Friday, August 18, 2006

King Seeks Advice in Helping Friend

What would Wanda do?

A good friend and I meet for coffee every week. We talk about everything, and we have a healthy relationship.

His wife is mentally ill and now must live in a group home. My friend has completed a legal separation with her, to protect himself and his daughter from her spendthrift ways when she is in her manic phase. The wife has been diagnosed as manic depressive for the past six years. Her medication is continually being readjusted. Her brother is her legal guardian.

She can no longer live in the home, as she is often violent with my friend, and with their daughter, who is now 13.

My friend is very religious and his church disapproves of divorce. He believes marriage is a covenant with God and that it would be desertion and sinful if he divorced his wife. Yet, many people in his church are divorced. His pastor is understanding and my friend has counseled with him in the past, and my friend respects the pastor's advice.

His wife is delusional most of the time, and often believes that their daughter is five years old, and that my friend has another name, and is not her husband, and that she is, instead, married to someone else.

The long term prognosis for the wife is that she will not improve, and that she will need institutional care in a group home setting for the rest of her life.

The wife's mother actively grandparents the daughter and my friend, his daughter, and the grandmother are very close to each other emotionally. Grandma was recently widowed, after being her husband's caregiver for five years, and her relationship with her granddaughter is helping her deal with her grief as she moves ahead with her life. She now travels and is more socially active, but still provides after school care for the daughter. The daughter spends many nights at grandma's.

The grandmother would be supportive of a divorce and wants to see my friend date women and have a happy life.

My friend has had counseling several years ago, along with his daughter, and now his health insurance would again allow him to obtain counseling, but he is fearful of going.

The daughter is a typical 13 year old, but also very angry and withdrawn, and sarcastic -- more than the normal 13 year old. At church camp two weeks ago, she broke down and cried about the family life situation, which was the first time she has cried about it since the mother left the house.

I think my friend needs to move on, and think about dating and being loved by a woman who can be a true partner to him. This would be a good role model for his daughter, who worries about her dad.

I have told my friend I will be his friend regardless of what he decides, and I will. But, I really think he needs to be more self-directed and develop a relationship with a woman that is healthy and emotionally satisfying.

He also has a dream of returning to college to pursue a master's degree, but has not taken the first step in that process. Yet, when we talk, he realizes he has the support of his family and friends, and could make the necessary financial arrangements.

He works as a clerk for a major retail store, but is at a dead end there. He has the burden of private school tuition for his daughter, as he believes she is not challenged in public school and is adversely influenced by "bad" kids and lack of discipline. She has a 4.0 GPA in private school and is active in music and plays. Yet, emotionally, she seems very immature for her age, at least when I have been around her.

My friend is very reserved and sullen most of the time. This year, he has gained several new friends, and has taken some risks, such as joining a leadership workshop and joining a college alumni motorcycle club (and taking a day trip with them). We also took a short road trip several weeks ago, without his daughter, and he had a great time. He seemed surprised he had such a good time.

What would Wanda do?


The King of South Prairie

It's good to be the king, isn't it? The hard part is realizing that even though one is king, one is limited in the effects he can have on individual lives.

The truth is, your friend is a fortunate man to have you in his life. It sounds like he has support, as well as a spiritual life. We all need those--even the royal We--in situations like this. And thank God for Grandma in both of their lives.

Another truth is this. Your friend and his daughter have been abused. You say the wife has been violent with him and their daughter. Of course, we know that her mental illness is behind the violent behavior. It is good that wife / mother is getting treatment and is out of the home. Nonetheless, both your friend and his daughter need help dealing with the reality of what their life has been for the last six years while their beloved wife and mother has been decompensating and is no longer the person she was.

I am concerned that he is fearful of going to therapy. Do you know why? I would want to find out and offer to help him find a therapist who would work with him and his daughter (maybe together, maybe separately), specifically on dealing with the trauma of the last six years. It is likely that they both have many of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Several therapies* are very good for dealing with this disorder (and trauma in general, even if they don't have the full-blown disorder). I would guess that he is at least partly afraid of being talked into something he doesn't want to do (e.g., divorcing his wife). A good therapist is not going to do that and if the therapist tries to influence him in a direction he doesn't want to go, your friend has the right to say, "I am not here for that" or "I don't want to talk about that issue right now," or to find a new therapist. Being treated for his trauma disorder will give him much more freedom to make clear decisions about what he does and does not want to do in the long run.

Whether he decides to go to counseling or not, his daughter needs help. Her immaturity could very well be the result of being frozen in time. It is common that people become developmentally frozen at the time a trauma occurs. So if you told me that this daughter seemed emotionally 7 (current age 13 minus 6 years of Mom's mental illness) I would not be surprised at all. With good treatment, she will catch up to her chronological age and be much more ready to face life as it comes.

Being me, I would teach him the Trauma Tap as a public health intervention. It seems corny or strange to people at first, but once they try it, they often find how much better they feel and will keep doing it...because it works.

Clearly, your friend has some strong beliefs about what marriage is and what it means. I am guessing that you disagree with him on some of those, as very likely, I would. So, I would share my beliefs and thoughts and questions with him in our conversations. The goal is not to change his mind, but to share myself and plant the questions. Perhaps with time he will be able to wrestle with them...and God...and himself...and the angels to come up with the answers that are best for him and not just regurgitation of the doctrine.

I am too much of a mystic to take doctrine and dogma as the final answer. I would share with him my journeys through difficult subjects and the way God conversed with me or gave me tangible (and sometimes not so tangible) answers to awkward situations in my life. Some of those situations were ones that "the church" had a definite answer for. However, when God and I talked about it, the possibilities opened up.

From what you have told me, I agree it would be good for him to move on and that whatever he does models for his daughter the way to handle life. But We (royal or not) don't get to make the final decision. If he decides to stay married because of his "marriage covenant," that's okay. I would wish for him to find a way to do that and be more present and fulfilled in his life as it is. That may include getting his advanced degree and moving into a more satisfying career. If he decides to get divorced and open to the possibility of a new relationship, now that his current wife is in an appropriate placement, he is modeling for his daughter that it is okay to leave an abusive relationship (even though the wife "didn't mean to be abusive") and make decisions that will bring health and happiness into one's life. I am encouraged that he is taking some risks and trying on new things like motorcycling and leadership. This is a good sign.

In short, as you have done, I would assure him of my friendship regardless of his choices. I would bring up my perspective and how I have dealt with such struggles, being fully present to my relationship with him. I would gently...oh, so gently...challenge some of his thinking and ask bigger, broader, deeper, questions. But first and foremost, I would encourage him to get help for his trauma and his daughter's. Healing the trauma and grief of the loss of his wife as he knew her, his daughter's mother, and all the dreams of "happily ever after" that they might have had will open more options than any royal conversations.

I hope this helps. If you need help finding therapy resources, let me know.


*You can find therapist resource lists on most of these sites:

Tapas Acupressure Technique (TAT) -
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) -
Healing from the Body Level UP (HBLU) -

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I live in a culturally rich city and use public transportation every day. Most people are polite and wait their turn to get on and off crowded buses and trains.

At every stop, however, I see people of one particular ethnic group pushing people out of the way to get on the vehicle. The other day, two such men pushed a woman from her seat!

It is not uncommon to see members of this group prevent people from leaving the train while they crowd on.

The other day, an elderly woman with two canes struggled with difficulty to get off the train, while a woman of this group, rushing to board, nearly knocked her down.

Of course, not every member of this group behaves this way, but so many do, and in so much higher proportion than any other ethnic group (including teenagers, if I may include them here), that I wonder if it is a cultural issue.

Perhaps in their native land, it is acceptable for people to behave that way, or a matter of survival.

I want to understand other cultures and not let ignorance foster prejudice.

The ethnic group is Chinese. I know they come from a country that is outrageously overpopulated. Can you help me understand their behavior, which seems excessively rude?