Marriage may not be good for your health after all

July 23rd, 2017

A study published this month in Social Science Quarterly examined the marriages of people born over three decades, 1955-64, 1965-74, and 1975-84), and included people married for three different lengths of time (4 years, 5-9 years, and 10 years or longer). 12,373 adults participated. The question researchers were trying to answer; do people who marry become healthier than they were when they were single? The surprising answer was NO, they do not.

Conventional wisdom has always told us that marriage is good for our health—and that this is especially true for men. However the health of both men and women were examined, and no, marriage did not produce health benefits and longevity like we have always been told. Of course, my first thought was, Did they control for the variable of children? After all, kids put a lot of wear and tear on a couple and it is certainly possible that CHILDLESS couples have better health than those with children, especially multiples.

Let’s face it, marriage has big perks. Financial, emotional, and security benefits come with marriage. Not to mention how society has always viewed/treated the married VS single adult. Yet, even with these benefits, marriage does not make us healthier.

Singles do work harder as a group to stay in shape, exercise, connect with others for socialization and support—and we know those all bring big health benefits. Then there is the independence singles enjoy—they don’t have to negotiate all big decisions and factor in the needs of their spouse in the way that a married person does for the sake of the union. There is more flexibility, space, time for meditation and relaxation without the needs and noise of someone else intruding. Yet the large majority of singles seek partnerships and marriage. Hummm, wonder how unmarried partners would fare in this kind of study.

Let’s face it, there are pros and cons to marriage—and the biggest factor is who you marry and how healthy and happy your relationship is. Marriage is one of the most important decisions of a lifetime because it will have a huge impact on one’s future life/happiness/well-being or not. So marry well but continue to take care of your needs as well as those of your spouse. Great partnerships beat out a solo life for most people any day.

Love, class, and social status on the Bachelorette

July 12th, 2017

Much was made about Rachel Lindsay being chosen to be The Bachelorette for this current season. Rachel is the first African-American woman to snag that coveted role—and as soon as it was announced, the buzzing about race started.

In fact, on the first night when Rachel was presented with 31 men to whittle down over time to “the one,” one of her African American suitors commented on how many “brothers” were part of the group. Of course this was to be expected given that Rachel is black and dates black men, along with men of other races. So the group was very diverse, and as it turn out, not just in terms of race.

The most recent episode featured Rachel and her remaining 6 men, who she needed to cull down to the 4 who would get “hometown dates.” One of those 6 guys is Eric from Baltimore. Eric is black, and Rachel obviously feels a special connection to him as he has lasted this long. The other 5 guys are white. However, Rachel has more in common with many of the white guys than with Eric, because, well, race isn’t everything.

This week, Eric talked candidly with Rachel about how he grew up—it’s the first time any of us had heard his story. Apparently he was raised on mean streets, with many of the men in his family doing serious time for selling drugs, burglary, and other criminal offenses. Eric had to fend for himself, has never seen both his parents at the same time, in the same room. and has never brought a woman home, never. Rachel listened carefully and what scared her was that at age 29, he has never brought a woman home. This is something all the other bachelors have shared doing with their families, but not Eric.

It doesn’t matter that Eric and Rachel are both black—they are farther apart then she is with her other suitors due to class and social status.

Growing up in an upper middle class home with two well-educated, professional parents—Rachel comes from a good, solid environment. She was loved and nurtured, and had advantages. She went to private school and received a good education that led her to law school and a successful law career. Eric probably had to fight his way to school, went to a sub-par school, and had few if any role models teaching him what it meant to be a well-adjusted, successful, law-abiding adult black male. Yet Eric graduated from college with honors, one of the lucky (smart, determined) kids from the hood to survive and thrive past young adulthood.

One has to wonder how much if any experience Rachel has with guys from backgrounds like Eric, yet she likes him, really likes him. This season’s Bachelorette highlights the importance of not placing too much emphasis on race. After all, the difference is only skin deep.

First dates and the “fake wallet reach”

July 8th, 2017

The Wall street Journal had an interesting piece by Khadeeja Safdar about how paying for first dates has evolved over time due to online dating and changing gender roles. In a nutshell, forget about chivalry. What is chivalry, you ask?

In the old days (not too long ago), when the check arrived women would reach into their purse as though they were going for their wallet—expecting the guy to say, I will get it.” This ritual went on everywhere, and everyone knew what was going on and what was expected from whom. No more. Now men “forget” their wallet,” or ask her to split the check 50-50, with some regularity. Women know that if they do the reach, they may end up footing the whole bill for a meal he happily consumed much of.

Online dating and especially dating apps have led to many more first dates—or really more like encounters. People swipe right, pick a nearby place to meet, and conduct a short interview. What I recommend to clients is to go for coffee, or any quick, easy beverage. No this doesn’t mean drinks as they can be costly. If the brief interview goes well, you can always suggest or agree to dinner—then the check splitting will be an issue. Because so many app “dates” are over fast and don’t result in a second date, this is the way to go.

But what about those who meet online or at a party, bar, through a friend? How should they handle this? Being old school, I think the man should always offer the first time. She should offer to at least leave the tip. If all goes well, she will have plenty of dinners to pick up the check for later on.

Another way this could be decided is that whoever does the asking and picks the venue pays. After all if she asks and picks a very expensive restaurant, should he be expected to foot the bill when he might have chosen something within his budget instead? There is definitely wiggle room for the old-schoolers on that one.

This ritual could also be a good way of measuring your compatibility and even your values. If a woman is looking for an old school guy or someone who is interested in a long term relationship with more clearly defined and traditional roles—this first date ritual will give her a lot of information to help her decide on going for a second date or not. The same is true in reverse for the guy. If he is looking for a career woman who will be a co bread winner, he may want to only consider the women who offer and want to pick up their half, right from the start.

One important caveat here guys. Equality is equality. Don’t expect ANYTHING in return—which you should not regardless. Specifically I mean, even a kiss at the end of the date or an offer to come back to your place or hers needs to be gentle and slow, and if not eagerly responded to, backed away from. If you want an assertive co-partner, expect her to be on all fronts. If you want someone more traditional, you may be the one who is expected to take the lead in many or most areas. Either is fine when it is what you both are looking for.

If your marriage is losing its spark, spend some time with puppies or bunnies

July 4th, 2017

A new study conducted by a team of psychological scientists and published in Psychological Science, has discovered an intervention for renewing marital passion—pictures of puppies and bunnies.

Everyone knows that relationship/marital passion can’t be sustained at the same level as when the relationship was new. Even in happy marriages, satisfaction wanes as passion cools and in the happiest relationships, is replaced by comfort, companionship and a deeper bonding of trust and friendship.

So these researchers decided to explore ways to change the “immediate, automatic associations that come to mind when people think about their spouses.” They found that the source of a partner’s feelings is associated with positive affect which can come from the partner themselves or something unrelated. In this case, the researchers found that puppies and bunnies created that positive (and attractive) affect. This positive affect sustained over time created an overall positive association, which then led to positive thoughts and feelings in the partners. This is basic conditioning, but clearly it works.

Study participants included 144 married couples all under 40 and married for less than 5 years. Around 40% had children. The intervention designed by the researchers paired positive images (puppies and bunnies) with images of the spouses—and over time, this association led to an overall positive change in feelings and thoughts towards partners.

Before and after measures of relationship satisfaction were taken, and the changes in satisfaction were evident for those who were in the group that had the strongest exposure to the positive images coupled with the image of their spouse.

Even the researchers were a bit surprised at how well the intervention worked. The study’s lead even expressed skepticism that something so simple could be so positive. They noted that BEHAVIOR in a relationship is still a very important factor in setting automatic associations that are either positive or negative. However this kind of intervention using a positive association could be useful in future work with couples in counseling or going through serious relationship challenges, such as deployment of a military spouse.

As a therapist and wife, I can relate to these findings. I have two dogs who greet my clients when they come to counseling. It’s always amazing to watch the change in affect, even when clients come in suffering from severe depression, anxiety, and are at serious odds with one another. When one of my dogs was a puppy, it was even more pronounced. It is not uncommon for clients to ask if one or both dogs can stay in the room, which is always fine if they request it. In my role of spouse, I have seen the effect of a puppy on the relationship. One year after my spouse suffered a stroke that had brought a lot of stress to the relationship, we decided to get another dog. We chose a rescue puppy who we picked up on our anniversary. She has been a source of laughs, warmth, and a real mood brightener. She especially loves “Daddy,” and waits for him to get home each night. He in turn jokes that she and our other dog, Darla, are life savers. Our relationship has felt lighter and more positive as well.

So if you are going through a bad day, your relationship is strained and off track, or you just want to get some passion back—try watching a film about animals, especially cute and fuzzy ones. Or visit a shelter and play with some of the animals there. If your life allows for it, consider getting a rescue animal to love and nurture and who will offer a 200+ return on anything you invest. There is just something about animals that brings out the happy kid in all of us.

Choosing solitude over an abusive relationship

July 2nd, 2017

Author Lisa Ko has a great piece this week in the NY Times (Modern Love) titled, Seeking the Comfort of an Old Flame: Solitude. It’s her story of breaking up with an angry and potentially abusive boyfriend when living on the West Coast, and deciding to return to her home state of NY and her happy former state of solitude.

Ms. Ko is an only child, one who apparently grew up with a lot of solitude and who found that aloneness a happy state in which to exist. But when she reached adulthood she decided to try a big change and relocated to San Francisco, moving into a shared house with several peers and finding a relationship. She developed good friendships and her relationship was progressing to the point of making a decision to move in together when the group house was breaking-up due to her roommates all moving into more serious relationships themselves. However she came to the conclusion that she was moving forward with a relationship that wasn’t right—she was afraid of him and had been avoiding breaking-up because of it. When she finally did, he wrote her a scary email and she knew she had made the right decision. What she continued to question was her desire for solitude. Her question to herself was, “Is something wrong with me?” After all she had learned about San Francisco from a much older woman and pen pal she had corresponded with as a child. Her pen pal Marie lived in San Francisco and was a never married woman who her mother had always described as alone and lonely. Would Lisa become her?

Everyone else was moving in with their significant other and/or getting engaged. How could she be looking forward to and even happy with the idea of being alone? But she was. Apparently Ms. Ko saw (and still sees?) solitude as an independently happy and serene state, not a lonely one.

When she told her Mom she was moving back to NY and breaking up with her boyfriend, her Mom encouraged her to apologize to him because he would marry someone else and she would be “alone.” Apparently Ms. Ko had not shared the things her boyfriend had said in his last email, like “I hope you get raped to death.” Now that is a guy who will move to hitting and more when in a committed relationship.

As I read her story, I thought about all the women who ignore that inner warning voice—those who fear being alone more than a potentially abusive partner. I have worked with these women and when the relationship is new, they not only can’t hear my input, they run from it. They conclude I just don’t get it, have misunderstood, and don’t see what a great and loving guy he really is. These are the women I worry about and wonder how I could have kept them coming in and still helped them to see where their relationship was heading and how dangerous it was for them.

Thanks Ms. Ko for sharing your story and maybe reaching even one woman before her life descends into a horror of dependence and abuse she may feel she cannot escape from. You are right you know—solitude can be wonderful

Happy endings may begin with a relationship contract

June 24th, 2017

The NY Times has an interesting Modern Love column running now. It’s titled; To Stay in Love, Sign on the Dotted Line. It was written by Mandy of Mark and Mandy—the couple who 2.5 years ago spent their first date trying a psychological experiment that used 36 questions to help them fall in love. The idea being that falling in love is more about knowing someone than well, butterflies. It’s about finding love through a thinking, conscious process. I like it…

In her new column Mandy talks about their “relationship contract,” which they have used for 2 years now. The idea came when Mandy read something about short-term marriage contracts and they decided to try adapting it to be a non-married relationship contract instead. Mandy was eager to do this as her previous relationship had little “room for me in it,” and she didn’t want to lose herself yet again, as she checked all the relationship boxes that lead to commitment and more.

Mark and Mandy renew their contract once a year, and they can adjust, delete, and add things according to how the past year has worked out for them. Interestingly Mandy has found it a great way to actually talk about things they might have assumed, ignored, or just never gotten to. We all know what can happen when issues go unaddressed like this.

Mandy and Mark both like knowing how the other is really feeling, any issues they may have, and what is working for them or needs some work. For them this doesn’t feel unromantic, it helps them feel closer.

Their contract is 4 pages and single spaced—and covers “just about everything,” from the dog, to chores, to how money is handled, to how space and boundaries are dealt with, and even their sexual relationship. They even have a kind of mission statement that details what they want their relationship to be and what it will do for them as individuals and as a couple.

They acknowledge it isn’t a perfect answer to everything, but this way, both have an active role in making their relationship what they want it to be.

I like the idea so much, I am considering having the couples I work with create their own contracts—which will give them specific issues to discuss and help them give voice to their feelings, needs, and even fears. Thanks Mandy!

Covfefe and other red flags Melania apparently missed

May 31st, 2017

Our President was at it again the other night. It really could have been easily explained away had someone done it quickly. He was jet-lagged, hadn‘t really slept since his overseas trip, and is a little older now and can’t be expected to always be on his game (probably should scratch that last one, The Donald would not like it).

The president stated “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” Then, nothing. The county, or those of us actually awake and online, waited, and waited. Twitter was lit up with questions and comments, but it was crickets from the White House. About 6 hours later, someone deleted it. Then at some point later on, the President was back online leaving a mysterious message, challenging folks to guess (or know) what it meant. Of course, his loyal staff followed by saying it is indeed a word…

Just when we all thought it could not get weirder. By now we have to wonder how many Americans are having buyer’s remorse—probably quite a few. It’s likely before this term is over there will be a lot more. Many folks will be asking themselves how they missed it and why they didn’t see this personality issue (disorder) during the campaign.

And what about Melania? She married him as did two other women before her. Certainly they must have noticed that something was a bit off about this guy, after all, they were intimately involved with him. OK, maybe the lifestyle options were too good to pass up, but really?

Melania actually appears to be an intelligent and refined woman. She speaks a number of languages and is a very devoted mother. She handles herself well in the spotlight, which is not easy for any First lady who is suddenly watched and studied everywhere she goes. Yet she didn’t see the red flags this suitor was throwing????

A lot of attention is given to why marriages fail—what issues and problems are most common and why the individuals didn’t anticipate some of them ahead of time. The reasons given are many and can be varied—I believe it all boils down to assumptions, expectations and not asking the right questions and having the deep conversations before saying “I do.”

One can only imagine what it would be like to be courted by a wealthy and prominent suitor. It must have been a whirlwind of attention and indulgence—meant to impress and seal the deal. Money and fame can be very seductive, and so can a powerful and very self-assured (!) man. But they did date and spend time together before marriage, didn’t they? Certainly The Donald was a bit of a wound-up night owl even back then. One can only imagine the late night (and boozy?) comments, the grandiosity and self-aggrandizement, the maniacal insistence that he and he alone knew the answer to every question and the solution to every problem. Did Melania give this any real thought? Didn’t she see the red flags?

Let this be a lesson to anyone out there seeking love and long-term commitment. DO NOT ignore those feelings—you know the ones that tell you SOMETHING just does not feel right. Too many people do this and end up with buyer’s remorse.

Oh Melania, will you be the third ex Mrs Trump when this is all over?

The Bachelorette’s new star Rachel

May 27th, 2017

Anyone who follows this show will remember Rachel from Nick’s season. She got the first impression rose, is bright, well-educated, classy, sweet and likeable, and African-American. Rachel broke the color barrier just by being who she is and becoming a love interest of Nick’s and a fan favorite. The fact that she is now the Bachelorette really has nothing to do with race and everything to do with Rachel. This girl has it all—and she’s a sweetheart too!

We learned during Nick’s season that Rachel has a white Brother-In-Law, and has dated a few white guys. So she is attracted to different kinds of men and apparently could fit into any world she wanted to. Her Bachelors (all 31 of them) had a real mix of races, and one black Bachelor commented about how good it was to see so many brothers on the show. True, but there are plenty of white and a few Asian guys too.

Rachel was very decisive when she had to cull the herd at the Rose Ceremony. She knew after a whole night of spending at least a few moments with each guy, who she was going to choose. She was upfront with the guys that she appreciated their time and effort, but that she had to choose and some would have to go home…and so it begins.

Every season has the crazy one, and this season does not disappoint. Lucas actually provided a lot of laughs—did you SEE the expressions on the faces of the other guys? Priceless. It’s a good bet no one thought he would be sticking around, and the show (as always) has a hater lined up for him who believes he is “there for the wrong reasons.” No worries, Lucas will never make it to the final 4 or even close—and he will provide many laughs along the way.

I admit that I picked a favorite almost immediately. I have done this before and in many cases that person made it almost or all the way to the end. A few times not, but only a few. I knew who Nick would pick the first night, I thought it was obvious when Vanessa stepped out of the limo. My favorite here is Josiah. He seems like a great fit for Rachel, but the physical chemistry must be there as well. They really seem to line up in other ways, and I hope she gives him a real chance. He made the first cut, barely.

This season is bound to be different for the obvious reasons and just because this Bachelorette is savvy and won’t fall into some of the same cons and traps set by the bad boys. Rachel has a good head on her shoulders and I think she will handle this well. You go girl!

Attraction in not just in the EYES of the beholder

May 20th, 2017

Many people believe that attraction is based almost solely on the other person’s physical appearance or looks. This is why so much emphasis is placed on physical beauty, dress, grooming, etc. While this is a component of attraction, it is not enough and won’t help you attract the right one all by itself. If you have been wondering what you are doing wrong, it may be that you are focusing too heavily on how you look.

Frontiers in Psychology has come out with a mini review on our non-visual senses and their role in social relations that looks at the importance of voice and scent to one’s attractiveness. If we really think about this, it is not a surprise—don’t you notice when someone smells good or react positively or negatively to the tone/tempo/pitch of their voice? A woman can be beautiful but if she has a bad breath, men will most likely recoil in her presence. What about that voice that sounds like a child, is shrill and grating, or perhaps domineering, sarcastic or aloof? All is fine until he opens his mouth to speak and bam, there goes the chemistry.

The review collaborators combed through 30 years of studies to find ones that included the role of voice and scent in attraction. There were not many. However the information that one’s scent and voice can tell others about them is apparently quite a lot. How cooperative they are, their temperament, how assertive or not they can be, their emotional state and overall emotional health, among other things.

Apparently a few studies have shown that scent alone offers a wealth of information about someone. This coupled with the visual and/or voice can be powerful. Maybe this is what leads to those love at first sight feelings—all three of these feel right to the beholder.

I put all of these in the nonverbal communication category. Yes, even voice—as our tone/tempo/pitch are not the same as what we say. Actually what we say does not communicate nearly as much as what our body says to others—and apparently these three senses must like what they pick up in order for real attraction to occur.

Tricking yourself into believing you are over him or her

April 29th, 2017

New research has found that you can actually “trick yourself” into believing that you are over someone. It’s basically a placebo effect—like when people are given a pill they are told is a drug, but in fact, it is just sugar. Yet they feel better because they believe the pill helped them.

Researchers at the University of Colorado concluded that getting over one’s ex can be as simple as convincing themselves that they really are. Hummm, does this mean all those hours of crying, pouring your heart out to family and friends, drinking too much, not sleeping enough, overeating, not eating, eating the wrong things—can all be avoided??? According to this study, the answer is yes.

Apparently what we BELIEVE can become our reality—mind over matter. It’s long been believed in some cultures that there is truth to this, and now science is finding proof that there is. Endorphins are natural painkillers that our body releases when we have happier thoughts, believe something positive is coming, and even when we push ourselves physically through a sport or activity. Endorphins make us feel good, they give us a high—and now it appears that we can help our brains release these by just believing something positive.

This latest study included a group of 40 participants who had had an unwanted break-up in the last 6 months. Using photos of both their exes and same sex good friends, along with being administered physical pain through a heat source on their arm, it was found that regions of the brain activated during both physical and emotional pain were similar.

Then researchers told half of the participants that a nasal spray they were to be administered would be a powerful pain reducer when they viewed photos of their exes, and the other half were told they were being administered only a saline solution with no pain killing effect. The results were that those who believed they were given a pain control spray had scans that revealed strong activity in an area of the brain that regulates emotions, and the area of the brain linked to rejection showed less activity. The other group did not have these positive effects because they had not been told they would feel a decrease in pain.

Heartache is not just in our heads, it is physical as well—yet this physical pain can be helped through the belief that you can and will feel better and that maybe you are better off without this person. So if you have suffered a recent break-up, instead of remembering all the great stuff, focus on everything that wasn’t good. In fact, meditate on every nasty thing they ever said or did, every moment of disappointment, hurt, resentment, everything that always bugged you about them. Believing you are better off without him or her will make you so.

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