Tag Archives: Relationships

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 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?

How to Say ‘No’

Are you scared of saying “no” to people?  Are you worried that you’ll look bad, not be liked, or come across as rude or selfish if you do? 

Sometimes we don’t want to say “no” because we think we’ll lose a friend or we want to help everybody.  But saying “no” doesn’t mean you’re rude or disagreeable.  It also doesn’t necessarily mean that there are going to be fights or burned bridges.  These are false beliefs we concoct in our minds.  It really all depends on how we say “no”.     

There are good ways and bad ways to say “no”.  The first thing you ought to do, if it’s at all reasonable, is to ask the person to let you think about their request.  You may not have the time or the wherewithal to handle what they’ve asked you to do because of some other responsibility or commitment you have.  Ask them to give you a night to think on it.  That way, it’s a “maybe”, not a “no”, and they at least feel like you have considered it.  If you realize that you really can’t do it, you need to tell them “no” but also say something positive.  The best way to say “no” is to a) say something positive and b) promise something else.  For example, say, “I really wish I could do ___ for you.”  (That’s positive).  Then follow it up with, “Although I can’t do ___, I can do ___.” 

This concept applies to all your relationships from work to your clubs and organizations.  Simply say, “Even though I really wanted to find a way to make ___ happen, I couldn’t.  However, I can do ___. 

Another tip: Give them a good reason why you can’t do something, not a list of excuses.  “I sprained my ankle, my kid’s off from school at that time, etc.” may all be legitimate reasons why you can’t do something for someone, but you should only give one.  You may think giving more excuses makes you look better, but in fact, it makes you look worse.  If you start giving multiple excuses, it looks like you really don’t want to do it.  If you tell the other person in one sentence, “I’m sorry, I would really like to do ___ for you, but my mother and father are coming to town and I haven’t seen them in quite a while,” it seems more like you give a darn.

Sometimes you may not be the best person for the job.  Tell them that.  Say, “I’d really like to do that, but I don’t think I’m the best person because I’m not good at ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’.  But Bill or Mary is.” 

Somebody recently contacted me online at my Dr. Laura Designs store asking me if I could do a particular project for an event.  I told them that I would look into it.  I didn’t want to say “yes” because I didn’t know anything about how to do the particular craft, and I didn’t want to promise anything I couldn’t do.  I did some research and realized that the learning curve for me to figure out how to do it would probably be a month, and the project was due in a week.  So I responded back I would have loved to be able to do it but I couldn’t because I didn’t know how and couldn’t figure it out in time for the event.  I felt bad.  I don’t like to disappoint people and I really do like a challenge, but time constraints and my lack of expertise made it difficult for me to follow through. 

Finally, if you don’t want to help someone because you think they’re using you or they’re just a crummy person, you don’t need to say so.  Even though you may be thinking, “I hate your guts and I’d rather eat frogs than help you,” that’s not the kind of thing you should say to anybody unless you really want to get them out of your life for good.  It’s always nicer to tell a truth that isn’t so ugly.  Simply say, “I regret that I’m not able to do this for you.  I hope you can find somebody else to help you,” as opposed to, “Drop dead!” or, “Go to hell!”   

Learning to say “no” is important because many of you let other people devour your lives out of a false sense of obligation.  You end up having too much on your plate, which means you won’t do any of it very well, and that’s not morally right.  Sometimes you have to disappoint people in order to maintain healthy follow-through on the obligations you already have. 

 

Relationships Make You Grow

Hooking up, shacking up, or having sex with someone within 20 minutes of meeting them does nothing to help you grow.  These types of behaviors stifle you and set you back.  Only relationships help you grow. 

A healthy relationship means choosing wisely and treating kindly.  I’m not saying it has to be perfect – that’s never the case.  However, in a good relationship, you and your partner have each other’s interests at heart, and you each feel like you are changing for the better.  You feel very secure, and it allows you to relax.

It’s amazing how much better your mind and body work when you have some level of peace and a sense of security.   I can’t tell you how many times people have called my show saying that they feel they’re lacking in some area for one reason or another, and I ask them, “So, are you saying that your husband/wife is stupid?  Because they seem to think you’re nice, attractive, talented, and interesting.”   A big reason relationships help you grow is because your partner usually sees something objectively that has been hard for you to accept emotionally.   It’s not unusual for you to start rejecting your distorted, self-critical perception of yourself when your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend, who you admire tremendously and love, sees you more positively than you see yourself. 

There was one woman who I had in therapy a while back who went through this very process.  When she came to me, she was the stereotypical dumb blonde.  She had overly bleached hair, huge boobs, and a dingy way of speaking.  Then one day when we were talking in a session, she started to analyze something quite intelligently and articulately.   I just sat there with my eyes opened wide like a kid in a candy store for the first time.  I realized that behind this dumb blonde shtick was a very smart woman.  After gently nudging her for a while, I got her to start attending community college.   She would bring me papers she’d written for her philosophy class, and I remember reading them thinking, “Wow, I could never have written this. It’s brilliant!”  She went on to graduate, and she now has an esteemed position.  I am very proud of her.   

For this woman, the turning point was simply me believing in her. She had come from a very disruptive and destructive family, and she had been into every drug known to man (it’s a miracle she was still alive).  However, because I believed in her, she decided to believe in herself.  The same goes for intimate relationships.  When you are in a quality relationship and your dearly beloved believes in you, you believe in yourself.

Relationships also help you become a better person because your partner introduces you to new things.  They’ve probably had a million different experiences you haven’t.  Generally speaking, you get introduced to terrific things and expand your attributes and talents.  You learn to do sports or hobbies you would have never thought of doing, like watching science fiction movies or going whitewater rafting. 

In addition, your partner’s good habits will rub off on you.  Whether it’s their ability to cope emotionally, their physical fitness level, their commitment to eating right, their knack for managing finances, or their choice of friends, you can benefit from their good habits.  This happens a lot in marriages.   For example, if one spouse is more hyper than the other, the hyper one will become more calm and collected, and the more sedated one will become more energized.  They offer each other their positive parts and end up creating a nice mix if they are open and supportive of each other.

Another benefit of being in a relationship is that you are encouraged to be yourself and expand who you are.  If you love to sing but have anxiety about performing, your partner can encourage you to take some lessons or sing at the local restaurant on Wednesday nights.  If singing is how you love to express yourself, your beloved will encourage you. 

That’s another reason why relationships are great: you and your partner are there to support each other.  Be it emotional support (being their cheering section), physiological support (giving them a hug), or financial support (working extra hours so they can have the money to do something), it’s all about helping each other out.  When you’ve had a bad day, there’s nothing like coming home to a hug (*note: no matter how bad you are feeling, make sure you give your spouse a hug when he or she comes home after they’ve had a bad day). 

A final way relationships help you grow is that you are held accountable for your behavior.  For example, women, in particular, like to talk negativity.   We spend a lot of time expecting the men in our lives to sit and listen to us bitch and moan about what has hurt and upset us.  Guys can hear it once, and then they want to fix it.  They don’t want to keep hearing about the same drama with your mother or sister over and over again (guys, the same goes for repeating the “I’m angry with my boss” story every day).  You are going to be held accountable by your partner because they won’t tolerate certain constant behaviors like this.  It’s a good thing when your partner draws the line and says, “Enough of this!,” because it ultimately makes you a better person.

As Jack Nicholson said in the film, As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better man.”  That’s the whole point of relationships – they help make you a better man (or woman). 

 

Love at First Sight

How many movies have you seen where a man sees a woman across a room filled with people dancing and he thinks, “That’s it, I’m in love.” 

I believe that men are a lot more likely to say, “I fell in love at first sight,” and women to say, “Gee, he’s really hot.”  Guys are visual – “I fell in love at first sight.”  They fall in love with what they see and what they feel right after seeing it.  If a man sees a woman who he finds attractive and he feels she is sexually interested in him, he’ll think he’s fallen in love right then and there. 

However, no matter what he thinks, at this point he is not in love.  “Over 90 percent of a man’s decision at this stage is purely based on visual cues. Some men get super glued on boobs, others on booties and others on legs, etc. Physical features and bouncy behavior that suggests youth, health and vitality… It’s just pure sexual chemistry. At this stage, you are still dispensable and interchangeable. You’re still just another woman in the pack, and he is still very much attracted to several other women at the same time.”

A lot of people call into my show saying, “Oh my gosh, I’ve been seeing him/her for three weeks and we’re totally in love,” but my answer is always the same: “No you’re not.”  There could be a romantic or sexual attraction, but that’s all.  This is just the fantasy stage – you think he or she is what you fantasize you want.  It’s the stage where you’re wearing rose-colored glasses and ignoring things.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told callers, “You ignored these things, didn’t you?,” and after denying it several times, they eventually say, “Well, yes, but I didn’t know they were going to be this bad.  I saw what I wanted to see.” 

If you’ve got a guy who wants to do the settling down process by shacking up, humping out of wedlock, and making babies without any commitment, then I’ve got a news flash for you: he’s not in love with you.  No man in love with a woman does that.  When a man is in love, he stakes his claim.  All throughout the animal kingdom, males make it clear who is their woman.  Men enforce it by giving their woman a ring, a ceremony, and a commitment of fidelity.

So, for all you silly girls out there thinking that a guy who wants to hook up or shack up is in love with you, you are so unbelievably wrong.

Keeping Secrets from Your Spouse

Just because something is true doesn’t mean it needs to be said.  Everything that crosses your mind shouldn’t necessarily come out of your mouth.  Honesty is sometimes a cross between stupidity and cruelty, and when it comes to keeping secrets from your spouse, honesty is not always the best policy. 

The most successful long-term relationships are based on very strong emotional and physical connections.  However, intimacy is not necessarily equated with absolute and complete honesty. 

There are obviously some things you ought to be honest about:

Debt.  I’m amazed at how many times I talk to somebody who wasn’t told that their spouse-to-be had college loans, credit card debt, and no money in the bank until after they were married.  A lot of times people don’t find out that their new spouse is in debt until they see their credit when they’re applying for a mortgage.  Hiding bad money skills leads to feelings of betrayal and mistrust that can sometimes never be overcome.  A lot of people walk away from marriages in which their spouse put the family in debt due to their spending or unwise financial schemes.

Eating disorders and substance abuse.  If you have an eating disorder or a substance abuse problem, you have to disclose it in advance.  Ongoing substance abuse or addiction will almost always interfere with intimacy.   Why?  Because something else is more important than your spouse.  Unless it’s dealt with, addiction will destroy just about every relationship.  That’s the truth.

Past illegal activities.  It’s best to reveal and explain past crimes and jail time because not only are they available on public record, but keeping them hidden only fills you with enormous guilt.  And if you’re exposed, it will scare everybody into thinking that the behavior could be repeated.

Molestation.  There was a period of a couple days where it seemed like just about every woman who called in to my show had been molested when she was younger and had no interest in having sex with her husband.  I put a question up on my website asking women who had been molested if they thought female molestation victims should ever get married.  When reading the responses, I was shocked to find that most of them said, “No.”  That blew my mind.  Quite frankly, I didn’t expect that would be the answer.  Considering this, I think that if a molestation is clearly still part of your life today, you need to tell your spouse-to-be.  Generally when a woman is a victim of molestation, the molester never gets exposed and the woman feels residual fear and anger.  They feel bitter about justice not being served and get mad at their parents and whoever else failed to protect them.  However, it’s their spouse who ends up getting the brunt of it because that’s the one area where the victim has power.  Withholding sex from their spouse, for example, is a way they maintain that power.  It’s not really all that complicated.  Past molestation should be revealed because it can lead to a very painful marriage if left concealed.

Lack of sex drive.  There are a lot of women who keep their disinterest in sex a secret and fake their orgasms.  Some guys keep their Viagra in a hiding place.  Although we live in a culture that is erotic and pornographic, we don’t seem to be able to talk about intimacies with the people we’re closest with.  Every day I get a call from some man or woman upset because they have misinterpreted their spouse’s physical disinterest as a lack of love and caring.  The first thing I always recommend for couples to do in this situation is for them to each get a complete physical.  Check everything out.  Examine your hormone levels because they have a lot to do with your sex drive.  Next, take a look at your schedules and lifestyle.  What is it that’s making you tired or preventing you from being playful and affectionate?  It’s sometimes advantageous to talk to an independent third party like a therapist or a religious person who has counseling experience.  

Because of the above concerns, I think it’s important that you go through six months of premarital counseling with your spouse-to-be so these secrets get uncovered.

However, not everything needs to be shared with your spouse.  Intimacy and complete openness are not one and the same.  You need to share your vulnerabilities with each other, but you also have to be sensitive to the consequences that sharing brings. 

Affairs.  I’ve had a lot of people call in to my show saying, “Oh my gosh, I had a half-hour fling, but I know it was stupid and wrong.  I understand why I did it, and I take full responsibility for my actions.  What should I do?  I don’t want to lose everything I have.”  My response is, “Well, get yourself tested to make sure you didn’t contract a disease, and then keep your mouth shut until the day after you’re dead.”  A lot of times, the spouse who had the affair wants to unburden themselves so they can feel better.  However, if they do, they are only going to destroy the trust in the marriage forever.  If you’re truly remorseful and you’re not going to repeat the stupid mistake, it’s best to just get on with life.

Not everything that can be said should be said.  If you have fantasies about someone, don’t tell your spouse.  You’re only going to make him or her feel inadequate.

Just about everybody has a list of stuff they’ve done when they were younger that they’re not proud of and they’ve learned from.  If a past behavior is clearly no longer part of your present (e.g. speeding tickets, fist fights, etc.), file it in the “private” cabinet and keep it to yourself.  Keep it safely between you and you.  If it’s seriously no longer part of your life, leave it alone because you’ll be judged by what is no longer true.

Spying on a Cheater

There is a show that’s been on TV a very long time called Cheaters.  I don’t know how they’ve been able to do the same scenario for a dozen years, but they’ve pulled it off. 

I’ve seen the show about one and a half times.  Basically, someone who suspects their girlfriend or boyfriend of cheating hires this television program to do surveillance.  The crew follows the boyfriend or girlfriend, tracks their car, photographs them at various places (restaurants, stores, etc.), and tape records their conversations.  If he goes to a hotel, motel, or apartment, the cameras capture him going in, kissing his bimbo at the front door, and then grinding groins with her.  If a guy tells his wife, “Oh honey, I have to be at work late,” the show will then cut to time-stamped footage of him going somewhere else. 

Near the end of each episode, the person who is being cheated on gets to see the tape, realizes they’re right, and then feels very badly betrayed.  The program ends with the girl or guy confronting their husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend.  It’s a free-for-all with the television cameras rolling.  The cheater and their bimbo or side stud start yelling, “What?!  What is this?,” followed by a bunch of “beeps” (because of all the bad words they’re saying).  I always think it’s funny when the cheater says, “How could you do this to me?,” in reference to being put under surveillance and exposed on TV.   Somehow they get moral outrage at that, not about the fact that they’re screwing around on somebody.
 
Now, a lot of shows try to market merchandise to make money on the side: T-shirts, mugs, spaghetti sauce…whatever.  But for a show like Cheaters, it’s a little different.  Since they can’t exactly make shirts saying, “I’m a cheater,” or, “I caught my spouse cheating,” they have instead decided to open up a spy goods web store:

“The Cheater’s Spy Shop sells all sorts of surveillance gear for suspicious minds, including recovery sticks that can pull up anything currently on the iPhone and even recover deleted information; mobile software that will send a person all texts and pictures being sent, web history, call logs, and GPS location every 30 minutes; and even motion-activated hidden cameras that record any movement and activity in high resolution [HD, 3D, whatever you want]…

The laws governing the use of surveillance devices by average citizens differ all over the place.  A lot of people think they’re legally allowed to spy on their spouses, but depending on how it’s done, that may or may not be true.  It may be totally legal to make, sell, and buy this stuff, but depending on the jurisdiction you’re in, it may or may not be legal to use because people have privacy rights.  Some people also get concerned that stalkers could misuse the technology.  It’s pretty scary to think about – a stalker could potentially put a tracking device at the bottom of your purse and know where you are at all times.  If you’re thinking of participating in an operation to expose a cheater either with a private investigator or just by yourself, you have to make sure that whatever equipment or techniques you’re using are legal in your state. 

“The two groups who seem to be buying the products the most are women worried their man is cheating, and parents who want to make sure their kids aren’t sexting or getting inappropriate photos themselves.”  The biggest month for buying is Valentine’s Day.  They’re not really sure why, but my guess is that women who either get nothing or get something worth less than what they see charged to their husband’s credit card start wondering where the money went.

Cheating spouses typically get caught in a couple of ways:

1. Accidental discovery:  Most cheaters are not CIA agents.  They don’t know how to totally cover their tracks, and they forget things like a parking sticker hanging from the rearview mirror.  Deception and infidelity are usually uncovered by somebody making a mistake.  “A husband or wife decides to come home from work early, a third party inadvertently reveals the truth, an unpaid parking ticket reveals a spouse’s true whereabouts, or an e-mail exchange is accidentally sent to the wrong person.”  Many times on the air, I’ve heard callers say, “He meant to send it to her, but somehow he clicked me.”

2. Monitoring/Surveillance:  A lot of cheaters are exposed after being monitored by either their spouse or a private investigator.  From what I’ve read, if a private investigator uses a technique that’s illegal, even if unbeknownst to you, you are still liable because they’re essentially an extension of you.  Be careful!

So what should you do if you think your spouse or significant other is cheating?

If you’re not just a hypersensitive or neurotic person, then your instinct that your spouse is cheating is probably right.  If you get suspicious, ask yourself the following question: “Why is he/she cheating?”  Did you make a mistake in picking someone who is simply a bad person?  If your wife had a million affairs while you were dating or your husband cheated while you were pregnant with your first kid (and then you went ahead and made three more) then “Duh!” – you made a mistake.  However, people don’t always cheat because they’re bad people.  Other things come into play, usually relating to the quality of the relationship.  As it turns out, men more than women require opposite-sex feedback for their egos.  Women can turn to their girlfriends to hear about what a bum their husband is and how wonderful they are.  But guys don’t turn to their guy friends – they turn to other women. 

If you’re a woman and are worried about your husband having an affair, you should read my book The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands to see if you’re to blame.  Your husband once picked you, wanted you, and ultimately loved you.  Perhaps if you stopped acting the way you currently are, you wouldn’t be throwing away a perfectly good man.  A lot of times women call my show saying, “I think my husband’s having an affair,” and I tell them that they can either blow up the marriage or they can look at themselves honestly and admit, “I stopped being my husband’s girlfriend.  I’m going to take the proper steps to turn it back on.”   As his wife, you always have an edge over a new honey.  A new honey may be very exciting, but a new honey has no context or history like you have with him.  Losing you not only means losing the house, the kids, the dog, the parakeet and the cat, but he’ll be losing extended family and friends as well.  There’s so much for him to lose.  Missing the girlfriend doesn’t come close to that.  So ultimately you have the power.

There are a million and a half articles on the topic of cheating, but it all boils down to one basic concept: if you treat your spouse and dearly beloved in such a way that he or she wants to come home to you every night, then you’re doing great and you’re probably not going to have a cheating spouse.

Now that being said, some people are simply jerks no matter how much love and effort you’re putting in to the relationship.  The following article contains some practical tips on how to catch a cheater: “Tips for Discovering the Truth.”  Discerning whether or not there is bad behavior going on (affairs, whores, drugs, etc.) usually helps you with securing custody of the children later.   And remember: Don’t just ask, “Honey, are you having an affair?”  That never works.  Don’t even bother.

 

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.