Transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood is difficult. You usually don’t want to be told what to do – and most likely aren’t reading this article. But parents of young adults might be because you are struggling to help your child grow and figure out how to navigate life away from the nest. Depression, anxiety, pornography, drug use, issues with school or work and issues with significant others are among many difficulties young adults face during that transition from high school to college or from serving a Church mission to being back in college. Over the years, as a counselor in Orem, Utah, I’ve noticed a few things that parents do who successfully help their child navigate this period. First, they give them space. Your child is going to make mistakes. Giving them space to do so shows that you trust them and honor their ‘adulthood’. This doesn’t mean, however, that you run the other way and cut them off. They need a safe place to come back to, in a consultative manner. They still need you to be there so they can process what is going on. They might not come right away, but they do come eventually. Make yourself available and reach out to them. You can’t force them to share, but you can invite them. You can say to them, ‘You might not want to talk, but just know that I am here for you and I care about you. I’m happy to listen if you want to share’. Second, they create emotional safety. When your child does share with you, you want to ‘hold emotional space’ for them by accepting, validating and reflecting what they are saying rather than telling them what to do. You might not agree with what they are doing or saying, but telling them they are wrong and then telling them what to do will close the door of them sharing at all. You want to help them figure things out rather than force them to think the way you do. You can, for example, validate the emotions they feel rather than the actions they are doing. Saying, ‘I can see that breaking up has really been painful for you’, rather than, ‘Stopping going to church just because you broke up isn’t going to help. You just need to keep going’ can be helpful. You might not agree with their choices/actions, but you can certainly empathize and understand their emotions (that then led to certain actions).
Many couples that come in to see me for counseling are dealing with the devastating effects of an affair or infidelity. There is a process that usually happens as things unfold. For the sake of this article, I will assume that it is the male partner who has had the affair, although this certainly is not always the case. When couples come in they are still, often, in the discovery phase. She is continuing to learn about what he has done or at the least she worries and fears that there is more than what she knows. He seems contrite and sorry to a degree and willing to go to therapy. After talking, it usually seems that there is more to it that what has been discovered or disclosed. Sometimes for women, they are having a hard time dealing with the shock and betrayal. I notice at this time that they are also dealing with fear of losing him. For some women they seem as if they are mad, hurt and afraid. That fear keeps them from really sharing their feelings about what has happened. There can be desperation at this point too. Sometimes they try to win or keep their husband because they realize that he has gone out and has been with or still is with someone else. There is an element of competition, perhaps. This can be very difficult because to her, it seems as if she isn’t able to fully embrace and share her feelings because if she did, he would get upset and leave for good. Over time, he gradually, as my experience with couples has shown, opens up more and shares more details about what he has done or is doing. As the couple works through therapy, it becomes safer to talk about these emotions and she does. For male partner, this can be surprising, and he often states that ‘I thought we were doing fine, where did this come from?’. This is because she hasn’t felt safe enough with him to share it before, but after working through some of the issue they face, she has felt more secure and stable in the relationship – so she shares more of the hurt or betrayal that she is feeling because she isn’t afraid that it will end their relationship. It’s important to understand that this is a normal part of the process of healing. A good couple’s therapist will be able to help a couple navigate the different stages of healing after an affair.
I’m currently accepting new clients in my Orem Utah counseling center office. Call me at 801-215-9581
Written by Dr Triston Morgan, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Pornography is often mistaken as a ‘sex addiction’. Some have said to me that, ‘If me and my wife just had sex more, pornography wouldn’t be an issue’. This is a myth and false. It has less to do with frequency of intercourse and more to do with the emotions behind so many things. Pornography temporarily numbs someone from feeling uncomfortable emotions. It keeps them from feeling what is really going on in their life. It helps them avoid. For example, feeling rejected, alone and unseen is uncomfortable. Most people don’t want to feel these types of emotion’s so they try to avoid them. They might recognize that those emotions are present, but their main goal then becomes to get rid of them without first picking them up and experiencing them. The only way to do this is to numb yourself. You can’t move something that you first don’t have. You have to pick up the emotion if you are going to do something with it. That act is counterintuitive and difficult. Pornography is one way that people avoid feeling what is right there in their lives. It numbs them from feeling rejected, alone or unseen. But those emotions don’t go away, however. They get buried and still influence us. Learning to feel uncomfortable emotions and increasing your emotional capacity is part of the solution to addiction to pornography. Simply stopping using pornography isn’t enough to maintain a healthier lifestyle. Moving pornography out of the way only serves as a move towards creating more space to feel your emotions and therefore increase your emotional capacity.
After a decade and a half of doing couples therapy, I have found some common themes that are worth sharing. First, couples that seem to do well in treatment and in their relationship are committed to the relationship. This means that they are invested and locked-in (self-imposed). Second, they are humble. This means they are willing to learn and be taught. We can’t expect to know everything about our spouse’s needs. The minute we believe that we do, we put ourselves in a position to get stuck in our marriage.
I once worked with a couple who were going through trust issues. There had been pornography use and an affair. They seemed to struggle finding a way to trust each other and repair the damage that had done. As they embraced humility, however, over time they found the connection and healing they were looking for. It took the husband admitting that he had a problem to pornography and seeing how he had hurt his wife. This is difficult to do and a necessary step in the process. It also took humility for the wife to want to try again with her husband. She had to learn a new way of connecting with him so that he felt taken care of as well.
For most of us, depression is something that comes and goes. For a few of us, it’s something that comes and stays – for reasons that we don’t always know or understand. When we lose someone lose to us or have a situation that hurts, we might feel down. This type of depression can be situational more than anything else. This happens often after women give birth. For months following, they might feel down or blue. If they are able to pull themselves out of it through sleep, eating well, taking a shower, reading a book or some any other way that they use to cope, then its usually not post-partum depression. If it doesn’t go away after these attempts, it can be something more serious and may need medical or professional help. Depression is the same way. We can’t expect to pull ourselves out of depression on our own when it is the more serious type. Counselors are trained professionals who can help. Many of them will utilize the power of your relationships and invite your family to attend sessions. This helps because you are then able to connect to those who matter most and work it out together.
Sometimes the holidays hurt. When we have lost loved ones or when we are reminded of what we used to have, the holidays can turn from joyous to painful. During these times, it’s important to remember a few things. First, let the pain come in – embrace it. There is no need to try and hide from it or run. If we try to hide from it or ignore it, we often develop addictions to cover what we are feeling – ways to numb ourselves from uncomfortable emotions. In this numbed state, we don’t ever get to embrace and subsequently let go of painful emotions. It’s important to remember that in order to let go of something, we first have to have it (embrace it). Remember that these emotions come and go, they won’t stay with us forever. Second, find a way to honor your loved ones who have gone on or circumstances lost. I spoke with a friend once who had dealt with the loss of a job and a more abundant life. During times when this was more apparent, he was able to be grateful for the relationship he had and focus on enjoying them above all else. After having material possessions and different opportunities pass him by he realized what is most important as he put his life back together. As he did this, he was able to be grateful for past opportunities and current blessings. Third, some find comfort in having what I call ‘Present Mindedness’ – the ability to be in the moment. We let ourselves enjoy the here and now without stopping ourselves because we need to maintain anger or sadness from the past or from other current situations. We don’t have to punish ourselves – we deserve to be happy now.
Counseling, if done right, is husband friendly! Find the right therapist and you’ll understand. The problem is that many husbands worry that the therapist is going to take their wife’s side and gang up on him, or that therapy will be uncomfortable. While the latter may be true, the former isn’t. A good therapist doesn’t take sides or act as a referee. I have had many couples want to hash out an argument in front of me in counseling so that I can tell them who is right. I stop them, and explain that even if one of them ended up right, that they would be so wrong in their rightness – their marriage would suffer because they insisted on being right instead of compassionate and forgiving. A good therapist, rather, is able to foster healthy interactions between spouses so that they both feel safe and are able to be vulnerable and genuine with each other. When husbands understand that what they feel and think is important, then they are more willing to make this uncomfortable leap with their spouse. Women are more likely than men to initiate therapy, but without buy-in from the man, it is difficult to be successful in therapy. My suggestion to women who want to initiate counseling, but have a reluctant spouse is to recognize that this is scary for your spouse. They may feel as if they will be attacked, or worse yet, that they will lose you. Help them understand that your desire for counseling is because you love him and because you want this to work – but aren’t sure how to make fix it. Ask him to give therapy at lest 3 sessions – after that if he still feels reluctant there might be another counselor or approach that you could try. Most men feel better about therapy after at least 3 sessions if you have the right therapist for you.
Pornography use often leaves the user feeling empty and shameful. To deal with this shame of using in the first place, they might actually use pornography again to numb themselves. This vicious cycle is played out within minutes of each other or within days, even weeks of each other.
I am often asked by spouses of pornography users one simple and somewhat complex question, “Why can’t they just stop using?” They tell me that they know that their spouse see’s how it hurts them and how it is ruining their lives and relationships. After a husband talks about his remorse about using pornography, a wife will often follow up with, “Then just stop it”. It isn’t this simple, however. Studies have shown the impact that pornography use has on an individual’s brain chemistry. Some would say that the brain and the person become hijacked – causing them to act in ways that they wouldn’t normally act. This is the same phenomenon that would cause a grandson to steal his grandmothers wedding ring to sell for drugs. You are not yourself, seemingly. The cycle of pornography use doesn’t make sense to those who are in it and doesn’t make sense to their loved ones.
Fight the New Drug is an organization who educates the public on the harmful effects of pornography. You will find a lot of good resources to understand this addiction. Strangely enough, it is somewhat a controversial addition. It is not included in the DSM-V (the big book of mental health disorders decided on by experts throughout the country). Educate yourself so that you can make a little more sense of it. A good counselor will also be able to help you understand the nature of this addiction as they work with you and your loved one. As a therapist in Provo Utah, I often see clients in these situations. I have several colleagues at the Center for Couples and Families that are experts in this area of treatment as well.
As a therapist in Provo Utah, I often work with clients in a faith crisis. They come to me wanting to leave their religion or try to understand what they have been taught through a different lens. One thing I work with them on, inevitably, is letting go of some of the culture (real or perceived) that can accompany religion – the culture of pressure to be perfect or to at least appear so. Working with them to understand how to hold on to what they believe while letting go of certain surface level cultural aspects of living in an area which is highly religiously homogeneous. This can be a difficult task given the pressure to conform and follow.
My suggestions to individuals in these circumstances is to do the following: Differentiate between your religions doctrine and the culture. Most people see these as different. Understanding the difference will help you embrace what you believe and let go of what can be damaging.
Family therapy is an effective way to deal with problems regarding adolescents, parenting, addiction, depression, anxiety and much more. When a mother and father bring in their 15-year-old son because he is drinking, using drugs, has a bad attitude, is failing out of school and is involved in risky behavior – I ask the parents to participate in counseling with him to be a part of the solution. The relationship between mom and dad, the relationship between mom and son and the relationship between dad and son matter in regard to this young man’s healthy life style choices. As a therapist of adolescents for over a decade now, I have found that more often than not, when success happens for adolescents in therapy it is accompanied with a mom and dad who are involved and willing.
Most adolescents don’t want to do counseling. They often make excuses and say that they don’t want to follow the rules and that f their parents loved them that they wouldn’t give them a curfew. The ironic thing is that children push back against boundaries and rules, but thrive within them. They need them to feel safe and loved. They often test the boundaries to see if mom and dad are there and if they care. Its hard to tell, however, because they say that they don’t want their parents to tell them what to do.
One of the developmental tasks of adolescence is to learn how to become your own individual while still remaining a part of a group (i.e., a family, church or school). It often feels like trying to mix oil and water for teenagers in this position. Learning that they don’t have to do the opposite of what their parents say in order to be independent or their own individual is key. Rather, following the family rules and making choices on their own that are complimentary help them develop their sense of being their own person.
One of the developmental tasks of parenthood is learning how to parent a child differently as they grow. Parenting a 5 year old is different than parenting a 15 year old. I see, however, many parents not making this transition and feeling stuck with their adolescent. They hover over their teenager, for example, in an effort to not let them make mistakes. Its ok for teenagers to make mistakes. Parents don’t have to (and can’t!) protect them from all of life misfortunes. Teenagers need space to make mistakes and have an open relationship with their parents to talk about them.
So, if you are a parent struggling with a teenager remember that changing your parenting style to match their age matters. Engaging in therapy, when needed, can help you and your child become healthy and happy.