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.”

I Do Me 2 Couples Challenge #1 – Reasons to Stay Married Lists

Just take about an hour for this Challenge:

1) Each of you do your best to list the top 10 reasons to stay married (without talking about them with each other at first).

2) See which ones you have in common and note which ones you have that are different.

3) Try to come in agreement with the top 3 Reasons to stay married from your lists.

Join our online blog talk show to chat or call in to share your results with us.

NOTE: You might need to click the I Do Me2 BlogTalk Radio  ON AIR button to see the Live Chat.  And you will need to register to chat your comments.

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