(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)
Dr. Kenner: Amber, your husband is having some difficulty? Tell me what’s going on.
Amber: He has where something will happen and he’ll feel like he’s in a different world and he has to stay completely still where he’s at and everyone in the whole entire home has to be quiet. Sometimes this can take up to 20 minutes. We’ve tried getting him to go to counseling or therapy or a psychiatrist, but we’ve tried with counseling and he’s too embarrassed and he chokes up to talk about it.
Dr. Kenner: How old is he?
Amber: He’s 27 years old.
Dr. Kenner: Oh, he’s young. Any drug or alcohol problems that you know of?
Amber: He used to have a drinking problem as far as with liquor, it didn’t work well with him and made him very bad. He has quit drinking liquor and that’s a positive, but we’re still having this issue.
Dr. Kenner: That’s not fair to everybody in the family. Who else is there besides you?
Amber: My three children.
Dr. Kenner: Three children. And they’re yours, not his?
Amber: Yes. They’re his stepchildren.
Dr. Kenner: What ages?
Amber: 9, 7 and 6.
Dr. Kenner: Oh, so they’re subjected to these 20 minutes, everybody has to be quiet because stepdad is having difficulty right now.
Dr. Kenner: And he’s too embarrassed to get help. That is not fair to you and that’s not fair to them. And it’s not fair to guess who else? Himself!
Dr. Kenner: He is not being fair to himself. If I’m sitting there with a splinter in my hand and I scream, “Everybody has to be quiet because I’m in such pain,” it’s like, mom, will you get your splinter taken out so we don’t have to go through this? That’s a simple example, but he needs to figure out what’s going on. Is this a personality change for him, like a sudden one? Or has it been this way since you guys have been together?
Amber: No, it’s not sudden. It’s been since we’ve been together. And it’s not always this frequent. With stress it happens more often. But he never knows when it’s going to happen. It just kind of sparks and then he does get frustrated and he does get hurt over the fact that it happened.
Dr. Kenner: Does he apologize? Is he remorseful, “I’m so sorry this is happening?”
Amber: Yeah, sometimes he gets upset and he is sorry, but other times he’s more focused on trying to get himself better.
Dr. Kenner: Here’s what’s going through my mind – I’m wondering first if it’s medical. You always rule out medical first. So he doesn’t have to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist right away. He would go to a medical doctor. Has he done that yet?
Amber: We’ve done medical. He’s actually gone to the emergency room before and they had mentioned something about – what was it honey? He was wrong. He thinks he was wrong. It was something about an anger explosive disorder or something. He does have a temper along with it.
Dr. Kenner: Any trauma in his past?
Amber: He didn’t have the best childhood.
Dr. Kenner: So he could benefit so much by getting someone that he feels at home opening up to, and going on the detective – it’s like looking at your own life as if you’re the detective, trying to get to the core issues. What is it that’s bothering me? When you discover what is really driving a behavior, for example, I would freak out when my husband would come down the stairs, I’d be sitting at my computer and he would just nicely put his hand on my shoulder and I would just go, “Oh!” I’d startle very quickly, so he started to say, “Friend coming down the stairs. Friend getting a little closer. Friend moving closer!” Just to kind of give me some warning. Now, I was clueless. I had no idea where this startle response came from, but I had it, and I’ve had it my whole life. And one day, when my child was very young, they came running around the corner and this is a little tike. I mean, he has three stepchildren and you have three children, so maybe the 6-year-old, running around the corner and I said, “Don’t jump out from things like that and startle me!” And my poor little son was like, “What mom?” He didn’t do anything wrong. At that moment, my mind made the connection that as a young child, I’d seen a movie that really traumatized me – it was called the Moon Spinners – and it just was one scene. A random scene, as a child, but for a month later, somebody jumped out suddenly and this spooky music is on and somebody jumps out where you don’t expect them, and it really freaked me out to the point where a month later, I still was seeing this scene in my mind as a kid. But I hadn’t remembered that as an adult. And when I remembered it, it was like, “Oh, that’s what’s behind it.” It gave me a sense of what?
Amber: I guess a sense of understanding and security in a way.
Dr. Kenner: It would give him such a good sense of, “Oh, now I understand why I’m this way.” Once you get the understanding, you don’t even have to wait to get the understanding, you can learn all of these marvelous skills to deal with either anger management. There are all different skills, like putting yourself on pause or counting a little bit before you respond. Planning in advance what you want to say, looking at the thoughts that go through your mind when you get angry. The first thing people say is, “There are no thoughts. I just get angry.” But cognitive therapy would be phenomenal for him because he could figure out how to take an emotion and understand what he feels is not fear. If he’s feeling anger.
So to get himself some help, he can ask his medical doctor who they would recommend. I’m very glad he got a medical checkup. That’s very good because you always want to rule out medical causes. Some people are real sad and it’s really just hypothyroidism, they just need some thyroid medication and you don’t want to be treating it for depression. So if he had any drug history or substance abuse, alcohol, and is still using, that might be a problem, but you say that’s not it. And then you want to look at what is the cause? I really enjoy helping clients learn the new thinking skills that liberate them, that liberate, nobody wants lifelong anger, nobody wants to go through the stress with the kids. You could go to a website, AcademyofCT.org – for cognitive therapy – and look up a therapist in your area. Those are cognitive therapists. There’s also a wonderful book Mind Over Mood. It’s a workbook he could use with the therapist, but I also find it easy enough, my clients have been able to use it even on their own. If he’s not ready to go to a therapist, he could start there. There are wonderful anger management self-help books if he’s not ready to go to a therapist. But I think going in for some supportive therapy would be very good.
Listen, thank you so much Amber and I wish you well. You all well, him well too! Thank you.
Male 1: You hired a detective? How could you?
Male 2: Okay, I’m sorry. What do we really know about this woman?
Male 1: She makes dad happy. That’s all we need to know.
Male 2: Is it? Some people do get married before they know all they should. Remember cousin Donald? He wasn’t married two years before he found out his wife used to be a man.
Dr. Kenner: That’s from Frasier. You probably recognize the voices and how important is it to know in depth about your partner before you marry them? Obviously the answer is you really need to know a lot. That said, I married my husband within nine months and I wasn’t pregnant, and we are married 40 years now, and it’s been a wonderful marriage, so sometimes you can choose well. But in the book I wrote with Dr. Ed Locke, which is on romance, The Selfish Path to Romance, how to love with passion and reason, we have a whole chapter on finding your soul mate and how to use your own mind. How to use that feedback that you get, those moment-to-moment impressions and emotions that you’re feeling to make sure that you explore any red flags you have or any good things. What would be the opposite of a red flag? Any fireworks going off. What’s behind them? Is it that you share the same habits, that you share the same lifestyle or you like the same leisure activities or you feel really visible with the person? You feel like they get you? You want to make sure there aren’t any what we call deal breakers such as alcohol or anger management problems, alcohol problems. You want to just see what happens over time with the person. We call it a love trajectory and is the relationship getting better or is it going downhill or is it like a rollercoaster? It goes up, you have a few good days and then you get into big fights and then it goes up and then you get into that cold stonewalling it’s called where neither of you talk to each other? You’re fighting, your arms are crossed, but there’s no communication! Just those contemptuous looks toward each other. If you’re on that type of a course, you might consider maybe a different partner or learning some skills with each other or independently on your own.