Introduction: STRATEGIC PRINCIPLES - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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Out of the Monkey Trap, Breaking Negative Cycles for Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

**Author's Note: Other than public figures or people identified in the media, all other persons in this book are either composites of individuals the author has worked with and/or have been given different names and had their personal identifying information altered to protect and respect their confidentiality.  

With apologies to Pop Goes the Weasel, a nursery rhyme and song with uncertain origins and meanings, there are often strategic principles of repeated cycles and patterns in relationships and households.

All around the Muldowny House,

The momma chastised the daddy.

The daddy repeatedly brought up her sins,

Pop! goes the tempers.

The son smoked a pipe of pot,

The daughter ate the brownies.

Threw it up and made like nice,

Pop! goes the family.

Genevieve and Dillard had been married for seven years after dating for three years.  They were both in their mid-forties.  Genevieve ran a small eldercare placement business with a partner.  They had been doing it for about eight years and it had grown from a two-person business to having some administrative staff and two full time staff and five part-time staff.  Dillard had been a firefighter for ten years after time in the military, college, and a stint trying to get established as a stockbroker.  They had two children: one teenage boy and one middle-school girl.  Genevieve had worked hard to get her business up and running over the past eight years.  Only recently, has she been able to pull back some and let the others manage more of the day-to-day operations.  Dillard has felt that Genevieve can be insensitive to him.  Over the years there have been many times where she would come home late from work.  Or, she would not call to tell him that she'd be late.  Dillard had high value on this kind of communication.  He emphasized how he always made it appoint to call her if he was going to work late or be delayed getting home.   Genevieve admitted that she had not been real conscientious about calling, but hard gotten a lot better over time.  She had accepted that it was not fair to Dillard to have him hanging when all she needed to do was make a call.  She didn't think it was particularly fair for him to still harp on this when she'd done so much to be better.  Dillard said that at times he wondered if she was really committed to him and the marriage.  He started doubting the marriage himself.  Neither partner had any suspicions about the other's fidelity.  They continued to be playful with each other.  They acknowledged that they tended to work very well together as co-parents.  Yet neither initially considered personal therapy nor couple therapy for themselves.

Despite their professed dedication to each other and their children, their contentious energy infected the family.  When Genevieve and Dillard argued, including the icy hostile aftermath both children became distressed.  Geoff dealt with the stress of their battles with alcohol and marijuana.  He had tried to make Mommy and Daddy not fight when he was younger, but that had never worked.  From being a good student and well-liked by both teachers and peers, Geoff claimed to have given up on them.  However, Geoff went from relatively passive sulking to active acting out and defiance against any authority figure whenever things got hot between his parents.  His defiant behavior manifested in more drinking and smoking pot included becoming more oppositional to everyone.  At school, this lead to confrontations with teachers and other students and suspensions.  Around town he got caught for truancy and being intoxicated in public.  At home, his behavior created major uproars that served to distract his mother and father from their own personal problems.  Otherwise out of sorts and often antagonistic, Genevieve and Dillard would drop their contentions to unify as parents problem-solving for their incorrigible teenage son.  

While dealing with Geoff's drama, they often counted as a blessing their delightfully problem-free daughter Jenny.  Jenny who was an excellent student, an accomplished pianist, and star soccer player for her school team always tried to make things "right."  As Geoff subconsciously tried to distract their parents from battling with his acting out, she tried to calm everyone down.  She could not however prevent her parents from arguing, so she tried to make the household perfect, her grades perfect, and her body perfect.  Geoff became less willing to be bothered with his parents' issues and started to disconnect rather than stay involved.  As this happened, it become more incumbent on Jenny to make things right at home.  Carrying this burden, she became bulimic.  Jenny often ate compulsively and secretly.  Strenuous exercise was one way she dealt with the excessive calorie from her binges.  Recently, she had discovered the magic of purging.  Only when her friend who caught Jenny purging during a sleepover after they had overindulged with pizza and ice cream sundaes told them did Genevieve and Dillard have any idea that she had any issues as well.  She had been their perfect child who had never caused them any concern.

Whenever Genevieve and Dillard united and activated to deal with Geoff getting into trouble and to provide support for Genevieve when they discovered her eating disorder, their tension diminished.  Geoff with stabilize and return to his reluctant passive aggressive sullen manner without demanding crises.  Genevieve was duly helped: heart to heart talks and bit of therapy, and she would returned to her normal perky perfect persona.  Done with these crises however, Genevieve and Dillard also returned to their prior functioning- contentious, spiteful, and argumentative.  And,

All around the Muldowny House,

The daddy resented the mommy.

The mommy cuts off the sex,

Pop! goes the tempers.

They started going at it with each other again.  Stress and tension rose again in the Muldowny household, and the cycle resumed.  So,

The son flunked every class,

The daughter cut inside her thighs.

Both found ways to get high,

Pop! goes the family.

There they went- around and around on their personal intimacy pain train.  Unlike the magical train ride that goes around Disneyland that takes delighted passengers to repeatedly see delightful scenes and sights, this definitely was not a fun ride.  In some relationships, couples, or families, they seemed doomed to be re-visit the same old frustrating, hurtful, and devastating relationship crises over and over.  The individuals and the family were not really aware of how they were repeating cycles of behavior, action and reaction, choice, and consequences over and over.  Nor or they aware how they keep themselves stuck like the monkey holding onto the banana inside the box- the monkey trap.  While there may have been developmental and other variations, they had been replicating a highly dysfunctional and unproductive pattern that they were unconsciously invested in.  Without awareness or consciousness, their behavior and problems would not only fail to be remedied, but they were at risk for it to intensify and become more destructive for their relationships and each individual.  This was true for the relationship between the two adults and also for the family itself.  Emotional pain had become a regular part of the relationships.  Genevieve and Dillard did not originally initiate couple therapy.  In fact, they only encountered therapy or therapists at all because each of their children's therapists had uncovered the couple and family's dysfunction in Jenny and Geoff's individual therapy.

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3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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