Monthly Archives: June 2012

To Complain or Not to Complain?

Recently, I took three of my lady friends and husband out to lunch at an amazing soup and sandwich place (by the way, my husband handled being surrounded by four women very well).

When the food arrived, the salads and sandwiches were great, but the soup was horrible.  It was watery, had no flavor, and the vegetables were not cooked.  The lady who sat us came over and asked how everything was, and I said the sandwiches were incredible and the salads were magnificent, but the soup was not very good.

Not three minutes had passed when the chef arrived at our table asking what was wrong with the soup.  Now, I felt kind of bad, but I thought, “You know what, I’m paying and this is a service, not a favor.”  So I told him we have soup there all the time and it’s always been really good, but today was a fluke.  He said, “I appreciate you’re telling me that,” and offered to make us some dessert.  As we were finishing up, the manager also came over.  He said, “Thank you very much for telling us.  This is the kind of feedback we need.  We are very busy for a reason, and we try to take care of the customers and make the very best food we can.  So thank you very much.”

I got thanked for complaining!

We have an innumerable amount of complaints and dissatisfactions during a day, but certainly not all of them are important to discuss.  Women in particular tend to have a little a-tisket-a-tasket basket in which we accumulate a million little irritations throughout the day.  We often call our friends and bond by bitching about the things in the basket.  And when our husbands walk through the door, we start in on them.

When considering whether or not to complain, the first rule is don’t complain when you’re angry.  Calm yourself down, or else you’ll look like an idiot.  And you’ll look especially stupid if you get crazy about something that just happens as a part of life.   For example, if you go insane when you go out to the parking lot and find a little ding on your car.  You know, it’s actually sort of good when you get your first little ding because then you don’t have to be neurotic about the car anymore.  You need to remind yourself that things just happen, and if you stay crazy and irate, the only person you’re hurting is yourself.  The problem with complaining is if you just want to complain, you’re going to annoy a lot of people and make yourself sick.

The bottom line when considering which complaints to voice and which to let slide is you have to think through the full implications of leaving the problem unresolved and the long-term impact of solving the problem.  You have to learn the difference between something you can change and something you can’t.  It’s all about solving the problem.

For example, let’s take something trivial that happens at home.  Your spouse finishes the roll of toilet paper and doesn’t replace it.  Instead of complaining, just get a cute little basket and put some rolls of toilet paper in it.  Then you can just say, “Sweetie, I know it’s a big pain in the neck to schlep all the way across the house, so look what I got.  This makes it very easy to put a new roll on.”  When you’re thinking about bringing something to your sweetie’s attention, think about what the resolution could be and offer it.  Maybe they’ll have an even better idea about to resolve it.  But either way, make the problem something to be resolved rather than a fight to be had.

So, the next time you’re thinking about complaining, ask yourself the following questions I found in the article titled, “The Squeaky Wheel”:

1. Would leaving the complaint unresolved affect the health or mental health of anyone concerned?

2. Could leaving the complaint unresolved erode the relationship with the other person over time?

3. Do you find yourself thinking about the issue frequently? Has it nagged at you over time?

4. Is the frustration, hurt, or disappointment you feel about the issue substantial?

5. Would resolving the complaint improve your quality of life?

6. Would resolving the complaint improve your mood in the short or long term? (then it’s worth dealing with)

7. Does leaving the complaint unresolved make you feel powerless and helpless?

Comparing Yourself to Others

A talk show host I know used to respond to callers who asked him how he was doing by saying, “Better than some, not as good as others.”   I thought that was wonderful.  That’s the truth around the world: we assess where we’re at by comparing ourselves to others.  But the problem we each have is that we’re always comparing apples and oranges.  For example, you can’t compare yourself to someone just because he or she is the same age since his or her journey from zero to this point has been very different from yours.

As a general rule, comparing yourself to others is a bad idea – a seriously bad idea.  It makes you either arrogant or unhappy.  Those are your only options.  Of course, there’s the exception that you’re comparing yourself to someone else in the hope of emulating whatever traits you’re inspired by, but that’s not typical.  What’s more typical is envy.  

I remember I had one person in therapy on and off for about a decade.  She was extremely intelligent, but spent much of her life acting like a total ding-a-ling.  One evening session, she was in a bad mood and started pacing in my office.  She kept looking at my diplomas, licenses, and other stuff I’d hung on my wall to impress people and make them know I was actually “for real.”  Then she stopped and said, “I am the same damn age as you and look at all these.  I will never catch up to you!”

I looked at her and replied, “Catch up to me?  You’re not on the same path.  You’re on an entirely different path and yours started from a deep hole” (don’t even ask me about her childhood; that was the deep hole).  I said, “I didn’t start from a very deep hole, and I didn’t have to climb out.  So, comparing us makes no sense.”

“But still -”  

“There is no ‘but still,’” I said.  “We each have our own path in life – our own, unique life path.  You have to respect yours, and I have to respect mine.  I cannot, nor can you, judge your own life path based on where somebody else is at any particular moment.  A path is a long line.  A moment is a dot.  You can’t compare long lines to dots.” 

So, how do you get through envious or jealous moments? 

Be gracious.  You’ve heard me say a zillion and 3/4 times on this program the best way to handle agitated feelings about people is to be nice to them.  They may deserve it, they may not, but it’s better for your heart and intestines that you do.

Also, keep in mind externals are not a very good measure of worth.  I’m more interested in people who have a really deep, good heart than a fancy car, jewelry or a house.  That’s what I value.  If you’re going to be envious at all, envy somebody for his or her inner beauty.

Lastly, remember that while you’re being envious of somebody, someone else is probably looking at you and having that same fit of envy.  Everybody’s got some natural talents, abilities and gifts, and there’s always going to be somebody saying, “Gee, I wish I had it like she/he does…” 

And that’s the irony of the whole thing. 

How to End a Relationship

Have you ever been dumped?  Was it done cruelly? Crazily?  Compassionately?

Being dumped is one of the more devastating things to happen in life.  Although there is no way to totally alleviate the pain, if you are going to end a relationship with someone you have to remember you once cared about him or her.

Here are some basic tips on how you ought to approach ending a relationship.

Your first thought should be: Am I sure I want to do this?  Breakups should not be done when you’re ferociously emotional.  In addition, you should not use the breakup as a threat – i.e. “I’m going to leave you,” or “I’m going to divorce you.”  The last thing you want to do is keep yo-yoing somebody around.

Don’t make the decision in anger.  You’ll say certain things you’ll either regret or don’t mean in the first place.  If you’re really angry, just tell him or her, “I’m losing it right now, and I’m probably going to say things I’m going to regret.  I need to take a little time, and we can continue talking about this when I’m calmer.”  During the breathing period, you can talk to your parents, a minister or counselor, and/or a really good friend who is not just automatically going to side with you.

Choose your timing well.  Don’t end a relationship with somebody while he or she is sick (unless it’s chronic and he or she will be ill forever) or has a big exam or project at work.  You can wait.  Also, wait for privacy.  You don’t need an audience for this.

Don’t be wishy-washy.  You have to be definitive, clear and final.  If you think you’re being nicer and letting him or her down easier by being wishy-washy, you’re not.  All you’re doing is driving that person crazy.  He or she doesn’t need all the drama — the cycle of escalation and deflation.  So don’t be overly dramatic.  Just say, “I’ve made this decision,” and then stick to it.  Don’t be a patsy.

Prepare for the worst.  Your ex is going to be angry, shocked and panicked.  If he or she starts escalating the situation, you have to remove yourself.  Say that you’ll call later when you’re both calmer, and you don’t want the relationship to end with you two screaming at each other.

If you’re breaking up with someone because that person is dangerous, violent or incredibly manipulative, don’t let him or her manipulate you out of your position.  Remember that’s why you’re leaving in the first place!  If he or she says, “I’m going to kill myself if you leave,” you should call 911, a relative, or a friend.  But don’t be manipulated.

Be honest.  If he or she asks you questions, answer them.  Be kind, but be honest.  Don’t go through a 15-page list of why you’re breaking things off.  Don’t give a million details.  Don’t argue or try to prove yourself.  That’s just mean and trite.  Boil it down to what I call the essential problem.  Just say, “We’ve had so many experiences together, but I’ve realized that we’re not compatible in ways that are important to me.  Our values and ideals, what we want and enjoy in life, and what we expect from each other are just not in sync.”  That covers territory without condemnation.

Don’t try to stay friends.  Frankly, you’re not friends, and you can’t go back to being friends.  When your ex asks to remain friends, he or she is expressing a desire to hold on to you.  He or she is always going to want back what you’re taking away.  You really can’t keep going through the death throes again and again.

So, if you really are going to break up with someone, do it with class, do it with dignity, and do it with respect.  Don’t screw around on somebody beforehand, don’t ignore them, and don’t play terrible games.  Otherwise, you’re a creep.

Why It’s Important to Eat with Your Kids

Some years back, I remember a television actor making a public service announcement suggesting that parents have dinner with their kids maybe once or twice a week.  I was flabbergasted – there actually had to be a public service announcement to tell people this?!

Then I realized that in our society, we probably do.  The notion of mommies and daddies, home and hearth, and meals with your own kids are becoming less and less the portrait of America. 

According to a study, “The average parent spends 38.5 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with his or her child.” 

Let me repeat that: Only 38.5 minutes in an entire week!

By simply eating dinner together each night and making an effort to talk to your kids, you can quadruple that number.  You’ll get to know your kids.  Isn’t that the point of having a family?

According to Harvard research, “Family dinners are more important than play, story time, and other family events in the development of a child’s vocabulary.”  The dinner table is the social center of families, so it is no wonder that’s where our kids learn to talk. It gives them “real live” demos and practice in speech and social interactions.

Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine show that frequent family meals are associated with “a lower risk of smoking, drinking, pot use, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts.   Kids between the ages of 11 and 18 also get better grades.”  Wow.  All of that is helped just by having dinner every night with your kids?!

The archives also reveal that family meals are “related to better nutritional intake and decreased risk for unhealthy weight control practices.  Families eating meals together ‘every day’ generally consume higher amounts of important nutrients [such as] calcium, fiber, iron, vitamins B6, B12, C, and E, and consume less overall fat compared to families who ‘never’ or ‘only sometimes’ eat meals together.”  This is probably because mommy cooked dinner.

Additionally, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that “the more often teenagers have dinner with their parents, the less time they spend with boyfriends or girlfriends, and the less they are going to be sexually active.”  Not only do your kids have less time to hang out, but having a really good relationship with you makes them less likely to search for closeness by becoming sexually active.  This is why you see a lot of young sexual activity in divorced families where mommy decided she didn’t need a man.

A study conducted by the University of Minnesota also showed that “adolescent girls who have frequent family meals, and a positive atmosphere during those meals, are less likely to have eating disorders.”  When I read that, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my own family.  During my last couple years of high school, I went down the anorexia path.  We had dinner every night as a family, but it was a nightmare because my mom and dad were always angry about something.  The atmosphere at dinner was not pleasant.  So, it’s not just being at home that makes the difference.  You have to make family dinners a good experience. 

Another survey asked kids, “What’s the most important part of the dinner?”   What do you think their answers were?  The food?  No!  54 percent said the important part of dinner was sharing, catching up, talking, and interacting. 

The surveyors also asked teens, “Would you say your parents regularly make time to check-in with you and find out what’s happening with you or not?”  Compared to teens who have frequent family dinners, teens who have infrequent family dinners were almost two-and-a-half times more likely to report that their parents don’t bother to check-in with them.  Teens who have frequent family dinners are twice as likely to spend 21 hours or more per week (an average of at least 3 hours per day) with their parents.

The bottom line?  Your family structure and dynamic affects your kids, especially at dinnertime.    

Quote of the Week

My dear father!  When I remember him, it is always with his arms open wide to love and comfort me.
               – Isobel Field
                 1858-1953
                 step-daughter of Robert Louis Stevenson

In Daddy's arms

Getting Rid of a Toxic Friend

According to a new survey, 84 percent of women and 75 percent of men say they’ve had a bad friend at some time in their lives.  On top of that, 83 percent of both men and women say they have held onto a friendship longer than it was healthy.

Why is it so hard to dump a bad friend?

People keep toxic friends for the same reason they stay in all kinds of relationships:  There is something in the friendship they don’t want to lose. They find something about it compelling, familiar, and/or comfortable.

Essentially, they are afraid of the consequences.  They are afraid of what will happen, or they think the friend might turn on them and things will get even uglier, or not having very high standards, they just don’t really want to let go because they think it will be OK.

My standards for a friend are very, very, very high.  He or she has to be a really decent person.  I have friends of all different religions, sexual orientations, ethnicities, personalities, and genders.  The commonality amongst them is that they are decent people.  That is where I put the bar.  If I know someone is not a decent person, then I’m not interested.

You know when friends aren’t friends.  They take, you give.  There’s no balance.  They do not accept who you are.  They betray you, they’re negative, they have no respect, and they’re ultra-critical with digs, put-downs, and sarcasm.  They diminish you so they feel better.  It’s pathetic how vicious some people can be.

But do you know what?  People who are really crappy human beings somehow still have friends!  It’s either because birds of a feather flock together, or it’s because some people are OK being friends with a crappy person as long as the crap isn’t turned on them.

So many times on my program, this has been heard:

Caller: “I’m just stunned they did this to me.”

Me: “Were they doing it to other people?”

Caller: “Well, yeah, but I’m really stunned they did it to me. I thought we were friends.”

Me: “Have they done that before?”

Caller: “Well, yes, but I thought this time….”

It doesn’t pay to play blind.  If you are friends with someone who is indecent, it is eventually going to splatter.

Some friends just bring out the worst in you.  When you’re trying to take care of your health and not eat or drink as much, they’re the ones who drag you down.  They say, “This is not necessary, let’s go have coffee and cake,” or “Let’s go have a drink.”  It makes you so aggravated you either become withdrawn or ferocious.

Other friends always disappoint you.  They don’t do what they said they were going to in the way they said they were going to do it.  And each time you just say, “Well, stuff happens.  I’ll get over it.”  But they do this because they don’t like or respect you, your spouse, your kids, and/or your family.  There may be some legitimate issues with them, but usually they are just insecure, jealous, or mean.

So, how should you break it off with a toxic friend?

My suggestion is you have an honest conversation with him or her.  Just say that these things typically happen.  Say you’ve gotten tired of him or her, you’ve lost interest in the relationship because it hasn’t changed, or that he or she has hurt you.  Suggest the two of you take a break and after some period of time, see how you both feel about it.  That leaves the door open for the person to do a little bit of soul searching.  He or she probably won’t, but at least you’re not coming down with a hammer.

If you really don’t want to interact, it’s probably best to click delete on their messages whenever possible and do not respond to protestations or attacks on you out of defensiveness.

Life is very short.  If people aren’t decent, kind, accountable, responsible, or responsive, man up and get rid of them.  Put your time, energy, and sweat into becoming a better person and having better people in your life.  If you don’t do this, your life will not be as good as it could have been.  Besides, the friendship is probably going to end someday anyway.

Here’s a list of “12 Types of Friends You Should Break Up With”

Quote of the Week

When someone does something good, applaud!
You will make two people happy.
               – Samuel Goldwyn
                 1879 – 1974
                 American film producer
Applause!