the promise to love through good and bad times…. Remember?

  • DEALING WITH TEMPTATIONS

On the other hand, there are a multitude of lures out there that target those seeking “action packed passion on steroid” type of experiences. There should be warning labels stamped on the front of every date (outside of your spouse) that is promising to give you what you’ve been missing. However, they also know you probably wouldn’t read the label. This area of lust only responds to scent (not sense)  and picturesque thrills of short encounters.

Meanwhile, back at the normal home front, the adventure and mystique that accompanies your early dating process is often tossed aside for more practical and less romantic activities. Many couples are stressed just trying to navigate through finance (including consequences from impulse spending), health, children, and life in general. In the midst of some of the darkest and most difficult times of a marriage, those lures look especially distracting and attractive. However, they usually offer only short term satisfaction and often under represent the “fatal attraction” drama that accompanies their advances.

I still love my very stunningly beautiful wife and I am still aroused by her sensual and earthy scent that lingers after her warm embrace that assures me that I am still the only man for her. However, I am also guilty of not demonstrating and expressing the different dimensions of that love with enough regularity to off-set bouts of insecurity that surface. Most women will respond positively to spontaneous and romantic encounters that cast them in a starring role. On the other hand, that script has to be put in action more than once a year, or decade… Amen? (She will probably use this as leverage against me in the future…. )

On the other hand, stressful relationships can make even great plans appear unlikely and there is often an argument waiting to happen. Typically, in the midst of those stressful times, communication suffers and becomes stressful.  Repeated episodes of those arguments and stress will erode the trust in a relationship.

  •  HAVING THE BEST OF INTENTIONS

We must also address the need for your spouse to trust that you will be there for her/him, protect her, respect him and demonstrate trustworthiness.  Finally, I have learned that most want to feel that s/he will always rank among the most important things that are getting your attention.

Outlined in verse 7 of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 we find what may be among the most important action things for a man to do. In this biblical listing of character traits of love, we find a very appealing plea for love being the catalyst for staying in a marriage.  Paul declares:

(4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.)

Now, if a couple has reached the point in their marriage where they are seeking reasons to justify staying or leaving; “What’s love go to do with it?” Remember love always perseveres, always, hopes, and always trusts.

There will be problems in most marriages.  Remember, there were even challenges in marriages during biblical times as there are now. The selfless attitudes that are illustrated through the true attributes of love is not like the noise in the head of a person considering divorce. It appears that people become far more self-centered and focused on personal needs when considering divorce.

I believe that is the justified motive behind framing covenant vows with promises to love in good times and bad. Contrasting times of bliss and struggle are inevitable in a marriage. However, the resilience of love can not only make that marriage bearable, but truly satisfying.  It may require more than a “couples retreat” to reignite those flames of love. However, the reward of reigniting those flames should prove worthy of the effort.

When given an exercise to meditate and journal all the reasons that you love your spouse, many are able to push aside imperfections and focus on the most attractive aspects of their marriage. Even if poisonous arguments have tarnished the glow of those aspects; with a lot of prayer, professional help and the desire to make it work, love can once again place your relationship into that “reckless, nobody but you will do” spot.  Because of the resilience of love, you can enjoy this relationship you promised to stay with in front of God and witnesses.

  •  ADDRESSING THE SPIRIT OF “I TRIED EVERYTHING!” CONSIDER TRYING THIS…

   Plan an appropriate outing, fitting your current budget. (Splurging can be a trigger for an argument and an example of your irresponsibility as well.)

(What’s the weather like?) For example; if you have been planning this special time to get away but your spouse does not trust you or is even suspicious of your intentions, you may find it impossible to be spontaneous because you need to be trusted to do what you are doing.  However, if you confide in a trusted sibling, or friend that could back up your intentions to your spouse without giving away the plan, you can overcome some of the suspicion through a surrogate trustee.

Taking your wife to a sporting event might not be the best choice to make her feel like she is the star of the night. However, taking her to a dance club where you are constantly turning your head to look at other women is even worse. A medley of things that may begin at the Museum (as an example) and end up somewhere cozy and very private could be just the thing that frames a time of intimacy and sharing that reassures your spouse of the fact that she is still the star of your dreams.  Aim for a win-win situation where you can both enjoy the night.

Essential to this date is to somehow capture this event with a photograph. Even a cell phone can capture this very special time and allow you to save and frame this memory/event for further review at the appropriate time.

If you are not very good at communicating your feelings, then search for that special song with those great lyrics that expresses what you are trying to say as clearly as possible. You should also plan on the follow up after playing the song. Dead silence could give room to questions like “What does that mean?” Be prepared to point to the specific line that captures what you are trying to say. No need to play the whole song unless relevant.

Remember and re-state plans you can still accomplish. Remember the goal is to rekindle.  Rekindling amplifies what is still there while acknowledging the promise of what could still happen. If you try all of this and it still meets a wall of resistance, then stay hopeful and get ready to stand and persevere. Remember: in the end “Love never fails!”

Should Mental Illness be Grounds for Divorce?

PLAN TO JOIN THE LIVE DUSCUSSION ONLINE ABOUT HIS TOPIC ON TUESDAY NIGHT AT 6:30 PST/ 7:30 MST/ 8:30 CST/ 9:30 EST/ CLICK HERE: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/idome2/2012/03/21/handling-mental-illness-in-relationships

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

There is an ugly rumor going around that black women are apprehensive about getting mental health treatment.  If you have not heard that rumor, I need to be more diligent with spreading it around.  It is no secret that people like me are often referred to as an “angry black women”.  I have spent many years counseling ladies who even refer to themselves as “angry black women.”  But I have come to believe that much of what is simply attributed to as anger is in reality mental
illness.

When I was (even a few years) younger if you had told me that I needed to seek mental help, I might have told you that

Sigmund Freud

you were crazy.  Even though my own mother suggested that I seek counseling, I figured that she simply misunderstood that I was just different.   Ultimately, I agreed to take a serious look at the possibility that maybe there were some issues

with my own mental health.  After I decided to study counseling, I realized that I could no longer refer to a Freudian Slip as a line of lingerie for psychotic women.   There were real reasons for my harsh communication and erratic behavior that were linked to past experiences.

  • A FREUDIAN SLIP, CAN EXPOSE VICTORIA’S SECRET

In a fit of anger, a woman called her husband the same name as her dead stepfather.  We will call her step father Ray and her husband, Harold.  One day, Harold wanted to be intimate with his wife who we will call Victoria.  Unfortunately, on this day, Victoria had just watched a movie that included a brutal rape scene.  She saw this movie after having viewed episodes of popular “doggy men and whorish women” day-time talk shows.  Her head was certainly not ready to receive acts of affection from her husband.

On the other hand, Harold was returning home after being around co-workers that were excited about having a great and productive day.  In the excitement, Harold found himself sharing his good feelings with one of the female co-workers.  He had never really entertained thoughts of an affair.  But for a moment he felt stimulated by this woman.  Harold fought to push aside those feelings provoked by the co-worker and rushed home to release his passion where he thought it should be shared- with his wife Victoria.

Upon approaching Victoria, Harold was met by immediate rejection as she declared how she did not appreciate being forced to be intimate when she was “not feeling it.”  Harold’s attempts to get Victoria to “feel it” somehow escalated into an argument.  Their hostile banter quickly resulted in Victoria yelling, “just leave me alone, Ray!”  This mis-speak was an accident.  She meant to yell Harold’s name.   Sometime later Victoria revealed that her stepfather Ray had molested her when she was a child.

Although Harold was finally able to see that Victoria’s frequent rejections of his physical advances were due to previous abuse, he simply grew weary of fighting and not having his need for intimacy met.  Victoria and Harold were ultimately divorced.  While the documented grounds for their divorce was irreconcilable differences, Harold claimed that he would have considered staying if Victoria had “just tried to get some mental help.”

  • IN (MENTAL) SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH…

In another situation, a relative that I had never imagined to be so committed, learned that his wife was suffering from a disorder diagnosed as “Bi-Polar.”  The extensive severity of her ailment included unnerving and sometimes violent mood swings.  When we met, his wife was friendly and a clearly outgoing fun-loving woman.  In a few years after their marriage, she grew paranoid and suspicious of his relationships with every woman, including siblings.  She even digressed to the degree that she no longer wanted to be in public because neither of them was comfortable with how she might behave.  To my delight and surprise, this relative has demonstrated his commitment to being a loving husband and committed caretaker for his wife.  I am certain that hardly any members of the family (if any) would have blamed him if he had decided to abandon his marriage under such dire circumstances.

I wonder how many of us actually think about mental illness when we state our wedding vows.  I am referring to the portion that includes “in sickness and in health…”  I wonder if there would be cause for pause if it was stated “in sickness, including mental illness and in health… .”  What if pre-marital counseling included painting a picture of a spouse being diagnosed with some mental disorder?    Would love struck couples actually re-think their plans for marriage?

  • WHEN MENTAL ILLNESS HITS HOME

I must admit that this is a difficult subject for me to address objectively.   My husband has already demonstrated that he is willing to tolerate a certain level of mental instability regarding me.  However, I am not certain that he would be able to handle some of the situations that we have witnessed in other couples.  As we progress in age, it appears that we become less adventurous as well as less tolerant of conflict.

Although I am willing to stand with my husband if he suffers from mental illness, I am not certain that I would be able to handle any and every behavior without significant support.  I have seen heart-wrenching portrayals of couples dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and other debilitating mental illness.  Each time that I experience movies with such storylines, I realize that I do my best to keep from imagining myself in those situations.

There is a tasteful movie production called “A Vow to Cherish” that portrays a family faced with a wife and mother being diagnosed with Dementia from having Alzheimer’s disease.  The movie, starring Barbara Babcock, Ken Howard, Ossie Davis is filled with topics that could arise in a family forced to deal with discovering that a spouse is struggling with mental illness.  This is the one movie where I allowed myself to empathize with both spouses.  I appreciated the realism of reactions that are presented which made it more inviting for me to explore.  But if mental illness was to invade our own home, how many of us would really feel good about our responses?

  • SOLUTION:

As the movie indicates, I believe that prayer and support are needed to deal with mental illness in a marriage.  Even if one feels that divorce or some form of separation is inevitable, it should be done with much prayer.  I believe that connecting with God through the process will offer much needed peace through this journey.  I refer to it as a journey because being separated will not terminate the relationship and sense of obligation.  Unfortunately, too many people think that divorce or separation insures finality in a relationship.  But for many couples, the separation actually makes life even more complicated.

I strongly believe that adequate support should be diligently explored even if one feels “OK” with a decision -to stay or go- after mental illness has been diagnosed.  There is a good reason that more support services are being developed for caregivers as well as divorce survivors.  The reason that support services are being offered for caregivers is because mental health providers are recognizing the extent of trauma and stress that occurs from having to deal with the illness of a loved one.

I believe that the trauma experienced as a result of having a mentally ill spouse or from divorce is far too under assessed.  I strongly encourage those who experience either of these situations to seek active prayer as well as seek (or start) a support group.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

  • BRANDON MARSHALL & BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER

Recent stories surrounding Brandon Marshall, MVP and new NFL Wide Receiver for the Chicago Bears, have started some heated discussions. Mr. Marshall has publicly declared that he suffers an emotional disorder called Borderline Personality Disorder, also called BPD. With his wife standing right by his side, Mr. Marshall answered questions about his past behavior and the disease he is trying to give voice to. During a press conference, the calm and articulate Brandon provided unrehearsed responses to a range of questions that were personal and way beyond the scope of “on the field” behavior. However, much of the reaction to his comments that followed the interview revealed the troubled stigma
associated with mental illness.

Many of the people that called in to sports oriented talk shows were probably suffering from some level of ignorance about mental illness as a whole, however, the range of emotionally charged comments ranged from wide acceptance and support for Brandon to ridicule and malicious character assaults. Brandon has not shared that he or his wife were seeking divorce. However,  it is well documented that they have experienced some turbulent and violent times resulting from his chronic disorder.

  • ESTABLISHING GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

Speaking of divorce, allow me to preface my premise about divorce with some clarity. Divorce is the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body.   When we start talking about “grounds for divorce”, then we are not suggesting the popular no-fault divorce type. Often this type of divorce (at-fault divorce) is used when it is necessary to provide required proof by one party that the other party had committed an act incompatible to the marriage. In the case of divorce based on the grounds of mental illness, the evidence must be presented comprehensively and beyond the hearsay of neighbors, usually supported by the diagnosis of a mental health professional.

However, the fact that someone is seeking grounds for or permission to divorce their life-partner is tragic to begin with. The stories behind that sentiment are certainly more comprehensive than I have room to address in this brief blog. There are probably stories of suffering, frustration, humiliation, loneliness, betrayal, helplessness, and more. Statistics show that patients with mental illnesses that have a partner in marriage are far more likely to live longer and even adapt to an effective treatment protocol. However, the partners of those marriages are often overwhelmed with feelings of being trapped, guilt, and even bitterness about why their lives have turned into a living hell.

  • FROM SYMPTOMS TO SUPPORT

How incredibly frustrating it must be to continuously offer explanations for your partner’s inexplicable behavior.  Where is the support for you?  Who is going to rescue you from the volatile and sometimes violent circumstances that hijack every “normal” day of your life?  The cumulative effects of acting with disregard for your own needs can produce a socially deprived, and emotionally starved set of needs that desperately cry out for some relief.  This is not the picture of every spouse of a mentally ill partner. Still, this picture must be represented as well.
When dating someone, the subject of mental health is rarely if ever discussed. That reality frames the attitude of being betrayed in many of the people that are dealing with unforeseen challenges from their spouse’s illness.  I know that there are those that say, “You make me crazy!” but don’t truly mean that they provoked a psychotic episode. However, there truly are triggers to many of the symptoms that unless controlled through medication and treatment can lead to violent or even deadly outcomes.

So should people be permitted to divorce on the grounds of mental illness? Even notifying a mentally ill spouse of intent to divorce could prove extremely dangerous. On the other hand, if given the right balance of support and resources, it is possible to restore the relationship that fostered your heart-felt “I do” during your wedding vows.

Divorce is a legal process that should always be a last course of action. Mental illness is veiled with so much misinformation and stigmatization that it is difficult to imagine any life that would resemble “normalcy”.  My hope is to just scratch the surface of this complex problem in order to provoke more conversation and inspire more education about the social and societal problems associated with marriage and mental illness.

Many experts describe these disorders to be active over days, weeks, months or years before diagnosing that there is a mental disorder. These disorders are not typically measured in increments of minutes or hours. On the other hand, behaviors such as spending sprees, promiscuous sexual activities, gambling, excessive drinking, or using drugs are different disorders that though they can and often are compulsive, do not meet the same consideration as bipolar or borderline personality disorders. Dementia is among the most tragic and degenerative mental illnesses that challenges marriage.

What is also confounding to partners is when co-occurring disorders of paranoia cause the mentally ill partner to protect themselves from being victimized. Science is still gaining progress in battling these chronic disorders. However, for the partner of a mentally ill spouse, the clock may appear to be standing still.

IT’S YOUR FAULT I’M LIKE THIS!

There is also a propensity for blaming others for the way you feel when you are dealing with many personality disorders. Similarly, those struggling with Substance Use Disorder, (SUD) often resist taking responsibility for the collateral damage and choices that have led to their circumstance.  “I got caught.” seems easier for many of them to admit than to reflect on how reckless, self-centered, or deceitful their behaviors have been. Having written that, there is also a strong stigmatization associated with mental illness of any type. For centuries, people with mental illnesses have been rejected as socially unacceptable and therefore relegated to being institutionalized rather than supported.

  • “IN SICKNESS AND HEALTH, IN POVERTY AND WEALTH

Christian models of marriage typically include vows that promise to endure through sickness and health, poverty and wealth. However, the model does not define the extent of that sickness before permitting divorce. Jesus spoke to the people about divorce saying in Matthew !9: “8 “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.(NKJV)

The behavior associated with the “hardness of your hearts” is not explained in this Scripture reference, however, it has been argued that God does not want anyone to suffer in their union, trapped by a ceremony of inequality and oppression. What I think is critical in reaching a conclusion about justification for divorce is that we reframe from using a broad brush to define what is going on, or to determine the resolve for the complexity of problems they face. However, since the focus of this article is divorce and mental health, I will refrain from elaborating at this time.

  • THE DESTRUCTIVE-NESS OF DIVORCE

Speaking from my own personal views, I believe that divorce is a destructive and sometimes violent/civil process that should be a last course of action. I also believe that most of the relationship challenges within a marriage are treatable and able to be placed in the past for those couples that are willing to do the work. I also recognize that the depth of damage caused through adulterous relationships can inflict irreparable setbacks to the trust and integrity of a marriage. However, there have been those that have survived adultery as well as mental illness.

Mental health issues are often addressed after a great deal of trauma has happened to the family as a whole and even friends and/or neighbors. PTSD (Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder) is sometimes diagnosed for survivors of traumatic events. If that survivor is also victimized by an unrelated chronic disorder, the diagnosis for treatment becomes profoundly more complex.

Imagine a young girl that is suffering from the effects and trauma of being molested/raped as a child. If that surviving child grows up and marries a partner who also has a mental disorder that manifests itself because of stress, loss of job, hopelessness, etc., there could be multiple traumatic episodes that would leave this young girl struggling through co-occurring symptoms similar to PTSD and BPD.  However, if properly diagnosed and treated, this couple could recapture their desire to spend the rest of their lives together even though both have degrees of mental illness that may prove difficult to navigate through.

Education, prayer, and competent palliative care models could prove quite successful in providing significant improvement of mental health resulting in the restoration of this marriage.

  • IN CONCLUSUON

In conclusion, I don’t want to pass judgment or make recommendations for a spouse regarding the viability of the suggestions listed above and/or the culpability of mental illness regarding you getting a divorce. My greatest hope is to educate people to some of the factors that should be considered in their decision making process. If you are considering divorce then you are probably in a great deal of anguish and I do not want to contribute more to that. My prayer is that you find love, support, unspeakable peace, and hope to experience the rest of your life while prospering.

The following links provide supporting support and details about this subject.

http://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/resources-news/articles-about-bpd/

http://psychnews.psychiatryonline.org/newsarticle.aspx?articleid=108438

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/wellness/2012/03/moody-or-bipolar-disorder/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palliative_care

http://www.toddlertime.com/dx/ptsd/partners-with-PTSD.htm