Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Penny For Your Thoughts

A few years back, when I put my private practice on hold to stay home as a full time parent, I occasionally found myself engaging in a conversation like this:

Me: It's a boy!
Them: Congratulations!
Me: Thanks, we're so happy.
Them: So, what are you going to do now?
Me: Well, I've decided to stay home full time.  Take 3 years off, or so.
(Pregnant pause - slight tilt of the head - confusion)
Them: OK, yes, but what are you going to do?
Me: You know, um...stay home, change diapers, go to the park, nap when he naps, whatever.
(Cricket sounds)
Them: (somewhat frustrated) No, but really, what are you going to do for work?

You see where this is going, right?

For some people, it just doesn't compute that someone (especially a male) would abdicate their position of perceived "power" in the relationship by not contributing to the household income.  Yet, others were very supportive and didn't skip a beat when they learned of my plans.  Ultimately, it all came down to each person's individual attitude about money.

Fact - Money is the number one trigger for relationship problems in the US.  Yes, it is.  Even more than sex.  How can it be more than sex, you say?  Well, there are probably different reasons, but I think one major factor is that most people learn about their partner's sexual prowess (or lack thereof) early on.  Allowing them to make an informed decision before they tie the knot.  Just like test driving a car, more or less.

On the other hand, money and finances (total buzz kill) get swept under the rug.  Resulting in one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves - money isn't going to be a problem.  Unless you're Suze Ormon (you really should look her up if you don't know who she is), a spread sheet can become the biggest turn-off in any courtship.  If you bring up money perhaps you'll be labeled a  "gold digger" or a "blood sucker" or my personal favorite, a "forty-niner."  And, because nobody likes to be called names, we just avoid the topic all together.  Bad idea. 

Research shows that for the most part, we develop values and behaviors about finances from a very young age.  For example, if someone grew up during the great depression vs. a time of economic growth, understandably, the attitudes around money will be very different.  Attitudes that tend to be deeply imprinted.

So, before you ask your blind date for a copy of their tax return and their 401k, perhaps you should ask yourself some of the following questions so you can be clear on what your own beliefs in the matter are:

What did money mean to my family growing up?
Did my family always have enough? Did we struggle?
Were there ever lies about money?
Was there shame or envy about money?
Was money used as a way to control or manipulate?
Who took care of finances in the family and what role did others family members play when it came time to making decisions?

Liza was right: Money makes the world go around. And because it does, when two people who have different beliefs and expectations around money come together, it is of most importance that these differences get ironed out early on. 

Every relationship is an investment.  We invest emotions.  We invest time.  We invest energy.  Yet, we don't invest in figuring out how we're going to deal with money - and that may ultimately be the most  important investment of all. And doing it, wont cost you a penny.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Once Upon a Time

I love the fact that my daughter, about to turn 7, has never been into the whole princess thing.  She's a rough and tumble kinda chick.  She likes sports, climbing up trees and chasing her 10 year-old brother around the house (actually, she'll chase him anywhere for that matter).  She likes Disney movies, but not so much where the girl is yearning to be rescued.  She digs girl power, and I like that about her.

Funny enough, before she was born, I always fantasized about having a daughter to play "tea party" with and throw lavish fetes for her stuffed animals.  Such a stereotype, right? 

This got me to thinking about the slew of fairy tales I grew up watching, and wondered: "Why don't we get to see what happens to Sleeping Beauty, Snow White or Cinderella (just to name a few) after they've been rescued from their bleak predicaments?"  Simple.  Who wants to see that!?  That's what foreign movies are for, right?

If cameras kept rolling, or animators kept animating, you'd come to find out that Hercules never flushes, he passes gas in bed, and leaves his toenail clippings right next to the toothbrush.  Ariel just won't stop yapping,  she's put on a few extra pounds and wears nothing but baggy sweatpants that cover her all the way down to her... what do you call them?... Feet.   And where are those pesky little talking creatures when your house needs some sprucing up?  Don't get me started.

I hate to sound Wicked, but the truth is, neither Prince Charming nor Cinderella really exist.  We don't really need to look to fantasy for proof.  Remember Lady Di?  How can you not.  Her prince charming wasn't so charming after all, was he?  He fancied someone else who didn't fit the standard, so he had to fake it. The world couldn't tolerate an "un-royal" pairing. 

How do we get caught up in this ideal?  Perhaps men and women become addicted to the romance of it all.  Our parents' expectations, the excitement of The Big Day, the invitations, the cake, the party, the honeymoon.  We see the ceremony as the happy ending rather than the true beginning.

And so, we wake up one day to the realization that our beautiful, sparkling carriage has turned into a pumpkin.  A perfectly good and decent pumpkin. But still a pumpkin.  Pie anyone?

The beauty is that we are all pumpkins.   Whether we're single, starting a relationship or wearing the proverbial ball-and-chain, we're pumpkins looking for romance and passion.  But these emotions have to be anchored in truth.  A truth we find by showing up and actively participating.  Not only in the ceremony, but for the rest of the relationship.

Like Peter Pan, we have to grow up eventually.  And growing up means achieving a deeper understanding of who we are.  Being genuine and not feeding into the expectations of that little prince or princess living deep inside us. 

I've learned a great deal about myself through my children.  Thanks to my daughter's personality, strength of character and lack of interest in playing damsel in distress, I've learned to rethink my own preconceived hopes and dreams for both her and my son.   Now, I simply try to focus on making sure they stay true to who they are and not just become the people I once hoped they'd turn out to be.  So, when they're ready to leave the nest, I'll look to the heavens, close my eyes and Wish Upon a Star.  A wish of hope.  Hope that I've helped them learn how to find their own happiness from within.  The main ingredient, I believe, to living Happily Ever After.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanks, keep the change...

      "I know he seems cold and lacks much of a personality, but I think I can change him."

This comic strip is pretty funny, but you'd be surprised how often I've heard some version of this, both in my private practice and amongst friends.  That is, the struggle between expecting someone to change vs. accepting who they are and compromising. 

We all know dating can be grueling.  Most of us have to kiss a lot of frogs before we find true love.  And yes, accept it, we all got to be the frog at least once.  One day we're in love and feeling like the king of the world (thanks Mr. DiCaprio) and the next we're holding onto dear life as we sink into the abyss.  As a result, we start to develop a taste for the things we like or don't like, and what we're willing to accept or not accept in a partner, otherwise known as "deal breakers."  

The problem is, out of frustration with the process, sometimes we settle for a person that we know may not be right for us.  Why?  Because we often fear that if we let go of this relationship, we may not find anything better.  Not to mention the time and energy that goes into dating (ugh... I get cold sweats).   So, we end up rationalizing and plow forward in the hopes that, if we can only get our partners to stop being workaholics, or  lazy, or  partiers, or (fill in the blank), then everything will be okay. 

You can hear the fog horn warnings in the distance, right?

So, unless you're in need of a kidney transplant and you've figured out the person you're dating is a perfect match, then my suggestion is, don't stay with someone after you've discovered you want them to change.  It's not fair to them or to you.

Does that mean that couples have to agree on absolutely everything?  Of course not.   No one does.  And if you do, then what's the fun in that?  But you do need to agree on the basics.  The important things that are going to make a difference in your life.  Things like values, lifestyle, religion, boxers vs. briefs (if it were only that simple, right?).  If you can't talk about "hot" topics with your partner out of fear of rocking the boat, then that should be your first clue.

In the end, successful relationships are all about compromises.  Compromises both of you can live with.   Therefore, the most important question to ask yourself in any relationship is: "Can I be with this person the way they are?"  Hopefully your partner will be asking the same question about you.  Because let's face it, no one is perfect.  Except for Oprah, of course.  Don't even think of messing with my Oprah, mmmkay?

So, note to self - Ask the important questions and don't be afraid of the answers.  You'll thank yourself later, when inevitably, you're bound to hit a couple of icebergs along the way. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When in doubt, talk about sex.....

Welcome to my blog.   Never in a million years did I  expect to be sitting here, putting my thoughts down on virtual paper, for the universe to see.   My first thought was:  "What if no one cares?"  and "Does it matter?"  But, nevertheless, here I am.

I've been putting off this blogging urge until I found something that inspired me to hunker down and start the process.  Between my private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist, my work in foster care and adoption, and the trials and tribulations of being a husband and parent (aka: burning the candle at both ends), I've seen a lot.  So it's really great when I hear or read something that surprises me.

Which is exactly what happened this morning.  After hugging my son and wishing him a happy 10th birthday,  I came across an article in the LA times that struck a chord:
 "Americans are branching out sexually"

According to a recent study, the "sexual repertoire" in America is expanding.  YES! That is good news.  Apparently, we are now thinking outside the "sexual" box.  Missionary is just passe, they say.  Over the years,  I've worked with couples who are "stuck" in their relationships, looking for ways to "spice things up."  I know, such a cliche.  But it's true.  Sex has always been taboo, especially after the reality that was HIV/AIDS in the 80's.   Since then, America, and the world (except for the Swedes, of course), literally clammed up. 

Or did we?  Perhaps we just became more secretive, "on the down low", as it's now commonly called.  Who knows. 

According to the new study referred to in this article, women are finally benefiting from this change in attitude.  About time!   No more faking it.  It appears that communication around sex has improved and therefore men and women are expressing their sexual desires more readily.  No more shame in asking for what you REALLY want.  It's no surprise that depression is often connected to repression.  As a good female friend of mine shared at a recent gathering, "Ladies, it's time to let your husbands tend to your garden, regularly."  I just hope it doesn't include pruning shears (and if it does, please be safe).  Because love, relationships, children and all that is good for that matter, needs to be tended to, just like a garden.  Or a golf swing (for the guys).

More good news, teenagers seem to be waiting longer to have their first sexual experience.  As a worried parent of two elementary school children living in Los Angeles,  this was a welcome fact. Also, many of these teens are only "having" sex with themselves.  And, lo and behold, the Braille Institute has not had an influx of students.  Go figure.  But, I digress.  Perhaps I'll talk about teenagers and their struggles with sexuality on a future post.

So, why was this article a catalyst to me beginning this blog?  Well, because I'm in the business of relationships.  Whether in the early stages or on their last leg.  Whether single and looking or recovering from a series of failed attempts.  Whether trying to be a better parent, better partner, better sibling, or simply, better to oneself.  In the end, we all just want to be connected.  And above all, be seen.  It's hardwired into our psyches.   Sex, good sex, loving sex, whatever tickles your fancy sex (among consenting adults, of course), plays a major role in the success of a couple's relationship.

 Ultimately, love is not enough (Gasp!  No he didn't!).  I believe love is relative.  You can't just live on love alone.  It's so much more complex than that.  And it's the naivete of entering relationships under this premise that gets couples into trouble.  You've heard it before, right?  "I love them so much, they'll change for me," or "they'll change after we get married."  Of course, if you chose someone who is a lunatic or an addict or a serial killer or, well, you get the're out of luck and this doesn't apply.  But, for the most part, sane people tend to pick other relatively sane people.  So, if you are lucky enough to have picked a "good one," treasure it.  Love it.  And, have good sex regularly. 

In a nut shell, reading this article gave me hope.  Hope, that as a society, perhaps we are starting to look inward for happiness.  Hope that we are starting to communicate with our loved one about what we need.  Not only sexually, but emotionally.  If we can start being honest and uninhibited about our sexual desires, then perhaps we can also start being honest about everything else. 

Reading the Times this morning made me smile.  And that in itself, is worth sharing with the universe.  Even if no one cares about what I think.