How Mental Illness Affects a Marriage

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One of the heartbreaking sad realities of a marriage in which one partner suffers from mental health issues is a broken relationship leading to divorce.  There is a strong link between divorce and mental illness, the highest ratios belonging to major depression, substance addiction, histrionic personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

A partner with a mental health disorder is often debilitated, emotionally, mentally, and even physically.  In many cases, cognitive functioning, social drive, sexual appetite, and social behaviour lie outside the normal limits of acceptance.  These may manifest on decreased or extreme levels, causing chronic stress, anxiety, fear, and frustration on the mentally healthy spouse.

Common Challenges a Marriage Faces with a Mentally Ill Partner

The vow to stay together “for better or for worse” is challenged by the fact that the tenor of the marriage changes as the symptoms of mental illness bring about these conditions:

  1. Loss of a sense of partnership

For the mentally stable partner, there is “no partner to turn to” when situations become   difficult.  The mentally ill partner however may come to depend heavily on the spouse for emotional, social, and even financial support.  Instead of a partner-based relationship, the healthy spouse may find himself or herself alone with the burden of keeping the family together, without help or support from the significant other.

  1. Financial issues

Mental health disorders debilitate and may cause a sick individual to lose his job or source of income.  In this case, it falls on his/her spouse to financially carry the family alone.  This puts a strain on the relationship with the healthy spouse developing resentments and the unhealthy one, being frustrated with himself and further worsening his mental condition.

  1.  Single parenting and taking the role of a caregiver

Not only does the healthy spouse lose a partner when mental illness strikes, he also has to assume the role of a caregiver who has to weather the storm of emotional upheavals mental illnesses bring.  The healthy partner also has to make decisions alone regarding children, if any, and steer the family into the right direction, almost without help from the spouse.  This often leaves the healthy partner feeling alone, trapped with an enormous burden from which there is scant relief.

  1.   Sexual distancing and loss of desire

The chronic burden of caregiving, dependency of partner, and other issues that may crop up can decrease sexual desire of the caregiving partner for the other.  If the mentally ill partner is experiencing major depression, he may lose his sexual appetite as a common repercussion of the malady.  Sexual distancing also erodes emotional closeness between partners which over time contributes to the dissolution of the marriage.

  1.   Social distancing and isolation

When the behaviour of the mentally unhealthy partner starts to become socially unacceptable and embarrassing, such as compulsive habits or lecherous remarks, friends may start withholding invitations and the couple may find themselves isolated from their former social groups.  Even family relations may place some distance from the mentally ill person, and in consequence, isolate the other stable partner as well through no fault of his own.  This could exacerbate the healthy spouse’s feelings of being alone with the burden of caring for a mentally ill patient.

According to John Gottman, psychology professor emeritus and author of over 40 books and academic articles on marriage and parenting, the four horsemen of the apocalypse that destroy marriages and lead to divorce are:  contempt, defensiveness, criticism, and stonewalling.  In relationships where one or both partners are dealing with their mental health issues, these four elements crop up more frequently, making a marriage with a mentally ill partner rather difficult to upkeep.

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What Can Be Done

There is no one-way-fits-all approach for helping a deteriorating marriage on its feet.  Just as it is with any malady, seeking professional help is paramount when the symptoms are still at their early stages.  In a marriage, early counselling coupled with medical treatment is key.  Sadly, couples who come in for counselling usually have gone years relating dysfunctionally with each other so that one spouse has already seriously been considering divorce.

It is best for both partners to seek counselling or therapy together.  The therapist can mediate between both parties, set a “no blame” environment, help the mentally ill partner acknowledge how his behaviour is affecting the relationship, and reduce relationship distress.  The therapist may also prescribe medication as part of his therapy plan in order to improve the mentally ill spouse’s ability to function and communicate.

There are, however, cases where the severity of mental illness mandates a separation, especially where the mental and physical health of children are involved.  Violent behaviour, for instance, may be one imperative for couples to distance themselves from each other.  Staying in a marriage where one is mentally ill is a case-to-case basis.  For some undergoing couple’s therapy, mental illness can somehow strengthen the relationship bonds; for others, however, sticking it out together just cannot be an option any longer.

Why We Should Fight Loneliness

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“No man is an island.”  This line from the John Donne’s prose “Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” may have grown trite and archaic over the centuries; nevertheless, it still holds the universal truth that man is a social animal…man needs social relations to thrive and be happy.

Loneliness is the result of being detached from or deprived of meaningful social relations.  It is a universal emotion; yet, its effects and symptoms are as individualistic as the people who harbour it.

Loneliness does not stem from just being alone.  Some people can live alone and still have the security of belongingness.  Some can be surrounded by people everyday yet feel no particular connections with anyone.  Loneliness is a growing modern social problem with psychological repercussions.

What Loneliness Means

Loneliness is a perceived social isolation.  The physical state of being alone does not define loneliness.  A person’s perception of being utterly alone and on his own is what marks him as being truly lonely.  Sporadic sadness does not make loneliness either.  Loneliness is a permeating emotion.

If a person cannot connect meaningfully with others, despite the numbers surrounding him at work, populating his Facebook friends list, or teeming within his family, then he faces loneliness.

For Whom the Lonely Bells Toll 

In the U.K., the groups most at risk for being in a state of loneliness are on one hand, the student group between 18-24 years old and on the other, senior citizens.  Research reveals that the student group has a higher percentage of lonely people than the senior group.  Lots of life changes such as going away to college, starting a job, and starting a family may be very unsettling, despite the positive views these changes are supposed to have.  Seniors can get lonesome with life transitions too such as retirement, being away from their kids, illness, and death of a loved one.

It is actually disconcerting to believe that about 5 million people in the U.K. feel they have no close ties or real friends.  This looks like Britain has an epidemic of lonely people.  According to John Bingham’s article on the Telegraph, most workers have less contact with friends and family than they do their bosses and colleagues.  Yet 4 in 10 reveal that they have not made real, close ties with these colleagues at work.  Marriage does not also guarantee an effective barrier to loneliness.  In fact, 1 in 5 says that they do not feel loved.

The Dangers of Loneliness

Loneliness debilitates and damages physical health.  Studies have shown that chronic feelings of loneliness especially in older adults can compromise the immune system and cause cellular inflammation.  The combination of these two effects may prove to be potentially lethal as these leaves the body open to a lot of degenerative problems and all sorts of diseases.

Loneliness can also hasten cognitive decline in seniors.  Research has established a link between loneliness, depression,  and Alzheimer’s disease.

Loneliness

What to Do

You can help yourself overcome and keep loneliness at bay by:

1. Learning something new

Join a class or get into a new hobby.  Embarking on a new activity opens up new venues and new people to meet.  You may make new friends as your new lessons provide you all with the same common ground over which to bond.

2. Taking the initiative to connect

If you want to make friends, don’t wait for others to go first.  It may be daunting to make first contact but here is where being shy won’t help.  Remember, you are trying to be physically and mentally healthy so get your social connections.  Not all may respond as you like, but there has got to be some people out there who would be glad to meet you.

3.  Talking to someone you trust

Talk to someone you trust about your loneliness.  Talking it out helps you alleviate negative moods.  Lacking a good friend or trusted family member, talk to someone who would be partial to your frame of mind.  He can be your counsellor, priest, pastor, teacher, or anyone whom you think can minister to you.  It is important that you connect socially.

4. Focus on someone who needs you

Being lonely often makes one concentrate only on one’s self.  Since you understand loneliness now,  why not shift your focus to others and offer them your support.  Doing something good for someone can do wonders to your self esteem and moods.  Volunteer at a local charity where you will be afforded a lot of social rapport with people who need an emotional boost more than you do.  You may find that you have helped yourself out of the loneliness rut by helping others.

Sex and Relationships

How Vital is Sex in a Relationship?

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At the beginning of a relationship, when all is romance and mushy hearts, sex (or its lower derivatives such as kissing, fondling, petting) is a love language couples often indulge in as an integral expression of their intimacy.  As the relationship progresses over the years and familiarity starts breeding mundanity, the frequency of this intimate expression may dwindle down from occasional, rarely, to absolutely nil.

In sad situations where couples have gradually foregone sex as an inessential component in their relationships, trouble may be brewing in paradise.  Many studies have shown that “sexless marriages” (those in which sex occurs only 10 times or less in a year) involve couples that have very low satisfaction levels with their lifetime partnerships.  Couples with good sex lives, however, also manifest high levels of relationship satisfaction.

Many people, women especially, have the tendency to think that sex is unimportant.  This is a fallacy that could prove dangerous to intimacy in a relationship.  Sex can become a gargantuan issue if a couple’s sex life becomes frustratingly unfulfilled.  In a marriage or a serious relationship, sex functions as a pressure valve which allows a couple to take time out from the daily grind by experiencing the kind of pleasure, closeness, and sharing only intimate partners can give to each other.  Sex in this context just does not mean sexual intercourse alone; it also includes touching, hugging, kissing, caressing, and even holding hands.  Touching provides the physical comfort and affection your partner needs and thus must be perceived as a healthy component of sexual life.

Relationship therapists know that people deprived of sex in a marriage feel rejected, frustrated, unfocused, depressed, and generally have low self esteem.  When one partner craves the physical or emotional satisfaction of sex and the other just has no interest in getting amorous between the sheets, sex becomes unsatisfying and intimacy starts dropping until it becomes non-existent.  Partners start to become less engaged with one another and more emotionally disconnected.  Heart-to-heart talks and little dinner dates start dwindling.  Dangerous questions such as “What did I see in him/her?” begin peeking out.  Soon, couples find that they have drifted so far apart from each other when infidelity and divorce rear their ugly heads.

Rekindling the Flame

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If a relationship is to survive the long haul, partners have to find a way to be physically intimate and loving through the many changes life throws in their way.  Sex can keep a marriage strong; the lack of it can break it.

It is important to recognize that sex waxes and wanes in a long term relationship like marriage.  Partners must be aware that relationships need to be worked on daily and this includes the sexual aspect of their bond.  For one to rekindle the flame, these approaches may help:

  • Know the signs of a low sex relationship:

    • Has sex become a chore?
    • Do you not feel close or intimate with your partner after sex?
    • Is your spouse/partner uninterested in sex?  Are you?
    • Is there a lack of spontaneity?
    • Does your mate turn to pornography?

These signs may be red flags that your sexual life needs a change and a boost before your relationship gets negatively affected.

  • Communicate.  Talk to your spouse about the no sex or low sex situation of your relationship.  What you say and how you say it will be very important to get your partner to be receptive to the situation.  Communication is one essential way to re-establish intimacy.  Keep the lines open.

When in one of these intimate talks, find out what pleasures him and reveal what pleasures you as well.  Decide how you both can improve and revive your sex life.

  • Both you and your partner must accept that salvaging your sexual relationship will be difficult.  Both of you just must make a commitment to strengthening your bonds.
  • Be open to trying new things.  Both of you must however be comfortable with the suggestions in order for this to approach to work.  Coercion or the feeling that one has to do something despite his misgivings may simply backfire on your intimacy.
  • Recognize that there are no hard and fast rules to sex.  What may be considered low sex relationship in standard norms may not be so to you as a couple.  If both of you are happy with a once in three months rate, then your sexual life is actually fulfilled.  It is only when one partner craves more than the other that problems about sex start to exist.
  • Both of you must make the time to get intimate.  If you must, schedule.  Remember, prioritizing time with your partner pays off in loads of closeness and affection.
  • Don’t expect sex to be perfect all the time.  Learn to laugh over your foibles.  Humour adds another dimension to intimacy.
  • Bring back those date nights.
  • If the sexual side of the relationship seems to be in an especially difficult slump, consider asking the help of a qualified therapist.

Relationships and counselling

4Just like all relationships, marriages do face challenges of all sorts; small, big, simple, complex. What one may call small is what usually causes strain and stress in a marriage hence instability. However, when a partner is willing to find a solution to an impending problem and participate in problem solving, then most problems affecting relationships will not cause major hiccups, but when problems are left unattended to, bad habits develop, health problems arise as tension is also on a rise.

Stress and strain in a marriage may be faced by one partner or by both people in the marriage and problems such as poor communication, differences in parenting skills, financial problems, differences in political ideas, chronic or terminal illness of a partner and infidelity are some of the causes of this tension.

For one to identify that some problems in a relationship have been swept under the rug, there will be an increasing frequency in arguments.

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When problems are swept under the rug, there might also be mental health problems such as depression for one or both people in the marriage, self esteem will be dented. Addictive behaviours such as the abuse of drugs may also occur when partners do not want to get to the root of the problem in their marriage.

It is at such times that couples seek marriage counselling since the problems in their relationship are starting to interfere with their daily lives or they are not sure if they want or can continue with their relationship. When the couple approaches a counsellor, they will need assistance but they have no idea how this help will come and how it will solve their present problem. While some couple may need to develop or better their communication skills, improve intimacy or learn how to sail through the new wave that their lives have presented, others will need the therapist to help in mediating their argument, declare which partner is more logical and the like.

There are several ways that relationship counselling or therapy for married will be done for example the Imago relationship therapy where couples are equipped with tools needed to relate with one another in healthier ways. This therapy also helps to uncover the emotional pathway that one has formed all the way from childhood to now. This is a combination of behavioural and spiritual techniques plus western psychological methods that are used to help couples unravel what their unconscious components are. Other therapies include: family therapy, couple therapy, group counselling, individual therapy.

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However, all these therapies are aimed at resolving relationship problems.

Some couples address problems in their marriages using individual therapy and they apply what they have learned about themselves to their partners. Furthermore, family therapy is also good for families where the children have also been affected by the tension brought on by the strain and stress in their parents’ relationship.


What every couple or family needs to know is that counsellors are not going to take sides or advise a couple to put a halt to their relationship but will advise the couple or family to allow the therapy carry on and unfold in a natural manner without any predetermined relationship saving goal.

Through relationship therapies, couples and families are assisted by supporting the goals that they have set and also helping everyone communicate their needs, emotions, and thoughts in a clearer manner as well as to listen to the other party with a little more care.

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For amazing results to be actualized during and after counselling, every involved party must at least be committed to the counselling while it lasts. There should also be a level of honesty, interest in applying what was advised during the therapy session as well as personal accountability.

In as much as starting any counselling more so relationship counselling is a very daunting task because baring your soul out before a person that already knows you in and out may make one feel naked, then saying the truth about some incidences may bring more hurt than already present. However, if couples or families can let go of that lump in their throats that causes them to trample upon the idea of relationship therapy, the rewards they will get will be greater than the fears.

How to Nurture Great Family Relationships

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 When we take a look at relationships, we can not fail to look at the family because that is where one learns how to relate with those around him or her. Thereafter, one can gradually learn to relate with the world around them, however small or big. The best gifts parents or guardians can give to children are nurturing and caring. It is these gifts that allow for healthy relationships both within the family unit and with people outside that unit hence grooming well rounded people. Because of these gifts, these children will also reciprocate what they were taught to their parents or guardians when they are of advanced age. Therefore, that means that if the family relationships are not well nurtured, a lot of pain, hurt, havoc and later on crime is brought into being. For example, a son that has not been taught to relate well with family members will not know how important apologizing is, will not think that it is important to visit a grandparent who is in a home for the old. Let us see how we can best develop family relationships and how to strengthen them because they are the basis for the development of other relationships in life.

Love

This is the epicentre of a home or family for without it the family is in disarray. Every human being desires to be loved and to love and it is in a family where love must first be seen. Love in a family setting is that close personal blend of mental and physical togetherness. Love means caring, a sense of belonging, privacy, and intimacy. An environment that is charged with love has got a sense of honesty, patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and understanding. A family is said to love when activities therein are shared, gratitude is expressed freely and genuinely. Love means that people take time to nurture it, show affection and have an attitude of positivity.

Loyalty

For a family to be strong there has to be devotion and a sense of loyalty among the members of the family as this shows that the family sticks together. Such family members stand by one another in stormy weather and can defend one another in case of attack from an outsider. Loyalty is that attribute that grows no matter the situation in the family; poverty or wealth, sickness or good health. Devotion and loyalty in a family will mean that even when the times are hard on any of the family members, they can count on their family members to cheer them on or to give them a shoulder to cry on. These two attributes also nurture a sense of giving and receiving hence helping people learn how to negotiate in other life relationships.

Leadership

This is an essential aspect in a family because a family without a leader will not stand. Usually it is the elders within a family that take up the leadership role. For any family to survive, a set of rules or guidelines are needed for it is these that help shape the family members up and make leadership possible. These usually silent rules are made basing on how well the family members understand one another, not on force. These guidelines usually flow from the adults to the younger ones with firmness yet with fairness for results to be achieved. It is in such strong families that people learn to have their say with respect, decision making is taught at an early age and even the younger ones learn how to make and enforce rules. Like in any other society, the initial stages may not pass without crisis but working together and listening to one another will enable these rules to be laid down and followed willingly.

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Learning

It is within a family that skills, values and behaviours are learned. In families, people are expected to control and manage their learning experiences for it is these that help in establishing a pattern for home life and guide children when they are out of home. Families are also expected to involve the neighbourhood, school, business, church and government in the raising of children however, never allow the forces of our societies to rule our homes and family lives. Strong families are the ones that learn through experience and teach by example while explaining and executing family values.

Laughter

It is said that laughter is medicine to the soul and this also for our families. Humour helps families to escape the tensions of life for through laughter we get to see who we are in an honest and objective way. Family building is a very serious matter however; taking it too seriously causes tension among family members. It is through laughter that balance is brought into the efforts we make in family building and makes life look more real. However, laughter must not be brought on because one is miserable, it should be natural and positive in nature. Laughing at someone causes division while laughing together fosters unity. Leaning to use laughter positively enables families to bond more, release tension and build more energies to work better.

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However, many of us wonder how we can manage to keep our family relationships strong for a really long time if not forever. This because very many storms come our way that we tend to violate the values we were taught. Here are some ways or patterns we can use to keep our family relationships great.

Appreciation

For a family to stay strong; not divided, talking and showing appreciation for one another is important. As humans, it has been said that we have a strong need for love; however, we also have a strong need for appreciation. Some people work so hard even when the duty is too much for them just for the sake of being appreciated at the end of the day. Therefore, for a healthy family relationship, appreciation is needed. It enables self esteem to be built and people are motivated to continue behaving in a positive way to one another. In a family, appreciation means

  • Treating family members as our best friends
  • Showing love to one another in small ways on a daily basis
  • Receiving and giving compliments gracefully
  • Showing a lot of appropriate affection
  • Applauding the strengths and achievements of family members
  • Taking time to say, ‘I love you’, more often
  • Remembering and celebrating special occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries
  • Creating a friendly atmosphere in the home

Communication

Developing the art of communication is what makes any family strong. Developing communication skills calls for family members to spend more time with one another, talking about everything and anything ranging from small and trivial issues to important life changing issues. Families that do not value communication can never build great relationships with one another or even out of the family circle. Communication is the way emotions and love are expressed therefore we can not help but keep communication a part of us to foster great family ties. Good communication calls for;

  • Trusting each other
  • Listening and not just hearing, more so without distraction
  • Going the extra mile to check what one really meant in case there was something unclear
  • Trusting one another
  • Being honest and open but also kind
  • Avoiding reading between lines or reading one’s mind
  • Walking in the other person’s shoes
  • Avoiding criticism; more so negative criticism, evaluating as well as acting superior
  • Dealing with specifics and not generalities
  • Tackling one issue at a time
  • Attacking and dealing with an issues not an individual
  • Developing an understanding attitude

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Time together

For a family to come out of weakness to strength, they need to spend more time with each other. We need to avoid the issue of, ‘I am busy’ all the time, if we are to build great family relations. Some people may say that in as much as we do not spend a lot of time together, the few times that we do have quality to them. However, studies have shown that quality and quantity matter for meaningful relationships to be developed and maintained. A lot of time together that is filled with arguments and bickering will not yield much nor will small times that are filled with quality activities. Family memoirs are built on lots of family activities and lots of time spent together. Time together as a family means

  • Communication is enhanced
  • A family identity is developed; family members develop a sense of belonging, unity is fostered
  • ‘Fizzle and die’ that is found in some marriages is avoided
  • Alienation, loneliness, and isolation are taken out of the picture
  • An opportunity to develop other family strengths

One may wonder what to do when families or family members come together and the answer will be anything and everything. They could;

  • Share yard and house chores
  • Engage in outdoor sports
  • Go for picnics
  • Share meals
  • Go for walks, mountain hike
  • Engage in camping
  • Go for movies
  • Engage in indoor games like scrabble, jigsaw puzzles
  • Go for bowling
  • Engage in religious activities
  • Engage in school activities such as attending one’s recital
  • Celebrate a special occasion like a birthday, an anniversary

Commitment 

For strong family relationships to be built people need to be committed to one another; they need to value family unity. Devotion allows for a firm foundation to be established for strong family ties. Devoted family members have this in mind;

  • Every family member is valuable
  • Bad times do not necessarily mean destroyed family ties
  • Sexual faithfulness is important in marriage
  • Family is number one priority
  • Work (office or family business) comes after family
  • Sacrifices have to be made for family to thrive
  • Forgiveness must be given to every family member
  • Priorities have to be set and known
  • Family traditions must be set and treasured
  • Some of the common goals have to be shared

Coping ability

For family members to say that they have strong family relationships, they should look at storms, stress and the like as opportunities to grow other than burdens. A strong family must have good coping skills for the ability to cope and solve problems is what gives a family the confidence that they can deal with issues that come their way. There are a number of coping strategies and they include the following;

  • No single family member has to shoulder all the responsibility that comes with solving a crisis, every family member has to converge and help in solving it. Through sharing this responsibility, every one in the family can pour his or her energy in doing what they do best in order to solve the crisis.
  • Openness during communication makes solving of problems easier. During a crisis, uncertainty and change are experienced hence anger, anxiety, fear, guilt and depression come up. Therefore communicating effectively will give room to family members to freely air out their feelings and express their emotions and this is key to coming out of a crisis triumphantly.
  • There is need to see positivity in every situation hence focus on those positive issues when solving a problem. This is what counsellors call reframing: it is when one sees rose petals other than the thorns beneath. It is this positive perspective that enables the family to cope during stormy weathers without getting overwhelmed.
  • Flexibility is also needed if a family is to cope with problems and come out successfully. Strong families, change, bend and adapt and when the bad times are behind them, they are still one solid unit.
  • Some problems can be so overwhelming that it takes someone from without to help family get things in order with less damage. It is a strong family that can allow to get hep from outside for they realise that it does not show weakness; failure to solve problems in-house, but it is a sign of maturity; we can not do it all. Strong families realise that there are other people that can be brought on board to help end these problems with much more success than when they do it on their own. Outside help may be sought from church, friends, professionals, and extended family.
  • Spiritual resources such as the Bible, counsel from religious leaders can help families get through crises. Spiritual beliefs help families get things into perspective for they are usually a source of comfort, give a sense of peace and direction and give more meaning to life during times of turmoil.

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Spiritual wellness

It does not matter what a family indulges in; religious services, ceremonies or none of the aforementioned things, a strong family needs to have a belief that gives them purpose and strength. This is called spirituality; a force that enables one to go beyond themselves and get connected to something larger than themselves. Many believe that humans have a spiritual side of them and it is this side that enables us to answer simple yet challenging questions such as, why am I here?, what is life?

Spirituality does a lot for a family more so when this spirituality is shared by all family members and the help comes in form of;

  • Providing a character expression for daily living
  • Providing spiritual heritage
  • Giving a family an awareness that there is a divine presence in their lives
  • Helping families cope in times of tumult
  • Providing meaningful rituals and traditions
  • Providing a sense of peace and freedom
  • Giving pointers for living
  • Helping a family maintain a positive sense of living

I believe that with the information given above, our family relationships will thrive and they will be maintained for generations to come.