Tuesday, March 24, 2015

But You Never Said: Why Couples Remember Things Differently

Couples therapists try not to take sides. To be effective (and keep a couple in therapy) we have to be on everybody's team. 
We say, with total confidence:
There are three patients in the room, You, You,  and Your Relationship. We have to treat all three to beat this problem—no matter the problem.

And inevitably, when we get to the gory details, each partner remembers things differently. Only the relationship gets it right.

When perception is so different, it behooves each partner to elaborate on his narrative. In the process of really fleshing out a argument, as if you’re on a debate team, you get closer. 

The goal is to find a mutual narrative that you don’t mind going down in family history, something you can tell your grandchildren, or to your family, not a one-sided drunken rant on a holiday. 

We tend to remember things from our own perspectives, forgetting, or never understanding, that of our partners.

WSJ psychology reporter Elizabeth Bernstein adds more. She posts an example, one partner buying two very expensive, space consuming arcade games. The other does not remember conceding to even one, feels these are monstrosities in her living space. (Substitute your own relationship quagmire. Large purchases are nice ones).

The reason there is so much contention about consent is that all couples perceive and record events differently. There are two people receiving information and recording, here, and they don't have the same video-recorder. The recordings convince us that our perceptions are correct, thus effecting that third patient, the relationship.

That we record memories, by the way, totally off-topic, is why EMDR works. Memory desensitizationis a therapeutic process that ostensibly files disturbing "recordings" so that they lose their power to disturb us.  Years after an event those less than integrated disturbing recordings fined them still readily available, nagging at at us.

So we have with two versions of an event in two minds, one is upset by it, the other is not. Add to this that negative emotions from previous like triggers are likely not to be integrated, either, are not let go.  

Then add to this that women are prone to remembering more details about issues having to do with the relationship (that third patient), according to Ms. Bernstein. They reminisce more, too.

Pile on research that we all remember our own behavior much better than that of others, the irrefutable egocentric bias. Egocentric bias explains why, when a therapist asks, Who does more of the second shifting, both partners raise their hands.

Then there's that negative mood that pervades conflictual relationships. Anger, sadness, anxiety, increasing the likelihood that something will be remembered, and how. We pocket trauma, it comes out later, even stickier, messier.

Finally, when we hold onto a memory, on each recall something is added or changes. Our memories are fallible, morph incrementally into entirely different recollections. In that process, a partner is devalued, loses his or her glitter.We like glitter, prefer to think of our partners in a positive light.

That the truth lies somewhere in the middle is hard to grasp. Some couples hear somewhere in the middle as, "You are both wrong." So therapists say, “You’re both right! But you need a new narrative, one that makes you both look good
Andrew Christensen, professor of psychology at UCLA, wrote a book on that,  Reconcilable Differences.

This is a totally take one for the team, approach. So sports metaphors help, too. Let’s block them for now.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Snapshots: Late for the Plane

(1) Ducks in a Row

Families fall into three camps, usually. We're either: (a) anxious, (b) depressed, or (c) both. Not a scientific fact, just my humble opinion. My fam, depending upon the weather, runs on high anxiety. Discussing it at a recent wedding, obsessed with shooting photos and getting them right before stuffing our mouths, even the younger cousins agreed that yep, most of us run scared.

For those who worry and over-think situations, not dinged with technical OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) or GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), but symptomatic enough to get sick with worry, the thought of leaving on a jet-plane is exactly as Peter, Paul and Mary sing in that l969 song about leaving on a jet plane; don't know if I'll be back again. Leaving on a jet plane is loaded with meaning.

Rationally you know you have a round trip ticket. But emotionally, you're not sure. It is that return trip in the back of the brain, talking trash. Will you make it home?

So you make sure the flash drive with all your tax information from 2014 is updated and in the clear plastic box clearly marked 2014 Tax Information, and that your sweaters are folded in your drawers, your kitchen counter swept for crumbs, refrigerator clean. It could take days to prepare to leave for a one-day vacay. Because you know, anything can happen.

The wedding is on a Sunday, so Saturday night I'm engaged in all of the above and notice my AmEx card is missing. Not like there's no back-up credit card, but it bothers me. It is a credit card, after all. So while straightening up, watering plants, putting away dishes, etc., even though we leave in the morning, get back in the evening, I am obsessed with finding it. I remember taking it out of a wallet, stuffing it into a drawer, but it isn't there. The online balance checked out so it isn't stolen, has to be here. Somewhere.

The rational brain tells you, don't worry. It will show up. Go to sleep and be fresh for the early morning flight. But it is Daylight Savings Time and sleep will be difficult under any circumstances. Flying, you know, on a jet plane. And FD has gone to the office to tie up his own loose ends, hoping this way nobody will need him while we're gone. He has asked for a 5:00 am wake up call at the office to make sure he gets home for the flight.

Forget that. He wakes me before my alarm. He's ready to go, hyped up, hyper for him. I leisurely dress. We're on time.

But in the car, he's kind of worried we're late. This is odd because usually it is me, not him, worried about missing the plane.

There are some things that really are binomial, and opinions about the right time to get to the airport are like this, one or the other. Some prefer to be at the gate at the very minimum, a half an hour before boarding, preferably an hour. The rest of us love the game, the excitement, the challenge of getting to the gate at boarding, as the groups are called, when everyone is lining up. Many marriages have their best fights about this one. Many times I have threatened divorce.

So he turns to me, even though he is making insanely good time on the road, we have not even had to stop for a Metra passenger train, and asks, "Why are you not nervous? Why am I the one who is anxious here?" (This is a process question, for those of you who look for such things in couple dynamics).

This has to be worked out, why the low anxiety. It is a game changer. We could say, for sure, that I burned it all last night, but that doesn't feel true. The credit card is still missing, that program still running, but I have let it go. I am not anxious. The question is legit.

We answer questions with a questions. "The real question is, what's going on with you?  Because you usually are into this, getting to the gate without wasting any time waiting there for the plane. You never worry about missing planes."

We brainstorm, determine that it is a combination of things, usually the case. (a) He had no sleep the night before, feels out of control. (b) It is Daylight Savings Time, and DST always plays with a doctor's head, patients not showing up, showing up too early or late. And it is likely to mess with flight times. The time zones are all different. Does anybody really know what time it is?

Whereas I always let it go, DST. My patients traditionally do show up on time, and because I'll only see five, maximum, at a shot, they get a call to remind them on Friday.

But here, face it, we can't exactly call and remind the flight crew and the pilot to say, "Stay sober Saturday night! There's this family wedding in New Jersey Sunday and these people start on time, so do me a favor and don't oversleep. Remember, spring forward!"

We park, rush to the gate, our phones buzz. The plane is delayed, naturally.  The flight crew is late.

(2) Straws
Biodegradable straws

I buy a bottle of water at a concessions counter, the adult alternative to Starbucks, but forget to get a straw. Tempted to take one from Starbucks, I hesitate. That's stealing. But I need a straw. Straws make me happy. The woman manning the straws laughs at me, asking her for permission. Of course, take two.

The straw falls into the bottle, irretrievable. FD offers to fish it out and I push his hand away, this is just weird. People stare.

We board uneventfully, and having thought it through, I tell him the real reason I didn't worry about being late this time. CBT works. The drive to the airport, typically high anxiety, didn't faze me because of repeated reminders, little messages to myself, the night before while packing, and then again in the morning, brushing my teeth:

(1) We had Pre-TSA, a perk of  frequent flying, being not-so-young anymore, so the line is short at security.
(2) United is notoriously late flying east, probably would not fly on time. If we were late, they would be later still.
And (3) No luggage, not even carry-ons. Nothing to shlep. We could run to the gate if we had to, and we wouldn't have to, haven't in ages.

So although my bag brimmed with many unnecessary objects, a second pair of shoes, nylons, etc., and now the straw, there really seemed to be every indication that things would work out fine. Just chilling, exhausted from the night before, eye-shades in place, FD to my right, flight magazine in hand, my mind scans the house. Still looking for that AmEx card.

(3) The Return: Uber and airport golf carts

We're in pretty good physical condition, but the days of running through the airport to make a plane, having dawdled too long at a wedding, are over. Never again.

He's lost in the dancing so at 6:10 I leave the party to get our coats, shoot him the following text:
Come on! We gotta go.
In good fashion, he tells me: 
Too early. Flight leaves 8:15, 30 min to airport.
He wants to have dinner, and they are serving.

Rationally, it is true. We have two hours, and we are Pre-TSA again, should buzz through security. The airport is 15 minutes away in decent traffic. So I take a deep breath or three, have dinner, and we say our goodbyes for the last time.

Uber replies right away, at 7:00, but then the driver's pic and plate disappear, so I try again. This time they want more money. Traffic is horrible, you can see it from the hotel and there is a line of limos and cars leaving that can't even get on the service drive to the highway. Uber offers me the chance to double my money and get a car, so sure, what other alternative is there. A driver responds. He calls, we talk. We tell him we'll meet him on the service drive, hoof it past the limos in line. Our driver flashes his lights when he sees two anxious people in black raincoats waving.

Except only one of us is anxious. We will miss the plane, of this I am sure. We will have to pay for another flight in the morning and a hotel, and I will have to call to tell people, "Um, I may not make it in time for our appointment. I'll call you as soon as I know." We have, at this point, 35 minutes to get to the gate. Traffic is crawling.

But he is skilled. We are there in 20 minutes.

At security we are told that the Pre-TSA line is closed. But they hand us a card and we are able to skip over the line. FD gets through, starts to run. It is 8:05.

I am stopped. An officer is checking my bag. Apparently that bottle of water is still in my purse. I bite my lip, wait. He hands the bag back with a smile. It is my turn to sprint, which feels good, but in 200 yards, that's it. Walk, run. Walk, run.

And then. The guy in an airport trolley pulls up next to me from nowhere and says, "Hop in."

"Who, me?"

"Yes, I'll take you to your gate."

There is a god.

He zooms through the terminal. We see FD and I tell the driver, "That old guy in the grey hat! Pick him up!"

FD is stunned. His machismo speaks to us, "No,go without me. I'll make it." I growl/shout. "Get in!!*!"

He obeys.

We make the flight.

When we land, walking through a dark, nearly deserted Ohare, shop-keepers closing up shop, we begin to process the whole thing, how he chatted for 18 minutes about sports with the Uber guy while the man gunned it through traffic, my nails digging into my skin; how we never dreamed of flying through the airport on a golf cart; how the other passengers looked at us when we got there and the woman in front of us in line somberly confides, knowing. "You didn't have to rush, they never fly on time at Newark." We laughed and laughed until it hurt, and he told me that yes, he loves that challenge, the test, eeking out those last moments to the gate, he hadn't worried, not for a single minute. And I told him that I hate it, truly do, and we can't do this again, we just can't, and he will have to get his own ride to the airport the next time.

Just like I have told him, so many, many times before.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Duck Song

I used to tell young parents that until their kids learned to read, there was no sedating them.

We've since learned that television does a more than admirable job Not that I'm condoning it. FD and I literally cut the power cord. He transformed the piece still attacked to the TV to a female, and added a male connector to the other (both ends male) and either took it with him to work, or hid it where we thought they would never think to find it. They would, of course, we heard years later, and dangerously fiddled with the double-ended male electrical cord, eventually turning on the tube to watch He-Man and the like.  It is a miracle no one electrocuted themselves.

But anything electronic will lull most of us into a state of uncomfortable consciousness, sleep without the glitter. There seems to be research to the effect that our electronics keep us awake. It isn't that way for everyone, and with very small children the effect might be paradoxical. It probably depends upon what they see and how much sugar they had before bed. There are always variables unaccounted for.
Steven Kellogg and Margaret Mahey treasures

Sometimes I have the privilege of putting my grandson to sleep, apparently a task no other babysitter is equipped to do, and we have a routine and it includes both the hard and the soft drugs, meaning real books hard, and animation or old Beatles songs on my phone, soft. He'd love to ditch the paper in favor of the electronic, but I won't let him. He can read, too, if he tries. He's almost six.

Fact is, when children can't read yet, or are only just beginning to read, someone has to read to them, or should read to them, for reading is a wonderful sedative and we depend upon it to learn, that and other ways. Bedtime is the best time to introduce it. Mother Goose is totally out, by the way, a bad idea, as Into the Woods has made abundantly clear, too violent and libidinous. Aesop's fables, surely had a moral, but at what price, nightmares?

But remember the frog and toad books? They're still around. And if you've never met Robert, not lived through his experiences with hippos following him home from school, you haven't lived. We gorged on anything by Steven Kellogg in my family (Can I Keep Him?), and checking Amazon, there are no less than 641 pages of books by the celebrated author-illustrator. He also wrote the Pinkerton books. Let's not forget The Green Bath by Margaret Mahy, and Much Bigger Than Martin, a story in every younger brother's top five. 

My daughter-in-law surprised me when she said that she sits on the floor with her little guys, just two, and they stare at her phone, watch the animated version of Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. It is on YouTube.  Don't judge. Watch it. I dare you to stay awake. 

So that got me started, but when I showed it to their cousin one night, perched on his enormously tall bed in pajamas the very first time, he did not fall asleep and only wanted to see more animation. So we scrolled through the suggested children's books on video, rejecting most of them as too seedy or too boring, and suddenly we found The Duck Song. (The song by Bryant Oden, video, Forrest Whaley). This is not about Donald. It is an upbeat video-joke, obviously a song Bryant made-up while trying to put somebody to sleep, monotonous but cheery, seemingly never-ending, with a punchline at the end. We kind of love it. At almost six, my grandson gets it that the duck's mission is to annoy the guy at the lemonade stand. A duck walks up to a lemonade stand and he says to the man running the stand, "Hey, you got any. . .grapes?" The duck is teasing him, pure and simple.

Last night I have the honors, and as we cuddle up on this enormously high bed looking for something new and fun on YouTube, the closest thing to new and fun is a video of a small group of children between 5 and 13 watching The Duck Song, discussing their reactions. Some are really angry at the duck for being so annoying (they must have younger siblings). Some get it, like my grandson gets it, that it is fun to be the object of a prank, and it is fun to be the perpetrator of the joke, too. Best to be able to take it, even better, to predict it.

Great moral, teaching about being the brunt of a joke, handing over the control, even if it is to a duck. How many kids have avoided depression in just this way, by laughing at themselves?


P.S. I realize it is not that simple, avoiding depression, and the anti-bullying programs are late, but here to stay, for good reason. Bullying and child-adolescence are associated, so if your child is the object, do not tell him, Hey, just laugh along. Get a family therapist and talk to the people at the school. But there is such a thing as benign teasing, meant to be taken well.

And when I need a good laugh, all I have to do is ask a six-year-old, almost any six-year-old,  "Hey, got any grapes?"

P.S.S. For all the years I've been blogging, I still don't know how to create links in a consistent fashion. Just know that any type that isn't black is probably a link to a book, or a movie, or a resource. It could be yellow, ochre, red, scarlet, or if you are color-challenged, another shade, but it will take you somewhere if you click on it.