Tag Archives: Psychology

“Coping” as a couple

I like this photo, because it was taken in a good moment. I can’t even say, a good day, because our ebbing and flowing these days does not even happen on a daily basis. I am constantly reminded that the photos we take and the posts we make are often made when we are at least good enough to reach out to the outside world. They are only part of the picture though, for me, for Kat, and I would assume for any of us. I can demonstrate some strength, Kat can offer some wisdom and insight… but that’s on the good days… I mean, in the good moments.

On the bad days In the bad moments, it is a nightmare for us. Kat’s need for emotional expression and care clashing with my need to have space, to do, and to NOT talk. There is a chasm there, enough for either of us to wonder (Kat out loud and me inside), is our marriage going to make it?!? More of this later… and note that I wouldn’t go as far as to really believe that there is good/bad in the difficulty of “coping” as a couple, but the shoe fits. What I can say is, it is agonizingly hard. I never thought I would say, “Fuck you!” to anyone, let alone my own wife. And I never imagined that word would be used so often in my marriage relationship. Well, the woman that Life sent my way to love (and to duke it out with) for all my days, or hers, was a glorious surprise and yes, we swear… these days, often. Life did not see fit to give either of us a life of daffodils and moonbeams, and this is our lot. But damn,  we love us some good flowers and a good full moon. We know, though, that we only love the flowers so much because we know that one day, they will not be. And we only love that moon so much because we know that it will wane and grow dark.

41s6e7oy8yl-_sx331_bo1204203200_“Coping” is used so much in the hospital, in therapy, in chaplaincy-talk and I don’t like it. It smacks of “getting by” or something passive that happens as a result of stress that we may or may not be able to make a conscious choice about. I like the term “adaptive strategies” rather than coping skills, as adapting and strategizing are active and intentional. I steal the term from Kenneth Doka and Terry Martin from a book that they wrote entitled Grieving Beyond Gender: Understanding the Ways Men and Women Mourn. I use this resource extensively and it has been so very helpful in my work with grief groups and supporting those in the hospital and in my spiritual direction sessions. Doka and Martin’s way of framing grief styles has given me the awareness that Kat and I, in all of our shitty annoying processes, are not better or worse in how we grieve, we are just different.

Without divulging their entire theory and getting into too many spoilers, Doka and Martin assert that grievers exist on a spectrum between intuitive and instrumental grief. Intuitive grievers are affective in their grief, feeling strong and powerful feelings, and needing to vocalize their grief process. Instrumental grievers are doers, needing time and space to process, think, and make meaning of their grief. They have emotions, but they are much less dynamic and vibrant than those of the intuitive. Men and women fall somewhere on this spectrum, tending more towards some blend of the two poles. It is far from gender-prescriptive, but men tend to fall more on the instrumental and women more towards intuitive.

The very distinct benefit of seeing grievers on a continuum is that there is affirmation for a less emotional style of grieving. For years, therapists, chaplains, and grief “specialists” have said that the only way to process grief is to feel all the feelings. Even in chaplaincy residency, I was expected to verbalize feelings, verbalize feelings, verbalize feelings… maybe much more than is within my capacity. There was benefit to it, but I am a chaplain, not Joe Smith who works his blue collar job and fishes and hunts in his free time. Many people, men AND women, are active and cognitive with their grief, even when they are unconscious that it is their grief that they are working through.

Just last night, to give a perfect example, I got home from my final grief group session in this series and said to Kat, “I can’t talk much right now. I need to sit with this last session and decompress from it.” She said a few minutes later, “You can’t really support me in the way I need to be supported, can you?”… because she wanted to vent and feel. My response was, “Well, I support you in many ways, don’t I? Can I be the support for all your feelings? Probably not. No more than you can get up and go to work for me, when I don’t even want to get out of bed. But I have to do that. I have to get my ass going and do it anyway.” So this morning, as I walked out the door at 6:15, I said to my sleeping wife, “Can you go to work for me today?”

“Sure,” she said as she rolled over and went back to sleep.

And this is how we do. It sucks to not get all your needs met from your spouse. But how many people when I ask how they are handling things as a couple (insert “coping”) say, “Not good. Really not good…” They don’t know why, though, that’s the thing. I just want to say, come to my grief group. It will help. Kat and I, as much as it pains us, know that this is just going to hurt. It sucks. It really fucking sucks. But we do the best we can. In our worst moments, we can’t even talk to each other. In our best moments, we hold each other. And most days somewhere in between, we ask all the unanswerable questions, swear cry and talk, and at least sit next to each other on the couch while we are on our smart phones.


Books I’m Reading – Neurosis and Human Growth

Karen Horney’s book, Neurosis and Human Growth: The Struggle Towards Self Realization, has been stretching me on so many levels. Horney, who wrote this book when she was in her 70’s is one of the most original psychoanalysts after Freud. In the book, Horney describes the “search for glory,” or the pursuit of the idealized self. The implications are so relevant for so many of us who had to develop certain ways of interacting with the world and view ourselves in the midst of ongoing early anxiety. The need to actualize the idealized self, that self that one wants the world to see gets prioritized over the so-important realization of the true self. At the end of the first chapter, Horney writes of the “devil’s pact” to refer to the solution of two powerful desires: “the longing for the infinite and the wish for an easy way out.” She then concludes with, “Speaking in these symbolic terms, the easy way to infinite glory is inevitably also the way to an inner hell of self-contempt and self-torment. By taking this road, the individual is in fact losing his soul – his real self.”

It seems so often the world we live in teaches us that we can be whomever we want, do what every we want, we just have to work hard at it. Websites, workshops, books are created to help us perform better, look better, be more charismatic, and make more money. While none of these things are wrong in and of themselves, my own experience tells me there is a drive there that is far from driven by contentment or acceptance with what is. Frustration of our progress leads to guilt, shame, working harder, desperation and anger. We shift the responsibility to others, we cry “Unfair!”, and we have every defense under the sun why we are not covering something. This is the “pursuit of glory” that Horney writes about, the actualization of an idealized self… a false self.

IMG_4318My hope is that individuals everywhere would seek to realize and discover who that true self is that was forgotten and kept quite so long ago. My hope is for communities and families to arise who will encourage true selves to blossom, to sing, and to dance. Though I am not far into Neurosis and Human Growth, I find that Karen Horney provides such an accurate look at a very real problem we face and many ways to find freedom. After all, awareness often leads to change.

Setting Priorities, fun for the 9…

This whole year so far has been one of such deep, deep searching and clarifying of intention and person and soul. Friends have been asking me what I have been doing lately, and as of last week (due to sickness and much work at Great Harvest Bakery), I have been telling people I have 3 priorities:

  • Kat (along with baby Brendan) and the home
  • Work (as much as I would rather this be of lesser importance…)
  • Homework (I am after all paying for my further education and it is deeply important to my gifts to the community)

Of course wrapped into all of this is my deep dedication to listening, prayer, and self-work.

Setting priorities in this way has always been a major hurtle for more me. Much of the importance of the homework I have been dedicating myself to has been in working with the Enneagram (one of our western civilization’s oldest tools for spiritual growth). It has been one of the most enlightening (and “gut wrenching”) things I have ever been exposed to. After a bit of confusion and brutal honesty, I realized that 9 is my central number… and that I have been working on 9 issues probably my whole life. Riso and Hudson describe 9 as the following on their website

The easy-going, self-effacing type. Nines are accepting, trusting, and stable. They are usually grounded, supportive, and often creative, but can also be too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. They want everything to go smoothly and be without conflict, but they can also tend to be complacent and emotionally distant, simplifying problems and ignoring anything upsetting. They typically have problems with inertia and stubbornness. At their Best: indomitable and all-embracing, they are able to bring people together and heal conflicts.

My sister, Brittany,  reflected recently on being a 4.

I have been reading Richard Rohr‘s book, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, and finding it so powerfully informing. In reflecting on the root sin|set-back|hurdle of the 9, which is laziness (or goal-lessness), I realize some humbling truths. A 9 numbs himself under stress, in an effort to maintain balance, harmony, peace. The turnaround is having goals and practicing taking the first step.

Personally, I will actually stay busy|active|engaged with small tasks (email, extra time reading, coffee shop, movies, drinking a beer, etc) SO THAT I can avoid doing other important tasks. And its not even that I don’t want to do these other tasks… I just don’t want to do them in that instant. I don’t want to take the first step. As Rohr writes and says, “I’ve been doing everything for all the wrong reasons my whole life.”

There are of course many positives to being a 9… I don’t have to get into them now… time to take the first step and eat my lunch (rather than blogging) so I can get to my 1:00 meeting on time.