Tough Cases in Family Therapy

Three case studies are presented as examples of the complex problems married clients bring to the therapist. [These clients have approved the use of their real names because they are exhibitionists.]

Case History 1.
Jacob and Leah sit side by side on a couch. To the experienced eye the couple’s body language reveals tension and stress. Jacob gazes into the distance while Leah shrinks into the cushions. Rebecca, Jacob’s other wife, squats on the floor. Rebecca is rending her garment, one thread at a time. The steady plinking noise punctuates the session. It’s very irritating.
The handmaids, Bilhah and Zilpah are outside in the parking lot watching the kids.

Leah to Jacob—“I know you never really loved me. You resent it that my father tricked you into marrying me? Well how do you think I feel? I was fruitful and bore you sons and Rebecca couldn’t stand it. She gave you her maidservant to lie with. That’s cheating.”
Rebecca to Leah— “You should talk about cheating. You found a mandrake root and wouldn’t give me any unless I sent Jacob to lie in your tent. I think you were on mandrake all along.”
Leah to Rebecca— “I had to give Jacob my maidservant to lie with to get even with you. Now I hardly ever see him. Why couldn’t you just accept that you’re barren?”
Jacob to Wives— “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Case History 2.

Tamar has occupied an armchair on one side of the room. Her expression is aggrieved and defiant. Judah sits as far away as possible, his expression unreadable because he has veiled his face. He is wearing dozens of small protective amulets that rattle when he moves.

Tamar– “Every day I ask G–d why I was forced to marry into this family. It’s not my fault that Judah’s son, my first husband Er, got smote. And Onan– he was even worse. I still have a burn mark from when the lightning struck. And don’t even ask about PTSD–I was right next to him in bed. I know they were your sons, Judah, but fair’s fair. I should have been married to the youngest when he grew up. Instead you would have left me at my father’s house to wear widow’s weeds until menopause. If I hadn’t dressed up like a prostitute and stopped you on the way to sheep shearing I’d be childless today.
I want a brother or sister for your twins. How come you shun my tent? I think it was pretty generous of me to overlook the fact that you tried to have me burned to death.”

Judah–“Wife, let me put this in terms you can understand. It’s the bottom of the ninth, you already have two strikes. Third strike and I’m out. I’m the coach of this game and it’s the dugout for you.”

Case History 3

Solomon comes to the therapist’s office alone. He looks very tired. He had arranged some sessions of individual therapy before scheduling couple’s therapy with his wives–

“When I was younger, I really liked to party. Even if I didn’t, some things are expected of the King of Israel. I’m married to Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. Some nights I can’t even remember their names. For instance, I’m married to three sisters named Jun, Jen and Jeun. And my first wife, Pharaoh’s daughter, is a real drama queen. I thought she’d mellow out but she’s still jealous as a cat. I think she’s been gossiping with some of my Edomite wives because my scouts report armed troops on the border and they’re getting intelligence from someone on the inside. It’s hard to establish trust when you have 1,000 wives, most of whom are from enemy tribes. I can’t seem to please any of them these days.”

Despite the challenges these tough cases present, the therapist can resolve all conflicts using simple rules based on the wisdom of millenia. It’s fortunate that traditional marriage has not changed in the last 3,000, 6,000, since Adam and Eve served dinosaur eggs at their wedding brunch. Though some complain that it’s hard to find room for all the cattle a bride brings to her husband’s family, mere convenience should not justify experimenting with an institution that has remained changeless through the ages and has served men so well.

(For more details on these cases see– Genesis 29-30:22, Genesis 38:6-30, 1 Kings 11:1-9, and do read your Bible for remedies to false claims.)

Divorce, Alzheimer’s and Pat Robertson

So why is anything Pat Robertson says worth listening to? He has been spouting hateful nonsense for years– reliably blaming the latest natural disaster on the gays, the feminists, the pagans. He makes wack predictions about who is on God’s hit list, and the Lord continually fails to come through with tsunamis on the West Coast or nukes in Jerusalem. He has a worse track record than the Reverend Tillman Gandy Jr., who accurately predicted that we would all eventually die.

But unlike Rev.Gandy, who dressed to the nines as he exhorted on Westminster Mall in all seasons, Pat Robertson is a rich man and a political player. I regularly see his evil leprechaun face on the tube as I visit the elderly. His 700 Club mimics network news so closely that it is often indistinguishable from Fox– which is a paragon of journalistic excellence in comparison.

Robertson’s international meddling would be called out for what it is– pulling an end run around US diplomacy and playing with fire– except for one thing. He delivers the votes. He has a following.

Life is hard, unfair and complicated. You can deal with it in one of two ways. You can accept that we are all in the same boat and invested in bailing– or look for someone to blame until the Heavenly Coast Guard appears to rescue the worthy and drop a nuke on the floating sinners Left Behind. From my vantage point, as a provider of services to the disabled and elderly, Robertson’s simple narrative looks like a seductive con.

My clients and patients are those who are dealing with the very issues Robertson raised when he said that divorce would be an option for a man whose wife had Alzheimer’s disease. And my clients have shown me why Robertson is wrong on two counts. 1. Dementia is not death. 2. Divorce is not the answer.

I once worked in a nursing home where I cared for a woman who was unable to pick up a spoon to feed herself. I noticed her clear complexion and unlined face, the look of top-shelf plastic surgery. Someone told me she had been a Rockette. If not for dementia she would have been beautiful.

Every day her husband came in to feed her lunch. One day I heard him ask, “Do you know who I am?”
She struggled to remember.
“The handsome guy.”, she said.

Alzheimer’s is nothing to snark about– there’s no easy answers and we boomers are in the middle of this horrible epidemic. Some of us are seeing our parents fade away, others are suffering themselves, or watching their life partners lose their independence and abilities. William Saletan, at Slate.Com has a compassionate take on what Robertson really said, and meant, in his advice to the man whose wife was far advanced in dementia. I see Saletan’s point, but I don’t agree with Robertson’s advice.

Robertson, quoted by Saletan, says this–

I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again. But to make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her—

There’s the catch. Unless you are on a level with Robertson and his high-rollers you do not reach retirement age with the resources to support long-term care for a disabled spouse while starting a new marriage. You and your spouse are tied legally and financially, this illness is a financial disaster. Good traditional wives who stayed at home with their families depend on their husband’s Social Security and Medicare, or Medicaide if they are low-income. Divorce is not just cutting loose from a conjugal relationship, it’s cutting off financial support.

Another catch is that Alzheimers is a cruel and unpredictable disease. While it may be true, as Robertson says, that the affected spouse has suffered a kind of death, they are very much alive. They can suffer. They can have moments of happiness. They can unexpectedly clear and be whole for a time. They are still human.

I have seen many spouses, partners, relatives and friends faithfully visit their loved ones in nursing homes and I want to say this–it really matters. Sick is not dead. Even if it seems the visit is forgotten in minutes it was the bright spot in a day of confusion and lostness. Love is never wasted.

If everyone who had a spouse with dementia took Pat Robertson’s advice, it would be a lonelier world for people adrift in illness. It would also be a financial mess for our health care system. Who would pick up the slack if healthy people decided to separate their affairs from their disabled spouses? The government, of course. The couple are probably already on Medicare, but this would add to the burden on state Medicaide, and raise questions as to who would be the power of attorney for health decisions. The kids, if there are kids, will not take this well. They are trying to get their own children through young adulthood and are not looking to take responsibility for their sick Mom so that Dad can marry his girlfriend.

I have a reality-based alternative to Robertson’s advice to seek a divorce and re-marriage.

Stay married. You vowed to stay faithful through sickness and in health. There’s reasons for this and it’s not about romance. It’s about survival. As our gay friends have been trying to explain for the last few years, marriage is a legal contract that gives recognition and protection to the couple who take those vows. In the course of life, the best we can hope for is to survive our parents. Marriage is our way of making a family for the rest of our lives. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health. We need that commitment.

Secondly, a pagan word of advice. Commit adultery.

I have seen husbands and wives visit their spouse daily, sometimes several times a day, when the loved one was unable to converse, or to do anything except appreciate that they were in the presence of someone who cared about them. There was no hope of recovery, this was devotion in the long haul. The able partner faithfully gave what was needed.

I don’t think a person in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s needs their spouse to sit alone at night. They need them to visit during the day. That’s no small thing.

Robertson’s idea that it satisfies morality to cut loose from a disabled spouse so you can marry someone else doesn’t match up with reality. A disabled person in the medical system needs an advocate and defender. They need someone who has the authority to speak up for their interests. Again, this is one of the reasons gay people want the right to full legal marriage. Children, friends and social workers might care, but no one else has the power that a marriage partner has. Keeping faith may not be about sex anymore, but that connection is a lifeline, sometimes literally.

I don’t think that ‘handsome guy’, who was not young himself, was spending his evenings cruising for chicks. I hope he had old friends, family and companions to help him through the loss of his wife. It’s cruel when the loss is by inches. He probably needed some care, himself.

The forecast is that a silver tsunami is approaching, and these troubles will get worse. Retirement expectations have diminished with this bad economy, maintaining one household is going to be a challenge, never mind two. It’s a good idea to withhold judgement on how couples manage their changing relationships, and focus on the essentials. How they keep faith is an individual thing. But that they must keep faith is clear. There’s no one else to pick up the slack.

Cat–The True Threat to Marriage

He Threw Up in Your Closet

by J. Spot Fido and Sparky Goodboy, PhD, LLC, ADHD

The time has come to stand up to the ‘politically correct’ apologists for the feline agenda with some wet-nosed hard-nosed facts based on research studies conducted at Canus University in Paw Paw, Illinois.

These studies prove that cat is the greatest threat to the family today.

First of all, cat is a threat to children, increasing the risk of asthma, allergy and cat scratch fever. Cats are 75% more likely than dogs to sneak into children’s beds and hide in the blankets. Dogs try, but they get caught, because they are less sneaky than cats. Cats are known flea carriers. When you see a dog scratching, that is the natural grooming behavior of a fastidious animal. When a cat scratches itself it means that cat is infested. While it is true that dogs occasionally lick themselves, they do it for good reasons, once in a while. Cats do it constantly. They should get a life.

Cats lure children by stalking and chasing paper, dustballs and moths. Children think this is cute. The cats are just faking it. Except for the really stupid ones.

Cats are a threat to marriage. Whereas most men have a natural bond with dogs, women are susceptible to evolved feline behavior. Cats cry like babies, snuggle and ‘purr’– a sound that would repel most women if they realized it was the sound of spit vibrating through bronchial tubes.

Cats sneak into the bed and expand during the night, physically pushing couples apart. They cause arguments. A man might toss the cat out the window, knowing that they always land on their feet, and for some reason his wife will take offense.

Cats are known to prevent marriage. A single woman is 30% less likely to marry in any given year for every additional cat she acquires over 3, not including temporary litters of kittens. Women who have more than 10 cats, paradoxically, have more relationships with men, but only men who wear Fedoras and argue with people on the internet.

Cats are a threat to the home in the most literal sense. You can always tell when there’s a cat in the house–even if it’s hiding under the couch, the couch is all scratched up. Cats never invite their owners to join them for a healthy walk in the fresh air. Heck no, if you took them for a walk you’d call them and they wouldn’t come back– until they felt like it. Instead cats poop in a box. How disgusting. Additionally, cats are fussy eaters and consider vomiting to be socially acceptable. What can you expect from a creature that licks itself instead of shaking all over to get rid of loose fur? And they claim they’re intelligent? Grrrr……………………………………………………………………………

Spot! I hear footsteps! They’re home– turn off the computer. Look natural. Let Fluffy out of the closet………….baad cat!

Five Makes You an Ace

That’s what my husband said when I told him that Rush Limbaugh is getting married for the fourth time. It’s not to Ann Coulter, though you’d think they would have been made for each other. Maybe next time around.

Mr. Limbaugh somehow finds time to smirk at Al and Tipper Gore, who announced their separation this week. Obviously the Gores don’t respect marriage. They only managed to get married once in forty years. It’s like they’re not even trying.

Elizabeth Taylor, of course, is in a class by herself, with eight marriages to seven men. She’s very experienced, but still hopeful.

Love is a mysterious thing. If you get marriage right the first time, it’s as much due to luck as to virtue. It’s not really safe to brag about your marriage or snip at others because the gods will hear you and soon you’ll be fighting about cat hair on the couch or who forgot to change the oil in the car. So to Rush Limbaugh I will only wish felicitations. To the Gores, I wish a good life and no regrets.

Standing on the Side of Love

Fortunately we don’t have a state religion, or religion by majority rule. Our Governor seems to misread his role and duty. The Catholic Church has his ear, and gives him its support, but the Bishop does not speak for all Catholics, let alone all Rhode Islanders, and there are other churches and religious bodies that do not endorse denying a bereaved person the right to make arrangements for a decent funeral for their loved one.

My minister has this to say.

My church blesses same-sex unions and I am tired of having my religious feelings disrespected by politicians who have forgotten the lesson of Roger Williams.