The Donald’s Melania

October 2nd, 2015

When they met, she was Melania Knauss, a Slovene model, and almost 25 years younger than her suitor, Donald Trump. They have now been married for 10 years and have one son. On the surface, most people think, “trophy wife.” However, those who know them say differently.

He is boisterous, aggressive, and deal-making—speaking out against immigration, as he talks about the wall he would build, and the illegal immigrants he would deport. She is the quiet partner, taking a back seat and barely seen or heard since he announced his candidacy—with daughter Ivanka having taken on the traditional role that spouses usually fill on the campaign trail. Acceding to Melania, with the Donald away so much, she has to be home and available to their son. She is also an immigrant, along with his first wife, Ivanna. Hummm, what would Freud say?

There is a theory that Trump keeps Melania under wraps because she could be a liability. She’s not politically savvy and is not the traditional spouse that voters like and can relate to. For some voters she could represent the younger woman their husband left them for, for others, the woman who they could never be with a glamorous life they will never have. During the debate in September when candidates were introducing themselves, all but one talked about their spouse. The Donald introduced himself and one of his accomplishments, Melania never came up. Now this probably says more about Mr. Trump than it does about Mrs. Trump—but she seems to be fine with her role and place in his life and future plans.

The Donald seems to have evolved in his taste over the course of his three marriages. Ivanna was glamorous, foreign-born—but loved the spotlight. She was outspoken during and after their marriage and has even written a book about their life together. She talked candidly about his affair with the woman who would be his second wife, Marla Maples.

The second Mrs. Trump was very different from Ivanna. She enjoyed the limelight, but their marriage was much shorter, resulted in only one child, and was plagued with rumors of conflict. Then there was Melania, much like Ivanna in some ways, but more discreet, happy to take a background position to her bombastic, billionaire, reality-show star husband. His type, but one who knows her place. Adoring, loyal, and devoted—just the way a narcissistic guy like Trump would want his wife to be.

If she were to become the next first lady, she would be a very different one. Foreign-born, not a native English speaker, and not interested in the glare of cameras and constant attention by the media. Everyone who knows her says she is a nice, kind person, a great Mom, and very into her family. She would be the stay-at-home spouse and First lady. What in the world would her social secretary do to fill her time? Probably work to find time that overlapped with the President’s schedule, so they could be together—meeting his many needs. This would be a real change from the Clintons and Obamas, even the Bushes—but isn’t that exactly what people say they want—real change?

Brian Williams: What would Pope Francis tweet?

September 23rd, 2015

Brian Williams returned to work on MSNBC yesterday, just in time to cover Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. As we all know, this Pope has gone where no one before him has ever been, and has gained a great deal of popularity and respect for his messages on inclusion, forgiveness, humility, love for the poor and marginalized—and respect for all beings and the natural world that sustains us.

How ironic it is then that as Mr. Williams began his coverage, the hashtag #BrianWilliamsPopeStories sprang up on twitter and took off with tweets on how Williams might make up stories that put him in shared experiences with the pope. Yes, some were creative and humorous, but they were none the less unkind and even hurtful. One can only imagine what Francis would (or will?) have to say if they are brought to his attention.

What does this have to do with relationships you ask? Actually, the answer is a lot. Healthy and mutually satisfying relationships happen between people who are respectful, empathetic, supportive, forgiving, non-judgmental, and loyal. Therefore if someone can be this judgmental and unkind to a man they have never met and don’t even really know, imagine how they might treat an intimate other when they have been disappointed by their behavior and/or are asked to forgive and move past a transgression they have committed.

The way someone treats their family, friends, co-workers, exes—and yes, people they don’t know personally, is a glance into how they will treat an intimate partner. Pay attention to how he or she talks to wait staff, comments they make about political candidates and public figures, the person who drives too slowly in front of them, or the one who is a bit different. This behavior is a window into their soul—something Pope Francis is a true authority on.

Trying to have in all in a toxic work world

September 20th, 2015

The NY Times has a very thoughtful and much viewed piece running right now, titled, “A Toxic Work World.” Its author, Anne-Marie Slaughter talks about the intense competition, overly long hours, rigid and outdated ideas regarding the need for specific work place and work hours—and the fact that this culture is impacting not just women with children, but men as well.

Certainly women are impacted the most, and Ms. Slaughter discusses this as she looks at the statistics on who is in the top management positions in business and industry. Even though women now make up a large percentage of the work force and are earning degrees at higher rates than their male counterparts, they are not getting the proportionate promotions and better pay. The why is pretty simple–women are still the primary caregivers in our society, for children, parents and other family members.

The stress from being both a caretaker and an aspiring professional are enormous, and there is a stress epidemic going on right now. Women were told they could have it all, and it is becoming apparent that this is a myth, or wishful thinking. Those who believe this and then try to make it a reality end up coming in to see someone like me for help with stress, anxiety, sleep disorders, health issues, and marital problems. They often believe it is their fault—for the record, it is not.

What I like about this piece is that it talks about how this toxic work culture is also impacting men, who fare better but are being more and more impacted. Men today want time with their kids, more are getting involved in things at home that women used to handle alone. Men are stepping in to help aging parents and backing up their wives when a child is sick, school is closed or there is some crisis that requires someone be at home and away from their workplace.

Ms. Slaughter talks about the book, “Opting Out” by Pamela Stone. Ms. Stone calls this problem for women a “forced choice.” After all if part time hours, telework and flexibility are denied, it leaves a women to making choices she does not want to make regarding work, but must do to take care of her first priority, her children. For women who live close to the poverty line, if they miss work due to a home emergency, they lose pay and risk getting fired. They also have trouble getting a guaranteed number of weekly work hours and are at the mercy of how an employer works to save money. Since women increasingly contribute to the family income, this is a problem for everyone. When they earn less, it directly impacts their ability to help support their children and lifestyle. Fathers are then under greater stress as they look for ways to make up for this loss.

Some well- known tech companies are making changes in maternity and paternity leave and this is a great first step. Ms. Slaughter says that with 57% of women in the workforce, we will need to make changes. She talks about good quality, affordable child care, part-time and flexible work schedules, job protection for pregnant workers, paid family and medical leave, and better training and pay for professional caregivers, among others. There are a few states who have done some things and proposals for doing more, but they can’t come soon enough.

If you are a young person who aspires to marriage/children/professional success—this is what you will face. If you are already there, speak up, especially when it comes time to vote for representatives who value what you do. There is no such thing as having it all, but with the right supports in place, we can all have some of everything we want and are willing to work for. We just can’t have it all at once.

Are you bound for wedded bliss or divorce?

September 14th, 2015

This past Saturday I attended the wedding of my niece in CT. I have twelve nieces and nephews, four young adults of my own, and many, many other married relatives and friends. Needless to say I have been going to weddings for years, and lost count quite some time ago.

I like to say that very few of the weddings I have witnessed have been the start of unions that ended in divorce. In fact my track record is probably somewhere between an 80-90% success rate. Pretty good, given the present divorce rate of around 49%. However, this sweet statistic has nothing to do with me, not really. Yes, we do tend to see certain patterns in families, and to be friends with people we have a lot in common with—and my background is one where divorce was frowned upon and the message was about choosing wisely because if you “made your bed, you would have to lie in it,” so to speak.

However as someone who has borne witness to many marriages from elaborately planned and lavishly executed to last minute elopements, I do have a great deal of personal experience. I am also a psychotherapist and relationship coach who specializes in working with couples, which has let me be a fly on the wall observing the traits and behaviors that lead to marital success or conflict, alienation and divorce.

I found myself really thinking about this on Saturday as I observed my niece and her now husband taking their vows, and then got to spend a bit of time with them discussing their relationship and future plans, and observing their interactions, communication, and hearing about how they worked together to pull off a joy filled celebration in the midst of their very full and challenging lives. Their love for and devotion to one another were OBVIOUS, and NO this is not how it is for every couple on their “happy” day. It’s something we sense and feel more than hear. It’s a quiet message that says I have your back, there is no one else but you—and I KNOW you are the one, and have since I met you.

Now you might be saying to yourself, well everyone feels this way, says these things, acts this way on the day they get married—no, they do not. Too often in my role as a couples therapist I have heard about the doubts, fears, concerns, and reluctance to call it off for fear of being alone, upsetting one’s family/friends, losing the wedding deposits, or some other reason. The only thought that one needs to have that predicts success is, “I can’t imagine my life without this person.”

Couples who are good friends, challenge and excite each other intellectually, and turn each other on physically, are the ones who go the distance. They are the ones who let go of the little annoyances because they mean nothing compared to all the good stuff that really counts. When they speak about one another it is with warmth and intimacy. They get each other without words and can often finish each other’s sentences. They never ask themselves if there is someone better out there, instead they feel as this groom voiced, “You are the one I was always looking for and I couldn’t believe that you actually existed, and I was lucky enough to find you.” They know they have found their right person, and it shows in the way they look at one another, the way they speak to and about each other, and in the simple joy that is easily felt by those around them. I wish my niece and her new husband luck and joy, though they clearly possess these already.

Bernnifer—Reconciling or regaining a friendship?

September 7th, 2015

Days ago the rumor mill started cranking on Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner after they emerged from family counseling smiling, talking, and looking at ease with one another. The gossip began to swirl around a possible reconciliation based on their body language.

As a marital therapist and body language expert, I can tell you there are other strong possible reasons for their recent behavior with one another—and they may have nothing to do with reconciling.

They were together for 10 years, long by Hollywood standards. They also have three children together, which gives their relationship some powerful motivation to communicate and remain amicable. This along with the hints they have offered that it had never been easy for them and especially for Jennifer, leads to another possible reason for their newly found goodwill towards one another.

They might make much better friends than intimate partners, for reasons none of us will ever know. What goes on between two married people is only known to them and their counselor, if they have one. When they attend counseling together following a split, the goal is often to move towards closure, reconciliation, and to find a way to be effective and involved co-parents. Based on my experience, I’m guessing this is at least some of what their sessions focus on.

When the split became public, with pictures of and rumors about Ben and the nanny, the tension around and between them was palatable. Who knows what the real story was, but it is safe to say it was a painful and difficult time for both of them. Now they are working on having a “good” divorce—and that could well be the reason for the positive body language that the cameras captured. They are talking through their hurts, trying to make amends, coming to new agreements about the kids and what is next, working towards forgiveness—and maybe, just maybe finding their way back to being friends, like they were at the beginning.

They no longer have to deal with the marital issues, and can now be two people coming together to be good parents to their children. There will be birthdays, holidays, extended family events—and yes, new partners that will need to be dealt with as they move forward. If both feel like they have one another’s back as parents and can work together for the sake of their kids, it can lead to new good feelings, interactions and can help rebuild trust and respect.

None of this means they will get back together as a couple. It’s always possible, but like many other couples, they may have discovered that they make good friends, but lousy partners. If both feel this way, the road to recovery is easier and the future looks a lot smoother for them as a family, living apart, but finding healthy and positive ways to connect.

Single and happy? You are not alone

September 5th, 2015

Rebecca Adams from The Huffington post recently did an interesting piece that discussed research that suggests that single people can be as happy as those who are coupled. While this may come as a surprise to some, not so much to others. After all, there are pros and cons to every lifestyle choice and having a partner VS going solo is no different.

Ms. Adams weaves several studies in her piece, such as a recent one out of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Researchers actually did two studies that looked at both the short and long-term effects of one’s relationship status on their well-being. In the first one they had 187 undergraduate participants ranging in age from 19 to 54 years old. Participants in this study were a mix of singes and those in relationships. These participants were asked to provide feedback that measured their positive VS negative motivation for achieving goals. In other words, were they motivated to move towards goals through a negative (avoidance) VS positive (approach) attitude. They were also asked to rate how strongly they agreed with two positive statements about their happiness and satisfaction with their life. They used a 1-7 scale, every day, for 10 days.

The second study used data that had been gathered for two consecutive years for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, which utilized over 4,000 participants ranging in age from 18 to 94. Again the sample contained participants who were single, dating, living with someone or married, and contained answers to the same questions asked in the first study that measured their avoidance and approach goals. This group was asked to rate their life satisfaction in terms of their standard of living, health, security and personal relationships. In other words, more pragmatic and specific than the general happiness rating the first group gave.

The findings showed that single participants listed as many avoidance VS satisfaction goals as those who were coupled. They cited a sense of freedom from the potential vulnerability to hurt and conflict that those in relationships are exposed to. Across the board, participants did report an increase in happiness when they were in a relationship. This one does make me wonder how truthful folks were about their desire to avoid the risks associated with loving someone.

Researchers did emphasize all the benefits of intimate relationships with friends, and family—and other research certainly points to how good those relationships are for us. However, the intimacy found with a partner is a unique kind of relationship that meets a very special need that many folks have. Yes, we can be single and happy and coupled and miserable—one doesn’t have to look far into either one to find many examples. My take has always been that if you are living a happy single life, you have a much greater probability of finding, attracting and having a happy and fulfilling coupled life. Just my unscientific conclusion.

Bachelor in Paradise—There’s something (wrong) about Sam

August 31st, 2015

Bachelor in Paradise has a recent addition who made a cameo appearance on a past season of The Bachelor, but because she had no chemistry with the Bachelor Chris, was sent home quickly. In other words, we barely noticed her. Now she has returned to the little screen as the femme fatale of this season’s Bachelor in Paradise. Apparently most of the men are smitten with her and the women, not so much.

We keep hearing about how “beautiful” she is, indeed she is a very pretty young woman, dark haired, intense eyes and lovely shape. The problem is that from what we have seen, her beauty is truly only skin deep. Apparently she was virtually communicating with and manipulating at least three of the men before the season began, promising each that she would definitely go on a date with them and see where it went. It seems they all believed she was coming on the show to meet and connect with them. In addition, a few other guys have honed right in on her upon arrival to the island and she has been swamped with date offers. No wonder the ladies aren’t thrilled. But wait, there is more, so much more.

Sam keeps sending mixed messages, speaking out of both sides of her mouth, playing one person against another—and is a kind of mystery to everyone. No one really knows what she is up to, what she wants and where it is all going. Well, I’d like to weigh in.

Here are my theories:

• Sam is interested in one guy, but is playing all the others in order to stay until he arrives, which he hasn’t yet.

• Sam loves the attention and even if she has to be the bad guy, she is getting most of the air time and print being generated by the show. She wants this to segue into a modeling/acting/TV hosting, etc. career, which was her plan when she went on The Bachelor, but she left too quickly.

• Sam wants to be The Bachelorette and this is just an audition. She can’t hook up with anyone in particular, needs to appear open to love and as someone that many guys will want to date. However, if she is seen as a “mean” or “bad” girl, she won’t make the cut. Bachelorettes are always fan favorites, not just guy favorites. So she has to be careful not to be obvious when she plays a guy, she has to say the right things, keep everyone thinking she is sincere and really trying to be fair and decent, and that she is a great girl and friend. Well, Sam, the women and some of the men can see right through you.

I predict that this will all come around and bite Sam in her cute little posterior and that she will leave empty-handed. Note to all mean girls out there—Karma will prevail and you will finish last. Juelia is a good example of this in reverse. She’s a sweet and very real woman and everyone loves her and jumps in to protect her. Physical beauty will only take you so far Sam. Watch out Dan. Oh and I vote for Jared being the next Bachelor. A great guy, maybe too nice for this franchise.

Success on Tinder may be mostly a numbers game

August 30th, 2015

Jon Birger, freelance writer and the author of DATE-ONOMICS: How Dating became a Lopsided Numbers Game, has written an interesting piece on how there is a shortage of college-aged men, and how this is leading to a problem for women seeking single, compatible men for dating and more.

Mr. Birger talks about the theories that have gone around as to what has led to the hook-up culture and a basic dissatisfaction on the part of women with dating. He puts forth a great counter-argument to the one that blames dating apps for creating this problem.

According to Birger it’s all about demographics, or in other words, it’s a numbers game, and it doesn’t favor women. He draws on other times in history during and after world wars when men were a scarcity and women often made unhappy compromises just to be with one. Nowadays it’s a shifting in the demographics of those in the post-college dating pool—there are fewer college educated men for college educated women to choose from.

In 2012, there were 34% more straight women college graduates then men, and this is expected to continue rising. The sheer numbers can give you pause—5.5 million college educated women in the US between the ages of 22 and 29, VS 4.1 men who fit these same demographics. That’s a difference of 1.4 million, yikes. Talk about kids in a candy store, college educated men have their easy pick and probably feel no rush to settle down with just one woman.

Birger makes the case that when there are plenty of marriageable men, dating emphasizes courtship and marriage. But when men are scarce, the culture leans towards more casual, hook-up dating. Birger also makes the point that if women became more open to dating men who don’t have a college degree, these numbers would improve for them. He recommends women not put off looking for love as this gets worse as they get older.

I’m seeing this already in couples I work with and in many cases, the education difference doesn’t overshadow their success if their goals, values, intellectual stimulation and friendship are in sync and well-balanced. Something to think about ladies.

It’s a different situation for gay and lesbian daters and Birger does discuss this as well. If you are in that group, I suggest you check out his piece. It’s also a better numbers game for women out west than in the large eastern cities like New York and D.C.

Trust not practicality factors heavily in decision making

August 29th, 2015

Dartmouth College has released the findings on a study they did that helps explain the motivation that leads a person to feel greater trust, especially when making everyday financial and other decisions. The study was conducted by brain researcher D. S. Fareri, and his collaborators L. J. Chang, and M. R. Delgado, and the findings appear in The Journal of Neuroscience.

According to the researchers, trust is a critical element of collaboration—and collaboration is essential to interpersonal relationships, and the need to belong and be accepted and valued. What they wanted to know is what motivates someone to be more trusting, after all risk is involved and this is something humans usually avoid.

Study participants were told they were playing an economic investment game with a close friend, a stranger or a slot machine. They were actually playing with an algorithm that reciprocated trust 50% of the time. The model they designed could predict each player’s decision for a new round based on their previous experience in the game.

Study participants found positive interactions that they believed were with friends to be more rewarding than with someone they didn’t know or with a machine. Apparently the social value that participants got from believing this was a friend was a stronger motivation than when the payoff was only financial. Neuroimaging was able to show specific brain signals that correlated with social value signals when participants made their decisions.

Simply stated, the players got a greater social reward when they were told their friend was the one who reciprocated and not one of the other two players. This reward signal led them to trust the friend more than the other players who didn’t give them this reward signal.

This research could be very helpful in understanding how people make every day financial decisions. This certainly leads us to believe it is not as cut and dried as we have always believed and could lead to new approaches to helping people make better decisions by understanding what really motivates them to make those decisions. Finding ways to use that motivation could be key if we factor in how relationships can alter our perceptions about the value of any decision we might make.

Ashley Madison users exposed

August 20th, 2015

Hackers who call themselves the “Impact Team” have hacked and then released information from Ashley Madison, the #1 website for cheating spouses. After the site was hacked, those of us who live in or very near the Nation’s Capital have been holding our breath as DC is listed as one of the top users of Ashley Madison’s services. Who would have thought a place like DC would need any assistance with this kind of thing—perhaps they believed it would be safer to hunt away from work and neighborhood connections, in a place where they could better shield their identity. How could they be so naïve you ask? Given all the hacks of top level government sites and large retail corporations, it was only a matter of time.

Those who have been cheated on have been positively gleeful at the potential for exposure, smiling as they mention how karma works. For those who have been doing the cheating, the tension and fear of exposure must be awful. We can only imagine all the profiles being deleted, and cell phones and personal devices being scrubbed of all data. Inattentive husbands and wives may suddenly have reverted to courting behavior, wooing their spouses with romantic notes, lighted candles in the bedrooms, flowers, and dinners out to a favorite and almost forgotten place. If their name pops up on a list they can say, “But darling, all my thoughts, gestures and time have been spent on you.”

To add injury to insult, credit cards numbers have been released along with customer names and other information. One has to wonder if these hackers were once cheated on spouses. Apparently the hackers warned this would happen if the site was not taken down, and when this was ignored, they went diving for data. Therefore, it’s believed their motive was not about money, but that they were driven by a moral motivation.

I think many folks will be speculating about who these hackers are, and where they might strike next. Lord knows, the internet is web with “sin” and could keep the moral police occupied for a long time. Note to those who are bored in their marriages and relationships. To those who seek some extra excitement and the fun that seems to have left their relationships with their partners—be careful of what you wish for. If your name is on that list, you will gets lots of excitement, it won’t be boring, and the adrenaline rush will be extreme if/when your participation becomes known.

I have no intention of offering tips on better ways to cheat. However, finding your thrills online is not safe and anonymous, and therefore, free of consequences as you may have told yourself. Please think about what you have to lose before you go looking for intimacy somewhere else. And consider investing more in what you already have. What you need might have been there all along, but somehow you both misplaced the connection to it.