When a Spouse is Addicted to Drugs…

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

This was supposed to be a nice visit to a couple’s house for lunch.  However it turned into a rather uncomfortable setting as we witnessed the troubling transformation of a generally delightful woman.  She had already appeared a little agitated, but her grumbling about how worthless her husband was escalated into her yelling, “shut your face, you worthless piece of  ****.”   I searched for a sign that my husband was ready to leave as much as I was.  The husband, clearly embarrassed, explained that his wife was behaving that way because “that’s how she gets when she’s out of her drugs.”   Ultimately, we stayed a bit longer, attempting to offer some comfort and understanding.

As a respected member of her church, this typically charming woman was the perfect hostess in most situations.  However she had developed a dependency on her prescription pain medication that resulted in her behaving like many others who are

addicted to illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine.  Her craving for relief from the pain and suffering of drug withdrawals dominated her ability to conduct herself rationally.

  • WHY HELP IS NOT SOUGHT

Similar situations are being echoed in many households where a spouse has become addicted to prescription medication.  Unfortunately many of these families are too embarrassed to seek help.  There are also growing numbers of addicts who remain in denial about their struggle with over usage and dependency on their prescribed medication.  I believe that this state of denial is fueled by the fact that their drugs have been initially prescribed by doctors.  However the burden that this type of avoidance places on a relationship can appear to be unbearable.  Unfortunately many couples view divorce as the only real solution.

Although there is awareness in the medical field at large of this growing problem, there is much to be done in order to address it.  A report by Dr. Barbara Ray expresses great concern – especially for the so-called baby boomer generation.  In many cases, these are the older married couples who are battling with prescription drug abuse that has often been initiated through misdiagnoses.

  • UNDERSTANDING THE REAL ISSUES

Dr.  Ray’s report includes the following serious concern:  Clinical reports of substance-related health problems among older adults speak to the dangers of overdose, dangerous combinations of therapeutic drugs, and misdiagnosis of drug-induced mental confusion as early dementia. Misdiagnosis of drug-induced health problems may trigger prescribing of still more drugs. To date, there are no population-based estimates of the size of this problem, but there are increasing indications that drug-related health problems will be at unprecedented levels in the baby boom generation (born from 1946 to 1964) as it begins to reach Medicare eligibility in the year 2012http://www.samhsa.gov/data/aging/chap2.htm

When facing a situation where a spouse is clearly addicted to prescription medication, it may be very difficult to accept this addiction is just as serious as someone who is battling with street drugs.  Quite often the spouses view their partners as people who are simply not taking responsibility for their actions.  Concerned spouses will do much better to realize that these drugs are debilitating and can greatly hinder the ability to have a controlled response.  In other words, their loved ones may be under the influence of the drug in ways that are difficult to assess without professional intervention.

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome is facing the shame that is realized with those who finally admit their addiction.  In his eye opening book about recovery from addiction, Dr. Aaron Jamal gives readers a candid look at the journey of recovery that addicts often face.  As an addictions counselor, Dr. Jamal offers insight into the mindset of many addicts struggling to regain sobriety.  In regards to the often accompanying sense of shame, Dr. Jamal’s book, Preserved for Greatness includes the following: The shame-bound disease/sin that is associated with addiction has as much to do with what the addict is willing to do for the drug of choice as the dangers surrounding the consumption of the drug. Over and over again we heard of the shameful acts that each person participated in for the sake of “getting another hit” and with each of these stories was a clear and obvious attitude of shame.”

  • IN CONCLUSION

During this time, the concerned spouse needs to seek support and strength to help the addicted partner find effective treatment and recovery.  The love and concern for a spouse is needed and may be tested in ways unimaginable.  However, it is important to realize that people generally do not choose to become addicted.  Likewise drug addicts need love, understanding, forgiveness, much prayer and help to make the choice to overcome the addiction.

*If someone you know may be abusing or addicted to prescription drugs, speak up right away. Resources such as SAMHSA’s Treatment Referral Line, 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD), or http://www.SAMHSA.gov/treatment are available to help anyone, at any time.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES….

  • Can Marriage survive the effects of substance abuse?

In a small room, a young lady sits with her face in her hands crying. She does not even look up to acknowledge me as I enter the room. She appears afraid and shame ridden. I offered some tissue and waited for some of the emotion to subside before beginning our session.
I asked if she would like a cup of water and she declined but said, “I can’t believe I did …” her voice trails off as she tries to compose herself.  “I really blew it this time… and I deserve whatever happens to me.” she said as she put on her sunglasses. I told her that I would prefer that she not hide her eyes and insisted that she remove her sunglasses. She complied and then looked up at me… “You just don’t know how bad this is…” she said shaking her head in disgust.

“Why don’t you take your time and tell me what you mean.” I said positioning a pad in front of me to take notes. “You can’t tell this to anyone!” She said while appearing to be gripped by fear.  “I would never tell anyone about this or anything else we are about to share. However, I want you to know that this is probably not the first time I have heard something like what you are going to share.  I just don’t want to interrupt you and so I will make notes for me while you speak.” I said.

“Well it’s the first time for me… I can’t do this… this has to stop! I need some help!” she said crying hysterically. “That’s why we are here. Now let’s begin this journey.” I said as we initiated this healing process on her journey of recovery.

This woman was one of more than 1,200 participants we would serve over the next 18 months. However, much of the damage had already been done to their families, marriages, jobs, and all had experienced an encounter with law enforcement for drug related offenses.

What is substance abuse?

Medline’s Medical Encyclopedia defines Substance abuse as the use of illicit drugs or the abuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs for purposes other than those for which they are indicated or in a manner or in quantities other than directed.” However, substance abuse is evolving as inhalants and solvents are used for their mood altering effects.

For this article my focus will briefly target the more severe models of abuse that hijack marital relationships and threaten to destroy their way of life and marriage.

Many of the couples that I have tried to help have come as a last attempt to salvage what little is left of their marriage.  There is always multiple perspectives of the extent of the abuse, the depths of its damage, the cost to the family, and consequences that have been shared. Let me clarify that addiction is inherently selfish. People don’t indulge in substance use to help others. It may have many different provocations or reasons to begin. However, once the dependency is active, the addict is solely interested in self-gratification.

  • An Insatiable Appetite for Self Gratification

Self centeredness is among the most destructive elements of the effect of substance abuse on marriage. Couples vow to stay together through sickness and health but addicts don’t require the spouse to engage in their abuse. Many of them grow isolated from their spouse and become committed to a totally different social network of co-addicts. Some suffer from co-occurring dependencies.  Most have crossed moral and ethical lines in order to acquire drugs and to continue feeding their habit or to reach new levels of intensity.  Their pursuits rarely give into reason because much of their reasoning skills have been hijacked by the drug and environment.

In a room filled with self-proclaimed users I asked the question: “How many of you have done things that were unthinkable before you started using?” Everyone in the room raised their hand. I asked a second question: “How many of you did those things with people that were strangers?” Again the room was filled with raised hands. Finally, I asked:“How many of you considered what this might do to your loved ones while you were in the midst of those unthinkable acts?” This time the room had only a few hands that went up. I asked those few that raised their hands; “Did you still choose to get high even though you knew it would hurt your loved ones?” Sadly, they each answered “Yes.”

  •  “I can’t believe I did that”

Regardless of the “drug of choice” each person usually has a story that includes deception, shame, reckless behavior, and escapism. In addition to those dynamics and long before the addict has reached a point of exhausting bank accounts, savings, and family valuables there are often a litany of challenges that occur in the relationship. Often the addict has encountered severe depression as a result of a traumatic experiences such as the loss of a loved one, rape, loss of a job, career ending injury, etc.

Coping with the after effects of those traumatic occurrences without professional guidance and support is far too often a perfect setting for gateway drugs to be introduced. Sometimes even the pharmaceutical solutions are an introduction to this altered existence when they are not taken as prescribed. In other situations, there maybe someone sharing their plight with some peer or friend and the peer says “Have you ever tried…” and before you know it, you are on your way toward opening the door to something that will isolate you from your spouse, your faith, your children, your moral code and anything else of value.

Often the spouse of the substance abuser feels betrayed and deceived once they discover their spouse has a real problem with substance abuse. Some even blame themselves for what happened. Others have considered participating with the spouse rather than lose them to the new social network they have engaged in. Some are in denial because their spouse doesn’t look as bad as the horrible pictures they’ve seen on TV. However, many of the people that I have counseled admit they are even worse than their spouses think they are. They have done things they can’t even mention.

  • Get the help you need!

If this describes you in any way at all you can be encouraged that there is hope for you and your marriage. It will probably not happen without the inclusion of a support system and that will differ based on the type of issues you face and the degree of your dependency.

Personally, I have not witnessed significant levels of sustained sobriety following lengthy seasons of abuse without a combination of Spiritual, psychological, emotional and physical therapeutic assistance.  Holistic models appear to be the most effective. Additionally, many of the models have implemented strategies that are flexible enough to facilitate your healing process without lengthy periods of being isolated from your spouse.  However, the process of resetting the necessary disciplines and boundaries is not an overnight process. It is not just a mental or a physical remedy.

Healing Fractured Lives

Psychospirituality is an alternative method assisting the recovering addict on his/her journey of recovery.   Dr. Margaret Jamal explains the term psychospirituality in her book, Beware of Wolves in the Church, as follows: “The term psycho-spiritual is one that combines the two words- psychological and spiritual.  The psychological stresses of life tend to precede the decision to seek spiritual resolve that is believed to be beyond our personal control.    Psycho –spiritual studies (while still in infancy) indicate that an intersection of psychological treatment with spiritual intervention can produce significantly favorable outcomes.”  Most methods have stopped short of proclaiming promises of healing. If you only define healing as abstaining from the abusive substance and behavior then you are probably not representing the “whole problem.”

What is most important is for you to get help today! Do not procrastinate or put off tapping into resources that are intended to help you. If you are the spouse of someone struggling with this, there are programs that are designed to help you and address the questions and voids that you have been struggling with.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (www.samhsa.gov) is a great resource for people that are seeking solutions for this prevalent issue.  National Institute on Chemical Dependency is also a great source of information and resources. Whatever, your choice, it is best to choose to engage with a support system as quickly as possible. Stop the advancement of this degenerative cancer on your marriage.

You may have to use the leveraged threat of divorce to urge your spouse to seek help. However, be very careful of what and to what extent you include people that are not bound to confidentiality standards. Unfortunately, the stigmatization of those struggling with addiction is very real. It can affect your ability to gain employment, leave your home vulnerable for liabilities and/ or become a weight for your children to bear throughout their school aged years.

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.

Intimacy Beyond Sexual Abuse

Join our online discussion about this topic.

DR. MARGARET JAMAL WRITES…

For years, my family would refer to me as the one “who smells everything.”  From smelling my food before eating it to being able to find the source of foul odors, I have been the one to call.  I finally realized that my keen sense of smell was directly linked to my memories of sexual abuse as a child.  This sensitivity to odors facilitated some of the triggers that occurred while sharing intimacy with my husband.  Without the ability to separate the good from the bad, there were times when our lovemaking crumbled into frustration and tears.  I would experience flashbacks so vivid that I would need to put on my glasses or be in a lighted area so that I could clearly see that it was my husband in front of me.

Other areas of triggers included certain types of touching, certain foods and the one that was most challenging- the timing.  Because I was often awakened from sleep by the man who began molesting me, my husband had to deal with my harsh response to his attempt to wake me up to engage in intimacy.  No matter how gentle his approach, I would often respond startled and sometimes even angry.   My particular issue has been compounded by the fact that my experience with sexual abuse included re-victimizationRe-victimization from child sexual abuse is when someone experiences multiple instances of sexual assaults from various perpetrators at different times.

I express my own encounters with re-victimization from child sexual abuse through adulthood in somewhat graphic detail in my book, “When Girls Don’t Tell.”  I include specific details in my book because my counseling revealed that many women and girls have experienced this without realizing it.  Consequently, their marriages suffer largely due to their not recognizing or acknowledging their own extent of victimization.

The Scriptures teach that we should meditate on whatever is good.  I was not able to do that at first because I did not have enough “good” that was suitable for reflection.  After completing my book, “When Girls Don’t Tell”, I began to experience the relief that comes with being able to confront those issues of abuse that can be haunting and hold your thoughts hostage.

Ultimately, my husband’s patience coupled with my faith in God, helped me to replace the bad memories with new good experiences to fill my thoughts.  Yet I remain aware that recovery from sexual abuse is a journey rather than a destiny.  I believe that couples who recognize this will have a great chance (with the help of the Holy Spirit) with overcoming the painful challenges and enjoying a happy and fruitful marriage.

DR. AARON JAMAL WRITES…

During a season of trust and peace, I found myself reaching out to touch my wife in a non-sexual way. WeImage needed to rebuild a level of intimacy that was real and uninfected by the abuse she encountered as a child and later on even as an adult. We had long talks and we laughed out loud at stories of our past. We prayed and we cried. We wrote to each other when talking seemed to fail our attempts at explaining what we felt.

To quiet the noise adding to the stress and challenges of working on our marriage, I would often retreat to my music, sports or writing. Confronting my own fears of being incompetent to help the woman I love became an issue as well. However, with the help of music and our interactive writing I began to refocus and use my God-given talents.

Blessed to be able to write and express our thoughts, we both began to blog and write books. I expressed how proud I was of the incredible courage and strength she showed in sharing her story with the whole world in her book “When Girls Don’t Tell”. Our children and I also assured her that her past had not defined her and that her story was still being written with the best still to come.

We still struggle at times in our communications. There are still times when there appears to be over Imagereactions and outbursts that I cannot explain. At times it appears as though there is an entity translating what is being said into something other than what is intended. Sometimes I fail to be sensitive or attentive enough to address her needs and have to slap myself out of dwelling on my own disappointment. I try to be both empathic and strong while remembering that the constant reassurances that she needs are not evidence of my faults but evidence of the hard work required for this marriage.

I can tell you now without any regrets that the hard work was and is worth it. I am blessed to be in the incredible marriage I have with my wife. I enjoy her verbal guidance that helps me to understand what is going on with my wife. I am improving in my listening skills and constantly pray for wisdom.  However, I am keenly aware that my marriage is not the norm. Due to the vast number of spouses that go through life shrouded in secrecy and shame about the hideous sexual crimes that robbed their innocence and tainted their view of sex, our marriage represents a small minority.

With sexual assaults at alarming rates within our homes, prisons, military and school settings, it is crucial to develop effective strategies about handling the societal impact of this crime with such long term effects. Give considerations to some of the facts surrounding this issue:

About 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men responded with “yes” when asked whether they experienced sexual Imagetrauma during their military service. This number only represents veterans that sought services from the V.H.A. Considering the previous statement, it is not difficult to imagine that these numbers probably under represent the extent of this problem.

In our American culture, we place a great premium on men behaving with aggression in sports, military, business, politics and in the protection of his family. However, when that aggression goes awry and turns into violent sexual assaults against family members or peers, it is that same American culture that often crucifies the man. Allow me to clarify that it is not my position to excuse any sexual violence perpetrated against the family or anyone. However, the broad strokes of legal remedies rarely provide strategies that effectively prevent these episodes of assault nor do they treat the offender and victims for the mental disorders they are struggling with afterwards.

ImageWhat is also heartrending is that same aggression has been fostered in many of our daughters that have also become violent and sexual predators as well. One of the fastest growing populations in our prisons today are our young women. These women also make up a large portion of those sexually assaulting and re-victimizing prisoners in state prisons.

Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Department Producer reported in a study that “sexual assault crimes committed within our correctional facilities can have devastating consequences for individual victims and for communities far beyond our jails and prisons,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a written statement.

Unfortunately those devastating consequences have contributed to a multitude of married couples that struggle with intimacy issues as a result of sexual abuse.  The scope of that abuse is varied and seriously under-reported.  Additionally, it would be impossible to provide a” one size fits all” solution for this problem. My hope in this article is to provide insight and hope on a very small scale in comparison to the size of this problem.

Having counseled a large number of men and women, I found sexual abuse occurrences almost common Imageplace in the childhood of many of those I served as well as in adulthood of those that served prison terms. Those giving voice to this problem must be amplified in order to provide the appropriate level of resources and strategies aimed at preventing sexual abuse and the long term effects of this trauma.

For the sustainability of our legacy and generations to come, we must strive to provide comprehensive strategies for healing and effective interventions to help these survivors to avert their becoming offenders or self destructive.

Meredith Maran shares in her well written article “When a Sexually Abused Child Weds”
“Untreated sexual abuse,” says Padma Moyer, MFCC, a San Francisco therapist who works with adults survivors of incest, “is a time bomb. Sometimes it ticks so quietly that even the victim doesn’t hear it. But if it isn’t defused, eventually there’s an explosion.”

When you add these survivors to the populations of military and/or prison populations it often increases their probability of becoming re-victimized. My wife, Dr. Margaret Jamal, frames this phenomenon in her book “When Girls Don’t Tell” as Revictimization.

Maran also shares that “many women who were abused perpetuate the cycle, not necessarily by molesting their children, but by putting them at risk. “If a female survivor’s feelings and memories remain unconscious,” says Ms. Moyer ,”and she doesn’t examine the family dynamic in which she grew up, she may choose a husband like her perpetrator, and create a family like her own family. In that way, she may inadvertently lay the groundwork for her children to be abused.”

Additionally, Maran profiles this tragic truth: “Many incest survivors have “flashbacks” while making love, says Julie Robbins, LCSW, a therapist specializing in child and adult survivors of sexual abuse. Women who had orgasms while being abused as children may punish their bodies for “enjoying” the abuse, becoming non-orgasmic, obese, or anorexic as adults, she says.”

For some, the whole basis for trusting someone has been shattered and their anger, still unresolved, seems to erupt unprovoked at their spouse. For others, their identities have been shattered to the point that they lack the ability to integrate into social settings without violent outbursts of profanity and behavior that erupts like a nuclear bomb.

Marital Intimacy is facilitated through selflessness. Often the woman or man that was abused has developed patterns of distrust for every partner including themselves. Healing is possible and trust can and must be restored. However,  both require unconditional love and patience. Many require professional help and/or peer group settings to help them address nightmares, flashbacks and identity issues as well.

As a Christian that is extremely grateful for the innumerable amount of answered prayers that my Heavenly Father continues to facilitate,  I recommend prayer as a constant for any strategy to deal with restoring intimacy beyond sexual abuse. Personally, I believe that it is easier to place your hope into your Creator than in people that we often place unrealistic expectations on. God will not disappoint and is the healing balm you need to address this very deeply rooted issue.

http://maketheconnection.net/conditions/military-sexual-trauma

http://www.amazon.com/When-Girls-Dont-Tell-Revictimization/dp/1456599097/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1338128142&sr=8-6

http://www.meredithmaran.com/mag_bride_abused.htm

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