“I guess I just don’t know when to shut up.”

I appreciated the husband’s honesty as he described the communication breakdown in his marriage. Over time he had done extensive damage to his relationship with his wife whom he claimed to love and value. In his frustration and anger he would say whatever came to his mind, regardless of the hurt his words would cause. He admitted that he had to win every argument and he would say whatever it took to win. As I listened to his goal about winning and his confession of love for his wife, I admit that I felt confused.  And if I felt confused, how much more confusion must his wife have felt as she saw the obvious conflict between his words of love and his words of abuse!
How unusual is it for a person “not to know when to shut up” in communicating with his/her spouse? Unfortunately, the problem is more prevalent than preferred, and when the problem becomes a pattern, the marriage invites destructive collisions and relationship breakdowns. Predictably, safe relationship travel becomes very risky at best.
Recently I was near an interstate highway and was observing the traffic heading north into the downtown area. The cars were all moving at great speed toward their destinations. As I watched the fast-moving vehicles, I began to ponder the potential for collisions. Safe and successful road travel requires the ability to follow the rules of the road, to stay in one’s own lane, to change lanes, to go forward—and the ability to slow down or stop. Without good brakes on his car a traveler drives at great risk to all who are on the highway, including himself! Knowing when to slow down or to stop completely is a learned skill vital to safe driving. A good question is, “What is the current status of my brakes and how skilled am I at using them?” What if our brakes are worn or damaged and are therefore inoperable? You would do as I did a while back—head for the repair shop for pads, shoes, rotors, calipers, and anything else required by the braking system.


      “How in the world are we going to get through the holidays?” 

The agonizing mother asked that question as she reminisced about past Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. For their family the holidays had always meant wonderful reunions, delicious food, joyful gift-giving, and, most of all, just being together.  But this holiday season will be very different.  Someone will be absent.  The tears flowed as she described the late-night car crash which tragically claimed the life of her only daughter.  In mere seconds the meaning of all of her future holidays was suddenly and drastically changed.  On a larger scale, the meaning of other personal relationships was changed significantly and permanently.
Most people who have experienced the loss of a loved one through death or divorce understand how holidays and special days are changed. They also come to understand the obvious and subtle changes that occur in their personal relationships. What about you? If your life journey has suffered such a heavy loss, what changes have you seen already within you—and within your relationships? More specifically, how will your loss affect special days? What are your concerns and fears about the upcoming holidays? 
During the past thirty years in my work as a professional therapist I’ve worked with hundreds of grieving individuals and families who were depressed and anxious about holidays. In every “Living with Loss:  Surviving the Holidays” workshop I’ve conducted the same type of worried anticipation has been expressed by the participants. Actually, that number of people includes me as well. You can count me in the group as one of the “walking wounded.” Following key losses in my life I’ve had personal concerns about how to get through past holidays, particularly the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. If we’re honest about our feelings, we may prefer to just skip from the middle of November to the middle of January and not even have to deal with the holidays! But reality hits and we know that the holidays are coming.

             “We’re going on a three-month road trip. We’re so excited!”

                       “We’re going to get married. We’re so excited!”

Can you imagine the excitement? Definitely! Yet we have questions.  How much preparation will be given to each of these two life ventures? Which one is prepared for more carefully—the road trip or the relationship? Before you give your final answer, let’s take a few moments to consider the following scenarios and the insights they provide.
You’re planning the road trip of a lifetime, an extended journey of over 7,000 miles, in which you hope to visit and explore cities, settings, and scenes you’ve dreamed about for years. As you consider your journey, how much preparation are you making? What about your car’s readiness? Have you packed the right clothing and provisions? Did you make the correct reservations? Is the packet of roadmaps in the glove compartment? The questions continue as other issues arise. Hmmm…lots of work to get done before we ever even leave our driveway. That’s okay because we understand that “the bigger the trip, the bigger the preparation.” When the trip is important, our preparation is important.
Now, in contrast, consider another scenario. . .
The minister smiles at the bride and groom as he concludes the wedding ceremony.
           “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”
           A quick kiss amid the sound of clapping and cheering by the wedding guests.
           A short walk to the reception area for cake, greetings, and photographs. 
           A fast change into the “get-away” clothes.
           A mad dash for the limousine.

“Do you have any homework tonight?” Does that question sound a bit familiar? If you are a concerned and loving parent, you probably ask that question almost every afternoon, and you may also secretly hope that your child will answer “no, none for tonight.” Admittedly, homework is a tough highway for our kids to travel, but the trip can be even tougher for parents. Veteran parents know from their years of experience that kids and homework can add up to a huge stress war. One parent’s comment regarding homework may connect with your stress level:  “There’s always too much homework to get done in too little time while the kid doesn’t want to do it in the first place.” So, considering the potentials for high levels of stress, how can we as parents survive the homework journey?  

A while back I was invited by an elementary school counselor to speak to a group of parents on the subject “Helping Our Children Learn.” As I visited with those parents and heard their tales of stress, I felt concerned and worried about their future because their journey was just beginning. How exhausted would they be eight to twelve years down the road? Would they be able to survive the journey? At the end of the workshop the evaluation feedback indicated that the material I had shared with them was both helpful and encouraging. 
In that parenting workshop I recommended a number of relevant resources which could be beneficial to Moms and Dads who are stressed out about homework struggles. One book in particular proved to be well-received by the listeners: Ending the Homework Hassle, written by family psychologist John Rosemond.* After giving credit to Rosemond's book I shared several ideas and tools which I had adapted for this particular setting. The material revolved around two key issues: goals and roles. As a parent what is my goal for my child’s homework experience? As a parent what is my role as a homework helper?
The first question is vitally important. What is the long-term or ultimate goal which I hope to accomplish during the homework journey? Academic success? Approval from teachers? Recognition from peers? Making me look good as a parent? All of these usually fit somewhere in the equation, but one goal is crucial:  helping my child use homework to learn and internalize core values in life. Rosemond identifies eight specific values which can be strengthened or weakened as the child does homework:  responsibility, autonomy, perseverance, time management, initiative, self-reliance, resourcefulness, and self-esteem. Through the homework experience over a twelve-year journey the child develops more of these values, or, conversely, the process is undermined as negative values emerge.

KudzuTreeWhat was it? A deformed tree? A crazy-shaped statue wrapped in green foliage? A green monster from Mars? The sight intrigued me, so I interrupted my journey home to take a closer look. The photograph that I took reveals to you what I saw:  a kudzu invasion! The experience prompted additional research into kudzu and produced some insights about kudzu relationships.

The kudzu plant was originally introduced into the United States in 1876 as a hopeful preventive aid for soil erosion. However, what began as an act of hope turned into a nightmare of despair. During the next 100-plus years the vine would grow so rapidly that now it is considered to be a Severe Threat Species. Particularly active in the Southeastern United States, the kudzu vine has been known to grow 75-90 feet during a single season. As an invader it knows no boundaries. The vine climbs and blankets trees, fences, poles, and even cars and houses. The vine can destroy trees by strangling its victim, breaking down the tree from the sheer weight of the vines, and by suffocating the tree by covering it and preventing photosynthesis. Other vegetation in the kudzu’s path is usually wiped out, leaving fields and forests literally covered by the invading plant. Landscapes are reshaped and wildlife habitats are reduced. Most of the attempts taken to control or stop the kudzu phenomenon have failed miserably. Understandably, the kudzu vine has been nicknamed “the vine that ate the South.” 

As I pondered the invasive power of the Kudzu vine, I began to consider some similarities to a human relationship inwhich one person invades, overwhelms, controls, and destroys the other partner. The individual, man or woman, who perpetrates this unhealthy, destructive “kudzu invasion” is definitely deserving of a #1 ranking as a Severe Threat Species!
My ponderings raised several intriguing questions:  “What would it be like to be the victim of a relationship kudzu invasion? How would I respond? What would I do to survive?” My contemplations resulted in a poetic description about one such kudzu victim. I hope that this story presented from a woman’s perspective will both enlighten you and equip you so that you can avoid or escape the initial charms and the ultimate disaster offered by the deceptive Kudzu Relationship.

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 In Part One of “Anchors for Anxiety” we tried to analyze the anatomy of anxiety to understand what actually happens in our bodies during a panic attack. We also tried to apply some Anchors for Anxietyanswers so that we can be better equipped to survive a panic attack when it occurs. In Part Two we want to consider some ideas and tools designed to help us prevent the occurrence of future panic attacks.

Anticipating the Antecedents:  “How can I prevent panic attacks?”
Our goal is to manage our anxiety as effectively as possible.  Realistically, we could continue to have an occasional panic attack, but we want to limit them in terms of frequency, intensity, and duration. We have two basic options or approaches. One management approach involves response techniques:  we wait until we actually have a panic attack and then we use our tools to help us get through the ordeal. Another approach is a preventive one:  we learn and use techniques that help prevent panic attacks from occurring. We try to anticipate the antecedents and thereby resolve the issues which generate the panic attacks.
You might wonder about the phrase “anticipating the antecedents.” I simply mean that every panic attack is preceded by a trigger or a cause, although we may not be aware that a cause is present. These triggers are the antecedents that come before the attack. It is to our benefit to foresee these antecedents so we can resolve them before they are able to trigger an attack. So, we need to be able to anticipate the antecedents. What is involved in this preventive approach?

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