Monthly Archives: January 2013

Your Spouse Has Cheated. Now What?

In the movie Closer, Clive Owen’s character grills Julie Roberts’ character about the nature of her infidelity.  He bombards her with a barrage of questions about the frequency, timing, whereabouts, type, quality and orgasmic nature of the sex she had with the interloper until she finally asks, “God, why is the sex so important?!”

Men and women react to infidelity differently. Women are more concerned with the emotional side while men care more about the sex. This is a result of hardwiring to a certain extent.  Females want to know if their male can still be a provider and protector for their young.  Males, on the other hand, are primarily invested in the preservation of their genes.  This is why, like Clive Owen’s character, men will ask about the sex and women will ask about the romantic feelings involved. 

Once you understand the differences in how men and women react to an infidelity, the next question becomes, “What should I do if I find out that my husband/wife has cheated on me?” 

First, you need to know that it’s possible for a marriage to survive an affair. In fact, the healing process can even improve the quality of the marriage. However, in order to improve the chances of your marriage staying together, you and your spouse need to seek professional help. 

Therapy helps you have adult conversations and develop skills to resolve your problems. When choosing a therapist, try to find one who has been in a long-term marriage. Be aware that therapists who have been recently divorced have a higher percentage of their patients and clients divorce.

I recommend high quality professional assistance because in order for you and your spouse to truly work through your challenges, you’re going to have to see and accept that both of you played some role in the infidelity. I am not saying that somebody had the right to cheat; I simply mean that if you decide to stay with each other, you have to figure out why things got so bad to the point that someone cheated. The success of your marriage pins on your ability to change the behaviors that alienated each other in the first place.  

If you truly think you did everything perfectly, then dump your spouse. You’re either right and this person is just a bad apple, or you’re not in touch with them enough to work it out. Either way, the relationship doesn’t have a chance of succeeding.  Don’t sit around playing the blame game for your unhappiness or their lack of a moral compass – it’s a recipe for disaster. 

However, if both of you are willing to work, there are some common mistakes you should try to avoid:

Don’t spend your time humiliating, debasing, challenging, and assaulting the cheater. Instead, try to get to the bottom of what hurt the relationship in the first place (e.g. lack of affection, being too busy to be sweet, etc.).

Contacting the person they had the affair with is usually futile. It rarely uncovers the whole truth, and oftentimes, the exposure alone will make them back off.

Naïvely taking your spouse’s word that he or she has ended the affair is one thing, but constantly following them around and checking their phone and email every five minutes is another. Yes, most people need help disengaging from an affair because there is a tremendous amount of physical and emotional investment.  However, hitting them with guilt nonstop isn’t going to help anything. 

Finally, realize that it’s going to take time. 

Ultimately, if your spouse has cheated, you need to ask yourself the following question: Is this a pattern of behavior (i.e. a reflection of their character), or is this a single event which indicates that something seriously wrong in the marriage wasn’t respectfully dealt with? Between work, the kids, and everything else going on, did one or both of you stop paying attention to the relationship? With better communication, better decisions can be made and priorities can be adjusted.  Hopefully, in the end, you can both look back at the affair as a slap on the back of the head reminding you that you weren’t paying attention to the relationship.

Losing Like a Winner

One of the most horrendous things to happen to kids since the advent of day care is the way the concept of winning is now taught in schools.  Schools today teach children that everybody is entitled to something simply by showing up.  They’re also slowly taking away honors and awards and eliminating Valedictorians because they don’t want anybody’s feelings to get hurt.
 
It’s a cuddly notion to want everyone to feel like a winner, but in my opinion, it has contributed to an entire generation of young people who can’t deal with reality.  In reality, the world is a very competitive place.  We’ve become so worried about kids getting their feelings hurt that we don’t teach them how to recognize or actually deal with their feelings.

Paradoxically, kids also receive the message that winning is everything.  Like the Vince Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” our society tells kids that winning is the be-all, end-all.  As a result, kids cheat in order to win, and when they lose, they learn to hate or be cruel to the winners. 

Even without our “help,” kids already have particularly powerful emotions about winning.  They don’t want to win – they need to win.  Oftentimes, they are not even content with winning, or they feel a need to engage in expressions of gleeful triumph, such as boasting, bragging, and taunting.  If they lose, they may throw game pieces and insist on a “do-over,” or refuse to play.  For young boys in particular, the desire to win stems from a need to feel a sense of physical or intellectual dominance, which is built into their DNA.

Therefore, it’s crucial that you teach your kids from a very young age how to handle failure.  In life, they’re going to win some and lose some – they need to learn to accept that.  Your job is not just to make your kids happy.  Not allowing them to experience failure only sets them up for an inability to cope with failure in the future.  Moreover, it’s actually the kids who practice losing who learn to be better.  Mastering any skill requires many failures – even if you’re great initially.

When your child loses in a competition or gets a poor grade, you need to use it as a learning experience.  The end goal is to teach them that the joy of competing is having fun, not winning.  Help your child learn good sportsmanship.  The moment he or she starts exhibiting a “poor loser attitude” (e.g. arguing, making excuses, cheating, booing, or criticizing others), call them out on it immediately and let them know that this kind of behavior isn’t allowed.  Explain that they must be considerate of other people’s feelings, and if they are not, they may not participate. 

Teaching kids the proper way to cope with disappointment is extremely important.  Make sure they learn from their mistakes, but also give them support with your words and knowledge.  The quickest way for them to handle defeat gracefully is by feeling that ultimately you’re OK with them.

Getting Along with Your In-Laws

Generally speaking, the divorce rate is lower for people who have good relationships with their in-laws.  However, the sad reality is that the majority of husbands and wives do not. 

For the most part, it’s the daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law who take issue with one another.  According to a study conducted by Terri Apter, a psychologist at Cambridge University, 60 percent of daughters-in-law report having a stressful relationship with their mother-in-law, but only 15 percent of sons-in-law do.  The primary reason: mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law feel a need to compete.

Let’s break it down.  A mother gives birth to her son and puts all her energy into raising and caring for him.  Then, this other woman comes along and takes him away after only knowing him for maybe two or three years.  This is what sets the stage for the competition between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law.

My first rule for all you daughters-in-law out there is to stop being so prickly and try to look at things from your mother-in-law’s point of view.  I recently had a caller on my program who felt insulted because her live-in mother-in-law was constantly cleaning her house for her.  From the mother-in-law’s perspective, she was simply trying to have a purpose – instead of sitting around watching TV all day, she wanted to do something.  However, the caller interpreted her cleaning as a hint that she couldn’t take care of her own house.  I advised the caller not to confront her mother-in-law, which would only make her upset.  I told her instead to think about things from her mother-in-law’s perspective: How was she feeling?  What did she need?  

Another piece of advice: Don’t sweat the small stuff.  People say and do things all the time that they may not intend to be hurtful.  Be able to stand back and ask, “Does this person really want to hurt or harm me in some way, or are they just being a little assertive, overbearing, or excited?” 

Next, always try to avoid the criticism or insultListening will win you more points than arguing. 

In addition, remember that everyone likes to feel appreciated.  Find ways to show your in-laws respect.  Take your mother-in-law out to lunch for her birthday, or remember to send a card and/or flowers on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. 

Finally, don’t always think of your in-laws as “the in-laws.”  They can certainly be your friends and mentors.  Try to get involved with something they enjoy, like gardening or golf.  At the very least, sharing a common interest with them will give you something to talk about during family dinners and holidays.

Now, there is a caveat to all of this.  Some people simply have mean and nasty parents.  If that’s the case, you can expect that no matter how hard you try, they will create stress for you and your spouse.  Don’t let them.  Husbands and wives need to watch each other’s backs.   Mark my words, if you side with your parents against your spouse, it’ll be “The End.”  If her mother is being a pain, then she should talk to her.  If his mother is being a pain, then he should talk to her.  Don’t allow them to tear your marriage apart.

Training Your Brain to Stress Less

The vast majority of Americans today feel stressed out.  I would say that it mostly stems from financial struggles, which, in my opinion, are only going to get worse in the near future.  Women, in particular, get stressed out because they have too much on their plates. Ever since the feminist movement, women have been told that they are lazy bums and betrayers of their sisters if they stay home to raise their children.  As a result, women have quadrupled their responsibilities, and in doing so, increased their risk of heart disease and cancer by trying to play wife, mother, and jack of many other trades all at the same time.  If you’re struggling with stress in these hard times, I have some advice.

The first thing you need to do is realize that you are only human and that humans have limitations.  It’s simply the reality of our systems.  There are times when we just need to sleep or shut down.  Thinking that you’re a lazy slob or an incompetent idiot because you’re getting killed by all the stuff on your plate is not constructive.  You need to see that you have limits.

When I was still involved in private practice, I used to tell people to write down a list of all their obligations and then dump a third of them.  You should do the same.  Arrange all the things you need to do into a hierarchy of least to most important, and then dump the ones that are least important.

In addition, there are techniques you can use to train your brain to stress less.  For example, many athletes have trainers who help them respond quickly in stressful situations.  They teach them to focus under pressure, and even more importantly, how to recover from stress-induced errors.  Their trainers also teach them the importance of shutting down so that they don’t carry their stress around with them all day and night.  The same thing goes for soldiers training for battle. The more combat situations they face, the more familiar they become with handling the stress and the more control they have over their reactions. 

Training your brain to deal with stress is difficult, but it can be done. Here are a number of ways you can start reducing your stress levels.

Stop Putting Off Your Procrastination Problem

The definition of procrastination is putting off something that was planned or scheduled.  Statistics indicate that most people procrastinate.  At least 20 percent of the population calls themselves chronic procrastinators, and according to some researchers, procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years. 

I think that more and more people have become accustomed to procrastination in recent years for the same reasons that fewer men are going to college and fewer young adults are becoming autonomous – very little is expected of them anymore.

When we were in the era of responsibility, obligations were taken seriously.  Very few people procrastinated because there were consequences for doing so.  However, people today are hardly ever held accountable for anything, especially teens and young adults.  It used to be that if you had an 8-to-4 job, you arrived at your desk at 8 ready to work; you weren’t stumbling through the door at 9.  A lot of young people don’t get that, and then wonder why they are having such a tough time getting jobs.  It’s not just because of the economy – there is simply a lack of respect for young adults in the business world today because they lack commitment, work ethic, diligence, focus, and pride in what they do.

In addition, advances in technology have come at the cost of reducing many people’s effectiveness.   Between the TV, Facebook, and the latest Blackberrys and iPads, technology is providing people with constant distractions.  And with more lazy, unmotivated people sitting around drooling into screens, it’s no wonder that the procrastination statistics keep going up. 

Another contributing factor is that there isn’t a whole lot of parenting going on anymore.  Fewer and fewer kids are spending time with Mommy and Daddy at the dinner table discussing their day.  Chalk it up to divorce or no parent staying at home, but the outcome is the same: kids get away with murder and there’s no hell to pay.  Parents are failing to teach their kids about obligations and responsibilities.  A hundred years ago, kids got up at 5 a.m. and did a whole heck of a lot of stuff before they went to school.  Nowadays, I have parents calling me up complaining about how they can’t get their kids to get dressed in the morning.  It’s ridiculous. 

As you can see, people are not born procrastinators; they are formed to be that way.  And sadly, when they become chronic procrastinators, the results can be dire.  They often experience financial failure or end up dying younger than they should because they don’t bother to go get tests.

If you have a problem with procrastination, here’s what to do:

People procrastinate for all kinds of reasons, but more often than not, I think procrastination is a kind of passive aggressive behavior: “Screw you!” “I don’t have to!” “I don’t want to!”  “I don’t feel like it!”  So, if you really want to change, stop being hostile and start acting like a responsible person.

Don’t overthink what you have to do or make things too complicated – just get started.  It’s funny how something you were initially dreading can all of sudden become easier once you start it.  If you want an example of this, just listen to some of the people who call in to my program.  They may start off extremely nervous, but once they start talking, all their hesitation goes away.   

If you feel overwhelmed by a big project, break it up into smaller chunks.  Start with the hardest part first and then take a step back.  You’ll likely find that once you’ve finished each smaller task, the bigger project isn’t as difficult as you feared.

If you don’t have the right skills to complete a project, do some research or call someone to help you.  YouTube, for example, has a million useful little videos of people explaining how to do all kinds of stuff.  I learned how to drill certain jewelry pieces I’ve worked on from watching YouTube videos.

If you don’t have the right tools, find out where you can buy or borrow them.

Set realistic goals.  What can you realistically do given your abilities?  Ask someone to help pace you.

If you’re easily distracted by clutter, your phone, or your friends, then block out time dedicated to working on what you need to get done.  I rarely have my cell phone on me.  It certainly frustrates a lot of people who want to get a hold of me at that precise moment, but when I want to sit and deal with something, I cut out the distractions.  One of the things you must do in life is prioritize.  Do what needs to be done first, not what you wish to do.  Always remind yourself of what the highest priority is.
 
If you are a perfectionist (as I tend to be), you need to learn to control your impulse to be perfect.  I remember reading about one culture which purposefully put one tiny mistake in everything they made.  I thought that was so clever – what you do doesn’t always have to be perfect to be an expression of you.

Lastly, if you are afraid of failing or taking responsibility, you need to remember that the greatest failure is sitting there like a lump of protoplasm and not trying.  Failing is an inevitable part of trying, but failing is not an endpoint – not trying is.  Failure is at least a step forward toward success.

Getting yourself organized and putting a stop to your procrastination is pretty simple.  Set a reasonable goal, give yourself a time frame, dump the excuses, and figure out a way to hold yourself accountable. In short, just make it happen.