On Your Mind: A mom’s mid-life crisis?

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

I’ve always heard jokes about people having a mid-life crisis. Now I’m wondering if I’m having one. I turned 41 a few months ago and I keep feeling periods of overwhelming dissatisfaction and sometimes sadness. I’m married with kids and there’s nothing in particular that’s going wrong, but I keep feeling like the best woman2 200parts of my life are already behind me. Then I feel guilty for thinking this way because I know other people have “real problems.” Is a mid-life crisis a real thing? Is this what I’m having? What can I do to get over it?

Thank you for submitting your situation. I think your question has the potential to interest many readers because most people reaching your age may feel this way at times. Thoughts and feelings can range anywhere along the continuum from pride and satisfaction to resentment and despair.

So, in short, yes, a mid-life crisis is an actual phenomenon that your letter appears to be describing as happening to you — at least in part. So how does a person “…get over it?” Realizing that every person is a unique individual, not knowing a great deal that is specific about you, and that there is no perfect answer that would satisfy every reader, I’ll offer these brief tips:

1)      Truly appreciate what you have.

2)      Be more in the present moment and practice acceptance.

3)      Think about living a value-driven life.

Let’s look at truly appreciating what you have. Ever hear of unfavorable comparisons? For example, one unfavorable comparison could be the 41 year old you comparing yourself (presumably physically) to the 26-ish year old you (or whatever age you feel was near your peak physical abilities). Another could be comparing your assets to “the Jones’” next door and the everlasting attempts to keep up. It sounds like you could benefit from a greater sense of inner contentment. While many would like to think about how things were or the various decisions they’ve made and come away with a smile, many come away with feelings similar to yours. This can occur when we think of lost opportunities or comparing where we are with others who appear to be more successful. It’s more beneficial to think about and appreciate those things that we have versus longing for things we think we want. This aspect of living ties in with another aspect called acceptance.

Be more in the present moment and practice acceptance. Being “mindful” refers to having complete awareness of the present moment while remaining non-judgmental — to fully experience what is happening around and to you by accepting your experience versus trying to manipulate things to give yourself a feeling that agrees with how you think the experience should feel.

For example, in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, developed by Steven C. Hayes, PhD., he uses a metaphor (one of many) about a person (let’s name her Tina) inviting her entire family over to her place for a party. I will paraphrase here in the spirit of brevity, but all of Tina’s family shows up for the party, except Aunt Ida, who arrives later. Aunt Ida is known to complain about most everything, provides everyone with insults, and thanks no one for anything.

Tina’s choice, as she watches Aunt Ida’s car pull up to her place, is to allow her Aunt to come in or try to keep her out. Remember, Tina invited her entire family! She can block her Aunt from entering, but that would keep Tina at the door, not enjoying her party, and disrupt the party goers who are wondering what Tina’s doing at the front door. Tina’s night would appear to be ruined. So, Tina can attempt to keep Aunt Ida out OR she can accept the fact that Aunt Ida has arrived, welcome her, show her to food and drink, and then go and enjoy the party as planned. Accepting Aunt Ida’s arrival allows Tina the freedom to do what’s important to her and what she wanted to do in the first place — spend time with the family. This brings me to the final tip — living a valued-woman flower200driven life.

Living a value-driven life means engaging in those things that you value, those things that are important to you. For example, if being close to family is something you value, then keeping in touch frequently, visiting frequently, and sharing your experiences and feelings with your family members is meaningful to you. If you follow through with these actions, this part of your life would presumably be fulfilled. Conversely, if being close to family is something you value, and you are not able to see them often or at all, not able to share meaningful time with them, you will probably not be satisfied with this aspect of your living. Value-driven living is not obtaining a goal; it is a way of living.

In sum, by truly appreciating all you have, being in the present moment and accepting your experience, and living a value-driven life, you have the opportunity to live a more fulfilling and happy life. However, if your thoughts and feelings continue to develop into feelings of overwhelming dissatisfaction, sadness, and guilt, please consider seeking out a mental health professional (MHP) in your community. It was my pleasure to respond to your concern.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: She feels more like his mother than his wife

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

Looking for answers and found you guys. I’ve been married for 13 years. We have 2 children, 9 & 10 years old. My husband never has conversations with me unless it’s about a grocery store run or a to-do list. I started noticing that, if I stop talking, he will walk around in silence. He can spend days on end never speaking to me. He also has no friends and never has had friends. He has acquaintances through work or a musical project but he doesn’t see the people outside of work and, once a music project is over, there is no contact with those people.  I have a lot of friends and he has always just come along for the ride if there was a party or gathering.  He has no hobbies or interests.  He plays guitar but hasn’t been in a musical project in 4 years.  I’ve bought him books, encouraged different outings, tried to give him ideas, talked and talked, even counseling but the future is what’s worrying me now. I get nothing in return.  He runs around doing endless lists, staying busy but not quality time with us. When we go on vacation he seems lost without anything to do. It isn’t fun for us. When the kids grow up, how will they develop a relationship with him? I feel like more of his mother than his wife. That is just wrong. Am I expecting too much from him?  Is any of this normal?

Response by Patrick Henry, LMFT, LPC

Your story is not as unique as you might think, and your questions are similar to those many others are asking. This doesn’t make it easier, but you are not alone. The good part of this is that you don’t have to beat yourself up or feel like you’re failing. Lots of spouses are trying harder than their partner without the desired results. In most marriages (even the really satisfying ones) one partner is working harder than the other at least once in a while over the course of the marriage. That’s what makes it work. None of us are at our best all of the time. It does sound like you’ve worked hard to pick up slack and support your husband. One spouse often has to do this temporarily, but what you are describing sounds like it has become the norm and has left you tired and worried about the future.

Is This Normal? (Defining Normal—Normal vs Healthy)

Normal is hard to define when you’re talking about marriage/family unless you go with the literal definition for normal which is “that which is usual, typical, average, common, or standard.” By that definition, much of what you’re sharing is normal-ish in the sense that your unfulfilled expectations and desires for more from your marriage/partner are common—that is, you aren’t alone and many are in the same boat or a similar boat as you.

Around half of marriages end in divorce and many marriages have a partner who is unsatisfied or yearning for more at least some of the time. The point is this– while this may be normal (not uncommon) it is not healthy rp_sad-depression-225x300.jpg(good for you) when this becomes what is normal over time.  Normal and healthy are two different things.

The questions you are really more interested in are 1) Is this healthy? and 2) Is it okay to expect more? Healthy is harder to define than normal when it comes to marriage as this seems to be influenced by things like culture and individual expectations and desires. So let’s just say that what’s going on in your marriage/family isn’t working for you and is not healthy for you in that you’re working very hard at it and getting little in return…….and, yes, you can and should expect more from your mate.

His stuff vs Ya’ll’s Stuff

So, how much of this is his stuff versus your(relationship) stuff? It’s hard to see your “pattern” or your relationship dynamics in a paragraph but there probably are some things you/he can do differently to affect change in the other. Often a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist can be helpful in identifying unhelpful patterns as well as more helpful ways of interacting. However, in your story his withdrawal/isolation seems to be there regardless of whether you pursue him or leave him be. This is not what you’d expect to see in a typical pursuer-distancer relationship (a relationship where the more one spouse pursues, the more the other distances/isolates. Often when the pursuer stops pursuing so much, the distancer does less distancing and starts to initiate more interactions).

What you’re describing is a more uncommon relationship pattern (or not a pattern at all). And by that I mean that his withdrawal may not be most effectively treated as though it’s a function of the relationship. Isolating from others, loss of interest in things previously enjoyed, lack of depth in most relationships (no friendships), seeming “lost” on vacation (those are supposed to be fun!), and over-attention to tasks/lists at the expense of relationships and quality time (anxiety/control) are symptoms frequently associated with several common disorders.

If the counseling he participated in previously was couples therapy, then he (and your marriage) may benefit more from him going to see a counselor as an individual to work on his stuff. Don’t confuse his stuff with yours. He may need you to give him a little motivation to seek out a counselor for himself, but in the end he may benefit from it greatly. You may benefit from going on your own as well so that you can process your own emotions, organize your thoughts, determine what you should/shouldn’t be responsible for, and think through what your next steps may be.

What You Can Do

Pushing harder and over-functioning probably won’t work. You only have control over what you do. And you’re not responsible for his relationship with his kids—that’s up to him. It’s hard for you to watch him missing opportunities with his kids and working less hard at this than you. Just keep doing your own part and be careful not to take responsibility for his.

You have to make room for him to grow. If you over-function, then he will under-function. You’re probably worried that if you let up, then the divide will grow even larger. But often this is not the case and many see the opposite effect. Be sure not to over-pursue him. You may even want to let him know that you’re not going to pursue him more than he pursues you and that you’re leaving the ball on his court. Tell him that his rejection and lack of response to you hurts you deeply and rather than set yourself up for more heartache, you’re going to wait for him to be the pursuer.

Assertively communicate with him and set boundaries while making clear the expectations that he work on himself. It’s important to tell him about your primary emotions (hurt, fear) rather than showing anger (or that’s all he’ll see). Hurt and fear are at the center of what you feel and he will respond better to you expressing those emotions than he will to anger (a secondary emotion which results from those primary emotions) which is likely to motivate defensiveness and more isolation. Do some things that are good for you. Don’t forget about your own self-care. Get out and do something fun with friends or with the kids.

Saving your marriage will not be easy. It’s worth fighting for but you have to be smart and you need a good game plan. A professional may be just what you need to help you identify the smartest ways to fight for your marriage while taking care of yourself at the same time. Best of luck to you.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: Childhood trauma has led to issues in adulthood

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

 I grew up in a dysfunctional home and suffered sexual abuse from an older brother for about two years. I was also exposed to pornographic magazines that my brother had laying around and also saw some pornographic videos my dad watched late at night when he didn’t know I was awake and watching. In high school I told my parents about the past sexual abuse from my brother but nothing was really done about it. My parents were very strict with me and I rebelled by getting in trouble, running with the wrong crowd and eventually dropping out of high school. I’ve gone through a series of bad boyfriends, one of whom was also a porn addict. I would smoke pot and sleep a lot to cope with how I felt. I constantly feel tired, anxious and unable to connect to anyone. I don’t know how to help myself. What should I do?

Response by Kristin Lehner, Licensed Professional Counselor at Ozark Guidance

Childhood sexual trauma can have a large impact on the victim’s life, continuing to influence one’s life in many difficult ways even in adulthood. The effects can be even more significant if the abuse happens in one’s home by a trusted family member.

sad girl 250When children “reach out” to their parents for help and protection from an offender, and the parents fail to do so, that child may be left wondering who can be trusted and who will ultimately protect him/her. And, without intervention, that distrustful and fearful child can then become a rebellious, troubled teenager, and later then he/she may become an anxious, detached, and depressed adult who self-medicates and has difficulties forming healthy and meaningful relationships.

It seems that for your own journey you have reached a point where you are ready to get professional help. Fortunately, there are people in the community who are empathetic and knowledgeable about your past and current struggles and who are experienced at working with people who have had abuse occur in their pasts. I think you would benefit from finding a mental health professional that has experience working with individuals who have been sexually abused.

I do feel obligated to inform you that trauma work is a difficult therapeutic process, but the process does work if you are able to trust the process and your mental health professional. So there IS hope! And I commend you for taking the step and asserting yourself and your needs in the midst of a very difficult situation.

I also wanted to share some tips for things you can do that can help. Deep breathing techniques can help you relax during times when you feel especially anxious. Meditation and mindfulness practices can make you feel more “in control” and can also bring you more self-awareness which will be beneficial to you before, during, and after doing your trauma work. This increased awareness will also assist you in establishing clearer emotional and physical boundaries with others that will also heighten your level of felt safety. Support groups also exist both online and in person, whether they be held in churches or by other establishments.

I commend you for your bravery in asking for help with a difficult situation, and I hope the very best for you.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: Dealing with a parent’s mental illness

on your mindNOTE: The question below reached us through our “online hotline” button which lets anyone send a question to a local counselor at Ozark Guidance — in a completely anonymous way. The email comes in with no email address and no identifying information. We set it up this way so women would feel free to write about anything on their mind.

I have a mentally ill, but thus far undiagnosed, mother. It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to be around her because of her insistence on continuously talking about her paranoia and delusions/hallucinations. I already struggle with feelings of anxiety and depression, and while I want to be a part of my mother’s life, I am finding that my own problems are exacerbated during and after contact with her. What is the best approach to dealing with this issue?

Response by Libby Bier, MA, NCC, LPC, LADAC

Thank you so much for taking time to submit this question. You might be surprised to learn how many  have similar struggles. You raise several important issues including diagnosis and treatment for your mother, as well as care for yourself and the impact her illness is having on your relationship.

Before I address these, I want to start off by saying that if any of your mother’s symptoms put her or anyone else in danger, she may need to go to the hospital. If the danger is immediate, call 911. (Once she’s in treatment, there may be some other options you can explore with the treatment team that can help with accessing care.)

Let’s start with you, though, and first look at the importance of self-care. You mentioned you already struggle with your own anxiety and depression. An important component to addressing your mother’s issues is making sure you’re in a good place yourself. Are you familiar with coping strategies for yourself such as relaxation, positive thinking, healthy support systems, and setting limits or boundaries? Are you taking care of yourself by sleep bedtaking care of the basics: relaxation, exercise, diet, sleep, and spending time with others who aren’t caught up in this challenging situation? If you are and it’s not working, have you looked into treatment for yourself?

When you’re doing all of this for yourself, then you’re better equipped to begin addressing the concerns you have for your mom. This will also improve your ability to be in a relationship with someone who may need some ongoing support to manage potential psychotic symptoms. I say “psychotic symptoms” rather than a specific mental health disorder because there are many reasons as to why someone may have paranoia, delusions and hallucinations.

This leads to diagnosis and treatment. A lot of information is needed to determine if someone is psychotic due to a mental disorder or if there’s some underlying medical issue. A good first step in getting your mother care is a medical evaluation by a primary care provider. It’s ideal if it can be someone with whom she already has a trusted relationship (to help with any reluctance or paranoia on her part). If no underlying medical issues are found, then being evaluated by a mental health care professional would be important.

It’s really important for whoever is working with your mom to have a complete picture of how her symptoms are affecting her functioning. This will help with diagnosis and the development of a plan of care.

Research tells us that many people are not even aware they have mental health symptoms. This can make it really frustrating when the person does not believe they need help and can put additional strain on the relationship. Sometimes it’s not helpful to challenge the delusions or hallucinations while you’re trying to first connect her with treatment. The insight that she is experiencing symptoms of an illness may not come until she has been in care for some time. Even as a professional, I have to sometimes remind myself to not take it personally when someone becomes agitated or mistrustful. This helps take the pressure and focus off of me or the individual and instead puts emphasis on them and recovery.

To summarize, here are your next steps:

1. Take care of yourself so you can be there for mom (the commonly used analogy is that if you are flying, the pre-flight instructions always include putting the oxygen mask on yourself before taking care of others around you).

2. Work with mom to connect with primary care and, if necessary, mental health care.

3. Try not to take mom’s behavior personally. It sure can feel personal, and some of the things people do when they’re sick can even seem like an attack. But remember, these are not things mom would be doing if she were feeling better.

One last thing to remember about this is it may not be possible to immediately “force” mom into getting help, (hence all the talk about taking care of yourself). There are some steps that can be taken if there is danger to self or others or if there’s some long-term impairment that prevents her from taking care of herself. However, delusions and hallucinations are not always, by themselves, enough to secure care for someone against their will.

I hope this has been helpful. If after your mom has seen a primary care provider, it’s determined that she  needs a mental health care provider, the staff at Ozark Guidance would be happy to assist with an evaluation to determine what services are needed and to connect her with resources within our agency and in the community.

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.

On Your Mind: Introducing a boyfriend to the kids

on your mind
I’m a single mom who is dating again and the relationship is getting serious. I think it’s time for my boyfriend to meet my kids. How can I make this process as easy for the kids as possible? They are still very close to their dad and I don’t want them to think I am trying to replace him.

Response by Patrick Henry, LMFT, LPC

Introducing kids to a new partner is exciting for some while very anxiety-producing for others. Still others dive right in without a good strategy and with little/no planning, which is not ideal. Planning, patience, and preparation can go a long way in setting your partner and kids up for success with each other and may have a ripple effect—setting the kids’ dad up for a positive response, too.

Here are some guidelines/ideas that frequently come up in the literature on blended families and introductions that I can strongly agree with based on my own experience in helping families.

Relax

Breathe. Your kids’ level of anxiety and regulation comes from you setting the example. It will help if you don’t have too many expectations. Unrealistic expectations are sure to set you up for frustration.

I’ve seen too many parents who have an idea in mind for how things should go or a timeline for how quickly they should see a relationship develop between their kids and new partner. Don’t add this extra pressure or you may sabotage your own best efforts. Your kids are going to think and feel whatever they think and feel. Respect this. Don’t freak out if they don’t like him, have reservations, or don’t interact too much the first time they meet him. Relationships aren’t created in a day. Be okay with that.

Do something together

Do something fun/interesting together when your kids meet him for the first time. Kids don’t want to sit around in the living room answering a bunch of questions for someone they don’t know. Awkward. Instead, go cartoon family stick figuresomewhere and do something….fun! This is similar to “breaking the ice” when you’re with a group of people you don’t know for the first time and the group leader gives you some kind of game/activity—usually referred to as an ice breaker.

With your kids and partner, you’ll want to go do something more natural that you expect your kids will enjoy. For example, go bowling or hiking (again, the key is that you can reliably predict or know it’s something your kids will like doing). This will help them feel safe and they will be comfortable to be themselves and engage in conversation in a more natural and genuine way. Avoid going somewhere you used to go together as a family with their dad.

Go slow

You can’t force a relationship. You cannot make your kids like, love, or bond with your new boyfriend. You can give them opportunities to connect. You can plan times together, and you don’t have to run this by your kids every time…..but don’t include your new boyfriend in everything you do.

They still want time with just their mom and they don’t want to share you all the time. It’s okay to decide that you are all going to spend the day together….but not every day. You can respectfully decide the schedule but you have to let the kids set the pace for the development of the relationship, and this can be a great time to teach and allow your kids to do some healthy boundary setting.

Reassurance that replacement is not the goal

You’re very interested in moving forward with this new person while your kids may still be grieving the loss of the original family unit. You’re highly interested in this new relationship. Your kids are highly interested in maintaining their current relationships—with you and their dad. Reassure them by telling them that their dad cannot be replaced. Your boyfriend is not working towards this end. Back this up by doing what you can to support and encourage their relationships with their father.

If you and their father co-parent and have open communication about parenting issues and your kids see you working together, this will also help in them accepting your new boyfriend as he will be safe — not a threat.

Be the parent; Don’t under-function

I’ve heard it said many times that Rules – Relationship =Rebellion. The most successful families I work with are those in which the parents have a strong bond/relationship/connection with their children. These parents have a far easier time setting limits and boundaries, communicating expectations, and gaining child cooperation overall. The relationship acts as a contextual backdrop and, because the relationship is there, the rules and expectations can be heard, tolerated and followed.

caution-943376_640I have too frequently seen mothers introduce their new boyfriend to her kids and, within a short time, he is giving many or most of the orders, commands, and directives as well as handling discipline. This is not his job.  You should not give him this job or let him assume this job. That is your job. You handle the expectations and the discipline. He needs to work on the relationships. He doesn’t have the relationship with your kids needed to back up the expectations and you will likely get resistance and the dreaded “You’re not my dad, you can’t tell me what to do.”

Letting this new guy become the disciplinarian will set your boyfriend and kids up for failure. Be the parent. Your boyfriend can back you up and assist with reminders and words like “I heard your mom tell you not to do that” and “I want to remind you what your mom said about that. Can I help you make a better decision?”

Your situation is not easy. But you’re relaxed, patient, and carefully considering your actions. You’re using your head to strategize while also empathetic and understanding. Be confident and good luck!

Therapists at Ozark Guidance would be happy to answer your questions and read what’s on your mind. Click the butterfly icon below to fill out an anonymous submission form with your question or concern. The form contains NO identifying information and is designed to give local women an online place to share concerns with a person qualified to offer feedback.

Disclaimer: This RESPONSE does not provide medical advice It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on nwaMotherlode or Ozark Guidance websites.