Category Archives: Relationships

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

Are you in a Hokey Pokey marriage?

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, at least one with nerdy white folks like me, you’ve probably at least watched people do the Hokey Pokey. This awkward, ultra-cheesy “dance” (a generous term for sure) involves standing in a circle goofing around with other friends and relatives you haven’t seen since the last wedding. Dancers are told to “put your right foot in, put your right foot out, put your right foot in and you shake it all about.” If you can leave all self-respect at home you’ve got a decent chance at having some fun.

What’s the Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome all about?

The sad truth about a lot of the couples I work with in therapy is that they suffer from what I call Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome. All too often couples wait to enter therapy until they are at their breaking (up) point. They are on the brink of divorce and may no longer be living together at the time they call to start counseling. There are obviously many problems that can bring a couple to this edge. One of them is Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome.

Couples experiencing HPMS have at least one partner who is contemplating ending the relationship. They may only be 1% out the door, but they’ve started leaving in their mind already. They’ve started thinking beyond the relationship. They wonder what it may be like if they leave. They begin planning ahead, looking at apartments, setting aside money, and anything else they think might help make a transition to single living easier if that time actually comes someday.

What’s the harm in planning ahead?

You might wonder how a little planning ahead can be dangerous. In reality, for the individual, it may actually be a smart move. It sets them up to be better prepared than their partner for single life when they eventually leave. The problem, however, is the mental state of this partner with one foot out the door. They are already thinking as an individual as opposed to a committed partner in a relationship. It may be helpful for the individual member of the relationship to plan ahead. Unfortunately, if they do, they’ve essentially committed relationship suicide. By “putting one foot out” they have already stopped doing everything they can to save the relationship they’re already in.

What is tempting you to put one foot out?

It’s convenient to forget certain parts of our vows when we are unhappy. Your partner may be doing a lot of things to make your life miserable. Maybe he’s a poor communicator. Maybe she’s not taking care of your “needs.” Maybe he changed his mind about wanting kids. Or she wants to go back to work instead of staying home with the kids. Maybe your partner has an addiction that’s wreaking havoc in your marriage and family life.

With few exceptions (i.e. physically or sexually assaulting you or your kids, having an adulterous affair), I’m a big believer that as long as both parties are fully committed to working on the relationship, any marriage can be saved. Even in those exceptionally troubled relationships, fully committed partners have a decent shot at turning things around. It’s the “fully committed” part that seems to often be the most difficult for partners in today’s immediate gratification, all about me (think “selfie”) culture. It’s hard to be fully committed to a relationship when we’re so committed to making ourselves happy first.

Is happiness such a bad thing?

The commitment to your own happiness first is an easy way to justify putting a foot out the door and starting to think beyond the relationship. It’s just not what you or your partner signed up for. And having that “me first” mentality is almost a guarantee that your relationship will not work out. If you want your relationship to not only survive, but thrive, you need to be thinking about your partner first.* Your partner also needs to be thinking of you first, but you can’t control that. If you want your relationship to last, you’ve got to keep both feet in, fully committed to making it work. Otherwise, you’ll likely fall victim to Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome and sabotage your chances of being happy in the relationship you already have. You can’t think about your relationship the way you did when you were dating. It’s different now. It’s not about you. It’s about your marriage.

Do you and your partner have Hokey Pokey Marriage Syndrome?

Do you have one foot in and one foot out? Have you started thinking beyond your relationship? Have you noticed your partner displaying some of the above signs of HPMS? If so, it’s time to talk to someone. It really would be best to talk to a couples counselor before you get to this point, but you can only be where you are. For some guidance on what to consider before choosing a marriage counselor, click here. Get some help now, before it’s too tempting to take a foot out and you start living for yourself instead of your partner and your relationship. That’s really the only way to make things work long-term. And if you both live for each other, you’ll probably end up happy too. Maybe even happy enough to do the Hokey Pokey.

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

*In putting your partner first, it’s important to remember that you need to keep firm boundaries in place to protect yourself from harm. Leaving for an apartment or a parent/friend’s house for a while may be the best way to stay safe while holding out hope for reconciliation with your partner as they go through a change process on their own. Looking to serve your partner and seeking their happiness before your own should not come at the expense of your safety. It also definitely does not mean you need to serve as a doormat for your spouse. Standing up for your basic human rights and dignity is different from looking for temporary happiness at the expense of long-term relationship success. If you are in a relationship that involves domestic violence, couples counseling is probably not the best option right now. Individual therapy would likely be a better first step.

Teaching your partner how to respect you is one of many important steps toward a healthy relationship. On your way to getting both feet back in the dance, you’ll each learn how to communicate in ways that are safe and empowering for both partners. This will help you both move toward respectful discussion of any inequities in your relationship that may be getting in the way of fully realizing the future of this most important relationship in your life.

How Much Should You Pay for Marriage Counseling?

If you’ve been considering seeing a marriage counselor I want you to ask yourself the following: “How much does my marriage mean to me and what am I willing to do to save it?”

You may have just thought about things like, “stop smoking,” “change my job,” “move to ______.” What if, for starters, it were simply, “go to counseling and pay ___ dollars.” How would that sound?

Not that you can buy your way into or out of a truly healthy, attached relationship, but sometimes a time commitment and a credit card are what it takes to get the healing process going. It’s certainly what typically starts and ends relationships (think Friday night at 7:45 and $43 for movie tickets, popcorn, and 64oz of Diet Coke) (or, much costlier and less lighthearted, 2 days in court and $15,000 in legal fees for a contested divorce).

What is the price on your relationship?

We all put a price on our relationships. What’s yours? What are you willing to pay to get back or even improve upon the amazing relationship you used to have with your loved one? What would it be worth to you if not only were you able to stand being around them again, but you actually craved that time?

What if your spouse wanted to leave you? Maybe you’re there right now. What would you pay to get them back? Would you quit your job? Pay a $10,000 “I’m sorry, please forgive me” fine? Give up poker on Tuesday and Friday nights for a year? Everybody’s got a price.

I know this because I am a marriage counselor. I know this because there are regularly people who call me and talk about how their marriage is in trouble and counseling is their last hope. Then they typically do one of two things. They either hear my fee and say “When is the soonest we can come in?” or they occasionally ask if I have a sliding scale or accept insurance.

Will my insurance cover marriage counseling?

Most insurance carriers don’t cover your relationship. I seldom see any that will pay for couples therapy, but there are rare carriers out there who may cover it for the right deductible. Generally speaking though, treatment for your marriage is not seen as what their industry calls a “medical necessity.” (Mental health parity laws have slowly begun to shift this trend, but there’s still room for change here!)

But let’s get back to what happens when people call. In my experience, the couples that jump in with both feet and essentially consider the financial cost of counseling something that they will take care of however they can tend to be committed to the counseling process and see dramatic change in their relationships.*

Whatever the reason for the differing levels of commitment, there’s no judgment on my part. I just make myself available to help save your marriage if that’s what you both want to do.

What should you pay for counseling?

So what should you pay for marriage counseling? What is a “good price to pay” for life-changing, empowering, relationship-saving counseling? Let me put it this way: Suppose you have brain cancer. What would you pay for a good neurosurgeon? Would you try to negotiate down his/her fee? Or would you simply tell your partner, don’t worry about the cost. We’ll figure it out.

Of course, you would likely ask around for a referral to the best oncologist/neurosurgeon people had heard of and go there as often as the doctor recommended, for as long as they recommended, and concern yourself with the cost after the treatment had taken place. Your primary concern would not be the drive or the fee, but rather, is this person going to provide me with the life-giving healing I need?

Another reasonable point to consider here is the cost of not saving your relationship. Citing Forbes, LegalZoom.com wrote about the average cost of divorce in various circumstances. The average cost of a “contested divorce” is between $15,000-$30,000. One year of marriage counseling (if it ends up going on for that long) is typically less than $10,000.

Certainly, finances are important. We should aim to be good stewards of our resources. But if we are poor stewards of our relationships, what we do with our money is of little consequence. Effective marriage counseling may cost you anywhere from approximately $100 to $300 per hour, but these numbers really are arbitrary. The therapist may be licensed, perhaps not. These details only matter if they help you feel more comfortable. They will not necessarily make your therapist better or worse.

There are plenty of high-priced therapists out there that will struggle to help you, and plenty of pre-licensed, inexpensive therapists that will change your relationship for the better in record time. Read. Watch. Call. Learn what you can, and take a leap. It’s mostly a matter of finding a therapist that’s a good fit for you and your partner.

What’s the bottom line?

So again, ask yourself, “How much does my marriage mean to me and what am I willing to do to save it?” If my marriage were in trouble I would not look for a marriage counselor on Groupon. I would not Google, “discount marriage counselor as close as possible to my house.” I’m all for using free benefits, but I’d probably not go to a counselor covered by my Employee Assistance Program for the small handful of sessions they cover.

I’d ask around. I’d check with my colleagues, friends, and family to see who they’ve gone to that was helpful. I’d look up therapists online and read what they’ve written, watch their videos, and call them to talk for a few minutes about how they can help save my marriage. I’d do whatever I could to make sure that the most important relationship with my favorite of the 7 billion people on this planet did not end prematurely.

And I sure as heck would not worry about whether they cost $75 per hour or $250 per hour. The right counselor is the right counselor. 40 years from now when my wife and I celebrate our 50th anniversary I won’t care at all whether it cost me a few thousand dollars more or less to keep my amazing wife in my life.

That’s the perspective I take on marriage. If it’s yours too, give me a call. Let’s get to work saving your marriage. Let’s do it today.

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

*I recognize that there are many couples out there that truly cannot afford private pay therapy without a serious reduction in fee from the therapist. They’re probably working one or more minimum wage jobs and struggling to get by week to week. They don’t have an iPhone and are definitely not spending $4 on a latte every morning. If they would prefer not to pursue community mental health services and would rather pursue a private pay therapist, there are options. Many therapists build in low-fee or pro-bono slots into their practice. I have a small part-time practice and find other ways to contribute low-fee and pro-bono time in my professional activities and have chosen not to build such slots into my weekly client hours. An example relevant to this post is the work I do with missionary couples in Central America as a volunteer marriage counselor. It’s such an honor getting to serve those who have dedicated their lives to serving others. The fees I collect from my weekly clients allow me to fly down once a year and provide a small service to couples in need who otherwise wouldn’t see an American counselor for years at a time.

Should you lower the bar?

Let’s face it: You’re not perfect, and nobody else in your life is either. The sooner we can all acknowledge that, the better. Our feelings in life typically revolve around expectations, and if we can learn to modify them we have a good shot at also modifying the feelings that follow.

Am I saying that you should lower the bar in your life? That you should stop striving for excellence? That you should aim so low that you are all but guaranteed success? Hardly!

What I am suggesting is that sometimes our expectations may not be useful. Sometimes we expect too much of ourselves. Goals are great. Intentions are important. Plans provide purpose. Expectations, on the other hand, can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and fear when we don’t measure up, when we fail, or when we just don’t quite reach as far as we’d hoped.

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT EXPECTATIONS?

The problem with expectations is that they can make us believe that the only kind of success is complete/total success. In reality, there are gradations of success. Life is one big gray moment, slowly passing by with infinite opportunities for growth, acceptance, persistence, critical thinking, teamwork, and grace.

Seldom will we feel completely satisfied. Rare is the goal completely accomplished. And what happens once we reach a goal? How long will we sit around riding the wave of success? We need to start anew with other challenges/goals or our lives become stagnant.

“IF YOUR COMPANY ISN’T GROWING, IT’S DYING!”

Take a look at almost any successful business in America and you’ll likely find that they grow consistently over time. Rarely will a successful company stay successful if they plateau in their sales, membership, etc. Maintenance is not the path to success. Think growth. This mentality applies not only to business, but to relationships, personality, and careers. Always be looking for where you can be growing.

Just be careful that when you sit down to plan out growth/development in your business, marriage, church, family or peer group that you aim for what seems unreachable but hold yourself only to realistic expectations for what success will mean. Celebrate the small accomplishments along the way. See each moment as one in which you can claim success and move closer to your audacious end goal.

HOW CAN I APPLY THIS MENTALITY TO MY LIFE?

If you are at your limit for patience in your marriage and can’t see how things could ever be as good as you once dreamed, look for small moments to intervene. Don’t focus on how you want your relationship to be 5 years from now.

Find a small opportunity to be the change that you’d like to see in the marriage and go for it (try something as simple as counting to 4 before saying what you really want to say- this gives you a chance to reconsider saying something potentially damaging). Abandon your own need to see the finish line before doing something different, and accept a step in the right direction as success for the day.

If you are looking to grow your business don’t focus on your sales goal for  5 years from now. Definitely have that goal written down somewhere, but focus on what you can do today to increase sales.

How can you network with a colleague through social media in the next 10 minutes? What innovative strategy for marketing brainstorming can you insert in your next team meeting?

SUMMING UP

All said, you likely can’t reach the high bar you set for tomorrow by being anxious about it today. Take incremental steps and expect only that you will try your best, rather than that you will have the best outcomes. That part really is ultimately out of your control. People still have to choose you/your company over others. (If you find that you have to be in control most of the time and it’s getting in the way, that’s another issue to consider working on).

Letting go of expectations can be difficult. We want so badly to be successful. To be the best. To serve the most people. To reach our lofty goals. We want good returns on our investments of time energy, emotion, and expertise. Let’s just be careful that our desires don’t become expectations.

Acknowledge and accept your limitations. Set your goals at “excellent” and your expectations at “reasonable.” Keep striving for the best, but stay aware of how your expectations may be getting the best of you.

IF YOU’RE STILL HAVING TROUBLE…

You may have been trying like crazy to get control of your life but you constantly feel like an inadequate failure. Maybe you can’t seem to do anything right. Perhaps you want so badly to make things work in your relationships but it seems impossible to climb back out of the hole you’ve been digging. Maybe it’s time for a little professional assistance. Let’s work together to keep the bar high in your life but keep your expectations reasonable!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

 

Healthy Scrolling: The Danger of Facebook

So many of us engage in harmful behavior every day without thinking about it or even realizing we are doing it. I call it “comparison scrolling.” We open up Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Snapchat, or dozens of other sites geared primarily toward facilitating communication among “friends” and often get to work breaking down our self-esteem.

So what’s the big deal with scrolling? How could that possibly be bad for me? The problem with our obsession with social media is that we are socially and biologically programmed to compare ourselves with others. This is useful from an evolutionary perspective in that we find out what we need to know about the “best” person in our circles. Knowledge like this can help motivate us to go to college, make more sales, update our wardrobe, get to know the latest fad that will grab attention at a party, and ultimately upgrade our social status. This can certainly be useful if you’re on the lookout for a new job, new romantic partner, etc.

Unfortunately, we tend to engage in this comparison behavior even when it’s not immediately useful. The problem is not always in the comparison itself, but in what is being compared. I heard someone recently describe social media scrolling as “comparing our everyday struggles to everyone else’s highlight reel.” There is so much opportunity to compare the mundane, boring, sometimes downright depressing reality of our everyday experiences, to the wonderful, delicious, fun, exciting, adventurous, and rare experiences of our “friends.”

Compounding this problem is the fact that it’s not possible to be intimately involved with each of the people you consider friends, followers, or connections across various digital platforms. If you were, you would know that while they are excited to share their amazing sushi lunch (while you eat a PB&J), trip to the baseball game (while you’re stuck working on a spreadsheet at the office), and first steps from their smiling toddler (while your kid just threw up on you and won’t stop screaming), that’s not the whole picture.

For the people you REALLY KNOW, you can get excited about the highlights on Facebook and not feel jealous or compare yourself because you know that going out for sushi with a friend means they will be staying up late writing a report. Their trip to the baseball game was for work and they spent the time there worrying about whether they were making a good impression. Their toddler usually cries more than your child and has a hard time sleeping through the night.

All said, nobody has it all together. Everyone has struggles. Keep this in mind when scrolling your feeds. Your life isn’t perfect. But neither is theirs. Social media doesn’t need to be about comparison. With the right perspective it can be about sharing in the joys, triumphs, milestones, and yes, sometimes the setbacks of everyone we call our friends.

You may find that you’re having a difficult time comparing yourself to others, finding that you always come up short. It may be hard to take that broader perspective and see both the good and the bad in others. Heck, you may tend to only see the good in others and only the bad in yourself. If this is you, scrolling through your feed is probably not your main problem.

If this is you, I’d recommend that you get some support. Talk to someone who can help sort out how and why you feel the way you do about you. If you need some help with this process, give me a call or find me at the website below. In the meantime, scroll with caution, and remember that it’s not about being perfect. That’s not even possible, so it’s time to get a new goal!

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

Coping with Medical/Physical Disability as a Couple

In a recent session with a couple I was reminded of the importance of focusing on the CAN DO things in our lives. The couple was attempting to adjust to a medical condition that the husband was facing and all of the resulting individual and relational consequences that sprung up in the marriage. In difficult circumstances like this, whether  unexpected or planned, it can be tempting to pull away from your partner.

If we are experiencing shame or depression due to a decrease in functioning (general energy level, sexual performance, ability to help around the house, etc.) the first reaction is often to isolate. We don’t want others to see us at our weakest moments. This becomes a big problem when the functioning does not improve because we have then established a go-to strategy of hiding our pain and fear from the person who cares most for us.

If you are the partner in the relationship watching your partner go through the difficult physical transition, the problem is as much yours as theirs. When you said your vows you agreed that their pain would be your pain, their joys your joys. Certainly their transitions in life to different phases (new jobs, illnesses, etc.) are shared experiences as well. There are as many possible reactions to changes in our partners as there are people on earth. That said, there are two major general categories of response: moving toward, and moving away. If your strategy is to move away, to get space, to isolate, to dwell in fear and resentment, I can promise you that the long term picture for your relationship is not going to turn out the way you initially hoped.

So what can we do when a partner/spouse/loved one is unable to continue caring for and relating to us in the same ways as before? What can we do when, despite our best efforts, we are simply unable to perform tasks the way we used to when we were at full strength? There are just too many great ways to move forward to be adequately captured here. I hope you’ll consider the following three approaches as a starting point for coping together, rather than trying to “be strong for (insert partner’s name here)” and taking on the majority of the burden alone.

  1. Talk about it! One of the biggest difficulties for most couples I see in my practice is communication. Establish good habits around communication as early as possible. This means not just talking about the goings-on from your day, but how you experienced them. Did you have fun? Whom did you get mad at? Did you struggle with anything? These are sometimes difficult habits to establish when we feel too busy to even get through the basics of our day, let alone the associated reactions and feelings. But as difficult as it may seem, this is exactly what you’ll need to do when adversity strikes your marriage. Talk about the struggles. Talk about what you’ve lost. Mourn what used to be, and talk about what might be ahead. Validate each other. Support each other. Fears. Hopes. Sadness. Things you’re grateful for. These should all be part of the discussion. Not just what medications you are taking or what rehab strategies the doctor has recommended. Talk about it.
  2. Get support! A recent study¹ found that only about 2% of general medical practitioner communications with patients focused on positive coping and utilization of available resources. This is not enough! On top of that, about half of that discouraging 2% was from only two of the more than 20 doctors in the study. As a group, we professional healers/helpers need to help our patients/clients to focus more on what is positive and possible. Let me encourage you as a patient or partner of a patient to make the most of what is available to you. First of all, lean on each other (see #1 above). Second, make sure to take stock of the other supports around you. There is probably more available to you than you realize. Talk to your pastor/priest/rabbi. Reach out to family and friends. Find an online support group. Better yet, find an in-person support group. Talk to a therapist. (Yes, you can go to a therapist and not be in a relationship that’s on the brink of disaster). Check with your local library or community center. You never know where support may be found.
  3. Focus on what you CAN DO! If you are the partner personally experiencing a decline in ability, consider what options are still available to you. What activities are still reasonably within your abilities? Where can you go? How can you get there? What might you do once you arrive? If you love the outdoors and used to hike as a couple, where is there a park with a beautiful walking path you can tread leisurely down together holding hands? If you are the partner helplessly watching your loved one cope with the frustration of losing control of their body, take stock of what is still available. How can you encourage your partner to take advantage of their remaining physical abilities? What activities will you continue to do on your own (or, at minimum, without your spouse)? Will you still golf/hike/bowl/surf? Will you participate less frequently to accommodate your partner’s new set of abilities? What are you willing to give up to spend time with your spouse, and what would you like to continue even if it means doing things separately? The point here is to avoid feeling discouraged as individuals by embracing what is possible both from individual and relational perspectives.

As a final thought, it’s important to realize that where you are now, you may not be in the near future. Things may improve; they may get worse. Whatever the case, remember to come together during the changes. Discuss what’s happening, and focus on the positive CAN DO activities are there for the taking!

 

Robert2 Dr. Robert Pate is a licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY27089) practicing in Orange County, California. For more information about Dr. Pate’s practice, call 657-200-8080 or visit www.cavfamilytherapy.com.

¹Mjaaland, T., & Finset, A. (2009). Frequency of GP communication addressing the patient’s resources and coping strategies in medical interviews: a video-based observational study.BMC Family Practice, 10(1), 1-9. doi:10.1186/1471-2296-10-49