Category Archives: Marriage

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. 

Listen Up, Ladies! Ten Reasons to Ditch a Guy

In general, people say you shouldn’t pass judgment on others.  Well actually, when it comes to dating, you should.  When you date, you’re supposed to discern what is good, bad, right, wrong, healthy, and unhealthy about a person.  You need to know when to pull the plug because if you don’t, you’re going to experience misery, anguish, and frustration, and waste a hell of a lot of time.

Although I could discuss the topic both ways, I’m going to focus on the ladies.  Here are 10 reasons to ditch a guy:

Reason #1: He’s base when talking about women
You know the music where the singer calls women “hos”?  That sort of thing.  If he leers, acts snotty, calls women “bitches,” or worse, it’s not a good plan to be dating him because his disrespect for women in general also includes you.

Reason #2: He’s a momma’s boy
Relationships are filled with enough decisions to be worked out between the two of you – it doesn’t need to be the three of you.  If his mom handpicks everything from his career path to his apartment, take caution.  I assure you my son’s apartment was definitely not selected or decorated by his mother (even if his taste is, as I like to say, “Eclectic”).

Reason #3: He’s primarily interested in himself
If everything is about his opinions, his concerns, and his dreams, or he likes to hear himself talk, then he’s not really interested in you to any great depth.  You’re just a window dressing on his life.

Reason #4: He has addiction issues
If he has had any trouble with drugs, gambling, or alcohol, don’t even bother.  That often requires a whole lifetime of management and counseling.  Instead of marrying into it, go to school and get a license to be a clinical social worker – that way at least you’ll get paid to do it.

Reason #5: He’s not honest and/or trustworthy
Now, I’m not talking about him saying, “Of course I enjoy your cooking,” and then going out to get a taco when he says he’s putting gas in the car.  That’s what we call telling a “white lie” in order to avoid hurting your feelings.  I’m talking about major things: He says he has never been convicted of a felony and you find out he’s got a rap sheet, or he swears he doesn’t have an STD and then you end up with a little surprise.  Big lies like, “I’ve never been married before,” or, “No, I don’t have kids,” set the foundation for a lack of trust, and if you can’t trust your man, you’re in store for a lifetime of anxiety, frustration, and big-time drama. 

Reason #6: He’s negative
You know the type: He doesn’t like his job, thinks everyone on the road is an idiot, and pouts about nothing ever going his way.  Everybody has bouts of negativity (I know I do), but dealing with a constantly negative person is draining.  It will eventually drag you – and the relationship – down.  If you’ve got a guy who is negative all the time, dump him.

Reason #7: He’s got Peter Pan Syndrome
Guys like this seem charming because they act like kids or perpetual teenagers.  However, unless a guy can take emotional and fiscal responsibility, you don’t have yourself a real man.

Reason #8: He lacks ambition
This funnels from reason #7.  He needs to have a goal – any type of goal.  Life is a challenge, and if you don’t want somebody who isn’t going to protect and provide for you, don’t stay with someone who has no passion or ambition.  A guy who gets fired and then sits back and doesn’t look for a job isn’t the kind of man you want.  If he’s got a “why bother” attitude about life, you should have a “why bother” attitude about him.

Reason #9: He’s a cheater
Life is short.  The last thing you want to do is spend your time worrying about who your guy is in bed with.  I think there should be a one-strike law: If you’ve made a promise to each other that you’re not going to date other people anymore and he strays, dump him.  Don’t accept any excuses.

Reason #10: He isn’t good boyfriend material
Though somebody may look good on paper, if they don’t mesh very well with your lifestyle, family, or friends, you don’t want to have a future with them.  Otherwise, it’s going to be a lifetime of dealing with them not bothering or caring, and making a mess when they can’t fit in.

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Video: My Daughter Keeps Returning to Her Addict Husband

What can a parent do when an adult child chooses poorly, but creates a beautiful grandchild?  This grandmother doesn’t know what to do when her daughter keeps returning to her addict husband creating a destructive home life for her granddaughter.  You know I’ve got an opinion on this!  Watch:

Read the transcript.

Rekindling the Bedroom Flame

Sex doesn’t just happen like it does in the movies.  People are not always swept away with fireworks and mutual orgasms.  Instead, human beings have to learn how to make love.  Unlike dogs, cats, birds, and other animals that have sex as an instinctive joining for procreation, for humans it’s a learned behavior.

When people look at porn or read romance novels (the female version of porn), they think that’s how sex is supposed to be.  However, it takes time to get to know each other’s bodies and communicate (which is usually the part people don’t do).  Oftentimes, couples feel embarrassed or think certain things are taboo.

This is where sex therapy comes in.  Most people believe that something has to be broken in order for them to go to sex therapy. However, the first thing you should know is that you don’t have to wait until there’s a sexual problem in your relationship before you get help.  After many years of habits forming and walls going up, certain feelings and behaviors get entrenched and often become hard to reverse.   A lot of divorces could be avoided if people dealt with these things sooner.

There are all kinds of events and experiences which get in the way of people feeling comfortable, relaxed, and open.  If there’s a medical issue (cancer treatment, surgical procedure, physical disability, etc.), a history of sexual abuse or rape, or perhaps lovemaking has simply slipped from your schedule, sex therapy can help with a number of areas.

The goal is to talk about your feelings, thoughts, and fantasies with your spouse and put them out there for the therapist to examine.  If a guy is too quick to the draw or a woman can’t seem to be able to reach an orgasm, these kinds of issues can be addressed openly and honestly. It’s all about sexual and emotional enhancement, and having some fun too!

Now let me dispel one fear right off the bat.  When you go to sex therapy, you don’t have sex in the office.  Some people think, “Oh my gosh, are we going to have to get naked and do stuff in front of the therapist?!”  No, you don’t.  And by the way, if you do go to somebody who tells you to get naked and do things, get out of there and report them.

If you’re not feeling satisfied, if you’re dealing with erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, if you want to experiment but your spouse doesn’t (or vice versa), if painful issues from your past are interring, or if you feel like infidelity is the only answer, then you and your spouse should see a sex therapist.

That being said, not all sexual issues require therapy.  I have some tips for you and your spouse to try first:

In the beginning of a terrific relationship, most people are in the mood most of the time.  But with careers, kids, and the house, life becomes busy with demands and responsibilities.  People underestimate the importance of hugging, touching, and loving on a daily basis.  You need to make time for each other.  Be sure to talk about something more than what bills need to be paid or what has to happen tomorrow. 

When you’ve made time together, it’s important not to expect that you will both be aroused and filled with desire immediately.  In addition, don’t stick to a formula.  For example, “I do this same thing to turn him/her on and then we go to sleep” isn’t romantic.  Playful interaction is important.  Think about it as improvisational jazz or a dance: make it spontaneous and have some fun with it.

Moreover, don’t make the orgasm the be-all, end-all.  It’s been calculated that we spend eight hours of our lives in orgasm.  That’s not a lot of time.  Having an orgasm is great, but it’s not necessarily the point.  Your focus should be on the amount of time spent lovemaking or else you’ll miss out on a lot of fun.

Most importantly, communication is the best way to get positive feedback.  When you go to an expensive restaurant, you take time with the menu, you discuss the possibilities, you savor every bite, you share from each other’s plates, and you talk about the meal afterwards – the presentation, the flavors, the sauces, the ingredients, etc.  Do the same with sex (e.g. “I love it when you touch me exactly like that.”).  Talking about sex does not take the romance away, and in fact, giving feedback to your partner about what you find pleasurable is a wonderful gift because then he or she knows they’re not failing. 

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?

Hey Baby, What’s Your Credit Score?

I believe the answer to having a happy, long-lasting marriage is relatively simple:

First, no two people between the ages of 20 and 40 should date without having met each other’s families.  The man especially should meet the girl’s family and convince her father (hopefully there is one in the house) that he is a worthy competitor for his daughter’s hand.  Young women these days are far too immodest and free with their minds, bodies, and souls to have good sense about what they’re doing.  We don’t call it being slutty anymore – we call it “hooking up.”  We ought to go back to the days where a young man had to convince a girl’s family that he was worthy to court their daughter.

Second, all couples should spend six months in premarital counseling before they tie the knot.  Roughly 20 percent of people who go through premarital counseling realize they’re not a match, and the other 80 percent enjoy better marriages.

What it really comes down to is choosing wisely.  If you’re not being treated well two years into the courtship, you should hit the eject button.

There are many factors to choosing wisely.  Men, for example, need to discern whether or not a woman is going to take care of their babies (i.e. suckling them at her breast and not farming out motherhood to a nanny or day care center).  However, one quality that is constantly overlooked by both men and women is their date’s credit score.

Credit (especially for men but also for women) is an important attribute.  There are now sites such as creditscoredating.com and datemycreditscore.com which help people make sure they’re connecting with somebody who isn’t in debt or irresponsible with money.  This is especially important for young people who may bring tens of thousands of dollars in student debt to a relationship.

The New York Times recently interviewed more than 50 daters under 40 from around the country and found that many of them regarded a good credit score as a prerequisite for a good date.  No kidding.  What is the point of being with someone who is totally irresponsible with money and can’t support a family?

As the Times reported, “It’s a shorthand way to get a sense of someone’s financial past the same way an S.T.D. test gives some information about a person’s sexual past.”  Some people may think this vetting process goes too far, but I disagree.  According to an article in Time magazine:

“Landlords and lenders may look at your credit score to help determine if you are worth taking a chance on.  Even employers may do a credit check on you.  Why not a prospective mate?  How you handle money says a lot about your ability to be organized and responsible.  Why would anyone with options risk falling for someone likely to bring heavy debt and poor spending and saving habits to a [marriage]?”

I’m thunderstruck at how many women call my program with some variation of, “We’ve been dating for two years, but he never has any money because he spends it all on (fill in the blank).”  I mean please.  Too few women show any sense these days.  That’s why I think marriages should be arranged again.  I know it sounds terribly insulting, but it’s true.  The divorce rate would plummet.

If you have poor credit, read this Time article for tips on how to improve it.