Author Archives: Dr. Karen

Special Gifts

The season of “giving” (also known as the season of “getting”) has finally arrived. Generally, we end up with lots of stuff we really don’t want or even need. Though the gestures are nice, in reality, no one likes fruit cake and likely the scarf from your co-worker came straight out of their re-gifting closet.

So, what can you give that’s special instead of the usual Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards and Target candles? Well, as a relationship expert, I see a great unmet need. There’s a gift people are absolutely craving for … the gift of YOU, being real and actually showing up for them. I know of nothing better than a person who really cares enough to pay attention.

So this holiday, skip the “stuff” and give what matters instead. Here are 7 ways to give the people you love what truly matters this holiday season:

  1. Monitoring your complaints. The world is pretty stressful these days; it seems we’re constantly being bombarded with all sorts of negativity. When we get together with those we’re close to, whether a mate or friend, we look for “an oasis in the dessert.”  The last thing we want to hear is more negativity. Take a personal negativity check and if you tend to be a complainer, reel it in.
  2. Express real interest.Okay – so you’re someone who makes inquiries about those close to you.  But do you really listen to the response or are there several other things on your mind? When you first got together with your mate, everything he or she told you was important – you paid attention to the details.  Well, time to get back to that behavior and make it more of a habit.  Your mate will love this gift of real concern.
  3. Be sensitive to other’s situations. Lucky you – you’ve got happily married kids and a couple of grandkids.  When you’re out with friends, be aware of their situation.  Though they may be polite, it’s not enjoyable for them to hear you go on and on about your grandkids or look at tens of pictures as they’re silently craving they’re lives had a couple of grandkids also being toilet trained.
  4. Different styles. You and your friends love spending time together – but at what cost? The two couples may not be able to afford the same style of restaurant or indulge in the same drinking patterns.  At least have the courtesy to offer to balance out the check.
  5. The little things matter. Part of being a couple is the business of living.  So that includes the usual chores of food shopping, doing the laundry, taking out the garbage, preparing dinner, etc.  Sure these are mundane tasks but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be appreciated.  Acknowledging what your partner does will send the message, “You matter.”
  6. Your opinion counts. Nobody likes someone who’s wishy-washy or who flip-flops.  Alternatively, being a “know-it-all” isn’t so appealing either. You’re entitled to your opinion and so is the other person.  So, when you’re going to voice your opinion, state it as such and be willing to hear what the others have to say.
  7. PDA with a twist.You’ve probably learned that public display of affection might be a bit embarrassing to others.  Well, so can pointing out your partner’s faults in public.  Not only can it make others feel uncomfortable, but doing this is one of the biggest breaches of trust in a relationship. If something upsets you, you need to talk about it with your mate in private.

 

There’s probably a bunch more of these gifts, but it’s a good start.  My guess is that if you can get into this mindset, you can think of many more on your own.

As I said, they won’t cost you anything financially, but I know they’ll offer you a whole lot towards creating an Empowered Relationship. Happy giving!

 

Gifts with Real Meaning

The full swing of the Holidays has begun. As such, there are probably lots of concerns that arise especially in the gift giving area. With everything else you do, how are you possibly going to make time to get gifts? What can you possibly buy that’s not going to break the bank? And perhaps, the real issue is: can you get an item for someone that will truly be something they’d like?

As a relationship expert who’s constantly observing the world, I think I’ve come up with an idea that will answer all three of the aforementioned concerns! Step back for just a moment and you’ll see what I mean: the world is just SO frenzied and though we’re connected via a number of social media sites, are we truly connected? I think what we’d really enjoy from someone is a sense of feeling them, their presence, their mindfulness.

With that in mind, here are a couple of ideas as gifts:

  1. Decide to make it a habit to let your mate know that you appreciate him or her – even for the day-to-day activities around the house. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for what they do regardless of how simple the task.
  2. Start to really pay attention to each other again. You did this when you were in the Honeymoon Phase so it’s not something you don’t know how to do. Typically, after we get involved, we take each other for granted. We forget to ask about each other’s day. And if we do, we don’t really listen to the answer. Give back this gift.
  3. Notice your partner and pay him or her a compliment. When you do this, it sends the message “You matter.”
  4. Be willing to let go of the little things, don’t nag or criticize so much. Research says that even if you’ve been positive (paying a compliment) 5x, 1 negative will wipe out those 5 positive statements. To help you “let go,” think of the big picture.
  5. Brag about your mate in public. When you’re out with friends, speak about your partner and tell a story that puts them in a good light. This will score big time and make your other half feel like they’ve received a special gift.

Though these may sound a bit corny to you, I’d venture to say that these are the “stuff” that will resonate; it’s the little things that will have a far more powerful reach for an Empowered Relationship!

Holiday Time … Again!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and it’s generally considered the official marker of the Holiday Season in the United States. It’s that time of year again! It’s supposed to be the time of year that brings joy and sentiments of good wishes. However, what most people experience, instead, is a great deal of stress and anxiety.

The cause of these negative emotions can come from a number of factors, many of which feel out of your control. I’m hoping this post will help clarify some of these concerns.

Many of you attempt to make the Holidays “just right.” Unfortunately, this often leads to disappointment. You put in a great deal of effort and either the things you did, don’t go the way you hoped, or the amount of effort you made isn’t appreciated. There are several possible remedies for this dilemma: 1) Accept that you do what you do because it’s who you are; getting appreciation is a bonus. 2) Only extend yourself to the degree you truly want to. And 3) Allow yourself to ask for help.

Another source of stress for many is about gift-giving. Here, too, there are some things you can do to gain some relief. First, ask others to give you a list of several items they’d like to receive and choose from the list. Guessing about what to get someone is stressful for you, and if it isn’t an item the person likes, it’s also anxiety ridden for them as they receive it. In today’s economy, you might all decide to limit how many presents will be exchanged. Homemade gifts are also very thoughtful.

In the past, I’ve written about the fact that, largely because of the media portrayal, you have a misperception of what the Holidays “look” like as you get together with your family. The reality is that most families do not function in the harmonious, connected, joyful way the writers’ imagination would have you believe. Just knowing this can help.

But to be more practical about the emotional, here are some things you help you as you make your visits:

  1. Know that many of your childhood issues get triggered when you interact with your family of origin. This will help you not go into the situation blind-sided.
  2. Anticipate what some of the annoying behaviors are of the various family members. You can even make a game out of it which provides some distancing from it.
  3. Remember that everyone has warts (or imperfections), even you. Try to think about the positive things about someone and “let go” of the other annoyances. After all, the visit will be short-lived and the consequences and hard feelings of conflicts will last a long time afterwards.
  4. Create a signal with your mate or another family member who feels as you do so you can step away and take a breather, if necessary.
  5. Offer to help. By being in the kitchen or involved in activities you end up out of the line of action.

In general, try to remember that this is a time of year to reflect on all the things in life that are good. Even though there may be sadness for some of you, try to stay focused on the positive. Even small things, especially small things, can really make a difference!

Empowered Relationships Through Team Accountability

In today’s world, most people still want to be part of a couple and to benefit from the joys of sharing a life with someone. Perhaps, one of the changes that many don’t think about is that as part of a couple there is now an accountability factor. The upside of this is that you matter to someone, there’s another person who is aware of you.

There are two areas of accountability that I’ve found create difficulty for the couples with whom I work.

For some people, being accountable feels like they’re being controlled, like a child. I’d suggest that it’s helpful to think of a committed relationship as if you’re a team. In working as part of a team, you don’t make an individual move without letting the other players know what you’re doing.

I’m working with a couple now where he spends large sums of money without consulting his wife. (Luckily, they have the resources for him to do so.) Sometimes, the expenditure is to help one of the kids financially. Though his wife doesn’t care that he spends the money, she’s upset by the fact that he hasn’t communicated it to her. It turns out that since he was a young teen, he’s been independently earning money and this is just a very old pattern. There’s no harm intended … but to her, it feels like there’s a lack of communication and they aren’t functioning as partners. She’s right!

Let me use myself as another variation of accountability. Because of my childhood, I had lots of abandonment issues. Many years ago, before cell phones, my husband would come home late and forget to call. I’d go into a panic and when he got home, the panic turned into anger. Initially, he felt I was controlling him based on my need to have him call. Then, he realized that part of being a loving partner was being sensitive to my sensitivities. Here’s how I explain it to clients: “Would you bring an ice cream cake home to your mate on her birthday if she had diabetes?”

As simplistic as this may sound, your partnership is the basic unit. It’s the two of you. The more you work as partners and dance together, the more you’ll make beautiful music and have an empowered relationship.

Take Care of Your Relationship for Your Children’s Sake

Though there are a great many options and variations available today in the way in which people live out their lives, for the most part, the norm is still to get married and have children. I don’t think that the old rhyme of “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes ____ with the baby carriage,” is yet totally out-of-date.

What’s changed, however, is the style in which children are raised. Mostly as a result of the economy and the women’s movement, more moms are in the work force rather than staying home in the role of the traditional homemaker. As a result, there’s also a difference in the attention that’s given to children.

Presuming Mom’s working, she’ll have less time to spend with the kids. Of course, the good news is that today’s Dads are more involved than they were years ago. However, research has indicated that the involvement of Dad is very important for a child’s healthy development.

Overall, our society is far more stressed. So even if Mom is able to stay home, there’s a lot to do. Much of it may even be the hectic schedule that the kids, themselves, have.

One of the messages that seems to have infiltrated our belief system (and rightfully so) is the importance of how one raises their child. Certainly, it’s a well-known fact that there’s great devastation to children when parents divorce. Even when there’s no divorce, the early developmental years are very significant to later healthy personalities and the forming of relationships. So, the early care-taking experiences and styles of parenting are very important.

I think that a byproduct of all of this awareness combined with the reality of the limitation of time, has resulted in an unexpected negative consequence: the couple suffers. As parents, you want the best for your children. You want to make sure you offer them love, time, and activities. But with all else that is going on, how much energy and time is leftover for you individually or as a couple?

Recent research has indicated that a couple who’s child-centric is harming their relationship. Additionally, it’s better for your children if you pay attention to your relationship. It’s important for children to see the two of you offering a role model of what a good relationship looks like.

Many Moms feel guilty when they take some time for themselves; they feel as if they’re being selfish. This is absolutely not the case! Rather, this is a necessary thing to do to refuel so that they can continue to do their parenting job well. The same is true as a couple.

Then, of course, there are the practical concerns: how do you leave the children to get out and with the costs of babysitters these days, how do you afford it? Good news: to have quality time with one another, you don’t have to vacate the property nor spend a fortune. All it takes is allocating 15 minutes once or twice a week. At first, that may seem like a strain; if so, start with 10 minutes one time a week and build up.

To help you out with some ideas, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Watch a movie & eat popcorn
  2. Put on some music and dance
  3. Prepare a meal together
  4. Eat pizza over candlelight
  5. Play a board game or cards
  6. Bring out old pictures and get ready for some nostalgia
  7. Talk about anything — however, the kids, finances, and problems are “off limits”

By doing these small simple things, you will be gaining large advantages to your relationship. You’ll even be preventing one of the major factors in the empty nest syndrome. Though this may seem a bit odd at first, it really is good for you — and your children!

 

Warning Signs to a Long-term Relationship

If you live in the Northeast as I do, spring has finally arrived. I don’t know about you, but I find that there’s something magical about this time of year — everything seems to take on a more positive glow. Trees blossom and birds sing.

Maybe that’s why people come out of their literal and figurative shelters and have a greater sense of openness. With that type of positive attitude, it’s easy to understand how love is more likely to occur. I think it’s great!

Since we live in a coupled society, what could be better than falling in love? Emotions generally override clear thinking and love being a powerful emotion is certainly going to get in the way of thinking things through. So, you don’t want to be blinded by this filter and get involved with someone who isn’t really the right person for you.

It’s true that each person puts their best foot forward as they begin the relationship. That’s part of the reason that it’s a good idea to not make a commitment to a permanent relationship too early on. As the relationship progresses and each of you becomes more comfortable in it, you’ll display more of who you are. Of course, by that time, it may be too late — you’re already hooked.

However, there are indicators right in the beginning that can let you know if the person who you’ve started to date is going to be someone you’d rather not be involved with long-term. This post is being written to help you be aware of some “red flags.” There are warning signs to a long-term relationship.

Though this list is not exhaustive, here are some things to watch out for:

1. Does the person tell you too much about their personal history too early on? There’s a pacing that is normal in any relationship. If someone reveals too much too soon, it generally suggests that there are boundary issues.
2. Does the person have a habit that you find annoying right from the beginning? If so, this is only going to get more annoying. Remember each of you is on your best behavior right now.
3. If you’re dating a divorced gal with kids: does she expect you to be a part of their lives too soon into your relationship? is she able to discipline them?, does her “ex” do the right thing by them?
4. If you’re a divorced guy with kids, does your lady accept that you have to make time for your children or does she find this an imposition?
5. What has the other person told you about former relationships? Does he or she totally blame the other person for the problems or are they willing to accept some responsibility for the break up? Rarely is a problem (other than an abusive situation) the fault of only one individual.
6. Have there been other long-term relationships or does the person just go from one individual to another? The latter might indicate a commitment problem.
7. What kind of relationship does the person have with his or her parents? If someone’s either overly involved or not close at all, it tends to be indicative of a problem.
8. Look at the behavior on the first date. How does the gal order — does she go for the most expensive item on the menu? Does the guy pay?
9. Not including the first time you get together because an individual can be nervous, is he or she only talking about himself or herself? Is there an interest in you and your life?

As I said, this list is not complete. If you’re uncertain, ask your friends. Research has actually shown that when it comes to matters of the heart, your friends will know better what is good for you than you will. As upsetting as that may sound, it’s because they can be more objective in assessing the situation.

One more point: be aware that if there’s an attribute you don’t care for in someone, it’s unwise to think that eventually you’ll change that trait in him or her. You don’t have the right to change another person; rather, you only have the right to change your reaction.

Pay attention to the warning signs of a long-term relationship because though I may have taken the “springtime” romantic version out of love, hopefully with these tips, I’ve helped some of you make choices that will bring you long-term happiness!

Help for serious relationship concerns

Do you recall how it feels when you first fall in love with someone? Those feelings are remarkable, like a natural “high,” the kind of stuff you wish could last forever. And then for many reasons, those feelings go away. For some, the relationship ends. For others, it continues but in a more committed way. Those of us who are in the relationship business try to teach you how you recapture those initial feelings.

Perhaps, the biggest problem is for those whose relationship didn’t end but for whom it would have been better if it had. After being with each other for the long haul, you start to realize that you weren’t really meant to be together. How can this happen? Well, love is one major emotional state and as that phenomenon, love is blind. There are any number of things you’ll do in the name of love…and any number of things you’ll overlook.

In today’s blog, I’d like to offer some tips on how to assess whether your relationship has some red flags; to give you some help for serious relationship concerns.

Though your mother probably told you when you were a teenager that just because everyone else was doing something that didn’t mean you had to, in this case, you ought to pay attention to the majority. If many of your friends and/or family see a trait in your partner, don’t ignore it. They can see it because they aren’t experiencing the same emotions you are.

There are indications of possible abusive relationships. You stop seeing and/or talking to your friends and family either because your partner wants you to or because you don’t want to tell them things. Certainly, if he or she becomes physically or verbally abusive, it’s a bad sign.

You need to pay attention if it’s been over a month that you’ve felt distressed and nothing you do seems to take the feeling away; or you don’t like yourself, the way you behave, and the way your partner makes you feel; or one or both of you is depressed and miserable.

Finally, another real concern is if there’s a third person who’s unbelievably unnecessarily involved in your relationship and the two of you can’t work it out.

Have you heard the phrase, “What you see is what you get?” Well, I have added to that phrase: “The only thing that changes is that you get more of it.” What I mean by this is that initially people create their best image. So, if you see a trait you don’t like in someone, don’t expect it to decrease. As the relationship goes on, and each of you feels more comfortable in it, that very same trait is only going to be exhibited more.

My favorite example is of a person who comes into your house and immediately throws their jacket on the chair. That person isn’t going to become a neat freak. Rather, eventually he or she will throw their socks and their shoes and their underwear. I’m not passing judgment on this trait, but merely pointing out how it will evolve.

Though there is help for serious relationship concerns, remember, don’t go into a relationship thinking you’ll change the other person. Not only do you not have the right to do this, but it’s a sure way to expect problems.

So, take the love goggles off — though we still want justice to be blind, you don’t want to enter your relationship blindly!

Women and Men Process Differently Part 2

In last week’s post, I spoke about women needing to be aware (or needing to remember) that women and men process information differently. Males tend to do so slower. Therefore, a woman may get frustrated or feel like a man is non-responsive when, in reality, he’s still taking the information in.

Having simple information like this really helps couples to better connect with each other and not feel so disappointed in their relationship.

In today’s blog, I’d like to address some fine-tuning to assist the gents – to offer a road map, if you will (since I know how much guys hate to ask for directions).

Referring to a couple with whom I was working, he reported, happily, that they were communicating a lot more. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that her version on the matter was not as satisfactory. Truth be told, her comment was something like, “Well, yes, we’re talking but just about things … not about us.”

As she made this statement, if this were a movie, the director would now do a close-up of his face to capture a look of “He’s clueless!”

One of the main problems this couple has been having is, like so many other couples, that of communication. What was even more difficult for these two is that he tends to be opinionated and argumentative in their discussions. So, when he reported that they’ve been talking a lot more and it’s been pleasant conversation, he did so with a great deal of pride because of the effort he made to change his style.

I now literally had to walk him through, step-by-step what a conversation would look like that would be of a personal nature; one that would allow his wife to feel more connected, or “to be there” for her. I decided to lay out these steps to the men reading this post as well.

1. When a woman tells you something of a personal nature, she doesn’t want you to offer a solution; she doesn’t want you to fix it. She only wants to have you hear her; have you share in her private feelings and thoughts.
2. If you’re not sure of what she wants, ask! “Do you want me to offer a solution or shall I just listen?”
3. After she has said whatever she wants to share with you, some small gesture, like putting your hand on hers or nodding is comforting. It may even be enough for her.
4. This is really important: You don’t have to agree with what she’s saying. You don’t have to understand her logic. She’s merely expressing her feelings and/or thoughts to you.
5. Questions like: “Can you tell me more about it?” “How did that make you feel?” or statements like: “Oh, I see” “Wow” or “That must have been hard” are all good.
6. Statements like: “You’re being silly” “You’re being oversensitive” “You’re over-reacting” or “Get over it” will land you sleeping on the sofa.
7. Eye contact, unless you’re driving, adds extra points. If you’re driving, a gesture like a touch on the knee is connecting.
8. And … the most fatal mistake of all: Don’t ever use what she’s told you against her in an argument or to prove a point.

Though I’ve tried to add some levity to this issue since I’m writing to you guys, please take the message seriously. The relationship and life you save may be your own!

Women and Men Process Differently Part 1

I always find my work with people so fascinating because, though there are so many commonalities, there are also a variety of specifics that each person or each couple brings in.

Recently, I realized that there’s something that needs to be spelled out regarding how people in a relationship interact with each other. More and more, it’s apparent that specific information is not readily known. And when these details can be enumerated for a struggling couple, it will make their partnership much easier.

Since I was able to do this fine tuning with one couple just a few days ago, I wanted to share this knowledge with you. It turns out that assistance was needed on both the male and female side. Therefore, I’m going to present the situation in two blogs. In today’s posting, I’ll address what I think will be helpful for the women to know. Next week, you can look forward to the insights for the male side.

Let me first share with you the details of the situation. We were discussing something and the woman was upset that her husband didn’t “get” it. It seemed to me that, in fact, he did understand the point she was making. Yet, she wasn’t satisfied.

When I questioned, “Why?” she responded that, before they came in, he didn’t have the same response. She went on to say that it was her belief that her spouse was merely trying to look good in front of me. I addressed her husband, and again, I felt that he did understand her point.

So, what could cause this discrepancy? What I have learned is that people process information at different speeds or in different ways. Sometimes, what some people “get” immediately, takes others a while to integrate and process.

I happen to be a fast processor. Yet, at times, I’ll need to run things past several people for their input before I can truly come to terms with it. Or, I’ve now come to realize that I can present something to my husband and it will take him a day or so before he’s had time to work on it and digest it before reflecting back on it to me.

Let’s go back to my clients. She felt that her mate was not being truthful because he initially had one response to her and then presented another response in front of me. Do people sometimes try to make themselves look good? Sure. But, I suggest that just like in this case, it may also be a matter of having time to think about a situation.

Ladies: the truth is that most men do process differently than we do. That’s now a known fact. Women employ both hemispheres at the same time to process information; men use their left and right brains sequentially. So before you feel hurt and as if your man is not being upfront with you, consider the real possibility that he’s just different than you and is taking in information differently than you!

Dancing with Your Mate

Since relationships are so important, there are constantly studies being done to find out the qualities or tools that will help to enhance one’s partnership. One of these pieces of information is the importance of novelty. Often, it’s been suggested that to add spice to your relationship, you need to mix it up a bit; thus, do some things that are different.

Even newer research is indicating that what seems to help a couple having a long-term commitment is one that offers change in their relationship. This makes sense. After all, when you’re with the same person for hopefully the long haul, things do get a bit monotonous.

There’s also been quite a bit written about affairs. The truth is that affairs occur for a variety of reasons. I would imagine that one explanation, or at least an element for some, is a sense of boredom. When you’re with someone new, it sets off all sorts of neurochemical reactions in your brain.

It’s been found that the chemicals released when one is “in lust” create feelings similar to those one gets when they’re on a drug. No wonder it feels so good!

But — there’s also something very different about the affair situation — it’s not real. Oh yes … the feelings you’re experiencing might feel very real, but the situation isn’t. You’re not living with one another each day, every day, with the task of getting through the mundane chores of a partnership and/or family. In the latter, there are bills to be paid, dirty clothes to be dealt with, and crazy schedules to keep. The list can go on and on.

When you’re emotionally involved with someone new, you’re blinded by your emotions just as you were in the “Honeymoon phase” of your present relationship. The only difference is that the new relationship offers uniqueness. It’s quite the contrast to the “same old, same old” sentiments that you experience at home.

No doubt, through the years, you’ve also gotten into a great deal of entanglement with your present mate. Many times, you might question what you ever saw in this person, and it doesn’t seem like there’s any way to resolve this mess. It all can easily lead to thinking, “It’s just best to start over.”

However, just because you switch partners doesn’t mean you’re going to dance differently. You are still you, and it will only be a matter of time until the glow of love and fantasy will wane as the day-to-day mundane aspects start to arise.

Many times, I’ve spoken with clients who are really down in the dumps and feel that their lives are a mess. Suddenly, they come up with the idea that they’ll move to a whole new location to start over. There’s just one problem — they are still with themselves!

The same goes for you in a partnership. As unromantic as it sounds, good relationships take work. So, before you throw in the towel and try to start again, realize that unless you have learned new ways of functioning in your partnership, the same concerns will be there with a new “dance” partner. For most of you, there has been a shared history with your present mate. Often, there are children involved. Know that though you might not be experiencing positive feelings at this moment, they can be revived.

You owe it to yourself to give it a try!