Marrying outside of your class

March 29th, 2015

Jessi Streib, an assistant professor of sociology at Duke University, has written a book titled The power of the Past: Understanding Cross-class marriages. As a therapist who specializes in working with couples on their relationships, I have found this book to be a very interesting study on attraction and conflict in relationships and how differences in where we come from can impact us as adults.

What Mr. Streib found in his research is that that “inter-class’ couples often struggle around issues that were shaped by how they grew up, and most especially the socio-economic classes that they come from. In other words, if you come from a stable, middle-class environment you will have different feelings about money than a partner who grew up poor and feeling insecure about it. Makes a lot of sense, it’s just that no one has actually studied it quite like this before.

Mr. Streib’s book profiles many different couples who agreed to be interviewed, but not identified by name. They talked candidly about how everything from their views of how to spend leisure time, to parenting and the handling of money have often clashed due to the way these things were both viewed and dealt with in the environments in which they grew up. In a matter of speaking, this is really about value differences, which is something that comes up often in couples counseling.

The good news is that these can be worked with if the couple is committed to the marriage, works on improving their communication, and if both are willing to negotiate and work towards a middle ground. It’s also useful to note that opposites do attract because we are drawn (often unconsciously) to people who compliment us and have certain strengths or character traits that make up for something they feel is missing in their life.

Mr. Streib emphasizes an interesting point about how the divide between the haves and have not’s may influence all of this in coming years. The way he sees it, children will not be confronted with this as much because they will not have the same opportunity to meet, marry and fall in love with people of different classes. It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure I agree that this will happen. As the world continues to change, diversify and shrink, anything is possible when it comes to attraction and love.

Want to read more about this? Go to

Can you increase your happiness and attractiveness to others?

March 7th, 2015

The New York Times is running an interesting piece called “The feel Good Gene.” Essentially the author, Richard Friedman, MD talks about how some people are less prone to anxiety and drug use to control it, due to a gene variation in the brain that leaves some folks less anxious and fearful. A higher level of the chemical anandamide is produced by those who have this variation, and this resulting chemical is appropriately known as the “bliss molecule.”

Talk about the luck of the draw—some things really are helped or harmed by basic biological luck. According to recent research, about 20% of adult Americans have this mutation—bet we all know someone. They are those easy-going, happy, calm folks who can “just say no,” to drugs like pot and cocaine and mean it. We all have some measure of anandamide, just some have more and life is a bit easier for them because of it.

A mouse study was published last month that backs up these findings. Mice with higher levels of anandamide were more outgoing, risk-taking, and calmer than those who had less. Their emotional control was stronger as well. The good news here (yes there is some) is that environment always influences genetic predisposition. Given the right amount of stress and a too heavy dose of life challenges, those with this gene mutation could exhibit high levels of fear and anxiety. The reverse is also true.

The real take away from some of this research is that anyone regardless of having or not having this genetic advantage can have high stress and related addiction problems in the right environment. My take-away is a reinforcement of what I have always believed. Making good choices and decisions influences outcomes–having a good support system, using relaxation and other techniques for stress control, eating good food, getting a healthy amount of sleep, engaging in regular exercise, and seeking out positive people can make a difference for all of us. Maybe this is the real secret of happy people, the kind that others want to be around.

Want to read more? Go to to read the whole article and see if it can be useful to you, especially in your relationship life.

Online dating–Scammers masquerading as potential soul mates

March 3rd, 2015

In his Washington Post column today, John Kelly writes his second piece on online romance scams. Apparently these are growing more abundant and many of the perps are from places like Nigeria. They masquerade as everything from Special Forces troops to regular guys, looking for a real romance. After establishing an online relationship with a woman in which they work on building trust and her belief that he cares and that they have a real bond—these guys go for her pocketbook. Often the ruse is about needing money for a business that has suddenly run into a problem with delivery of products in a foreign port, or perhaps a sudden problem with cash flow that leaves the guy in need of a large sum of cash in order to come to the states and meet his lady love for the first time. He asks her to provide the money upfront with the promise of a pay-back once his Cash flow is freed up. She believes she has met her soul mate and provides the cash in the form of a Cashier’s check that can’t be traced, and that is the last she hears from her Romeo.

Unfortunately too many women this has happened to don’t report it, due to both embarrassment and the real risk that she as the victim, will be blamed for being taken in. However, some women are more skeptical, guarded, or experienced enough that they sniff out the con beforehand and when they challenge him, he disappears, but her cash is still safely with her.

One such woman appears in Mr. Kelly’s column today. Barb Sluppick, from Branson, MO. has been working to help women with these scams since 2005 when she was targeted by one. Fortunately she didn’t fall for it, but it did lead her to establish a website, romance scams which is an online resource for victims. Apparently this is a career for Ms. Sluppick who has given up on finding love and devoted all her time to her passion of hunting down and helping flush out scammers.

Want to learn what to watch out for as you search for love online? Or maybe you are just curious or know someone who may be susceptible to this and could use your help? Check out this useful resource and spread the word. The only way to stop these guys is to turn potential victims into savvy online daters.

The bachelor’s problem? Arlington, Iowa

February 17th, 2015

Chris Soules is ABC’s present Bachelor in its reality series by the same name—and for an attractive and successful guy, he has certainly had problems finding a woman he can settle down with. This past week, I think The Bachelor audience got a good glimpse into the problem—Arlington, Iowa, population 427. The “town” is easy to miss as you drive along the highway—a quick sneeze or blink of the eyes and you are through it. There are no restaurants, coffee shops, bars, movie theaters or other places that locals generally frequent. Maybe there were just not enough locals with money to spend to support even one of each—there were a few, but they closed and now sit boarded up, giving Arlington a ghost town feel.

If we reflect on the Bachelorettes that come on the show hoping to find love and romance, quiet, plain, country girls just don’t come to mind. Since there appears to be little or no industry or commerce in the town, it would be hard for many of these women who have great careers that they worked hard for. They’d have to commute a long way from the farm to fine such a career, and we get the sense that Chris is looking for a stay-at-home farm wife. But he wants her to be beautiful, smart and sophisticated. Chris, can we talk?

We got to see the reaction of the girls who have visited the town and after taking in their impressions and weighing them with what we know about each girl–modeled for Playboy, singer on cruise ships, fertility nurse, waitress, Chiropractic assistant (probably the best front runner), it’s a good bet they would go stir crazy in no time. Where would they go to socialize? Where could they find a job, let alone continue a rewarding career? What would it be like for them to never go out for dinner (except at a relative’s house) or in the next town. Now remember how close the nearest town is, 6.5 miles (Wadena). Other “close towns range from 7.5 to 14.5. Remember these are also small towns and may not have restaurants, coffee shops, bars and other places to socialize in either. The nearest major city is Madison, Wisconsin at 117 miles away. Des Moines, Iowa and Arlington are 2 hours and 43 minutes apart by car. Yes those Bachelorettes drove quite a bit that day that they decided to visit Chris’s town on their own.

Chris is a farmer and major land owner. He has no plans to leave the farm, ever. Therefore any woman he chooses would need to give up almost everything and spend her time working/hanging out on the farm with Chris—and having babies of course. If we view the present season’s best match-ups through this lens, it rules almost every girl out. Could YOU live there? No take out coffee or food, after hours, drinks and/or dinner out with friends—and forget catching the latest release at the local movie house, even a one movie place would suffice. There are probably a few obstetricians around, but then again, maybe in one or two towns over. There’s always Netflix and HBO, but really, cable, satellite, FIOS in Arlington? Maybe a few homes have something hooked up? Britt you don’t know it yet, but those were tears of joy.

Women working harder in the boardroom and the kitchen

February 7th, 2015

The NY Times has a great piece running on how women are often the ones in the office who volunteer to step up and help other employees, plan an office party, offer extra mentoring to new hires, and/or stay late when a project needs someone to put in more hours. In this piece titled Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee, authors Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg detail how gender stereotyping is apparently alive and well in this age of post feminism, even though women have made so much progress in educational and professional achievement.

What is most interesting (disturbing) are their findings that even though women go above and beyond in their efforts and achievements, they are often passed over for promotions that men easily get. They often highlight what we have all witnessed that when men volunteer extra time and effort in the office, they receive a lot of attention and praise for it, when for women, it’s just taken for granted. After all, men are expected to get bottom line results and women to be the nurturers. Therefore if a woman behaves more like a man, she is labelled as selfish and aggressive…don’t we know it.

A study that was headed by psychologist Madeline Heilman from New York University found that when men offered to stay late, they were rated 14 percent more favorably by study participants than women. If both men and women refused to stay late, women were rated 12 percent lower than their male counterparts. Given the same effort and contributions, the men were much more likely to be recommended for promotions, bonuses and raises than the women. If a woman contributed well above and beyond her rating often matched the guy who did nothing extra.

Women are often expected to be the ones who bring the baked goods, answer phones if no one else is assigned to do so, and take notes at meetings (someone has to.) What was particularly interesting is that men tend to be very public when they offer to do more, making sure others see and recognize their efforts. Women on the other hand, do so quietly and behind the scenes, not expecting anything from it.

What I found fascinating is that this mirrors what happens at home. Women are the caretakers, the nurturers, and their contributions are both expected and rarely acknowledged or praised. Women themselves have no expectation of this as they get satisfaction from doing for others, especially those they love. Women are “we” centered and men are “I” centered. Yes, these roles most likely developed for a very good and practical reason ages and ages ago—but with women taking on careers and so much more outside of the home, the imbalance is burning women out and harming marriages and family life.

I was reflecting on what might help and I kept going back to how we as mothers raise our sons. Do we expect from them what we expect from our daughters? Do we see them as being just as capable? Do we give our daughters the message that it is important to allow others to do for them and to set limits on what they are willing to do? My guess is that all of us have failed a bit in this regard. Yet if we all really think about it that is where any real change will happen. Women need to parent more evenly and women also need to learn to set more limits at home. What they do at work is harder as that promotion or raise they have worked so hard for could be put at jeopardy.

The Bachelor—More drama than reality?

February 4th, 2015

If you follow the reality dating show, The bachelor, you will vividly remember how the last episode ended–with Kelsey hyperventilating on the floor. A paramedic was quickly on site and giving her oxygen and her crisis seemed more emotional than physical, most likely a panic attack. This followed closely on the heels of her abruptly standing up and saying she couldn’t handle the Rose Ceremony—even though she had been calm and confident when the ladies first gathered for the evening. So what in the world happened, you ask?

Kelsey often whines when she doesn’t like an activity, like camping. She also whined quite a bit about Chris spending time with other women, kissing them, and showing that he felt some connection with them. Most telling was the episode when during one-on-one with the camera, Kelsey complained that another girl was getting all the attention because she had fallen out of the raft while white water rafting and was having a lot of trouble due to the cold. Chris as rescuer was massaging her feet and legs and attempting to warm her as jealous Bachelorettes looked on. None of them were happy about it, but Kelsey went into detail about not having a problem and a good story—since she was always “fine” she didn’t get any attention.

After weeks in the house and following the rafting date, Kelsey told her story to the girls for the first time. Indeed it is a sad story and the girls gathered round and expressed their sympathy and support to Kelsey. However, Kelsey’s affect seemed to not match what she was sharing and some of the other women were left feeling confused and unsure of who the real Kelsey is. Imagine doubting a story like hers, yet on this show anything seems possible because we have seen a lot of high drama and deceit on past episodes.

For me this episode brought up the potential pitfalls of competition, and the pressure to go all out in self-marketing when dating. When women (or men) feel insecure or threatened by a challenge they might tweak, embellish or attempt to hide their true self. It’s not uncommon for someone to exaggerate, name drop, form alliances to gain an advantage—or somehow present themselves as being someone they really are not. In a reality show where 30 women (30!) are presented to one bachelor to choose from, it can get ugly, fast. Kelsey took a few weeks to both open up and go into full drama mode, and it seemed carefully timed to get Chris’s attention, sympathy and a rose for that episode.

No feedback I could give would be more useful than looking back at previous seasons of The Bachelor and focusing for a minute on the women who made it to the end and who are now married to their bachelor.

Jason and (runner-up) Molly

Sean and Katherine

Then there are a few Bachelorettes who were contestants on the Bachelor first, then were chosen to be the next bachelorette—and are still happily with their guy.

Trista and Charlie

Ashley and JP

Desiree and Chris

Now what do these winning contestants all have in common? None were drama queens/kings, all were down-to-earth and sincere, and they were all clearly there for the reason they said they were. No hidden agendas, stunts for attention, or back-biting and dirty play from these folks. So for anyone who wants to win at love—play fairly and honestly. There’s nothing that can compete with that.

The importance of finances in relationships

February 2nd, 2015

In her Sunday column yesterday, Washington Post writer Michelle Singletary talks about her book pick of the month–The New Love Deal: Everything You Must Know Before Marrying, Moving In or Moving On. This book essentially instructs the reader to get it in writing before furthering commitment. It speaks to everyone, both the married and unmarried but cohabitating, about protecting their financial assets in the event that love ends. From prenups to the handling your finances during the dissolution of your relationship or marriage–this book was written to help folks plan realistically not just for a possible split, but also as a way to keep the relationship strong through maintaining healthy financial communication, planning and management throughout the relationship. According to one of its authors “The less preparation you do, the more likely you are to fail.”

Topics covering life goals, handling a one bread winner scenario, and saving for retirement are all covered. They discuss the wisdom of separate bank accounts and time frames for one spouse staying at home to care for the children. The also touch on the often taboo subject of hidden debt that individuals bring into the relationship, yet never fully disclose to their partner. They suggest that exchanging credit reports is a great way to do this. Doesn’t sound very romantic, but there is much wisdom in it. One of the authors suggested that once you get the money talk over with—it clears the way for everything else.

Ms. Singletary highly recommends this book to her readers and so do I. Even if money isn’t the #1 thing that couples fight about—it is often the #1 way they act out the unhealthy dynamics and other problematic issues in their relationship. Therefore, learning to address finances upfront, and having open and candid talks about money before it becomes an issue—can really help a couple know if they are compatible in a number of important ways. Lifestyle goals, parenting styles, attitudes about spending VS saving, and the ability to give up short term wants for long term goals—are all important issues that happy couples usually agree on.

Why aren’t American couples having more sex?

January 26th, 2015

According to Seth Stephens-Davidowitz,, a PhD economist and Contributing Op-Ed Writer for the New York Times—people are not having nearly as much sex as they claim they are. He bases this on a careful analysis of data, including the General Social Survey’s statistics. These include data collected from by heterosexual males that they participate in 63 sex acts per year and use condoms 23% of the time or a total of 1.6 billion a year. In contrast, heterosexual women say they average 55 sex acts a year using condoms about 16% of the time, which comes to 1.1 billion condoms. Since fewer than 600 million condoms are sold annually, both men and women are inflating their numbers for sexual encounters. It’s also possible they are exaggerating how often they have unprotected sex.

Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz also conducted online searches to examine what people are saying about their sex lives or lack of sex. Among the unmarried but dating, key words like sex starved, lack of sex, no sex, too tired for sex, not interested in sex—get thousands of hits every month. What is interesting is that more women express frustration with the lack of sex and intimacy in their relationships. Among the married, complaining about a lack of sex is more equally shared by husbands and wives.

On Google, not having sex is a chief complaint among both groups and comes up much more frequently than issues like having a partner who doesn’t want to talk or having an unhappy marriage. In other words, people are not having the frequency of sex that they say they are. According to an overall analysis of data, Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz found that on average Americans have sex 30 times per year.

Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz also used Google to try to determine why people don’t have more sex—after all, it’s fun and free (more or less). The reason that stood out should not surprise anyone—stress gets in the way. However, it’s not just the stress of things like careers, family life, money concerns, and issues with health—it involves feelings of insecurity about their bodies, their sexual performance and their ability to satisfy their partners. Both men and women struggle with these and often, their fears are unfounded as their partners would be happy just to have more sex and intimacy with them just as they are. Mr. Stephens-Davidowitz’s conclusion is that if we worried less about having sex, we would have much more of it.

If you want to read his piece on the New York Times, click here

Happy marriage= a happier life

January 12th, 2015

Two Canadian economists have come out with a paper that shows that people are generally happier in middle age if they are married. Accumulated research has already demonstrated that happiness follows a U curve—happiness is high when we are young, it dips throughout middle age, and it rises as we enter our later years. This is probably due to the heavy load we carry throughout our middle years and the stress that accompanies it.

Now there is data to show that we can increase our happiness if we marry. Interesting in that marriage and family life bring a lot of stress and additional responsibility along with them. However, we have a partner to (theoretically anyway) share it with—someone to lean on, help shoulder the burden and have our back when we most need it. Makes sense. Of course, the caveat is that it has to be a GOOD marriage. We all know the downsides when it isn’t, divorce being the final step when things can’t be fixed between two people. Talk about stress and misery.

This is important because many young people are putting off and even avoiding marriage altogether—and even those who say they want to marry can prolong it to the point that the pool of good candidates has shrunk considerably. We have more choice when we are younger—and choosing wisely is key to ending up in a happy marriage. So, keep your mind open to marriage, don’t put it off with someone who feels really right because of career, education or other goals that you can continue to pursue as easily when married as you can as a single person. If you want children, there will be time later—as long as you don’t wait too many years until you feel “just right’ and “ready.” If you find the right mate, the rest will eventually take care of itself.

Are the Millennials a “Generation Unbound?”

January 11th, 2015

Isabel Sawhill is a Democrat and a former Clinton administration official—she has also been a staunch supporter of the institution of marriage throughout her career. Her stance has always been based on solid data—children raised in two-parent, married households do far better than their peers who are raised in other family arrangements.

However, Ms. Sawhill is also a pragmatist, and as such she recently wrote a book titled Generation Unbound, that comes to the conclusion that marriage may be dead—at least for the majority of people. A cultural revolution of sorts has impacted this institution and Ms. Sawhill’s point is that we need to be realistic and look at what else society can do to reduce poverty, instability, absent fathers, poor physical and mental health—and all the problems that affect children more who are from unmarried families.

Marriage has been on the decline for over 50 years, and with it, the rate of childhood poverty and at-risk children has risen significantly. Sawhill advocates for targeting the ways that people (especially women and children) enter into poverty. The primary one being women who drift into unplanned pregnancies and motherhood. In order to address this, women will need goals, help with planning, and an education that allows them to live an independent life. She advocates for subsidized contraception, to include long-term options that are often controversial but effective. Once women have set goals, gotten a good education and found a decent career, then they could turn their attention and resources to finding a mate and starting a family. Sawhill’s ideas make what’s old into new again, but there is wisdom in what she says.

Another way to frame this is to see it as teaching young people about the benefits to delaying gratification VS acting impulsively and then paying for it, possibly for many years. Some women may take offense at Ms. Sawhill’s ideas and her focus on women—but it is women who will ultimately need to make the decisions that will determine their futures. The role of men will also continue to be very important as they would be required to step up, take responsibility for their children and be an important part of a shared life and family.

Maybe the Village is gone, but more traditional families do not have to be. If society gives its support to the well-being of children, it will begin with helping the young women and men who will be the parents of these children. Encouraging and supporting them in setting goals, getting a decent education and finding viable careers are all things that society can encourage and help foster. Maybe the village isn’t gone after all.