Sunday, December 29, 2013

Getting the New Year off to a good start.

I've always thought that New Year's resolutions were vastly over-rated.  Studies show that only about 8% of people who make resolutions keep them.  Why?  I suspect it's because the resolutions are too ambitious, and/or, are entered into without a specific plan for how to achieve them. 

Don't get me wrong.  I think setting goals is a fine thing.  But they should be attainable goals.  Otherwise, they set you up for failure.  So along with a goal, you need a specific set of steps that you will take to make it likely that you will, indeed, realize that goal.

When starting a new year, I think it can often be helpful to think in terms of areas where we want to place out attention, rather than make hard and fast resolution.  What do you need to be paying more attention to?  How is the health of your relationship?  Does it suffer from lack of attention?  Are there things you could focus on to change that in 2014?

Whether it's your relationship or kids, health, job, friends, etc., going into the New Year with a commitment to pay more attention to the people and things that are most important to you might be a healthier approach. 

What do you want to pay more attention to in the New Year?  Share your thoughts with us, and have a wonderful, happy, healthy 2014.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Holidays! Part 2

Let's talk about money and the holidays today.  What are your family values about this?  Some people think they should go all out, run up the credit cards, and spend the next year paying them off.  Others have a set holiday budget and stick to it.  Problems can arise when you and your partner have different ideas about how much is too much.

Personally, I'm pretty frugal.  I've also lived long enough to learn that while a few thoughtful gifts are nice, loads and loads of "stuff" really is not what makes a holiday special.  How many gifts that you received last holiday season do you really still enjoy?  or even remember?  How about from five years ago?

And if you're buying for your kids, let me ask, "How many specific holiday gifts do you remember from your childhood?"  I'm guessing that you can maybe list two or three that stand out over your entire childhood - and they probably weren't the most expensive.  So, do you really want to break the bank for memories that probably won't really be remembered?

I'm not a scrooge.  I enjoy giving and receiving gifts - but I enjoy both ends of that equation more when they are few and thoughtful.  Two years ago, my favorite gift was a table item that probably cost no more than $10.  But it was something my friend knew I would really enjoy and use often.  I do.  And every time I do, I think of him.  He passed away less than two months after giving me that gift.

Quality time with family and friends is more important to me that the craziness of negotiating crowds at the mall.  How about you?  I'd love for you to share your thoughts.

Saturday, November 23, 2013


If ever there were a season that is a challenge to relationships, it's the winter holidays, from Thanksgiving through the New Year.  You see, we all have grown up with our family traditions, and we hold them dear.  It's just that rarely do our traditions look the same as our partner's.  And even if they do, there are extended families to consider. 

Who will you spend which parts of the holidays with?  How will you handle gift giving?  Does one family typically give more than the other?  How do you incorporate traditions such as favorite foods, religious services, decorating rituals, entertaining, etc.?  When we become part of a couple, those traditions must be considered and merged.  That is often not easy when they are so much a part of our best family memories.

What difficulties have you and your partner had in negotiating the holidays?  What has worked well for you?  How have you arrived at compromise that you can both agree to?  I'd love for you to share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


We all have them - those little habits, quirks, preferences, etc.  Idiosyncrasies.  They're a part of what makes us who we are, and we're all unique.  But they can drive your partner crazy!  Here are a couple examples from my practice:

Sue and Harry met at mid life.  He was a widower, and she, divorced.  Their children were all grown and they looked forward to sharing their golden years together.  One of the things Sue thought was especially sweet about Harry was how he liked to whistle.  It was nice being around someone so happy!

But soon, the whistling got very old.  Harry whistled all the time - in the car, at meals, even in restaurants.  It started to drive Sue crazy!  Pretty soon, she was snapping at him to stop.  He would, for awhile.  But he was oblivious to his whistling so pretty soon it would start again.  Before long, she was going to another area of the house to avoid him and the whistling.  Their relationship became strained.

Harry finally managed to break the habit, but it was very difficult, and took quite a toll on Sue's patience. 

What idiosyncrasies do you and your partner have?  Remember, that the way you are now is likely to be similar to how you are 20 years from now.  Will those little quirks still be so endearing then?  Talk about it NOW - before you say "I Do."

And I'd love to hear your stories about how you've dealt with such things in your relationships.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Challenge of a Family Crisis

I've been thinking a lot about death this past week.  A very good friend of mine took leave of her very frail body Monday, after a six year struggle.  Her funeral is later today.  I've also seen two different couples in the past week who have had the death of a parent recently. 

These events have led me to think about what a crisis time this is for a couple.  The person who has lost a parent is in the process of active grieving.  Their partner then has to shoulder the entire load of family responsibilities and support the grieving partner.  This can get old very fast.  One of the couples I mention above has broken up, in large part because the non-bereaved partner is feeling neglected and ignored.

Emotions are at an all time high during early grief.  Things are often said out of frustration that are not meant, but can't be taken back.  I remember when my father passed, a cousin on my mother's side called and asked me if it was important to my mother that he be there.  He was my mother's favorite relative, and so I told him "yes."  His response, which I'm sure he wished he could take back as soon as it came out of his mouth was, "it's just a very inconvenient time." 

My thought, of course, was, "I'm so sorry my father's death is not convenient for you."  All of this goes to the saying therapists have, "under stress, we regress."  If you, or someone you know, is going through a major life crisis - serious illness, loss of a loved one, loss of job, etc., cut them some slack.  We're all going to be there at one time or another.

Sunday, September 29, 2013


We've all heard about how important it is to be able to compromise in relationships.  I agree, and I work with lots of couples on how to do just that.  But when does compromise become too much?  In other words, at what point is there so much compromise that your needs are being met?

I think all of us have both "needs" and "wants" in relationships.  It's really important to distinguish between the two.  "Needs" are qualities that you absolutely MUST have in your relationship in order to be happy.  For some people, this requires a partner who wants children (or who does not).  For others, it's sharing similar religious beliefs.  For me, if you don't like my dogs - well, that's a deal-breaker!  These are NEEDS, and they leave little room for compromise.

Then, we have lots of "wants."  Tall, dark, and handsome would be nice - but not necessary.  Maybe it would be great if you share the same taste in music or movies or food - but it's not a requirement.

With "wants," there's lots of space for give and take.  But if a relationship doesn't satisfy your "needs," then that's a serious problem.  Have you identified the distinction between needs and wants for yourself and  your relationship?  It's a crucial thing to know before making a commitment.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

You just don't "get it."

In this morning's newspaper, I read an article that quoted actor, Jeff Bridges, on his ideas about relationships.  What he said is thought provoking.  To paraphrase, he said that the only real problem that relationships encounter is that people "just don't get it."  All relationship problems, he posits, are a variation on this.  Then he adds that we'll never "get it," and that love needs to be big enough to allow for this.  What are your thoughts?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How Much Space do You Need in Your Relationship?

I have a divorced friend who was married for 20 years, and her divorce has been very amicable.  She and her ex are still friends.  She often says that the reason the marriage lasted so long is that her husband traveled all the time.  In other words, she likes being alone.  She is in a job where she interacts with people intensely all day long, and relishes the quiet of her "off" hours.  She doesn't want to have to think about what to cook for dinner.  She doesn't want to have to take another person into consideration when making plans.  She's just fine on her own, thank you very much!

While this degree of "space" might seem extreme, each of us has our own requirements that must be taken into consideration in a relationship.  I recently worked with a couple where one person's need for space was much greater than the other's.  They are struggling to negotiate how to create enough togetherness to satisfy one, without the other feeling smothered. 

This is a common issue that usually first comes up during the dating period, but is often not addressed until after marriage.  Big mistake!  Talk about these things before marriage.  It will help you learn how to negotiate and compromise, and you won't be going into the commitment with false expectations.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Defining your Terms

I had a couple in my office a few weeks ago for pre-marital counseling, and we were talking about the characteristics that each needed in a partner.  One of the qualities they agreed on was "Loyalty."  But oh, what different definitions they had!

"Jeff" defined loyalty as putting their relationship before all others.  They, as a couple, took precedence over any other friend or family relationships.  "Susan," on the other hand, defined it as agreeing with her on everything, especially in front of other people.  This meant that even if Jeff had an entirely different opinion than Susan, she would consider is disloyal for him to voice it to others.

That's quite a difference in definitions of a fairly simple word.  What does "loyalty" in your primary relationship mean to you?  Are there other words in which you and your partner get hung up on different definitions?  Let's have some conversation about semantics.