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How To Tell Mom You’re Doing Things Your Own Way

Article by Rachel for FoxNews.com Magazine

 

When we think of the holiday season, our minds are typically filled with images of joy, giving, great food, and family bonds.  But along with the merriment, this festive time of year can be extraordinarily stressful.

From mid-November through early January, there is a recurring theme in my private practice.  One frequently-discussed topic is how to satisfy one’s personal needs and desires during the holidays versus managing their mother’s expectations.

I often hear stories of folks stuffing their cars to the brim with gifts at 5:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve while venturing off to visit one set of parents in New Jersey. And several hours later, car re-packed, they drive overnight to visit the other set of folks in Ohio. Once the holidays end, they are exhausted, stressed, and depleted.

Why do we put ourselves through these torturous routines, year after year? Many people tell me it’s to please their moms. In fact, when I recently suggested to one client that she change up her holiday customs, she said, “Are you kidding? If I don’t spend Thanksgiving with my mother, there would be hell to pay! I’m just not up to that sort of confrontation.”

There comes a time in our lives when we need to make tough decisions regarding time management and life management. And this maturation process involves asking yourself, “How do I want to spend my holidays this year?” Unfortunately, most of us tend to feel guilty or selfish when speaking this type of language. We are programmed to care for others, and for many, saying yes is easier than saying no.

However, please understand that it is through this process of stating our needs, that we are able to acquire more joy, peace and meaning from our holidays…and our lives. With this in mind, the ability to create a wonderful holiday tradition for yourself and your family may require saying a polite yet thoughtful “no” to Mom.

How can we do this without causing a war within our respective clans? Follow these five suggestions to ensure a smoother holiday for this season and for the future:

  1. Take a hard look at your  life and your schedule and see makes the most sense for you regarding the holidays. Ask yourself, “What do the holidays signify to me and how do I want to spend my time this year?”
  2. Once you have an answer to these questions, begin to map a plan that is comfortable for you.
  3. If you decide that you are not going to see your mother for a certain holiday, contact her (I always prefer a conversation over emailing or texting) for a productive discussion.
  4. Prepare yourself before calling. Ask yourself, “How might this discussion play out? How will Mom react to the news that I’m skipping Christmas this year?”
  5. Don’t be afraid. State your predicament and/or your decision. Speak in “I” statements. Try to keep your tone gentle and loving. Stay calm, listen to your mother’s point of view, and try not to be defensive. For  example: “Mom, I know how much you love Thanksgiving and how important it is for you to have your family with you. I really respect that about you. However, I’m so sorry to say that I’m not going to be able to make it home this year due to my busy work schedule. I know this is disappointing to you, and I’m sorry for this. Why don’t we get out our calendars and plan another time when we can get together?”

I certainly understand that these are difficult decisions and phone calls to make. But in the end, you will feel better when you create a new holiday tradition that best suits you.

 

 





Does Flirting Lead to Cheating?

Article by Rachel from FoxNews.com Magazine

Everyone likes to flirt now and then.

Even when in a committed relationship, some degree of flirting is perfectly normal. Of course you’re going to blush when the cute guy who works on the 12th floor comments that you have a beautiful smile. You may even flirt back because it makes you feel good to be noticed. These scenarios play out every day — and they are mostly for fun.

Flirting makes many of us feel young, attractive and on our A-game. After all, flirting is a huge part of the mating dance, and being in a relationship doesn’t mean you can never partake in a smattering of innocent flirting.

Innocent, however, is the operative word. As evolved humans, the pre-frontal cortex in our brains helps us decipher risk from reward. So the key is to utilize your brain, keep the flirting light and lively, and then, as quickly as it started, let it go.  If you play it this way, no harm, no foul.

If you discover that you are someone who has a deep-rooted need to flirt, or become upset if someone isn’t flirting with you, that can be a sign that something is broken in you or your relationship. Constant flirters often have buried insecurities and seek out the attention of others in order to feel good about themselves.

Additionally, they may be in a relationship or marriage that is lacking in connection, intimacy and sex, so they look for others to fill their emptiness. Persistent flirters have lax boundaries, so often what begins as flirting can evolve into a full-blown affair. Little good and a lot of drama results from that scenario.

The bottom line on the eye batting — unless you are single and looking to meet someone or simply want to have some fun, keep it real simple, and then quickly move on.





We Need Help: When to Contact a Marriage Counselor

This article was written by Rachel for Fox News Magazine

People regularly ask me, “What is the number one reason that couples seek help?” Obviously, there is no simple answer to what causes discord in a relationship. While there are hundreds of reasons that couples get themselves into trouble, here are some of the most common:

  • Infidelity
  • Financial/career difficulties
  • Sexual and intimacy problems
  • Addictions
  • Disagreements over commitment
  • Quarter or mid-life crises
  • Parenting stress
  • Incompatibility
  • Growing apart
  • Poor communication skills

 Lots of people are afraid to start counseling (especially if they’ve never seen a therapist before), and I often hear one partner exclaim to the other, “Well, if we need counseling, then we shouldn’t be together!” For many, the real underlying fear of attendance is feeling ashamed about something you’ve done and having to admit that in front of a third party — and men are often afraid of appearing weak. They often think they should be able to solve their own problems without outside assistance.

 I try to help folks understand that it is a real strength to ask for help. After all, we don’t hesitate to visit a doctor, lawyer or accountant as needed. Consider using that rationale when booking your first appointment. Think of your marriage counselor as an expert in relationship mending and building.

 A good marriage counselor will help a couple discover where their problems originated, and work toward creating lasting solutions. Often times, we think we know what is broken in our relationship, but through the process of counseling, we come to find out that there is more to unearth than we originally thought. This is actually a good thing, and profound truths can flow in this way. If you are open to the process and willing to work hard (which includes making changes to yourself), most couples will exit counseling in much better shape than when they arrived.

 The good news is that there really are solutions to most relationship problems, and there are plenty of qualified experts out there to lend a helping hand. If you're at a point in your relationship where you're fighting better than you're getting along, why don’t you consider giving couples counseling an honest try?





Decoding Your Love Map Explores Why We Love Who We Love

This article, by Rachel, was posted in More Magazine

 

Have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that when it comes to romance, there is an actual formula behind who you find yourself attracted to?  You may consciously be aware that you prefer men who are funny, intelligent, handsome, or ambitious, but what if I were to tell you that there is so much more to this formula – and the majority of it is hidden deep in your psyche.

In actuality, there are numerous ingredients that go into determining who sparks our interest and who we pick as partners. Love, attraction and pheromones are certainly key components, but there are countless others that dictate the choices we make. Exploring this subject matter has always fascinated me and over the past several years I have tenaciously focused on solving this mystery.

For example, consider Barbara’s predicament. A beautiful and lively woman, she was left by her husband several years ago after he revealed his involvement with another woman. Her husband was a demanding guy with many acute narcissistic qualities that other’s regularly noticed.  But to her, it didn’t resonate. She was devastated when he left.  Is it simply an accident that today she is involved with a man that is even more narcissistic than her ex?

My client Rita is sharp and savvy, yet she continually struggles to make sense of her marriage. She and her husband argue better than they get along, and both are experts at pushing each other’s buttons. She is often frustrated and angry at her circumstances. She is also oblivious to the multi-layered dynamics that are at play between them, which contribute to their problematic relationship.

Over the past thirty years, women in the United States have become nearly autonomous when it comes to making relationship decisions. We are freer today than we’ve ever been to make our own choices regarding romance. Yet time and again I encounter really smart women who find themselves in complicated dating patterns, difficult relationships, and disastrous divorces. And most are completely unaware that there are actual circumstances that merged together which lead them right smack into these unfortunate situations.  

There are many coincidences in life, but few coincidences in love. You might have met him by chance, but there is a reason you chose him among others, and there are other reasons yet that determined the trajectory of your relationship.  Through my research I discovered that from the beginning of life, countless little nuances merged together to influence our dating, romance and breakup behaviors. In order to explore these crucial factors I created a revolutionary exercise called “creating your personal love map”. From the moment you were born, your personal love map was formed. As you grow, this enlightening map will accumulate data that is unique to you. Deciphering that vast amount of information will help you both understand and deeply enhance your romantic relationships.

A love map examines four aspects from your earlier life that influenced the formation of your personality and the creation of your self-worth. A love map forces you to ask yourself a host of questions surrounding the following categories, and it enables you to engage in meaningful self reflection.

Biological – What part has genetics played in the development of your personality?

 Cultural – What part has society, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic class, and the culture in which you were raised played in the development of your personality

 Social – Self reflect on how your self-esteem was formed vis a vis how you were perceived or perceived yourself as a child through young adulthood.

 Psychological – How you were raised and how you “attached” to your parents has enormous influence on how you developed.

 Through evaluating and understanding these fundamentals, you will be able to have a much clearer picture of your relationship motivation and behavior, and you’ll be more proficient in conducting a fuller assessment of your partner’s or ex’s motivation and behavior. Decoding this information is a critical component in the creation of emotional intelligence and relationship proficiency.

Love mapping will enable you to discover intriguing knowledge about yourself. Some particulars may emerge that may surprisingly show you how strong and emotionally healthy you actually are.  Others may surface that will enable you to identify and then break any dysfunctional dating or relationship patterns you may have. Identifying this information and pledging to modifications will allow you to go forward engaging in healthier relationships in all areas of your life.

As you can see, there are numerous reasons to engage in love mapping. You can begin the process of creating yours by visiting my website and So start creating yours today – it will never steer you wrong.





The Gray Divorce

Three years after her divorce, Karen, a vivacious 56-year-old, is happier than she’s ever been. However, the decision to walk away from her marriage of nearly 30 years was not an easy one. A stay at home mother of four children, she describes a painful period of self-reflection where she vacillated back and forth between leaving her ex or staying for the sake of her children. “My husband and I had completely grown apart and were practically living separate lives. I eventually had to admit to myself that we had nothing in common accept our children, and they were older and moving on. The glue that had held us together had become unstuck.”

These days a growing number of women in mid-life are taking stock of their relationships and choosing to leave their marriages. They are gathering strength and courage and divorcing in record numbers. According to analysis of census data by sociologists out of Bowling Green State University, for the present generation of empty nesters, divorce is on the rise. What’s more, divorce has doubled over the past two decades among people 50 and older. Coined, “gray divorce”, evidentially baby boomers are bucking the national trend of lower divorce rates and exiting marriages at a rate of one in four (in 1990 only one in 10 people over 50 got divorced). Additionally, a 2004 survey conducted by AARP found that women are the ones initiating most of the splits by people 40-69.

Obviously there is no simple answer to what causes the millions of breakups and divorces that occur each year. The usual suspects are infidelity, discrepancy over finances, divergent parenting styles, sexual and intimacy problems, communication difficulties, addictions, and abuse. However, those aren’t necessarily the main incentives for departing a gray marriage. Sociologists speculate that the underpinning behind these intriguing new statistics appear to be the boomer’s quest for more satisfaction in their lives. Apparently the “me generation” is electing to venture on their own in search of self-fulfillment.

Yes, we’ve come a long way baby. The boomer generation was the first age group ever to enjoy immense latitude in mate selection. Gone are the days of arranged marriages, of unmarried women being referred to as spinsters, and of divorce being considered immoral. As a result, it seems like a natural chain of events for a woman to leave a marriage should she be unhappy.

Frankly, I’m not at all surprised to read the data supporting a trend I’ve personally experienced. Over the past several years I have witnessed the demise of lengthy marriages affecting clients, close female friends, and relatives. I was moved by their difficulties and incredibly inspired by their strength as they eventually regained their lives. In fact, I was so impressed with what I saw that I set out to share their brave stories with the world by writing a book about it. I wanted to enlighten all women that life doesn’t need to stop when a relationship ends, and most women are extremely content once they have recovered.

Many people feel we are living in times where everything, including marriage, is too easily disposed of. Perhaps that sentiment is valid. Yet keeping a marriage strong and healthy is extremely hard work and it takes time and commitment by both parties. Nonetheless, people are living much longer, and many are reluctant to stay in unhappy marriages for eternity. Also this is the first generation of women who have focused on their career, held jobs, and have built up their confidence to be financially independent. This independence has given them hope and assuaged their fears about being on their own. Today there is more opportunity to date and form new relationships through on line dating, social networking, and the many personal interest options available for single women. Women are no longer aimlessly stuck at home after their children grow up and move away.

No matter what your age, gray or otherwise, the decision to leave a marriage is a significant one that should never be taken lightly. Whether one leaves or is left, divorce is serious business, and the road to full recovery isn’t necessarily an easy one. But that being the case, if a relationship is broken, luckily today women have more options than ever before. We are fortunate to live in a society where we can strike out on our own without the fear of being shunned. That is something to be very grateful for.





Media Messages Do Not Promote Being Single

Hurrying down the street on a cold day last week, I turned the corner and saw a huge billboard for the upcoming movie, "The Vow." Although I have no idea what the movie is about or what "the vow" actually is, I saw Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum gazing romantically into each other's eyes, as young Hollywood lovers usually do. I interpreted "the vow" as being their wedding vows, and I immediately wondered how my single friends and clients would feel when they stumbled upon this advertisement.

The majority of my divorced clients bemoan how much our society promotes romance and coupling. In most cases, they didn't even notice this phenomenon until their own marriages derailed. In my private practice, I regularly sit with broken-hearted individuals who tell me they are constantly reminded about their exes, and what they "lost" (the benefits of being part of a couple) -- and this feeling is exasperated by the regular bombardment of messages received from the media about love. Case in point: a friend of mine complained to me, "How am I supposed to forget about my ex and feel good about being single when everywhere I turn is a reminder that marriage or being 'in love' is supposed to be the predominant state of happiness and normalcy?"

Sadly, I agree that our society is filled with the messages that at a certain age, singles are peculiar and perplexing, marriage is the preferred state of being, and once you get married, everything will be perfect. The fallout from these perceptions hits single women particularly hard, probably because more of the messages are aimed at women. I regularly hear tales of women being approached by well-meaning friends and relatives (and sometimes strangers) who feel compelled to blurt out phrases like, "You're so pretty; why are you still single?" Or if they are dating, and haven't yet met a new partner, there is a perception that they are doing something wrong. Men tell me that they do get less heat than women about being single, but they also feel that they get less attention and comfort post-divorce because they are supposed to be "strong." A male friend recently said, "People are less apt to rally around us guys. Media often portrays us as 'the cheaters' and we regularly get blamed for failing marriages. "

It's my opinion that the pressure behind these messages often makes people rush into relationships or re-marriage before they are emotionally or psychologically equipped to make good choices. It's for this reason that I was intrigued when a divorced colleague said to me the other day, "Kim Kardashian did us all a huge favor. She proved to the world that when it comes to marriage, it is trouble with a capital T when you allow the 'fantasy' to get in the way of the substance."

Although no one except Kim and Kris know why their extremely short marriage ended, what we do know is that their romance and nuptials happened in the glow of media approval. The wedding itself cost millions of dollars and provided E! with the highest rated TV show in its history. Maybe their TV special should have been aired with a warning statement like, "There is no guarantee that this or any other marriage will last for eternity." Perhaps fine print should also be included: "Statistics show that approximately 50 percent of marriages end in divorce for reasons as diverse as infidelity, financial stressors, parenting differences, and divergent sex drives."

The media should get on board and realize that they aren't doing anyone any favors by promoting perpetual romance. Singles, especially young, never-married ones, need to know that it's perfectly okay to be uncoupled, and that being single isn't a shameful stepping-stone. It can, in fact, be a great source of happiness. Finding the right person takes time. It's a process that simply cannot and should not be rushed. Marriage is about so much more than the wedding, and it concerns me that there is still so much pressure simply to tie the knot. The divorce rate would decrease if people just slowed things down and paid more attention to what they were really thinking and feeling, rather than just wanting to be married at the expense of everything else.

Adjusting to being single after a marriage ends is challenging enough without the constant barrage of hurtful and harmful messages from the media, which are packaged in sitcoms, reality shows, and movies. When you are used to living with someone and sharing most activities with that person, learning how to fill your time and enjoy your own company does take fortitude, patience and practice. But it is entirely possible to recover and to go on to live a wonderful life -- with or without a significant other at your side.





Five Ways to Focus on Your Recovery, Mark Zuckerberg Style

Reprinted from Huffington Post

It's quite astounding how Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have changed our world over the last decade. Whether you follow the news or not, most are well aware of Facebook's initial public offering. The list continues to expand regarding who will soon become millionaires and billionaires. Many on this list, including Zuckerberg, are brilliant entrepreneurs.

It is widely recognized that people who strive for excellence and succeed share certain traits. Many are type A or have perfectionist personalities. Most have an ability to tolerate high stress and/or exist on little sleep. Some are off-the-charts gifted and highly creative. Many befriend fear and are risk takers. However, there is one important characteristic that most successful people share: the ability to remain extremely focused. Apparently Zuckerberg's success can be partially attributed to this.

There are many excellent lessons I have learned from observing high achievers. When I am counseling folks on the mend from a breakup or divorce, I urge them to stay intensely focused on their recovery. Although this sounds completely logical, in actuality, it can be quite challenging. Most divorces are devastating, and during and after the dissolution of a marriage emotions are undulating in ways that can seem inconceivable and unpredictable. The stress associated with adjusting to a new life can feel insurmountable and unmanageable. And many make the classic (and normal) mistake of overly focusing on their ex instead of focusing on their own care.

Even with a divorce at hand, if you can focus on yourself, the benefits will be way worth it. So let's take a lesson from those who move mountains and commit to focusing your way to a complete recovery.

Five Ways to Focus on Your Recovery:

1. Focus on your healing. Healing from a divorce takes time and really shouldn't be rushed. Focus on taking excellent care of your physical health. Make sure you are eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. Be careful not to over indulge with food and alcohol. Focus on taking care of your mental health. Be sure to process your emotions -- especially the more complicated ones such as anger, fear, and guilt.

2. Focus on building a support system. Support from a variety of sources will help you in many ways. It will combat loneliness and validate your experience as it provides an audience to talk through your story. Talking equals healing. Don't be shy and do reach out for support from friends, family, colleagues and professionals.

3. Focus on understanding why your relationship ended and what part you played in it. Make a point to comprehend why you picked your ex as your lover, how you behaved during the course of your relationship, and how you mourned your breakup. I call this vitally important exercise "Creating Your Personal Love Map." By doing so, you will acquire astounding information that will raise your emotional intelligence sky high and allow you to participate in healthier and improved relationships going forward.

4. Focus on being an excellent parent and co-parent. Children do best in environments where there is stability. Accept your fate, make peace with your ex, and learn how to co-parent effectively together.

5. Focus on letting go and moving on. Letting go is indisputably one of the hardest things to do after a relationship ends. We tend to hold onto many negative things such as old wounds, anger, and revenge fantasies. Many also hold on to unrealistic hopes of reunification. The sooner you let go of the past the better you will feel. Then you can focus on rebuilding a remarkable life for yourself.





What I Know About Love Now That I’m In My 50s

Reprinted from Huffington Post

I think relationships get better with age, and mine certainly has. If I knew in my 20s what I know now, I would have avoided abundant heartache. But that's the journey, and you acquire astounding wisdom in the process. At least I did. This is what I know about love today:

I would never be in a relationship with someone who mistreated me.
Much earlier in my life I spent too much time involved with men who were bad for me on so many levels. Thankfully, one particular breakup was a catalyst for me to wake up and change my ways. I realized I had some issues that needed attending to if I were to ever have a healthy relationship, something I wanted. I threw myself into therapy and made some major modifications in my life. After that, I never let anyone mistreat me again.

You have to love yourself first.
This may sound trite, but it's absolutely true. If you want to be in a healthy relationship (and frankly, why should anyone be in a relationship that isn't healthy?) you have to feel great about yourself. When you love yourself you can create a wonderful life for yourself, and this will give you amazing self-confidence. Then, if you so desire to be in a relationship, you're coming from a place of wholeness and strength. This mindset will attract better caliber men; plus you won't dare get involved in a relationship that isn't in your best interest.

Don't rely on a man to be complete.
I often feel that we women expect too much from our love relationships. It helps to understand from the start that women and men are fundamentally different. We think differently, we emote differently, we play differently. Your boyfriend or husband won't necessarily "complete you" or be your best friend, and that's perfectly okay. Love, friendship, and emotional wholeness can (and should) come from a variety of sources. If you put it all on him he's bound to disappoint, and then you may lose a relationship that has great potential.

Be clear about monogamy.
Being in a relationship carries many different definitions and implications, yet the desire that your partner remain sexually faithful seems to be nearly universal. Yet, remaining monogamous, especially in long relationships, is indeed a challenge. If you want to be in a monogamous relationship, do all that you can to make sure that you remain faithful to your partner. In turn, if you desire that your partner remain faithful to you, make that clear to him. Aim to have open dialogues around this hot button issue, such as saying to your partner, "What will we do if we find ourselves attracted to others at some point in time?" Although these conversations can initially feel awkward, they are easier than dealing with the devastation of an affair.

Be careful with nagging.
My grandmother and mother were world class nags, and from time to time, I'm embarrassed to admit, I find myself behaving just like them. Nagging is a relationship killer. More women nag than men, and it's a problem. Nagging generally stems from feeling like we're not heard, so we repeat ourselves again, and again. Men hate nagging, so try not to do it. Find a more effective way to communicate your feelings to your partner. My nagging has definitely improved over time. I hope my husband agrees!

Express gratitude and say thank you.
This is a huge lesson I'm happy to share with others. Many of us take our relationships for granted and that is a huge mistake. We all like to feel valued and appreciated. I try to say thank you to my husband every day. I am grateful that he makes a sandwich for me when I go to my office, and I always thank him for that. John Gottman, a fabulous couple's researcher, claims that a healthy couple needs five positive interactions to one negative interaction. Saying thank you is certainly positive.

Give it up. Say yes to sex.
Just like everything else in life, your sex drive and your sex life will have ups and downs. That is perfectly normal. However, a huge mistake that many long-term couples make is to get lazy with sex. Sex can help keep a relationship stay alive and the lack of sex can burn it out. If you can see your partner as a source of pleasure, that is very positive. It's important to have sex, and even better to have great sex. Do your part to feel sexy and stay sexy. I work out six to seven days a week. I'm 52 years old, and I still feel extremely sexy.

Take responsibility.
This was a hard lesson for me to learn. When I was younger I would get defensive if a lover accused me of something I did or said that upset him. I had to always be right or to get my say in. Eventually I realized that my behavior was ineffectual. I came to understand that I had a hard time being open to my flaws because I was criticized often during my upbringing. None of us are perfect in our relationships. We are all evolving and changing, and to err is perfectly human. When someone we love points out a behavior that needs changing, that's a tremendous opportunity for us to grow. You should say thank you to that person.

If you are afraid of your partner, that is not love.
Even today, with all we know about healthy relationships, too many women get involved in emotionally and physically abusive ones. If you are involved with someone who threatens, yells, calls you names, forces you to have sex, and physically harms you, even once, get out, and then get some help for yourself.

There is no place for suspicion or jealousy in a relationship.
Healthy relationships are built on honesty and mutual trust. If someone is behaving controlling or is untrusting in a relationship, the root causes of that behavior is generally buried deep within. More often than not it originates with having a parent who wasn't trustworthy. It's important to acknowledge if you are behaving this way (or if you are dating someone who is) so you can get to work making the self-repair. People who are confident and have good self-worth are not jealous at all. Relationships where jealousy leads the way are doomed to fail.

 





Five Unexpected Behaviors That Sink a Marriage

With all the celebrity breakups lately, many of us are debating, deliberating, and calculating the numerous reasons marriages fail. We all speculate whether it's the usual suspects such as infidelity, discrepancy over finances, midlife crisis, or growing apart that leads to the majority of splits.

Obviously there is no simple answer to what causes the millions of breakups and divorces -- both Hollywood and pedestrian -- that occur every year. In actuality, there are hundreds of reasons why relationships end, and everyone has a unique story to tell. But researchers do point to five unexpected behaviors that if repeated over time, can cause permanent damage to any couple's love bond.

Engaging in these five behaviors can sink a marriage:

1) Nagging: Nagging is a frustrating dance that many of us fall prey to. It can be defined as one partner repeatedly making requests to the other, who regularly ignores it. The Wall Street Journal calls this type of communication "toxic", and experts say it can eventually sink a relationship. When repeated nagging occurs, I call it a "Death by 1000 Paper Cuts". Men and women both nag, but apparently women do it more. Nagging can be potentially as dangerous to a marriage as infidelity.

2) Criticism: Repeatedly attacking your partner's personality or character rather than focusing on the actual behavior that bothers you and discussing it in a mature and effective manner.

3) Contempt: Attacking your partner's sense of self with the intention of causing harm. Openly disrespecting him or her. This includes name calling and cursing, hostile behavior or body language (such as eye rolling), and putting your partner down.

4) Defensiveness: Needing to defend yourself whenever you perceive your partner criticizing you. Always disagreeing with what he or she is saying, or rebutting with a complaint of your own.

5) Stonewalling: Withdrawing from the conversation or the relationship. Refusing to discuss something or physically disappearing. Holding a grudge or feeling resentful towards your partner for several days, or weeks.

Psychologist John Gottman studied over 1000 married couples and claims that when the last four behaviors are present in a marriage, there is a 94 percent chance that the relationship will fail.

As a trained relationship therapist, I can generally spot these behaviors from a mile away. Interestingly, many people are completely unaware they are even engaging in the behaviors to begin with, let alone comprehending the damage they do. Although many people (including me) have engaged in one or more of these behaviors from time to time, repeated use will cause one or both partners to feel frustration, anger, fear, hurt, sadness, and alienation.

All couples have arguments, and that is perfectly normal. It's not necessarily the conflict per se that sinks a relationship -- it's how the disagreement or the communication is handled. When conflicts are poorly handled and these five behaviors are involved, it has the potential to cause a great deal of damage to the relationship and to the individuals.

If you feel that during your marriage you participated in any of these behaviors, you'll do yourself a world of good to admit the part you played and work towards examining where the behavior originated. Many of the answers will come from how you were raised and how your parents behaved with each other and with you. It's hard and painful work, but honest self-examination will always lead towards profound growth.

I believe that in order to fully recover in a healthy way from a divorce, everyone needs to take some accountability. Although no one can turn back the clock, there is always ample opportunity to work on changing these behaviors if they infiltrated your relationship. Doing so will enable you to enhance all relationships -- not just romantic ones -- in the future.

 





Do Open Marriages Work?

It seems like everyone is discussing the concept of open marriages this week after Marianne Gingrich, the second wife of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, claimed in an ABC News "Nightline" interview that her ex asked her to enter into an "open marriage" arrangement so he could continue to see his affair partner, Callista Bisek. Apparently Mrs. Gingrich said no, and now we all know some fun facts about why that marriage ended.

Many of my friends and clients wanted to talk to me about open marriages since this scandal broke. They wanted to know if I'd ever worked with couples exploring this arrangement and if open marriages can ever succeed. Some asked in earnest, yet others simply wanted salacious details. Several joked that they wouldn't mind exploring that option themselves. Nevertheless, the intrigue was there.

I can certainly understand the vast interest in this topic. The divorce rate remains high and a large percentage of marriages do end over infidelity. And even those who are happily wed grapple with the concept of lifelong monogamy. Monogamy in itself is also a hot topic as of late. Journalists and bloggers regularly speculate on whether or not it is human nature to mate for life. And the scientific community is putting more research into the study of pair bonds while speculating if humans are designed to be sexually monogamous.

In some relationships, a husband or wife may ask their partner if they would consent to an open marriage. More often than not, requesting an open marriage means that the inquiring partner is interested in having an affair or continuing on with an affair. They are torn between the excitement of an affair and the comfort and security of their marriage, which they don't want to give up. Also, they may wish to cover their bases; if the affair doesn't pan out (and most don't), they want their spouse to be available to continue forward with the marriage. In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it too.

When the "faithful" spouse is presented with this situation -- once they've picked themselves up off the floor and put the revolver back in its case -- they will generally not agree to the proposal. In a few cases that I've seen, the faithful will temporarily allow the arrangement merely as a tactic to "win" back the estranged partner. This generally backfires, which either causes the broken marriage to end, or it makes reunification (if it's on the table) even more challenging than it would be if the couple was on the mend from say a "regular" affair.

I have worked with couples who endeavor to have an open marriage either from the inception, or later on in their relationship. I entertain no judgment when such couples seek counseling. When there is agreement in place, to each his own. I try to help these couples communicate with each other as to why they are interested in this sort of arrangement, and, equally as important, to guide them to set up "rules." Once the conversations get going I often find that many of these couples really don't want to go this route, but they are having a hard time communicating their sexual or emotional needs to each other. And when those needs are in place, the desire to seek sex from another is often alleviated.

Other couples have sought my guidance after attempting to have an open relationship. By the time they get into my office, all hell has usually broken lose. Several years ago I worked with a couple who agreed to an open relationship shortly after they began dating. Alan*, with two divorces behind him, had explained to Selina* that he was not monogamous by nature, and that he would only go forward with marriage if she agreed that they could both have clandestine external sex lives. Although she readily agreed, it did not work out as intended. They began to regularly spy on and lie to each other. By the time they came to see me, rampant jealousy had poisoned their connection. No rules had been put into place, and with lax boundaries, they both had slept with others in their large circle of friends. In our sessions I inquired as to why Alan felt he couldn't be monogamous, and what eventually came to light was that he had an overwhelming need to have attention paid to him by a variety of women. This desire was rooted deep into his past, yet he didn't have much interest to explore its origins and make repairs. The relationship ended with both parties feeling completely betrayed.

So back to that illustrious initial question: do open marriages work? My answer is no, they generally don't. Open relationships are simply too tricky to navigate and one or both parties end up getting badly burned.

Discussions about sex and fidelity continue to be a hard topic for many couples to navigate. Yet it's one that cannot and should not be avoided. It would do the institution of marriage a world of good if couples were to take the time while dating to seriously contemplate these matters. If done correctly, it will serve as a model to talk about sex throughout the duration of a marriage. Couples who are able to converse fluently about difficult topics stand a fighting chance that when the going gets tough in a relationship -- and it always will -- words can solve problems. And from my perspective, a dialogue is always a healthier and better place to turn to than an affair.

*Please note that all names in this post have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.