Category Archives: Family

How to Be a Good Son-in-Law

Why is being a good son-in-law such a big deal?   Well, statistically speaking, we see a significant drop in the divorce rate when men get along with their wives’ parents, especially their fathers.   But even more importantly, it affects kids.  Grandparents are very important to a child’s sense of well-being because they can add depth and security to the loving relationships in his or her life.  The better your relationship is with your in-laws, the easier it is for your child to grow close with them and have more positive role models. 
 
For these reasons, I recommend that people think seriously about potential in-law problems before they consider marriage.  If you’re walking into a situation where your future in-laws hate you, you may want to rethink whether or not this match is right for you. 

Losing family connections is bad for everyone involved, as I learned all too well from my own parents.  My mother was a war bride from Italy, and my father was a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn.  My dad’s mom did not like the fact that he had married outside the faith, even though the only thing Jewish about his family was that they were culturally Jewish and celebrated Passover and Yom Kippur.  My mother also didn’t speak English very well, which made my mean grandmother all the more vicious.  She used to call up my mom almost daily saying how she wished my mother and me were dead.  It was a source of great strife in my family.

The less familial the connection is with your in-laws, the less happy, secure, and supported your marriage is going to be. Period.  That’s why I advise couples to do at least six months of premarital counseling so they can cover these kinds of issues before they get married.     
   
So, assuming your in-laws are reasonable people, here’s a list of things for all you men out there on establishing a good relationship with your wife’s parents:

  • Respect their daughter and take good care of her.  I am not the mother of a daughter, but if I was, I’d be in the face of her future husband saying, “You’d better take care of my baby.  Treat her with respect, love, and protection.  The most important thing to me is that you don’t hurt her and that you make her happy.”
  • Be there when their daughter needs you.  I’ve heard too many stories about men who were too busy doing one dumb thing or another and missed the birth of their child.  If you’re not at the hospital with your wife when your baby is born, you’ll be missing out on a lot of great parent-child bonding.
  • Act and look like a respectable man. If you want to have a meaningful relationship with her parents, act like a real man.  Don’t look or behave like an idiot. 
  • Reach out to your father-in-law.  The relationship between a father and a daughter is special. It will mean a lot to your wife and your mother-in-law if you can build a relationship with your father-in-law.  Find things that you have in common with him and go from there. Invite him to a ball game, go with him to a local event, or simply take him to lunch. Just spend some “guy time” together.  And if you aren’t married yet, be sure to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage before you pop the question. This is a show of respect that he will appreciate.
  • Attend family gatherings and engage. Don’t be frivolous about not attending family gatherings.  Unless it’s unavoidable, never let your wife and kids go to a holiday gathering at her parents’ house alone – you are missing a fantastic opportunity to build upon your relationship with your in-laws and the extended family through conversation and a shared experience.
  • Build good relationships with their other children. Try to connect with your wife’s siblings and their
  • Consult with your wife on how to handle sticky situations.  If it seems like there’s a growing issue, consult with your wife.  She knows her parents better than you do.  If you think a situation is a little sensitive, ask her for advice on how to respond.

Above all, treat their daughter like a queen and not like one of Henry VIII’s wives you’re going to behead.  Simply put: be nice.  It doesn’t kill you to be nice, does it?

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.

Not Everything is Forgivable

I am really ticked off that so many experts, shrinks, religious leaders, and medical doctors say that if you’ve been wronged, regardless of how severely, you must forgive the person who wronged you or you are considered a bad person who will never heal.

I think that is some of the stupidest tripe I have ever heard expressed.

First of all, if unconditional forgiveness itself does not allow for judgment, how is it fair that other people can judge your virtue simply because you won’t find it in your heart to forgive somebody?  (Throw that at the next person who tries to judge you for not forgiving someone). 

Secondly, forgiveness focuses on the perpetrator.  A victim should not be fixated.  It freezes them and prevents them from getting on with their life. 

I want to tell you a story about someone who I have never forgiven.  This person – who shall remain nameless to protect their identity – was someone who I trusted to arrange something for me.  I put my mind, body, soul and savings into this experience, and this person did not take the responsibility to make sure serious information was checked.  And because of that, everything I put in was blown. 

They ruined something that meant a tremendous deal to me.  And, to top everything off, this person still wanted compensation.  I thought it would have been more professional and classy to say, “Since you did everything I asked you to do and I blew it, don’t pay me.”  But instead, they sent me a bill.  After some period of time, I finally told them, “The truth is I don’t, can’t and won’t forgive you.  This was your responsibility and you blew it.  You’ve been compensated, and I’m left here staring at my fingernails.”

As you can see, I expressed no forgiveness, and yet, I think it was still extremely healthy.  I get very frustrated hearing how many of you go through tragic situations or horrible things and then get pressured by people to forgive the person who wronged you.  The truth is, forgiving may be the worst thing you can do. 

Over the three decades I’ve been on the air, it has been horrifying to hear so many people say that they’ve been pressured to forgive a perpetrator.  I’ve listened to countless stories about families who have turned their backs on victims of crimes like sexual abuse because the victims wouldn’t keep their mouths shut, forgive their attacker, let things go, and get on with life.  There have been many women who have called in saying that they stood up to an abusive husband only to be cut off by their children because they wouldn’t forgive their abuser. 

That’s what makes a lot of people say, “I forgive you” – family members telling them that if they don’t forgive, there will be hell to pay.  Out of fear of being banished or messing up their family, many victims keep their hurt on the inside.  However, this becomes very toxic because they don’t and shouldn’t actually forgive their abusers. 

I say don’t give in to this pressure.  Most of the time, everyone in the family simply wants there to be forgiveness because it will make family functions seem normal.  But there are things that are unforgivable.

Another thing that infuriates me is when people say victims are supposed to forgive as a gift to their offender.  In my opinion, this takes responsibility away from the offender, and a lot of times, the forgiveness serves as a benefit to the offender.  I’ve seen sick things like people put on trial for molesting, torturing and killing children, and the parents say, “I forgive him.”  I just want to take those parents and slap them up one side and down the other.  Why?  Because they are betraying their children, that’s why.  They may be making themselves feel better and look really good, but they are betraying their children.  I find that despicable. 

After the Columbine High School shootings, mourners put flags on a hill with the names of the children who were murdered.  And beside them, somebody decided to put up flags for each of the psycho-creeps who shot them because they died too.  I went on the air that day stating that it was a desecration because showing compassion for evil is showing evil to the innocent.  That was one of the most disgusting displays of phony righteousness I have ever seen.  The parents who had lost their kids had to deal with flags for those creeps placed on the same soil as the ones for their murdered children. 

You should not forgive someone until they have earned the potential for forgiveness.  How do they earn it?  They need to follow the four “R’s”:

1) Responsibility — The perpetrator needs to take complete and absolute responsibility for what they’ve done.  They should not blame it on anyone else, their childhood, bullying, or moon spots.  If it was their own decision, they must take full responsibility for having made that decision without justification or excuses.

2) Remorse — The perpetrator must be truly remorseful.  Most people feel bad because they were caught or had to suffer consequences, however, that’s not true remorse.  The only problem with this step is that no other human being can tell for certain if another is truly remorseful.  People can say it, but we don’t really know what’s in their hearts. 

3) Repair — The perpetrator must do whatever it takes to repair the damage.  Some damage cannot be repaired.  I remember reading a story about a driver who plowed into a group of young people riding their bicycles.  One biker, who was a superior human being and an athlete, had his arms, legs, and just about every rib broken, and his brain would never be the same again.  People wanted the driver to be forgiven after creating a lifetime of torture for this young man.  To that, I say, “No!”

4) Repetition – The perpetrator must take whatever steps needed so that this action is never repeated.

A lot of you folks who simply forgive your drinking or philandering spouse over and over again only give them permission to repeat their behavior.  Don’t be weak. Follow the four R’s.

Everybody who has been hurt has to go through a grieving and healing process.  It often takes a long time.  No one can tell you how to do it or how fast to go.  If someone is obsessing over you not forgiving someone, tell them to leave you alone.

And if someone continues to lay judgment on you because you refuse to forgive what you consider an unforgivable act, send them to me.  There are things that are unforgivable.

Nightmarish Dream Weddings

The economy is really bad, and it’s not going to get better anytime soon.  Because finances are such an issue, practicality is especially important these days.  However, a lot of people still have delusions of grandeur about certain things like weddings.  Many of them watch too much reality television and get swept away by the fairy tale nonsense.   Instead of seeing a wedding as a stage for making vows to love, cherish, protect, hold dear, and support in sickness and in health, they (especially women) look at it as a major opportunity to be queen for a day.

The average couple spends $27,000 on their wedding. Talk about extravaganzas.  I think the reason for this is because women, in particular, are pressured by friends, family, and even strangers.  They are also victimized by media visions, such as all those incredible photos you see posted on Pinterest.  These kinds of things are what create the sense of fantasy and cause weddings to go way over budget. 

Sadly, what results is couples starting their lives together in debt and often without the resources to go on a honeymoon.  When you’re young, you already have a lot of bills.  If you’ve got $30,000 in student loans to pay off in addition to the wedding, you are not going to have enough money to live on.  Marriage is already tough enough without the added stress of money problems. 

In addition, parents borrow on their homes or dip into their retirement funds to pay for their kids’ weddings.  It’s not all that surprising seeing that couples, on average, spend $12,000 on the reception and $5,000 for the engagement ring.

We really need to simplify.  Love is simple and sweet.  You’re planning a celebration of vows, not the Academy Awards.  At a time when the median U.S. income is about $45,000, no one should be spending $27,000 on a single event.  In one article I read, a couple said, “If it were up to us, we would have a taco truck and a DJ.”   However, instead, women spend thousands and thousands of dollars on dresses that they are (hopefully) only going to wear one time.  What happened to this being a touching and meaningful occasion? 

If you want to cut down on your wedding costs, here are some helpful tips:

1. Avoid wedding seasonWedding season is traditionally May through October.  If you get married off season, things will be a lot cheaper.  In addition, avoid the highest-priced time charged by reception halls (Saturday at 7 p.m.). 

2. Limit the guest list.  When your parents and friends want to bring people you’ve never even heard of, you need to tell them “no.”   Your mom or dad might object, “But, I do business with these people!,” however, the answer is still “no.”  There should be nobody at your wedding that a) you don’t know, or b) you don’t think is there to support your vows.  I know that’s a novel concept these days, but it’s an important one.  You shouldn’t be walking around the room wondering, “Who the hell is that?”  If your parents want to invite business partners or other friends, let them have their own party at some other time and invite all these extraneous people to celebrate that their kid got married.

3. Consider having a wedding buffet, luncheon, brunch, or just a dessert reception instead of a multi-course wedding dinner.  You don’t need to have a major sit-down dinner.  You also don’t have to go overboard with desserts.  Most of the time, people have stuffed themselves and don’t want to eat a huge dessert.  You could offer them cookies or other itty bitty things instead.  And as for the booze – buy it yourself.  It’ll be much cheaper than having a catering hall provide it.

4. Rethink the location.  Consider having your wedding at a national park or the beach.  Ask a relative or friend to use their backyard.  I’ve had several friends’ weddings in my backyard.  I said to them, “Do you know how much money you are going to save if you just have your wedding at my house?  We can rent some tables and spiff it up.   It has got a beautiful view, and most importantly, it’s free.  That’s a good price.”

5. Save on flowers and decor.  Instead of spending a ton of money on floral arrangements, buy some small, inexpensive vases and dress them up with ribbons and other accessories.  Then, get your flowers from the grocery store.  It’s as simple as that.

6. Cut down on attire.  Attire accounts for 10 percent of the average wedding cost.  Did you know that you can rent a gown?  Check out sample sales, department stores and outlet stores.  You don’t have to pay $2,000-7,000 for a dress you’re not going to wear again.  Even if you get divorced and remarried four times, you’re probably not going to wear that same dress. And, if you try to sell a $5,000 dollar dress, you may only get $750 for it.   It’s a ridiculous expense – rent a gown for the night.

7. Go for a DJ instead of live music.  Couples spend an average of 8 percent of their wedding expenses on music.  DJs are very popular these days, and they are much cheaper than hiring a live band.

8. Get an amateur to take your photos and videos.  Why go through all the hassles and fights you’re bound to have with a professional photographer?  Hire an amateur.  Check out the local colleges where people are studying photography and find somebody there.  Or, like one wedding I went to, put disposable cameras on every table so that your guests can take pictures of each other.  You’ll end up with quite a lot of pictures. 

9. Send your wedding invitations via email.  I recently got invited to a baby shower via Evite.  All I had to do was click “yay” or “nay” to RSVP.  It was very cute.  Something like that is a whole lot less expensive than the 42 different envelopes packed into one with all the tissue paper and stamps.  Forget all that. Use the net.

10.  Don’t have so many bridesmaids, and let them wear their own choice of attire.  It saves money and makes everybody happier.  Give them a color scheme and say, “Whatever it is, it needs to be ____ shade of blue.”  You can even send them all a swatch of that shade for comparison.  In addition, you only need to have one or two bridesmaids.   You are not one of the royals in England. 

Nowadays, people tend to spend more time on the desserts and who’s going to sit where than they do on what they’re actually committing to: their sacred vows.  Keep it simple, keep it sweet, and most importantly, keep it meaningful.

Death by Suicide at an All-Time High

I recently read an article  which stated that suicide has now surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of injury-related death in the United States.  From 2000 to 2009, the suicide death rate went up 15 percent.  That blew my mind.  It’s scary to think that so many people are finding it necessary to deal with their pain in an irreversible way.

Interestingly enough, the literature shows that people are committing suicide for the standard reasons: substance abuse, mental illness, a family history of violence, depression, etc.  So why is suicide on the rise?

Suicide basically stems from a person’s lack of hope for the future.  They are convinced that things won’t change or get better, and they feel helpless, hopeless, and worthless.  They hate themselves, feel like a burden on others (especially when the person is older), and have an “everybody would be better off without me” kind of attitude.

What the person doesn’t realize is that they still have a lot to offer.  That’s probably one of the most important considerations in giving someone hope: they need to believe that they are valuable.

Where there is community, familiarity, bonding, and connections with community and family, you’re going to find a lower suicide death rate.  One of the problems we have in our society as it has evolved is that the morality of obligations and sacrifice has pretty much gone by the wayside.  People are up, out, and gone.  I think the dissolution of our families and community has a lot to do with the increased instances of suicide because people feel helpless, hopeless and isolated more than ever. 

Years ago, if someone’s barn burned down, everybody within 50 miles would come with wood, nails, paint, and food.  They would set up shop and rebuild that person’s property.  If there was a death in someone’s family, the community pulled together.  People lived close to each other and very few had to go it alone.  Kids were more surrounded by family and other kids in reasonable neighborhoods.  Yes, of course there were still jerks, but you were able to survive things much better because you felt like your back was always being watched.

Even though there have been many advances in medicine and technology, a lot of people today are feeling lonely, desperate, hopeless, and helpless.  Little kids are growing up in homes where their parents get divorced, bring other boyfriends and girlfriends into the picture, and shack up.  People make some babies here and other babies there, and they don’t even bother to give their kids a mother AND a father because they don’t feel like their kids need that.  As a result, a lot of kids are growing up without intact, supportive families.  It’s interesting that when a kid or teenager commits suicide, people often attribute it to bullying rather than looking at their family or community dynamics (abuse, hostile home environment, etc).  They are trying to pin the wrong tail on the donkey. 

It’s very sad that more and more of our fellow human beings are feeling so tragically lost.  I think kids these days don’t have a lot to look forward to.  When I was young, your future was, more often than not, clear and secure in your mind if you finished high school.  You either got a job or went to college.  After college, you either got a job or went to graduate school.  Somewhere along the line, you got married, had a family, and built ties with extended family and neighbors.  Sure, the future had some bifurcations and you needed to make choices, but for the most part, things were pretty clear.  You knew you were going to get a job and have a family.  

Nowadays, kids grow up not knowing if they are going to be able to have either one.

The teenage years are messy to begin with.  Teens have a lot of pressure to succeed, and they desperately want to fit in.  If a kid feels they have no support, especially at home, it’s tough for them to be hopeful. 

I think many articles about suicide leave out a large part of the truth because it is bound to offend somebody.  Truth is often excised from information today because as a society, we’ve made “not offending anybody” the highest priority.  However, I find it offensive that we don’t deal with things openly and honestly because people are paying a price for it.  For example, here are some common misconceptions about suicide.
 
Do I feel that suicide is ever justified?  Yes, I do.  If a person is terminal, not getting any better, and suffering from intolerable pain, I think it is cruel to keep them in that position.  Denying someone an alternative, peaceful way out when they are going out anyway doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.  However, in any other situation, I do not think suicide is justified.  There’s a way out of everything, except death.   

If you have even a NOTION that someone is suicidal, call 911 and have them hauled off for a 72-hour hold with a psychiatric team to figure out what needs to be done.  Many times, the person doesn’t give much indication, or everyone is too busy to notice.  Sometimes it’s even a little bit of both.  But, if someone mentions suicide, you need to take it seriously.

In addition, if someone you know takes his or her own life, you have to remember that the person who kills themselves ultimately takes full responsibility for their death – not you or anyone else.  I’ve worked with so many parents and spouses who believe they should have known.   However, unless you’re psychic, you may not be able to know. 

The one thing you can do is reconsider the atmosphere you have at home and the support you give your family, friends, and people around you.  We’re losing that sense of connection and purposefulness that comes from forming bonds between each other, and we need to get it back.