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March 2004
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How couples fight

John Gottman and his team of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that conflict is a natural and inevitable part of any marriage. The fact that all couples experience conflict and disagreement is not the trouble. How they deal with the conflict and disagreement can be either effective and constructive or ineffective and destructive leading to separation and divorce.

Gottman and his team back in the 80s studied over 135 couples and were able to identify three styles of problem solving: validating, conflict-avoiding, and volatile. These styles were all equally good as long as the partners agreed on the style they will use as a couple to resolve the conflicts between them. The problem arises when one partner prefers one style and the other prefers another style. It can take a few years for couples to "learn the ropes". Couples need to experiment through trial and error with different attempts to resolve their disagreements and conflict until they develop a way that works best for them.

If you are interested in learning more about the styles of problem solving, check out Gottman's book, "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail....and How You Can Make Yours Last".

Real Women Have Curves, the film


Real Women Have Curves, released in 2002, is an immigrant melting pot story, a coming of age for young woman story, the story of a somewhat dysfunctional family, and social commentary about the role of women in traditional as compared to modern society.

Ana (America Ferrera) is a Mexican Amercian high school senior growing up in a working class family, but going to an exclusive Beverly Hills High School. She is encouraged to go to college by her English teacher, Mr. Guzman (George Lopez),but her mother, Carmen (Lupe Ontiveros), wants her to work in the family dress factory sewing dresses. The mother is a caring woman but at times narcissistic, manipulative, and guilt inducing to control her daughters. Ana wants something more for herself and struggles with loyalty to her family and her dreams for her future. She also is what her mother continually calls "fat" although she is a beautiful young woman.

The creative tension in this movie comes from the struggle of Ana with family loyalty on the one hand, and pursuing her own dreams on the other, her not meeting the societal standard for a skinny body and yet loving her own "curves", her love for her sister, grandfather, and guilt inducing mother, and the "blessing" and approval she has from her father.

I recommend this movie.

Real Women Have Curves (2002)

How well do you know your partner?

There are a lot of self help books our there about marriage and relationships. As a therapist for 35 years people sometimes ask me for a reference to a book that can help them with their relationship concerns. By far the best source of information is John Gottman. He and his team at the University of Washington in Seattle have studied couples for over 25 years. As a result of their study, they have a lot of interesting and helpful things to say about marriage. I will be sharing some of their ideas over the next couple of weeks.

To start, you might want to click on the link below which will take you to the Gottman Institute web site and their "How well do you know your partner" quick quiz.

The Gottman Institute - Marriage- Relationship Quiz- How well do you know your partner?

Pot Use Tied to Stroke in Three Teenagers

Reuters reports on a study in the April, 2004 issue of the journal, Pediatrics, that marijuana can cause stroke in teen age boys. There are at least three confirmed reports of teenage boys suffering from stroke after smoking marijuana. It has long been known that smoking pot and drinking alcohol can cause headaches.

"Two of the teens died less than 24 hours after being admitted to the hospital. Autopsies confirmed that the boys had strokes caused by disrupted blood flow to the cerebellum, as did biopsy from the third teen, who survived.

All of the boys admitted to having recently smoked marijuana, and appeared to use the drug occasionally rather than regularly. The teen who survived suffered his stroke symptoms after heavy marijuana use.

There is research evidence that inexperienced marijuana users have a short-term drop in blood flow to the brain after smoking the drug, the authors note in the report.

Geller said his team's hypothesis is that irregular but high-volume use of marijuana--or a contaminant they were unable to find--might prevent the cerebellum from getting enough blood to meet its needs.

'We think that adolescents--maybe only male ones--who binge on marijuana may put themselves at a risk that they are not aware of,' Geller said."

MedlinePlus: Pot Use Tied to Stroke in Three Teenagers

Thirteen, the film


Tracy is 13 in 7th grade and lives with mother, Melanie, a hairdresser who is in recovery, and her brother, Mason, and her mother's sometime boyfriend also in recovery from cocaine.

Tracy is a good girl until she befriends Evie, one of those cool kids whom Tracy aspires to be like, who is also 13 going on 20 doing drugs, having sex, and shoplifting whatever her heart desires.

This movie does a good job depicting not only the alienation of modern youth, but the lack of any moral fiber. It seems that anything goes that makes you feel better or something other than the pain and frustration of life.

Melanie (Holly Hunter) genuinely loves Tracy (Evan Rachel Wood) but because of her own problems is incapable of setting appropriate limits for her daughter or even being there for her in ways that Tracy yearns for. So when Evie (Nikki Reed) appears on the scene it doesn't take much for Tracy to team up with a best friend who is always there for her and seduces her with all kinds of illicit "fun".

Tracy is in some serious trouble not only with the drugs, and stealing, and sex, but she also cuts herself to relieve her stress and tension, a coping mechanism which seems more common these days especially in this age group. The self loathing leading to the self mutilation should be a significant sign that our culture is failing our kids.

In my counseling practice I see quite a few kids like Tracy and while there are a number of factors contributing to these situations, the difficult thing to get at is poor parentinig by well meaning parents overwhelmed by a culture which is so stimulating and corrupting. Parents need to protect their kids from a materialistic and hedonistic culture, but they obviously can't do it when they are caught up in it themselves.

This movie is disturbing in many ways, but I highly recommned it. It would be a great movie for an adult discussion group.

Thirteen (2003)

Skins, the film

SkinsSkins, released in 2002, is a film about Native Americans, the Lakota, on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, the poorest county in the United States. It is the story about two brothers, Rudy Yellow Lodge, a cop on the reservation, and Mogie Yellow Lodge who is the town drunk.

Not since Smoke Signals has the life of Native Americans on reservations been depicted so rawly. The genocide perpetrated by Europeans on Native Americans is better understood as time passes and those that care understand that the loss of culture and ways of life has led to depression and substance abuse that further destroys the social fabric of a once vibrant and healthy society.

I highly recommend this movie.

Skins (2002)

U.S. States Fail Abused, Neglected Kids


"For the last three years every single U.S. state has failed to adequately protect children from abuse and neglect, federal investigators report.

The Department of Health and Human Services used 14 standards to measure states' performance and plans to levy penalties on many of the worst offenders, the New York Times reported Monday.

Some states face tens of millions of dollars in penalties, which some states say could make paying for improvements even more difficult.

The department estimates about 900,000 children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2002, and 1,400 of them died."

I have been a Social Worker since 1968, and I have spent most of my career working in mental health and substance abuse agencies. I often have contact with child protective workers and the turnover in child protective departments is horrendus. I remember reading in the newspaper several years ago that the average length of stay for a child protective worker in the Monroe County Department of Social Services is 7 months. I have no idea if this is still true, but I do know that child protective work is extemely difficult, dangerous, for very low pay.

So, it comes as no surprise to me that all states in the Union fail to meet Federal standards for child protective services. It is very clear that we are not a nation that values our children. Children are seen as a burden, and an impediment to living the good life. Compared to other countries in the world, the United States does worse on indicators of child health than even third world countries when it even comes to things like infant mortality. We are the only first world country that does not offer some sort of financial assistance to parents for their children.

Americans don't seem to care that children are our future. Perhaps, having attained our material success there is little else that we can envision for the future for our kids.

It seems to me that the way a nation treats its young is a significant predictor of its future viability. If this is true, the United States of America is in serious trouble. We seem more interested in waging pre-emptive war based on false assumptions and information, and spending billions of dollars on military equipment and for corporations to rebuild what we destroyedin Iraq and Afghanistan than take care of our own kids. Something is seriously wrong. I don't think terrorism is our biggest threat, it is our own misguided values.

For example, while less than 3,000 people were killed in the Twin Towers attack, over 17,000 Americans are killed every year in drunk driving. The attack on the World Trade Center happened once in September of 2001, but the 17,000 Americans killed in drunk driving crashes happens year after year after year after year, and yet we do very little about it. Could you imagine if terrorists were killing 17,000 Americans year after year?

You don't need to be worried about terrorists, trust me. You need to be worried about drunk driving and people selling your kids cigarettes. Tobacco kills over 430,000 Americans per year. Let's start worrying about the things that really matter and quit playing politics and pissing off the world.

Are you registered to vote in 2004?

MedlinePlus: U.S.: States Fail Abused, Neglected Kids