It Must be My Fault

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“It Must be My Fault”

Beth gets the guilt like a reflex if anything goes wrong…..Especially if it involves her partner or her kids.

“If Stuart’s in a bad mood, I assume it has something to do with me.”

She feels responsible for her divorce.

“If I had been calmer and less upset, we might have made it.”

Beth blames herself for her ex-husband’s affair, which ultimately led to their divorce. When she talks about this, huge tears form in her eyes. If only I had been less kid-focused, more marriage-focused, he wouldn’t have strayed.

“I’m a failure at love.”

As we explore her history, we find more events for which she believes she is responsible.

  • Her parents’ constant fighting.
  • Her younger sister’s illness and eventual death.
  • Her parents’ divorce when she was thirteen.
  • Her mother’s drinking problem.
  • Her father’s absence, remarriage, new family, and complete emotional cutoff from adolescent Beth.

As adults, we know she could never have caused her sister’s cancer, but she feels as though she did. Part of Beth’s brain, the part that recorded all the childhood traumas, got stuck in a loop of images, emotions, and body sensations many years ago. In fact, the neuro-cognitive self-blame loop formed before she could even talk……way back when Beth’s young parents were struggling to survive early job loss and financial devastation.

Children blame themselves for their parents’ suffering. Children absorb their parents’ emotions into their own nervous systems. Yes, children absorb guilt that belongs to someone else.

The guilt-and-self-blame loop triggers Beth to drink too much, eat too much, and feel like a failure. Beth needs help rewiring her brain circuitry. EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy does this, literally, by jump-starting conversation between the two hemispheres of the brain. The talk between brain hemispheres actually produces new information.

Imagine the lids from two cans of paint – one red, one white. Now picture someone taking a brush and drawing it across both lids – back and forth, until you see lines of white in the red and lines of red in the white….and soon pink paint!

EMDR works like this…..the new information, like the pink paint created in this illustration, triggers neurons (brain cells) to communicate with each other in a different way. New working groups of neurons form. These new neuron groups change the very route through which both old and new information travels, allowing it to produce new meaning and emotion as it picks up new data along its new route through the nervous system.

That new information leads to an emotional change – the ability to feel the truth in what our adult brains know to be true:

  • It’s not my fault.
  • I did the best I could.
  • I was a child.
  • I deserve love.

When I see this process unfolding in my clients, I watch them calm down. I watch them acquire new, imaginative ideas, parent more effectively, and become more spiritually centered.

Call me to find out more about EMDR therapy, calming down, and letting go of guilt.

Contact Deborah

I’m Thankful for You.

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Profusion Purple from Flowers Reborn, Deborah Cox, 2015

Every time I see you, I say a little prayer of thanks that you’re in my life. You help me more than you know. Continue reading

How to Deal with Dissociation

Dissociation takes us out of the moment.

Yesterday, I stood in the MSU music building while my son warmed up for a violin performance. All around me, young pianists and violinists practiced their Chopin, their Mozart, in separate cubicles, getting ready to play for a judge. My husband sat near me in one of the hard plastic chairs. He reached for my hand. I waved him off, annoyed…

Second-grader me, surrounded by the sounds of my passion and my failure, in a silent loop of shame and guilt. If only I was in room 25, playing the Chopin, then I would be a success as a person. If only I was in room 26, playing the Mozart, then my parents would like me, be proud of me…..

This moment should have been completely about my son. But the familiar setting, the music seeping out of practice rooms, the smell of pianos, triggered old memory material and whisked me away to an earlier time – immersed me in feelings of longing and worthlessness so there was little left of me, the partner, near my spouse, the only other person who parents this talented boy of ours.

I dissociated. I exited the moment – without realizing it.

I caught myself in the free-fall.

Dissociation happens vividly, when we lose time, get lost or stuck or unable to make sense of things we ordinarily understand…Or subtly, when we freeze in horror or stress or shame or guilt…or any other feeling that takes us out of the moment. Dissociation looks like:

  • daydreaming, zoning out, a sudden panic attack or an unexplained back pain…
  • forgetting, losing our keys or phone or money, being unable to enjoy sex or closeness
  • binge-eating, binge-drinking, binge-shopping, or getting so paralyzed with anxiety we can’t leave the house
  • having no words, no feelings, just muteness or numbness or a sense of being zombified or feeling like a small child again

Dissociation looks different on everyone, but it works the same in the body. We stumble into a random sensory stimulus that takes us down a familiar neural pathway, once developed at a time of great emotional stress…and suddenly we’re no longer present in this moment. We lose consciousness or wakefulness.

Most traumatized people do not get help until much later in life (if ever). I believe this is why our world often feels like a scene from The Walking Dead. The pain of trauma from child abuse, from witnessing a parent live in emotional turmoil, or from never feeling good enough to deserve love continues in loops of electrical memory material, indefinitely…if it’s not addressed.

Effective trauma recovery therapy brings us back into the present moment by guiding us through neurological change. It reduces our need to dissociate. It makes the environment safe again, so we can rejoin those we love, right here – right now…for a touch, a concert, a child’s song, a lunar eclipse.

We get to be here, now.

I’m a trauma therapist and EMDR practitioner. Contact me to find out more about dissociation, effective trauma recovery therapy, and how EMDR therapy can bring more wakefulness to your life, right now.

Read more about how trauma therapy and EMDR can bring more present-moment consciousness to your relationship.

Contact Deborah

How EMDR Therapy can help you have a great garage sale

Misbehavior #373: The Soul of Downsizing (Or, I bet you didn’t realize a garage sale would help cure your anxiety).

People in trauma recovery do amazingly similar things as they start getting well. They:

  1. think of creative projects and make more use of their five senses,
  2. crack themselves up with humorous anecdotes, out of the blue,
  3. start to reject automatic, old-school politeness,
  4. think and see more clearly and critically (in a good way)…..and,
  5. clear stuff from their environment that they no longer need.

Let’s focus for a moment on number five.

When I was in graduate school, I started to heal from the emotional abuse of my younger life. My forthcoming book, Wife Material, tells a fictional story based on this experience.

One day, in the middle of my transformation, I woke up and realized I no longer wanted to sleep on my grandmother’s bed or store my underwear in her antique chest of drawers. Yes, this is symbolic.

Beautiful old furniture – and I loved my grandmother…but I knew it had to go, along with the pile of vintage dolls (mine, my mother’s, my grandmother’s) I’d been moving around with me in a giant cardboard box labeled, “childhood.”

I sold the whole mess to a friend who needed bedroom furniture and liked to sell other people’s things. I flinched as he rolled the heirlooms out on his green lacquered dolly. But after they were gone, I had this wonderfully empty room. And into this room went a small daybed and a crafting table. My underwear went into a plastic bin in the closet. I brought home paints and flower pots and created beaded necklaces instead of dusting my antique bedroom set and thinking of old people.

Yes, I know that sounds rude. Ungrateful and rebellious and un-Christian and un-American and un-granddaughterly. I get it. But I see that experience now as my first lesson in letting go. The impulse struck. I acted on it. I cleared away something old. I brought in something new.

Healing from trauma put me smack in the cycle of life. Birth. Activity. Decay. Death. Loss. Rebirth…And on it goes.

This weekend, I plan to get ready for a big yard sale: Stuff. Must. Go. After getting some of my own EMDR therapy to deal with grief and loss, I gathered up an entire room full of stuff: discarded electronics, gifts I never liked (guiltguiltguilt), a massage mat that collects cat hair and spider webs, clothing and keepsakes and detritus I no longer wish to move, dust, or think about. I’m done with it all. Things are just things. Things help us live and create. And when they no longer serve that purpose, we can let them go…kind of like old beliefs (e.g., “I’m a bad grand-daughter.”).

I crave clean, empty space for…unruly thoughts, naughty poems, murals, lolling around on blankets in the floor with my Boston Terrier…You get the idea.

Interested in more blog posts about healthy rebellion? Visit these posts:

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How EMDR Trauma Therapy Helps Couples Reconnect

Trauma Therapy: Take Another Look (It’s not what you think).

Jim has a problem. His wife of twenty years sends him to therapy. She says, “I don’t like hanging out with you anymore.” He’s hurt and defensive. Jim has no idea what a gift his wife is giving him.

“I just don’t understand what she wants from me.”

Stephanie wants Jim, the guy she married twenty years ago. She traces the path they’ve been on, trying to see where she lost him.

“I always thought it was my fault…He never wanted sex…He preferred late night television to me…He drank, but I didn’t think he was an alcoholic…He stopped exercising and gained a lot of weight. He told me I shouldn’t badger him about it…I’ve been missing him for seventeen years.”

Jim has a drinking problem. But it’s not just alcohol that keeps him numb to the world around him. Overeating, sugary foods, overspending, and zoning in front of the big screen also dull his senses to the rainbow of possibility in his life. He medicates his pain, the hurt from decades of suppressing trauma memories…but he also anesthetizes himself to joy, the abundance and color of his family, the nature in his backyard, the friends who used to come over.

Jim has a process addiction. He does certain things over and over in an attempt to feel better. For a while, it was working too much. Then it was late-night bingeing. Then it was vodka. But the hamburgers and ice cream and alcohol take their toll. At 50, he’s no longer the sharp-witted guy Stephanie remembers. He’s mentally sluggish, grumpy, overweight, and easily set off by small threats to his control. When Stephanie tries to get him to eat better, exercise, turn off the TV, he either (1) barks at her to stop nagging, or (2) pouts silently. She’s done with both.

Jim realizes, in a small corner of his mind, that he needs help. He also realizes, on some deep, dark, neglected level, that his behavior is linked to how his dad treated him. Now that their own son is a teenager, Jim has trouble putting those memories behind him.

Jim says, “It’s not like I was beaten or starved.” He thinks “trauma” doesn’t apply to him. “It’s just that my dad wasn’t around. He had his own life. He popped in and out of mine when it suited him.”

What Jim’s little boy self learned from this was, “I’m unimportant.” And he’s been trying to cope with the feeling of unimportance for 50 years. He says it’s too late for him to change.

Trauma therapy for Jim includes EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing). We target whatever memories or emotions go with his problem, which lead us back to the point of origin…the place where it all began. We start with his addictions and his feeling of being unappreciated by Stephanie. We start with his fear of being a bad father to his own boy.

EMDR allows us to follow the pathways back to the original hurts, to reprocess the memory material there, and to install new templates for future behavior. After three or four sessions, Jim starts to feel calmer. He has new thoughts, out of the blue. I was a precious child, just like my son. I deserved better from my dad. Jim starts to attend AA, for support. He finds people who understand his struggle. With continued EMDR, Jim gets stronger, replaces the bad habits with new hobbies. Stephanie joins us for couple sessions. They reconnect.

It’s not overnight, but the EMDR process works. Trauma recovery works. Jim gets his life back – and Stephanie gets her Jim back. And although they still have work to do, the path to that work is now clear.

For more articles about couple’s therapy, check out these blogs posts:

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Religion, Sex and how EMDR Therapy Can Heal Sexual Trauma

Sex, Religion, and the Ghosts in your Attic

A while back, I wrote about how our religious upbringing can pollute our sexuality. I challenged you to imagine yourself engaging in all sorts of sexual behaviors you might never want to actually do – because just thinking about them causes you to assess yourself. What did my religious indoctrination take away from my sexual expression?

Today, I want to dig a little deeper into the problem. Sexual trauma, harsh religion, child corporal punishment, and relationship troubles seem to cluster together. Families with fundamentalist religious values tend to be the families with inconsistent sexual boundaries and with strict authoritarian parenting practices. And in those families, children tend to be mystified or mortified by sexuality.

Having lots of rules and judgments about your budding sexual identity counts as trauma by itself. Do any of these apply to you? 

  1. Your family considered it immoral to be gay or lesbian.
  2. Your parents acted like they never had sex (or, never had sex).
  3. You were taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin.
  4. You were taught that masturbation is a sin.
  5. You were taught that parents have a right to hit their children’s bodies in order to teach them.
  6. You had a sibling who got in trouble for her/his sexual behavior (e.g., pregnancy, etc.).
  7. You were taught that sexual thoughts or feelings, outside of marriage, was a sin.
  8. You were taught to fear God’s judgment of your sexuality.
  9. You were taught that girls/women should not have sexual desires.
  10. You were taught that men/boys were sexual aggressors or that they could not control themselves.
  11. You felt ashamed of your sexual development (e.g., puberty, menses).

How many of those fit? Any one of them suggests rigid family thought patterns – that may have been passed on to you. And thought patterns can be traumatizing. In families that have lots of prohibitions around sexuality and/or use harsh parenting practices, children grow up believing that a part of them (a natural, healthy part) is unhealthy, bad, ugly, or shameful.

If you have more than one of the above list, you probably carry unresolved trauma that affects the life you live in your body. And you may also carry sexual trauma from:

  1. being sexually abused by a sibling or parent.
  2. being punished physically, even if no official injuries were sustained.
  3. learning to think your body deserved to be treated with disrespect.
  4. learning to consider your body a source of sin.

This kind of trauma may have few memories attached to it, so it may seem invisible and baffling. But you know it’s there because you can’t enjoy yourself like others seem to be able to.

EMDR Therapy can help with this. We start by targeting the feelings, sensations, and pictures associated with your sexual situation. We reprocess old feelings and replace false ideas about the self with more helpful information that lets you move past old ways of being.

Many couples tell me that their sex lives have improved as a result of EMDR. One or both partners had family backgrounds full of shame and secrecy – but now, they can shed their old lives, live more fully in the present, and feel joy and closeness.

Check out these blog posts for how therapy can help you:

If you have questions about my pathway for helping you or how healthy rebellion can positively impact trauma therapy and family psychology, please contact me or call me today at 417-886-8262.

Contact Deborah

Marriage Therapy and how EMDR Therapy Helps Unresolved Grief

How Unresolved Grief affects your Marriage

I sometimes get really upset or anxious about something I can’t pinpoint. It’s like out of nowhere a blue fug envelopes me in nameless, faceless despair. I turn to my partner and momentarily think it’s about his kitchen trash habits (think overstuffed, smelling of garlic and rotten fruit, overflowing with coffee grounds). But as I lecture Joe on the virtues of composting, I realize in a small corner of myself that it’s a front for something much older and more confusing.

I’m not really that perturbed he doesn’t share my passion for recycling. I seem to have recruited my husband into an invisible drama, as a surrogate for someone or something else I lost… decades ago.

My true feelings hide like a lost soccer ball beneath layers of decaying leaves. If I fling myself into the pile of yard waste that’s accumulated over the lost ball, I perceive it – but I have no idea what it is.

I lost my father when I was three. No, he didn’t die or leave. But at three, I understood him to be an unstable figure – one I’d have to keep at arm’s length if I was to survive till eighteen in a house with him. So the disenfranchised mourning began.

Right away, I set about finding replacements for my dad. An older cousin, a boyfriend, a few teachers along the way. But Joe won the prize. He became my adult attachment figure, and to Joe I transferred all my unmet childhood longings, which might sound like this…

  • Please show yourself to be a stable adult.
  • Please don’t let me down.
  • Please try harder to prove you’re a good person.
  • Please show me I’m worth it.

These remnants get mixed into every difficult conversation we have. Losing my dad as a preschooler continues to be a deep well of sadness for me. Sadness that’s triggered when I perceive my partner doesn’t care. Sadness that can’t be cried about directly. Like the drunk guy who searches for his lost car keys under the street lamp – because that’s where the light is. I keep searching in Joe for the things I lost…because he’s here, now.

So, I wonder if any of this is familiar to you? Like getting offended by your partner brings a whole huge energy that seems to belong elsewhere? Or maybe you have never been able to fully trust him/her? Maybe you always expect to lose your partner – like you lost a parent so long ago.

What’s the biggest loss you’ve ever experienced? The death of a high school sweetheart? Your parents’ divorce? A sibling who died? A parent who moved across the country?

Trauma therapy addresses this old loss – and comforts the child part of yourself that still needs something. The combination of Marriage therapy and Trauma therapy works in your current relationship too. We follow the breadcrumbs back in time – from your unresolved conflicts in the here and now, to your unresolved losses from long ago. EMDR therapy (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) facilitates this process and allows you to link together each piece of the chain, moving backwards or forwards to integrate old and new information. It calms the nervous system and helps you get past stuck places. It allows your mind/body to metabolize old loss. It triggers new creativity and solutions. It helps you feel closer to loved ones in the present.

For more information on this topic, check out these posts:

Sometimes, it helps to talk to someone in a safe, secure environment where you can understand your past, your present and your relationships. Call me at 417-886-8262 or click below.

Contact Deborah

Springfield, MO Psychologist: Disobey Your Mother to Survive

Healthy Rebellion, Part 2: Why You Must Disobey Your Mother if you Want to Survive

I am a Springfield, MO Psychologist and published author. But, I am also a mother. I get it. Mothers create structure and nurture. We tell you what to do. We train, disapprove, lecture, and reward. Because we adore you. Because it’s our job. But at some point, our love becomes smothering and what was appropriate when you were two turns into nightmarish over-control when you are ten or fifteen. And what kept you safe at fifteen robs you of your life at thirty.

Everyone must differentiate from mother: even your mother must differentiate from mother.

Maybe you find yourself editing your thoughts or ideas when your mother is around. Maybe you limit yourself physically, socially, or intellectually when you’re with her. Or maybe you take a little guilt trip when you think of her? Alone in her house with the phone not ringing?

…and maybe you feel depressed or ashamed

…and maybe you have a hard time enjoying yourself if you think she’s not okay

…and maybe you say, I could never move away because what would she do?

Blame this dilemma on some big forces. Religion and commerce deface the idea of Mother: http://www.mothersmovement.org/books/reviews/mommy_myth.htm

They teach us to treat mothering as both a shopping imperative and a life-long martyrdom, a sacred role, a covenant, a debt to be repaid. She gave us life, so we owe her everything. Which of course means we must be loyal and sweet and give her perfect grandchildren.

In reality, mothering is time-limited. Anyone with a fourteen-year-old can tell you this. It’s intensely, deliciously hard for a few years. We hold that toddler and think, how could this ever end? Then we start getting clues about the limits of our ability to mother. The teen says, “I’m not wearing that. It makes me look like a momma’s boy.” We start to really know. Part of mothering is the job of letting go.

But many mothers have huge difficulty letting go. They fear being alone, so they hold onto a child for comfort, reverse the roles, forcing the person into lifelong servitude. They get so far into the role of Motherhood, they can’t find themselves anymore – much less see their children for who they really are.

…We don’t have to destroy our mothers to thrive, but we do have to prune them back a bit. Our job = pruning. Her job = grieving, changing.

The natural process of rebellion – becoming separate and fully who you are at the deepest levels – threatens your mother. Maybe just a little bit. Maybe a lot. This is natural. Although it’s her grief, she sends you signals that your independence is unacceptable. She hints. She goes silent. She triggers huge guilt bombs that go off in your body and distract you from the important work you were meant to do in this world. It’s not personal, it’s just the process.

 You need disobedience like air and water. Here are some ideas for healthy insurgency.

  • moving a little further away
  • challenging the family religious tradition
  • wearing thrift-store clothes
  • speaking your mind
  • taking a mini vacation by yourself
  • painting your house purple
  • selling your possessions and living in a camper
  • sending Mom a note, thanking her for raising you, stating that you are fully raised now and you have good sense and can go climb Mount Everest

If you haven’t read it yet, check out my first blog about Healthy Rebellion:

Contact Deborah

 

Improving your focus through EMDR Therapy

How EMDR therapy helps increase concentration, productivity and creativity.

“My wife says I have ADHD.”

I hear this all the time. Adults come in to see me because they think they have attention deficit disorder. They lose their concentration and fade out as they try to read. They forget appointments. They lose track of bills and documents.

They feel stupid. They wish they had tried harder in school. They wish they could harness their innermost abilities, but they feel hopeless about doing so.

“I’m a failure. I have failed myself.”

What is EMDR Therapy? 

You may know about EMDR (eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing) as a treatment for anxiety and trauma. If you read my blog, you know that eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing helps people recover from anxiety and PTSD. It integrates memory material stored in various locations throughout the brain. It calms the sympathetic nervous system and allows accelerated information processing to occur.

Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing flips a neurological switch, letting old memory weave together with new data. This changes our body sensations, emotions, and beliefs (such as, “I can’t handle it.). It frees us from old feelings (like the sluggishness that makes us feel like we’re wasting our day).

But you may not know that Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing leads to better concentration. Through its action on the attentional networks of the brain, eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing wipes away intruding thoughts and sensory signals that interfere with our focus. It sharpens our ability to notice, remember, and understand.

If you need to think more clearly or sustain your attention to a task, you know how huge this is. Attention to visual, auditory, and other information in our environment makes the difference between a passive, zoned-out you – and a you that grasps, utilizes, and synthesizes all the relevant bits of material in your world…

…A You that at finishes projects.

A You that sees problems clearly, holds onto creative ideas, and forms novel solutions.

A You that speaks well under pressure.

A You that gets more accomplished in an hour than most people do in a day.

This outline shows how I use Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy to help people get more focused, more productive………and smarter.

  1. First, we define what you want to be doing better. Designing video games? Selling insurance? Learning calculus? Painting houses?
  2. Then, we identify what gets in the way, and what old memories surround the problem. Perhaps a grade school incident that made you feel defective?
  3. Next, we use Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing to target that problem. This combines your imagination with bilateral stimulation (eye movements, gentle pulses, or auditory signals).
  4. Finally, we build resources for a whole new way of concentrating. We use EMDR to tap these resources right into your nervous system, replacing tired old beliefs with brand new shiny ones…like, “I deserve good things.”

My patients tell me the results feel like having windshield wipers clear away the rain or having light in a previously darkened room. They say it’s like being able to breathe fully and absorb all the details, as if for the first time. They compare it to a runner’s high. They learn. They get stuff done. They change their lives.

The following are similar blog posts I’ve written that help couples understand how EMDR therapy in Springfield, MO can help them:

If you have questions about my pathway for helping you, please contact me or call me today at 417-886-8262.

Contact Deborah

The Submissive Wife: How This Role Damages Boys (and Girls)

How do I keep my son from growing up to be a jerk? How do I help him become egalitarian? 

Great question: How do we raise boys to share power in relationships? The answer lies in your willingness to share power in your own relationships.

The “submissive wife” sounds like the title of a porn movie or a handbook from the 1950s. But it’s actually a one-down female role still prescribed in many families and doctrines. It says the woman in a heterosexual relationship should defer to her male partner in all or most areas of conflict. It says the woman should try not to fight about issues that upset her. It says the man is the head of the household and should have the final say-so.

This article is not a political treatise, but a collection of psychological observations I’ve made over my lifetime – as a child growing up in a conservative community full of submissive wives – and as a family psychologist. Based on what I’ve learned, we really can raise boys (and girls) to be egalitarian. We can teach them how to share power with their partners, which will help them develop more satisfying love relationships as adults.

Yes, the submissive wife still exists. She may tell you she’s a complete person and on equal footing with her mate, but she still blames herself if the marriage becomes tense or gridlocked. She blames her spouse if there are money problems. She stifles her anger. She develops other symptoms (like migraines or other chronic pain) and she spends too much on shoes and Xanax.

The son of the submissive wife has a challenge. He must try to get to know his mother, while she hides much of her true self from view.

At the level of family interaction, here’s what I notice.

Like girls, boys watch their parents interact. Boys follow the flow of dialogue, even about minor, everyday things. They watch their fathers to see . . .
1. if they can share power
2. if they can share emotion
3. if they can admit their mistakes
4. if they can express affection openly
5. if they possess purpose – and how this purpose drives their behavior

Boys (and girls, for slightly different reasons) watch their mothers to see . . .
1. if they can express emotion freely
2. if they can assert themselves
3. if they can express resistance and still be warm and approachable
4. if they can maintain the integrity of who they are in relation to their mates
5. if they have passions and personal agendas and clear wants and needs

I watch my son watching us, my husband and I, as we talk. I see when he looks worried and when he looks relieved. I see when his attention is focused and when he’s free to unfocus it. I listen to the stories of boys and men in my practice, too, and how they tell those stories. Particularly the ones about their parents, so key to their own current love relationships.

“She wouldn’t look him in the eye.”

“They never talked about love.”

“They only disagreed behind doors.”

“She seemed invisible.”

“I don’t know what was important to him.”

“He didn’t say much.”

Between the lines of these stories, I hear these grown-up boys craving some signs of the emotional life of their parents. They need to know who these people are – so that they can figure out who they are too.

Here are some tips for modeling egalitarian relationships in your family. These tips assume a non-violent relationship. So if there is any physical aggression of any kind happening between you and your partner, please seek immediate professional assistance to create safety – before you address the things on this list.

Tips for Modeling Egalitarian Relationships

(assuming a non-violent relationship)

1. Allow some of your conflict to be seen and heard. Don’t hide it all behind a closed bedroom door. Children need to see their parents resolve arguments . . . or at least attempt to listen to each other’s points of view.

2. Even if you divide household duties in gender-traditional ways, make the division of labor overt. Talk about who does what – and why. Don’t allow the unchallenged assumption of “women’s work” or “men’s work” to prevail in your family’s culture.

3. Regardless of your gender, if you’re the dominator in conversations, tone it down a bit. Practice doing more listening than talking. Allow your mate to get the last word. Model a quieter approach to arguments. If you bluster (that is, raise your voice and stomp around or become physically menacing), take deep breaths and focus on helping your partner feel comfortable enough to stay in the argument with you.

4.  If you’re the one who normally gets quiet in an argument, practice staying emotionally present during conflict. Don’t retreat to a corner. Stay there. Make notes about how you feel. Share them. Out loud.

5. This one goes without saying, but I’m saying it again anyway. Absolutely no violence whatsoever should be tolerated in your relationship: no verbal, physical, or sexual violence – and no destruction of property. If this has been an issue in the past, please seek help from a licensed professional. If you’re the recipient of aggression by your partner, the previous four tips don’t yet apply to you. Seek safety first, then you can recruit help to address the balance of power in your relationship.

6. Talk about power openly. During times of low stress, when you and your mate are feeling relatively satisfied, discuss how power is shared between you. Allow your kids to observe if you feel comfortable enough.

7. Talk about your interactions – in real time. It’s hard to overstate what a gift this will be for your kids. (Can you imagine yourself as a child, listening to your parents calmly discuss their power relationship or the heated exchange they just had?). Bringing covert emotional operations into the open air allows your children to avoid the trance-inducing effects of experiencing a power-imbalance but having no words to describe it.