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                                  “I Didn’t See the Stop Sign.”

 
Tom’s explanation was typical of what the policeman had heard from other drivers. He had clearly observed Tom as he drove through the intersection without any effort to obey the stop sign. Now the careless driver was about to get a ticket he would neither welcome nor appreciate. After receiving both the ticket and a brief lecture about road signs and road safety Tom continued on his trip to his destination. He felt embarrassed and angry at himself for not paying attention to a road sign that was visible and readable. He knew that his negligence could have caused an accident with personal injuries and financial losses. Tom resolved within himself to fulfill the promise he had made to the policeman that he would follow the rules of the road. With that resolution he felt a little better about his road sign violation.

Every responsible driver understands the need for road signs that identify and describe various rules of the road. The rules relate to stopping, yielding, passing, speeding, and other important issues. Irresponsible drivers choose to minimize these signs or to ignore them altogether. Their attitude is illustrated by the driver who said, “Oh, I saw the stop sign, but I thought it was just a suggestion.” Road signs are not suggestions we can follow or ignore at our selfish whim or personal discretion. They exist to facilitate traffic and to safeguard travelers. The failure to read and obey road signs often leads to unnecessary accidents that can cause damage and death.

Likewise, human relationships involve specific “rules of the road” which, when followed, allow for a relationship journey that is safe, successful, and satisfying. This set of rules deals with “what to do” and “what not to do” in reference to how the two people interact with each other. These rules must be understood and accepted by both people in order for the relationship to work effectively. Failure to follow the rules invites relationship destruction and death. Throughout the journey various “road signs” are used to communicate to each other that specific rules are currently at issue. In fact, the presence of a road sign indicates that there is a specific rule already in place, at least in the mind of the individual who raised the sign. The other person may or may not understand that the rule is in effect. In regard to rules two actions are vitally important to the growth of a healthy relationship. First, the interactional rules must be established and agreed upon by both individuals. Secondly, the two people need to develop specific road signs that will provide helpful information about specific rules that are in place. The road sign may exist in the form of a verbal cue (a request or a statement) or a behavioral cue (some type of recognizable action). The development and usage of appropriate road signs are vital to the construction of healthy relationships.

                                                        “How Can I Recover?”     

                        
On the surface Bert’s question sounded optimistic, but, truthfully, he saw little hope for his future. Without his wife he felt lost as he was forced to reassess his sense of purpose and direction on the Highway of Life. His marriage of eighteen years legally ended a week earlier when the judge signed the divorce decree. He had not seen the divorce coming and he definitely did not want a divorce, but she pushed it through with little difficulty in their home state that seemed to fast-track “no-fault” divorces. In the midst of the constant emotional pain and difficult daily survival Bert was trying to see a future for himself. Basically, he was struggling with the issue of recovery. How could he recover from such a tragic loss and move ahead toward an uncertain future? Clearly, Bert’s work was cut out for him as he began his travels on Divorce Recovery Road.
 

Mary’s divorce was similar to Bert’s experience in that it began with a shocking disclosure. She and her husband were about to celebrate their wedding anniversary with a special dinner she had prepared. As soon as they sat down to eat the meal her husband looked at her and calmly announced, “I don’t want to be in this marriage any more.” In stunned disbelief Mary watched her husband get up and leave. She felt as if he had emotionally stabbed her in her heart with the steak knife he had been holding. As she sat in her state of shock one question kept repeating itself in her mind:  “Is this really happening to me?” Slowly but surely the answer came:  “Yes, he just left. Yes, this is happening to you.” Within a few short months she, like Bert, was holding in her hands the finalized divorce decree. Divorce became her unwanted reality.
 

Bert* and Mary* are only two of countless individuals whose marriages have ended and whose journeys have started on Divorce Recovery Road. Some of these people actually wanted the divorce; others, like Bert and Mary, were forced to accept something they never predicted nor preferred. In every legal divorce there is a plaintiff and a defendant, an initiator and a reactor. The legal process works its way through a series of steps, and at the end of the process a judge signs the decree, legalizing and formalizing the divorce. At this point the divorced individual has important choices to consider, particularly in regard to the issue of recovery. Many divorced people push on with little or no thought to recovery, as if the passing of time will automatically heal their wounds and equip them for survival. Individuals with wisdom will choose to travel the Divorce Recovery Road in order to identify and implement practical solutions for healthy recovery.

                                                                                                    

                                “How Will Divorce Affect My Kids?”     

                           
In raising this question Tonya* voiced a concern that is felt by every responsible parent when divorce is being threatened or considered.  For some time she had been contemplating a divorce from her husband, but her concerns about the impact upon her three children had motivated multiple delays. She was afraid that a marital breakup would have serious negative effects on her children’s health, and she was seeking additional information to use in her decision-making. Her question prompted an exploration into the short-term and long-term impact of divorce upon children. The discussion was a difficult one for me, even though I’ve had many similar sessions in the past through my work as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. The reason for the difficulty is simple: the subject is heavy, and the stakes are high.
 

Although I did not fully understand the marital background that prompted Tonya to consider a divorce from her husband, I appreciated her efforts to consider her children in reference to a possible divorce. Unlike Tonya, too many Dads and Moms choose to travel the Divorce Highway with only minimal consideration for the impact upon their children. Their personal pain and selfish pursuits lead them to focus upon their own wants and needs, and neglectfully they ignore the children altogether or blindly choose to believe that the children will not be affected adversely. Their errors in judgment become apparent during the months and years following the divorce as the children struggle and suffer on multiple levels as they are forced to embark on the Divorce Highway.

  

   "So When Will I Be Ready for Marriage?"


Peter’s question was in reaction to his Dad’s statement, “I just don’t think you’re prepared for marriage.”  His father sounded sincere and concerned, but he was not grasping how much Peter wanted to get married. True, Peter was only twenty-one and not yet finished with college. True, he owed about $35,000 in student loans and was working only part-time at a nearby Starbucks coffee shop. True, he had never really been on his own in terms of independent living. Still, he simply did not understand why he shouldn’t get married.  He was of legal age and did not even need his parents’ consent. His girlfriend, Paula, was one year younger in age and two years behind him in college. For several weeks she had been urging Peter to make a decision about getting married. They loved each other and wanted to be together full-time. Besides, she was tired of living at home with her parents and younger siblings. In spite of her parents’ doubts about her readiness for marriage she was eager to leave and be on her own with Peter. Her parting words from an earlier phone conversation echoed in his mind: “We love each other so everything has to work out okay. There’s no need to wait any longer. Let’s get married.”

Given their situation, what do you think Peter and Paula decided? Like the majority of contemporary young adults in love they ignored parental advice and chose to get married and begin their travels on the Marriage Highway. And, like the majority of contemporary young adults who are not ready for marriage, they divorced after only two years of marital turmoil. Disappointed and disillusioned, they now face many years of stress in regard to their deep indebtedness and the overwhelming responsibility of child-care for their three-month-old son. Their personal and family losses are huge, and the negative fallout will follow them throughout life. The practical realities of life won out over their pressing romanticism of love that “love is enough.”

The example of Peter and Paula* is not uncommon in today’s culture, for their story represents a pattern that seems pervasive among young adults today. The pattern can have many variations, but the basic theme remains constant:  men and women enter the Marriage Highway without the necessary readiness. These couples pay a heavy personal price for their decisions, and they leave a trail of messes for their families (or someone) to clean up. On a larger scale the whole of society is affected adversely by the plethora of premature and immature marriages. The current divorce rate (over 50% for first marriages) should be telling us that something is wrong with our society’s approach to marriage. Various factors play a role in this alarming rate of divorce, and all of them merit our consideration. This current article focuses upon one of these factors, namely, readiness for marriage. 

  

                                  Street Names and Relationships

  
The naming of streets and roads has long been of interest to me. As I travel locally or in other states I often notice the names and feel intrigued by their symbolism. Usually the names seem rather commonplace and even boring, especially if I’m on 20th Street or East Boulevard. There’s not much to contemplate about those names, but sometimes a particular name will invite attention and evoke curiosity. Why was that name given to this road? What does the name suggest or reflect about the people who live on this road? Would I want to live on this road because of its unique name? On a trip in 2012 I discovered Goodwill Road in Louisiana and my ponderings generated an article I called “Goodwill Relationships.” More recently I was traveling by car through the Memphis, Tennessee area en route to Arkansas. I was taking a short-cut from Highway 78 (I-22) to I-55 in an effort to bypass some heavy traffic. The short-cut turned out to be Church Road. As I drove for several miles along Church Road I pondering the implications of the name and I wondered about the people who lived on Church Road.
 

After driving several miles on Church Road I approached a traffic signal and had to stop for the red light. As I sat and waited I noticed the name of the cross street: Getwell Road. Oh, so I’m at the intersection of Church Road and Getwell Road. How interesting that these two roads intersected! You guessed correctly—more ponderings. Why do they simply cross each other at this one point? Why don’t they run parallel or on top of each other? Isn’t the church supposed to be about helping people to get well? Is not the church a hospital for sick sinners rather than a museum for sanctified saints? Is not every member of every church in a recovery mode in life—recovering from a lifestyle of spiritual sickness? Is the church not concerned about the whole person in terms of spiritual, emotional, and physical health? Should getting well be minimized to a minor mention, or should it motivate a major mission within the church? Indeed, what would life be like if we all lived on Church Road and Getwell Road at the same time?
 

As I pondered these questions I recalled having heard an interesting story about the naming of Getwell Road. A quick Internet search confirmed the story to be true. Originally, Getwell Road was called Shotwell Road.  In 1943 the U.S. Army opened a 3,000-bed veteran’s hospital on the corner of Shotwell Road and Park Avenue in Memphis, and the facility was named Kennedy Hospital. Rather quickly a concern was expressed by a thoughtful individual that the name “Shotwell Road” was not appropriate for wounded soldiers returning home. So, in an effort to improve the morale of the patients the county officials changed the name from Shotwell Road to Getwell Road. Clearly, the new name was a positive boost to the recovery of the veterans.
 

Further ponderings led me to the issue of getting well within human relationships and, specifically, to the connection between the two roads. Just as Church Road intersected Getwell Road at only one junction is it the case that our relationships have only one brief intersection with getting well? Or, should a relationship run parallel with or even overlay the process of getting well? Are relationships designed only for perfectly-well people or does every relationship involve two individuals each of whom is an imperfect person in need of continual healing and growth? How many relationships emphasize a getwell lifestyle? As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist I’ve seen numerous relationships in which the interaction was more like “Shotwell” than “Getwell.” The goal of the two people involved appeared to be “let’s tear each other down” rather than “let’s build each other up,” or “let’s hurt each other” instead of “let’s heal each other.” How can any relationship get healthy or stay healthy when the two individuals do not have a “getwell” mindset toward each other? Clearly, the focus of every relationship needs to be upon healthiness, and that goal requires the practice of “getwell” attitudes and actions.

  

                                  I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.

   
Living with loneliness is indeed a challenge on our journey through life, even for the strongest person. Perhaps you’ve traveled on the Loneliness Highway and reached the point where you joined other lonely hearts in singing the old song, “I’m so lonesome I could cry.” Tragically, for some individuals the level of loneliness leads to depression and even to thoughts of death. Other people struggle but somehow manage to exit the Loneliness Highway for safer travels on a better roadway. Changing highways can be difficult, just as it is hard to get off of the “island of loneliness” where you’ve been stranded and stuck for too long. Whether your image of loneliness is a highway or an island, you know the heart-pain that you feel. Without doubt a lonely heart is a hurting heart.

Ideally, we might prefer to eliminate every bit of loneliness, but the realistic result of the human condition is that some loneliness will probably accompany us in our travels through life. Our challenge is to recognize loneliness and to use practical tools for managing it effectively. A survival attitude could include this admonition about loneliness:  “Eliminate all that you can – learn to live with the rest.” Believe it or not, we CAN learn to live with loneliness. There may be times, strangely enough, when some loneliness might even be beneficial and useful to us. I invite you to join me as we explore this difficult issue of loneliness.

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