50 Percent of Marriages End in Marriage

About four years ago, my brother-in-law (before he was my brother-in-law) said something to me that I still think about today. We were sitting in the kitchen of his home in Plainfield, NJ, with his wife standing at the stove prepping a dinner that I’ve long forgotten--except that it was delicious--discussing topics ranging from homeownership and jobs to the adventures of marriage and raising kids. A former seminarian from Brooklyn, he felt compelled to lay down some knowledge and inform me that “There are some things they don’t warn you about in marriage.” I married his wife’s sister anyway. We married knowing fully well that there are no perfect marriages. Although we would’ve loved to be like the Fredricksens from the movie Up--where the opening scenes and montage doesn’t show them arguing at all--the real adventure is knowing that that is not the reality of marriage. Meetings with our priest and our conference for engaged couples in our preparation helped us understand that, and further developed our understanding of marriage as a commitment into the unknown future that a husband and wife vow before God to take together; a lifelong journey side by side, hand in hand, towards the sunset. But like all commitments--and all ventures into unknown futures--things happen. Obstacles arise that can throw married couples into odd, difficult and even tense situations. Some couples may just need help creating good communication patterns in their marriage. Others may feel distant from each other and aren’t sure why, or find themselves in a rut and want to find a way to start over. Obstacles like finances, home and car repairs, family matters, emergencies and unexpected occurrences can lead to tense discussions, heated arguments or a distancing silence, leaving the couple frustrated, in pain, and looking for ways to heal and move forward. That lifelong journey towards the sunset is not without a lifetime of obstacles to face. On March 9th and 10th, married couples will have the opportunity to address those obstacles head on at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center in Maryland, where faculty members from Divine Mercy University (DMU), led by Associate Professor Dr. Lisa Klewicki, will host a retreat for couples looking to reconnect, repair and re-energize their marriage. “This retreat is primarily aimed at helping couples deepen their relationship, their level of communication, and emotional connection,” said Dr. Jonathan Marcotte, a Licensed Psychologist for Catholic Social Services of Southern Nebraska. “It’s based off of scientifically validated psychological studies on ‘Attachment Theory’ that have been heavily researched for over 50 years.” Dr. Marcotte, a graduate of DMU’s Psy.D. program in 2017, ran this two-day workshop with Dr. Klewicki and her team last year. Modeled from the “Hold Me Tight” workshop format for couples developed by clinical psychologist and founding Director of the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Dr. Sue Johnson. Dr. Klewicki and her team immersed the Catholic faith into its structure to help guide couples through the first phases of EFT and improve their ability to experience God’s love within their marriage. Dr. Kathleen Musslewhite, also an alumna of DMU, will be a part of Dr. Klewicki’s team this year. She’s a licensed psychologist who practices in Frederick, Maryland. “The purpose is to help couples who are married to recognize some common obstacles in marriage through the lens of EFT,” she said. “I’ve used EFT for three years now and find it really kind of amazing. It takes the pressure off the couple and puts it on the reactive attachment cycle.” This workshop is not a replacement for marriage therapy. According to Dr. Musslewhite, it is in the context of programs for marriage enrichment. The couples spend the weekend engaging with each other--talking to each other--and no therapeutic relationship is created. The therapists are there to present information and opportunities and help the couples with the exercises, but they do not speak with the couples. There are some couples who may end the weekend realizing that they need more extensive therapy.     “Couples from all sorts of situations have come on past retreats,” said Marcotte, “ranging from newlyweds to couples who are so distressed that divorce is on the table. This retreat is specifically for couples who feel like they’re ‘stuck’ in a constant state of negative interactions with each other. It’s for couples who feel disconnected and want to rekindle feelings of closeness with each other. This retreat certainly pushes each individual to dig deeper into their own roles regarding negative interactions with their spouse, as well as to put aside their frustrations in order to hear each other’s pain.” “I remember at the last one I attended, there were couples who expressed to me ‘ah ha’ moments,” said Musslewhite. “They expressed that they were in the middle of reactive cycles but couldn’t see the pattern. Once they saw the patterns, they felt more empowered. Another couple was able to recognize the behavior that had previously felt critical and judgemental now felt like a cry for closeness, a need for secure attachment.” In addition to the workshop being immersed in Catholic theology, the workshop is immersed in the sacraments. Confession will be offered throughout the day and Mass will be offered in the evening. “This is a wonderful reason why this workshop is so effective,” said Marcotte. “Integrating the sacraments allow more opportunities for God’s grace to pervade into the couple’s experience. It is incredibly important as couples become more vulnerable and take advantage of this opportunity to allow God’s love to give courage and solace to the one being vulnerable, as well as giving grace and peace to the one receiving and responding to the other’s vulnerability.” The workshop takes it a step further by allowing the couples, at the workshop’s conclusion, the opportunity to renew their marriage vows. It’s optional and the couples are not obliged to partake, one may think that there’s extra pressure on the couples that attend knowing that’s available at the end. “The sacraments and the renewal of vows are all offered, but certainly not compulsory,“ said Musslewhite. “Some couples don’t stay for the Mass and renewal of vows at the end of the weekend. For other couples, it’s the highlight of the weekend.”   “Well, it might!” Marcotte exclaimed when asked if couples attending may feel the pressure of the renewal of vows. “A lot of couples get into some deep places if they take this workshop seriously, and while it’s a place to do some deep healing and restructuring, it can take couples to places they never wanted to go. If a couple feels unresolved in some difficult parts of their relationship, they might feel forced to do marriage vows.” “However,” Marcotte continued, “renewing vows is also symbolic of the element of love that is a choice, and this opportunity allows them to make a conscious choice to love each other and continue fighting for a positive relationship.”           No marriages are perfect, and the world is full of obstacles that can dissuade a couple from keeping the fire of their love lit. But within that commitment to each other is the love and hope to acknowledge when those obstacles are affecting our relationship, and to make every effort toward identifying and remedying those obstacles toward rekindling that love that originally brought them together. For more information about this workshop and future workshops, click here: https://ourladyofbethesda.org/healing-your-love-tools-overcoming-obstacles-marriage#panel--2   

Stigmas Still Scare People From Counseling

What happens when we’re confronted with a problem? What do we do when we have an issue we’re trying to fix at work or trying to solve a problem in our schoolwork?  What do we do when we can’t fix something at home--a jammed window, a dislodged door, a flat tire on the car? What can we do when we’re having difficulty figuring something out on our own? Clearly, the expected solution would be to look for help from the outside. We reach out to our supervisors and co-workers to help address issues or to help complete projects at work. We research online for do-it-yourself remedies, or hire a specialist to fix problems with our home or vehicle. We call upon our professors, tutors and academic peers to conquer the hurdles of education. In facing our most personal troubles, we typically call on those closest to us or people we trust for guidance and assistance. We lean on our spouse, family and close friends for support when facing a personal crisis or emergency; we look to our pastors and ministers for spiritual guidance, and mental health counselors to help overcome mental or emotional blockades.     Or we don’t. We may continue to go solo, taking breaks away from the task before returning to find the solutions ourselves, or we may give up and move on to different things. Still others may choose to endure or continue enduring whatever issue they’re facing, refusing to acknowledge the possibility of needing help facing the issues they face. For some, asking for help is difficult. For some us, admitting that we need help feels like a sign of weakness and uselessness, which can be detrimental to the individual, especially in the case of mental health issues.   [caption id="attachment_578" align="aligncenter" width="540"] The hit show “The Sopranos” circulates around a New Jersey mob boss’s sessions with a psychiatrist, highlighting the perception of weakness as well as the dangerous suspicions of spilling crime family secrets to outsiders.[/caption] According to the National Alliance on on Mental Illness (NAMI), millions of people face mental illness and mental health challenges in the United States each year, and the stigma that surrounds mental health--the fear and the lack of understanding, which can lead to isolation, shame, harassment, and even bullying and discrimination from others that can turn violent--can still be felt.   “When my husband asked me to keep his secret, I didn’t hesitate,” said Carolyn Ali in her New York Times piece, Alone With My Husband’s Secret. Carolyn and her husband worked to battle his depression on their own, taking care to avoid telling their families and loved ones. But the secrecy and the severity of his depression wreaked havoc on the two. As Carolyn attempted to navigate their way through the channels of the mental health system, her husband dropped out of the master’s program he was enrolled in and spent the majority of his days sleeping. When they did tell their family, he downplayed the severity of his depression and, after mustering every ounce of energy to appear upbeat through birthday gatherings and Christmas dinners, would crash for days once they returned home, utterly depleted. For Carolyn, maintaining the secret of her husband’s depression was costly for her as well. “Because it was his illness,” she wrote, “and he didn’t want to talk about it, I felt as if I had no right to talk about it either. So outside of my family and a few close friends, I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I didn’t talk about my frustrations in trying to find him proper medical care. I didn’t talk about how helpless and hopeless I felt as I tried to lift his mood. And I definitely didn’t talk about that leaden, sickening feeling I had every day after work as I pulled open the front door of my apartment: I’d check every room one by one, not knowing what I would find.” Two years after he spoke about his depression, Carlyn’s husband began to recover from his depression and, today, he is open about his history of mental illness and challenges the stigma himself, recognizing the impact the silence had on him and Carolyn, both individually and as a family. Today, the grip that the stigma of mental health seems to hold has been loosening in the U.S. A 2017 report from the Barna Group showed that approximately 42 percent of adults in the U.S. have met with a counselor at some point of their lives, and at least another 36 percent saying they’re at least open to seeing a counselor. That being said, the fear of seeing a counselor is still prevalent to this day. Dr. Benjamin Keyes is the Director of Training and Internships for the Eastern States for Divine Mercy University’s School of Counseling, Director for the Center for Trauma and Resiliency Studies, and has spent his career helping people in the U.S. and around the world recover from traumatic or stressful situations while providing organizations with counseling and training, including Charlottesville Virginia following the of the White Supremacist Rally. “The stigma of having to go see a counselor or a psychologist is the perception of being seen as crazy or psychotic,” he said. “People think this true with their family, at work or the other people they may see on the day-to-day. The reality is that there are a lot of reasons as to why people meet with counselors.” Dr. Keyes has also worked with many individuals whose jobs put them in stressful environments and situations regularly, including firefighters and members of the military and police forces. “There’s a perception of ‘going to the shrink,’” he said, “and there’s a fear that this stigma may have a negative effect on their careers or hurt their chances at promotions so they may be more inclined to avoid counseling to avoid that appearance.”     Outside the U.S., the stigma of mental health still holds an even tighter grip, causing thousands of people around the world who need treatment for mental health issues to avoid seeking treatment altogether. Mental illness has a long history of being stigmatized around the globe, from being considered a sign of demonic possession in its early history, to being seen as a shortcoming or a sign of weakness today. For instance, in Korea, the concept of mental health simply does not exist. “In Korea, there is no such thing as mental health,” said Jin-Hee, a Korean-American mental health professional in an interview with the University of Washington’s Forefront Suicide Prevention center. South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, and it’s been attributed to pressures relating to conformity for those in their 20s and 30s, loneliness, cultural dislocation, and lack of social connection for the elderly. But there’s still an aversion to accepting mental health treatment. According to Jin-Hee, depression is perceived as a sign of personal weakness instead of a clinical issue in Korea. Instead, it’s seen as a burden on a family’s reputation. “One is seen as ‘weak’ if they have a mental health issue,” she said. “People with mental health issues are seen as ‘crazy’ and the issue is something that must be overcome.” In Africa, the absence of treatment is the norm rather than the exception. In the face of many other challenges like conflict, disease, maternal and child mortality and intractable poverty, the importance of mental health is often neglected or overlooked typically due to a lack of knowledge about the extent of mental health problems, stigmas against those living with mental illness and beliefs that mental illness cannot be treated. The proportion of people with mental illness in Africa who don’t receive treatment ranges from 75 percent in South Africa to over 90 percent in Ethiopia and Nigeria.   “The stigmas are very pervasive in places like Eastern Europe and Africa,” said Dr. Keyes, “but the church in these nations and elsewhere is really making the inroads to address this, with pastors and clergy receiving education and counseling training to help their congregation and countrymen. Education goes a long way in rectifying these stigmas.” Research shows that tens of millions of people throughout the world will at some point in their life experience a mental health illness or disorder. It’s estimated that only half of those people will receive treatment, and the stigma and silence of mental health is a critical barrier that holds them back, leaving the individual without the critical help they need, and their loved ones--their spouses, siblings, parents and children--from receiving the essential support they need. “There are many different reasons people receive counseling,” Dr. Keyes said. “Some may be trying to help or save their marriage. Some may need an outlet for their anxiety while others go to address and treat depression. As counselors, we try to normalize the experience as much as possible.”   “If I could go back to that fall morning in our kitchen,” Ali said, “I would tell my husband this: ‘I know what you’re going through feels unbearable. It breaks my heart. I so desperately want to make things better. But we can’t keep this between us. We need as much support as possible to get the help you need. You are not alone.’”

Abuse & Trauma in the Church: DMU Responds

“Kresta In the Afternoon” host Al Kresta interviews Fr. Charles Sikorsky, President of Divine Mercy University, concerning the abuse scandal in the Church. Live from the Authentic Catholic Reform Conference: https://rn189-f69d0b.pages.infusionsoft.net/ Al Kresta: Hi! Good afternoon! I’m Al Kresta here in Washington, D.C., at the Conference on Authentic Catholic Reform, sponsored by the Napa Institute. With me right now, Father Charles Sikorsky, who is president of Divine Mercy University, and you can learn by going to divinemercy.edu. Great to see you again! Fr. Sikorsky: Nice to see you, Al! Al Kresta:  We usually run into each other in California at the Napa Institute. Fr. Sikorsky: Normally California, yes. Al Kresta: I think we’ve run into each other at other conferences too. Fr. Sikorsky: We have! Al Kresta: But it’s good to be with you here. Let me just ask: Divine Mercy University...when a crisis like this comes about, that seems to touch Catholics everywhere--institutions, individuals--what does Divine Mercy University offer to help us in the midst of a crisis like this? Fr. Sikorsky: Yes. So, we are a graduate-level university; we have have two masters programs and a doctoral program that are focused on psychology and professional counseling, based on a Catholic understanding of the human person, and what a Catholic view of flourishing is, which is fundamental to doing psychology well, it’s fundamental to doing therapy well and counseling well. One of the areas is we also have a center for trauma and resiliency studies. So our students are trained in a way where not only do they appreciate what the human nature really is, but also how trauma plays into that. Or, excuse me, how much trauma is out there. So they’re trained very well to be able to treat victims of abuse; to understand the causes, to help others understand how to deal with victims of abuse, all kinds of abuse and trauma. So that’s one area where we’re really able to help. Al Kresta: And this is a unique type of trauma, too, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not only the psychological dimension of this but, for a victim who’s been abused by clergy, they’ve been abused in that area of their whole idea of the sacred. You know what I’m saying? It’s not just “some authority figure who abused me”, it’s “somebody who stood in the place of Christ abused me”.     Fr. Sikorsky: It’s aggravated trauma, you could call it, because of that. I mean, it’s bad enough as it is, but when you also throw in that spiritual element--that betrayal of such a sacred nature--it just really destroys a person. Right now, we have about 325 students. Virtually all of them are really solid Catholics who understand the importance of faith, the importance of spirituality, and I think that helps them and gives them a better, different perspective on this, and a different ability to help people heal. And a whole sense of the healing would be not only psychological, but also emotionally, spiritually, and so forth. Al Kresta: Do you have any clergy that you teach? Fr. Sikorsky: We do. We have, I’d say, probably between 5-10 percent of our enrollment is our priests in the different programs. We also have several consecrated women of different orders and so forth who are there. But by and large, though, we form laypeople. We have a Master’s in Counseling that’s online, we have another Master’s in Online Psych, and we have a doctoral program which is in our campus here in the Washington area.         Al Kresta: At this time, you’re a priest: what are you going through amidst a crisis like this? I mean, it’s gotta be...if you wear a collar, right? You have to be thinking that some people are not going to think well of you. Fr. Sikorsky: Right. Al Kresta: How to you deal with that? Fr. Sikorsky: Well, I think, first of all, we probably experience probably what most of the rest of the church experiences at first, right? There’s anger at how this could happen. Al Kresta: Right. Fr. Sikorsky: There are a lot of good questions that people have. Maybe in a way there’s an additional...you know, going around, walking around with a collar, you really can’t hide. But I think that we have one or two responses. We could either allow this to somehow draw us closer to God or into despair, and I really think there isn’t any middle ground. I think it’s a challenge for all of us. It’s kind of when St. Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, and how the whole point of that was that God wanted Paul to rely on Him, and to be humble, and to really cling to our Lord. And he says (it’s in 2nd Corinthians, 12), before he goes into that story, “So as not to be too elated, God gave me a thorn in the flesh”. Al Kresta: Isn’t that an interesting phrase? Fr. Sikorsky: I think that’s one of the most important verses in the Bible, personally. It’s helped me so much to think about that and to say “God allows humiliations, He gives us crosses that we can’t run from for a reason”. That reason is to draw closer to Him, to realize that, apart from Him, we can do nothing. And I think, as a priest, that’s what’s helped me throughout this. I also think that in Romans 8:28, there’s a verse we can’t forget: “That all things work together for good for those who love God”       We just can’t forget that. I think God wants us to go there and really live that out, and realize that, on the other side of every cross, there will be a resurrection. If we open our hearts--if we accept this and embrace our Lord--go to Him first and realize that it’s Christ’s Church. He’s the one. It’s not about a hierarchy, although we need one. It’s really Him, and that’s where we gotta go. If we get too focused on other things, I think it does lead to unhealthy anger. There’s righteous anger; there’s unhealthy anger that leads to despair, that leads to so many things that we really don’t want Al Kresta: Just a little personal story here: at one point, the news was bad. It just coming and I was shaking my head thinking, “what the heck am I gonna do with this?” I mean, I’ve had the opportunity to help many people come into full communion with the Church, and they want to know what to do. Fr. Sikorsky: ‘You’ve trapt me’. (laughing) Al Kresta: (laughing) Right! And then what I did was fell out of the web of all those concerns. And I just asked the question: did Jesus rise from the dead or not?         Fr. Sikorsky: Mm hmmm. Al Kresta: He did! And knowing that changes everything. Because then you come back to “ok, He’s alive, He’s at work. Is this His Body, His Church?” The answer as a Catholic is: yes, absolutely. Knowing that, everything else comes into focus, and you can deal with it. For me, that’s what I’ve felt. I just go back to basics. I’m sure you must know priests that have had faculty suspended, or whatever they’ve done. Why? Why do you think this happens? Fr. Sikorsky: I think one of the things we need to remember is sometimes priests get so busy.  I think there’s a real crisis in the spiritual life of many priests, and one thing is to fall in a moment of weakness. Another thing is to habitually be doing and to not even seem to be care about it and cover it up and just go along. And you wonder how could they have a real spiritual life, and I think there’s a real crisis of that: in prayer life, in Eucharistic life and really putting their heart into their Breviary. One of the  things I think about is: God gives us so many means to be holy, so many means to connect with Him. Sometimes when you connect and read the Breviary, sometimes it can be “oh my gosh, I need to get this all done today”, but then you see how beautiful it is, how renewing it is. Maybe my morning prayer or my mental prayer didn’t go as well as I thought, but then you pray the Breviary and you think “wow, this is God is speaking to me here”. So I think that’s where the biggest crisis because if we’re not men of the spirit, if we’re not men of prayer, we’re gonna go wrong one way or the other. And some of them, for whatever reason or whatever their own personal background is, they may be more susceptible for falling into sexual sins--same-sex attraction, these kinds of things. I think that’s the most important thing. I once knew a priest psychologist who told me he worked with many perpetrators. Over 100, I think he said. And what he told me was that there were two common things with all of them. One of them was that none of them had been to confession in more than a year. And the second was that virtually none of them had been to spiritual direction since they were in seminary. Al Kresta: Isn’t that something?                    Fr. Sikorsky: And so I think that’s a big part of all this. And then, of course, the governance issues are a different thing, but this is at the heart of why priests have fallen into this.   Al Kresta: Sure. How big of a problem is careerism among Catholic clergy?   Fr. Sikorsky: In my role, I don’t see it alot. I’m not close to it. You do hear things when you talk to priests. I think it’s definitely a significant issue with how widespread. We’re all human, and priests are still human and sometimes there’s ambition or wanting to do things for the right reasons. But on the other hand, who would want to be a bishop today?   Al Kresta: (laughs) That’s partly what I’m thinking: what’s the attraction? Fr. Sikorsky: I know your friend if you remember, Fr. Benedict Groeschel C.F.R., Al Kresta:  Oh yes! Yeah, yeah. Fr. Sikorsky: I once heard him giving a talk and someone said “what’s the definition of a bishop?” And he said, “It’s a priest with bad luck”. But, power attracts people and, again, it’s the same thing. If you’re not really in it to follow our Lord, to bring people to His love and bring people to the faith, then you’re gonna fall into human goals and ambitions. Al Kresta: Right. You have graduate students, so they’re doing some research, and you got doctoral students doing some original research. Are they working in this area of clergy and sexual abuse? Fr. Sikorsky: We have several who have done dissertations related to priestly formation and priestly life. We’ve had many graduates doing dissertations, so they research this and have focused on different aspects of the Church. Right now, I don’t how many we have doing abuse, but it’s something that’s definitely right up their alley. Like I said, we see many students looking for more training in trauma and to help people with trauma. There's a great opportunity to do that, and what I say is we have real academic freedom and many things you can study at Divine Mercy University that you would not be allowed to do in other universities in that regard. There are many opportunities for us to help in some way with that, and I’ve talked with a few bishops recently to try and ask if there’s anything we can do along those lines that could help the conference, that could help the different bishops have a better understanding in those areas. Al Kresta: Are they responsive? Fr. Sikorsky:  In general, yes! Al Kresta: Glad to hear it. How do people get a hold of you? Fr. Sikorsky: Well, our website: divinemercy.edu. We’ll be happy to answer any questions or help whoever wants to contact us. Learn more about Divine Mercy University and all of our programs at enroll.divinemercy.edu.
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.