Tag Archives: Listen

Affair-Proof Your Marriage

There are two kinds of people who have affairs.  The first are just bad people.  Their self-indulgence and untrustworthiness stems from low character, not a troubled marriage.  If it feels good to them, they’ll do it.

It’s a dumb waste of money to spend time in counseling with a serial cheater.  If your spouse has been unfaithful more than once and refuses to be held accountable for their actions, your appointment should not be with a marriage therapist – it should be with a divorce lawyer (and a really good one at that).

The second type of cheater isn’t “bad,” they simply may be going outside the marriage to have their needs met.  Now, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: I’m not saying that there’s any excuse for someone to have an affair. Affairs are bad and there is no justification for breaching your vows.  All I’m doing is giving an explanation for why some people have them.

I can’t tell you how many times callers on my show have told the lie, “My spouse’s affair came out of nowhere and took me completely by surprise.” I say “lie” because after a bit of questioning, they admit about 99.8 percent of the time that there were problems:

“He complained that we weren’t having sex.”
“She complained that I never listened or helped around the house…”

The bottom line: their spouse wasn’t being fed.

Typically, the person who has been cheated on jumps to blame instead of looking at their participation in their spouse’s fooling around.  They make it all about how they’ve been hurt, and ignore the fact that they’ve betrayed their vows by not supporting or paying attention to their spouse.

If you can understand how you’ve contributed to a hungry spouse going out to a different restaurant, you can start making the menu better at your home, and the whole thing could be reversed.  Blaming isn’t useful – explaining the issue(s) is.

Knowing whether it was an emotional or physical affair is also important.  The distinction allows you to see what was missing in the marriage.  What was so appealing about that person or situation?

One of the letters in my book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, is from a high-paid, ex call girl. In the letter, she explains how most of the married men who came to her were not particularly focused on having sex.  Instead, they wanted to have dates with wine, roses, hugging, talking, and taking baths together.  Why? Because their wives didn’t act like their girlfriends.

So, with that in mind, let me give you some suggestions on how to be your husband’s girlfriend/wife’s boyfriend and affair-proof your marriage:

1. Choose wisely.  If you’re dating someone who’s spent time going from sexual partner to sexual partner or shacked up before you met them, then their lifestyle is not one of monogamy.  That’s one of the many reasons why I advise against people having a lot of sexual partners – it becomes easy to turn to because you’re so familiar with it.

2. Don’t ignore your spouse’s complaints. Whether it’s about housework, money, affection, in-laws, or texting, when your spouse tries to express the reasons for his or her unhappiness, you need to listen.  You don’t have to necessarily agree with every point they’re bringing up, but you do need to acknowledge their discomfort and do something to improve the situation.

3. Don’t let sex fall off the radar.  Sex is a big part of marriage, and people who are having regular, good sex with each other tend not to get as pissy about the small stuff.  It’s amazing what a big eraser great sex is to small annoyances.

4. Wake up every morning, look at your spouse, and think about three things you could do to make them happy they’re alive and married to you.  Show appreciation as opposed to having a complaint.

5. Put down the damn cell phone!  Stop texting and talk to your spouse. It’s pretty crummy to feel second-fiddle to a smartphone.

6. Talk to your spouse as though you love them. You love this person – so act like it!  Always ask yourself, “Would a person who loved this person behave/talk this way?”

7. Have fun family and marital rituals. Put the kids to bed and watch a movie, take walks, or play a game together.  Just have some fun with each other.

If you do these things, the chances that one of you will have an affair will be somewhere between zero and none.

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. 

How to Not Lose a Friend

Friends are really important.  They make you feel anchored to the world, and without them, you feel lonely, isolated, and depressed.  They care about you and do things with you.  You can talk to different friends about different things – you can blow off steam, you can get feedback, or you might receive a badly needed dose of comeuppance and become a better person.  But most importantly, it feels good knowing it matters to other people that you exist.    

But even when people have great friends, they somehow still manage to screw it all up.  Here are some steps you can take to prevent losing a friend:

The best way to ruin a wonderful friendship is to make negative assumptions.  If a friend doesn’t call you for four days, you assume they don’t like you, they forgot you, or they are being rude and insensitive.  You lament that they should know you are going through stuff.  However, instead of making negative assumptions, you could just pick up the phone and say, “Hey, are you OK?  I haven’t heard from you, so I was concerned about you.” 

That’s a friend – the other is a parasite. 

Gossiping and betraying someone’s trust is another way to ruin a friendship.  Talking to anyone about your friend’s personal issues, feelings, and thoughts is a huge betrayal.

Failing to reciprocate.  One of my main definitions of a friendship is that it’s reciprocal.  Now, that doesn’t mean you have to do the same things back and forth, that’s sort of silly (i.e. you got me a piece of bread, so I need to get you one).  Reciprocating means making an effort to do something benevolent for the other person (e.g. getting your friend bread if they’re hungry, or helping them untangle their hair if their hair is tangled). 

Talking and not listening.  Somebody ruined a friendship with me by not listening and only talking.  She didn’t even listen when I tried to talk to her about not listening.  I took her hands in mine, sat really close to her so that we were almost nose to nose, and told her that I loved her and enjoyed doing things with her, but there was an issue.  I told her that I couldn’t talk to her about anything without her stopping me and talking about herself.  I talked about how it always got either intrusive or competitive (i.e. I couldn’t talk to her about a toe without her stopping me to tell me that she had 20 toes).  She said she was sorry and that things would change, but they never did.  So we took a break.  The break has lasted two years, and it has been good.  It’s not that she is a bad person, she’s just not a good friend.

You need to have an attitude in life that your problems are not more important than anyone else’s.  There are a lot of people who have a problem hither and thither, and they are just horrible to everybody.  We all are a little grumpier or more reserved when we are stressed out, but when that happens, just hold up a Post-it note that reads, “I’m stressed out beyond comprehension, don’t take anything I say seriously.”  Just communicate it any way you can, and make it fun.

Another way to ruin a friendship is failing to stay in touch.  With technology these days, there is almost no excuse for not staying in contact.  You can send a text or an email if you don’t want to lick a stamp, or you can video chat.

You also lose friends by only making use of them when you need them.  When you don’t need them, they get dismissed.  You have to do things to nurture the friendship.  Think of cute things to say to them and do with them.  Ask them how they are doing.  If they have a lot on their plate, tell them that you’re worried and ask if there is anything you can do to lighten the load.  Even if they say no, talking to you may be just what they needed. 

If you know your friend is having an exhausting time with a new baby or some other crisis, come over one night with a fully prepared dinner in Tupperware, hand it to them, and then turn around and leave.  Little things like that show you are thinking of him or her.  Don’t be stingy.  Give more than you get.

Don’t sneak around with your friend’s spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many people say that their husband or wife left them for their best friend.  Excuse me?  “Best friends” don’t become intimate with each other’s boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, or wives.  You just don’t do that.

Another tip: learn to compromise and don’t be competitive with their other friends and family.  Just because they don’t do A, B and C with you, appreciate that they do L, G and H with you.  Don’t make them feel stressed out to the point where they feel like they have to choose between you and the rest of the universe.  And if your friend wants to try something new, don’t say no.   People get a little compulsive about their comfort zones.  Both you and your friend should stretch out and try new things. 
 
Don’t make fun of their errors all the time.  I have a friend named Sam who I play tennis with.  One day he was eating dinner at our house after a game, and we started making jokes.  Because he had missed a shot, he sighed and said, “Does that mean I can’t have salad?”  It has become a running joke between the two of us.  Whenever we miss shots we should have made, we keep going back and forth with which parts of dinner we should and shouldn’t get.  You can have a good time poking fun, but don’t belittle each other.

Lastly, act like a friend, not a parent.  You can’t control how other people behave.  If you see your friend being self-destructive in any way, tell them, “It just kills me to see you hurting yourself like this because this is in your control.  It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.”  That’s not being a parent, that’s being a friend.  If their self-destructive behavior becomes more typical, then you have to draw a line.  You’re not telling them how to act – you’re telling them what your expectation of a friend is.  If they don’t fall into that category, then they’re not a friend and they’re not somebody you should put effort into. 

Let’s say, for example, that you have a friend who is married with little kids and is flagrantly having an affair.  I would discuss it with them several times, talk about the impact on the kids, their marriage, etc.  If that doesn’t work, I would ultimately say, “I don’t have friends who betray the people who love them and are willing to have fun at the expense of their kids’ well-being.  I am not interested in putting effort into somebody like that as a friend.”   If they respond by saying, “Oh, well you’re just being judgmental,” you just say back, “Damned straight I am, except I’m judging you as ‘friend’ material.  Whether you’re ‘mother’ or ‘wife’ material is certainly not in my venue.  All I’m judging is whether or not I want to call somebody who is doing this my friend.” 

That’s the kind of discussion you should be having and feel no guilt about.

Improve Your Relationship – Argue!

Did you know that arguing can actually help your relationship?

The best way to elucidate this point is to talk about an argument I had with a friend of mine.  While we were having dinner one night, the conversation shifted to the topic of art.  My friend started telling me a story about a South African artist who had gotten a huge ball of plasticine (a type of plastic material) and rolled it through the streets of a number of poverty-ridden cities in South Africa to make a statement about violence and poverty.  The ball was then displayed in a museum for people to come and say “ooo” and “aww.”  Well I just thought this was too funny and laughed. 

However, he didn’t intend for his story to be funny.  

My friend, who I have known for five or six years and who has always been the most mellow human being on the face of the Earth, got pretty passionate (what I didn’t know at the time was when he was younger, he worked in that museum and it was his responsibility to dust off the ball each night).  And this only made me laugh harder.  I mean he was exhibiting such intense emotional reverence for a big plastic ball that picked up trash!

But then I saw he wasn’t just being passionate.  He was clearly upset.  I just looked at him and said, “OK, let me understand this.  The guy took a huge ball of goopy plastic, rolled it through streets to pick up garbage, and it ended up in a museum?!”  This just seemed like the plot of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” to me.  There was nothing he planned, this was not creative, and whatever got stuck stayed.  How the hell could anybody call that art? 

Well he did, and the situation didn’t get any better.  He then mentioned another very famous German artist who just painted a canvas black, but it was considered a great piece because of the way the brushstrokes reflected light.  At this point, I lost it all together.  I was the laughing version of inconsolable.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I have to tell you, if it looks like I can do it, it’s not art (I don’t think Pollock throwing paint on a canvas is art either).  For me, an entity is attractive or it’s not.  I don’t care who made it, what their political history was, if they were rich or poor, or if they had emotional, mental, or physical problems.  My friend, on the other hand, thinks a piece of art has no intrinsic value unto itself.  For him, art is tied to history, biography, era, and circumstance – something has artistic value because of the surrounding context.   I could not agree less.  I don’t think that’s art, I think that’s a personal statement.  I think art is supposed to be attractive, passionate, and powerful without all that surrounding stuff.  For example, as I pointed out to my friend, if you suddenly found out that the big plastic ball of garbage was created by Donald Trump, it would no longer be meaningful.

However, through this argument, we came to a deeper understanding about each other.  I called him up the next day, apologized, and told him I now had a better understanding and appreciation about something that was so emotionally personal to him.  I just said we probably wouldn’t go art shopping together, and we shared a good laugh.

Arguments, especially between you and someone you care about, should be constructive and bring about a deeper understanding.  Here are a few general tips for arguing in your marriage:

Only argue about one thing at a time.  Don’t start bringing up history or other subjects, and don’t wait until you have a long list of disappointments to airTalk about things as they happen and you’ll avoid feeling ferocious from holding in your frustration.

Argue very gently.  Don’t criticize, name-call, or blame.  Arguing is not about abuse – it’s about stating your needs clearly and respectfully.  Try as hard as you can to figure out what the other person is talking about and what they want without being defensive.  If you’re getting defensive, just tell them you’re getting a little hot under the collar and to give you 30 minutes to go for walk, take a shower, or make a cup of tea.  Say you’ll finish the discussion later.  And during the break, don’t rehearse what you’re going to argue about.  Just calm yourself down. 
 
Listen to each other.  People have different personalities, tastes, histories (family, emotional, and psychological), needs, goals, and dreams.  There’s only one reason couples grow apart: they haven’t reached out to each other, expressed what’s on their minds, or taken what the other person has expressed and done anything constructive with it.  People do not naturally grow apart – it’s totally voluntary.  If you’re having a discrepancy with your husband or wife about decorating your house, for example, you need to communicate.  Ask each other what makes you feel comfortable in a home.  Not all the rooms have to be the same style.  Compromising and giving the other person something they dream about is all part of love.  In my house, if one of us says we really don’t like something, it doesn’t come into the house.  We just keep looking until we can find something we both like.  (Now, fortunately we have relatively similar tastes, such as not wanting a lot of beads hanging from anything).

Stay focused on the solution to the problem.  I once read a story about the CEO of a cancer research company who actually encouraged arguing because as opposed to getting input from a bunch of “yes” men and women, the arguments would foster new ideas.  And when the arguments got heated or off track, he would just say, “Hey, let’s remember why we’re here – to cure cancer.  Keeping focused on the mutual goal is very important.  For example, the next time you and your spouse are trying to go out to the movies and there are dishes to put away, don’t stand there fighting about who did the dishes the last time.  Just keep focused and say, “We have to get this crap out of the way so we can go to the movies.”  Get it done without the ego of who did what.  The point is to find a solution.  

The real purpose of arguing is to come to some kind of agreement or compromise.  The main point of arguing is not to win (you could even put that on little three-by-five cards around the house).  Having a useful argument means you’ve learned something about yourself and about your partner.  Always remember you love each other.  

As many of you know, I take pool lessons.  The hardest thing for me to learn was that dropping the ball in the pocket is not the goal.  Instead, you’re supposed to play for that incredible feeling of when you make the perfect stroke exactly in sync.  The point is the feeling, not winning a particular point.

So, the next time you’re arguing with someone you love, remember the point is not to win the point – it’s to experience the feeling of being in sync.