Category Archives: Character

Reasons to Get Married

A lot of people get married for selfish reasons.  They want to be free from their parents, ease loneliness, have sex, show that they’re adults, save or help someone else, attain citizenship, and/or have a baby.  They also might get married because all their friends are married, or they feel like they’re running out of time.

But all of these reasons are WRONG!

You should get married because you have a deep admiration and respect for someone else, and you are willing to help fulfill his or her needs and dreams.  You should get married when you’ve learned enough about a person and his or her family to know that he or she is emotionally and psychologically healthy, and you really want to share your lives together.  When you get up in the morning, you should look at your spouse and think, “What can I do to make him or her happy today and glad he or she is married to me?  How can I make him or her glad to come home to me tonight?”  There’d be a lot more happy people if all we did that.

This is why good marriage counselors don’t start off with the problems and the things your spouse does that make you mad.  Instead they ask, “What was there that made you fall in love?  What was there about each other that you admired, respected, and enjoyed?  What kept you together long enough to get married?”  
 
And then there’s the whole commitment thing. 

What’s the point of a commitment you might ask?  Isn’t it just a piece of paper? 

The answer is no.  Love without commitment is not enough to maintain a relationship.  In the beginning, rules about commitment are not an issue because the two of you are so overwhelmed by emotion.  But when you start having ups and downs and challenges, and you’ve both gotten a little lazy about being loving and supportive, the rules and expectations start coming into play.  When you guys forget your vows and promises to each other, everything else loses meaning. 

And that’s why marriage is important.  It’s the expression of commitment and devotion in public with promises.

Married people also eat better, take better care of themselves, and have more stable, secure, and scheduled lifestyles than unmarried ones.  Read more about how marriage positively affects your physical and mental health. 

And here’s an email Fiona sent me about the benefits of being married.  I chose it because she added a dimension I hadn’t heard put quite that way.

Hi Dr. Laura,

There are so many wonderful things about being married.  I would like to touch on two that I think are the most meaningful to me.

1. It is nice to know there is someone in life who is “for” you.  I am for him and he is for me.  My husband and I are each other’s cheerleaders.  “Rah Rah!, I’m rooting for you Baby…and thanks for rooting for me too!”  If someone asked me for advice on marriage, I would tell them to make sure you are both FOR each other.  It’s really an easy way to choose wisely.  If that quality isn’t present, you are not a match.

2. The second thing is this:  we are there to be a witness to each other’s lives.  We know each other’s dreams, accomplishments, failures, mistakes, heartaches, triumphs, tragedies, and ecstasies.  We know what is important to each other and what we both believe and what our values are.  We can say, “Yes, they were here, this is who they were, this is what they did, and this is what meant enough to them to fight for.”  I was a witness, I was there.

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”

Some People Are Just Plain Mean

Everyone has a mean person in his or her life.  I’ve had one in mine for the past 8 years.  To be truthful, it really upset me in the beginning.  It wasn’t because anything this person said had validity, but rather it bothered me she could keep doing ferocious things without consequences.  I was brought up to think if you did something bad, there was always a consequence.  And to this day, it’s overwhelming to me that people get away with doing bad things.

However, at this point in my life, I think it’s funny so much of this person’s existence revolves around being ferocious toward me.  Nonetheless, most of you are not at that stage.

We all know what mean people are like — they gossip about you to others, ignore you, say hurtful things, break or steal your stuff, belittle you, set you up to get into trouble for something you didn’t say or do, call you names, imply you’re not as clever, good-looking, well connected, valuable or nice as they are, intimidate you, leave unfriendly or unkind messages about you on social media sites, and break promises they swore they’d keep.

Yet, people don’t seem to want to accept some people are just plain mean.  Remember The Hillside Strangler during the 1970s?  They molested, tortured, and murdered women, and then scattered their body parts around.  I remember the psychiatrists (the “whores of the court”) coming out of the woodwork during the trial saying The Strangler must have been crazy.  But, I also remember one female psychiatrist’s interview in a long documentary about the case.  When asked about The Strangler, she said, “All I can tell you is some people are just evil.”  That’s what people don’t wish to accept – they want to make evil an illness that they can fix.  They think if they can fix it, then a) they won’t have to face the mean people in their own lives, and b) they feel in control – i.e. if you can fix someone with pills, you have control over him or her. 

Therefore, evil does not exist for a lot of people.  Evil is just something that needs fixing.  But I’m here to tell you evil is NOT a psychiatric illness.  People who put other people in ovens and gas showers, shoot or burn their fellow man, or throw babies up in the air for target practice are evil!

If you’ve been dealing with a mean person at work, in your neighborhood, in your club, or in your family, the best way of handling that person is to not go up against him or her.  You can’t win.  You’re unequipped to deal with a mean person unless you’re equally bad.  Mean people have no rules and no limits.  You do.  Try to avoid contact with the person.  If you’ve tried to sort things out and he or she decides to keep being mean, there isn’t much you can do to influence or change his or her mind.  If this person actually hates you or feels like he or she can’t lose face by dawning a different attitude, you don’t have to put up with it.  Remove yourself.  Don’t listen to his or her taunts, don’t read the crap he or she writes about you, and don’t have any connection to his or her spiteful attitude.  Let this person know you’re not going to tolerate it and make a clean cut.  Even the meanest person may get bored when his or her target stops responding. 

I remember one Star Trek episode (from the original series, which I still think was the best) where a hazy, dusty force took over the Starship Enterprise and caused the crew  to get mean and fight with each other.  The crew tried to kill it, confront it, and reason with it, but to no avail.  Finally, somebody figured out the haze was a force that ate anger and used it as energy to get bigger and stronger.  To stop the force, Captain Kirk got on the intercom and told the crew that no matter how much anger they all felt, they should all laugh and hug.  The thing shriveled up and went away.

I thought the episode offered a nice parallel to how we should approach meanness.  Similar to the Enterprise crew, no matter how much we try to confront or reason with meanness, we can’t.  Some people simply need to be mean to feel better about themselves.  And there are people like that all over the world. 

My advice?  Just get out of their way.  Don’t take it personally.  Unfortunately, karma won’t always kick in and nothing bad necessarily will happen to them.  In fact, sometimes they lead long and financially successful lives.  That may be hard to swallow, but the quality of your life is more important. 

So laugh.  Throw your head back and laugh.  Let them pound sand and not you.

My Final Visit With My Friend Karen

I want to talk about my friend Karen, who is in the last stages of cancer.  I went to visit her this weekend and got to see how a woman who is suffering still has class.  While I was there, the family showed me a tape of Karen.  In the video, Karen was receiving an award for Employee of the Year at the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and she was being interviewed about the award.  Now, you’re probably thinking, “the DMV?”  Most of you get very aggravated with the DMV – the waiting in lines, the rules, not feeling like you’re being helped, etc.  But until Karen came down with cancer, she hadn’t missed a day of work in decades.

Just before receiving the award, Karen had a stroke and the interview was conducted while she was in the hospital.  Some very big “mucky-mucks” came to see her – the head of the state DMV and the lieutenant governor – because it was such a big award.  She was sitting in a wheelchair struggling to talk, and she was asked how she felt about getting the award.  She said (and I’m paraphrasing – she said it much better), “I feel very honored.  I and all of us here work very hard to serve the public.  We do the best we can to be considerate and compassionate, and to do a complete job.  That’s our job.  It’s our responsibility; it’s our obligation to serve.  I enjoy serving the public, and I enjoy helping people.  I’ve always been that way.” 

There she was, only 49 years old with terminal cancer and now a stroke, sitting there glowing with modesty and talking about our responsibility to serve well and with the right attitude.  If even 5 percent of the people in this country actually do that, I’d be amazed.  It just shows what kind of a person she is and what kind of a person we’re losing.

I told her later, sitting by the side of her bed in her house, holding her hand, and wishing I had magic, that I was really impressed with her attitude.  She’s never been interviewed before and didn’t know in advance what she’d be asked, but she just talked from her heart and said, “You know what?  It doesn’t matter what the economy is like.  When you have a job, it’s an honor to have that job, and you should do it to the best of your ability without resentment and without attitude.  You should be grateful you have a job and understand the value of what you do to serve other people when you have that job.”

Karen’s words got me thinking: What if people had the same attitude about their families?  What if they thought, “It’s a blessing to be fortunate enough to be a member of this nice family; I’m going to honor that great fortune, and I’m going to do the best I can to serve the people in this family.” 

Unfortunately, most people only think about themselves.  This is why I loved that line from John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  It’s a great concept.  There are so many terms we can substitute for “country” in that phrase, and it still rings true.  You could replace “country” with “job,” “spouse,” or “family.”  

So for the rest of my life, anything useful and wise I come up with on my program, I dedicate to Karen, one of the most decent, sweet, lovable people ever.  Everybody in her family will tell you no one disliked her.

Think about that.

Do you know anybody who’s liked by everybody?  Karen’s the only one I know.  She is so genuinely generous.  She’s not one of those manipulative people-pleasers who uses people to get what she wants.  Karen was created to give with a good attitude, even with terminal cancer and a stroke.  There’s just something special about her.  If you’re lucky enough to have a handful of friends anywhere near like that, it is a major gift from the heavens.  Anybody who’s around a person like that is changed forever.

Pregnant and Sacked

People feel entitled to challenge everything these days.  Even if they’ve understood the rules and they’re reaping the benefits, they decide they’re above the system and the rules don’t apply to them.  They get lawyers, go public, and cause grief.  These people make me sick.  So when I recently read about the Christian school teacher who got knocked up out-of-wedlock and sued the school for firing her, I was disenchanted yet again. 

Here’s what happened:  A 29-year-old science teacher and volleyball coach was fired from a Texas Christian academy for getting pregnant out-of-wedlock.  She says she has a fiancé, and defends herself by saying, “I’m not just some teacher that went out to a bar and got pregnant and went back to school saying it’s okay.  I was in a committed relationship the whole time and probably would have been married if things had gone differently and this would be a non-situation.” 

She’s absolutely right.  If she had done things the right way – went on a date, received a ring, got married, and then had babies – this wouldn’t be happening.  By the way, a committed relationship is called marriage, not shacking-up.

She then claimed she had no idea she would lose her job over the pregnancy. 

What??

She teaches at a Christian school!  If you want to live a free and easy life don’t teach at a religious school.  She wasn’t fired because she wanted pregnancy leave.  She was fired because she broke the moral rules of a Christian school and became a bad role model for little kids.  And getting married at this point wouldn’t work , because she’s already knocked up out-of-wedlock and the kids all know.  

The school’s headmaster said she was fired for violating her contract, which includes a clause requiring teachers to be Christian role models.  “It’s not that she’s pregnant,” the headmaster said, “the issue here is being an unmarried mother.  Everything we stand for says that we want our teachers, who we consider to be in the ministry, to model what every Christian man and woman should be.”
 
I can’t believe this twit has the gall to sue.  If this had happened back in the day, she would have been ferociously embarrassed, kept her mouth shut, and gotten married 20 seconds after she took the little pee test showing she was pregnant,  because her behavior would have been considered unbecoming a lady and unbecoming a teacher in a Christian school in particular.  These days, if you don’t tolerate something, no matter what it is, you’re a bad person.  In my opinion, how dare she sue.

The Teenage Mind

Many people call me all the time saying, “It’s so great to have kids.” And I joke with them, “Just wait until they’re teenagers…” 

What is the teenage issue?  Well, there are a lot of changes happening in society and in our physiology which explains some of what happens with teenagers.  Kids today reach puberty a lot earlier than they did in previous years.  And they reach adulthood a lot later.  It’s amazing to me how many callers say, “I have a kid age 23, 24, 25, 27…etc. living at home and not doing anything.”  Plus, we never know why kids don’t think something through.  Somebody once said, “If you think of the teenage brain as a car, today’s adolescents acquire an accelerator a long time before they can steer and know how to brake.” 

  • Puberty is kicking in earlier and earlier.  A leading theory points to changes in energy balance – -as “Mother Laura” has said many times. 
  • Kids are eating more and moving less.  Weight gain seems to have something to do with kids entering puberty earlier. 
  • Children also come to take on adult roles later and later.  Think about 500 years ago.  Shakespeare knew the emotionally intense combination of teenage sexuality and risk taking could be tragic.  Look at Romeo and Juliet.  Had they not belonged to warring families, they probably would have gotten married at 13. 

So what happens when kids reach puberty earlier and adulthood later?  They have a lot more problems because they don’t have an established identity as an adult. 

Psychological and neurological systems need to develop in concert with each other.  According to a recent study from Cornell University, emotion and motivation is tied in to the hormonal changes of puberty, and the areas of the brain that respond to rewards reveal adolescents aren’t reckless because they underestimate the risks.  Teenagers don’t seem to have a neurological issue, but instead overestimate the rewards or find the rewards more rewarding than adults do.  So, they will engage in behaviors with no hesitation and no breaks because the little “zing” is just everything – e.g. the incomparable intensity of puppy love.  What teenagers want the most are social rewards.  They want to be respected and liked by their peers.  That’s the built-in mechanism. 

The second crucial system in the teenage brain has to do with controls.  That’s the system which inhibits impulses, guides you in decision making, and encourages long term planning.  This system requires learning.  And we don’t do much of that.  Think about what most teenagers do today.  They mostly hang out…party…party some more…party a little bit more and after that, play video games and text — they spend their lives doing anything but learning. 

In the past, you had to practice gathering, hunting, cooking, and caregiving all the way from childhood to early adolescence in order to become a good hunter, gatherer, or caregiver.  The part of the brain responsible for learning all this then gets wired appropriately for adult use.  But today we don’t have kids apprenticing at anything.  We have them mostly playing all the way through childhood.  We have very few kids working on a farm, working in stores, or working with their parents.  Few kids are working anywhere.  Very rarely is this seen anymore.  We have prolonged childhood forever. 

In contemporary life the two systems that have to do with control and risk taking are not worked on by experiences, because our kids aren’t having any.  Our kids are having very little experience with the kind of tasks they will have to perform as grownups.  I remember when I was in middle school, I had classes where I learned to sew, type and cook.  It didn’t matter if I was going to do that for a living or not.  Everyone had to learn these basic things.  Guys went into shop classes and learned how to make things.  We were teaching our children by experience to build things, to be patient through the process, and to apply themselves.   We don’t do those things anymore.  Just think of the things we all grew up with that taught us to be responsible, control our impulses, and postpone our gratification.  This was very important.  Now our kids are getting into all kinds of trouble, and they are not able to function as young adults.

So, what do we do?  

We have to start with our kids earlier.  It’s not just because we are “disciplining them and teaching them character.”  It’s because their brains actually need this exercise in order to function in a mature way.  They need it.  Concretely, what we need to do is to stop babying our babies.  They have to take on responsibility.  That’s why I think all 18 year olds should go in to the military.  After spending two years in the military, they’ll learn a lot about responsibility and controlling their impulses.   I really like that in the Mormon religion; young people have to go on a mission  someplace in the world to help others and perform tasks.  They learn a tremendous amount, enrich their brains, teach themselves control, postpone gratification, and learn to solve problems.  They don’t just turn to mind altering chemicals.

For a more in-depth perspective, Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology at the University of California Berkley, wrote a good article in the Wall Street Journal called “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?”

Surviving Infidelity

Did you know approximately 3% of all kids are the product of infidelities?  A lot of the time, the dads don’t even know.  Most of these kids are unknowingly raised by men who are not their bio-dads but they are going to be their fathers, if everything holds together.  Interestingly, yet sadly, infidelity is becoming more common among people under 30 and many experts believe this increase in cheating is due to greater opportunity and young people developing the habit of having sexual partner after sexual partner after sexual partner.  That gets to be a habit too.

Statistically more men are likely to cheat than women. But, as women become more financially independent, they are certainly catching up.  Money is one of the key factors in this.  Wow.

Emotionally, it is possible to have feelings for more than one person at a time. But pragmatically, you can’t be loving two people at one time.  As more and more women enter the work force, “office romances” are getting more common because spouses are spending more time with coworkers than they are with their own spouses.  You’ve got the internet, you’ve got e-mail, you’ve got chat rooms…well that’s the beginning of fooling around.  And most infidelities involve physical and emotional betrayal.  Read more at: Facts and Statistics About Infidelity

So one of the things I want to comment on is the discovery of infidelity since I hear that way too often on my radio program. The pain and shock of finding out your spouse has fooled around on you is one of life’s most traumatic events.  It’s seriously a punch in the gut.  So it should not be surprising it takes years for couples to repair a relationship after infidelity comes to light.

Here are some things to keep in mind about surviving infidelity, because many couples are able to recover and most of the time develop an even stronger relationship:

  • More intimacy
  • More closeness (because it put a bomb in the middle of the relationship and repairing it, there had to be a lot more attention then perhaps both were giving to the relationship). 
  • A lot more giving, and a lot more interest, it’s an awakening for many relationships. By the way, I wouldn’t recommend infidelity as a technique for awakening your relationship in order to reboot it.

What makes the difference between those who can get past it and those who can’t?  Early on in the relationship, was the quality of the relationship really, really, really good?  I don’t mean way in the beginning when you both were just ga-ga, but for years was it good?  If that’s a “yes” then we can lean on that.  “We were once like that.”  If we don’t have a time like that, it’s less likely the relationship’s going to work. 

Are both people committed to making it work?  Is everybody going to be open and in counseling with the right person?  The first thing you should ask when you go to a marriage counselor is how many times they’ve been divorced or what percentage of their clients get divorced after marriage counseling, because it’s important to know that.  Some counselors have positivity, some counselors have negativity – and they don’t even realize it.  We need to know, because we’ve really got to get to what the underlying problem is. 

The underlying problem can be all sorts of things:

Boredom – For the most part if nobody has some deep-seated problem, boredom comes from two people just not paying attention to the relationship.  And when you meet somebody new, excitement starts up again and you believe “Oh, this is better than that.”  It isn’t, but it feels that way and some people find it easier just to go into what’s exciting than to make their relationship less boring.  Everything can get boring…everything.

Too much happening – Some people get into affairs when there’s a whole lot of stuff going on, and they just lose their way.  It’s like losing your way into a bottle of alcohol; you’re losing your way into somebody else’s arms – it’s the same behavior.  So it doesn’t really have to do with the quality of the marriage; it has to do with that person just having a total meltdown. 

Disrespect – One obvious reason they’re cheating is because when you were dating there was cheating and you forgave it.  When you were engaged there was cheating and you forgave it.  When you first got married there was cheating and you forgave it.  When you had your first kid there was cheating and…need I say more?  Because when you repetitively forgive a cheater, that person now respects you less — they know they can get away with it, you’ll continue to take them back.

Revenge - Some people have an affair just to hurt the other person because they’ve been hurt in some other way.  Some people are in marriages where they’re been taken for granted and they wonder if they’re still attractive.  One way to solve that is to get your hair cut, put on some makeup and find other ways somebody is turned on to you. 

Thrills – Some people just enjoy the thrill of cheating. They’re sociopaths.  They like running around secretly, risking getting caught, creating thrilling moments, forbidden romance…some people just get off on being bad and you’re not going to fix that. But if the underlying problem does not get addressed, the cheating will likely happen again because the problem’s not been solved that lead to it.  And serial cheating…forget about it; don’t even try.

The initial shock of discovering an affair creates tremendous uncertainty and depression, anger, shame, obsessive thoughts, dwelling on the details of the affair, inability to concentrate, and a desire to monitor that person’s every move.

And at this point, giving advice to that individual is typically not useful because people are so emotionally distraught they can’t think clearly, they don’t make decisions that are in their best interest, and they shouldn’t be making decisions.   When feelings become less intense and less intrusive, it’s really important to talk about it with somebody who won’t judge it (and that’s hard to come by), but will just let you vent because you’re just going to have to vent, vent and vent.  Unfortunately the person you can’t vent with is the person who hurt you because that’ll just create a defensive reaction – denial, shifting the blame, or withdrawal. 

Sharing feelings with someone who is not willing (or able) to listen makes your bad feelings worse. So support groups, individual counseling, family or friends who don’t get too excited (you know, because a lot of them will go “let’s just kill him/her”) may help.

Now if both parties decide they want to try and save the marriage, that next phase is probably the most difficult, because people generally lack insight into their own behaviors and if they do not understand why they cheated, they often do not want to disclose this information to a spouse, thinking it’ll cause more problems.  But they’ve got to identify it.  This is really important.

But here’s the kicker: when you get to that point and you’re willing to acknowledge what’s inside your head, heart and life, you really need to work with your spouse as a team.  “How can we approach this?”  That gives the victim a sense of power and participation.  It’s very good when you start becoming a team.  You can read more: Dealing with the Discovery of Infidelity   

Now what about the ugly details?  There are different schools of thought.  I think the basic details like time and place (and not intimate, nitty-gritty, vulgar details) are enough.  So hiding how you spent the money, where you went, how you did this, the kids, whatever…you’re going to have to come clean with all of that.  But please, don’t be describing positions and stuff like that. Don’t.  But you’ve got to agree to be open.  You have to.

Baby Shower for Shack-Up Honey

Two people get to know each other through dating.  They develop awe, respect and love for each and then decide to marry.  The next step is usually creating another life which should be celebrated as a blessed event.  But what about attending a baby shower for a “shack-up pregnant honey”?

Watch: Baby Shower for Shack-Up Honey
Read the transcript

Or watch other videos at youtube.com/DrLaura