Archives for January, 2012
The question of whether to end a relationship, be it a 20 year marriage or a 5 year commitment, is a painful and complicated one. It is a question that often implies loss, fear of judgment, sense of failure, self-blame as well as glimmers of hope and change. At times we avoid this question, we ask others to answer it, we act on it impulsively, we never stop asking it or we recognize we have no choice – we have to ask it of ourselves. Here are some issues and underlying questions that you may find helpful as you consider this life decision. The Importance of Knowing Why You Want to Leave If you are thinking of leaving a relationship, it is important that you know why. Understanding your past and present informs the decisions you make for your future. No matter what the circumstances of the relationship you are ending, understanding it offers something valuable for you to know about you. How did the relationship go from awesome to awful? Why couldn’t you change him/ her – why did you think you could? What made the good times so good? What made the bad times so bad? What part did you play in the loss of hope in this relationship? The Importance of Your Partner’s Knowing Why Except in those cases where interaction and discussion could be dangerous, it is important for your partner to know why you are thinking of ending this relationship. The very thought of this may make you want to scream, “How could she/he not know?” The reality is that a painful familiar relationship is often preferable to change or the fear of being alone. Denial can be a powerful and long standing survival strategy. It makes communication crucial.
Knowing how much I love the warm weather and the beach, a friend recently asked if I wished I could I re-locate to one of those Caribbean Islands. Without blinking, the first words that came out of my mouth were, “No, not enough stress.” WHAT? Well, what I was thinking about was the adrenaline rush that makes life interesting – you know, the race to make the express train, the challenge of the new case, the arrival of last minute guests, the negotiations of pets and people over the holidays… I wasn’t factoring in the anxious ruminations that keep us up at night, the pressured multitasking that results in lost car keys and misplaced cell phones, or the distracted thinking that equates to missed bill payments, migraines, and fender benders…. stress that spills ‘over the top.’
The death of a loved one, be it our parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend ruptures the internal and external connection we have with that person. It is a connection that helps define our sense of self, mirrors who we are, impacts our feelings and influences our view of life. From a relational perspective, death of a loved one is a crisis of self and a crisis of meaning. A 13-year-old boy asks how he will ever play baseball on the team if his dad, killed on 9/11, is not watching. Author, Joan Didion observes in Blue Nights, that there is no season to lose a child, to stop hearing her sing. Recalling her 32 year old daughter’s unexpected death from pneumonia, she shares her guilt for her failure to protect. “This was never supposed to happen to her.” Robert Stolorow, psychologist, describes himself as broken and deadened after the sudden death of his young wife. On seeing others with their partners he feels “strange and alien—not of this world.” A young man comes home on hearing of the suicide of his sister. He can’t fathom her pain; he can’t look at his parents’ pain; he can’t feel. A woman who spent years caring for an elderly mother feels panic and loss after her mother’s death - “What Now?” What is Grieving? Grieving is our reaction to the loss of a loved one. Beginning with the acute pang of loss, grief is often accompanied by numbing disbelief or unspeakable rage. Often there is a sense of emptiness, disorganization, the loss of the loved one and self.
Whatever else 79 million baby boomers are doing, one in eight are caring for an aging parent. Some are checking in on an elderly parent who is living alone, some are caring for a parent in their own home, some are visiting parents in assisted living or nursing facilities, and others are doing long distance caring. Whether well planned or unfolding as emergency, this a challenging task. It is one that necessitates changes, parent/child communication, family support, community services, shared information, financial resources, legal expertise, and medical care. Underscoring this task and coloring most of these factors is the emotional reality that caring for an aging parent is a psychological journey. Metaphorically, it is one that demands a “return home” in a different role to become the “holding environment” – the psychologically attuned parent– whether that is something you have had or still yearn for. Although the journey seems daunting and is certainly strewn with obstacles, it can also be an opportunity for mutual and positive connection.