Are you putting your financial cart before your marriage horse?

May 17th, 2015

In today’s Washington Post, Michelle Singletary has written a good piece on the wisdom (or not) of becoming financially committed to someone before deciding on marriage. In her column, The Color of Money, Ms. Singletary clearly states that she is not trying to make a judgment about the morality of living together before marriage—her concern is that you don’t share your finances before saying I do. She understands how it happens—folks think, two can live cheaper than one, why don’t we just combine our money in a joint bank account since we spend it together, let’s not waste money on rent, let’s buy something together, etc. After all, they are in love, so what could possibly go wrong? For starters, the relationship could end, and it could end badly. Ms. Singletary fears that folks are “sliding into a relationship” not realizing how tough it could be to separate their finances if they want out.

Turns out Ms. Singletary’s concerns are backed by hard data. Scott Stanley, PhD, Howard Markman, PhD, and a few other colleagues at the University of Denver have been studying and discussing this issue for some time. They are the founders of PREP, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program, and every year they meet to discuss research, policy and programs that contribute to healthy relationships and marriages.

Ms. Singletary attended a conference in Oklahoma where they watched a 4 minute video from PREP that makes a good case for why couples should slow down and think about the consequences of moving too fast into cohabitation and mingled finances. Ms. Singletary gave it an A+ and thinks it should be played in every program working with couples. The film is based on extensive research that has found that people slide through major life transitions without really looking ahead as they do so. By the time they figure it out, they are so far in, there are many reasons to stay in a dysfunctional or unsatisfying relationship. Suddenly breaking up means taking a big financial hit, which people are often reluctant to do.

Therefore the recommendation is to slow down, enjoy and get to know one another well, and don’t let yourself slide into anything. Thinking choices only please. Ms. Singletary says that the video‘s bottom line is all about avoiding a DUI—decisions under the influence. Want to read more? Click here

Proof that He puts appearance first

May 11th, 2015

Dr Rory McGloin from The University of Connecticut led a study that looked at the relationship between trust and appearance for those who use online dating sites to meet people. 305 men and women aged 17 to 36 stated that trust is an important part of a relationship for them. Yet when they got into more specifics with participants the feedback was sometimes contradictory to this.

Men usually felt the profiles with the most attractive women were less trustworthy. This led the researchers to the conclusion that misleading and untruthful profiles are to be expected in online dating. They also found that men were not deterred by their perceptions of untruthfulness and continued to have a greater desire to date the more attractive, yet less honest women. Therefore the conclusion was a resounding choice by men of physical attractiveness over trust. Even if they suspected she was less than honest about herself, it was worth the risk if her picture portrayed her as beautiful.

On the flip side, when men enhanced their profiles to make themselves look more attractive, women were more likely to perceive them to be both more attractive AND more trustworthy. No wonder so many women have blind spots when it comes to bad boys. If he’s cute, he must be trustworthy too.

Is He a true partner or part time help?

May 10th, 2015

The NY Times ran a good piece yesterday that really speaks to the worst kept secret of all women with male partners, married and unmarried. Women shoulder most of the responsibility of raising children, and too often, He helps out from time to time. The author, Judith Shulevitz talks about what sociologists sometimes call “worry work,” which is something all women know too much about. This is the stuff of to-do lists, keeping kids’ and household schedules organized, remembering all the details associated with the kids schoolwork, sports and other activities—and worrying about how it will all get done adequately.

According to the author, and I must say I agree, this full time job may very well be the biggest reason for why women have not achieved the same success in their careers. After all, if they are the ones having to always be there, mentally and physically (when necessary and around child care), it will mean they do less at work, are less available and not as focused on the work project when their little one is sick and needs to be picked up from day care.

What is especially interesting (or troubling) is that in the US today, more than half of all women work outside the home and women are 40% of the sole or primary breadwinners in households with children under 18. Yet women continue to carry more at home or let things go because men aren’t picking up the slack left when she can’t be there.

As women have increasingly left the home for outside work, kids’ schedules have become more complex and there are more details to handle. Women are the ones usually doing these, along with everything else. What researchers have found is that when women’s non paid hours go down (house related tasks) their work hours increase, for men, this is not so. Of course, this is not true across the board as some men do more at home than their stay at home partners and some make huge contributions in spite of long hours away. Also gay couples are much better at splitting work fairly, be they male or female. There are also the two million stay-at-home dads, yet only one-fifth stay home to raise children. Most are out of work, retired or ill. Of those who stay at home, they do less than their partners who are also holding down a job outside the home. OUCH—none of this makes the guys look so good.

Women have some responsibility for this. We often worry our partners won’t do it right, especially when it comes to something for our kids. We also use terms like “babysitting,” when we are referring to our spouse helping out with watching the kids. Let’s face it, men don’t always have our high standards when it comes to the children, and we often don’t give them enough chance to learn to get it right. We worry the kids will suffer the consequences.

Maybe we should blame ourselves if we are the mothers of sons. After all, do we really teach them to handle household chores and other responsibilities or do we do too much for them? Do we ask our daughters instead because we believe they are more likely to do it right?

It’s a fact that women are programmed to put the needs of their children first. Our intense nurturing drive is responsible for this—so maybe we should just blame it on nature and give the guys a break. Or maybe we should lower our standards just a bit, ask him for more involvement, practice patience and enjoy the fact that we don’t have to do everything and worry about everything in order to avoid catastrophe.

Today is Mother’s Day—what a great day to step back, chill out and see how well the day goes without any real work or input on our part.

Is your dog a silent partner?

May 6th, 2015

The NY Times ran a fun piece “It’s me or the dog,” written by a single guy whose girlfriend wasn’t interested in sharing the bed with his dog. They had a long-distance relationship, so at first, his girlfriend was too jet lagged to make it an issue or maybe just happy to have some time with him. However over time she began to address her consternation that his dog was allowed to sleep in his bed, as though it were the dog’s bed too. Apparently where she hails from (England) this just isn’t done, or is only allowed if someone is “single.” Now technically this writer is single, however, his girlfriend is clearly making a decision that when a couple is sharing the bed, the dog is a fifth wheel. Dogs are dogs and they are supposed to sleep somewhere else, like on the floor.

His girlfriend has made the point repeatedly that she likes the dog and she even warms to the idea that he has a nurturing side. However, “Whiskey’ feels like a third person is in bed with them and this makes her feel uncomfortable. The author did some research and found that sharing a bed with one’s pooch is not something new or specific just to our culture here in America. He found that this practice goes back to ancient Greece and that royalty, including English royalty, shared their beds with their canine companions.

Cesar Millan (The Dog Whisperer) cautions against teaching the dog that your bed is their bed. Instead, it should be open to invitation. Good luck with that one. My dog clearly thinks it’s her bed and acts annoyed if she gets bumped by our feet or we ask her to shift her position. Mr Millan also said that if one partner is tense about the dog sleeping there, it will make the dog tense and uncomfortable. Maybe the other partner as well?

The author also consulted Dr. Stanley Coren, author of The intelligence of Dogs to get his take. He says it doesn’t hurt a dog at all to be asked to sleep elsewhere, they are adaptable and just happy to have a spot nearby. Dr. Coren acknowledges that dogs love the closeness and contact, but will handle any limits and roll with them, apparently not so for some partners.

Dr Bruno Chomel a veterinarian weighed in on the dangers of co-sleeping with one’s pet, due to parasites and infections that dogs can carry. Imagine a reluctant co-sleeper ending up with parasites—few relationships would survive that. Donna Pall, a psychotherapist recommends that the dog be removed from the bed when a partner comes along. Her take is that the relationship with the dog can be so close as to lead to jealousy or to make a new partner feel second best. Wow, who knew that dealing with a dog in a new relationship could be as complicated as learning how to interact with and share him/her with their kids?

My take? If your new partner doesn’t like your dog, it could point to a basic incompatibility. After all, if you love dogs and he/she barely tolerates them, what happens if you marry, your dog dies and you want a new puppy, your kids want a puppy, etc? it could also point to different standards for cleanliness, lifestyle arrangements, need for boundaries, ability to nurture and go with the flow. And if YOUR DOG doesn’t like the new partner, RUN. It’s not a good sign unless your dog is one of those overly-attached, neurotic dogs who sees a dog psychiatrist and is on meds for depression and/or separation anxiety. Then you might want to consider getting rid of the new relationship AND the dog.

Want to read this piece? You can find it here

Do you/did you have a Jeremy in your life?

May 2nd, 2015

The NY Times ran a very interesting piece—an essay by Jordana Narin, a sophomore at Columbia who is the winner of the Modern Love essay Contest. Ms. Narin’s piece is all about her “Jeremy,” who is the guy in the millennial generation that women “never really date and never really get over.” For older generations, he is probably the one that got away, that guy they never forgot and the one they daydream about during hard relationship times.

Jeremy is that guy who is more friend than boyfriend, but with benefits. The relationship is one of fun, hooking up and avoiding any topics that might stray into a serious discussion about who two people are to one another and where their “friendship’ is going.

Some women meet their Jeremy when they are barely into adolescence, others in high school, college or early adulthood. Often the relationship starts as casual friends; two people who enjoy one another, laugh at the same things and get each other in ways that others don’t seem to get them. However, the relationship doesn’t get off the ground to something more. Maybe because they met in a summer place far from home, or before each left for college or a career move. Maybe one is kind-of dating someone, but not serious, so the possibility is there.

Given that millennials are known for hit and run relationships, one would think that every young woman (and a few older ones as well) has a Jeremy. Certainly many do. But does this mean that they seek this out, that they really have no interest beyond friendship and sex? Not according to this young author, and if what I hear from so many clients is true, not for millennial women as a whole. It’s just that there seems to be an expectation that more should not be expected, that if two people start off as friends with benefits, no one is supposed to ask for or want anything else.

All of which leaves young women who actually want a committed relationship in a kind of limbo. They need to either have that heart to heart with their “Jeremy,” or move on, leaving him and the relationship fully in order to create space for a guy who wants what they want. Want to hear more about relationship readiness? Click here Want to read this wonderful essay by Ms. Narin? Click here

A top predictor of relationship happiness

April 26th, 2015

As a psychotherapist and dating/relationship coach, I am frequently asked to weigh in on how someone can be sure they are choosing the right person when dating, or if they are married, if their spouse is the right one for them. My simple answer for years has been that healthy and mutually satisfying relationships are ones in which the individuals bring out the best in each other. It appears that science is backing this up.

The Deseret News ran a piece yesterday on a study published last year in the journal Personal relationships that found that the people we care about have a lot of impact on how we see ourselves, and that the happiest relationships are those in which people perceive positive change in themselves. In other words, their relationship has helped bring out the best in them.

Of course, the opposite also hold. In some relationships, people bring out the worst in one another. It’s not a simple bad guy, good guy dynamic like we want to believe. It’s just that the combination of those two selves doesn’t work well for one or both of them.

The study uses the term “self-pruning,” of less desirable traits—which is not the result of nagging or criticism, rather the partner acts as a kind of mirror to a negative behavior and this helps the other person to recognize and change it.

Another study mentioned in the piece is one done by Psychology Today in which the author talks about the ability to recognize undesirable personality traits that can lead to unhappiness in a future relationship. Apparently some folks have better radar for this, but I believe anyone can sharpen theirs with a little focused effort.

Relationship success has always been the result of choosing with one’s heart and head, and science is now backing this up.

Want to hear more on the difference between normal wedding jitters and something more serious? Click here

Do you need an “Invisible Boyfriend?”

April 25th, 2015

If there is a market for it, there is always an enterprising person that comes up with a new product to pitch. Single people have been lamenting for years about parents, extended family, co-workers, neighbors and even friends bugging them because they are not in a relationship. Questions like “Will you ever get serious?” “How come you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” “Do you ever plan to settle down?” and the classic comment, “You don’t have all the time in the world, you know.”

Given how many single adults there are in the world, there is definitely a strong market for the “Invisible Boyfriend,” an app that creates a significant other who calls you, sends you texts, leaves you messages, and well, gives the appearance that you are in a relationship. It costs about $25 for a basic package of messages.

Users can pick the qualities they want in their “Invisible Boyfriend,” from looks to interests to personality type. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that in real life? Sounds a bit like the movie Her, where the main character falls in love with his computer technology system. It’s definitely possible that this could happen with this app, if someone is lonely enough and lets their imagination go wild.

The people behind the messages are anonymous workers who have a degree, pass a writing test, and are apparently good at faking affection and love. So good in fact that some users seem to be forgetting that they are not who their messages portray them as being. Some users confess that they are so happy with the way the service makes them feel that they plan to continue past the point that it was designed for—which was to convince others that they had a significant other and put a stop to annoying questions,, comments and insinuations.

I can imagine it—hundreds (thousands) of users falling in love with a virtual presence who says what they long to hear and makes them feel special and as though anything is possible, relationship-wise. Sounds a bit like online dating, when people fall for someone they have not yet met after they create an image in their minds of this perfect person based on what they have written and/or shared about themselves. Unfortunately, it can all be make-believe as well—which many online daters have found out when they attempted to set up that first in-person meeting or learned another way that this person was not who they believed them to be.

If you need to fake a relationship, this is the app for you. However, if you have a history of being a “fool for love,” beware. You could fall madly in love with someone who doesn’t exist and in the process miss out on that Mr. /MS Wonderful who could be right in front of you.

A cautionary tale about workplace dating

April 19th, 2015

CNN ran a piece about a Congressman dating a lobbyist who interacts with the committee that he is chairman of. Congressman Shuster and Ms. Rubio have been involved since last summer. A clear conflict of interest has not yet been established, but it’s inevitable that we haven’t heard the last of this story. Careers have been destroyed by relationships that were deemed to be inappropriate for a number of reasons, and this revelation could put the Congressman’s reputation and standing in jeopardy.

The topic of dating people that we meet at or through work has always been a highly debated one. Some workplaces have prohibitions against this, though that is less common than it used to be. Others prohibit employees from dating their managers or clients due to the potential for the relationship to have a negative impact on relationships with co-workers, productivity and overall fairness, and other conflicts of interest that could result.

Because the workplace has become a good place to meet people for dating, the rules seem to be relaxing. However, the potential for workplace claims of sexual harassment will always be a reason for employers to have some policy on this. After all, if a manager dates a subordinate, what fall-out might occur if that manager decides to end the relationship? If an employee dates a client, and the relationship fizzles, how might this impact their future working relationship and ability to get the job done effectively?

These are real and justifiable issues that employers and employees alike need to consider and be mindful of. After all, attraction happens and when two people spend a lot of time together in an environment like work, it is easy to see how their day to day interactions could morph into coffee breaks, lunches, drinks after work, and a deeper sharing and desire to get to know one another.

Does this mean you should avoid dating anyone you meet at or through your job? No, it does not. In fact, work is a great place to meet someone you have something in common with, can get to know more about in a safe environment, and will have repeated exposure to, which gives a relationship the chance to grow and develop over time. You just need to keep some things in mind if you decide to travel this path. Want to hear more? Check out my videos on this at: and
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The NY Times on Emotional Intelligence

April 15th, 2015

Daniel Goleman, a Harvard trained psychologist, past science writer for the NY Times, and author of the book Emotional Intelligence penned a column on April 7th titled, How to be emotionally intelligent. It’s written in a very straightforward style, in which he outlines the competencies of EQ.

I found this piece to be very user friendly as the usual definitions and descriptions for its use are very wordy and often seem too weighted and academic. This list gets right down to what you need to think about and focus on in order to raise your EQ, which will help you to attract others in your professional, personal and dating/relationship lives.

Dating and relationship coaches and counselors often focus on how a person dresses, and what they say when they approach or converse with others. While these have importance, it’s everything we don’t say that often speaks the loudest and sends the truest messages about who we are and what we think and feel.

If you have had little exposure to EQ or have only a limited understanding of what it is or how important it can be to your interactions and relationships with others, I recommend you read this piece in the NY TIMES.

Marrying outside of your class

March 29th, 2015

Jessi Streib, an assistant professor of sociology at Duke University, has written a book titled The power of the Past: Understanding Cross-class marriages. As a therapist who specializes in working with couples on their relationships, I have found this book to be a very interesting study on attraction and conflict in relationships and how differences in where we come from can impact us as adults.

What Mr. Streib found in his research is that that “inter-class’ couples often struggle around issues that were shaped by how they grew up, and most especially the socio-economic classes that they come from. In other words, if you come from a stable, middle-class environment you will have different feelings about money than a partner who grew up poor and feeling insecure about it. Makes a lot of sense, it’s just that no one has actually studied it quite like this before.

Mr. Streib’s book profiles many different couples who agreed to be interviewed, but not identified by name. They talked candidly about how everything from their views of how to spend leisure time, to parenting and the handling of money have often clashed due to the way these things were both viewed and dealt with in the environments in which they grew up. In a matter of speaking, this is really about value differences, which is something that comes up often in couples counseling.

The good news is that these can be worked with if the couple is committed to the marriage, works on improving their communication, and if both are willing to negotiate and work towards a middle ground. It’s also useful to note that opposites do attract because we are drawn (often unconsciously) to people who compliment us and have certain strengths or character traits that make up for something they feel is missing in their life.

Mr. Streib emphasizes an interesting point about how the divide between the haves and have not’s may influence all of this in coming years. The way he sees it, children will not be confronted with this as much because they will not have the same opportunity to meet, marry and fall in love with people of different classes. It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure I agree that this will happen. As the world continues to change, diversify and shrink, anything is possible when it comes to attraction and love.

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