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Happy Monday!

I hope you all had a fabulous cabin fever– and Facebook-free weekend!  Thanks to Buffer, I scheduled my posts ahead of time, allowing me to keep away from the debbie-downer that is the social media site while still sharing great tips and info with those who just can’t help themselves ;).  Were you able to stay away?

This Q&A Monday, I want to address a question that regularly hits my inbox and is often posed by my clients (or dinner party companions).

worried manIs _______ normal?

I’m sure most of us can relate.  Magazine articles and morning show segments are dedicated to it.  And while you may not ask it out loud (or via email), you have also likely experienced this wondering in the quiet (or not-so-quiet) corners of your mind.  A lingering uncertainty about your relationship, your kids, or your own emotional state.

Is this normal?

The “_______” is sometimes filled with a new or ongoing behavior or circumstance that may seem a little “off,” rare, or just plain weird.

Is it normal that my 5 year old has an imaginary friend?”

“That my husband is so particular about the way his clothes are folded?”

“That my kids fight all the time?

Generally, our friends or the parenting expert seated next to us at a dinner party assures us the answer to these questions is, “Yes,” satisfying the wondering enough to put it to rest.

Other times, the “______” is something more troubling or concerning, without a clear answer or solution.  And it’s this latter genre that we more often keep to ourselves.  Sometimes we feel embarrassed for having the question at all, or for not having the right answer.  Sometimes we’re too scared of hearing, “No, it’s not normal,” to ask it out loud.  As these worries persist, “Is this normal?” often translates to “Am I the only one?”  “Is something wrong with us?”

Is it normal that my husband doesn’t come to bed until after I’ve fallen asleep?”

“That we haven’t had sex in months?”

“That my child’s tantrums go on for hours and nothing I do ever works to stop them?

These concerns can linger, a constant source of stress or uncertainty, leaving us feeling isolated and alone in our perceived “abnormality.”  We may stuff them down or ignore their persistence, trying to assure ourselves that nothing is wrong.

woman thinkingOften times we succeed.  Statistics show that couples seek therapeutic services 18 months after they should have, meaning 18 months after the best chance for it having a significant, positive impact on the marriage.  That’s at least a year and a half of ignoring a growing question.  And any chance at finding an answer.

These questions, the difficult ones, the embarrassing ones, the deeply felt ones are the most important questions to ask.  Silencing them allows them great opportunity to further wear down you, your marriage, or your family.  But often we are already too wearied to summon the bravery that voicing them requires.

This is a Bad Question

As they say, the first step to getting help is admitting you have a problem.  And the first problem to admit: this is a bad question.  “Normal” is relative, relative to the population it represents.  This question is born of social comparison and how you are doing compared to everyone else.  Wondering whether your marriage is worse off than your next door neighbor’s is bound to invite self-doubt and embarrassment at potentially being found wanting.  So we say nothing and hope it just goes away on its own.

There is no “normal.”

When someone comes to me with this question of being “normal,” I answer with two questions of my own:

Is this normal for you?”

“Is this the normal you want?

While, yes, the available research and study of the population’s “normal’s” and “abnormal’s” help to guide the solutions and treatments available to most people, these solutions are still ultimately administered in a way that is individualized to the specific nature of a person’s situation or question.

If two couples came in reporting the exact same problem (which happens often- you are never alone, I promise), the work I do with each of them and the solutions they enact will always look different.  It all depends on what is right for you.

Shifting the language of this question into something more reflective of you and where you would like to be compared to where you are now helps to shed some of the shame or embarrassment that comes with not “keeping up with the Joneses” happy marriage or perfect parenting abilities, making it easier to seek help or support sooner, when it will have the greatest impact.

It also allows me, as your therapeutic coach, a better understanding of you relative to you.  And that sort of support is really what we’re all looking for – to be heard, to be understood, to be seen for what we are while we learn to be what we could be.

If your “normal” isn’t the normal you want, I’m here to help you get there.  Please do not hesitate to contact me directly.