Category Archives: Family

Why Shacking Up Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

Couples who shack up before marriage are more likely to divorce, experience domestic violence, have sexual and emotional problems, and be involved in affairs. Yet, regardless of the statistics, people continue to do it.

The myth couples use to justify shacking up is that by living together before marriage, they can “test drive the car” and have a more satisfying and longer-lasting marriage. But it’s just the opposite.  People shack up because they are skittish about commitment and, therefore, more likely to call it quits when problems arise.

In addition, couples who shack up actually lose objectivity because they’re not looking at the relationship from a distance.  They literally haven’t had the “space” to step back and objectively consider whether this person is truly the best match for them.  Instead, they sort of just drift into marriage.

Another reason not to shack up: You won’t have a healthy relationship with your extended family.  A supportive extended family is one of the things that makes a marriage work.  However, moms, dads, siblings, and other family members are not going to expend as much effort, caring, and commitment to you as a couple when it’s an iffy situation.  People often forget that and then complain about their family not treating their shack-up stud or honey like family. Well hell, if you want them to be treated like family, make them family!

Quite frankly, if you shack up, you are basically saying that your future marriage isn’t valuable enough to be worth waiting and making tough sacrifices for.  I love it when people shack up and then demand a traditional wedding. How can you choose to live in a tremendously untraditional way and still expect your parents to cough up the money for a traditional party?  If a kid wants to slap the face of tradition, they are on their own.

Finally (and most importantly), shacking up hurts kids.  If (and usually when) a woman gets pregnant in a shack-up situation, there is a high probability that the sperm donor will split within two years, which results in a never-married-single-mom raising a fatherless child. A guy who is screwing a woman without laying down his life for her doesn’t want to be a dad – he’s just getting off.

In my opinion, the best way to test your compatibility for marriage and reduce your chances of divorce to almost nothing is:

1) Don’t have sex until you’re married.
2) Date for at least one year before you get engaged.  
3) Participate in a structured premarital counseling program which includes psychological testing. 

However, I know most of you are not going to do that.  So, operate at your own risk – or rather, the risk of your kids.

13 Things to Discuss Before You Marry

We all get nervous before big moments in our lives.  When you start school, graduate, or arrive for the first day of a new job, your stomach is sure to be doing flips.  So when you get married, it’s only natural and normal to feel some anticipatory anxiety.  However, there’s a huge difference between a few pre-wedding jitters and getting cold feet.

Getting cold feet is a message from the inside that you may be making a mistake.  Unfortunately, a lot of folks ignore this feeling because they think:

1. “It’s too late. We’ve dated for so long, and I have too much invested.”

2. “I don’t want to be alone.”

3. “It’s too embarrassing and/or expensive to call off the wedding.”

4. “He/she is really nice, and I don’t want to hurt his/her feelings.”

5. “He/she will change after we get married.”

How can you avoid getting cold feet at the altar?  Go through at least six months of premarital counseling.  Oftentimes people ignore doubts, red flags, and gut feelings because they don’t discuss their issues and concerns BEFORE they get married.  By seeing an expert who specializes in premarital counseling, you’ll go over things like:

1. Money. How do we spend it?  What about savings? What about budgets? Who takes care of the money?  When it comes to money, there are two types of people to varying extremes: those who like to spend and those who like to save.  It’s extremely important to discuss finances and prenups (which I think are absolutely necessary in second marriages involving children so that the kids are protected).

2. How alike are you?  People say “opposites attract,” but that only works for magnets, not for people.  The more you have in common with your partner, the better. You need to discuss your backgrounds, religious beliefs, values, and dreams for the future.  What are your views on loyalty, honesty, and dealing with anger?  What behaviors are off-limits?  You should talk about all these things and never assume they will change after you are married.  If you want something about them to change and it doesn’t, don’t get married!

3. Communication skills.  Many people come from families where they really don’t communicate.  They don’t sit down calmly and honestly speak the truth.   You and your partner need to be able to say to each other, “These are my expectations, hopes, dreams, desires, etc.,” and then ask if they are reasonable.  If your partner says, “I would like to have more freedom, come and go as I please, and not have to call when I’m going to be late for dinner,” then you know it’s a good idea to call it quits.
It’s vital to assess how someone communicates before you get married.  Some people use communication as a destructive tool to get what they want, and others use it to hurt their partner or justify themselves when they’ve lied or misbehaved.

4. Life outside of marriage.  Which hobbies and activities are you going to do together and which are you going to do separately with friends?  Am I not going to be able to ride my motorcycle because you don’t ride?  Some people are so insecure, possessive, or demanding that they won’t let the other person have a life.  Many women, in particular, don’t want their men to have guy time (which can be very disastrous).

5. Do you want to have kids?  How many? What does discipline look like? Who’s going to take care of them? What happens if one of you has fertility issues?  Are you open to adoption? Having two people cooperate to raise a child is a huge deal.  Compatibility issues in how you parent can lead to big problems down the road.  This is why it’s important to look at each other’s family dynamics.  People develop a lot of neurotic tendencies from their childhoods that may never change, such as how loving or attentive they are. Observe how your fiancé/fiancée is with other people’s kids.

6. Employment.  Do you travel a lot for your job? Do you plan to relocate often? Do you stay at the office late? Do you have any time for family?  Certain jobs (trucking, medicine, law, military, etc.) require a lot of commitment.  You have to analyze yourself and ask, “Do I want to marry somebody who isn’t going to be home at seven every night?  Do I want my spouse to be just visiting when he/she walks in to the house?”

7. Sex! Find out what each other’s fantasies are.  If their fantasies include small farm animals, you know to hit the eject button.

8. Daily life: Who’s going to be responsible for which household chores and bills?  Are you actually going to raise your kids, or are you going to farm them out (so that when you’re old and decrepit, they farm you out)?

9. How committed are you to the relationship? With looks, health, abilities, kids, finances, and family, there are many changes, phases, and challenges in life.  Are you committed in the relationship, or are you just a fair weather spouse?  I would say that about 70 percent of divorces result because people are not committed to a relationship – when it’s not going good, they find another place to go.

10. Personal space.  Everybody needs time to be alone with their hobbies and thoughts.  A lot of women have trouble giving their husbands personal space.  Guys are generally relieved when their wives want to go spend the day with their girlfriends: “That’s wonderful honey, are you sure you don’t want to go for the weekend?” = “Yes! No nagging for six hours!”

11. How are you going to keep the marriage exciting?  What’s your idea of a good time together? Is it hanging out with a lot of people? Watching sports? A candlelight dinner? A walk in the park? Soaking in the tub together?  After they get married, many people say, “My husband/wife doesn’t do anything.”  Well, perhaps that’s because you guys never talked about what would be fun.

12. Family.  My advice: If you really, really, really can’t get along with his or her family, move 3,000 miles away.

13. Know your odds.  Statistics show that couples who live together before they’re married are more likely to get divorced. Couples who have been previously married and divorced are also more likely to get divorced.  Don’t learn the hard way by thinking “Well, we’re different.”

Do Violent Video Games Make Us Violent?

Do violent video games make people violent?  In the aftermath of the Aurora and Sandy Hook shootings, this question has once again become a hot-button issue in our society.  The reason we don’t have a definitive answer is because it’s hard to test scientifically.  You can’t take people who have played violent video games and those who haven’t, and then give them knives and guns and see what they’ll do. That’s not what we call ethical research. 

What we do know based on the studies that have been conducted is that violent video games increase aggressive thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and elevate heart rate and blood pressure. In addition, kids who play a lot of violent games don’t have much interest in charity or helping others.  Yet, exposure to all kinds of violent media – not just video gamesincreases feelings of aggression and decreases feelings of empathy

In my opinion, I don’t think violent video games are the problem.  Taking them away isn’t going to stop people from shooting up schools and movie theaters.  There are always going to be psychopaths no matter what we do.  I think the more important issue lies in our society’s backward attitude towards parenting.  As I say over and over again, kids are more likely to be good kids when their parents are around. Sure they’ll experiment and do stupid stuff from time to time, but they’re going to be a lot better off if they live in a stable home with two happily married parents who they feel close to.  Although violent video games can contribute to kids acting nasty, they are not responsible for all the rudeness and nastiness we see in the world today. It evolves from kids not being surrounded by cohesive families and communities.  

A while back, I was watching a medical special about a 6-year-old kid in India who was born with the half-formed body of a twin attached to his abdomen.  He was taken to a hospital in New Delhi and a team of amazing surgeons removed the growth.  However, it wasn’t the medical feat that impressed me.  What struck me most was that when he came home, the entire village was outside with musical instruments and flags to welcome him back.  These impoverished people who don’t even have shoes, bathrooms, or air conditioning were all out there smiling and cheering for him.  I thought, “They may have virtually nothing, but at least they have intact families and a tight-knit community.”

Our kids, by and large, don’t have that.  As we all know from William Golding’s terrific book, Lord of the Flies, children who receive very little caring or involvement from their parents revert back to being monsters.  We need to realize that the problem is much bigger than violent video games – it’s how we’re raising our kids.

Eleven Ways to Kick Hurtful Habits

Old habits die hard.  Be it smoking, gossiping, raising your temper, pointing out others’ flaws, avoiding responsibility, or getting defensive, when something becomes familiar and comfortable, pathways get set up in the brain and it becomes a knee-jerk behavior. 

Here are a few tips on how to change a bad habit and be a better spouse, family member, or friend:  

1. Become aware of the problem.  When I was training to be a marriage and family therapist at USC, one of the things we would do is film sessions with families.  Then we would sit down with the families and let them watch the tapes.  It was amazing how many people would look at the videos and say, “I can’t believe I do that! I can’t believe I say that! I can’t believe I make those faces!”   It had been tough for them to see before because their behavior was so habitual and normal.  Therefore, when you discover or are confronted with something you do that hurts somebody else, don’t ignore it.

2. Be honest with yourself. Whether you have figured it out by yourself or it was pointed out to you, you have to acknowledge that you have hurt someone else.  You need to take a good look at yourself and admit you have a problem.  That’s the only way you’ll change your actions.

3. Apologize. Apologizing doesn’t just mean saying, “I’m sorry.”  It needs to be followed by, “What can I do to make up for it?”   The answer you get in response will help you find a way to make things right.  Furthermore, you can’t apologize and then do the same thing again. Repeating the hurtful behavior makes your apologies meaningless.

4. Think before you speak.  Before words come out of your mouth, ask yourself, “What do I really want to convey?  How will he or she interpret what I say?”  Anticipate people’s sensitivities. Take time to figure out what you’re going to say in a tactful manner, otherwise, button your lip.  Not everything that is true needs to be spoken.

5. Show empathy.  Instead of saying, “I don’t really understand why they’re getting so upset,” put yourself in your loved one’s shoes and feel what he or she is feeling.  One thing I used to do in private practice and still do with couples on the air is have one person defend the other’s point of view.  For example, if a husband comes home and isn’t very cuddly and friendly, his wife has to adopt his perspective.  She might say, “I had a long day at work and, on top of that, there was horrible traffic coming home.”  And then I do the reverse.  If a husband is complaining about why things aren’t neat when he comes home, he has to take on his wife’s point of view: “I had x number of things to do in addition to taking care of the kids, so I couldn’t make everything perfect.”  It’s amazing what a difference showing some understanding can make.  Just the look on the other person’s face when you defend why they do what they do is priceless.  (Just for fun, try playing this game tonight with your spouse!)                    

6. Control your temper. When you’re about to fly off the handle, remember the old “count to 10″ trick.

7. Practice, practice, practice. It takes about 30 or so repetitions to create a new habit, so stay with it.  As you probably know, one of my hobbies is shooting pool.  What’s fascinating to me is how if I miss a shot and try to do it again thinking I’m doing something different, I’ll hit it the exact same way.  I have to set up the shot seven or eight times until my brain sees it differently.  We’re like that with everything – it takes repetition for your brain to set down a new pattern and become comfortable with it.

8. Listen when others speak.  Instead of getting defensive and assuming everything is a criticism, allow other people to help you recognize certain ways you could improve.  Unless the person is downright mean and nasty, listen to them.  You may think they’re putting you down when they’re really trying to lift you up. 

9. Remember that relationships have to be a win-win.  If one of you loses in a relationship, you both do.  Always trying to “win” an argument is only going to cause more hurt.  For example, when a woman’s husband doesn’t want her to stay at home with their kids, I tell her to say how much more relaxed, loving, and available she’s going to be, and that she’s impressed with him as a man even though it’s going to be a little scary without the extra income.  That way it’s a win-win: he feels elevated and so does she.  If you can’t fix it so both of you feel like you’ve won something, then put the issue away and come back to it another day.

10. Believe in yourself.  You have to believe that you actually can change. Trying is no good – you have to do it!

11. Remind yourself that you want this.  You either want to be a better person or you don’t.  It’s that simple.