You Were A Spoiled Brat — Here’s How to Grow Up

At three years of age, Ron was a terror. He basically got what he wanted, not by crying for it, but by waging war. He could not be grabbed fast enough to discipline. He stuck his tongue out at his mother when she tried to teach him right from wrong. He sassed her by poking his rear end out of his pants and laughing before he ran away. At five, he was kicking his parents if they tried to discipline him. They gave up. They told themselves, “He’ll grow out of it.” That was a big mistake. Why would he grow out of it? He had no incentive to do so and got whatever he wanted by being a terror. Why Spoiling a Child is Child Abuse Ron was smart, and school came easy to him. As he got older, he thought going to class once in a while, taking the test cold, and acing it was funny, so he did it for laughs. He got away with the absences because he played football; he made a name for the school. Ron was also a good-looking boy. Although they seemed like assets, his smarts and his looks were really curses because they enabled him to get away with things. He never learned responsibility. Vivian, a lovely woman he met in college, fell in love with him, intelligent and attractive as he was. And he had that air of certainty and all-knowingness that women find appealing. He had learned to be “nice” by observing that if you act in a particular way, you usually get what you want: that’s charm,...

Do We Gossip Because Our Lives are Empty?

I can think of a bunch of magazines that would go out of business if we weren’t real curious about the lives of celebrities. Not to mention the TV and movie industries that thrive on it. The same goes for the ordinary gossip about the woman down the block. Why We’re Curious About Celebrities There is something good about it and something not so good about our gossip. The good reason, I suspect, is that we all want templates, role models, for constructing better lives. In spite of celebrity hardship in the relationship area, celebrities do represent success. And that’s something all of us wish for. Or at least dream about. That’s a good thing. There’s nothing wrong with looking up to someone you admire for creating a path that you could follow, maybe to a lesser degree. But how many people actually use the lives of celebrities as roadmaps for personal achievement? Not so many. A second question might be: Are we more interested in their success or their failure? A recent report indicated that what grabs most of our curiosity is the latter. That makes my whole premise wrong. Which leads me to the bad part. People’s lives may be missing something. People feel an emptiness that they can fill with addictions, obsessive thoughts, or gossip—about celebrities or friends. These are really bad choices because they don’t actually “fill” that empty space. Let’s take addictions which is familiar to most people as an example. How Celebrity Gossip Is Like Other Addictions The addicted person, say, has internet sex, feels great for about 2 or 3 minutes, maybe...

How Your Anxiety Hurts Your Spouse and Children

The snow was piling up and Maggie paced the floor. She was so anxious, she started to feel as though she were getting a heart attack. One time, she went to the E.R. thinking that she really was having some kind of cardiac episode but after a night full of tests, they told her she was “just” having a panic attack. Just. Harrumph. They should only have one and then see if they still have the nerve to say it’s “just” a panic attack, she thought. These things are not small potatoes. And now it was happening again. She kept looking out the window. “Where is he?” She repeated to herself almost like a mantra. “Where is he?” It started to look almost like a choreographed sequence: First, she’d look out the window; then she’d pace a little; then she’d repeat her question to no one there, and then back to the window. When Ethan walked in the door, she shrieked. Then Maggie threw her hands over her face and burst into tears. Ethan was 1 hr. 15 min late. Given the weather conditions, that wasn’t bad. But for Maggie, the first minute he was not home on time, the worrying began. Ethan cradled her in his arms. They’d been through this before. “It’s a good thing you married me,” he crooned, “because I understand you.” “Yes, you do,” Maggie sobbed, “so you know why I got frantic when you weren’t home on time.” Your Anxiety Hurts Others Ethan smiled benignly. He could afford to be relaxed. After all, he knew where he’d been. He only got equally upset...

Conflict Resolution Requires Respect

Calista and Ben were bickering again. “I think going to a beach for a week would just be so boring,” Ben said, concerning their vacation plans. “Not only would I be bored but you would be, too. You think you just need to lay out in the sun and do nothing, but I know you; you’d get bored so quick. And then what? We’d be stuck on an island with little to do or we’d give it up and lose the rest of our deposit.” “Not at all,” Calista argued. We would have plenty to do. We could rent bikes. That would be so much fun. “Every day?” Ben retored. “Who are you kidding? That would get old, fast, too. Or the mosquitos would chase you back to the hotel.” “So what’s your idea of a great vacation—hiking? I have no energy for that. And camping? Please! Without a hot shower, I wouldn’t call it a vacation.” “No, we could get showers,” Ben replied reasonably. They have a main house with accommodations at one of the stops on the trail. It’s do-able. “We have an eight-year old,” Calista reminded. “Have you forgotten?” “I used to love camping when I was eight,” came Ben’s quick response. This could go on all night. There are people who tell me their “discussions” do go on all night, and sometimes into the next day. And longer. What’s wrong with this picture? Arguments Go Round and Round If you said, “It never ends, and that’s not the way marriage is supposed to be,” you’d be right. Why would Calista and Ben think it would...

15 Reasons Not to Divorce

   If your marriage is so very bad that you are on the brink of divorce, then that is precisely when you should not divorce. Here are 15 reasons why: Don’t Divorce When Things Are Awful 1. Whatever made you angry has no chance of being resolved in court. In court, the differences are exaggerated and the feeling of not having been treated fairly increases. 2. Research shows that violence escalates when you divorce and for two years afterwards. If there was no violence, verbal aggression can also escalate to violence. 3. According to a 2011 article on the CNBC site, mediated divorces can cost between several thousand dollars to $7,000, but litigation could cost as much as $50,000. An author, Brette Sember noted that people are usually not prepared for the amount of the retainer and further unprepared for the bills that follow. The article advises coming in having discussed carefully how everything would be divided. Is there something in this scenario a bit incongruous? The article was taken down as of this checkup (2015) so I guess the cost went UP. According to updated info, attorneys are between $150 and $450 an hour. I have never met a $150 attorney in my life although they may bill that for paralegal time. This site indicates the divorce on average is $15,500. 4. Now two households will have to be supported. Whatever your expenses were, now it’s double. 5. Let’s add other “hidden” expenses: houses which no longer have cash value; health insurance; college for children; small but meaningful items in the home such as artwork, memberships, airline miles....

How to Give Constructive Criticism

Check out my last post to understand this one. I gave a simple solution to dealing with a person who cannot tolerate the smell of blame and therefore will not accept any feedback that he or she hurt your feelings. The problem, I could hear you saying, even before I finished clicking “save” is that it won’t work. No matter how well you set up the discussion ahead of time so that you attempt to convey that you are absolutely 100% not blaming, when you begin to say, “When you did X, it hurt my feelings,” you have lost your audience. I’m here to tell you that my suggestion will work. It just needs some sugar to make the medicine go down. Let me explain. Building Up Self Esteem We started with the premise that your partner cannot tolerate hearing anything that smacks of blame. So the solution is to fool him or her. This will break the chain of association in your partner’s mind between a “serious discussion of my feelings” and the assumption that the next step will be blame. What you must do is start setting up “meetings” as I described in the previous blog, only in these meetings you will pay a compliment. Your partner will be on guard for blame and criticism and instead will receive, very seriously delivered, with great attention to how you word it, praise. It could be as simple as telling him or her how much it meant to you that he/she did the grocery shopping/homework with the kids/laundry/yard/bathroom/spoke pleasantly to your mother, and so forth. The key is to...

Why People Don’t Apologize and What to Do About It

It’s amazing how many people can’t seem to apologize. Here are some reason that this might happen: They grew up in homes where people were blamed whenever things went wrong. Therefore, apologizing is not only an admission that they did something wrong—which they probably heard too much of in their lives already—but it’s opening themselves to being the target of blame. Would you start lacing into them? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter; they’re just afraid of it. Even when their logical mind knows better, people like this don’t want to put themselves in a place that feels icky because of past associations. They grew up in homes where they were perfect; they could do nothing wrong. Now, you know that can’t be true; no one is perfect. But some people were never told that. This can happen because parents are genuinely afraid to discipline their children or because they honestly don’t see anything wrong with the behavior. Either way, the child honestly doesn’t know that he or she did something wrong. To educate a person of either type in trying to help a marriage is very challenging. When you try to explain that the person in Category 1 did something wrong, they automatically slide into victim mode; they feel like they’re being blamed. This makes them defensive and sometimes they pre-emptively attack you, adding more injury on top of whatever it was in the first place. A person in Category 2 is just as difficult to teach. Such a person has no comprehension of what you’re talking about. They are likely to say, “No, I didn’t” when you...

How to Be Assertive and Get Treated Like an Equal

You may remember I was letting you peek into the lives of Cally and Tim. Tim was a busy, focused man and when he needed something from Cally, he would simply give her marching orders. His demeanor, though cold, was not rude, and Cally could not put her finger on why it bothered her. I explained why in my post, Two Simple Secrets of Assertiveness. I then suggested what she tell Tim to get him to start out nicer, but what I did not discuss in that post was how to get Tim to see Cally as an equal, how to get him to value her work as a mother of very young children. The No-No of Assertiveness One thing that must underlie Cally’s conversation is not to try to explain how badly this makes her feel. Do you remember Spok from Star Trek? Presumably, he didn’t comprehend feelings. I am not suggesting that Tim doesn’t have feelings, but what I’ve noticed is that an awful lot of people are far more sympathetic to their own feelings than to those of other people. So if Tim’s friends who need to borrow his drill don’t call up and say, “Hi, how are you?” before spitting out their request and if Tim does not think that’s unusual or cold, then he will not understand why it should be hurtful to Cally. On the other hand, if at work, a colleague maneuvers so as to get a deal that should have been Tim’s, oh boy, will Tim’s feelings be hurt! He will be mad. See how this works? And by the way,...

Two Simple Secrets of Assertiveness

Cally was rushing. She was making something that had to get put in the oven in just 15 min in order to come out on time for her to dash off to do carpool. Hopefully, the baby wouldn’t mind being awakened from her nap at that point. Her days—and nights—were always like that: rushing from one task to another with little time to think, prepare or, it seemed, breathe. What Dismissive Behavior Looks Like Just then the phone rang. She had to take it. It was Tim, her husband. His voice was deep and strong, a voice she had once thrilled to hear. But lately it had a coolness to it that set off a wave of anxiety. He was calling from work, a place that made her hectic life seem tame. In spite of that, he never lost control. He seemed to float above the anxiety. One of the tricks he used to survive was to delegate. And he never shied away from delegating to Cally. “Cally,” he said, without a “Hi” or a “How are you?” “I need you to look up something for me on my computer. It’s information that I would not put in my work computer; it’s sensitive. But I need it now, okay?” Cally couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong with his request, but it was as if a scaffolding collapsed raining down concrete and sheetrock. Cally couldn’t say why she felt that way and she just breathed a sigh, telling him she needed to get dinner into the oven right now so that Jason would have it when she got him home from...
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