In my practice I see couples who routinely do not set aside time to nurture their relationships.
It might be stating the obvious, but when you don’t water a garden, guess what happens?
Go ahead, guess… Read more
Valentine’s Day is only days away and the topic of lasting love once again is batted around.
How do you find it? How do you keep it? It can seem so elusive and yet, here is one study that discovered what couple’s SHOULDN’T do. I originally wrote this piece for one of my favorite marriage bloggers, Dustin, but it’s worth an encore.
Do you engage in any of these behaviors? If so, which ones?
So…what’s the secret to a happy marriage?
For my husband and high school sweetheart, this past Valentine’s Day marked twenty- five years since our first date and in August we will celebrate twenty years together passionately married. Sometimes when we tell people we’ve been together for so long-and happy-we get looks like we are creatures from another planet. Once people process our success, the next question we get asked is, “So what’s the secret?”
My husband and I don’t possess some highly guarded classified information but if there is one thing I could point to that has contributed significantly to our harmonious existence, it would be that we learned early in our marriage how to resolve conflict effectively.
A few months back, Dustin wrote a post titled, Fight Fair! 6 Simple Conflict Resolution Skills for Your Marriage. It had surefire tips on how to fight fairly. Check it out if you haven’t already. It’s an invaluable template.
But what if I told you that within 94% accuracy a group of psychologists has been able to scientifically predict, by simple observation, which couples will succeed and which ones are headed for trouble?
Hard to believe?
Well, it’s true.
Howard Markman, Scott Stanley and Susan Blumberg, in their ground breaking book, “Fighting For Your Marriage” share the results of their longitudinal study on what factors have the most predictive value in determining if a couple is headed for wedded bliss or deep trouble. The “secret” is how couples resolve conflict.
Patterns to Avoid
By observing couples discussing an issue that is a bone of contention, Markman, et al, discovered that couples who engage in the following four patterns are destined for marital discord and divorce:
A perfect example of invalidation is the old stand by, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Or “That’s ridiculous.” When you tell someone how they feel is ridiculous it is the equivalent of issuing a stop work order on your relationship. Sure, it might not make sense to you or might even seem silly TO YOU but to say that directly to someone else in a tone that invalidates their experience shuts them down. Better to offer something like, “I understand that’s how you feel, but it doesn’t quite make sense to me. Help me understand.”
This is an oldie but goodie too. Example: “Your just like your mother/father!” We all fall into these traps the trick is not to keep them as a regular part of conflict resolution rotations.
Withdrawal and Avoidance
Two examples of this are:
1.The proverbial cold shoulder, eye-rolling, heavy-sigh-walk away- in- utter- disgust move.
2.“Yes, Dear” the stay in the room but patronize and placate.
Both of these examples communicate the message, ”I am cutting you off.” Sometimes a timeout is necessary, and even in order, but better to say so. The cold shoulder, placating and patronizing approach systematically breaks down intimacy.
Negative interpretations occur when one partner consistently believes that the motives of the other are ill-intentioned.
In the heat of the moment, the aforementioned pitfalls are easy to fall into. Grasping at what makes US feel good in the short-term and engaging in self-righteous behaviors, might make us feel“right,” but remember, the goal is not necessarily to be right–but to live peacefully together.
When the temptation to fall into these traps intoxicates you, think of how warm and fuzzy it is when you and your partner are connected and feel supported. Allow yourself to be seduced by the delight that will follow, when you use more effective tools to communicate. The payoff could very well be twenty or more years of wedded bliss.
Trust me, I know. (wink)
Revisiting New Year’s Resolutions: Tips to Make Them Stick
If you’re anything like me, it’s hard to believe we are starring down February already.
Many of us faced the new year with gusto, determined to make this the year to lose that extra weight, reconnect with our spouse, get out of debt, get more organized, — as the calendar turned to 2012.
Takes more than gusto
Those with even the best of intentions though, find the road to better health and fitness, or crawling out from under mounds of debt, requires more than gusto and the promise of a fresh, new year.
In my private practice, as February breaths down our necks, I’m starting to hear a familiar theme with my clients. Many are sniffing failure, only 30 some days into 2012.
So, how can you set yourself up for success and salvage any lingering enthusiasm to get ‘er done this year?
Tips for success
Start by reframing the idea of “resolutions,” and instead, set an intention for the year. Make this the year of living a healthier lifestyle, or the year you liberate yourself from debt. “Intentions” don’t carry the same weight—pun intended, that “resolutions” do.
Next, once you’ve set your intention, set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely.
Keep in mind, to experience lasting change, go slowly.
Slow and steady
The success of small victories will fan the flames you’ll need to reach your ultimate goal. Embrace the adage, slow and steady wins the race. Clients that sprint out of New Year’s Eve often peter out before its time to find a Valentine.
For example, let’s take the popular goal of losing weight. Clients drenched in enthusiasm tell themselves things like, “Every day after work, I’m going to go to the gym,” or “I’m going to eat healthy from now on.” Sounds terrific—but if you haven’t graced the insides of a locker room since high school, or, have dined at the local hamburger joint, noshing on cheeseburgers and fries for the last ten years, the likelihood you’ll stick to either goal is slimmer than Dolly Parton’s waist.
Instead, tell yourself you will go to the gym twice a week, and feed off of the success of doing so before you add a third day. Or, tell yourself you will eat a healthy breakfast for two weeks and see how that goes. Once you’ve grown accustomed to a healthy protein shake, egg whites and fruit, set a goal for lunch.
Set yourself up for success by thinking big but setting small, specific, realistic, measurable, attainable and timely goals.
Before you know it, frost will be on the pumpkins and Santa Claus will be coming back to town and you—will be debt free or fitting back into your favorite pair of jeans.
Oprah has a column in her magazine titled, “What I Know For Sure,” and the first time I came across it, it made me take pause.
What did I know for sure? What had I discovered in my own life that I could securely hang my hat on?
My list is evolutionary but more often than not I find my mind wanders to the things I still DON”T know or understand.
Those answers might never come in this lifetime but rest assured, I’m seeking high and low for some sort of reasonable explanations. In the meantime, this past Saturday evening I had an experience that landed on my list of what I know for sure.
A few weeks ago, I got a call from a gentleman looking to start therapy. In the last twelve months he buried his wife and father.
“I’m really surprised. I thought by now I’d be feeling much better. Some days I feel like I’m actually getting worse.”
Don’t fall for this!
In my line of work as a grief and loss therapist, I hear this expectation on a pretty regular basis. It is a myth that after the first year, those grieving the loss of a loved one will feel like they’ve turned a magical corner. If I could find the culprit who started this vicious rumor, I’d give it a good smack on what we Italians like to call the culo.
Grieving is not a linear process. It is dynamic-it changes over a lifetime. People often say, “You’ll have good days and bad days.” I like to break it down even further. How you feel will change from moment to moment.
You are normal…it’s all normal
Most of the time, what people who are grieving need is some education about the process. This is what my client needed. He needed to know he wasn’t “losing his mind” because he cried more now than he did a year ago. He needed to know that his recent bout with sleeplessness could be attributed to this anniversary and a continued need to mourn. Once he discovered what he was feeling, thinking, and doing was all normal his anxiety reduced and he began to sleep more easily.
Tuesdays tip: Grief is dynamic.
While it would be wonderful to think after a year life returns to “normal” that’s simply a myth. The second year is often harder than the first because the reality begins to set in. The good news is, however, that over time, we do begin to find a new normal and the pain and sorrow do subside but when that actually begins to happen is very individual.
Know someone who might benefit from this Tuesday’s tip? Please pass it on!
What have been your experiences? Following the death of a loved one, when did you notice you began to have more peaceful moments than sorrowful ones?
See you Friday for something much lighter. :-)
Suggested reading: How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando, Ph.D.
Last week, when I flew home from my trip to Florida to visit my Dad, I gazed out the window of the plane as we made our descent into Philadelphia.
The Price Was Right!
There was a time when I was petrified to fly. Before my own days “on the couch” I had some ridiculous belief that my fate would be sealed on a large metal flying object during a trip I won on The Price Is Right. Straight out of the DSM-IV, I suffered from a phobia. (In 1991, I was a contestant on the show and won the showcase showdown which included three trips-one to Rome, one to Tokyo and a third to Maui). Read more
These last few days, I found myself spending way too much time focused on the long list of things in my life I haven’t accomplished.
Littered with sentences that begin with the proverbial, “When I,” “Someday,” or the more toxic, “I should really…” that list seduces me. It disguises itself as a devoted lover but only uses and abuses me. When I’m finished reading it, I frantically collect what’s left of my self-respect as I dash out the door on the walk of shame. Read more
Seven years ago, when my Mom passed away, I stood at her bedside with my Dad, brothers and twin sister, both heartbroken and relieved. The relief came from knowing she would no longer suffer the depravity of cancer. Her last breath released her from its vicious vice.
The heartbreak, well, that’s obvious I’m sure.
Regardless of how old we are when our parents die, (I was thirty-seven years old) I’m here to tell you it hurts. It can hurt- a whole lot…for a long time.
Sadly, our grief as adult children mourning the loss of our Moms and Dads is often disenfranchised.
It seems “natural” for our parents to die when they are elderly- true. Somehow though, natural is considered (by many) as directly proportionate to how long an appropriate mourning period prolongs, or worse, if it’s appropriate at all.
My own father is 95 3/4 years old. Trust me when I tell you, I will mourn his loss for as long as I-that’s I-need to-and it won’t be the standard expected three days I assure you. He is my Dad, (sometimes I still call him Daddy-we’re Italian what can I tell ya) his presence in this world is the bedrock upon which my sense of safety rests (as was my Mom’s).
In my practice and in my work at hospice, I’ve seen many adult children struggle. They have friends and co-workers, etc who remark, “Oh your Mom/Dad lived a good long life. God bless ‘em.”
These same well-intentioned people go on to shrug their shoulders, pat you on the back and move on AND often expect you to do the same in a very short time.
Parental loss for adult children is disenfranchised grief at it’s finest.
Lois Akner, in her book “How to Survive the Loss of a Parent: A Guide for Adults” (William Morrow and Co.), speaks on this idea of disenfranchised grief for adult children whose parents die.
“If you lose a child or a husband, there’s an enormous amount of support. But if you lose a parent, you get two weeks to grieve and then you’re expected to be back to yourself.”
There are many factors that influence the grief and mourning process. One of the most important is the relationship the bereft shared with the deceased. If they were close, then the grieving period will be longer. I’ll be writing a post about each factor in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Dressing my Mom for the funeral director to take her was a gift. Along with my brother we dressed her and kissed her. It was our last tender act as her caregivers.
Notwithstanding the tender side of her death, her dying catapulted me to a place overgrown with unfamiliarity and shrouded by a pervasive dark fog of sheer uncertainty.
What scared me was the sudden realization that everything as I knew it had now changed. This is the theme of my memoir but a few months ago I came across a quote that articulated with precision how I felt that cold, February night. (I’d give credit if I knew to whom it went but I don’t).
There are times in a life
when we come to a trapeze moment….
It’s that moment in time
when what we’ve known
will no longer hold us-
and what awaits us
has not yet appeared.
Losing a loved one, at any age, most certainly can find us suspended in a “trapeze” moment.
Death leaves us with a loss of our former assumptive world. Often people go on spiritual quests, seeking for a way to make sense out of the world again-to restore a sense of safety & security that the death left shattered.
This takes time and in her book, The Five Ways We Grieve, author Susan Berger talks about the five different types of grievers. Indeed, some of us are seekers. (I am a pure seeker).
So, my dear friends who know the pain of losing parents, rest reassured your grief is legitimate. It might very well lead to a trapeze moment and if so, you’re in good company according to me and Susan Berger.
Have you lost a parent? I’d love to hear your experiences.
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Suggested Resources on this topic:
How to Survive the Loss of a Parent: A Guide for Adults, by Lois Akner
I’ve been busy this week writing away on my memoir, Doris, Sophia and Me: A Memoir About A Mom Who Didn’t Live Long Enough and A Daughter Who Was Never Born.
A few months back, I ran into an old friend who told me she too, was doing some writing. We stood outside our local Shop ‘N Bag and chattered, inching ourselves out of the way of the sliding glass doors to the entrance of the store. Men with loosened ties and women with cranky kids in sweaty soccer uniforms jockeyed around our carts making their way inside.
We hugged, chatted and made the futile attempt to catch each other up on our lives in the few free minutes we had to spare while hungry family members waited for us to come home.
“So, what kind of writing are you doing?” I asked.
“Eh, some freelance work, you know.” She fumbled around in her pocketbook. “I’m also working on a novel, loosely based on characters you might recognize. So, how ’bout you? What are you working on?”
“A memoir.” I scooted out of the way of a woman pushing a cart with a screaming kid.
“Oh, man, I couldn’t do that. I think I’d go crazy if I had to relive some of the comings and goings of my life. Way too painful to revisit. There’s no way.”
As we fired spirited, bulleted updates at each other, not always waiting for the other to finish, we lamented the hungry stomachs at home. Parting company, we double checked to be sure we had the other’s current cell phone numbers, bear hugged, waved good-bye and wandered off to our respective isles.
This week, while I wrote more of my memoir, my girlfriend’s words, “Too painful,” rang true. This piece I’m sharing today was painful to write and I’d be a first-class liar, if I said I didn’t at one point ask myself, “So, why exactly AM I writing this?”
My answer to that question never wavered. I write because I’m pretty certain, that sharing my story will help others out there who are struggling.
Call it Catholic guilt, Italian guilt, what- have- you, but I feel an obligation to pass on what wisdom I’ve garnered from this wacky thing we call Life. Of course, there is always the cathartic, personal benefit of putting our own stories down on the page. So let’s call my motivation-part altruistic, part self-care.
Although, when I get to stories like this one, I wish I wasn’t such a do-gooder or at least a guilt ridden, Italian/Irish, Catholic.
It’s Dark In Here (From My Memoir)
One evening I overheard my husband, speaking to a seasoned Italian contractor, he deeply respects, who speaks endearing broken English.
“He’s my paisano, Steph,” my husband would say.
Mr. Madono asked, as he always does, “How’s-a-your father-a-doin’?”
Later that night, my husband shared with me something Mr. Madono said, that I tucked away in my heart for safekeeping.
“You-a-know, Vinny, there comes a time when a son becomes a father and-a, a-father becomes a son.”
I know now the same can be said for a daughter and a mother.
For my Mom and me, our seismic shift came in January 2003, in Florida, when even in long-sleeves and jackets you still felt a chill.
Transplants from the suburbs of Philadelphia, my parents now called the sunshine state home.
In November 2002, my Mom was diagnosed with a two-inch malignant brain tumor, a metastasis from lung cancer she supposedly was freed of five years prior (she never smoked a cigarette, ever). It robbed her of most of her hearing and the ability to stand without the support of a walker or wheelchair.
The day before my thirty-sixth birthday, only six days after her diagnosis, my Mom had surgery; post-op treatment included six weeks of radiation, which affected no therapeutic change unless you consider a burned, bald scalp therapeutic.
Born to both an Irish mother and father, my Mom came from hearty stock. She made applesauce every fall from the apples she and my aunt picked at our local orchard and taught us about the birds and the bees using words like penis and vagina. On winter Sunday afternoons, she curled up in the crushed orange velvet recliner in her bedroom and soaked in the sunny spot by the sliding glass door. After reciting her daily rosary, she wandered off into the worlds that lived inside the stack of books resting on her glass-top table.
She tolerated injury like a soldier wounded on the battlefield but the beast of cancer-peddled pain that made her moan.
To keep track of the medications necessary to make her waking moments tolerable, I drew up a spreadsheet our family initialed after administering. The only drawback was that the drugs caused severe constipation- as in prunes are useless-don’t bother with the Metamucil.
At the time, we didn’t know she was terminal. The doctors don’t always tell you that. They speak in hushed euphemisms that guard against the dreaded d-word.
That January afternoon the house was busy. My brother, Bobby, with the garden hose in one hand and his cell phone in the other, watered my Mom’s orchids and took care of some business from what had now become his virtual office. My Dad baked a fresh batch of Italian rolls and before he hollered, “Guys, I’m leaving for four-thirty Mass,” he put a pot of homemade tomato gravy on the stove to simmer.
“Steph,” my Mom moaned from the back of the house. “Steph,” she hollered again.
Popping in a load of laundry, I smacked down the washer lid with one hand and slammed the dryer door shut with my foot. I raced out of the laundry room and shuffled down the tiled hallway in my pink slippers, to the back of the house.
I rounded the corner into her bedroom and waved to get her attention.” Mom, I’m sorry I was in the laundry room. What’s wrong?”
“Steph, it hurts. It hurts.”
There she sat in the bathroom, wringing her hands and wiping her forehead, dressed in the grey velour leisure suit I bought on one of my routine date nights at the Walmart across the street from the Tandum Rehabilitation Center she “rehabbed” in.
Following her operation that November, the doctor gave my Mom the option to rehab at Tandum or recuperate at home. She chose rehab, which was my first clue she would never be herself again. The month she took up residence at what I affectionately nicknamed, “Tandy,” we passed time playing cards and reading. I’d wait until dinner arrived, fix her decaf coffee and then go out for an hour or so to get some respite in a world where cancer and its co-stars, panic, fear and sadness didn’t hog up center stage. The Walmart across the street offered some semblance of normal and like a junky in need of a fix, I didn’t discriminate how I got the antidote I craved.
“Welcome to Wal-mart.” The elderly greeter offered me a cart. I took it and smiled. I needed something to lean on.
The isles blinked and twinkled with holiday decorations and the sounds of the season blasted the square space, ignorant of the stranglehold cancer had around my heart. I strolled up and down looking at everything and seeing nothing. After about an hour, I bought a few things I thought would make my Mom smile and convince both of us that everything was going to be ok.
Back in the bathroom, I sat on the tub platform and faced my Mom. “C’mon Mom. Just relax and take some deep breaths.”
She furrowed her brow.
I held up my index finger and signaled her to wait a second. I went to grab the composition notebook off her nightstand that we used when she couldn’t quite make out what we said.
As her faced contorted, I panicked.
“How in the hell did I get here? What in the hell is going on?”
My Mom looked to me for help-for answers. I didn’t have any.
The pen levitated off the page as I scribbled, “Breath nice and slowly, Mommy. Take nice, long deep breathes.”
I imagined this is what it must be like to potty train a kid. Hang out in a bathroom, and at a cotton-candy, sing-song pitch, repeat ad nauseam, a clothesline of absurd encouraging idioms to help your child achieve the developmental milestone of going to the potty like a big girl or boy. After suffering from eight years of unexplained infertility, the idea of potty training even seemed appealing to me but the appeal never included my Mom.
She was supposed to be my cheerleader.
I knew a side effect from the pain medication was constipation but the look on my Mom’s face cried epic.
“Mom, I’ll be right back, I’m going to get the phone to call the nurse.”
We hired a home health agency to help us with the transition from rehab to life at home. Three weeks passed since we contracted with them and up to this point we managed to limit calls for help to office hours.
“First give this, then give that. Make sure your Mom drinks enough liquids.” I must have interrupted the nurse while she was filing her nails with her feet propped up.
“Yes, I gave her the Colace. Yes, I made her drink 16 oz of water.” I turned my back to my Mom. “Look, she is hysterical, and to be honest, so am I.”
“Steffi, oh, Steffi. Oh, oh.” My Mom grabbed the grey knit hat that now shrouded her bald scalp, the one she wore when I was a kid when we built snowmen and sled down the snow-covered hills in our neighborhood.
The nurse overheard my Mom and I got the impression she put her nail file down. “Stephanie, I think it might be best to try a suppository. I can hear how much pain she is in.”
Her suggestion ushered in a seminal role-reversal that I was about as prepared for as piloting The Concorde and that scared me just as much.
I scrambled over to the medicine cabinet and fumbled for the pack of suppositories. “How am I supposed to do that?” not asking so much about the mechanics.
“Well, your Mom can do it herself. It should help speed things up.”
An hour or more passed since my Mom first called me. I offered some sort of thanks to the nurse, tossed the phone down on the rainbow pile of frayed towels on the countertop, unwrapped the suppository and walked over to my Mom.
“Mom, the nurse said to try this.”
She stood up but lost her footing and fell backward. “I can’t do it! I can’t do it!”
“It’s ok, Mommy. It’s ok.”
“Help me, Steffi, help me.”
I wanted to grab her-pull her toward me-shake her and scream in her face. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME? I NEED YOU. I NEED YOU TO BE OK. I…NEED…YOU…TO… BE…OK.”
Instead, I shoved my hysteria into time-out and reached for the surgical gloves under her vanity sink.
“Ok, Mommy. Relax, it’s ok. It’s ok. Lean on my shoulders.”
As I began, she screamed. “No gloves, no gloves. They hurt me. They hurt me.”
Tears pooled in my eyes. The lump in my throat I fought back for weeks bulged. I swallowed – my feeble weapon against emotional vomit.
I tore off the gloves.
As she whimpered, her breath warmed my ponytail.
Suggested Reading: The Middle Place, by Kelly Corrigan
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