Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Pornography Epidemic

I recently read an article by Wendy Maltz, LCSW ("Out of the Shadows: What's The Prevalence of Porn Doing To Our Psyches?" ("Psychotherapy Networker," November/December 2009). Mrs. Maltz quotes a 2004 Columbia University study revealing that 45% of teens admit to having friends who regularly view or download porn; a 2009 Harris Interactive Survey showing 19% of teens sexting; and 2009 data by the CDC identifying the age of 1st sexual encounters falling while teen-pregnancy and teen sexually transmitted disease rates increasing.

There is a widespread practice of sexual acting out in preteens and teens, boys and girls alike. I see the worried faces of parents' in my LA based psychotherapy practice who ask me what they should do after they have read their child's IM or Text Messages, or have had a conversation confirming their child's participation in risky sexual behavior.

Parents, it is important to establish a deep emotional connection with your child and one that starts early in his/her life. Dads, your presence in challenging this social assault is vital; especially if you have a daughter. Daughters' who seem to grow up with a long-standing belief that they are not understood by their parents' are too often positioned to use sex and porn as a way of validating themselves and filling an emotional void. It seems like parents become aware of their child's interest in porn or sex and then feel compelled to act. This puts parents way behind the curve with a road to offering protection that is long; often too long to make and filled with anxiety and trepidation.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Infidelity: A subtype

Infidelity is running rampant in our country. I hear about it all the time in my LA based psychotherapy practice. Current studies reveal: 1) that approximately 50% of married women and 55% of married men engaged in infidelity at some point during their relationship; and 2) roughly 69% of all marriages don't last after an affair has been admitted to or discovered. This is my theory on what is happening in heterosexual marriages:

During the early stages of the relationship, the woman is the more likely of the pair to have an affair. She is a wife and not yet a mother and a wife. She still largely defines herself as a sexual being and the men and women around her support this view. Once in a marriage, but before she becomes a mother, the walls of the relationship are more likely to close in on her and the odds of trying to escape though infidelity increase. Men will be drawn to her and she will be tempted to stray. Settling in with the same man and having sex only with him for the rest of her life can feel suffocating. For the man in the relationship, he has finally found the person he wants to be with. She will become the woman who will mother his children. It is during this time that the walls of their relationship open up for him and he settles in knowing that his life is taking shape and he has just crossed a major milestone.

Once children come into this picture things start to shift and it becomes more likely for the husband to cheat. Women as mothers’ become more attached to their mates and rarely have serious eyes for other men. They have acted on a biological urge to procreate and now it is the woman’s turn for the walls to expand as she desires to settle in as a family. For the man though the opposite seems to occur. He now worries about his attractiveness and sexual currency. The walls start to close in on him as he becomes more and more restless. His escape is through infidelity. What also seems to increase the odds of his infidelity is when his wife predominantly views herself as a mother, as opposed to the wife, the sexual being, he married. He comes home already feeling restless, and scared for his own mortality, and is met with a wife who is no longer seductive or sexual, and is often tired out from the kids and her work.

The way out of cycle lies in understanding and anticipation of this particular marital dynamic. Early into marriage, men need to support their wives’ as sexual beings, who can have other men but choose them. Later into marriage however, it is the women who need to remind their husbands not only that they are good dads but also that they are sexually valued by other women but choose to be with them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Impulsive or Rebellious Child

For those parents who have impulsive or rebellious children who prefer to march to their own beat, breathe deeply. I was moved by a piece in the September 2nd, 2009 NY Times Sunday Magazine Section about 39 year old Spike Jonze.
Spike barely made it out of High School. BMX motocross and skateboarding, it seemed, were about all that captured his young imagination. I know there are many parents who can relate to this. Parents who ask each other, me, and their children, "where is skateboarding or a dirt bike going to get you in life?" Well hold on now!

In today's competitive school environment, Spike was a child who probably would have been labelled Attention Deficit (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant (ODD). I see the the young Spike Jonzes' all the time in my LA based psychotherapy practice. They are the kids who push their parents to the brink by breaking rules, challenging authority, blowing off their school work and sports commitments. A cycle intensifies when parents', out of concern, attempt to reign in their children by offering all kinds of positive and negative incentives, but the pushing and threatening only serves to increase their child's act out behavior.

Spike was probably met with a lot of judgement and scorn as a youth. He wasn't exactly on the Ivy League Fast Track. His single parent mother was probably concerned and scared for her son. I encourage you parents out there to meet your "Spikes" with curiosity and a bit of faith instead. Spike may have barely made it out of High School but he went on to make ground breaking music videos and then the feature film “Being John Malkovich” which was nominated for three major Academy Awards, including best director, as well as “Adaptation” which was nominated for four more Academy Awards and one Oscar. He did all this before reaching his mid thirties. Not all willful or unruly children will end up another Spike Jonze. I will say though that "the outside the box children" are often the ones who go on to do great things.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Parent-Child Relational Problems

Conflicts of various kinds between parents and their children are a common presenting problem in my LA based psychotherapy practice. The child's rule breaking or disrespectful behavior are 2 such examples. I once heard a pioneering family therapist say that relationships occur in 3's. So what does this mean? Problems usually occur when 1 person feels outnumbered or excluded by the other 2. A common situation that often creates problems between parents and their child is when a child feels "ganged-up-on" and responds with rebelliousness in general or toward their parents. This ganged-up-on feeling is often in response to parents who are trying to present as a "united front." Rebelliousness is met with feeling ganged-up-on and the cycle intensifies.

A part of any good family therapy where there are 2 parents, even if the parents are no longer living together, is to strengthen their parental relationship. They can and need to be united as parents but problems will surface if their child experiences them as a threat. Children feel most secure and thrive, when they intrinsically feel that their parents are a team. The key for parents exists in conveying that they are in charge and also that they are on their child's side. Children stand the greatest chance of success when they feel an alliance with their parents. This coupled with a parental stance of curiosity toward their child as opposed to judgment, positions the family for a more harmonious parent-child relationship.

Parent-child conflicts usually involve more than just the child. There is a tendency to see the child as the problem with an emphasis on fixing him or her. But remember, relationships exist in 3's. I have seen families transcend the parent-child relational problem when they all come together as family-allies, without anyone feeling threatened or left out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

4 Couple Pressure Points

When meeting for the 1st time, it is common for my couple-clients' to ask me what we will be talking about. I have always liked this question and welcomed the back and forth question-answer dialogue in my LA based psychotherapy practice. Sure learning how to "better communicate" is useful but too general , too vague. There are 4 distinct areas that create stress in couple relationships and the more each are present, the worse off things are probably going to be. They are: finances, sexual practice, parenting, and extended family pressure. These distinct aspects of life are unavoidable yet the key to couple success lies in having common understanding, clear expectations of the other, and mutual support. These 4 spheres are superimposed onto the backdrop of each person's own childhood family experiences and that is where the past sometimes meets the present.

Regarding Finances:
Are you living beyond your family's means and not comfortably paying bills?
Do either of you judge the other for how money has been managed?
Have you joined financially (ie. joint bank accounts) or do you manage money separately?
Do you agree on how much money you have and what to spend it on?

Concerning Sex:
Is the Television turned on more often than either or both of you?
Are you having sex regularly? Does one want to have sex more frequently than the other?
Is one initiating sex more than the other?
Is sex mutually pleasurable or just another thing that has to be done every now and again?
Is the need for emotional connection as a prerequisite for sex more important to one of you than the other?

Regarding Parenting:
Are you in agreement on whether or not to have children? And how many?
As parents, do you share a common parenting philosophy?
Do each of you perceive the other as too "soft" or too "heavy?"

Concerning Extended Family:
Do either of you perceive the other's parent(s) as overly involved?
Are you feeling isolated from family who live far away?
Do either of you feel like your partner's family doesn't respect your boundaries?
Do either of you feel resentful of your partner's relationship with their family?
Do either of you feel like your partner's family comes 1st and you come last?
Do either of you feel judged, misunderstood, or ganged up on by the other's family?

In session, clients speak about various issues that either occurred since our last meeting or that happened a long time ago. When we look closely, we can often connect the content of the conversation to one of these various pressure points. It can get a bit more complicated when we also include one's own childhood family experiences:

What kind of marriage did each of your parents have?
Did they remain married or did they divorce? How did they divorce?
Were your raised as a child "to be seen and not heard?" Were you overindulged?

If a client-couple can learn to identify these 4 pressure points in their relationship dynamic, they will be well ahead. Allow all 4 areas to enter into a relationship and you have problems. Keep them out or best manage them and you will have increased harmony.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2 Predictors of Couple Success

Recent Research has pointed to 2 important predictors of Couples' Success: the presence of "mutual support" and "a willingness to sacrifice." The presence of these traits is directly related to relationship resilience. In my LA psychotherapy practice, I cannot stress enough the significance of these 2 often interconnected traits. Here are some questions regarding mutual support that I encourage my couple-clients to keep in mind during conversation:

Am I listening at least as much as I am speaking?
Am I resisting the temptation to problem solve, especially since I was not asked to do this in the 1st place?
Am I conveying criticism or contempt in my overt and covert language?
Can I appreciate that sitting in supportive silence is often the most mutually beneficial thing I can do?

How about one's willingness to sacrifice? In a recent session, a wife was talking to her husband about her desire for the 2 of them and their children to relocate out of LA to be closer to her extended family and old friends. For him this was difficult since he owned his own business and such a move would mean starting over in many ways. She was feeling emotionally isolated away from those she loved and he was feeling successful in his business and the LA life they had built together. A positive outcome for their long term success would show this couple intentionally trying to understand the other's predicament, as well as remaining open to the idea of sacrificing for the other. Relationships are made up of so many indescribable times when we are either asking or being asked for something. How we respond is everything and seems to predict whether a couple will stay together or not.