For professional success—choose a conscientious spouse

October 31st, 2014

Psychological Science has published an interesting study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis that links career success with certain spousal traits. Somehow we have always known that who you choose to marry will play a large role in your future life—but now we know it can greatly impact your career success and therefore, financial security and lifestyle choices. Turns out that it is really important to choose wisely.

Their research studied the personality characteristics and careers of 4,500 married people. The test they used measures people on five traits—extraversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism, and conscientiousness. They found that only one trait—conscientiousness– had a significant impact on their spouse’s career success. They defined success as level of income, steady promotions and job satisfaction. This study used Australian couples as they provided a significant number for the sample group.

The conclusions the researchers came away with are that a spouse’s behavior tends to rub off on their partner and over time we pick up on one another’s habits and strengths. Secondly, if one’s spouse has it together and handles a great deal at home and outside of work—their partner is freer to focus on their career and to put in the time and energy that leads to promotions and greater success.

What was very interesting is that they found no gender differences between the traits that helped a woman’s or a man’s career. Either one benefited from having a conscientious spouse. So take note both men and women readers out there. It’s great to love their beautiful smile, their positive energy, their smarts, and the interesting quirks that make them uniquely them. But if he or she is a slacker—you may be in for a life of long hours, low pay and thoughts of what might have been.

Women are better decision makers

October 20th, 2014

Now we actually have science to back up what many of us have observed throughout our lives—that women often seem to make better decisions than men. I’ve always thought of it as using their intuition better—that spidey-sense that lies somewhere between common sense and emotional reasoning.

However, it seems that neuroscientists at the University of Southern California and at Duke University have found that it’s about how the sexes operate under stressful circumstances that separates the men from the women—and according to them it all comes down to the stress hormone, cortisol. Apparently when under stress, men take more risks than women which often leads to a failed outcome. Women on the other hand, cut their risks when under stress, avoiding adding to their mistakes and instead, playing it safer.

Another fascinating outcome from one study was that when under stress, women demonstrated higher levels of empathy. For instance, if they were tasked with getting up in front of a large audience to do a presentation, their empathy for anyone facing the same situation went up. But men instead became more egocentric—if I did it, what’s the big deal?

If we apply these finding to the interactions between the sexes, they help to explain a few things. For instance, men can be very unsympathetic to the feelings/struggles of a child while women are very tuned in to them. This can also be seen in male supervisors and managers at work—they often take the attitude of just do it, others have, I have, what is the big deal. Whereas, women who have been there get it and are usually supportive that it can be hard.

The next time you run across this in your significant other or even with a male at work—you may want to try a different approach. Explaining where you are coming from and asking in a close-ended and unemotional way for help or support from the male in your life may get you the best results. Logic, not emotion is a better way to reach them. While you are at it, remind yourself it’s biology, and not personal.

Cameron Diaz’s engagement body language

October 12th, 2014

Cameron Diaz is smiling a lot this week. She arrived at the Academy’s Costume luncheon last Wednesday with a noticeably dazzling diamond ring on her left hand. According to other luncheon goers, Ms. Diaz was twirling her hair with that hand, playing with the ring—and smiling from ear to ear. Later that same day she had dinner with friends, and again—the ring seemed to be taking center stage even though no conversations were overheard to confirm the probable happy news.

Ms. Diaz has been dating Benji Madden for a while now and their relationship is rumored to have intensified when they spent time with her family during the summer. Her friends and acquaintances all have been reporting that she seems happier and more content than her younger self in this relationship, and that he seems to be as into her as she is to him. It’s also been reported that Mr. madden moved in with Ms. Diaz a few months ago—so it sounds as though the relationship has been steadily gaining momentum. It’s also interesting to note that their friends report they are more homebodies now, spending time just hanging out together.

At 42, Ms. Diaz is known for a number of past celebrity hook-ups and relationships and as a woman who seemed content to remain single. Therefore, it’s unlikely she would take an engagement lightly, like many of her peers who have been through several marriages and divorces by the time they reach her age.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if someone with her celebrity status were to join the ranks of the very few Hollywood marriages that go the distance? Ms. Diaz and Mr. Madden—if you are indeed engaged—congratulations!

Showtime’s unique treatment of “The Affair”

October 11th, 2014

Tomorrow is the start of a new drama on Showtime titled “The Affair”. Before you start yawning and thinking, “next,” this version of an old story promises to be different. It’s set in The Hamptons—and if you are one of the few who don’t know where this is, it’s a well-known playground out on Long island, NY, for the wealthy and often famous. “Noah” is married with four kids, a wife who comes from wealth– and he is a professional with a comfortable lifestyle who is staying with his family at his in-laws manse for a summer vacation. “Alison” is younger (of course), and is a waitress in town. She does have a nice beach house that she inherited, so that sets her apart from the usual younger and penniless other woman stereotype.

This treatment of the topic promises to be different due to the secrets that its characters keep from one another and from the audience, their views on who came on to whom and got the affair going—and in its overall unique frame and handling of their relationship. Apparently there is more suspense and less focus on the usual hot and heavy sneaking around and instead is a kind of crime drama that is slow to be revealed.

The story unfolds in flashbacks—and is filled with he said/she said inconsistencies in the story. The viewer is left with trying to figure out who is telling the truth and which version is the real one. He is (predictably) in the midst of a mid-life crisis, and she has her own problems that are leading to her unhappiness but these are only hinted at. Secrets are everywhere and they add to the suspense and the show’s claim that viewers will find it addictive. If you enjoy “who done it” type mysteries, this might be just the show for you.

Many women have a back-up partner in mind

October 6th, 2014

In the movie, The Titanic, the aged version of Rose shared in a poignant moment that “a woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets.” It seems that a newly released survey backs this up. The Daily Mail conducted a survey with 1,000 women—and found that 50% of them have a back-up partner in mind if their marriage doesn’t work out or ends for some other reason.

If you are a woman you might be thinking, yeah I’ve kept tabs on so and so for years, just in case. Or perhaps you note attractive men in your day to day life and environment and think, he’s a possibility. Women have a bit of practice with this as they are the ones who read those steamy romance novels and go to chick flicks. Maybe it’s due to a practical side—always planning for the worst case scenario and not getting caught short.

This is interesting too because following divorce or death of a spouse, it’s actually men who couple up and marry quickly, not women. Maybe because these guys were part of some woman’s back-up plan and when they become available, they get snapped up quickly.

So who are these men that women keep in the wings? Ex-boyfriends, colleagues, ex-husbands (yes, his ex may still have her eye on him) and guys at the gym—and I would imagine church and neighborhood as well. According to the women surveyed, 10% said their back-up was someone who had already declared feelings of love to them in the past, and 20% stated that the guy they had their eye on would drop everything for her if she asked. Pretty confident, but I’m not convinced this is not just their over-active romantic side talking.

So is this a bad thing? Some would say yes, as women might act on these fantasies when they are going through a rough marital patch. Others would say it’s good to be pragmatic and always have a back-up plan for everything important in your life. Does this mean all these women are unhappily married? No, I don’t think so. I think this fantasy is part of their escape from reality. When their relationship is hard, they escape to what might have been or what could be. It’s probably pretty benign unless they really do believe he would drop everything and count on this during a desperate or challenging time in their lives.

What are your chances of ever getting married?

September 30th, 2014

The marriage rate is down, but what is interesting is that there are those groups that are only delaying it and the ones who are deciding against it altogether. The Pew Research center has come out with yet again another revealing study—this one on the decline of marriage in the U.S.

In 1960, almost 90% of mid-twenties to mid-thirties adults had already been married—today it’s 50%. While the trend is broad and cuts across all demographics, there are notable differences when they are viewed more closely. Well-off, well-educated Americans are only delaying marriage—usually into their 30’s, when their rate is close to past generations. They are also still less likely to have kids out of wedlock and less likely to get divorced. It appears money is an important variable here.

For those who are poorly educated and less well-off—many aren’t getting married at all. There is a percentage that is marrying later, but many have kids out of wedlock and their divorce rate overall is higher than their more affluent counterparts.

The following statistic reminds me of one that came out years ago that said a woman who had reached 40 and was still single, had a greater chance of being killed by a terrorist than of getting married. In other words, this one could be very difficult for young women to hear. Pew estimates that one quarter of people today who are between 25 and 34 will never marry, or at least not before the age of 55- well past child-bearing and the younger, building years of their lives. This statistic can be and is challenged by some, as it is not a hard one but is deduced from other data and is only a projection of sorts. Take a deep breath young ladies out there.

It is certain that folks are marrying later, but the majority eventually do—at present 70% by the age of 35. This is down, but it is still the majority. I know, you are worried about being in the other 30%, and that topic is for another blog.

If you are older than 35 and poorly educated, your chances drop even more significantly. So having a college degree makes you better marriage material, according to the statistics. Maybe there is something to the old joke about the “Mrs.” degree. What is interesting about this study overall, is that income is the most important factor in when and if folks marry and go on to have children.

78% of women surveyed said it was “very important” for a prospective spouse to have a steady job. This was their highest ranked requirement. Their feelings about this are reflected in the number of men with a steady job and those without—those with, have a higher marriage rate.

Bottom line—if marriage and family are your goal, work on getting a good education and becoming financially stable. Money matters in dating, marriage, the decision to have kids and the divorce rate.

Want to read the study?

#BadPageantTalents

September 16th, 2014

Can you imagine a world where men would be made fun of following one of their popular contests? Men traditionally compete around their strength and endurance, athletic ability, smarts and professional achievements—and yes, their attractiveness and success with women. Everything from body builder contests to The Bachelor—men show what they are made of, and show it off, too.

The Ms. America pageant is an institution in this country. Regardless of how it has been viewed recently—it once drew and large audience and the winners went on to further schooling due to winning scholarships and to a variety of careers that follow that kind of exposure. It was a way for women to use what they have to get a leg up—after all, don’t all of us identify then maximize our talents to achieve success?

Now women who compete in these pageants are ridiculed. They are criticized for allowing themselves to be objectified—please…. The talent part is something that people are really having fun with as is evidenced by #BadPageantTalents. It’s the top trending topic on twitter today. Interestingly enough, women are doing most of the making fun of… so much for sisterhood.

Isn’t true choice about making life decisions that we believe are best for us—without being held back, ostracized, criticized or sabotaged for our choices? The feminist movement was supposed to have been all about that—however, things don’t seem to have changed that much, or enough. There have ALWAYS been women professionals, business owners and community leaders. Yes, once upon a time, they were few, but they existed. Now women can be found everywhere–on space missions, the battlefield and in the Chairman’s seat in the boardroom. If some women choose to be stay-at-home moms, to enter beauty pageants, or to work in fields that are traditionally dominated by women, so what? It’s their choice.

Oh, and all you women out there who are criticizing other women’s choices–take a closer look at what motivates you. Is it really disgust, a fear these women are hurting the cause, or just plain old-fashioned resentment towards women who follow their own path and don’t look for anyone’s permission to do so? Want to support women making their own life choices? Avoid judging and try competing only with yourself.

Oscar and Reeva–the ultimate domestic violence

September 13th, 2014

Oscar Pistorius, the South African “Blade Runner” was convicted of a lesser charge of murder yesterday. The judge found him to be guilty of an act that is akin to manslaughter—which means he took his girlfriend’s life, but had no plan or intent beforehand to do so. What his sentence will be is anyone’s guess. No one disputes he did it—not even him.

Reeva Steenkamp and Oscar Pistorius had been dating for only three months when he shot her in his home. He has claimed all along he thought she was an intruder—but no one seems to have ever really believed his story. According to an ex-girlfriend of his who was interviewed recently about their relationship—Pistorius was mercurial, unpredictable, got angry over small things and apparently for no “real reason”—and had a passion for guns. Reeva’s broken-hearted mother also said that her daughter had told her they had been fighting a lot and that they were considering breaking up. Remember—this was after only three months of dating.

This short a period of time in a relationship usually puts the couple in the first stage—when they have not even moved into something with more openness and commitment—when they are still “high” on the newness of the relationship, and when conflict is low or nonexistent. Yet, theirs was a relationship marked with tension and fighting—which definitely points to a strong probability that it would be ending soon. It was Valentine’s Day–which is (believe it or not) a day when many couples break up. My own theory about that has always been that it’s mostly because folks are really confronted with what they think they should be feeling or should have in their relationship—and the reality falls so short, they end it. It’s very possible that the fighting overheard by neighbors was about just that—and that Oscar, like other abusive men, decided if he couldn’t have her, no one could. Sounds so simple—but it’s actually very common.

Domestic abuse is on everyone’s mind lately—and Mr. Pistorius was guilty of ultimate abuse. Had he not owned guns, he may have used his fists. His male advantage might have been compromised a bit when he wasn’t wearing his prosthetics—but otherwise, he would most likely have used his fists. A good argument for taking guns away from anyone who has been served a restraining order for domestic abuse, or who has a history of it. They are still dangerous, but without a gun, the woman has a fighting chance. Even if knocked out, she can recover and come back to defend him to the world while taking some of the blame on herself.

But that is for another column.

Ray Rice—AKA, the Beast

September 8th, 2014

We all know that domestic violence occurs—it cuts across all socioeconomic and racial lines, and somehow, we have never been able to find a way to reduce the problem. A history of family violence, childhood abuse and neglect, mental illness, chronic stress, and serious financial problems are all issues we often see present in situations where this violence occurs—but even though they are factors, they never justify it.

Football players are a macho bunch—huge men who get paid to bulk up their muscle and reach their maximum capacity for strength, speed, and toughness. Lots of men wouldn’t want to face off with any one of these NFL players, because it wouldn’t be a fair fight. So how in the world could a woman possibly defend herself against one of these guys or really any guy? She couldn’t and shame on any one of them for taking advantage of that.

We have all seen the video. Some folks will say she shouldn’t have provoked him—we hear that a lot with domestic abuse. She should have stayed meekly in her corner, cowering—so the beast wouldn’t be stirred. Instead, she moved towards him after he pushed her—and he cold-cocked her and with one blow, she was out cold. He’s darn lucky she didn’t hit her head in such a way that the blow was fatal. It happens.

After Ray Rice lost it and struck his fiance—one would think he’d be very concerned, even a little concerned, have some remorse…some reaction that showed regret or dismay over what he had just done. But no—it got worse. He DRAGGED her over the threshold of the elevator as she lay face down on the hotel hallway carpet. Her skirt was hiked up, her shoes off and she was clearly dead weight. But for a guy who faces off against NFL players weighing over 250 pounds, made of solid muscle and pumping with intense adrenaline, c’mon—he should easily have been able to at least pick her up and carry her to the room. It wouldn’t have made up for the hit—but it may have helped us to believe he has at least some human decency. Instead, he treated her like a ripped bag of groceries, dragging, pushing, turning, shaking and attempting to sit her up. All the while some guy was standing there, apparently concerned enough to remain and speak to him about what was going on.

Then the NFL basically closed ranks, slapped him on the hands—and the poor thing missed two games. His then fiancé, now new bride, refused to press charges (old story) and everyone seemed to write it off as “boys will be boys.” That is until the whole scene came out—a picture of one hard punch is certainly worth a thousand words of explanation. Now he has been kicked off the team, there has been an explosive outcry and the twitter sphere has been lit up all day with the comments and fall-out.

Maybe something good will come of this. Maybe finally everyone will start to realize just how awful domestic violence is. Nothing like watching a woman get knocked out by a well-placed punch to get us in the mood.

As a therapist who has worked with couples/families where domestic violence has been an issue—I am truly concerned about Ray Rice returning home after being fired—and taking his rage out on the person he will probably blame. Before he had to make nice and beg her forgiveness—marrying her and probably showering her with gifts. Now, after having lost his job and suffering public humiliation—he is a ticking time bomb who could go off any minute.

Moms lose-Dads rule

September 7th, 2014

It’s interesting how some things never seem to really change that much. Once upon a time women (mostly) stayed home if they could afford to and their job was to take care of the home and children. The Dad earned the money and everyone knew their roles and life was simple (sort of, maybe for some but not for others).

Then women became liberated—which sounded great in the beginning, but has led too many women to have two full-time jobs instead of one. Women are going to college and graduating at higher rates than their male peers. Many women are beginning to out earn their partners—and there is an increasing number of women who are the breadwinners while Dad stays at home and cares for the house and kids. All of these work when two people in a relationship are OK with them—so that of course is what choice is all about and what it looks like when it’s working optimally. However, women continue to be the ones who give birth, do much of the nurturing and caretaking, and make the greatest sacrifices in their careers—in spite of all the changes and progress that have taken place in our society.

The NY Times has an interesting piece titled “The Motherhood penalty vs The Fatherhood Bonus.” Essentially it’s a provocative look at how a man’s career benefits from having children and a woman’s suffers if she becomes a mother. Apparently women who are mothers are less likely to get that job, they are perceived as less able and capable workers—and are not paid as well as their males peers doing the same job. Men who are fathers are more likely to be hired for the job (are stable and reliable) and are actually paid more (need to support their families), especially if they become fathers while in their job.

Variables like types of jobs, hours worked, and what their spouses earn/don’t earn have no impact on these differences. Therefore it’s about perception and expectations of women workers who are moms vs male workers who are Dads. Amazing given how many well-educated, professional women are out there—including CEO’s, women entrepreneurs, women in the professions and women in high-level government positions.

This is bad enough, but worse when we consider that 71% of Moms with children at home work outside the home. 40% of these women are the sole breadwinners—40%. The only exception was women in the top 10% of earners who lost no income when they had children. Those in the top 5% even got bonuses equal to those of their male counterparts.

This study underlines the importance of women knowing what they want and planning and working for it—but recognizing they can’t have it all, all at the same time. It is this belief that too often leaves women wondering what they are doing wrong or why their incredible efforts aren’t turning out the same results as the men they know are getting. For women, having a career requires something men don’t have to have—a determination and good support at home as well as the workplace. They may need to be more patient for some things and more aggressive and persistent when going after others. A woman’s life holds many possibilities and she can be what she wants to be and have the things she desires, just like the guys do. However, never or rarely at the same time—and never without some additional sacrifice of time, leisure, and rest. If women get hung up on fairness or look for a 50/50 split with the men in their lives, they will be disappointed. At least until we figure out how to alter basic biology—women will almost always do the lion’s share of parenting and that has its price.