Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Loneliness in Marriage

By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC

Loneliness can show up just about anywhere. There are the places that we expect it and we feel for those who are there. When it’s us we are comforted by the expectation; that is, that it seems about right to be feeling what we are feeling, given the particular circumstances. But then there are times when we really don’t expect it and we don’t know what to make of it. It flies in the face of our expectations, even after we have been married for some time. And what if it’s your marriage?

What if your expectations for your marriage have not been met? What if you fell in love and felt the thrill of finding the person that you could spend the rest of your life with? What if you went into this with your whole heart, ready to become one with someone, walk through life with them and “never be alone again”?

Life is hard. It’s even harder to do alone and many feel a longing in them to find someone to walk with, to have their back, through thick and thin. Someone they can depend on. Someone who accepts them for who they really are. Someone to entrust themselves to and commit themselves to.  Think of the traditional marriage vows – to have and to hold, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. Yes, there’s a reason why these vows have been around so long. They are attractive, even in a world where these conceptualizations of traditional marriage are being eroded and undermined. Many people act as though they don’t really want this idea of traditional marriage. However, what they are actually rejecting is not the idea of a dependable, safe, life-long attachment, but rather they are for the most part rejecting the idea that it is possible. It doesn’t mean they don’t want it; it means they are scared – scared to hope for it, scared to commit to it, scared to be let down… and then what?!

The point is we are all longing to be connected to someone in a safe, secure, supportive manner and we are all, to some degree, afraid. These needs and fears do not disappear when we get married. Actually they usually intensify. In the first year or so of my marriage, my wife later told me that she would often fear that I was going to be in a car accident or something would happen to me. You see, as we strengthen the bond, the longings and the fears surrounding our needs for security, connection, and permanence will be aroused and will fairly often rise to the surface. These longings are normal. They are part of our human nature. And they can play a big part in our struggle with loneliness.

Loneliness doesn’t come into a marriage suddenly. It creeps in. In the beginning, we probably sought to engage our spouse. We moved towards them. We invited them into our world, through talking, through play, through shared experiences, through sex. Maybe they responded at first. Maybe there was conflict, or misunderstanding, or maybe the partner was not as available as you wanted or expected? Maybe you discovered that the two of you were more different than you had known at first? Maybe you learned things about your spouse’s personality or habits that rubbed you the wrong way? Maybe stressors showed up and one or both of you had difficulty coping with them effectively? The result was that one or both of you did not feel as close as you had, or one or both of you were hurt by the other, and then one of you began moving away rather than towards the other.

Marriage is not about cause and effect. It’s actually more reciprocal – meaning it’s not about what the other person does, but rather how what they do causes a certain response in me, which in turn causes a certain response in them and so on. The temptation is to search for a cause or in other words, focus on blame. It’s a dead end in most cases. When one partner begins to distance themselves emotionally, it doesn’t mean that they started it. They likely did so because they sensed that the other had pulled away in some way first.  When the shift occurs and we begin to look at our spouse through the eyes of self protection, we are in trouble. We see our spouse as not so safe, not so secure, not so dependable anymore, and we begin to scrutinize, maybe become demanding, maybe hide our selves.
This lends to the spouse either attacking or pulling away in response. This dynamic is surely going to lead to someone feeling rejected, abandoned and lonely.

Feeling lonely is always related to expectations. If a partner had not expected a certain degree of closeness, intimacy, or mutuality, then they would not feel so hurt, abandoned, rejected or lonely. This is not to suggest at all that longings for intimacy, security and dependability are foolish or wrong. Not at all! The problem is not the heart, but the expectations. Remember that longings are normal and are part of the normal functioning of our human nature. However, what we do with our longings is that we convert them into expectations for a degree of intimacy, permanence, closeness, and yes, perfection that marriage cannot bear and was not designed for.

Marriage is designed to be the closest relationship we will ever experience on earth; the place where we can bare our souls, be our truest, messiest selves yet be accepted and known, and reciprocate that with another. However, the truth of the matter is that our longings are even bigger than that. We long for more than the best, most intimate relationship this earth can provide. Why? Because God designed us for a perfect relationship; an intimate relationship with our creator. Marriage can’t beat that. It is supposed to point us to it. How does it do that? Through our unfulfilled expectations and yes, through our loneliness.

The answer to loneliness in marriage is not to try and fill our hearts with something else, or to numb, suppress or shame our heart’s ache. It is definitely not to go searching for it in another person, believing that if we could just find the right person to love or understand us better that we would then have our expectations finally met. Now, note that abusive and immoral situations do not apply here. A victim of abuse must not just settle for their situation – by no means – they must get help!

What then is the solution? First, look to the only one who can truly satisfy your heart, and who is completely dependable  - Jesus. Come to an understanding about the expectations you have placed on your spouse that were unhealthy and unrealistic, and replace them with healthier ones. This certainly is not a recommendation to give up your longings for connection, closeness and dependability. We were made for such longings in a human capacity as well. It is about separating out the longings for God and the appropriate longings for a human relationship.

Of course, there is still a need to figure out how to approach the issues of your marriage. With God’s help, identify the true cause of the loneliness. Is it that there have been hurtful actions, choices, betrayals or lies? Is it that there have been misunderstandings, stressors, distractions, and disappointments in one another? How about criticalness, resentments being stored up, and unresolved wounding? If so, what needs to happen? Most likely there will be a need for each of you to take turns expressing your feelings, to be real about things that have been stored up, to really hear your spouse, take responsibility for your part and make apologies, and then to work out new ways of communicating.  Since in most cases there wasn’t one person to blame, there also isn’t one person who needs to go first in this process. Is it risky and scary? Sure. That is usually how we reach the kind of intimacy, closeness and dependability that we appropriately long for on this earth.

Let your heart’s longings direct you to God. And then work hard on the marriage, getting help whenever you need it!

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Divorcing A Friend: 3 Things You Can Do if This Happens to You

By Laura Hull, LMFT

Coping Coach


When we think of or speak of divorce, most often we are talking in terms of firing a spouse.  The dissolution of a marriage is heartbreaking, as assumingly former best friends are choosing to walk away from a life commitment to each other.  As a Marriage and Family Therapist, I could write a lengthy blog describing the ripple effect of divorce and the fact that it changes the fabric of that person’s life forever.  But you could read that same type of blog in many places on the Internet.  I want to challenge you to consider a different kind of divorce…when a long term, close friendship ends.   Of course, a friendship divorce is not a legal act, in the way that a divorce ends a legal marriage contract.  But an emotional divorce is a parting of ways between two people who were once very bonded and the feeling of loss can be profound.


If we accept the statistics as true, that 50% of marriages fail, then a divorce article would not apply to a lot of readers.  But I am willing to bet that way more than 50% of people who read this have lost a close friend at some point and were devastated by that loss.  The loss of a long time friend can feel like a divorce or perhaps even a death, particularly if the split was not a mutual decision.  Most of us would like to believe that those friends we surround ourselves with would always be there for us.  Ideally, we hope that our inner circle of friends will remain lifelong friends.  But in reality, it often does not happen, and that can be a hard thing to accept if the relationship ends.


A few years ago, a renowned Dutch sociologist conducted a large study to determine, among other things, how friendships are developed and how long they last.  The study concluded that while a person’s friend base (the number of friends in someone’s social group) stayed relatively stable, the actual friendships themselves turned over quite often.  According to this study, the average friendship lasts around seven years.  Are you surprised by how brief that seems?  Seven years in relation to a normal life span may seem short, but a lot of life can be lived in those seven short years, and our memories are tied to the people who were major players in our lives, during that period of time.  For women, the end of a close friendship can be particularly hard.  Many women develop close relationships with other women that can be as tight a bond as a sister should be.  When these types of friendships end, it can leave a hole in the soul…at least that’s how it feels.  It’s an awful feeling, for sure. 


Why do friendships end?  Sometimes friends begin to drift apart.  People change over time, some more than others.  Sometimes friendships can adapt to the changes; sometimes they can’t.  Sometimes one person outgrows the other…ouch!  The sting of that revelation can be hard to hear.  But it happens.  Life takes us in directions, at times, that make it hard to maintain relationships that don’t fit our current needs.  A friendship that consists of one person who is a full time working wife and mother of four children under the age of 10 might have a hard time maintaining a close relationship with her single, childless girlfriend who has the freedom to come and go without responsibilities to a family.  The circumstances of life would make it very hard to navigate those waters.  It certainly can be done, but often those types of relationships drift apart over time, if not dissolve completely; not because we “like” the person any less, but realistically she does not fit in easily to the daily life we live.  It’s sad, but it happens.  In therapy, I have had couples tell me they have “drifted apart” and they want to divorce.  It can happen in the best of friendships too.  These are often significant loses in our lives and the pain is very real.   What can you do if you find yourself in the middle of a friendship divorce?


1.       Perform A Relationship Autopsy.  Take a long, detailed, honest look at the relationship.  Be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship.  Over the duration of the friendship, has it been a stabile relationship or a volatile one?  Is the relationship based on the viability of it in your current life circumstances, or is it based mostly on memories of the past?  Is there still enough common ground to build on?  Do you still like and respect each other or has the relationship become a habit based on the nature of the relationship from the past?  Is the friend a real friend or has she/he morphed into a frenemy?  Is the work involved in maintaining the relationship worth the cost in time and energy (physically and emotionally)?  When answering these questions honestly, you may come to a conclusion that changes the nature of the relationship or perhaps even brings it to an end.  This can be a hard thing to accept and I am not suggesting it’s an easy process.  Sometimes the truth hurts…a lot.


2.       Try To Save The Relationship.  If you have searched your heart and truly feel after taking a real assessment of the relationship that it’s worth saving, then go for it.  But brace yourself for an answer of “no” should that be the response to your efforts.  If you have a friend that is trying to divorce from his/her relationship with you, be honest about the reasons why.  Were some things said in the heat of anger that your friend cannot get past?  Were boundaries crossed or terms of the friendship betrayed?  Ask yourself what was your role in the breakdown of the friendship?  What was hers/his?  If you find yourself guilty of things that contributed to the loss of goodwill, try to right the wrong.  Be humble.  Verbally accept responsibility for what you said/did without qualifying it by pointing out what your friend did wrong too.  Ask for forgiveness.  Give your friend time and space to process and then pray that her heart (and yours) will be open to forgiveness and the ability to move forward with each other.  It may be enough to repair the relationship in time, but be prepared to accept it if the relationship is beyond repair.


3.       Grieve and Move Toward Acceptance.  A friendship divorce is tough.  If you have done everything that you can reasonably do to try to save a friendship and nothing has made a difference, then it’s time to accept the fact that the relationship is over (at least for now) and walk away. Give yourself time to grieve.  If you have literally lost your best friend, it will take some time to heal.  Allow yourself to cry and work with a therapist if you find yourself stuck in the grief.  Keep yourself busy by engaging with others.  Don’t expect new friends to have the same meaning to you as the long-term friend that was lost.  Deeply rooted friendships take time to take hold for real and that’s not a process that can be forced or sped along.  Be patient for them to develop.  Do not allow bitterness to become consuming.  Even if you did not want the friendship to end and you feel angry, do not allow this to take you over.  Forgive. It’s a process and it does take time, but in the end it will allow you to move on with your life without having a chip on your shoulder.  Resist the urge to continue contacting someone who has made it clear that she does not wish to continue a relationship.  And by all means DO NOT stalk your former friend on social media sites and resist the urge to speak negatively about your former friends to others.  You never know what the future holds.  Relationships that end now may be revisited at some point down the road…. you never know.  Be smart and do not burn bridges.  The intensity of the loss and the feelings that go along with loss will most likely wane in time.


Here’s a great truth:  Not all friendships/relationships we invest in are meant to last forever.  Friendship divorces happen.  People come into our lives for a reason, and when they leave, they leave for a reason.  Recognize the significance of this statement and be wise in applying this principle to your life.



Thursday, June 13, 2013

Warning Signs You Are Married To A Control Freak

And Know When It’s Time to Get Out!

Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

Sometimes when getting married, a person may unknowingly be tying the knot with some kind of controlling manipulator. So what does a controlling person look like?

Controlling people often manipulate others, seeking some kind of personal gain in return. They manipulate their spouse (or if dating, their significant other) into doing whatever it is they want. They do not invest time nurturing the marriage/relationship; instead they make everything all about them.

This type of person often expects others to serve them or to provide something for them. This type of behavior may even extend outside the marriage. In general, they very seldom show empathy or sympathetic behavior toward their spouse or others. They usually come across as very charming at first - that is until they do not get their way. Once that happens, the controlling power tactics show up. The superficial charm didn’t work so now force and coercion are used instead.

The manipulation is a system of power and domination tactics used to control the marriage. There are often common areas that a controlling person will use for this purpose. The following is a list and an explanation of how some of these common tactics are used in a relationship for personal gain and control.

1.      Threatening behavior and intimidation. Examples of this behavior include the use of hard looks (staring) and body postures, yelling, throwing and smashing objects, showing weapons, punching walls and the destruction of other property. They threaten to hurt other people the spouse cares about and at times may threaten to kill themselves to get others to respond to their demands.

2.      Verbal and Emotional Abuse. This includes name calling, constant criticism, correcting their comments, being humiliated or put down in front of others, insulting the spouse’s heritage and family, silent treatment and guilt trips.

3.      Extreme jealousy. The manipulator attempts to control who their spouse hangs out with and keeps constant tabs on them wherever they go. Sometimes this includes calling and texting their phone. At work they may email them or call constantly and demand their attention. The manipulator doesn’t want any other person in the lives of their partner for the basic reason that they are jealous of others getting attention. Remember, to the manipulator it’s all about them.

4.      Using the children. This may include putting pressure to get pregnant, using the children to force the spouse to stay home, threatening to call the state for abuse or neglect, charming the children with gifts to put a negative spin on the other parent (known as “demonizing”, common in divorces).

5.      Money. This includes putting the spouse on a tight budget, demanding information about how every dollar was spent, expecting favors in return for spending money on them, playing king or queen with the checkbook. Playing king or queen is about spending money on themselves but refusing to allow their partner equal privilege. This also includes belittling the other by telling them they are not worthy of what they want to spend the money on, or they don’t deserve it.

One thing to remember is that a person who is manipulative in a relationship is usually doing these things based on a deep-rooted irrational fear. Often this root is in the belief that if they are not in control then others will gain power over them. Internally, for the manipulator, it’s a power struggle and when this power gets threatened, they feel threatened personally. This perception, when it is taken to an extreme, can lead to physical abuse, especially when the person being manipulated has had enough and attempts to draw a boundary to make it stop.

Know When It’s Time To Get Out

Any time a marriage or relationship becomes physically abusive or overwhelmingly emotionally abusive, it is time to get out. The emotional abuse, manipulation, power and control tactics are all warning signs that something is amiss. Common reasons people don’t leave a relationship or marriage is because they feel helpless or powerless or think that the manipulator will actually carry out the threats and that will somehow make it their fault.

Getting out requires a safety plan. There are many resources available online or in the community that outline what is needed to create a safety plan. Confronting a power controlling person can and often makes the situation worse. Getting out safely is the main idea; keep it covert. Stealth is the name of the game when trying to get away from this type of person.

If you or someone you know are in a marriage or relationship and have been manipulated in some way to the point of being afraid to reach out for help, know that help is available. In the Orlando Metro area, a great resource to begin is an organization provided by Northland Church called Resource Point. Follow this link for additional information or call the numbers below.

Hotlines and Helplines

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
  • Florida hotline:  1-800-621-4202 (TTY)



Friday, June 07, 2013

10 Ways to Stay Codependent

Brian M. Murray, MS, IMH

Codependency used to be associated only with those who are in a relationship with someone who has an addiction. Codependent is a term that arose out of the addiction community that addicts used to described the type of person to whom they would show love in order to use them as a resource to feed their habit.

More recently, codependency has been expanded as a broader term to describe a behavior pattern that can affect anyone, not just those who are in relationship with an addict. Codependency is identified when a person sacrifices their well-being in favor of the interests and well-being of others. The other is usually a person with whom they are in a significant or marriage relationship. Codependency can happen in other areas as well such as family, church and at work. While all people need community and to feel accepted, codependents go out of their way to get this acceptance and love from others, often to the detriment of their true self character and integrity.

Denial is a codependent sub-type and there are times when people who are suffering simply don’t want to change and would rather continue with the suffering. Often the main reason for this is because the behavior is something they are familiar with and it is a habit they are not ready to break. Change requires dropping the fear of the unknown to begin to live in a more healthy way. So, if a person wants to stay codependent and continue to live in denial, here are 10 ways to do so:

1.      Don’t talk about your problems and keep them a secret.

2.      Ignore your feelings and focus primarily on everyone else’s feelings.

3.      Put yourself squarely between two arguing people and play conflict messenger.

4.      Make sure when talking to others you soften your words in order to diminish any chance of emotional outbursts.

5.      Make sure you interpret self care as being selfish.

6.      Believe that it is not okay to have personal rights in a relationship, be healthy or be happy.

7.      You are not allowed to play and have fun until the needs of others have been met first.

8.      Be responsible for others by picking/cleaning up after them and not allowing them to do it for themselves.

9.      Call in sick for your spouse who drinks too much and can’t make it work or is too hung-over from the night before.

10.  Remember, your good feelings about who you are stem from how well others approve of you and the things you do for them.