Comfortably Numb

counseling

“Numb: Deprived of the power to feel…Emotionally unresponsive; indifferent”

Many people come into counseling because they feel that they need to make a big change in a relationship and are not sure which course of action they should take.  Often times individuals wonder if they are seeing their spouse/significant other correctly or have distorted vision and are about to make a huge permanent mistake by making radical adjustments in their relationship.

The number one thing I hear from folks who are having trouble with moving forward with a decision is that they don’t know if they can trust their feelings about what they need to do. The word “numb” often comes into the conversation. People wonder if they have become so comfortably numb to the pain of an unhappy relationship that they don’t feel confident in their own judgement anymore. Is the indifference they may feel towards a romantic partner really just self-preservation and when the numbness should wear off, they would be seeing the situation in a very different light? Few emotions are worse than regret so people work hard to avoid it and that’s ok.  On the other hand, few things are worse than living comfortably numb in a relationship that is clearly dead and will remain unresponsive to attempts to resuscitate it.

How does  a person know if they are numb to their “real” feelings for a relationship or really have come to the point of being done and caring has permanently left the building? It’s a tricky question and a colleague put it very well in that “some people confuse caring with being numb. Wrong. Numbness is when you can’t feel something you ordinarily would. Not caring is when you don’t feel something because you don’t care. ” I agree.

Caring is at the heart of whether to stay in a relationship, to dismantle the couplehood now or get an exit strategy in place that works for the circumstances. When we have stopped caring we have to wonder if we have gone numb but feelings are still there below the surface (like at the dentist when we are temporarily numb and can no longer feel) or if we have really arrived at the  point that “when it’s time to go, there it went” as my colleague put it.

As a counselor I always advocate that people not end relationships until they know that they know that they know it’s truly over and it can not be fixed. Sometimes coming to that place of surety is extremely difficult. If people find themselves simply unable to determine if they have gone numb or are really moved on in their hearts, I find a time of separation to be the number one most helpful tool to cut through the confusion. Whether it be a boyfriend/girlfriend or a spouse, a time of separation can be just the thing needed to determine the best next step. I have seen many people gain insight, clarity of mind and a clear purpose through a time of stepping away from the hyper-focus on the relationship and get a better perspective from a few steps back.  It never ceases to amaze me what we can see when are not looking at just one corner of a painting and step back enough to see the whole work of art.

If you are facing the confusion of numbness vs feelings of being done, I encourage you to not do anything permanent until taking a period of at least thirty (30) days away from the relationship. If you need longer to get some clarity, then take it, but start with thirty and see what you learn. You might see that there was numbness masking feelings that you will be able to find or you might have the confirmation that you need to move forward in a direction that is right for you and your future. Staying comfortably  numb in a relationship should not be an option though and a time of separation should be after all other actions to repair the relationship have been tried and been unfortunately unsuccessful.

SAHMs vs Working Moms

moms

Ah, yes. The debate of all debates among women. Stay-at-home moms versus working moms. The topic that hurt feelings, strained friendships and some tears have hovered around. Just this week at the office, it was the center point of several sessions so I have decided to throw my two cents into the blogging world on this issue.

I began working with families in 2000 so that gives me many years of having counseled with hundreds if not a few thousand different couples and kids. Women with children all fall into one of the two categories so these last thirteen years have been a wonderful research opportunity to gain insight into how either option for women can be done well or a train-wreck and everything in between.

There are several ways to be really good at either a SAHM or a Working Mom. I won’t be able to share everything that I have observed as a counselor on both sides of this debate but I do hope to at least hit the highlights and lowligths; if you will.

Moms With Young Kids:

This is definitely the hardest season for a mom because the decision to work or stay home with the kid(s) pulls women in so many different directions.  A couple has to decide together what is right for their particular financial situation, young children’s needs and the needs of the couple. I say the needs of the couple because marital satisfaction is closely tied to this decision and how it is implemented by the mom.  Sorry ladies but a SAHM who doesn’t do it well will cause major cracks in the marriage that need to be addressed quickly.

If a mom is going to stay out of the marketplace and be with her children during the day while they are young, there are some definite pit-falls to avoid. I have seen many fine women really fall apart in areas of organizational skills, personal care and overall quality of life. Now I have also seen some amazing SAHMs of young kids. Perfection is never the goal but these moms keep structure to their day, never forget about their own interests and really maximize the opportunity they have with their kids.  I believe that the SAHMs of young kids who are most successful see it as a season in life and really pour themselves into enriching times with their children but never lose sight that children grow up and moms need their own hopes, goals and dreams beyond parenthood. 

Working moms of young children also have a wide range of success possibilities. Some of the greatest challenges I have seen for working moms of little ones is creating the moments of emotional connecting; even after a long exhausting day and week at work.  It’s the same struggle for working dads but many are successful at it so there is no reason a working mom can’t be also. Kids of working moms get to see that there are a wide range of people who can love them, enrich their lives and I believe this leads to kids developing a strong sense of community and their place in it.

Moms With Older Kids:

As a counselor, here is where I start to see being a SAHM really take a turn for the worse for many of the women I have worked with over the years.  What is a SAHM of young kids to do when those kiddos start school? My answer? Get busy. I believe therapeutically that it is very worrisome when women do not re-enter the marketplace after their kids have started school. I am not saying that all moms need to be working a full time job. Not at all. Being able to pick up kids after school, drive them to their activities and have that time after school of bonding is essential. What I am saying is that the moms of older kids that I have seen navigate well into this new season of life have done so by putting structure to their week by getting a part-time job.

Why is a job important? It allows former SAHMs to realize that their season of full-time parenting is waning, it allows moms to regain skill sets that might have been lost during the years at home and it situates the women to be better prepared for the changes that are ahead as children grow and seek more independence from mom and dad.

There is no reason a mom of older kids can’t work a few days a week and take care of the household chores on the other days. Truth is that it doesn’t take five days to clean a house, do laundry or run errands. Ask any working mom. They do it in the margin left over. Ideally, a mom of older kids would be out of the home, in a work environment, and still have time for the other tasks of raising kids into adulthood. A part-time job is a great solution.

One argument that some SAHMs have about employment is that they have been out of the work place for too long to be hired. I have seen bright, motivated SAHMs who approached a business of interest to them about volunteering 15-20 hours to gain experience. Tell me, what small business would turn down free awesomely-organized-get-it-done- mom labor? No one. The SAHMs of older children who have made the transition well are those that have returned to the marketplace at least on a part time basis and are able to contribute again to the family income. 

Yes, family income. Let’s chat about that for a minute. With many of the SAHMs or Working Moms I have seen, there is a correlating husband to go with it. There are a few common denominators to the husbands of especially SAHMs. The husbands seem pleased with the fact that they are able to provide a lifestyle for their families that includes a mom that stays at home. This is a source of achievement for most of these men and that’s a good thing. What I also hear very frequently in the office is a sense of resentment that the whole burden is on them. What? Wait, isn’t that the opposite of what I just said? Yes it is. It seems, like with all things, there is a double edged sword to having a husband as the breadwinner and a SAHM.

The couples that I have watched do the very traditional family structure of dad works and mom stays home and do it well have really good communication with one another, respect for each other’s roles and most of all, great discussions about money. Ironic I know but when the SAHM takes on the job of managing all the finances, this is where many husbands start to feel like a hamster on a wheel running fast to keep the electricity on at the house.

As you can see, there are so many things to cover on this topic and I can’t do it all right now but the main point is that with every decision, there is a correlating pro and con. Whether you are a SAHM or a Working Mom or married to one of these ladies, finding a healthy balance is essential and if you find yourself out of balance, counseling is an option to help set the course in a better direction for everyone involved. A perfect equilibrium is really tough to achieve but important to strive for it daily.