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Archive for the ‘Marriages | Relationships | Couples’ Category

Alcohol Abuse and Domestic Violence

Saturday, July 6th, 2013

Domestic violence is the use of intentional verbal, psychological, or physical force by one family member (including an intimate partner) to control another.  In the United States, a woman is beaten every 15 seconds.  At least 30 percent of female trauma patients (excluding traffic accident victims) have been victims of domestic violence, and medical costs associated with injuries done to women by their partners total more than $44 million annually.

Ten years ago, the Florida Department of Children and Families established guidelines for providers of domestic violence services.  Although well intentioned, it adopted a wrong-headed premise that likely prevented some batterers from recovering, and left women at risk.

The mistake was to define every batterer through the Duluth Model of power and control.  The model’s core assumption is that women and children “are vulnerable to violence because of their unequal social, economic, and political status in society.”  While this is certainly true, as a treatment philosophy it contains some major flaws.  Psychological problems, such as attachment disorders due to childhood abuse or neglect, or the absence of a history of adequate socialization and training are not addressed in the Duluth Model.   The model’s approach is overly confrontational rather than therapeutic, focusing solely on changing the abuser’s actions and attitudes rather than dealing with underlying emotional and psychological issues.  Essentially, The Duluth Model was developed by people who didn’t understand anything about therapy.

130706 DV and SA3Perhaps most importantly, the model ignored a decade of research linking domestic violence to substance abuse.  As a counselor with twenty years of substance abuse experience who was a certified instructor for the State’s batterer’s program, I was frustrated by its rigid adherence to this model.   In my experience, at least seven out of ten of the men I treated had a history of abusing alcohol or other drugs.  Almost all of the men also had untreated trauma histories.

The Duluth Model’s theory was that acknowledging the role of substance abuse in domestic violence would allow men to escape responsibility for their behavior.  However, several years before Florida made its decision, a Treatment Improvement Protocol by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) researched this issue.  It found that the use of alcohol and other drugs by either partner is a risk factor for domestic violence. The Consensus Panel concluded that failure to address domestic violence issues among substance abusers interferes with treatment effectiveness and contributes to relapse.

But the exact relationship between drinking and domestic violence remains unclear: is it the chicken or the egg?  As one researcher said, “Probably the largest contributing factor to domestic violence is alcohol. All major theorists point to the excessive use of alcohol as a key element in the dynamics of wife beating. However, it is not clear whether a man is violent because he is drunk or whether he drinks to reduce his inhibitions against his violent behavior.”   If substance abuse affects woman abuse, it does so either directly by disinhibiting normal sanctions against violence, or by effecting changes in thinking, physiology, emotion, motivation to reduce tension, or motivation to increase interpersonal power.

130706 DV and SA1The one thing we do know for sure is that if substance abuse is not addressed, the problem of domestic abuse – on a micro and meta level – will not be solved.  The societal view of substance abusers as morally weak and controlled by alcohol or other drugs actually serves some batterers: Rather than taking responsibility for their actions, they can blame their violent acts on the substance(s) they are abusing. Although drugs or alcohol may indeed be a trigger for violence, the belief that the violence will stop once the drinking or drug use stops is usually not borne out.

Fortunately, in 2012 the State of Florida relaxed its governance of domestic battery programs, allowing you to choose a provider best qualified to treat your issues.  If domestic violence is part of your life and alcohol is a factor, you need to contact a treatment professional skilled in treating both conditions.  For more information you need to know if you are being abused, click here.


8 Simple Rules For Ruining Your Relationship – Part 2

Friday, June 14th, 2013

In my last blog, I gave you the first four of 8 Simple Ways To Ruin Your Relationship.  Like those, these last five are based on faulty beliefs that – if they remain unchanged – will certainly sink your relationship.

5. Live in the past. This is really two effective techniques in one. The first is to idealize a past lover(s) and condemn your current partner for not measuring up.  If the past relationship had any value at all, there will be grieving after it ends, so you may find yourself thinking about that person long after you parted.  But having him or her come into your mind when you hear a song, smell a favorite food or watch a movie are different than regularly letting that person occupy space in your head.  The basic rule is this:  any energy you’re expending on your ex is energy you don’t have to give your current or prospective partner.  If you’ve created an idealized image of your ex, you’re the next one doesn’t stand a chance.

The second Live In The Past technique is subtler, yet more pervasive and destructive. It consists of forgetting the hard work you’ve done and that you’ve grown in myriad ways. You end up believing that you’ll screw up this relationship just like you did every other one. Do yourself a favor:  Don’t label yourself as “an angry person” or “a woman who loves too much.”  Your behavior is not who you are, and if you define yourself that way, you’re likely to stay there.  Don’t live with an outdated version of yourself.

6.  Live in the future. The other side of the “living in the past” coin is no less destructive; this rule is guaranteed to make you unhappy, even if you’re in a good relationship. These people are seldom bored, because there’s so much for one to worry about:  sickness, infidelity, relapse, financial strain, sexual ennui; inlaws, anger, dishonesty… If you’re having trouble thinking of a potential problem, turn on daytime television – the list is endless.  If you tend live in the future, try the words of Goethe: “Nothing is more important than this day.

So if you’re in the past or the future, you’re not in the present, where, my friend, all the joy lies.  How can you tell if you’re in the past or the future?  If you’re experiencing depression or anger, you’re living in the past.  If you’re experiencing worry, doubt or anxiety, you’re living in the future.

7. Drink and use drugs. Having a glass of wine with dinner to relax and enhance conviviality is one thing; consistently using chemicals to assuage unpleasant feelings is another. When you use a mind-altering chemical, your perceptions change, your feelings are altered, and human interaction is distorted; the capacity for an authentic relationship goes down the drain like so much chardonnay. So if things 130613 Bartare a little too intimate in your relationship, drink more. Trust me: you won’t feel a thing.

8. Lie.  Really.  No matter how big or small the lie is, there’s just no way you can get away with it. ven if your partner never discovers the untruth, it will accumulate as bad karma and lowered self-esteem.  Shakti Gawain tells us, “Any time we begin to withhold our truth on any level, no matter how small or subtle, we begin to block the life force coming through us and we begin to deaden ourselves and our relationship.” Or as Bart Simpson said, “I’m morally opposed to lying. The only reason I lied was so I could get what I wanted.”

Relationship mistakes are sometimes obvious and sometimes not.  More successful relationship tips and rules for a happy marriage can be found here.




8 Simple Rules For Ruining Your Relationship – Part 1

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

130531 couple-fightingIn my last blog, I shared why relationships fail, and now we look forward.  As a writer, facing the prospect of adding to this already bloated canon always gives me pause. With excited anticipation, we’ve all bought books about relationships.  We’ve found them entertaining, and for a few hours we become hopeful, but they’re ultimately ineffective.  I call them “Shelf Help.”

So rather than another bulleted list of “how to” aphorisms, here’s a list of what not to do:  my 8 Simple Rules for Ruining Your Relationship.  Each rule is based on a faulty belief  – a mistaken notion of how the world, and relationships,  really work. Follow these rules and you’ll be back on an Internet dating site in nothing flat.

1. Infatuation equals love.   This one gets me every time, but it’s not my fault. When we unrealistically idealize someone we don’t really know, it’s just our reptilian brain urging us to perpetuate the species. The reptilian brain has no interest in a “spiritual partnership” or “honoring our inner child.” It wants us to like this person enough to have sex with them — now. And this makes us literally act crazy.

See if this textbook description of Brief Psychotic Disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) sounds familiar: Sufferers “typically experience emotional turmoil or overwhelming confusion. They may have rapid shifts from one intense affect to another. Although brief, the level of impairment may be severe, and supervision may be required to ensure that the individual is protected from the consequences of poor judgment, cognitive impairment, or acting on the basis of delusions.”

If you raise your awareness of how your brain is putting one over on you, you can survive until you grow to love the other person.

2.  If you loved me, you’d know what I needed.  Harville Hendricks, in his wonderful book Getting The Love You Want, tells us that we are hardwired by our very early life experience to pick a partner who is like our parents, in the belief that we can recreate all that was good and heal that which was damaging to us.  And the childlike part of us has no sense of the passage of time. “Although we are now adults, capable of keeping ourselves fed and warm and dry,” says Hendricks, “a hidden part of us still expects the outside world (specifically, our partner) to take care of us.”  So the “romantic” notion of a knight in shining armor or our dream girl may not be as much a product of choice as of our genes.

In the service of our desire to heal, we instinctively believe that we know what is right for our partner.  The unspoken contract we make with each other is this:  I’ll give you what I think you need, and in return, I expect you to give me what I need.  In about every thousandth relationship, both partners guess right.  So are you feeling lucky?

3. Indecent Disclosure. “I don’t know what happened – it was the best first date I’ve ever had – we talked for three hours! Well, mostly me. But now she won’t return my calls. I felt so open with her, I told her everything.” “Um. Everything?” “Yep. I told her about my felony convictions, my intravenous heroin addiction, my dysfunctional relationship with my mom, even about my jealousy issues with Melanie.”   In other words, don’t frontload your history in the first date.  There will be plenty of time for that.  This doesn’t mean you wait a year to let your partner know you’re the parent of triplets, but if you’re feeling an inordinate desire to spill the beans, this is more about your anxiety than theirs.

130531 Tim Allen130531 Dr Phil4. I must find a quick fix.  Only people with television shows fix relationships in an hour. (Dr. Phil is to marriage counseling as Tim Allen is to home improvement.) A problem relationship is such an inscrutable gumbo of histories, circumstances, beliefs and feelings that we understandably long for someone to tell us, in concrete terms, exactly what to do. So clients come into therapy wanting a prescriptive list of “techniques” they can use to fix their relationship, like correcting a bad golf swing. When they do, I usually share one of my favorite quotes from H.L. Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

It took you a long time to create your problems, and it’s gonna take some time to solve them.  For a while, you’re going to continue to harm your partner, and your partner is going to continue to harm you.  This is the time when you ponder the nature of commitment.  I’m not asking you to stay in a relationship where the other person has no intention to change, but have hope.  See the best in them.  Recall why you first loved them.  Do the work.  Remember that relationships heal from the inside out. Or as Dr. Phil would say, “You don’t need a porcupine to tickle a gypsy.”

In my next blog, we’ll finish the list.  Don’t whine – you can wait a day or two.  Delaying gratification is a skill you could probably use a little more of anyway.



Why You Screwed Up Your Last Relationship

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

130530 Key to Love

I once went on a date with a neuroscientist.  She was buttoned up and orderly, and I was edgy and blithe. About halfway through the date I asked her how she thought things were going.  “I’m going to need more data,” she replied romantically.

It was cold comfort to find out a few weeks later that she wasn’t the only person who adopted such a baldly pragmatic approach to love.  An Economics PhD named Peter Backus, who once published a research paper called “Why I Don’t Have A Girlfriend,” used an algorithm in his search for true love.

In order to determine his chances of finding a girlfriend in his native England, Dr. Backus applied the Drake Equation – a means for discovering how many evolved civilizations might exist in the Universe.

Employing a series of filters, he determined that there were only 10,510 women in the whole United Kingdom who would be a good match. In other words, he had a 1 in 285,000 chance of finding love.

130530 Pinata of LoveData, Shmata. I’m going to stick with my plan of navigating the dating world with a bat and a blindfold, seeking the Piñata of Love. The big question, though, it this: If finding the right relationship is so difficult, why do we keep screwing them up?

None of us plan to repeat the same mistakes in our relationships – it just turns out that way. When a couple reaches a relational impasse and comes for therapy, it’s usually not because they don’t want to get better or they haven’t tried. No one engages in a behavior without the expectation of a positive result. Most often, they’ve just been using the wrong tools. And when the tools don’t work, their strategy is to use them more often.  (Guys usually go out and get a bigger tool.)  Is this sounding like insanity yet?  The tools couples bring to the table are their unexamined faulty beliefs about the world.  These faulty beliefs sabotage their natural inclination and ability to love.  In The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck called them the “maps” of our world

Sometimes conscious and sometimes not, we turn our beliefs into rules for the relationship, and their manifestation typically includes words like “must” and “should.”  If all of your words begin with the word “You…” well, that’s a matter for another blog. Learn this lesson:  the relationship can’t change until the rules do. Find a therapist who can help you identify your faulty rules and explore the anger, disappointment and pain that inevitably underpin them. Once that’s done, the actual work of couples counseling gets a lot easier.

Now that you have a better understanding about why you screwed up the last one, I’m going to tell you what not to do in the next one. In my ensuing blogs, I will present you with the 8 Simple Rules for Ruining Your Relationship.  Research shows that most marriage counseling doesn’t really help, and sometimes makes things worse.  This relationship advice in Sarasota is based on experience and science.   addition to seeing these issues every day with couples, you may be assured that over the past few decades I have personally made each of these mistakes, many more than once, so you wouldn’t have to.

It’s the least I could do.