It was early in my dating relationship with my now-husband, Wes, when we encountered a pretty disruptive event on the road home from Mobile, Alabama one Sunday afternoon. We were on I-10 keeping up with traffic just outside Mobile, which means I was driving about 75mph, when something under the hood of my SUV loudly popped. I immediately lost power steering and all the warning lights on the dash lit up like a Christmas tree. I was in the middle lane of travel and had to navigate all the way over to the right so that I could take the next exit and attempt to safely maneuver us to a parking lot to try to assess what had just happened. Every time I had to stop I was scared it would completely die on us, so I did everything I could to slow without stopping. I had to make 5 or 6 turns to get to the Wal-Mart parking lot just off the exit ramp, and I struggled with each one. Whatever had just happened wasn’t obvious to either one of us when we popped the hood to look, but what we clearly understood was that we would not be driving my car the 90 miles between us and home. Fortunately, I’m a longtime AAA member so we called for help right away. A tow truck arrived within an hour and we towed my car to the dealership a few miles away . We then had to call a taxi to get us to the airport to rent a car to make the trip home, as we both had to work the next day. Everything in those two or three hours seemed to happen rather quickly and when we got in the rental car to head home I remember actually exhaling a little bit. But I was still flustered and anxious. We made it home and fixed something quick to eat. As we sat at the table and were rehashing the events of the day, I found myself apologizing profusely and commenting about all of the ways I could try to prevent something similar from ever happening again. In response to my third or fourth apology, he actually said, “It’s really OK, Jenn. This is life, Things like this just happen. We are safe. No one was hurt. We’ll make plans to go back to Mobile to pick up your car when it’s ready, and we’ll put this behind us. In the grand scheme of things this is not a major deal.”

My mouth fell open and I stared at him in shock and amazement. I said, “What? You aren’t upset? You don’t blame me for what happened?” He stared at me in confusion and finally said, “Why on earth would I blame you? You didn’t do anything to cause this. It is not your fault.” And I responded to him that I’d never before gone through a stressful situation similar to this – one that disrupted plans and required a great deal of effort to deal with – without feeling responsible, blamed and targeted. Wes then said, “Ahhh. I see. You must have PTRD.” “What is that?” I inquired. “Post Traumatic Relationship Disorder,” he said, and we both burst out laughing.

I have no idea whether the mental health community actually utilizes such a diagnosis, and I don’t use it here as any formal term or in anyway regarding an actual clinical diagnosis. The way I’m using it here is strictly to describe an effect of the baggage we carry from one relationship to another. When we are experiencing “PTRD Moments” we are struggling with expressing feelings about something the other has said or done and are tempted to respond based upon our past experiences with someone else. This causes confusion and frustration that wouldn’t have been there otherwise and further complicates an already tense situation. When we find ourselves in the midst of these “PTRD Moments” we need to clarify what is really causing our discomfort in the situation and understand that our reactions likely have little to do with what has actually just occurred between us, and has everything to do with habitual reactions we have developed from our previous significant relationships. This has been a total game-changer for my husband and me. If one of us reacts to the other in an out-of-the blue way, we can inquire as to whether this may be a “PTRD Moment,” which most of the time will diffuse the situation to a point that we can calmly discuss the actual issue at hand.

Long term, close relationships are tricky to navigate. Communicating our needs in a time of high emotion is difficult, even when we aren’t dragging our past relationships right up into the middle of the stressful situation. The next time you feel triggered by something someone else says, take a minute to take a deep breath and ask yourself if you are responding to what actually just happened, or if you are reacting based upon experiences you have had in previous relationships. You owe it to yourself and to the others with whom you are in relationship to honestly assess the origins of your feelings and reactions and to respond based upon the reality of what has occurred as opposed to the quick, snap reaction that was previously so well-rehearsed that it has become a knee-jerk reaction. With some intentional thought and self-analysis we can interrupt the old patterns and save ourselves a good deal of grief by truly communicating with the person with whom we are interacting. Are there legitimate disagreements to address, or are you transposing into the present moment your feelings and emotions from something someone else did to you some time ago? Did this person intentionally push your buttons to upset you, or are you simply having a “PTRD Moment?”

Introducing Civil Solutions: Problem Solving in the Real World

I’m excited to launch my new blog, “Keeping it Real!” with this introductory post.  This blog will explore topics related to law, relationships, communication, parenting and co-parenting, problem solving, and living a peaceful and joyful life.  Do you ever shy away from having difficult, but necessary, conversations?  Do you ever wish you had handled conflict with a loved one differently?  Do you ever wish you could take back a text or email that you sent in the heat of the moment?  Do you ever feel misunderstood and confused about why your spouse, ex-spouse, child, parent, sibling or friend reacted badly to something that you shared with them that was important to you?  Do you find composing letters, emails, and texts to be challenging? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then please join me here each week or two as I share tips, tricks and lessons learned that can help minimize the negativity in your relationships by helping you strengthen your communication skills.  My hope is that by taking this journey together we can learn from and encourage each other to be the best we can be and to have the healthiest relationships we can have. 

For you to have an idea of who I am and the context in which I’m writing, let me introduce myself and my work to you.  My name is Jenn Johnson and I am an attorney, mediator, educator, mother, wife, step-mother, daughter, sister, aunt and friend (among other roles).  For the last 24 years I have been an active practicing attorney in South Mississippi.  I was fortunate to practice with my father/law partner for 21 of those years in his civil litigation firm established in 1967.  In the 21 years that he and I practiced together I was afforded the opportunity to try many, many lawsuits to Judges, juries, and Administrative Law panels.  I practiced in the federal Multi-District Litigation courts in Boston, Massachusetts; Dallas, TX; and New Orleans, LA.  I practiced regularly in Mississippi Federal Courts and in Mississippi State Courts, including Circuit Court, Chancery Court, County Court, Justice Court, and Municipal Court.  I’ve assisted my clients in winning jury verdicts in excess of $1 million and I’ve suffered along with my clients in heartbreaking losses at trial.  I’ve settled hundreds of cases for the benefit of my clients, and I’ve successfully convinced judges to dismiss lawsuits filed against my clients.  Through these last 24 years I have engaged in extensive volunteer work with The Mississippi Bar, culminating in my election as the Mississippi Bar President for the 2020-2021 Bar Year; served on Advisory Boards of local agencies and schools; and served on state-wide committees for the betterment of children and families in Mississippi.  One of the most glaring revelations over the course of my career was that litigation for attorneys and for clients consistently proved to be grueling, demanding, expensive, time-and energy-consuming, frustrating, unpredictable and only sometimes exhilarating. Because of what I knew litigation was doing to me and because of what I witnessed it doing to my clients, a few years ago I decided a shift in the focus of my legal work toward mediation and dispute resolution was necessary.  In 2020 I launched my new business, Civil Solutions, LLC, which has been an extremely positive change for my clients and for me.

My primary work through Civil Solutions is focused on helping individuals and couples who are seeking a divorce in Mississippi to reach agreement regarding divorce, child custody/co-parenting arrangements, and property settlement issues.  I do this through individual consultations, mediations with couples, teaching a co-parenting Class called “Communication Skills for Co-Parents” along with two other attorneys in my local Chancery Court District, and presenting Continuing Legal Education seminars for attorneys.  In addition, I consult with and assist individuals in negotiating disputes with businesses, insurance companies, and others with whom there may be conflict.  I continue my very meaningful volunteer work through The Mississippi Bar to promote Collaborative Law in the family law setting and to assist parents and families involved in the Juvenile Justice System.  The common themes in all of my work are collaboration, cooperation, and acting from common ground.  In the legal world this falls into the category of “Alternative Dispute Resolution.”  In the real world, it’s just simple “problem solving.”  In both worlds the goal is to manage relationships, through effective communication, to reduce our suffering and to preserve our peace.  At its core, Civil Solutions is about helping people to work out their differences in a healthy, functional way.  It is about identifying common goals and recognizing the role of relationship in identifying those goals.  It is about employing mature, loving and kind communication skills to identify and reach our common goals and common ground.  We are actually all much more alike than we are different and when we face disputes or conflict it is critical to focus on where we agree first, then work on our differences from that place of agreement.  

My personal experiences greatly inform my work in these areas.  I was the mother of two young daughters when I found myself divorced from their father at the age of 39.  Our girls were 12 and 9 when we divorced and we have had lots of experience with co-parenting and managing our changed family dynamics.  Both my first husband and I are now remarried, so managing our roles as step-parents, and assisting our daughters in managing their roles as step-siblings has provided many opportunities for growth and to practice maturity.  “Taking the high road” has been a theme of ours for many years now.  Divorce is difficult under the best of circumstances, but it can be done in a way that promotes health and function of each member of the family, especially any children who are involved.  Parenting and co-parenting are challenging – always – but when separation and divorce require parenting and co-parenting in separate homes and with new people added into the mix, it becomes extremely difficult.  What I’ve learned over the years is that perspective and attitude make all the difference in the world.  The whole of my experience as a divorced, remarried, mother-of-two, trial attorney and problem solver is wide and varied, and is what brings me to this page to share with you some of the most poignant observations I have made over the years in hopes that we can start a dialogue about problem solving that first looks to amicable resolution of the many conflicts and disputes we face as we interact with others in our daily lives.

I would be honored to have you join me in this journey of “Keeping it Real!  To do so, please enter your email below to have future blog posts and newsletters delivered directly to your inbox.  And, if you feel so led, please leave a comment to let me know who you are, where you are from, and what resonates the most with you about what you have read here so far.  If you have friends or family members who would benefit from discussing these topics,  please feel free share the link to this blog with them. Together we can work to find a peaceful, functional way of clearly communicating with those closest to us in an effort to preserve relationships.  I promise to “keep it real” with you and hope you will do the same with me!