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December 7, 2016 / 7 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘LCSW’

The Fear Of Abandonment: Children In Crisis (Part III)

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

In my last article I had mentioned that often one of the symptoms of autophobia, a fear of abandonment, is that as adults people suffering with this condition may become extremely sensitive to rejection.

This week I would like to focus on adolescents and what occurs when they suffer from autophobia. Adolescents who feel they have been abandoned can become traumatized.

The human nervous system is designed to be finely attuned to danger, and to recognize safety. Yet when children have experienced abandonment, as adults their nervous system can be stuck in the “on” position, constantly responding to fears that no longer exist in their relationship. Abandonment is one of the many fears that trigger danger to the brain, and there is no deeper fear in the human experience than the fear of being abandoned.

We see this in infants, as they begin to explore their new world. They will experience a separation anxiety whenever they are separated from a parent, their attachment figure. As they begin to explore their new world they will often check back to see if a parent or a significant care giver is in sight. If they should lose sight of a parent, their attachment figure, they will no longer feel safe and they will start to cry, terrified to be left alone.

For a child the feeling that someone will always be there, even when they can’t be seen, is a crucial part of any developmental stage. We call this feeling “Object Consistency.”

A lack of object consistency is the inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable. Should this happen in adolescents, then the nervous system can be stuck in the “on” position alerting the neo-cortex that regulates the brain that something is wrong, and to be on the look out for abandonment. The message the brain sends is that you are no longer safe! Find another attachment figure as soon as possible.

When the teenager no longer feels safe, he internally starts to cry, terrified to be alone. The objective consistency connection has been detached, and as with anyone in a crisis their equilibrium does not function as it should. In plain English, this means the teenager can not make rational decisions, and reaches out to anyone who will listen. They look for someone reliable whom they can trust – but who is that person? This need to reach out can cause them to form unhealthy relationships with the wrong people – predators on the street who will take advantage of their innocence. These children will become vulnerable to anyone or anything that will make them feel happy again. We have learned to refer to them as teens at risk, but in reality they are children in crisis.

Case 1: The eighth grade yeshiva boy/girl who looks forward to going to the high school of the school they have been attending since early elementary school. They have developed an Object Consistency, with the principal, teachers, staff, and friends. Then they are told they are not welcome and to please continue their education somewhere else. The child seeks out another school but is not accepted. Often the reason is, “Why should we accept someone who was not accepted by their own school?”

Case 2: The school s/he attended has no high school, and his/her report card is not up to the standard of most high schools, so the only school that has said yes is one considered to be an “alternative” high school.

Case 3: The child is not adjusting well in the high school s/he is presently attending. The administration feels his/her attitude will affect the other students in a negative ways and the child is asked to leave.

In all three cases the fear of abandonment is about to take place. The child’s positive attachment figures, and object consistency with the school no longer exists.

Solution: With professional supervision have teenagers who are role models act as mentors to other teenagers vs. having those on the street doing so. With professional supervision these teenagers can stay in school and stay connected.

Please contact me for more information on how to start a mentorship program or become a teen mentor.

Moishe Herskowitz, MS., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage) approach based on 20 successful years of counseling couples – helping them to communicate effectively and fully appreciate each other. As a licensed clinical social worker and renowned family therapist, he developed this breakthrough seminar to guide new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. Moishe Herskowitz is a Graduate School Professor at the Touro College Mental Health Program. To discuss topics from an article, or ask questions, he can be contacted at CPCMoishe@aol.com or 718-435-7388. 

Moishe Herskowitz

The Fear Of Abandonment: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy (Part II)

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

In part one (Family Issues 04-29-2011) we mentioned that often a symptom of the anxiety disorder, the fear of abandonment, is a strong need to be in control. That is because the person suffering from the disorder has lost someone in their past – due to separation, divorce or death – and may unconsciously blame themselves for the desertion.

The insecurity associated with the fear of abandonment can ruin relationships, and prevent an individual from living a normal married life. In general the abandonment issues begin in childhood, possibly when a child/teenager loses one or possibly both parents. However, even in cases where both parents are alive and lived with the family, the child may not have gotten the emotional support, love, guidance and care that is necessary for healthy development. As a result, the child may be left with feelings of abandonment. As these children grow up, they become extremely sensitive to rejection. People with this disorder often misinterpret even innocent comments or actions and interpret them as rejection. For example: a person choosing to spend time with his or her friends instead of the spouse – this could be perceived as abandonment. Another example: if a spouse stays out late and forgets to call, the partner, who suffers from fear of abandonment, may move into a whole other level of fear.

If these feelings continue to linger, as they often do, the event will be etched into the portion of the mind that is sensitive to the feeling of abandonment, until the anxiety sufferer will begin to question the viability of the relationship. As this process begins, the one who perceives being abandoned will start to feel unloved and unworthy, and can begin to get angry. The afflicted partner may start to get very controlling in an attempt to save him or herself and the relationship. Sufferers may start to smother their partners to the point where they become jealous if he/she spends free time with anyone else.

People with this disorder fear that their partner will not be dependent upon them, and will leave them to be abandoned once again, as they were in childhood. At times they may feel that in the end people will always let them down, and with these thoughts they can justify why they live defensively, and end relationships prematurely. This also means that they will be constantly on the lookout for signs and proof that they are right, even if they are truly not.

What is fascinating is how Hashem sets up the healing process: the individual with abandonment issues will often marry someone with a need for independence. As a result, he or she will be forced to face and work through these childhood issues. At first he or she may not even be aware of the abandonment fears because the mind will keep the feeling in the unconscious portions of cognition, so that the relationship can progress. In time, and sometimes right after sheva brachos, the one who is prone to feelings of abandonment will begin to react to signs of independence from their partner, fearing being left.

The problems begin as sufferers become emotionally blind-sighted by their own oversensitivity, and don’t realize how they have begun to smother their partners. This, in essence, creates self-fulfilling prophecies or self-projection. While self-projecting, people paint a picture of what they see happening in the future, which may then materialize because they already expect that scenario to occur. In this case, people self-projecting assume their needs will not be met, and then the other spouse will fail to provide the emotional support needed.

This was the case for Raizy & Yoni. Soon after the wedding Yoni made it clear that Raizy must listen to Yoni and not her family anymore. He explained that he is looking out for her best interest – not her family – and that as long as she listens to him everything will be fine. Yoni had been abandoned in early childhood, yet he was not aware that he needed to work out his many abandonment issues. He was also not aware that Hashem creates situations where two incompatible people meet for the purpose of healing. That is why when Raizy opposed some of Yoni’s requests, he thought he needed to end the marriage. Yoni could not comprehend that Raizy also had needs and one of them was to be self-sufficient. Somehow Yoni perceived her need for independence as her family’s interference and felt it would only be a matter of time before Raizy would leave him. These feelings caused Yoni to become more needy and clingy, which in turn caused Raizy to pull away and defend her needs to be self-sufficient and independent. The opposition threatened Yoni more and caused him to become more attached. When Raizy felt stifled she stayed out late and didn’t bother to call.

Moishe Herskowitz

The Fear Of Abandonment (Part I)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

The fear of abandonment, also known as autophobia, is an anxiety disorder characterized by an acute fear of being alone. Often, one of the symptoms of this particular anxiety is a strong need to be in control. This is because one has previously lost someone close through separation, divorce or death and may unconsciously blames his or herself for the event. When this happens, any type of separation may traumatize the person, even the marriage of his or her own child can be viewed as a life-threatening event.

Many years ago, my brother, who is an attorney, shared the following situation with me. A woman had recently lost her husband and needed an attorney to handle all the financial and legal ramifications of her case. The woman was a Holocaust survivor, like our parents. She had come to his office accompanied by her single daughter, who was very bright and extremely personable. Her daughter was caring, thoughtful and patient as she spoke on her mother’s behalf.

Sol was very impressed by the dynamics of their mother-daughter relationship, and with the young lady herself, so much so that he felt it would be a great idea to set me up with her.

He asked the mother if the daughter would be interested in meeting his brother who is also single, personable and interested in getting married. The mother’s immediate response was, “I am sure your brother would not be interested in my daughter since she recently had a nervous breakdown.”

Needless to say, Sol’s reaction was one of shock and disbelief that anyone, especially a person’s own mother, would share this type of personal information so readily.

It’s seemed to him that she was trying to sabotage her daughter’s chances of ever getting married, and for the most part he was correct. She loved her daughter very much, and as with all Holocaust survivors, her daughter was her purpose for living.

The thought of being alone, however, and losing another intimate attachment was too frightening.

As part of the life cycle, as with all intimate attachments, sooner or later there will be some sort of separation. When children marry, this too is a process of intimate separation, but with family support everyone adjusts. If parents have experienced separation as a positive experience, then the adjustment is less intense. For others who have autophobia and have been faced with previous loss, as with Holocaust survivors, this separation event can become a very crippling experience. A child getting married can cause a state of extreme vulnerability with loss of control. The fear of abandonment leaves them feeling pain and rejection – and it can affect the ability to make proper decisions.

For this, and other reasons, it is important to have the support of a rav or mentor to help us think rationally through these most difficult and yet, joyous times.

Moishe Herskowitz, MS., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage) approach based on 20 successful years of counseling couples – helping them to communicate effectively and fully appreciate each other. As a licensed clinical social worker and renowned family therapist, he developed this breakthrough seminar to guide new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. Moishe Herskowitz is a Graduate School Professor at the Touro College Mental Health Program. To discuss topics from an article, or ask questions, he can be contacted at CPCMoishe@aol.com or 718-435-7388.

Moishe Herskowitz

Children of Shame

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011
Children who grew up feeling shameful for the most part will have also grown up without someone to talk to about how it made them feel.
Shame is one of the most destructive feelings there is. It is a feeling that something is wrong within us and has a negative affect on a child’s self-development.
These children have had no voice with which to express themselves, and even if they did there was no one who would listen. So, as a survival strategy, they learned at a very young age to disconnect their anger, hurt, fear and pain.  They learned how to build walls around themselves so they can feel safe. These survival strategies are a good thing – in fact they are brilliant! Without them these children would not be able to function developmentally as children or as adults.   This wall gives them hope – hope that one day in the future – they will marry and find some one who will listen and connect with them. Logically this sounds great.  However, there is a problem.  These children have programmed their brains to disconnect.
Symptomatically similar to someone who is going through Post Traumatic Stress, the brain of a child who feels shame will temporary disconnect the pain until a later date, when it feels safe. When the connection with another person is made and he or she does feel safe, sadly the pain, anger and hurt will return. These children, when they become adults, have been disconnected for a very long time.  In fact, they have forgotten how to feel safe and how to let their walls come down. Shame involves a fear of being exposed, and if these walls come down, that’s what would happen – they and their feelings would be exposed.  It is at this point that their unconscious mind will go on Red Alert, shouting Danger! Danger! You’re getting much too close, shut down now and please evacuate immediately!
This is why couples often tell me that, “The closer we get the more we fight.” These adults are emotionally trapped and angry because these walls are no longer working for them and they don’t know how to cope.  What is happening is that they end up pushing away and hurting the very people they are trying to connect with – those they love.  This causes them intense pain – and there is nowhere to hide from it.
Many adults in this situation find themselves at a crossroads in their relationships – between staying and leaving.  When we are dealing with a married couple, for the most part, they don’t want to end the marriage, just the pain. However, because they perceive the connection as a threat, some will choose divorce as a means to an end.
 Such was the case for Yoni and Shifra, a young newlywed couple.  Her husband recalls that, “soon after the wedding she started to withdraw. The closer I got the more she would distance herself. It’s the strangest thing, when we dated there were not enough hours in a day to be with each other. Now she finds fault with everything I do.  She will find all kinds of excuses to leave the house and if I confront her with it she wants to end the relationship.”
When couples arrive at my office they wonder if they will ever feel safe with each other. They often say, “lets cut our losses and get divorced”, but that’s not the answer.  The answer is that if the brain had been programmed to disconnect, it can be programmed to reconnect. Hashem created human beings to be dependant on each other and with that dependency comes the process of healing and love. In fact pain and conflict arise not out of lack of love for our partners, but from a misunderstanding of what a true love relationship is all about.
When a person learns how to love their partner the way they want to be loved, they begin to feel more connected and understood. They find that issues and problems they once argued about seem to resolve themselves.


Moishe Herskowitz, MS., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage) approach based on 20 successful years of counseling couples – helping them to communicate effectively and fully appreciate each other. As a licensed clinical social worker and renowned family therapist, he developed this breakthrough seminar to guide new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. Moishe Herskowitz is a Graduate School Professor at the Touro College Mental Health Program. To discuss topics from an article, or ask questions, he can be contacted at CPCMoishe@aol.com or 718-435-7388.

Moishe Herskowitz

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 1/28/11

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Readers Speak

Dear Rachel,

Reading the responses you received regarding an elderly mother who gives the daughter who cares for her a very hard time (Chronicles, 11-19-2010), how true is the saying of our fathers: “Al tadun et chavercha ad sh’tagiah limkomo” – don’t judge another person till you find yourself in his place, or the saying about walking in someone else’s moccasins.

It is obvious that none of those writers really know what it is to be in the company of such a person day in and day out.

The only one who had a good point was “Suffering is for fools” (Chronicles 12-31-2010) who wrote, “Maybe the mom has a psychiatric problem that causes her to act like she does.”

I, too, must wonder whether that mother was a well person (psychologically and emotionally) to begin with. I talk from experience.

Before I became aware of being verbally and psychologically abused by my mother, she should live and be well, I suffered a lot.

At that time I was teaching elementary school children and there was a workbook put out about derech eretz.

In that booklet I found a din, a Jewish law that says yes, we have to honor our parents, but the onus is on the parent to make sure that the child will BE ABLE to keep this mitzvah and not put stumbling blocks in his/her path to perform this most difficult commandment.

How glad I was to learn this! It freed me of my guilt.

My mother, G-d bless her, is in an assisted living facility. I call her every day. I’ve learned that at certain times of the day she’s more amenable to pleasant conversation and I try to avoid calling at other times.

I visit her about twice a week. Sometimes the visit goes well, other times she starts out with negativity and accusations.

When I try to reason with her, I get caught up in a state of deep discomfiture, so when I feel I’ve had my fill, I detach myself from her with love, and leave.

What a blessing. I’m glad that in your response (Chronicles11-26-2010) you suggested to her the possibility of placing her mother in an assistant living facility. It’s a G-d sent concept for many a “frustrated” family.

Walking in those moccasins

Dear Rachel,

Many of the replies to the woman caring for an elderly parent stressed the privilege of being able to do so and the importance of the mitzvah of kibbud eim. This approach is totally on target and not to be taken lightly.

But… the writer says she has been doing it for a while and she is afraid it may “end badly” or disrupt her “family harmony.” She is not being flippant about her responsibilities. In fact, she is writing because she is so torn about making such a weighty decision.

If she is brave enough to say she is finding it difficult, she needs to be listened to carefully, her concerns seriously weighed and various options and solutions considered. She should discuss it with a compassionate and wise rav or friend.

There are no absolute answers and solutions, just values that have to be weighed carefully – and marital harmony is an equally important value to be considered.

Malky Shaulson, LCSW

Dear Rachel,

“Why am I still single?” (Chronicles 12-24-2010) reflects upon a myriad of causes she believes as being responsible for today’s single crisis. I don’t think she is correct in her assessment. At least, I don’t find myself in the circle of single friends who share these issues. For my friends and myself, it is the men who have those issues.

I did, however, appreciate your response to her immensely. Just sign me

A Sane Single

Dear Rachel,

In your response to the single who lists some keen observations regarding the single scene, you were pretty much on the mark, but I respectfully disagree with you on one point that may on the surface seem superficial.

“Why am I still single?” cites a “dowdy physical appearance” with “easily curable physical defects like a huge nose” as one of the obstacles some singles create for themselves – to which you remark: “neither a weight issue nor a large nose seems to have hindered countless singles from acquiring a spouse.”

Be that as it may, Rachel, in my neighborhood there are two sisters from a lovely family, both in their late thirties and still single. The bigger rachmonus is that with all their wonderful attributes they pay no heed to their appearance.

Both have small pale faces with huge noses, dress unfashionably and wear absolutely no makeup – ever.

Though we should all be focusing on the inside of a person rather than on outward appearances, it would be very difficult for anyone, let alone a boy seeking his mate, to get past that first impression.

I don’t mean to offend the many readers with imperfect noses (mine is certainly no model of perfection). In fact, I know a couple of people with prominent noses who are attractive and engaging and far from dowdy. (Think Barbra Streisand.) For that matter, how many of us can truly claim to be “viewable” when facing ourselves in the mirror first thing in the morning?

The right hair-do, enhancing makeup and suitably flattering wardrobe are mandatory for those on the lookout for their intended. Ideally, it is a mother’s job to teach her daughter of these necessities, but in the case of an absentee mom (literally or figuratively), friends, relatives and even teachers shouldn’t hesitate to step into the role and encourage a makeover.

First impressions count

Dear Rachel,

In my opinion, much too much emphasis is being placed on physical attributes and many viable shidduchim are thus being passed up.

Reminds me of the Yiddish saying, “a sheina ponim hot imzinsteh frahnd” meaning literally “a pretty face has free friends.” This of course implies that beauty garners undeserved attention. Let’s not forget that beauty is as beauty does – it is one’s middos that render one beautiful, inside and out.

* * * * *

We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 338 Third Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11215. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


The Marriage Drift

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

She: We have three children, a home and friends. Finances are not an issue: Yossi leaves money for our home, our family and for me, without my having to ask for it. The children are well dressed, well fed and healthy – at least physically. The house is clean, the laundry done, supper is on the table. I use every bit of energy to make our home the center of my life. But somewhere along the way I lost my marriage.

Yossi works hard – he does it for the family. And I appreciate it. But that is all he does for the family. He is out of the house for a 7 am minyan, pops back in to pick up his briefcase and then he pretty much disappears until the next morning. Well, that might be a bit too dramatic, but that’s what it feels like. He’ll stop in around 7 pm or so, have a quick supper, spend time with the kids until they get too demanding and then he is off into the night, either “learning” or simply spending time with his buddies. The rest of the evening I struggle alone with homework, bedtime and clean up. I am exhausted and go to sleep. Most of the time, I have no idea when he comes home.

He has also started drinking. He calls it Shabbos kiddush; I call it getting drunk. Instead of coming home Shabbos day and spending quality time with his family, he comes home from shul drunk. He is loud. He is belligerent. He frightens the children. And me? I have to sit at the table and run interference, trying to make everything seem all right or normal. “Look Ari, Tatti fell into his chair! Isn’t that funny?” “Tatti isn’t yelling, he is speaking loudly and doesn’t mean those silly things. Come, let’s serve the cholent.”

Look, Yossi is not an evil man. In fact, as I said, he is a hard worker, a good provider and has friends in the community. But he is no longer a husband or a father. The children are starting to have issues. I am getting worn out from carrying the ball alone. I have thought about this for a while and I’m done. The tension, the expectation, everything is making me crazy. It would be better to just cut him out of the equation and everyone would feel better.

He: Esty is the perfect wife. She works hard to make a beautiful home and take care of our children. I would do anything to make her happy. But we really don’t have anything in common. With everything she has to do to keep things running, there is not much time for me. Sure, I know she would rather I come home and sit down to dinner, spend time with the kids, be the “ideal” husband and father. But she has no idea what I have to deal with during the day. I’m a computer technician and own a store servicing computers. I am an authorized Toshiba and Dell agent. It took a lot of hard work to be where I am and to make money. I am successful because I work hard. If I only had to deal with the computers that might be better, but I have to take care of their owners also. And people who use computers and don’t know anything about them can be over the top annoying! It is frustrating! I go home, and suddenly I ‘m expected to “get with the program.”

Esty doesn’t see that I am upset. She doesn’t see that I’ve had a bad day. She isn’t interested in anything outside of the home and family. Which, I guess, is how it is supposed to be, isn’t it? So, I’m resigned to it. She does her thing. I do my thing. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable because we do not have an “intimate” life these days, but she is usually asleep when I get home, and if not, there is always something else to talk about that has to do with the kids. We are just not on the same wavelength. I’m not really sure what she wants, but it might be that she just is not interested in me anymore.

Me: When I was a child there was a popular toy called the “Chinese Trap.” It was a colorful woven cylinder, about 6 inches long. Your finger would go in one end and another person’s finger would go in the other end. The object was to take the fingers out of the “trap.” The more one struggled, and pulled and pulled, the more impossible it became to remove the finger, because when pulled, the weave would become tight and uncomfortable. The trick was to inch towards each other’s finger, loosening the weave, and allowing one finger at a time to “escape.”

When a couple feels trapped, and turn away and struggle to put distance between each other, no one wins. The art of marriage therapy is to help people “inch” towards each other and to remove any obstacle which keeps them from feeling trapped and unhappy.

Like many couples, Esty and Yossi came to me as a last ditch effort to save their marriage. Imagine the scene: A young man and a young woman, who shared a home and family, but each one feeling so alone, so isolated, so unloved. They felt like their entire life was built on make-believe. But they both were sitting in my office, which meant they still had an investment in making things right.

The first order of the day was to create a wish list, and get both of them to allow the other partner his/her wish: Yossi wanted Esty to share his life more. Esty agreed to cut back on her furious schedule of “keeping house” and make sure to nap during the day so she was more available for Yossi when he came home. She also made sure that she was not totally involved with the children. He wanted to feel included in her circle of warmth. Esty wanted Yossi at home! So when he called to say he would be late, instead of swallowing it, she made it clear that she wanted him home. Instead of feeling like a dog on a leash, Yossi began to feel needed.

When Yossi would come home in a bad mood, Esty would pull away, ignoring him, hoping that everything would just pass while she continued taking care of things. She didn’t see how cold and uncaring this felt to Yossi. So, Esty began to ask Yossi how his day was, making sure the kids were playing somewhere while they spent several minutes relaxing together. Yossi still worked late nights, but gave up his Shabbos “benders” and turned his family’s Shabbos into a true refuge of love and caring. This extended into the rest of the week, with family outings and intimate dinners.

Life is overwhelming and maintaining an intimate loving marriage is a challenge, requiring constant nurturing and renewing. When both parties in a marriage are preoccupied, they can drift away from each other without anyone even noticing. But the upside is illustrated in Yossi’s own words: “When I give my wife attention or caring, I am really giving myself, because she gives me back a hundredfold.”

Rav Dessler: The best relationship between husband and wife will be obtained when both achieve and practice the virtue of giving. Then their love will never cease and their lives will be filled with happiness and contentment for as long as they live on this earth.

Sara Freund, LCSW has practicing psychotherapy in the frum community for over 25 years. She has been healing couples, individuals with depression, anxiety, panic attacks. Part of her practice is working with people who have been traumatized and/ or are holocaust survivors or their children. In addition to dynamic psychotherapy she uses EMDR and Hypnotherapy. She can be reached at 718-692-1650 or e-mail sarafreund@Yahoo.com. Phone consultation available.

Sara Freund

Marriage; Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Zelda woke up with a start, the silence eerie and disorienting. She has been waking up this way for almost a year – since shortly after Ruchy and her husband left for Eretz Yisroel. “I can go back to sleep,” thought Zelda. But she lay in bed, straining to hear the sounds which for so many years began her day. The banging of bathroom doors, the shouting for lost and then found shoes, tights and seforim, the noise of phones and doorbells ringing, the house filled to the brim with comings and goings.

Now only she and her husband occupied the space that had once been filled with all that is associated with a balabateshe home. Her day stretched endlessly, without any noticeable change from yesterday or tomorrow. The silence was deafening. Suddenly, with a sense of relief, she remembered that this was the day she picked up her mother from the Y and took her out to lunch. Once upon a time, it was hard to fit in the time for lunch with her mother.

Life had changed so drastically. The hectic, driven mother, who didn’t have a minute to spare, now had the weight of empty hours pressing in on her. Zelda confided in me that the only sparkle she has left in her life is when her daughter arrives from Israel to give birth in the U.S. She is busy 24/7, but then when they go, she is devastated.

Till now Zelda was instrumental in helping her spouse and their children reach their goals, often at personal sacrifice. Women at this stage of life have accomplished a lot. They see the fruits of their labor; children and grandchildren blossoming, but at the same time the feeling of triumph on a day-to-day basis is lost. It is not surprising that they feel adrift. This sharp loneliness is often referred to as the “empty nest syndrome.”

In this article, I would like to explore how women can achieve great personal growth and true simchas hachaim at a time when many feel they are “all washed up.” One can face the challenge of reorienting to the new realities of life and reach deep and soul-stirring moments. Focus can now shift from seeing oneself primarily as a mother of children to a woman in relation to a man. The new task is to reinvent the marriage – to spruce up the relationship between husband and self. This is the next stage of our lives: establishing a revitalized and meaningful relationship with our husbands.

A cherished mentor, Mrs. Gross, who lived to the ripe old age of 90 used to say, “I had at least 4 husbands in my life: the young ardent husband/kollel man who rushed home eagerly to eat dinner with his young bride; the hard working father who rushed home from work to spend quality time with our children; the less haggard, but more serious grandfather, who loved taking the grandkids to the park; and more recently, the wise, settled gentleman who accepts what life has to offer with gratitude and grace. Mrs. Gross was a smart woman who went with the flow and enjoyed each different phase of life. She was a very wise woman because she knew how to appreciate her husband in every stage of their lives.

Not all women are so blessed with this insight. Many couples lose their awareness of each other as the needs of maintaining a home take center stage. They forget how to relate to each other in that truly personal way. If relationships are of paramount importance to women, it is especially true of the relationship of marriage. The success or failure of a marriage lies at the core of our being; it defines our feelings of success.

At this stage of life, enhancing and reinvigorating the marriage must become our priority. It is my fervent belief that women can use their innate power to learn new skills and create positive energy between themselves and their spouse. These skills have been lying dormant inside every woman, but have not always been accessed.

Yossi, Zelda’s husband, comes home. He opens the door, mumbles hello and picks up his mail without a glance at his wife. Zelda is on the phone. She waves at him absentmindedly, continuing her phone conversation. What is going on? An aura of indifference has set in with no real connection or awareness between them. They are like two ships passing in the night. This couple is not getting anything from each other emotionally. They are merely occupying space together. There is no flow of positive energy passing between them.

This couple has moved away from the ideal of what a marriage is meant to be. Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes on the roots of love, “We are givers. This is hidden deeply in our human soul. We think it is love which causes giving, because a person showers gifts on those that he loves. But it may be the other way around. Giving brings about love, because by giving you invest something of yourself in the other person.”

The first step in the reconnection process is to look at your husband and really see him; his emotional state of being. Look at his body language, listen to his tone of voice, hear his verbal and mental message. Had Zelda taken note, she would have seen a different picture. Did her husband come home with drooping shoulders; sadness etched on his tired face or was he joyful, eager to share his day?

What about you, a typical middle-aged woman? Can you be empathic and understanding? Can you pay attention to his stories and jokes? Can you show interest in the things he enjoys; can you make him feel that he is important to you? If you answer yes to these questions, then you are creating an atmosphere of emotional safety.

Here is an illustration of how a typical situation can turn into a disaster when couples are not tuned into one another.

Mendy came home very late one night – much later than usual. He hadn’t called. It was a snowy night and Shony was frantic. By the time he arrived she was an emotional wreck. She lashed out at him the minute he stepped through the door. Angry recriminations ensued, finally giving way to hurtful silence. Years before when Mendy came home late, Shony hardly noticed because she was busy with supper and bedtime for the kids. In fact, she was even relieved as it gave her a chance to put the house in order. Today it was very different. Her hours were empty and she was looking forward to some companionship. She had expected to spend a pleasant evening. Shony felt not only scared and disappointed, but rejected as well.

In my practice, I am currently using the pioneering work of Dr. Stephen Gilligan Ph.D., who has developed the therapeutic theory of “Self Relations”. He teaches that we have the ability to leave behind the old patterns of frustration and turn these patterns into an opportunity for positive new growth. A person can reinvent and transform himself to meet the changes in his life, instead of reacting to the changes with suspicion and despair.

In the aforementioned example, when Shony was in that frustrated place, she could have used it as a stepping-stone to regenerate her mind to a new pattern of responses.

Shony might have remembered that Mendy’s past experience was similar to her own: He understood that Shony would not notice if he was late and might even be relieved. Or she might have been in touch with her own feelings of disappointment. If so, she could have used this opportunity to get closer to her husband. She could have altered the outcome by rephrasing her worry, “I am so relieved you are home. I was worried sick. Tonight more than ever, I realized how important you are in my life. You must be exhausted being out there on this awful night.” The episode would have brought them closer together instead of further apart.

Another component of “Self Relations” therapy is employing the “technique” of tenderness. Dr. Gilligen advocates sprinkling tenderness into the spousal relationship in small ways. Within a Torah context, a husband and wife who treat each other with tenderness and kindness are fulfilling an unbelievable level of chessed bein odom l’chavero. In this positive state we move through life with a sparkle and zest that is euphoric.

After years of living together, many couples develop a kind of “taking for granted” attitude towards each other. Here is where little tender acts can change this cycle of indifference. One woman recalled, “For years my husband told me he loves a certain bean soup, called shipkele/bundele, that his mother used to cook for the family. I was not always attentive to that longing because I was so preoccupied with the children, but now I make sure to serve him the soup that brings those good memories back for him. This small gesture makes him feel that I care and I do.”

Another woman recalls shyly, “a little thing like having my coffee freshly brewed and ready for me makes my day start in a happier frame of mind.” Tenderness also means not taking anything for granted and saying thank you; showing hakoras hatov. Tenderness means speaking softly. When you ask for something in an angry, impatient manner, the message often does not get heard, but the tone does.

Dr. Gilligan adds a third piece to the “Self-Relations” theory which encourages creating an atmosphere of playfulness and fun. Make time for joy and laughter. Go on a date with your husband. Clink glasses during a romantic dinner. Play games such as Scrabble or Rummy on quiet nights. Go for walks; travel if you can and learn together. These small and simple activities build relationships and enhance companionship.

Have a sense of humor, allow yourself to play and be a child again. Create fun situations where you can have the freedom to relax and feel the comfort of someone who is accepting of you. Don’t let little things annoy you or upset you. Know how to let go. Laughter is really a great medicine; a sustained belly laugh releases endorphins into the brain, creating a sense of well-being.

When we receive blessings for a binyan adei ad at the time of our wedding, it doesn’t stop when the last child leaves the house; it is meant to last till 120. With a fresh and different perception, the “empty nest syndrome” can be turned into a time of rejuvenation and renewal. Adopting the philosophy of tenderness/playfulness and reinventing ourselves can transform our marriages to a new, unprecedented level of sharing and connection. Bein Adam l’chavaro, v’ish l’ishto; there is no better way to embrace Hashem than by bringing tranquility and joy into our home.

Sara Freund, LCSW has been practicing psychotherapy in the frum community for the last 25 years in her private practice. She has been trained in E.M.D.R. and Hypnotherapy. She helps individuals, couples and families with problems such as: Depression, Anxiety, Phobic Fears, Bi-Polar Disorder, and Sholom Bayis problems. She can be reached at 718-692-1650 or you can send a e-mail to sarafreund@yahoo.com.

Sara Freund

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/marriage-yesterday-today-and-tomorrow/2010/08/18/

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