A top predictor of relationship happiness

April 26th, 2015

As a psychotherapist and dating/relationship coach, I am frequently asked to weigh in on how someone can be sure they are choosing the right person when dating, or if they are married, if their spouse is the right one for them. My simple answer for years has been that healthy and mutually satisfying relationships are ones in which the individuals bring out the best in each other. It appears that science is backing this up.

The Deseret News ran a piece yesterday on a study published last year in the journal Personal relationships that found that the people we care about have a lot of impact on how we see ourselves, and that the happiest relationships are those in which people perceive positive change in themselves. In other words, their relationship has helped bring out the best in them.

Of course, the opposite also hold. In some relationships, people bring out the worst in one another. It’s not a simple bad guy, good guy dynamic like we want to believe. It’s just that the combination of those two selves doesn’t work well for one or both of them.

The study uses the term “self-pruning,” of less desirable traits—which is not the result of nagging or criticism, rather the partner acts as a kind of mirror to a negative behavior and this helps the other person to recognize and change it.

Another study mentioned in the piece is one done by Psychology Today in which the author talks about the ability to recognize undesirable personality traits that can lead to unhappiness in a future relationship. Apparently some folks have better radar for this, but I believe anyone can sharpen theirs with a little focused effort.

Relationship success has always been the result of choosing with one’s heart and head, and science is now backing this up.

Want to hear more on the difference between normal wedding jitters and something more serious? Click here

Do you need an “Invisible Boyfriend?”

April 25th, 2015

If there is a market for it, there is always an enterprising person that comes up with a new product to pitch. Single people have been lamenting for years about parents, extended family, co-workers, neighbors and even friends bugging them because they are not in a relationship. Questions like “Will you ever get serious?” “How come you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” “Do you ever plan to settle down?” and the classic comment, “You don’t have all the time in the world, you know.”

Given how many single adults there are in the world, there is definitely a strong market for the “Invisible Boyfriend,” an app that creates a significant other who calls you, sends you texts, leaves you messages, and well, gives the appearance that you are in a relationship. It costs about $25 for a basic package of messages.

Users can pick the qualities they want in their “Invisible Boyfriend,” from looks to interests to personality type. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that in real life? Sounds a bit like the movie Her, where the main character falls in love with his computer technology system. It’s definitely possible that this could happen with this app, if someone is lonely enough and lets their imagination go wild.

The people behind the messages are anonymous workers who have a degree, pass a writing test, and are apparently good at faking affection and love. So good in fact that some users seem to be forgetting that they are not who their messages portray them as being. Some users confess that they are so happy with the way the service makes them feel that they plan to continue past the point that it was designed for—which was to convince others that they had a significant other and put a stop to annoying questions,, comments and insinuations.

I can imagine it—hundreds (thousands) of users falling in love with a virtual presence who says what they long to hear and makes them feel special and as though anything is possible, relationship-wise. Sounds a bit like online dating, when people fall for someone they have not yet met after they create an image in their minds of this perfect person based on what they have written and/or shared about themselves. Unfortunately, it can all be make-believe as well—which many online daters have found out when they attempted to set up that first in-person meeting or learned another way that this person was not who they believed them to be.

If you need to fake a relationship, this is the app for you. However, if you have a history of being a “fool for love,” beware. You could fall madly in love with someone who doesn’t exist and in the process miss out on that Mr. /MS Wonderful who could be right in front of you.

A cautionary tale about workplace dating

April 19th, 2015

CNN ran a piece about a Congressman dating a lobbyist who interacts with the committee that he is chairman of. Congressman Shuster and Ms. Rubio have been involved since last summer. A clear conflict of interest has not yet been established, but it’s inevitable that we haven’t heard the last of this story. Careers have been destroyed by relationships that were deemed to be inappropriate for a number of reasons, and this revelation could put the Congressman’s reputation and standing in jeopardy.

The topic of dating people that we meet at or through work has always been a highly debated one. Some workplaces have prohibitions against this, though that is less common than it used to be. Others prohibit employees from dating their managers or clients due to the potential for the relationship to have a negative impact on relationships with co-workers, productivity and overall fairness, and other conflicts of interest that could result.

Because the workplace has become a good place to meet people for dating, the rules seem to be relaxing. However, the potential for workplace claims of sexual harassment will always be a reason for employers to have some policy on this. After all, if a manager dates a subordinate, what fall-out might occur if that manager decides to end the relationship? If an employee dates a client, and the relationship fizzles, how might this impact their future working relationship and ability to get the job done effectively?

These are real and justifiable issues that employers and employees alike need to consider and be mindful of. After all, attraction happens and when two people spend a lot of time together in an environment like work, it is easy to see how their day to day interactions could morph into coffee breaks, lunches, drinks after work, and a deeper sharing and desire to get to know one another.

Does this mean you should avoid dating anyone you meet at or through your job? No, it does not. In fact, work is a great place to meet someone you have something in common with, can get to know more about in a safe environment, and will have repeated exposure to, which gives a relationship the chance to grow and develop over time. You just need to keep some things in mind if you decide to travel this path. Want to hear more? Check out my videos on this at: and
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The NY Times on Emotional Intelligence

April 15th, 2015

Daniel Goleman, a Harvard trained psychologist, past science writer for the NY Times, and author of the book Emotional Intelligence penned a column on April 7th titled, How to be emotionally intelligent. It’s written in a very straightforward style, in which he outlines the competencies of EQ.

I found this piece to be very user friendly as the usual definitions and descriptions for its use are very wordy and often seem too weighted and academic. This list gets right down to what you need to think about and focus on in order to raise your EQ, which will help you to attract others in your professional, personal and dating/relationship lives.

Dating and relationship coaches and counselors often focus on how a person dresses, and what they say when they approach or converse with others. While these have importance, it’s everything we don’t say that often speaks the loudest and sends the truest messages about who we are and what we think and feel.

If you have had little exposure to EQ or have only a limited understanding of what it is or how important it can be to your interactions and relationships with others, I recommend you read this piece in the NY TIMES.

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.