Opposites Attract, But They May Not Last, Unless…

Most couples can name several ways in which they’re opposites: neatness versus sloppiness; extroversion versus introversion; being high-strung versus laid-back preferring city versus country living, etc. And I’m sure you have something in mind that’s specific to you. It’s true that quite often and in many respects, opposites attract. But those areas can either help you thrive as a couple or destroy you! Read more

When Your Relationship is Rocky, Look Right at Your Expectations

One of the best ways to think of a relationship on the rocks is to reflect on your expectations for your relationship. What are they? What is it that you really want from your partner? What could your partner do now that would — from your point of view — make the relationship work again? Make a comprehensive list, and pay special attention to what you now recognize your unique issues to be.
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Give the Rules That Govern Your Relationship a Makeover

Most relationships have a set of “built in” rules. These rules define your relationship “default position,” such as what can and cannot take place between you and your partner (and others in your life), and what constitutes that which is normal. When you “break” those rules, you and your partner are likely to come into conflict. Generally the rules fit into three different categories: rules that are spoken, rules that are unspoken, and those that are automatic.

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Customizing your Relationship

One key to avoiding the doldrums in your long-term relationship is to honor its uniqueness. The best relationships are custom jobs, which take the distinctive traits, needs, concerns and idiosyncrasies of each partner into consideration. For example, some couples need to work on ways to spend more time together, while for others spending less together time will optimize their relationship. For some couples, taking a nice vacation together will do wonders, while for others, taking separate vacations sometimes can be a relationship saver.

To develop a climate that goes a long way to keeping your unique relationship fresh and exciting for both of you, try this exercise — alone or together:

Create a vision. Make it a shared vision of what you would imagine your ideal relationship to each other would he like. Be as specific as possible about exactly what you would like to your relationship to be. In other words, if things were to work superbly for both of you — if you were able to get past all of your difficult issues and problems permanently, and were then able to take things to the level that you might first have imagined they could be when you originally got together:

What would be present for you that now is missing?

And what would be gone, that now stresses you as a couple?

Make your lists as long or as short as they need to be. But most importantly, make them comprehensive. Agree beforehand that nothing should be off the table, until it is thoroughly discussed.

Next, compare your actual relationship — as it now exists — to the one that you have visualized. Identify every specific thing you can that separates where you now are, from what you have envisioned as ideal. Once again, this can be an individual vision or a shared one, but the more you both participate, the better. Is there an ideal vision that both of you can live with? If you have identified anything that makes this vision impossible, note what that is and keep tweaking it until it is as “ideal” as it can be. Note where your relationship is working well, where it needs to be different, and what changes must occur for those problem areas to be completely addressed. This is an exercise that can be done anytime you wish to focus on the big picture. It is well worth the effort.

Set goals. Write a “job description” for the role of ideal partner. (Important: a job description focuses on what your partner does for you — never on who your partner is. Thus each thing in your description is something that is realistic and possible given who your partner is.) After both of you have done this — made them as thorough and detailed as you can– exchange your descriptions and then talk about them. Most couples surprisingly find that there is little, if anything, that is not doable or negotiable in each other’s ideal “job descriptions.”

Next, discuss and write down some specific goals for what you would like to see your relationship become with respect to specific periods of time. Just as in business, any important project, your finances or your career — relationship goals with time lines bring the exercise to a better level of reality and do-ability. Where would you like to see yourselves a month from now? Six months from now? In a year? Five years? Ten years? Ultimately? As you talk and/or think this through, pay special attention to anything that comes up which may he standing in the way of the goals you’ve identified for your relationship.

Some questions to discuss to help you clarify your goals include:

Where are we going? (With respect to our goals together, our communication, our sex life, our finances, parenting our kids, our careers, our lifestyle, etc., etc.)

Where would we like to (in all the important areas of life together and separately) to be?

What obstacles are there that separate where we are now from where we want to he? (Be as specific as possible.)

So talk it over, try these tips from my book Can Your Relationship Be Saved? How to Know Whether to Stay or Go, and begin to take action to customize your unique relationship and thus make it as ideal for both of you as it can be.

When Jealousy Visits Your Relationship

Practically everyone whose been in a serious romantic relationship with all of the deliciously intense and passionate feelings that go with it, have at one time or another experienced jealousy, which is really the fear that —to some degree— your partner is not being exclusive to you either physically or emotionally. But it’s what you do with your feelings of jealousy that can bring you closer together or ultimately tear your relationship apart.

Jealousy arising from the thought of your loved one with someone else can trigger many feelings. You may believe your jealousy is an indicator that you care about your partner. In this case, you see it as a sign of strength in your relationship; and perhaps it even elicits romantic feelings. On the other hand, jealousy can trigger feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger or even intense rage. That rage could be directed toward a person perceived as the ‘object of your partner’s affections’, your partner or yourself (in the form of putting yourself down because of your perception of not “measuring up” to that ‘other person’). In addition, jealousy can naturally lead to mistrust, which can wreak havoc in every aspect of your relationship.

One of the biggest problems with your feelings of jealousy is that they can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, there’s no guarantee that a relationship will stay intact forever, or that your partner might not fall for someone else; but jealousy can be the catalyst in a chain of events that makes one of these possibilities become a reality.

Handling jealousy requires a look at how much you trust your partner. The fact is that it’s normal for him or her to find others attractive from time to time, just as you do, while understanding that this is not really a threat to the relationship unless acted upon. In other words, mental exclusivity is a very high, perhaps impossible standard. Obsessing about this only leads to needless pain.

Overcoming your jealously also requires you to look inside yourself. If you’re constantly worried by the idea of being compared to others your partner may find attractive, chances are your self-esteem could use a boost. Ask yourself where is the evidence that I am not good enough to withstand the comparison? Is this completely true?

Of course, there are some situations where jealousy is a sign that there is a realistic threat of your partner being involved with others, despite denials. In this case, jealousy is more or less a wakeup call and a signal to you either to have a talk with your partner or seek professional help to overcome what may be a much bigger issue in your relationship.

Only you can decide if your jealous is insecurity, or an indication that something in your relationship needs a closer look. Before jealousy makes your biggest relationship fears a reality, you have the power to make a change, either within yourself or with your partner, to get your relationship back on the right track. And remember, most people have experienced jealousy at one time or another. It’s what you do with it that dictates the outcome!

Three Mistakes “Helicopter Parents” Make That Prevent Their Children from Growing Up

The term “helicopter parent” is a relatively new one in our culture, but the practice is quite prevalent. When a child leaves home (for college, for instance, or even overnight camp) the helicopter parent does exactly what the term implies —hovers. Helicopter parents usually have the best intentions– to protect their children from life’s hardships and prepare them for adulthood— but as with many other aspects of parenting, the results don’t always match the intentions. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself “hovering”, here are a few common mistakes to be aware of and what you might want to consider instead:

Mistake 1:Being in constant communication-Children get their own cell phones at younger ages every year. While cell phones are great for safety purposes, they make it possible for parents to be in continual contact with their child. Psychologist Dr. Steven Sussman has even referred to the cell phone as “the world’s longest umbilical cord.” When your young adult child goes off to college, it’s easier than ever for you to stay in touch—all the time. But is this a good thing? And it may certainly take on a life of its on when your child calls you to discuss what to eat at the next meal or even uses you as a surrogate alarm clock, with a daily wake-up call. Instead, limit routine communication to a specific time of day. Maybe you and your son or daughter can schedule a time to speak on the phone each evening or a few specified evenings each week. This way, he or she can have the opportunity to try to solve problems on his or her own instead of immediately reaching out to you for the answers.

Mistake 2-Maintaining full financial control – It’s quite common for parents to continue to pay for things into adulthood that they began paying for when their child was much younger. For example, many young adults are still on their family cell phone plans and car insurance, and usually let their parents foot the bill for meals out and family vacations. However, while remaining a safety net, you also may want to allow them to have some “skin in the game”, in order to learn financial responsibility. This means setting firm limits and establishing a clear policy concerning credit cards and other financial matters. As an invaluable preparation for adulthood, gradually hand over small financial obligations, in order to transition him or her to become a financially responsible adult.

Mistake 3-Parenting in a way that’s not age appropriate – Intuitively, it makes sense that adolescents need different parenting than infants or toddlers and young adults require different parenting than adolescents, but this change doesn’t always happen automatically. For example, it’s no longer necessary to punish and reward your children in the same way you did when they were younger. The best parenting is about giving guidance that’s age appropriate and that speaks to your child’s unique needs and stage of development. As your child becomes an adult your role as a parent will shift. For example, you can now become much less of a micromanager and disciplinarian, and more of a role model. Your child will now receive consequences from his or her own environment when poor choices are made, rather than you. This is a good thing. So relish your new role!

The bottom line is that as a parent your greatest responsibility to your young adult children is to help them develop the skills to make it on their own. By avoiding these mistakes, you’ve taken a giant step in the right direction toward enjoying the stage of life where you can savor your child functioning successfully as an independent adult!

The Sandwich Generation: When You Are Parenting your Children and Aging Parents at the Same Time

In my recent article, I discussed some of the common myths that often hold parents back from doing what it takes to help their adult children to launch into independence. Some parents who are still caring for their children as well as their own aging parents are part of what is sometimes referred to as the sandwich generation. Such a situation often comes with various emotional and financial challenges, as modern medicine allows people to live longer, while young adults have a harder time finding jobs. So this scenario is a trend that is likely to continue.

In my experience with helping clients who are caring for their elderly parents, I’ve noticed that they often have a very difficult time staying motivated. In this situation, the best reward you can hope for is normally an intrinsic or internal one, as caring for both your children and parents can be quite stressful for anyone. If this speaks to you, here are 3 ways to make your role in the sandwich a better and less stressful experience:

Set boundaries with both your children and parents. You can’t always jump when someone has a need or a request. Even if you’d like to accommodate everyone, ask yourself if a given request is reasonable or if it’s at the expense of your own well-being. You can help others best when you are helping yourself first, so don’t neglect your own needs because you’re busy caring for others or even worse —beat yourself up over guilt.

Another way to make the experience a better one is to clarify your attitude about the very roles you’ve taken on. If you think of it as a burden, you’re likely to find the experience fatiguing and overwhelming. Instead, allow yourself to focus on the opportunity to strengthen and complete your relationship with your parents while you still have the chance. Though sometimes the needs of your elderly parent can be excessive, the other side of the coin is gratitude for having your parent in your life. Then, you can see the situation in a different light. This will go a long way toward transcending any need you have for positive reinforcement.

Finally, think about what you’d like your children to learn by your experience. Your children may be likely to base their own attitudes on caring for you later in your life on the way they’ve watched you handle your parents. So what is that learning experience you’d like to pass on to your children? Think of this as just one more of life’s what comes around goes around moments.