Friday, April 29, 2011

Dating, Remarriage and Children: Creating A Foundation Upon Which To Build

Let's talk about what is at the core of the issue -- how you have approached dating and how that has affected your children.

I believe your approach and how you integrate dating into your life and the life of your children greatly impacts how well they might adjust to an eventual marriage and step family situation.

After my late husband died, my first thought was about my children. Somehow I knew that very far in the future that I would be okay and even possibly find another mate. My children were another matter; they had lost their father and would never have another one. That is not to say that they couldn't have a "father-like" figure or some other male role model from whom they could learn and eventually emulate.

The very first piece of therapeutic advice I received was the best. When I asked what I could do for my children, the counselor told me that they would follow my lead. If I chose to "recover" then they would too. If I stayed mad at the world, depressed, etc., they would too. So, a week after my late husband died, I made a conscious decision that I was going to be proactive in my grief work and do everything within my power to show my children how to gracefully move from darkness to light. My energies were focused on them, and we did most out-of-school activities together. It was about two years after the death of their father that they finally said to me, "Why don't you go out and have some fun with your own friends!"

What I had accomplished by intensively focusing on my children in this way was that they felt safe again in the very unsafe world they experienced after their father's death.

During this time, I also conveyed to them what I was doing to keep myself healthy so they didn't have to worry about me getting sick. I always let them know where I was and when I would return. If I were even a minute late, I called to let them know. Due to my courteous behavior, they returned the favor. Even when they were older and in their twenties, I always got a phone call if they were to be late.

When a child feels secure, it is easier for him/her to understand the concept of the ever expanding heart, which is that there is room in there for lots of people. Moreover, simply because someone new comes into your life, it does not mean the old residents get kicked out. Love simply creates more love. It is to be shared, and there is always enough to go around!

This is a foundational issue in building a successful step family because jealousy between the children of the different spouses or jealousy over a new wife or husband can easily arise. 

Giving your children enough time to heal their hearts before asking them to open it up to welcome someone new is also an excellent reason not to jump into dating too soon after a death or divorce. Households must be stabilized before they are able to cope with more change.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Finding Love After Loss: Dating Turnoffs

Are you the King or Queen of the first date, but it never leads to having a second date?

Check to see if you are exhibiting any of these behaviors. If so, make the appropriate changes to encounter more success in your dating adventures.

1. You exhibit a lack of common courtesy. When you are contacted by e-mail through an Internet dating site, you do not respond promptly, if at all, if you are not interested.
Instead: It only takes a few seconds to say, "Thanks, but no thanks." It's hard enough to get the courage up to contact a prospective date, at least let the sender know the e-mail was received. 

Other discourteous behaviors include giving out a wrong telephone number, saying you will call when you have no intention of doing so, talking on your cell phone or texting while on a date.
Instead: Simply be honest. If you don't want to see someone again, just thank him or her for the evening.

2. You exhibit a lack of honesty. Don't lie on your profile, especially about your age and weight. Don't post a picture that is 10 years old. Don't say you are divorced if you are only separated -- or worse yet -- still living with your partner.
Instead: Be upfront about yourself. Don't start a relationship with a lie.

3. You want to jump into bed before even getting to know someone. You are too touchy-feely at the inception of the relationship.
Instead: Let a relationship develop over time. Be wary of another's boundary space.

4. You reject prospective suitors because of a lack of immediate and heart pounding chemistry. 
Instead: Consider giving a date two to three times to show you his/her real self. Some people are very nervous on a first date and don't show their best side.

5. Poor hygiene. You don't take the time to clean yourself up; wear appropriate clothing; get a haircut. In other words, you are disrespectful to your date.
Instead: Put your best foot forward, for you only have one chance to make a first impression. Make your date feel as if he/she counts!

6. You are a "Negative Nelly." You wear a sourpuss all during the date. You have nothing nice to say about anyone or anything. You are mad at the world and feels it owes you something. 
Instead: Change your perspective and attitude to one of gratitude and positivity, which are attractive qualities and draw people to you rather than push them away.

7. You can't carry on a conversation. You neither listen well nor are able to come up with anything about which to talk.
Instead: Read a newspaper or watch TV to have some topic on which you can comment. Use active listening skills and echo back what your date says and then add your own opinion.

8. You monopolize the conversation and do not let your date contribute at all.
Instead: Remember that conversation is give and take. You are not Hamlet and it is not a soliloquy!

9. You are inflexible. You can't go with the flow, if there is a change in plans.
Instead: Recognize and accept that stuff comes up. Learn to deal with it gracefully.

10. You are cheap.
Instead: If you don't have a lot of money to spend, there are lots of fun places you can go and it won't cost your anything. For example, street fairs, free concerts in the park, a picnic at an innovative place, free movies that are shown at a park or outdoor shopping center, etc.

11. You are wishy-washy.
Instead: Have an opinion without being overly opinionated.

12. You are rude to those you consider "beneath" you, for example, clerks, wait staff, etc.
Instead: That's the problem right there. No one is "beneath" you. Treat everyone with equal respect.

If any of the twelve statements describe you, make the appropriate adjustments in your behavior and watch first dates turn into more!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Romantic vs Real Love

As children (and sometimes as adults), women fantasize of a white knight galloping by to rescue her from a life of drudgery, and they ride off into the sunset to live happily ever after. This sounds like shades of "Calgon, take me away ....", and the operative word in the previous sentence is FANTASY! It just doesn't happen that way, and the only person who can truly rescue you is YOU!

Idealized, or romantic, love is just that -- an image of perfection that cannot be attained, or, if attained momentarily, cannot be sustained.

Although romantic love can eventually turn into real love, usually chemistry is found at the foundation of this idealized love. So why do we become infatuated with some people and not with others? Moreover, why is it often the ones that are not right for us, for example, the "bad boy", who garners our rapt attention?

We are all products of our environment. As we grew, familial patterns were ingrained in our consciousness. If you did not have good role models to emulate, some of these patterns may be unhealthy. However, whether healthy or not, they are comfortable to us for we know how to operate within their parameters. Consequently, we radiate out these types of behaviors and subconsciously draw to us a repeat of a familial pattern, which often includes the worst traits of our childhood caregivers. It's a fact of nature that we are drawn to those who resemble our parents in their actions and, thus, we perpetuate the ingrained patterns. Additionally, we may be drawn to people who have negative traits that we possess but may deny in ourselves. Remember, if you spot it, you got it!! 

In truth, we are a pretty self-centered species. So it seems that romantic love, although it certainly feels wonderful for a while, is really about self-love or loving someone who is most like you or who "completes" you by exhibiting traits that you wish you had.

Real love, on the other hand, is selfless. It doesn't happen in an instant (although it can be sparked that way), but instead grows stronger and deeper over time with an ironclad commitment by both partners. It is based on friendship, respect and honor, and both partners are complete individuals on their own. Together their lives are enhanced by one another. 

Here are nine questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you are experiencing romantic love or real love.

1. Can you spend an evening together without engaging in any sexual conduct, including kissing?
If so, it's real.

2. Are you comfortable being alone with your partner and able to sit in silence without feeling awkward?
If so, it's real.

3. Do you objectify your partner by feeling it elevates your status because you have a beautiful/handsome date on your arm?
If so, it's romantic.

4. Are you embarrassed by your partner? Do you want to keep him/her hidden away from your friends because you are afraid they might not like him/her or don't think he/she is a good match for you?
If so, it's romantic.

5. Can you be totally honest with your partner and, if you disagree, not be afraid of losing him/her?
If so, it's real.

6. Is your established pattern with your partner one of constantly fighting and making up? Are you comfortable with this?
If so, it's romantic.

7. Even though you are in a committed relationship, in the back of your mind, are you still looking to see if there is something better around the corner? Is your relationship right or right now?
If so, it's romantic.

8. Is your relationship abusive, but you still profess "love" for your partner and make excuses for him/her?
If so, it's romantic.

9. Is your partner your best friend -- the one person with whom you want to share your triumphs and commiserate with your disasters and know that you will be loved in both instances?
If so, it's real.

Don't get me wrong, romantic relationships can be fun and we all need more romance in our lives. Simply recognize them for what they are ... practice! Your goal is to seek real love and then add romance to it.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Making A Plan To Find New Love

Whether it was death of a spouse, divorce or break-up, all of you occupy the same space now: singlehood. For some, it is a major adjustment after many happy years of marriage, and for others it may be a relief after a tumultuous relationship. In both instances, you need to heal and then regroup before venturing out into the dating arena.

As with all new undertakings, there are various ways to approach moving forward. As you probably have gleaned from my blogs, I am a fan of making a plan!

When doing so, here are some considerations for you to ponder.

1. Envision both the big and small picture. In other words, have a master plan but don't be so focused on the future that you miss what is going on directly in front of you. If you do, you might miss the building block opportunities presented to you every day.

2. Walk to your own drumbeat. This is my favorite, for, in my own seemingly conservative way, I am a rebel at heart because I always do what I believe is best ... even if it is not the 'popular' way. Just because something consistently has been done one way, it doesn't mean you are obligated to follow that path. If you are entering new territory, put you own spin on it. Do what feels right for YOU by listening to your inner compass or intuition.

3. It's good to have a plan, but all the details don't have to be worked out to perfection before you start. Accept that you will make mistakes and these mistakes will eventually make you more successful. Reject rigidity in your plan and refine/change it as you go along. As you get deeper into the dating arena, what you thought you wanted may change shape as you learn more about yourself.

4. You don't have to go it alone. Garner support from family and friends. Let them in on the secret that you are ready to welcome new love into your life. 

5. If you are overwhelmed or scared, concentrate on one step at a time. Maybe you can practice making new social connections on a friendly basis before moving onto romantic ones.

6. If you are disappointed by your results and your energy for finding new love is waning, recommit yourself to your plan. Rediscover your enthusiasm, your resolve and your belief that your special someone is waiting for you!

The basic aforementioned tips can be used in both your professional and personal life. In both instances, an important thing to remember is to keep your ego in check by not being afraid to do something simply because at the outset you can't perform well. Perhaps practice won't make it perfect, but it will increase your chances of success while honing your vision of how you want to paint the landscape of your life. And practice can also be lots of fun!!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sex and Money

You have probably heard many times that sex and money are the top two issues about which couples fight. However, since there are only two core emotions in the universe (love and fear) and all other emotions stem from these two, it seems likely that at the root of sexual and financial issues is fear.

In regard to sex, partners may harbor a fear of rejection; of not being confident in their physical appearance; of true intimacy; of aging issues; of physical limitations and on and on. This fear may manifest by pushing your partner away, even though what you long for is to be close. (As an aside, did you ever say to your partner, "Not tonight, honey. I have a headache." It turns out that sex is one of the best remedies for a headache. As it pulls the blood towards "other" body parts, the pounding in your head soon subsides!)

Money issues also stir up a lot of fear. For example, if one person is a spender and the other a saver, the former may feel the need to satisfy urges in the moment, while the latter is afraid of not having enough funds to last a lifetime. Looking beyond the issue, the spender may be a fatalist who feels his/her days are numbered and fully enjoying the present helps to assuage that fear. A saver may have had a poverty consciousness ingrained in his/her head as a child, and, therefore, is very afraid of not having more than enough of a financial cushion. So each partner comes to financial discussions with his/her own fears and the conflict about money is really not about money at all.

So underneath the excuses for conflict, if relationship issues are really about fear -- what else stirs up the pot in the relationship arena?

Here are three big issues.
1. Taking a relationship for granted.
2. Actions misunderstood and underappreciated.
3. Allowing conflict/arguments to spiral out of control.

Let's discuss how to avoid these pitfalls.

Taking A Relationship For Granted
We all have busy lives, and it is very easy to become overwhelmed by one's responsibilities and slip into mindless routines to get the job done. One of the fastest ways to douse the flames of love is to accomplish your tasks by putting your relationship last on your "to do" list. Love needs to be nourished and partners need to be reminded as to why they fell in love and with whom they fell in love.

One suggestion is make a date night. You don't have to even leave the house! Make a special dinner, watch a movie, cuddle up and talk. The point is to give your undivided and uninterrupted attention to your partner. Here's a simple date night in which my late husband and I participated. On Fridays, he left work a little early and we went out for an early dinner. On the way home, we would do our weekly food shopping. We would stroll down the aisles, hand-in-hand, and decide and plan the menus for the following week. We would stop for dessert at the bakery and sit for a few moments and connect. Remember ... it doesn't matter the activity; the important thing is that you and your partner are doing something TOGETHER! 

Actions Misunderstood and Feeling Underappreciated
Most are familiar with the Golden Rule, which states "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." In essence, you should treat others the way you want to be treated. In relationships, I believe you should take this one step further and also institute the Platinum Rule. This rule states that you should take into consideration what your partner truly wants and provide it for him/her, instead of simply giving what would make you happy or what you "assume" would make him/her happy. 

Here's an example. Suppose you are the type of person who likes to be left alone when you are sick, which means burrowing into your cave by not talking to anyone, not being pampered, etc., while your partner is the ultimate caregiver. So, even though out of love and concern, the caretaker wants to bring the partner chicken soup, fluff the pillows, etc, he/she must respect the other's need to be left alone. That is doing what the partner wants/needs rather than satisfying his/her own innate need to give comfort. 

The bottom line? If you want to be understood, clearly state what you want and need and don't ASS-U-ME (because you know what that means!) your partner has that information. No one is a mind reader. If you want to be appreciated, help your partner in a way he/she finds most comfortable and not the way you want to show your love. Moreover, remember to use your manners with your family members. Being polite and saying please and thank you goes a very long way towards making one feel special.

Allowing Conflict/Arguments To Spiral Out of Control
All couples have conflict. It's a natural consequence of living intimately with another person. If you are exactly the same as your partner, one of you would be unnecessary! Consequently, conflict isn't the problem -- how we handle it, though, can create a multitude of issues.

It's always good to cool off before speaking to your partner about an issue. Ask to set aside a time when you can discuss. In this way, you don't ambush your partner by putting him/her on the defensive by stating those ominous words, "We have to talk."

Words said in the heat of the moment tend to be harsh and blame rather than look for solutions. Search for ways that you and your partner can both be right or, at a minimum, agree to disagree. If you are wrong or can rethink your position after listening to your partner's side of the story, don't be afraid to admit you made a mistake; that shows great character. Finish your discussion with good feelings about each other's ability to work out conflict and forge compromises.

In conclusion, when issues arise in a relationship, I suggest to look below the surface to discover the "real" issue and what fear is being ignited within you by a particular set of circumstances. Find ways to quiet the fear and conflicts can be resolved in a peaceful, healthy and successful manner.