Couple’s communication is helped by food

April 23rd, 2014

We have all heard that low blood sugar can lead to anger, among other things. But how much do we actually focus on the role of food on our moods and relationships? According to findings just published in the Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences, missing a meal can indeed be very bad for your relationship.

In their study, 107 married couples tested their blood sugar levels before their first morning meal and again before bedtime. Each participant was also given a voodoo doll that represented their partner, and they were told to insert up to 51 pins daily, depending on how angry they felt with their spouse.

You guessed it- those with the lowest nighttime blood sugar levels used the most pins. Women overall used more pins, but the difference was not significant. After 21 days the couples were taken to a lab and told that they were going to compete with one another on how fast they could press a button- in order to test aggressive behavior. The winners would then be able to blast their partner with a loud noise through their headphones. Fortunately, they were actually doing this to the computer- but did not know it. Guess who did the most blasting? Those with the lowest nighttime blood sugar levels blasted their partners more frequently and louder.

The conclusion therefore is that if couples eat before having that difficult or potentially heated discussion, their levels of anger and aggression will be down and easier to manage in general. Makes sense- and I plan to remember this when I work with couples on improving communication- which virtually all couples cite as one of the major issues contributing to their relationship problems.

Love defeats hatred- the Boston Marathon wedding couple returns

April 20th, 2014

April 15, 2013 was their wedding day- one they knew would be special and always remembered. Turns out, it would be seared into their memory as their day of love and happiness became a day of horror and great loss for so many of the people they had wanted to celebrate with.

Robert and Kelli Watling had planned to run the race then tie the knot in a post marathon ceremony. Then the two blasts hit, shattering the day and leaving them with a decision of what to do next. In spite of what had just unfolded and even as bodies were being counted and the wounded were receiving assistance and transport- Kelli and Robert followed through with the ceremony. They said their vows at the Boston Public Garden, determined not to let the horror deter them.

A year later they are returning to run again, pregnant and celebrating their one year anniversary. They couldn’t stay away and felt the need to be a part of the experience of healing and triumph over evil that Boston will be celebrating this year.

These two had a very unique and challenging start as a newly married couple- and they feel lucky to have each other and to be alive and well. Life needs to go on for all survivors of tragedy, even though it often seems impossible at first. But now a year later, this couple, families of the slain, those who were injured and are struggling to get their lives back are all somehow joined together by the triumph of love over hate and joy over despair.

The hooked-up generation

April 19th, 2014

In the New York Times “well.blogs” on April 17th, there was a provocative piece on the high use of antidepressant drugs in young adults. According to the author, Doris Iarovici, M.D., more and more young people are taking these drugs and staying on them for much longer periods than they were intended for. These “emerging adults” face many changes and challenges during those crucial years- and now, they are expressing a need for chemical help to meet those challenges.

The author points to the very real downside that antidepressants mute feelings and emotions, which doesn’t allow for the normal highs and lows that we learn to take in stride and deal with through developing healthy coping mechanisms. In her experience with college students, they are reluctant to stop taking the medication for fear of having to confront uncomfortable issues and feelings, and if they do discontinue them for a time they often want to resume treatment at the first sign of a problem. According to Dr. Iarovici, “these drugs are seen as a panacea to which they turn at the first signs of unhappiness.” At the same time, many are drinking heavily, smoking pot and taking their roommates ADD medication. This is clearly addictive behavior and these are just various drugs of choice and opportunity. The doctor also emphasizes that “there is still no clear understanding of how psychiatric medicines might affect brain development.”

A big downside that is rarely if ever mentioned by medical experts, but that the author does speak to is that the use of these drugs negatively impacts intimacy and intimate relationships. When they mute emotions and lead their users to avoid and discount difficult but very important emotions and feelings- they block the experiences that lead to personal growth and the ability to form and maintain healthy relationships. We could in fact be helping to create a “Stepford” generation of young adults who are only going through the motions as they move into dating, relationships and marriage without really being there.

In my experience as a psychotherapist and dating/relationship coach- this problem is very real and troubling. From the young daters I hear stories about the people they are meeting who look great on paper, have good jobs and are attractive and accomplished- but are on some kind of substance or another that impacts their ability to connect, relate and truly be present in the interaction and relationship. From the married couples I see, I hear about alcohol and other drug use and the emotional distance that results over time from it.

This is the hooked-up generation. They are hooked on prescription drugs for ADD from childhood, first using stimulants to deal with the challenges of doing well in school and getting into a good college, then taking antidepressants as they move into the challenging world of adult responsibilities and relationships.

The solutions here won’t be simple, but they need to start with doctors who are not quick to write prescriptions and parents who don’t look for a pill to fix their child’s problems. Maybe then, fewer young adults will be coming from a culture of dependency and avoidance of everything that is unpleasant and difficult.

For anyone out there who sees themselves here- remember that being truly present is a critical piece of any relationship foundation. Without this, you will never have real intimacy, nor will you get to know your authentic self which allows you to make informed and healthy decisions about your life and relationships.

Lastly never forget that if you blunt your feelings and avoid your emotions you will not only lose the lows, you will also lose those wonderful highs that can only come with the joy we experience when we are truly present in the experience.

Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky are expecting

April 18th, 2014

Baby news is almost always good, exciting news- but when the expectant mother is the high profile daughter of a popular ex- President, it’s really NEWS.

For some time now her parents have been hinting at how much they would like to be grandparents- have to wonder why they didn’t have more than one to help ensure they would indeed get to be grandparents one day. Their daughter has only been married a few years- but at 34 there can be the additional pressure of the ticking biological clock. So apparently the time was just right and it looks like Chelsea is due in the fall.

This baby will have every advantage a child can and then some. Much will be expected from one so blessed. The baby watch may be almost as intense as the one in England, when the future king was expected. After all, the Clintons are one of the American dynasty families- and Chelsea along with her parents has a very visible career and presence on the New York social scene.

Given that this is a mixed marriage- he, Jewish and she, Christian- it will be interesting to see how they will handle the child’s religious upbringing. Will they celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah and Passover and Easter, will they choose one over another- or will they avoid the whole issue completely and join, say the Universal church?

When you take away all the glamor and window dressing- Chelsea and Marc will be parents. Like all those who have gone before them, they will have their sleepless nights, moments of joy and (yes) sorrow- and they will find that suddenly nothing else matters like this new life they are bringing into the world and into their lives.

Let’s all wish them a healthy and thriving baby as we wait for the joyous news.
Mazel Tov!

Narendra Modi- are bachelors more trustworthy?

April 11th, 2014

In the United States, it’s always been seen as a good thing if someone who is running for public office is married and has a family. Family men and women are portrayed as having certain values, are seen as more in touch with their constituents- and are perceived as somehow more reliable and trustworthy than their unmarried counterparts.

How curious that Narendra Modi, a candidate for the post of India’s prime minister is now using his “bachelor” status as an edge in his run for office. Apparently he was once in a brief arranged marriage that he left rather quickly due to his desire at the time to move towards a more spiritual calling. The marriage was never legally terminated, but they have lived apart and Mr. Modi claims he has lived a life of celibacy.

According to the aspiring prime minister, men practice corruption to benefit their wives and family and since he has none, he has no reason to do so. Hummm, interesting concept to consider. He emphasizes that he can give his all to his job with no conflicts or other priorities pulling him away and leading him to behave in ways that are good for him but not those who elected him.

This sounds a bit like the Catholic Church claiming that married priests would not be able to do their job as effectively or be completely available to their flocks. Yes, there is truth to this- anyone who is married and has a family gets it. All that energy, time, focus and yes, money that is needed to have and maintain a family is a major distraction to say the least. But does that necessarily lead to corruption and other bad behavior or is it true that it’s not possible to “serve two masters?”

I do see one glaring flaw in Mr. Modi’s logic. He IS married, yet left his wife who has remained alone and in limbo all these years. Essentially her life and future were put on hold by him so he could pursue a life he wanted. Maybe it’s just me, but I see this as a complete betrayal at worst- and a selfish and dishonorable act as best. Why did he go through with the marriage in the first place? Why didn’t he opt for a quiet divorce years ago? Trustworthy may be in the eye of the beholder here- I wonder what his wife would say?

Gwyneth Paltrow adds fuel to mommy wars

April 7th, 2014

Here we go again- competing over who has it worse or better. There is a unique spin on this one, however. It’s “office jobs” moms in one corner and “other working moms” in the other (in particular actresses and those who travel a lot).

Gwyneth Paltrow dished to E! News on how much harder it is for an actress and mom who is frequently away from home then it is for a mom who goes into an office job and can come home at night to do her second job. Yikes…

One might think that these different lives are easily compared- after they are all moms who work. However, the comparison can be apples and oranges which in this case is likely to be Mercedes and econo cars, manicured estates and split levels, and/or household help and nannies and 16+ hour days with no time or money left over for getting away.

Let’s face it- comparisons are odious because someone always comes out the winner and someone else the loser. How much better to say that moms in general have a very demanding, yet rewarding and satisfying job- regardless of whether they work full time at home or work outside and get outside help at home. Those who have both jobs and NO outside help are called saints and they are in a category all their own.

In all seriousness, Gwyneth sounds a little like a certain princess who long ago said something that has been taken out of context for years- “Let them eat cake.” Not to digress here, but Marie Antoinette lived during a time when if the palace ran out of bread, they opened up their stores of cake and ate this until they could restock. Her comment was naïve- and it’s possible Gwyneth’s was too, Isn’t it within reason to think that maybe she is so out of touch in her Hollywood life that she really thinks the average Mom has a full complement of help to handle all those mommy and household things that must be done when mommy is away- or at work? If she assumes this, her comment is more acceptable. She seems like a nice person so maybe we could give her the benefit of the doubt.

Either way, do the rest of us working moms in all stages and work environments really have to get all lathered up about this? Each of us knows what is on our plate and none of us ever really knows what is on the plate of another mommy. Lives that look porcelin smooth can be something else entirely. I say this as a therapist and mom who has had more than my share of challenges and long hours that seem to never end.

So why don’t we agree to agree that our lives and circumstances are different and comparisons are not only useless- they keep the mommy wars going and going.

The problem with “I love you but”…

April 6th, 2014

In her Motherlode blog for The New York Times, Cara Paiuk talks about the one word you should never say after I love you. Yes you guessed it, it’s the “but” word. The valid point that Ms. Paiuk makes is that when someone says I love you followed by “but”, they are essentially negating, dismissing, minimizing or even insincerely expressing their feelings of love.

Think about it, if your partner said this to you, what would you hear- the part about loving you or the negating part that comes after? Apparently Ms. Paiuk’s spouse asked her to substitute “and” for “but” and this made all the difference. Who knew one little word change could make so much difference? Well, it can.

Whenever a couple comes in to see me for the first time, their chief complaint is “a problem with communication.” This is illustrated here. What we say and how we say it can covey many different things, regardless of our intent. Every good therapist works with this and helps a couple to make little shifts like this because they can make all the difference.

Remember to watch your “but” use when asking your significant for something, bringing up a difficult issue that needs to be discussed or even registering a request or complaint. Make sure that what they hear is an unconditional “I love you”- even if their behavior is driving you nuts or they did something thoughtless or stupid. If they know you are coming from a place of love they will HEAR what you need to tell them and be open to accepting it.

Matchmaking for the older dater

April 3rd, 2014

Are you a divorced, widowed or single senior who has begun dating again after many years or contemplating doing so? If so, you are probably like many 60+ adults who haven’t had much dating experience for say, 40 or so years. You might be wondering where you should even start to look for other compatible and available folks- and what you need to know in case you actually find one.

According to AARP, 45% of adults 65 and over are separated, divorced or widowed. That’s a pretty big number, so you do have a large field to choose or be chosen from. But where do you go to meet these people? The internet is one place. AARP has recently teamed with HowAboutWe, a dating website- and together they suggest offline dates to members who want to “meet people in the real world.” Apparently they have attracted almost 60,000 users- so the interest is certainly there.

But what if you don’t use a computer, have little or no experience with one, and/or are not comfortable with meeting someone that way? After all, rejection is hard at any age, but can be very tough on an older person who may have been in a relationship for years, has no recent experience with having to put themselves out there- and who doesn’t have as much time or opportunity as young daters who are practiced and savvy in the art of marketing themselves.

You could consider using a matchmaker. There are an estimated 3,000 matchmakers in the U.S. and about 90% of them work with seniors. One issue that women going to matchmakers should be aware of is that senior women outnumber men, and it may be that there are few available males in a matchmaker’s client base. If the men just aren’t signed up, a woman’s chances of meeting someone go way down. Fees can start at 10,000 and go way up from there- some paid upfront and the rest if a match is made.

The good news is that older folks are looking for stability and companionship most of all. Women don’t care much about how much money a man has- and men aren’t focusing as much on looks.

A matchmaker can look at your values, personality traits, lifestyle needs and wants- and use these to find someone who is a similar to you. You would get to meet people that you would not ordinarily come into contact with- and the process is easier, safer and less hurtful. When using an online dating site, many folks might view your profile and yet no one will contact you- ouch.

If you have the financial resources and are looking for someone to go through your later years with- this might be for you. Make sure you do your research, ask a lot of questions and get your matchmaker to really work for you. If you can’t afford this, consider going to HowAboutWe and trying to connect with others that way. It’s still safer, less pressure- and you get to experience them in real time, right from the start. Even if you don’t find love, you could meet some new friends and have someone to call when you want to go out and play.

Meir Kin uses old orthodox law to extort ex-wife

March 25th, 2014

Meir Kin, an orthodox Jew who has been legally divorced from his first wife, Lonna Kin for more than 7 years just married his second wife, Daniella Barbosa last week. What’s unusual about this situation is that Mr. Kin has refused to grant his first wife a “get,” which is the term used for a document required by Orthodox Jewish law to end a marriage. It’s like an annulment if you are Catholic. Without the get, his first wife is not free to marry again. So how is it that he is? Apparently, 100 rabbis need to give special permission for this to happen, and Mr. Kin claims to have gotten that.

Of course, his second wedding drew a number of protesters, including several Orthodox rabbis. They feel he is using and corrupting the law and are even doubtful he got 100 of their own to sign off for him. You may be wondering why Mr. Kin would go to all that trouble to hang on to the first wife while marrying another. Apparently his ex owns a successful company and makes more than he does- a lot more. So he is demanding 500,000 and full custody of their 12 year old son in exchange for granting the get.

As you may imagine, this story drew a lot of attention when covered by The New York Times. It hit the most emailed and read list for good reason. New York is rich with successful, professional women- and has a strong Jewish population, many of whom lean more to the left (religiously speaking anyway) than Mr. Kin. These women are in an uproar, orthodox women and men are not happy about it either- and almost everyone is condemning his behavior. In the past, husbands who refused gets were isolated by the community. There have even been cases where they were kidnapped and tortured in order to persuade them to free their ex-wives to move on and marry again. However, shunning doesn’t work as well anymore and kidnapping and torture carry a heavy sentence.

So what is the first Mrs. Kin to do? She could convert to Conservative Judaism, hire a hit man or just decide to live in sin if she meets a great guy. Whatever her decision may eventually be, the great majority of Jews and non-Jews, women and men, will stand behind her. After all, slavery is out of style- and few people would support a law that gives all the power to one partner, especially one that wants to have his wedding cake and eat it twice.

You can read the full story here

Marital First Responders

March 22nd, 2014

A father-daughter team have come up with a program that trains friends and family to be skilled listeners and confidents to their friends and family when they are struggling with problems that are negatively impacting their marriage. Bill Doherty, PhD is a recognized marriage and family therapist who co-founded The Doherty Relationship Institute with his daughter, Elizabeth Doherty Thomas, MS, a licensed associate marriage and family therapist. Together they designed the Marital First Responders Boot Camp training- to help the people who others seek out for support and guidance when in a marital crisis.

Their program has provoked some debate and has its detractors because many professional counselors would perceive it as giving people a “license” to practice therapy. After looking over their program and what their focus is, I would disagree. They want to help empower the many friends and family members who get approached, often out of the blue about a marital crisis. Often these friends have no idea how to respond or can take sides, give advice that makes the situation worse- or try to play rescuer. Any of these can help escalate a crisis and/or cause a rift in the relationship between the helper and helpee.

The Marital First responder program helps its trainees to be better listeners, confidents, and referral sources to those resources that could be of great use to the couple. They are trained by professionals who offer them basic skills, not the training that therapists receive or are licensed to practice.

At the very least this training could help people in crisis avoid the trap of going to their friends and family for therapy- and then being no better or worse off as a result. Couples need a good support system and every therapist assesses this resource when a couple comes to see them. So arming that important resource with the tools to be more effective could only be a good thing.

Of course, the result is only as good as the screening and training for the boot camp is. If folks are drawn to this because of their own unmet needs, that could be a problem. Hopefully, the training weeds out those with issues that would impact their ability to perform effectively in this role. It’s also important that trainees know the limits of this role and are given tools to evaluate their interactions when they help others, to make sure it is not about them, but about the people they are helping.

As a licensed therapist and certified life coach- I see the value of this program and think its detractors should take a hard look at what they are really worried about- its impact and effectiveness or their bottom line.