Jul 26

“You Oughta Know”: How Breakup Anger Can Heal

Everybody called it the perfect revenge song, but that’s not what it was. It’s a devastated song, and in order to pull out of that despondency, being angry is lovely. I think the movement of anger can pull us out of things. Alanis Morissette, regarding “You Oughta Know,” Song Facts

The phenomenal new musical “Jagged Little Pill” recently ended its run at American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If there’s any justice in this world, it will someday head to Broadway so more people get to see it. And see it again. It’s that kind of superior production. [Update 2019: I got my wish. It’s on Broadway now.]

Jagged Little Pill” is also the name of Alanis Morissette‘s beloved 1995 album that provides most of  the play’s music. Angsty powerhouse song “You Oughta Know,” in the middle of the second and final Act, has repeatedly led to long standing ovations, no minor feat.

What is it about “You Oughta Know” that feels so universally empowering? It starts with this declaration from a recently spurned lover:

I want you to know, that I am happy for you
I wish nothing but the best for you both…

Whereas in the original song she’s addressing her cheating ex, a guy (“Mr. Duplicity”), in the play the offender is another female. Does the rejected one really wish the new couple well?  Of course not. Perhaps nothing hurts more in such a process than your ex having someone new. An excerpt:

…And every time you speak her name
Does she know how you told me
You’d hold me until you died
‘Til you died, but you’re still alive

You promised “Forever” and now, if you’re not actually still with me—and are with someone else—you should be toast.

And I’m here, to remind you
Of the mess you left when you went away
It’s not fair, to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me
You, you, you oughta know

I’m in tons of pain and you need to see it. Hear it. Feel it.

You seem very well, things look peaceful
I’m not quite as well, I thought you should know…

Why aren’t You hurting too?

And on it goes. (For full lyrics, go to this link.)

In the play, the relationship killer is put in a position in which she absolutely must hear out this confrontation. No escape. About as satisfying as the rejected can hope for.

Regarding anger as a stage of grief following a breakup, Suzanne Lachmann, PsyD (Psychology Today) aptly states:

Initially, you may not be able to connect with feelings of anger. Breaking up plummets you into the unknown, which can evoke immobilizing fear and dread. Fear, at that point, trumps anger. Therefore, when anger sets in, it’s because you have let go of some of your fear, at least temporarily. When you’re able to access anger, the experience can actually be empowering—because at the very least there are shades of remembering you matter too, of feeling justified in realizing that you deserve more from a relationship. Depending on your specific temperament, life, and family experiences, as well as your unique breakup, your anger may be directed at your partner, the situation, or yourself. The good news is that your anger, no matter where it’s directed, is meant to empower you, whether you choose to see it that way or not. When anger becomes accessible to you, it can provide direction and create a feeling of aliveness in a world that’s become deadened by loss. It can also remind you that you deserve more…

The music video by Morissette (including some NSFW lyrics):

Aug 11

If Your Partner Is Cheating: Sheri Meyers

How do you actually know if your partner is cheating, assuming he or she—or anyone else for that matter—hasn’t yet disclosed this to you?

I still remember one of my first experiences with a client who didn’t yet know. This older woman’s presenting complaints involved her long-term spouse’s new-ish behaviors of continually belittling her in various ways, getting unfairly angry with her, and accusing her of doing all kinds of things she wasn’t actually doing.

Little did she know before coming to therapy that his behavior could be a sign—a cheating red flag.

Therapist Sheri Meyers, author of Chatting or Cheating: How to Detect Infidelity, Rebuild Love and Affair-Proof Your Relationship (2012), presents a list of cheating red flags for partners (HuffPost). The one relevant to the above situation is the following:

Red Flag #3 They get easily annoyed, defensive or argumentative. When an affair (be it cyber, emotional or physical) has begun, the cheater may want to sugar-coat their guilt and justify the affair. Making you the bad guy helps them feel better. That’s why a cheating partner may try to find ways to blame you for their indiscretions. They start fights, pick on you, push every button you’ve got and may even accuse you of cheating. Cheaters are good at transferring the guilt onto you — don’t buy into it.

There are six others, offered below in shortened versions. Click on the article link above for more details.

Red Flag #1 They’re suddenly more aloof, withdrawn or want more “space…”

Red Flag #2 They’ve lost interest in you, your problems and sex…

Red Flag #4 They’re not immediately available when you call, text or email them…

Red Flag #5 They’re spending more time online or on their cell phone than with you…

Red Flag #6 They’re acting secretive all of a sudden, especially around the computer or cell phone…

Red Flag #7 They look, smell, and dress better, but not necessarily around you. They’ve suddenly started working out…

How do you consider confronting a partner about suspected cheating? Meyers’s formula involves a strategy using the 4 P’s:

  1. Proof. Without proof, says Meyers, confrontation is much less likely to work well for you.
  2. Preparation. This involves being ready for defensive reactions and accusations.
  3. Purpose. What would you like to achieve from confrontation?
  4. Plan. Figure out the details of when, where, and how to present your info and how to have a conversation as calmly as possible.

Another resource for partners who either suspect or know betrayal has occurred is Janis A. Spring‘s After the Affair (see previous post).

New research seems to confirm popular wisdom, by the way, that cheaters are more likely to cheat again than non-cheaters are likely to do it ever. Not only that, the already-betrayed are more likely to re-experience being cheated on than the never-have-been-betrayed.

Thus, if cheating has happened to you at least once, all the more reason to study up now on what it’s all about and how to deal with it.

Jun 10

“Mistresses”: Therapist Ethics Go Right Out the Window

Last Monday night was the premiere of ABC’s Mistresses, an adaptation of a British soap-drama in which four female friends deal in one way or another with infidelity. A possible hint to its quality? Says the snarky “Bullseye” column of Entertainment Weekly, “Only one episode in and we’re already cheating on Mistresses.”

What caught my interest is that one of the four friends is a psychiatrist in private practice named Karen (Yunjin Kim). As I’ve neither seen it nor plan on seeing it, however, I have to rely on the reviews for further info.

If you’re looking for a portrayal that represents the field at its best or if you’ve been victimized by a therapist, beware. Karen has had a sexual relationship with her patient Tom who had terminal cancer. In addition, she’s prescribed him a lethal dose of morphine to assist in his choice of euthanasia.

By the way, Tom was married. And now that he’s dead, guess what? His son and wife are both receiving Karen’s “help.” As a result, there are further complications: Karen’s now stung from learning that Tom chose to spend the final moments of life with his wife, and Tom’s grieving son wants to figure out with whom Dad was cheating. Oh. And he’s hitting on Karen to boot.

A little over the top, just maybe?

Therapist ethics violations:

  • Having sex with a client–it doesn’t matter that the client was the first one to show interest; it doesn’t matter if he was single, married, whatever
  • Assisting in euthanasia of a client
  • Offering services to a dead client’s family members after such grievous as-yet-unknown-to-the-family violations

One saving grace: at least the script makes it known that Karen has screwed up, a matter often neglected in these kinds of shows.

It’s yet to be seen if Karen can eventually be redeemed in any way. (In the BBC series the character with a similar profile and behavior, Katie, was a general practitioner of medicine, not a shrink. If you happen to be interested in what happened to her, though, check out the Wikipedia article.)

What do the TV critics think of Mistresses? (They seem less than impressed.)

Jacob Clifton writes (Television Without Pity) that of the group of main characters, Karen is “the front-runner by a mile in terms of making ridiculously shitty decisions at all times during her waking life.”

Neil GenzlingerNew York Times: “Karen, an educated, intelligent woman, is made to sound like a naïve 20-year-old when talking about her lover’s death. ‘In the end he chose his wife: that’s who he wanted to be with in his last moments,’ she says. ‘Which means the whole time I was just’ — and here there’s a pause to allow her I.Q. to drop — ‘a mistress.'”

Cory Barker, TV.com: “Kim is saddled with the most ridiculous of the stories—going from the now-dead father to the grieving son is quite the journey—and she’s morose enough to almost make it work, but Karen’s choices were so poor that it’s going to be tough for people to root for her.”

Nov 13

“After the Affair”: Infidelity, Forgiveness, and Recovery

In the mid-90’s psychologist Janis Abrahms Spring, Ph.D., along with husband Michael Spring, wrote what may be the best book for couples, gay and straight, trying to recover from one partner’s affair. After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful now has a revised edition, with a new section regarding cyber-affairs.

A review of After the Affair by Samantha Smithstein, another psychologist, describes the stages of recovery outlined in this book:

In the first stage, Reacting to the Affair, she empathizes with the likely feelings of the ‘hurt partner’ and the ‘unfaithful partner’ (her language), giving language to, and normalizing, their experiences. In the second stage, Deciding Whether or Recommit or Quit, she helps both members of the couple confront their ambivalence about the relationship and make a thoughtful decision about whether or not to stay. In the third stage, Rebuilding Your Relationship, she reviews strategies and tools to help the couple rebuild trust, intimacy, and get to forgiveness.

What about the issue of whether or not to confess an affair to begin with? From an interview with Spring in the New York Times

Some experts say you absolutely must reveal it in order to rebuild your relationship. When you reveal your affair, it deconstructs your relationship and allows for a new level of honesty.

Other experts say you absolutely must not reveal it. When you do, you destroy the spirit of the hurt partner. They never recover. Keep it to yourself.

I have found that people go on to build better bonds, better marriages, after telling and after not telling. What is essential is to understand the meaning of the affair, why they had the affair and to address those issues.

One of the dangers of not telling is that people give up the lover, return to the marriage, but they never face the problem and so they live in a prison. They come back to something stale or damaged and they never work to reinvent their relationship. That’s not good for anyone.

Let’s say confession has occurred, recovery has begun, but forgiveness is a sticking point. If so, she has another excellent resource, How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To (2004). Like After the Affair, this book presents original ideas that came from her many years of clinical experience. 

Not for issues of infidelity only, this book advises that you may or may not decide forgiveness is the choice for you.

As stated in the book description, Spring “…proposes a radical, life-affirming alternative that lets us overcome the corrosive effects of hate and get on with our lives—without forgiving. She also offers a powerful and unconventional model for genuine forgiveness—one that asks as much of the offender as it does of us.”