Is your unhappy marriage stuck in cruise control?

November 27th, 2015

The present divorce rate is around 49%, and it’s older folks in long-term marriages who are the ones most often calling it quits. Financial concerns, concerns about the welfare of the children, and a desire for continued stability are all reasons people give for not addressing marital problems sooner rather than later. It seems that there is a belief that airing issues will lead to separation and/or divorce and that folks find it is a better choice to suffer in silence. It almost feels like an either or situation in which they either suffer in silence or take the leap into ending the relationship. But aren’t there other options in between and if so, why aren’t people choosing them.

Counseling is the most recommended resource when a marriage is in trouble. For some couples, the cost is too high in terms of dollars and/or time. They don’t have the insurance to cover it, they can’t take time off from work without consequences, and/or they can’t afford child care when they have to go to counseling. It’s also common for one person to want to go and for the other to be resistant. There can be a fear that they will be blamed for the problems or that they will hear/learn things that are hurtful and threaten the status quo. Some folks have no real confidence in counseling and consider it a waste of time. Perhaps they had a bad experience in the past, which just reinforces the notion that it won’t help and could make things worse.

However if problems are ignored they won’t go away—they will only get worse. So what can a couple do? There is a model of brief counseling that can help. It was developed by Drs. Fischer and Hardy of The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Actually a number of therapists have been doing something like this for quite a while, but too many others do not. Fischer and Hardy’s approach is structured to help couples who are “on the brink,” to decide whether to divorce or work on their marriage.

They are given three paths to choose from:

• Status quo—no therapy and no change
• Separation or divorce
• Commitment to six months of couples therapy with divorce off the table for that time

The goal is to help couples get clarity and to give them clear options. I like the set time limit as people will take as much time as they are given and given a specific time, will come to a decision by the deadline. Without this, couples can go for years in an unhappy and even dysfunctional relationship, believing they have no other option but to endure until they can get out. By that time, there is no hope of saving the relationship. The human cost is high and the cost to children can be the greatest. Divorce should be the last resort—and with real choices open to them, I believe more couples would take the reconciliation route.

Sean Rad’s kiss and tell

November 22nd, 2015

Match was getting ready for its initial public offering of its popular Tinder app stock, which was expected to sell high and well. Then for reasons no one can quite fathom; Sean Rad, Tinder’s CEO gave an interview to the Evening Standard that caused the company embarrassment and negatively impacted the launch.

The fall out had to do with incorrect numbers that Rad gave regarding the number of users it has and swipes the app receives each day; which were apparently inflated and had to be corrected by the parent company, Match. But even more troubling were the comments Rad made about his own sexual exploits, such as the number of times he has had sex, his age when he lost his virginity, and comments about a super model who has been “begging” him for sex–my personal favorite by the way. The real kicker, a female Vice President of Communications for Tinder was by his side throughout the interview.

There is a lot of confusion about how such an interview was allowed to take place, the behavior of the CEO who was let go once before and rehired by the company, and the fact that such interviews are basically prohibited before IPO’s. Match is working to distance themselves from their employee and his statements and incorrect numbers and they seem to be ignoring the completely off the wall personal comments.

If one looks closely, they will note the cautionary tale this story holds. Rad is a “successful” CEO of a very popular and lucrative app—yet his attitude about and behavior towards women harkens back to the dark ages, or the eighth grade. This is kissing and telling on a huge scale—how would you like to meet a guy on Tinder, decide to have a fling or even to suggest one—then have the whole conversation or experience broadcast to whoever wants to tune in. Yikes.

It’s probably even more important today than ever to practice caution and discretion. If someone wants to, they can expose your very private thoughts and behaviors without you even knowing it. Technology has left us exposed in ways we could not have anticipated and the dark side is indeed a huge concern.

No matter how cute, charming, well-spoken and/or successful he may appear—this guy could be the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Remember those childhood fairy tales that warned you about this kind of thing? They have a timeless and universal appeal for good reason. Only now, the danger is not just a problem in one-dimensional real time. Be careful.

Is your marriage in trouble? Try gratitude

November 14th, 2015

The University of Georgia has come out with a new study that found that expressing gratitude and appreciation for one’s spouse directly influences how they feel about the marriage, their level of commitment to it, and its chance of long term success. This really isn’t surprising to me, nor should it be to anyone who provides relationship counseling and coaching to couples.

Our culture puts a great deal of focus on having good sex, financial security and means, sharing the same goals, and/or attention to physical attractiveness. While these all factor in, they won’t keep a relationship and marriage strong without gratitude and appreciation. Think about it, what would matter more to you—your partner being happy because of your sexual performance the night before, or them telling you how much they appreciate how you care about them, handle a certain responsibility, or add quality and goodness to your shared life?

The study published in the Journal Personal Relationships used a telephone survey to ask 486 married individuals questions about communication, financial well-being, and expressions of gratitude from their partners. Their answers pointed to the top importance of gratitude and its role in keeping their marriage happy. The lead author, Allen Burton, is quoted as saying”It goes to show the power of ‘thank you.’”

The study found that the more gratitude was expressed, the less divorce prone a partner would become, no matter the other challenges. Even when couples are in conflict and there is emotional withdrawal, if gratitude is expressed it helps to counteract the damage of the conflict.

This is very important as it offers specific guidance to couples and professionals that work with them on the help that gratitude can bring to a struggling and shaky marriage. Stress is inevitable and all marriages face difficult challenges at some point. Being able to point to a specific tool that can help insulate them from the fall out and keep them invested in working on solutions could be a real game changer.

If your marriage is going through a bad time, consider using gratitude and starting today, right now, this moment. What have you got to lose except your marriage?

What are your relationship deal breakers?

November 7th, 2015

Everyone has relationship deal breakers, even though they may not have consciously identified them. They are those things you just can’t live with or without in your future partner or relationship. Not surprisingly, it has been found that there is actually a list of common deal breakers, and that they have a similar significance across the board and by gender.

Last month six studies were published online in the Personal and Social Psychology Bulletin. They were conducted by researchers from Western Sydney University, the University of Florida, Indiana University, Rutgers University, and Singapore Management University. They found that people put more importance on what is wrong with a potential partner than what is right or working in the relationship.

Not surprisingly women have more deal breakers than men, probably because they have more to lose if the relationship doesn’t work. They are the ones who bear the children and end up being the primary caretakers and having a supportive and strong spouse is important to successful child rearing.

It’s also not surprising that those who have higher self-esteem and confidence are more selective. They place a high value on what they have to offer and expect the same in return. So, that picky friend of yours is holding out because they really are looking for someone they think is their equal and worthy of them.

Relationship deal-breakers also matter more when someone is considering marriage than when they are just having a good time with someone. Wonder why your friend dates that guy or girl when they could do better/ maybe it’s because they are in it for short-term fun and have no intention of going any further. Wonder why your boyfriend avoids the topic of marriage? Maybe it’s because he sees this relationship as meeting his needs now, but can’t see you as a long-term partner.

There were similarities between the sexes in what they considered their top deal breakers. The #1 spot was held by unclean followed by lazy. Yep, these two would be very hard to accept or live with. Sense of humor is high on the list as well. This really speaks to the importance of “intellectual” compatibility. If we don’t see humor in the same things, our ability to relate that way may be very incompatible—and this often ends up being discussed as a big issue in marital counseling.

Really not surprising is that men rated “low sex drive” as a major deal breaker, while women said that “bad sex” is their deal breaker. In other words, he’s happy if they have a lot of sex and she is not happy unless it’s good sex and leaves her satisfied as well. If men could truly understand this they would work harder at being better lovers, and then they would get more sex. Again, this is a common topic in counseling.

Anger issues came up as important for both sexes, along with bad habits like smoking and drinking excessively. Men also talked about women being too talkative, but for women this was not really an issue—didn’t need a study to know this one would be there. For women, men who can’t communicate came up over and over again.

Having pets or not having pets made a few of the lists—this one really speaks to values. If someone doesn’t like animals or considers them a nuisance, what does that say about their ability to nurture and parent? For those who find animals messy and troublesome, lifestyle differences could be a real deal breaker when the other can’t imagine a home without them.

The bottom line—know your deal breakers- what you can’t live with and must have in a future partner and relationship. Everything else is negotiable.

Amal and George Clooney have adopted

November 2nd, 2015

The couple has just celebrated their first anniversary and have now added a new member to their little family. Millie is a basset hound who was homeless and hungry on the streets of San Gabriel last month. She was taken to a shelter and the couple saw her picture, and it was love at first sight (bark, yawn, whatever). They had another child, (uh, dog) already and the only concern was for how well/if the two would get along.

From the pictures they snapped back at their home, all looks to be going well. It took George years to make a commitment to one woman, and his canine kids may be a warm-up to the kind of parenting that requires a greater commitment. Or not.

It is possible that canine kids are all they desire and who could blame them? They appear to be having a great time together and to be very much in love. Nothing wrong with that picture. But if Simon Cowell could end up being a parent, anything is possible. Stay tuned.

A popular trend—gray divorce

November 1st, 2015

The NY Times has an interesting piece out on the increase in divorce among older, long married couples. Abby Ellin shares some interesting statistics and the feelings and experiences of a number of women who left their less than satisfying marriages and dove into the frightening unknown because they wanted more and knew the clock was ticking.

Divorce for long married, older couples is on the rise. In 2014, those 50 and older were twice as likely to divorce as that age group was in 1990. And for those over 65, the increase was even higher. Yet divorce among younger couples has actually dropped or remained the same over the same period of time.

Many theories are being floated as to why this is occurring. Second marriages are twice as likely to fail as first marriages and many older couples are in a second or third marriage. Another theory is that life expectancy is a factor—people used to die earlier and didn’t look forward to a new life at an older age. Now they do and if their marriage is stale or no longer meeting their needs, they think about what else might be out there and reflect on the need to pursue it since time is passing. The stigma of divorce is also largely gone, and in the past this often kept couples together long past the “happy” expiration date of their unions.

What may be surprising to some, but if we think about it, not really—is that women are the ones most likely to initiate these later in life divorces. They are the burned out caretakers who very likely put their own dreams on hold to support those of their spouse and to raise children. They don’t want to be caretakers to their aging husbands who may not be in as good shape, have fewer interests and/or be retired and sedentary. Their spouse can feel like a ball and chain as opposed to being a partner they can move forward into new adventures with. Because many women have careers and money of their own, they are not financially dependent, which used to be their primary reason for staying.

With the kids out on their own, even if not happy with their parents splitting up—these women are going for it while they still can. Though it means taking a risk, many women are more comfortable with this than men. They may give up some financial security, but feel the trade-off is worth it. For many, their standard of living goes down, for some even below the poverty line–yet they still take this step into the unknown. But many do work and therefore have their own income and a means to support their new life.

The retirement of spouses also plays heavily into rising divorce rates. When men are suddenly home all day, the dynamics of the relationship change—and what wasn’t good in their relationship is suddenly exposed and highlighted 24/7, with no distractions or escape for women. They decide the risks are worth it as they make the decision to leap into the unknown and to see what is out there as they search for greater meaning and personal happiness.

The benefits of being truly happily married

October 29th, 2015

Most people probably believe that a good marriage is good for us—physically, mentally, and emotionally. It just makes sense that if our primary relationship is good, it will enhance our life and help us ward off loneliness and the anxiety that can come when feeling all alone. Not to mention all the perks that having one’s own family can bring.

Now we have data to back this up. A study was recently released on the positive effects of happy marriage. It was conducted by Wendy Birmingham, PhD from Brigham Young University and published in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 94 couples were asked questions about their spouse’s behavior and interpersonal functioning, and placed into categories of “genuinely happy,” and “ambivalent,” which had a wide range of satisfaction. One quarter were happy, the other three quarters fell into the ambivalent category. A number of these had positive things to say about their spouses, but felt they could be unsupportive and negative.

What was most interesting about this study is that only the respondents who were genuinely happy possessed the benefits of better health and longevity. Those in the ambivalent group, even the ones who said many positive things about their spouse—didn’t demonstrate the same benefits as the happy group. Clearly this points to the importance of being in a truly happy marriage—one in which one’s spouse is perceived as supportive and positive. Note these two elements—this study is basically pointing to them as key to happiness in marriage—as opposed to having great wealth, successful careers, perfect kids, etc. Feeling validated makes all the difference.

In both groups the level of commitment was strong, and respondents reported no desire to leave their marriages. It was the quality of the relationships and how they impacted the well-being of the individuals that was very telling. Their blood pressure was measured regularly, and happy couples had lower rates. In all cases, the couples lived alone with no children or other extended family. Their ages ranged from 18-62, with an average age of 29.

This study also reinforces the usefulness of marital counseling, where we often work on enhancing communication and offering more support, validation and appreciation to one another. These make up the glue of happy marriages and if a couple is struggling with negativity—there is hope through counseling which can help them to make changes in how they relate to and support one another.

Knowing they are the one takes time

October 23rd, 2015

A new survey has shown that when people are focused on finding an instant romantic connection, they can miss out on real love. Writer Nicola Hughes tackles this topic as she paints a picture of herself making a connection on Tinder, then heading out to meet this new guy who she is already envisioning as “the one.” She has yet to come face to face with him and is already impatient to get to the good part.

Then when she is confronted with the real guy, the let down and sense of disappointment begins to creep in. She contemplates this and has a light bulb moment as she realizes that she has been going about dating the wrong way. She knows this because it has not worked for her.

With this epiphany in mind, she thinks back to the way she has always made friends, which is slowly. She recalls that she has never really clicked with anyone at first, and often doesn’t even like the person very much—until she has had more time to spend with them and get to know them. Then, this person who made a negative first impression has become a favorite friend. In other words, our impressions of people can change a lot once we get to know them.

Ms. Hughes’s takeaway is that if this works for making friends, maybe it would be a much more successful way to approach dating. The result is her “Dating Manifesto,” where instant impressions are out, opportunities to make male friends who could grow to be more are in.

If your dating life isn’t working out as you have hoped, you may want to give this a try. Check it out

Tis the season for getting engaged and breaking up

October 20th, 2015

According to data gathered from Facebook users a few years back, August through October are the safest times to be in a relationship. By this, I mean that there are fewer break-ups during these months that the rest of the year. This data also showed that the greatest number of break-ups occur very close to Christmas—often between Thanksgiving and the other major winter holidays, or immediately following the safe months. Therefore it is especially interesting that, a site for those getting engaged, has found that December ranks #1 for couples getting engaged.

So what all this data comes down to is that people either say “I’m out of here,” during the holidays, or they decide that this is “the one” and take a big step towards commitment. Therefore, even though these statistics may appear to be confusing or contradictory on the surface, if you look at what is behind them, they make perfect sense. The holidays are a time that we examine our relationships and perhaps because it is such a family-centered time of year—it pushes us to look at our relationships and assess if they are right for us and are a good fit for where we see ourselves years from now.

Along with all the family focus during these holidays are traditions, memories from childhood, and special gift-giving. We are surrounded by other couples and families and want to be connected to them and to share in all that family offers. If our relationship isn’t a good fit, it will be harder to ignore or gloss over during family gatherings and when surrounded by those who are getting engaged and talking about all they mean to one another and their hopes and dreams for a shared future life.

When hanging out on an August beach, getting back to real life after summer’s end, or just enjoying those more carefree days of summer and early fall—reality can take a back seat to fun and convenience. Not so when Thanksgiving arrives.

Reinforcing this argument is another break-up statistic—Valentine’s Day is also break-up day for many. Why is this? When the spotlight is on this day, all the hype, happy lovers, promises of forever, hearts, flowers, and romance either feel very right or very wrong. When it is the latter, people break-up, hoping that they will then be able to find and experience what all those happy lovers around them seem to have found.

It’s #NoBraDay today

October 13th, 2015

It’s No Bra Day today, and it’s trending at the top of twitter. Why is this important besides the need to continue to put a spotlight on breast cancer? For starters, women continue to feel as though how they look is the most or one of the most important aspects of who they are. Men definitely have contributed to this, as has society in general. Part of that attractiveness is a good body—with nice boobs.

So how does all this affect the many (often young) women who are diagnosed with breast cancer? They get the news, talk to their Dr. about treatment, and have to contemplate how surgery could affect their appearance and their dating/relationship life. I have worked with it and have heard the angst from women who are looking ahead to how they will handle dating with breast cancer—even a cancer that was caught very early and may not need surgery.

Angelina Jolie has helped to make women sexy even after a mastectomy. She has shown that the essence of who we are is the sum of all our parts—not just some of them standing alone. She has also shown how physically beautiful a woman can be, even after a radical surgery—and keep a man like Brad Pitt, proudly and happily by her side.

It’s a good day for all of us to contemplate our shallowness, especially when it comes to what attracts us to other people, especially potential partners. Maybe if we were better at seeing the whole person, we would make better choices and not end up with a turkey, while letting the good one go.

So take off your bras and your blinders today. Really look at the people around you with a fresh and open perspective. Who knows? Mr./Ms. Right might be standing nearby, but before now, you just couldn’t see them.