July 2017

All posts from July 2017

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What Does Marriage Mean, part 1

Many people would say that marriage has changed over the centuries.  In fact, marriage hasn’t changed at all.  Peoples’ perceptions of it and attitudes toward it have changed.  Due to these factors, there is an appearance of marriage itself having changed.  Increasingly, people are asking the question, “what does marriage mean?”.

 

Marriage is certainly less popular these days.  In fact, based on their questions around what marriage means, fewer people are even finding a reason why marriage is necessary to formalise their relationship.  There is an argument that this change in attitude around the meaning of marriage, resulting in fewer people actually getting married, has brought about an increase in broken homes.  However, broken homes were becoming more common before people stopped bothering to get married.  Instead of marriage becoming less common, divorce rates grew at an alarming pace.  Some governments have actually created and enforced legislation around marriage and divorce in an effort to encourage marriage and make divorce almost impossible in the attempt to alleviate the social burden of broken homes.  Those laws really didn’t change anything.  They didn’t answer any of the questions new generations were asking regarding the meaning of marriage, and they gave no reason why marriage should be part of the equation other than penalties imposed.  Laws don’t tend to have much of an impact on attitudes.  Where the laws are accused of not keeping up with the times lies in the problems that couples who aren’t formally married have.  Partners who aren’t formally married find that they have difficulty accessing medical insurance coverage for their significant other.  Pensions are denied to a surviving partner, regardless of how long-term the partnership was.  If partners become homeless, only the vulnerable mother and children are housed….the father of the children is on his own, and the family is separated.  The real impact of not getting married isn’t felt until some tragic event takes place which shows the disparity between formally married couples and those who have entered into a long-term, co-habitating relationship.  In spite of any attempt at forcing marriage through legislation, people are going to court in ever increasing numbers to demand the same rights for themselves and their long-term partners as married couples have, and the questions around what marriage even means play a significant role in those cases.  Their position is that they’re every bit as committed to their relationship as a formally married couple are.  The government’s position is that if that were so, they would go through the process of being legally married.  The partners argue that weddings are expensive.  The government argues that a simple trip to town hall gets it done.  It’s a piece of paper, they say, not a huge event.  Some people may argue that it’s down to divorce laws being too difficult, with the process of formal separation recognised by a court as taking too long.  However, people still move out of the marital home and take up residence with the next partner whilst awaiting the finalisation of the divorce process.  That partnership simply isn’t recognised legally as long as they’re married to someone else.  So, it’s as if both sides of the argument have dug their heels in, with each side actively ignoring the will of the other, and neither side is really addressing the elephant in the room:  What does marriage even mean?  Many people say in defence of not getting married that marriage actually changes the paradigm of a long-term relationship, destroying the arrangements and expectations that had worked so well for the couple prior to the formalisation of their relationship.  They use as the excuse for leaving a marriage the change in their partner’s attitudes toward them regarding their respective roles in the relationship as defined by marriage.  They are also known to bring to the court as their reason for divorce the fact that they’re no longer happy or fulfilled in the relationship.  Summing up, all any of this means is that homes will either stay stable or break up whether formal marriage takes place or not.  This gives evidential support to the conclusion that marriage legislation will not change attitudes, and that attitudes are what have changed.  It also gives weight to the questions surrounding the meaning and importance of marriage itself.

 

Some changes are good and necessary.  For instance, men are no longer seen as absolute ruler in the home.  Decades ago, I heard police officers telling a battered wife that her husband probably would be less inclined to hit her if she cooked better or tidied up more often.  I’ve actually heard people say to the wife that she wouldn’t have problems in her marriage if she would be more accommodating to her husband.  No one ever said any of those things to the husband.  I remember a particular episode of the old, black-and-white television series, “I Love Lucy”, in which the husband, Ricky, took the wife, Lucy, over his knee and gave her a spanking because she had “misbehaved”.  At that time, this was considered a man’s right and his duty in order to maintain order in the home.  Thankfully, the law has stepped in to a large degree to alleviate abuse, as this kind of behaviour is now recognised to be.  These days, even though the bulk of the work around the home and the care of family still falls too often to the woman, many young couples are recognising that this isn’t actually fair or tenable.  Both partners have to work outside of the home in order to make ends meet in most cases.  That being the case, for the woman to then come home from work and be responsible for all of the housework, the cooking, the shopping, and the care of the children whilst her husband lounges over the paper is not a fair or tenable situation.  Young men these days are finding that they’re expected to do more around the house, and that the children are just as much their responsibility as the mother’s.  Their own attitudes determine how well they’re able to adapt to the new expectations,which in turn has a dramatic impact on the sustainability of the long-term relationship.  These attitudes are more often shaped by parents and school activities than by peer groups in general, where the ideas of power and masculinity are still greatly intertwined, so progress has been slow.  The questions around whether the life-cycle paradigm have changed the attitudes around marriage or the attitudes around marriage have impacted the life-cycle paradigm are intriguingly similar to the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg.  In that sense, the two questions are linked together inseparably; and those two questions are also impacted by the answers to the question, “what does marriage mean?”.  I’ll go a little deeper into that in my next blog.

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The Marriage Effect

I’ve always been intrigued by the way relationships morph from the joy of the wedding to the screams of anger and hatred of divorce.  What causes a couple who once couldn’t keep their hands off each other to realise one day that they can easily go for days ignoring each other?

 

There is an old proverb that states: Familiarity breeds contempt.  What this means is that people start taking each other for granted and then behave towards each other with a disrespect that can begin to border on contempt.  After a time, they can go so far as to actively hate each other.  It would seem from all that I’ve seen and heard that it all boils down to forgetting to do or say the little things that can make a big difference.  Forgetting to say please and thank you, forgetting to apologise for spats, forgetting to treat your partner with respect, can lead gradually to hating each other.  Conversely, remembering these simple things can keep a marriage going happily for decades.  The interesting thing is that for familiarity to breed contempt is actually more of a choice than a foregone conclusion.  There can be a certain amount of intimacy that comes from being close to someone.  One doesn’t treat one’s best friend with contempt, or they wouldn’t be one’s best friend for long.  We all seem to recognise this fact.  Perhaps you might point out that best friends don’t live together, and families do.  This is true, but families don’t begin despising each other until the core of the family, the couple in the centre, do.  Caring and loving attitudes radiate from that core, as do hatred and disrespect.  So, why do couples go sour when best friends can go happily on for decades, forging an ever stronger bond around shared experiences, stories about the kids, and gossip about the people we knew in school?  What causes couples, who used to describe themselves as best friends, to become mortal enemies?

 

I’ve often heard it said that sex ruins a perfectly good friendship.  I’ve actually known best friends who decided to get married, and then decided that they’d better get divorced so that they could remain best friends.  However, I can’t give much credence to the statement that sex ruined their friendship.  Or can I?  Best friends from school who remain best friends for life don’t have sex.  They have certain unspoken and untouched boundaries between them.  They rarely if ever see each other naked, they don’t share a bed, and they don’t live together day in and day out, year after year.  Even room-mates, who do live together day in and day out, have certain boundaries.  They rarely if ever see each other naked and they don’t share the same bed.  They may occasionally break wind, but they don’t do so without asking pardon for the infraction.  I think that’s where the crux of the matter lies.  Married couples, or those who consider themselves to be in a permanent partnership, sleep together, share the bathroom in the morning, and more importantly, consider themselves to be more than room-mates.  However, if each of them went home to visit the parents they grew up with, they wouldn’t proceed to come out to the kitchen to pour a cup of morning brew in their underpants, farting and belching for England.  Without it needing to be spoken, they would realise that this wouldn’t be courteous or respectful.  Most of us were taught manners as children, and we were taught that manners were important in the home as well as out in the world.  These family members aren’t seeing each other naked, and sex with them is forbidden.  We don’t do it in normal society.  It would almost seem, then, that there is a connection between the familiarity that exists between an intimate couple and the possibility of losing their respect and fondness for each other.  There’s something different about the long-term sexual relationship and how it affects our view of each other.

 

What is it about living with someone as a couple that is different from living with our families?  What is it that causes us to remember from our upbringing that we don’t fart in front of mum, but to forget such courtesy and respect when it comes to our wife? There might be a clue in the idea that the individuals seem in the collective mind of community and society to cease to exist and they become part of a couple, a whole.  Two in one, or one split in half.  Perhaps that idea can subconsciously translate into the idea that you’re not really in the presence of a family member….that’s just your wife.  Without realising it, perhaps we begin to feel on some basic level that we and our partner are one and the same.  We might then translate that into the concept of being two parts of one person living in the same house, which means that we don’t have to have manners.  If you were the only person in the room, you wouldn’t be likely to apologise to the empty room for some discourtesy.  It would seem to make some sense to move from there to the idea that perhaps as we consider our partner to be part of us (part-ner), then we don’t have to be courteous.  Once the boundaries of courtesy and respectful behaviour and speech are done away with, we’re off.  We feel without actually thinking about it that we can say whatever we like because it’s like talking to ourselves.  Mind you, I think most of us wouldn’t talk to ourselves the way we’ve all heard some long-term couples talk to each other.  So, we must dig a little deeper.

 

Becoming part of a long-term couple, sharing a bed and each other’s bodies, causes the couple to feel like a unit.  This is natural.  The people around them see them as a unit, as well.  They’re no longer considered to be single individuals.  They even refer to their mate as their other half or their better half.  However, in reality, they are still two individuals.  They are unique, and they each bring a certain amount of baggage into the mix.  They also have little ways and habits that don’t really show up until they live together.  If in their subconscious minds, they’re thinking of themselves as one unit, with each one being the “other half” of the other, it stands to reason that they would feel, on a very subconscious level, that the other half should be the same as they are.  Hence, the little ways and habits that are different become annoying.  Over the years, couples that have come to me have confirmed that the reason that first year is the hardest is because they’re two individuals learning to live together as one unit.  Room-mates accept that they’re going to be different, and even though they might occasionally have a row over something, they don’t usually have a problem accepting that they’re two different people.  As Prince once said, marriage changes expectations.  He was spot on. Somehow, after a couple become a genuine, committed couple, they stop being two people and become one, which means that they’re both supposed to do everything in exactly the same way, and there shouldn’t be any courtesy or formality because we’re a unit, two parts of the whole.  It’s a feeling, not a thought.  It’s not recognised as a

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PTSD: What not to say and why

Things not to say:
1. It’s ok now, move on.
2. I know someone else who went through the same thing, and they didn’t act this way.
3. Aren’t you just over-reacting?
4. Why don’t you just stop thinking about it?

Let’s address these one at a time. The first one is, it’s ok now. Move on. The reason that we shouldn’t say that is because it isn’t ok now, and the person would clearly move on if they could. When someone has suffered an event which brings on PTSD, it isn’t ok and they can’t move on. They are physically stuck at the point in time when the event took place. They are usually completely oblivious to the amount of time going by since the event, and are unable to ignore the impact that the event is having on their lives. If someone was in a serious accident and had to have their lower arm amputated, no one would even think of telling them that it’s ok now, move on. People would clearly understand that damage has been done and healing needs to take place. They would recognise that counselling therapy as well as physiotherapy would be needed before the person could even begin to “move on”.

With PTSD, the injury isn’t that visible, so people can be fairly callous to the impact that it actually has on the sufferer. It has in recent studies been recognised as a physical brain injury due to the way it changes the brain’s processing of events in life. The brain is unable to process the information of the event, and gets “stuck”. Imagine telling your brain not to recognise the colour blue. I think it safe to say that we all realise that not wanting to see the colour blue any more will not change the fact that the colour exists, and we will see it. We might try to avoid seeing the colour blue by refusing to look up at the sky, but that won’t change the peripheral view of the sky that we will see regardless of our desire not to. Everywhere we look, the colour blue will be noticeable, and any efforts to stop seeing the colour blue will only make that colour that much more noticeable. You can not force your eyes to stop registering the colour blue. In a similar way, the person suffering PTSD can not force their brains to stop remunerating about the event, having nightmares about the event, or having flashbacks when triggered by something that reminds their brain of the event. The brain is in complete control. They are not.

The second one is, “ I know someone else who went through the same thing, and they didn’t act this way”. Just as every person is unique, every experience for every person is unique. It’s also true that we don’t really know what a person is feeling or experiencing if they don’t choose to tell us, and some people might choose to keep it hidden as much as they can so that they can avoid having to talk about it. Some people are numb to an experience until a similar experience happens. In any case, we should never judge anyone for the way they react to any traumatic experience. One thing to remember is that we never truly know how we ourselves would react to the same experience until it happens to us.

The third one is, “aren’t you just over-reacting?”. This question not only diminishes the experience of the person they are asking it of, it also judges. The implication is that the person has chosen this course of behaviour; perhaps as a way to get attention, but certainly for not any legitimate reason. No one who has suffered from PTSD would choose to live like that. Unless you’ve experienced PTSD, you really can not imagine how painful, terrifying, and embarrassing it actually is to live with. It’s an enemy that takes you over, and it can make life so difficult that death can be preferable. This is why so many soldiers commit suicide. There truly are some things worse than death. There are some traumatic events that we can all agree are traumatic, such as a terrorist attack. However, any event that causes a significant impression of being in fear of one’s life will have the same result.

It’s true that you might not consider that the car crash you only just survived was a traumatic event, but it’s just as true that someone else would. I’ve treated people who survived a crash that they shouldn’t have, and the crash itself wasn’t the problem. They could remember every detail of it years later, but it had no impact on them. I knew another person who just had a prang and was so affected that they couldn’t drive again, even years later. They were able to ride in a car reasonably well, but could not drive. Every person, every event, is unique, and no one would choose to have PTSD as an over-reaction. Each person’s experience deserves respect and dignity, not judgement.

Finally, “why don’t you just stop thinking about it?”. This question is based on a lack of information about what PTSD actually is and does. When we ask questions to diagnose the condition, the question addresses intrusive thoughts, or thoughts that are unwanted but persistent. Have you ever had a song in your head that you just could not get rid of, and it drove you potty until it decided to go away? Well, PTSD is similar, but much worse. Just as you couldn’t make that song get out of your head, the person suffering from PTSD can’t just stop thinking about the event. The thoughts are there, unwanted and determined. The person suffering from PTSD can not control their dreams, either, so will wake up with a start thinking they heard the brakes screeching and glass shattering. People can wake up in a cold sweat, or screaming….at no time is “just stop thinking about it” an option.

What not to say is easy enough. What is the right thing to say might be another matter, and many times, people really have no idea what to say or do to help the sufferer. In reality, the reason why soldiers just hold on to each other sometimes is because sometimes, that’s all you can do. Just hold on to each other. I read about one soldier who went into meltdown in public, and his wife went down to the ground with him, just holding onto him tightly the same way another soldier on the field would’ve done. Sometimes, that’s all you can do. Just be there. Get as much information about the condition as you can. Get the advice of a professional, if you want to. One thing to remember is this: If you think you might say the wrong thing, saying nothing at all is a perfectly acceptable option, as long as you just make sure that the person knows you’re there and want to understand.

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